Nature of the Beast

by mobiusklein



"I don't know why you insisted that one of the conditions of my interviewing you was that I'd have to go with you to the Alaskan wilderness," said Chloe over the noise of the plane's engine as she and Lex were being flown out to the area called the Grizzly Maze to go camping.

"Please don't worry about your safety, Ms. Sullivan. I have no plans of having you disappear under mysterious circumstances on this trip. After all, I would be the only suspect."

"Well, you could always try to blame it on the bears, I suppose," she said, looking down at the jagged ice below.

"I brought a hunting rifle with me along with a few other items to ensure our safety," said Lex.

"I hope that I get an interview worth coming all the way out here. As much as I enjoy traveling if it's something that I could've gotten in Metropolis, I will be very displeased with you, Mr. Luthor."

"I think you'll find what I have to say very interesting."


As the plane flew off the surface of the lake, it really sunk that she was completely and totally cut off from the outside world, alone with someone who was not precisely a friend though not quite an enemy.

"He'll come back in five days," said Lex. "We might as well hike away from the water and set up camp."

Chloe cursed herself for agreeing to this as clouds of insects buzzed her around despite the fact that she had sprayed herself with bug repellent. "So, what are we going to eat? Kentucky fried bear drumsticks?"

"I've got some self-heating lunch trays with me. They're actually quite good. I had them specifically developed for my own personal use."

"So, you're not that interested in roughing it?"

"Would you like to gather food for the both of us? Preferably without picking poison berries or magic mushrooms . . ."

"I believe I'll try Luthercorp cuisine tonight."

"Good."


That night after they had set up the tent and set up a campfire, they ate from the small metal packages that were somewhat similar to the setup of airline food but several times tastier and filling. "Beef Stroganoff, yum," said Chloe after she tasted a bite.

"I'm sorry I didn't bring any wine to pair with it," said Lex.

"I find the whole wine thing a little pretentious anyway," she said before taking a sip of the bottled water Lex had taken off the plane. She looked at the fields of grass that had sprouted in the short, intense summer and the mountains in the distance that were still white with snow. It was a different kind of wilderness from the area around Smallville. This place . . . this land was as if God had forgotten to create man and had decided to satisfy himself with the simple joys of a vast animal garden.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"

"It is," she said, agreeing. She noticed the sincere delight in his face.

"But it's not as beautiful as Metropolis."

"Really?"

"Here . . . You see the handwork of God," he said, "Metropolis is the triumph of man."

"Oh, I don't know. I think God has a bit of an edge."

Lex chuckled. "Man's playing with a much bigger handicap. Tell me . . . How is Superman like a grizzly?"

Chloe frowned. "What kind of riddle is this?"

"It's not a riddle. Just think about it."


The next day, they went hiking through the country. Remembering the park service's regulations, they kept more than a hundred yards away from the grizzly bears and satisfied themselves with looking at them through binoculars. "They don't look like teddy bears at all," said Chloe as she saw two male bears circle each other. Their claws and sharp teeth and the power radiating from their large bodies were nothing like the cute plush toys sold in stores.

"Some of them weigh more than a thousand pounds," said Lex. "We're fairly safe as long as we keep a good distance away from them and . . . as long as they're not terribly hungry."

"That's so very reassuring. I'll bite, how IS Superman like a grizzly?"

"Why don't you guess?"

"Well, he's not that hairy."

Lex smiled at that. "No, it's not the fur."

"Hmm, he doesn't go around on all fours."

"No, that's not it either."

Two bears began wrestling each other, tearing up the ground beneath them with claws that were inches long. "Is it strength?"

Lex thought about it for a second. "You're getting closer."

Chloe took the camera Jimmy had lent her and began taking pictures with the telescopic lens attachment on. At the very least her story would have impressive pictures. Finally, the fighting had ceased and both bears went their separate ways.

"Would you ever pet a bear?"

"No, I'd be afraid he'd rip my head off."

"But if you could do so without getting hurt, would you?"

Chloe thought for a second. "I suppose I would."

"Why?"

Chloe put the camera down. She felt that Lex wanted to talk and she didn't feel like stopping him. "I don't know . . . I suppose because it would be something not everybody can do, an opportunity of a lifetime." She saw a very satisfied look on Lex's face. "What?"

"I was just remembering that a toy company's going to start making a Superman doll just like toy companies have been making teddy bears for ages. People love teddy bears without knowing what they represent while we've both seen what they're really like . . . the same way we have with Superman."

"What do you mean?"

"Do you know why people do insane things like jump into lion exhibits at the zoo or get out of the car during a safari?"

"Because they don't have a full deck of cards?"

"It's because they want to connect with something upon which they've projected their deepest desires and ideals. Of course, they are promptly punished for their self-deception."

"Are you . . . Are you comparing Superman to a wild animal?"

"I'm saying that a grizzly is not an animal that hunts people and is not inclined to do harm but nonetheless, I carry a rifle with me because all wild animals are unpredictable. I am merely stating that the one you call Superman is just as unpredictable."

"And what is this based on?"

Lex looked at her long and hard. "It's based on what happened in Metropolis the summer I was gone. There was a man who committed a series of crimes and was unstoppable even under fire from dozens of police officers."

"It could've just been any freak . . . You were in Smallville, there were lots of freaks who were strong and fast and . . ."

Lex shook his head. "No. You had an internship with the Daily Planet in Metropolis at the time. You may have even met him. I heard about a man named Kal, a beautiful man who threw money and cars away even nobody knew where he got it from . . . The name sounds a lot like Kal-El, doesn't it?"

"It could be a coincidence." She tried her best to keep her voice strong.

"Chloe?"

"Yes, Lex?"

"I've known for years. I knew . . . even in Smallville."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"About Clark, about Kal-El . . . about Superman, and how they're all the same in the end."

"You know that's the . . ."

"Don't even say the word `crazy.' You of all people . . . you!"

His voice had only edged up slightly but it was enough to make her stop trying to fool him. He knew her and her history all too well. "If he heard you talk about him this way, he'd be hurt."

"True, he'd act hurt but would he really be hurt? Or is he just acting the way he thinks he should act and I'm just projecting how I think he'd feel, thus creating an illusion of true intimacy?"

"You don't think he ever cared about you? About the people around him?"

"We're talking about an alien who was raised by humans his entire life in a human society. He can't help but mimic many of our behaviors in order to survive. I've seen him when he's not `Clark' but someone . . . something else. I saw as much feeling in his eyes as I do when I stare into that of a bear's. There was nothing but a curious indifference, even . . . contempt. It's a lot like how Superman looks at me now."

"Lex . . . he . . . does talk about you from time to time. He . . . wishes things were different. Even though you don't see him when he's talking about you, he really does regret a lot of the things that happened. If he's angry, it's because you do these . . ."

"As Superman, he's flung me around like a doll, Chloe. Would you like the X-rays of the bones he's broken? I have quite the collection."

Chloe looked away, clenched her fists but said nothing.

After he had calmed down, Lex continued, "I suppose I should admire your faith in him, but people have closed their eyes to terrible things in the name of faith. Did you know that I was in a plane and something blew a hole in it and stole something valuable? I and the other people onboard . . . we could've been killed. It was a miracle the pilot landed the jet. After we landed, I saw there was an impression of a hand on the jet. Now who else could it have been? And yet . . . he comes to my house and asks things of me as if . . . he had done no such thing. There was nothing in his eyes that showed me . . . anything. And he has never explained himself."

"Why did you bring me out here?"

"I guess I wanted to talk to someone about him, one hunter to another," Lex said.

Chloe frowned and scoffed, "I have no intention of shooting Clark and laying his corpse on my floor as a trophy."

"No, but you always wanted to pin him down, keep up with him and thus keep him. But your prey . . . it was always so elusive, wasn't it?" Lex closed his eyes and pulled off the glove off his left hand before finally removing the artificial hand and holding it in his other hand. "Superman, Clark, Kal-El . . . He's a force of nature. This is what happens when you try to hold on to a tornado," he said, waving his stump. "My scars are visible but I know that yours are just as real."

"If you knew then why . . . Why didn't you ever try to kill him? When he was at home? When he's reporting?"

Lex reattached his hand. "Because . . . I suppose that even as a hunter, I still respect my prey. The kind of ambush you're describing isn't what I wanted. Maybe it's the act of hunting that was more important to me than the result. Maybe I'm just as foolish as you are . . . hoping for communion with a being that is unreachable."

There was silence as they continued to walk together in the presence of a vastness that was much greater than both of them and would outlast them both.

The End



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