Superman: Serpent in the Sand, Chapter 1: The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived

by Starsky Hutch 76

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The automatic sound system went off, filling the air with the sound of Puccini’s Tosca, waking Lex Luthor from his slumber. He rose out of the silk sheets of his enormous, imperious bed and stepped onto a hover platform that carried him to a chamber that blasted him with an antiseptic gas, killing any bacteria on his body. After that, he was carried to the sunroom overlooking the bay, where he watched the seagulls as he enjoyed an elaborate breakfast laid out by his robotic servants.

As he sipped his coffee from a priceless antique china mug that had once belonged to Louis XIV, his chief henchman Louto Malono walked in. “Morning, Mr. Loo-thor!” Louto said.

You seem to be in a good mood,” Luthor remarked, looking up from the financial page of his newspaper. “I take it that new arm is working out for you.”

“Yeah,” Louto said, moving the hand of his left arm, which was now indistinguishable from the right one. “It’s nice-looking normal again and all now, but I’m gonna miss all that power.”

“I was tired of you breaking the furniture,” Luthor said, poking at his eggs benedict with a sterling silver fork. “If we know of a big battle that is coming up, we can always adjust the power levels. In the meantime, enjoy life as a normal man. Go dancing without the fear of crushing your partner.”

“That does sound nice,” Louto said, thinking of how long it had been since he had last enjoyed the company of a woman.

Luthor sat down his fork. “Speaking of dancing, it’s time for training. Care for a sparring session, Louto?”

“No offense, Mr. Loo-thor, but even though I ain’t near as sharp as you, I’m smart enough to know not to take you on without my old arm.”

“Fair enough,” Luthor laughed.

Lex Luthor entered a large room, took down a quarter staff, and walked over to a control panel. “Hmm. Who will it be today? Alexander the Great? Genghis… no, make that Kublai Khan.” He hit a few buttons, and the large, armored Mongol warrior appeared in the center of the room. The two men looked at each other menacingly. Both let out a battle cry and then charged.

After a hard-fought victory, Luthor said in a loud, commanding voice, “Computer, end session,” and the fallen form of Kublai Khan disappeared. A scratched and bruised Lex Luthor entered the locker room. He walked over to a large device, laid down on the bench, and pressed a button with a large red cross on it. Two robotic arms appeared from two openings beneath the bench. At the end of these arms were sensors that traveled over him, looking for any injuries. Whenever it would come across a cut or a bruise, a ray would shoot out of a small turret and cause the damaged cells to regenerate and the wound to heal.

After he was finished, he walked over to a large metal frame located in the center of the room. From the inside of this frame drooped a series of cables with electrodes on each end. One by one, he methodically placed an electrode on each muscle of his body, one by one. After he was finished, he pressed a button, and a series of electric charges went from one muscle to the next, back and forth several times. In a matter of minutes, he had experienced the equivalent of a four-hour workout.

There had been a time when he had focused solely on his mental prowess to the neglect of his physical form. He had even allowed himself to get fat in his early twenties, which made him look much older than his years. He had come to realize, though, that his brain worked far better if housed in a healthy body, and since then he had made a point of always being in the peak of physical conditioning. In the last fifteen years, he had gone from being nearly obese to the pinnacle of human performance. As he admired himself in the large mirror sitting behind the locker room vanity, he thought to himself that the only other non-super-powered human who could boast of reaching the level of perfection he had was Batman himself.

Luthor ran a proud hand over his bald scalp, and his mouth suddenly twitched down in an irritated frown. Looking into the mirror, he reached down, picked a pair of tweezers off the counter, and plucked a small, solitary hair from his scalp, an action that would shock anyone who had heard the story of how Superman had caused his baldness when they were both teenagers. A stray hair here or there was hardly a long, flowing mane, though. Plus, as germ-conscious as he was these days, he might’ve been just as likely to shave it all off. He had also come to appreciate the perfect symmetry of his unadorned dome.

When he looked deep into himself, he was also confronted with the real reason he hated Superman. It wasn’t the baldness, which a man of his genius could easily cure. He had at least a hundred possible cures he could patent and make a mint from, if he so desired. It wasn’t even the tragedy of the destruction of Lexor. He had the entity that had possessed his armor to thank for that. It was that Superman, by his very existence, cheated him of his rightful place as the greatest man who had ever lived. That was something he could not forgive. The damnable Kryptonian had no place being on Earth taking the role that he, a natural-born human, had been born for.

After the workout, it was off to the robotic masseuse to work out the kinks. When he was done, he donned his cashmere robe and headed to an opulent den and sat down in his recliner to watch the news.

With one hand, he grabbed a protein shake as it rose out of a platform in the armrest. With the other, he lifted the remote control to switch on the television that took up the full expanse of the wall opposite him. What he saw when the television came on caused him to choke on his shake and send it spraying forward. On the screen, live and life-sized, was Kobra — a man he hated as much, if not more now, than Superman.

“Yes, it was my pleasure to assist in the liberation of Kahndaq,” the image of Kobra said, answering a question from a reporter that Luthor had missed.

“So this wasn’t conquest?” a reporter asked.

“Certainly not,” Kobra said. “I have with me the leader of the Kahndaqi Liberation Front. He will attessst to that fact.”

A man, slightly less tall than Kobra and clad in a khaki-colored military uniform with an armband bearing the Kobra insignia, rose from his chair behind and to the left of him and stepped forward. “What he says is true,” the young man said. “For years, we asked the U.N. for help as our children were forced to work in factories, as our fathers and brothers disappeared in the night for complaining, as our sisters and mothers were threatened with rape and torture to force our cooperation. For years, we begged the great United States and the huge and powerful USSR to come to our aid. Our pleas were unanswered, and all the nations of the world turned a deaf ear to our cries for help, because we had nothing in return to give. Only the Naja-Naja came, and he expected nothing in return.”

“Yeah, right,” Luthor said through gritted teeth as he watched.

“The Naja-Naja did not ask to be our leader,” he continued. “We asked him. We have already gained so much from him, but we know he has so much more to offer for those who are willing to accept. The people of Kahndaq are both ready and willing.”

This set a murmur of discussion among the reporters. One stood up. “You mean to say you’ve made an international criminal the new leader of your nation? You would just turn it over? Just like that?”

“How dare you?!” the former rebel leader exclaimed, looking as if he could barely contain himself from lunging at the reporter.

Kobra sat a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. “Thisss is a common prejudice among you westerners. You look at my ceremonial garments and label me a sssuper-villain when my beliefs and yours don’t see eye to eye. Sssomehow, your Pope manages to avoid the same label, even though his own ceremonial garb is equally ostentatious, and he drives something called the Pope-mobile.” This created a peel of laughter from the throng of reporters that made Luthor sick to his stomach.

“Perhaps, then, the distinction is that all these other faiths that are accepted as real churches all have their own holy lands to give them credibility. Catholicism has Vatican City. Islam has its Mecca. And Judaism has Jerusalem and the land of Israel. Well, now that the good and righteous people of this land have embraced me, Kobra has Kahndaq.”

This sent another round of murmurs through the throng of reporters. Many of them were scribbling furiously in their notepads, making sure that they got that quote. Luthor leaned back and exhaled loudly through his nose in anger and irritation.

“Before anyone tries to accuse Kobra of exploiting these people,” Kobra said, raising his hand for silence, “let me tell you all what has happened since we have come to Kahndaq.”

On the large screen behind Kobra, an image of Kahndaqi children chained to machines appeared. “Under General Kuffar’s reign, the chief industry — cheap, plentiful, and easily exploitable — was also, unfortunately, its most innocent and defenseless.” A murmur of horror moved through the crowd.

The slide changed to show robots operating fully automated industrial machines. “Now, all of these jobs are performed by robotic devices. And let me assure you, everyone running these devices is over eighteen. The children of Kahndaq are now in school where they belong.” A slide came on showing classrooms full of children being taught by a teacher who wore an armband bearing a Kobra insignia. “We’ve managed to retain many of Kuffar’s old contracts, as well. You would be surprised at the number of western corporations who did business with the old regime and now would rather that knowledge not be made public.” Again, a murmur of interest moved through the crowd.

The head of the resistance stepped forward once more. “As great as these things are, the Naja-Naja is being too modest. Since he has come to our land, he has performed feats that can only be described as miraculous.” An image came onto the screen of a barren desert. “Much of Kahndaq looked this way at one time,” he said. “But that was before the Naja-Naja.”

The screen changed to show an image of the same land, but now it was filled with lush grass, trees, flowers, and fields of fruits and vegetables. In the midst of this was Kobra, arms upraised, as he led an amazed throng of Kahndaqis.

The image then changed to show rows of cots filled with the sick and dying. “Before, many of Kahndaq’s citizenry were felled by illnesses that would seem harmless to you westerners if they even still existed in your lands. Here, they were still considered a deadly reality, I assure you. Treatment for such things, unfortunately, was a privilege reserved for the rich.” He waited a few minutes for his words to sink in as the reporters grimaced and stirred uneasily in their chairs at the images of suffering. “But that was before the Naja-Naja came.”

The image switched to Kobra standing before the sickbed of a child afflicted with leprosy. The images switched quickly, one by one, in a stop-motion fashion, showing as Kobra laid his hand upon the child’s forehead, and the many sores began to fade away. The child opened his eyes and smiled up at Kobra.

A round of applause started slowly and then grew. Above the applause, the former resistance leader said, “To you, Kobra may have once have been considered a criminal, as so many great men were in their time. But thanks to the many miracles he has performed here, we in Kahndaq know him to be, in fact, the greatest man who ever lived.”

This was too much for Luthor to bear. He let out a scream of rage and threw his glass at the enormous television. It bounced harmlessly off the screen. He had long since learned to proof his homes against his fiery temper, especially in light of how often Superman was in the news.

“Those were my miracles! My miracles!” Luthor screamed at the image of the former resistance leader. “You want the greatest man who ever lived? He’s standing right here!

Luthor recognized Lexorian science when he saw it. Kobra had stolen the secrets of that lost world from him when he had taken Black Island two years ago, and now he was using them to set himself up as a messiah in Kahndaq. (*) Well, Lex Luthor would make sure that his was a short reign. And this was one messiah who wouldn’t be rising from the dead.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman: Kryptonite City.]

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