In the private dining room of a very upscale restaurant in Metropolis, six men met that evening to discuss the fate of a newspaper. These men were the board of directors of Vanderworth Holdings Ltd, and several of them were also on the boards of Eagle Capital Investments and Prometheus Corp. Mr. Cooper, the CEO of Vanderworth, viewed his colleagues with veiled disdain. They were all older, several beginning to go bald, and most had the sort of hubris that would think their toupees could fool a college-age blonde.
“As you all know, Mr. Roth’s orders are clear,” said Mr. Newman, the eldest, wealthiest, and most influential person present. He knew it, too, and used it every chance he could. “Regardless of what happens with Prometheus’ other projects, we are to take this objective at any cost. No exceptions.”
“Doesn’t he realize we’ve driven the stock so high we’re losing a margin to the damn day traders?”Mr. Cooper growled, but without much venom. He had been with Vanderworth long enough to remember Gertrude and her eccentricities. He knew Mr. Roth’s type, and also knew that as long as Roth held the purse strings, they would all dance to his tune. Hopefully he would continue to show enough restraint to keep from collapsing the companies Prometheus funded.
Newman sipped his second martini and replied, predictably, “He doesn’t care, so long as we end up with a controlling interest. The higher the stock goes, the more tempting it will be for some of the hangers-on to sell.” Easy for him to say; he was Roth’s right-hand man in all things financial.
“We’ll all be scrambling to fund the expenditure,” Mr. McClure sighed, nursing his fourth drink. Cooper could pity him, just a little. Several years ago he’d made the mistake of using his family’s company to finance his two homes and three vehicles. When the business simply evaporated – a common problem in this rapidly-shifting digital age – he’d had to sell shares to Vanderworth just to stay afloat. Now he was part of the board of directors, his business acumen serving Cooper in good stead, but he resented the fact that Vanderworth was ultimately controlled by Prometheus.
“Relax. Prometheus’ R&D will refund all of us. Their April product rollout ought to skyrocket sales.” That was Mr. Neal, the youngest at the table, with a background in corporate law. Cooper lifted his drink to hide his sneer; Neal would never admit it if there was a problem, anyway. He’d keep right on patting their backs and reassuring them until they all wound up in bankruptcy court.
“So everything is proceeding according to plan so far,” Newman mused. “Hollis, have you heard from Eastlake?”
The fifth man nodded. Hollis was on the board of directors of Eagle Capital Investments, and considered himself an advisor to its CEO, Erik Eastlake. He had given the young investor his orders regarding the power structure of the Daily Planet, and even though Eastlake had failed to compromise the heir apparent, he was still on board for the takeover. “He said he’s amassed a share, and will be with us on Friday.”
“Excellent,” said the sixth, Mr. Douglas, who spoke with an Australian accent. The newcomer to the group, he represented those shadowy interests that Cooper preferred not to know too much about. “Mr. Roth will be very pleased with our success. And I personally will enjoy the expression on that hard-headed old editor’s face when we tell White we own his precious paper. Not to mention his darling protégée. She should have taken the merger we proposed.”
Her green eyes were closing for the fifth time. Lana was clearly tired, having slipped into dozing several times as they sat, but she hadn’t wanted to leave. Richard pretended not to notice when she drifted off to sleep in the chair beside Lois’ hospital bed. Curled into the overstuffed chair with her bare feet under her, Elise was faring better, reading a science magazine she’d taken from the waiting room. Everything else was still – the nurse had checked on Lois less than an hour ago, and since she was in stable condition for the moment, no one would come in for a while.
Richard sat beside her and held her hand, thinking about how strangely easy it was to get used to this. He’d dropped into a mindset of interminable waiting, until the present circumstances began to seem normal, and it felt like he’d always been surrounded by pale green walls and softly beeping machinery. Idly, he turned Lois’ hand palm upward, and traced the lines there with his fingertips. One was supposed to be for life, another for love, another for fate or some such thing. Richard stroked the lines again, remembering all the times these hands had impacted his life. The first time Lois had peeled a clingy twin off her hip and passed the wide-eyed child to him to hold; the warmth of her hand resting in the small of his back as they slept; fingers flying over the keyboard as she banged out a story five minutes before deadline; knuckles white with strain as she struggled to keep Clark from drowning in the cold ocean; and all the affectionate smacks and hair-rumpling and hugs since their breakup. The rings that should have been on her finger were currently in his pocket for safekeeping, and he’d never been happier for her than the day Clark had slipped that gold band on. A realization he hadn’t expected until it had happened.
Lost in those memories, Richard didn’t realize he was repeatedly rubbing Lois’ palm until her fingers tightened spasmodically around his. He froze, his gaze flying to her face. It seemed as though her expression had changed, going from the blankness of narcotic-assisted sleep to the merest ghost of annoyance. Richard glanced at the monitor, and saw her heart rate was rising. A thrill of amazed excitement shot through him. Holy shit, she’s waking up! And I just aggravated her awake. Hey, whatever works…
Unaware that he was holding his breath, Richard leaned forward, watching Lois intently. He squeezed her hand, and felt her give a little squeeze back. And then, to his delight, those hazel eyes slowly opened and met his gaze. “Hey, babe,” he whispered.
That got Elise’s attention, and she put down the magazine, watching the two of them and biting her lip. Lois blinked a couple of times, awareness starting to kindle, and seemed to focus blearily on Richard’s face, her eyes full of questions. “They went back for her,” he told her, and after another beat, Lois’ eyes slipped closed again. This time, though, the expression on her face looked more peaceful. To someone who could read an article’s worth of meaning into every twitch of an eyebrow, it was obvious that Lois was satisfied with his answer.
Richard sat back with a sigh of relief. Lois needed to sleep in order to heal, and she was on significant doses of pain medication too, but at least now that she’d woken up for a few seconds, he knew she’d be all right.
While overseeing dinner for his temporary housemates, Ron took strength from little signs of normalcy: Perry grumbling through his competitors’ papers, and Jimmy catering to the Chief’s whims rather than be anywhere near the kitchen. Such a couple of confirmed bachelors, for all that the boss had finally gotten married. Ron peeked into the living room just in time to hear Perry snarl, “Great Caesar’s ghost, if I was Raines, I’d drag her copy editor out to the bay and throw him in. A misspelling on the front page! It’s a disgrace.” Jimmy nodded sagely.
The phone rang then, and Ron’s stomach plummeted. All the news since New Year’s had been bad turning worse. Kala running away, then kidnapped, the bloodbath at Lana’s apartment, Jason’s girlfriend turning out to be a spy, and then this morning Lois had been shot. His sister-in-law, the indestructible Lois Lane, was even now lying in a hospital bed in Las Vegas, and he knew perfectly well how much that was hurting Perry. Ron had never seen him look so strained, so much his age, as he had since that call had come in. And this call could only be more bad news.
Muttering about people who called at an hour like this, Perry got up and answered the phone. Ron hovered in the doorway, listening to his half of the conversation, as Jimmy eavesdropped while pretending to focus on the story he was reading. “White residence,” Perry said, and then his voice turned even more gruff than usual. “Just what exactly do you think you’re up to, calling me?”
He listened for a long moment, then huffed. “Well, thanks for the warning. I knew they were going to move on it sooner or later. Our contingent might have a few surprises for them, though. This won’t be as easy as they thought.” Another pause, while Ron wondered what else was going on. That sounded like it might be part of the takeover attempt… “Oh, really? And just how do you plan to do that?”
The rest was thoughtful murmuring, but it sounded like Perry was agreeing to whatever the person on the other end of the line had to say. At last he said, “Sounds good, Eastlake. I’ll see you on Friday then.” With that he hung up.
“Who was it?” Ron asked, trying not to sound worried.
Perry flashed his almost-manic newsman’s grin. “That wet-behind-the-ears little idiot Eastlake. He might not understand basics like leaving married women alone, but he’s on our side and the rest of the vultures don’t know it. Thanks to him, I know exactly when they’re going to confront us. It’ll be my pleasure to tell them they can’t jerk us around anymore.”
“We are winning the share war, right, Chief?” Jimmy asked.
“Of course,” Perry replied. “Well, it’s mostly my niece-in-law you’ll have to thank. Loaded Lang probably owns more stock in the Planet than anyone else right now, even the employee stock purchase plan.”
That soothed both younger men a little, but Ron was still glad to hear Perry muttering to himself with satisfaction, “I knew that boy would be useful somehow.”
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The huge chunk of reinforced concrete almost floated down toward Jason, who looked like he was moving through molasses as he tried to roll out of its path. Kala saw it happening, and her heart constricted into a knot of agony. Her brother was going to die right in front of her…
Even as the despairing thought occurred, she was moving. Kala vaulted the railing and landed running so fast her feet didn’t seem to touch the ground. The shadow of the falling ceiling was above her, coming down to crush her too, and she ducked beneath it to grab Jason by the collar and drag him out of the way.
She’d never moved this fast before, not even in the fields outside Smallville when she tested her speed against her father’s. And still she pushed herself to move faster. Her vision actually seemed to be blurring at the edges, but that could have been simple panic. Kala managed to yank Jason out from underneath the falling concrete with just a few feet to spare, and her terror turned instantly to fury at the two whose negligence had nearly caused his death.
The damaged ceiling landed with a loud boom, kicking up swirls of dust, and Kala turned in fury to face the older men. Eyes as keen as her voice, she screamed up at her father and Dru-Zod, “Enough of this foolishness! You could have killed Jon-El with your thoughtlessness!” Kal-El had just turned his head in response to the noise, and the sight of his children so close to disaster made his face go pale. For a minute, I nearly forgot… It was in that instant that Dru-Zod struck, the force of the blow propelling his enemy through the nearest wall.
Kala could only flinch in incredulity at her ally. What is he doing? There was no reason for that punch; in another few seconds she could have gained control of the situation. But Jason was struggling to his feet beside her. “It’s not the first time, Kal! He’s attacked us once already! He tried to kill me when we came looking for you this morning!” he cried, his voice full of desperation and fear.
The first tendril of doubt began to snake through Kala’s mind at her twin’s words, her façade flickering for a moment as she looked at him, but the sound of many booted feet running towards them brought her focus back to the present moment. “This is a wasteful use of our time. The House of El is not our enemy, Dru-Zod,” she said, as her father warily eased toward the older Kryptonian and the security guards began to circle around them. “It’s clear that Luthor is the true foe!”
She saw realization dawn on Dru-Zod’s face at the same moment a voice asked in the back of her mind, And where is Luthor right now, while everyone he hates is busily fighting one another? Where else would he be, but getting his hands on the single device capable of solving all his problems with the simple press of a trigger?
Kala whirled with a moment to consider, racing toward the weapons vault where Zod had told her Luthor kept the kryptonite gun. She could hear Jason trailing behind her, and on the level above, Kal-El similarly followed Dru-Zod. They had to stop Luthor from using that weapon…
Luthor was in a hurry. So much depended on this moment, and he’d made as many preparations as possible ahead of time. The essential personnel were safely in Australia; all the research had been copied over to that lab; one complete set of teaching crystals had been shipped to a secure storage facility this week, augmenting the set already in Australia; and the last cell line sample was in transit right now, dropped off by Mercy as she went to finish off Lois Lane. Rather paradoxical, that last, but Luthor was never one to waste an opportunity, even if blood cells weren’t the best source of DNA.
In other words, he was ready to lose this facility and everyone in it, except himself of course. Such a costly loss would be seem by his enemies as a decisive defeat, but it was merely a tactical withdrawal. Lois had been on his trail for months, and eventually she would’ve found an exposed this facility. Rather than abandon it, which would have set them thinking about where else he could have gone, Luthor had chosen to sacrifice it. Enough would be left to let them think he’d won, and yet he wouldn’t really have lost much. An underground base in a deserted area, difficult to supply, difficult to staff, and rapidly losing its one overwhelming benefit of secrecy? No, the real cost would have been to keep it for much longer.
And in cutting his losses this way, he had a chance at succeeding in one of his oldest ambitions: scouring the Kryptonian menace away from his planet. That thought made his heart race like nothing else could.
The weapons locker was carefully secured so that only Luthor’s full handprint and retinal scan would open it. He didn’t need any of the security staff having access to this stuff, after all. It was built to exacting specifications, thickly lined with lead and concrete to contain the radiation the kryptonite gun leaked. Its door was five inches thick, a solid steel core with an inch of lead on either side. It was designed to rise straight up into the walls of the larger room, and opened in less than two seconds. The door closed even more rapidly, the heavy solid metal crashing down almost instantly.
Luthor was peripherally aware of a commotion much further away as he reached the weapons locker. His guards were dealing with the Kryptonians, and if he was lucky, Zod was killing Kal-El. Or vice versa – one less target either way. Now that he had accessed the most crucial information thanks to Kala’s cooperation, all of them were expendable.
He pressed his palm against the liquid crystal panel, and leaned forward to allow a beam of cold blue light to scan his eyeball. The system chimed, and then everything happened at once.
Much later, Luthor would try to reconstruct the series of events, and decide he’d felt the gust of wind against his back first. That happened just as the door opened, and out of the corner of his eye he’d seen a blur flash past, going into the weapons locker. He had begun to turn toward the door, astonishment just registering, when a sudden grip on his shoulder lifted him and flung him aside.
All of those impressions seemed to occur at the same time, however, and Luthor found himself sprawling at the feet of Jason Kent. He immediately rolled, trying to get distance from the boy who’d been a proven killer since the age of six, but Jason was ignoring him.
Luthor got to his knees, trying to see what had captured the boy’s attention, and caught his breath at the scene in the locker.