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by P L Nunn


Chapter 18


They came in masse. Dozens of them, striking from the darkness - - here - - there - - too many places to keep track of and be at all at the same time.

It was worse this time, than before. They were more of them, and they were working in better concert, timing things. People suffered for it. A wall went down, shattered by a little slip of a girl out in the darkness that sent ripples of unadulterated force through the air and simply took the wall down. There hadn't been many guardians on the catwalk in that section, but those that had been went down with it. When Clark got there, seconds too late, it was rubble. When he went through it, ready to take down the perpetrator, he saw she was barely more than twelve, skinny and ragged. But her eyes were feral, and her teeth sharpened to points. She held up her hands, squinting and another ripple of force came at him. It staggered him, driving him backwards. Made his eyes sting and his head pound and she blinked, shocked that he hadn't been battered into a jelly filled sack of flesh.

He didn't want to hit a child, he really didn't, but she didn't leave him a lot of choice. It was her, or the people he was trying to protect. There were children in that compound, too.

When she ran, scampering into the darkness instead of throwing another round at him, it was almost a relief. It didn't last long, before screams from down the wall drew his attention. He saved a man that had been knocked off the wall and dragged into the collapsed building across the street. Threw off a long limbed, dreadlocked attacker with a set of second jaws that looked like something out of Aliens and took the injured man back over the fence with a bound. Left him near the guttering cook fires where some of the women not manning the wall gathered, and went back out, taking the fight to the attackers, out in the among the shattered ruins.

Lex drifted, half out of consciousness, jarred there by impact against his gut, saw a dizzy flash of ground, dark and jagged from an awkward angle. Felt the blood pounding in his temples, pooling in his hands as they dangled, himself head down, ass up over someone's shoulder. Not Clark. The shoulder was boney, the stench of the body he was pressed against, rancid, like rotten eggs. There was the harsh exhalation of breath, not his - - and Clark didn't get winded unless sex was involved.

He drifted back down into blackness.

Came back again to the slap of feet against dusty marble, the echo of voices in a large space. Laughter, lurid and psychotic. Bodies shifting, drawing close around, following in the wake of the person carrying him. His head throbbed, too long upside down, not helping him on the path to consciousness.

He got tossed unceremoniously to the floor, lay there vision wavering between black and sparks of dancing light. Reeling, the murmur of voices, the shuffling of bodies, the click of heels on marble or nails, vibrating into his skin. He felt sick.

He groaned, rolled to one side with an effort, trying to stifle the need to vomit. Blows to the head sometimes had the effect on him. It was a good bet it wasn't a concussion if he could stifle the urge.

"See," Someone kicked him, heel to the shoulder, knocking him back onto his back, the female with the claws and the cat eyes and skin covered in a thin layer of pelt. "We got him, just like you asked."

"So you did." A deep voice out of the shadows behind him. He turned his head, peering that way, fighting past the blur of wavery vision. There was a wall of junk, a conglomeration of dead electronics, pieces of automobiles, what looked like the propeller of a plane, glass, department store mannequins, metal and cable, all interwoven into an apocalyptic mosaic draped in shadow. A man sat amidst the artfully arranged debris. A mountain of a man, reclined on what might have once been a daybed, but metal had been added, reinforcing it, the back built up like the back of a throne. Nothing smaller would have easily accommodated the man upon it. Obese didn't do him justice. Huge and sedentary and old. It was hard to tell where the folds of fat ended and the wrinkles of time began. He made the two, skinny, albino kids crouched at the foot of his daybed throne seem all the smaller. They huddled against his telephone pole thick legs, red feral eyes spitting hatred as they glared at Lex.

Hands latched hold to him, dragging him up to his knees. There were dozens of them, a crowd in the flickering light of torches and burning lanterns, more than dozens, hundreds maybe, lurking in the shadows of columns and circling balconies. Glittering eyes, nervous ticks, jerking motions, hissing and bobbing, cowering, threatening from their perches. Most of them hardly looked human and that was from brief glimpses through the shadow. Almost all of them that Lex could see clearly had tattoos or brands in the shape of the LuthorCorp logo.

A pale, lanky figure moved out of the mass of bodies pressed in close behind the ones holding Lex. He recognized him as the tall one that had laid hands to Clark, the one that had numbed his skin when he'd flicked a tongue against him outside the ruins of the Daily Planet. He stood close beside Lex, grasped his jaw with one long fingered hand and the back of his head with the other and forced his head back.

"See? Told you, didn't I? Coulda stepped out of the picture, huh?"

Lex hissed through his teeth and tried to wrench away.

The fat man laughed, a low, raspy rumble in his massive chest. Leaned forward and out of the depth of the shadows his head was small in comparison to the rest of his body. Wisps of grey hair clung to his skull, bushy eyebrows shadowed deep sockets from which bright blue eyes glittered.

"I see, Mrak. I see. Closer. Bring him closer."

They jerked him up and he fought them, cursing, trying to wrench himself out of the grips. Nails bit into his skin through his sweater, the crowd surged, as if his resistance fed their excitement. Cries rose up - - give him to us - - blood's been shed - - make 'im pay - - were the most coherent. Mostly it was growls and animal wails. Terrifying. Insanity.

"Shut it!!" Mrak screamed over Lex's head, spittle flying, a speck of it hitting his scalp and numbing skin. Mrak's double-jointed hand twisted in his sweater, jerking him forward even as the one's with grips on his arms twisted them painfully and shoved him from behind. The majority of the crowd didn't dare the space around the fat man's perch.

They slammed him back down, onto his knees at the big man's feet and with an effort the man leaned forward, an odd bare toothed smile on his face. The metal of the throne creaked under his weight as he shifted.

"The laughing man, I presume," Lex ground out glaring into those small bright eyes, straining to ease the pressure just a little on his shoulders.

A swollen hand reached, touching his face. He tried to jerk away but they held him immobile.

"When Mrak told me - - I didn't believe - -" A big thumb grazed his mouth. "Had to see for myself."

"What the fuck do you want?" Lex could feel his heart thudding madly against his ribcage. He fought down the panic that wanted to narrow his vision. He hadn't quite envisioned his 'sit-down' with the Laughing man like this. He'd rather hoped the advantage would fall on his side. It still might, once Clark realized he'd been taken. If Clark was smart and didn't rush in blindly. God. What were the chances?

"You know where you're at?" The Laughing Man asked, leaning on his knees, one hand drifting down to stroke the thin, silken hair of the child on his right.

Lex glanced around, forcibly calming his breathing. There was decay and wreckage, and the tattered remains of wispy banners drifting in the breeze that came in through long shattered panels in the roof, but the bones of the place held a vein of familiarity.

"LuthorCorp. Main mall." And it was, now that he connected the dots, the thriving, three story central lobby with its shops and fountains and towering columns. A cavernous display of wealth and prestige built by his father and propagated by him. Fallen to decay. Rotting and remolded into something else entirely.

The fat man chortled. The folds of fat giggled with it, like Jell-O in a bowl. The laughter was echoed - - madly - - from various Freaks around the mall.

"No one's called it that for a long time." He collapsed back onto the throne and laughed, tears leaking from his eyes. "Not for thirty - -forty years."

"But you remember," Lex surmised. "You were there?"

The grin widened. It was anything but jovial. "I was. You weren't. Why weren't you?"

"That's an excellent question," Lex said slowly. "Who are you?"

"What the fuck?" the cat woman snarled from the edge of the crowd. "He shot me and Tink. The one with him banged up a lot more o' us. Who's he, that you don't give him over for a little retribution?"

"Shut up, Khaya," Mrak snapped, glaring, making a show of lunging towards her. She hissed and edged back into the undulating mass of spectators. Other voices raised out of the darkness, though, seconding her question.

"No, they should know who we've got among us," the Laughing Man boomed. "Tink, a hand."

A shape that had just been a mountainous shadow against the wall shifted, rising and kept rising, dwarfing everyone in the room, including the Laughing man. The giant that he and Slick had encountered in the tunnel leading from the Planet to LuthorCorp. The one that had given Clark a run for his money. Lex had put a good portion of a clip of bullets into him, but he didn't seem worse for wear because of it.

The man mountain ambled over, the smaller Freaks scuttling out of his way. He reached down, grasping the Laughing Man by his elbows and gently hauling him to his feet. Stayed there while the fat man got his balance, hovering over him like a mother over a toddler taking its first steps.

Standing, the Laughing Man wasn't taller than Lex. A little shorter, a lot wider. Neither one of their heads reached the giant's chest. Mrak's head, which towered over both of them, barely reached his chin.

One of the albino kids scurried up with a walking stick. A metal pipe with a round glass pommel. The Laughing man used it, leaning heavily. When the Laughing Man started to move, slow, ponderous movements, everyone hushed, clearing a path for him. The giant, Tink, moved carefully at his side.

The others drew Lex along in their wake. Past tin cans with guttering fires, and accumulated debris against the walls, rat-nest like bedding where some inhabitants of this place still crouched, watching the progression with wary eyes. There were whimpers from the shadows, the clink of metal, he saw the flash of pale naked skin through tattered cloth, a person - - a woman, maybe - - chained to the wall. She was whispering, over and over, kill me. Kill me. Kill me. He shuddered, looking away.

It was hard to keep his bearings with the place so mutated from what he remembered, but he thought they were heading past where main reception used to be. There was a lobby beyond, what used to be a posh waiting area, with comfortable seating and fine art. There was nothing now but the remnants. The art long gone, the furniture either taken or destroyed. Something small and chitinous skittered along the edge of the wall. One of the smaller Freaks darted forward, snatching it before it could scurry into a crack in the wall, stuffed it, live and wriggling into her mouth.

Lex clenched his teeth.

The Laughing man moved forward, Tink hovered at the edges, the ceiling here low enough to make him have to crouch if he wanted to enter the room.

Mrak clutched Lex's shoulder, pulling him forward. The long nailed hands of the others still bit into his arms. He was losing feeling in his hands. Mrak hissed at them and they loosened their grips, letting him go. He shook out his arms, swallowing, no choice but to move forward when Mrak urged, any escape blocked by the wall of Freaks behind him. By the giant hovering outside the waiting room doorway.

There was one picture remaining, tattered and age darkened, mold spotted around the edges. It was a portrait of him. He'd never commissioned it, so it must have been done after he'd disappeared, ordered by some loyal underling. God knew he hadn't left 'friends' behind that would have bothered. His name was barely legible on a brass plaque fastened to the frame. It freaked him the hell out, staring up at the rendition of himself. It was a damned good likeness. The artist had been talented.

The Freaks began to make the connection, whispering and murmuring behind him.

"Not a wrinkle. Not a mark to tell the passing of the years," The Laughing Man said, leaning heavily on his cane. "Young as the day you went away to battle your dragon - - and never came back. The dragon did. What we have here people, is the man responsible for all this. What we have here is Lex Luthor."

They stirred, some pressing forward, some back. Mrak loosened his fingers, taking his hand from Lex's shoulder, as if his name were something that inspired fear. Or maybe it was just the fact that he was here, unchanged, while the world around him had deteriorated into chaos and crumbled decay.

Lex stared at the fat man, trying to find some speck of familiarity. This man obviously knew him. But half a century had changed him beyond Lex's ability to recognize.

"Who are you?" It was hard to find his voice. He felt that stirring of nausea again.

"You don't recognize me? I was a lot younger last time you saw me. And half the man. Five times less the man I am now." He chortled, wheezing at the effort of standing and laughing at the same time.

Lex shook his head warily.

"They used to call me Tucker. Daniel Tucker."

"Tucker?" Lex tried to place the man before him with the man he'd known by that name. A member of his board of directors. A man he'd trusted as much as he'd trusted anyone with the knowledge of what it was they faced. This man had overseen the research and development of the below board portion of LuthorCorp's endeavors. He'd known about the ship and the aliens, and practically every other related wing of research Lex had subsidized. Daniel Tucker had been Lex's age, less than thirty, round faced, stocky, fiercely intelligent. Loyal. Along with Tess Mercer, he'd been one of the few Lex had trusted to carry on if he failed in his mission in the Arctic.

"It's been a long time, Lex." The man said his name slow, drawing out the 'e'. It almost reminded him of how his father used to pronounce it when he was being particularly condescending. He took a deep breath, trying to find the shreds of his composure.

"Was LuthorCorp responsible for what happened?" He asked softly, meeting Tucker's eyes and not flinching away from the madness that glittered in the depths of them. He dreaded the answer.

Tucker laughed, body rolling with it, tears gathering at the edges of his eyes, catching in the folds of flesh. He lifted one huge arm, and it must have taken effort, waved it in a half circle. "Our creation. We followed in your footsteps, Lex. We did what needed to be done and we saved the world."

"God," he whispered. His knees wanted to buckle. "You call this, saving the world?"

"We killed the abomination that would have killed us all. We survived. We thrive - - don't we children? We rule our world."

A murmur of assent went up from the gathered audience. Lex had the feeling that arguing the point would be counter productive.

"Tucker," Lex said his name sharply, and the man's laughter broke off, his eyes snapping to Lex, remembering maybe, hopefully, a time when he'd owed his rise in the world to Lex. When he'd followed his command faithfully. "What happened? What abomination?"

"They don't call me that anymore," Tucker told him, beetling his brows.

"What happened? He wants to know what happened," the fat man said, more to those behind Lex than to Lex. "Let's show him. Crank up the power, Mrak and let's take him down to the core."

Mrak shrugged, waving a long arm, motioning to a few of the Freaks in the crowd, which was shifting and humming in excitement.

Mrak grabbed Lex's arm and started hauling him through the crowd. The cat woman, Khaya was her name, hissed and glowered at him, curling claw tipped hands as he passed. Others laid hands on him, tailing fingers across his back, his neck, his head as he passed. He bared teeth, shrugging off the advances, slapping away questing hands. Back through the cavernous main mall, and down a warren of smaller, dark corridors. They shed a great deal of the Freaks following on the way, either loosing interest or too afraid to follow.

Mrak stopped in a corridor, next to a wide doored freight elevator. Swung him around so his back was to the wall next to it, and leaned down, long fingered hands on the wall on either side of Lex's head. Pale eyes bored into his, daring him to move. About six more of the Freaks shifted restlessly in the hall, the stronger, healthier seeming ones. Their eyes glinted, mad expectation. Lex didn't want to know of what.

"Won't be long," Mrak said softly, dipping his head close to Lex's. "Before he gets bored and gives you over to us."

Lex met his stare steadily. "You speak for him? Interesting. Does he know that? When he worked for me, I seem to recall him keeping a tight rein on his underlings. That's what you are, right? His underling?"

Mrak hissed, tangling a fist in the front of Lex's sweater.

"Mrak!" The laughing Man's voice boomed down the hall. In the company of another handful of Freaks, the fat man ponderously made his way down the dark corridor. "He's under my protection. "

Mrak glared, loosening his hand marginally. Lex lifted a brow, modulating the breath of relief that wanted to shudder through him.

Mrak unwound his fingers, smoothing out the wrinkles he'd made in Lex's sweater, nails grazing the skin above the collar. Conscious movement, malevolent glitter of eyes, before he stepped back, as Tucker made his way towards them.

"Ah, there we are," Tucker said, staring up, above the elevator doors.

Lex followed his gaze. The light over the door had flicked on. Mrak pushed the button by the door and with a creak the broad, dull steel doors slid open.

"You're siphoning the backup mainframe power," Lex accused, as Mrak shoved him onto the car. He had to press back into the corner as Tucker maneuvered in. The elevator creaked, groaning under what had to be six- - seven hundred pounds of added weight. Three of the others crowded in after Tucker, the rest waiting outside.

God, a fifty-year -old elevator that Lex doubted they were maintaining was no comfortable thing to ride.

Tucker leaned a hand on the wall next to Lex, breathing hard, sweating. The swell of his gut brushed Lex, but he was as deep into the corner as he could get and there was no helping it. The smell of the man, in the confined space was overwhelming.

"What good are the mainframes? There are better uses."

"What good? Knowledge," Lex said. "You've got a city of survivors who are wallowing in ignorance and you're sitting on a treasure trove of information."

Tucker grinned at him, leaning in, pressing in tighter against him. "Where have you been, Lex, that you think people give a shit about the past anymore? Anything they need to know, I tell them."

Lex held back the reflexive urge to gag. "And an ignorant people are easier to control. What they don't know won't hurt you."

Tucker laid his hand on Lex's shoulder, heavy, sweat damp palm. "You could be dangerous, Lex. Don't make me think you could pose a threat."

"How could I possibly be?" Lex asked.

Tucker laughed, realizing bullshit when he heard it.

The elevator creaked to a stop. The doors opened on a subbasement corridor. SB5, the plaque on the wall opposite the elevator claimed. Last Lex had known, The LuthorCorp sub levels had extended three levels.

The Laughing man ambled out into the corridor. It was more than wide enough for him draw Lex to his side, drape an arm over his shoulders and keep him close. It was no small weight. Mrak and the other Freaks walked ahead and behind them, a silent guard.

"After you disappeared," Tucker said. "Mercer expanded the existing research agenda. We prepared as best we could for the possibility of invasion."

"And did they?"

"Just one of them. But he was enough. About a year after you'd gone, it appeared. A monster with unimaginable destructive capability. We called it Doomsday. The more the military threw at it, the stronger it became. It tore a swath through the world. Literally. Looking for something, we think, that it couldn't find. Maybe just looking for destruction. Our own special corps, the freaks and the mutants and the engineered soldiers were fodder for it. The most powerful beings this planet had to offer were nothing compared to the power of this thing. Mercer had your notes, your warning that its home was its weakness, so we tried that. Made weapons out of our store of kryptonite meteor. At first, it seemed to effect it. But eventually, it adapted. That was when we decided to modify the Omega project, and retool the power core with the meteor rock."

"Omega - -? The antimatter experiments?"

"Yes. It had been so unstable before, and the scant amount of antimatter we were able to create in so short a time was hardly sufficient for the destructive effect we needed. But when we added hyper-activated kryptonite to the catalyzation chamber the effects were unexpected. The antimatter particles began to replicate from the central chamber out. The power was unprecedented."

"So you took two highly unstable elements, combined them into a weapon you had no idea the destructive capacity of and decided to unleash it upon the world?"

Tucker laughed, almost pulled Lex off his feet when he pulled him closer. "We followed in your footsteps, Lex. Wasn't any risk worth the price, in your quest to protect the people of the world against another alien invasion? Wasn't that why you initiated half the projects you did? Mercer believed that. I did. We all did on the Board. A few million casualties, we thought, would be a small price to pay to destroy the thing that was trying to destroy us."

The reached a door. A thick, sliding blast door, with a live security panel. The Laughing man keyed in a code, then pressed his palm against the panel.

They walked into a control station, fronted by an array of tangled panels, a foot thick observation window that had a webwork of splinters marring it. It looked in on a circular room, in the center of which rested a huge containment chamber.

The Freaks hung back, even Mrak, as Tucker moved towards the control panels. There was a section that looked as if it had been crudely rewired and a wide jury-rigged bench before it, that Tucker settled his bulk upon with a sigh. It had to be no easy thing for him to be on his feet for so long.

"Take him inside," Tucker said to Mrak. Mrak flinched, but moved to grab Lex's arm, pulling him towards another thick door, which Tucker triggered open.

The door slid closed behind them once they were inside, and Mrak stood there, hand clamped around Lex's arm, trembling faintly.

It lent Lex very little confidence of what was under that shielded chamber. The ceiling was vast and dark, silo-like, towering up into shadow.

"When we detonated the weapon," Tucker's voice drifted into the room via a tinny, staticy speaker. "Doomsday was over Metropolis. We think the initial, concentrated explosion obliterated him. The antimatter imploded and sucked him in with it. We were never sure afterward if it were some unexpected reaction from him, or the kryptonite core that caused it to pulse back outward. But it did. It reacted in much the manner it had when we'd first introduced the kryptonite to the core. Weak at the central point, accelerating and growing more destructive as it traveled outwards. As far as we knew, it grew exponentially as it pulsed, creating a greater and greater wave, annihilating everything in its path, until the waves met and the antimatter particles canceled each other out."

"God," Lex whispered. They had done it. He had been responsible, when you got right down to it. His obsession, his notes that had led them to this. And yeah, there'd been a viable threat and yes, he'd always been of the mind that a few sacrifices might be made for the greater good - - that'd he'd be willing to stain his soul to save a billion lives - - but this sacrifice had been too great.

And what if the only thing that might have stopped this thing that had driven them to creating a weapon that had destroyed humanity - - stopped this Doomsday - - had been taken out of the equation by actions of his? What if Clark could have made a difference? And Brianiac had known it, and manipulated Lex into neutralizing the only hope the earth had had. Allowing the threat that hadn't been Clark free reign to wipe out the existing native species and make way for colonization. Only if Clark were right, there were no more of his people out there to colonize. And it had all been for nothing.

He leaned back against the door, legs gone watery and weak, head spinning from the impact of the realization. He hadn't wanted this. He'd never wanted this.

There was the grind of sliding metal, and Mrak unhanded him, stepping back against the door, eyes fixed on the containment chamber as the hood began to slide in upon itself. Lex took a breath, looking around the room for an alternate way of escape. There was none. There were score marks on the wall, like something stronger than tungsten alloy had tried to claw its way out of the chamber. Slight impacts in the wall that might have been made when fists or bodies stronger than human impacted against it.

There were other signs that living things had been trapped in here, bits of bone, nails, a frazzled chunk of crisped hair connected to a piece of shriveled scalp. Lex tightened his jaw, backing up against the wall next to Mrak, staring at the luminous green glow from inside the containment capsule. A huge chunk of kryptonite, hyper-charged and active. He knew what it could do to the cellular make up of a living organism. Knew first hand how brief exposure could change a body. Prolonged exposure would be deadly, four times out of five.

"Be very careful, Mrak, " Tucker's voice though the speaker system was barely audible through the static. "Where you take liberties with what's mine."

Then the shielding reversed its direction and started closing, shutting away the radiation. Lex took a breath, clenched his fists to stop the shaking of his hands, and walked to the observation window, meeting the Laughing man's eyes through the plexi-glass.

"You use this - - to alter people?" It was the only explanation. There were generations of mutants here that were far too young to have been exposed to the initial radiation surge of the kryptonite antimatter release. Certainly too young to have been changed by the original meteor showers.

Tucker smiled at him through the splintered shielding. "I have to. Most of my children are sterile. Unfortunate results of their mutation."

"So those stories I heard, about your people taking men and women from the clans and those people never coming back - -its because you've exposed them to this - - altered them past the point that they ever could return." Or killed them outright.

"I need my children," Tucker said. "And my children need to be strong, to keep the power we hold. Necessary sacrifices."

Lex recalled the ones in the shadows of the mall, the ones huddled in the darkness amidst the debris, with tumorous growths and leaking lesions. He figured the exposure resulted in as many torturous casualties as it did in mutations that might benefit the Laughing man's little army of freaks. Necessary sacrifices. For the greater good. He'd used those terms and more like them to justify things done. They sounded so much more rancid coming from the Laughing Man's mouth. Looking in from the other side of the equation, it made him sick.

What power? Ensconced within this tomb of a building, festering? He didn't voice it. He wasn't in a position to voice it, in this room in the presence of what lay behind those shields. It was madness that drove Tucker.

"Necessary sacrifices," Lex echoed softly. What else could he say? What else could he do but agree with the man, until he was in a position not to agree. "You've preserved humanity."

"You see it," Tucker leaned forward, eyes fairly glowing with the inner light of his belief in the righteousness of what he had created here.

"I do. I knew you had vision." Just open the door. Open the door and let us out, he urged mentally.

The door slid open and Mrak hurried out. Lex took a breath and walked out in his wake.

It took all of the Freaks that had accompanied them down here to get Tucker back on his feet, but he was winded and the walk back was slower than the one down had been.

"You were altered." Lex made the assumption. At the very least something had sent his thyroid gland into overdrive.

"We were down here, protected from the antimatter blast that took out the people above ground that weren't shielded from it, but we were exposed to the supercharged meteor core when it discharged. A massive dose of radiation. Most died within hours. The unlucky lingered for weeks. The chosen few - - thrived. What was left of humanity was weak, scrambling for survival. But we weren't. We used to look down on the Freaks as aberrations of nature, but it wasn't until we became them, that we realized that we were the next step in evolution. Forced evolution, granted, but evolution all the same."

They stepped back onto the elevator, and with a creaking protest from the unseen cables, it jerked into motion.

"Are the mainframes still accessible?" Lex asked. It didn't matter that done was done. He needed the details. He needed more than a madman's perception of what had happened. He needed to know what they had been up against and what they had done.

Tucker looked at him critically, considering. Lex still had a hard time connecting this man with the one he'd known. Finally he smiled. It made his eyes disappear almost, hidden by folds of flesh.

"Perhaps. It's been thirty years since anyone's bothered."

Power issues aside, half a century was a long time for delicate hardware to have survived unscathed. "I'd like to go down there and try."

"I'll consider it," Tucker said, and moved his hand to Lex's shoulder, almost a consolatory pat. "But I've been answering all your questions and you haven't been entertaining me with stories of your own. We'll talk, Lex, about where you've been and what you've been doing all this time."

That wouldn't be a particularly long tale. Especially if Lex left out pertinent details. No one here needed to know Clark's true origins. There was no benefit to it, when Clark was likely his only ace up the sleeve.

The elevator doors opened, but the group of freaks that had been waiting in the corridor outside were gone. The car trembled as they were off loading, and almost Lex thought it was giving under the weight of the Laughing Man, before he realized it wasn't just the car. There was a resounding boom, and everything shook again, vibrating minutely under their feet. The faint sound of wails wafted to them, the shriek of voices

"Go! Go!" The Laughing Man hissed, and the Freaks with him took off, racing down the corridor.

"What is it?" Lex asked, taking a few steps himself.

"You tell me," Tucker snapped.

And it hit him. It was Clark. Come looking for him in a nest full of meteor mutants. He cursed and started running himself, leaving the fat man in the shadows behind.




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