By Joel Schuldt <JASCHULDT@aol.com>
Submitted April 2000
Summary: The third segment in the author's "The Saga Continues" series. Lois and Clark return to Earth to find that "Alexander Luthor" has recreated LexCorp … and that "Lois Lane" and "Clark Kent" have died in a mysterious accident.
All standard disclaimers apply. All characters in this story (Except those of my own creation) are the properties of Mrs. Siegel, DC Comics, Warner Bros. and December 3rd Productions Ltd., Robert K. Weiss, and Tracy Torme; no infringements of any property rights are intended by their use.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the third installment of my series, which began with "Endings and Beginnings" and continued with "Storm Warnings." I hope you enjoy.
My special thanks to Kathy B for her immense help in editing and getting everything straightened out, and to everyone who's e-mailed me with their thoughts on the stories. I truly appreciate it!
Comments or Questions? E-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Indicates thoughts <
ALL CAPITALS- indicates stronger emphasis on word
Black smoke billowed into the sky, staining the sunlight that filtered down. Looking in sorrow at the burned out shell of an apartment building, Captain Williams of the Metropolis Fire Department rubbed his forehead and sighed. Motioning one of his crew over, Williams pulled out a notepad from his pocket.
"Take this over to the Police, Charlie. The survivors gave us the names of who owned the apartment this mess started in."
Glancing down at the page, Charlie Phillips caught his breath in shock.
"Clark and Lois Lane-Kent? Aren't they reporters for the Planet?"
"Yeah, Charlie," the Captain sighed. "They were."
Looking over as a black station wagon pulled up, Captain Williams had to squint as a ray of light reflected off the white stenciled lettering on the side of the vehicle: 'CORONER.'
As the vortex faded from view, Clark and Lois looked around in relief.
"Well, we seem to be home in one piece," Lois sighed. Glancing at her husband, she gave him a withering glare. "I STILL can't believe you let Professor Hamilton talk you into exploring and cataloging the other Earths. Going through that thing gives me the willies." Casting a look over her shoulder, Lois involuntarily shivered.
Grinning sheepishly, Clark reattached the portal device to his belt.
"Actually, Lois, it wasn't JUST Professor Hamilton who asked. The President is kind of a difficult person to say no to. Besides," he added. "I think he had a very GOOD reason for asking us. We really DO need to keep an eye on anything Lord Kal-El might try. Besides," he added. "We've got Professor Halloway helping out with things." With a gleam in his eye, Clark leaned towards Lois. "You're telling me that you DIDN'T enjoy walking on another world?"
"Another world, Clark?" Pointing at the ground, Lois's eyes widened slightly. "That was EARTH, Clark, NOT another world."
"Really?" Shrugging offhandedly, Clark gazed at the sky. "I don't know, Lois. Last time I looked, there weren't dinosaurs running around on Earth." Though his voice remained carefully neutral, Lois could tell that he was practically bursting at the seams in his excitement.
"Still, though," Lois huffed, more out of habit than actual disagreement. "You could have at least TRIED to say no."
"I know, Honey," Clark admitted. "But anyway, we're home now. I wonder what time it is?"
"I wonder what the DATE is," Lois added. "We've been gone at LEAST a couple days. Add that on top of the little vacation we took, and we've probably been out of circulation for a little over a week."
"Well, my counterpart DID offer to cover for us while we were gone. I think we can be forgiven for wanting a little… QUALITY time together, don't you?" Leaning down, Clark gently nuzzled his wife's neck.
Suppressing a giggle, Lois leaned into his ministrations.
As the two neared the farmhouse, both caught sight of the side door opening a crack, almost hesitantly.
"Mom?" Puzzled, Clark quickened his pace to the Kent family home. Nearing the doorway, he could see that the eye observing him was red-rimmed and drawn.
Throwing the door open, Martha Kent raced out of the house, tears streaming down her face, and fell into her son's waiting arms.
"We've been dodging reporters the past few days. This was aired the day after you left, Clark." Pressing the play button, Jonathan Kent moved aside.
Standing in front of the Daily Planet, the well dressed, brown haired man gazed intently into the camera.
"Good evening, Metropolis. This is Steve Lombard of WLEX News. Last evening an explosion rocked the quiet suburb of Hyperion Avenue, killing at least two and injuring dozens more. This comes in the wake of the latest wave of violence conducted by Intergang against Metropolis. Police, while hesitant to speculate on the exact CAUSE of this rampage, are nevertheless increasing their presence on the streets. Unfortunately, though, this has done LITTLE to stem the tide of violence. Even Superman and the newly resurfaced Ultrawoman seem overwhelmed." Glancing down at the notes in his hand, the reporter hesitated before returning his attention to the camera. "Authorities HAVE finally released the names of the latest two victims in this brutal, on-going conflict. They are Clark and Lois Lane-Kent, both prominent and highly respected investigative reporters for the Daily Planet. Both published NUMEROUS exposes on Intergang in the past, and while Police have refused to comment on that possibly being the reason for the slaying, they have NOT ruled it out. We'll keep you posted, as more information becomes available. This is Steve Lombard, for WLEX."
As Jonathan switched off the VCR, a silence fell over the room, broken only by the soft ticking of the antique clock. Finally, Lois turned to Clark, her eyes wide with disbelief.
"Clark… we're dead."
Stunned, Clark continued to stare blankly at the television.
"Clark?" Lois, concern lighting her face, briefly glanced from Jonathan to Martha before returning her attention to her husband. "Clark? What is it?"
Several moments passed before his comment registered on Lois.
"Gone? What do you mean, gone?" Lightly grasping his chin in her hand, Lois turned his head to face her. "Honey? What do you mean?"
"Our lives, Lois. They're gone."
"But, Clark?" Martha asked. "Can't you just… I don't know… show up?"
"No. Not as Clark, I can't." Pointing at the television, Clark looked to his mother with dull, lifeless eyes. "Clark died in that explosion."
With a start, Lois gasped as understanding flooded through her.
"He's right." Turning to Martha and Jonathan, her eyes glistening with unshed tears, Lois shrugged helplessly. "With a body in the morgue, if Clark were to show up there'd have to be tests done. Especially a DNA test. And, if THAT happens, Clark's secret would be exposed."
"And, thanks to me giving her Kryptonian powers," Clark added, lowering his head. "Lois is now in the same situation. If either of us go back to our lives, our secrets would go public."
"But, how could they have your bodies?" Martha asked, her eyes moving from Clark to Lois and back. "Wouldn't they have to identify them, somehow?"
"Dental records," Jonathan interjected. "If whomever did this wanted to make people believe the two of you were dead, they'd have to burn the bodies beyond recognition. That way, they would have to be identified through dental records."
"And those can be altered," Clark added.
"Right," Jonathan agreed.
"What about a DNA test?" Martha asked. "Couldn't they do that?"
"In order for them to do that, they need a previous sample of DNA to compare it to." Running his hand through his hair, Clark sighed. "That I know of, there ARE no samples of my DNA to do that with."
"So if they had your dental records to identify the bodies," Jonathan said. "Then whatever DNA sample they'd take from that body would be accepted as genuine."
"Right. And if Clark Kent and his wife were to show up, the DNA tests wouldn't match."
"Wait a minute, Clark," Lois asked. "I've had blood tests and DNA tests done before. MY results would still be on file."
"We'll have to check and see what the Police find," Clark muttered. "They identified the body as being yours, so I'd have to assume that the tests concur with the files." Shaking himself out of his revere, Clark turned to Lois. "Anyway, we have a more pressing matter to think about right now. Whoever did this, they KNEW that they weren't killing the REAL Clark and Lois."
"What're you thinking, son?" Jonathan asked.
"Either it was because they couldn't FIND us, or because they knew they COULDN'T kill us. Not in an explosion, at least."
"But, Clark, that would mean they know our secret," Lois gasped.
"Exactly." Looking back at the television, Clark's voice lowered to a whisper. "Exactly." Rubbing his chin, Clark stared at the blank television screen. "The station that reporter said he was from," Clark murmured under his breath. Turning to Martha, Clark's eyebrow raised. "Mom? You still have that laptop?"
"'LEXCORP IS BACK!' I can't BELIEVE we didn't see this coming!" Drying her hands on her apron, disgust twisted Lois's face as she read the headline. "How could we have MISSED this?"
"It wasn't like with Leslie Luckabee, Lois," Clark explained. "Whoever did this, they did it over YEARS. With all the businesses that have changed ownership over time, it would have been hard to keep track of ALL of Lex's old holdings." Pointing at the headline on the screen, Clark's eyebrow raised. "Once all the businesses were in place, all that was left to do was the name change. Lord Kal-El must have worked in secret for YEARS, assembling the various companies he needed for his power base. With Lex Luthor helping him, he knew exactly which ones he needed to acquire." Calling up another headline from the Daily Planet's website, Clark jerked a thumb towards it. "Here, read this."
"LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE FOR BELEAGUERED LEXCORP!" Lois read. "Son of Luthor takes the helm of father's company." Puzzled, Lois turned to Clark. "Another son?" Throwing her hands in the air, Lois sighed. "Weren't Leslie Luckabee and Jaxon Xavier enough?"
"Remember," Clark cautioned. "We even speculated that there was no way of knowing how many children Luthor may have had. It seems as though THIS son was always intended to take over once Lex grew too old to run LexCorp."
"Why do you say that?" Lois asked.
"Because, according to these files, Lex actually CLAIMED this one as being his. What's MORE surprising is that even though his old company is back, Luthor is nowhere to be seen." Clicking on another Daily Planet headline, Clark sat back from the computer screen. "And, that's not ALL that's happened."
Lois's eyes gaped as she read: 'NEW MYSTERY MAN MYSTIFIES METROPOLIS!' Trailing down to the body of the article, Lois examined the grainy photograph of a dark figure rising into the air above a city street. A tiny corner of her self took pleasure in seeing that Jimmy Olsen was credited with the photograph.
"That is the one and only time this person has been spotted in public. He came out of nowhere and stopped an armored car heist." His brow knitting together in concentration, Clark absently scratched his chin. "People's first reaction was that it was me, until eyewitnesses proved otherwise."
"Another Kryptonian? One left behind when Lord Kal-El left?"
"I don't know. Maybe." Clark shrugged. "Whoever this is, he hasn't been seen in public since."
"What about…?" Lois trailed off, motioning to the upstairs room and the house's other guests.
"Kal?" Pausing, Clark slowly shook his head. "No," he muttered, tapping the photo on the computer screen. "He wouldn't be using his powers in PUBLIC like this without wearing the uniform. Since he agreed to watch over Earth in our absences, he's been operating SOLELY out of the farm here." Leaning closer to the screen, Clark's eyes narrowed in concentration. "This is someone else entirely. If you look closer, you can even see that he used super-speed to blur out his facial features."
"All right, let's see what we have here," Lois said. "We have two dead bodies that are supposedly us, dental records which support that charade, other dimensional counterparts of us living in your parents' home, and a flying man who might be a leftover Kryptonian and who also might be loyal to Lord Kal-El. Not to mention the fact that both LexCorp and Lex Luthor have risen from the grave." Raising an eyebrow, Lois grimaced at Clark. "Did I miss anything?"
"Oh, I think that's quite enough, don't you?" Clark asked jokingly. Shutting off the laptop, Clark stood. "I think it's probably time I made an appearance in Metropolis. Maybe visit this Alexander Luthor while I'm at it."
"Good idea," Lois agreed. "I'm thinking on flying by the Daily Planet and seeing how everyone's doing." Wrapping the apron around her finger, Lois's expression became downcast. "I can't even imagine how this has affected Perry and everyone."
Leaning forward, Clark planted a kiss on her forehead. "Be strong, Lois. Let everyone know we're looking into this."
Nodding in agreement, Lois wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him close.
"Just be careful, Clark," Lois whispered. "If Lex IS running LexCorp from behind the scenes, then it's VERY possible that HE'S behind what's happened to us."
"I will, Lois," Clark said. "I will."
Landing on the pavement outside the LexCorp tower, Superman strode into the lobby and made his way towards the receptionist. Her eyes threatening to pop out of her head, the brunette seated behind the desk desperately stammered out a greeting.
"W-W-Welcome to LexCorp, uh, Mr. Superman," she said, smiling from ear to ear. "M-M-Might I ask who you're here to see?" Glancing down at her papers, her voice dropped to an inaudible whisper. Inaudible to all but Superman, that is. "Please let it be me. Please let it be me."
"I was wondering," Clark asked, noting her name badge. "Renee, if Mr. Luthor was busy at the moment. I know I don't have an appointment, but with the kind of schedule I have…" Trailing off, Clark gave her a helpless shrug.
"I'm SURE we can help YOU, Superman," she gushed. Lifting the receiver, the flustered receptionist pressed a button. "Carla? I have a Mr. Superman to see Mr. Luthor. What? Of COURSE I'm sure it's really him." Pausing, her voice dropped to a whisper. "Are you kidding? I don't think he NEEDS an appointment. It's SUPERMAN for pity's sake!"
Replacing the receiver, Renee smiled at Clark.
"You can go right up, sir."
Thanking her, Clark turned and entered the elevator.
>Into the lion's den, < he thought to himself.
"Welcome to my home, Superman." As he stood up from behind the desk, Clark was momentarily taken aback by the apparent age of his host.
>He can't be more than twenty, or so, < he thought.
Taking a moment to examine the young executive, Clark marveled at the differences between Alexander and his father. The style of the suit was definitely reminiscent of Lex, and his bearing was similar. His short, black hair was a little departure from Lex's dark brown, but the most puzzling was that Clark couldn't detect ANY similarities in his facial features. Shaking the surprised Superman's hand, Alexander Luthor's smile was open and sincere, yet Clark couldn't help but repress a shudder.
>There's something about this guy I KNOW, like I've seen him before. But, what IS it? <
"Thank you, Mr. Luthor," Clark replied, returning the smile.
"Please, call me Alex. You call me Mr. Luthor, and I'm thinking that my father is standing behind me."
>Thank Heaven for THAT not being the case! < Clark thought, wryly.
"Sure, Alex," Clark began. "As you are no-doubt aware, I'm helping the Metropolis Police Department in its investigation into the murder of Clark Kent and Lois Lane-Kent. I was wondering if…?"
"I heard about that," Alex interrupted, shaking his head sadly. "Terrible, terrible thing to happen to a couple, or to ANYONE for that matter. Have the police any leads?"
"No, not as of yet. What I was wondering, though, is.."
The intercom buzzed, interrupting Clark once more.
"Excuse me," Alex said, smiling in embarrassment. Reaching back across the desk, the young businessman switched on the speaker. "Yes, Ms. Tesmacher?"
"Sorry to disturb you, Sir. Your three-fifteen appointment is here."
"Thank you, I'll be done here shortly." Switching off the intercom, Alex rubbed the bridge of his nose before returning his attention to his guest. "My apologies, Superman. It seems my work demands my attention once more." Standing up, the youthful executive moved around the desk and began ushering the Man of Steel towards the patio doors. "Please, though, DO keep me appraised of your findings in this matter. I can't TELL you how distraught I am at the loss of two of Metropolis's finest reporters. The Daily Planet newspaper just won't seem the same without them."
With that, the doors clicked shut behind Clark, leaving him standing on the wind-blown terrace with a frown creasing his features and even more questions left to be answered.
Inside the office, Alexander Luthor watched as Superman gracefully lifted into the afternoon air and soared away, his eyes following the Kryptonian's passage until he had vanished. Only then did a sly smile appear on his lips.
"Round one: Luthor." he whispered.
As he touched down outside the farmhouse several hours later, Clark mulled over the conversation he'd had with Alex.
>Definitely something I don't like about that man, < he mused, opening the front door.
Martha's voice drifted out to him from the living room.
"Clark! You need to see this!"
Hurrying into the room, Clark was greeted by the televised image of Alexander Luthor behind a podium outdoors. Flash bulbs lit the scene in a hectic barrage as he motioned for quiet.
"It's just starting," Jonathan explained.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, citizens of Metropolis," Alexander Luthor began, looking out across the assembled mass of humanity. The light from the flash bulbs glinted in his bluish gray eyes as he glanced down to the podium in front of him. "It is almost with trepidation that I come before you here today. The reason for this press conference is that I would like to attempt to clear the air on a few issues. The first is a rather personal matter." Clearing his throat, Alex gripped the sides of the podium, almost as if for support.
"Like all of you, I watched as this great city's LEADING businessman, philanthropist, and pioneer fell from the heights of success and prosperity, to the depths of lawlessness and insanity. I watched as his son," Closing his eyes, the young man took a deep breath. "My brother made an abortive attempt to resurrect this company and unfortunately failed in the task. What made these observations DOUBLY hard for me was the knowledge that it was happening to my FAMILY." Pausing for a moment, Alexander gazed into the distance, lost in thought. Finally, drawing himself back to the present, he drew himself up to his full height.
"Like my brother, I too wish to see the name of Luthor returned to its former glory. In my crusade to reassemble the family business, I have come across a number of QUESTIONABLE business dealings concerning my father and brother, as well as a myriad of other items. One of which brings me to the second item I must address." Glancing across the sea of upturned faces, a solemn look fell over Alex's face.
"It is to my eternal SHAME that I discovered Clark and Lois Kent died as the result of a scheme planned and hatched by my own FATHER many years ago."
With a low roar, the group of reporters simultaneously erupted into a flurry of questions. Frantically, Alexander raised his hands, motioning for quiet. Gradually, the questions subsided and all present waited breathlessly.
"I have been in contact with the Metropolis Police Department regarding this revelation, and have provided them with ALL the necessary information with which to conduct their investigation. In the meantime," he said, raising his voice once more over the rising volume of the crowd. "It is my intention to do whatever I can to try and make right with the citizens of Metropolis, starting with the establishment of the Clark and Lois Kent Foundation of Journalism. This Foundation will provide scholarships to students of journalism nation-wide, in the hope of cultivating and encouraging the future Clark Kents and Lois Lanes into achieving their dreams. It is ALSO my fondest hope that, one day, I will earn back the trust and confidence of the citizens of this GREAT city. A trust that my father violated in his quest for power."
As the crowd threatened to erupt once more, Alex motioned for silence again.
"Regarding the questionable business dealings my father was involved with, I can assure you that corrective actions will be taken. I WILL return this company to the epitome of fairness and prosperity that it once was. I simply hope that you, the citizens of Metropolis and the world at large, will grant me that opportunity. At this time, I would like to open the floor to questions."
With a disgusted snort, Jonathan muted the television.
"What's wrong, Dad?"
"I don't TRUST that boy," Jonathan growled. "He just set himself up as your chief mourner."
"Who's mourning whom?" Alt-Clark asked, stepping into the room.
"Alexander Luthor," Clark replied. "Lois and my apartment burned to the ground, and they found two bodies inside it that were identified as being us."
"WHAT?" Alt-Clark gasped. "When did this fire happen?"
"A couple days ago," Jonathan said.
"That was the same day Intergang attacked a munitions warehouse." Alt-Clark absently scratched his chin. "It could've been a diversion."
"What?" Clark rose from his chair. "What did you say?"
"Intergang's attack could have been a diversion." Seeing Clark's puzzled expression, Alt-Clark explained further.
"When I arrived on scene, Intergang had just begun their attack. The problem was, they were SEVERELY outmatched. Even if I hadn't been there, the military division posted there would have had NO problem stopping them." Shaking his head, the other dimensional Superman's fist clenched unconsciously. "I should have been in Metropolis," he berated himself.
"It's all right," Clark consoled. "Even Superman can't be everywhere at once. I just appreciate you keeping an eye on things while I'm gone."
"Still, I should have been able to DO something," Alt-Clark continued.
"According to the Police files, the explosion originated IN our apartment." Clapping his double on the shoulder, Clark smiled. "Unless you'd been hovering right above the building, nothing would have changed. Like I said, though, I do appreciate you keeping an eye on the Earth for me."
"If anyone owes anyone, it's ME who owes YOU," Alt-Clark explained. "You found my wife, Clark. That's something I can NEVER repay."
"Speaking of which, how is she?" Martha asked, walking over to the two Clarks.
"Sleeping," Alt-Clark said. "She's healing, both inside and out."
"When she wakes up, I've got some dinner set aside for her in the kitchen."
"Thanks, Mrs. Kent," Alt-Clark said, smiling appreciatively.
Faintly, Clark heard the familiar 'whoosh' sound of a body landing outside.
"Lois is back," Clark said.
As she slowly walked into the room, Lois slowly removed her mask. Clark could see the dark rings under her red rimmed eyes as she struggled to compose herself.
"Honey?" Clark asked, concern in his voice.
"It's bad, Clark," Lois whispered, her voice raw. "Perry and Jimmy are taking it EXTREMELY hard." Gesturing to the television, Lois's face drew into a scowl. "Even worse now, after that little revelation of Alexander's that Lex is responsible." Tears spilled down her cheeks as her fists clenched. "All this time, and he's STILL determined to destroy us, Clark."
Drawing her into his arms, Clark felt the muscles of her back slowly relax as she fiercely hugged him in return, weeping softly into his chest.
Kissing the top of her head, Clark held her even tighter. "We'll find him, Lois. I promise that."
After exhausting every avenue available to them, the Police were forced to file the murder of Clark and Lois Lane-Kent in the 'unsolved' category. Despite even the best efforts of Superman and Ultrawoman assisting them, no further leads were ever uncovered. Eventually, as with most things, more pressing events in the world edged the story off the front page, then out of the paper entirely. Time salved the outrage of society, burying it under layers of other worldly concerns. People coped in the way they normally do: unless someone made mention of the murders, it went largely unheeded. Only those who'd been closest to Clark and Lois still actively felt the sting. Sitting in Perry's office, Superman and Ultrawoman watched in dejected silence at the bustle of the newsroom outside. The muted roar of Perry White barking orders drifted in to the couple as the Editor in Chief directed the chaos like an orchestral conductor.
"Did you EVER think it'd come to this, Clark?"
Glancing over to his wife, Clark's heart ached at the expression of loss evident on her face. As her eyes jumped from person to person, he knew that she longed to be immersed in the mayhem outside of the office.
"No, Lois," Clark replied. "I never thought it'd come to this."
Turning around, Perry approached the office. Like animals fleeing before an approaching storm, the staff of the newspaper parted for him. As he opened the door, Perry's expression of barely controlled anger remained in place until he closed all the blinds to his office. Only then did the mask fade and he allowed himself to sag slightly against the closed door.
"Perry? Are you all right?" Lois asked.
Drawing himself up, Perry flashed a brief smile at her. "I've been better, but I've also been worse," he drawled.
"Uh, Mr. White," Clark asked, stressing his name and shooting a look at Lois. "We wanted to let you know that, even though the Police won't be actively investigating the murder, WE will be."
"I appreciate that, son," Perry rumbled. "I truly do."
Nodding at the Editor, Clark and Lois moved towards the door, but were stopped short by their friend's next words.
"It's good to see the two of you back here, you know." Perry's light drawl floated the words across the room. "Not QUITE in the capacity I'd like to see, but it's good to see the two of you none the less."
"Mr. White?" Clark questioned.
Reaching down into his lower desk drawer, Perry pulled out a small rectangular shoebox. As he extended it towards the two of them, another faint smile lit his face.
"I think these should be returned to their proper owners."
Slowly, Clark took the box from Perry and, darting a glance at Lois, opened the top. Inside the box, nestled in bubble wrap, were two nameplates: 'Clark Kent' and 'Lois Lane-Kent'.
"M-Mr. White?" Lois stammered. "Shouldn't these go to Clark's parents?"
"Originally, I thought so, too." Shrugging slightly, Perry's smile broadened. "But I had the feeling that I'd be seeing their owners again." Sitting down on the edge of his desk, the Editor folded his hands in his lap. "Turns out that I was right. By the way," Focusing on Clark, Perry grew concerned. "How ARE your parents?"
"My parents?" Clark replied evasively. "I'm not sure I understand?"
"Jonathan and Martha Kent," Perry interrupted. "Your parents, Clark. How are they?"
Lois's eyes widened in surprise.
"Fine, Chief," Clark said. Tilting his head, he peered at the Editor. "Exactly how long have you known?"
Waving his hand nonchalantly, Perry chuckled. "Actually, quite a while. You don't work for a newspaper for as long as I have and NOT learn to read between the lines. Besides," he added. "Over the years, you two have come up with some of the LAMEST excuses in creation."
"And you never said anything?" Lois said incredulously.
"Lois, how COULD I?" Folding his arms across his chest, Perry adopted a dignified pose. "I figured it wasn't my place to say anything. Besides, his working for US meant that the Planet got ALL the best Superman stories."
Smiling impishly, Lois giggled at Clark. "I just KNEW that was the REAL reason."
"All right, Perry," Clark said, leaning against the wall. "What's your take on Alexander Luthor?"
Glancing at the floor, Perry's expression became troubled.
"Ah, even though I know he hasn't DONE anything to deserve it," Perry murmured. "I just DON'T trust that boy. He CLAIMS to have cleaned up LexCorp, but quite frankly I find that hard to believe."
"Who's covering him?" Lois asked, motioning to the chaos outside the office.
"Peter McMillian," Perry answered. At Lois's confused expression, Perry elaborated. "He's new. The higher ups brought him in to, ah, replace you." Walking over to the door, Perry opened the blinds and motioned towards Lois's former desk. "There he is."
"Oh." Lois's voice was barely audible.
Watching the well-dressed reporter bustle about the newsroom, Perry's expression became puzzled. "Up until a couple weeks ago, I'd never even HEARD of him. Now, he's covering just about the MOST prestigious figure in Metropolis." Winking at Clark, Perry smiled. "Aside from YOU, that is." His scowl returning, Perry nodded towards Peter. "That boy has single handedly kept Luthor's kid on the front page of this newspaper for weeks with exclusive interviews, you name it. True, he's spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the rebuilding of downtown, but from the way Mr. McMillian portrays him, you'd think this Alexander Luthor was next in line for sainthood." Sighing, Perry rubbed his forehead. "Maybe I'm just getting old."
"Wait a minute, Perry," Clark blurted. "YOU didn't hire him?"
"No," the Editor responded. "The big boys upstairs transferred in from somewhere with the stipulation that he be the one to cover Luthor. Why?"
"Just before Luthor's downfall, he had bought the Planet," Clark said. "Remember?"
"Yeah," Lois mumbled. A pained expression etched her face as the memories came back.
"Remember WHY he did that?"
A light of understanding began to dawn in Perry's eyes. "We thought it was in order to take some of the heat off of him. To help bury potentially embarrassing stories."
"Right," Clark replied. "Well, considering for a moment if Alexander is NOT being totally on the level with us, what if Alexander has reawakened some of those contacts his father had? What if he's using them in a more SUBTLE way than Luthor did. Not to outright GAIN anything, just to divert a little attention."
"And make sure only the GOOD things about LexCorp come into the light," Lois added. "Like rebuilding downtown?"
"And what BETTER way to do that than to insure your own man is the one covering you?" Clark suggested.
"Perry," Lois asked. "Is any other news agency in Metropolis gotten exclusive interviews with Alexander Luthor?"
"Not to my knowledge," Perry admitted.
After a few moments, Lois vigorously shook her head. "Wait a minute, now. This is ALL quite a stretch we're trying to make here. I mean, we don't even KNOW this guy."
"True," Perry admitted.
"You're right," Clark echoed.
All three pairs of eyes, however, never left the bustling newsroom and the figure of Peter McMillian.
Finally, Clark cleared his throat.
"Uh, Chief? I hate to cut this short, but there's something I need to go and look into." Extending his hand, Clark grasped his former boss's and shook it warmly. "I do, however, need you to do me a favor."
"Name it, son, and it's yours."
"Could you reinstate our passwords and access into the Planet's database?"
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Clark," Perry said apologetically. "With how paranoid the bigwigs are these days about hackers, they keep a pretty tight rein on who gets them." Reaching into his pocket, he drew out a slip of paper and handed it to Clark. "That means you'll have to use mine."
Gingerly, Clark took the paper from Perry. "Chief? Are you SURE about this?"
"More sure than I have been about a LOT of things lately." Clearing his throat with a loud "harrumph", the Editor of the Daily Planet slowly walked around behind the desk and sat down.
"Now, unless I'm mistaken," he said with mock gruffness. "Don't the two of you have somewhere to be right about now?"
"We appreciate everything you've done for us, Perry," Clark said, shaking the Editor's hand. Lois, leaning forward, gave Perry an affectionate peck on the cheek.
"Yeah, well," Perry drawled, color flushing his cheeks. "You guys just find out who did this."
As the costumed duo left the office, Clark caught sight of Jimmy approaching them.
"Looks like Ultrawoman's number one fan is headed this way," Clark whispered under his breath to Lois. Meeting his eyes, Lois saw the playful sparkle in them as she tried not to giggle in return.
"Watch it, buster. I still have that card Antonio Bandaras sent me," Lois whispered in reply, lightly nudging Clark in the ribs with her elbow.
"Hey, Superman," Jimmy called. Meeting Lois's eyes, Jimmy's smile widened considerably as his face flushed. "Ultrawoman," he mumbled, coloring even deeper.
"Jimmy," Clark said, waving to the photographer. Casting a look at Lois, Clark shrugged apologetically. "I hate to run like this, but there's something that I need to look into."
Nodding her head in agreement, Lois leveled her most winning smile at Jimmy.
"Jimmy," she purred, taking his arm in her own. "There's something that I need to talk to you about. I didn't really get the chance to speak with you last time I was here, but I was hoping you could spare a few moments?"
His eyes threatening to fall out of his face, Jimmy nodded enthusiastically.
As he examined the mass of papers in front of him, Alexander Luthor's attention was drawn to the patio doors by a light knocking. As he saw who it was, Alex pressed the concealed switch, opening the doors and admitting the visitor in.
"Well, well, well. Superman, how ARE you?" Standing up, Alex moved around the desk and extended his hand to Clark. Folding his arms across his chest, Clark ignored the proffered hand and scowled at him instead.
"Why don't we drop the pretenses, Alex. You KNOW why I'm here."
Ignoring the slight, the businessman strolled over to the small bar set into the wall and poured a drink.
"Do I? I'm SURE I have NO idea what you're talking about." Sipping from his glass, Alex turned to the fuming Kryptonian. "Why don't you explain it to me?"
"Even though the files you uncovered show your father to have been behind their deaths, I know that YOU had something to do with the death of Clark and Lois Kent also. For a plan like that to be carried out, they would require quite a bit of FINANCIAL support."
"And, you, of COURSE, suspect that I was the one providing this support?"
"As a matter of fact," Clark growled. "Yes."
"Tell me then, Superman," Alex sighed. "Why exactly do you think I would provide this support?"
"As a great man once said, 'blood is thicker than water.' And I DID have quite a bit of involvement with both your brother's and father's downfalls."
"So you really think I'm involved with this, do you?" Taking another sip of his drink, Alex leisurely walked to his desk and sat down. Reclining back, the son of Lex Luthor grinned insolently at Clark. "Now, why do I find that hard to believe? Oh wait, I know!" Snapping his fingers, Alex sat forward. "Because if you truly KNEW anything, I'd have the Police at my door right now!"
"It's only a matter of time before I can prove it, Alex." Folding his arms across his chest, Superman's scowl deepened.
"Yes," Alex said, sarcasm tingeing his words. "I'm just SURE it is. And believe me, I'm positively speechless with fear at the prospect of being implicated in this horrendous crime." Pressing a hidden control stud on the desktop, the young man opened the balcony doors. "Honestly, Superman, I really DON'T know what you're talking about. My father may have had the time to devote to this…FASCINATION you have with my family, but unfortunately, I don't. My time is at a premium, and I think you've wasted quite enough of it for one day." Motioning to the patio, Alex smiled.
Staring at the young tycoon a long moment more, Clark finally turned and walked to the doors.
"I know your father is still alive, Alex. It's only a matter of time before I find him," Clark vowed. "And when I do, not only am I going to personally bury him in the deepest hole that Metropolis State Penitentiary can offer, but if I discover that you've been hiding him?" Clark shook his head slowly. "Not all your power and influence is going to save you then. This isn't over, Alex," Clark growled. "Not even CLOSE."
"I should HOPE not," Alex retorted. "I, for one, am just getting STARTED."
But, by then, the room was empty.
Entering the Kent family home, Clark made his way to the kitchen mechanically, his mind stunned with dread. Lois, finishing up the dishes, turned when he entered the room, a welcoming smile on her face. As she caught sight of his expression, her smile faded.
"Clark, what is it? You're white as a ghost!" Lois asked. Turning to the sink, she began filling a glass with water.
"I went to see Alexander Luthor again, after I left the Planet." Pacing over to the kitchen table, Clark sat down heavily into a chair. "I wanted to see if I could rattle him a little. During the conversation, though, I examined him with my super-vision." With Lois's questioning look, Clark shrugged. "Just playing out a hunch. I wanted to check his DNA against Luthor's. What I found, though, makes me wish he WAS Luthor's son."
"You mean he's NOT Lex's son? What'd you find out?" Handing her husband the glass of water, Lois crouched down beside the chair.
"He's a Kryptonian, Lois." Staring at the surface of the water, Clark's voice softened. "And he's not from this universe."
"A Kryptonian," Lois murmured. "In charge of LexCorp? Do you think this is Lord Kal-El's idea?"
"I don't think so," Clark said. "Whoever that Kryptonian is, though, he IS from Lord Kal-El's universe."
"What's next?" Lois asked, her eyes questioning.
"After dinner, I'm going to pay this 'Alexander Luthor' another visit," Clark explained. "I want to try and find out some more about him. If he's broken away from Lord Kal-EL and gone freelance, we'll need to find out just what he wants here." Shrugging, Clark downed the glass of water before continuing. "He also might just know where Luthor is."
"And, if he does?" Placing her hand over his, Lois's voice sounded troubled. "What then?"
His eyes hardening in determination, Clark stared into the distance.
"Then I'm going to bring down the house of Luthor," Clark answered. "Again."
"Not by yourself, you're not," Lois corrected. At Clark's puzzled stare, the corner of Lois's mouth curled up into a smirk. "Last time I checked, you weren't the only one that's more powerful than a locomotive."
Laughing, Clark gathered her up into his arms, kissing her deeply.
Later that evening, as Clark set down on the terrace of LexCorp tower, the double doors obediently swung open at his approach. The room was dark save for one soft light above the desk, creating an island of illumination in the sea of black. Alexander Luthor reclined in his chair, quietly observing his guest as he puffed on a cigar.
"Welcome once more, Superman." Smiling through the cloud of smoke, the young businessman motioned Clark to a chair. "Have a seat."
Slowly lowering into the chair, Clark's eyes never left his host.
"So," Alex quipped. "What should we talk about, hmm? My father, perhaps?" Sitting up, Alex's eyes sparkled coldly. "Tell me, does THIS bring back memories?"
At the press of a button, the lights slowly rose, revealing the room for Clark to see. What he saw made the breath freeze in his throat.
The room's furnishings had been changed to the exact duplicate of what Lex's had been. Everything, down to the medieval weapons in the corner, was exactly as it had been when Lex was commanding the business.
"Well," Alex purred. "What do you think, Clark?"
At Alex's words, Clark felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. "Excuse me?"
"I asked you what you thought of the new furniture." Alex's slight smile widened.
"No," Clark corrected. "What did you CALL me?"
"Clark." His head tilted to the side. "That IS your name, isn't it?"
"What would make you think that?" Clark asked carefully. "After all, I have been mistaken for Clark Kent before. Besides, Clark Kent is DEAD."
Alex's laugh filled the room. "I think we both know better than that, Clark."
Feeling like reality was slowly slipping away from him, Clark desperately tried to think of a way to stall. "All right," Clark conceded. "Let's say for a minute that I AM Clark. So what? Clark's officially dead." Spreading his hands, Clark shook his head. "It's not exactly like you could reveal my identity to the world."
"Oh, that's the LAST thing in the world that I'd want to do, old enemy."
"'Old enemy'?" Clark repeated.
"I AM disappointed, Kent," Alex chided. "I thought that if ANYONE would recognize me, it'd be YOU. Granted, the outside may have changed, but the man INSIDE is still the same."
Clark felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
"Luthor?" he whispered.
The smile on Alex's face was answer enough.
"It CAN'T be," Clark breathed.
"As a matter of fact, it CAN." Luthor chuckled once more. "And it IS. You're looking at the payment that I required from your other dimensional counterpart in exchange for my services."
"H-How," Clark stuttered. "How'd you do it, Luthor?"
"Actually, it was QUITE easy, Superman." Drawing on the cigar again, Lex exhaled the smoke through another smile. "Using an ancient eastern technique, I was able to transfer my essence… my SOUL… into one of Lord Kal-El's bodyguards, and HIS essence into MY old body. And viola!" Motioning to himself, Alex smiled. "Instant Kryptonian."
Clark's memory clicked in. "That's what you were planning on doing, years ago. When Lois lost her memory and you tricked me with that clone of her."
Nodding slightly, Lex sneered at the Kryptonian.
"Very astute. I must commend you on your memory of the incident. Despite everything that's happened, I DO, however, much prefer the way things have worked out." Lifting his arm, Lex flexed his bicep, straining the fabric of his suit. "I NEVER realized it would feel like THIS to possess powers like yours. As for me being the son of Lex Luthor, I got this idea some time ago. I knew that eventually I would have to arrange for someone else to take over the helm of this company." Sipping his drink again, Lex's eyes danced with mirth. "So, to that end, I had every necessary document created to assist with the peaceful transfer of power. I originally intended for it to be a genetic clone of me, with some minor cosmetic modifications."
"Rather than have an ACTUAL son?" Clark scoffed.
"Any son of mine would be but a pale reflection of the true genius," Lex said, flourishing his glass like a conductor's baton. "After all, you've seen firsthand how disappointing they were. Once the perfected cloning technology came into my possession, I knew that it was destiny's way of telling me that my genius was to NEVER perish from the Earth."
"And what happened to HIM?" Clark asked, motioning to Lex's current body. "The Kryptonian?"
"He died, unfortunately." Shaking his head, Lex barked a short laugh. "Apparently, the strain of adapting to his new body proved to be too much for him, and he suffered a massive heart attack."
"What happened to your former body?"
"Ashes," Lex supplied. "No evidence."
"And how am I to BELIEVE that it's really you, Luthor?" Staring intently at the young man across from him, Clark smiled. "I'll need a little more than just your WORD on this."
"If it's specifics you want, then specifics you shall have. For example, when we first met, Clark, I put a sword to your throat." Gesturing to the display, Lex's smile turned triumphant. "Alexander the Great's, to be exact."
"Remember that final conversation we had, in the park?" Lex's eyes gleamed almost feverishly.
"I had explosives wired to fifteen different locations, as I recall, and threatened to detonate them if you even TOUCHED me." The tycoon chuckled. "It DID give me a thrill to send those ubiquitous coffee houses to their just rewards."
"What else," Clark murmured.
The light glinted in Lex's eyes briefly, giving him the aspect of an animal. "Do you ALSO recall what I told you I would do if you were to take Lois from me?" Leaning closer, Lex's voice dropped to a harsh whisper. "I SWORE that I would unleash the forces of HELL on this city, and on YOU. And you DID take her from me." Chuckling lightly, Lex sipped from his drink. Motioning to the office surrounding them, Lex's eyes glittered like a snake's.
"Before the fun begins, let me educate you on a few things, Kent," Lex began. "First off, approximately two-thirds of Metropolis's population work for me. Many are completely ignorant of that fact." Sweeping his hand towards the skyline outside, the tycoon smiled broadly. "Due to recent additions, the LexCorp that I control today is roughly twenty-four percent LARGER than the LexCorp I previously owned. That means I own or have interest in over sixty-three percent of the businesses citywide. This is MY city, Kent," Lex growled, tapping his chest. "MY will keeps it going. MY blood flows through its veins. It lives and dies by MY wishes." Puffing on his cigar, Lex's eyes glowed like twin coals through the smoke.
"It's time I reminded them of that fact."
As he sat before Lex, Clark was stunned. Not by the sheer malevolence that emanated from Luthor, washing over Clark like ocean waves. Not even by the fires of unadulterated hatred that burned deep within Lex's eyes. What stunned Clark was the answering feeling that was building from deep within HIM, a raw hatred that echoed the threat seated across from him.
"This is WAR, Luthor." Clark grated out from between clenched teeth.
"Exactly," Lex growled in reply.
Long minutes passed as the two titans stared at one another across the desk, each lost in their private thoughts. Finally, Clark broke the silence.
"So why make the world believe that Clark and Lois are dead?" Folding his arms across his chest, Clark frowned.
"It's driving you crazy, isn't it?" Lex barked a short laugh. "All those tests run by the Police, and they found NOTHING. It looks for all the world like it really WAS an accident." Flashing a shark's smile, Lex leaned back in his chair. "As a matter of fact, Kent, if it wasn't for the files I provided, the Police would STILL have no leads to follow. And of course, there's those damning dental records."
"How'd you switch them?" Clark asked.
Laughing even louder, Lex drew on his cigar once more.
"THAT one I'll give you for free, Clark," he chuckled through a haze of smoke. "I only had to switch yours." Waving his hand like a magician, Lex's eyes glittered. "I was ALSO the one that blew your apartment up."
"Of COURSE, you're responsible for…" Clark began, but was cut off by another round of laughter from the tycoon.
"No, Clark," Lex gasped between laughs. "I PERSONALLY did it. As for WHY I did it?" Shaking his head, Lex pinned Clark with a cold gaze. "In all honesty, Kent, why not? I'd like to claim an ulterior motive for doing it, but I can't." Shrugging once more, Lex sipped his drink. "I just wanted to throw a little chaos into your life."
"From the Police records, the DNA of the woman matched Lois's. So you cloned Lois AGAIN?"
"Yes. Poor dear," Lex sighed, shaking his head mockingly as he puffed on his cigar. "Her life expectancy was even SHORTER than the last one."
In a flash, Clark had reached across the desk and grasped the business tycoon by the front of his suit, dragging him halfway across the desk.
"That clone, Luthor, was more human than you'll EVER be," Clark hissed. "She gave her life to stop you. And I'll be damned if I let you taint her memory."
His eyes like glaciers, Lex blew his lungfull of smoke in Clark's face.
"Something you ALSO should know, Lex," Clark growled. "Is that I'll eventually stop you."
"Well, you're MORE than welcome to try, old friend." Lex's gaze grew colder. "I can guarantee you though, you will NEVER imprison me again."
"We'll see about that, Luthor." Shoving him backward into his chair, Clark glared down at Lex. "I'm going to bring your precious empire down around your ears," he snarled. "AGAIN."
"Well then," Lex quipped. "Let the games begin."
Ripping the patio doors from their mountings, Clark sent them skidding across the room before he leapt into the night, followed by Lex's laughter.
Restlessly pacing the front porch, Lois looked up in relief as she heard the familiar 'whoosh' of Clark landing in the yard. Silhouetted by the lights on the barn, Lois could see him striding towards the house. As he neared, she could see the muscles dancing along his jaw line and the clenched fists. His eyes, though, seemed focused on a far away place.
"What is it, Clark?" Taking her husband by the hand, Lois led him into the living room. "Tell me."
"It's worse than I thought, Lois," Clark breathed. Looking her in the eyes, Clark finally let his pent-up rage wash through him. "I found Luthor," he snarled.
"But, that's what we WANTED," Lois countered. Seeing the barely controlled anger in Clark's eyes, though, shook her badly. "Isn't it?"
"Not like this, Lois." Squeezing his eyes shut, Clark put a hand to his head in frustration. "Remember that Kryptonian I saw at LexCorp?"
"Yes, but what…" Her eyes widening in understanding, Lois's blood turned to ice.
"Oh my God," she whispered. "What are we going to do?"
Shrugging helplessly, Clark remained silent.
The next morning, Superman paid a visit to S.T.A.R. labs.
Greeting the exuberant employees, Clark strolled down the hallway until a familiar face stopped him.
"Superman," Professor Halloway gasped. "You know, for ONCE I'm actually PLEASED to see you!" Realizing his words, the obese scientist blanched. "I-I mean, I'm pleased to see YOU and not the OTHER you," he amended. "The BAD other you, that is."
Clark chuckled. "It's all right, Professor Halloway. I understand."
Sighing in relief, he beckoned Clark closer. "Come! Professor Hamilton is anxious to talk to you!" Waddling down the hall, the squat man began talking animatedly.
"I believe I've been able to create a way of making an early warning device to detect the inter-dimensional portals! It's still in the planning stage, but all the data collected so far is proving to be QUITE promising!" Gesturing wildly, Professor Halloway led Clark down the hall. "As you know, the portal acts as a gateway between dimensions utilizing particle beam technology. It's my hypothesis that we might be able to outfit several satellites with scanners to detect the formation of the portals, and then utilize special emitters possibly to disrupt the portals before they form. Kind of an advanced form of 'jamming'."
"That's GREAT, Professor," Clark exclaimed. "Has Professor Hamilton been able to assist you in your research?"
"Oh, yes!" Smiling widely, Professor Halloway nodded vigorously. "The man has positively been a boon! But I digress," he added. Pointing to a closed door, Halloway nodded to Clark. "He's waiting in there for you."
Shaking the Professor's hand, Clark said his farewells and entered the room.
"Ah! Superman!" Smiling up from his laptop, Professor Hamilton beckoned him closer. "Please, have a seat."
"You said you wanted to see me?" Clark asked, dropping onto a stool.
"Yes, I did. I finished my analysis of your latest examination. In answer to your concerns, I believe I've found something that might interest you." Motioning to the screen, Emil's eyebrow raised in surprise.
"Doctor Klein sent me the results of the original tests performed on you years ago, and I was able to create a FAIRLY accurate model from that data." Shaking his head, the Professor sighed. "I just wish Doctor Klein was here to help me. He knows MUCH more about your biology than I do. After ALL, he's been working for S.T.A.R. labs for SO much longer than I have." Shaking his head in awe, Emil wistfully gazed off into the distance. "I can only IMAGINE what it's like to be working in the Washington D.C. branch, Superman."
"Um, Professor?" Clark prodded. "The tests?"
"Oh, RIGHT." Turning back to the computer, Emil pointed to a bar graph. "The level of concentrated solar radiation you were exposed to on the other Earth, Superman, was equivalent to over one hundred years worth of normal exposure."
"One hundred years worth. So, what does THAT mean?" Clark asked, confusion plainly evident in his voice.
"Well," the Professor began, rubbing his forehead. Tapping the computer screen, Emil's voice took on a solemn, lecturing tone. "As you can see by this, the cells of your body are still absorbing solar rays as normal. The only difference is that, now, your cell's reserves of power have been VASTLY increased. These reserves are inadvertently what's slowing your cells natural deterioration rate."
Gazing at the display, Clark rubbed his chin.
"How much of a reserve would you say I have?"
"Well, judging by the readings," Professor Hamilton stated. "Cut off from ALL additional input of solar power, I'd have to say that you could function for about five weeks before experiencing any appreciable decline in ability."
"Five… WEEKS?" Clark was stunned.
"I'd have to say that's about right." Glancing back to his screen, Emil tapped a few keys and examined the results. "Yes. Five weeks." Pointing back to the display, Emil regarded Clark. "You see, your powers are currently operating off of the energy your cells directly take in, and NOT drawing on your reserves."
"When the energy washed over me, why did it hurt?" Clark's puzzled frown grew deeper. "When I've been drained before, recharging has never hurt me. This DID."
"Ah, well, think of your cells as being like your pupils," Emil explained. "When the energy they absorb is at a low, they become more sensitive in an attempt to recharge themselves by using any incoming energy source. When they were in this 'responsive' state, the massive influx of energy they suddenly received was akin to shining a spotlight in the eyes of someone who'd been in a dark cave for days."
"Have their been any OTHER effects to me, Professor?"
"Aside from your powers operating at a fractionally higher level than before? No, not really," Emil muttered, scrutinizing the readout. "Oh, and your cells aren't deteriorating anymore."
"Excuse me," Clark interrupted. "WHAT did you just say?"
"Your cells. They aren't deteriorating anymore." Facing Clark, Professor Hamilton's face was unreadable.
"And that means WHAT?" Clark pressed.
"You aren't aging anymore. At the rate you're currently aging, you can expect to be around to celebrate the NEXT millennium." As Clark's mouth gaped, Emil groaned. "I was TOO blunt, wasn't I?" Slapping his forehead, Emil sagged in his chair. "I KNEW I should've had Doctor Klein tell you the news."
Sitting on his stool, Clark was speechless for a long time. Finally, after forcing himself to stand up, Clark mumbled a vague farewell to the Professor before stumbling out into the hallway once more. Dazed, Clark began walking in a random direction down the corridor, his mind furiously trying to accept the revelation.
Snapping out of his trance, Clark was surprised to find himself in a strange laboratory. Masked scientists peered at him from behind goggles as one rotund figure separated from the group and approached him.
"Superman? Are you all right?" From behind his goggles, Francis Halloway looked at Clark in concern. Still finding himself speechless, Clark shrugged helplessly.
"Thomas," Francis called over his shoulder. "Take over for a few minutes, would you?" Taking him by the elbow, Professor Halloway ushered Clark back out into the hallway.
"Bad news from Emil?" When Clark nodded, Professor Halloway gravely shook his head. "Granted, I like the man, but he desperately needs a transfusion of tact. But from the looks of you, that's not the ONLY thing on your mind, is it?" As Clark remained silent, the obese scientist slowly nodded his head. "I won't pretend to know what's going on," Francis began, glancing around the hallway. "But I take it not a whole lot of people know that YOU are Clark Kent?"
Clark's eyes bulged in surprise. Seeing this, the Professor hastily waved off the concern.
"Remember, I've been to quite a few worlds. On some of them, it's a widely known fact that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same." Patting him on the shoulder, Francis smiled. "Your secret's safe with me. And what's MORE," he chuckled. "Your alter-ego's recent demise has been a little side project for me."
"What do you mean?" Clark asked.
"You'll see," Francis replied, patting the Kryptonian on the shoulder. "Rest assured, I'll do WHATEVER I can to help you out. It's the LEAST I can do."
Smiling appreciatively, Clark felt his hopes lift.
For the first time in a long while, Lex was happy.
The past several days had seen him reawakening countless business contacts. With almost guilty pleasure, he pictured once more the faces of his old business associates as this 'young upstart' confronted each of them with the various dirty secrets they so wanted to hide. Secrets that they believed died with Lex Luthor.
Drawing on his cigar, Lex slowly exhaled a stream of smoke.
"Haven't you heard," a deep voice rumbled. "Those things will KILL you."
With a startled cry, Lex spun to face the intruder. His cognac glass fell to the floor unheeded, scattering shards of glass across the marble tile. As he caught sight of the individual, his blood ran cold.
Leaning against the doorframe nonchalantly, a figure in a black body suit emblazoned with a blue pentagonal s-shield smiled wickedly.
"Lord Kal-El," Lex whispered.
"Not precisely in the flesh, though." Lifting a hand and examining it, Lord Kal-El chuckled slightly. "Hologram technology. It's one of the newest additions to my arsenal. It comes to my attention that you are in possession of something that DOESN'T belong to you." The smile faded from his lips as he fixed Lex with a cold glare. "Did you think I wouldn't NOTICE one of my officers missing? Or did you think that I would write him off as an acceptable LOSS?"
"So, what brings you here?" Lex asked, his mind already working furiously.
"I've come to recover what is mine," Lord Kal-El stated. "Barring that, I've come to deliver justice against those who've done my officer harm." Leaning forward, the Kryptonian overlord's eyes glowed a sullen red. "That would be YOU."
"And what might you gain from THAT?" Gesturing at his body, Lex shrugged. "The process is irreversible. This body is now MINE. Now, while I truly regret the death of your officer, exacting vengeance against me will do NOTHING to help YOU."
Lord Kal-EL sneered. "WHAT might you be able to offer me to prevent me from killing you?"
"If you STILL intend on conquering this world, you'll need someone here to act as a liaison," Lex explained. "Someone to keep an eye on things."
Motioning to the window, Lord Kal-El's expression remained hostile. "You offer me something I ALREADY have."
Following his guest's gesture, Lex looked out over the city. In the distance, a dark figure atop an adjoining building stood silhouetted against the evening sky. As Lex watched, the individual waved jauntily before disappearing into the heavens.
"Currently, I am busy seeing to other matters. Rest assured though, Lex, that once I return to this world, you will be dealt with accordingly."
As the holographic image faded out, darkness reigned once more in the penthouse. Drawing on his cigar once more, Lex gazed out into the night as plans began forming in his mind.
TO BE CONTINUED…