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Superman In Exile - Epilogue

by Tom Nichol

based on the episode of the same name
from the 1950’s television series, the
Adventures of Superman

Several weeks had passed since the near-disaster at the government-run “Project X” nuclear research facility on the outskirts of Metropolis. The criminal gang who had kidnapped Lois Lane had already pleaded guilty, and its members had all been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Life in Metropolis had largely returned to normal—except at the regional office of the then Atomic Energy Commission, whose staff members were understandably still following up on the incident. Dr. Fred Harris, assistant to Professor Isaiah Adams, the Director of Project X, had already died from over-whelming exposure to radiation. Professor Adams, whose body had been partially shielded by that of Dr. Harris, had not been exposed as badly, and was currently undergoing treatment. In spite of his age, Professor Adams had been given a better-than-average chance of making a full recovery, and was showing every sign of fulfilling those odds.

Superman, whose own exposure had been neutralized by the ionizing effect of a lightning strike, had also been carefully examined, and had been declared completely free of radiation. What he was not free of, however, was a burning, lingering curiosity as to how and why the Project’s atomic pile had gone out of control in the first place. The fact that his late father, Jor-El, had been universally ack-nowledged to be his native planet Krypton’s finest scientist, and that Superman had shown every sign of having inherited his father’s scientific brilliance, served only to aggravate that curiosity. As a result, Superman had had a number of discussions with Professor Adams, as well as Professors Roberts and Lucerne, about the events in question.

It was Daily Planet cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, however, himself a talented amateur scientist, who, to everyone’s surprise, finally found the answer. He had been studying the basic principles of nuclear physics ever since the mishap had occurred. One afternoon, he came into Planet editor Perry White’s office with an idea about a possible follow-up story about the incident. Much to his surprise, Perry, who was also an amateur scientist, slowly nodded his head in approval. “Olsen, I think you may have something there,” he commented. “Tell you what—let me put you together with Kent, and the two of you can work together on this, and see if and how your basic concept can be fleshed out, as it were.”

The young cub reporter was only too happy to join forces with Clark. The editor thereupon summoned Kent, who joined them in the editor’s office within two minutes. The disguised Man of Steel listened thoughtfully to Jimmy’s idea, and nodded his concurrence also. “I’d say we should start from the very beginning,” he commented. “Let’s see if Professor Adams can give us some information about the way the reactor and its control mechanisms were designed—in general terms, anyway.” Jimmy nodded, knowing well that the actual design specifications and blueprints were classified as “Top Secret” by the Atomic Energy Commission, and that therefore talking with Professor Adams might well be the only means of getting the information that they needed.

With Lois out of town on vacation, the two reporters drove to Professor Adams’ office at the Project X facility just outside Metropolis. Since they both knew the Professor from previous stories they had done in the field of atomic energy, and had been given security clearance by the Atomic Energy Com-mission, Clark and Jimmy had no difficulty in gaining access to the Professor. The elderly scientist was sitting at his desk poring over a series of printouts which the computers connected to the reactor had only recently completed.

Greeting his two visitors cordially, Professor Adams explained that his thinking about the incident had run along much the same line as Jimmy’s, and that his inquiries were proceeding accordingly. “Great minds run in the same channel, huh, Professor?” the red-headed cub reporter commented with a grin. “Indeed, Mr. Olsen, indeed,” the Professor replied with a chuckle, as Clark also grinned. “We were checking on what we were told was a new isotope—in essence, a new radioactive element—that had just recently come to light,” the Professor explained. “We finally decided that placing a small amount of this new element in an atomic pile was the only way we could obtain some of the information we needed. Almost immediately after we began the test, however, the chain reaction began to accelerate beyond anything we had anticipated. As you know, it soon went completely out of our control, in spite of all our efforts to stop it. Our remote control mechanisms completely failed, leaving direct manual manipulation of the control rods as the only way to stop the chain reaction. Thankfully, as you know, Superman was able to accomplish just that, after my efforts and Fred’s failed—efforts which cost poor Fred his life.”

Why was moving the control rods so important, Professor?” Clark inquired. “Because of the new element’s peculiar characteristics, it was decided that the safest way to proceed was to place a small, carefully-measured amount of the new element at the end of one of the control rods,” Adams explained. “By moving the rod from one reactor aperture to another, we thought we could better regulate the amount of neutron exposure the new element would experience, and thereby get a better idea of the new element’s atomic characteristics. That was why moving the rod to Aperture B-74 was so vital—it moved the new element far enough away from the main body of the reactor’s regular fuel slugs to allow the chain reaction to slow down enough that we could shut the pile down completely.”

What’s been done so far in the investigation, Professor?” Jimmy asked, somewhat slowly. The older man’s explanation had sparked an idea in the young redhead’s mind. It was one he was not exactly happy about, for if it proved to be correct, it smacked of sabotage. “Well, as you see here, I’ve been going over the readings our equipment recorded during the incident,” the Professor replied. “So far, however, we haven’t found anything definitive.” “What about the reactor itself?” Jimmy asked. “And what about the control rod you mentioned—not to mention the remote control mechanisms? Have they been examined yet?” “

As a matter of fact,” Adams replied, “I was about to recommend doing just that.” He paused momentarily, seeing a look of growing concern on the young reporter’s features.

Clark saw it also, and before the Professor could speak again, he inquired, “What are you thinking, Jimmy? Some form of tampering or sabotage, perhaps?”

“Exactly, Mr. Kent,” his younger colleague replied grimly. “In fact, there are a number of possibilities that rear their ugly heads.” Now it was Jimmy’s turn to pause for a moment, his brow furrowed in concentration. The other two men waited silently for the young ginger’s next question. A moment later, it came. “May I make a few suggestions, Professor?”

“By all means, Mr. Olsen,” the Professor responded. “Your editor, Perry White, tells me that you’re something of an amateur scientist yourself, so I’ll be more than happy to consider any-thing and everything you have to say!”

Well, first of all, I’d have all of the fuel slugs checked and re-checked against the original experiment specifications, to find out for certain whether or not they’re what they were supposed to be,” Jimmy advised. “I’d also double-check that ‘new element’ you talked about, not only to make sure it’s what it was purported to be, but that the amount of the element that was placed at the end of the control rod was correct as well.” He paused for a moment as Professor Adams carefully wrote down his suggestions, then went on, “Finally, I’d even have the control rods themselves checked against the original specifications.”

The elder scientist jotted down the last of the young reporter’s recommendations, then gave Jimmy a sharp, shrewd look. “Which of these do you think would be the most likely to have been tampered with, Mr. Olsen?” he inquired.

“Any or all of them, Professor,” the young redhead responded. “It’s possible, in fact, that all of them might have been altered to some degree—not enough to raise suspicion of and by themselves, but when brought together under those conditions—you see what I’m driving at?”

Yes—yes, I do, as a matter of fact,” Adams answered. “Theoretically, a scenario such as you’ve suggested could be brought about. It would take a lot of work, but it could be done.”

“But, Jimmy,” Clark reluctantly objected, “it would take a number of people working together to carry out such a scheme. Why, the security checks involved alone would make any such scheme extremely difficult to carry out successfully!”

“Difficult, Mr. Kent, but not impossible,” Jimmy replied. “Think of how the Russians got their hands on the secret of the atomic bomb. It took a number of people, over a period of several years, but they still pulled it off! If they were able to do something like that, it seems to me that an enemy group could also pull off a scheme like this! At any rate, it’s worth checking out, don’t you think? Even if I’m wrong, at least that’s one possible cause you can scratch off the list, so to speak. Is that such a bad thing?”

No—no, it’s not,” Adams answered, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “In fact, I’m going to call the Atomic Energy Commission and personally pass your comments and suggestions along to them. I’ll insist that they check out the fuel slugs and the experimental slug just as you suggested!”

“Better call in the FBI as well, Professor,” Clark commented. “If what Jimmy has suggested turns out to be even halfway accurate, the security implications could be nightmarish!”

“I’ll do that,” Adams assured them. With that, the two reporters bade the Professor good-bye, then drove back to the Daily Planet.

On hearing the sum and substance of what Jimmy had suggested, Perry White’s face turned dark and grim. “I honestly hope you’re wrong, Olsen,” the editor commented, “because if you’re even halfway right, it means there’s been a major slip-up as far as the security of Project X is concerned! Even so, my instincts tell me that you may well be on to something here.” He paused momentarily, his brow furrowed in thought.

It will take a while for all of the possibilities you’ve brought up to be checked out,” White mused. “Until that work has been completed, it would be premature for us to even try to publish a story.” Jimmy and Clark both nodded their concurrence. “Tell you what, though—why don’t the two of you do some background research into the incident, and the history of Project X? You can start in our own archives here at the Planet, and then check with the Atomic Energy Commission.” The two reporters nodded and headed for Clark’s office.

The next few days yielded little in the way of concrete results. One bright spot was a report from the FBI and the Atomic Energy Commission, stating that the security checks had turned up no leaks of any kind. This was a relief to Jimmy, since it ruled out sabotage as a possible cause of the near-disaster. Likewise, Professors Adams and Allen reported that a thorough check of the reactor, the fuel slugs, the control rods and the remote control mechanism had also turned up nothing. Increasingly, therefore, it looked as though the unknown radioactive material in the test slug was the root cause of the problem.

One peculiarity did turn up, however: In doing his own background check into the incident, Professor Adams discovered that the material in question had been taken from a small meteorite that had been found in a remote mountain valley in Arizona some months before. This was news to Adams, who promptly ordered that the remainder of the meteorite be located and brought to the Project X facility for further analysis.

Jimmy and Clark were present, at Adams’ invitation, when the initial testing got underway. Almost immediately, anomalies began showing up—anomalies that indicated that the strange meteorite had come from far beyond our solar system. Tests with a Geiger counter showed instantly that whatever the meteorite might be made of, it was intensely radioactive. This by itself was an indication as to why the reactor had gone out of control within five minutes after the rod to which the test sample had been fastened had been inserted into the atomic pile.

Further testing disclosed that both the test sample and the meteor were composed of a number of separate elements, which apparently been fused together in some way. Even more startling was the fact that the tests showed that the fusion had occurred
before the meteor had landed on Earth! This, the Professor explained, would have required a level of heat far greater than mere atmospheric friction could produce. “The only heat source I can think of that would meet those requirements,” Adams concluded, “would be that of a nuclear, or, more likely, a thermonuclear blast!”

Suddenly Jimmy stiffened as though he had been stung by a wasp or a hornet. He remembered that, in an earlier discussion, Clark had told him how the radiation being spit out from the other control rods in the reactor had been so fierce that it had been all that Superman could do, first to retrieve Dr. Harris and get him into the airlock where Professor Adams was waiting, and then to actually approach the reactor itself, remove the test rod, and move it to Aperture B-74 to neutralize the runaway chain reaction.

There was only one thing, one substance the redheaded cub reporter could think of, that would produce such an effect. “
Kryptonite!” he whispered. “That’s it—that’s got to be it!” As his two companions stared at him with puzzled looks on their faces, he went on, “Don’t you see? Both the test sample and the meteor it was taken from must be made of Kryptonite—a radioactive fragment of Krypton, the planet where Superman was born! It must have landed here on Earth years ago!”

But, Jimmy,” Clark began to object, “Superman explained years ago that the explosion of Krypton was caused by the increasing gravitational pull of its sun, Rao, which was also about to explode!” “Yes, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction going on in Krypton’s core at the same time, Mr. Kent!” Jimmy replied. “The increase in Rao’s gravity could easily have caused Krypton’s planetary infrastructure to collapse. Then, just at the precise moment when it would have been torn apart anyway, enough radioactive elements came together all at once to turn Krypton into a huge atomic bomb—or even a hydrogen bomb! It would have only been natural for Krypton’s fragments to become radioactive as a result! That’s why Kryptonite is so harmful to Superman!”

Adams nodded his agreement. “Yes, and it would probably have a similar effect on Terrans as well,” he commented, “not to mention giving off enormous numbers of neutrons—which, as we know, are the life-blood of a nuclear chain reaction!” “Exactly,” Jimmy responded, “and that’s why the chain reaction went as wild as it did when you inserted that sample into the pile! The effect would have been like pouring gasoline on a bed of hot coals!”

By now, even Clark was becoming convinced. Nevertheless, he pointed out that further testing would be needed to ascertain whether or not both the sample and its parent meteor were indeed made of Kryptonite. “Superman can most likely help us with that,” Adams replied. “Yeah—and I think we ought to call in Professor Roberts and Professor Lucerne too!” Jimmy put in. His two friends nodded their agreement. It was quickly decided that Adams would contact Professors Roberts and Lucerne to request their involvement. For their part, Clark and Jimmy would report back to Perry White, and then Clark would arrange to “contact” Superman to formally ask for his assistance.

The next day, Adams, Roberts, and Lucerne, as well as Superman, were present in the main laboratory at the Project X facility. Since it was now virtually certain that they would, at the least, be dealing with radioactive material, everyone except Superman was dressed in laboratory garments which were lined with cadmium and lead. Jimmy, who was also slated to be present, arrived at the last minute, and was promptly garbed in the same way.

The first and most dramatic test occurred when the test slug was removed from the lead container where it had resided virtually from the moment it had been removed from the control rod to which it had been mounted. Almost instantly, the Man of Steel began exhibiting signs of Kryptonite radiation poisoning, his handsome face becoming a mask of agony. Alarmed, Professor Adams promptly put the test slug back into the lead receptacle, closing the lid as he did so. Jimmy, who had anticipated just such a possibility, held up a lead-and-cadmium-lined laboratory coat for his pal to put on. Superman, however, waved him off. “Not yet, Jimmy,” he explained. ”We still need to check the rest of the meteor, just to be sure.” Reluctantly, the young cub reporter backed away a few steps.

When the Kryptonian nodded, Adams reluctantly began lifting the lid of a larger lead-lined box that held the main body of the meteor. He had hardly lifted it more than an inch when the Man of Steel gave a cry of pain, backed away, and fell to the floor. Jimmy instantly spread the coat over as much of his friend’s body as he could to shield him from the deadly Kryptonite rays. As he did so, Professor Adams closed and sealed the lid of the receptacle, then placed both containers on a small laboratory cart, which he then wheeled into a special lead-lined laboratory. He positioned the cart directly under-neath a set of robotic arms, then quickly vacated the laboratory, shut and locked the door.

By this time, to everyone’s immense relief, the Man of Steel was now back on his feet, thanking Jimmy for his foresight and quick thinking. Then, at Jimmy’s insistence, he donned the coat as a precaution, as Professor Adams began activating the robot arms to carry out a series of tests and readings which would hopefully provide the remaining information they were seeking about the two samples.

I guess there’s no question now but that it’s Kryptonite, huh?” Jimmy asked grimly. “No question at all, Jimmy,” the Man of Steel replied solemnly. The three scientists nodded. One glance at Superman’s facial expression during the two initial tests had convinced them as well. With that, Professor Adams turned back to the lead-impregnated window of the testing chamber and got to work.

The extensive series of physical, chemical, and mechanical tests that were required took all afternoon and well into the night. Each scientist in turn carried one or more tests in his own area of expertise, while Jimmy took extensive and careful notes. Under Superman’s guidance, Jimmy then fed the results into the Project’s main computer system, where they would be processed and then printed out.

It was three o’clock the next morning by the time the testing cycle was completed. Knowing that it would take a day or more before the computer reports would be ready, Jimmy and the three scientists spent the night in the Project’s guest quarters. Superman went on his late-night patrol, then returned to his apartment, where he also got a few hours’ sleep.

As it turned out, two days passed before the computer began printing out the reports the three scientists had requested. During this time, Jimmy returned to the Daily Planet offices and began writing what would become the back story to the “Project X Incident,” as it was now being called. Clark and Lois, who had returned from her vacation, assisted him, as did Perry White, who pointed out that, even at bast, extensive rewriting would most likely be needed to incorporate the material from the official reports. Even so, the four journalists agreed that the time and effort they were currently expending were not being wasted, as they had no way of knowing exactly how much the final version would need to be rewritten.

The last report from the computer came out of the printer on the third day after the testing cycle was completed. From that point on, Superman, along with Professors Adams, Roberts and Lucerne, engaged in a detailed discussion as to what had happened, why it had happened, and, most important of all, how to prevent such a near-disaster from ever happening again. When the initial discussions were finished, Jimmy was brought in to help in writing the final report, both for the government and for the readers of the Daily Planet. Jimmy emphasized again and again the importance of expressing the con-tents of the reports in layman’s language, especially since the area of science they were dealing was so new, and many, if not most, of the Planet’s readers would not be able understand what had happened otherwise. He also pointed out that, if the average reader could not understand the report, they would at least become suspicious, or even ignore the report altogether, neither of which was a good idea. The Man of Steel, the three scientists, and Jimmy’s co-workers at the Daily Planet, unanimously agreed.

Once the final outline of the report was completed, the actual writing of the final text fell squarely on the slender, red-haired shoulders of James Bartholomew Olsen. Jimmy did not object to this; indeed, he had realized from the very beginning that this would be necessary, since he had been the one who had realized the actual root cause of the incident, and had played such an important role in its verification.

It took more than a week to accomplish, but Jimmy finally turned a manila envelope, containing the final version of Jimmy’s report, over to Perry White for his final approval. (He had already sent a separate copy to Professor Adams, who in turn would distribute it to his colleagues and the Atomic Energy Commission.) After reading it over, the Editor-In-Chief sent it to the composing room to put the report into its final printed form. After warmly congratulating Jimmy on a job well done, he then insisted that the young reporter head home for a well-deserved rest. No sooner had Jimmy vacated the premises than Perry, with a wicked, mischievous smile on his face, pressed a key on his desk intercom and gave a series of further orders regarding the formatting of the story.

Two days later, Clark and Lois personally picked Jimmy up at his apartment and drove him to work. Both of them were relieved to see that the numerous signs of physical and mental exhaustion resulting from Jimmy’s Herculean efforts had completely disappeared, and that he was back to his regular perky self again. For his part, Jimmy could not help noticing a “cat-got-the-canary” look on his two friends’ faces. His inquiries, however, brought only the noncommittal reply of, “You’ll see, Jimmy—you’ll see!” Jimmy raised an eyebrow at his two colleagues, but decided not to press the issue.

On arriving at the Daily Planet building, Jimmy was immediately conducted directly to Perry White’s office. There, much to Jimmy’s surprise, Professors Adams, Allen, Lucerne, and Roberts, as well as Dr. Glenn Seaborg, then head of the Atomic Energy Commission, were waiting for him. They all shook hands with the young reporter, and warmly thanked and commended him for his assistance in determining the root cause of the near-disaster. Jimmy’s face turned even redder than his hair at their praise.

Just a few moments later, Jimmy Olsen got the surprise of his life. A runner from the press room entered the office, grinning from ear to ear, with a stack of copies of what was obviously a special edition of the Daily Planet. Perry White personally took the first copy from the stack and handed it to Jimmy. He then distributed the remaining copies, taking the last copy for himself. “Well, don’t just stand there, Olsen,” he growled (albeit with a twinkle in his eye), “take a look at your handiwork in its final form!”

Jimmy could hardly believe what his eyes were relaying to his brain. Not only was the newspaper in his hands emblazoned with the words, “EXTRA—SPECIAL EDITION!”, but the entire lead article was under his byline! Headlined with the words, “THE INCIDENT AT PROJECT X: A DISASTER BARELY AVERTED,” the entire text of his report covered not only the front page, but the next two pages as well! In addition, further articles, covering the background material which Jimmy had been forced to omit from his final report, had been written up by Lois and Clark, both of whom had made a point of giving Jimmy full credit for his part in the research involved.

Jimmy’s mouth was hanging open in utter amazement. He was utterly unable to speak. Only when his boss directed him to do so did he turn to the Editorial section. His face turned redder yet when he read Perry White’s formal statement of commendation for his efforts, concluding with the words, “Although he is still young, Mr. Olsen’s talent, diligence, and careful attention to detail give every indication that he has a brilliant future ahead of him in the field of journalism. We of the Metropolis Daily Planet are proud of what he has accomplished, and we are honored and thankful to call him one of us!”

It would not be until later that Jimmy would read the statements of commendation from the White House, the Atomic Energy Commission, and from Superman himself. At the moment, his eyes were filled with tears, and his hands were shaking as he folded the paper back up and laid it on a table beside him. As the others in gathered around him to offer further congratulations, he unashamedly began to cry. . .

Two days afterward, Jimmy was present at the Metropolis Observatory, along with Professors Roberts, Lucerne, Adams, and Allen. A large viewing screen had been connected to the Observatory’s main telescope, and it was to that screen that the attention of all five men was now directed. They all watched solemnly as the Man of Steel took the two samples of Kryptonite up into outer space, and then flung them into the Sun, whose intense heat and nuclear fusion would be more than sufficient to utterly destroy them once and for all. They had all agreed, Superman especially, that it would be far too dangerous to allow the two fragments of Superman’s native world to remain on Earth. Nor would simply sending them out of the solar system be a sufficient guarantee against future problems, since it would still be possible that the fragments might somehow return to Earth. Only the destruction of the fragments would provide such a guarantee, and their tests had shown that only the full fury of the Sun’s internal heat would be sufficient to accomplish this.

Jimmy and his friends sighed with relief as Superman turned back toward Earth. Now that the fragments had been destroyed, they, along with the inhabitants of Metropolis could finally rest easy. It had already been decided that the Project X facility would be relocated to an uninhabited desert area in the Southwest. Indeed, the first stages of the relocation were already underway. Professors Adams, on the advice of his doctors, was about to retire, and Professor Allen would soon follow. A new generation of atomic scientists would take over the still-secret work of Project X, and a new set of safety protocols, far more stringent than before, would guide that work.

Jimmy knew that, aside from a small epilogue detailing the destruction of the two Kryptonite fragments, his work on the Project X incident was finished. With warm handshakes all around, he bade the four scientists goodbye, and then drove back to the Daily Planet building to turn in the epilogue, and then await a new assignment.

December 14, 2016

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