by Christine Nightstar and Immortalwildcat
The Shade laughed as he watched the commercials with various individuals — industrialists, foreign diplomats, and other famous Americans — doing their spots endorsing Jay Garrick for President. The Shade had been kept apprised of the various polls by listening through the shadows of both Democratic and Republican parties’ headquarters. Garrick was still holding strong, even after the initial surge of popularity had subsided.
The Republicans were starting to gain ground on him, though, while the Democrats didn’t seem to have their act together and were fighting amongst themselves. Both of the major parties had seemed to be working together to knock Garrick out of the race. The Shade couldn’t allow that to happen, at least yet.
He could, however, help Jay in the upcoming debates. Stealing and copying transcripts of all the notes the other candidates would be working with for the first all-party debate was a simple operation, as was planting a tape recording device in the early practice sessions for each of the major parties’ candidates.
Jay Garrick had begun getting courier messages at each of his stops with copies of debate questions and answers and tape recordings of who was going to be doing what. They weren’t signed, only initialed R.S. The tape recordings were labeled by candidate.
Upon realizing what these were, Jay ordered them to be immediately destroyed, but his campaign consultant Darius Gleason fervently disagreed with him, saying that with these tapes and transcripts, they could blow the others out of the water at the debates. He said that Jay owed this R.S. — whoever he was — a debt of gratitude, because until now he didn’t know how he was going to keep Jay in the race.
But Jay was adamant on this issue, which he saw as a clear violation of his ethics and everything he had stood for as a super-hero. These packages needed to be destroyed unopened, and he made Gleason promise to do so himself. Unknown to Jay, however, Gleason told only a half-truth: he took a peek at the contents of these tapes and transcripts and committed the major points to memory. He was sure that Jay would thank him later for doing so when it came down to the wire.
Secret Service Agent Alex Holton had just come in from inspecting the bus for electronic devices. He reported that he had found none thus far. Alex Holton sat across from Garrick and his campaign manager Amanda Waller and turned on an electronic jamming/detection device. It was smaller than one Jay Garrick had ever seen, when Jay asked about it, Holton said it was one of his own designs.
The jamming and detection device was about the size of a three-ring binder — one-inch thick by about twelve inches long and ten inches wide. It had a version of a heads-up display for all types of receivers, transmitters, and radar. When asked more about it, he said that is was based on a design he used when he was in the Navy. He even offered to take it apart and let Garrick inspect the inner workings of it.
Jay said maybe later, since he was interested in how Holton had off-put the various heat-related and other problems. The workmanship was incredible.
Pat Dugan was due to arrive with the rest of his detail in a couple of days. Jay asked if Alex had met any of them yet. Holton just commented that he had met Dugan and Courtney the day before and was looking forward to working with the others.
He had received the phone call from Alex Holton. Phase One was implemented; Superman was the target of the next phase, and where better to start than with Clark Kent and the Daily Star?
Over the years, from Alexei Luthor’s death nearly three years earlier to the clones’ activation, patterns of Superman’s activities had been noticed. It was a given that he had a secret identity, but who or what it was had eluded Luthor. But it had not eluded the computer tracking it and everything related to Superman.
The computer could not make the intuitive jump from the patterns of activity to the deduction of what Superman’s identity was, since that was not its programming. It just noted them and programmed the knowledge into the Superman clone. The clone now known as Joel Kent figured it out quickly.
He had an unimpressive record in comparison to Alex Holton. He had military service, but not a special forces background — left the military, joined the Secret Service, and had an unimpressive but eventful career until recently; transferred to the Metropolis office, due to start duty in three days.
Joel Kent entered the Daily Star Building and walked up to the information desk.
“Hello, I’m looking for your editor-in-chief — Clark Kent.”
“I’m sorry, but Clark Kent doesn’t work here anymore. He retired a while back.”
At that moment, Jimmy Olsen was passing by and thought he was nearly hallucinating when he saw a man in a suit that reminded him greatly of the first time he had met Clark Kent. “Hey, there, Doris. Is this gentleman giving you any problems?”
“I was just about to ask for contact information for Clark Kent, Mr. Olsen. My Name’s Joel Kent, United States Treasury Department.”
“How did you know my name?” asked Jimmy suspiciously. “I never mentioned it.”
“One part deduction, and the other part is that your portrait was hanging on a wall we passed to the elevator.”
Jimmy chuckled. “I really hate that picture. It makes me look old.”
“I thought it made you look distinguished.”
“Thanks for the compliment.” Jimmy turned to the receptionist and said, “It’s OK, Doris. I’ll take this one. Jimmy Olsen, editor-in-chief.” He extended his hand to shake Joel’s. “You look like Clark did years ago, except for the glasses. Are you related?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out. And I do wear glasses for reading, mostly; reduces eyestrain.”
“Well, just follow me, and we’ll put in a call to Clark and Lois and see if we can help you. How long have you worked for the Treasury Department?”
“Doesn’t seem like that long, honestly. I moved around a lot the last few years, though.”
“Could I get that address from you? I’m sure that you have more important things to do than to attend my request, Mr. Olsen.”
“Well, as you can understand, it’s against company policy to give out personal information about our staff, both current staff and former,” said Jimmy. “But if you leave Doris your contact information, we’ll see if this distinguished old man can help you.”
Joel Kent seemed to be everything that Clark was all those years ago — mild-mannered, courteous, and respectful — but James Bartholomew Olsen didn’t rise to where he was at the Daily Star by taking everything he saw at face value. And the fact that Clark was adopted by the Kent family rather than being born into it was an immediate red flag; if they were genetically related, they wouldn’t have the same last names. What made it even more unlikely was the fact that Jimmy knew Clark Kent was Superman. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 1, Chapter 2: Rich With Hope.]
After Joel Kent left, Jimmy put in a call to Smallville. “Come on, Clark. Pick up…”
It didn’t take Joel Kent long to use his x-ray vision to find Clark Kent’s telephone number in Jimmy Olsen’s black book. He had told the Daily Star editor to send any messages to the Metropolis branch of the Treasury Department, but he could also tell with his other super-senses that Olsen was only going through the motions just to be polite. Olsen had an elevated heart rate and erratic breathing patterns, which were most likely symptoms of age and high blood pressure, just enough to make telling if he was lying difficult to any but the most perceptive.
Joel decided to take it easy for the day and slowly fly to Smallville. Olsen did call Kent after Joel left his office, and Joel needed to make a phone call himself.
“Kent has been married for the past forty years. I can’t claim I’m his long-lost son, so that is out. He’d probably find no deviation from his own genetic makeup in his own lab. Can’t claim I’m a sibling, either. I look too young. Even if I did claim I was in stasis, what reason would I have for his father to put me into stasis?” he said into the phone.
“Understood. There have been accounts of dimensional travel regarding Superman. I’ll have to be from an alternate dimension. Olsen has put a tail on me — one of his reporters — and they might follow me. Understood, Marissa. Call you when I can.” The last statement was for the ears of the investigative reporter, who had gotten close enough to eavesdrop.
“You can use the phone now. I’m done,” Joel said and walked away nonchalantly. He lost his tail within a city block. Obviously, Olsen hadn’t told the reporter everything. Good for him.
Flying to Smallville was an easy matter. Then he saw something on the outside of the Kansas town that caught his interest — this Superboy whom Superman had taken under his wing and adopted was in battle with another superhuman; he decided to watch and see how Superman’s adopted son and protégé handled himself.
After several long minutes of observation, Joel could see that this Superboy looked like he was handling himself capably in battle, and even though Joel Kent wanted to watch the outcome of it, he had other places to be. Superman awaited. First he’d find himself a motel, then in the morning he’d visit the Kent farm.
“Thanks for the heads up, Jimmy. I’ll be sure to be on the lookout. No, I haven’t heard from Lois in a while. I’m not worried yet, but I appreciate your concern. I’ll have Lois call you. I’ll let you know if I hear anything. ‘Bye,” Clark Kent said before hanging up the phone.
“Looked like a younger version of me? Lois would have my head if she even suspected me of such a thing. Inter-dimensional travel was supposed to be impossible between the surviving Earths. But that may mean there is an Earth we don’t know about. But who would go to the trouble?”
Clark looked at the clock and wondered where C.J. was and what was keeping him. The game was supposed to be over nearly a half-hour ago. He hoped that C.J. didn’t have to become Superboy for any reason; problems like that could take all night. He had hoped that he was just held up by something normal for a high school kid.
Fingers Morelli walked into the room and looked around appreciatively. As underground gatherings went, this wasn’t half-bad. There was liquor, coffee, sandwiches, and snacks being served by a trio of attractive young ladies who were dressed to show off their best assets. He was noting some familiar faces among the twenty or so attendees when he felt a touch at his elbow.
“You got a note, too, eh, Fingers?” Aces Porter stood looking around with his wide-set eyes, an uncertain smile on his face. “You think she will be upset if she hears we came?” The emphasis he put on the word she made it obvious, to Fingers at least, who Aces was referring to.
“That’s assuming she finds out. Between personally overseeing the fencing operation and trying to keep that nut-job in check, she might not even realize we’re gone.”
“True, true.” Aces reached out to snag a bottle of beer from one of the servers as she passed by. “You figure this is on the up and up?”
“Look over there,” replied Fingers, inclining his head toward a thin man in a dark green suit speaking with a pair of hulking, hard-faced men. “Morey Jenkins is here. Some say he’s the smartest fence in Gotham. Never touches anything if he thinks it can be traced to him. If he thinks it’s legit, it’s legit. Or as legit as anything we’d be involved in can get.”
Aces was about to respond when the lights of the room dimmed and a pair of spotlights illuminated a podium set in front of several chairs at one end of the room. Everyone shuffled over and found seats; Fingers and Aces were in the front row. A slender woman stepped from behind a curtain on the side of the room and walked up to the podium. She was dressed in an out-of-date straight skirt and matching jacket of pale blue over a collared blouse. She wore white gloves and white high-heeled shoes. Her face was hidden behind a black cloth mask that hung from a pale blue pillbox hat, so all that could be seen of her features were her piercing blue eyes and wavy black hair.
“Thank you all for coming today, especially on such short notice. I’ve asked you all, each of you a specialist in your field, to come in hopes you will join me in what should be a most profitable venture. If all goes according to plan, in six weeks’ time we will all be wealthier than any of the so-called good people of Gotham City.”
“Right, lady, and who the hell are you that we should believe you?” The speaker was a tall, broad-shouldered man whom Fingers recognized as Carter “Leadfoot” Maclean.
“Why, Mr. Maclean, I’m the woman who is going to make you a wealthy man.” She stepped away from the podium and toward the big man, the top of her head barely coming to his shoulders. “We’re all friends here, aren’t we? And if we’re going to be working together, I’d hoped you and I might even become more than just friends.”
She looked up at him, her eyes softening as she reached a hand up to caress his cheek. His questioning look changed to one of surprise as she brushed aside the lower part of her mask, grabbed him by the ear, and forcibly pulled his head down to hers. Her lips crushed against his in a kiss that was at once both passionate and violent. His surprise gave way to another, more urgent feeling, and his hands wrapped around her slender body. As the gathered men watched, one of his hands slid down her back past her waist.
Suddenly, the room echoed with the loud retort of a high-caliber pistol. Leadfoot Maclean staggered backward, then fell, the smoking hole in his midsection matching the smoking barrel held in the woman’s hand. The mask slipped back down into place as she looked around.
“Now, is there anybody else who feels ready to stand up to the Black Widow?”
A little over an hour later, a woman in a long, black trenchcoat strode into the Regency Apartments in midtown Gotham City. She gathered her mail from the mailbox and took the elevator up to the eighth floor. When she entered her apartment, she let the raincoat slip down her arms onto the floor. She dropped the large black tote bag she carried onto a chair, where it fell over, spilling out a pale blue hat and black wig. As she walked through the bedroom to the attached bathroom, she peeled off the blood-spattered blue jacket and white blouse, dropping them as she went.
In the bathroom, she turned on the shower to let it warm up. She then turned toward the mirror. With one hand, she pushed a few strands of straight black hair off her forehead, then ran her fingers through the short black hair the fell to the nape of her neck. Staring into the reflected face of a younger Lois Lane, Marissa Trail, AKA the Black Widow, smiled with satisfaction.
Not far from City Hall in Gotham City, the Gotham Federal Mint presented a bleak, foreboding face to the world. When it was built in the 1890s to meet the nation’s growing economy, nobody could have foreseen the odd circumstances Gotham City would find itself in a mere fifty years later. Sociologists, psychologists, and criminologists debated endlessly on the cause-and-effect circumstances that had led to Gotham becoming home to some of the most outlandish and dangerous criminals in the nation, but one thing was sure: if the Mint were to remain in Gotham, it had to adopt a fortress mentality.
By 1950, all windows in the building had been bricked over, three sets of walls surrounded the building, and guard towers rose over the property. Buildings to either side and behind the Mint were demolished and the lots left vacant. There were only two points where one could enter the building, and each was staffed by no less than twelve specially trained guards. Most of the guard detail had been recruited from the Marine Corps or Army Special Forces units.
In the past thirty-eight years, there had not been a successful break-in at the Gotham Mint. Hiram Winters was determined that record would extend through his tenure as Director of the Gotham Mint. To that end, he actively sought out the best agents the United States government possessed to test the Mint’s security systems and recommend changes.
“I am impressed, Hiram. These latest defense systems from UltraCorp can stop anybody short of Superman or Power Girl, and even they would be delayed long enough for your people to access the special weapons in the armory.”
“Thank you. I like to think we keep on top of things.”
“I am concerned about one thing, though. It seems like most of the defenses are geared toward protecting the money once it has been produced. What about the presses, the plates, and the supplies?”
Hiram opened a drawer and pulled out a folder. From the folder, he took a folded diagram. “The presses are on the ground level, as you have already seen. The engraving plates are kept three levels underground. They are brought out when needed, sealed in a robotic courier cart that brings them up to the printing room. Likewise, the special inks and papers used for printing the money are stored on four levels underground. Only three people have access to the storage facilities for the plates and supplies — four now that you are here.”
“I see.” A manicured fingernail traced a path on the diagram. “I’m not sure about this courier cart, though. I will definitely want to inspect that and the path it takes. After all, what good is it to guard the money if someone steals what they need to print their own?”
“Precisely the sort of thinking I was hoping for!” Hiram rose from his seat and came around to the front of his desk. “I am so glad the Chicago office forwarded your name to me, Miss Trail!”
She rose and smiled at the older man. “Oh, please, call me Marissa.”