By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <email@example.com>
Submitted October 2003
Summary: Having been turned down at his interview with Perry, Clark seeks employment elsewhere. His new job gives him a different perspective, leading to the creation of an alternate identity with a humorous new twist.
Author's note: This is a response of sorts to the "unlikely occupations" challenge posted on the fic boards by James (aka mr_d8a). The challenge was to stick Clark with an odd job and see how he dealt with it. The focus was mostly on the excuses he'd come up with when he needed to suddenly dash off, but, as usual, I went in a different direction. <g>
Thanks to my GE, CC Aiken, for her careful reading, helpful suggestions, and cheerful enthusiasm.
"I'm sorry, Son. I just don't have a position to offer you."
"I see. Well, thanks for your time, Mr. White."
"Sure, Son, and good luck with your job hunt."
"Thanks," Clark replied, somewhat dejectedly.
As he left the office, he wondered about where that hunt would take him, or, more to the point, where he should take the hunt. There wasn't a job for him at the Daily Planet, and he certainly didn't want to work for the city's other major newspaper, the Metropolis Star. Perhaps he should leave the city, he thought as he stepped into the elevator, try somewhere else. Maybe the Boston Herald would take him, or the Chicago Tribune. Or maybe he should head home, try for something at the Smallville Gazette. Somehow, none of those options seemed right. He'd been travelling long enough, but he wasn't ready to go back home, either. Something about Metropolis, or perhaps something in it, called to him, and he was reluctant to leave, even if he couldn't work as a reporter.
He'd stay, then, at least for the time being. That settled, his thoughts returned to the question at hand — where to look for a job. Stepping out of the elevator into the lobby of the Planet building, he realized that the answer was staring him in the face — the "want ads" section of the Daily Planet. He bought a copy of the latest edition, then headed for the grungy hotel room that was, for the moment, home.
Later, sifting through the listings, Clark found little to go on until he came across an ad placed by the owners of an apartment building who were looking for a new maintenance man. It wasn't the most glamorous job in the world, but it came with room and board plus a decent salary. Furthermore, it was something he could do. He was good with tools, having helped his parents maintain the farmhouse and equipment, and, with a little surreptitious use of x-ray vision, super strength, and his other powers, he could be even more effective. It wasn't the job he'd hoped for, but it would do for the time being.
Clark called the number on the ad and quickly set up an appointment for an interview a little later that afternoon. He left the hotel, had a bite to eat at a local diner, then walked across town to the building where, if all went well, he would soon be living and working. It was a longer walk than most people would have chosen to take, but it was a pleasant enough day and Clark didn't get tired nearly as quickly as most people. As he neared the area, Clark made sure to pass by the local subway stop, so that his interviewers would, if they spotted him on the street, see him coming from the right direction.
Looking around as he walked the last few blocks, Clark noted that it was not the best neighborhood in the city. Situated between the wharf district and the area known as "Suicide Slum," it was clearly a place that had seen better days. Stone facades, crumbling in places, had been darkened by years of accumulated pollutants. Intricately carved windowsills were covered by iron fences designed to deter thieves. Paint on the doors and rooftops was faded and mottled, flaking off in patches. Given proper care, Clark realized, these could be some of the most beautiful buildings in the city. That wasn't likely to happen, however, because there wasn't enough money in the area to justify the effort.
The inhabitants of the area seemed to be, for the most part, lower class laborers. Ironically, many (not the majority, but certainly more than a few) of them were probably employed as janitors, garbage men, painters, window washers, repairmen, and housekeepers. These were the people who were responsible for keeping the rest of the city clean and beautiful.
On the other hand, things weren't all bad. He wouldn't be surprised to discover that a good number of the inhabitants had worked their way up to this neighborhood, which was, after all, a big step up from the nearby slums. It might not be the safest place around, but he had no doubts about his ability to take care of himself. Just like anywhere else, there were good people to balance out the bad. The buildings still had their charms, faded though they were. Furthermore, there was the rest of the city and all it had to offer within easy reach. All things considered, Clark thought as he passed a small park filled with playful children, this wasn't a bad place to live.
A few minutes later, he spotted the building whose address matched the one on the ad. Looking at it with a possibly biased eye, Clark got the impression that it was in slightly better condition than its neighbors. He stepped in through the front door and surveyed the lobby. Small touches seemed to support his impression. Someone had put a little extra effort into this building's upkeep.
"Can I help you?"
Clark turned to see a middle-aged man walking towards him. He was dressed, Clark noticed, in something like business casual. Nothing too fancy for this neighborhood, but good enough to show that he was probably someone's boss. Clark extended his hand. "Clark Kent. I'm here for a job interview."
"Earl Jackson," the man said, taking Clark's hand for a firm handshake. "I'm the building manager. You're right on time." Earl led Clark to apartment 1A, which was obviously the one that came with the job he was interviewing for. It wasn't the most spacious or luxurious apartment, but it had clearly been well maintained. It was undeniably a vast improvement over his hotel room across town. Earl offered Clark a chair, then quickly got to business, asking him about his experience and qualifications. Things seemed to go well until Earl asked, "do you have a license?"
"A building maintenance license, from the city. Legally, you can't have the job without proper certification. That and a union card, but the card is mostly a matter of paying the dues."
"I didn't realize I'd need a license," Clark responded dejectedly.
"Well, I'll tell you the truth. We need someone to take this job. Bibbo, the guy who had it last, quit after he hit the lottery. Didn't go far, as it happens. Turns out his dream was to have his own restaurant and nightclub. Opened "The Ace O' Clubs" just down the street. It's a good place, too. Bibbo said he wanted to give something back to the neighborhood. In any case, we've been hard-pressed to find someone good enough to take the job who is willing to live around here. You may not have the paperwork, but you know your stuff. So, you want the job, you can have it. Move in here, start working, and we'll take care of the license and everything as you go."
So, that night, Clark moved in to his new apartment. In the morning, the residents were quick to welcome him, which was gratifying. The building's welcome, on the other hand, was not as pleasant. A minor disaster had him mucking around in the basement, trying to fix the boiler and restore the building's heating system. Judicious use of his powers had the problem fixed in record time, but he was still fairly grungy when he came back upstairs. As it happened, Earl was waiting for him in the lobby.
"Here," he said, "I brought you some things to help you study for the licensing exam." He looked Clark over and quickly took in the situation. "You know," he added, not unkindly, "you should keep an extra set of clothes out and ready for situations like this. You never know when you'll have to get down and dirty with the guts of the building, but the tenants aren't going to want you walking into their apartments with dirt and grease all over you."
A few days later, Clark heard some shouts from several blocks away. Concentrating on his hearing, he quickly pieced together that there was a building on fire and that the firemen were having trouble getting through to some people trapped on one of the higher floors. He knew he shouldn't risk it, but he couldn't resist the urge to help. Not when lives were at stake. He paused long enough to put up a sign that he was out (presumably fixing something elsewhere in the building), then sped to the scene. He flew in through an open window and, half hidden by the smoke, managed the rescue without drawing undue suspicion.
When he returned to his apartment, however, he realized that he was covered in soot. Earl's advice came back to mind. He showered at super speed, then changed into fresh clothes. As he did so, he was hit by a sudden flash of inspiration.
That night, he left a sign on his door that he'd gone out for a little while and should be paged if anyone needed him. Then he flew to Kansas. His parents greeted him warmly, as always. Over dinner, he explained his idea. "Mom, Dad, you know how I've been looking for a way to help people without putting you or myself in danger?"
"Yes, Son…?" his father asked cautiously.
"Well, I had a thought. What if I wore a disguise? If people don't recognize me, I won't have to worry about attracting too much attention."
"Sounds good to me," Martha said before Jonathan could object. "What did you have in mind? A mask?"
"No… not a mask. If I wear a mask, people will know I have something to hide. I was thinking more along the lines of a handyman's outfit. People tend not to really notice handymen. They trust them to help out with things, too. It would have to be different from what I wear at work, of course, but I don't think that should be too much of a problem. And if I take my glasses off and change my posture and mannerisms, that will help, too. If we do it right, most people won't think to look past the facade. The ones that do aren't likely to have ever heard of Clark Kent. Besides, who would believe that an unassuming building maintenance man could fly?"
"I don't know about this, Son."
"It will work, Dad. Trust me."
"Jonathan, he's right. I think it will work. And you know how much it tears him apart to be able to help and have to hold himself back."
"But if people find out —"
"Jonathan, he's a big boy. He can take care of himself."
Clark couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Thanks, Mom."
"You're welcome, Honey. Now, let's see what we can do with that disguise of yours…"
"Well, I was thinking of something like a t-shirt with blue jeans…"
"But wouldn't those flap around too much while you were flying?"
"Hmm… I guess. What do you suggest?"
"How about spandex? That wouldn't get in the way, and it would be close enough to your skin that your aura would protect it."
"That would be pretty revealing, wouldn't it?"
"So? You can pull it off."
Clark blushed, but let it go. He and his mother got back to work, while his father, still unsure about the whole idea, wandered away. Martha and Clark talked over ideas, tried a few things out, and gradually got to something that seemed possible. A pair of blue tights suggested jeans, and a white short-sleeved spandex shirt gave the impression of a t-shirt. Clark wasn't sure where the red briefs had come from, but his mother insisted that the coloring worked better that way. More patriotic. He was just happy to have at least a little something over the tights. Somehow, his mother also managed to put together a tool belt with straps that could snap over the tools so they wouldn't fall out while he was flying. Clark was trying on the next revision when Jonathan walked back into the room. He'd evidently resigned himself to the idea, or at least decided to be supportive, despite his fears.
"I don't know about this cape, Mom," Clark said, walking out of the closet he'd been using as a dressing room. "What do you think, Dad?"
"Well, it does change the way you look…"
"It will look so dramatic when you're flying."
"I guess, Mom, and at least it covers something…"
"But you have such a cute —"
"Martha, you're embarrassing the boy."
"I'm his mother."
Clark wasn't sure if she meant that being his mother gave her the right to embarrass him or that it gave her the right to praise his backside, but he decided that he didn't feel like arguing with her over either point. Instead, he turned back to the mirror. "It looks good, Mom, but, I don't know… there's something missing. It feels like there should be something on the shirt. Some kind of design or something."
Martha looked up, but it was Jonathan who, struck by a sudden thought, reached for a box under the bed. He handed it to Martha, who nodded, smiling, as she took it from him. She opened the box and slowly, almost reverently, pulled out what looked like a pile of cloth. Unfolding it, she showed it to Clark. "This is the baby blanket you were wrapped in when your father and I found you. This symbol here was on your ship, too. I think it means something about you, or where you came from."
Clark took the blanket and studied the design. It was a diamond shape with what looked like an "S" inscribed inside. He tried putting it up against his chest. Somehow, it felt right. "It's perfect," he said with a smile. He changed back into his regular clothes and handed the suit back to his mother, so that she could make the newest addition.
"So, how is this double identity thing going to work, Son?" Jonathan asked while his wife concentrated on sewing.
"Well, I figure I'll keep an ear out for trouble. If someone is in danger and needs help, I'll change, fly out, and see what I can do."
"What will you tell the tenants?"
"I don't know. I'll pretend that I'm needed elsewhere in the building, maybe set my pager off by pressing the "test" button. Or I could leave a sign up that I had to go out to the hardware store to buy more lightbulbs or something. If I'm in the middle of a repair, I could tell them I need a specific part or a different tool. Maybe I could even tell them that things are going to be really messy and that they should probably leave the room for a while. Then I could finish the job at super speed, leave a recording of a lot of banging and clattering, and then dash out the window." Seeing his father's skeptical look, Clark felt a little defensive. "Dad, I can think fast enough to fly around a room full of obstacles at supersonic speed. How hard could it be to come up with a reasonable excuse in a few seconds?"
Whatever response Jonathan would have made was lost when Martha looked up from the sewing machine to announce that she had finished adding the "S." Clark went back into the closet to change. A few seconds later, he strode back out, oddly confident. Folding his arms over his chest, he looked at his parents.
"That's my boy," Jonathan said proudly.
Just then, Clark heard something from the TV downstairs, which had accidentally been left on. A reporter was saying that the countdown to the Messenger's launch had abruptly stopped, but that no explanation had yet been offered. Clark focused on his hearing and managed to pick up the faint sound of a woman, far from the camera, screaming "there's a bomb! Somebody help! There's a bomb in here!" Clark didn't think twice. He dashed out of his parents' home and flew at full speed for the launch pad. A few seconds later, he was over the EPRAD base. He slowed down so that he could find the woman and figure out how to get to her. Down on the ground, someone spotted him.
"Look, up in the sky!"
"Oh, it's just a bird."
"Too big. I think it's a plane."
"No," said a confused man, peering through a set of binoculars, "it's… a repairman."
Up above, Clark had spotted the frantic woman inside the Messenger. He sped to the hatch closest to her, carefully opened it, then headed towards her, opening a few interior hatches along the way.
She turned towards him as soon as she heard him enter. Her eyes fixed on the tool belt and her panicked expression was wiped away by a rush of relief as she came to the obvious conclusion. "Oh, they sent someone! Thank goodness! Someone planted a bomb! It's over there, on the wall. Can you do anything?"
Clark studied the bomb and considered the options. He knew that as a last resort, he could swallow it, but he wasn't sure if he was as invulnerable on the inside as he was on the outside. All things considered, he'd rather not find out that way. Fortunately, he spotted the wires that led to the detonator pin. Tracing the circuit patterns with his x- ray vision, he quickly figured out which one he need to cut. He grabbed the wire clippers off his tool belt and deftly disarmed the bomb. Then, to be safe, he grabbed it off the wall and flew back outside. Fortunately, the local airspace had been cleared of all traffic in preparation for the launch. So, he threw the bomb out towards space. The heat from air friction set it off, but by then it was safely away from anything that could be damaged by the blast.
He flew back to the hatch to find the woman being approached by some colonists. "Who are you?" one of them asked her. Then, spotting the wires she'd damaged in her efforts to alert people about the bomb, he became even more suspicious. "What have you done??"
"I'm Lois Lane, from the Daily Planet. I came on board for a story, but then I found a bomb glued to one of the panels. I couldn't get out to tell anyone, so I cut the wires to get someone's attention. A man came in and disarmed it, and then he… flew off."
The colonists would likely have had trouble believing her, but the sight of Clark hovering behind her lent credence to her story. Clark touched down, but just then an announcement came in over the speakers. Since the mission had been aborted so late in the countdown, they would be unable to launch.
"Well, that's it, then," someone said. "We can forget about the station; we've missed the window."
"No, you haven't," Clark put in.
"Yes, we have. We can't launch until they replace the thrusters, and by the time they do that, it will be too late."
"I can lift you into orbit," Clark said with a little more confidence than he felt. He'd never tried to lift anything as heavy as the Messenger, but he didn't think it would be a problem. "But first, I think we should get Ms. Lane here back on the ground. Unless, that is, you have some way to get back down from space?"
"Forgot to look before taking a very long leap?" Clark couldn't help teasing her, but, at her furious look, he quickly forced himself to put a more neutral expression on his face.
"Well, if you're going to take this big a story away from me, then you owe me an exclusive interview, buster!"
Clark chuckled softly. "Is that how it works?"
"Yes," she replied, daring him to deny her.
Clark thought about it. He was, he realized, going to have to deal with the media at some point. She did work for the "Planet," and, as he recalled, her articles tended to be fair and honest. There was also no denying that he felt drawn to her, as he had to no one ever before. Something told him he needed to get to know this woman better. "Okay, then. It's a deal."
She looked utterly surprised for a moment so brief that, had he not been able to process what he saw at super-speed, he might have doubted the expression had ever been there. Then she smiled confidently, as if there could have been no other possible outcome. He grinned in reply, then scooped her into his arms. He flew her down to the ground, checked to make sure the colonists had properly closed the hatch, assured her that he'd come back for the promised interview as soon as he'd gotten the Messenger settled, and then positioned himself underneath the rocket. He took a moment to gather himself, then launched into the air. His hearing picked up the startled exclamations from mission control as the noticed that the rocket was lifting off, seemingly by itself. He grinned, then forced himself to focus on getting the trajectory right. He picked out the orbiting station with his telescopic vision and made sure to keep it in sight as they rose through the atmosphere. A few minutes later, he carefully docked the Messenger with Space Station Prometheus. He waved cheerfully to the incredulous crew, then made his way back to the launch site, where Lois was still waiting for him.
"Who *are* you?" she asked in a voice tinged with awe, wonder, and disbelief.
Clark adjusted his tool belt, which was, thankfully, still intact after reentry. "I'm the super … man." He hadn't planned to add that last part, but the name, if that's what it was, had felt somehow incomplete without it. "I'm here to help and, you know, fix things."
Clark was about to continue, but the sound of an approaching mob drew his attention. He pointed them out to Lois. "Shall we continue this somewhere a little more private?"
"Not a bad idea," she replied, all but hopping into his arms.
He took off, and she settled herself comfortably, arms twined around his neck. In his mind, Clark reviewed everything he'd done since putting on the new suit… defusing the bomb, launching the Messenger, meeting this incredible woman. This could be the start of something very interesting…