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"He listened for everything."

Chapter 16

It was over.  He was horribly embarrassed.  He was mortified.  A big part of him, the mortal part, was killed.  He wove through the sky in a random pattern above Metropolis.  Maybe he had broken a window or a wall on his way out.  If he had, he would fix it sometime.

There were species on this Earth for whom heartbreak was a common cause of death.  Swans and pigeons died soon after the deaths of their mates.  Dogs sometimes pined to death when their masters died or moved away without them.  Last year, twenty healthy sperm whales, distraught over the use of their spawning area as a dumping ground for nuclear waste material, beached themselves and gently died on a shore near Peugeot Sound.  Now, Superman felt that he too was slowly beginning to die.

The news reached the entire United States and parts of Mexico and Canada before it fully hit Superman himself.  Now, the last of Clark Kent's clothing ripping off in the breeze and flapping to the Earth below, Superman turned north and sliced the sky alone.  Totally alone.

By the time Superman crossed the Canadian border, the telephone cables and the microwave satellite relays linking the North American continent with Europe and Asia were overloaded with calls to and from diplomats, business leaders, journalists, friends.  News offices in America and then in Western Europe, Japan, the Soviet Union, Africa, China, India—ultimately all round the world—sat in undirected silence for a moment before somebody in each office ordered everyone else to go about telling the story.

When monitors at Strategic Air Command in Omaha picked up evidence of an erratic, highflying object crossing the Distant Early Warning defense line in Canada and heading over the Artic Sea, there was momentary mobilization.  It could have been an enemy aircraft blundering into unauthorized space, but that was not what it was.  The news had reached this underground fortress, and when somebody muttered, "It's him," everyone else knew approximately where he was going.

"He's moving awful slow," a young technician said, "He never moves that slow.  You sure it's him?"

"Leave him be," an officer said.

One hundred thirty miles south of the North pole—from the North Pole every direction is south—there was a hollow, artificially built mountain.  The mightiest hands on Earth had gathered and fused together a huge mass of granite blocks which now sat collecting snow and permafrost, hidden from anyone who might be imprudent enough to linger over this forsaken corner of the earth.  From the sky, one could see only a golden arrow the length of two Olympic pools, which pointed north, presumably for the benefit of airline pilots.  Only Superman could lift the sixty-ton object, slide it into a camouflaged lock set into the mountain face, and open the door bigger than most medieval cathedrals.

This fortress of Solitude, this repository for collectibles—the junk and the treasure of the great man's life—was the final privacy he had.

By the time Superman laid his hands on the base of the golden key, the fact of his formerly secret identity had passed, in most of the world, from news, to common knowledge, to a source of idle speculation.  When Superman lifted the key a hundred meters into the air, faltered a moment and then, despairing, dropped it back to the steel-hard frost that covered the earth below, the human population of the world was astir with excitement mixed with confusion.  The President of the United States got the idea into his head to issue a postage stamp bearing the face of Clark Kent, when the key cracked and shattered against the cold.

By law, no living person may be pictured on a United States postage stamp.

Superman sat on top of the mountain that he had built, in a temporary high-backed chair that he dug out of the ice.  He leaned back his head, closed his eyes and listened.  He listened for everything.  He turned on his full super-hearing, not simply the directed senses that he had trained himself to use in homing in on distant conversations or on the noise of a distant underground rumble before the Earth moved somewhere.  He turned on the whole thing, and in a moment, he realized that he had never done this before.

From his perch at the top of the world Superman heard the clatter of trains making their ways among the towns of central Europe, the hissing of a cobra in the basket of a Pakistan fakir, the tuning sounds of the Boston Pops Orchestra and the orchestra of a high school in La Paz as respectively they rehearsed "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and the second Brandenburg Concerto.  A geyser bubbled below the surface of Colorado.  A company of humpback whales howled an ecstatic, intricate symphony whose orchestration stretched for half the width of the Indian Ocean.  Quintillions of snails dragged quintillions of jellied tails over the surface of quintillions of leaves.

The slap-slapping of a runner's feet against the outskirts of Kampala made a perfect syncopated rhythm with the singing of a thrush in Singapore.  When the thrush stopped for a moment, the runner would stop for a gulp of water from his wineskin.  When the runner stepped up his pace, the thrush soared into a new rhythm, as though the man in Africa and the bird in Asia were following signals from the same conductor.

The wind-songs ripping through the Andes made a counterpoint for the wagging tails of the dogs in the Bide-A-Wee Animal Shelter in Wantagh, Long Island.

An ant's breath, as it struggled to press a cake crumb up a centimeter and a half high hill in Bali, traced the precise pattern of the whirring of a machine-mixing cavity filling in the office of a dentist in Tel Aviv.

The hums of all the beehives and all the Xerox copiers in all the world together created an eerily beautiful collection of sound that clearly constituted a fugue.

An angry golfer in Palm Beach, when he smashed his putter against a tree, compensated for the drummer in the Sussex disco band who missed a beat.

Then something even more remarkable happened.  There was a flutter of flying fish in the Caribbean west of Bermuda whipping past the cruise ship Raffaelo.  Together, in a pattern whose precision Superman could now begin to notice, they flashed out of the water and splashed back in, soared up fluttered, tumbled back, broke the water again.  And as they arced through the sky, two of the fish hit the hull of the Raffaelo and broke their part of the pattern.  A line of people who applauded as they watched the fish performance from the liner's rail did not even notice the falling out of the two members of the school.  And as Superman heard, from his icy throne, the sound of the pair of flying fish splashing clumsily into the sea, a few chunks of ice chipped off the rest under his heavy arm and scattered down the hill, making a noise comparable in quality to the noise of a flying fish duet fluttering on the wind and splashing into the Caribbean.

Superman was part of the song.

He had an instrument in the orchestra of this Earth.

He was not, in the overall scheme of things, an outsider.

He listened to the world, sitting in one of its most desolate spots, and he began to put together the pieces.  He heard the howls of wolves, the roiling of cyclones, the bouncing of children's balls, the sounds of his own digestive system, the sounds of mandibles of ticks attaching themselves to the skins of dogs' ears: everything, working together to create an ineffable symphony.

Maybe Superman, today, was the first one ever to hear the music that earth made in totality.  Maybe, on the other hand, every human who ever composed a concerto, wrote a song, whistled a tune, or listened intently to the heartbeat of a woman carrying a child had heard the song of the Earth in his or her own peculiar set of perceptions.  Maybe Pythagoras, Mozart and McCartney had heard the song, and had spent their lives trying, in their primitive ways, to imitate it.  Maybe every whippoorwill and meadowlark Superman heard today was imitating the Earth as well.  Maybe that was what Superman had been doing—bouncing to the rhythm of this planet that teemed with life and melody, ever since the day he first arrived on Earth.

He listened, heard the sound of the Order of life and growth for which the planet had been created, and wondered what the sound of the Universe might be.  He wondered what he would hear if, through some miracle, his super-hearing could pick up sounds across the vacuum of the continuum.

Somewhere to the south, a devil inhabiting the body of an innocent young woman had destroyed the one thing that had made him feel a part of this world.  But now he heard, and began to realize, that by his very presence he had become of this world and a part of its encompassing Order.

Somewhere to the south, a demon had begun the process of disrupting the Order, ending the song, and spreading the word of Chaos from this point through all time and space.  Not even the past and the future would be safe from a gathering wave of the Dark World's power.

Somewhere to the south, sounds of cacophony originated and found Superman's ears.  The man from another world rose into the sky, though the aurora to the edge of space, and dove to meet the agent of Hell on Earth.



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