by Christine Nightstar, Immortalwildcat and Dan Swanson
It had been several days since Vandal Savage was released from Commander Steel’s care. He was still somewhat groggy and slow to come around, but the cocktail of medicines that the doctors had pumped him full of were being slowly purged from his system.
He had been liberated by a hidden cache of Illuminati agents placed within Steel’s own organization, Operation Liberty. The broadcast used by the Committee to Re-energize American Politics had unknowingly triggered the commands for the hidden agents to free Savage. Three agents moved Vandal Savage quietly, killing those who asked for authorization. By the time the broadcast was over, Savage was in an ambulance on the way out of the prison for examination by a county coroner. By the time word had reached Commander Steel as to what had happened, Vandal Savage was in an unknown safehouse with several doctors working on detoxifying the immortal’s system.
Vandal Savage blinked, showing the first signs of consciousness since his liberation.
“Where am I?” Vandal Savage asked weakly.
“Illuminati safe house delta-triceron-seven, Master Savage.”
“Who are you?”
“Your physician of the moment, Dr. Clairisse Arnold. I’m helping to detoxify you, Master Savage, so that you can take your rightful place at the head of the Illuminati and the world.”
“You were captured in September, 1986.”
“Yes, yes,” Savage said impatiently. “What is it now? October, November?”
“It’s now May, 1988.”
Vandal Savage’s only reply was a wordless groan.
“And it’s been seventy-two hours since you were pronounced dead at the prison. It will be another twelve hours before your body will be able to resume normal functioning.”
“I’ve been away too long…”
“We are aware of that and are doing our best to speed your recovery, Master Savage.”
“I want to be briefed on everything immediately.”
“When you are well enough, we’ll send in your aides with everything that has been going on,” Dr. Arnold said before her throat was grasped by the immortal’s hand.
“I want to be briefed on everything immediately — not when you think I am well enough.”
“Of course, Master Savage…” she wheezed out through his tight grip, and she motioned for the aides to come in and begin briefing her immortal master.
It took less than two hours for Vandal Savage to come up to speed on recent events.
“Those imbeciles!” he snarled. “Somewhere among them a pair of brain cells actually managed to rub together and spark something akin to an idea, and based on that they have betrayed the existence of my media taps, fouled up the reputation of a tabloid that I’ve used for decades to spread misinformation, and possibly driven a carefully crafted plan into the ground!”
“Surely, sir, it hasn’t been as bad as all that — URK!”
“Dr. Arnold, you are most certainly a competent physician, else you would not be a part of this organization. However, what you don’t know about strategy and planning would fill a library!” Savage’s hand closed around the doctor’s windpipe as he stared into her eyes. “You would have done well to remember that. Who else knows I am here?”
“Just the five of us, sir.” Dr. Arnold glanced over at the three agents who had delivered the status reports standing warily near the door. “Per your standing orders, all of those involved in your escape and recovery have been terminated.”
“So insofar as the Council is concerned, I am still in government custody?”
“Ah, sir,” spoke one of the agents. “There was a press release from the Department of Justice just before I arrived stating that you had passed away in your cell.”
“Hah! Steel must be trying to buy some time. No doubt the Justice Society will be apprised of my escape, while the Council is kept in the dark. Perfect.” Savage turned back to the doctor, whose throat he still held. “For now, let them remain so.” He squeezed his fist and twisted, and a loud snap was heard. He opened his hand, and the limp body of Dr. Clairisse Arnold dropped to the floor.
“Oh, hell,” muttered one of the agents as a scalpel sailed across the room and into his chest. A rapidly spreading red stain on his shirt made it clear that the blade had slipped between the ribs and into the man’s heart. Before this fact even registered with the other two, Savage was upon them, living up to his adopted surname.
Three hours later, firefighters were called to a blaze in downtown Atlanta. It took over two hours to bring it under control. Investigators determined that a leaking pipe in the government chemical warehouse had dripped water on an electrical junction box, sparking the blaze. The flames, fed by the chemicals stored inside, were intense enough to destroy any evidence that anybody had been in the building.
Five blocks away, a guest at the Hyatt Regency Tower, whose credit card bore the name of Rex Arthur, dialed a long-distance call.
“Maxwell? It’s Savage. We need to talk.”
Lois Lane Kent was not happy. Of course she had read the Weekly Star Enquirer News’ super-hero exposé issue. Everyone had. All those heroes were her very good friends, and she couldn’t believe that someone had dared stoop so low as to publish lies like that about them. And that story about how Clark and Karen… somebody was going to pay for that. Those pictures had to be of Nike, but who had that been pretending to be Clark? (*) Fortunately, she knew where to look for a birthmark that nobody else knew about.
[(*) Editor’s note: Nike first appeared in Power Girl: Kara’s Quest.]
Those stories were so outlandish; how could anyone believe anything in this rag? How could the Weekly Star Enquirer News even expect to stay in business? And yet there was a lot less public outrage than she expected. Well, she would just see about that. She was Lois Lane, ace reporter, and she’d exposed plenty of frauds in her day — not that her day had passed, but she had just been on a hiatus, you understand.
A few quick preparations, and she would be ready. She needed to change; she smiled sheepishly to herself as she realized she was climbing into her action outfit much as Clark put on his costume. But she couldn’t take her daughter Mary with her, and she couldn’t entrust her with just any babysitter; what would happen if someone like Laurie Lemmon figured it out, if Mary showed off her super-powers? Both her Clarks — husband and son — were away on errands, and she didn’t want to leave Mary with Alexander Lane. Sometimes his attention wandered, and if he blinked, she might be hundreds of miles away before he even knew she was gone. Lois was sure Alex would find her easily enough, but what mischief might she get into before he caught up with her?
The robots at the Secret Citadel seemed to be a good solution, and there were some things there she wanted to pick up, anyway. Both her Clarks were away, so she needed to find alternate transportation. Mary wasn’t quite ready for passenger flights yet, so she knocked on the open door to Alex’s lab.
“Come in,” said Alex Lane, looking up curiously. Usually, nobody came to see him while he was working.
“Ta-dah!” Lois sang as she spun into the room. She was wearing a light blue three-piece business suit with a knee-length tight skirt and white gloves, and she was carrying a strapless purse and wearing a pillbox hat along with a necklace and matching earrings. She wore sensible yet fashionable shoes, and a camera hung from her neck on a leather strap. “What do you think?”
“Wow, Lois, you look… great. So, so… ’50s!” He was clearly flustered, unused to dealing with women. But he had said just the right thing.
“Lois Lane Kent, former star reporter for the Daily Star, and now the editor of the Smallville Gazette! Even as a full-time mom, I’m still at the top of my game!”
Alex didn’t quite know what to make of this, and he was relieved when he realized that all he had to do was give Lois and Mary a ride to the Citadel, and he’d be able to get back to his life’s work. “Sure, Lois.” It wouldn’t take long, he figured, and he needed a break. “Let’s take the saucer. With the new inertial dampeners, we ought to be able to make it in only a few minutes.”
The three headed downstairs through one of the secret tunnels to the open area concealed under the barn that acted as a garage, hangar, and docking facility. In an instant, Alex’s flying saucer shot through the underground channel to the river, emerging several miles from the Kent farm. They were in the mountains outside Metropolis within minutes. Lois used her remote control to open the camouflaged sliding hatch, and Alex switched to VTOL mode, and soon they landed in the gigantic hangar section of Superman’s Secret Citadel.
Lois and Mary hopped out, and Alex was gone. He needed a break from the lab, so he took a short hop around the Moon. He was almost disappointed that his latest stealth technology kept him undetected. He always enjoyed reading the many alien invasion stories caused when someone spotted one of his special air and spacecraft. Ironically, as a native of Earth-Three, he actually was an alien, though not quite the type of alien most people expected.
Entering the robot room, Lois carefully considered her options. Robot L was the strongest and most capable of the Superman robots. Mary’s powers, still developing, were probably even now mightier than those Superman had built into Robot L, but L was older and more experienced. She gave L instructions to activate any other robots as required. Surely a half-dozen Superman robots, with some Lois and Clark robots for good measure, would be able to handle any emergency that might arise.
“Mary, I’m going to go do some work. For a couple of hours, I’d like you to play with Robot L, here. I’ll bring you something when I come back.”
“Goody! Robot L is just like big dolly! Let’s play dress-up!” An instant later, Robot L was dressed in clothes similar to the ones Lois was wearing. “Look, mommy! It’s Robot Super-Mom!”
Lois would have sworn that there was a pained look on Robot L’s face. And there was certainly a fair amount of pleading in its voice. “Ms. Lane, please don’t be away long!” It then turned back to Mary and, with a cheerfulness that sounded real to Lois, began to chatter with her — and in lingo a toddler could understand.
“That was the bestest trick I’ve ever seen, Super-Duper Mary. My turn now!” And a table, several chairs, and tea service appeared as if by magic. Mary cooed and clapped her hands.
“Have a good day, sweetheart!” Lois headed to one of the other rooms, since it looked like Mary was in good hands. She was going to pick up a few things that she thought might be helpful later and then head into Metropolis.
She already had her Smallville Gazette press pass, but she also brought along her Daily Star stringer press pass for good measure, but she thought she might need a couple of special tools.
Stopping in a room filled with ordinary-looking items, Lois strolled from exhibit to exhibit and picked up several of them — a set of matched necklace, broach, belt, earrings and ring, each set with one-or-two-inch-long pale blue oval stones. They went perfectly with her outfit, which was why she had chosen them. It was unfortunate, though, that the ring wouldn’t fit under the glove. She’d have to do this assignment barehanded. She slipped a monocle and a pair of sunglasses into her purse.
She would start at the New Jersey office of the Weekly Star Enquirer News. She took the elevator down to the cavernous garage carved into the base of the mountain, fired up the one of her favorites — the ’65 Mustang ragtop — and headed out through the tunnel. Superman had added these facilities after they got married. She had used them more frequently before they moved to Smallville — but everything was in perfect condition thanks to a fleet of maintenance robots.
The secret exit from the tunnel left her on a barely used back road, but it was only minutes from the Interstate. She set the cruise control and then settled down for some serious thinking. She had a place to start, and she hoped to pick up a few leads further on.
“Watch out, bad guys! Lois Lane is on the story!”
An hour, later Lois pulled into the visitor’s parking lot of Weekly Star Enquirer News near the Meadowlands. Her mood was foul — she’d been caught in a real slowdown, and driving a stick-shift in stop-and-go traffic wasn’t as much fun as she remembered. And somebody had sideswiped her and then sped off. Well, she had his license number — the broach in her matched jewelry set was a miniature audio/video recorder with seventy-two hours of storage. She’d catch up with him later.
She found it interesting that the building was surrounded by an electrified chain link fence topped by barbed wire. Lois stepped into the guard shack and greeted the guard.
“Yeah, wadda you want? You ain’t on d’ appointment list. And it ain’t Halloween, neither. Dough I do like that tight skirt — whyn’cha turn around and give me a peek at the caboose?” It was a far cry from a nice, warm, friendly greeting. Still, in the pursuit of a story, she’d put up with worse. She put this guy at the top of her later list, though, even above the idiot driver.
“My name is Lois Kent. I’m the editor of the Smallville Gazette, and I do have an appointment with Ms. Sauer. She must have forgotten to notify you.” Sally Sauer was the publisher; Lois had gotten the name from the credits on the inside front cover.
“Sauer ain’t in today.” The guard turned back to his security monitors. He clearly expected her to go away. The stone in her mood ring was actually a lie detector, and it was giving her mixed signals from the guard. He was telling the truth, but he was hiding something.
“Excuse me, Mr. Goodfellow…” Lois had noticed that was the name on his badge. He started, clearly not used to people actually reading the badge or ignoring his subtle signals to leave. “I’ve come a long way to talk to Ms. Sauer on important business. I’m sure if you’ll check with her, you’ll see that she’s just forgotten to let you know about the meeting.”
“You’re fulla crap, ya dumb skirt! You got no appointment wit’ Sauer. Now get your hot rear outta here before I bust ya for trespassin’!” Suddenly, he smiled. “Say, if it really is dat important, I might be able ta get hold a’ da boss fer ya — supposin’ you was ta be nice to me fer a while.”
“What do you think Ms. Sauer’s going to do to you, spithead, when I tell her the way you treat her visitors?”
“You are one dumb witch, ain’t ya? Da reason I know you ain’t got an appointment wit Sauer is cause there ain’t no Ms. Sauer. We made up da name ta keep losers like you outta da place. Now, I’m tellin’ ya, you’se about outta chances, sweetheart. Better be nice ta me, or I’ll have da cops out here in minutes ta bust you for trespassin’.” He pressed a button on his desk, and the door behind Lois locked shut.
She looked around frantically, but the only other way out of the guard house was the door behind the guard. He was out from behind his desk, and she was cowering against the wall. “Yeah, dis is gonna be fun!” He was enjoying the panic on her face.
Suddenly, she jumped higher than anyone had a right to and kicked him in the jaw. That was the last thing he remembered for a long time.
“That ninth-metal buckle in the belt really pulled its weight that time!” she said, smiling at her pun.
She floated over the counter, landed, and took in the scenes on all the video monitors. No wonder he had been so interested in watching that one; it was showing a skin flick.
“Holy mackerel! That’s got to be fake. Even Plastic Man couldn’t do that!”
She kicked the monitor, smashing the screen. The other monitors showed the parking lot and the outside of the building, and there wasn’t anything to see. There didn’t appear to be anyone on the grounds around the building, and all the windows appeared to have heavy drapery to prevent outsiders from looking in. Well, she ought to be able to snoop around for a while without being noticed — which suited her just fine. She knew Clark wouldn’t have approved of her breaking and entering, but she and her husband didn’t always see eye to eye when hunting for a scoop.
One of her earrings was a super-amplifier, the other a scanning radio receiver. She cautiously stuck her head outside of the guard shack and listened with both earrings, but there was nothing outside the ordinary. Apparently Goodfellow, if that really was his name, hadn’t thought to sound an alarm. She was really puzzled, though — why would a tabloid need this kind of security? And if they were doing something that secret, why had they jeopardized their security with that exposé issue? They had to know that somebody would be pissed off enough to track them down. But that only argued that she had better be extra careful.
“Lois Careful Lane, that’s me,” she said, smiling to herself as she slipped out the guard’s door.