He was asleep. Dreaming. Dreaming dreams somebody else wanted him to dream. Dreams about a language he was practically born speaking and whose written form was poured into his mind one day in his infancy and which his young mind gulped down like mother's milk. Dreams about his mother Lara and his father Jor-El. He rarely dreamed about them anymore. And a dream about a pair of quatrains that sang themselves repeatedly at him, quatrains, he somehow knew, that were first written by Sonnabend the lawgiver:
Star Child. In Kryptonese that was Kal-El. He was Kal-El. He'd told somebody that. In his dream. Or did he say it out loud while he was dreaming? In any case, it made somebody happy. Superman liked to make people happy.
Was it for days he dreamed? Minutes? Centuries? Who knew? There was something unusual about these dreams. There were more words in them than pictures. Kryptonese words.
He dreamed until a lump of liquid appeared in his mouth, and he felt, in his sleep, half the lump dribble down his chin and the rest pour into his body.
He knew every cubic centimeter of his body, inside and out. He could check out his pancreas by simply looking at it. But he couldn't do that in his dream. The liquid compound slid down his esophagus, through his intestines, decomposed into single huge molecules and a single molecule grabbed at each cell in his body; they fanned in all directions to his toes, to the follicles of his steel-hard hair. It made them high. Higher than flying. Higher than the time barrier.
This compound, or mixture, or nightmare, was doing something to him he couldn't control. Something nothing had ever done before. The dreams were gone, the feelings were gone, the powers were gone.
He was dying.
When the dreams about the words were gone he was somewhere new, and maybe someone new, and he was being propelled through time and space and something besides time and space by a power that was certainly not his own, into a tiny white light at infinity. The light grew and became something more than white, more than colors. There were colors that even Superman, with his heightened perceptions, had never before been capable of seeing. But he could see now that this thing he was approaching was a kind of grid with crosspieces of all colors against which there tumbled thousands, millions, trillions of beings of nearly as many races and conditions. Each one - each creature, flared into a rainbow explosion as it hit the grid and vanished. And that was where Superman was going.
He recognized some of the races of these beings. A humanoid here and there. Some Rannians, Arachnoids, Chloroplads. He could not watch them quickly enough. He felt he had to stop moving, to stand still, to go the other way. When the grid tumbled up into his face...
... and the Universe turned white.
The voice was very close.
"Kal-El, are you all right."
There seemed to be a face and a form that went with this voice. A friendly feeling as well.
"Kal-El, please. We have a great deal to do, and I believe you have a decision to make."
"Who?" Superman asked approximately.
"I am an old friend." It was a man, an Earthman, also approximately. "We have very little time for the protocol to which everyone else coming here is entitled. I hope you will not require that sort of nonsense; you have always seemed most capable of acclimating to new conditions fairly quickly."
It was an old man. A man who seemed always to have been old. With a furry white head of hair and a mustache. His face was an infinity of wrinkles holding a corncob pipe.
"Pardon my simplicity," Superman said, "but have I by any chance died?"
"Possibly," the old man said. "That is not for me to explain. I am an intermediary. My job is to see that the transition from your previous place of existence to this one is smooth, although in your case there are extenuating circumstances."
"Please," Superman said, "I'm very confused. Tell me what's happened to me and what happens next."
"You have already deduced what has happened to you. Next you are to meet your Creator."
"It is not common procedure, of course."
"You are better at words than I am, Kal-El. It is I who am supposed to come to the point, and you seem to beat me there. Yes, God."
"There is a tradition, sir, in every religious culture I have ever encountered, which holds that anyone who looks upon the face of God will certainly die."
"We have all seen the face of God, as well as that of His Adversary whom He created. We are born with both in our hearts because they live in our souls forever."
"Thank you," Superman believed he was smiling.
"For what, Kal-El?"
"Your last couple of sentences very simply answered a handful of basic questions that tend to perplex us mortals through our whole lives."
"Do not make the assumption that you can group yourself among mortals, Kal-El. Not yet."
Superman could have no idea what the old man meant by that, but he was getting used to the idea of meeting God. He didn't want to spend much more time thinking about that before it happened. It would likely drive him mad.
It seemed probable to Superman that this particular event was at least as significant as stories of visions and prophesies and such as they were recorded in sacred writings of the various religions. He often wondered if the people in those stories were as forthright and no-nonsense in their dealings with one another as the writings made them out to be.
In the Bible, for example, nobody messed around. If somebody wanted to say something to someone, he said it. There were no arguments. If somebody disagreed, there was a big fight, no preliminaries to waste time. No wonder those people lived so long. But here Superman was, on the threshold of Eternity, with enough questions to fill up most of that time in the asking.
"Why are you here to meet me? Have I met you?"
"We have several friends in common."
"In a way. I was thinking, actually, of Police Chief Parker, your foster parents the Kents, and your natural father Jor-El."
There was another thing that never seemed to happen in Bible stories: somebody was confused by something someone else said. "Huh?" Superman asked.
"Kal-El, it is time," the old man said. "Prepare to meet your Creator."
Superman felt weak as the white turned whiter. He felt his mind blending with his body and his soul growing to the size of the Universe and his consciousness becoming aware of everything that he ever was and a head glowing with something more than light filled his sight and spoke:
- I am the Lord -
It was the face of Jor-El he saw.
- More than any other of My creations in your Galaxy you, the man called Star Child, are able to determine your own destiny -
"My destiny? What is my destiny?"
- If you had only one destiny I would not have given you powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men... your destiny and that of the Galaxy, indeed, the destiny of all you touch, are one -
"Doesn't everyone determine his own destiny?"
- An electron that is part of an atom in an ocean may determine on which energy level it orbits, but it does not affect the coming and going of the tides... a man may decide when to sleep and eat, but not when to be born or die, or when his star sun goes nova... only you have such a choice -
"The choice of when to die?"
-The choice of whether to die -
Superman stared into the face of his father.
- If you choose to die, the Galaxy will certainly follow its appointed course which I illuminated to the one called Sonnabend these ages past... if you choose to continue, your future is your own... you may defeat the plans of him who plots to divide your Galaxy, or you may fall at his hands... whatever you choose, your reward will be the same... you have nothing to gain, in Earth or Heaven or Eternity, by opposing the inexorable flow of history, save the peace and freedom of your fellow beings... you are as a wild card in the scheme of Creation... there have been few I have sent to your Galaxy whose power of destiny was as great as your own -
Superman did not notice the apparent unseemliness of the wild card analogy coming from that Source until later. Now the only thing he was capable of noticing was the intent and significance of it all. "Tell me, please," he asked, "who was the last one like me?"
- There have been many who chose to maintain neutrality when the choice came to them, many of whom you have never heard... one, however, was the one called the lawgiver, Sonnabend... the time is come... choose -
Superman decided whether to live or die.
"Coming around?" were the words the hero heard.
"Where am I?"
"Somewhere in the pyramid, imprisoned." Luthor's hands were beet red from slapping the Kryptonian's steely face. It was a dumb thing to do, but he had to do something with his hands.
"Daddy?" Superman asked.
"Come on. You're fighting it," the voice said. "It nearly got you for a moment, but you're fighting it."
Superman was coming back into his body again. He felt the familiar organs of his chest and stomach appearing back where they belonged, the dark viscous blood coursing through his arteries faster than a speeding bullet. It was Luthor's voice he was hearing now, rooting for him, urging him back to the world of three dimensions and energy-matter relationships, where there was a good and an evil and where the distinction was not very difficult to make.
"I saved you!" Luthor grabbed his sometime enemy's shoulders, jumping up and down. "I don't believe it. I saved your life!"
"No, you didn't." Superman smiled. "I think you finally managed to kill me."