Part Two is HERE
He couldn’t have been asleep for more than a half hour when the door to the hospital room creaks open, waking him. Getting up, he expects to see Diana or the Altraieth doctor there coming to check up on Clark. And so he is totally unprepared to see two unfamiliar Rynan men, dressed all in black, standing in the doorway.
“Ambassador Fu has need of you,” one of them says, a strange look in his eyes.
“What? Who are y—?”
And then suddenly, they attack.
The next moments pass in a blur of motion. Bruce raises a fist to block a blow from the other Rynan man, while kicking out at the first. They roll out into the hallway, punching and grunting. Bruce tries to find an opening to reach for his belt, grab a smoke bomb, a batarang, anything, but the two Rynans keep him busy, won’t give him an opportunity to reach for his gadgets.
And then Bruce sees something shiny in one of the men’s hands, and before he can react, it’s being pressed up against his neck, cold and stinging.
Whatever it is he’s just been injected with, it works fast. Almost instantly he feels the world darken and compress down upon him, a suffocating blackness.
“…the wrong one…!”
“…checked to be sure…was the right room…and he has…”
“…blue eyes…dark hair…we thought…”
Bruce understands on some unconscious level that he is not where he is supposed to be, that he is not alone, and that the people around him are distinctly unhappy about something. Other than that, he feels perfectly and oddly content to just lay where he is and ignore everything else. That is, until he hears a woman’s voice saying:
“Dispose of him, get him out of here, I won’t allow your foul-up to destroy everything we’ve worked for. And when you’re done with that, bring me the actual Kryptonian this time.”
The idea of being “disposed of” is alarming enough to wake Bruce fully, though he remains still and silent. He cracks his eyes open slightly and, through the blurry curtain of his eyelashes, sees two men and a woman standing at the far end of a long room. It takes him a moment to recognize them, but when he does, his memories of how he had come to be here in this state snap back to him, almost startling him. They are Rynans, and with their backs to him, they are heading towards the large door at the end of the room. And though he can’t see her face, he knows that Ambassador Tam Fu is the woman, the woman who had just ordered his “disposal.” The woman who is after Clark.
The two men escort her out, and then turn back into the room, heading for Bruce’s prone body. He’s cowl-less, but other than that, his suit seems to be intact, including his belt. Idiots, he thinks, smiling inwardly but allowing no outward change in his body, no movement whatsoever, until the two men are practically upon him.
Then he strikes.
“What do you mean no one knows where he is?”
Clark marches across the hospital room, intent on flinging the door open, searching the area for Batman, who mysteriously disappeared during the night, and finding him. Somehow.
At least it seems like a good plan in theory.
His hand is barely resting on the push-pad which will allow him to open the door when he feels Diana’s hand clamp down on his shoulder, hard and vise-like.
“Back to bed,” she orders in no uncertain terms and begins to steer him in the direction of the stiff-spring cot.
“Get off—Diana—we have to find Br—”
“‘We’ does not include ‘you’ today, Kal,” Diana says. “You almost died last night, and without your powers you won’t be of much help anyway.”
Okay, that stings, Clark thinks bitterly, helplessly, and as a result flails harder than ever against Diana’s impossible strength. He’s never really appreciated how strong she is until now. It’s an unfortunate realization.
Sighing, she hoists him over her shoulder and dumps him, without a modicum of gentleness, onto the hospital bed.
“Don’t make me tie you to the bed,” she threatens, pointedly fingering her lasso. “And I’ll have the door locked if I have to.”
“No buts,” she says. Then she pauses, clamps him on the shoulder in her usual warrior-clasp-of-affection, and adds: “I’m sure Bruce is fine. You know how he is, always skulking about somewhere. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Her words would be easier to buy if her eyes didn’t look so clouded with concern.
“Be well, Kal,” she says, and leaves.
He waits two minutes before jumping up out of bed and heading towards the window. He looks out across the flowery landscape down towards the beach and the crimson-stained ocean beyond. The gold-tinted sky, the red sun bobbing above the tree-line, the alien birds singing high, sweet songs in the midday heat. This world is paradise.
This world is dangerous.
Clark can feel it suddenly, that unmistakable threat on the air, a malicious tugging at the back of his mind.
The hospital window is very high up, but if he could jump far enough to grab onto the limbs of a nearby tree, he could conceivably climb his way down without Diana or anyone else noticing.
Dressing quickly into his Superman outfit (he may not have the powers of a superhero, but he might as well look the part), he hoists himself through the window and perches on the ledge.
I feel like a teenager trying to sneak out of the house at night without my parents noticing, he thinks, heart pounding. Taking a deep breath, he leaps forward, grasping at a sturdy looking branch, and hanging there for a while. Diana, if I die, this will be all your fault.
Edging his way towards the trunk and getting a good foothold in the rough bark of it, he begins his descent downward to the ground.
“My you are a clever bat, aren’t you?”
Bruce freezes, halting his run down the hall away from the two Rynan guards he has left unconscious in his wake. Turning, he sees Ambassador Tam Fu strolling casually from out of an adjacent doorway, leveling some sort of weapon at his head.
“But you aren’t the one I need,” she continues. “A fault that was not your own. It’s a pity I have to kill you; I find your mind to be quite fascinating. But you understand, I can’t let you go and warn your friends about me.”
“What do you want with Superman?” Bruce says, his hands fingering his belt. He’s not sure how her weapon works, but he’s certain that he can easily escape its range or disable it if she starts shooting at him. But right now, he wants answers.
“That’s none of your concern, I’m afraid.”
“Well, if you won’t tell me…” He reaches for a batarang and launches it at her hand, the gun flying from her wrist. Curiously, she laughs, and Bruce has only a moment’s pause to realize that half a dozen Rynan men are pouring out of the room behind her, all of them armed, all of them pointing their weapons at Bruce’s face.
They don’t give him any warning before one of them fires at him, grazing his shoulder. Grunting, he falls backwards, clutching at his bleeding arm, anger filling him more than fear.
“If you hurt Superman,” he snarls, glaring up at Ambassador Fu from the floor, blinding groping for something in his belt, but finding nothing that could be of use to him now. “If you kill him, it doesn’t matter whether I’m alive or dead, I will hunt you down, haunt you, terrorize you for the rest of your pathetic, miserable life.”
“New plan!” Ambassador Fu announces, almost cheerfully, clapping her hands together. “Take his belt from him,” she orders one of the Rynan guards, “but let’s not kill him after all. I think we’ve found the thing that will bring Kal-El directly to us.”
The Rynan guards strip Bruce of his belt and drag him to his feet, his wounded shoulder pounding in protest to their rough treatment.
“You care for him, don’t you?” Ambassador Fu asks him, bringing her face close to Bruce’s.
“Not particularly,” Bruce answers, keeping his face neutral.
“Oh but I think you do. And if you care for him, that can only mean that he cares for you, too. In which case, you’d make an excellent hostage. One that our dear Kal-El will be unable to resist trying to rescue.”
“I swear I don’t know anything about this!” Mano shouts, running his hands through his hair in obvious distress. “How could the Rynans betray us like this?”
Clark crouches in a patch of nearby bushes, watching Diana and Mano silently.
“They say they’ll trade Batman for Superman,” Diana says, reading off of a piece of paper in her hands before brandishing it in Mano’s trembling face. “What do they want with Superman? What aren’t you telling us?”
“Sir Mano!” a messenger boy shouts, running up to them. “Kalisor’s found the location of where Ambassador Fu is keeping Sir Batman.”
“Where?” Diana and Mano demand in tandem, rounding on the boy.
“It’s just as we thought, in the Rynan embassy, but in under-floors.”
“There are no under-floors in the Rynan embassy!” Mano says, pulling at his collar and wiping sweat from his brow.
“Kalisor says he detected some when he was doing the sonar sweep. She must be hiding in there.”
“How soon can your people be ready to lay siege to this embassy?” Diana asks.
“Siege?” Mano repeats, his voice shaking, but Clark doesn’t stay around to listen to anymore. And he’s certainly not going to wait for Mano to assemble an army of Altraieths to attack the Rynan embassy.
No, Clark is going to take matters into his own hands.
He knows where the Rynan embassy is, of course, having spent most of the previous day there in peace talks, and as soon as the coast is clear, he slips from his hiding place and speeds off in the direction of the embassy.
If Ambassador Fu wants him, then she is going to get him.
He knows the reason why it’s so easy to break into the embassy.
He knows the reason why it’s so easy for him to find the “under-floors” of the building.
They are letting him. They are watching him.
He knows it. He can practically feel their eyes on him as he runs from room to room, shouting for Bruce, taking no care to hide his presence. There’s no need. They know he’s there.
Entering a corridor, he stops short, spying a blood stain on the hard stone floor: wet, red, fresh. Bruce.
A few yards from the blood, he sees some sort of ray-gun lying on the ground. He snatches it up and continues racing down the hall until he reaches the end of it, the corridor opening up to a circular sitting area.
Standing in the middle of the room, a smile on her face, is Ambassador Tam Fu.
“I don’t suppose you know anything about the ancient Rynan sun gods?” she asks, standing quite still and calm in the center of the room. Clark circles her, his hand clammy on the handle of the gun.
“No,” he answers, and is glad his voice doesn’t waver. Somewhere, in the next room or beyond, Bruce could be bleeding, dying, already dead…
He shakes his head. “No,” he says again, this time in answer to his fretful thoughts. He would know if Bruce were dead. He would know.
“Well, then, allow me to regale you with the tale.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Clark snaps, striding forward, grabbing her by the shoulders, and pressing the gun to her temple, just like he’s seen it done in hundreds of action movies. He has no intention of killing her of course, but he hopes she doesn’t realize that. “Where. Is. Batman.”
“Your precious bat is safe. Much safer than you are, actually. And if you ever want to see him again—alive—I suggest you listen carefully to what I have to tell you.”
Clark backs off a bit, but he keeps the gun level with her face. “Be quick about it, then,” he growls, trying to sound menacing like Bruce does when he’s on patrol in Gotham. Though Bruce would never use a gun, he thinks, a small twinge of guilt niggling at the back of his mind.
“It all started many ages ago, long before the dawn of civilization on that backwater planet Earth you are so fond of. Many years ago—”
“Get to the point, I’m not interested in a history lesson of the cosmos.”
She smiles at him, her lack of fear disconcerting. “There was a Queen who ruled over Rynan, beloved of her people, beautiful, wise, merciful—”
“I said, get to the point—”
“But, like all things in our ephemeral universe,” Tam Fu continues, as though there has been no interruption, “mortality takes its toll on the living, and the Queen began to grow old. Then one day, visitors, aliens from a far-off world, descended upon Rynan, seeking to conquer our planet and supplant the Queen. They were strange beings, alike in appearance to Rynans, but they had strange powers, powers enhanced by our yellow sun. The ancient Rynans called these people the Sun Gods, but the true name of their race was—”
“Kryptonian,” Clark says.
“Yes,” Tam Fu says, her ageless face darkening. “Kryptonians. They saw what our yellow sun did to their bodies and they didn’t want to leave. And who could blame them? All that power!” Her face lights up again, a covetous glow shining in her eyes as she gazes at Clark. “They became practically immortal.
“The war that followed was the bloodiest in our history, but in the final hour, the Altraieth people came to our aid and helped us defeat the Kryptonian conquerors. As a result, Altraieth and Rynan have been closely linked in peace and fellowship ever since.”
“Which explains the traditional renewal of your peace treaty,” Clark says, impatient, “but it doesn’t explain why you are trying to kill me. This war your people fought with Kryptonians, it happened eons ago. Why are you so set on getting revenge on me for a crime I never committed? For a crime no one currently living on your planet was witness to?”
“Revenge?!” Tam Fu throws back her head in an eerie, shrieking laugh. “Oh! My dear boy, my simple child, I don’t care about revenge! Revenge has never been a part of our culture. Such savage emotions are for lesser creatures.”
“Then why are you—?”
“Because I need to. You are one of the last Kryptonians in our universe. Under a yellow sun, your immortal blood will fuel me for the next five hundred years or more.”
With a sickening clench of his stomach, Clark asks: “You want me dead…so that you can drink my blood?”
“I want to inject your blood into my body,” Tam Fu corrects, almost clinically, as though she were a doctor explaining a surgical process to an intern. “As I said, I am not interested in revenge. If there were a way to keep you alive through the process, I would be perfectly happy to do so, but there isn’t. Your body must be drained of its blood so that I may add it to my own and continue my work as Queen of the Rynan.”
Clark tightened his grip on the gun. “Are you saying that you’re the—”
“The Queen from the story I just told you? Yes. I am she,” Tam says, with a casual flick of her head, as though one-hundred-thousand-year-old queens were a common presence in the universe. “After the war, the Altraieths took the surviving Kryptonians here, to their red-sun planet, killed them, and stored their blood. Every one hundred years, I return here to Altraieth for the renewal of our peace treaty. At the end of the ceremony, I am given a vial of Kryptonian blood to inject into my veins. Once I return to Rynan and my yellow sun, the Kryptonian blood in my body transforms me into a goddess, immortal and all-powerful in the eyes of my people, as I have been for tens of thousands of years.
“Unfortunately,” she continues, her dark eyes hungry, “the last time our planets met here for the treaty renewal, the Altraieths gave me the final vial of the blood that came from the original Kryptonian prisoners. The blood finally ran out, you see, and with Krypton destroyed, your blood is my only option for the continuance of my rein. I am sorry,” she adds, “I was beginning to grow rather fond of your quaintness. Indeed, it was your quaintness that almost spared your life! When I first met you, I doubted that you were Kryptonian. I knew that you would be powerless on the planet, of course, but I didn’t expect to see such humility in a Kryptonian. I had to be sure that you were truly who you said you were, and so I tested you by having you eat Deshirah-marzga, a food notably harmful to Kryptonians. It works as a slow toxin that would have eventually killed you had the Altraieth doctors not intervened. But after you succumbed to that poison, I was sure that you were truly the Last Son of Krypton, and my only hope for immortality.”
“You’re insane,” Clark says. “You’re not going to get a chance to drink my—”
“Whatever. You’re not going to steal my blood, you creepy vampire. I’m the one holding the gun; I’m the one calling the shots here. I let you tell your story, now give me Batman and I’ll allow you live out the rest of your natural life in peace.”
She smiles at him. “Too late. They’re here.”
A beam of energy blasts by him, inches away from his head. He ducks, dodging the ricocheting ray blasts, and grabs Tam Fu, throwing the two of them behind one of the elegant couches. He raises his head, sees a handful of Rynan men shooting at them from the entrance at the other end of the room.
“You shouldn’t have let me stall you for so long, dear,” Tam Fu says, laughing.
Clark fires wildly at the Rynan men; he’s untrained in the use of this alien weapon, but too panicked to shoot straight anyway, so it hardly matters.
“Where is Batman?” he demands, one arm keeping Tam Fu securely at his side, the other shooting haphazardly at the approaching gunmen. He feels like he’s fallen into an old western. And that gives him an idea.
“Stop firing!” he shouts, standing up and pulling Tam Fu in front of himself as a shield. “Stop firing or…or I’ll blow her brains out!” Clark’s glad his mother isn’t here to see him behaving like this. Psycho killer queen or not, Ma Kent would not have approved of her son holding a gun to a woman’s head. Well, it isn’t like he’s actually going to make good on his threat, but the six armed Rynans standing in front of him don’t know that.
They stop firing, but hold their weapons at the ready. Into the ensuing silence that follows, Clark says: “I’ll give you back your queen if you give me the human known as Batman.”
The Rynans pause, look at each other, then look to their queen, who nods briskly and says, “Bring him the Batman.”
Two of the gunmen leave to fetch Batman, or at least that’s what Clark hopes they’re doing. He wouldn’t be surprised if they return with an army of Rynan soldiers, all of them ready to rescue their queen and watch while she drinks Clark’s blood or whatever it is she plans to do with it. He feels nauseas and tightens his grip on Tam Fu. “No funny business,” he says in a distinctly western drawl (it sounds more effectively threatening than the Batman impersonation he was trying to do earlier), “or I swear I’ll put a blaster-shaped hole in the middle of your forehead.”
“Funny business?” Tam Fu repeats, her voice amused.
A few tense minutes pass and the gunmen return…with Bruce. Clark feels some of the tension in his belly relax, especially since Bruce is alive and looking (relatively) unharmed. He resists the urge to smile at him.
“Good,” he says, keeping a grim set to his mouth and slowly walking out from behind the sofa, keeping Tam Fu in front of him, the gun pressed hard against her forehead. “Now, release Batman and have him walk over to me.”
“Give us the Queen first,” one of the Rynans says.
“Not yet,” Clark says. “Once you have her, there’s nothing to keep you from shouting me and my friend. I want security. I want to be able to leave here safely with Batman and the Queen, and then, only then, I’ll let her go.”
“What’s to stop you from killing her once your safely outside?” the Rynan snaps.
“This: I’m not interested in revenge.” He glances at Ambassador Fu’s face, sees her eyes flicker briefly to meet his own. “Only justice.”
“And that’s how the great Sir Superman saved Altraieth and Rynan from the eternal reign of the wicked Queen!”
The children sitting in front of Mano clapped their hands joyfully, begging for the tale to be told again. And Mano, always eager to please, obliged them. “Once upon a time, there was an evil Queen who ruled over the people of Rynan…”
Bruce, having no need to hear the story told again (he had lived it, after all), wandered away from the group in search of Clark.
“The bad guys have been captured, Rynan is free from the terrible reign of Tam Fu, and Altraieth and Rynan still managed to keep their peace treaty intact,” Clark says, as Bruce comes to stand next to him, the two of them looking out at the setting sun over the ocean, the red orb dancing along the surface of the water. “Mission: accomplished.”
“Thanks to Superman.”
Clark gives him an appreciative grin. “How’s your shoulder?” he asks.
“It’ll be fine in a couple of days.” They’re silent for a few minutes, and then Bruce says: “You know, this place is starting to grow on me. Too bad we’re leaving in an hour.”
“I don’t know,” Clark says, “I’m getting sort of homesick. This sunset isn’t anything like the ones we have.”
“True,” Bruce says. “Honestly, I think I’ve had my fill of alien politics to last me the rest of my life.”
“Yeah,” Clark says, his face thoughtful, almost sad.
Bruce watches him for a few minutes more before asking: “What’s wrong, Clark?”
Clark sighs and turns to face Bruce. “I just…nothing really. Everything’s fine, isn’t it? You’re okay, I’m okay, we’re all okay.”
“Why aren’t you acting okay then?”
“I dunno,” Clark mumbles, looking out at the water again. “I guess because we almost weren’t okay. You almost—she almost—I dunno. You were right, Bruce. I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Bruce says. He waits until Clark is looking at him before continuing. “You were quite the hero even without your powers. Who could have known all those Bonanza episodes you make me watch would pay off so well.”
Clark colors slightly and looks away again.
“But I caused all the trouble in the first place just by being there.”
“Clark, you can’t blame yourself for the actions of a psychotic. Tam Fu was determined to get your blood. I bet you anything, if you hadn’t come with us, she would have found some way to hold us all hostage until you left to rescue us.”
“Probably,” Clark says, glancing side-ways at Bruce, a slow smile curving along his lips. “She’s pretty crazy, isn’t she?”
“It’s almost like I never left Gotham.”
“Well not that crazy,” Clark says, and then ducks, laughing, as Bruce punches him lightly with his good arm.
Clark’s laughter trails off, looking distinctly happier. “Do you think I should have been a western movie actor?”
Bruce snorts and takes Clark’s arm, pulling him away from the fading sunset. “Come on, Smallville, let’s go home.”
And so they leave, the red light at their backs.END