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Alive 7


              By Larry Niven

Things of the form (*text*) are footnotes in the original text.

He's faster than a speeding bullet.   He's more powerful than a locomotive.
He's  able  to leap tall buildings at a single bound.   Why can't he get  a

At  the  ripe  old age of thirty-one (*Superman first  appeared  in  Action 
Comics,  June  1938*),  Kal-El  (alias Superman,  alias Clark Kent) is still
unmarried.   Almost  certainly  he  is still a virgin.   This is a  serious
matter.  The species itself is in danger!

An  unwed  Superman is a mobile Superman.   Thus it has been  alleged  that
those  who chronicle the Man of Steel's adventures are responsible for  his
condition.  But the cartoonists are not to blame.

Nor is Superman handicapped by psychological problems.

Granted that the poor oaf is not entirely sane.  How could he be?  He is an
orphan,  a  refugee,  and  an alien.   His homeland no longer exists in any
form, save for gigatons upon gigatons of dangerous, prettily colored rocks.

As  a  child  and young adult,  Kal-El must have been hard put to  find  an
adequate father-figure.   What human could control his antisocial behavior?
What  human  would  dare  try to punish him?   His  actual,  highly  social
behavior during this period indicates an inhuman self-restraint.

What wonder if Superman drifted gradually into schizophrenia?  Torn between
his human and kryptonian identities, he chose to be both, keeping his split
personalities rigidly separate.   A psychotic desperation is evident in his
defense of his "secret identity."

But Superman's sex problems are strictly physiological, and quite real.

The purpose of this article is to point out some medical drawbacks to being
a  kryptonian among human beings,  and to suggest possible solutions.   The
kryptonian  humanoid must not be allowed to go the way of  the  pterodactyl
and the passenger pigeon.

What turns on a kryptonian?

Superman is an alien, an extraterrestrial.  His humanoid frame is doubtless
the  result of parallel evolution,  as the marsupials of Australia resemble
their mammalian counterparts.   A specific niche in the ecology calls for a
certain shape, a certain size, certain capabilities, certain eating habits.

Be not deceived by appearances.  Superman is no relative to homo sapiens.

What arouses Kal-El's mating urge?   Did kryptonian women carry some subtle
mating  cue  at appropriate times of the year?   Whatever it is,  Lois Lane
probably didn't have it.  We may speculate that she smells wrong, less like
a  kryptonian  woman  than like a terrestrial  monkey.   A  mating  between
Superman and Lois Lane would feel like sodomy-and would be,  of course,  by
church and common law.

Assume  a  mating  between Superman and a human  woman  designated  LL  for 

Either Superman has gone completely schizo and believes himself to be Clark
Kent;  or he knows what he's doing, but no longer gives a damn.  Thirty-one
years is a long time.   For Superman it has been even longer.  He has X-ray
vision;   he  knows  just  what  he's missing.  (*One should not  think  of 
Superman as a Peeping Tom.   A biological ability must be used.  As a child 
Superman may never have known that things had surfaces, until he learned to 
suppress his X-ray vision.   If millions of people tend shamelessly to wear 
clothing with no lead in the weave, that is hardly Superman's fault.*)

The  problem is this.   Electroencephalograms taken of men and women during
sexual  intercourse  show  that orgasm resembles  "a  kind  of  pleasurable 
epileptic attack."  One loses control over one's muscles.

Superman has been known to leave his fingerprints in steel and in  hardened
concrete,  accidentally.   What would he do to the woman in his arms during
what amounts to an epileptic fit?

Consider the driving urge between a man and a woman,  the monomaniacal urge 
to  achieve  greater and greater penetration.   Remember also that  we  are 
dealing with kryptonian muscles.

Superman would literally crush LL's body in his arms,  while simultaneously
ripping her open from crotch to sternum, gutting her like a trout.

Lastly, he'd blow off the top of her head.

Ejaculation of semen is entirely involuntary in the human male,  and in all
other  forms  of  terrestrial life.   It would be  unreasonable  to  assume
otherwise  for a kryptonian.   But with kryptonian muscles behind it,  Kal-
El's  semen would emerge with the muzzle velocity of a machine gun  bullet.
(*One  can imagine that the Kent home in Smallville was riddled with  holes 
during Superboy's puberty.  And why did Lana Lang never notice that?*)

In view of the foregoing, normal sex is impossible between LL and Superman.

Artificial insemination may give us better results.

First  we must collect the semen.   The globules will emerge at  transsonic
speeds.   Superman  must  first ejaculate,  then fly frantically after  the
stuff to catch it in a test tube.   We assume that he is on the Moon,  both
for  privacy and to prevent the semen from exploding into vapor on  hitting
the air at such speeds.

He can catch the semen,  of course,  before it evaporates in vacuum.   He's
faster than a speeding bullet.

But can he keep it?

All  known forms of kryptonian life have superpowers.   The same must  hold
true of living kryptonian sperm.   We may reasonably assume that kryptonian
sperm are vulnerable only to starvation and to green kryptonite;  that they
can  travel  with  equal ease through water,  air,  vacuum,  glass,  brick,
boiling steel,  solid steel, liquid helium, or the core of a star; and that
they are capable of translight velocities.

What kind of a test tube will hold such beasties?

Kryptonian sperm and their unusual powers will give us further trouble. For
the  moment we will assume (because we must) that they tend to stay in  the
seminal fluid,  which tends to stay in a simple glass tube.   Thus Superman
and LL can perform artificial insemination.

At least there will be another generation of kryptonians.

Or will there?

A  ripened but unfertilized egg leaves LL's ovary,  begins its voyage  down 
her Fallopian tube.

Some  time  later,  tens of millions of sperm,  released from a test  tube,
begin their own voyage up LL's Fallopian tube.

The magic moment approaches...

Can human breed with kryptonian?   Do we even use the same genetic code? On
the  face of it,  LL could more easily breed with an ear of corn than  with
Kal-El.  But coincidence does happen.  If the genes match...

One sperm arrives before the others.   It penetrates the egg,  forms a lump
on  it's  surface,  the cell wall now thickens to prevent other sperm  From
entering.  Within the now-fertilized egg, changes take place...

And ten million kryptonian sperm arrive slightly late.

Were  they  human sperm,  they would be out of luck.   But these tiny blind
things  are more powerful than a locomotive.   A thickened cell wall  won't
stop them.   They will *all* enter the egg,  obliterating it entirely in an
orgy of microscopic gang rape.  So much for artificial insemination.

But LL's problems are just beginning.

Within  her body there are still tens of millions of frustrated  kryptonian 
sperm.   The  single  egg  is  now too diffuse to be a  target.  The  sperm 

They  scatter without regard to what is in their path.   They leave  curved
channels,  microscopically small.   Presently all will have found their way
to the open air.

That  leaves LL with several million microscopic perforations  all  leading
deep  into  her abdomen.   Most of the channels will intersect one or  more
loops of intestine.

Peritonitis is inevitable.  LL becomes desperately ill.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of sperm swarm in the air over Metropolis.

This is more serious than it looks.

Consider:   these sperm are virtually indestructible.  Within days or weeks
they  will die for lack of nourishment.   Meanwhile they cannot be affected
by  heat,  cold,  vacuum,  toxins,  or  anything  short of green kryptonite.
(*And  other  forms of kryptonite.   For instance,  there are chunks of red 
kryptonite that make giants of kryptonians.   Imagine ten million earthworm 
size spermatozoa swarming over a Metropolis beach,  diving to fertilize the 
beach balls...  but I digress.*)  There they are,  minuscule but dangerous;
for each has supernormal powers.

Metropolis is shaken by tiny sonic booms.   Wormholes,  charred by meteoric
heat,  sprout  magically  in  all kinds of things:  plate  glass,  masonry,
antique  ceramics,  electric  mixers,  wood,  household pets,  and citizens.
Some of the sperm will crack lightspeed.   The Metropolis night comes alive
with a network of narrow, eerie blue lines of Cherenkov radiation.

And  women  whom  Superman  has never met find  themselves  in  a  delicate

Consider:   LL  won't get pregnant because there were too many of the blind
mindless  beasts.   But whenever one sperm approaches an unfertilized human
egg in its panic flight, it will attack.

How  close  is close enough?   A few centimeters?   Are sperm attracted  by
chemical cues?   It seems likely.  Metropolis had a population of millions;
and  kryptonian  sperm could travel a long and crooked  path,  billions  of
miles, before it gives up and dies.

Several  thousand  blessed events seem not unlikely.   (*If  the  pubescent 
Superboy plays with himself, we have the same problem over Smallville.*)

Several thousand lawsuits would follow.   Not that Superman can't afford to
pay.   There's a trick where you squeeze a lump of coal into its allotropic
diamond form...

The  above  analysis  gives us part of the answer.   In our  experiment  in 
artificial  insemination,  we  must use a single sperm.   This presents  no 
difficulty.   Superman  may  use his microscopic vision and a pair of  tiny 
tweezers to pluck a sperm from the swarm.

In  its  eagerness  the  single sperm may crash  through  LL's  abdomen  at
transsonic speeds, wreaking havoc.  Is there any way to slow it down?

There is.  We can expose it to gold kryptonite.

Gold kryptonite,  we remember,  robs a kryptonian of all of his supernormal
powers,   permanently.    Were  we  to  expose  Superman  himself  to  gold
kryptonite, we would solve all his sex problems, but he would be Clark Kent
forever.  We may regard this solution as somewhat drastic.

But  we can expose the test tube of seminal fluid to gold kryptonite,  then
use standard techniques for artificial insemination.

By any of these methods we can get LL pregnant,  without killing her.   Are
we out of the woods yet?

Though  exposed  to  gold kryptonite,  the sperm still  carries  kryptonian
genes.   If these are recessive, then LL carries a developing human foetus.
There  will be no more Supermen;   but at least we need not worry about the
mother's health.

But if some or all of the kryptonian genes are dominant...

Can the infant use his X-ray vision before birth?   After all,  with such a
power he can probably see through his own closed eyelids.  That would leave
LL sterile.  If the kid starts using heat vision, things get even worse.

But when he starts to kick,  it's all over.   He will kick his way out into
open air, killing himself and his mother.

Is there a solution?

There are several.  Each has drawbacks.

We  can  make  LL  wear  a kryptonite (*For  our  purposes,  all  forms  of 
kryptonite  are available in unlimited quantities.   It has been estimated, 
from  the  startling  tonnage  of kryptonite  fallen  to  Earth  since  the 
explosion of Krypton, that the planet must have outweighed our entire solar 
system.  Doubtless the "planet" Krypton was a cooling black dwarf star, one 
of  a  binary pair,  the other member being a red giant.*) belt around  her
waist.   But too little kryptonite may allow the child to damage her, while
too  much may damage or kill the child.   Intermediate amounts may do both!
And there is no safe way to experiment.

A better solution is to find a host-mother.

We have not yet considered the existence of a Supergirl.   (*She can't mate 
with Superman because she's his first cousin.  And only a cad would suggest 
differently.*)  She could carry the child without harm.   But Supergirl has
a  secret  identity,  and  her  secret identity is  no  more  married  than
Supergirl herself.  If she turned up pregnant, she would probably be thrown
out of school.

A better solution may be to implant the growing foetus in Superman himself.
There  are  places in a man's abdomen where a foetus  could  draw  adequate
nourishment, growing as a parasite, and where it would not cause undue harm
to  surrounding organs.   Presumably Clark Kent can take a leave of absence
more easily than Supergirl's schoolgirl alter ego.

When the time comes,  the child would be removed by Caesarian section.   It
would  have  to  be  removed early,  but there would  be  no  problem  with
incubators  as long as it was fed.   I leave the problem of cutting through
Superman's invulnerable skin as an exercise for the alert reader.

The mind boggles at the image of a pregnant Superman cruising the skies  of
Metropolis.   Batman  would refuse to be seen with him'  strange new  jokes
would  circulate  the prisons...and the race of Krypton would  be  safe  at

Reprinted from All the Myriad Ways (C)1971 by Larry Niven.

Alive 7