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Therefore I Am

by P L Nunn

 

Part One

 

Lex woke to the rumble of explosion and the static hiss of raw electricity. He blinked, fingers tingling, cold and supine and stared up at a track lit, paneled ceiling, teaming with wires. A man ran past, a white blur in his peripheral vision. There was a scream, muffled by layers of wall and the unmistakable sound of gunfire.

Curious.

His mind wandered, tracing bundles of wire on the ceiling. It looked jury-rigged. A cut and run operation if ever he'd seen one. He couldn't recall exactly how he might have come to be there.

Another explosion and the ceiling panels trembled, raining particles of insulation down. A track gave way and one shook free.

Instinct took over, bypassing the haze that fogged his thinking and he rolled off the table, the panel barely missing him as it crashed down. Almost his escape had been hampered by wires attached to various points on skull and neck. A few leads still dangled stubbornly.

He was naked. Not a stitch of clothing to be seen and it annoyed him. It wasn't so much modesty as a particular sensitivity to displaying certain hair free parts of his anatomy to the prying eyes of strangers. And laid out, stark naked on a table, when there wasn't sex or surgery involved was low on his list of acceptable handling. Someone was going to regret this indignity.

He heard the retort of gunfire again, closer, and the aborted scream of a man. A glass door past the table shattered, pierced by multiple rounds moments before a man staggered through, lab coat stained with red. Lex scrambled to the solid base of the table, survival instinct cutting in as the man fled past. The door slammed open again, another man on his heels. Black jumpsuit, face-covering headgear, automatic weapon in hand.

They both ran past out a door on the room's other side, ignorant of his presence. Soon after, Lex heard the burst of more gunfire.

God. What the hell had he woken up to? Standing up and asking seemed risky behavior since the one side had no qualms about expending ammo. Memory was a chaotic swirl and the rush of adrenalin made picking through it no easier.

He rose - - the floor was cold on bare feet - - jerked off the remaining wire leads and grabbed a lab coat off a rack by the far door. He pulled it on, buttoning it up and cautiously tried the door the two men had exited. There were no gunmen waiting to cut him down, so he ventured out.

Drops of blood made a trail down the hall. One side of the wall was adorned with an arc of bullet holes. A spatter of red where one had obviously hit the mark and around a turn in the corridor a body on the floor, leaking more red. He swallowed, panic crowding up, drying out his mouth, making breath come a little harder. If this was a war zone, whose side was he on?

The stomp of feet echoed from ahead. The rapid patter of multiple boots. He threw himself at the closest door, putting his weight against it when it stuck. Leaning back against it in the dark, willing them to pass him by. Preying they didn't hear the drumbeat of his heart. Feeling like a child in a forbidden place, who'd only escaped the notice of a tyrannical parent by luck and the benefit of small stature and shadows.

God - -how long since he'd felt that terrified anticipation? A lifetime. The memory of it came back now, fresher than the simple recollection of where he'd been before he'd come to here.

A swirl of images - - the gothic spires of St. Christopher's Cathedral in Montreal. The dead eyes of a man bent on his destruction coming out of darkness at him in the sanctity of his own home. The sting of pain after. The sweet taste of victory when the puzzle pieces finally fit together. Kara and her amazing revelations. Clark.

Clark.

His knees threatened to give out, the fear of discovery trumped by the overwhelming rush of memory. All his suspicions, all his fears - - vindicated. And he'd held the tool to salvation in his hands, ready to take the fight to the place that housed Clark's alien heritage.

Had gotten there - -had looked Clark in the eyes - - and the world had crashed down. Memory after was nothing but void.

Had he succeeded? Failed miserably? Was he in the hands of enemies or friends? He was alive, that was something. A big something.

Was Clark? Surprisingly enough, there was no thrill of elation at the thought he might not be.

Standing here in the dark dwelling on it would gain him nothing but discovery. He needed to move. He put an ear to the door. Silence. Slipped out into the hall and padded down a corridor that seemed more industrial than high tech. The building shuddered and the lights went out. He froze, sucking in breath.

Emergency lights flickered on, dull red, like the wash of blood. There was a door ahead, open, leading into darkness. There was another body, an unarmed man lying across the threshold. He veered away, looking for another route out. If they were out there, picking off those who tried for the obvious escape, he'd be a fool to give them an easy target.

He found a storage room instead, with a high window. Stacked crates provided a way up to it, but there was no easy way down the other side. He dropped eight feet, landed awkwardly, skinning one knee and the palms of his hands on brittle grass and gravel. It was cold. Not as cold as the Artic - - but winter cold regardless. A gust of cold air wafted up under the lab coat, and it felt like his balls wanted to curl up into the warmth of his body. He shuddered, wrapping his arms around himself, and ran away from the lights at the close end of what could only be a warehouse, heading instead towards the darkness.

There was a chain link fence that ran the length of the building, and beyond that other long, low shapes of warehouse buildings. He heard the rumble of an engine and the crunch of wheels on gravel, saw the flash of headlights coming towards him and darted towards the fence, crouching low until he found a break in the chain big enough for a boy maybe, to slip through. He squeezed past, jagged edges of cut links scoring through the thin fabric of the coat on his back. He lay flat in the damp grass on the other side as the vehicle passed slowly past. Big black hummer without markings of any sort, without even license plates to identify it, searching for escapees.

As soon as it was gone, he rose, pelting across the narrow clearing, across a shallow drainage ditch to the safety the shadow of the neighboring building offered.

He kept to those darkness's as he worked his way further and further away. He only began to breath normally again when the warehouses bled into a run down industrial sector and eventually into a low rent area. He could see the silhouette of a city beyond the rooftops, but the shape of it was unfamiliar. Ponderous and dark. Not Metropolis by a long shot.

He passed a thrift store, closed and dark inside. A glass paned door proved an easy in and he crept inside, gingerly stepping over shattered glass.

He prowled the racks of clothing in the darkness, hurriedly seeking anything to insulate from the cold. A pair of worn jeans that seemed about his size. A long sleeved jersey with a faded team logo. No underwear. He supposed even those reduced to buying their clothing second hand hesitated at wearing other people's used briefs, but having no prior thrift store experience, he could only assume. Clark would know.

Clark. He flashed on those eyes - - so damned large and expressive - - wide-eyed innocence, soft with empathy, diamond edged with anger, indignant, liquid and begging in those last moments for him to buy into the fiction.

Why hadn't he taken the time to at least listen and appease years of curiosity, again? Really, after all that time driving himself mad wondering, he wasn't entirely sure why he hadn't garnered a few more facts before rushing to end it all. It wasn't as if Clark had been doing anything at the time to indicate world domination was about to begin. Curious.

He shook his head, fighting off the odd feeling of disassociation. Slipped into the jeans commando and pulled the jersey over his head. Found socks and sneakers and an olive drab coat with a hood. Given his most distinguishing feature, a hood would certainly come in handy.

He stopped by the cash register on his way out, but all it contained was hard change. He pocketed the quarters and headed for the door.

A stack of old newspapers at the end of the counter caught his eye. His own face stared up at him. A decent enough picture, but it was the headline that made his stomach lurch.

LuthorCorp CEO declared dead. He picked it up, the shadows too dense to make out the small print. He stuffed it under his arm and hurried out of the store, heart thudding in his chest again and he wasn't even being chased. His mind raced with possibilities. He'd known there'd be a likelihood of not coming back when he'd undertaken the quest and he'd made arrangements for people he trusted to fill the void. Well, as thorough as a man could in less than a week when arranging the succession of an empire.

But still, for them to declare him dead without a body to back the claim up? That was jumping the gun and most certainly not in his best interests. Lex pulled out the paper, squinting to see the date.

It was the Gotham Post, which was why the story only took up a quarter of the page above the fold. The date was six months past the date he'd left for the Arctic. But it was an old paper, so more time than that might have passed.

In the light of a streetlamp, he paused to read to the accompanying story. Acting LuthorCorp CEO Tess Mercer announced Friday, that after an exhaustive six month search, Lex Luthor, son of the late Lionel Luthor has been declared dead. It went on to outline the cover story of oil exploration and his plane going down in extreme Artic conditions.

The least they could have done was be a little more creative with the cause of death. The plane crash thing was getting a bit cliché. Eaten by polar bears or abominable snowmen would have had a more inspired ring.

He crumpled the paper, growling a little in irritation. He wouldn't have figured Mercer to give up on him so easily. Her tenacity had attracted his attention in the first place and her penchant for loyalty had made her a good choice for dealing with certain aspects of his affairs that not just anyone could be trusted with. That and she'd been half in love with him - - an emotion he'd been more than happy to play upon in garnering her unswerving support.

He tossed the paper in an overflowing trashcan, stuffed cold hands in pockets. He needed more information than an out of date newspaper from a city that wasn't even his, contained.

If this were Gotham then there would be no few establishments open in the wee hours of the night or morning where he could access all the information he needed.

 


 

Lex plopped his handful of quarters on the counter and silently dared the clerk to make an issue of it.

The kid looked up, over the tops of his wire framed glasses, from the text book he'd been reading, clearly annoyed that his study time had been interrupted. According to the clock on the wall, it was 3:17 and other than the clerk, the sleepy looking girl behind the counter of the coffee bistro and a hyper-caffeinated looking college age couple huddled together at a table near the back, Lex was the only other customer in the little cyber/coffee café.

He'd walked twenty city blocks to find it, through the less than confidence installing night streets of low-rent Gotham. He'd been approached by two vagrants seeking handouts, a transvestite hooker desperate for one more trick before daylight drove her inside and followed for three blocks by a trio of thugs before a passing police cruiser made them veer off into the shadows of an alley.

Considering Gotham City's crime rate per capita, he considered himself lucky to have survived the trip.

"This will get you an hour's computer time." The clerk reluctantly counted out change. There was just enough left over for a cup of plain coffee, if the girl brewing it might be persuaded with a smile and a few smooth lines to forego sales tax.

He settled down five minutes later with a cup of coffee - - black, because with the fog that still lingered at the edges of thought, he needed his caffeine undoctored- - at a terminal in the back from which he could keep an eye on the door.

He sat for a moment, soaking in the actual date. The paper had been old. Close to five months. Which meant he'd lost almost a year. It was chilling, trying to wrap his mind around so huge a blank. Where had he been? In who's hands? Had it been the result of injury or something done to him by Clark and Clark's alien technology or by someone within whose power he'd fallen after?

Sitting there making wild assumptions wasn't helping. Concrete facts were needed. So he shook off the shock and started working.

The first thing he did was Google himself. As expected, the name Lex Luthor dredged up a daunting number of results. He narrowed the search down to recent news articles and hit the jackpot.

Not a happy jackpot, granted, but the information was enlightening.

The first headline he read made his fingers curl and his blood pressure start to rise. The newly merged Queen Industry/ LuthorCorp announced today the launch of a new satellite communications system . . .

He didn't get to the details of that venture, too busy silently cursing and seeing red around the edges of his vision. He clutched the edge of the table, forcing calm and went in search of the details of this so-called merger.

There was no fucking way Oliver Queen had acquired controlling shares of LuthorCorp without insider help. Merger his ass. It was a hostile takeover and the only person who could have brought it about - - that he had graciously arranged to have full control of his assets if he failed to return - - was Tess Mercer.

There was a picture of her with Oliver Queen, the both of them in evening wear, obviously at some event, obviously closer than mere business associates from the subtle way his hand hovered over the small of her back, from the way the photo caught her looking up at him from under her lashes.

That bitch. That backstabbing little cunt who'd sold him out. Of all the people to betray him to - - no one presently alive could have rankled more than Oliver Queen.

He took another few calming breaths, trying to avoid a meltdown in a public place. He scrolled down the list of articles, putting together pieces of the puzzle. The explosion at LuthorCorp was curious. It had taken out the old board, which was a shame, for most of the members had been hand picked by him and relatively loyal to the Luthor name. They might have fought the merger if they'd gotten their act together and presented a united front. What a happy coincidence for Tess and her smarmy, whoremonger of a boyfriend that they'd been taken out of the equation. It gave them the opportunity to form a new board of directors of their choosing. Which meant Lex would have no allies there.

It also meant he'd have a hell of a time getting control of his assets back. If he'd been declared legally dead, everything would have been dispersed to a board of trustees, the head of which unfortunately - - was Tess Mercer. Even if he showed up alive and well, unless she were willing to hand the reigns back over - - unlikely - - it might take months of legal battles to untangle the mess if he had to battle LuthorCorp lawyers funded by his own damn money.

He sat for a while, mind whirling with possibilities, with reasons and courses of action, none of which seemed viable without the resources to back him up. He had accounts scattered about. Emergency funds. Emergency contacts. He logged onto one, and entered the account number from memory.

Account terminated. He swallowed and tried again, carefully reentering the numbers. He got the same results.

He tried another private account in the Caymans. This one came up with no record at all of the account ever existing.

That bitch. The one person he'd trusted to manage his affairs and she'd wiped him out. He couldn't begin to fathom why she' d gone to so much trouble.

If he'd taken more time before he'd rushed off - - set up more safety measures, more back doors in case of emergency - - he'd not be in an untenable situation now. But waiting had not been an option then, when all he'd been able to think about was Clark and the years long deception and himself being fool enough to buy into it. Nothing short of death could have kept him from that rendezvous and the simple common sense of practicing a little expediency hadn't stood a chance.

Clark. If Lex had lost a year of his life, then what had happened to Clark? The need to know hit him suddenly, with more urgency than the curiosity about his own reported death.

Clark had always kept a low profile, but there was bound to be something. A mention in the hometown paper at the very least of one of its lifetime resident's gone missing.

Strangely enough, he was almost relieved when he didn't find it. What he did discover was Clark Kent's name in the bylines of several newspaper articles. Staff writer for the Daily Planet. Most of his published works were shared pieces with Lois Lane and he always got second billing. There were a few obscure, far under the fold pieces with his name alone. The most recent dated two weeks ago.

He sat back and stared at the screen. So Clark was alive and well and finally off the farm. He was frankly surprised he'd had the initiative to make the move, and maybe in the far back corner of his mind where he kept the things he was a little embarrassed to admit, a tiny bit proud. A junior staffer in a big city newspaper was a big step. A salary barely above poverty level for a first year writer wouldn't be much improvement over the living he'd etched out for himself on the family farm, but still, it was a start. Which left Lex to wonder, when exactly the world conquering was scheduled to begin? Really, what exactly was Clark waiting for? At the rate he was going the human race would extinguish itself before he had to lift a hand. Maybe that was the plan. Wait around long enough and they'd wipe themselves out. It didn't lend much to the doom and destruction speech Kara had given him. And again - - why hadn't he taken a little time to check a few facts before flying off the handle? Where was all that attention to detail that he liked to pride himself on?

Flown the coop with the rest of his prudence, at the chance to save the world and gain a little justly earned vengeance simultaneously. Sitting here now, he wasn't entirely sure which of those two motivations had moved him more. Disturbing to be unsure.

His computer time was up. The dregs of his coffee were cold, but he swallowed it down regardless.

Metropolis was where he needed to be. He needed to look Tess Mercer in the eye and demand answers. He needed Clark where he could keep an eye on him. He needed his world back in order.

 

 

 

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