All rights belong to owners, I make no claim to any of these chars.
EDIT: This chapter has been edited to better match up with the changes made in the previous chapter. Much thanks to Maximara for his assistance with these chapters.
Once upon a time, home would have been the penthouse of LexCorp tower. Up until just recently, it was the White House. Now, home was far more humble. A reconditioned warehouse near the docks of the New Troy burrough of Metropolis, just at the edge of Suicide Slum and on the Hob's river docks. The neighborhood was just slightly on the unpleasant side, but was in the process of being bought up by real estate speculators intending to turn the area into another SoHo or Little Bohemia. Luthor's sedan didn't quite attract the attention it could have, considering how many trendy, artsy wannabees with more money than common sense would drive down to the area in their sports cars and SUVs in blatant defiance of the unsavory types that lived and hung out in the area. Then again, one quick introduction to Mercy's knuckle dusters and machine guns were more than enough to discourage all but the most suicidal of thugs.
Lex had spared no expense in outfitting the warehouse in such a way that it was one part celebrity crash pad, one part fortress and one part science lab. Every possible automation had been packed into the large open plan space to allow him to keep house with the absolute minimal staff. The minimal staff in question was Mercy Graves, and frankly she didn't do windows or dishes. Or any other sort of cleaning for that matter. Or cooking. Fortunately, Lex had dust repellent bullet-proof glass on the windows, a self-cleaning dish washer, a prototype Roomba that could climb walls and Domino's pizza on speed dial.
Security concerns had the warehouse in such a way that the car had to be inside the secure perimeter before he could exit the vehicle. Mercy hated that she was opperating solo now, but Lex had refused the Secret Service detail that he was entitled to for being a former president. At first it had just been his stubborn pride. He didn't want anyone watching him as he underwent Venom detox. It was a horrifically vulnerable time and the only person he'd trusted enough to see him in that state was Mercy. He didn't really trust her that far either but he had no choice. At the time, he wasn't coherent enough to remember to take his pants off before he went to the bathroom. Now, he'd simply gotten used to the privacy. This meant forgoing all the extra security. Low-profile body armor under his finely tailored suit and force-fields reinforcing his walls were enough as far as he was concerned. It was overkill for the local criminal element and the more obvious sort of assassin. Nothing else would really be enough for some of the other parties that might feel compelled to confront him. For them he had lawyers, Kryptonite and Mercy Graves.
She opened his door for him and he slouched out of the sedan at an easy pace. He pulled a keyfob remote from his pocket and sent the car down the elevator to the rest of the vehicle bays. Air filters worked overtime to scrub out the scent of exhaust from the climate controlled interior of Lex's home. A tap of another button lowered a robot arm from where it was folded in the ceiling down next to him. He shrugged out of his coat and passed it to the arm to be put away. Just because one did not have servants didn't mean one had to live like a bachelor again.
He made his way past the living area, moving directly for his laboratory space, Mercy trailing close behind. The lab space was comprised of a closed off area with a multitude of computers, engineering equipment and various mechanical arms, waldos and armatures. Although it appeared open, the slight shimmer in the surrounding air attested to a basic force-field isolating the area from the rest of the warehouse. Lex would have been more than willing to put in stronger containment measures, but this wasn't a lab where he would need to worry about biological or chemical contamination. The forcefields were mostly to contain the occassional explosion, in which case a flexible defensive setup was actually preferable.
The centerpiece of his lab at the moment was an area of white flooring, roughly twenty feet by twenty feet in size. Just a little off to the side was a mass of computers. At the corners of the white space were poles topped by strange electrical things that sparked and hissed, with wires coiling down their length. The tops of the poles were loosely connected by more wires, the whole sketching a cube twenty feet on each side.
Lex tugged his tie off entirely as he took a seat. He put the Javitz bottle that he was still carrying down next to the keyboard before he cracked his knuckles and stretched. He paused a moment with his fingers just above the keyboard looking to all the world like a maestro about to give the concert of his life. Mercy hid a small grin from Lex. Even a single person was enough of an audience for him to play to.
He began tapping at the keys, the LCD monitor before him came to life with characters streaming past almost too fast for the eye to follow. Which actually was kind of the point. Lex could have just as easily made a user friendly interface for his toy, but rendering everything in code as something only he could read was much more interesting.
"Behold," Lex intoned gravely as a white mist began to fill the area of white floor.
Mercy looked and was severely underwhelmed. "What exactly am I beholding?"
"This," Lex continued, ignoring his henchwoman's sarcasm, "Is the potentiality actuation nanoscopic event layer. As originally envisioned, this provides the primary basis for a spacial locus integration development event. A 'slide' if you will."
"So it's a slide." She responded, satisfied to play straight woman for the moment.
"No, it allows you to perform a slide. This is the panel." He pointed to the white space which was now filled in completely by the mist. "This is the latest revolution in teleportation. Or it will be once everything works. In the meantime it has a wonderful side effect which has brought us to our current point."
"Staring at a white cube, you mean?"
Lex tut-tutted her. "No imagination. Listen closely, my dear Mercy, for I am about to be terrifyingly brilliant and I will explain to you how."
She made a non-comittal grunt that seemed to convey that she was impressed. Mercy wasn't uneducated nor stupid by any stretch of the imagination. She was simply used to dealing with Lex. Most of the time she didn't even bother really listening to him, just picking up on keywords that would make it seem like she understood. He needed an audience and she'd been pressed into the role often enough. When his voice, normally mellow and smooth, picked up in pitch and he started yammering away like a demented chipmunk, she knew it was time for the nod and grunt. This was Lex in sciencey mode. She preferred him in businessman mode. He had more dignity that way.
"Now, old fashioned teleportation, isn't really teleportation. Even though the object or person is transmitted from one point to another without appearing to pass through the intervening space, it's usually accomplished by one of two ways, or some combination of the two. The easiest method is to simply side-step regular space, either through the use of a sub-dimentional shortcut or by manipulation of spacetime pass through higher dimentions, essentially bypassing the normal spacetime path. Those work rather well, except around tortured space, such as in the presence of those who can warp gravity or create massive sub-luminal particles, the other problem is how energy intensive these methods are. The other method involves converting matter into an energy stream which can be transmitted from one location to another just like any other broadcast. Theoretically this is simpler, but if you really think about it, the amount of energy in the average human body is staggering. The advantage is that it pays for itself, energy-wise. At the other end, what you trasmitted tends to lose an infinitesmal fraction of its mass to pay for the conversion and transmission and deconversion. This is what the Justice League uses in their teleporters and those basic armory teleportation designs I'd developed for Bloodsport. The main drawback is how much processing is involved in getting all the bits in the right places, since it's impossible to map out every atom of what you're transmitting due to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. There's a lot of interpolation and guesswork involved in even the most basic teleport. The other drawback is that for best results you'd usually have a transmission and a receiving station, because otherwise a purely sending station's going to eat up a ton of energy pushing the energy stream to the desired destination. This is not even mentioning how easy it is to disrupt a teleportation signal. A bit of atmospheric ionization and you end up with the equivalent of dropped packets in your signal. In a phone call that's static. In a teleport, that's the difference between success and arriving without your spleen."
Mercy stared. "I'm amazed anyone actually uses this sort of tech if it's so twitchy."
"This is precisely why the JLA can't just patent their teleporter designs and sell them off. The whole system is far too delicate and involved to be left in the hands of laymen."
"And your Sliding panel can?"
"Eventually. It works off of a different theoretical basis. I'm not warping space, nor am I trying to map out every particle in what I intend to move. I'm mapping out the spaces around the particles. The underlying substratum of information that defines existence. I found a way to peer into the hidden places of reality where God keeps the instruction manuals."
"So you're going to travel through it?"
"I won't need to. Once everything's working properly, with the Slide Panel I can rewrite space at the target location to superimpose myself there. I'll essentially be at both locations at once. Then if I so choose, I can have the mechanism null me out at one end or the other. True teleportation. No futzing about with matter streams or worries about being put together wrong, or bouncing around through hypergeometries. Clean and simple."
"But it's not quite working yet?"
"Almost there. I can transmit and retrieve microscopic scale objects, but the process tends to be accompanied by a lot of waste heat at both ends as matter gets displaced at the molecular level. Works great if you need to cauterize an area that you just biopsied, but not so good for when you're trying to transmit anything larger than a breadcrumb. In the meantime, it's got the lovely applications that I've found." With that the speed and intensity of his keytapping reached new heights.
Mercy eyed the machine for a moment before something finally clicked. "This was the thing you were futzing around with when you figured out something was wrong with your brain, isn't it?"
"Yes. You see in mapping out spacial relations and integrations, the Panel also lets me see perfect three-dimensional representations of things. Right down to the quark level at almost any range."
She effected a bored nod because it was exactly what he expected from her. She sort of understood, but Lex was still off to the races.
"Even without the teleportation functions I could probably get this sold to hospitals as a cheaper, more energy efficient alternative to MRI's. Hell, airlines would love having this available to check for stress microfractures on planes."
"A little extra in your bank account couldn't hurt." She ventured.
He laughed. "Imagine it! Telescopic, microscopic, X-ray and heat vision all in one package. Granted it's not as compact as the alien's, but mine's got a much wider reach." He tapped a few more commands as the mist began to clear. "If anything the problem is actually getting the Slide to focus on something specific. There's just too much range, especially if the scale is off."
"I mean at one point I thought I was examining the Moon, but it turned out it was a dust grain on the table. I have, however, found a good temporary solution."
"And that is?"
"Booze." He picked up the bottle and took another long drink, finishing it off. "Or more precisely, this stuff."
He lightly tapped the enter key on the keyboard and the pure white cube cleared to reveal a massive three dimensional black and white image of Luthor at the desk. The image looked like a lightly pencilled sketch, the whole in charcoal tones down to something that resembled brush strokes, all radiating from the bottle. Lex started rotating the image using a trackball. He grunted idly as he looked up the huge image of the back of his head. "Didn't realize my collar was that crooked."
"You can focus on the booze." She said with a smirk in her tone, but not on her face. "Time traveling wine would probably be unique enough for you to home in on."
"Somewhat. This isn't actually a Javitz '86. The real stuff is overly fruity and terrible to have with anything other than fish." He held the bottle up. "This is a much less expensive and far superior Cabernet. A Marlet '45."
"So a hundred dollar bottle of wine rather than a fifteen thousand dollar one. If this isn't the time travelling wine, how you can focus on it?"
Mercy turned to stare at him. "You're drinking Kryptonite? Didn't you have enough trouble when that stuff gave you cancer?"
Luthor shook his head. "Powdered kryptonite, mixed in with the wine. I have tons of the stuff handy. It's small enough that there's minimal radioactivity, you'd probably get more rads from a glow in the dark wrist watch, but a sufficiently distinctive radioactive signature that I can pick it out of all the background radiation in the East Coast."
He tapped a few more buttons and suddenly the charcoal outline shifted to Rebecca Tyler in her car on the freeway. The image was centered on her, with the charcoal strokes centered on her mid-section. Cars were whizzing past fading into the mist. "There's a few more kryptonite sources here and there between Metropolis and New York, but I figured she'd be the one moving."
"So she's heading home?" Mercy asked, raising an eyebrow.
"No." Lex leaned back, crossing his arms across his chest as he watched. "She's just been given information that could be worth a great deal of money or cause her a lot of trouble with the press and a supervillain. She's heading to her office. The TylerCo plant's just off the next turnoff. She should be there fairly quickly."
"So the whole charade with the wine was just to get her to drink the kryptonite so you could track her? Why bother? Why not just slip it to her?"
"I needed to give her some sort of explanation for why she's going to be setting off her security system's radiation sensors."
"Do you know that they have radiation sensors?"
"It's pretty likely." Lex shrugged indifferently continuing to watch the phantom sketch of the car as it drove motionlessly through the scene. It was turning down a less traveled road now, away from the main highways. "Their security was installed by Mr. Terrific and if nothing else, the man is a genius. A thorough genius."
"Then wouldn't he have put something in to distinguish between the time radiation stuff a Javitz would be putting out and Kryptonite?"
"The equipment you'd need to be able to distinguish between those types of radiation at all would be a bit pricier than Miss Tyler would be able to afford. No, no... I think our little Trojan Horse play, with the charming Rebecca as the Horse should proceed quite nicely."
"Do you get sound on this?"
"Not exactly. I've got some pattern analysis running on the vibrations in the air that should reproduce sounds fairly close to how it should sound, but it's not direct audio."
She shrugged, "Well you have fun watching, then. I'm going to get some sleep." She turned on her heel, heading up to her small room on the mezanine.
"Be a dear and put some coffee on before you go, would you? This might take a while." Lex called back.
- - -
It was three hours later and Lex was pretty much ready to call the whole thing a loss. He thought he was a workaholic, but apparently he was an amateur compared to Miss Tyler. Then again her company was smaller and needed a lot more direction than LexCorp ever did. He'd paid close attention at first, watching as she passed through the security checkpoints, explaining pleasantly to her guards about the 'chronoton radiation' they were picking up. She got to her office and had an older woman, who was obviously her long-suffering secretary dig up every document even remotely related to the company's operations in the 40's.
A towering pile of folders and other papers threatened to create a huge mess on her desk. That was the beginning of the long slog. Lex tried. He tried so hard to pay attention, but trying to slow his reading speed down to match Rebecca's gave him a headache and bored him to tears. His attention began wandering within the first ten minutes and he found himself doodling on a sketchpad trying to design refinements for the Panel to allow him to home in on GPS coordinates. He was about to start reprogramming to allow for it when he notices that she'd stopped looking through the papers and had picked up the phone.
He turned the volume back up to listen in, hoping that this would prove more interesting than the last phone call when she'd asked the guard to bring her a diet Dr. Pepper.
The image had no color, but even so she seemed pale and tired. She cradled her head in one hand as she picked the phone handset in one hand. She cradled it with her shoulder as she punched in a phone number. Lex's equipment was recording and he could always check the number later. A smile blossomed on her face as she heard... something. Lex frowned as he tapped a few more keys, centering his audio analysis on the phone's handset.
"--uld call more often, Rebecca." The voice was male. Older, but it was difficult to pinpoint just how much older.
"I know, I know Uncle Rex. I'm sorry I haven't really been keeping up with you." She replied consolingly. "I need to pick your brains a little, though."
A dismissive snort came across the phone. "So you only call when you need some help."
"Oh, don't be like that. I really do need help." She murmurred trying to placate 'Uncle Rex'.
Lex wondered if she was talking to Rex Tyler. It was unlikely, but possible. Rebecca inherited TylerCo after her uncle had died. He reached across to the laptop he'd had on the desk and keyed in a fairly basic search that confirmed that Rex Tyler had died a few years ago. A few more quick clicks pulled up the fact that it had been Tyler's takeover of Bannermain Chemicals that caused the original name change to Tyler Chemicals back in the 50's. If this was that same Rex Tyler, well... that was an intersting tidbit and also potentially useful, since the man actually would have been working for the company at the time that the phobaline tetra hydrochorate formula was developed. Perhaps he remembered something useful. If it was the same man, then he'd be pushing eighty, but the voice on the other end still sounded vigorous, if a trifle cranky. Lex shook his head to clear it, tuning back into the conversation, having missed most of the idle familial chit-chat. He was recording, he figured. He could always listen to it again later.
"Fine, fine. What did you need?" The crankiness was now more for show and had little actual bite.
"I need you to cast your mind back to the 40's, Uncle Rex. Were you doing any work on something called phobaline tetrahydrochorate? Or do you know anyone who worked with it at Bannermain?"
The pause was so long Luthor was almost certain that the call had disconnected, but once the voice of Uncle Rex started speaking again, he knew he'd hit paydirt.
"Where did you hear about PTHC?" Suspicion, laid on thick in that voice.
"You know about it? Great, cause I thought for sure I was going crazy. I've been tearing our records apart trying to find any sort of reference to it--"
He interupted her, "There wouldn't be any, Becky. All records we had at Bannermain relating to the scare juice and the other psychoreactives were taken away. When we reincorporated under Tyler Chemicals, we didn't even end up keeping the time sheets for the work that got done."
"Why? That doesn't make any sense."
The voice on the line went silent for a long moment once more, before finally replying. "I don't know if the non-disclosure agreements they had us sign still apply, kiddo, but I don't think I can talk about it."
"That really doesn't make sense," She replied, beginning to grow exasperated. "Especially since there's a patent for it and Bannermain was listed as having been the one to apply for the patent on behalf of the army."
"That's what doesn't make sense." He shot back. "There wouldn't've been any patent. If there were, which there shouldn't've been, it wouldn't've listed Bannermain, Tyler Chemicals or TylerCo. No possible way. What's this about anyway?"
"Someone wants to manufacture non-lethal ordinance using a derivative of the phobaline, but he found what may be a classified patent for the procedure and wanted to know if he was going to have any trouble from trying to make it.."
The voice was puzzled. "How did they even get hold of it?"
"The formula was supposed to be the same as the Scarecrow's fear toxin. Supervillain out of Gotham?"
"I've heard of him. I heard he used something like the phobaline, but I didn't realize he was using the same stuff."
"From what I was told, it's not quite the same. It's a close derivative."
"So this Scarecrow says he's going to use the formula legitimately and wanted to get the patent rights squared away?"
"Actually, the one who wants to manufacture it is Lex Luthor."
"What?!!" Rebecca winced and pulled the phone hurriedly away from her ear. The sudden shout had almost deafened her. "Hold on, I'm putting you on speaker." She tapped a button the phone and set the handset back down.
"Just to be sure I heard you properly, you're saying that the one who wants to manufacture this stuff... stuff that can induce long-term psychotic level phobias in the right doses... is former President Lex Luthor? The one who went very publicly crazy and tried to assault Superman in Apokalipsian battle armor? The one that they impeached?"
"He wasn't impeached, he stepped down for his health." She replied. "And yes, that Lex Luthor."
There was a sigh. "Why are we even talking about this? This is obviously some sort of scam or scheme. Why's he having you look this up for him?"
"Uncle Rex, I know we don't see eye to eye on a lot of things, but he wasn't that bad a presiden--"
"The guy's the most crooked man we've had in the White House since Nixon!"
"You weren't even around for Nixon!"
"Technically, I was. I read about him. Luthor's a thousand times worse."
"Look, he nearly got the budget balanced, reduced unemployment to nearly zero, cleaned up Washington and saw us through two major alien invasions. Then while we were in the middle of winning against Apokalips and War World when he lost his daughter. I don't condone it, but I'm not surprised he turned to drugs. You of all people should understa--"
"Why? Because of my history with addiction?" He snorted. "What we're seeing in the newspapers, that's the public story, Becky. The truth's probably far worse. I'm surprised anyone still buys into this crap. He's a complete con artist. You know I hear there's people who would still actually vote for the guy if he decided to run again in the next election?"
"You have to admit he did right by Topeka when they got hit by the first strike. Kansas still backs Luthor. But we are getting completely off track, Uncle Rex. So you're saying the patent Luthor has is a fake?"
"I'd stake my life on it." The voice returned firmly.
"I wish you could tell me why you were so sure."
"I wish I could too, kiddo."
She crossed her arms, leaning against her desk in exhaustion. "Fake or not, he could still use the patent to connect TylerCo to the Scarecrow. I trust you, Uncle Rex, but I need something more."
"Look, I don't know what Luthor's game is, but it's probably going to be really bad for somebody. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense that he'd have the info about the scare juice, seeing as how he was in office up until recently." He paused meaningfully, allowing her to draw her own conclusions.
"So you are saying that the ones who comissioned the phobaline really was the US government?" She asked.
"I'm kind of skirting the edge of my nondisclosure here, right now. I'm not even sure if it still applies or if the Fredom of Information act already has me covered. But basically, me and Bob were the lead researchers on a Project Mindful. That was comissioned through Bannermain chemicals by the US Army in 1937 and was not subject to an excess of security. It was the derivatives of our research that ended up getting sealed. We were looking into making a sort of super-caffiene. A stimulant that would help keep soldiers awake and alert and battle ready for up to a week in the field. We tried a dozens of different approaches, and we discovered a few... surprising things involving the human brain."
"That's the phobaline, right?"
"I won't confirm it, but suffice to say, they took the majority of our discoveries and put the whole thing under the blanket of national security. We weren't allowed to discuss the pschoreactives, or even think about them. That research did prove to be the foundation for my later work with Miraclo."
"This really doesn't make any sense, Uncle Rex."
"That's what I said!"
Lex however had tuned the conversation out once more. The laptop he'd had analyzing their conversation had coughed up another link in the chain that he could follow. Between the search programs, the pattern analysis programs and back door access to the full spectrum of computerized data the US government had on tap: the disparate elements Bob, 1937, Bannermain Chemicals, Rex Tyler and Project Mindful had cross-polinated and produced the name Robert Crane. The man had been a senior researcher at Bannermain at the same time as Rex Tyler. Interestingly enough, Bob Crane was an uncle to Johnathan Crane. Lex began humming, "It's a small world, after all" under his breath. This was one of those meaningful coincidences that was no coincidence. Lex was certain that the Scarecrow hadn't found the formula in the Gotham University stacks. Far more likely were documents that had once belonged to the elder Crane falling into the younger Crane's hands.
A few more taps and clicks pulled out a more complete story. Robert Crane was killed in 1942 and although his murderers were apprehended, the death certificate was odd. It wasn't a medical examiner who'd signed off on it, but rather a Professor Mazursky. No first name given. Something about that name tickled something in the back of Lex's brain. It was familiar, but he couldn't quite figure out where he'd heard it before. There was something there. Something he could work with. It was time to let poor Rebecca off the hook as he glanced back up at the charcoal sketch image before him.
Miss Tyler was still talking with her Uncle Rex. The two were debating politics. Or more precisely debating Lex's political career. It amused him to no end that Rebecca was actually on his side. Rex Tyler, if that was who the man at the other end truly was, had very clear views on Lex's character, or lack thereof. That didn't surprise Lex at all, knowing what he did.
It was time now to tie up this particular lose end. He glanced at his watch, noting that it was just a bit past eleven. He shrugged and pulled a PDA out of his pants pocket. He keyed in her number and leaned back to watch as the phone rang. As Rebecca made her excuses to her Uncle Rex, he mused idly at how invasive the slide panel was. When he marketed the technology, he promised himself silently, he was going to have to cripple its capabilities considerably to allow people to retain some semblance of privacy. He'd keep the full powered version entirely for himself. With that thought firmly in mind, he allowed his hand to drift over the trackball control lightly. Just enough to center and zoom the image in on Rebecca's cleavage.
Ahh, science. "Hello, Rebecca. It's Lex, I didn't catch you at a bad time, did I?"
"Oh, Lex! What a pleasant surprise," Lex admitted to himself that she did have a very nice smile. It lit up the room, even from nearly fifty miles away. "I didn't expect to hear back from you until tomorrow."
"I know, I know, I'm sorry to be calling so late, but--"
"No trouble at all, Lex. Don't worry. I was still up, doing some work. I've been looking in to what you said--"
"That was actually what I wanted to talk to you about." He interupted smoothly. "Some of my people took a closer look at that patent. Turns out one of the junior researchers was a bit... overenthusiastic."
"How so, Lex?"
"Do you know a... " He leaned over to the laptop screen, pulling up his notes. "Mr. Jason Marsdale?"
Lex watched the play of emotions across her face, writ large on the slide. "I... I think that was one of our clerks. He was fired last month for some very creative double booking. I conducted his exit interview myself."
"He was the one who 'discovered' the patent." Lex said, pitching his voice to pronounce the quotemarks. "He apparently has a rather large grudge against TylerCo as a result of his firing."
She snorted. "He's lucky we didn't press charges."
"I may yet press charges myself." He replied. "It turns out he was trying to trick the Scarecrow into attacking TylerCo and using me to play messenger. He forged the patent and wanted to make it look like the Scarecrow was sponsored by TylerCo. Ruin the company and have that psycho attack you at the same time."
"Terrible is right, the little weasel did a horrible job of covering up after himself. Some of my other investigators found out everything less than an hour ago."
"I'm glad you caught it in time, then." He had her distracted, he was certain. The information she'd gotten from Uncle Rex had skirted quite close to the lie he'd manufactured.
"As am I. That said, it looks like there may actually not be any barriers to a potential partnership on the manufacture of the PTHC if you're interested."
She laughed. "I'm not entirely certain if that's a direction we want TylerCo to go in. I suppose I should be glad I at least got dinner out of this."
"Well, if you aren't busy tomorrow, perhaps a second dinner might not go amiss. Just my way of apologizing for the trouble, and maybe seeing if I can talk you around to my way of thinking?" He asked smoothly.
She raised an eyebrow, the expression on her face flitting between simple intrigue and outright delight. Lex smirked. He still had it.