Superman and Man: Part 1
Superman and related characters are copyright DC Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
He tried to move his hand to throw off the bedcovers before he opened his eyes.
He could not.
He opened his eyes.
This was not his apartment.
This was a hospital bed.
There was something in his mouth. Something plastic and metal. He could not expel it.
His body had no power.
When he went to bed the night before, he might have moved the Earth out of orbit. Now he could not move his hand.
He wasn't sure that he could even feel it.
Something had happened to his body. His body. His body.
Who could have done this? What great villain among the many he had faced, in a lifetime of heroism?
He searched his memory, found that it was more sluggish than his norm, and guessed that he had lost his powers of super-recall as well. But what he did remember indicated that there was nothing unusual about last night. He had finished work at GBS, come home, had dinner, did a routine patrol, came home, and went to bed.
A dream. Surely this had to be a dream.
But it did not feel like a dream. It felt all too real. The bed beneath his back, his labored breaths, the machine pumping away beside him, metal bands around his body...great Rao, what had become of him?
He shifted his eyes to take in the room around him. It was a room he had never seen before. The door opened. A strange woman came in.
"Morning, Chris," she said, holding a stack of mail. "How you feeling today?"
He attempted to speak. But making words appeared to be as difficult as fighting the pull of a neutron star. Nonetheless, he would do so, because speaking seemed to be one of the things possible to him, in this new body.
The woman looked at him strangely. "Chris, something wrong?"
With great labor, he spoke to her.
"Who are you? Who am I?"
The actor awoke. He felt nothing in his mouth. He snapped his eyes open.
"Dana," he called. "Dana."
The room. It was a strange room. Not his bedroom. Where was he? Was he still dreaming?
Without the tube in his mouth, without the breather, he could die. He took a panicky breath.
He let it out again, and breathed in again.
Again and again, he breathed. It would have been enough to make a normal man hyperventilate, the way he breathed. But he was breathing on his own again. Without the machine.
He turned his head. He was able to turn his head.
There was a clock radio on the nightstand by his bed and a picture of an elderly couple with a young, black-haired boy.
What had happened to his body?
Feeling flooded through him, sensation from all points of his person, from toes to forehead. It had been difficult feeling some things, before. Now...could he...
With a sweep of his arm, he threw the bedsheet off.
He could move. He COULD MOVE.
He stood, looked at himself, moved his hands tentatively down his pajama-clad chest to his legs. He stood on one leg, then the other.
He spoke. "Hello," he said. "Hello."
What had happened? Surely this was a dream. Unless...could there have been an operation? Could he have been cured, by some new procedure? Was he only now awakening from an amnesiac episode?
He looked at the picture of the couple and their child. No, he did not know these people. He was in someone else's body. Which meant that this, surely, was a dream.
But if he could move, then, certainly, it was a dream he wished to prolong.
The alarm on the nightstand clock went off. He looked at it for a moment, walked over (walked!), and reached out a hand to shut it off. He fumbled for the button, squeezed the thing in one hand.
It shattered into a million bits.
"My God," he said, aloud. "My God."
A spike of fear struck into his being. Surely, he had had dreams like this before...having played the role he did, it would have been impossible not to. But never one this precise, this tangible. He could even smell the air in the room, taste the saliva in his mouth. If this was this accurate a dream, then...
He turned around until he saw a closet.
Opening it, he saw the suits, the clothes that any moderately successful man would have in his wardrobe. But he was seeking something else. He placed his hand against the back wall of the closet. With a bit of pressure, it went through. He was sorry for that. After all, this was somebody else's bedroom, and he had no right to tear it up like that.
He felt something in the space beyond, something like knitted clothing.
With his other hand, he tore at the side of the hole until it was large enough for him to pull the object out. He held it in both hands, stared at it, turned it over again and again, held it against his body.
As he turned, he noticed a mirror in the room. He saw himself in the mirror. The reflection did not have his face.
But he recognized that the red, yellow, and blue costume he held against his body was something that the regular occupant of that body wore quite often. He had worn something very like it...but not the same.
And he had to say it aloud.
"Superman," he whispered. "My God. I'm Superman." -S-
The woman before him looked at him with surprise and a bit of fear. "Chris. Did you have a bad dream, or something?"
He waited before forming words. He knew that each phrase would be a labor, so they had to be precisely formulated. If this woman was part of a plot against him, it would be prudent not to give too much of himself away.
But, holy sun of Krypton! In this body, he was a paralytic.
"Don't know," he said, with an effort. "Tell me."
She told him his name. Or at least the name she said he was. "You're my husband. You're an actor. You played Superman in the movies. Plus a lot of other things. You have a child, Chris. You really can't remember these things?"
"Am I. Greg Reed?" Gregory Reed was the actor who had most often played him in the movies. He had encounted Reed personally more than a few times.
"Reed? No, Chris." She sighed. "Look. This is your name." She came closer, held up a letter with a name on it. The name she had told him. His address. Not in Metropolis.
"How did. This happen?" He hoped his eyes were more expressive than his voice.
The woman pulled over a chair and sat down in it. "You really don't remember? You had an accident, Chris. While you were riding. A spinal injury. Chris, are you really amnesiac?"
Somebody else had been playing Superman. In what movies? Nobody got to play Superman in movies or on TV or the stage without his permission. Greg Reed was the most famous Superman impersonator, but there had been others. None with the name she had given him.
This had to be a plot of one of his enemies'. Luthor wasn't much active now. But he would be capable of it.
It might also be a hoax, perpetrated by some others. Mxyzptlk? Possibly. His magic could affect even Superman. Even his friends had sometimes gone all-out for a wool-pulling, like the Legion with their robot duplicates of Perry, Lois, and Jimmy, or the time Jimmy Olsen pulled that Silver Kryptonite fooferaw.
If it was the latter, all would be revealed in time. If the former, he was in a bad position.
Either way, he had to play for time.
"May I. See one. Of the movies?"
There was real fear in the woman's eyes now. "Sure, Chris. Which one? Somewhere In Time?"
"No. Superman. Movie."
"Be right back. Hang on."
She was gone, and took a while getting back. He figured she was calling a doctor. Or perhaps her co-conspirator. If she was really an enemy, she was one hell of an actress.
Perhaps she was, and Luthor had recruited her from the world of the theatre.
But if she was not...then how was it he was here?
One super-power left to him, it seemed, was self-control. He exercised this to its fullest extent till she returned.
Having seen the costume, the actor had to try it on. He had worn a facsimile. Similar in most details, not identical, but a close enough match. But the texture of the material, the feel of it, the substantiality... He stretched it. It seemed infinitely elastic between his hands, but snapped back into shape when he released the tension. If he was Superman...the real Superman...then was this material, also from Krypton, as invulnerable as...
There was nothing more to be done with it. Nerve connections, fully workable, sent miraculous messages to his muscles and tendons. Able to grasp, able to draw a garment on one's body. So simple to a normal human, yet, for these last few years...something to be prayed for, to be cried for, to keep in the back of one's mind as a might-be-but-you-better-not-hope-too-much.
He stripped out of his pajamas, pulled the shirt over his head, fitted it into place. He felt of the cape behind him, with both hands. Then he pulled up the pants, wondering about the belt, but it did not buckle or unbuckle and did not impede his pulling the pants waist-high. Finally, the boots. A strange plastic substance, probably no polymer invented on Earth. But, by the feel of them, as sturdy and durable as the rest of the outfit, and himself.
Could he walk on the sun with these boots, unharmed?
"No," he said, refusing to look in the mirror. "No, I can't...this is a dream."
But he turned towards the mirror and opened his eyes and the face that looked back at him was not his own. A black spitcurl bobbled over his forehead, as much a trademark as any part of the costume. As any of the powers.
He flashed on the slogan of the first movie. "You will believe a man can fly."
Yes, and so many millions who saw the thing did believe a man could fly. Even if it was just somebody on wires, held statically above a soundstage, or moved on a crane, or something. They knew what it was, knew of the trickery, yet they believed.
Because they all wanted to believe a man could fly.
Did he believe?
How would he do it, if he could? Simply say, "Body, fly", and be done with it? Was it a function of the muscles? Superman often, in the comics he had skimmed for research, crouched and leapt to take off.
He considered it. Then he thought about the ceiling above him, and realized that, dream or not, this was an apartment. Somebody was obviously living above him. It would not be a good thing to crash through their floor.
Superman had great strength. Superman had great speed. He would have to try and see if he had both or either of those powers.
He also recalled that Superman had other powers. X-ray vision, and heat vision, and half a dozen other visions. All from the comic books. All dreamed up by those idiots down at DC Comics, who really believed that such a thing was possible. Who bought into the myth so much, they tried to rationalize out every bit of it.
Only here, in this dream, it needed no rationalization.
He remembered one other thing, as well.
Superman had a secret identity.
With a start, he wondered if he had somehow betrayed it. But no, no one seemed to have heard a thing from him.
Clark Kent clothes. They were in the closet. He would have to put them on over the costume. That was the way such things were done. Even if they might be uncomfortable and hot. And were there glasses, like the ones he had worn in the movies?
There were. They were plain glass, and hard...harder than any glass he had ever handled. They, too, must be from Krypton.
He wondered what else was from Krypton, in this room. But he put that aside. He went to the closet, selected a white shirt, blue suit, and black shoes. He also went to a dresser in the room and found a pair of blue socks.
Not exactly a fashion plate. Not the kind of thing he liked to wear, or be seen in. But that was when he could walk, and such compromises were possibly the part of the dream.
One must dress as Clark Kent, so one would dress as Clark Kent. This was what was done.
It took some time to flip the spitcurl back in place, but he finally managed it. His hand was on the doorknob when he realized something:
He hadn't picked up a wallet or keys.
Even Superman would need such things, if he wanted to get back into his apartment without busting the lock, or to pay for a meal at lunch.
So he rummaged through the drawer until he found where Clark Kent had stashed such things, and transferred them to his pockets. He took a glance at the drivers liscence photo, and was glad that the police photogs had done their customary lousy job. They did it on everybody, including him.
Or what he dreamed was him?
Trying to suppress a shudder, the actor unlocked the door, went out into the hall of what was definitely an apartment house, not a movie studio, and locked it behind him. Two twin girls were coming down the hall, apparently to their own apartment. They both smiled and said, "Hi, Clark," an instant apart.
"Um, hello, ladies," he said, and hurried past them.
Behind him, one said, "Something wrong?"
He turned, smiled with his mouth, and said, "Everything's fine."
Then he turned back and went down the hall, hoping it was the right direction to the elevator.
Dana had popped a videocassette into the VCR and had turned on the big-screen TV in his room. Superman reflected that he really ought to get a set like that, when he got back to his body.
If he got back to his body.
"Thank you," he said. She gave him a funny look. Well, there was nothing to be done for it.
The movie began. First, a kid's hand turning pages of a phony Action Comics. Then a shot of the Daily Planet. But not quite right, all they got was a mockup of the Planet globe. Why didn't they just go to Metropolis and take a shot of the building?
Unless there was no Metropolis to go to. If he was on a world other than his Earth.
The credits rolled, under some stirring music. Despite his state of mind, he had to admit that the theme music was rousing, excellent. Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah, DAH-dah-dah... If it wasn't so much work, he'd hum along with it.
Marlon Brando. Gene Hackman. These guys were in a movie about him? Then the name of the actor whose...body...he wore. More names, more credits. It seemed to take an awfully long time.
Finally, a planet in space, orbiting a star. A voiceover. Brando's voice. Was this supposed to be Krypton? They got that wrong, too. All they had to do was consult one of the maps he had drawn, or one of the globes he had constructed. There was even a globe of Krypton in the Smithsonian, Rao-help-us...
Except this was probably not his Earth. So there would be no Krypton globe. How the hell did they know Superman, if there was no Superman on this Earth?
There was Brando, in an all-white outfit, making a speech. He mentioned the planet Krypton. There were others in the room in which he spoke, all in white clothes. Superman realized, with a bit of displeasure, that this was their version of Jor-El speaking to the Science Council. But they got it all wrong. His father was not an old man at the time of the Destruction. He was black-haired, vital, and usually wore a green, red, and yellow suit. The "S" symbol on Brando's shirt? Were they trying to be cute?
Still, Brando gave a decent enough speech. But the Science Council members looked nothing like that, nor were their meetings with Jor-El anything quite like that.
He glanced at Dana. She was watching him with some concern. "Everything all right?" she asked.
"I'm fine," he said. Certainly. Paralyzed, breathing with the aid of a machine, not knowing anything about the person whose body he occupied, whom he was supposed to be...yes, he was the peak of perfection, all right.
Now, a scene of Jor-El's home, which looked nothing like that. A woman in a jumpsuit. With a baby. Oh, Sheol. Was that supposed to be Lara? His mother? She never wore anything like that, except maybe when she was an astronaut. And the baby...
That was supposed to be him. Kal-El.
He felt a wave of dissatisfied empathy. The filmmakers were trying. He had to give them credit for it. But the dissonance between his reality and that which was on the screen was giving him the vapors.
Still...it was as good as they could do. In a world without a Superman, they had to try and find an interpretation that worked in their movie. After all, it wasn't as though he had been a tech consultant.
He remembered the time that he went to the version of Earth that the Flash called Earth-Prime, along with some other Justice Leaguers. There were no super-heroes on that Earth, but they produced comic books about him, the Flash, and the rest of the heroes on his world. Flash said that their writers seemed to be mentally "tuned in" on their Earth. Of course, there were differences, based on interpretive ability and probably a glitch in transmission here and there, but he was surprised at how much the comic producers had gotten right.
Could he be on Earth-Prime?
If he was, he could have them contact Julius Schwartz, an editor at DC Comics in that world, and utilize the Cosmic Treadmill Flash had built there to take him back to Earth-One.
Except that he couldn't move.
"Holy sun. Of Krypton," he sighed.
Dana looked at him. "Why'd you say that, Chris? Sure, he came from Krypton, but did you really think he was a Christ figure?"
"No," he said, with effort. "Sun. Star. On Krypton. Some saw. As God symbol."
"Was that in the comic books?"
Speaking as much as he did tired him. The machine inflated, deflated his lungs.
"Yes," he said. "In comic. Books."
He turned his eyes back to the screen. Brando was placing the baby in a crystalline half-globe. This was supposed to be his spaceship? Had they done any research at all?
But still...when he heard the man speaking, when he realized what scene was being enacted, even despite the inaccuracies, a wave of emotion hit him, as it always did when he remembered that time.
Mother, father, don't leave me...
Dana saw him. "Chris. I'm turning this off."
"No," he said, as emphatically as he could. "Keep it. On."
to be continued...
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