THE EPIC ORIGIN OF KRYPTO THE SUPERDOG
by Elliot S! Maggin
The men had no smell. It was the pup's job to learn to live with this abomination.
The men with no smell knew the pup had tried, but trying was immaterial. They required performance and proper performance involved biting down every ancient instinct the pup's ancestors had ever left to him. They required the pup to prove he could have a function in the world of the men without a smell. Having to do so was an abomination as well.
The pup had no name. He had no home. He had no family except for these other caged beasts who smelled nothing like him. He had no dreams or hopes or happiness. He had only a species -- he was a "dog," a little white one -- and a job. And he had the twin fears of failure and punishment.
In this place there were endless rows of cages, enclosed by hot light from above. It was the only place the pup had ever known. But the pup had memories that were not places in his experience. There were sweet smells of ... something. It was not memory; here was where he was decanted so memories were still growing and they were not pleasant at any rate. It was something else. It was a distant howl.
It was a howl whose faraway whisper the pup heard only for a moment or so at a time. Like now, here were the men with no smell again to give him pain.
"I need a small pet for my son," Jor-El said, "to prompt him to respond to stimuli more efficiently."
"Yes," Miri said as the technician rooted through a cabinet looking for something to soothe his dog bite. "Something furry, perhaps? Children love furry things."
"Furry," Jor-El repeated, thinking only of how he might obtain a creature that fits into a small space, but whose biology was roughly a microcosm of a human's. "Furry would be fine. Perhaps a rodent of some sort?"
"How about a dog?" the technician suggest as he managed to stop the bleeding.
"Children love dogs," the technician said.
Beside being synonymous with "ice" in the local language, the word "Krypton" came from an old legend and no one ever figured out authoritatively which meaning came first. Folklore held that the male and female humans who founded the race, shipwrecked spacefarers, were named Kryp and Tonn, respectively. The infant Kal-El never heard that story, but he did know how to say "ice." The pup was the color of the world's principal surface -- before the swarm of civilization hit, at least. So that was the infant Kal-El's first response to the pup:
"Krypto," the child said, holding out a hand toward the little white animal's soft nose. The pup was the color of ice. "Krypto," the child said again, and Krypto sniffed at the baby-scented fingertip.
Krypto warily circled Kal-El limited by a radius just longer than the length of a baby's reach. Kal-El rolled back up to his seat on the floor and reached for the pup again. The child stood his ground, reaching outward without moving, perhaps hoping to grow a bit so that his hand reached to where the furry beast stood.
For perhaps a hundred heartbeats Krypto circled Kal-El lifetime, it must have seemed, to both of them. Earnestly, seriously the way human infants are serious without being solemn, the child turned his outstretched hand as best he could to the puppy's direction, the beast ever just out of reach.
And in a moment, at whose initiative none could tell, the puppy's wet red nose brushed against a baby fingertip. Deeply moist. Milky. The dog nose came back for a better inspection. Pulsing. Rich hot blood vessels. A touch even softer than the sniff of the pup's nose.
Then the boy leaned further forward, again lost the balance of his tripod of limbs and rolled onto the pup.
The pup yelped. Leapt backward. And Krypto's first thought was for the baby's safety. It's a baby. Helpless. Soft-boned. Sweet-smelling.
And the baby said "Krypto," over and over until the dog's tongue caught in the boy's throat and he had to spit and giggle.
Look at them, Lara said. They love each other."
And the child cooed. And the pup snorted with contentment. And they loved each other.
"The prototype craft is ready for the animal to test it," Jor-El told Lara, as close to excitement as he was getting in these troubled times.
"Krypto. I wish you would call the poor creature by its name," was Lara's response.
"Its name," Jor-El mumbled and rolled up onto his back to meditate himself into sleep. Things had gone better in Jor-El's life than they were going these days.
"Krypto!" the baby called. "Krypto!" and any words Kal-El offered after that were drowned in a flood of slobber and slurping and wrestling on the nursery floor.
Mornings on these dark days in Jor-El and Lara's home, ironically, were punctuated as never before with play and laughter. Neither Kal-El nor Krypto knew that this would be the last of their mornings together.
This cage was not hot light. It was hard, like sweet rock. It clanged when Krypto pawed at it. He could curl up on a small pad and watch out a window. Through it, he caught glimpses of Jor-El walking here and there past the cage. It was musty here.
Air blew past Krypto's face from a hole somewhere near the pads. Jor-El was feeding him air, but it did not smell like real air. This was no good. Krypto wanted to be with the boy.
Jor-El sealed shut the tiny spacecraft. All he needed to do was launch it offworld, monitor its high orbit, and guide it to a soft landing where he could verify the passenger's life signs. If the beast leapt out and bit him, that would be verification enough. If the creature simply had a pulse, however, the family-sized craft would be a better gamble than an extended stay on Krypton.
It was coming.
Krypto felt the rush of acceleration tear at his body. He felt his breath leave his lungs and he fought to snatch it back. He crushed down neatly, evenly against the mat in the floor of the tiny cage as though a big Krypto-shaped hand were pressing him from above, flattening him. The sound started out deafening, then faded, as though it were coming from very far away. Krypto worried that he was losing his ability to hear.
Then suddenly everything was still. The crushing ended. The sound was silent -- but Krypto could hear the gentle hiss of the air coming from the hole by his mat. He could raise his head. He could untwist his neck and stretch his bones. The window showed only blackness, and there was barely room for the pup to stand and the air smelled like it had already been breathed, but he was all right. Probably.
Krypto was weightless. For a creature of Earth to be weightless for the first time is a little upsetting and disorienting. For a Kryptonian, used to gravitation like that of a small star, it is like dying and going to heaven. Krypto had no time to be disoriented. He was too euphoric. There was no place to float, the craft was so small, but the pup felt no weight. He felt no cares. He could go anywhere, be anything, all here in this tight little place.
Then there was a jolt.
It was all Jelassian could do to transport the probe aboard and drag himself into a probability pocket before the pull of a freak shoot of Kryptonian gravity yanked him under.
"What was that?" Sharena gasped, wiping the surprise off herself like a spill.
"Krypton's mass has been redistributed to the outer edges of this star system. It's blown up and it is all heading across the rest of the Galaxy. In little chunks."
Krypto grew up as a pirate dog. It was fun. He sniffed out booty among the settlements and transport craft that his masters came upon. He found meat and stone and precious metals. He even scoped out chunks of technology, which was especially valuable to Jelassian and his crew. Krypto was a nasal genius, and over time Jelassian, Sharena and the others even began to take in other dogs from among the communities from whom they exacted tribute.
Nip, Yowl and Boof were eventually Krypto's three comrades in the small cargo lock on the aft of the Tootz that became their kennel. There was food, there were companions to scratch, and a robotic grooming rig sucked off the sweat and vermin of a hundred worlds and ships. Life was good.
It never occurred to Krypto to question the right or wrong of piracy, of taking the possessions of the people living out their lives on generations-long interstellar flights. There was room in Krypto's little dog mind for only one principle.
Krypto knew only loyalty. Loyalty above all.
That was why he never forgot the boy.
The Tootz shifted to a random acute angle of itself within dimensional space and materialized in an analog of the spot it had left. Jelassian broadcast an all-clear, and out that same porthole Krypto saw a volley of crude energy identical to the one they evaded. It materialized and attacked the ship precisely as it had a moment and a dimension-shift earlier.
Only Krypto ever saw what hit them.
Nip, Yowl and Boof were gone, and here was Krypto, wondering why he was alive. Krypto had thought about this sort of thing before. He hung in space among the wreckage of the Tootz, drifting. Boof was near him, giving off no light, no smell. And as Boof froze his colors changed.
Krypto could see colors. Dogs could not see colors. Did that mean he was no longer a dog? Krypto did not know what colors were, except that he could see them here.
He waited a moment. He thought maybe they would go away, the way when a human wakes to see the aura bathing a lover, the human waits a moment and the aura vanishes and the human thinks it was just imagination. But the colors did not go away. The void itself was the same: as thick with dark as a glacial pool. That was comforting.
He was hanging in space. Was he breathing? He looked at himself. There was nothing to breathe. Probably he would need to breathe sometime, but not any time soon. He looked at the big yellow sun and thought to draw closer. It did not hurt his eyes. He could look right at it. Into it. It had texture, a surface like any other object in the sky. He had not thought before of such fireballs as things with surfaces; he had never been able to look at them before.
Where did these things come from? Was he dead? And if he was dead and out of his body, then where was his body? And if he was dead, then why were his dead friends not dead the same way he was dead -- floating around here where he had died, waiting to see what would happen next?
For awhile Krypto drifted, looking at the sun. He had been thinking idly that he would like to look at it more closely. Then he realized he was looking at it more closely -- that it was bigger than it had been before.
He knew now that the Universe was too big to understand. He understood that. It would no longer be a matter of finding a really high hill to get to the edge of it. But then he realized that sun was getting bigger. Or Krypto was getting closer.
He was flying through space.
It did not feel comfortable.
It felt grossly unnatural.
His paws and hindquarters began to flail in all directions, as though unconnected to the rest of his body. His chest heaved, in a reflexive search for air that was not there. The star was getting closer. Was it the star that was pulling him to it or something else? He began to shift back and forth as he moved.
He thought he would start tumbling, falling, but he did not. Instead, he just shifted from side to side irregularly, his weight rolling as though he were standing still. And Krypto realized he was in control.
He pulled his front paws in and bent his rear legs toward him as though he were sitting up. He cocked his head in the direction away from the big yellow fire. For a moment he felt the tug, like a big wind, of the star - but he resisted it. He looked off in the distance.
There was a planet there. It was too far to look like anything but a small distant star, but he knew it was a planet and it was just beyond the horizon of the star. He did not know how he knew it was a planet, but he did. He knew he had to go there, and he felt himself moving in that direction. He felt himself moving before he knew he was doing it. Then he was moving there fast. He felt the pull of the star off his right shoulder, pulling like a howling fire, but it meant nothing to him. He did not even have to resist its gravitation for it to have no more effect on him than he wanted it to have.
A wave of energy suffused Krypto in an excited rush. He howled an enormous wave of sound in a space where there was no matter to vibrate into sound. And the vibration from the dog's steely throat was so powerful that a molecule of dust in the neighborhood of the beast vibrated like the aft end of a hound shaking off the rain.
And it found other molecules hanging out in the vacuum and set them aflutter. And underneath the reverberation of the howl vibrating through his head to his ears, Krypto could discern the slightest of distant bellows underneath, as the sound came back through space to him in the relay among isolated molecules amid the nothingness. His bark was so loud that he could hear it through the vacuum.
It is fortunate that Krypto had not yet studied elementary physics. This would have struck him as weird.
It was not weirdness, but rather the rush of sensation that fascinated Krypto just now. There was the sense of movement yet none of the sweep of wind on his skin. He realized that, to something watching him move through space, he would look like a statue of a dog. Nothing on him, not a hair or a lash, fluttered as he moved at this unspeakable speed. There was the slight pull on his skin in all directions as the internal balance of his system pressed outward against the vacuum of space.
There was the thing like hunger in his chest when he simply opened his mouth a bit and the residual air in his lungs blew out. There was no pain in this. There was no pain in anything. It was a strange, uncomfortable feeling, though, and Krypto sucked inward at the vacuum to try and get back a whiff or even a molecule of the air he had lost. That was when he first picked up the scent of the boy.
He shut his eyes and launched himself into interstellar space and felt for the ghostly pockets of faint heat that let him know the husk of a former star had passed by. He felt for the tug of a black hole in space and swam through the emptiness toward it, sniffing for the traces of short-lived particles that it tossed out like crumbs from the mouth of a ravenous beast so intent on consuming all around it that it misses a morsel here or there. The sucking gravitation of the former star soothed him, massaged his skin and fur as he pulled away from it and let himself drift closer. It kneaded his bones, felt like a touch he once knew of a boy who loved him.
Then he realized.
The boy was alive. Somewhere. Krypto could smell him.
No matter how big the Universe was, no matter how dead Krypton was, no matter how divorced the dog was from his origins, no matter how definitively unlikely, this Krypto knew: the boy was alive. Somehow, he had been here. Somehow, he had grown strong.
Krypto needed no food or air and could live in space playing with his amazing abilities forever, as far as he knew. The need to survive never took hold of his motivations the way it does with other dogs who take to the wild. He ate only for fun, explored only for curiosity -- curiosity, now there was a new idea growing in him only since the coming of his powers -- and feared nothing. But now there was something he wanted.
He caught the scent again. Always it was on a world with life on it. Mostly he could walk on these worlds and no creature would think it odd. Krypto found that few creatures in the Universe other than humans -- even highly intelligent creatures like yeast people and dogs -- ever thought much of anything was odd.
To most denizens of the worlds of his travels, Krypto was simply another sniffing, growling, occasionally nipping colleague. To some he was a dog. Dogs seemed to appear wherever humanoids did, after all. If Krypto's mind went to a scientific bent -- which it did not -- he might have pondered this, but even with his stepped-up sensibilities, he was not much for pondering.
There were a handful of planets where Krypto found traces of the boy's scent. They were all far-flung and disparate -- except for the presence of life. Then one day he caught the boy's scent on a desolate rock that spun off in the outer darkness many light-hours away from its primary star.
Krypto could not imagine why all the planets on which he had found traces of the boy were homes to some form of life. He did not consider why, but he did notice that this world was something different. It was a big rock covered by chemical ice and so dark that Krypto kept smashing into strange icebergs floating in the air despite constantly keeping his eye lights on.
The scent of the boy was strong here. He had been here recently, and there was little atmosphere and no interference to wipe away his coming. Krypto circled the world, sniffing, and touched down on an outcropping of ice. The boy had been here. Right here.
The dog hopped up on a platform. If he could measure such things, he might have realized that this pattern in the ice had to have been cut by someone. It was regular and flat, unlike the rest of the jagged world. Krypto did not have to realize this, though. His senses told him other things.
Living things left a marker behind, not just of their scent. There was an electromagnetic pulse that Krypto could not name but he could feel. This, he could feel far more strongly even than a super-human. All dogs can. When the master goes away for awhile, a dog will sleep where the master sat or where the master lay, not just for the smell, but for the familiarity in the whisper of space around him.
Here, on this crystal petrochemical shelf, frozen as hard as iron, Krypto felt to be the puppy frolicking with a man-baby on a giant dying world.
Little particles, nearly imperceptible even by the dog's stepped-up senses, drew a path far into space, in the direction of that little star. There was no scent to follow through space, but there was a trail nonetheless.
And it did not matter whether Krypto could pick out the smell of one thing over another here because the boy smell was in all of it. It seemed the whole planet was the boy's home, and everything had the boy in it. It did. Everywhere he went -- and by now that was virtually everywhere over the Earth and its environs -- Clark left pieces of himself. A cell. A breath. An idea. The strength of the life of this world was growing for those pieces of Clark. It would grow more still. Krypto could feel it.
There was a vitality here that the dog had found nowhere else in all his travels. This was a planet in rebirth, and it was not even aware of it yet. It was a baby not yet moved to yelp. It was euphoria.
But he could not find the boy. The scent of the boy in everything was overpowering. To find the boy himself among all this would be like finding a strand of hay in a haystack.
So Krypto went to the place where life was thickest. He went to a place on the edge of the land and the water where man-made stars lit up a warren of humans. A huge colony of millions of men scurried through their lives here, being born, building things, dying and being born again. The little white dog rose into the night sky of this warren's harbor and he howled.
Few people remember the Metropolis Air Raid of that year. Portions of the city lost their power. Hundreds of windows, especially in new buildings not yet sealed to the elements, blew outward into the streets. Homes rattled and books fell off shelves. Children woke crying in the night. Alarms went off spontaneously. The police department called up all their on-call officers. The Governor got a request for a National Guard alert, but it passed before the Governor peeled himself from his bed. And a huge wailing from the sky blanketed the city and its suburbs for nearly a minute.
The Federal government launched an investigation into possible causes. The rumor was that a foreign satellite was testing out a new offensive weapon, and many in the National Security Agency believed it and still do.
When the government issued its final report on the subject, it contained an authoritative account of how a short circuit in the power grid upstate set off a chain reaction of emergency shutdowns, and it all proved that a whole bunch of secret crisis-management systems worked the way they were supposed to work.
The disturbance was nothing of the sort, but by the time the report came out nobody really cared very much any more. People were just too busy.
What happened was that the boy, floating idly above Kansas on a hot sleepless night heard the howl and turned eastward.
He saw the beast hanging in the sky high above the city, its mouth pursed as though to whistle, with a mournful bellow coming from deep in its chest. It was so small, this little white thing, and it made such a loud noise.
"Shh," the boy said, approaching, and the beast suddenly stopped howling and stared. And it sniffed.
"Shh," the boy said again, in something like the boy's voice and with a smell like the boy's smell. "What's wrong?"
The beast looked at him for a moment. He was bigger, but so was Krypto. And stronger. And hovering in the sky.
"You can fly?" the boy asked. He was too incredulous to wonder at the tugging in the distant reaches of his memory.
Krypto circled around him, inspecting him. Was it really the boy? His scent was everywhere here, so it could be anyone. Flying.
It took longer for the boy to warm to Krypto, longer to reach beyond the wonder into the traces of recognition. But Krypto stopped circling and, hovering in the sky, crouched with his forelegs stretched forward, as if on the ground and inviting a playmate.
"You're a dog," the boy said, "right?" Then he wondered what answer he might have expected.
"You're my dog, right?"
And Krypto's boy came to him and gingerly petted him along the grain of his steely fur. Then the boy petted him harder, roughly so he could feel it.
The boy's hair and the red cape hanging off his neck landed in the dog's mouth and Krypto chewed on it until it was as wet as a gnawed bone. And the boy nipped at Krypto's nose and Krypto scraped at the boy's bottom with his paw and they both hit and scraped and squeezed at each other some more because they could not hurt each other.
"They love each other," the boy heard someone say in his memory.
And the boy rumbled something unintelligible from the depths of his changing voice. And the dog snorted with contentment. And they loved each other.
ABOUT "STARWINDS HOWL"
"Starwinds Howl" is an original short story written by longtime Superman writer Elliot S! Maggin. After writing a few thousand lines of comic book dialogue, where every sentence ends with an exclamation point, Mr. Maggin once accidentally followed his middle initial with an exclamation point instead of a period. The "pen name" stuck, and he was known after that as Elliot S! Maggin.
If you enjoyed the DIAL B for BLOG "Reader's Digest" version of Maggin's "Starwinds Howl," click the Adventure Comics cover to the left to BUY a copy, or click the small plush Krypto on the right to read the entire story for FREE! Believe me, it's a great read -- especially if you're a dog lover!
My apologies to Mr. Maggin for condensing his entire story into a short web page. I hope the time I put into doing the VISUAL EPILOGUE to "Starwinds Howl" pictured above, based on the famous cover to Adventure Comics #300 featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes (pictured left), helps make up for it!
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