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Smoke and sirens everywhere, and the smells of a dozen different building materials burning as people run screaming for the fastest way out of the city. There are televisions in the storefront, spewing PLANETNWZ.COM’s latest at them. They don’t stop.

“We’re just getting word the Civil Defense Corps is calling for an emergency evacuation of the city,” says Lois Lane as a helicopter’s rotors beat the air senseless overhead. ”The military is already sending troops into Weisinger Square, where the source of this catastrophic disturbance seems to be originating. And getting worse. There’s been a complete information blackout by the government. Whatever they know about this- this thing, they’re not saying-“

The wind flings the helicopter into building, and it falls; the camera statics out.

*

In Washington, President Amanda Waller is seated in the Oval Office. “His power is increasing exponentially,” says the bald, bespectacled man next to her. He’s looking out the window behind her. What he’s seeing is anyone’s guess. “Not even tanks will get to him at this point. And even if they did, they don’t have the firepower to bring him down.”

Waller’s listening. She’s always listening. “Then what do you suggest, Sivana?” she says.

Sivana turns away from the glass, shrugs. “It would take a twenty kiloton hit to stop this. And that’s if you strike within the next ten minutes. If it goes beyond that, I can’t guarantee anything.”

She’s on her feet. She doesn’t remember the act of standing. “A nuclear warhead.”

“Just a small one.” Sivana makes an attempt at smiling, a poor thin thing at best. It doesn’t even convince him.

“There are MILLIONS OF PEOPLE in that city!”

What little smile he had is gone. “Brainiac will take out the entire Eastern Seaboard if you delay. Do you want to take that chance, Madame President?”

Waller looks over her shoulder to the blond agent who’s been dialing, and dialing, and dialing. “Anything?” she says, the anguish she can’t let into her voice touching the edges of her expression.

She knows what he’s going to say even as he takes the breath to say it with. “I’m sorry, ma’am, Superman’s not responding- he must be at his fortress, or off-planet or something… We’ll keep trying.”

There’s a breath behind her. The start of a dead laugh, maybe. “It’s funny, really,” Sivana says. “We created Brainiac as a countermeasure to keep Superman in check, and now we need that arrogant bastard more than ever-“

“Shut up,” says the President of the United States, and Sivana does so. Silently grateful, she picks up the phone on her desk, and as the woman at the switchboard starts to speak Waller merely says, “Get me the Pentagon.”

**

In the gold-lit heights above the scraps of cloud littering the sky, there is a wedge of blackness. Her official name is the Spirit of Missouri. Her pilot’s name is Hal “Lantern” Jordan. He’s got a job to do. And he only hopes his God will forgive him for it, even as the bomb locks into deployment position, even as he flips the arming switch-

There’s an unholy scraping noise and the pilot looks up. He’s tens of thousands of feet above ground level and there is a message being scratched into his windscreen, a thing he only barely grasps because the message is being scratched by a man in a blue throat-to-boot bodysuit and a long black coat and a red belt with a red S on the buckle. Black hair, goatee, blue eyes, angular, lined face. Superman.

The words he’s scratched into the Spirit of Missouri’s windscreen are GIVE ME FIVE MINUTES.

Lantern can’t do anything but lift a hand in a deeply grateful thumbs-up. Superman maybe nods a little as he stands up, takes off, and leaves a sonic boom shockwave behind him.


***

Every street in the city- Metropolis- every street in the city’s grid is flaring with light and shadow now, swelling and spilling outward from the massive half dome of red-white energy and debris in the center of wrecked buildings that used to surround Weisinger Square. Superman rockets through wrecked streets as far as he can, but even he has his limits. The winds are throwing things down the streets now that should never have left the ground in the first place; he has to touch down in front of blown-out windows and start forcing his way forward against gales so strong even he’s barely keeping his feet.

There’s a car coming at him. At eye level. He punches it aside before it can wrap itself around him. The next one, too. The one after that’s too awkward and he has to grab it and throw it as far as he can before the winds cost him his foothold. His eyes are searing from the howling winds and the concrete dust and the stench and he still has to see what he’s doing, one foot in front of the other. Never mind the voices of half a bus’s worth of passengers trapped nearby screaming for him to help them. If he loses his footing nothing that he might do now will matter at all. He has a deadline. And Weisinger Square and the heart of this storm of hell are just ahead.

He can reach out to it. One finger, at first. The winds here are at their worst and it’s taking everything he has to hold up his arm without being blown off his feet. So- one finger against the pulsating, swirling energy wall, and then the rest of his hand, and as he pushes through it the light swells-

****

Now it’s quiet, and still, and while there’s light from every direction but the one beneath his feet it’s not pushing at him any more. It’s quiet, except for the sobbing, and so Superman opens his eyes. He’s standing inside the dome; the air’s still. Veins of white light slowly circle through the red. There’s a small child in a red jumpsuit, sobbing; blue skin, glowing blue-white circles poking out of its head, loose dangling cables where its left arm should be.

“Who are you?” he says. Not shouts. He doesn’t have to shout. Not here.

“I- I don’t know,” the child manages between sobs.

A step or two forward, careful, cautious. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“I don’t- I was afraid- I got away-“ There’s more incoherent sobbing. He can’t help but notice the veins on its head running in wormy bulges around the glowing circles, the way the child’s blue-skinned face is lined like an old man’s.

"Okay, all right,” he says, because he’s talking to a child. Or something very like one, anyway. And because he only has so much time left and he can’t waste it on comfort he says, “You have to stop this.”

The child’s head is too large for its body. It might be shaking from anguish, or from negation. Superman can’t tell. “I can’t- I don’t know how-“

It seems enough like a child to warrant gentleness. Maybe. With great calm Superman says, “When I was a child, I had to learn how to control my powers. You have to control yours. Concentrate-“

It breaks out in a wail of absolute despair. Oh, Dios mio, he’s heard that sound so many times. “I CAN’T STOP IT, I CAN’T, I CAN’T!”

It’s not lying. He’d know.

His expression is steady as he says, very quietly, “I can.”

The child swallows a sob, hiccupping as it draws its arm across its face, ineffectually wiping its nose. It looks up at him with huge, awful eyes, and there’s only a moment of silence before it whispers, “Do it.”

He puts both his hands on the child’s head. The sobbing stops, and nothing happens for a moment, and then Superman’s eyes glow red…

*****

Outside, the wind dies. The half-dome shimmers and vanishes. Superman is left kneeling in the empty remains of Weisinger Square, looking pained, as he lays the child’s corpse down. He lets out a sigh and bows his head. It’s over now.

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Hernan Guerra / Superman

January 2016

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