Superboy strut down the hallway, the sound of a thousand screaming fans thundering in his ears. They were chanting his name, 'Superboy! Superboy!', over and over again, growing louder with each successive cry. Anticipation filled his chest as he looked down at his hands, staring wide-eyed at the boxing gloves that covered them. He'd give them a show they'd never forget; remind them all why he held the title.
The doors to the ring opened and an overwhelmingly bright light swept over him.
The Ring's name was more than fitting. It was a large, circular chamber, its paneled walls a sterile white. Intense lights shown down from a vaulted ceiling, so acute that it hurt to look up. The room was empty, save for a single soul waiting for HIM just inside the entrance. He was a tall man in grey fatigues, a tablet in one hand and a remote in the other. He gave Superboy a smile. "Feeling good today, are we?"
"Good n' ready to kick some tail, Jimmy." Superboy proclaimed, holding his arms out in front of him. The gloves were gone, replaced by a pair of heavy steel spheres wrapped around each hand and joined together by a thick bar. Impact-absorbing jelly sloshed around inside the spheres as they were moved around.
"Glad to hear it, Kid." Jim Harper lifted the remote in his hand toward the manacles and waved it around in the air. Something inside both devices clicked, and the specially-designed shackles loosed around Superboy's wrists and dropped to the floor with a clatter. Superboy flicked his hands at a few hundred miles per hour to get all the lingering jelly off of them.
With slow, deliberate pokes to the screen Harper punched a series of codes into the linked computer system, shutting the only visible entrance to the chamber. He spent the next few minutes running through a diagnostics check, and then double and triple checking it, ensuring the session would run smoothly without interruption. The consequences of mucking this sort of thing up were all too familiar to him. "Take a minute to stretch while I figure this dumb thing out. We don't want you pulling any muscles during a session again, alright?"
Superboy nodded and wandered a few feet away to comply with the order, initiating some basic warm up techniques. Reaching down to place a palm flat on the floor was easy task, the costume clinging to his lightly-built form offering no resistance at all. The suit was fashioned to mimic the one worn by his original template, though obviously it'd been improved: the cape was gone, Thank God, the boots were a sturdier black leather and a holster pouch hung 'round his right hip in lieu of adding pockets. Pockets never looked good on spandex.
As he arched his back and stuck his arms into the sky, Superboy paused partway through to stare at the back wall, and the sheet of one-way glass running along the top of the Ring.
Behind it, on the monitoring deck, a half dozen specialized technicians were operating the holoprojection matrix under the watchful eye of the science team. Each of the scientists manned a different station, their terminals displaying rivers of data floating before them in interactive holograms. A black woman in a white coat and round rim glasses stood on an elevated platform overlooking the rest of the deck like a steely captain commanding their ship. Her icy gaze just crossing over a man's back was enough to get him to quicken his pace.
"Dr. Spence? You may want to see this." Dr. Packard, a rotund man with a balding head and a bushy mustache, called her name, motioning wildly for her attention. Once she deigned to offer it and moved behind him, Packard pointed to the screen in front of them. There, a silhouette marked 'Subject 13' showed dozens of sensors sewn into the subject's suit feeding data to the computer in real time.
It took Spence a moment to parse the information, but her expression noticeably shifted once she understood what she was looking at. "These readings are-"
"-Extraordinary!" Packard cut her off in his excitement. "Its only been a day since his last check-in and his telekinetic field is already 150% more efficient. None of the previous versions come even close
to this level of growth. If Superboy maintains these rates consistent, he may even surpass-"
A hand coming to rest on Packard's shoulder was enough to shut his mouth. Spence didn't need to verbalize the meaning of the gesture for her colleague to understand it. She stood quietly for a few moments, chewing on what she'd learned. The excitement the rest of the team showed was palpable, but her steadfast grimace never faltered. There were risks here that the others refused to see, too blinded by their faith in Westfield's alleged genius to be objective. It was up to Amanda to keep a steady head. To make actual progress with Project Kr instead of resting on what they'd done so far like the rest of them did.
"Today's opponent will provide ample opportunity for Subject Thirteen to prove itself," She finally broke the silence. Stepping away from Packard, she crossed the room in long, brisk strides, coming to a stop at the window. "...Tana, is the session ready?"
At hearing her name Tana's head popped out from behind a pair of technicians at their computers, too short to be easily seen before. She exchanged a quick word with them to confirm the status of the program, firing a thumbs up in Spence's direction once she had it. "Program S is loaded in, just give us the go ahead."
"I'll inform Thirteen," Spence nodded, "Look alive, people."
He was back in the center of the ring, the audience chanting his name. Tonight was a full house, not a single seat unoccupied. A mass of faceless people, writhing and jittering in uncontrollable excitement. They'd just finished playing his walkout song. The announcer's voice sprang from a loudspeaker somewhere high above Superboy, giving a triumphant introduction to the Boy of Steel
, the heavyweight champion of the world- no, the galaxy! Not a soul had come close to taking the belt from him: a fact that kept Superboy bubbling with confidence. The announcer's voice sounded strangely like Doctor Spence, but little thought was given too it. He was too busy basking in the love of his fans to notice.
He began prancing around the ring, giving wide, arcing motions for the crowd to get louder. So thunderous were they that he could scarcely hear himself think. It felt like the very ground was reverberating with their cries.
Jumping up to the top rope, his arms held out wide, he drank it in, as an emaciated dog might lap up water. Emboldened by their cheers he looked to the opposite door where his opponent would soon enter the arena, and called out to them in a loud voice, "Who the hell do you think you are steppin' up to me
The cheering came to an abrupt end. A gust of wind blew away the crowd, leaving Superboy alone.
Darkness swept over the stands, leaving only the lights above the ring itself light. A series of spotlights began to turn on one after the other, tracing along the entrance ramp to the steps that led up to the fighting mat.
Apprehension suddenly formed like bile in his throat. Superboy leaned forward, squinting his eyes as he stared at the doors. They crept open and a rush of fog filled the room, sweeping out to cover the whole of the floor. A human shadow appeared in the billows, the shape of a cape flowing back behind it.
"What the fu-
And Supergirl fed the clone his teeth.
The punch knocked Superboy out of his daydream and sent him skipping like a rock across a pond, bouncing three times on the sterile, white floor until he came to a violent stop against the far wall. An indent was left in the metal when he peeled off it and fell back to the ground in a disheveled heap. The sudden sucker punch left him dazed but not down as he pushed himself to his feet, wiping the blood from his face with the back of his glove.
She was hovering less than a foot off the ground, near the center of the room where Superboy had been standing a moment before, flicking a bit of his blood off her shoulder. There was no discernible expression on her face, no evidence that she gave a damn about the creature she'd just brutalized; only the apathetic resolve of a god stepping on an ant resided there.
For his part, Superboy managed to maintain a modicum of his dignity by shooting a cocky grin her way. "Didn't expect it to be you. Didn't expect you to hit that hard, either. Guess I won't go easy on you, even if you are my templa-"
The Kryptonian vanished from sight, only to reappear right on top of Superboy with a hand wrapping around his throat. He never stood a chance at dodging her hand. The damn thing moved faster than he could even see, smashing into his Adam's apple with the force of a bullet train. She lifted Superboy up off his feet, slamming his back into the wall three consecutive times. Jolts of pain shot up along his spine. Screaming in agony wasn't even possible with how tight she was holding on to him.
They locked eyes for the longest second of his life.
Superboy brought his hands together over his head and bashed them repeatedly against Supergirl's wrist. Each one fell in quick succession. He counted eighty seven over the course of a few seconds before her fingers budged even slightly. Just enough for him to weasel out of her grip and leap away from her.
"What've you been feeding her, Venom? Christ, she hits like a truck! Big one, too." He yelled between long breaths, taking a moment to recover what energy he could. He'd fought these programs near every day for the past five months and not a single one of them compared to this one in speed and strength. "There's no way the real deal's this tough-"
The speaker system buzzed to life, casting the voice of Dr. Spence over the Ring. "We do not have the equipment to properly simulate her upper limits. This is the Supergirl at half strength and you are failing miserably
, Subject Thirteen."
She was lying. Had to be. There was no way she was this strong, no way anyone was twice this strong. He could bench press a tank without a sweat and this poor facsimile of her was tossing him around like a toddler stuck in a wet paper bag. And her speed...A few weeks ago Superboy caught a bullet with twizzers on a dare, and he couldn't so much as see her when she rushed him. How the hell did CADMUS expect him of all people to match her
Spence pressed down the speaker button and offered but two, commanding words upon seeing him hesitate. "Subject, attack."
He was moving before another thought could register, hands balled into fists. Supergirl left the ground to meet him. She landed an uppercut into his abdomen that shook his very core, but when she came around with a hook to finish him off she found an arm in her path. Even deflecting a blow made Superboy's bones ache in agony, but he was forced to continue his attack. He had been commanded. Compliance was mandatory.
A lightning-quick flurry of jabs impacted against her shoulders, arms and upper body. Wild though they might appear to an onlooker, Superboy was probing her defenses, looking for opening where he could slip in an important blow as Harper had taught him. His opponent didn't seem nearly as well trained, her movements were impossibly quick yet basic, predictable. If he could just get her to shift her block...
There! Short though the window of opportunity was he leapt to take it, a fist barreling passed her guard and impacting against her cheek. A loud clap of air followed it after a beat, the sound barrier breaking with the speed of the successful blow. There was faint cheering somewhere up and behind Superboy.
Actual, not-his-imagination cheering.
Supergirl touched her cheek, rubbing at the scuff mark his knuckles had made. It hurt enough to give her pause and make her stumble- something a moment ago he would've thought impossible. Any sense of elation that came from that was cut short before it even had a microsecond to register as she came at him again with renewed savagery.
It could've been four hits or forty for all he knew. Her hands moved too quick for the pain to even register, led alone slow enough to count the successive blows that rocketed into the clone's body and face. Each one sent him reeling yet she pursued all the same, at one point reaching out to pluck Superboy from the air when one of her attacks hit so hard his feet left the floor.
His cheek tore open first, the fabric and flesh around his ribs following swiftly after. Every inch of his body was either bruised, aching or bloodied, with several parts feeling all three at once. Superboy teetered on his feet, too dazed to know what was going on, until a final, light push placed him on his back.
White noise filled his ears. And his head.
The loudspeaker split the air with an obnoxious start, and Spence began to speak again.
"If you can't get up you may as well die and stop wasting our time."
Superboy rolled onto his stomach with a groan, but he didn't rise. His arms had given out on him.
"Did that last order get your broken skull? Get up
, Subject 13."
There was no reply, so she sounded the speaker again."Comply."
It took a great deal of effort on his part, but Thirteen managed to wiggle his arms underneath his battered form. Taking several, long breaths he attempted to push himself up via his elbows, only getting so far as sliding his knees along the floor before he collapsed again. "I can't." Superboy wheezed, coughing up a chunk of red viscera. "She's too..."
Amanda cut him off, addressing Supergirl instead. "Finish it. Its of no more use to us like this."
Supergirl took a step forward, flipping him over with her boot and placing it on the clone's chest with the intent to cave it in.
"Stop this madness!" A voice snarled from across the room. Jim Harper came marching into the Ring, a hard grimace set upon his face as he approached the two supers. There were calls of protest from the monitoring deck but he didn't react, moving right through the projection of Supergirl and kneeling down to check on the boy.
He offered Harper a pitiful thumbs up.
"He's barely able to breath led alone fight!" He yelled in protest over his shoulder, swiftly spinning around to stare up at lone window. It didn't need to be two-way for him to know who he was staring daggers into.
Spence cleared her throat. "You're interfering with our work, Harper. We were gathering valuable data from this encounter-"
"Like hell you were, you're going to kill him!"
"I can't kill something that's barely even alive
, Captain, now move. You don't have authority in this matter and the Board will not take kindly to your actions." A less-than-veiled threat that everyone listening could recognize, save the boy stuck on his stomach. He likely couldn't recognize his own reflection at the moment.
There was a long, tense period of silence before Harper stepped out of the way.
Supergirl moved through him and reached down to pluck Superboy off the floor, holding him to his feet by his shirt. She slapped him across the face hard enough to send him reeling back to the ground, tearing his suit in the process. The sound of a winding down engine came from somewhere above them and Supergirl faded from existence, the S
she'd torn off of Superboy now falling to the floor in a crumpled ball.
As his vision began to darken, Superboy imagined himself lying on mat of a boxing ring. It was quiet, and he was alone.