The blue of the sky was mottled with the gray scab of rain cloud as it raced passed his windscreen and merged into the gray of the road and the tunnel of speed and sound through which he sluiced inchoate. Suddenly his mind dropped from the orgasmic intensity of thoughtless instinct and hitched on a passing drift of memory. The brakes screeched and he was sitting with his head on the steering wheel as the front of the car veered dangerously close to the security barrier that overlooked a sluggishly flowing river of scum.
He opened the door of the car and stepped out warily -as if into a different world. The act of walking became a revelation; even breathing was a novel experience. The texture of the battered road was unusual and unfamiliar, while the light hurt his eyes as he squinted into a world that was suddenly a pastiche of many, shimmering with what if. He brushed away that thought for it was forever linked with death and guilt in his mind. Not just the emotions-the very words were rancid from overuse. They signified experience, dream, imagination and analysis, far too much meaning. Deathguiltdanger the square root of 9687,too easy -look instead at the bridge rail -looks like it's been recently mended. Yes, there's the joint between the old and the new. Inhale. Exhale. Get in the car and close the door carefully. Reverse, accelerate. Welcome to Luthorcorp plant no.3.
They told him that the island had caused a psychotic breakdown in him. Had to undergo medical supervision for months after. All that time was a blur...but that was a natural reaction to the strenuous conditions that his brain had borne, or so said the doctors. Loss of memory...lack of a coherent sense of past and present. Lack of certainty. Life was vague and he dealt with it either in a panicked rush like jumping into an ice-cold river, or else with the detached and patient weariness that was willing to put in all possibilities into the last two years--fratricide, parricide, suicide...
His father had filled in the first version of the two-year lacuna in his head with a tale of logic. He could see the man sitting opposite him in his suite at the sanitarium, hair in carefully arranged disorder, eyes gimlet sharp, every syllable well modulated, in every word sympathy-- the willingness to provide an anchor of truth and certainty in the wild upheaval of his life. That helped...it helped a lot. For as his father looked and spoke at him in his most convincing manner-conviction reinvented in his psyche with a certainty that was blinding. It was different from the blurred sequence of memories that troubled him at night, tendrils of thought that wavered between a real or imagined past, or the megrims of a fevered imagination. This thought was so certain, it came from such a deep, secure recess of his being that his brain did not even consider the possibility of its being a construction, a mirage. I do not trust this man. He seeks to manipulate me-- listen and learn but please don't get taken in .So he smiled and heard how he had turned over a new leaf in Smallville, had taken over the fertilizer plant and was turning it into a profitable venture.
'No, Lex, you were not always the ideal son. There were moments, son, when you tried to overthrow parental authority, seeing dragons in every friendly overture I made. There was that' he chuckled with tolerant amusement, perfect in the role of gentle parent in the face of a recalcitrant, oft-erring child, 'that business of Lexcorp, using employees to help fund a buyout from Luthorcorp...but you learnt your lesson soon enough and had started an automatic process just prior to your wedding that led to Lexcorp becoming a subsidiary of luthorcorp, as indeed it is now.'
'That is another painful episode I must speak with you about-- your wedding to Helen. I see that you do not remember, and it is just as well, for she was not in the least deserving of the love and honor you gave her. She tried to kill you son, and that I fear, may have caused this painful condition in you. Your plane crashed on the way to the honeymoon. She arranged it, son, she tried to murder you in cold blood. And you in your last coherent moment remembered that heinous betrayal, and no doubt it affected you severely, especially as you were stranded on a deserted island for over two months. The combination of the malarial fever that struck you down and the imposed solitary confinement led to a... a psychotic breakdown. When you were rescued you were delusional and had to be brought here, where you have remained since. Of course the press made a big deal of your return, and I could not let them know of your unfortunate condition, so that newspapers of the day report your going back to Smallville almost immediately. That was a blind that I arranged to keep you safe. Know this Lex, I will do anything to keep you safe. Trust me, son.'
He took Lex's hand between his own. 'You need fear nothing with your father with you."
'I know, dad' said he with a smile that came as easily and as earnestly as it did on the countenance that loomed before him.
'Well, I will have to leave you now... but I wish to tell you that you may resume your master's at Princeton if you so choose. Perhaps a couple of years of study will help you in rebuilding your strength...both mentally and physically...'
'I will think about it dad' said Lex.
And as Lionel turned towards the door, asked 'What happened to her?'
'H..helen?' The name struggled to emerge from the mire of dumped files.
'She will never trouble you again, Lex. I took care of the matter. She need not concern you any longer.'
'Is she dead?
'If she has your luck-- no, if not, probably.
AN: These are new perceptions of old characters for New!Lex.
Lionel's last visit confirmed what the invidious realityfest in his brain had already been telling him-it was time to leave Belle Reve. Time to start a new search for his new place in this world that hurtled along without his consent, absolute contempt in its utter denial of his existence.
Ghalib-e-khasta ke bager kaun se kaam bund hain royiye zaar-zaar kya, keejiye hai hai kyon
[AN: this is an attempted translation, and gives very poor sense of the poetry. Ghalib wrote in Urdu and in court Persian. What work of the world ceases without Ghalib Why bewail and bemoan ]
Words from the nineteenth century Moghul court poet came to him-- he was astonished once again by the vast array of thoughts and facts that flooded up from the hidden recesses in his brain. Here lay the hope that the answer to his problem, to all his problems, laid within him-- beyond the canker of the effacing drugs. He asked for his laptop and went on the website of the newspaper that he hated-used to hate-- most.
In the search tab: Lex Luthor
And it came up, fragments of his life-real, unreal, imagined, vicious, tolerant, humorous ...excessive. He scrolled down the stories to the familiar waters of Jan 2001.Clicked on the link. The story came up. There he was-leather-clad, oblivious, his arm around David Furnish, Liz Hurley in the background. New Year at Elton John's country house in Hampshire. He remembered that... but there was much else he did not.
The car parked on a very familiar stretch of road. The physical space was embedded in some inviolate cubicle of his brain, where the acid of his breakdown had not spewed chaos. The sense memory came flooding back, flooding across the drug-leeched barrenness, overwhelming him with its intensity, as no space had done since his release. The plant held no character, it was designed not to, whilst the mansion had been scrubbed of it-- but here in this place, a public coffee house, with its smells of espressos long since drunk, and chocolate cooling in the murmur of conversation, pregnant with the essence of patchouli and cassia... subtle tendrils of meaning invaded his ganglions and set them quivering. The ache of an unfamiliar familiar, the painful denial of basic cognizance, that proof of his sentience, absented itself anew with a physical grinding of his senses. The familiar agony in his head brought him back to reality, or what was to him the most acceptable reality. The unfamiliarity was not complete. Where was the girl who hovered as a certain presence in this haven of kitsch? Where was the Princess?
The Princess lay all broken in the hospital; her horse had broken her spine. Poor Lana, always the victim. But that was what all princesses were, victims from their very conception-- inevitable literary device.
He was still undecided whether he should be upset by the forced absence of the Talon's mistress and his business partner. A latent part of him wished he felt more strongly-stronger grief for an associate who had to all accounts been a pleasant one. But the truth was that at this moment Lana Lang was just a name that filled in a barely perceived gap in the wholeness of his ghost memory of the Talon; he no longer related to her as a person, no longer wanted to. The other part of him decided it was unseemly to be indifferent to the plight of someone who, he was told, had been a close acquaintance, and he forced himself to do the 'decent thing'. He was aware that there was a huge gap between his natural inclinations and rational calculations and the perceived 'decent'. Why he bowed to the dictates of conventional morality was a point he was still pondering. He rather suspected it had a lot to do with seeking approval, seeking popular approval. Lex was realizing that Lex was not a nice person, he was not bad, just ordinary-self-seeking and quite self-absorbed.
Lana still stayed with the Sullivans, he had got his assistant to inquire while he got a coffee at the Talon. When his car pulled up, he noted that there were no other vehicles in the front. It looked like Chloe Sullivan was away. He knocked on the door and waited, watching the patterns of the slight cracks on the door, his mind taking solace in close observation. There was a long wait, then sounds of movement from within. Slow progress to the door and it was opened.
There was Lana Lang, pale, tragic, pretty. He looked at the crutches-- incongruous with the swathes of black silk that brushed them as the slight girl leaned forward in the awkward pose of the invalid. 'Lex!' Nothing but pleasant surprise in the tone.
'How are you? Do come in.'
There was an uncomfortable moment as she shuffled to one side of the hall as he walked past her. She closed the door behind her. He trailed behind as she made her painful progress to the living room. He was conscious of acute discomfort as she struggled to lean her crutches against the couch as she lowered herself to the cushions. He did not want to offend her by offering to help.
'Do sit.' She was aware of his scrutiny, must be conscious of the sentiment of awkward distress that people had around invalids.
'The crutches are new; I only got out of the wheelchair last week. Still not used to them.' she said breaking the silence.
'Lana,' he said 'I am sorry.' It was the conventional thing to say, and she acknowledged the convention with a smile.
She was quite beautiful, her pain highlighting the beauty of her face, easing out the plumpness of childhood into the planes of womanhood.
'It's much better now than I thought. Than anyone thought. After the accident they thought I would never walk again. Your father helped with the treatment. Now they say I will barely limp after a couple of months.' There was hardly any trace of tears in the voice.
'I am glad to hear that. Let me know if I can do anything.
'What with the covering manager for the Talon provided by Mr. Luthor, and everyone being so helpful, I am quite spoiled.' she dimpled at him. 'But I'm sure I'll find you something to do. I always do.'
Although the mention of Lionel's name had sent alarm bells ringing in his head, her gentle manner put him at ease, and he felt himself smiling at her. When he left, he knew why he had first invested in the Talon, and he had an immense curiosity to meet Clark Kent again.
As Lex's car sped out of the Sullivans' drive, he spotted a red Beetle going the other way. He raised his hand in acknowledgement to the blonde driver, who responded with a wave and a smile. He looked in the rear-view mirror after a while and was unsurprised to see the Beetle determinedly following in the wake of the Porsche. He smiled and accelerated further towards the mansion. A few minutes later, he was equally unsurprised to hear his butler announce a Miss Chloe Sullivan at the door, who had no appointment but was certain that 'Mr. Lex Luthor would like to see me', quoted the butler. Lex sat down in his chair behind his Spartan desk and asked for the girl to be sent in. She came in shortly after, bag in tow, preceded by a big grin.
'How are you Miss Sullivan? As fanatical as ever in the quest of a story?' He watched the wattage of the smile dim for a moment but it resumed its effulgent intensity when he softened his words with a smile.
'Not just a story. I came to check up on a friend. My experiences of getting stories in this castle are none too pleasant, as you will recall.'
He did not, first hand, but back issues of the Inquisitor and the Torch had filled him in regarding the young reporter and an attempted robbery at the castle that ended with her falling out of the first floor window.
'Come Miss Sullivan, we both know the satisfaction of mixing business with pleasure. May I get you something...some hot chocolate?'
She brightened at the sound of that and he called the kitchens as she made herself comfortable before him, divesting herself of her coat and the various wires that trailed from her person. Ipod and earphones off, camera out, Dictaphone in evidence, and notebook in place she waited for him to turn to her.
'Well, I though it would be nice to get a piece on the return of the town's favourite son for the Torch. Or you could just turn me out on my ear...' Her finger was poised on the record button of the Dictaphone as she looked at him hopefully.
'I trust I will never be known to be so inhospitable.' he responded, as her finger flicked the button to 'on'.
'Well Lex, its nice to see you are better, but we would all like to know where you have been these past months.'
'As you know, I was confined to a deserted island over the summer, where I suffered from bouts of malarial fever and malnutrition. It seems the malarial fever was of a deviant kind that leads to degeneration of the central nervous system over a period of time. Thankfully for me, a medical checkup at Luthorcorp was able to diagnose the symptoms I had been showing after my rescue and I was asked to undergo a complete course of treatment to prevent the recurrence of the problem. I may say I am completely recovered now, and indeed, have never felt better.'
'That is good to know. You must have been greatly affected by the death of your wife so soon after your rescue-almost as if it were fated that you should never be together...'
'That was a very painful episode and I fear I may never be able to speak about it.'
'I understand. Perhaps you would like to speak about the future of Lexcorp now that you have accepted employment at your former competitor Luthorcorp?'
'Businesses are never run on sentiment alone, Miss Sullivan. Lexcorp was formed when I thought the period was right for fresh startups in the field, as well as in the interests of the employees to start a new company. But the business environment has changed, and I may say that Lexcorp is very happy to function as a subsidiary to Luthorcorp in an arrangement that is beneficial to both entities and in the best interests of the employees.
'And this decision has nothing to do with your failing health?
'My health, Miss Sullivan, has never been better.'
Her hand flicked the button of the recording device to off.
'Its clear that your prolonged absence hasn't led to a sudden change in your interview manner. Your stonewalling is in excellent form.'
'One is glad to be constant.' he countered. 'How is the wall of weird coming up?'
'Why does everyone open there conversation with me with that? That was rhetorical. I fear I may be outgrowing the Wall. Leaving behind childhood pursuits y'know...'she nodded sagely at him.
'Concentrating on excellent adult themes-like writing for the Daily Planet at seventeen. Hardly an achievement to be shrugged at.' He looked at her keenly, waiting for her reply, for he felt more than ever that there was more to Chloe than the ability to blackmail sundry small officials and the tenacity of a bulldog when it came to getting a story.
Chloe looked discomfited and then shrugged. 'I was lucky-at the right place at the right time, I may say...nothing like patenting a new aerodynamic form of solid fuel aircraft at 16.'
'Do I have to ask how many restricted access codes you broke to find out about the Lexwing?'
'You probably know already, so no.' she grinned at him. 'Is it true that you have suppressed the invention because most of your mother's trust fund is invested in conventional fuel?'
'Where did you get that from?
'Conspiracytheory.net.' she said with a straight face.
'I don't think I need dignify that with an answer.' he said. 'And now, Miss Sullivan, I must attend to more pressing, though less pleasurable affairs...'
'Uh... Thanks for the impromptu, Lex.'
As Chloe picked up the various bits and pieces of her trade and left, Lex was convinced that she had not suspected that he had been confined to an asylum, or that he had no real memory of her or of Smallville. He had done his homework well.
He did not know how long it would have taken him to figure out the fundamental problem in the narrative so far unfolded by his father, had he not met one who had been one of his most implacable enemies in Smallville the next day. Pete Ross-- representative of the disgruntled Smallville citizenry that hated the Luthor name with unrepentant staunchness. Lex had no intention of stopping to converse with the young man to have his animosity displayed in public, but something in the young man's expression arrested his steps.
'Mr. Ross.' said Lex acknowledging the seated figure at one of the Talon's booths. Pete looked at him with a curious expression-it was almost wary, furtive. Lex was reminded of his prepubescent days when he tried to outstare masters at his boarding school, wondering all the while what misdemeanor of his had been unearthed. Except he had never looked so nakedly guilty. Instinct told him to pursue the advantage.
Lex slid into the seat opposite with fluid ease. 'I know we haven't been the best of friends, but I think we both have enough backbone to allow for fresh starts.'
'I... I have to go.. gotta run some errands for my mom.
'Please Mr. Ross, have we ever talked other than in monosyllables? I noticed you declined to attend my wedding... again.' He remembered seeing the photographs; also remarkably, his best man had failed to attend... 'Perhaps next time...'he spoke softly, persuasively.
'Look, I really don't want to come here and be forced to talk to you just coz you own the place. I come here coz a friend of mine worked awfully hard to make this place run.
'Ah... The beautiful Miss Lang. I am glad she is recovering well. It was a horrible accident.
'Accident? She's crippled because of you! I don't know what your game is man-but I ain't afraid of you. You think your dad has everyone in his pocket huh! I know you've been to a loony bin, you psycho! And what's more you should have stayed there. You half kill a girl, and all she can do is thank you...what twisted logic is that? Don't tell me you did not throw Lana under that stallion...you freak!
As Pete stormed out, Lex was left bereft of all thought. With immense slowness the Talon was re-peopled with talking, laughing and brooding individuals. Sound carried once again and the air returned from a turbid viscosity to breathable fluidity.
He got up slowly and made his way outside and back to the mansion in a daze that refused to resolve itself beyond 'what else have I forgotten?' For the first time he was dealing with the possibility that he had not forgotten-perhaps he had been made to forget. The concern on the part of his father to make it appear that he had been convalescing from a severe bout of malaria and not a psychotic breakdown, turned from an investor confidence ploy to one with far more sinister implications. Also, it implied a conspiracy to make him believe that he had not been to Smallville between his return from the island and his release from Bell Reve. It followed therefore that whatever had happened in that time threatened his father, hence the elaborate steps to prevent him from uncovering the real flow of events. It indicated that not only was most of the staff in on the conspiracy, so were Lana Lang and Chloe Sullivan.
Concisely, as if on a mental PowerPoint screen, the points bulleted into his consciousness. By the time he reached the mansion, he was bathed in nervous sweat, his arms shaking from the exertion of steering the car. He parked in the cavernous garage and decided to take the door at the back of the garage that led to the kitchens. As he walked past the vast array of cars that stood marking the passage of time in his life, he came across an unusual vehicle-a red truck. It was unusual enough in the garage full of sports cars to attract even his rattled attention. He stopped and opened the door. On the front seat, cool and grim in the half-light of the overhead lights, lay a sword. Attached to the hilt was a note. He recognized his own hand.
To my friend Clark, in memory of my time in Smallville. Lex.
Slowly he drew the sword out of the car and shut the door. He unsheathed the weapon. No blinding moment of truth, no revelation in a kaleidoscope of images, only the faint association with Devilicus. Devilicus always carried a sword; everyone knew that...He brushed aside the tormenting whisper of elusive remembrance, concentrating instead on the formation of a plan of action. It was time to give Clark his present.
Once inside his study in the mansion, Lex was too preoccupied with his thoughts to immediately notice the package on his desk. However, when he did he was nervous enough to be chary of nicely wrapped packages that appeared on his desk.
He rang for security.
'Darius, has this package been examined?
'Yes, Mr. Luthor, it is your monthly delivery of chocolate from Switzerland.
So he had chocolate delivered to Smallville from Switzerland. The eccentricity was familiar, but the pointlessness was not. He opened the hand-printed paper. Lebrunn chocolatiers, Larosee , Geneve. He remembered the small chalet near one of the boarding schools he had spent a little of his childhood in. Remembered the old frau and her centuries old vats and pans used for making the chocolate in a recipe perfected over two hundred years. All those details were startlingly clear. He opened the package and took out a chocolate. The lab in the castle cellar could use a visit.
By midnight he had tested the chocolate against all known reagents-no alkaloids, allergens, hallucinogens whatsoever. Perplexed but intrigued, he proceeded to examine the packaging. All the postmarks looked valid, he passed his hand over the paper, no undulations, no possible microfilms. He looked at the box, and immediately saw what he was looking for. The expiration date marked on the box in bar code. A clumsy device really, from a chocolatiere who sealed their packages with a seal and lac. He found a scanner in the lab and the information came up on his hand held. He was amazed at the ease with which he found the equipment. Almost as if he did this frequently, almost as if this method of passing information was his own.
The characters appeared on the hand-held, and he forgave himself for the clumsiness of the barcode sticker. The information was genuine-batch number, weight and year, day and time of expiration. Genuine looking, perfectly harmless. He brightened. A cipher. Probably of his own making. He looked forward to cracking it with an enthusiasm he thought had been destroyed at Belle Reve. Then almost with regret, it occurred to him that since the information required electronic transcription in the first place, he probably had the code programmed into the hand held. Sure enough, he found the file posing as a media-editing program. He tried to paste the scanned file into the program and knew that he had guessed correctly when he came up against a password. This was difficult, for if he had used a password, it was probably to keep the information from his father, so large parts of his personal life were useless for providing a secure password, and if he had used something from his immediate life in Smallville, it was likely that he was as much in the dark regarding the password as anyone else. He knew better than to try and hack into the program, for he expected to find it booby trapped against such breaches, and he did not want to lose the information that had been previously deciphered by the program.
His mind wandered into all the strange recesses that were now blank but which he knew held the past two years of his life in them. He was barely skimming over consciousness, when he realized that he had just attained the perfect state of Zen meditation. But with the realization came the plummeting fall, and like a wounded bird his mind refused to soar to those sublime heights again. The hand held went into screensaver mode as he stared sightlessly at it. Humko maloom hai jannat ki haqueeqat lekin Dil ke kush rakhne ko Ghalib ye khyaal acchha hai
[AN:Again a very clumsy translation,
one knows the truth of Paradise but
as a thought to keep one amused, Ghalib it is well] Elaborate Arabic calligraphy made to look like abstract patterns, faded in and out on the screen. Language... he remembered that memory loss was selective. In the past two years he had mastered the finer points of Persian and its derivatives, mostly in the quest for the poetry of Ghalib and Momin, but ostensibly to improve his Arabic for Lexcorp's fledgling Middle-Eastern operations. Ghalib?
He looked again at the couplet fading in and out of the screen, Slowly and deliberately, he typed in 'jannat'
Immediately the figures started scrambling on the screen.
They had resolved themselves into an Internet address, of a particular part of some kind of discussion forum for Warrior Angel. He smiled at the brilliance of it. Anybody monitoring his Internet activity would be unsurprised by his going to this site. He had already seen that it was marked as a favourite on his laptop.
He went up to his bedroom after destroying the sticker, and decided to check the link immediately, for what was more natural than for the Luthor geek to relax after a hard day of chasing shadows by seeking solace in the exploits of a fictional hero? He took care to take part in the normal activities of the forum and then typed the address of the exact link he had been directed to. It seemed to be a poll about the popularity of the various nemeses of Warrior Angel, and the dates when the various nominations were submitted. A Mr. P Mason of Goodge Street, Metropolis contributed most of the entries. In fact Mr. Mason was the sole contributor, except for an A.E. The first entry dated four months ago, while the last entry was dated three weeks ago. He had no doubt that he was seeing a bank statement of a Swiss account, payments through which had been made to Mr. Mason on the dates of the entries.
He took care to wander all over the forum before closing the window. He was debating whether to use this connection to hack into Metropolis council records, when on a hunch he opened the website of the Smallville Ledger. It even had an archive search function, so he typed in a few random search terms and then Mason. It came up, buried in Megs of digital debris.
Died of heart failure, business traveler from Metropolis...
The person he had secretly employed had died at about the same time he had been confined. A look into the Ledger archives had also confirmed that Lana had been hurt in a riding accident at about the same time, give a week or two. On the whole Lex was very glad of the loaded gun under his pillow when he went to sleep.
He decided to concentrate on finding the manner of returning instructions to his agent in Switzerland, for it was obvious the website was a one way channel.
His approach for tackling Lana was simple- direct and seemingly guileless. He went to the detached suburban house in the late morning, and was not disappointed when Lana opened the door. Her expression showed only genuine surprise and gladness, and he smiled as he stepped in.
'Twice in two days? I am pleasantly surprised, Lex. And peonies! My favourite!
They had reached the living room by then and he offered to put the flowers he had brought her into a vase. This done to his satisfaction, he placed the vase on a side table and started negotiations.
'I realized yesterday I had more to convey than my commiserations... I must also give my sincerest apologies, since I am responsible for your current condition.
Her face was a picture of conflicting expressions; her countenance could be surprisingly mobile when she so chose.
'You know.' She breathed a sigh, almost of relief. 'You weren't yourself Lex, which is something we understand very well in this town.' This hurriedly, as if it had a story to tell, but the reference eluded him. 'But your dad said that you may not remember the events of those days and it would be dangerous to remind you. He took care of the medical expenses and the physical therapy. He took complete charge... We all did as we were told.'
'My father's concern for my health has been extremely... cosseting. Did he tell Miss Sullivan the same thing? A wrinkle of concentration on the smooth brow. 'I guess. I know he told Mr. Sullivan not to talk about it, and he must have told the Kents. He wouldn't need to tell very many people you know, as you hardly are the most approachable person in town...
She looked up at him, wondering if he would admonish her for her frankness. He merely smiled. 'Thank you for your concern, and for not revealing my... role in your condition.
'Hardly Lex. You would have done the same for me.
He took his leave, well satisfied with his interview. His next port of call was the Smallville Torch, confident that he would find its editor busy at work in the office.
He got the distinct impression that his visit had disconcerted Chloe, for her expression broke into one of deep perturbation before she controlled her features into a parody of a smile.
'Lex! You don't waste much time in the niceties of knocking do you?
'I thought I should congratulate you on your story on my return...' He read from the rolled up copy of the Torch in his pocket. "Mr. Alexander Luthor, who has been a benefactor..."Uncharacteristically flattering-also clever. No mention of the length of my absence. Everybody else thinks you are talking about my absence since my first return to Smallville, while the person who has just been released from the asylum thinks that he has never been back to the town since he was rescued from a deserted island.' He dropped the smooth banter, and let some of the anger seep through the words.
'You know, don't you, where I was, how long I had been there? Why then did you print this? Or has my father bought you off too? She was prepared for his frontal assault, and answered in a manner that had about it the hint of a conversation practiced many times in soliloquy. The sign of a wrestling conscience?
'Lex, there is no use shouting at me. You are the genius, you figure it out! Look at you, unsure of whom you are, what you are! What you have been doing these past months, years. Yes, they told me that you would lose your short-term memory, how long is short-term Lex?' Chloe was now close to him, talking in an urgent whisper, he could see the purple shadows under her eyes. Seventeen should not be burdened with purple shadows, as indeed should not twenty-two.
'How do you know you were ever married, that you were stranded on an island. Who I am? Who Clark is, what this town is?
'Did you have to study profiles of us from the school yearbook so you would not give yourself away? Because your father said you should. "This was you life Lex, learn it so that you can carry on that nothing happened." And pretend that you have forgotten nothing, while we, all the people you ever interact with in this town are asked for love or fear, or money-to each his own fear Lex, to not let on that it's a farce... a two-way, goddamed farce.'
She was suddenly very quiet and turned her back to him as she struggled for control. When she looked at him again her face was poised but a fatal resignation had taken up residence in the once bright eyes.
'And I am not his son. Now ask me again why I printed that article.
He sat down on an available chair.
'I have asked myself all these questions Chloe, and I have never gotten the answers. But I don't intend to give up, not even if this diabolical process were to be repeated endlessly.' He spoke earnestly; commanding all the conviction and power that he knew his voice could muster, deliberately using it to get through to the trembling girl before him.
The blonde head was still bowed, the thin shoulders drooped.
'You should go. The Torch... its not safe... nowhere is. When you showed me Mason's body I only got a small a part of the danger. When I imagined you in a straitjacket...I have never been more frightened in my life.' She looked up then, eyes wide and haunted, and he knew he was seeing what probably only her bathroom mirror saw in the morning, before she put on the carefree seventeen year old on, like a face kept in a jar by the door. He recognized the vulnerability, for it was mirrored in his own eyes.
'Don't worry.' said Lex forcing his voice to laugh ' notes provided by my father show that I often stopped by here to look for Clark. Also I won't show it to you, but I have on my person a scrambler that will disrupt any digital signal in a range of five meters. If questioned you can say I was speaking to you about your unfavorable mention of the Luthorcorp daycare facilities in your piece for the Planet, on which may I say your information is seriously flawed.'
She looked up at that, instinctively defensive of her writing. He caught her eye and held it.
'Cheer up Chloe; we will get through this. Now look interested and take notes on the real state of daycare at Luthorcorp. You say you knew Mason? Who was he?
'Oh! I keep forgetting that you do not remember.' She was nothing if not gallant. Her pencil was poised on her note pad and she was looking perkily inquisitive. 'Well, about a week before you were confined, Mason came here and stole the hard drive on which I had stored my research on your father...'she looked at him 'and you... I confronted you at the mansion and you showed me his body as an object lesson in the consequences of meddling with Lionel Luthor. You said if we worked together you would keep me safe.' A suppressed sob, turned midway into a grin. 'So I told you about the relation between your father and Morgan Edge.' She looked at him and he nodded in recognition at the name. 'My intention was to get something on him so that he could no longer threaten me.'
'How did you get mixed up with him in the first place?
Chloe giggled nervously before replying. 'This has nightmarish deja vu written all over it. He asked me to spy on Clark ... I refused and he threatened me with sacking my dad.
There were still gaps in the story but this was a start. He stood up to leave.
'Chloe, you are well aware of the dangers of your situation. Do not relax your vigilance. Do not try to get in touch with me till I initiate contact. Do not forget to print that reworking of the daycare story. The copy of the Torch I brought with me and will conveniently forget here, has all the information I have supposedly given you in the past ten minutes. I trust you will destroy it as it renders our prolonged conversation somewhat redundant.'
He smiled slightly. 'I am the phoenix, Chloe. I will rise once again from my ashes.'
Next day at work, he had a plan of action ready in his mind. He called his assistant in and asked him without evasion 'Graham, I would like to go over my personal finances and housekeeping books with you.'
He realized that most of his personal staff, including his security was probably in his father's pay with instructions as to what could and could not be revealed to him. It probably wasn't a security breach on his father's part-just another precaution to preserve the fragile mental balance of the prodigal son.
Graham did not raise an eyebrow, totally unsurprised that his boss had almost no idea of the state of his finances, and thus revealing his culpability. He brought the records and gave him the relevant file names, including his own digital key chain.
'I recommend you change your passwords', said Lex to his assistant's retreating back, after having declined an offer of a meeting with his accountants.
After an instructive half hour in which it was revealed to him that he had in no way been impoverished during his stay at Belle Reve, he came across an accounting file with the details of his expenses for the previous year. He had no doubt that any sensitive information had been purged from the file, but he trusted in his own ingenuity that he had created a system to foil just such an eventuality. He found the details of the Lebrunn account, and realized that the chocolatiere was paid monthly through a personal cheque, drawn on one of his overseas accounts, all details of which were available to his assistant, and hence inevitably, to his father.
He went to the safe, for which he had been provided a new access code by his assistant earlier, the significance of which occurrence had not immediately struck him. He took out the chequebook referred to in the Lebrunn account. It looked a perfectly regular cheque, even under magnification. It had no magnetically inscribed information other than normal security marks. Which meant that the person who received the cheque was involved and information was passed through a manual process known only to him and the person at the other end. It was simple, irreproducible and had therefore survived the vitriol of his father's attention. He recalled the two-house village in the Alps where the Lebrunns had their chalet; he doubted very much if the old frau was his trusted agent-- the only other agency involved with the cheque was the village post-office, which no doubt handled the cashing of the cheques as well, for even though a considerable amount of time had passed since the last time he remembered being there, he doubted if Credit Suisse had opened a branch behind Frau Lebrunn's chalet. Thus satisfied with his inferences, with the determination that was characteristic of him he started putting his plan into action.
'Graham, please get my father on the line. Also arrange accommodation for a week in Geneva. And a flight leaving in 48 hours.'
'Sorry to disturb you in the middle of the day, dad
'No, I am feeling quite well, as well as one might in this ...the place oppresses me. No, I am afraid the bovine charm quite escapes me.
'Well, I rather thought I would take an advance on my Season's holidays and go to Switzerland. I received some Swiss chocolate yesterday and it reminded me of my misspent but very enjoyable youth. I thought it would be nice to go to a place I actually remember, and of which I have nice memories, for a change...
'No, I do not require anyone to go with me. You have the certificate, dad. I am mentally fit to take my own decisions. Yes, I might even give your regards to old Gessler if I see him, though it was not my intention to hobnob with the political crowd...
He replaced the receiver, well satisfied with his work so far. After all, the truth told with economy was the best kind of lie.
His visit to the Kent farm went along extremely unexpected lines. He drove there and was immediately pulled into a time warp where this journey was an endlessly repeated path of a weighed pendulum, destined to repeat the simple harmonic motion in a perfect world. Sense memory took over again as he had not to refer to his navigation system even once and found himself in the dusty yard before a cheerful yellow building. It felt like the house of his best friend.
The sound of his car driving up had evidently drawn the attention of the occupants of the house, for as he approached the screen door swung open and a red-haired woman stepped out.
'Lex!' She looked happy to see him and then her face expressed chagrin, trepidation-a myriad of complicated expressions he could not even begin to understand.
'Ccome in. Clark is out herding the cows, he will be back shortly.'
She ushered him into the small kitchen, and here too, the familiarity hit him like a bludgeon-the proximity of the walls and the ceiling, womblike and yet not claustrophobic, the feeling of sheer size and ineptitude that he had never felt save in his fathers presence ... (Until he was six, when he had discovered that he could solve in his head what took his father a calculator and two henchmen to do. It was only math, but it was symbolic.) It came back here-- not only the Oedipal frisson, but the sheer backdrop of time built on the basis of memory, and the unassailable conviction that this place and its occupants marked several fundamental tiers in the edifice of his being. But now that tower teetered, lacking the cement of a cohesive linear narrative.
'Sit down, Lex. You like pie with milk.' The suffixed interrogative was suppressed but he could hear its virtual lilt, don't you?
She started bustling about getting the pie and the milk, the unspoken question poisoning the air between them. How much do you remember? Are we going to continue this game where you do not know me, but pretend that you do, and I know that you don't know me but pretend that I don't? Her silence was an entreaty, a plea to the god of awkward situations, but he did not come to her rescue. Instead, there was the sound of loud, stomping feet on the boards outside and the door opened to admit the tall, awkward form of a young Adonis.
'Lex!' said the boy, pleasure and warm surprise written all over his face. And then apprehension clouded the open wonder and made itself into a sullen barricade of pretence. Lex felt the shift as a physical blow, an immense plunging sense of unresolved betrayal. I thought better of you, trusted you, and yet there were no facts to back up the accusations that raged somewhere in his brain. If only time would stop, if only his breath would go back to the ease of normality, if only...then he would know why he felt so lost and little in this little farmhouse before a farm boy and his mother.
An insignificant farm boy who had been his best friend, though his father hinted at a relationship that went beyond the platonic...
He took the plunge: 'Mrs. Kent, Clark-there is no use in pretending. You know who I am, I am afraid I cannot say the same about you. I do not know the exact sequence of events myself, but I presume you know I have been under treatment at a sanitarium, and to preserve my sanity, I have been deprived of my short-term memory. I do not know you, and yet I know you played an important part in my life...'
He turned to the woman 'I know instinctively I can trust you. Will you help me please... help me to get a hold on who I am... What I am?'
'Oh! Lex!' she melted 'of course. Your father told us to keep up the pretence for your own good. Of course we will help you. Sit down. You do like milk and you love this apple and cinnamon pie.' He basked in the warmth of maternal concern naturally and easily, as if this cosseting was the most inevitable thing in the world.
Clark sat down before him on the small table, 'It's ok, Lex. You are a great guy...'a mischievous grin 'with a liking for killing meter maid's cars, but otherwise quite sound.'
'Clark!' The redhead slapped her son's shoulder in mock anger and the atmosphere in the kitchen sweetened and blossomed into something precious, and thought Lex, worth remembering.
He landed in Geneva very early the next morning, having crossed on the Concorde. Ten 'o'clock found him driving swiftly up the mountains to Larosee, the valleys and lakes being swept behind by his impatient climb. The winter snows were thick on the mountains, and the pine-scented air bore the unsubtle tang of memory as he drove relentlessly on, the sun in his eyes, his leather clad hands dueling with the curves of the narrow road with practiced ease. Presently the road swept up a swift shoulder and then descended into a slight valley crooked between the immense sweep of a much taller slope. Here, nestled from all but the fiercest of winds, lay the small village of Larosee. A few chalets built around an old square and a squat-steepled church formed the village that had originally planted itself in the lee of the chateau built on the craggy cliffs above.
Lex drove his car into the cobbled village street and entered the log and wattle building that served as hostelry, village shop and post office.
Swinging open the old fashioned door with the polished brass knocker he stepped into the warm, scrubbed interior, with the rich smells of ripening cheeses of subtle flavor, chocolate, burning cedar and wood polish, all mingled into the distinctive olfactory signature of Larosee and Lex at fourteen, somehow incontrovertibly mixed together, spanning both time and space.
He was greeted by a little brown lady wearing a denim jacket with a dozen large batches proclaiming her allegiance to everything from Peace and Love to the Metropolis Sharks. He had barely come to terms with the incongruity when the old lady spoke from behind her seat in the area designated as post office.
'Bonjour monsieur!' she spoke cheerfully, peering at him from bright blue eyes. 'Bonjour Madame,' he started carefully, but then decided caution would be useless in the situation, and started his carefully deduced speech. 'Je suis a la recherch d'un chocolat tres partiulier...qui est fait avee des pignons...'
He looked for the smallest reaction from the old lady, and her next words were promising. 'Oh! Dans ce cas j' appelle Madame Fischer! C'est elle la speciliste en matiere de chocolat.' she nodded cheerfully at him. Before he could question her further on the whereabouts of the famed Madame Fischer, he heard footsteps behind him, and turned around to see a tall woman dressed casually in jeans and roll neck jumper. She addressed him without preamble, obviously having been listening to his exchange with the old woman.
'Puis fi savoir qui vous etes? Ca chocolat est fabrique en nombre limite pour nos tres bons cliens.' she spoke in a strict no-nonsense voice, curiously reminding him of the matron at the chateau atop this very mountain
' Un ami de Gotham...M.Pennyfeather...'
Before he could continue, she said suspiciously 'Vous n'avez pas l'air Amerecain.'
'Oui, en efet f'ai eu la chance de faire mes etudes dans les environs.'
'Il y a de nombreuses ecoles-chalet dans les pasages...' she said dismissively.
'Oui,' he said, his voice completely concealing the triumph within, 'oui, e'est vrai mais l'une d'entre elles est un chateau.'
'This is an unexpected surprise. Celine Fischer at your service. Pray come into the back.' She led him into a cheerful, oak-beamed, low-ceilinged parlor, where raged a blazing fire and closed the door behind him. When she had settled him into a comfortable armchair before the fire, she fetched her laptop and put it aside on the low table between them.
'I had certainly not expected to see you in person, Mr. Luthor. Our understanding was that our dealings would be completely secret...I cannot understand why you would like to compromise our arrangement in this fashion.'
Lex smiled at the woman before him; the object of his trans-Atlantic quest. 'I am delighted to make your acquaintance too, Ms Fischer.' said Lex. 'Let me assure you that whatever eventuality I had imagined would overtake me so that I had arranged this backup measure, is nothing on the situation I find myself in. I presume there was a procedure to follow for me to initiate contact. But Ms Fischer, I will make no secret of the fact that I have lost all recollection of this arrangement due to significant short-term memory loss. Therefore I had to trust to instinct and my previous memories of Switzerland to try and find you.'
'The world of high finance is a small one, Mr. Luthor, and believe me, I would be much more skeptical of your claim except that some small rumors regarding your ...indisposition have found their way even to our small consultancy.' She looked at him keenly... 'The stock market certainly missed your' she paused and smiled, 'your volatile presence, and that, with your correct knowledge of one of our identification sequences, impels me to believe you.' She leaned forward and snapped open the laptop lying between them.
'Now, if you could touch the screen of this laptop to identify your fingerprint?' Lex touched his thumb to the screen, which immediately beeped into blessed activity.
Celine looked at the screen and then relaxed in to her chair.
'Now Mr. Luthor, what would you have me do for you?'
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