Dedicated to my uncle.
"SUPERMAN IS DEAD!" the headline screamed.
It was a hard headline to look at. Harder than "Where Has He Gone?" especially with this one coming on the heels of Superman's return. But Perry White had seen other painful headlines in his time. His job was reporting the news, and he did what needed to be done. If Superman didn't make it, the paper that had scooped all of the others in announcing his existence would be ready for his demise.
Perry glanced over the layout on his computer. The front page just needed one more thing: Superman's obituary.
Like most news organizations, the Daily Planet kept a file of obituaries of the famous, powerful--and not yet deceased--in order to be ready with the story when someone's final moment did come. Superman's had been one of them at one point, but it probably hadn't been updated in the five years he'd been gone--and the few days since he'd been back. The obituaries were part of Kent's job at the moment--a bit of a waste of Kent's superb reporting talents, but that had been the only job open when Kent had finally grown bored with Peru. Giving it to him had meant that Perry had been able to rehire one of his best reporters, and he'd known it was only a matter of time before he was able to reassign Kent to the stories more worthy of his skills. Sadly, Kent had tripped over some of the rubble in the earthquake and was out sick, so he couldn't do the write-up.
Lois was the most logical choice to do it. She'd known Superman better than anyone. Perry wasn't about to suggest it, however.
He'd do it, himself, Perry decided. A last service to the man who'd saved his life.
He checked the advance obituary file anyway, just in case the old obituary was still there. And to his surprise, it was not only there, but showed an update date of two days ago, with Clark's edit code on it. Perry shook his head. A man after his own heart, Kent: always prepared.
He read it over quickly: Superman's surviving the destruction of his home planet, Krypton, his first appearance saving Lois Lane, stopping Lex Luthor's scheme to sink part of California, his five year trip to go back to Krypton, all good stuff. Clark had even concluded with a statement in his usual poetic style about how Superman had no known survivors, but had always considered the entire earth as a replacement for his own lost world and family, holding a special place in his heart for the Daily Planet staff. Perry added a short paragraph of his own indicating that Superman's (presumed) death had resulted from his saving the world from yet another of Luthor's schemes, and tipped the whole article into the mock-up, right under what would be Lois' last interview with the Man of Steel if the headline on this front page actually did come to pass.
He glanced over the whole of the mock-up. It looked good. Tight. But there was something odd about it, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. He reread the obituary. No, Clark had covered the main points, and it was all up to date. It was perfect.
Except, it shouldn't have been. Lois had the scoop about Superman going to Krypton for those five years. Perry White would be willing to bet that Mad Dog Lane had kept the lid on that little detail, even around the newsroom--especially around the newsroom. She hadn't emailed him the story when she'd finished it, with the risk that it might have gone astray, she'd printed it out and personally handed it to him. He hadn't left it lying around in the open in his office, and he'd held it from the next day's paper, so he could put it in the Sunday Edition. It hadn't even gone into a mock-up until today, and Kent had been out since the earthquake. So how had Kent known?
Moreover, Perry thought, rechecking the edit date of Kent's original file, how had Kent known at 11:47 AM the day before Lois had handed the interview to him? If Lois had already talked to Superman at that point, she would never have put up as much of an argument about doing the interview in their meeting that morning. She would have done what she did the next day, written the story and gone back to the one she actually wanted to cover.He sat back in his chair and folded his hands, thinking. Kent hadn't commented on interviewing Superman at that morning meeting. Of course, if Clark Kent ever managed to get a word in edgewise in a discussion with Lois Lane, Perry would be amazed, but Kent's style was much more subtle. If he'd spoken with Superman before Lois, Kent would have written the story and turned it in himself, no fanfare, knowing how much Lois was wanting to avoid writing it.
There must be something else going on.
It was a shame that Kent had been injured in the earthquake. It would just be so simple to ask him how he'd known.
Perry sat up suddenly. What had Kent's mother said when she'd called to tell them about Clark being out? He rechecked his voicemail and listened again. "Hello, this is Clark Kent's mother, Martha. I'm afraid Clark won't be coming in for a few days. There was some debris from the island, and he fell. I'm leaving for the airport to go and be with him right away." Perry turned the words over in his head. Not "Clark tripped on a rock and hit his head" or "A chunk of a building landed next to him and knocked him off his feet." She hadn't even mentioned the earthquake.
If Kent had been able to, he would have called in himself, which meant he was probably knocked out cold in a hospital somewhere. Presumably, he would have had his press pass on him, so the Planet offices should have been the first place authorities called when they found him. Why was Martha Kent calling him and not the other way around?
There were too many questions here. Perry White had been a good reporter before he'd taken his seat at the editor's desk. He'd even won a Pulitzer Prize himself, back in the day, and right now every reporter instinct was screaming at him about that voicemail message. Then it hit him: implied causality, the assumption that one event caused another event, simply because it preceded it. There was some debris from the island. Clark had fallen. Mrs. Kent had lined up those facts as if the one explained the other.
It could have been by accident. She might simply have been so worried about her son that she could only manage bare details, just as medical personnel might have found a card or cell phone on Clark with his mother's phone number and called her instead of the Planet. Perry had a gut feeling that it had been deliberate, however. Martha Kent's worry about her son was genuine, but she was hiding something, and it had to do with her son's fall.
Funny, that. Kent had fallen... Superman had fallen... Kent had come back to Metropolis this week... Superman had come back to Metropolis this week... Kent was out sick... Superman was in a coma...
The more he thought about it, the more the coincidences began piling up. Kent had joined the staff of the Planet around the time Superman had first appeared--a Superman story had been one of Kent's first front page articles. Kent's departure on his "soul searching" trip coincided with Superman's departure for Krypton--"Clark" had sent postcards, but those were easy enough to fake. Kent was the fastest typist that Perry had ever seen.
Could Kent be Superman? Perry considered the thought. It would explain the fact that Kent knew where Superman had been, before Superman had even told Lois. Even the recent interview with Lois made sense in that light. "He found me," she'd said. After the meeting in his office that morning, Clark had known that Perry had ordered Lois onto the story against her will. By giving her the interview, and the scoop, that night, he could make Perry happy and get Lois out of a story she so passionately complained about.Coincidental facts aligned themselves into conclusions. Kent's personnel file could probably furnish some of the proof he needed: height, weight, ID photos for picture comparison. He could check the newspaper archives for any unusual meteor showers near Kent's hometown in Kansas. It would be the story of a lifetime.
And it was one he couldn't tell. If Superman died, there was still Martha Kent to consider, a woman who, even now, was striving to protect her son's secrets. Lex Luthor might not revenge himself on "Superman's mother" once the Man of Steel himself was gone, but Superman's other enemies would have no such restraint. Both she, and the Daily Planet would be besieged by tabloid reporters, and Lois... Lois would be devastated. She was out there at her desk right now, unable to hold back her tears at Superman's condition. If he died, her grief would be a yawning chasm--and the knowledge that unbeknownst to her, he had been sitting across the room from her every day at work for years might just push her in.
If Superman lived, Perry would lose one of his best reporters, and a good man would have his quiet life ripped away from him.
No, like any good editor, Perry White knew when to kill a story, and this was one story that needed a quick and quiet death. Kent had probably never expected his obituary to run before Lois's interview had been published. If her interview had run a few days earlier, or Luthor's plan had been carried out a few days later, no one would have been any the wiser.
They still wouldn't be. Perry added his name to the byline, and his editorial code to the story in the database, returning the favor Superman had paid him by saving his life. Anyone looking at the obituary now would assume the line about Superman's whereabouts was Perry's own addition. If Superman died, he would take his secrets with him.
Perry saved the "Superman Is Dead" front page mock-up and sent a copy to the printer. Turning his chair towards the window, he stared out in the direction of Metropolis General and waited on the fate of a god--and a friend.