by Gary Wilbur
"When Vice President Ross resigned, I really didn't see it coming. I should have. After it happened I had to admit I didn't see where he had any other choice, but it's still too bad. I think he was at heart a good man." The Planet editor stood and moved around to the front of his desk, closer to where Lois and Clark stood.
"This, however," he continued as his stern attitude resolved into an expression of pure satisfaction, "This was inevitable, had to happen." He held up the headline: Luthor Impeached.
"Luthor impeached, thank all that's holy."
"Wow, that really is big news," Lois responded. "The first U.S. president ever removed from office by impeachment. And imprisoned as well! Amazing!"
"And well deserved. That power-hungry s.o.b. must be furious. Swooped to the pinnacle of power, and then dropped from the heights to the status of criminal."
Clark spoke up. "Knowing Luthor, he's not likely to be completely stopped by this. He will find some way to wield some power, even in jail."
"You have great instincts, Kent. But I doubt you were aware of this. Luthor wants to give you an exclusive interview."
"Yep. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? It can't be for a good motive. Has he got something on you? This could be a great exclusive, but if I were you, I'd be careful."
Lois and Clark exchanged a look.
"I think I can promise you, Perry," Clark said, "I'll be very careful."
took his seat before the barrier and saw his arch-nemesis led in on the other side. Luthor seemed to remain cool, but Clark recognized the hatred in his eyes as he sat down,
"Kent. Quite a privilege for you, isn't it? An interview with the most famous criminal in recent history. A reporter's dream."
"All of which makes me wonder what you really want to say."
"Very good. Very good. So, I'll tell you." Luthor's expression darkened and his voice went very quiet. "I want you to know that I hold you personally responsible for what has happened to me. I know who you are, and I want to assure you that this setback will not keep me from making your life miserable."
"Don't interrupt me. From the moment you appeared you have been stealing what is rightfully mine, my fame, my position as Metropolis' number one citizen, Lois Lane's affection. And now, even the presidency."
"You lost that yourself, Luthor. Don't try to put all that on me. Even so, if I had brought you down, I'll admit it would have been a pleasure."
"So, is there a story here?"
"No. Just the warning. Watch your back, Superman. I will get you."
"Luthor, you've been saying that for as long as I've known you."
"And I've come close a number of times."
Clark leaned forward. "Even though fate seems to throw us at each other at every turn, isn't it time to call a truce?"
"Easy for you to say while I'm in here. And it's not fate."
"It's not? Let's face it, there have been a number of parallels in our lives. You are the biggest news in the city, then I am. You date Lois, I date Lois. You "die" and return to life, then I do. You get a more youthful body, I get powered up. You get married, I get married."
Luthor's features twisted into a smirk. "You were the so-called king of the world for a while, but I became President of the United States. How's that for a parallel?"
"How about I went to jail, now you go to jail?"
Luthor's scowl was back. "You're really gloating about this, aren't you? But consider this: I'm a father. You'll never be."
Clark hesitated, then decided that no good would come of telling Luthor about the energy child. But he secretly marveled at that curious parallel. Then he spoke again. "Speaking of jail, I have a question for you. When I was in the so-called inescapable cell, somone or something opened it up for me. Considering what happened next, did you have anything to do with that? Was that part of a plan to set me up as Tim LeDuc's murderer?"
"That's accusing me of some pretty devious plotting, Kent. But since we're speaking frankly here, yes, I had intended to do just that. The guards disappeared as they were supposed to, but when my man returned to open the cell, it was already open. I don't know who did it, or why. I assumed you'd found a way to do it yourself."
"That's the truth?"
"That's the truth."
Looking at that evil face, Clark knew that Lex was not lying this time. "Well, Luthor, as you already said, there's no story here. I'm leaving. But consider the truce. It'll make both our lives better."
The energy being actually had returned to the surface once before, back at the time that B-13 had remade Metropolis with the technology of the future. That was when he had found Cauldron, the experiment to destroy Superman. Cauldron had been trapped near the core of the earth ever since the man of steel had become impregnated with the energy creature. So Cauldron was the body the energy creature had possessed at the time of the millennial change.
His attempt to be Superman that time was a failure. He was not Superman, people had said, and never would be. He had returned to the earth and deposited the body of Cauldron where he had found it. Now, it was easy to locate that body and to use it to function on the earth's surface once again.
It didn't take long to find the cell in which Father was held, and he could see that Father was asleep. But no guards were there, and even if they had been it would have made no difference. The cell was easy to open with an electromagnetic pulse. One quick zap and the deed was done. The energy creature felt a surge of joy conforming to his memories of Father: he had done something good and helpful, the kind of thing he used to do. He could once again be a champion of truth and justice. He turned away happily to find other good deeds to do.
"See ya, Clark. Go save lives. Have a good day." Lois kissed him and he flew off. She had no inkling at the time that her day would be eventful, too, but her arrival at the Daily Planet newsroom changed all that.
"It's a hostage situation," Perry was explaining to someone as she walked in. "He's one of these guys who's convinced that he needs to have guns to protect himself against the government. He has made it clear that he believes any government is inherently bad. He's had a string of bad luck, he's out of work, and he thinks the federal government is the reason behind it all. He has taken hostages and demands restitution of his job, and that the federal government pay all his debts. Otherwise he detonates the device he has strapped to his belt."
"How powerful is that device, Perry?" Lois asked.
"No one knows for sure, but he's claiming it will not only kill himself and the hostages, it could take out a whole city block."
Lois gave a low whistle. "I've got to talk to him," she said. She started for the door.
"Now look, Lois. Getting a story is one thing. Getting yourself killed is another."
"Don't worry, Perry," Lois said just before she closed the door behind her. "Have you ever known me to get myself killed?"
"Sometimes the direct approach is best," she said under her breath. She started to walk confidently toward the man with the bomb.
"Lois Lane, Daily Planet," she said loudly, "Here to get your side of the story, here to get your demands known to everyone."
"Stay back. Don't move."
Lois stopped. She could see in this man's eyes that she had made a bad mistake. Maybe Perry was right. She could feel her stomach knotting up.
"I told them. I told them what would happen if anyone came into this building."
Lois saw the terrified faces of the three hostages, and she saw the madness in the bomber's face. Where was Superman when you needed him?
It was a good question, and fortunately it had an answer. The energy Superman, looking for wrongs to right, appeared overhead just as the madman reached for the detonator button. He sensed it coming and he saw Lois right in a position to take the brunt of it. There was no time for any elaborate plan, so he shot instantly as an energy bolt to the device, just as it blew. The only way to save lives was to absorb as much of the bomb's energy as he could, so that's what he did.
It mostly worked. The superhero could feel the horrendous surge, and could feel Cauldron's metal body shattering within him, but he had contained most of the blast. The integrity of his energy slipped as the metal shards of body flew apart, but he instinctively focused on one large piece of it and recomposed his shape. There was some damage to the building, and he, himself, felt dazed, but the lethal impact had been absorbed, and nobody had been hurt.
The energy-man drew himself to his feet. He could feel that something about him was missing. He didn't know what it was, exactly. He had no awareness that Cauldron had been an essential part of him. As a matter of fact, he had no memory of finding Cauldron's body at all. His only memories now were of being the man with two identities, Clark Kent and Superman.
As the police found the hostages safe, and took the perpetrator into custody, Lois pushed away some rubble that had fallen on her. But it was a few more moments before the excitement subsided, and she and the blue superhero had a chance to talk privately.
"Clark. What was that? You've transformed to the energy state again. How did that happen?"
"I'm really not sure, Lois. That explosion did something to me, changed me. It's like I've lost part of myself. I remember things up to a certain point, and then it's a blank."
"You still remember me, though, right? Good. I'm glad of that. Do you remember that you're Superman?"
"Sure, I remember that, but I'm changed. I'm not the man I was."
Lois took his hand. "You said that once before, the first time you were an energy guy. You weren't sure you could ever change back, but you did."
"I'm not sure I can, now. Actually, I feel pretty sure that I can't."
"Really? You're sure?" Lois looked up at him with concern. "Well, look, whatever happens, we can deal with this. Just remember that I love you no matter what."
"As long as I have that, I guess my change in powers won't matter to me, either."
They were both silent for a moment and then Lois said, "Clark, remember how people used to call you Electrosupes? I never liked that."
"Me, neither. I like 'Superman' a lot better.... but it's unlikely I'll get called that for very long in the state I'm in."
"Why don't we just shorten it to Electro? That has a nice ring to it."
"I like that. But I'll need to change this emblem."
"Can you do that?"
"Sure. It's just one of the advantages of being the energy guy."
With a zap of his index finger across his chest, he changed the stylized S to an E and stood before Lois as Electro.
"Sometimes I wish there were two of me," he thought as he flew toward the apartments at Sullivan Place. There was Lois, getting out of her Lambourghini, and there was...
"Good Lord, someone's impersonating me. That guy looks just like me. What's he doing with Lois?" Superman knew this couldn't be good. "Hey," he shouted as he approached. "Whoever you are, get away from her."
Lois and the man she believed was Clark looked up. "Who's that?" She thought. "Hey, someone's impersonating you, Clark. And he looks just like you. What's going on?"
Both she and the man beside her could see that this Superman flying toward them meant business. They knew this couldn't be good. Lois had a fleeting moment of doubt about just which of the two was the real thing, but she also felt confident that the real one would win this showdown, and as "Clark" ducked into the parking garage she made her decision.
"Get him, Electro!" She shouted as the energy man appeared.
As Superman flew at the crackling blue figure, Electro stretched out an arm and fired a bolt of electrical energy at him. Superman's whole body reflected the fiery glow of the hit, but it didn't stop him. The next one, though, did. The man of steel was within a few yards of Electro when another such blast suddenly seemed to drain all his strength, and he was thrown back. Superman's tri-color uniform could be seen easily from the street as he fell, and he was only able to save himself by reaching out and grabbing a fire escape ladder. What had happened? How could he have lost his strength like that? Electro was a lot more powerful than he had anticipated.
Lois stood slack-jawed. For all the confidence she had in her husband, it was still startling to see this Superman so quickly defeated. Obviously he was an impostor, and she could not have had better evidence that Electro was indeed Clark Kent, the real Superman. Until the moment of seeing the impostor fall, however, she'd had a moment of doubt. He really looked exactly the way Superman always used to look.
On the ground, the caped Superman felt his strength slowly beginning to return. He nonetheless realized that another foray against Electro could kill him. On top of all that, he was concerned about what he'd heard Lois say as he approached. Apparently she saw Electro as no threat to her, but saw himself as the danger. What was going on? Superman decided to proceed with caution in trying to solve this mystery.
Luthor's last attempt to use kryptonite against his arch-enemy was a total failure, and it had left the ex-president confused. Was kryptonite still deadly to Superman or not? On the other hand, Luthor had found that knowing the secret identity was a valuable weapon, even if revealing it was not. But Kryptonian technology... now there was a possibility. What if there were a way to find the Kryptonian's home planet?
"Superman used to be pretty thick with Emil Hamilton," Luthor thought. "I don't know what became of him, but now that man, Steel, John Irons, seems to be his link with the scientific community. I'd bet half my empire that if there's any way to get Kryptonian technology here to earth, Irons is the one Kent would talk to about it."
An evil smirk creased his face as he realized he needed to have someone bug the Steelworks.
The sun gleamed off the spires of Metropolis, and as Clark and Lois approached the Daily Planet, Superman landed before them. Clark's expression turned grim, and Lois recoiled from the costumed man before them.
"Stay back," she warned. "I don't know what you have against me and my husband, but for your own good, stay away from us."
"Lois, can I just have a minute to talk with you?"
"No, I don't want anything to do with you, 'Superman' or whoever you are. Just leave us alone."
"You heard the lady," Clark said. "If you're any kind of gentleman at all you'll have some respect for her wishes and leave."
Superman was perplexed. So was Jimmy Olsen, who had rounded the corner just in time to hear this exchange.
"What's going on, Superman?" Jimmy didn't have a clue why Superman would be having a disagreement with Lois and Clark, but he knew a photo op when he saw one, and he took a picture of the three of them. Yet another photo of Clark Kent and the man of steel.
Superman seemed at a loss for words. He started to say something to Jimmy, but then stopped, frustrated. He turned away, his brow furrowed, and flew off.
"How the hell is this possible?" Luthor was looking at a picture that plainly had both Clark Kent and Superman in it. The old doubts crept in again. "Is he Superman or not?"
Lex really was a brilliant reasoner, and he set to work to solve this puzzle. He had plenty of time to work it out, his days weren't what you'd call full and eventful. But after less than an hour of weighing all the evidence, he came to a conclusion.
"There are two of them," he said. "I should have realized it way back when there were a red one and a blue one flying around. There are two Supermen, and only one of them is Clark Kent. And only one of them is affected by kryptonite! That explains it. So maybe I need to find out who the other one is."
"The best expert on this energy guy that I know of is Emil Hamilton, but he's living in Kandor on the alternate-world Krypton," Superman thought. "He's my best bet, though, for figuring out a way to deal with Electro. I guess I'd better make a trip to Kandor. I promised Scorn I'd bring Ashbury to visit him there. Maybe this is the time to do it."
He immediately flew to the Steelworks, and found his friend John Henry alone there.
"Hi, Clark. How have you been?"
"Hello, John. I take it from your greeting that Natasha isn't around."
"No, and that's not at all unusual, lately. That backpack on the floor is sometimes the most I see of her. She's spending a lot of time with Nick."
"Really? Good for them. I wish things were going as well for me and Lois."
"You and Lois? What's wrong?"
"Remember the energy Superman? He's back, and Lois believes he's me."
Superman nodded. "Yes. And she wants nothing to do with me. She thinks I'm a fraud."
"A fraud? I'd think that would be easy to disprove."
"Normally, I'd think so, too, but Electro is more powerful than he used to be. His energy bolts are the most powerful force I've ever encountered. He nearly killed me when we fought."
"Yes. So, John, I need to go through the Phantom Zone again. I need to visit Emil. He's my best expert on Electro, and if there's a way to defeat him, I think Emil's my best chance of finding out how. And I promised Scorn I'd bring Ashbury there for a visit, too."
"Sure, Clark. No problem. Nat and I can be your guide through. Just bring Ashbury over in a couple hours. Nat should be home then, and we can get started."
Neither of them was aware of the bug Luthor's agent had attached secretly to Natasha's backpack when he'd met her hiking yesterday.
As they sat down on opposite sides of the barrier, Lex was fairly sure that he was facing the energy Superman. Yes, he was pretty sure, but he just had to test the theory. "There are a lot of parallels in our lives, Kent," he opened.
"What do you mean?" Electro was unaware that Lex knew the secret identity.
There was an awkward pause while Lex eyed him knowingly. "We have both loved the same woman," he finally said. "And speaking of that, I'm having something mailed to you, something you might be interested in viewing." .
"A videotape. It should arrive while your wife is at work. It's something only you can truly appreciate."
After a contrived conversation, and after Electro had left, Lex sat gloating in his cell. "It has all come together this time. I know who and what he is, and I know what he knows. I know the extent and limitations of his doppelganger's knowledge. He's perfectly set up: he'll never get away with another murder charge. And after he destroys the tape, as I know he will, there'll be no way the resulting carnage in his life can be traced to me."
That was Lois! Lois and Lex Luthor, unmistakably. And they were... Oh, no. They couldn't have... When did this...? Electro stopped the tape, unable to bear watching any more. Tears filled his eyes. How could Lois ever have done this?
If the real Clark had seen this pornographic tape, he was in a position to know what had really happened, how the Parasite had taken on Lois' form in order to rob Lex Luthor. But Electro had not been part of Clark then. He had long since returned to the earth when that happened. He had no knowledge of it. He had no reason to think beyond what he was plainly seeing, his wife engaaged in a sleazy sexual act with Lex Luthor.
He pulled the tape from his VCR and smashed it against the fireplace. He felt pain, sorrow, anger... There was no nobility in what he was feeling. He had Clark's memories, but he was not Clark. His emotions resulted from a combination of Clark's experiences and Cauldron's. The pain he felt now drove a vengeful passion as furious as Othello's, and Lois was his Desdemona. Lois had to die.