by Dan Swanson, Immortalwildcat and Christine Nightstar
In the light blue outfit she was wearing, Lois Lane Kent realized she would stand out like a sore thumb against the well-tended lawn and the red brick of the Weekly Star Enquirer News building. She carefully checked the wind — her belt did not give her the ability to fly, only to levitate, and a stiff breeze could easily blow her miles away if she wasn’t careful. She adjusted her weight carefully, wondering how much money she could make selling weight-control belts. Heck, the publicity she would get through the tabloids alone would make her the richest woman in the world, not that she wasn’t already. And then she moved.
Weighing as little as a kid but driven by the muscles of an adult, she crossed the forty-yard lawn in under three seconds. Puts those NFL hotshots to shame! she thought with satisfaction. The moderate breeze was blowing her toward the wall of the building, which was perfect. She lightened her weight again and swarmed up the wall to the roof five stories above, humming the theme to a popular TV show to herself.
Spider-Girl, Spider-Girl, leaves the bad guys heads awhirl.
Climbing walls, swinging high, Sometimes even seems to fly!
Look out! There goes the Spider-Girl!
She went up and over the cornice at the top, then turned up her weight just enough to keep from blowing away. Over there was a doorway. It wasn’t locked, but there was a sliding bolt on the inside. Well, now that she was pretty much out of sight, she had time to relax. She pulled the X-Ray Specs from her purse and checked out the door again. There was nobody in the stairwell, no wires or anything attached to the door, so if she could figure out how to jigger the bolt, she was in.
Lois pulled a pair of tweezers from her purse. They fit through the crack, and she grabbed the bolt and carefully twisted it halfway, then slid it back. It took several attempts, and she could not have done it at all without the X-Ray Specs. She slipped through the door and locked it behind her, figuring she could probably get out through a window if she was in a real hurry.
She needed to be done before someone found the unconscious guard. She didn’t want to be caught, as she was sure she was breaking a few laws, and for the thousandth time she really hoped her husband would understand. She used her specs to make sure there was no one outside the door to the stairwell and then peeked out. Yes! She took two quick strides across the hall, pulled the fire alarm, and was back in the stairwell instantly.
Maybe that wasn’t such a great idea. She had to hurry back up the stairs as the doors on every floor opened, and people started to file down the stairs in an orderly procession. And then someone wearing a red construction helmet labeled floor warden started coming up the stairs. Where could she hide?
He never reached the rooftop landing. As soon as he could see that the door was still latched, he turned and headed back down. Lois let out the breath she was holding and drifted slowly down from the ceiling. When the floor warden had reached the third floor, herding everyone in front of him, she was through the door into the fifth-floor corridors. She figured the big bosses would have their offices on the top floor, and she was right.
She found the publisher’s office and started examining the files in the office of her secretary. She thought she heard someone speaking in a closet across the hallway, and then she smelled what seemed to be sulfur. The next thing she heard was the crackling of flames. My God, the building really is on fire! She needed to move even faster now.
Dumping the paper trash out of a recycling waste basket, she searched through the hanging files in the file cabinet, grabbing several and tossing them into the basket. The heat from the fire was building in the secretary’s office, so she went through the inner door into the publisher’s office. No file cabinets here, so she just started dumping the desk drawers into her basket. Strangely, one drawer was much shorter than the rest. Jackpot. She reached into the exposed space, drew out a locked box, and dumped it into her basket. The wall to the outer office was starting to smoke on her side — it was definitely time to go.
Picking up the big executive chair, she moved as far from the window as she could get. It was really hot. She had to get this right the first time. She used the belt to reduce her weight and the chair, then ran at the window as fast as she could, the chair held out in front of her. At the last second, she thrust the chair forward even faster. As soon as she was no longer touching it, the chair regained its full weight and smashed through the window.
She smashed into the sill, barely keeping from going through after the chair. Even at her reduced weight it was painful. She grabbed her basket of papers and stuff, then carefully drifted out the shattered window and dropped toward the ground. The wind blew her into the scrubby trees of the Meadowland, and she took some additional battering before she finally landed. She looked back to see that the entire top floor of the building was now engulfed in flames.
Lois knew that she had not caused that fire, and she realized what a fortunate coincidence it was that she had pulled the fire alarm just a few minutes before the fire actually started. The extra few seconds of head-start she had given the workers might have saved several lives. She remembered the smell of sulfur. What had that been about? Well, she would worry about it later — right now, she had to get back to the car without being caught.
That turned out to be simpler than she had thought. All the employees were at an emergency gathering point, and someone was checking them off against a roster, making sure that everyone had gotten out all right. The crowd of excited people hadn’t yet noticed that the guard was missing — though the guard shack was safely away from the fire. When the guard came around, she realized, they were going to be looking for an arsonist. Well, at least the holographic image the necklace had projected would prevent the guard from recognizing her.
She hopped in the car and squealed tires out of the lot. She drove fast — much faster than would have been safe, if she had been in a stock ’65 Mustang, but Clark had modified this car extensively. A few miles away, she pulled off the road into the parking lot of a big mall. She drove around behind the buildings, and there seemed to be no one around. When she pulled back out the other side, the paint job and the plates were changed. She drove leisurely back to the Secret Citadel in the mountains outside of town. She really wanted to know what was in the locked box.
Drifting down through the open trap door, Courtney Whitmore Dugan took in her surroundings. The walls were a combination of stainless steel and black laquered wood panels. The floor was black ceramic tile with a thick layer of dust on it. There were tracks in the dust; most of them looked to be either a size thirteen boot or an even larger, oval-shaped print. She recognized both as belonging to her stepdad, Pat Dugan — either the work-boots he normally wore or the oversized boot jets of the Americommando armor.
A series of low-intensity lights came on around the room. “Some sort of power supply down here, or are they bootlegging off the electric company? The roof of that barn is one big solar collector disguised to look like rotting shingles. But I think there’s some other supply down here, too.”
There was a single exit from the room, and as Pat came down the ladder through the trap door, that exit opened. There stood two humanoid robots of gleaming chrome, each on a box-like base with tank treads. Where the eyes would be on a man, they each had a pair of glowing green glass orbs.
“Friends of yours, Dad?” asked Courtney as she hovered about six inches off the floor.
“There’s dozens of them around here. Let’s see how you get past them.”
“Stop where you are. You will be accompanied to a holding area to await instructions.” Both machines spoke at once with nearly identical voices. There was just the slightest difference in the timing, which provided a sort of echo effect to the command. One of the robots raised an arm and reached for Courtney. The slender teenager turned to one side, raised a leg, and kicked out. Her sneakered foot slammed into the torso of the robot, knocking it off its treads and over onto the floor. Much to her surprise, Courtney also found herself flung in the opposite direction.
“First rule of flying combat: Newton is a royal pain in the backside.”
“Very funny, Dad. Hey, check out the eyes.” The glowing eyes on both robots shifted from green to red, and the one still on its treads started toward her. She responded by drawing her right hand back, then bringing it forward quickly as if throwing a ball. As she did so, a glowing white starburst formed around her hand, then flew at the robot. “Let’s see how this works.”
“Wrong move, kiddo. The neural pulses are only good against living — hey!” The starburst exploded in a shower of sparks as it struck the metallic body, and the robot started moving in jerking circles.
“Looks like they work on electronics, too. Did a better job than you realized, didn’t you?” She threw a bolt at the robot lying on the floor, and it lay still as the light faded from its eyes. “Shall we?”
A short while later, Courtney opened a door and saw a long corridor beyond. She felt a change in the temperature, and in the low light of the compound she saw a faint red glow in the corridor. “Let me guess — a laser web?”
“Maybe. How are you going to find out?” asked Pat.
Courtney looked around the room, which appeared to be either a laboratory or a classroom. On one wall was a large blackboard. She found some chalk, scribbled on the blackboard, then erased it. She brought the eraser back over to the doorway and smacked it with her hand several times. As a cloud of chalk dust erupted from it, she blew it down into the corridor.
“Looks like somebody left themselves an escape route — about a foot from the wall on the left.” She drifted down through the pencil-thin beams of red glittering in the corridor and opened the door at the other end. As she opened it, the lasers switched off.
On the other side, the corridor branched in seven directions. “So, how many of these have you checked out, Dad?”
“Just the first two on the left. One leads into a couple of dormitories. The second is a storage room with a bunch of glowing green rocks in lead boxes.”
“Glowing green rocks? Did you let Superman know about that?”
“Superman? Why would he be concerned with — oh my gosh! That’s right! I read something about that stuff shortly after I returned. Remind me to call the JSA when we get back to your grandparents’ house, OK, kiddo?”
“Yeah, now, let’s see what’s down corridor number three. Hopefully no more of those stun guns — the pulses don’t work against them.” They made their way down, more lights coming on as they advanced.
“We’ll have to think of something else you can use, ’cause those things won’t work to stop a car or anything like that, either.”
“Whoa!” As they emerged into a large room, lights came on, and they saw several computer consoles and monitors arrayed around a glass tube that extended from floor to ceiling. The tube itself seemed to be full of swirling, multicolored gases. “Any idea what this is?”
“Are you kidding? I’ve never seen anything like this in here before! Let’s get out of here — call the cops or the FBI, and we’ll leave word for Superman, too.”
“I’m with you, Dad. Let’s go.” They backed out of the room and started making their way up the four levels they had come down.
However, as they left, neither of them noticed the computer console that lit up and scrolled out a few lines of text:
Activation sequence initiated
Activation in progress
Several hours after Pat Dugan and Courtney Whitmore Dugan left the hidden laboratory, a sequence of events was triggered. Several tubes started pressurizing slowly, each one that was activated located in a different hallway than others. A total of three tubes had started pressurizing.
The first tube opened, revealing a younger, naked bald man. He looked up at the outdated monitor. The reflection was that of Alexei Luthor of long ago, during the early years of his career, wearing what looked like a metal straining bowl with wires and electrodes in it over his bald head. The only flaw in his appearance had been his hair; while the original Alexei Luthor had always had a full head of red hair, his clone apparently suffered from alopecia. A recessive gene in the Luthor family had apparently been responsible for this.
The monitor said, “Memory downloaded to subject seventy-five percent. Knowledge downloaded to subject completed. Skills downloaded to subject completed. Programming downloaded to subject completed. Contain subject until full memory download can be performed. Unable to download memory. Subject not responding. Destroy subject. Destroy subject. Destroy subject.”
The bald man looked up and saw a crane with a nasty-looking particle-disintegration device on it beginning to come toward him.
“Recognize Luthor, Alexei, code genius. Override particle-disintegration protocol hallway alpha.”
“Luthor, Alexei, code genius recognized. Particle disintegration protocol hallway alpha ability to override, verifying,” the feminine voice of the computer said. The bald man immediately went to the circuit command box for the hallway and typed a sequence of numbers causing the entire hallway to go dark.
Five minutes later, the bald young man was sitting dressed in a tailored suit in the control room, watching the other tubes activate via the monitor.
The second tube opened, revealing a naked young man with black hair. He looked up at the outdated monitor, and the reflection was that of Superman from the early days of his career, wearing what looked like another metal straining bowl with wires and electrodes in it. The monitor said, “Memory downloaded to subject completed. Knowledge downloaded to subject completed. Skills downloaded to subject completed. Programming downloaded to subject completed. Waiting for orders from control room.”
The third tube opened, revealing a naked young woman with black hair. She looked up at the outdated monitor; the reflection was of a young Lois Lane wearing what looked like another metal straining bowl with wires and electrodes in it. The monitor said, “Memory downloaded to subject completed. Knowledge downloaded to subject completed. Skills downloaded to subject completed. Programming downloaded to subject completed. Waiting for orders from control room.”
“Dress and proceed to control room for orders,” said the bald man.
The clone of Superman and Lois Lane joined the Alexei Luthor clone in the control room as the computer brought the three clones up to date for recent events.
“Series Luthor 1988 clones,” said the recorded voice of the original Luthor who had created them; the voice fluctuated with the word 1988 but remained consistent otherwise. “You have one year of life until cellular decay claims you. In your clothes are the identities that you will use. They have been altered to the current date.”
The computer then frizzled, and a circuit blew. The computer’s default female voice said, “Warning! Laboratory self-destruct has been activated.” And it began to count down from thirty seconds.
The Superman clone grabbed the other two and flew them out of the hidden compound faster than a speeding bullet.
The three clones looked at their identities when the Superman clone landed. The bald young man’s identity was Alexander Holton, Treasury Department, Secret Service. The young Superman’s was Joel Kent, Treasury Department, Secret Service, Metropolis office. The young woman’s identity was Marissa Trail, Treasury Department, Secret Service, Gotham City office.
They looked at each other and went their separate ways.
As she drove back to the Secret Citadel, Lois Lane Kent fretted over giving her real name to the security guard. Of course, she hadn’t planned on any of the following events, either. There would probably be an arson investigation, and she knew there had been a security camera in the guard shack. Still, the woman who had dealt with the guard didn’t look like her at all, and she would be back in Kansas soon enough to have a plausible alibi.
Still, she needn’t have worried, for when the guard awoke and heard the fire sirens, his first instinct was for self-preservation. He quickly pulled both the adult movie he had been watching and the security video of the guard shack, approached the burning building as close as he could, and tossed both cassettes into the blaze. He later told his supervisor that he had been overpowered and knocked unconscious by a pair of masked intruders and had not regained consciousness until the building was ablaze. The supervisor reported the incident to her superior, but the chaos in Number Two’s organization stalled any further investigation — at least for the moment.
When Lois reached the Citadel, she had Robot L examine the box for traps, then break the lock for her. She also asked him to fly her back to Smallville. Little Mary seemed quite subdued, but when Lois asked her about her day, she perked up and told her mom about the wonderful tea party she’d had with Robot L and several other robots.
Back in Smallville only minutes later, Lois retired to her office and dumped out everything she had collected at the Weekly Star Enquirer News. A couple of hours later, she had her story — and what a story. The only question was how much of it could she tell. Nobody would believe the whole story, and the Smallville Gazette would become the laughing stock of the newspaper world, even though the whole story was true. Heck, this was something even the Weekly Star Enquirer News wouldn’t print.
The public knew that Vandal Savage had been a member of the Injustice Society of the World and had seemingly been inactive for a while, but they knew nothing but rumors about his immortality or the Illuminati. She decided to stick to the story of the presidential campaign. She was more than a little uncomfortable with not telling the whole story, but living with Clark had helped her realize that even a Superman couldn’t do everything at once. Exposing the Illuminati could come another day.
She did one last check to make sure she had dotted all of her I’s and crossed all of her T’s, then sent her story to the compositor. She told the printer to double the normal print run and contacted her distributors to let them know that tomorrow they would get twice as many papers as normal at no additional cost to them. She hadn’t had a front-page scoop since she left the Daily Star, preferring to let her staff get that exposure, but this story had her byline. And she knew it was going to be one of the biggest stories of her career.
The headline on the front page of the Smallville Gazette the next day was stunning:
SUPER-VILLAIN ATTEMPTS TO SABOTAGE POLITICAL CAMPAIGN!
And the subhead was even more explosive:
Vandal Savage Linked to Political Action Committee and Supermarket Tabloid!
The issue sold out within an hour after hitting the streets and was soon picked up by the newswires and republished from coast to coast in several major dailies.