By Matt Combes (TheNando@aol.com)
Summary: Rudy Jones is a janitor at S.T.A.R. Labs until he becomes caught in a freak accident and learns he can suck the personality and power out of anyone he touches. (Episode # 8 of The Unaired Fifth Season).
Beads of sweat flowed down her forehead as she toiled on the awkward-looking gizmo before her. It wasn't that she was working so hard — no, as a matter of fact, this project had been much easier than she had previously thought. It was that damn air conditioning. Here she was in a building in which some of the country's best scientists worked, and they couldn't even get cold air blowing into the lab. The irony made her laugh.
"Come on, you stupid machine…," she said aloud as she tried to unscrew a part.
Her name was Dr. Ursula Freedman. An alluring twenty-eight, her dirty-blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, and wire-rimmed glasses resting on her nose, she stood for what seemed the millionth time in this lab working on … well … on *something*. It was all routine now. S.T.A.R. Labs had been her dream ever since she started as a freshman in college, but she figured she'd be working with the big-shots, creating cures for cancer and machines that granted world peace. Every scientist's dream, she figured. But she couldn't be too disappointed with the invention she was currently working on … after all, it might put her on the track to actually getting to that world peace dream.
As she continued to work on it, a figure snuck in quietly at the far end of the room. It moved stealthily, without sound, lurking quietly behind the doctor, not more than twenty feet away.
A pair of hands reached up, one on each side of her, and slowly started to conform to the shape of her neck. They moved in closer and closer, as if almost ready to rip it asunder at any moment …
Ursula jumped a bit with terror and dropped the piece she held in her hands. Ordinarily she would have screamed her lungs out, or whipped out her mace from her coat pocket, or kicked the guy in the … well … but she couldn't. Not here, and not to the person behind her, because she recognized the voice.
"Brian!" she yelled as she turned around. "Don't you *ever* do that again! You could have set me back a month's work here!"
"Hon, that's practically all I've seen you *do* for a month. You obviously need to take a break. What is this thing, anyway?"
"Well … it's … it's a … it's hard to explain unless …" she stuttered.
"Unless what? Ursula, I may be in robotics, but I'm still a scientist. Try me. Come on, I'll even let you use layman's terms." Brian smiled as he poked her playfully in the side.
"Well, essentially, what this does … is *supposed* to do … is drain the left-over and excess electronomes created in physical objects during their lifespan, so that we can harness that energy and turn it into something a little more eco-friendly, along the lines of solar power. So, for example, that fern over there …" Ursula pointed to the small potted plant at the far end of the room. "… could, in theory, produce enough energy to light this whole room for approximately twenty-two hours, thirty-seven minutes. In theory."
Brian just smiled, his big, dark brown eyes meeting her velvety, soft-blue ones, but he said nothing. Just a permanent grin.
"What?" she inquired. She hated it when he did this. It made her feel more self-conscious. As if she needed that tacked on to the stress she got at work.
"You *do* need a vacation." He produced from his pocket a flower, and handed it to her.
"An Emerson rose."
"An Emerson rose? But … why?"
"It's special. Cultivated in one specific area only."
"Oh is that right? And where would that be?" Brian reached back into his pocket and pulled out a pair of tickets.
"What are these?"
"What do they look like, subway passes? They're airline tickets!"
"To *Hawaii?!?*" she exclaimed as she read them.
"You need a break, babe. So what say you and me hit the sand, play a little volleyball, catch a little tan, make a little love…" He pulled her close on the last one, and she couldn't help but succumb.
"Well, I do have four days left to use of paid work leave…"
"Aren't the benefits great here at S.T.A.R.?"
"All right, all right … we'll go. But as soon as we get back, I have to get back to work on this thing. Agreed?"
Brian turned around, his back to Ursula. He crouched a bit, waiting.
"Hop aboard the Love Express!" He tried, in vain, to imitate a train whistle sound.
"You are such a dork," she said with a grin as she jumped on his back for a piggy ride.
"Off we go!" Brian made chugging noises as he escorted Ursula out the door of the lab. As he chugged along down the hall, they passed the janitor, mopping up the floor.
"Hey Rudy! Brian and I are heading home now. You have a nice night!"
Rudy looked up from his mop and smiled. "You too, Ms. Freedman! You make sure he takes good care of you, or else I'll have to come rescue you for myself!" The janitor smiled his usual big, friendly smile and continued to mop. Brian and Ursula headed towards the double doors of S.T.A.R. Labs.
Rudy slopped the mop slowly down the hall, covering every inch of the floor. He'd been with S.T.A.R. Labs for almost ten years now, and knew everyone by their first name, though for the most part he never called them by it, out of respect. Dr. Freedman was one of his friendliest co-workers, and he made sure that her lab was always as spic and span as it could possibly get.
Finished with the hallway, he made his way towards her lab. He put his mop back in the soapy water, rung it out, and started again. Back and forth, back and forth. It was routine now, and Rudy found it soothing. As he went on, he didn't happen to notice the invention the doctor had been working on was still laying on the table. Back and forth, back and forth … until the back of the mop handle rammed itself into the side of the machine, which subsequently fell to the floor, making a large KLANG noise.
Rudy, startled by the noise, jumped around to find nobody there. Looking down, he saw the contraption on the floor. Fragile as it was, it hadn't broken from the fall. Rudy looked around to make sure there hadn't been anyone around to see the accident, then stooped down to pick the invention back up. It was cold to the touch; the icy steel almost wanted to cling to Rudy's skin. It sent shivers down his spine.
"Hope you still work, or else Dr. Freedman isn't going to be too happy …" Rudy set the invention back on the table. Feeling like everything was safe now, he turned around to continue his job. But as he swung around, the mop handle, which he still held in his hand, swung across the counter, dragging the invention along with it until it fell into the soapy water of the bucket.
"Oh no!" Rudy exclaimed as he watched the grimy water slosh over the invention, infiltrating its open holes and foaming like hydrogen peroxide on a wound. It was too late now, it couldn't just be set back on the counter and left there. Rudy simply stood, afraid, unsure of what to do. *Guess I better at least get it out of there*, Rudy thought. He started down slowly and carefully towards the mop bucket. After all, he had no idea if this thing was electric, and if it was, was it turned on? Could he be electrocuted? He reached his index finger out, and at a snail's pace, moved it towards the water.
The water was safe, and there wasn't a chance of electrocution. As Rudy bent down all the way to the invention to take it out of the water it was immersed in, a small test tube sitting high on a shelf above him teetered. Inside was a strange purplish liquid, moving and churning itself about from the shake it received when the invention hit the floor. Back and forth, back and forth … and as Rudy submerged both his hands in the mop water, the little tube decided against better judgment and fell from its high loft, pouring its violet contents into the bucket below.
If there had been any other scientists in the east wing of S.T.A.R. Labs at 11:37 P.M. that night, they would have seen a fireworks show like no other. Blinding blues and purples filled the room, while blinding white sparks flew like fireflies from the door. And above it all, a scream … emanating from somewhere in the depths of Hell, but making its presence known in a forty- five-year-old janitor.
THE UNAIRED FIFTH SEASON
Written by Matt Combes
The familiar sound of the elevator ding signified their arrival to the Planet's newsroom. The doors opened, and out walked a navy blue work skirt, alongside a dark gray business suit with an orange-striped tie. One contained Metropolis's best investigative reporter; the other, Metropolis's Man of Steel. Both were in a hurry.
"We're late," Clark observed, glancing at his watch.
"Yes, well, when you're stuck behind an eighty-year-old woman driving a beat-up Oldsmobile from 1975 and going fifteen in a forty, let's see how fast you get here. Why do they even let old people drive? They should just take your license away when you turn seventy and say 'I'm sorry, but you're too old to be driving.' That'd take care of half of Metropolis's traffic jams. I mean really, how hard could it be to push a little harder on the gas …"
"… and what's worse, I bet you she *knew* she was going slow too. She knew that we were trying to get to work, and she intentionally …"
"What?" Lois stopped her rambling long enough to look at her partner.
Clark had a grin on his face. He hated to stop her, because he loved watching and listening to her when she was like this, but, "You're rambling. You're rambling and we're now ten minutes late for the meeting."
Lois already knew her reply — it had been practically the way it always was since she figured out Clark was Superman. "Oh, Clark, when was the last time we seriously got in trouble for being late? Or for not even showing up, for that matter?" She lowered her voice now so it was only audible to Clark. "It's a wonder we even have time to come to work, what with evil psychiatrists, wedding destroyers, and imps from other dimensions following our every move."
"I know something else that takes up a lot of our time." Clark raised an eyebrow, as if to remind Lois what took precedence. Not that he needed to, of course.
"Yeah, well, Mr. Marathon, it seems that it's taking up *too* much of our time. Not that I want to cut down. But we better get to the meeting." Lois tugged lightly on Clark's tie and led him along as a dog on a leash.
They both headed towards the meeting room, but they only made it five feet before a disgruntled newspaper's Editor in chief stopped them in their tracks.
"There you two are! Where have you be — ?" Perry stopped short. "No, wait, don't tell me, I probably don't want to know. We were just about to start the meeting without you, so get in here!" Perry turned abruptly around and headed back towards the conference room, and Lois and Clark followed.
Everyone was awaiting their arrival, and as they walked through the doors, they were greeted with looks from everyone at the table: Jimmy Olsen, Daily Planet photographer and aspiring journalist; P.J. Bartel, the Planet's Sports columnist; Causer Taney, an intern; Janet Drury, Life & Times columnist; Montana Stephenson, another investigative reporter; and the head editors of the major sections of the Planet. It was clear they had all been sitting there for the past 10 minutes waiting on Lois and Clark's arrival. Lois and Clark both gave a quiet "Hi" to the group, then took their seats.
Perry, sitting like a king at the head of the obelisk-shaped table, began the meeting. "Okay folks, let's get this show on the road. Taney, what do you have?"
The Planet's new sandy-haired intern, straight from the classy journalism department of Mizzou, opened his notepad and read off the list of things he had found that were possibly of interest. "I've got the fire down at Ol' Smokey's, the pet shop robbery on Campbell, and the benefit gala for the Metropolis Psychiatrist's Association's 50th anniversary."
Perry nodded in affirmation to the items Causer had read off. Causer smiled a big smile, happy that he had seemingly pleased his boss. Nobody spoke for the next 10 seconds, and Perry sat forward in his chair and placed his clasped hands on the table, looking with eyebrows raised at Causer. Causer, unsure of the meaning of this, simply closed his notebook and set it down beside him, then likewise interlocked his own hands and rested them atop the table, still smiling at Perry. He looked around the rest of the room, and found that everyone else had their eye on him as well, as if in expectation. Perry was the first to speak up.
Uneasy, and not sure what it was he was doing wrong, Causer tried humor to lighten the mood.
Perry unlocked his hands and laid back in the chair. "Taney, I know you're new here. And I know you're not totally used to big- time reporting yet … but son, you have got to do better than that if you're going to become part of the Planet family. Ol' Smokey's has caught fire four times in the past two months. It's old news. And it's a barbecue joint. The puns are torture. The pet shop robber got away with a bag of birdseed and a gerbil. That's a story for that no-news Metropolis Star, not the Planet. And as for the Psychiatrist's Gala …" Perry snuck a quick glance Lois and Clark's way. "… we decided unanimously a while back not to deal with them."
Causer looked practically downtrodden.
"But don't worry, son, you'll have more opportunities to come. Now get out there and find me some news I can use!" Perry's finger was at the door like a pointer dog to a fallen duck.
Causer smiled weakly, then rose out of his chair, grabbed his notepad, and headed for the bullpen. After he had left, Perry resumed his normal stature.
"Kids. Okay, Lois? Clark? What have you guys got?"
"Well, Chief," Lois spoke up, "to tell you the truth, there's not much going on in the city right now. The only big event happening is the mayoral party."
"Then that'll be priority number one, Lane. I want you and Kent attending that party. Make sure you get me something big out of it. People are talking. Something about a new policy initiative, perhaps. If so, I want to know about it," Perry said sternly.
"We're on it, Perry," Clark pointed out. He and Lois got up from the table to leave, ready to tackle the day's news. They were halfway to the door when Perry called back out to them.
"Oh, and you two …" Perry said reluctantly, "… when you go, take Jimmy with you."
Jimmy's eyes lit up like light bulbs on Christmas Eve. "Really?" He knew that he had been bugging Perry a little lately about giving him some hands-on training to become a reporter, but he had never figured he would actually get to go on assignment with Lois and Clark. With two of the three people he looked up to. With his heroes.
Perry nodded in affirmation. "Just don't get yourself into trouble. And you do everything Lois and Clark tell you to, you understand?"
Jimmy's head almost fell of his shoulders as he nodded it violently and grew a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon. He jumped up out of his seat, grabbed a notepad, and put one arm around Lois's shoulder, and one around Clark's as they walked out of the room.
"Hey, all right! Just you guys and me, the terrific three, eh? You wanna make plans to do some research this afternoon?" Jimmy said with great expectations. Lois looked at Clark, then at Jimmy, and sighed.
Back in the office, Perry loosened his tie and cleared his throat. He stared down the remaining journalists in the room.
"So. What else?"
That's what it felt like, anyway. His head was throbbing uncontrollably, and he felt sick to his stomach. He'd throw up — if there was anything to throw up. But his stomach was empty, and he spent 15 minutes in the bathroom with dry heaves. He dragged his feet across the brown carpeted floor and plopped down on the bed. His head hung in his hands as he rubbed his temples, and then his eyes. As he opened them, and the fuzziness faded from view, he found himself opposite a body-length mirror on his closet door. He slowly made his way over to it and looked at himself in the mirror.
Nothing had changed. Nothing. He was still Rudy Jones, a janitor. He was still 45. Medium-toned skin. Brown hair with gray highlights. A small beer belly. Even though he had been thoroughly covered with that purple liquid and shocked beyond belief by the water and then … and then … oh God, what *had* happened after that? He couldn't remember. The liquid, the electricity flowing through his veins … and then … nothing. No, wait, not nothing. There *was* something. What was it? As if in response to his own question, his whole body seemed to grumble and quake.
Hunger. He had an immense hunger.
Through a small crack in the window, a fly snuck in and buzzed around the room, dancing to and fro, frantically in search of its own meal. It landed first on the table, found the microscopic crumbs on it unsatisfactory, then leaped back into the air towards another target.
Rudy still stood, staring into the mirror, as the fly buzzed around his head, looking for a suitable landing spot. Annoyed with the little insect, Rudy reached his hand out to bat the fly away. But even as his fingers brushed up against the tiny creature, he could feel the small sizzle. The flow of energy as it crackled and snapped through his fingers. He felt a tiny, infinitesimal, almost insignificant refreshment in his body from the conduction, and as he looked down, he found a small, black, powdery pile on the floor.
"What the …" Rudy spoke aloud in astonishment. Did he just do that? Did he just turn a fly into the fine black dust he saw before him? And as he pondered the question, the ceiling fan twirling above him blew the particles around and they were visible no more.
Another grumble took his mind away from it, and the hunger pervaded his body again.
"Oh, no …" The groan came from Jimmy's mouth as he put down the phone receiver in the Daily Planet's bullpen. Lois looked up from her desk where she was still working on an in-depth piece she had started a week prior on the arrival of Secretary Dey in Metropolis and the current state of Russia in its relationship with the U.S. She saw Jimmy with his head in his hands, so she got up and made her way over to where he was sitting.
"What's up, Jimmy?" Lois said as she sat down beside him.
Jimmy lifted his head from his hands and looked at Lois with dread. "That was my mom. Plans have changed and she's coming in *today*. This is just great …"
Lois couldn't seem to figure out what the problem was. "So you have to do some last-minute cleaning, that shouldn't be too hard. I've had to do it a couple of times …" Jimmy interrupted before she could finish.
"No, no, you don't understand. It's not my place I'm worried about, it's my *job*. You see, I kind of told my mom that I'm a big-shot reporter at the Planet."
Lois was surprised. "You what? Why on earth would you do that, Jimmy?"
"Well just think about it, Lois! I've worked here at the Planet *how* many years now? And I've never moved up from a photographer. Lois, my mom thinks that I'm the smartest thing to come along since Einstein; if she sees that I've had the same position here at the Planet all this time, I'm dead." Jimmy put his head back into his hands.
"Jimmy, there is *nothing* wrong with being a photographer. Photographers are essential to a newspaper!" Lois was trying her best to coax Jimmy into telling his mom the truth, but she knew it probably wouldn't work. She, after all, knew what it was like to have to lie and keep secrets.
"*I* know that there's nothing wrong with it, but it doesn't matter what *I* think, Lois, it's what my mom does. And I am so totally screwed."
"ONE MOVE AND YOU'RE SCREWED, YOU HEAR ME?!?"
The gun was being waved frantically in the air, while the bank customers all huddled on the ground, covering their heads and fearing for their lives. Many wondered quietly aloud where Superman was, but none were brave enough to scream out his name for help, for fear of being shot before he would get there. The man who held the gun wore an infamous "President" mask, and after he was sure that everyone was down and the alarm hadn't been pressed by the teller, he escorted the bank manager to the vault, the gun kissing his temple.
"Open the vault," the robber demanded, now in a lower tone.
"I — I cant," the bank manager was able to strain out of his quivering lips. He quickly clenched his eyes shut, afraid that the next thing he would hear would be the sound of a bullet entering his brain.
"The hell you can't! I said open the vault!" The robber cocked his gun as he still held it steady against the bank manager's head.
A tear rolled down the manager's cheek, careening in-between the cracks of his wrinkles until it rested on his chin and hung there, stuck in a state of decision of whether or not to make its way to the floor below. He wanted badly to wipe it away, but he didn't want to move a muscle.
"Listen to me old man," the robber spoke with a serious threat in his voice, "you've got until the count of five to open the vault, or your desk is going to be decorated with more of you than your nameplate."
Rudy walked silently along the street, lost in thought. It was a chilly forty-five degrees outside, so he had bundled up in a cotton-lined jacket and some gloves to keep warm. The stop at Belly Burger hadn't done anything to satisfy his hunger — as a matter of fact, it may have only increased it more. He had tried touching everything he could find to see if he could reproduce what he did in his apartment with the fly, but nothing worked. He touched the hamburger. The fries. The ketchup packets. Heck, he even went so far as to touch the mold that grew underneath his table in the corner, simply to try and regain the pleasurable sensation of re-energizement he felt when he absorbed the fly. But none of them worked, and consuming the food meant he might as well have been consuming a napkin.
*The first time someone actually wants to find a cockroach when they go to a third-rate eating establishment in Metropolis, and I turn up with nothing,* he wondered to himself. *I don't know what I'm going to do. If I don't find something that can get rid of this hunger, it's going to kill me. Or I might kill myself first … I don't know how long I can stand this. Maybe it's just flies… or maybe if I went to a pe — *
"Collisional activation of both the cations and anions of the phosphonates resulted in hydrogen rearrangement with loss of neutral alkenes to give the respective methylphosphonic acid anion and methylphosphonic acid cation."
Rudy stopped dead in his tracks and before he could even begin to search for the source of the voice, realized that he needed to look no further than his own mouth — he had spoken it. Bewildered by both the fact that it had just suddenly happened without his consent and even more importantly, that he understood absolutely none of what he had just said, Rudy began to walk down the sidewalk again, at a much quicker pace. The thoughts swarmed through his head.
Rudy turned down an alleyway and threw his back against the brick wall, sliding down until he was seated on the ground. He stared straight ahead in a daze as the images flooded his mind. The machine. The liquid. The fireworks. He remembered crawling out of the lab on his hands and knees, his skin burning as he watched the purple liquid seep into his pores and disappear. He remembered … the doctor! Oh no! Rudy leaped to his feet. "No no no no no … this isn't happening … this isn't happening …" Rudy did his best to try and push it out of his mind, but that was a hopeless task. The poor man, all he had done was try to help Rudy … he'd tried to clean him off, but as soon as he had grabbed Rudy's hand to pull him up off the ground, the crackling force inside of Rudy had lept into the doctor and instantaneously turned him into a pile of dust, in return giving Rudy enough energy to get rid of the mop bucket and to get home.
He hadn't done so in years, but Rudy couldn't fight it anymore and he began to cry. He'd never killed a man before. Not even in the war. This new experience put a guilt upon him like he had never felt before. He would have gone on weeping in the alleyway for much longer, but something interrupted it.
Rudy turned to face the sound of the running footsteps, as they seemed to be getting ever closer. As he looked up, he found himself two seconds away from a collision with … Ronald Reagan? Without time to move, the man ran directly into Rudy, knocking him down on the ground. The man himself stumbled and fell over, the bag he carried opening up for all the world to see its contents — stacks of unmarked hundred dollar bills. Rudy looked down at the money, then at the man. His mask had fallen off in the fall, and now his face was revealed. He looked like a thug out of any cheap 50's gangster movie. Beside the mask lay a black and gold-chrome .45. Rudy shot a quick glance to the robber, who was aware of Rudy now, then to the gun. The robber followed Rudy's line of sight to his piece, and both grabbed for it at the same time.
The robber came up victorious, and as both men stood up, the robber held Rudy at gunpoint. "Your wallet. Now," the robber ordered as he waved his gun in Rudy's general direction.
"Looks to me like you've got enough money as it is," Rudy noted as he wiped away what was left of his tears.
"I don't have yours. Now give it to me … wait, are you crying? Are you *crying*? Why, you little pansy. Do you just wanna run home to your momma now? Huh? I'm sure she'll take care of everything … maybe some milk and cookies, a bedtime story …" The robber chuckled at his own sarcasm.
Rudy could feel the anger burning inside of him. That, mixed with the already immeasurable hunger that dwelled within, finally took over. Rudy took off both gloves, threw them on the ground, and put his fists up, boxing style. "All right. You wanna fight? I'll give you something to laugh about."
The robber found this even more hilarious and another wave of laughter swept upon him. In turn, it enraged Rudy even more, and he took his course of action. "You son of a …" Rudy with one hand knocked the gun from the robber's hands, then threw his punch with the other. His fist connected with the robber's nose, and then followed through … to the brick wall behind him. Rudy looked down and found a neat pile of ash at his feet. Before he could think about what had just happened, a gigantic surge of energy scored through his body. The unique pleasure he had sensed when absorbing the fly was tenfold now, wiping clean away the hunger.
He felt good. He felt new. He felt refreshed. And there was a lot of money lying on the ground.
Lois and Clark stood in line under the canopy of the corner hot dog stand. Though the air was brisk and chilly, the sun poked through the clouds enough to bring a little warmth to the denizens of Metropolis. The people in front of them finished getting their order, and so the couple stepped forward to grab their lunch.
"Two dogs; one mustard, one mustard and relish," Clark told the vendor, Raul, as he waited for the order. Lois hesitated a moment with a bit of anticipation, then sprung forward and interrupted the order.
"Make that second one the works," Lois smiled.
Clark looked at her with puzzlement. "The works? Lois, you always get mustard and relish … and you hate sauerkraut! Are you all right?"
"No, *you* hate sauerkraut … I never said I hated sauerkraut … I just never gave it a chance," Lois gave a faint smile. She knew this was out of the ordinary, but she couldn't help herself. It just looked too good.
Raul brought the finished hot dogs to them and they each took their own. Lois immediately began to scarf hers down, sauerkraut, relish, ketchup and mustard all oozing out the end she wasn't biting from. She was halfway done when Clark had taken his first bite. He looked with disbelief at Lois and the rate she was going at. She stopped eating long enough to look up at him and see his raised eyebrow.
"Whrft?" she asked, a piece of bun sticking out of her mouth. Clark grew a wide grin on his face. "Whrft?!?" She grew impatient.
"Nothing," Clark replied. "Nothing at all. But uh, Lois … just watch how you eat, or we might get a repeat of the food poisoning episode you had while we were investigating Secretary Dey." Clark's smile had faded and he was serious now. "That really scared me, I don't want it to happen again."
Lois could see in his eyes how much it hurt him to think about her having even the slightest possibility of pain. She finished swallowing what was left of the hot dog, then pulled him close, there on the street corner, and kissed him passionately. After a good 15 seconds, she slowly pulled away and stared into his dark brown eyes. "Don't you worry about me, Clark Jerome Kent. I know you'll be there for me no matter what." And with that, she proceeded to wipe off a bit of sauerkraut she had left on his chin.
"You know what?" Clark asked.
"I think I'm beginning to like sauerkraut …" Clark put his arm around Lois's waist and they headed back towards the Planet.
As Lois & Clark boarded the elevator to take them up to the newsroom, a rather stout, obese woman with gray tones in her hair ran towards the doors as they started to slide shut.
"Hold the elevator, please!" the woman shouted as she did her best to get there before being cut off.
Clark reached out instinctively and pushed the door back. The woman smiled kindly as she nudged her way in, nestling herself in the middle of the already crowded lift. "Thank you," she said warmly, and gave a toothy smile Clark's way.
"No problem, ma'am." Clark was happy to oblige.
Rides up on the elevator, at least when it was crowded, usually stayed quiet. In this instance, however, the woman made a point to make conversation. She seemed almost giddy, a smile crossing her face every now and then. She turned to Lois and Clark.
"Today's a really special day for me, you know," she blurted out nervously.
Clark raised both eyebrows and smiled. He obviously didn't know what to make of the situation. The lady continued,
"I'm seeing my son. He works here at the Planet … I've talked to him on the phone, but I haven't seen him in five years. I'm finally going to see my boy after all this time!" She tried smiling again, but as she was in the process of doing so, her face contorted and her nose wrinkled. She quickly grabbed a handkerchief from her purse and billowed out a humongous sneeze into it. "Excuse me," she whimpered as she wiped her nose, then continued her previous conversation. "He's a reporter, you know."
Lois's eyes darted up. She nudged Clark, who leaned over while she did her best to quickly bring him up to speed on the situation with Jimmy. Now aware, Clark decided to go ahead and talk to her.
"You must be very proud of Jimmy," Clark smirked. The elevator came to a halt as it hit the newsroom floor. The doors opened as the lady turned around and gave Clark a look of confusion.
"Jimmy? No, my son is Montana …" And with that she walked out into the bullpen. From afar, they could hear Montana shout "Mom!" as he ran to greet her. Lois and Clark looked at each other, and Lois shrugged her shoulders. "Who knew?" she said.
The rest of the crowd in the elevator shuffled out into the bullpen. Jimmy walked towards Lois and Clark holding a handful of files. "Hey Lois, CK — I did some research into the backhistory of — " Jimmy stopped in his tracks and looked beyond the two reporters. "Mom?"
Lois and Clark turned around and were surprised to find Jimmy's mother — not the overweight, over-allergic mother Jimmy had spoken of years previous, but a slender, June Cleaver-ish woman with a full head of brunette hair with very small silver highlights. She was surprisingly young-looking and beautiful for a woman who was in her late 50's.
"Jimmy!" she boasted as she ran towards him. They hugged, then Jimmy pulled away and looked at his mother, befuddled.
"Mom? You've … changed."
She smiled. "I've been on a diet for years now. One hundred fifty pounds in four months, can you believe it? Same pills got rid of most of my allergies, too. The guy that made it must be a genius! I can't believe that more people haven't gotten wind of his product, but I pass word on to everyone I know … I forget his name … Dr. Seth … Sal … Sam. That's it. Dr. Sam Lane. Miracle worker. But anyway, enough about me! What about you, a reporter! Who would've thought, *my* little boy?" She motherly pinched his cheek.
Jimmy turned around towards Lois and Clark, face apparently shaken. His look pleaded to them for help.
Causer burst into Perry's office unannounced while Perry was on the phone. He started to talk to Perry rapidly, spurting out bits of information, but was halted when the chief stared him down and held up a finger.
"No … no. No. No. No. What part of 'no' don't you understand? No! NO!" Perry slammed the phone down, and in a gruff voice, turned his attention to Causer. "You had better be bringing me good news."
Causer's mouth shot off like a rocket and took 30 seconds to come back down.
Perry stormed out of his office. "Lane? Kent? Get your butts down to S.T.A.R. Labs. There's been a … murder." He looked Causer's way for assurance. Causer nodded.
"Gotcha, Chief," Clark said as he grabbed his overcoat. Lois grabbed hers, and off they ran towards the elevator. Lois turned back to Jimmy and his mother.
"It was nice to meet you, Mrs. Olsen. Sorry we can't stay and talk longer, but such is the life of an investigative reporter!" She glanced at Jimmy, who gave her an "I can't believe you just said that" look. She scowled at her blunder, but had to keep moving. Once they were gone, Jimmy's mom turned to him.
"Such nice people. So what 'high-profile' story are you working on, honey?"
Jimmy searched for an answer. He didn't want to lie to his mom, but he had already dug himself in deep and there was no hope of escape without disappointing her. Unfortunately, his mind wouldn't allow him to come up with anything of reason. It stuttered as he tried to make up a believable lie.
"Jimmy!" Perry yelled to him and snapped him out of his phase. "Robbery at First Metropolis Bank. The robber wasn't found, but most of the money was returned. You and Causer get on it, and find out who the good samaritan was." Jimmy stalled a moment, realizing that Perry was sending him on assignment. That was two in one day! Either the Chief was in a great mood or he knew that he had to save Jimmy's butt from the fire.
"Look, mom, I've gotta go now, but here …" Jimmy tossed his mom a set of keys. "…those are to my apartment. You know where it's at. As soon as I get off of work I'll be home and we can talk. Meanwhile, take in some of Metropolis or something. I'll see ya later!" He kissed his mom on the cheek and took off for the elevator. "Come on, Causer!" The intern ran to catch up.
Perry made his way over to greet Jimmy's mom. "Hi. Perry White, Editor in chief. So you're Jimmy's mom, huh? If you don't mind my saying, Mrs. Olsen, you're more lovely than Priscilla herself."
Jimmy's mom let out a small giggle. "Well thank you, Mr. White. Jimmy's told me plenty about you. Oh, and it's Ms. Olsen. But I'd prefer it if you called me Renee."
He liked it. He had actually enjoyed it.
Killing someone was a horrible thing, of course, but knowing that he had rid the world of one extra scumbag gave him a brighter outlook. And returning the money anonymously had felt even better … well, okay, not *all* the money. Rudy flipped the single stack of hundred dollar bills through his fingers.
*I'd never do this. But I did,* he thought to himself, *and it doesn't feel bad at all.*
He took a few extra seconds to casually look at his "winnings," then got up and threw the wad of cash in the back of his sock drawer. He stood in front of the full-length mirror once again and looked himself up and down. *I could make a career out of this. I could be a vigilante superhero … like Batman or something. Stalking in the night, attacking those who prey on the innocent …* Rudy smiled at his dramatic phrasing. * … and at the same time, feeding my hunger.*
"Just no spandex," he chuckled aloud. He didn't see how people like Superman or Batman could wear skin-tight elastic, especially in chilly November weather.
Rudy put on his baseball cap, covering up his graying bangs. His tough, leathery hands from years of cleaning slid down and methodically rubbed his face, feeling the gray stubble that grew all around. In the 17 years he'd lived in Metropolis, he had always shaved every morning — never had a beard, never had a mustache, not even the stubble he felt now.
*A new me, a new look.*
"Dr. Bradley was one of our most esteemed chemical engineers," Dr. Klein expressed to Lois and Clark as they walked down the hall in the East wing of S.T.A.R. Labs. Dr. Klein made gestures with his hands as he led them down the corridor to the scene of the crime. "We found him this morning … or rather, I should say we found most of him this morning."
Lois's brow bunched up as she tried to figure out what he meant. Hopefully not more of the gruesome murders that they'd seen in the past couple weeks — people ripped from naval to mouth; sucked dry of blood; throats slit. She couldn't stand any more of that.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Dr. Klein began, "Dr. Bradley was found this morning as a pile of ash. We didn't realize it was him until we ran the ash through systems tests. The DNA scan was implemented this afternoon and it matched Dr. Bradley's exactly."
"Any clues as to how it happened?" questioned Clark as they arrived at the scene. A little white chalk circle outlined where the ash had been found.
"A few. To destabilize someone's molecules like that and leave only an ash residue behind takes a tremendous energy force. Equipment like that exists here in S.T.A.R., but it stays safely locked up. It would have had to been someone who works here who killed Dr. Bradley if they used our devices. Now, we did locate one of our inventions out and about. We found it this morning in the environmental energy lab, completely waterlogged." Dr. Klein led them towards the lab, taking careful precaution to step over the chalk outline and around the few departmental agents investigating the crime. Looking back at the spot where the ash had been found, he looked to Lois and Clark. "Guess you could say he just fell to pieces," he noted. Realizing his statement had sounded like a bad attempt at humor, he quickly turned his serious knob back on and led them toward the shiny white lab table, on which rested the cold steel contraption.
"This …" Dr. Klein spoke presentationally, "… is a … er … that is to say … it's um …" He scratched his head while his eyes got confused. "Actually, I don't know what they call it. But I guess that's not really the point. In any case, what this does, according to the register …" Dr. Klein picked up a clipboard lying next to the invention and flipped through a few pages. "… is filter out A-1 electronomes stored excessively in the nucleus of ionized atoms, and fuse them collectively into a solid particle stream for use in environmental advancement." He looked up from the pad and smiled at the reporting duo, satisfied with his answer.
"And that means what in English?" Lois sarcastically inquired.
"Oh. Well. It takes energy from objects and uses them as an alternate source for fossil fuels. But it's not in use yet. It was days away from completion."
"Any idea why it's waterlogged?" asked Clark.
"None whatsoever. It would have had to have been soaked overnight for it to retain as much water as it did, but when we found it, it was lying here on the counter," Dr. Klein explained.
"If it were to be completed, what would this machine be used on?" Lois's journalistic instincts were in gear. Clark could see that she was headed down the same line of questioning that he would have taken. Rather than interrupt, he decided to let her freely take her time. He stepped back and pulled his glasses down the bridge of his nose, scanning the lab.
"Well, it depends. I would guess mostly inanimate objects, though plants would hold more energy," Dr. Klein answered.
"What about humans?" Lois queried, her brown eyes set and intent.
"Mrs. Kent — " Dr. Klein started.
"Ms. Lane … it would have been impossible for what you're thinking to have happened! I mean, it's reasonable to assume, but … the invention's not even operational! And even if it was, there certainly isn't enough force in this little thing to vaporize a human being …"
Clark, now on the other end of the lab table, stooped down close to the ground and scanned the floor. In the crevice between the table bottom and the floor, a small river of purple liquid sat.
"I think I found something," Clark shouted to Lois and Dr. Klein. They stopped their current conversation and made their way over to where he was crouched. Dr. Klein took his glasses from his lab coat pocket and, slipping them over his face, kneeled down to investigate.
"What is it?" Lois asked as she tried to get a good look. She crouched down with the others and proceeded to move her hand towards the liquid. She could get a better look at it if it was on her finger. Dr. Klein quickly grabbed her hand and pushed it back, knocking Lois back and unbalancing himself. He fell forward on top of her as he yelled "Nooooo! Don't touch it!"
Clark picked Dr. Klein up, and then reached a hand out to help up Lois. Dusting herself off, she casually resumed conversation. "I'm guessing that's not something good?"
Dr. Klein apologized for his reaction. "*Very* not good. That's hemoglyphic cyronine — nerve toxin."
"Any idea what it's doing on the floor, Dr. Klein?" asked Lois.
Dr. Klein shook his head. "None. I-I mean the environmental energy lab is where we keep hemoglyphic cyronine, but it's located …" He pointed up towards the top shelf. "… at the top, safely kept in test tubes. Hold on just a second." Dr. Klein walked over to a phone that rested on a desk in the corner of the lab. He picked up the receiver and punched a number. "We've got a hemo-one spill in environmental. Send a clean-up tech." With that he put the receiver back down and walked back over to where Lois and Clark were whispering to themselves.
Clark broke in now with a question of his own, now that he knew where Lois was going. "Who was working on this invention before the murder?"
Dr. Klein grabbed the clipboard again and flipped a couple of pages over the back as he checked it out before answering. "Dr. Ursula Freedman," he read aloud, then continued. "She's been with S.T.A.R. for two years now." He turned the clipboard around so they could see her picture.
"Do you have a number or an address we can contact her?" Lois asked as she broke out the pad and pencil for the first time.
"Unfortunately, no. According to the attendance registrar, she and her boyfriend left this morning on paid leave to take a vacation in … lessee … Hawaii. Wow. Hawaii." Dr. Klein's face drifted away. "I always wanted to go there. Did you know that Hawaii holds the record in scientific history for most plentiful supply of dionarcitic acid? It's a bio-engineer's playground …" Though he had stopped talking, he continued to stay stuck in his haze. Lois turned and whispered to Clark.
"Sounds more like fleeing the country to me. Maybe you should …" she broke off her sentence and, trying to hide it under her notepad, she did the flying hand motion they had learned to use whenever they wanted to reference Superman. Clark nodded his head and whispered back.
"As soon as we get out. I could use some sun, anyway, I've been gettin' kind of pale," he grinned at her.
"Yeah, well, don't have too much fun. If you come back with coconuts or a grass skirt, I might just have to make you sleep on the couch." She winked at him, then both turned to face Dr. Klein again, who now, with eyes closed, was performing a hula dance — of sorts.
"Do you think we should — " Clark started.
"Nah. Let him indulge himself."
The pair made their way out of the lab and to the front doors of S.T.A.R. Once outside, they stopped in the front walkway. Lois pulled her trenchcoat tight over her body as a chilly wind suddenly swept over them. Seeing she was a bit gelid, he looked around him to see if anybody was looking. Pulling down his glasses, he shot a beam of heat vision that connected with her torso. He kept it going until he could tell the heat had spread over her entire body, then he cut it off.
"That should last you a couple minutes," he smiled.
"Mmm. Thanks. But you know," she moved over to him and gave him a hug, wrapping her arms around him inside his coat, "you could have just as easily warmed me up like this."
"Well remind me when I get back tonight, and I'll make it a point to warm you up again … the old-fashioned way. But I better get over to Hawaii right now."
"Will do, my big blue boy scout. I'll cover 'til you get back."
Clark simpered and ran off to a cover of trees nearby. Lois knew he'd be taking off any minute, and ran as close to the trees as she could before he would fly away.
"Oh yeah! … I changed my mind about the coconuts! Bring some back, I've suddenly — " The sonic boom and the zip of red and blue interrupted her and she watched her husband fly across the sky and disappear in the frosty white and gray cirrus clouds. She continued her sentence, but with a small, low tone, now that she knew he couldn't hear her. " — got a craving for coconut milk."
Dusk and twilight mingled as an odd couple now that the sun had set, and the moon and stars fought in the sky as to who could paint a prettier picture. The hustle and bustle of downtown Metropolis kept the city lit, with neon signs and street lamps and car headlights illuminating the citizens as they paroled the streets and walked in and out of shops and restaurants. But the lights failed to shine on one particular individual. He crept in and out of the alleyways as he made his way from downtown to the harsher, more violent section of the Big Apricot, Hobbs Bay.
His name was Rudy Jones, and he was looking for trouble. Literally.
Rudy had no idea where to begin, but he was sure he'd find *some* kind of low-life scum in Hobbs Bay. Odds were that every fifth person you ran into in Hobbs Bay had committed a felony within the past 24 hours. All Rudy had to do was keep his eyes peeled. He figured that four dregs tonight would last him until Monday. Nobody would notice four riffraff missing, much less care.
As he came to the other end of the alley which opened up to one of the rougher sections of Hobbs Bay, Rudy stopped, crouched, and looked across the street. Three black Jaguars were parked, almost in shadow, on the side of a large industrial-looking building. *There's got to be something going on there,* he thought to himself. *Maybe a gang. No, they wouldn't own … hmm. Maybe a drug deal.* Whatever it was, Rudy was interested. He stood up and started to walk across the street. The dim orange lights caught him and cast his shadow long behind him … covering the figure that walked in it. As Rudy reached the curb, his ears picked up the footsteps following him, and he stopped, still facing the way he was going. He waited until the footsteps were directly behind him, then slipped off the gloves he was wearing and stuck them into his jacket pocket. When he could tell that the person, whoever it was, was within an armlength, Rudy whipped around and lunged.
"Hey, Mr., you got a quar — -AGH!" The man, a withered, gray- haired individual, screamed as Rudy pounced on top of him, but could only get out a second's worth before Rudy grabbed the man by the neck, and he subsequently disappeared into a pile of ash. Rudy landed with a thud on the hard asphalt. The energy fluctuated in him and recharged him, but it wasn't nearly as enjoyable as the robber's energy force had been. Rudy breathed it all in, and when it was over, stood up and stared down at the pile of dust.
"That's it!? That's all you had, you wrinkled old geezer? I got more out of a *fly* than I did out of you!" Rudy kicked the ash with his foot, sending the particles flying into the night breeze. He didn't feel sorry for what he'd done … he was sure that the man had done *something* bad, otherwise he wouldn't be living in Hobbs Bay.
Now with a new bout of energy, Rudy headed back towards the place he had set his sights on just a few minutes ago. Reaching his destination, he found nobody outside. He hopped up on top of one of the car hoods to look in the string of windows on the side of the building. Deep inside the warehouse, many figures bustled about, pushing boxes on carts. Rudy squinted to try to get a better look, and wiped his sleeve on the window to wipe away some of the dust. In the very center of the warehouse sat a round, wooden table, illuminated by a single overhead light. Six figures sat around it. Off to the side, one of the boxes lay open, and Rudy squinted even harder to get a good look at what was in it, but couldn't make it out. Suddenly, one of the figures at the table stood up and brought an item out of the box and laid it on the table. Now under the light, Rudy could see what the boxes contained — guns!
*An arms deal,* he thought. *Even better.*
Climbing down off the car hood, Rudy made his way to the front of the building and let himself in. Unafraid, he nonchalantly walked down the steps into the middle of the warehouse floor. Within seconds he had guns on him from every direction — six from the table, and five from the henchmen.
"Now, now," Rudy smiled. He waved his hands like a bird. "No need for those. We're all here to do business, right?"
"Who the hell are you?" one of the men at the table asked. His 9 millimeter was directed straight at Rudy's face.
"Name's Rudy. Rudy Jones. Nice ta meet ya." Rudy held out his hand to shake. The man at the other end of the barrel didn't budge, so Rudy stepped forward to advance his handshake, and before he could pull the trigger, Rudy brushed against his hand and he disintegrated on the floor. Before the wave of energy swept upon him, Rudy quickly rounded the table, swiftly sweeping his hand across everyone else's neck. Most of them stood stunned as watched their partners being reduced to a pile of ash. The five henchmen focused their guns on Rudy as he rounded the last man at the table and touched him.
"Shoot him!" yelled one, and they opened fire on Rudy. The bullets flung themselves from their barrels and barraged Rudy, pumping his body full of the projectiles. Rudy's body twisted and convulsed, shocked at suddenly being riddled with lead. Blood spurted from the open wounds, and the henchmen kept firing until their magazines ran out. Rudy lay fifteen feet away, on the ground, in a pool of blood and almost unrecognizable. The henchmen carefully approached him, and, convinced he was completely dead, surveyed the damage. They walked over to the now-overturned wooden table and bent down to inspect the piles of ash that were formerly their bosses.
"Hey." The voice from behind them turned them quickly about, and there stood Rudy, drenched in blood, the bullet holes still there and gushing, some internal organs apparent through his clothes. "Like the movie says … if you're gonna kill a man, make sure he's dead." Rudy's evil grin sharply contorted, and he suddenly shouted out loud. "ONE MOVE AND YOU'RE SCREWED, YOU HEAR ME?!?" The henchmen screamed at this gruesome sight and they all raised their guns to fire again. Finding that their clicks meant they were all out of ammunition, they ran to a close-by box to grab more guns and ammo. Rudy's face returned to normal, and, realizing what was happening now, ran after the henchmen. "Oh no you d — " Rudy stopped in his tracks. A flicker of blue appeared at the end of his fingers, then slowly crackled and slithered its way up Rudy's arm. The energy forces of the six men he'd killed was filling him up now. The more he killed in a row, the longer it took to register in his body, but the bigger the outcome. Blues and whites with purple tones surrounded Rudy's body, as he soaked in all the energy … and the evil that came with it. The forces shook his body, and after a heavy five seconds, he was completely healed — the skin restored and bullets gone. His clothing remained blood-stained.
"Oh. Well. That helps," Rudy grinned an evil, wicked grin and focused his attention back on the henchmen, who fumbled with the magazines they attempted to shove in their machine guns.
"Hello, boys." Rudy's voice had lowered many octaves. His face suddenly contorted, and his eyes grew wide and his eyebrows arced themselves into a sad fixture. "Hey Mr., you got a quar — -AGH!" The yell brought Rudy back to himself, and he shook off the insignificant feeling of pity for the old man. His eyes caught on fire as he once again advanced on the henchmen.
"Time to die!"
Lois woke up to the sound of birds chirping as the sun peeked through the window and highlighted the bed. She smiled with eyes closed as the warmth of the sun spread over her body. She moved her arm over across the bed to where her husband should have been lying — but he wasn't. Instead of finding the rippling fixture that was his chest, her hand found the hairy, brown husk of a coconut. Her eyes opened and she sat up straight, unsure of what she was touching. Realizing what it was, she smiled and chuckled to herself. Upon closer inspection, she found a note attached to the underside. She took it off and set the coconut aside on the nightstand. She read it to herself.
Just dropped in quickly to tell you it's taking longer than expected. Who knew that Hawaii still lines their old hotels with lead? I might have to register here as Clark in order to search the hotels, because they're certainly not out on the beach. Remind you of anyone? Anyway, I'll be back as soon as I can. Hold up the fort for me at the DP.
P.S. — Hope you like your present. I took the liberty of opening it for you … the milk's waiting in the fridge."
Lois sighed as she fell back on the bed and stuck the note beside the coconut. She hated working on Sundays, and she wished so hard she could just sleep in. But she had the whole eventful day ahead of her, what with wrapping up the in-depth on Dey and Russia, the S.T.A.R. Labs murder, and the mayoral party that evening. She dragged herself from the bed and hobbled to the bathroom, where she stood in front of the mirror and took a good look at herself. Her shoulder-length hair was a jumbled mess of tangles and split ends, and her Garfield t-shirt she wore as a nightie spotlighted a stain from the secret stash of Bubble Gum Pistachio ice cream she ate from last night before crashing on the bed at an early nine o'clock.
"I need coffee," she mumbled to herself as she turned around and headed for downstairs. "No, wait, shower first …" she reminded herself and turned back into the bathroom. She slowly undressed and climbed into the shower stall, turning on the warm water and letting it run over her body as she rested her head forward against the wall. She smiled as she remembered the first time that she and Clark had made love in the shower. She sank down into a sitting position as she closed her eyes and reminisced.
Jimmy entered the newsroom a little later than usual. In most cases, Jimmy would arrive early, at around eight o'clock, but that wasn't the case this morning. Jimmy appeared worn, worn enough for Causer to approach him and ask what's going on.
"What's the matter Olsen? Had a hot date? Wink-wink-nudge-nudge …" Causer kidded, poking Jimmy in the side.
"Naw, man… it's just, my mom," Jimmy said. "… she's driving me …"
"Did I hear my name?" someone came up from behind. It was Renee. The look on Jimmy's face was one of annoyance. Perry noticed this and decided to bail Jimmy out. "Mornin' Jimmy!" Perry bellowed, and then lightened his tone when saying hello to Jimmy's mother. "Morning Ms. Ols — er, Renee … um, er, ah … can I talk to you for a second?"
"Absolutely," Renee replied.
"Let's go to my office," Perry said, leading her into his workplace, surrounded by books, papers, and his oversized replica of the Elvis stamp.
"I was just wondering, would you … ahh … well … there's this shindig goin' on at the mayor's tonight, and I know it's late notice, but I was wondering … ahh …" he began.
"Well I wanted to know if you'd be, ah, interested in … Judas Priest, I need to get better at this … would you like to go with me?"
"Sure, I'd love to," Renee said with a smile. She was more excited than it appeared, but she did her best to hold back and stay reserved. "But right now I have to get going … I just wanted to make sure Jimmy made it to work on time. You know, while I'm here I'll have to see some of his articles … he tells me he's quite the reporter, but, well Perry, I have to be honest with you. I hardly ever have the time to read a newspaper. When you can see it on the news or read it on the Internet, where's the time? Anyhow, I need to go. What time should I be ready?"
"Uh … seven."
"Great. Catch you later … Perry."
"Yeah, uh, see you then," Perry said. *Doesn't read newspapers?!?* Perry thought to himself as Renee exited the room. Before he could get his thoughts together, Jimmy knocked on the door. There was a special report on the news.
A crowd began to gather around the plethora of television sets right as Lois entered the newsroom. Knowing this always meant something big was going down, she ran to the front where Jimmy, Perry, and the others were located.
"What's going on?" she questioned while keeping her eyes focused on the TVs.
"Police found more piles of ash this morning after getting calls from some witnesses who say there was a madman running around late last night in Hobbs Bay 'vaporizing' people," Perry grunted out. It was apparent he was a bit skeptical about the whole matter. Jimmy broke in with more information. The news report cut to a home video-like taping of Rudy disintegrating one of his victims.
"MPD sent all the ash to S.T.A.R. Labs early this morning for DNA scans. Last I heard, thirty-seven different DNA have been found, and 32 have been identified — the majority were drug dealers, convicted child molesters, rapists, et cetera. You name the scum, he got 'em. But at least five of the victims had no prior record … in fact, one of them appears to be a six-year-old kid. Apparently this is the same guy that vaporized the bank robber yesterday. Most of the money was returned, but the bank found two thousand dollars missing, so I guess he wasn't as good a samaritan as we thought."
Lois began to wonder aloud. "This doesn't make sense … it couldn't have been Dr. Freedman, she's been in Hawaii and she's a woman … and none of murders are connected, either. First S.T.A.R., then a bank robber, then thirty-seven people in Hobbs Bay, including both criminals and children. This guy's picking at random!" Lois ran all this new information through her head. "Any leads? Any idea who this guy is, or why he's going around vaporizing people?"
Perry brought a finger to his lips in a "shhh" manner and pointed to the TV screen. The newscaster was reporting the story, then it switched to a large pencil sketch of a man with a straight nose with a large bridge, short dark hair with sideburns, and the gruff beginnings of a beard — Rudy Jones, S.T.A.R. Labs janitor. But nobody knew that. Yet.
Rudy's eyes snapped open as he heard the sonic boom. Even in his lying down position amongst the trash and cardboard boxes, he could see and recognize the familiar red and blue streak that often dotted Metropolis's skies. An ember burned deep within his eyes, and he stood up and smiled and his newfound idea. Superman — the ultimate energy source. He could fill Rudy with one million times what he had soaked in during his playful spree last night. In order to do so, however, he had to be sneaky … he was sure that his energy rampage last night was all over the news today. But once he had his hands on Superman … nothing could stop him. It was no longer about hunger, it was about *power*. And Superman was power.
The Daily Planet crew continued to watch the story on the killings, and Lois walked over to the fax machine where the Metropolis Police Department was sending them a copy of the suspect composite sketch. With a sudden woosh, a gust of wind blew the paper out of her hand, and many other papers fell off desks. Through the large Daily Planet window came Superman, cradling a woman in khaki shorts and tank top in his arms and carrying a scared, brown-haired man on his back. Everyone turned their attention to them as Perry and Lois approached.
"Superman! Glad you're here," Perry said as he shook Superman's hand after he had set both of his riders down. "I just want you to know, that I don't hold you responsible in any way … we have no idea how this guy works."
Superman's forehead wrinkled and his eyes fixated into his usual stare of confusion when he didn't understand what was going on. "I don't follow. Responsible for what?"
Lois quickly walked up to Perry and put her hand on his arm and told him. "Perry, he doesn't know."
"Know *what*?" Superman was a little irritated at the fact he didn't know what they were talking about. Lois walked around Perry and looked directly at Superman. Looking only at him, she let him know just by looking in his eyes that what she was about to say would be harsh and that she would be there for him.
Lois snuck a glance towards Dr. Freedman, then back at her husband. "Dr. Freedman's no longer a suspect. Last night — " She paused as she tried to word it just right. " — last night there was a man, in Hobbs Bay. He's the killer. And he killed again … thirty-seven times."
Superman took a full step back as he realized what had just been said. He hadn't been there to stop it. Heck, he hadn't even been there to realize something was going on. He knew that he'd be gone for a little while trying to find Dr. Freedman, but he didn't expect that there'd be *thirty-seven* murders while he was gone. He looked to the ground with disbelief as his eyebrows arched upwards. He couldn't even speak. He backed up slowly towards the window and flew out backwards, hovering a few feet outside the window before turning around and taking off at a blinding speed, sending more papers flying. Lois cried out "Superman!" as he sped off, a tear running down her cheek. She wanted to be there for him, to hold him and comfort him. She knew he must feel terrible for not being there to prevent the murders, but she also knew it wasn't his fault. And she knew it would take him a while to realize that.
She wiped her tear away, trying not to reveal the fact that she'd had that much emotion inside her. She bent down at picked up the composite sketch lying on the floor. She walked up to Ursula and Brian and shook their hands. "Hi. Lois Lane, Daily Planet. I know that you work at S.T.A.R. Labs … one of your colleagues, Dr. Bradley, was killed the night you left." Both of them looked amazed.
"Dr. Bradley?" Brian almost whispered incredulously. "He used to be my instructor — "
"He was found outside the environmental lab. Your invention, whatever it was, was found on a lab table nearby. Dr. Bradley's remains were discovered as a pile of ash — disintegrated. Dr. Klein told us that it could have been possible that your invention could do such a thing."
Ursula broke in. "But it wasn't finished … it couldn't have been used for something like that."
"Right," Lois interrupted, "which is why you're also no longer a suspect. But your invention was waterlogged with soapy water. Also in the lab we found some kind of nerve toxin, which may or may n — "
"Nerve toxin? Water? Are you sure?" Ursula interjected.
"Yes. The invention was full of soapy water, and there were traces of nerve toxin we found in the lab while we were there." Lois looked at Ursula with the eyes only a journalist could give. "Does this mean something, Dr. Freedman?"
"Well, I mean even though the machine wasn't finished, it still had working parts. Water couldn't do anything to it since it doesn't run off electricity, but water and nerve toxin *combined* … that would affect the machine's central directory cache where it stores the electronomes. If a person were to be involved, the results could be anything. Even — " Ursula pointed to the television screen as the news footage reeled on. " — even that."
Lois turned her attention to the TV screen and then back to Ursula and Brian. "Do you two know of anyone else who was in the environmental section of S.T.A.R. that night other than yourselves?"
Brian shook his head. "Not that I remember. No one from the other wings. Only registered card users for that section are allowed entrance, and they'd all gone home by that time. I had told Ursula we were going to Hawaii that night, so we took off to go pack for our flight. It was just her and me." His face suddenly changed as he recalled something else. "No, wait, there was someone else …"
Lois broke in as she held up the composite sketch. "Did he look anything like this?" Both Ursula's and Brian's eyes grew big in surprise. Ursula nodded.
"That's Rudy … Jones. Rudy Jones. He's our *janitor*."
Rudy's cold expression fixated on the bum further down the alley. He didn't have the natural kind of hunger, but rather his hunger for murder overrided him and he softly stepped his way to the cardboard box. He started his deathly reach towards the disgustingly outfitted elderly lady, but halted halfway as something caught his eye: a newspaper that rested on top of the old woman, acting as a blanket. But it was what was on the front page that got his attention … the headline read "Mayor to hold party; reveal policy initiative". Rudy grabbed the newspaper and scanned the article, then threw it back down. He smiled an evil smile and continued walking down the alley.
"Honey, you know that it wasn't your fault. You were doing what you had to — we had no idea that it couldn't have been Dr. Freedman." Lois stood behind Clark in their living room, arms wrapped around him as she rested her head on his back. He had spent most of the day at their brownstone (with the exception of a few fires, a robbery, an earthquake in Israel, and a lost dog) confronting the fact that there had been so many killings while he was gone. Lois covered for him at work by telling Perry that Clark was home sick, which wasn't far off … he *was* home, and he *was* sick … from a bout of depression. Lois didn't even know he was there during the day — he didn't answer the phone. Upon returning home she found him on the couch, motionless. In an effort to make him feel better and get his mind back on something journalistic, she had told him everything that Ursula and Brian had told her about the murder, about her invention, and about Rudy Jones. It had hardly phased him.
"Thirty-seven people, Lois. *Thirty-seven*. I could have saved them. Even one. I could have saved one person and I wouldn't feel the way I do right now," Clark sighed out, even though he knew it was a lie. He would definitely feel the same way if thirty-six people had died that night.
"You can't bury yourself in this, Clark. If you do it'll pervade you until it kills you, and I don't want that. You didn't kill those people. You *didn't*. We've been through things like this before, and we can make it through again, but you can't sit here and sulk. We need each other, and though I love you more than anything, it's always hard to remember you do too in times like this, because you're always distanced and you seem like you're so far away from where I am, even if I'm sitting right here. You need to loosen up. Get rid of your tension …" Lois removed her hands from around his waist and slid them up his back to his shoulders and started massaging. "…get something to take your mind off of it."
Clark quivered a bit as she ran her hands across his neck, and a small curve began to appear at the corners of his mouth. He wasn't ready to give in yet, but he had no choice. There were only two things in the world that could bring Clark to his knees in an instant, and there certainly wasn't any kryptonite in the room. He fell into it and turned around, looking Lois deep in the eyes.
"I love you, you know that," he whispered and then kissed her, to which a small whimper was her reply. Lois broke out of the kiss long enough to quickly spill out an "I love you" back to him, then he moved his hands down her arms and to her torso, rubbing them back and forth as he attempted to pull out Lois's dress shirt from its neatly tucked hiding spot behind her work skirt. She pulled him close and moved her mouth up to his ear. She pulled his earlobe with her teeth until it stretched its comfort limit, then spoke beneath her breath to him.
"Last one upstairs is a rotten egg." And with that she took off running and giggling. Clark watched her as she ran up the stairs, but didn't budge. Lois laughed as she ran through the bedroom door, knowing she'd win. There was the bed. She took a leap and jumped directly on top of her husband, now laying down on their queen-size bunk.
"You cheated!" she managed to get out as she laughed. Clark looked over at the clock.
"We've got to be at the mayor's party in three hours …"
"Mmm. Great. Lots of time," she said as she moved down his chest with her mouth, unbuttoning his shirt and kissing his stomach. "I wish … I could just … suck you … all … up," she said in- between kisses as she moved back up to his mouth. All he managed to get out was a slight groan of content as he closed his eyes and moved his hands up her shirt, unclasping her bra. Suddenly his eyes shot open as he stared at the ceiling a moment.
"That's it!" he blurted out, as he took his hand back out of her shirt, gently moved her over and stood up.
Troubled by the fact that he had so abruptly cut off their moment of passion, she turned around on her back grumpily, moved a wisp of hair lying on her face, and asked, "What's it?"
"Lois, I've got to go, I don't know how long this'll take, but I've got to do it before he kills again."
"*What'll* take?" she demanded.
"I'll tell you when I get back, when we're at the party, I promise. Gotta go. Oh — " he stopped and turned back as he was about to start his spin. " — thank you. For being here for me. I love you!" he shouted back to her as he quickly spun into his Superman costume and flew out the window. Lois sat on the bed, shirt pulled out and half-unbuttoned, hair messed and lipstick smeared. She was disappointed that he had left, but she couldn't help but smile at the fact she had brought him, at least temporarily, but hopefully permanently, out of his bout with depression.
"Hey Perry?" Jimmy knocked on Perry's door. He was holding some photo proofs, which he deposited on Perry's desk for perusing. "Got those photos of the incident for you."
"Oh hey, Jimmy, thanks," Perry said, immediately leafing through the prints. "I was speaking to your mom earlier today. She's one nice lady."
Jimmy smiled. "I know. I miss her a lot."
"You never talk much about her," Perry mentioned, sorting the photos into piles.
"Well, there's not much to talk about, Chief," Jimmy said, sinking into a chair. "She loves to garden, cook, and listen to music. Normal stuff."
"Listen to music, eh?" Perry chuckled. "I bet she loves the King!" Perry was already dreaming up ways to serenade her. He started going through the jukebox in his head.
Jimmy frowned. "Nope," he said. "Sorry Chief. Actually, she, uh … she hates Elvis."
Perry's head jerked up. "Is that right?" He stopped what he was doing and looked at Jimmy sternly. "What are you doing sitting there?"
"Uh … er …" Jimmy stuttered.
"Get back to work! Doesn't Myerson have more photos?"
"On it, Chief," Jimmy popped up out of his chair and ran out of the office.
"Well, I'll be darned," Perry muttered to himself. "I'll be darned." He rubbed his chin in a moment of disturbing disbelief. Who couldn't like the King and his music? Moreover, who could ever hate the King and his music? It wasn't feasible. Nevertheless, he had to push it aside for the time being, so he could finish his work in time to get ready for the mayoral party that night.
Perry strolled into the ballroom, craning his neck, looking for Renee. He spotted her with Jimmy at the appetizer table. He started walking over.
"Perry!" Renee said. She looked stunning in a black, floor-length evening gown, her hair in an elegant upsweep.
Jimmy grinned at the apparent sparks between his mother and the Chief. He wasn't sure he liked it, but his mom had been so miserable for so long. On the other hand, Perry was pretty miserable lately too. Maybe they could cheer each other up.
"I think I see Lois and Clark," Jimmy said, kissing his mother on the cheek. "I think I'll go talk to them." It was a graceful exit out of the conversation.
"Renee," Perry said uncomfortably. Might as well cut to the chase. "Jimmy tells me that you don't have much affection for the King."
"The King?" Renee asked, puzzled.
"Well yeah … the King. You know, Elvis. Elvis Presley?"
Renee laughed lightly. "Oh … I can't stand his music. And his movies …" She made a face that was awful enough to show her disdain, but polite enough for the setting.
Perry was crestfallen.
"What's wrong?" Renee asked, concerned.
"Uh, nothing," Perry said. "Dang-blastit, it's *not* nothing. Actually, I love the King. And I just don't feel comfortable with the fact that, well, you don't."
Renee didn't look disappointed. "It's okay, Perry." She put her hand on his arm. "We both know that's not the real reason why you want to just be friends."
Perry raised an eyebrow. "It isn't?"
Renee chuckled as she explained. "We're just not right for each other, Perry. Jimmy told me you practically live at the Daily Planet." Perry nodded in agreement. "Well, I used to have a husband that lived his whole life inside his job. I don't like that. I think there's someone out there for you that can handle that kind of relationship. I can't. But … we can still be friends, right?"
Perry grinned. "Sure."
And they went to the dance floor.
Jimmy, wearing a black and white tuxedo, strolled through the rest of the crowd of partiers, scanning for the mayor. He really hadn't seen Lois and Clark yet; that was just an excuse to let his mother and Perry be alone. He had no idea where they were, but he wasn't going to let that stop him. Perry had put him on assignment, and he was going to do his job. His pad and pencil were in his hands and his tape recorder in his pocket. He hadn't seen any sign of the mayor yet, but he'd already grabbed a short interview with one of her aides, who'd offered some great lines as pull-quotes. As he made his way to the appetizer table, he noticed his two "partners," for that night anyway, walking through the double doors. Slurping down an oyster and grabbing another few, he ran up to greet them.
"Lois! CK! Where've you guys been? The party started fifteen minutes ago."
"We … were running a little behind getting dressed. You know Lois and her wardrobe," Clark mused. Lois faked a smile to agree with him as she sarcastically imitated a model, showing off her blue satin dress with her hands.
"Ah … uh-huh," Jimmy smirked knowingly and then changed the subject. "You guys want an oyster?" He shoved the shells in their faces, the stink and the sight of the slimy things revolting.
"Uh, no thanks, Jimmy," Clark said as he tried to smile while making a face. "So, any progress? Has the mayor said anything?"
"The mayor hasn't poked her head out all evening. If she has, she's been playing invisible woman, which isn't like her. She must be trying to build up the suspense for the new policy initiative or something. But I did get a short interview with one of her aides, Sarah Washington." Jimmy handed Clark his notepad.
"Good job, Jimmy," Clark said as he handed the pad back. "I see you're well on your way to becoming a great photo-journalist. Keep it up."
"You keep hunting, Jimmy. Clark and I are going to grab a few of the appetizers and then mingle with the crowd; get some quotes, opinions, etc.," said Lois. She and Clark had decided early on to let Jimmy have the biggest piece of the action, since he'd wanted to go on assignment as a reporter for so long. If all else failed, they were there to back him up.
"Okay, great. See you guys later!" Jimmy bobbed his head up for a moment, searching, then ran off into the crowd.
Lois and Clark made their way over to the appetizer table. Clark grabbed a few shrimp from the bowl and Lois picked up three deviled eggs, two cucumber slices, and a handful of carrots. As she ate them, she questioned Clark.
"So … what was it you had to zoom off so fast for that couldn't wait?"
"Well, I got this idea … about the murderer and the way he 'vaporizes' people into ash. It was probably a result of an accident with that energy-taking invention in the lab like you said, right?" She nodded. "Well, I figured that — " Clark was interrupted as a woman made her way to a microphone on the stage at the head of the auditorium. A spotlight came on, announcing her presence to those in conversation. She tapped on the microphone.
"Testing, testing … good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I trust you're all having a splendid time tonight. I know you're all here waiting on the mayor, so don't let me keep you. Duly respected citizens of Metropolis, I present her honor, Mayor Elizabeth Gentry." The audience applauded as a middle-aged woman walked in from off-stage. She wore torn, ragged, and dirty jeans, a stained and partially unraveled t-shirt, a pair of flat, scuffed-up tennis shoes with holes in the toes, and her face was smeared with dirt. She wore a blue handkerchief tied in her hair as a "do-rag." Most of those present, except the aides on the stage, gasped and murmured at her appearance.
"That's it … she's blown her lid," Lois noted as she strained for a better view. The mayor stood at the microphone, behind the podium, and looked into the crowd.
"For too long," she began, "Hobbs Bay, also known to some as 'Suicide Slum,' has been plagued with violence and crime." She pointed to her outfit as she continued. "Over eighty percent of its residents are forced to dress in things like this every day. One percent make more than twenty-thousand dollars a year. How can we be proud of a city with such a blight? The terrible tragedy last night consumed thirty-seven more residents of Hobbs Bay, victims of more terrible violence at the hands of a man with the power to reduce people to powder." She surveyed the crowd, watching their reaction to her statement, both vocal and with her appearance. "We don't blame Superman for not being there. He doesn't belong only to Metropolis, he belongs to the world, and he was out doing what he does best … saving it. But it's not up to Superman to keep Hobbs Bay under control. This is our city, and it's my job as mayor to make sure we make the best of it. Which is why I am unveiling a new plan tonight to clean up Hobbs Bay. A new direction to take us that no other mayor has done before. A system that will, in the course of two years, make Hobbs Bay as wonderful as any other section of Metropolis." She moved from the podium to a display stand, covered by a sheet. As she stooped to lift it up to start the unveiling of the new initiative, a voice shouted from the front of the crowd.
"Hey, you know, some people like Hobbs Bay just the way it is … the violence, the crime…" People turned to try to get a better look at who was speaking. The mayor stepped back up to the podium and looked down to where the voice seemed to come from.
"I'm sorry, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who says that… especially the residents. Who in their right mind would want a section of the city plagued by violence and crime?" the mayor questioned, but not anticipating an answer. She moved back towards the display stand. Suddenly the voice shouted out again.
"I would!" A figure lunged from the floor to the stage, grabbing the mayor's feet. The figure quickly gathered himself and pulled himself and the mayor up, one gloved hand around her neck. Two bodyguards off-stage quickly ran towards the mayor as many people in the auditorium screamed and ran. Lois and Clark watched with surprise, and Clark stepped forward, loosening his tie a bit, but unable to run anywhere at the time with the horde of people running his way. He was only able to watch with Lois as the spectacle went on. The bodyguards hurriedly evaluated the situation. Both pulled their guns, training them on the figure.
"He's unarmed!" one yelled to the other. "Grab him!" The other bodyguard advanced slowly with his gun.
The figure took the hand that wasn't around the mayor's neck and, using his teeth, pulled the glove off the other hand. As the bodyguard moved closer, the figure lunged with his hand and grabbed the bodyguard's. A bright flash of blue light suddenly faded and a pile of ash lay on the stage. The other bodyguard turned and joined the crowd already heading for the doors.
"You — you're — Ru — Rudy — Jones …" the mayor stuttered, half due to fear and half because the figure's hand almost choked her.
"But of course," Rudy answered. "But please, call me Parasite. Or better yet, call for Superman. That is, after all, who I'm after. And what better way to get food on the go and bring a man in tights to his grave than to attack the city's mayor?" Rudy's face was sickeningly cold and evil; the only warmth seemed to emerge from his burning eyes.
The screams all came at various moments as the attendants of the mayor's party ran into the streets, screaming his name for help. What they didn't know was that Superman was already inside … just itching for the chance to get away. After most of the people had fled, Clark was finally able to get away long enough to make his change. He excused himself from Lois and sped down an empty hallway to a string of phone booths. As fast as he could he jumped into the phone booth, and thirty seconds later emerged as Superman. A blur of red and blue made its way back to the auditorium, landing on the stage beside Rudy and the mayor.
"Ah. You've arrived. That was quicker than I had expected," Rudy voiced.
"Let her go, Rudy. You don't need to kill her," Superman said as he tried his best to be calm. This was the man who had killed thirty-seven people in his absence, and he had a bit of rage still inside him, waiting to come out.
"You're right, Superman, I don't." Rudy began to release his hand from around her neck, then quickly took off both gloves. "But I will!" he laughed as he brought his hand, now uncovered, back towards the mayor's neck.
"No!" Superman yelled as he took off at super-speed and swept the mayor into his arms and out of harm's way. He deposited her at the double doors, allowing her to escape, then, looking back to the stage, finally let his anger get the best of him. He had a straight line of flight to Rudy on the stage, and he took it. Furniture and walls became smears of paint in his vision as he raced towards his opponent, focusing on him with both fists forward. In the last second before he connected, he watched as Rudy put both gloved hands in front of him calmly, almost awaiting his arrival. Superman finally blew into Rudy, knocking him back as they both flew through the wall behind them and out into the street. Searing pain began in Superman's hands and filled his whole body. He was able to open his clenched eyes long enough to see that even though he had blown into Rudy with a good amount of force, Rudy had grabbed his fists as they flew through the wall. Rudy was sucking the energy out him.
Lois ran outside to see what was happening, and could only stand and watch in horror as a blue pulse of energy blended for the first time with red and surrounded both Rudy and Superman. Jimmy came running up beside her.
"What's he doing to Superman, Lois?" Jimmy asked as he stared. Lois didn't answer as she watched her husband battling what seemed to be an ordinary middle-aged man with stubble and a small beer belly. If the energy ring wasn't surrounding both of them, it would really look like Superman was beating up an ordinary joe on the street. "I'm gonna go get the camera, this is a lot bigger than the mayor's policy initiative. Don't worry Lois, Superman'll win. He always does," Jimmy said as he patted Lois on the back once and ran off to his car.
The two figures wrestled on the ground. Superman was still reeling from the pain of the energy surging through his body. Rudy strained against the weight of Superman's strength through his clenched fists pushing his own hands into his chest. He moved his leg up and pushed against Superman's stomach, forcing him off. Superman rolled over on his back and tried to collect himself, and Rudy forced himself to stand up while he swallowed in the energy he had already taken from Superman. Rudy knew that Superman would be a tough one to take, but he was sure he would have already turned him into dust by now. *Soon enough*, he thought.
Superman breathed in deeply as he regained his senses. The pain had died down, but he still ached. He didn't know that one man was capable of such damage to him. Maybe there were *three* things that could bring him to his knees in an instant. He rolled over on his side and saw Rudy walking towards him.
"You, Superman … you are the ultimate source. The power, the energy, the food … you'll last me a lifetime. Stop fighting it and accept the fact that you're going to die, pretty boy," Rudy laughed as he stepped towards him. His grin suddenly faded and his body jerked upright as his face contorted and twisted into unbelievable states. His body circled through his victims as Superman watched.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Hey, Mr., you got a quar — -AGH!"
"Here, kitty kitty …"
"Mommy, who's that?"
"Oooh yeah … that's the way … uh-huh, uh-huh … I like it … uh-huh, uh-huh …"
"Hey baby, you lookin' for a ride? I'll give ya one, sweetcakes, only two-hundred."
"Sweet mother of Jesus, no!"
"Collisional activation of both the cations …"
Superman forced himself up off the ground as Rudy circled through more of his murder victims and their personalities. He realized what was going on and figured that this was the only time he would probably have to make a move. Knowing that Rudy would only absorb any energy that he put into him directly, he poured on what he had left of his heat vision, aiming his beams at Rudy's shoes. The rubber in the soles melted to the ground, fastening Rudy's feet. Rudy was still cycling through his prey, and Superman could tell he was almost done. He'd been counting, and he was on twenty-nine. He stood poised and ready for when he finished. His fist was aligned with Rudy's chest so that he was sure not to hit any exposed skin, lest he be subjected again to the reeling pain of the energy being sucked right out of him. He was on thirty-six. Sweat began to appear on Superman's brow and a small drop trickled down onto his nose. He moved his hand to wipe it away. Thirty-nine, and a fist connected with Superman's face, the energy accumulation between his skin and Rudy's hand knocking Superman back a few feet. Rudy tried to come at Superman, but found his feet were molded completely to the ground. Yelling in frustration, Rudy pulled using his leg strength until he freed his foot from his melted shoe, set it down on the ground, then did the same with the other. Now free, he came swinging both arms at full force, unrelenting. Superman tried blocking a few using his cape, but he couldn't hold up for long. Blow after blow connected with Superman, energy depletion coming with every hit. Rudy took the chance at an uppercut and succeeded, blowing Superman high in the air. Superman landed with a thud and was motionless — not even a groan emanated from his whole body. Rudy carefully approached. Superman could be dead, but that wasn't enough for him; he wouldn't rest until he'd turned that whole body into a pile of gray ash.
"Looks like Big Blue took a big fall. Time to die, blue boy!" Rudy yelled as he lept toward Superman.
The force of the blast from behind pushed Rudy forward a good fifteen feet and a yellow-orange glow fissured about his body as he lay flat on the ground. Focusing into view, the blast came from behind; from a medium-sized handheld device in the arms of Dr. Freedman, who stared down a small scope on top of the otherwise cold machine, now warmed from the blast.
Rudy spit rocks and asphalt from out of his mouth as he tried to get up, but failed. His arms felt like jello as he realized that he'd lost some strength. He was hungry again. *Where'd the energy go?* he wondered, then focused on the energy that was left in his body into his arms in an effort to get up. Standing up, he turned around to find Ursula at Superman's body, checking his pulse. The fire in his eyes lightened and the cold evil from his face vanished as he saw her.
"Ms. Freedman?" Rudy questioned, now as the janitor he'd been before this all began. Ursula looked up at him, brushing her hair from out of her eyes as she stared him down.
"He's *dead* Rudy. You killed him." Her eyes were cold as they looked at him, waiting.
"I — I didn't … Ms. Freedman you know that I wouldn't … I wasn't in *control*. It wasn't me! I couldn't help … I couldn't help the hunger …" A tear welled up in Rudy's eye. Ursula got up and walked over to him, still holding the machine in one hand. She felt sorry for him.
"I really didn't mean it, Ms. Freedman, I didn't … I'm sorry … I just — just wanna go home and go to work and be a normal guy …" he was crying now, like a baby. Ursula moved in a little closer, but she knew better than to touch him; even at this point he was still dangerous.
"I know, Rudy, I know. But you did some bad things. Just come with me and we can work this all out."
"Okay." He walked up to her and she turned around to lead him to where a cop car now sat at the end of the block, lights flashing. Lois stood by the officer, her face stained with tear-run mascara. As they walked, his face began to twist and contort, and the blazing ember sparked once again in his eyes.
Superman rolled over on his side and witnessed the horrible shift in Rudy's face. He screamed out Ursula's name to warn her.
"Dr. Freedman! Look out!" Ursula turned around and witnessed the horrifying, twisting contortion of Rudy's face. His eyes burned with a rage she'd never seen. He grabbed for her neck with his hands, and he shut his eyes as he found a warm sensation, energy flowing through him. A sudden jolt after three seconds threw him back, and his eyes flew open to reveal that he had been hit with a sudden burst of heat vision from Superman, now on all fours. Dr. Freedman was safe, standing behind him. The device was now in both hands, and he saw her eye through the scope on top. She spoke aloud.
"I'm sorry Rudy. I'm sorry you had to kill those people. I'm sorry I have to do this, but it's the only way to stop you. I'll miss you." A dull red aura formed around the front of the machine, and almost in slow-motion, Rudy watched as a thick beam of yellow-orange reached his face. He felt the energy being sucked from his entire being, the evil energies and the good ones. His face went through all the various personalities he'd consumed as each separate one was attracted like a magnet to the invention Ursula held steady in her hands. All thirty-nine came out, and as the last one did, the beam shut off and Rudy dropped to the ground lifeless. Superman struggled to his feet and hobbled over to Ursula.
"Thank you," she said, looking at him. "Thank you for warning me."
"Well thanks for giving me a cover. I'm glad you got here before things got really bad." She smirked at the sarcasm in his voice.
"No problem, we did a good job. Good thing you contacted me and helped put this baby together, or you might be like … oh, God, Rudy …" Ursula realized he was still on the ground lifeless. Superman went after her and caught up as she stood above Rudy's body, laying face down on the ground. Superman pulled her back a little and stooped down. Being careful, he moved his index finger towards Rudy's hand very slowly, not knowing if he would still be able to suck in energy.
Now aware he could touch the body safely, he moved his hand to Rudy's neck to check for a pulse. He left his hand there for five seconds, then looked back up to Ursula.
"So he was never really in control," Lois asked as she walked along with Clark in the Daily Planet newsroom. The sun broke through the window and the hustle and bustle of reporters, researchers, and what-not were heard throughout.
"That's what we're thinking. Rudy Jones was a janitor for ten years at S.T.A.R. Labs. He never showed any signs of violence, especially not murder. Dr. Freedman and …" he lowered his voice, "… Superman are going to appear at his trial to try to get him a reduced sentence. He may have killed all those people, but it wasn't really his true psyche coming through. It's kind of like what happened with Star, but this just got a little bit worse," Clark said as they approached his desk. He sat down in the chair and she scooted some papers out of the way to sit on the edge of his desk.
"So helping to fix that machine, that's what you were up to when you broke off our little… in the bedroom, hmm?" Lois grinned.
"I figured he'd come out sometime to kill again, so I wanted to be sure we had a way to stop him. Since that machine supposedly was supposed to be some kind of energy-draining device, I thought it might work on him. And don't worry, I'll make up that little session …"
"Well I'm glad you're feeling better. I really almost thought you were dead out there."
"Lois, I could never leave you, not even in death. I'm just glad that — "
"Donuts!" Lois shouted as she climbed down off the desk and started towards a big box the delivery boy had just brought in. "Be right back, Clark, I promise. You want a glazed?"
" — that you were brave," Clark finished in a sigh as she left for the food. As she was retrieving her morning feast, Clark saw Jimmy walk down the ramp with a couple of files in hand. Clark got up and walked over to him.
"So, Jimmy, did you ever get that interview with the mayor?"
"The mayor? Oh, yeah, of course, down at the precinct where she was giving a statement. But the Parasite, that's an even bigger story!" Jimmy said with pride.
"Yeah, that's what the mayor said he called himself. It'll be great for a headline. I can't wait to send this article to my mom, either … I'm co-writing it with Lois!"
"Oh you are, huh?" Clark looked back to find Lois filing through the large selection of donuts.
"Yeah. Too bad you weren't there long enough. Lois said you had to cut out before the whole Parasite thing happened."
"Oh she did? Yeah, I had to, uh … run back to the house. Left some important stuff behind."
"Ah, well you missed some great action, CK. The Parasite had Superman down for count, and there were all these cool red and blue explosions and — "
"Yeah, I saw it on the news this morning."
"Well I better get these to the Chief before he gets angry," Jimmy announced, waving the files.
"No problem. Good job on getting the scoop!" Clark waved to Jimmy, then headed back to his desk. He smiled to himself as he ran all the recent events through his mind. He had made arrangements for Superman to attend the funerals of the victims in Hobbs Bay, no matter how vile and criminalistic they may have been. He thought of his wife, Lois Lane, and how wonderfully gorgeous she was, and how happy she made him. She was his strength and his will, and he would have never even thought about coming out of his depression over the deaths if she hadn't been there. He had considered over and over the prospects of having a child, and he decided that it wasn't really such a bad idea … he had wanted a family for so long, and he was two thirds to a final completion. He had parents, he had a great wife, now all he needed was a baby … maybe even two. He had a dream job at the Planet as a reporter. He had friends and he felt exhilarated every time he went out as Superman and did his job. He couldn't think of any place or any person he'd rather be. Life was great, and he was going to soak it all in.
The elevator bell sounded, and Renee Olsen walked out. Jimmy was sitting at his computer, typing.
"Jimmy, are you sure you can drive me to the airport?" Renee said, peering over his shoulder. She moved to lean against his desk. "You look busy …"
Jimmy looked up at his mother's sweet, endearing eyes. He couldn't lie to her anymore.
"That's it, Mom," he said interrupting her with his hand and taking hers. "I lied to you. I'm not really an investigative reporter here at the Planet. I'm a research boy, copy boy, gopher boy and sometimes photographer — and only when Perry has sent out every other guy. I'm sorry I lied to you, Mom, but I wanted you to be proud of me." He winced, waiting for her harsh reply.
Renee smiled. "I *am* proud of you, James," she said. "Besides, I already knew that you weren't a reporter yet."
"Wha — Since when?"
"Only last night. Perry and I were dancing, and it slipped out. James Bartholomew Olsen, your old mother will always be proud of you." She looked around the office, at the bustling pace, the mad chaos, then back into her son's face. "I know sometimes I expect a lot out of you, but I just want you to be the best person you can be. I don't want you to be something that you're not. Even if you're not an investigative reporter, I see how people around here appreciate you. Even Perry appreciates you."
Jimmy's eyes lit up. "Really?"
"He said he didn't know what he would do without you around."
"Wow," Jimmy said, in awe. He looked his mother straight in the eye. "Are you really proud of me?"
Renee stood up and held her arms out, inviting him for a hug. "Of course." Jimmy hugged his mother. "So are you taking me to the airport or not?"
Jimmy broke from his mother's embrace to glance toward Perry's office. He was standing in the doorway, smiling. "Hey, Chief …"
"Go ahead, son," Perry said, waving them away.
As soon as the elevator doors closed, Perry sat down at his desk. He dialed a familiar number, but then put the phone back down again. "Oh heck," he muttered to himself.
The phone rang four times, but there was no one but the answering machine, a serene female voice that Perry lived to hear and used to hear every day of his life. He missed her. "Hi, you've reached Alice White. I'm not here right now. Please leave a message at the tone. Thank you."
Perry hung up before he heard the beep without saying a word.
A dank cell within the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit HQ was dimly lit by a single overhead light bulb. The small cubicle measured a dinky eight by eleven feet, with a sink and a floor toilet. He hated it, and he knew he didn't belong there. He hadn't done those horrible things. He was just a janitor … one who was consumed by the evil he had fed upon and who had gained an immeasurable hunger for more death and destruction and power. He was cured now, and he was sorry. But he'd face at least three months in jail before his trial happened. His head hung low as the tears rolled directly from his ducts and hit the floor, sliding to the small drainage grate on the floor and dripping into the corroded pipes below.
Disturbed by the water trickling its way on the floor, a fly took off on a zig-zag course to the sink, found nothing of pleasure, and found another destination. It sat down an inch fromRudy's hand, and crawled closer, inspecting his new dish. It quickly fluttered on top of Rudy's fingernail.
Rudy lifted his hand up to itch his finger. As he did so, he squinted at the black, dingy ash resting on top of it, then down to where his hand lay. Confused, he wiped it off, scratched the itch away, then put his hand back down on the clean, steel bench.
Additional scenes in this "episode" were written by KAT PICSON