-1All things considered, Cadmus really wasn't that hard to break out of. The tactile telekinesis helped, of course - it was new, and the scientists who watched over him hadn't calibrated the sensors yet. Every new power seemed to surprise them; it seemed they had been expecting some kind of speed-and-strength deal, plus something that required him to be sealed in flame-retardant plexiglass. So when he floated for the first time, their stoic gazes fell and Kon caught his first glimpse of awe.
The scientists all called him kay-zero-enn-ell-alpha, which he suspected was code for something. He knew he was a science project - he'd never known anything different - but he liked it when the bald one in charge called him "Kon." That one, Luthor, didn't regard him quite as coldly as the others, and sometimes Kon caught Luthor looking at him kindly, just for a second, like he wanted to be Kon's friend. Kon suspected this had something to do with his strong resemblance to the dark-haired boy whose picture was plastered on the scientists' clipboards, right above the caption "Sample #1."
Of course, Kon couldn't be sure of anything, because he'd never actually seen friendship at all. He had only seen the inside of his room, which looked for all the world like any teenage boy's, except that it wasn't. Kon was only two years old, and the inside of a plexiglass cage was all he'd ever known.
That was the main reason he wanted to escape. It's not like he had anything to go to, but it seemed like a lot was waiting for him outside the Cadmus walls. So he had practiced his TK quietly, out of view of the surveillance cameras and eagle-eyed scientists. He used his TK to flush the toilet, to keep him dry while standing in the shower, to pull back his sheets at night. And slowly, it grew stronger, like the flight had; he felt sure that he could lift something really heavy now, like the impossible weights they used to ask him to test. So one morning, when he woke up two feet above his bed with pens and toys floating all around him, Kon took it as a sign.
And he got the hell out of there.
Now he was flying, higher and faster than he'd ever been, even when they asked him to let loose in the testing room. And he was seeing real landscape for the first time - flat and green and yellow and infinite. He passed a sign - "Welcome to Smallville, Meteor Capital of the World" - and decided that this was the greatest place he'd ever been. Or at least that's what he thought, until he left Kansas. Every new thing he flew over was different and wonderful and like a breath of fresh air in Kon's lungs. He had heard of these things, had been shown pictures and videos as part of his conditioning, but to see them up close, without plexiglass in between, was like a baptism.
Kon gazed at the sunset that never seemed to get nearer, though he was rushing toward it at top speed. He decided that this world was too wonderful for a lab rat like K0N-L. If he was going to start a new life, it was going to be as a normal kid who had never been cultured in a petrie dish or raised in a cage.
West was the direction he was heading in, so it was the name he chose.
Kon - West now - spent a few nights hovering above the roofs of old motels in the middle of nowhere, listening to the sounds of cars going by, birds cooing, people arguing. He used his TK to take money out of the motels' tills every few days, and he used the twenty-or-so dollars he'd stolen to snack at greasy spoons and fast food restaurants. The food at Cadmus hadn't been bad, but no one had ever told him about french fries before.
He'd devour all he could and then continue heading west, following highway signs and keeping above the clouds, just out of sight. Every so often, something would catch his eye: snowy mountains in Colorado, a huge crack in the ground in Arizona, or an enormous lake in Utah. When he spotted what seemed like a million colored lights in the middle of the Nevada desert, he swooped into the city and saw Las Vegas for the first time.
The lights were amazing, and the bustle of people was unlike anything he'd ever seen. But the most incredible things were the buffets - endless rows of decadent food from every corner of the world. West wanted to try everything, all at once; he couldn't resist using his TK just a little, to grab the food and keep the growing tower on his plate from toppling over. He was so hypnotized by the lull and buzz of the crowd around him that he didn't see the stoic black man standing just off to the side, partially hidden by a column.
The next part was a blur. All he knew was that he didn't even get to eat his food, and that someone with hideous glasses didn't really care if he lived or died. By his best calculations, he figured that he had been gone for two days. He drifted in out of consciousness, and only caught snippets of conversation. "Luthor will get his project back…" "…multiple genetic anomalies…" "…similar case in Kansas…" "…almost inhuman." He didn't know what the scary men were talking about it, and he didn't really care. When he woke up in a room in the Venetian with nothing but a small scar on his neck to show for his two lost days, he left Vegas for good and kept on speeding towards the coast.
Costa Verde High looked the most like the high schools he had seen on his education videos, so he figured it was as good a place as any. He had traveled down the coast doing odd jobs, so he had saved up enough money to buy a used Jeep. He also paid off a woman who agreed to stand in for his mother, and she spent five minutes signing the papers that enrolled him in school. He found a rocky, private beach to sleep on; it mattered more that it was secluded, since he could literally sleep on air.
West's training and conditioning videos had prepared him for a lot of things, but he found himself completely blindsided by teenagers. Their behaviors, relationships, and interactions were unlike anything he had ever encountered. Most of the students at Costa Verde, he observed, were conformist sheep, unquestionably following the few accepted shepherds. And that group - which consisted of the drunk head cheerleader, a few football players, and handful of kids who smoked cigarettes under the bleachers during lunch - were shallow, unkind, and unreceptive. Though he had intended to form a few bonds with the normal kids around him, the cliquish and immature situation he found at Costa Verde made friendship almost impossible. So, aware of the fact that he might be kidnapped again, he just retreated to the background, doing well enough in his classes (he had already learned most of the material in his conditioning) and staying invisible enough in the cafeteria.
After school, he returned to the beach. He spent a lot of his time flying leisurely up and down the coast. He was still amazed by the ocean; it was more vast and ceaseless than anything he had ever seen cooped up at Cadmus. It seemed to tell him that, in case his life at Costa Verde became unlivable, there was always another place to go.
When night fell, he explored Los Angeles, whose lights reminded him of Las Vegas, but whose energy was something new entirely. He had taken a few books out of the school library, and he typically read them from the top of the second 'O' in the giant Hollywood sign, looking up every so often to enjoy the view of the valley.
It was a quiet existence, and he fell into the rhythm of school by day and aerial exploration by night. He had accepted long before Costa Verde that there was no one else like him, unless Luthor was wrong and K0N-L wasn't the first clone produced in the world. He wasn't deluded enough to think that that new, quiet girl in his biology class was a clone.
But he did know Claire Butler was different.
Claire Butler was like no one else he had ever known. He liked to think that Cadmus prepared him pretty well for real life, even though they weren't exactly keen on releasing him when he left, but Claire was someone he couldn't have been conditioned for. She was thoughtful and quiet, but also brave and witty. She seemed sharply curious about the world - especially the paranormal side of it. She was the first person he ever met that made him think about telling the whole truth.
He had to admit to himself that it was fun coaxing Claire's secret out of her. Being raised in captivity was a solitary existence, and being completely honest with someone - for the most part - and having her be completely honest with him was exhilarating. He decided ahead of time to keep his mouth shut about the clone thing; Claire was a strong girl, but he didn't know how much weirdness she could take, amputated toes notwithstanding. He also chose to hide the tactile TK for a while, until he got it under control. Although, he considered, it did come in handy when she leapt into his arms and asked to be flown away.
Yeah, West thought, clutching Claire against his chest as he flew in his usual pattern over LA. He could get used to this.
He wasn't even that surprised when, given the choice, she chose to sit with him atop the second 'O' in the Hollywood sign. But after spending a few minutes watching LA in silence, Claire stood and playfully paced, using the 'O' as a kind of balance beam, swinging her arms wildly, like a little girl. West knew that the fall, even from their height, wouldn't kill her, but he kept a handle on her with his TK just in case.
"So," Claire asked, still watching her feet, "who are you, anyway?"
"Excuse me?" West laughed and made sure Claire could see all his teeth. "I'm sorry, I don't know if we met. I'm West. I'm sixteen, I'm from California, and I can fly. And you are…?"
Claire stopped pacing, and she crossed her arms. "I'm serious, West."
He stayed seated, hoping the darkness hid his nerves. "I don't think I understand the question, Claire."
She sighed. "Look, I know we agreed to keep some things secret for now, but I think I've given you more than you've given me."
"Come on, Claire. I shared my biggest secret with you, the one I don't tell anyone-" the lie stung a bit, but he reminded himself that it was necessary- "and you're asking for more from me? What else could you possibly want?"
"I don't know," Claire huffed. "Your last name maybe?"
West was quiet for a moment. He had never had to have a last name before, in Cadmus or during his cross-country trip. He had chosen the first name that came to mind when enrolling at the high school. He struggled to bring it to his lips now.
"Luthor," he said, almost in a whisper, afraid that it would be Claire who finally called him out. "My name is West Luthor. No relation."
Claire plopped down next to him, exhaling a little nervous laugh that made West smile. "Oh, thank God," she said, more to herself than to him. "I thought maybe you were some kind of fake person, some experimental lab rat or something."
West tensed; he could barely speak. "What?"
Claire looked at him, her eyes soft. "I thought, this guy must not be real. No one is this perfect."
She kissed him, and West was almost too taken aback to reciprocate. Slowly, he reached his arm around and rested his hand cautiously on the small of her back. The breeze, almost imperceptible, blew across his skin, and he held Claire closer.
He had never known it, but this was what he always wanted: a confidante, a friend, a lover, and the freedom to be the person he was. He had fought to get to Costa Verde, to find Claire, and he would fight to keep her. Luthor couldn't tear him away from this life, and neither could some creep in horn-rimmed glasses.
They wouldn't find K0N-L anyway. The clone - the subhuman, the experiment - was gone. He was West now. And West could do anything.