Lex Luthor had not gotten rich by thinking small. No, there were ways to turn this knowledge to his own advantage, and no one else needed to know. What if Superman were unable to prevent crimes because of being Clark Kent? Yes! Knowing Clark Kent’s activities would enable Lex to plan capers that Superman would not hear about until it was too late.
The wheels of his incredible intellect began to turn. And even though the President of the United States knew public opinion was still heavily against him, and that he was walking a political minefield, a savvy smile crossed his lips.
The gathered crowd burst into applause as Jonathan and Martha walked into the Smallville Recreation Center. The hall was decorated with gold-colored balloons and crepe paper, and there was a gigantic 50 gracing the opposite wall.
“Did you plan this?” Pa turned to Clark and Lois, who were beaming with pleasure. “You did, didn’t you? Go out for an ice cream cone my Aunt Fanny!”
Martha gave Lois a hug. “You kids are so sweet.”
“Congratulations, Martha. Actually, Lana did most of the organizing. She’s a wonder.”
The momentarily interrupted music started up again as the Kents made their way down that avenue of hugs and handshakes toward their table.
“Clark. Over here.”
“Pete. Good to see you. How are you holding up?”
“Well, as you might expect, I’m a political pariah again.” Then Pete laughed. “And you know? I’m amazed to discover that I don’t care.”
“It was a tough decision, Pete. In my book, it was a heroic decision. I’m glad to hear you landed on your feet. You deserve the best.”
As Clark and Lois moved to their table, Lois turned to her husband. “Now, this is important. I don’t want any Superman emergencies to ruin this occasion for your folks. Promise?”
“Don’t worry, Lois. I promise, the superhearing is turned off for the day. For the next few hours Superman doesn’t exist.”
Lois looked happy with that, and then Clark stood to make a toast to his parents.
“Terrorists attack technology center,” was the Bugle’s offering.
And “Where was Superman?” was the banner on the Star.
WGBS had riveting footage. Everyone in Metropolis got to see the remote-controlled van crash past the guard shack of the building where state-of-the-art defense technology was developed. They all saw the explosion and watched as an entire quarter of the building blasted apart, rubble flying through the air.
Steve Lombard, a familiar face to Metropolitans and to many across the entire country, recounted the story. “If the terrorists were hoping to cripple Lex Luthor’s industrial power, they probably only gave it a momentary setback,” he earnestly intoned. “The insurance on these buildings is substantial, and if one is never rebuilt, it only serves to make its owner wealthier. On a side note, the disaster pointed out another concern to many citizens who have grown used to Superman protecting their city. Where was he today? Has something happened to the man of steel? Councilman Tim LeDuc has suggested still another issue, asserting that this all goes to prove that we have become too dependent on our otherworldly protector.”
Clark watched with concern. “Their timing was perfect, Lois. Almost any other time I could have made a big difference, maybe even prevented it..”
“You can’t take responsibility for this, Clark. You know that.”
“It’s almost as if they knew.”
“You know they didn’t. It was just a coincidence, and a lucky one for them.”
“And an unlucky one for people who worked there. I’m suspicious. I think this bears some investigation.”
“Mr. President? He’s here, sir.”
“Thank you. Send him in and close the door.”
The man who entered did not look particularly comfortable in these surroundings. Presidential power was not even necessary to make Lex look superior to him. “So. Do you have it?”
“Show it to me.”
The visitor pulled a small box out of his pocket and opened it. Inside was a man’s ring with a well-cut green gemstone. Luthor gazed on it with satisfaction. That ring had quite a history, and had been hidden in a number of places. He remembered how his knowledge of the B-13 technology had enabled him to withdraw it from the cornerstone of a Hypersector building without ever disturbing the building. That’s what had allowed him to have the ring with him at the White House. After Superman prevented Batman from stealing it, Luthor had designed the new hiding place in one of his buildings. The ring had been there ever since the impeachment proceedings started.
“Tell me exactly what happened, exactly how you got it.”
“It was just like you said, Mr. Luthor. After that part of the building went down, in all of the confusion it was easy to find the section of wall you told us about, and the switch that moved the panel. And you weren’t kidding when you said it wouldn’t look like a movable panel. We didn’t see it until it was open.”
“Good. Then what?”
“Well, I don’t remember you telling us about the booby trap. Jeff burned his hand pretty bad when he reached in. It took me a few minutes to see the button that turned that heat off.”
Luthor nodded. “I needed to know you’d gotten the real thing. There is a fake out there. Now, listen carefully. Here’s the next step.”
By the time the storm had passed and he assessed the damage against the efforts he had made, he believed that he probably had made a difference. The destruction could have been so much more.
“I wish I could have done more,” he thought as he flew home. “But as Lois often reminds me, all we can do is all we can do.”
“Hi, Hon. I’m on my way to the airport. Perry assigned me to a story in California. I’ll be gone a couple days. You know that Lucy and Ron are on vacation for the next week. They just called and told me they think they left the TV on in their apartment. Can you stop by and check it out?”
The extra key to his in-laws’ place was lying on the note. Clark picked it up, and after a brief trip to his bedroom closet for a fresh cape, he headed out on his mission to the Troupes’ apartment.
Clark smiled as he approached Ron and Lucy’s building. “I bet people would be surprised,” he thought, “If they knew how mundane Superman’s life can sometimes be.”
When he stepped inside their apartment he heard the TV, and he moved around the corner into their living room to switch it off. He was right in front of the screen when he first saw the ring lying on the floor before him, and he knew exactly what it was. “Luthor!” His stomach tightened as he realized what was going on, how he had been lured here. He stepped back, put out his hand and caught the edge of the doorframe. “If I pass out in this apartment,” he thought, “It will be a week before anyone finds my body.”
Everyone on that floor wondered what was going on as their president threw back his head and laughed, long and loud.
This time Councilman LeDuc appeared on all the local stations: “This is just another example of Superman’s capriciousness and unreliability,” he said. “He can assist in Florida, but not here in Metropolis? What if he decides to just let crime run rampant? Or worse yet, turn to crime himself?”
Many people watching the broadcast around the city were inclined to agree.
At the White House, Luthor got the news as well, but his reaction was a little different. “There’s no sense troubling yourself about Superman, LeDuc,” he said to the TV screen. “The Kryptonian is now out of the picture.”
“A Lexcorp oil tanker has been hit by a small plane, ripping a large gash in the hull of the ship, spilling huge quantities of crude oil into the Atlantic. The spill is spreading rapidly and constitutes the greatest ecological disaster in recent years. Several known terrorist groups have already claimed responsibility for the crash, one of them stating that America has no right to middle eastern oil.”
That was Steve Lombard’s initial report, and he was followed by a statement from Talia Head.
“Lexcorp decries this damage to the environment, and promises to do all within its power to clean up this spill, and will take steps toward preventing this kind of thing ever happening again.”
She, in turn, was followed by Lexcorp legal spokesmen who maintained that because this was in no way Lexcorp negligence, their insurance would foot the bill for the cleanup.
Next came the inevitable debate about whether the United States was right to be buying middle eastern oil.
Public reaction was one of horror, and to many, Tim LeDuc’s recent comments began to take on a little more weight. Why couldn’t Superman have prevented this? Where was the man of steel?
“You know, Billy,” one of them was saying to a companion on deck. “The only thing that could stop this would be Superman.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t see how. What could he do? Suck it all up? No, man, he’s terrific and all, but even he can’t fix this.”
“You guys ain't seen the news, have ya? Supes aint even around. He’s disappeared.”
“Just the same, I sorta thought for a second he’d come flying in. I thought for a second I saw him over by those clouds. I guess it was just a bird or a plane.”
“No. No, look! It’s him! It’s Superman!”
They all looked, and there, swooping toward their ship was that unmistakable red and blue uniform, cape fluttering against a summer sky. Superman. They all broke into cheers as the man of steel flew down close to the hull and circled their ship.
Superman quickly sized up the situation and moved to a section high up on the side of the ship away from the gash. There he pulled away an entire steel section where it would do no harm, and flew it over to cover the gaping hole through which the oil was pouring. Then, to the amazement of everyone on deck, he held the steel plate firmly in place while he welded it to the hull with heat vision. Then, with the cheers of the crew ringing in his ears, he flew away.
“Well, that’s something, isn’t it? Wow. Superman.”
“But the oil spill out there…”
“Jeez, whattaya want? Blood? He was terrific!”
“Yeah, he was. All I’m saying is…”
“Ahh, you’d complain if the ashtray was full in your Mercedes.”
“Holy loving mother of…”
Flying…(Flying!)… straight toward them was a U.S. Navy cruiser. As it got closer, the sharp-eyed ones among them could see the figure of Superman carrying it in. He brought it in for a gentle landing on the waves just a short distance beyond the spreading spill. For the next fifteen minutes the crewmen watched in amazement as ship after ship, military and commercial, were flown in and placed in a large circle surrounding the spill. Then Superman flew off again.
Communicating with one another, the various captains quickly got over their initial misgivings about being summarily removed from their various missions. They could see that Superman had an important mission for them, himself.
“Hey, listen to this.” A crewman had a live broadcast on his radio, and Talia Head was speaking to the news media.
“The moment the story appeared about the spill,” she was saying, “Superman appeared at Lexcorp. He asked me personally if Lexcorp could provide him with fabric that would filter oil from water and withstand great pressure. He described his plan, and I told him we could have it for him within the hour. I am pleased to report that through Lexcorp’s cooperation he now has what he requested and is on his way with it to the spill even as we speak.”
The crewman with the radio looked up. “Even as we speak,” he repeated. “Look!”
Through the clouds came Superman carrying what appeared to be a monster roll of carpet. It looked big enough to carpet a small town. Before the eyes of all those sailors, Superman dove with his strange cargo into the water just outside the spill, and came up periodically at each ship with a section of the fabric. Then, with the assistance of that ship’s crew, he fastened the edge of his seine to each ship. The oil spill was now contained in the confines of this pool.
Now that the spreading was stopped, Superman was able to fly around to the ships and gather up the edges of the fabric without losing any oil out the opposite side. Gathering it all up into a huge bag of a fabric only Lexcorp technology could have made strong enough, the Kryptonian hero lifted it high in the air, water streaming out of it, but the oil safely inside.
The crews of all the ships were cheering as Superman carried the salvaged oil over the loading bays of the Lexcorp vessel. Then, while he held the bag directly over the tank, a crewman took a long pole with a pike at the end of it and speared a hole in the bottom of the bag. The oil gushed forth, and in a very short time the tanker was filled again.
To the renewed cheers of sailors from eight different ships, Superman flew around them in a wide circle, saluting each of them before beginning the task of returning each of them to their appointed places around the world.
“After all my careful planning,” he fumed. “That should have driven oil prices sky high, and the remote-controlled plane would have put the blame completely on terrorists. Those morons can’t resist taking credit whether they did anything or not.” He pounded the desk with his fist, and got up and started pacing around.
“And where the blazes did Superman come from? I had him taken out. He was dead. He was…”
What was he? Could it be that Kent and Superman really were not the same? Had he miscalculated? No, they had to be the same. Didn’t they? Oh, no! Maybe he was no longer affected by kryptonite. Maybe he had built up an immunity. Or found an antidote. No, that day here at the White House with Batman he had been obviously weakened. What, then? What?
“Wow. Just like a fifties sitcom.” Clark gave her a kiss. “How was your trip?”
“Pretty good. There’s a lot of anti-superhero sentiment brewing out there, and no one’s exactly sure why. And speaking of superheroes, I saw your oil spill save. Pretty terrific stuff, Mr. Superman. Looks to me like cause to celebrate.”
“The fact that you’re here is cause enough.”
“And you, too. I was hearing rumors that people thought something had happened to you.”
“Well, I guess they were a little worried.”
Clark gave her a quick rundown of the events of the last two days, and Lois landed on the couch with an amazed look on her face. “Kryptonite?” she said. “I thought we switched those rings.”
“We did. But he didn’t know that, and he still doesn’t know that.”
“So, if it was the fake, what did happen to Superman those two days?”
“When I realized that it was not affecting me, that it was the fake, it became obvious that Luthor had used his knowledge of my secret identity to trap me. It didn’t take Batman to figure out that he must have been behind the bombing the day of my folks’ anniversary party. So I decided to stay put in Ron and Lucy’s apartment until I figured out what kind of scheme he had in mind. I figured he might have had someone watching the place. I kept an eye and an ear on Metropolis, and nothing happened that the police couldn’t handle. But that’s what made people nervous, I guess.”
“So, Superman,” Lois put her arm around his waist and started leading him in the general direction of the bedroom. “If you weren’t out patrolling, how did you hear of the oil spill?”
Clark looked down at her sheepishly. “The answer to that one isn’t very exciting, Lois.”
“No. When you’re stuck in an apartment all day without much to do, well… you just wind up watching a lot of TV.”