The point of this exercise is to see if I could build an origin story where Superman (Kal-El) resonates more fully with modern audiences. I tried to do this by damaging his moral compass, (his father, Jor-El) such that Superman becomes limited in his decision making abilities, if not his physical strength. That seems to be a truer reflection of the American landscape. Someone let me know if this landed or not.
“Jor-El of Kandor, former Chief Scientist and emissary to the Imperial Council, you stand accused of attempting to annihilate Krypton in a manner willful and wicked. This accusation, established by the discovery of the matter-oscillation induction mechanism, a prohibited quantity of Kryptonium Salt in an unauthorized environment, and testimony by the science review board on which you formerly served, if brought to conviction, bears the burden of death with immediate effect in recompense. How respond you to the charge?”
Jor-El sat alone in his laboratory, frowning over rimless glasses at his calculation. Everything seemed to balance out; there were no remaining factors, no outstanding variables, no unaccounted for inconsistencies. But it still didn’t make any sense to him. On one side of the equation was his world, as best as he could define it. On the other was something that seemed a little like a singularity. Again and again he followed his numbers as they crushed matter and energy down to a single point, and then released it again with unimaginable force. And in the middle of his equation, the mechanism that enabled such a profound and devastating set of reactions, was precious Kryptonite.
Long the source of his world’s power and prosperity, Kryptonite decays into a far more volatile and destructive substance, Kryptonium Salt, with a calculable regularity; this was nothing new to the scientists, chemists, engineers, or anybody else who interacted with the material. However, Jor-El’s discovery that a critical mass would inevitably be established, regardless of the measures taken to store the element in harmless quantities, was compounded by the astonishing fact that the time necessary for that critical mass to form was quickly coming, or had already passed.
Slowly, Jor-El realized the implications of his findings: Harmonic oscillation at a precise frequency would trigger a collapse, and quantum entanglement that connected every atom of Kryptonium Salt ensured that nothing could ever be done to stop it. How under the heavens his planet was still intact was nothing short of a miracle, but it was clear they were on borrowed time. Jor-El needed to act quickly and warn his community, his entire world of their pending demise. But what good would it do? How many could be saved? Jor-El in this moment felt the overwhelming need to be with his wife, so he went home to consult on what could be done, if anything at all.
Lara, an accomplished scientist in her own right, sat motionless as she listened to her husband relay his findings. Traditionally the stronger logician, she strained to find holes in his reasoning, but could not. This was unlike some of Jor-El’s other discoveries recently; enthusiasm built on assumptions based on new science. Lara was wrapped in silence as the full weight of Jor-El’s discovery washed over her. Finally, she stirred. “We mustn’t let this get beyond the Council. Maybe the Academy, if there’s a chance some could be usefully engaged.”
“I’ve already called an emergency meeting with the Chancellor and Secretary in the morning. I’ll present to them what we know, and let them decide how to move forward. Lara, if I’m right, I don’t think anything can be done at scale. We should think about how to tell…”
“No,” Lara cut of Jor-El abruptly, “That’s not an option. You figure out how to fix this.”
Mak-In, Chancellor of the Imperial Council, wasn’t used to being summoned to meetings, and he certainly wasn’t used to meeting at this ungodly hour. But Jor-El was a beloved figure in the public eye, even if his science was less-than-relevant these days, and the optics of Mak-In dismissing Jor-El out of hand wouldn’t be ideal, especially during an election year. Unfortunately, Mak-In was having a hard time following the exasperated scientist on what seemed like an attempt to bring the economy of Krypton to a grinding halt.
“So, you want us to stop refining Kryptonite ore? What could we possibly use as an alternative energy source?”
“No, Chancellor, I’m saying that the amount of spent Kryptonite has already surpassed the…”
“And besides, Jor-El”, broke in the Secretary, “the whole reason for storing K-Salt in such an expensive and inconvenient way is exactly so if one isolation pod destabilizes, the rest won’t daisy-chain and blow my Ministry storehouses to high-hell and back again.”
“Begging the Secretary’s pardon,” Jor-El began cautiously, sensing his message wasn’t landing with the intended impact, “but there won’t be an explosion, nor warning of any kind. There may be some rumbling as the planet collapses down to less than the size of an atom, and then blasts outward with more force than a million suns.”
“So, there will be an explosion then,” the Secretary shot a sidelong wink at the Chancellor, who for his part appreciated some levity in the presence of Jor-El, who always seemed to cast a weight over any room they shared.
“I think what Jor-El is saying, Secretary, is that we won’t be here for the explosion. Which is too bad because I already have a terrible headache this morning, and being blown to smithereens wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to me right now.”
Mak-In turned back to Jor-El, who was now visibly upset over a cause he was clearly passionate about. “I’m sorry, Jor-El. You’ll have to make me understand: Why was nobody aware of this instability when designing the elemental isolation chambers; and if we’ve already achieved a critical mass of unstable Kryptonium Salt, why are we able to have this conversation?”
Jor-El could hear the Ministry halls outside the chamber begin to fill with people as the morning began in earnest, and he knew the Chancellor and Secretary would soon be pulled in other directions. If he couldn’t communicate the urgency and desperation of the matter now, he felt he might never be able to do so.
“My research over the past several years has been focused on…” but he was cut off forcibly by the Secretary.
“Jor-El, your ‘research over the past several years’ has been unpublishable. You run a lab without any oversight or accountability; you regularly refuse peer-review or critique of any kind; and at this point you print your own science journal. And if I’m not mistaken, nobody has ever been able to duplicate the results you purport to have attained.”
“Yes, Secretary, but that’s because nobody at the Academy is qualified to address…”
“Just what do you suggest we do with this information, Jor-El?” The Chancellor was quickly losing patience with the scientist, as he was now behind what was going to be a very busy day’s schedule.
“We have to decide who in the republic we should inform, and how much of the planet should be evacuated!”
“How much of the pl- OK, I think we’re done now,” the Chancellor was livid that he sat through what were clearly the ramblings of a madman. “And absolutely none of this conversation will leave this chamber, have I made myself clear?”
And with that, the Chancellor and Secretary swept out the door, leaving Jor-El to himself to determine how he must proceed, evidently without the blessing or knowledge of the Imperial Council. He needed to consult with his wife once again, so Jor-El headed home feeling increasingly isolated in his endeavor, and questioning the wisdom of delivering this message to the world.
“The people will listen, if only they can hear you,” Lara began, “but right now your Journal doesn’t reach the ears necessary to hold this dialogue.”
“Well I can’t help that. The Journal has been freely available to everyone since we began to publish. But the public only wants the sensational; not the methodical,” Jor-El felt more discouraged than he could ever remember.
“This is sensational! This is terrifying! Make no mistake, you will have the public’s undivided attention. And they deserve to hear what will happen to them, and to make their peace before the end. If the council refuses to acknowledge you or the information you’ve given them, they forfeit their right to participate in what happens from here on.
“What we need is a network that can bring your message to every city in every corner of our world. And I know exactly where we go next.”
“Oh please, no. Please, anyone but him.”
Jal-En was the kind of man who chewed with his mouth open, and never picked up after his dog. He was the kind of man who would object at a wedding, and stare at nursing mothers just so they felt uncomfortable. Jal-En was the kind of man who was extremely good at his job, and his job was to sell the news. He was also Lara’s brother, and Jor-El hated him so very dearly.
As an investigative reporter for the Kandor Standard, Jal-En was responsible for Jor-El’s ouster as Emissary to the Imperial Council after “discovering” Jor-El’s lab was funded in part, “by the very Council whom Jor-El advises on matters, innumerable and nameless in nature, but necessarily sinister in character when kept from the citizenry: Amounting to an egregious conflict of interest and a tremendous waste of funds at best, and at worst an ominous intrusion on personal freedom by the government and scientific community.” Unfortunately and inadvertently, Jor-El still had most of that article committed to memory.
Everything regarding Jor-El’s connection to the Council, from funding schedules to meeting minutes, was of course publicly available, it was just never publicly interesting until Jal-En was through with it, and that was his gift: Jal-En could quickly and reliably turn the public eye towards maters he considered to be important. And now, as Managing Editor of the Standard, Jal-En was also judge, jury, and executioner in the court of public opinion.
But in this moment, after hearing everything his sister and her husband just told him, Jal-En was sitting quietly behind his desk, looking down into his lap where his fingers were clasped tightly together.
“Nobody else knows about this, Jor-El?”
“Just the Chancellor, the Secretary, and the three of us.”
“And you’re sure about your calculations?”
“I’m positive,” Jor-El was surprised by how easily this conversation seemed to be unfolding. “What do you intend to do with my discovery?”
Jal-En was quick in his reply, “I think the real question is what do you intend to do with my platform. I’ll give you full creative control over the message as long as you promise not to share this information with any other publisher.”
“Any other pub-,” Jor-El began to turn red, and slammed his fists into the desk between them, “Jal-En, this is not just some scoop that you’re negotiating rights to! We’re talking about the end! The end of everything and everyone and we’re trying to give families a way to say goodbye and you’re worried about your disgusting profit and not about how frightened or sad or helpless everybody on this planet is about to feel!”
“Jor-El, this isn’t productive,” Lara put her hand on her husband’s shoulder and could feel him shaking with anger.
“Lara, if you could remind your husband that I still hold the keys to the press, and unless he thinks his pathetic ‘Journal’ has the reach he’s looking for, that temper of his better stay in check.”
Lara leveled a stare at her brother that pushed his mouth shut, “Not another word from you,” she pulled Jor-El out of his chair and headed for the door, “and you’ll get your front page letter to the whole word.”
Based on his father’s success, Kal-El knew it was simply a matter of course that he eventually achieve the same level of accomplishment. What Kal-El didn’t understand, exactly, was how his pending fame was supposed to find him. As such, Kal-El tried to fill the most public spotlight he could find, often exploring corners his father somehow missed during his ascendency; namely those dependent on and heavily scrutinized by Kandor tabloid publishers, to the everlasting confusion of his mother and father. At this moment though, Kal-El was not exploring some coastline on an exotic yacht, or celebrating the opening of a new watering hole, or even dining with any number of his very pretty new friends. Rather, he was wondering why his parents would arrive unannounced at the Academy, where they knew he was trying to study for his first finals season.
Kal-El stepped outside from the enormous building that held his dormitory and library. “Father, mother, how wonderful that you’re here. To what do I owe this surprise?”
“Pack your things, Kal-El,” said his father, “we’re leaving within the hour.”
“But, that’s not possible! Final exams begin tomorrow, and if I’m honest I may not be as well prepared…” but his mother interrupted him.
“Do as you are told,” Lara nodded towards the buildings and manicured landscape around them, and continued in a hushed tone, “None of this matters anymore.”
“Ok, well that’s worrying. My whole life you’ve said the only important thing is to build and share knowledge. How can that suddenly not matter?”
“Damn it, do not argue with us!” Jor-El hissed, trying not to make a scene in front of the students or faculty passing by. He took a breath to compose himself before continuing on. “Something’s about to happen that changes where we’ll need to be for now.”
“We are going to spend more time as a family at the old home outside of the city,” Lara said. She could see her son trying to hide his alarm. “Don’t worry, Kal-El, this is only for right now.”
“Don’t try to protect him, Lara,” Jor-El began, “this move is for the foreseeable future, son. We can’t say more here, but we’ll tell you everything that we know before long.” And with that, Kal-El’s parents followed him back to his room, quickly pushed what clean clothes could be found into two canvas bags they brought along, and departed the Academy campus as quickly as they had arrived.
Jor-El unlocked his family home, which hadn’t been visited for years, and pushed open the door to find absolutely nothing had changed. The furniture dust covers seemed a few shades grayer than he remembered, which he thought must be a good thing, and draped across the back of the large chair was the heavy, garnet colored overcloak from his days at the Ministry, so he probably owed Kal-El an apology. Power came on quickly, all lights seemed to work, and the Comms Terminal was still able to connect. He would need to get some food into the house, and maybe open some windows to change out the air, but otherwise this place was fast beginning to feel like home once again. A figure stood silently in the corner of the room, watching Jor-El as he moved throughout the house.
“Welcome back sir,” boomed a voice as Jor-El stepped back into the foyer. Jor-El jumped out of his skin as the old AI housekeeper, Mallory, awoke from his deep suspension. Jor-El made a mental note to update Mallory’s volume and personality protocols when he got a chance. Until then, he ordered Mallory back to sleep.
Lara came in moments later, followed by Kal-El carrying the few bags they brought along. The house was fully furnished still, so this felt more to Kal-El like an unplanned vacation than the voluntary exile or whatever it was his parents were forcing them to take. Kal-El dropped the bags in the entry way and walked straight to the big chair to lift the overcloak high above his head.
“This is technically mine now, right? Since I’ve already served time for its disappearance and all.”
“Yeah…” began Jor-El. He sat down at the Comms Terminal to log in and see what was happening in the world just then. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
Lara went into the kitchen to see what stored food may still be there. It was getting to be late in the afternoon, and at least she and Jor-El hadn’t eaten for a few hours. Kal-El picked his bags back up and went to find the room he stayed in as a child when his summers and holidays were spent here with parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.
Kal-El’s room had its own mini Comms Terminal, but he was never allowed to use it then. Now that he was enrolled at the Academy, he had his own login and could access the net from any connected Terminal. Kal-El logged in and was greeted by a universal alert, broadcast across all channels and addressed to the citizens of Krypton. He opened the message that read thusly:
Friends, Family, and Countrymen:
This message is to inform you of a tragic truth, suppressed and concealed by governments and institutions of higher learning, that we may fully live our final days in a manner befitting the future we shall not bear.
The source of Krypton’s prosperity these last millennia will also be its undoing. At any time, the massive stores of spent Kryptonite, inextricably linked at a quantum level, will collapse into an inescapably singularity; consuming the planet, and indeed much of our solar system. The trigger for this final event will be an as-yet unknown harmonic vibration, likely originating deep within the core of our planet.
Our time is ended; our fate sealed. Our doom will arrive suddenly and without warning, but mercifully also without pain. If there is any good that can be found in this message, it is that we are given the chance to say goodbye, and to be with those who matter most until the very end.
Be well, and take care of one another.
Jor-El of Candor
Former Chief Scientist and Emissary to the Imperial Council
Kal-El wandered out of his room in a daze to the back porch where his parents were now sitting, sipping tea and casually eating some food his mother found. He sat down, unsure how broach the subject of their pending demise.
“Are you hungry?” his mother asked.
“Well I don’t want to die, if that’s what you mean.” Kal-El responded sharply.
Jor-El put down his tea cup slowly and turned to his son. “I don’t think we’ll even know when it happens. I think we’ll simply be here one moment and gone the next.”
Kal-El thought quietly for a moment. “Was that meant to be comforting?”
“I just, I don’t want you to fear pain is all,” Jor-El’s said, turning his palms up slightly.
“I don’t fear pain. I fear oblivion. I fear nothingness. I don’t want to…not exist.”
“Kal-El,” Lara began, “I weep for the future you’ll never have; for the challenges that would pull you down and the victories that would lift you back up again; and I’m sorry for all the things I’ve seen that you never will. But when we go, it’s in the knowledge that we go together. And I tell you now that after a lifetime of experiences, my goals have narrowed to spending as much time as I can with you and your father.”
“Cold comfort that I’m surprised I didn’t read in an Op-Ed piece next to dad’s announcement! How could you not tell me? Why did I have to read about my own death on a dusty Comms box?”
“We thought we’d have more time,” said Jor-El, reaching for his tea cup, “we didn’t know the letter would be picked up by the Universal Alerts so quickly.”
“So, what – do we just sit here until there is no more ‘here’? How long shall I wait to die? Why do I even know about this? I’d be so much happier not thinking I exist on the doorstep of death!”
And with that, Kal-El went back into the house, to his room, and back to the Terminal to find out how everyone else was taking the news his father thought necessary to push into the world.
Chancellor Mak-In called an emergency Council meeting, and summoned Du-Ser, Emissary to the Imperial Council and President of the Academy, to share his thoughts from a scientific perspective on the statements Jor-El made to the entire world.
“I can’t understand why he would have made claims like that. Even if he were correct in his calculations, which I guarantee he is not, he must have known people would react very badly to his news. My sense is this chaos was part of his plan.”
“Please, Du-Ser, we can only speculate on Jor-El’s motivation. What we need from you is to understand exactly why Jor-El’s calculations are incorrect, and we need this in a way the public can understand quickly. Reports of riots and death only seem to be accelerating.
“Fine. Jor-El’s claims are based on three assumptions, two of which are unsubstantiated by the greatest minds in our scientific and theoretical communities: That Kryptonium Salt atoms necessarily achieve quantum entanglement, that a ‘critical mass’ of K-Salt exists, and that a trigger for collapse could happen naturally and within range of the storage containers. Now, if we were to…”
“Wait a second,” broke in the Secretary of the Imperial Council, “Did you say one of those facts were known to you?”
“Yes, Secretary. After his departure from the Academy, some of Jor-El’s team continued studying the work he pioneered around entanglement. There may be some veracity to his claim, but this was kept out of Ministry reports as it remains almost entirely theoretical. We are a long way off from…”
“What does ‘almost entirely’ mean, Du-Ser?” the Chancellor asked quietly.
“Well, we have recently been able to confirm that Kryptonium Salt can indeed spontaneously entangle, but we have no reason to believe that just because one or two atoms will connect that the rest of the Ministry isolation…”
“Tell us about the trigger, Du-Ser. If Jor-El was right about entanglement, he may also be correct about spontaneity at scale.”
“Well, that doesn’t follow,” said Du-Ser under his breath before continuing on; “Ministers, this is where Jor-El’s calculations really fall down. After his memo to the world was published, I directed the full resources of the Academy to assume Jor-El was correct in all of his assumptions around entanglement and critical mass, and to calculate what exactly would be needed to trigger the singularity.
“I’m pleased to report that in order to achieve a harmonic resonance capable of initiating a collapse, the requisite energy input is greater than the entire energy output of our sun.”
“And so, impossible?” asked the Secretary.
“No,” broke in the Minister of Energy, “We have at least two conversion chambers active right now with momentary maximum output capacity above one TSI.”
The Chancellor closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt as though his headache hadn’t gone away since meeting with Jor-El nearly two weeks ago.
“So to be clear; Kryptonium Salt atoms can spontaneously entangle at a quantum level, you don’t know if we have a critical mass in our store houses, and we currently possess at least two machines capable of triggering a harmonic resonance and subsequent collapse into a singularity?”
There was a pause in the chamber while Du-Ser gathered his thoughts.
“It’s not that straight forward, Chancellor. Jor-El’s declaration is founded by assumptions based on further assumptions. Just because we have an energy output above a given threshold, it doesn’t follow that it’s tuned anywhere near the harmonic resonance in question. And just because the harmonic resonance can be struck doesn’t mean a collapse is imminent. And most importantly, just because entangled K-Salt atoms collapse doesn’t mean a singularity is necessarily formed, and all life on the planet is doomed.
“Please believe me when I say that if any of this were to happen, it would be a deliberate outcome from a unhinged individual seeking to reinstate his diminished standing in the scientific and public eye.”
After a moment a voice came from the back of the Council chamber. “I can fix this.”
“No, Jal-En. You broke it,” snapped the Secretary. “I’ve never heard of anything so irresponsible as publishing a doomsday letter from a raving lunatic who is still beloved in the public eye. The onus for this disaster rests on your shoulders alone.
“Until the public has calmed and normalcy returned, the Council will control your publication. You will become the mouthpiece of the Academy; the voice of logic and reason. And you will not profit from the sensational while citizens of Kandor and Krypton die in the streets from the hateful falsehoods you allowed to be dispersed at a global scale.”
Jal-En flushed with rage. He was going to destroy Jor-El for embarrassing him in front of the Council like this.
The family home was quiet save for the occasional whizz or clang from Jor-El’s workshop behind the main house. Lara spent most of her time at the Comms Terminal, paying close attention to report after report of widespread chaos that began just as Jor-El’s letter was published. Kal-El hardly left his room since the day he confronted his parents after reading the terrible news.
Jor-El was dismayed at the string of scholarly articles published refuting his research and conclusion. They were clearly written for an audience outside the traditional academic circles, while keeping enough math included to discourage the scientifically illiterate from chiming in with opinion. Jor-El felt especially incensed at the growing personal attacks leveled at him by scientists he considered to be beneath his talent and experience. Jor-El felt the best way to respond would be to build a harmonic chamber capable of disrupting Kryptonium Salt that had already become entangled, which he hoped would simultaneously prove the danger’s existence, and begin to fix the problem. Lara, the more talented engineer, helped him with the design, and he hoped Kal-El would assist in its fabrication. However, Kal-El seemed to be reacting badly under the stress, though this wasn’t completely surprising. Kal-El in his young and comfortable life had yet to face any test as grave as this.
Finally, after months of testing and tweaking, the harmonic chamber was completed. Jor-El was proud of his creation, and exuded a rare confidence that this machine would work to restore his reputation and save Krypton from the destruction he alone continued to believe was imminent. And not a moment too soon, either. The public had clearly turned on Jor-El, blaming him for their unspeakably unhealthy reaction to the news their time was limited. With a few hundred killed in the riots early on, martial law (or near enough to it) had been declared with the introduction of a universal curfew; and authority to detain suspected “instigators” without due process was granted to law enforcement down to the individual level. Kandorans were united in nothing save blaming Jor-El for inciting mass pandemonium. Rather than acknowledging he merely exposed a poisoned societal underbelly that had existed all along beneath the pretense of civility, the citizenry called for blood.
Its elegance was in its simplicity; the chamber would direct a high-energy “wave” across a field of entangled K-Salt, ionizing the atoms and knocking them ever so slightly out of phase from one another; but more importantly, preventing them from entangling again ever again. Proving that his disruption chamber worked was only the first hurdle. Jor-El’s next problem was figuring out how to scale his solution to the thousands of Ministry isolation chambers without the support, or indeed even the knowledge, of Ministry leadership.
“Is there a maximum size to your disruption chamber? Can we build one large enough to ionize all K-Salt in a given Pod?” Lara sounded optimistic for the first time in weeks, though she was still quite clearly guarded against letting her hopefulness distract her.
“The chamber itself has nothing to do with disentanglement. Rather, it strengthens the signal through calibrated reverberation. If we could amplify enough to overcome attenuation at distance, we wouldn’t need a chamber at all.”
Kal-El stepped quietly into the shed. “But wouldn’t an uncontrolled signal like that be disastrous to…everything? Would it not destroy cell walls, or RNA? Or, like, glass sculptures or whatever?” Clearly he had been listening from the doorway for some time.
“Excellent considerations, but thankfully no. These drivers are tuned to broadcast the exact waveform to interact with, and only with, Kryptonium Salt atoms. We are limited only by available power.”
“Ok, well then I think I can find you the power you need.” Kal-El was pleased to know that he was finally useful in this endeavor.
“Following the resolution of the defendant to deny this chamber acknowledgment of any kind, and in the face of incontrovertible evidence and testimony, it is this tribunal’s somber duty to deliver judgment to the accused of charges for which he has been proven guilty. Jor-El of Kandor, you are hereby sentenced to death with immediate effect. May the gods look mercifully upon your soul, Jor-El.”
The Academy grounds were quieter than anyone could remember them being. The ubiquitous hum of activities from students, faculty, and support staff throughout the campus was replaced by an eerie stillness that seemed to extend even to the vegetation and urban wildlife. Administration officials had taken the unprecedented step of cancelling all classes within a month of the fateful announcement, as nearly all students not immediately pulled home by worried parents were now failing their classes. This left Academy dormitories, common spaces, and critically Kal El’s lab halls, abandoned for all intents and purposes.
It had been more than a few years since Jor-El headed up the Academy R&D labs, but he was delighted to see that, by and large, everything was just how he left it. The access and control panels were moved, but that was probably to be expected. Du-Ser, Jor-El’s former protege, personal Judas Iscariot, and successor as president of the Academy, always fought Jor-El to move the panels to a “more convenient” location for students and lab technicians. Jor-El felt that by moving the panels to their current location, the security and identification safeguards would be more easily bypassed. Jor-El, it now seemed, was right.
The geology lab housed a prototype Accelerator that would eventually replace those used in current Kryptonite ore conversion chambers, significantly reducing process cycle time. The colossal output from the Accelerator, able to sustain nearly 1.8 TSI for milliseconds at a time, would easily decouple every last atom of entangled Kryptonite in every Ministry Pod for a hundred miles. By Jor-El’s calculation, though much Kryptonium Salt would remain out of range and untreated, there would no longer be enough to trigger a collapse and subsequent singularity.
Lara began to disassemble the Accelerator housing and connect the Scatter Drivers from Jor-El’s disruption chamber. Before dialing the drivers up full power to though, they would need to test the new power source in a diminished capacity. The Academy conveniently stored a small measure of K-Salt in a mini isolation pod, and Kal-El’s student access credentials were evidently still valid for access and removal. Once Lara finished fitting the drivers, Jor-El set the Kryptonium Salt onto a plate and pointed one of the lab scopes at it.
“This should be able to tell us the incremental rate of ionization per tenth of a TSI. With these data, we can calculate how much time is needed at full power to sanitize all Kryptonium Salt within city limits.”
“Anybody want the over / under with the accelerator at full capacity? What is that, six milliseconds?”
Jor-El was mildly disappointed his son wasn’t as confident in his apparatus as he…
“Now Lara, the reason we approach a task as we do is to eliminate as much guess work as possi-”
“You’re on. Dinner for a week?”
Jor-El turned back to his work. He was not going to be pulled into these games, even if they did seem to diffuse the tension that somehow crept into the empty lab.
“Ok folks, I think we’re ready to go. Kal-El, please activate the recording equipment. I want full sensor and AV documentation from here on out. Lara, if you could please set the accelerator to five percent output for one tenth of a millisecond, we’ll see what impact that has on the drivers. This will about double the power input that we could achieve in the shed, and for about ten times as long.”
Kal-El dutifully manned the recording station, ensuring all equipment had a sensor feed into the memory core he brought along from the family laboratory. Lara quickly calibrated the Accelerator and quietly indicated she was ready to proceed. Jor-El picked up the master switch, a black box with two large buttons, one red and one green, his thumb hovering over the latter.
“Alrighty, here we go! Three, two…”
Before Jor-El could say “one”, the room went dark and all machines powered down. In the same moment the lab door exploded open, tearing off its hinges and flying into the room. From the back of the lab where there was no door came a crash as a sizable portion of the wall toppled inwards. Men in full armor carrying disruptors with laser sights flooded the room. In a flash, Lara and Kal-El were forced to their knees, faces pointed at the ground as each had two weapons pushed into the backs of their heads. Had Jor-El been able to find the words to protest, it wouldn’t have mattered. A soldier came towards him with surprising quickness considering his size, and made a curt introduction between the butt of his disruptor and the base of Jor-El’s skull.
Jal-En stepped into the darkened room and stood over the crumpled body of Jor-El. He smiled satisfactorily at Du-Ser who came into his lab as the lights flickered back on.
Chancellor Mak-In looked into the holding cell where Jor-El sat with his head in his hands, still nursing a migraine from his encounter the day prior.
“Can he hear me?” the Chancellor half turned to the jailer seated behind a clean desk. The other holding cells on this floor were over-crowded with suspected looters and rioters, but Jor-El sat alone in his.
“Yessir,” came the quick reply.
“Jor-El, we’ve analyzed your equipment and your plan. We’ll have your head for this. How could you need to be right so badly you’d destroy everything?”
Jor-El lifted his head and groggily looked at the Chancellor. “So you see now that I’m right about the Kryptonium Salt, and what a danger this poses to the whole planet?”
“What I see,” thundered the Chancellor, “is a deranged man who would tempt the fate of his world in a pathetic attempt to better his impotent standings in the sunset of his relevancy! What I see is the most selfish, self-centered has-been of a ‘scientist’ this city has ever known. How dare you, Jor-El? Why couldn’t you quietly fade away with all the dignity afforded by your station? The people loved you, but you have single-handedly sown discord between the institutions of knowledge and authority, and those who objectively benefit from their existence.
“Make no mistake, Chancellor. If there was division and disunity, I only found it. I didn’t make it. Perhaps I’ve done you a favor by pointing you towards the most urgent priority you should have identified long ago.”
“Your trial is tomorrow morning. I hope you come up with a better defense than suggesting what you’ve done is a service to the government.”
“You’ve already told me the outcome of the trial. Why should I participate when everyone else is simply standing on ceremony?”
“Will the Guard please move the remains of the defendant, and any family still in witness hereof, from this chamber to their appropriate locations.”
Lara did not take Jor-El’s death well. Nobody would be expected to maintain an air of composure after witnessing their husband suffer a public execution, but Lara showed no indication it ever happened. Upon returning with Kal-El to the family home, Lara began refactoring Mallory’s personality and appearance protocols by integrating Jor-El’s lifetime personal entry logs, and all images of him she could find and upload.
The result was not convincing, which made Lara’s apparent dedication to the AI housekeeper all the more disturbing. She spent her waking hours with Jor-El-née-Mallory, effectively cutting Kal-El out of whatever was left of her life.
Sequestered for months in Jor-El’s laboratory, Lara slept, took her meals, and poured endlessly over Jor-El’s research. Kal-El was beyond worried, but it was apparent his family’s ostracization was complete. His enrollment at the Academy was withdrawn, extended family brusquely declined to intervene when he described his mother’s behavior, and his “friends” flatly ignored him.
One year to the day from Jor-El’s folly, and after weeks of, at best, barely acknowledging her son, Lara addressed Kal-El directly as he entered his father’s laboratory. It was perhaps the first time in several months that Mallory wasn’t at Lara’s side. “Your father wasn’t telling us everything, and now I think I understand what he was after.”
Kal-El set down her meal on a small table near the door and walked further into the room. “Tell me,” he began.
“I can’t,” Kal-El’s face dropped momentarily, “but I can show you. C’mon, I’ve already packed your bag.”
“You aren’t supposed to be here, Lara” said the guard at the Kandor Astrometrics Observatory where Lara had been employed since graduating from the Academy. Lara calmly pulled a disruptor pistol from her bag and shot the guard in the forehead. He toppled stiffly over like a grandfather clock. “It’s nice to see you too, Ben-Au.”
Lara stepped quickly past the security office and into the observatory, now quiet this late in the evening.
Kal-El was rooted in front of the desk, looking down at the motionless body. “Did you just…is he…what did I just see?!”
“That man will have a headache for the rest of his life, but he isn’t dead if that’s what you’re asking.”
“OK good?” Kal-El was still pretty sure he was about to vomit.
“What kind of person do you take me for, anyhow?”
“Besides, I never liked him anyway. Not that you should ever shoot anyone in the head for that reason.”
“Yeah, no I won’t.”
Lara led Kal-El through a maze of halls, open spaces, cramped corridors, dining centers, and the like for what seemed an hour. Around one corner though, Kal-El looked down the longest hallway he had ever seen in his life, the end of which appeared to pinch down to a tiny square. However, as they kept walking, so did the corridor’s end seem move back from them one step at a time.
The hall was marked by a perfectly featureless wall on the right hand side; and along the left were low, narrow windows, the tops of which stopped about hip height. While walking, it was impossible to see anything but what lay on the ground just on the other side of the window. Every fifty or so paces the windows were interrupted by a door, as stark as the wall it mirrored. No marks identified one door from the next, so Kal-El was startled when his mother suddenly declared “We’re here”.
Kal-El stooped to look through the windows for the first time and was surprised to see they had been walking alongside what appeared to be a deep-space launch facility buried inside the observatory complex.
He straightened to ask his mother where exactly “here” was, and found himself staring down the barrel of his mother’s disruptor pistol.
There was a noise coming from somewhere, but it hurt is head, and he couldn’t open his eyes anyhow. Slowly, painfully, the noise resolved into the voice of his mother, coming over what sounded like a Comms box.
“Your father was right about everything. About almost everything. He was right about the entanglement, he was right about the critical mass, and he was right about the trigger. He was wrong about how society would react when they found out, and he was wrong to think no one could be saved.”
With an effort that made him sick-up, Kal-El pushed open his eyes and found himself somewhere between seated and reclined in what felt like one of his old beanbag chairs, but one that looked semi-transparent and filled with a green gel. He was also quite immobilized, though no straps or restraints could be seen.
The capsule he occupied was small, barely large enough for Kal-El, the gel chair, and a canvas bag sitting beside him. There were no screens, only windows. There were no controls, no dials, no switches or buttons. There was no reason to be. This was an escape pod with a predetermined destination programmed into the navi that was located between this chamber and the Accelerator engines beneath him.
“When he saw the reaction this supposedly enlightened society had, and how pitiful his friends and colleagues became as they denied their mortality, his choice was clear. Why wait for death when you could summon him?”
“Mmmom, I can’t move. I can’t… I can’t…th”
“He’s in there with you, your father is. My Jor-El. I packed your bag and he’s in there for when you need him. And his overcloak because I know how much you loved it.”
A gas was filling the cramped pod, though Kal-El could not recognize what was happening around him. His head swam, and he began to sick-up again.
“When I send you away, your father’s work will be complete. We will end this failed experiment the same way it began; in a flash of sheer, utter brilliance.”
“I love you, Kal-El. I love you, Jor-El.”
Lara confirmed the anesthetic levels in Kal-El’s blood were sufficient to sustain him through the high-G event that would happen shortly after his launch. The gasses were working as designed; Kal-El would soon be in stasis, only to awaken when the Pod confirmed atmospheric, magnetospheric, and gravitational conditions in his new home to be harmless.
She typed in another command to the terminal and the Scatter Drivers that Lara connected to the ship’s Accelerator engines came on line. Lara spent her last months calculating the exact driver output required to trigger the collapse without allowing Kal-El to become swallowed along with everyone else. The key she discovered was in maintaining a constant output of the harmonic trigger, while ever widening the amount of K-Salt in range of the drivers. Altitude proved to be the solution to both of her requirements.
One last set of commands were entered to the terminal.
Lara watched as the faint glow from the engines faded from view, but she never realized Jor-El was right about one more thing: Lara, and everyone else on Krypton, was simply here one moment, and gone the next.
An icy blast tore into his bones. His eyes flew open and were immediately slammed shut again. The sun overhead drilled into him, its weight seemed to push him deeper into his bed. He ventured his eyes open again, and could see snow piling into his room. Not his room. Not his bed. Where was he? He reached around him for anything he could grab, and his hands fell on a canvas bag. Inside he found a heavy, wine dark overcloak and put it on. The effect was seemingly immediate – the cold began to shrink away from him. His senses sharpened, his strength returned, and he pushed himself off his bed and out of his room. Not his bed, not his room.
He walked over a barren, snowy field and across a lonely dirt road toward the only structure he could see in any direction. Between himself and the building, a poll stuck in the ground with a rectangle box on top. A sign on the front of the box read simply, KENT.