Chapter 3: The All-Seeing Eye
Lex Luthor wasn’t the only one gathering information. As the days passed,people began to make their observations, and a few things began to becomeknown.
Superman would show up at misdemeanors in downtown Metropolis, felonies in thegreater metropolitan area, and large disasters in the continental UnitedStates. Those who had done the math would point out that Superman could reachany point on the planet within an hour, but he only rarely seemed to use thisability; he went to a mine collapse in Peru, a landslide in Bangladesh, and anearthquake in China, but he seemed inconsistent in his ranging.
He prioritized crimes against people above crimes against property. Murder andforcible rape were almost sure to bring a response, while burglaries oftenwent unstopped. He avoided controversy and grey areas, and tended to stay awayfrom incidents where both parties were at fault. He tended to avoid crimescommitted by people in the immigrant neighborhoods, and there was somequestion about whether this was the result of a language barrier or becauseSuperman harbored some ideas about class or racial purity. There were somemembers of the Eugenics Society of Metropolis that pointed out that Supermanwas white.
Superman didn’t participate in any foreign wars, despite repeated requests.There was a civil war in China, and a war between Bolivia and Paraguay inSouth America. Thousands died, and Superman did nothing, presumably because ofhis claimed neutrality. It was unknown whether Superman would side with theUnited States if they once again went to war. In Germany, the NationalSocialists had risen to power and repudiated the Treaty of Versailles, whichwas generally agreed to be a worrying development. When the Nazis killedeighty-three people in a political purge, there was much discussion aboutwhether Superman’s absence from Germany had been a calculated effort to avoidbecoming embroiled in global politics, a tacit endorsement of their politics,or whether he simply hadn’t known about it until it was too late.
Certainly Superman wasn’t active all the time, and he’d proved to be far fromomniscient. Even with him going on patrol and being visible high above thecity, murders still happened with some frequency. The United States was slowlycreeping its way out of the Great Depression, with Metropolis as the vanguard.Where there had been three murders per day before his arrival, there was nowan average of one. Some people grumbled that he should do more.
Superman was in the news on a regular basis. He pulled Pretty Boy Floyd out ofa rathole hotel in Gotham City, and requested that the reward be donated tocharity. When the SS Morro Castle caught fire and burned on the way up fromHavana, Superman swooped in and saved the lives of hundreds. He stopped atornado in Kansas, and a hurricane moving towards Florida. He was undeniably ahero.
Through it all, the lawsuits began to pile up. A good number of criminals cameforward with complaints of brutality, and some had the injuries to prove thatthey’d at least taken a hit to make their story plausible. There wereaccusations of rape that no one believed. Not every legal issue was sospurious. Superman was sued for theft after taking steel girders off the backof a truck to shore up a collapsing factory. He was subpoenaed as a witness toall manner of man-made disasters. The case of Shoe v. New York was working itsway towards the Supreme Court. At issue was whether Superman’s x-ray visioncould be used to obtain a warrant for arrest or whether that unreasonablyinfringed upon the right to liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.Most of the court watchers predicted that a half dozen cases would end upgoing to the Supreme Court in the coming year. It was a wonderful time forthose with an interest in jurisprudence.
Lex Luthor existed in the background. In public, he was a champion forSuperman, arguing in favor of the stances he believed Superman to favor andheading the first Conference on Extraterrestrial Science which of course hadSuperman as its sole focus. In private, he was the world’s most cautiouspuppet-master.
“You sure we should be doing this?” asked Ted. “It’s not exactly acting.”
“It’s acting,” said Claire defensively. “We’re pretending at being differentpeople for an audience.”
That Ted had landed a bit part in a doomed production of The Stationary Manwouldn’t have been worthy of note if not for the fact that this made him moresuccessful than Claire. It was a constant source of tension between them, andthe subtext of nearly all of their conversations.
“Easy for you to say,” Ted replied. “You’re not the one who’s going to go tojail.”
“Oh hush,” said Claire. “The pay is good enough.”
“We probably shouldn’t be talking about this where he can hear,” said Ted. Hefidgeted with the gun tucked into the waistband of his pants. It wasn’tloaded, and he was thankful for that. Guns made him nervous.
“There’s nowhere Superman can’t hear, the papers said so,” said Claire. “Nowcome on, I’m ready to go.”
“You’ll drop the charges?” he asked.
“Who on earth do you think I am?” asked Claire. “Of course I’ll drop thecharges. This whole thing is going to last a single night, tops. Maybe hewon’t even show up and we can get paid to do this again.”
“Fine,” said Ted. He pulled the ski mask down over his head and whipped outthe gun. “Gimme your goddamned money and you don’t get hurt.”
Claire glanced nervously from side to side. “Please, I need that money to feedmy baby sister.”
“Hand over the dough,” said Ted. “Just hand over the goddamned dough or Iswear to God I will shoot you right in your pretty little mouth and steal themoney off your warm corpse.”
“Superman!” screamed Claire at the top of her lungs. “Superman, save me!”
“Shut your mouth, bitch,” said Ted with what he hoped was a convincing sneer.But then he saw Claire’s face when he said the b-word, and instantly regrettedit. He was about to break character and tell her he was sorry when Supermanappeared between them. Neither had seen him arrive. He was simply there with arush of air.
“What seems to be the problem?” asked Superman with half a grin on his face.He plucked the gun from Ted’s hand.
“This bastard was trying to mug me,” said Claire.
“I wasn’t,” said Ted. He didn’t have to feign the fear in his voice. He’dnever realized how tall Superman was before. Odd that it would have such aneffect, when that was the least impressive thing about him.
“Ted and I will be going to the police station,” said Superman. Ted felt hisstomach tie into a nervous knot at Superman saying his name before realizingthat Superman had probably just read it off of one of the cards in his wallet.“If you’d make a statement it would help to put this man behind bars.”
As Claire looked at him, Ted felt another jolt of honest fear run through him.She looked like she was going to agree to it. But at the last second, her facesoftened, and she shook her head.
“I need to get home to my baby sister,” said Claire. “I’ll file something withthe police in the morning.”
“Very well,” said Superman. “Have a good day.” Then he flew up into the air,carrying Ted with him.
A homeless man watched from a distance, and wrote something in his notebook inan extremely neat script. The next day, a curious personal ad appeared in TheDaily Planet. Lex Luthor made a point of reading through both of Metropolis’sdaily newspapers each morning, and so even if Superman had been watching,there would be nothing suspicious about the way that Luthor’s eyes flickeredover the page. There was no copy of the key to be found anywhere on Lex’sperson - it had been committed entirely to memory. The actors had been hiredby an intermediary who had no knowledge of Lex Luthor, and the man who’dwatched them received payment from a slush fund that Luthor had cut hisconnection to years ago.
Leroy Barnes pulled his mask down over his face and hefted his tommy gun, thencharged straight in through the revolving doors of the Commerce Bank ofMetropolis. He used the butt of his gun to smack the security guard hard inthe nose as Sean “Moustache” Murphy and Big Paul Castellano followed closelybehind him. Leroy fired off five rounds into the ceiling, bringing plasterdown on the customers. They scrambled to the floor without having to be told,men in fine suits and women in glitzy dresses pressing themselves up againstthe immaculate marble of the Big Apricot’s most prestigious bank.
“God dammit Leroy,” said Murphy, “We were supposed to do this clean.” Murphypicked up the guard’s gun and stuffed it into the burlap sack they’d be usingto carry the money.
“This is a robbery!” yelled Big Paul, a short man who had once worked as ajockey down at the Apricot City Racetrack before he’d broken his leg. Helimped, but it didn’t slow him down much. “Get down on the floor! We don’twanna bump off nobody, so no funny business and we’ll be through this caper ina flash!”
The three of them walked towards the cash registers, guns held out in front ofthem, trying their best to cover the whole room. The idea was to get in andout before the cops had a chance to show up. There was the question of the BigBlue rearing his ugly head, but that was what contingencies were for.
“Empty the cash register sweetheart,” Big Paul said to one of the cashiers. Hewas careful not to point his gun straight at her, just in her generaldirection. He’d found that people panicked with a gun to their head. It wasbetter to hold the gun like you didn’t want to use it, instead of like youwere seconds away from killing them. “Throw it all in this sack and we won’thave any trouble.”
“There’s no need for that,” said a voice from the front of the room. Everyoneturned to look at Superman. He’d entered the bank silently, and stood with hiscape hanging down behind him. The revolving door spun around behind him.Superman looked the same as he ever did, a god striding among men.
“Stop right there,” said Murphy. “We planned for this, ya see? There’shostages, planted all around the city, and you can stop us or save them, butnot both.”
“I can do both,” said Superman. “And I don’t negotiate.”
Superman glanced rapidly between the three robbers and closed the distance toMurphy in the space of a heartbeat. He bent the barrel of the tommy gun withone hand, and reached into Murphy’s jacket with the other. Murphy dropped thegun and tried to beat against Superman, but it was like slamming his fistsinto granite. Superman pulled out a thin metal case from Murphy’s pocket andstared at it with a frown. It was locked shut, but Superman pried it open withease and pulled out a slip of paper. He let the note flutter to the groundafter reading it, then moved forward and tied up both of Murphy’s hands withthe sleeves of the man’s own jacket.
Leroy and Big Paul had started running away as soon as Superman had grabbedMurphy, the promise of money forgotten. Big Paul, with his limp, was fallingbehind. Superman came at them from behind as they ran, ripping the guns fromtheir hands and setting both men on the ground.
“You gonna kill us?” Leroy spat at him. “Or are you some kind of pussy?”Superman turned his implacable gaze towards the criminal, and Leroy lost hisbravado at once, like a balloon being popped.
“No,” said Superman. He seemed about to say more, but tied them up and dashedthrough the revolving door of the bank, leaving it spinning behind him. On thefloor of the bank, huddled among the other customers, Lex Luthor smiled.
Watching the robbery had been a risk, but Lex Luthor had wanted to see the Manof Steel at least once in person, just in case it would stir something loosewithin his mind. Lex stopped by the Commerce Bank three times a week at thesame time of day, and so there was little unusual about him being there whenthe robbers arrived. There was nothing that Superman could use to trace therobbery back to Lex, unless Superman had been watching as Lex planned it. Eventhen it was unlikely given the precautions that Lex had taken.
In his home, Lex Luthor had built a keyboard which connected to the phonelines. Many nights he could be seen pressing the keys while staring at hiscoded notebook, with no apparent output. When he hammered down the keys to,they didn’t produce the normal solid clack of metal levers pressing up againsta ribbon of ink. Though it looked much like a typewriter, the keys wereattached to an electrical mechanism which translated each press of a key intoa tone, which was in turn sent down the phone lines.
Someone watching Lex Luthor’s hands from above might try to observe what hewas typing, but that would be a useless exercise since Lex Luthor was typingin a crude code on keys that were completely unmarked. Someone with absurdlysuperior hearing might find the terminus to the phone connection at an officebuilding in downtown Metropolis, where the tones were magnetically recorded ona steel wire and later translated into a still-encrypted paper copy by asomewhat bewildered secretary. The paper copies were filed away, and from timeto time Lex Luthor could be seen stopping by to leaf through them, seeminglyable to decode them without need for a cipher.
The line was split of course, and the terminus in LexCorp offices was a decoy.The coded messages that filled the cabinets were nonsense, the lettersrandomized past the point of recovery, not that Superman had shown himself tobe much of a code-breaker. The real coded message was received by a smalloffice out in Star City, California, where it was decoded into a set ofinstructions, with a header in English and the rest in some other language.The people who worked at the office knew little about who they worked for orwhat purpose their work served. The English portion of the message was forthem, and told them who to send mail to, or occasionally who to call, whilethe second part was for their recipient, and invariably in a language that thepeople at this small office didn’t speak - an additional protection againstSuperman, though it was really more of a minor inconvenience than goodsecurity. The people at the office assumed that their secret master was theUnited States government.
This circuitous route was a bit paranoid, even given Superman’s demonstratedsurveillance capabilities. Superman had repeatedly been shown to need to focuson stimulus, and it was Lex’s working theory that Superman’s brain filteredout the vast majority of the input that it received from his ears and eyes.Superman could prime himself to listen for a gunshot, or the sounds ofshouting, but he didn’t have total information processing. For this veryreason, most murders in Metropolis were now surprise attacks using meleeweapons that would eliminate the victim’s ability to produce sound. A gunshotwas distinctive, while the sound of a knife slicing flesh was not. In a way,Superman’s arrival had made the underworld a more brutal place.
It was likely that Lex could have skated by on lesser security precautionsthan he took, but he’d woken up to nightmares of having his skull crushedbetween Superman’s hands too many times. In the dream he was just one in along line of people that stretched out on either side of him, an endlessnumber of people waiting to be killed by Superman. The alien did the workcalmly and cleanly, and Lex was the only one who was trying to fight back.Precautions were the order of the day.
“Mustache” Murphy hadn’t known why he’d been asked to rob the bank. Thejeweler on 4th St and 16th Ave hadn’t known why he’d been asked to make asmall case lined with lead. Leroy Barnes hadn’t known why he’d been asked tofire off his gun towards the ceiling. All these men knew was that they werebeing paid. Strings had been pulled and messages had been sent.
The end result had been that Lex Luthor discovered that Superman couldn’t seethrough lead. More than anything, he was upset that something so stupid hadworked.
It was what you would try if you knew a little bit about x-rays. Lead was usedto block x-ray radiation, even people who didn’t have a clue what x-rays wereknew that, so it made sense that Superman’s vision could be blocked by it. YetSuperman’s x-ray vision fairly conclusively did not use x-rays. That wasobvious just from thinking about it, and of course Lex had tested it by havingpatsies carry around sealed strips of x-ray film and subject themselves to hisgaze. Furthermore, Superman was able to distinguish colors using his x-rayvision, and in all respects treated it simply as “the ability to see throughobjects” instead of something that made any sense. Yet lead blocked it all thesame. It was a victory to learn that, but utterly infuriating. Lead was usedto block x-rays because it was dense, and yet it was apparent that any amountof lead stopped Superman’s vision, even a few centimeters. If lead blockedSuperman’s vision in the same way that it blocked x-rays, Superman shouldn’thave been able to see through a solid foot of steel or three feet of concreteeither. Thinking of new physical laws which would explain this behavior madeLex Luthor frustrated, though this wasn’t terribly unusual where Superman’spowers were concerned.
Lex had to wonder whether Superman realized he’d given something away byreaching to grab the case instead of getting the information through someother means. Lex had other plans in place - when Superman eventually followedthe trail of clues that started with the piece of paper in the case, he wouldbe confronted with a number of challenges to his x-ray vision, and he would beforced to give up a bit of information at each one. The clues would lead tothree locations; a diving bell beneath a hundred feet of water, a largeFaraday cage, and a steel vault in a closed down bank. There were no hostagesto speak of, and either Superman would use his so-called x-ray vision toconfirm this or be seen by spotters engaging in a rescue for someone thatwasn’t there. Either would give information.
As the day passed, the reports came back from the spotters. Superman wasn’tseen at any of the locations he should have been led to. If lead was the onlything that would stop Superman’s vision, then it would have to be lead thatLex would use.
Simply lining a room with lead would be of limited use, since it would giveSuperman the incentive to pry in precisely the places that his attention wasleast wanted. It would be like erecting a sign that said “Don’t look here”.The only way around that was to make lead shielding so common that Supermanwouldn’t be able to keep track of them all, and for that Lex developed a plan.
A scientific paper was mailed out to a number of universities and businessmenwith the cryptic title “Non-Röntgenian Vision; An Exploration from Inference”.The paper used complicated words where simple ones would do, and meanderedover twenty pages when its findings could properly be summed up in two. Therewere numerous digressions and spelling errors, and the author identifiedhimself as a former professor of physics living in a cabin in the Adirondackswho had been exiled from Harvard some decades earlier due to indiscretionswhich the author implied were fabricated by his jealous colleagues. It was forthe most part scientifically sound, but so mired in authorial problems that ithad no hopes of being properly published in any journal of note. You wouldhave to read it three times before understanding that it was talking aboutSuperman.
The disgraced professor had died some years earlier in a Prohibition speakeasythat had been owned by Lex Luthor. The professor’s body had been dumped in theriver and never identified, and his death was known by very few. The paper’strue author was Lex Luthor, who had crafted it carefully using informationmade available to members of the public through the police and the newspapers.The original incidents which demonstrated Superman’s inability to see throughlead had been engineered by Lex himself, both the first one at the bank and ahost of others used to confirm the finding. Taken on its own, the conclusionswere tenuous, but it was enough to get the ball rolling.
The paper was mailed to the office of Thomas Nivas, a Dutch businessman withno obvious connection to Lex Luthor, and he made a show of reading itcarefully. Where others would dismiss the professor as a crank, Nivas wouldtake a gamble and begin immediately buying up shares in the handful ofcompanies that mined or traded in lead. Within two weeks, Nivas would announceto the world that lead conclusively stopped Superman’s vision, and publiclychallenged the Man of Steel to demonstrate otherwise. Superman never showedup, and though that proved little, Nivas began to see a trickle of customers.One of the first of these was Lex Luthor.
It was a happy bit of serendipity when Lois Lane scheduled a second interview.
“Well, of course I trust Superman,” said Lex. Lois Lane sat across from him inone of his leather chairs. Across the hallway, the sounds of constructioncould be heard, as his study was ripped apart in anticipation of lead liningon all the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. When the sheets of lead were inplace, the fine woodwork would be replaced and the room would look exactlylike it was before.
Lois Lane had apparently asked Nivas for the name of one of his clients, andNivas had mentioned Lex Luthor. It was a minor betrayal of confidence, but Lexguessed that Nivas had given up Lex’s name because of the conversation they’dhad wherein Lex had put forth what he believed was the most cogent possibleargument in favor of a perfectly innocent man obtaining protection from theeyes of a watchful and seemingly benevolent god. Nivas didn’t know that Lexwas the one behind the funding, nor the author of the paper he’d been mailed.
“I trust Superman,” said Lex, “But do you believe that Superman is perfectlygood?”
“Perfectly?” asked Lois. “That’s a high standard. But he’s as damned close aswe’re going to get. He’s been here four months now, and he’s saved hundreds ifnot thousands of lives. He doesn’t act as a law unto himself, he just fliesthrough the air and helps people like it was the most natural thing in theworld. He hasn’t killed anyone, and despite what people might allege, I don’tbelieve that he’s ever seriously injured anyone either.”
“All true,” said Lex with a smile. “But given that he isn’t perfect, do youthink that it’s unreasonable to take precautions against the possibility thathe one day acts in some unconscionable way?”
“Is it really worth however many hundreds or thousands of dollars thisrenovation is costing you?” she asked.
“There are a number of factors that go into determining that,” said Lex. “Ihave enough money that the expense is somewhat trivial to me, and I haveenough intellectual property that having it stolen would be quite damaging tome - patents, ideas, formulas, processes, and half a hundred other things.Beyond that, there is a value to me in not being watched, even when I’m notdoing anything of note. It brings me peace of mind, which is worth somethingeven when the actual risk is low. I suspect much of the sales of thisshielding will go to husbands who want to know that their wives aren’t beingspied on in the bath.”
“‘Humans have an intrinsic right to privacy’,” said Lois. “Navis told me that,and I suspect that he heard it from you.”
“I believe I said something like that, yes,” said Lex. “It’s one of the greatflaws of our Constitution that a right to privacy is not among thoseenumerated. It’s funny, isn’t it? No one would begrudge you from havingfrosted windows in the bathroom or drawing your curtains when company is over,but as soon as Superman enters the picture many people think that suchmeasures are somehow indicative of criminality, or morally wrong in and ofthemselves.”
“I didn’t bring up crime,” said Lois.
“But you will, in the article?” asked Lex.
“Of course,” Lois nodded.
“Then I have a further argument for you,” said Lex. “Perhaps you perfectlytrust Superman not to look at you while you change, or perhaps you have nosecrets you’d rather he not be privy to, but do you believe that Superman willalways be the only one with his abilities? We can infer that there are otheraliens out there, and here on Earth there are plenty of scientists - myselfincluded - who are working to reverse-engineer the things they see him do. Iftomorrow my rivals in business can see through my walls, they’ll find mydefenses already in place, which is only prudent.”
“I suppose,” said Lois. She looked down at her notebook. “I think I haveeverything I need. More than I need, actually. The article isn’t going to beparticularly long.”
“You can admit that you enjoy talking to me,” said Lex.
“It’s stimulating, I’ll give it that,” said Lois. “But I also came here tothank you. The ERA passed the Senate and moved onto the House, and even if itfails there I’ll consider you to have held up your end of the bargain.”
“I’m a man of my word Miss Lane,” said Lex. “Though I have to warn you thatprospects are bleak. The Eighteenth Amendment has made people shy of modifyingour founding document.”
“All the same,” said Lois.
There was a moment where perhaps Lex could have asked her to dinner, but helet it pass by. Lois was tenacious and decisive, intelligent and principled,and in another time he might have tried to see whether she could sustain hisinterest in the long-term. Now was a time of action, and the threat ofSuperman was too great to permit for such idle distractions. Later perhaps,when Superman lay dead in the street, Lex would go on the pursuit.
After they’d said their goodbyes, Lex sat in his smoking room and thoughtabout explosives. The actual designs would have to wait until his study hadbeen coated in lead, but until that time he could refine his plans within hishead. He would need to find someone to carry out his will, someone without astrong moral compass, but he thought that he had just the right person inmind.
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