By Emily M. Hanson < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Submitted: February 2002
Summary: A Lois & Clark/Spider-man/X-Men crossover. Tatiana Alexander escapes once again. While she plots revenge, Jimmy goes undercover as Shade. Meanwhile, can Peter Parker keep his boss from finding out about Spider-man?
Disclaimers: I don't own Lois & Clark, Spider-man, or the X-Men. No infringement is intended. However, Tatiana Alexander is my own original character.
January 1, 2002: another day, another year. Spider-man watched the ball drop in Times Square from his perch with a twinge of sadness. The mutant terrorists led by Tatiana Alexander really had caused a lot of chaos and destroyed many lives. She was behind bars now, but she'd escaped once before. Clark Kent had filled him in on the details. Lex Luthor had been secretly funding her operation and had tried to make an ultimate version of the purple chaos formula in order to become a mutant himself. In the end, Luthor's own body rejected the power. That had been his downfall.
Spider-man watched the revelers below. He didn't expect any trouble. There were scores of cops guarding the area. No one with any brains would try to do something here and now. But there were vague terrorist threats, so Spidey was on the job, even if no one seemed to appreciate his efforts. The band played "Auld Lang Syne" and most of the crowd sang the words off-key. A nearby sign boasted that the temperature was three degrees below zero. Spidey shivered. Slowly, the huge crowd started to break up. It was time to go out on patrol.
He still traveled by webslinging most of the time, even though he'd gotten the power of flight, as well as telepathy and telekinesis, from the purple chaos gas. Webslinging was second-nature to him. Flying was fun, but he couldn't take risks by flying as Spider-man because everyone knew that Peter Parker was a mutant. He did fly to work, though. It was much faster than sitting in traffic, or webslinging in the frosty morning air.
He caught a couple of small-time thieves trying to steal from a bank, and also stopped a couple of kids who were planning to spray graffiti on the state capitol building. It was a pretty dull night. By 3:00 am, Spider-man was ready to go home. Aunt May slept soundly as he climbed in through his bedroom window. Once, he thought she was about to wake up, but she didn't. Yawning, Peter took off his costume and stored it under the bed before climbing under the warm blanket.
As Spider-man slept miles away, Tatiana Alexander paced back and forth in her cell. Only she wasn't entirely herself — the presence of Lex Luthor dominated her mind. Just before his physical body had died, he'd managed to make a telepathic connection. Superman hadn't noticed. It was only after she was led away to jail that Luthor made his presence known.
He plotted revenge now. The depths of his intelligence were astonishing to her. He'd been sorely underestimated. His plots included getting rid of Superman. Kryptonite was involved, of course. Her purple chaos formula would also be used. It was a brilliant plan, and Tatiana couldn't imagine it failing. It all depended on her getting out of jail, though. That would be feasible under ordinary circumstances, for Tatiana's mutant ability was teleportation. Considering her recent escape, the guards had placed a collar on her, which rendered Tatiana's mutant powers useless. She was stuck unless Lex came up with a plan.
*Don't worry, my dear,* he thought. *We are getting out of here soon. I have a colleague who is able to remove the collars from Genosha. I just need you to request a phone call, nothing more.*
She smiled. You could always count on him to come through. Tatiana got the nearest guard's attention. Her request was accepted. The guard escorted her to a private room, where he stood at attention just outside the door. All phone calls were monitored, so there was no need for him to remain inside. But the monitoring didn't matter to Lex. He and his colleague had a code worked out. No amount of monitoring would be able to detect it, unless the monitor happened to be telepathic.
She made the call. Lex's conversation about U2, laundry, and the New York Giants would have made absolutely no sense to anyone listening in. On the other end, Johnny Carlton gasped in astonishment.
"How is this possible? He really told you?"
"About the Giants, yes," Tatiana said, hoping furtively that Johnny's shock at learning that Lex had told her about the code wouldn't give her away. "I'll explain later."
"Of…of course," he replied.
The guard opened the door. "Your five minutes are up, Miss Alexander."
"I have to go now. Goodbye." She was led back to her cell.
At about 2:00 am the next morning, Tatiana was awakened by the sound of laser weapons being fired. She looked out of her cell to see several very large men dressed in black from head to toe and wielding laser rifles, fighting the guards. The men in black were winning. As the last guard went down, one of the men used a stolen key on her cell door.
"Mr. Luthor must have thought very highly of you, Miss Alexander. Come on."
She decided that it would not be wise to mention that Mr. Luthor was inside her head at the moment, and followed her rescuers.
Clark awoke to the smell of coffee and eggs. Lois was cooking? He pinched himself to make sure that he wasn't dreaming and headed for the kitchen. His wife was indeed cooking. She had a magazine on the table, open to a page with the bold-faced headline: "How to make a delicious, healthy breakfast in 20 minutes or less." The toaster popped up two pieces of slightly burnt toast. Lois wrinkled her nose.
"Ugh. You'd think I could at least get the toast right. I can make eggs, but not toast."
"I like it on the crispy side anyway," Clark said.
Lois raised an eyebrow but said nothing, knowing that he was trying to make her feel better. She put the toast on a plate and proceeded to get butter and jelly.
"I was hungry for something with a little more substance than cereal," she said by way of explanation.
Clark was about to reply when the phone rang. He picked it up. "Hello?"
It was Perry White. "Guess what I just found from an Internet news site this morning?"
"Elvis was spotted at a barbecue joint?" he replied, attempting to be humorous.
"No. There was an escape from a prison last night, and a certain mutant was involved."
"You got it. I'll see you and Lois at work."
Lois looked up. "That woman escaped again?"
"I hope she's gotten a thesaurus by now," she replied, and dug into the eggs. "If not, I'm getting her one for Christmas."
"I just don't think I can take being called meddlesome by her one more time. She can call me anything else she wants to, but not that."
Clark silently ate his eggs. He would give Peter Parker a call, as soon as possible.
Peter Parker's Aunt May poured them both coffee. Two pieces of toast popped up, and they were perfectly golden- brown. Suddenly, the telephone rang.
"Hi, Clark," he said, picking up the phone. He'd known who it was instantly. One of the few perks of being a mutant was having caller ID in his head.
"You are not going to believe this. Tatiana escaped again."
Clark proceeded to fill him in on the details. "I'm just about to leave for work now," he added when finished. "I'll try to find out more. Keep in touch, okay?"
"You got it," he replied, knowing fully well that the Daily Planet reporter would do his utmost to ensure that Tatiana Alexander's escape would not last long, for Clark Kent was also Superman.
After finishing his breakfast, Peter left for work. He enjoyed being able to fly over the morning traffic. The skies were usually empty at this time of day, but he caught a glimpse of another flying mutant. He wasn't the only one who traveled by air.
Landing just behind the Daily Bugle, he saw Betty Brant arriving at the same time. Flash was dropping her off in his pickup truck. "Morning, Peter," she said.
"The traffic was unbelievable this morning. It just keeps getting worse and worse. You're lucky you have an alternate method of transportation."
"Yeah, well, it's pretty cold up there."
"Flying must beat sitting in a vehicle for over an hour. How long did it take you to get here?"
Peter glanced at his watch. "Just under six minutes."
Betty smiled. "My point exactly."
Going into work, he caught the fragmented thoughts of his co-workers. Most of them didn't have anything to worry about other than finishing projects or paying bills. No one else knew about Tatiana's escape. Well, J. Jonah Jameson was about to find out.
Meanwhile, Tatiana Alexander had spent the night resting in a secret location. The next day, she took a flight to New York. She still had some canisters of the DNA-altering gas stored in a warehouse that had never been found. Lex wanted revenge more than anything. So did she, but she also wanted to continue her previous plans. She contacted some of her former operatives and they agreed to join her. Purple Chaos was once again in action.
J. Jonah Jameson looked up as Peter Parker entered his office. The owner of the Daily Bugle was having a cup of coffee and checking e-mail. "What is it?" he asked, slightly annoyed by the interruption of his morning routine.
"I just got a tip. A certain teleporting mutant has escaped from jail again. No one has any idea where she is."
"Keep in contact with whoever gave you that tip. Find out as much as you can about Ms. Alexander. I don't care how you do it, and I don't want to know how you do it. No matter what else happens, get the scoop."
Scooping Clark Kent was not what Peter had in mind. There had to be another way to get the information. He would just have to find her before anyone else. That could be tricky, considering every law enforcement agency in the country was probably looking for her, not to mention Superman. He just nodded. "Yes, Sir."
Tatiana surveyed the abandoned warehouse, flanked by several bodyguards. They were part of her original group, and still loyal to her. In the back of the warehouse were several crates, covered with dust and spider webs. Opening them revealed silver canisters, which contained the DNA- altering gas. She smiled.
"Gentlemen, I believe we can go ahead with our plan."
The guards stood there stoically, nodding. In her mind Lex laughed, a maniacal sound that put chills down her spine. But with his assistance, she couldn't lose. She would have her revenge on Spider-man, Superman, and the reporters who had helped them. Gathering up canisters, she filled several backpacks with them and gave the extra backpacks to the guards. As they left, she turned out the lights, bathing the warehouse in pitch black darkness.
Back at the Daily Bugle, Peter scoured the computer database searching for any information that might be a possible clue to the whereabouts of the escaped mutant. An Internet news search turned up several related articles, including his own story on the Purple Chaos attack at the science conference. His story had been nominated for a Kerth, but Lois Lane and Clark Kent won instead.
He had gotten a photography award, which was nice considering that his pictures had helped to prosecute the terrorists. Peter was, as far as anyone knew, the first mutant to win such an award. That in itself had been in the news for a few days. Life had gotten back to normal very quickly after the Kerths, as if to tell him that he shouldn't rest on his laurels. Indeed, the prize money had only gone so far.
"Hey," Robby Robertson said as he approached, "did you hear the news about Tatiana Alexander escaping again?"
Peter nodded absently as he scanned the news article. "She won't be out of jail for long, I'll bet. Spidey and Superman found her last time. They'll find her again."
"Yeah. I just got a tip from a source who lives in the warehouse district. Since you seem to know how to get in touch with Spider-man," though Robby had his suspicions that Peter's knowledge went a bit farther, "you might want to tell him that there was some suspicious activity early this morning at a warehouse everyone thought was abandoned."
Peter raised an eyebrow in surprise. He hadn't known that the older man suspected his secret identity. "Thanks. I'll try to get in touch with him. Uh, about me and Spidey…"
"I don't want to know, Parker, really."
"Are you sure?"
"It's easier for us both if you don't tell me. That way, I can't tell anyone else."
Peter nodded. Robby was probably right. Too many people already knew his secret. Granted, Clark Kent didn't need protection, and the Man of Steel could take care of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. But his former wife, Mary Jane, who had turned up alive after all, still knew. They were separated. It was a very complicated story. Aunt May suspected, but didn't know for sure. She worried about him more than ever now.
Suddenly, he heard coughing in the distance. More and more people started to choke and gag, as if the entire office had just gotten sick.
"What's going on?" Robby asked.
Peter looked around and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then he looked down. A purple gas was starting to seep into the room.
"Oh, no! This can't be happening again," he remarked as Robby put a hand on his shoulder.
People were beginning to panic. J. Jonah Jameson started to yell, "Stay calm!" at the top of his lungs, but most of his employees ignored him. He was not an easy man to disregard. That only showed how frightened they were.
"Robby, get out of here now, unless you want to end up like me. I mean it!"
Peter began to assist with the evacuation, leading people to the emergency exits as the fire alarm went off. The annoying noise helped to distract him from everyone else's panicked thoughts and the buzz of his spider-sense.
One security guard tried to stop him from re-entering the building. Peter shook his head. "I'm already a mutant. The gas won't have any effect on me. Let me help." Reluctantly, the guard stepped aside.
The evacuation went smoothly for several minutes, until several Daily Bugle employees were found unconscious. The gas was beginning to affect them. He helped the cops carry them out. When ambulances finally arrived, they were placed on stretchers. Looking around, Peter glimpsed many familiar faces, but J. Jonah Jameson was not among them.
"Betty," he said, grabbing her arm, "have you seen Mr. Jameson?"
The fear on her face was evident. "No, I'm sorry."
"Where could he be?"
"Can't you sense him or something?" she asked.
Closing his eyes, he briefly scanned the minds of everyone around him. The owner of the Daily Bugle was nowhere to be found. Logically, that meant Jameson was still in the building, and probably passed out. "I'm going back in to look for him."
"Peter, if he's still in there, that means…" she left the thought unfinished, knowing he knew what she was thinking.
"I know, Betty." He disappeared into the growing crowd and crossed the police line that had just been set up.
Purple haze filled the building, clouding his vision. It was as thick as pea-soup fog. He could barely breathe. His Spider-man mask would have definitely come in handy. Too bad it was in his backpack at the moment, safely stored in a desk drawer. Telepathically scanning the area, he finally detected an unconscious mind near J. Jonah Jameson's office. It had to be him. Finding the limp form, he lifted up the man and carried him outside. It was indeed his boss.
The Daily Bugle's owner was almost certainly affected by the DNA-altering gas. No one exposed to it for so long had remained unchanged. As Peter laid him onto a stretcher, a medic gave him oxygen. While he was wheeled over to the ambulance, Mr. Jameson's eyes opened and their minds connected.
*Parker, how is this possible? Does this mean I'm a mutant now?* There was something lurking just below the surface of Parker's thoughts. But what?
"I'm afraid so, Mr. Jameson." I've got to hold on, Peter thought. Jameson's telepathic ability was strong, but he didn't have the skill to get through the mental defenses that Peter had built up over the months since he'd been a mutant.
The nurse looked at him in amazement. "What's going on here?"
Jonah, as he was known to his close friends, took the oxygen mask off. "I can't talk with this stupid thing on. Parker, you got me out of there in one piece?" Peter couldn't deny it, so he nodded. Jameson's voice was hoarse and faint, but the thought behind his words was clear. "I'm giving you a raise."
"Just rest, Mr. Jameson. You need a lot of rest. Trust me, I've been through this before."
"Listen to him," the nurse replied. "Come on, you're going to the hospital."
The stretcher was wheeled into the ambulance, which left with blaring sirens. Peter sat down, lost in thought. A hand touched his shoulder and he jumped.
"Sorry, ah didn't mean to startle you." It was Rogue, from the X-Men. Behind her was Ororo Munroe, the mutant known as Storm, and the flame-haired telepath, Jean Gray.
"We came after hearing the news reports. The situation was under control by the time we got here," Storm said. "You handled things extremely well."
"Thanks. Who are you people?" Peter had to feign ignorance, since they didn't know about Spider-man.
"We're mutants like yourself," Jean replied. "We'd like to talk to you alone."
"Do I have a choice?" he asked.
"Of course," Storm answered, arching an eyebrow. "But I assure you, this will be in your self-interest."
"Okay." Peter got up and followed them to an unoccupied section of the street.
"Would you like use your abilities to help others to a greater extent?" Jean asked.
"Wait a minute. You're trying to recruit me, aren't you? Are you with one of those mutant fringe groups?"
Jean sighed. The young man knew she was a telepath like himself, and had much more experience, and he was still trying to mislead her. "I know that you already know who we are, Mr. Parker. You can stop playing games. I did not even have to get past your telepathic shields, since you were thinking so loudly."
He had the grace to look embarrassed. "I can explain."
"I'm sure the explanation would be very interesting. I just need to know one thing. Do you want to join us or not?"
Peter shook his head. "Sorry, I'm not much of a team player. I work solo."
Jean's mouth fell open as she realized what he meant.
"Exactly what is that supposed to mean?" Storm asked.
"Ah think ah know," Rogue replied, remembering the time she had very nearly run over Spider-man — literally — as the webslinger made his way across town. Spidey had revealed a few interesting things, like the fact that he'd recently become a mutant. She'd set the event aside and had almost forgotten about it, until now. Were Peter Parker and Spider-man the same person?
Peter raised his hands in a mock-surrender position. "Okay, you got me. Now what?"
It was Rogue's turn to gape at him. "You just read mah mind. Ah didn't even say you could." She was very used to the protocols at the mansion, where it was considered rude for a telepath to read another's mind without permission.
"Hey, you were practically shouting. I'm surprised they didn't hear you all the way in Alaska."
"He has a point," Jean replied. "All right, Mr. Parker. We will keep your secret. If you change your mind, you know how to contact us."
"Good-bye for now, then. Take care."
The X-Men left. Peter briefly contemplated what life as an X-Man would be like, then decided to skip it. He had more things to concentrate on, like finding Tatiana Alexander.
Back in Metropolis, Jimmy was carrying a cup of coffee into Perry's office, when the news about the purple gas attack at the Daily Bugle broke into regular TV news coverage. Nearly everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the breaking story. Jimmy halted in his tracks. He recognized Peter Parker in the background, running back into the building. What was the other photographer thinking? They'd realize that he was Spider-man…or maybe not, Jimmy thought. Parker could use his mutant powers just as easily to help without attracting a lot of suspicion.
As the reporter described the scene, people were carried out of the building by Parker and the rescue workers. Just before the camera switched back to LNN headquarters, Jimmy caught a glimpse of Peter lifting an older man and placing him onto a stretcher.
"That's J. Jonah Jameson," Cat Grant remarked. "He owns the Daily Bugle."
"He passed out from the gas inside," Jimmy remarked.
"Huh," Ralph said. "I wonder what mutant powers he'll get. Maybe he'll put on a cape and tights."
"Not likely," Olsen said. "He hates superheroes; in fact, he always gives Spidey a bad time. Besides, not all mutants run around in costumes. Have you ever seen the Chief wearing spandex?"
"Good answer, Ralph. Maybe you ought to do a little less speculating and a little more work," Perry remarked from behind.
Ralph turned bright red. "Yes, Sir."
"I'll take that coffee now, Jimmy." Olsen handed it to him. "That goes for the rest of you, too," the Chief said. "Get back to work, people. The day's not over yet."
"Perry, I was thinking…"
"Go on, Jimmy."
"Well, maybe I could go undercover or something. You know, find Tatiana's terrorist group and expose them, that sort of thing."
Perry looked at him, stunned. He hadn't been expecting that. It was a good idea, but too much risk was involved. For one thing, how was Olsen going to prove to authorities that he really wasn't on the bad guys' side? "I can't let you do that, Son. It's too risky."
"I don't even have to go undercover as myself. Can I talk to you about this somewhere else?"
They went to the Editor in Chief's office. "What do you have in mind?" Perry asked, after closing the door.
"I have a secret identity, Chief."
"Who?" Perry hated to admit it, especially when the younger man was being so honest, but he didn't recognize the name.
"I've been going out at night to rescue people from fires and muggings and stuff, mostly crimes that Superman either doesn't have time to stop or doesn't know about. Well, I suppose he could just be letting me handle them to get some experience on my own."
"Jimmy, is this why you've been so tired the past few weeks?"
"If Clark can do it, so can I. It's not hard."
"No, but he's Superman. You're not. You need sleep."
"Chief, I can catch up on my sleep during the weekends."
Perry took a sip of coffee. "Son, stopping street crime is nothing compared to a major undercover investigation. Now I know you can phase so bullets won't hit you, but that won't help if the authorities move in on the Purple Chaos terrorists and decide you're really with the bad guys."
"You don't think I'm ready?"
"It's not that, Jimmy. I don't want to risk your life and freedom."
"I suppose you'll send in Lois and Clark instead."
"No. Clark doesn't need to be exposed as more than just a normal human, and Lois doesn't have super powers. I'm not sending anyone in. We'll get this story, one way or another."
Jimmy nodded. "Thanks for listening, Chief."
"Anytime, Olsen." Perry grinned, glad to see that Jimmy wasn't taking a negative answer too hard. He took another drink of coffee. "How's Jennifer doing?"
Jennifer was Jimmy's former girlfriend. They had dated for a while, after he'd used his psychic ability to warn her about impending danger. They'd broken up recently because of a mutual desire to see other people, but they still remained friends. Jen, also a mutant, had the ability to turn invisible. She and her roommate, Bernice, worked at a popular coffee kiosk within walking distance of the Daily Planet.
"Fine, Chief. Want me to get you a cappuccino?"
"No, thanks. Just get back to work."
"You got it." Jimmy got up and left. He wasn't giving up that easily, though. Maybe he could talk Lois and Clark into his idea. Perry would listen to them.
J. Jonah Jameson woke up in the hospital with a pounding headache. Everything seemed surreal to him. There was a strange echo in the room as the nurse spoke to him, asking questions about how he felt.
"How do you think I feel?" Jonah snapped. "I want to get out of here."
"Of course you do. I just need to make sure you're all right."
"I'm perfectly fine." Intending to demonstrate his health, he sat up and swung his feet over the bedside. That was a mistake. His headache felt ten times worse. Jonah winced. "I'd like an aspirin."
"That can be arranged, Mr. Jameson. Do you feel strange in any way?"
"My head is killing me, and I'm hearing an echo."
"Describe the echo," the nurse said, jotting notes on a yellow pad of paper.
"Every time you talk, I hear it."
She looked up at him with dawning realization. "Mr. Jameson, what number am I thinking of?"
"How in the world would I…17." He stared at her in horror. "My God, what's happening to me?"
"You've been affected by the purple gas that the terrorists used."
"I'm a mutant?"
"Apparently," she replied.
Jonah closed his eyes. This couldn't be happening to him. It was the sort of thing that happened to other people, like Peter Parker. Suddenly, he picked up the phone next to the bed and dialed.
Peter's Aunt May answered. "Yes?"
"Is your nephew at home?"
"Yes, he is. Who may I say is calling?"
"J. Jonah Jameson."
"Oh, my goodness! I saw you on TV. Are you all right?"
"Fine. Just let me talk to Parker."
There was a brief rustle on the line as the phone was transferred. "Hello?"
"Parker, I want you to get down to the hospital. Now."
"I'm in room 460 in the south wing. I need somebody who can tell me what the hell is going on. Kapeesh?"
"I don't care if you have to break the sound barrier. Just get here as soon as you can."
"I'm on my way." There was a click and the line went dead.
The nurse looked at him. "You're sure that you feel up to having visitors?"
"Peter Parker was affected by the gas during the attacks last year. He's also telepathic. He knows more about this than I do."
"All right. I just need to take a blood sample, and then you can go as soon as the doctor comes in."
Jameson nodded. He hated needles, but unlike Spider-man, they were a necessary nuisance. A thought entered his mind. If he was telepathic now, he could figure out the masked menace's secret identity. A grin slowly grew as the nurse jabbed his arm. Finally, he could unmask Spider-man once and for all.
Peter Parker entered J. Jonah Jameson's hospital room. His boss had to be feeling okay, since he was up and talking to a nurse.
Charlotte, the nurse, turned around. "Are you Peter Parker?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I came as soon as I could."
Her eyes widened. "Mr. Jameson just called you two minutes ago. I've been listening to the radio at my desk. The traffic is supposed to be terrible right now. How'd you get here so fast?"
"I have an alternate method of transportation," he replied.
"Like what? A Star Trek transporter?"
"No. I, uh, flew."
"Not that fast, but yes. Uh, Mr. Jameson, are you feeling better?"
"Much. Parker, I think we both know that I'm…like you now, and I'm not sure exactly what to do. You've had the time to figure things out, and I haven't, and…"
Peter blinked in surprise. "Are you asking me for help?" he asked incredulously. The great J. Jonah Jameson never asked anyone for aid. It was unheard of, in fact.
A faint wry smile appeared on Jameson's face. "You read my mind."
"Well, I, uh…sure." Despite the many disagreements he'd had with his boss, including Spider-man, Peter couldn't say no. The only catch was, just how powerful a telepath was Jameson? Could he get past Parker's mental shields?
"You tell me, Parker. How good are you?"
"I'm still a relative newbie at this sort of thing," he admitted. "But I know the basics, and then some. I have some friends who showed me a couple of tricks."
"I don't suppose you could take me to meet them?"
"They're not very friendly to outsiders. I don't think that would be a good idea." He imagined his employer discovering the X-Men, and then Spider-man's secret. That thought made him uneasy. He buried it under his telepathic shields.
"I have some rounds to make. Excuse me." Charlotte left.
"What are you hiding, Parker?" Jameson asked.
"Nothing," he answered.
"You're lying to me. I can sense it now."
"It's personal. I'd rather not discuss it. That's something you'll have to learn as a telepath: not trying to discover everyone's deepest, darkest secrets."
"It is tempting," Jonah admitted.
"Yes, but you have to fight the temptation. That's why normal people fear us, you know. They may not admit it out loud, or even to themselves, but they do. Dealing with their fear is probably the hardest part of all."
"All right. Where do we start?"
"I'll show you how to block out stray thoughts. That way, you can concentrate on other things without being bothered. We can go on from there later, if you want."
Jameson nodded. "Sounds good to me."
It was strange to be in the position of the neophyte, rather than the experienced one. So much time had passed since he was last in that role. This would definitely be an adjustment.
Meanwhile, Tatiana opened a bottle of champagne and poured some into glasses that sparkled. The luxury was a striking contrast to the warehouse's grunginess. It had been Lex's idea. As her hired guards each picked up a glass, she raised her own.
The guards echoed her words.
"What's the plan, Ms. Alexander?" one of them asked. "The cops are all out looking for us."
"Which is why we are leaving town as soon as the sun sets."
"Cool. Where are we headed?"
"What about Superman?" someone else inquired.
"He won't be a problem. I know of a way to deal with him." Lex had mentioned that Star Labs still had a sample of Kryptonite. There was nothing that anyone could do to stop her from getting it. "I will have my revenge on the Daily Planet also."
The guards nodded.
Jimmy Olsen found Lois and Clark working together at the latter's desk, studying a computer file.
"Those are all the guards who were on duty the night Tatiana escaped," Clark said.
"One of them could've been in on it," Lois replied and suddenly noticed that the younger man was there. "Hey, Jimmy."
"Hi, guys. What's up?"
"We're doing some digging," she answered.
"Lois thinks that one of the security guards may have helped Tatiana escape," Clark added.
"Oh. Uh, can I talk to you guys about something?"
"Sure, Jimmy," he replied.
"Well, I kind of have this idea," Olsen said.
"Go on," Lois responded.
"I could go undercover in Tatiana's gang. Maybe I could figure out what they're planning."
"Jimmy, she'll recognize you."
"That's why I'm going undercover as Shade."
Lois blinked in surprise. "The mysterious superhero who's been helping all those people on the east side is you?"
He nodded. "The Chief didn't even recognize the name 'Shade' when I told him."
"Well, I found out from Bobby Bigmouth. Apparently, you've made quite an impression on him. He seems to think that you're the greatest thing since sliced pizza."
He looked slightly embarrassed. "Yeah, but that's just Bobby Bigmouth."
"I think you're doing a good thing, Jimmy. And your idea's not bad," Clark said. "What did Perry say?"
"He said no."
"He's afraid that if the cops find Tatiana's gang before I can get the story, they might not believe I'm one of the good guys because I'm a mutant."
Lois and Clark exchanged a glance. It was true that discrimination against mutants existed, but after the first Purple Chaos terrorist attack, a lot of it had abated. Most of that was due to the White House taking an official public stance against the terrorists, but clearly supporting the victims. However, there was still some fear in those without superpowers for those who had them.
Superman wasn't normally on the receiving end of that prejudice because he was an alien, not a mutant. He wasn't sure why that made such a difference, but it seemed to. Jason Trask had specifically singled him out because of his alien nature, so Clark knew how it felt to be hated because of something you had no control over.
"I think we should talk to Perry," Clark said. "Jimmy has a good idea. The Chief just needs to be sold on it."
She nodded. "I agree. Jimmy, wait here. You might as well see if you can find anything on these guards since the police database is up."
Perry White looked up as Lois and Clark came into his office. "What can I do for you?"
They exchanged one of those knowing glances that was so intense, it could almost have been mistaken for a brief telepathic conversation, although he knew that neither of them were mind-readers.
"Chief," Clark began, "Jimmy just told us about his idea. I think it has merit."
"His plan doesn't have a lot of detail," she added, "but it's workable. He could pull it off."
"Do you really think so?" Perry asked.
"Yes. If he goes undercover as this Shade character, he may be able to get some information on their plans that we otherwise wouldn't be able to get."
"And you know he's into all those spy gadgets," Clark added. "I'm sure he could do something with them."
Perry nodded. "There's just one factor in all of this you're not thinking of, and I don't blame you because you don't have to think about it. Jimmy's a mutant. If the cops catch Tatiana and her goons, and he's still there, what if they don't believe him? Now, as the Editor in Chief, I can back up his testimony. But they still might not see it our way. Olsen's a good kid. I don't want to see him get hurt just because the system doesn't work the way it should."
"Chief, we've taken that into consideration," she remarked. "I honestly don't think there will be a problem if he goes undercover, gets the information, and gets away before the cops come for them."
"Besides, he can always go back a couple of minutes in time if something goes wrong," Clark responded. "I think he deserves a chance."
Perry mulled it over. His top reporters had made excellent points. Jimmy was young, but he wasn't stupid. Olsen had the potential to pull it off.
"All right," the Chief finally said. "Sometimes the best plans are the craziest ones. Go tell Jimmy to get in here."
Lois opened the door. "Jimmy! Perry wants to see you in his office!"
"Coming," he replied, and hastily clicked on the computer button to print out the results of his searches.
As he entered, the Chief said, "Close that door, Son."
Jimmy shut it. "You wanted to see me, Sir?"
"Yes. Olsen, I want you to know that you've got two very good friends here. They believe in your abilities."
He looked at Lois and Clark and said, "Thanks, guys."
"No problem," they replied.
"Now, the question," Perry continued, "is not whether they believe in you, but whether I am crazy enough to let you go on this undercover assignment by yourself." He deliberately paused for a long moment and watched apprehension grow in Jimmy's eyes. Then he laughed. "I guess I am crazy enough." Jimmy was stunned beyond belief. He didn't think that his chances were that good, but apparently they were. "Do you mean it, Chief?"
"Yeah. Now, get out of here before I change my mind."
Olsen's jaw dropped. "Yes, Sir." Perry had surprised him so much that he phased through the door without opening it.
Lois opened it, laughing. "You should have seen the look on your face," she said. "I am never going to forget that."
"Did you find anything on the guards?" Clark inquired.
"Yeah. I almost forgot." He raced to the printer and grabbed his report. "Here, CK. None of them had any prison records or anything like that, but one of them was previously employed by LutherCorp as a security guard."
"Thanks, Jimmy. That gives us something to go on."
He grinned. Going undercover would be dangerous, but he could finally prove to the Chief that he was cut out to be an investigative reporter. "Yes," Olsen said softly to himself, "I'm going to make it big time."
Peter Parker left the hospital after his employer was given the green light to go home. It was early afternoon. There would be no work done at the Daily Bugle office today. It was still being fumigated from the gas. So he put on his Spidey suit in hopes of finding the terrorists and went web-slinging. Spider-man searched all afternoon and into the evening hours, but had little luck. As he was about to give up and head home, his cell phone rang. He swung onto the top of an apartment complex and answered it.
"It's me." Clark Kent was on the other end. "Have you found anything yet?"
"Negative. I strongly suspect the bad guys have left town."
"So do I. The Daily Planet is highly likely to be next on Tatiana's list of places to get revenge on. I haven't seen anything out of the ordinary, but I'm sure she's headed to Metropolis."
Peter nodded. "At least, I won't have to beg my boss for a plane ticket."
"How is Mr. Jameson? I saw him being lifted onto a stretcher on TV this morning."
"He's all right. He can read minds now, which makes things riskier for me. But he doesn't have enough skill to get through my shields right now."
"What about later?"
"That's what I'm worried about," Spidey admitted. "Jameson's not like your Perry White. If he found out about my other identity, I'd be in a lot of trouble."
"Oh, there's one other thing. I wouldn't trust anyone else with this information. Jimmy's going undercover, assuming he can find Tatiana's gang. So if you find him with the terrorists, go easy on him," Clark said.
"Understood. See you soon." Peter headed home first to pack an overnight bag. Then he was off to Metropolis.
Wearing a costume that was black with gray trim on the sleeves, and a hood to disguise his face, Jimmy slipped into the shadows. The most discerning eyes (except for Superman's, of course) could not have picked him out from the natural darkness. Phasing so that he could sneak around without making noise, he passed through several garbage cans, a startled stray cat, and the right-hand side mirror of a van that was illegally parked next to a fire hydrant.
A police officer slapping a parking ticket onto the car's windshield glanced around as he thought he saw something reflected in the car's other mirror, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Shrugging, he returned to his task. Jimmy might as well have been just a shadow.
Silently gliding down Third Avenue, he spotted Bobby Bigmouth hanging out in front of a fast food place and munching on a burger. Jimmy waited until the snitch had finished swallowing his bite and then materialized beside him.
"Jeez!" The sandwich nearly became a disaster as Bobby fumbled for it. "What the…who the heck are you?"
"I'm called Shade."
His eyes grew very large as he recognized the name. "What do you want from me?"
"What does everyone want?"
The answer was blindingly clear. "Information."
Jimmy nodded. "I need to know the location of the Purple Chaos gang. Are they even in town?"
"Look, I'm a fan of yours, so I'll cut you a deal. Buy me a snack, and I'll tell you where to look."
"I'm supposed to go in there dressed like this?" he replied incredulously.
"You could just pay me twenty bucks," the snitch responded.
"No strings attached?"
"Nah. I'm in a good mood today."
Jimmy fished a twenty out of his pocket and handed it over. "Okay, tell me what I need to know."
"A couple of hours ago, one of my pals saw some weird activity at a warehouse that was supposed to have been abandoned months ago. He saw a couple of mutants unloading a truck."
"What'd they look like?"
"One of 'em was green, and the other looked pretty normal except his eyes were glowing in the dark. My friend also heard a lady's voice. She had a Russian accent. The guys unloading the truck called her Ms. Alexander."
"That's gotta be them. Which warehouse was it?"
"That'll cost you ten dollars extra."
Jimmy started to fish in his pocket again, but stopped as his vision blurred with the haze of a vision. In his mind, he saw the warehouse that Bobby had just described.
"Hey, are you okay?" Bigmouth waved a hand in front of his hood.
"Uh, yeah. I know where it is."
"Are you telepathic?" He didn't like the idea of someone cheating him out of well-earned information, even if it was an accident. He had to make a living somehow.
"No. I'm psychic."
"Really? Can you see anything in my future?"
"Yeah. Lots of hamburgers."
"That's good. Anything else?"
"Sorry, but my power doesn't work that way, Bobby. It only works when it wants to."
"Oh. I understand."
"Thanks. I gotta go."
Jimmy phased and stepped into a nearby shadow, seemingly vanishing into thin air. He ran swiftly down to the next street.
Bigmouth's jaw dropped. "Unbelievable." He shook his head. "Wish I had super powers. I wouldn't be sitting here, that's for sure. He kind of reminds of somebody." Now that was a thought. But if he had met Shade before, who was the hooded mutant? The mutants he knew were mostly guys who lived on the street, with the exception of Jimmy Olsen. The thought niggled at him for a while, until Bobby finally shoved it into the back of his mind and stood up.
Meanwhile, Tatiana Alexander and her mercenaries had finished unpacking what they needed. She had gotten a laptop computer hooked up and connected to the Internet via a satellite link. She was beginning to get frustrated hacking into STAR Labs' systems. They were much more intricate then they appeared at first glance. Her guards were discussing the football playoffs. No one noticed an unusual shadow moving near the doorway until it was too late.
"Don't shoot," a voice with a slight metallic ring said from the doorway. "I'm not here to cause trouble."
"Then why are you here?" one of the guards demanded.
Tatiana stood up and faced the stranger. He was clad in black, wearing a cape and a hood. "How did you get in?"
"By using one of my unique talents, which I'm hoping that you'll find useful."
"I see. So you're not with the cops?"
The stranger laughed. "As if the police would knowingly hire a mutant."
"Who are you?"
"You may call me Shade." Jimmy glanced at Tatiana's computer screen. A pop-up window read 'password incorrect' in large bold letters. "Having some trouble?"
"You could say that. Are you any good with computers?"
"Very. Mind if I give it a shot?"
"Be my guest."
Sitting down, Jimmy hit the clear button. He noticed that she was trying to hack into STAR Labs. The only thing of any potential value there was Kryptonite. Once Tatiana had the map, she could teleport in and out of STAR Labs in minutes. But his friends were also counting on him to get the story, and this might be the only way he could get accepted into the gang. Jimmy sighed.
"Is something wrong?" Tatiana asked.
"Uh, no. It's just a bit tougher than it looks." Mentally crossing his fingers, he used an old code-breaking trick and got in. "Yes!" he exclaimed, hoping to sound enthusiastic.
It was an accomplishment. However, Jimmy still had a job to do. He left a few loose ends that would instantly alert whoever noticed the electronic theft, and might even be used as possible evidence later on.
"Your skills are impressive," Tatiana noted. "They might be worthwhile, for now. Tell me, how do you feel about the rest of humanity?"
Acting did not come naturally to him. Therefore, Olsen had to recall the unpleasant way he was treated by the skinheads months ago. He was surprised by the vehemence in his voice as he responded, "I don't feel anything for them. Why should I? They hate me."
She nodded. "Good. I think you'll fit in just fine, Shade."
"Great. So what's the plan?"
"We'll start the first round of strikes tomorrow. They will be very quick and surgical. I want no mistakes. You might want to practice throwing dummy grenades for a while. I have some over there." She indicated one of the boxes, then turned to study the map on the screen. "I'll be back soon." Tatiana vanished.
Jimmy managed to sneak away to make a brief call on his cell phone. Lois answered since Superman was out on patrol.
"Jimmy, did you find the terrorists?"
"Yes. That's why I'm calling. Tatiana's breaking into STAR Labs as I speak. She's probably looking for Kryptonite."
"But how does she know it's there?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe Lex told her when she was staying with him, or else she's been there before. Anyway, here's where I am." He gave her the warehouse address. "Oh, she said that they're also going to start the attacks tomorrow."
"I'll call Clark on his cell phone. Jimmy, be careful."
"You got it." He hung up.
Meanwhile, Peter Parker arrived in Metropolis and landed in an inconspicuous alley behind the same fast food restaurant that Bobby Bigmouth was just leaving.
"Hey," the snitch remarked, "don't I know you from somewhere?"
"Uh, no." Since winning the Kerth photography prize, Peter's photograph had been in quite a few newspapers and magazines. He didn't usually mind being recognized, but sometimes it had its drawbacks.
"Sure, I do. You're that photographer, the mutant who won a Kerth. You know Lois Lane and Clark Kent, don't you?"
Bobby glanced around to make sure nobody was watching. He sensed a potential business deal. Unless, of course, Parker somehow already knew what he was going to say. "I seriously doubt you're in town for a vacation. You're looking for the Purple Chaos gang, aren't you?"
Bigmouth laughed. "You don't talk much, do you?"
"What do you know about the terrorists?"
"How much is it worth?"
Peter raised an eyebrow. "I could just read your mind, but I happen to have standards. All I've got on me is five bucks. Take it or leave it."
Bobby sighed. "I'm not going to get rich today, that's for sure. First the other mutant, now you. What is it with my luck?"
"You met another mutant today?"
"Yeah. He was dressed mostly in black. He asked a bunch of questions about the terrorists, then disappeared."
"He became invisible?"
"Well, he just stepped into a shadow and then vanished. He called himself Shade."
"That trick would be useful. I can't count the times I've wanted to disappear when my boss was pissed off." The other mutant sounded like Jimmy Olsen, whom Peter had met several months ago, the last time he was in Metropolis.
Bobby nodded. "So, you gonna give me five dollars, or what?"
Peter sighed and handed over the cash.
"Thanks. I have a funny feeling that we both know that guy. Anyway, I'll tell you what I told him. The terrorists are staying in a warehouse." Bigmouth gave him the address. "That's all I know."
"I appreciate it."
"Right." Bobby watched Peter fly off, and shook his head. "Unbelievable."
Jimmy snuck back into the warehouse and picked up a practice grenade. Hopefully, no one suspected anything. As he threw it, the fake explosive clattered against the wall.
"You have a pretty good arm," one of Tatiana's henchmen, a mutant with pale blue skin, white hair and yellow eyes remarked. He was about seven feet tall and built like a pro-wrestler. "But you need more speed. Throwing a real grenade like that is liable to get you hurt in the blast. This is the way to do it." The blue mutant picked up a practice grenade and threw it so fast that Olsen could barely see his arm.
"I, uh, don't have to worry about getting hurt in the blast," Shade replied.
"Why not? Are you invulnerable or something?"
"I can phase." He demonstrated. "Nothing solid can hit me if I don't want it to."
"That talent sure could come in handy. Did you ever just walk into a bank vault and take the cash?"
Shade shook his head. "Why take the physical risk when I can just hack into the bank's computer system and transfer the funds?"
The blue mutant nodded. "Good point. My name's Joe, by the way."
"Uh…I hope you don't mind, but I'd rather not give away my real name just yet. Call me Shade. How exactly did you meet Ms. Alexander?" Jimmy took the opportunity to ask, thinking it might be a good story.
"Well, me and a couple of buddies were at a pro-mutant rally in Austin, Texas, a few years back. Tatiana was there, too. Have you ever been to a rally?"
"I haven't had the chance yet."
"You should go sometime. They're a great place to meet women."
"I'll, uh, keep that in mind." Jimmy picked up another grenade, but fumbled it as Tatiana suddenly appeared.
"I've got it," she announced, holding the Kryptonite. "The one thing that will ensure that Superman can't interfere with our plans. We'll hit the Daily Planet at 9:00 A.M. Most of the employees should be there by then. Whatever you do, make sure that Lois Lane and Clark Kent are affected by the gas. I don't care if you have to tie them up."
There was a resounding reply of "yes, ma'am."
Superman landed behind the warehouse just as Peter, as Spider-man, swung onto the rooftop. Hearing the noise, Clark glanced around, then floated up.
"I sense two guards out front," Spidey whispered. "One of them can control fire, and the other is telekinetic. They shouldn't be too difficult to deal with."
Clark nodded. "Can you sense Jimmy?"
"Just a sec." Peter concentrated and telepathically sensed Olsen inside the building. *Hey, are you okay? Superman and I are outside.*
*I'm fine,* Jimmy responded after a surprised moment. *Tell CK to be careful. Tatiana has Kryptonite. She broke into STAR Labs earlier.*
"He says he's fine," Spidey reported. "Apparently, Ms. Alexander stole some Kryptonite from STAR Labs. What is that?"
"When my UFO landed in Kansas, meteorite chunks from Krypton came with it. They can make me weak. STAR Labs had the last known Kryptonite sample locked in a safe."
Spider-man nodded. "Ready?"
"As always," Clark replied.
The two mutant guards were shocked to see Spider-man swing out of the shadows, and Superman land in front of them a heartbeat later. The tall guard with green hair held up his hand and shot a fireball at the Man of Steel, but he froze it with his breath. The mutant turned and ran. Using his super speed, Clark blocked him as the other mutant used his telekinetic power to aim a garbage can at Spidey, who leapt out of the way with uncanny grace.
"Strike one," Spider-man quipped.
His opponent concentrated on a manhole cover, thinking that the smaller object would be harder to dodge. Peter did an acrobatic flip as it veered toward him. It clattered to the ground.
"Strike two! You only get one more shot, pal. Why don't you just give up?"
The telekinetic mutant whipped out a gun. "I know you're not invulnerable." He pulled the trigger, but suddenly found himself aiming at nothing. "What the…"
"Strike three! You're out," Spidey remarked.
Having darted aside, the webslinger carefully aimed a web shooter at his opponent. Moments later, the other mutant was down. In the meantime, Superman grabbed the green- haired guard by his shirt collar and slowly floated towards a streetlight. Then, he hung the mutant there, while Spidey sprayed more webbing. Clark nodded as the webslinger gave a thumbs-up sign.
Realizing that Superman and Spider-man would soon be coming in, Jimmy tried to get closer to Tatiana, hoping to get the Kryptonite away from her. The Kryptonite was in a lead- lined box on the makeshift computer desk. She was studying a blueprint of the Daily Planet building. Just as Shade reached for the box, Tatiana touched his hand.
"Don't even think about it," she said.
"I just wanted to look. I've never seen Kryptonite before."
She blinked in surprise. "If you've never seen it, then how do you know what it's called?"
Oops. Jimmy mentally kicked himself in the rear end. Suddenly, he realized that there was a slim chance of recovery. "I can read minds."
"If you really are telepathic, then what is the one secret that I am hiding?"
"Um…" He racked his brain. What could she possibly be hiding that no one knew? He couldn't think of anything. "You're a, uh, Brittany Spears fan."
"Guess again." Tatiana slowly stood up.
*I know him,* Lex raged in her mind. *I recognize his voice and the way he's built. Everything about him is familiar. He's a traitor to our cause! He probably works at the Daily Planet.*
There were only two mutants who worked at the Planet, and the Editor-in-Chief could not possibly be Shade, so logically his real identity was…"Jimmy Olsen," she said in an ice-cold voice.
As he gaped at her in shock, Superman and Spider-man entered through the windows. Glass shattered everywhere, echoing through the nearly empty warehouse like a resounding alarm.
"Tatiana Alexander," Clark began, "You and your henchmen have one chance to surrender peacefully."
She laughed with a voice that rang out like cold steel and struck a defiant pose. Jimmy felt chills run down his spine.
"I think we can take that as a no," Spider-man said. Briefly he touched her mind, then mentally reeled back at his discovery. *There's something you should know,* he told Superman.
*What is it?*
*Lex Luthor isn't exactly dead. He's inside Tatiana's mind.*
It took all of Clark's skill to remain composed and not give anything away. *Are you sure???*
Spidey nodded, almost imperceptibly. *I'm positive.*
"Ms. Alexander," the Man of Steel said, "I know about Luthor."
Astonishment registered on her face. "How could you have known? Never mind." She turned to her guards. "Get them!"
Tatiana reached for the Kryptonite, but Jimmy grabbed her hand.
"I can't let you do this," he said.
She glared at him and aimed a punch. As Shade phased, her fist went through the air. Just then, Spider-man shot webbing at the opponents in front of him. One of the guards managed to break through it and lunged. The wall crawler jumped and came down behind him, then tapped him on the shoulder. As the guard turned to look, Spidey knocked him out.
Joe, one of the mutant guards, used his super speed and ran straight at Jimmy who had solidified in order to grab the Kryptonite.
"You're nothing but a traitor," the pale blue mutant accused him. "You're turning your back on your own kind!"
Shade phased as Joe approached. The blue mutant's eyes widened in surprise as he crashed into the wall. Under his mask, Jimmy winced. "That had to hurt."
"Not as much as this." Tatiana raised a gun. "I'm willing to bet you can't keep that up for long."
He shrugged. "I may not know my limits, but I'll try anything as long as it keeps you from winning."
"We'll see about that."
Spider-man webbed Joe as Superman wrestled with the last remaining guard. He had an idea, but it was a slim chance. "Hey, Luthor, are you in there?" He glanced at Tatiana. "I heard what happened. You ought to be dead. You couldn't handle mutant powers when you had them. Give up while you've still got a chance."
Tatiana's expression and posture changed. Her anger was replaced by pure rage. Peter had no doubt that Lex was in control now. "What happened to me was only because of Superman! Do you honestly think that I can't handle power? I am not giving up while I still breathe. I'll show you power!"
She aimed a furious punch at Jimmy, who was still phased. But somehow, her fist connected. He doubled over in pain as Superman rushed across the room.
Peter suspected that when Jimmy phased, he stepped out of sync with time, so he couldn't affect anything on the normal physical plane, and vice versa. Tatiana's teleporting ability probably affected space and time, or else she wouldn't have been able to break through the temporal barrier.
As Tatiana began to teleport, Jimmy grabbed her arm. She aimed another punch, but he ducked. When they both solidified, Spider-man sprayed webbing at her. "You're not going anywhere, Lex or Tatiana or whoever you are."
"Shade," Superman said, "please give me the Kryptonite."
"Are you sure?" he asked. Clark nodded, so he placed the glowing rock into its container and handed it over.
"I'm taking this back to STAR Labs. You might want to call the police."
The next morning, Lois was on the phone at work with a source when Jimmy, Clark and Peter Parker walked in. "Okay, thanks," she said. "I have to go. I'll call you back later." Quickly, she scribbled down a few notes and hung up. "You'll never guess what I found out."
"What?" Clark asked.
"The guard who was previously employed by Luthor Corp is actually a mutant, and he's sympathetic to Tatiana's cause. Also, there was a phone call made from prison the day before she escaped. The prison guards who were monitoring the call became suspicious when her conversation made no sense. I listened to the recording, and I think she was using code phrases. Listen to this: 'The dryer is set on delicate. The clothes are in the cold wash.' Who would talk about their washer and dryer settings over the phone, especially from prison?"
He nodded. "Tatiana Alexander is back behind bars again, thanks to Spider-man and Shade."
"Great. So, Jimmy, how'd it go?"
"Olsen!" Perry called before he could respond. "In my office, now."
"I'm on my way! Uh, we'll have to talk later, I guess."
Jimmy closed the door as his employer said, "Sit down, Olsen."
He sat and nervously fidgeted with his hands. "Chief?"
"Now, I know you only just got back, but tell me how it went. I want to know every detail."
As Perry listened patiently, he talked about having to hack into the STAR Labs computer systems. Jimmy told him Joe's story, too. He also explained about Lex Luthor not being dead, and finally he described how Tatiana had been able to hit him.
The Chief shook his head in amazement. "Jimmy, I want you to write an article about your experience. I think a lot of people will want to read about it. Now, if you don't want to give away your secret identity as Shade, you can just write the whole thing as an interview with your alter ego. It's your choice, of course."
He nodded. "I'll get right on it, Chief."
"Good." Perry hunched over his computer screen, which Jimmy took as his dismissal cue.
"Thanks, Clark. I suppose I should be leaving for home," Peter said.
"No problem. I'm glad to see you again, though I wish it was under other circumstances."
"Are you going to tell us what happened?" Lois asked Jimmy as he left Perry's office.
"It's a long story. Perry wants me to write about it."
"Great. Did you get any good pictures?"
"Yeah, at the very end. It's kind of hard to get good photos when you're fighting the bad guys." Jimmy looked at Peter. "How exactly do you do that, anyway? I've seen your action shots. They're pretty amazing. Is there a trick to it?"
"I just use an automatic camera with a timer. The trick is to place it in an inconspicuous place before you actually get into the fight."
"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."
"Well, I should get going," Peter replied. "See you around."
In New York, J. Jonah Jameson was in his office when he heard a knock on the door. "Come in."
"Mr. Jameson, may I have a moment of your time?"
Jonah looked up. He recognized the well-known philanthropist, Charles Xavier, immediately. "Yes, of course. What can I do for you?"
"Actually, the question is what I can do for you." Xavier maneuvered his wheelchair into the office. He noticed that it was rather luxurious, given the relative mundane surroundings of the employees' cubicles.
The other man had piqued Jameson's curiosity. "Go on."
"Many people have recently gained new talents as a result of the Purple Chaos gas. I represent an organization devoted to teaching the gifted how to use their abilities to benefit mankind. While some people learn to use their gifts on their own, they don't always reach their full potential."
Jonah's eyes narrowed. Was Charles Xavier also a mutant? He couldn't tell, but obviously the other man suspected or knew that he was. "Are you, uh…forgive me for being blunt, but…"
"Like yourself, I have certain abilities. However, I have the advantage of experience, which you do not."
"You read my mind."
"Perhaps," he acknowledged. "If you decide to accept assistance, I may be reached at this number." He handed Jameson a card.
"Thanks." Jonah studied it, then looked up. The other man was gone. "Strange," he muttered to himself.
As Peter entered, he ran into Charles Xavier, who was just leaving. Briefly, their eyes met. He couldn't help but gape in surprise.
"Mr. Parker, it's a pleasure to finally meet you. I'm afraid that I'm on a rather tight schedule right now. Perhaps we could talk later."
"Sure." Peter fumbled in his jacket pocket for a card and gave it to him.
Xavier put it away. "Until we meet again."
A knock on the door made Jameson think that maybe his visitor had returned, but it was Peter Parker instead.
"I just got back from Metropolis."
"How was your trip?"
"Very cold and windy." Peter ran his fingers through his messed-up hair. "I should've worn a sweatshirt, but the weather was supposed to be warm today."
Jameson raised an eyebrow. "What did you find out? Anything interesting?"
"Oh, yeah. Superman and Spider-man stopped the Purple Chaos terrorists before they could wreak more havoc. There's also a new superhero in Metropolis. He calls himself Shade. Apparently, he was working undercover for somebody, but he wouldn't say for whom."
"What was Spider-man doing there?"
"Helping Superman out, I guess," Peter replied.
"Is there a connection between the web head and this Shade character?"
"I didn't pick up on anything like that."
"What did you pick up on?" Jameson sounded annoyed. "I wanted to *get* the scoop, not to *be* scooped by the Daily Planet."
"Well, you know how everyone thought Lex Luthor was killed during his last fight with Superman? He's not exactly dead. Somehow, he's sharing Tatiana Alexander's mind."
"How is that possible?"
"I don't know. There were two distinct personalities, and one of them was Lex Luthor. My theory is that when he was exposed to the chemical that altered his DNA, he gained telepathy or something similar, then forced his way into Ms. Alexander's mind before his body decomposed."
Peter's boss stared at him. "Incredible. You didn't happen to also pick up on Spider-man's secret identity, by chance?"
"If I did, I'm honestly not sure that I'd want to say. Did you know one of the local television stations is counting all the lives Spidey has saved and it's well over 100?"
"So what? I can tell you how many lives he's destroyed."
"There's Gwen Stacy, for starters. Even though the web head didn't murder her, his carelessness got her killed."
Peter winced. That had been a terrible tragedy and an unavoidable accident he wished he could take back. Unfortunately, he couldn't travel through time and undo it.
"All right, so the webslinger made a mistake. He's not perfect, but that doesn't mean he's the criminal you make him out to be."
Suddenly, his spider-sense went off. It was a dull throb in the back of his head. He glanced around the room, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Jameson felt it, too. "What in the blazes is that, Parker, another ability of yours? How many other powers do you have?"
"A few," he admitted. "Do you want me to write that story, or what?"
"Go ahead and write it."
"Thanks." Peter stood up.
At his desk minutes later, Peter reflected on how far Tatiana Alexander had gone to achieve her goals. How much influence did Lex Luthor have on her thoughts? Her attempts at causing chaos paled in comparison by how much havoc he could wreak, if given the opportunity. She was behind bars now, in a maximum security prison in Genosha. There would be no teleporting away or breaking out of jail this time. The remnants of chaos had finally unraveled, but neither their effects nor the nightmarish memories they caused would be forgotten.