Chapter 26 : Last Son
‘Dear Jonathan, I hope this letter finds you well. You and I were never the best of friends, but I consider you one of the finest men I know. And I have recently been forced to the conclusion that it is your closest friends who manage to do the most damage. For the past few days I have been aware of how my end will come. Not just mine, but my wife’s as well. You are aware of the project I was working on for the government involving the element Krypton. In our efforts to turn that noble element into a weapon, our community of scientists have exposed ourselves to a radioactive form of Krypton. For many weeks now, this radioactive element has scattered far and wide across our community, mixing with our water supplies, and with the very air we breathe. I have been repeatedly trying to warn the others of the danger facing us, but they were so wrapped up in the project and in their perceived knowledge of the element that they refused to believe this new isotope could harm us.
And now it is too late. Far, far too late. For the past week scientists have been falling ill and dying left and right. The government has barricaded our community to prevent the disease spreading outside. There is no cure for the green poison coursing through our veins. I and my wife Lara will meet our end here. Together.
But there is still hope for our son, Kal. I have kept him secure within a containment unit of my own design. He has not been exposed to the deadly air outside his unit. I and my wife will not be able to live to see our little Kal El take his first steps, or go to school. We have no relatives to turn to.
You and I were never more than work friends, Jonathan, but I always respected the man you were. I remember you telling me how much you regretted the fact that you and your wife are unable to have children. I implore you to take Kal and raise him as your own. Raise him to be as fine a man as you are. And tell little Kal about Jor and Lara El. Tell him that his birth parents loved him very much, and are with him in spirit with every new step he takes into the world.’
Jonathan Ken lowered the letter he had been reading aloud to his wife in their kitchen. Across from him Martha Kent sat cradling a one year old boy with wispy black hair and bright blue eyes. In the living room, two government officials who had delivered the baby and the letter to Jonathan sat awaiting a response as to what was to be done regarding Kal El’s future.
“What do you think, Martha?” Jonathan asked, placing the letter on the table and rising to his feet. He walked over to where his wife sat and bent over the child in her arms. Kal laughed and gurgled as he attempted to reach up and touch Jonathan’s hand.
Martha looked up at Jonathan, and her eyes were streaming with happy tears. “Clark. We’ll call him Clark.”
Jonathan stared down at his wife, and all his doubts and misgivings melted away in the warmth of her smile as he reached out to grasp Clark’s hand.
* * *
Three year old Clark Kent stood nervously waiting for the bus that would take him to his first day of school.
“Are you sure they’ll like me?” He asked his parents, who stood waiting with him.
“They’ll love you.” His mother said as she gave him a hug.
“Just be polite and respectful to everyone.” His father told him. “Go up to the other students and introduce yourself. You’ll find most of the students come from nearby farms. Take part in as many of the class activities as you can.”
Clark nodded, frowning with concentration as he listened to his father’s advice. The bus came, and he clambered aboard, running to the end of the bus so he could wave to his parents through the rear window.
As Jonathan waved back, he found himself thinking about how it should have been Jor and Lara El standing here waving goodbye to Kal. Clark did not even know their names.
Jonathan told himself that three years old was too young to explain to Clark the complicated history of his parentage. He would be told about his parents when he got older.
* * *
Twelve year old Clark Kent stamped into the kitchen, rubbing his muddy boots on the rubber mat before making his way towards the fridge. “Pete Ross says he’ll give me his old bike if I give him my Nintendo set.” He declared with a grin. “He’s only had it for two years. It’s got gears and everything to let you ride really fast. I’ve already played all the games on Nintendo. Can I give it to him?”
“Fine.” His father nodded. “But you’re only going to ride the bike in front of me for at least a week until I decide you can be trusted to ride it safely.”
“I know how to ride a bike, dad.” Clark rolled his eyes.
“Not with gears, you don’t.” His mother said.
“I’m not a little kid anymore.” Clark called out behind him as he ran upstairs to get his video game set.
No, he was not little anymore. Jonathan had begun to realize that. He was ready to be told the truth about his parentage. Soon. Jonathan was going to tell him soon.
* * *
Sixteen year old Clark Kent weaved around the boxing ring, his eyes narrowed as he focused on anticipating his opponent’s moves. Lighting fast jabs were traded between the two boxers, Capen Morrell proving a very near match for Clark’s strength and speed.
The bell rang, and the two opponents shook hands. Clark was declared the winner of the fight by two points. Jonathan stood among the audience with Martha, clapping and shouting along with the rest of the school. Beside him, Jonathan could almost sense the presence of Jor El’s spirit, and he felt a wave of guilt. Time was running out. Clark would have to be told very soon.
* * *
Eighteen year old Clark Kent stood in Jonathan Kent’s office. Next to him stood Dan Turpin. The officer was praising Clark for his assistance in capturing Armek and his teammates. Clark was looking somewhat embarrassed, but was grinning.
Jonathan watched his strapping young son, his heart bursting with pride. But then Clark looked up, and in his face Jonathan saw the face of Jor El. The guilt that had been a part of him for so many years returned with force. By now Jonathan had long missed his window of opportunity. How could he tell Clark about his parentage after keeping the truth from him all these years? All Jonathan would do for now was smile and nod mutely while he wrestled with the questions in his mind.
* * *
Nineteen year old Clark Kent stood reading the letter from Jor El. There was pin drop silence in the room. Finally, he lowered the paper and stared at Jonathan Kent.
“Jor and Lara El were exiles from Macedonia.” His father’s voice was quite steady. “They were scientists who were given refuge in America in exchange for their services. I had met Jor when I was serving in the army. I became friends with him and his wife Lara, and we kept in touch after I left the military. They were working on a top secret research project known as Krypton, under the guidance of a man called General Zod. Krypton was the name of the undercover town where their team lived. Something went wrong with their experiments. The community was exposed to a dangerous radiation, and the entire area was sealed shut. No one inside survived. Except one person. In Jor El’s home soldiers found a specially constructed incubation chamber that had been sealed shut. Inside the chamber they found you. You were one year old at the time, and you hadn’t eaten for two days. You were very thin and weak, but you were alive. And next to you was the letter from Jor El, addressed to me.”
Clark sank into the sofa behind him. He stared down at the ground, trying to process what he had just read.
“So you’re…” He looked up slowly at Jonathan and Martha. “You’re not my parents?”
Martha’s breath caught in her throat. “We are your parents, Clark. We have raised you since you were one year old. Of course we are your parents.”
“So who are these two?” Clark held up the letter. “Who was Jor El? Who was Lara El?”
“Your birth parents.” Jonathan spoke up, struggling to keep his voice even. “They knew they were going to die. Their final wish was for Martha and I to raise you as our own.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Clark asked, his voice rising.
There was a long pause. “We wanted to tell you, Clark.” Martha’s voice was trembling now. “We were going to tell you. We were just waiting… waiting for the right-”
“It was my fault, son.” Jonathan said in a low voice. “I wanted to tell you. So many times in the past I almost told you everything. But something always got in the way.”
“What got in the way?” Clark had risen to his feet, his voice angrier than ever. “We lived in the same house for 18 years! What was stopping you telling me about Jor and Lara El? Ever since I was a kid you told me I should always tell the truth, no matter what. And all that time you were hiding the fact that I was adopted!”
“You are our son.” Martha said again. “We never wanted to hurt you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?” Clark shouted. It was the first time he had yelled at his parents. His face was flushed as he stared at his mother and father, who suddenly looked like strangers to him.
“I am sorry, Clark.” Jonathan said heavily. “I am sorry for not telling you sooner. I have no excuse for my behavior.”
Silence fell in the room again. It dawned on Clark that he was supposed to make the next move now.
Without another word, he strode out of the room, banging the door shut behind him.
The silence seemed to grow more pronounced within the room as Bruce and John stared at each other. Martha stepped towards the sofa and sank into it, her hand on her mouth. Jonathan walked over to her with a heavy tread and sank down beside her.
* * *
With no way of assisting Clark’s parents, Bruce and John returned to the University. Neither spoke on the way back. Bruce was surprised John did not admonish him for the role he had played in the Kent’s current family crisis. But John knew there was nothing to be gained by adding his voice to the stream of internal criticism that Bruce was no doubt subjecting himself to. Once they got to the University, Bruce brushed off all attempts by their friends to find out what had happened at Jonathan Kent’s office. He left John to fill the others in and locked himself in his room.
The next day arrived, and Clark had still not returned to the University. Diana had already got a call from both Jonathan and Martha independently asking if she had any idea of Clark’s whereabouts. But no one within the group knew where Clark was or what he was up to.
“I’m sure he is fine, Mrs. Kent.” Diana found herself telling Martha. “Clark has handled murderers and terrorists in the past without getting hurt. He will contact us once he has dealt with… with this new development.”
Diana tried to sound cheerful and confident, but the truth was she did not feel confident at all. From past experience, she knew Clark’s instinct while dealing with personal problems was to shut himself away and deal with the issue himself. But this was one problem which needed the support of his friends if only Clark was willing to open himself up.
“Any news of Clark?” Wally asked Diana when they met in the middle of the day on their way to class.
“None.” Diana shook her head. “We will have to go to Officer Turpin if he does not contact us or return to the University before nightfall.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” Wally sighed as they parted.
By afternoon, there was still no sign of Clark, and Diana was definitely beginning to get worried. She sat alone in the cafeteria pecking at her food when she saw Bruce making his way towards her.
“I know where Clark is.” He said abruptly. “I just got a call from Scott Free. Clark’s in New Genesis right now. He slept there last night, too.”
Diana received the news in silence.
“Someone needs to get him back.” Bruce said.
“That someone cannot be you, Bruce.” Diana said coldly. “You have involved yourself far enough in Clark’s personal affairs for the time being.”
Bruce did not flinch. “Yes, I have.” He held out the keys to her. “I know I made a mistake, Diana. And I know it’s not me that Clark needs to talk to right now. Go to him. Please.”
Diana stared at him. A part of her did not want to be the one to have to go to New Genesis and confront Clark in his vulnerable state. Another part of her wanted to be the first one their to comfort him. She took the keys and rose with a nod to Bruce.
Soon she had passed out of the University, driving Bruce’s car towards New Genesis. She arrived there just as the sun was beginning to sink into the horizon. The bustle and activity that had greeted had whenever she visited the place in the morning was missing now, replaced by a subdued chatter emanating from the main building which served as a boarding place for children who had made New Genesis their home.
Diana made her way to the High Father’s office, where she found Scott Free and Barda waiting for her as well.
“It is good to see you, Diana.” High Father. “The children missed seeing you during the holidays.”
“I’ll try to come more often.” Diana smiled as she greeted the other two. “I only wish my present visit was a happier occasion. Where is Clark?”
“He’s working on painting one of the classrooms to the south of our schoolyard,” Barda said. “He’s been there the whole morning. Didn’t even take a break for lunch.”
“He came to us yesterday, asking to spend the night with us.” High Father said. “I could see he was greatly disturbed in his mind. Clark has been a great friend to us. We were happy to let him stay with us for as long as he needed to.”
“What’s going on with him?” Scott asked. “He didn’t say anything about why he came here, except that he needed a break from college.”
“He has learned some rather distressing news yesterday.“ Diana explained. “I am glad he found the space he needed to digest the information here. But now he needs to return to the University. I will go talk to him.”
Diana was well aware of New Genesis’s various buildings and soon found the classroom High Father had told her about. She found Clark bent in front of one of the walls, paintbrush in hand, painting the left side of the wall.
“You appear to be quite busy,” Diana called out, and Clark turned. For once there was no answering smile on his face, and he turned back to the wall.
“High Father wanted this new classroom painted, so I offered to help.” He spoke without looking at her, concentrating on the wall.
A few moments passed with only the scrape of the paint brush against the wall breaking the silence.
“Are you all right?” Diana asked finally.
“No.” Clark finally looked at her. “I’m sure you know about the chat I had with my parents yesterday. Turns out my parents have been lying to me my whole life. Turns out I’m adopted. Turns out I’m an orphan. Turns out I can never meet my birth parents because they’re dead.”
There was silence again, while Diana tried to think of what to say. Clark focused his attention on the wall again.
“I understand this is a very difficult time for you.” Diana said softly. “But you cannot hide yourself away from your friends and family forever. You need to come back home, Clark.”
“What is ‘home’?” Clark asked her bitterly. “I always thought Smallville was my home. Now I find out I was born in Krypton. Home is the place you go to feel safe. Home is with your mom and dad, who look after you no matter what, because you belong to them, and they to you.” Clark’s eyes were suddenly bright with tears. “Smallville isn’t my home, Diana. The Kents aren’t my real parents. I don’t have a home anymore. Jor and Lara El are dead. Krypton is gone. It’s just me now.”
Diana stared at Clark as he squeezed his eyes shut and wiped away the moisture from his eyes. He took a deep breath and stood up, tossing the brush aside as he straightened his back and tried to regain his composure.
“I should have known you were adopted, Clark.” Diana said. Clark froze, then turned to stare at her in surprise.
Diana took a step towards him. “It’s true. Facially, physically, your eyes, you look nothing like Jonathan or Martha Kent. But here is the thing. It never even occurred to me that you might not be their son, because with every word you spoke, every aspect of your behavior, you showed who your parents were. It had nothing to do with genetics, and everything to do with the fact that they are your real parents in all the ways that a child needs a parent. Through every birthday, every first day of school, every sickness, they were your parents, Clark. No DNA test in the world is going to change that fact.”
“Parents don’t lie to their children for nineteen years.”
“Your parents are not perfect. They made a mistake. And it was a big mistake. Are you going to punish them for it forever? Refuse to ever talk to them? Disown them?”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Clark muttered.
“You have already done it by coming to New Genesis.” Diana said softly. “Even our inactions have consequences, Clark. For the past twelve hours, your mother has been calling every person who knows you at the University, desperately trying to get in touch with you. Your father is feeling crushed. He is convinced you hate them.”
Clark covered his eyes with his hands, suddenly feeling exhausted. “I don’t hate them. I just don’t know what to say to them. How do I make this whole thing normal again, Diana? Am I supposed to just pretend the last 24 hours never happened? Do I pretend I’m okay with it?”
“You don’t have to decide anything right now. This is your new reality, whether you like it or not, but there is no required time period for coming to terms with it. You can take as long as you want to accept the truth about your birth parents. But Clark,” Diana placed a hand on his cheek, forcing him to look at her. “Don’t destroy your current family because of a memory of the parents who were taken away from you two decades ago. You cannot bring back Jor El or Lara El, but you have another set of parents who need you. Don’t take away their son from them because you’re feeling angry.”
Clark sighed, rubbing his eyes. For a long time, he did not speak. Diana did not know what else to say.
“You’re right,” Clark said finally. “I can’t hide from this. And I can’t let Ma and Pa think I hate them. Let’s get back to the University. I’ll call my parents tomorrow and talk to them.”
“Good, let us go back.” Diana felt relieved as she led Clark out of the room with the half-painted wall.
They went to the head office, where Scott and Barda were still waiting along with the High Father for Diana’s report.
“Thanks for letting me crash here,” Clark said to High Father. “I promise I’ll get back soon and finish painting the rest of the wall of that classroom.”
“Even in your time of distress, you think about your duty.” High Father smiled as Scott hugged Clark. “Our doors are always open to you, Clark.”
“Feel better.” Barda said as she hugged Clark as well. “And remember you always have friends here. You too, Diana.”
“Of course.” Diana hugged her as well.
The two exited New Genesis on the way to the parking lot. Clark spotted the car Diana had driven there. “So he didn’t want to come?”
“He feels badly about his role in this whole affair, and does not know how to talk to you about it.”
“I don’t know either,” Clark said as he got into the car. “Guess we’ll talk it out once we get back to the University.”
Diana swung the car out of the parking lot and soon they were speeding down the highway. Neither spoke, and Clark was grateful for the silence.
Then the car slowed down, and Clark looked up in surprise. They were not at the University, but outside Jonathan Kent’s office.
“What are we doing here?” He asked Diana, who stared back at him evenly.
“You need to deal with this now. Trying to thrash this matter out over the phone will only convince the Kents that you really do hate them. I messaged your father. Your parents are waiting for you in his office. Go talk to them. I’ll wait for you here.”
“I don’t even know what to say to them.”
“Then don’t say anything. Your parents told you something they have been keeping secret for two decades. Now is not the time to avoid talking about it. Just stand there if you have to and give them a chance to say their piece.”
Clark stared at her. Then he turned to stare at the building. He opened the car door and stepped outside. For a long moment he hesitated. But then, almost on their own accord, his feet started moving towards the building, walking past the doorway, through the main area, and up the stairs to his father’s office.
He found his father’s secretary missing from her usual spot outside the office. He opened the glass doors, and saw his parents sitting inside. They rose when they saw him, several emotions running across their faces.
“Sorry I ran away before.” Clark ventured, trying to keep his voice light. “Kind of had a lot to process.”
“We were so worried, Clark.” Martha said. “John and I felt horrible for putting you through all this. I was awake all night imagining all kinds of terrible things happening to you. And it would all have been because of us.”
“Not because of you.” Clark said. “I’m nineteen now. It’s time for me to start accepting responsibility. I want you guys to know, I don’t hate you. I can never hate you.” Clark suddenly felt a lump in his throat. “I may not be your real son, but you never for a second let me think I wasn’t. You gave me the kind of childhood other kids dream of. I’ll never be able to thank you both enough for all you’ve done for me.”
“Clark…“ Martha’s eyes were streaming with tears as she tried to think of something to say. But it was proving impossible to put into words all that she was feeling.
Clark took a deep breath. “Look, I can’t pretend I’m completely okay. I’m still trying to process everything you told me. But no matter where I came from, it’s not going to change who I am. And who I am is what you two made me.”
Jonathan let out a sigh. “We couldn’t be prouder of the man you’ve grown up to be, Clark. Jor and Lara gave us a bigger gift than we had any right to ask for when they choose to send you to us.”
“Thanks, dad.” Suddenly, Clark felt his eyes moisten again. “I still get to call you mom and dad, right?”
His father’s eyes welled with tears. “We’ll always be your mom and dad, son. Always. Nothing in the world is ever going to change that.”
Clark stepped forward to hug Martha, who’s shoulders were shaking. The tears were falling thickly from Jonathan’s eyes as he folded his wife and his son in his embrace, and for the first time in nineteen years, felt the weight of guilt in his stomach replaced by relief.
* * *
“Clark has gone to meet his parents,” Diana spoke into her phone as she waited in the car for Clark’s return. “I think everything is going to be fine now. Clark does not seem so angry anymore.”
“That’s good to hear,” Bruce said. “I’ll see you both when you get back.” He hung up, and sighed, rubbing his eyes. Before him, his computer glowed anew as he opened his web browser.
Bruce Wayne knew he had made a mistake. And that mistake had hurt his best friend. Other people would have tried to apologize. But Bruce did not believe simply apologizing was enough. He believed in atoning for one’s sins.
“Push everything else back.” He spoke into the computer, communicating directly with the machine’s sophisticated AI that would not be available on the market for at least five more years. “We have one primary priority for now. Find out everything you can about a man called General Zod. Key search words: Non. Jor El. Lara El. Krypton.”