by mobiusklein


"I quit," said Lex as he stood on the top floor of the building where his penthouse was.

"What are you talking about?" said Superman as he crossed his arms in front of his chest.

"I'm an absolute failure as your nemesis."

"How can you say that?"

"You're still flying around Metropolis, aren't you? Besides I can hear the people wondering why I haven't brought you down yet. My plots are easily foiled. They must seem pathetic. I must be quite the laughing stock."

"Ah . . ." Superman was unsure of what to say. While he didn't want Lex to continue his rather numerous and byzantine schemes against him, he wasn't inclined to agree. "I can assure you that I haven't been laughing. And none of the people I know have been."

"However, I don't plan on leaving you unchallenged. I've put out a notice for a replacement."

"A replacement?"

"Yes, someone who can truly challenge you and give you what you truly need. The one who can prove that he or she can be your true nemesis gets a rather large monetary prize."

"You've put a price on my head?"

"I wouldn't call it a price. I call it compensation. I think it's going to take a lot of money to cause you problems."

"Oh, and what exactly are you going to be doing in the meantime?"

Lex paused for a minute. "I think I'll try to see what life without you is like."

At first, Clark didn't believe it. He couldn't believe that Lex could so quietly walk away like that. However, he checked all the hidden laboratories in the surrounding area and found that they had been closed. The scientists working in them had either been let go or diverted to other more `legitimate' projects. Since Lex was spending less time trying to defeat him and talking about defeating him, Lex's social life was undergoing a renaissance. The times that Clark checked up on him, he wasn't looking at his laptop coming up with a new plan to foil him but was instead having a dinner party or strangely enough, outside trying to paint the city around him.

Life in Metropolis was quiet during the summer. Of course, there were a few street-level thugs who actually tried to win the prize of three hundred million dollars but they were easily knocked out and dumped at the police station. There were no more killer robots or femme fatales who usually ended up betraying Lex after taking one close look at Superman or fights with Lex in his power suit or the like. Life was quiet . . . and boring as hell.

"I thought you'd be happy that he's stopped," said Chloe as she drank her cappuccino. She had ostensibly invited him over to try her new espresso machine but really wanted to see how he was.

Clark held a cup of latte in both his hands but made no move to drink it. "I guess I'm happy . . ."

"It's not only good for you. It's good for him, too."

"What about the price he has on my head?"

"I heard about that. I heard that there haven't been any real takers."

"It's not like there aren't already people who want my head on a stick," said Clark. "It's just that nobody else had a shot at getting it so nothing's really changed."

"It means that you now have more time to relax . . . Maybe you can take that vacation you always wanted," she said. Seeing that he still looked rather glum, she said, "I went to a new bakery and got a couple slices of pecan pie . . . Interested?"

It was during a routine patrol when it started. A metal storm of .50 caliber bullets tipped with kryptonite came straight at him from several directions at once. One managed to hit him in the thigh, causing him to fall several stories before he managed to pull the bullet out and fly out of the area.

Lex had been dining with a lovely fashion model at the Fleur de Lys, a hotel restaurant overlooking the city, when he saw Superman fall outside the window. The model had gasped in shock and Lex half stood up from his seat. He froze and forced himself to sit back down. When he saw the familiar flash of red and blue in the sky, he said, "There . . . He's fine. Let's try to concentrate on our appetizers."

The week after that, Clark had been surprised by a half dozen missiles which he managed to explode with his heat vision before they got within striking distance. Later that month, he went into a warehouse and was hit by the impact of a very nasty thermobaric bomb that had been strong enough to temporarily knock him off his feet and would've instantly shredded and charred anybody else. Whoever was behind this was serious about hurting him.

The first thing he did, of course, was to fly to Lex's penthouse to confront him. However, Lex was talking with one of his minions in his residence so he decided instead to eavesdrop on their conversation.

"So, you haven't found out who has been attacking Superman?" said Lex.

"No, the private investigators are looking at a few leads considering the level of sophistication of the weapons and the expense involved but nothing solid as of yet. We've even got a profiler to help narrow down the candidates."

"I don't know why whoever it is hasn't contacted me." The irritation was evident in Lex's voice. "I just don't like being left in the dark."

"Perhaps they want to utterly defeat Superman before they contact you. Anyway, I think that they have been doing a good job . . . though not quite your calibur . . ." said the minion, adding the last on hastily to avoid being unemployed.

Lex sighed. "Just keep searching."

"What shall the rest of us do when . . ."

"Observe but don't interfere."

"If I may ask, what will you do once you find them?"

"I . . . haven't decided yet. In the meantime, why don't you get my golf clubs? I need to unwind."

Clark flew away, feeling strangely lost and disappointed. As he flew back into his apartment and took off his suit, he thought, So, it's not him . . . He's been too busy playing golf and dating supermodels . . . He balled up the suit in his hands and threw it across the room where it hit the wall and fell to the floor, looking less than majestic. He wiped his face with his hands. Why am I so angry? I need a shower to clear my head.

Clark knocked on the glass sliding door for the first time and waited patiently as he stood on the patio of the penthouse. A servant noticed him and ran to get her boss.

"Luthor . . ." said Clark as Lex opened the door and walked out.

"What?" said Lex, exasperated. "If you don't mind, I actually have somewhere else I need to be." He was dressed in an Armani tuxedo with his tie untied. "I know I haven't done anything you can accuse me of so I'm not interested in being lectured . . ."

"I just wanted to ask you a question."

"Ask," said Lex, waving his hand in a gesture that conveyed permission and irritation.

"I was curious if you knew who has been trying to kill me."

"No, I don't," said Lex. "I've answered your question, am I free to leave, officer?"

Clark clenched his jaw and flared his nostrils. "You don't have any clue who it could be?"

"No, why the hell do you think I care who's doing all these things to you? If they don't want to claim the prize . . . that's fine with me!" Lex said.

"I'm sorry to have interrupted your very fine evening," said Clark bitterly.

"Don't say things you don't mean," said Lex before turning curtly and walking back into his penthouse.

The attacks happened at random. Incidents would occur a few days in a row only to be followed by several weeks of quiet. Since he had no idea who was perpetrating this, he didn't know how to stop it. There were no laboratories that he could destroy to prevent the weapon from being developed or getting a heads-up on exactly what was being prepared against him. Lex had been right regarding one thing. This was more challenging.

However, it was also extremely impersonal. There were no messages or people involved. All the weapons used were always unmanned and remote. There was no one to reason with and no motive that he could discern other than to kill him. The weapons were always about his extermination whether they be laser beams, missiles, microwaves, blasts of sound or bolts of lightning and were never about subverting his will or efforts at one-up-manship or covering up some sort of crime. The two saving graces were that so far the perpetrator or perpetrators hadn't tried to use people as bait and that there was no interference when it came to international humanitarian crises. Still, the lack of a `face' made him more nervous. An invisible enemy who refused to negotiate was one of the worst one could have.

"Congratulations on your book becoming number one on the New York Times Best Seller List," said Lex. He was sitting at a reserved table in a private room at the Metropolitan Tea House watching his guest walk towards him. He held up a copy of The Man Who Fell to Earth, a book about Superman's sudden appearance in Metropolis ten years ago and all his exploits since then.

"Thank you very much," said Chloe dressed in a warm ivory pant suit, her hair up and pulled back.

"It's a thoroughly amazing piece of fiction written from the point of an unreliable narrator. It's apparently a labor of love."

Chloe rolled her eyes. "Actually that phrase would better characterize much of your PR campaigns." She occasionally wondered why she had lunch with him but he was one of the few people who kept her on her toes and always had impeccable taste when it came to restaurants. Besides, she felt attending helped her keep on an eye on him even though she knew that he probably saw a reciprocal advantage by inviting her.

"And this book isn't a PR campaign? A tribute to the essential heroism and goodness of our local vigilante? I notice that I am scarcely mentioned. I'm portrayed in a negative light when mentioned at all."

"If it weren't for your army of lawyers, I would have put much more in of a truly unflattering nature," she said. "You should be happy with what you got. As for the book, I do think most people agree with me."

"I should tell you one day about the tyranny of the majority."

A waiter put a tiered stand in the middle of the table. One tier had crustless sandwiches while another had various pastries including currant scones. There was also clotted cream and various small jars of jam. "I took the liberty of ordering Earl Grey. I hope that's to your liking," said Lex.

"It's fine," she said.

The teapot was put down on the table and the waiter exited the room.

She took a smoked salmon and dill sandwich and popped the small square into her mouth. "Tasty," she said.

"So, how is the god of your idolatry anyway?"

She took a sip of the tea after adding a good dose of cream and sugar to her cup. "What do you think? He's been busy fending off one attack after another. It's wearing on him."

"Oh, I see." Lex looked away. "I thought he could handle anything." He turned back to face her with a forced smile. "Isn't that what you say in the book, that he's the very epitome of indomitable spirit and unbeatable determination?"

Chloe made a face. "It's not his will and determination I'm worried about."

"It's not like you to worry about him," said Lex.

"I'm his friend. It's my job to worry about him when there's reason to worry." Chloe frowned. "For someone who got what he wanted, you don't look that happy."

"Don't presume to know what I want," he said before partaking of a particularly tender cranberry scone.

"Isn't this mysterious assassin what you had in mind when you stepped down?"

"Actually . . . no," said Lex. "This . . . situation is not what I . . . imagined. You haven't been doing investigating the matter? I'm surprised that you haven't found out yet."

"I've been looking but I seem to have misplaced my magic wand," she said drily.

"That's too bad."

"What did you want to happen? Don't you want Superman dead?"

Lex paused. "I want him to be defeated."

"Isn't that the same thing?"

"Defeat and death are nothing alike," he said. He poured himself a cup of tea and squeezed a little lemon wedge, the sour and acid drops disappearing into the dark liquid. "I don't know the motive or even the goal of whoever is doing this. I have never been contacted by phone, letter or even e-mail. Nothing."

"Doesn't that worry you?"

"It . . intrigues me," he said. "Though I confess it also makes me apprehensive. Almost all the surprises in my life have been bad ones. I don't expect the one behind this to be any better." He drank the rest of his tea before pouring himself another cup.

Chloe looked at a nearby painting and was surprised to see Lex's name on it. "Did you paint this?"

Lex looked at the painting he had done of Metropolis at night, a city made of neon and shadows. "Yes, now that I have time I decided to pick up an old hobby."

"It's pretty good," she said, grudgingly.

"I was wondering if you were going to accuse me of having bribed the owner of the restaurant to hang it here."

"Did you?"

"No but it was nice to see that it wasn't the first thing that came to your mind," he said, as he treated himself to another scone.

His dreams were rarely of the pleasant kind and the one that visited him that night was not an exception. What made it worse was that it had begun to come to him repeatedly.

He was standing, looking down from his penthouse patio. Metropolis was quiet and the sidewalks were bereft of people. The roads were filled with empty cars as if everybody had suddenly been carried off by the Rapture. There was a quietness undisturbed by animals or even wind. He went into his penthouse and found there was no one there. His phone didn't have a dial tone. He went outside again and saw that the sky had turned dark in his absence even though it had seemed to be noon just a few minutes ago. He looked up the at the stars and found them to be grotesquely huge and misshapen. He saw a telescope nearby he hadn't seen earlier and looked through the viewfinder to see that around each star was a decaying angel holding on to it for dear life. He focused on one star and saw that the angel's wings were frayed and colored a light gray flecked with red and black instead of white. Bruises spotted its once perfect naked body. The angel finally lost his grip and fell, his mouth in an `O' of terror and . . .

The alarm went off, awakening him, and his hand automatically reached to shut it off. Feeling slightly nauseated, he got up from the bed and went to the bathroom to rinse out the bad taste out of his mouth. He bent down, splashed cold water on his face and wiped it dry with a towel. After he went back to his bedroom, he sat down on his bed and picked up his cell phone.


"Lawrence, it's Lex," said Lex to his personal assistant. "You've spread word that I wouldn't hand over any money unless whoever's responsible contacts me immediately, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"But the attacks are continuing. And I haven't been contacted," said Lex. He was clenching his jaw and there was an angry glint in his steely blue eyes.

"I guess they're doing this even if you won't pay?"

Lex could hear the discomfort in Lawrence's voice and calmed down a little. "It's possible that he or she hasn't gotten word but . . . it could just be stubbornness or that there are stronger motivations than monetary ones. Have the private investigators tracked down every single scientist that has worked on any of my projects regarding Superman?"

"As you know, most have gone back to work for you and are being monitored. Others have gone to work for other businesses or gone overseas. According to the private investigators, none of them have been working on projects related to Superman. There are, unfortunately, a handful who seemed to have completely disappeared."

"Damn it! Keep investigating. Considering that the weapons so far have been remotely controlled, has there been any progressing tracking the signal back to its source?"

"We tried that, however, the source of the signal turned out to be an unmanned transmitter receiving satellite signals. Unfortunately, we couldn't trace who was controlling the transmitter through the satellite. Most of the weapons used against Superman are destroyed in the conflict. We have checked the wreckage to see if there are any clues but nothing so far . . . This may sound presumptuous but . . ." Lawrence paused.

"Go on . . ."

"Does it really matter why someone is doing this as long as he dies?"

"I'm going back to sleep, Lawrence. . . and when I wake up, I want some information."

Outside the penthouse, Superman stepped away from Lex's bedroom window and flew away.

It was during tornado season that things came to a head. A prototype weather tracking satellite that had been programmed with algorithms created by his scientists predicted that there would be one touching down in the area between Smallville and Grandville in less than a day. Once Lex heard that, he said, "Lawrence, get a team down there. Superman's bound to go there and I'm guessing that another attack is going to happen while he's distracted.."

"Yes, sir," said Lawrence.

"Oh, and get some things out of storage . . . like my power suit."


"I'm going down there as well."

As he was being driven towards the Smallville area, Lex watched as the edges of the city receded into the distance. He looked at the flat emptiness ahead of him and mused that he never thought he would ever go near the place where he had spent the worst years of his life. After he had left Smallville, he had shut down the plant and pulled out every single dollar his company had ever invested in the town, making it little more than a ghost town.

By the time he got there, there was as predicted a twister that looked as if God in his wrath had reached a long grey arm out of heaven to destroy anything and everything that displeased him. Crops, houses, and cars were obliterated.

A thin man with an angular face was listening to his walkie-talkie while looking at the scanner he had brought with him. "Sir, the tornado is ten miles away and Big Blue has shown up just as you said he would," said Lawrence.

"Good," said Lex. "Any sign of our mysterious `friend?'" Lex was putting on his suit with the help of two other assistants.


"Yes, Lawrence?"

"Why are you wearing the suit?"

"I'm going to look for some answers. At the very least, I'm going to get his or her attention."

"It might be too dangerous. Could I . . ."

"No, it's my job. What I do want you to do is cover me if whatever our `friend' sends starts to attack me. You've got the laser canons and the missile launchers?"

"Yes, everybody's ready."


Lawrence sighed as his boss started flying towards what he considered disaster. That was when his scanner immediately started lighting up and beeping like mad.

"How is he?" said Lex as he stood outside the operating room. As someone who had little trust of public hospitals, he had his own private clinic just outside of Metropolis and had taken him there.

"We've stabilized his condition and are working on removing the Kryptonite," said the doctor. "Hopefully his regenerative powers will kick in once we have removed it."

Only a minute after Lex had started flying, he had gotten a message from his assistant that a swarm of small aircraft were in the area and that everybody was ready the second he asked for cover. A few seconds later, he made visual contact with them and saw that they were chasing a familiar target. He watched the several of the aircraft explode and fall to the ground while he flew to take a closer look, keeping one eye on the tornado. He hadn't intended on interfering . . . He hadn't intended to do anything but watch. That was until one of the aircraft came up behind Superman and sprayed his back with a green liquid. Superman screamed and began plummeting to the ground.

After asking his men to cover him, he had caught his nemesis before he hit the ground and flew away with him. The aircraft seemed to hesitate, hovering as if considering chasing after them before deciding to break off pursuit. Since the tornado was zigzagging its way closer to them, Lex told his men that they were leaving the area for their own safety. It was during the drive that the doctor told him that what had severely burned Superman over half of his body was a mixture of napalm and Kryptonite.

He told his men that holding Superman in a secret location was the only way to get the mastermind to talk to him, that he felt that there was something much bigger behind this. They looked doubtful though none of them contradicted him out loud. In any case, it was what he told himself.

"Sir!" said Lawrence as he ran down the hall towards them.

"What is it?" Lex said.

"There's a call for you that the secretary would like to transfer from your office . . ."

The expression on Lawrence's face told him that this was one he should take. "Transfer it over to my cell . . ." Lex heard his cell phone ring. "Hello, this is Lex Luthor."

A mechanical voice said, "Has the kill been confirmed?"


"Has the kill been confirmed?" it repeated in the exact same intonation.

"I'd like to talk to you about that."

There was a long pause. "You will be given directions to where you will be picked up . . ."

"This is a really bad idea," said Lawrence as he drove Lex to the designated spot, an isolated spot that was several hundred meters off a dirt road.

Lex shrugged. "When has that ever stopped me?"

"I hope the tracer works," said Lawrence. "If you're in trouble, we're not going to be much help if we don't know where you are. And we know that whoever is behind this is incredibly well-armed."

"I know but I've always hated mysteries," said Lex as he got out of the car.

"There are things I'd rather not know if it means that I stay in one piece," said Lawrence.

An unmanned helicopter touched down at the open field. After he stepped into it, the door automatically shut and the blades started to turn. He felt a cold feeling grow in the pit of his stomach.

The trip was a long one.

As the helicopter started to descend, he looked down and saw a vast sprawling estate that reminded him of one of his vacation homes. There was a landing pad that was near the entrance of the mansion.

Once the blades of the helicopter had stopped, a group of men dressed in black wearing helmets and holding rifles stepped forward to meet him. One of them said, "You have been expected. If you don't mind, I insist on doing a pat down before I let you in."

Lex quietly endured a frisk for weapons, knowing that he would have done the same thing if he was in the stranger's place. Another man used a security wand and nodded to the others that he was all clear. Lex relaxed, relieved that the tracer in his watch was not detected. With luck, his men should be closing in on his location and stationing themselves nearby.

"All right," said the man. "Come with me."

Lex kept quiet, wondering if the man was a servant or the one behind all this. After he entered the house, he was led down a long cavernous hall that was festooned with hunting trophies, the walls cluttered with the heads of deer, caribou, and other beasts. On one side was a stuffed grizzly on its hind legs to emphasize its deadly majesty. On the other was a polar bear with its teeth bared. A great white shark was suspended from the ceiling with its mouth open, the rows of teeth on display. There was also a display of dozens of pinned butterflies. It was like being inside a cathedral of death, animal bodies instead of stained glass windows.

Once he reached the end of the hall, the man waved for him to go in the room. Lex stepped in and saw a man that he wasn't familiar with sitting at a desk.

"Hello, Mr. Luthor," said the man who remained seated. "Please sit down."

"I'm glad to meet you Mr. . . ." said Lex as he took the leather chair opposite his host.

"You can call me Mr. Brown. I understand that you wanted to see me."

Lex found the man with brownish red hair and a ruddy complexion most unimpressed though he knew that many terrible things often hid in plain wrapping. "Are you the man who's responsible for all this?"

"I'm responsible in the sense that I'm the man pressing the trigger. A year ago when you announced that you were no longer interested in being Superman's nemesis, I was contacted by General Lane on behalf of the military. He suggested that I take up that challenge in your stead."

"Sam Lane?"


Lex narrowed his eyes. "What interest would the government have in hiring you to do this?" He had thought that his mistrust of Superman was his own personal obsession; that he was alone in seeing the problematic nature of godlike powers possessed by someone who was plagued by many of the same weaknesses of the people he was claiming to protect.

The man smiled, showing his veneered teeth. "You should know that the government is aware of previous visits by Kryptonians throughout history, not all of them benevolent or benign. They had people keeping track of various incidents around the Metropolis and Smallville area like the meteor showers and an unusual summer long crime spree that ended with a mysterious man seemingly oblivious to a shower of bullets before simply disappearing. You should be happy to know that many people in high positions of power came to the same conclusion that you did . . . that any and all Kryptonians need to be monitored closely and if they should prove to be a danger, they need to be quickly eliminated. That Superman needs to know that if he should step out of line, there will be someone who can lay the smack down."

Lex felt strangely deflated upon hearing this. He should have been happy that his point of view was being validated by the government; that there were a large number of powerful people who didn't consider him insane simply because he didn't accept Superman at face value. It was disturbing to go from feeling like the lone voice in the wilderness to finding out that he might be welcomed into the city with palm leaves strewn before him. He felt a little angry, both at not having been told that he wasn't alone and a strange sensation of something personal being stolen from him. "I get a sense that it's not simply your patriotic duty that's making you do this."

"Of course not. I get weapons from the government as long as I follow certain rules. I am to avoid creating any sort of international incident and civilian deaths need to be kept to a minimum. That just adds to the challenge. It's fortunate that the Kryptonian helps clean things up, vaporizing bullets and falling debris. It's a pity that you didn't get to work with the military. There's nothing like touching all that destruction concentrated in those sleek, cool lines of those missiles or watching them rocket towards him and blow up. My favorite was the thermobaric bomb, though. I tell you," he said, talking about machines of death as if talking about a classic Porsche. "Watching those things explode, ohhhh, nothing beats the satisfaction . . . except maybe a Cuban cigar."

"But what do you get out of it other than pretty toys?" said Lex, irritated. There was something rather impersonal and detached in the man's manner that irked him. Fighting Superman was something that you had to approach with true passion and zeal, not this wrongheaded admiration for commonplace weapons.

The man went quiet. "You can see that I hunt on a regular basis. Unfortunately, there are few things that are really a challenge anymore. However, when I was given the chance to try my luck at a Kryptonian . . . How could I turn it down? In return, the government can keep its hands fairly clean. After all, a lone billionaire has gone after Superman before. My day job has a more than tenuous connection with the defense industry . . . They could say that I diverted a few weapons here and there that was meant for legitimate use for my own uses."

"Plausible deniability."

"Precisely. After all, he's rather popular and they just don't want to deal with the resulting messiness . . . Bad for poll numbers."

"I thought that you weren't supposed to be trying to kill him but keep him in check. And why the anonymity?"

"I'll answer the second question first. I stay in the shadows because it makes the job easier. I didn't need the money and considering that you two have a rather long and contentious history, I assumed that he would still be keeping an eye on you. So, I decided to keep my distance. If he hadn't been shot down and taken, I wouldn't be talking to you right now. I don't have a need to reveal myself or confront him directly. It would be like yelling and blowing a whistle while hunting a deer. As to why I've escalated my attacks . . . I know that my job wasn't to kill him but it just became too much of a temptation." Seeing the sour expression on Lex's face, he said, "I just want complete and utter triumph over a worthy opponent. Isn't that what being a nemesis about? "

"No, it's not. Nemesis is derived from the name of the Greek goddess of divine justice and vengeance. Being a nemesis is about balance and making things right," said Lex. Ever since he heard about the legend about Naman and Segeeth and learned about Superman, he knew that the man from the stars needed to be stopped. He had gotten tired, figured that perhaps he wasn't the man up to the job. However . . . this . . . this pretender was unacceptable.

"An . . . interesting . . . story. I'm not up on my mythology," said the man dismissively. "Is that why you took him away because you didn't like the fact that I was going to do what you couldn't do for an entire decade? I can tell from your voice and the pissy way you're looking at me that you don't think I'm good enough or the right man for the job. I'm telling you that it doesn't matter what you think about me because," said Mr. Brown as he pulled out his .45 Magnum and pointed it at Lex. "I want what's mine. Call your men and tell them to hand him over."

When he woke up, Clark froze in expectation of feeling pain before realizing that it was gone. He realized he was lying face down on a hospital bed. The last thing he remembered was feeling an incredible burning on his back and falling only to be held up by Lex, flying them away as planes and missiles exploded around them. It had been astonishing to see his face in that transparent helmet urging him to live instead of yelling at him to go to hell.

He heard someone outside his hospital door and pretended he was still sleeping. He needed to know more about what was going on and decided to listen closely and try to see through the walls of his room.

"So, how's Sleeping Beauty?" said Lawrence to Dr. Hawkins as the doctor stood outside the room where the sole patient of the clinic was.

"Last time I saw him, he was out like a light from the shot of morphine I gave him, Lawrence. His back has been healing nicely. We removed all the kryptonite that we could see. There may be minute amounts in his system that is being dealt with by his immune systems. He should be well soon. Why?"

"Because . . . I might need him as a bargaining chip to trade for the boss."

"You know that's strictly against his orders."

"I actually prefer having a boss around to fire me. There's a strike team already staked out around the mansion ready to go in and get him out of there if there happens to be any problems. But our reconnaissance says that there are armed guards outside the place. There are probably more inside." There was a beeping sound from what looked like a pager on Lawrence's belt.

"What's that sound?"

"It means that things have gone really wrong and that the men have decided to storm the mansion," said Lawrence grimly. "Get Sleeping Beauty ready . . ." He was interrupted by the door of the room being kicked off its hinges.

"You know I really hate that name."

Lawrence shrieked.

Perhaps laughing in the man's face wasn't the brightest idea but it had been the most honest one. He could only hope that Lawrence would send the men in to avenge him. "I thought you weren't supposed to cause civilian casualties."

"One is a minimal number," Mr. Brown said.

After the bullet pierced his chest, thoughts streamed through his head. He wondered if his mother would welcome him to the afterlife by reaching out to him or raking his face with her nails. He wondered whether his father would mock him for dying for someone who could only feel relief at his death and nothing more. He wondered if Clark had already left the clinic and gone home to make himself a sandwich. . . He briefly imagined what kind of book Chloe would write about him now that he was no longer there . . . He tried to get up only to receive another shot to the chest. He heard Mr. Brown curse as there was sounds of distant gunfire coming from outside the door. He closed his eyes, thinking that he would have to settle for the small satisfaction of mutual destruction.

When he opened his eyes, he was surprised to find himself in one of his clinic's hospital rooms with Lawrence sitting by the side of his bed, looking rather relieved. He was further surprised to feel a little sorry for all the trouble he caused his minion. "What happened?"

"The men went in to rescue you after your tracer went off. It took them a while to find that you had been spirited away by our former patient. I was having trouble getting a message to them that Superman was coming to rescue you."

"So he escaped."

"Well . . . yes," said Lawrence sheepishly.

"Go on," said Lex, waving impatiently.

"While they were looking for you, Mr. Brown and his men were shooting at them so they returned fire. I'm sorry to say that Mr. Brown was killed shortly before Superman returned to stop the fighting. I know that you probably would've liked to have gotten more information out of him. If Big Blue, I mean Superman, has any complaints about our men's actions, tell him that they're not bullet-proof. I must say that he had quite a fuss about your injuries while we were wheeling you into the operating room. I don't take kindly to having our abilities insulted considering we saved HIS life," Lawrence grumbled. "As for you, the doctors have removed the bullets and you are healing quickly as you always do."

"Where is he now?"

"He flew off. He said he was going to talk to you later, though."



"Get a jet ready to go to Washington. There's a certain general that I need to see."

As he sat at his private table at the upscale restaurant called Boulevard, Lex looked impatiently at his watch. It wasn't like Chloe to be late for their little luncheons, especially without calling to tell him. Even if they didn't like each other, they did extend each other the small courtesies that kept society running smoothly like being on time.

"I'm sorry that Chloe couldn't make it but I'm perfectly willing to have you critique anything I've written over the years."

Lex looked up to see Clark dressed in brown slacks and a white shirt. "What's the matter, your suit at the cleaners?"

"I thought that today my suit could take a well-deserved rest. I'm afraid I've been wearing it a bit too much lately and it's not good for either me or the suit."

"Actually I have somewhere else that I should be at this . . ." Lex looked as if he was going to get up from his chair.

"Please . . . there's so much we need to talk about."

"We've already talked thousands of times . . ."

"No, we've talked at each other instead to and with each other."

"What makes this time any different from the other times?"

"I'm listening and I'm hoping that you're interested in listening, too. Anyway, I wanted to talk about how the government is interested in keeping Superman . . . contained."

"How do you know about that?"

Clark sighed. "I am a journalist after all. I asked Mr. Brown's men a few questions before I left. After I found more information about the man who shot you, I did some major digging and found out about his link to the military. I also found out that you flew over to talk to General Lane after everything went down. What happened?"

"I contacted General Lane to express my concerns and demand satisfaction. You know what he had the nerve to say to me?"


"Mistakes were made, he said as he was puffing away on one of those odious Cuban cigars of his. He said the next person he had in mind should prove much more stable. He's going to have one of his cronies give me a military defense contract in compensation for my pain and suffering. Of course, I didn't tell him that you suspected anything because he would have changed tactics. God knows what he would have come up with next."

"You're not going back to fighting me anymore, are you?"

Lex shrugged. "I still have problems with what you're doing and how you're doing it."

"But the fact that the government is suspicious of me means that someone's already watching me. You don't have to play the bad cop anymore. I know that you take the Naman and Segeeth legend seriously and thought that it was about us. But . . . we're not some obscure wall painting joined at the hip, cursed to spend the rest of eternity trying to strike some cosmic balance that only God understands. That's not what we are . . . That's not all we are. We could be more than that."

"What are we then?"

Clark paused to think before smiling radiantly. "For right now, how about two people having a civilized lunch on a nice day? If it helps starts the conversation, then I'd like to say thank you for . . . a lot of things and is there an appetizer you particularly recommend?"


"The fig and prosciutto dish happens to be a good starter course," said Lex.

The End

Epilogue (more of a gag really):

"I have an interesting proposal if you're interested." General Lane offered a cigar to his guest. "Are you sure you don't want to try?"

"I'm sorry," said Bruce Wayne. "I don't smoke."

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