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The TARDIS whirled through the time vortex, seeking out its master's desired destination: the destroyed planet Krypton, but a few years before its fated end.
The wake of the TARDIS was considerable. Although rather small as viewed from the outside by human eyes, especially since its camouflage circuits had gotten stuck in one mode, the living time machine only shared the dimensions of a public call box in, well, three dimensions. In the other nine dimensions known to the Time Lords of Gallifrey, it was much larger in extent. As for mass and energy - well, it is rumored that since the fall of Gallifrey, this last remaining time ship carried its own power source about with it, albeit well shielded and concealed. The Doctor never really talked about it, though; he assumed it would only make people uncomfortable to know how close they were to even the smallest of black holes.
Such a concentration of mass and folded space, dragged across a timelike curve, could not help but leave some impression in the fabric of the universe.
"I'm having second thoughts about doing this right now," said Clark. "There are things I should be taking care of back on Earth. In fact, I was meaning to talk to you about some of this stuff before the Doctor started in with his time split theory." This last was clearly addressed to Superman, although spoken loudly enough for all in the TARDIS' control room to overhear. "Heck, I was wanting to talk to you before the Cybermen even showed up; that's why I was heading to Metropolis."
Before Superman could reply, the short blonde who had been introduced as Buffy Summers decided to chime in. "Didn't you hear the Doctor's spiel? No matter how long we spend on this trip, he should be able to get us back to Earth, like, a minute after we left. Isn't that right?"
This time it was Rose's turn to break in to the conversation. "Well, sort of, but it's not exactly a good idea to cut things that close. You really don't want to see what happens if we overshoot and come back before we left, especially with these two onboard. Mess about with time and things can get pretty ugly, I had to learn that the hard way."
"Yes," said the Doctor. "Paradoxes are never easy to clear up, and sometimes they can get downright dangerous. Usually best to leave gaps between time journeys of about the same magnitude as your subjective time lapse." He looked around to looks of incomprehension. "I mean, if we spend a day on the trip, best practice is not to pop back to where we left off less than a day later. Keeps things simpler." Clark looked stricken. "We can cut back to a couple hours if you really feel a pressing need, though, I suppose."
"I think we'd better," said Clark, turning agitatedly towards the Man of Steel. "There are things brewing in Smallville, my home town, that have to do with Krypton too. I was hoping to get your help, at least in figuring them out."
"Smallville," replied Superman, surprised. "What is it? Something to do with the meteor rocks? M - I mean, my sources told me that they were causing trouble for the town."
"The Kryptonite?" replied Clark. "No, that's been doing its thing for years; sometimes it's seemed like I had to deal with the results every week or so."
"I know how that can be," said Buffy. "Was it usually on Tuesdays?"
Clark's glance seemed somewhat annoyed. "No, it seemed to move around a bit. Anyway, this is something new... or kind of new. Listen, wasn't one of the Trio you fought back when a General Zod?"
Superman nodded. "Yes, Zod, Ursa, and Non. They were escapees from the Phantom Zone, a prison dimension created by my - our - father. Once I succeeded in stripping them of their powers, I sent them back to their imprisonment."
"I always wondered what happened to them!" exclaimed Rose. "Can you believe some people were stupid enough to believe you killed them, and that's why they were never seen again?"
"I couldn't do that," said Superman. "It would go against everything I believe in, especially once they were no longer an immediate threat. Of course, they were still vicious criminals, and I didn't want them wandering around. It wasn't beyond the bounds of possibility that they could somehow regain their abilities, and even without them... well, Zod nearly engineered a successful military coup on Krypton before he was imprisoned the first time, without any powers at all. But kill them in cold blood?" He shook his head. "Some of Luthor's henchmen died while I was thwarting his latest scheme, and I feel badly enough about that. I didn't really have many options at the time that would have allowed me to rescue them as well as get rid of the... crystal island, I guess you'd call it. But those factors didn't apply with the Trio. Even if they were to escape again somehow, they shouldn't be able to do nearly as much harm."
"Don't count on it. Zod, or somebody that has the same name, has had agents trying to get him free for awhile now," said Clark grimly.
"Agents?" asked Superman. "What kind of agents? Are you sure they weren't working for Luthor? Maybe he thought he could control them this time..."
"No, not Luthor; at least not the one you're thinking of. Two Kryptonians came to Smallville a couple of months back. They called themselves the Children of Zod and tried to get me to join them, but I ended up sending them into the Phantom Zone instead."
"That doesn't make any sense. The Trio were supposed to be the only survivors aside from me; where would more Kryptonians, let alone followers of Zod, have been hiding for all these years? Of course, there's you, but that's why we're going on this trip; to figure out how both of us can exist."
"It gets worse. A guy named Milton Fine showed up. He claimed to be Kryptonian as well, but turned out to be a fake, some kind of liquid metal robot, instead. Now he's supposedly infected Lionel Luthor's son Lex - did I mention I knew that branch of the family? - with Kryptonian powers, and he's supposed to be the 'Vessel' for Zod's return. I thought that Jor-El said Zod's body was destroyed, but maybe he just meant it didn't have any special powers anymore."
"Jor-El said? I suppose it makes sense that you'd have your own set of Father's recordings. What else did he say about Zod?"
"That the only way to stop him was by killing the Vessel with a special dagger from the Fortress. My
Fortress, I guess we should say."
him? That doesn't sound right at all. I can't imagine Jor-El ever saying such a thing."
"Well, I was looking for alternatives. That's why I wanted to look you up; I figured maybe the only other real Kryptonian on Earth could help, now that you were back. Besides, you've handled Zod or somebody with the same name before. My father didn't raise me to kill anybody if there was any alternative."
"Whoah," said Buffy. "There's a Big Bad trying to escape from his prison dimension, and you didn't think to say anything before we stepped into a time machine? I am so
going to blame you if we get back and find out the world's already been taken over. You didn't think to bring the dagger with, did you?" She saw the crestfallen look on the young man's face and continued. "Hey, no big. I would normally say that when stopping an Apocalypse, you do what you've got to do, except for two things. One, you didn't mention anything about this, but this other Lex Luthor is a friend of yours, isn't he?"
"He used to be," replied Clark. "I don't know if he is anymore, but that doesn't mean I can just kill him."
Buffy nodded. "Good for you. There's always another way; well, almost always, anyway. Plus, two, the whole thing with the dagger just doesn't sound right. It's too convenient for this Jor-El recording to know exactly what Zod is going to get up to and exactly what you'll need to stop it. Too pat; how did he know when he was recording his little time capsule that Zod would even need
"Well, if you really want to know," said the Doctor, "I suppose you could ask him. We're here."
Author's Note: For those curious, the story begun in Shards went AU somewhere in the middle of the Smallville season finale Vessel, after Clark has gotten advice from Chloe, Jor-El, and Lionel (although the timeline has to stretch to allow for travel between Kansas and Metropolis' current position on the East Coast), but before he confronts either Lana or Lex. Instead, he got the bright idea to consult Superman and see if he could help. Therefore, he and Lana have not yet fought, Fine/Brainiac has not started the computer virus yet, and Lex still has his own mind for the moment. Not to mention Clark not being stuck in the Phantom Zone...