The cellar was quiet and damp, and smelled like dust and turnips. Nothing out of the ordinary here, no siree. Clark slumped against one wall of the cellar and contemplated the tarp-covered shape before him. Clark was a picture of melancholy. His high school graduation. End of an era, start of a new, blah, blah, blah. His parents had taken him out to eat, a luxury they could barely afford. After the dinner, he went to a big gradation sponsored by the school. There was a DJ, and dancing, and was great, really, except for that feeling of restlessness he had been battling for a month.
So, it had been a good day. Clark was glad to finally be out of Smallville High, scene of so many dramas and mutant catastrophes. So why was he here, standing in his storm cellar at - Clark looked at his watch, the dial faintly illuminated, 3:00 in the morning? Even though his parents would let him sleep in tomorrow, he really should be heading on to bed. At least it was summer and there was no school. Clark sighed. No Lex, though. Lex was off in Hong Kong or Tokyo or someplace, schmoozing clients for LexCorp. Lex had been traveling a lot, lately, really working hard, and Clark missed him. Lex had called to apologize and wished him a happy graduation, though, and made vague and tantalizing promises of a special present when he returned.
But Clark couldn't stop the vague feeling of malaise he was having. Shouldn't he be excited, happy to graduate, and eager to embark on the next phase of his life? Instead, he just felt miserable. He didn't know who he was, or how to cope with the responsibilities he felt looming in his life. Even normal kids took on greater responsibilities as they grew older. Clark, however, was far from normal, and the weight of the responsibilities attendant with his unique abilities, threatened to crush his spirit.
Instead of turning around and going to bed like a sensible graduate, Clark straightened up and approached the ship, pulling off the tarp and casting it to the side. He stood and stared at it for a while. It was kind of pretty, wasn't it? And he had come all that way from - wherever the hell he was from - in that. It seemed incredible. It was incredible. No one would believe it, right? And a good thing, too. Clark reached inside his jacket, and pulled out a small sewn bag his mother had made. "Here goes nothing," he muttered, as he withdrew the small octagonal shape from the bag and placed it in the corresponding slot on the ship's - hull?
Nothing. Or . . . Was it his imagination, or did the air just become charged with a faint humming? Clark's heart beat fiercely. Clark yelped and jerked back from the ship as the top of the craft became transparent and then was gone. Before he could lose his nerve, Clark quickly took out another object from the bag. Clark leaned over the ship and placed the tablet inside, in the only place it could conceivably go.
Whoa, okay, this was different. Clark watched with wide eyes as the ship began now to hum, loudly, raising off the floor of the cellar a good two feet. A burst of light made him gasp, and he looked at the ship in fear. It looked like it was ready to take off. In fact . . .
The ship began moving directly toward the open storm doors of the cellar. "Hey!" Clark said, "where do you think you're going?" Clark leaned over, grabbing hold of the front of the ship, draping his body over the top. As soon as did that, the ship whipped out of the cellar into the early morning air, with Clark clinging to it like a drowning sailor clinging to a dolphin. The ship accelerated, arrowing faster and faster through the night. Clark was familiar with the sensation of speed, but the ship was taking him high into the air. Higher, higher, and yep, they were definitely going somewhere. Clark held on for dear life and determinedly did not think of flying birds, planes, and radar.
A short time later, Clark looked down and realized that they had headed far to the north. Clark saw water, and mountains, and snow, even though it was May. Then more snow, and more ice until the landscape was nothing but a vast white blur without a discernable horizon. Now the ship seemed to be descending. But it wasn't losing speed. If anything, it was speeding on, seemingly eager, like a horse heading toward the stable. Such a featureless white landscape made it hard to tell how close to the ground they were. Clark hoped they weren't getting too close, but -
The ship, and Clark with it, impacted HARD on the icy plane. Somewhat dazed, Clark just lay there in the snow, trying to get his breath back and process the shock of what happened to him. Clark just closed his eyes. "Just for a second. If I don't open my eyes, I won't have to see where I am." Just for a second.
Clark became aware. He remembered the impact. Was he still laying in the snow? Clark cautiously slit his eyes open. White. "Oh great, that's all I remember seeing anyhow." Clark began to wake up a little more. No, he wasn't out in the snow, he was somewhere - in - someplace. It was white, but now that Clark looked around him, he saw in was in a vast space, seemingly made of ice, or crystal, with subtle tones of gray, blue, and silver. Huh? And he was lying on something. Some sort of . . . table.
"Hello, Kal El."
Clark levitated a foot into the air. "Who said that?" Clark looked around, and suddenly saw a figure standing in the space, suspended, and transparent.
"I am an artificial construct created by your parents, here to guide you in your endeavors on this planet. I appear to you presently as the image of your birth mother, Lara El."
Clark stared. He saw a woman. Tall, beautiful, with dark hair just like his own. This was his mother? His real mother? Oookay. "Where am I?" Clark demanded.
"This structure has been created for you, to serve as a retreat, and a resource. It houses archives and technology from your home planet, Krypton."
Krypton. Clark recognized the name. Suddenly, pictures of a cold planet, of people, of things he had never seen crowded his mind. Clark realized he knew the names of his parents, where they were born, and knew his own name. Kal El. He also knew -
For a moment, it felt like time paused; he took no breath, his heart refused to beat. He knew why his parents had sent him to earth, and that his planet, his family, his entire civilization and all that they had been, were gone irrevocably. They only existed in him.
"So, uh, Lara El. Is it all right if I call you that?"
"Certainly, Kal El."
Clark shook his head. Right. "This place is nice, but, uh - how long have I been here?" Clark's heart started beating faster in panic. His folks! Could he get back by morning? Where was he, anyway? Clark frowned at the table. He was stiff as if he had lain there for some time. "Did you do something to me?" Clark demanded of the hologram.
"You have been here 23 standard earth hours. I merely made you comfortable while assisting you to achieve Theta state to begin accessing my memory for passive instruction."
"Theta state? Passive instruction? Look, my parents must be frantic." Oh my god. He'd been missing for an entire day. "It's been nice, but I've got to get back." Clark looked around for the ship. "Uh, how do I get back?"
"I have implanted the coordinates of this structure in your memory. You have merely to leave here to return to your home. You are not a prisoner."
"Leave here, how?"
"You must fly, of course."
Clark just blinked, stunned. Okay, he knew about the floating thing, but flying? And, he realized, all the way from the North Pole. "I can't fly," he said, automatically. But as he said it - he knew; could seemingly recall the sensation of flying, of willing himself through the air. He could see maps in his head of wind currents over the entire planet. He could fly. Wow. And, he would have to, in order to return home.
"I understand you have human obligations to fulfill, Kal El, but you must return for further instruction."
"Instruction?" Suddenly, Clark was angry. "Look, you don't even know who I am. I've gotta get back to my family, I've got things to do . . And you've messed with my head, haven't you?" Clark was afraid now as well as angry. "What have you done to me?"
"Calm yourself, Kal El. In order to gain access to the knowledge within my database, you must be in a state of higher consciousness. Therefore, I have induced the Theta state in you and provided you with some preliminary data. There is much I much teach you. You have not yet reached maturity, and I have resources you must have."
"What do you mean, resources?"
"For example, there are trace elements and minerals that your body needs which are different from the nutritional needs of the beings of this planet. I have introduced these substances into your body to assist you in reaching physical maturity."
"So, what, you gave me a vitamin shot?" Clark twisted around to look at his backside, but didn't see anything amiss.
"Essentially, yes. Kal El, during the process of imparting information to you, I have, in turn, been able to access your memories to learn something of your life, and understand the obligations you must . . ."
"How can you understand my life?" Clark interrupted angrily. "You don't know anything about me." This was taking him right back to his earlier restless angst, after all, already graduating from high school, and he didn't even know who he was.
"Your name on this planet is Clark Jerome Kent, you are the adopted son of Jonathan Kent and Martha Clark Kent, you reside at . . . "
"Okay, okay, I get it." Clark stared at the figure of his - birth mother? "What do you want me to do?"
"You may return to this structure at any time. However, I request that you return as soon as possible for an interval of two lunar months for additional instruction. You must learn about your heritage, and gain important skills necessary to thrive in this backward place."
"Two months? You want me to spend two whole months here?" Clark looked around. There was nothing he could see to eat, no running water visible. And how was he supposed to get the time off? There was a lot of work to be done on the farm in summer, and his Dad was counting on him to finish some large projects before he went away to college.
"You must arrange the time with your parents and your educational institutions, your mate."
Ignoring the comment about the mate, Clark persisted, "But why?"
"As I have said, it is necessary."
Clark returned to the fortress later that summer for an extended stay. His parents put out the story that he was helping out on a cousin's ranch in Alaska. The AI began instructing him, sometimes depicted as one or other of his parents, other times just with images that appeared as a sort of video in the air. Clark learned his way around the vast icy structure, already labeling it as the new "Fortress of Solutide," and beginning to understand the alien crystal technology it represented. Clark tried to refrain from thinking about the CD of Lex's by the Crystal Method where the crystal was taking over the Earth. Contrary to his first impression there were, in fact, sanitary as well as galley facilities. And there was no shortage of cold storage.
Much of his instruction took place while he was in a trance, or Theta state. The Kryptonians apparently thought of themselves as an "advanced" race, with an evolution far longer than humanity. The tone of the instruction was often patronizing to humans, but Clark tried to ignore it, because what he was learning was fascinating. The Kryptonians had a branch of learning they called the "Higher Science" or Torquasm-Vo, originating with an ancient warrior cult, and comprised of mind-body techniques meant to enhance one's focus, memory, mental capacity, and body dynamics. Clark already had a photographic memory, but he learned tricks to organize and store memory bits. He was fed information in a concentrated form, and taught techniques to manage and trigger its recall. In addition to raw data, such as terrestrial languages, Kryptonian history and ethics, he received instruction on body language, biodfeedback, and breath control. Clark learned he could blow a very powerful blast of air, or blow a blast so cold as to instantly freeze anything.
The AI was also insistent on purely physical education. It sounded faintly horrified that Clark had no training in dance, or martial arts, or any type of sport. Clark explained that he was never allowed to pursue any sports because he was so much stronger and more powerful than humans, his parents were afraid he would hurt someone.
"All cultures, even as primitive as this one, must at least dance and practice the physical disciplines to enhance carriage, grace, and power. And it is precisely because you are not confident in your own body that you are frightened of hurting someone. You must train to enhance your strengths, control, and balance, your awareness of space."
Clark always regretted not participating in sports, but he was really more interested in the social aspect of them than developing his body. After all, he spent all his time hiding his strength, and it was already there, anyway. It wasn't like he had to pump iron or increase his endurance. Further, years of pretending to be clumsier than he was had skewed his self-image considerably. Now, he was having to re-think his body image and the possibilities for training that his body could receive.
Lara El (or whoever was fronting the AI at the moment) began to explain that the discipline of Torquasm-Vo encompassed relaxation techniques, power postures, and body conditioning. It regretted that it could not teach Clark much more than the basic concepts, because the knowledge required a tangible master teacher to impart. However, the AI offered an alternative: "You must seek out a teacher of one or more of the equivalent mind-body disciplines here on this planet. I will give you a list of possible teachers, and you must find one willing to take you on as a student. In addition, when you begin attending tertiary school, you must begin to take instruction in dance."
In fact, the AI had many suggestions for Clark in terms of his educational needs. "Yours is a powerful destiny. You must study this planet's history, philosophy, and culture in order to understand and act wisely toward its inhabitants." It also encouraged him to take the time to play in the next few years. On Krypton, young people enjoyed a period where they were indulged and encouraged to socialize and be carefree, before embarking on their life's work.
Sounds just like college, Clark thought.
To Clark's surprise and embarrassment, it seemed that this time was also a time for sexual experimentation. Kryptonian young people were expected to be sexually adventurous, and have numerous partners before contracting with a permanent mate. Whatever the "vitamin shot" was that the AI had administered, it seemed to have the effect of causing a growth spurt and other symptoms of puberty, including unwanted erections and extreme arounsal. The AI, however, acted no differently when imparting a condensed version of Krytponian sexual science to Clark than it had when discussing history and ethics. All of a sudden, Clark felt he had the equivalent of the Kama Sutra, the experience of a dirty street whore, and the knowledge of a kundalini adept stuffed into his brain all at once. He spent almost a week learning techniques to control his erections.
In between technological and trance-induced instructional sessions, Clark spent a lot of time just sitting around and questioning the AI. It felt freeing to talk with someone so openly and so freely about his abilities and the direction his life was taking. He could talk to his parents, but he knew their reactions and advice were colored by the love and protectiveness they felt. Plus, there were just some things you don't want to tell your parents. He could talk to Lex, too, about anything except for his abilities. And, well, about sex. He didn't talk much about sex with his friend, beyond a bit of mild teasing and mutual buddy-buddy, look at that girl bonding. It was just, well - a little too close to home. Clark felt that once he broached that subject with Lex, it could lead anywhere. Clark wasn't quite ready for anywhere with Lex.
As the weeks in the Fortress passed without night and day to orient him, Clark felt like he was disconnected from reality, from all the things he'd known, seemingly poised on the brink of his future. It felt far more like a new beginning than his mundane graduation had been. As his time there ended, his restlessness ceased, anchored by the weight of new knowledge and eagerness for what was to come. He was going to college!
It was time to fly.