Years of wonder and terror came and went, years of multi-media and future shock. Of Camelot and War of Attrition. Men walked on the Moon, and women marched in the streets. Economic and social institutions fell with the sounds of rolling thunder, and self-proclaimed prophets rode private jets to preach of an end to material values. Cities of silver towers raked at the sky like wire hairbrushes and ancient lakes went stagnant and dead and the world was afflicted with a hero.
Among the monoliths in the city of Metropolis stood the Galaxy Building, housing a communications network that reached a greater percentage of the world's population than any spoken or written word since the Voice of God told Adam it was time to wake up on the morning of the sixth day. Here in Metropolis were the theaters and the film companies, the advertising agencies, the publishers, the design and garment manufacturing centers, the think tanks and universities, the ideas, the energy, the vitality that drew young men and women from thousands of miles around to grab at a piece of their own particular dream. One of the young men who came to Metropolis was Clark Kent of Smallville, to study journalism at Metropolis University, to land a staff reporter's job at the Daily Planet and later to become local news anchorman at WGBS, the flagship television station of the Galaxy Broadcasting System. The bespectacled Kent was tall, dark, and inoffensively handsome. His face could be broadcast to millions of viewers each day, and he could walk through midtown crowds without being recognized by a living soul.
Morgan Edge, the president of Galaxy Communications and wunderkind of the network television industry, "discovered" Clark Kent when Galaxy bought the Daily Planet. Edge reassigned Kent to television news and it was not until two years later that it occurred to the executive that newspaper experience made Kent capable of doing more than reading aloud the words written by someone else. So besides being anchorman of the local evening news, Kent was associate producer of the show. This made it his responsibility to see that available reporters and crews were assigned to the right stories and to decide what news was to be covered in the daily hour-long broadcast. It also meant that Kent had to be in the newsroom before anyone else, going over newswires and trying to figure out in mid-morning what the news would be by the end of the day.
"Hey, Clarkie, what's news?" Steve Lombard, the sports broadcaster and former first-string quarterback for the Metropolis Astros, lumbered into a newsroom full of clicking wire service receivers and clacking typewriters. "Get it? What's news? Ain't anybody got a sense of humor around here?"
"Good morning, Steve." Clark smiled as he tried to figure out whether he should eliminate a story about a twelve-year-old girl swimming across Long Island Sound in favor of a nineteen-year-old engineering student who had equipped a Volkswagen to run on twelve storage batteries instead of gasoline.
"Ah, good old conscientious, punctual, enterprising, dull Clarkie. Can't you say anything besides 'good morning'?"
"Nice day, isn't it?" The engineering student had a distracting tic when he talked. Clark decided that for television the little girl was more newsworthy.
"Same old faces around here," Lombard muttered. "Same old routine. Boyoboy, when they told me I was gonna be on the tube every day, I figured the chicks'd be climbing the walls like King Kong to get next to me."
"Well, I 'spose they are. But there's something missing, know what I mean, Clarkie?"
"What do you mean, Steve? Love? Affection? The sort of thing that makes lasting relationships, right?"
"No, I got all that. Maybe I should grow a mustache."
"What've you got lined up for your spot today, Steve? Isn't this the day you do an on-the-air interview with Pelé?"
"Yeah, hey, hey!" Steve cuffed Clark on the shoulder, and Clark fell back clumsily, more out of concern for Steve's hand than anything else. "Guy can sure kick that soccer sucker, hey, Clark? Get it?"
"He'll be here about four-thirty. Great guy. Had a Bloody Mary with the dude last night at the Ground Floor."
"He broke training?"
"Nah, the season ended last month. You gotta keep up with the news, man. This waitress—y'know, Maureen, the one with all those low-cut drinks—she kept coming on to him, y'know, just to be nice 'cause he's a friend of mine."
"Couldn't be she liked him, could it?"
"Sure she liked him."
"How do you know?"
"She told me when I dropped her off at work this morning. Why's the place so dead today?"
"Had to send a lot of crews on the road."
"Slow news day in town, eh? 'Smatter, old Musclehead ain't helped any old ladies across the street with super-breath lately?"
"I guess there hasn't been anything spectacular for him to do the past few days. Maybe he's worried about Luthor's escape last week."
"Luthor, huh? He's been in the headlines since he broke out again and nobody's seen hide nor hair of him. Pretty hard to see a hair of him. Get it?"
"As long as the FBI issues statements that they expect an arrest within twenty-four hours, we've got something to say about him."
"Ah, that bald fruit's not human. Third time he's broken out this year, ain't it?"
"Fourth, if you count last New Year's Eve."
"Everyone knows the FBI's not in Luthor's league. We're just waiting for another showdown between Baldy and the Super-guy, right?"
"I suppose, but Superman doesn't issue a press release every day, so we go with what we've got."
The people of Metropolis were secure enough in their big-city provincialism to look up when they heard the high-pitched wind-tunnel sound in the sky no more often than they looked at the tops of the buildings around them. But there were still the tourists on the crowded streets who responded when some lunkhead yelled, "Look! Up in the sky!" Someone would always answer, "It's a bird!" and then a few people would yell, "It's a plane!" and in a boom of voices that was more often than not louder than the whistling wind in the sky, "It's Superman!" Then again, few were the natives who had been out of town for some days who did not find themselves joining in the chant and then swelling with territorial pride under their button-down collars.
Superman was a public phenomenon without precedent. No other public figure, even in the golden age of monarchy, ever so excited people's imaginations almost from the time of his birth. From the fanciful reports of a flying baby in a red-and-blue playsuit twenty and thirty years ago, to the public appearance of a teenaged Superboy from a lost planet, to the conferring of international citizenship on Superman by the United Nations years ago, this alien had become the most famous man on Earth. If a news show had lots of Superman film, it became popular. If a magazine had him on the cover, it outsold everything else competing for rack space. If he made a public appearance, the locals talked about it for years.
Children played in imitations of his red cape. He made skin-tight outfits, especially in red and blue, a recurrent fashion among men not generally given to fads. The symbol he wore on his chest, a stylized S in a symmetrical irregular pentagon, was the most widely recognized trademark in the world. His crusade against crime, his awesome feats to minimize natural and man-made disasters, inspired millions of people to enter crime prevention, conservation, medical research, and similar fields. He could fly under his own power, he was strong enough to juggle planetoids, indestructible enough to take a steam bath at the core of a star, and he had the ability to see through most solid objects and to hear for unlimited distances. No other human could do what Superman could do. Every other human aspired to be him. He brought with him the birth of an age of humanitarianism on Earth; he reawakened the hope for peace. There were those who said there was a dark side to his presence, as well.
By lunchtime Clark Kent's blackboard in the WGBS newsroom was nearly filled with assignments. Tricia Felins was downtown with an auricon crew filming a piece on the safety of schoolyard playgrounds in the city. Johnny Greene was covering the Mayor's press conference on drug rehabilitation programs. The mayor was bucking for a Senate nomination and Greene was bucking for a post as the new Senator's press secretary. Jimmy Olsen was sixty miles away with a videotape crew at Princeton University's Institute for Advanced Studies, covering the opening of hitherto unseen documents left in a vault nearly thirty years ago by the late Professor Albert Einstein. Being processed in the lab was a three-minute "Plan Sport" feature about how to cope with an indoor coleus that grew big enough to take over the room. Already in the can was a special six-minute film in Cathi Thomas's series on the artists who were living in the converted lofts of an area of Metropolis that was once a crime-ridden eyesore. Three young reporters were running up enormous phone bills double-checking the authenticity of the hard news coming in from around the world via Associated Press and United Press International. Oscar Asherman was on the Galaxy Building roof playing with his barometers and anemometers like a child fascinated with an Erector set. Steve Lombard was in a corner, feigning ignorance of the English language in order to have an excuse to enlist Janet Terry, fresh as peaches out of Columbia School of Journalism, to help him on copy to accompany sports footage. By lunchtime Clark Kent's daily wrestling match with the WGBS 6 O'Clock Evening News was largely won, and Lois Lane was on her way up from the sixth-floor offices of the Daily Planet for their lunch date.
The bell rang twice on the Associated Press wire, not enough to cut into programming with a bulletin, but significant enough for the associate producer of the city's major local news show to get up from his typewriter and see what was up. As Clark held up the rolling yellow sheet of paper and watched the story type itself out he saw Lois step out of his office down the hall and he waved at her.
"Hey, Clarkie, what's popping?" came the voice from the same direction as another swat to his shoulder. "Well well well, willya look at who's prancing down the hall dressed to stop a convoy. Heavy lunch hour, Clark?"
"Oh, Lois? Guess so." Lombard seemed to smell the lady approaching at three o'clock out of a cloud like a World War I ace. "Weren't you showing that new girl Janet how to write film, Steve?"
"She'll be all right in the editing room. She's a fast learner. Hel-loooo, Lois."
"How's it hanging, Grizzly?" Lois stepped in the hallway door. "What're we doing for lunch, Clark?"
"Oh, I thought maybe Patty and Brew or—"
"Yeah, Clarkie." Lombard tried hard to look as genial as a hibernating polar bear. "What're we doing for lunch? Taking a Lear jet to Paris for hors d'oeuvres? Morocco for beef curry? Dessert in New Orleans?"
"Get off it, Grizzly. You know the last time Clark had a comeback for a one-liner he fell of his moa."
"Lois! Isn't anyone on my side?" Clark's exclamation was only in his words. He seemed never to rise above a conversational tone or a walking speed.
Steve Lombard was another matter. Lois had long ago stopped feeling guilty about the amusement she felt when she watched the two men together. She realized that there was no point in feeling guilty because Steve seemed, under it all, quite as incompetent as Clark at human interaction.
Like now, for example, she allowed a creamy grin as Steve waved a hand, talking and trying to distract her and Clark, as he used the other hand to slip the corner of Clark's jacket—it apparently never occurred to Clark to take off the jacket indoors—into the roller from which the two-alarm story was emerging. What would happen next, Lois thought, was that as Steve tried to turn the crank, pulling Clark's jacket into the machine and making him look stupid, a fire bell would ring and Clark would jump away in time, or a light fixture would fall on Steve's head, or the big boss Mr. Edge would walk in and yell at Steve for horsing around or—
As Steve leaned back to yank at the handle and mangle Clark's suit, the crank picked that moment to fall off in Steve's hand and leverage left the quarterback sprawled on the floor in a pile of discarded wire copy. Unflappable, Clark Kent ripped off the current message, about a swarm of hang gliders seen approaching from the outskirts of the city, and dropped it on Steve's face.
"Gotta go eat, Steve. Would you have somebody check out this story while I'm gone?"
"Nuts!" The sportscaster flew to his feet and down the hall ahead of Clark and Lois. He bumped into a cute young copy girl on her way to the newsroom and snarled, "Who're you?"
"Laila. Laila Herstol, I—"
"Shouldn't be working on your lunch hour. My treat."
"Really? Sure, Mr. Lombard."
"Look at him, Clark. One after the other. You think he collects scalps, or puts notches in his shoulder pads or something?"
"Don't know, Lois, but someday he's liable to injure himself."
What no one had noticed was that the crank of the Associated Press ticker had not broken. It had melted. Clark would cover up the fact the first chance he got.
Patty and Brew was a quickie lunch spot half a step over McDonald's and Burger King in exclusiveness. Both male and female heads turned Lois's way as the pair walked the block to the restaurant. There was no denying the lady's striking appearance, and it went well with her brisk, almost manly stride. She had been on the talk show circuit for years plugging one book or another, and then there was the perennial gossip about her and Superman. Hardly anyone who looked noticed she was with a man, much less that the man was Kent. She was the show on this block.
That was, until a faint whooshing sound came from the sky. Pedestrians froze, and traffic slowed, as people craned their necks looking for a red-and-blue streak. But what they heard was the distant beating of police helicopters and what they saw were half a dozen of what appeared to be hang gliders, propelled by tiny jet engines and rotors. One of the gliders left formation and hovered over the Metro National Bank and almost instantly a low-pitched rumble shook the ground.
"Luthor!" Clark spat.
"What?" Lois said. "What are those things?"
"High-pitched sound coming from devices in the gliders. Probably at exactly the pitch that will shatter tempered steel. As in bank vaults."
"What? Clark, how do you know all that?"
"My nose for news."
"Is there a cliché you haven't hit yet today?"
"Look, Lois. You stay and watch what happens. Take notes. I've got to get a film crew on the roof for the show, anyway, so I'll let Perry know you're covering the story for the paper."
"Oh, no, Clark Kent. You've stepped on enough of my bylines, and the old man would hop at the chance to get your name over a front-page story. I'll call my editor myself, thanks." Lois elbowed her way into the restaurant and its public telephone.
By the time Clark had had the chance to smile at his own cleverness he slid into the lobby of a building that was emptying quickly. Once he found a corner safely away from onlookers he moved faster than any eye could follow. The glasses, the blue jacket and pants, the tie, shirt, and shoes peeled away in a twinkling. A curl of blue-black hair dropped over his forehead.
And for no more than another instant there stood the most powerful man on Earth.
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