Author: M. Scott Eiland
Written For: Circle of Friends Remix
Title and URL of Remixed Story: “Icarus” http://aadler.livejournal.com/40463.html
Author and Website of Original Author: Aadler: http://aadler.livejournal.com/193757.html
Summary: In the aftermath of tragedy, the public leaders of Metropolis convene a star-studded panel to find out what happened—and are shocked at the answers they find.
Time Frame: About two years after the events in “Destroyer,” the final episode of Justice League Unlimited (possible spoilers for all series in the DC Animated Universe).
Remixer's Note: Aadler's original story could have taken place in almost any incarnation of Superman: I naturally chose the one I am most familiar with (and IMO, the best animated superhero story universe ever produced).
“This inquest is hereby called to order.”
Judge Roy Walters—Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit--
banged his gavel thrice, causing echoes to ring out through the suddenly silent confines of the Daniel Turpin Memorial Auditorium. Satisfied with the response, Judge Walters continued, “The first witness will be called in a moment—I would like to state for the record that this inquest would not be taking place without the tireless and efficient efforts of countless people who acted quickly in a time of tragedy to assemble this investigative body and provide it with all that was and is needed to keep it running smoothly. While the rubble has not yet been cleared away completely and the final cost in blood has probably not been determined, we are ready to proceed in earnest as to finding out what caused this event, and for that I am eternally grateful to all who have contributed to this goal.”
The audience of approximately one thousand people—composed of a mixture of VIPs, families of victims of the disaster and ordinary citizens of Metropolis who had won a drawing to receive seats to the inquest—applauded politely and briefly, and Judge Walters nodded in approval and turned to a tall figure standing near a side entrance door as he ordered, “Bring in the first witness.”
Four witnesses were called during the first hour: a police detective, a fire captain, a civil engineer, and a military explosives expert. The sum total of their testimony was this: on the afternoon of July 15th, 2008, the Florence Nightingale Children's Hospital in downtown Metropolis was subjected to an unknown force that caused the entire eastern face of the structure—all twenty-seven floors of it--to collapse. One hundred and twenty people—mostly children because of the specialty of that particular hospital—had died in the first moments, and almost one hundred more had died from their injuries after that. All four witnesses noted that only the almost immediate arrival of Superman on the scene prevented the death count from being several times higher. The military explosives expert had noted that there was no trace of high explosives on the scene, making it next to impossible that a conventional bomb or missile attack was involved—there was also no trace of any meteorite or space debris on the scene, meaning that it was unlikely that an accidental or intentional attack from that angle was involved. The extent of the collapse made it next to impossible to determine any point of impact that might have existed, and no useful video or film existed of the crucial moment.
Judge Walters frowned as the explosives expert left the stand, then nodded to the bailiff, who called out, “Dr. Emil Hamilton, please take the stand!”
Dr. Hamilton had quietly resumed his duties as the head of S.T.A.R. Labs after the resolution of the Justice League/Cadmus confrontation three years before—he had had a bellyful of covert political maneuvering, and he and Superman had managed to adopt a cordial working relationship in their inevitable encounters. He raised his right hand to swear to tell the truth, and the first question from the staff attorney came without delay: “Dr. Hamilton, you contacted the organizing committee two days ago to tell them you had information vital to this inquiry—could you please elaborate?”
Dr. Hamilton nodded and replied, “The tragedy of July 15th disrupted most of the routines at S.T.A.R., but when we examined our logs and received several other reports that had been delayed by the emergency response it became clear that an anomalous event had occurred approximately twenty-five seconds before the destructive event at the Florence Nightingale Children's hospital. Thanks to the sensor technology gleaned from the aftermath of the alien invasions over the past decade, we were able to pinpoint the anomalous event as having taken place approximately one thousand meters above and three hundred meters to the southwest of the hospital, releasing energy amounting to approximately one hundred terajoules.”
This produced some murmuring among the audience, and Judge Walters banged his gavel once to silence the reaction before turning to Dr. Hamilton and commenting, “Dr. Hamilton, I'm a long way from my university physics coursework, but if my memory is correct that's in the ballpark of the release of energy from the atomic weapon used on Nagasaki in 1945—shouldn't a good portion of downtown Metropolis have been vaporized by such an event?”
Dr. Hamilton inclined his head to acknowledge Judge Walters' display of knowledge on an arcane subject, and replied, “If the release had been of the same kind as a conventional nuclear weapon, then yes, and the casualties and infrastructure damage would have been several orders of magnitude worse.” The entire room seemed to inhale abruptly at the scale of destruction suggested by that, and Dr. Hamilton continued, “Fortunately, the energy released was exotic, and largely dissipated into other-dimensional space that we could only detect using our special instruments. It is possible that a fraction of the energy could have produced the disaster at the children's hospital, but the time delay between the anomalous event and the collapse makes this rather unlikely. Further investigation would be a good idea.”
“Is there any direct evidence of effects on material objects from the event, Dr. Hamilton?” Judge Walters liked a good scientific puzzle as well as anyone, but he wanted to keep the inquest on track—if the anomaly wasn't tied to the disaster he would gently suggest that the matter be submitted to another body for investigation.
Dr. Hamilton pondered the question for a moment, and replied, “There were multiple reports of EMP like effects on various electronic devices in a five kilometer radius, though they were relatively mild in most cases where state of the art countermeasures had been fitted—momentary flickering rather than total failure of the systems in question. There were several hundred reports of momentary dizziness—most people didn't bother to mention it until S.T.A.R. Labs asked publicly for reports of such symptoms because most of them felt guilty about complaining about trivial matters when dozens of children had just been killed.”
Judge Walters hesitated, then asked the obvious question: “What would be the likely cause of such an unusual burst of energy?”
Dr. Hamilton frowned and was about to reply when a voice that all in the hall recognized instantly interrupted: “Your Honor, I believe I may be able to shed some light on that question.”
As one, all turned their eyes on the figure standing in the back of the hall. Superman stood there, looking directly at the judge with an expression that suggested regret at the interruption, as well as the sadness that had been visible there since he had appeared at the scene and started digging survivors out of the wreckage of the children's hospital. It had been observed by more than a few that while Superman had helped deal with the aftermath of catastrophes far worse than this one, he was taking this one more personally than any past one. The Man of Steel stood quietly and waited.
Judge Walters frowned—if any other person had interrupted a witness as Superman just had, he would have immediately snapped out a threat of contempt charges. He looked over at Dr. Hamilton, who immediately commented, “Your Honor, I believe Superman's testimony would be useful at this time—we know his senses are superior to even our high end sensors, and he might be able to eliminate many blind alleys of investigation. I can stand by and continue my testimony based on what he has to tell us.”
Judge Walters hesitated, then said, “I'll defer to your judgment here, Dr. Hamilton—though I will note for the record that I do not condone interruptions of this sort on a general basis.” Superman had the good grace to look chastised, and Judge Walters nodded to Dr. Hamilton, who left the stand as Superman walked to the front of the hall. As they passed in front of the stand, their eyes met for a moment, and Superman nodded once. Dr. Hamilton stopped, and offered his hand to the Kryptonian. Superman shook it without hesitation, then walked to the witness stand as Dr. Hamilton walked to his reserved seat with a thoughtful expression.
The bailiff—looking visibly star-struck—administered the oath to Superman, and the staff attorney quietly began: “Superman—you have come to this inquest with the stated purpose of elaborating on the testimony of Dr. Hamilton: would you please do so?”
Superman nodded and replied, “I was flying above downtown Metropolis on the day of the disaster, and perceived no threat until I was struck by what a review of my subconscious perception of the instant revealed to be a sheet of plasma, out of phase with our dimension and traveling at just short of the speed of light. I believe that it would not have interacted with almost any other matter on this planet except for my body—but the result of our paths intersecting was an enormous amount of energy. “ He looked apologetically at Dr. Hamilton and added, “The amount of energy released according to my senses was approximately twice that detected by the S.T.A.R. instrumentation—I believe the discrepancy was caused by the excess being absorbed directly by my nervous system.”
The crowd gasped, and Superman waited for the murmuring to die down before continuing, “I wasn't physically damaged in a permanent way by the event, but the effect on me was drastic nonetheless. I was stunned, and lost voluntary control of several of my powers. I had failed to regain that control as of twenty-five seconds later when I struck the facade of the children's hospital, causing--” The hundreds in the room and the countless millions on television heard a sound they had never associated with Superman before—a choked sob being forced down—before he concluded, “--causing the side of the building to collapse. I fully recovered my senses and control of my powers about fifteen seconds later, and proceeded with rescue efforts.”
The utter silence that followed Superman's sentence was broken by the staff attorney coughing self-consciously, then asking, “So when you told the world that 'no human agency or individual is responsible for what happened here--'”
“Yes, I was being literally truthful. I'm not human.” Superman uttered what would be a punchline almost any other time in a completely level tone, and no one laughed. “Also, I could not at that time eliminate the possibility that some form of an intentional attack on me was the cause. Consequently, I made the announcement, reviewed my subconscious perceptions of the event, and completed all my obligations before coming here today.”
Superman's choice of words and tone caused many in the room to shiver, and Judge Walters felt compelled to observe, “Superman. . .a terrible tragedy happened that day, but you've been knocked through buildings in Metropolis before. Darkseid. . .Kalibak. . .any number of super-powerful criminals. We've been lucky up to now that the losses weren't worse, but you can't think we'll throw you to the dogs because we had a bad break that day.”
Superman looked down, and the shame was naked on his face as he replied softly, “There's more to the story, Your Honor.” Once again, the silence in the room was absolute for a few moments, before Superman added four more words”
“I was carrying someone.”
The murmuring was louder this time, and Judge Walters was sufficiently caught off guard to let it go on for several seconds before banging his gavel again. He looked at the Man of Steel, who was still looking down at his hands, and urged him gently, “Please go on.”
Superman nodded, and began, “I was traveling at a rather slow pace when the plasma hit me, and I was completely disoriented for about ten seconds. At that point I was conscious enough to realize that my arms were empty, and I used my super hearing to listen for screams. When I heard them, I accelerated to supersonic speed in a power dive to intercept the person before they hit the ground. I was still groggy and had limited control over my ability to decelerate; also, I couldn't remember how to extend my aura around a passenger--”
“Aura?” Judge Walters was puzzled at the reference, and he was relieved when Dr. Hamilton subtly gestured to him. “Could you explain that term, Dr. Hamilton?”
“Superman projects an aura that renders himself and his clothing invulnerable to all but the most extreme conditions, Your Honor.” Dr. Hamilton spoke quickly, as if reciting a well-memorized passage from a textbook. “He is capable of extending that aura around a human passenger to the extent that they are immune to the effects of wind, friction, and inertia that are inherent hazards to normal living beings at supersonic velocities. Without that ability, riding with Superman at all but the most sedate speeds would be lethal.”
Judge Walters blinked, then turned to Superman in realization: “You had to time it perfectly, or your passenger--”
“Would have died instantly, beyond any hope of survival.” Superman said softly, looking back up at the audience. He saw thousands of eyes, looking at him with dawning realization. He looked back at Judge Walters and continued, “I reached the person less than a second before they would have hit the ground, and decelerated as quickly as possible without doing lethal damage. I was able to pull out of the dive two feet above the ground, and found myself having to dodge people as I desperately tried to slow down. . .but the open path on the ground led me straight into what turned out to be the children's hospital. I had no time to try to see what was behind that wall, not enough time to brake to a speed that wouldn't damage the building. I could only choose to stop—and kill the person in my arms—or continue on while protecting my passenger and praying that the damage wouldn't be too catastrophic. I chose the latter, and you know what happened after that.”
The murmuring returned, and this time it was mixed with the sound of weeping—the families of many of the victims were in the audience. Superman looked out at them, accepting the accusing looks without complaint. Judge Walters waited longer this time before gaveling the audience to silence again. He swallowed hard and adjusted his microphone before saying, “We seem to have accomplished most of our purpose for gathering here today—we know what happened, and why. The details of aftermath and consequences will be for a more formal judicial proceeding to determine, though we will still hear testimony regarding any matters that remain relevant given these revelations.” Superman nodded, and Judge Walters added, “However, there is one new witness who needs to be heard from. Superman—who was your passenger?”
Superman showed little reaction to the question, though Judge Walters could see the muscles in the great shoulders tense for a moment before he replied quietly, “I'm sorry, Your Honor—but I won't reveal that information. They are a complete innocent in this matter, and I refuse to expose them to undeserved public condemnation for their involuntary involvement in this matter. The responsibility is mine and mine alone, and I will bear it without dragging anyone with me.”
Judge Walters scowled—though inwardly he admired the man for his stand—and snapped, “Superman—that person is a material witness in this matter, and it is important for us to hear from them. Even with what you've told us, you are unlikely to face much in the way of consequences that compare remotely to the hell you're putting yourself through, but if you refuse to provide the name of the witness I will be compelled to find you in contempt, and to order your confinement until such time as you're ready to comply.”
The audience gasped, and Superman turned to face Judge Walters with a resigned expression on his face. “If that is what you must do, I will accept your judgment and surrender myself into custody. But that name will remain hidden until I breathe no more.”
“The hell it will.”
The voice was not raised to a shout, but it somehow reached every area of the auditorium. All eyes turned onto the speaker, and there were gasps as the appearance of the speaker was noticed.
Lois Lane looked as if she had gone fifteen rounds with George Foreman—almost every exposed inch of skin was black and blue, and she moved slowly, with the pace of someone who was nursing at the very least sprained ankles and knees. Yet, she continued to move, and it was a testament to the riveting sight that she presented that it was fully five seconds before anyone noticed that the six people who had come in with her were, if anything, far more famous than Metropolis' most celebrated reporter.
John Stewart—Green Lantern—stood at her side, letting her walk without interference but ready to catch her if she fell. Batman and Wonder Woman walked immediately behind them, scanning the audience for potential threats. Shayera Hol—formerly known as Hawkgirl—walked in the next row next to the Flash: both were looking with concern at Superman, who had a resigned look on his face as the group approached the front of the room. J'onn J'onzz—the Martian Manhunter—brought up the rear, and those who looked at him closely felt a sense of calm come over them that seemed to drive away the horror of the past few minutes of testimony from Superman. It was the first time that The Original Seven had appeared in public together since the defeat of Darkseid and the presumed death of Lex Luthor, and they were Lois Lane's honor guard. The group advanced to twenty feet in front of the witness stand, then stopped, waiting.
Judge Walters very carefully counted to ten—it was his sworn duty not to be awed by those who entered his courtroom, even an unusual courtroom as this one was. He looked directly at Lois Lane and asked, “Are you here to offer testimony, Ms. Lane? My inclination is to adjourn these proceedings until you spend a great deal of time under expert medical care.”
Lois shook her head, wincing at the effort. “I'm not going near a hospital until this is done.”
“I'm helping her manage the pain, Your Honor.” J'onn J'onzz spoke quietly, his deep voice drifting out to the microphones and to the countless millions watching worldwide. “And we extracted a promise to let us take her to the Watchtower for treatment immediately after she is finished here, in exchange for releasing her from confinement and delivering her here.”
Lois muttered something under her breath about “stupid busybody superheroes” that had most of the Original Seven hiding smiles, but Judge Walters was more interested in something else the Martian had said: “Confinement?”
Superman's expression changed to something most had never seen there before: embarrassed. “I might have welded her door shut and fried her cell phone before I flew to this inquest.” Lois smirked and pulled a small device from her purse, and Superman sighed, “Of course, I neglected to take into account that having the Justice League on speed dial implies other means of communication at one's disposal.”
Judge Walters sighed and looked sternly at Superman. “Superman, you may leave the stand, but stay here—I may need to ask some more questions once Ms. Lane is finished. I had the foresight to reserve a seat for you.” He inclined his head at an empty seat in the center of the front row, and Superman stood up and walked to it, glancing rather sheepishly at Lois before sitting down between a couple of visibly star-struck lottery winners.
Lois Lane sat down in the witness chair and was sworn in by the bailiff, who was wondering if things could get any stranger. Judge Walters turned to Lois and asked gently, “Ms. Lane, could you please give us your account of that day.”
“He was flying me to Caracas for the summit.” Lois spoke softly, and those watching around the world leaned in to listen as Lois' numb expression flickered on their screens: “It was just one of those little things he would do—he knew I was going there and he offered me a ride. He even offered to make another trip for my luggage.” A sound that somehow seemed like repressed coughing came from the audience—Judge Walters had the sense that more than a few people had the impulse to laugh and had forced it down at the last second. Lois was oblivious to this and continued, “We were moving through some low clouds, and accelerating slowly—we had talked and estimated that it would take us about an hour to get there comfortably unless he had to stop for an emergency along the way. Then. . .everything went black for a bit.”
Lois paused, and trembled visibly. Judge Walters looked at Lois and smiled reassuringly at her. Lois nodded and continued, “I don't know how long it was before I regained my senses, but I immediately knew I was falling fast. Fortunately, I'd been in similar situations before and knew what to do: I screamed my head off and waited to be plucked out of the air. I was about three hundred feet from the ground when I realized that something was wrong—I was about fifty feet off the ground when I felt wrenching pain from every part of my body and blacked out. I woke up about two hours later—in my own bed. I had received immediate first aid for my injuries and had been administered pain medication, though I was still feeling a bit rough. A few minutes later, Superman showed up, covered in dust and looking crushed. He sat down and told me what had happened, though he wasn't sure what had caused it. . .he told me that he had chosen to hit the building rather than kill me by stopping too quickly. I turned on the television. . .and I saw what the result had been.” She swallowed hard and concluded, “I ordered him to leave my apartment and not come back. He protested, but obeyed. He's looked in on me regularly since then, but I haven't let him in. A little while ago, he showed up at my window again and said, “I'm sorry” before welding my apartment closed, frying my phone, and flying off. Ordinarily, I'd see that sort of thing as a challenge-” This time there was some laughter, and Judge Walters slammed his gavel down to stop it as Lois concluded, “--but I knew he was about to do something infuriatingly self-sacrificial, so I dug out my Justice League signaling device and asked to be extricated from the situation. The response was a bit excessive, but effective.”
“Ms. Lane's contributions to investigative journalism have done more good than many individual Justice League Unlimited members have managed during their entire careers, and they'd be the first to admit it, Your Honor.” Batman spoke in a normal tone, which somehow seemed gentler than usual to those who had heard the Dark Knight speak before. “Superman's contributions to mankind are so well-known that you would be legally free to take judicial notice of them without any testimony required to confirm their existence in a judicial proceeding.” Judge Walters nodded once, the thought of gaveling Batman into silence never even occurring to him. “In other words, the response was appropriate—and by no means excessive.”
Judge Walters blinked, then forced himself to meet the intense gaze of Batman as he replied, “I agree completely, Batman. The accomplishments of Superman and Ms. Lane will be appended to the record as if read. Thank you.” Batman nodded and took a step back, as if to invite observers to turn their attention back to the stand. Lois still sat there, looking over at Superman, who looked back at her—both looked devastated. Judge Walters waited a moment, then asked, “Why didn't you let him in, Ms. Lane?”
“He would have told me I had done nothing wrong, and that I needed to go a hospital—and I wanted no part of either.” Lois whispered, though she raised her voice somewhat as she continued: “I helped to cause this—I don't belong in a bed that could have a sick kid in it.”
Judge Walters frowned, then looked over to where two famous doctors—a brain surgeon and a psychiatrist—were sitting. [We might need some professional advice here]. He looked back at Lois, and replied quietly, “Ms. Lane, surely you see that assuming the facts are as have been presented here, Superman is not guilty of anything more than accidental homicide under conditions of extreme impairment not caused by any fault on his part—and that you are guilty of nothing whatsoever? You're one of the best minds in this city—what is your brain telling you right now?”
“That I ruined things for everyone. I got inside, and put him in a position where he made a choice to spare me rather than avoid that building. I'm responsible.” Lois buried her face in her hands.
Judge Walters looked over at Superman, and began to ask the obvious question: “Superman, do you-”
“Of course I do, Your Honor. Deeply.” It was an exchange that would make little sense as part of a transcript, but virtually every person who could see it live or on broadcast could discern the full question that had been interrupted, and the meaning of Superman's answer. Superman hesitated, then added, “Though in all honesty I can't say that I wouldn't have done the same thing for any person I was carrying, whether it was Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, or some random castaway that I was giving a ride home from the South Pacific. This has never happened before, and I simply wasn't prepared for it. Which I accept responsibility for, to whatever extent this court or other body with jurisdiction is prepared to find.”
Judge Walters sighed inwardly. Aside from the atrocious casualties that had resulted from what now seemed to be literally a case of cosmic bad luck, two of Metropolis's most capable citizens were devastated by the event, with prospects for long term recovery questionable. He was thinking carefully about how to proceed when he noticed Dr. Hamilton was again subtly gesturing to him, and he didn't delay in accepting the invitation: “Dr. Hamilton, do you have further testimony to add?”
“Not regarding the scientific aspects of this event, except to note that every bit of theory and speculation about the phenomenon that incapacitated Superman that day indicates that the chance of such an event happening at all is literally trillions to one—if it were to recur I would believe that it was a veiled attack in spite of any available evidence to the contrary.” Dr. Hamilton spoke earnestly, turning to the group of survivors families as if to reassure them as he concluded, “I'd stake my reputation that this is a one of a kind event as far as the next million years or so goes, at least.”
Judge Walters nodded with a look of grim satisfaction and replied, “Thank you for that observation, Dr. Hamilton—but I gather that wasn't the main point you wanted to address.”
“I have some observations of a. . .personal nature, Your Honor—observations that do not really arise from my training as a scientist, but I believe they may be useful. However, I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist, and therefore am certainly not an expert witness in this area, unless having known both Superman and Ms. Lane for more than a decade and worked closely with them qualifies.” Dr. Hamilton met Judge Walters' curious gaze, and concluded, “It is for you to decide whether this inquest is the place for such observations.”
“Yes, it is.” Judge Walters said, looking out at the rest of the auditorium as he added, “This inquest was designed to take unorthodox sources of information in mind, and I have been granted broad powers in deciding what is to be offered as evidence. It strikes me that your further insights are well within that purview. Ms. Lane, thank you for your testimony—I would strongly suggest that you go to a hospital, but if not I will ask that you and at least one of your escorts stay here for the time being.” None of the Original Seven showed signs they were planning to leave, and Judge Walters suppressed a smile as Lois walked over to a seat that had been brought in for her, with the Justice League members standing against a nearby wall, ready if needed. Judge Walters nodded and concluded, “Dr. Hamilton, please re-take the stand. You are still under oath to the extent that you speak about matters of fact rather than opinion.”
Dr. Hamilton sat down at the stand again and waited for Judge Walters to nod at him before beginning, “I've known Superman since not long after he went public—we worked together on a number of projects involving the development and adaptation of both cutting edge human technology and alien technology including items from his home world. He was, without fail, helpful and willing to expose himself to risk in these endeavors. I always knew he was an alien during that time, of course, but it never occurred to me to worry about it—he wore his virtues on his sleeve and I felt safe around him.”
Judge Walters nodded, and observed that Dr. Hamilton's expression had twisted into one of shame: “What changed, Dr. Hamilton?”
“As most here remember, Darkseid captured Superman and brainwashed him into leading the second Apokolips invasion of Earth. He was eventually able to break free of the brainwashing, but before he could drive off the invaders, his cousin Supergirl was gravely wounded. He brought her to S.T.A.R. Labs and demanded that I treat her.” Dr. Hamilton paused again, and the look of shame returned as he continued, “Both were still wanted by the US Government, and I was concerned that helping her would land me in a cell and threaten S.T.A.R. Labs itself. Superman insisted I proceed, with the implicit threat of force if I didn't comply. I complied, and Supergirl was saved. Superman almost immediately apologized for the threat, but things had changed in my mind—instead of the man who had saved countless people on Earth over the years, I saw an ultra-powerful alien who was willing to use harsh force even when not under the control of a monster like Darkseid. We stopped working together—though I did not tell him why—and it was years before I revisited my thinking on the subject.”
Judge Walters looked over at Superman, who was listening intently without any visible inclination to interrupt. He had heard a few rumors about Hamilton's activities during those years, though there had never been any criminal charges or even public announcements about them. He scanned the audience and was unsurprised to see the sturdy, grim figure of Amanda Waller sitting in the third row. She seemed to notice the scrutiny and met the judge's gaze with an unconcerned expression.
Unaware of Judge Walters' musings, Dr. Hamilton was speaking: “We had started working together again after the Brainiac/Luthor attack on Metropolis, and in some ways it was as it had been before. . .but this time I gave more consideration to the man I was working with, took time to notice how he behaved when he wasn't hauling around machinery that a crane couldn't budge or exposing himself to forces that would reduce a human to ashes in an instant. I suppose it finally came home when I was watching him on the news with everyone else, keeping that building from collapsing altogether and saving hundreds of people from dying after the disaster last week. He's not an incorruptible alien paragon. He's not some kind of power abusing alien monster who's putting up a front. He's a man—a good man, who can have bad days like anyone else, though he tries harder than anyone I've ever known to stop that from causing any problems. If we like having Superman—or any other superheroes—around, we'd better be ready to live with that fact. No one is perfect, and no one is immune to completely unforeseeable events happening to them.”
Dr. Hamilton went silent, and Judge Walters sighed and turned to the audience and cameras as he commented, “That's what this comes down to, isn't it? This grand inquest was called to solve a mystery, and now that we know what caused the disaster we've come back onto an ongoing question that we've been dealing with since Superman first appeared among us: how do we deal with it when he inevitably slips up in spite of his best efforts? More to the point—do we really want to do what it would take to make it so things like what happened couldn't happen? The same abilities that caused that collapse allowed him to save hundreds of people in that building once he regained control, and have allowed him literally to save the world time and time again. Also. . .I'm not sure how I feel about Superman if he'd been capable under those circumstances of deciding to sacrifice that person in his arms—regardless of whether it was someone he is in love with--rather than face the unknown consequences of hitting that building.”
The audience was silent, and Judge Walters turned to the stand and said, “Thank you for your observations, Dr. Hamilton—you may step down.” He turned back to the audience and stated, “We will be adjourning for one hour to allow the remaining witness list to be adjusted to reflect the matters that have already been resolved and no longer require testimony. I have one more issue to resolve before then, however.” He looked sternly at Superman and stated, “Superman—though I find that you had no intent to do so, you offered a false piece of testimony earlier and I feel compelled to note it for the record and admonish you not to repeat it in future.” Superman sat up straight in his seat, and Judge Walters elaborated: “You are a human being, in every way that matters to the people you protect.” Judge Walters banged his gavel once and called out, “Proceedings are adjourned for one hour—scheduled witnesses will please go to conference room five to determine revised scheduling.”
The audience began loud murmuring while a few dozen people headed for a side exit, and Judge Walters stepped down from the bench and walked over to where Lois Lane was sitting and watching him with a dazed expression. He gave her a kindly smile and stated bluntly, “Ms. Lane, you have served the public with your testimony and I thank you. Now go get treated—we both know that it will take months to resolve all of this and that you can be recalled later to testify further in the unlikely event that we need more from you.”
Lois started to glare, but her heart wasn't in it. She stood up slowly and walked over to where the Original Seven were standing. She turned back and her eyes widened as she saw the figure walking up next to the judge. She shook her head once, and nodded to Batman, who immediately activated the Watchtower's teleporter, whisking away the seven people standing by the wall.
Superman seemed to deflate, and Judge Walters patted him on the shoulder and said, “Give her some time—she's in a lot of pain, and you just tried to trap her in her apartment to keep her out of the way. She's not being completely unreasonable at being annoyed with you right now.”
“I know.” Superman spoke softly, still looking at the space where Lois had stood. He turned back to Judge Walters and asked quietly, “What now, Your Honor?”
“We finish the inquest, and other institutions react to the findings and make their own rulings. The usual.” Judge Walters replied, looking back at the Man of Steel. “I'll make an announcement that I've released you, subject to recall—and that you'll be consulting with Dr. Hamilton and S.T.A.R. Labs to try to come up with safety measures to help prevent a recurrence in the unlikely event that the multi-trillion to one shot hits again. If nothing else, you two will probably find half a dozen useful spinoffs from whatever you look at to try to solve the problem.”
Superman nodded, but still looked dejected. Judge Walters sighed and commented, “Superman, the ultimate decision on what to about what happened isn't completely in my hands, but any solution that condemns you for ever failing is going to be tantamount to saying that the world can't have a Superman—and I refuse to contribute to that.” Superman still looked hesitant, and Judge Walters inclined his head to a seat twenty feet away. “Go over and talk to him—it sounds like it's overdue.”
Superman complied, and Judge Walters walked for the side exit. A mystery had been turned into what would mostly be epilogue—and he had days of work ahead of him before he could rest.
Remixer's Closing Note: When I found this story and considered it in terms of a Remix, it struck me as an opportunity to consider what it means to live in the same world as a being whose slightest misstep, even if devoid of malice or even negligence, can cause devastation. The original story had Superman as his own harshest critic—which is faithful to the source material—but shouldn't Earth authorities be more assertive about what they actually do expect, rather than just reacting after the fact or spawning secret government organizations like Cadmus that end up being worse than the problem they're supposed to be addressing? Also, the original story clearly and vividly dealt with the emotional pain of two human beings—even if one of them was born in a rather distant zip code. Lois herself had commented “he's only human” regarding Superman at the end of the events of the Cadmus/Brainiac/Luthor arc on “Justice League Unlimited”, but it's easy to see how the deep personal anguish she was feeling could cause her to forget that insight even in the context of the DCAU, where—to be blunt—buildings getting knocked down was almost old hat.