Chapter 11: Actions and Consequences

“He what?” asked Lex. He gripped the phone closer to his ear, though that wouldn’t help with the poor connection. It was moments like this that made him want to revolutionize the entire telecommunications industry. An investment of a million dollars would surely be enough to get clear audio between Metropolis and Hub City. Of course, the world was filled with such problems waiting for the right solutions, and pushing things along too quickly was a waste of money more often than not.

“He killed William Calhoun, sir,” repeated Mercy.

“Who knows?” asked Lex.

“Everyone, sir,” replied Mercy. “It happened just outside the courthouse after the not guilty verdict was handed down.”

“I had hoped they would find him guilty,” said Lex. His voice was tight. Mercy was supposed to take care of things in Metropolis while he was in Hub City. This was the very first time in their long association that she had failed him, and either that meant she was slipping or someone powerful was working against her. Both were worrying.

“I know sir,” replied Mercy. “I’m still trying to find out what happened.”

Lex thought for a moment. “I’ll fly home later today,” said Lex. “Whatever is happening there needs my attention.”

He hung up without waiting for a response. Early on he’d made a classification scheme for the most probable scenarios involving Superman, and so far as he could tell, this was somewhere between class C and class E. Superman had killed in a public way, which might signal any number of things: a simple rash decision, a campaign of lethality against the criminal element, or the opening moves of tyranny. Superman had given no indication that he knew what Lex was doing, and Lex was highly unlikely to get caught in the cross-fire, which was the important thing for now.

The estimated deaths from a class E scenario were in the thousands, and while there would be severe economic effects, it was nothing that couldn’t be weathered in the short term. Hopefully the short term would be all that Lex would need. In fact, a class C scenario might be of some benefit. If Superman had only killed because he had momentarily snapped, it was possible it would make the other scenarios less likely, depending on which model of his psychology was correct. People were hard to predict though, especially those with alien psychologies and a penchant for lies. Scenarios of class J and higher involved the effective obliteration of the human race in some way, but so long as Lex Luthor, his stores of knowledge, and the spaceship were all safe, it was still possible that Superman might yet be killed, which meant that anything up to the murder of a hundreds of millions might still allow humanity to survive.

He still didn’t know how kryptonite worked, or what, precisely, it did. The use of lead as a shield implied radiation of some kind, in addition to the radiation of green light that gave it the distinct glow. He’d taken copious notes and photographs as he’d taken apart the ship, and while the kryptonite definitely seemed to be a power source, it wasn’t clear how that power was generated or harnessed. Lex had made no attempt to activate the ship, and had no real plans to do so until after attempts at using kryptonite as a weapon had failed, and then only after careful consideration of the risks and dangers. The piece of the ship that seemed to be an engine would be left alone for the foreseeable future; anything with the power to exceed the speed of light or even achieve a reasonable fraction thereof was a de facto weapon of unconscionable power.

The kryptonite was in a solid block that must have weighed nearly twenty kilograms, which was wholly inconvenient. Lex was hesitant to split it up into smaller pieces, in the event that doing so would interfere with its use as a power source for the ship, though at least the lack of internal padding and shock absorbers suggested that this wouldn’t be dangerous. It was possible that kryptonite by itself held no harm at all for Superman, and that kryptonite was only dangerous when the ship was powered on and using the no- doubt immense amounts of power that interstellar travel required. Lex had settled for doing experiments on the exposed surface of the core of kryptonite.

The lead tube that contained the kryptonite was itself surrounded by a box of lead that Lex had constructed to provide for shielding. He carefully lifted a cage out from the box, and peered at the rat that had been living on top of the kryptonite for the past three days. A quick dissection confirmed what a physical examination had suggested; the rat was no worse for the extended exposure. When Lex was finished, he tossed the corpse into a wastebasket with a frown.

Whatever kryptonite was emitting besides light was essentially invisible to every tool that Lex possessed, but Superman’s amazing powers suggested that there were many aspects of physics that humanity had not yet discovered. Lex made a snap decision. He put on a pair of thick gloves and pulled the leaden tube from the box he’d built, and then carefully pulled the block of kryptonite out of the tube. It came free on the first attempt with a slight click. The spaceship had proven remarkably easy to take apart once Lex had gotten to know the tricks to its design, and he was confident in his ability to put it back together again. Whoever had built it was an engineer of the highest caliber who had designed it with serviceability in mind. He was being more risky than he would normally have been, but time was not on his side.

It cleaved cleanly when he tapped at it with a hammer and chisel.

Floyd had a bedroll, a pillow, a bucket filled with his excrement, a can opener, a large amount of tinned food, and a rain barrel that Superman refilled every few days. It wasn’t much to fashion an escape with. The hole was three hundred feet down, and curved slightly at the top to keep rain or snow from getting in. The rock had been smashed through by Superman, leaving what looked like easy handholds, but a single slip even halfway up the hole would surely result in death. It was, unfortunately, wide enough that Floyd couldn’t brace himself against both sides without stretching, which meant it would be difficult to get a real rest. He looked up the hole for the third time in as many minutes, trying to plot out a route and not think about how dangerous and futile the climb was going to be. After he escaped out the hole, a jaunt through the wilderness and certain recapture would be waiting for him. He’d just about worked up the nerve to make the first jump up when Superman came down through the hole, moving at speed.

The blast of wind flung everything into the air, including Floyd. Before he even had time to react to his meager possessions being slammed against the walls of the room, a solid hand was against his throat, pinning him in place. Superman’s eyes blazed with anger, and he pulled back a fist. Floyd flinched back, which under Superman’s hand amounted to little more than turning his head a half inch to the side. When no impact came, he opened his eyes back up. Superman was breathing hard. His face was still a mask of fury, and his fist still poised for the punch. A long moment passed.

“Ykr frkr,” Floyd tried to say.

A single tear rolled down Superman’s cheek. Superman flung Floyd to the side, and he landed in a heap with what felt like a number of broken ribs. He coughed, not just because of the hit against the wall, but because the bucket had been knocked over and suffused the air with a foul smell. When Floyd looked up, Superman was gone again. Floyd had been trying to say Your father, a last ditch effort at saving his own life. He had no clue whether it had made the difference. Superman had wanted to kill him, but hadn’t been able to bring himself to throw the punch.

Strangely enough, Lois felt better about Superman now that he was off the reservation. The anticipation had been the worst part of it all, and now that he had finally snapped, she found herself calm and focused. The time for subtle manipulation and walking on eggshells had passed, and that came as a relief. Actually dealing with a disaster was something she could handle; it was worrying about the possibility of disaster that had been destroying her. Or perhaps she was simply too numb to properly feel dread anymore.

“You’re telling me that Superman killed the last crime boss of Metropolis in the middle of broad daylight, and you didn’t get a picture of it?” asked Perry White. He leaned over his desk and laid his hands down on either side of it, looking for all the world like he was about to vault over the mess of paperwork and personally throw Jimmy Olsen out of the building.

“I couldn’t!” said Jimmy. “He was - he did it too fast! I took a picture just before, and the cops started movin’ people away just after that, I swear!”

“Feh,” said Perry. “We’ll have to send a runner to one of the other papers and pay out the nose for a picture if we can, because I’m sure as hell not going to be the only guy printing off extras without the blood and guts, obscenity laws be damned.” He turned to Lois. “You’re getting this story written, right?”

Lois wore a skirt that hung down just past her knees and a white blouse. Both were splattered with blood on the left side, marking a perfect silhouette where she’d been standing behind another reporter. She’d cleaned most of the blood and gore off her face with the sleeve of her blouse during the taxi ride over, and she’d had to tip the guy extra for the mess she’d left behind in his backseat, but that was so far down the list of things to worry about that it might as well not have happened.

“Just tell me how many words,” said Lois. “I got opening portion of it written on the way over. ‘Local businessman William Calhoun was murdered shortly after his not guilty verdict by none other than -’”

“Change that to ‘Alien vigilante Superman murdered local businessman’. Maybe add ‘allegedly’ though I don’t know how he’d contest that,” said Perry.

“We don’t need to say alien, everyone knows he’s an alien,” replied Lois. “And vigilante is true but harsh, even given what happened. I don’t want to give people whiplash by shifting our position too quickly.”

“You write it, I’ll mark it up and get it to print,” said Perry. “You’re both dismissed, this is a steaming pile of shit that’s not going to wrap itself up anytime soon. Clark is supposed to come back today, and he should be able to take some of this off your hands whenever his train gets in.”

Lois practically ran back to her desk and started typing away, getting all of her thoughts out before doing a second pass to reduce it down to something that people would actually want to read. The headline was the most important part, and the picture after that, but Perry would be in charge of both of those, so they didn’t bear thinking about. Her typewriter was her steadfast friend, and it clattered loudly as she jammed down the keys. Lois often felt like she belonged behind a typewriter. She would take what she’d heard and seen and turn it into a narrative that people would consume, and eventually that would become the version of events that people told themselves.

“You okay?” asked Jimmy. He stood next to her desk, shifting side to side uncomfortably.

“I’m fine kid,” said Lois, her fingers never leaving the keys. She paused a moment and looked down at her clothes. “My favorite blouse got ruined.” She chose her words carefully, not implying any agency. She’d been training herself to be a better liar and a more careful speaker, and she could tell that today was going to be a test of that. “If you want to help me, and Perry’s got nothing better for you, go grab me a change of clothing from Hudson’s. I’ve gotta be back out on the street as soon as this is done.” Lex was in Hub City, and though it wasn’t safe to speak on the phone, she at least needed to touch base with his valkyrie of an assistant.

She went back to typing, just as fast as before. The big story was Superman, not Calhoun, but she’d spent the whole day preparing to write about the outcome of the trial and couldn’t help but sprinkle in more about the man who’d died. Calhoun had no doubt deserved it, especially if he was the mastermind behind the bombings, but Lois wasn’t going to position herself as Superman’s cheerleader. Luthor seemed to want her as something of a sycophant, but he hadn’t yet been able to bring her around to his way of thinking. Instead, she planned to tell Superman he was wrong in as persuasive and gentle a way as possible. Luthor could have words with her later.

“Okay,” said Jimmy. “But -”

“Jesus Christ kid, are you still here? Go!” said Lois. She shook her head as he scurried away. Some people just didn’t have what it took to make it in the news business. The Daily Planet needed a photographer that could stare down mutilated children and burned out homes. Jimmy Olsen was a few months away from dropping out, by her estimation, though she’d thought the same of Clark almost from the time he’d signed on.

She turned back to her article, and tried to focus on the facts. The verdict of the trial had been a big surprise, and the article she’d been expecting to write was about Calhoun’s slow decline, peppered with his personal history and an overview of the utter destruction of organized crime in Metropolis. Calhoun’s death - his murder - changed all that. Now the story was about Superman, and his failure to live up to the impossible ideals he had set for himself. It was a story that she’d been wanting to write for a long time, but she tempered her language. Superman wasn’t going to get a free pass from her, but she would imply disappointment rather than outrage. Hopefully she’d be able to have some influence on what the people of Metropolis were talking about tomorrow (and thus what Superman was hearing), though no doubt the radio was already having its say.

She dashed off her second draft as quickly as she’d ever done in her life, and ran it back to Perry’s office. Most of the blood on her clothes had dried from a bright red to a dark brown. She’d felt parts of Calhoun’s skull hitting her face, and thought that she might have a cut, but the story was done, and that was what mattered. The bone that hit her had stung, like when a car kicks up gravel that hits your shins, only in this case the gravel was bone that had been crushed into tiny pieces. A brief image came to her mind of Superman killing every criminal in Metropolis, littering the streets with their bones, no piece left larger than a key on her typewriter. The momentary imagery was unwelcome. She turned her thoughts back to the matter at hand and slapped the article down on Perry’s desk.

“It’s no use,” he said with a frown. “We got a gag order.”

Lois grimaced. “From who?”

“‘From whom’, darling,” said Perry. “It came down from on high, in fucking triplicate. First a call from the chief of police, then a call from the President of the United States himself, then the only man I really give a fuck about, our employer.”

“Who the hell do they think they’re kidding?” asked Lois. “There were a hundred witnesses, there were cameras all over the place, it must have gone out over the radio almost the instant after it happened. They think they’re going to keep this quiet?”

“The radio stations went to dead air in about two seconds flat,” said Perry. “Someone had a plan in place for this, or something like it. I don’t think they’re trying to contain this thing, just to manage it in the short term. I’ve got no idea what they’re going to say to make it better, but for now they’re just trying to keep a small bit of control on the situation. I don’t really blame them.”

“This is bullshit,” said Lois. “Complete and utter bullshit.” In the back of her mind, she wondered whether Lex was behind it. So far as she could tell, he enjoyed his grand gestures. Giant statues in the park, vast murals along the side of the road - shutting down mass media in Metropolis would be just his style. It was almost reasonable too, if it would prevent panic in the streets of Metropolis.

“No argument there,” said Perry. He leaned back in his chair and lit up a cigar. “I’ll edit for you, and if they lift the embargo we’ll run the story quick as can be, but until then, maybe you better get yourself home and cleaned up.”

Lois again looked down at her clothes. “I already asked Jimmy to go run and get some for me,” she replied. “I’ll keep on writing in preparation for when we’re allowed to talk about it.”

When she got back to her desk, there was a note waiting for her, one that she’d been expecting for the last half hour. She read it twice, then steeled herself and headed on up.

“Why’d you do it?” asked Lois the moment she stepped onto the roof. Of course Superman could hear her coming, and she could have asked the question at any point during the walk up. No doubt if Superman was coming to speak with her, he’d been watching and listening to her from the moment that he laid the letter on her desk, and probably from the moment Calhoun’s body slumped to the ground.

Superman didn’t respond to her immediately. He stood at the very edge of the roof, and his cape twirled and billowed in the wind behind him. She wondered whether he had planned it that way, to look more impressive. He had a flair for the dramatic, and an eye for looking impressive.

“I was angry,” said Superman.

Lois watched him. He kept his back to her, so that all she could do was listen to his voice. “You’ve been angry before,” she said. The image of Superman standing in a room with the three men who had taken the Whitman children, waiting for the police to arrive, was so real to her that she could almost believe she had been there. “What made this time different?”

“I’ve been thinking too much,” said Superman. “I’ve been angry too often. He was saying all those hateful things, I just … it wasn’t that I snapped, really. I didn’t lose control. If I’d actually punched him as hard as I could have, Metropolis would be a smoking crater. I was standing there, hating him, and thinking about how much better the world would be if he were dead. Not by my hand, necessarily, but if he’d had a stroke right on the steps of the courthouse the world would instantly have been a better place. And to be honest, I was thinking about how satisfying it would be to kill him.”

Superman kept staring out over the city. Lois waited him out. “I can slow down time,” he said finally. “Not that, exactly, but my perception of time can change when I need it to. I wouldn’t be able to catch bullets otherwise. Moving fast isn’t enough, you have to think fast and see fast in order to really make use of the power. When I really push it, the world dims down and sounds are happening so slowly that it’s nothing more than a persistent drone. I can live out a day in the pause between words when someone is talking. The world goes so black I can’t even see my nose in front of me. First the sounds become too long and stretched out to make sense of, and then they stop altogether.”

His cape flapped behind him. “I must have spent three days thinking about Calhoun while we stood there. ‘Truth, justice, and the American way’, those were his last words. I meditated on them. The State of New York executed seventeen men last year, and I had a hand in catching eleven of them. I had vowed not to kill, you understand. The first one was William Vogel, who was convicted of murder. I watched him spasm in the electric chair, and I felt like a coward. I could have killed him faster and more humanely. When I killed Calhoun, he probably didn’t even have enough time to register that I was moving before his brain was a thick paste.

“I once believed in redemption. I believed in the justice of the legal system, and when it failed, as it often did, I would tell myself that it wasn’t my place to rush in headlong. I didn’t want to be a shepherd of sheep, I wanted humanity to stand on its own two feet. But when law and morality contradicted each other, as they often did, I was left with the cruel alternative of losing just a bit of my moral center or losing just a bit of my respect for the law. It’s like you said; if I had come to America when slaves were being sold on those very docks, would I have respected the law then?”

“I didn’t mean -” Lois began.

“No, I know,” said Superman. “I read the article you just finished writing. I deserve worse than what you said. I’m just trying to explain … to explain how I got to where I am now.” He took a breath. “I used to think that good was something that was defined by actions. Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t murder … I thought that if you worked at it hard enough, you could make up a set of rules to follow, and that would make you a good person. I think that’s what my father thought. But eventually I moved away from thinking like he did, and tried to live my life by his values instead. Maybe it was okay to lie, if it was for the greater good. Maybe it was okay to break the law, if breaking the law resulted in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The change was so slow I barely even noticed it, and I don’t think I was fully aware that I was thinking any differently until a few days ago. But it didn’t really matter, because for the most part I was living my life the same way. Even if I no longer believed in an absolute prohibition against killing - and how could I when I was sending men to their death at the hands of the state - I still wouldn’t kill because of what it would say to people. I wanted to be a symbol for them.

“But as I was sitting in the pitch black of slowed down time, I kept thinking about truth and justice. I’d ensured that Calhoun would have a fair trial, because I’d promised him he would. What would it say though, to have him walk free? Not just from that trial, but from the botched trial in December? He couldn’t simply be immune to consequences. He had to pay for his crimes. That was justice. I kept weighing these things until I came to my decision, and it was only when my fist was halfway through his skull that I realized my emotions had their thumb on the scale.”

“What now?” asked Lois after a long stretch of silence.

“I need to take time off,” said Superman. He turned to face her. “I know you’ll think I’m a monster for it -”

“I don’t -”

“Lois, I know you better than you think I do,” said Superman. “I’m going to take some time off from listening to the vast suffering that I can only make a small dent in. I’ll take time for myself and think on what I really want to be. I fully expect that you’ll hate me for it, but I can’t rush things and make mistakes, not when I have the power to level mountains.”

Lois stared at him, then nodded. “I won’t hate you for it, but I can’t claim that I understand. If you think that taking some time off from being Superman is what’s best …” She sighed. “I’ll be here for you when you come back. We all will.”

Superman stepped forward and kissed her on the cheek. He was off in the air before she could formulate a response to that. He’d said he knew her better than she thought, but she didn’t know what the hell that was supposed to mean.

He didn’t want to be a shepard to the sheep. There was something about that phrase that bothered her. It sounded familiar. She’d retained enough knowledge of the Bible to recognize it as an allusion. It was another way in which Superman showed a solid grasp of the culture he’d married himself to, not just idiomatically correct English far beyond what any foreigner learned, but cultural allegory. Certainly Superman had been compared to Christ on enough occasions for him to recognize it, but there was something else that made it stick out. It was like something Clark would say.

She was halfway down the utilitarian stairwell that led down into the building proper when it struck her. It wasn’t just the turn of phrase, it was the entire conversation. Clark’s father was a pacifist, she remembered him saying that over drinks one time. In fact, save for the fact that Superman hadn’t once brought up religion, all those words could have come from Clark’s mouth instead. A long, slow turn from faith in the goodness of humanity - that was the story of Clark’s time in Metropolis.

She remarked on the physical similarities a few times. It was almost always a joke at Clark’s expense. “Hey Clark, you spend some time on athletics and you might rival Superman.” But you couldn’t look at Clark and actually think that he was much more than an oaf. He had hidden depths, but those depths weren’t nearly so deep that he could actually be - that he could have -

Lois sat down in the stairwell and put her hands on her knees. She was trembling slightly. “Some time off from being Superman,” she’d said. They had the same eye color, the same hair color, and close to the same height. They had a similar infatuation with her, and Superman treated her as familiar because … because she was familiar to him. They’d sat side by side for months before Superman had shown up. They’d talked about almost everything under the sun while putting together their stories, and they’d certainly read almost everything the other had written.

She needed to make notes, but Superman could watch her. Even now, sitting in the stairwell, he was probably watching her and wondering what she was thinking. Some distant part of her brain was telling her to think up a cover, so she ran her hands through her hair and muttered “He really did deserve it.” Calhoun would provide a cover while she tried to work through every conversation she’d ever had with Clark Kent.

She remembered Clark flinching when she’d said something … something about Superman not being totally emotionless when he came across a scene of brutal violence. Clark hadn’t been flinching because he was a naive Midwestern farm boy, he’d been flinching because he’d been remembering. He was unreliable because he had other obligations. He wasn’t lucky, he was able to see through walls and listen in on conversations that happened on the other side of the city. He used a lot of unnamed sources. He covered Superman’s trials. The span of the deception that it would have required was breathtaking, shocking enough that Lois had to remind herself to breathe. But it was true.

Clark Kent was Superman.

A thousand small details came sliding into context, and a hundred questions followed in their wake. Lois clenched her hands into tight fists. She could feel tears in her eyes. The biggest argument against the theory was that she was smarter than that, dammit, and if you refused to believe something because it would mean that you were the biggest idiot in the world, well, that alone said something about how smart you really were. She’d been played. Clark Kent had lied to her face for a year and a half, over and over. And Superman had done the same.

“Calhoun deserved it,” some small part of Lois remembered to say. Superman was watching, always watching. And if he really was Clark, if she hadn’t simply gone insane …

A few weeks after Clark Kent had first shown up in Metropolis, Lois had taken a rare break from twelve hour days and gone out drinking. She’d met a sailor at one of the dockside bars, and taken him back to her place to do a few things that good Catholic women weren’t supposed to do outside of marriage. In the morning, she’d shoved him out the door and gone into work. It would have been very hard to miss the fact that Clark was in a bad mood, and that this bad mood was directed towards her. She’d thought perhaps he’d seen her in the club while she was hanging off the sailor’s arm, and had simply pretended that she couldn’t tell what was bothering Clark. Now she had to wonder whether Clark was watching her the entire time, or listening to that particular night of passion. She’d imagined Superman’s eyes on her frequently, and it was never a pleasant thought, but if it was Clark watching her undress, watching her with other men … she could feel tears streaming down her face.

There remained the question of why he would do it - why, if he had the power to fly through the air and could crush coal into diamonds, he would ever want to spend a single solitary second as Clark Kent. The answer had to be that he was a monster. She flitted through her memories of Clark Kent the reporter, and found one of him hunched over the paperwork for his taxes. People had been dying, and he’d been filing his fucking taxes. He’d sat in on boring meetings about style standards while people literally burned to death. And he’d lied to her, over and over, every single day that they’d worked together. He’d cheated his way to the top without any remorse. A cold fury ran through her veins.

She stood up, wiped away her tears, and looked at herself in her compact to assess the damage. Her hair still had blood in it, and that did nothing for the effect. Lois did her best to fix what she could, then smoothed out her skirt, took a deep breath, and walked out into the newsroom.

Clark Kent was standing there, speaking with Perry. If she’d been less angry, she might have run across the room to start beating him with her fists, but she was far beyond that now. Instead, she gave him a weak smile and sat down at her desk. There was no hiding that she had been crying, but she could keep up a front for now.

“Are you okay?” asked Clark as he sat down at his desk.

“Fine,” said Lois. “There’s been a lot going on around here while you were away. How was Smallville?”

“Small,” replied Clark. “I’d forgotten how small. My mother will be missed. Listen, are you okay? I heard what happened, and I know you were in the thick of it.”

“No, I’m not okay,” said Lois. “Are you back to work now? Because I think I need to lay down for a while.”

“Sure,” said Clark. He gave her a gentle smile that made her want to stab him through the throat. He was Clark the deceiver, with a sympathetic smile like he hadn’t been the one to ruin her blouse with Calhoun’s blood.

Later, when she was safely at home, she took a shower and tried to keep from imagining Clark staring at her with an infatuation that had once been merely annoying. Clark Kent and Superman were both lies, and put together they were an abomination of a person that pretended at humanity. Lois could almost understand the anger that Calhoun must have felt, and the desire to hurt the creature’s feelings in lieu of being able to damage his physical form. Lois wouldn’t be so stupid as to give into that temptation.

Instead, she would have to persuade Lex that something needed to be done.

Lex sat in his study, trying to keep himself as current as possible with the newest developments in atomic research. His cover story for working with kryptonite was that he was doing experimental work on a potential weapon, and the best way to ensure that a deception was believable was to make it real. Atomic weapons were certainly coming, and a worrying prospect in their own right depending on how much power they would prove capable of harnessing and how easy it would be to refine the necessary materials. Lex had been quietly buying up uranium mines for a few years now, but if the technology developed he had no doubt that he would end up having to lock horns with the various governments that might lay claim to them.

“Lois Lane to see you, sir,” said Mercy.

“Wonderful,” said Lex. “Send her in, if you please.” The study had been cleaned of anything remotely incriminating before he left for Hub City, and the atomic research was nothing that Lois would be able to make sense of.

“It looks like we may have to cancel the book,” said Lex as Lois walked in. There was an actual book, with actual chapters, but it mostly served as a plausible cover for passing notes to each other. Lex’s supposed role in the authoring of the book had grown as the months dragged on, and now he was a full co-author. Half of the time when they spoke of the book out loud, it was in code. In this case ‘cancel the book’ had an equivalent meaning to ‘stop our covert attempts to manipulate Superman’s mental states’.

“Or at least write a new chapter,” said Lois with a nod. “Did you read the paper this morning?”

“You spoke with Superman following his … unfortunate decision,” said Lex. “And he’ll be leaving us for a while.” He wasn’t sure how much he believed it. Superman was a meddler by nature.

“Yes,” replied Lois. She pulled a notebook from her purse, and began writing on it. “The book was always intended as a living book, but of course we won’t be able to release it with things as they are now, and we don’t want it to be obsolete the moment it hits shelves. I do have some thoughts for what we’ll need to change in light of this new information though.” She turned the notebook towards him. Is there still no way to stop him?

He watched her carefully. He had not, as yet, given her any rope to hang him with. So far as she knew, she was the one in the lead, and Lex had only used his immense resources in ways that conformed to the moral standards of society.

“The science of Superman hasn’t changed one bit,” said Lex. “Those chapters will need the smallest amount of work, I should think. Public reaction will need to be rewritten entirely.” He made the hand signal for No in order to underscore his point, then the hand signal for Why?

“True,” said Lois. She began to write again. “I’d still like your help, if you have the time. Even if Superman stumbles from time to time, we can still use him as an example to live our lives by. Do you agree?” She turned the pad towards him again, not missing a beat. Superman has a secret identity that I am in close contact with. I need your help in figuring out a way to stop him before he kills again.

Lex very nearly froze. It wasn’t what he had been expecting. He had long thought that Superman or Clark Kent would eventually reveal the truth to her, perhaps after she had taken the courtship with Superman far enough. Lex had almost told her himself in order to prepare her, but it would have opened up too many questions about how much he had known and for how long.

“Certainly,” said Lex. “Though I’m not entirely sure that it’s within my area of expertise.” He gave the hand signal for Tell me more. It was still too early to take any concrete actions, especially when events were in flux, but he was already planning how he’d use Lois to slip Superman the kryptonite.

Author’s Note: Sorry about the delay. The next chapter should land on July 19th, and will be the final chapter of this story.

It usually goes without saying, but these characters have their own views and biases which are distinct from my own.

As always, I appreciate the favorites/follows/reviews.

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