Superman and Man: Part 3
He had gone into the holy of holies, the private office of Morgan Edge himself, who was director of Galaxy Communications, a name that would only have worked in a comic book.
Edge himself was clad in a brown business suit and slippers, his newly polished black shoes standing beside the desk at attention. He smoked, using a cigarette holder 50 per cent longer than FDR's.
"We've got Tremayne coming up with a feed from Bosnia," Edge was saying. "Two and a half on that. Then Meg does a short on the new lion cubs at Municipal. But here's the bit, Kent...we were going to have some info about Lexy-boy's escape. The Planet was going to share it with us. Where's your wife?"
Edge was looking at him as if he knew the answers.
"I don't know," the actor admitted. "She wasn't in last night. She hasn't been in today. I was hoping you knew something about her."
Edge looked a bit more serious. "Then, I hate to say it, Kent. But Inspector Henderson may have been right. Your wife may have been kidnapped."
The actor tensed. "Kidnapped?"
(Just like in the comic books)
Edge nodded, not smiling a bit. "The police are working on that assumption right now. My question is, Kent: are you up to doing the bit tonight, or should I have Lana do it solo?"
"Lana?" He paused. "As in...Lana Lang?"
Edge's version of the Funny Look was melded with fury. "Yes, as in Lana Lang. What's the matter with you, Kent? You've only been doing the news with her for about fifteen years now."
The actor reached out for Edge's marble desk to steady himself. "Of course. Lana. Of course, Mr. Edge. Has...the inspector...turned up anything yet?"
"Not a lot," admitted Edge. "You need to talk to him. Lois has become the story herself. Again. Henderson's hoping Superman can lend his muscle, since nobody but Blue Boy's been able to bring down Luthor. I'm sorry, Kent. Kent?"
Edge looked at him, critically. "Kent, you don't look as though you're prepared for work today. I can understand that. Let me give you the night off."
"Well, that's very kind of you, Mr. Edge, very kind indeed"
"And I'd uh, like to thank you for the consideration"
(Superman would not wimp out on a job)
"But, all things considered"
"Being a, ahem, newscaster is my job."
Edge kept looking at him.
"And I've got a job to do. Even if, forgive me, Lois is missing. Maybe kidnapped. What time do you want me in the studios?"
Edge took the cigarette holder out of his mouth. "What do you mean, what time? You're not a rookie kid, showing his face for the first time around here."
The actor straightened up, moved closer, and gave Edge the kind of look he imagined a Man of Steel would give him. "What time, Mr. Edge?"
"Four-thirty. At the latest."
"I'll be there."
"Four-fifty-five will be too late."
"May I go, now? And, uh, check with Inspector Henderson?"
"Inspector Henderson's office is..."
"At the Hall of Justice," said Edge, with a sigh. "Kent, what's gotten into you?"
The actor shrugged. "Don't know, Mr. Edge. Sometimes I can't tell where my mind's gone off to."
The young boy was grasping his hand and smiling at him and probably would like to crawl all over his chest, but knew he couldn't, in Daddy's present state. Dana hadn't told him about Daddy's problem, obviously. Superman supposed that was good.
"Hello, son. How was. School today?"
"Neat enough, Dad. I finally got to use that dinosaur stuff from the Net for my report today. Harris gave me an A-!"
"That's. Mr. Harris. Son." Superman made his mouth smile. "But congratu. Lations."
Dana looked on, rubbing her hands together. From her eyes, Superman could tell he was disappointing her. His "memory" was not coming back. And it wouldn't, as long as he was in this body. But how could he tell her that?
"So are you gonna read the story I'm writin' when I get it finished, Dad, n' critique it? That's what Mrs. Foss says, that you can't be a real writer until you go through the whole critiquein' process."
"Be glad to. Son. Just finish it. Give you. My harshest. Opinion."
"Neato! Can you talk Mom into doing lasagna tomorrow night?"
He glanced up at Dana, who was shaking her head.
"Doubt. Your mom. Is in mood. For pasta. Sorry, son."
"Dad. You feeling okay?"
"Sure, son. Why do you. Ask?"
"You're not talking the way you do most'a the time."
He sighed. "Daddy. Is a little tired. Son. Speech tonight. You be okay?"
Will nodded. "Best believe. Gonna make the babysitter read from Romeo and Juliet. I play Romeo."
"Watch out. She doesn't. Play scene. With knife."
Dana smiled. Well, after all, it wasn't like he wasn't a daddy on his own world, after all.
"I'll watch out. Bye, Dad." The boy flounced out of the room.
The woman pulled up a chair and sat facing him, her hands in her lap. "You don't act like my husband."
"Chris, I'm having a doctor come look at you."
"All right. Just get. Done before. Speech."
"You are in no condtion to make a speech."
"Been through. That before. I'm going."
"I don't see how you can do it. Do you even remember your accident?"
"Can't say. I do. Very hazy."
"You have lost part of your memory. I know it. Chris, I'm calling up and cancelling."
"Dana. My mind. Is perfectly. Fine. Will not. Cancel."
"I'm calling the doctor first."
"If he says you shouldn't make the speech, will you go on insisting you do?"
She sighed, bent over to pick up her purse where she had laid it beside the chair, and pulled out a cell phone. At least his stubbornness was unimpaired. She didn't know if she should be grateful or not.
So where did one begin to find Luthor?
The actor really wasn't sure. In the comic books, you could depend on a confrontation and fight scene towards the end of the story. But where was he, in this world? What page was he on?
Give me back my world, he thought desperately. Give me back Dana. And Will. And my other kids. I'll even take back my old, broken body if I have to. I'm not Superman.
But what if he was?
What if he were the only person left who could be Superman?
He had been standing outside the Hall of Justice. A cop passing by saw him staring at the sidewalk. "You okay, Mac?"
He nodded. "I'm fine, officer." Not really. He had been to see Henderson. About all the man could tell him was that Luthor had managed to escape his escape-proof cell, Lois Lane had gone to interview some members of Luthor's old gang, and had gone missing before she contacted the first one. They had interviewed the guy, a one-armed man named Louto, but a lie detector seemed to indicate he was telling the truth when he said he hadn't had contact with Luthor since he went into the joint.
He didn't feel an emotional connection with Lois Lane. He could hardly believe that Lois Lane was a real, living person in this world, not just ink on paper or a role another woman portrayed on screen.
But...if she was real, in this world, she depended on Superman for her salvation. Edge had been right when he said that only the Man of Steel could handle Luthor. Even Henderson acknowledged such. "To put him away, we're going to need the Big Guy," he said. "And he hasn't shown his face since she went missing."
The actor walked down the street like an automaton. He'd been in situations that demanded courage, and he'd summoned it. In Chile, daring the dictator's troops and tear-gas to speak out against the repression of artists. After the accident, when he determined that he would not give in to depression and inactivity.
If he got back to his old body, what would it be like, now that he had tasted freedom? Now that he had tasted power?
He almost stepped off the curb. If he walked into the street without looking, he mused that the slapstick sequence from the third film, in which he smashed down a host of objects with his invulnerable body just by walking over them while distracted, would become a reality.
It was magic to feel the wind on his face and the pavement under his feet and the warmth of the sun through his blue suit. It was magic to be able to bend and flex his arm, to breathe unaided, to talk without pausing between every few words.
It would be magic beyond magic to use the powers of Superman. If he dared.
He looked out at the busy Metropolis street, and came to a decision.
If Lex Luthor existed, if Lois Lane existed, and if the one endangered the other, only Superman could do something about it.
If he were Superman, just for this one day, then he would have to do what Superman would do.
He remembered a line from a David Bowie song: "We can be heroes, just for one day."
Yeah, but he didn't say what that day would cost you.
Well, what the hell. Was there a place to change around here?
He found himself in front of an office building. Some people recognized him, waved, said "Hi, Mr. Kent." He waved back and greeted them. He went inside to an elevator, took it all the way up to the top, stayed inside while everyone else got out, watched the doors close, and pressed the stop button.
Then he began taking off his clothes.
He hoped nobody on board had a good memory for faces.
The doctor had come, done an examination, asked questions and gotten answers. He called Dana over afterward and spoke to them both, briefly.
"As far as I can tell," he said, "Chris's mind is normal, except for his memory of his own life. This is quite a phenomenon. Usually, an amnesiac forgets some of the basic things...the alphabet, addition, the names of the fifty states, and so on. With you, Chris, that isn't the case. You're sane, at least apparently so, and intelligent. But you don't remember a thing about what you were before today."
"Could have. Told you that."
"Except for one thing."
They both looked at him. "Which is?" asked Dana.
"Superman," said the doctor.
"Oh," said Superman.
"I don't know if this new personality has been imposed on you by the stress of the accident, or what," the doctor continued. "But it could be, well, a bit dangerous if you begin to think that a role you played, Chris, is the real you. That you, in fact, are Superman."
"I can see. How that. Could be. Dangerous."
Dana seemed nervous. She had a right to be, he guessed.
"Chris," she said. "You're staying home tonight."
"No," he said.
The doctor looked at Dana.
"Am I. Physically. Okay?" said Superman.
Nodding, the doctor said, "No worse than you've been in the past few months. Physically, that is."
"Then I. Can speak. Without danger."
"What is your emotional state, Chris?"
"Scared," said Superman.
The doctor was about to say something. Superman cut him off. "But. I've been. Scared before. Didn't stop me. Won't now."
Dana spread her hands. "Why? Why do you insist on doing this thing, Chris?"
"Because," he said. "If it's. My only day. In this. Body. Have to do. What was. Expected. Of me. Dana."
"You know it is, Chris. It's boosted research into spinal injuries, brought national attention to the problem, helped insurance reform along those lines. You are the spokesperson for the cause. But you--"
"But I. Have to do it."
She looked at the doctor. "Can I get you to be with him during the speech?"
He sighed. "I wanted to spend the night with my family."
She said, "I understand."
"But if he's intent on playing Superman--I guess somebody'll have to play Jimmy Olsen."
The biggest damned problem with changing into Superman was finding someplace to put your Clark Kent clothes.
He looked at the hatch at the top of the elevator car. Forget that. His suit might get greasy, and he had to be on television in it in a few hours, of all things. He hoped it would hold a crease.
He opened the doors, looked out, saw a woman about to get on. Her mouth formed an O as her eyes widened to an unbelievable degree. "Um, hello, ma'am," he said with what he hoped was an aw-shucks grin.
Then he pushed the "close" button.
What was he supposed to do?
He sighed, and pushed the button for the next floor down.
There were three people waiting to get on. A business exec type, his wife, and a kid. Their jaws plummeted to the floor when they saw the suit.
"Good afternoon, citizens," he said, hoping he could dredge up the role convincingly. "I'm on a case, so if you'd please step this way."
"Superman," yelled the kid. "Holy jeez, Mom, it's Superman!"
"Bobby, don't bother the man my God it is Superman Harry it's Superman am I awake Harry--"
"Beatrice, shut up," said the man, not taking his eyes off the guy in blue, red, and yellow.
The actor put a finger to his lips. "I'm on a very important case. Please, be quiet. You might tip somebody off."
"You can count on us, Superman," said the kid, beaming.
"Thanks, Bobby." The actor placed a hand on the kid's shoulder, tried to think of something to say, and finally said, "Remember. Truth, justice, and the American Way. See you soon." He turned, still holding his Clark Kent clothes draped over his other arm.
"Hey, Superman?" said Bobby, after him. "I hope you kick Luthor's ass!"
"Bobby!" said Beatrice. The sound of the elevator door shutting reached his ears.
He noticed his hands were trembling. In excitement? Or just pure stage nerves? Well, he'd gotten through the latter beforehand.
How did one use x-ray vision? Did you have to squint, or call out a secret word mentally?
Almost at the thought of it, he began seeing steel girders in frameworks, people in the rooms in front of him at various activities, a maid vacuuming a rug. One room appeared vacant. He walked over to it, tried the door. Locked.
There was nothing to do except shove it. He placed a hand against it, gave a sudden push, and the door cracked off its hinges, sailed across the room, and impacted against the opposite wall.
"Oh, nuts," he muttered.
He stepped inside, walked over the carpet, noticed a detail he had missed: there was an open briefcase on the night table.
A salesman, his collar unbuttoned and his boxers all in polka-dots, was emerging from the bathroom, doing the Oh-my-God expression.
"Sorry," said the actor, and turned to the window. He had to remember, next time, to scan all the rooms in a room. Even if it was a john.
He took a running leap at the window, his free arm extended in front of his face just in case.
(What if I don't have any powers or they shut off in mid-jump or I get busted for breaking and entering and destruction of property or...)
The glass shattered like the spun sugar of a Hollywood version of itself.
(What if there are people below?)
He began to drop like a rock towards the ground 47 stories below.
He began to yell at roughly the same time.
His blue suit started to get away from him but he grabbed it tighter. How the hell did you make flying work?
He yelled, "Shazam!" No lightning bolt.
The ground was coming up at an incredibly terrifying rate and he knew that the crowds below would not appreciate being visited by an object of his weight and velocity on their heads.
The phrase again: You will believe a man can fly.
Was that how it was done, perhaps?
By believing, just believing, that one could fly?
He closed his eyes, extended one hand before him, balled into a fist, and concentrated. An image of himself, fixed in a spatial tank, seemed to come to mind. Like the little airplane on a control panel.
He made the image turn upward.
The lurch was not at all pleasant. He almost lost his grip on Clark Kent's shoes. But he didn't, quite.
Opening his eyes, he saw the buildings and streets of Metropolis below him.
And they were getting further and further distant from him.
"Good Lord," he breathed. He looked below him. Nothing there. Like a Warner Brothers' cartoon character, standing on nothing without harm. Better not visualize that too much, because they always started to fall when they figured out where they were.
Straighten out and fly right, Superman.
He corrected the image to place himself at a parallel track to the ground. At once, his upper body dipped a bit, his legs came up, straightened, and there he was, flying in a horizontal manner.
So this was how it was done. So this was the manner in which a man could fly.
A woman sunbathing on a building roof looked up and waved at him. He waved back, grinning.
This was fantastic.
He yelled incoherently at the Earth, at all the people in the world, at God, even, if He was listening. And how could He not be?
This would be hardest to give up of all.
He glanced at his arm. There was the problem of Clark Kent's clothes. Well, that could be dealt with.
Picking a structure at random with a flat enough roof, he directed his flight towards it, found that he could correct his course with but a gentle mental nudge or two, and came in for a landing. Unfortunately, as he realized when his belly pancaked the stone-and-metal surface, he had neglected to correct himself to pull up and land on his feet. He reached out a hand, dug a fraction of an inch into the roof surface, stopped his flight. Then he folded his Kent clothes neatly, at a place where the wind would be unable to snatch them from the roof, and stood for a moment, looking out at the buildings nearby, fixing its location in his mind.
If only the birds left it alone, his suit would be fine.
He jumped to the parapet of the building roof, and, on impulse, cried, "Up! Up! And away!"
He launched himself into the air with the push of one foot, sailing on the atmosphere, both hands plowing the wind before him, and feeling as though there was nothing in the universe so fine as flying.
His vision was crossed by another flying object.
It seemed to be closing on him. A helicopter? No. Too small. Even he could tell that.
With an effort, he brought his telescopic vision into play. A man. It was another flying man.
Another flying man who wore what appeared to be an armored suit of purple and green. A man whose face seemed ancient and old and very, very evil, despite his smile.
A man who, except for his eyebrows, had no hair on his head.
A man who was extending his armor-gloved hand towards him, and saying something his enhanced hearing could pick up.
"It's a bird," said the bald man. "It's a plane. It's dead."
Then the glove spurted a green fire that smashed into him like the fist of Zeus.
To be continued...
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