There's a music peculiar to Suicide Slum. It's a kind of music which sounds like nothing else in the world: shouts which echo through near-deserted streets, and sirens which ricochet off dilapidated buildings, all arranged in a pattern that's duplicated nowhere else in the world. That's the secret nobody wants you to know about Suicide Slum and all the places like it in every major city in the world — the forgotten places, the 'ghettos': not one of them is like another; not one of them echoes under the same cacophony of gunfire and laughter — not one of them contains the same collection of personalities as the next: the same mothers, the same shopkeepers, the same disenfranchised youths — each with a face that nobody cares to look at and a voice that nobody cares to hear. There are a lot of people in Suicide Slum who don't believe that the Blur is here to save them — because somehow when the Blur saves a child from a burning tenement here it's never front-page news. The rest of us feel safe now, enfolded in his bulletproof wings but here in Suicide Slum it's the people who most need to believe in the Blur who feel that he's turned his back on them — just like their politicians, just like their reporters. I, too, am part of the problem.
That's why I come here: because I know that sometimes the most important stories are the ones that happen at street-level; that's why I report on events that take place in Suicide Slum. I want the people here to know that someone is interested in their lives — and their voices. That's why I'm crouched behind a pile of rubble in the basement of a building which is quite assuredly not up to code, listening to a conversation between Bruno Mannheim and a group of his 'employees'.
Why do people here join Intergang? Who can argue with a straight face that there's another way to pull yourself out? The fact is that Metropolis wants nothing to do with Suicide Slum and even less with the people who live there — unless they have something to barter: money, or power. The promise is that membership to Intergang will provide you with both, and something else: brotherhood. It's an alternative society, a lot like a cult: it's a place to belong. That's why I believe that the Blur needs to be seen to be protecting Suicide Slum more than any other part of Metropolis: people need to understand that Suicide Slum is worth protecting. But because people do not understand that, his movements here are seen as unimportant, superfluous: a distraction from his real job of saving the city — and remain unreported.
It may not have been the best idea to attempt this alone. There's nothing like staring down the business end of a revolver to keep you on your toes. This right here is where Clark would typically show up, sweep me off my feet in the blink of an eye and say, 'I told you so,' or 'Why do you always do this to me?' or 'Just what in the hell is wrong with you, Lois?' if he weren't all tied up with a very important prior engagement — in another dimension. I think, for a moment, that I might have to fight for my life against seven very tall, very armed men (and I could take them) — and then someone throws a smoke bomb into the room. I kick the gun out of my captor's hand and knock him out, and then I feel myself grabbed from behind and dragged from the room into the sharp, night air. I turn around and throw a punch, and it takes me a moment before I realise that the person I just socked was Tess goddamn Mercer.
Tess and I have a strained relationship; we have never seen entirely eye-to-eye — except on one issue, regarding one thing I will never talk to her about. I know that Tess loves Clark; I know that when Tess looks at Clark she sees a golden, shining Superman; I see it too. I know that Tess needs Clark as much as anyone. I am not threatened by her love of Clark — who am I to question anyone's love of him? — but I worry about it. I worry about it because Tess has never seen entirely eye-to-eye with Clark either, and I understand now how easily idolatry can become bitter disappointment and hatred.
I ask Tess what she was doing in Suicide Slum, but she does not answer me until we have walked into Watchtower together and she has closed the door behind us. Then she turns to me and says, 'I'm sure I followed the same lead as you to get there.'
'But why?' I say. 'That's not your style, Tess. You don't care about what goes down in Suicide Slum.'
For a moment - less than a moment - she actually looks hurt: the microexpression sweeps across her face like a shadow over a cornfield on a summer's day, or like one blank frame on a projection reel, and then disappears. She puts back on the impassive mask she wears especially for me and says, 'What would you know about what I do and do not care about?' It feels like a challenge, and I want to tell her that I know more than she thinks — that I have traced and retraced the map of the feelings she has for Clark — but then I think about how broken she looked in that one moment, that one micromoment where her mask crumbled, and I realise that Tess actually cares what I think — and then I think that perhaps there is a vast, unexplored, unmapped country of feelings within her after all. Perhaps I don't know Tess as well as I thought I did; perhaps I don't know Tess or Tess's ideology at all.
I look her in the eye and say, 'You're right; I'm sorry,' and she almost smiles. Then she goes over to the fridge and takes out two beers, throwing one over to me — and I think that in that one gesture is contained all the strength of feeling Tess can bring herself to show another human being and that, in a lot of ways, Tess is just like me. 'Thanks for pulling me out of there,' I say, and she shrugs.
'I'm sure you would have pulled yourself out if I hadn't been there.'
I realise then that I care what Tess thinks about me - that it matters to me, that it means something to me that she was there when I needed her. Something happened between Tess and me without either of us noticing: some kind of mutual respect and understanding has flowered here, in silence; we have become friends. If we were two different women we might smile at each other, we might hug — but for Tess and I this moment, this quiet and understated show of respect, is enough.
We sit together in Watchtower with all the lights out; the glow from the city streams in through the big stained-glass window and paints Tess's face with red, green, yellow. I wonder if she comes here night after night and breathes in the air of the room, here where we've all been together.
'I do care,' she says after a silence that seems endless. Then she turns to look at me with a frankness and an emotional honesty that I feel I will never see in her eyes again (although Clark will). 'I do care about what happens in Suicide Slum.' For a moment then, I wish we were two different women, so that I could gather her up in my arms and stroke her hair and tell her that I know — but I can't. There is an ocean of space between Tess and myself, a vast uncharted ocean of feeling I can never cross. I am not Clark; I am not an oceanographer of feeling — I can't unfurl my arms like sails and gather people up into them; I am not the one who heals people, and neither is she. There will always be this space between Tess and myself, and the two of us like lighthouses on opposite shores: we cast our light out to each other across the water — we see each other, we understand and love each other, and we will never reach each other.