Part 6: Copying will resume when unit has warmed up (beta'd by supacat)
That weekend, for the first time since moving to Metropolis, Clark wished for more emergencies. Being Superman helped put things in perspective. It made Clark Kent’s office dramas, even if they did involve Lex Luthor, seem like trivialities. But Metropolis let him down. Two muggings and a botched convenience store hold-up were all that Friday night offered.
This left Clark with way too much time to dwell on the week’s events. He rang Chloe as frequently as he thought polite to check on the progress she was making hacking into LexCorp’s intranet. They were hoping she’d discover not only the cover story Lex was using, but also evidence of Lex’s recent movements that might help in deciphering how he was creating the illusion of anonymity.
Chloe ended the fifth call saying, ‘Clark, relax! I will call you the minute I find anything. Just... go hang out with Lois, or something, ok?’
Clark stared at his phone dismally, and then decided to take Chloe’s advice.
Clark rang Lois’s doorbell at 11:15 am on Saturday morning. She took a long time to answer. Finally, the door tugged open a crack, and a tousled head and drooping eyelids appeared over the chain. Lois mumbled something that sounded like ‘I don’t believe it’ and sleepily unpinned the chain.
Clark followed her as she shuffled into the lounge room and flopped onto her sofa, propping her slippered feet on the coffee table. Clark had to step carefully around the empty pizza boxes and half-full mugs of coffee. He couldn’t find a clear spot on the table for the bulky weekend edition of the Daily Planet, so he handed it to Lois awkwardly.
‘I brought you a copy. I thought you’d want to see the feature.’
Lois stared back at him blankly. ‘I get it delivered.’
‘Yeah… I know.’ All Planet employees got free subscriptions. But he’d hoped she’d appreciate the gesture. ‘I brought croissants too!’ He dangled the bag awkwardly.
Lois’s eyelashes flickered. ‘I don’t suppose you thought to bring coffee?’
Clark’s arm sagged. ‘No... But I can make some?’
Lois waved an arm towards the kitchen and smothered a yawn with her other hand. ‘Plunger... in... dishwasher.’
Clark busied himself in the kitchen. When he returned, Lois had tuned the TV to a video hits channel and was ranting about the skimpy outfits of the teen female pop artists. Clark handed her a mug of coffee and let her take a sip before raising an eyebrow and saying ‘Haven’t I seen you in a costume like that?’
He had to use a little superspeed to duck the cushion. He didn’t escape splashing coffee over his jeans and he had to retire to the kitchen to clean himself up.
When he returned, Lois was cheerfully munching on croissants but before he could join her, Clark’s phone rang and he grabbed it from his jeans pocket.
It was Chloe. ‘Here’s something interesting. Apparently Lex met with senior execs on Thursday for an all-day strategy meeting.’
‘So either his senior staff, his PA and who knows who else are covering for him, or Lex has a doppelganger.’
‘But you saw…’ Clark looked uneasily across the room at Lois, who was watching him quizzically.
‘Yeah, I know. I could swear it was the real Lex I saw. But there’s definitely something odd here. Are you sure he was in the office all day?’
‘Pretty sure.’ Thursday had been the day he’d sabotaged the copier and Lex had renegotiated the contract.
‘But you didn’t see him all the time? I mean not 24/7?’
‘No, of course not.’ Clark blushed.
‘Ok, well, I’ll try and get to the bottom of this. And I’ll call you if I find out anything else.’
Clark hung up. Lois was still staring at him.
‘Who was that?’
‘Oh, just a friend. Pete.’ Geez, Lois was inquisitive. ‘Uh… I better head off now, Lois.’
‘Ok. You sure you don’t want to hang out here for a while?’
‘As appealing as that is…’ Clark cast another look around the cluttered apartment. ‘I think I’ll pass. The last time I came over, I seem to remember I ended up cleaning your kitchen floor.’
‘Oh yeah, it’s gone all grey again. Want to help me out with that?’
Clark glowered at her. ‘Goodbye, Lois.’
‘Later, Smallville!’ she replied breezily, swinging her legs up on to the sofa and settling herself into the cushions.
Chloe stopped answering Clark’s calls somewhere around 1 am Saturday night. Clark flew over Metropolis looking for people to save. He found a stray dog trapped in a drain and took it to the local lost dogs’ home. He regretted it when the volunteers there asked him to sponsor them. They seemed to think he’d be returning with more dogs. Their eyes were alight with enthusiasm as they started bringing out petitions for him to sign and asking if he’d take part in a TV campaign about desexing pets. He extricated himself with difficulty and vowed to leave the animal kingdom to fend for itself from now on.
Given the complete lack of action on the streets of Metropolis, it was not surprising that Clark found himself flying past the LexCorp tower. His heart skipped a beat when he saw a light on in the penthouse. Lex was home. Staying in shadow was difficult, but Clark was getting better at estimating human visibility. With the light on inside, Lex would be able to see very few features of the dark sky outside his window. Clark approached from below, keeping close to the tower so as to avoid getting caught in the light from adjacent buildings. Cautiously he flew higher until he could just see in through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Unexpectedly, the curtains were drawn back. Lex treasured his privacy as much as he enjoyed his skyline views, but tonight Clark could see straight into the large open-plan living space. Lex was seated in front of the fireplace. He was reading from an old book, but appeared distracted, because he kept glancing away to stare across the room or at the fire and to raise and lower the scotch glass in his left hand.
Clark hovered, watching Lex. After a few minutes, Lex put down his book and moved to the window. Clark drew back against the building. On an angle, he could just make out Lex staring out on Metropolis with a look that melted Clark’s heart. Clark tried to identify the emotions shaping Lex’s features as he watched the city beneath him: regret, emptiness and sorrow were part of them, he was sure. It was shocking to see Lex so unguarded, and Clark’s heart pounded fast beneath his suit.
He didn’t want to move, but eventually Lex pulled the curtains closed, and, after drifting around for a moment or two, Clark turned for home.
On Sunday Clark’s phone rang in the middle of a rescue.
‘Clark! I’ve had a breakthrough!’
‘Uh, I’m a bit busy right now,’ Clark said as he tucked the phone to his ear and held it in place with his shoulder, cradling the old lady in his other arm and ducking to avoid a power line.
On the other end of the phone, he heard Chloe sigh. ‘Clark? Clark, are you flying? I’ve told you before not to answer your cell phone...’
‘Watch out, young man!’ the old lady cried as the phone dropped away from Clark’s ear and he dived rapidly after it. This was followed by an ear-piercing shriek.
A metre from the pavement, Clark caught the phone and the old lady went into cardiac arrest. Clark delivered her to ER and stayed long enough to see she was alright and then rang Chloe back.
‘Spare the lecture, ok? What have you got?’
‘A theory. I don’t want to discuss it yet: I’ve got to check a few things out first, but I think Lex has been conducting experiments in one of the old LuthorCorp warehouses.’
‘Oh no! Not the one he was researching cloning in?’ Clark had spent a month fending off super-powered pigeons.
‘No, another one. You nuked that one. Don’t you remember?’
‘Oh, yeah.’ Clark recalled the explosion created by his fire. It had lit up the sky like fireworks and he’d had to evacuate a few passers-by. Chloe had given him grief about it, telling him he needed to be more careful.
‘So listen, I’m going to do some investigating this week. But I don’t think you should come.’
‘But Chloe, my powers...’
‘No. Clark, I think Lex might have someone watching you in case you get close to the secret. And trust me, I can do this alone. No powers needed.’
‘If I need back-up, I’ll call you.’
‘You just keep acting normal, ok? Let Lex think you’re still confused.’
‘That shouldn’t be too hard,’ muttered Clark.
‘Keep a track of Lex’s movements within the office as much as possible but mostly, just... don’t give him opportunities to fuck with you, ok?’
Clark winced at the swearing. He’d never got used to it, although Chloe had dropped into the habit as comfortably as she had taken to other aspects of life in Metropolis.
‘Yeah, ok. I got it.’
‘Plan! Thanks, partner.’
Clark heard Chloe laugh as he hung up.
(I promise - I swear! - I will get them back to the photocopier and on to more, ahem, action soon. *g*)