Chapter 11: Actions and Consequences

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

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

“Who knows?” asked Lex.

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

“I had hoped they would find him guilty,” said Lex. His voice was tight. Mercywas 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 failedhim, and either that meant she was slipping or someone powerful was workingagainst 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 ishappening there needs my attention.”

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

The estimated deaths from a class E scenario were in the thousands, and whilethere would be severe economic effects, it was nothing that couldn’t beweathered in the short term. Hopefully the short term would be all that Lexwould need. In fact, a class C scenario might be of some benefit. If Supermanhad only killed because he had momentarily snapped, it was possible it wouldmake the other scenarios less likely, depending on which model of hispsychology was correct. People were hard to predict though, especially thosewith alien psychologies and a penchant for lies. Scenarios of class J andhigher involved the effective obliteration of the human race in some way, butso long as Lex Luthor, his stores of knowledge, and the spaceship were allsafe, it was still possible that Superman might yet be killed, which meantthat anything up to the murder of a hundreds of millions might still allowhumanity to survive.

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

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

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

Whatever kryptonite was emitting besides light was essentially invisible toevery tool that Lex possessed, but Superman’s amazing powers suggested thatthere were many aspects of physics that humanity had not yet discovered. Lexmade a snap decision. He put on a pair of thick gloves and pulled the leadentube from the box he’d built, and then carefully pulled the block ofkryptonite out of the tube. It came free on the first attempt with a slightclick. The spaceship had proven remarkably easy to take apart once Lex hadgotten to know the tricks to its design, and he was confident in his abilityto put it back together again. Whoever had built it was an engineer of thehighest caliber who had designed it with serviceability in mind. He was beingmore 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 canopener, a large amount of tinned food, and a rain barrel that Supermanrefilled every few days. It wasn’t much to fashion an escape with. The holewas three hundred feet down, and curved slightly at the top to keep rain orsnow from getting in. The rock had been smashed through by Superman, leavingwhat looked like easy handholds, but a single slip even halfway up the holewould surely result in death. It was, unfortunately, wide enough that Floydcouldn’t brace himself against both sides without stretching, which meant itwould be difficult to get a real rest. He looked up the hole for the thirdtime in as many minutes, trying to plot out a route and not think about howdangerous 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 Supermancame down through the hole, moving at speed.

The blast of wind flung everything into the air, including Floyd. Before heeven had time to react to his meager possessions being slammed against thewalls 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 flinchedback, which under Superman’s hand amounted to little more than turning hishead 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 fiststill 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. Hecoughed, not just because of the hit against the wall, but because the buckethad been knocked over and suffused the air with a foul smell. When Floydlooked up, Superman was gone again. Floyd had been trying to say Yourfather, a last ditch effort at saving his own life. He had no clue whether ithad made the difference. Superman had wanted to kill him, but hadn’t been ableto bring himself to throw the punch.

Strangely enough, Lois felt better about Superman now that he was off thereservation. The anticipation had been the worst part of it all, and now thathe had finally snapped, she found herself calm and focused. The time forsubtle manipulation and walking on eggshells had passed, and that came as arelief. Actually dealing with a disaster was something she could handle; itwas 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 inthe middle of broad daylight, and you didn’t get a picture of it?” asked PerryWhite. 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 ofpaperwork 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 justbefore, 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 andpay out the nose for a picture if we can, because I’m sure as hell not goingto be the only guy printing off extras without the blood and guts, obscenitylaws 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. Bothwere splattered with blood on the left side, marking a perfect silhouettewhere she’d been standing behind another reporter. She’d cleaned most of theblood and gore off her face with the sleeve of her blouse during the taxi rideover, and she’d had to tip the guy extra for the mess she’d left behind in hisbackseat, but that was so far down the list of things to worry about that itmight as well not have happened.

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

“Change that to ‘Alien vigilante Superman murdered local businessman’. Maybeadd ‘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. “Andvigilante is true but harsh, even given what happened. I don’t want to givepeople whiplash by shifting our position too quickly.”

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

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

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

“I’m fine kid,” said Lois, her fingers never leaving the keys. She paused amoment and looked down at her clothes. “My favorite blouse got ruined.” Shechose her words carefully, not implying any agency. She’d been trainingherself to be a better liar and a more careful speaker, and she could tellthat today was going to be a test of that. “If you want to help me, andPerry’s got nothing better for you, go grab me a change of clothing fromHudson’s. I’ve gotta be back out on the street as soon as this is done.” Lexwas in Hub City, and though it wasn’t safe to speak on the phone, she at leastneeded 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 theoutcome of the trial and couldn’t help but sprinkle in more about the manwho’d died. Calhoun had no doubt deserved it, especially if he was themastermind behind the bombings, but Lois wasn’t going to position herself asSuperman’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 gentlea 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 ashe scurried away. Some people just didn’t have what it took to make it in thenews business. The Daily Planet needed a photographer that could stare downmutilated children and burned out homes. Jimmy Olsen was a few months awayfrom dropping out, by her estimation, though she’d thought the same of Clarkalmost from the time he’d signed on.

She turned back to her article, and tried to focus on the facts. The verdictof the trial had been a big surprise, and the article she’d been expecting towrite was about Calhoun’s slow decline, peppered with his personal history andan overview of the utter destruction of organized crime in Metropolis.Calhoun’s death - his murder - changed all that. Now the story was aboutSuperman, and his failure to live up to the impossible ideals he had set forhimself. It was a story that she’d been wanting to write for a long time, butshe 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 beable to have some influence on what the people of Metropolis were talkingabout tomorrow (and thus what Superman was hearing), though no doubt the radiowas already having its say.

She dashed off her second draft as quickly as she’d ever done in her life, andran it back to Perry’s office. Most of the blood on her clothes had dried froma bright red to a dark brown. She’d felt parts of Calhoun’s skull hitting herface, and thought that she might have a cut, but the story was done, and thatwas what mattered. The bone that hit her had stung, like when a car kicks upgravel that hits your shins, only in this case the gravel was bone that hadbeen crushed into tiny pieces. A brief image came to her mind of Supermankilling every criminal in Metropolis, littering the streets with their bones,no piece left larger than a key on her typewriter. The momentary imagery wasunwelcome. She turned her thoughts back to the matter at hand and slapped thearticle 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 fuckingtriplicate. First a call from the chief of police, then a call from thePresident of the United States himself, then the only man I really give a fuckabout, our employer.”

“Who the hell do they think they’re kidding?” asked Lois. “There were ahundred witnesses, there were cameras all over the place, it must have goneout over the radio almost the instant after it happened. They think they’regoing 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 thinkthey’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 nowthey’re just trying to keep a small bit of control on the situation. I don’treally blame them.”

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

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

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

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

“Why’d you do it?” asked Lois the moment she stepped onto the roof. Of courseSuperman could hear her coming, and she could have asked the question at anypoint 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 theletter on her desk, and probably from the moment Calhoun’s body slumped to theground.

Superman didn’t respond to her immediately. He stood at the very edge of theroof, and his cape twirled and billowed in the wind behind him. She wonderedwhether he had planned it that way, to look more impressive. He had a flairfor 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 listento his voice. “You’ve been angry before,” she said. The image of Supermanstanding 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 almostbelieve she had been there. “What made this time different?”

“I’ve been thinking too much,” said Superman. “I’ve been angry too often. Hewas 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 couldhave, 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 bymy hand, necessarily, but if he’d had a stroke right on the steps of thecourthouse the world would instantly have been a better place. And to behonest, 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 downtime,” he said finally. “Not that, exactly, but my perception of time canchange 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 toreally make use of the power. When I really push it, the world dims down andsounds 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. Theworld goes so black I can’t even see my nose in front of me. First the soundsbecome too long and stretched out to make sense of, and then they stopaltogether.”

His cape flapped behind him. “I must have spent three days thinking aboutCalhoun while we stood there. ‘Truth, justice, and the American way’, thosewere his last words. I meditated on them. The State of New York executedseventeen men last year, and I had a hand in catching eleven of them. I hadvowed not to kill, you understand. The first one was William Vogel, who wasconvicted of murder. I watched him spasm in the electric chair, and I feltlike a coward. I could have killed him faster and more humanely. When I killedCalhoun, he probably didn’t even have enough time to register that I wasmoving 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 myplace to rush in headlong. I didn’t want to be a shepherd of sheep, I wantedhumanity to stand on its own two feet. But when law and morality contradictedeach other, as they often did, I was left with the cruel alternative of losingjust 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 onthose 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. Ideserve worse than what you said. I’m just trying to explain … to explain howI got to where I am now.” He took a breath. “I used to think that good wassomething 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 ofrules to follow, and that would make you a good person. I think that’s what myfather thought. But eventually I moved away from thinking like he did, andtried to live my life by his values instead. Maybe it was okay to lie, if itwas for the greater good. Maybe it was okay to break the law, if breaking thelaw resulted in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Thechange was so slow I barely even noticed it, and I don’t think I was fullyaware that I was thinking any differently until a few days ago. But it didn’treally 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 - andhow 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 asymbol for them.

“But as I was sitting in the pitch black of slowed down time, I kept thinkingabout 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 walkfree? Not just from that trial, but from the botched trial in December? Hecouldn’t simply be immune to consequences. He had to pay for his crimes. Thatwas justice. I kept weighing these things until I came to my decision, and itwas only when my fist was halfway through his skull that I realized myemotions 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 knowyou’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 totake some time off from listening to the vast suffering that I can only make asmall dent in. I’ll take time for myself and think on what I really want tobe. I fully expect that you’ll hate me for it, but I can’t rush things andmake 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 claimthat I understand. If you think that taking some time off from being Supermanis what’s best …” She sighed. “I’ll be here for you when you come back. We allwill.”

Superman stepped forward and kissed her on the cheek. He was off in the airbefore she could formulate a response to that. He’d said he knew her betterthan 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 thatphrase that bothered her. It sounded familiar. She’d retained enough knowledgeof the Bible to recognize it as an allusion. It was another way in whichSuperman showed a solid grasp of the culture he’d married himself to, not justidiomatically correct English far beyond what any foreigner learned, butcultural allegory. Certainly Superman had been compared to Christ on enoughoccasions for him to recognize it, but there was something else that made itstick out. It was like something Clark would say.

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

She remarked on the physical similarities a few times. It was almost always ajoke at Clark’s expense. “Hey Clark, you spend some time on athletics and youmight rival Superman.” But you couldn’t look at Clark and actually think thathe was much more than an oaf. He had hidden depths, but those depths weren’tnearly 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 wastrembling slightly. “Some time off from being Superman,” she’d said. They hadthe same eye color, the same hair color, and close to the same height. Theyhad a similar infatuation with her, and Superman treated her as familiarbecause … because she was familiar to him. They’d sat side by side for monthsbefore Superman had shown up. They’d talked about almost everything under thesun while putting together their stories, and they’d certainly read almosteverything the other had written.

She needed to make notes, but Superman could watch her. Even now, sitting inthe stairwell, he was probably watching her and wondering what she wasthinking. 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 everyconversation she’d ever had with Clark Kent.

She remembered Clark flinching when she’d said something … something aboutSuperman not being totally emotionless when he came across a scene of brutalviolence. Clark hadn’t been flinching because he was a naive Midwestern farmboy, he’d been flinching because he’d been remembering. He was unreliablebecause he had other obligations. He wasn’t lucky, he was able to see throughwalls and listen in on conversations that happened on the other side of thecity. He used a lot of unnamed sources. He covered Superman’s trials. The spanof the deception that it would have required was breathtaking, shocking enoughthat 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 questionsfollowed in their wake. Lois clenched her hands into tight fists. She couldfeel tears in her eyes. The biggest argument against the theory was that shewas smarter than that, dammit, and if you refused to believe somethingbecause it would mean that you were the biggest idiot in the world, well, thatalone said something about how smart you really were. She’d been played. ClarkKent had lied to her face for a year and a half, over and over. And Supermanhad done the same.

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

A few weeks after Clark Kent had first shown up in Metropolis, Lois had takena rare break from twelve hour days and gone out drinking. She’d met a sailorat one of the dockside bars, and taken him back to her place to do a fewthings that good Catholic women weren’t supposed to do outside of marriage. Inthe morning, she’d shoved him out the door and gone into work. It would havebeen very hard to miss the fact that Clark was in a bad mood, and that thisbad mood was directed towards her. She’d thought perhaps he’d seen her in theclub while she was hanging off the sailor’s arm, and had simply pretended thatshe couldn’t tell what was bothering Clark. Now she had to wonder whetherClark was watching her the entire time, or listening to that particular nightof passion. She’d imagined Superman’s eyes on her frequently, and it was nevera pleasant thought, but if it was Clark watching her undress, watching herwith 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 powerto fly through the air and could crush coal into diamonds, he would ever wantto spend a single solitary second as Clark Kent. The answer had to be that hewas 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 beendying, and he’d been filing his fucking taxes. He’d sat in on boringmeetings about style standards while people literally burned to death. Andhe’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 throughher veins.

She stood up, wiped away her tears, and looked at herself in her compact toassess the damage. Her hair still had blood in it, and that did nothing forthe effect. Lois did her best to fix what she could, then smoothed out herskirt, 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, butshe was far beyond that now. Instead, she gave him a weak smile and sat downat her desk. There was no hiding that she had been crying, but she could keepup 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 wereaway. 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 thickof it.”

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

“Sure,” said Clark. He gave her a gentle smile that made her want to stab himthrough the throat. He was Clark the deceiver, with a sympathetic smile likehe 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 fromimagining Clark staring at her with an infatuation that had once been merelyannoying. Clark Kent and Superman were both lies, and put together they werean abomination of a person that pretended at humanity. Lois could almostunderstand the anger that Calhoun must have felt, and the desire to hurt thecreature’s feelings in lieu of being able to damage his physical form. Loiswouldn’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 thenewest developments in atomic research. His cover story for working withkryptonite was that he was doing experimental work on a potential weapon, andthe 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 ownright depending on how much power they would prove capable of harnessing andhow easy it would be to refine the necessary materials. Lex had been quietlybuying up uranium mines for a few years now, but if the technology developedhe had no doubt that he would end up having to lock horns with the variousgovernments 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 beencleaned of anything remotely incriminating before he left for Hub City, andthe 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 aplausible cover for passing notes to each other. Lex’s supposed role in theauthoring of the book had grown as the months dragged on, and now he was afull co-author. Half of the time when they spoke of the book out loud, it wasin code. In this case ‘cancel the book’ had an equivalent meaning to ‘stop ourcovert attempts to manipulate Superman’s mental states’.

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

“You spoke with Superman following his … unfortunate decision,” said Lex. “Andhe’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 writingon it. “The book was always intended as a living book, but of course we won’tbe able to release it with things as they are now, and we don’t want it to beobsolete the moment it hits shelves. I do have some thoughts for what we’llneed to change in light of this new information though.” She turned thenotebook 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 himwith. So far as she knew, she was the one in the lead, and Lex had only usedhis immense resources in ways that conformed to the moral standards ofsociety.

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

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

Lex very nearly froze. It wasn’t what he had been expecting. He had longthought that Superman or Clark Kent would eventually reveal the truth to her,perhaps after she had taken the courtship with Superman far enough. Lex hadalmost told her himself in order to prepare her, but it would have opened uptoo 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 areaof expertise.” He gave the hand signal for Tell me more. It was still tooearly to take any concrete actions, especially when events were in flux, buthe 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 July19th, and will be the final chapter of this story.

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

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

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