Did you ever get the feeling you were being watched? Most likely you were.
Superman was watched all the time by somebody, somewhere. As he was born, he was watched and cherished by his natural parents, Jor-El and Lara. As he traveled from his dying world to the planet Earth, he was watched and protected along the way by the immortal Guardians of the planetoid Oa and by their Galactic task force, the Green Lantern Corps. As he grew up, he was watched over by his foster parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. Later, as well as along the way, he was watched as well by those who waited for him to touch their existences. Among these were Kristin Wells, a graduate student in history at Columbia University in the year 2857, and the creature known as C. W. Saturn, the agent of the Underworld.
On occasion, Superman had come to grips with people, creatures, beings of one sort or another, whose motivation for pursuing evil purposes was, simply, to serve the forces of evil. This was a point of view Superman could not understand. He was convinced that all one needs to do to persuade someone to do what is right is to educate that person to the fact that it is in his interest to do what is right. There was a right and a wrong in the Universe and that distinction was not very difficult to make. If you litter the park, it will not be as clean next time you want to use it. If you hold up a driver when you are hitchhiking, there will be fewer people likely to give you a ride when you really need to get somewhere. If you pepper the atmosphere with radioactive waste, your children and grandchildren's share of your legacy will be diminished. No one, Superman was convinced, would want to serve the cause of evil once he or she understood the meanings of right and wrong. Superman had not yet met C. W. Saturn, who was watching him.
C. W. Saturn stood in a place that did not exist in space or time, but which existed nonetheless. It was the seat of heinous authority; the centerpoint of Creation's evil; the throne room of Samael, C. W. Saturn's master.
Saturn stood in a depression in the ground and looked out over an endless crawl space. The floor was no more than two meters from the ceiling at any point, and stalactites and stalagmites made sure that the space was appreciably smaller than that in most spots. The hole in which Saturn stood was more than a meter deep, and the headroom it gave Saturn was a sign of Saturn's rank. The smoothly surfaced depression followed Saturn wherever he walked in this place, its walls staying a constant distance from Saturn's sides, so that Saturn hardly ever had to stoop to avoid a stalactite.
Saturn was neither man nor woman, not animal, vegetable, mineral, or energy. As this creature stood there, across no time, the forms of six hundred sixty-six humans walked over one at a time, naked, stopping before Saturn and banging their heads on the obstructions that they could not see. They could see nothing but Saturn, although they were not blinded. That which existed in this place was simply not visible to humans, and this cluttered, limited universe looked to them like vast emptiness.
This curious court stood facing Saturn, trembling for a moment of no time; then each suffered an unspeakable indignity at Saturn's hands—dismemberment, force-feeding of foul substances, being crushed by jagged objects, that sort of thing, only worse. There were six hundred sixty-six tortures, each different from the others, each agonizingly complete. This particular mass indignity was Saturn's distinctive mark, the equivalent of a sovereign's signet on an edict or a spy's countersign to a colleague with whom he is to rendezvous.
These six hundred sixty-six pawns were acquainted with Saturn, whose exploits on Earth were legion. Although Saturn had a good many minor failures, failure never came the same way twice; and after all, he had done quite well on occasion.
Saturn got the best of a young Egyptian pharaoh, for example. He promised that if the boy destroyed all records and memory of his monotheist predecessor Ikhnaton, then the boy-king would have gold and treasure beyond his greatest dreams; and that treasure would be with him longer than that of any other pharaoh. True, the tomb of King Tutankhamen remained free of looters until the year 1911; but the boy had died at nineteen, and Saturn saw to it that the treasure remained with Tut's body, not his soul.
In 1846 Saturn was beaten by a United States senator from Massachusetts, who was actually a native of New Hampshire. Because of the Senator's brilliant oratory, a jury comprised of vermin summoned from the bowels of the Netherworld was convinced to free the soul of a hapless farmer Saturn had trapped. In return, Senator Daniel Webster won freedom for all of New Hampshire until the end of time.
In 1920 Saturn won when he posed as an angel who offered eternal salvation to a young Austrian house painter in return for the Austrian's agreement to take his greater reward then and there, foregoing the remainder of his allotted years. Adolf Hitler foolishly refused, and as a result of the encounter, he was encouraged to go on to establish the Third Reich.
Saturn failed in the year 1930. A young Milano boy with no weapon or training other than his innate goodness exorcised Saturn from the body of his dying father. Because of this ordeal the boy's life was shortened, but Albino Luciano won the right, as Pope John Paul I, to a great temporal honor during the final days of his life.
A secretary-general of the United Nations resisted Saturn in 1961. Saturn undid the seat belt of the diplomat, on a mission of peace in Africa, just before the airplane in which he was riding crashed, immediately killing everyone aboard except for the secretary-general, who was thrown clear of the wreckage. Writhing with the pain of a broken back and a punctured lung in the middle of a forsaken glade, the man heard Saturn's offer of life and an end to pain if he would betray the trust of an emerging African nation. Dag Hammarskjöld died, in immense pain, with a prayer and a smile on his lips.
Socrates would not fall to Saturn's temptation, but the Athenian civilization did.
Copernicus found the thin beam of truth, but Saturn easily found morally blind men to condemn him—in the name of faith.
Lincoln's strong hand and native genius led his nation from division, but Saturn managed to salvage a century of hatred and division from Lincoln's death, if not from his life.
Men marched to war and women—though they often knew better—cheered them on.
Death, blood, destruction and mostly vengeance—it was all very impressive. C. W. Saturn found the cloud for every silver lining.
The fabric of emptiness around Saturn dimmed a dimness that had nothing to do with light. A hundred or more meters from C. W. Saturn the space swirled and a ragged circle of ground fell in. Then a larger circle around it cracked and tumbled downward in widening, inaccurately concentric circles, until a great depression formed in the floor. It widened further, forming four corners, and its sides flattened into four triangular walls which came together in a point far below the surface of the ground. There, it ended, a wide smoldering canyon the shape of an inverted pyramid.
For a moment, there was quiet in the space that was not space. It was a moment just long enough for the crouching, slithering members of the unholy court to ache to know what it would be like to be in that ultimate of luxuries, a place where one could stand up straight. It was long enough for the residents of this place to want to go into the depression of space, to feel physically free there for an instant, suspended between the eternities of past and future; long enough to realize what sort of eternal future they would see if they yielded to the temptation; long enough to summon a wrenching combination of envy and despair from the blackest depths of their nearly inured souls, before space swirled again.
It was as though someone had sown the wind in the pyramidal depression. Sound roared. Space folded. Visions creased over one another. A pyre of yellow and blue fire rose from a point near the bottom tip and grew to the size of the hole, then bigger, until the pyre coughed flames that burned icy cold into the great crawl space, and frigid smoke blew around Saturn and the unholy company.
When the swirling stopped and the frigid flames had dissipated into the infinite cramped expanse, a new being had arrived. Sitting in the pyramidal hole was a creature that hissed hatred like brimstone through cavernous nostrils. It sat squarely on the base of the small canyon. Its leathery, pointed tale coiled into the sharp nadir to make itself a seat. It was large enough so that even as it sat in its slouch, its head rode higher than the ceiling above the deep throne. The craggy surface of the ceiling curved upward deferentially as the great head took the ceiling's place, returning when the head moved on. The being's skin was scaly all over, with thick black hair growing from under the scales. Its limbs wore long claws and its head was dressed in a fearsome countenance of deep-set eyes, high cheeks, long pointed ears, and horns. There were spurs on its elbows and knees, and a dark leathery skin covered its face and hands. Thick black wings grew from its back.
This was the form Saturn had designed to strike terror into the hearts of humans. It was an honor, a sign of confidence in Saturn, that the ruler chose to wear this form for this meeting. For this was Samael, the master of this place.
"C. W. Saturn," Samael said.
"I am here," was the answer.
"You have done well, successfully extending our influence and that of the physical laws of Chaos to the territory called Terra. I therefore require you to continue to the final stage of your mission: the utter moral and physical destruction of the one called Superman."
This, as Saturn had known before his return to his kingdom of origin, was what all the training and preparation had been about. Saturn would have the responsibility of ruining for all time and space the humans' greatest symbol of goodness and order. After the fall of Superman, the beachhead world of Earth would suffer the collapse of the moral sensibilities of all humans; then the very laws of physics and ultimately the continuum itself would begin to crumble. Creation would give way to Oblivion.
For this place, the place from which this intention was dispatched, was Hell, and C. W. Saturn was the agent of Hell on Earth.
Kristin Wells was intense.
She was also with it, liberated and foxy.
Kristin was all these things on purpose. Kristin loved disco dancing, and she ardently hoped that someday, against all odds, Sonny and Cher would get back together. She had her hair redone every month the way the model on the cover of Cosmopolitan had hers, and she believed that the Equal Rights Amendment should be ratified immediately. She thought worrying about electoral politics was soporific (a drag, she corrected herself), she was indignant over (pardon, bummed out by) the exploitation of women in contemporary magazines, and she was extremely concerned with (into) the astrological signs of everyone she knew.
The phone rang.
"Hey baby," Kristin said into the phone.
"What was the popular name of Peter Noone?" the voice asked without ceremony.
"That was Herman, y'know? From Herman's Hermits? You should get with it, baby. That was ages ago."
"Really," Kristin said. "Have a nice day."
The apartment was modest but very hip. Très chic was what Kristin supposed she should call it. Aluminum foil lined the bedroom walls and the ceiling was papered with posters of John Travolta, Christopher Reeve and Jack Nicholson. There was a printed sign on one side of the bedroom door that said, "Save water—shower with a friend." On one side of the door, facing the combination kitchen-living room was a framed, artificially yellowed copy of Desiderata. The dominant feature of the living room was plants. Dozens of spider plants and wandering jews and ferns of several varieties hung from the ceiling and the tops of the window panes. Philodendra, caladia and the matured shoots of a single incredibly fecund coleus sat, in various states of care and prosperity, in pots around the room. The stove, sink and refrigerator hid out against one wall of the room behind a set of folding doors.
It was nearly eight o'clock and Kristin had to finish cutting her cuticles and glossing her fingernails before "Mork and Mindy" came on the tube. The phone rang again.
"Ciao, honey," she told the mouthpiece and then sang, "I'm 'enery the Eighth I am, 'enery the Eighth I am I am—"
"Pardon?" the same voice as before said.
"Never mind, cute stuff. What's cooking?"
A hesitation. Then the question: "What is a Krugerrand?"
"A Krugerrand? Is that what you asked? A Kruggerand?"
"Yes, Ms. Wells. A Krugerrand."
"Some kind of hazel nut, isn't it?"
"Oh, then it must be a South African coin containing an ounce of gold whose value rises and falls with the fluctuating price of gold. Right?"
She got them again. Sometimes she felt like Oedipus, she decided. Not a lot like Oedipus, she decided, only a little. She turned on the television just as Mork from Ork panicked because he mistook a candle lit in a living room for the light that warned of the coming of the interplanetary Marquis de Sade. Kristin laughed pretty much uncontrollably for the next twenty-seven minutes, through the commercials. When the show was over she looked at the clock, realized she had only half an hour to get ready for her date. As soon as she got the temperature of the water in the shower just right, the phone rang.
"Yuh?" she gurgled into the receiver.
"Identify Thurston Howell the Third."
"Suck a turnip!" and she hung up.
Pismo Grandee sat at the control console in the Field Work Training Center. To his right was his information terminal. In front of him were six monitor screens in a row, four of which he was using. Of the four students whose training exercises he was monitoring, one was in another room of the building feeding answers to oral essay questions on the Mars Colony Rebellion into his own terminal; another was practicing light-beam dancing in the style popular among adolescents in the 2130s; a third was piloting a stationary device that simulated sublight gravitation-field flying; and there was a fourth who was the program's prize student right now. Carleton Hampshire materialized on the platform behind Pismo to relieve him.
"Interesting outfit being worn by you,"
"Very latest according to research," Carleton answered, grinning. He was wearing a loose white silk shirt with billowing sleeves, with cuffs and a collar that were simply stiffer strips of the same material. It buttoned up the front, but only as high as Carleton's solar plexus. His shoes had high heels and his slacks were tight paint and bulged unnaturally. "We went disco," he told Pismo.
"It was mentioned when your return to the apartment was seen by me. How is her progress?"
"Excellent. I was caught in some errors of speech pattern and cultural orientation."
"Were they compensated for by you?"
"Not necessary for that to be done. Student herself compensated, deciding that since Andy Gibb was identified incorrectly by me, she was being consorted with by a wimp."
"The term was defined by her as something too low to kick and too wet to step on."
"And Andy Gibb?" Pismo fed the name into his information terminal.
An instant readout on the terminal's screen gave the dates of the singer's birth and death, the names of several of his best known works and a brief account of his career including the phrase, "...younger brother of Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb who made up a singing group called the BeeGees."
"Ambiguous storage of information," Carleton said, pointing to the phrase on the screen. "Unclear whether brother Andy was BeeGees member."
"Apparently was not. Information please: Are you equipped to sit at console with tight leggings?"
"Will inform if success is denied," Carleton said. Both men laughed at the joke. If it were nine hundred years earlier, Pismo might have asked if Carleton could sit down without splitting his pants and Carleton might have said something to the effect that Pismo would be the first to know, and they would have laughed as well.
"Good Miracle Monday," Pismo told Carleton before he teleported out.
"Good Miracle Monday," Carleton said as he worried his shape into the shape of the chair.
Carleton scanned the computer readout of the yet unfinished answer to the last question on the Mars Colony Rebellion.
He looked at a graph of the proper pattern of light-beam dancing and compared it with the student's pattern.
He noted that according to the student's readout, the third student had just landed his antigravitation device two hundred meters underground.
He punched the code for Kristin's telephone receiving device, watched the monitor as she answered it.
Before he could speak she said, "He was a shipwrecked multimillionaire in a television series called 'Gilligan's Island.' He was played by an actor named Jim Backus."
"Excuse?" Carleton was confused. It was Pismo who had asked her the question.
"Thurston Howell the Third. The question I hung up on when I was in the shower."
As Carleton punched the name Thurston Howell the Third into his terminal Kristin said, "You been asleep, baby? I shoulda been. I went out to a disco with this real turkey. I shouldn'ta bothered to take that shower. The guy had this open shirt and no chest hair. Really tacky. Guys with no chest hair should never wear open shirts. It's just my opinion, know what I'm saying? He looked like the Pillsbury doughboy. Really, y'know?"
Carleton saw that the information on the readout mirrored Kristin's answer to Pismo's question of several hours ago. Carleton was not offended, even though he was the "real turkey." No Earthman in the twenty-ninth century grew chest hair. It was the only measurable natural evolutionary change in nine hundred years.
Carleton asked his question, "Who was Secretary of State in 1970?"
"Politics. What a royal drag," Kristin whined, playing her role. "Lessee. 1970? Nixon was President, that means the Secretary of State was Henry Kissinger, right?"
William Rogers was Secretary of State in 1970. It was Kristin's first incorrect answer in nearly two weeks.
In Kristin's apartment, and on the screen through which an instructor of the Field Work Training Center monitored her, it was a bright spring day in the city of Metropolis, sometime around the year 1980. Everywhere else—in the ancient city of Metropolis that lay outside Kristin's walls; in the Confederation of Nations of which Metropolis was effectively the capital; in the Martian Principalities, the Venusian Protectorate, the Jovian and Saturnian Satellite City-States; in the Union of Outer Darkness comprising the far-scattered civilization of Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and the artificial comets; on barren bases and mining colonies throughout the Arm of the Milky Way wherever Earth humans had extended their consciousness—in all these places it was a day in the year 2857. More importantly, for Earth humans everywhere it was a special day, the third Monday of the month: Miracle Monday.
On Miracle Monday the spirit of humanity soared free. This Miracle Monday, like the first Miracle Monday, came in the spring of Metropolis, and for the occasion spring weather was arranged wherever the dominion of humanity extended. On Uranus's satellites where the natives held an annual fog-gliding rally through the planetary rings, private contributions even made it possible to position orbiting fields of gravitation for spectators in free space. On Titan, oxygen bubbles were loosed in complicated patterns to burst into flame with the methane atmosphere and make fireworks that were visible as far as the surface of saturn. At Nix Olympica, the eight-kilometer-high Martian volcano, underground pressures that the Olympica Resort Corporation had artificially accumulated during the preceding year were unleashed in a spectacular display of molten fury for tourists who walked around the erupting crater wearing pressurized energy shields. At Armstrong City in the Moon's Sea of Tranquility there was a holographic reenactment of the founding of the city in the year 2019, when on the fiftieth anniversary of his giant leap for mankind the first man on the Moon returned, aged and venerable, to what was then called Tranquility Base Protectorate, carrying a state charter signed by the President of the United States. The prices of ski lift tickets on Neptune inflated for the holiday. Teleport routes to beaches and mountains on Earth crowded up unbelievably. Interplanetary wilderness preserves became nearly as crowded with people as Earth cities. Aboard the slow-moving orbital ships that carried ores and fossil materials on slowly decaying loops toward the sun from the asteroids, teamsters partied until they couldn't see. On worlds without names scattered throughout this corner of the Galaxy, where Earth's missionaries, pioneers and speculators carried their own particular quests, it was a day for friends, family, recreation and - if it brought happiness—reflection.
Pismo reflected for a moment on the envy he felt for Kristin Wells, who would, before the next Miracle Monday came to the Metropolis of the twenty-ninth century, live through the first Miracle Monday, walk these streets as they were in the age of the great barbarian builders and explorers. Kristin Wells would meet the legendary Superman. Her mission, like those of the scores of others who managed to convince someone to finance a trip to the deep past, would probably find nothing new for the historic records, but it would be worth the trip. Meanwhile, Kristin Wells trained for a stay in the past and, in her spare time, watched Superman by timescan.
Pismo had found a point in time and space, some months before the events of Miracle Monday, in which Superman was stopping a tidal wave from engulfing downtown Metropolis. There was no record of natural tidal waves in this area in recorded history, but Pismo, Carleton and Kristin reconstructed the probable causes of the phenomenon.
"Fascinating," Pismo said.
"Remarkable," Carleton said.
"In-freaking-credible," Kristin said and smiled.
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