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 SUPERMAN: THE LIVING LEGEND: LAST SON OF KRYPTON: CHAPTER 18

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"Miss Lane, do you come here often?"


Chapter 18
THE SOCIOLOGIST


After Superman had left Luthor in the prison in Pocantico, Clark Kent made one more appearance in Studio B so that he could be roped firmly into his bet with Steve Lombard—and in Lois Lane's office so that he could make a lunch date for the following afternoon.  Superman was busier.

Clark was walking down the sixth-floor hallway with Jimmy Olsen toward the elevator, and he accepted the offer of a ride to his apartment in Jimmy's new TR7.  In a moment Clark's time sync changed, as it occasionally did.

"Listen, Jimmy.  Let me take a raincheck on that ride home.  I think I'll walk."

"Yeah, sure, Clark.  Watch out for the wall.  Hey, where you running?  You sure are in a hurry to take a leisurely stroll uptown."  By now Jimmy was talking to himself.

Less than a minute later, a whistling filled the air over an uncommonly choppy Lake Superior and crew members near panic on a threatened cargo ship looked up into the sky.  Then all fifty-two of them fell flat on the deck, holding onto their shifting centers of gravity as the big ship was lifted forty feet into the air and flown to port.

On the way back to Metropolis, Superman spotted an ambulance with its siren whirring and red light spinning, stranded immobile in the middle lane of Route 80 between Totowa and Fairfield, New Jersey.  He lifted this stranded ship out of dead calm seas and delivered it to the hospital whose name was on the side.  The coronary patient inside was spared the experience by unconsciousness, although an intern taking his electrocardiogram fainted.

In Hillside a cat was stuck in a tree, and her owner was too big to crawl on the branch after her and too small not to cry.  At the instant Superman heard the cat yowl, the wrist of a young woman on Greene Street in Metropolis was grabbed by a man who had been waiting in one of the standard dark alleys peppering the neighborhood.

"Hey, man, what're you doin?" the girl squeaked.

"Come in here, you."

A beam of heat vision snapped the branch of the tree and the cat fell.

"Get your hand off me or—"

"Or what? Whatcha got there, girlie?"

She calmed down and found her misplaced equilibrium.  "Listen, man, why doncha buy me a drink and do it right?"

A thin stream of super breath from above bounced off the concrete and softened the kitten's four-legged landing.

"I mean, why do you wanna force yourself on a girl like that, hey?  I don't bite, do you?"

"Look, don't go tryin' to snow me, girlie," he snarled, but his grip of her arm loosened just a little.

And a blinding streak of red and blue from out of the sky left an indentation on his jaw.  In a moment, a bewildered patrolman was dropped out of the sky and the girl gave the cop her account of the incident.  The man woke up in a jail cell.

Here are some other things Superman did the night before the full moon:

He melted, confiscated, or otherwise neutralized a collection of knives, chains, and shoddily assembled handguns carried around by a group of twelve teenaged boys roaming through Metropolis Common.

He spun a water current, diverting a school of sharks which were about to attack some tuna congregated around the lifeline to a research bathyscaph.  There was every possibility that the sharks would accidentally have severed the line.

With the super pressure of his hands he fused shut a hairline crack that was forming in one of the pontoons underneath Oceania, the experimental floating city 250 miles east of Montauk, Long Island.

He slammed through a half-ton of heroin being loaded onto a ship in Le Havre in four boxes marked "Toys."

He spotted a train in Northern Ireland about to tumble into a canyon through a bridge weakened by saboteurs.  He substituted his own body for the weakened portion of rail, and when the train was gone he built a new rail from iron ore and coal he found in nearby deposits.

In northern Greenland he lifted a dogsled, a dozen huskies, a young doctor, and a supply of vital flu serum over an avalanche to a secluded military outpost on the Davis Strait.

Superman spent most of the rest of the night at his Fortress of Solitude carved out of a mountain 130 miles south of the geographic North Pole.  There was a gold-colored airline marker pointing the way to the pole, but if one saw the arrow from the bottom—which is something no one but Superman ever did—it became apparent that this was the 30-ton key to a door camouflaged by the constant inclement weather and the indented face of the mountain.  In the fortress the Man of Steel checked bacterial cultures with which he experimented.  He was no medical genius, but he did, after all, have immediate total recall and he was the only being of whom he knew who could safely handle the Regulus-243 strain which caused a violent chemical reaction in organic matter, turning it on contact into particles of a saline crystal.  Superman occasionally wondered if the only recorded incidence of Regulus-243 contamination on Earth was the death of Lot's wife during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Superman fed and groomed the fearsome menagerie of domesticated extraterrestrial creatures he kept and studied in one of the lower levels of the fortress.  He wrote an entry, in the Kryptonese language, in his personal journal.  He painted a landscape in acrylics—he favored the vistas of Jupiter and its moons, but this was a Martian plain—while he listened to a recording of sonic flare patterns as performed by a musician of Polaris-4.

He slept for half an hour, which was something he did because he needed a certain amount of dreaming to maintain a psychological balance.  Then he took off, straight up, to plunge through the molten crust of the sun 93 million miles away in order to sterilize himself.  It would be bad form, after all, to carry any Regulus-243 cells back to Metropolis.

It was a bit under seventeen minutes to the sun and back traveling at the speed of light—which was the fastest he could travel through "real" three-dimensional space.  He looked down as dawn hit Metropolis.  Morgan Edge was sprawled on the fold-out couch in his office.  For a multimillionaire he certainly didn't allow himself much recreation.  Jimmy was just arriving home after a long night of rigorous leisure.  Steve Lombard was not at home, and Superman could not begin to wonder about where he might be.  Lois had been awake for at least an hour.  It had to have taken at least that long to get from her apartment to the subway car on which Superman found her.  She was up to something.

Superman kept a telescopic x-ray eye on the lady as he landed on the roof of the apartment building at 344 Clinton Street.  He scanned the sky for planes overhead.  Once a Soviet satellite 103 miles up took a picture as he was changing to Clark Kent.  A crew of technicians wasted a week before the Russians decided it wasn't worth the effort to find out how film could be overexposed in the void of space.

As Clark Kent walked down the roof stairway to the thirty-third-floor landing, Lois's train was pulling into the old World's Fair grounds, the last stop on that line.  As she stepped off the train he stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the third floor.  As he stepped off the elevator she walked down the stairway toward the subway graveyard where hundreds of inanimate subway cars lay in wait for rush hour or the scrap heap, vulnerable to the inarticulate expression of graffiti artists armed with spray paint.

Clark Kent walked down the third-floor corridor and unlocked the door of apartment 3-D, twisting his neck in the opposite direction all the way.  He stepped inside, closed the door behind him, loosened his tie, opened his shirt, dropped his jacket and glasses on a chair, and put two eggs up to boil.

Lois Lane squeezed through a rip in the hurricane fence and counted the rows of subway cars.  She tried to remember which car her source had told her to check.  It was too hot a piece of information to write down.  She found the seventh row and counted sixteen cars in the direction away from the fairgrounds.  She crept between the ranks of cars to her target and pulled a stethoscope from her purse.  She fitted it to her ears and listened to the hull of the train.

Clark picked at his eggs and buttered toast.  Breakfast was a habit from his school days.  He sat in his living room reclining chair as he peered across town.

Lois surely enough heard voices inside the subway car, although she could make out only snatches of the conversation.  She heard things like, "last night's shipment . . . backfire soon as shoot . . . street value . . . sixty bucks a piece . . . move them by noon tomorrow . . . every high school in the city . . ."

Clark Kent looked through the wall of the subway car and found three men standing over two crates filled with cheaply manufactured handguns.  He counted 288 pistols in the crates.  A tall man in a three-piece suit was handing an attaché case filled with cash to another man in the uniform of a subway signalman.

Lois Lane had heard enough.  She stuffed the stethoscope into her shoulder bag and tripped backward over a pile of discarded spray paint cans.  She froze at the noise, crawled under the subway car, and waited there for a few minutes.  They hadn't heard her, or thought anything of it if they had.  She pulled herself, more warily now, out from under the train and made her way back toward the rip in the fence.

Clark Kent was no longer in the apartment.

First Lois would call Inspector Henderson.  Bill was one cop who understood the concept of privileged information and he knew how to keep a story quiet until it was revealed to the world by a deserving reporter.  Then she would call the Daily Planet city desk and tell them to leave a good-sized hole in the upper-left corner of page one.  Then she would call WGBS News and have someone drive out here to the backwoods of the city with a change of clothes and a portable typewriter.  Then a hand grabbed her around the throat and threw her to the ground.

The two men stood over Lois with guns pointed at her face.  These would be real guns, not the explosive Tinkertoys they were planning to sell to the children of Metropolis.

"All right, whaddya know, lady?"

No answer.

"Don't I know you?" the other one said.

Silence.

"Who told you where we'd be? You a cop?"

"Hey, she's no cop.  She's a reporter." A hint of mortal fear in his voice.

"How d'you know?"

"I recognize her.  Hey, we better get outta here."

"Are you nuts? Frisk her."

"Not me.  That broad's got her own portable bodyguard."

"You're talkin' crazy.  If you won't frisk her, I—" The man's pistol drooped like a wilting plant.  The molten steel that used to be part of the stock left third-degree burns on his hand.  He dropped to the ground screaming until he fell unconscious.

The other man tore off in the direction of the hole in the fence.  Twenty feet before he got there, he ran into a colorful immoveable object and crumpled.

"Miss Lane, do you come here often?" Superman asked.

She thought to say that she could have gotten out of this fix herself.  That she'd left a sealed envelope in Perry's Office, and that it would be opened if she wasn't at the office by ten.  That maybe Superman was a little rough on those two.  That it would have been nice to deserve credit for mashing a mass sale of Saturday Night Specials herself.  But there he was, standing there .  .  .

Smiling.

"You've got to live until at least noon, Lois.  I doubt Clark could handle that highbrow social theorist on his own."

He glowed with life and power, and sometimes he twinkled under the sun.  He was a fallen star.  She thought that all the time, but of course she couldn't say it.  The phrase would be out of character.  What she could do was hug him so hard he might feel the pressure and maybe he would kiss her.



The young man puffed serenely on his bent pipe and tried hard to explain the concept so that his interviewer could understand.  "There was an illustration of my point on the radio news only this morning," Fellman Gordon said.

Camera 3 dollied in for a closeup of the sociologist.

"I heard an interview with a young lady," Gordon said, "who was allegedly saved by Superman from an assault attempt only last night."

Lois sat in the interviewer's chair.  "Superman turned up lots of places last night.  We reporters have noticed that there's a spate of unlikely reports for about three days every month or so.  He supposedly does everything from fighting back an invasion of flying saucers over Mongolia to helping children with their long division, apparently at the same time."

"This happens to be a documented report.  It was witnessed not only by the victim but by a police officer.  A young lady of about twenty claims she had nearly persuaded a mugger to leave her alone when Superman intervened out of nowhere to save her."

"Have you ever tried talking a mugger out of pursuing his vocation, Professor Gordon?"

"I haven't had the opportunity, thank the stars, but neither did that young lady.  Before she could get out of trouble herself, Superman saved her.  What he has done, I believe, is ended despair."

Clark Kent, watching the taping of Sunday Forum from the control booth with the director, needed no cues to keep a blank look on his face.

"It is my contention, and I expound upon this in my book, Age of Dependence," Fellman Gordon continued, "that Superman may be singlehandedly bringing the social development of our entire human race to a grinding halt."

"How do you explain the strides over the past twenty years in science? Space exploration? Food production?"

"These are not social phenomena.  They are scientific and, to some extent, political developments.  Let me give you a hypothetical case, Miss Lane.  You, it is well known, have a sort of personal relationship with Superman.  I take it he has actually saved your life more times than you can count."

"I'm perfectly capable of counting that high, it's just that I wasn't keeping score." It was a lame crack, but it helped Lois avoid blushing.

"Say you were somewhere really out of the way, Miss Lane.  In Zaire.  In the abandoned shaft of a diamond mine.  The mine caved in.  You had about an hour's supply of air.  Absolutely no one knew where you were, and even if they did there would be no chance of getting you out in time.  What goes through your mind?"

"I wish Superman would stop stalling.  I've got a deadline to meet."

"Exactly.  You don't make your peace with your God or your conscience.  You don't cry.  You don't go mad.  You wait impatiently for Superman to save you.  That possibility now exists.  No one need despair any more.  Superman plays adopted father to the world, ready to bail anyone out of trouble the way his father Jor-El bailed him out of a dying planet.  The only evidence of significant social growth over the past ten years, I have found, has been among those outside law-abiding society."

Where would someone like Luthor be if Superman had never come to Earth? Probably, Gordon supposed, in a research laboratory somewhere discovering a cure for cancer.  Or maybe in a mental institution following a childhood spent in a succession of reform schools.  Certainly there would have been no consuming ambition, no enemy impossible to overcome, to teach him to aspire.  Without Superman, Luthor might have grown up lonely.  And what of the occasional outlandish creatures from outer space who happen to touch down in Metropolis to pick a fight with him every so often? If Superman had never come, would Earth people even be aware that there was life elsewhere in the Universe? Maybe we knew too soon, before we were strong enough to face the interlocking cultures of the Galaxy on equal terms.  It was taken for granted in scientific and political circles that one day the people of Earth would compete for power and recognition among Galactic society as did any young civilization reaching into space.  Would we really be equipped to do that when the time came?

It was an idea that Clark Kent pondered occasionally.  No one had ever expressed it publicly before; maybe no one else had bothered to think of it before Fellman Gordon.  Well, now it was in print and that was just as well, Clark thought.  It was.

After the taping Lois grinned at Clark in the booth with that we-know-something-this-guy-doesn't-know grin.  Clark wondered what it was he and Lois both knew.  The only concern of the director was the fact that the show ran an extra thirty seconds and that would have to be edited out.  Fellman Gordon followed Clark down the hallway toward Clark's office.

Gordon didn't call to Clark, so the newsman didn't turn around to see why he was being followed.  The sociologist was a dark man in his early thirties, of medium height and build.  He wore a mustache that was trimmed so as to look unkempt.  As Clark walked he perceived a slight change in the quality of Gordon's footsteps, a lightening somehow.  As he reached the office the voice came from behind Clark.

"Kal-El, may I speak with you a moment?"

Clark turned around and where Fellman Gordon belonged there stood one of the immortal Guardians.



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