Superman: Civil Rites

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#12

By David Marshall


Smallville Medical Center, The Day After The Jetpack Confederate Fiasco

Lex Luthor mouthed the room numbers on each door as he searched the hallway for Lana’s room. Her move to recovery was welcome news and he hoped to add to her good fortune. In one hand he carried a vase of flowers, in the other his leather briefcase. Both would play important roles if his plan was to succeed. He soon found Lana’s room. The door was cracked open so he knocked.

“Come in,” Lana called.

Lex entered tentatively. Their last meeting hadn’t gone well. He pulled the flowers from behind his back. “I come bearing peace offerings.”

Lana didn’t look impressed. “You have some nerve, Lex Luthor if you hope to smooth things over with flowers.”

Lex placed the flowers on the dresser on the far side of Lana’s room. The subtle maneuver would have made his father proud. It forced her to look at something pleasant while he pleaded his case. “I’ve been a bonehead and I hope you can forgive me. So much has happened this summer. Some of it you know, some you don’t but that doesn’t excuse my behavior. Can’t we still be friends?”

“I don’t know, Lex. Trouble seems to follow whenever we’re together,” Lana replied.

Her reluctance was understandable but disappointing. “I want to make amends.”

“We had an argument Lex. Your apology is enough,” Lana answered.

Lex shook his head. “I don’t mean about the argument. I mean everything… what my father’s goons did to you and your family. Your entire community…”

“It’s Mississippi, Lex,” said Lana. “Let it go. There’s nothing you can do.”

Lex smiled. “Let it go? I’m a billionaire now. I can do anything!”

“And there’s the Luthor arrogance we all know and love!” Lana replied with a roll of her eyes.

“I was kidding,” said Lex. He hated to fawn and grovel but failure wasn’t an option. “But not about the billionaire part. It’s essential to my plan. There are many who have no homes to go back to, including you. Others return to nightmares of the night they call the Cleansing. I want to change that.”

Lana looked suspicious but interested. “Go on.”

“I want to buy your land,” said Lex. “Everyone’s land.”

Lana looked confused. “Whatever on earth for?”

“To give you… to give everyone… a fresh start,” Lex replied. “I’ll build new homes and places to work that didn’t exist before. Smallville’s future can rise from the ashes of tragedy like a great phoenix but someone needs to sell first so the others will follow suit.”

“I don’t know, Lex. That property’s been in my family for generations,” said Lana. “It’s all we… all I have.”

“I’m prepared to make you a generous offer,” Lex countered. “Double market value.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me, Lex?” Lana asked. “Where will I go?”

Lex flashed his best smile and shook his head. “Get rid of you? What would Smallville be without Lana Lang? Have you heard of the subdivision craze sweeping the country?”

“People living on top of one another?” Lana asked.

“You have it all wrong,” Lex countered. “These planned communities bring a higher, middle-class standard of living wherever they’re built. I want to build one here in Smallville and offer the homes free to everyone living in the flatlands. Modern homes with all the conveniences, electricity, running water, indoor plumbing… air conditioning…”

Lana smiled. “Indoor plumbing and air conditioning?”

Lex nodded. “Just call me your bald-headed Santa Claus.”

“About that,” said Lana. “When are you going to grow your hair back?”

Lex rubbed his hand over his smooth pate. “I like it. It distinguishes me.”

Lana laughed. “If you say so. I miss your curly red locks.”

“Is that all it would take to win you back?” Lex asked.

Lana sat up. “I don’t miss them that much! I’m still mad at you, you know.”

Lex nodded. “I know but I hope my altruism will quell your anger a little.”

“It’s a tempting offer, Lex. It would be life-changing for so many, including me,” Lana answered.

“Did I say double the market value?” Lex asked. “I think I meant triple but that’s only for your property. Think about it, Lana. Every person in the flatlands would get a brand new modern home and twice what their land is worth. And you’d get four times your land’s value.”

Lana smiled. “I’d better accept before you either come to your senses or offer me your entire fortune for a burned-out home and five acres of rocky soil!”

“We have a deal then?” Lex asked. He opened his briefcase and took out the papers drawn up by his father’s lawyers.

“What’s that?” Lana asked.

“A deed transfer on the land,” Lex replied.

“A bit presumptuous aren’t you?” Lana asked.

Lex hoped he didn’t overplay his hand. “I want to get started as soon as possible. The terms are outlined in this contract, including my plans to move everyone into free subdivision homes and double their money for their land, except for your land. I left the price blank in case you drove a hard bargain.”

“Did I?” Lana asked with a coy smile.

Lex patted Lana’s right hand. “There isn’t a businessman in Gotham or Metropolis that could have gotten four times the market value on anything in a deal with a Luthor.”

Lana smiled. “So where will I stay until these fancy new homes are built?”

Lex was on a roll and felt good pushing his luck. “At the mansion with me?”

Lana rolled her eyes and fell back into her bed. “No way. Deal’s off.”

“I’m kidding! I’m kidding!” Lex backpedaled. “Lighten up. I know you’re not that kind of girl.”

“And don’t you forget it,” Lana added.

“You can stay at the Motor Lodge out on 49 until your new home is complete,” Lex replied. “The tab’s on me.”

“One more question,” Lana asked. “Do you have a pen?”

Lex removed a fountain pen from his pocket and clicked it open. His battle with Superboy was as good as won.

The Home of Eula Jefferson, The Next Morning

“They blamed Superboy,” said Clark Kent, casting a wary eye at their host. “All he did was show up to stop the bad guy and Chief Parker blamed him for everything!”

Clark’s father unfolded the morning newspaper. The headline read, “Superboy Stops Flying Menace”. Given Superboy’s newfound fame it was picked up by nearly every news syndicate in the country. “There will always be those who see what they want to see Clark. The Boy of Steel shouldn’t allow critics and cynics to stop him from doing what’s right.”

“Jon’s right, son,” said his mother as she added another stack of pancakes to Clark’s plate. “Especially with Superboy’s brown skin.”

The Kents were still at Eula Jefferson’s house and had to be careful with Clark’s secret identity. One wrong word and their nosy friend would be on to him.

Mrs. Jefferson wasn’t convinced. “I say if you go looking for trouble you’ll find it.”

“What if Superboy hadn’t gone looking for trouble at the bridge a few days ago, Eula?” Clark’s mom asked. “The lot of you would have been killed.”

Mrs. Jefferson nodded. “Maybe that was the Good Lord’s plan and that boy interrupted.”

“If it were the Good Lord’s plan he wouldn’t have given that boy those powers,” Clark’s father replied.

Eula was a proud woman. She didn’t like being corrected in her own home even by her pastor. She furrowed her brow. “I suppose you’re right but…”

“Listen son,” his father started. “When I was about your age I stood up to a bully who was picking on some younger kids. Remember that, dear?”

The memory brought a smile to Clark’s mother’s face. “I was one of those younger kids. That’s when I fell in love with you. I swore right then and there that I’d marry you some day!”

“Or so she claims,” Clark’s father laughed, jabbing an elbow in his son’s ribs.

Clark’s mother flirted playfully with his father’s shirt sleeve. “Are you calling me a liar, Jonathan Kent?”

“I’m a brave man dear but not that foolish,” Clark’s father replied. He turned back to Clark. “Everybody was afraid of the bully. I can’t remember his name but I remember the sound of my fist slamming into his teeth. I licked him but good, really gave them the old what-for! You’d think that would be a good thing right? But word got out that I could fight and before long, every young buck from the tri-county area came calling to prove their manhood against me. I was in my early twenties before they finally found another poor sap to fight.”

The tale stunned Clark. His Pa preached turning the other cheek and avoiding violence whenever possible. It was easier to imagine his Pa laying hands on them and praying for them than knocking their teeth out, but the latter image was far more exciting to think about. “Did you whip ‘em all, Pa?”

Clark’s father laughed and shook his head. “Not all of them unfortunately but that’s not the point.”

“He whipped his fair share though,” Clark’s mom added proudly.

“I can’t imagine Pastor Kent duking it out,” Mrs. Jefferson laughed loudly. “I do declare! What a sight that would be!”

“Getting back to my point,” his father said. “You can’t let people stop you from doing what’s right even if it means you put a target on your own back. Superboy’s no different.”

“More coffee, Pastor? Martha?” Mrs. Jefferson asked as she stood.

Clark’s father reached her his cup. “I believe I will, Eula. Thank you.”

“None for me,” Clark’s mother answered. “Two cups and I’m jittery as a junebug on a string.”

Mrs. Jefferson shuffled to the stove and poured herself and Clark’s father more coffee.

Clark cut a bite off his pancakes and stuffed it into his mouth. “Things were simpler when I was a kid.”

His mother reached across the table and took his free hand. “Son, you’re still a kid.”

“With responsibilities,” his father added.

“What kind of responsibilities could a sixteen year old possibly have?” Mrs. Jefferson asked as she made her way back to the table and sat.

“School for one,” Clark’s mother shot back. “And chores. Speaking of which, you’d better get a move on, son. We’ve a lot of work to do at our place today.”

The Back Lawn, Outside The Luthor Mansion

“It’s over baby,” Lex Luthor whispered. He stood at the unmarked grave of his lover Sarah, whom his father shot. “I made the old man pay for what he did to you… to us. He’ll never hurt anyone again.”

The wind howled in reply.

“I framed him for the Cleansing then exposed him as head of the Klan,” Lex admitted with a satisfied smile. “He was a cancer and such diseases require aggressive treatment, you know? I’m sorry so many innocents died but I’ll see they’re remembered as martyrs. Hell, I’ll erect a memorial in their honor. Their passing played a big part in taking down the Monster of Mississippi. It’s fitting they’re celebrated.”

Lex laughed. “To beat him I became the one thing I hated most – him. I hoped to see him arrested and drug through a trial but he took the coward’s way out! The old man cast a long shadow though. But I’ll never walk in anyone’s shadow ever again, least of all this damned alien that’s taken up residence in Smallville!”

The Lang farm belonged to Lex, as did most of the other farms in the flatlands. He would follow through with his promise to Lana and build the subdivision and industrial park. He already had city planners and architects from Metropolis working on it. His philanthropy would earn him valuable political capital one day but more importantly it would allow him unfettered access to Superboy’s one known weakness, the strange glowing rock unearthed at the Lang farm during the Cleansing. It was pure Luthor genius and he hoped somewhere in hell the old man was proud.

Lex squatted beside the plot of depressed earth that was Sarah’s eternal resting place and touched the unmarked grave. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring my anger with the alien to your graveside again.”

A whippoorwill’s song cut through the morning fog and broke the silence. Lex searched but couldn’t find it among the trees. It seemed to come from everywhere at once. “It’s all mine now, baby – this place, the money, the penthouse in Metropolis, everything. I only wish you were here to share it with me. I’ll see to it you receive a proper funeral and a marker. I promise the flowers will never get old.”

Three Days Later

Patrol was Clark’s favorite part of being Superboy. The cares of the world blew away on the wind whipping against his face. Complex issues like poverty and injustice couldn’t be punched like a common thug but everything seemed possible when soaring through the skies. Perhaps it was the tangible change in the air since Lionel Luthor’s passing and the decimation of the Klan’s infrastructure but his people were beaming with optimism for a change.

It still bothered Superboy that the man with the jetpack would likely never pay for his tantrum in downtown Smallville but his father warned against borrowing trouble and the villain hadn’t been seen since their encounter.

Flying over the Lang property he was surprised to see heavy equipment below. Maybe Lana’s house would be fixed before she came home from the hospital! That would be a nice surprise for her! No one was more deserving of good news.

Superboy would have flown on by but something curious caught his eye. The construction crew below wasn’t working on the house at all but seemed more interested in digging in the front yard.

“We can’t get the drill in here,” yelled a man on the ground. “The damned house is in the way! Bring in the wrecking ball!”

A large crane moved toward the house. Why would they need a wrecking ball unless…

“Let ‘er rip!” the foreman yelled.

The crane released the wrecking ball and it swung toward the modest home’s front porch. It was a mess from the fire but Lana deserved a chance to at least gather up her things.

Superboy rushed earthward and took the blow intended for Lana’s house. The wrecking ball was left a mess of mangled metal hanging from its chain like a dead spider on its web in the corner of a barn. “What’s going on here?”

The men stopped working.

“What the hell are you doing?” screamed the foreman who ordered the wrecking ball into action. “This is private property! You need to leave!”

Superboy crossed his arms and stood his ground. “Not until you tell me why you’re wrecking Lana Lang’s house!”

“Ms. Lang no longer owns this property,” the man replied.

“That’s… impossible,” Superboy stammered. “I don’t understand.”

“Then let me make it clear for you,” said another voice. Lex Luthor stepped out of his car, a brand- new shiny, red Thunderbird. “You’re on my property and I will call the law if you don’t vacate the premises immediately!”

Superboy wasn’t sure what was happening but if Lex was involved it couldn’t be good. “You must be smoking that wacky tobacco, Luthor. Lana’s folks have owned this property forever.”

“Until she sold it to me a few days ago,” Lex replied. He turned to the foreman “That will be all Harrison.”

Lex had to be up to no good. “What’s your angle, Luthor?”

“Perhaps it would interest you to learn that Ms. Lang’s home was the first of many I’ve bought in the area. I realize you lack vision beyond your incessant need for media attention but I see a vast industrial park, home to acres of businesses employing Lowell County’s residents,” Lex replied. “And free homes for all those displaced by the Cleansing event.”

That didn’t sound too bad but surely Lex had another motive. “And what do you get out of it, Luthor?”

“To give back of course,” Lex answered.

“Because that’s what the Luthors are known for… giving back,” Superboy countered.

Superboy’s attention was so focused on Lex that he paid no attention to Harrison, the foreman. He approached with a small chunk of the glowing rock that sapped Superboy’s powers during the Cleansing. “Paydirt, boss!”

The strength immediately departed Superboy’s body and he fell to the ground. “So that’s your game. You bought up the land to get to the rock.”

Lex smiled and took the glowing stone from Harrison’s hands. Its radiance grew ever brighter as he got closer to Superboy. “A fascinating geological specimen, wouldn’t you agree?”

Pain racked Superboy’s body. “Take it away, please.”

“What’s wrong, ‘Boy of Steel’?” Lex mocked. “That is what they call you in the papers, is it not? If only they could see you know. You look a bit more boy and a lot less steel from where I’m standing.”

Superboy tried to crawl away.

“Why don’t you just fly away?” Lex asked. “That is one of your so-called super powers isn’t it?”

Flying was out of the question with the rock so near but Superboy had to escape somehow. He tried to stand but couldn’t even push himself to his knees. It hurt but he managed to crawl a few more feet before he collapsed again

“How does it feel to cower at the mercy of another?” Lex continued. “I imagine there are those who feel the same way about their encounters with you. I saw in the paper where you claim to be from the stars. That makes you an alien, doesn’t it? I think that’s what I will call you from now on - alien.”

“Why are you doing this?” Superboy asked. “I saved your life once when…”

Lex kicked Superboy in the mouth with the toe of his boot. “Don’t you ever speak of that again! Do you hear me?”

Again and again Lex stomped Superboy’s head until the Boy of Steel barely clung to consciousness.

“Don’t make me hurt you,” Superboy warned but knew his threat was an empty one.

Lex bent down with the rock in his left hand and cupped Superboy’s chin with his right. “You hurt me? Right now you couldn’t swat a flea.”

Superboy broke into a cold sweat and coughed blood. His racing heart felt like it would explode right through the insignia on his chest. This time there was no Hourman around to save him and the construction crew was clearly sympathetic to Lex.

“Go ahead and kill me if that’s what you’re planning,” Superboy whispered. It hurt to even talk.

Lex grabbed Superboy by the hair. “As tempting as that sounds it doesn’t suit my long-term plan for you, Super-dolt. I want the entire world to witness my triumph when I defeat you.”

“Then when you take the rock away…” said Superboy. It was difficult to spit the words from his mouth.

Lex stood and kicked him again. “You’ll do nothing because I’m this county’s best chance to rebuild! Touch me and my resources are tied up for years in court. Do you want to deny your friends and neighbors the opportunity to live better lives?”

It took all his strength for Superboy to muster an answer. “No,” he whispered.

“Now you’re being reasonable,” Lex hissed. He bent once more and held the glowing chunk of rock close to Superboy’s face. “I want you to remember what this feels like, Superboy. This is your ultimate fate - to one day die at my hands. Fear it, for this is how you’ll leave this world.”

Lex heaved the rock into the field and stood. He walked to his car and opened the door. He sat behind the wheel and turned the key. The car’s engine roared to life while the workers laughed raucously at the fallen Boy of Steel.

The Thunderbird sped off.

Once Superboy was on his feet the workers quickly dispersed. He took to the air and spotted Lex less than a mile north of Lana’s farm. Lex delivered his message. Now it was time for Superboy to answer with one of his own. He swooped down from the skies and caught up with the speeding convertible. Lex didn’t see him until the Boy of Steel corralled him by the collar and lifted him from the driver’s seat.

“What the hell are you doing?” Lex shrieked. “My car…”

Superboy rose into the air. “It was last year’s model anyway.”

The Thunderbird crashed into a tree and erupted in flames.

“You’ll pay for that!” Lex shouted. “Put me down this instant you cretin!”

Superboy shrugged. “We’re at five thousand feet but if you insist…”

“No, I didn’t mean…” Luthor begged but it was too late.

The Boy of Steel dropped his human cargo and let Lex fall a couple hundred feet before he dived earthward and caught up with his gravity-challenged foe. Lex pawed to reach Superboy but stayed just out of reach as he continued to plummet earthward.

“Your form is all wrong,” said Superboy. “See? I’m flying. What you’re doing is more of a plunge. Maybe if you flapped your arms like a bird.”

The panicked Lex Luthor complied but continued falling. “Catch me, damn you!”

Superboy slapped the heel of his palm against his head. “Oh yeah, silly me! I forgot we aliens are the only ones who can fly! You humans tend to…”

“Just shut up and let me die in peace!” Lex exclaimed.

Superboy grabbed his arm.

Lex hurled a profanity-laced tirade at the Boy of Steel. “What do you hope to achieve with this stunt, you moron?”

Superboy secured Lex in one arm and came to a halt in mid-air. “I want you to remember how that felt!” Superboy replied as he descended through the clouds with Lex in tow.

“You won’t kill me,” said Luthor. “You don’t have it in you!”

Superboy nodded. “You’re right, Lex. I don’t but that helpless feeling you just felt is what it’s like to be at the mercy of another. I made the choice to save you. The people of the flatlands are depending on this plan of yours. If you do them wrong there isn’t a place in this world you can hide. Get me?”

Superboy flew his foe home to the Luthor mansion.

Later That Evening

Lex Luthor cradled the telephone receiver between his shoulder and his ear and dialed the phone. It rang five times before someone answered.

“You’ve got Brambell,” said the gruff voice on the other end. It belonged to Dr. Charles Brambell, one of LexCorps’ most brilliant engineers.

“Dr. Brambell, how are you this fine Wednesday evening?” Lex asked.

“Who is this?” Brambell barked.

For a moment Lex was nine years old again. That’s when Brambell caught him in the robotics lab tinkering with a remote-controlled moon rover. Lex never forgot how Brambell lit into him that day and chased him out of the lab in his father’s presence. “This is Lex Luthor. Your boss.”

Brambell seemed startled to hear Lex’s voice. “Sorry to hear about your old man. He was always good to me, son.”

Lex smiled at the mention of his old man’s demise. “Thank you, sir. He was good to us all.”

“What can I do for you son?” Brambell asked.

Lex scanned the morning headline one more time. “Superboy Stops Flying Menace”. The article went on to describe how the man preyed on the Boy of Steel’s other weakness – his concern for others – to escape. “Do you remember that jetpack my father developed for the military a few years back?”

“I do,” Brambell replied. “What’s this about?”

“What happened to it?” Lex asked.

Brambell coughed in response to Lex’s question. It was the hacking smoker’s cough of a man who enjoyed pipe tobacco for too many years. “That information is classified.”

“Declassify it,” Lex replied.

“I can’t do that,” Brambell answered. “Mr. Luthor’s orders.”

Lex was getting angry but tried not to raise his voice. “I’m the only Mr. Luthor you concern yourself with now, Dr. Brambell. You will answer my question or you can collect your things and return to academia. Is it true you enjoy teaching physics to college beatniks who’d rather be in their dorms having sex and getting high?”

Brambell paused before finally responding. “The military scrapped the program before testing began. Your father took the device to Smallville for testing. That’s the last I saw it.”

“What were its full capabilities?” Lex asked.

“Flight and small weapons fire mostly,” Brambell asked. “A small bomb hold if I recall correctly. Why do you ask?”

Lex smiled. “I want to reopen the program. Only this time let’s not stop there. I want you to design a full-blown war suit that could go toe to toe with Smallville’s resident alien and I have the perfect power source in mind.”

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