Superboy hovered off the coast of Madagascar and finished his survey of the state of the opposing forces. It was almost as bad as it could be. The only saving grace was that no shots had been fired. At least not yet. But his monitoring of the message traffic confirmed the seriousness of the situation. Both sides were at maximum alert. Both sides were jumpy. And both sides half-expected the balloon to go up.
Superboy hung there and sighed deeply. He cursed himself for not anticipating this. He knew enough about human nature and US-Soviet relations to have expected this type of reaction. The Kremlin could only see him as a new and potentially undefeatable American weapon. And unfortunately, some ill-considered comments by Pentagon and White House officials, not to mention the images of Superboy standing on the deck of an American ship when he’d stopped the sea creature in Metropolis, had only reinforced that view.
Ironically enough, not only was Superboy not an American weapon, but the US leadership felt pretty much the same way about him as the Soviets did.
They were scared of him too.
He felt terrible, and not just about being the cause of all this. The strain was taking its toll. For four hours he had been taxing his sensory and intellectual powers to the limit, trying to monitor virtually every military communications network for a hint of the first outbreak of war, scour military code books and manuals to understand what all the traffic meant, and keep tabs on what was going on in both the White House and Kremlin.
And what was going on was not good. Both sides were becoming more and more aggressive with each move and counter-move, unable to break the dangerous cycle of escalation. When near-simultaneous White House and Kremlin briefings on first strike options began, Clark decided that he had to do something.
He just didn’t know what.
A panic that had been building in him for hours now bubbled to the surface. All his options seemed to be bad ones.
He could fly to the Kremlin and ask them to stop. Or he could fly to the White House and ask them to stop. But he feared that if he did either of those things, the other side would somehow know about it and would interpret it as a threat to themselves.
Or he could fly home and ask Pa what to do. But he’d already done that before he left. All Pa, who for all his good judgment, had little experience in international politics, had been able to tell him was to not make any rash decisions.
Or he could pray that nothing happened. Well, he was already doing that, but, in the long run, it didn’t seem to quite cover all the bases.
Or, he could hope that if fighting did break out, he would be able to stop it. But he didn’t know exactly how’d he’d go about doing that. Sure, he could destroy missiles as they were fired, disable ships and subs and planes, and even physically separate ground forces if necessary. But he couldn’t do all those things at the same time. Despite his speed, he could still only be in one place at a time, and if either side fired the first shot, simultaneous action around the globe would quickly follow. Not to mention that he wasn’t sure that any of that would be the right thing to do. The Kents had raised him to be a loyal American, after all, and impeding the actions of the American military seemed treasonous, no matter how noble his intentions.
His mind kept racing around and around, but he couldn’t come up with more than that. Given his status as the origin of this problem, there didn’t just seem to be much that he could do to fix it.
Then he realized that the answer was staring him right in the face. He was the cause of this, and taking himself out of the picture was maybe the one thing he could definitely do. It didn’t even require anything as drastic as going into space and never coming back. All he’d have to do would be to fly back to Smallville, take off the costume, and never put it on again.
That would solve everything, wouldn’t it?
He’d turned to head towards North America when Pa’s words rang in his ears. Don’t do anything rash. Think. He halted his flight and took a deep breath. If he ever needed to be able to think clearly, this was the time. So he stopped, and for a while, he just floated there, thinking. He quit listening to the newscasts and military communications. He quit watching the President talk to his advisors. He quit trying to calculate a resolution to this situation like it was a math problem. He turned his thoughts inward, and he thought about what he needed to do.
And in a little while, he realized that taking off the costume probably wouldn’t solve anything. Even if he somehow told the world that they had seen the last of Superboy, the Russians wouldn’t be convinced. They’d know that, costume or not, he was still an incredibly powerful American, and they would still see him as a threat.
And his own government, for its part, would not be able to let him go so easily. They’d want to know who he was, and where he was. They’d want to control anything that could frighten the Russians that much. And, as much as he’d seen government operatives lurking around Smallville in the past week, if he vanished they’d probably tear the place apart trying to find him. No, he realized, his retreat into the shadows after such a short time would leave people even more suspicious and fearful of him. There was no putting the genie that was his existence back into a bottle of public ignorance.
This was an even harder puzzle to solve. What would satisfy everyone? What would alleviate their fears? What could make the world … comfortable with him?
Then he remembered what Pa had said. "Let them know that you’re just plain folks."
Ignoring the brewing sub battle about to begin beneath him, Superboy turned and sped towards New York.