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Superman and the Illuminati

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Superman and the Illuminati

Episode One – Corruption

 

A dark Cadillac limousine pulled up beside the Luthorcorp Building and double parked beside the line of parked cars. Traffic came to a shuddering halt behind it and drivers honked their horns impatiently. The uniformed chauffeur got out, staring snootily at the other drivers, while a police officer on a horse approached.

“You can’t park here, buddy,” he said.

The chauffeur ignored him, nose in the air, hat pulled down to shade his eyes. He quickly moved around to the back door, opening it wide and allowing his three passengers to get out. Two were dressed in the finest European fashions money could buy. Both were wearing long cloaks which seemed incongruous in the warmth of a late Metropolis summer.

They were clearly extremely wealthy and so arrogantly full of themselves that they paid absolutely no attention to the continued shouts and horns of the drivers still trying to pass the huge vehicle.

The third man was dressed simply in a black suit with a white shirt and grey tie. He joined the other two waiting at the kerb.

One of the cloaked men, a man with an aristocratic nose and long, silvery dark hair, spoke rapidly in French to the chauffeur.

“Gustave tourné autour de l'immeuble ” he ordered.

“Oui monsieur,” the chauffeur nodded.

The three men went inside while the chauffeur went back to the vehicle and got in, driving off. The police officer had written out a ticket and placed it under the windscreen wipers, but it soon flew away.

The dark haired man swept in as if he was attending a premiere event, rather than heading toward the bank of elevators. The other two followed him into the lift, waiting as the car ascended to the fifth level where the main Luthorcorp reception area was housed.

The man swept out of the elevator and stared at the woman at reception.

“Something you want?” she asked casually, glaring at the three men.

“Monsieur Luthor, s’il vous plait.”

“Name?”

“I ‘ave already told you. Monsieur Luthor, s’il vous plait.”

“I meant your name,” she said, with an uninterested air.

“I am Baron Yves de Rochefort,” he told her, expecting her to be impressed.

“Un huh. Do you have an appointment? Mr Luthor is a busy man.”

“I? I do not need an appointment,” he said with a heavy accent. “I am the Baron de Rochefort. And I am a very busy man myself. Mr Luthor, s’il vous plait. And I do not care to repeat myself once again.”

The woman sighed, yawned, then picked up the phone.

“Yeah, Luce, there’s some guy here wanting to see Mr Luthor. Says he doesn’t have an appointment. Yeah, I told him that, but ... I don’t know. He’s got kind of an accent. I can barely understand a word he says. Some baron, or something.”

She looked up at the man once again.

“What was your name again?” she asked.

The baron harrumphed in impatience. “I am the Baron de Rochefort.”

“Is there something I can do to help you gentlemen?”

The Baron turned and looked at the redheaded woman. She was beautiful. Her facial features seemed to be European in their ancestry. He wondered if her family had come from France, or a neighbouring country.

“And you are?” the Baron enquired.

“Tess Mercer.”

Yves de Rochefort snorted in derision. English. The name’s origin was either Scottish or English, but the meaning was that of a purveyor of fine silks and fabrics of great luxury. Unless, of course, her name was derived from that of le Mercier, but never mind, he thought.

“I am ‘ere to see M’sieur Luthor. Kindly direct me to him.”

“Mr Luthor is a busy man. Please state your business.”

“Very well, Mademoiselle Mercer. My business is that I wish to discuss an, ‘ow do you say, alliance, with Mr Luthor in regard to the one known as Superman.”

Tess’ eyes widened and she nodded. “Follow me,” she said.

The three men followed the redhead to the bank of elevators and joined her in the car. They stared straight ahead, aware of the curious looks of the redhead. But she said nothing.

It wasn’t long before the elevator reached the sixtieth floor of the Luthorcorp building. Tess opened the double doors and walked in.

De Rochefort saw the bald man sitting at the glass topped table. He knew much of Luthor’s recent history. Luthor had disappeared four years earlier after what had been publicised as an accident at a drilling site in the Arctic. Two of Luthor’s men had been killed at the site, after an avalanche had caused the collapse of the structure. Luthor had somehow made it out and had been virtually crippled.

During that time, he had used stem cell research to restore himself back to full health. Lesser men, de Rochefort supposed, would not have been able to survive under such circumstances. But Luthor himself was unique.

“Tess, what the hell?” Luthor said.

“I’m sorry, Lex, but they insisted on seeing you and wouldn’t leave until ...”

De Rochefort strode forward. “M’sieur Luthor, I am Baron Yves de Rochefort. This is my associate, the Marquis Antoine de Sade and Doctor Francesco Donatello. We wish to discuss an alliance with you.”

“An alliance?” Luthor looked puzzled. “What alliance?”

“May we sit?”

Luthor waved his hand. “Of course.”

De Rochefort smiled. But it was not a smile of friendship. Lex could see that this was a man who was used to getting his own way. The Marquis, as well. Both had the look of European aristocrats. The doctor, Donatello, was clearly Italian. His suit was well-cut and obviously by an Italian designer. Armani, perhaps.

Lex got up from behind his desk, not wanting to appear unapproachable.

“We know you are an extremely clever man, M’sieur. We have learned much about you and your miraculous recovery from your accident four years ago. We know about your Project 33.1 and your work with, uh, ‘ow do you say, mutants? We would propose an alliance against the alien known as Superman and we would like your assistance in a very special, er, ‘ow do you say, project?”

“What project?”

“The hybrid. We wish to study it.”

“Hybrid?” Lex asked, puzzled. He thought for a moment.

Doctor Donatello seemed to take his silence for refusal.

“We can take the child with or without your assistance, Mr Luthor. We wish to study it.”

Lex still remained silent, trying to think of a way out of this. Firstly, Superman was his enemy, and something he considered to be his property. Secondly, Lex might be a lot of things, but he would never kidnap an innocent baby. From what he’d heard, Lois Lane had given birth to a baby girl a month earlier. There’d been an announcement in the Daily Planet. Mara. That was her name.

Given that he’d lost his own brother in infancy, he was loath to take an infant away from its mother. No matter who the father was. Lex might hate Clark Kent and all he stood for, but he wasn’t about to let these aristocratic bastards get their hands on the half-human child of Clark Kent. Not if he didn’t want to incur Superman’s wrath.

“What is your answer, Luthor?”

“There will be no alliance. Superman may be an alien and a thorn in my side, but he is my problem and I will not ally myself with the likes of you.”

“You do not comprehend who you are dealing with, Luthor,” de Rochefort told him. “We are very powerful men, you see, and we will do this with or without your aid.”

“Get out of my office,” Lex hissed. “And stay away from Superman.”

De Rochefort turned to his associate and spoke rapidly in French. So rapid that even Lex had trouble keeping up.

“Cette américain refuse une alliance avec nous! Ses gens la sont des vrais barbares ... voila pourquoi il faut aussi surveiller Luthor je refuse que ses anciennes colonies sans histoire et cultures nous donne des orders a nous des européens sans nous il existerais même pas ses primitifs.”

Lex knew a lot of languages and he got the gist of the Baron’s words. In essence the Baron was berating Lex for refusing an alliance and that Americans were barbarians, without history or culture. The Baron was suggesting they should monitor him as well. Lex didn’t appreciate that. Nor did he appreciate the idea that they felt because of them, or their ancestors, America would not exist.

De Sade held out a hand and spoke in French as well.

“Biens sur baron mais nous devons être intelligent nous aurons tout le loisir de les manipuler patience ...patience mon cher ami bientot. “

(Baron, we are on his property, we have to be smart and wait for an opportunity. We need to handle this with patience. Patience my friend. Soon.)

But when the Marquis and the Baron turned cold, sadistic smiles on him, and Tess as well, he shuddered, as if someone was walking over his grave.

De Rochefort’s tone was as cold as ice as he continued.

“Listen to me, M’sieur Luthor. You have no choice. You work with me and my associates. I have many friends here in America and we could ruin your company. You would end up a pauper, miserable and alone, forced to wander the streets. I have a good relationship with your government and with some very powerful businessmen who would ... ‘ow do you say, be desirous to become majority shareholders.”

Take over his company? Over his dead body, he decided.

“Your empire is very powerful M’sieur Luthor, but my Illuminati brotherhood control the world and the system.”

Lex drew in sharp breath. The Illuminati? They were supposedly a shadowy group which claimed to be the power behind the world’s governments and were behind events designed to bring about a new world order. But Lex had never believed in it and as far as he was concerned it was just a conspiracy theory. But what if they weren’t, he asked himself.

“You understand now?” de Rochefort asked, his face a cold mask.

“I don’t take kindly to threats,” Lex returned, a lot braver than he felt. “And as for the Illuminati, they are a myth.”

De Rochefort grinned, reminding him of his father’s own shark-like grins when he was about to destroy someone.

“You have one week to reflect on what I have suggested. I am staying at the hotel Sheridan. If you change your mind, you may contact me there.”

Lex watched them leave, then looked at Tess.

“Find out everything you can on these people. And I mean everything.”

Tess nodded. She walked out, then pulled out a small communicator as her manicured finger pressed the button on the lift. But instead of pressing the down, she pressed up. As soon as the lift doors opened, she walked in, staring straight ahead as the doors closed.

Less than thirty seconds later, Tess emerged on the roof of the Luthorcorp building. She pressed the communicator into her ear and activated it.

“Watchtower, this is Mercer. We have a problem.”

***

The lift ground to a squeaky halt and the doors opened with a creak. A pair of feet in patent leather high-heeled shoes walked out backwards, followed by four wheels of what could only be a baby carriage. The wheels spun around and the high heels turned, walking forward.

The woman was dark-haired and beautiful with hazel eyes that seemed to be rimmed with gold. She walked with confidence as she pushed the carriage along the corridor, ignoring the looks from co-workers as well as the whispers. Her waistline still showed signs of a pregnancy, her belly soft and slightly rounded.

A hand came down to gently stop the carriage. Lois Lane-Kent stared up at her tall, dark and handsome husband. She lifted her hands, circling her eyes in what was by now a familiar gesture. Clark Kent looked absently at her, then his eyes widened.

“Honey,” she said. “I know you hate wearing them, but this was your idea, remember?”

Clark hurriedly pulled his horn-rimmed spectacles out of his pocket and put them on. Instantly he went from tall and rather spectacular to stooped and, for want of a better word, nerdy. His hair was slicked back and he smiled sheepishly.

“What are the two of you doing here anyway?” he asked as he opened the door to their small office. Lois noticed the names on the door. The name Clark Kent was written above hers. She supposed it was done alphabetically, but she was top banana in this working partnership and everyone knew that. The only time Clark Kent ever got top billing was ... actually, she told herself, she still got top billing there too.

“Mara was missing Daddy,” she answered finally, taking the opportunity to check out her husband’s tush of steel. “She kept asking for you.”

“She’s a month old, Lois. She’s not even talking yet.”

Caught, she thought. Ah well, can’t win ‘em all.

“Okay, sue me. I missed this place.”

“Lois, you’re on maternity leave,” Clark sighed.

“Yeah, and who knows what you’ll mess up while I’m gone,” she said as he picked their daughter up in his arms just as she started to cry. It was still amazing to her how his super-hearing could pick things up in an instant. He began to rub his daughter’s back and she began to coo.

“It’s amazing how you can do that,” Lois marvelled.

“I guess I just have the magic touch, Lois.”

“Cute Kent. But I am still getting those Ops guys to change the door.”

“That’s if you can find them,” Clark commented dryly. “Since they heard Mad Dog Lane was on the prowl, they’ve developed skills in hiding that even Superman would be hard-pressed to beat.”

***

De Rochefort paced the hotel suite. It did nothing to settle his mood. He was pissed at Luthor. But never mind, he thought. Luthor was but an insect to be crushed.

De Sade entered the room and spoke in rapid French.

“Les hommes viennent d'arriver a la ferme.” (The men are on their way to the farm)

“Excellent,” de Rochefort smiled. But the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “What have they told the sheriff’s man?”

“Exactly what you told them to say.”

One hour earlier

“Sheriff Rutherford?”

A man aged in his late thirties was sitting at the desk in the sheriff’s office in Smallville. He looked older than his age of thirty eight – he would be thirty-nine in three months. His face had a drawn, pale look to it and his eyes appeared sunken. There were dark shadows underneath.

“Yes?” he said, looking at the two men who had walked into his office. They looked official enough, with what appeared to be expensive suits.

One of them waved an identification badge which looked suspiciously like government agent. But there was something off about them. They didn’t smell like government agents – or at least the government agents he knew. Since most government agents were poorly paid and these guys looked like they didn’t buy off the rack.

“We’d like to talk to you about a Mr ...” the man consulted a notebook. “Clark Kent?”

“What for? And let me see those badges again.”

“That isn’t necessary, Sheriff,” one of them said coolly. Rutherford’s hackles were instantly up.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think is necessary. I want to see those badges again. Now whip ‘em out.”

He peered at the badges, noting down their numbers and the departments the two men, Crawford and Hammersley, worked for. He would make some phone calls later.

“Now, what do you want with Mr Kent?”

“You’re an intelligent man, Sheriff. So we’ll get straight to the point. Our agency is investigating Mr Kent.”

“What for?”

“That’s classified.”

“Like hell it is. Mr Kent is a citizen and a respected member of this community, not to mention the fact that he is the son of a United States Senator. And believe me, he could make a lot of noise, and not just through that paper he works for. If you think I’m going to look the other way, while you boys turn that farm upside down, well you can forget it.”

Crawford and Hammersley walked out of the office, sighing. Obviously the sheriff’s reputation as a straight arrow was right on the money. They had already decided that buying their way into getting onto the farm weren’t going to work with the sheriff.

On the other hand, they thought, there might be hope yet with the sheriff’s deputy, Kelley.

“Mr Kelley,” Crawford said. “Might we have a word?”

They pulled the younger man aside, out of the hearing of Rutherford.

“It must be difficult, trying to raise a family on your wages,” Crawford said. They’d already done their research on the younger man and had learned he worked two jobs just to feed his family.

“It has its moments.”

“We know some people. In the Bahamas. We can get you a good job. You can leave Smallville, with your family.”

Hammersley took out a wad of cash and Kelley eyed it greedily. They’d known he was not above corruption and bribery, for the right price.

“The Bahamas, huh?” he said.

The two men nodded.

“And what do you want in exchange?”

“You screen any calls about any intruders at the Kent Farm. We know that Kent is working at the Planet today and his wife is out. We just need two hours max.”

“Do I want to know what this is about?”

“It’s better you don’t. Do we have a deal?”

Kelley was still eyeing the money. He nodded cautiously, then took the money.

“You guys better not be kidding about the Bahamas.”

“Sure,” Crawford smiled. “We’ll be in touch.”

They headed to the farm and began their search. They were looking for anything which might connect Kent to Superman. Their superiors suspected that Kent was Superman, but they needed proof.

Crawford started upstairs, checking the master bedroom. There was a wedding portrait on the wall next to the bed of Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Married a year and already with a baby. He snorted in derision. Freak, he thought. He hated Superman. There was no doubt in his mind that Clark Kent was the alien. And it bugged the hell out of Crawford. Superman thought he was so superior, up on his high moral pedestal, telling people he was here to guide the people of Earth, not to interfere in human affairs. Sure, Crawford thought.

That was why the Illuminati was so interested in Superman. His presence upset their plans for the new world order.

He made his way into the next bedroom. It had been converted into a nursery. There were motifs on the walls. Fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Idiotic parents, Crawford thought. Well, it wouldn’t be long before they would have the hybrid child. And once they had that, they could control Superman.

There was a yell from downstairs and Crawford ran, drawing his gun. He stared at the beautiful blonde holding Hammersley up against the wall by the throat.

Supergirl.

“Who are you and what are you doing in my friends’ home?” she said with a glare that Crawford was sure would have turned them both to ashes if the alien girl had been so inclined.

Crawford pointed his gun at the blonde.

“Put him down Supergirl, or I shoot.”

Supergirl smirked at him. “Guns can’t hurt me,” she said.

“No,” Crawford smirked back, holding up the gun. “But Kryptonite can. We came prepared. This gun is loaded with Kryptonite bullets.”

Supergirl’s blue eyes turned fierce. She was assessing the situation. Unsure whether he was bluffing or not. It didn’t matter, Crawford told her silently. She would give in.

She dropped Hammersley.

“Who are you?” she said.

Crawford pulled out his identification, thinking quickly.

“NSA?” she asked, staring at the badges curiously.

“We have been investigating Smallville,” he told her. “Specifically some odd incidences which have occurred over the past twenty years or so.”

Kara crossed her arms over her chest and glared at them. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re in the Kent home.”

“We had hoped to talk to the Kents. Specifically Clark. He has lived in Smallville all his life.”

“Why?”

“Because we suspect there are links to a terrorist organisation here.”

Crawford continued to watch Supergirl. He knew she was concerned about the peace and safety of Smallville’s citizens. As well as Metropolis. He paused, waiting to deliver the punchline.

“What link?”

“Do you know Lex Luthor?” he said.

She continued to glare at them. Supergirl was an enigma. She had appeared on the scene almost two years ago, raising the profile of the so-called ‘superheroes’. Crawford studied her. She certainly was beautiful. What he wouldn’t do to have those long, golden legs wrapped around him. His dick throbbed as he pictured himself pounding inside that hot, tight flesh.

Supergirl was saying something and he looked at her, realising he’d become distracted. He wanted to find out who she was when she wasn’t in uniform. He would love to capture her. Take her as his own.

The blonde was clearly not happy at their presence. After berating them, then seeing the two men off the farm, she flew off.

Two and a half hours later, Crawford reported to de Rochefort at the hotel. Crawford bowed in total respect to his superior.

“Monsieur, je regrette, we were unable to search the farmhouse thoroughly. We were interrupted by Supergirl.”

The baron swore in French.

“Who is this Supergirl?”

“We are not sure, Monsieur, but I intend to find out.”

“Do that!” the baron snapped.

Crawford bowed again and left to join Hammersley at the NSA office in Metropolis where he began making a few phone calls. He had a friend in the Department of Domestic Security, and he was sure the friend could shed some light on things. There had been an incident a few years ago that he was sure ...

Crawford idly tapped some keys on his laptop and found himself searching through the net for something on the girl. He found some photographs taken of the girl when she’d first come to Metropolis. She certainly was very beautiful.

Crawford glanced at his colleague. Hammersley remained completely ignorant. But then no one had figured out that Crawford had been placed here by his superiors in the Illuminati. Members of their group had infiltrated every part of American society, from politicians to police officers. Crawford himself had been born in the Netherlands. He’d changed his name from Jan van Kraayenoord to John Crawford as part of his cover.

As he continued to stare at the images of the girl, he felt himself hardening. He moaned as quietly as he could, the brief fantasy he’d had in the farmhouse still on his mind. No one else knew about his sexual proclivities either. At least, not that he knew of.

He finally managed to reach his friend in the DDS.

“Supergirl? Yeah, I think there was some incident a few years back. But the guy you want is dead. Can’t help you.”

“Who was he?”

“Carter. Look, I don’t know what happened, since I wasn’t in Washington at the time. All I know is, Carter was claiming there was some kind of ship found in Kansas in 2007. And there was some kind of incident involving a lab tech who apparently let a girl get hold of his security pass. She broke into a DDS secure facility. And the tech claimed it was Supergirl. “

Crawford reported this information to the baron, who was pleased with the information. But it still wasn’t enough. All it suggested was that Supergirl had been on Earth a lot longer than she claimed to be.

Their research showed that Clark Kent had had a cousin from Minnesota. The story was supposedly that the cousin had been the daughter of Jonathan Kent’s cousin David. Crawford mused over that little bit of information. It sounded as believable as Clark Kent being from Earth, he decided. Since he knew for a fact that the cousins had been estranged and there was no way the daughter of some distant cousin would come to visit Smallville, let alone stay for an indeterminate period.

De Rochefort himself looked satisfied as he read the full report. De Sade looked on.

“This is the proof we need, no? They are cousins.”

“Not yet,” de Rochefort told him. “But Supergirl is clearly protective of the Kents. This may be of use to us.”

“In what way?”

“Send Crawford to talk to the girl.”

De Sade smirked. “Given his proclivities ...”

“I am certain he will do whatever it takes to get the girl to see things his way.”

The two men smiled evilly.

***

Tess marched into Watchtower, flinging the doors open. Chloe glared at her.

“You know, when I had to disappear off the radar for a few months, I said you could help. I didn’t say it gave you free reign to come and go whenever you pleased.”

“This is important, Chloe, you know I wouldn’t be here otherwise. When are you going to stop treating me like the enemy?”

“You happen to still be working for the enemy,” Chloe pointed out.

“And you know very well I’m only working there to keep the League abreast on everything Luthorcorp. Especially since Lex forced Oliver out.” She sighed. “Besides, it’s a good thing I was there today.”

Superman chose that moment to drop in. Green Arrow wasn’t far behind. Oliver pulled off his hood and looked fondly at Chloe. He patted her on the backside.

“Hey,” he said.

“Watch the hands Queen,” she said grinning at him.

“Party pooper,” he told her. “You know, we really should get some kind of bed in here,” he leered suggestively at her.

“Ugh, I may throw up,” Tess intoned.

Clark just raised an eyebrow. “Get used to it. Those two are still in the honeymoon phase.”

“Hey, just because we have a healthy sex life,” Oliver protested.

Clark sighed. He’d known what that was like once. Before Mara came along. He loved being a father – he really did, and he understood that Lois needed time to recover from the birth, but he missed those days when he and Lois could slip away for a little fun without having to worry about deadlines, or a baby screaming for attention.

Chloe had returned for good nine months after Oliver had been captured by the Suicide Squad. Chloe had explained that she had had to exchange herself, then go underground to learn what she could about the threat they were all facing. Once it had been neutralised, she had returned.

Oliver, ecstatic that she was back, had proposed and they had married three months ago. And they took every opportunity they could for some ‘alone time’.

“So what’s going on Tess?” Clark asked.

“Lex had some visitors today. Have you heard of a group called the Illuminati?”

Chloe quickly typed on the computer, bringing up some information on the screen. They read quickly.

“The Illuminati,” she said. “Historically the Bavarian Illuminati, from the Enlightenment period. They were a secret society, founded in 1776.”

“That’s one interpretation,” Tess told them.

“There have been others, though. Through fiction,” Chloe said, reading.

“Remember the Da Vinci Code? Angels and Demons?” Clark said. “Supposedly the Illuminati were involved.”

“And they’re supposedly behind the push for a New World Order. Survival of the fittest.”

“Yeah, but we’re getting into the realms of conspiracy theories,” Oliver pointed out.

“What if we’re not?” Tess said. “Because I just met three people today who claim to be the Illuminati. Or one branch of it.”

She quickly related to them what had happened in Lex’s office.

“They’re asking for an alliance with Lex? And they threatened to destroy Luthorcorp if he didn’t go along with it?” Clark asked. “What did Lex say?”

“What could he say? He tossed them out of his office. But that’s the problem Clark. This baron, whoever he is might just look like he can do it.”

Chloe was quickly doing some research on the computer.

“Well, he’s certainly connected,” Chloe told them. “He’s not only from one of the oldest families in France, but he’s also a powerful figure in the French government.

“Yes, but why would the Illuminati want Mara?” Clark asked.

“Because she’s half Kryptonian,” Chloe answered, before Tess could. “And they could study her. Use her against Superman.”

“But ...” Clark frowned. Then he seemed to understand. “Superman is a threat to the New World Order.”

Tess nodded. “There was a journalist, forced to go underground. Several years ago he wrote several books on that subject. He postulated that every event, whether it was Kennedy’s assassination or the planes flying into the World Trade Centre was all part of a plot to take control of the world’s governments.”

Chloe looked at them. “There’s also the theory that this baron is part of another secret society.”

“La Rose Noire,” Tess said.

“The Black Rose?” Oliver asked. Chloe nodded at her husband.

“Essentially, it’s a group who seek to influence governments all over the world. It’s been going since the early seventies and one of their major interests was in creating one government. And their idea of doing this was through nuclear power. That’s why a lot of the superpowers have been stockpiling nuclear weapons. And that’s why the French government was undertaking nuclear testing in the Pacific. Especially places like Moruroa Atoll.”

“I thought Greenpeace managed to stop that?” Tess asked.

“Maybe in the area, and that was only after French secret agents bombed one of their flagships in New Zealand.”

Clark looked questioningly at Chloe.

“What?”

“The story goes that the Rainbow Warrior was visiting New Zealand, because the government had declared New Zealand a nuclear free zone. Any ships that carried nuclear weapons or was nuclear powered was not allowed in their ports. And it was believed that the DGSE Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure sent agents to stop the Warrior from sailing to the atoll to protest the latest round of testing.

“There were apparently two bombs on board. The crew were evacuated when the first bomb exploded, but a photographer went back to get his equipment so he could take pictures of the damage and he drowned in the second blast.”

“Wasn’t there a huge outcry?” Oliver asked his wife.

Chloe nodded. “There were only two agents caught and arrested and the French government threatened economic sanctions which would have crippled the country if the agents weren’t returned.”

“Okay, so how does this relate to La Rose Noire?” Clark asked.

“De Rochefort is rumoured to have villas in Tahiti and in New Caledonia. That’s near where the nuclear testing took place over thirty years ago. And while the French government admitted responsibility for the bombing, there are some that suggest that there was a bigger influence behind it.”

***

Lois was just getting Mara off to sleep when she heard the screen door open downstairs.

“Clark?”

She turned, heart pounding as she saw Kara in the doorway.

“Kara. God, you almost gave me a heart attack.”

“I’m sorry, Lois. I just wanted to make sure you and Mara were okay.”

“Why wouldn’t we be?”

Lois stared at the blonde, puzzled. But she quickly grew concerned when Kara told her what had happened that day.

“Does Clark know?”

“Not yet,” Kara told her. “But he will.”

Lois sighed. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Were they ever going to have a peaceful life?

The Baron was less than happy with progress. Crawford had reported all he had learned about Supergirl, but it wasn’t enough. He wanted proof that Clark Kent was Superman.

“Si nous pourrions peut-être obtenir quelque chose de lui, nous pourrions tester son ADN.” (“If we could perhaps get something of his, we could test his DNA),” Donatello suggested.

“Mais ils savent déjà que nous avons eu des gens fouillant dans la ferme” (“But they already know we have had people searching the farm) de Sade reminded them.

“Et s'il y avait une certaine façon de garder Superman occupé ? comme une sorte de diversion?” (What if there were some way of keeping Superman occupied? Like a diversion?) Donatello asked.

“Qui connaissons-nous dans le Comté Lowell ?” (Who do we know in Lowell County?) Rochefort asked.

The matter was discussed at some length, with the solution fairly quickly agreed upon. They would set up a diversion in the town centre, enough to keep Superman away from the farm. Once the decision was made, the call went out. By nightfall, the right people had been contacted and the plan would be instigated.

By tomorrow evening, they would have what they wanted. And then they would bring Superman to his knees.

***

“The Illuminati? Clark, they’re a myth!”

Clark nodded as he drained the last of his juice. “I know, Lois, but that’s what Tess told us.” He stood up, grabbing their plates and taking them to the kitchen to rinse before putting them in the dishwasher. Lois followed him.

“I don’t like this Clark. Especially if they’re after Mara.”

“Then we’ll have to be on our guard Lois.”

“I just don’t get it. The Illuminati, the society of the Black Rose. These are just conspiracy theories.”

“Maybe not. Anyway, Tess and Chloe are working together to track down the journalist who went underground. Now tell me what happened this afternoon.”

“All I know is what Kara told me. There were two men who claimed to be from the NSA here. She heard them snooping about. And one of them said he had Kryptonite on him.”

“NSA? Well, Chloe did say something about them having people everywhere.”

“You think there’s a connection?”

“There has to be.” Mara began crying upstairs. Clark looked at his wife. “I’ll get her,” he said.

Since Clark was still working full-time for the Daily Planet, plus his duties as Superman, he didn’t get as much time as he liked to spend with his baby daughter. Maybe she didn’t know the difference at this age, but he liked the time he had with her. Changing her, bathing her. The only thing he couldn’t do was feed her.

Mara was still crying when he went into the nursery. And she smelled ripe. Clark grinned.

“Somebody’s a stinky baby,” he said.

Mara turned her head toward his voice and stopped crying. She knew Daddy was here to take care of things. She wriggled a little in the crib until he picked her up, putting her gently down on the changing table. He set to work, undoing the tape on her diaper. The smell hit him.

“Whoa! Who knew so much could come out of someone so tiny,” he commented. Mara screwed up her face, looking as if she was going to cry again. “Oh no, don’t cry, Daddy will fix it.” He grabbed the baby wipes and began cleaning her up. Within a few minutes the soiled diaper had been put in the pail and a clean diaper had been put on. “Let’s go see Mommy,” he told his daughter, talking to her as he held her in his arms and carried her downstairs.

Lois smiled up at him from the sofa. “She okay?” she asked as she held her arms out for her hungry daughter.

“Yeah, just a dirty diaper.”

Mara latched on to her mother’s breast, suckling contentedly. She was a placid baby. She was yet to show any of her father’s abilities, but they guessed that it would be a while yet before they’d see what abilities she would have.

“What are we going to do?” Lois asked. “If these people are after Mara ...”

“The Justice League are going to take care of it,” Clark told her. “Oliver called in Bart and Victor. They’ll be here tomorrow.”

“Kara said she’d keep an eye on things, too. I still don’t like this Smallville.”

“I know, Lois. The thought of you being alone on the farm makes me uneasy. Especially with the idea that they’re targeting Mara.”

“My sentiments exactly.”

Clark turned, startled. He’d obviously been so distracted, he’d forgotten to use his super hearing and hadn’t heard the car pull up. His startled expression turned into a scowl.

“What are you doing here, Luthor?” he growled.

Mara instantly felt the change in her parents’ mood and started to cry. Lois put her daughter over her shoulder and immediately started trying to soothe her. But Mara kept crying. Lois stood up and touched her husband’s arm.

“Honey, why don’t I take her upstairs and see if I can settle her?” There was an old rocking chair in the nursery which they often used to get their daughter to sleep. Clark nodded and watched her go upstairs, then turned back to his enemy.

“What are you doing here?” he growled.

“I know you’re aware of a certain visit to my office today. You know, the only reason I tolerate Tess’ betrayal is the fact that she is my sister.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is, Clark, they made threats not only against your daughter, but also against my company. And I don’t take kindly to threats.”

“Why should I care about you and your damned company? Considering everything you do is unethical, immoral and downright illegal.”

“And you make it your life’s work to destroy me. This isn’t about our differences, Clark. It’s about a group of people who mean what they say and have the power to do it. To destroy both you and I.”

“Why should it bother you that they’re wanting to destroy me?”

“Personally, I couldn’t care less about them wanting to destroy Superman. But I have never, nor will I ever, allow an innocent child to be caught up in our problems. You know what happened to my brother, Clark. I don’t make war on children.”

“That’s a given. It still doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

“Because I’m suggesting an alliance between us. A temporary truce, if you will. Until the threat is over.” Lex sighed. “Look, they came to me suggesting an alliance with them because they know about my projects. They could either use that information to help or destroy me.”

“Why me?”

“Haven’t you heard the saying ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, or perhaps ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’?”

“Are you comparing me to the devil?”

Lex glared at him. “I still don’t trust you. I still think you’re here to conquer the world. And that opinion isn’t about to change. But from what I’ve learned about the Illuminati, the very thought that they might one day be in charge of this planet is much more worrying.”

“Why? What do you know?”

“Clark, these people will do anything, and I mean anything, to get what they want. They’ve already done it in various parts of the world. Like mass genocide. Terrorist attacks.”

“The World Trade Center, the Rainbow Warrior,” Clark nodded. “We were discussing that this afternoon.”

“There’s more. Clark, these people will do to this planet what the likes of Zod did to Krypton. They’ll destroy it.”

“How do you know about Zod and Krypton?” Clark asked.

“I have my sources,” Lex said smugly. Then he sighed. “Clark, I’m not asking you to like this. But I am suggesting that we can work together on this. For our mutual benefit.”

In other words, Clark thought, Lex would find a way to profit from this. That was, after all, the Luthorcorp bottom line.

Lex left the farm shortly after, hoping he had given Clark something to think about. As much as the two of them hated each other, there were bigger issues at stake here. He, for one, wasn’t going to let some French aristocrat take his company out from under him. And despite their mutual enmity, he had meant what he said. He would never willingly make war on children and the three men had instantly earned his distrust by suggesting they wanted to take the child of Superman and use her in the eternal struggle between the seats of power.

Lex had his own ambitions. He planned to become the youngest president of the United States. But if the Illuminati, or whoever these people were, had their way, that wouldn’t happen.

***

The Wild Coyote had fallen into hard times in the past few years. Its bartender/manager had been murdered after being involved in a plot to kill Lionel Luthor. Since then, no one had really wanted to continue working in the place. It had been taken over a year ago – a hangout for most of the rough crowd that hung out on the fringes of Smallville.

But on this particular evening, the bar was crowded with an even worse group. At least fifty motorcycles were parked outside the bar, and even more people were packed inside. They were drunk, or high, dressed in leathers from head to toe. This was the local chapter of a gang which considered themselves Smallville’s answer to Hell’s Angels. And even the roughest crowd gave them a wide berth.

The bartender had attempted to close the bar when the noise became too raucous. He’d even called in the sheriff, but that had also failed to deter the crowd. The only consolation was they’d done an inordinate amount of business that night.

Around six in the morning, a man, clearly the leader, got up.

“Let’s go,” he told the gang.

The bartender watched, relieved as the men left the bar. The motorcycles roared into life and sped off into the slowly lightening sky. Little did he know that the trouble was just beginning.

***

The midtown area of Smallville was just beginning to come to life. The milk deliveries had been done and the stores were beginning to open. Fordman’s Department Store did not open until nine, but some management staff were already entering ready to start the day’s work. The Beanery, which had been taken over and reopened with the destruction of the Talon, was getting ready to open for the early morning workers, wanting coffee before they started work at the Luthorcorp plant.

The fertiliser plant was still the biggest employer in the town. Its operations had expanded little in the intervening years, but there were still rumours of secret projects going on. Even during Tess Mercer’s reign as CEO of Luthorcorp, she interfered little with the day to day workings of the plant, and had little interest in any of the secret projects. Especially after she’d changed sides.

When Lex had returned from the dead and taken over the helm at Luthorcorp once again, he’d chosen not to rebuild the Talon. It was now a parking garage, which had been Lex’s original plan when he’d bought the building. Lex now cared little for the economic problems of the town, his main interest in controlling Metropolis.

Smallville had seen a number of economic woes in the past five years. Many farms had already been broken up, the land sold, the owners either choosing to get jobs at the plant or moving on to other towns and cities. The recession had hit the small town, named for Ezra Small, a man who, it was claimed, had the ability to see the future. His prophetic visions were written in code, but some suggested he saw the coming of a visitor from another world who would be raised by humans.

The second meteor shower had been the catalyst. Restoration and rebuilding had, for a short while, eased the economic burden; the worldwide recession that followed saw to it that the town never recovered from the disaster that struck in the spring of 2005.

At six-thirty in the morning, the streets were mostly empty. Very few cars were on the road. All seemed fairly quiet and peaceful. But it was soon to be shattered by the roar of motorcycles through the main streets.

They made passes in groups through each street, using whatever weapon they had available to break windows and cause as much destruction as they possibly could in the shortest amount of time. Within minutes, those few staff cowering behind shop counters had called the police, but Sheriff Rutherford could do little to stop the invasion. He was short-staffed and ill-equipped.

He parked his car across the road; an attempt to block the motorcycles. He ordered his two other men with vehicles to try and block the sidewalk. But they were only three men and they didn’t stand a chance against the onslaught of fifty or more men who caused violence and mayhem on a regular basis.

A young woman was walking down the street. She was aged around twenty, slight, slender figure. She was wrapped warmly against the cool Fall wind. As she turned down the street, she stopped, staring in horror at the scene awaiting her. There were at least half a dozen men with weapons ranging from shotguns to baseball bats, smashing windows, doors, parked cars. With a scream, she turned in the opposite direction and began running. Two of the men saw her and laughed, giving chase. She screamed in terror.

Rutherford looked at his men.

“We need help,” he said. Neither of his men were sure whether he was actually speaking to them or himself.

Rutherford went to his car, picking up his radio.

“Dolores, patch me through to a number will you?” He paused. “Yeah, 555-0145.”

***

Clark blinked, rolling over and squinting in the sunlight peeping through the drapes. He was used to rising early. At least in the old days when the farm had been a working farm, he would have. But on weekends now, he took advantage of the time he had to sleep in.

Something had woken him, but he wasn’t sure what. He’d been dreaming. Of Krypton, no less. Of showing his birth parents his wife and baby daughter. Lara had held his daughter in her arms, her hair shining and golden in the light, smiling down at the infant.

“She’s beautiful, Kal-El.”

“We are proud, my son,” Jor-El smiled in a rare showing of emotion. From what Clark had been told, Kryptonians were not emotional as a whole.

Mara had started to cry, the cries echoing oddly in the crystal structure. Then there was the sound of something ringing.

“Clark, phone for you.”

Clark pushed back the bedclothes, quickly getting to his feet and pulling up his jeans. He padded barefoot downstairs and looked at his wife, who was sitting in Jonathan Kent’s old armchair, the baby at her breast.

“Lois?”

“It’s the sheriff,” she said, pointing to the cordless phone next to her. He picked up the receiver.

“Sheriff?”

“I apologise for disturbing you and your wife so early in the morning Mr Kent. But I was hoping you might be able to contact Superman for me. We have trouble in the town.”

“What kind of trouble?”

The sheriff quickly outlined the problem. It seemed a motorcycle gang had started causing havoc in the town. The sheriff called them the Wild Bush 300. They were a Kansas answer to other motorcycle gangs and at least three hundred members strong in the Kansas chapter. At least fifty, maybe more, had invaded the town.

Hanging up the phone, Clark quickly dialled another number.

“Chloe ,” he began.

“Do you realise it’s six-forty-five on a Saturday morning, Clark?” she asked.

“I know. Sorry. But I need Oliver. We’ve got trouble. Tell him to round up the others. Whoever he can find.”

“What is it?”

He quickly told her. “Look, Superman can’t handle this alone.”

Lois looked at him.

“A motorcycle gang?” she asked.

“Yeah. I’m going to change,” he said, zipping back upstairs to change into his Superman uniform. Within seconds he was back downstairs.

“Clark, be careful,” Lois told him.

“I plan to be,” he said, opening the screen door and taking off into the air. Here, at least, they were fairly isolated, and there was little chance of his identity being exposed.

A minute later, Superman touched down beside the sheriff’s car.

“Superman,” he said. “It seems Mr Kent reached you. Did he explain the situation?”

“Yes.” Superman was already scanning the street and saw the young girl being threatened by two of the men. She was trapped against a brick wall in the alley. He took off again, landing right behind the two men.

“Problem, gentlemen?” he said.

The two men turned. One pulled out a large bowie knife, attempting to slash Superman.

“New in town?” Superman inquired. He grabbed both of them by the collars of their shirts, lifting them up in the air. Their feet dangled. They stared at him, then each other, then back at him. With a smile, Superman dumped them both in the trash bin. “Just taking out the garbage,” he quipped. With his heat vision, he welded down the lid.

Superman turned to the cowering girl.

“Are you all right, miss?” he asked.

He knew the girl. She was a neighbour. She worked part-time in the Beanery and was studying at Central Kansas A&M.

“Yes, Superman, thank you. I’m fine.” She wasn’t. She was shaking like a leaf. But he let her go.

Turning, he went back to the problem at hand, trying to gather as many more of the gang as possible. But even he couldn’t round up fifty men in a short time. After an hour, he was relieved to see Oliver on the roof, aiming arrows at the tyres of each motorcycle.

While he was taking care of the next lot, another three were bowled over like pins and he knew Bart had joined the fray.

***

Lois had just laid the baby down and had turned the television off. KPAZ was reporting live from downtown Smallville. The female blonde reporter was gushing enthusiastically for the efforts of the Justice League who were kept busy rounding up the gang.

She heard a crash from upstairs.

“Who’s there?” she asked.

Grabbing an iron poker from the fire, she started up the stairs.

“Someone there?” she asked. “I must warn you I have a ... weapon.”

There was still no answer. Lois began to assume she had imagined things. She heard it before she saw it. There was a slight hissing sound, then she saw smoke.

“What the hell?” she said to herself.

No sooner had she spotted the smoke then she began to feel dizzy and nauseous. Fighting the faintness, she struggled to get to her daughter’s room, but the blackness was already overcoming her. She collapsed to the floor.

Crawford smiled down at the fallen body of Lois Lane-Kent, then dragged it into the nursery. He continued his search through the house, confident there would be no one to stop him. He checked in the bathroom, gathering everything he thought would give him the evidence he needed, placing them in small bags which he sealed.

Stepping back out into the hallway, he started down the room to the nursery.

“Dude! Something I can help you with?”

Crawford stared at the man standing at the top of the stairs. He saw him glance into the room that had become the child’s nursery, then spot the woman’s body on the floor.

Crawford didn’t understand. The gas should have been enough to knock out an elephant. But this young man wasn’t even showing any ill effects. Granted, it had been a few minutes and the gas had had some time to dissipate, but he still should have shown some signs.

AC glared at the man. Clearly the man had tried to do something to hurt his friends and he didn’t stand for it.

Oliver had called him, asking him to come to the farm, since he was in the area. He knew there were problems with gang activity in town, and he had been surprised that Oliver hadn’t asked him to go there, but now he was glad that Oliver had asked him to keep an eye on Lois and the baby.

AC grabbed the man by the collar. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

Crawford struggled to get out of AC’s grip, thrashing. He felt himself being pulled downstairs. Fortunately, Crawford had once again come prepared. They were faced by another of the Baron’s men, holding a gun.

“Drop him,” the man ground out harshly.

AC bit his lip, but did as he was told. The man lifted his weapon and cold-cocked him, knocking him out.

“I’ve got what I needed,” Crawford told him. The two men walked out of the farmhouse without a backward glance.

***

Clark and the others quickly rounded up the remaining men and handed them over to the sheriff, who had also called in the State police. The gang leader was taken into custody and would be held at the Smallville jail.

Not waiting for his friends, knowing he would be reporting to Watchtower later, Clark flew back to the farm. He quickly noticed AC on the floor. He was already stirring, a large bump on the back of his head. With trepidation, Clark sped up the stairs. Lois was still passed out on the floor of the nursery.

Clark spotted the gas bomb and saw red. Someone had tried to hurt his family. Picking up his wife in his arms, he carried her to their bedroom and lay her down on the bed. Then he checked on his daughter, who was sleeping peacefully. The gas hadn’t drifted into the nursery and Mara was unharmed.

Going back downstairs, he saw Oliver waiting for him, tending to AC, pressing an ice pack to his head.

“What the hell’s happened?” Oliver asked.

“It was a diversion. To get me out of the house. I’m sure of it,” Clark said.

“What are you going to do?”

“Talk to the leader. Lois is still passed out upstairs. They gassed her.”

“Oh my god! Is she all right?”

“Yeah. And Mara’s fine. Stay with them. I’m going to the jail.”

“Clark, don’t do anything rash.”

“I don’t intend to,” Clark said, but even Oliver knew he was lying.

At the jail, he persuaded the sheriff’s man to let him talk to the man in the cell. As soon as he strode in, the man glared at him.

“Who sent you?” Clarkasked, in his most intimidating tone.

The man refused to look at him. Clark lifted him, pushing him against the wall.

“Tell me,” he ground out.

“You won’t beat them,” the man said. “They’re everywhere.”

“Who?”

“The Illuminati,” the man grinned.

***

The Baron received the report from Crawford with a smile.

“It begins,” he said.

END OF EPISODE ONE

Chapter Text

Episode Two: Revenge

 

1989

Yves de Rochefort had yet to inherit the lands and title which would grant him the right to be called ‘Baron’. Yet, as was his breeding, he was already known for his arrogance and his certainty that he was vastly superior and a servant of none. At the age of twenty-nine, he had already spent years travelling the world and learning his responsibilities as befit his station.

De Rochefort was not a naive man. He had been taught from an early age about his family’s involvement in secret societies. They considered it not only a privilege and an honour, but their right as titled members of the French upper crust to be members of such organisations as La Rose Noir, the Skull and Bones society, the League of Shadows and such like. There were many names for them, but they all were controlled by one – the Illuminati.

Their plan was simple. Create an environment which would necessitate the forming of a world government. Either through acts of terrorism, economic depressions and world wars. It would be a slow process. They would not make the same mistakes of their predecessors. Woodrow Wilson, supposedly a member of the Progressive Movement in the early years of the twentieth century, had been one of their ‘puppets’. But his League of Nations plan had been a failure. The United Nations was better, but it was seriously undermined by various international bodies who had no interest in being overruled by it.

But they could wait. The Illuminati had been working toward their goal for centuries and they learned from their mistakes. Now they were working on creating an era of violence, terror, and moral bankruptcy, secretly financing those they saw fit to come to power. Those they decided would make the perfect puppets for their plan to eventually create an outcry for a world government.

Nothing, Yves de Rochefort decided, would get in their way.

But something was about to occur that could change all that.

“Dr Swann will see you now.”

De Rochefort studied the brunette. Bridgette Crosby was attractive. Aged in her early thirties, she had large, luminous eyes, clear, olive skin and a slender figure. He had learned she was French-Canadian by birth, but had lived in the United States for some years.

He followed Bridgette through the New York Planetarium, musing why Virgil Swann had chosen to live in such a place. He had known the man had become eccentric, ever since a car accident had robbed him of the use of his body, turning him into a tetraplegic, and a virtual recluse. But it was his quest to find life outside the solar system that had driven him here. Dismissed as a crackpot by the greater scientific community, nevertheless, Virgil Swann had refused to compromise and had been adamant his search would not be fruitless.

“Dr Swann,” he said with a smile which did not reach his eyes. “Thank you for seeing me.”

Virgil Swann might be in a wheelchair, and not in complete control of all his faculties, but his mind was razor sharp and his eyes reflected that sharpness. He glared at this man, this interloper. He disliked him on sight. From his long dark hair to his patrician nose.

“What brings a member of La Rose Noire here?” Virgil asked.

De Rochefort raised an eyebrow at him in surprise. It was clear he had not realised Virgil’s research would have gone that in-depth. De Rochefort started to speak in French but Virgil quickly canted his head in a gesture of dismissal, and if not a little anger.

“At least have the courtesy when you come into my sanctuary to address me in my native language,” he said coldly. De Rochefort’s eyes flashed in anger and arrogance, but he didn’t voice his thoughts.

“I apologise, monsieur Swann.”

“’Doctor’, if you don’t mind,” Virgil said coolly.

De Rochefort made a small bow. “Doctor, then. I came to discuss with you your meetings with Lionel Luthor, Robert Queen and Edward Teague. I believe you call yourselves the Veritas Society.”

“It is merely an astronomy club,” Virgil told him, refusing to show his alarm. How had this arrogant man known about the society. He was tempted to glance at Bridgette. She was one of the few who did know about the true nature of the society.

“You place a great deal of trust in these individuals, all for an astronomy society. Is that really its purpose, or is there something darker in its nature? The word Veritas ...”

“Is Latin for truth,” Virgil answered. “I am aware of that. Roman mythology names her as the goddess of Truth yet she was an elusive creature.”

“Ah, but truth is always elusive, is it not?”

“When you consider universal truths, perhaps. And men have died seeking the answer to those truths.”

“An unusual title, then, for an astronomy society, do you not think so? I do not believe it is an astronomy society, Dr Swann,” de Rochefort said, placing emphasis on the name. “I believe it is so much more. Something far more dangerous.”

“Is that so?”

“I believe you are searching for someone known as ‘the Traveller’.”

This time, Virgil’s eyes did flick to Bridgette. She flinched under his gaze and he knew that she had spoken out of turn. The two of them had once shared an intimate relationship, but that had ended after his accident. He had chosen to live the life of a virtual hermit, but she had continued to work with him and for him. He now knew she had betrayed him.

“I know nothing of such things,” Virgil said, returning to gaze steadily at de Rochefort. “This interview is at an end. Good day, sir.”

With a dismissive flick, Virgil turned his wheelchair and left the room. Bridgette glanced at the visitor.

“I’ll see you out.”

Present Day

As Yves de Rochefort gazed out of the window of his hotel room in Metropolis, he reflected on that conversation. Both Swann and Bridgette Crosby were dead. One at the hand of Lionel Luthor, the other, he believed, at the murderous hands of Genevieve and Jason Teague.

Genevieve, he recalled, had ancestry dating back to medieval times in the French aristocracy. It had been prophesied centuries earlier of the coming of - if not the messiah, then a being with the power to rule the world. To bring the Earth into a new age of heroism. The Illuminati could not have that.

He had known, when he talked to Virgil Swann, that the Veritas Society had known about the Traveller, the being now known worldwide as Superman. He had hoped to persuade Dr Swann into giving him everything he knew about the being from another world. Such a being would be the perfect instrument with which the Illuminati could have launched their quest for power. If he could be controlled.

Had the young boy who had become Clark Kent, and thus Superman, been raised by a member of that society, the Earth would be much different.
Donatello entered the room. He bowed deeply to the baron.

“Mon ami,” he said, "Les résultats du test sont de retour. L'ADN récupéré sur objets trouvés dans la maison Kent ne ressemble à rien que nous ayons jamais connue. Clark Kent est Superman. C'est confirmé.”

De Rochefort nodded. “Bien.”

“Nous avons aussi la transcription de l'équipement de surveillance implantés il ya quelques jours. Lex Luthor a effectué une visite à la ferme des Kent le même jour ou nous avons visité la Luthorcorp.”

“Tout comme je l'avais prédit,” de Rochefort told him. “Luthor a toujours été machiavélique dans son approche des affaires et de la guerre."

“Somme nous en guerre?”

“Pas encore ,mon ami,” de Rochefort smirked. “Mais c'est clairement la croyance Luthor qu'il ya un avantage à former une alliance avec son ennemi, pour battre un ennemi commun. Je comprends Luthor. Plus je le sait. Luthor a été enseigné par son père pour faire des affaires comme l'on pourrait mener une bataille. Il a été élevée avec les écrits des grands philosophes.Platon, Socrate, Machiavel et Sun Tzu. Avez-vous jamais lu l'Art de la guerre, mon ami?”

“Je ne peut pas dire que je l'est fait.”

“Nous devons enseigner une leçon de Bonne maniere a Luthor,” de Rochefort smirked. “Nous lui avons offer tune alliance et il a choisi de travailler contre nous.”

“Et qu'est-ce que Sun Tzu a à voir avec cela?"

“Sun Tzu dit: ‘dans l'art pratique de la guerre, la meilleure chose est que dans tous les pays prendre l'ennemi intact et entier est meilleurs que de le briser et de détruire’.”

“Vous proposez de prendre sa compagnie?"

“Précisement. Mais le plan est double.Luthor a une soeur.”

“Nous l'avons rencontrée. Tess Mercer. Elle a été adoptée quand elle avait cinq ans, et e elevée en Louisiane par un imbécile qui ne savait pas lire, et abusé d’elle je crois.”

“Bah! L'homme était un fou! Quant à Lionel Luthor, il a abandoné petite fille, mais bon il est mort. Elle est une femme belle, non? "

“Tres belle.”

“Ensuite, cela ne serait pas difficile pour vous, mon ami. Pour citer le philosophe une fois de plus, il est essential de recherché les agents de l’ennemi qui sont venus à faire de l’espionnage contre vous ensuite de les soudoyer pour vous server. Leur donner des instructions et des s'occuper deux..”

Donatello smiled. “Vous voulez que je séduise la bélle Tess Mercer.”

De Rochefort looked at his friend. Donatello was an attractive man, and, being Italian, well versed in the art of seduction. He was sure that Tess Mercer would indeed be seduced.

“Et la persuader de travailler pour nous.”

Donatello bowed again. “Ce serat fait monsieur et avec le plus grand plaisir.”

** Translation:

“My friend, the test results have come back. The DNA recovered from the items found in the Kent home is like nothing we have ever known. Clark Kent is Superman. It is confirmed.”

“Good.”

“We also have the transcripts from the surveillance equipment planted several days ago. Lex Luthor made a visit to the Kent Farm the same day we visited Luthorcorp.”

“It is as I predicted. Luthor has always been Machiavellian in his approach to business, and in war.”

“Are we at war?”

“Not yet, my friend. But it is clearly Luthor’s belief that there is an advantage in forming an alliance with his enemy, to beat a common foe. I understand Luthor. More than he knows. Luthor was taught by his father to conduct business as one would conduct a battle. He has been raised with the writings of the great philosophers. Plato, Socrates, Machiavelli, and Sun Tzu. Did you ever read the Art of War, my friend?”

“I cannot say that I have.”

“We must teach Luthor a lesson in manners. We offered him an alliance and he chose to work against us.”

“And what does Sun Tzu have to do with this.”

“Sun Tzu said ‘in the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good’.”

“You are suggesting taking his company?”

“Precisely. But the plan is twofold. Luthor has a sister.”

“We met her. Tess Mercer. She was adopted when she was five years old, and raised in Louisiana by an imbecile who could not read, and abused, I believe.”

“Bah! The man was a fool! As for Lionel Luthor, abandoning the girl-child, it is good that he is dead. She is a beautiful woman, no?”

“Very beautiful.”

“Then it would be no hardship for you, my friend. To quote the philosopher once again, ‘it is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them’.”

“You wish me to seduce the beautiful Tess Mercer.”

“And persuade her to work for us.”

“It shall be done, Monsieur. It will be my pleasure.”

***

Lois stamped her foot impatiently as she waited for the elevator to take her to the top floor of Watchtower. It had been an eventful week. What with the agent, whoever he was, coming to the house at the weekend, then Clark running, or should that be flying, she thought wryly, around trying to find the agent and find out what, if anything, had been taken from them, she hadn’t had a moment’s peace.

Mara was the only one of them who seemed to be undisturbed by everything that had happened. She had slept peacefully during the home invasion, and she hadn’t been disturbed by the sedating gas. Being half-Kryptonian had its advantages, Lois supposed.

Since that weekend, Oliver had offered them a place to stay in the clock tower penthouse. Given that the farm had been invaded twice in just as many days, Clark and Lois hadn’t wanted to face being alone and so isolated on the farm, and they had readily agreed to Oliver’s offer. It made for slightly crowded accommodations, with the little family, and Chloe and Oliver together in the apartment, but they had made it work for the last week.

The elevator doors opened and Lois walked out into chaos. Chloe and Oliver were busy packing documents and two laptop computers into briefcases.

“Going somewhere?” she asked.

Chloe looked at her. “Yeah. We found the journalist. The one who went underground after writing all those books about the Illuminati.”

“Where is he?” Lois asked.

“Canada.”

“Ooh, make sure you bring me back some maple donuts,” Lois grinned. “They make the best ones there. How long will you be gone?”

“Dunno,” Oliver answered. “Depends on how long it takes to find this guy. We have a last known address, but ...”

“He may not be there,” Chloe finished. “It’s a lead, and it’s the best one we have. How are you guys doing?”

“Let’s see. Clark is driving me crazy with his search for these Illuminati guys, I’m going stir crazy with cabin fever, and Mara ... Actually, Mara’s the only one who seems to be taking it in her stride.”

“She’s five weeks old, Lois. It’s not like she understands what’s going on.” Her cousin smiled at her and picked up the infant from the carrier.

“I know,” Lois sighed.

The elevator doors opened again and Tess came out. “Lois,” she said.

The two women would never be close friends. Lois acknowledged that. And Tess was often a little too cool in her demeanour.

“What did Lex say about you going on this trip?”

“What could he say,” Tess shrugged. “I’m supposedly his second-in-command, but that doesn’t make him my boss. He is my brother. Biologically speaking. He did ask me to ask Clark if he’d given any thought to what they talked about.” She turned and looked at Lois. “Do you know what he’s talking about?”

“Lex suggested an alliance.” Lois snorted. “As if I’d trust Chrome Dome.”

“I don’t know,” Chloe mused. “I mean, if I was in his position, I would go with the lesser of two evils.”

The open panel in the dome was filled by the red and blue clad form of Superman, who chose to descend slowly into the centre of the Watchtower.

“Boy Scout,” Oliver nodded.

“Archer,” Clark returned. He turned to his wife and kissed her. “Everything okay?” he asked.

“Just cabin fever,” she said.

“I know, honey, but it’s safer at the moment. Has Kara been by?” he asked of his friends.

“Not yet. I think she was still trying to track down that NSA guy.”

“Yeah, she was going to go see Mom in Washington. See if she could use her contacts there.”

“And you still have no idea what they broke into the house for?” Chloe asked, rocking Mara gently.

Clark shook his head. “We did find the surveillance devices, but how long they’d been there for, I don’t know. I just wish I knew what these people have planned.”

“Yeah, well, hopefully we’ll get some answers in Vancouver,” Chloe told him. Mara had begun to cry, so she handed the baby over to her father. Clark looked down at his daughter, adoration in his gaze.

“Hopefully,” he answered softly. But his expression showed concern.

Oliver looked at him. “We can take care of ourselves, Boy Scout.”

“I know, Ollie, but it’s just the thought of who these people are and what they can do. It worries me.”

Chloe grabbed some small devices from the desk. “That’s why we’ll have these,” she said, handing one to her husband and another to Tess. “They sit in your inner ear and it means we’ll be able to keep in constant communication. If anything goes wrong, they’ll pick up on any one of our tells.”

“Tells? What do you mean?”

“These are designed to pick up minute changes in the body, like blood pressure. You know how lie detectors pick up the slightest changes in blood pressure. Well, these are a more sophisticated form. They were designed by a guy who used to work for an outfit in Delaware. Well, work would be a relative term,” Chloe said with a wry smile.

The others looked at her with puzzled expressions.

“It’s a long story,” she said. “I’ll explain it to you someday. Anyway, the signal will come through the computers here and send out an alert to whoever’s listening through their own communication links.” She picked up her briefcase. “Come on hon, we don’t want to miss our flight.”

“It’s a private plane, honey,” Oliver reminded her. “It goes when we do.”

“Yeah, yeah, move it or lose it, Queen.”

Oliver grinned at his friends as the couple turned to leave. “Why did I marry her again?”

“You’re a masochist?” Lois said smartly, earning a growl from her cousin as she turned in the elevator car.

Clark put his arm around his wife as their friends left. They needed to get to the bottom of this. And soon.

***

The plane descended into Vancouver and Chloe looked at her husband. He looked nervous for some reason.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Yeah, I'm just a little worried," he said. "These Illuminati guys are clearly after Mara. But what could they want with her?"

"Well, it's a good bet that it's the same as any other so-called super-power would. If they can't control Superman by one means, they'll control him through his family."

"This could tear them apart. Clark and Lois."

"No. They love each other."

"This is something that Clark's always feared though. Remember? That his family could be used against him."

"Ollie, we've done all we can to protect Mara. They're staying at the clock tower, and it's far more secure than the farm. It's not like these Illuminati guys have super powers."

"But they are powerful," Ollie reminded her. "Who knows who they have in their pockets. My door man could be one of them."

Chloe got up and went to sit in his lap. The plane had completed its descent and was taxiing along the runway.

"Honey, you can't worry about what ifs. And we're doing the right thing by trying to track these people down."

Tess came in from the other cabin. "Chloe's right," she said. "The best chance we have at beating these people is to learn what we can about them. And as for who's in their pockets, well I think we just have to be careful who we trust."

***

De Rochefort looked at his companion.

"Are you certain?" he asked.

"Yes, my friend. My contact says the Queens are on their way to Vancouver. We believe they are searching for a journalist."

"Ah yes, the illustrious journalist Mark Anders." Anders had published several books on what he claimed was the conspiracy for world power. "They will be in for a surprise, no? Call our friends in the Vancouver police and have them arrest the couple." He turned back to the window. "And what news of our new acquisition?"

"The mayor is prepared to meet with you this afternoon."

"Excellent."

De Rochefort contemplated the situation. The Illuminati had been waiting hundreds of years to achieve ultimate power. They were a patient people, prepared to wait it out even longer. Each step they made was a step toward victory. This new acquisition in Smallville was just another step in that process.

"What do you want to do about the Kents?"

"I understand they have gone into hiding, yet Superman is still visible. Such arrogance," he spat. "He believes he is invulnerable, no?"

"We will find the woman and the child," his friend said.

***

Kara had donned her dark wig and glasses, choosing to go undercover as she flew to Washington. By conventional means rather than by her own. Clark had emphasised the need to keep a low profile and given how worried he was about his wife and daughter, Kara was only too happy to comply.

She didn’t like flying by conventional means, however. In the sky, flying by her own power, she wasn’t subject to the usual issues that came with flying these huge, lumbering behemoths. And this plane was being buffeted by high winds and rough turbulence.

She also didn’t like the idea of being stuck in the narrow seats, Especially since there was a child sitting right behind her kicking the back of her seat.

Kara had sat for the last half hour wondering for about the twenty-seventh time why she had chosen to do this. But there was more than her own ego at stake here. These people had intruded twice on her family and she wasn’t going to stand for it.

The kid behind her kicked her seat once more, making her lurch forward. Her drink, which had been sitting on the pull-down tray in front of her, fell over, soaking her lap. Kara tried to count to ten, meditate, whatever, but as she felt the sticky orange juice drip down her leg, she decided enough was enough.

She turned in her seat, peering at the kid behind her. He was about eight years old and clearly a little brat. He just smirked at her. The little monster, she thought. He knew exactly what he’d done. The mother’s attention was diverted elsewhere so Kara took a chance, grabbing the fork she’d used to eat her dinner with. It was tough plastic and certainly not easily broken. Well, she thought cynically, they clearly didn’t want to take a chance that it might be used to stab someone.

“See this?” she said in a low voice. She bent the fork until it broke. “This is going to be you if you don’t stop kicking my seat. Got me?”

The kid’s eyes went wide and scared. Kara had remained perfectly calm, her voice reasonable throughout the ten second exchange, but she got her point across.

There wasn’t a peep out of the kid until the plane descended into Dulles Airport. Fortunately, there were no other incidents, which she found a relief.

As she made her way out of the terminal, she saw a man standing with a placard. He looked official, wearing a chauffeur’s uniform of black wool trousers, black blazer and white shirt, with a black tie, as well as a peaked cap. The placard had the name Linda Danvers on it.

“That’s me,” she said as she stepped in front of the man.

“Miss Danvers. Your aunt sends her apologies that she could not be here to greet you herself. Please come this way. I will take you to her apartment.”

“Thank you,” she said politely, following the man.

***

As they prepared to leave the plane, Tess’ phone rang.

“Tess Mercer. Lex? What is it?” She looked up at Oliver and Chloe. ‘I’ll catch up,’ she mouthed, going back into the plane. Oliver and Chloe just looked at each other and sighed.
They had a car waiting for them as they left the airport. Tess called them as they left.

“Sorry guys, I’m going to be here a while. I don’t want to hold you up.”

“That’s fine, Tess,” Oliver said. “Don’t worry about it.”

As they drove through the streets of Vancouver, it began to rain. At first it was just spots, then it began to rain heavily.

“Great,” Ollie sighed. He felt it was a sign of things to come.

“Ollie,” Chloe said, clutching his arm. “Stop worrying.”

“Chloe, I can’t help it. It seems like every time we seem to be on track, something happens to screw it up again.”

“Like what?”

“Like when you disappeared for nearly nine months.”

“It was more like eight months,” she said. “Honey, why are you still ...”

“And then, you know, after Lois and Clark’s party, you decided to take that job in Star City.”

“Yeah, and you came with me. Star City’s where you were born, Ollie.”

Chloe had taken a job as a reporter with the Star City register, but the move had been twofold. She had wanted a base to work from so she could track down other superheroes and recruit them to the Justice League. Oliver had joined her there, returning to the city where he had grown up.

When Lex had returned, Oliver had had some legal issues to sort out. Lex had threatened to sue him for trying to take Luthorcorp illegally. For the past month, Oliver had been in Metropolis to sort out the legal wrangles.

Chloe, meanwhile, had been concerned that Tess might have fallen back into her old ways when she’d rejoined Lex at Luthorcorp. The two women had been sniping at each other ever since, especially since Tess had started redecorating Watchtower as if it was an extension of her own personality. In some ways, Chloe still thought of Watchtower as hers, even though it had been a year or so since she’d actually worked as Watchtower.

Tess had, of course, explained that the only reason she was at Luthorcorp, working under her brother, was so she could get information about his activities to Watchtower. But Lex wasn’t stupid. He knew Tess had switched sides. He’d made that very clear.

But that was neither here nor there. Right now, they had bigger issues to worry about than Lex Luthor.

Chloe tried to reassure her husband.

“Honey, I know things are bad at the moment, but we’ll get back on track. I promise.”

Oliver looked down at her, a soft smile on his face. “It’s just that, well, you know, we have been talking about having a family.”

“And we will,” she said. “I promise.”

She looked out the window. They were pulling up beside an apartment building that reminded Chloe of some brownstones she’d seen in New York. Except this one was in much worse condition. It looked like the kind of place a journalist would use if he wanted to remain anonymous.

“Come on, honey,” she said, grabbing his hand as she got out of the car. They ran through the driving rain to the entry, hurrying up the cracked and worn concrete steps.

“Careful you don’t slip, babe,” Oliver told his wife.

The building was definitely well overdue for some maintenance. He glanced at the nameplates on the main entryway. There was nothing to indicate a journalist lived there. But Chloe seemed to know where they were going, pressing the buzzer for the third level apartment. There was no answer.

Chloe turned and frowned at him.

“Maybe he’s out,” Oliver said, unnecessarily.

She shrugged. “Maybe.” But she looked doubtful. Oliver wasn’t sure if she’d made any effort to contact the journalist before they’d come here.

He still felt uneasy, as if hairs on the back of his neck were standing up. There was something not quite right about this.

“Maybe we should go, Chloe,” he started to suggest, but then a woman came out of the door, holding an umbrella. Chloe took the opportunity to grab the door before it closed and went in, glancing at Oliver. Sighing, he followed her in.

Chloe ran up the stairs to the third floor, following the dingy corridor to apartment three fourteen. She knocked on the door, but they quickly realised there was no point. The door was open. Frowning, Chloe entered the apartment.

“Hello?” she asked.

Oliver stared. The apartment was a mess. Either the writer had left in a hurry or someone had been searching the place. Or both. Oliver had a feeling it was both.

From the dishes left in the sink, they decided that they’d only just missed the man by a day or so. Dejected, Chloe and Oliver left the building, calling Tess at the plane.

“Dead end,” Chloe sighed. “He’s gone.”

“Mr and Mrs Queen?”

Oliver turned and looked at the two men. They were wearing slickers against the heavy rain, their peaked caps dripping wetly.

“Something we can do for you gentlemen?” he asked.

“Mr Queen, we are under orders to take you and your wife into custody.”

“What?”

“You are under arrest.”

***

Kara was escorted into the main lobby of the apartment building Martha Kent lived in. It was certainly quite luxurious compared to the farm house, with marble flooring. The lobby itself had several couches where tenants could sit with guests. A coffee shop was installed on the floor and the delicious aroma of coffee brought back memories of Kara’s brief sojourn at the Talon.

“Miss Danvers?”

Kara turned and looked at the older man. He was probably in his sixties, with fine, grey hair. He wore a dark uniform – obviously the official uniform for staff in this building.

“If you’ll follow me,” he said as she acknowledged him, “I will take you to your aunt’s apartment.”

“That’s very kind of you,” she returned. “Thank you.”

“Is your luggage to follow?” he asked politely.

“Oh no,” Kara smiled, showing him the duffel bag she was carrying. “I’m only staying a couple of days.”

“I see. Well, come with me,” he said, waving her into the middle of a bank of three elevators.

Kara stood nervously in the elevator, wondering what all the fuss was about. Even after having spent the last two years on Earth, getting to know their customs, she still had trouble adjusting. There were still some things humans did that puzzled her. It was so much easier for Kal-El. No, Clark, she told herself. She had to remember to call him by his Earth name when he was in the Clark Kent guise.

The doorman, or whatever he was, showed Kara to Martha’s apartment, opening the door for her.

“Your aunt should be along shortly. She sent a message saying you should make yourself at home.”

“Thank you again,” she said.

Kara went into the apartment, looking around. It was simply furnished, and a perfect reflection of Martha’s tastes. There was a vase filled with roses on the counter and Kara smiled. She wondered if they were from Perry White. She knew Martha was still seeing Perry, but they still hadn’t discussed marriage. Perry was too busy being an editor and Martha was still working as a senator.

Kara opened the refrigerator and pulled out the pitcher of juice she found there, pouring herself a glass. She drank slowly, wandering around the apartment. There was a picture of Lois and Clark at their wedding on the mantelpiece. And another of Lois, big with child. A picture of Jonathan Kent stood next to it. Kara liked the look of the man. He seemed a warm, friendly kind of man. Clark had told her stories about growing up with his father. She felt she would have liked the man a lot.

There was laughter in the hallway and Kara looked around as the door opened. Martha came in, followed by a tall, dark-haired man and a woman with dark hair pulled up in a French knot. Kara looked at the woman, who wore glasses similar to the ones she wore for her disguise.

“Linda,” Martha said, greeting her niece with a hug. Kara noticed quickly how Martha had used her other name, rather than her Kryptonian one.

“Aunt Martha, it’s good to see you. I haven’t seen you since ...”

“...Lois and Clark’s wedding,” Martha agreed.

It really had been a beautiful wedding. Clark and Lois had looked so in love as they said their vows. Kara had watched her cousin marry the woman he loved and she wished she could have that some day.

“Oh, sweetheart, this is Steve Trevor. And his assistant Diana Prince. They’re just here for some papers. Steve, Diana, this is my niece, Linda Danvers.”

Kara nodded politely. “Mr Trevor. Miss Prince.”

“Miss Danvers,” the man returned. “or do you prefer Linda.”

She smiled. “Linda’s fine. Do you work with Aunt Martha?” she said, noticing Martha going into the next room which she assumed was the office.

“No, I work with the Secret Service now,” he said. “I used to be in the Air Force. Retired now, of course.”

“Oh?” Kara raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I was stationed in Europe for a time. My squadron was out on manoeuvres when my plane went off course and I crashed near an island in the Greek Isles. My injuries sustained in the crash unfortunately meant I was forced to retire.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

Diana was looking at her with an odd expression. Almost as if she was remembering something. But Kara didn’t have a chance to ask her about it as Martha came out of the office.

“Here they are, Steve,” she said, handing him a folder.

“Thanks Mrs Kent.” He handed the folder to Diana, who took them meekly, then nodded to Kara. They turned and went out.

Martha waited until the door was closed, then smiled at Kara.

“Kara,” she said, pulling her onto the sofa. “Tell me, what’s been going on in Smallville?”

“Where do I start?” Kara said with a watery smile.

“Tell me about these people you met at the farmhouse.”

Kara told the story of how she’d met John Crawford and who he claimed to be.

“You’re not sure?” Martha asked.

“I don’t know. According to what Kal-El, I mean, Clark told me, he is NSA.”

“But you think there’s more to this? It’s one of the reasons I wanted you to meet Steve and Diana.”

“You mean, because he’s Secret Service?” she asked.

“That, and more. You see, he knows Wonder Woman.”

***

“What are the charges?” Oliver asked.

He and Chloe had been taken to the central police station, but he had the feeling it was just a temporary measure.

“We’re not prepared to discuss that with you right now, Mr Queen,” the officer said.

“Well, I know my rights,” Oliver told him, “and I have the right to know what we’re being charged with.”

“Mr Queen, considering the amount of trouble you and your wife are in, I would suggest you exercise your right to silence. At least until your friend manages to find you counsel.”

Chloe had used their one phone call to contact Tess, who had been shocked and dismayed at this turn of events. And she’d promised to get an attorney there immediately. But that had been two hours ago and they’d been sequestered in separate interrogation rooms ever since.

Just what in the hell was going on?

***

John Crawford smirked as he put the phone down. His counterpart in Canadian intelligence had just confirmed that Oliver and Chloe Queen were in the custody of Canadian police. Isabelle Lewis was a hard woman, but she was loyal to the cause and Crawford had been pleased so far with her work. She had so far managed to convince the entire Canadian police network that Mark Anders was a known subversive who had betrayed his own country.

Of course, the truth was that Anders had been investigating the society for years and he had come dangerously close to convincing a large percentage of the population of their true intent. The Illuminati could not have themselves exposed, hence the strike back against the journalist.

Neither could they allow the possibility of Chloe Queen meeting up with Anders and learning everything he knew. It would only be a matter of time before that information got back to Superman.

Crawford wondered what the baron intended where Superman was concerned. As was usual for the society, only the people at the top knew everything. Crawford was well down in the pyramid of power; told only what was necessary to do his job. It was the reason the Illuminati had managed to exist in secret for hundreds of years.

***

A man hurried along the streets of Vancouver, bending his head against the driving rain. He’d stood across the street from the building where he’d seen the couple taken away by police. He knew there was nothing he could have done to stop it, but he felt guilt nonetheless. The couple were innocent pawns, he knew that much.

He sniffed audibly, rubbing his nose with his sleeve. He’d caught a cold after being on the streets for two days. Whoever at the local tourist board said that Vancouver was a beautiful city, obviously didn’t see the city’s underground.

He bumped into a redheaded woman as he stumbled past the police station. He’d already tried one of his contacts to get them to help the young couple, but the former security intelligence officer had told him there was nothing he could do. The orders had come from higher up.

The man quickly uttered an ‘excuse me’ to the redhead, who nodded briefly. She looked stressed as she stepped to the kerb to cross the street. He hesitated, wondering if she was there about the young couple. There had to be someone he could trust. Since all his old contacts had let him down.

“Excuse me. Miss?”

The woman stopped and turned, looking at him curiously. Then her eyes widened.

“Oh my god! It’s you!”

He frowned. What did she know?

“I don’t understand.”

“Chloe and Oliver – they were looking for you.”

“The couple?”

The redhead nodded. “They were arrested right outside your building.”

Anders nodded understandingly. “I saw them.”

“What’s going on?”

“It seems the Canadian security intelligence service has decided to declare me Undesirable Number One.”

The redhead frowned. “What?”

“Never mind. Bad joke. Listen, miss ...?”

“Mercer. Tess Mercer.”

“Miss Mercer, your friends are in terrible danger. The police have arrested them because of me. The orders have come from higher up than the police department.”

“You mean the intelligence service?” Tess asked, eyes widening. “On what grounds?”

“I don’t think it really matters,” he said. “They can trump up some charge. Most likely treason.”

“They’re American. Not Canadian.”

“It makes little difference,” Anders told her. “Look, we need to get out of this rain and work out how to help your friends.”

“But if you know the how and why, can’t you ...”

“I’ve been declared persona non grata, Miss Mercer.”

They ducked under the shelter of a storefront. Tess bit her lip.

“Look, my brother is ... well, he’s Lex Luthor.”

Anders stared at her. “You have got to be kidding me!”

“Why?”

“Because Luthor is wanted just as badly as ... well, Superman.”

“How do you know about that?” she asked.

“About what?”

“Superman!”

“What do you mean?” He shook his head. “Look, all I know is this. The Illuminati are a group of very dangerous, power-hungry individuals who have been content to stay in the shadows controlling things for hundreds of years. Suddenly along comes Superman and all hell breaks loose.”

“And what does this have to do with Lex?”

“How well do you know your brother?” Anders asked her. “Do you know about his experiments a few years ago? I think it was called 33.1.”

“I’m familiar with it,” Tess told him.

“Well, believe me, the Illuminati know all about that as well. Tell me, who do you think helped Lionel Luthor on his road to power?”

Tess stared at him, then her phone beeped. It was a text.

“The attorney. He’s in the station now. We need to talk more about this,” she told Anders. “Where are you staying?”

“Trust me, you don’t want to know. Look, go get your friends out of that police station and back to the States. The intelligence service have no evidence on them, but that could change. Just get them off Canadian soil. And fast.”

“What about you? There’s so much more we need to know.”

“I’ll find you. Your brother – he lives in Metropolis, yes?” Tess nodded. “Good. I still have a couple of contacts I can trust. Do you have a business card?”

“Of course.” She fished one out of her purse and handed it to him.

“I’ll call you when I get there. There’s a lot you need to know if you’re going to save Superman.” With that he turned and began hurrying away through the driving rain. Tess stared after him, wondering what he meant by that.

She hurried across the street to the police station.

***

Kara stared at her aunt.

“Wonder Woman?” She frowned. “I met her. In California.”

Kara had spent a little time in California over the past year. When Jor-El had told her that she needed to leave Clark to face his own destiny, she had thought about going forward in time. But she had changed her mind, instead preferring to see a little of the world that Clark had grown up in before she took the ultimate journey. Now that she knew what they were facing, she was glad she had waited.

“So, how does Steve Trevor knowing Wonder Woman help?” She had met the Amazon woman on one of her trips. Kara had been rescuing a busload of children when the driver had collapsed at the wheel. The bus had almost gone over a cliff. She’d just been pulling the yellow school bus back when Wonder Woman had turned up.

“Well, it looks like you have things well in hand, Supergirl,” she smiled.

Kara stared at her. “Who are you?”

“They call me Wonder Woman.”

Kara grinned. Wonder Woman’s costume was almost as skimpy as her own and just as colourful with the red, white and blue combination.

“You know, I bet my cousin would love you,” she said.

Wonder Woman had smiled back at her, then gone to the aid of the collapsed driver, who, it seemed, had had a heart attack. Kara stayed long enough to make sure the children were okay and that help was on the way. The children stared in awe at the two superheroes, even going so far as to ask for autographs.

Kara had talked long enough with Wonder Woman to know that she had, until recently, lived on an island that was populated only by women. And that she was immortal.

“She’s some kind of princess, I think,” Kara told Martha.

“I remember Clark talking about getting Wonder Woman to join the Justice League some time ago. He told me that Chloe met her when she was underground for a while.”

“I don’t think she has yet,” Kara, who had had a few meetings with the League, answered.

“Then perhaps you should talk to her.”

“What about Mr Trevor? How can he help?”

“Well, he is in the Secret Service. And because of his work in intelligence, he will know of any rumours of secret societies.”

“But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? About them being secret.”

“I’m sure Steve will at least be able to find out a little more. Especially when we tell him that Mara is in danger. Or rather, when Wonder Woman tells him.”

“But how do we let him know without revealing that Clark is Superman?” Kara asked.

“That is a difficult one,” Martha conceded. “Why don’t we sit down and have some dinner and we can talk about this some more. I have to admit though, Kara, I am concerned. Especially because my grand-daughter is in danger. Clark and Lois can take care of themselves, but ...”

“I know,” Kara answered. “It doesn’t seem right that they’re going after an innocent baby.”

***

Clark had wanted to go out and patrol, but Lois had begged him not to go out this one night and he’d called members of the Justice League to patrol in his place, concerned at his wife’s behaviour. She’d become increasingly nervy since the assault on the farm, and far more protective of Mara.

He paced up and down the penthouse apartment, holding his screaming daughter in his arms, trying to rock her back to sleep. Lois was on the couch looking through some files on the laptop. She looked up, frowning.

“What’s wrong with her?” she asked.

“I don’t know. She won’t settle.”

“She can’t be hungry. I just fed her.”

“She’s not wet either. I think she’s just upset,” Clark said. He stroked the baby’s head gently and crooned. Mara hiccoughed, then began crying again. He looked at his wife helplessly, then resumed pacing.

“Have you heard anything from Chloe and Oliver?” he asked.

“Not since Tess called about the arrest. I hope the attorney she got them managed to get them out of there.”

“Me too.” His hearing picked up the sound of the elevator and he looked up toward the rusty door. “You know, Oliver should really get that door replaced.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think he thinks it adds to the ambience, or something,” Lois grinned. “It can’t be Oliver. They wouldn’t be back from Vancouver yet.”

Clark used his x-ray vision to look into the shaft. His eyes widened in surprise as he saw who it was coming up in the car. Still holding the baby, he strode over to the lift as the doors opened and Lex Luthor stepped out.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked.

“You weren’t answering your phone,” Lex said simply. He looked at the baby, who was still screaming. “Your daughter doesn’t seem very happy.”

“She’s unsettled. Which isn’t surprising given the events of the last few days.”

Lex nodded. “You’re right. But why do I get the feeling you’re holding me partly responsible? I meant it when I said we should work together against these people.”

“The same way you told me to fight Darkseid?” Clark asked.

Lex reached out to the baby. “May I?”

Clark closed his arms protectively around his daughter and Lex sighed.

“Look, I know you think I’m the devil incarnate, and in other circumstances, we would be enemies. But it so happens I do have a little experience in this area.”

“You were twelve when your mother had Julian,” Clark pointed out.

“Yes, but I remember him crying a lot in his first few weeks. It was probably one of the things that drove my mother to kill him. That and the post-partum depression of course. Please. Let me try something.”

Reluctantly, Clark handed the baby over, hearing the shocked gasp from Lois. Lex took the baby in his arms, holding her upright against his chest, using it to support her head while he bounced her up and down. Mara cried a little longer then her cries began tapering off until she was just hiccoughing.

Lex smiled down at her.

“There, that’s better isn’t it?” He looked back up at Clark. “She’s got colic.”

Clark frowned at his former best friend. “How did ...?”

“My guess is, it’s something in Lois’ breast milk. Probably to do with what’s happened as well.” Clark continued to frown at him. Lex huffed. “Look, even emotional upsets can affect breast milk,” Lex explained patiently. “It can increase the acidity, which causes the stomach upset in the baby.”

“I see,” Clark said, taking his daughter, who had fallen asleep in Lex’s arms. “I’m sure you didn’t come here to teach me about fatherhood.”

“No, unfortunately I’m unable to have children of my own,” Lex said sadly. “The meteor shower made me sterile.”

Clark blinked. “Lex, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s not your fault, Clark. You might have come down in the meteor shower, but you are not responsible for my, uh, affliction. And it was more a blessing in disguise anyway, considering how many women I slept with in my misspent youth.”

Lex offered a grin that was reminiscent of the old days. It made Clark pause. Why was Lex being so friendly all of a sudden?

“Look, don’t get me wrong here, Clark. We’re not friends. Frankly, your ‘other vocation’ causes some serious hurdles where my plans are concerned. But I can put those aside for the sake of our mutual enemy. Being the Baron de Rochefort.”

“Why? What is he planning?” Clark asked.

“I just got word today that the baron has purchased a great deal of land in Smallville. And he plans to build a hotel resort in the town.”

“The city council would never go for it,” Clark said.

“They did,” Lex told him. “The papers were signed just today.”

“I don’t get it. Why Smallville?”

“The baron and his people can mine the land for all the Kryptonite. Think what would happen if he controlled all the meteor rock reserves. Those that I haven’t managed to find myself.”

“He could kill me,” Clark said. “Or worse.”

“Precisely.”

“If the resort gets built, de Rochefort has a base he can work from. And the Illuminati ...”

“The Illuminati are already here.”

Both Clark and Lex looked around at the newcomer’s voice. Clark stared at the man in the dark suit with the armour moulded to the chest. On the head was a mask with what looked like ears, and a huge cape flowed from the back of the suit, making him look like ...

“Batman?” Lex said in surprise.

“Luthor,” Batman said coldly, his voice hoarse. Clark guessed he was using some sort of voice modifier.

Lois got in between the visitor and Clark and Lex, taking the baby from Clark.

“I’ll go put her down upstairs,” she said softly, clearly not wanting any part of the discussion.

Clark nodded, his eyes still on the Batman.

“Chloe told me about you,” he said.

“Your friend Chloe talks too much,” Batman rasped. “But that’s not why I’m here. There’s been rumblings among the criminal fraternity, even in Gotham, that the Illuminati is targeting Superman.”

“That’s what we’ve heard,” Clark said.

“They tried to form an alliance with me,” Lex confirmed. Batman just glared at him.

“I’m surprised, Luthor, to see you here. Considering your anti-Superman stance of the last year.”

Lex shrugged. “I learned a long time ago that the best strategy is sometimes to do the unexpected.”

“Well, it will cost you. My contacts have already informed me that there are moves to destroy Luthorcorp. And trust me, they are capable.”

“What do you know about it?” Clark asked.

“Let’s just say I’ve had my own battles with one particular incarnation of them. Called the League of Shadows.”

Lex raised an eyebrow. “Batman, are you suggesting that the League of Shadows has ties to the Illuminati?”

“What’s the League of Shadows?” Clark asked.

“They’re a group of terrorists who most believe date back to even the time of the Caesars in Rome,” Lex explained. “When they see a society becoming too decadent, they destroy it. Isn’t that what they tried to do in Gotham?”

“They created an economic depression,” Batman said, nodding. “Attempting to destroy the city by stealth, rather than overtly. The League claims responsibility for the great fire of London and even the plague.”

“That sounds kind of similar to what’s been happening in Smallville,” Clark said.

“Of course,” Lex said. “Encourage businesses to fail, driving out the population, allowing them to take control.”

“And of course, Luthorcorp is totally blameless,” Clark returned.

“I acknowledge I played my part in it,” Lex said. “But Smallville has been dying for a long time. And at least you still have the fertiliser plant, even if it is failing.”

Clark sighed. Lex did have a point.

“So what can we do?” he asked Batman.

“We start with the Justice League.” He glanced warily at Lex. “And while I do have doubts about your sincerity, Luthor, I believe you are right that it is in both of your best interests to form an alliance. However undesirable it is. You are both being targeted by the Illuminati.”

***

Baron de Rochefort smirked as he sipped his cognac. While it was an inferior liquor compared to that produced by his own distillery, it was still reasonably good. And it was the only one available in this god-forsaken country.

He congratulated himself on having convinced the mayor of Smallville of his plan. The resort would ensure that he and his people controlled the town’s economy. And with that, he could slowly begin to destroy not only Superman, but Luthorcorp as well.

It was a shame, he thought, that Luthor had decided to turn down his alliance and offer his allegiance to Superman instead. But it mattered little. De Rochefort knew it was only a matter of time before he crushed Luthor and his ego.

***

Lois was brushing her long hair when Clark finally went to bed. He had had a long talk with both Lex and Bruce about the proposed alliance. Bruce had made a lot of salient points which even Lex had been forced to agree with.

He dropped the towel from his shower and put on his pyjama pants. They were a comfortable cotton, in a solid blue. Definitely not plaid. Lois had bought them for his last birthday. He moved behind his wife, going to drop a kiss on her bare shoulder. She shook him off.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

She threw the brush on the dresser and turned to look at him.

“What’s wrong? You can ask that after what happened downstairs?”

Okay, he thought. Clearly his wife was angry with him about something.

“What did I do?” he asked.

She glared at him. “You let that ... that ... snake! You let him get his hands on our daughter.”

“What did you want me to do, Lois? Tell him no and act paranoid?”

Lois stood, gesturing angrily. “You should have just thrown him out, that’s what you should have done!”

“Why? You know what Bruce said. Lex and I are both targets now.”

“That’s not the goddamn point, Clark! I don’t trust him. Lex Luthor is a lying snake-in-the-grass. You know, it’s a damn good thing Tess changed her mind about going to see Lex the day he returned from the dead because it’s a pretty good bet he would have killed her.”

“You don’t know that,” Clark told her.

Tess had told them she had been planning on going to see Lex, but had changed her mind at the last minute, fearing what Lex might do. She’d even confessed she was going to use some serum they’d been developing at the now defunct Summerholt Institute, hoping she could wipe Lex’s memory, therefore protecting Clark’s secret.

Tess had stayed away from Lex until her brother had held a press conference, announcing his return. She had then stepped up to the podium with a smile on her face. Only Lex knew it was a fake smile. To the cameras and the reporters, it was a happy reunion between brother and sister. Lex had, of course, been furious, but he had hidden it well. Always the consummate actor, Tess had told Clark afterwards.

Once the press conference was over, Tess had confronted Lex, telling him that if anything happened to her that certain evidence would be released to the Attorney General, pointing the finger at Lex. It didn’t matter whether it could be proven. Tess had worked for Lex long enough and been around his influence long enough that she knew how to manipulate evidence to suit the story. She’d given Lex a choice. Let her back in to Luthorcorp or face a Grand Jury.

“It doesn’t matter, Clark. You think I don’t know what he’s doing? He’s trying to manipulate you. Manipulate us. Lex has always had his own agenda.”

“And what do you think he was doing when he was holding Mara? Planting a bug on her? You’re being ridiculous Lois.”

“I’m being ridiculous? You don’t see it, do you? Did you really think Lex cared about your friendship, even when you were friends? He wanted your secrets. He always wanted your secrets.”

“What does that have to do with the Illuminati?”

“He wants to use you, Clark. He’s doing exactly the same thing that these Illuminati people are doing, except he’s more subtle about it. He’s always been power hungry and he doesn’t mind exploiting you to get it. Or our daughter.”

Clark sighed. “Lois,” he began, going to take her hands. She pulled away.

“Don’t touch me, Clark. I’m not in the mood.”

He glared at his wife. “Fine! Why don’t I just go and sleep downstairs?”

“You do that,” she said, going to the bed and shoving the bedclothes back.

Clark went to the door, then paused, looking back at Lois. She had got into bed, pulling the blankets back up and was turned away from him. Sighing, he closed the door and went downstairs, grabbing the spare blankets from the closet. Not that he really needed them, he thought, since he didn’t really feel the cold.

***

It had stopped raining when Chloe and Oliver were finally let go by the Vancouver police. It was dark as they made their way down the steps of the station. The attorney Tess had hired was apologising profusely.

“Mr and Mrs Queen, I am so sorry. We can file suit with the police department in the morning.”

Oliver turned and looked at the attorney.

“Forget it,” he said, gesturing angrily. “We both know this goes a lot higher than the Canadian police.”

“But detention under false pretenses ...”

“I said forget it. Chloe and I just want to go home.”

“Thank you for your help,” Tess told the attorney, “but I agree with Mr Queen.” She glanced at the blonde couple and they both nodded.

They headed to the car Tess had waiting. As soon as they were in the relative privacy of the vehicle, Tess looked at them.

“What the hell happened in there?” she asked.

“We don’t know. They wouldn’t tell us a damn thing.”

“It’s a message,” Chloe said. “It has to be.”

“What do you mean?” Tess asked. “These Illuminati people?”

Chloe nodded. “They wanted us to know that they have control. If they can hold us, without charge, for several hours, then imagine what they could do if they really wanted to. We need to warn Clark.”

The redhead nodded. “We’ll do that when we get back to Metropolis.” She paused. “There’s something else. I ran into Anders. I didn’t want to say anything until we were out of there.”

“What? Where?”

“He saw you guys get arrested. He’s going to meet us in Metropolis. There are a few questions I’d like to ask him,” she said.

“Yeah, me too,” Chloe said. She yawned. “Let’s just get home. I’m beat.”

***

De Rochefort smiled evilly at Donatello.

“Donc tout se déroule conformément a mon plan,” he said. “Les Queen on recu le message non?

”Oui.” Donatello nodded.

“Et le maire est plus que heureux de repondre a nos désires non? Une fois le projet commencé nous contreleront l'économie de smallville.”

“Puis je vous conseiller de le reconsiderer,” another voice said. “Notre organisation a essayé autrefois.”

De Rochefort stared at the newcomer, sniffing.

“Ducard. Je ne me rapelle pas vous avoir invité a cette discution.”

“Néanmoins,” Henri Ducard began, moving further into the room, “J'ai jugé nécessaire de venir.”

Donatello stared at him. “Je penser que Batman vous avais tué?”

“Les rumeurs sur ma mort on etait grandement exageré cher docteur,” Ducard continued speaking in French. As he moved out of the shadows, Donatello could see a jagged scar on the left side of his face. He had survived his ordeal, but barely by the look of it. “Si vous voulez defaire Superman vous devait mettre en pratique des actions plus affirmative.”
“Nous avons commencé a mettre nos plans en actions. La Ligue Des Ombres na pas sa place ici.”

“Mon cher Baron le temps de la subtilité est passé la Ligue Des Ombres tente de prendre le controle de Gotham et nous avons commencé une guerre contre Batman.”

“Je n'est nullement besoins de vos conseilles je conduis ma campagne,” de Rochefort snarled, speaking as the general he was. He held much higher rank than Ducard and decided he knew better how to conduct his campaign against the likes of Superman.

“Mais comment avais vous survécue?” Donatello asked Ducard. “La dernière fois que nous avons entendu parler de vous etiezz sur un train monorail fou.”

“J'ai appris plusieures choses dans les montagnes du Barhain,” the man also known as Ra’s al Ghul said nonchalantly. “Et une de ses lecons et que parfois pour defaire un ennemi il est plus évident d'etre en apparence vaincu , Maintenant c'est le moment de l'attaque,” he said, his steely gaze once again on de Rochefort.

“Et je choisie ma propre méthode d'attaque,” de Rochefort told him, turning away from Ducard, as if pointedly dismissing him. He looked at Donatello. “Dans les deux prochains jours Tess Mercer va se rendre a Washington vous savez ce que vous devait faire.”

Donatello bowed. “Considérez que c’est fait, mon ami.”

“So all is going according to my plan. The Queens have received the message, no?”
“Yes.”
“And the mayor is more than happy to accommodate our wishes, no? Once the project begins we will control the economy of Smallville.”
“May I advise you reconsider. Our organisation has attempted this before.”
“Ducard. I do not recall you being invited to this discussion.”
“Nevertheless, I felt it necessary to provide my input.”
“I thought Batman killed you.”
“Rumours of my death, my dear doctor, are greatly exaggerated. If you wish to defeat Superman, then you must do so by affirmative action.”
“We have already set our plans in motion. The League of Shadows has no place here.”
“My dear baron, the time for subtlety has passed. The League of Shadows attempted to take Gotham by stealth and started a war with Batman.”
“I will hold counsel on how I conduct my campaign.”
“Just how did you survive? From what I heard, you were last seen on a runaway monorail train.”
“I learned a great many things in the mountains of Bhutan. And one of the lessons was sometimes to defeat your enemy, one must appear to be defeated. The time to strike is now.”
“And I will choose my own method of striking. In two days, Tess Mercer will go to Washington. You know what is to be done.”
“Consider it done, my friend.”

***

Kara went out the next day while her aunt was at work, exploring the city. But she had been thinking over what they had discussed the night before. They had agreed to talk to Wonder Woman about the situation. The question was, how did she find her? Martha had told her that the Amazon was here in the capitol and there had been a few stories in the local newspaper, but nothing about where she was.

As she wandered, she listened in to the sounds of the city, remembering how Clark had taught her to use her super-hearing. She had only met her cousin just a few hours earlier, and recalled feeling surprised at how long her ship had been trapped in mud. While she had been out looking for Clark, who she believed had just been a small child, her ship had been found by government agents. The ship’s self-destruct had been activated, emitting an alarm which interfered with a lot of radio frequencies.

Clark had taken her to the top of the Daily Planet, telling her to focus her hearing so she could pick up the alarm. At first, she had only been able to hear the wind, and she’d scoffed. But then her super-hearing and kicked in, and it was like thousands of percussion instruments in her head. She clutched her head.

“Make it stop,” she screamed, groaning in pain.

“I know it’s loud at first, but you have to focus, okay? Eliminate the sounds one by one.”

Clark had told her how he had first learned to use his super-hearing. It had helped that he had been blind at the time, after a freak accident in which he’d burned his retinas. He’d used all the tools in the barn, trying to filter out each sound.

Kara remembered that lesson now, filtering out all the sounds which were just the normal, everyday sounds of traffic. And then she heard it. The sound of a girl being hit. Kara ran toward the sound, blurring into her Supergirl uniform, shedding the wig and the glasses as she went.

But as she got to the location, it seemed someone was there before her. Wonder Woman turned and smiled at her, her hand still on the pimp who had been beating up a prostitute.

“Hello Kara.”

“Wonder Woman. I was hoping I would find you here.”

“We must talk,” the Amazon said, and Kara nodded. She waited while Wonder Woman dealt with the situation, handing the pimp over to the police.

Wonder Woman led Kara to an apartment in the central city. Kara looked around and realised why she had had that odd feeling the night before when she’d met Steve Trevor.

“You’re Diana Prince!” she breathed.

“Yes. Just as you’re Linda Danvers. Your aunt is a remarkable woman,” Diana said.

“Does Steve know? About you?”

“No.”

“But you plan on telling him, don’t you?”

“It would complicate the relationship,” Diana said, shaking her head. “And it would make it more difficult for me to continue the work I do.”

“We need your help,” Kara said. “Actually, we need both yours and Steve’s help.”

“What is it?”

“There is a group. They’re calling themselves the Illuminati. My cousin – you know, Superman. His daughter is in danger from these people.”

“Your cousin is Clark Kent?” Diana asked. Of course, Diana knew Martha Kent was her aunt.

“There is more. I believe there are some government agents who are with this group. I found them at the farm where my cousin and his wife were living.”

“Tell me.”

“One of them is named John Crawford. He’s with the NSA.”

Kara shivered. The way the man had looked at her made her feel a little strange. Creeped out, as Bart would say. When she’d told her aunt about it, Martha had suggested it might have been lust.

She told Diana about the way she’d found the two men and the subsequent raid on the farmhouse when Lois and the baby were at home.

Diana nodded. “I will ask Steve to look into it. What do you want me to tell him about the child?”

“I don’t know. Aunt Martha and I talked about this last night and we both agree that Steve cannot know Clark is Superman.”

“Yet it is his daughter who is in danger from these people. What do they want? Do you know?”

“From what Clark said, they want to study her as the first, um, alien-human hybrid.”

“Why?”

“All we can think is that they see Superman as a threat to their plans for the New World Order.”

“Of course,” Diana nodded. She looked thoughtful. “Perhaps their plan is to study the child in order to see how they can control her. Use her as their instrument. But tell me, why do you think they broke into the farmhouse a second time?”

Kara shook hear head. “I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t get what they came for the first time.”

“That is possible,” Diana mused, but her expression suggested she thought there might be more to it.”

***

Clark had sneaked upstairs to check on his wife. Lois was sleeping, although from the way the bedclothes were twisted, it hardly seemed restful. He wanted to climb into bed and hold her in his arms, but he wasn’t sure what reception he would get if he did. Lois would get over it. They’d talk and she would eventually let it go, but meanwhile he could expect the cold shoulder for a day or two. His wife could be unpredictable at times. She could be working on a story and be practically bouncing off the walls, but next minute her mood could have swung completely in another direction. It was one of the things that sometimes irritated Clark, but also one of the things he loved most about her. Her passion for life was one of her most attractive qualities.

He heard his daughter stirring and went into the small room Oliver had helped him turn into a small nursery. Since Oliver and Chloe had spent a good part of the last year and a half in Star City, the clock tower apartment had been mostly empty. Oliver might have had four bedrooms but most of them had not been furnished.

“Well, look who’s awake,” Clark whispered, smiling down at his baby daughter. “You look like you want to play, baby girl,” he grinned. He picked her up gently, then held her over his head so he could sniff at her diaper. Nope. She wasn’t wet. She didn’t seem to be hungry either. She was cooing contentedly in his arms as he cradled her.

Wrapping a baby blanket around her, Clark took her downstairs to the couch, sitting down with her in his arms. It was just starting to get light. He was unsure if Chloe and Oliver had returned from Vancouver. Tess had called hours earlier letting him know that the attorney had argued successfully for their release and that they should be out of the police station in the next hour or so. He hadn’t heard them come in but then again he had been sleeping fairly soundly.

Clark yawned. Normally he didn’t have to sleep much, given his alien metabolism, but he did still have to sleep. And it was fairly early, even for the former farm boy. He lay on his back on the couch, his daughter resting on his chest. He grinned sleepily down at her. She seemed quite content, dribbling on the t-shirt he’d put on when he’d left the bedroom.

An hour or so later, Lois crept down the stairs, not eager to face her husband after the fight they’d had, wanting to forgive him but still not quite ready to. She stopped at the foot of the stairs, wishing she had a camera. Clark was stretched out on the couch, his bare feet sticking over the edge, his mouth open, quietly snoring, while the baby was curled up on his chest, her little body rising and falling in rhythm with her father’s breaths. Lois snickered to herself. Damn, that was cute. She so wanted to wake him up so she could tease him.

Then she remembered she wasn’t talking to him. So she tiptoed into the kitchen to pour herself some juice. As she tipped the container into the glass, she heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs. There was a pause, a light snicker, and more footsteps. Then the swinging door was pushed open.

“What’s with Sleeping Beauty?” Chloe chuckled as she came in.

“Which one?” Lois cracked.

“Both,” her cousin grinned.

“What time did you guys get in?” Lois asked, drinking her juice.

“Around three, I think.” Chloe began making the coffee, pulling out the filter and emptying the grounds. “So, uh, Lo, why is Clark sleeping on the couch?” she said, frowning.

“We had a fight,” Lois said.

Chloe looked at her cousin, raising her eyebrow. “You had a fight? That’s not like you two.”

“Are you kidding? We fight all the time!”

“Since you two got married it’s like you’ve been practically joined at the hip.”

“Well, that’s somewhat of an exaggeration.”

“So what happened?”

“Lex happened.”

Lois told her cousin about Lex’s visit the night before. Chloe frowned, then looked concerned as she heard what Lex had done with Mara.

“And Clark doesn’t see anything wrong with it. It’s like ...”

“Well, he is right in one way. I mean, it would make him look paranoid. On the other hand, you have every reason not to trust Lex.”

“That’s what I said. But he ...”

The kitchen door opened and Clark came in, rubbing the back of his head. He was holding Mara in the crook of one arm. His hair was sticking up in all directions.

“I take it you’re talking about last night,” he said.

Lois pointedly turned her back on him. Chloe looked at the couple with sympathy.

“Clark, I have to agree with Lois on this one. I can see why you did what you did, but when it comes to Lex, you’ve always had blinders on.”

“No, I haven’t,” Clark said, rocking his tiny daughter when she stared to grizzle.

Chloe shook her head. “This from the man who thought there was something worth saving in that ... Lex.” Chloe had been intending to say something else, but she changed her mind, not wanting Mara to hear her cursing. Okay, so the baby was only five weeks old, but it was good practice. “Clark,” she sighed, “when are you going to learn that not everyone wants to be saved! And trust me, if Lex wanted to change, he would have done it a long time ago. With or without your help.”

“If it hadn’t been for Lionel ...”

“We get it, okay,” Chloe said, trying not to raise her voice. Mara was squirming in her father’s arm, getting more upset. Lois took her daughter with a sigh and sat down in the rocking chair to breastfeed the baby. “I mean, you’ve talked often enough about how Lex would have been different away from Lionel, and you’re right. But what you don’t see is that Lex still made his own choices. You can be raised by someone like Lionel and still make different choices. There are scientific studies that prove that. So, yes, Lionel was an utter bastard to Lex, but you can’t blame Lionel for the choices Lex made. Just like Lex can’t make you take responsibility for his actions. You’ve always had a guilt complex when it comes to anything involving meteor freaks. When will you see that none of that is your fault? For god’s sake, Clark, you were barely older than Mara when your parents put you in that ship. Lex becoming what he became is not your fault. Nor is it your responsibility.”

She looked steadily at him.

“As for this alliance between you and Lex, I agree that you both need to find some common ground to fight these people. After what they did to me and Oliver yesterday, I think we need as many people on our side as we can get. But it doesn’t mean you have to trust Lex. Remember that he still has his own agenda for standing up to these people.”

Clark regarded her silently, looking at Lois, who was looking down at their daughter, her face hidden. But he could see she was upset. He sighed. Chloe was right. For as long as he’d known Lex, he’d wanted to believe the best in his former friend. But the truth was, Lex had been making bad choices even when he’d been trying to be good. From his investigation into the accident when he’d hit Clark, to allying himself with the journalist Roger Nixon or crackpot scientist Stephen Hamilton, Lex could have made different choices, but he hadn’t.

“You’re right, Chloe,” he said softly. He bent down to his wife. “I’m sorry, Lois. I guess I wasn’t thinking straight last night. Forgive me?”

Lois shrugged, still hiding her face. He brushed her hair off her cheek and kissed her gently. Lois finally looked up, smiling wanly at him.

“Okay, you’re forgiven, Smallville,” she said.

Clark grinned and put his arms around his wife, kissing her deeply. She pulled away and snickered.

“Don’t even think about it, Kent,” she said. “Especially not in front of the baby.”

Clark put on his ‘puppy dog’ look and she laughed. Mara looked up at her parents and seemed to smile. Clark picked her up and put her over his shoulder, rubbing her back.

“I’d use a towel if I were you,” Lois warned, just as Mara let out a milky belch, spitting up all over his t-shirt. Lois just rolled her eyes. “Yeah, nice one Smallville. You’re on laundry duty.”

“I’m not the one who put a red sock in with my white shirts,” Clark smirked at his wife.

“One time, and I can’t believe you’re still holding that against me!” Lois complained. Then she hit on an idea. “I have two words for you, Kent. Elmer and Fudd.”

They could both see Chloe frowning at them, but they didn’t care. It was an old joke between them.

“Ay ay, sailor,” Clark grinned.

“Don’t talk dirty in front of our baby,” Lois told him.

Chloe was looking utterly bewildered at the exchange, but neither one of them were prepared to explain the joke, or the ‘lap dance’ Lois had once given him in retaliation for the pretend lap dance she’d had to do years ago when they’d barely even been friends, let alone acknowledging their mutual attraction.

There was the sound of someone clearing their throat and the three of them looked around at Oliver, standing at the kitchen door. He’d clearly been there for some time.

“I hate to interrupt, guys,” he said, “but Tess just called. Anders called her. He’s in trouble.”

Clark handed his daughter back to his wife.

“Looks like this is a job for Superman,” he said.

He sped out in a blur, returning downstairs within two seconds, dressed in his Superman uniform.

“Where is he?”

“Canadian border. From what Tess said, the cops have sniffed him out.”

Clark sped out, going to the terrace and taking off from there. The others set about preparing breakfast, knowing Clark would be back before long.

They’d barely had time to get breakfast on the table when Clark returned, with Mark Anders in his arms. The man seemed unsteady as Clark touched down.

“Thanks Superman, but please don’t be offended when I say that’s an experience I don’t wish to repeat.”

“No offence taken,” Clark smiled. “You look like you could use a hot shower.”

“And some clean clothes, perhaps?” Anders smiled.

Clark quickly made the introductions. Chloe looked at the journalist.

“I’ll see what I can do about the clothes,” she said. “What happened?”

“Well, after I left your friend, Tess, I contacted a couple of friends of mine, who got me as far as the border. That’s when all hell let loose.”

He told the group that armed police had been at the border. A friend who had contacts within the Canadian police had told him that the authorities had put out something similar to an all-points bulletin on him. They had been instructed to proceed with force. Anders could only speculate that the Brotherhood had manipulated the authorities into believing he was dangerous.

Thirty minutes later, dressed in clean clothes Oliver had managed to dig out, and with a hot cup of coffee, Anders sat comfortably in the living room of the penthouse. Clark had flown away as Superman, returning only when Anders had been in the shower, and introduced himself in the Clark persona. Anders had nodded, but Clark had had the impression he was a keen observer. Why he hadn’t called Clark on the Superman thing, then, he didn’t know.

“What can you tell us about the Illuminati?” Chloe asked finally.

“Okay, from what I can surmise, it works like this. The world is like a pyramid, which is probably why the Brotherhood use it as a symbol for themselves. It’s like any organisation, where the people at the bottom don’t know what’s going on above them. This is the way the Brotherhood structure their organisation. There are a select few at the top who know everything. This Baron de Rochefort is, I believe, one of those select few.

“So, you have the people at the top who know how everything will fit together, and everyone else plays their part in ignorance. And what the Brotherhood do is make sure that only their people or those who won’t cause trouble for them reach the levels of power which allow them to make the decisions governing their whole agenda.”

“Tess said something about Lionel Luthor,” Chloe prompted.

“Yes. Now, you know, of course, that Lionel Luthor was part of a plot to murder his parents and that he built his own company on their life insurance. It’s partly true. But the amount of insurance paid out was never going to be enough to build up Luthorcorp to what it was in his day. He needed help. And he got it through the Illuminati. Of course, he wasn’t aware of that at the time.”

Clark frowned at Anders. “How, then?”

“The Brotherhood gave Luthor a certain amount of leeway. Giving him enough financial backing to do what he needed to do to succeed. And they made sure he succeeded by getting the right sort of people to invest in Luthorcorp. Without that investment, Lionel would have ... excuse the expression, fallen over on his arse.”

“So what happened?”

“We have an expression. Lionel got too big for his boots. He became arrogant, too caught up in his own delusions that he was king of all he surveyed. So they set about creating his downfall.”

“So why are they after Superman?” Lois asked, her hand tightening on Clark’s.

“I think you may have figured out part of it,” Anders said. “The issue is, Superman is not part of the Brotherhood. And yet the people of the world look up to him. Superman could easily conquer the world, lead people to better themselves. That isn’t part of the agenda of the New World Order. So they want to control him. By whatever means necessary. And if they can’t control him, they’ll destroy him.”

Chapter Text

The woman walking into the offices of the Daily Planet appeared nervous. She walked with a stride that appeared hesitant, even as she made it through the lobby. Glancing at the elevator, she sighed, her shoulders moving up and down. The bag on her shoulder appeared to be heavy, dragging one shoulder down slightly, and she hung on to it as if afraid if she took her hand off the strap for a second it would disappear.

Her brown eyes darted here and there. She appeared to be searching for something, then strode over to the wide staircase, hefting the bag on her shoulder once more and beginning to climb.

Anyone watching would have easily overlooked the woman. She was dressed in a plain black jacket and skirt, with a white blouse underneath. Her dark brown hair was pinned back neatly into a sort of bun, held in place by a large clip. She wasn’t tall. Perhaps no more than 1.65 metres, but she had a slim build and long legs which made her appear taller than she was.

She wore make-up on her face, but it looked as if an amateur had done it. The eyelashes were lightly coated with mascara, but it was not even, with clumps in the corners. Over her eyes, the woman wore a pair of square frames which were not flattering to her face shape.

If it hadn’t been for her apparent nervousness, the woman would never have been noticed at all. Except for the fact that she was so busy looking around her that she didn’t see the tall man descending the stairs until it was too late. They collided, papers in the man’s hands falling to the steps.

“Oh, god, I’m so sorry,” she said.

Simultaneously, the man spoke, apologising profusely. He touched his horn-rimmed glasses, adjusting them on his face.

“Totally my fault, Miss,” he said. “I should have been watching where I was going. Could I perhaps be of assistance?”

Light from one of the windows glinted off a gold band on his left hand. The woman bit her lip, fidgeting, even as she bent down to help Clark Kent gather his papers.

“Um, that’s okay. I, uh, have an, um appointment,” she stammered, blushing furiously, her face turning almost a blotchy red.

“An appointment? With who?” Clark said, frowning.

“Oh, um, the editor-in-chief.” She pulled the bag around to her front and rummaged in the pocket, bringing out a small notepad. “Perry White?”

“Oh, yeah,” Clark said. “But he’s up on the tenth floor. You sure you don’t want to take the elevator?”

The woman half-smiled, looking awkward. Clark had the impression the woman didn’t smile very often.

“That’s okay,” she said. “The exercise is good for me.”

Clark wasn’t sure the woman could handle a walk up ten flights of stairs, but he made no comment.

“I’m Clark. Clark Kent,” he said.

“Moana,” she said, taking his proffered hand and shaking it.

“That’s an unusual name,” Clark said. He frowned. The woman had some kind of accent, but he couldn’t place it.

“It’s Maori,” she said. “It means an expanse of water.”

Clark’s frown became even deeper, lines forming on his forehead.

“Maori?” He tried to pronounce it as she had, but the words didn’t roll easily off his tongue, coming out sounding more like ‘mouldy’.

“Sorry, I’m guessing it’s not something you Americans hear every day. I’m from New Zealand. I’m a journalist attached to the exhibition in town.”

Clark had vaguely heard something about an exhibition of art works and artefacts from down under, but he hadn’t taken much notice. Well, he’d had a lot of other things on his mind lately.

“Oh. Well, welcome to Metropolis,” he said. “Is this your first time in the States?”

She nodded. “Never been out of the country before, to tell the truth. Except for about a week in Australia. Big cities really aren’t my thing, but, well, I got assigned to this and you know what it’s like. When your editor barks you jump.” She laughed, then glanced at the cheap gold-plated watch on her wrist. “Well, I should get to that appointment. It was very nice to meet you, Clark Kent.”

“Likewise,” Clark smiled. He watched as she started to climb the stairs, then gathered the rest of his papers from the floor before continuing on his way.

Moana hesitated at the top of the stairs, watching Clark’s back. She hated lying, but sometimes lies were necessary. It wasn’t a complete lie. There was an exhibition in town, and she was asked to report on it. But that wasn’t all she was here to do. Somewhere in this god-forsaken city was a man responsible for murder. And she was going to flush him out. Somehow.

***

Antoine de Sade had grown up knowing more about politics than he cared to, but his father had often told him that he would inherit not only the title, but all the political problems that went with it. So he was comfortable here in Washington DC. Not as comfortable as he would have been in Paris, of course, but he at least understood the seats of power.

He had been here about a week, taking the opportunity to attend some public senate committee hearings to observe the methods these Americans used in their democratic processes. De Sade was not impressed with the so-called democracy the Americans were so proud of. They had tried to sell the idea that the people had some input into the decisions made in government, but as de Sade had seen in the past week, this was just a fallacy.

He glanced at his Rolex watch. Only the finest quality, of course, for a man born into a title which had been in existence for hundreds of years. Unlike his errant ancestor, who had been known for his sexual proclivities and his outspokenness, Antoine de Sade had learned the value of subtlety. He had bided his time, listening to the various conversations until he found the information he needed.

His fourth day into his visit to the nation’s capital, he saw her. A woman of African descent, aged in her mid-sixties. She walked with a limp, and her hair, once a gloriously ebony colour, was now flecked with grey. Her face had previously been smooth and unlined, belying her age, but now it appeared as if she had aged ten years in the past two.

She often came to these sessions, from what de Sade had heard, in an effort to draw support in the senate for a new organisation she was attempting to form in place of her old one.

This particular day, de Sade followed the woman from the halls of power as she limped out of the building. But his path was quickly blocked by a skinny man of average height who wore glasses and a patch over one eye.

“Why are you following us?” he asked.

De Sade began to speak in French, although he could very well converse in English, hoping to throw the young man off track.

“Please excuse me,” he said. “I do not speak English very well. I am but a poor man filled with curiosity.”

There was a sound of a click as the hammer of a gun was pulled back.

“Pourquoi,” said Amanda Waller, late of Checkmate, speaking in fluent French, “ai - je l'impression que vous mentez?”

“Why do I get the impression you’re lying?”

De Sade smirked.

“I see you have lost none of your touch, Dr Waller.”

Waller frowned, her brow furrowing.

“Do I know you?”

“We have met. When you were still working for Task Force X and Valentina Vostok. Now I understand you are no longer working for Checkmate.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about me, Mr ...”

“Marquis. Antoine de Sade.”

Waller’s eyebrow shot up, either in an expression of alarm or suspicion. But she let her arm drop, disarming the gun.

“You’re with the Illuminati,” she said.

“Good. Then you are familiar with our work. We have some questions for you. Particularly about the man we now know as Superman.”

The dark-skinned woman frowned. “Everything was destroyed when the Kandorians set fire to Checkmate headquarters,” she said. “There is nothing more I can tell you that you do not already know.”

“That remains to be seen. Come. We should talk.”

Reluctantly, Waller allowed herself to be led away.

***

“Mr Luthor, thank you for seeing me. I know you’re busy.”

Lex stared at the woman. She was attractive, in a nerdy sort of way, with olive skin and dark brown hair. And she spoke in an accent which told him she was from the south Pacific. Maybe the Antipodes. Lex had spent a week in his teens staying near the Great Barrier Reef and had met a few of the locals.

He was busy packing documents in his briefcase, ready for a trip to Washington.

“As you can see, I’m about to take a business trip.”

“Of course. Well, you know how important this exhibition is to my people,” she said. “They’re grateful for the use of the Luthor wing of the museum.”

“Your people?” Lex frowned.

“The indigenous population of New Zealand.”

New Zealand, that was it. He remembered now that the country had become famous for the filming of one of his favourite movie series: The Lord of the Rings. And clearly the woman, Moana, was descended from one of the indigenous population.

“Well, I’m always happy to support the efforts of another country,” he said.

Moana smiled. She opened her mouth to ask another question but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Tess came in.

“Sorry to interrupt, Lex, but I’ve just spoken to the pilot. He’s fuelling up and should be ready to leave in about an hour.”

“Good. Tess, this is Moana Rangihau.” Lex grinned. “Sorry, did I pronounce that correctly?” he said, looking at the journalist.

“Close enough,” she smiled back, but the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Tess Mercer,” the redhead nodded, shaking Moana’s hand. “I believe you’re here with the exhibition. Such an interesting culture. I look forward to hearing more. Are you in town long?”

“A few days,” Moana nodded.

“Good.” Tess looked back at Lex. “I’ll just go finish packing,” she murmured.

Lex turned back to Moana. “Was there anything else?” he asked.

Moana nodded. She dug in her bag, pulling out a photograph.

“I was wondering if you could help me on a personal project. Do you know this man?”

Lex looked at the photograph. It was the Baron de Rochefort. He quickly schooled his expression into a neutral one.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t. Who is he?”

“A murderer,” she said.

***

Clark looked around at Watchtower. This had been their ‘clubhouse’ for over three years and he still didn’t completely understand how everything worked. Oliver had clearly gone all out when he’d outfitted this place with the latest in technology, from the one-touch screens to the high-level access to government satellites. And that was one thing that worried him. If they had access to Big Brother, then surely it could work the other way around?

“You worry too much, Clark,” Chloe had once told him.

But if the past few weeks had taught him anything, it was that his worry was valid. He thought back to the Vigilante Registration Act. Now he knew that it had been initiated by someone who had been possessed by an entity which wanted to bring darkness to Earth. But even though he’d had a victory over Darkseid, the battle against the darkness in humans was still raging.

It felt like they were still at war. And that bothered him. He remembered something Carter had once said.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that the only way to win a war is to strike first.”

Carter Hall had been his friend, but Clark wasn’t sure he believed in that philosophy, any more than he believed in killing.

Jor-El had once advised him that in order for there to be balance in the world, there had to be an equal weight in both darkness and light, good and evil. Yin and Yang. And ever since Lex had returned, supposedly from the dead, Clark had found himself harking back to the old Kawatche prophecy of Naman and Sageeth. He’d long ago written the prophecy off as a story, but maybe it hadn’t been.

Lois nudged him with her elbow.

“You look kinda deep in thought there, Smallville,” she said.

“Just thinking,” he told his wife.

“About what?”

He sat down on the couch, pulling her down beside him. Mara was asleep in a small room off the main room of Watchtower. Lois never let the baby out of her sight these days, which was unsurprising, given the scare they’d had over three weeks ago.

And it was strange that these people, the mysterious Illuminati, had made no moves since then. That was what worried him.

Lois touched his hand and he looked down at his beautiful wife. Her long dark hair was brushed back off her face in an untidy knot, her colour making her look wan. She was tired. Mara was now over six weeks old, but Lois still wasn’t getting much sleep. Clark tried his best to help out, but he’d had to patrol a lot more recently, since Oliver and Chloe had gone back to Star City. Chloe wanted to stay under the radar for a bit, at least until she could get a handle on this threat.

And the thing that worried him lately was that criminal activity seemed to sense that Superman was distracted. He’d missed so many crimes lately. Maybe they were taking more care to not get caught, but Clark doubted it somehow.

“Honey, you’re drifting.”

“Sorry, Lois,” he said. “I was just ...”

“Over-thinking. You always tend to over-think things, Smallville. Now talk to me.”

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “There’s so much going on and I’m not even sure where things stand right now.”

“What’s bothering you right now?” she asked.

“Everything.”

“Well, that narrows it down,” she said with a smile. “Why don’t we start with the basics and work our way up?”

“Did I ever tell you about the legend in the caves?” he asked.

Lois’ eyes darted and she frowned at him.

“The Kawatche caves?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head. “No, I don’t think you did.”

“Well, there’s a painting on the wall of a two-headed monster. Kyla Willowbrook told me that it was Naman and Sageeth.”

“Whoa, back up there, Smallville. Kyla?”

“I sort of, um, dated her. Well, not really. I mean, we got together a couple of times, but ...”

“When was this?” Lois asked, with the slight bitter tone of jealousy in her voice.

“Sophomore year.” Lois seemed happier with that.

“Okay. Go on.”

“Kyla’s grandfather had been searching for the caves, which got buried sometime in the late sixties. I stumbled across them. Well, more like fell in. Anyway, Kyla told me that there was a prophecy of Naman, who came to Earth in a rain of fire, had the strength of ten men and could shoot fire from his eyes.”

“And of course, she naturally assumed that was you? How did she know about your powers?”

“Uh, well, she found me when I fell. It must have been about a hundred feet, and I didn’t have a scratch on me.”

“I see. So where is this Kyla now?”

“She died. It’s a long story. But anyway, back to the legend, it said that Naman and Sageeth were like brothers, but somewhere along the way they were supposed to become enemies. One good, the other evil.”

“That sounds a lot like you and Lex,” Lois commented.

“Yeah, it does.”

“So you were thinking about Lex?”

“I suppose. I mean, even Dr Fate told me Lex was destined to be my greatest enemy. But I was thinking about something Jor-El said. That there always had to be a balance in the universe. A Yin to someone’s Yang.”

“What does this have to do with what is happening now? With the Illuminati?”

“It just seems like we defeat one evil only to come up with something bigger.”

“That’s why it’s so important to never give up, honey. To keep fighting. Remember that silly movie we saw one night before Mara was born? Totally cheesy, but there’s a line in it that always stuck.”

“Never give up. Never surrender. You’re right. It is cheesy.”

Clark got up and began playing with the keys on the main computer.

“I met someone today. She seemed ... I don’t know. A little odd.”

“In what way?”

“I don’t know. She seemed awkward, but I just got the feeling it was all an act. She’s supposedly here with the exhibition in town.”

“Do you have a name?” Lois asked.

“Rangihau.” He thought that was how it was pronounced.

“Rangi what?” Lois got up and went to the computer. “What exhibition?”

“The one in the Luthorcorp wing of the Metropolis Museum,” he said.

“From New Zealand?” Lois frowned. “Okay, let’s see what I can do here,” she said, beginning to type.

***

De Rochefort peered at the screen at de Sade.

“J'ai pris contact avec Amanda Waller," Antoine was saying. “Je crois que ce n'est qu'une question de temps avant qu'elle ne vienne a travailler pour nous."

"Excellent, mon ami.” Yves told his fellow Illuminati. He signed out and glanced at the clock showing the current time in Bavaria. Almost time.

“I’ve made contact with Amanda Waller,” Antoine was saying. “I believe it is only a matter of time before she comes to work for us.”
“Excellent, my friend.”

Meanwhile, a man sat in a large conference room in the state located in the south east of Germany. He was surrounded by computer monitors, the room looking more like the bridge of the Enterprise than a conference room. The man smirked at the thought. Americans and their television, he thought. If they’d stopped watching the idiot box long enough, they might actually have noticed the little coup going on in their own country. But they hadn’t. And sleeper agents had managed to infiltrate the seats of power with barely a murmur.

A monitor flickered into life and he stared at the screen. Other monitors began flickering.

“Welcome, brothers and sisters,” he said, smiling in welcome. “We will begin our briefings momentarily.”

He waited until all were online, then nodded in satisfaction at the figure in the first monitor.

Like himself, every one of the six members were dressed in black. The men in black business suits with black silk shirts, in the finest quality money could buy. The women were also dressed in silk, in conservative dresses – form-fitting, but so well cut they hid more than they showed. Every one of the six were slim. The Illuminati made no allowances for imperfections.

The man known only as Annaboth to those who knew him, had been elected to his seat a few years earlier by each known branch of the brotherhood. His name was kept confidential, for the most part, and to others outside this elite group of seven, he was known only by his rank. Number One.

Each member wore a simple badge, giving proof of their membership, on their lapel or pinned above the breast. The badge held the symbol of the Illuminati – a light-emitting giant eye, hovering above a pyramid and surrounded by a pentagram.

Number One stood, waiting, allowing a calm to wash over him.

“We shall begin. Number Three, brief us on the status of your mission. And speak in English.”

Number Three nodded in reverence. He may have a very high rank in the Brotherhood, but he knew when to bow to his superiors.

“Thanks to our brothers and sisters in Paris and London, as well as the Brussels headquarters of the European Union, we have succeeded in creating economic instability. Despite various governments’ actions to avoid bankruptcy, shareholders have fled to Asia, and we have seen multiple demonstrations against poverty and unemployment. In North America, there have been recent troubles with loans being called in – all, of course, orchestrated by our loyal friends. The Americans now have economic bankruptcy to match their moral bankruptcy.”

The others nodded. One clapped softly for a few seconds, until Number One turned to them, nodding slightly. The woman stopped. Number Three continued.

“There is, however, a threat ... these so-called superheroes with their strange powers. And thanks to our agents placed in government organisations, and to our investments, we can now begin to move against these superheroes.”

“To what purpose?” Number Six asked.

“To study them. I have personally been overseeing a plan to take a hybrid of the one called Superman. We know his true identity. Our testing has confirmed this. We are currently preparing underground bases purposely built for the study of these beings, and for those we now know to have power mutations by the substance known as Kryptonite. I have personally made a significant investment in a town called Smallville, and I will use the opportunity this gives me to gather more of this substance.”

De Rochefort smiled evilly.

“I am prepared to be patient, my friends. The United States, with its Vigilante Registration Act failed, but we will not fail, my friends.”

“What is your plan, Number Three?” Number One spoke.

“Soon, Number One. Soon the foolish American public will no longer believe in their hero, and we will crush Superman.”

This time, the applause was deafening.

***

Lex stared at the young woman.

“A murderer? How so?”

Her brown eyes were reserved as she looked him over.

“That isn’t important right now, Mr Luthor. And I understand you have a plane to catch. I won’t keep you, but I would like to talk more on this when you return.”

“Of course. I expect to be in Washington no more than about three days. Will you still be in town then?”

“The exhibition runs for a month. I’ll be around,” she said.

Lex nodded. “Please excuse me,” he said. “I have some things to finish here before I leave. You can give your card to my assistant.”

“Of course,” she said coolly. “Thank you.”

When she had gone, Lex found himself staring into space. The woman intrigued him. She dressed like someone who wanted to hide. Rather a lot like Clark in the years they’d been friends. And how he dressed now. Clark had often dressed in high school like he was trying to blend in. But someone as tall as he was and as good-looking as he was had no chance of hiding.

Even now, Clark hid his true self behind ugly horn-rimmed glasses, a bad haircut and a long, tan-coloured overcoat that would have looked better on a homeless man, or a flasher. All Clark needed to complete the look was the two-day old stubble.

Lex sighed and got up from his desk, going out to his assistant.

“I want you to find me all you can get on Moana Rangihau. Dig up every piece of dirt you can find. Understand? I want it on my desk when I get back from Washington.”

The assistant paled, but nodded. “Yes sir.”

Everyone in his office was absolutely terrified of him. The only one who didn’t show it was Tess. Of course, the stunt she had pulled at the press conference announcing his return had ensured that he couldn’t just easily get rid of her. And since her allegiance was with the so-called Justice League, he at least had a way of keeping tabs on the so-called heroes.

As much as Lex hated to admit it, he needed the heroes right now. The Illuminati triumvirate were making moves in Smallville which could seriously damage his corporate bottom line.

***

Amanda Waller was nothing if not intelligent, and she quickly recognised the implied threats from de Sade. The man no doubt had connections very high up. But what bothered her most was the way the man appealed to her innate curiosity. Waller had been intrigued by Superman since he’d made his debut. She was desperate to talk to the superhero, find out what made him tick. And with any luck, convince him to work for the US government.

But, of course, since the debacle of the Vigilante Registration Act, Superman, Green Arrow and their cohorts had rejected any overtures from the government. As Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow had spat back, the VRA had seen to it that anyone with any kind of super ability could not trust those in power not to exploit their abilities.

Waller was still uncertain of the superheroes’ agendas. Were they in this for profit or something else? She knew there had been several in the seats of power who had wondered quite vocally if Superman was planning on taking over the world government. He certainly had the power.

She recalled Oliver’s impassioned speech on a television broadcast over two years ago. The reporter had been scathing in her criticism. Of course, Oliver had ‘come out’ in an atmosphere of distrust of any hero who chose to hide his face. So her scepticism was natural.

“This isn’t about who I am, it’s about what I do,” Oliver had said. “And I don’t think I’m the first rich boy who felt that way. It was John F Kennedy who once said ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can for your country’.”

The woman had frowned at him, surprised by his passion, and somewhat cynical in his use of the slain former president.

“So, now you’re – you’re comparing yourself to a fallen hero of this country?”

“Well, why not? He saw the hero in all of us. I’m not dwelling on revenge for past atrocities or looking ahead to what I can purposefully gain from a few tax breaks, drilling oil wells in the ocean, putting up razor-wired fences to keep out immigrants who only want what our grandparents wanted. In this world of arm-chaired bloggers, who’ve created a generation of critics instead of leaders, I’m actually doing something, right here, right now for the city, for my country.”

A great speech to be sure, Waller thought, but what did it all mean in the end? Superman was out there preventing crime, stopping bank robberies, rapes and murders, while shying away from international affairs saying it wasn’t his business to interfere. He remained politically neutral. And as the British were fond of saying: ‘Never the Twain shall meet.’ There would never be any compromise, no meeting in the middle.

“Pourquoi les Illuminatis sont intérésse par Superman?” she asked de Sade as she sat in his hotel room, sipping from a glass of fine French cognac.

“Ah directe et franche Madame,” de Sade said. “En effet pourquoi?” He smirked and sat down beside her, patting her knee, a move that rankled. Amanda Waller was not a touchy-feely kind of person and she didn’t like anyone getting in her space. De Sade did not seem to notice her distaste. “Superman est un ennemi pour notre existence.”

“Comment cela?”

“Les Gens, se tourne vers lui non?”

Waller was suddenly aware that they were both speaking French, yet it seemed as natural as her native English.

“Superman est une menace pour le Nouvelle Ordre Mondiale,” she surmised.

“Les Illuminati ont maintenu leur existence secrete pendant des millénaires, non, plus que cela. Oh, bien sûr, il y'a toujours des supposition, des mythes. Mais aucune théories n'a jamais réussi à prouver notre existence, sans l'ombre d'un doute. Mais Nous guidons, non...” He seemed to have difficulty coming up with the right phrase and he waved his hands in the air as if he was manipulating something. Waller frowned in thought.

“Vous voulez dire que vous tirez les ficelles. Comme des poupées, des Marionnettes.”

“Ah oui c'est exactement cela.”

“Et biens sur , Superman ne peut pas être manipulé, ne peut pas être controlé.”

“Vous avais compris Madame.”

Of course she understood. The Illuminati had been rumoured to be behind almost every dark event in the history of the so-called civilised world. Whether it had been the rise of Third Reich in Nazi Germany, or, more recently, the felling of the twin towers in New York, they had been pulling the strings of every organisation, terrorist group or political party. Their influence spread wide.

“Mais Superman est Politiquement neutre,” she pointed out. “Jusqu'ici, tout ce qu'il a fait est de prévenir la criminalité dans Métropolis et les aider les gens dans une des rares catastrophes naturelles.”

“Je ne crois pas que vous soyer naïf, Madame.”

Waller frowned. No, she wasn’t that naive, but she still didn’t see the point he was making.

“N'est-ce pas un de vos contemporain, un solliciteur général qui a dit: 'Une société amortis par un réseau d'étouffement de lois, tout en trouvant la libération dans le chaos moral n'est pas susceptible d'être heureux ou stable'?”

“Robert Bork?”

The law professor had been Solicitor-General in the eighties, and had also been an acting Attorney-General, with a failed nomination to the Supreme Court.

“Vous dite que vous voulais le Chaos?”

“Je crois qu'il y'a un terme pour cela, inventé par un auteur particulierement connue pour son franc-parler. Il l'a appelé problème-réaction-solution.”

Of course, Waller thought. Create the problem, allow it to escalate to the point where the public begin to protest, then provide the solution. It had been done with the Great Depression in the 1920s. Many sociologists had expounded the theory that over-spending on vast amounts of credit was what had led to the economic downfall and the crash of Wall Street, leading to the rise in popularity of socialist policies. It was no coincidence that Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ and other countries’ political reforms showed remarkable similarity.

Superman had only been known in Metropolis a couple of years. Before that, of course, he’d been known as the Blur. But the crime rate in Metropolis had decreased considerably. People were happier, more hopeful, because they had their hero to look up to.

And that was something the Illuminati could not allow.

“Why would the Illuminati be interested in Superman?”
“Ah, direct and to the point, Madame. Why indeed? Superman is a threat to our very existence.”
“How so?”
“The people, they look up to him, no?”
“Superman is a threat to the New World Order.”
“The Illuminati have kept their existence a secret for a millennia; no, more than that. Oh, of course, there is always supposition, myth. But no one living has ever managed to prove our existence beyond a shadow of a doubt. We guide, no? We ...”
“You mean you pull the strings. Like puppets. Marionettes.”
“Ah, yes, this is so.”
“And of course, Superman is someone who can’t be manipulated. Can’t be controlled.”
“You understand, madame.”
“But, Superman is politically neutral,” she pointed out. “So far, all he’s done is prevent crime in Metropolis and help out in a few natural disasters.”
“I do not believe you are that naive, madame.”
Waller frowned. No, she wasn’t that naive, but she still didn’t see the point he was making.
“Was it not one of your people, a Solicitor General who said: ‘A society deadened by a smothering network of laws while finding release in moral chaos is not likely to be either happy or stable’?”
“Robert Bork?”
“You’re saying you want the chaos?”?
“I believe there is a term for it, coined by a particularly outspoken author. He called it problem-reaction-solution.”

***

The flight had been, thankfully, short. Tess had watched her brother, anxious to get the flight over and done with. Lex had been on the phone the entire time, to his attorney, from the sound of it, and had ignored her. For that, Tess was grateful.

They were supposedly attending a dinner that evening and Martha Kent was supposed to be there. Tess hadn’t seen the senator since Clark and Lois’ second, more successful wedding, two weeks after the aborted one. Tess was fond of the Kent matriarch, although it had taken time for the two women to build a rapport. Martha had been initially reserved. Tess could understand that, however. After everything the Luthors had done to the Kents, it was no surprise.

As soon as the plane had taxied in to the hangar, Tess picked up her bag and briefcase, following Lex out to the limo. He still ignored her and she wondered if he was thinking about the young woman who had come to his office earlier. She knew he had already started investigating the woman.

The limo stopped outside the hotel and Tess continued following Lex, trying to keep up with his longer strides. He was clearly in a bad mood and she wasn’t going to do anything to make it worse.

Once up in the penthouse suite, Lex went to the master bedroom. Tess found the second bedroom and shrugged out of her travelling clothes, going to the shower. Ten minutes later, she came out of the adjoining bathroom wrapped in a towelling robe, her long wet hair wrapped in a turban.

She sat on the bed and picked up her cellphone, dialling the number on her speed dial.

“Clark, it’s Tess.”

“Hey Tess. What’s up? I thought you were in Washington?”

“I am. Listen, Lex had a visitor at his office today. A woman. A reporter, actually.”

“Let me guess. Moana?”

“You had a run in with her too?”

“Yeah. She was at the Planet to see Perry.”

“Did anything strike you as odd about her?” Tess asked.

“Actually, yes. Lois and I are looking into it. We’ll let you know if we find out anything.”

“I’m sure Lex has asked his assistant to investigate her too.”

“Any idea what she wanted to talk to Lex about?”

“It sounded like she wanted to interview him, but there was something off about her. I don’t know. Maybe I’m paranoid.”

“I doubt it,” Clark answered. “Don’t worry about it, Tess. Just ... watch your back. You know how Lex is. And say hi to my mom for us.”

“Will do.”

Tess disconnected the call and began unpacking her suitcase, pulling out the formal dress she was planning on wearing to the dinner. It was a lavender silk strapless dress with a tight bodice. She shook it out and hung it up.

The door was flung open and Lex walked in. Tess glared at him.

“Lex, have you ever heard of the word privacy?”

“I wanted to make sure you knew the agenda for tonight.”

“Yes, Lex. Mingle, talk to a few senators. I was acting CEO for you for over a year.”

“Before you sold me out to Oliver Queen,” Lex sneered. “Just make sure you keep to your role tonight. You’re representing Luthorcorp, not your ‘friends’ in the Justice League.

“I am perfectly aware of my place, thank you,” she told him coldly. “Now get out so I can finish getting ready.”

“Be careful, Tess,” Lex said. “I gave you your position because you were my flesh and blood. And I don’t tolerate betrayal.”

“Hence your throwing Lionel out a sixty storey window.”

“Lionel’s death was a suicide!” Lex returned.

“I’ll believe that like I’ll believe you never had any intention of killing me when you returned. Don’t worry, Lex. I know how to behave like a Luthor.”

Tess glared at Lex’s retreating back, wishing she had heat vision like Clark. Sometimes Lex treated her like a glorified assistant rather than an executive VP. Hatred bubbled up like bile in her throat.

The only reason she’d chosen to return to the family corporation after Lex’s return was because her friends needed inside information. But since Lex already knew she was working with the League, it was all kind of pointless.

She really needed to re-assess her life.

The biggest problem was, Tess was lonely. Sure, she was surrounded by good friends, but she hadn’t dated anyone in months, and the last guy she’d slept with had tried to kill her. Not tried, really. He had killed her. It was only Granny Goodness who had brought her back to life. And just the thought of what that evil woman had been capable of gave Tess shivers.

An hour later, Tess left the suite and made her way down to the waiting limo outside. Lex was already waiting for her, looking handsome in a black tuxedo, his bald head shining.

“You’re late,” Lex commented, nose deep in some folders. He nodded his head toward some other folders lying on the seat. “Study them. Those are the people I want you to mingle with. I happen to know Senator Kelley is a sucker for a beautiful woman.”

“Are you suggesting I seduce them?” Tess asked.

“It’s good business,” Lex told her, still reading. “Know your enemy.”

“These aren’t your enemies. These are senators.”

“Senators who happen to be on the committee for Armed Services, and thus have veto power over any projects with military applications.”

And Luthorcorp needed the research and development contracts, Tess thought. She picked up the folders with a sigh and began reading.

Most of the guests had already gathered in the ballroom and were politely mingling. Tess saw Martha and immediately went to greet her.

“Senator Kent,” she said.

“Hello, Tess, how are you?”

“As well as can be expected,” Tess said with a quick glance to where Lex was already talking with Bruce Wayne. “I didn’t know Mr Wayne would be here tonight,” she added with a frown.

“Neither did we,” Martha answered. Tess looked at her. Martha looked a little tired. Her once beautiful red hair, while still showing some of its colour, had turned grey in the last couple of years.

“How’s Clark?”

Tess looked at the newcomer. Kara, of course, in her guise as Linda Danvers. She was wearing a brunette wig and large glasses.

“You know Clark. They’re hanging in there. Did you manage to talk to ...”

“Yes, I did,” Kara told her. “In fact ...” Her eyes widened and she gasped. “It’s that man who was in the farmhouse. The NSA agent.”

Tess frowned, looking at the agent. Crawford was as blonde as Oliver, with a slightly sallow complexion and short stubble around his chin and on his upper lip. He was tall, possibly 1.83m and extremely good-looking.

He spotted them watching and winked. Tess turned back to Kara.

“Do you think he recognised you?” she asked the young woman also known as Supergirl.

“I don’t think so. At least, I hope not.”

“Well, I hope not either,” a voice said. Tess turned and looked at the tall dark-haired man. He smiled briefly. “Miss Mercer. Or are you using the name Luthor now?”

“Tess is fine. Mr Wayne. I’m surprised to see you here.”

“Well, your brother and I do have similar business interests.” He turned, his eyes sparkling as he studied Martha. “And this must be the lovely Senator Kent. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise, Mr Wayne,” she said.

He smiled congenially. “Please, call me Bruce.” He then turned his attention to Kara. “And you are ...?” Although he clearly knew exactly who she was. Tess figured he was doing it for the sake of the people gathered around them.

“This is my niece, Linda Danvers,” Martha told him.

Two others came to join their little group. Tess was immediately taken with the tall, dark-haired man whose expression and laughing eyes were a complete contrast to Bruce’s more taciturn expression.

“I don’t believe you have met Steve Trevor and Diana Prince,” Martha continued.

“No, I can’t say I have,” Bruce answered.

Tess noticed Lex shooting her a look and she quickly excused herself, with a roll of her eyes. Martha smiled at her and nodded with complete understanding. Tess mingled for a while, intent on at least fulfilling part of her obligations to Luthorcorp.

“Miss Mercer, what a surprise to see you here. And may I say you look very lovely tonight.”

Tess turned and looked at the man.

“Signore Donatello,” she said.

“Please,” he said, lifting her hand to kiss it. “I must insist you call me Francesco.”

Lex turned away from watching the exchange and focused his full attention on the older man. Ross Webster was an ass, and probably his biggest rival in the field of biotech research and development.

“Where is your sister this evening?” Lex enquired.

“Oh, she’s around somewhere,” Webster said. “Of course, you know my friend Lorelai,” he added, grasping the arm of a blonde woman about twenty years his junior.

“Of course,” Lex nodded.

“I see your charming sister is accompanying you this evening,” Ross said, leering at Tess’ cleavage.

Lex bristled. “My sister is not your concern,” he snapped.

Webster smirked. “Careful, Luthor. You know what your old man used to say about mixing business and family. It never ends well.”

Webster turned away with another smirk. Lex sipped his champagne, glaring at the man’s back. As he glanced around the room, he saw Tess frowning at him. He scowled at her and stalked off.

***

Clark came downstairs from the bedroom to find Lois sitting on the couch flicking through the channels. She sat back with a sigh.

“He has cable and still there’s nothing on.”

“You sound restless,” Clark told his wife.

“I am. Mara okay?”

“Yeah, she’s asleep.”

“God help me, but I can’t wait until she starts sleeping through the night.” She looked up at him, seeing him dressed only in loose pants and t-shirt. “I thought you were going to go out on patrol?”

“I don’t want to leave you here alone,” he told her.

“I’ll be fine. It’s not like someone’s going to fly through the terrace doors, now is it? There’s only one flyboy in this neck of the woods. Go, patrol.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“You know, I could always call Kara to ...”

“Kara’s in Washington again, remember? She said mom invited her to the dinner tonight and she wanted another chance to talk to Diana.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot.” He zipped upstairs and returned within a couple of seconds with his suit on. He leaned down and kissed her. “Don’t stay up too late.”

He flew off from the terrace over the city, tuning in with his super hearing for any trouble in the city. It seemed mostly quiet. Mostly. There were a few accidents and fires, but they occurred within a couple of blocks from assistance, so he knew he wasn’t needed.

Just as he was planning to give up on patrol and head back to Oliver’s clock tower apartment, he spotted a young woman being followed by two very large men. The woman looked vaguely familiar. He flew down, intending to land, just as the two men decided to try and rob the young woman. She turned and glared viciously at them.

The two men laughed.

“Think you can take us on, little lady?”

She smirked. “Well, let’s see, you’re both way out of shape and heart attacks waiting to happen, plus you’re old and ugly. What do you think?”

Clark snickered. She had guts. He watched a little more as the two men looked at each other and launched at the woman. She easily dodged them. They turned and tried to corner her against a dumpster, but she ran up the wall and somersaulted, wrenching out of their grips and giving them both kicks in the back.

The two men stumbled, crashing against the wall and turned, looking stunned at being so beaten by a slip of a girl. They looked at each other and shrugged, then took off running. The woman looked disgusted.

“Is that all you’ve got? Morons!”

Clark almost split his sides, laughing. She clearly didn’t need his help. The woman turned and resumed walking.

“Enjoy the show, Superman?” she asked.

He stopped floating in the air and joined her on the ground.

“You were doing so well on your own,” he told her.

She laughed. “Yeah, idiots thought they could rob me. I’m no Buffy, but I can hold my own.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Buffy?”

“Yeah, you know. Buffy. Blonde, little, kills vampires?”

“That’s a tv show,” he answered.

“That was a joke,” she returned.

She resumed walking and he began walking with her.

“What are you doing out here this time of night?”

“Just checking out some clubs. I’m looking for someone.”

“Oh?”

Clark frowned. Her voice sounded familiar. It almost sounded like ... but the accent was different. She talked with an American accent.

“Maybe you can help,” she said. “Do you have an email, or ... No, of course you don’t. That would be ridiculous.”

“You can contact me through Clark Kent at the Daily Planet.”

“Oh, right,” she said, nodding. “They seem to have the exclusive on you.”

“Well, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are friends of mine.”

“Great. I’ll give Mr Kent a call tomorrow.”

“Would you like me to walk you home?” he asked.

“Thanks Superman, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. You probably have better things to do than babysit.”

“Well, goodnight then, Miss ... I don’t know your name.”

“I didn’t give you my name,” she said with a smirk. “Good night, Superman.”

***

The dark limousine slowly entered through the main entry to Metropolis International Airport. Two small French flags were mounted on either side of the car’s long hood and the registration showed diplomatic identification. Members of the public stared, wondering what dignitary could be inside the long, black vehicle, or who it might be collecting.

The limousine parked in a loading zone, its driver ignorant of the glare from security. Simon Valmont emerged from the front seat of the vehicle, his nose in the air as if he barely deigned to acknowledge the man in security uniform standing before the main doors. He moved around to the pavement side of the rear of the limousine and opened the door with a flourish.

Yves de Rochefort stepped out, acknowledging his man with a nod. Simon followed his employer into the main terminal, always two steps behind, signifying his importance. De Rochefort headed to the small café and sat in the booth. Simon sat across from him, removing his chauffeur’s cap. For all that de Rochefort was his employer, Simon was trusted with all de Rochefort’s secrets.

A waitress approached the table with a pad in hand. She was blonde, attractive, with a large bust which threatened to burst the buttons of her white blouse. Yves looked her up and down appreciatively. He believed himself to be a connoisseur of women and he enjoyed the female figure in all its forms.

“Good evening,” she said politely. “Can I get you gentlemen anything?”

"Oui," Simon told her in French. "Mon employeur souhaite du Cafe Français, avec un café mais pas de crème, avec un peut d' édulcorant et je voudrais un noir court."

The young woman frowned, then nodded. “Je reviens tout de suite,” she said in French.

Within five minutes she had returned with the coffees. The baron sampled his and scowled.

"Pouah, ce n'est pas du Cafe Français," he told Simon. "Les Américains n'ont aucune idée de ce qui est un bon café. Il est imbuvable. " Simon grimaced at the taste of his own coffee.

"C'est tout aussi mauvais", he said, putting the cup down and glaring at it as if it was poison.

"Pah!" Yves said. "Le Café américain est comme tout le reste des américain.Inférieur.”

"En effet,” Simon agreed."Mais qu'est-ce que vous pouvez attendre d'une nation de barbares,” he laughed.

They left the coffee aside and began to talk of trivial matters until there was an announcement over the loudspeakers.

“Announcing the arrival of the Minerva, flight Whiskey Alpha Tango 461 from Bordeaux at Gate 42.”

"Elle est là," Yves said.

The two men rose. Simon left cash on the table – the precise amount of the bill and no tip. He knew the waitress would silently curse them, but he cared little. He followed his employer out of the café and pointed to the sign indicating where Gate 42 would be. It would be a little while before their passenger would clear through the border checks, despite her being on a private jet, and they took their time walking down to the arrival gate.

Thirty minutes later, a tall woman with blonde hair pulled back into a tight chignon appeared, walking quickly down toward them. She was a woman of wealth. Her clothes were made from only the finest quality fabrics and the latest in contemporary fashion for a woman in her late thirties. Two other women followed closely behind, both dressed in black pantsuits, their black hair cut very short.

The woman was at least fifteen years younger than the baron. Or so it appeared to every passer-by. She was, at least, youthful in appearance.

"Stephanie, ma chère, vous êtes venue,” Yves said, moving forward to greet his wife.

“Yves,” she exclaimed, kissing him on both cheeks in the French fashion. “Je suis très heureuse de vous voir mon cher,” she continued.

“Comment etait le defilé de mode?” he asked.

Stephanie de Rochefort was the editor of a French fashion magazine, Madame. She was often required to attend fashion shows at the invitations of companies advertising in the magazine. She was a woman extremely conscious of her image, but she wore it well.

“Ah, la mode ces jours-ci,” she said, shaking her head. “Les concepteurs sont plus jeunes et les jupes sont plus courtes. Je ne sais pas ce que ces filles pensent. Ils n'ont pas de gout,” she complained.

"Tandis que vous, ma chère, vous avais toujours eu un goût charmant. c' est ce qui m'a attiré à vous depuis le moment où j'ai posé les yeux sur vous. "

Stephanie smiled. "Vous avez toujours été si charmant mon cher mari. Maintenant, dites-moi comment votre petit projet progresse? "

De Rochefort took her arm, guiding her gently toward the exit.

"Nous allons en discuter dans la voiture, ma cher.Il y'a pas qu 'une raison du pourquoi je vous est demandé ici."

"Tout ce que vous voudrais, mon cher mari."

Simon opened the car door for the couple and they slipped inside. The two bodyguards made their way to a vehicle parked behind, getting in the back. Simon closed the door and moved to the driver’s side.

Stephanie looked at her husband as he took a small tablet from a compartment. She looked at the image he brought up on the screen.

“Lex Luthor,” she said. “Je me souviens d'un article il ya plusieurs années dans le magazine Forbes."

Yves nodded. "Je veux que vous leséduisiez,” he said.

“Je prend cela, il a refusé l'alliance?”

"Il a. Mes collègues ont déjà commencé à chercher des alliances et se déplace ailleurs, mais je persiste à croire Luthor sera le meilleur choix. "

"Vous souhaitez pour le discréditer, qui entre à son tour vers le bas dans le domaine des valeurs boursières de sa société."

"Oui, très bien."

"Mais mon cher mari, je dois demander.Je connais la réputation de Luthor.Il est impitoyable et franchement je ne vois pas comment le public va se retourner contre lui, même dans sa disgrâce. "

"Bah, le public sont des moutons!” de Rochefort growled. "Et si nous faisons suffisamment de bruit, ils suivront n'importe quelle direction ou nous voudrons les diriger."

Stephanie understood at last. De Rochefort would make himself the ‘victim’, the cuckolded husband; he would be vocal in his outrage and it would curry favour with the public.

“Voulez-vous le faire?"

Stephanie smiled evilly. "Mais bien sûr."

“Yes. My employer wishes for French roast, no cream, with a little sweetener and I would like a short black.”
“I’ll be right back.”
“Ugh, this is not French Roast. The Americans have no idea what is good coffee. It is undrinkable.”
“This is just as bad.”
“Pah! American coffee is just like everything else American. Inferior.”
“Indeed. But what can you expect from a nation of barbarians.”
“There she is.”
“Stephanie, my dear, you made it.”
“I am very pleased to see you my dear.”
“How was the fashion show?”
“Ah, the fashion these days. The designers are getting younger and the skirts are getting shorter. I don’t know what these girls are thinking. They have no taste.”
“Whereas you, my dear, have always had charming taste. It is what attracted me to you from the very moment I set eyes on you.”
“You have always been so very charming yourself, husband. Now, tell me how your little project is progressing.”
“We will discuss that in the car, my dear. There is a reason why I asked you here.”
“Anything for you, my husband.”
“I remember an article many years ago in Forbes magazine.”
“I want you to seduce him.”
“I take it he has refused the alliance?”
“He has. My colleagues have already begun moves to seek alliances elsewhere but I still believe Luthor will be the better choice.”
“You wish to discredit him, which will in turn drive down the stock values of his company.”
“Yes, very good.”
“But husband, I must ask. I know Luthor’s reputation. He is ruthless and frankly I fail to see how the public will turn against him, even in his disgrace.”
“Pah, the public are sheep! And if we make enough noise, they will follow whatever direction we lead them.”
“Will you do it?”
“But of course.”

***

Tess found the Italian doctor to be extremely charming as he talked. She remembered him from the earlier meeting with Lex and knew, of course, of his agenda, but as he spoke, she wondered if he was completely in agreement with his Illuminati ‘brothers’.

He was very eloquent; flattering but without seeming as if he was trying to ... what was the expression? she thought. Butter her up?

Tess had always been fairly cynical. She hadn’t considered herself to be the type of person who would fall for empty words of praise. Then again, she hadn’t had much praise in her life.

Her father, or her adoptive father, had been a drunk and abusive with it. He had been physically abusive, breaking her arm three times and rupturing her eardrum when he’d beaten her about the head.

She hadn’t learned to read and write until she was nearly eight, and that had been only after a former teacher had taken pity on her and given her a reader. Tess had soaked up the knowledge like a sponge and begged for more, although it all had to be in secret. Hank Mercer had never seen the need to educate girls and he had destroyed any books in the swamp house in Louisiana. Tess’ mother had been little help. Just as ignorant as Hank, Beth had died of typhoid when Tess was fourteen – a disease which had been eradicated in all but the most poverty-stricken areas of the country

Determined that she would never become a victim to that kind of ignorance, Tess had worked hard to get high grades, even if it made her the most unpopular girl in her class. The state had finally intervened when Tess was ten, forcing her parents to send her to school. And Tess had made the most of it, testing out of the grade appropriate for her age not once but three times, earning a full academic scholarship to Harvard at fifteen. Free of her father at last, Tess had gone on to the university to study for a degree in Marine Biology.

Eleven years ago, at nineteen, Tess had been on a ship, taking part in a study in the South Pacific when the ship had been taken over by drug runners. They had been forced to sail to an island and it was there that Tess had met Oliver Queen who, coincidentally, had been marooned by the same drug runners two years earlier.

The two of them had managed to escape the drug runners and find their way back to the States. For a short time, Tess had embarked on a relationship with the Queen Industries scion, but she had caught him cheating on her with a seating hostess from their favourite Star City restaurant and she had left him feeling bitter and swearing never to allow herself to be that vulnerable again.

Tess had been surprised when she was head-hunted by Luthorcorp and offered a job working in their marine science division. She’d later been assigned to work on Project Mercury in Honduras, helping to gather viruses. But their camp was destroyed in an explosion and she was badly hurt.

After her recovery, which had been personally overseen by Lex, Tess had begun to think of him as her mentor and she had become an eager pupil. She had honestly believed her hard work and dedication had led him to promote her to a regional VP and to take over as acting CEO when he’d disappeared but she knew better now.

There were times when Tess wondered if Lex had been planning on disappearing the day he’d gone to the Arctic. But she knew that somehow Lex’s plans had gone awry with the collapse of Clark’s fortress. And he had obviously never planned on her learning of the way he’d used her.

Tess knew she had made some bad decisions in the past. Some of those had been motivated by the fact that she had refused to allow herself to be vulnerable. She had been bitter from the abuse by her father, then by Lex’s betrayal. It was only through Clark’s friendship that she had learned to step off the destructive path she was on and as such, had become a valued member of his team.

“You seem deep in thought, my dear,” Francesco said with a smile.

He had studied Tess Mercer thoroughly and knew what motivated her. The woman was someone who had known little love in her life and he wanted to use that to seduce her to their side.

Tess began to answer, but Lex stepped in.

“Excuse me,” he said rudely. “I need to speak with my sister. Alone, if you don’t mind.”

Donatello waved a hand nonchalantly. He disliked Lex intensely and felt he would sooner work with the devil than with this man. But the Luthors owed them a great debt. After all, it was they who had helped Lionel make his way to the top of the corporate world. As it was the brotherhood who had assisted Morgan Edge to become Metropolis’ own answer to Al Capone. And the brotherhood never let go of their debts.

***

Kara had spent much of the night at Martha’s side, wondering if she should at least pretend to mingle. But Martha had been sensitive to her quandary, telling friends and colleagues that ‘her niece’ was shy. Kara hadn’t meant to appear so clingy, but she had been reluctant to let the senator out of her sight, given what had occurred in the past few days.

Steve Trevor, however, appeared to take matters into his own hands.

“Senator, would you care to dance with a man with two left feet?” he asked.

“Well, I wouldn’t,” Martha laughed, “but I will dance with you.”

Steve chuckled, taking Martha’s hand and leading her to the dance floor. Bruce, who had been hovering nearby, seemed to take it as an invitation.

“Miss Prince, would you like to dance with me?” he asked, playing the role of the Gotham playboy to the hilt.

Diana nodded sedately. “Thank you,” she said.

Kara glanced at the dark-haired couple, wondering if Bruce was aware that Diana was Wonder Woman. She knew from Clark that Chloe had met with both of them while she had been underground all those months, but whether that meant she had revealed to either of them their mutual existence was another matter.

Standing alone, Kara became aware of the interest of the NSA agent. She shivered slightly, hoping that the simple disguise of the brunette wig and large black-rimmed glasses were enough for him not to recognise her. But she doubted it.

The intensity of the man’s stare unnerved her. As Lois would say, he ‘freaked her out’. Kara smiled as she thought fondly of Lois. The woman might not always think before speaking, but she certainly had a way with words. Kara had to admit that she and Lois had definitely not got off to a great start. Well, she had attacked Lois when she’d seen both Lois and Clark by her ship after it had been released from the mud at Reeves Dam. They’d had a long talk about that once Lois had revealed she knew of Clark’s Kryptonian origins and they’d both apologised for their actions.

Lois could still be brash at times, but Kara could see how much she loved Clark and that was enough for her.

“May I have this dance?”

Startled, Kara turned and looked at the NSA agent.

“Excuse me?” she said.

“I’m sorry,” he answered with a smile. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just saw you standing here, all alone, and I thought I should ask a pretty girl to dance.”

“Thank you, but I’m afraid I’m not a very good dancer,” she said.

“I’ll take my chances.” He held out his hand. “Unless you’re afraid?”

Kara shook her head. “Of course not.” She took his hand reluctantly. Perhaps he did not know who she was after all. But she decided it was a good opportunity to try and learn his agenda.

“My name is Linda,” she said, as she stepped onto the dance floor with him.

“John. I understand Senator Kent is your aunt?”

Kara nodded.

“You seem very close,” John prompted.

“We are. I’m very fond of my aunt, and my cousin.”

“I hear your cousin Clark is quite the reporter in Metropolis,” John told her as they danced.

“He is. So is his wife, Lois. She’s on leave at the moment.”

“Yes, I did hear she had a baby. Are they living in the city now?” he asked.

Kara quickly schooled her emotions. She knew that he knew Lois and Clark were not at the farm anymore, but she wasn’t about to tell him exactly where they were. She quickly changed the subject.

“What do you do, John?” she asked, wondering if he would tell her. He smiled.

“Oh, a little bit of this, a little bit of that.”

Figures, Kara thought.

John smiled to himself. It seemed ‘Supergirl’ had learned a thing or two about fishing expeditions while she’d been on this planet. He was so tempted to question her further, but he didn’t want to reveal that he had seen through her meagre disguise too soon. The last thing he wanted to do was make her defensive. He would let it be. For now.

***

Martha changed places with Diana, dancing with Bruce, who seemed only too delighted with the change.

“I must say, Senator, you’re an excellent dancer.”

“Please, call me Martha,” she said. “And yes, I did have dancing lessons when I was a child. My father was a lawyer in Metropolis.”

“I take it he did not approve of you marrying Jonathan?” Bruce commented.

“Afraid so. He and Jonathan even came to blows once. But I loved Jonathan and I was happy with him. Our marriage wasn’t perfect, but neither were we.”

“It must have been difficult, knowing you couldn’t have children of your own.”

“But Clark more than made up for it,” she said. “And I now have a beautiful grand-daughter. I’m not complaining.”

The music ended and Bruce suggested a breather. He went to get drinks while Martha stood in one of the small alcoves of the ballroom. Her ears caught a conversation.

“Well, I for one don’t trust him.”

“Superman? He has done nothing but help the people of Metropolis.”

“And don’t you think Luthor has a point? Or have you forgotten his speech late last year? Superman is still an alien and therefore we must question his agenda.”

“You’re what’s known as a xenophobe, Miranda,” her male companion laughed.

“Just because I happen to dislike other cultures ... Look, all I’m saying is, Superman needs to be curtailed. In fact, I wouldn’t mind getting him in a government lab to study him. Find out what makes him tick.”

Martha snorted in disgust. Senator Miranda Clifford had been giving a speech just last month in which she spouted racial invectives. She was the type of senator Martha would prefer to have nothing to do with. She was prejudiced in the extreme.

Martha glanced up as a hand touched her arm and realised Bruce had returned to her side with a glass of wine. But her snort had been heard by the two senators.

“Senator Kent,” Miranda said snidely. “I am not surprised you disagree. Everyone knows of your bias.”

“And what bias would that be?” Martha asked.

“Your son and his wife seem to write a lot of stories in praise of Superman. It seems as if the alien can do no wrong in their eyes.”

“Superman has done nothing but help people, or are you forgetting that he saved the world from Apokolips?”

“You really think I believe Lois Lane’s nonsense about that so-called planet? It was a meteor. Or an asteroid. There were experts ...”

Martha scowled. After Clark had sent Apokolips back into space and driven Darkseid out, the ‘experts’ had come out in force, arguing about the true nature of the planet. Most of them had agreed it had been an unusual astronomical event, but none of them could agree on what it was. Most had preferred to call it a large meteor or an asteroid. But Martha and a select few had known the real truth.

“Those experts were wrong.”

Miranda shook her head. “And what makes you so sure?”

“Because I told her myself,” Bruce said. “My head of research and development had his own team of experts looking into the phenomenon and they all agreed it was no meteor.”

Miranda’s attitude changed. She still bristled visibly, but her manner turned flirtatious. The senator was fortyish, but clearly could still appreciate the fine male form in front of her.

“And I suppose you think Superman can do no wrong either, Mr Wayne?”

“I didn’t say that,” Bruce told her, with a warning squeeze of Martha’s arm. “I’m not saying I trust him, but I don’t distrust him either. I just prefer to keep an open mind. Unlike you, senator, I do not judge people on their race or their culture, but on their behaviour. Personally, I believe if you had your way, we’d still be keeping slaves on plantations.”

Miranda sniffed. “I have the right to think how I see fit. And certain people should be kept in their place.”

“By ‘certain people’ it sounds to me like you believe African-American people are inferior. Well, for your information, senator,” Bruce added coldly, “my head of research and development happens to be of African-American descent and he has one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever come across.” He glared at her, making her shrink under his icy gaze.

He turned away, leading Martha away from the other woman’s bitter vitriol.

“My god,” Martha said, as soon as they were out of earshot of everyone. “And she wants to put Superman in a lab?”

Bruce sighed. “I’m sorry you had to hear that, Martha. The woman is a bitch.”

“But you don’t trust Superman either,” she said.

“Maybe not, but I would never suggest studying him in a lab. I may be wrong, but I think she may be part of the same group we’re currently battling.”

“You mean ...” Martha gasped, a hand on her mouth.

“It’s well-known among conspiracy theorists. The Illuminati hate anyone of colour. They also are known for their hatred of anyone who does not fit in their agenda. And Clark is at the top of their list.”

***

Lex had watched the exchange between the two senators, seeing the anger on Martha’s face. While he felt Superman was not to be trusted, he didn’t agree with Senator Clifford’s views either. And he was just as concerned as Bruce that the senator was part of the same group now targeting him.

He saw Ross Webster in a heated discussion with a woman in her fifties. Lex frowned. The woman looked like Amanda Waller from Checkmate. After he’d returned, he had learned that Tess had been recruited by the organisation and he’d done his research on them.

Waller was with another man. Lex recognised him as one of the men who had visited him in his office a few weeks ago. This couldn’t be good, he thought. If they were talking to one of his biggest competitors, then their agenda seemed pretty clear. They were trying to bankrupt him.

***

Ross Webster had seen Lex glaring at them and smiled. He knew what Lex was thinking, and he’d be right.

“Perhaps we should discuss this somewhere more private,” he suggested.

De Sade and Waller nodded in affirmation and followed him to another room. Webster studied them carefully. He cared little for their agenda. All he cared about was beating Luthor.

“So you’re telling me that you can see to it that Luthor loses his military contracts and instead they’re awarded to Webscoe Industries? So far, I’m liking this plan. But what makes you think the military will go along with the plan?

Waller spoke up.

“Some years ago, Luthor was developing a project: a weapon called Leviathan. The project was sabotaged by Arthur Curry, whom we also know through various sources is a member of the Justice League. Luthor lost millions on the project. He has since been involved in a number of other military projects. Ares, for one. Each project has failed and Luthor’s balance sheet took serious hits.”

“Luthor has been obsessed with finding a solution to what he called the ‘alien question’,” de Sade told him.

“It’s what brought him to the attention of Checkmate, after all,” Waller said smugly.

“Of course, my dear,” de Sade smiled.

Webster tried to hide his distaste for the smarminess in de Sade’s expression. The man was a con artist. Clearly he cared little for Webscoe Industries and his agenda was in taking Luthor down a peg or two. Webster didn’t mind that, necessarily. In fact, he would enjoy taking his biggest rival down.

“All right,” he said. “Count me in.”

***
Bruce, Diana and Steve had separately watched proceedings that night and they all came to the same conclusion. Something smelled rotten.

Diana didn’t know Tess Mercer, since they had only just met that night, but she had sensed that the woman was someone with a lot of darkness in her. And it wasn’t because of her bloodline. Diana guessed that Tess had a murky past and had done some things she probably now regretted. But that wasn’t what concerned her the most. The way Tess was responding to the handsome Italian doctor was even more worrying.

Tess Mercer was a woman who needed an emotional connection. She needed to know she was desired. That someone cared for her. And it appeared this Donatello was playing her like a ... what was the American expression? Like a Stradivarius, she thought with a small smile.

Diana felt Steve take her arm and she looked at him. She loved him. Had loved him from the moment he’d crashed his plane in the water off Themyscira. She’d come to the States to watch over him and found herself being forced to use her own abilities to help others.

When she had run into Kara in California, it had not been the first time she had run into someone from Metropolis. But when Chloe Sullivan had engineered a meeting with her, Diana had been reluctant to join with the Justice League, knowing it could complicate matters. Now, however, she believed she had reason to change her mind.

It felt like the net was slowly closing on Superman and his family. And there was little they could do to prevent it. It was clear the Illuminati brotherhood were strong. After all, they had spent centuries planning their eventual takeover of the world governments. They were not about to let a little thing like an alien superhero stop them.

Steve led her over to Bruce, who was watching Kara talk with the NSA agent.

“I don’t like this,” Bruce muttered to Diana, making it clear he knew exactly who she was.

“I’m going to talk with my contacts in the morning,” Steve told them. “Find out more about this NSA agent. Linda seems to be in over her head.”

Diana nodded her agreement. She knew Kara could handle herself, but she had seen the ill-disguised lust in the man’s expression. Kara was not naive, but she also wasn’t used to the attentions of men. Especially those with dubious intentions.

***

Miranda Clifford really hated being talked down to. Even by someone as powerful as Bruce Wayne. She had spent the rest of the evening, and most of a sleepless night cursing the handsome billionaire playboy.

She rose early the next morning and immediately began making phone calls, suggesting she and her colleagues meet for an emergency breakfast meeting. She placed one final phone call.

“It’s me,” she said when the phone was picked up. She quickly related what had occurred the night before and told him her plan.

“Excellent, madam,” Baron Yves de Rochefort told her.

Miranda hung up and dressed, leaving the hotel room and descending in the elevator to the hotel restaurant. Her colleagues were waiting for her.

“So what’s this plan of yours?” Senator Abrams asked as they sat back drinking coffee. It was swill, but Miranda drank it anyway.

“I believe it is time we sent Superman a message,” she told him.

“And what do you propose?” Senator Kelley asked. “Have him submit to study? Perform a vivisection on him?”

“No. I think we should start a little closer to home,” she said. “Martha Kent is well-known for her connections in Metropolis. I’m beginning to think it’s more than that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, don’t you think it’s a little suspect that every time someone speaks out against Superman she’s right there defending him? I think it’s time we found out exactly what Martha Kent’s relationship is to Superman.”

“You’re suggesting we have her investigated?” Kelley asked.

“Exactly.”

***

Tess had ignored Lex’s continued efforts to contact her after she had left the ballroom with Donatello. The man fascinated her. He was the kind of man who knew a little about a lot of things. They had spent half the evening talking about everything, from deep sea diving to botany. Both of which were subjects she had taken an interest in during her years as a marine biologist.

When Donatello had suggested a match of wit and skill, Tess had not taken him too seriously. Until she’d found herself standing on a mat in the middle of his hotel room in defensive stance, waiting for him to attack. They were both dressed in loose workout clothing.

Donatello struck and Tess moved quickly to block the attack, then returned with a kick which would have crippled the average male. But he was too swift for her, blocking her attempt.

Tess circled him on the mat, a devilish grin on her face. Donatello returned the grin. And suddenly it was all on. What had started off as a game quickly became a battle of wills as Tess used all her Aikido and kickboxing skills to beat her opponent. But he was too good.

Tess found herself on her back on the mat for about the fifth time. Donatello was laughing above her. Panting, Tess took the man’s hand so he could help her up.

“You’re good,” she said.

“As are you, my dear. But I, of course, am better.”

“Modest too,” she laughed.

***

Clark yawned, stretching as he made his way downstairs to start breakfast. Lois was already on the couch, having got up to feed Mara.

“How was patrol?” she asked, following him into the kitchen.

“Uneventful, really. Oh, well, there was this woman who was almost mugged.”

“Almost?”

Clark laughed as he told Lois about the woman and how she had held her own against the two would-be attackers.

“Bet they were surprised,” Lois chuckled.

Clark grinned. “No doubt.” His cellphone rang, the ringtone sounding shrill in the early morning stillness of the apartment. Clark frowned. “Mom,” he said.

“I’ll get it,” Lois told him. “You just get to making those pancakes, Smallville.”

It had become something of a ritual for Saturday mornings. Clark would make pancakes while Lois would sit at the breakfast bar and watch. It was not that she couldn’t cook. She could, after a fashion. But Clark well remembered burnt bacon and shredded pancakes.

He grinned again as he began making the batter.

“Hi mom, what’s up?” Lois was saying into the phone. “Really? Yeah, that is a concern. Sure, I’ll tell Clark. Don’t worry. I’m sure between him and Oliver they can come up with something.”

Clark frowned at his wife as she hung up.

“What was that all about?”

“Mom just got a call from a friend of hers in the senate. Abrams?”

Clark nodded.

“Well, it seems mom ruffled somebody’s feathers last night and she’s about to start an investigation into Mom’s connection to Superman.”

“Who?”

“Senator Clifford.”

Clark remembered her. She was a hard woman known for her prejudices. And she had been very vocal in speaking out against Superman. As if they didn’t have enough troubles going on with the Illuminati. Clark’s heart skipped a beat as his brain made the connection.

“You think she might be one of them?” he asked. “The Illuminati, I mean?”

Lois chewed on her bottom lip. “It does make you wonder, doesn’t it?” she said.

Just as Clark began to pour the batter into the skillet, there was another call on the cellphone. This time the ringtone was normal, signifying it was an ‘unknown’ number. Clark frowned again.

“Who could that be?” he asked.

Lois went to answer it.

“Lois Lane.”

“Sorry,” a woman’s voice said with an odd accent. “I was expecting Clark Kent.”

“I’m his wife.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “I got this number from Perry White. Is he there? Can I speak to him?”

“Is it about a story?”

“No. Actually, I need to contact Superman.”

“Why would that be?” Lois asked.

“Because I need his help. I need to stop the Illuminati. Before it’s too late.”

“I can try to contact Superman for you,” Lois said. “But I need to know where I can reach you.”

“Okay, well, you can contact me at this number. Double oh, six four, two five, six one three, five five two seven. My name is Moana. The phone’s on international roaming.”

The woman hung up. Lois looked at her husband.

“Well, that was the strangest thing,” she said.

“What is it?”

“It’s that woman you were telling me about yesterday. She’s definitely got something to do with the Illuminati.”

***

Southern Hemisphere: Dateline July 2008

It was somewhat of a legend among Moana’s people. Stories of a great warrior who claimed to possess the powers of a god. Much of those claims had been dismissed, over a thousand years later, as a myth, a story told to explain how much of their world came to be. Moana knew most of the stories were exaggerations, but the powers were not.

Much of those abilities had been lost through marriage – the bloodline ‘diluted’ as it mixed with other bloodlines. But still, some of them remained, giving each warrior strength greater than those of their Hapu – their tribe, and great powers of the mind. The powers were meant to have been passed down through the male bloodline. None of the whanau had expected those powers to be passed on to the first girl in six generations.

Moana had grown up knowing she had been given this great gift, but also taught that she had a responsibility toward that gift. It had been taught to her from the time she could walk that she must not expose those abilities. As a child, she had fought against those restrictions, knowing she could do so much good in the world if only she could use those abilities.

But she had learned from others that there were many who would seek to take that power for their own gain.

At thirty years old, Moana was a journalist for a small metropolitan newspaper. She worked for the newspaper during the day, but still keeping her eyes and ears open for trouble. It was not that she went out looking for trouble. It was just that trouble seemed to find her.

Walking alone late one evening, after attending yet another dull council meeting, Moana had passed a group of men sitting around smoking and yelling out offensive remarks to any woman that passed by. When she ignored them, she heard them yelling more abuse at her, then realised they’d begun to follow her. She was outnumbered, even with her strength, but there was no other option.

She turned to face the five men, glaring at them as they laughed at her.

“Little girl thinks she’s going to fight,” one of them laughed.

Steeling herself, Moana dropped her bag on the ground and waited for the first man to come to her, then lashed out with a hard punch to the jaw. A second man tried to circle around her and grab her from behind and she kicked out, using the first man for balance. Before she could take on the other three, however, she saw two men fighting them.

One of the men she had been fighting grabbed her in a bear hug from behind and she pretended to struggle, pulling away from the man enough to be able to walk up the wall in front of her and twist out of his grip in a mid-air flip, landing behind him. She kicked him in the back, sending him crashing hard into the wall, then turned to the other man, shoving him with enough force to propel him into the wall of the next building.

Moana looked around to find that the two men who had come to her rescue were staring at her, open-mouthed.

“Well, hey, nice moves,” the darker one said.

“Yeah. Guess you didn’t need our help after all,” the shorter, blonde one grinned.

“Still, it’s appreciated,” she told them. “You’re American.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yeah,” the blonde man said.

They were both young. One was probably in his early twenties and the other was most likely still in his teens.

“What brings you here?” she asked.

“We’re looking for someone. A friend. His name’s Clark. He disappeared about a month ago and we thought he might have ended up here.”

“Why?” she asked, walking with them down the street toward the centre of town.

“Well, he was up in the Arctic. Don’t ask why he was there. But we heard there was a Greenpeace ship in the area. Thought they might have picked him up.”

She highly doubted the ship would have come in so soon. Not that distance. But she let it go.

“So, uh, that thing you did,” the younger man began.

She looked at him. He didn’t seem all that shocked, which gave her pause.

“Where did you get those …” the other man said.

“Those what?”

“C’mon. You practically threw that guy clear across the alley. At least ten feet. A girl … I mean, someone of your, um, stature …”

“I was born with it,” she said. “I’ve always been strong.”

“Oh. By the way, name’s Victor. That’s Bart,” he said, indicating the younger man.

She quickly introduced herself.

Bart grinned. “So, know somewhere we can get anything to eat?” he asked cheekily.

She grinned back.

Twenty minutes later found them sitting down in a local fast food restaurant. Moana stared, open-mouthed as Bart wolfed down his food. He’d ordered almost two of every item on the menu.

She looked at Victor, who just seemed exasperated at Bart’s behavior.

“Bart, man, come on,” he said.

“What?” Bart asked innocently. “I’m hungry.”

She shook her head, fighting back a laugh. “I thought I ate well. Where do you put it?” she said, looking him over. Bart was slender and not very tall.

“So what’s your story?” she asked, looking directly at Bart.

“Nothing to tell,” he said.

“Yeah, right,” she said.

Victor glanced around.

“This really isn’t the greatest place to be talking about this.”

The two young men walked her home and Moana invited them to stay the night, since they hadn’t got around to getting a room in a hotel. Victor offered to sleep on the floor, while Bart took the couch.

“So, really, what’s your story?” she asked again.

Bart looked at Victor, who shrugged.

“A few years ago I was in an accident. I got sort of struck by lightning. Ever since then I can run pretty fast. And I have a really fast metabolism. That’s why I have to eat so much.”

“You mean why you eat like a pig,” Victor retorted.

Bart just glared at his friend.

“And what about you?” she asked Victor.

“Yeah, I was in an accident too. Car crash. I wasn’t supposed to have survived but they decided to use some experimental technology on me and ... well ...”

Moana watched in stunned silence as Victor peeled back a piece of his skin to show what looked like machinery.

“I see.”

“You can’t tell anyone though.”

“Believe me, I know the drill,” she said. “What happened to your friend Clark to make you think he ended up all the way down here?”

“Well, Clark is ... I mean, he kinda has these abilities too. Like you, he was born with them though. Anyway, he went chasing after Lex Luthor in the Arctic and that’s the last we heard of him.”

“Who’s Lex Luthor?” she asked, genuinely puzzled.

“He’s this guy ... he tried to turn me into a rump roast once.”

“I’m sorry?”

“He found out about my speed and wanted to know how I got my abilities.”

“He’s known for experimenting on people with abilities. Like us.”

“What did he do to you?”

“Well, his company bought the same company that did this to me. He was going to have them erase my memory.”

“And most likely turn you into some kind of foot soldier for him,” Moana said, nodding. “Yeah, I’ve heard of people like that before. Do you think he might have had your friend taken?”

“Anything’s possible with that freak,” Bart said.

Moana made some calls when she got into work the next morning, then called Victor.

“Sorry. I’ve talked to a few of my contacts with Greenpeace and they don’t remember picking up anyone who matches Clark’s description.”

“Well, you tried,” Victor said, sighing. “Thanks anyway. Listen, be careful, okay? We know what it’s like to be chased for ... well, you know.”

“Yeah. I know. I promise.”

What she had never told Victor or Bart was that she knew full well the consequences of exposing her abilities to the wrong person. Some years earlier, she had become friends with a man who had been a journalist attached to the environmental group. He had been one of the crew members on the ship the Rainbow Warrior when it had been bombed in the harbour in Auckland City more than twenty years ago.

While two French agents had been arrested for the bombing, her friend had begun to dug a little deeper and he’d learned that there was far more to the bombing than even the government knew. The orders might have come from the French secret service, or whatever they called it, but someone even higher up had given those orders.

Her friend had dug even deeper and found that there was far more at stake than nuclear testing. He’d learned of a secret base in New Caledonia, run by a group he claimed had links to the Illuminati.

Moana had at first scoffed at that, until her friend had been found stabbed to death in his own apartment just a year earlier. The police had called it a home invasion because his safe had been broken into and papers scattered everywhere. But Moana had known exactly what that safe contained. It would have been worthless to any average criminal, but not to an organisation like the Illuminati, she thought. The only real item missing was a journal, with all his notes and research on the Illuminati and their plans for the world.

Inside that journal was also a list of names. People who had been targeted by the group for either elimination or alliance.

When Moana returned home that evening, she pulled up a loose board she used to hide any valuable information she had gathered over the years. Her friend had given her a copy of everything that had been in the journal. Thumbing through the pages, she located the list and read through it.

Listed under alliance were the names Lionel and Lex Luthor. Lionel was dead, and Lex was who knew where.

As if drawn to it, Moana found herself turning the pages to another section of the journal. Where her friend had got this information from, she didn’t know. But it appeared to be the excerpt of notes from either an essay or a secret meeting between the Illuminati.

Her friend had made notes in the margin of the excerpts.

It is now possible to envisage the establishment of a kind of ‘international highway’ where all these machines are interconnected. (The Internet) her friend had written.

The constant of the ‘Electronic Technology’ will make sure all the means to file, identify and monitor all the means to file, identify and monitor all individuals of the populations of the West’. (Big Brother – Hmm, Orwell might be right)

Expand the ‘leisure society’ that has been so profitable to date. By using the invention of the ‘video’ we have funded, and games attached to it, end up perverting the morals of youth. Offer him the opportunity now to satisfy all his instincts. A being possessed by his senses, and a slave to them, we know, has no ideal, no inner strength to defend anything. (Subliminal messages? Brainwashing? Violence in video games leading to chaos?)

PRESENT DAY

Clark stared at Moana as she related her story. He’d phoned her to set up a meeting with her as Superman and asked her to meet with him that afternoon in Metropolis Park. She’d spent the last hour telling her story.

“If you knew who I was the other day, then why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

“For the same reason you wear glasses at the Daily Planet,” she told him. “I couldn’t risk exposing you anymore than I could risk exposing myself.”

Clark glanced over at the bushes where Lois was hiding with Mara. She’d spent much of the last hour walking around the park but had returned to sit on a bench on the other side of the shrubbery, watching them. He nodded slightly, telling her it was safe to come out of hiding.

Moana said nothing as Lois appeared, making it clear she was not surprised by it.

“How do you know it was the Illuminati who murdered your friend? For all I know, this journal could have been just some elaborate fabrication.”

“And Superman is just a myth. Like my ancestor.”

Mara began crying, having clearly woken from her nap.

“How do we know we can trust you?” Lois asked, rocking the carriage to help the baby settle down.

“You don’t. Anymore than I can trust you, I suppose. You could always ask Bart and Victor to corroborate my story. About meeting them, I mean.”

Clark remembered his friends talking about someone they had met while searching the southern hemisphere for him. But they’d made it clear she wasn’t a team player.

“Why now?” he asked. “Why didn’t you come to me with this years ago when you found out who I was?”

“Because I didn’t have a full idea of the Illuminati’s plans until now. I got word from another journalist friend who told me that they have begun to gather their forces. They are prepared to strike. At you. Or rather, Superman.”

“We know they’re after Superman,” Lois said, clutching Clark’s arm. “According to another journalist we talked to, Superman is enemy number one.”

“And anyone who stands with him,” Moana pointed out. “Look, there’s always been this fear that the world is going to end soon. I mean, with all the so-called natural disasters going on in the world – the talk of global warming, the destruction of the environment, the economic disasters and the wars – it’s all just a smokescreen to hide the Illuminati’s real intentions.

"I’m telling you now, if the Illuminati get what they want from you, the world as we know it will cease to exist. And believe me, they have planned this for years. Centuries, even.”

“How do we stop them, then?” Lois asked. “You and everyone else who seem to know the Illuminati claim they are more powerful than anything we’ve ever come up against before. And Darkseid was pretty powerful.”

Moana snorted. “Darkseid was a pussycat compared to these guys. I mean, these people are the face of true evil. And the problem with true evil is, you can’t identify it by some symbol on a forehead. They can come across as normal as you please, unless they choose otherwise.”

“Why you?” Clark asked.

“I once went to one of the tribal elders who claimed they could see into the future. He told me there was a reason why I inherited the abilities of my ancestor, rather than my brother. That I had a destiny to help save the world. I never told my parents any of it because he swore me to secrecy.”

“Not to mention the fact that you’d probably be laughed out of town,” Lois surmised.

Moana looked at her steadily.

“Yeah, well, all these conspiracy theorists are just a bunch of crackpots with too much time on their hands, right? There’s a reason why all this is happening now. Because they’re ready to move.”

“If they’re so powerful, then why is Superman such a threat to them?”

“Look, they want chaos. They want the gangs controlling the streets, the violence getting out of control. They want to force the lawmakers to make laws which will amount to removing the rights of individuals. Every human right that people take for granted.”

“Why?” Lois asked. “What good will it do them?”

“Have you ever heard of a former solicitor-general by the name of Robert Bork?”

“No,” Clark said, vowing to look it up.

“He claimed that if we smother the population with too many laws, then it will lead to instability. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s about the crux of it.”

“I don’t understand,” Clark told her.

“Okay, let me put it to you another way. They’re constantly making laws which are designed to restrict our freedoms. Like the Internet. They say it’s about file-sharing but it’s really about denying people freedom of speech while at the same time allowing Big Brother to monitor the average citizen. It’s common knowledge that all communications are monitored anyway and they have certain keywords which they use to identify possible terrorist or illegal activity. But they can take it further.

“Back home, they introduced a law to protect children against violence. Parents who spanked their children could be charged under that law. There is supposed to be a line drawn between what is reasonable force and what isn’t. But no one seems to know what that line is. A guy was arrested for flicking his kid’s ear, even though the kid totally deserved to be disciplined because he’d done something really stupid.”

“So without the discipline, kids can just run amok,” Lois said, clearly beginning to understand. Laws that were too restrictive would do more harm than good as people would fight them.

“And of course all the violence in youths today is blamed on the violence of video games,” Clark nodded. “And you think the Illuminati are behind all this.”

“Well, I didn’t come up with the theory,” Moana said. “But yeah, I think you’re getting it.”

“And this is why Superman’s a threat. It’s not just about him giving hope to the people. It’s about the numbers,” Lois said. Clark frowned at her and she turned to him. “Well, think about it, honey. Crime has dropped. Maybe not hugely, but it has still dropped. And it’s continuing to drop.”

“Which takes away one of their reasons for calling for a formation of a world government – one body to rule the entire world. A government controlled by them.”

Clark shuddered. The thought of someone like the baron in charge of governing the entire world didn’t bear thinking about.

***

Ross Webster strode into his office a week later without even sparing his assistant a glance. He was anxious to get to work. There was nothing Ross would like better than to take Lex Luthor down a peg or two. And he knew just where to start.

His sister, Vera, a very unattractive, horse-faced woman in her late forties, entered the room

“Where’s the fire?” she asked tersely.

“We have work to do, Vera,” he snapped.

“Does this have anything to do with the man and woman I saw you talking to the other night?”

“It has everything to do with them. I want the names of every man and woman on the board of Luthorcorp.”

“Why?”

“Because we’re going to take it over.”

“Lex owns fifty-one percent of the stock,” she told him.

“Not after I go to the media.”

“Saying what?” Vera frowned.

“You’ll find out.”

“I don’t see what this has to do with the board,” she began.

“Vera, for christ’s sake, stop questioning and just get me that list!”

***

Lex stared in disbelief at the man he’d considered to be his chief supporter within government circles.

“You’re what?”

“We’re awarding the contract to Webscoe Industries,” Senator Kelley told him.

“I don’t understand. You told me this was an absolute certainty. You guaranteed it.”

Project Sirius was going to be the company’s saving grace. After several failed projects, including Ares, Gemini, Leviathan and several others, Lex had been working on a weapon that had incorporated all of those ideas and more. But he had depended on government funding to cover the shortfall. The project was going to cost the company billions of dollars and eat up a good proportion of their profits for the next five years but he had considered the risk was worth it.

He’d already spent half of the promised funding in research and development and was close to a successful prototype.

“I’m sorry. This is not my decision.”

It galled that they’d chosen his biggest business rival in the end. Webscoe Industries had been Luthorcorp’s biggest competitor since Lionel had taken a fledgling agricultural company and made it into a multi-national corporation.

“Why?” Lex asked. “Why now?”

“It’s come to light that there have been certain unethical projects going on in Luthorcorp and the government just does not want to be associated with it.”
Unethical projects? The senator knew very well what those ‘unethical projects’ were. And they had been no worse than what the government had been funding for years.

Something smelled bad about this, he decided.

But he had little time to ponder the problem. Tess had taken off with the Italian, choosing to spend a few days in DC with the man. Lex suspected the Italian was conning his sister, but there was no way Tess would listen to him now. He had burned his bridges with her.

Lex sat back behind his desk, wondering why everything was beginning to fall apart. He remembered something he was sure he’d read in one of Machiavelli’s treatises. He couldn’t remember the exact quote without looking it up, but it boiled down to the fact that once a man with high ambitions had reached his lofty perch, there was only one way to go and that was down.

Lex realised that was exactly what was happening. He was about to head for a very nasty fall.

***

Clark stood in Watchtower, facing the huge plasma screen. Chloe smiled at him from the screen.

“I think this Moana is legit,” she said. “Everything checks out about her story. And I talked to Victor and Bart. They both liked her. And yes, she does have those abilities, as you’ve seen for yourself.”

“What about the journalist friend she spoke of?”

Chloe nodded. “I checked it out thoroughly. Andy Bell was stabbed to death in his apartment about a year before Bart and Victor met her. The police theory is he interrupted a burglar as nothing of any value was taken. They still haven’t found the killer.”

“Thanks Chloe.”

His friend smiled. “Don’t mention it.” She looked to her left at something. “Don’t you have a press conference to get to?” she said.

“Oh yeah,” he said, glancing at the clock. “Listen, have a good time in Europe. Second honeymoon, right?”

Chloe snorted. “Considering Ollie never took me on our first honeymoon ...”

Oops, Clark thought with a grin. He’d stepped into that one.

He left for the press conference at Webscoe Industries. He hadn’t wanted to go, since this was just an announcement of the corporation winning a government contract, but Perry had ordered him to attend. As he entered the main reception area where they’d set up for the conference, he noticed a man in a leather trench coat and black fedora.

Way to be inconspicuous, he thought. Frowning, he peered closer at the man, who was also wearing dark sunglasses and doing his best not to be seen by the two security guards watching the gathering journalists. Glancing back at the guards, he realised his staring was attracting their attention and quickly turned away from the man.

But even as he tried to pay attention to Ross Webster, he was distracted by a sharp ‘hsst’ from the man.

Clark shifted on the balls of his feet, then deliberately dropped his notebook, kicking his pen away to the far wall.

“Excuse me,” he whispered. “Sorry, dropped my pen.”

The journalists gathered around him groaned quietly. The mild-mannered geek, otherwise known as Clark Kent, had struck again. He made his way to the back row, picking up his pen and looking directly at the man who beckoned to him. With a gasp, which elicited a glare from his colleagues, Clark realised who it was.

“Lex,” he whispered as he sidled up to him. “I mean, Luthor, what are you doing here?”

“I knew I’d find you here,” Lex told him. “I needed to talk to you.”

What could be so important that Lex needed to talk to him now? Lex nodded his head in the direction of the exit.

“Come on,” he said.

“You know, you could have just picked up a phone,” Clark admonished him as they stepped outside.

“I tried. Your wife wouldn’t take my calls and I couldn’t get through to the Planet. Ever since Bruce took over the newspaper, I can’t even get advertising,” the bald man complained, taking off the hat and rubbing his head. “Damn, I forgot how much that itched.”

Clark had forgotten about that. When Lex had returned, he had tried to censor any stories about Superman. Fearing there would be a battle brewing, Clark had asked Oliver to try to intervene. Chloe had then suggested Bruce Wayne negotiate the takeover of the Daily Planet. It had taken several months, but he had finally signed on the dotted line a month ago.

“Lex ... what is this about?” Clark asked.

“It’s about this. The contract going to Webscoe. Luthorcorp was supposed to get that contract. It was a done deal. All it needed was for the paperwork to be signed.”

“So why didn’t it?”

“Remember what Batman said about them destroying Luthorcorp?”

“You mean the Illuminati?” Clark asked.

Lex nodded. “It’s starting. And I don’t think even you know how to stop them.”

Chapter Text

The morning sun shone brightly through from the balcony, giving Chloe full view of the famed tower in the distance. She sipped her coffee, looking out at the beautiful city, which seemed untouched by the cool temperatures of the waning Fall season. Almost as if the city was still desperately trying to live up to its reputation as one of the most romantic cities in the world.

The clink of silverware against china attracted her attention and she saw that her husband was buttering a croissant. She smiled to herself as she watched him, his brow furrowed as if in concentration. He took his food very seriously.

He looked up and grinned at her.

“So, what did you want to do first?” he asked. “A little sightseeing, maybe? We could stroll along the Avenue, take a boat down the Seine, visit the Eiffel Tower.”

Chloe pretended to consider it for a long moment. She wanted to do all those things, but there was one place she did want to see.

“I want ... coffee,” she said.

He frowned at her. “You have coffee,” he said, nodding at her cup.

“This is hotel coffee. I want real coffee.”

Oliver was looking at her like she was nuts. But Chloe had always loved a good cup of coffee. In fact, she considered herself a connoisseur of good coffee. Lana Lang, when she had run the Talon, had always turned to Chloe when she’d been trying out a new flavour.

“Not just any coffee. There’s this cafe ... Café des 2 Moulins. It featured in that French film, Amelie. It’s famous.”

Oliver groaned aloud. Chloe knew what he was thinking. That it was so like her to focus on a café in a film, given her addiction to coffee.

“You know,” he said dryly, “it’s not good for you to drink as much coffee as you do. Anyone would think you’re addicted. You really should give it up.”

“Hmm,” she answered, equally dryly. “Some might say I’m addicted to you. And you might not be good for me either. Does that mean I should give you up?”

He stared at her, his brown eyes widening. Chloe bit back a giggle at her husband’s reaction.

“Why you little …” he growled.

She got up, knocking her chair over in her haste, but ignored it as he chased her from the living area to the huge bedroom of their suite. As he captured her in his arms, or rather, she allowed him to capture her, and tossed her to the bed, she laughed up at him.

“You are a very bad girl, Mrs Queen,” he told her, leaning down to kiss her hard.

“That’s Sullivan-Queen, and don’t you forget it.” She ran her finger down his cheek, eliciting a shiver from him. “You know, we could always go sightseeing tomorrow,” she said seductively.

He cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Are you trying to seduce me woman?” She giggled, then pouted at him when he let her go, sitting up as he straightened up and looked up at him questioningly. He grinned back. “I’m going to need sustenance if you’re planning on having your wicked way with me,” he told her.

Chloe followed him back out to the main room and watched as he finished the half-eaten croissant then moved on to the eggs. She grabbed a slice of toast and buttered it, sitting opposite him at the glass-topped table. Chloe kicked off her slipper, running her foot up beneath her husband’s pyjama pants, all the while keeping a neutral expression on her face.

He stopped chewing for a moment and narrowed his eyes at her.

“Don’t think I’m not on to you,” he told her.

Chloe continued caressing his leg with her toe. He moved his leg aside, forcing her to move her foot. She bit back a smirk. She was nowhere near done with this game. Lifting her leg higher, Chloe ran it up and down in the gap between his thighs. Ollie started, dropping his fork, then glared at her. Chloe knew she was playing with fire, but she couldn’t help herself.

It wasn’t long before Oliver took his revenge on her, teasing her until she begged for mercy.

“Revenge is sweet, my darling,” he told her, pressing his length against her. So close, and yet so far.

“I thought revenge was a dish best served cold,” she returned.

“That too,” he muttered, groaning as she slipped a hand between them to take him in her hand. “Oh god, Chloe, don’t … ugh … don’t stop!”

“I want you,” she groaned back.

“You have me,” he returned.

“Please,” she said, her body overheated with the flush of desire, her pulse throbbing as her heartbeat increased. God, how she loved this man! “Ollie, please, I need you!”

He moved, grunting as he slipped inside her and she wrapped herself around her beloved husband as they slowly began to move to the rhythm of a dance that was theirs to hear and theirs alone.

Chloe woke a short time later to see her husband snoring beside her, his arm curled around her shoulders. He would later wake and complain of pins and needles in his arm, but only to tease her. He would never admit it, but he loved waking up with her cuddled next to him. Who would have thought that Oliver Queen would be a cuddler, she thought.

She looked down at his handsome face, tempted to trace her finger over him, from his finely sculpted brow and cheeks to his aquiline nose, even down to the dimple in his chin and the cute little mole below his left eye. She smiled fondly. Loving him had been surprisingly easy for a girl who had had a crush on someone else all through high school.

She thought she had loved Clark. And she did. But that love for the boy who would become Superman was always a platonic kind of love. When she thought back, her so-called fantasies of being with Clark were mere reflections of a desire to be loved and needed and were far tamer than the fantasies which had sustained her in the months of separation from the man she had truly loved.

Chloe’s lip tightened as she thought of the time she had been gone. The day she had put on the helmet of Dr Fate and it had told her that Oliver needed to go on a journey that she couldn’t follow. That it was something he had to do himself. She had been shown what was to come, and had known then that Oliver would need to seek deep within himself to even begin to have faith in the man he was. Loving him wouldn’t change that.

She, too, had needed to go on her own journey of self-discovery. Chloe needed to learn that she could be many things. She could still be Watchtower. She could still be the reporter. And she could still be Chloe Sullivan as well as Chloe Queen. That loving someone didn’t mean losing her own identity.

She reached out to stroke her husband’s cheek and he woke, his brown eyes full of warmth and love as he looked up at her.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked her.

“You, funnily enough.”

“That’s cause I’m strong and handsome and brave of heart.”

“And you have an ego to match,” she said snarkily.

Oliver grinned and rolled over, tickling her until she was once more begging for mercy.

***

Clark tried adjusting his tie for about the fourth time, still dissatisfied with the way it looked. With a sigh, Lois reached up, taking the ends of the bowtie and redoing it for him.

“Now stop playing with it,” she told him. “It looks fine.”

He watched as his wife twirled in front of the mirror, checking out her reflection.

“Are you sure this looks okay? I mean, my stomach still isn’t flat and my boobs are …” She placed her hands on the top of the bodice and hitched it up.

“Lois, you look great. You look beautiful.”

She frowned at him. “That’s because you’re biased,” she said.

Clark looked her over, trying to see the black dress with a critical eye. He knew why she’d chosen black, as it was supposed to be slimming. Personally, he couldn’t see anything wrong with her womanly curves. She’d just had a baby two months ago, so of course her body would take time to get back to her pre-pregnancy shape.

Lois sighed. “I’m still not sure we should go to this shindig,” she said. “I mean, what if Mara …”

“Honey, Mara will be fine,” he said, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Oliver said the woman he hired comes highly recommended. Plus she has, you know, abilities. I’m sure she’ll be able to protect the baby.”

“But Smallville, we don’t even know this woman.”

“That’s why we’re only getting her to babysit Mara for tonight,” he explained patiently. “Just as a trial run. I mean, you’ve been talking about going back to work and I fully support that. But we do need someone to take care of Mara when we can’t be there.”

He knew Lois had been torn between her desire to protect their daughter and go back to work. She missed her job. For someone who had initially pooh-poohed the mere idea of being a reporter, Lois had embraced the profession with open arms. And she had become extremely good at it. Her first article on the emergence of Superman after Darkseid and Apokolips had finally been banished had won her accolades the world over, and a nomination for a Pulitzer. She hadn’t won, but Clark figured it was only a matter of time before she would.

As much as he too wanted to protect his family, he had learned the hard way that being over-protective would add to their problems, not solve them.

He planted a kiss on his wife’s head.

“Don’t mess up my hairdo,” she grumbled, touching the French knot with a delicate hand.

Clark glanced at the clock.

“Come on, honey, we have to be at the Metropolis Hotel in about twenty minutes.”

“I still don’t see why we have to go to this shindig,” she repeated.

“You know why,” he said. “Since Lex told us this was apparently going to be the party to announce the launch of the Rochefort Resort in Smallville.”

“I don’t know why you’re trusting him,” Lois grumbled, again, for about the fiftieth time since he and Lex had begun working together on some strategies to beat the Illuminati.

“You know why,” he told her.

After Lex had approached him at the press conference the two of them had decided they needed to call a temporary ceasefire to the hostilities between them. Lex was close to losing everything and while Clark had no sympathy for the man, he knew that LuthorCorp was all Lex had. Since his return from the dead, so to speak, Lex had thrown himself into the corporation; his primary focus had been to build the company his father had built into a powerhouse that was equal to that of Superman’s.

Lex had been stunned by the revelation that the Illuminati had been the ones to help Lionel’s rise to the top. It had clearly been something that had been so well-hidden that even Lex, with all his skills and contacts, had never been able to uncover. He had assumed, naturally, that Lionel’s meteoric rise had been due to his mother’s money. Lionel might have loved Lillian Luthor, but his initial goal had been to marry her for her inheritance and her social status, adding to the meager benefits he’d received from the murders of his own parents. Clearly both had not been enough.

So far, neither of them had been able to come up with a way to stop the Illuminati. But the problem was, they knew so little about them. They only had the testimony of Mark Anders and Moana to go on. And neither one of them could offer any answers on how to beat back the enemy at the gates.

“This isn’t like Darkseid,” Moana had told him. Or rather, told him and Lex, since she’d agreed to meet with the bald billionaire, or soon to be former billionaire, despite her intense dislike of him. Clark still didn’t know what Moana had against someone like Lex and she wasn’t forthcoming on that front.

He had learned a few interesting things about the Maori journalist, however. One of which was the fact that she was semi-telepathic. She couldn’t read minds, per se, but she could tell when someone was lying to her or hiding something from her. The only person she couldn’t really read, understandably, was Clark.

Clark also knew that Moana had gone to visit Lex in his office before he’d left for Washington. She’d pointedly asked Lex questions about the Baron de Rochefort, gauging his stance on the man. She’d known Lex was lying when he’d denied knowing the man, but had been satisfied, at least, that Lex was not interested in pursuing an alliance with the French aristocrat, or with the Illuminati.

The ancient door to the elevator opened with a creak of rusty metal and a young woman stepped out. She was dressed plainly in a pair of jeans and a loose shirt.

“Mr Kent?” she said timidly.

Clark smiled. “Hi. You must be Ria,” he said. “Thank you for coming over.”

The blonde girl nodded. Clark frowned slightly at her. She wore no make-up and seemed very shy. Her blonde hair was pulled up into a tight ponytail, slightly marring the skin of her face.

“The baby’s room is upstairs. She’s been fed and changed and there are more bottles of milk in the refrigerator. You know how to take care of a baby?”

“Oh yes,” she said, her smile animating her otherwise plain features. “I took care of my foster sisters all the time on the … uh, at home.”

“Great,” he beamed, feeling a little happier. “I’m not sure what time Lois and I will be home.”

Clark only intended to spend an hour or two at the launch party, and then he was going to take his wife out to dinner and dancing. It had been a while since they’d actually had a date; since about three months or so before Mara’s birth.

Lois grabbed her purse.

“Our cell numbers are on the counter beside the refrigerator,” she told Ria. “If there are any problems, and I do mean any, you call us immediately.”

“Don’t worry,” the young woman assured her. “Your daughter’s in safe hands. I promise.”

Satisfied, Clark took his wife’s arm and led her to the elevator. He glanced at the blonde as the door began to close, hoping he had done the right thing in trusting Oliver’s judgement.

Twenty-five minutes later they walked into the ballroom of the Metropolis Hotel. Lois immediately made a beeline for the waiters walking around the room with trays of champagne filled glasses. Clark quickly intercepted her.

“Uh uh, you’re breastfeeding,” he told her.

“One drink,” she pouted. “It’ll help me relax.”

“No,” he told her firmly. “You don’t want Mara to get an upset tummy, do you?”

“He has a point, Lois,” Lex’s voice said beside them.

Lois glared at the bald man. “No one asked you,” she snapped.

“Honey,” Clark admonished softly.

Lois shook him off and stalked away. Clark sighed, watching her go, then looked at his former friend, who shrugged.

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Clark,” Lex said philosophically. “I seem to have that effect on most women.”

***

Lois was still fuming as she made her way to the bar, asking for a glass of orange juice.

“You seem a little piqued, my dear,” a heavily accented voice said beside her.

Lois turned and looked at the man. He was almost as tall as Clark, with a stocky build, round, pale face and high receding hairline.

“Oh, no, it’s, uh, I’m just …”

It wasn’t like her to be flustered. The man’s eyes seemed kind and she would give anything to be able to confide in someone who was not part of the inner circle. It felt like lately the only friends she had were Clark’s. She loved her husband; adored him, really. But there were times when she wished she had her own circle of friends which weren’t part of the group of super-friends. Just so she could feel what it was like to be ‘normal’. As much as she loved them, being part of the group had its own series of complications.

The man smiled at her and signaled a passing waiter.

“Perhaps some champagne would help you relax,” he said, taking in the glass of orange juice.

“Oh no, I … I shouldn’t be drinking,” she said. “I had a baby two months ago and I’m still …”

“Ah, of course,” he said. “Forgive me,” he added, lifting her hand to kiss it. “When I see a beautiful woman it is in my nature to be like, how do you say, a knight in armour?”

“And that is very gallant of you,” she answered, taking pleasure in the game. “Would that I knew my knight’s name.”

“Yves de Rochefort, at your service, my lady. And you?”

“Lois Lane,” she answered, pretending she knew nothing about this man. She fought back the kneejerk reaction, knowing that this was the man who was trying to tear her family apart.

“Ah, you are the famous reporter,” he said, clearly pretending he knew very little about her.

“I don’t know about famous,” she smiled, “but thank you for the compliment.”

“Your reputation precedes you, Miss Lane,” he answered with his own smile. How could she have thought this man’s eyes were kind, she thought as she continued to exchange small talk with him. They weren’t kind. They were calculating. He knew exactly what and who she was, and who Clark was.

At least there was one thing she could say about Lex. She always knew the way he thought. She could always tell when Lex was scheming something or the other. And he did care about his city. He might want power, but he would never pursue power at the cost of innocent lives. From what she had learned about this Illuminati, innocent lives were just collateral damage. And it appeared as far as they were concerned, there was no such thing as an innocent.

***

Lex continued to watch the proceedings with a sigh. He’d heard the talk from those around him. That he’d lost his edge. He was close to being a laughing-stock of the business world, thanks to the deal the government had made with Webscoe Industries. While that had pissed him off, he knew there was no point in raging against the unfairness of it all. Especially since everything had been slickly manoeuvred behind the scenes.

He realised there was only one thing he could do, and that was continue to work to find a way to stop the Illuminati for good. Maybe then he would have a chance at becoming what he’d always wanted.

Part of him wondered why he hadn’t just given in to the baron or his cohorts. After all, they could have helped him achieve his lofty ambitions. But Lex didn’t need anyone to help him on his way to greatness. As he’d once told Victoria Hardwick, he planned on being great all by himself.

He glanced over toward the bar where Lois was ordering a glass of orange juice. Lex was well aware of Clark’s wife’s feelings toward him. She had never trusted him, from the first moment they’d met. There were times when Lex had entertained ideas of trying to seduce her himself, knowing that having a reporter in his corner would have been an advantage. And it wouldn’t have been a hardship. Lois was smart, gorgeous, sexy. She would be more than just eye candy on his arm.

His eyes widened as he saw who had approached Lois.

“Clark,” he said warningly.

“What?”

“That’s him. That’s the baron.”

Clark looked at him, then at Lois, who was smiling as she talked to the older man. To the untrained eye, it would appear that nothing was amiss, but even Lex was able to pick up on the tension in the way she stood. Lois knew exactly who she was talking to and it was taking every weapon in her arsenal to not strike at the man who was threatening everything she cared about.

“I’ll see you later, Lex,” Clark said, going quickly to his wife.

Lex nodded and turned away, looking for a waiter to replace the empty champagne glass in his gloved hand. He grimaced at the sight of the black leather glove. It had been the focal point of his nightmares for years, back when he had still trying to be the good man everyone thought he was; the man who had been trying to be a good friend to Clark. He flexed his hand, thinking how it had come to this.

He could continue to blame Clark, he supposed, for his downfall. But even he had to admit to himself that it wasn’t Clark who had caused it. It was probably something that had always been there. A darkness in him that he’d most likely never had a chance of defeating. Maybe his father’s criticism had been right all along. He was weak. He had never been strong enough to fight the darkness within him.

Lex looked up, startled to find an extremely attractive blonde woman watching him with a small smile on her face. It seemed wistful.

“Hello,” she said, her voice heavily accented. “You’re Lex Luthor.”

“What gave it away?” he asked, chuckling.

“I have desperately wanted to meet you,” she said, almost breathlessly.

“Oh, really?” he asked.

She nodded. “I have followed you. Your ... career.”

What career? he thought.

“You have quite a reputation,” she continued. “Not only ruthless in the boardroom, but ruthless in ...” She stood by his side, whispering the last word in his ear. “...bed.”

Oh, that was subtle, he thought.

“Who are you?” he asked. His immediate thought was she was a stalker, like the girl Eve Andrews many years before, or Shannon, who had murdered Eve to frame him. Had he slept with this woman?

“It does not matter,” she said.

“I think it does,” he said, grabbing her arm.

She smiled, as if she knew a secret that he didn’t.

“My name is Stephanie,” she said. “Stephanie de Rochefort.”

Lex stared at her, stunned. This beautiful young woman was married to ... that? He looked around at the baron, who was talking with Cat Grant. The young blonde reporter clearly had no idea the danger she was in.

Stephanie seemed uncomfortable with the way Lex was scrutinising her husband.

“Please don’t,” she said softly, her tone fearful. “If he sees me with you, he’ll ...”

Lex looked at her again. She was trembling, her shaking hand touching her face.

“What will he do?” he asked.

“No, I cannot. I ... this was a bad idea. I am sorry.”

She went to turn away and he hesitated. Then went after her.

“No, wait,” he said. He stopped her, grasping her arms. “You seem afraid.”

“My husband is a ... powerful man. A violent man. I thought ...” She turned her head away from him. Lex gently coaxed her to look at him with a hand under her jaw.

“You thought what? That you could seduce me into perhaps doing something to him?”

“It would be no more than he deserves,” Stephanie said bitterly.

“If he beats you, then why don’t you talk to the police? There are laws ...”

“Pah! He owns the police. They would never believe me. But you ... you are a powerful man, M’sieur Luthor. You could ... no, I could not ask it of you.”

“I could do what?”

She looked up at him, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

“There are things I know. About his business. About him. I could give you these things.”

Lex thought for a moment. Stephanie would have inside information. She could indeed be very useful.

***

The young blonde checked on the infant, satisfied she was sleeping soundly. She had to admit the baby was very cute with her thick dark hair, so like her father’s. She was sure that little Mara Kent would be a force to be reckoned with one day.

Closing the door to the nursery, the girl crept down the hall quietly and returned to the television in the living area. She dug in the pocket of her jeans and brought out a small flip-top cellphone, dialling a number. Two rings and it was picked up.

“I’m in.”

***

Diana had been out on patrol, making sure the streets of Washington were safe for their citizens. It was a quiet night, giving her time to think about both her personal and professional situation. She wanted to help Kal-El keep his family safe, but she had no idea how to approach it with Steve Trevor.

Thinking about the former air force major led her to thoughts of the last time they had been together. She loved him and he loved her. But he had no idea that his mousy assistant, Diana Prince, was the Amazon princess in disguise.

She sighed. Steve was a good man, if a little blind. How he had not made the connection between her and her alter-ego, Diana could not fathom.

“Good evening, Princess. Out for a stroll?”

Diana whirled, poised to strike, until she realised it was the very man she had been thinking of.

“Major Trevor,” she said softly.

He approached her, his gaze warm, but with a hint of regret.

“Steve. You used to call me Steve.”

I used to call you a lot of things, my love, Diana thought to herself. But we know we can never be.

She had never thought, back on Themyscira, that she would ever meet, let alone fall in love with a man. Most especially a man like Steve. He was the antithesis of everything she had believed men to be. Since coming to the United States, she had learned that there were differences in the men. Some men believed in equality, in peace. There were more of these types of men than she had initially believed.

She remembered the first time she had left the island, so many years ago. Diana had found herself in a world full of violence. A world she believed she and her sisters were better cut off from. But Diana had been unable to silence the cries of her Earth sisters, calling out for help from someone, anyone. Her heart cried for those in turmoil, trapped by the ways of men who sought to do them harm. She had made it her duty to help those women. To teach men the evil of their ways.

The men of this century, this world, had laughed when she first appeared on the scene. But not after Diana had stopped two young men from brutalising a young girl and proceeded to teach them a lesson by roping them like some animal at a rodeo and chaining them together to a crane at a construction site.

Wonder Woman had made an auspicious debut.

She had since learned, especially since the arrival of Superman, that not all men were alike. There were good men like him, who were prepared to sacrifice everything to keep the world safe. Men like Steve Trevor who, though they didn’t have powers, were still prepared to give their all to ensure that innocent people could sleep safely in their beds at night.

“May I walk with you, Princess?” Steve asked and how could she say no when his expression was so earnest. If only they could have found a way to be together in this world. A way in which they could both come to terms with her dual identity. For there was no possible way she could ever be one or the other. She was needed.

Steve was silent as he accompanied her. She wanted to say something to him, to try and explain, but there was just no way he would ever understand.

Steve stopped in the street and turned to her, taking her in his arms.

“Princess, I just don’t understand why ...”

“I have a duty here, Steve,” she said quietly. “People need me.”

“What about my needs?” he protested. “Diana, you must know I love you. I told you that on the island.”

“I know. I know you do,” she said sorrowfully.

There were times when she wished she could go back in time to that place. That moment when he had changed her life.

The daughter of the Amazon queen, Hippolyta, Diana was blessed with the gifts of super strength and speed. Themyscira was a world unlike that of what the Amazons called ‘Man’s World’. There, on the small island in the Greek Isles, it was a matriarchal society, preaching the principles of love and peace. Hippolyta also believed men and women could be equals.

Not all of the young Amazons believed the same as their queen. There were some who felt men should be punished for their evil deeds. Some believed all men were evil.

Diana’s adopted Amazon sister, Aresia, was one of those believers. The young blonde had been found as a child, floating on debris from a ship which had been wrecked off the rocks. Diana had wondered if the witch Circe had caused the shipwreck, as she had been known to do for centuries. Aresia had been little more than five years old and would have drowned had it not been for the captain of the ship, who had sacrificed his own chance of survival for the little girl. He had died in Diana’s arms, gasping his final breath.

Aresia had been walking with Diana, gathering herbs, when they came upon the wreckage from a plane.

Aresia dropped the herbs she had been carrying and hurried over to what Diana had at first thought was just debris.

“Diana,” Aresia cried. “It’s a man!”

Diana ran to her sister’s side, turning the man over. He was tall and athletic, with dark hair and a rugged, handsome face.

“Go, fetch my mother,” she told Aresia. “He is still breathing.”

“We should leave him here,” the blonde said, her expression darkening.

“And leave him to die?” She shook her head. “Go Aresia. Get help.”

Aresia hesitated. “The queen ...”

Diana glared at her. “Would you rather I tell my mother you refused to give mercy to an injured man? Now go,” she ordered, using the authority only a daughter of a queen was permitted. Aresia nodded and fled.

A small party returned a short time later, bearing a stretcher. Diana had done the best she could to clean the man’s wounds with a rag and sea water, but she would not know the extent of his injuries until she could examine him fully.

She returned with her sisters to the village and watched as they placed the man in one of the unused huts. Diana followed them in and watched as they settled him on the bed.

“Leave us,” she said. “I will tend to him.”

“Very well, Princess.”

The pilot had remained unconscious for three days before he’d shown any sign of waking. Diana had tended him, using all the ancient Amazon knowledge she could draw upon to help heal the cuts and bruises on his skin. She did not think he had any internal bleeding, but of that, she could not be sure.

“I’m dead,” he commented when he finally stirred. “I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

“I beg your pardon?” Diana asked.

“You look like an angel,” he told her.

Diana glanced down at the flowing, white dress she wore.

“How do you know what an angel looks like?” she replied with a smile.

“They look like you,” he breathed.

Diana continued mixing the herbs she was using on his bruises, then painted the resulting ointment on his skin. She used more herbs to make a hot tea, placing them in the bottom of an earthen cup, adding steaming hot water and allowing them to steep. Then she gave the cup to the sick man. He grimaced.

“Okay, now I know I’m not in heaven because nothing in heaven would taste this bad.”

“It will help heal you,” she said softly.

“How long was I out?”

“We found you three days ago.”

“We?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at her.

“Myself and my sisters.”

“Where are they now? Your sisters, I mean.”

“They are here; on the island.”

“And where is here?”

“Do you always ask this many questions?” she asked, teasing lightly.

Over the next few days, while he recuperated, she learned his name was Steve Trevor. He was a major with the United States Air Force. He had been assigned to the NATO forces at Souda Bay, supporting the Hellenic Air Force – Greece’s answer to the US Air Force, and had been out on training manoeuvres when his plane’s navigation system had failed. That had then caused a short in other systems until he had eventually lost an engine. Flying too low to parachute away, Steve had been forced to crash in the Mediterranean Sea.

“I guess I’m lucky I ended up here,” he told her.

Diana had told him a little of her own history, although she had left out the part of her Amazonian heritage. Steve was an intelligent man, and she was acutely aware he would figure her out, sooner or later.

The more time she spent with Steve Trevor, the more she realised she was falling in love with him. Just as he was with her. They had yet to even kiss, but it was inevitable. Steve was everything she had never known she wanted.

Queen Hippolyta called her to her side.

“Mother,” she said, kneeling by her queen.

“Daughter, I am concerned. You are spending much time with your young man.”

“Mother, I ...”

Her mother smiled.

“I once met a young man very like your Steve. He was charming and handsome and I loved him. As he did me. But we both knew it could never be. He belonged in his world and I belonged here.”

“What must I do, Mother?”

“That is your choice, child. But he must return to Man’s World. He cannot remain here. His people may come searching for him.”

The island itself was cloaked from human devices such as radar and satellites, but it did not mean they could not stumble on it purely by accident.

“And if I go?” she asked. “I will not be able to return.”

“Yes.”

Diana bowed her head. “I hear them, Mother. I hear them crying out for a champion.”

“I hear them too.”

Diana returned to Steve, heart breaking at the thought of losing the man she loved. She sat beside him, not knowing how to tell him.

“Let’s go for a walk, Princess,” he said.

They walked along the sand, watching the waves breaking over the shore. She remained silent.

“You seem sad, my love,” he said.

It was the first time he had acknowledged his own feelings for her. Diana looked at him, her gaze searching.

“Steve ...”

“I know,” he said, stroking her cheek tenderly. “I know I have to return to my world. But you could come with me.”

“I can’t,” she whispered.

“Why not? We could be together.”

“It isn’t that simple,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “We belong in two different worlds.”

“Princess, you know I love you. And I know you love me. Why does it have to be so hard?”

Diana sought her mother’s counselling once again, but all the queen would tell her was that it was her choice. Torn between her world and her love for Steve, Diana prayed to the goddess Artemis to give her the answer she sought.

A few days later, the answer came in an unexpected way. Another Amazon claimed the right to return Steve to his world. To accompany him to the United States and to stay, to become Earth’s champion. Diana knew she could not let this happen and also stepped forward to proclaim her right.

“I have nursed him and cared for him these weeks,” she told the assembled Amazons, standing proudly. “It is my right.”

“You have already been to Man’s World,” her Amazon sister Rena argued. “I have not.”

Queen Hippolyta clapped her hands.

“There is only one way to settle this,” she announced. “A competition. Whoever wins will be the champion.”

Diana sensed her mother’s sadness, realising she would not be able to return to her home for some time. If ever.

The day of the contest was set for two days hence. Diana prepared in silence, meditating alone in her quarters. The night before the match was to begin, Steve came to visit.

“Princess, you don’t have to do this for me,” he said.

“Yes, I do,” she answered quietly but firmly.

He looked at her for a long moment, then nodded solemnly.

“I understand.”

She looked at him, her gaze searching. “Do you?”

“Yes,” he said, his gaze full of love. “Diana, Princess ...” His expression was pleading and she could no longer resist him. She allowed him to place his lips gently on hers. But neither of them wanted gentleness and they pressed their bodies close together as their tongues performed the ancient dance.

Unable to hold back her passion for this man any longer, Diana sank to the floor, pulling him on top of her. She felt him undress her slowly until she was naked before him, her very soul bared to him.

“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured. “Diana, sweet Diana.”

She loved the way he crooned her name. The gentleness in his touch, the tenderness in his gaze.

Her eyes fell on the jagged scar on his thigh where some of the fuselage had torn into him. In spite of the healing, the scar would never fade. But Diana’s heart didn’t see anything but the man she loved.

Steve still slept in her arms in the grey light of dawn the day of the contest. Diana awoke, wondering what had stirred her, then heard Rena and Aresia talking.

“Diana is a fool,” Rena said. “He will betray her. That is what all men do.”

“Yes,” Aresia agreed. “That is why you must win the contest.”

“I intend to, Sister,” the other girl told her. “And once I do, I will make sure that Major Trevor will never reach Man’s World. I, on the other hand, will show them all.”

Their voices faded, leaving Diana holding Steve close. She had no other choice now, she decided. She must win the contest and return to Man’s World with Steve. To protect him, and other men like him.

The dawning of the new day brought much excitement to the Amazon village. Diana knew her queen was concerned for her. She was, after all, the queen’s only blood daughter. She had to press on, regardless. Diana had realised in the cold light of early dawn that she could not allow Rena or Aresia the chance to bring their hatred of men to the world.

The contest would consist of several events. Much like the ancient Olympics, Diana’s skills in strength and speed would be tested to their limits. Rena, who was almost as strong and as fast as Diana, would also be tested. But it was Diana’s strength of will that would be tested the most.

As the day wore on, Diana noted Steve watching anxiously, but she could not afford to be distracted by her lover. She steeled herself, knowing the final test was about to start.

Queen Hippolyta was presiding over this last competition. She presented Diana with the gold headband and bracelets which would belong to the champion once she was chosen. Diana nodded reverently to her mother and prepared herself.

She heard Steve gasp in horror as another Amazon took a small handgun from a wooden box. Diana meditated briefly, knowing if her focus was off she would lose. The competition so far had been almost equal and this would be the decision-maker.

The gun was fired and Diana thrust an arm in front of her, letting the bullet ricochet off her bracelet. A second bullet ricocheted off the other bracelet. Bullets were fired in quick succession and Diana managed to avoid each and every one.

Rena, on the other hand, was not so lucky, Diana thought. She missed one, causing it to hit her in the shoulder. The competition was over. Diana had won.

The queen officially presented her with the bracelets, ignoring protocol and hugging her daughter.

“Be safe, my child,” she said softly.

“I will, Mother,” Diana told her. “I promise.”

As Diana’s thoughts turned to the present and the man walking beside her, her heart cried out for her lover. Soon after returning to the United States, she had realised that she would have to make a choice between Steve and her duty as a champion. Working with him, beside him, gave her the opportunity to hear of other Earthly problems, without revealing her true identity to the world. But it left little room for romance.

As much as she wanted to have both Steve and her duty, the Fates had other plans.

“Something is troubling you,” he said finally. “And I know it’s not just me.”

“What do you know of the Illuminati?” she asked.

“I believe they’re a secret society trying to create a New World Order,” he said.

“What would you say if I told you they were out to steal a child. And not just any child, but the daughter of Superman?”

Steve frowned. “Superman has a daughter?” he asked.

Diana nodded. She had been trying to think of the best way to tell Steve without arousing his suspicions, but had realised there was no other way to approach this.

“They believe Superman is a threat to their plans for world domination,” she said.

“And by taking the child, they think they can control Superman? I would think it would do the exact opposite,” he said. “It would only anger him. And I would hate to get on Superman’s bad side. I mean, Superman must have to exercise a hell of a lot of control over his emotions to be as calm as he is.”

“Yes. So you can imagine how powerful his anger would be if his family was threatened.”

“Who is the mother?” Steve asked.

“I do not know. All I do know is that he has left his daughter in the care of a couple he is considered to be very close to.”

“What do you need from me, Princess?”

“I have a friend. She is the cousin of Superman and she has met a man she believes is involved with this Illuminati.”

“Do you want me to do some digging?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Please.”

“What’s his name?” Steve asked.

“John Crawford. I believe he is with the National Security Agency.”

Steve looked thoughtful, then nodded.

“Yes, I’ve met him. Don’t worry. I already had plans to have the man investigated.”

Diana thanked him and turned to leave.

“Princess ...”

She turned back and looked at him. His message was clear in his eyes. She sent him a sad smile, then turned and sped away.

Diana decided to head to Metropolis to check up on Superman and his family. She had her own plane which was invisible not only to those on the ground, but also to all monitoring equipment. Not that Diana couldn’t fly under her own power if she wanted to. She just couldn’t fly long distances, unlike Kara’s cousin.

Kara had informed her that Kal-El and his human mate were staying in the clocktower apartment of a friend. Diana made her way to the balcony, doing her best not to be seen through the huge glass door. She gasped as she saw the young woman pacing, holding an infant in her arms.

Aresia!

***

Tess sat on the terrace, sipping from a cup of coffee. Unlike the large cups which American cafes seemed to prefer, this was a delicate cup of fine bone china. She grimaced slightly at the bitter taste. Italian-made espresso coffee was much stronger than she was used to, but she was slowly becoming accustomed to it.

There was a rustle of clothing and Francesco settled into the seat beside her.

“Is the coffee not good?” he enquired.

“It’s just a little strong,” she said. “A little more than I’m used to.”

“American coffee is weak and they often burn the beans.”

Tess smiled at him. “You don’t like Americans much, do you?”

“Some have their ... how do you say, charms?”

“Like some Italians,” she laughed.

He leaned forward and handed her a napkin. Tess took the linen cloth with a smile and wiped her mouth delicately.

“May I ask what it is you have been contemplating, my dear?” he asked. “I have observed you out here for the last half an hour.”

Tess had spent a lot of her time out on the balcony, enjoying the sea views. The handsome Italian doctor had invited her to spend a few days with him at his villa in the city of Salerno, off the Amalfi Coast. The city itself was rich in culture and Tess had enjoyed browsing through the various market places. She had marvelled at the way the city appeared to be separated into sections from the medieval to the post-war modernism.

The villa she was staying in had been built in the 19th century, although much of it had been modernised. Francesco had told her that while he had preferred the ‘old-fashioned’ look he had become resigned to renovating the house to make it less of a drain on finances.

Francesco was not so much a medical doctor as he was a scientist. Tess’ first thought when the geneticist had told her of his background was that he had joined on in the upcoming battle against Superman so he could study Mara. The cynic in her had decided the man was not to be trusted on this basis alone.

Still, the Italian doctor had a way about him that was incredibly attractive and Tess thought she could use that attraction to learn more about his plans, or rather the Illuminati’s plans for Superman. Her loyalty was first and foremost to Clark and the Justice League. Even more so than Lex. After all, it was Clark who had believed in her; showed her a better way. In the years since they’d met, she had come to trust Clark more than anyone and given her past difficulties with men, that was a huge step.

“Why are your people so interested in Superman?” she asked.

Francesco sat back, looking thoughtful, stroking the top of his lip.

“Should we not be concerned about him?”

“Superman doesn’t get involved in politics. All he’s doing is trying to help people.”

“Yes, but wasn’t it one of your own American writers who said ‘Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best’?”

“It was Abraham Lincoln who said ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power’. Besides, what makes you think Superman is corruptible?”

“Touche,” he smiled. “What makes you think he isn’t?”

“I know Superman. He’s a ... he cares about the people of Metropolis. The people of the world, really.”

“But that still does not mean he is not dangerous. A man with that much power is a man who should be watched carefully.”

“Well, of course you would think that, since he’s dangerous to your group’s ambition,” Tess argued, enjoying the debate.

Donatello smiled. He loved the fire in this woman’s eyes. She clearly knew much more about Superman than she let on, but of course, he knew this already, having studied her for the past three or four years. He knew of her loyalty to the Justice League. She was not going to be seduced easily. He understood that.

“Beware of a man who would be as a god, for he sees himself as above us and therefore not bound by the laws of men.”

“I don’t think Superman sees himself as a god,” Tess answered.

“Yet he has the powers of a god,” Donatello replied. “And like any god, he could easily smite anyone in his wrath, should the need take him.”

“He would never do that,” Tess told him, although he had clearly hit a nerve. He knew she had been subject to Superman’s wrath a few times.

It was now only a matter of chipping away at the armour of trust in her. Sooner or later, he would convince her.

***

Chloe looked at her husband as she grabbed her jacket from the hanger.

“Are you coming?” she asked.

“Why do we have to meet Lana?” he asked, sounding suspiciously whiny.

“Because she’s my friend and because you love me. Besides, she’s spent a lot of time here. After everything fell apart with Clark, she came back here to clear her head.”

Reluctantly, Oliver grabbed his own jacket and began to follow her out the door. They walked slowly along the path beside the Seine until Chloe spotted a familiar dark head. Lana was standing beside a bridge, talking animatedly to a man. He was tall, with bright red hair which stood out a mile, even on this cool, grey day.

“Lana,” she grinned, waving.

Lana waved back, touching her companion’s arm. They turned and began walking toward the blonde couple.

Lana hugged her.

“Chloe, it’s wonderful to see you. You look great. Marriage certainly agrees with you.”

“Thanks Lana.” She looked pointedly at the red-haired man.

“Murphy O’Shea,” the man said, holding out his hand. He had a very strong Irish accent. “Top o’ the mornin’ t’you.”

“Murphy was just telling me about some great cafes we could go to for breakfast,” Lana told them.

“Sure, lead on,” Oliver said. Chloe glanced at him, wondering why he was glowering at the Irishman. O’Shea had what appeared to be a small badge on his lapel. It looked like a white triangle with a red cross above. Chloe frowned slightly. The red cross reminded her a little of the research she had done into the Knights Templar, which had been an early military order now supposedly affiliated with Freemasons.

They followed Lana and her friend to a busy cafe and sat down, ordering coffee and croissants.

“So, Lana, how have you been?” Chloe asked.

“I’m fine, Chloe, and you?”

“Busy. You know how it is.”

“Yeah. I heard Lois and Clark have a daughter. What’s her name?”

“Mara.”

“That’s a beautiful name,” Murphy commented. “Where’s it from?”

“Oh, Clark wanted to combine the name of his birth mother and his adoptive mother,” Chloe told him.

“How old is she?” Murphy asked.

“About two months now, I think. Maybe close to three.”

“Ah babies at that age are very precious.”

“Do you have any kids yourself, Mr O’Shea?” Oliver asked.

“Please, call me Murphy. No, I haven’t been that lucky. Yet,” he added, smiling at Lana, who returned the smile.

Chloe shuddered. There was something about this man she did not like. She dearly wanted to tell her friend to be careful, but she knew Lana wouldn’t listen to her.

The brunette had had her battles over the past few years. After she’d left Clark, they had tried to keep in touch, but both Lana and Clark had known they were fighting a losing battle. Chloe had often wondered if Clark had fallen for Lois on the rebound, as he’d seemed to forget Lana in an awful hurry, but he’d told her that once he’d been able to step back and look at the situation objectively he’d realised that he’d only gone back to Lana because he’d been afraid of his feelings for Lois. He’d taken the safe and familiar route, even knowing it was doomed to failure, and that hadn’t just been because of Lex.

When he’d decided to give it a shot with Lois, he had enlisted Chloe to help him search for Lana and had confronted her. Here in Paris, as it turned out. He’d told her what he was feeling and had finally ended it between them, knowing if he had kept her hoping for a reconciliation of sorts, it wouldn’t have been fair on either of them. Clark had then reported back to Chloe telling her that Lana had admitted to having the same doubts. At least they had ended things fairly amicably.

“So what do you do, Murphy?” Oliver was asking.

“I work in the Paris Tourism Bureau.” He laughed. “Yeah, I know. An Irishman in a French tourist office. Can’t miss the irony, can you?”

Oliver laughed as well, but his laughter seemed forced. The conversation turned to more trivial things while they ate. Murphy offered to assist them in finding places to visit, even taking the trouble to point out some romantic spots perfect for a couple on their honeymoon.

It was only later, back at the hotel, that Chloe had a chance to figure out why the man bothered her so much. She was checking through her notes on the Illuminati and other secret societies and had come across the badge Murphy wore.

“Ollie, look at this.”

Oliver frowned as he sat beside her and looked at the screen.

“Golden Dawn. Isn’t that a political group in Greece?”

“Not them. Golden Dawn of Ireland. They supposedly have some kind of connection to the occult.”

“You’re not thinking there’s some connection to the Illuminati?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But it does seem awfully coincidental that he and Lana become friends just as the Illuminati decided to target Clark, don’t you think?”

Oliver sighed. “Yeah. Very.”

***

Rochefort grinned at his wife as she entered the room. Her blonde hair was set in a loose knot at the nape of her neck and her face was made-up very skilfully.

“Préte pour rencontrer Luthor ma Chérie?” he asked.

Stephanie nodded.

“C'est un Homme trés Intelligent , Yves. Le tromper ne sera pas Facile.”

“Pourtant votre approche semblez efficace la nuit dérniere,” he said, having observed his wife talking quietly with the bald man.

“Etes vous en remettre en question mes méthodes , mon chéri?” she asked, sounding not a little uneasy.

“Simplement pour vous rappeler de votre place ma chére,” he told her smoothly, with just a slight hint of a threat in his tone. “N 'est ce pas moi qui vous ai arraché a une relative obscurité pour devenir l'une des Femmes les plus recherchés de Paris? N'etait-ce pas moi qui vous ai pris et enlevé de votre Ile Natale lorsque vous avez pour finir désiré la Quitter?”

“Bien sur,” she said. “Et je t'ai Toujour aimé pour ça , mon Chéri,” she added, her arms around his neck. “Ma fidélité est pour vous, pas...”

“Vos Soeurs adoptés ? or une en particulier?”

“Aresia sait ou se trouve ma Loyauté,” Stephanie answered.

“Pourtant , je crois que son plan est d'enlever l'enfant de ses parents , avant que nous soyons prêts.”

“Elle croit que le plan est de prendre l'enfant et de l'élever loin de l'influence des Hommes.”

“L 'enfant serait en effet devenu puissant que toute ses Soeurs evantuelle , mais ce n'est notre plan.”

“Je vais lui parler de nouveau et lui dire de pas bouger jusqu'a ce que vous me donner l'ordre.”

Rochefort decided a change of subject was in order.

“A propos de Luthor?”

“Vous avez deja commencé le plan pour le ruiner financierement,” Stephanie replied. “N est ce pas?”

“Je l'est fait,” he nodded.

“Alors je vais jouer mon rôle et vous garantie, qu'il va etre complétement ruiné . Aie Confiance a moi mon cheri.”

He did trust her. That was not the problem. There were too many other players on the board in their little ‘chess’ game. This new alliance he had been hearing of between Luthor and Superman, for one, and Stephanie’s ‘sister’ Aresia, for another. Aresia was known to hate all men. She had her own agenda where the half-alien child was concerned, and that was something he could not allow.

He had enjoyed the little cat and mouse game with Lois Lane the previous evening. She was certainly a beautiful woman, and deceptively intelligent. Had he not been looking for the small signs, he would never have known that she had recognised him. Of course, then her husband had joined her and ruined the game. He was certain Luthor had alerted Clark Kent. Given that the two men were sworn enemies, de Rochefort did not understand this new alliance between them.

He watched his wife leave with a smile that did not reach his eyes. Yes, he trusted her. He owned her, body and soul. She could not leave him even if she wanted to.

“Off to meet Luthor, my dear?”
“He is a very intelligent man, Yves. Deceiving him will not be easy.”
“Yet your approach seemed to be effective last night.”
“Are you questioning my methods, husband?”
“Merely reminding you of your place, my dear. Was it not I who plucked you from relative obscurity to become one of the most sought after women in Paris? Was it not I who took you from your island home when you desired to leave?”
“Of course. And I have always loved you for that, my husband. My loyalty is to you, not ...”
“Your adopted sisters? Or one, in particular?”
“Aresia knows where my loyalty lies.”
“Yet I believe her plan is to remove the infant from her parents, before we are ready.”
“She believes the plan is to take the child and raise her away from the influence of men.”
“The child would indeed become powerful as one of the sisters, but that is not our plan.”
“I will speak to her again and tell her not to move until you give me the order.”
“What of Luthor?”
“You have already begun the plan to ruin him financially. Have you not?”
“I have.”
“Then I will play my part in ensuring he is ruined completely. Trust in me, my husband.”

***

John Crawford’s agenda was twofold. One, he wanted to distract the young Kryptonian from her family and second he was extremely attracted to the beautiful blonde. While the disguise of the glasses did little for her, combined with the dark hair they did make her very striking in appearance.

He had finally convinced Kara/Linda to have lunch with him, after a week of phone calls trying to convince her he was harmless. He knew she had her suspicions; after all, she had caught him at the farmhouse, but he hoped to convince her to at least give up some information.

Kara had agreed to meet him at a cafe a couple of blocks from the apartment where her ‘aunt’ lived. Crawford waited, a little nervous at the thought of meeting with a girl who could most likely crush his windpipe without even breaking a sweat.

She walked in, wearing a knee-length pleated skirt and matching blazer in a grey that brought out the blue in her eyes. He rose to greet her.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said, appearing nervous.

He smiled. “That’s all right. I haven’t ordered yet. Would you like a drink?” Slow down, he told himself.

Crawford had dated a lot of women but Kara was the first woman he’d ever had such an intense attraction to. What he wouldn’t give to have her spread out under him, he thought, then blinked as Kara frowned at him.

“Um, ice water with lime would be lovely, thank you.”

He relaxed, sitting back down and gesturing to the waitress, ordering the ice water, deciding to order the same for himself.

“I have to admit,” she said, “I was curious. Why did you ask me here?”

“Is it a bad thing for me to ask a pretty girl to lunch?” he asked.

Kara blushed, looking coy.

“No, it’s not a bad thing. It’s just ... I don’t date very much.”

“Well, I would say that’s a pity,” he replied, “but I can’t say I’m sorry.”

The waitress came over with a pitcher of ice water. Normally, Crawford would be all over the woman, flirting, thinking how he could get the girl into his bed, but all his focus was on the young Kryptonian. He had no doubt the girl’s powers would make her more of a challenge in bed.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your order,” the waitress said coolly.

“Thank you,” Kara said, picking up the pitcher and pouring herself a glass of water.

She glanced at the NSA agent. The man made her more than a little uneasy, but she had decided the best way to find out what he was up to was to get close to him. From what Diana and Bruce had been saying at the party a few nights ago, she was sure that John Crawford was an agent of the Illuminati and he was one of a number of people who had infiltrated government organisations like the NSA to give them inside information on what was going on behind the political scenes.

“So, tell me more about your aunt. Does she enjoy being a senator?”

Kara smiled. Martha did enjoy her work. She had been a city-bred lawyer’s daughter and despite the twenty-odd years of being married to a farmer, she had never truly let go of the skills she had learned at her father’s knee, so to speak. Martha Kent was a woman of gentle grace and quiet intelligence who never hesitated to speak her mind without sounding like so many other politicians who seemed to think their opinion mattered over others. Martha was strong in her convictions, but open-minded enough to listen to another’s point of view.

“So tell me,” John said, curiosity in his expression. “What is your aunt working on at the moment?”

“Oh, you know I can’t tell you that,” she said.

“Sure you can,” he said, eyes twinkling.

Kara picked up her menu to avoid his gaze.

“Um, so, I think I’ll have the Chicken Kiev with side salad.”

Her companion picked up his own menu and perused it.

“Hmm, I think I’ll have the Capellini Pomodoro.” He put down his menu and looked at her. “So, since you can’t tell me what your aunt is working on, how about we talk about you. How long are you in town for?”

“Oh, I am only here another few days,” she said. “I will be going to Kansas to visit my cousin and his wife and spend some time with my niece.” She looked at him. “Do you have any family?”

“I have a sister who is married and lives in Europe with her husband. Their son is almost two years old now. I don’t see them that often, more’s the pity.”

Kara nodded. “I’m glad I’m so close to my cousin,” she said.

“I understand Clark was adopted by the Kents,” John said after the waitress had taken their orders.

Kara nodded again, sipping her water. “His birth parents were killed when Clark was just a baby. They were my real aunt and uncle, but I still think of Martha as my aunt. I mean, she did raise Clark.”

“I understood you were orphaned as well.”

“Clark and I didn’t find each other until I was eighteen,” she said.

When she’d returned to Earth after searching for survivors from Krypton, neither she nor Clark had known then that Lois knew Clark’s secret. When she had helped rescue Lois from DeSaad’s, Lois had questioned Clark at length about Kara’s connection with him. Worried that Lois had been getting too close to the truth about him, Kara had suggested he let Lois think Kara had been exposed to meteor rock while living in Smallville with him.

Of course, after the truth had been revealed, Lois had told them they needed to come up with a better cover, especially if Kara was going to be in disguise. It had been Lois’ idea to say that both Clark and Kara had been orphaned at a young age and that ‘Linda’s’ parents had been killed while travelling abroad. Together, the three of them had decided Linda Danvers had been adopted by an American couple living in England, and when Linda had come to the US trying to find out more about her birth family she had found Clark.

Oliver had used his considerable resources to help them create the new identity which stood up to closer scrutiny than even Clark’s, which Lionel had arranged through a fictitious adoption agency, Metropolis United Charities.

John continued to ask questions about her family and her personal life, which left Kara in no doubt what he was trying to do. He was trying to figure out what made her vulnerable. He might know about the meteor rock, but there were ways around that. It was just a question of knowing what he planned to do with the information.

***

Martha had just walked out of a senate committee meeting when she literally ran into Daniel Abrams. He immediately put out a hand to steady her.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, looking apologetic. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“No, of course not,” she answered, frowning slightly at him. She didn’t fail to notice the glare from Miranda Clifford who was standing a few feet away.

Abrams nodded and continued on his way, while Martha walked to the bank of elevators and pressed the button to call the car. As soon as the doors closed, Martha looked down at the small slip of paper Abrams had managed to pass off to her.

Need to talk. Meet me at three, Washington Monument Grounds.

Martha glanced at the gold-plated watch on her wrist. Jonathan had bought her the watch for their twentieth anniversary. He had never been much of a traditionalist but he always remembered their anniversary. It was almost two-thirty. She would have just enough time to check her messages.

She opened the door to her office. Her assistant, Louise, looked up.

“Senator. Just two messages for you. One from your son and a man who didn’t want to identify himself. He did say it was urgent though.”

“Thank you, Louise.” She handed the girl the notes from her meeting. “Will you please type these up for me? I have another meeting to get to. Did the man leave a number?”

“Yes ma’am,” Louise said, handing over the slip.

Martha frowned. The number was a Gotham exchange.

“Thank you, Louise. I may be out for the rest of the afternoon.”

Martha dropped her briefcase in her office and left again, walking briskly out of the building and hailing a cab at 15th Street.

“Washington Monument,” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” the driver answered.

It was a short trip and she was there about ten minutes before she needed to be. Martha took the message slip and dialled the number.

“This is Senator Martha Kent.”

“Senator, it’s Bruce. I won’t waste your time with pleasantries, but I felt it prudent to warn you.”

“About what?”

“I have it on good authority that you are under investigation by several individuals within the state Senate.”

“Yes, I am aware of that.”

“Are you also aware that they are attempting to uncover your relationship to Superman? If they were to discover Superman, or rather The Blur’s activities in Smallville more than ten years ago, the trail would most definitely lead back to you and seriously damage your credibility in the senate. It is well-known in political circles of your work against the VRA.”

“That is a matter of public record.”

“Far be it from me to criticise, Senator, but your son has not exactly been known to be discreet in the past.” He paused. “Senator, you’re an admirable woman; some would say formidable, and even more so when it comes to protecting your son’s secret. I am not out to expose his identity to the world. What I am trying to do is make you aware of the dangers you face. If the likes of Senator Miranda Clifford should learn his identity there is every likelihood she will call for you to be expelled from the Senate. And Clark could end up on a DDS examination table.”

“I know all this. The question is, what is your interest in all this, Bruce? Or perhaps I should say, Batman?”

“Yes, it’s true that my interest is purely professional. However, I feel the need to point out that if Clark’s secret were to be exposed, it would only be a matter of time before we all find ourselves the subjects of investigation. I don’t think I need remind you of a certain former general now calling himself Deathstroke.”

“No, you don’t,” she returned. “I take it you have something in mind?”

“Miranda Clifford is suspected to be a member of the very organisation which is hoping to bring down Superman, and with him, every other member of the Justice League.”

“I thought you were not a member?” she asked.

“I’m not. Yet. I’m reserving judgement.”

“You still have not answered my question.”

“I have information on Miranda Clifford which I hope will stop her investigation in its tracks. The trick is proving it.”

“I’m meeting with someone who may be able to help.”

“Senator Abrams is a good man and you can most definitely trust him.”

“Speaking of whom,” she said, spying the very man. “I just spotted him.”

“I will discuss this with you later, Senator. Give my regards to your son.”

Martha hung up and approached the senator. He smiled and led her to a wooden bench to sit.

“Martha, you know I am a great admirer of yours and I would do anything for you, but this thing that Miranda is pursuing ...”

“Tell me about her,” Martha coaxed.

“Why?”

“Because if we can prove her to be unreliable, we may be able to stop this investigation before it happens.”

“I’m afraid she’s not the only senator with concerns about Superman. He is, after all, an alien. What makes you think he is as benevolent as you say?”

“Daniel, my son and his wife have been covering stories on Superman since his arrival in Metropolis.”
She was careful to keep that vague, knowing people still debated when exactly Superman appeared on the scene. “They are both great believers in telling the truth and they wouldn’t say Superman was here to help if they didn’t believe it.”

“I know, but Miranda ...”

“Miranda isn’t interested in taking down Superman because she thinks he’s a threat to the people of this country. She believes he’s a threat to something else.”

“Like what?”

“Like the Illuminati.”

Daniel frowned, then laughed nervously.

“The Illuminati? Martha, it’s a fairy story.”

“No, it isn’t. Trust me on this, if we don’t stop this investigation in its tracks, Superman will not be able to stop them when they make their move. Then the entire world will be in danger.”

***

Lois was beginning to feel more and more uneasy with the girl Clark had hired, on Oliver’s say-so. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Oliver’s judgment. It was just that something didn’t feel right. The way the girl looked at her sometimes, or looked at Clark. She did her best to hide it, but Lois sensed the girl didn’t like Clark. Every time Ria was in the apartment, she would look at Clark as if she was the one wishing she had heat vision.

Lois had sent Ria out to take a couple of hours off. Ria had protested she didn’t need the time off and was only too happy to be there to help Lois with the baby, but Lois had insisted. Ria had finally acquiesced, leaving Lois with Mara. She quickly bundled her daughter up in warm clothes and put her in the stroller.

“Come on, Mara, we’re going out to see Daddy.”

Mara probably didn’t understand a word she said but Lois wasn’t particularly concerned.

***

Aresia knew Lois Lane was suspicious of her. The woman was clearly extremely insightful, which did not bode well for the plan. She dialled a number on her cellphone.

“’Allo?”

“It’s me,” she said.

“Aresia, quel est le problème?”

“It’s Lois Lane,” she said, determinedly speaking English. “I think she suspects ...”

Stephanie signed. “Dear sister, have I not warned you that Lois Lane is a femme très astucieux and she is extremely protective of her family.”

“I don’t understand why we cannot take the baby now,” Aresia asked her spiritual sister.

Stephanie cursed in French.

“That is not our plan, sœur.”

“You mean your husband’s plan,” Aresia said sulkily.

“Mais oui.”

“Why do you trust him? He is a man. Men are not to be trusted.”

She heard the ice in her sister’s voice as Stephanie answered.

“You will do as I say, child and that is the end of it!”

Aresia hung up and sighed. There were times when she questioned Stephanie’s loyalty. She still remembered the day she had found the young girl on the island. Aresia had been only a young child then, still a little ignorant of Themyscira and its mysteries.

She had been playing in the clear blue water when she had seen the plane in the air, its engines ablaze. Her eyes widened as the plane crashed into the sea. Turning, she ran in the direction of the village and went to find someone who could help.

Princess Diana and Rena followed her, quickly getting a boat into the water as the wreckage from the downed plane began to drift toward the island. Aresia had watched anxiously from the shore as they brought in the bodies of two adults and a girl child. The girl was a little older than Aresia and she was alive.

***

Stephanie de Rochefort, nee Valliere, sighed as she crossed the avenue to the cafe where she was meant to meet Lex Luthor. They had had several meetings now but Luthor was a difficult man to persuade. The problems within his company had made him wary of any approach by her.

Stephanie touched a hand to her blonde hair. Seducing someone like Luthor was never going to be easy, considering his taste ran to brunettes and redheads, or so she had read. Still, Stephanie was a great believer in the idea that a ‘type’ was not something that was measured by appearance, but by character. As long as Luthor believed she was just an innocent, caught up in something she did not fully understand, the easier it would be. He had, after all, taken advantage of the innocence of Lana Lang.

She glanced up the street, her mind recalling the brief conversation she had had with Aresia. The young Amazon was becoming almost cagey. She was eager to move and Stephanie was not ready for this part of the plan. Correction, she thought, her husband was not ready. Aresia had always been rather headstrong. It had been the same since they were children.

Stephanie’s birth parents had been jewellers in Toulouse. While they were not as wealthy as they would have preferred, they were comfortable enough to own their own small private Falcon.

Laurence and Raymond Valliere had been on their way to Greece with their young daughter for a family vacation in the jet, dubbed Desire d Etoiles when the plane’s engines had malfunctioned, sending it crashing into the sea.

Stephanie had been taken to Themyscira’s Island of Healing by Princess Diana and she had grown up among the Amazons. The sisters had given her a new name: Ephiny. For a while, she had been happy, but she had been old enough when the plane crashed to miss life in Toulouse. Queen Hippolyta had sensed her restlessness and offered her a choice. She could return to Man’s World for a few months and decide which life she truly desired.

When she returned to France, she spent some time learning what she had missed. One evening she had attended a party being hosted by some old friends of her father’s and had met Yves. She had eventually told him the truth of her parents’ deaths and where she had been. He had responded by offering her a life by his side and a position in a fashion magazine. She knew then there was no returning to Themyscira and had believed she would never see her Amazon sisters again, until Aresia had sought her out.

Aresia hated all men, believing the world would be a better place without them and resented Superman, thinking he was only perpetuating the myth of the patriarchy by using his abilities. Stephanie didn’t necessarily buy into the proposition that a matriarchal society was any better.

When de Rochefort had told her it had been confirmed through tests that the daughter of Clark Kent and Lois Lane was half-alien, Stephanie had brought Aresia in on the plan. She hadn’t counted on the girl wanting to remove the baby from her parents so quickly. Aresia was impatient and she was quickly becoming a liability with her demands.

***

Lois waited while the retina scan read her and confirmed her identity, tapping her foot a little nervously as the lift made its way up to the control deck of Watchtower. There had always been high-tech security measures to keep intruders out; not that they had been totally effective. She still remembered Chloe telling her about the time Tess had broken in to Watchtower and the system had shut down.

Then there had been the time Carter Hall aka Hawkman had tossed Oliver through the huge observation window. Not to mention the time Clark Luthor from the Earth-2 had paid an unplanned visit, dropping through the top of the dome. Well, she supposed that was something they hadn’t been prepared for when they’d come up with the security measures.

Now they had extra safeguards to make sure that no one unauthorised could break in.

The lift doors opened and Lois pushed the stroller in front of her, reaching out to open the double doors. Clark had told her he would be at Watchtower for about an hour after work, using the more sophisticated systems to do some research.

He was standing at the main console, a deep frown marring his features, but looked up and smiled when she came in.

“Hey you,” Lois said with a smile. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

He grinned. “Actually, I could use the distraction. What are you two doing here, and don’t tell me it’s because somebody was missing me,” he added, looking down at his daughter.

Lois threw her arms around his neck. “Well, maybe I was missing you,” she said, pouting slightly.

He kissed her. “You are up to something.”

“Actually,” she said, pulling away from him with a sigh, “I needed to talk to you about something.”

She sat down on the couch and he joined her.

“What is it?”

“It’s Ria.”

He frowned. “What about her?”

“I get a bad feeling about her, Clark.”

“What kind of feeling?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Just bad. I mean, I see her looking at you sometimes, and ...”

“Lois I would never ...”

“Not that kind of look,” she said. “More the wishing she had heat vision so she could fry you to a crisp kind of look.”

“Oliver wouldn’t have recommended her, if ...”

“Yes, but you know Oliver can be kind of flaky sometimes. I mean, you know I love him. He’s one of our best friends, but still, he does kind of overlook things sometimes.”

Clark took her hands. “Sweetheart, maybe you’re just feeling a little cabin fever. Look, why don’t I call one of the guys and get them to look after Mara for tonight.”

“Not Bart,” she told him.

He grinned. “All right. Not Bart. How about Dinah? I know she’s been dying to spend some time with Mara.”

“What are you going to tell Ria?”

“We don’t have to tell her anything,” he said. “We’ll just say that we’re going out somewhere that lets us take Mara with us. It’ll just be a little white lie.”

“Because we both know you suck at lying,” Lois said with a grin.

“I do not!” he protested. “Okay, maybe I lied badly in the past, but then I hated lying. Now I lie to protect you and Mara, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it?”

“You know that really flies in the face of Superman’s policy of never lying.”

“Superman doesn’t lie,” he told her firmly. “Clark Kent, on the other hand, has to lie every day.”

“Semantics.”

“Just for that,” he growled, “I might not take you where I was planning tonight.”

“I’ll be good,” she said hastily. “Where were you planning on going?”

“Well, there’s this new club that opened up. It’s sort of a retro club. You know, music from the seventies and eighties. I don’t know if they play Whitesnake songs, but ...”

“That’s okay,” she said, beaming. “I love that idea. Do we have to dress retro?”

“Probably better not to,” he answered, “since I was planning on surprising you with dinner at your favourite restaurant.”

Lois threw her arms around her beloved husband once again.

“You, Mr Kent, are firing on all cylinders tonight. You never know, you just might get lucky.”

Mara chose that moment to wake up and began crying noisily. Clark went to pick her up and his daughter stopped crying instantly.

“Daddy’s girl,” Lois smiled as she watched her husband cradle their daughter in his arms. She looked so tiny compared to him. Clark had an adorable grin on his face as Mara looked up at him with what was clearly the baby version of complete trust.

“Remember that time you and Lana found a baby in a crater?” Lois said. “I knew then you’d be a great dad,” she added, taking her daughter’s tiny hand in hers and shaking it gently. Mara was still gazing up adoringly at her father.

“Lois, you weren’t there, if I recall,” he said, frowning slightly. “Weren’t you still trying to patch things up with your dad?”

“Well, you know how the general is,” she said. “Besides, your mom told me the whole story when I was pregnant with Mara.”

Clark returned to the couch, lightly stroking his daughter. She lay contentedly in his arms, cooing.

“What was she saying?”

“Well, I was being Ms Doubting Mustafa,” she said, reminding Clark of a Disney movie they’d once sat down to watch about a week before Lois had given birth. “You know me, I never did have much faith in my parenting skills. Of course that all changed once I held this precious angel in my arms, didn’t it, munchkin?” she said, her finger caught in Mara’s little fist. “Anyway, your mom told me all about Evan and how devastated you were when he died and I just knew. Dad and I also had a long talk about things and he told me my mom went through the same doubts before she had me. I guess it’s normal.”

***

Moana had spent half the day checking into some leads and talking to a couple of contacts, but so far had not been able to come up with anything clandestine about the proposed resort in Smallville. De Rochefort’s plan seemed simple enough. Use the natural resources available in Smallville to turn it into a ‘spa’, making it an attraction to those seeking a getaway destination, thereby improving the town’s economy and creating jobs. He was selling it as the mid-west’s answer to Palm Springs and Las Vegas all in one.

The prospect of the town being overrun by tourists and rich people, not to mention gamblers had brought protestors out of the woodwork. The plan was quickly dividing the town between those who desperately needed jobs and those who wanted to preserve the town the way it was.

Moana scowled. Now she was stuck on babysitting duty, so to speak. Luthor had asked her to meet him at some cafe, where he was now talking with a blonde woman and acting very friendly. She had approached the table only for him to glance up at her and shake his head slightly, then shift his gaze to a table next to them. She had sat down, ordering a coffee and listening to the conversation.

She had always had a good head for facts and figures, but names and faces tended to elude her memory unless she had good reason to remember them. So when she saw Luthor’s companion, she had a vague feeling of familiarity, but the name escaped her. Trying to appear casual, Moana had grabbed the society section of the Daily Planet, hoping to read more about the launch of the Smallville resort.

She glanced through the photographs, recognising Sir Allistair Phillips by his photograph. According to one of her contacts, the man had connections to Freemasons, a known affiliate organisation of the Illuminati and was a Knight of Malta, also affiliated with Freemasonry. Her friend suspected he was very high up in the Illuminati hierarchy; perhaps even at the very top of their organisation.

Still, Phillips, to all appearances, was just a director of Chatham House, also known as the Institute of International Affairs. Chatham House was a think tank, a non-profit organisation which was tasked with research and advocacy on topics like social policy and political strategy. It seemed rather unusual that the think tank would take such an interest in a small town.

Moana continued to read, half an ear open to the conversation. The woman seemed to be trying to seduce Luthor, judging from what she could hear. Moana continued to pretend to be totally absorbed in the newspaper, opening her senses to the woman. She was definitely lying to Luthor about her purpose, but it seemed Luthor was already aware of it. The emotions she read off the bald man were anger but more than a little curiosity as well. While he knew what she was trying to do, he was letting it play out so he could try and turn it in his favour.

She returned her attention to the newspaper as the woman got up, kissing Luthor on both cheeks. The two spoke rapidly in French, clearly saying their farewells and the blonde walked away, passing Moana’s table. Moana glanced up at her, then back down at the photograph. Crap, she thought. She’d totally missed the fact the woman was married to de Rochefort.

“Well?” Luthor asked, sitting down at her table.

“Well what?”

“What did you think?”

Moana narrowed her eyes at him. He knew what she could do. He knew what she was.

“You bastard!” she said, getting up. He caught her arm.

“Don’t play games with me, Ms Rangihau. I called you here to confirm my suspicions about Madame de Rochefort. You and I both know you are not just some mediocre reporter here to follow some exhibition from the Antipodes. Tell me what you know about her.”

“She is trying to seduce you, is that what you want to hear?”

“I’m aware of that,” he said, confirming her own suspicions.

Moana shook him off and walked out of the cafe. Luthor followed her. Moana soon realised her path was blocked by a woman who was as tall as an Amazon but twice as deadly. She was clearly carrying a gun underneath her suit jacket, the bulge obvious at the waist. Moana turned on the bald man.

“Don’t test me, Luthor!” she spat. “The only reason I agreed to this in the first place is because I promised someone else I would do what I could to help.”

“I’ve no time for your petty grievances,” Luthor retorted.

“Petty? You call dragging me out of my home in the middle of the night to study me petty?”

Even Clark didn’t know the real reason for her hatred of Luthor. It had been a few years ago, but she still remembered it well. Of course, she had never been able to prove it had been Luthor, but she had not been amused when she’d been woken in the middle of the night and forced to go with them to what looked to all intents and purposes like an old warehouse. She’d been poked and prodded and generally made to feel like a lab rat, all because Luthor’s people had been interested in finding out what she was.

“I was not responsible for that and I give you my word I will find out and have them brought to justice.”

Moana scoffed. “You disgust me, Luthor!”

“I don’t have time for this. I promise you now I will find who was responsible, but we have more important things to be concerned about. Do you know what her plans are?”

“I don’t read minds,” she told him. “It doesn’t work that way. I can only read feelings.”

“Then what do you read?”

“Fear!”

“Of me?” he asked.

Moana shook her head. “Of him. Fear of failure. You, she hates. She’s just one in a very long line.” She shook his hand off. “Now let me go before I do something we’ll both regret. I don’t like to be touched, especially by scum like you.”

Lex stared after her as Moana ran off. Maybe he wasn’t able to read emotions but he had seen the anger and the pain in her eyes. Returning to his office, he opened up his laptop and began searching through files which had been buried for at least seven years, or even longer.

It had taken some time to sift through all the projects Luthorcorp had been behind. 33.1 of course had been the most ambitious one before Ares, but he hadn’t been lying when he said he hadn’t been responsible for what had happened to Moana Rangihau. He hadn’t known the name, but something had sparked inside his brain when he’d first spoken with her. There had been another project; a precursor to 33.1.

Years earlier, there had been a small facility in the Antipodes. Unlike Sydney, which Green Arrow and his band of merry men had done their best to destroy, this one had remained off the grid. The scientists at this tiny facility had relied on word-of-mouth information and had heard rumours of a young woman with superior strength and an uncanny ability to read people.

They’d done their due diligence had eventually managed to track her down, forcing her out of her apartment in the middle of the night to study her. They’d performed all manner of tests, drugging her to make sure she complied. They’d given her more than was necessary, for a normal human, but it had been abundantly clear she was not normal.

Still, as Lex realised from her reaction, there was far more to the story than he’d first understood.

Picking up the phone, Lex dialled a number.

“It’s Lex,” he said. “I need to speak with Dr Randall.”

The person on the other end was curious, but put him through. Lex quickly refreshed the doctor’s memory on the project.

“What happened to her?” he asked the doctor. The man seemed almost evasive, until he pushed for more information. “During the time you had her. Doctor, I am not in the mood for playing games. Either you tell me ...”

Finally, the doctor spoke at length, telling Lex exactly what had happened. By the time Lex had hung up his face was drained of colour. It was little wonder she hated him, if she held him responsible for this. He hadn’t been lying when he’d told her he wasn’t the one responsible. It had been his father!

Lex took out the card she had left when she had first come to see him, then dialled her number.

“It’s Lex. We need to talk,” he said.

“I have nothing to say to you,” she told him, still sounding bitter.

“Moana, please, I am telling you the truth. I had nothing to do with what happened to you all those years ago. I know you know about 33.1, but this was nothing to do with that. Check your dates. It happened before I took over Luthorcorp.”

She was silent for a moment, obviously thinking it over.

“If you’re not responsible, then ...”

“It was my father.”

“It still changes nothing. Do you really think you’re any better?”

“At least I never raped anyone!” he told her defensively, telling her he knew exactly what had happened. She’d been drugged, locked up in one of the rooms, and a guard had taken advantage of that to force her to have sex with him.

Moana scoffed. “You think because there was nothing sexual in what you did to others it wasn’t rape? Ever hear of mind rape, Luthor?”

“These were people who were a threat ...” he began.

“And what did that make me?” she returned. “Am I a threat? You really think you can justify what you did because some of those meteor freaks you’ve been studying turned out to be psychotic? And what are you, Luthor? I know you were exposed to the meteors. That makes you one of them. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you would turn on your own kind. That’s just the kind of snake-in-the-grass you are.”

She hung up abruptly, leaving him staring at the phone. He sat back in his chair, turning and staring out the window, his hands steepled under his lip.

***

Moana turned and looked at her visitor. She had been surprised to get the call from Anders. She’d heard of him, of course, through numerous circles, but they’d never met.

“Lex Luthor?” Anders asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’re working with him?”

“Because Clark asked me to,” she said.

“You seem to have a lot of faith in Clark, even if what I heard was true.”

“It’s true. I don’t talk about it. Look, my ability lets me know who I can trust, and I still don’t trust Luthor, but ... well, you know what happened with the Somervilles.”

There had been rumours floating for decades that James Somerville had been working with various financial kingpins, not to mention federal and international spy agencies with ties to the Illuminati in a campaign to get his son William into the presidential seat. However William had refused to go along with some of the demands each organisation made, some of which couldn’t be fulfilled until he was in office. It had even been postulated that James had only become as rich and successful as he was because those organisations had been working behind the scenes to get him there. William had tried to expose the deceit and had been killed for it.

“Sometimes it’s better the devil you know,” she said, “and if someone like Webster continues to let himself be manipulated into power ... Luthor refused to be their puppet, and now they’re out to destroy him.”

“But if Luthor wins this war ...”

“He can be controlled a lot more easily than Webster because at least Superman knows his weaknesses. He understands Luthor. Have you never read Sun Tzu?”

Anders frowned at her. Clearly not, she thought.

“Luthor’s fond of quoting from the Art of War. Sun Tzu said: ‘If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles’.”

“I see.”

Moana shrugged. “But I think we’ve gotten off the reason for your visit.”

“I thought you should know there’s going to be an article in the Inquisitor tomorrow.”

“That rag?” she asked.

“They may be a rag, but the Daily Planet would never print the article. They’re not into conspiracy theories.”

***

Vice President Jeffery Madison sat down to breakfast in his apartment at the White House. Ivan had outdone himself this morning, he thought, serving him bacon and eggs with whole wheat toast and maple syrup and more of that delicious French Roast coffee he always liked. Clearly the man was trying to butter him up for something.

There were newspapers scattered on the table and Madison glanced over them. It was usually his job to peruse the major newspapers and check the headlines for any negative news on the president. He glanced over the Washington Post, the New York Times and his gaze fell on the headline above the fold on the Daily Planet.

Superman and Justice League save Chemical Plant
Hundreds of workers saved from toxic fire.

Ivan had also thought to add the Metropolis Inquisitor to the pile, and the headline practically screamed at him.

Illuminati link to Vice President and CIA

Madison gasped, almost spilling his coffee on the carpet as he began reading.

Papers crossed the news desk today detailing a link between the Vice President, the director of the CIA and the Illuminati, an organisation purported to be behind various moves to create a New World Order.

Photographic evidence shows the VP at private party with various American dignitaries which our correspondent claims to be connected with a number of secret societies with ties to the New World Order conspiracy, including Freemasons, the Skull and Bones Society and La Rose Noire.

Former journalist Mark Anders, who is currently being sought as a fugitive by Canadian authorities, came out of hiding long enough to release this evidence saying he has distributed it to all known media organisations in the country.

Well, Madison thought, that would throw cold water on the idea of trying to sell it as just another crackpot theory, especially if major news media picked up the story and ran with it. He would have to nip this in the bud, and fast!

Chapter Text

Episode Five: The Architects of Fear

 

Madison glared at the newspaper as if he had Superman’s heat vision. His mood, which had been quietly simmering the moment he’d got up, was now at boiling point. Hand trembling with his anger, he pressed speed dial one on the keypad of the phone beside him, obtaining immediate connection to Langley.

“Joshua,” he barked without preamble. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you deliberately dropped the ball.”

“Jeff, what are you ...”

“Don’t tell me you have no idea what I’m talking about!” Madison spat angrily. “How long have we been friends? We have discussed this over and over and I thought we’d come to some understanding on how to handle PI 40 and the not so little problem of these so-called superheroes and now I see this garbage in the daily newspaper.”

“Jeff, calm down! Yes, I’ve seen the morning newspapers, but you don’t really think ...” He sighed, sounding tired. “Look, it’s not my fault our beloved el presidente,” which was said with much sarcasm, “is practically in Superman’s lap. The man, or alien, or whatever you want to call him, did save the world from that giant planet, or whatever the hell it was.”

“I’m not talking about that, you idiot! Did you not see the goddamned Inquisitor?”

“That rag?” the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency spluttered.

“I’m talking about Mark Anders. Listen to me, Josh. You know I plan to campaign for the presidential nomination this time around. You want to become Vice President, then we need to get rid of the likes of Anders. If he and his so-called Friends of the Truth get more people on side ...”

“I know, I know Jeff, but ... what about Superman?”

Madison sighed. “Well the VRA was a miserable failure and Superman is more popular than ever. We’re just going to have to go to the mattresses.”

Josh groaned at the quote from The Godfather.

“You’re saying you want to play dirty,” he said.

“That’s precisely what I’m saying. Superman is a threat to our way of life and the sooner the people see that, the better.”

“How? You’re not suggesting ...”

“You know very well what I’m suggesting. Neither one of us have the power that de Rochefort and Masters do. Or would you prefer to leave it to the ‘Men in Black’?” he asked, not without a little dark humour at his old friend’s expense.

“Another thing,” he continued. “Have you got names of anyone who belongs to this Friends of the Truth?”

“We’re looking into it.”

“It’s not good enough. Look, I can feed information on Anders to the press and sell them the story that he’s a drunk or a drug addict; anything to discredit him, but I need some help from you. If we don’t nip this in the bud ...”

“I have already been in contact with Trenholm, not to mention the directors of the FBI and the NSA. They’re pooling their resources.” Trenholm was director of the DDS and she was only too happy to comply with Josh’s requests.

“Damn it, Josh ... Listen to me, unless we find something to discredit Anders completely, the entire operation could be blown! Just handle it!”

Joshua Appleby stared at the phone as the call was abruptly cut off. His friend was panicking, he thought. He saw his own campaign to gain the future presidency in jeopardy and that clearly worried him. There was only so much he could do, he thought.

He accessed his files and opened the folder on Superman. It was already extensive, filled with newspaper clippings from Superman saving Air Force One over two years ago to his latest exploits in Metropolis. There were dozens of editorials, both vilifying and supporting the alien. Some of his agents had even tried to link Superman’s activities to various incidents in Smallville and in Metropolis over the years but they had no definitive proof that Superman was behind any of it. As far as anyone knew, he had only come to Earth a few years earlier.

He was so deep into his reading that he didn’t hear the quiet knock on the door.

“Sir, there is an Isabelle Lewis to see you.”

Frowning, he beckoned the woman standing behind his assistant to enter. She was tall, with long blonde hair. She was a beautiful woman, although a good twenty five years younger than him and her face was indeed very striking. She had an intelligent look, although the sharp angle of her eyebrows gave her face an almost sly expression, like she was forever scheming something.

“Ms Lewis?” He racked his brain, trying to remember where he had heard her name before. She smirked at him.

“You’re thinking, where have I heard of or seen you before? You don’t remember, Director?”

She had a soft accent which was vaguely similar to American, with a slight inflection.

“Canadian Security Intelligence Service,” he said. He had met the woman about five years earlier, around the same time he’d taken up the post of CIA director.

“Very good,” she said. “You were not expecting me?”

“I admit I was not aware of your visit, but ... what can I do for you?”

“Mark Anders. He is a problem, no?”

“You’re asking for an extradition? What exactly has this man done? Other than be a pain in the ass.”

“He is suspected of treason against the Canadian government. We take care of our own, my dear director.”

“I still need a formal request.”

“You shall have it. I have already made a request to the Ministry of Justice in Ottawa. You should receive a formal request in a month or so.” She smiled slyly. “It may help your case somewhat if it became known that Superman ignored our laws and aided and abetted a fugitive from our government.”

Josh was well aware that various spy agencies spied on other agencies as a matter of course, and to have her blatantly admit to knowledge of their ‘problem’ with Superman was confirmation.

“I will see what I can do,” he said. He would have to put pressure on the FBI Director, but they would find Anders. Superman couldn’t protect him forever.

XXXXXXXXX

“Ollie!”

“I’m coming honey,” he called out, washing his hands.

“Well, hurry up,” Chloe said petulantly. “You know what the crowds can be like at the Eiffel Tower.”

“I don’t know what’s so special about it,” he said. “We’ve seen much more incredible things than some old tower.”

His wife looked at him, her nose crinkling.

“Oliver Queen, you have no sense of romance,” she said.

“No sense of ...” He stared at her incredulously. “What about last night? Wasn’t I romantic last night?”

Chloe grinned at him. “Romantic? No. Hot? Definitely. Sexy? Very. But romantic?”

“I will have you know I can be very romantic. I just don’t see anything romantic about a great big hulking piece of steel.”

“It’s not the construction, honey, it’s the idea of it. I mean, it’s the reason people choose that particular location to propose to their partners, year after year.”

“Still not seeing it,” he said, shaking his head.

She sighed. “Yes, dear, whatever you say.” She grabbed his hand. “Come on, let’s go. Lana and Murphy are meeting us there.”

“I still don’t trust that guy,” he replied, following her out of their suite.

“I know, but you know Lana. I mean, this is the woman who fell for Lex and his lies.”

The elevator opened and they entered the car, holding hands as they waited for it to descend.

“Yeah, speaking of Lex,” he said, scratching his upper lip. “Why is Clark having anything at all to do with him? I mean, I kind of agree with Lois. He’s not to be trusted.”

“Well, you know that saying, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’? I think Clark and Lex have a lot more to deal with than their own issues. Especially with the baron.”

“You haven’t been able to find out anymore on him?” he asked as they left the hotel and began walking along the Avenue to find a taxi. Oliver could have called for a car, but he liked the idea of having a little anonymity. He wasn’t well known in France.

“Basic background stuff. Long ancestry, aristocracy, blue blood, the whole shebang. The family dates back even further than the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds and according to our ‘friend’, those families are very high up in the hierarchy and pretty much control everything in the financial world.”

“Still doesn’t tell us how to beat these guys.”

“No. That’s the thing about the Illuminati. They’re insidious.”

“Meaning?”

“Subtlety was never your strong point, was it my darling?”

“I can be subtle.”

A taxi stopped for them and they got in. Oliver spoke in rapid French to the driver, telling him to take them to the Champ de Mars, close to the tower.

Chloe snorted. “You? Hmm, let’s see, when you first met Clark you told him you’d pictured him to be a lot more nerdy.”

“Well, that was the way Lois described him,” he said, shrugging.

“You dress up in green leather for your ‘other job’.”

“Okay, okay, you got me there. What about when we first got together?”

She pretended to frown, pressing close to him to whisper in his ear. “Hmm, you showed me how to shoot one of your arrows. I seem to remember feeling another ‘arrow’ pressed against my backside.”

Oliver’s eyes widened in mock incredulity.

“Hey, can I help it if I get aroused when I have a beautiful woman in my arms?”

“You were all about, what was it you said? Sometimes you have to take the fun where you can get it?”

“Well, that night was fun, wasn’t it?”

“Oh yeah, we had fun all right. We had fun in the middle of Watchtower, in your bed, in your shower, in your bed again, not to mention the living room floor ... I had so much ‘fun’ I could barely move the next day. On the upside, I lost three pounds.”

“That’s what you got out of all that? You lost three pounds?”

“Well, it’s not like I didn’t need it.”

“Are you kidding? You lose any more weight, you’d be skin and bone. I like your curves.”

Chloe sent her husband a loving look. “I’m really glad to hear you say that because in a few months I’m going to have a few more curves.”

Oliver stared at her, slowly breaking out in a huge grin.

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” he asked.

She nodded. “I asked Emil to run some tests last week. I was going to tell you over a romantic dinner, but I just ... I mean, I can keep a secret, but this was just too good to keep to myself.”

“Chloe ...” he said softly, looking deep into her eyes. His gaze slowly dropped to her flat stomach. “We’re going to be ... I’m going to be ...”

“Yes, baby, you are.”

“I love you,” he sighed happily, pulling her close and kissing the top of her head.

The taxi stopped and they got out. Chloe waved to Lana, who was waiting with Murphy. Lana grinned back.

“Hi.”

“Were you waiting long?” Chloe said.

“No,” the brunette answered, shaking her head. She frowned slightly at Oliver who was still grinning like the Cheshire Cat even as he talked with Lana’s companion. “What’s he grinning at?”

Chloe glanced at her husband. “Oh, nothing much. Why don’t we go inside?”

The two women chatted as they made their way up to the restaurant 125 metres above the Champ de Mars. The men slowly trailed behind them, still talking. Chloe had the impression Oliver was trying to dig for more information from Murphy, but the man was clearly on to him. As she’d told her husband, subtlety had never been his strong point.

Le Jules Verne restaurant was busy. Chloe was thankful they had made a reservation weeks in advance. The staff led them to their table, which overlooked the Champ de Mars.

“This is great,” Lana smiled.

The two couples talked on a variety of topics but Chloe was careful to avoid anything that might be political. She watched Murphy’s reactions every time Lana tried to steer the conversation toward anything to do with their Smallville past, noting that the Irishman took a peculiar interest in their reminiscences.

“Remember that guy Ian?” Lana was saying.

Chloe nodded. “I remember him trying to kill us both.”

“The only reason either one of us went out with him was because we were mad at Clark.”

“Yeah, I know. That was when we decided we would never let our feelings for Clark get in the way of our friendship.”

“Clark?” Murphy asked.

“I told you about him, remember?” Lana told him. “He’s our friend from high school. I used to date him.”

“Oh, right,” the redhead grinned.

“He’s married to my cousin,” Chloe said, glancing at Oliver who raised an eyebrow then took the hint and quickly changed the subject.

“So, Murphy, why don’t you tell me a bit about this restaurant,” he suggested.

Chloe shot him a grateful look as Murphy launched into a history of the restaurant and of the Eiffel Tower. He seemed to enjoy having a captive audience, his stories growing more outrageous the longer he went on. Chloe was glad to have the distraction.

Lunch was just as delicious as the reviews had promised although Chloe begged off having any wine. She glanced at her husband, who just winked at her and continued to fill her glass with water. She knew Lana had noticed as her friend cocked an eyebrow at her, but she didn’t make mention of it.

Chloe touched her stomach briefly. She was only about two months along, from what Emil could calculate but the only symptoms she’d had were brief periods of feeling tired and slight sensitivity in some areas of her body. She had expected morning sickness but Emil had told her that not every mother-to-be experienced the nausea and vomiting that Lois had through much of her first trimester with Mara. She’d even been hospitalised at one point due to dehydration, since she’d been vomiting so much. Clark, of course, had been frantic with worry, unwilling to leave her long enough to go out on patrol until Lois had virtually kicked him out of the hospital room.
At least morning sickness didn’t run in families, she thought.

She couldn’t help noticing Murphy peering at her with interest. Chloe fought a shudder. It wasn’t just the pin he wore or the organisation he seemed to be affiliated with. There was something just creepy about the man. He was a good actor. She would give him that. Still, she just couldn’t find anything to like about him.

Chloe wanted to see the third level of the Eiffel Tower, just to get some photos. Oliver had visited France years before, in his early teens, and he declined, saying it was something she should experience without an old cynic butting in where he wasn’t wanted. Chloe cracked a grin at that, loving her husband all the more. Oliver Queen might come across as brash and obnoxious at times but he had a self-deprecating sense of humour.

Heading to the elevator alone, after Lana also decided not to go, Chloe glanced back, frowning as Murphy excused himself, taking out what appeared to be an i-phone. She shook her head as she waited with a tour group.

Oliver continued to chat with Lana and Murphy, who had returned from making his phone call, wishing Chloe would hurry. He wasn’t a huge fan of Lana’s. Not that he didn’t think she was nice enough. She certainly seemed to have done a lot of growing up in the past few years, but from everything he had heard about the woman, it was little wonder that Clark had often felt like a marionette on a string. Not that he thought Lana meant to toy so much with Clark’s emotions. There had been fault on both sides, he supposed. Clark had still been trying to find himself. Still, Lana’s return to Smallville before the experimental procedure which had given her super strength and speed had confused Clark to the point where he had turned to what was familiar.

That was the problem though, Oliver thought. The writer, or whoever it was who had made up the saying, had been right in saying familiarity bred contempt. Okay, so it was more along the lines of the longer someone did something, or knew someone, the more they would take things for granted, but it worked the other way where the longer a person knew someone the blinder they were to their faults.

He had turned his attention back to the brunette when he heard what sounded like an explosion. Startled, he looked up from his vantage point to see the elevator carrying the woman he loved, as well as the tour group she had joined, fall several feet.

“My god!” Murphy said, staring white-faced. “It’s gonna fall!”

Oliver pulled out his phone to tap out a message to Clark, but he’d forgotten about Lana. She dashed forward in a blur. Oliver was stunned to see her grab hold of the bottom of the elevator just as if started to fall and slowly bring it down the shaft to stop on the level.

Chloe looked shaken but unhurt as the doors were pulled open by the operator, who was visibly upset but grateful as Lana stepped onto the level, clearly relieved at the quick conclusion to the emergency.

As soon as she dusted herself off and finished helping the passengers out, a man began babbling to her in French. Oliver couldn’t hear what they were saying to each other but he was too busy hugging his wife.

“God, are you okay?” he asked. “Is the ...”

“We’re fine,” she said softly, gently stroking his face. “We’re fine.”

XXXXXXXXX

Diana had chosen to don her ‘civilian’ disguise as she wandered the streets of Metropolis, watching her sister. The night before, Aresia had been given the evening off babysitting Kal-El’s offspring and the couple had left their daughter with one of their friends for the evening while they had gone out to dinner and dancing. Diana was relieved that Aresia had not been left alone with the child.

She had wanted to tell the couple the truth about her sister; that she was pretending to be someone else. The problem was, she had no idea how to approach the matter without seeming like she was interfering. Kal-El could take care of himself, and Lois Lane-Kent was just as tough and independent. It was something the Amazonian princess greatly admired about the reporter and mother. She had no doubt that Lois would be fiercely protective of her family.

Diana was strictly non-partisan. She had a mandate to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Still, she was torn between her duty to her sisters – Aresia included, and her duty to protect the child. There was also the legal system’s idea that a person was innocent until judged guilty. She didn’t want to think she was judging Aresia purely based on her own prejudices and fears about her sister.

She realised, however, that those fears were not unfounded when she saw Aresia meeting with yet another of their sisters, who had turned her back on the Amazons. Unlike Aresia, who had been granted her powers by the gods, the other, Ephiny, had not been granted powers. She had been allowed to visit Man’s World and had met a man she later married.

Diana had since learned that the man Ephiny, or rather Stephanie, had married, was none other than the very man who, according to Kara, was threatening Mara Kent; Kal-El’s child!

Concerned at the turn this was taking, Diana had decided to head to the apartment where Kal-El and his wife were currently living, determined to enlighten the couple on the danger they were in.

She was not expecting to be confronted by a woman with olive skin and dark brown hair as she stood on the sidewalk, hesitating by the entry to the Kents’ building.

“What are you doing?” the woman asked, scowling at her.

XXXXXXXXX

Lois watched her husband as he chattered away to their daughter. Mara giggled, her legs in the air as she presented her bare backside to her father. She seemed to be refusing point blank to wear the diaper Clark had been trying to put on her and was quite happily lying on her back on the thick towel he’d laid down after her bath.

“Isn’t it a little cold for her?” Lois asked from her vantage point.

Clark looked at her. “We’d know if she was cold. Look at her. She’s quite happy.”

He shook the rattle and Mara turned her head toward the sound, fascinated by the toy. Clark grinned at his wife.

“Mom says sometimes it’s better for the baby to just let them play for a while. Even without clothes. She told me I used to run around naked for the first few months.”

“I know,” she smirked. “I’ve seen the photos. You were such a cute little boy.”

“I’m still cute,” he said deadpan and she laughed.

You have no idea, she thought, remembering the night before. True to his word, Clark had left Mara with Dinah, who had cooed over the baby and promised she would take good care of her while they enjoyed themselves. Lois might have had her issues with the Black Canary but like everyone else in the League, Dinah was besotted with the baby.

Clark had taken her to dinner at Chez Jacques. It was a restaurant which usually required bookings months in advance, but Lois supposed it helped knowing a billionaire. Or two, as the case may be, she thought, thinking of Bruce Wayne, who had been keeping an eye on the current situation.

Lois had been well aware of the sacrifices her husband had to make to be Superman. Ever since Jor-El had temporarily transferred Clark’s powers to her, she had realised just how difficult it was for Clark, especially when he heard a lot of different people in trouble all at the same time. She had often asked him, after she’d learned his secret, how he decided who to help and who not to. Clark couldn’t really give her a straight answer, since it all depended on who needed it most. She still wasn’t clear on it, even after experiencing it for herself, but she at least understood it better.

She continued to watch her husband kneeling on the floor, playing with the baby, knowing how much he needed these little moments to remind him of the good in humanity. He’d often told her she was the one thing that kept him grounded. Superman often saw things in black and white, but she always gave him a good dose of a reality check. He did the same for her in many ways, but he also helped to tone down her natural brashness. Lois could never be accused of being shy.

She sighed softly as the baby began to grizzle. Mara was getting tired by the sound of it.

“Sounds like it’s time for you to go to bed, munchkin,” Clark commented. Mara’s brow scrunched in a passable imitation of a scowl. Clearly Daddy had said a bad word, Lois thought with a laugh.

He quickly got their daughter into diaper and pyjamas, despite her protests, and lifted her, carrying her carefully in his arms as he walked toward Lois.

“Say goodnight to Mommy,” he said.

When Lois had been a teenager, she had gone to visit an old friend of her mother’s. Or rather, her father had gone to visit them and she’d been dragged along. The woman had had a baby about three months before. Lois had watched as the woman spoke baby talk to the infant and she had rolled her eyes, wondering how anybody could do that when it sounded so inane.

Now that she had her own baby she understood. She supposed she was still a little cynical about it, but there was less of the rolling of the eyes when Clark did it. He seemed to enjoy it and Lois had to admit that it did help their daughter learn to communicate.

She kissed her daughter goodnight, then kissed her husband for good measure.

“What do you say we get an early night?” she whispered suggestively.

Clark grinned. He had taken a few nights off patrolling, leaving it to Bart and Victor to keep an eye on things.

“Feeling a little frisky?” he asked, winking at her.

“Hmm, mayyybe,” she said, winking back.

Everyone she knew who had children had told her having a baby tended to put a damper on any kind of sex. It was true that for the first few weeks, Lois had been too tired to do anything except fall into bed, but Clark had done more than his fair share of the work. They had agreed when they’d decided to have a baby, especially so soon after getting married, that they would share in the parenting. Clark loved being a father and he didn’t mind taking on his share of caring for Mara. Now that their daughter was sleeping through the night, that meant her parents had more opportunity for ‘alone time’.

Take the night before, Lois thought. After dinner, Clark had taken her to Wonderland, the retro music club, where they had danced to a selection of seventies and eighties music. Okay, so Clark wasn’t the best dancer in the world, especially when he’d tried some moves to the likes of Staying Alive, but he was a lot better than he used to be, and when it came to the slow dances, well, he was no Fred Astaire but she didn’t care.

A man had tried to persuade her to dance when she had come back from the bathroom to rejoin her husband and had refused to let her go, even when Clark immediately moved to her side. The man wouldn’t believe Lois was married, especially to the geeky-looking guy standing in front of him. Of course, Clark had continued to keep up the persona, even when they were out together, just so no one would connect him to Superman.

“Clark, honey, don’t worry. I can handle this.”

“But Lois,” he protested, using his thumb and forefinger to shift the glasses on his face, giving an aura of discomfort. His posture was stooped, making him seem shorter than his full height of six four and that put him almost at the same height as the creep trying to make time with Lois.

“I said I’ll handle it!” she told him, turning back to the jerk. “Why don’t you get lost?”

“Come on. Ditch the geek. One dance.”

She growled at him. “If I hear you insult my husband one more time, I will deck you!”

“Hey, lady, no need to get violent!”

The man backed off. As he did so, Lois noticed what looked like Amanda Waller sitting in another booth, watching them. She was with a man she recognised from photographs. If she wasn’t mistaken, it was the Marquis de Sade, one of the men rumoured to be with the Illuminati!

Lois looked up from her reverie. She’d forgotten about seeing the man the night before. As Clark returned from putting their daughter down, she started to tell him about what she’d seen, only to be interrupted by the intercom. Clark frowned and went to answer it.

“Who could that be at this time of night?” he asked, then pressed the intercom. “Who is it?”

“It’s Moana. I need to ... oh hell, just let us up.”

Lois cocked an eyebrow at her husband. Us? she mouthed, wondering who was with Moana.

That question was answered a couple of minutes later when the lift doors opened and Moana came out, followed by a woman with dark hair and glasses.

“Forgive the intrusion, Kal-El,” the woman said softly.

Kal-El? Lois thought. “Who are you?” she asked aloud.

“Forgive me, Mrs Kent, or perhaps I may call you Lois. Your cousin, or rather Kal-El’s cousin, has told me much about you and I have become something of an admirer.”

“Oh?”

“My name is Diana,” she introduced herself. “I am princess of the Amazons.”

Lois frowned. “Amazons? I thought they were a myth?”

Moana looked from Clark to Lois, then at Diana.

“Actually, so did I, but then I presumed the stories told about my ancestor were just myths too. Amazons exist, Lois. And we have one hell of a problem.”

“What are you talking about?” Lois asked, staring at Moana.

“I’m talking about the Amazon you’ve let into your home.”

Immediately the couple turned to look at Diana. The princess shook her head.

“No. I am sorry to tell you this but my sister, Aresia ...” She looked away.

“Diana?” Clark asked.

“Aresia is ...”

“Ria!” Lois exclaimed, turning to her husband. “I told you there was something off about her. So much for Ollie and his screening.”

“I don’t think it’s Mr Queen’s fault,” Moana told her. “From what I’ve heard about these people, they are very good at covering their tracks. I’ve been helping Lex with another matter.”

Clark stared at her. “Helping Lex?” he echoed disbelievingly.

“Trust me,” she said wryly, “I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for the principle of the matter. There’s a woman. Stephanie. She’s been trying to seduce Lex.”

“What does she have to do with anything?” Lois said.

“She is not only the wife of Baron de Rochefort, she is also a former Amazon who denounced their ways to return to this world. And she’s working with Aresia.”

Diana nodded. “This is true. I have seen them together.”

“Why would an Amazon work with these people?” Clark asked. “I thought you were given powers by the gods to defend mankind.”

“Yes, but Aresia has no trust in men. She would sooner see all men disappear from this Earth than allow them to rule.”

“Which begs the question ... again,” Lois replied. “Why is she working with these people?”

Moana looked at Diana. The Amazon princess didn’t seem to have an answer to that, but she felt sure she did.

“It sounds to me like she may have her own agenda in this,” she said. “I mean, think about it. If she were to take Mara and raise her as an Amazon, think how powerful that would make her cause against men?”

“There is no way I’m letting that little bitch take my baby,” Lois said fiercely.

“Honey ...” Clark warned her.

“No, Clark! I am not going to just sit here and wait while these people threaten my child.”

“Sweetheart I know that, but getting angry isn’t going to help the situation.”

Moana nodded. “Clark’s right, Lois. Getting emotional clouds your judgement.”

“That sounds like something Batman would say,” Lois growled in frustration.

Moana looked at her. “Batman? I ... I don’t think I’ve met him.”

Diana glanced at the other woman. “Batman tends to keep to himself. It is not to say that he does not work well with others, but ...”

“He prefers to fight his own battles,” Moana sighed. “I understand.” After all, before she had met Bart and Victor she had felt the same way. Even knowing there were others like her in the world hadn’t changed her perspective on the matter.

***

De Rochefort stood before the bathroom mirror, trimming his beard. He was considered a meticulous man, fussy about his appearance, but he had learned a long time ago that image was everything when it came to power. He might not be the most handsome man in his country, but he knew how to make the most of his Gallic looks to get what he wanted.

Stephanie entered the room, dressed in a long silk nightgown, her long blonde hair flowing loosely down her back.

“Comment s’est passée votre rencontre, ma chère?” he asked.

She sighed. “Je suis préoccupé par l’utilisation D’Aresia Elle a clairement sont proper ordre agenda.”

“Vous lui avez clairement fait savoir, vous n’ignoré pas les consequences si elle continue à travailler contre nous?”

“Je l’ai fait, mais elle est têtue.”

“Peut-être a t’elle besoin de plus d’éducation.”

Stephanie took the hint.

“C’est une Amazone avec des Pouvoirs d’une Amazone.”

“Il ya des facons de faire, meme avec des Amazones,” he answered, smiling silkily. Stephanie appeared to shudder. De Rochefort smirked. For all her pretence, she was clearly bothered by the casual way he could plot to destroy someone. Especially someone so close to her.

He turned and held her jaw firmly with thumb and forefinger, pressing hard enough to bruise.

“Ne vous inquiétez pas au sujet de votre sœur, ma chère. Elle va bientôt comprendere qu’il n’est pas dans son intérêt de me doubler.” He let her go and turned back to the mirror. “Dites-moi comment vont les affaires avec Luthor.”

“Il est resistant. C’est comme si il en savez plus que ce qu’il veut bien me dire.”

“Vous pensez peut-être que quelqu’un la averti?”

She nodded. "Je crois que oui."

He turned once again and smirked at her. "Alors peut-être qu'il est temps de le convaincre, non?"

Without warning, he lashed out, slapping her hard across the face, then wrapped his big hand around her throat and squeezed just hard enough to make her choke. Stephanie gasped in pain, blood spurting from a small cut where she had bitten her lip. She stared back at him, one manicured hand covering her face where he had hit her, while the other pushed in vain at his hand at her throat. Even through her hand, de Rochefort could see the skin reddening, swelling a little. Good, he thought.

He dismissed his wife, ordering her to go to bed. She nodded, her eyes wet with unshed tears. He cared little that he had caused her pain. She would do as he bade her because she was his wife. His possession. She would never refuse him.

De Rochefort finished preparing himself for bed, thinking of the many women he had had under his control over the past few years. Stephanie might be his wife, but he was well aware she was not in love with him. Nor he with her. She was in love with power, and that was fine by him. After all, he was a member of the most powerful organisation on Earth. They wouldn’t have existed for hundreds of years had they not been.

“How was your meeting, my dear?”
“I am concerned at using Aresia. She clearly has her own agenda.”
“You have made it clear, have you not, the consequences if she continues to work against us?”
“I have, but she is stubborn.”
“Perhaps she needs further education.”
“She is an Amazon, with Amazonian powers.”
“There are ways, even with Amazons.”
“Do not worry about your sister, my dear. She will soon understand it is not in her best interests to cross me.”
“Tell me how it is going with Luthor.”
“He is resistant. It is as if he knows more than he is saying.”
“You think perhaps someone has warned him?”
“I believe so.”
“Then perhaps it is time we convinced him, no?”

XXXXX

Lex sat in his huge office on the sixtieth floor of the Luthorcorp building, glaring at the letterhead. It was time for a change he decided. He didn’t want his company to be known as just another glaring example of nepotism, as he’d once been accused of. He didn’t want it to be a legacy left behind by someone who had built themselves a virtual Tower of Babel. It was ironic that Lionel had also once accused Lex of the same thing, the year he’d been searching for the stones he now knew formed Superman’s fortress. What was equally ironic about that accusation was that Lionel was the one who had been searching for the stones in the beginning.

Sighing, Lex turned his chair around and stared out at the surrounding buildings. Only a few yards away, the globe atop the Daily Planet spun, continuing its orbit to emulate that for which the newspaper had been named. A few years ago, there had been an explosion and the globe had fallen amid screams from innocent bystanders below, until Superman, then known as the Blur, had managed to halt its descent and returned it to its place. The engineers sent to repair the globe hadn’t been thrilled to find Superman had used his heat vision to weld the thing in place, since it meant they’d have to totally reconstruct the framework that kept it spinning.

It was something the general populace never considered about Superman. To them, he was their hero. Their saviour. The fact that there were times when he caused thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars of property damage in the wake of his pursuits of justice was something they tended to ignore. Not Lex. Ever since the Man of Steel had appeared on the scene, Lex had sent dozens of missives to media organisations reminding them of the amount of taxpayer dollars being spent to clean up Superman’s messes.

Still, none of that changed the fact that he was forced to work with Superman, as much as he loathed the idea, simply because there appeared to be a force with even more power than him. He didn’t like the idea of the Illuminati trying to control the world, but every piece of literature he had read had postulated the same thing. That they sought to control the world’s population, firstly by political and economic means, then by violent ones.

“You seem deep in thought,” an accented voice spoke.

Had Lex been less experienced in feminine wiles, and he had a meteor-affected female to thank for that, he might have fallen for the soft tone, the musical lilt in the voice and the gentle way she spoke. Except he had long ago learned that lesson. He looked up, then was immediately alarmed to notice the pallor of her skin, the bruise she had attempted to hide with make-up.

“What happened?” he asked, unable to hide his concern.

“Nothing,” she said, avoiding his pointed gaze.

Lex got up from his desk, approaching Stephanie with cautious steps, anxious to keep her calm while he remained neutral, a voice in his head telling him not to be fooled by appearances, while another couldn’t bear the thought of a woman being beaten.

But didn’t you do the same to Lana, that voice asked and Lex brutally dismissed it. With Lana it had been different, he told himself, taking Stephanie’s hand and leading her to the leather sofa.

“Stephanie, did he do this?”

“He is my husband,” she told him.

That was not an answer. Lex gently touched the edges of the bruise at her throat. That bastard had not only hit her, he’d choked her.

“Stephanie, he can’t ... you can’t let him get away with this. He could have killed you.”

“You do not understand.”

“Don’t tell me I don’t understand,” he said, as gently as he could.

He’d always sworn when he was married he would never treat his family the way his father had treated his mother and himself. He recalled there had been fights between his parents; fights in which Lionel had hit Lillian. Still, domestic abuse was a phrase that was never spoken in wealthy circles. It didn’t happen.

“You have to leave him.”

Lex recalled once begging his mother to do something similar, the last time she had been beaten by Lionel. Lex had been eleven and old enough to be more aware of the various nuances of his parents’ behaviour. He’d known then that his mother was afraid of his father. He’d once looked into her eyes and they’d reminded him of a stray dog he’d once tried to adopt, before Lionel had had it taken away. The dog had cowered miserably, tail between its legs, and its eyes showed fear and something else.

“You cannot ask me to do that,” she said sadly, looking away from him.

Lex knew it would be pointless. He could not force her to leave. It had to be her choice.

Part of him still wondered if she was using what her husband did to her to gain his sympathy. It just seemed too convenient in many ways. Still, he had never been able to resist a beautiful woman, especially one in pain. At least this way it would give him the opportunity to see whether all this was really just an act or it was genuine.

“Have dinner with me,” he suggested quietly. “I can have my assistant drive you to the penthouse.”

She looked dubious. “I don’t know,” she said slowly.

“At least we can have some time to talk about this.”

Stephanie nodded. “Very well. I will go to your penthouse and we will talk.”

Lex called his assistant, who came in, looking very sombre.

“Mr Berg is here. Also I have the assessment from HR about the applicants for your new security team.” She handed him the file as she spoke.

“Excellent. Sylvia, please drive Madame de Rochefort to the penthouse. Take the BMW.”

His assistant sent him an odd look, but nodded. She glanced at Stephanie, who smiled briefly, then followed the older woman out. Just as the two women left, a man came in. He had a stocky build and short, curly brown hair. An unattractive woman with a large bust followed behind him.

“Otis,” Lex said.

“Yes sir, Mr Luthor. Reporting back as you requested.”

Lex had found Otis a few years earlier, or rather, Otis had found him, saving his life. He had no idea how Otis had come to be near the Arctic, but for him it had been a happy coincidence. After the collapse of the ice crystal structure which had been Clark’s Kryptonian stronghold, Lex had managed to fight his way free of the snow and ice and staggered out into the cold. He had no way of knowing just how far he had managed to walk, collapsing in the snow.

Otis had pulled him out of a snowdrift, frozen and suffering from hypothermia and frostbite, carrying him on his back as he made his way south. From there, Otis had managed to find a medical facility to tend to Lex, who had suffered multiple injuries when ice had fallen on top of him. The staff at the facility had been astounded at Lex’s resilience, but for Lex it had been nothing new. He’d survived worse, after all.

The other man was about as close to being a friend as Lex would have.

“Otis, tell me what you found.”

“You were right, Mr Luthor. There was a facility there, financed by your father.” Lex already knew that but he had sent Otis there with the purpose of checking the facility’s status.

“And the residents?” he asked, smirking at the euphemism. They had been less residents than they were prisoners, although one or two had volunteered for testing. Rather like the meteor mutant who Lex had promised would be given access to as much of the meteor rock serum his father’s scientists had developed as he wanted, as long as he would do him one small favour. Still, when Tommy Lee had chosen to take Clark’s then girlfriend Lana hostage, he had gone too far.

Otis was continuing to give his report.

“The facility was shut down some time ago after some government types started nosing around. We talked to Dr Randall and he said the New Zealand government only got involved after some guy started making all kinds of claims. Some journalist.”

“What can you tell me about Ms Rangihau?” Lex asked. He’d sent Otis down under shortly after he’d realised the journalist was working with Clark.

The woman behind Otis, who had been curiously silent while Otis had been speaking, finally spoke.

“We had difficulties getting any information on her.”

Joy Taylor had been exposed to Kryptonite at an early age. She’d been born with brittle bone disease, but the exposure had given her strength and agility which was above the normal level for a human being. Like many others, she had become mentally unstable, locked up in Belle Reve after trying to attack a group of students at Smallville High. Of course, Clark Kent was the one who had sent her to Belle Reve.

Lex had once employed her as a bodyguard cum assistant, until it became patently obvious that she harboured romantic feelings for him. The last female assistant who had shown such feelings, Gina, had ended up being murdered for her trouble. Lex did not want yet another female bodyguard with such an infatuation and had hoped sending Joy with Otis on such a mission might have eased her obsession. Clearly from her expression it had not helped.

“Do tell,” Lex told her.

“Ms Rangihau is an intensely private person. She has little or no social life and few friends and is not close to any of her work colleagues. She does not volunteer information about her personal life.”

“I see.” Lex had seen evidence of that the few times he’d met with her. “How did my father’s people find out about her?”

“It appears she was seen saving someone from an attack in the city’s clubbing district. They noted she had a peculiar strength. The rumours grew from there about a young woman who was often seen performing such heroics.” Lex smirked. It reminded him a lot of Clark when he was still in high school.

Joy went on to tell him that Moana had been kept at the facility for well over a month, until they’d been forced to let her go, along with all the other ‘residents’. They’d talked to the journalist who had first exposed the facility, but he had refused to give them any more information.

Lex was disappointed at the reports. Neither one of them had been able to tell him something he hadn’t already known about Moana. It seemed she had covered her tracks extremely well.

“There was something else,” Otis said before Lex could dismiss him.

“What is it?” he asked, already weary.

“There have been other people asking about her. That’s what we were told by the guys she worked with, Mr Luthor.”

“Who?”

Otis frowned at him, then his eyebrows shot up as he comprehended Lex’s meaning.

“We don’t know. They just said the people had foreign accents. Like French, maybe. Or Italian.”

Well, that was different, Lex thought. It seemed that Moana hadn’t been as good at covering her tracks as he thought, especially if the people asking questions about her were connected to the Illuminati.

He sent Otis and Joy away, flicking through the thin file Otis had given him. Some of the reports contained in the file were observations from the facility. The doctors had concluded that Moana’s abilities were natural rather than attained, which was the same as what Lex had learned just from observation. She had been at least semi-co-operative, although he concluded it was mostly the drugs the doctors had used to keep her docile, until a few days before they’d been forced to release her. It was then Lex realised she had been assaulted by the guard.

Randall had taken no action against the guard, who still remained in Luthorcorp employ to this day. After the facility had been forced to close down, the man had taken a position in one of Lionel’s satellite companies. He’d been promoted to head of security at that company before being transferred to the Metropolis corporate headquarters. Lex himself had signed the approval.

Forgetting for a moment that his assistant had been escorting Stephanie to his penthouse, Lex pressed the buzzer for the intercom. When he received no reply, he went out, realising where she had gone, and decided to head down to the security wing. The guard on duty stared at him, then stood up.

“Mr Luthor, sir, how may I help you?”

“You can call your boss out here.”

“Uh, sir?”

“Benjamin. I want to see him. Immediately!”

The man’s face paled, then he turned on his heel and opened a door, disappearing through it. A few moments later, a tall bearded man came out.

“Mr Luthor?”

“Benjamin. I’d like to speak with you privately.”

“Uh, sir, I have a lot of work to ...”

“Now!” Lex said with a glare. He made it clear it was an order that better be obeyed. Benjamin swallowed visibly.

“Yes sir,” he said, turning to the guard. “Hold down the fort.”

Lex turned and strode out, not looking back to see if the security man was following. He returned to his office and picked up the file with Moana’s photograph.

“You have some explaining to do, Benjamin.”

“I don’t quite understand, sir.”

“Don’t you? I have it on good authority that you not only abused your position you also took advantage of a young woman.”

Benjamin stared at him, his blue eyes incredulous.

“Coming from you, Mr Luthor, I hardly think that’s fair.”

“Don’t talk to me about what’s fair!” Lex hissed. “She was vulnerable and you forced her to have sex with you. In the eyes of the law, that is rape and I will not condone it.”

“She wanted it.”

“She was drugged.” He glared at the other man. “Pack your things. You’re fired! After I am through with you, there will not be a company in this city that will hire you.”

“I’ve got a wife and kids ...”

“You should have thought of that before you raped the girl. Get out! And if I see your face on these premises, I will have you arrested.”

“You goddamn hypocrite! You and your old man were experimenting on these people and you’re calling me a criminal? The only thing I did was have a little fun with the girl! You on the other hand think it’s fine to fuck with their heads.”

“Don’t presume to tell me ...”

Lex didn’t have a chance to finish as Benjamin whipped a gun out seemingly out of nowhere. Lex required all his corporate security staff to be armed but he had figured the security chief wouldn’t be. He stared at the other man, realising he should have really thought about this confrontation. He ducked out of the way as the first shot went wild, hitting the glass pane. A second shot grazed the wooden desk and a splinter gashed his cheek, less than a quarter of an inch from his eye.

Suddenly there was a whoosh and a swirl of red in front of his face. Shots bounced off the not inconsiderable chest as Superman stood tall. Benjamin screamed in rage, whirling to leave and Superman was there in a heartbeat, stopping the man from leaving, tapping him on the head.

He turned and looked at Lex, who had finally got up, his cheek bleeding.

“What was that all about?”

“Nothing,” Lex said. “A misunderstanding.”

“I doubt that,” Clark answered. “People don’t try to kill you over a misunderstanding.” He canted his head. “Then again ... I remember people trying to kill you over less back in Smallville.”

For a moment, Lex was reminded of the boy he knew. He smiled briefly.

“Thanks, Cl ... Superman,” he amended, eyeing the uniform. “This is a personal matter.”

“I can drop him off at the police station,” Clark offered.

“No. I ...” He heard the sound of a cough and looked up, realising to his consternation that Moana was standing in the doorway. “How long have you been there?” he asked.

“Long enough,” she shot back, glancing over her shoulder. Security had clearly heard the commotion. “Superman,” she added coolly, who nodded just as coolly.

Lex wondered the reason for the attitude, until he realised that the two of them were just trying to keep it professional in view of the circumstances.

“I can handle this,” he said, glancing back at the unconscious man. “I’ll place a call to the police right now.”

Clark nodded. “All right.” He was gone in a flash of red and blue.

Lex looked at Moana, who was now staring at the unconscious man. It was clear she recognised him.

“What did you do?” she asked.

“Tracked him down. Turns out he has been working here in this building for the past year.”

“And what were you planning on doing with him?”

“Making sure he paid for what he did to you,” Lex answered.

She stared at him, incredulous. “You really think that makes up for everything that happened to me? Or everything you’ve done?”

“I told you, I don’t condone ... I would never ...”

“You just don’t see it, do you? You don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.”

“Those people are dangerous and psychotic. If they could be contained ...”

“Those people? You mean, people like me.”

“You’re not psychotic.”

“And who are you to decide who is? What the hell makes you think you’re qualified to make those kinds of judgments?”

“Look, I just ...”

“Don’t you dare put this back on me,” she told him, clearly reading him. He’d just been going to remind her of what he’d done to the man who had hurt her. “Maybe I’m not perfect but I have never exploited someone for their differences. You, on the other hand, think you can play God with people’s lives.”

“I’m not the one playing God,” Lex shot back.

“If you think that’s all Superman does, then you don’t know him at all.”

“Oh look, it seems Superman has his very own fan club,” he snarked.

“You’re just jealous because people trust him. Besides, he’s not the one you should be worried about.”

She was right. They had bigger problems than Superman and his agenda. Lex still thought Superman was the advance man for his alien civilisation. Even as he protested his innocence, Lex was sure there were other Kryptonians out there just waiting for the opportunity to take Earth for themselves. There were times when he wondered if he had made a mistake turning his back on the Illuminati. Anything was infinitely more preferable to becoming slaves to an alien race.

“Don’t make that mistake,” Moana said softly after the security team had taken Benjamin away to be dealt with by the police. Lex would send the police a report later, leaving out Moana’s name. It didn’t matter if information about the research in the facility came to light, since his name was not connected to any of it. Lionel was dead and the law couldn’t prosecute a son for the sins of his father.

“What mistake is that?” he asked finally.

“Trusting the Illuminati. If it came down to a fight between Kryptonians and the Illuminati, they would crumble. Superman would be our only hope, and you know it.”

Lex chose not to answer, no matter how right he thought she was.

Moana sighed, clearly coming to an understanding.

“I appreciate what you were trying to do,” she said, “but it still does not change my opinion of you, or of the things you’ve done. You’ve experimented on people without their consent and that’s no better than what that man did to me. Like I said the other day, it doesn’t have to be physical.”

XXXX

Huntsville, Texas

Naja da Silva stared sullenly at the older man, wondering what he could possibly want with the Wild Bush 300. Especially after the confrontation with Superman in Smallville.

The sheriff had learned there were a number of outstanding warrants for da Silva in Texas, and he’d been transferred to await trial.

“What do you want?” he asked the older man.

“My name is Henri Ducard. I am here to help you.”

“Help me do what?”

“Get revenge on Superman,” Ducard smiled.

XXXXX

Sir Allistair Phillips entered the private office, closing the door. His staff at Chatham House knew when he used this office that he was not to be disturbed for any reason. He had heard the matter discussed by some of the younger ones and understood their curiosity, but he never disclosed his reasons, and certainly did not allow anyone else in this office.

Crossing to the desk in the centre of the room, the man known only to those in the inner circle of Illuminati as Number One pulled out what appeared to be a keyboard shelf from beneath the desk and pressed the underside of the desk top above. A screen was lowered from a small alcove and moved smoothly into position in front of a bookshelf.

Sir Allistair opened a drawer on the right hand side of the desk and pressed a key on the small keypad. The screen showed only black for a few seconds before an image appeared. A redheaded man wearing the badge of the Golden Dawn looked calmly at him.

“What news do you have?” Number One asked the Irishman.

While Golden Dawn was not officially a part of the inner circle they were given certain leeway, allowing them to pass on important information. Their members were able to contact those in the upper echelon, but were never told their true identities. Allistair was well aware that the other man only saw him as a distorted image.

He studied Murphy O’Shea for a few moments. He had, of course, read the dossier on the man, who was currently working in the tourism bureau in Paris. It was a cover, since he had been assigned to locate one of Superman’s allies.

“The elevator fell as planned but we have a new complication.”

“Elaborate.”

“Lana Lang. She has extraordinary abilities. We had hoped Superman would turn up but he did not show.”

“I must know more. Have you questioned her?”

“She merely implied she came about these abilities naturally.”

The Illuminati leader highly doubted that. This merited more investigation. Clearly someone had not been doing enough to learn more about Superman’s allies.

He ordered O’Shea to continue to get close to the woman and try to find out the truth about her abilities while he made plans to get one of his people to do their own investigation. Perhaps Yves or his wife, he thought.
Sir Allistair signed off, then sat down in the chair, leaning back and steepling his fingers as he contemplated the situation. Lana Lang having her own set of abilities was a complication, but nothing he couldn’t resolve.

XXXXXXXX

Lana dressed in a simple skirt and chiffon blouse, adding light dabs of perfume at her pulse points on her throat as she contemplated her reflection in the mirror. Arms snaked around her waist.

“I could come with you,” Murphy suggested lightly.

“It’s the Louvre,” she told him. “You’ve probably seen it a hundred times already.”

The redhead pouted. Lana sighed. What was it with men and their puppy dog looks. The only man who had never done it to her was Lex, but then again, he usually tried to manipulate her to get what he wanted.

She couldn’t believe that Clark and Lex were working together, albeit reluctantly. Lex Luthor was a man not to be trusted. She and Oliver didn’t agree on much but at least they agreed on that.

There had been times, over the past few years anyway, when Lana had wondered if she should go back to Smallville. It was, after all, the only real home she’d ever known, even if Nell had long since moved to Metropolis.

She remembered once telling Clark that life was about change. “Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s beautiful. Most of the time it’s both.” That was the way she thought about Smallville at times. Her memories were painful, but she had some good ones too. Most of those, of course, involved Clark.

The last time they’d met up in Paris, they’d had a long talk. It had been painful both physically and emotionally for Clark, since she was still pretty much a walking meteor rock magnet.

She still remembered that day. Clark had asked for Chloe’s help in trying to find Lana. She had been walking along the Seine river when she had seen him, stopping in her tracks.

“Clark!” she said breathlessly.

“Hi, Lana,” he said, sounding a little hesitant. She stepped toward him and he took a step back.

“Sorry,” she said. “I forgot.”

“It’s okay, but I’d rather keep my distance, if you don’t mind.”

The last thing she wanted to do was hurt Clark. He was, after all, the man she’d once thought was the love of her life.

“Do you mind if we, um, walk?” he said.

“How did you find me?” she asked as they began walking.

“Chloe.”

“Oh.”

“Lana, I ...” he began, just as she said: “Clark, I ...”

“You first,” he said.

“I’ve been thinking a lot since I’ve been here. About us. And the thing is ... the thing is, I sometimes wonder if we were ever meant to be.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I know. I’ve been thinking about that too. Lana, it’s not that I don’t still have feelings for you, but they’re more like ... I don’t know, fond memories, I guess. It’s like, you know, watching home movies. You remember having those feelings, in those moments, but ...”

“They’re like a distant memory,” she sighed.

“I keep thinking about those weeks when you came back to Smallville. I have to ask, Lana, did you really come back for me, or Prometheus?”

“I’d be lying if I said it was just for you,” she admitted.

“Did you take it simply because you didn’t want Lex to have it, or because you really thought you could do some good with it?”

She looked at him evenly. “I think you know the answer to that. Look, Clark, I know I screwed up a lot of things. I guess I just didn’t want to see that being with Lex changed me in ways that I couldn’t imagine and couldn’t possibly foresee.”

“You once said life is about change, but the thing is, it shouldn’t fundamentally change who you are, or what you believe in. You once believed in doing good things. You once believed in me.”

“I still believe in you, Clark.”

“Do you? I mean, when did it become about my powers, Lana? When did you start believing that the only way we could be together was by us both having powers?”

“I don’t know. I guess I always wondered why you shied away from me. It’s like you were afraid to hurt me.”

“But when you got powers you did hurt me. Even if it was because of Lex.”

She stared at him.

“Why are you talking like this, Clark?”

“I ... I’m in love with someone. I haven’t even told her yet. Actually, we kind of haven’t even been on a date yet. I guess I’ve known there’s something there for a while, I just didn’t want to face it. I just ... I didn’t think it would be fair to you, thinking there was a chance ...”

“It’s Lois, isn’t it?”

He looked at her, then nodded.

“I think I always knew,” she said softly. “Ever since she arrived in Smallville, I always knew there was something between you two.”

It hurt. In fact it hurt like hell. Like her heart was being ripped out. Still, Lana was being truthful. She had seen it right from the start, even if Lois and Clark had been in denial.

The months she had spent in Paris, licking her wounds, Lana had gone over and over everything that had happened and she had wondered if the reason she had let herself believe it would work was not because she truly loved Clark, or at least, was in love with him, but because it was something familiar.

The thing was, the last time she had gone back, she hadn’t gone back for Clark at all, but because Oliver had asked her to go back for Chloe’s wedding. So she could be there to support her friend. After all, Chloe was the one who had offered her a place in her home when Nell had moved to Metropolis, so she could stay at Smallville High.

When she’d seen Clark again, she’d been torn. Some of the old feelings were still there, but in many ways they had changed, becoming something like an old blanket that she should have thrown away long ago, but kept because it reminded her of warmth and security. Yet her relationship with Clark had been anything but warm and secure. There’d been so many fights. So many times when she’d wondered if it was worth the heartbreak.

She’d been prepared to tell Clark that she’d moved on from them. She had seen it in his eyes too. He’d begun to move on. Then he’d kissed her and her resolve to keep things platonic between them had gone out the window. It wasn’t just that Clark was not afraid to have sex with her – probably because she now had powers, but she supposed it was because he too felt it was safe and familiar. Lana thought she knew, even then, that he had feelings for Lois, even if they were just new, but he hadn’t been ready to face them.

She had wondered if perhaps Clark had turned back to her because he hadn’t been ready to leave his ‘comfort zone’. It was like a person who hated their job but they were afraid to try getting another one because it was something new. Some people just couldn’t handle change.

“I can’t say that I’m not hurt, but I’ve had a lot of time to think about things. I think I always had my doubts about us. I guess that’s why we kept going back and forth all the time. Like the reason we could never catch a break was because it wasn’t meant to be. And you’re right, about the distant memory thing.”

Clark stopped walking and looked at her.

“I need to know that you’re going to be okay,” he said. “I never wanted to hurt you, Lana.”

She smiled gently at him, even if it still hurt. She would always love him, but she realised now it would never be a lifetime love.

“Do you really love her, Clark?”

Clark smiled, his expression giving her all the answer she needed. His face lit up, his eyes sparkled. That was definitely the face of a man in love.

She wished she could touch him, even to hug him goodbye.

“Hey, where are you?”

Lana looked up at Murphy. They had only been seeing each other a few weeks. She hadn’t slept with him and wasn’t sure she wanted to. After all the disastrous relationships she’d had, Lana had learned the hard way to take time to get to know her partners. To be really sure of her feelings before she got too involved.

“Just thinking,” she said.

He turned her around and put his arms around her.

“About what?”

“Oh, nothing. Just old memories.” She glanced at the clock. “I better go. I don’t want to be late meeting Chloe and Oliver.”

Murphy frowned. “I’m not so sure about this Oliver. How well do you know him?”

“Hey,” she said, jabbing him lightly in the ribs while keeping her tone light. “He’s married to my best friend and I trust Chloe. He’s a good guy.”

“All right.” He seemed satisfied. “You better get going or you’ll be late.”

“Meet you for dinner later?” she asked.

“Sure,” he smiled.

The smile faded from his face as soon as Lana had walked out the door. Murphy turned and began looking through the papers in the desk drawer before taking out a flash drive and plugging it into the computer as he switched it on. He pressed a couple of keys and the drive began working, taking copies of all the files on the hard drive.

Once he was done, Murphy made sure the laptop was shut down and nothing was out of place. He left the apartment, heading to his car and driving to his own place a few blocks away.

Once in his apartment Murphy opened up his own laptop, booting it up and downloading files from the flash drive. Once the files were on the computer he began perusing them. It didn’t take long before he found exactly what he needed. It was an email from a Dr Groll with the subject line: ‘Prometheus’.

Ms Lang, as much as it pains me to admit it, I have been unable to find an antidote for the Kryptonite. Mr Luthor was very specific in his demands when we designed the Prometheus suit. The procedure cannot be reversed and the Kryptonite cannot be extracted. To my knowledge there is no substance or machine with that capability, not without completely neutralising the suit. You would lose your abilities.

Prometheus, he thought. He picked up his phone and fired off a quick message to his superiors in the Golden Dawn. They would get a message to the Illuminati. Murphy might not have found all the answers but he had a place to start.

Meanwhile, Lana walked quickly toward the Louvre. She paused at the glass and steel pyramid, shaking her head. The construction had been controversial at best. Many Parisiennes hated it and looked down on those who loved it.

Chloe and Oliver were waiting for her, talking quietly. They turned at her shout and smiled.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly.

“That’s okay. We were just talking,” Oliver answered, looking around. “No Murphy?”

“He had to work,” she told him, frowning a little at the expression of relief on his face.

“Do you want to get a coffee first?” Chloe suggested.

“Honey ...”

“Decaf,” Chloe assured her husband. “I’m drinking decaf.”

Lana frowned at her friend. Why would a coffee junkie like Chloe suddenly switch to decaf, unless she was ...

“Chloe? Are you ...?

Chloe grinned. “Yeah, I am. Just don’t tell Clark and Lois. We want to tell them.”

“Oh, my lips are sealed.”

They began walking toward the nearby coffee shop, sitting down in a booth just inside the door. The waitress came over and took their orders.

“So, when are you due?” Lana asked.

“Next summer.” Oliver answered this time, putting a hand on Chloe’s and looking lovingly into her eyes.

Lana would not have believed it had she not seen it for herself. She and Oliver hadn’t really had that much to do with each other, especially since when he’d first moved to Metropolis she had been living with Lex. She’d always thought Oliver Queen was too much of a playboy, but he clearly adored Chloe.

The waitress returned with their drinks and Oliver turned his attention away from his wife.

“So, anyway, we wanted to talk to you first. About Murphy.”

“What about him?” she asked, sipping her French Roast.

“We don’t trust him.”

Lana had learned a long time ago that Chloe could be brusque when she needed to but she never said anything without good reason. She asked her friend to elaborate.

“Have you seen the pin he wears?”

She nodded. “He told me it was for a group back home. Like Freemasons.”

“You know the Freemasons are rumoured to be connected to the Illuminati.”

“That’s just a fairy story. Isn’t it?”

“Not when they’re targeting Mara, no,” Chloe answered. “Anyway, we just wanted to ... Lana, the thing is, we’re concerned about your friendship with him.”

“I haven’t slept with him.”

Oliver shook his head. “We didn’t need to know that, but I’m relieved you haven’t. It’s just ... how did you meet him, anyway?”

“I was just walking and bumped into him. We got to talking and he asked me out.” She frowned at them. “What is the big deal?”

Lana listened as Chloe told her the pin Murphy wore was for a group known to dabble in the occult and with a suspected affiliation to the Illuminati. She knew Clark and Lois had been targeted, especially for their baby daughter, but she had no idea they might be targeting Superman’s allies as well.

Part of her wanted to dismiss it; tell them they were imagining things, but she’d lived with Lex Luthor for months and had learned to spot when someone was not being completely honest with her. There were things about Murphy that didn’t seem right. Niggling doubts that had her second-guessing him.

XXXXXXXX

Senator Miranda Clifford strode with purpose through the halls of power. A tall woman with a severe hairstyle, she inspired fear in the executives that worked in the Capitol building and was known as formidable to her enemies.

As she entered the meeting, it was clear there had already been some discussion. The men turned to look at her. Senator Kelley raised an eyebrow, his expression clearly remarking on her tardiness, but she didn’t care. She never apologised for being late to meetings. Or for anything else.

Committee head Dawkins glared at her.

“Senator, we were just discussing these documents,” he said, holding up a sheaf of papers. “Frankly, I’m concerned that you would even suggest such things about a member of the senate.”

“Nonetheless, I believe my concerns merit investigation.”

“You believe Martha Kent has connections with Superman?”

“Since that ... alien ... appeared on the scene, Martha Kent has been outspoken in her support of him. She refuses to acknowledge that he may pose some threat to our way of life.”

“The man, or whatever he is, is out there helping people. I fail to see how that constitutes a threat.”

Miranda still remained standing instead of sitting as Dawkins bade her. She felt it gave her a position of power over the four men in the room.

“Superman is dangerous.”

“Dangerous to your ambition, perhaps,” another senator sneered. “What a bitch!”

She canted her head at the man, while shooting him a hostile glare.

“Let’s not descend into exchanging childish insults like we’re on a playground,” Dawkins cautioned.

“I still say Senator Kent’s activities need investigation,” Miranda told him. “Or are you not aware that her son and daughter-in-law appear to have a close friendship with Superman.”

“They do write a lot of the stories in the Daily Planet,” Kelley pointed out. Miranda shot him a look, but said nothing.

“That still does not give me cause for concern. A lot of people support Superman. Even our own president is in full agreement.”

“Which just goes to show our president is more interested in winning votes than in actually looking after the interests of the people,” she returned.

“The people or your pocket?” another senator muttered.

“How dare you?” Clifford responded.

“Well, let’s face it, Miranda, your financial investments have taken a bit of a pounding since Superman appeared on the scene.”

“Perhaps we should be investigating your bias against Superman,” a third senator asked.

“Just what exactly are you implying?”

“The crime rate in Metropolis was climbing sky-high before the Blur, aka Superman showed up.”

XXXXXX

“I’ve heard enough,” Bruce said, bringing the recording to an end.

Diana and Steve Trevor looked at him. Diana was dressed in her civilian attire. Plain suit and black-rimmed glasses. Bruce wondered again if Steve knew Diana’s true identity and why she continued to hide it from him. Still, it wasn’t his problem.

“I’m interested to know what investments they were talking about. Senator Clifford is from Gotham, isn’t she?”

“She could still have investments in Metropolis,” Diana pointed out quietly.

“Still, Steve has a point. I’m also curious as to the nature of these investments. If I’m understanding what they’re implying, she may have connections to some criminal organisations. I have a powerful friend. I’m sure I can get him to talk to his contacts and see what he can find out.”

Diana shot him a look. She knew he was Batman, but it was clear Steve didn’t.

“Well, I hope your friend is as intimidating as he looks. I know I’m intimidated,” he said.

Bruce offered an awkward smile.

“Have you heard any more about the people targeting Superman?”

“No,” the Secret Service agent answered. “But I have been doing a little more digging into this John Crawford character.”

“The NSA agent,” Bruce stated. “What about him?”

“He’s been seen with Senator Kent’s niece. From what I’ve heard about him, the guy has strange tastes.”

“I’m sure Linda knows what she’s doing,” Diana said softly.

Steve shook his head. “Linda strikes me as a little naive. I really don’t think she knows what she’s getting into. Besides, I’ve heard the guy has ‘connections’. Do you know of an Isabelle Lewis?”

Bruce shook his head. “Should I?”

“She’s with the Canadian Intelligence Service. She’s a bitch, and that’s being civil. According to my information, she knows Crawford very well.”

“Well, I’m sure the NSA and the Canadian Intelligence Service would work in similar circles ...”

“We think perhaps there is more to it,” Diana answered. “We think that Mr Crawford and Ms Lewis are actually working for the Illuminati. That they were placed in their respective agencies by the group.”

Then Kara was in more danger than she realised, Bruce thought.

XXXXXXXXXX

Kara looked at the man standing beside her. John seemed nice. Even friendly. She still worried sometimes about his agenda, but so far, he hadn’t made any moves on her that alarmed her. That was half the problem. The waiting.

She knew he knew exactly who she was, but he still hadn’t revealed that fact. He just kept asking her out, wining and dining her as if he was just a normal guy asking a pretty girl out on dates. She’d caught him looking at her a couple of times with an expression on his face that could only be lust, but it was something so dirty that it made her shudder inwardly.

Kara had learned a long time ago how to lie. How to hide her abilities behind a mask. As much as she hated the idea, she knew she had to protect not only herself, but her cousin as well.

“So what do you think of our nation’s capital?” Crawford asked.

He’d offered to take her on a tour of DC, showing her sights she imagined weren’t on any of the normal tourist attractions. She’d seen enough to realise that he was trying to impress her with his knowledge, clearly thinking that she would be interested. Not that she wasn’t, but she was too nervous, wondering what he was trying to achieve.

Lois had once told her that sometimes men tended to over-think things when they were trying to, as Lois put it, get in a girl’s pants. Kara was beginning to get the feeling that that was John Crawford’s ultimate goal. His mission, or whatever it was, seemed to come second to that.

John looked at his watch, then took her hand.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“You’ll see,” he said mysteriously.

Kara let him lead her to the street alongside the mall. There was a limousine waiting on the corner. As soon as they approached, a man got out, wearing a typical chauffeur’s uniform and hat. He nodded solemnly and saluted, opening the back door.

Kara frowned as the chauffeur held out a hand and helped her inside the car. It seemed her companion was going all out to seduce her. What purpose could he possibly hope to achieve, she thought.

John watched the young woman as the limousine was driven through the streets. She seemed curious and impressed in spite of herself. He knew it would take a lot to impress the girl, but he was prepared for that. He had reserved a table at the finest restaurant in DC and planned to persuade her that he was just a normal guy with nothing more on his agenda than to romance a pretty girl.

The truth was, he hoped to turn Kara to his side, thinking that with a super hero on their side the Illuminati would be invincible. Unlike Superman, who appeared to be incorruptible, Supergirl had a vulnerable side. She understood that sometimes the price of being what she was knowing that she would always be alone.

He smirked as Kara exclaimed over the opulence of the restaurant. It had been expensive, but worth it just to see the look on her face. Kara was clearly easily swayed by what any normal woman would consider a romantic gesture.

Later that night, Kara said goodbye to John, standing on the steps of the apartment building. As soon as the limousine turned the corner, Kara went back down the steps and into the alley, first making sure no one could see or hear her, then launched herself into the air. She landed on the fire escape outside the apartment window, which was ajar, and climbed inside.

“Kara, sweetie, what is it? Why are you using the fire escape?”

“It’s a long story, Aunt Martha, but right now I need to change my clothes.”

She returned from her room within seconds wearing black clothing.

“You’re going out again? Kara, it’s after midnight.”

“I know, Aunt Martha, but ... I will explain later, I promise.”

“Does it have anything to do with the man you have been seeing? The NSA agent?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding. “I think he’s trying to convince me to work with him and his people.”

“Kara, dear, please be careful.”

“I will,” she said, giving her aunt a brief peck on the cheek. “I promise.”

She left the apartment, launching once again into the air, managing to locate the limo which was only a couple of blocks away. Kara followed the car until it reached the hotel where John was staying. He had an apartment in Metropolis, since he was primarily based there, but had told her he was in DC on ‘business’.

Kara perched on the roof of the building opposite the hotel, watching as Crawford went in, only to emerge a few minutes later in a black saloon. She followed the car as it drove out of DC and along the highway to Fort Meade. It seemed he was heading to NSA headquarters. What was he planning on doing this time of night, she wondered.

Kara flew over the security gate and used superspeed to evade all the sensors and security cameras. She hovered just overhead, waiting until someone opened the door, clearly going outside for a break and slipped in before the door closed.

She continued on through the complex, glancing through office doors until she found one that wasn’t occupied. Again she wondered why people were still working at this time of night, but it seemed that ‘intelligence agencies’ never stopped.

There was a small office which seemed no more than what Clark and Lois would call a ‘cubbyhole’. It was so tiny there was barely any room for the desk on which was a desktop PC. Kara went to switch on the computer, glancing around and frowned at the painting on the wall. It was big enough to cover the entire back wall of the office and seemed far too big for such a small office.

She narrowed her eyes, using her visual acuity to focus in on the painting. She had studied a little art history and realised the painting was one that was supposedly in the British Museum. It had been painted in the mid-sixteenth century by a Dutch Renaissance artist.

The most interesting thing about it was not the painting itself, but the safe behind it. Kara quickly moved over to the painting, taking it off the wall to reveal the safe with the old-fashioned tumbler. Using her super-hearing, Kara quickly spun the tumbler until she heard the clicks and opened the safe.

Inside she found a pile of folders. She glanced at the names and held her breath. They were dossiers on Clark and Lois as well as several members of the Justice League. Beneath those was another folder, and a memo from the office of one Allistair Phillips of Chatham House, addressed to John Crawford. Kara frowned. What possible connection could a think tank have with the Justice League?

She skimmed what was in the files, her ire growing by the word. There was clearly a lot more to Chatham House and Sir Allister Phillips than just a ‘think tank’. She needed to get this information to Clark.

Just as she shut the safe and returned the painting to its place, she froze, hearing a voice coming down the corridor. Kara stared through the wall. Crawford!

XXXXX

De Rochefort glanced at his Rolex as he emerged from the limousine and swept into the restaurant of the Metropolis Hilton, ignoring the seating hostess, who called after him.

“Sir, you can’t just ...”

He turned and glared at her coldly.

“I am Baron Yves de Rochefort, madame.”

“Sir, there is a waiting list.”

“I am a guest at this hotel,” he told her, his accent heavy. “I wait for no one.”

“Sir, we have no empty tables.”

“I do not care,” he told her brusquely. “Empty a table.”

“What is the problem here?” A man in his late thirties came out from an office. He had a badge on his blazer stating ‘Manager’.

“This ... girl tells me I must wait for a table,” de Rochefort told him snootily. “I am a guest at this hotel and I wait for no one.”

The manager looked at the girl.

“Find him a table,” he snapped.

“The restaurant is full and I have no reservation.”

“I do not need a reservation,” de Rochefort snapped at her. Stupid young woman, he thought. “I am a guest at this hotel.”

“Of course, sir, please come this way,” the manager said, sending the girl a vicious look.

De Rochefort followed the man into the dining area of the restaurant, smirking to himself. He would speak to the hotel manager in the morning and make sure the girl was fired. How dare she tell him what he could or could not do?

He was led to a table with a reserved sign on it, which was taken away. He sat down, ignoring the stares of the other diners.

“Are you dining alone this evening, sir?”

“Mais oui.”

“Perhaps I can interest you in a drink?”

“Cognac,” he replied.

“Of course, sir, coming right up.”

He ignored the man, who snapped his fingers at the waiter and spoke harshly to the young man, who appeared to be barely out of his teens. Clearly eager to please, the manager had the staff hopping to serve him and de Rochefort was served quickly and efficiently his dish of Coq au Vin made almost to perfection.

After dinner, he sat smoking a cigar and sipping from his third glass of cognac. He heard the protests from other diners, but ignored them.

“Vous savez fumer à l'intérieur est illegal maintenant, mai pas pour vous?” a woman said.

“Je me soucie peu des lois.”

“C’est ce que j’al toujours admire dans l’aristocratie francaise. Vous pourriez commettre des assassinat et personne ne dirait rien.”

He looked at the woman. She had the classic blonde hair, blue eyed look so sought after by many. She spoke with a soft accent which suggested some German ancestry.

“Puis-je me joindre a vous?" she asked.

He waved his hand and she clearly took that as assent.

“Où est votre charmante épouse ce soir?” she enquired.

“En d'un voyage d'affaires,” he told her. “Vous étes?”

“Mon Nom est Elsa. Elsa Brunning.”

“Je vois.”

“Non, Baron, je ne pense pas que Vous voyez, j'ai été un adepte d'un homme du nom de Gordon Godfrey. Êtes-vous familier avec son travail?”

“Non je le suis pas.”

“Godfrey a essayé de raconter au monde sur les vigilants et quand Superman s'est révélé à nous, Godfrey a été vilipendé.” She leaned forward. “Je ne sais pas ce qui s'est passé avec Godfrey , mais je fais partie d'un groupe qui croient Godfrey avait raison. Superman et la soi-disant Ligue de Justice ne sont que des vigilants. J'écris un blog et je n'ai plus de cent mille fidèles.”

De Rochefort was interested in spite of himself, but she was yet to explain why she had approached him.

“Je connais votre intérêt pour Superman, Baron. Nous avons besoin de votre aide. Vous voyez, cent mille adeptes n'est pas suffisant. Nous devons faire passer çe message là que Superman est une menace pour notre mode de vie. Je sais que la planète a des discussions quotidiennes de la façon dont le crime a diminué depuis Superman est apparu sur la scène , mais je pense qu'il nous berçait dans un faux sentiment de sécurité. Nous, à Gaia ...”

“Gaia?”

“C'est le nom de notre organisation,” she told him. “Nommé d'après la déesse de la Grèce antique, la mère de tout les Titans.”

He frowned at her. “Pourquoi Gaia?”

“Parce qu'elle a élevée Zeus qui finirait par vaincre les Titans.”

He wondered if she believed the Titans in this scenario were the members of the Justice League. In that case, Superman was Cronos, the god who swallowed his children to try and prevent his destiny, his defeat at the hands of his son.

“Que voulez-vous de moi?” he asked.

“Vous êtes un homme puissant, Baron, avec une grande influence . Nous avons entendu parler dans certains milieux que vous êtes haut placé dans les échelons supérieurs des Illuminati. Nous savons que vous avez des contactes qui peuvent nous aider à raconter notre histoire . Godfrey a essayé de révéler la vérité sur Green Arrow et le reste de la Ligue de la Justice . Nous voulons que le monde sache la vérité sur Superman.”

“Et qu'est-ce qui serait vrai ?” he enquired.

“Qu'il est là pour nous conquérir, pas nous protéger.”

“You know smoking indoors is illegal now, don’t you?”
“I care little for the laws.”
“That’s what I’ve always admired about the French aristocracy. You could commit murder and no one would bat an eyelid.”
“May I join you?”
“Where is your charming wife this evening?”
“On a business trip. You are?”
“My name is Elsa. Elsa Brunning.”
“I see.”
“No, Baron, I don’t think you do. You see, I was once a follower of a man named Gordon Godfrey. Are you familiar with his work?”
“I am not.”
“Godfrey tried to tell the world about the vigilantes and when Superman revealed himself to us, Godfrey was vilified. I don’t know what happened to Godfrey, but I am part of a group that believe Godfrey was right. Superman and the so-called Justice League are nothing but vigilantes. I write a blog and I have more than a hundred thousand followers.”
“I know of your interest in Superman, Baron. We need your help. You see, one hundred thousand followers isn’t enough. We need to get the message out there that Superman is a threat to our way of life. I know the Daily Planet talks of how crime has gone down since Superman has appeared on the scene, but I think he is lulling us into a false sense of security. We at Gaia ...”
“Gaia?”
“It is the name of our organisation. Named after the goddess from ancient Greece, the mother of all Titans.”
“Why Gaia?”
“Because she raised Zeus who would ultimately go on to defeat the Titans.”
“What do you want from me?”
“You are a powerful man, Baron, with great influence. We have heard talk in some circles that you are high in the upper echelons of the Illuminati. We know you have contacts who can help us tell our story. Godfrey tried to reveal the truth about Green Arrow and the rest of the Justice League. We want the world to know the truth about Superman.”
“And what truth would that be?”
“That he is here to conquer us, not protect us.”

XXXXX

Lex put his keys down on the table in the hallway and entered the doorway on his left. Stephanie sat primly on the leather sofa, drinking tea in a cup and saucer, watched by one of Lex’s security team. Lex nodded at Hope and indicated her to leave.

He sat on the sofa beside the woman.

“Stephanie, I can help you. If you’ll let me.”

“My husband would kill me,” she said.

“It looks to me like he’s already tried,” he said, reaching out to look over the bruising that her make-up could not hide. Or perhaps she did not want to hide. It struck him as odd that a woman who was an editor of a French fashion magazine would make a simple mistake with make-up.

“Why are you really here?” he asked. “And please don’t tell me you have come here for my help, because I don’t believe you.”

Stephanie turned a wounded look on him. “How can you ask me that?”

“Have you ever heard the term Judas Goat?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Well, of course, the term relates to the Biblical character of Judas Iscariot, but the goat is an animal trained to herd sheep and cattle to lead them to a specific location. Usually that means to the stockyard where they are to be slaughtered.”

“And you think I am this Judas Goat?”

“Yes, Stephanie, I think you are. I think you and your husband are trying to use me as a pawn in whatever dangerous game you are playing with Superman. I know you’ve been trying to seduce me. Let me give you a piece of advice. Don’t go up against Superman. You really don’t want to piss him off.”

She got up, staring at him.

“How dare you?” she asked indignantly.

“How dare I? I dare, madame, because I do not like to be manipulated. Hope!”

The bodyguard came back in.

“Escort Madame de Rochefort back to the hotel!”

XXXXX

Tess tossed and turned in her bed in the guest room of Donatello’s villa. Over the past few days the man had been charm itself, taking her to visit various museums and historic sites. He knew her love for art and had managed to talk the curators into allowing Tess to see works that were not on the normal tour list.

She could so get used to this life, she thought. Being the sister of Lex Luthor certainly had its downsides, despite her being a member of one of the richest families in the whole of North America. Lex kept a tight rein on her, clearly anxious to avoid any kind of a scandal.

Lex would be furious if he knew she was practically having an affair with a married man. Not that Donatello had admitted that, but she was shrewd enough to have done her homework. She hadn’t slept with him yet, not for want of trying on his part, but she had made so many mistakes with men before, the last thing she wanted to do was make that same mistake with a man she had convinced herself she was only with because he was the key to her learning the truth about the Illuminati.

Tess lay on her back thinking about all her relationships. She certainly hadn’t had the best track record. There had been Oliver, who had cheated on her with a waitress after they’d been together about two years. Then when she’d taken up the post of acting CEO of Luthorcorp he had slept with her again, clearly to get something out of her.

She wouldn’t have called her sleeping with Zod a relationship. She had been trying to learn all she could about the Kryptonian general’s plan to regain his powers in the hope that she could prevent her own death in the dystopian future she had seen in Lois’ vision. Of course, then Zod had killed her and Granny Goodness had brought her back to life.

Oh, but Donatello ... He had offered her so much. He had claimed he could use his own influence to get her membership into the order. She could become a woman of great power and influence as part of that elite group and when the time came for them to take power, she would be privy to all that only the crème de la crème would receive.

It was so tempting, she thought. To be free of Lex’s influence, yet more powerful than her brother.

Yet, she was torn. Clark had believed in her, enough to give her a place in Watchtower, to make her an affiliated member of the Justice League. He had given her the one thing she had always craved growing up, but had never had until she met him. A family.

XXXXX

Kara looked around anxiously as Crawford’s footsteps approached the office. Holding tightly to the file she floated up to the ceiling, hovering there as the footsteps paused outside the door and the knob began to turn. She held her breath, thanking her Kryptonian abilities that allowed her to hold her breath for several minutes.

“John, a word?” a voice said in the corridor.

“Of course, sir,” Crawford replied. The footsteps began to move away and Kara let herself breathe again. She floated down to the floor and x-rayed the corridor. There were two skeletons in what looked like an office a few doors down.

Kara opened the door and sped out, making her way along the corridor to the exterior door of the complex, then pressed the door release to let herself out.

She flew to Metropolis, knowing she needed to get this information to Clark as soon as possible. The penthouse apartment was dark. Clearly Lois and Clark were in bed, but she knew she had no choice. She let herself in through the terrace doors and into the secret room where Oliver usually kept his Green Arrow gear.

She had no sooner managed to find Clark’s laptop and access some pages on the net when the light snapped on, brightening the room. Lois glared at her.

“Kara, what the hell? It’s three o’clock in the morning.”

“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. This couldn’t wait.”

“What couldn’t wait?” Clark asked, running a hand through his already mussed hair as he stared sleepily at her.
She gave him the folder. He quickly read through it.

“What is this?”

“Chatham House. It’s a think tank, officially, but I just found some sites that claim connections with anything from Checkmate to Area 51.”

“Checkmate?”

“Area 51?” Lois echoed. “What would a think tank be doing with Area ...” She looked at Clark. “Oh crap!”

“What?”

“Area 51, Smallville! Alien autopsies! Independence Day?”

“Lois, that’s just a story.”

“What if it’s not?” she asked. “I mean, think about it. I’m betting they have all sorts of doodads there.”

“Doodads?” Clark raised an eyebrow at his wife.

“Oh, you know what I mean!” She clapped a hand to her mouth. “Oh my god. Mara!”

“Honey, she’s fine. I just checked on her!”

“No, Smallville, you don’t get it. I think Kara’s just stumbled on part of their plan. They’re going to experiment on her!”

“Experiment on that sweet little baby?” Kara asked. “I would never let that happen.”

“Neither would I,” Clark answered. Lois didn’t look very reassured.

XXXXX

Aresia picked up the phone as it rang once.

“Yes?”

“It’s me. It appears that Luthor knows part of our plan. We are out of time. You must proceed, sister. Time is now of the essence.”

Aresia disconnected the call, concerned at the urgency in Stephanie’s tone. If time was of the essence, then she knew what she had to do.

XXXXXX

Moana was woken by banging on her door. She got out of bed, pulling on her robe and roughly pushing her hair back from her face as she walked barefoot out to the living room. Mark was sitting up on the couch, bleary-eyed.

“Ms Rangihau? Open up this door immediately!”

“Who is it?”

“Open the door. Now!”

She shrugged and sighed, making sure the chain was on and opened the door a crack.

“It’s three o’clock in the morning,” she said in protest.

A badge was waved in her face.

“I don’t care what time it is,” the man with the badge snapped. “Federal Agents. We know Mark Anders is here.”

“Let them in,” Anders told her, shrugging his shoulders in defeat. He clearly thought there was no other choice.

Two men entered the apartment as soon as she took the chain off.

“What do you want?” she asked.

They ignored her and pulled Anders to his feet.

“Mark Anders, you are wanted for treason by the Canadian authorities. You are ordered to accompany us down to FBI Metropolis headquarters.”

“Very well, but Ms Rangihau stays out of this. She had no idea ...”

“Ms Rangihau is under arrest for aiding and abetting a fugitive,” the first agent snapped as his partner cuffed Anders and started to lead him away.

Moana knew she couldn’t try and fight her way out of it.

“Let me get some clothes on first,” she told the agent.

“No. You’re coming with us right now.”

There was no pleading for leniency. They were clearly both in a lot of trouble. She let herself be led down the stairs and out of the building. Across the street was a dark car. Moana stared at it, noticing the window was down. A blonde woman stared back at her. Isabelle Lewis, she thought. Canadian Intelligence.

This whole thing smelled like a set-up, she thought.

XXXXX

Lex never slept much these days. He was fortunate if some nights he left the office before midnight and he certainly never slept more than two or three hours. His business day usually started at five am. God forbid he ever miss any new developments on the stock exchange somewhere in the world.

He wasn’t surprised to get a call at six in the morning from one of his contacts in the Metropolis branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Ever since he had helped them bring down Lionel Luthor and expose the plot between Morgan Edge and Lionel Luthor to murder his grandparents, Lex had made sure to have at least one federal agent in his pocket, so to speak.

“Luthor.”

“They’re holding Ms Rangihau for aiding and abetting. Her visa’s likely to be revoked and she could be deported.”

“Aiding and abetting who?”

“Guy named Mark Anders. Some kind of journalist. He’s been freelancing in the past few years, trying to sell some bullshit about the Illuminati. The Canadian authorities have been trying to get him for months on treason.”

The agent went on to tell him that the charges were phony, since their investigation hadn’t turned up anything even which could be misconstrued as treasonous. Lex smelled a set-up. He recognised a good opportunity when he saw one, however.

“See if you can stall the process and have Ms Rangihau released to my custody,” he answered.

It couldn’t hurt to have her owe him at least, he decided. Not that she would see it that way, of course. Still, Lex wasn’t one to throw away a good opportunity when he saw one.

Moana was released from custody a couple of hours later. Lex had her picked up in his limousine and brought back to his penthouse. She looked pale and exhausted. Clearly they had been questioning her at length about her association with Anders. They hadn’t even given her decent clothes to wear. She was still dressed in the nightshirt and robe she had been wearing when they had picked her up.

When Lex had learned this, he had had Hope go out and buy the woman a few items of clothing, handing her the package when she arrived.

“I figured you could use a shower and a change of clothes,” he said.

Moana said nothing, taking the package and going in search of a bathroom. She came out about twenty minutes later dressed in jeans and a cerise coloured blouse. She still had dark circles under her eyes, but at least looked a little more refreshed.

“Coffee,” Lex said, handing her a cup.

She sat down, still ignoring him, but the coffee was clearly welcome.

“You want to tell me what happened?” Lex asked.

“Not much to tell. They kept asking me about Mark and what he’d told me. I knew the charges against him were trumped-up, and they knew that too. I got the impression the orders had come from high up.”

“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “I have an excellent attorney. I’ll do what I can to help Anders.”

“By the time you manage to get your attorney on it, he’ll be in Canada,” she told him. She sighed and looked up at him. “There’s more to this. I think there’s a reason this is happening now.”

“What reason?”

“I think the baron is about to make his move. We need to warn Clark and Lois.”

XXXXX

Amarillo, Texas.

Naja da Silva walked in to the bar, standing in the doorway to let his eyes adjust to the dimness. A man approached him, yelling.

“Da Silva? I thought you were history, man?”

He shook his head. “Where are the others?”

“Scattered. But I know how to reach them.”

“Good. Gather them. We need all the help we can get.”

“Why? What’s up?”

“We’re going up against Superman!”

Chapter Text

Lex shuffled through the papers as he walked through the apartment, his phone precariously balanced on his shoulder, his neck at an odd angle.

“I’m not asking, I’m ordering. Find me a competent attorney or find yourself another job.”

Unlike other phones he couldn’t exactly slam this one down so he settled for letting the phone drop into his hand and a hard press of the ‘end’ button.

Moana looked up from the laptop.

“You sure know how to win friends and influence people,” she remarked.

“I didn’t get to be CEO of Luthorcorp by winning a popularity contest,” he retorted.

“No, you got that by first sending your old man to prison then tossing him out of a window.”

“My father committed suicide,” he replied.

She stared at him evenly for a moment, giving him the feeling he was being analysed.

“You keep telling yourself that, Luthor. We both know what really happened the night Lionel died. Not even you can hide that from me.”

Damn her and her strange ability, he thought. Moana turned back to the screen, pointedly ignoring the subject.

“I left a message for Clark and Lois. Clark called back and said he would make sure Lois and the baby were under constant guard by the League.”

“We both know it won’t be enough,” Lex commented. “If I was the baron, I’d be creating some kind of diversion which would involve the entire League.”

She looked up at him, her gaze once again assessing.

“You’ve thought about this, of course,” she said. “Even so far as to considering what you would do to stop Superman.”

“Let’s not forget that Superman and I are enemies. We may have a detente at the moment, but that is because we have mutual interests.”

“Mutual?” she snickered. “Right. Your interest is in stopping the Illuminati so you could have all that power to yourself. Superman is just trying to save humanity from making the same mistakes as his own people. Sure they’re mutual.”

“I do not care to get into a philosophical argument with you,” he said, grabbing the phone as it rang. “Luthor.”

“I found an attorney. Well, attorneys really,” Otis babbled. “Actually in Canada they don’t call them attorneys they call them solicitors.”

“Get to the point!” he snapped.

“Raymond and Grace Caron. They have an office in Ottawa. I’ve already apprised them of the situation and they are willing to meet with you.”

“Good. Have the jet fuelled and ready for wheels up in thirty minutes.”

“How many should I tell the pilot?”

“Two passengers. Myself and Ms Rangihau.”

“Uh, hasn’t her passport been confiscated?”

“I’m trusting you to take care of that,” he told Otis.

“Yes sir, Mr Luthor sir.”

Lex ran a hand down his face as he hung up, hoping Otis got the message. He would need to make sure they weren’t met by airport security. He looked at Moana.

“Pack up whatever gear we’ll need. We’re flying to Ottawa.”

She stared at him but didn’t question it, moving to shut down the laptop and gather up what notes she had already made on Mark Anders and everything he had told her about the Illuminati.

***

Da Silva looked around then began walking casually up the narrow alleyway to the warehouse entrance. A large gull squawked up above him, clearly looking for food in the dirty river about a hundred yards away from where he stood.

He continued along the alleyway, his eyes darting from left to right as he scoped out the situation. There were two men watching from above. He knew he would have to tread carefully.

The click of a gun had him whirling.

“Don’t move!” a voice said.

“I’m here to see the boss,” he said quietly, inwardly cringing at the cliché which he’d been told to say as an identifier. These guys had been watching way too many bad gangster flicks, he thought.

“Yeah? What for?”

“That’s between me and him,” da Silva replied.

He was suddenly shoved toward the east wall, something hard nudging him in the back. The man behind him forced him to spread his legs, his hands held high above his head, palms pressed flat to the wall. Da Silva knew from experience the angle would make it near impossible to escape.

The man began patting him down. The gang leader smirked as he heard the clinking sound of his bowie knife being thrown to the ground. It was joined by the small .33 calibre pistol he kept in an ankle holster. It had a short range but was still effective.

There was murmuring behind him and he guessed another man had come to join them.

Once the men were satisfied he wasn’t carrying any more concealed weapons, the Wild Bush 300 leader was led through a doorway into a darkened warehouse. A dark-haired man stood waiting for them, appearing to stand guard over several crates.

He turned and smirked at the three men.

“Mr da Silva.”

Da Silva cocked an eyebrow at the other man. He appeared to be either in his late twenties or early thirties.

“Bruno Mannheim.”

Da Silva frowned. Mannheim was supposed to be imprisoned on Stryker’s Island. He’d murdered his boss so he could take over Intergang. Lois Lane and Clark Kent had got themselves caught in the middle of a counterfeiting operation and had continued investigating to prove Mannheim a killer.

“How did you get away from Stryker’s Island?” he asked.

“Let’s just say I know a few people in high places. Speaking of which, a mutual friend told me you were looking for weapons.”

The gang member nodded.

“As many as you can provide,” he said.

“To do what, exactly?” the man inquired.

Da Silva began explaining the plan to the head of Intergang. Ducard had discussed the plan with him telling him exactly what the purpose was. Da Silva had the manpower, he just needed the firepower.

Chaos was the name of the game, and he was about to be at the centre of it.

***

“Lois, I know you hate it when I get over-protective but if what Moana told me is right, then we need to be on our guard.”

Clark rolled his eyes as Lois launched into another tirade which could seriously damage his eardrums if he wasn’t careful.

“Lois!” he snapped, trying to get her to shut up. He held the phone away from his ear as she began berating him. He’d been worried after the phone call and he wasn’t about to take any chances. Lois was still being resistant, however. He sighed and looked up at the sound of someone entering Watchtower and smiled at Bart, who was eating a Burrito.

“Chloe will kill you if you get any of that on Watchtower computers,” he said mildly, ignoring his wife still yelling on the phone.

“I’m hungry,” Bart said with a shrug. He raised an eyebrow when Lois’ voice came clearly through the phone.

“Clark Kent, don’t you dare ignore me!”

Clark groaned quietly then turned back to the phone.

“I wasn’t ignoring you,” he answered.

“I heard you talking to someone.”

“Honey, that’s Bart. I told you ...”

“And I told you, I don’t need a protection detail.”

“We’ve been over this, Lois. I told you what Moana said. Something bad is going down and she thinks they’re going to make their move. I can’t be everywhere at once and you can’t protect Mara by yourself, not if Aresia is involved.”

“I am perfectly capable ...”

“Against any ordinary human, yes, but this is an Amazon, Lois, with powers of an Amazon. I’m not going to keep arguing with you about this.”

“I don’t care!”

“Well you will care if she takes Mara!” he pointed out. “I’m sending someone to guard you and the baby and that’s it. I can’t do my job if I’m worrying about you and Mara and I don’t want to hear another word.”

Clark hung up, growling. Bart looked at him.

“Trouble in paradise?”

“You know how Lois gets,” he sighed. “She thinks she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself.” He took a deep breath and blew it out, controlling it enough so he wouldn’t blow away everything in his path. “I need you to go over to the clocktower. Lois is working from home today.”

“I thought she was still on leave?” Bart asked.

“No, she started back part-time last week. Bart, you’re probably about the best I can get for this. After AC got whacked by those men who broke in to the farmhouse, I don’t want to take any chances. You can at least move quickly.”

“Mamacita isn’t exactly going to be welcoming me with open arms.”

“I don’t care, Bart. I’m worried and I’m taking precautions. Aresia knows the penthouse and if she is working with these Illuminati people, she may have been recruited for Mara. From what Diana tells me, Aresia has her own agenda, which makes her doubly dangerous.”

Bart nodded.

“Hey, don’t worry, Supes. It’s me.”

Clark sighed. Yeah, that was what he was afraid of. Bart was a good guy, but he could be a bit scatter-brained at times. Still, he was fast and wouldn’t be caught easily.

His friend disappeared in the blink of an eye and moments later the phone rang.

“You send Short Stuff as my protection detail?” Lois screeched.

Oh lord, he sighed. Here we go again.

“Lois!”

“I hate you, Clark Kent!”

“Really? Can I get that in writing?” he asked, knowing he’d regret opening his mouth.

“You wait, Smallville. I’ve got ways of dealing with you. You’ll be damned lucky if I let you get within a hundred feet of me when this is all over. I’m gonna boil you in oil! I’m gonna torture you with every trashy shark movie ever made. I’m gonna make you sit through all four Jaws movies. Especially the 3D one.”

Clark winced, sticking his finger in his ear, trying to block out the screeching. Damn his super hearing, he thought.

He looked up as someone dropped through the panels in the top of the glass dome.

“Diana,” he said. “Welcome to Watchtower.”

“I could not help but overhear, Kal. Your wife does not seem pleased with you.”

“That’s a bit of an understatement, I’m afraid.” He groaned as Lois realised he was once more ignoring her.

“With your permission, Kal, perhaps I may speak with her.”

Clark frowned at her, not sure how much good Wonder Woman could do, but nodded. The brunette smiled and left the same way she had come in. Clark’s frown deepened. He hadn’t known Amazons could fly but he guessed he didn’t know everything about Amazons and their abilities. He supposed Diana, being the daughter of the queen, would have more than most, since they were allegedly blessed on her by the gods.

***

Diana made her way to the clocktower, entering through the balcony. She realised her error swiftly, however, when she was ambushed by someone she didn’t see until he was upon her. When she regained her composure, Diana realised it was a young man, perhaps a year or two younger than Kal’s Earth age.

“Who are you?” he growled.

Lois Lane-Kent entered the room, her expression clearly showing her earlier anger at her husband. She scowled.

“Bart, calm down. That’s Wonder Woman.”

“Yeah? So you say.”

She rolled her eyes. “Bart! Aresia is blonde.”

“Oh.” Bart stood back. Diana gazed at him curiously as he folded his arms and glared at her. “So why did you come in through the balcony?”

“I apologise,” she answered. “I did not consider it would be a cause for concern.” She looked at Lois. “I come on Kal’s behalf.”

“Hmph,” the other brunette replied, turning away.

“Kal?” Bart asked, cocking an eyebrow at her.

“His true name is Kal-El.”

“Oh, yeah. I knew that.” He seemed to relax his pose although he still had his arms folded. “So Wonder Woman, huh? That mean you’re an Amazon?”

Diana bowed her head in acknowledgement.

“I am Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Blessed with power from the great goddesses of old.”

“Cool!”

Bart continued to look her over and Diana began to feel uncomfortable with the scrutiny. Lois came back into the room.

“Impulse, stop trying to flirt with her.” She rolled her eyes. “Ignore him. Bart does that to everyone. Well, everyone female.”

“Impulse?” Diana asked.

“Well, I wanted to go with Flash, but ...” Bart began.

“There’s a reason why you didn’t get to pick your own code name,” Lois told him.

Diana followed her into the small office off the living area, which was where Lois was apparently working. Lois sat on the swivel chair.

“Okay, let’s hear it.”

“I beg your pardon?” Diana asked.

“You don’t have to be so polite you know. I was raised by an army general. I’ve hung around with Navy Seals and Green Berets all my life. I’m not exactly a delicate flower.”

Diana nodded. “Perhaps not. However, I have observed that the men in this world do seem to put their women up on pedestals.”

Lois sighed heavily. “Okay, I know I’m over-reacting.”

“I know you are not incapable of protecting yourself but you must consider your daughter. She is just an infant. While you are not completely defenceless, Aresia will not allow you to deter her from her mission.”

“How do you know Aresia is working for them?”

Diana sighed. They had been through this before. She could understand Lois’ scepticism but now was not the time to be questioning every little thing.

“Lois, you must know that you and your daughter are in danger.”

“Why? What could Aresia do?”

“She is an Amazon and she has abilities. Not as many as I, but enough, and she will use whatever power is at her disposal to achieve her goal.”

“I still don’t see why the protection detail,” Lois answered, glancing at Bart, who had obviously gone to help himself to food from the fridge. He stood in the doorway, chewing as he watched them.

“If what we believe about these Illuminati is true, they will go to great lengths to take your daughter. Even if that meant killing you.”

“You don’t really think they would, do you?”

“Yes. Moana believes it.”

“Oh. Her. What makes you trust her?”

“Because she is descended from a long line of warriors.”

“That doesn’t answer my question. Oh you know what, never mind. I’m sure you superheroes have your own way of telling.”

“We do. Lois, I know we are not friends but I would hope that you will understand that Kal only has your best interests at heart.”

“His name is Clark.”

“His true name is Kal-El.”

“He was raised as Clark!” Lois was insistent and Diana thought it prudent to just agree.

“Yes, I see. I apologise.”

A sound of a baby crying came from the small monitor on the edge of the desk. Lois sighed.

“I have to go get her up. She needs her diaper changed.”

Diana frowned at her. Since she had never had a child herself she wasn’t familiar with the different ways babies could cry to let their mothers know what was wrong. She had been around babies on the island but their care was always left to the mothers or the warrior charged with that care.

Diana stepped aside so Lois could go out and looked at Bart.

“Mamacita isn’t all that happy with the situation,” Bart observed. Diana nodded. She frowned at Bart’s use of the term, not quite certain it was correct, but didn’t call him on it.

She brushed past the man called Impulse, still feeling a little uncomfortable with the way he kept looking at her. It wasn’t that she had little experience with men, apart from Steve, but she had never really been accustomed to the way men looked at women like they were little more than objects. Not that she was suggesting Bart was in any way, she decided.

Lois had come down the stairs with the baby in her arms. Mara was fussing, nuzzling her mother’s breast, indicating she was hungry. Lois looked at her, then went to sit down on the couch. She settled the baby on her lap and opened her blouse to begin feeding her daughter. Glancing up, she clearly remembered Bart was still in the room and picked up a soft blanket to cover herself.

“Why do you do that?” Diana asked curiously.

“Do what?”

“Cover yourself. Breastfeeding is a natural part of being a mother.”

“I’m sure in your world it’s considered completely natural and no one bats an eyelid, but in this world ...”

“Ahh. Yes, I see.” Diana seemed to be apologising a lot to Lois.

“Americans like to think they’re liberal and all that, but really a lot of them are conservative.”

“You mean prudes,” Bart interjected.

Lois ignored him. “I went to this cafe once to meet Clark. I’d just had Mara ... well, she was a couple of weeks old and I had to feed her. Somebody complained, even though I’d covered myself pretty well with a blanket. Clark was so angry.” Lois sighed and shook her head.

“I can understand that,” Diana said. “Sometimes people here are so certain their way is best that they are not prepared to hear any other point of view. And I see where you are going with this,” she added with a smile. “You are very clever, Lois.”

“I just want you to know where I’m coming from. Look, I love Clark, but he can be over-protective at times.”

“Is it wrong of him to want to take care of his family?”

“No, it’s not wrong, but he needs to realise that not everything is his responsibility. If Aresia tries to take Mara, I will deal with it. My way.”

“Lois, I am not trying to dissuade you, but you do not know my sister like I do. She will not listen to reason. If Superman were here protecting Mara she would fight him.”

“Do you think Aresia has her own agenda?”

Diana was again reminded of their earlier conversation.

“I do not doubt it. I find it unusual that Aresia would work for a man like the baron, considering how much she hates men in general.”

“Why? Why does she hate men?”

“Perhaps she blames the ways of men for the deaths of her real parents, even though it was the ship’s captain who saved her life. She refused to believe my mother when the queen told her what really happened the day her parents died.”

“It still doesn’t explain her behaviour.”

“Nor excuse it. Lois, I do not know what to tell you. The Amazons are a matriarchal society. Many of our warriors fear the world of men because it is men who are mostly in control. It is changing, but still there are some men who would prefer to go back to the old ways.”

“Like the Illuminati?”

Diana shook her head. “No, their way is a different one entirely. They have women in power the same as men.”

“Like who?”

Lois listened as Diana told her of the meeting that took place two days earlier and their belief that Miranda Clifford was not only part of the Illuminati, she also had business interests which had been affected by the dropping crime rate.

“Major Trevor is continuing to investigate the matter,” she assured Lois.

“I thought he was with the Secret Service?”

“He is.”

“Well, I mean, the agents are supposed to protect the country’s financial interests. Why would he investigate someone like Senator Clifford?”

“You do not know? Lois, the senator is believed to be involved in profiteering, for one.”

“Okay, I get that.”

Diana watched as Lois held the fussing baby over her shoulder and patted her back gently. Mara began cooing.

“Bruce Wayne is also looking into the senator’s affairs. He believes there is a connection with Isabelle Lewis.”

“Who is she?”

“An intelligence agent in Canada.”

“Canada? Wait a second, Lex and Moana have gone to Canada because her friend was arrested.”

“What friend is this?” Diana enquired.

“Mark Anders. He’s a journalist who knows more about the Illuminati than we could ever hope to.”

Diana looked at the other woman, now feeling very worried.

“Lois, if this journalist has been arrested then we are all in more danger than you know. He may have been the only one who could prove the Illuminati exist.”

***

It was a good thing, Lex thought, that he had anticipated any difficulties they might have as soon as the plane touched down on Canadian soil. Calling ahead to the attorneys had prevented the Canadian police from arresting Moana on the spot for illegal entry. Not that Moana was very co-operative, he saw. She’d been prepared to fight as soon as security surrounded the jet as it taxied in.

Lex put a hand on her shoulder.

“You can’t fight a dozen men, especially when they’re each over two-fifty,” he cautioned her.

“I can try,” she replied eyeing the men warily.

“I’ve no doubt it would be a good attempt,” he said, looking up to see a man in a dark suit pushing his way through the men, waving what appeared to be legal papers.

“Mr Luthor? Raymond Caron. Come this way, please. Miss Rangihau ...” he added, placing a hand at the small of her back. “Make way please,” he told security. Two men refused to budge.

“We were under orders to take this lady into custody if she should step onto Canadian soil.”

“And I have a cease and desist order from the highest judicial authority in this province,” the man announced almost pompously. “Ms Rangihau has committed no crime and this is harassment. You can trust I will be filing suit for illegal detention.”

The man the lawyer was facing backed off, clearly uncertain what their next move should be. Lex followed Caron and Moana away from the airstrip to his car, a Daimler Limousine.

“Mr Luthor, I’ve been researching this extensively since your assistant called this morning. Mark Anders is now in the custody of the Canadian Intelligence Service. He’s charged with high treason.”

“Anders has never done anything to betray his country,” Moana growled.

“Yes, ma’am ...”

“Moana, not ma’am. Or Ms Rangihau.”

Raymond coughed. “Yes, quite. Uh, Isabelle Lewis is the agent who has claimed to have gathered evidence of Mr Anders’ treason.”

“What can you tell me about Isabelle Lewis?”

“Very little, I’m afraid. Most of the information on agents in Canadian Intelligence is classified.”

“Then find someone who can,” Lex instructed. “If there is a connection to the group we are investigating then we need to find it. And fast.”

“Yes, Mr Luthor. Of course.”

***

De Rochefort stood in his hotel room, sipping coffee as he glanced over the newspaper. Stephanie sat in the armchair, hands folded primly in her lap. She had remained quiet since she’d been escorted back to the hotel room apologising for the failure of their plan to seduce Luthor. De Rochefort told her it mattered little.

There was a gentle tap on the door and de Rochefort called ‘enter’. Antoine de Sade entered the room, smiling broadly.

"Quelles nouvelles avez-vous?” the baron asked.

“Donatello rapporte que Mademoiselle Mercer est encore résistante, mais il est persuadé qu'elle sera influencée et se rangera de notre côté.”

“Excellent et a propos du Docteur Weller?”

“Elle a fait appel à d'anciens membres de l'Escadron Suicide et qu'ils sont en attente d' ordres.”

De Rochefort nodded, satisfied with the way the plan was slowly being executed. He turned and looked at the chessboard on the smoked glass coffee table. There were various pieces scattered around the board which clearly showed the white king in check.

Another knock and command to enter brought Henri Ducard. The League of Shadows master smiled as he came in.

“Eh bien?” de Rochefort asked, almost impatiently. He had very little time for the League of Shadows, which was, in many ways, a distant cousin to the Illuminati itself.

Ducard spoke smoothly, with little inflection. It was as if he was discussing a business meeting rather than the death and destruction which would ensue.

“Da Silva est en négociations nous parlons. Dans quelques jours, Metropolis sera embrasé. Il n'y aura rien que Superman et la Ligue de Justice peuvent faire pour l'arrêter.” He paused. “J'ai pris la liberté de communiquer avec un de mes associés pour mener une attaque similaire sur Gotham.”

“Pourquoi Gotham?” de Sade asked.

“Batman!” de Rochefort replied.

“Précisement.”

The Marquis still looked perplexed. “Notre intérêt est dans Superman!”

“L'homme connu comme Batman a beaucoup d'influence politique,” Ducard explained. “Il exerce dans un pouvoir que Superman n'a pas.”

De Rochefort walked over to the chessboard and slid the black king into position, taking the final white pawn.

“Ensuite, nous aurons un échec et mat,” he said, using the pawn in his hand to knock the white king down.

The phone buzzed, indicating the front desk was calling. De Rochefort nodded to his wife to pick it up. She got up and picked up the receiver.

“Yes? I see. Please let them up.” She quietly replaced the receiver in its cradle and looked around at her husband. “Un homme et une femme qui prétendent être des employés de Lex Luthor ont demandé une audience. J'ai informé la réception de les envoyer jusque içi.”

He nodded. There was little point in sending them away. He had no doubt they would persist in their attempts to visit his suite and it was best to hear them out.

The couple arrived within moments. De Rochefort greeted them cordially enough, taking the time to study the pair. The man was stocky, with close-cropped, curly brown hair. The woman was unattractive, her hair straight and worn short.

“Je suis ...”

“I know who you are, Baron,” the man cut him off tersely. “My name is Otis Berg. My associate Joy Taylor,” he added, indicating the woman by his side. “I come from Mr Luthor.” He glanced at Stephanie, shooting her a look which even the baron, who considered himself well-versed in body language, could not interpret. “He felt it only prudent to warn you that whatever you are planning, you should not attempt it.”

“Je vois . Et qu'est-ce que vous fais pensez que je planifie?” the baron asked, deliberately speaking his own language.

Otis, it seemed, was unfazed. He continued to speak in English although he clearly understood de Rochefort.

“Mr Luthor assumed you would have received the message he sent through Madame de Rochefort.”

Of course he had, but de Rochefort cared little for subtlety.

“Est-ce que Monsieur. Luthor est prêt à négocier?” he asked coolly, although he sincerely doubted that was the case.

“Mr Luthor suggests you leave rather than continue with your plan to go up against Superman. Between you and I, sir, you do not want to piss Superman off.”

The woman beside Otis remained silent, although she continued to look around her with a curious expression. Baron wondered briefly what her purpose was, but paid little attention. She was of no importance.

“S'il vous plaît pouvez-vous transmettre un message à Monsieur Luthor que je ne suis pas facilement intimidé, en particulier par un Extraterrestre connu sous le nom de Superman.”

Otis smirked. “Yeah, I figured you’d say that. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

“What news have you?” the baron asked.
“Donatello reports that Miss Mercer is still resistant but he is confident she will be swayed to our side.”
“Excellent. What of Dr Waller?”
“She has called in former members of the Suicide Squad and they are standing by for orders.”
“Well?” de Rochefort asked.
“Da Silva is in negotiations as we speak. In a matter of days, Metropolis will be set aflame. There will be nothing Superman and the Justice League can do to stop it.” He paused. “I took the liberty of contacting an associate of mine to lead a similar attack on Gotham.”
“Batman!” de Rochefort replied.
“Precisely.”
The Marquis still looked perplexed. “Our interest is in Superman!”
“The man known as Batman has much political influence,” Ducard explained. “He wields power Superman does not.”
“Then we shall have checkmate,” he said.
“Yes? I see. Please let them up. A man and a woman who claim to be in the employ of Lex Luthor have requested an audience. I advised the desk to send them up.”
“I am ...”
“I see. And what is it do you think I am planning?” the baron asked.
“Is Mr Luthor prepared to negotiate?”
“Please convey a message to Mr Luthor that I am not easily intimidated, particularly by the alien known as Superman.”

***

John Crawford stood by the railing, waiting for the ferry to dock at Stryker’s Island. He watched the penitentiary come into view. It was a fairly old building although it had been extensively renovated to house prisoners with super-human abilities. Since the Justice League had come on the scene, there had been more and more prisoners added to its roster.

Senators in DC had recently been expressing concern about the costs of incarcerating dangerous criminals inside its walls, but in Crawford’s view, it just made it easier to access those who could do what he required of them.

Crawford alighted from the ferry and walked the half mile to the secured entry to the penitentiary, flashing his NSA identity. The guard nodded and allowed him entry, asking him to sign the log and state the purpose of his visit. Crawford scribbled in the log and followed the second guard through to the warden’s office.

Warden Draper greeted him cordially enough.

“What brings the NSA to Stryker’s Island?” he asked.

“I need to speak with Winslow Schott. He has some information which our agency requires.”

“I see. Mr Schott is in solitary.”

“I’m aware of that, sir, but this is important.”

“Of course. I will have the guard escort you.”

Crawford followed the guard to another wing, hiding his smirk. The warden hadn’t been aware that Crawford’s superiors had already secured the release of one prisoner. Bruno Mannheim was free to run Intergang; free only in terms of being protected from incarceration of course.

“Well, a visitor,” the plump man in the cell exclaimed gleefully.

Crawford studied the man known as the Toyman, otherwise known as Winslow Schott. He had heard the man had a childlike quality about him, although for all his immaturity he was highly intelligent, logical and strategic in his thinking.

“Crawford, NSA,” he said.

“Have you come to play?” Schott said, his eyes lighting up at the thought of a new ‘playmate’.

“No.”

“Pity,” the older man pouted.

“I need information. The whereabouts of John Corben.”

“But that’s not how the game is played,” Toyman answered.

Crawford bit back an impatient snort.

“What game are we playing, Schott? Chess? Snakes and Ladders? I care little for your games. I want Corben and I know you know where to find him.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Schott sniffed.

“You listen to me,” Crawford spoke quietly, aware the conversation was being recorded. “You will give me Corben, or you will suffer the consequences. Trust me, you do not want to be dealing with my superiors.”

Making sure he was out of sight of the surveillance cameras, Crawford allowed Toyman to see the pendant around his neck. A pendant which signified his membership in the Illuminati. It was a small coin, depicting a pyramid. At the apex of the pyramid was an eye. Otherwise known as the All-Seeing Eye.

Schott’s eyes widened and Crawford knew he had won. Every criminal he’d spoken to in the past trembled with fear at the thought of the Illuminati.

Schott rattled off a number, his gaze darting uneasily toward the surveillance camera in the left-hand corner of the room. Crawford made no promises to the man as he left. The truth was, the Illuminati had no use for a psychotic freak like the Toyman, no matter how intelligent he was.

He returned to his apartment, glad to be back in Metropolis at least. The encounter with Kara had been pleasant, although she was still continuing to pretend she knew nothing about him and wasn’t aware that he knew she was Supergirl. He’d enjoyed messing with her head a little, especially with the sliver of Kryptonite he’d kept in a small lead box, no bigger than a ring box. He’d exposed her once during dinner and had enjoyed her discomfort while she tried to figure out where it was coming from.

Still, as much as he wanted to continue his visits with her, he had a task to complete. The orders had come from Number One himself and he always dropped everything to obey the man at the top, especially if he wanted to rise within the ranks himself.

As soon as he had received the orders, he had paid the good doctor a visit. Edward Groll was a nervous-looking bespectacled man. Throughout their conversation, the scientist had continually shifted the glasses on his nose, as if the wire frames gave him discomfort. Crawford was swift to notice the way the man sweated profusely.

He had initially refused to reveal anything about Project Prometheus until Crawford had used his credentials to threaten the man with a federal investigation. Groll had questioned why the NSA would be interested in a scientist who now basically worked in a basement lab working on obscure and probably useless projects, but Crawford had avoided giving him an answer.

“Tell me about the project.”

“You clearly already know everything,” Groll said, wiping a hand over his brow, his fingers coming back gleaming with moisture. “As I told Miss Lang, there is not a machine that can remove the suit. There is nothing to my knowledge that can draw the meteor rock from her body.”

The scientist had been adamant there was nothing that existed that was powerful enough, yet from what Crawford had learned about the Toyman, he had studied something which could be adapted to fulfil such a purpose. Had, indeed, done so already.

Crawford smirked as his mind returned to the present, then began to dial a number.

“If you know what’s good for you,” he told the other party on the phone, “you will be at the location I am going to give you in one hour. If not, well, I know of a few government agencies who will be very interested in what I have to tell them.”

The other person was quiet for a moment.

“What do you want?”

“We’ll discuss that. In one hour. 1012 Abbotts Lane.”

An hour later, Crawford was waiting at the location. He looked around the room, noting the furnace at one end of the room. There had been a large board on the wall where it appeared articles and other documents had been pinned up.

There was a crash and the man walked in. Crawford smirked.

“Hello, Mr Corben.”

***

Batman crouched above the balcony outside the apartment, watching the occupant inside as they moved back and forth. They were, as yet, unaware of his presence, but he planned on remedying that fairly soon.

He waited patiently, even knowing there was other criminal activity going on in the city. He had heard from Commissioner Jim Gordon there was a new investigation into a Congressman who was suspected of working with various criminal elements. Batman wanted to assist in the investigation but the problem with the Illuminati was more pressing.

The door to the terrace slid open and the occupant came out, lighting a cigarette and staring out at the city. Batman moved quietly down, landing with a thump on the terrace. The woman whirled, staring wide-eyed at him.

“What?” she said.

“Senator,” he rasped.

Miranda Clifford glared at him.

“I would think, Batman, you would have better things to do than spy on a United States Senator.”

“That would depend, madam. Perhaps I have reason to spy on a senator.”

“Have you now?”

He glared silently at her. In the years he had been working as Batman he had learned a few things. Sometimes criminals folded at the first threat, while others were more intimidated by the silent glare of something most people tended to fear. It was the reason, after all, that he had chosen this particular costume. Fear was a natural reaction to bats, which, to most, weren’t exactly the most attractive of animals. While most people denied it, they did tend to judge on appearance.

Miranda Clifford was no exception, although with her known xenophobic views, she was more extreme than most.

He continued to glare at her, refusing to state his business. She began to fidget after a few moments of the two of them glaring at each other, her cigarette burning down to the end without her inhaling more nicotine. She hissed in pain as the hot ash burned her fingers, throwing the cigarette away.

The woman became even more nervous the longer Batman glared at her. She shifted on her heels, her gaze drawn to him even as she tried to look away. Just as she managed to break the stalemate and turned away to go back inside, he was on her, pushing her against the glass of the sliding door.

“What are you doing?”

“Tell me about the Illuminati,” he rasped.

Her eyes widened. Then she appeared to catch herself and snickered.

“The Illuminati? It’s a fairy story, told by conspiracy theorists.”

“It is no fairy story,” Batman replied, his voice more a growl so as to sound more menacing. “Tell me who they are.”

“Why? You cannot stop them,” the woman sneered. “They have worked for centuries to create an environment which would allow them to take control and nothing will get in their way.”

“They will fail,” he told her. “We will see to it.”

“You and who else? That alien freak called Superman? I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Batman. Soon you and your ‘friend’ will be far too concerned with other matters.”

“What are you planning?”

“I am planning nothing. Events have already been set in motion, Batman, and there is nothing you nor anyone can do to stop it.”

“I will stop it. Their scheme will fail, as will any other scheme you involve yourself in. Your duplicity will be exposed, senator.”

“Oh? What duplicity is this?”

“I know about your involvement in Marionette Ventures in Metropolis. I know of the attempt to drive down real estate prices so you and your cohorts could buy properties surrounding the Metropolis Aquifer. I also know you attempted the same scheme here in Gotham. You’ve been consorting with criminals, senator.”

She tried for an innocent look.

“Is it a crime to take advantage of low property values and invest in a fledgling business venture?”

“It is when you ally yourself with those whose activities bring about those low property values.” He sneered at her. “It’s a good thing, isn’t it, that Superman came along and put a stop to that scheme. I’d hate to think what would have happened if you and your cohorts did get control of the Aquifer. You would have held the entire city to ransom.”

“It’s called free enterprise,” she proclaimed loftily. “One of the very things this country was founded on.”

The woman was arrogant in the extreme. She clearly thought she had it all. Batman hoped she would soon get her come-uppance.

When he returned to the cave, Alfred was waiting for him with news.

“Commissioner Gordon has been hospitalised,” he reported. “He was attacked in the sewers.”

“I’m going to pay him a visit,” he said, stripping off his costume.

“I doubt they will let you in,” the butler cautioned.

“They’ll let me,” Bruce told him.

Not wanting to draw too much attention to himself, Bruce elected to visit the hospital wearing a black hooded jacket and using the voice modulator he always used while in costume. Gordon wasn’t aware of his true identity and he wanted it kept that way.

Gordon was pale and clearly in pain. Bruce learned he had been shot and was about to be killed but had managed to escape. The older man was lying on his back on the bed, his heart rate and blood pressure continually monitored.

“Knew you’d come, my friend,” the commissioner said, his voice hoarse.

Bruce didn’t waste time with small talk.

“Who did this?”

“He called himself Bane.”

***

He was enormous, at least in the eyes of the terrified Gothamites currently facing the man leading the charge on Gotham’s financial district. Tall and broad, but not fat, his appearance was unusual, to say the least. No one knew why he wore a mask over the bottom half of his face, the remaining half slightly distorted by the pressure of the tight straps holding the mask in place.

His brusquely stated orders sounded muffled, although it appeared he was using some kind of modulator as he directed a dozen armed men to surround the hub of the Gotham Stock Exchange. Men in suits were shoved brutally back toward the crowd currently populating the exchange floor, some tripping over themselves in their hurried retreat, fear making them clumsy.

The group of armed men surrounded the huge bank of computers, their weapons pointed at the crowd. One man set up a laptop, plugging in to the computer and tapped out a few commands. There was a short pause, where some members strained to see what was going on, but the transaction was hidden by the remaining gunmen.

The leader strode forward, pressing some kind of device against the wall. As the assembled people watched, a light began flickering rapidly and a loud beeping echoed through the chamber. The beeping began to increase in speed until it became a loud ringing, causing the witnesses to cover their ears.

Suddenly the computers flickered, then died. Anything within the same radius that contained any electronic components also died, making it clear what the device had been.

Elsewhere in the darkening city, similar devices were being used to shut down everything from communications to the electrical grid.

Within hours the city was in chaos, laid siege by the criminal known as Bane and his soldiers. Various other criminal factions decided to take advantage of the opportunity, breaking into local banks once kept secure by vaults with electronic locks.

Batman did his best to round up the criminals, but he was only one man and it became very apparent that he was out of his depth. Not even the thousand metropolitan police officers loaded up with riot gear could stop the overwhelming tide.

***

Clark watched the television screen, his handsome face marred with a frown.
Police are calling for martial law in Gotham tonight as the chaos continues. Witnesses report that Batman ...

He looked at his wife.

“I need to go.”

She waved her hand at him. “Go then.”

“I don’t want to leave with you mad at me,” he said.

“My being mad at you won’t change what’s happening in Gotham. Bruce needs you.”

Bart looked up from his position near the balcony, having clearly been keeping his distance from Lois, not wanting to stir her anger even more.

“Don’t worry, Stretch. I can keep an eye on things here.”

Clark nodded. As he went to change into his Superman suit, he heard the phone ringing. Lois called him back in from the secret room. Oliver had always kept his Green Arrow gear in the room, hidden by a panel which showed part of a clock face. Clark had found the room years before when he’d first met Oliver.

Now, he kept his Superman uniform there, knowing it would be safe from prying eyes.

“Smallville! Phone!” she repeated, her tone more impatient.

He sighed. When she called him Smallville she either wanted to tease him or she was mad at him. He zipped back into the living room, picking up the phone.

“We got problems, Boy Scout,” AC told him.

***

Da Silva checked his weapon, then looked around him at the assembled men. This wouldn’t be like Smallville, he thought. There the attack hadn’t been carefully planned and most of the men in that attack were still scattered in various prisons.

Mannheim had done a good job ensuring there were enough weapons to go around. His men had been sent to raid military bases all over the country, coming back with all manner of assault rifles and handguns. There were even top-of-the-line rocket launchers among the stolen cache.

Da Silva nodded to Frank Bennett, who opened up the box containing one of the rocket launchers. Bennett was a former special ops soldier who had once been stationed with General Sam Lane at Fort Ryan until he was caught stealing weapons and selling them off to the highest bidder. He was considered by some of the group to be the foremost expert in handling high-end weaponry.

He was also certifiably insane. Da Silva wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, but it appeared that he had been in Smallville at the time of the second meteor shower. There were rumours he had some kind of meteor power, but what that was hadn’t been revealed. What was clear was that he had gone on a rampage about three years earlier, bombing various locations around Metropolis. He’d been caught by Superman, who had been known as the Blur back then and witnesses had claimed the man had laughed even as he was led away, with a high girlish giggle.

Their instructions were clear. Hit as many areas of Metropolis as they could and keep the superheroes busy.

Da Silva led the charge, taking about a dozen men with him to begin the attack on the central city. Bennett laughed as he readied the rocket launcher and aimed it at a vacant store. The building exploded, glass shattering, flames fanning out from the empty windows, eating at the dry wood which formed the frame of the building itself.

Again Bennett giggled, sounding almost like a hyena. Da Silva didn’t like the man and normally didn’t want anyone that crazy working alongside him, but he at least served his purpose.

A couple of the men ran into another building, dragging out the occupants, who were screaming in terror. As the gang leader watched, the two men dragged the woman into the alley. He turned his attention to the central city branch of the First National bank, nodding to his men. Two of them began firing their weapons into the glass windows of the shopfront. Security alarms began to blare. He again nodded and sent the two men into the bank. About a minute later there was a bang from inside.

Two police cars drove up and one of the officers spoke from inside, clearly using the car’s equipment to send out a message via speaker.

“This is Metro PD. Put down your weapons or we will be forced to fire.”

Da Silva snorted. The police wouldn’t be able to stop them and he knew it.

***

Clark flew over the city, his heart breaking as he saw what was happening. Reports of armed men attacking shopfronts, pulling residents out of their homes, were spreading all over the city. He had called in as many of his friends as he could.

“Kal-El.”

Kara hovered in the air, staring in dismay at the escalating violence. Once the local criminal factions realised the police weren’t going to be able to control the gangs they had begun looting the stores.

“Kara, we need to round up as many of them as we can.” He landed on the ground near a police cordon, his cousin coming down softly behind him.

“Captain,” he said to the police officer sheltering behind his car.

“Superman. I’ve called in as many of my men as I can but I don’t know what we can do against such firepower. We heard there were raids on armouries all over the country.”

Clark nodded. “I’m aware of that, Captain. My friends and I are going to do what we can to re-establish order.”

He winced as another explosion lit up the night sky. The first thing he needed to do was try and take care of that rocket launcher, he thought.

“Superman, Supergirl,” another officer called. “They’re all over the city. We heard they’re going to attack the LexCorp Power Plant.”

Kara stared at him, her eyes wide with alarm. The power plant was one of the few subsidiaries of LuthorCorp still intact despite the apparent collapse of Lex’s company.

“Kal-El, that is a nuclear reactor.”

“Go, Kara.”

“What are you going to do?”

“What I can.” He turned back to the Captain. “Have your men fan out and try to take out as many of the armed men as you can. Use the tasers if possible.”

“You know we can’t avoid ...”

“I know, sir.”

As much as he wanted to preserve life at all costs, he was resigned to the fact that the police might have to use deadly force against the armed men. He would do his best to avoid that happening, but there was only so much he could do.

He rose up into the air so he could get a better perspective of what was happening down on the ground. The men had begun to fan out in all directions, firing their weapons at vehicles and causing pile-ups. Drivers began trying to flee, only to have bullets fired in their wake.

The men had clearly planned this, Clark thought, watching in horror as the men placed the civilians between themselves and the armed police, essentially using them as hostages. He flew down as the men continued to fire on the helpless and terrified population, doing his best to block the bullets. One man giggled as he aimed a rocket launcher and fired. Clark caught the projectile and flew up into the air, throwing the explosive into the stratosphere a mere second before it exploded.

He then flew down and landed hard on the ground behind the man, aiming his heat vision at the back of the rocket launcher, which began to glow as it heated up. The armed man gasped and dropped the weapon on the ground.

Before Clark could round him up, another man turned on him, firing his Uzi. Clark effortlessly stopped the bullets but the other man continued to advance on him, throwing away the Uzi and pulling out a 9mm handgun.

***

In a villa in the city near Rennes le Chateau, a woman was speaking via videolink to Baron de Rochefort careful to keep her expression neutral. She didn’t agree with this latest scheme, but wasn’t about to reveal that fact to the man on the other end of the link.

“Oui je-comprend! Je vous fais confiance... pour résoudre ce petit problem.”

The woman switched off the camera and relaxed against the sofa cushions, turning to her guests, her expression changing to an uncertain but welcoming smile.

“Votre Frère a un problem?” Leon Mader enquired.

He was a man of average height with blonde, thinning hair. He was once considered a handsome man but years of too much wine and too much rich food combined with too little exercise had led to obesity and had ruined him.

The mistress of Villa Nemeton sighed.

"Mon frère est un idiot de s'attaquer à Superman et à la Ligue de la Justice. Il va échouer ... Je veux l'empêcher de faire des choses stupides."

Mader’s companion, a young French-Israeli woman, with the dark complexion and strong features common to those of her ancestry, frowned.

"Comment vous pouvez le savoir? Votre frère a rarement connu l'échec.”

“Je suis Medium. Je peut voir le Futur …et je vois que mon Frère va connaitre l'échec."

Slowly Gaëlle de Rochefort rose from her seat. She was a tall woman, almost as tall as her brother, with brown hair and hazel eyes that could look green in a certain light. She approached the window to look out at the landscape, down to the bank of trees and the small church known around the world as the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. It had gained fame due to supposed documents detailing the history of the Priory of Sion which later became the subject of a best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, but the documents were forgeries and the story was considered the biggest hoax of the twentieth century.

At least, that was what the Illuminati wanted the world to believe.

"Pouvez vous m'aider Léon, Sarah?”

“Nous allons vous aider,” the young redhead replied.

“Mais cela va être difficile,” Leon added.

A third woman entered the room, smiling. She was a statuesque blonde with an aura of absolute trust. She smiled as she joined them, standing beside the villa’s mistress.

“Puis'je vous présenter Hélena Kosmatos une Dame Amazone de Gréce,” Gaëlle announced with a sweeping gesture.

“Bonjour. Je suis ravi de vous aider.”

"Yes, I understand! I do trust you ... of course to solve this little problem.”
"My brother is an idiot to attack Superman and the Justice League. It will fail ... I love him and I want to keep him from doing stupid things.”
"How can you know? Your brother has rarely experienced failure."
"I'm psychic. I can see the future ... and I see that my brother will fail."
"Can you help me Leon, Sarah?"
“We’ll help you.”
“But it will be difficult.”
“I present you Helena Kosmatos a Amazon lady from Greece.”
“Hello. I am happy to help you.”

***

“Ollie!”

Oliver heard the urgency in his wife’s voice and got out of the shower, quickly wrapping a towel around himself. Still dripping, he went out to the bedroom where Chloe was watching something on the television.

“What is it, honey?”

She didn’t need to say anything, pointing at the television.

“Et vous pouvez voir les photos envoyées par nos collègues américains journalistes vivent aux Etats-Unis. Une insurrection par des éléments criminels dans les villes de Metropolis et de Gotham City.”

“And you can see by the pictures sent by our fellow Americans journalists live in the USA. An insurrection by criminal elements in the cities of Metropolis and Gotham City.”

New images appeared of Metropolis where there appeared to be fires burning and streets in chaos. The newscaster was speaking French but he got the gist of it soon enough.

“I need to get back to Metropolis. They’re going to need me.”

Chloe stared at him, her eyes wide and frightened.

“Ollie, what if this ...”

She paused. It was fairly clear what she was thinking, since he was thinking it too. While they hadn’t been able to prove it, the attack in Smallville had been the precursor to the Illuminati’s attack on the Justice League, or rather, Superman himself.

Chloe got off the bed, picking up her clothes.

“I’m coming with you,” she said firmly.

“Honey, you’re pregnant. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

“I won’t,” she told him. “I’ll stay in Watchtower and co-ordinate. You’ll need someone central to help keep you up to date on attacks.”

He picked up the phone and dialled a number.

“It’s Oliver Queen. I need the jet to take us immediately to Metropolis.”

There was a pause, then someone else came on the line, quickly explaining they were an airport official.

“I’m sorry, Mr Queen, but Metropolis Airport has been locked down. No trains either and the National Guard has been called in. No one gets in or out of Metropolis.”

Oliver moaned in frustration, running a hand through his wet, spiky locks.

“I don’t think you understand. I’m needed there.”

“I’m sorry, sir. There is nothing I can do.”

“What about Gotham?”

“Gotham is under siege as well,” the official told him. “Everything is blocked off. There is no way in or out.”

He hung up, looking at Chloe.

“Both Metropolis and Gotham are a no-fly zone,” he said.

Chloe frowned. “What?”

“The National Guard has been called in.”

“What do we do?”

He shrugged. “What can we do?”

“Well, I’m not going to just sit here. There has to be something I can do. What if this is the Illuminati trying to get Clark away from the apartment?”

Most of the time, Oliver loved his wife’s frenetic energy. She was a passionate woman and that often meant she was never happy unless she was running around frantically. As Oliver’s old nurse, who was English, would have said, ‘running around like a chook with its head cut-off’. There was a time and place for it and as much as he hated the fact he couldn’t get them home to help his friends, there was little he could do about it.

“Honey, I really don’t think there’s much we can do from Paris.”

She pulled off her nightgown and began pulling on jeans and a sweater.

“We’re going to Lana’s,” she said firmly. “Get dressed.”

He stood at attention and saluted her. “Sir, yes sir!”

“Smart ass,” she said dryly. “Hurry up. I’m just gonna call Lana.”

He went back into the bathroom and quickly dried off, dumping the towel on the floor. Chloe would probably nag him about it later, but since she was in such a hurry to get to Lana’s, he figured he had about half a day’s grace.

“Ollie!”

He muttered something unintelligible, then went back out to the bedroom in the nude to dress in jeans and a shirt. He looked up, frowning as he heard his wife calling him once more from the living area of their suite, followed by bangs and crashes.

Oliver ran out, startled to find a man had busted in the door and was holding Chloe up in the air. She was struggling in the man’s grip, trying to pull away. The man was tall, although not quite as tall as Oliver, with dark brown hair and stocky build.

Oliver noticed the man wore a t-shirt that seemed a little misshapen, covering something over his torso. He rushed the man, striking him hard with a full fist, only for it to almost break his hand.

The man dropped Chloe and grabbed Oliver instead by the throat. Oliver choked, trying to pull the man’s hand away. He found himself tossed through the air, crashing into the wall. Dazed, he lay there, his ears buzzing, barely hearing his wife’s frightened scream.

Chloe watched helplessly as the man tossed her husband across the room. She peered at him, thinking she should know him.

“Oh my god!” she breathed. “Corben!”

She backed away as he came for her again.

“No!”

“Leave her alone!” a feminine voice ordered firmly.

Chloe was never more relieved to see her friend in her life. She quickly realised that Lana must have heard what was happening through the phone and had come to put a stop to it. Her friend moved at speed toward the man who had come to be known as Metallo but for some inexplicable reason she stopped before she could shove him away.

Corben grabbed her by the throat. Lana struggled, grunting. To Chloe’s shock and consternation, the Kryptonite heart he’d been given began to emit an eerie green glow. Lana groaned as if she was in pain, still fighting. Chloe stared as the heart began to glow even brighter. It seemed as if Lana’s power was being sucked from her.

Her friend dropped to the floor, gasping for breath. Suddenly an arrow came out of nowhere and Corben dropped like a stone. Chloe turned and looked at her husband as he dropped the compound bow. He’d shot Corben with a tranquiliser dart.

She ran to him, hugging him.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

She touched the cut on his forehead. “I should be asking you that question,” she said softly.

“Fine. Nothing a good night’s sleep won’t cure. Who is he?”

“That’s right, I forgot. You never met John Corben.”

“The guy the Kandorians experimented on?”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

Corben rolled over, groaning as he started to get up. Oliver cocked an eyebrow.

“There was enough tranquiliser to drop an elephant,” he said.

Corben stumbled toward Lana, who was still on the floor, her face pale. She was clearly weak, as if her powers from the Prometheus suit had been stripped away.

Oliver started to move toward the man, who turned and looked at them, before he took out a phone, breathing heavily as he pressed a couple of buttons.

“Threat is neutralised,” he said, before he tried to stumble out. He didn’t get far, his legs suddenly unsteady, causing him to collapse to the floor.

“Guess the tranquilser worked better than I thought,” Oliver muttered.

Chloe wondered. It looked to her as if Corben had absorbed all the Kryptonite in Lana’s body, powering up his heart further, but it looked a little like overload.

“What threat?” Chloe asked.

He stared up at her as if he didn’t recognise her.

“Guy ... said he ... w-wanted me to ... Lang.”

“You’re not making any sense,” she said.

Corben clearly tried to pull his thoughts together, taking a deep breath. He began to speak haltingly, telling them he had been working as a consultant when he’d had a call from a man claiming to be from the NSA. The man had told him to meet at the old building the former reporter had once owned, which he’d been planning on using as a base to pursue the Blur. It was the same building where his sister had lived before she’d been murdered by an escaped convict. Corben had blamed Clark for her death.

The agent had basically blackmailed him into going to Paris to take out Lana Lang saying she was a threat that needed to be neutralised.

Chloe got down beside her friend.

“Lana? Are you okay?”

Lana looked up. Her colour had come back and she seemed better. Still weak, but better.

“What happened?” she asked.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Chloe told her.

Together, she and Oliver helped Lana up and sat her down on the couch. While they were otherwise occupied, Corben managed to get himself up and slip out the door. Lana stared at them.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

***

Ross Webster was at his desk on the fifty-seventh floor of the Webscoe Industries building going over some paperwork. His plans for the takeover of Luthorcorp were slowly coming to fruition. He’d borrowed from a page of Lionel Luthor’s handbook on how to destroy companies and had had his people try to dig up every scrap of dirt on Luthorcorp’s board members. He planned on taking said information and using it to blackmail the members into selling their shares.

Lionel Luthor had done that once, years ago, when he’d been teaching his son a lesson on corporate politics. Of course, that had got him shot and almost killed for his trouble.

His mistress, Lorelai, was rubbing his shoulders. He’d met the blonde three years earlier. She wasn’t the brightest of women and not what he would call a brilliant conversationalist. His sister Vera would call her a bimbo, but she had her uses.

Sounds travelled up through the open balcony door from the street several hundred feet below. He could hear sirens from various emergency vehicles. Irritated by the noise, he shrugged off the hands of his mistress and picked up the remote on his desk. Panels slid back in the wall to reveal a widescreen television. On the screen, a news anchor was struggling to keep his expression neutral while describing scenes of utter devastation and chaos in the streets.

Just as Webster began to settle in to watch the newscast, the lights began to flicker. He frowned, touching a button on the intercom. The lights again flickered and went out. The television suddenly switched off.

“What the hell?” he asked, picking up the phone on his desk. There was no dial tone.

The lights came on again but they were at half their usual capacity which clearly meant an emergency generator had kicked in. The main door burst open and a man in his early sixties rushed in, puffing and panting. He looked clearly panicked, his security uniform grubby and, if Ross was not mistaken, torn in several places.

“Mr Webster, sir. You need to evacuate the building.”

“Whatever for?”

“The people in the streets. They’ve attacked the building and shut the mains down. Those staff who were still working have already left.”

The powerful CEO glanced at Lorelai, who just shrugged and looked at her painted nails as if this was just an every day run-of-the-mill occurrence and she had more important things to think about.

“I see,” he said. “Rather a coincidence, wouldn’t you say?”

The guard frowned at him. Webster had never even bothered to deign to learn the man’s name. He was a lowly peon and not worth the effort in his mind.

“I have a helicopter on the roof waiting for you, Mr Webster. I suggest you leave now.”

Vera burst in, looking pale and frightened.

“Ross ...”

There was the sound of squawking coming from the guard’s radio.

“Yes?”

Ross watched as the man turned away and listened to the radio, speaking urgently into it, before he turned back.

“Sir, this situation has now become a Priority One. You must evacuate now.”

He glanced once more at his mistress and his sister. Both seemed very eager to leave.

“Very well,” he said, touching a switch under his desk. The two women followed him to the back wall of the office where another panel had slid aside to reveal stairs to the roof. Just as he ushered the two women up the stairs he turned. Half a dozen armed men ran into the office, shooting the guard. Webster fled.

***

Lex barked into the phone.

“You listen to me, Otis ...I want ...”

He paused, listening. Moana sighed and turned back to the television screen where she could see images of rioting in the streets of Metropolis. Another screen showed similar images in Gotham. Luthor continued to rant to his assistant but she ignored it, changing the channel to another news network. Her eyes widened as she saw the image on the screen.

“Luthor,” she began, but he was still ranting. “Luthor!” she said, louder this time. He turned to look at her and she pointed to the screen.

It was Luthorcorp. The rioters had clearly broken in as the wide glass windows to the lobby had been smashed. The news reporter related stories of fires on several levels of the building. Then they crossed live to the scene showing images of some of the rioters. The ringleader was none other than the security guard Lex had fired just days earlier. He was smirking into the camera.

“Benjamin!” Lex growled. “You son of a bitch!”

As much as Moana hated Luthor, she hated what that guard had done to her even more. Now it looked like the man was getting his revenge.

Two days earlier

De Rochefort sprawled casually in the large armchair, gazing up at the younger woman.

“Je l'avoue,” Elsa told him, “J'ai été surprise de recevoir votre appel.”

“J'ai des informations que je pense vous trouverez ... intéressant.”

She sat opposite him, taking a notebook out of her purse.

“Dite moi,” she said.

“Connaissez-vous bien Lex Luthor?”

“Seulement ce que j'ai lu dans les medias,” she said regretfully.

“Depuis de nombreuses années, Luthor a été impliqué dans un certain nombre de projets, mais celui de vous intéresser est appelé 33.1. Bien sûr, comme vous le savez, il ya 33 degrés de la franc-maçonnerie.

He continued. “En Ésotérisme, 33.1 signifie 33 maîtres ainsi que celui qui est invisible. Pour le dire autrement, les Illuminati sont derrière la franc-maçonnerie ou Black Sun.

Elsa leaned forward, clearly curious as to where this was going.

“Je ne suis pas sûr que je comprends.”

“Dans le passé, les Illuminati ont aidé Lionel Luthor dans son ascension au pouvoir.”

“Qu'est-ce que cela a à voir avec Godfrey?”

“Cela n'a rien à voir avec Godfrey. Il a tout à voir avec les Illuminati. C'est notre organisation.”

“Les Illuminati veulent Superman?”

“Nous voulons le détruire. Vous avez raison dans votre première hypothèse, Mademoiselle Brunning. Superman est une menace, mais il est une menace beaucoup plus importante que vous vous rendez compte.”

“Pourquoi me dites-vous cela?”

“Luthor dispose d'une documentation sur le projet 33.1. Nous le voulons. En échange, je vais vous donner un accès complet à ce sujet et plus sur nos objectifs pour Superman.”

“Que voulez-vous que je fasse?”

“Je crois que l'information est détenue dans le stockage sécurisé de LuthorCorp. Trouvez-le et apportez-le moi.”

“Comment?”

“I admit, I was surprised to receive your call.”
“I have some information I think you will find ... interesting.”
“Do tell.”
“How well do you know Lex Luthor?”
“Only what I have read in the media.”
“For many years, Luthor has been involved in a number of projects, but the one of interest to you is called 33.1. Of course, as you know, there are 33 degrees in Freemasonry.
"In Esoterism, 33.1 means 33 masters plus one who is invisible. To put it another way, the Illuminati is behind Freemasonry or Black Sun.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“In the past, the Illuminati helped Lionel Luthor in his rise to power.”
“What does this have to do with Godfrey?”
“It has nothing to do with Godfrey. It has everything to do with the Illuminati. That is our organisation.”
“The Illuminati want Superman?”
“We want to destroy him. You are correct in your first assumption, Mademoiselle Brunning. Superman is a threat, but he is a much bigger threat than you realise.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Luthor has documentation on the 33.1 project. We want it. In exchange, I will give you full access to that and more about our goals for Superman.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I believe the information is held in secure storage within Luthorcorp. Find it, and bring it to me.”
“How?”

He showed her a photograph of a man who had once worked for Luthorcorp as a security guard. The man was currently in jail awaiting trial for rape and attempted murder. Elsa nodded.

She left the hotel and made arrangements to visit the man in the jail. Benjamin was bitter and angry.

“That bastard framed me,” he spat. “My wife left me.”

As the man continued to rage at her, Elsa was left with no doubt that the man had done exactly as charged. The way he looked at her reinforced that idea. Still, she knew the man could give her valuable information.

There was no way, however, to get him released on bail, but opportunity soon presented itself in the form of riots in the streets. As the cops were fully occupied with the chaos in the streets, it was easy for her to walk in to the jail and release Benjamin, telling him what she needed.

Benjamin smirked at her. It was his pleasure, he told her.

***

Moana just continued to watch the screen as Luthor raged at the wanton destruction of his property. She ignored him, figuring it was best he get it out of his system. She was still trying to focus on the news broadcast when the door burst open and three men came in. All three were wearing masks and carrying guns.

“Come with us and you won’t get hurt.”

Lex stopped mid-rant and glowered at the trio.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

Moana was already on her feet, charging one of the men and smashing the heel of her hand into his nose. Another of the men fired but Luthor had already grabbed his arm so the shot went wild. Moana twisted, kneeing the attacker in the groin and rounding on the second man who had tried to grab her from behind in a bear hug.

The third man managed to overpower Luthor just as she shoved the second man away. He grabbed her, one arm around her neck. She fought him, pulling him with her until she was an arm’s length away from the wall and she pushed back against him, using him for momentum as she walked up the wall and twisted, landing behind him. She cut him down with a sharp kick to the small of his back. The first man, his eyes streaming from the pain of the hit on his nose, had picked up his gun where he’d dropped it and was firing on her. Moana dropped to a crouch, sweeping him off his feet with one leg.

Luthor had managed to recover by this time and he used another gun to pistol whip the attacker into unconsciousness. Moana saw a wallet in the back pocket of one of the men, looking up at Lex in horror as the identification revealed the man was Canadian Intelligence.

Why they’d chosen to mask themselves was a mystery, until she saw the pendant he wore around his neck. The All-Seeing Eye. Crap, they were Illuminati, she thought.

“You better call Caron and get him down here.”

***

The Daily Planet was normally fairly quiet this time of night with only a skeleton staff, but editor-in-chief Perry White had called for all hands on deck as the rioting in the street continued. Jimmy Olsen, a new photography intern, had been living up to the name of his late brother and was eagerly taking photos from the window.

Cat Grant, who was still entirely too perky for Lois’ liking, was eager to earn her stripes as a reporter and at least bring herself up to the level of her sometime nemesis. She was forever complaining that just because she’d kept her ‘youthful good looks’ it meant that she wasn’t taken seriously as a reporter.

Lois had often been heard thanking her lucky stars that Clark was now permanently assigned as her partner instead of working with the blonde disaster.

Perry held court in the boardroom.

“All right people, what have we got?”

Ron Troupe spoke up.

“My sources tell me they’re using a cache of stolen weapons from armouries all around the country. The Joint Chiefs are calling for blood.”

“How many of them are out there?”

“At last count, there were at least a hundred, maybe more.”

“Cat?”

“I’m trying to get in touch with Superman,” she said, determined not to let someone like Lois have the monopoly on him.

When Superman had first appeared, there had been speculation that he was a new superhero, until they’d seen the ‘S’ on the chest of his uniform and realised that Superman had been working in the shadows for years.

Lois’ first real interview with Superman, aka the Blur, had implied that he had been raised on Earth, sent to the planet so he wouldn’t be killed in a cataclysm which had destroyed an entire race of people. The article had been sympathetic, painting a picture of a man who had resembled humans but wasn’t one of them. Cat had scowled at the article but secretly felt sorry for the superhero, unable to imagine just how terribly lonely it must have been for him.

It was a complete turnaround from a year earlier when she had first begun listening to the likes of Gordon Godfrey, who had tried to paint the Blur as nothing but a vigilante menace. Then again, Superman was almost always front page news and every reporter worth their salt would rather keep him on-side so they could get their turn at the money-spinning headlines.

“You don’t ‘get in touch’ with Superman,” one of the other reporters at the table said. “He contacts you. Or rather, he doesn’t. We all know Lane has the monopoly on that.”

“Has anybody ever considered that there might be something between her and Superman? Like personally? I mean, what does she see in that nerd Kent anyway?”

Perry glowered at Steve Lombard. The sports reporter glared back. He had left the newspaper a year or so earlier to work for the Daily Star, but the newspaper had suddenly called it quits after its circulation dropped dramatically and Lombard had returned to the Planet. Perry never let him forget it.

Perry was still seeing Martha and the couple had yet to formalise their relationship. As far as he was concerned, no one had any right to say anything against the young man he looked on fondly as almost a son.

“What Lane and Kent see in each other is no one’s business but theirs,” the editor told the assembled group, just as a crash could be heard outside.

Men with guns marched into the board room. Everyone assembled rose up from the table in panic.

“No one leaves. You all sit quietly and no one gets hurt.”

Perry looked at the lead man, who he recognised as the motorcycle gang leader Superman had sent to prison just a few weeks earlier.

“What do you want?”

Da Silva grinned at him, showing gaps in his teeth.

“Straight down to business. I like that. Here’s what we want. One hundred million dollars, all in unmarked bills, and safe passage out of the city.”

Great Caesar’s Ghost, Perry thought. This was a fine kettle of fish.

“And what if we refuse to be a part of this?”

Da Silva placed a small device on the table. Perry frowned at the green glow. The armed man smirked as he pressed a button. There was an LED lit on the small console which Perry realised was a timer. It began counting down from three hours.

“Get on the phone, old man,” da Silva ordered.

“And who are you suggesting I call?”

“How about Senator Martha Kent?” the other man grinned evilly. “I hear she’s a close, personal friend of yours.”

Perry chewed on his lip nervously, glancing around at the pale, frightened faces of the gathered reporters. The last thing he wanted to do was involve Martha, but he had a feeling the man knew exactly what his relationship with her was. It seemed the man also knew a lot about Superman, if the green glow of the bomb was anything to go by.

He picked up the phone and dialled Martha’s office. Her secretary, Louise, picked up.

“Louise, it’s Perry White. Is Martha in?”

“She’s in a meeting, sir. I can’t ...”

“Louise, I understand you’re doing your job but there are a dozen men with guns aimed at several of my reporters demanding one hundred million dollars. If their demands are not met within less than three hours, the Daily Planet will be blown to kingdom come. I don’t want to tell you your job, Louise, but if you don’t find the good senator and tell her, I cannot be held responsible for the consequences.”

He’d heard the gasp on the other end and knew she understood him completely.

“I will talk to her immediately,” she said. “Are you all right?”

“No one has been hurt. Yet.” The operative word being ‘yet’, he thought.

He hung up the phone and looked at da Silva.

“That good enough for you?” he asked.

“Excellent.”

Two men were left to guard the hostages while the rest gathered outside. Perry sat down with a heavy sigh, his gaze locked on the device. There was no way he could turn it off, he decided, as the gang leader must have rigged it somehow.

Lombard looked at him.

“You think they’re going to kill us?” he asked.

Perry ran a hand over his face, groaning softly.

“Probably,” he replied.

Cat shook her head. “No, they need us as hostages. We’re too valuable.”

“I doubt whether they’d care, to be perfectly frank.”

Jimmy, his face pale, decided he couldn’t sit around. He fidgeted in his seat, his hand on his camera.

“I could try to get pictures,” he said in a low voice, glancing up at the two men standing guard at the door.

“Don’t be stupid, Jimmy. I forbid it. I’m not about to let you get killed over some damn pictures.”

“But Chief,” the teen began.

“Don’t try to be a hero, Jimmy. If I know Superman, he’ll help us.” He glanced once again uneasily at the bomb, but didn’t point it out to the others.

“Good. This might be my chance to get an exclusive interview with him,” Cat said.

Perry groaned quietly. The woman was obsessed with trying to get the best of Lane and Kent. Superman was going to be far too busy trying to prevent a catastrophe to stop for a damned interview.

***

Martha stared at Louise, her face white with shock.

“What did you just say?” she asked.

“Perry White and some of his staff are being held hostage at the Daily Planet. I contacted Agent Molino in the FBI. He managed to hack into the CCTV network at the newspaper and confirmed it.”

Martha knew there was no time to waste.

“Louise, get me the President’s office in the White House.”

She looked at the two senators and smiled apologetically.

“I am sorry. It seems we have an emergency situation.”

“Think nothing of it, Martha. If we can help in any way ...” Daniel Abrams smiled.

The two men left and Martha picked up the phone, dialling a number.

“Mom?”

“Hi sweetheart. I hear things are rather chaotic there at the moment.”

Lois sighed.

“That’s a word for it.”

“Well, I hate to add to the problem darling, but Perry called.” She told her daughter-in-law what Louise had told her.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Lois replied. “We’ll sort it out, but maybe you need to call the President just in case.”

“I already have Louise on it. Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. You know me.”

Martha smiled. She knew Lois very well indeed.

“I love you,” she said.

“Love you too, Mom.”

***

Lois hung up the phone and looked at Bart.

“You need to go find Clark right now,” she said.

Bart frowned at her. “What about the communicators?”

She’d forgotten about the communicators Chloe had given them. Her cousin had never got around to telling them about the man who had invented them. Lois got up and went to the green room as she called it, using the remote control to activate the doors.

The communicators were in a small case. One was not sitting in its usual place, which meant Clark had taken his. Lois took her own out and pressed it into her ear.

“Goldilocks to Boy Scout,” she said, ignoring the light chuckle behind her.

“Boy Scout here,” came the reply within a moment.

Lois could hear sirens and the breaking of glass. She hated pulling Clark away from what was clearly a tense situation but she had no other choice.

“The Daily Planet is under siege,” she told him, keeping it all business, just in case someone might have tapped into their frequency.

“How many?”

“Big Momma says about a dozen. Proceed with caution Boy Scout.”

She couldn’t tell him much more than that, but she knew Clark would be on it.

“Understood, Goldilocks. Boy Scout out.”

Lois turned back to Bart.

“Well, we warned him,” she said. “It’s up to him now.”

“He’ll get there in time,” Bart assured her with confidence.

She nodded. “Yeah.”

She looked gratefully at her friend. They had their ups and downs. Bart could be brash and impulsive, hence the name Impulse, but he was always there when he was needed. She had been at Met U when Clark had met the younger man the first time, but she had heard enough to know he had a good heart.

Mara let out a cry from upstairs, letting her mother know she was awake. Lois glanced at the clock. It was almost nine. Clark had already been out fighting for five hours.

“I’ll go,” Bart offered, already making his way to the stairs to head to the nursery.

Lois resumed pacing the living area, watching the drama unfold. She’d already seen the way the rioters had destroyed Luthorcorp and she worried they would head to the clocktower next. Watchtower probably wouldn’t fare much better. No security system in the world could stand up to a dozen men with weapons and destruction on their minds.

There was a loud screeching from the direction of the elevator and Lois tensed, wondering if the rioters had hit the building. She ran toward it, grabbing a large brass vase as she passed, watching as a figure slowly came into view.

Ria! Or rather, Aresia!

***

Perry watched in despair as the figures on the display clicked over to the ninety minute mark.

“We should do something,” Jimmy whispered.

“There are a dozen men with guns, Olsen,” Perry replied. “I told you. No heroics.”

The phone rang and da Silva moved around the table to pick it up. He listened briefly, then handed the phone to Perry.

“Perry White,” he said gruffly.

“Mr White, this is Agent Molino of the FBI. Can you tell me what the situation is?”

“We have a dozen men with weapons trained on this room. I have six reporters and one photographer with me and what looks like a bomb on the table, with less than ninety minutes on the countdown.”

“Our people are doing what we can, sir.”

He sighed, wishing for the first time in years that he had a drink. He’d once been a full-blown alcoholic, but had given up the drink after nearly getting himself killed in Smallville a few years earlier. It was thanks to Clark that he’d been given the wake-up call he needed to get off the drink and get his life back.

“It’s not good enough,” Perry growled. “I’ve been in the trenches and I know a bad situation when I see one.”

“We have you on surveillance and I know you’re doing your best to keep everyone calm. I’m asking you to keep it up for a little while longer. It’s going to take time to get the money together.”

“I don’t think you understand,” he told him. “We don’t have time!”

The gang leader took the phone from him.

“Listen up, Agent. You got less than ninety minutes to transfer one hundred million bucks to a bank account in the Caymans. If we don’t get that money, the only thing left of the Daily Planet will be a gigantic crater, got me?”

There was the sound of breaking glass and something flew past Perry in a blur of red and blue. Superman, he thought.

Da Silva dropped the phone. He seemed surprised when the gun disappeared from his hand. The rest of the guns also vanished from the other men, who appeared confused. Superman appeared in the outer office, crushing the weapons.

The gang leader grinned.

“Superman! How nice of you to drop in.”

“Da Silva,” the superhero growled. “It’s over!”

The man smirked. “You think so?” He looked at the device on the table. Perry stared at it. The glow had seemed to brighten in the superhero’s presence. He glanced up at Superman, who seemed to stumble slightly. “I had it specially designed. There is no stopping it, Superman.”

To Perry’s shock and dismay, the counter seemed to speed up. It was as if the device had been programmed to respond to Superman’s unique energy signature.

“Uh, Superman ...”

Superman stared at the device, then blew on it, freezing it. The counter still kept counting down.

“Nice try.”

Perry growled and rose to his feet, moving to tackle the gang leader. The others followed his example, rushing the other men. Superman moved at speed, clearly in pain as he approached the bomb, which was still counting down.

Clark stumbled, feeling the old nausea and weakness as he grew closer to the bomb. It appeared da Silva had thought of everything. He knew there was no choice. There was enough explosive to level three blocks and enough Kryptonite that it could possibly kill him.

His blood seemed to be boiling in his body as he picked up the device, his hands turning green, the veins bulging. Hissing in pain, he cradled the device, which had less than a minute, then took off at speed through the window.

Perry had managed to knock the gang leader out and had turned to help the others with the rest of the men when a brilliant explosion lit up the night sky.

“Superman,” he whispered, going to the now smashed window.

***

Batman dropped to the roof of City Hall where Bane and his men were currently holding hostages. There was a skylight on top of the dome and he smashed through, the wings on his cape slowing his momentum slightly as he landed on the floor in front of the tall man.

“Batman,” the distorted voice cried almost gleefully.

“Bane,” Batman growled, his voice raspy.

Two of Bane’s men came forward, looking to fight him. Bane waved his hand.

“I’ve been looking forward to this,” the other man told him.

“Then it’s time we end it,” Batman returned, lashing out.

Bane responded with a powerful punch of his own, shoving Batman into a pillar. The Dark Knight returned the punch with a series of punches and kicks which seemed to have no effect on the powerful man.

They fought like two boxers in a ring, while the gathered henchmen formed a circle around them. Batman grunted with each hit, blood spurting from a cut on his lip. Bane continued to beat him back until the Dark Knight looked beaten and exhausted.

“Theatricality and deception are powerful agents to the uninitiated... but we are initiated, aren’t we, Bruce?” Bane said.

Batman stared up at him. His research had led him to the discovery that Bane was a member of the League of Shadows. Or at least, he had been, until he’d been ex-communicated.

“The League of Shadows was nothing but a gang of psychopaths,” he growled back.

“I am the League of Shadows, and I’m here to fulfil Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny.”

That told Bruce one important thing. The League of Shadows was a distant cousin to the Illuminati. This had all been a set-up to destroy Gotham and keep Batman distracted.

Batman had one more ace up his sleeve. He pulled out a small explosive. It wouldn’t be enough to kill someone as powerful as Bane, but hopefully enough to injure him. He threw it, but the resulting explosion didn’t even stop the man in his tracks.

Batman fought as Bane continued to beat him.

“I will show you where I made my home. Then I will break you.”

Batman struggled to his feet, aiming punch after punch at the man, to little effect. His vision was greying out, his entire body burning with pain. He could barely stand as Bane grabbed him by the collar and the waistband of his uniform, lifting him into the air before slamming him down over his knee. Bruce gave one final scream at the agonising pain in his back, then knew no more.

Bane stared down at the broken body, peculiarly unsatisfied. It hadn’t seemed much of a fight. He turned to his henchmen, about to order them to pick up the fallen knight, but a woman dropped to the floor in front of him. She wore a red and gold bustier and tight blue pants with stars painted all over.

Bane looked at her.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Diana,” she said. “You are Bane.”

“What do you want?”

“You!” she said, her voice like ice. Bane turned away from her, dismissing her as just a woman. He glanced at one of the henchmen, who aimed his gun at the woman.

She moved swiftly, using bracelets on her wrists to deflect the bullets until the man’s gun was empty. The other men just stared at her. Bane growled in impatience, turning to deal with her himself. No sooner had he done so than she had vanished, taking the broken body of Bruce Wayne with her.

***

Lois decided to play dumb for now.

“Ria. What are you doing here?”

The younger woman glared at her.

“Let’s not play games, Miss Lane. Where is she?”

“You’re not taking my baby.”

“I don’t want to hurt you, Lois, but I will if I have to.”

“Do your worst,” she said. “You really think I’m going to let an Amazon take what is mine?”

Aresia smirked. “I see my sister has already warned you about me. Never mind. You cannot fight me, Lois. I am an Amazon. I will take the child away from the land of men.”

“And do what? Raise her to be a man-hater like you are? You’re so blinded by your own hatred you can’t even see you’re insane.”

Aresia screamed in a sound that reminded Lois of a show she had watched as a child. She quickly raised the vase, using it to defend herself against the attack, hoping Bart had heard Aresia come in and managed to get Mara to safety.

She dodged the younger woman’s blows, hitting back with some of her own, but it was like hitting concrete. Aresia was definitely stronger, although how much stronger Lois couldn’t tell. Diana had told her the younger Amazon had similar powers, although not as much as Diana and definitely not as strong, yet they were still more than human.

Still, Lois had been learning martial arts from the age of five and she knew how to turn a person’s strength against them. She continued to dodge the Amazon’s blows, yet landing a few of her own.

Aresia screamed in frustration. Moving too fast for Lois to react, she leapt into the air, tumbling over and over and coming to a halt behind Lois, sweeping her across the room. Lois tried to slow her momentum, only to crash into the wall and falling to the floor. She attempted to get to her feet, a roaring in her ears. As she raised her head, she saw Bart running at full speed at the Amazon, who just swept him aside. He fell, then got to his feet and again rushed the woman.

“You’re not touching her,” he screamed.

Aresia seemed to be unfazed as Bart aimed a punch at her, holding him at arm’s length with a hand on his head. Dazed, Lois began to get to her feet, grabbing a bow and arrow and aiming it at the girl. The Amazon caught the arrow in mid-air and snapped it in two. She paused, canting her head as if listening for something, then knocked Bart out with one punch before turning and leaving.

Frowning, Lois wiped at the blood on her lip and checked on Bart, who was lying unconscious on the floor. She heard the sound of a helicopter on the roof and, in spite of her dizziness, went running up the spiral staircase to her daughter’s room.

Lois gasped in horror. The crib was empty, the blankets pulled roughly back.

“Nooo!” she screamed, falling to her knees in agony.

Above the city, Stephanie de Rochefort held the baby in her arms. Mara was screaming, clearly frightened. The blonde did her best to calm the infant as the aircraft flew through the darkness. As she cuddled the child, she smirked in triumph.

Phase Two of their plan was complete.