Note: this is an alternate take (prior to seeing the movie) prefaced by an alternate take on aspects of Man of Steel (so basically a sequel to the version of MoS I wrote but incorporating aspects of what might and will be in the new movie (some dialogue, for example)). As such, certain references made in this fic refer to that alternate take and certain points which will be used in the movie are not used in this approach – for example, the new movie cites and uses Zod's body however, in my 'alternate take' of MoS, Zod was never killed and is back in the Phantom Zone.
(I've left the early 'sketch' so you can see how things progressed over the past year or so)
An IBM 1130 mainframe computer, located in the Perkins Observatory in Delaware, Ohio, processes incoming data from the Big Ear radio telescope. At 22:16 EST a vertical alphanumeric sequence is recorded.
15 years ago
As part of a regeneration project in the late 80s, a number of warehouses along the docks of Metropolis' east side were converted to provide mixed-use accommodation for small businesses – the lower areas were workshops and shop-fronts, with the upper area providing living space for the business owners. When newer developments began opening up closer to the centre of the city in the 90s, the East Side had seen better days, with many of the buildings either abandoned or scheduled for demolition. At the turn of the millennium, the rents for the ones still standing are just about affordable for those who don't mind the company of rats and so on.
In the middle of what councillors called 'an eye-sore' is a building which is slightly different to those around it. It doesn't look different but there is 'something' about it – something that makes even the rats and foxes avoid it. Parts of it have been hollowed out, with a series of workshops now combined into one large one. On the quiet workshop floor roams a small robot, its head rotates constantly as it moves, dashing between tool cabinets and objects of various shapes and sizes covered in tarp or plastic. Overlooking the floor area are a number of windows – the living areas in this block have been converted and some of them have been removed and a series of bridges criss-crossing fifteen feet above the workshop link the remaining ones. All but one of the windows are dark.
The room is dimly lit and very tidy, for the most part, with the main 'mess' being the odd laptop on the floor, and the bundles of cables snaking around the walls and ceiling. On various tables are a number of devices and engines in different states of completion. Next to each device is a notepad open to either a hand-drawn blueprint or a page of calculations.
A frustrated young man (looking to be in his late teens) kicks himself away from the computer array he was working at and roars. He gets up and begins pacing the room, holding his head in his hands and then tugging at his lank hair, muttering. He stares up at the ceiling, breathing in slowly and deeply, and then, his shoulders slumping, he sighs and turns back to the seven computer screens arranged as a curved heptagon, arcing over the desk. Most of the screens display star maps, one has a feed from SETI, one doesn't seem to be switched on and, instead, has a printout taped to it, and the others have various programming languages highlighted and annotated.
Several screens on another array flicker, catching the man's attention. A string of code scrolls along the bottom of an otherwise empty screen and he frowns as he reaches for an open can of energy drink. He takes a gulp, swallows and his eyes widen when he sees what is now on the screen:
10 years ago
Junior's Gamble Pays Dividends! (online video-article)
After his father's sudden passing a few short years ago, Lex Jr stunned business experts across the world when he began divesting from two of the key components on which his father had made his fortune.
"My father was a smart man," said Lex Jr, shortly after taking the reins of LexCorp, "and I have to be smarter and work harder. LexCorp set the foundations for what we're aiming to do, and my father's legacy will never be ignored, but foundations have to be built upon and that's what we're going to do."
When the expected bids and proposals for the oil exploration contracts in the Mediterranean and the fracking in Canada never materialised, share-prices in LexCorp fell and analysts speculated on a series of liquidations of the company and its various subsidiaries. Barely weeks later, as Stagg continued to celebrate its winning bids, the first version of Lex/OS was announced.
"Nearly everyone told me it was foolish to keep it a secret, but the truth is that in this day and age secrets are hard to keep. There's always someone out there, somewhere, who knows something you hope others won't find out about – until you're ready for them to, of course. Lex/OS was something I was working on before my father passed away, and it's sort of my gift to him and a hope to make the world a better place."
The first version of the new operating system was geared towards medicine and the various fields of science in general, an approach some considered foolish and short-sighted. "Some things have to start from the top down," said the young billionaire-inheritor when asked why the OS wouldn't be immediately available to the general public. "I felt that the more right things could be in these areas then the easier, and more intuitive, we could make our systems for the general user. There was no need to compete with the established powerhouses, I wanted to do something different. In chemical engineering, for example, there are all sorts of aspects of applied mathematics, thermodynamics and so on in order to achieve what is required, whether it's a synthesis for a new kind of polymer or the development of a catalytic convertor – all models and formulae which can eventually be filtered down to use in the home, from which route for the school run would be the most efficient time-wise or fuel-wise on any particular day, to what meal could be made with the ingredients to hand.
"Lex/OS isn't just an adaptive system – it learns and encourages. When you're putting together a report or a presentation it can advise you on format and the words and approach you should use, based on what you've done before and who you're writing for and so on."
When asked about the military applications, Lex was even more forthcoming:
"I'm a patriot, plain and simple, but I'm also a human being, and I saw what was happening out there in the defence of our people, and for the world. I saw what was happening and I knew it wasn't right. The intentions of our men and women – the intentions of those willing to put their lives on the line for us – they were and are good and noble intentions, but mistakes kept being made and innocent people, on both sides, were being harmed and innocent lives were being destroyed. One of my key aims in creating Lex/OS was to help minimise, and maybe even eliminate, that kind of thing from happening.
"Drone surveillance is reliant on human observation in making the call to fire missiles, Lex/OS does the calculations the human eye often can't or, in some cases, the person won't and can counter or advise against a firing command. Of course, this can be overridden but, with military actions being pulled towards being more transparent, I think Lex/OS will help in making the right choices."
The announcement of a new version of Lex/OS has seen share prices in LexCorp soar, with some analysts being so bold as to suggesting valuations of almost 500% of the highest valuations during Alexander Luthor's time as CEO – which would make the conglomerate break into the top ten in the world, a feat never achieved by Luthor Sr.
5 years ago
It's a pitch-black and cloudless night, and a solitary beam of light shines out over Gotham City. Red and blue lights flash along various intervals in the streets below but the city is quiet. A heavy-set man, wearing a dirty beige trench coat and a fedora, and smoking a stubby cigar, stands on the rooftop of Gotham Central. He looks at his wrist watch and grunts.
'You know you can always come back, ya freak,' he mutters. 'We're still going ta need ya.'
He steps to the low wall at the edge of the rooftop and looks down at the street below. It's full of police cars, and he can see officers hauling in dozens of men – some are suited and some are more 'street', but all are quiet and subdued.
A flapping sound catches his attention and he turns quickly, a smile tugging at his otherwise grim mouth, and then he sighs, disappointed.
He reaches out and pulls the lever on the massive spotlight he had been standing next to. The rooftop darkens.
'Cover her up,' he says to one of the officers standing further back on the roof. 'It's over.'
3 years ago
Lucius Fox's office isn't located quite where you would expect. The main building for Wayne Enterprises – the corporation of which Mr Fox is CEO – is situated in the heart of Gotham's Financial District, and provides a view over most of Gotham City. As nice as Mr Fox's office is, it overlooks areas of Gotham his peers at Davenport and other companies would rather not have: in the distance, to the near left, is the Tri-Gate Bridge, leading out to the old power station and, further up, the airport; but if you squint, and look slightly to the right of the bridge, you can see the sewage works and, at times, steam.
'Please don't take this the wrong way but the work Wayne Enterprises has done these past two years...well, it would be a shame for it not to advance. Mr Fox, I truly believe a partnership with LexCorp would aid both companies and change and enhance the world in so many ways.'
'I appreciate that, Dr Teng, and your work in bioengineering is highly regarded by our teams here, and I am intrigued that a company as tech-oriented as LexCorp now is was able to entice you, but Mr Wayne made things very clear: Wayne Enterprises, nor any of its subsidiaries, will consider any military contracts or collaborations of this kind.' He leans back slightly. 'That is in the past.'
Dr Teng smiles and says, 'Respectfully, it may be in the future, too.'
Lucius sits forward, his hand clasped together for a couple of seconds as he looks at Dr Teng over the tops of his glasses. He stands up and picks up the document that had been in front of him, gesturing to the door with his other hand. 'Our shareholders have seen considerable increase in both dividends and public confidence since we moved away from certain defence contracts, as you well know. I doubt they would want to jeopardise that. Perhaps somewhere like Stagg or Davenport would be more amenable to your proposals.'
Dr Teng stands up and holds out a business card: 'In case you change your mind. Mr Luthor told me that there was no point in trying to convince you to leave Wayne Enterprises, but he wanted me to make sure you knew the offer of us all working together is going to always be open. We can change the world, Mr Fox'
Lucius smiles and takes it from him. They walk out of the office and Lucius' PA steps over and asks Dr Teng to follow her to the reception area. Lucius watches the elevator doors close and tosses the card in the bin. It shimmers.
18 months ago
Secreted in the Rocky mountains is a massive bunker housing a robotics and cybernetics research and development facility. The walls are lined with screens displaying the landscape outside and, at the moment, they show the occupants of the bunker – if they choose to look – that it is nearing sunset. Mechanical arms move about in a loading bay, lifting and sorting through large palettes and drums. Technicians are tucked away in various labs and work rooms, engaged in numerous projects:
Cybernetic eyes loaded with interchangeable cameras that can see across 'invisible' areas of the electromagnetic spectrum;
Spinal columns that can interface with an organic nervous system shift and 'roll' a set of shoulder blades and then raise and lower the shoulders, as if they are shrugging;
Worker bees with remote controlling systems dash around a vast greenhouse, stopping in their tracks in unison, hovering, then coming together as a swarming mass before suddenly dispersing and collecting pollen;
Arms like pistons, their short-range movements a blur, pounding into reinforced concrete, before suddenly shattering;
Robot legs moving through pressurised water tanks simulating the conditions of the ocean, bending as the conditions become too much for the metals;
Liquid metal being poured and shaped while probing lasers scan the molecular structure and display the results, and the errors.
In the lower regions of the bunker are a series of vaulted areas. The corridors are well lit but there are no human personnel; instead, various kinds of wheeled-robots and hovering drones roam them, all mounted with cameras that seem to transmit to nowhere. There is a persistent humming in these corridors – separate from the whirring of the robots and drones – and it's why human access is limited in this part of the complex: the humming has been known to induce nausea, at best, and psychosis, at worst.
In the vaulted rooms are hundreds of servers, with small robots running maintenance routines on them. The servers are silent, soothed by a vast network of coolant systems, but LEDs flash on and off constantly, shifting the colours of darkened rooms. Each server room has dozens of television screens lining the walls, each tuned to a different channel and a different network. Every broadcast from across the globe is received here.
Screens flicker and the transmissions are interrupted. A high-pitched sound fills each room and the small robots stop in their tracks and vibrate, almost restlessly. Several of them explode and fall onto their sides.
'You are not alone...'
In a separate room, with screens filled with code, the broadcast triggers certain servers – dozens of alien languages stream across every screen, slowly shifting to Kryptonian. One of the screens flickers and begins scrolling through various star systems, faster than the eye can see. It stops and a narrow band appears on the side of the screen, identifying the image, in various languages, as the "Rao system of sector 1003". Another word appears: "Anomaly".
Out in space, the Black Zero begins to move away from its synchronised orbit around the moon.
'I have journeyed across an ocean of stars...'
Alarms are ringing. Everything is spinning. Sky and water, and water and sky. Round and round, and over and over.
High in the sky, a fighter jet tumbles and spins, battered by waves of energy. The right wing cracks and peels and the jet jerks in its spin as its new shape acts as a counter. An engine flares and then explodes, pushing the jet head over heels.
Alarms are ringing and the cockpit is on fire. The snapped eject-lever bounces around and the dashboard sparks. Everything is spinning. Beyond the spinning there is a young woman flying.
Fire and sky and water and a young woman.
'He will look like you, but he is not one of you.'
Metropolis – a dozen men are visible on a wall of screens, and another half dozen military personnel are in the room. A bald man, who looks to be in his late 40s or early 50s, wearing a lab coat over an expensive suit, speaks:
'This is a time to put aside any and all differences. This isn't about money or – the whole damn world is at stake!' he says, pounding his fist into his palm. 'If this "Kal-El" fails – or if he turns, as some of our analysts suspect he will – then we have to rally and take the fight to them. We have to be ready.'
He gestures at one of the screens and says, 'Mr Fox, the alloys-'
'Have been made available,' answers Lucius.
'And Stagg, Queen, Kord and LexCorp-'
'Adjustments to munitions and on-site updates and modifications to delivery systems are being carried out as we speak, Mr Shugel,' says Stagg, a hard-looking man with thick eyebrows and dense grey hair. 'But-'
'But we need time,' mutters Shugel. 'I know.' With pursed lips, he looks at the various feeds being shown on another wall of screens. 'Let's see if Kal-El can buy us some.' He turns to one of the military personnel and asks if the energy weapons stored on the warships in the Indian Ocean have been authorised for use.
'As of ten minutes ago. The jets should be ready for take-off in another ten.
'And how long before we're ready to approach Metropolis?'
'Wayne-Tech have already arrived at base with a transportable foundry and-'
'We need at least half an hour to coat the missiles,' says Lucius.
'And flight time is fifteen minutes,' says one of the military personnel.
Shugel frowns and looks at the floor for a couple of seconds, and then nods. 'That should give him time to deal with this 'World Engine' and double back.'
'Sir, we don't know if he's fast enough to-'
'He is. What we don't know is if he can survive the Engine. What we hope is that the Wayne-alloys can give us some bite.'
He turns to look at the news broadcasts being displayed on some other screens. All of them show the Black Zero hovering over Metropolis' Financial District, dwarfing the towers beneath it. Helicopters circle it, with a few edging closer and closer.
A strange whining sound begins to fill the room and the glasses partially filled with water begin to hum.
'Oh no,' says Shugel, staring at the televisions screens.
The Black Zero triggers and the room shakes.
'...watch this world suffer the consequences.'
Bruce Wayne dashes out of a hotel lobby, his phone pinned to his ear, allowing the terrified crowd to carry him. He looks down the wide street and, in the distance, he sees the Black Zero and the massive beam of energy being emitted by it. His eyes widen and a gapes for a second.
'Bruce!' he hears on the phone, and he turns and hunches slightly, resisting the pushing of the people around him.
'Dick, get Barbara out of there!' he shouts down the phone. The line crackles as the Black Zero emits another pulse.
'...can't. The tremors shifted the support beams. It's too unstable.' Bruce shakes his head as he hears Dick's words.
'Get to the east stairwell,' he says, standing straighter. The crowd has begun to thin around him and he starts to walk towards a large car. 'Get everyone over there.'
'Already done. I plugged into the PA system. They know where to go. Security know what to do, and we've gotten most people out.'
'Then you two get there, too!' Bruce shouts down the phone. His jaw clenches and he pushes his hand through his hair, looking around himself in frustration. The street is blocked with cars and people. Alfred stands next to him, his face ashen as he leads him to the car, and Bruce smiles weakly and nods.
'We can't, Bruce,' says Dick, softly. 'I'm serious.'
'We got pulled into the panic room.'
'You designed it! Get out of there!'
'It's blocked from the outside. Don't worry, we're okay. We can wait this out.'
Bruce looks at the Black Zero and sees it send out another pulse. A few seconds later the ground shakes, the road heaves, and people scream.
Bruce holds Alfred steady and the tremor passes and the two men look at each other before Alfred gives him a firm push in the direction of the alien ship. 'I'm on my way, Dick,' he says into the phone, and he begins to run, jumping on to abandoned cars and making his way around the mass of people heading towards him.
'God speed,' whispers Alfred.
A screeching sound pierces the air and a fighter jet streaks from the sky, trailing smoke, and slams into a building. Bruce leaps into the air, tucking his legs close to his chest, just as the jet explodes. The force of the explosion pushes him into the side of an idle truck, before he lands on the roof of a car. Dust engulfs the road, and Bruce looks around, groggily, then falls unconscious and off the roof.
A low, mournful sound sweeps across the Grecian-esque courtyard and, within seconds, dozens of armoured women pour out of several buildings and run, at an incredible pace, through a dense forest to the base of a blue and black crystal mountain. Carved into the mountain are series of gates; some small and almost unnoticeable, while others are big enough for the fuselage of an A380 to fit through. Carved above, around, or on the side of each gate are a series of symbols and words, some of which begin to glow.
'Stand ready at the gates!'
Bruce snaps awake, his ears ringing and his vision blurry. A few people hold out their hands to help him up and he lets them pull him. He stumbles a little and holds up his hands, smiling and nodding. He squints and touches the back of his head and then stands taller and broader.
'No,' he whispers, as he steps to the side and sees the wide ruined space that used to be filled with neck-achingly tall buildings. In the sky, more than a mile up and more massive than any of the buildings that used to be below it, the Black Zero hovers, turning slowly, as if passing a glance over everything around it.
'It's over,' whisper some people to each other, as they edge closer to the edges of the destruction zone. 'They stopped him.'
'They changed their minds.'
'But are we safe?'
'They're going to leave, right?'
Bruce looks up and sees Superman flying towards the Black Zero, holding a smaller spacecraft aloft. Another Kryptonian – Dev-Em – floats down and they pause for a moment before Superman continues upwards and Dev-Em continues to descend.
The streets are quiet and people are edging out of their hiding places and making their way towards the edge of the destruction zone. Bruce staggers forward, bracing himself against the cars in the street. He looks around, agape at the ruined buildings around him. There's a ringing in the air and he frowns as he tries to figure out where it's coming from, and then realises it's the phone in his pocket. He pulls it out and smiles when he sees the name on the caller ID.
'Don't come,' says a voice, softly but firmly.
'What do you-'
Dev-Em lifts the mass of metal in which Zod is encased and begins to fly up to the Black Zero.
People edge closer as the silence begins to draw them out.
'I know you, Bruce. Don't. We can see what's happening out there. Don't. We're fine. Wait until it's all over. You're not him anymore. You don't need to be here. Go check on others.'
'Dick. Shut up.' His smile is a little wider. He begins to jog and then winces, holding his head for a couple of seconds.
Almost a mile up in the sky, energy ripples through the mass of metal and Dev-Em is suddenly blasted away, upwards towards the Black Zero. The metal ball falls from the sky, twisting and spinning.
'I'll be there in five. If the dumb waiter's accessible,' he says, looking up as a whining sound fills the air. 'I'll be-'
Tonnes of metal burrow into a building. Windows explode and the external walls lurch and collapse.
'DICK!' he roars. He starts to run and covers his mouth as the street fills with blinding dust.
All around him, people scream and trying to get away. In the sky, the Black Zero is covered with blue-white energy and begins to collapse in on itself.
With one arm shielding his face, Bruce walks forward with the other outstretched as he tries to feel his way through the darkness of the dust. Metal groans and more people scream and the wind seems to be laughing at everything.
The ground heaves under him and Bruce steadies himself, eyes closed. There are more screams and a voice pierces the darkness and noise: 'I will make you all suffer!' There's the sound of metal tearing and snapping. 'One…by…one!'
The ground heaves again and Bruce grits his teeth against the against the sound of screeching metal.
'He's removing his armour!' shouts a female voice, and Bruce tries to open his eyes.
The air pops and swirls and Bruce hunches over in order to breathe as the sound akin to jackhammers pounding concrete and metal grows fainter and fainter.
The dust begins to clear and Bruce sees a mangled box of metal, thirty feet by twenty feet, jutting out of the ruins of the building Zod had fallen into. He walks to towards it, phone to his ear, gently brushing by anyone in the way.
'It won't work,' says a man in his forties. His suit is torn and he's covered in dust, and helping a wounded man away from the area. Bruce looks at him, confused, and the man gestures at his phone. 'It won't work. They've routed all the networks to the emergency services. Protocol.'
Bruce looks at his phone and shakes his head. 'I have a special line,' he says. 'It will work.' He presses the call button again and keeps walking to the edge of the ruins. The mounds of rubble shift and huge chunks of concrete tumble and slide down and several people grab Bruce and pull him away.
'Sir,' says a large man in a security uniform. 'Please, Mr Wayne, the best thing we can do is wait for search and rescue.'
Bruce looks at the man, frowning for a second, and then grabs him by the shoulders. 'Michael! Did you-'
'I'm sorry, Sir. Mr Grayson and Ms Gordon were-'
'Taken to the panic room, I know.'
'It was protocol, Sir.'
'I know. I know. How many are unaccounted for.'
'Seventeen people, Sir.'
'And all of them?'
'Sir.' Bruce begins to step forward but Michael holds out his arm and blocks.
'Get out of the way, Michael.'
'I can't do that, Sir.'
'Don't test me.'
'Sir, with all due respect, there's nothing you can do until search and rescue get here, and anything you do try to do might endanger everyone else. They're buried and we can't reach them right now.'
'You know I'm right.'
Superman floats backwards, away from the Black Zero. Blue and white energies expand and ripple over the huge space prison, and reach out to Superman. He pulls back further to where the scout ship is hovering. The air fills with the sounds of wind and strained metal and, within seconds, the Black Zero is pulled into the Phantom Zone and everything is quiet.
Helicopters begin to arrive and dozens of people quickly descend on ropes down to various groups of people on the ground.
'You should go help coordinate,' Bruce says to Michael. His eyes are fixed on the rubble of the building in front of him. 'I promise I won't go in until they let me.' He continues looking for a few more seconds and then turns away and sees a little girl staring at the building the way he had been. He looks at Michael and his mouth hardens when Michael quietly gestures at the rubble and mouths 'parents'.
Bruce steps towards the girl and carefully crouches down. 'Honey? What's your name?' She looks at him, her dust-caked face streaked with tears, and the satchel-strap on her shoulder slips and her small bag falls to the ground. Bruce looks over at Michael, unsure at what to do, when, without warning, the girl turns and steps towards Bruce's shoulder.
Holding her close, Bruce watches as Superman floats down to the large crowd gathered in and on the edge of the destruction zone and he hears one of them say, 'You did it. You saved us', and the little girl sobs and Bruce whispers, 'It's okay. You're going to be okay,' and looks up as Superman flies away and, as his eyes follow the caped 'hero's' arc, Bruce Wayne's mouth turns and grimaces in a way it hadn't done in years, and a growl stirs in his chest.
In a large room within the UN compound in Metropolis, dozens of people attend an urgent meeting. Gerard Shugel finishes his speech:
'The world has changed, my friends, and it's down to us to make sure that that change is for the better, for us – for mankind.'