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Fallen Hero

by Gary Wilbur

"Itís a ridiculous request, and weíre not about to do it."

Perry White was keeping his temper, but just barely. Tim LeDuc was in the Planet newsroom as a result of Perryís response to his recent letter. LeDucís letter to the editor had demanded Metropolisí biggest newspaper stop glorifying Superman, and begin showing him as a lawless vigilante. Although Perry published the letter, his own editorial defended Superman as a champion of what was right and true.

The councilmanís letter had set off a storm of controversy. Characterizing Superman as unreliable, dangerous, and above the law, LeDuc had polarized the opinions of all Metropolis. About a quarter of the citizens were furious to see their hero attacked, but another quarter thought it was high time someone recognized him as a danger. And a good half of the population, although they basically trusted the man of steel, were prompted to question whether his power should be controlled in some way. This varied response had brought LeDuc to speak to the editor in person.

"Listen," Perry was saying. "Iím not about to put my name, as editor of this newspaper, on an attack on Superman."

Clark Kent remained seated at his desk, listening intently, but Lois was on her feet adding her voice to Perryís. "Do you realize, Councilman," she said, "That you are attacking the integrity of one of the most decent men ever to hit this city?"

LeDuc was not at all put off. "Ms. Lane, you and your husband have built your careers on Superman stories. We can hardly expect you would willingly give up your meal ticket, your cash cow. Same with you, White. The Planet might have been just another newspaper if you hadnít practically cornered the market on Superman."

"But heís the embodiment of truth and decency," Perry insisted.

"So you say. But heís dangerous. Nuclear power has done wonderful things for us, too, but that doesnít mean we donít need to regulate it, to control it. There must be rules for Superman."

"There are. Theyíre called laws."

"Ah, but how enforceable are they in Supermanís case? Laws are meaningless when dealing with him. Surely you remember when he pre-empted the rights of nations in that so-called Dominus search. We have no control, here. We are at his mercy. Thatís why I sent that letter to the editor, and thatís why I proposed that law enforcement agencies have kryptonite, his only known weakness, made available to them. Iím also suggesting someone be commissioned to build a cell that can contain him. Iím aware of a man with the fanciful name, Deathtrap, who claims he can do it. We have to do this. No one can be above the law."

Perry looked LeDuc right in the eye. "What we really have here is a dream come true: a man who has the ability to protect us, who can take swift, sure action on our behalf, who can be trusted to operate by the highest moral standards. He wonít kill, and he wonít inflict any more harm, even on the guilty, than he absolutely has to. He is the ultimate peace officer. He has even been given authority to act on behalf of the Metropolis Police Department."

"Which is all well and good when he is in his right mind, and as long as he maintains that high moral standard. But what if he doesnít? Once again Iím reminded of the Dominus affair. Have we forgotten that?"

Perry took a deep breath. "Look, Councilman, your point is well taken. Iíll give you that, and itís worth thinking about. But Iím not talking about any change of policy for the Daily Planet as long as I'm the editor."

"Iíll be pushing for this, White." LeDuc was already on his way to the door. "When public opinion sways to my point of view, youíll find the press will, too. If you plan to sell papers in the future, youíll have to change."

"That day," Perry said after the door closed, "I hope I never see."

Later that evening, Lois and Clark were still talking about the discussion in the newsroom.

"Heís talking about you as if you were from another planet," Lois was saying. "Oh, I knowÖ I meanÖ"

"I know what you mean. I may be from another planet, but Iím not from another planet."

"It sounds screwy. I donít know quite how to say it."

"Well, for example: Can you picture me saying ĎGreat Rao,í or ĎGreat Krypton?í There werenít a lot of Raoists in Smallville, and theyíre not exactly proselyting here in Metropolis, either. Those people who write fiction about me, and have me saying thatÖ well, they just have no idea what theyíre talking about. I may be Kryptonian genetically, but otherwise Iím an Earth boy born and bred."

"Yeah. Just the way I like you. So what are we gonna do about LeDuc?"

"Nothing. Let him rant. I think my reputation is strong enough to weather it."

It seemed that all Metropolis had turned out for the air show.

"Just look at this, Clark." Lois was amazed at the size of the crowds.

Clark was impressed, too. "I donít think the promoters of this event counted on such major numbers in attendance," he said.

"But they probably should have, considering what the Air Force is introducing today."

Lois was right. This was the event that was going to introduce the Air Forceís newest fighter plane, known simply as the Skymaster.

It was not a secret weapon, not a stealth bomber, but the Skymaster was technologically state of the art. President Luthor had made the decision to make a real show of it to the world, another example of U.S. strength. And the crowds loved it. The pilot, Captain Stephen Kane, was acting as guide, describing to the populace some of the planeís capabilities, before the actual air demonstration started. As he spoke, he saw his wife and two little sons in the throng.


"Jeffrey!" The smiling officer interrupted himself. "Pardon me, folks. This is my family. Theyíre all as fascinated with this marvelous machine as any of you are." He stepped forward to pick up the smallest boy, and thatís when everyone heard the first gunfire.

It was gunfire and grenades, and it was coming from several different directions at the perimeter of the crowd, moving rapidly to the center. A number of people had already fallen in those first few seconds. The collective cries of the crowd coupled with the attempts to escape when no one knew which direction to run, transformed the air base to a screaming riot. In the panic, people were trampled underfoot, and as many died that way as were killed by the bullets and explosions.

"Lois! Quick. Over this wayÖ" Lois Laneís amazing husband lifted her off her feet and moved rapidly out of and under the bleachers. Then, quickly, in that shaded area, before anyone else could get there, he transformed into Superman and took off.

One of the perpetrators made it to the loudspeaker which had been announcing the dayís events. While his co-conspirators charged for the Skymaster, he announced with a heavy middle-eastern accent: "This is a pre-emptive strike against the warlord empire of the United States. We will ensure that this weapon will never be used against us."

Captain Kane made a quick decision, and pulled his family into the safest place he knew, the Skymaster. As the crowd swarmed away from the runway before him, and as the terrorists rapidly approached, he started the engines and readied for takeoff. As the plane lifted off the runway, everyone could hear the loudspeaker proclaim the attackersí success.

"Those are our people taking your precious weapon. We will see how the U.S. likes it when the technological odds are turned against them."

Superman appeared above the crowd and quickly sized up the situation. He could see each of the attackers, and amazingly, there were only five. One by one he swooped in on them, catching as many bullets in his hands as he could as he nabbed each fanatical attacker. People dropped to the ground as the Kryptonian superhero flew low over them. In this manner it was only a few seconds before he had snatched up all five of the terrorists.

Superman could see the security force vainly trying to restore order and get to the perpetrators. He dropped the five men in a pile before a small group of officers, and without pausing to give any instruction, he flew to the loudspeaker and pulled away the "information minister" of the day. Turning to the microphone, he said, "Folks, this is Superman. We have the attackers in custody. You are safe. Please stop running, you are creating a further danger by running."

It was remarkable what an effect Supermanís voice had on the crowd. In seconds, the panic was abated, the riot was contained, and medical personnel were on their way to the tarmac to assist the injured.

Turning off the microphone, Superman said to himself, "Thereís a lot to be said for a good reputation. If they hadnít trusted meÖ "

"They shouldnít have," his captive sneered. He pointed to the sky. "We have succeeded. Look. We got your wonderful new aircraft."

The man of steel picked up a metal chair, quickly wrenched off a steel leg and used it like a twist-tie to handcuff the arrogant little man to a chain-link fence. Then he leaped into the sky, cape billowing in the breeze, off to catch and bring back the Skymaster.

On the plane, Captain Kane was flying away from the field and reassuring his family. "Weíre all going to be okay," he said to his boys. "Those bad guys will never catch this plane."

"Maybe we can use it to defend the airport," his wife said.

"Not with you aboard. Besides, it isnít even armed because of this show."

"Daddy, look. Is that Superman?"

"Hey. It is. Itís Superman! He must have taken care of that whole thing."

"Can we turn around and fly close to Superman, Dad? Can we?"

"You want a good look at Superman? You bet. Here we go." And the plane banked and turned back to meet Metropolisí superhero.

Still above the crowds at the air base, Superman saw the plane turn. "Whoever of them got through and stole this plane is going to attack me, now," he thought. Iíll have to be very careful.

At the same time that this thought was going through his head, something flashed bright red on the Skymasterís wing.

"Heís firing at me," Superman said. "Iíll just focus some heat vision on it and put that gun out of commission."

Focusing where he saw the red flash, Superman hit the Skymasterís wing with a ray of heat vision, and to his horror, saw the whole plane explode in a huge fireball.


Superman was aghast, and so was everybody who saw it. It was clear to them all that Superman had shot down the Skymaster.

Metropolisí famous caped hero flew immediately to the wreckage to try to save whoever was in it. Thinking he couldnít feel any worse, Superman nearly burst into tears when he saw who the planeís occupants really were, and saw that they had all been killed instantly.

Not only had Superman killed, he had killed an innocent family.

Normally, that costume, that physique, that confident superhero demeanor was an inspiring sight. But it just wasnít there that day as the authorities arrested Superman. He looked like a broken man, and he offered no resistance to being locked up.

The press, of course, had a field day with this incredible story, a superhero gone bad. Some emphasized the superhero part, some emphasized the gone bad part. Normally there were citizens who trusted Superman no matter what. But this time there were so many eyewitnesses that it was impossible to deny his guilt. If there had been published approval ratings for the man of steel they would have plummeted.

Lois Lane, stalwart reporter that she was, somehow was able to get an interview with the prisoner.

"So, Clark," she whispered when the police were out of the room for a moment, "What are you going to do?"

"I donít know, Lois. Iíll have to go to trial for this. Theyíve gotten Deathtrap to make a cell for me, and that reassures the authorities. But we both know heís never been able to come up with anything that will hold me. So if Superman is needed somewhere, Iíll probably be able to respond. But it will have to be secretly. They have to believe Iím still in the cell, or what little trust they have in me will disappear as well."

"Clark, what really happened out there?"

The fallen hero paused for a long time.

"I killed that family, Lois. It was an accident; my heat vision should not have blown up the plane. Bottom line, though, it did. The best I can hope for is manslaughter. And no matter what sentence I get, it wonít be enough to pay for the deaths of that family."

The police were back in the room. "Thatís all the time we can allow you, Ms. Lane."

She tried to show Superman by her expression that she loved him, she trusted him, and would do what she could for him. And as she left she thought to herself, "You couldnít have done this, Clark. Thereís something missing in this story, and I have to find it."

The sentient energy roiled at the core of the earth. Father was in trouble. He could sense it. Not the usual trouble, not the attackers who could always be defeated by Father's amazing powers. This was different. Father had done something contrary to his nature, he had harmed, no, killed innocents. The turmoil in Father's mind and heart called to him, and that turmoil was disturbing to one who had once shared his body. Father had to be assisted in his time of need.
A day or two later, down at the Ace of Clubs, another bar brawl ended with a hapless troublemaker sitting on his keester, rubbing his jaw. Over him stood the barís illustrious owner. His cap hadnít even fallen off his head.

"Now you can just lissen here," he said. This hereís my bar, and what I say goes. So you donít never come in here bad-mouthing muh favírit. Get it?"

"Jeez, Bibbo, whatís wrong with you? Everyone saw it. Are you blind?"

"They saw it wrong. I donít know what really happened, but I know Sooperman didnít do what people think he did."

As the loser of the fight got up and left, someone at one of the tables called the owner over. "Hey, Bibbo."

"Hi, Red. Howís things going?"

"Itís pretty awful, Bibbo. The Planet is getting a lot of letters, and itís depressing. People not only are losing faith in Superman, they donít seem to trust any superheroes any more. There are people like LeDuc all over the country."

"Are you sayiní they aint nobody trusts Sooperman?"

"No, Iím not saying that. There are still letters defending him. As a matter of factÖ" Jimmy leaned forward. "Thereís a stack of letters from kids and teenagers, sometimes someone older, and they all seem to have kept the faith. The letters arenít all well written, so they donít show up on any editorial pageÖ"

"Well, they should, shoont they?"

"I think so. But Iím not making editorial decisions over there."

"Then maybe you should get these kids to come say it to your editor theirself."

Jimmy looked thoughtful. "Yeah. Bibbo, thatís not a half bad idea. Iíve got all the return addresses and emailÖ" He got to his feet. "Youíve given me a great idea, Bibbo. Thanks." And he ran out.

"Hey, RedÖ"

Jimmy was halfway down the block.

"Red, this burger wasnít on the house, you know," Bibbo called after him, but he was out of earshot. Bibbo picked up the remains of the order. "Well, I guess itís on the house, now," he said.

"Yes. I certainly appreciate it. Thank you, Mr. President." Tim LeDuc hung up the phone, and turned to a colleague. "Imagine that," he said. "President Luthor himself supports our work to contain the metahumans. Gentlemen, weíre going to win."
At the White House, Luthor was scheming. "Maybe Iíve put too much emphasis on Clark Kent. Maybe this anti-superhero movement will be what brings him down as Superman, and the secret identity wonít even figure into it. The prison authorities always talk about how cooperative he is, and that helps give him good press. That has to be counteracted. Aha! What if he gets out and tries to assassinate LeDuc? For stirring up all the anti-superhero sentiment? Everyone will turn against him, then."

He turned to the phone and dialed. "Yes, it's me. I want you to find that Bizarro. I have a job for him."

Superman, the man of steel, sat in his costume in his cell. None of the MPD or the SCU had required him to wear anything different. He felt terrible about the deaths, but he still felt a strong responsibility to protect Metropolis, to get out of this cell whenever it was necessary to do so. He surveyed the inside of Deathtrapís inescapable cell, the cell he knew he could escape whenever he needed to.

"I think my association with Bruce has actually helped me to think this way," he mused.

The man of tomorrow was not conceited in any way, and it never occurred to him to credit his own natural intelligence, but when he knew how the cell was designed to keep him confined, he had Lois bring him the very item heíd need to get out.

The cell was spherical with no seams or corners to attack. And it worked electronically to counter all Supermanís powers with a measured, accurate response. As a blow from Supermanís fist approached the wall, for instance, the electronic response countered that exact force, nullifying it. It was similar to the principle of increasing force in Steelís old hammer. And heat vision? The same principle applied. The wall provided a matching force of refrigeration, nullifying the heat. It was pure genius. All of Supermanís powers were electronically nullified.

Electronically. So just as a magnet can destroy the color on a TV screen, destroy a computer, it was the answer to this cell as well. And the last time Lois had seen him, she had unobtrusively dropped a childís horseshoe magnet into his boot, just as Houdiniís wife used to slip him a key with her farewell kiss.

Kids. Hundreds of them. Teenagers and younger were marching up the street toward the Daily Planet building, carrying signs: Heís a Super ManÖ. Whoíll Save Us Now?... Free Our HeroÖ. Superman ForeverÖ. were a few of them.

The kids arrived in front of the Daily Planet, chanting and singing. Reporters from all the newspapers and the TV stations were all there, and the kids were each telling their stories. Jimmy Olsenís efforts had generated a great news story, but more importantly, the first organized public support for Superman was being made manifest. Several of the kidsí comments made it to the TV screens and newspaper pages. Some of the best hit the internet.

Mitch: "Superman saved us all from Doomsday. He saved our house and our family. Other superheroes went and brought our Dad back. Superman inspired them to do it, and he inspired me to be a crimefighter with the Supermen of America. How could a man like that kill innocents? The answer is, he couldnít."

Chas Cassidy: "Superman has done so much for us, in so many fantastic ways, that trying to describe them all would sound impossible. Iíd sound crazy if I tried. But it would all be true, and we all know it."

Keith White: "My Dad is editor of this paper, and once, Mr. Kent and Ms. Lane took me to see the magician, Lock. I saw a lot of things that were impossible that night. So even though I saw the plane blow up on TV, like everyone else, I know thatís impossible, too."

"Superman helped me stop some kids who were hurting animals"

"Superman saved me from some kids who were hanging me off an overpass by my ankles."

And one little fellow with a towel for a cape: "When I get big Iím going to be just like Superman, Ďcause he helps everybody and donít hurt nobody."

Lois Lane was making her way through this press of young people when she saw someone who looked familiar. "Excuse me," she said. "Arenít you Chas Cassidy? Didnít I meet you when SupermanÖ"

"Yes. Hi, Ms. Lane."

"Are you still over at the hospital?"

"No, Iíve been out for quite a while. Iím living over at my auntís place, out by the airport."

"The airport! Then did you seeÖ"

"Yeah. I was trying to find our cat out in the brush out back, and I saw the whole thing. But I still donít believe Superman meant to kill anybody."

"What happened to your arm? That looks like quite a burn. Your aunt isnít treating you the way your parents used to, is she?"

"No, she treats me great. This happened right when that plane went down as a matter of fact. I turned to watch, and something burned my arm. Weird, huh? There was nothing there but bushes, and my arm got burned. Thatís the truth, Ms. Lane, even though no social service people will ever believe it. So if you donít tell anyone, Iíd appreciate it."

"Just as the Skymaster went down?"

"Just a second before."

"Chas, listen. Your secretís safe with me. But could I come out and take a look at the place where you got burned? Will you show me exactly where that happened?"

"Sure. If you want, you can come out there tomorrow morning. But why?"

"I donít know exactly, but there are a few too many coincidences going on here, and Superman looks guilty of something we all know he couldnít have done. Iíd just like to check it out."

The subject of all the controversy sat in his cell, confident he could leave it whenever he needed to. He often sat listening and watching for signs of danger. Although he was a prisoner, he was still Superman and still felt an obligation to defend Metropolis whenever necessary, so he tried to stay alert to potential problems. But occasionally he slept.

He had just awakened from a short nap to discover that the "inescapable" cell would not require any special effort on his part to get out of it. It was dark, and quiet, and the cell was open. No guards. Superman pondered this strange development as he rose into the sky to begin his nightly patrol of the city. And then he heard the rushing sound of flight, as if he were hearing himself fly overhead. His telescopic vision revealed a startling sight. It appeared indeed to be himself flying through the night.

All through the night, all during his rounds, he wondered about the two mysteries which now faced him. How was his cell opened? And who was that other Superman he'd seen?

"What is this all about?" he wondered as he flew. "Do I have a secret ally? Or is someone trying to set me up for further problems? Maybe it was that other Superman who let me out. Could it be that Zod has gotten free of the Phantom Zone? He certainly is no friend of mine."

The ponderings seemed to yield no satisfactory conclusions. It was still a complete mystery, even as he began to return to his cell.

Superman switched to another line of thought. "I may as well check on a few people before I lock myself up again." And he began to scan Metropolis with telescopic and X-ray vision, just to make sure a few key areas were safe. "Lois is okay, still asleep. So is Jimmy, over in Bakerline. No problems down in Suicide Slum (What an awful name!), or at the Steelworks, or at the Daily Planet. Strykerís Island looks quiet. MPD is pretty normal for this hour. How about my nemesis, LeDuc? Whoa! Whatís that?"

Superman seemed to heat the air in his wake, he was moving so quickly. Just under the speed of sound he streaked to LeDucís home where he flew through the already broken bedroom window, and grabbed the man who was attempting to strangle LeDuc, grabbed and spun around the man who wore a copy of his costume and was trying to kill Councilman LeDuc. Face to face, it was now clear who he really was. There was no mistaking that angular, craggy face. Bizarro!

Superman ducked the lightning-fast blow aimed at his face, grabbed the arm, and the two of them knocked over the nightstand and lamp as they locked in combat. Superman could see LeDucís wife cowering in a corner, and their children, awakened by the noise, were at the bedroom door.

"They donít need to see this," Superman thought.

Bizarroís next punch connected, and Superman fell back near the window. Feigning retreat, Superman leaped out, calling, "Come and get me, Bizarro."

He landed in the garden, and looked up in time to see the monstrous caricature of himself fly out the window, arms outspread, looking like he was going to do a bellyflop on top of him.

"Me crush Superman!" Bizarro yelled.

But Superman rocketed straight up under him, his right fist stretched ahead of him in a punch to Bizarroís solar plexus. He not only knocked the wind out of the creature, he carried him several hundred feet up over Metropolis.

"I donít want to fight you, Bizarro, and I donít think this was your idea. Who are you working for this time?"

"Me not know who. A man came and said that what Superman would never do is kill the man in that house tonight."

Superman shook his head. "You have to stop doing this. This is not going to make you more imperfect. YouíreÖ Well, youíre pretty imperfect as it is."

Bizarro looked pleased. "Really?"

Superman studied the face of this simple yet dangerous creature. He briefly considered taking him back and locking him up in Deathtrapís creation, but there was nothing good that would come of that.

"Listen," he said. "You obviously see that weíre not talking Bizarro right now. I know you understand that. Theyíll want to lock you up, and thereís a cell you probably couldnít escape. Trust me, youíll hate it. Go away, someplace far away where you wonít hurt anybody. I mean it. If I hear of you hurting people again, Iíll come and lock you up, myself."

"Superman not talking Bizarro?"

"Nope. Now go. I mean it. Find another place, a Bizarro place, and stay there."

Bizarroís face took on the look of a puppy who got caught doing his business in the house, and he slunk wordlessly away.

Superman now turned his attention back to the home of Councilman Tim LeDuc. Flying back to the bedroom window, he stepped inside.

"Is everyone all right?" he asked.

"Oh, Superman. You saved my husbandís life! That horrible creature, we thought he was you." Mrs. LeDuc was in tears. "Thank you. You saved him. Oh, thank you."

"Itís okay, Mrs. LeDuc. Please try to stay calm." Superman turned to the children, who were on the edge of crying, themselves. He knelt down to their level. "Youíre all okay. Youíre safe now. The bad Superman wonít be back."

"Superman." It was the councilman. "Superman, IímÖ Iím sorry. Everything I saidÖ I believed it, you seemed like such a danger, but nowÖ"

"I appreciate what youíre saying, Mr. LeDuc, but actuallyÖ you may have been right all along, considering what happened at the airport."

LeDuc nodded gravely. "I know. Logic and common sense tell me youíre guilty of that, but nowÖ Well, Iím inclined to feel in my heart more in the way of those children who were demonstrating yesterday. Iím fortunate that you broke the law by escaping your cell and by trespassing. Iím so fortunate. All I can say is thank you, and I truly wish you well."

"Thank you Councilman." And with that, Superman stepped back out the window, and flew back to the unescapable cell.

As the sun rose to mid-morning level, the man of steel was back in custody, and Lois Lane was arriving at the address Chas Cassidy had given her the day before.

"It was right out here, Ms. Lane." He led her into the back yard, out a gate, and into a field with a few trees and a lot of scruffy bushes. But this area actually bordered the airfield, which could be easily seen in the distance.

"Here? Really?" Lois looked around. "Thereís nothing I see that could cause a burn."

"I know. Itís weird."

"So where, exactly, were you when you got burned?"

"Over this way. This patch of bushes." Chas marched into some tall grass near some brush, and stopped. "Yes. Right here. I turned like this. You can see easily where Superman went up against the Skymaster. Right up there."

"Yes. You had a perfect view. But you were standingÖ"

"Just like this, and suddenly my arm felt like it was catching fire. Just like that."

"Just like thatÖ" Lois looked around. "Stay right there a minute, will you?" She got down on her hands and knees and looked up at the area where the Skymaster was hit, sighting up past Chasí arm. Then she got back on her feet and turned 180 degrees, scanning the ground around her. Nothing. She started walking back, Chas trailing behind her.

"I donít know, Chas. It doesnít make sense. I almost thought there was a connection, butÖ Ow!"


"Stubbed my toe." Then Loisí expression changed as she looked down into the brush.

"Uh, listen, Chas, if you donít mind, Iíd like to stay out here and look around a little more. Thanks a lot for bringing me out here."

"Sure thing, Ms. Lane. You know where to find me if you need anything."

After he left, Lois was down on the ground again, clearing away grass, every so often looking up again at the sky over the airfield.

After a little more clearing, she found the metal structure sticking up only an inch or two from the ground. She got behind it, lay down flat and sighted from the top of the metal piece, past the spot where Chas had stood, to the area of the Skymaster hit.

"This is it," she thought, and her heart beat more rapidly as she dug away the dirt around the metal. "Thatís a periscope," she said. "And this telescoped up, and this looks likeÖ what is this? Some sort of gun? Or ray projector, or something."

Lois got to her feet and started purposefully back toward her car.

"My husband needs to know about this," she said.

The D.A. thought heíd heard everything, but Lois Laneís request to "borrow" a prisoner for the use of his unique powersÖ well, that was new. It wasnít a request he was likely to grant, either, but then the rumor of the strange request reached the ears of Councilman Tim LeDuc.

"Just look at what lengths the pro-metahumans will go," his informer scoffed.

But LeDuc was not reacting as expected. "I think we should let it happen. I think we should lend our voice to making it happen. I think I may have been wrong, at least about Superman. And it looks like Lane may have discovered something important."

LeDucís entire demeanor had changed, and he called the D.A. immediately. Several people overheard the call, and in no time the news of Supermanís secret escape and heroic rescue at LeDucís home was all over the news. Lois felt only a momentary twinge that neither she nor Clark got the story. She was on to something bigger.

"Itís ridiculous not to grant the request," LeDuc told the D.A. "Especially considering that he is obviously able to leave his cell at will, anyway."

The councilman was persuasive, and he carried a lot of weight. Later that afternoon, after Lois Lane had recounted her theory and the evidence she had found to support it, a contingent of the SCU, and several MPD crime scene experts arrived at Supermanís cell to escort him to the field.

"I must admit, I didnít expect anything like this development," Superman said. "But Iím glad to help."

At the field, Lois Lane showed the assembled crew what she had found. "So I need to see whatís under there," she said.

"No problem, Ms. Lane." And Superman focused his X-ray vision on the ground.

Everyone watched silently, and then Superman said, "Wow. Thereís a lot down there. Itís a laser beam projector, and whoever operated it accessed it by tunnel. And the tunnel comes fromÖ"

The police squad watched his gaze travel across the field to the neighborhood where Chas Cassidy lived with his aunt.

"There," he said, indicating the third house down the road from where Chas lived.

There was no trouble at all getting a search warrant, and there was no difficulty accessing the tunnel from that house. The MPD arrested the young married couple who lived there, and when it was obvious that they were caught with the goods, they wasted no time in explaining themselves.

"War is wrong. Itís always wrong. And developing more and more destructive weapons is never a deterrent. It only makes wars more efficiently murderous. And the innocent always die! Thatís why we determined to rid the world of this horrendous new war machine. We knew we could shoot it down with our laser. We hit a couple spots wrong, but eventually got the fuel tank. It was pure luck that Superman, another threat to mankind, got blamed for it. We donít want our country using advanced technology just to kill innocents."

Dan Turpin fixed them with an intimidating glare. "Unlike you good people, huh?"

The story, of course, immediately cleared Superman, and he was released from the cell that couldnít hold him, anyway. And although Tim LeDuc completely changed his position regarding metas, he and some others like him had started a groundswell of suspicion that was growing rapidly across the country.

Clark was relieved to know he had not killed anyone, but he was troubled to think that he could have. And it was interesting to see how peopleís opinions could change so rapidly on such a visceral level. The reasons behind opinions were seldom obvious, even to those who held them. The two reporters couldnít keep from speculating about it.

"So, exactly what is the appeal of Superman, anyway?" Clark asked his wife.

"You know what I think? I think we donít quite trust the law to bring about real justice. Law is a great tool, and itís a safeguard against powerful people doing whatever they want, but it doesnít always work perfectly. It didnít put Luthor away. I think people like having someone they can count on always to do the right thing, someone who doesnít get bogged down in a lot of gray areas, someone with the power and ability to make justice happen quickly".

"Someone above the law."

"Well, if you insist on putting it that wayÖ"

"I always try to obey the law, but sometimesÖ Hmm. Maybe LeDuc had a point."

"Clark, donít start thinking that way".

"I have to think that way if I donít want to become a despot. Thatís what keeps me balanced."

"Yeah, but donít lose your self-confidence. Donít lose the fun of being Superman." Lois put the last of their dinner dishes into the dishwasher and turned it on.


"Right. Balance." She joined him on the sofa, moved up close and gave him a kiss. "You're the best high-wire act I've ever seen. You do it better than anyone I know. And without a net."