The boy grew up in a universe of macrocosm and microcosm. To visit the other side of the world was, to him, what swinging on a vine across a creek was for other boys. He could see the unending dramas of underground ant colony wars and stratospheric weather front competitions as easily as he saw the mail truck barreling past the farm into town twice a day. He could alter his visual perceptions to detect waves on the entire electromagnetic spectrum, seeing alpha particles or cosmic rays as easily as he saw the visible light - but in colors that ordinary humans were incapable of imagining.
He could feel the level of the day's sunspot activity when he woke up in the morning in much the same way that those around him could tell if it was raining before they opened the shades. He could hold a conversation in one room while he listened to another one a mile away and to a radio broadcast as it flew through the air around him in microwaves.
The world was his playground and campus, superhuman senses his teachers, the anonymity of the Kent home his womb and protection. He was alone in all this sense and knowledge, monumentally alone; but less alone, he realized, than were those other Earthmen, glued to their work and trapped inside bodies that could do no more than touch the outsides of other bodies. The boy was alone, but he was never bored.
Jonathan Kent had sold the farm for less than it was worth; bought the general store in Smallville from old Whizzer Barnes for more than it was worth; and moved into a little clapboard house he couldn't afford next to Sarah and Martin Lang. Young Maynard Stone, the former backyard turkey entrepreneur, was now John M. K. Stone, the chief loan officer at the Smallville branch of Heartland Bank and Trust. Young Stone floated a loan to Jonathan for ten years, betting on Clark's eventual ability to pay it off. That was the way people did business in Smallville, especially with a man whose smile was as infectious as Jonathan Kent's.
Clark was thirteen when he sat on the school bus and stared through the window at the installation ceremony for a new queen bee in a hive four miles away. Lana sat next to him and talked incessantly about how incredibly old Clark Gable was starting to look and how she couldn't understand why her mother said he was such a hunk every time she saw a picture of him in a magazine and was Clark listening to her?
"Yeah, Lana. Clark Gable's a hunk. Mostly I like his name."
"Oh, Clark, you're always daydreaming. I don't know why I talk to you at all."
"No, I was listening, Lana. Honest," he said, as the new queen's nuptial flight carried her above all the drones but one. Clark turned to look at the girl, taking an instant to notice her incredible red hair for the seven hundredth and twelfth time, and said, "You said that he's nearly sixty and his wife at home is pregnant and he's filming a movie somewhere out of the country with Marilyn Monroe and every woman your mother's age is drooling for him all the time and you don't see how his poor wife can handle even looking at a man like that because he's so old and presumably overrated and outside the country with Marilyn Monroe and I suppose I agree completely."
Clark smiled the way his father smiled (if people knew he was adopted they had very likely forgotten by now) and Lana let out a deep breath and said, "Oh Clark," and the bus driver slammed on his brake.
They were on the Totten Pond Road, on a little hill that was the highest point for fifty miles, and the window on the right side of the bus looked out over Smallville. If Clark pointed the fingers of his right hand upward, with his thumb on the gold-leafed town hall bell tower and his ring finger at the point of the light blue steeple of the old Methodist Church, then the span of his hand held the entire town.
Clark looked up when the bus stopped short. So did Lana and the thirty-one other kids on their way to school this morning. The driver threw the handle to open the double-door and hopped out. The fifteen kids on the left side of the bus gaped out their windows and said things like "Wow," and "Aww," and "Oh the poor thing," and the eighteen kids on the right side got out of their seats to see what was going on.
"This old fella look familiar to any of you kids?" the driver wanted to know. The driver was kneeling next to his left front wheel, gently stroking the fur of an ancient black Labrador retriever, dying or dead, who had just been hit by that wheel.
Clark gulped, looked at the dog thoroughly from his vantage point on the bus. The animal was not breathing, its heart had stopped; its brain was still radiating electromagnetic energy but it would not be doing that for long. It probably died of shock the moment the bus hit it. There was nothing Clark or anyone else could do for it.
"That's Tim," Pete Ross said, "the dog that lives in the chicken coop on the Johnson farm."
"Is that Tim?" somebody said.
"Aww," somebody said.
"There was so much dust on the road," the bus driver said, "that I didn't see him until I was almost on top of him. He just stood there, didn't even try to get out of the way."
"Mr. Johnson said he had arthritis," somebody said.
The driver wrapped the old dog in his coat and put him under his seat, saying that he would take the animal to the Johnson farm as soon as the students were all at school. The rest of the ride was uncommonly quiet. Halfway through the morning, all the students who were on the bus, except for Clark, seemed to have forgotten the incident. Clark left school that day at lunchtime.
Jonathan Kent was planning on liking his new career. He was supposed to have gotten rid of the farm years ago on doctor's orders, but the advent of a son had delayed that. It's just plain common sense that a little kid can't keep a big secret in a small town, and little Clark's secret was as big as they come. Doc Hill told Jonathan then that if he kept up the hard work he wouldn't live to see another president sworn in. Well, he'd lived to see two or three, he couldn't remember exactly how many it'd been. All he'd needed was a boy to share the work and to call him Pa.
Clark was older now, though, and he could keep his own secrets; and running a general store right in town just a few blocks from home was lots better for body and soul than pitching hay - as long as Martha kept the books straight. Jonathan was rearranging his display of detergent boxes from alphabetical order to size places for the second time this week when the pay phone near the door rang.
"Kent's General Store, Jonathan Kent here."
"Jonathan, is that you?"
"It was when I answered the phone. Don't see any reason it'd change now. Something wrong, Martha?"
"What about Clark?"
"He came home early from school. He's running a fever."
Jonathan was about to say something to the effect that boys get sick sometimes, but then realized that Clark had never been sick before. "You suppose your thermometer could be wrong?" he asked his wife.
"The temperature is the least of it. He walked in red-eyed and he hasn't stopped crying since he got here. He's in his room under the covers and shivering and he won't tell me what's wrong. Jonathan, I think it could be some sort of unknown ailment we can't do anything about. That's the only sickness I can imagine him getting. I don't know whether or not to call Doc Hill."
"Lyndon? No, don't call him. I'm afraid he might still remember breaking a needle on Clark's arm when he was a baby. We'd have a devil of a time explaining if it turned out to be some space bug giving him the shakes. Just keep him warm until I get there and we'll figure out what to do."
Jonathan was a strong man, Martha knew. Underneath his glasses, his mild manners, his sheepish grin was the boy who had spirited her off in his buggy to a justice of the peace when he couldn't convince her father he could support a wife; the man who had taken a hundred twenty acres of the rockiest thicket in Kansas and twisted it into a wheatfield and a home; the husband in whose face she found love and prayer and hope when she had despaired over being unable to give birth. Middle-aged and childless, Martha Clark Kent grew to want no more from life than to grow old in the company of this unshakably good man. Then, as happened to Abraham's aged wife Sarah, the Heavens gave her a son.
Someday soon she would learn the origin of her son, the toddler she and Jonathan had found in an object she thought was a falling star one afternoon when they were on their way to look over a used tractor. She would learn of his flight from a dying planet, cast off into space by his parents. She would would even learn the name of the planet - Krypton - and the names of the parents - Jor-El and Lara. But for most of the time she knew her adopted son, Martha Kent would know no more about him than that the boy had had, when she first saw him, the most angelic face she had ever seen. She wondered if all angels rode falling stars when they came to Earth.
Before Jonathan closed the gate of the picket fence, Martha had already flown out the door and into his arms with a "Jonathan! Jonathan!"
"Now what's all this about the boy being sick?" he asked as he fairly carried her back through the door.
"He won't talk to me. He may be delirious. He made his way home all right, he's just shivering and his face is so hot you could scramble an egg on his forehead. I'm scared for him, Jonathan."
"Now now dear, he's got a tougher skin than we do. Why don't you fix us a cup of tea and I'll see what they boy looks like?"
"All right." He was the kind of man - and they were scarce indeed - who quietly watched life most of the time, but when those he was watching seemed unable to handle things, he stepped in and shone with confidence.
Jonathan was in Clark's room for three or four minutes, not long enough even for the water in the kettle to think about boiling, before he came out. He wasn't smiling, but the confidence was still there.
"Growing pains, I warrant," he told her.
"Growing pains? With a fever and the shivers?
"That's what I'd call it. Nothing a good man-to-man talk won't cure."
"Jonathan, the boy's ill. I never had growing pains like that."
"First time I came calling on you. I was so worried I'd made a bad impression I had to stay home from school for two days."
Martha thought a moment. Then her eyes widened and she said, "Sakes alive, Jonathan. It's not little Lana. Not at their age, is it?"
"Oh no, Martha. Nothing like that. That'll come too, soon enough, but not yet. There's a lot of hurting a boy goes through if he wants to be a man. And when a boy wants to be a special kind of man like Clark'll be - well, that's a lot of hurting. I left the store open and there were three robberies in town last year. You run off now and tend to that and don't worry. I'll tell you all about it later."
"Oh men!" And she left, no longer the least bit worried.
Clark was not sure whether he was awake or not, whether he was talking or not. He felt as though he was talking. He was using up the kind of energy you use up when you are talking, and he did not have a lot of energy to spare just now. He did not feel as if he was saying anything, though. Just talking.
What was there to explain? Clark wondered. He was sick. People get sick, right? So he was sick. He did not like it, did not do it on purpose, didn't think he was going to die from it or anything. He was just sick, is all. So what was Pa talking about when he said he wanted to know what happened? He had been feeling all right. Then he was sick. After a while he would feel all right again. End of story.
Clark felt as though he was going to throw up. Then he wondered what it felt like when you felt as though you were going to throw up. But Clark didn't throw up, so he must not have felt as though he was going to throw up, but it must have felt a lot like that. What did Pa want now?
Then Clark was thinking about that poor dead dog.
Living things have a kind of glow around them, like a halo. Living happy things glow in one color; living sad things in another color. Living intelligent things in still another color, living innocent things in yet another. There was no name for any of the hundreds of colors and shades in which living things glowed. They were not colors that could have been seen by the eyes of whoever it was that had made up the names of the colors. The boy did not feel he had to make up names for them; he had no one with whom to talk about them except himself, and he would know what he meant without the names. But dead things, especially dead things that have lately been alive, look awful. They're all gray and empty. Their glow fades slowly - as slowly as a mimosa leaf closes when it reluctantly decides that the sun is going down. Then after the glow is weak and gray for a while it disappears, leaving behind a disgusting lump that is not much besides a disorderly mess of chemicals. There is nothing else like it. No metaphor, no analogy. Just nothing, where there had been something that once glowed.
Pa was sitting there, smiling sometimes, asking a question sometimes, listening all the time. Then once, just before he left, Pa put his hand on Clark's head - softly, the way Pa did things - and left it there awhile. Before Pa left the room, Clark stopped shivering.
Clark slept peacefully for two hours, longer than he had slept in once stretch since he was a baby. When he woke up, it was nearly six o'clock and his dinner was warming on the stove.
"Hello, Clark," Jonathan Kent said. "How are you feeling?"
"Would you like your turkey soup?" Martha Kent asked, as she felt his forehead and pushed that dangling curl of hair out of his face.
The three ate for a few minutes before Jonathan said, "I told Ma about the talk we had this afternoon, son. Do you remember much of it?"
Clark ate a few spoonfuls of soup and then he said, "The thing of it was, I was on the bus."
"I was riding on the bus that k-k-k..."
"That's all right, Clark," Martha said, as she handed him a big dish of roast beef and string beans.
"... that k-killed the dog."
"It's over now, it's all right."
"It's not all right! It's really not. How could it be all right? None of the other kids could've helped it, the driver couldn't've helped it, even the dog couldn't. Only I could've helped it. And I could've, too!"
"If you'd seen it coming," Jonathan said. "But you didn't."
"But I could've."
"But your didn't. We already went through this hours ago."
Clark worked on the string beans for a while. Then he put down his fork and asked to be excused. "I'd like to go for a walk somewhere."
Martha looked at Jonathan and said, "Certainly, dear. I'll keep your dinner warm if you like."
Clark walked toward the door until his father asked him to wait a moment.
"Why don't you put on that outfit we made out of your baby blankets?"
As dusk gathered that day, on the hill overlooking Smallville there was a sight no one had ever seen before. There beside the Totten Pond Road stood a black-haired boy in a costume of primary colors. A red cape billowed in the breeze at his back. Red boots, blue tights and a blue shirt stretched over powerful muscles. An irregular pentagon containing a stylized letter "S" blazed over the boy's chest and cape.
A few cars slowed as he stood there, then sped past him. One man driving a buggy stopped for a second, about to call out to the boy, but went on instead. The boy looked not at all like any of the other boys his age who lived in Smallville.
On that hill, silently and solemnly, Superboy promised himself and who or whatever else might hear his thoughts that his life would be devoted to the preservation of life; that he would use his powers whenever possible to save and improve the conditions of life and of living things everywhere; that under no circumstances would he ever be responsible for the loss of a single conscious life; that failing in any of these affirmations he would renounce his powers forever. There could be no nobler mission for a superman.
That evening Clark came home, finished his dinner and went to his room early. Jonathan and Martha sat together by the fire and read until well after midnight. At some point just before they went to bed, Jonathan looked up from his book and said, as much to his son as to his wife, "Well, Martha, looks to me as though the boy's ready."
© 1981 National Periodicals Publication, Inc. All characters are trademarks of and © DC Comics Inc. 1981