Chapter 1: Literally Incredible
Author’s Note: This story is rated M for adult language and themes, includingdiscussion of sexual violence.
Lex Luthor had been lounging in the Skylight Club when he’d first heard ofSuperman.
“He’s a fellow that flies through the sky!” declared one of the patrons, whosename Lex couldn’t recall, a good sign that the man was someone unimportant.
“Impossible,” said Lex with a mild tone that nevertheless carried across theroom. The conversation at the table stopped, and Lex unfolded himself from hiscustomary chair and walked over to join the three men, holding a martini inone hand. Lex wore a suit, one of his more casual ones that had only cost whata dockworker made in a month. His head was completely free of hair, save forhis thick, expressive eyebrows. He was a dashing figure, he knew, muscular andwell-proportioned, the result of the delicate care he gave to his body. Theman who had been speaking, the one who had said that a man flew through thesky, was wearing a charcoal grey suit that was three months out of fashion.
“Alexander Luthor,” he said, holding out his hand. “But everyone calls me Lex.Now, tell me about this flying man, and I’ll see what to think of the matter.”
“Dimitri Vladkov,” said the man. He seemed shaken, but it was difficult totell whether that was from the personal attention of Lex Luthor or fromwhatever delusions he was apparently suffering. “There was this car crash downnear 1st Ave and 30th Street, you could see it comin’, but all of a suddenthis guy swoops down from the sky. He was wearing a funny costume, blue tightsand a red cape, with a big ‘S’ on his chest, and he stops these two cars fromhittin’ each other, moving fast as lightnin’.”
“I see,” said Lex with an arched eyebrow. “And how did he fly? Did he flap hiswings, like a bird? Did he use engines, like a plane?”
“Well, I didn’t see him come down Mr. Luthor, but I saw when he left, and hejust stuck his hands up in the air and lifted off, like he was being pulled upby strings.” He looked at Lex’s face. “Only there weren’t no strings, not thatI could see, and I looked for ‘em.”
“And when he stopped this car crash from happening,” said Lex in a calm andsteady voice, “He did so with only his hands? How would he even have knownthat there was going to be a car crash?”
“I don’t know how he knew it was gonna happen,” said Dimitri. “But he landedright between ‘em and put out his hands, like he wasn’t afraid of gettin’squished, and sure enough he touched ‘em like they were barely there, slowed‘em right down, an put a dent in each of ‘em.”
“So not only can this man fly, he has incredible speed and strength as well,if what you’re saying is true?” asked Lex. His smile was so sharp it couldhave cut glass.
“Well, yeah Mr. Luthor,” said Dimitri. “He didn’t say nothin’ afterwards, justlooked to make sure that the drivers were alright and then flew away, fast asa racehorse but straight up into the sky. We had all sorts of questions, buthe didn’t answer none of ‘em.”
“Thank you,” said Lex. He signaled for the barman to get Dimitri a drink, thenwent back to sit in his customary chair and think.
Heavier than air flight had been given its first practical demonstrationalmost two decades ago, but to do it without the assistance of a machine wasphysically impossible. It was highly probable that Dimitri Vladkov hadhallucinated, or that he was simply lying for attention. Lex also entertainedthe notion that the trick of flight had been accomplished by smoke andmirrors, and that Dimitri had merely been fooled, but he couldn’t see what thepoint of that would be.
Lex frowned, and returned to other thoughts. Yet even as he tried to decidewhat to do about Nikola Tesla, who was staying in the Hotel Metropolis onLexCorp’s dime, his thoughts returned to the improbable story about a man whocould fly. With a twitch of his fingers, he signaled for Mercy Graves, hisindispensable secretary and the only woman allowed in the Skylight Club beforethe sun went down.
“A pencil and paper,” said Lex. Mercy nodded, and from a large purse she keptat her side produced both for him, nearly before he had asked for them. He’dwon Mercy’s service in a poker game three years before, and often wondered howhe had managed without her.
It was a simple physics problem, with a high number of variables involved, butLex was nothing if not quick to attack a problem. He had always liked numbers.After a few minutes of working at it, he had an upper and lower bound estimateon the amount of force that would be required to stop two cars from hittingeach other, and another estimate for what it would take to raise a man intothe air “as fast as a racehorse”. He frowned at the answers.
“Mercy darling, there was very nearly a car accident near 1st Avenue and 30thStreet. Be a dear and see if you can’t find me some eyewitnesses to speakwith.” He knew it was foolish, but if money and power didn’t allow you tochase down the things that piqued your curiosity, Lex didn’t know what theywere good for.
Three hours later, Lex stood at the intersection himself, looking around.Mercy had gotten corroboration from eight witnesses, which only raised furtherquestions. Talking to more people would be useless, especially since theirstories had begun to contradict one another fairly quickly. Lex took this asevidence that this wasn’t some elaborate ruse, or at least that if it was aruse it had been constructed by someone sufficiently intelligent. Eyewitnessaccounts were notoriously unreliable, but most people didn’t know this, and sosomeone running a confidence scheme of some sort would likely have had theconfederates agree on a story. Lex looked down at the street, which showedsome patches of rubber where the cars had skidded, then up at the sky. Itmight have been possible to do it with ropes and wires, though nearlyimpossible to hide.
There was a type of elastic rope known as a bungee, and if you could time itabsolutely perfectly, you might be able to drop down and appear right betweentwo cars, touching the ground just as you reached zero velocity. From there,you could use a harness and carabiners to clip on to something while everyonewas distracted by an elaborate costume. That would make “flying” as simple asunclipping again and allowing the elastic to propel you skywards. It would bedelicate work, and incredibly dangerous, but Lex had seen enough CharlieChaplin films to know that sometimes people did delicate and dangerous thingssimply for the benefit of an audience and a small amount of money. That leftthe question of hiding the ropes themselves, which would be no easy task, evenif the ropes were quite small, and you would also need a large number ofpeople to be complicit, which would further complicate things, and all toaccomplish what? It reminded Lex of a magic trick, and Lex hated magic tricks,at least until he figured out how they were done. After ten minutes of lookingaround, Lex grit his teeth. Mercy, standing just behind him, politely coughed.
“You’re right,” said Lex. “Enough time wasted on this distraction.” He forceda smile. “Put out the proper feelers. If someone tries this stunt again, Iwant to know about it.”
“He came outta nowhere,” said Little Tony.
Lex gave the man a sympathetic nod. “Tell me about him.”
“We was robbin’ the jewelry store,” said Little Tony. “An he came outtanowhere, left the door spinnin’ behind him.” Little Tony was a giant of a man,ironically named by his fellow thugs who considered that the height of wit.
Lex Luthor had gone legitimate five years ago. Oh, he hired goons from time totime for various bits of dirty work and still maintained contacts in thecriminal underworld, as well as receiving cash into a slush fund fromenterprises that he’d set in motion long ago - whorehouses, fighting rings,smuggling operations, and things of that nature - but the fund was nevertouched by him, and existed only in case there was an emergency. But for themost part, the crimes that Lex Luthor was guilty of were white collar crimes,the kind that it would take a forensic accountant or highly trained lawyer tounravel, and even those he didn’t do too often. Lex didn’t see the need to rununderground gambling dens when he could get a special piece of legislationpassed that would allow an exclusive permit for a casino on the outskirts ofMetropolis. There was no need to be a criminal when you could get the law towork for you.
Little Tony worked for Willie Calhoun, one of the largest crime bosses inMetropolis and a former mentor to Lex Luthor. Lex and Willie had parted waysamicably around the time that Lex was picking up his first doctorate, butthey’d always kept in touch, and occasionally they would call in favors. Lexwas talking to Little Tony in a small room lit by a bare bulb as the result ofone of these favors, as well as a promise to pay for Little Tony’s legalexpenses. The large man was currently out on bail.
“Leroy spun around and shot at him,” said Little Tony. “But the guy moved asfast as lightning, and had his hand around tha barrel of tha shotgun before iteven went off.”
“Was there a thunderclap?” asked Lex.
Little Tony scratched his head.
“Was there a loud sound that accompanied his movements?” Lex asked. He was outof practice in dealing with people like Little Tony. That had once been hiswhole life.
“Nah,” said Little Tony. “Just like a little breeze, you know?” Not nearly asfast as lightning then, just a turn of phrase that people seemed to likeusing.
“Leroy missed then?” asked Lex.
“No,” said Little Tony, shaking his head. “Hit him square inna chest with thefull load.”
“I’m tellin’ a truth,” said Little Tony. “Buckshot bounced offa him like itwere nothin’.”
“Did it tear the costume?” asked Lex.
“The suit?” asked Little Tony. Lex nodded. “Yeah, tore it right up, ripped itgood. How’d you know?” Lex hadn’t known, he’d just been asking, but itwouldn’t do to tell Little Tony that.
“Continue on,” said Lex.
“Well, this guy takes Leroy’s shotgun right outta his hands, bends it in two,and drops it to the floor. Guy just got shot in the chest an acts like hedidn’t even notice. He looks at me and says that we’re under arrest, an’ Itell him he ain’t no cop, an’ he says somethin’ about a citizen’s arrest. An’as he’s goin’ on ‘bout how he’s got a legal power or whatever, I rush him.That weren’t too smart, because before I know it I’m on my back.” Little Tonyrubbed the back of his head and let out a sigh.
“Could you see him move?” asked Lex. “When he fought back?”
“Sure,” said Little Tony. “An’ he didn’t hurt me none. It was like I was alittle kid to him. All of a sudden I was flipped around and laid out on theground, gentle like he was worried about hurtin’ me. Then we just waited forthe police to come, since Leroy and I didn’t wanna try our luck again. Thisguy, he gives the police a salute, didn’t talk about nothin’ but the robberyeven though they had all sorts of questions for him, and then flew off.”
Lex frowned. “One final question. How did he know about the robbery?”
“He musta seen us go in,” said Little Tony, scratching his head.
“Do you know how rare crime is in Metropolis, all things considered? The ideathat he would just happen to be in the neighborhood and spot you go into thejewelry store is - well, not inconceivable, but significantly unlikely enoughthat I’m not willing to credit it as plausible.” Especially not given theother reports that were coming in. Lex stood up from the table. “Thank you foryour time. A lawyer will be in touch.”
Willie Calhoun was waiting outside the room. “If it isn’t my favoriteegghead,” he said with a smile. Willie was in his late fifties now, and hadgrown fat and soft. He was no longer the terrifyingly muscular man that hadtrained Lex to fight, cheat, and steal.
“Willie,” said Lex. They spoke as equals now, which both considered a mark ofrespect for the other.
“What are we dealing with here?” Willie asked. “Some guy shows up in tightsand starts hassling my boys?”
“This is bigger than you,” said Lex. “Bigger than Metropolis even. Lay low forthe time being. Call off any jobs you have planned.”
“I’ve got mouths to feed,” said Willie. “I can’t just slam on the brakes.”
“He’s stronger and faster than anything the world has seen before,” said Lex.“He can fly. And unless you’ve been unusually sloppy, he has some way to learnabout crimes as they’re happening. Stop everything until you know more. I’vetracked five separate instances today, and you can be damned sure there willbe more.”
“You’re with us on this one?” asked Willie. “We need your brains.”
“No,” said Lex. “Like I said, this is big. Bigger than the city. Maybe thebiggest thing that’s ever happened in the history of the human race. I maycall in a few favors trying to get a handle on it, but rest assured even ifI’m not with you, we’re working towards the same goal for the time being.”
The interview came out the next week.
“It makes no sense,” said Lex Luthor, setting down the paper.
“Why not?” asked Mercy from her desk.
Lex pointed directly at the offending line. “‘Superman told me that he was analien from the planet Krypton, the last of his kind.’” read Lex. “He’s analien, or so he claims, yet he looks just like a human.” Lex lifted the paperto show to Mercy. On the front of The Daily Planet was a picture, withSuperman standing right next to Lois Lane. The headline read “ExclusiveInterview With The Man of Steel”.
“Now then,” said Lex, “I will admit that a degree of convergence is implied byDarwin’s theory of evolution, but not to such an extent. These features, astrong jaw and brown hair, blue eyes and his ridiculous musculature, well, Ican accept that the marsupials of Australia bear more than a passingresemblance to the more traditional mammals of North America despite beingseparated by millions of years, but this beggars belief. And why does he evenneed legs if he can fly? What evolutionary reason would there even be forthat? And not only does he look human, but he looks like an attractive humanat that!”
“Do you think he’s lying?” asked Mercy. Boredom was apparent in her voice. Shewas possessed of a disinterested character, one that Lex found quite pleasing.He never had to worry about what Mercy thought, and never had to engage her inunwanted conversation. She was there for him to bounce his thoughts off of,and she knew it, which was what made the whole arrangement work. Before she’dcome under his employ, Lex had muttered to himself, which didn’t feel nearlyso good as speaking aloud to someone. It helped that Mercy was one of the fewpeople that Lex could treat as trusted.
“I don’t know,” Lex answered. “I need more data. Certainly there are things hesays that are inconsistent with reality as I knew it, yet if you had asked mea year ago whether I would see a man like Superman who can bend steel with hishands and fly through the air, I would have been tempted to fire you forexpressing such sheer stupidity. Obviously something that I thought was trueabout the universe is not.” He looked back down at the newspaper.
“And here!” he practically shouted, pointing at another offending sentence.“Here he claims that he can hear a gunshot from across the city. It’sludicrous, sound doesn’t travel that far, and even if his ears were assensitive as his muscles are powerful, a gunshot would fade in with thebackground noise. He’s not only claiming that he can hear things from twodozen miles away, but that he can further distinguish those sounds from allthe other sounds happening in the city at any given moment. And yet how elsecan we explain what’s been observed? He really does dart across the city atjust below the speed of sound, flying through the air at these incrediblevelocities, going right where he thinks he’s needed. And it’s not just that hecan hear things he shouldn’t be able to, it says here that he can see throughwalls and watch for criminal activities from miles away. It should beliterally incredible - not worthy of credit. And yet based on what we canobserve of him, he seems to be telling the truth, at least about his abilitiesif not his origin.” He turned to look at Mercy. “How do you feel about him?”asked Lex.
“Feel, sir?” asked Mercy, stirring slightly in her seat but by no meanslooking uncomfortable. Lex had never seen Mercy look uncomfortable.
“If he’s telling the truth, he can hear everything that we’re saying rightnow. He can watch us as we speak. When you change your clothes or take a bath,he can look in on you.” Mercy was nearly as beautiful as she was competent,though she kept up a rather severe look most of the time, with her hair tiedback in a neat bun and her skirts with perfect pleats that fell well below theknee.
“He’s doing good,” said Mercy. She always gave her honest opinion when heasked it of her, without hesitation, which was another reason she was sovaluable to him. “I imagine that he’s too much of a hero to watch me.”
“He’s a hero,” said Lex. “For now.” He looked down at a pad of paper, wherehe’d been making revisions to his estimates. “I’ve run the numbers. Even usingthe lower bounds for his strength and speed, if he ever decided that he wasn’ta hero anymore, he could demolish this city in the space of three hours, downto the last man, woman and child. If we’re just talking about the centralbusiness district, he could do it in three minutes. He-” Lex stopped. “He canhear everything that we say. He can watch us. He can read the files that aresitting in my drawers. Before anything else, I think it’s time to cleanhouse.”
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