Last Waltz With Luthor, Part 4
Green Lantern was being hassled at the WarPort entrance by the emigration officer. "I'm sorry, sir, but you need official authorization to use the ‘Port to Earth," said the man, a balding, mustached type in a brown outfit. "We just can't authorize passage to non-K worlds without it."
Hal had dealt with planetary bureaucrats before. He held up his ring hand and let the power ring display an aura of green energy. "This is my authorization, officer. I'm a deputized member of the Green Lanterns of the Universe. My authority comes from the Guardians, and I am recognized on every world in my space-sector, which is 2814. And I am a native of Earth."
Kara, behind him, said, "I'll vouch for him, tanth. We both need to get to Earth. It's very important. It involves Superman."
The officer was standing fast, blocking the passageway to the teleportation device a hundred yards distant. Armed guards were on hand, and so was an attendant, and none of them looked like they wanted to be there.
Nonetheless, the officer had just been promoted a few months ago, and he was going to live up to his responsibility. That was the lesson his mother had drummed into him, and by the sun he was going to exercise it.
"It well may involve Tanth El, Tynth Zor-El," said the officer. "But until the gentleman before me produces some government documents, I cannot allow him to ‘port to Earth. You may do so, however, with my blessings."
"This is ridiculous," said Kara. "What's your name, officer? I want to mention it to the Drygur Moliom next time I talk to him." She had two fairly bulky suitcases in her hands and didn't want to set them down yet, even if Hal had negated their weight to make them liftable. One of them held over 100 pounds of clothes.
"You may do so, Tynth Zor-El," he said. "My name is Di-Marr. You may obtain my address from the Central Directory. But unless the Drygur himself authorizes it, I may not allow the gentleman to use the ‘Port. Now, please either both of you leave, or let the Lantern leave and you, tynth, use the ‘Port. But as it is, we're holding up traffic."
"As it is, I could get through you all with the power of my ring," said Hal, flatly. "I could move this entire planet out of orbit."
Di-Marr paled a bit, but said nothing.
Kara was steaming.
"But I will not do it," said Hal. "The Corps is bound to respect the laws of all planets, except when they interfere with the performance of our duties. I can get around this. Kara, are you ready?"
"Sure, Hal," she said, and tightened her grip on the suitcases' handles.
"Ready for what?" asked Di-Marr, half-expecting them to rush the ‘Port entrance.
"This," said Green Lantern.
His ring flashed again. A bubble of energy, verdant and glowing, surrounded Hal and Kara. The guards stood at the ready, not knowing what was about to come off. Di-Marr's folded arms fell to his sides.
The bubble rose, carrying both Green Lantern and Kara Zor-El with it. It reached the ceiling. It penetrated it, osmotically, with neither the ceiling, the bubble, nor the people within it being harmed in the least.
"We'll do it the hard way," called Kara down to him. "And the Drygur Moliom will hear about this."
The bottom of the bubble passed through the ceiling and was gone.
The attendant at the ‘Port asked the official, "Uh, Tanth Marr, what do we do now?"
Di-Marr found his voice. "Whatever you were doing before, son." He motioned to the line of people who had been standing back of a line some fifteen feet from where Kara and the Lantern had stood.
"Next!" he called.
The word was muffled a bit, coming through Dr. Cyber's yellow facemask. But her tone of curiosity came through as clear as a struck chime.
Nasthalia Luthor nodded, looking serious. "Lex was making breakthroughs in genetics that would take the DNA Project scientists another generation to discover. He didn't tell his parents, he didn't tell Lena, he sure didn't tell Superboy. He was afraid that he'd be accused of playing God. But he discovered a chemical means for creating life. And he created some."
"What kind of life?" asked Starfire, interested despite herself.
"A simple organism, kind of like a really big amoeba with arm-growths. It lived in a big beaker he'd constructed it in. It must have been eerie as hell to look at, and it probably couldn't think. But Lex had created it. And he had to admit that Superboy had helped, because without the lab and the chemicals Boy Blue had brought him, plus studying the alien brain, it never would have happened.
"So he decided to do something nice for the kid, even if he was getting a little irritated with him by then. He dredged the Kryptonite meteor out of the quicksand, chipped off a little bit of it, ground the bit up for experimentation, and tossed the big rock back in the glop. Lex thought he could do something with that and with a bit of the protoplasm he'd made the creature out of. So he worked all night on it, and he'd already been up the night before. He was really dragging ground by that time, but he's like that. When he gets an idea, he can't let it go."
"I guess his biggest idea must have been Superman, then," said Cyber. "Go on, Nasty."
Nasthalia said, "Okay. This is probably the part you know. But by morning, 5:30 a.m., Lex had done it. He'd mixed up some of the Kryptonite with part of the protoplasm and some other chemicals, and lo and behold, he had an antidote to Kryptonite in a beaker. He was really tripping out by then...two of the biggest scientific discoveries ever, and he'd done them both in the space of two nights.
"The problem was, he was so tired out he backed against his lab table, and he nudged a beaker of sodium. He felt it, turned around, tried to grab it...but he wasn't fast enough. The thing fell into the lab sink and broke. And it exploded. That's what sodium does when it hits water.
"The thing went off like a jet engine. It flat-out melted the hood fan over the sink. The heat broke some containers with acid in them, and some other flammable stuff. The place started going up like a torch, and the smoke it was generating was poison gas.
"Lex figured he was just about dead. He was cut off from the door by the fire. He went over and opened the window, trying to get some air. But he got a lot more than that. He saw Superboy in the sky, making a dawn patrol.
"So he yelled out to Superboy, and the kid heard him. Obviously the smoke and fire coming out of the window were a big tipoff. Lex said he didn't even have time to finish yelling before the kid was on the ground, braced, and letting a big puff of super-breath through the window. It knocked Lex on his kiester, and it blew the fire out and the smoke back at him, and over him, and past him. It knocked some other stuff over, too. But Supes flew in through the window, sucked up the gas, and then flew out again. In a few seconds he was back, so Lex figured, later, that he'd exhaled the gas in the upper atmosphere.
"But there were two things Lex noticed, just as Supes got back."
"Mm-hmm," said Starfire, knowing what was coming next.
"First off, the protoplasm-thing he'd created was gone. It wasn't just dead, it was dissolved, disintegrated. Another acid beaker had fallen on it when Superboy did the breath trick. Burned it up like was never really there.
"Second, he looked at his shoulder...first the left one, then the right one. There was hair all over them. His hair. It had fallen right out of his head. He told me he felt a burning sensation up there, so he found a bag of alkali that was still intact, and dunked his head in it. He also made sure he got it on his eyebrows, too, and maybe his lashes, so they wouldn't fall out. But it was too late for his hair.
"And it was too late for that thing he'd created.
"So Superboy came in expecting that Lex was going to be thankful for saving him. But it wasn't like that. Lex called him a lot of things, and you can probably imagine what they were. And Superboy was just kind of dumbfounded, taking it. Lex was bald as an egg--that alkali saved his scalp and his eyebrows, but he'd never grow hair again. On top of that, his greatest creation--that protoplasmic being--was dead. He didn't think he could ever create something like that again. It all came out, and he blasted Superboy with it. I think he wanted to hit the kid, but he held back, since even as mad as he was, he knew he'd probably break his fist.
"But Superboy was apologizing, trying to bring him around, pointing out that he'd saved his life. Lex wouldn't have anything of it. Then he glanced up and saw a test tube still in a rack. It had the Kryptonite antidote in it. So he thought of using it to get to Superboy somehow. At that point, he switched tracks, pretended he was sorry, and to prove it, he'd give Superboy a Kryptonite antidote.
"So he really did give him the antidote. The kid was able to fly through a flock of Kryptonite meteors and not feel a thing. But when he got back on Earth with Lex, Lex told him that the antidote was only temporary. He said he could have made a permanent antidote to Kryptonite, but that he wouldn't give it to Superboy, because he'd been so jealous of him and ruined his hair and his creation."
"Delightful," muttered Cyber, through her mask.
"So it looks like it's quits between them, and Lex wrecked all his Superboy trophies. Then he sets out to show that he can outdo Superboy, just with the power of his brain. He went to the mayor and showed him plans for a weather tower that could heat up Smallville in the winter and cool it down in the winter. The mayor got some contractors together and the city built it. But--well--this was one of Lex's earlier inventions. It hadn't gotten all the bugs worked out. So it went haywire and focused too much heat on the town, and the whole thing was about to burn up."
Starfire snickered. Nasty gave her a harsh look, and she hid her mouth behind her hands.
"Naturally, Superboy went out and wrecked it, which made Lex even madder. Then he got the idea to treat seeds with some of the stuff he'd used to help grow the protoplasm thing, and make them grow super-fast. He gave seeds out around town, and people planted ‘em, and overnight the things turned into big trees. The problem was, they didn't stop growing. They got bigger and bigger, and their root systems started wrecking everything, and Superboy had to go pull them up all around town and burn ‘em with his heat-vision. Lex was back at the mayor's office the next day with a hot new plan, and the mayor basically told him to go to hell.
"What happened next? Well, Lex invites Superboy over, and just as soon as he steps into the barn, Lex opens a lead compartment and there's the Kryptonite meteor again. The kid fell flat on his back. Lex slammed the door behind him, and he was just grinning, ‘cause he was going to stand over Superboy until he died. Then he'd throw his body and the meteor in the quicksand pit, and nobody would ever pin him down for murder, he thought.
"But he had the beaker the antidote had been in in his hand, and he was waving it around in front of Superboy. Just kinda to tease him. Superboy just sucked in with what was left of his super-breath, and busted the thing all over his mouth and got the last drops of it. He got up, shoved Lex back, grabbed the meteor and went outside with it. Lex looked out his window and saw him haul off and throw that thing. It had to have weighed over a hundred pounds.
"And it didn't come down. That's when Lex really started to realize what he'd been tangling with, because it didn't come down.
"Superboy stomps back in, and he doesn't look pleased. Lex figured either he's going to get hit, or taken to jail, or both. But Blue Boy doesn't do either thing. He said that, since Lex saved his life once, he was going to give him a break and not take him in. He said that squared the debt between them. But he also said that he would never trust him again, that he could never see Lex as a friend again, and, believe it or not, that hurt Lex. Don't ask me or him why, but he said it did hurt.
"He told Lex that he couldn't trust him anymore with what he'd given him, so he took the weirdo chemicals and special stuff he'd made for him away from him. But he said he wouldn't tell his folks what he'd tried to do, and that he still had a lot of good he could do for mankind, if he'd just get off his hate-Superboy kick, straighten up, and fly right.
"Lex told him what he could do with his chemistry set, where to go, and what he'd do to him someday. He said that no matter how long it took him, he'd kill him someday. Superboy didn't say a thing after that. He just took the stuff with him and flew off.
"And that was how the whole thing started."
Starfire rubbed her hand over the top of her head. "So your cousin essentially wanted to conquer the world, and kill Superman, and kept at it all these years, just because he lost his hair?"
"It's not just that," said Nasty. "It's losing that early life-form he made, too, but it's not just that. I think it's like...scratch that, I know what it is. It's a competition. Lex is showing that he's as great as the most powerful guy on Earth, and he's doing it just with the power of his mind. But there's more to it, now, even than that. Want me to go on?"
"I'm going to use the ladies' room first," said Cyber. "Then you can tell us the rest. But please condense it. I don't have time to listen to how your cousin fought Superman 2,000 times, and lost."
At the ceiling, a beam projector suddenly swivelled and sent forth a bright red beam. It seared a line in the floor directly ahead of Cyber, penetrating all the way through and God knew how far into the earth, for six feet in length.
Cyber stopped cold.
Nasthalia said, "He must have been listening. I think I'd be a little more careful with what I said around here, if I were you."
Cyber, after a moment, turned and walked back to the table and sat down. Starfire wasn't smiling anymore, either.
"Resume your narrative," said the masked woman.
With a smug smile, Nasthalia prepared to begin again.
Inspector Henderson had been in Morgan Edge's office before, but it always impressed him. He never showed it.
The Metropolis cop was grilling the head of Galaxy Broadcasting, who owned both WGBS and the Daily Planet, about the disappearance of Clark Kent. He was hoping he'd learn something about the vanished Superman, too.
"I have no idea where he's gone to, Bill," said Edge. "On July 20th, Kent did the usual evening newscast. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for his legendary last-second entrance, and that's nothing out of the ordinary for him."
"Wait a minute," said Henderson. "You say Kent often shows up at the last second for a broadcast? Isn't that highly unusual for a network anchorman? There's makeup, and prep, and..."
"Yes, yes, I know," said Edge. "Kent gets madeup, he gets the prepping done chop-chop, and then he makes some lame excuse about his stomach and hits the john. By the time the ten-second count is going on, our producer, Josh Coyle, is getting some real stomach trouble. Then Kent turns up on set, and everything's a cakewalk." Edge kicked back in his chair. "Except for Coyle. And me. I always thought he'd get stuck in the bathroom someday and vanish. Well, maybe he has."
"All right," said Henderson, noting the data in pen in a handbook. "I don't like to ask this, because I know Kent fairly well. But. You mentioned him going to the john just before newscast time. Mr. Edge, do you think he could have been using drugs?"
"Drugs?" Edge shook his head. "Hell, no. I insist that our employees submit to random dope tests, and that includes Kent, Lang, and everybody else."
"Don't be silly. The only drug I use is Maalox. Anyway, Kent's passed with flying colors every time. I don't even think his urine tests positive for caffeine. Trust me, I've been around a few cokeheads, and let them go. Kent never acts like that. You can sweep the bathroom if you want with a drug dog. Go ahead."
"After a month, Mr. Edge, the trail might be pretty cold. I hate to go over all of this with you again, the way we did the first week he was gone. But it's the only thing I can do right now."
Edge banged his palms down on his desk. "It's not the only thing you can do. You can find him. You haven't done that so far, have you?"
"No, Mr. Edge," admitted Henderson. "Have the private detective agencies you've hired found him yet?"
"No," said Edge. "But--"
"Mr. Edge. I assure you, the department is doing everything it can to discover the whereabouts of Mr. Kent. Even President Reagan has asked the mayor to devote special attention to it. But we haven't turned up anything yet. Yet."
Edge was silent. He studied the detective with hard eyes, and Bill Henderson gave him the hard stare back.
Finally, Henderson said, "There's one last angle, Mr. Edge."
"Superman is also apparently missing. He and Kent resemble each other. It's possible the two might be--"
"One and the same?" snapped Edge. "Oh, I really--"
"Mr. Edge," snapped Henderson. "Do not finish my sentences. Please."
Edge clammed up.
"Quite frankly, I'm not satisfied that Kent is Superman," said Henderson. "They've been seen together, even though it's been rumored that one or the other might have been a stand-in at those times. It's also possible that, thanks to their long association, whoever is holding one is also holding the other. After all, Kent is Superman's best friend, this side of Batman."
"And he hasn't found Superman either," said Edge. "And there are a lot of men who look like Superman."
"There are," replied Henderson. He stood up. "I'm going to have some men hit Smallville again tomorrow, go over all the old friends. We've done that before, but--" He left the sentence hanging.
Henderson looked at Edge.
Edge, for once, looked vulnerable.
"If Superman really is gone--then, what are we supposed to do?"
The detective looked down at his notebook, pondering an answer.
Before he could speak, Edge's desk buzzer went off. "Yes, what?" Edge rapped.
"Uh, Mr. Edge," said Terri Conway's voice. "There's a gentleman here who absolutely has to see you."
"I told you I was talking with Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police, Terri," said Edge. "And Mr. Henderson is still here."
"Mr. Edge, this gentleman's name is Strong, Captain Strong, and he's got me and my desk chair in one hand and my desk in the other and he's holding me and the desk off the floor. He's told me he'll let me and the desk down if you'll just see him. He says it's about Superman. So will you please see him, sir?"
Henderson did a double-take. Edge's eyes widened for a second.
"Okay," said Edge. "Send him in."
The detective sat back down.
He'd figured he wasn't going to get out of there on time, anyway.
Green Lantern and Kara were well beyond the influence of Rokyn's red sun, but both of them were still within the green bubble. She could travel as well within it as without it, and inside it she could talk to Hal. It was almost as fast as she could travel with super-speed, anyway, if she wasn't really kicking it.
She sat on the rounded bottom of the bubble beside her two grips and looked out the green wall of the bubble at the panorama of space beside them. "So Kal's been missing since July 20th? Why didn't anyone tell me, Hal?"
He looked at her and appeared a bit guilty. "We were hoping not to worry you. We thought that he was off on a solo mission, that he'd be back in a few days. When a week went by, we started getting worried."
"He didn't give any notice of leaving?"
"Not a bit, Kara," said Hal. "Even Bruce didn't know. He was checking into the matter days before the rest of us. Turned up nothing, so far. And when Bruce can't find out--"
"Sheol, Hal, I'm worried," said Kara, hugging herself. "I'm glad you called me. But I wish you'd called me earlier."
"I wish so, too," he said. Then there was silence.
"Hal?" she said.
Kara said, "I know this is off-topic, kind of. But I want to know...flying through space, seeing all this hanging out in the void, the constellations, the strange planets, the comets, the starships. I'm an outworlder to you, but I never get used to it. I always love it. Do you?"
He said, "The first question: No, I never get used to it. The second question: I love it, too. Totally. The only thing that's more fun than this is being in the cockpit of one of those jets I test and pushing that envelope till itfeels like I'm gonna have to use the ring here to bring it back in one piece."
"Not yet. I don't like to cheat."
"Carol's fine. We're hoping to have a kid before long. She wants to make me a new vice-president, and I suppose I'll have to accept. But I'm darned well not giving up the jets."
She smiled at him. "Where does Carol come in, thrill-wise, compared to space and jets?"
He smiled, widely. "There is no comparison."
Then they approached a space-warp which would shorten their distance to Earth by untold millions of miles, and plunged into it.
Warp-space was another thrill indeed, as different from regular space as regular space was from planetary sky.
But Kara still didn't stop thinking of Kal.
Lena Thorul and Val were in Lena's red Chevy, the one with only five more payments to be made on it, and were proceeding on the main superhighway to Metropolis, still a few hours away. Val was reading a Robert Heinlein novel. She hadn't told him why they were going, but she did say, "It involves your uncle. Trust me."
So he did. He loved his mother, and he knew first-hand what kind of a man his uncle was.
Suddenly Lena stiffened at the wheel.
"Mom?" said Val, putting the book down. "What's wrong? What's wrong, Mom?"
Lena fought to keep control. Then, very low, she said, "Get your head down and keep it down."
Val said, "Mom, what--"
"Do as I say!"
He bent double, keeping his head under the level of the dashboard, and hoped Mom knew what she was doing.
As soon as the next exit came up, Lena Thorul steered the car off the main highway and down a crossing road until they came to the small town the exit fed into. "What's going on, Mom?" asked Val.
"I think someone is following us, Val," she said. "Or that someone will be following us."
Within an hour and a half, Lena arranged for a garage to keep their car for up to a month, paying in advance for the privelage. She rented another car, bought a wig for herself at a beauty shop and got Val a cap, and then hit the road again, taking an alternate route to Metropolis. It would take longer, but she felt safer that way.
Within an hour of their departure, a black van arrived in town, learned where the car was, and learned that Val and Lena were no longer in it.
Wanda Nordo opened a communications channel on the dash of the van. "They're flown, boss," she said. "Orders?"
Lex Luthor's voice spoke exactly two words to her, and to Pluto and Plato Statler, who were riding in the back.
The channel was closed.
And the black van moved on.