By Joel Schuldt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Uploaded January 2001
Summary: In part 6 of "The Saga Continues," Lex Luthor's plot to defeat Superman once and for all finally comes to a head. But has Luthor realized too late that using Lois as bait could be the one thing which makes Clark throw off Superman's code of ethics?
> Indicates thoughts <
ALL CAPITALS indicates stronger emphasis on word
All standard disclaimers apply. All characters in this story (except those of my own creation) are the property of Mrs. Siegel, DC Comics, Warner Bros. and December 3rd Productions Ltd, Robert K. Weiss, and Tracy Torme; no infringement of any property rights is intended by their use.
I welcome any comments or questions!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Like before, this story is my humble attempt at merging two of my favorite television series together: 'Lois and Clark,' and 'Sliders.' This story is Chapter 6 in my ongoing Saga, which started in "Endings and Beginnings," then continued in "Storm Warnings," "Evil Resurgent," "Resolutions," and "Sins of the Past." I hope you enjoy!
As always, my thanks to Kathy B for her editing skills and suggestions! (Plus, she wanted to see Lex get what he deserved!) <g> And another thanks to everyone who's e-mailed me with their thoughts on the past fanfics! Thanks for your input, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future!
*PREVIOUSLY ON 'LOIS AND CLARK: THE SAGA CONTINUES'- When last we left Lois and Clark, Lord Kal-El had seemingly been dealt with once and for all by the Kryptonian Council. Now, with the most immediate threat dealt with, our duo attempts to take a little time for themselves.*
As the light from the vortex died away on the Kent farm, peals of laughter gently floated through the air. Clark, his face flushed in embarrassment, shot his wife Lois a look of suffering as they walked towards the house.
"Oh, come ON, Lois," Clark scolded. "It wasn't THAT funny." His brow knitting in thought, Clark looked at her askance. "Was it?"
"Are you KIDDING?" Lois replied, gasping for air between fresh bouts of laughter. "You were a professional wrestler on that world! Am I supposed to take that SERIOUSLY?"
"Hey," he said defensively. "I thought he was doing a pretty good job of it."
Lois rolled her eyes as she fought to suppress her grin. "Oh, PLEASE!"
Frowning, Clark folded his arms across his chest. "Well, he IS the Heavyweight Champion, Lois. Doesn't that amount to SOMETHING?"
Lois's answer was a fresh round of laughter.
His eyebrow lifting slightly, Clark met her gaze. "Well, just remember who his manager is," he murmured, glancing down Lois's front. "And what her particular… attributes were." Shrugging almost to himself, Clark turned towards the farmhouse, ignoring Lois's sputter of outrage.
"I've always thought you looked good in suits, Lois," he called over his shoulder. "But I do have to admit, it was rather impressive to see what effect not wearing a blouse underneath it made." Looking over his shoulder at her, Clark leered playfully. "Yes, sir, the version of you on that world had some MIGHTY impressive attributes."
"Why you…" Trailing off into a likewise playful growl, Lois sprinted after her swiftly retreating husband. "You forget, Mr. Kent, I know where you're ticklish spots are! You are SO dead!"
Across the desert valley floor, the two men struggled. Dust rose in massive clouds around the two, periodically obscuring them from sight. One man, clad in a black body suit, repeatedly drove back his colorfully garbed opponent. As the man drove his fist into Superman's stomach, the air exploded out of the heroes lungs in a rush, doubling him over. Too swift for the eye to follow, he darted around to Superman's side, grasping the Kryptonian's hair in his one hand and slamming his other clenched fistinto the base of Superman's neck from behind. A loud crack echoed sickeningly across the valley floor. Smiling savagely, the victor dropped Superman's lifeless body to the ground and, taking a deep breath, the man known to the world as Alexander Luthor straightened to his full height.
"Junior, come here," Lex said to the air.
Moments later, a rush of air and a thump heralded the arrival of Lex's major-domo. His short-cropped black hair glittered in the sunlight as the clone of Superman strode towards Lex.
"What was my time on this one, Junior?"
"Seven minutes, forty-one seconds," the man quoted, lightly tossing his employer a towel. "An improvement of thirty-eight point five seconds over your previous time." Gazing impassively at the fallen clone, Junior fixed Lex with a firm stare. "Though I MUST remind you, Sir," he stated. "These training clones you've ordered made are approximately only eighty percent of Superman's TRUE power level. Your victories over them should NOT in any way lead you to believe that your conflict with the true Superman will end likewise, and in a similar amount of time."
"You're joking, right?" Lex asked. "I've been trying to hold back, and they STILL crumple like old newspapers. I'm telling you, it's as if I'm stronger than EVER!" When the clone of Superman merely raised an eyebrow, Lex smiled wickedly. Gazing down at his fallen opponent, Lex blasted the body with heat-vision, reducing it to ashes. Toweling the sweat off his body, Lex tossed the towel back to his underling and chuckled darkly.
"Send the next one, would you?"
"Professor Klein!" Bursting into the room at S.T.A.R. labs, Bernard's assistant smiled triumphantly. "It worked! They found it!"
Glancing up at the exuberant young man, Klein's eyes widened. "Found it? Found what? Who found it?"
"The kryptonite sample!" Holding aloft the crimson glowing rock, Andrew Connley's smile widened even further. "The Kryptonite Detector worked like a charm! Once they got in range, it led the team DIRECTLY to it!"
Klein's eyes lit up. "Excellent! What range did the Detector have?"
"One mile," Andrew replied, gazing in wonder at the kryptonite.
The Professor's lips drew down into a frown. "Hmm. I was hoping for a better range than that."
"But Professor," Andrew objected. "It WORKED! Surely that counts for something?"
"I suppose so," Klein mused. "Let me get a sample from that, then take it to the holding vault with the rest of the kryptonite." Pulling a small hammer and chisel out of his desk drawer, Klein chipped off a small pebble-sized fragment. As the scientist gazed at the tiny fragment, Andrew cleared his throat nervously.
"Um, Professor?" Fidgeting from foot to foot, Andrew rolled the red kryptonite around in his palm. "If you don't mind my asking, why exactly are we collecting all this kryptonite?"
Turning to face the young man, Bernard smiled. "Actually, that's a GOOD question. The reason we're doing it is to help Superman." At Andrew's puzzled expression, Klein chuckled slightly. "Throughout his career, the DEADLIEST threat to Superman has arguably been kryptonite; it's something against which he has NO defense, save lead. What WE are doing, Mr. Connley, is attempting to gather together ALL known samples of the element in order to prevent it from falling into… less than friendly hands. With the red variety though, since each sample apparently has a different effect on Superman, we are attempting to catalog the radioactive wavelength in order to anticipate its possible effect on him BEFORE it happens. Now, please take that sample to the vault. And be CAREFUL," he urged. "When it comes to kryptonite, we mustn't take ANY chances."
Nodding to himself, Andrew exited the room. Gazing once more at the crimson pebble in his hand, Klein smiled.
"Well, my little friend. Let's see what YOUR wavelength is. Now, WHERE are those lead-lined sample cases," Klein muttered to himself. Without warning, a tremendous crash of breaking glass assaulted the Doctor's ears. Sighing to himself, Bernard stood up from the chair, absently dropped the sample into his coat pocket.
"I'm coming, Andrew," Klein sighed, rubbing his temple. "PLEASE, do not move. The fiscal budget covers only SO much for broken equipment."
As he strolled down the wooded path in the depths of Yosemite National Park, Lex inhaled deeply, savoring the fresh air.
>The one drawback to having super-senses, < Lex thought wryly. >It just makes the pollution in Metropolis's air stand out all the more. I wonder if it would be possible to buy a national park for my own PERSONAL use? <
A flurry of brown motion ahead of him drew the businessman's attention. A male deer, not yet fully grown, slowly bounded through the brush. A ways behind it, carefully taking aim, a hunter leveled his bow at the deer, the notched arrow steady on its target.
Lex's lip twisted into a sneer of disgust as he observed the poacher unseen. >Oh, the mighty hunter, < he thought scornfully. >As if hunting a DEER was an effective way of taking the measure of a man. Let him hunt a LION, and see how brave he TRULY is. <
His eyes burning in intensity, Lex aimed a miniscule beam of heat vision at the hunter's drawstring, intending on severing it before the shot was fired.
The poacher never knew what hit him.
With a roar worthy of a dragon, the titanic blast of heat vision carved a wide swath through the trees for nearly a hundred yards, setting fire to the underbrush in dozens of places. For long moments, the torrential energy poured out of his eyes, vaporizing all it touched as the frantic man desperately tried to stem the flow. Finally regaining control, Lex gazed in stunned awe at the destruction, his mind reeling at what he'd done.
>Something's wrong. < The thought lay like a piece of ice in his mind, chilling him to his core. >Something's VERY wrong. <
Lifting into the air, Lex cautiously turned to make his way back to Metropolis as he dialed a number on his cellular phone.
"Junior? I need you to locate someone for me. NOW."
Later that afternoon, a soft knock on the penthouse's door drew Lex's attention from the documents spread out before him on the desk. Stepping into the room, Junior nodded to Lex.
"The gentleman is here to see you, Sir." Stepping back, Lex's manservant ushered in the guest.
Bowing slightly at the waist, Asabi's beatific smile lit his face. "Mr. Luthor, it is pleasing to see you once more."
Lex's eyes narrowed suspiciously. Last time he'd talked to his former manservant, Asabi hadn't seen what was to become Lex's new body.
>How could he know? < Lex wondered. Deciding to test the Hindu man, Lex shook his head. "I'm sorry, Sir. I don't believe we've met before."
"Mr. Luthor," Asabi gently chided, his Indian accent smoothly rolling the words. "This flesh you now wear is but a transitory thing. Only the spirit is eternal." Stepping closer, Asabi chuckled. "And you, Mr. Luthor, have… shall we say, a very DISTINCT spirit."
Returning the smile, Lex nodded fractionally. "Astute as always, Asabi. Which is why I've called you here."
Raising a hand to forestall any further comment, Asabi gazed intently at Lex. "You have recently begun having difficulties with that body, no?"
"Your temper has flared out of control, as well as your powers?"
Lex's brow furrowed in thought. "My powers, yes. But my temper…?"
Softly, Superman's clone cleared his throat. "The board meeting, Sir?"
Covering his face with a hand, Lex groaned. "You're right, Junior. How is Thomas doing, by the way?"
"He'll recover, Sir," the manservant explained. "You sent him a VERY nice bouquet of flowers, picked up his medical expenses and rehabilitation therapy costs, and granted him an indefinite paid leave of absence."
Lex eyed Junior through his fingers. "Rather… extensive, don't you think?"
"You hurt him rather extensively, Sir." Junior's eyes never even blinked.
Sighing, Lex returned his attention to his guest. "Asabi, WHY is this happening?"
Asabi shook his head slowly. "It is because you have attempted to possess a body not of this world with a human spirit."
Lex's eyes widened slightly. "What do you mean?"
"Mr. Luthor, the body you currently inhabit is weakening and soon it shall die. These bouts of uncontrolled powers and anger portray the war being waged in you right now. Your spirit fights for supremacy over your body, but your body fights for freedom from your spirit. The longer the battle continues, the weaker the vessel for the spirit becomes."
"IMPOSSIBLE!" Springing up from his chair, Lex smacked his open palm onto the desktop. With a crack like a gunshot, the marble desk shattered under the blow. Glaring at the fragments as if they had betrayed him, Lex clenched his fist.
Asabi's smile never wavered.
"It is as I have said, Mr. Luthor," Asabi purred. "Whether you heed my warning or no, the death of that body is as certain as the sun rising tomorrow."
"There MUST be a way to stop it," Lex growled. "Price is NO object!"
Asabi's smile grew frosty. "The cost is perhaps greater than you might realize, Mr. Luthor."
"I am the THIRD richest man in the world, Asabi. Believe me when I say that it IS no object."
"That is assuming that the price is to be paid merely in earthly currency," Asabi patiently explained.
Lex waved off the objection. "If so, then that is something I will deal with when the time comes. Until then, you will help me."
Shrugging faintly, the Indian bowed.
"As you wish."
"How long do I have before this body dies?"
Walking over to Lex, Asabi placed his hands on each side of Lex's head. Breathing deeply, the Hindu's eyes rolled back in his head as he began softly chanting. Long moments passed, with only Asabi's murmuring breaking the room's silence. Finally, he dropped his hands.
"I cannot be certain," Asabi admitted. "But I would estimate no more than a handful of weeks. Perhaps even less, should you exert yourself excessively."
Lex met Junior's gaze. "Then we must accelerate my plans," he stated. "Start the modifications to the Arizona site immediately."
As Junior left, Asabi gazed at Luthor. "The Arizona site? What would that be, Mr. Luthor?"
"The future grave of my nemesis," Lex said, his voice heavy with hatred. Collecting himself, Lex wrapped his arm around Asabi's shoulders. "Now, my friend, we must begin planning on a contingency. Luckily, I already have one… brewing as we speak. I will, however, need your help in altering it to suit these new circumstances."
Paging through the fifth book, Clark wished for the hundredth time that he'd gone shopping with Lois and his parents. The chores had been finished over an hour ago, he was getting impatient waiting for Kal, and he was rapidly running out of books to read.
>Well, I could always do the dishes, < Clark thought. A grin spread across his face as another thought occurred to him.
>That should kill all of five seconds. <
Slapping the book cover shut, Clark sprang to his feet, placing the book back in the bookcase when the sound of someone clearing his throat drew his attention. As he turned to face what he thought was Kal, Clark froze in shock.
Leaning against the doorframe, Lex Luthor smiled wolfishly.
"Nice place, Kent." Glancing around, the billionaire shook his head. "How very… rustic."
Seizing the intruder by his collar, Clark lifted Lex into the air.
"LUTHOR!" Clark snarled. "After everything you've done, give me one GOOD reason why I shouldn't…!"
"Well," Lex drawled, interrupting Clark. "I could point out the OBVIOUS by telling you that, even if you were to attack me, I could always come back later and destroy this house when you're NOT here. I could point out the OBVIOUS by reminding you that it's EASILY within my power to have your parents financially ruined and subsequently lose this farm." Shrugging in Clark's grip, Lex smiled coldly. "I could point out the OBVIOUS that, even now, I could have agents of mine with high-powered rifles tracking dear old Mom and Dad's every move. I could remind you of ALL of this, Clark, but WHY remind you of things I'm sure you are already aware of?"
Slowly placing Lex back on the floor, Clark eyed the man warily. "What do you want?" he snapped.
"Just paying a cordial visit. You know, visiting the old homestead, seeing the Kent family farm, getting to know where you live," Lex replied, his eyes growing cold. "Letting you know that I haven't forgotten about you, Clark." Slapping his forehead, Luthor chuckled. "Oh, how SILLY of me! Clark's dead!" Barking a harsh laugh, he sneered at Clark.
"So, I guess it's just Superman now, correct?"
Stepping in close to Luthor, Clark's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Watch it, Luthor."
"You know, Kent," Lex chuckled, ignoring the implied threat. "I have ALWAYS believed that everyone possesses a breaking point. Even YOU, I believe, possess one." Smiling a shark's grin, the billionaire shrugged. "Someday, maybe I'll find it. And when I do, rest assured you'll be finished," he hissed.
"Maybe," Clark agreed. "But just remember what Oscar Wilde once said. 'In this world, there are two tragedies: One is not getting what one wishes for." Leaning closer, Clark's eyes narrowed. "And the other is getting it."
Grinning widely, Lex shook his head.
"Now is not the time or place for our inevitable confrontation, old enemy." Tilting his head slightly, Lex nodded. "Soon, though."
With that, Lex rocketed away with a sonic boom, leaving Clark fuming.
Later that same evening, the Kents returned from their shopping trip.
"Clark? Sorry it took us so long to get home, but there was this sale in…" Stepping into the living room, a double arm full of groceries clutched to her chest, Lois glanced around before heading towards the kitchen. "Clark? You here, Honey?" Placing the bags on the kitchen table, Lois scowled at the sink load of dishes.
>He PROMISED me he'd do them this time. <
"Lois?" Martha called. "You find him?"
Sticking her head into the living room, Lois's face took on a beleaguered cast.
"No, Martha. And he left the dishes here for me as well. AGAIN."
Martha chuckled softly. "Well, he COULD have been called away, dear."
"I know," Lois sighed. "But still…"
Using her hand to stifle another laugh, Martha walked towards the desk.
"Well, let me check our computer. Maybe he left a note."
As Martha booted up the laptop, Lois returned to the kitchen, eyeing the dishes critically. "Ah well," she sighed. Cinching the apron around her waist, she became a flurry of motion as she attacked the dishes. Nearly ten seconds later, as she put away the final clean plate, Lois had to chuckle.
>I'll have to remember to ask Clark exactly HOW I got stuck doing the dishes again, < she thought. >Granted, with super-speed they don't take long, but still… <
"Lois?" The tension in Martha's voice drew Lois into the living room. "I think you better come look at this."
"What is it, Martha? Why do you sound so…" Lois asked, coming into the dining room and around to stand beside Martha. Pointing a shaking finger at the computer screen, Clark's mother looked up at Lois in shock.
"I was checking our e-mail account, and… well…" Pointing once more to the screen, Martha's voice dropped to a whisper.
"You've got mail."
The image was one of Superman lying on the pavement, apparently unconscious. From the close-up image, Lois could see the bruises and contusions that marred his face. The time code stamped on the picture revealed that it had been taken only an hour before. Typed into the bottom of the screen was an accompanying message: 'Lois- Meet me in Suicide Slum. To make you feel more comfortable, reply to this e-mail with the time and location of your choice to meet. Come alone, or start engraving his headstone.'
After a moments thought, her eyes burning with anger, Lois's fingers were a blur on the keyboard- 'The alley of Lexington and Broadway at eight p.m.'
"Clark," she whispered. With a strangled cry, Lois spun into her Ultrawoman uniform and darted for the door.
"Lois!" Martha called, springing up from the chair. "WAIT!"
Skidding to a halt, Lois faced Martha. "I need to go! Clark's in trouble!"
"I'm coming with you," Martha replied, racing into the adjoining room. "I've got an idea, Lois. I just need to get something."
"Martha, it's a TRAP! I don't think…"
"We don't have time to argue, Lois," Martha reasoned. "That's Clark lying there! If that monster really HAS harmed him, I need to be there."
"This ISN'T open for discussion," Martha said, silencing Lois. Returning to the living room, Clark's mother threw the strap of a large black case over her shoulder. "And I KNOW it's a trap. Let's go."
Smiling in gratitude, Lois hugged Martha. "I was hoping you'd insist on coming. There's a reason I chose that alleyway."
"We're BOTH going," Jonathan stated, entering the house from outside. Wiping his hands on a rag, his eyes burned in intensity.
"That's our boy, Martha," he said firmly. "And he needs ALL of us."
Finally nodding in agreement, Lois wrapped one arm around Martha and the other around Jonathan. "Okay, you win. But at the first sign of trouble, you're BOTH leaving. Now, on the way there, tell me what this idea of yours is, and I'll explain why I chose that particular location."
Martha nodded. As they lifted into the air and turned towards Metropolis, she began explaining her plan.
Pacing the alley, Ultrawoman used her x-ray vision to check the time on the bank's sign two blocks away.
"Eight p.m.," Lois whispered. Expectantly, she scanned the surrounding buildings for any signs of Clark or Lex.
Without warning, the manhole cover at the alley's entrance shot high into the air with a rush of wind and a muffled thump. Before Lois could react, a dark clad figure emerged from the depths and leveled a cylindrical object at her. The blast from the Quantum Disbander slammed into Lois's chest like a freight train, knocking her backward into the wall, her cry echoing through the alley. Gasping in pain, Lois turned to her attacker. Standing at the alley's entrance, a black haired man stood, pointing the humming weapon at her. Nearby, another man garbed in a black suit and red tie leaned nonchalantly against the alley wall.
"L-Lex?" Ultrawoman gasped.
"Still as radiant as ever, my dear," the billionaire chuckled. "A pity things had to come to this."
"Where's… my husband?" Lois asked, struggling to rise.
Another blast from the Disbander knocked her to the pavement once more.
"I'd stay there, if I were you," Lex chuckled. "My boy here has a rather itchy trigger finger. As to where your husband is, I honestly have NO idea."
Lois's eyes widened in understanding. "You never had him, did you."
Lex smiled. "No, I didn't. What I DID have is his clone and some theatrical makeup." Lex's smile grew cold. "And now I have YOU."
"Because," Lex said, interrupting her. "As much as I might have loved you, I HATE your husband all the more. I've also come to the realization that I will ultimately NEVER triumph as long as he's alive. Therefore, I must lure the knight into the dragon's lair, and what better bait than a fair maiden in peril?" Shaking his head, Lex sighed. "A pity, truly. The world would have been OURS, my dear. And, you with super powers as well as myself?" Heaving an exaggerated sigh, Lex shook his head sadly. "Think of what our children could have accomplished. I guess I'll have to be satisfied with the world merely being MINE." Turning away, Lex nodded to his associate. "Junior, you know what to do."
Nodding in reply, the twisted image of Lois's husband carefully took aim at the stunned Ultrawoman.
"What's the matter," Lois shouted, fighting the pain. "Too cowardly to do it yourself, Alex?"
"And sully my hands with menial work? No," Lex replied. "I think that it would be much more… satisfying for the clone of your husband to serve as your executioner. Don't you think?" Waving a jaunty salute, Lex walked around the alley's corner. Seconds later, the air echoed with a sonic boom. Junior, hefting the weapon, stared coldly at Lois.
"Clark," Lois whispered, closing her eyes. "I love you."
With an ear-splitting whine, the Disbander fired, sending Lois's world into a haze of agony.
On the floor above, in an abandoned apartment overlooking the alley, Jonathan held his wife as Martha softly wept, watching the assault on a woman that was as to a daughter to them.
As he approached the farm, Clark shook his head, trying to banish the uneasy feeling that had been plaguing him all day. Lex's impromptu visit to the farm had put Clark in a foul mood and it hadn't lightened one bit, adding a sour note to the day's patrolling.
"Mom? Dad?" As he walked into the living room, Clark's unease grew. Hearing footsteps on the stairs, Clark turned to see Alt-Clark rounding the corner.
"Hey Clark," Alt-Clark piped. "What's up?"
"Kal, do you know where everyone is?" Glancing around, Clark shrugged. "I just got home, and no-one's here. Haven't they gotten back from shopping yet?"
"Don't ask me. Lois and I just got home ourselves," Alt-Clark replied. "Didn't they leave a note?"
"Not that I can see," Clark said, rubbing his chin. Seeing the laptop was still on, Clark was about to check it when the phone's shrill ring startled him. Instinctively reaching for it, Clark stopped himself just as he was about to lift the receiver.
>And how would Mom and Dad explain their dead son answering the phone? <
After the fourth ring, the answering machine took the call. When the recorded message finished, Clark waited to see who the caller was.
"Clark," a woman's voice whispered hoarsely. It was a second before Clark could recognize his mother's voice. "I hope you're there. We need you at S.T.A.R. Labs NOW."
By the time Martha had hung up, Clark was halfway to Metropolis, leaving behind a startled Alt-Clark.
Landing outside the facility, Superman hurriedly raced past the startled receptionist and was about to enter Professor Klein's lab when the receptionist's shock wore off.
"Superman?" the receptionist called after the hero's dwindling form. "If you're looking for Ultrawoman, she's in the Medical Wing."
Clark was standing beside the receptionist's desk before she finished speaking.
"Medical Wing? Where is it?" he asked anxiously.
With a sympathetic look, she pointed down the other hall. Hastily thanking the woman, Clark vanished in a rush of air. As Superman entered the waiting room of the Medical area, his eyes quickly scanned the room for his parents. Finding them in the corner being questioned by two Metropolis Policemen, Clark hurriedly approached them. Inspector Henderson, furiously writing in a notebook, glanced up as Clark swept by him in a flurry of red cape. Jonathan nodded at Clark, his eyes wet with tears.
"S-Superman?" Stepping towards her son, Martha gently placed a hand on his chest, her own eyes red-rimmed from weeping.
"Lo… Ultrawoman has been hurt," she said.
Clark's body went cold.
Dropping onto the terrace, Lex strode into the penthouse.
"Has the guest of honor arrived yet?"
Handing his boss a glass of cognac, Junior shook his head. "Not as of yet, Sir."
With a low chuckle, Lex dropped into the chair, his eyes glittering. "Perfect. How have preparations progressed on the Arizona site?"
"Preparations will be completed shortly," Junior replied. "Everything will be in place and awaiting your arrival." The major-domo's brow furrowed slightly. "Sir? What if he won't follow you there?"
Lex's laughter grew louder. "Oh, he will. He WILL."
Back at S.T.A.R. Labs, a nervously pacing Superman jumped slightly as Doctor Klein rushed into the room.
"Superman," Doctor Klein said, shaking Clark's hand. "I wish I could say I was happy to see you." Casting a look at the still form on the bed, Klein shook his head. "But not under THESE conditions. While her condition may be stable, please understand we've only just begun our tests," Klein stated, reading the chart in his hand.
As the elder man continued talking, Clark felt a rush of heat slowly flow through his body. While it wasn't entirely unpleasant, it made the room waver in Clark's vision, causing him to stagger slightly. With a groan, Clark's eyes rolled back in his head.
"Superman?" Klein asked, concern etching his voice. Grabbing the younger man beneath the arm, Klein strained to hold the hero upright. "Someone help! Get a chair!"
Racing across the room, Inspector Henderson shoved a seat beneath Superman just as Bernard lost his grip. As Clark's form collapsed into the chair, Doctor Klein knelt in front of the unresponsive man.
"Superman? Can you hear me?"
Opening his eyes, Superman gazed uncomprehendingly at the concerned scientist. "W-what's going on? Where am I?"
"You're at S.T.A.R. labs, Superman. I was explaining to you about Ultrawoman's condition?"
Rage flooded through Clark like a current of energy, making his nerves sing with power. Jerking upright, Clark's head swiveled towards the bed and his injured wife. His chest heaving, fists clenched, a low growl of primal fury rumbled from deep inside his being.
"S-Superman?" Professor Klein stammered. "What's wrong?"
The only thing remaining of the Kryptonian, though, was a fading afterimage and the wind from his passage.
"I wonder what's gotten into him?" Klein mused. Shoving his hands into the pockets of his lab coat, the fingers of Klein's left hand struck something solid. With a grunt of surprise, the puzzled Professor fished out the object.
No larger than a small pebble, the blood red rock glowed incandescently in his hand. Bernard's eyes widened in horror.
"Oh my GOD!"
Scanning through the newspapers with one hand, Lex flipped through the evening news channels with the other. Beside him, his hands clasped behind his back, Junior regarded the scene impassively. Finally, with a disgusted snort, Lex tossed the papers to the floor.
"Nothing," the executive snarled. "Nothing in the evening papers, on the television, NOTHING! The very ether should be alive with the news of Ultrawoman's death!" As he continued to absently watch the television, Lex's eyes narrowed in anger as he assessed the situation.
>Why wouldn't they have SOMETHING on the news, < Lex mused. >Even if they didn't want to reveal she'd been killed, they should have at LEAST mentioned she was injured. < Suddenly, an unpleasant thought struck him. Facing his major-domo, Luthor stood.
"Now, Junior," Lex hissed. "You DID kill her, correct?"
Lex's eyes bulged slightly, not believing his ears. "What did you say?"
"No, Sir, I was not able to kill her," Junior repeated, gazing emotionlessly at Lex.
"Wasn't ABLE to, or wasn't CAPABLE of killing her?" Lex asked, his voice deathly quiet.
"I couldn't bring myself to kill her." Confusion dancing in his eyes, Junior helplessly shrugged. "I… I don't know why."
Anger flared white-hot through Lex's body. This impudent, disobedient bag of meat had DARED defy him?
Chuckling slightly to cover his true feelings, Lex shrugged nonchalantly. "And WHY, might I ask, could you not kill her?"
"I don't know, Sir," Junior repeated, shrugging once more. "I… I just knew I COULDN'T."
Nodding to himself in mock understanding, Lex lowered his head to prevent his assistant from seeing the seething anger that twisted his features.
"Why is it that I am ALWAYS disappointed by you, Kent? Even your mindless, soulless CLONE is a let down!" Lex snarled. Glancing up, a massive burst of heat-vision vaporized the major-domo, leaving a man-shaped scorch mark on the far wall. Biting out a short curse, Lex turned back to the desk, fuming at the deteriorating events.
Strolling into the waiting room at S.T.A.R. Labs, Alt-Clark was shocked by the sight that greeted him: Clark's parents hovered over a comatose Ultrawoman, their faces streaked with tears as they gazed down in sorrow at her. Bernard Klein and a Police Inspector muttering to each other, the Doctor gesturing frantically in the air. And finally, there was Lois herself.
Alt-Clark's breath caught in his throat as he read the monitors connected to her still form. Forcing himself to be outwardly calm, the other-dimensional Superman was about to approach Martha Kent when Doctor Klein caught sight of him. Excusing himself from the Inspector, Bernard quickly made his way over to Alt-Clark.
"You're… the OTHER Superman, correct?" Klein asked hesitantly.
Alt-Clark nodded. "That's right, Professor."
Relief and disappointment washed across Bernard's face in a wave. "Oh, thank goodness! You HAVE to go after him! Something DREADFUL has happened, and it's all MY fault!"
"Whoa, there," Alt-Clark said, placing his hands on the frantic Doctor. "Take a deep breath and start from the beginning."
Visibly trying to calm himself, Bernard's shoulders slumped. "Earlier this evening, Ultrawoman was attacked and seriously hurt by someone. Superman arrived not too long ago and, while I was explaining the extent of her injuries to him, he was accidentally exposed to a sample of red kryptonite that we were cataloging for storage." Pointing towards the door, Klein sighed. "He took off out of here looking like he was going to kill someone." Rubbing his hand over his face, Doctor Klein sighed once more. "I REALLY messed things up this time."
"Okay, all right," Alt-Clark soothed, calming the elder man. "Let's worry about correcting this before anything else happens. Now, could you tell what effect the kryptonite had on him?"
Rubbing the bridge of his nose in thought, Bernard pondered on the recent events as Alt-Clark patiently waited.
"He got angry," the scientist whispered. "That HAD to be it."
Alt-Clark grunted in surprise. "That's IT? He got mad?"
"You don't understand," Klein pleaded. "This level of anger isn't normal! It isn't NATURAL, either!"
"How do you mean?"
"Normally, anger will run its course in a person and be over in a relatively short amount of time. This anger, though, has apparently been created by the kryptonite radiation! It WON'T end until the radiation wears off."
"Meaning, he could be angry for a LONG time," Alt-Superman said.
"Meaning that his emotions might not be the only thing affected by it. If his reasoning has been altered as well, he might just be capable of doing ANYTHING! Even things he might not normally do!" Nodding towards the bed containing Ultrawoman's unconscious form, Bernard's demeanor grew even more serious. "If Superman has an idea of who might be responsible for the attack on her, I'd say that person is in DEADLY danger!"
"Doctor Klein," Alt-Clark replied, a note of disbelief in his voice. "Believe me when I say that I know the Superman of this world, and I think he'll be able to control…"
"YOU DIDN'T SEE HIS FACE!" Doctor Klein's anguished cry drew everyone's attention. "You didn't see the raw HATRED in it! I'm telling you, if the person responsible for hurting Ultrawoman had been in this room, we'd have been sponging them off the walls right now!"
"Doctor, I have absolutely NO idea where…"
At that moment, Alt-Superman's super hearing focused in on Martha Kent whispering a name under her breath.
Struggling to hide his smile, Alt-Superman nodded. "Doctor Klein, I might just have an idea of where to start looking after all. If you'll excuse me?"
In a streak of color, Alt-Superman was gone.
Landing on the terrace of Luthor's penthouse, Clark marched over to the doors. His first knock sent the patio doors flying across the room in a shower of glass and wood splinters.
"Come in," Lex called. "It's open."
Striding into the room, Clark's eyes fixed on Lex, seated behind his desk. His pulse thundered in his ears, nearly drowning out all else.
"You knew as well as I did that it eventually had to come to this," Lex said.
"You tried to kill Lois," Clark accused, his rage threatening to explode. "This is between you and me, and you attacked Lois."
"I had to get your attention somehow," Lex replied, his eyes dancing with cruel mirth. "Besides, Lois was mine LONG before you arrived in Metropolis.
"And once you said that you loved her," Clark snorted. "Well, I suppose you could view her still being alive as proof of your love." Sarcasm dripped from Superman's words.
Lex's face darkened. "Rest assured, Kent," he spat. "She's not alive due to MY good will."
Fighting to control his raging temper, Clark took a deep breath.
"Did Lois manage to tell you, Clark, how many times she was shot?" Lex murmured, his voice silky smooth. "Or how loudly she SCREAMED in pain?" Smiling widely, Lex shrugged. "Call me curious, but I just HAVE to know."
Clark's body trembled with the need for release as Lex chuckled darkly. Deep within the hero, the beast snarled its rage, straining to get out.
"Let's do this," Lex rumbled. "Just you and me. No outside interference."
"No problem," Clark replied, his own voice thick with rage. Grasping his uniform shirt in his fist, a swift tug ripped it from his torso, leaving him clad only in the lower half of his uniform. "What I'm about to do, it's going to be as Kal-El. As a husband." Opening his fist, the shredded remains of his costume fluttered to the ground.
"Superman has nothing to do with this."
"Nice theatrics," Lex chortled. "But we BOTH know you won't do anything."
"Really?" Clark asked, his fists clenched at his side.
"Really," Lex confirmed. "You won't do ANYTHING but try to bring me to justice. It's always the same, Kent! Don't you ever get tired of losing?" Motioning towards the window, Lex grinned. "Now, as for your double, HE actually had me worried for a second. It actually looked like he was planning on KILLING me. Does your counterpart know he's got your share of guts as well as his own?"
"Kal attacked you because YOU sent that clone of me to kill his wife," Clark retorted. "Frankly, I can't blame him for his response. As a matter of fact, I'm beginning to think he did the right thing."
Lex snorted. "Please, Kent. This show of bravado is fooling no one. I know you FAR too well to believe that, Superman. You STILL won't do anything. After all," he reasoned. "Everyone knows SUPERMAN doesn't kill." Leaning back, Lex perched himself on the corner of the desk, his face becoming contemplative. "You know, I'm actually GLAD Lois isn't dead. After all, when I become ruler of the world, I'm going to need concubines. Lois, I think, would fit that need splendidly."
Like a switch opening in his mind, Clark surrendered his control, allowing his white-hot rage its freedom. His anger, fed by the kryptonite radiation, pulsed through his veins like molten lava, filling him with its energy. His vision tunneled until only his target remained. Pacing across the floor towards Luthor, Clark's eyes hardened. "Lex, I think it's time we got a few things straight. First off, don't EVER assume that you know me; trust me, you don't." His quietly calm voice chilled the room with its sound. As he continued his advance, Clark flicked a finger against a Ming vase, reducing it to pieces. "Oops. Secondly, you have super-powers; this means I don't have to hold back." Picking up a marble statue, Clark hurtled it at the billionaire in a blink of an eye where it shattered against Luthor's chest. "And I just revealed to that video camera that YOU have super-powers. Guess this is ONE video that won't be released."
Lex's lips twisted into a snarl.
"And thirdly," Clark growled. "I told you, I'm NOT here as Superman. I'm here as a HUSBAND." Clark flashed a shark's grin. "Superman might NOT hurtyou, but Clark WILL."
Deep inside the hero, the beast roared its anger as it was released.
Lex never even saw the fist coming. From his point of view one moment he was facing Clark, the next he was rocketing backwards through the walls of the skyscraper and into the night air, debris trailing behind like a comet's tail.
Clark, his eyes blazing with hatred, followed close behind.
Professor Klein was at a loss.
Despite every effort, his patient's condition continued to deteriorate; the monitors connected to Ultrawoman's still form continued to report their slow, almost imperceptible downward slide. Paging through the file in his hands, Bernard scratched his temple in helpless frustration.
"It makes no sense," he whispered to himself. "She should be responding to the treatments by now. Why aren't they working?"
"Is there a problem, Dr. Klein?" Entering the room, Professor Emil Hamilton stopped beside the beleaguered scientist.
Bernard's face lit up. "Emil! Thanks for answering my page." Shaking his head, Klein handed the file to Emil. "I don't understand it. I've followed all the procedures we've established over the years in treating Superman and it's only SLOWED Ultrawoman's deterioration, not stopped it."
Emil met Bernard's eyes. "You've followed ALL the procedures?"
Bernard nodded. "To the letter."
"Then I don't know why it's not working," Emil muttered. Paging through the file, the scientist suddenly stopped. "Bernard? What's this?"
Glancing at the page in question, Klein shrugged. "It's an analysis of her cell structure."
"Well, it's obviously WRONG."
Snapping his head around, Bernard glowered at the other scientist. "EXCUSE me? It's WRONG?" Shaking his head in wonder, Bernard rolled his eyes. "The man that resurrected Al Capone thinks I made an error? PLEASE," he scoffed.
Sighing in exasperation, Emil waved the pages in front of Bernard's face.
"Then HOW, might I ask, do you explain this?" Shoving the papers into the scientist's hands, Emil crossed his arms expectantly.
Giving his compatriot one final glower, Klein examined the page more thoroughly. Gradually, his expression changed to one of surprise.
"Oh my," he whispered.
Slowly striding through the shattered terrace doors of the penthouse, the fragments of broken glass and wood splinters crunching beneath his boots, Alt-Superman surveyed the damage. As his eyes came to rest on the hole in the far wall, Alt-Clark chuckled.
"Looks like a tornado went through here," he mused. "Must be on the right track."
His eyes catching a dash of color on the floor, Alt-Clark pushed some debris away with the toe of his boot.
Staring up at him, like the eye of a cyclops, a red and yellow pentagonal s-shield on blue fabric lay discarded on the floor.
Taking to the sky once more, Alt-Clark soared into the night air, searching for the war he knew was being fought.
As Clark chased Lex over the city, Lex accelerated towards a shopping mall on the outskirts of Metropolis. Passing over the glass skylights of the building at just over the speed of sound, the concussion of his passage shattered the glass behind him, showering it down on the shoppers below like a crystal rain. As he passed, the villain glanced behind him to see what his enemy's reaction was.
Clark was still right behind him, ignoring the possibly injured civilians. In the receding light, Clark's eyes burned with rage as he drove through the sky after his enemy.
Barking a terse laugh, Lex rocketed west.
Back at S.T.A.R. Labs, Clark's parents hovered nervously around Lois's still form. Glancing around them to make sure they wouldn't be overheard, Martha rested her head on Jonathan's chest.
"Jonathan," Martha whispered. "You saw Clark's face when he left. What if he kills Luthor?"
"We have to trust our boy to do what's right," Jonathan replied, whispering as well. "He'll do what needs tobe done."
"But Jonathan, I've NEVER seen him that angry before." Glancing down at the comatose form of Ultrawoman, Martha felt her eyes burning from new tears. "After everything Luthor's done to him over the years, what if he… loses control?" And then, in an even lower voice. "And why does part of me hope he does?"
Jonathan, at a loss for words, drew Martha closer in a tight embrace.
As Clark raced to catch up to Lex, a fleeting twinge of panic jolted him as he saw the villain arrow for a Boeing 747 passenger jet departing Denver. Once Clark's attention re-focused on Luthor, though, his towering rage burned away all concerns for the jet.
With his arms stretched overhead, Lex neatly snapped off one of the engines. Instantly, gouts of smoke and flame burst from the injured wing of the aircraft as it began its descent towards the ground. Laughing maniacally, Lex tossed the engine at Clark, who casually batted it aside and continued after his target.
Leaving the battered plane behind, Lex led his opponent west.
Swimming up through the inky blackness, Lois struggled to open her eyes. Pain and nausea assaulted her returning consciousness, threatening to cast her back into oblivion. As she gradually focused on the blurry images of the room's occupants, her eyes met Martha and Jonathan's own tear filled ones. Her smile beaming, Clark's mother tenderly grasped Lois's hand.
"You're safe now, Honey," Martha assured softly. "Superman's taking care of things."
"Rest," Jonathan added.
Gratefully, her strength all but exhausted, Lois submerged once more into the void of unconsciousness, a small smile on her lips.
As he approached Denver, Alt-Clark's hearing picked up the distress call from the 747 jet as it plummeted towards certain death. Pouring on even more speed, he managed to slide under the body of the jet, using his own flying power to bolster the 747's own, allowing it to ease into a relatively gentle landing at the last moment.
After the rescue crews arrived and began assisting the passengers off the crippled plane, Alt-Clark lifted into the air, waving farewell to the grateful people. Though a smile lit his features, Alt-Clark's thoughts seethed at the combatants' obvious disregard for life.
Tearing across the sky, Lex dodged and weaved as the pair approached an Arizona canyon, a triumphant smile spreading across Lex's face as his eyes registered the open missile silo at the far end.
>We're here! < he thought triumphantly. >Now to end this! <
Finally catching up to Lex high over the canyon, Clark had finally had enough. Like a human missile, Clark drove his shoulder into Lex's back between his shoulder blades, viciously driving him face first into the canyon wall. Shaken loose by the impact, boulders rained down around the combatants as Clark pummeled Lex unmercifully. A kaleidoscope of images from his mother's tape flashed through Clark's mind: Junior, Luthor's pet clone, remorselessly watching Lois crumble under the Disbander's barrage. The sound of Luthor's laughter as he flew away, leaving Lois to her fate. Lois, barely alive, lying in the hospital bed. And finally, dominating over it all was the image of Lex Luthor himself, the architect of so much turmoil and grief over the years to not only Clark himself, but everyone he knew as well. His attack on the airliner and mall alone demonstrated the man's casual, almost contemptuous regard for human life. Like flashes of lightning in his brain, each and every crime Luthor had committed replayed for Clark, feeding his rage. Mentally, he could hear the voices of Luthor's victims crying out for vengeance against their tormentor, urging him to punish their enemy. The frustration that had built over the years as Clark had watched Luthor time and again evade his just punishment had finally reached critical mass, with Lex's attack on Lois merely priming the bomb. The red kryptonite had lit the ignition spark, unleashing the Man of Steel's pent-up fury and allowing dominance to his darker nature. Though Clark had yet to even approach becoming fatigued, his chest heaved like a bellows as the anger flooded through him, driving him to continue his assault. A wildly savage look twisted his face into an animalistic snarl as his pounding fists slammed into Lex again and again.
Frantically trying to block Clark's attack, Lex finally managed to duck under a wild swing, gaining a momentary respite from the punishment. Pushing off from the wall, Lex shot for the open sky.
Grabbing the fleeing billionaire by the ankle, Clark used Lex's momentum to begin spinning the man like an Olympic Hammer Thrower. Faster and faster Clark spun until, finally, he released Lex. Unlike the Olympic competitors who sent their hammers sailing into the sky, Clark directed Lex at the wall of the canyon again.
As the face of the canyon exploded from the force of the impact, Clark lunged for Luthor once more, his eyes blazing.
Dropping down onto the far wall of the canyon, Alt-Clark watched in fascination at the battling titans. While part of him longed to become involved in the war, Clark's double understood that this was a conflict that Clark himself must resolve.
>Now if only I had some popcorn, < Alt-Clark mused. >This is better than a Tyson fight. <
For the first time in a long while, Lex actually felt the first twinges of fear.
At the beginning of the fight, Lex had been elated; though he had gotten it to crack before, after all these years he had FINALLY caused the Man of Steel's oh so perfectly good and noble facade to positively shatter, revealing the not so perfect man beneath. Then, as the battle waged on, Lex's elation had changed to an arrogant glow, as he was more than able to physically stand his ground against Superman, something he would NEVER have been able to do in his original body. Now though, as the combatants warred into the second hour of conflict, Lex was beginning to worry. He knew his current Kryptonian body was able to withstand a tremendous amount of punishment, but the level he was currently receiving at the hands of the enraged Superman was beginning to tax those limits. The blows that merely annoyed him before were now beginning to HURT. What's more, since the start of the battle, Clark had spoken only a few words. The rage evident in the man's eyes, however, spoke volumes.
>I will NOT allow this FREAK in blue tights to beat me, < Lex thought angrily. >I've GOT to lure him into the site! <
As Clark's fist slammed into the side of Lex's jaw, spinning him around, Lex felt a momentary wave of weakness pass through his body.
>Oh NO, < Lex thought, panic suffusing his mind. >My powers are going! Asabi warned me about this, but I thought I had more time! <
Grabbing the stunned villain from behind, Clark wrapped his arms around Luthor's chest and rocketed high into the night air before his opponent could resist. As the pair rose above the clouds, Clark gracefully arced backwards and angled once more for the ground.
"Ever wonder what it feels like to hit the ground at four times the speed of sound?" Clark hissed into Luthor's ear.
Lex's eyes bulged.
"Let's find out, shall we?" Clark chuckled darkly.
Like a plummeting comet, the two men slammed into the canyon floor, the impact shaking the land for miles around.
As the combatants collided with the ground, Alt-Clark winced sympathetically.
>Now THAT had to hurt. <
Shaking off the dizziness that tried to sap his strength, Lex lunged at Clark, driving the hero towards the far end of the canyon. With the sound of battleships colliding, steel-hard fists slammed into steel-hard skin as Lex continued his vicious assault on Clark, grunts of effort escaping the billionaire's lips sporadically as he renewed his efforts of subduing the superhero.
Despite the intensity of the attack, Clark remained silent through it all, not even trying to defend himself. With each blow, his eyes narrowed dangerously. His mounting anger had opened the floodgates of Clark's powers wide open, tapping into his reserves and boosting his powers to heights he'd never dreamed; as fast as Lex was moving, to Clark he was practically in slow-motion. A nano-second before Lex's fist would land, Clark would roll his head with the punch. To Lex, the blow would feel as if it had landed full force.
To Clark, it was akin to being hit with a boxing glove. It hurt, but did no real damage.
Across the sky, the one-sided combat waged; Lex delivering the punishment, Clark accepting it. Lex's frustration mounted by the minute as the hero refused to defend himself.
"Fight back, curse you!" Lex screamed, his frustration finally boiling over. "FIGHT BACK!" Unleashing a powerful right, Lex's eyes bulged as Clark neatly caught his fist in his own hand, the impact resounding across the sky like thunder.
"Is that the best you've got?" Clark scoffed, his voice harsh. Glittering like ice in the moonlight, Clark's eyes met Lex's as he bore down on Lex's hand with near-crushing pressure. "If it is, you're in a WHOLE lot of trouble."
"So YOU think," Lex snarled. With Clark still holding Lex's one hand, Lex reached out and grasped Clark's arm in his other hand, dragging him into the air. Pivoting, Lex threw the surprised Kryptonian over his shoulder, launching him straight for the open silo hatch. As Clark's body fell through the hatch and into the silo, Lex's heart leapt with joy.
>Now I have him! <
Launching himself into the air, Lex followed Clark into the darkness below.
As Alt-Clark watched in horror, the two combatants disappeared into the depths of the abandoned missile complex. Standing to his feet, Alt-Clark was about to follow them when a rising humming noise to his left drew his attention.
Rising out of a camouflaged pit to his left, a cylindrical weapon took aim at the hero and fired.
Catching the Quantum Disbander's blast full in the chest, Alt-Clark was knocked backwards into the dirt.
Facing each other like ancient gladiators, Clark and Lex exchanged glares. Each warrior felt their frustration rising, as neither was able to gain a decisive advantage over the other, heightening their anger that in turn fueled their mutual hatred. Finally each spoke simultaneously, echoing the other's words, their twin screams of rage shaking the ground.
"I'LL KILL YOU! I'LL…" Clark roared.
"…KILL YOU!" Lex bellowed.
Lunging at each other, the twin juggernauts collided in the center of the silo floor, the impact from their clash cracking the walls. Unleashing their fury, they snarled and growled as they tumbled across the floor, mindlessly tearing at one another. Around them, dozens of barrels of chemicals were split by their passage, spilling their volatile contents across the concrete. Gone was all pretense of tactics or discipline; each man had reverted to their more instinctive, barbaric roots as they blindly pummeled one another.
Deep within the complex, unaffected by the war, a timer patiently waited to begin its march towards zero.
Hovering over the still form of Ultrawoman, Doctor Klein adjusted the settings on the bank of lights surrounding her bed. Seeing Martha's puzzled look, Klein smiled.
"These lights simulate the rays from a yellow sun," he explained in a quiet voice. "Hopefully, with her quasi-Kryptonian physiology, they'll provide her body with enough extra energy to stimulate a more accelerated healing process, and allow the more traditional methods to work on her non-Kryptonian aspects."
Martha shot Klein a concerned look. "QUASI-Kryptonian?"
Bernard nodded. "Yes. As in 'partial.'"
"But Doctor," Martha replied, warning bells going off in her head. "She has super powers. How can she NOT be…"
Klein held up a warning hand, glancing around the room. "I think this would be a topic better left for discussion in a more… PRIVATE venue, don't you agree?"
Slowly, Martha nodded in agreement.
Delivering blow after crushing blow, Clark slowly drove Lex's body deeper into the wall of the silo.
"I've wanted to do this for YEARS," Clark snarled. "Having to stand by and watch as you've flaunted your complete disregard for the law! Not being able to do ANYTHING as you've run roughshod over anyone that's DARED to defy you! Knowing all the while that you were responsible, yet having to watch as you've gotten away with murder time and again simply because there's been no solid proof!" His eyes wild, Clark glared at his opponent with murderous intent. "You took my life away from me, Luthor! By killing Clark Kent and his wife, you've deprived me of even the most REMOTE chance of a normal life outside this uniform! And the law can do NOTHING!" Clark's voice rose slightly as he increased the force of his punches. "NO MORE!"
Pausing to catch his breath, Clark took a step back and watched in satisfaction as Lex, clutching his mid-section, crumpled to the floor, groaning in pain. As he stood over his fallen opponent, Clark savored his enemy's helplessness.
"Not long ago, you wanted to know if I had a breaking point," Clark said, his voice little more than a guttural growl. Leaning down, Clark grabbed what remained of Lex's shirt, hoisting the man up to meet his eyes. Despite the pain he was obviously in, Lex glared back in defiance.
Clark smiled coldly.
"Now that you know, was it worth it?"
Summoning up the last remaining vestiges of his dwindling strength, Lex unleashed a powerful right cross to Clark, sending the Man of Steel rocketing across the floor of the silo and through the far wall.
"YES IT WAS!"
Staggering to his right, Lex palmed open a concealed panel and withdrew a small remote control from within. Tapping out a brief code, the billionaire watched in satisfaction as the heavy silo blast door slid into place high above and sealed off the chamber. Entering in another code, Lex snatched another larger item from the storage niche before shuffling painfully towards the wall Clark had gone through.
>Time to end this. <
Deep within the complex, a timer began its march towards zero.
Shaking his head to clear it, Clark was in the process of drawing himself back to his feet when a sudden attack of vertigo unceremoniously dumped him back to the floor, a cold, hollow feeling replacing the burning anger he'd felt only a moment ago.
"W-What?" Blinking slowly, Clark groggily dragged himself back to his feet, desperately clinging to the wall for support. Teetering on the brink of collapse, exhaustion gnawing at his strength, Clark fought to quell the dizziness that assailed his senses. His trembling body felt drained, like all the strength had been sapped from his limbs.
>What happened to me? < Clark thought to himself. >What's going on here? Where am I? <
Dimly, as through a fog, scattered memories began worming their way into Clark's mind. As each event replayed itself for Clark, his horror grew at his own actions. Finally, as the flood of memories died off, Clark struggled to stifle the near panic that gripped him.
>I've got to get out of here, < Clark thought desperately. >I've got to help those people! <
Staggering through the hole he'd made in the wall, Clark jerked to a stop as he came face to barrel with the Quantum Disbander in a smiling Lex Luthor's hand.
Picking himself up out of the dust once more, Alt-Clark glared at the ring of Quantum Disbanders that encircled the canyon. Despite every effort, he had failed to get through the defensive ring and get to the silo. No matter what tactic he used, the Disbanders had been able to track him and stymie his every attempt, blasting him at every turn.
>Hang on, Clark, < Alt-Clark thought. >I'll get there. Trust me. <
"I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome you to my humble abode," Lex said, sweeping his free hand around to encompass the room. "One of the United States' abandoned Atlas missile complexes, bought by me for a paltry $990,000 dollars and converted into my own little Fortress of Solitude, so to speak." His eyes glittering, Lex smiled coldly at Clark. "A little better than a tree house, eh?"
Before Clark could reply, Lex thumped his empty hand atop a metal barrel beside him.
"This complex contains over half a kiloton of explosives," Lex growled. "A particularly nasty concoction of my own devising. Scattered throughout the site in barrels like these," he said, tapping one on his left. "Massive amounts of explosives wait for the primary charge to detonate them. Before that happens, though, preliminary charges attached to the barrels will crack them open and spread their contents throughout the whole site." Grinning through the forming bruises, Lex shook his head. "In your weakened state, Kent, do you think you could survive?"
Still trying to catch his own breath, Clark held up his hands in a placating gesture.
"Wait, Luthor! Please! Think about what you're doing. We're BOTH pretty banged up. Down here, in this silo, we can't recharge our powers." Slowly motioning to the rows upon rows of explosives, Clark warily eyed his opponent. "If you detonate those explosives, it has just as good of a chance at killing YOU as it does me."
"I wouldn't worry about that if I were you," Lex corrected.
Clark stared at Lex in amazement. "Y-You're actually willing to die, just to beat me?" Holding out his hands helplessly, Clark shook his head in wonder. "Why, Luthor?"
"If you win, you'll try to take me back to prison. I will NOT allow myself to be imprisoned again!" As Lex spoke, a frenzied madness glazed his eyes. "Trussed up like… like some COMMONER? Incarcerated with the dregs and riffraff of society like the rest of the rabble? I think NOT!" Straightening to his full height, the executive held his clenched fist before him. "I AM LEX LUTHOR! The world's most powerful and influential men ENVY me! Both Captains of industry and world leaders alike dance to my every whim! I will NOT be beaten by some spandex clad, do-gooder boy-scout with delusions of righteousness!" As he saw Clark cast a furtive glance towards the silo's hatch, Lex chuckled darkly.
"Let me guess," Lex sneered. "You're waiting for your counterpart to stage a last minute rescue, aren't you?"
As Clark began to reply, Lex's broken laugh cut him off.
"For his sake, you'd better hope that his common sense dissuades him of that little notion, Kent." Even through the swelling that nearly obscured one eye, Lex's eyes glittered with cruel delight. Jerking a thumb upwards, he grated another laugh, wincing as his damaged ribs ground together. "You see, this entire site is surrounded by Quantum Disbander emplacements. Their targeting sensors have been linked together and fed into a computer-guided automated firing matrix, creating a quite lethal protective sphere. Should your friend find his way here, I have no doubt whatsoever that his welcome will be substantially LESS than cordial." Smiling through the bruises, Lex nodded. "Downright HOSTILE, I'd have to say."
"You're willing to DIE just because you don't want to go back to prison? A little on the overkill side, don't you think?" Clark retorted. "Think about it, Luthor. You always made yourself out to be a self-made man; that you had to struggle for everything you have. Now, when you're faced with the possibility of adversity, you go for the quick, easy answer?" Shaking his head, Clark fixed Lex with a pitying gaze. "That's not the Luthor I know."
Clark could see the doubt beginning to form in Lex's eyes as he glanced back and forth between Clark and the bomb. Playing against Luthor's ego was the last card Clark had to play, and the longer Lex contemplated it, the higher Clark's hopes became. Then, before Clark's disbelieving eyes, the raw hatred clouded Lex's features once more.
"I WILL NOT BE BEATEN!" Lex roared.
As Lex jerked up the weapon to fire, Clark dove out of the line of fire, rolling beneath the Disbander and kicking the barrel upwards.
The blast of energy ripped into the ceiling of the complex, sending chunks of concrete raining down onto the two men. Springing up before Lex, Clark drove his fist into the billionaire's chin, rocking the man's head backwards.
With a sigh, Lex collapsed onto the floor, out cold.
Breathing a silent sigh of relief, Clark hoisted Lex up, tossing his unconscious form over his shoulder before sparing a glance at the timer.
>Just over five minutes, < Clark thought. >That's plenty of time to get out of here. <
Summoning all his remaining strength, Clark rose unsteadily into the air. After wobbling crazily for several seconds, Clark collapsed in a gasping heap on the floor, spilling his passenger. Sweat glistened on Superman's body from the brief effort of trying to fly as his lungs heaved.
>Oh, this is NOT good, < Clark groaned inwardly. Scanning the walls of the missile silo, he caught sight of an emergency ladder bolted to the side of the wall. Shifting Lex's body higher onto his shoulder, Clark resolutely strode towards his only remaining chance at escape.
The minutes slowly ticked by as the timer steadily marched towards zero. Pushing himself beyond exhaustion, Clark relentlessly crawled up the rungs, one after another. Nearly a third of the way up, Clark felt Lex stir.
"W-What are you doing?" Lex moaned.
"Saving your life," Clark replied, climbing higher. He smirked wryly. "You can thank me later."
Lex's thoughts whirled chaotically. His greatest enemy was SAVING him? Preventing him from dying in the coming explosion?
"Just hang on, Luthor," Clark said, climbing higher. "Before you know it, we'll be out of here, and you'll have all the time in the world to explain this to the authorities."
Lex's anger flared white-hot. Gathering his remaining strength, he braced his feet on the wall in front of Clark.
Straining to the utmost, Lex kicked outwards, flinging himself off of Clark's shoulder and causing Clark to lose his hold on the ladder. Plummeting towards the floor, Lex's heart leapt with joy as he watched his hated foe fall along side him.
"I'll see you DEAD, Kent!" Lex screamed.
Instinctively, Clark reached out towards the ladder, grasping a rung as he continued his fall. With a mind-numbingly-painful wrench, Clark's plummeting body slammed full force into the wall, his scream of agony echoing through the complex. Miraculously, when his vision cleared, he found that he'd somehow retained his hold on the ladder. Distantly, the sound of Luthor's body hitting the floor echoed through the silo.
Lying prone on the concrete floor, Lex gritted his teeth against the wave of fresh pain that washed over him.
>How can one person hurt so much and still live? <
As he began to gather his strength, a horrendous groan sounded from above. Staring wide eyed in horror, Lex was frozen as he watched the ceiling's support beams buckled from where they had been damaged by the Disbander's blast and fell towards him.
High above, Clark strained to lift his battered body up another rung. His limbs quivered with fatigue as bright sparks of light began edging in around his peripheral vision.
>Just one more rung, < Clark thought to himself, using the thought as a mantra to focus his wavering consciousness. >One more rung, Clark. <
Deep within the complex, a timer continued its relentless march.
Dust clouded the air, making it difficult for Lex to breathe as the room collapsed around him. Straining to lift the massive beam pinning him to the floor, Lex felt his broken ribs grind together. In the distance, he could hear the continuing detonations of the initial charges cracking open the chemical containers, spreading the volatile explosive throughout the complex. In the back of his mind, he began a silent countdown of the remaining minutes of his life before the primary charge would detonate, engulfing the complex in a massive fireball of destruction. Watching his nemesis struggle to reach the top of the escape ladder, Lex wished he'd had enough energy left to send one last bolt of heat-vision after Kent, showing him that, to the end, Lex Luthor defied him.
A shadow fell across the billionaire, startling him out of his revere.
"Well, well, well," a soft voice purred. "Lex Luthor, I presume?"
Straining with all his remaining energy, Clark desperately heaved his body up the ladder's rungs, his eyes fixed ahead of him. Shuddering vibrations caused by the smaller detonations coursed through the walls of the facility, threatening to throw Clark off the ladder. Sweat slicked his palms, making it even more difficult to hold the rungs, yet the Kryptonian fiercely gripped the ladder, ever so slowly crawling up towards the hatch and the night sky beyond. Cracks riddled the walls of the silo, sending a shower of dust and rock chips onto the Man of Steel. As Clark reached the mid-point, a final, monstrous concussion rumbled through the complex, knocking his feet from off the ladder. Dangling high above the floor, Clark stared down into the sea of flames far below.
>That must have been the final preparatory charge, < Clark thought, frantically kicking his feet as he tried to regain his footing. >I'm almost out of time! <
In the sudden silence, groaning with an almost human sound, the ladder's mountings pulled partly out of the wall, causing Clark to lose his footing once more. With a startled shout, he seized the rungs of the ladder in a death grip, praying that his damp hands wouldn't betray him as well.
Deep within the complex, a lone timer reached zero.
With a deafening roar, the final charge ignited sending Clark's world into a haze of pain and fire.
On the cliff overlooking the missile site, Alt-Clark was about to make another attempt when an earth-shaking rumbling nearly knocked him from his feet. Staring in sick awe, he watched helplessly as a massive fireball erupted from the silo hatch, blasting rubble and flaming fragments high into the air. Moments later, the ground surrounding the silo collapsed inwards, forming a crater that covered nearly the entire floor of the valley. Returning his attention to the debris flung from the initial blast, Alt-Clark caught sight of a flicker of blue on one fragment as it descended towards the canyon floor.
How long Clark had been unconscious he had no idea. He had the brief impression of flying, of stars high above him, of a red cape snapping in the wind, and pain.
Massive, all-consuming amounts of pain.
"Relax," a muffled voice soothed. "Take it easy, Clark."
Gratefully, unconsciousness claimed him once more.
As Clark gradually regained consciousness once more, he could feel the softness of a bed beneath him. Carefully opening his eyes, the world slowly came into focus around him, revealing bright lights overhead, humming medical equipment, and the scowling form of Superman standing over him, his fists planted firmly on his hips. Glancing behind himself briefly, Clark's twin leaned in closer.
"What IS it with you?" Alt-Clark asked in a harsh voice.
As he drew even closer, fists clenched, for a moment Clark thought he was planning on hitting him.
"You take off after Luthor, you IGNORE the injured shoppers in the mall, you IGNORE the crippled 747 out of Denver…" Throwing his hands in the air, Alt-Clark glared at Clark. "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?"
Opening his mouth to speak, a weak hiss emerged instead. Finally, Clark was able to force a single word out:
Reaching across Clark's body, Alt-Clark retrieved a small cup of water and held it up to Clark's lips. Drinking greedily, the parched hero drained the glass before sinking back into the pillow once more.
"Red… Kryptonite," Clark gasped. "It was… the red Kryptonite."
"Doctor Klein's told me that you've encountered this emotion-altering type of kryptonite before."
Clark nodded. "But that time it only made me apathetic, NOT homicidal."
"And you weren't able to fight it?" Alt-Clark asked, his eyes disturbingly intense.
"Last time, yes."
"But not this time?"
Clark shook his head.
Dropping his head down, Alt-Clark's voice lowered as well.
"Did you even try?"
Clark's eyes flared. "What's THAT supposed to mean?"
Before Alt-Clark could reply, a burst of noise from the doorway interrupted the conversation. Looking back, the other dimensional Superman sighed faintly.
"Company's coming," he whispered. Returning his attention to his twin, Alt-Clark nodded.
"We'll talk more later."
With that, he was gone.
As he entered the room, Doctor Klein's face lit up as he caught sight of Clark sitting up in his bed.
"So, how's my other patient feeling this morning?"
Clark, his mind on Alt-Clark's words, said nothing.
As he leisurely flew away from the building, Alt-Clark silently berated himself.
>What in the world was I thinking? < Shaking his head, the other dimensional Superman's mouth pursed in embarrassment. >I practically accused Clark of WILLINGLY trying to kill someone, though I know it isn't even close to being true. What on earth was I thinking, lashing out like that? <
Deep within his being, though, Alt-Clark had a hunch he already knew.
Glancing around to see if anyone was nearby, Martha leaned over Clark's bed, a grateful smile on her lips.
"So how's my son feeling?"
Clark grimaced. "Terrible."
"Well," Martha continued. "I may just have something you might want." Reaching into her purse, Clark's mother withdrew a small black cassette. "I remember you telling us that Luthor had recorded some type of blackmail video to use against you." Twirling the videotape in her fingers, Martha's eyebrow raised. "I figured turnabout's fair play." Her eyes dancing, Clark's mother handed him the tape.
"After Lois was attacked, as a concerned citizen, I forwarded a copy of this to the Planet and the Police."
Staring at the small black cassette, Clark's eyes glittered coldly.
Turning to the new arrival, a grin split Clark's face as Perry White stormed into the room. Seeing the hero lying on the bed, the Daily Planet's editor blanched. "GREAT SHADES OF ELVIS! What happened to you, son?"
"I'll go check on Lois," Martha whispered, leaning in close to Clark's ear.
Smiling gratefully, Clark gently squeezed his mother's arm in thanks before turning to his former Editor. "Hi, Perry."
"If you don't mind my saying so," Perry drawled. "Son, you look like… well, you look like hell."
Clark chuckled. "I feel like it, too." His eyebrow raising slightly, Clark fixed Perry with an even stare. "Not that I'm arguing, mind you, but what brings you here?"
"I thought you might like to see an advance copy of the next Daily Planet," Perry drawled softly, withdrawing a folded paper from beneath his jacket. "At least, it will be as soon as the Police give the go-ahead with the story."
Taking the copy of the paper from Perry's hands, Clark gazed at the title in satisfaction: 'WILL HOUSE OF LUTHOR FALL ONCE MORE?' Below the headline, two smaller headlines proclaimed 'ALEXANDER LUTHOR UNDER INVESTIGATION IN ASSAULT ON ULTRAWOMAN' and 'SUPERHEROINE TO RECOVER.' His eyes trailing down to the byline Clark chuckled as he saw Jimmy Olsen's name credited as the writer.
"You gave the byline to Jimmy?" Clark asked, delight shining in his eyes.
"That boy has potential," Perry admitted, an answering pride echoed in his voice. "True potential. He's going to be a great reporter."
Clark's smile widened even further. "Way to go, Jimmy."
Clearing his throat, the newspaper Editor shoved his hands into his pockets as he shuffled from foot to foot.
"I don't have to tell you, son," Perry whispered gruffly. "The hardest thing I ever had to do was publish you kids' obituaries." Shrugging uncomfortably, Perry gazed at nothing as he fought to keep his voice from cracking. "I'm just glad that I won't have to publish Ultrawoman's and Superman's as well."
Smiling, Clark reached up and clapped the Editor on the shoulder.
"Don't worry, Chief. I think it'll be a LONG time before that happens."
Returning Clark's smile for a moment, Perry's face turned somber once more.
"Tell me something, son. Judging by your… obvious condition," Leaning closer, Perry's eyes darkened in anger. "The man who did this to her, did he pay for it?"
Clark's eyes dropped. "Yes. Yes he did."
Perry nodded firmly. "Good."
The sound of someone clearing his throat startled both men.
"Uh, Mr. White?"
Turning to the man behind him, Perry smiled at Bernard Klein.
"Ah, Doctor! How's Superman doing?"
"Fine, fine," Klein murmured, partially closing the lid of the laptop he held. His eyes turning hopeful, the Doctor nodded at Clark. "Mind if I have a moment alone with Superman, Mr. White?"
"Of course not," Perry assured the Doctor. Turning back to the bed, Perry shook Clark's hand. "Get well, son. The world needs you."
Smiling gratefully at the departing Editor, Clark glanced at the visibly agitated Klein. "How can I help you, Doctor?"
"Your increased power reserves," Klein whispered. "They're GONE."
Clark's mouth froze open in mid sentence. "Huh?"
"Yes," Klein nodded. "The tests I ran on you show that they've been depleted back to their normal levels. Although, I'd hesitate to use the term 'normal' in describing ANYTHING Kryptonian in nature." Eyeing Clark with a critical gaze, Klein's brow furrowed. "This battle you had with that other Kryptonian; exactly HOW severe was it?"
Clark winced, half remembering the conflict. "Very."
"I should say so," Klein agreed. "Judging by the current levels of energy in your system, I'd say it was a little more than just 'very' severe." Tapping the laptop screen, Klein's eyes widened. "I'd have to say you came 'very' close to dying."
"Doctor?" Clark asked, his voice hushed. Glancing up from his computer, Klein's eyebrow lifted expectantly.
"Doctor, I'd appreciate it if you… didn't tell anyone about this."
"About your lowered reserve level, you mean?" Klein asked.
Clark shook his head. "No. About the TRUE extent of my injuries."
As Bernard was about to ask why, Clark raised his hand, halting the scientist in mid-breath.
"Please, Doctor," Clark urged. "If my enemies catch wind of my being weakened, even temporarily so, they wouldn't hesitate to strike."
Klein's face was puzzled. "But what about your double, Superman? Can't he handle things until you're well?"
Clark took a deep breath. "That… remains to be seen. There are some… things I need to discuss with him first."
Klein nodded in understanding. "Of course, Superman. You can count on me."
The next day, ignoring Klein's strenuous objections, Clark was up and walking around the building. Glancing out a window as he passed, he frowned slightly at the cloudy skies.
>If this weather keeps up, it's going to take even LONGER for us to heal. <
Limping into her room, Clark's throat constricted as he saw Lois lying motionless in the bed, her nurse adjusting several monitors. Sensing his concern, the nurse gently placed a hand on his non-bandaged shoulder.
"She's doing MUCH better, Superman," the woman consoled. "Her life signs are stable, and even improving." At Clark's nod of gratitude, excusing herself, the nurse quietly exited the room, closing the door behind her.
Clark knelt down beside his wife, wincing at the pain the movement caused. Brushing a strand of hair off her forehead, he softly kissed her brow.
"I love you, Honey," he whispered.
"I love you too," Lois softly replied. Opening her eyes, she smiled weakly at Clark. "Hi."
"Hi, yourself," Clark replied, his voice thick with emotion.
"I hear you had a rough few days?" Lois asked, her concern evident in her tone.
"A little," Clark admitted. "The authorities have begun their investigations into Luthor's involvement in your attack," Clark said, lightly caressing his wife's pale cheek. "I don't know if they'll be able to pin anything on Luthor, though. Knowing him, he's probably covered his bases thoroughly. Even so, I imagine they'll keep him busy, should he ever reappear."
"He… hasn't been found?" Lois asked, her voice a dry rasp.
"No," Clark said. "Kal scoured what remained of the missile complex, but he didn't find anything. I'm sure he's off somewhere, licking his wounds and living it up, wherever he might be hiding."
"As comfortable as he can with the authorities on his trail," Lois added, her voice raspy and weak.
Clark made a shushing noise as he placed a finger over Lois's lips. "Save your strength."
Turning his head, Clark saw Doctor Klein fidgeting from foot to foot in the doorway.
"Superman, could I talk to you?" Klein asked.
Lightly kissing Ultrawoman on the lips, Superman stood and, after smiling once more at his wife, turned to face the anxious doctor.
"Doctor Klein," Clark asked. "What can I do for you?"
"Superman, I…" Glancing at Lois, Dr. Klein motioned Clark to follow. Leading the puzzled Kryptonian to a secluded corner of the room, Bernard lowered his voice. "To put your mind at ease, I've insured that Ultrawoman's mask remained undisturbed, Superman. No one in this lab has seen her face uncovered."
Smiling, Clark clapped the Doctor on the back. "I appreciate that, Dr. Klein." Seeing the concerned look in the Doctor's eyes, Clark felt his apprehension rise. "Is there something else, Doctor?"
Klein nodded. "I've examined Ultrawoman, Superman, and I've made some rather startling discoveries."
"Like what?" Clark asked, carefully keeping his tone neutral.
"Her cell structure isn't Kryptonian," Klein murmured. "I mean, it IS, but it ISN'T." Shaking is head in wonder, Bernard rubbed his temple. "I had been attempting to use the results of YOUR past examinations to base my treatment of Ultrawoman on, but she wasn't responding to the treatments as she SHOULD have. It wasn't until I examined her cell structure more closely that I finally understood why. Her cell structure is amazingly different than yours, Superman. While it has DEFINITE Kryptonian traits, at the same time it exhibits some definite HUMAN qualities. It's almost like she's a human Kryptonian. Or, more precisely, a Kryptonian human." Throwing a glance over his shoulder at Lois, Klein shrugged. "She IS from Krypton, isn't she?"
As Clark was searching for a reply, the scientist pressed onwards.
"What am I saying! How could she NOT be from Krypton? I must admit, the human traits of her DNA threw me for a moment. It wasn't until I did a cross analysis of that portion of her DNA that it all… became clear."
"What did, Doctor?" Clark whispered, dread coiling in the pit of his stomach.
"Well, imagine my surprise to discover that the human aspects of Ultrawoman's DNA matched a certain former Daily Planet reporter's," Klein explained, carefully keeping his voice lowered. "A reporter, I might add, who was declared dead a few months ago."
"Really?" Clark asked, raising his eyebrow.
Bernard nodded sagely. "Truly a most tragic occurrence. Lex Luthor, or more precisely a PLAN hatched by Lex Luthor, killed both her and her husband in an explosion that leveled their townhouse."
"I remember," Clark murmured, his eyes remaining fixed on the Doctor.
"And, if you recall, I also did the DNA testing of the body we'd believed to be that of Lois Lane-Kent, but which you explained had in fact been a Lois Lane from another dimension."
Clark merely nodded.
"Well, I can only assume that SOMEHOW the files of that other-dimensional Lois Lane-Kent and Ultrawoman's have been… shall we say 'corrupted?'" Though Bernard's voice was carefully neutral, Clark could see the hope in his eyes, the hope that Clark might play along with what he suggested.
"After all, Superman," Bernard continued, glancing back down to the papers in his hands. "If the wrong people were to get their hands on this obviously WRONG data, they might begin drawing comparisons between Mrs. Lane-Kent and Ultrawoman. They might even be tempted to try to seek revenge against Clark Kent's parents in the off chance that their assumption might be correct. Would you say that's a safe assumption?"
"They might indeed," Clark agreed.
Klein's lips drew into a tight line. "I thought as much. Well, seeing as though Lois Lane is dead," he said, pausing to see if Clark would object. When no objection was forthcoming, Klein straightened. "Yes, well, seeing as how these files have OBVIOUSLY been corrupted, I think my computer must be on the verge of crashing. As a matter of fact, I think it probably will happen within the next… five minutes." Glancing at his watch, Klein nodded sharply. "Yes. Five minutes, I'd say." Turning, the scientist began walking towards the door.
"Just enough time to save Ultrawoman's files. Pity about all the rest of the information, though." Shrugging, Klein softly began whistling 'Ode to Joy' from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as he casually strolled to the door.
"Professor?" Clark called. As Klein turned to face the Man of Steel, Clark couldn't help a wide smile from spreading across his face.
"For everything you've done for Ultrawoman," Clark said, stressing the second word. "I'd like to thank you."
Returning the smile, Bernard shrugged. "For everything you've done over the years, Superman, it was the least I could do."
As he exited the cafeteria later that evening, Clark smiled ruefully.
>Now I know why there are so many jokes about hospital food! Lucky I have a cast-iron stomach! <
Turning back the way he'd come, Clark caught sight of a rather harried looking Inspector Henderson hustling out of the cafeteria to catch up with the hero.
"Superman, mind if we talk?"
"Not at all, Inspector," Clark said, shaking the hand the cop proffered.
"There's some details I need to ask you about," Henderson said. His eyes narrowing slightly, Henderson's head canted slightly to the side. "Officially ask you about, that is."
"Anything I can do to help," Clark assured, though his gut churned with unease.
Inspector Henderson slowly shook his head, his eyes travelling over the bandages covering most of Clark's chest and abdomen as well as his right arm and shoulder.
"Superman," Henderson said, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "I do have to ask this: judging by your current condition, I assume it's safe to say that your opponent was another Kryptonian?"
Clark nodded. "It was."
"One that was under the direction of Alexander Luthor?"
Gritting his teeth at the thin line he was traversing, Clark nodded once more.
>After all, Lex's mind is in a Kryptonian body, so it could be said that he DID direct a Kryptonian in the battle. < Even as the thought finished, another followed close behind.
>Pretty weak excuse, Clark. <
"I'm sorry to have to be the one telling you this, Superman, but we have NOTHING to charge him with."
Clark stared incredulously at the Inspector. "What do you mean NOTHING?"
Henderson dropped his head as he sighed. "We have a rather poor quality tape that shows someone who might POSSIBLY be Alexander Luthor standing in the shadows at the mouth of the alley, Superman. Even after digitally cleaning it up, NO positive ID can be made." Meeting Clark's eyes, Henderson's own hardened slightly. "The tape DOES reveal that the trigger man matches YOUR description. Now, to my knowledge there are only THREE people who match that particular description: you, the Superman from that other world, and the evil version you two fought a while ago." Glancing towards the ceiling, Henderson cleared his throat. "In all honesty, Superman, if the trigger man DOESN'T fit into any of those categories, I'm not even sure I WANT to know why the man that tried to kill Ultrawoman looks like you." Shrugging helplessly, Henderson sighed once more. "Unless you can get me more substantial evidence to indite Mr. Luthor, I'm afraid that this case will most likely be under investigation for a LONG time."
"But the tape…"
"The tape was provided by Jonathan and Martha Kent," Henderson interrupted. "Two residents of Smallville Kansas who CAN'T adequately explain what they're doing here on the other side of the country, what they were doing in an alley in Suicide Slum, and what they were doing videotaping Ultrawoman's attackers. Then there's also the matter of the building they said they were in." Holding Clark's gaze, Henderson's eyebrow raised slightly. "It's one of the few condemned buildings left in Metropolis that still has lead-based interior paint. If I didn't know better, I'd have to say that it was purposefully chosen in order to shield them from someone who might use x-ray vision." Tugging on his lip, the Police Inspector's eyes narrowed in thought.
"There's WAY too many coincidences involved here than I care for, Superman. Are you CERTAIN you want me to continue digging into this?"
"Superman," Henderson interrupted once more. "I hate to play Devil's Advocate, but in this case I'm afraid I have to." Running a hand through his hair, the Police Inspector sighed. "You say that Alexander Luthor ordered the death of Ultrawoman, correct?" At Clark's nod, Henderson continued by raising his index finger. "First, the tape we were given has NO audio on it that corroborates that claim. The only thing we have to go on is YOUR testimony of that fact. Ultrawoman claims that she witnessed Alexander Luthor at the alley, yet several OTHER witnesses put Alexander Luthor at a board meeting in Siri Lanka at the time the attack occurred. Second," he said, ticking off another finger on his upraised hand. "We have the individuals that provided us with the tape: Jonathan and Martha Kent, parents of one Clark Kent that, I might add, was murdered by Alexander Luthor's father, Lex Luthor." Shaking his head sadly, Henderson cleared his throat. "These facts ALONE would be enough for nearly any lawyer worth their salt to get any charges dropped by claiming that the Kents were NOT exactly acting in an impartial manner." Henderson's voice lowered.
"Then we have the tape itself."
"Meaning what?" Clark asked.
"It shows a man matching YOUR description firing the weapon."
"And?" Clark's unease grew.
"Even if this went to trial and he WAS charged, Mr. Luthor could claim that he was in fear of his life from this individual," Henderson explained, his voice clearly expressing the extent he loathed having to say these things to Clark. "If that man WAS some unknown version of you, I would have to believe that it would be an effective defense for Alexander's actions. It also helps his case that no one can find this man." Extending his hand once more, Henderson's eyes filled with pain.
"I am GENUINELY sorry, Superman, that I couldn't find something to validate Ultrawoman's claim." Shrugging helplessly, the Inspector averted his gaze in shame from Clark. "I'm sorry, Superman, but your wife's attacker… we can't…"
His own eyes echoing the Inspector's pain, Clark smiled. "You tried your best, Inspector. That's all I could hope to ask for."
"But it wasn't good enough, was it." Sighing heavily, Henderson shoved his hands deep into his trench coat's pockets as he drifted down the corridor. As the Inspector left, Clark's gaze went to the window once more. The leaden grey clouds hung over Metropolis like a shroud, bearing down on the population, smothering the spirits of the people under an oppressive blanket. Icy cold drizzle washed over everything, chilling the heart as well as the body.
And inside S.T.A.R. Labs, a superman wept in helpless frustration.
Deep within the underground bunker, a tall blonde man patiently watched a bank of machinery as it hissed and spat. Amidst a web of tubes and wires, a slightly larger than man-sized cylinder vented its liquid cargo into drains, revealing the naked man that stirred within. With a click, the Plexiglas container split down the side and swiveled open, allowing the man to exit.
Stepping out of the cylinder, the newly emerged Lex Luthor breathed deeply.
"It's GOOD to be back," Lex sighed, stretching his muscles. "I hadn't realized how much I missed my old body, even if this one IS a clone." Taking another deep breath, Luthor peered at his mysterious savior.
Topping over six and a half feet tall, the blond man stared intently at the multi-billionaire, his face calm. Taking a towel off a table nearby, the newborn Lex began drying himself off.
"You said you had a business proposition," Lex quipped, his spirits still high. "I'm listening."
"My name is Valeron," the fair-haired giant rumbled. "As you've no doubt surmised, I work for Lord Kal-El as his eyes and ears here on this planet. Recently, it has come to my attention that Lord Kal-El has been deposed from leadership of New Krypton. With that being the case, I find myself in the rather untenable position of needing a new patron."
"And so you came to ME," Lex stated.
Valeron nodded. "Of the numerous individuals occupying positions of power in this world, I find that you are the most… shall we say, visionary?"
Sketching a slight bow, Lex smiled widely.
"Why, thank you, Valeron."
"So, I trust that I can count on you for your support?"
Lex shrugged noncommittally. "And, what might I get in return for my help?"
"An agent who possesses super-powers," the blond giant replied.
"Ah, that," Lex sighed. Tossing the towel into the corner of the room, Lex casually walked over to a side closet and pulled out a dark suit. "Not to be ungracious, mind you, but I believe I've had just about enough of super-powers to last me for a while." Watching the blond spy from the corner of his vision, Lex's eyes narrowed in irritation. "Or people POSSESSING super-powers, either. Regrettably, I'm afraid I must… decline your generous offer."
Straightening to his full height, Valeron's own eyes narrowed. "That would be unwise, human," he warned.
"Yes, I'm sure it is," Lex replied, sighing in exasperation. Reaching over to the console next to him, the business executive flipped a single switch, activating a hidden Quantum Disbander. A beam of greenish light slammed into the Kryptonian's chest, knocking him back into the wall and pinning him there like an insect. Crying out in agony, Valeron could only twitch spastically as the kryptonite radiation slowly drained away his life.
Smiling devilishly, Lex shook his head. "Pathetic."
Later, straightening his tie in the mirror, Lex winked at his reflection as he ran a hand through his dark brown hair.
"Good to see you," he chuckled. "Welcome back."
"My sentiments exactly," a soft voice murmured from the shadows.
Spinning to face where the voice had come from, Lex couldn't help an awestruck smile from spreading across his face.
"Well," Lex said. "Now THIS is interesting."
"Isn't it, though?" Lex's double asked, stepping out of the shadows. Light glinted off his armor, casting reflections across the walls. Matching Lex's smile, Alt-Lex bowed slightly.
"And it's going to get even BETTER." Glancing at the body of 'Alexander Luthor' on the floor, Alt-Lex nudged it with his boot. "First thing, though, is you need to get rid of THIS." His eyes flashing green briefly, Alt-Lex smiled at his counterpart as he held up a small rectangular device.
"Then, we get you back into running LexCorp, 'Alexander.'"
Sitting on the rooftop of S.T.A.R. Labs, Alt-Clark stared blankly into the rain, his mind a thousand miles away.
Sitting down beside him, Clark tried to ease into a position that didn't hurt. Giving up the fruitless attempt, he glanced over at his doppelganger.
"So, what's wrong with you?"
Long moments passed with Alt-Clark remaining silent. Finally, he sighed.
"You got to do something that I wanted to do," Alt-Clark muttered. "You got to knock that smirk off Lex's face."
"Yeah, but the only way I was able to do it was to completely lose control," Clark corrected. Seeing his twin begin to object, Clark held up his hand for silence.
"Before you say anything, Kal, I need to tell you something." Taking a deep breath, Clark shrugged faintly. "You might have been right."
Alt-Clark did a double take. "Excuse me?"
"I said you might have been right," Clark repeated. "It's possible that I might not have fought the effects of the kryptonite as hard as I might have otherwise."
Alt-Clark kept his voice carefully neutral. "And why do you think that was?"
"Because it was Luthor!" Clark exclaimed, throwing his hands into the air. "After YEARS of him getting away with everything, I FINALLY had him where I wanted him! I finally got to do the things I only dared dream about before!"
"And it felt good," Alt-Clark stated.
Trailing off into silence, Clark grudgingly nodded. "Yeah, it did." Dropping his head down, Clark stared helplessly at his hands. "Heaven help me, but it did."
"And that anger," Alt-Clark added, his eyes growing troubled. "That anger you felt? I feel that EVERY day, knowing that Lord Kal-El's out there."
Turning back to the city, Alt-Clark fell silent once more.
Finding himself speechless and not a little uneasy, Clark could only likewise watch the rain fall on the city, wishing with all his power that its icy embrace might soothe his counterpart's soul.
Elsewhere, floating over a landscape dominated by titanic rivers of molten lava, a city slowly cut its way through the ash filled skies. Reddish light cast by the chaos below reflected only slightly from the dull gray spires of the fortress, its edges bristling with weapons. Debris cast into the air by erupting volcanoes rebounded harmlessly off the city's protective energy shields. Inside the floating structure, eight men marched in military precision down a brightly-lit corridor. Leading the group was a blond mountain of a man, his pale blue eyes alight with intensity. As they neared a set of double doors engraved with a pentagonal s-shield, the group slowed to a stop. As one, bowing their heads respectfully, the group sank to one knee before the doors. Long minutes passed with no response from within. The low thrum of power throughout the city vibrated the very air, resounding in the men's bones.
With a hiss of hydraulics, the doors slid apart. Light from the corridor stabbed deeply into the darkened room beyond, its edge falling across a set of black boots.
"Enter," a low voice said from within the darkness.
Climbing to his feet, the massive leader entered the room and approached the speaker.
Seated in the throne, shadows shrouding him in an inky darkness, Lord Kal-El stared impassively at Captain Rann.
"Report." Lord Kal-El's voice echoed softly through the room.
"Phase One was a success, my Lord," Rann rumbled. "Lady Viantaa's body has been recovered, and has been placed in the crypt as you commanded."
Twin points of crimson light briefly flared from within the shadows.
"Good. Initiate Phase Two, Captain."
Clapping a fist to his chest, Rann bowed and left, the doors closing behind him returning the room to darkness.
TO BE CONTINUED…