02 October 2009

"I'll Sleep When I'm Dead"

By Curtis C. Chen

The woman in the black jacket hesitated before opening the container. The man in the blue suit stared at her. She had seen many different expressions cross his square-jawed face over the years, but now she saw something new: desperation.

"I'm going to ask you one more time," she said. "Don't do this."

He gave her the thinnest of smiles, and she remembered the first time they'd met and the fleeting thought of romance she'd entertained. But he was never interested in her. He had never wanted anyone except Lois.

"I appreciate your concern," he said, his voice steady and comforting, as if the woman in the black jacket was the one who needed reassuring. But she did, didn't she? If something went wrong—if he died here—she would have to live with it. She would be the woman who killed Earth's greatest hero.

"You understand that the change will be permanent," she said.

He nodded. "You mean, until the next time the universe is reshaped by events beyond our control? Yes. I understand."

She knew he wasn't talking about some cataclysmic battle against supervillains or extraterrestrial conquerors. He was talking about losing his wife in something as mundane as a traffic accident. There had been no warning, no evil plot, no significance to it. If she hadn't been his wife, few people would even have noticed.

The woman in the black jacket couldn't leave it alone. "We all feel powerless sometimes," she said. "But even you can't save everyone. Nobody can. It's not meant to be."

"I know that," he said. "But I can do more."

"You'll die sooner," she said. "Maybe that means only hundreds of years instead of thousands, but you don't know when the world will need you most—"

"Last Tuesday morning," said the man in the blue suit. "Twelve minutes after eight. And I wasn't there."

"It wasn't your fault!" she said. "You can't save everyone, Clark!"

"I don't want to save everyone," he said. "But if I can save one more life because of this—prevent one more family's suffering—it will be worth it."

She couldn't think of another argument, so she just said, "Please."

He smiled at her. Not condescending, just—compassionate. He was always so damn nice. He put a hand on her shoulder.

"I'm ready," he said.

She nodded and opened the container. A white glow emanated from its interior. He leaned forward, and reflections danced over his eyes. She wondered if he was trying to see through the relic, or using his microscopic vision to inspect its surface.

It wouldn't work. His powers were useless against magic. That was why he had come to her.

"What do I do?" he asked.

"Put your hand into the mist," she said. "The relic will do the rest."

The man in the blue suit raised his hand, then looked up at her. "Thank you, Zee," he said. "Whatever happens—thank you."

The woman in the black jacket shook her head. "I just hope you'll forgive me tomorrow."

He reached into the mist.


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