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Chapter 29

Luthor had an entire employee whose job it was to read huge quantities of published material and make daily lists of ideas that Luthor had not yet come up with.  His name was Arthur Allen, and he was the most successful graduate of the Evelyn Wood School of Reading Dynamics in the year 1971, raising his reading speed from 630 to about 30 thousand words per minute.  John Stuart Mill, the nineteenth-century philosopher, read about that fast and came close to going mad because he was incapable of turning pages quickly enough to keep up with himself.  Allen read not only every science fiction story published—before publication, if possible—but every popular how-to publication, every professional journal, and every trade magazine he knew of.  A magazine put out by the Sheet Metal Workers' Union had an idea for a kind of reflective sun deck, which Allen wrote down.  It gave Luthor the principle for the camouflage device which caused his in-city headquarters to appear, from the air, to be the penthouse of a plant lover with bizarre tastes in art.

An idea in a fictional story by an astronomer named Arthur C. Clarke was not new.  The concept of supplying oxygen to a spaceship with plants that breathed carbon dioxide and gave off oxygen was as old as the first fanciful plans for space stations and family-sized space arks.  And when unimaginative little Arthur Allen wrote it down in one of his daily reports, Luthor winced at not having thought of it himself.

Here were some ideas Luthor did think of, but which did not work:

1—An elaborate chemical distillation system which would turn Luthor's exhaled carbon dioxide into oxygen and spray the carbon by-product over the black surface of the starcraft's sails.  After two major flights, Luthor estimated, the carbon layer would be thick enough to make it quite impossible to roll in the Black Widow's arms.

2—An oxygen pill about the size of a thousand-milligram capsule of Vitamin C, which furnished Luthor's bloodstream with as much oxygen as he would need for an hour.  It seemed to work on animals, but the first time Luthor tried it the pill made him higher than a weather balloon for hours.

3—An environmental recycling system which would start with the Black Widow's water supply being broken down into component parts of hydrogen and oxygen. Luthor would breathe the oxygen that he extracted from his excess and excreted water, while the carbon dioxide that was the result of his respiration had nothing to do except suffocate the pilot.  In any natural ecosystem these substances would combine to form hydrocarbons in organic matter, the building blocks of new life.  The only way there would be new life in this craft was if Luthor gave birth.

It all came down to Arthur Clarke's idea of lining all unused surface space inside the bulb of the craft with green vegetation.  In jail, about a year ago, Luthor convinced prison officials that it would be a fine idea for him to teach other prisoners a course in horticulture. While preparing for his various lectures on rhododendrons and backyard tomatoes and wild berries, the scientist managed to clone a seed for a new species of moss which would have the heaviest respiration rate of any living thing known to man. When he became tired of teaching his course, Luthor sprayed the prison greenhouse with a fertilizer he developed once as a teenager.  It caused the plants to sprout overnight like Jack's beanstalk and rupture several walls of the prison so that Luthor could escape quite sloppily.  His moss now lined every square inch of the inner black surface of the bubble and spat out oxygen as fast as Luthor sucked it up.  His entire water supply consisted of a three-quart canteen slung over the arm of his pilot's seat.

When Superman stopped moving and started downward from twelve hundred kilometers over Oric, Luthor had to continue upward for another 65 kilometers before he could slow down and circle back.  The cushioning system that absorbed the inertia in sudden maneuvers was only so strong, and it was how much inertia Luthor's body could stand which was the main limitation on the Black Widow's speed and performance.  Luthor could hear Superman "talking" when the hero was actually vibrating the air inside the capsule a certain way with the power conveniently labeled super-ventriloquism.  Superman, however, had to read Luthor's lips to understand what he was saying; the air here was not thick enough to carry sound waves even to Kryptonian ears.

"What're you looking at?" Luthor asked.

He kept looking.

"Hey, Hot Pants, I'm talking to you."

No response.

"Will you turn your lousy head and answer a simple question?" Luthor banged on the wall of his craft.

To no avail.

"For years I've been trying to sneak past him and now I can't get his attention.  Is that justice? Maybe there is a God."

Superman turned to face Luthor and projected the words into the bubble: "We've got trouble."

"Hark. I hear a voice."

"The pyramid is past chaos.  They're mobilized.  If we don't do something fast, they'll spot us before we get where we're going.  The sky is being scanned by satellites, which is why I dropped back down into the upper atmosphere."

"What do you suggest we do?"

"Initiate chaos down there."

"From up here?"

"Chaos has always been one of your special talents, Luthor.  How would you cause it if you were still inside the pyramid somewhere?"

"Well, I'd start in the launch ramp," Luthor mouthed through his bubble wall.  "I'd have to put that out of commission because that would be their first way to follow us."

"How would you do that?"

"Easy.  You know that row of teleportation gadgets in there?  Teleporting is like going through locks in a canal.  Just as you have to equalize the water level in a canal, you have to equalize air pressure to teleport from one place to another, or else you'll have air rushing through the hole you dig in space to teleport at the speed of a cyclone.  You can throw the whole launch ramp out of kilter by turning on all those teleport gadgets to a point in deep space.  So much air will be rushing out through them into the vacuum that they'll have to seal off the launch ramp like an airlock."

"Brilliant idea."

"What good does it do us up here?"

"What else would you do?" Superman asked as he directed a series of beams of heat vision, melting a series of control bypass switches over a thousand kilometers away.

"Well, next I'd get to their computer linkups.  That one would be easy if we were down there.  They have no lockout mechanisms, all you have to do is link up to one terminal with the right codes.  Like in this case you'd feed the phrase, 'preempt procedure emerald iodine violet,' and then follow it with whatever nonsense phrases you want all the terminals to spout instead of real information.  You just feed it into one terminal."

Superman spoke to Luthor with his ventriloquism, as he simultaneously threw his voice elsewhere: "Preempt procedure emerald iodine violet.  Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go."

"What are you babbling about?  You sure you're recovered from that stuff they had you doped up with?"

"Sure, I'm fine.  Just making conversation.  What about the Master's operatives in the real estate offices all over the settled part of the planet?  They have some sort of linkup for communications, so that they don't give away the same planet to two buyers—or gift receivers, or whatever they call them here."

"Crazy foam."

"Crazy foam."

"You're reading my lips right.  The atmosphere here is even better suited to flash fires than it is on Earth.  The air itself burns, and an automatic safety system fills all enclosed spaces with some kind of foam to cool down fires.  This foam can conduct life-sustaining operations itself—causes respiration of the skin, feeds intravenously if necessary—at the same time as it smothers ignition of the air."

"Sounds like a great regulation.  If somebody could patent that process on Earth, he'd pull down a fortune."

"I was planning on it."

Superman located a dozen and a half little offices on Oric, each suited to a different set of environments, each equipped with crazy foam devices in the walls and ceilings—those that had ceilings.  A little spark appeared in the air somewhere inside each one.

"Well," Superman grinned and clapped his hands together as he hung on the edge of space, "shall we go on to the time-snatcher now?"

"What? I thought you said—"

"A momentary aberration.  You forget with whom you're dealing, old man."

"Son of a gun."



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