By Joel Schuldt <email@example.com>
Submitted: April 2002
Summary: In part eight of the author's Saga series, Ultrawoman and Superman join forces with an alternate dimension version of the superhero to do violent battle with a genocidal superkid, and an egomaniacal alt-Luthor and his son.
> < — Indicates thoughts
ALL CAPITALS — indicates stronger emphasis on word
All standard disclaimers apply. All characters in this story (except those of my own creation) are the properties of Mrs. Siegel, DC Comics, Warner Bros. and December 3rd Productions Ltd., Robert K. Weiss, and Tracy Torme; no infringement of any property rights is intended by their use.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As before, this story is my attempt at merging two of my favorite shows — "Lois and Clark", and "Sliders". Some poetic license has been taken with regards to the "Sliders" aspects of the stories (technology, etc.) in order for it to mesh better with the story line. For those just joining (and for those who've been here all along) this is Chapter 8 of the Saga. It began in "Endings and Beginnings", then continued In "Storm Warnings", "Evil Resurgent", "Resolutions", "Sins of the Past", "Destiny", and "Avatars". I hope you enjoy!
I've been writing this particular story off and on now for over two years. It's survived numerous changes, three complete re-writes and many frustrated curses, but I think I FINALLY got it shaped around to where I'm happy with it.<G>
Thanks, Carol, for your superlative editing work, and to everyone who has e-mailed me with support! I truly appreciate it!
As always, I welcome any comments or questions!
"Behold! I teach you the Super-Man: he is the Lightning, he is the Madness."
Friedrich Nietzsche — 'Thus Spake Zarathustra'
Night lay across the city, wrapping it in its inky embrace. Here and there, a streetlight cast its harsh blue- white light in pools beneath it, further deepening the shadows that lay beyond. In the distance, police sirens mournfully echoed through the air. Though it seemed like they casually strolled arm-in-arm down the sidewalk, Clark and Lois intently scanned their surroundings with senses that far exceeded a human's. Save for the occasional homeless person sleeping down an alley, the streets were deserted. They both, however, could feel the hidden eyes that observed them. Unconsciously fidgeting, Clark straightened his tie.
"Is this supposed to be Metropolis?" Lois's pensive whisper revealed her unease. "It's so… dirty."
"I can't tell," Clark replied. "I think so, though. It does LOOK like it." Peering intently around them, Clark shrugged. "I think this is this dimension's version of Suicide Slum." As his eyes took in the distant skyline, he nodded. "Yeah, there's the Planet building. This is Metropolis, alright."
After glancing around once more, Lois took Clark's arm. "Why don't we go somewhere else, Clark? After all," she reasoned, "we ARE supposed to be on vacation. Doctor's orders, remember? We're both supposed to be taking it easy after what we went through with Lex, and what he did."
"I know, honey," Clark consoled. "But, look at this place. It looks more like Gotham City than Metropolis. What's going on here?"
"I know it looks bad," Lois patiently agreed. "But, bearing that in mind, do you HONESTLY think we'll be able to relax here?"
Clark, his eyes carefully scanning their surroundings, absently grunted in reply.
"Well," Lois grumbled. "So much for taking it easy for awhile." As her own thoughts turned towards the city around them, a flicker of dark motion down the street caught her attention. "Clark?" Nudging him in the side, she stared down the street. "Someone's coming."
As the man purposefully strode towards them, Clark was struck with the notion that he had seen this person before. The streetlights glinted off his beard and, as he neared, his dark eyes never seemed to leave Clark. His hair, while slightly longer than Clark's, only reached to the nape of his neck. Dressed simply in blue jeans, black tee shirt, leather trench coat and boots, his nonchalant stride belied the intensity of his gaze. As he slowly approached the couple, the man smiled.
Digging her fingers into her husband's arm, Lois gasped. "Clark, that's…"
"Me," Clark finished, equally surprised.
"Good evening," the approaching man called out, caution edging his voice. Though they weren't outright hostile, the man's eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Hello," Clark cautiously greeted in return.
"You know, it's said that everyone in the world has a twin somewhere." Stopping at an arm's length from the pair, the bearded man folded his arms across his chest. "Now, imagine my surprise to find out they meant that literally. You, on the other hand, don't really look all that surprised to see ME." Slightly angling his head to the side, he raised an eyebrow. "Now why is that?"
"We're… not from around here," Clark began, but the stranger's short laugh cut him off.
"THAT much is obvious," Clark's double chuckled. "You know, if you want to try and blend in, you really need to do a better job at it. Your auras stand out like beacons, people."
"I beg your pardon?" Lois asked.
"Your Kryptonian auras," the man explained. "To someone who can see on virtually every wavelength imaginable, the two of you are like walking roman candles. Not only that, two 'average citizens' such as yourselves, walking in THIS part of town at night with NO fear?" Shaking his head in mock sadness, the other dimensional version of Clark smiled faintly. "Sticks out like a sore thumb. And that suit you're wearing doesn't help. WAY too formal."
Smiling faintly, Clark shrugged. "I'll try to do better in the future."
"All right. Now that the small talk is over, I have three questions for you," the newcomer said, continuing to eye the duo warily. "The first is who are you, and who's the knockout?"
"My name's Clark Kent, and this is my wife Lois," Clark said, extending his hand.
"My name is Calvin Elle," he said, shaking Clark's hand. "But my friends call me Cal."
"Calvin Elle?" Glancing to Lois, Clark's eyes became puzzled. "Wait a minute. Aren't your parents Jonathan and Martha Kent?"
"Jordan and Lara Elle," Calvin corrected.
Clark's eyes widened slightly as he heard the names. Did he hear correctly? If he had, it presented him with some VERY exciting possibilities. Turning to Lois once more, Clark's face split into an enormous grin. "Did you hear that, Lois? Jordan and Lara Elle," he said exuberantly.
"What is it, Clark?" Lois's brow furrowed in confusion. "What's so important about those names?"
"Jordan Elle. Jor-dan Elle," Clark said, stressing each syllable. "Jor-El."
"And Lara," Lois finished, returning Clark's smile. "Lara-El, his wife."
"Your friends call you Cal, huh?" Clark chuckled. "Cal Elle. Pretty good play on words — you keep your Kryptonian name, but no-one knows the difference."
"Mom thought so," Calvin said, returning the chuckle. "Now the second question." Calvin tried unsuccessfully to repress a smirk as he nodded both at Clark and Lois's chests. "What's up with the Halloween costumes?"
"Halloween costume?" Puzzled, Clark glanced down at the front of his suit. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that costume you've got on under your suit," Calvin replied. "October is several months off yet."
"That's my uniform — I'm Superman," Clark stated simply. "She's Ultrawoman." When Calvin's eyebrow raised slightly, Clark's eyes narrowed as a thought struck him. "I take it you have NO idea what I'm talking about."
"Your… uniforms. You mean you actually wear those things in public?" Calvin's voice bordered on disbelief. Barking a short laugh, Calvin folded his arms across his chest. "Hers, I can see why. Very flattering, by the way," he added, bowing slightly to Lois. "Yours, Clark? I don't know."
"It's a long story," Clark conceded. "It'll be easier to explain once you know who we are and where we're from."
"And that would be my THIRD question," Calvin said.
As Clark launched into the explanation, Lois slowly took stock of the surroundings.
Far off in the distance, across the river, towering buildings reached for the heavens and spotlights did their mad dance in the sky, proclaiming the opening of one business or another. City busses roared down the distant streets, cabs careened through traffic, and pedestrians wove their way through the mayhem with practiced ease.
>It's so similar to home, yet so different,< Lois marveled. >It's hard to believe that we're on a different world. It's also hard to believe that we don't have to worry about running into Lord Kal-El either.< Gradually, Calvin's raised voice drew her back to the present.
"An alternate dimension?" Calvin said, raising an eyebrow in disbelief. Tilting his head back, Calvin gave a short laugh. "Oh, man. As if I didn't have enough problems as it were."
"What do you mean?"
Turning back up the street, Calvin motioned them to follow. "Come on. I know a place where we can get comfortable and talk."
As they walked beside one another, Clark's curiosity grew.
"How'd our parents survive Krypton's destruction?"
"When Dad discovered that Krypton was going to explode he warned the Council. Of course, they didn't believe him," Calvin said. "So he built a ship, packed his wife and belongings in it, and left the planet. When they arrived on Earth, they spent a year in hiding, monitoring the humans and their culture. When they were ready, they emerged and blended seamlessly with society."
Tapping his chest, Calvin smiled. "I was born about two years later."
"Where are they?" Clark asked eagerly. "Are they here on Earth?"
"I had a falling out with Mom and Dad," Calvin explained, shrugging uncomfortably. "When another group of Kryptonian colonists came to Earth and asked Mom and Dad to go back with them to New Krypton and rule, they agreed. I, however, did NOT." Tilting his head back, Calvin breathed deeply. "I like it here. Mom and Dad couldn't see why I wanted to stay, words were exchanged, and well…" Shaking his head slowly, the bearded Kryptonian sighed.
As the trio came around a corner, Calvin smiled. "There it is," he proclaimed.
Following Calvin's gaze, Clark's eyes widened in recognition. "The Ace of Clubs?"
Calvin nodded. "Best bar on THIS side of the river."
Glancing sideways at Lois, Clark chuckled. "I wonder if Wanda Detroit's singing tonight?"
Lois shot Clark a sour look. "I'd prefer if that sordid portion of my life were to fade away, thank you very much."
"Oh, come on, Lois," Clark snickered. "You've got a GREAT singing voice."
"That part of my life reminds me of my clone, you marrying her, and that lecherous excuse of a doctor who was supposedly HELPING me recover from my amnesia." Lois's lips curled in distaste. "If it's all the same to you, I'd prefer to think about that period in my life as a GIANT mistake."
"If you two are done, could we perhaps go inside now?" Calvin asked.
"Sure," Clark said. "But I don't really drink."
"I do," Calvin countered. "Come on. There's less chance of us being overheard in there. Besides," he added, smiling, "I work there part-time as a bouncer, and I'm late for work. Plus, after I show you what's going on here, you'll NEED a drink."
"Fine," Clark conceded. As Lois walked ahead, Clark placed a hand on Calvin's chest, stopping him. Looking pointedly at his double, Clark's expression darkened. "For your own health, I'd suggest that you NOT use your x-ray vision on my wife again."
Breaking into a broad grin, Calvin raised his hands in a surrendering gesture. "Hey, no problem, Clark." Looking towards Lois, Calvin's eyes became puzzled. "I just wish I knew WHY I feel so drawn to her. No offense," he hastily added, quickly glancing back to his double.
"None taken," Clark replied, smiling lightly, knowing exactly what the source of his double's attraction was. With a small shake of his head, Clark rolled his eyes and laughed. "Boy, do we have a LOT to talk about."
Entering the interior of the bar, Calvin led them through the crowd of patrons to a secluded booth at the rear of the establishment. Clark noted with some amusement that, despite the fact that it was nearly standing room only in the bar, no one had approached the booth.
>Must be his 'reserved' spot,< Clark thought.
Meeting Clark's gaze, Calvin clapped Clark on the shoulder with a boisterous laugh. "In answer to your unasked question: yes, this is MY table."
The noise of various conversations was nearly loud enough to drown out the thunderous music blaring from the bar's sound system. Waving at the bartender through the haze of smoke that hung in the air, Calvin stopped a passing server.
"My usual," he said. Glancing at Clark and Lois, Calvin's eyebrow raised. "Well?"
"White wine," Lois said.
"Ginger ale for me," Clark replied.
As she left with their orders, Calvin chuckled. "Hitting the hard stuff, Clark? You ARE aware that alcohol has no effect on our systems?"
"In my line of work, it doesn't do for me to have alcohol on my breath," Clark stated.
Calvin chuckled once more.
"So, Calvin," Clark began, "tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you start using your powers?"
"I first started developing my powers at an early age," Calvin said. "As they grew stronger, I had to learn how to hide what I could do from others." As his voice dropped off, Calvin's face grew contemplative. "It wasn't easy. I always had to play the fool to keep my secret, yet always knowing that I could wipe the floor with ANYONE just by using my thumb, but not daring to. Things went well for a long time. It wasn't until later that I ran into some… unfortunate difficulties that made it necessary for me to go into hiding for a while."
"What happened that put you in hiding?" Lois asked. Not wanting to press the issue when Calvin didn't reply, Lois's curiosity began kicking in, prompting her to file the question away until it could be asked later. As the conversation halted, the waitress returned with their drinks, winking at Calvin.
"Thanks, Brenda," Calvin said, smiling gratefully at her. "By the way, how's your son doing?"
"Fine, Calvin," she said, her eyes glittering with sudden tears. With her smile threatening to split her face, Brenda leaned down to give Calvin a hug. "I don't know where you found that medicine, and frankly I don't care. All I know is that little Jonathan is healthier now than he ever has been before, and I owe it all to you."
Patting the woman on the shoulder, Calvin returned her smile. "Let me know if anything changes, Brenda, and I'll do what I can to help. Okay?"
Nodding, wiping her eyes with a napkin, Brenda disappeared into the crowd.
"What was that all about?" Lois asked, glancing after the departing woman.
Calvin shrugged uncomfortably. "Her son was pretty sick, and his symptoms matched a particular illness that I encountered when I was in Brazil. I remembered this tribal medicine man I'd met had some good results from a plant that grows deep within the jungle, so I just…" Calvin made an all too familiar flying motion with his hand, causing Lois to smile. Seeing her expression, Calvin's face grew puzzled. "What? What is it?"
"That motion you made for flying," Lois replied, mimicking it. "We do that all the time on our world, usually when Clark here has to make a sudden exit to go help people."
"Really?" When Lois nodded once more, Calvin shrugged. "Just seemed natural, is all. Anyway, like I was saying, when I came out of hiding, even though I tried otherwise, I found that it just naturally felt… RIGHT to use my powers to help people. It was kind of… satisfying saving children, diverting floods, putting out fires, and preventing wars. Usually my actions were always explained away, attributed to a 'guardian angel' or something, but I didn't mind." Smiling sheepishly, Calvin shrugged. "I suppose I must have gotten careless. Anyway, I was eventually photographed. When my existence went public, this television reporter named Lois Lane dubbed me Superman. She's the host of 'Eye on Metropolis', the local news broadcast." Eyeing Lois closely, Calvin's brow knitted. "Come to think of it, she kind of looks like YOU, except her hair's a lot longer, and her eyes are green." After a second, Calvin shrugged, returning his attention to Clark. "Not that I've noticed."
Lois shot Clark an amused look.
"So, why didn't you start operating in public?" Clark asked.
"I don't operate that way," Calvin replied bluntly. "I only operate in secret."
"Because, what people don't understand, they fear," Calvin muttered, swirling his drink around in his glass. "And what people fear, they destroy."
"No," Clark objected. "I can't believe that everyone…"
"Clark," Calvin interrupted, "when a person fears something, what do they do? They can do one of two things," Calvin answered, not waiting for Clark's reply. "They can either overcome their fear, or they can remove the cause of that fear."
Realization struck Lois like a thunderbolt. "That's what happened to you, isn't it? That's what sent you into hiding. Someone tried to kill you."
His attention on his drink, Calvin grudgingly nodded but said no more.
Long moments passed with the only sound being that of the other patrons. Finally, Calvin broke the tension with a terse laugh.
"Since I started operating more regularly, I've been photographed dozens of times. It doesn't seem to matter, though." Motioning to the bar around them, Calvin smiled. "No-one expects someone who can do what I can to be in these kind of surroundings. They always seem to think that I must eat at the finest restaurants, drink champagne, date supermodels, and live the easy life. They would NEVER think that I prefer hamburgers, drink beer, and as for supermodels?" Calvin shrugged. "Nah. They're nice enough to look at, but they're not my style."
"Does anyone here know who you are? What you can do?" Clark asked.
"Just the owner over there," Calvin said, jerking a thumb at the bartender. "And Bibbo doesn't mind. Thanks to me, this bar here is one of the best behaved ones in the city. And that allows him to attract the clientele he's after."
"And who might they be?" Lois asked.
"Paying customers," Calvin chuckled.
As Clark joined in the laughter, Lois stood up from the table. "If you two will excuse me, I have to visit the ladies room."
As she walked away, Calvin's eyes grew puzzled. "When we were walking in here, you told me that we really needed to talk." Facing his double, Calvin shrugged. "Why?"
"It's about Lois Lane," Clark supplied. As he watched, Clark saw the light of understanding begin to dawn in Calvin's eyes. Pointing after Lois, Calvin smiled.
"That's the Lois Lane of YOUR world, isn't it?"
Nodding, Clark sipped his drink.
"So why should I look up the Lois Lane of MY world?"
"Trust me," Clark replied. "You won't regret it. You'll understand once you meet her."
"I still don't see why." Laughing half-heartedly, Calvin shook his head. "From her interviews, she seems kind of pushy."
"She can be," Clark replied.
"She's VERY opinionated."
"Uh huh," Clark grunted, sipping his drink.
"And from what I've heard, she's as stubborn as -"
"Yes she is," Clark said, smoothly interrupting Calvin from completing the thought.
"And you want me to look her up?"
Nodding, Clark smiled. "When you first see her in person, you'll understand why."
As she returned to her seat, Lois glared at Clark.
"My turn to visit the restroom," Calvin said.
As his double left, Clark looked at Lois. "What's wrong?" Clark asked.
"Opinionated?" Lois growled. "Pushy? Stubborn?" At Clark's confused expression, Lois tapped her ear. "Super hearing, remember?"
"Uh oh," Clark chuckled.
"Trust me, you WILL pay for those comments," Lois huffed.
"But honey," Clark objected, "I didn't say those things."
Pointing after the departing form of Calvin, Lois's eyebrow raised. "Yes, YOU did. After all, he IS a version of you, correct?"
Clark nodded. "And you're going to hold ME responsible for HIS comments?"
Smiling sweetly, Lois merely nodded.
Hours later, as the crowd began thinning somewhat, Bibbo strolled over to the trio.
"Good to see you're still alive, Calvin," Bibbo rumbled. Smiling through several missing teeth, the bar's owner jerked a thumb at the entrance. "Got to admit, sometimes I think I'm not ever going to see you come back through that door." Slapping the young man on the back, Bibbo's laughter filled the room.
Nodding in greeting to Clark and Lois, Bibbo trudged into the back room of the bar and closed the door.
"What did he mean by that?" Clark asked.
"He worries about me," Calvin replied. "He's like that with all his employees. He also knows what I'm trying to do. What I'm trying to stop."
"And that might be…?" Lois asked.
Mutely, Calvin stood and walked over to the bar. Reaching around behind it, the Kryptonian retrieved a leather satchel and came back to the table. Eyeing Clark closely, Calvin flipped open the flap and pulled a thick folder from out of the satchel, sliding it across to his double. Opening the cover, Clark felt his blood turn to ice as he gazed at the top photo. Lois, glancing down at the images, let out a small gasp before turning away.
The stark black and white photos lent an almost surreal quality to the images of devastation. Human bodies of all ages, both whole and incomplete, lay strewn across the landscape, their limbs twisted into rag doll positions that only death can achieve. Scarcely a single building stood upright; most had been toppled over and broken like twigs before a storm. Vehicles of all kinds lay mangled everywhere, reduced to nothing more than scrap.
"That's Gotham City," Calvin supplied. "Or, what's left of it."
"Who did this?" Clark's voice trembled with horror as he forced himself to page through the photographs.
"There," Calvin said, pointing at a single color photo.
The image revealed a young boy no older than fifteen, perhaps. Dressed from the neck down in a black body suit, he was frozen in motion as he arced across the sky. Red pin stripes down the outside of each arm and leg ended at similarly colored red ankle boots and gloves. The letter 'S' was emblazoned on his chest in jagged streaks. A wild, twisted expression marred the youth's face beneath close- cropped black hair.
>He barely looks human,< Lois thought.
"Who?" Lois asked, realizing that Calvin had spoken.
"Jesse Stipanovic," Calvin repeated. "The son of Leigh-Anne Stipanovic."
"Jesse and Leigh-Anne Stipanovic?" Lois murmured to herself. "I know I've heard those names before."
"Superman's love child," Clark whispered his eyes unmoving from the photo. "Oh my God."
Lois' eyes widened. "You're right. Jesse was the kid that accidentally got your powers transferred to him."
"Yeah," Clark agreed. "But he lost them later."
"I WISH he'd lose them." Calvin's muttered words drew Clark's attention. Tapping the photo of New York's remains, Calvin's eyes hardened. "THAT is Jesse's handiwork."
"Jesse was a nice kid," Lois whispered harshly. "There's NO WAY I can believe…"
"Honey," Clark murmured, taking her hand. Falling silent, Lois looked away.
"So what happened to him?" Clark asked.
Calvin shrugged, outwardly remaining neutral. "Here's everything I know. Jesse first came to my attention when he and his mother were traveling by plane to the East Coast. During the flight, the plane encountered a severe storm and was struck by lightning. I was flying by at the time, so I decided to help. During the rescue, the plane was struck several more times by lightning." As he spoke, Calvin's expression became downcast. "I did the best I could, but I wasn't able to save the plane. It crashed, killing all on board except Jesse and his mother; he just walked out of the crash site unharmed carrying her."
"Nearly the same thing happened on OUR world, except I managed to save the plane," Clark said. "But I was only hit once by lightning. So, the lightning transferred a portion of your powers into Jesse, and…"
"Actually," Calvin interrupted. "The lightning DIDN'T transfer my powers. It never even struck me."
Clark's mouth dropped open. "It didn't?"
Calvin shook his head. "Nope."
"I'll get to that," Calvin said, cutting Clark off once more. "Be patient."
"You said they BOTH lived?" Lois asked. "Jesse and his mother?"
Calvin nodded. "Just because she was lucky, though. Not because she had super-powers."
"What happened next?"
"Medical units that arrived later reported a boy and an injured woman sitting in a salvaged plane seat, staring into space. Once her injuries were treated, Leigh-Anne and Jesse stayed the night before they were released the next morning. A few days later, though, Leigh-Anne was dead."
Clark's eyes gaped. "Dead? How?"
"From the reports, apparently Jesse hugged her."
"That's it?" Clark shook his head in disbelief. "That's all?"
"He crushed her, Clark. Somehow, this little kid had powers like mine but, unlike me, he wasn't able to control them. He couldn't control his strength, and he crushed her." Calvin's voice trembled. "When the authorities arrived at their apartment, the poor kid was practically non-responsive. He just kept saying that it was HIS fault. The Police filed the death as 'accidental'. Since he had no living relatives, Jesse became a ward of the state and was given to an orphanage." Picking absently at the scarred tabletop, Calvin's voice dropped. "In one of his more lucid moments, Jesse joined a group of children for a game of dodge ball. During that game, Jesse accidentally hospitalized three kids. The poor staff had NO idea what he'd become. When a couple offered to adopt Jesse, the orphanage staff pushed the paperwork through at an almost frenzied pace. They didn't even ask the couple any questions. Two days after his adoption, Jesse and his new parents vanished. I searched for weeks, but came up empty. It was like he'd never existed."
"Why do you say that?" Clark asked.
"Jesse's birth records had vanished, as well as his medical records. For all intents and purposes, he'd been erased."
Returning her attention to Calvin, Lois's eyes narrowed in thought. "Every piece of documentation has vanished?"
"Everything," Calvin confirmed. "There was NO trace of him. It seemed that Bureau 39 had covered their tracks VERY well."
"Bureau 39?" Lois's eyes flashed in anger. "THEY did this to Jesse?"
Nodding, Calvin sipped his drink. "You've had dealings with them before, I take it?" Calvin's voice was carefully neutral.
"They tried to kill both Clark and myself several times," Lois explained, her voice heavy with suppressed anger. "Finally, after their leader Jason Trask was killed, they let up."
"Killed by you?" Calvin asked Clark, a strange look in his eyes.
"No," Clark quickly replied. "A friend of mine killed him defending me."
"Bureau 39's been hounding me for years," Calvin said, taking another sip of his drink. "Ronald Trask has been nothing but trouble for myself and my family. Ever since we first landed here, he's been after us; it's like Trask KNEW we were coming. That's why when the remaining Kryptonian colonists came here, Mom and Dad went with them so readily. Now with Jesse on the loose…" Staring at the table, Calvin shuddered. "At least Trask isn't prowling around anymore. That's one thing I have to thank Jesse for."
"And that would be because?"
"Jesse killed him," Calvin supplied.
"That's an awfully cavalier attitude to take, considering Trask isn't after you since he's DEAD." Clark stared evenly at his double.
"You may think so," Calvin shot back. "I, on the other hand, say good riddance."
Despite the intensity of Calvin's words, Clark could see the unease in his eyes. Clearing his throat, Clark changed the subject. "So, what happened next?"
"During their investigation, Bureau 39 confirmed that Jesse possessed super-powers."
"But didn't the hospital doctors examine Jesse?" Lois asked. "Wouldn't THEY have found out that he had powers?"
"They WOULD have," Calvin agreed. "At least, if the doctor that examined Jesse hadn't been a plant sent there by the Bureau," Calvin replied. "When reports started circulating of a young boy that survived the plane crash without a scratch, the Bureau rushed an operative into the Hospital to confirm Jesse's identity. When the 'doctor' tried to give Jesse a shot, he discovered that the child's skin was impenetrable. To alleviate suspicions, the phony Doctor forged some medical records and released them. After that, the Bureau took great pains to keep tabs on Jesse and, when Jesse was sent to the orphanage, Bureau 39 seized the opportunity. The couple who adopted Jesse were Bureau 39 operatives. This all was six years ago." Taking a sip from his glass, Calvin glanced around the room before returning his attention to Clark. "Two months ago when I was flying over the Rocky Mountains, there was an explosion. When I got to the site, I discovered that nearly the entire top of a mountain had been pulverized, revealing the remains of an underground facility. Someone had punched a hole up through the center of the building straight out through the roof."
"And you think it was Jesse who did that?" Lois asked.
Calvin nodded. "Who else could it have been? There's not exactly a multitude of superheroes on this world, and what few there are couldn't do something like THAT. Anyway, when I got there, everyone in the facility had been killed," Calvin said. Shuddering, he took a deep drink before continuing. "This place had all the markings of some ultra-secret government agency. Advanced equipment, weaponry all over, no serial numbers on ANYTHING, and NO official in the government is willing to admit it even existed." He leaned forward. "The inside of the place looked like a slaughter house. Machinery smashed, walls torn down, bodies thrown all around, and papers scattered everywhere. Papers detailing in depth what they did to their subject over the years." Shaking his head, Calvin snorted. "It reads like something out of a science fiction movie: sensory deprivation, brainwashing, behavioral modification, the works. All in an effort to create the perfect super-soldier." Leaning closer towards the two of them, Calvin's voice dropped to a whisper. "Their subject was Jesse Stipanovic."
"What happened to the facility afterward?" Lois asked.
Calvin's eyes narrowed. "That's where it gets weird. I went back there the other day, and it's all gone."
"Buried under several hundred thousand tons of rock," Calvin added. "The bodies? They're gone. The equipment also."
"Any news reports of the explosion?" Lois shook her head. "SOMEONE had to have heard it."
"Nope," Calvin replied. "Nothing in the news whatsoever."
"So, do you have any idea why Jesse… snapped?" Clark asked softly.
Taking another sip of his beer, Calvin shrugged. "Near as I can tell from my investigations, when he accidentally killed his mother, that was where the groundwork was laid. Afterward, the brainwashing and behavioral modification they submitted him to seemed to have finished the job."
"Jesse has all of our powers," Clark said. "How could they do anything to him that he didn't want?"
"They had him inside that mountain, Clark, for a LONG time," Calvin said. "Doped up to high heaven, isolated away from the sunlight and hooked up to some type of machine that siphoned away most of his powers, leaving Jesse practically powerless. During the behavioral modification, Jesse's health started to fail. Some scientist got the notion of exposing Jesse to tiny portions of sunlight in order to get his powers to bolster his health so they could continue." Calvin sighed. "Bad idea."
"Why do you say that?" Lois asked.
"According to the documents I found, when he was exposed to sunlight it fully reawakened his powers. Not only did his powers come back, but his full power level magnified the effects the psychoactive drugs had on his system TENFOLD."
"Tenfold?" Clark whistled in surprise.
"Instant psychosis," Calvin said, finishing off his drink. Catching the server's eye, Calvin held up his glass for another round. A hush fell around the table as the server refilled the glasses, each of the three lost in thought. After everyone's drinks had been refreshed, Clark held up a hand to stop Calvin from continuing.
"Why did Jesse decide to wear that uniform?" Clark asked.
"Actually," Calvin said, "Jesse isn't the one wearing that uniform."
Clark looked at his other self in disbelief. "I take it you can explain that?"
"I know, it sounds weird." Calvin shrugged. "It's all right here in the psych report. As a child, Jesse was always into comic books," Calvin explained. "He was fascinated by them. One of the documents I recovered was a conversation between a government psychologist and Jesse wherein Jesse revealed that his mother did NOT share his view. She believed them to be not only a waste of time, but evil."
"Comic books," Lois asked. "Evil?"
Calvin nodded. "After a while, when Jesse showed no inclination to stop reading comics, Leigh-Anne began disciplining him. The reports don't say exactly WHAT she did, but it must have traumatized the kid quite a bit."
Understanding rushed through Clark in a wave. "And after the plane crash, when he realized that HE had the powers of a comic book hero -" Clark began.
"He began thinking that HE was evil," Calvin finished. "That was the beginning of his madness, with his mother's death at his own hands being the finale. The drugs they introduced into him were simply the icing on the cake." Paging through several documents, Calvin withdrew one and set it on the top.
"After they introduced the chemicals into his system, his personality split into two very distinct individuals: Jesse and Supreme." At Clark's raised eyebrow, Calvin continued. "The Jesse personality has regressed to the approximate age of eight, and has no conscious knowledge of possessing super powers. The psychologist in this report believes Jesse did this to try and shield himself." Leaning forward, Calvin's voice dropped. "The psychologist also revealed, though, that Jesse knows of his alter-ego's existence and is aware of what Supreme does. This knowledge further reinforces Jesse's belief that having super-powers is evil."
Lois placed her hand on the pile of photos. "Wait a minute here. Explain to me how comic books can be considered evil."
"And," Clark added, "if the lightning DIDN'T strike you, then HOW did Jesse get super-powers?"
Leaning back, Calvin folded his arms across his chest. "To understand that, you have to go back a ways and go to another world. A little over seventy years ago, Krypton began experimenting with off-world colonization, sending out dozens of ships with a sole person on board to conduct survey missions."
"Wait," Lois interrupted. "THIS explains his powers and why comics are evil?"
Calvin's eyes narrowed slightly.
"Okay," Lois conceded. Leaning back as well, she folded her hands in her lap. "I'll be quiet."
"Each of the ships completed the mission and returned with their information for the Council," Calvin continued. "All but one that is: the one that came here to Earth. Only the message pod from the ship returned with the information. When he discovered that the yellow sun granted him super-powers, both the pilot and his ship remained here on Earth. The Council, assuming he'd died, went about examining all the reports. Debates raged for weeks as to which world was better. As with most politicians, however, eventually the 'newness' of colonization wore off, so they filed each and every report into the Council's archives and promptly forgot about them." Glancing at Clark, Calvin's lips twitched into a ghost of a smile. "You ever wonder how our father selected Earth as the rocket's destination? Decades later, when he was on the Council, he discovered those files and used the survey missions to make the best possible selection." Taking a sip from his drink, Calvin's expression darkened. "But I digress. Meanwhile on Earth, after sending the message pod from the survey ship back to Krypton, the pilot was having a GRAND old time. Reveling in his growing powers, Ron-Kar had nearly taken over the world. In that day and age, nothing and no one could stand against him for long. The only thing 1930s technology had been able to do was to slow him down. It remained that way for nearly three years, until he encountered a scientist named Alexandrov Luthor."
"Luthor?" Clark hissed.
Calvin nodded. "A Russian scientist. He'd been working on a secret project that involved splitting the atom." Calvin smirked. "When society coined the phrase 'mad scientist,' they were talking about HIM."
Clark's face turned white. "Luthor was working on splitting the atom? In the 1930s?"
Calvin shrugged, puzzlement evident on his face. "Yeah. Didn't he do the same on your world?"
Clark shook his head.
Shrugging once more, Calvin continued. "Luthor developed a bomb that was more powerful than ANYTHING ever made before. In today's reckoning it would have been in the neighborhood of about five hundred megatons."
Lois whistled appreciatively.
"Working in conjunction with each other, the United States and Russia formed an elaborate plan to rid the world of Ron-Kar. They managed to lure him to Siberia, where they attacked. Caught off guard by the force of the explosion, Ron-Kar was weakened considerably. The SECOND bomb apparently stopped him." Spreading his hands, Clark's double chuckled wryly. "After it was all over, though, Ron- Kar's body MYSTERIOUSLY vanished to who knows where."
"The government probably took it," Clark murmured, his eyes distant.
"In answer to your question, Lois," Calvin added. "Up until that day, the pulp fictions of the world dealt with more realistic heroes; HUMAN heroes. After this incident, new characters began emerging from the media. Larger than life characters with fantastic powers and abilities FAR beyond those of mortal men." Calvin's eyes flashed briefly. "Nietzsche's super-man made manifest. Many people hold that today's modern comics with their excessively violent themes owe their inspiration to Ron-Kar's destructive rampage. And in a way, Clark," Calvin said, turning to his twin, "it WAS the government that took Ron-Kar's body. After Ron-Kar's defeat in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt established Bureau 39, headed by none other than Alexandrov Luthor, with the sole mission being to safeguard the Earth from future alien incursion. Bureau 39's first act was to steal Ron-Kar's body, putting it in storage for study and to prepare for whatever else might come. At least, so the story goes. Either way, it's ancient history." Taking a deep breath, Calvin cleared his throat. "Now, as to how Jesse got his powers?" Reaching into his satchel, Calvin withdrew another folder of papers, their edges charred. "Realizing that there was a race of supermen out in the cosmos, Bureau 39 began trying to ascertain how a Kryptonian's powers work under a yellow sun; what it is exactly that allows us to process solar energy into personal power. It took them nearly sixty years, but they finally found it."
Clark caught his breath. "They found it?"
Calvin nodded. "They developed a… serum of some kind that partially re-writes a person's DNA coding, giving it Kryptonian aspects."
"Kryptonian aspects?" Lois asked. "Like what?"
"VASTLY increased strength, invulnerability, flight, telescopic vision and heat-vision." Tapping the folder, Calvin shook his head in sick wonder. "They created monsters."
"Well, the serum wasn't an overnight success," Calvin explained, sipping his drink. "They worked on it non-stop for nearly six decades. During that time, they experimented on numerous… test subjects, trying to get the formula correct."
"I take it that…"
"Let's just say," Calvin interrupted, holding up his hand, "the early subjects didn't make it."
Clark nodded gratefully.
"How did they get the formula to work?" Lois asked.
"Since it works by re-writing a person's DNA, they figured their error was in introducing it into an ADULT body. When a person reaches adulthood, his body's systems stabilize. They hypothesize that it's this very STABILITY which causes the adverse reactions to the formula."
"How did they get around it, then?" Clark asked.
Lois gasped. "They gave it to CHILDREN, didn't they?"
Calvin raised his glass, toasting Lois. "VERY close. Babies, actually."
Lois went pale. "Babies?" she whispered.
Calvin nodded. "They were fairly ingenious, actually. They planted their 'doctors' in hospitals and clinics worldwide, then introduced the serum into carefully selected test subjects as part of their pre-natal exams. Jesse was one of the initial guinea pigs for the finished formula."
"Carefully selected subjects?" Clark's brow creased in puzzlement. "How'd they select them?"
"They selected single mothers mostly," Calvin explained. "Ones with few family ties, limited means of making a living. Ones that they figured society wouldn't exactly set the world on fire searching for should something… happen to them."
Lois's face grew pale. "They preyed on those women," she whispered, wringing her hands in helpless frustration. "They turned them into little more than breeding stock for their purposes."
Wrapping his one arm around his wife, Clark held her trembling form tightly, whispering words of comfort.
Reaching across the table, Calvin gently placed his hand on top of Lois's. "Easy, Lois," he urged. "Remember, most all of them have been dealt with, and those that escaped Jesse's attack won't escape ME. I have their names. I'll get them."
"I think I'm going to be sick." Standing up from the booth, Lois dashed for the restroom.
As he watched her disappear into the room, Clark rubbed his forehead and sighed.
"I take it that this isn't exactly something you two have run into before?" Calvin asked.
"No," Clark murmured. "It isn't." Toying with his napkin, Clark shook his head in stunned wonder. "Just when you think you've seen it all…"
"Along comes something to remind you that you HAVEN'T," Calvin finished, nodding in agreement. "Believe me, I know."
"How could they do something like this?" Shrugging in helpless wonder, Clark's eyes widened. "How could they treat human life with such… such disrespect? With such contempt?"
Raising his own hands helplessly, Calvin snorted. "Trust me, I have NO idea. But the fact remains that they DID."
"How many women did they do this too?" Clark whispered.
"Not many," Calvin replied. "Only about four or so. You understand I'm only guessing here, but I'd assume that, until they analyzed the data from these test subjects, they didn't want to commit their ENTIRE resources behind a project that they weren't even sure would work."
"Four of them," Clark whispered to himself. "Four potential bombs waiting to go off." His eyes narrowed. "How many of these four have been born?"
"All of them, though only Jesse has exhibited powers. According to the projected results, like Kryptonians, their powers were supposed to GRADUALLY emerge over the course of years, not all at once. The stress from the plane crash must have triggered Jesse's full powers early." Sipping his drink, Calvin paged through several documents. "With the exception of Jesse, all the others are due to exhibit the beginnings of their powers in… ten months." Holding up a singed document, Calvin pointed to an entry part way down the page. "Starting with Melissa Hotzberg, Chicago Illinois and ending with William Bainbrige, Boise Idaho."
Rubbing his chin, Clark's eyes were drawn back to the photos. "We'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. First things first," he muttered. Nodding towards the stack of papers, he glanced at Calvin. "What else do they say about Jesse's powers?"
"I told you," Calvin sighed. "Super strength, heat vision, flight…"
"No," Clark interrupted. "I mean, HOW strong is he? How FAST can he fly?"
Calvin blurred through the papers before stopping on one sheet in particular. "Apparently, their best estimate on his top power level puts him at approximately eighty percent of a true Kryptonian's level."
"That's impossible," Clark objected. "You said Jesse was only about eleven when he first used his powers. I didn't get THAT powerful until I was about seventeen."
Calvin shrugged, clearly uncomfortable. "What can I say? Maybe the powers of this dimension's Kryptonians operate slightly differently than yours."
"When did YOU get that strong?"
Calvin glanced at the table. "Eleven," he whispered.
Clark groaned. "Great. This is just great." Raising his eyebrow, Clark stared at his double. "Maybe you should have told me that a little earlier?"
"And what difference would it have made?"
"It would have made a LITTLE difference," Clark rumbled, his voice harsh. "It would have been good to know exactly how much of a threat he's going to be." Sighing, Clark rubbed his forehead once more. "At least when Jesse's been stopped, you'll have ten months to prepare for the next one. We can only hope there's some sort of antidote for this serum."
"There isn't," Calvin whispered. "Once it's done, that's it."
"Once WHAT'S done?" Lois asked, returning to her seat. Though pale, most of her confident demeanor had returned.
"The serum," Calvin explained. "Once it's been introduced to a person's system, there's NO going back."
Nodding, Lois picked at the tabletop. "Back to the immediate problem at hand. We know what happened to Jesse, but what about his other personality, this 'Supreme' character?"
"Jesse's dual personality is different. He's all of Jesse's darker inclinations made manifest. Aside from being completely ruthless and utterly insane, he knows that he's Jesse, though he absolutely HATES his other self. He also REVELS in having super powers." Tapping a magazine cover in the pile, Calvin's eyes grew troubled. "He shows absolutely NO restraint in the use of his abilities; he does whatever he likes WHENEVER it strikes his fancy. Case in point, there've been numerous… assaults on people."
"Assaults?" Clark asked. "Like what?"
"Jesse, or Supreme," Calvin amended. "He apparently thinks it's QUITE fun to walk into a bar and pick a fight with some poor fool. After he beats the guy senseless, trashes the place and terrorizes everyone in general, Supreme… does other things."
"Like?" Lois pressed.
"Well, Jesse's a fifteen year old boy," Calvin slowly replied.
"And that means WHAT?"
Calvin, unable to look Lois in the eye, coughed self- consciously.
Lois paled. "Oh."
"Um, have any of them become pregnant?" Clark asked in a quiet voice.
"None yet that I know of," Calvin said. "It IS only a matter of time before that happens, though. And if THAT happens?" Trailing off, Calvin shrugged.
"Right," Clark agreed. "So, what else do we need to know?"
"What causes the change between the Jesse and Supreme personalities?" Lois asked.
"The switch from Supreme to Jesse, I honestly have no idea," Calvin replied. "But from Jesse to Supreme? That usually occurs when Jesse is confronted with something that his other self has done." Fixing Lois with a meaningful gaze, Calvin leaned closer. "What I DO know, though, is that Jesse's emerging less and less. It's almost as if Supreme were taking over."
"Wait," Lois pleaded. "You said that Jesse's personality split after they introduced the chemicals into his system."
"Right," Calvin said.
"So that means his schizophrenia is not entirely natural?"
"The initial groundwork was laid when he killed his mother, but nope." Taking another sip of his beer, Calvin shook his head. "Jesse's the modern day equivalent to Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, only there's no formula I know of to turn him back to Jesse, and there's no formula I know of to stop him from changing."
As a hush fell across the table, Lois took the opportunity to flip through the photographs on the table before her, with one in particular catching her eye. "Why is there a satellite image of the Pacific Ocean in here?"
His face paling slightly, Calvin took a deep breath to gather his composure. "Look closely at the image, Lois. What do you see?"
"I see the Pacific Ocean," Lois replied. Her brow knitting in puzzlement, she shrugged slightly. "What about it?"
"All right, tell me what you DON'T see." After several long moments, Calvin tapped the center of the photo. "He wiped the Hawaiian Islands off the face of the map, Lois," Calvin said. "And do you know why? Because he thought the maps of the world looked funny with all that ocean being interrupted by them."
"Wiped… off… the… map?" Lois's stuttered whisper barely emerged as sound.
"With a tidal wave," Calvin continued, staring down into his drink. "It topped over five thousand feet high, and traveled at nearly two hundred miles an hour. No one had a chance."
"Was there any other damage caused by the wave?" Glancing away from the photo, Clark's eyes filled with pain as he imagined the terror the Islanders must have felt.
"No," Calvin said. "As soon as the islands were… hit, he stopped the wave from progressing any further." Waving his hands helplessly, Calvin fixed an intense stare on Clark and Lois. "And that doesn't even compare with what he did to London. I've done what I can to stop him, but it's difficult when you have to divide your attention between fighting the enemy and saving innocent people. Hopefully, with the two of you here, that will change."
"We'll do what we can," Clark stated. Beside him, Lois nodded in agreement.
"I'm at my wits end trying to figure out a way to stop him," Calvin muttered. "Even if I managed to stop him, it's not like any prison could hold him."
"We've run across that same problem on OUR world," Clark admitted, glancing to Lois.
"I thought you said the Jesse of your world LOST his powers," Calvin said.
"He did," Clark replied. "It's someone else with super-powers we're having… difficulties with."
"Lex Luthor," Clark whispered, taking a sip from his own drink.
Calvin's eyes bulged. "Luthor? You're telling me that a Luthor has super-powers on your world?"
Both Clark and Lois nodded.
Calvin, rubbing the bridge of his nose, sighed heavily. "Those men are evil INCARNATE," he hissed. "How could you let someone like THAT gain super-powers?"
"We weren't exactly presented with a choice," Lois retorted. "Besides, from the way you talk, this Alexandrov Luthor was humanity's savior back in the thirties."
"Only because he wanted the world for HIMSELF," Calvin shot back. "And his grandson is NO different!" Glancing around the room, Calvin checked to see if anyone had overheard his outburst. Returning his attention to the couple across the table from him, he pointed at the door, dropping his voice lower.
"After the… incident with Ron-Kar, Alexandrov Luthor immigrated to America and settled here in Metropolis. Once here, he began building the power-base for his family. Now, for close to forty years, the House of Luthor has had an iron grip on this city. Luthor Technologies controls over ninety percent of the business in Metropolis, either directly or indirectly. Not to mention that, like his grandfather before him, Alexi Luthor secretly heads Bureau 39."
"Sounds like the Luthor gene holds true no matter WHAT universe you're in," Clark muttered under his breath.
"And YOUR Luthor has super-powers? It's going to be REALLY hard for you to deal with him, especially since you apparently don't consider killing him an option," Calvin stated.
"DEFINITELY not," Clark answered. "And yes, it WAS tough dealing with him."
"Was?" Calvin asked, his eyebrow raising suggestively.
"He's still alive," Clark muttered. Nodding towards his wife, Clark stared at his drink. "He attacked Lois and hospitalized her for weeks. When I confronted him, I kind of… lost my temper thanks to some red kryptonite."
"And he's still at large. I doubt, though, that he'll try it again," Clark stated flatly, unwilling to say more.
"Ah," Calvin replied knowingly.
"So," Lois chimed in, breaking the tension. "What else has been done to try and stop Jesse?"
"The world's military has been doing what it can," Calvin said. "But as long as he keeps to populated areas, there's not a whole lot they, or I, can do. In the meantime, the media's been keeping a LOT of what Jesse does under wraps," Calvin murmured. At Lois's shocked expression, Calvin shrugged. "Believe me, the military can be VERY persuasive."
"Let me guess," Lois sighed. "National Security, right?"
"National PANIC, actually." As he motioned to the remaining patrons in the bar, Calvin's mouth quirked up in the corner. "You think these people would be here if they knew what was flying around out there? No, they'd be cowering in their homes waiting for their world to end."
Watching his twin, Clark was struck by a thought. "You mentioned that there wasn't a whole lot you could do, as long as Jesse stuck to populated areas." At Calvin's nod, Clark leaned forward. "I've been looking at the photos of Gotham City's devastation. Particularly the aerial photos." Lowering his voice, Clark eyed his double. "In the timeframe these reports specify, there's a LOT more damage here than one man alone could do."
Dropping his gaze to the table, Calvin remained mute.
"YOU caught up to him in Gotham City, didn't you?"
Calvin's nod was barely perceptible.
"For the love of…" Trailing off, Clark shook his head. "What did you think you were doing?"
"Trying to stop an insane child with the powers of a demi-god," Calvin returned, his own voice roughening in anger. "Or maybe I should have just LET him run rampant? You have NO idea what I've been going through here."
"Oh, DON'T I?" Clark's eyed narrowed. "Let me tell you something, Cal. The GREATEST threat I've faced so far is an alternate dimensional version of ME named Lord Kal- El. His desires are simple: kill humans and save Kryptonians. And let me tell you something else," Clark snarled. "He EXCELS at killing humans. He's tallied up about six BILLION to date, and those are only the ones that I KNOW of."
"Did he kill those six billion people in front of you?" Calvin asked, anger creeping into his own voice.
"Well, Jesse killed a few thousand in front of ME," Calvin growled. Grabbing a picture from the pile, he waved it in front of Clark's face. "You see this? This picture is of what remains of Gotham City's Orchestral House." Leaning closer to his twin, Calvin's eyes burned with repressed fire. "Opening night of the Gotham City Symphony's rendition of 'Beethoven's Ninth Symphony'. He used ME as a living wrecking ball to knock the building over, Clark. Do you have ANY idea what that feels like? To be THAT helpless?"
Before Clark could reply, Lois cleared her throat noisily. "ENOUGH with the testosterone, boys," Lois forcibly interrupted. "Clark, with the things that have happened in the past, it's not really for us to say that Calvin was wrong to do what he did." As her husband was about to object, Lois fixed him with a piercing stare. "We haven't exactly gone out of our way ourselves to take a fight out of the city. Besides, we have more important things to be thinking about here." As Lois caught sight of Calvin's satisfied smirk, she rounded on him. "But that DOESN'T mean that you're completely excused from at least TRYING to move a conflict out of the city."
Calvin's half-smirk died.
Holding his twin's eyes a moment longer, Clark finally relented. "You're right," Clark conceded, leaning back into the booth. "If we're going to do this right, we need some more information."
"Then why don't we pay the head guy a little visit?" Calvin asked, draining his glass.
"Well, Luthor DOES live here in Metropolis," Calvin replied. "Why don't you and I, Clark, go have a chat with him."
"What about me?" Lois asked.
"You, honey, are going to be our secret weapon." Smiling at her, Clark lightly ran a finger down her face. "That way, if something goes wrong, we'll have you as an ace in the hole."
As the group stood up from the booth, Lois clutched Clark's arm.
"Be careful, Clark," she whispered. "Remember — you might have beaten Lex, but you took quite a beating yourself. You need time to recover."
"We're just going to go have a TALK with Luthor," Clark said softly, trailing his thumb down Lois's cheek. "While we're gone, though, we need YOU to start searching the globe for Jesse. Stick to the upper atmosphere and, whatever you do, DON'T let him see you. We'll catch up as soon as possible."
"Don't tell me that this is where I get sent to safety while the men-folk do the dangerous stuff?" Lois sighed, the corner of her lips twisted up into a half smile.
"I'll tell you what," Clark conceded. "When you FULLY recover from the Disbander's effects, then you can do some dangerous stuff, okay?"
"I feel fine," she objected. "Really!"
As Clark opened his mouth to object, Lois's lips pursed in a pout. "Fine," she huffed.
Drawing her closer, Clark kissed her deeply for a moment. As their lips slowly separated, Lois's eyes danced with mirth.
"If THAT was your way of apologizing, then I accept," she murmured throatily.
"Here," Calvin said, holding out a small object. "Take this."
Glancing down at the item she held, Lois smiled when she saw a cell phone.
"When you find him, page us," Calvin added, holding up the other small object he held. "Just use the punch-pad to tell us where he is, and we'll be there." Glancing over at his counterpart, Calvin cleared his throat. "Clark? You ready?"
Taking a deep breath, Clark squared his shoulders. "Lead on."
As Calvin turned, he briefly glanced over his shoulder. "One last thing, Clark." At Clark's expectant look, Calvin smiled innocently. "Please, DON'T change into that Halloween costume of yours; the tourists scare SO easily."
Behind the club, as they watched Lois disappear into the sky, Clark heaved a sigh. "Cal, I'm sorry about what happened in there," he said, nodding towards the club. "It still kind of bothers me, about what I did to Luthor."
"Don't mention it," Calvin said, waving a hand in dismissal. "It wasn't anything big. Plus, I kind of didn't help matters any, either."
"Still, though," Clark continued, "it's kind of frightening, knowing what I can do when I lose control. What I'm capable of doing."
Calvin eyed Clark closely. "This wouldn't by chance have anything to do with a certain Lord Kal-El, would it?"
Clark jerked to a stop, his breath catching in his throat. "Y-You know about him?"
"No," Calvin said quietly. "YOU mentioned him. Inside the bar, remember?" Shaking his head in wonder, Calvin folded his arms across his chest. "Wow. This Lord Kal-El person really DOES have you rattled, doesn't he?"
Turning away, Clark raked a hand through his hair. "Yeah. Maybe."
Calvin barked a short laugh. "Maybe? Clark, maybe you haven't really noticed, but your nerves are shot. You're walking the edge of disaster, man. You NEED to find some release."
"And how do I find that?" Clark asked quietly.
"Barring finding Lord Kal-El and beating him into a bloody pulp?" Calvin quipped. "I'd say you needed to talk about it."
"I have," Clark replied. "With Lois, my parents, Kal—"
"Anyone NOT directly involved in this?" Calvin asked, interrupting Clark. As Clark shook his head negative, Calvin spread his hands. "Well, there you go."
"Excuse me?" Clark said.
"THAT'S your problem," Calvin answered. "Everyone you've talked to has been involved in this situation, Clark — no one has been able to give you an objective opinion. It's like that old saying: 'You can't see the forest for the trees.' Only this time, you can't see the trees for the forest."
Clark stared uncomprehendingly at Calvin.
"It means that you've concentrated so much on the big picture that you can't see the smaller details," Calvin clarified. "The story behind the story, so to speak."
"Details like what?" Clark asked slowly.
Calvin smiled widely. "We won't know THAT until you tell me what's going on with Lord Kal-El. So come on and spill it." Seeing that Clark was still hesitant, Calvin's visage turned stern. "We're not moving until you come clean."
Sighing in resignation, Clark began to slowly, haltingly tell Calvin the entire story. As time passed, Clark found that the words came faster, easier to his lips, until they practically fell over one another on their way out. He gave voice to speculations concerning Lord Kal-El's current state of mind after his wife's death. He stammered slightly as he retold the deaths of his and Lois's secret identities. Before he could stop himself, he'd even revealed his secret pleasure at finally being able to deal with Luthor in a more brutal, physical fashion, and his subsequent horror at that realization about himself. As he unburdened his soul to his double, Clark even surprised himself by delving into his concerns and fears regarding Alt-Clark's obsession with Lord Kal-El. Through the entire outpouring, Calvin said nothing, letting Clark vent. Occasionally Calvin's eyes would narrow at some bit of information, or widen in surprise at another. Yet he remained silent throughout, allowing Clark to fully relieve himself of his mental burden at his own pace. Finally, as Clark finished, Calvin rubbed his bearded chin in thought.
"So, what do you think?" Clark asked hesitantly.
Calvin exhaled noisily. "Wow. I mean… wow." Waving off Clark, Calvin turned away slightly. "Give me a minute, here. That's a hell of a lot to digest." As his brow furrowed in concentration, Calvin gnawed on his lower lip, his eyes distant. After long minutes, Calvin turned back to his counterpart. "I wouldn't worry too much about Lord Kal- El if I were you. That's a problem that'll take care of itself, more than likely."
Clark's mouth gaped. "Huh?"
Waving his hands in a placating manner, Calvin shook his head. "Just listen, Clark. You told me that you thought Lord Kal-El would try to reclaim his throne, right?"
"And do you think that'll sit well with the Council?" Calvin asked.
"Probably not," Clark admitted.
"Neither do I," Calvin finished. "If he DOES reclaim his throne, odds are that the Council will learn from their mistakes and kill him the next time around." Calvin's eyes grew distant. "And there WILL be a next time."
"Wait a minute here," Clark said in disbelief. "You're ADVOCATING killing Lord Kal-El?"
Calvin's head snapped around to stare at Clark. "Where would you get THAT idea from?"
"You just said-"
"I just said what the COUNCIL will probably do," Calvin said. "It's not what I would want to happen to him."
Nodding in understanding, Clark shrugged by way of apology.
Running a hand through his hair, Calvin shook his head. "The real question is if Lord Kal-El realizes what the Council will do as well."
"Because if he does, he might just call it quits, leave, and start over somewhere else." Shaking his head again, Calvin's eyes widened slightly. "And if he does that, he might just get it right the next time."
"Get what right?" Clark asked.
"You ever hear of a book called 'History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'?" Calvin asked suddenly.
Clark's brow knit in thought. "The one by Edward Gibbon?"
"That's the one," Calvin agreed. "The situation Lord Kal-El has found himself in is quite reminiscent of that."
"Well, for one thing, how can one man effectively rule over nearly two dozen worlds?"
"From all the myriad Earths he's conquered, he has the Head of the most powerful Kryptonian House rule in his stead, with the Head answerable to him. These Heads make up the Council," Clark said in reply.
"And Lord Kal-El rules over his own world as well, in addition to this Council," Calvin added.
"Right," Clark agreed.
"So, how can this one man EFFECTIVELY rule over two dozen worlds?" His eyebrows raised, Calvin shook his head slowly. "He can't. In order for him to be able to rule at all, he has to empower each of the Council members to act in his name on each world, but has no real way to monitor what these people are REALLY doing in his name."
"And you think they're misleading Lord Kal-El?"
"I know they are," Calvin stated. "They're telling Lord Kal-El what he wants to hear, and praying that he never checks on it. And Lord Kal-El's so busy doing other things that he couldn't check on them if he WANTED to."
"Leaving them free to do… whatever." Clark shook his head in disgust.
"Right. Lord Kal-El has got all these Lords and Ladies plotting against HIM, against each other, and no one knows what anyone else is doing. And the Kryptonian people?" Calvin snorted. "Lord Kal-El conquers another Earth every now and then, demonstrating the 'innate superiority' of the Kryptonian people, rallying them to the flag, making them happy, bringing in more citizens who are beholden to him, and all the while never realizing that he's only ADDING to the problem."
"Making his empire larger and more unwieldy," Clark finished.
"The smaller details," Clark murmured.
Calvin winked at Clark. "Now you've got it."
"And you think this non-communication — or rather MIS-communication between the Council members will eventually cause the collapse of their empire?"
"I know it will," Calvin assured him, a sad note creeping into his voice. "They've spread themselves too thin. They're so self-assured in their invincibility that they won't even see it coming until it's too late. Eventually, when their enemies begin to mobilize against them, it'll be all each Council member can do to hold onto his OWN skin, let alone help anyone else. And even if they COULD band together, Clark, they'd more than likely withdraw to a centralized world, leaving all the OTHER Earths completely unprotected." Shaking his head, Calvin's voice dropped to a whisper. "It'll be a bloodbath."
"What can we do?" Clark asked.
"What CAN we do?" Calvin retorted. "Anything we try would be like throwing a water balloon at a forest fire — ineffective and ludicrous."
"We've got to at least try," Clark reasoned.
"You want to try something?" Calvin asked. "Try praying."
"Clark," Calvin urged. "Please, would you think about it before you go rushing headlong into something you might not be able to get out of? If you help the Kryptonians, you'll make a target of yourself to their enemies. If you try to mediate, you'll have BOTH sides after you." Shrugging helplessly, Calvin sighed. "Face it, Clark. Even though every fiber of your being might be screaming at you to do something, there are some times that the best thing to do is NOTHING."
Raising his hands helplessly, Clark's mouth twisted into a half-smile. "That's something I've never really been good at."
Mirroring Clark's smile with one of his own, Calvin laughed. "Maybe you should learn? The first rule in warfare, Clark: fight the battles you know you can win."
"And if you can't win?"
Calvin laughed harder. "That's even easier, Clark. Run like hell."
Flying through the night sky, the two Kryptonians carefully avoided encountering any of the city traffic — at one point, they swiftly had to duck behind a brownstone as a Police helicopter buzzed by, only to be spotted nearly by a passing news van. Another brief burst of speed launched the two men over the rooftop and to safety. At last, they neared their objective. As the two men approached the tower, Calvin gestured expansively.
"Clark, welcome to Luthor Tower, otherwise known as 'that REALLY big tower in the center of Metropolis with a castle on top of it.'"
Looking at the tower, Clark whistled appreciatively. The base of the tower itself covered nearly two city blocks, tapering to only one as it rose high above the city. It was nearly twice as tall as Luthor's own tower was on his world, stretching nearly half a mile into the air. Perched atop the spire like a massive stone crown, the castle covered virtually the entire exposed surface, save for a narrow walking path around its perimeter.
Clark whistled appreciatively. "Now THAT is a tower."
"Come on," Calvin said, drifting closer to the building. "He's up there, on the top floor."
Hovering outside the window, Calvin and Clark peered through the lead crystal panes of glass into the expansive room. Decorated in the style of a reading library, the room was dominated by dark oak and leather. Sweeping marble staircases circled the edges of the room, leading to an upper balcony. Bookcases lined the walls of both the lower floor and balcony above, housing thousands of volumes. A monstrous fireplace covered nearly one entire wall, its mantle covered in crystal and silver baubles. Seated in a leather chair before the roaring fire sat a heavy-set man, dressed in evening clothes. Sipping on what looked like brandy, the middle-aged man stared intently into the flames.
"Shall we knock?" Calvin asked.
At that moment, the massive window opened.
"Come in." The deep voice was colored by a slight Russian accent.
Without waiting for Clark, Calvin drifted into the expansive room, alighting on the marble floor. Landing beside his counterpart, Clark gazed in wonder around him.
>This one room is larger than Lois's and my old apartment,< he thought, shaking his head slightly. >Why would ONE person need so much space?< Out of curiosity, Clark tried to send a probe of x-ray vision into the next room, but was stopped by a lead barrier deep within the wall.
"So, the reports were correct," the elder gentleman murmured. "There ARE still Kryptonians on this planet." Flicking back an errant strand of iron-gray hair, he carefully placed his drink onto the coffee table before rising to meet his guests.
"Permit me to introduce myself," he greeted, bowing slightly. "My name is Alexi Luthor."
"I know who you are," Calvin said, his voice flat.
Nodding slightly towards Calvin, Alexi smiled coolly at him. "Then I trust you will explain this little visit?"
"We have some questions for you," Calvin replied brusquely. "And we expect to get some answers."
"Where I come from, youths are expected to treat their elders with respect," Alexi rumbled dangerously.
"Yeah, well welcome to the New World," Calvin retorted. "You want respect, you EARN it, old man!"
Alexi's face flushed with anger. "My family has MORE than earned-"
"Gentlemen," Clark shouted, stepping between the two men. "Please, may we reign in the tempers?" Glancing over at Calvin, Clark held his gaze with his own. "Despite what you may think, we are NOT here to make accusations without evidence to back it up."
Alexi's triumphant smile faded as Clark turned to face him with cold eyes.
"And despite how the news may herald you as such a great man," Clark cautioned, "suffice to say that we know more than the average citizen."
Glaring with cold eyes at the two men, Alexi Luthor cleared his throat as he turned back to the fireplace. "'Average citizen', eh?" Without turning back to them, the billionaire made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Bah. You are HARDLY average, gentlemen. But then, neither am I."
"If you don't mind, Mr. Luthor, could we possibly get back to the matter at hand?" Clark asked, straining to control his own temper. Inwardly, he was amazed. What was it about Luthor- ANY Luthor- that just made his blood boil?
Half turning to them, Alexi smiled faintly. "Ah, and that would be Bureau 39, correct? And, more to the point, what my involvement is with them?"
Clark refused to allow any surprise to show on his face. "That would be ONE of our questions. Another is your involvement with the development of a serum to grant a human super-human powers. If you had all this power," Clark asked, motioning to the tower surrounding them. "Why did you need Bureau 39? Why go through all of this? Why not simply develop the serum yourself?"
"Bureau 39 was, and IS, a convenience," Alexi stated. "A vehicle with which to acquire what my family sought with only a MINIMUM of expenditure on our part, as well as lending certain credibility to our cause as well." His eyes growing unfocused, Alexi smiled faintly in remembrance. "In those days, the government was MORE than willing to fund our project with little or no expectations for success. Now? Now they want proposals, projected gains, estimated costs, and enough paperwork to bury a small country!" A derisive snort echoed in the vast room. "And this is what they define as 'progress?'"
"But why Bureau 39?" Clark pressed. "If it was recognition you wanted, why head an organization that officially DIDN'T exist?"
"But those are the organizations with access to the most funding and technology," Alexi patiently explained. "And one simple truth is that those clandestine organizations NEVER last forever. Eventually, they are shelved, dismantled or destroyed." Winking conspiratorially at the pair of Kryptonians, Alexi chuckled. "And a smart man can find a way to create civilian applications for those abandoned clandestine projects."
"The serum," Calvin breathed. "You wanted the serum. You want powers for yourself."
Alexi nodded fractionally. Sighing morosely, the head of the House of Luthor shrugged. "Alas, I am too old to reap the full benefits of this discovery. My son, however, was not."
Clark and Calvin's eyes widened simultaneously.
With a heavy click, the door on the far side of the room opened. Silhouetted in the doorway, a figure stood staring evenly at Clark and Calvin.
"Lex Luthor," Alexi Luthor proclaimed. "Heir to the House of Luthor, and the sixth recipient of the complete Super-Serum."
Dressed in a black suit and cobalt blue tie, the young heir smiled wanly at both Clark and Calvin as he entered the room, his cold gaze never wavering from them. His brown, slightly curly hair framed the familiar face that had haunted Clark for most of his life. Lex's predatory eyes seemed to gauge both Kryptonians, assessing the level of threat each posed. As Clark continued to stare at his nightmare made flesh, Calvin returned his attention to the elder Luthor.
"The COMPLETE serum?" With a quick glance at Lex, Calvin folded his arms across his chest. "What do you mean by that?"
"It's something that we have been experimenting with now for some time," Alexi said, refilling his glass of brandy. "After initially finding the DNA sequence that grants a Kryptonian his power, we decided to further refine our research into finding the precise DNA sequencing for EACH power separately." Smiling faintly, Alexi sipped from his glass. "While an adult body has an exceedingly difficult time coping with the DNA restructuring necessary for the full range of powers, it can, however, readily adapt to INDIVIDUAL powers."
"How many individual powers?" Calvin asked. At Clark's surprised gaze, Calvin shrugged. "It doesn't hurt to ask — the worst he can do is not tell us."
"It's all right," Alexi assured Clark. "I don't mind answering. The normal adult body can withstand no more than three alterations to its genetic coding without certain… risks, Mr. Elle."
Calvin's eyes widened in surprise. "You know who I am?"
Alexi's eyes danced. "We know a great deal about you, Calvin. About how you waste your potential laboring in that hovel of a drinking establishment. About how you needlessly squander your powers in a vain attempt to stop young Mr. Stipanovic." Shaking his head sadly, Alexi frowned. "Such a waste."
"Unlike yourselves, I tend to look at it as my DUTY to better the world I live in," Calvin admitted. "Not manipulate it for my own ends."
"Oh, we are doing FAR more than merely manipulating things," Lex interjected. "Like the Titans of old, my father has spawned a race of Olympians; the Gods of a new Age, one undreamed of by anyone. We are the architects of this age, and they are the tools by which we shall shape it," he proclaimed.
"Imagine," Alexi chimed in, his voice full of awe. "Spies with x-ray vision and super-hearing. Soldiers who are imbued with super strength and invulnerability, needing no weapon because they also possess heat vision. And a very select few with the FULL range of powers." Shaking his head in wonder, the elder Luthor chuckled darkly. "The future is upon us, my friends, like an unformed block of clay. And my family shall be its sculptor."
"This discovery of yours could bring about a Golden Age on this world," Clark pleaded. "Why not just give EVERYONE access to the formula?"
Lex shook his head sadly, answering for his father. "Would you serve caviar to the homeless? No, Mr. Elle, you serve it to those who can TRULY appreciate it. As it shall be with the serum."
"In other words," Clark interrupted. "Those with the ability to PAY for the serum will get it."
"Exactly," Alexi replied, his eyes glittering. "Mr. Stipanovic is the prototype, so to speak, a living advertisement of the serum's capabilities." The elder Luthor's eyes hardened. "It also serves as a warning to those who would stand against us."
"You're mad," Calvin whispered, his voice full of horror.
Alexi sighed theatrically. "True genius has ALWAYS been mocked by the ignorant."
"You're telling us that you did this to Jesse on PURPOSE," Calvin hissed, his eyes wide with disbelief. "You made him into this… KILLING machine, and turned him loose on the world!"
"If the world is to be ruled by our family," Alexi explained. "Then they MUST be shown what we are capable of doing. Jesse is serving that need quite nicely, by demonstrating to the world what a man with super powers can truly do. When we take the reins of power from those useless puppets called 'world leaders', few will think to challenge us."
"And if they do anyway?" Calvin asked, though inside his heart, he already knew the answer.
Lex smiled without humor. "Then that will be a decision they will regret for the remainder of their short lives."
"Jesse is the prototype," Alexi rumbled. "The precursor for what is to come. Imagine a force of warriors mentally programmed to follow your every command. Soldiers unfettered by morality, unencumbered by conscience."
"Oh, THAT'S good," Calvin snorted. "Jesse's the shape of things to come? I've got news for you, old man! Jesse's insane! Your brainwashing fried his gray matter!"
"Jesse is an unfortunate mistake," Alexi replied, bristling slightly at the 'old' remark. "Our tests, unfortunately, did not reveal the true depths of his mental state until it was too late."
"And now that you know?" Clark inquired.
Alexi shrugged. "That is not our problem. Sane or not, he will be quite an effective example."
"Not your problem?" Clark repeated, unable to believe he'd heard correctly. "You think you can just do something like this and not face any type of consequences for your actions?"
"Actually, yes." Alexi shrugged. "Who's to stop us?"
"What about us?" Calvin asked softly.
Alexi gave the two Kryptonians a patronizing smile. "What ABOUT you? You think the two of you can stop us? That you can bring our empire crashing down around our ears?"
Clark's smile grew cold. "Stranger things have happened before," he murmured.
"Seeing as how you're just so forthcoming with information, mind explaining how you plan to keep the other children in check?" Calvin asked. "I mean, seeing as how your brainwashing attempts failed miserably with Jesse."
Alexi smiled briefly. "Ah, so you know of the others, eh?" Sighing theatrically, the older Luthor rubbed his forehead for a moment before turning to his son. "Lex, remind me later to chastise our operatives for the negligent way they conducted their duties. It obviously took them MUCH too long to arrive at the site to dispose of the evidence."
"Well, Alexi?" Calvin's voice dripped with sarcasm. "If it's not too much of a strain on your obviously deteriorating mental faculties, could you manage to stick with the conversation topic long enough to answer us?"
"As we stated," Lex replied, "Jesse was a sort of 'work in progress'. Once it was determined that his mental instability precluded him from being of any true use to us, we used him as a guinea pig. We experimented with different methods of conditioning with him, seeing which ones provided the most results."
"And we found a way," Alexi finished, shooting his son a warning glance. "More than that concerning the method of control you need not know. We needed to determine the level of control we could exert over the subject, and whether or not any of the subject's previous inhibitions were still in place once the programming took over. Such as an aversion to killing." Alexi smiled as he sipped his drink.
"But… how?" Clark asked. "If what you say is true, then how could you possibly have brainwashed all the remaining children into becoming your own personal army? You tried for YEARS to-"
"Your concern would be valid were we only BEGINNING our plan to control them," Alexi conceded. "Needless to say, that is NOT the case. Aside from the chemical conditioning, we discovered… other methods to enhance our control of them."
"Bio-synthetic micro chips," Lex interjected. "Implanted behind the ear at birth."
Alexi's eyes widened in shock at his son's arrogant boasting. Lex, smirking in self-satisfaction at the two Kryptonians, failed to see his father's outrage.
"They're miracles of technology," Lex chortled. "One of the benefits we've recently reaped from Ron-Kar's ship. They're completely undetectable by standard methods, yet possessing the capacity of completely re-writing an individual's personality. We simply send a signal to the chips at the appropriate time, and it's bye-bye useless mewling brat, hello…"
"LEX! BE SILENT!" Alexi's bellow thundered through the room, stunning the heir to silence. After holding his son's crestfallen gaze a moment longer, Alexi returned his attention to Calvin and Clark.
"You must excuse my son," Alexi rumbled, casting another furious expression towards Lex. "Sometimes his mouth tends to override his reasoning." Returning his attention to Calvin, Alexi smiled. "As for what happened to Jesse, you would be interested to know that at NO time did we purposefully try to make him psychotic; we genuinely tried to repair his damaged psyche." Striding over to the side-table, Alexi poured another measure of cognac into his glass. "We underestimated the effects his awakening powers would have on the psychoactive drugs in his system. Rest assured we will NOT make that mistake twice. However, insane or not, young Mr. Stipanovic DOES make a good distraction to occupy the attentions of the world."
"And the others?" Clark asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"They are likewise being prepared for their roles in the coming world order," Lex stated.
"What of their mothers?"
Lex shrugged away the concern. "They were replaced nearly the day after the children were born."
"You… just got rid of them, like that?" Clark asked.
"They served their purpose," Alexi replied. "What further use could they have provided for me?"
"They were human beings!" Calvin's anguished cry echoed across the room. "They deserved better than to be treated as livestock, Alexi!"
"Do they?" Alexi asked. "Tell me then — what possible worth could I have gained by allowing them to live? How would it have benefited my cause?"
"They were human beings," Calvin said, his eyes flashing dangerously.
"And there are six billion more where they came from," Lex retorted. "Somehow, I don't think they'll be sorely missed by ANYONE."
Clark placed a hand on Calvin's arm. "Come on, Calvin," he said in a low voice, fighting to control his anger. "We better go."
"Just a second," Calvin replied. "So, what if the children decide not to play along with your little design on humanity, despite your programming?"
Alexi's smile frosted over. "Then I would be forced to eliminate them as well."
Calvin grunted in surprise. "You make that sound easy. Trust me, I don't think it'll be QUITE as simple as pressing a button."
"Now that you mention it," Alexi chuckled. "Actually, it IS that easy."
Calvin's eyes widened.
Understanding flooded through Clark in a rush. "The bio-chip," Clark whispered. "It's wired directly into their brains. Should you need to, it's probably designed to send some kind of energy pulse into the brain, destroying it from within."
Alexi Luthor nodded. "Very astute, sir."
Clark's stomach twisted in disgust. "Come on, Calvin. The air in here is making me sick to my stomach."
"I'll be right with you."
Once Clark had left the room, Calvin stared evenly at Alexi for a moment before casting his gaze around the room. "Aside from the lead-lined walls, I take it that there are also sound baffles in place to prevent anyone outside from overhearing anything that occurs inside?"
The elder Luthor nodded.
"Good," Calvin replied. "Because I don't want him overhearing us," he finished, jerking his head towards the door Clark had departed out of.
"You don't?" Alexi's eyes glittered in the firelight. "My, how scandalous. And why might that be?"
"Let's just say that I have certain… ideas that I'm sure he wouldn't completely approve of," Calvin answered.
"And here I was thinking that you were supposed to be some pulp-fiction hero made flesh," Alexi chuckled. "The pure and noble paladin coming to vanquish the world's evil."
"Chalk it up to my being raised with Kryptonian ideals and values," Calvin retorted, his eyes never wavering from Alexi's. "He was raised by humans, so he has adopted their morals and belief structure, while I was raised by my Kryptonian parents."
"And here I was, thinking that I had two of you to worry about."
Calvin's eyes hardened. "There's only ONE of us that you need to worry about, Luthor."
Alexi's own eyes narrowed. "Is that a threat, young man?"
"No," Calvin replied, the ice in his voice matching his gaze. "Just some friendly advice, Luthor."
"Advice, eh?" Alexi said in a flat voice. "Well then, Mr. Elle. Mind if I give you some advice as well?"
Calvin nodded for the elder man to proceed.
"You're an intelligent man, Mr. Elle," Alexi rumbled. "I'm certain that, as much as you may believe you know about me, you're equally aware of how much you probably do NOT know."
"I know enough," Calvin retorted.
"Do you?" Alexi flashed a wintry smile. "I assure you, child, you know only what I WANT to be known and no more."
"And that's not enough?"
Alexi gave another dark chuckle. "Not even close."
Calvin stared at Alexi, weighing his words. Finally, shrugging away his misgivings, he clasped his hands behind his back. "I'll make you a deal, Alexi," Calvin stated. "You leave the children alone, and I won't publicize what I know about your organization."
"It would hardly matter," Alexi scoffed. "You have NO physical evidence aside from those documents, and half of THEM are now erroneous. The rest, I'm certain, could be proven to be fabrications."
"True," Calvin conceded. "But, I think the documents' existence alone would be enough to raise some questions. After all, in this day and age of conspiracy theories, government cover-ups and the like, I'm certain SOMEONE would listen to what I have to say. And with the added evidence of the children to back my claims, I'm even MORE certain someone would listen to me. Who knows? Maybe one or more of them might just uncover something? Enough, perhaps, even to link the Bureau 39 operation to YOU?"
Alexi snorted. "Nothing more than an annoyance."
Calvin nodded. "Perhaps. But it MIGHT just be enough to tarnish your family's name. And THAT is somewhat more difficult to recover from, don't you think?" Turning to leave, Calvin flashed Alexi a small smile. "You were right about one thing, though — I WILL vanquish the world's evil, Luthor. And that puts you at the top of my list."
Meeting Clark outside the massive building, Calvin's frustration finally boiled over.
"Of all the egotistical, self-centered, arrogant -!" Shooting a glance at his companion, Calvin's eyes flashed briefly. "I should find this Lord Kal-El person and give him the coordinates for this world," Calvin growled. "I bet he'd show those two a thing or two about pain they'd never -"
Clark's eyes bulged in dismay as he spun Calvin around to face him. "Don't you DARE!"
Taken aback by Clark's vehemence, Calvin raised his hands in a mock surrender. "Whoa, Clark! Easy there, man. I was just kidding. You know, venting some pressure?"
"Don't even joke about something like that," Clark cautioned. "Believe me, Lord Kal-El wouldn't stop at just teaching those two a lesson — he'd level the entire world."
"Believe me," Calvin assured, calming down somewhat. "Contacting Lord Kal-El and bringing him here are about the LAST things I'll do." Tugging on his lower lip, Calvin shook his head slowly. "You know what this all reminds me of? With the serum, giving it to babies and all that?" At Clark's negative shake of his head, Calvin's eyes narrowed in thought. "It reminds me of that book by Philip Wylie."
For a long moment, Clark wracked his brain in an attempt to understand what Calvin was talking about. Finally, Clark's eyes widened in sudden understanding. "The Gladiator. I remember reading that when I was traveling a lot."
Calvin nodded once more, his eyes gradually returning to the tower. "It's… unsettling, actually, the similarities between what's going on here and what happened in the book."
"But Alexi's intentions for the serum's applications are entirely different, though," Clark corrected. "In that book, Abednego Danner gave the serum to his son, Hugo, as an experiment in an attempt to create a superhuman to help usher in a new age to the world. He tried to better the world, not to create a world-conqueror."
"I'd have to say, though, that Alexi DOES have a 'new age' in mind for the world," Calvin added. "The Age of Luthor."
"We're NOT going to let that happen," Clark stated.
"Definitely," Calvin agreed. Falling silent, Calvin's eyes remained fixed on the towering edifice for several minutes more. "You remember what happened to Hugo Danner at the end of the book?"
Clark rubbed his temple in thought. "Didn't he die?"
Calvin nodded. "Standing atop an Aztec temple, he shouted to the sky 'tell me what I must do! Tell me what I'm supposed to be in life!'"
"And then he was struck by lightning and killed," Clark finished.
"All through the book, Hugo was striving to find his place in life," Calvin said. "A living titan — a SUPERMAN — trying to fit in a world that didn't have any room for him." Keeping his eyes on the tower a moment longer, the bearded Kryptonian shook himself and glanced at Clark. "In the movies, I believe THIS is where the eerie, dramatic music is cued in?"
Cruising slowly through the upper stratosphere, scanning the countryside below her telescopically, Lois caught sight of a dark blur streaking through the air.
>A-ha!< Nodding to herself, Lois smiled slightly as she fished out the cell phone. >Looks like he's headed towards the Midwest. Time to call in the troops.<
The downtown area of Omaha, known as the 'Old Market', dated back to the founding of Omaha in 1854. In the modern day and age, what had once been the center of the city had now become an unofficial museum of sorts. An eight block 'island' of cobblestone streets, wrought-iron posts and stately brick buildings intermingled with the poured concrete streets and glass and steel buildings of the surrounding city, offering to all an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the past. Through the years, the Old Market had withstood fires, tornadoes, blizzards, floods — anything Nature could throw at it, it could take.
It didn't stand a chance when Jesse Stipanovic came to town.
Lois glanced below her and to the left as her ears picked up the sound of wind passing over a flying form. Coming to rest beside her, Clark briefly flashed a grin at her. Seeing her husband garbed in his uniform, Lois chuckled lightly.
"What'd Calvin say when you changed into your Halloween costume?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "Nothing I'd care to repeat. Calvin is approaching from the other side of town. So, where is Jesse?"
"Jesse?" Lois pointed downwards. "He's down there. I think he went into the downtown section of that city."
His own eyes scanning the area, Clark nodded absently. "Okay. Why don't you stay up here and keep an eye out?"
"Don't you think it'd be better if I headed back to Metropolis?" Gesturing meaningfully down at the city below, Lois's eyebrow rose slightly. "After all, when you and Calvin begin in on their 'pet,' won't Lex and his Dad get a little upset?"
Rubbing his chin in thought, Clark reluctantly nodded.
"Great!" Kissing him quickly on the cheek, Lois rocketed towards the East before Clark could object.
Shaking his head with a sigh, Clark began to descend towards Omaha.
Scanning the streets below, Superman's eye was caught by a strange sight. Nonchalantly strolling down the street, a young man in a short sleeve white dress shirt and black slacks occasionally peered into a storefront window as he progressed down the sidewalk. Emerging from the bottoms of his sleeves, his arms were clothed in a black skintight costume. His hands, encased in red gloves, were casually stuffed halfway into his pockets. Ahead of the strange figure, the crowds of people scattered far in advance of the boy, looks of near panic etching their faces.
>I found him,< Clark mentally called to Calvin. >Lois was right; He IS in the downtown section of Omaha.<
>I'm on my way.< The mental reply from Clark's double was a barely repressed growl.
Superman's form became a blur of motion, swiftly landing on the street behind the youth. "Jesse?" Clark tentatively called.
Slowly turning to face the Man of Steel, the super- powered maniac's face split into a twisted grin. Raising his index finger to his lips, he made a shushing noise.
"Quiet," Supreme said in a stage whisper. "I'm in my secret identity."
In a room deep within the tower, Alexi watched the event unfold on two wall-sized screens: one focused on the conflict brewing in Omaha, the other focused on Ultrawoman. Beside him, Lex casually sipped his drink, his eyes on only one of the participants.
"It would seem that our young Mr. Stipanovic is rapidly garnering more attention than anticipated," the elder man rumbled. "Powerful he may be, but I doubt that he'll be able to withstand the efforts of two Kryptonians." Gazing at the screen, Alexi Luthor rubbed his chin in thought for a moment. "Since they were nice enough to send the woman away from the fray and back here to us… Lex, my boy, be a good lad and kill the woman."
Lex smiled coldly. "As you wish, father."
And, with a rush of air, Alexi was alone.
Striding over to the street, Supreme seized a telephone pole in his hands, ripping it up from the pavement in one powerful motion. "Let's play!" he bellowed, drawing the pole back behind him in preparation to swing.
"Wait!" Clark pleaded, raising his hands towards Supreme. "Let's talk for a minute. We don't have to do this!"
Freezing in mid-swing, Supreme seemed to consider Superman's words.
"All right," Supreme conceded, placing the telephone pole on his shoulder. "But only because it's something I've never done before." Smiling faintly, Supreme tilted his head. "And because I like your costume," he added.
"Why are you doing this?" Clark asked.
"You ask me why I'm doing this? Why NOT?" Motioning around them both, Supreme chuckled. "It's not like anyone could stop us! All these human cows usually die the first time we hit them. Besides," Supreme added, his voice dropping lower, "the more stuff I do, the harder it is for Jesse to come out."
"Because the little sissy's afraid! Afraid of what he can do! Afraid of what WE can do!" Smiling triumphantly, Supreme straightened up to his full height. "The way I figure it, pretty soon he won't be able to look ANYWHERE without seeing my handiwork. And then he won't WANT to come out!"
"But that's not…"
"Your minute's up, I think." Hefting the telephone pole like a baseball bat, Supreme's maniacal laughter carried to Clark's ears. "BATTER UP!"
Arriving in Metropolis, Lois scanned the area quickly with her enhanced vision.
>Now, where the blazes is… <
Swiftly flying up from below and to her right, Lex's first blow knocked Lois's head to the side, jarring loose her mask. The second landed in the small of her back. Distantly, her mind dazed by the attack, she felt the cell phone shatter from the blow as she fought to focus her eyes on the hovering man before her.
Lifting his fist once more, Lex paused as he felt his heart skip a beat. Staring at the woman he'd just struck, an unfamiliar feeling danced through his soul as he stared in unabashed awe at her.
>It CAN'T be her!< Staring closer, he mentally lengthened her hair. Slowly, a smile crept across his face as his suspicion was confirmed. >It can't be, but it IS!<
Shaking her head to clear it once more, a silky soft voice drifted to her ears, making Lois's stomach lurch.
"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Lane."
Fending off Supreme's wild swings with the telephone pole, Clark smiled to himself as he heard another voice.
"All right, damn it," Calvin snarled. "That's about ENOUGH of that!"
Racing ahead of the pursuing villain, Lois's mind worked frantically. >All right,< she thought to herself, >I've got the powers of a Kryptonian. Hopefully I have the telepathic abilities as well. But, even if I do have them, how do I get them to work?< Glancing behind her, seeing the cold look on Lex's face, a shudder ran through her body. >I'd better figure it out quick! If not, I'm in trouble.< Gathering her concentration, Lois screamed in her mind.
A thousand miles away, Clark clutched his head as he winced in pain.
>CLARK! HELP!< Lois's strained mental cry blasted in Clark's head like a peal of thunder. >Lex is after me! I don't know how much longer I can keep ahead of him!<
Unbidden, a mental image of her lying in the hospital bed at S.T.A.R. Labs fixed itself in Clark's mind, driving out everything else.
At Clark's scream, Calvin glanced over at his companion, only to see the blue and red blur of Superman vanishing over the horizon, followed by a thunderous sonic boom.
"My apologies, Ms. Lane," Lex chuckled, raising his fist. "But I'm afraid I must end this rather entertaining-"
"Luthor!" a voice roared from above.
Like a thunderbolt from the heavens, Superman's colorful form slammed into the unprepared Lex, sending the young man plummeting towards the ground like a meteor where he made a sizeable crater on impact.
"LEAVE MY WIFE ALONE!" Clark bellowed at the smoking crater, his face awash with anger. Glancing over at Lois, Clark's eyes turned desperate. "Are you all right? Did he hurt you? Are you okay?" Clark's questions tumbled over themselves in a rush as he frantically examined her.
"I'm okay," Lois said, trying to calm her husband. "When Lex hit me, I overreacted-"
Clark's face went livid once more at Lois's words. As her husband caught sight of the red mark on her jaw-line, Lois shuddered at the look of raw fury his face radiated.
Slowly, the costumed hero turned back towards the crater below. "He HIT you?" Clark hissed.
Sensing what Clark's intentions were, Lois quickly grabbed him by the arm, hauling him around to face her. "Whoa! I'm OKAY, Clark," she stressed. "Really, I'm all right."
Picking himself up out of the crater, completely oblivious to the gathering onlookers, Lex hefted a slab of concrete and sent it hurtling at Clark, followed swiftly by a blast of heat vision.
The double attack worked; as the heat vision struck him, Clark was momentarily blinded and missed the massive fragment of rubble that sent him careening to the pavement below.
Drawing the pole back for another strike, Supreme suddenly dropped it, clutching his head in agony.
"NONONONONO!" Supreme's bellow of rage vibrated the sidewalk. "It's not fair! I'm not done yet!"
For long, tense seconds, Calvin watched Supreme's internal struggle, tensing for the attack. Finally, glancing up with a bewildered look on his face, the young man wrapped both arms around himself and sank to his knees.
"Monster man came out to play again, didn't he?" Jesse moaned.
Nodding mutely, Calvin waited.
"I wish there was a way to keep him locked up," Jesse sighed, tears coursing down his face. "He does bad things to people."
"I know, Jesse," Calvin replied, kneeling down next to the boy. "It's not your fault."
"Mama once told me that if I wasn't good, monsters would get me. I thought she was joking," Jesse explained. Lowering his head, the morose child's voice dropped to a whisper. "I wish Mama had told me the monsters were REAL." His voice dropped even softer. "I wish Mama had told me I was a monster."
Watching the drama unfold on the screen, Alexi drained his cognac glass once more. Twirling a crystal globe in the fingers of his other hand, Alexi's brow knit in thought.
"I believe it's time that our little Jesse departs this mortal coil on a more permanent basis," Alexi rumbled. "Don't you think?"
The crystal globe said nothing.
Lifting the small microphone transmitter to his lips, Alexi paused, savoring the moment.
Jesse's scream of agony caught Calvin off-guard.
"Monster Man wants out," Jesse wailed, holding his hands to his head. Surging to his feet, the tortured youth staggered back and forth. "I can't stop him!"
"Fight him!" Calvin urged, surging to his feet.
Jesse looked at Calvin, the boy's eyes a dark window into madness.
"Time to play," Supreme growled.
Lois watched in rapt fascination as both Clark and Lex tumbled across the sky, locked in combat. As they struggled, their conflict would inevitably bring them into contact with some building or another, knocking loose the assorted bits of rubble. Standing below, on the street, Lois would use her heat-vision to blast the concrete to dust before any onlookers could be threatened. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the Metropolis Police Department erecting barricades, isolating the combatants as best they could.
A colossal impact that shook the ground drew her attention back to the fight.
Picking himself up out of the crater, Lex glared at the hovering form of Superman.
"I'm not done with you -"
The heir's words were abruptly cut off as Clark dove down, driving the two men into the city's subway system.
>Oh, GREAT,< Lois sighed to herself, diving through the hole.
Meanwhile, in Omaha, Calvin had his hands full.
"I think it's time you died!" Supreme's words echoed across the sky. Cackling madly, the young man grabbed a city bus, hefting it above his head. The people's cries of panic, though, went unheard by the maniac.
"NO!" Calvin bellowed. "Not the bus!"
With a grunt, Supreme heaved the vehicle at Calvin.
The impact hammered Calvin backwards, nearly knocking him off of his feet. Straining to keep the vehicle upright, the beleaguered Kryptonian backpedaled frantically until he was able to lower the bus safely to the ground. Sighing in relief, Calvin took a moment to check on the occupants inside.
"Tag! You're it!"
Jerking his head around, Calvin was stunned speechless as the hurtling gasoline tanker bore down on him. Bracing himself to catch the truck, Calvin's world went up in flames as Supreme's heat-vision detonated the storage tank mere feet away from the hero.
The titanic explosion rocked the surrounding buildings, engulfing everything nearby in a colossal fireball.
Down the block, hovering in mid-air like some demented creature, Supreme tilted his head backwards and laughed loud and long.
Wading out of the inferno, Calvin's scream of rage shattered what few windows remained.
Screaming incoherently, Supreme leapt for Calvin, launching himself like a living battering ram.
Rather than try to evade the attack, Calvin surprised Jesse by stepping into it. Driving his fist forward with all his remaining might, Calvin delivered a tremendous blow to Jesse. The concussion shook the ground for nearly a mile around them, and sent everything in their immediate vicinity flying outwards from the two men.
Jesse dropped to the ground unconscious.
Taking one staggering step backwards, Calvin dropped to his hands and knees in the mud and debris, his breath coming in ragged gasps. As the rain poured down over him, steam arose from his cooling skin in faint trails. Long minutes passed with no movement from either combatant, other than their breathing. Finally, Calvin painfully crept towards his opponent. Cradling him in his lap, Calvin wrapped his right arm around Jesse's neck from behind, placing his left palm against the side of the unconscious boy's head. Turning his face to the heavens, Calvin took a deep, ragged breath. The rain mixed with the tears that streamed down his face as the morose Kryptonian clenched his eyes shut, desperately wishing things had been different. Wishing things COULD be different.
Unbidden images flooded through Calvin's mind: snapshots of London's desolation, the carnage done to Gotham City and Hawaii, the pictures of the battered and broken bodies of Supreme's victims.
>One swift move and it's all over,< Calvin told himself. >Justice will be done.<
"I-I'm sorry, Jesse," Calvin whispered in a sobbing voice. "Forgive me."
Calvin's left arm began to tense.
Clutching Lex's shirt in his hand, Clark glared down at the unconscious man.
A slim hand gently rested itself on his forearm, staying the impending blow.
"Clark, that's enough," a feminine voice whispered.
Jerking his head around, the voice's identity not registering on his consciousness immediately, Clark's lips curled back in a feral snarl.
Lois, her mask once more firmly in place, calmly met his heated gaze.
"Come back to me, Clark." Her gaze unwavering, she softly cupped his face in-between her hands. "Remember who and what you are."
Blinking stupidly, his mind shaking off the fog of rage, Clark dropped his foe to the ground as the hero stood upright.
"I-It happened again, didn't it?" Clark's voice was a ragged, hoarse echo of its true strength. "I almost lost it again."
Slowly, Lois shook her head. "No. It almost did, but we headed it off."
Running a shaking hand over his face, Clark exhaled. "Yeah, but it shouldn't have happened in the first place."
"Don't berate yourself, Clark," Lois whispered consolingly. "Lex has ALWAYS had a way of bringing out… your bad side."
"I know, but…" Clark cut off in mid-sentence, his attention being drawn away.
Lois glanced around. "What is it?"
"A radio news report," Clark answered.
As the seconds ticked past, Lois's stomach churned in fear as she watched her husband's expression become more and more horrified.
"We have to get to Omaha," Clark whispered.
Racing over the Midwest, Superman and Ultrawoman neared Omaha, Nebraska.
"Can you see them yet?" Lois shouted.
Peeling back the distance with his telescopic vision, Clark desperately scanned the countryside. As the two of them neared the remains of downtown Omaha, Clark caught a flicker of motion on the ground. Concentrating on that area, Clark's breath caught in his throat.
"Oh, no," Superman whispered.
Landing on the ground, Clark ran a hand through his hair as he tried to make sense of the scene before him.
Calvin knelt in the mud, cradling Jesse's body in his lap. Great wracking sobs tore from his throat, and his body shook from the force of his weeping.
His own sorrow mounting with the knowledge of what his counterpart must have done, Clark felt the hot sting of tears in his eyes. Lois, wrapping her arms around Clark's waist, softly cried into his chest. Gazing down at Jesse's still form, Clark couldn't help but marvel at how peaceful the young man looked. His face held the contentment of a sleeping child as his chest gently rose and fell with his breathing.
Clark's eyes widened. "He's breathing."
Snuffling, Lois lifted her head. "What?"
"Jesse's breathing," Clark repeated. "He's not dead." Kneeling down beside Calvin, Clark put his hand on his double's shoulder.
"I couldn't do it." Barely audible, Calvin's muffled voice drifted to the duo. Turning to face Clark, Calvin's bloodshot eyes bore mute testament to what had happened. "I couldn't do it. He's killed over twelve million people, and I couldn't do it." His head lowering once more, Calvin's voice grated out harshly. "I failed them."
"Failed who?" Clark asked.
"Everyone," Calvin sobbed. "Supreme's victims, Jesse, EVERYONE."
"How'd you fail Jesse?" Lois asked, crouching down next to Calvin.
"I thought that maybe what Bureau 39 had done to him could be reversed," Calvin explained. "That the chemicals could be counteracted. Or at least the bio-chip could be removed. They can't."
"Just before the end, I detected a signal directed at Jesse which activated the bio-chip in his brain. Jesse's personality has been… erased." His head dropping down, Calvin's voice lowered to a whisper. "Jesse's dead."
Kneeling in the downpour, Superman and Ultrawoman fell silent as Calvin wept.
Later that evening, after the worst of the damages had been tended to, the heroes took a moment to relax in Calvin's Metropolis apartment. As the alternate version of Clark excused himself into the adjoining room, Clark glanced over to Lois.
"You think he's going to be okay?"
Lois shrugged as a knock on the door drew her attention. "I don't know."
Making his way to the door, Clark raised an eyebrow at his wife. "You think maybe we should -"
Clark's voice died off as he opened the door, only now realizing who it was who had knocked.
"Cal?" Clark called from the entrance, a strange smile on his face. "There's someone here to see you."
Dropping the paper onto the table, Calvin paced into the living room, his stride weary.
"Who is it, Clark?" Calvin asked morosely. "I'm really not in the mood for…" The remainder of Calvin's sentence went unvoiced as his eyes registered who the visitors were.
Standing in the shadows, topping even Clark by several inches, the man cut an impressive figure, dressed in a black business suit. Though his black hair was liberally mixed with silver and small age lines etched his face, the light that danced in his eyes gave the impression of youth. Surrounding him like a shield, an aura of quiet confidence made the air fairly vibrate with his presence. His puzzled eyes moving from Clark to Calvin and back, the elder man focused on Calvin.
"Dad?" Calvin whispered, not believing his eyes.
Solemnly, Jor-El stepped into the light. "Hello, Kal- El."
"Dad? Why are you here?" Calvin asked, fatigue evident in his voice. "If you don't mind my saying so, you picked a hell of a time for a visit."
"I've been thinking about the way we parted company," Jor-El rumbled. Straightening to his full height, the elder Kryptonian's face remained impassive. "I may have been… hasty in my judgment to leave this planet. It is conceivable that there might be some merit to this society after all."
Smiling broadly, Lara-El stepped up next to her husband. "If nothing else, it will allow us to remain in contact with you, Kal-El."
Hours later, after several pots of coffee and a VERY lengthy explanation, the five of them relaxed in the living room. Since his parents' arrival, Calvin appeared to be slowly emerging from the morose depression that had come over him after the battle.
"It seems that you've been quite busy, son. So, if I might ask, where exactly is the young man?" Glancing at the room's occupants, Jor-El's eyebrow rose faintly. "I take it that he's not dead?"
Calvin shook his head. "I have him isolated in an underground holding cell I constructed. Apparently, while the serum can give a person close approximations to a Kryptonian's powers, they can't likewise duplicate his capacity to store energy. Away from the light of the sun, his powers didn't last very long at all."
"And looking at his pattern of attacks, he was ALWAYS following the sun," Clark supplied. "None of his attacks happened at night."
"I wish I'd known that sooner," Calvin muttered. "I might have been able to save a lot of lives if…"
"Calvin," Lara said, smoothly cutting off her son, "there's no use to this self-berating. You did an exemplary job of controlling him under exceedingly difficult conditions." With a beaming smile, Lara put her hand on his shoulder. "You should be proud, son."
"We will take young Jesse Stipanovic with us, back to New Krypton," Jor-El said, standing up from his chair. "Under its red sun he will have no powers, and therefore will pose no threat. We will do all we can to help him, son." Grasping Calvin by the shoulder, Jor-El smiled. "And then we shall return to Earth, to be with our child."
Calvin smiled gratefully. "I'd… I'd appreciate that, Dad."
"If you think I'm going to dress like THAT, you're crazy."
Facing Clark and Lois, Calvin had his arms crossed defiantly across his chest.
Clark scratched his temple, puzzled. "Why not at least give it a try?"
Calvin shook his head as a smile spread across his face. "I'll wear the shirt and emblem, but that's where I draw the line. The boots, jeans and leather trench coat stay." Laughing lightly once more, his eyes traveling over Clark's uniform, Calvin shrugged. "No offense, but it's just too colorful for my taste. And that cape?" Another laugh bubbled from deep within Calvin's chest. His brow wrinkled in thought for a moment before smoothing. "And NO secret identity, either — if I'm going to do this, it's all going to be out in the open."
Clark shrugged as he joined in with Calvin's laughter. "Whatever you'd like, Calvin. It's your world, and it's your choice."
"Personally, though, I like the whole uniform," Lois added with a sly smile. Glancing at Clark's backside, she nodded faintly. "It shows off his…"
As she trailed off, Clark's eyebrow rose in expectation. "Shows off my WHAT?"
Lois patted Clark's cheek affectionately. "It's something you wouldn't understand. But I'll explain it later," she added with an even bigger smile.
Extending his hand, Calvin shook Clark's hand vigorously. "Should Lord Kal-El come back to attack your Earth, come get me; I'll do whatever I can to help."
Clark returned his double's smile. "I appreciate that."
Sitting in front of the fireplace, Alexi stared deeply into the dancing flames as his son Lex entered the room.
"You sent for me, Father?" Walking across the plush carpet, Lex straightened his suit as he neared the elder Luthor.
Drawing himself back to the present, Alexi motioned for his son to take the seat beside him. "It looks as though our friend Mr. Elle is intent on making himself a nuisance." Alexi's words rumbled like soft thunder through the room.
Easing himself deeper into the ornate chair opposite his father, Lex nodded. "It does seem that way."
"Contact our Public Relations branch," Alexi continued. "Have them begin preparations to do damage control should Mr. Elle begin attempting to connect us with Bureau 39."
"Already in the works, Father."
Alexi nodded. "Good. Also, contact Investigations." Swirling the brandy around in his glass, his expression darkened. "Mr. Elle had help — I want to know who it was."
"I assume you refer to the man who accompanied Mr. Elle here the other night?"
Alexi merely nodded.
"Though he lacked the beard, that man could have EASILY passed for Calvin's twin," Lex added.
"Precisely," Alexi agreed. "Have them begin making the usual discrete inquiries."
"As you wish."
For a long moment, Alexi stared deeply into the fire, his hand absently rubbing the arm of the chair.
Lex, patiently waiting, softly cleared his throat. "Is that all, Father?"
Alexi blinked, his attention returning to the matter at hand. "There was also a woman with them. Is anything known about her?"
For an instant, an image of Lois's face flashed in Lex's mind. With an almost rapturous joy, Lex drank in her exquisite beauty — her dark eyes, the delicate angles of her face, her full lips…
"No," Lex said, his perfectly calm voice giving no sign of his thoughts. "Nothing at all."
His eyes returning to the fire, Alexi nodded. "Well, keep on it," he said.
As he stood to leave, Lex's eyes glittered in the low light. "Oh, I intend to."
Standing on the edge of the rooftop, Lex gazed out into the night, his every sense working overtime as he reveled in the experience. Faintly, his skin picked up a slight change in the wind, a minute change in its direction. His ears registered the soft rustle of cloth and leather.
"Good Evening, Mr. Elle," Lex said without turning. "Come to enjoy the view?" Glancing over his shoulder, Lex caught sight of his visitor — a darker shadow superimposed on the night sky.
"Only if that view includes you jumping off the edge of the building," Calvin retorted, his voice low.
Returning his attention to the vista before him, Lex shrugged. "Even if I did jump, you know full well the fall wouldn't hurt me, Calvin." Turning to fully face his hovering guest, Lex leaned back, resting against the parapet. "So, why not tell me the REAL reason you're here?"
Glancing up from his computer, Quinn Mallory glared in irritation at the knocking on his door. "Yes?" he sighed. "Come in."
Stepping into the room, Superwoman by his side, Alt- Superman smiled slightly. "Evening, Mr. Mallory. Might I have a word with you?"
"And you're… the OTHER Superman, right? Not the one from this world?" At Alt-Clark's nod, Quinn turned back to his computer, shrugging. "So what can I do for you?"
"My wife and I were talking the other day, and we couldn't help but remember that you mentioned Lord Kal-El had ordered the deaths of your friends."
Quinn stiffened. Slowly, the scientist turned to his guests, his brow furrowing in anger. "And THIS is your idea of pleasant conversation?"
"Bear with me, please," Alt-Clark asked. Motioning to his wife, Alt-Superman's expression darkened. "Lord Kal-El ordered the death of our world."
Quinn's eyebrow raised. "And?"
"And I would think that we have common… goals," Alt-Lois stated, wrapping her arm around her husband's waist.
"Just to make sure we're on the same page," Quinn slowly said, his eyes never leaving Alt-Clark's. "What EXACTLY would you say our mutual goals might be?"
Alt-Clark didn't flinch. "Lord Kal-El's death."
A slow smile crept across Quinn's face. "You're right. I would have to say our goals ARE in common." Quinn tilted his head to the side slightly. "So, what do we do about the other Superman? The one from this world?"
"He is NOT to be involved in this! Understand?" Alt- Clark snapped, raising a warning finger.
Quinn raised his hands before him in a placating gesture. "Hey, relax. I'm just asking what will we do about him if he should catch wind of our little alliance. What will we tell him?" Pointing at Alt-Clark's uniform, Quinn shook his head faintly. "More's the question, what are YOU going to tell him, 'Superman?' Somehow, I don't think this will set very well with him."
"Nothing." Alt-Clark folded his arms across his chest. "I won't tell him ANYTHING, because he's not going to find out about it."
"And what if he DOES?" Quinn pressed.
"Then it will be ME that deals with the repercussions," Alt-Clark stated flatly. As Lois was about to object, Alt-Clark gently placed a finger on her lips. "It'll be ME that takes the blame, Lois. Please?" he murmured, gazing lovingly at her.
"No," she stated defiantly. Reaching up, she softly placed her hand on his chest. "Whatever happens, we'll BOTH meet it."
"Well," Quinn interjected. "If we have that settled, I think I've got an idea on what to do." Motioning towards the computer screen, the scientist smiled wickedly as he began outlining his plans.
Reclining in the leather chair behind his desk, Lex Luthor smiled at the small device he held in his hand. Turning over the silvery disk, he shook his head in wonder at the technology behind it. Lifting his eyes to his guest, Lex smiled at his mirror image likewise reclining in a chair across the desk from him, the room's light gleaming off his double's armor.
Alt-Lex, watching his doppelganger closely, returned the smile.
"How did you get this?" Lex asked, his voice soft.
His smile widening, Alt-Lex shrugged nonchalantly. "It was… donated to me by one of Lord Kal-El's technicians."
"Donated?" Lex chuckled. "That was very… polite of him, don't you think?"
"I thought so," Alt-Lex returned.
"So, you're telling me that this little device can project a full-body hologram a fraction of a millimeter above my own body?" Lex queried.
"And that this hologram can be altered to look like Alexander Luthor?"
"It's already been programmed for that," Alt-Lex stated. Seeing Lex's confused expression, Lex's double shrugged once more. "I've been… keeping an eye on you for a little while now, and figured you could use the assistance."
"A suspicious man might ask why," Lex said coolly.
Alt-Lex's eyes darkened. "I've seen Lord Kal-El kill ENOUGH versions of us over the past few years. I figure it's time I started evening the playing field, so to speak, in whatever ways I could."
Lex's eyes sparkled in return. "Really?" Carefully placing the disk on the desk, the businessman gestured to Alt-Lex. "Please, continue. You have my undivided attention."
Leaning back in his chair, Alt-Lex steeped his fingers before his face, gazing levelly over the tips of them at Lex. "I've begun organizing a coalition of alternate dimensional versions of ourselves into a fighting force to oppose Lord Kal-El and his ilk. We've established a base of operations on an Earth that he's already abandoned in his march across the dimensions."
Lex nodded in approval. "Excellent move."
Alt-Lex smiled in response. "We've begun transporting materials from our various worlds in order to fortify our headquarters against enemy attacks, and have even begun the process of recruiting volunteers to act as our eyes and ears on the other planets within Lord Kal-El's control."
Lex's eyes narrowed in thought. "The rebels?"
Alt-Lex's own eyes widened slightly. "You know of them?"
"Yes," Lex confirmed. "Not too long ago I was visited by Lord Reldt and Lord Queima, who expressed a desire for me to provide certain weapons schematics to the rebels."
"The Quantum Disbanders," Alt-Lex interjected, a small smile lighting his face. "I'd wondered where exactly they'd gotten the plans from. And it was YOUR idea to have them powered by kryptonite?" At Lex's nod, Alt-Lex slapped the table in pleasure. "Brilliant move, brother! Absolutely stunning!"
Lex shrugged. "They were supposed to have killed Lord Kal-El with them."
Alt-Lex waved his hand dismissively. "I changed the plans."
"Security around Lord Kal-El was too tight at the time," Alt-Lex explained. "Given the amount of time we had to prepare, it wouldn't have been viable. His wife made JUST as effective of a target as him, though, without the increased risk of failure."
"How so?" Lex asked, genuinely intrigued.
"Due to her removal, Lord Kal-El has been extremely… distracted of late," Alt-Lex supplied. "This distraction has allowed certain plans of mine to be furthered without interference."
"What of Reldt and Queima? Are they allied with you?"
"Merely out of convenience. I approached THEM, actually," Alt-Lex confessed.
For a second, Lex's brow knit in confused thought before it became clear. "You approached them, you provided the men to be used in the attack-"
"From the Lords' perspective, THEY had nothing to lose while I stood to lose everything," Alt-Lex finished. "If the attack failed, they could disavow any knowledge of the incident and thus remain unblemished while humanity would shoulder the blame. If the attack succeeded-"
"They could claim credit for it," Lex interrupted.
"And that claimed credit could be used against them in the future."
Shaking his head in wonder, Lex lightly applauded his doppelganger. "Bravo, Lex. Bravo. Masterfully played."
Alt-Lex bowed playfully, placing an armored hand over his likewise armored heart. "Thank you, Lex. It is SO good to be appreciated by an equal."
"So, my next question begs to be: what do you need ME for?"
Alt-Lex shrugged once more. "Easily answered: I want you to join us."
Lex's eyes lit up. "Well, by all means speak on." Lifting his humidor from the desk, the billionaire extended it to his double. "Cigar?"
Striding through the ruins of what had once been Metropolis, a dark clad figure clutched a large handful of red fabric as he surveyed the wreckage. Lord Kal-El's eyes ranged across the shattered remains of what had once been massive skyscrapers, now little more than smoking debris. As he calmly walked through the battlefield, the Kryptonian tyrant climbed atop the dented and scarred Daily Planet globe that lay in the street like the skeletal remains of an ancient dinosaur.
"Lord Kal-El?" a voice called from above.
Glancing skyward, the Kryptonian leader caught sight of Captain Rann slowly descending, a thick stack of papers beneath his arm. Alighting beside his Lord, Rann surveyed the destruction with an ill-concealed smile of cruel satisfaction.
"Truly a GREAT battle, my Lord," Rann said in awe. "A most impressive victory!"
"Yes," Lord Kal-El agreed, his voice flat. Catching sight of the stack of papers, the tyrant's eyebrow raised slightly. "You have something for me?"
Rann handed Lord Kal-El the thick sheaf of papers. "Here is the information you requested, Lord."
Stuffing the mass of red fabric behind his belt, the tyrant accepted the documents. Slowly paging through them, the ebony clad man scanned the information. "Are you certain of the veracity of these?"
Captain Rann straightened. "I stake my life on it, Sire."
Lord Kal-El's eyes flickered up to meet Rann's, a strange look coming to his face. "Choose your words CAREFULLY, Captain."
"I did, my Lord," Captain Rann assured.
For long moments, Lord Kal-El held the Captain's gaze, silently weighing his words. Finally, the overlord nodded.
"Your word is enough for me, Captain," Lord Kal-El stated. Returning his attention to the documents, his eyebrows raised in surprise. "This is very… enlightening. It also explains where Lord Reldt got the backing to oust me from the throne."
A slow, humorless grin crept across Lord Kal-El's face. "And it also gives me an idea how I can get it back." Handing back the papers, Lord Kal-El pulled the wad of red fabric from behind his belt, his eyes growing distant as he pondered the new information.
His own eyes roving across the wreckage, Rann couldn't help but smile once more.
"Not ONLY have you decimated this human city, but you've obliterated this nation's militia and CRUSHED its resident champion Superman as well!" Applauding lightly, Captain Rann chuckled. "Bravo, Sire."
His eyes glittering coldly, Lord Kal-El unfurled the wad of red fabric in his hand, revealing the yellow pentagonal s-shield adorning the battered cape. With a soft snort, Lord Kal-El tied the top ends around his neck. The crimson fabric stood out in bold contrast to the ebony uniform.
"Who would you like assigned to govern this world?" Scratching his chin in thought, Rann shrugged. "Jan-Tarv is due for an assignment, but I would like to have Dar-Thod take his place instead. I'm not very pleased with…"
"There will be no-one assigned to this world."
His voice dying in mid-sentence, Rann was taken aback by Lord Kal-El's statement. "My Lord?"
"Have the teams sweep the planet for any useful technology or data, and have it sent to Kryptonopolis for cataloging," Lord Kal-El said, his eyes still roaming across the ruined terrain. "Have them concentrate in the usual locations: S.T.A.R. Labs, LexCorp and such. Once the team is done, we will be leaving."
Rann's mouth gaped. "Leaving?"
Lord Kal-El nodded. "I have no interest in ruling this world."
"But my Lord," Rann said. "If you had no intention of ruling this world, then why did we come here?"
Glancing back at the cape billowing in the wind, Lord Kal-El smiled humorlessly as he scratched absently at his beard.
"Purely for therapeutic reasons," the tyrant murmured. "An extremely effective form of anger management." The smile died on his face as he returned his attention to the Captain. "Contact the team and put them into play. I want the sweep of the planet done in no more than two days. Once they're done, we will proceed to this dimension's version of New Krypton for recruiting."
Snapping to attention, Captain Rann clapped a fist to his chest in salute before launching into the sky to carry out his leader's orders.
Grasping a corner of the tattered red cape in one hand, Lord Kal-El's eyes burned with intensity. "Soon, Clark. Very soon."
TO BE CONTINUED…