"It's your two o'clock interview with The Planet."
Lex Luthor remained silent for a second. "Send her in. And contact Markinson on S&R Research and tell him to go ahead with Scenario 5."
The massive oaken doors of his office opened and Lois Lane entered. The sound of her footsteps on the cool marble floors made her sound smaller than she was. Lex greeted her warmly and motioned her to a chair.
"I'm always happy to give an interview to the Planet;" He said and sat down, "tell me, Miss Lane, what do you want to talk about? The new line of bulletproof LexVests? Perhaps our limited edition line of industrial drills, which reduce oil drilling time by 70%?" A warm, ingratiating smile. "Anything, really. My time is your time."
Lois sat down at took out her recorder, but Lex could see she never flipped it on. "Few things interest me anymore, Mister Luthor…for instance, how about the nosedive Lexcorp stock took six months ago? Rumor has it you had to sell everything that wasn't nailed down."
"Nosedive? Hardly. Mainstream media likes to tar and feather me from time to time, but it has yet to stick. Yes, we renegotiated a few deals, moved some key elements in my organization and yes, I was sandbagged like everyone else with that Madden fraud."
"Sandbagged? I refuse to believe that the man who has profited from every financial fiasco in the past 20 years got sweet-talked out of 4.2 billion dollars."
"I wish it hadn't gone that way, but I consider it a life lesson." He shrugged. "If you check our balance sheet you'll see that Lexcorp not only recovered from that loss, but we made a tidy profit this quarter."
"To the tune of 7 billion."
"Is that the sum? After your first billion rolls by, the next few tend to blur together."
"Analysts predict another 3 billion dollars profit once you unveil the Golden Argosy, but the prototype hasn't moved from LexAir's hangars. Any comment on that?"
"Developing eco-friendly, supersonic aircraft capable of carrying what two Hercules can is somewhat tricky. We're working out the kinks and I'm confident we'll have it ready for the general public by the end of the year."
"Interesting…now how about…" Lois looks down to her notepad, as if choosing her next question, but her will faltered. "Enough of this, Luthor…where is he?"
Lex had examined Lois Lane when she came in. She looked desperate. True, she had done a remarkable job of primping herself up, but the signs were there: her eyes were bloodshot from too little sleep, her face riddled with frown marks, her gestures were strained and he could see her hands tremble…even her wardrobe was poorly chosen.
Lex leaned back on his leather chair and picked up a crystal globe from his desk. As he toyed with it, Lois could see there was something encased in it.
"Miss Lane, I have no idea of whom you're talking about."
"Yes, you do. You goddamn know."
"Manners, Miss Lane…and I thought you came to talk about business."
"I don't care about you, I don't care about your stupid company or all of your eco-friendly bullshit. WHERE IS HE?"
Lex Luthor stood up and walked towards his office's massive window. He looked down at the city and spoke. "I love this city. I love what it is and what it can do. It has talent and potential and yes, it can be great if the right man is there to steer it.
"There already is a great man to steer it."
"No, Miss Lane, he is not a man. He may look like one, but he is not one. He's an alien." He turned around to peer at Lois and the back light gave him an eerie aura. "Unwanted and unneeded. I was here to care for this city long before he decided to show up."
"Care? You've blackmailed, you've killed, you've framed and murdered your way through…"
"ah-ah-ah, Miss Lane, it's only fair to remove the weak elements so the herd can survive. And some people need to be persuaded, prodded…or dealt with, so progress can keep marching on."
"Where is he, Lex?" Her voice was small and weak and Lex could barely make out her words "No one has seen him in eight months."
"I wouldn't know. I never had the desire to look up in the sky and pick him out among birds or planes."
She continued, as if she didn't hear him "Not even the League found…please tell me…" She looked down, perhaps to cover her tears. "I'll…I'll do anything…" Or her shame. "Did you hear me? Anything. Just tell me."
Lex looked at her for a little while, the hum of the air conditioning barely drowning her tears. He walked towards his desk and pressed the intercom. "Pearl, hold my calls."
"Yes, mister Luthor."
"So, you want to know." He said as he nodded magnanimously. "Fine, I'll tell you."
He walked towards a bookcase and stood next to it. "Alexander Luthor, plus one. Code Sigma User Pi Epsylon Rho Mi Alpha Ni. "
A retinal scanner took his readings while the voice identification software processed his voice.
"**Access Granted. Good Day, Mister Luthor**" The bookcase opened inwards, revealing a long, well lit corridor, leading to an elevator.
"Come, come, Miss Lane." Lois stood up, dumbfounded. Was Lex about to show her? She kept her JLA signal device close in hand to give the alarm if needed.
She joined him at the entrance of the corridor and they walked towards the elevator. "Ah, where to start? Well, I might as well do it from the beginning." The bookcase swung back and closed the passage.
"You spoke about the 4.2 billion loss we had eight months ago. You were right, I am not an idiot. I saw through Madden, that glorified Ponzi schemer the second he uttered a word. No, I needed a convenient way to show why Lexcorp's balance sheet wouldn't show a profit for the first time in years. You see, Miss Lane, six months ago I needed an obscene amount of money to finally get rid of Superman."
His casual mention of his name made Lois feel a cold, sharp shock in her chest. She put her hand in her pocket, found the JLA emergency signal and pressed the button.
"How to trap a man who can see atoms frolick in Jupiter? It required a bit of planning, because his powers would tip him off in case there was a trap. Everything had to be perfect. He'd have to be lured to an emergency so dire that his other powers would need to be focused on the task at hand, and thus unable to alert him. Throw in a few good-natured scientists working in a doomed space station, toiling for the betterment of mankind and…" he shrugged. "you know the kryptonian is a sucker for that kind of thing."
"…the fall of the Shooting Star. That was his last confirmed sighting."
"Exactly." He pressed the elevator button and the doors opened. "After you."
"I got the Shooting Star a few years ago, after a couple of mergers. Lexcorp needed another orbital lab and it was cheaper to take over the company than to ordering them to build me one." He pressed the only button in the elevator and it moved downwards.
"Once I had the lure, I worked on the trap. It took some work and I had to…dispose…of several scientist and minor criminal masterminds to procure a working red sun lamp. The cheapest part of the operation was a eight-inch thick steel booth. My people put the red sun lamp inside a lead-lined box, to be activated when the doors closed. The booth was taken to the Shooting Star and installed over the likeliest place someone would use to shore it up…in case happened to fall from orbit."
Lex arched an eyebrow. "He's been missing for months, remember?"
She looked into his sinister eyes and shivered. "Now where was I? Oh, yeah…the trap. Booth installed, engines sabotaged and down it goes. It was pretty dramatic to see the station plummet down to Earth…a fiery ball about to hit Metropolis when out of the blue the kryptonian sap flies to the rescue. He maneuvered himself into position and the booth got him. After that, I think the emergency thrusters made it splash on the nearby ocean and no-one suspected he never flew away."
"But the red sun lamp wouldn't have time to take all his powers. He would…"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did I forget to mention that Metallo's kryptonite heart was also inside the booth?"
"The Shooting Star crashed somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean and my people brought the booth to this lab." He recounted with relish as the elevator doors opened. "His brain surgery took my team of surgeons eighteen hours to complete."
He walked out. Lois Lane did not move, unable to believe what she just heard.
"Miss Lane? I got the video if you want it." Lex said as he popped back into the elevator. "For now, come on…down the corridor, to the right."
"You see, we could not go willy-nilly into his brain and cut-cut-cut, much as I would've liked; that's why it took so long. But once I had the kryptonian under anesthetics I wasn't going to let him recover. Not now, not ever."
"Of course, I had the pleasure of beating seven shades of shit out of him during the first week. Then I had some of my men join in the fun. Nothing that would permanently damage him, no, but enough to let me release a lot of pent-up pressure." He smiled as Lex stopped to use the fingerprint/retinal scanners of the massive door that barred their way. "This carried on for 9 days. On the tenth day, when he wept like a baby at the mere sight of me, I knew he was broken."
"Those uncomprehending eyes, the gaze of a man who has no idea why he is in so much pain, but he's completely unable to prevent it as I hit him again and again."
"The Man of Steel will never rise again."
Lois walked out of the corridor and into a brightly lit chamber, barely saying a word. "Once that was out of the way, I turned him over to my teams of scientists. They studied him twenty four hours a day, seven days a week for two months. When that was over, I knew everything there was to know about kryptonian physiology. That's when we really started to bleed Lexcorp dry."
They entered a large computer room with three walls covered in monitors, diagrams and charts. The other wall had a large two-way mirror, covered with a curtain. Next to the mirror were eight chairs in disarray. In one corner there was a locker and a rather big helmet. You could tell this room had been designed for at least 20 people working simultaneously and it had seen a lot of use. Seeing it empty made it seem more sinister than it was. It smelled of chlorine and Lois, a veteran of several crime scenes, could see the faint traces of hastily-wiped blood.
"I could cover up most of what we invested in this project, but no amount of book-juggling would cover our real expenses. 4.2 billion was a sum I could not cover in any way, so it got leaked to the press. The creation of a chip that would enable a computer to interface with a kryptonian brain and the development of software to actually control it cost us another 6 billion dollars. I even had to invent supercomputers to handle the stress. But after that was said and done, I could control him completely."
"You…" Lois managed to whisper "You have no idea…"
"Do sit down. I'm saving the best for last." He motioned to a chair. "Once every one of his powers were catalogued, my doctors knew which parts of his brain were useful and which were merely redundant systems. A lobotomy is fine, but I feel much better having sizeable chunks of his brain encased in crystal orbs..." Lois's eyes bulged out at this. She remembered Luthor toying with something in his office. Sensing this, Luthor drove the point home. "I tell people it belonged to Einstein."
He walked towards the locker and opened it. He took a black bodysuit from it and put it on.
"He's not coming back, Lois, you have to believe me. His higher functions are gone, his major brain centers and my computer interface almost perfectly and I can engage 98% of his powers. Really, super ventriloquism? I'll stick to the Superman Combo Pack."
"Now I had a dollar deficit that could sink several world nations and I've never liked to see my company's financial reports in red ink, so I started to see what uses I could have for that hollowed out shell."
"Controlled exposure to red sun rendered him powerless and we discovered that re-exposure to yellow sunlight made his parts recover their powers. And his healing powers were second to none. We saw many possibilities."
Lex adjusted the bodysuit and closed a few buckles and zippers. "For instance, we could fully skin him in 90 minutes and in 2 day his epidermis grew back, leaving us with completely bulletproof skin, lighter than leather. I've been supplying them to the military for their new light armor-heavy assault tanks, because nothing short of a nuke can put a dent on them."
"His fingernails and toenails take longer to harvest, but they can also be used as a scale-mail bulletproof vest. We've been marketing them LexVests and they make money hand over fist. I have uses for all of his teeth, especially the canines for the oil industry, and the kicker is that they grow back! Splinters from his nails are used to cut diamonds, his hair is an amazing element, stronger than titanium…I could go on and on…"
He took the helmet under his hand and went to the bank of computers to turn them on. The screens shimmered to life as Lex put on the helmet and thumbed a remote control. "But our biggest money-maker was a stealth satellite I sold to Uncle Sam for an obscene amount of money. It has x-ray and telescopic capabilities, plus the ability to convert sunlight into a deadly hot beam that can carve the wings off a fly. They offer me more money than I could possibly spend if I build them another one…but not right now. I'm still waiting to see if the eye grows back."
"N-no…Lex, even you couldn't be such a bastard…"
"Miss Lane, I don't care what happens to the cow, as long as I can wear a perfectly good belt." The bodysuit hummed to life as Lex walked around with it. Lois could hear movement in the room next door, but was unable to see beyond the curtain. "But if you want to see the cow, just go through that door."
Lois thought it was a trap, a con, a horrible joke. Lex Luthor couldn't have bested Superman, could he?
She walked to the door, unsure, unsteady…full of dread…something in the back of her mind telling her not to go, not to see…
But once she took the final step into that room, her world crumbled apart. The room was bathed in red sunlight and Superman was strapped to an upright bed. His uniform was long gone and so was his trademark spitcurl…Clark was completely bald, and several parts of his body were covered in nasty scabs and scar tissue. His left eye was an empty socket and several of his fingers bled, but his right eye looked straight at her. "You'll have to excuse him for his appearance but we had a harvesting session earlier." The curtain was pulled back and Lois could see Lex standing there, in the strange suit.
"This is the suit that allows me to control him." He said as he moved his arm in mock salute. Superman's hand tried to move, but the restraints held it in place. Luthor touched a button on his remote control and the red sunlight dimmed and flickered off as yellow sunlight lamps came to life.
"Let's try that one more time." He moved his arm and Superman's arm ripped off the restraints. "Much better." He walked forward and Superman lunged towards Lois. She had felt his embrace many times and it was never anything more than caring and loving…she never knew how hard Clark worked to make invulnerable skin feel soft to the touch…Lex Luthor had no such restraint, no such knowledge: she felt a sharp pain on her side and the air was squeezed out of her lungs as when arms more powerful than a locomotive nearly crushed the life out of her.
"Lex, what..augh…what are you doing?"
"Miss Lane, you'd hardly think I'd explain my masterstroke and let you get back to The Planet." He said as he took off the helmet and placed it on the desk. "By the way, the JLA signal was blocked the minute you entered the building. During those 9 days the man of zinc managed to disclose an awful lot of secrets."
"Now, I knew you'd be looking for him and I knew you'd eventually come to me when it was obvious that he wasn't gallivanting through the galaxy or in another dimension. I wanted to see you crawl to my office and beg for the slightest chance to know what had happened to poor old Clark."
It took her a second. "C-clark? Oh, God, you know…"
"Jonathan is already dead and Martha is going to follow him soon. It'll be a glitch in the military's spy satellite system…but that's neither here nor there. Mrs. Kent…you decided to shack-up with this alien and even make a travesty of our ceremonies by marrying him…well, I didn't want to let you die without giving him a chance to say goodbye to you. Call me a romantic, but I wanted you two kids to have a final embrace." Contempt dripped from his voice.
"L-lex?" Lois says as she tried to break free from Superman's arms.
"Feel free to struggle, but once he's charged up, he can squeeze diamonds out of coal." He folded the bodysuit and placed it inside the locker. "I'm afraid our time today is up, but I'll be back tomorrow to check up on you two."
With that, Lex Luthor left the room and closed the door.
The next day, Lex entered the room and everything was like he left it. Superman still stood, his arms still embraced Lois and she looked like she had spent the worst night in her life. "How are you two holding up? There's still a spark between you two?"
Lois's lips were parched and her head was pinned to the side, the pressure of Superman's arms rendered her unable to turn. "…they'll…they'll find you…Perry…Jimmy…know I came…here…" Her voice was strained and hoarse.
"Yes, and you also left, around 3:00pm yesterday. You see, I employ a Lois look-alike and yesterday her job was to leave my building, board a cab and be taken away. I have security camera footage of it and I got my 'I'm sorry officer but whatever Miss Lane did after she left Lexcorp is her own business' line down pat."
"And now I got a meeting with the Japanese. I'll see you tomorrow."
Lex returned the day after and sat next to her, talking and gloating, showing her videos of the Superman sessions, enjoying watching Lois fade away. He was on the third viewing of the day of his super-breath demonstration when he noticed she was dead.
He went to the control room and shut down the yellow sunlight lamps. He had his employees take away her body for disposal and he decided he'd skip the next skinning session. Pressing business. As his people got to work, he looked at the kryptonian's face and was surprised…was that a tear he saw in his eye? "Can't be," Luthor thought. "his brain is gone. It must be a trick of the light."
Once he was back in his office, he got a call from Happersen. He claimed the flaws in the Golden Argosy's system had been corrected and he requested the kryptonian to be interfaced with it for a test flight. A success there meant that the plane would be ready within the next quarter.
After that, who knows? There were a lot more uses he could find for what once was his worst enemy.
Truly he was the man of tomorrow.