Chapter 4: This Is Getting Expensive
Lex liked Billy Batson. He’s smart enough to ask the questions on people’s hearts, but too naïve to ask the questions on their minds. Their interview had run long, much longer than Lex had scheduled it to last. He’d just sent his secretary an order for some hot soup and sandwiches from the local deli. The boys in R&D must be getting antsy. That won’t hurt them. They can keep building starships for another two hours; I’d be a fool to let this interview go. The softball questions kept coming.
“Your hardware and software innovations in the past few years have supplied 90% of LuthorCorp’s revenues, but you’ve kept your lines of transport and arms products on the market. One could ask why you don’t drop the overhead costs and just solely produce tech.”
“Cars, planes, and guns still make money, and they keep people employed. And if they’re employed, they’re happy. Their families are fed. Their homes are kept in order. Sure, it’s expensive, and it doesn’t make for a lean corporate structure, but these people stand a better chance with me than they do if I shut the lines down.”
And of course, it’ll be a different story when LuthorCorp unveils the first human-made interstellar starship. It’s pitiful, really. Of the myriads of LuthorCorp employees making parts on assembly lines, not one realizes that they couldn’t possibly be components of automobiles. Ah, well. You don’t want a genius on the assembly lines, anyway.
The sandwiches arrived, and the interview progressed.
“So, with Metropolis Works! in effect, crime seems to be a thing of the past.”
“Indeed. I’m told the police department is focusing most of its energies on solving old crimes.”
“And what about Superman? How’s he factoring into this?”
“Superman remains at a distance from Metropolis Works! activity. I hardly interact with him, you know. He used to assist the police force of Metropolis more often, but I suppose he’s recognized that they’re more than capable of handling this city on their own now.”
“Now that Metropolis Works?”
“You say you’re not in contact with Superman very much anymore—”
“I never said ‘anymore.’”
“There’s no tension between the two of you at all?”
Well, I do wish he were dead, or gone forever by some other means. Odd. What would this kid know about any of that? I’ve never breathed a public word, never written a thing about my differences with that alien usurper. There’s never been any public confrontation—no confrontations at all since the Brainiac War. This kid is either remarkably insightful or he’s been in talks with that Justice League. There’s an easy way to find out.
“There was, for a time. You must understand that Superman and I were competitors, in the business sense. Years before the Brainiac invasion, when you would have been a young child, LuthorCorp was in talks with a client about a weapons contract for a highly sensitive mission. I had beaten out the competition and was about to sign the deal, but the client folded—Superman had volunteered to take care of the conflict himself, free of charge. Of course, it was an expensive loss for me, and not one that made me especially happy.”
Billy was taking in the story unquestioningly. If he weren’t already familiar with this story, he would have asked about the client—or half a dozen other things I just said. Well, he’s not remarkably insightful. He knows someone. I wonder who.
A loud crash interrupted his thoughts. Explosions echoed from downtown. Lex sprang to the window to see what was going on. Light flashed. People screamed. And then something leapt toward the LuthorCorp building from several blocks away.
Is that . . . a dump truck?
It was a dump truck, and it sped through the air directly toward Lex’s penthouse office. Lex dove to the floor.
“Billy, get down!”
But Billy Batson was gone.
There was an intensely bright flash and a roar of thunder—no dump truck hit the building. Lex looked up and saw the truck suspended just inches from the window glass. It rose, lifted by a massive figure in red, white, and gold. He had read the reports of sightings from Fawcett City during the Brainiac War and thereafter. Lex had never seen him in person, but he immediately recognized the hero before him.
Captain Marvel. Interesting, Batson.
* * *
Captain Marvel caught the behemoth truck with ease. He sped to the street below and placed the truck on the pavement, then looked back up to the executive suite. I hope I was fast enough. There’s still some beef between Lex and Superman—I’m beginning to think Superman had Luthor wrong, but I don’t need Lex to know this about me, yet.
He didn’t have time to worry about that. Another car was whizzing overhead toward Lex’s office. Marvel took flight and snagged the Volkswagon with one hand, only to swipe a Buick from the air with his other. Why do the bad guys always take it out on the cars? More vehicles were coming toward him, and Marvel instinctively tossed the ones in his hands into the bay half a mile away and caught the next ones.
OK, this getting expensive.
Marvel rocketed in the direction the cars were sailing from, swatting oncoming automobiles away as safely as he could. The cars kept coming. Then they stopped, and Marvel was struck by something far stronger than a sedan. Superman hit the Captain hard in midair. A loud crack ripped through the atmosphere as the two demigods collided over the city and spun off in different directions.
Marvel got back up and looked around. What’s gotten into him? I know Superman blames Lex about Wonder Woman, and I know he’s tried to keep him from dealing arms to warlords abroad, but Superman’s never tried to kill anyone before. Well, unless you count Brainiac—if you could count that as a living thing to begin with.
A column of smoke was forming just a few blocks away, where Marvel could hear car alarms blaring wildly. The raging bulk of Kryptonian emerged above the dense smoke, and great red flash shot out in Marvel’s direction. Superman’s heat vision tore through buildings. It melted mailboxes. Fire hydrants boiled over and erupted in steam as the concentrated heat wave made its way toward the world’s mightiest mortal.
OK, this is about to get VERY expensive.
* * *
Lex didn’t waste any time.
So the little reporter is the up-and-coming Captain Marvel? That’s good to know. And it’s a lucky thing he is; I’d hate to have the press see my costume.
At his thought, the various metal sculptures in the room—abstract knickknacks to any human eye—became fluid and leapt onto his frame. The nanotechnology churned about him, coating him from his shoes to the crown of his bald head, then solidified into a silvery black exoskeleton.
I knew this would come in handy sometime.
“My, you clean up nice.”
Lex spun around. The Joker strode into his office and kicked the door shut behind him. The two men locked eyes for several seconds as Superman and Marvel’s brawl outside broke their silence with explosions.
“Oh, yeah. That catastrophe out there . . . sorry about the mess.”