“Why is it that a technologically-advanced civilization, capable of designing spacecraft that are undetectable to radar, did not think to include landing gear?”
That thought, drifting through Kal-El’s mind as he pushed open the hatch, told him more about his kryptonite-weakened state than even the trembling in his limbs. Disoriented, staggering through the smoke, he wasn’t even sure if he was headed toward the house or toward Oklahoma, and then he saw the spaceship again. In front of him.
Just as Kal realized he had walked in a circle, he saw movement near the ship. Ma. Thank God. He had just enough strength left to reach her, to touch her shoulder, and then the world went black. Ma Kent caught him as he fell, cradling him in her arms.
The stars were green. Except for one red one, right above his head. He blinked at them for a moment before recognizing the glow-in-the-dark star shapes that had decorated his ceiling since he was a boy. Ma had kept his room exactly as it had been before he left the farm for Metropolis. It felt a little strange to him now, to be a man in this room where he had grown up, but comforting all the same. Some things hadn’t changed in his absence.
It was very early; the sun wasn’t even up yet. Kal-El got up and dressed himself slowly, glancing out the window. The farm had looked just like it always had last night … except for the track burned by his landing. But now, as the sky grew lighter, he began to see the differences. The outbuildings could’ve used a coat of paint, and the once lush fields were looking a little parched. A general air of disuse hung about the place, and Kal frowned slightly. Something he would have to see to.
He could barely remember yesterday morning, the first after his arrival. The sun’s rays had helped him to throw off most of his weakness, at least long enough to bury the ship beneath the fields. Ma would lose some of the crop – most of the crop, young corn didn’t take well to flaming meteors landing in it – but he would help her. After he had finished hiding the ship, he had come back inside. Ma had come into the living room while he watched television, becoming more and more disturbed. The world seemed to have literally gone to hell is his absence; crimes and disasters that even five years ago would have provoked an outcry now received only a brief mention in the news.
Her tears had surprised him – Ma had always been so strong, so sure. Kal berated himself for having left her alone, five years of waiting, wondering, hoping. And it had all been for nothing, really. Of all the things he thought he might find on Krypton, an abundance of radiation wasn’t one of them. The very crystal of the planet had become lethal Kryptonite. He didn’t like to think about how weak he had been, how close he had come to never making it home.
And this was home, he’d learned that. Metropolis itself had felt foreign to him at the end, the discovery of Krypton a welcome excuse to escape from all of the uncomfortable reminders. But the planet was dead, a shadow of its former glory, home only to ghosts of past greatness. The farm was where he had always been loved, always accepted, never had to hide who or what he was. That would never change; the Kent farm would always be his refuge. With those warm, comforting thoughts in mind, Kal went downstairs, following the scent of pancakes.
Kal froze in the hallway, his azure eyes widening. The delicious breakfast he smelled wasn’t being made especially for him. There, at the head of the table, was Ben Hubbard. The older man laughed, his eyes twinkling with mischief and delight, and Martha fanned a dish towel at him in mock warning. It was so much like the scenes that had played out in this room during Kal’s youth … but now it was Ben sitting in Jonathan’s chair and flirting with Jonathan’s widow. Kal felt a moment of searing, unreasoning hatred, and promptly quashed it as he had learned to subdue all negative emotion.
He could’ve sworn he’d made no sound, but Martha looked up with a mother’s intuition. “Clark! You finally woke up. Here, darling, sit down. I’ve got just the thing to bring back your appetite.”
“Good morning, Clark,” Ben said, a trifle shyly. “I’m so glad you made it back home. Did you fly in or drive?”
“I flew,” he answered coolly, applying himself to the stack of pancakes. Wonderful, fluffy batter, not at all like that Bisquick stuff in a box; butter from an actual cow; and real maple syrup, served just slightly warmed. On the side, a rasher of crisp bacon, three sausage links, and two scrambled eggs. It was the kind of breakfast that would bring tears to the eyes of country boys and cardiologists alike, though for entirely different reasons.
An awkward silence descended on them as Martha prepared her own plate. Clark could not believe that Ben – a trusted friend of the family – had moved into his father’s place so smoothly. And Mom let him. Didn’t she still love Jonathan?
Ben finished first. “Martha, I’ve got to run back by my own place,” he said. “See you tonight?”
“I’ll beat you at Scrabble again,” she replied easily. He kissed her cheek, awkward under the eyes of her son, and left.
Now it was just Martha and her boy, silent as they had ever been. It seemed even this was no longer home. I asked him to take care of the farm, he thought, but this is NOT what I had in mind.
“What’s on your mind, Clark?” she asked, knowing the answer perfectly well.
“You and Ben…”
“We’re very good friends, Clark,” she said in that no-nonsense tone. “I love your father, always did, always will. But he’s gone, and this house can get very lonely, especially for a woman my age. Ben and I, we have something special. I think Jonathan would be glad he’s looking after me.”
Clark had to force his mouthful of sausage down. It’s none of your business, he told himself sternly. She may be your mother, but it’s her life. “I … I think I understand, Ma,” he said at last. “I just … it was a shock, that’s all.”
She sighed. “Oh, Clark. Things do change, but you will always be welcome here, you know that.”
A weight seemed to roll off his heart. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, son.”
They finished breakfast in a far happier quiet.
Shelby was waiting when Clark walked outside. The dog forgave him for losing the ball yesterday, after he buried the ship, and had brought him a new one. This time, Clark only threw it a hundred yards or so – the last one was probably in Wyoming.
The dog was getting older, too. Once upon a time, he would have gleefully retrieved the ball as often as Clark could throw it, and he could be a pest when he wanted to play, dropping the slobbery ball into Clark’s lap or pushing it against his hands. But today, after only six or seven tosses, he began to slow down, walking back instead of trotting.
Old dog, old farm, old house, everything is getting older and falling apart. Not me, though – well, maybe falling apart, but I don’t get much older.
At least he could get started fixing things up a bit. Some lumber, some paint, judicious use of his speed and strength, and they could have the place looking presentable again.
A large beige truck turned into the driveway, rolling past the house and on into the north field, the one Jonathan always called the Rockery. That was what it mostly grew – rocks. You couldn’t plow in it, not unless you wanted to keep replacing the plowblades. They had tried growing different things there, herbs and such, trying to make the land pay for itself, but it had never worked. Now it looked as though Ma had some scheme for it. Clark wandered over, mildly interested.
The tall corn from the main field had obscured much of the activity out here, he soon realized. Deep pits had been dug, the rocks that were in them carefully laid aside. One large area and several smaller ones had been leveled. It looked almost like a construction site.
“Can I help you?” a man in coveralls asked, his tone friendly.
“Sure, could you tell me just what you’re building?”
The man grinned. “Well, Missus Kent saw as how the farm wasn’t bringing in as much money as it used to, so she leased out these twenty acres to a firm from Rhode Island. They’re building some kind of pioneer historical center; people can come and see how folks lived in these parts back in 1880 or so. Did ya know, some of them rich folks from New York and the like will pay money to live in a sod house with no electricity? They call it ‘getting away from it all.’ Crazy Easterners.”
“Yeah,” Clark sighed, adding under his breath, “I think we’re all a little crazy.”
Martha had just finishing milking Nancy, the goat, when Clark walked back in. “Son, would you be a sweetheart and carry this milk in?”
“Sure, Mom,” he replied, lifting it easily. “There were some things I wanted to ask you about.”
“Saw the new pioneer center going up, hmm?”
He looked down at her, startled, and she laughed.
“I’m your mother, Clark, I don’t have to read your mind – I already know what’s going to be there. And I’ll tell you this, when I signed that lease I read it over twice with a magnifying lens – then I let that nice young attorney in town have a look, too. They aren’t going to bother the farm – they’ll have their own driveway, and they’re going to plant cottonwoods to screen the center from the house. They won’t ever have more than three families down there at a time, no more than twenty people including staff.”
“Still, it just seems a little … odd.”
Martha put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Clark, my sweet boy. People in the city envy the things you had growing up – wide spaces, honest work, fresh food, peace and quiet. They want to know, just for a little while, what it’s like to live simply. Most of them have never seen as many stars as we can, just because they burn so much light of their own. There’s a metaphor in that, I’m sure.”
And it did sound so reasonable, so right. When he had lived in Metropolis, he’d flown home at least once a week, exchanging the big city hustle for some small town comfort. Every single time he woke up here, the quiet was a surprise. Oh, he could hear roosters crowing in Texas if he wanted to, but there was so much less to shut out in Smallville.
“Mom, are you sure this is what you want to do?” he asked, putting the can of milk into the cooler.
She chuckled at him again. “Well, I was thinking of moving to Montana with Ben. It’s beautiful country up there, great fishing, you know.”
“Great … fishing.”
“Um-hmm. You should see the pike I caught last time – it was twice as big as Ben’s, almost thirty pounds! Tasted pretty good, too.” She grinned at the memory, then caught Clark’s bemused look. “Anyway, the income from the lease will give us enough to keep the farm and maybe go on a fishing trip once or twice a year.”
For the first time in his life, Clark felt lost with the farm’s good soil beneath him. A bunch of greenhorns from the city, trying to get along without laptops, cell phones, PDAs, or even running water, would be a nuisance no matter what. All the carefully-researched history in the world wouldn’t tell them how to milk a cow without getting switched in the eyes by her tail, or how to get eggs from under a hen who’d gone broody, or how to make biscuits from scratch and cook them in a fireplace. They would need someone like Ma for that, and since she was close by, it was Ma they would get. She never could stop herself from helping people; it was a character trait he’d gotten from her and Jonathan both, Clark reflected with a smile.
But all of this meant that his peaceful home was changing, too. Strangers on the home place would irritate him as much as they amused him. And he liked Ben Hubbard, always had, but seeing him as his mother’s partner was going to take some getting used to. Until he got his mind around that, it would best for both men if he kept away from the farm.
So where on earth could he go, if not here? Walking back to the barn beside Martha, with Shelby trotting along hopefully beside them, Clark scuffed his feet in the dust. For now, there were chores to be done, repairs he could help with, but soon he would have to leave. And when that time came, he would need to decide where to go … and who he would be in the larger world.