Chapter 13: Finale, Part 2

Dear Lois,

I’ve been a longtime reader of your articles, and I have to say that I’mquite the fan. I’ve been happy to note from the few photographs I’ve seen ofyou that we seem to share a similar taste in fashion, and I just wanted toshare a tip with you. There’s a jewelry store up on 18th and 22nd calledMarxhausen’s, and they have just the most fantastic pieces that wouldperfectly complement your outfits. Their necklaces are so delicate andunderstated, just the thing for a woman like you. I don’t know if you have aspecial man in your life, but if you do I’m sure he’d love to see you in it -and if you don’t, I’m sure that it would help attract one!

Your loyal fan,

Lucille Lindt

Lois got a number of letters from the citizens of Metropolis on any given day.Lex had arranged for this to also be a private channel of communication. Theopening sentence was one she’d memorized, and if that weren’t enough, theinitials at the bottom were L.L., initials that she and Lex shared - his ideaof a joke, she supposed.

She went down to Marxhausen’s over her lunch break, not really knowing what toexpect. She’d kept her distance from Lex ever since she and Clark had hit thereset button on their friendship. If Clark had asked her a direct question,she might have given up her last remaining secret to him, but so far he hadn’tshown any curiosity. That made her a bit nervous. It was well possible thathe’d already made his own deductions on that score, especially if he’d beenwatching her. He knew that she had a less than glowing opinion of him, and thebook she’d written with Luthor was damn near a hagiography, with none of thecomplexity that she’d brought to her recent talks with Clark. But he hadn’tasked, and she hadn’t felt like offering it up on her own.

The jewelry store was a small slice of glamour that didn’t quite fit with therest of the block. It wasn’t uncommon for the borders of the neighborhoods toshift slightly over the years, and from what Lois could tell, Marxhausen’s hadbeen the victim of one of these shifts. It was a small, narrow store, staffedby a fetching woman with obscenely blonde hair who perked up at the sound ofthe door opening. Lois looked around slowly. There was nothing obvious to markthis as part of some plot.

“Can I help you?” asked the blonde woman.

Lois took a breath, and dove right in. “My name is Lois Lane, and I’m areporter for The Daily Planet. My editor keeps asking me to write a women’spiece that’s not about equal rights or social issues, and I decided that I’dfinally indulge him. So I was thinking that I would write about jewelry. Itshould help pacify him, I think.” Hopefully Clark wouldn’t think that was toosuspicious. Lex had only gotten her to the store, and she didn’t have thebarest outline of a script. Of course, it would mean that she would have toactually write the article, on top of her other work.

A sudden change came over the woman’s face, her eyebrows falling and thenrising again, and when she spoke, her voice was slightly higher than before.“Oh, oh yes, there’s so much that I could tell you about. More and more womenare buying their own jewelry these days, working women who want to attract ahusband.” She reached beneath the counter. “In fact, if you’d be willing tomention Marxhausen’s in the article, there’s a piece I think you might like.It comes with a matching watch, for that special man in your life.” She had anervous giggle.

She set two items down on the counter. One was a small golden locket, shapedlike an oval. The other was a watch, which glowed green behind the clock face.Lois made no move to touch it.

“Is it radium?” asked Lois.

“What?” asked the woman with a puzzled look.

“Radium,” Lois repeated. “It’s a metal that glows green, just like that.Twenty years ago there was a group of factory workers - women - who paintedthe faces of watches with radium so they’d glow in the dark. They licked thetip of their paint brushes to get a fine point, and they suffered fromradiation poisoning - anemia and bone fractures, and then their jaws startedto fall apart, disintegrating.” She had literally written the book on it.

“I’ve, ah, been assured that it’s safe,” said the blonde woman.

“So were the girls who worked in the factory,” said Lois. She wondered how farshe was deviating from what Lex had planned. Obviously she was intended towalk out of the store with watch and the necklace. “I’m only curious aboutwhat makes it glow, I don’t mean to be so … adversarial. The locket has asimilar component?”

“Oh yes,” said the saleswomen, who seemed grateful to be back on familiarground. She cracked the locket open, and showed a multi-faceted gem.

“Alright,” said Lois. “I’ll take them. Now for this story, I have a fewquestions …”

What does it do? wrote Lois.

Lex frowned at the notebook. He had thought that the next course of actionwould be obvious to her: give Clark Kent the watch and see what happens. He’ddone his best to keep her out of the loop specifically so that if Supermanasked her, she would be able to tell the truth. Superman had to know thatthere was someone plotting against him by now, especially given the theft ofthe spaceship and the death of his mother, but it was important that it appearas though Lois had been used as a pawn, rather than the more valuable bishopor knight that she really was. And then she’d had to go and ruin it byvisiting him and asking for answers, which would seem unacceptably suspicious.

I don’t know, Lex wrote back. I have reason to believe that it will hurthim.

Lois read the note and frowned at him. She tapped her pencil against the paperfor a few moments.

I’m not sure we should.

Lex stifled a groan. He was losing Lois, that much was clear now. It was atleast gratifying to know that she hadn’t taken leave of her senses in comingto him; it was only a problem of a different sort. He could deal with aquestion of loyalties, at least in the near term.

I figured out his identity, wrote Lex. It wasn’t difficult once I startedlooking at the people around you. He watched her face as she read that, thentook the notebook from her again before she had a chance to respond. You’restarting to feel sympathy towards him. You think that you understand wherehe’s coming from.

Lois shrugged, then nodded. He’s not perfect, she wrote back. But I thinkthat I know where he’s coming from now. We’ve been talking a lot lately.

He murdered a man in cold blood, wrote Lex, but Lois was already shaking herhead.

He regrets it, she wrote back.

What else will he come to regret? asked Lex. We’re talking about the fateof the world. You know that there’s no stopping him if he goes rogue. Even ifthe chance is slim, it’s a chance weighed against the total destruction ofhumanity. If the odds are a thousand to one that he’ll kill us all, that’s anaverage of two million dead. My own estimates are higher, but you know himbetter than I do.

Lois frowned. Will it depower him, or kill him?

I don’t know, wrote Lex. He was halfway certain that she was testing him. Hewould have pivoted, and claimed that he knew what the effect was, but he’dalready said that he didn’t know, and couldn’t take the chance of gettingcaught in the lie. There is some element of risk here, but I think it’s low.The mineral in the watch emits a radiation that I suspect will cause someinterference with his power. I need you to observe him carefully when you putthe watch on him. Lex had done his own probability estimates, based on whathe knew of Kryptonian engineering from taking apart the ship. He stronglybelieved that Superman’s powers were of technological rather than biologicalorigin, simply given their raw power, and if kryptonite had any negativeeffect at all, the engineering of the ship suggested to him that it would havebeen designed to fail safely. Telling Lois that he’d weighed the odds ofcatastrophe and found them acceptable would probably not endear her to theplan though.

Lois slowly read what he’d written. She considered for a moment and wroteback. You would be exposing yourself. Clark would know that someone was awareof his secret identity - someone besides me, if he believed I was an innocentvictim of your machinations.

A risk I’m willing to take, wrote Lex. Superman almost certainly alreadyknew. That ship had sailed after the Smallville operation. But there wasn’t aconvincing lie that he could tell Lois to explain to her how he had come bythat information. If she were trustworthy, this whole conversation would havegone a lot smoother.

Lois absentmindedly bit the end of the pencil and paced around the room. Lexdidn’t know how she weighed the arguments, but if she refused him, everythinggot much more complicated.

You still don’t actually trust him, wrote Lex. You would have told himabout our arrangement if you did. He handed the pad of paper to her, and shestared at it mutely.

Some time passed, but eventually she nodded.

Clark wasn’t at his desk when Lois came into the office. She put the necklaceand the watch into the lead-lined drawer of her desk, and tried to get somework done. She’d been put in an awkward position by Lex. Simply talking toClark about how she felt had done wonders, and melted away a good deal of herstress. He was still in love with her, and that would have to be dealt with atsome point in the future, but she’d confessed her fears and frustrations andhe had been understanding. They had their disagreements - deep disagreementsthat weren’t going to go away anytime soon - but they were at least talking toeach other like reasonable adults.

Clark came in, hung his coat up on a hook on the wall, and took a seat at hisdesk. He smiled pleasantly at her.

“I got you a gift,” said Lois. Her voice nearly caught. “Not that much of one,really, since it was free, but I thought you might appreciate it.” She openedthe desk drawer, and heard a noise from Clark’s desk. He was standing far awayfrom her, with a serious expression on his face. She hadn’t even seen himmove.

“There’s a small box in my briefcase,” said Clark. His voice was calm. “I wantyou to take it out and put both the watch and the necklace in it.”

“Clark,” Lois began. Something had gone horribly wrong.

“Now, please,” said Clark. “Be careful, the box is heavy.”

Lois did as she was instructed. The box was a crude thing. It felt heavierthan it should have been. She put both the pieces into it, and closed ittight. When she did, Clark strode forward and picked the box up, then sat downin his chair. No one else around them seemed to have noticed any of this.

“It seems that we were less than perfectly honest with each other,” saidClark. “Old habits, I guess.”

“Clark,” said Lois. She folded her hands into her lap, to keep them fromshaking. “Fuck, I don’t know what to say.”

“Language,” said Clark with a mild tone. “I’m not angry, just disappointed.We’ll have to talk this out later.” He drummed his fingers on top of the box.“Just for my own personal confirmation before I confront him, who gave youthese?”

There was no way to deny it. Clark already knew. “Lex Luthor,” said Lois. Hermouth felt dry.

Clark stood up from his chair, and tucked the box under one arm as though itwere weightless. “Well, I’m off to have a talk with him.” He began to leave,as though nothing at all were wrong.

“Clark,” said Lois. He stopped, and turned towards her. “I’m sorry.”

“Well, that’s a start,” he replied. He gave her a heartbroken smile.

“Superman to see you, sir,” said Mercy.

Lex simply stared at her. Just once he would have liked to see some trace ofemotion from her, but Mercy could announce that the world was ending and stillseem like she was bored.

“Did he say what it was regarding?” asked Lex.

“The fate of humanity,” said Mercy, without so much as a raised eyebrow or apolite cough to acknowledge the absurdity of it all.

“Ah, well, send him in,” said Lex. He looked towards the lead-lined drawer ofhis desk, where a pistol with specially prepared bullets lay waiting. Insideeach lead bullet was a small sliver of kryptonite. It was a terrible plan, sofar as they went, but at least it was there.

Superman strode into the study, looking around as he went. He was graceful,for someone so big. The bright colors of his costume clashed with the richmahogany and leather upholstery of the room, but he didn’t seem to notice orcare.

“I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of being introduced,” said Lex. “I wasan innocent bystander at a bank robbery that you stopped, though I’m sure youdon’t remember my face. I’m Lex Luthor. I suppose you already know that.” Heextended a hand, and when Superman shook it, he tried not to think about hisfingers being mashed into pulp.

Superman sat down in one of the chairs, and offered Lex a pleasant smile.“Well, I’m not sure quite where to begin.” He looked around the room for amoment, perhaps contemplating the fact that he was surrounded by lead. Then heturned and pointed to bound proof on Lex’s desk, a copy of the book he andLois had put together about Superman. “May I?”

“Certainly,” said Lex. “If there’s anything that you think needs changing,we’d be happy to-”

Superman waved him off, and opened the sheaf of papers to somewhere in themiddle, finding what he wanted immediately. “Ah, here we go. ‘The currentlyaccepted explanation for Superman’s so-called x-ray vision has nothing to dowith x-rays. Though one can be forgiven for thinking that they have somethingto do with that particular form of radiation given that both are used to peerthrough otherwise solid objects, as well as the use of lead for shielding, thesimilarities end there.’” Superman looked up at Lex for a moment, then backdown at the book. “And so on and so forth, and then here, this is what Iwanted to point out. ‘Superman’s penetrative vision is thought by leadingscientists to utilize some hitherto unknown aspect of particle physics. Thehypothesized krypto particles permeate the universe and can pass cleanlythrough every known element aside from lead.’ And then it goes on to talkabout the difference between lead as it applies to x-rays and lead as itapplies to krypto particles.”

Lex stared at Superman. He tried to keep calm and slow his heart rate down.“Are you telling me that you can see through lead?”

“No,” said Superman. “However, let me offer up a hypothetical. Let’s say thatthere’s a mineral that was found in the core of a meteorite. Two separateresearch facilities were sent samples of the meteorite - not by me, but by athird party - and they could find no form of radiation using any of theinstruments at their disposal. I know for a fact that it does emit radiation,because as you seem to have guessed, that radiation has an unsettling effecton me. As an additional piece of information, the radiation from this mineralis blocked by lead, but seemingly by nothing else. What do you suppose itwould look like to my x-ray vision?”

“Bright,” said Lex. “Because if it emits anything, Occam’s Razor would dictatethat it’s krypto particles rather than some distinct particle which sharesmany of the same properties. And if they’re the same, it’s a matter of degree- the mineral emits far, far more than you use to see by.” He should have seenthat possibility far, far sooner. The only question remaining was how manylayers of deception it would allow Superman to peel back.

“It’s as bright as a blazing sun, difficult to look at directly when I’m usingmy x-ray vision,” said Superman. He shrugged. “I probably would have been ableto piece it together all the same. A man walked by me with a piece of glowinggreen rock in his breast pocket, and I felt myself grow weaker. It got worsethe closer he got. I have extensive practice at faking reactions, or faking alack of reaction, and just when I was beginning to feel mortal, and worriedthat I was going to be killed in some ignoble way, he kept on moving by. So Iheld myself in check, and as soon as I got to a safe place, I looked throughthe walls and watched him. I saw a piece of rock that was so bright it nearlyblinded me.”

Lex kept very still. The research facilities he’d sent the kryptonite tohadn’t had lead shielding, and he hadn’t thought that they would need it. Thestory he’d given for the appearance of kryptonite had been solid, and theforged paperwork had been airtight. Experimentation and synthesis of anunknown mineral shouldn’t have been suspicious - except that Superman wouldonly have had to go to space and look down at the planet. If they shone asbrightly as he claimed they did, they’d stick out like a sore thumb.

“So,” said Superman. “I stole a piece of the PU-356 from one of the labs. Iwon’t bore you with the details, but it would suffice to say that I can seethrough walls and move as fast as I want to, which makes me an excellentthief. I confirmed that it could hurt me, and after that it was just a matterof being careful until I could confirm your involvement to my satisfaction.I’m not in any real danger from the PU-356, though it is inconvenient. I cansee it clearly from miles away without having to try all that hard, and mysuperior speed means that a bullet made of it could never hit me.” Supermansighed. “Of course, we can drop the pretense of there ever being a meteorite.That would be too big of a coincidence to swallow, if a meteorite capable ofharming me was found and put into mass synthesis just a short while after myspaceship was stolen from me.”

Lex’s mouth felt dry. “I was blackmailed,” he began. “I was told that unless Itried -”

Superman waved his hand. “I don’t believe you,” he said with a half smile.“You made a good faith attempt to kill me, and you used Lois to do it.”

“The military -” said Lex.

“There were a few reasons that I came here,” said Superman. “Things we need todiscuss. First, I want you to admit to what you’ve done. All of it.”

Lex’s face fell. “I don’t know what it is you think you know,” he said. “Orhow you think you know it. I did arrange for Lois to deliver a piece of themineral to you, and it was an attempt to see whether you could be disrupted insome way, but I don’t know anything about a spaceship. So far as I’m aware, itburned up on re-entry. I felt it prudent to have a method of dealing with youin case the worst were to happen, and I can only hope that -”

“Towards the end of his life, William Calhoun talked a lot,” said Superman.“He sat in a jail cell, and if prayer is an expression of love, then he didwhatever the opposite of praying is. Some of what he said was nonsense, credittaken for crimes that he didn’t commit, but I could usually tell by how hespoke. He wasn’t the guiding hand behind Harry Kramer’s bombing campaigns. Ifhe had been, he would have brought it up more often, instead of just in thosemoments that he really wanted to twist the knife as hard as possible.”

“You think that I could possibly be behind that act of terrorism?” asked Lex.

“It wasn’t terrorism,” said Superman. “It was a series of attempts on my life.Terror was only a byproduct. Given that I know you tried earlier today, it’snot unreasonable to think that you had tried before.” He held up a hand toforestall any objections. “I’m less certain about that one, and obviously Ihave no hard proof. Certainly nothing that would hold up in a court of law.Still, it became clear fairly early on that I was looking for someone who wasintelligent and possessed an enormous amount of resources. That you have lead-lined rooms in both your home and office, speak in languages other thanEnglish for no good reason, and have a penchant for codes - well, that helpedto paint a picture. I want a confession from you, one that covers everythingyou’re guilty of.”

“And then you’ll kill me?” asked Lex.

“No,” said Superman. “I’m willing to accept your unconditional surrender.”

“Ah,” said Lex. “And what does that entail?”

“Part of an unconditional surrender is that you don’t get to ask thatquestion,” said Superman. “I beat you. It’s over. You have exactly one thingthat can give me the slightest injury, and I can see it coming from a mileaway. I’m fairly certain I know how you think now. It’s been a learningexperience, watching all of the machinations of an enemy with nearly infiniteresources and a steadfast refusal to be identified.”

“Fine,” said Lex. It was time to change tactics, and concede some ground inthe hopes of arranging a more advantageous battlefield. “I confess. I was theone who figured out your inability to see through lead, and allowed that factto be known around the world. I arranged for the bombs to be made and placed,knowing that innocent people would die. I figured out your identity as ClarkKent, and inserted agents into Smallville. Your mother’s death wasunintentional. I stole your spaceship. I found a single small chink in yourarmor and tried my best to use it against you. I believe that’s an accuratelist of my crimes.” Almost all of the layers of deception had slid off now,with only a few secrets still held back in reserve, more out of a faint senseof hope than any coherent strategy. Lex felt naked.

“Why?” asked Superman. He showed no shock or surprise.

“You are too dangerous to be allowed to live,” said Lex. “You cannot bestopped after the fact, which means you must be stopped prior to it.”

“Do you know why I killed Calhoun?” asked Superman.

“According to Miss Lane, you were angry with him,” said Lex. He tried not tobe bothered by the seeming non sequitur. Superman was at an advantage in notonly strength and speed, but information as well. Lois had said he had theability to think for long moments in the space between blinks, and perhapsthat accounted for the disjointed conversation. Or maybe Superman had justprepared a script for himself to follow, and was sticking to the points hewanted to hit before he brought Lex to a messy end.

“You’re close,” said Superman. “I was angry with him, but anger alone wasn’tenough. Instead it was a chain of thought, with each step colored in anger. Iconvinced myself that it was the correct thing to do, and that wouldn’t havebeen possible without the anger. I decided to kill Calhoun, and then I workedbackwards to figure out all the ways that I could make that into the singlebest choice.” He paused, and stared Lex in the eyes. “I’ve been looking overwhat I actually believe lately, and trying to figure out why I believe it. Anddo you know, I think more than anger, my thinking has been tainted by fear. Ashas your own.”

“Fear is a natural response to the chance of obliteration,” said Lex. “It’swhat saved our ancestors - my ancestors, anyway - from death. When a newpredator arrives in the woods, the appropriate reaction is to run away orfight. There was no way to run away from you. So yes, I was and am afraid ofyou, but that fear had a grounding in reality. I would have acted the sameeven if I didn’t feel an instinctive terror at your presence on this planet.”

“I was good,” said Superman. “I was a paragon of virtue. I never hurt anyone.I never acted in a way that was contrary to humanity. I never interfered withpolitics or warfare. You feared me all the same, and made it your mission tokill me. You got this idea in your head that I was a threat -”

“You were,” said Lex softly.

“And you never stopped to reconsider whether that continued to be true as timewent on,” finished Superman. “I’m not a bad person. I can understand if youhad misgivings when I showed up, but as the months passed, you never changedyour mind, did you? Maybe you just didn’t want to admit that you killed allthose people for nothing. You couldn’t admit you were wrong about me, becausethen you would be forced to think of yourself as evil. Lex, I’m not going todestroy this planet, or anyone on it. That’s more true now than ever.”

Lex was silent. The issue wasn’t whether Superman was planning to destroy theplanet, it was that he was capable of it at all. “Knowing what I know now, Iwould have done things differently,” said Lex. “But up until an hour ago Ithought it would be for the best if you were dealt with, and you haven’t saidanything to change my mind. Regardless, you have managed to convince me thatit’s not going to be possible to accomplish that goal, so if you want myunconditional surrender, you have it.”

“Good,” said Superman. “I said earlier that I had been ruled by my own fears.They weren’t fears of death or injury, for the most part. They were fears offailing in other ways. I acted like I thought a hero should act, and tried tobe a symbol for people. I read your proposals as they came out, and theproposals of others. Some of the ideas I’d already thought of myself, whileothers were novel, but I had convinced myself that part of being a shiningsymbol of hope, truth, and justice was being static. Part of it was my father,I’m sure. He had his very particular views about the world, and I wasfollowing his example. It felt like I would have been turning my back on himif I’d decided that I wanted to do things differently. And even when theevidence began to grow that I’d been wrong - or at least not completely right- I refused to change. I was afraid I would do something bad by trying to dosomething good. I was worried that I would ruin our society, or mar humanhistory. I thought I would end up leading us down the same path Krypton hadtraveled, letting too much happen too soon. It was logic, tainted with thefear of failure. I had decided that I was going to keep the world as it was,so that my responsibilities would stay small. Then I rationalized my waytowards that conclusion.”

“You’re speaking in the past tense,” said Lex.

“How much of what you’ve said over the past year was true?” asked Superman.“How much do you want to make the world a better place?”

“I meant all of it,” said Lex. “I could have done much less than I did, if Ionly wanted the appearance of philanthropy. I want to make the world a betterplace.”

“That’s what your surrender means,” said Superman. “You’re going to help me dothe most good.”

“What’s the catch?” asked Lex. The important question of How? would comelater.

Superman waved his hand around the room. “No more lead. No more codes. No morespeaking in other languages. No more secrets from me. You’ll have to return myspaceship to me, and stop all of the current research into a means of killingme. LexCorp will be turned into a machine for generating good in the worldinstead of pure profit. I’ll be doing large scale labor, and you’ll bemanaging the profits from that as well, channeling them towards the areaswhere the money can do the most good. I’ll need a thorough debriefing on allof your methods of deception. It probably goes without saying that I’ll bewatching you like a hawk. I want your help in allowing me to keep my identityas Clark Kent secret, which will likely involve buying The Daily Planet andgiving me a list of everyone who you’ve told, for starters. And you’re neverto speak with Lois again.”

“And if I don’t want to take that option?” asked Lex. He was already thinkingof ways to get around the restrictions that Superman was talking about, but ifthe kryptonite was unworkable as a solution, it was almost certain that theattempts on Superman’s life would have to stop for good.

“I’m going to build a prison,” said Superman. “You would be the second inmate,if you refused. There would be absolutely no hope of escape.”

“Then I’ll help you, of course I will, but I’m afraid I still don’tunderstand,” said Lex.

“I believe there’s a goodness in you, Luthor,” said Superman. “I’m still aChristian, and the story of the Bible is one of redemption. I have nothing tofear from you, and you’re in a unique position to effect positive change.While I admit it would feel good to lock you away forever, rehabilitation ismore important than retribution. More practically, no one knows of your crimesbut me, and while I can prove enough of it to my own satisfaction, I don’thave any illusions that it would hold up in any court of law. Making youdisappear would raise questions, and I don’t know who might have the answers.I also know your methods well enough to know that you probably have a deadman’s switch somewhere, and of course I worry about what might be in it. Myexistence as Clark Kent is important to me, and I don’t want to give it upunless I have to. You’re a smart man. You know I’m offering you a good deal.”

“You are,” said Lex. He swallowed. “It makes more sense to keep me alive andwork towards our mutual goals. You hadn’t struck me as being so level-headed.”

“People change,” said Superman. He blurred forward. The chair he’d beensitting in slid backward three feet and fell over. He stood right before thedesk, towering over it. His expression was deathly serious. “I feel like itgoes without saying, but I could kill you in a heartbeat. I don’t like usingthe threat of force, but if you step out of the very clearly defined lineswe’re going to set, I will throw you right into a specially made cell in myjail. If you give me reason to suspect that you’re still a threat to me oranyone else around me, you will simply vanish from the face of the Earth andnever be heard from again.”

“Understood,” said Lex. He noted what Superman had said, and the very specificwording the alien had used. He had not actually said that he would commitmurder, only that he could. And the threat of consequences had been vague.Superman was back to being a pacifist, it seemed, after a dalliance withmurder. Lex could use that against him.

But then, perhaps it made the most sense to simply accept the reality ofSuperman. If kryptonite shined brightly and Superman knew to look for it, itwould be nearly impossible to kill him with it. A kryptonite bomb surroundedby lead would only work if Superman could be maneuvered directly next to it,and as soon as he saw the casing of the bomb bowing outwards he would be onthe move. The other clear option was to get Superman as he slept, but givenwhat they both knew about each other, there was a decent chance that Supermanwould simply stop sleeping, or rotate through different anonymous locations -and that was assuming that Superman could even be snuck up on while he slept.If Superman knew about kryptonite, and was willing to work outside of or inopposition to the law, the problem seemed nearly unworkable.

“Which of the proposals did you want to pursue?” asked Lex.

Superman stood back, and brushed off his costume. “I’m looking for pureefficiency, which is your area of expertise. You’re going to spend the nextfew days tearing the lead from these walls and complying with my demands, andthen I want you to start writing a proposal for how I can do the most good. Iwon’t kill anyone, and I want to try to keep my interference with governmentalbodies to a minimum, but I am willing to reshape the world in any other way.”

“I’ll think on it,” said Lex.

“Don’t cross me,” said Superman. “I’m hoping that you can see that this isgood for both of us.”

Lex nodded stiffly. All his preparations and all his caution had been fornothing. This wasn’t the end that he wanted, but it was the best that he couldhave hoped for after his masks had been taken away from him.

“This will be the last time we see each other in person,” said Superman. “Orrather, the last time that you see me. I’ll be watching you.” He turned toleave, then stopped and stared at the door. He glanced back at Lex with afrown on his face, then looked at the door again. It was lead of course, justlike the walls of the room, but something had given Superman pause. “MissGraves, please move away from the door.”

Instead, the door to the study began to open, and it had shifted only thesmallest fraction of an inch in the time it took for Superman to stand behindLex’s desk. He moved quickly and efficiently, being quite delicate with hispower. By the time the door swung open, Superman had Lex’s head in his hands,one of which was gripping his jaw. Lex felt no sensation of pain or evendiscomfort, only firm hands. Mercy stood at the doorway, with a solid block ofkryptonite the size of a baseball held straight out in front of her.

“Mercy, was it?” asked Superman. His vice grip didn’t let up for a moment.

Mercy nodded.

“You have to know that this is utterly futile,” said Superman. “I shouldn’thave expected you to sit idly by while Lex and I had our chat, but we’ve cometo an agreement of sorts. I want to leave here peacefully and with a minimumamount of destruction or loss of life.”

Lex’s jaw was held firmly in place, preventing him from speaking. He couldonly hope that Mercy would understand from the look in his eyes. She took ahalf step closer.

“Stop,” said Superman. She stopped. “I’m going to let Lex speak to you, to tryto convince you that you should leave. Lex, consider this your first test.”

Lex’s jaw was gently released. He took a breath. “Mercy, I want you to listento me very carefully. Throw the kryptonite towar-”

The grip on Lex’s head vanished just as the wall behind him shattered outwardswith a rush of air. Mercy had started winding up for a throw before Lex washalfway through his sentence, and the block of kryptonite landed on the desk,where it slid across and fell to the floor at Lex’s feet. Lex ignored it andopened the lead-lined drawer to pull out the pistol.

He stepped out the hole in the side of his mansion, where it was a nice andpleasant summer day. Superman was laying on the ground a hundred feet away,covered by his red cape, and Lex took off towards him at a dead sprint, tryinghis best to avoid the glowing green shards and bits of lead that Superman hadtaken with him when he went through the wall.

When Lex was five feet away, he fired three bullets into Superman’s head. Thesight of blood sent a wave of relief through him, and he crouched down next tothe body to catch his breath.

“I studded the walls with kryptonite,” Lex said to the corpse. He kept hiseyes on the body, just in case it started moving. It as far from the firstdead person he’d seen, but the sight of it still sent a surge of adrenalinethrough him. He wouldn’t have been terribly surprised if he had passed out orthrew up.

After a half a minute had passed, Mercy came walking across the lawn to joinhim. Her hair was in the same tight bun as always, and she certainly didn’tlook like she’d just played an instrumental part in killing a god. She carriedthe chunk of kryptonite in one hand.

“He had a great many options for dealing with that situation,” said Mercy.“How lucky did we just get?”

“I haven’t had enough time to work out the odds,” said Lex. “But he didn’twant to hurt either of us, even after everything I’d confessed to. Leavingthrough the side of the room was probably what I would have done. He must havescoped out the mansion before he came - watched me in my study whenever youopened the door, observed our patterns. I think it would be safe to say thatwe won because we were lucky. Putting kryptonite in with the lead was at thefar edge of my most paranoid preparations, and after the brush-by I hadthought that it wasn’t strong enough. I was actually angry about wasting themoney.” He ran his hand across his bare scalp. “He was too dangerous to letlive.”

“I know, sir,” said Mercy. She looked across the yard. They were separatedfrom their neighbors by a massive expanse of lawn and thick shrubs, but thenoise wouldn’t go unnoticed. “We should figure out what sort of story isappropriate to this situation.” She looked at where Superman lay. “We shouldalso dispose of the body.”

She was right, but Lex was having trouble focusing. He had won. It had beendamned sloppy. He should have arranged for Mercy to do what she’d done on herown anyway. It should have been a masterstroke. If he had lured Superman intothe room and sprung a trap, he would have felt more of a thrill of victory.But as his thoughts moved back towards the conversation he’d had withSuperman, he could tell there was another reason that he only felt hollow.There was a small seed of doubt. Lex had made his choice, and made that choicefor all of humanity. It wasn’t unreasonable to wonder whether that choice hadbeen the right one. Still, the seed of doubt couldn’t be allowed to grow, notafter the choice had already been made.

“I don’t know how much of our conversation you overhead,” said Lex. “But itdidn’t change anything. He was just too powerful to be allowed to exist.”

Mercy only nodded.

“Any word from Clark?” asked Jimmy.

“No,” said Lois. “I wouldn’t expect any letters from him.”

“He just left without saying goodbye though?” asked Jimmy. “I mean, he wasnever very dependable, but I just didn’t expect it of him.”

“He’d had too much of the city,” said Lois. “You read his letter ofresignation. He’s back in Kansas, taking care of the farm. It wasn’timpossible to predict. You know how much he talked about Smallville.” Lex hadcalled her to let her know that Superman had been dealt with, and the letterof resignation had come in the very next day. She’d been feeling an awful pitin her stomach ever since, even as she tried to keep Perry and Jimmy fromasking too many questions. She had no idea how Lex had done it, but she wascertain that Clark was dead.

Jimmy moved closer and lowered his voice. “The thing is, I was talking toEleanor. Did I ever tell you how we met?”

“At a bar?” asked Lois.

“Right,” said Jimmy. “It was just after we’d gotten back from the Whitmanthing, and … she asked me some questions about Clark. I didn’t think anythingof it at the time, I was halfway to drunk and she was - is - pretty much agoddess. Anyway, I was talking to her about Clark’s sudden retirement from thereporting business, and she broke down and told me that it wasn’t an accidentthat we had met each other. I was part of a case she was working, to try todig up some dirt on local reporters. She works for a detective agency, and shethought that maybe it was so that someone would be able to put pressure on himif the wrong sort of story broke, but now … now it seems a little fishy.”

Luthor, thought Lois. She should have known that after she told him aboutSuperman’s secret identity he would try to find out more. Maybe it had beenone of the things that had tipped Clark off and let him know that someone wason his trail. “Wait a second, you started dating after we covered the Whitmankidnapping?”

“Yeah, why?” asked Jimmy.

The timeline didn’t match up. She’d come to Lex months later, which meant thateither someone else was snooping into Clark’s past, or Lex had known the truthfar before she had. One of those options seemed far more likely than theother.

“Nothing,” said Lois. “You’ve just given me something to think about.”

Just because Superman was gone didn’t mean that Lex could rest easy. There wasa possibility that more aliens would arrive at some point in the future, andif they had capabilities anything like what Superman had, humanity needed toundergo a rapid technological advancement as swiftly as possible. Superman’sspaceship still held a wealth of information, and there was a piece of it thatLex thought of as its brain - a central component that was connected to all ofthe others and likely carried signals of some sort. On top of that, there wasthe brewing war in Europe to consider, along with the Sino-Japanese conflict.It was unfortunate that governments were more willing to spend extreme amountsof money when there was an immediate danger to their existence, but war - orat least the threat of it - would prove useful.

“Miss Lane to see you,” said Mercy. She had helped to drag Superman’s bodyfrom the wreckage and hide it in the trunk of one of his cars before thepolice arrived, and as he might have predicted, the whole experience didn’tseem to have changed her at all. He was doing his best to follow that example.

“Send her in,” said Lex with a smile.

Lois looked different. She’d cut her hair aggressively short since the lasttime they saw each other, and if she had always been a little bit ferocious,now she seemed positively bristling.

“How much of it were you responsible for?” asked Lois.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Lex.

“You killed his mother, that much I’m nearly certain of,” said Lois. She satdown in what had been her customary chair, and stared at him with intenseeyes. “I went out there, did you know that? I went to Smallville, trying tofind out who he had been. I’m surprised you left so many loose ends. There wasan autopsy report for Martha Kent that didn’t look right, and the day shedied, when there was that big storm, three people went missing from Smallvilleand never came back. They didn’t find bodies either.”

“Again, I have to insist that I don’t know what you’re talking about,” saidLex. “And if you’re thinking of putting any of these thoughts to print, Iwould suggest that you either have a substantial amount of proof or a very,very good lawyer.”

“I kept thinking about the bombings,” said Lois. “Clark thought that Calhounwas the man behind them, but he was wrong, wasn’t he? While you were puttingout a reward for Kramer’s capture in public, you were sending him schematicsand instructions in private. It wasn’t possible for a single man to have doneit all, that much was obvious, so you framed Calhoun and bombed your ownproperties to turn watchful eyes in another direction. You were trying to killClark from the start.”

“Miss Lane, I generally make it a point to not bother refuting spurious rumorsabout myself,” said Lex. “But given the gravity of what you’re suggesting andthe fact that we were friends, once upon a time, I will tell you completelyand unequivocally that I had nothing to do with any of that. I was a steadfastsupporter of Superman -”

“Because you needed a cover,” said Lois.

“I was a steadfast supporter of Superman, and I was as disheartened as anyonewhen he became a murderer and fled the planet,” said Lex.

“You killed hundreds, didn’t you, without even a thought for the value oftheir lives?” asked Lois.

“I am curious about what evidence drove you towards such a wild and unfoundedconclusion,” said Lex. There was no way that she would be able to proveanything.

In the worst case scenario, she had found the laboratory where the spaceshipwas being kept and broken through all the layers of security, but that stillwouldn’t be enough to implicate him in the public eye, let alone the court oflaw. After the autopsy and a collection of samples, Superman’s body had beenreduced to pulp, mixed with a healthy amount of kryptonite, encased in lead,and lowered deep into an unmarked grave on a vast, private nature preserve inAlaska which Lex had exclusive control of. He had used hundreds of agents inthe course of tracking down and positioning Superman, but only a very few knewenough to implicate an unknown master in wrongdoing, and only Mercy had theability to implicate Lex as that mastermind. It was well possible that Loiscould or would reveal to the world that Clark Kent had been Superman, but itwould have raised all kinds of questions he was sure she would want to avoid,and either way wasn’t something that could really be proven after the fact -nor would it substantially change his plans.

“I don’t have any evidence,” said Lois. “Believe me, if I did I would beshouting it from the rooftops instead of coming here. You won, Luthor. I justwant to know what the hell you were thinking.”

“Well, of course I can’t comment on things that I haven’t done,” said Lex.“If, hypothetically, I had engineered a series of heinous crimes in pursuit ofsome foolish feud with Superman, I certainly would have nothing to gain bytelling you about my reasoning, especially not when it would give more fuel toyour paranoia.”

“I hated Clark for lying to me,” said Lois. “I hated him for living thisdouble life and pulling the wool over my eyes. But at least at their core,Clark and Superman were the same person. There was a real goodness there, evenif it was clumsy and imperfect. Is there a core to you, Lex?”

“Lois, I have a franchise of orphanages set up throughout the United Statesnow, headed by caring, competent people,” said Lex. “I am personallyspearheading a number of advancements in the sciences that will revolutionizethe world ten times over. If the United States goes to war in the comingyears, one of the reasons we will emerge victorious is because of the vastresources that I control and the overwhelming technological superiority thatwe will enjoy. I have done more to end the Great Depression than any singleother person on the planet. That is my core.”

Lois only glared at him. She stood slowly, seeming years older than whenthey’d first met. “I wish I’d never met you,” she said. She left withoutanother word.

He’d waited too long.

Superman had been stopping by with food every three days like clockwork. Thehole in the ground had been expanded, and he’d brought in more supplies. Itwas gratifying to have his pitiful existence made slightly more bearable, butat the same time every new possession in his miserable little hole meant thathis captivity became more and more permanent.

The plan had been to wait for Superman to make his next visit (canned foods,refill the barrel of water, empty the waste bucket) and then make the trip upafter that so that there was less of a chance of starving to death in thewoods once he made it out of the hole, not to mention that he needed as muchtime to scurry away before the big blue warden came back to tend to his onlyprisoner.

It was difficult to mark time, given how close to the Arctic Circle he was.The sun dipped down to the horizon and then stayed there. But when three dayshad come and gone, Floyd had waited another two days after that, worried thatSuperman was simply late. He’d let his food get too low, and was going to haveto make the climb on an empty stomach.

He was thirty feet up when he slipped. He’d been trying to lunge up to ahigher handhold, and when he missed and sank back down to let his weight reston his feet, one of them slipped. Then he was falling.

He lay on the cold, hard floor with a broken leg. There was no chance that hewould be able to make the climb now, let alone hike through the wilderness. Hemade a quick tourniquet and a splint, and hoped that Superman would come back.

Author’s Note: Thanks for reading.

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