Chapter 9: Dust to Dust

Lex needed to know what was in the storm cellar. It was a matter of practicalnecessity, but there was an emotional component as well. He’d spent nearly ayear of his life in pursuit of what lay there, slowly working his waybackwards from Superman to Clark Kent and Clark Kent to Smallville. He hadthree agents in Smallville, one of whom was living on the farm itself, soclose that it ached. In Lex Luthor’s fantasy, he stood in a clean, pressedsuit and watched over a workman using an oxy-fuel cutting torch. When thedoors were opened, he would stride down into the cellar and find whatever washidden there.

It couldn’t be a secret laboratory. If it were, there was no way that Lexwould have been able to insert his agent onto the farm so easily. It waspossible that the storm cellar was a decoy of some kind, but Lex found thatdoubtful. The game wouldn’t be at this stage if Superman were such a supremelyparanoid person. More likely, the storm cellar was booby-trapped, or simplyimpassible by human means. Those metal doors could hide explosive devices orthree solid feet of steel. And contained within the cellar could be anything.All of that made planning a mission difficult.

Lex Luthor had involved himself in a number of thefts, especially in hisyouth. Stealing an unknown object from behind unknown defenses with a guardthat had a nearly unlimited surveillance ability would be challenging but not,strictly speaking, impossible. Removing Martha Kent from the farm for the daywould be easiest part. Superman could be distracted by a disaster of somesort, or more likely a series of them. Getting the proper equipment into placewould be trivial, and the thieves themselves already had their coveridentities. It might even be possible to break into the storm cellar, retrievewhatever was in there, and then weld it back shut without Superman evenknowing a theft had taken place until he flew over Kansas and used his x-rayvision to check. Whether Superman ever checked at all was an open question,but Lex found it unlikely. Neither Clark Kent nor Superman had been seen in oraround Smallville in the time that his agents had been there. Superman couldwatch from high up in outer space, but from what Lex knew of his psychology,this too was unlikely - though not so unlikely that the theft could be donewithout precautions.

Judging how Superman might react to the theft was more difficult. Supermanwould find out that someone knew his secret identity, and he would know thatsomeone had whatever was in the storm cellar. Obviously that was far fromideal, but it might be worth it if the cellar contained the means to defeat,depower, or contain him. Lex Luthor laid his plans.

The letter arrived on April 7th. The date was written at the top of it was“4/3/35” rather than “April 3rd, 1935”, which was a prearranged indicationthat it contained a coded message. The code was fairly simple, as these thingswent, and it was solvable without the use of pencil and paper so long as youknew that the variety of salutation defined which of the six codes was beingused. In this case, “Dearest Floyd,” meant to take the last letter of everyword and put it into a four by four grid which was then read from bottom totop and right to left. Floyd deciphered it quickly. Go to Greene shop and gettickets. April 14th leave from church and take Martha with you. Keep her awayuntil after the show. Top priority.

Floyd went down to the grocery store owned by Joseph and Loretta Greene. Hehad no idea what their level of involvement in this scheme was, just as he hadno idea what the goal of the scheme itself was. So far as he could tell, theywere either patsies with no real knowledge of what they were doing, or veryskilled deep cover agents. Sometimes Floyd thought he could see something hardand dangerous behind Joseph Greene’s smiles, but he might have just beenimagining things. If they were something more than store owners, theiremployer wanted to keep them compartmentalized, since he’d never been toldmuch about them. When he’d stayed with them, they’d acted as nothing more thanshopkeepers looking to help out a traveler.

“Floyd!” called Loretta. “Good to see you. Would you like to buy a raffleticket?”

Floyd smiled at her. She had pretty, blue-grey eyes. He could imagine her as akiller, if he tried, but it wasn’t clear on her face. “Well that depends now,what’s the raffle for?”

“Two tickets to see Anything Goes in Wichita,” said Loretta. She smiled withher eyes. “A nickel to enter, though a few folks around here have bought a fewentries to increase their chances.”

“Well that sounds lovely,” said Floyd. “I think I have a nickel on me, as amatter of fact.”

It was no surprise to hear that he’d won a week later.

“All the way in Wichita?” asked Martha when he’d asked her to come with him.

“We can leave from the church, have lunch in the city, and then see the show,”said Floyd. “I have some money saved up, and I wouldn’t mind spending some ofit to show you a nice time. It’ll be good to see the big city.”

“I suppose you’re right,” said Martha. “I haven’t been outside of Smallvillesince Jonathan passed.”

In truth, the two of them didn’t get along that well. Martha was clearlylonely. Her husband was dead and her only son was two days away in Metropolis.In the first week she’d shown him everything that was required of him, buteven after that, she would sit down on a tree stump with a glass of lemonadeand talk at length while he worked on mucking out the chicken coop or tendedto the small garden. Floyd tried to smile and encourage her. Listening to herstories was half of the reason he had been hired, but she had a way oframbling on that irked him. She quite proudly held opinions that might havemade her outspoken among the people of rural Kansas, but were practicallypedestrian by the standards of the people Floyd had met throughout his life.Martha talked about the exodusters coming to town when she was a little girl,her involvement in the radical temperance movement, and working the farm withJonathan through tornadoes, blizzards, hail, floods, grasshoppers, anddroughts. Floyd tried his best to pretend to be interested, and most of whatshe said went into the letters.

Her distaste for pistols aside, the first time they’d really locked horns waswhen he brought home a small jar of moonshine. While the rest of the nationmight have recognized Prohibition for the folly that it was, Kansas had lawsagainst alcohol long before the amendment was passed, and had kept them inplace after it was repealed. The ban was mostly thanks to little old ladieslike Martha Kent. She’d shamed him for bringing moonshine into the house, toldhim it was against the law as if he didn’t already know that, and then madehim dump it out on the ground just beside the front steps. The only reason hehadn’t gotten his pistols and shot her three times in the head was theenormous and ever-growing amount of money waiting for him once his work wasdone.

Floyd Lawton was a professional, but the job was getting to him. In the normalcourse of his work he would get a job and then spend some time doing thehomework and employing a wide range of skills in things like lockpicking,disguise, forgery, and so on. The actual murder itself took a day at the most,and then he’d make his getaway and spend his newfound wealth on women andbooze. His life consisted of long periods of debauchery punctuated by razor-sharp focus on a task that had been set before him. This particular job upsetthat natural rhythm. For the last few weeks, he’d been working as a farmhandwith no clear end in sight.

When he’d initially arranged for the job, he’d been told that the term ofemployment was indefinite, but he hadn’t really thought that it would be solong, especially with the amount that was being put into his account on adaily basis. Sitting in the woods with a rifle trained on a cabin for threedays was easy for Floyd; this required a different kind of patience that hewasn’t sure he had.

The SS Excelsior caught fire at nine in the morning. It was a cruise shipwhich had taken a recent turn as a ritzy floating restaurant in order to drumup business for its next voyage. Three times a day it would pull into theharbor and exchange passengers, giving a large number of people the chance toexperience what a life of luxury on the seas was like. Sunday was Lois’s dayoff, but her work as a journalist was never far from her mind, and she didn’thave a real affection for personal time. There was a story somewhere on theExcelsior, something that went beyond just the glitz and glamour of it. Ifthere wasn’t a story, then a day of eating fine foods on a fancy ship was asmall price to pay. Luthor was a part owner of the ship, and had paid her way.

Lois was first alerted to the fire when a crewman hurried across the diningroom. She’d set her fork down and rushed after him, and it was when she heardthe panic in their voices that she began to smile. It wasn’t many days thatshe got to be so close to a story as it developed. She was an excellentswimmer, and in the worst case scenario could tread water for long enough toget rescued, if not outright swim to shore. The water wasn’t too cold, andhypothermia wouldn’t be an issue. All in all, it was a pleasant enough timeand place to be on a sinking boat.

It took a full fifteen minutes for Superman to show up, by which point theelectrical cables and hydraulic lines had both been burned through, leavingthe ship adrift and without radio. The Excelsior had been at its furthestdistance from Metropolis when the fire started, and just making the turn backtowards the city. If it weren’t a Sunday, the ports would have been busier,but as it was the effort to provide them a rescue was looking pitiful.

Superman moved low to the water as he came in, splashing up waves behind him,and entered straight through the side of the burning ship. The fire was outwithin half a minute, though smoke and steam still rose around the ship. Theship was listing to one side, and Lois held firm to the railing. A number ofthe lifeboats had been lowered into the water, and the women and children werebeing put onto them. Someone had tried to grab Lois’s arm and lead her away,but of course she was having none of it. She felt a lurch from the keel of theship, followed by a loud snapping sound.

“The ship is too damaged for me to move,” said Superman from just beyond theside of the ship. He’d moved there so quickly she couldn’t be sure he hadn’tbeen there all along. He stood in mid-air with his feet pointed down, andtalked clearly and loudly with a rich baritone. Lois doubted that there was aperson on the ship who couldn’t hear him. “Everyone stay calm, the fire hasbeen put out and you’re in no danger.”

The evacuation was neat and orderly, and done with a minimum of fuss. A smallboy laughed and jumped into the water, and Superman pulled him out and put himon a lifeboat with a stern admonition not to engage in foolishness. WithSuperman there, no one really feared for their lives. Lois heard a man saythat it was impossible to die when Superman was standing next to you.

He landed on the deck next to Lois. “Do you need assistance Miss Lane?” heasked with a half grin, as though nothing had ever passed between the two ofthem. Worse, he said it like there weren’t hundreds of people dying all overthe world with every passing minute. His mask was so complete that she almostbelieved it.

“I can make it to the lifeboat by myself,” said Lois. She’d been thinking whatabout she and Luthor had been talking about of late, and forced the next wordsout. “But if you’re heading back into Metropolis anyway, I wouldn’t mind adirect flight.” She smiled, and could feel herself showing too much teeth, butSuperman smiled back and returned to helping people into their life boats.When everyone had been evacuated from the ship and the Coast Guard were ontheir way, Superman once again landed beside her and held out an arm towardsher. Trying not to think about it too much, she stepped towards him andallowed herself to be swept up in his arms.

She’d been sitting in Lex’s study two weeks prior ago he’d brought up theidea.

You’re one of the anchors holding Superman in place, wrote Lex. You need tobind yourself tighter to him, so that he’ll listen to you. He’s attracted toyou. Use that.

She made the hand signal for No. She and Lex had some two dozen signals thatthey used for messages that were too short for paper, a sign of how longthey’d kept up their charade. The book was nearing completion, with Lex as afull co-author, and there was nothing close to a solution for the Supermanproblem. He’d suggested that they begin work together on a new book after theone on Superman was done, but Lois wasn’t sure that there was a point incontinuing.

Why? he signed back.

Lois sighed and started writing a message. He would know that I was lying.His senses are too sharp for me to fool him. And I could only keep it up forso long before he would figure it out. She paused with her pencil poised overthe page. It would increase the scrutiny on me. And I don’t like him. He’stoo powerful.

You’ve criticized me for not doing enough, Lex wrote back. This is a goodplan. Scrutiny we can deal with. I understand that you don’t like him, but ifyou’re truly worried about him going rogue, this is one of the best ways tostop it from happening.

She and Luthor had gotten to know each other well over the course of their twoperson conspiracy, but she still wasn’t entirely sure that he took what she’dtold him seriously. He’d expanded his charitable efforts and begancontributing to various legal efforts on Superman’s behalf, but it never feltquite as concrete as she might have hoped. Luthor wanted to deal with Supermanon an ideological or psychological level, and when she’d told him thatwouldn’t be enough, he’d quirked an eyebrow and asked what more they couldpossibly do. Superman was invincible, everyone knew that.

She couldn’t argue with the logic of providing an anchor for Superman, but thethought of courting him made her skin crawl. He was strong, handsome, popular,and powerful, but she hadn’t been able to shake the sense of danger she felton their first meeting, and after his breakdown she’d stopped trying to seehim in a more favorable light. He was an alien pretending at being a moralexemplar when really he was much closer to an ordinary man. Who knew whatpersonality lay in wait behind the mask he wore? Lois had never had anythingresembling a lasting relationship, but she’d gone on dozens if not hundreds ofdates. Some of the men were creeps right off the bat. With others it didn’tbecome clear until the third drink, when she’d already begun thinking aboutthe next date. And just once, the guy she’d been dating was arrested forbeating a woman to death. She’d been dating him for two weeks at that point,and wouldn’t have believed he was actually guilty except for the fact that shehad contacts within the police department who’d shared the evidence with her.It had taken a long time for her to actually want to spend time in the companyof a man after that.

It’s fine if you don’t want to do it, wrote Lex. But it’s important to makethe distinction between you having a personal distaste for your involvementand the plan actually being a poor one.

Lois thought about her objections. Superman could use his incredible senses towatch a person’s breathing and listen to their pulse, but so far he hadn’tshown any real ability to translate that into an ability to see whethersomeone was lying. She didn’t want to be his girlfriend or anything else, butit was difficult to argue that humanity as a whole would be in a betterposition if Superman had someone that he actually listened to. Supermanalready cared about her in some way, and she already had to assume that he waswatching her. There was a risk that Superman would discover that she wastrying to play him, but that came down to whether Lois was good enough to keepit up. She would just have to become a better liar.

She didn’t give Lex an answer, but had started preparing for the next time herpath crossed with Superman’s all the same. And that was how she ended up inhis arms, flying over the Lower Metropolis Bay.

It wasn’t so bad as before. He kept the speed gentle and stayed close to thewater, so that if he dropped her it would only be unpleasant and not instantlyfatal. Lois had her arms wrapped around his neck, and pressed her face againsthis chest to keep it out of the wind. So far as she could tell, it was exactlywhat he wanted. Her fear was still present, but if any of it showed perhaps hewould mistake it for something else.

He set her down gently, near the stretch of river where Luthor’s long muralstood.

“Thank you,” said Lois. She placed a hand against his chest, and stood closeto him. “For everything.” She tried to ignore the people watching them.

Superman seemed about to say something, then cocked his head to the side.“There’s a chemical spill down in Dockside,” he said. “If you’re ever in need,just call my name.”

And with that he was off, flying through the air towards some new disaster.Lois’s hands were trembling slightly, but it had gone better than she’dthought it would.

“Why doesn’t Superman do something about this drought?” asked Bill Parker.

Martha Kent always made it a point to go to church early, and Floyd sat withher. Attending the Zion Lutheran Church was more about community thanreligious fulfillment, and Martha never missed a chance to chime in, no matterthe topic of conversation.

“And how would he do that Bill?” asked Martha. “He can fly, not control theweather.”

“Well,” said Bill. “Well he could spin around a bunch and pull some water tous.” He spun his finger around in front of him to demonstrate.

“He’d be liable to flood our farms if he tried that, and where on Earth wouldhe get the water to do it?” asked Martha.

“Lake Superior,” replied Bill. “Fresh water, more than we’d ever need, and hecould just funnel it up like that. Five hundred miles or so ain’t nothing tohim. And there are waterspouts, ain’t there? Same thing.”

“It wouldn’t work,” said Martha with her arms crossed in front of her.

“Then a canal, say,” replied Bill. “We can’t take much more of these duststorms.”

“Sit back and enjoy the clear day,” said Martha.

“Superman doesn’t do hard labor,” said Pete Ross, who ran the auto repairplace.

“Well we could use a canal,” said Bill. “I don’t care how we get it.”

Floyd tried to resist rolling his eyes, and settled in for another sermon. Thepastor was young, and his lessons were obvious by the time he was threesentences in. Floyd was far from being a religious man, but he’d alwaysthought that the true meaning of what was said shouldn’t be revealed untilnear the end, when it all came together and made itself clear.

After the sermon was over, Floyd waited next to the truck for Martha. Themusical was showing at two in the afternoon, which left them just enough timeto have some lunch in the city. The skies were clear and blue. Martha liked totalk to the other church goers for a good long while, and if Floyd owned awatch he would have been looking at it every few seconds. There was no realhurry though. The whole point of the operation was for him to keep Martha awayfrom the farm for as long as possible, and it didn’t matter whether she wastalking to friends or on the road.

“The barometer’s dropping fast,” said Martha as she walked towards the truck.“There’s going to be a dust storm.”

“Skies look clear and blue to me,” said Floyd with a ready smile. There wasn’ta cloud in sight. “I’m sure if there’s a storm we can take cover in Wichitabetter than on the farm.”

Martha shook her head. “No, the radio says it’s going to be bad, and we can’tbe out on the open road. Besides that, we need to prepare the farm to weatherit as best we can.”

Floyd thought on that. The Greenes hadn’t been in church, which probably meantthat they were already on the farm - probably cracking open the storm cellar.He couldn’t very well go back to the farmhouse with Martha and come acrossthem in some incriminating position.

“Please Missus Kent, I’m sure we’ll be fine. Worse comes to worst we pull overand take shelter in someone’s cellar. Folk in Kansas are nice, I can’t imaginethat anyone would turn us away.” Floyd smiled, and hoped he didn’t seem todesperate. “I’ve never seen a musical before, and if we miss this one I thinkI might never.”

“I know you had your heart set on it,” said Martha. “But we have to go home.If we don’t seal those windows the house will be full of dirt, to say nothingof what’s going to happen to the chickens.”

“Alright,” said Floyd. “Maybe someday I’ll save up enough to go see a musicalall on my own.”

“If it’s as bad as I think it is, the theater would be closed anyway,” saidMartha. “Now let’s get going.”

The next step was sabotage. Floyd could choke the engine and then disconnectsome vital part when he popped the hood of the truck to see what was wrong. Hewas just about to do this when Martha spoke.

“I’ve heard some unpleasant rumors, Floyd,” said Martha. Floyd spared a glanceat her and saw a frown on her face.

“Rumors?” he asked, though he could guess right away what they were.

“You and that Betty Graber,” said Martha. “There’s some talk that the two ofyou are an item, and I can’t say that I could tolerate you living with me ifthat’s true.”

Betty Graber had made eyes at him from nearly the moment he’d set foot intotown. She was nearly sixteen, and naive enough to think that there wassomething romantic about a drifter. More likely than not she thought she couldchange him, but better women had tried and failed at that. She would chat withhim whenever their paths crossed, and pretend to be going in the samedirection as he was so they could walk the two blocks that made upSmallville’s downtown together. If he’d been smart, he would have avoided her,but Smallville had little to offer in the way of entertainment and booze wasprohibited. He’d taken her virginity in a grassy field, and she’d cried thewhole time. Afterwards, she followed him around like a puppy that wasparticularly desperate for affection. It was the very definition of trouble,and it was only after he’d been with her that he could see that with anyclarity.

“There’s no truth to it,” said Floyd. “She’s keen on me, I can tell, but Iwould never take advantage.”

Martha said nothing, and Floyd risked a glance over at her. She looked upset.He couldn’t be sure how much she had heard from the gossipmongers at church,but there was a serious risk that his room, board, and dollar a week wereabout to disappear, and that meant in turn that his enormous salary was goingto disappear too. Depending on what Betty had let slip, there might be someway to salvage things. He was mulling this over when he realized that he couldsee the Kent farm ahead of him. He choked the engine, and popped out of thecar.

“I’ll see what’s wrong,” he said quickly.

“I’ll just walk the rest of the way,” said Martha. She pointed back behindher. “I can see the dust storm on the horizon already.” And in fact she wasright, to the north the horizon was muddled and blackish brown. The storm wasmoving fast.

Floyd could see a large truck on the farm from where they were, and it wasjust a matter of time until Martha noticed it too. The mission was blown, andnow it was a question of what his employer would want. The problem was, hejust hadn’t been given enough information, because he wasn’t supposed to beanywhere near the operation. The storm cellar had to be the target. It was aquestion of whether it would be better to let the operation be discovered byMartha or better for Floyd to lose his cover. The fact that Martha wasthreatening to kick him out made the decision easy.

Floyd Lawton pulled out his gun. He caught up with Martha in a few shortstrides, and smacked her in the head with the butt of the pistol as she turnedto look at him. From there it was just a matter of half a minute to pick upher light and frail body and set it in the back of the truck. With some quickwork with ropes and a handkerchief he had her bounded and gagged. He restartedthe truck and drove towards the house. Hopefully his employer wouldunderstand.

“What the hell are you doing here?” asked Joseph Greene as Floyd pulled up.

“Change of plans,” said Floyd. “I’m here to help you two out. There’s a duststorm coming and we need to get out ahead of it if we can.” That was when hespotted Loretta beside the large delivery truck they had, aiming a rifle athis chest. Either he was getting rusty or she was well-trained.

Joseph stared at him. “Where’s Missus Kent?”

“Knocked out,” said Floyd. “In the back of the truck.”

Joseph swore. “Alright, we need to move then, quickly. Come this way.”

The moving truck was backed up towards the storm cellar, which had its doorscast wide open. Beside it was an array of cutting tools. Joseph stepped downinto cellar, and Floyd walked behind him. A small lantern cast light on theobject.

“What in the hell is that?” asked Floyd.

It looked like a kite had swallowed an enormous egg. There was hardly astraight angle on it, save for the tips of the wings which were set two thirdsof the way back, and it was easily six feet wide. The metal was gleaming adull gold where the dust had been wiped away. There were no openings orprotrusions of any kind, just pleasantly sweeping curves. When Floyd lookedclosely at the area that had been cleaned of dust, he could see that it wastiled in an intricate pattern.

“No idea,” said Joseph. “Now come on, no talking, we need to get moving. Now.”

The three of them heaved at it, and eventually the two men got their shouldersbeneath the two stubby wings and managed to lift it up enough to start movingit up the wooden steps. They stopped to rest once it was outside, then withanother burst of effort got it up into the back of the truck. Floyd collapsedagainst the side of the truck. He’d initially thought that the object would beunmovable without wrapping ropes around it and using the truck to pull it, butinstead it was just obscenely heavy.

“Storm’s coming,” said Loretta. A black cloud stretched from one end of thehorizon to the other, hanging low. She walked over to Floyd’s truck and turnedto look at him with a frown. “Take that truck and drive as far away from hereas you can. Keep Martha with you.” The Greenes moved swiftly, and were alreadyon the move by the time that Floyd had gotten the truck started up again. Inhis rear view mirror he could see Martha Kent, folded up like a doll. After amoment of looking at her, he realized that she didn’t seem to be breathing.Floyd swore and hopped out of the truck, but as he reached down to check for apulse he could see that he was far too late. Blood had trickled out from hernostrils and dried in place, and her eyes had gone milky. He swore again, andgot back in the truck.

The storm was a godsend, so far as Floyd was concerned. It would cover up boththe death of Martha Kent and his disappearance from Smallville. Dust stormsdidn’t usually kill unless they caught you by surprise and choked you out, butif this one was bad, maybe that’s what people would assume happened. He andMartha would both be missing, along with the truck, and surely the policewould draw their own conclusions. The empty storm cellar with its doors blownopen would only contribute to that. Floyd’s money was held in a bank in KansasCity, and he’d make a withdrawal before anyone knew what had happened.

Floyd was a dozen miles away from Kansas City when the storm front caught upwith him. Visibility dropped down to nothing, and he kept going more throughthe feel of the road than because he could see what was in front of him. Astrong gust of wind hit the truck, nearly sending it sliding sideways. WhenFloyd looked back, Martha’s body was gone.

The driver’s side door flew away in a tumble of twisted metal and brokenglass, and Floyd was wrenched from his seat and flung into the dirt. He closedhis eyes tight and spat out a mouthful of blackened soil. Half a second laterthe wind whipped him hard, pulling him up into the air. He fell, twisting inthe wind, for what seemed like a long time. He was stopped when his shirtsnagged on something, suspending him off the ground. He wiped at his eyes,trying to clear the dirt away. It was only slowly that he realized he wasbeing held by a man. The dirt wasn’t blowing anymore, because the clouds werenow below them, sweeping over the Midwest like a horde of black demons. He hadbeen thrown up into the sky and caught by a god.

Superman - for it could only be Superman - was covered in the same fine soilthat Floyd was. His hair was a mess and his face was caked with dirt, save forjust below his eyes where there were twin streaks of pink flesh. He wascrying. Floyd didn’t move, and didn’t say anything. His employer had beentaking precautions against the arrival of Superman, and now Superman was here.The only thing to strive for was getting out of this alive, and the only wayto do that was to convince Superman to bring him back down to the ground.Superman didn’t kill people, but he wasn’t supposed to cry either. Floyd wasbeing held up by the cheap, dirty fabric of his shirt, which was pressinguncomfortably against his armpits.

“You killed her,” said Superman in a voice filled with cold fury.

“It was an accident,” said Floyd. His voice was hoarse. He must have swallowedquite a bit of dirt on his way up. “I meant to knock her out, not kill her. Ijust hit her too hard.”

“An accident,” spat Superman. “I spend my every waking second treadinglightly, trying not to go too fast, trying not to break your fragile littlebodies. Do you understand how careful I was in bringing you up out of thestorm? How easily I could have broken your bones, or liquified your muscles?Do you think I have one single ounce of sympathy for you?” Superman let outa raw and primal scream that left Floyd momentarily deaf. It was so loud hisvery bones had vibrated. And even then, he could tell that Superman had beenholding back.

“I’m sorry,” said Floyd, barely able to hear his own words.

“She was my mother,” replied Superman.

Floyd had a sudden moment of clarity. He’d had a dozen conversations withMartha Kent about her son, and all of them had been given their context. Hisemployer’s paranoia now seemed reasonable. There were pictures of Clarkthroughout the house, and as he stared at the dirty and distraught face infront of him, he realized the truth.

“Listen Clark,” said Floyd quickly.

One of Superman’s hands flickered forward and wrapped around Floyd’s throat,stopping the attempt at persuasion before it could even begin. The pressurewas firm but gentle. If not for the other hand still twisted around andgrabbing Floyd’s shirt, he’d be choking to death.

“Don’t call me that,” said Superman. He stared at Floyd with hatred in hiseyes for a long moment. Floyd wondered whether this was the end. SurelySuperman wouldn’t let him live with the knowledge of his second identity.

“Is there a point to your life?” asked Superman. “Did God have any purposebehind your creation other than to test me?”

Floyd tried his best to nod. Slowly, Superman released his throat.

“My employer,” said Floyd. “I can help you get to him. He never showed hisface, but we have ways of communicating, and there’s a bank account he putsmoney into.”

Superman nodded. “Talk.”

We were able to remove the foreign contaminant from the lab’s water supply.The source of it was a large, singular deposit beneath the surface, which hasnow been safely separated out. The origin of the contaminant is unknown, butinitial tests have shown it to be somewhat exotic. In other news, ourbiological research is going well, but unfortunately our prized test subjecthas been injured, perhaps mortally. We suspect mishandling by one of the otherworkers in the lab. While that experiment was originally going to be a double-blind, we now believe that some bias may have crept in. With that said, we’reproud to report that our total cycle time is down to just an hour and a half.

Lex stared at the after-action report. The storm cellar had contained aspaceship - or something similar enough to it - and was now housed threehundred feet below the ground in a lead mine near Pleasanton, Kansas. In thenext part of the plan it would be encased in a quantity of refined lead, andfrom there shipped out to an atomic research laboratory in Hub City which hadbeen set up far in advance. The man and woman posing as Joseph and LorettaGreene were long gone, and their usefulness was at an end, given that Supermanmight have seen their faces.

There had been no word from Floyd Lawton.

That Martha Kent was injured and probably dead was troubling. Superman hadtethers to the world, and she was one of them. From what Lex had been able tofind out, Clark Kent had few friends, and none that extended beyond hisemployment at The Daily Planet. In all likelihood, Superman now knew thathis secret identity was compromised, which was another point of worry. Eventswere not yet spiraling out of control, but if the plan had followed the happypath, managing Superman would have been much easier.

With the spaceship in Lex’s possession, hopefully a solution could be foundbefore Superman broke free of his moral constraints.

Author’s Note: “Black Sunday” was the worst dust storm of the era, andshortly afterwards the term “Dust Bowl” was coined.

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