by Starsky Hutch 76 and Immortalwildcat
Joey Limpkin was a small-time hood with ambitions of being big-time. Like other hoods, he was on his way to Metropolis to try to strike it rich. He’d loaded the back of his van with mining equipment and planned to mine as much kryptonite as it could carry. Visions of dollar signs danced in his head the entire trip as he pictured himself being courted by all the major crime bosses.
When he arrived at the edge of Metropolis, he was horrified to see every entranceway blocked by members of the National Guard. “Sorry,” a private with a very menacing gun said. “Metropolis is strictly exit-only these days. And that’s without a cargo. So you just turn this van around.”
Joey cursed a blue streak as he turned his van in a one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn as instructed. There had to be a way into Metropolis.
The National Guardsman watched as Joey Limpkin drove off in frustration. “The perimeter is still secure,” he said into a communicator on his collar.
“Good,” a voice on the other end said. “Soon, the world will be ours, and there will be no Superman to stop us. Hail Kobra!”
“Hail Kobra!” the soldier said. He watched smugly as the van faded into the distance.
“This could be a most interesting development. The Detective is hardly a challenge right now, with his beloved Gotham in such a state of chaos — a chaos that I partly began by releasing Gotham City’s entire criminal population not long ago. (*) But he believes me to be dead after that encounter, and the Swamp Thing’s rampage so soon afterward has overshadowed my efforts. (*) Perhaps best to set my sights elsewhere for the time being.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Resurrection Night,” Batman #400 (October, 1986) and “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Swamp Thing v2 #53 (October, 1986).]
“Are you sure that is wise, Father?”
“It is a challenge, my dear. A challenge of a most different kind. Instead of the heart of the Detective, now would be a fortuitous time to battle the power of the Kryptonian.”
Placing aside the computer-generated report on the status of the kryptonite clean-up in Metropolis, Ra’s al Ghul sat back and started to formulate his plans.
Superman flew into the alleyway beside his apartment. Once there, he hit a button on his lead-lined armor, and his appearance changed to that of a sickly Clark Kent.
His gaze drifted across the street to a group of workmen who were busily chiseling away at an enormous chunk of kryptonite with jackhammers. The smaller rocks were loaded onto a dump truck as they were chipped off to be carried away.
“Afternoon, Mr. Kent,” his doorman said, opening the door to the apartment building for him. “Any good news from the doctors?”
“Same old, same old,” Clark Kent said.
“Sorry to hear that, Mr. Kent. Don’t let it get your spirits down.”
“I’ll try not to,” he said. “Thanks.”
To the rest of the world, Clark Kent was simply one of the many people succumbing to sickness, thanks to Argo City being dumped on Metropolis. Until now, no one had realized that kryptonite could even affect Earthlings. But radiation was radiation. Even though this particular brand was normally only lethal to Kryptonians, enough of it could affect anyone. Now it seemed to be aggravating the normally mundane ailments everyone suffered from. And to the usually frail Clark Kent, everyone knew that would be particularly nasty.
“There you are, Clark,” he heard a voice say as he was just about to unlock his front door. He turned to see his neighbor, Clara Boyle, moving toward him carrying a steaming kettle. “It’s so good to see you up and around. I’ve been so worried about you. I never saw you leave your apartment.”
That was because he had left through the window. He didn’t realize his comings and goings were being monitored. He was going to have to be more careful. “I had to see my doctor, Mrs. Boyle,” he told the elderly woman.
“I do hope they can do something for you. So many people are feeling poorly these days. I made you some chicken soup,” she said, handing him the kettle, still warm from the oven range.
“Thank you,” he said, taking it from her. “That’s very thoughtful.”
“Do take care of yourself, Clark,” she said. “You remind me so much of my youngest. He would’ve been your age now if he had survived the war.” She placed her hand on his, and her eyes grew wide with shock.
“Your hand is so cold! If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear I had touched metal!”
Mrs. Boyle looked as if she were about to burst into tears. “A man in your condition has no business being on his feet!”
“I had to see my doctor,” Clark yelped.
“He should have come to see you! It’s disgraceful the way doctors don’t make house-calls anymore! You get in there, have some of my soup, and then get in bed right this instant!” she said, practically shoving him into his apartment.
“Yes ma’am,” Clark said. “I’ll do that. Thank you!” He let out a sigh as he shut the door behind him. Everyone was convinced Clark Kent was dying as it was because of the sick leave he had taken for almost three months now. After they spoke to that well-meaning, lonely old woman, his neighbors would be certain of it.
The ironic thing was that at one time, he really had been deathly ill. If not for Lydia-7 and Kristin Wells, he would have simply been one more dead Kryptonian who had fallen to the curse of Argo City.
Clark pressed the play button on his answering machine to listen to the messages of the day. Most were from concerned friends and relatives of Clark Kent. Cousins that he hadn’t heard from in ages were now calling him, since Metropolis was in the news.
Another call came in, and he started to let the machine anseer it. As the caller began to leave a message, he realized it wouldn’t be as pleasant as the others. It was Morgan Edge, his boss. He sounded particularly angry and demanded to know when he’d be back.
“I’m here,” Clark said, picking up the receiver.
“Decided to stop hiding, did you?” Edge said snidely.
“I’m not hiding, Mr. Edge. I’m sick!” Clark said defensively.
“Half the city’s sick, Kent, but they still manage to make it to work. It’s been almost three months now, and we’re still having to cover for you!”
“My doctors have advised me to rest.”
“Rest? Ha! Half the time I call for you, you’re not there! You’re out gallivanting around!”
“I was asleep. Sleeping. That’s what you do when you’re sick,” Clark said irately.
“Don’t you back-talk me, Kent. I’ve about had it with you and your lackadaisical attitude towards your job. I’m not willing to pay for an anchorman who refuses to get behind the anchor desk.”
Clark let out an aggravated sigh. He couldn’t very well get behind the desk in his lead armor. The incident with Clara Boyle had proved that. His robots were good for short stints but couldn’t very well hold down his job regularly. He wasn’t adept enough to create an android that had the human element like Red Tornado, which would be needed in order to be convincing. Eventually, everyone would see through whatever he did to try to cover up his situation. Something had to give.
“Maybe you should find yourself an anchorman, then, Mr. Edge. I’m a journalist!”
“What?” Edge gasped.
“I’m giving you my resignation.”
“Now look here, Kent! You can’t just–“
“Goodbye, Mr. Edge,” Clark said, hanging up the receiver as he heard a string of profanities coming from the other end. “That actually felt good,” he said to himself.
He picked up his stack of mail and shook his head at the bills. He had used up his sick leave and his vacation and started taking leave without pay. Now that he was going to be unemployed, he was going to need some source of income to pay the bills.
The phone rang again. This time, he answered it rather than letting the machine get it. “Clark Kent.”
“Clark, this is Perry,” the voice on the other end said.
“Oh, hi, Perry,” Clark said with a cough. “What can I do for you?”
“I just heard what happened. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been waiting for you to tell that arrogant S.O.B. off since the day he pulled you away from the paper. I don’t like having my best reporters turned into part-timers.”
“I figured it was time,” Clark said.
“Darn right it was. I just wanted to tell you that you may not be working for Edge anymore, but I still make the decisions on what freelancers we use. If you need work, let me know. Hopefully, all those years smiling pretty behind an anchor desk haven’t made you forget what you know about real journalism.”
“They sure haven’t,” Clark said. “It’ll be good to get back to being a real reporter again. I won’t be able to do it right away, though.”
“I know, son. Unlike Edge, I’m not willing to see you jeopardize your health. Take all the time you need.”
There was a brief pause. “Perry?” Clark said, breaking the silence.
“That’s something else I called to talk to you about: watching my people working for someone like Edge. It really burns me up. The way he treated poor Lana last month was just disgraceful. (*) Frankly, I’m sick and tired of it, and I’m not going to put up with it anymore!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: The Return of Supergirl, Chapter 2: Transitions.]
“What is it you’re saying, Perry?”
“I’m saying I want my paper back, dammit!”
The Daily Planet offices:
“Perry? Call for you on line two.”
“Thanks, Stacy.” Perry White put aside a story he was reviewing, picked up the phone, and stabbed the flashing button on the base. “White here. What can I do for you?”
“Mr. White, my name is Jeff Richardson, and I’m with Nomed Ventures. I would like to set up a meeting with you to discuss a business venture.”
“What sort of deal? I’m just an editor. I’m not one of the money boys. If you’re looking for investment capital, you should contact someone at Galaxy.”
“I think you misunderstand me, Mr. White. We aren’t looking for investors, but rather ventures in which to invest. We have our eyes on a property that we feel would be a good match for our portfolio, but wish to ensure that it will remain valuable. That is what I wish to discuss.”
“What property could I possibly advise you on? The only thing I’ve been involved with for the last thirty-five years is — oh!” Suddenly, it all became clear.
“Yes, Mr. White. We want to buy the Daily Planet.”
Elsewhere, Jeff Richardson hung up the phone after concluding the conversation and turned to face the man standing behind him.
“Was that satisfactory, sir?”
The tall, muscular man with the lined face allowed himself a smile. “Very good, Jeffrey. I am sure Mr. White’s loyalty shall be to the institution and not to Morgan Edge and his corporate dealings.”
Beside him, an exquisitely lovely young woman stood. “I don’t see how this will bring about Superman’s downfall, Father. The Daily Planet is on its last legs, almost ready to be shut down by Edge. How does saving it harm Superman?”
The older man ran a finger down her cheek. “Ah, my sweet Talia, you still have much to learn. What better way to bring despair to the most powerful of men than to build up what he loves, then bring it crashing down around him?”