880 River Ave.
Bronx, New York
He flew straight down, almost faster than he had flown before and he was gradually picking up speed. Both of the plane’s wings were gone now, but that only served to stop the uncontrollable spin of the plane. The 777 was picking up speed too, heading straight for Yankee Stadium. From here, amidst all the other sounds, the cheers from the fans, the families, the men, women, and children in the stadium stood out.
Abruptly the plane stopped. It came to such a complete standstill without jarring the plane or the passengers and crew that if it weren’t for the noise of the world around him, Kal-El would have thought time had stopped. In reality, the plane remained for only a few milliseconds before it started to tip. Superman adjusted his speed, his course, and snagged the back of the plane, lowering it to the Astroturf of the stadium.
Applause and cheers sounded throughout the stadium, not one person remained in their seat. He, the man—the alien—called Superman, resisted the urge to cover his ears; everything seemed so much louder since he had returned to Earth. People’s cries throughout the Earth, their shouts, screams, and sighs, everything, verged on being deafening, overwhelming.
Only after he settled the plane on the ground and flew towards the door of the airliner did he see the person who had stopped the plane. This was the person along with Batman and the growing mutant phenomena that had dominated the headlines in his long absence from earth. The Daily Planet had a much different name for this “superhero” than ‘Superman’ or ‘The Bat Man’, but Jai Lèi. It meant beautiful tears, hardly a masculine name, nor was the figure of the person not two hundred feet away from him masculine. Easily he could look through the featureless mask that covered her face, but he didn’t, it seemed unfair and at the very least, unnecessary.
He gave the woman a curt nod before flying up to the plane and pulling the door open. Stepping into the plane, he let his eye sweep over the reporters, journalists, and the single cameraman on the plane, though he did not deny his eyes found Lois Lane first. Each one he checked for injuries, which were minor, thankfully enough. The silence amongst the reporters as they tried to process the ordeal they had just endured would not last, that he knew.
“Is everyone all right?” he asked, earning him a few wordless nods and one exasperated huff. “Are you okay?” he could not help but ask of Lois.
A few minutes later, he found himself flying over the Westside Highway near 58th Street. There was a section of the bank cordoned off; a white sheet covered the body of a young woman who had not simply drowned, who had not simply been murdered. He hovered high above the crime scene, watching Jai Lei interact with two detectives below. The uniformed officers regarded Jai Lei in a wariness they did not hold for him.
He could not hear the conversation between the detectives and Jai Lei and he wondered if this was one of her abilities. Enough he could learn by watching the techs photograph and collect evidence and the conversations of the patrolmen and the few people who stopped to watch. Kal-El merely waited. When she broke away from the police detectives, Kael floated down to speak with her.
“Welcome back,” Jai Lei offered, her voice disguised electronically so that it sounded both male and female at times.
“Thank you and thank you for stopping the plane.”
“Sorry, I didn’t know you were there,” came the reply. It was difficult to tell emotion or inflection from the computerized voice and impossible to determine it from the mask she wore. “I’ve never tried to manipulate something that big before.”
“What happened to the woman?”
She lifted a shoulder in a shrug. Like Batman, she wore all black, but this was not body armor she wore, nor did she wear a cape. The very purpose of her “uniform” seemed to conceal her identity. “There have been several kidnappings out of Gotham, Metropolis, and Manhattan lately. Kidnappings and murders of Jane Does and sometimes I can figure out who they are—faster than the police can anyway.”
“Is that what you do, help the police?”
“No, not really,” she admitted. “I don’t think ‘caped crusader’ and ‘credible source’ are synonymous in the eyes of the Courts.”
“Apparently not,” he agreed, his thoughts going to the recently paroled Lex Luthor.
“Be careful, though, there’s more to this than random kidnappings and murders.”
“Did you tell the police?”
“You should talk to our mutual friend,” she said without answering the question, though she turned her head back to the crime scene as if she were considering it, “he’s been looking after Metropolis while you were away.”
“The Bat Man,” she mocked conspiratorially and then disappeared.
When he used the word ‘disappeared’, he did not mean that she flew off suddenly or slipped away the moment a distraction cropped up, but she vanished into thin air, as it was often said.
He did seek out their mutual friend, though if she was aware of the Dark Knight of Gotham City was also Bruce Wayne, he wasn’t sure, but doubted it intensely. He didn’t seek out his friend merely because of Jai Lei, but also because he hadn’t seen the other man since he had returned. Finding Bruce (or Batman) for that matter, was no easy task even if the younger man kept himself to Gotham City. Before he left for Krypton, he might have tried to find his voice, during certain times of day, he was sure to hear it; at night was a different matter. Now, he felt as if he had such tenuous control over his abilities. Even flying took some concentration.
He found Bruce at Wayne Manor—well, under it, technically—sleeves rolled up to the elbow, doing repairs on a vehicle Clark had never seen before. Something must have happened to the Tumbler, he reasoned. There was certainly more to the network of caves beneath Bruce’s mansion now than when he left five years ago, the least of which wasn’t the alarm he apparently set off when entering the caves through the waterfall. The start of the beeping earned him a glare from Bruce as the slightly shorter man climbed to his feet and moved to the long table awash with electronics, computer monitors, and folders.
“Sorry,” Clark offered somewhat sheepishly. “That’s new.”
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
Clark just shook his head, moving away from the swirl of bats to Bruce’s work area. A lot of work it seemed Bruce had put into this in the time that Clark had been away. “No,” he admitted, “Krypton was nothing more than . . . there was nothing left, and Rao was nothing more than a neutron star.”
Bruce looked up at him from where he was packing away his tools, but went back to it after just a moment. “And?”
“And I’m back to work at The Daily Planet and Lois, she has a son.”
“I know.” With a thunk, Bruce sat the toolbox on one of the tables, and then faced Clark completely. “He looks like you.”
Clark sunk into Bruce’s chair, wanting to be wearing anything other than the crest of the house of El blazon upon his chest. Five years . . . five years ago he had made Lois forget, forget him, forget them, but they had a son. A five-year-old son, his son, who called another man ‘daddy’. “She’s with someone else.”
His vision focused and he looked up to Bruce, who sat perched on the workbench, looking down at him with none of the impatience that he seemed to garner from Bruce with very little effort. “He seems like a good man.”
“What happened to the Tumbler?” Clark asked, ceding the chair to its owner, who surprisingly did not move to take it up.
“It self-destructed,” was the succinct response as if that relayed the entire story behind the demise of Wayne Enterprises’ prototype bridging vehicle.
“On its own?”
“It had help.”
“So who made this one?”
“I did. Aimee and I.”
Clark’s eyebrows shot up at a woman’s name coming so casually from Bruce’s lips. “Aimee? Who’s Aimee?”
“A friend,” Clark echoed at length as Bruce deposited himself in chair and swiveled to face the array of computer monitors. “As in just a friend, a friend as in colleague, or as in something more than a friend?” No response, which did nothing at all to discourage him. “Can I meet her?”
That earned a response: Bruce’s almost perpetual glare turned away from the computer monitors and to the more deserving recipient of said glare, Clark Kent. Whatever retort he was about to make was interrupted by Alfred, who had descended into the caves by an old elevator. “Master Wayne, your lunch with Miss Rune is in a half hour.”
“Of course, sir,” Alfred replied and then caught sight of Clark. “Master Kent, welcome back.”
“Alfred,” Clark greeted, hugging the old butler more carefully than he had the last time he’d seen the other man. “It’s good to see you.”
“And you, Master Kent, though I do say you are looking rather tired.”
“They don’t make intergalactic travel like they used to.”
“I suspect not.”
“Bruce, I did actually have something I wanted to ask you about.”
Bruce stopped in the middle of the corridor that led to the elevator and turned. “Jai Lei?”
“How did you know?”
Bruce’s eyes narrowed slightly. “You caught a plane,” he seemed compelled to remind Clark. “What do you want to know?”
“Do you trust her?”
“With my life.”
• • •
It wasn’t long at all until he ran into the woman called Jai Lei again. Not long at all, in fact, and in Metropolis, no less. She had appeared between the officers responding to a bank robbery and a man with a Gatling gun. Her method of protecting the police officers from the spray of bullets was drastically different from how Kal-El deflected the bullets from the bank’s security guards. The bullets had ricocheted off his chest; they had struck him with enough force that even he couldn’t ignore them completely. However, Jai Lei stood there between the patrolmen in flak jackets, stationed behind their squad cars with shotguns and semi-automatics at the ready. The bullets struck into a shimmering barrier that could have come from no other than Jai Lei and dropped harmlessly to the ground.
She appeared at the very edge of the roof after the Gatling gun had expended its long magazine and watched as Kal-El incapacitated four men and deposited them with the police. She stood off to the side as if she wasn’t certain if she was needed here anymore or not, not after seeing the bank robber shoot Superman directly in the eye. “You’ve been busy,” she remarked once he flew up to join her. “A shipwreck in Hong Kong, a bombing in the Philippines, that mudslide in Indonesia . . . is it true that time slows down the closer you get to the speed of light?” she asked.
“I don’t actually know how fast I fly.”
“I’ll stay out of your city now that you’re back,” she offered, “I mean, I can’t stay out of it because I still live here, but I’ll, oh you know what I mean.”
“We’re both on the same side.”
She rose up a little higher, over the height of the buildings, then pulled of her cowl, wiping the thin layer of sweat from her top lip. Off Kal’s look of utter surprise at the casual revelation of her identity, she spoke, “You’re Superman, I figured if you wanted to know you could. Besides, you’re Bats’ friend.”
“I’d never call him that in public, of course.”
“Of course,” Kal echoed with amusement. “Kal-El,” he said extending his hand.
The surprise he wasn’t sure he was able to keep off his face. “And he knows who you are?”
“And you know who he is?”
“Then do you know who I am?”
He smiled at the frank answer as she put her cowl back on, but his attention drifted away from her at the sounds of catastrophe, of human agony and fear in the distance. “I have to go.”
“Sure, see you around, Superman.”