Chapter 7: Choices
From Preethi v New York 293 U.S. 367 (1934):
The State of New York has provided such significant encouragement, both overtand covert, that the actions of Superman must be judged to be that of theState. […] It is this Court’s considered opinion that there would not be muchuse to Constitutional protections if the State could do an end run aroundthose protections through the use of private parties. By engaging in the sametype of work as the Metropolis police department, and with their cooperationand approval, Superman may fairly be described as a state actor.
From Shoe v New York 293 U.S. 377 (1934):
Obtaining by enhanced senses any information regarding the interior of thehome that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical intrusioninto a constitutionally protected area constitutes a search. […] In permittingthe use of this evidence upon trial, we believe prejudicial error wascommitted.
From The Daily Planet, anonymous letter to the editor, December 19th, 1934
Taken together, there can be no question that these rulings severely curtailSuperman’s ability to effectively conduct law enforcement within the UnitedStates. In the coming months, dozens if not hundreds of appeals will be filedon the premise that Superman has engaged in procedural error, in which theMetropolis police department and others were complicit. The Fourth Amendmentof the Constitution has been incorporated against the states, which many seeas a worrying expansion of federal power. Yet while people argue over what theright legal structure for dealing with Superman is, what they seem to miss isthat Superman only obeys the laws because he chooses to. He has alreadygraciously said that he will abide by these rulings, yet one has to wonderwhat the Man of Steel actually thinks of them. All too often, we forget theenormity of his powers and treat him like a constant, but what man can existwithout change?
Lois and Clark stood outside the Metropolis Courthouse with the otherreporters, waiting for the verdict. Calhoun’s trial had been sped through, andthere was little doubt that Superman had used pressure of some sort to makethat happen. The early portion of the trial had been marked by an enormousamount of evidence being thrown out, with the judge citing the new SupremeCourt rulings. A number of the charges had been dropped after that, though itwas still enough to put Calhoun away for the rest of his life. Bail hadeventually been set at one hundred thousand dollars, which Calhoun had happilypaid as though it were chump change to him. Clark no longer smiled when thetopic of the case came up. He’d submitted an article to Perry about corruptionin the case. It alleged witness intimidation, jury tampering, and jurormisconduct, but his sources were shaky and couldn’t be verified to Perry’ssatisfaction.
“Not guilty!” came a shout from within the courthouse. The reporters began tocrowd around, to get a picture of Calhoun or shout a question out to him as hewalked out. Lois went with the pack, but Clark stayed behind. He had adefeated look on his face, like he’d known that it was coming but hoped he waswrong. Lois got her comment, and Clark wrote up an article about how Supermanwas nearly useless in the face of organized crime with the laws the way theywere.
A week later, someone began setting fire to the homes of known or suspectedabortionists. Superman stopped them, which caused a significant controversy.So far as Lois could tell, that was the whole point.
“Why do you think Superman doesn’t stop abortions from happening?” asked Lois.It was a question that many of her fellow Catholics had asked for a long time.She’d been practically mobbed by the other churchgoers when she’d gone toChristmas Mass, since people seemed to think that she and Superman were asclose as two peas in a pod. In their defense, The Daily Planet hadn’t beenquick to correct that view.
“He used the term unambiguous good, didn’t he?” asked Clark. Lois hadpredicted that Metropolis would eventually break him, but she hadn’t thoughtit would be such a long, slow decline.
“Well that’s the whole idea,” said Lois. “If Superman isn’t stopping theabortions, then that means he doesn’t seem to think stopping them is anunambiguous good.”
“He wants to avoid the controversy,” said Clark. It was clear that his heartwasn’t in the conversation.
“Avoiding controversy outweighs unambiguous goods?” asked Lois.
“I don’t know,” said Clark. “The world is complicated. I’d really rather nottalk about this.”
Early on, Clark had been eager to engage her. He’d liked having her attentionof course, but he’d also been more sure about himself then, more convincedthat he could get her to come around to his way of thinking. It wasn’t justthat she’d worn him down though, everything about him had started to become so… mechanical. It hadn’t affected his work, and if anything he had beenincreasing his output. But the spark that was Clark Kent was dimming, and Loiswondered if there was anything she could do about that. She and Clark weremore colleagues than friends, but she spent more of her time with him thananyone else, at least when they weren’t out in the city chasing down stories.
“Do you want to go see the mural after work?” asked Lois.
“Sullivan already covered that,” said Clark without looking up from histypewriter.
“I said after work. I meant more as something to look at,” said Lois. “Forentertainment. Which I think is the point of it.” Clark looked at her. “Not adate or anything like that, just friends. And maybe afterwards we’ll get abite to eat somewhere?”
A slow, cautious smile crept onto Clark’s face. “Sure, I’d like that.”
When the mural was finished it would stretch for three city blocks, but so faronly two blocks of it had been completed. It was a mosaic made up of smalltiles, each about the size of a fingertip, visible as a coherent image onlyfrom a few steps back. They started walking it from the end that was supposedto represent the past, when the island that Metropolis was built on was hometo the Lenape Indians.
“It’s white-washed,” said Clark. “But I don’t suppose anyone expected anythingelse. None of the subjugation or slavery that marks the actual history of thecity. There should be men in collars somewhere around … there.”
“Clark, I know you’re still a bit raw about Calhoun getting off,” said Lois.“But you’ve got to snap out of it eventually.”
“It’s not just him,” said Clark. “It’s all the rest that are just like him. Doyou know how many guilty men go free?”
“Better for ten guilty men to go free than one innocent man rot in jail,” saidLois.
“Why that number?” asked Clark. “Why ten and not five?”
“It’s not meant to be literal,” said Lois.
“I’m just curious,” said Clark. “It’s in the Bible, did you know that? Genesis18:23 ‘And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteouswith the wicked?’ The numbers were different though. God said that if he couldfind ten innocent men in the whole of Sodom and Gomorrah he would refrain fromraining down brimstone and fire.”
“That’s kind of gruesome,” said Lois. They walked past a colonial scene of menplanting crops and raising cattle. It was unimaginable that land in Metropolishad once been cheap enough that you could farm it.
“In the end, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,” said Clark. “Because it was aplace of evil. But he saved the only innocents in it first, because God isperfect, and that was within his power.”
“Unfortunately,” said Lois. “The justice system is run by men. There’s adistinct lack of perfection. Are you just figuring this out now?”
“No,” said Clark. “Believe me, I know how imperfect people can be.” He bit athis lip. “I don’t know, maybe I just never studied history as closely as Ishould have. It’s easy to forget that slavery ever happened, you know? Andthere are crimes against humanity that are just swept under the rug, forgottenby everyone, though you could still find the mass graves if you looked hardenough.”
“Jesus Clark,” said Lois. “You really know how to show a girl a good time.”
Clark was silent after that, but she could tell he was still thinking alongthe same lines as before and just not saying anything out loud. She wishedthat the final part of the mural had been finished, so that they could talkabout something more pleasant. She’d heard that it was going to be likesomething out of science fiction, with spaceships going to the moon and robotsserving people dinner. Lex Luthor was the man behind the project, and he’dproven himself an optimist. It was somewhat comforting that the future historyof the world was going to be written by men like him.
“Do you think that Superman should have just killed Calhoun?” asked Clark.
“No,” said Lois. “Can you imagine the panic that would have caused?”
“No one would have to know,” said Clark. “Superman could just abduct him anddrop him in the middle of the Pacific to drown.”
“Superman wouldn’t be that cruel,” said Lois. “Even the state tries to keeptheir executions as clean and painless as possible. And that’s all a mootpoint. Superman doesn’t kill, everyone knows that. Your average criminal wouldrather be arrested by Superman than the cops, because Superman is gentle.”
“You’re right,” sighed Clark. “They take him for granted. The whole trial withCalhoun proved that. No one feared what Superman would do when the verdictcame down. They didn’t think it was suicidal to challenge Superman’s will. Andthey were right.”
It was time for a change of tactics. “Clark, can you talk to me about life inSmallville?” asked Lois.
“You hate Smallville,” said Clark.
“I was a military brat, and I grew up all over the country,” said Lois. “Ilived in a couple places like Smallville, and I was always bored. But I thinkmaybe I’ve been projecting my own experiences onto what I’ve been imagining.So come on, I promise not to make fun. You never talk about it anymore.”
Lois had been right. Smallville seemed to be just the trick. There was no moretalk about mass graves or killing the innocent along with the guilty. Maybe itwas just because she’d spent so long around Clark, but where she’d rolled hereyes at his stories about small town Kansas before, now she was almostinterested. As he talked, he grew more animated, until his mood had visiblyimproved. From there it wasn’t that difficult to keep him upbeat, and after along talk about the possibilities of the future in front of the unfinishedsection of the mural, they’d gone out for dinner and then drinks, though Clarkonly had soda water. Lois wasn’t sure whether he wasn’t so bad as she’dthought he was, or whether she’d just been worn down by his constant presence.Either way, Operation Cheer Up Clark had been a rousing success, and when hecame into work the next day he was nearly back to his old self.
Everything started to fall apart two weeks later when the governor’s childrenwere kidnapped.
Lex Luthor was slow and careful.
He never said the name “Clark Kent” out loud. There were hundreds of Clarks inMetropolis, and hundreds of Kents, but so far as Lex could find, there wasonly a single Clark Kent. It wasn’t inconceivable that every time he heard hisfull name his super hearing kicked. Everyone chattered about Superman all day,but surely very few people talked about Clark Kent. He was a reporter, and hisname appeared in nearly every issue of The Daily Planet, so perhaps therewas some cover there, but Lex wasn’t about to risk it. He had Superman’ssecret, and it was the most precious thing in the world.
Getting records was difficult. Lex had set himself up as one of Superman’schampions, a man inspired by a zeal for the alien that few others had. He wasthe chair of the Conference on Extraterrestrial Science and two otherorganizations, and somewhat noted as a collector of information. Now this wasworking against him, because any connection he formed with Clark Kent would beimmediately suspect. If Lex had simply remained an anonymous businessman,there would be nothing too surprising about him purchasing The Daily Planetand looking through its files. But for Lex Luthor the Superman scholar to doit - well, there was no way that Superman wouldn’t suspect something.
Lex was moving slowly, and the other players in the game were gettingcreative. He was certain that Willie Calhoun was one of them, but didn’t knowwhat intent would explain the actions. There were smear campaigns andcontrived moral quandaries - attempts to put Superman in a position where hisvalues would be challenged. Thankfully, none of it seemed to affect the alien.Lex would have killed Calhoun if he could have seen a way to do it. It wouldhave been worth it just to stop the plots. There were so many contacts andlines of communication that had been burned in the last few months though, andso few ways of getting dirty work done. Worse, a failure might alert Calhoun.Lex could only hope that he would figure something out about Clark Kent beforeCalhoun or someone else made Superman angry.
Willie Calhoun was losing.
He’d won in court, but everything else was in a shambles. Crime was droppingin Metropolis all over the place, and loyalty seemed to be a thing of the pastas more and more people moved away. The ones that were left were animals,idiots without the proper restraints. Willie had once had money, and a nicehouse, but he was in debt to the banks now with no way he could see of gettingout. He had no real skills he could use in the real world, and no real nosefor legitimate business like Luthor. He was getting old, and this was the endof the road.
“Fuck Superman,” said Willie to his empty office. He hoped the alien wouldhear. There was hardly a day that went by without some new fantasy of whathe’d do to Superman if the alien weren’t invulnerable. It was comforting,thinking of ripping into that impenetrable flesh.
Superman had cast a spell over the city, one that grew with every passing day.The last time that people had really doubted him was during the bombings, whenthey’d wondered why it was that he wasn’t doing more. What Willie needed to dowas to replicate that feeling. If the people stopped believing in Superman,maybe he’d finally fuck off and fly away. All the worst psychopaths ofMetropolis had been left in Willie’s employ, and it was time to use them.
The governor’s two children were abducted on their way home from privateschool. The abductors had used chloroform on both the driver and the children.The operation must have been carried out in nearly complete silence to preventSuperman from hearing, but this was par for the course in Metropolis. Thedriver was found laid down in the front seat with his throat slit. By the timeSuperman had arrived at the governor’s mansion, an hour had passed and thekidnappers were long gone. No ransom note ever came. The radio and newspaperslatched on to the story, and someone from somewhere had dug up a picture ofJune and Robert Whitman waving at Superman as he flew through the air, whichonly added fuel to the fire.
It was five days later that Lois found another letter perched on her desk,again requesting that she come up to the rooftop. She grabbed her pencil andnotepad, then made the trek up.
“Hello Lois,” said Superman. He stood with his back to her, looking out overthe city. His cape flowed out behind him. Even after all this time, Loiscouldn’t help but see him as anything but a god.
“Superman,” she replied. “What brings you to my neck of the woods?”
“I found the governor’s children,” said Superman. He didn’t turn around toface her.
“And are they alright?” she asked.
“No,” replied Superman.
Lois was quiet for a moment. She’d been covering the story double time, sinceClark was out with the flu. She’d been hoping it wasn’t the Lindbergh baby allover again. “Were they-”
“Off the record?” asked Superman.
Lois hesitated for a moment, then tucked her pencil behind her ear. “Sure.”
“I found them in a farmhouse forty miles outside of Metropolis. They had Junein the kitchen on a table,” said Superman. “Laid out on her back. Only elevenyears old and they were-” Superman stopped. “I barely recognized her. Theywere taking turns with her.”
Lois felt her stomach churn. She didn’t want to be hearing this.
“Robert had been put into the refrigerator,” Superman continued. “Nine yearsold, and they’d used a hatchet to get him into small enough pieces that he’dfit on the shelves.”
Superman kept clenching and unclenching his fists, and Lois could only thinkabout how much power he was exerting when his knuckles went white. Enough toturn coal into diamonds, probably.
“There were three men there,” said Superman. “Three men, and they were -animals. Monsters. June had a gag in her mouth, and she was screaming aroundit.” He took a breath. “I flew in as fast as I could. I pulled her out ofthere and flew her to the nearest hospital. She beat against my chest thewhole time, crying and shouting. Either she didn’t realize who I was or - orshe realized, and she hated me for being too late.” He swallowed hard. “Andthen I went back for the men.”
Lois wanted to say something, but the words were stuck in her throat.
“Do you know what I did to them?” asked Superman.
Lois took an involuntary step back. She couldn’t help herself. She could seethe anger radiating off of him now, barely kept in check. It had been therethe whole time, as plain as day, she just hadn’t thought to look for it. Themuscles on his neck were strained and his teeth were clenched. “What did youdo?” she asked in a soft, small voice.
“I arrested them,” said Superman.
“You … what?” asked Lois.
“It would have been so easy to kill them,” said Superman. “No one’s seen theupper limits of my strength. I could have just snapped my fingers and -” Hedid just that, and there was a thunderclap. It left Lois’s ears ringing. “-like that. Dead. I could have pushed my fingers straight into their brains,faster than a speeding bullet. It would have been better than they deserved.They deserved to be chained up in the deepest, darkest cell I could make forthem and slowly starved to death.”
“Superman,” said Lois, but there wasn’t any set of words that could come afterthat to make everything okay.
“I can’t keep doing this,” he said. He finally turned around, and she couldsee tears in his eyes. “I can’t keep pretending that I’m someone that I’m not- some paragon of truth and justice. I’m just -” he seemed to start to saysomething but changed his mind. “Just an alien from the planet Krypton. I’mnot perfect.”
“No one is asking you to be,” said Lois, but she knew that wasn’t true.Millions of people were clamoring for Superman to be a million differentthings. They assumed he was perfect, they just thought he was perfect in thewrong way. “They just want you to try your best.”
“My best? I can hear everything going on in the world right now,” saidSuperman. “No one thinks about what that means.” He pointed to the north.“Just there, six miles away, a house is on fire. The family has evacuated, buttheir possessions are burning. A little girl is crying because she left herdoll behind, and I can see it melting. She’s calling out for me to dosomething. Over there, two miles down the road, a man just punched his wife inthe mouth, and shouldn’t I be going to stop him from doing it again?” Hepointed east. “There was a flash flood in China a handful of minutes ago. Ican hear three women choking to death. If I left now, I might be able to savethem.” He pointed to the south. “There was a car accident near Atlanta, eightseconds ago. When the windshield shattered it sliced a man across his neck. IfI left now, I might be able to get him to the hospital before he bleeds out.”He shook his head. “But I’m not doing anything to help anyone. I’m standinghere on this rooftop, talking to you.”
Superman stared out over the city, unmoving. Lois watched him.
“It’s not selfish to take time for yourself,” said Lois. She tried to keep herhands from shaking. She was scared of him, and she wondered whether he couldtell. “If that’s what keeps you sane, there’s no shame stopping to take abreath.”
“Of course there is,” said Superman. “Do you know why I wanted to kill thosemen? It wasn’t just because of what they’d done. It’s because I didn’t doenough. I was busy taking time for myself. Those men were monsters, but I’m amonster for not doing more. I’m a fraud.”
He was silent for a long moment, staring out into space while he listened topeople die. “I really should be going.” Lois tried to think of something tosay, but Superman stepped backwards off the roof and plummeted downwards. Thelast thing she saw was his cape fluttering behind him.
Her heart was hammering away in her chest. Her palms were sweaty. There was noforce in the world that could stop Superman. He was being pushed harder thanhe could handle, and she was the only one that knew. He’d revealed himself toher in confidence, but what she now knew was bigger than any promise. Supermanwas unstable. She had no idea what to do about that.
Lex Luthor had done some quick, sloppy math.
Superman spent a minimum of four hours a day as Clark Kent. He didn’t spendthe entire day in the office, and was often out in the field reporting onsomething or another, which gave him some time to be Superman. Lex Luthor hadread every article written by Clark Kent over the past year, and there weresome trends that suggested to him that much of the information was gatheredthrough the use of x-ray vision and super-hearing. Clark Kent rarely useddirect quotes, and rarely claimed that he’d asked someone a question. He alsohad a tendency towards unnamed sources. So call it four out of every eighthours of every workday as Clark Kent. Forget for a moment that Superman wentabout his do-goodery in an incredibly inefficient way and just crunch thenumbers with best guesses about the variables and probabilities.
The existence of Clark Kent cost four people their lives in the average day. Ahuman life was worth less to Superman than the ability to sit at a desk for anhour. And that was just actual death. If you included rape, assault, propertydamage, and theft, it became even more atrocious. Lex immediately revised hisestimate of the existential risk posed by Superman upwards by a substantialamount.
Lex had investigated the Clark Kent issue as much as he could from as remote adistance as possible. There were a number of troubling aspects to it, asidefrom what it implied about Superman’s psychology and the value that Supermanplaced on human life.
Clark Kent’s first byline for The Daily Planet had preceded Superman’s arrivalby three months. Superman had claimed to study the world for two weeks beforeintervening in human affairs, but that was clearly a lie. And where had ClarkKent come from? You couldn’t just get hired without paperwork and references.It was admittedly possible that a number of people were in on the deception,but Lex thought it unlikely. He’d spoken to Lois Lane in person on a number ofoccasions, and she hadn’t let even the smallest false note slip. Even if shewere a masterful liar, now that Lex knew the truth he should have been able tospot something in retrospect. He would speak to her again to make sure, but ifSuperman’s interviewer weren’t in on the secret, Lex couldn’t imagine anyoneelse would be either.
No, the signs pointed to Clark Kent existing in some respect prior to hisarrival in Metropolis, and this buried past was where Lex needed to belooking. He hired out a private investigator to strike up a conversation witha photographer at The Daily Planet named Jimmy Olsen, and when the topic of arecent article came up, Jimmy was all too ready to spill the beans on ClarkKent. He’d been obliging enough to provide a location: Smallville, Kansas.
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