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Stranded

by P L Nunn

 

Part 5

 

Lex didn't have time to go stiff in his arms. Clark didn't allow him the chance. Clark just accelerated, gaining that essential speed needed to defy the grasping embrace of water. He'd never run this fast carrying a human passenger. Never had the need. What these speeds might do to a man, he wasn't sure. In the face of his driving need to get home, he found he didn't quite care. Lex had brought this on himself, when he'd chosen the path he had.

It didn't take long to cross the bay, a few minutes at top speed, and he only slowly marginally once he'd reached solid ground, but didn't stop. Couldn't stop. The rugged terrain of Nunavat passed in a blur as he sped along the vast shores of Hudson's Bay. Down into Manitoba, a straight shot towards home and he felt Lex jerking in his arms. Ineffectual protest that he might well have escaped his attention.

Reluctantly, Clark slowed, came to a gradual stop somewhere around the area that Winnipeg ought to have been. He'd been to Winnipeg before, on one of those jaunts when he'd been testing the limits of his speed. A beautiful city on the shores of a like-named lake.

Lex gasped against him, drawing in breath like a man starving for oxygen. It occurred to Clark, belatedly that he very well might not have been able to properly breath at the speeds Clark had been traveling. He let Lex down, and his legs immediately folded up under him, dropping him to his knees on ground lightly covered by frost.

Clark stood there, while Lex's gasps migrated into dry heaves, and stared at the land south of the lake. Flat for miles, and oddly - - razed, only the most scraggly of young trees and weeds gracing the earth.

Something broke the surface not far off, an odd shaped lump covered with frost-browned moss, vines twining forth at frozen angles, grasping at nothing. He squinted and saw them for what they were, twisted lengths of rebar protruding from a chunk of weathered concrete. He drew breath and looked deeper. The dirt under his feet was thin, a clean layer of accumulated earth covering denser material. And below that - - bones.

Acres and acres of the bones of a city. Riddled layers of decimation. Rubble compacted deep and dense, with only the occasional pocket of space below.

He staggered towards that one protruding monument to what lay below, fear lancing through him like kryptonite poison in his blood. This had been a large city, bustling with vitality - - with life. Gone. And he hadn't a clue how or why.

The blood rushed in his ears, obscuring the desolate whistle of wind, obscuring coherent thought save for the driving instinct to go home. To find what was his and protect it against whatever had taken this place.

He spun, enough presence of mind to remember Lex, who was pale and still looked vaguely nauseous, but had gained his feet and had his phone out - - was scowling at it like it had short sold him. He had no idea whatsoever what it was he trod upon.

Lex looked up, in the midst of trying to shake obedience into the cell, caught the hind end of Clark's approach and had just enough time for panic to flash through his eyes before Clark caught him up and ran. The phone tumbled, lost in their wake. Clark was half a hundred miles away before it hit the ground.

It was a straight shot through the northern half of the US to Metropolis. Land that should have been teaming with life - - with towns, cities, sprawling metropolitan areas - - highways crawling with traffic, skies criss crossed with planes. Minneapolis, Sioux City, Omaha - - no sign of any of them to the casual supersonic observer. It wasn't until he passed into Kansas, where Topeka should have stood and slowed, that he saw the first real sign that a city had indeed thrived on this land. The bones broke through the earth there, iron and concrete and mountains of rubble that looked like nothing so much as those horrible black and white photographs of Hiroshima after the bomb. Acres and acres of it, dead and still, the air acrid with the scent of rusting iron, with decay and mold.

"God - - God - -" Lex whispered close to Clark's ear, fingers fisting in Clark's jacket, voice echoing the horror Clark felt to the depths of his soul.

"Where - -?" Lex started, twisting to escape Clark's arms.

But Clark couldn't force sound out past the dread clotting his throat. 200 miles to Smallville. Metropolis was closer by half that.

He was there before he could think of reasons to postpone the inevitable. Reasons not to see the city he'd always dreamed of living in reduced to a wasteland of concrete and iron.

He slowed on the plains beyond, coming to a stop on splintered, weed riddled asphalt of what should have been highway 81 leading into Metropolis. A terrible numbness begin to seep across his flesh as he stared at the jagged edges of a city dark against a wan sunrise.

He let Lex down, and Lex staggered, off balance and it took him a second to focus on the sight that trapped Clark's gaze.

"Where the - - fuck- -?" Lex gasped after breath that had been torn from him that last stretch of distance. Lex wouldn't have any idea. Nothing in the minute or two Clark had lingered in Topeka would have sparked a visual clue. There hadn't been enough left of it.

Metropolis had faired better. Buildings still stood- - in one form or another - - dark and grisly remnants of great structures rising out of a haze the distant sun seemed reluctant to pierce. There were no sounds of traffic, no conglomerated pulse of life - - just eerie silence. Terrible silence.

Clark took a breath that bordered on a sob, as Lex stumbled a few steps across buckled, cracked pavement towards what had once been a gleaming city of light and dreams of the future.

Smallville. Home. It called to him, the need to see what had become of weathered wood and tin roofing when whatever had happened here - - whatever had happened across the span of two continents, had razed cities whole.

He left Lex where he stood - - having done his duty and brought Lex to the doorstep of what was left of civilization. What was left of Smallville - - what was left of the yellow farmhouse that was the only home Clark had ever known, needed to be discovered without the presence of the man who thought he was an abomination.

He turned and ran, following the route of the interstate, dodging the skeletal remains of cars worn down to the bare suggestion of frames.

He hit Smallville proper first. But the town was gone. Nothing but fine ground rubble where buildings used to be. Not even that in some places. There were pits here and there, where basements used to be, half filled with fallen debris, with windblown dirt and weeds and pools of stagnant water. His heart thudded in his chest, louder than the pervasive whistle of wind with no buildings to curb it.

Home he had to get home. Only home wasn't so easy to find, with the roads worn away or covered with dirt and dust and overgrown scrub grass and no landmarks to go by. He found it finally, by instinct alone - - found the place it should have been. But there was nothing but weed tangled flat earth. No suggestion a barn or outbuildings or a house had ever existed here. The only thing that remained was the root cellar and even that was half filled with dirt, the doors torn off or burned off.

He sank down, at the edge of that pit staring down into dark space, mind frozen as the enormity of his loss sank in. How long he knelt, knees in the dirt, he hardly knew, but the sun had moved high into the sky by the time the numb began to fade, and he reminded himself that his mother hadn't been here - - that Lana had fled days before. That only the cows and the horses and the chickens in the roost had graced this land when - - when whatever it was that had happened &endash; happened.

Everything his father had worked to build - - the grandfather he'd never known - - everything his mother had loved and nurtured - - everything Clark had grown up around, comfortable, familiar things that he'd thought would always be there for him - -a refuge from the world - - gone. The pain was this weird, distant thing. He was aware of its existence, but it lingered behind a film of dread calm.

Mom. He didn't know where Lana had gone - - but he knew where his mother had been.

He headed towards DC, not lingering at the places cities had stood, not wanting to see the staggering evidence of life snuffed out, holding onto the lingering hope that somehow - - some way, the place his mother had been had escaped the utter annihilation that had razed almost everything else he'd passed.

It hadn't. The Potomac still wound lazily along its path, but nothing remained of the city that had sat its shores. Even the trees that dotted the banks seemed too few and twisted with grief. The earth here wasn't as flat as it had been back home, and he saw through the layers of dirt and moss and weeds to the rubble beneath.

His hands started to shake, vision going blurry as he thought of his mother being here when the world had ended. He wondered, morbidly if she'd had the time to see it coming or if it had caught her unawares.

He almost wished for the latter, for stark fear not to have been the last emotion she felt. He wished - - he wished he could have been here - - because if he had - -maybe he could have done something - -anything to stop the thing that had resulted in this.

But it had been a day - - a few days at most - - and he couldn't wrap his mind around how the world had come to this in that span of time. He couldn't fathom a war that could have accomplished this or a weather phenomenon or a meteor strike huge enough to wipe out every city on this side of the planet and leave the atmosphere intact after so brief a time.

What power on earth could have done this? Maybe not a power of earth at all. He felt a chill, followed by a molten rush of anger.

What if the fortress had been responsible - - what if that device that Lex had moved heaven and earth to bring to the arctic had triggered something horrible? What if every clue and every warning Jor-el or some other Kryptonian had left for clever humans to decipher had all been some insidious trap? What if - - God help him - - the aim had never been to protect the people of earth at all, but to destroy them if they ever gained that upper hand on the last son of a dead planet.

It made sense. Lex had activated the device and maybe the world had fallen down just around them. Jor-el might have been the original author, but it had been Lex's finger that pulled the trigger. Lex that was responsible for this - -for all the deaths - - for mom, for everything and everyone else that Clark loved ceasing to exist. Lex's fault that one way or another Clark hadn't been here to save them.

Grief came upon him, sudden and hard and he cried out. The salty taste of tears mixed with the anguish. Hate welled, bitter and strong and if the fortress had still stood, he'd have rushed back and torn it down, demolished it as thoroughly as this place had been.

Anger and pain demanded a doorstep at which to lay blame and since Jor-el was long dead, he settled on Lex. Lex, who had somehow initiated this. Lex who could never let well enough be. Lex who took the things Clark loved and tainted them.

If Lex hadn't come to the fortress, hadn't pursued Clark's secrets as if they were some holy grail, this never would have happened.

He couldn't touch his oh so conniving biological father, or the construct that had carried out his will - -but he could find Lex, and let his grief run free.

 

 

 

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