TAC Table of Contents
Author’s Note: Many thanks to Brad Shey for devoting so much time and effort into putting several of the images within this story together.
His cousin, Happy King, had been dead for two years now. A lord of the criminal underworld within Metropolis before being driven out by Superman, Happy King had tried to retake his place by killing the Man of Steel, but had failed. His failure was then followed by his death, which was in itself peculiar.
Stanley had a feeling Superman was responsible, especially after he made a few discoveries about his cousin’s efforts in destroying the alien. Happy had met up with an ingenious scientist in Europe, named Meldini, who had synthesized something that could harm and eventually kill Superman. Oh, at first he didn’t believe the notes he had found, but then he came across the photo taken of Superman in a test they had conducted. He had reacted to a bullet containing an element found only in special meteorites. Rocks, Meldini theorized, that had come from Superman’s home planet, Krypton.
That was the key. But Stanley wanted to go a step further.
He didn’t want to make the same mistake his cousin had made.
He wanted to guarantee his success, particularly where it came to Superman’s demise.
So he found a gifted scientist and gently steered the naive mind into crafting something for him. Oh, at first the man went along with it — working with a tiny shard of meteorite and exposing fungi samples with it, but then he began asking questions.
What was this for? What did he hope to gain from this?
He was able to satisfy the scientist’s curiosity for a time, telling him it was to better understand how microorganisms behave and change, as work toward the polio vaccine was making progress and such knowledge may help lead to a breakthrough that would hopefully bring about the end of the crippling disease for good, but then Stanley had to get serious and start threatening people.
It was a shame, really. He had hoped to keep the scientist around, but it seemed that he would have to go when his plans were carried out.
When Metropolis was his.
O o O
It had become an annual event in Metropolis — the Spring Festival.
People from miles away would come and partake in the fun and many would take advantage of the hordes of people by displaying their merchandise and offering up samples for passersby to peruse. Children and the young at heart would enjoy carnival games and activities and eat loads of popcorn and cotton candy.
However, perhaps the most exciting part of it all involved Metropolis’ most beloved adopted son.
Lois looked up with those around her, beaming as Superman flew overhead and landed at the base of a platform. Hundreds of people cheered as he waved before going up and shaking hands with Metropolis’ Mayor.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Superman,” the new Mayor greeted.
Superman smiled, but before he could reply, the Mayor motioned toward the crowd.
“Let us welcome Superman to this year’s Spring Festival!” he declared, which resulted in the people cheering once more.
Lois smiled as the Mayor prattled on, welcoming Superman and thanking him for his attendance. Superman took it all in stride, stating he had enjoyed all the previous festivals he had been to and that he knew this year would be no different. With the pleasantries out of the way, the mayor beckoned Superman to enjoy what the festival had to offer while gently reminding everyone that Superman would be providing autographs and other such things for donations to a local hospital charity.
Jimmy hurried forward and took a few pictures as Superman stepped off the platform and into the thrilled masses. In years past, the Spring Festival always filled the front page of the Daily Planet the following day. Lois knew this year would be the same.
“Hello, Jimmy,” Superman greeted as Jimmy continued clicking away.
“Hello, Superman. What are you going to do first?” he asked as people around stared up in awe at the hero.
“I was thinking of playing a few games,” Superman said, before heading toward the booths where traditional carnival challenges were set up, such as the ring toss, balloon dart throw, and rope ladder climb.
Understandably, people were eager to see how he would do with all the games, and they were not disappointed.
Rings landed perfectly around bottles, darts nailed balloons, and the rope ladder was no challenge. Every game he played, he gave the prize to a child who happened to be close by and it was clear Superman was enjoying it all as much as those around him. His smile and laugh was infectious.
The last game, High Striker, was easily the favorite of the crowd. Forgoing the hammer, Superman simply tapped the pad with his forefinger and launched the puck into the bell with ease.
“Jeepers!” Jimmy exclaimed. “I imagine you would have broken the bell off if you had used the hammer!”
Superman laughed. “Yes, probably.”
“Try this! Homemade jerky!” someone said from a booth providing free samples.
Neighboring booths handed out samples of their own, including a flower booth across from a row of activity booths which included face painting and a new invention called ‘water grenades’—small latex bags for water fun. Encouraged by the man handing the harmless ammunition out behind the booth, children threw them about. One sailed over Superman’s head and struck Jimmy’s shoulder. It exploded on impact.
“Hey!” Jimmy shouted, surprised.
“Sorry,” one of the children quickly said, looking hesitantly at Superman. But the boy needn’t have worried, for Superman was unable to refrain from chuckling soon after.
“Go on, Jimmy. I think it’d be fair for you to return fire,” Lois advised, amused.
Lois held out her hand for Jimmy’s camera.
Jimmy looked at the assembled children. “You know, I think I will,” he agreed, before joining in the rekindled melee.
While Jimmy focused on getting some revenge, Superman and Lois continued down to the other booths. Superman made sure to give equal attention to those advertising their products and knew he had to be careful about not showing too much or too little interest. He didn’t want to be responsible for ending someone’s livelihood, as, for good or ill, his opinion held a great deal of weight to the general public.
“Sample perfumes or cologne! No matter the occasion, we can provide. Ornate but subtle? We have it. Gentle but memorable? Certainly. It’s perfect for an evening party!” a young woman said, walking down the path and lightly puffing the fragrance about.
Superman began to turn just as they passed and seemingly by accident received a full puff of perfume to the face.
With little warning, Superman barely had time to cover his mouth as—
“Achoo!” He sneezed, fortunately preventing the damage he would likely have caused had he not covered his mouth.
“Oh! Superman! I’m sorry. I hadn’t intended to do that!” the lady apologized profusely, her short black hair bobbing at her shoulders.
“Quite alright, ma’am. No harm done,” he said easily.
Embarrassed, she nodded before hurrying on.
Lois looked at Superman, confused.
“Superman, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you sneeze before. Bless you, by the way,” she said.
“Thank you,” he said, looking a little confused himself before smiling at her. “I’ll admit I don’t sneeze often, but even my nose can be tickled by things from time to time.”
She hummed in thought. “I see,” she said, before Jimmy returned with some children.
They were all soaked and were no longer interested in continuing the water fight; they were interested in gathering around Superman, however.
“Alright, who wants to be thrown into the air first?” he asked.
They all jumped and waved their hands, thrilled. So, one by one he tossed them high into the air and caught them before giving the next child a turn.
With his camera back in his hands, Jimmy was quick to capture the scene as adults around turned to watch, enjoying the moment as much as the children.
O o O
Andrew Hamilton sighed as he glared at the wide but short and unreachable window that lined the top portion of wall in his prison.
He had been trapped for at least 6 months in a large room in the basement of a house on the coast, the house on 3420 Ocean Drive to be exact—not that knowing did him any good. He wasn’t sure on the date because he had lost track of time not long after being sealed in, but he knew it had been a while because he had noticed the seasons had changed.
Oh, he had been so naive! He had believed he had been helping mankind. But now he was sure he wasn’t helping to bring about cures to fatal diseases at all—as for what his work was being used for, he had no idea.
It was all so confusing because none of it made sense.
What he had created wasn’t contagious or deadly to people — at least healthy ones or ones with access to medicine — but he couldn’t shake the feeling that Stanley was going to do something horrible with it.
The reason why he thought that (his captivity not withstanding) was because of what information Stanley had demanded from him the week before after getting the final samples.
How long does it take for a substantial amount of growth to take place for each sample?
If someone were to get ill, as unlikely as that is, how long would they have without treatment?
Such questions did not bode well.
O o O
Clark leaned back in his chair, just having finished writing up his most recent article.
The days following the Spring Festival were uneventful and there hadn’t been any jobs for Superman. It was actually quite a relaxing week. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last.
“Mr. Kent,” Jimmy said, announcing himself as he opened his office door. He looked uneasy.
“What is it, Jimmy?” Clark asked.
“Uh, someone from Smallville called and left a message for you. A Dr. Talbert. Your mother fell and is in the hospital. That’s all they said.”
Clark jolted up from his chair. “Thank you, Jimmy. Can you tell Mr. White—”
“Already done, Mr. Kent. He’s given you three days. He said to tell you to call if you need more.”
“Thank you, Jimmy.”
And with that, he ran out.
O o O
Lois headed toward Perry White’s office. She had finished her article and wanted to know what was next, especially as Clark would be returning later that day.
His mother had fallen down the stairs in her farmhouse and had suffered a minor concussion. Miraculously, there had been no broken bones, but she had been knocked unconscious in the fall. Clark had called a day later to inform them he would be staying with his mother for the weekend and would return Monday. Lois was glad to hear his mother would make a complete recovery. She had never met her, but knowing she had helped raise Clark was just another reason to be thankful that she was alright.
Lois stepped into the office just as Mr. White hung up the phone, appearing disturbed.
“Chief?” she asked.
“The Mayor just called. Someone is threatening to set off hidden bombs throughout the city unless ten million dollars is delivered to an international account — disclosed to the Mayor — by 3 pm today. He’s ordered the police department to begin a systematic search of the city, but there is no way they will be able to search everywhere before the deadline, let alone come up with the funds if they were willing to give into such demands.” Perry pressed his hand against his desk in worry. “He’s asked me to try to contact Superman, because he knows we somehow can.”
“But Mr. Kent isn’t back yet. He’s the only one who knows how to contact Superman.”
“Yes, I know that!” Perry snapped. “What’s more is that no one has seen Superman in over a week. What if he’s not even in Metropolis? No one knows where he goes when he’s not needed.”
“I’ll try calling Kent’s place. Maybe he came back early,” Lois suggested.
“Yes, do that. In the meantime, I need to make some calls.”
Lois hurried out.
Dialing Clark’s place, she prayed he would answer.
“Hello, this –”
“Oh, thank goodness you’re home, Clark. The Mayor just called Perry and they need Superman right away! Can you find him? Some madman is threatening to blow up Metropolis if the city doesn’t give him ten million dollars!”
“What?! Alright, Lois. I’ll find him as soon as I can. Bye,” he said, hanging up.
Lois heaved a sigh of relief.
Things were going to be okay. She refused to think otherwise.
O o O
Superman landed outside the police department and quickly walked in.
“Superman!” an officer cried, surprised.
“Hello. Is Inspector Henderson here?”
“This way, Superman,” the man said, hurriedly leading him to a side room with a lot of other officers.
They were preparing to do a sweep of the west side of the city and were organizing teams to look through buildings and parks.
“How can I help, Inspector?” Superman asked, deciding to get straight to the point.
Henderson motioned a Lieutenant to take over for him. “Let’s talk in my office,” he said.
Superman followed him out while the rest of the police force continued preparing for their search.
Henderson walked over to his desk where a heavy tape recorder was placed.
“I’m glad you’re here, Superman. We were able to record a portion of the call and I was hoping you might be able to hear something on it that may help us?” Henderson asked hopefully.
“Yes, of course,” Superman agreed.
“If we can determine who this man is, we might be able to get to him before the deadline,” Henderson said before pushing the play button.
Superman listened closely as Henderson watched him quietly. If Henderson didn’t know better, he’d say Superman looked a little down or something. Or perhaps it was his skin color? He looked a little pale. He glanced up at his office lights. Perhaps it was the lighting.
“Well, his voice reminds me of Happy King’s. It’s not King, obviously, but it sounds a lot like his voice, as if it’s his brother’s or some other close relative’s,” Superman said.
“Happy King? Well, I know his properties and such were given to family after his death, so I might be able to check that. Anything else?”
“I heard a stream and some unique bird calls. I know such birds are usually near oceans. I also heard a distant highway. I’m afraid I can’t be more specific than that,” Superman said.
“Quite alright, Superman. You’ve given me something to start with at least.”
“Now, the bombs. Do you know how many there are?” Superman asked.
“No, just that there is supposedly more than one, and by the confidence in this guy’s voice, I don’t believe we should doubt him.”
“I agree. Where will your men begin searching? I don’t want to search areas that will already be covered,” Superman said.
“We will begin searching the west side and the parks in the north within the hour. City officials elsewhere have begun searching the public libraries and schools. We have sent word to hospitals and businesses to search their properties and to contact us if they find anything suspicious, but we simply don’t have the manpower or time to search everywhere.”
Superman frowned. “If he is as dangerous as he wants us to believe, he will have placed the bombs in locations that will cause the most harm. I will search crowded public places on the east and south sides before moving to the west. If I hear or see anything of concern, I will deal with it as swiftly as I can before sending word to you.”
Superman nodded and headed out.
O o O
Mrs. Hall looked out the window at perhaps the most opportune time.
She gasped at what she saw.
Superman had landed with a gentle thud and was now hurrying toward her classroom door.
“Superman!” her students shouted, thrilled as he opened the door and stepped in.
But Mrs. Hall was not thrilled. She saw the way his jaw clenched just before he smiled at the students and how his eyes were not as carefree the last time she had seen them — at the Spring Festival.
“Kids, I need you all to head out over on that side of the street and lineup, youngest to oldest,” he said, giving the students something specific to do to help keep them calm.
They obeyed without question as a second teacher entered the room, having seen him land from another classroom.
“Superman?” Mrs. Hall asked as her students hurried out, spouting off their birthdates to one another so they could get in line as quickly as possible.
“The school needs to evacuate now. There’s no time to explain. Send for the police,” he said as he went toward the classroom closet. His voice was extremely serious and held a sharp lilt to it, like a general’s.
Mrs. Hall joined her students as the second teacher hurried out to begin evacuating the rest of the school and call the police. Now standing with her students, they waited, wondering what Superman was doing there and why they had needed to evacuate.
A minute later, Superman walked out and went to them.
“It’s safe now, but you should all wait until the police department clears it. I need to go.” He glanced at the confused but awestruck children. “Good job on lining up. Listen to your teacher now.”
With that, he flew off, clearly in a hurry.
Mrs. Hall couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive, even though the mysterious danger to the school was apparently over.
O o O
It actually wasn’t hard to discover the (suspected) bomber’s identity. After skimming through the paperwork concerning Happy King’s distribution of wealth, a great deal of it went to his cousin, Stanley King. Most of what he inherited was property, including some that lined the coast on the outskirts of the city. With the clues provided by Superman, Stanley became a possible suspect, and after digging a little deeper, Henderson found motive.
Stanley was broke, and though he could sell the land he had inherited (he had already sold one of them), no one wanted to buy for more than a steal, especially as most of the homes were apparently in bad condition. What was more was that he worked in construction, specifically demolition. So he had access to explosives and had the knowledge of how to use them.
Now where to find him.
Henderson looked down the list of homes now owned by Stanley. He would simply need to check them all and Stanley’s place of work.
O o O
Superman continued scanning the city and took extra care in searching through heavily trafficked areas. Suddenly, his eyes spotted something that did not belong. Without hesitation, he swooped down and landed in the baseball stadium, never minding the game currently in play.
The whole stadium froze as soon as his feet hit the dirt and they all stared as he dashed into the dugout.
“Everyone, clear out!” he said, throwing his thumb over his shoulder.
“What’s going on, Superman?” one of them asked as they made their way out.
“Contact the police and let them know I found another one. They will know what I’m talking about,” he said before prying a portion of the wall free to expose an odd contraption.
Not sure of what he was seeing, but not liking the implications, the man hurried out with the rest of his team. Less than thirty seconds later, Superman stepped out of the dugout and assured them the danger had passed, but to wait for the police to retrieve what he had found just to be safe.
The few people who had seen what he was talking about understood his caution and why he wasn’t revealing precisely what the item was. Doing so would cause unnecessary panic.
“Sorry for interrupting your game,” he said, before launching back into the air.
The two teams and those in the stands could only stare, dumbfounded.
O o O
Stanley King wasn’t at work, which wasn’t surprising if they were right about him being the bomber.
Henderson was relieved to hear that Superman had found and disarmed two bombs and he was equally pleased to learn his people had found a third. However, there was no guarantee that there were only three bombs. So the search continued.
He looked at his watch. They had less than an hour before the deadline.
They had checked two properties after learning Stanley had not shown up for work that morning. They had four more to check and Henderson hoped this would be the one.
Glancing about the property as he made his way to the front door, his hope rose as he took in the well-kept lawn and growing flowers.
Motioning one of his men to guard the back, he went to the front door and knocked.
He didn’t have to wait long as the door opened to reveal a woman about his age.
“May I help you, sir?” she asked.
“Hello, ma’am. I am Inspector Henderson, and I am looking for a man named Stanley King who, according to city record, owns this property. Have you seen him?”
“Stanley’s my son, and yes, I have seen him. Is he in some trouble?” she asked, uneasy.
“We believe he may have some information for us, and it is imperative we speak with him. Please, do you know where he is?”
She swallowed. “He left early this morning. He normally has work, but called in. He said he had some things to do.”
“I see. Do you know when he might be back?” he asked, reading her body language and not liking what it told him.
“No, I’m sorry,” she said just as someone came down the stairs.
Henderson locked eyes with a woman with short black hair who was now at the landing. Her eyes instantly widened in panic as she spotted the uniformed officer beside Henderson.
She bolted, rushing toward the back door.
“Around the back!” Henderson shouted.
Fortunately, the officer he had sent to the back caught her right as she exited the house.
“How did you know?!” she cried as Henderson and the other officers came around. “You can’t have known it was me!”
Deciding not to reveal how little he actually knew, Henderson began giving her her rights while hoping she would reveal more.
“My boyfriend won’t be stopped. There are others. You may have found one or two, but you won’t be able to find them all in time,” she said, rather hysterical.
“Superman has already found two that I know of, and my men have found a third,” Henderson said, seeking information while assuming she was referring to the bombs.
“Superman?!” she gasped. “But he said he’d be—” She cut herself off.
“You seem surprised,” Henderson said as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end for some inconceivable reason.
“He lied to us. We should have killed him!” she seethed.
“Lied? What did he tell you?”
“Superman shouldn’t be. . . . The notes were quite clear and Hamilton—” she grit her teeth together. “No matter. There’s still bombs out there and you’re running out of time.”
“How many bombs?” he asked.
“How many bombs?” Henderson shouted.
“Not telling, but you best keep looking. You’re running short on time.”
Henderson glanced at his watch and knew this psychotic woman was right, but what was weighing more heavily on his mind was the woman’s bizarre ramblings about Superman.
It was as if she believed Superman shouldn’t be able to find the bombs.
Henderson instantly recalled Superman’s appearance that morning. He had not looked like his usual self. Did that mean something, or had it been a trick of the light?
“Get her into the patrol car,” Henderson ordered his men as he hurried to his own vehicle and to the radio.
He called in to dispatch and asked what the situation was on the bomb search. He learned three more had been found on top of the three he had known about earlier. Just how many of these things had the man placed?
He heard a car door slam and knew Stanley’s accomplice had been secured, but he didn’t look up. Instead, he got in the car and made his way back to headquarters, the patrol car not far behind him—although an officer had remained behind with Stanley’s mother.
He looked at his wristwatch again, finding that there were less than fifteen seconds left.
Driving down the road, he couldn’t help but keep glancing down at his wrist, watching as the second hand on his watch ticked on. 3 pm passed and he held his breath.
“Attention all units, explosion across from city hall. EMS has been notified. Superman at the scene. Blast damage contained within building,” his radio blared.
He sped to City Hall, informing the car behind him to continue on to place Stanley’s girlfriend in a holding cell.
O o O
Superman knew there had been a total of six bombs found so far but he couldn’t afford to assume the bomber had stopped there. He pushed himself to fly even faster as his eyes peered through building after building.
Suddenly something caught his eye, and he knew without a doubt he had found a seventh. Hopefully this was the last for there would not be time for him to find an eighth.
He shot into the building, never minding the brick wall or shelf he just blasted through. He did take care not to bulldoze into any person, however.
People within whipped around at the crash of Superman entering and stared at him, stunned.
“Everybody out! Now!” he shouted, ignoring the odd, dull ache that rose in his chest at using such volume.
Fortunately, he didn’t need to repeat himself, for everyone instantly obeyed and ran out. None of them would ever forget the strained urgency in his voice.
Rushing toward a wall with a water heater on the other side, he punched through the plaster and broke it further apart to reach the bomb hidden against the heater.
He could hear the gears of the clock turning as he knelt down and brought his hand forward to disarm it, but then he heard a tiny ‘ping’.
He only had a split second and covered the bomb with his body to smother the force of the imminent blast as much as he could, knowing there were still people fleeing the building and countless others just beyond it who could be hurt if the building collapsed.
The blast pressed mercilessly into his chest, slamming against him so hard he experienced something he never had before. A shortness of breath. The explosion expanded out, and though he had reduced its force a great deal, the released energy still violently rocked the building and bashed the surrounding walls.
Smoke filled the air as debris flittered down from the damaged ceiling and walls.
He heard frightened screams outside the building as he sucked in a breath of air.
What was wrong with him?!
He rose slowly to his feet, using the wall for support as his chest seemed to shudder. Bewildered, he gave into the impulse that came over him and soon found himself coughing.
He made his way out, hoping the air outside would help, but as he stepped from the ruined section of the building, his coughing only got worse.
People were gathering, confused about the blast as he made it to the sidewalk.
A moment later a car pulled up, riding up onto the curb and slamming on the brakes. He didn’t look up, now gasping in breaths of air between coughing fits. A car door slammed and he felt someone take hold of his arm.
He looked up as he moved his free hand against the corner of the building as another barrage of hacking coughs racked his body. Bill Henderson was in front of him, concern and alarm clear on his face.
“B-Bill—” He couldn’t even complete a reply before he was forced to heave again.
His hand tightened against the brick and mortar, crushing it as he continued to fail to catch his breath.
He focused on trying to breathe, to calm his throbbing chest, but all he succeeded in doing was getting lightheaded as he was forced to one knee. Henderson did his best to keep him steady and upright, unsure of what else to do.
Finally, after several more gasps, his breathing eased. He closed his eyes, relishing the fact he could breathe again.
“Superman, are you alright?” Henderson asked as two officers came to their side.
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I’ve never felt this way before.”
“Let’s get you to a doctor,” Henderson said, nodding to the officer to his right to help him with Superman while the other ran to open the car door.
The crowd pulled back, staring as Superman was helped into the Inspector’s car.
Henderson got back into the driver’s seat as the other officers shut the door and stepped back to help with the crowd.
“When did you start feeling unwell?” Henderson asked as he started the car.
Superman shook his head. “Yesterday,” he said, still a little breathless. “But it was . . . nowhere near this bad.”
“I’m not sure, but I think Stanley King is responsible for what’s happening to you,” Henderson said.
“King? Related to Happy King?” Superman asked.
“Yes, you were right about the voice. It belonged to Happy King’s cousin. When I went to his house, a woman claiming to be his girlfriend said some disturbing things concerning you,” he said.
“What—what did she say?” Superman swallowed, a tickle in his chest returning once more.
“She was surprised when she learned you were out finding the bombs and she was angry with someone named Hamilton for apparently lying about something.” Henderson glanced up in the rearview mirror and frowned at the glistening sweat on Superman’s brow.
“Who is he?” Superman asked, looking up at him in the mirror.
“Hamilton? We don’t know, but I have some people looking into it,” Henderson said as he turned toward the hospital and drove up to the ambulance entrance.
Henderson turned off the car and opened his door as doctors and nurses hurried out to see what the matter was.
“Inspector, what’s going on?” one of the doctors asked, recognizing Henderson.
Before Henderson could answer, Superman was hit with another coughing fit.
The doctors turned, hearing the brutal coughs as Henderson opened the door and stepped aside. They looked at the backseat and were stunned to find Superman fighting to clear his lungs. Covering his mouth with his hand, they were all forced to wait until the coughs finally passed.
“Let’s get you inside, Superman,” one of the doctors said once his coughing had stopped. The doctor placed a hand on Superman’s shoulder to help him out, but he suddenly stilled as Superman looked up at him and lowered his hand.
Blood was speckled on his lips and palm.
Henderson failed to completely muffle a curse.
O o O
Lois Lane and Perry White hurried to the front desk of the hospital with Jimmy trailing closely behind.
“Hello, I’m Perry White from the—” he began in a rush, only to be interrupted by a doctor coming down from the hall, just off the elevator.
“This way, gentlemen, Ms. Lane,” he said, waving them over and nodding to the receptionist to let her know it was alright.
“How is he, doctor?” Lois asked, anxious.
“Let’s talk in here,” he said, guiding them to an empty room.
Jimmy closed the door.
“Doctor?” Lois asked, persistent. “How is he?”
“Be honest with us, Dr. Gwinn,” Perry insisted while glancing at his nametag.
“Not well, I’m afraid. He’s resting at the moment.”
“What’s causing this?” Lois asked.
“The lab results aren’t back yet, but we know it’s an infection of some kind. We also know his condition wasn’t caused by the blast he smothered, as he told us that had started feeling unwell yesterday,” the doctor said.
“Yesterday?” Perry asked.
“Infections take time to set in, so he must have come in contact with whatever has caused this roughly a week ago. Depending on the type of infection, it could be more or less,” the doctor explained.
“A week?” Lois asked, frowning. “He sneezed! He sneezed at the festival last weekend.”
The doctor straightened. “Do you know what caused it?”
“Perfume. A woman was spraying sample perfume about, and when she was passing by, he got a full face of it. That’s when he sneezed,” Lois gasped.
“That must be it, Ms. Lane,” Jimmy agreed. “We need to tell the Inspector!”
“You two go on. I’ll tell Henderson. They should be able to find something about this woman in the festival’s registry,” Perry said. “All companies distributing samples have to sign up in their registry.”
“It definitely couldn’t hurt,” Jimmy said, although the doctor appeared just as grim as ever. “Right, doctor?”
“If you want to see Superman, follow me,” Gwinn said, avoiding the question.
O o O
Nurse Aileen closed the door behind her as she entered the room, feeling more rattled than she had ever been in her twenty years as a nurse, although she didn’t show it.
Superman, in the hospital as a patient. One of her patients.
He had a fever of 104.3 degrees Fahrenheit when he came in. He still had his super strength and his skin remained impervious, but the blood he coughed into the handkerchiefs proved this illness, whatever it was, was just as super. They did know it was an infection of some kind, but viral or bacterial, they could only wait until the lab results came back.
They weren’t sure if normal, human treatments would work for him, but they refused to do nothing. They had oxygen on hand and an iron lung in a different room in case he needed it. They had also started him on broad antibiotics, incase this was a bacterial infection, but weren’t sure how long it would take before they could tell whether it was making a difference or not. Fortunately, he continued to be coherent and answered their questions as best he could, but none of them knew how long that might last.
According to Superman, he first began feeling unwell the previous day, and only felt a little tired. The fact he had deteriorated as much as he had in less than 24 hours was concerning in itself.
She had seen such cases before, and they rarely ended well.
As per Superman’s request, they had contacted a professor named Lucerne who apparently knew more about his physiology than anyone on the planet. It was hoped Lucerne would arrive soon and be able to help them save him.
If things continued as they were. . . .
She quickly shook herself from even thinking such thoughts and approached the bed.
“Hello, Superman. It’s Nurse Aileen. I’m just going to check your pulse and temperature again,” she said.
Superman opened his eyes.
“Of course,” he said.
She smiled, even though she was troubled by his visibly worsening condition.
“Any — any word from . . . Henderson?” he asked as she replaced the cool compress on his forehead before taking his temperature.
“I haven’t heard anything new, but I know he’s doing all he can to find that Hamilton fellow,” she said, hiding a frown as his temperature now read 105.2. “Superman, your fever is getting worse. Please remember to drink. Would you like more ice?”
He nodded before succumbing to coughs again.
“Here, don’t try to fight it,” she said, firmly patting his back with one hand while the other helped him cover his mouth with a cloth.
Finally, his breathing eased.
“Thank you,” he managed.
“You’re welcome,” she said, wishing she could do more before taking the now bloody cloth away.
“Aileen, may I ask you . . . to bring me some things?” he asked after a moment, having to pause to take a slow deep breath.
“Of course, Superman. What is it you need?” she asked quickly.
“A pen and a few sheets . . . of paper,” he said.
She swallowed, suspecting what this was for. Several patients in the past had asked for the same, and through painful experience she knew not to discourage such writing. Just the same, she took his hand and looked at his face. She was relieved to find the glint in his eyes that meant he hadn’t given up.
“I’ll bring what you’ve asked and something hard to write on. I understand there are some things that cannot go unsaid or undone, whatever comes,” she said.
“I’m glad you . . . understand.”
O o O
“Why would I tell you where Hamilton or Stanley are? What’s in it for me?” the woman asked.
Henderson clenched his fists.
After doing some digging, they had learned the woman was in fact Stanley’s girlfriend and had been at the Festival the previous week giving away samples of perfume.
Sergeant O’Hara, who was one of the best on the force and who had worked with Superman to take down a crime lord the previous year, was currently exercising a warrant to search Stanley’s properties, namely the house they had arrested his girlfriend at. Henderson hoped it wouldn’t take too long, particularly as the questioning was going nowhere.
“You’ll be facing a judge soon, Ms. Jones. At the moment there is nothing good to say about you. If you were to cooperate—”
“This would hurt me more than help me. Don’t try to trick me,” Patricia Jones argued.
“Do you want a murder charge on top of everything else?” Henderson asked, growing angry.
She waved him off. “Hamilton’s not going to die any time soon, and even if he did, how could you prove it was me if you don’t know where to find him? Hard to prove anything without a body or a weapon.”
Henderson glanced at the officer with him. They hadn’t told her about Superman and weren’t sure they should anytime soon, but they were running out of time.
“Unless . . . you’re not referring to Hamilton?” Patricia asked, realization dawning. She broke into a grin. “He’s sick, isn’t he?”
Henderson narrowed his eyes.
“There’s nothing anyone can do. It’s impossible for him to fight it off,” she stated before laughing. “We’ll be known as the couple who killed Superman.”
Henderson got up and left the room.
“She’s not going to help,” Henderson told the officers waiting outside after he slammed the door.
“I don’t think we’ll need it,” Sergeant O’Hara said, surprising Henderson by her presence. He had expected the search to take longer. “Look what we found,” she said, handing him a few notebooks. “They were in her room, under the bed. I left a few officers to continue searching the rest of the house, but I felt this information couldn’t wait.”
Henderson’s eyes widened at that and opened the first notebook, quickly flipping through it.
“Synthetic Kryptonite,” Henderson whispered, reading the bold, slanted words before looking to one of the officers. “Take these to the hospital immediately. Maybe the doctors can find something useful.”
“Yes, sir,” the officer said, rushing out.
“Come on, there’s a few more properties to check,” Henderson told O’Hara.
O o O
After being briefed by the doctor on what to expect, Lois and Jimmy paused outside, hearing coughing from within.
“My, those coughs,” Jimmy murmured, alarmed.
“I know, Jimmy,” Lois said softly as the coughs finally eased. “Come on, Jimmy,” she said, lifting her mask up to cover her nose and mouth as ordered to by the doctor.
“Superman, Ms. Lane and Mr. Olsen are here,” Dr. Gwinn said as they stepped in.
“Superman,” Lois managed as she took in his startlingly pale appearance.
“Ms. Lane, Jimmy,” he greeted weakly.
Lois hurried to the bed. “Oh, this is horrible. We came as soon as we heard.”
“Yes. We tried to find Mr. Kent before coming, but no one knows where he is,” Jimmy put in.
“I asked him . . . to do some . . . some things for me,” Superman answered, not surprised about Kent being brought up.
“Oh. Is there anything we could do for you?” Jimmy asked.
“I’m afraid not—” he said before breaking into a cough that was quickly followed by more.
“Stand back please,” Dr. Gwinn and Nurse Aileen told them, coming to Superman’s side.
Fortunately, it didn’t last as long as the last bout, but it still frightened Lois and disturbed Jimmy. When the coughing had calmed, Gwinn and Aileen stepped aside once more.
“I wish there was something we could do to help,” Lois said, sitting in the side chair as Superman closed his eyes and slowly exhaled. She placed her hand on his forearm.
They were all quiet for a long time; the sound of Superman ragged breathing overriding everything else.
Suddenly, a different doctor entered the room.
“Dr. Gwinn, Henderson just had these notes dropped off,” he said before looking at Superman. “We believe these were written by the man who did this to you. We also believe we can use these notes to determine exactly how you became sick and perhaps how to treat this illness,” the doctor said, placing a stack of notebooks down on the side table.
Superman opened his eyes and gave a soft smile.
“We also received word that Professor Lucerne will arrive here in a few hours,” he added.
“That’s wonderful!” Lois exclaimed. “Is there anything we can do to help?”
“Well, there is a lot to go through, but I’m afraid without a medical background neither of you will know what is relevant and what isn’t,” Dr. Gwinn said apologetically, picking one of the notebooks up and glancing through it.
“Alright, we’ll let you get to work then,” she said understandingly before looking toward Superman who was now trying to stay awake.
“Rest Superman, now that we have these, I believe a solution is in sight,” Dr. Gwinn assured before motioning the others to head out.
They all nodded and quietly left, hoping Gwinn was right and leaving the nurse to tend to him.
O o O
Lois and Jimmy left the hospital. While they wanted to stay and support Superman by being with him, they didn’t want to be in the way of the doctors; besides, Lois felt they could be of more use elsewhere.
“Where are we going, Ms. Lane?” Jimmy asked.
“Public Records. The police are no doubt searching Stanley’s properties, but what about that girlfriend of his?” she asked.
“Great idea, Ms. Lane,” Jimmy praised.
“Come on, Jimmy, we have a lot of paperwork to go through,” she urged as she got in the company car.
O o O
Henderson bashed the door down with the help of a portable battering ram.
“Search the top floors. I’ll take the basement,” Henderson said as they all dashed in.
The last report from the hospital was not good. Superman’s condition continued to worsen, even though they had a better understanding of what they were dealing with thanks to the notes. Unfortunately, the notes didn’t reveal anything on how to combat the illness.
They really needed to find Hamilton.
Searching through the house, they found nothing. Other than a few old tables and rotting furniture the home was empty.
Henderson heaved a frustrated sigh.
“It doesn’t look like anyone has even been in here since Happy King was alive,” an officer said.
“No, it doesn’t. Hopefully O’Hara is having better luck,” Henderson said.
O o O
“Ah-ha!” Lois exclaimed, pointing at a page. “Patricia Jone’s place of residence, purchased from Stanley King. Address look familiar?” she asked.
“3420 Ocean Drive,” Jimmy read, instantly troubled. “That’s the same place King tried to kill Superman. Almost succeeded. If it hadn’t been for that lead pipe. . . .”
Lois nodded. “I think we should check it out.”
“We should call the police,” Jimmy said.
“They’re busy searching King’s current properties. They don’t have enough people. We can help them out by checking this one and then we can let them know what we find.”
Jimmy sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to change her mind as they headed back to the car to drive to Jone’s house.
They got there within the hour, and Jimmy couldn’t help but think back to what had transpired the last time they had been there.
A scientist, Meldini, hired by Happy King had created synthetic kryptonite. They had then used Jimmy and Lois as bait to trap Superman in the basement with them. If Superman hadn’t had the presence of mind to point out the lead pipe, he would have died. The next day, in a freak turn of events, they learned Happy King and his henchmen had died in a car wreck.
“Come on, Jimmy, let’s see if anyone’s home,” Lois said.
Jimmy followed, although by the look of the place, he hoped no one lived within. The place could definitely use some TLC.
She knocked. No one answered. She rang the door bell. No one came. She jiggled the handle. It was locked.
“Let’s check the back and see if anything is still unlocked,” Lois said, undeterred.
They went around, scanning the windows until they came to the back where the basement windows ran along near the base of the house.
“Hey, Ms. Lane, look!” Jimmy said, pointing at a window.
The same window he had tried and failed to get rid of the kryptonite through. He could see where the glass had cracked, and where the wire in the glass had prevented the kryptonite from flying out. He also saw light.
“Someone’s down there!” Lois shouted, kneeling and peering down. She banged on the glass. “Hey!”
The man within the room startled and looked up, his eyes widening before hurrying forward to get as close as he could to the window while still being able to see her. He began waving his arms.
“Help! I’m locked in here! Call the police!” he cried.
“We’ll get you out!” Lois promised, getting back up and nodding to Jimmy.
He hurried back to the window by the front door and picked up a stone near the porch and threw it. He reached through the broken window and took hold of the door handle, unlocking it.
“Nice job, Jimmy!” Lois said as they hurried in.
Going down into the basement they came upon a barred door, similar to the one that had once trapped them.
“Hello?” the man called. “Hello?! I’m in here!”
Jimmy opened the door to a thin, exhausted looking fellow standing in front of a high tech laboratory.
“Thank goodness you found me!” the man cried.
He had a short scruffy goatee and slightly sunken cheeks. He had clearly not been eating too well of late, but his eyes were bright and gazed gratefully at them.
“Dr. Hamilton?” Lois asked.
Hamilton’s eyebrows shot up. “Yes, yes, how did you know?”
Jimmy stepped forward and gripped the side of his suit jacket in a rare form of aggression.
“You are going to tell us everything about what you’ve been working on for Stanley King, and you are going to tell us now,” Jimmy demanded.
Hamilton’s eyes widened in fearful realization. “What has he done? Are people ill?”
The man’s sincerity gave Jimmy pause, but it didn’t curb his tone.
“It’s Superman! He is coughing up blood in the hospital right now! There have better be a cure!” Jimmy shouted.
Hamilton went stark white.
“Please, believe me, I didn’t know what Stanley was planning. He wouldn’t tell me anything; he just forced me to work!” Hamilton took a deep breath and straightened. “I’ll help however I can. When was Superman exposed, how long has he been ill?” he asked.
They detected no deceit, so calmed down slightly. “He was exposed Saturday, and he started feeling tired yesterday,” Lois answered.
“Take me to him.”
“Let’s go,” Lois said as Hamilton quickly grabbed a few items from the room, piled them in two suitcases, and followed them out.
Only later would Lois consider how risky it was to not call the police and retrieve Hamilton on their own. Fortunately, Hamilton had no ill intentions.
O o O
Professor Lucerne entered Superman’s room after spending hours poring over the scribbled missives of Meldini and Stanley.
Lucerne had arrived soon after 11 am and had gotten straight to work reading with Dr. Gwinn and the other doctors.
Meldini’s notes were all scientific, while Stanley’s writings had read like an odd cross between a rambling diary and a historical record. It was honestly mind-numbing. Interestingly, none of the notes had been written by Hamilton.
“Superman, how are you feeling?” he asked, slightly surprised he was awake. It was nearly 2 am.
“Worse, unfortunately,” Superman managed.
Lucerne stopped at the bed and sat in the empty chair that had been placed beside it.
“The notes—what was found?” Superman asked after a moment.
Lucerne adjusted his thick, black rimmed glasses, failing to completely hide his distress at seeing his young, normally powerful, friend in such a state. “According to Stanley’s writings, they were experimenting with growing fungus and bacteria on—” Lucerne paused, grim, “—on Kryptonite. I think it’s clear why.”
“They wanted to make . . . something that could affect me. And they succeeded.”
“We learned something else in the notes you’d probably like to know,” he said after a moment. “Stanley tricked Hamilton, the scientist. He got him to make something that was, for the most part, harmless to humans, convincing him he was sending the ‘vital research’ to scientists working on the polio vaccine. And then later, when Hamilton realized Stanley was lying, Stanley trapped him and threatened to kill his family if he didn’t keep working.”
“I see,” he said. He took a slow deep breath and his expression grew more serious. “Professor.”
“Yes, Superman?” Lucerne asked as Aileen and the other nurse there gave them some privacy.
“There’s something I need . . . you to do,” he said, removing an envelope that had been hidden beneath a book on the side table.
“What’s this?” he asked, although he already had a pretty good idea of what it was.
“I want you to . . . open it if I . . . don’t get better.”
“Letters?” Lucerne asked, feeling the bulk secured within.
“To you, Ms. Lane, Olsen, Mr. White . . . others.”
Lucerne nodded slowly, taking note of the growing fatigue in Superman’s eyes and his short, shallow breaths.
“I understand, Superman.”
“Thank you,” he said, before failing to hide a grimace.
“Superman?” Lucerne asked, shifting toward him just as his grimace worsened and he was forced to gasp out in pain before falling into coughs more brutal than any before.
Aileen and another nurse rushed over.
“Help him sit up,” Aileen told them as she began turning the knobs and dials on the machine by the bed.
Lucerne helped the other nurse with Superman as Dr. Gwinn ran in.
“Doctor, 3 lpm?” Aileen asked, wanting to know the oxygen flow.
“Yes. We’ll probably need to raise it, but we’ll try this first,” Gwinn said, placing the oxygen mask over Superman’s nose and mouth after his coughing had slowed.
Lucerne barely managed to quell the rush of alarm that flooded through him as he noted the amount of blood the nurse cleared away.
“Make it 6 lpm,” Gwinn said, noting how little Superman’s breathing had improved with 3. Aileen did as she was told. “Better, Superman?”
Superman nodded, easing back before adjusting the mask a little with his hand.
Gwinn’s jaw clenched and he frowned.
“Doctor?” Superman asked, his voice muffled through the mask. “Tell me.”
Lucerne exhaled, having seen it as well, and took hold of Superman’s wrist. Gently turning Superman’s hand over, he pointed. There were two small open lesions on his skin, one at his wrist, the other on the back of his palm.
“The infection has entered your bloodstream. I think it’s clear that the antibiotics and antifungal medications you’re on aren’t doing anything,” Lucerne stated.
“We’ve given him the strongest antibiotics known to us and the best oral antifungal medicine we have,” Gwinn said hopelessly. “I wish we could give you Amphotericin B, but that’s given intravenously, and we obviously can’t do that,” he continued, looking at Superman before glancing down at the sores. “That is, we couldn’t before.”
With that, he quickly nodded to the nurse who swiftly retrieved a needle and prepared a syringe.
“With your permission, Superman,” he said, taking the syringe from the nurse.
“Of course,” Superman said, offering his arm.
Gwinn lined the needle up, aiming for a vein visible beneath Superman’s skin, and pressed firmly.
The needle bent.
“Try at the lesion,” Lucerne suggested.
Gwinn placed the second needle there and copied his previous motions.
At first it seemed as if it would work, as the needle did begin to penetrate, but then it bent as well.
Gwinn shook his head. “I don’t understand it,” he muttered.
“There’s only enough radiation to affect the immediate surrounding cells,” Lucerne explained regretfully.
“Then what do we do?” the other nurse asked. “What can we do?”
“We’re not going to give up. Now that Professor Lucerne is here, I’m sure we’ll be able to come up with a better treatment,” Gwinn said, stepping back. “We will do everything we can; I promise you.”
“I have a few ideas, Superman,” Lucerne assured, taking hold of Superman’s forearm and giving him a reassuring squeeze. “Just do your best to rest. We’ll figure this out.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Superman managed through the oxygen mask.
With that, they left the room to continue working on a solution.
O o O
Lois drove to the hospital and parked. It was early morning and still dark, but she quickly noticed officers at every single entrance and exit. She didn’t have to think hard to realize why.
“The Mayor made a statement after the public began asking about what had happened yesterday. People had seen Inspector Henderson and a few officers help Superman after the explosion and I’m sure other people saw them arrive at the hospital,” she said as they got out of the car.
“So the Mayor made an announcement?” Hamilton asked, keeping up beside her.
“It was agreed, to keep the public calm, they should be told something. So, considering everything, the Mayor told them Superman was under doctor observation due to the day’s events. Details weren’t given, but vigils have cropped up all over. Fortunately, as per request from the Mayor, no vigils are being held near the hospital,” she said.
“But just the same, security has been placed,” Jimmy said, nodding toward the guards.
“Unfortunately, Superman has many enemies. No one knows where Stanley is either. The entire state’s police force is on the lookout for him, of course, but he could be anywhere now,” Lois said as they approached the main entrance where four officers were acting as sentries.
“Ms. Lane, Mr. Olsen?” one of the officers asked, recognizing them from their previous visit.
“Yes, officer, it’s us,” she said before motioning to Hamilton. “This is Dr. Hamilton. He’s promised to help. Please tell Inspector Henderson we’ve found him and that he’s here.”
“Hamilton?!” the officer asked, stunned. “We will immediately.”
“Thank you. And please, may I speak with Superman’s doctor?” Hamilton asked.
“We’ll have him come to you. Come on,” the officer said, escorting them in.
O o O
Henderson pulled up to the hospital’s side entrance and bolted out of the car. He was relieved to hear Hamilton had been found and hoped this would mean Superman’s recovery was only a matter of time. He also hoped to hear from Sergeant O’Hara soon with news of Stanley’s possible whereabouts or perhaps even of him in custody. She had practically demanded to be placed as lead of the manhunt as soon as they had learned Hamilton had been found. Henderson had not denied O’Hara’s request. If anyone could find Stanley, it was her.
Henderson entered the hospital and was quickly taken to Dr. Hamilton.
“Inspector, this is Dr. Hamilton. He’s agreed to help,” Dr. Gwinn introduced soon after Henderson had arrived.
Henderson nodded his thanks and shook the young doctor’s hand.
“I will cooperate fully, Inspector, and do my best to answer any questions you may have, but please let me help undo the harm I was forced to cause before anything else,” Hamilton implored.
“Superman’s condition has deteriorated over the night,” Gwinn stated, looking as if he hadn’t slept since Superman had arrived—which he hadn’t.
“Has he been searched?” Henderson asked, wanting Hamilton’s help but also wanting to ensure they weren’t being tricked.
“He was searched, and we’ve looked through the suitcases. There’s petri dishes of samples and a few other lab items,” an officer said from the corner.
“I brought some things from the lab that I believe may help. However, until I learn more about Superman’s symptoms, I won’t know what Stanley had chosen to use,” Hamilton admitted.
“How many pathogens did you develop?” Lucerne asked.
“Five, three bacteria and two fungi, all mutated while exposed to a rare radioactive isotope,” he said.
“Do you still have those samples or the isotope?” Gwinn asked.
“I don’t have the isotope. Stanley took that, as well as most of the bacteria and fungus samples.” He then motioned to the suitcases. “However, I have two bits of samples, as well as something that may help. After Stanley took what he needed and asked me some troubling questions, I began experimenting on ways to kill the pathogens. I didn’t know what he planned to do with the samples, but I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing,” Hamilton said.
Henderson looked at Gwinn and Lucerne to get a read on how they felt about Hamilton before he nodded.
Minutes later, after giving the suitcases and their contents to Professor Lucerne to examine in the room across the hall, they entered Superman’s room.
Hamilton and Gwinn approached the bed as Henderson leaned against the doorframe, for a moment so overcome with emotion he could barely keep himself steady as he took in the recently rearranged room from the hall.
The sounds from the machines by the bed echoed around them, but they weren’t loud enough to drown out Superman’s ragged breathing through the oxygen mask. He lay propped up on the bed, pale and unmoving, save for the uneven rise and fall of his chest. Lois was asleep in a chair on the far side of the bed. She was exhausted after the long night of researching and finally finding Hamilton.
“Lung function?” Hamilton asked quietly.
“We don’t know for certain, but we estimate it’s down to 30 percent, likely less,” Gwinn said.
“Lesions,” Hamilton muttered, noticing the scattered sores on his skin. “When did they first appear?”
“Early this morning, around 2 am.”
“We need to kill the infection at its source,” Hamilton said, narrowing his eyes.
“Let’s get to work then,” Gwinn said, leading him out and to the room Lucerne had entered while Henderson stayed behind with Superman and Lois.
Entering the workroom, Hamilton stepped beside Lucerne who was examining the stacks of petri dishes and vials.
“We’ve read Stanley’s notes, and although Stanley is no scientist, we understand the mold and bacteria you used was bioluminescent,” Lucerne said. “I gather this bioluminescence was altered by the isotope?”
“Yes, they’re all rare species that give off their own light, however, after growing a few generations of it on the isotope, the bioluminescence mutated and took on properties of the metal.”
Gwinn nodded slowly, taking it in. “So, in essence, it began producing kryptonite radiation.”
“Is that what it’s called? Kryptonite?” Hamilton asked.
Lucerne nodded before motioning Hamilton toward some microscopes. “These are blood samples from Superman. The infection seems to be fungal.”
“What have you used against the infection so far?” Hamilton asked, taking a look at them one by one.
“Oral antifungal and antibiotic medications. We can’t give anything to him intravenously; his skin is still impervious, and if we wait until we can it will be too late,” Gwinn answered.
“I think I know how we can kill the infection. I just hope a bacterial infection doesn’t take hold afterwards,” Hamilton said, stepping back.
“You have bacteria that targets the mold specifically?” Gwinn asked, daring to hope.
“Yes,” he said, retrieving one of the vials resting in one of the suitcases and holding it up. “It’s a nectrotroph. It produces a unique enzyme that specifically targets and destroys the fungus’ cell walls and, as a result, prevents the mold from giving off any bioluminescence.”
“Does the bacteria give off any of it?” Gwinn asked.
“No,” Hamilton said.
“This may work, although we must be careful. As you said, his system may not be well enough to fight off the bacteria once the fungus has been taken care of,” Lucerne warned.
“We don’t have any other options. We’ll have to take that chance — if Superman accepts,” Gwinn said.
Lucerne nodded in agreement.
O o O
“Do it,” Superman breathed after Hamilton outlined what the treatment entailed.
“Alright, breathe in as deeply as you can when I tell you,” Gwinn said, taking a solution of the bacteria and linking it properly to the pump for aspiration.
“Ok — now,” Gwinn said.
Superman inhaled as much as he could. He instantly felt cooler air enter into his chest; saturated with what everyone hoped would be a cure. He took another painful breath, fighting the impulse to gag and ignoring the odd taste now in his mouth before falling into a fit of coughs.
Gwinn nodded to Hamilton and Lucerne, satisfied that the vapor solution had entered Superman’s lungs while Aileen helped with the mask.
“How long . . . til we know?” Superman asked once the coughs had calmed.
“We should see a change within the next 24 hours,” Gwinn said. “I’ll have Aileen apply some to the lesions now as well, if that’s alright?”
Superman nodded, his eyes growing heavy.
With that, Gwinn motioned for Aileen to do as he said before guiding the others out into a side room.
“Why don’t you go home and rest, Ms. Lane,” Henderson said, seeing that she was looking rather haggard. “There’s nothing to do but wait now. Someone will call you if there is any change.”
She was ready to argue, but couldn’t deny how exhausted she felt, and given how tired the doctors appeared, she probably didn’t look much better.
“I’ll stay with him,” Henderson assured.
“Alright. I need to give Perry and Jimmy an update anyway,” she admitted. She had sent Jimmy home soon after the police had sent word to Henderson about Hamilton.
Henderson turned toward Gwinn. “I’ll call a nurse if I notice any change.”
Gwinn nodded and left with Hamilton and Lucerne as Henderson returned to Superman’s room.
O o O
The hours passed slowly and no change occurred. They took it as a good sign because he wasn’t getting worse.
As for the search for Stanley, there was still no good news from O’Hara. As awful as it sounded, part of Henderson hoped O’Hara wouldn’t find him until he could join in the hunt. He wasn’t usually the vengeful type, but . . . he shook his head. Maybe it would be best for O’Hara to find Stanley all on her own — although O’Hara could be rather relentless, particularly when people she cared about have been hurt.
Henderson pulled himself from his thoughts as Superman stirred.
“Superman?” Henderson asked as Superman opened his eyes.
“Yes?” he whispered, his voice muffled under the oxygen mask.
“How are you feeling?” Henderson asked.
“Strange. Muted,” he answered.
“Alright. Dr. Gwinn told me it’s very important to know if you feel anything new or feel worse at all,” Henderson said.
Superman hummed an affirmative.
Henderson clasped his hands together, not that Superman could see the action; however, it was easy to tell that the Inspector was getting antsy.
“Bill, is something . . . the matter?” he asked.
Henderson pursed his lips and looked up from his hands. “Superman, we’ve worked together for years. We’ve solved dozens of cases, likely over a hundred. You’ve helped me more than I can say and I just want you to know . . .” Henderson paused and shifted in his chair. “I’ve never asked your real name, and though I’ll admit I had been very curious at times, I never pried. You have more than earned a right to your privacy, to have a normal life.”
“I’m not sure . . . what you’re getting at,” Superman managed, catching onto the words, ‘I had’.
“I think you do.” Henderson put his hand on Superman’s tense shoulder.
“You know,” Superman breathed, and after a long moment he relaxed and sighed. “Well, of anyone . . . I’m glad it was you. Will make . . . things easier.”
Henderson nodded, a bit relieved his long time friend was taking his knowing the truth so well.
“How?” Superman asked.
“Not important right now. Why don’t you focus on getting better, and then I will tell you,” Henderson advised.
“Fine, fine,” he said, closing his eyes once more. “Tired anyway.”
Henderson patted his shoulder before leaning back in his chair. He could use a nap himself.
O o O
Lois returned to the hospital later that day, feeling a little more rested than that morning. Henderson had been right to tell her to go home and rest. Hopefully Superman had been able to rest as well.
Perry joined her in the elevator with Jimmy. The evening’s edition of the paper was nearly out — the front page detailing Superman’s condition at Metropolis City Hospital. They couldn’t very well hide the truth forever, unfortunately.
“I wish I knew where Kent was,” Perry grunted.
“He’s doing something for Superman. Superman told me himself,” Lois said.
“Yes, you told me that already,” he huffed as they made their way to Superman’s room.
“I’m sure he’ll be back as soon as he’s done,” Jimmy assured.
“Yes, yes . . .” Perry said, calming down. “I know. I’m just. . . .” He shook his head. “Never mind.”
“You’re worried. We understand, Chief,” Lois said. “We are too.”
Perry nodded. “Well, let’s find Dr. Gwinn and get an update.”
O o O
He looked up as Gwinn and Lucerne swiftly stepped into the room.
“Any other change?” Gwinn asked, talking just loud enough to be heard over the machines and Superman’s breathing.
“No, just his temperature. He’s been asleep since you last saw him,” Henderson answered, standing up to give them room.
Gwinn nodded, moving toward the bed to look over the nurse’s notes with Prof. Lucerne at his side. He frowned, noting the rise in temperature the nurse had recorded and informed them of mere moments before. 107.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
The nurses had been placing cool compresses on Superman’s forehead since he had arrived, but (due to the spike) were now placing packs of ice against his inner thighs and at the back of his neck in attempt to prevent his temperature from rising any higher. 106 caused brain death in humans, so unless Superman was conscious and talking, they didn’t want to assume anything above 106 was safe for him either.
He had been awake, aware and talking at 105.2, and Prof. Lucerne was confident 105 for him was equivalent to a human sitting at 103 because his normal body temperature was 100.8. So 105 was certainly a high fever, but not deadly. However, now that his fever had suddenly risen from 105.7 to 107.3 in the past hour, they were concerned.
“Doctor!” Henderson shouted abruptly, breaking Gwinn and Lucerne from their thoughts. “Is he breathing!?”
Gwinn dropped the clipboard and shot around the bed, placing his hands on the sides of Superman’s ribcage to determine if he had truly stopped or if his breathing had merely slowed. He counted to five and felt no movement at all.
“Nurse!” Gwinn shouted as Lucerne pulled the oxygen mask off from Superman’s face.
His lips were blue. Even though the ventilator was providing oxygen, his lungs were not breathing any of it in.
Nurse Aileen and another nurse ran into the room.
“Iron lung, now!” Gwinn ordered.
The two nurses were already halfway out when Superman suddenly choked in a breath before heaving in another and another, causing them to whip around. The breaths were then followed by coughs that brought up clear fluid from his lungs.
“Thank heavens,” Henderson gasped, peering down at Superman whose lips were quickly regaining their proper color.
Gwinn took a cloth from the side table and helped clean the fluid away before reapplying the oxygen mask, just as relieved. He straightened as Superman opened his eyes and blinked up at them.
“Everything alright?” Superman asked, confused and a little concerned at seeing them staring down at him so close and hard.
Henderson gave a strangled laugh before grabbing his arm.
“You had stopped breathing!”
Superman’s eyebrows rose, not sure what to say to that. Instead, he slowly sat up and took a tentative, deep breath. He placed a hand on his chest.
“Are you alright?” Henderson asked after a moment, sparing a glance at Lucerne.
Superman nodded. “I think so. It doesn’t hurt to breathe anymore.”
“Doctor?” a voice by the door asked.
Superman and the others turned to find Hamilton, Perry, Lois, and Jimmy peering in from the hallway behind the nurses.
Superman removed the oxygen mask with a grin. Lois hurried in past Perry and stopped beside Henderson.
“You’re feeling better?” she asked, relieved and grateful.
“Yes, it seems so. I feel much better,” he said.
“Look,” Henderson said, pointing.
Superman looked down at his hands, watching as the sores on his skin healed right before their eyes.
“Great Caesar’s Ghost,” Perry breathed, walking in with the others.
“Well, Chief, I think I know what tomorrow’s edition of the Planet will be,” Jimmy said, grinning.
“No, it’ll be tonight’s edition,” Perry stated before looking at Superman. “We’re all very happy to see you well again, Superman. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll make sure the rest of the world knows the good news,” he said.
Superman smiled and nodded before Perry hurried out, closely followed by Jimmy and Lois who gave thrilled parting nods to Superman as they left as well.
“Well, I think I’ll head out too and let the boys at the station know,” Henderson said, grinning from ear to ear. “I especially look forward to telling O’Hara the news.”
Superman chuckled. “Alright, Bill. And thanks for your help.”
Henderson waved off his thanks as he made his way out the door.
Superman looked to the three men who were predominately responsible for saving his life and moved to stand up and thank them; however, Lucerne lifted a hand.
“I believe it would be best if you continued to take it easy for the next 48 hours and that for those first 24 be here for observation,” Lucerne said.
“I agree with him, Superman,” Gwinn said while Hamilton nodded as well.
“Although I think it’s safe to say your life is no longer in immediate danger, we have no idea if your system has completely recovered, and that includes your immune system. There is no way to tell how many of your cells were damaged during all of this or how long it may take them to be replenished,” Lucerne said before glancing at Superman’s healed hands. “Skin cells are one thing, but organs. . . .”
Superman nodded slowly and relaxed fully back onto the bed.
“Fortunately, I do know what your normal, healthy vitals are, so we’ll use those for reference,” Lucerne said, smiling.
“That’s reasonable, Professor,” he said, before holding out his hand toward Hamilton who quickly took it. “Thank you for helping to save my life.”
“I’m grateful I was able to reverse the harm I helped bring about,” Hamilton said, almost beyond words.
Superman then shook Gwinn and Lucerne’s hands in equal gratitude.
O o O
He knew it was hopeless. There was no way out of the city now. Every port, bus stop, bridge, and road was being watched. His car had already been seized and his face was burned into the mind’s eye of every police officer and alert citizen. Even with his disguise the chance of discovery was only a matter of time.
Everyone within hearing distance of a radio knew Stanley King was the ‘Seven Time Bomber’, but more than that — he was responsible for putting Superman in the hospital where it was assumed he was dying.
He would be caught before too long.
Ducking his head low, obscured with a wide brimmed hat and glasses, he passed by a paper boy laden with that evening’s paper. His heart seized as he caught the headline.
SUPERMAN RECOVERING IN HOSPITAL
Shoving coins into the boy’s hands, he snatched a copy and quickly dashed into an alley to read the rest.
Another article mentioned the police searching his properties. They must have discovered Hamilton, and he must have helped find a cure.
Stanley clenched his teeth as his already angered soul trembled into a boiling rage.
They had imprisoned his girlfriend, ransacked his properties, taken his car, doomed his freedom, and now they had taken his victory.
He narrowed his eyes and put his hand into his pocket to grip all that he had left to hope upon.
A sliver of Kryptonite.
He knew it was already over. He was a dead man walking — as he knew he wouldn’t survive prison — so he would make sure the end took place his way.
O o O o O
O’Hara entered the hospital room, relieved about what she had just been told by the professor and the doctors. Superman was well on his way to a full recovery and was actually only in the hospital because his temperature was still slightly elevated. So, with an abundance of caution, Prof. Lucerne insisted he remain until he was completely back to his old self.
O’Hara was glad they were playing it safe, as, what she had been told by Bill, Superman had been knocking on the pearly gates for a bit there.
“Hello, Sergeant,” Superman greeted, sitting on the edge of the bed as if he had just finished putting on his boots.
She smiled. “Ready to leave, I see.”
“I was just told I could, actually,” he said, quite pleased as he gave the center of his chest a firm pat and stood up. “Back to my old self.”
“I’m so glad to hear that, Superman. When Bill sent word that you had been brought here. . . .” She exhaled a shaky breath, recalling that horrible moment before continuing. “I was kept informed of your condition, as were all police officers in the city, and we all cheered when we heard you were going to be alright.”
Visibly touched, Superman opened his mouth to reply, but then an officer hurried in from outside.
“Superman, forgive me, but there’s an urgent call for Sergeant O’Hara,” the officer said with an apologetic bow of his head. It was clear the man was a bit awestruck in the presence of Superman but was professional enough to push it aside. He turned to O’Hara. “A man claiming to be Stanley King is on the phone at the front desk, asking to talk with the person leading the search for him.”
O’Hara’s eyes widened, surprised.
“He said he would only speak with you,” he added.
“Thank you. I wonder what he wants to discuss,” she said while moving toward the door with a nod to Superman.
“How did he know you were here?” Superman asked, not liking this at all.
“That’s a good question,” O’Hara agreed before they made their way down to the front desk.
“Here you are, Sergeant,” another officer said, handing over the phone.
Superman listened in as the others around quietly watched.
“Hello? This is Sergeant O’Hara,” she said.
“O’Hara. I’m a little surprised it wasn’t Henderson hunting for me,” the voice said.
“Stanley King, I presume,” she replied, recognizing his voice—as it matched the recording they had of him.
“You wanted to talk with me?” she asked.
“I’ll keep this brief. I want to give myself up, but considering what I’m wanted for, I would prefer to avoid a media show or other . . . unsavory shenanigans by coming to the police station myself. Thus, I request you come pick me up.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. I don’t want to run and hide for the rest of my life; I would rather face the music, so to speak.”
“Alright, I can respect that. Where are you?” she asked.
“24 Parkway, Coastline. I’ll be here waiting,” he said, before he hung up with a click.
O’Hara looked up at Superman. “If this isn’t a trap I’d be surprised,” she stated.
“I agree. May I join you?” he asked.
“Please,” she said with a smile.
O o O o O
Superman landed outside 24 Parkway just as O’Hara and Henderson pulled up in their patrol cars. Just as Lucerne had suggested, he was taking things easy so hadn’t pushed himself in flying quickly. It hadn’t been 48 hours since his fever had broken after all.
“Alright, Superman?” O’Hara asked as she got out of the car.
“Completely,” Superman assured with a smile before looking at the house Stanley had said he would be waiting in.
“Glad to hear it,” O’Hara said, smiling back as Henderson and other officers joined them.
“Shall we?” Henderson asked, pulling out his gun.
Henderson led the way up to the porch and knocked firmly on the door after motioning some officers to go around to cover the back.
“Come in, it’s unlocked!” a voice called from within. They all recognized it as Stanley King’s.
Henderson glanced at Superman and O’Hara before moving his hand toward the door.
“Wait a moment, Bill,” Superman said, halting Henderson’s movement by gently gripping his wrist inches from the handle.
Superman squinted at the door before scanning the left side of the house and doing the same for the right.
“Booby-trapped,” Superman warned. “Explosives.”
“Of course,” O’Hara huffed as Henderson nodded to an officer to send confirmation to the bomb squad that they were needed — they had already been forewarned that they might be.
“Allow me to open the door, Inspector,” Superman said.
Henderson and O’Hara obliged, stepping back from the porch to watch.
Superman slammed his hand through the wall, severing the trip wires and rendering the explosives near harmless, or as harmless as disconnected explosives can ever be.
“Are there any others?” Henderson asked.
“The side windows, but they’re all rigged separately.”
“We’ll take care of those after we get King,” O’Hara stated.
Superman narrowed his eyes, still looking through the door and now following King through the house.
“He’s heading to the basement stairs.”
“Is it safe to proceed?” Henderson asked, wondering over the wisdom of entering a house of a demolition expert.
Superman frowned. “He just disappeared behind a wall of lead, but everything outside of that, save the windows, is clear.”
Superman raised his hand and gripped the door handle but stopped when Henderson stepped back onto the porch with O’Hara close behind.
“I’m not letting you go in alone, especially with that lead wall. Who knows what he has behind there,” Henderson stated.
Superman frowned, instantly imagining tons of explosives waiting behind the lead wall to blow the house up to kingdom come.
“I know what you’re thinking, so how about you head in first and then we will follow a minute after,” O’Hara suggested.
“Sensible compromise,” Superman agreed before motioning them to back away from the house.
Once they were fifteen feet away, he opened the door and entered.
“We’re serious about that minute, Superman!” Henderson shouted, looking down at his watch which was already at 10 seconds—he had started the minute as soon as Superman had touched the door.
Shaking his head, Superman dashed in before zeroing in on the lead wall. Deciding now was not the time to mess around, Superman jumped, forcing his way straight through the floor down to basement where the lead encased room was. From there, he crashed through the reinforced wall.
“Ahhh!” Stanley cried as debris pelted his body, clearly not having expected that sort of entrance.
“It doesn’t seem like you’re serious about giving yourself up, King,” Superman stated, quickly scanning the room. He was relieved to find it devoid of explosives or other such traps—and was honestly impressed King had gone as far as to lead line the floor and then hide the fact with dirt. Very thorough, but for what?
King straightened, oddly relaxed as he pulled his right hand out from deep within his pocket. “I’m not,” he stated.
Superman’s breath caught, and he instantly realized this had not been a trap for the officers as he had feared, but a trap for him. He stumbled back, his hand catching on the edge of the wall he had just demolished. Stanley advanced, raising his hand to reveal a tiny shard of Superman’s home world as he reached behind his back to retrieve something else.
“I had tried to be sophisticated, cunning, but I realize now, sometimes the only way to do something is the obvious way,” he said, allowing Superman to see what was in his other hand.
He heard Henderson and O’Hara enter the house, along with several other officers. His minute was up.
Ignoring the growing pain and throbbing weakness now coursing through him, he jumped at Stanley, intent on knocking the trigger from his hand. He landed hard onto his side, taking Stanley with him as his hand clenched tightly around Stanley’s wrist. It gave beneath his grasp.
The trigger clattered to the floor and Superman heard it roll away from them as Stanley screamed out in rage and pain. Stanley twisted as he swung his fist, broken wrist be damned, and forced Superman onto his back.
Superman’s vision flashed white from the punch to his cheek before he struggled to block the second blow, his arms heavy with fatigue and raw agony. His strength was nearly sapped completely as he heard people arrive just outside the room.
“Hands up!” Henderson shouted.
“Back away from him!” O’Hara demanded.
Stanley shifted, but it wasn’t away. Instead, Superman felt the frigid burning of kryptonite intensify as Stanley moved the shard closer to his neck.
“Put it down!” Henderson shouted. “Don’t make me shoot you!”
It was nearly impossible to breathe, and Stanley’s weight on his chest only made it worse. He couldn’t lift his arms now, let alone move or turn his head. Just keeping his eyes open had become an undertaking.
“It doesn’t take much, does it?” Stanley asked, angling the point of the shard and staring hatefully into Superman’s eyes as he reared his arm and hand back a split second later, intent on inflicting a mortal wound.
O’Hara and the other officers charged in before Stanley completely hit the ground. In a flurry of movement, Superman felt himself yanked away and lifted by two large officers. He could do nothing to aid them in their exit, but he didn’t need to. Less than fifty seconds later, he was out of the house and on the front lawn, sitting up with the help of O’Hara.
“Are you alright?” O’Hara asked, worried.
Superman nodded. “I will be in a moment. Thank you.”
A few minutes later, after the bomb squad arrived, he stood up, assuring O’Hara and the officers that he was truly alright as Henderson came out of the house.
Henderson shook his head as he approached, indicating Stanley was dead.
“We got the shard, as well as the trigger. Bomb squad found a trap door in the floor. They’re investigating it now,” Henderson said. He shook his head, trying not to think about what had almost happened.
“I’m glad you were only a minute behind me,” Superman stated softly. “Thank you. All of you,” he added sincerely, including the other officers around with a broad look and nod.
“It goes without saying that we’re grateful you were here, Superman,” one of the officers said.
Henderson smiled as he stopped before Superman. “Well, I believe we can leave the rest of the work to O’Hara and the bomb squad. I would like to inform the Mayor that we have nothing more to fear from Stanley, and I’m sure you would like to dispose of this.”
Superman blinked as Henderson held out a clump of lead foil.
Henderson shrugged sheepishly. “Professor Lucerne insisted, just in case.”
Superman laughed. “I’ll need to remember to thank him,” he said as he carefully took it.
O o O o O
Clark entered his office to find Lois and Jimmy waiting for him.
“Mr. Kent, you’re back!” Jimmy said.
“Yes, Jimmy, I am,” Clark said, amused.
“You were gone an awfully long time, Mr. Kent,” Lois said keenly.
“What can I say? Superman told me to do some things. I couldn’t not do them,” he said simply. It was clear he was enjoying this.
“Hmm. Well, while you were doing whatever you were doing, we found the scientist tricked into nearly killing Superman and then, after Superman recovered, we covered the story of him stopping Stanley from blowing up a house that would have killed over a dozen police officers,” Lois said.
“Good job you two. I knew you two had it well in hand.”
Lois crossed her arms, though mostly good-naturedly. “I’d still like to know what you had been doing though.”
“Trust me, Ms. Lane, what you two were doing was far more interesting than what I was doing,” he assured.
“I’m sure,” she said, unconvinced but deciding there was no point in continuing her line of questioning.
“Well, whatever you were doing, I’m glad you’re back, Mr. Kent,” Jimmy said.
Clark smiled, though his eyes became serious. “So am I, Jimmy. So am I.”
O o O o O
Clark stayed late that night, sitting at his desk and catching up on the work he had missed. It wasn’t a whole lot, and if he wished he could have simply finished it all in a few minutes at super speed, but he wanted to take his time and let his mind wander as he did so.
He had thought about death before, but he had never felt as close to it as he had the past few days: first the illness and then the confrontation with Stanley. He certainly had a better understanding and new appreciation for humans in general now, particularly after experiencing a serious illness for himself. It was all pretty humbling.
His private re-evaluation of life came to a halt with a knock on his door.
“Come on in, Bill,” he called out, having a fair idea of who it was even before using his x-ray vision.
Bill came in, shaking his head in amusement. “You know, I used to wonder how you always knew it was me, but after I figured it out. . . .”
Clark chuckled, knowing no one was around to overhear them. “Yes, I suppose a lot of things began making sense after you learned.”
“Yes, a lot of things, so many in fact I chastised myself for not having realized sooner,” Henderson confessed with a laugh.
“Which begs the question, how did you figure it out?” Clark asked. “I admit the question has been nagging me since I left the hospital.”
“It was something you said while you were Superman. I can’t remember what it was exactly now, but it made me consider the possibility, and once that happened, I began noticing things, and over time, it just fell into place. It wasn’t an all of a sudden ‘I know’ moment, just a ‘could this be?’ to ‘possibly’ to ‘it has to be’.”
Clark nodded, slightly relieved. He had feared he had slipped up and had done something obvious for anyone to see and instantly know.
“It also helped that I probably interact with both sides of you more than anyone else, other than Ms. Lane of course—although she usually only encounters your other side when she needs saving.”
Clark laughed in spite of himself. “Yes, I imagine that must distract her,” he said before growing a little serious. “She does seem to be catching on though. A while back, she was convinced of the truth, even conducted a little test to prove it. Fortunately, I was able to work myself out of it, but, like you, it’s probably only a matter of time.”
“Would it be so terrible for her to find out?” Henderson asked, curious.
“I suppose not. I know I can trust her, but she always manages to get into dangerous situations. I don’t think knowing this secret would help in that at all.”
Henderson nodded. “I see what you mean. Well, I will try to help you keep this secret.”
“Thank you, Bill. I really appreciate it. I’m glad you know now; it’s a relief really.”
“I think I know how you feel. Letting you know that I know . . . these past few weeks have been a little difficult. I’ve been trying to find a way to tell you, but there was never a good – and safe – opportunity,” Henderson said, before softly adding, “Until the hospital anyway.”
Clark nodded, recalling that conversation. Had it only been three days ago?
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask, how is your mother, Mrs. Kent?” Henderson asked after a moment. “I heard that she had fallen?”
“Yes, mild concussion. She’s doing better. Wouldn’t even know she had been hurt if you saw her now,” Clark assured before inquiring about Bill’s family.
Hours later, after talking about a broad range of things (particularly Clark’s life) they realized how late it had become. They stood up to leave.
“I’ll need to remember to bring you some of Ma’s pie,” Clark said. “I dare say it’ll even beat your mother’s famous pie.”
“Well, I suppose if anyone could bake a pie greater than mama’s, it would be Superman’s mom,” Henderson conceded heartily as Clark laughed.
“Yes, well, Ma may not be like me, but she is still super human,” Clark agreed as they left his office.
O o O The End O o O
Jessica Campos is an engineer who writes in her spare time. She is currently working on several original works and has authored a short story called Abraham, available on Amazon. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and she loves hearing from readers.
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