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Chapter 35

His voice was rich and authoritative; his face inspired trust, a symbol of honor and justice even to those who had made themselves his adversaries.  Superman was certainly the most suitable host possible for this particular worldwide multilingual broadcast.

"When I snap my fingers it is your signal that I have finished my message.  You will then slip from this hypnotic state into normal sleep.  You will nap until you feel rested and you will remember only that part of these experiences about which you feel comfortable.  When you wake up you will do so freely and easily and you will feel fine about everything that has happened today, you will have no lingering effects from these events.  I will count down from three and snap my fingers.  Three, two, one . . ."

"I appreciate the help, Lex.  Really," the Kryptonian said as Luthor shut down the color television camera.  The lately pardoned felon served as engineer and technical adviser, combining his knowledge of broadcast hardware with Superman's computer-like mind to reconstruct Towbee's massive communications network in less than an hour so that the hero could address the dazed media employees around the Earth.  The two would make their peace with the unions later.

"Say no more, Noodles.  See you around."

"You going somewhere?"

"No, actually I thought I'd wait around here for the world to wake up so some rookie cop could give me a ticket for double-parking my star cruiser."

"You've got a full Presidential pardon now.  What are you going to do with it?"

"I'm planning on settling down, getting a house in the suburbs, joining the Rotary and the PTA.  How should I know what I'm going to do?"

"There must be something on your mind."

"Right now I'm going to get that contraption off the roof and back to the Modern Art Museum where it belongs when it's not flying through space.  What should I be doing?"

"Well, there is the Einstein document that's still not accounted for.  I suppose I'll have to go back to Oric and look for it."

"Listen, standing around shooting the breeze with you is my second favorite pastime, but those technicians all over the studio floor are starting to come out of their trances and your reporter friend Kent is liable to turn up here any minute and I don't feel like granting any interviews just now.  I'll take the elevator to the roof."

"I'll drop you."  Superman swept the scientist off his feet and before he could catch a cold Luthor found himself standing in front of his arachnoid spacecraft.  "What's first?" Superman asked.


"You told me your second favorite pastime.  What's first?"

"Having an unclean yak sit on my dinner."

"Johnny Carson, 1967."

"Right.  I forgot about your total recall.  Well, see you around, physical one."

"Can I give the Black Widow a boost?"

"No, I'll just roll it off the rooftop.  It's got enough energy stored up to get back to the museum courtyard on its own.  Bye."

"Sure you're not up to getting that document back from Oric?  Philistine hands, you called them, didn't you?"

"I've had enough of that alien nonsense for a while.  There's probably nothing much the old fiddler could've said I don't already know, anyhow.  That stuff the Master thought about Einstein's finding a way to trisect an angle is a lot of hokum.  I'll be going now."

"Have a good trip," Superman said and stood there as if expecting something.

Luthor thought of asking him if he's leaving or posing for the pigeons, but he didn't pursue it.  Luthor opened the dome of the Black Widow's bubble, climbed in, and as he began closing the dome Superman hopped off the side of the building and vanished from sight.

The Black Widow needed only a few seconds to warm up.  Luthor raised the sails and soaked solar energy before he pulled them back in, rolled the arms tightly against the bubble and shifted his own weight inside so that the mechanism rolled over and tumbled toward the edge of the roof and off.  Less than halfway down the side of the 70-story building, while the sails were still unfurling, the vehicle stopped itself, started upward and instead of continuing to rise, froze motionless 350 feet over Governor's Plaza.

Luthor pressed buttons.  Turned dials.  Took readings.  He threw open the dome of the bubble and leaped out, jet boots hissing his anger, as he flew at the huge red-and-blue-costumed figure holding the craft over his head like Atlas supporting the world.

"What the flying moonballs do you think you're doing?" Luthor said it in under half a second.

"Taking you in.  Sorry old man."

"This is private property, Creepo.  Get your filthy ,alien mitts off it.  I'm a citizen now.  I've got rights."

"Don't huff at me, Luthor.  The document is stashed in its lead case in the pillow under your pilot seat.  The same pillow I was lying on in my interrogation cell on Oric.  I've known that since you landed.  I also figured out on the way back to Earth that what the Master wanted from me was the knowledge of the written Kryptonese language, the language in which Einstein wrote that letter.  I figured that out from the dreams I had when I was under interrogation.  I also figured out that you knew that from the inquiries you made of your robot computer.  I've been giving you the benefit of the doubt all this time, hoping you'd break down and give it back."

"So you've got me on a charge the pardon didn't cover.  You have more smarts than I gave you credit for."

"I always did.  That's where you've generally gone wrong."

"Well, I'm not going to go wrong this time—"  Luthor poised a fisted right glove in Superman's direction, about to press the button on the second knuckle to unleash whatever fearsome weapon it controlled.

"Hold it, Luthor.  Let's reason this out."

"Talk fast, hero."

"We're hovering here a few hundred feet over the city," Superman said no faster than he felt like talking.  "You've got more crazy gadgets lining your outfit than a stage magician, and I don't know what most of them are.  On top of that, I'm holding this flier of yours with both hands and I'll be careful of it because it will be necessary as evidence.  On the other hand, I've still got my super powers and they've always been able to defeat you one-on-one before.  On the basis of that alone, I'll be liberal and give you an even chance of winning out over me.  Agreed?"

"So far."

"Now, add to that the fact that I'm pretty much still flushed with a victory over a would-be despot whose coming was apparently foretold eight billion years ago.  I just knocked off the prediction of a guy who's had a perfect win-loss record since the beginning of recorded time.  Unless you suppose I'm going to let a mere mortal with a funny costume that isn't even as good as mine ruin my day, I suggest you forget the bravado and give yourself up."

In the final analysis Lex Luthor was, after all, a creature of reason, not heroics.  Superman had some hope that the brilliant scientist would wait at the Pocantico State Correctional Facility until his trial for the relatively minor crime of concealing the document.  With the hero's testimony a case could probably be made that this was a crime of passion, the theft of an artifact from the life of an idol and not a cold-blooded criminal act.

But Luthor would not stand still waiting for any court proceedings.  Within the familiar confines of prison, the familiar behavior patterns would find their way home.



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