The Big Story
Chapter FifteenI sat in a closet in the Daily Planet building, perched on boxes of paper. I had followed Kent this far, but I had decided to let him make his exit instead of confronting him. No sense keeping Superman from wherever he was needed, and he likely would stop if he realized he had been outed. He would be back, though, entering as he exited - through the window that opened to the air shaft. I had already found Kent's clothes, neatly folded and stowed behind a stack of boxes on a high shelf.
I was no longer invisible, nor was I Lonnie Gray. I was in a closet, out of sight, and my body relaxed into the long-practiced form of John Jones. I'd been Jones for 15 years, taking my lumps like any other man. Whatever else I was, I'd earned my human face. Plus, it wasn't a face I had to think about. It was just me.
As Jones, I was thinking a lot. I had all the pieces of a puzzle, I knew I did, but they were refusing to fit together in my mind.
Clark Kent was Superman. I should've been able to suss that on our first meeting, a passing hello in the lobby of the Planet two days before I followed Doug Canberra to a warehouse in Suicide Slum. My telepathy was sharper then, undulled by two years of Jack Daniels. Few humans I knew could compartmentalize their lives in their thoughts, even if they could do so in their actions. When I met Bruce Wayne, he had thought like Batman while he reminded himself to maintain his social face.
Clark Kent - was Clark Kent. I had caught the whisper of his thoughts in transition when he had passed through the news room, or else I would still be doubting Lois' suspicion. His was not a human mind, not even an augmented one. Nor was it - as was popularly speculated - the mind of a machine, some invented creature or the product of some experiment. Superman was not of Earth.
Not of Earth, but raised here. Kent's memories of home and family were not invented. They were purely his own, without the taste of tampering.
I tried for a moment to imagine arriving on Earth as a child, being raised by a loving family. I shook off the thought before it could proceed further. I knew it would have been my death warrant. I knew about what had happened in New Mexico. Whether by accident or design, Kent must have arrived on this planet with a human face.
And somehow or another, Bruce Wayne had figured it out. Unlike a dual identity, that kind of secret could be kept from me by a human, particularly by a disciplined mind that was aware of my telepathy. I would not rape and plunder another mind by plowing deeply for its secrets.
The clues added up, though. Pennyworth had told me that Wayne had challenged Luthor's bid to own the Planet because of Clark Kent. He had also said that Wayne's boy - Dick - did not and should not know.
I thought again about Kent and his hospitable openness, his small town charm. He loved his home, his "parents." And he had to know about New Mexico as much as I did. Humans did not deal well with aliens. Government experiments could be for the public good. Aliens must have agendas of conquest. Even Superman's good will could be viewed as a ploy to win public confidence. Lane's initial pitch when she had hired me was a forceful reminder of that.
If Superman were outed as an alien, and Clark Kent was known to be Superman - I closed my eyes, too easily imagining a scene from a horror movie of townsfolk with torches and pitchforks. A man who could bend steel with his bare hands could break a human without breaking a sweat. If given a choice between taking one life and losing his friends and family? Plenty of men would kill to protect a secret. Bruce Wayne had kept Kent's secret to protect his ward.
My eyes snapped open in a sudden panic. Had Lex Luthor known? Was that-
No, I reassured myself. Luthor wanted the Planet in order to have some control over the news. He was savvy, and knew the power of the media. By making a bid to buy the paper, he had invited the reporters of the Planet to investigate his motives. He had presented himself as a man with nothing to hide and had built a life to support that allegation. The only link between Luthor and his shadowy underworld history was Douglas Canberra. When he died...
He had been supposed to die, I realized belatedly, cursing myself for missing it before. The warehouse fire was supposed to be more thorough, destroying the last vestiges of Luthor's past, including Canberra. Luthor had not anticipated that I would be on Canberra's tail, and I had not anticipated that Batman would be on mine. It was the presence of Bruce Wayne's body in the rubble that had prompted the investigation that had revealed Luthor's shady dealings.
Wayne's body and Lane's persistent series of articles, keeping the whole sordid affair in the eyes of the public. Revenge on Luthor, I wondered, or justice for Wayne? I'd always read it as the former, but I had not known that Lois had shared Wayne's bed. I could see how it played out, each leading the other on in hopes of finding out what each knew until they were in each other's arms. Had Wayne planted the seeds of suspicion in Lois' head? Or had she come to her ideas on her own?
Not that it mattered. I could only imagine that Wayne had put it together in much the same way Lane had, and he had to figure that eventually, Luthor would figure it out, too. And Luthor was ruthless. Bruce Wayne had undoubtedly wanted to get in the newspaper business in order to prevent putting a potent weapon in Luthor's hands.
Or he was trying to claim a weapon for himself.
The thought troubled me, but it didn't scan. I had watched enough of Batman's war on crime that I could not imagine him trying to mobilize Superman. Contain him, maybe. Study him. Figure out how he could be stopped if he ever did threaten the earth.
Unbidden, my mind flashed back to Suite 1502 of the Parkview Hotel, the night before Bruce Wayne died. Bruce's voice sounded in my memory. "You aren't what I expected."
I had smiled at him. "You thought I would want you to take me to your leader?"
"With all your powers? I'm surprised you haven't at least made a bid to change the world, if not take it over."
His tone had been a mix of wishfulness and fear, and I remember feeling the need to reassure him. "No one wants me making decisions for anyone's world. I don't want to make decisions for anyone. I just want to live out my life."
"Happily ever after?"
"I haven't earned that."
There had been a long pause in the conversation, during which Bruce had poured himself a club soda and offered me one.
"I know how you mean," he'd finally said, and I could feel his aching memory of his parents, gunned down in cold blood, "or at least, how you'd mean if you were human. But I don't know what might make you change your mind. Hell, I don't know why you haven't decided we're all vermin, too uncivilized to live."
"Life is learning, Bruce. And hope."
He had given me a hard look at that, as if he wanted to believe me. He still hadn't taken a seat.
"I wish I had more of your faith."
"You have more than you know."
He'd snorted then, shaking his head. "So what happens if you change your mind? Humanity could never stop you."
"You're wrong. Every creature has a weakness. You already know mine."
He'd considered a moment, then picked up the book of matches in the unused hotel ashtray. He lit one, and I flinched, forcing myself to look. He watched me for a moment, then quickly snuffed the match with a vaguely horrified expression. I had begun to lose my shape, my heart beating irregularly and my breathing shutting down. In my head I had heard a sound I wouldn't understand until later - my family's dying screams.
"This would kill you."
He had nodded. "Good to know," he had stated, dropping the spent match in the ash tray. But his mind was unsettled, and I suspect I had inadvertently projected my memories.
Now, in the quiet of the supply closet, I wrapped my arms around my chest and shivered. I remember thinking at the time that maybe Bruce Wayne could be a friend, that maybe my assumptions of how humans must react to me should be revised. We'd shared a bond that night, and twenty-four hours later he was dead.
I closed my eyes, thinking I should cry for him and that neither men nor Martians were supposed to cry. I lost myself in the past, but wherever Superman had gone was not as big a deal as I had anticipated. My eyes snapped open when a hand found my throat, and as I stared at a big red "S" on a yellow field, the man of steel hissed, "What the hell are you?"