IN MY FATHER'S EYES
Before anything else happened, Clark heat-beamed all communications lines out of the studio and he sucked most of the oxygen from the room so that the three dazed technicians fell unconscious.
"Let us reason this out," Towbee said as he raised the hands of two arms. "I am the product of scores of races and nearly a thousand cultures, I am one of the most sophisticated and powerful individuals in the Galaxy, I have powers and abilities beyond your imagination. You, on the other hand, are reputedly the most formidable and resourceful single being known to inhabit the Milky Way in thousands of years; in legendary exploits recounted in dialects of every star that has spawned intelligence you have not suffered a significant defeat since the destruction of your home world; your coming was foretold by the prophet Sonnabend himself."
"If you say so," Clark responded.
"On the basis of that alone, there is probably an even chance for either of us to defeat the other."
"A gambler friend of mine says fifty-fifty is good odds."
"But," the alien pointed one of his four index fingers, "that selfsame prophet also predicted my own coming, a hybrid born to Vega with an empire based on trade, you will remember. There is no doubt that I am the being of whom Sonnabend spoke. The time to which he referred has come, and I am the only hybrid on Vega whose intelligence and authority are even close to that of a potential ruler. This prophet whose words have for billions of years proved flawless has said I will defeat all opposition, even your own. When you take that added factor into account, good Superman, would it not seem prudent to forget your bravado and join my service?"
"Your reasoning is as flawless as Sonnabend's prophesies, Towbee." Clark Kent walked out from behind his anchor desk. "But we shall see just how flawless that actually is."
The reporter flexed every boulder-shaped muscle on the surface of his body and the anchorman's conservative blue suit ripped and unraveled in a hundred places until there were just loose threads falling all over the floor around the breathtaking figure of Superman.
Towbee was braced for the attack as the Man of Steel dived unexpectedly past the minstrel at the two cameramen and the sound technician who lay on the floor behind him. Superman snapped up the technician and one cameraman and whisked them away from the brewing battle, into the partitioned audience section that is used only when Studio B is transformed from newsroom to variety show set.
Towbee had no idea that the hero's vaunted respect for life extended so far as to hinder his own performance in the face of an enemy. The alien used the free millisecond to his advantage, dancing a finger over certain keys of his instrument to shoot a bolt of light at the skull of the remaining cameraman who lay dazed on the news set.
As Superman dropped the two unconscious men into padded audience chairs and began to turn around, he had to decide (1) what he had to do to defeat Towbee and (2) how Towbee proposed to defeat him. The second question was clear by the time Superman was fully turned to face the studio proper where the villain stood.
His momentum through the air was already building when in his path, between himself and the malevolent clown, a hole opened in the very fabric of space and there was no way Superman could avoid careening into it with the speed of a Jovian tornado. He would be lost somewhere in the infinite folds of time and space and for all his powers—if wherever he found himself he would have any powers—he could never find his way back home. In mid-flight he whipped the cape from his back.
He whirled the red stretchable cloth over his head as he flew across the scant feet separating him from oblivion. The indestructible fabric twisted and spun like a flag in a cyclone, but it held. It stretched the length and breadth of the huge room, slicing through wall consoles and two television cameras, over the hole in space around the throat of the trap-setter on the other side, and as Superman fell headlong at the void the startled Towbee yanked on the cape with a neck and four arms mighty beyond their appearance, pulling the last son of Krypton back to the plane of Earth and flinging him through a battery of monitors and the wall of the studio as well.
Superman lay on his back in the director's control room, still clutching his cape in his right fist, his eyes closed with unconsciousness for the merest fraction of an instant. He opened them to see a dozen red thunderbolts streaking out of Towbee's image machine, directly at his head. Superman sprang upward and flew, his back scraping the ceiling, over, under, around the flashes near lightspeed. The villain was his now. He would get close enough to overpower him with sheer might like a veteran boxer momentarily snowed by a quick opponent's flashy tricks, but who managed to weather them all. Two fists clenched together, the indestructible cape still trailing behind them like a truck's danger signal. There was no gimmick the alien could juggle from his instrument in time. As he tumbled at the enemy Superman glanced at the dimensional rip still dangling in the air; the remaining dazed cameraman was halfway into it.
Superman altered his direction, missing Towbee, snatching the cameraman's leg in the crook of his cape, hoping whatever bizarre laws prevailed on the other side of the divide would allow the man's return alive. They did. The hero whisked the man toward his colleagues in the rows of seats, flying slowly enough so that the man's skin would not burn with friction, slowly enough to give him a chance to claw up the cape and slam an elbow into Superman's steely face, crushing the elbow hopelessly.
Towbee had obviously done something to the man's mind while Superman wasn't looking. He was fighting like a trapped animal, cracking his knuckles on Superman's chest, mashing his toes into his legs, and Superman could not stop him from hurting himself while he got the man to his seat. The man was not thinking; no one in the entire television operation had been capable of thought since Towbee's takeover of the broadcast media. The mortal must be driven by nervous energy and Towbee's impulses to him.
With the skill of an acupuncturist Superman ran a diamond-hard fingernail down the cameraman's spinal cord. The man fell limp, his central nervous system temporarily paralyzed. When Superman turned back to Towbee's direction, the door through space was gone, but Superman faced his father Jor-El.
The images of Towbee's instrument took on the character of the original, along with whatever other traits the musician cared to add. The figure of hardened smoke and light standing beside the only television camera still intact was Jor-El, over seven feet tall, and his eyes brimming with disdain.
"No son of mine flies all over the Universe looking for trouble to meddle in," and Jor-El flung up a powerful Kryptonian arm to swat his son through the divider to the audience where he landed, squashing four seats as he ruptured the floor.
Around him Superman heard titters, then chuckles, then laughter, then guffaws, then he opened his eyes and he was surrounded, in the audience, by three hundred Towbees, sitting and laughing as if at a Marx Brothers routine, but laughing at him. Superman. Little Kal-El.
"Let that be a lesson to you," Jor-El said, standing bigger that life in front of the audience section, ignoring the raucous laughter of the Towbee forms. Which one was real?
"What do you want?" the dazed, disoriented Superman squeaked as he got up, bottom first in the manner of a small boy.
"I want you to apologize, and then go to your room," Jor-El boomed as hundreds of Towbees cackled, clouding Superman's mind. "I want you to go right to your room."
Jor-El pointed in the direction of a small swirling point in front of Superman's face. A point that stretched and enlarged and became another doorway to somewhere in time and space. Kal-El's room?
"I'm sorry, Daddy."
The form and the voice were those of Jor-El. Superman even heard the words in the Kryptonese language that only he remembered, but could these really be the words of Jor-El?
Superman was standing, listing to either side like an embarrassed child wishing he would fall into the floor. Jor-El must be really angry to talk like that, but angry at what? Was it Jor-El who should be angry?
"Why did you send me away!" the man-child in red and blue suddenly screamed.
"To your room."
"You sent me away. You never came and got me again. I was hungry that whole time. I didn't want to go. You sent me away and there was noise and it got dark and I couldn't get to sleep because I was scared and I cried. Why did you send me away?"
"You ungrateful little brat."
Three hundred Towbees laughed.
"I had my reasons," Jor-El boomed, "and they are not for you to question. To your room." He pointed at the growing hole to oblivion.
It was an order. He must obey it. Why?
He was little Kal-El, and he must listen to his father.
He was timid Clark Kent, and he must pay attention to all authority figures.
He was a failed hero, about to be overcome by someone stronger.
He was Superman, by God. Towbee, Superman realized, Towbee wasn't one of those round huffing little figures in the audience. Towbee was there—in front of him—urging him to his doom—dressed in the form of his father.
There was an evil in this place and for all he had ever been or hoped to be, Superman was going to defeat that evil.
That was the last coherent thought he had.
Later, gradually, Superman remembered seeing himself spring up at the false form of his father like a bolt of nova light. Never in his life had Superman felt his physical self so dominate his being. There was a moment in a swirl of colors, smoke and light kicking around the room in a manic nonsensical pattern. The whole thing was over in a time too short to measure.
The next thing he clearly saw was his father's face, with Superman's own hands clenched around the throat, fading into that of the space minstrel. And he heard a voice.
"You have done well, Kal-El. Your job is through."
He ignored the voice. It was all he was capable of doing at this moment, as his mind floated back to the control of his muscles.
"Loosen your grip, Kal-El. You may hurt him permanently, and you do not do that. We can deal with him now."
He loosened his grip, and the hybrid being lay on the floor of what remained in the studio. Superman looked in the direction of the soft hand that held his shoulder. It was the Old-Timer. He knew it was really the Old-Timer. There was no doubt.
"You have done well, my son."
"I'm not your son."
"My friend. You have broken the eight-billion-year run of Sonnabend's prophesies. If not for you, dire predictions of Galactic calamity beginning at this time and place would surely have come true. But you have stemmed the disastrous flow of history, and we stand on the threshold of an age undreamed of by any prophet. There certainly will be a long struggle ahead, but the forces of good now have a chance to prevail. The Galaxy thanks you, Kal-El, and welcomes you to the ranks of its greatest heroes."
Superman was beginning to understand. Not quite, but he was beginning. He remembered a piece of an old line and said to the former Guardian, "If there is a place and work for me, then I am ready." He thought a moment, "Lincoln said that, didn't he?"
"Yes," the Old-Timer said, "Lincoln."
Superman looked up at the wall of the studio and realized he would have to repair it and see to that cameraman's broken bones. A wall clock that was still running told him that since Towbee entered the studio a minute and twenty seconds had passed.
On the roof of the Galaxy Building the Black Widow landed. Lex Luthor stepped out in his full outlandish costume and walked to the stairway door that the Old-Timer had left open for him.
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