End of Summer
The Last Herald of Galactus Dannell Lites Galactus and Superman

Ah don't own anybody heah! They are all the property of DC and Marvel comics and Ah am just borrowing them! Ah promise to return them relatively unharmed when Ah am done! Hee! This is a fanfic for entertainment purposes only. And if'n anybody can figure out how Ah can make money doing this, for God's sake speak up now!

Rated P for Pure as the Driven Snow:):)

Tarnation! Ah have no bloody idea what this thing is! Elseworlds? What If? Imaginary Story? Don't ask moi! But it surely was fun to write:):) For those of moi's readers who may not be familiar with all the characters lurking in these pages, Ah have provided a SCORECARD at the end of the story:):) Enjoy!

Ah need to thank all moi's faithful beta readers GenXlegacy, DarkMark, 'rith, and all the rest! Ya'll are the greatest, folks!

Extra special thanks to Mark Waid and Alex Ross for "Kingdom Come" and their wonderful insights into Superman and Batman, et al!

He stood cradled in the great hand, staring up into the strange square pupils of the World Devourer's eyes. Beneath him, through the soles of his boots, he could feel the waning energy, the fading life of the great being he served so loyally and he was afraid. Afraid of being alone again. Of being the last…If the World Devourer did not feed soon then he would die.

He could not allow that.

And yet…the price…the price …

"What troubles you, Herald?" demanded Galactus(1). Swiftly, the other looked away.

"Nothing, Master," he said and felt the scarlet cloth of his cape flutter in the breeze of Galactus' breathy, answering reply. "Nothing troubles me." For a moment, the huge eyes clouded with the advent of unimaginable power and strong emotion.

Could it be grief he spied there on those stern, gigantic features?


But perhaps not.

He was prone, he suspected, to projecting emotions upon his Master that, perhaps, might not be there. Because he wished it so.

"No so, Loyal One," returned Galactus, "but we shall speak of this later. Now you have a task to perform, do you not?" The other felt his heart sink as Galactus raised him level with his own huge countenance, staring at him; depending upon him for his life. "I hunger Herald, I hunger!" he cried. The pain in that thunderous voice tore at his Herald's heart. Slowly, Galactus closed his hand and then opened it once more in a great flash of energy.

"Fly, Kal-El(2) of Krypton, fly!" ordered the Devourer of Worlds. "Find me a planet, my loyal Herald! Find sustenance for Galactus!"

Endowed once more with the Power Cosmic, Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton, blazed away, setting the heaven's alight in the wake of his search for a planet with energy to sustain his Master.

And he found one.

The planet spinning majestically below was beautiful; a vibrant blue-green jewel teeming with life. Laughing, he plunged down through the oxygen rich atmosphere. The pale pastel colors shone against the starkness of space, catching the eye. The warm green bespoke of life and growing things. The cool blue of it's watery womb promised peace and tranquility. He'd almost reached the surface before he realized that the energy bursts and EM spectrum disturbances all around him were the planet's inhabitants, trying to drive him off with primitive weapons.

How dare they? He was Kal-El, the Herald of Galactus who went when and where he pleased. Apish fools!

Angry now, he lashed out with his heat vision, destroying many of their toys, easily avoiding the rest with agile grace. In the beginning, he meant to leave these beings in peace. It was his custom to find uninhabited worlds for his Master to consume. If this obvious ploy displeased the World Devourer, Galactus said nothing. The two, Master and servant, never spoke of it. But he was caught by the splendid beauty of this world and so paused in his quest long enough to admire it.

His mistake.

An orbiting laser defense satellite sprang to life, stinging him, insect-like, with tens of thousands of joules of coursing energy. Rather distracted, he could not evade and was ill prepared for the missile that exploded against his chest.

Down, down, he fell, burning like a meteor, through the planetary atmosphere until he struck the ground below with a blow that shook it, making it tremble and writhe in protest.

Martha Clark Fordham Kent glanced up into the bright, blanketing sky above Smallville, Kansas and clapped her hands in delight.

"Jonathan, look!" she cried to her husband of many years, pointing into the firmament. "A falling star!"

"I see it, Martha, I see it!" exclaimed the Kansas farmer with a smile.

The white haired man pulled his new Ford pickup off to the side of the road and, hand in hand, together, he and his wife watched as a miracle unfolded.

"Make a wish, Martha! Make a wish!" Jonathan chuckled.

With a sigh, she did.

No one, however, could have been more amazed than she when it came true.

He woke screaming in a tongue that only two living beings in all the Universe understood, now.

"No!" he shouted in the liquid accents of a planet he knew only in dreams, "No! Don't leave me! Please don't leave me…" But the shade of his father Jor-El faded into misty oblivion, calling his name. His heart racing, he reached for the comfort of his fathers hand, in vain. Jor-El of Krypton, like his world, was gone. Leaving behind only a single survivor to mourn.

"Jonathan!" Martha Kent called. "Come quick! He's awake!" When the stranger tried to rise from his bed she held out a hand to his broad chest. "Easy there child, easy," she soothed him. The sound of her soft voice seemed to comfort him and he lay back down with a small grimace of pain.

"Well, now," opined Jonathan Kent from the open doorway, "you're looking a mite better, son." To Martha's dismay, those dark brows knitted themselves together in a frown.

"Jonathan, I don't think he speaks English. He doesn't understand you."

Martha stroked the night dark hair and smiled to reassure him as the bright blue eyes closed, peacefully, and the harsh sound of his breathing slowed to a steady rhythm. Within moments the young stranger was sleeping once more.

Such a handsome boy! Martha thought. But who was he? When she and her husband followed the path of that blazing falling star to the cornfield on the south forty of their small farm the last thing they expected to find was a young man, unconscious and still glowing with heat like a coal, or a wood ember.

"Land sakes, Martha!" she could still hear Jonathan exclaim. "That thing looks like it's coming down right on our place!"

His face alight with delight and wonder, Jonathan Kent quickly started the Ford S-10's engine once more and sped off into the deepening twilight. With a shake of her head, Martha gusted a sigh of exasperated amusement. Truth be told, even after all these years she still couldn't cotten to Jonathan's fondness for the strange things he found in those science fiction stories of his. "Look, Martha!" he would often exalt, waving a brightly colored magazine under her nose in Fordham's Drug, "A new story by Asimov!"

"Yes dear," was her frequent response, "Robots…or is it another 'Foundation' story this time?"

The prospect of actually seeing or perhaps touching a piece of something that fell from the sky, that came from beyond the Earths domain was clearly exciting for her husband. Martha smiled indulgently. She had to admit she was a bit curious herself. But as she understood these things it was most likely just a piece of nickel-iron rock, however exotic it's previous locale. Still, it was nice to see Jonathan so happy and excited. Although not too exciting she hoped. Jonathan's last medical exam was quite encouraging, Doc Whitney assured her, but her husband had still to fully recover from his heart attack of the previous winter and Martha found herself worrying about him more than she liked.

They were less than half way to the remote farm they owned when the earth tremor hit, almost driving them off the road. Stubbornly, Jonathan fought the swerving pick up and kept them from the yawning ditch and the specter of an accident on such a lonely stretch of road as this. Gasping in fear, Martha held on in wide eyed dismay as Jonathan once more set their truck racing in the direction of the falling fragment of heaven.

"Our place all right," declared Jonathan. "Over on the edge of the woods in the south pasture, I'll warrant!"

When they first approached the thing from the sky, the heat was so intense that even Jonathan, determined as he was, found himself driven back by the blast.

"Careful, Jonathan!" Martha admonished, afraid he might be burned. Oh that man and his passion for unearthly things was a caution! Undaunted, Jonathan retreated reluctantly to the safety of his Ford pick up, wiping his brow with a large red checkered handkerchief.

"We'd best wait for it to cool, I reckon," Jonathan smiled.

"I reckon so," returned Martha tartly, adjusting Jonathan's rounded spectacles on his nose and checking him closely for injuries. He patted her hand.

"I'm fine, honey," he assured her and was rewarded with a smile. Even after nearly thirty years of marriage, Jonathan Kent still saw his wife as the prettiest girl in Smallville County. Lord willing that was never going to change.

"Jonathan, look!" Martha cried suddenly, pointing at the fallen star.

"Lord have mercy!" her husband gasped, gazing at the rapidly cooling object lying in his cornfield. "Why, it looks like a man!"

[In the dream, he is smiling, happy and loved; surrounded by others of his own kind. They greet him. "Ho, Kal-El! Greetings to the son of Jor-El!" they cry. "You are well, my son?" inquires his anxious mother, Lara. Rising to join his father in their laboratory, Kal-El of Krypton, youngest member of the ruling Science Council and proud heir to the House of El, assures his mother of his continued good health, smiling at her motherly concern

In the dream, his father and other members of his large and illustrious family gather to see him Joined with the dark tressed, beautiful Lyla Lerrol, Krypton's most famous emotion-movie actress. In the dream he is never alone.

But the dream shifts and flows, changing shape before his despairing eyes. No longer is he the adoreed first son of Jor-El. As always, his father is gone. No longer is he cradled safely in the company of others like him. There are no others. No, there is only one. Before him looms the visage of Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds. Like him, Galactus is the last of his kind. There are no others like him. Kal-El has often wondered, in idle moments between the stars, if this disturbs Galactus. If so, there is no sign of it. Most likely he will never know the answer to this and many other questions. Galactus is…Galactus.

"Kal-El, my loyal Herald," thundered the voice of Galactus, "what troubles you?" Always the same question.

"Nothing, Master."

Always the same answer.

"Speak, Herald!" ordered Galactus. "You trouble me."

"Master…" He gazes reluctantly up into the face of his savior and only companion. "Who am I? Where do I come from?" For many long minutes Galactus was silent. The great square pupils of his eyes widened. The World Devourer blinked and his Herald stood astonished.


More silence. And then Galactus opened his closed hand to reveal a jewel, glowing softly green like a growing thing. "Here is the answer to all your questions, Kal-El of Krypton," said Galactus. "Your father has provided for your education, Herald. Learn well."

When the jewel rose and sank into his forehead there was cold, great cold. And knowledge. Great, wondrous knowledge that flooded him like rainwater after a storm.

"Kal-El, my son," whispered a deep, pleasant voice, not at all like the voice of Galactus. "Hear me! I am Jor-El, your father…"

And through the eyes of his father he saw mighty Krypton, the world of his birth: the Jewel Mountains, the Fire Falls and the Scarlet Jungle. Meteor Valley spread itself before him in all it's glory. The wonders of his birth-world were laid out for like a feast and his father, this Jor-El, was his guide. And the people! So many people.

His mother Lara smiled at him and the beauty of it stole his breath away. Never had he seen anyone smile before. He looked like his mother. Such a simple thing…But until that moment he'd not known it. There were no mirrors in the mighty planet-sized starship that was home to Galactus and he was not vain in any case.

So many, many people …

His staid uncle Zor-El, who moved to Argo City to be free of the shadow of his elder brother, the brilliant scientist and statesman. Who is plodding and steady, but very through, in his research into the mysteries of interdimentional travel and the science of erecting force fields. Unlike his brother Jor-El, whose mind soars on the winds of Krypton like a flamebird on the wing.

His lovely aunt Allura, wife to Zor-El, whose whole world is wrapped up in the tiny person of her infant daughter Kara, cooing and gurgling happily in her mother's arms.

His uncle Nim-El, the weapons master, twin to Jor-El his father, who was nothing like his peaceful brother at all. His cousin Don-El, the son of Nim-El, the Police Chief of the city of Kandor.

Rowdy, laughing Jaf-El whose hair, red as the sun of Krypton and of the Sun God, Rao, who kindled it in the heavens. Because of his hair, a rare color indeed on Krypton, Jaf-El is marked for the priesthood, but Jaf-El does not want to be a priest.

And he was Kal-El…The Star Child.

The visions fade, waning and flickering like the dreams they are and he grasps after them in futile despair.

"No, no! Come back!" he pleads, but silence is his only answer. When he looks to Galactus, the World Devourer says nothing, standing like a statue with no sign of feeling on his cool metallic visage.

"What - what happened to them, Master?" he cried. "Where are they now?"

"They are dust on the Cosmic winds, my Kal-El," said Galactus. "With his last breath, your father Jor-El gave you, his only son, into my hands. Then he, along with his world, perished."

The world twisted and changed shape, writhed with a sickening motion that left him nauseous for an instant. But when it righted itself, he was standing in a large laboratory. The world shook and convulsed crazily. Through the clear front windows of the lab he witnessed the toppling of tall towers, the destruction of mighty building…heard the screams of people, it seemed.

"You will care for him?" inquired an anxious voice that he did not at first recognize, it was so muffled in weariness and despair.

"We have struck a bargain, Jor-El of Krypton. You have the word of Galactus," proclaimed another, very familiar voice. "Your son will live. He shall be my Herald." Through the eyes of Jor-El there passed an instant of great suffering. He hesitated. But, just then, the ground shook itself again like a great wet dog and Jor-El clutched the precious bundle held closer to his body, as if to protect its fragile existence. Galactus waited.

Another, more slender hand, gently pushed the colorful red, blue and yellow blankets away from the face of the sleeping infant and stared into the opening blue eyes of her child. Lara Jor-El leaned down carefully, so as not to wake the baby, and tenderly kissed him. Without hesitation then, Jor-El handed the child into the outstretched hand of the World Devourer.

"Rao protect you, my son," he whispered and Kal-El watched the towering figure of Galactus fade from sight, carrying the infant Kal-El away from death and destruction. His last image was of his father Jor-El, doomed along with his world, as he reached to take his weeping wife Lara into his arms in a tight embrace.

For many cycles after that his dreams were full of the wonders of Krypton and her people. In the dreams, he was a cherished part of a large family; a large world and a thriving culture. He was not alone.

In the dreams. ]

But, this time, when he woke from his dreams, he was not alone.

Feather light and fragile as gossamer in his hands that could rend steel and change the course of mighty rivers, rested another hand.

"Land sakes, child!" exclaimed Martha Kent, "you tossed and turned so I was worried about you." She patted his hand in reassurance, and although he did not completely understand her she was sure, she watched him relax into the pillows with a sigh. Her smile was warm.

"Are you hungry?" she asked, her bright blue eyes twinkling. "I'll just bet you are. Growing boys are always bound to be hungry!"

Instinctively, against his will, his hand clutched at hers for an instant when she moved off to leave him. Was he being abandoned again? But the slight squeeze she gave his hand in reply helped to calm him and he flushed with embarrassment as he released her.

"It's all right, now," she said softly, in understanding, "I'm right here. Just going into the kitchen is all. I'll be back directly, don't you worry none. There's a fresh pot of hot, homemade chicken soup on the stove. It's good for what ails you, I say. Why, I read that very thing in one of Jonathan's 'Scientific American magazines just the other day!" Warily, he watched her bustle away.

Could he trust her? He thought perhaps he had no choice. At the moment he was weakened; the Power Cosmic lay dormant within him, waiting. And her mate? What of him? Neither of them looked to be formidable, true. But he had learned many things in the service of the World Devourer and trust was not one of them. It was not easily come by. His Master hungerd. He should go from this place; he knew this. And yet… And yet …

He feels safe here. Safe with these people who have cared for a stranger they do not know with no hope of material reward. They are kind. And he…he is in need of…kindness.

When the woman returned she brought a wonderful aroma wafting in her busy wake. His sensitive nose recognized the smell of food and he realized for the first time that he was hungry. For him, eating was not strictly necessary, but it had, upon occasion, brought him pleasure. He dared to smile.

"Now that's better!" the woman said merrily and he understood that his happiness pleased her. The flavor of the soup was delicious and he marveled at the many textures his sensitive palate brought him. "Try this," Martha Kent urged him and laughed when his eyes widened with indescribable pleasure at the taste of her freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still hot and gooey from the oven. He gobbled his way through all four of them on his plate and the accompanying glass of cold milk with such joyful abandon that Martha was terribly gratified.

Chuckling, she wiped away the milk mustache, chocolate smears and cookie crumbs from his mouth with a corner of her apron. When he held out his empty plate and pleaded, "Droma?" or some such, the farmer's wife needed no translation.

"'Please, sir, may I have some more'," she laughed fully, now. "Maybe I should name you Oliver." She studied the distressed young stranger carefully. "No," she finally decided. "You don't strike me as an Oliver, somehow. I - I always planned to name my first son Clark. Could be I'll call you Clark. Would you like that?"

"Droma?" he said again, hopefully, widening his blue eyes in entreaty.

"I do declare!" Martha smiled, "how could a body resists someone who likes their cooking that much?" With another reassuring pat to his hand, she moved off. When she returned, she had three extra cookies for him, more milk, and some colorful picture books.

"I thought these might help," she said. "I hoped, once, that Jonathan and I were going to be parents. I - lost the baby, but I still have these. Just never could bring myself to get shut of them…well, you know how that is …"

"Bay-bee?" he inquired with a frown when he spied her gathering tears.

Martha Kent wiped her eyes, opened "My First Picture Book", and pointed to the bright image of a young boy.

"Boy," she instructed, enunciating with care.

"Boy-ee," he repeated around the cookie he was still chewing.

"Not with your mouth full, Clark," she chided.

By the time Jonathan came in from the fields with the setting evening sun the boy was speaking in choppy, incomplete sentences.

"Glory be," murmured an astonished Jonathan Kent. "He's a smart young fella."

The days that followed were happy ones. "Clark" learned quickly and seemed to enjoy physical labor. As Kal-El, he had never been planet bound for long and he discovered to his surprise that he liked the feel of warm wind in his face, the texture of rich soil in his hands. The accomplishments of farming, planting a seed then waiting patiently for it to take root and grow amazed and delighted him.

"Look!" he cried, pointing at the sprouting tomato vines he had planted just the previous week in Martha Kents vegetable garden with wide, wonder-filled eyes. "It's bigger!"

Most of all, he relished the company of Jonathan and Martha Kent.

For the Kents there were many unexpected things about their young guest …

"Where should I put it, Pa?" the boy asked one day.

"Sakes alive, Clark!" gasped Jonathan, staring at his newly acquired 'son'. But regardless of how many times he blinked and rubbed his eyes to clear them, Clark still stood there, holding aloft the elderly farmer's battered John Deere tractor with one hand.

"Over there," he finally responded weakly, pointing to a patch of relatively dry ground.

Obediently, Clark set the heavy piece of farm machinery down, light as a feather and turned back to face his new father with a smile. Thoughtfully, Jonathan Kent wiped his forehead, then began to absently polish his rounded spectacles, watching the young man with care. At the look on his face, Clark lost his smile.

"Did - did I do something wrong?" he ventured, biting his lip uncomfortably. He was very anxious to please. "The tractor was stuck in the mud. Should I have left it there?" Jonathan slipped an arm around the boy's broad shoulders in comfort and patted him reassuringly on the back.

"No, no," he said, "you didn't do anything wrong, boy; nothing." Clark's look of gratified relief touched the old farmer's heart. "But son…we've got to talk a bit. You need to be careful about things like that." Unbidden, his eyes drifted to rest on his two ton tractor sitting innocently to the side of his field, now; free of the mud. "Some folks might be…frightened by such as that. Not everyone would approve. You understand?" Solemnly Clark nodded and Jonathan began to breath easier.

"You're a good boy," he chuckled.

It was simpler than he expected for him to fit himself into the nearby tiny rural Kansas town of Smallville. "My nephew," explained Martha Kent proudly, "my youngest sister's boy, Clark, come to stay a spell." In public, he called them "Aunt Martha" and "Uncle Jon"…but in private, when he called them "Ma" and "Pa" they did not correct him.

Smallville was slow moving and peaceful, full of people in all their endless diversity. Clark became very popular, very quickly. He always had time to stop and talk. He never seemed to tire of hearing all the local stories, those turgid folktales of the past. He was fascinated by almost everything. As if it were all new and shiny bright like a child with a new toy. He was a good listener. No one appeared to notice that he rarely spoke about himself.

Soon, he found himself embroiled with the complexity of women. Her name was Lana. Lana Lang. And she had the most amazing hair he had ever seen. Red, the color of crackling flames and the sun of vanished Krypton. Never in all his travels had he quite seen its like. When they danced at the New Hope Baptist Church Sunday Social, tongues wagged and lips smiled. Dazed, blushing and stammering, Martha Kent lead him home with a laugh.

And not once during that golden time did he allow himself to think of Galactus his Master…or of his aborted mission. But his dreams were haunted; full of dead and dying worlds and the harsh demanding face of the World Devourer.

It all had to come to an end, of course.

And eventually, it did.

Kal-El surveyed the wreckage around him, his ears filling with the din of battle and told himself that he was not a fool. There was no way he could have foreseen this or prevented it. None. He closed his eyes tightly and knew that he lied.

Martha Kent's fear filled voice began it.

"Jonathan! Clark!" she called from the small living room of the Kent home, "come quick! My Lord, it's terrible!"

"…events remain confusing at this hour…" the solemn anchorman on the ancient television screen reported. "But the battle seems to be centered on the famous Metropolis Daily Bugle building. Heroes have gathered to defend the city, perhaps even the Earth itself, from the single unknown invader. Reports are coming in confirming the presence of Professor Reed Richards and his Fantastic Four(3), Metropolis' own local hero, Steel, Stark Industries' Iron Man(4), the mysterious, Batman, The Scarlet Spider(5), Princess Diana of Themyscira, AKA Wonder Woman, the Flash, and others. We take you now live to the scene. Jimmy?"

Kal-El did not need his eyes to tell him that the flame-haired, freckled young newscaster was frightened. His voice betrayed that despite his most valiant efforts.

"Thank you, Perry. Down town Metropolis is the scene of chaos and carnage today as …"

"…first view of the invader…captured on film earlier today by tourist Mark Waid's(6) camera…"

On screen, the busy thronging life of a Metropolis street, exploded with a great kaleidoscopic burst of harsh, bright purple light and people fell back in panic and astonishment. In eerie silence, the towering figure swept all before it like gnats swatted casually by some great determined hand.

Disjointed, in jerky fits and starts, the camera lost sight of the giant alien, as the frantic camera-wielding tourist found himself pulled along in the wake of the retreating mob. Like a salmon swimming upstream against the currents of a rushing river, the photographer fought the rising tide of coursing humanity. With a roar, the video camera's sound system burst into strident life just in time to catch the clarion call of a great, demanding voice that shook the steel and concrete canyons of the great city.

"Kal-El! To me, my Herald! Galactus commands!"

Galactus, the World Devourer, had arrived.

Kal-El's stomach clenched and his world shrank to a pinpoint centered on Galactus' vast, square pupiled eyes. He heard the voice of Jonathan Kent soothing his uneasy wife.

"It's all right honey. Look! There comes Steel, now. He'll take care of that character. You just watch."

The life he had briefly made for himself as Clark Kent fell away in small shattered pieces, leaving in their broken wake only Kal-El. Kal-El. Who was servant to Galactus. He backed away from the television, filled now with scenes of fighting and destruction. Calmly, he took off the discarded pair of Jonathan Kent's wirerimmed glasses he wore in an effort to look more common and placed them carefully on the mantle so as not to inadvertently damage them. Everything on this world was so…fragile. He glanced at Martha and Jonathan Kent. And somethings were even more fragile than most.

"I have to go…" he told his foster parents, softly.

For several moments the elderly couple watched him silently. It was Martha Kent's quick kiss on the cheek that broke the tension.

"You be careful now, Clark Kent, you hear me?" she demanded. She hurried into the safety and comfort of her kitchen, still warm and fragrant with the smell of baking bread. Jonathan Kent walked with his foster son out into the fields of growing corn. Neither of them spoke. The old farmer peeled back the shuck from an ear of corn and tested the firmness of the kernels beneath with a practiced touch. He gathered the juice of one burst kernel on a finger and tasted it and Kal-El waited.

"Not quite ready yet," he judged, "not sweet enough. Be around another week, I reckon." With care he replaced the shuck over the exposed cob and sighed. The sadness in his eyes was difficult for the alien youth to bear but the trust that also lived there would never leave him. Only living things did that.

"I guess you know what you have to do, boy. No need for this old man to tell you that." He squeezed Kal-El's shoulder. "Mind what your Ma said and be careful, now," he admonished in a voice he hoped was stern.

On his flight to the city of Metropolis, Kal-El discovered that he was not alone, after all. All the way there he carried the faith and love of Jonathan and Martha Kent with him.

He was never going to be alone again.

The battle, when Kal-El caught up to it, was not going well.

"Who the hell is that?" snarled Guy Gardner, the self-styled "one, true Green Lantern (accept no substitutes!).

"Help maybe?" ventured the hopeful voice of The Flash, panting with exertion, dodging around the giant aliens left leg..

"Naaah, prolly some wimp in a used spandex supersuit," Gardner sneered, pounding at his foe with a huge, green power-ring spawned hammer.

"Somehow…I don't think so," opined Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, noting the speed with which the stranger was approaching. Using his malleable body, he stretched his torso, forming a shield to protect his wife, the Invisible Woman. Darting forth, his right hand snaked out and caught the falling Batman and set him gently down on the rooftop once again.

"This isn't getting us anywhere," observed the pliable scientific genius. "Brute force isn't going to work. We need a plan."

"Noooo kidding!" cracked the harassed voice of the youthful Scarlet Spider. "Tell ya what, buddy… You grab his ankles and I'll jump up and down on his big toe!"

Galactus ignored them all.

It wasn't until the stranger stood hovering in the air, watching, hawk-eyed, that Galactus left off construction of the gigantic Machine with which he would drain Earth of it's energies. Turning to face his Herald, Galactus frowned. The assembled heroes fell back, murmuring expectantly. Reed Richards unobtrusively joined Steel in examining The Machine. Wonder Woman took the hot-headed Guy Gardner by the shoulder.

"Wait!" she hissed. Reluctantly, he took her sound advice.

"Hey, Wonder Babe, after we can this sucker, what say you and me…" Perhaps fortunately for Guy Gardner, the rest was drowned out by the booming voice of their foe.

Pointing at the hovering figure, Galactus demanded, "Who are you? Say your name."

"I'm Kal-El."

"And who is Kal-El?"

Kal-El's face stilled itself into smooth lines, reflecting no expression at all, giving.no clue to his inner turmoil.

"Your…Herald…" he replied, after a moment's pause. If his hesitation concerned the World Devourer, he gave no sign of it even to Kal-El who was used to reading much into the silences and few words of his grim Master.

"And why do you live, Herald?"

"Be - because you saved me."

"Even so," Galactus barbed words struck deep. "You would do well to remember that."

"I have not forgotten," Kal-El defended himself. "I have searched, I - "

"And your search has been fruitful, loyal one. This planet is rich with energy; Galactus shall feast here. Well done, my Herald, well done. You have redeemed yourself in the eyes of Galactus."

"Why do I not like the sound of that?" muttered the Flash

"No!" Kal-El cried in a harsh voice. "Not here! I - these people have been kind - no …"

"And what matters their kindness to me? I am Galactus. I am a law unto myself; none may judge me, Herald. Not even you" The hovering man faltered for a moment and then seemed to catch himself. His eyes closed in pain.

"Master, please…we can leave this place…" His voice gained strength and enthusiasm although his eyes told a different tale. "Let me find you another world to satisfy your hunger. It's only one insignificant planet, after all. There are many others. I'll find you a better. Come away…Together, we can…Together…" The voice was almost pleading now, but still there was pride in it. For a moment, if only a moment, the giant alien hesitated. He regarded his Herald silently, as if he were considering the possibility. Kal-El thought of his foster parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent and his heart clenched in fear and hope.

But, then, he saw the hunger, the need, sweep all else from those vast purple eyes and it sank like a stone. Despair gripped him with sharp talons as he heard Galactus reply.

"There is no need," said Galactus simply and turned back to constructing The Machine. Kal-El's hands knotted themselves into fists at his side.

"Forgive me…" he whispered and flew at Galactus.

The Devourer of Worlds did not turn to face his attacking Herald. Steady and unhesitating, his massive hands continued their task of building the great energy siphoning Machine. Seemingly, it was only his voice that struck, ringing out over the din of battle as the assembled heroes once again engaged him. And like flies, Galactus swatted them away. But this time he did not neglect his Herald.

"You forget, Kal-El, the Power Cosmic is mine to give."

When Kal-El struck the impenetrable energy field protecting the World Devourer, it seemed to reached out for him and grip him. It flared and sparked and he writhed within it.

"And mine to take away," Galactus reminded him.

Kal-El screamed.

Dazed and burning with pain, he went tumbling from the sky once more, his Master's voice resounding in his ears.

"Hear me, my faithless Kal-El!" echoed the voice of the World Devourer, Galactus. "You have betrayed me."

"In your ear, buddy!" cracked the voice of the spider-powered youth who called himself the Scarlet Spider. The webbing he unleashed at the giant alien never reached it's target, but fell harmlessly to the rooftop of the Daily Bugle building that was their unlikely battlefield. The well placed repulsor blast aimed at his foe by the determined man in the gold and crimson armor was little more effective. Ironman fought well, if futilely. But he did serve well enough to distract Galactus from his errant Herald.

KL-El struck the ground hard and again it shook at his rough, unexpected embrace. His nerves were on fire and for a long moment he lay panting on the cool concrete of the city streets.

"Get back, people! Back! Maggie Sawyer, Metropolis Special Crimes Unit!" warned the voice of an armor clad woman, carrying a large gun in one waving hand. A policeman? Kal-El could not focus on her long enough to decide. She was not very much like the friendly Police Chief, George Parker of Smallville, Kansas, at any rate. When a young brown haired man, the flash bulbs of his camera popping like mad, ducked under the yellow tape cordoning off the Daily Bugle Building, Kal-Elsaw the woman confront him.

"Back behind the line, Parker!" she threatened.

"Aw, Maggie! Gimme a break! Your friendly neighborhood shutterbug Peter Parker's(7) gotta make a living for cryin' out loud! I've got tuition!" A silent wave of her arm sent the disappointed youth reluctantly scurrying behind the Police line.

"That goes for you, too, Lane! Same as your partner, Parker! Nice try, though!" Kal-El could hear a grudging smile in her commanding voice when Sawyer addressed the dark haired woman busy sliding noiselessly around her right side like a wraith.

"I'm deeply hurt, Maggie," smiled Lois Lane, sweetly. "My Pulitzer won't get me through, huh?"

"Not even those big blue eyes, sister," Maggie informed her with an equally bright smile. "You're cute… but not that cute." In a lower voice that did not carry to the rest of the frightened, noisy crowd, Maggie Sawyer whispered to the smaller woman. Had Kal-El's ears been any less keen, he might have missed it altogether.

"Lois, you know, I can't." She pointed to the battle raging atop the the Daily Bugle Building. "Christ, just look at that…Be a friend, okay, and don't give me any trouble. I don't need it right now!" Sawyer's sharp eyes spotted a tall, shapely blond woman, microphone in hand, inch her way past the cordon, cameraman in tow like a tugboat caught in the wake of a sleek racing yacht.

"Bullock!" she shouted, "get your lard-butt up here and catch that idiot Grant before she gets herself killed, for God's sake! This is a battlefield, damnit," she cursed at the Society editor of WGBS News, " not a photo op! Get away from here! And take Vale with you while you're at it!" She gestured at the slight red-haired woman edging inconspicuously alongside Cat Grant.

Crap!" cried Vicki Vale, looking about for The Batman.

"Bullock!" Maggie called again, "get those people back! Now!"

The large man who obeyed her harassed order lumbered forward. Even through the haze of pain that gripped him like a vise, Kal-El could see the rough unkept shadow of a beard that dotted the slovenly man's face, the shaggy mop of greasy hair that sprang from his skull. And even before he saw it with his eyes, his nose brought him the odor of the cheap cigar gripped tightly between large, broad teeth. When he spoke, ash from the cigar fell onto the chest plate of his somehow rumpled, dull, and unpolished armor.

"I hear ya, Maggie, babe, don't get yer bikini in a knot," snarled Harvey Bullock, grinning at the prospect of action. "DeWolf!(8) Leech!(9) Front and center! Move it, move it!" Two female figures trotted forward and Kal-El groaned.

"Lois! I said get back!" demanded a furious Maggie Sawyer. Already half way across the street, the journalist didn't even pause.

"Maggie, he's hurt! He needs help! Call an ambulance or something!"

Maggie Sawyer was so intent on Lois Lane that she almost missed the dark shadow that lightly touched down behind the reporter, until one dark gauntleted hand reached out and grabbed the woman by the arm.

"Do as she says, Miss Lane," commanded the Batman and the feisty woman did not struggle when he thrust her gently but firmly to his back, in the direction of the Police barricade.

Watching the determined Sawyer drag back the equally determined Lane, Kal-El struggled to his feet. None of the SCU had hurt anyone it was true, but the crowd seemed to fall back before them and that was for the best. Beneath Kal-El's blazing form, the concrete of the street smoldered and melted, popping and hissing, throwing off dull red sparks of heat.

When he touched the bumper of an automobile to use as a lever, the chrome metal shrieked in protest, turning to slag in his hands. Without support, he collapsed back onto the street. Beneath him, the street shook under the onslaught of the battle far above.

Wailing, the crowd fell back, running, stumbling, desperate to avoid the large chucks of masonry and steel falling from the sky, dislodged by the ongoing fight atop the now battered home of the Daily Bugle. The huge stylized metal Bugle, world renowned symbol of the great Metropolitan newspaper, tottered and, with a scream of rending, protesting metal, plunged earthward.

A scarlet blur and a great howling wind that whistled and sang were the first signs of salvation to reach the horrified crowds scrambling below. Tornado force winds engulfed the falling concrete and masonry with pinpoint accuracy, diverting it from the helpless people. With a resounding crash the debris landed safely in a wide lot, it's only victims a good many parked cars. Forlornly, auto horns honked and wailed, their lonely cries lost in the rising cacophony.

"Warning!" threatened a stern, electronic voice, unheard above the din. "You are too close to the vehicle! Please step back!"

"I've got the rest of it Flash," said the calm voice of Iron Man. Repulsor rays lashed out and the remaining chucks of falling building joined their compeers in the devastated parking lot. Below, the crowd struck up a weak, nervous cheer.

"Yer working too hard, Shellhead," cracked the voice of Nick Fury(9). Deprived of his trade mark cigar, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D(10). was headed for a nicotine fit sometime in the near future, but for the moment he concentrated on the palm held controls of his LexCorp flight boots. "Time to let my boys have some fun." Unconsciously, his gloved hand rose to adjust his eye patch. Nick Fury might have only one eye left, but he didn't miss much. He still saw clearer than most men with two.

"Castle(11), Grayson, Ryan, Wilson, Kyle, Rock(12)," he barked off the names of.his subordinates, "get down there and help those SCU people! On the double, you combat happy Joes!" With a pleased grin, he watched the men and women of S.H.I.E.L.D's crack Easy Company peel themselves out of formation one by one and head for the ground.

"Rock, you're in command dirtside; Grayson's you're second. And Castle? Wilson? Watch the body count you two maniacs! Any civilians bite it and I'll have yer butts for breakfast! And that's not a threat …that's a promise."

"Roger that, Nick buddy. All right, you heard the man people! Let's go help the heroes, boys and girls."

Obeying Frank Rock's command, Dick Grayson, Selina Kyle, Red Ryan, Slade Wilson and Frank Castle joined the fray.

Selina Kyle swung herself in a tight circle, guided by the armored flight boots snugly encasing her feet. The agent of S.H.I.E.L.D barely avoided the still falling huge metal bugle from atop the constantly raging battle ground of the Bugle. She might, in fact, have struck it but for the quick reflexes and power of the man in the dark blood-red and purple costume. Hovering in the air, the Master of Magnetism, the most powerful mutant on earth, reached out and, with one elegant gesture, grabbed hold of the multiple tons of plunging metal. His blue-gray eyes danced with actinic fire and miniature lighting sparked between the fingers of his upraised hand. At his bidding, electrons shifted their orbits and the Earth's magnetic field, like a well trained hound, hurried to obey the will of it's Master. As lightly as a feather, almost weightless in the grip of primal forces, the gigantic metal advertisement lay itself obediently down atop the other debris in the now very crowded former parking lot.

"Magneto!(13)" cried Kyle, "I could kiss you! Kitty-Cat has just about used up all her nine lives. You're a lifesaver. Literally."

Even filtered and distorted by the electronic microphones of his helmet, the softly accented voice of Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, Magneto, was eloquent.

"You're quite welcome, Miss Kyle," he said, then doffed his helmet to reveal long silver hair. Encased in his protective bubble of magnetic force, he did not even feel the backwash of her passing when Selina Kyle waggled her gyrostabilizers at him in a saucy salute of gratitude. One sardonically arched silver eyebrow and a small smile told quite a tale, though.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen!" crowed the excited voice of a garishly clad telenewsman. "You saw it here first! Live and in color! Magneto, mutant terrorist and his outlaw X-Men(14), fighting on the side of the angels! Or are they? Stay tuned for Summer Gleeson's 'Gotham Insider' Special Report: 'Magneto: Threat Or Menace?' This is Jack Ryder signing off, live and on the scene! Bringing you the news as it happens!"

Cautiously, The Batman approached the burning figure. The heat was still considerable, washing off the figure in stifling waves. But the odd clothes the stranger wore did not seem to be ablaze, so perhaps it was no ordinary fire that engulfed the unknown man kneeling before him. With deft, quick hands the dark clad figure removed his heat resistant cape and threw it over the other man. For long moments it smoldered, acrid smoke rising off the asbestos-laced cloth. But, eventually, the fires were smothered beneath the capes weight and The Batman drew closer.

"Can you understand me?"

"…Galactus…stop him …" the stranger gasped.

The Batman put out a swift hand to steady the other.

"We're trying," he answered. "Can you help us? What do you know of him? How can we fight him?"

The urgency in the Dark Knight's voice spurred the other man and he tried to rise. As he watched the small struggle, a thousand unanswered questions blossomed in The Batman's mind. Who was this man? Was he a man, for that matter? Recalling the speed of his approach to the battle, The Batman prudently decided not. But whatever he was…how could he be of use to the embattled heroes? Even as he watched the stranger seemed to catch his breath.

"Keep fighting him," he said. He shook his dark tressed head as if to clear it. Pain lived in the depths of his blue eyes, but he ignored it. He lay hands on The Batman's shoulders and even through the kevlar and leather of his costume, the Dark Knight could feel the vast strength there.

"You've got to keep distracting him," Kal-El pleaded. "But you can't defeat him with force…" Stepping back, out of range of those hands, The Batman's eyes narrowed beneath his cowl.

"Why is he here?" he demanded. "What does he want?"

"He…hungers," whispered Kal-El. "I think he's very close to dying of what you would call starvation and that's my fault …" For an instant he looked so very lost that The Batman frowned. Then the other man seemed to gather himself with an effort and continued.

"Galactus feeds on energy much the same way you feed on lesser life forms. He consumes the energy of planets to survive. And he's here to dine on your world." It took The Batman a moment to absorb that. But only a moment.

"How can we stop him?"

Kal-El drew a deep breath. It was betrayal and he knew it. There would be no turning back after this.

"Aboard Galactus vessel there is a device that could stop him. A terrible weapon. If we had that…"

The Batman, who did not miss that inclusive "we", regarded the other closely. "Can you get this weapon?" he wanted to know. Kal-El shook his head and the dark curl on his forehead bounced and danced as if in ironic merriment.

"No," he replied, "I can't." He glanced up at the top of the Daily Bugle Building where the futile battle still raged. "Your friends will need my help to keep Galactus distracted. I can't go." He looked back at his dark clad companion. "But you can."

The Batman froze. Trust was a difficult thing for him. It did not come to him naturally. As a child, his trust in the world had been brutally violated by that world and the people in it. Six year old Bruce Wayne trusted the world to be safe; to be an orderly place that made sense, that he could understand.

And the world left him frightened and grieving, kneeling in an alley in a slowly spreading pool of his parents blood.

No, trust was not an easy thing for him at all.

And yet …

And yet …

This Kal-El was trusting him, was he not? Trusting a total stranger with "a terrible weapon"…Trusting The Batman to succeed. Where had he come by such a precious thing as this trust? Surely not at Galactus side. Then where? Was it some innate part of Kal-El that not even Galactus could crush?

And did he have a choice but to trust the young alien? God knew what sort of trap it could be. And God help them all if he were wrong.

"How?" he asked quickly. "How can I get this weapon?" Kal-El's face flooded with relief.

"I can send you to Galactus ship. The thing you seek lies at the very heart of the vessel. The way is fraught with many perils. Once you have it, the weapon itself will bring you back. Please, there isn't much time." Steeling himself, the hero of Gotham stepped forward and gave himself into Kal-El's waiting, trusting hands.

With the last vestiges of the Power Cosmic left to him, Kal-El sent The Batman on his desperate journey. The crowd murmured and retreated a bit at the blinding flash of pure white light that engulfed the Dark Knight and sent him on his way.

"Parker!" shouted Lois Lane, "you got that, right? Tell me you got that!"

"Nobody move!" growled Frank Castle, pointing his LexCorps M-18 laser rifle at Kal-El.

A stunned Dick Grayson's lips moved, whispering what might have been a name, but the only one close enough to hear him was Selina Kyle.

"My God, Dick," cried the former cat-burgler turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, "what happened? What did he do to Br - "

"Castle! Stand down!" Dick Grayson's voice lashed out and the former Marine in Frank Castle responded. Reluctantly in the face of an enemy, he lowered his gun and glared in frustrated fury at the younger Grayson.

Selina Kyle lay her hand on her adopted son's shoulder in comfort. She and Bruce Wayne might be divorced, but she had never lost her love for the man nor for their son, despite all that lay between she and her ex-husband. Through the heavy padding of his uniform and the flack jacket covering his chest and back Selina felt Dick Grayson tremble for the safety of the man who was the only father he could remember.

"Rao protect you," whispered Kal-El to the disappearing form of The Batman, remembering his father's last words.

Stripped entirely, now, of the Power Cosmic, possessed only of the natural gifts granted him under the influence of the Earth's kindly yellow sun, Kal-El flew toward the battle and confrontation with his former Master,

In the blink of an eye, he was simply someplace else. He braced himself for dizziness and disorientation that did not come. In fact, he felt, somehow, better than normal. The finely tuned instrument that was his body seemed to have acquired new vistas of energy and resource. Suddenly, the answer to a rather irritating puzzle encountered recently on a case sprang full blown into his mind and he smiled. The Riddler was in for quite a surprise when this was done here and The Batman once again had time to devote to his capture.

The featureless metal corridor seemed to stretch endlessly before him for literal miles. Most probably, in fact, did so.

"'The journey of a thousand miles,' says Lao-Tse," he told himself firmly, "'begins with but a single step'."

With determination, he took that first step.

Slowly, he increased his speed until he was trotting at a steady ground eating pace that he could maintain for hours, to his certain knowledge. Briefly, he hoped that wouldn't be necessary. Time. There was no time. He increased his pace a bit. When he came to the branch in the corridor he took the right fork almost without thinking. It was only several seconds after his instinctive decision that he caught his first full view of the three dimensional map of the huge vessel he had breached that lived within his mind now, guiding him on his quest. He smiled and offered up a quick prayer of thanksgiving to the absent Kal-El.

Rounding another turn in the endless corridor, his mind was suddenly shrieking caution at him. The way before him was as featureless and inoffensive as any other stretch of this endless place. But beneath his boots he could feel the slight tremble of the metal deck; the sharp tang of the air in his nostrils brought him the feel of great power like ants crawling over his skin. Crouching, drawing deep, even, sustaining breaths, he placed his hand on the deck and felt the faint traces of the power surging there even more clearly.

Withdrawing a small glass marble from his utility belt, he lobbed it in the direction in which his internal map guided him. Hastily, he covered his body with his cape to shield himself from the brilliant flare of light from directly ahead.

Apparently, the way before him was well guarded as he'd been warned.

Practiced hands removed the retractable batarang from his utility belt. In the harsh luminescence of the huge corridor, the tiny, soft blue light at it's center winked dully. Explosive charge activated, The Batman's weapon of choice waited patiently. The strike would have to be timed just so. Slowly, he began the mental countdown. He drew back, released it, and fell lithely to the floor, making as small a target of himself as possible, and covered himself once more with the kevlar-laced protection of his massive cape.

His ears rang for several moments with the batarang's explosive force, but another quick, careful marble tossed, unharmed, down the corridor told him the way was clear now.

Smiling, step by cautious step, The Batman continued his journey of, what he hoped, would be considerably less than a thousand miles.

The solar energies of this world's sun burned within him and, with a thought, Kal-El sent them spilling out his eyes. Under the heated assault a small part of The Machine flared red and melted itself into slag. Annoyed, Galactus turned, sweeping back the tide of heroes who struggled against him. Surely, thought Kal-El, the anger in that thunderous voice was only in his imagination. Like so many other things about his former Master.

"Of course!" cried Reed Richard, exultant at seeing the answer to a problem fall into place so neatly. "The machine! Concentrate on the machine he's building! That's the key!"

Gliding on the winds, Wonder Woman struck the mighty artifact with the Sword of Ares, sending sparks flying and filling the air with the shriek of metal.

"It's Clobberin' Time!" shouted Ben Grimm, The Thing, and smashed one rocky, orange fist into the smooth metallic side of the edifice, leaving the imprint of his huge hand there to mark his wrath.

"Go for it Matchead!" he bellowed encouragement to his young partner, the Human Torch.

"Flame ON!" cried Johnny Storm and unleashed a nova blast of heat and flame at The Machine.

"You trouble me, Herald," said Galactus to the hovering Kal-El, ignoring the others.

"I always did, didn't I?" returned Kal-El bitterly. "Why wouldn't you listen to me? Why are you making me do this?"

"We are as Destiny made us, Kal-El," replied Galactus.

The blast of energy directed at Kal-El was focused through the World Devourer's eyes, although that was not necessary. Just before it struck him and sent him careening far away from the battle, he came to appreciate the irony of that. The irony …

And the rebuke.

It surprised him, vaguely, to be so unhurt. Battered and weary, he was; but unbloodied. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the building with which he collided. Whistling through the air at the speed of sound, he cannonballed into the side of the raising LexCorp skyscraper with force enough to rattle his teeth. His fall splintered the glaring, yellow UNDER CONSTRUCTION signs lurking at the bottom of the structure. When the building collapsed on top of him, burying him under tons of debris, he thought he heard the distant screams of horrified onlookers, but he was not really paying attention.

"Son of a bit - " began one Metropolite

"He's street pizza!" cried another in dismay.

The gapping crowd fell back in hasty concern, retreating like an ebbing tide, when the ground began to shake. Exploding from his claustrophobic prison, Kal-El flew once more toward the Daily Bugle Building and the battlefield.

" - ch! Awesome superpowers, man! Kick butt, superguy!" finished the first astonished Metropolite and began a ragged cheer. The crowd joined him with enthusiasm.

"Did he say…Super-man? Is that his name…?" inquired one cheering Metropolite.

"I think so…" answered another, pointing to the departing Kal-El.

Kal-El's return was auspicious. He did not need his other senses to tell him that Galactus was besieged. He could see The Machine shake and tremble like an ancient with an ague under the assault of the helmeted leader of The X-Men.

"Keep up the pressure, Magneto," instructed Reed Richards, calmly. "I was right. It is made of metal he's leeching from his surroundings."

"And a ferrous one at that, Reed Richards," agreed the Master of Magnetism. Guided by Magneto's power, The Machine began to disintegrate, separating itself into it's component parts.

Galactus pointed and energy went roaring from his outstretched fingertip. When it struck the magnetic force bubble surrounding Magneto the shield blazed bright red as the two primal forces struggled for supremacy. Magneto's shields held, but like Kal-El before him, the concussive force of the clash sent him flying far from the fray. The Machine began to methodically reassemble itself, but Galactus turned his attention to his rebellious Herald.

"You have chosen to defend this world, my Kal-El. So be it. Then here you shall remain. No longer are you Herald to Galactus. No longer will you soar on the Cosmic Winds at Galactus command." Galactus waved his hand and the sky glowed bright, bright purple for an instant. By instinct, Kal-El shielded his sensitive eyes. When he lowered his hand it shook.

His body told him he had been stripped of his space-spanning powers, leeched of his ability to fly between the worlds. In his very cells he knew the Barrier just erected by Galactus would not allow him to pass. In the fullness of their destiny, the inhabitants of this would ply the stars, sailing among them with abandon. But not Kal-El. For him, the freedom of the stars was lost.

To frolic and explore among the wonders of the galaxy was his chieftest joy. At times, his only joy. Trapped and caged, now, he cried out in devastation. To be so denied…so confined… The loss was crushing, punishing.

As it was meant to be, of course.

The slender hand, its long nails carefully manicured and polished brilliant red, that tapped him lightly on the shoulder was most unexpected. Her pristine white costume bore several dark smudges to marr it's gaudy, sparkling perfection, but the masses of blond hair spilling over her shoulders in a leonine mane caught the light of the sun and fairly glowed. Kal-El blinked.

"Hi there, cutie," smiled Alison Blaire, the Dazzler(15). "What you do for all that tight spandex is probably illegal in at least forty-eight states. Love the cape…but the rest has got to go. Too dark and gloomy. Maybe something in red and blue…"

Kal-El's look of confusion must have been more than plain. Had he been insulted…or complimented? It was difficult to tell. He blinked again and the Dazzler sighed.

"Look, stop me if I'm wrong here, Big Guy, but…my powers tell me that you run off sunlight. Well, baby, we're a match made in Heaven. I convert sound into light --- any kind of light you want. Everything from lasers to plain old everyday sunlight." The beautiful woman entwined her arms around Kal-El's neck and whispered in his ear.

"Let's boogie!"

Her smile was joyous and wicked and the kiss was very through. Laughing, the Dazzler began to hum, at first. In the air around her, dust motes charged themselves with energy and began to dance about in time to the rhythm of her rising voice, in a, frankly, dazzling display of mutant born special effects. The Dazzler's stage act was always a big hit.

Her voice, when she began to sing, was low, throaty and powerful. She almost giggled as she decided on a song. Very appropriate. Singer Alison Blaire might have been rejected for the role in the Broadway production of the musical, but the Dazzler was going to leave her own, special, unforgettable mark on the song that sprang to her mind.

Feed me, Seymour. Feed me all day long… 'Cause if I feed you, Seymour, You can grow up, big and strong.

Concentrated sunlight struck him like a solid wall; flowed from the Dazzler into Kal-El, arching his back and making him groan in ecstasy. Warmth and power suffused him until his body could contain no more of the sweetness…the agony of it. And, surrounded by her brilliant, dizzying light show, the Dazzler sang on.

If you want a rationale, It isn't very hard to see. No, No, No… Stop and think it over, pal. The guy sure looks real hung-ry to me! The guy sure looks real hung-ry to me! The guy sure looks real hung-ry to me…!

The pain became exquisite, filling his world. He cried out with the joy of it, coursing through him, burning down his veins like fire …. almost as potent, in its way, as the Power Cosmic. Raw energy flared and hissed around him, crackling and flaming the air. Again, his back arched and he gave his desire for more a harsh, rasping voice. Smiling, Alison Blaire, the Dazzler, sang louder.

He's so nasty treatin' us rough! Smackin' us around, and always talkin' so tough! You need sun and I've got more than enough! You need sun and I've got more than enough! You need sun and I've got more than enough…! So, Go Git'em!

Glowing with power, Kal-El flew once more at Galactus. This time, his blow toppled the the World Devourer from his feet and Galactus went crashing to the rooftop, making the building beneath him quake.

"Tim-berrrr!" called out the Scarlet Spider as he web slung his way to safety, deftly avoiding the falling giant by millimeters.

Again his former Herald struck Galactus, sending him reeling. Taking advantage of the moment, Ironman aimed another precise repulsor blast at the alien and The Invisible Woman materialized several hundred small invisible force fields shaped like ball bearing beneath his feet to help him on his way down.

"Now, Flash, now!" shouted Steel to his fellow Justice League member and the Flash moved at super-speed, striking at Galactus legs. For miles around, glass shattered from the din of battle and fell like deadly rain down on the swiftly vanishing crowds below.

And, above even that crescendo, rang the accusing voice of Kal-El, shouting, demanding, almost but not quite sobbing.

"Curse you! Why? Why? Why wouldn't you listen to me?"

Galactus only answer was a great blast of purple tinged energy that sent Kal-El spinning crazily from the battle once more, leaving only the sharp tang of ozone and the smell of burning flesh burdening the air in his wake.

From the instant his eyes fell upon it, floating innocently there in the heart of Galactus great vessel, he knew that this was what he had come seeking. This small, oddly shaped, inconspicuous thing that seemed made to be held in the human hand. Not any of the large, awesome weapons surrounding it.

No. This thing and no other.

And The Batman knew that Kal-El was right…like all things, it would seek out its Creator, the Master of its fate, Galactus. The shiny metal was unexpectedly warm to the touch.

"Hello," said The Ultimate Nullifier in the eager voice of a child. "Are we going on a trip?"

"Yes," promised The Batman, "we are. But before we do…Let's play a game…"

"Good!" the sentient weapon declared. "I like games!"

"You'll like this one," The Batman promised again. "It'll be lots of fun."

The battle raged on.

Under Magneto's direction, the X-Men fought valiantly. They all fought bravely On the ground, the forces of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Metropolis S.C.U. kept the crowds at bay. Maggie Sawyer and Dick Grayson sweated blood but, between the two groups, they did their best to protect the citizens of the great city. Selina Kyle and Dick Grayson occupied themselves with transporting the injured to surrounding hospitals and tried very, very hard not to think about the saftey of someone they both loved who might now be beyond their help.

Atop the Daily Bugle Building, the heroes fought on as best they could.

"Damn it!" cried Guy Gardner, "the slime is on his feet again! Watch it Steel!" The green shield-shaped energy barrier Gardner erected to protect his fellow Justice Leaguer was timely. Like his name sake, the steel driving man, John Henry Irons pounded at The Machine with his high-tech hammer, signaling his thanks to Gardner. It seemed such a waste…All that technology, lost…Couldn't be helped, though. He gritted his teeth and fell to with a vengeance. But not without considerable regret.

Galactus towered once more among them. For an instant it looked as if the huge cosmic menace swayed upon his feet, but then he righted himself and began making his way once again to The Machine to continue his work. Pausing briefly, the Flash looked at his fellow heroes in distress.

"Anybody got any brilliant ideas?" he asked.

The bright flash of purest white light, when it came, found most of the heroes undecided as to whether it was their salvation…or their doom. And it all happened too fast for them to really decide the matter. Even Galactus shielded his eyes. Caught unaware, a good many of the combatants were momentarily blinded so it was the voice, that high pitched childish voice that they heard first.

"Master, Master, Master!" shrilled The Ultimate Nullifier, "the nice man brought me home to you! He plays good."

When the spots cleared from before their eyes, the heroes saw Galactus take several steps back. He might almost have been said to stumble if such a majestic being were subject to such common things. Standing quietly, The Batman held up The Ultimte Nullifier in plain view.

"Apish fool!" cried Galactus to The Batman. "Do you even begin to suspect what it is you hold? The power of the thing? This is Kal-El's doing!" The Batman smiled; not a pleasant sight.

"Probably not," admitted The Dark Knight in rueful tones, "but I know this: you don't like it much…and that's fine with me."

"Master! You went away and left me alone," sobbed the Nullifier in a petulant voice. " I was lonely. But the nice man promised to tell me where you were so I could be with you! Did I do good?"

Galactus rocked back on his heels and pointed his finger at the Dark Knight, his eyes blazing.

"Let's play a clever trick on your Master," suggested The Batman in a whisper.

"Okay!" chimed the Nullifier, brightly.

The bolt of energy the World Devourer unleashed never reached it 's target. It struck the impenetrable energy shield suddenly surrounding the dark clad hero of Gotham and slid harmlessly off.

"Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!" chortled the voice of the weapon that thought it was a little girl. "Can't hurt me, big meany old Master!"

Batman pointed at The Machine.

"He's going to use that machine to make us stop playing," he informed the Nullifier. "Why don't you stop him from doing that? You do want to keeping playing, don't you?"


"Then get rid of that machine."

And it was done. In less time than it takes to say it. The gigantic Machine did not flicker or waver. It simply ceased to exist; between one breath and the next.

"Nullified!" crowed the childish voice with considerable satisfaction.

"NOW!" cried The Batman.

This time when Galactus fell, he did not rise. Even so, it took the assembled heroes more than half an hour of almost continual battle to defeat the World Devourer, weakened as he was and deprived of his Machine and sustenance.

"Is it over?" asked the wounded Scarlet Spider when Wonder Woman helped him to his feet.

Surveying the wreckage around her, the lovely Amazon Princess nodded. "Yes, I think it is."

For many long moments, no one spoke and the quiet was quite oppressive. Finally …

"It looks like Fury and his boys have the situation on the ground well in hand," remarked The Batman and turned to Reed Richard, Mr. Fantastic.

"I hope you like children," said The Batman, slipping The Ultimate Nullifier into Reed Richards outstretched hand. "This one is about two years old. But she's going to grow up really, really fast …"

"Eh?" began the puzzled scientist.

"Joy, joy! Happy, happy!" caroled The Ultimate Nullifier, merrily. "Let's play games!"

"He knows lots of fascinating games," The Batman assured her. Smiling, he turned to the astonished Reed Richards.

"Play nice," he advised. "You really don't want to make her angry."

"Are you my Daddy, now?" sniffled The Nullifier.

Thinking fast, Reed Richards replied, "Why -er - yes, I suppose I am…" Desperately he looked about for The Batman, but the Dark Knight was nowhere to be seen, vanished into the shadows.

"How does he do that?" wondered Richards in irritation.

"Oh, he's still there. You just don't see him 'cause he's not moving. Wanna play hide-and-seek?" inquired The Nullifier, hopefully.

"How do you know - "

"Oh, I know lots of stuff," said the Nullifier, smugly.

"Tell me more…" requested Reed Richards, world renowned scientist. Perhaps this wasn't going to be as bad as he'd first feared. The Nullifier giggled.

"Say pretty please."

On the other hand …

"Pretty please," said Richards.

"Hey!" exclaimed Spiderman, looking around uneasily, "What happened to the alien? Big Purple And Hungry's fly boy? You know, his Herald. That Kal-El guy." John Henry Irons frowned. But, of course, beneath his steel face plate no one could see it.

"That's a damned good question," he said slowly. "Did anyone see…"

"I have an even better question," said Reed Richards, quietly. "Has anybody seen The Batman? He also appears to be among the missing." His teammate Ben Grimm rolled his eyes heavenward.

"Why ain't I surprised, Stretcho? Damned spook gives me the creeps," he proclaimed sourly. Ben Grimm busied himself lighting a large cigar between his rocky orange lips and so did not notice the look of agreement that passed between the others gathered in this place.

Agreement…and uneasy trepidation.

The hands that held him, searching his body for injuries with light, skillful touches, were firm but surprisingly gentle. His blurred vision brought him the sight of ice blue eyes, softened now with concern, staring out of the midst of great darkness.

"Don't leave …" he choked, "please… Not again…not again…" Strong arms tightened around him reflexively. The voice that answered him was deep, low and soothing.

"I'm right here," it reassured him. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Cold…" he shivered, "so cold…"

Warmth enveloped him at once and he clutched the comfort of the huge, black bat-shaped cape closer to him. Safe, protected, and no longer alone, Kal-El tumbled down into blissful unconsciousness.

It was Steel who helped The Batman carry the unconscious Kal-El to the top of the Daily Bugle Building and the attention of Reed Richards.

"The poor man!" gasped Sue Storm-Richards, the Invisible Woman, when she saw the blood and the many bruises and burns on Kal-El's body. "Reed, will he be all right?" The scientist looked up from his softly humming scanner in distraction, his blue eyes alight with the zeal of scientific discovery.


His wife's amused, tolerant frown caught his attention, then. He checked his data readout once .

"Why, I have no idea, Sue darling. He seems to have no serious injuries that I can detect. But he's definitely not human and that's a factor I'm finding difficult to compensate for. Normal for him is an quantity. Amazing!" He tapped his small instrument insistently. "Oh, now that can't be right!" he exclaimed.

"Was that an energy spike?" asked Steel, politely, restraining the urge to rubberneck over his fellow scientist's shoulder.

"A huge one," agreed Richards. He shook his head in disbelief. "Gentleman," he said with a trace of awe, "according to my instruments we are looking at the Earth's most efficient solar energy converter. Every single cell in his body is a tiny solar energy battery and storage unit. The power readings go right off my scale." Richards looked about but Magneto and his X-Men, brave but prudent, were long gone." No wonder Dazzler's powers worked so well in conjunction with his." Mr. Fantastic mused.

The Batman wasn't the only one to frown at this.

"You know," began The Scarlet Spider, and it was no idle musement, though it worked hard to disguise itself as one, "I hope he's not pissed when he wakes up…"

Guy Gardner opened his mouth to boast or crack wise, but then, apparently, thought better of it.

"You got that right, Webhead," breathed the Flash.

Kal-El groaned and Wonder Woman made the decision for them all. Kneeling, the Amazon Ambassador to Man's World lay a restraining hand on the young alien's chest and gently eased him back down to the rooftop's hard, battle-littered surface. He closed his eyes and seemed to breath easier after a moment.

"Easy, my friend," urged Diana, "easy. You've had quite a jolt."

"Ga - Galactus?"

"Defeated," the heroine assured him. "Thanks, in no small part, to you." Several minutes passed before he could sit up unassisted. He did not refuse the dark guantleted hand that helped him to his feet.

"I think you need to see this," said The Batman. "I found it on Galactus' ship."

The voice lacked it's usual crisp, coolness. For a moment Kal-El was almost certain he heard hesitation there in those deep tones. Slowly, the dark guantleted hands probed one of the pockets of his ubiquitous utility belt. When his quick fingers withdrew themselves they grasped a small…something…that glowed and pulsed a fiery red in his gloved palm.

Even Kal-El's eyes had difficulty gazing upon it; trying to focus his eyes on it was impossible and made his head throb dully in time with its rhythmic pulses. It was always so with Galactus memory spheres, he knew, since they did not exist solely in this dimension alone. He did not presume to understand their construction.

Reaching out, The Batman placed the small sphere in Kal-El's naked palm and closed the other man's hand firmly over it. It dissolved, sinking noiselessly into his hand like a ghost and Kal-El shivered with the familiar chill. Memories that were not his own exploded in his mind. Senses reeling, he gasped.

[The laboratory was no longer tidy and pristine. The stink of desperation and the sharp tang of ozone filled the air with their unmistakable stench. The ground shook itself, spasming like a dying beast. A small white pup whined and then howled, seeking shelter in the shadow of it's Master's feet.

"Stop it!" shouted the strident voice of his father, Jor-El. "Stop it! You weren't supposed to take so much energy! Only enough to stop the approaching cataclysm! That was your oath to me when I agreed to this. Instead you've hastened it and begun a chain reaction in Krypton's core…Great Rao, the planet's breaking up…"

"I hunger Jor-El of Krypton," returned the voice of Galactus, "I hunger!"

"Jor! What's happening? You've been locked up in this laboratory for weeks. I - "

His wife's voice caught his attention with its near panic. When she caught sight of the imposing figure of Galactus joined to The Machine steadily feeding him the energy of the dying planet, she clutched the sleeping child she held protectively closer to the warmth of her body, vainly attempting to shelter her infant son.

Jor-El turned haunted eyes away from the damning evidence of his sensors, resting them on his wife. "Lara …" he choked, "you have to understand…the Science Council…they wouldn't listen…called me a fool…an alarmist…forbade me to act. Krypton was doomed. I - I had to do something. Rao forgive me, I thought…"

Hands flying over the heat and motion sensitive nodes of his control panel, the frantic Kryptonian scientist began shutting down the power fueling his laboratory, itself a gift of Krypton's endless supply of geothermal energy. Disconnecting himself from The Machine, Galactus removed the energy siphons from his body.

"You've killed us all!" cried the despondent Jor-El. "How could I have been such a fool? I trusted you and you betrayed me." The ground shook itself yet again, like a tormented animal in it's death throes. From the window, it was possible to glimpse the sight of the toppling of tall towers, hear the screams of the dying as the planet beneath them writhed in agony.

"I am Galactus," responded the Devourer of Worlds. "I am what I am. Worlds perish and die, but Galactus must live. The death of your world is unintentional. I would undo it if I could. But that is beyond the power of even such as Galactus."

A great calm seemed to overcome the doomed scientist, then. Standing still and steady he regarded Galactus and closed his eyes in thought.

"We are what we are," he said in a quiet voice. "All of us. I, no less than you. It was in my nature to trust you. It was in your nature to lose control of yourself. Hunger must be a great burden. And the instinct to survive is strong in all things." He glanced down at his surging instruments, reading once more the story of destruction they told. "You should leave if you wish to live. You'd better hurry. There isn't much time."

"Galactus is beyond mortal consideration of good and evil, Jor-El of Krypton, yet your concern for my safety is puzzling, under the circumstances. Explain." Taking his wife's hand, Jor-El faced Galactus.

"There is no need for all of us to perish. You have a right to save yourself if you can. But do not delay. Time is running out." Galactus paused, his vast purple eyes grew distant and dreamlike and the scientist in Jor-El, ever curious, wondered, perhaps for the last time, what the great alien could be thinking.

"No," agreed Galactus. "There is no need for all to die in the coming destruction. It lies within my power to save you and your family, if you wish. Decide quickly, Jor-El of Krypton. Time is short, indeed."

For an instant Jor-El's face brightened with the rebirth of hope. To live…to survive…to explore, uninhibited by foolish tradition and elderly technocrats, this most marvelous of Rao's creations the Universe…The thought was almost dizzying and his body shook, momentarily, with the desire…the need…for it, like an ache in his bones.

But the dream was swift to fade under the crushing onslaught of his guilt.

"No," he said finally, and the regret that dwelt in his voice was only an undertone, a trace of poignancy. "I cannot leave. I will see this thing through to it's end. I am it's author, am I not? That is only fitting." He squeezed his wife's hand, still held in his own and spoke again to Galactus.

"But my wife and child…you must save them. Please. Like the rest of my people, they are innocent. They played no part in this." His eyes pleaded with Galactus.

"Please," he said again.

"It shall be done," promised the last survivor of the Universe that preceded the creation of this one with The Big Bang. Perhaps he remembered the garden planet of Taa and his life there as an ordinary, mortal creature; a scientist like the man standing before him. None could say. Not even Kal-El's glimpse into the mind of his Master could tell him that. At Jor-El's side Lara stirred.

"I won't leave my husband," she said simply. "I'm not entirely sure what's happening here, but I know this: my place is here with you." She looked into Jor-El's eyes and smiled. "Whatever comes, we'll face it together."

"Lara, please…" The dark-haired, strong-willed woman, shook her head.

"We haven't time to argue, Jor." Tenderly, Jor-El brushed aside one dark curl spilling over her forehead in disarray.

"Rao preserve me from willful women," he whispered and kissed her palm. With a last gentle smile for her husband, Lara turned to the waiting Galactus.

"But the child, our son Kal-El," she said firmly "You must save him."]

Weeping quietly, Kal-El watched the rest of the tragedy play itself out in the memory crystal gleaned from the mind of Galactus. This time, Galactus, and thus Kal-El's, last view of Kal-El's parents before the destruction engulfed them, was the familiar sight of Jor-El embracing his wife; but, now, he did not miss the joy and peace lighting their faces as they watched their son taken to safety in the hands of Galactus.

"Uh guys?" came the tired, reluctant voice of The Scarlet Spider, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but something weird is happening with The Big G-Word over here. Professor Richards? You'd better come and see this."

As the bewildered heroes watched, millimeter by steady millimeter, the unmoving form of Galactus grew smaller and smaller, as if the great body were consuming itself in it's frantic efforts to find energy to sustain it. Reed Richards knelt by the side of their vanquished foe and scanned the rapidly shrinking form with an arcane instrument whose purpose was unknown to all but a few of the astonished onlookers.

"What the hell is going on here, Big Brain?" demanded Guy Gardner.

Looking up from his instruments, Reed Richards frowned. With a definitive snap he closed the instrument case and shut it off.

"He's dying," said Mr. Fantastic, putting away his scanner in a hidden pocket of his uniform. The news shook Kal-El.

"Dying? No! He can't be! He - no…"

With his ring hand Guy Gardner made a sharp gesture, cutting the air like a blade and smiled.

"Let the sucker croak," he annonounced. He brought his Power Ring to bear on the dying alien. "In fact, I'll be glad to help the dirtbag on his way." A slender bracleted hand with strength enough to sunder steel flashed out and caught Gardner by the wrist.

"Guy, when was the last time someone called you an insensitive maniac?" said Wonder Woman and squeezed hard enough to bring unbidden tears to Gardner's eyes and a snarl to his lips. When he tried to snatch his hand away, the Amazon warrior released him.

"Not since this morning," the one true Green Lantern shot back.

"Sometimes I really miss Hal," murmured the Flash.

"Yeah, you and every other wimp on the planet, speed-geek."

When the pugnacious Gardner began to advance on the scarlet clad protector of Central City, he was halted by a dark guantleted hand that grasped him from behind by his rust red hair. Spinning him about, disorienting him completely before he had time to think, another dark guantleted fist lashed out, striking him squarely in the face. He went limp in his opponents hands and The Batman let him fall unceremoniously, but carefully, to the rooftop.

"We can't just let him die," the dark vigilante said, his gaze falling on the grieving Kal-El. "We have to do something." A sharp ripple of unease passed through the ranks of assembled heroes. No one, of course, wanted to be the one to say it. It was Steel who finally took upon himself the unpleasant task. Clearing his throat, he regarded The Batman levelly.

"What do you suggest we do, Batman?" he said softly. "If we save him now, we'll just have to face him again…sooner or later. And the next time we might not be so lucky. I don't like it anymore than you do. But there it is. Reality bites." The Batman recalled the many, many times he had captured The Joker and his ilk and sent them to Arkham Asylum, only to have them escape and kill again.

And still he could not bring himself to countenance it.

"It's wrong," he insisted. "It's not our place to judge him or punish him. Just to stop him. He's an intelligent being. We should be able to reason with him. He might agree to leave the Earth in peace." He glanced again at Kal-El. "He has honor, of a sort."

"He's also got a humongus appetite, Bat-Dude," pointed out The Scarlet Spider. Reed Richards shook his head in sad denial.

"I'm afraid the point is moot, gentlemen…Princess. At this juncture I don't see any way to save our foe. We don't have the technology or the power. There's nothing we can do for him."

Most of the heroes were somewhat ashamed of the relief that washed through them at the hero-scientist's announcement. Mercifully, the situation was out of their hands. They had defeated Galactus and the painful question just raised by that victory had but one answer.

Whatever happened, their consciences were clear, they told themselves.

"I - I should be getting back home," said the Flash.. "Iris will be wondering what happen to me. 'll be worried…"

"Yeah, me to, I guess," said the Scarlet Spider. "You guys gonna be okay here without me?"

One by one the heroes began to take their leave of the sad, uncomfortable situation. Wonder Woman was one of the last to depart. She lay a slim hand on Kal-El's broad shoulder.

"Do you have someplace to go?" she asked. Silently, the kneeling Kal-El shook his head.

"You could come with me," the Amazon Princess offered. "My friend Julia always has room to spare." Princess Diana smiled fondly. "She'll make you pay for the privilege with the answers to a thousand questions. But you'll be welcome in her house." The young alien said nothing. Galactus hand was small enough, now, that he could encompass it within his own and he did. The Amazon squeezed Kal-El's shoulder lightly, knowing that it was little enough solace to offer.

"You should come away from here," she told him. "You can't help him. No need to punish yourself so." Again, Kal-El shook his head.

"No," he said, "I can't leave him." His throat worked and he swallowed hard. "No one should die alone."

"If you left, I don't think he'd know the difference," she said kindly.

" I'd know," said Kal-El and made no move to rise or leave.

Feeling bereft, like a mother deserting her child, Diana of Themyscira sighed. As the Amazon caught a passing breeze and lifted herself upon it, she smiled, though. Sharp eyes brought her the sight of the dark clad figure waiting patiently in the deep shadows of the rooftop.

Kal-El would not be alone, after all.

It took some time for the drama to play itself out to it's inevitable end; for Galactus to die. The great body was powerful and did not give up the struggle easily. Kal-El did not abandon him.

And The Batman did not abandon Kal-El.

He never spoke to Kal-El. He was simply there, a silent, caring presence, sitting unobtrusively nearby. He did not intrude on Kal-El's grief, if such it was. He was simply there.

When the Devourer of Worlds was gone completely, faded like a night mist in the dawning light of day, The Batman rose and approached Kal-El. He did not touch him as Wonder Woman had. But his voice, when he spoke, was low and full of rough, little used compassion, like a rusty hinge given the succreae of soothing oil to lighten it's burden.

"Go home," he said.

Kal-El thought of the kindly Jonathan and Martha Kent, who loved him, and nodded.


Six Months Later:

The great panoply of stars spread itself above him like a glittering cloak, twinkling and bright with allure. They seemed so close. It was as if he could reach out his hand and touch their brilliance. For a moment he lifted his hand to try and seize them. But no.

They were out of his reach, now.

Like so many, many other things.

His body tingled with the memory of the Power Cosmic surging and burning its way through him, spilling out his eyes and his hands, shaped by his will. But like the stars shining so far above him, unreachable now, it was only a memory. And with time, like any memory (even so unique a one as that) it would fade.

He hoped.

"You miss it, don't you?"

Calling from out of the looming darkness, the voice startled him and Kal-El spun to face it. When the stygian figure stepped out of the gathering shadows, he relaxed. "How does he do that?" the newly christened Superman wondered. "To me"

"Space, I mean," said The Batman. "You must feel trapped here, now."

The other man returned to watching the twinkling stars overhead. Eyes that could see atoms collide if he willed it, ears that could hear a cell divide, watched and listened to the birth of a new star. The light of it would not reach Earth for centuries. Once, the man in the colorful new costume would have journeyed faster than the speed of those hurtling rays of light to be mid-wife at that birth.

But no longer.

He closed his eyes and looked away from the splendors denied him, now.

"Sometimes," he admitted. "Sometimes I miss it."

"The top of the Daily Bugle building here in Metropolis is probably as close as you're going to get, I'm afraid." A brief half smile flickered about the corners of those thin lips for an instant, no more. "I doubt that J. Jonah Jameson(16) would approve." The wry thought seemed to please The Batman.

"Of either of us," Superman chuckled in agreement. Laughter threatened and the Dark Knight stanched it, as if putting his booted foot on the neck of a supine criminal.

"I can live with that," he said with no small amount of sarcasm staining his deep voice. The young alien at his side frowned slightly.

"Sometimes I wonder if there's anything you can't live with, Bruce," he said softly. The Batman folded his cape closer about his broad shoulders and it was only Superman's keen eyes that allowed him to notice that the other hero also used the simple, unassuming act to step back slightly, to distance himself a bit from his companion in the night.

"You'll know it when you find it, Clark," The Batman said. Superman smiled.

"Oh, I think I already have," he announced. When silence was the only answer to his foray, he wasn't surprised. But he didn't let it deter him, either.

"We have more in common than you think," continued the bright figure gleaming in the starlight. "It takes a singular man to do what you do -- what we do. More than dedication…more than a sense of justice and what's right. It takes…obsession almost." He paused and watched the other man as something dark and lonely flickered through those chill blue eyes.

"Something bad happened to you, didn't it?" asked Superman. "Someone died, I think. And you were all alone in a world that didn't make sense. I know all about…being alone. I understand you better than you know. Because when it's all said and done…when you tear all the outer trapping away from the heart of The Batman, the cape, the cowl, the shadows and the night…what you're left with is a man. A man who, more than anything thing, doesn't want to see anyone else die. When my Mast - when Galactus was dying…you were the only one who spoke for saving him." The man beside him remained still as a statue. Superman closed haunted eyes.

"I watched worlds perish. And I finally leaned the truth about the death of my own world and everything I should have become. I don't want to see it happen again, either. I won't see it happen again. I won't." For long moments neither spoke. When the silence was finally shattered, Superman was surprised that it was his companion who wielded the hammer. Staring off into the vast night sky, The Batman drew a deep breath.

"You have a lot to atone for," he said. "This is a good place for that. This world could certainly use your help." Superman nodded.

"You'll help me?" he ventured, unsure. The Batman seemed startled.

"Me?" Again, Superman nodded in affirmation. The Batman frowned. " You're the one with powers and abilities far beyond us mere mortals," he pointed out, his voice gone acerbic with irony. "What can I do to help you?" Superman stared down into the heart of the bustling city of Metropolis from high above it's still crowded streets.

"This is your world," he told The Batman. "Your place. I may never understand it, totally. But if I'm going to try…I'll need someone to help me. Someone to talk to and advise me. You think I'm too trusting, don't you? To eager to please and find a place to belong. That's why I stayed with Galactus for so long, right?" The Batman said nothing, but his silence was confirmation enough.

"Would it surprise you to know that I agree with you? More than most," Superman continued, "I'm going to need someone to help me fit into this world. A man. A good man. Someone who'll keep me centered; someone who'll think of all the things I may not see. Someone I can trust." Scarcely daring to breath, Superman waited. The answer, when it came, made him smile for all that it was only a simple nod and a tiny smile that lingered far too briefly on those sharp, angular features. It was several moments before The Batman spoke.

"I can't imagine what it was like out there," he mused softly. "The things you must have seen…I suppose I can't really blame you for wanting to return. This world must seem a poor place to you."

"Only to a native who takes it for granted," Superman assured him with a laugh and, this time, The Batman's responding smile reached and warmed his blue eyes.

"But, then," Superman remarked, "I have something here that I never had…out there…" He looked up into the sparkling night sky and then back at the grim man at his side. Underneath the cowl, he could see an eyebrow raise itself in silent, eloquent inquiry. His answering smile rivaled the night stars in its radiance.

"Friends," he said.

The End


(1) Galactus - In the Marvel Universe, Galactus is a menace on a Cosmic scale. AKA "The World Devourer", Galactus does just that. Very much in the same way that humans consume lesser animal and plant life, Galactus consumes the energy of entire planets and all the life on them to survive. He is always accompanied by a (sometimes not so) faithful Herald, who wields only a fraction of their Master's Power Cosmic. Galactus' Heralds are some of the most powerful beings in the Universe. Let us not speak of Galactus himself. In the Marvel Universe, the first heroes to confront Galactus were the Fantastic Four.

(2) Kal-El - is, of course, Superman's Kryptonian name. Just checking:):)

(3) The Fantastic Four - In the Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Four were among the first modern day heroes. Lead by scientific genius Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, the FF are basically a family unit. Reed Richards, his wife Sue Storm Richards, The Invisible Woman, his brother-in-law Johnny Storm, the Human Torch (Sue Storm's kid brother) and close family friend Ben Grimm, the Thing. Mr. Fantastic is able to stretch his body to - er - fantastic lengths…(think Plastic Man or the Elongated Man heah!), The Invisible Woman's power is pretty self-explainitory. The Human Torch, not surprisingly, has flame related powers and the Thing has great super-strength, but an unfortunate appearance -- hence the name.

(4) Iron Man - In the Marvel Universe, the original Iron Man was master weapons inventor and industrialist Tony Stark who posed as his own bodyguard, Iron Man, wearing a gold and crimson suit of high tech armor. Iron Man's armor allows him to fly very swiftly, enhances his strength and does a good many other useful things. His main offensive weapons are his patented "repulsor rays".

(5) This one is a bit complicated…sigh The Scarlet Spider is Ben Reilly, a clone of Peter Parker, the original Amazing Spider Man. He is gifted with the proportional strength of a spider, super agility, and high-tech web shooters of his own invention that allow him to ensnare his foes or web-sling from building to building, etc.

(6) Moi's little tribute to one of the finest writers in comics today. JMHO!

(7) Peter Parker - In the Marvel Universe perennially broke and beset grad student Peter Parker often earned money as a photographer for the Daily Bugle. He was also, the original Spiderman:):)

(8) Jean de Wolf - In the MU the late lamented Jean de Wolf was a detective with the NYPD and a very good one. She was also a friend of Spiderman who assisted him many times in his crime fighting efforts. In memorium to a grand character, Ah have made her a member of the Metropolis S.C.U.

(9) Roxy Leech - okay…so ONE more DCU character to explain! Roxy Leech is a companion of the Post-Crisis Superboy. Since she has recently joined and trained with the Hawaiian branch of the ubiquitous S.C.U. Ah thought Ah would include her!

(10) Nick Fury - In the MU, Nick Fury is a decorated veteran of WW2 where he was the fearless leader of Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos. Nick is a Colonel now and the Director a world wide law enforcement and peace keeping organization known as

(11) S.H.I.E.L.D. - Acronym for Scientific Headquarters International Enforcement Law Division; the aforementioned world wide organization. Very gadget prone and oriented.

(12) Frank Castle - In the MU Frank Castle is the Punisher. A multi tour vet of Vietnam, Frank Castle came home to his wife and children only to lose them to gang violence during a picnic in Central Park on a sunny day. A highly trained Marine combat soldier, Frank Castle declared war on crime and criminals. Big guns…lotsa dead bodies.

(13) Magneto - In the MU Magneto is The Master of Magnetism. He has been described variously as "The most powerful mutant on Earth" and "virtually a force of nature". He has almost total control, of the Earth's electromagnetic spectrum, particularly in the realm of magnetic phenomena. A survivor of Auchwitz death camp, Magneto has good reasons for believing that unless stopped humanity will commit genocide against it's mutant offspring. He's seen it happen before. He's determined it won't happen again. He has been portrayed both as a villain and a hero.

(14) The X-Men - Do Ah really have to explain this one?? Very well. For those of ya'll who have been living on another planet for the last twenty years, the X-Men are a group of mutant superheroes banded together to assist mankind and protect them from evil mutant menaces and all manner of such like:):) They are feared and often mistaken for villains by a frightened humanity. In the MU they are led by the redoubtable, telepathic Charles Xavier, Professor X. Had things been just a bit different, they might very well have been led by the man who became their chief adversary: Magneto.

(15) The Dazzler - In the Marvel Universe, Alison Blaire, The Dazzler is a mutant and former memeber of The X-Men. She is also a singer of some repute and a cinema actress. As she says, her power is the ability into convert sound to light of any kind at her discretion from lasers to concentrateds sunlight. Think of her as an MU equivalent of the current heroic version of Doctor Light.

(16) J. Jonah Jameson - In the Marvel Universe, JJJ is the redoubtable editor of the Daily Bugle. JJJ is a hard, harsh man, but a fair one. He does not support the activities of various vigilante superheroes. Most especially Spiderman:):)

Thassit:):) As for anybody else in the DCU in heah…ya'll are on ya'll's own! Hee!

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