Last Waltz With Luthor
Lex Luthor stood before the metallic tube and wondered if Superman's mind had finally turned to mush.
It would be fitting. The greatest intellect on the planet reducing his foe's to nearly the lowest. The man of the mind triumphant over the man of the body. By his own merely human power, he had achieved this. With no more than intelligence, will, and what resources an Earthman could master.
The Man of Steel was a helpless vegetable.
Well, maybe not entirely. Luthor cursed himself for overconfidence. How many times had he fought the Kryptonian, had him on the very brink of defeat or destruction, and lost? How many times could Lady Fate tilt the balance against Lex Luthor? How many more times would they have to fight each other?
Hopefully, no more than this. God knew, it was a strain. To go back to the joint every time, to find a new way of escape that the authorities and Big Blue hadn't thought of blocking, to take up a leftover plan or hatch a new one...even for a genius, these things were taxing.
He could destroy the Kryptonian now, and be done with it. It would be the easiest thing in the world to do. Just take one of the many weapons he had on hand, drag it over here, open the hatch, point it at the figure in the isolation tank, and do what came naturally. A feud of over 26 years would be ended.
26 years. Great God, more than half of his lifetime. And all of it had been spent in a single, hitherto futile quest: to destroy the Superman.
"Superman". He loathed the term. When Nietsche and Shaw used the term a century ago, certainly they did not conceive of this specimen now at his mercy. Not a being who could move a planet, fly faster than light, pierce the barrier of time, see across space, shout loudly enough to shatter stone, and hear the falling of a flower petal on another planet. No. Those powers were the merest accident of being born on another world, under different environmental conditions. A body adapted to Kryptonian life, transplanted to a much smaller, yellow-sun world.
And what had the idiot done with his great powers? Had he taken over the planet, ended the stupidity of mobocracy or Communism or fascism? Had he unified the world under a common rule, ended war, hunger, and poverty?
All he had done was dress up in an absurd three-colored costume and beat up on crooks. Worse yet, he had inspired a generation of crooks to don such costumes, gain or simulate other superhuman powers, and litter the landscape with their fallen crime-schemes. All in the name of conquering Superman.
Well, he was not immune to that, of course. But he had good reason. Prior claim, as it were. Let the Terra-Men and the Captain Colds and the Sonars and the Signalmen and the Kobras have their day. There was but one Lex Luthor. There the matter would stay.
Of course, the Kryptonian had to inspire a similar generation of law-enforcers, insipid and brutal defenders of a status quo the Congress could change with but a single signing of a bill into force. Would their actions in breaking up drug rings still be held heroic if the government legalized drugs tomorrow? Would any of them go to jail for violating an unjust law? Perhaps Green Arrow, whom he had fought a few times, would. But he doubted any of the rest of those idiots in the too-tight costumes would do the same.
The Superman was responsible for the plague of "heroes". The Justice Leaguers, the Teen Titans, the Outsiders, all of the rest could be traced back to this idiot who emigrated to Earth at the age of three, put on a costume at age eight, and had begun a war with him not too many years after that. A war that neither of them would ever, in their maddest dreams and visions, have expected to last this long.
It was worse than waiting for the end of Vietnam, Lex decided.
But it had become intensely personal, yes, of very deadly import recently, as if there hadn't been enough bitterness and black blood between them before. Only a year or so ago, the Kryptonian had battled him on his world of Lexor. The planet that had been named after Lex Luthor, himself. The planet he ruled benevolently, as he would rule Earth, once he had conquered it and rendered its present controllers either unemployed or dead. The planet on which he had a wife and a son, both of whom he loved very much.
The planet which, as a result of one of his weapons blasts ricocheting off Superman's body and striking a power-rod sunk deep in Lexor's mantle, had ceased to exist.
Along with his wife and son.
Lex himself had been saved, by the strength of his warsuit and on the fragment of Lexor which he lay upon. The Kryptonian had also survived. For a short time he had wondered why God had let him live.
Then he knew the reason. As the hate filled his mind and body like wine into a goblet, a hate that was a quantum leap beyond anything he had known before, he knew.
It was that he might destroy the Superman.
On Earth, he had improved his warsuit, brought it even nearer Superman's capacities with the marriage of his mindpower and Lexorian equipment. He had gathered a small gang of operatives about him...Wanda, his mistress, Louto, Pluto, and Plato. He had made several other sallies against Superman, but was not successful, thanks in one instance to the intervention of Supergirl.
He almost spat in contempt. True, his hatred for her was not as virulent as it was for Superman. It was more of a disdain. After all, he was the original. His cousin was a mere copy. He was correct to assign Nasthalia, Starfire, and Cyber to her disposal. They had the power, and, apparently, they had done the job.
But there was a seed of resentment against the Kryptonian girl.
He recalled the time in which he had actually died, thanks to a misfired weapon when she was chasing him and his gang. Supergirl had revived him through alien means, placing him in some sort of cocoon. He had come back to life.
He had been free of the burden of hatred, for that small interval that he was dead. He fancied that it was a relief.
But now, he had to take the great stone on his back again. Now, he breathed and ate and slept and drank and hated once more. Now he had to take up the war against the Kryptonian anew.
For that, he vowed that Supergirl would someday pay. But, for the most part, he treated her as a secondary target. After all, one must remain focused and persistent if one wishes to triumph over the Irresistable Force.
But there were pleasures. There had to be pleasures, after all. One cannot hate every instant of one's 16 waking hours a day. There was his refurbished Luthor's Lair, with the brightness and artistry that he admired in any endeavor. There was the presence of his cousin, again, whom he had to admit he enjoyed as a coauthor of his current machination, and as a friend and relative.
She made him think, briefly, of his lost parents, and Luthor fought back tears.
And there were two others of his family. Yes, there were Lena, his sister, long-estranged from him, and her son, Val, blessed with a useful power of his own. If only he could make them see the way. If only he could show them that the Kryptonians were not angels, but devils incarnate, intent upon blocking Man from his proper place in the universe. Intent on keeping the Luthors from their rightful destiny.
Yet, they were family, and they had a right to be here. Whether they wanted to be or not, they would be. Upon that point, Lex Luthor was insistent. It would be the first Luthor Family Reunion, and certainly not the final one, if his plans bore fruit.
The great celebration would be the destruction of the Kryptonian's family, and himself.
But...he was leaving one member of his family out.
Ardora. The new Ardora.
The Kryptonian thought that he had destroyed her, and little Lex, Junior as well. He should have known better, even with his dulled super-brain.
Luthor had long ago mastered the art of cloning. He had created duplicates of Jimmy Olsen, an entrepreneur named Angrim, and even Superman himself at one time or another. He had also cloned a woman named Angela Blake, who was to marry him at one time as part of a plot against the Kryptonian. Most of the technology he had devised himself, but he grudgingly acknowledged that some purloined information from the DNA Project and the Evil Factory was helpful.
And he had always kept a memento of his wife close to his heart, literally. It was a packet containing a lock of Ardora's hair, sewn into the lining of his warsuit, over his chest. This he had taken into battle against Superman, as a soldier keeps a photograph of his mother or loved ones in his wallet when going to war.
Now it would serve another purpose. Now, it would enable him to bring Ardora back to life.
It took time, money, and resources, but the equipment was still there. From the genetic material encoded in Ardora's hair, he cloned and grew a new Ardora. A new wife. A new Eve, for the Adam of humanity's advancement.
He regretted that he had not thought of taking a similar lock of Lex, Junior's hair. That pained him considerably. But he was creating a new Lex, Junior the old-fashioned way, and it was more pleasurable by far.
Ardora II was matured into adulthood by age acceleration within her growth pod. She came from it a tabula rasa, rising like Aphrodite from the nutrient fluids of her high-tech womb. As hesitant as a newborn doe, she stepped onto the plastic-covered floor of the chamber. She looked about, in wonder. Finally, her eyes alighted on Lex, himself.
He had gone to her, and said, "You are Ardora. I am Lex Luthor. I am yours, and you are mine." There was no way of telling whether she understood his words. But she knew their tone. And, miraculously (but then, everything connected with her could be viewed as a miracle), she looked upon him with an expression of trust. She smiled.
He embraced her.
From that point on, he taught her. He devoted part of his time, every day of his liberated life, to instructing her like a schoolgirl, and teaching her not only of the world about her, but of himself, and her place in the world which he would create. She was naive, but she did not question him. Most importantly, she accepted his love. And he knew, from the scans he had done of her, that a seed grew within her which would, in time, blossom into the son who would take Lex, Junior's place.
This Lex, Junior would grow up in a world in which there was no Superman to destroy him.
And how would that come about?
Why, by taking the Kryptonian's power away from him and placing it within others whom Luthor could control, by threatening to turn it on or off like a spigot. He disdained the Superman's powers, himself. He had possessed them on a few occasions. But when his own natural brain could conceive of devices which could make him Superman's equal, and when his own hands could create them, of what use were those powers to him? Except to remind him of the man he hated most of all beings in the universe.
All that he had to do was find a means of doing it, and persons unto whom he could entrust the powers.
For the first, he had used one of Superman's other foes...the precise one capable of doing what he wanted. It didn't take much manipulation, just an overcoming of the man's natural suspicion, a treatment of radiation which Luthor said would intensify his powers, and turning him loose in Metropolis.
It had worked. Superman appeared within minutes, attempted battle, cautiously, but was defeated, in the end.
Then Luthor's pawn had molecularly broken down, as Luthor had planned, and was collected in a device made specifically for that purpose. He was still alive, but helpless...as helpless as Superman, who was taken in the same device.
All of that unseen, as far as he could tell, by the public. All of that unknown, as he transferred the Kryptonian and the liquefied form of his erstwhile ally to an isolation tank of his own design. From there, through a special filter and a transferral mechanism, he could sap away and transfer the Superman's powers to others.
But it had to be done carefully, taking the Superman's abilities away a bit at a time. Keeping him unconscious long enough for him to be sufficiently weakened. When his associate had attempted to devour all the Kryptonian's powers in one great gulp during their first encounter, he had exploded. A lesson was to be learned from that.
Now, the full power of the scourge from Krypton could be instilled in several bodies, by a combination of transferrance and a sort of "power-cloning".
Starfire, Cyber, and others who proved themselves worthy (and trustworthy, though he trusted the two women very little), would be equipped with the power to break the governments of Earth, to place the planet under his control. Should they rebel, he would remove their powers and destroy them.
The irony of conquering the world with the Kryptonian's powers was not lost on Luthor, but it was nothing that obsessed him. After all, he was not the gloating Joker. It was a means to an end.
This time, he dared believe that he might pull it off. Much would be determined, of course, by the women's success against the other "super-heroes" of this world. It might be necessary to equip others with such powers. But when he considered Louto, Pluto, and Plato, he shuddered internally and decided that other candidates would have to be found. Wanda had possibilities, but should she ever learn about Ardora...well, possessing super-powers in such an occasion might prove problematic. Wanda was dangerous enough on her own.
Luthor shook his head. Too long had he stood before this tube, like a penitent at an altar. But, at this time, what more was there to do but wait?
A footfall, behind him. He turned to see Ardora, entering the room. A rush of sentiment practically unmanned him. And there she was, smiling like a child.
The woman stood five feet six inches in height, brown-haired, statuesque, dressed in a garment identical to the one the first Ardora had worn on Lexor. She held her arms out to him.
He rushed to her, embraced her, kissed her with passion. When they finally broke, she said, "Lex, I hunger."
"So do I," he said. "But I presume you mean food?"
"This ‘presume' I do not know," she said. "But yes, I wish a meal. I would not eat alone."
Luthor held her at arm's length. "In a moment. I must...pay my respects to the Kryptonian."
She looked as though he was about to stick his hand in a viper's nest. "Lex, I fear for you when you speak thus. If the Superman is the menace you have said he is--"
"Oh, yes. And much more than I can reveal."
"--then even now, he might rise from that tank and...and..."
"Be silent, Ardora," said Luthor, holding her wrists. "He is as helpless as the babe within your womb. And you know how helpless our little Lex, Junior is at this state, don't you?"
"That I do," she admitted. "I know few things, truly, but I do know that I carry a child."
"And he will be born into a world without superbeings, except the ones I have created," said Luthor. "And those will never hurt him. I will not permit it."
She looked at him with wonderment. "Will it really be as you say, Lex?"
"Absolutely," he said. "He will never do to you again what he did to your sister and my first son. I promise you that, as I have promised before. But now, give me a moment."
Without waiting for her response, he went to a control panel, pressed a green button, and rushed to the metal tube as the servos within it raised a large section of the housing. He stood peering within its depths for a long moment. Ardora, shivering, would come no closer.
Luthor breathed deeply, looking within.
"You have defined my life," he said, simply. "Now, I define yours. But not forever."
With that, he turned away, went to the panel again, and pressed the button. The housing section fit back into place, mechanically.
Ardora was shaken by the savagery of his expression. But he managed to smile, and put his arm around her, guiding her out of the room and towards the commissary.
For a moment there, she wondered if she could come to fear Lex as much as Superman.
The two sisters flew into the second of Luthor's Lairs with their blue-clad burden in hand. Starfire was the one actually carrying Kara. She claimed the right because, after all, Supergirl was her enemy. If Cyber wanted to transport Wonder Woman after they beat her up, Stella informed her sister huffily, she certainly could do so.
The room was very similar to the one Luthor was standing in, down to the inclusion of another large metal tube. But Luthor had judged it too dangerous to keep both Kryptonians in the same locale. Superman and Supergirl had made too many last-minute escapes for his tastes.
Starfire, with Kara slung carelessly over one shoulder, paused before the device. "We don't even get to kill her," she said.
"Not yet," said Cyber. "Face it, sister, Lex's way makes a lot more sense. If he drains off the power from Supergirl so that we can use it--presto. Two Kryptonians' power in one body."
"One Kryptonian should be enough."
"One anything is never enough," said Cyber, taking the unconscious girl from Starfire's shoulder. She walked over to the tube controls, pressed the green button, and watched the hatch spring open.
Starfire stiffened suddenly. "Sofia. Her heartbeat...it's speeding up."
Cyber ran to the holding tube so quickly that, unused to super-speed, she almost overshot it and ran through the wall. Braking herself, she threw Kara roughly into the darkness of the purple liquid within. A bit of it splashed onto her.
In that spot, she felt vulnerability. She cried out and brushed it away with her gloved hand.
The purpleness closed over Kara Zor-El.
The shock of its colder temperature and her cutoff from air roused the heroine a bit. But the hatch was already closing. By the time she was awake enough to know what was happening, the last bit of light between hatch and housing was already gone.
Kara's hands went out to the metal of her cylindrical prison. She didn't know what to expect, but she figured that (even with Luthor behind it) she had an even chance of being able to break out of it.
She felt the smooth surface, slick with the liquid she floated in but, wisely, did not breathe. She pressed outward.
She kicked at the metal, and didn't even make a dent. She triggered her heat-vision, but it failed to penetrate the stuff.
Whatever this liquid was, it was muffling her powers. It just had to be the same stuff they had used to take Kal.
Now they had taken her, too.
Having been in so many traps before even she was hard-pressed to enumerate them, Kara refused to give up. The problem was that every trap was different, every one had a new wrinkle. And one of them...she hated to admit it, but she did...might be the one she couldn't figure out.
Kara tried raising up, but couldn't get very far. The substance, whatever it was, was sapping even that strength.
An undisciplined thought ran through her mind: I've gotta get out of here. I've got a movie I've got to make! She almost laughed, except that she was afraid it would let some of the purple gunk into her mouth.
A voice. A voice in her mind.
<What is this? Who are you?> she sent back.
<I'm all around you. If I help you, will you help me?>
Cautiously, she formed another thought message. <With what?>
<Help me get my body back.>
The thing that was appearing just over the tops of the highest buildings on the horizon was enough to draw a crowd, and it was starting to, which was not good. But there was nothing to be done about it. Jimmy Olsen knew that they'd be gone soon, at any rate.
Even Lois, who had seen it before, was impressed all over again. But Steve Lombard was positively dropjawed. He grabbed Jimmy by the shoulder, spun him around, and said, "Jim, what's that? Is it one of ours?"
Jimmy grinned. "It sure is. It's just that it stopped being part of the Planet scene just before you went to work at GBS. Don't worry, the guys in it are friends of mine."
Lombard looked at the thing again. It was descending towards the street near his shop, and cars were braking hurriedly, trying not to fender-bender anyone in front or behind.
It was a large, complex, aerial car-vehicle as big as four or five regular cars. It had at least six passenger pods plus a driver's seat. It flew by means of magnetic repulsion, and it had been designed by Big-Words, one of the five men who were within it now, and financed by a pawn of Apokolips.
They called it the Whiz Wagon.
The five passengers had been teens when Jimmy met them. They were young men now, but still adventurers. Four of them had taken on the nicknames of their fathers: Gabby, Big-Words, Scrapper, and Tommy. The fifth, Flippa-Dippa, a black man, had been their new recruit shortly before they met Jimmy Olsen and shared a string of adventures with him.
Their team name was the same as their fathers': the Newsboy Legion.
Now, the Whiz Wagon descended towards the vacated part of the street, and Jimmy, Lois, and Steve scurried towards it, jostling some rubberneckers out of the way. Scrapper, a tough guy with a smiling face and a flat cap, grinned and waved at Jimmy. "Say you, Olsen! About time you give yer old buddies a ring. Whatcherthink we are, social poison?"
"Not hardly, Scrap," said Jimmy, standing squarely to the side of the spot where the Wagon was landing. "I've just been pretty busy. And I thought you guys were making lives for yourselves."
"A not indecent presumption, given the paucity of data you had from which to form a deduction," said Big-Words. "Yet, not without a percentage overlapping into the realm of nonconfirmation. The Legion--"
Tommy cut him off. "What Words is trying to say is that we don't get together as much as we used to, but if an old pal calls for help, we come running. How do, Miss Lane."
Lois nodded. "We need to make tracks, Tommy. We've got to reach and grill some of Lex Luthor's henchmen before Old Baldy can do something about it, like spring them."
"Lex Luthor?" Flippa-Dippa, in an adapted wetsuit, considered it. "Huh. Any chance he's doing something like raidin' Atlantis?"
"Fraid not, Flip," said Jimmy. "Gabby, you ready to get this crate back up with Lois and I in it?"
"By me, it's solid, Jackson," said Gabby. "Both of you hop in. We'll take you where you wanna go."
Two of the hatches in the passenger pods opened. Jimmy and Lois stepped towards them. As they were getting in, Steve Lombard said, "Hold it. I'm coming with you."
Jimmy looked back. "You don't have to, Steve. Really. We could use somebody to stay on home base and keep track of things."
Lombard looked like he was conflicted. No, Jimmy thought to himself, he looks scared. And I don't blame him. Lex Luthor isn't the easiest guy in the world to face up to, even if you've been a pro football quarterback.
"I can't, Jimmy," said Steve. "I've gotta do my part. I'm scared, yeah. But I was scared every time I was facing somebody else's front four. I got through that. I owe Clarkie a lot, for all those pails of water and all those cheap jokes and...all of that. And Supes...he's a hero. I may not be much help, Jim." Steve shifted his stance before answering. "But what help I am, you've got."
"This guy for real?" asked Scrapper.
"Guess so," said Jimmy. "You really want in on this, Steve? It might just be your neck. Ours, too."
"I do, Jim."
Jimmy looked at Lois. She nodded. He turned to Lombard and said, "Climb in."
Gingerly, Steve Lombard entered one of the pods, in which Gabby was seated. The seat smelled not quite as good as a new car, but almost. There was a reinforced seat-and-shoulder belt in it. "Put it on, right now," said Gabby.
Lombard did so.
"Everybody in?" came a voice on the speaker of every pod.
"We're go, Tommy," confirmed Scrapper.
With that, the Whiz Wagon rose a hundred feet inside of ten seconds, then shot forward like a comet.
Steve Lombard looked green. Gabby pulled out a paper bag from a slot. "Use this," he said.