Lois Lane was undeniably at the top of her game.
There had been grumbling from some of the other reporters that it had been dumb luck, but obviously Superman had chosen her for a reason, and obviously that reason had been her reporting. That’s what she kept telling herself, anyway. Lois worked twice as hard as any other reporter at The Daily Planet , and put out three times as many stories. She’d started there at the age of sixteen, after she’d sent in an anonymous letter to the editor that had so impressed Perry White that he’d put out an advert asking for her to identify herself. From there it had been a quick climb to the top of the heap, with no real challengers until Clark Kent had come along.
“Listen to this one,” Lois said to him. “‘Superman is not Christ Reborn but the Herald of the Apocalypse, a False Prophet that Presages the End Times’.” She set down the paper with a laugh and looked at Clark, who was hammering away at his typewriter. “Where on earth do people come up with this stuff?”
Clark paused and looked at her through his thick glasses, apparently not seeing the humor. “It’s from the book of Revelation,” he said. “‘And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast.’ They’re thinking that Superman is capable of these wonders and must be an agent of the Antichrist. Some others are arguing that he’s the reincarnation of Christ.”
Lois laughed, and Clark frowned, just as she knew he would.
“It’s not right to make fun of people’s legitimately held beliefs,” said Clark. Lois was a Roman Catholic, in that she attended mass twice a year on Christmas and Easter. Clark was a Lutheran and a bit more serious about his faith. She enjoyed needling him about it, more to annoy him than because she had any strong theological opinions. More often than not, Clark would bring forth some bit of folksy wisdom from his father – his “pa”. By all rights Clark should have been chewed up and spit out by Metropolis two weeks after he’d arrived, but he’d clung on for a solid five months. Still, Lois didn’t think he’d last too much longer. He didn’t have that core of steel a reporter needed in the big city.
“Do you know how much ad space costs in the paper right now?” asked Lois. “People know that Superman reads The Daily Planet , and that’s their only way of communicating with him short of calling out for him and hoping that he stops by, which we know doesn’t work and probably just pisses him off.”
“Superman doesn’t get upset,” said Clark with a sigh.
“Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t,” said Lois. “He doesn’t show it, sure, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel it. You think that he’s just got a heart of stone when he interrupts a rape in progress?” Clark flinched at that. “I met the man, and talked with him more than anyone else since he got here, and I don’t buy it. He may not be human, but he still feels. Anyway, my point is that the paper is the only way that they have any hope of getting across a message, and so ad prices have skyrocketed since the interview came out. Don’t you have any interest in the kinds of crazy crap that people are putting in our pages? It’s all the more crazy knowing that they’re paying top dollar for it.” She looked down at the paper. “This ad only makes sense to people who already buy into what it’s selling, so what’s the point of it?”
“I don’t know,” said Clark.
“You okay Smallville?” asked Lois. That was the name of the town that Clark was from, no joke. When Lois had found out she’d laughed for five solid minutes. She’d looked it up on a map later, and hadn’t been surprised to see that it was almost precisely in the middle of nowhere. “Usually you at least pretend to be enchanted by my wit.”
“I’ve got a lot on my mind, sorry,” said Clark. He looked genuinely apologetic, and turned to engage her in proper conversation. “Did you know Superman is being sued?”
“Had to happen eventually,” said Lois. “No surprise it’s sooner rather than later. What’s the complaint?”
“One of the alleged perpetrators of a jewelry store robbery is claiming that Superman broke his wrist,” said Clark.
“Obvious bullshit or legitimate claim?” asked Lois. “That’ll make the difference between the front page and the back page.”
“It’s obviously untrue,” said Clark. He didn’t swear, which Lois found unaccountably annoying, like many things about him. “Superman will still have to go to court to have his say though.”
“If he wants to get involved in the police business, he’ll need to get used to courtroom appearances,” said Lois. “God those are boring. It’s too bad Superman sells. I don’t look forward to being asked to cover those.”
“Me either,” said Clark. He looked uncharacteristically glum. “Perry wants to see you, by the way.”
“You couldn’t have mentioned that twenty minutes ago?” asked Lois. She walked off to their editor’s office without waiting for an answer. Clark Kent was notoriously unreliable, and if it hadn’t been for his uncanny ability to get stories, Lois was certain that he would have been sacked a few times over. The newspaper was supposed to be a meritocracy, and Clark seemed to skate by on something like luck.
“I’ve got a story for you,” Perry White said with a grimace. He was a thick man, with white at his temples and an invariably neat crew cut. Lois could usually tell what kind of day it had been by how far down Perry had unbuttoned his shirt. Today was a two-button day.
“That bad?” she asked.
“A special request from upstairs,” said Perry. “There’s a man by the name of Lex Luthor that very much wants you to write a story about the orphanage he’s building in Suicide Slums.”
“Me specifically?” she asked.
“In person,” replied Perry with a nod.
“I could do it over the phone with no problem,” said Lois. “So my guess is that this Luthor character has some ulterior motive?”
“One might be tempted to assume that,” said Perry. “But this is an order from high above, and so I want you to play it straight. You’re going to his house to get an interview about the orphanage. Don’t assume anything more. If something else comes up, play it by ear, but he’s got the attention of the boss and that means he’s probably a bad man to piss off.”
“I’ll be on my best behavior,” said Lois as she rolled her eyes. “Scout’s honor.”
Perry gave her a warning look, but Lois merely smiled. She’d known Perry for a full decade now, and could read him better than anyone else. He was just as annoyed with the request as she was. She went off to do some prep work for the interview. Orphanages were soft news, the kind you kept in your back pocket to fill in some space on a slow news day. Lois could only hope that whatever Luthor was really after would make for a good article.
Lex Luthor had become a different man. The key to maintaining a long-term deception was to find a lie as close as possible to the truth, so that it would be more difficult to get caught out. There were perfectly benevolent reasons for a multimillionaire to seek out every scrap of information he could get about Superman. He could only hope that the gathering of information wouldn’t attract much notice from Superman, though he could hardly be the only one trying to get answers. So far he’d done nothing illegal, simply paid people for their accounts of meeting with Superman. The most important witness was still ahead.
“Welcome, Miss Lane,” said Lex with a pleasant, practiced smile. He led her into the smoking room of his mansion, walking with a light and graceful step. Lois wore a blue skirt and a white blouse, showing some of her figure. She was pretty enough, but Lex had other concerns.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Luthor,” said Lois.
“My father was Mr. Luthor,” said Lex with a smile. ” You can call me Lex.”
“I’m sure you’re a busy man, so I’ll try to keep this brief,” said Lois. “I just need a few quotes for the newspaper about the orphanage you’re building in, ah, Southside.”
“Suicide Slums,” said Lex. “No need to stand on formality, I grew up there. Southside is what the city planners called it. It’s how the area is talked about by the politicians. But to those who live there, it’s always called Suicide Slums.”
“You grew up there?” asked Lois with a raised eyebrow. He watched her take a quick glance around the smoking room. It was about as far away from Suicide Slums as you could get.
“I did,” said Lex. “If you’re thinking that I’m building an orphanage because I was an orphan myself, I can assure you that wasn’t the case. My mother and father were poor, but they were at least present. The orphanage is for those children who aren’t quite so fortunate. My adolescence was decidedly unfortunate, and it was only through sheer luck that I was able to get out.”
“Luck,” said Lois Lane. “I did some research Mr. Luthor. You have three PhDs and run the largest private corporation in Metropolis. There are half a hundred patents to your name, and you’re the discoverer of something called Luthorian bonding that I couldn’t make heads or tails of.”
“It allows for a more efficient form of industrial lubrication,” said Lex.
“What I’m saying is that your success seems to go a bit beyond luck.” She stuck the end of her pencil in her mouth and bit it. “Yet prior to a week ago, you stayed in the shadows. On paper, LexCorp is enormous, but I’d wager that most people in Metropolis have never heard of it, even if they work for one of its subsidiaries. So far as I can tell, The Daily Planet hasn’t filed a single story about you. And now here you are, stepping out from behind the curtain to set up an orphanage in Suicide Slums – one of a few grand charitable gestures you’ve been making. I have to wonder why.”
“I don’t suppose that a person ever really wakes up one day and decides to be a better person,” said Lex with a laugh. “That certainly wasn’t the case for me. No, it was the influence of a man that I believe you’re well familiar with. Superman.”
“You know Superman?” asked Lois. He could hear the skepticism her voice.
“No, of course not,” said Lex. “I merely said that I was influenced by him. There’s something quite heroic about seeing an alien with such marvelous powers using them exclusively for the greater good. In fact, I had a few questions that I’d like to ask you about him, if you don’t mind.”
Lois raised an eyebrow. “So that’s your game,” she said. She sat back in her chair and smiled. “I should let you know that as a matter of journalistic ethics I don’t divulge information about the people that I interview. For high profile subjects who aren’t the subject of controversy, I let them look over what I’ve written in case I’ve gotten something wrong or let slip something that wasn’t supposed to be on the record. Superman is about as high profile as it gets. I suspect you know all that, and I’m guessing that’s why you asked me here under false pretenses, thinking you could convince me otherwise. I should also let you know that as a matter of personal taste, I hate deception.”
“It’s only a minor deception,” said Lex with a friendly smile. “I really am building an orphanage in Suicide Slums, and I really do think that there’s a story in it. I have my own burning curiosities about Superman, and would like more information than can be found in the paper, but strictly speaking I haven’t lied to you. Building an orphanage to get a chance to talk with you is hardly the worst thing in the world.”
“All the same, I see no reason to continue this line of conversation,” said Lois. “A journalist is only as good as their reputation, even without the watchful eyes of the big guy.” She looked towards the ceiling, where Lex could easily imagine Superman was looking down on them.
“I’m not asking for you to reveal any implicit or explicit secrets that Superman might have shared with you. Nothing that was off the record.” Lex waved his hand. “All I want are the small details that you might not have considered interesting enough to print.”
“No,” said Lois with a sharp smile. “I can’t be bought.” All the same, she hadn’t moved.
“Miss Lane, it’s been my experience that people who say that underestimate what money can buy,” said Lex. He watched her carefully, as though measuring her, but he’d done some research of his own, and already knew what to offer her. “I can get the Equal Rights Amendment passed.”
Lois showed not even the slightest reaction, which in itself was telling. “It’s been dead for a decade.”
“Introduced every session and bottled up in committee,” said Lex with a nod. “I can get it to the floor, and I can help to ensure it has the votes. I have the ear of powerful men.”
“You’re talking about bribes,” said Lois. She glanced towards the ceiling, and Lex couldn’t help but smile. Finally, here was another person who saw what Superman’s abilities really meant. No conversation could be presumed private.
“Not bribes Miss Lane, influence. If I were to mention to the right men that my companies would be preferentially hiring women, and that I would make election day a paid holiday throughout my workforce, do you think they could ignore that? Do you imagine that a man who won his seat with a margin of half a percent could afford not to change his stance in response?” Lex smiled. “No bribes. No money changing hands. When you’re responsible for the employment of a quarter of a million people, politicians listen.”
“All that for what amounts to scraps of information from me?” asked Lois.
“I won’t pretend that our political interests are unaligned,” said Lex. “I’ve often considered myself something of a feminist. The world is set to undergo a transition away from manual labor, and everything I’ve read indicates that women are just as capable as men in the intellectual fields, limited only by a lack of education imposed by the existing social structures.” That language could have been lifted straight from one of Lois Lane’s inflammatory articles on equal rights. Lex watched her carefully to make sure that he hadn’t said things too perfectly. She was trying hard not to respond, but a faint trace of quirk of her lips betrayed her excitement.
“I’m supposed to just take your word for it?” she asked with excessive nonchalance.
“As you said, reputation is worth its weight in gold,” said Lex. “If you’ve done your homework, you should know that you can trust me. I pride myself in my fair dealings.” Lex had managed to avoid any messy lawsuits that would be a matter of public record, and many of the more unsavory aspects of his life had been scrubbed away in the past week. There were perhaps a dozen people who could connect him to any ongoing criminal acts, and he had a long story of redemption if any of his adolescent crimes surfaced. He had no criminal record to speak of. He also knew that Lois Lane couldn’t possibly have done enough investigation to unearth anything in the twelve hours since he’d called in the favor, but she would be swayed by the mere appearance of openness. Lex was a comfortable liar.
“And what about Superman?” asked Lois. “You know I can’t risk losing the next interview, if there is one.”
“Do you think this arrangement would upset him?” asked Lex. “He acts very much like a man with nothing to hide, and I somewhat doubt that he exposed you to anything that he didn’t want known to the world, even if he does have secrets. There’s no personal gain for you, it’s purely an altruistic act, and if Superman has a problem with equal rights for women I doubt he would have chosen you in the first place. You win, I win, and Superman at the least loses nothing.”
Lois sat and thought it over. Lex was in no rush. “Alright. I have one condition,” she said slowly.
“Go on,” Lex replied.
“Tell me why,” said Lois. “Superman seems to be the only story in town these days, but everyone’s got some angle on it, some reason that they’re curious. Some people think he’s got something to do with religion, that he’s Christ or Antichrist, some people are envious of his power, and more than a few women are rather keen on him.”
“Including yourself?” asked Lex.
“My interests are more professional,” said Lois. “But go on, tell me what you’re in it for.”
“You’ve heard of humanism?” he asked. Lois nodded. “I read the manifesto, and I’m sure that if the Humanist Society of Metropolis had known of my inclinations that they would have asked me to sign. I would have declined, for a number of reasons, not least of which is their rejection of profit-seeking, which is perhaps the most efficient method of incentivizing useful work yet known to man. In many ways I’m in agreement with them though. The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a boon for the human race. I can think of no better path forward for humanity than a pursuit of further revolutions through applied reason. When I look to Superman, I can only imagine the eons of dead ends our scientists could skip, and the advancements that could be had if he could be convinced to give us his knowledge. It would be an end to disease, and an end to death.” Lex poured himself a glass of whiskey. “I’m doing my best to investigate Superman, because I want to persuade him to do the most good.”
“Alright,” said Lois, seemingly satisfied with his answer. She started talking.
It began with a note on her desk. She’d come back from the break room holding half a sandwich in one hand, a bottle of soda water in the other, and a cigarette between her lips. Sitting on top of her typewriter was a small envelope which simply said “Miss Lane”.
Here Luthor stopped her, and asked her about the specifics, and Lois tried her best to remember. The envelope was delicate and white, the kind you could get from any corner drugstore. The words on the envelope and in the note itself were typewritten. Lois had saved it, and it was somewhere in her desk drawer. When Luthor had said that she should leave nothing out, she hadn’t realized how literal he was being about it. Being a reporter was about being concise. You had to pay attention to the details, but only say those things that were actually important. Luthor just wanted a raw stream of consciousness. Luthor then asked whether she would part with the note, and she’d said that she would let him take a look at it if she could find it.
The note had said to meet him on the roof of The Daily Planet Building, and it was signed “Superman” in swirling cursive. She’d asked around, and no one had seen who had left it, so Lois had taken the elevator to the top floor, and then taken another flight of stairs up beyond where any offices were to reach the roof. She’d thought it was going to be a prank of some sort, but when she’d opened the door she’d seen Superman standing on the very edge of the roof, looking out over the city. His cape flowed behind him in the wind.
“Hello Lois,” he said as he turned around.
He had a body like a strongman. The material of his suit clung to his skin, exposing every muscle to the world, each of them perfectly defined. He was undeniably handsome, with a curl of hair hanging down that made him look almost roguish.
Luthor stopped her again, and asked questions about the costume, and about Superman’s hair. The suit was red and blue, but had no visible seams, not even any that were hidden. Lois wouldn’t have expected any either, not with the way that the material clung to his body. It was obviously made of some fabric unknown to the scientists of Earth. The costume could be damaged, but Lois had scattered reports about it repairing itself over time, knitting back together. Luthor had made special note of that. Superman’s hair was styled with some kind of gel, though from what Lois could remember it always looked like that, even when he was flying. She was about to bring up the possibility that he used a gel from the planet Krypton when Luthor waved his hand for her to continue on.
“I’m afraid my etiquette classes didn’t prepare me for this,” Lois had said. “What do I call you? Superman was just the name I made up, I hope-“
“Superman is fine. It’s fitting,” said Superman with a smile.
“Perry was worried people would connect it to German, to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch,” said Lois, “And I told him to remember who our audience was.”
“It’s fine,” said Superman again. He had a certain gentleness to him, a patient understanding that was so palpable that Lois could instantly understand how people compared him to Christ. “I thought that perhaps some people had questions that they’d like answered.”
“Sure,” said Lois. She cursed herself for not taking the note seriously and fumbled for her pencil and paper. “Alright, let’s start with where you came from.”
“I’m an alien,” said Superman. “From the planet Krypton.”
Lois wrote this down as though it weren’t utterly insane. She could decide whether it should be spelled Krypton or Crypton and decided to go with a K because it looked more foreign. “And does everyone from your planet have your abilities?” she asked.
“No,” said Superman. His turned somber. “Just me. Krypton was a dying planet, and my parents were able to fashion a spaceship that could hold only one. They sent me here just as the planet imploded. It wasn’t until I got to this planet that my abilities began to manifest. I’m the last of my kind.”
Lois didn’t know how to respond to that. “Why did you choose Earth?” she eventually managed.
“I didn’t,” said Superman. “The coordinates were locked before I knew what was happening. If I could speak with my father, I would ask him that same question. I suspect he chose this planet because he thought I would be able to blend in.”
“There are other aliens then?” asked Lois. “Other planets with intelligent life?”
“Yes,” said Superman. “But it’s not my place to spoil the secrets that await humanity when they reach for the stars.”
Lois had frowned at that, but continued on all the same. “You’re out saving people and stopping crimes every day, and many of us are wondering why.”
“I think it says something profoundly sad about your species that you have to ask that question,” said Superman. “Helping people is its own reward. If you were given the same power, wouldn’t you do the same? Wouldn’t you put out fires and stop muggings?”
“But you do it for free,” said Lois. “You don’t ask for anything in return, and half the time don’t even stick around long enough for people to thank you. Most of us might stop crimes, but we might ask for a little money from it, or at least get official police sanction. They’re calling you a vigilante.”
“I’ve looked over your law books,” said Superman. “I’m acting within my rights as a resident alien. It’s important for me to have my independence from human society. I don’t want to disturb things too much.”
She’d let that go, and afterwards had hated herself for it. Couldn’t he see that he was throwing a wrench into human society just by being there? Everyone from Washington to the Vatican was clamoring for a sit-down conversation with him, and he was already a celebrity whether he liked it or not. He’d be in the movies, on television, and spread all through the culture of the world. Just the news of extraterrestrial life would have caused an immense, irreversible change in how humans saw the world. Superman was so much more than that.
But she hadn’t properly prepared, because she’d thought that it was a joke, and so she was too out of sorts to press him on it.
“We know you can fly, and there are reports that you can stop bullets with your chest, but what else can you do?” she’d asked.
“Would you like a demonstration?” he’d asked with a grin.
She’d nodded, and he’d swept towards her in a rush. Before she knew it, he’d hooked an arm under her legs and swept her off her feet. Seconds later they were flying to the air, and she had her arms around his neck.
“This wasn’t in the paper,” said Luthor.
“It wasn’t important to the story,” said Lois with a dismissive wave of her hand.
In truth, her heart still raced when she thought about it, and not in the good way. Superman had been presumptuous in touching her, and reminded her of one too many boyfriends who had tried to take their own liberties. Superman had scooped her up like he had known her, like it was some grand flirtatious lark that they were both enjoying. When they were past the roof of The Daily Planet Building she had looked down for only a moment before burying her head in his shoulder and closing her eyes tight. Lois wasn’t afraid of heights, and had even flown as a passenger with Amelia Earhart once, but this was different. Her life was entirely in Superman’s hands. If he’d stopped and turned her head towards his own, had tried to kiss her, what choice would she have but to kiss him back?
She hadn’t put it in the article, both because it was a sour note and because she didn’t need people implying that she and Superman were an item. She’d already caught Clark using the phrase “Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane” in a different article and she’d pitched a fit to Perry until he’d taken it out. She didn’t want to live in someone else’s shadow. None of her inner thoughts could be revealed to Luthor of course, especially since Superman might be listening in. Lois wanted that second interview, even if she didn’t have any particular fondness for Superman.
She skipped ahead to when they’d landed on a beach north of Metropolis. The flight had seemed to take an eternity, but Lois had kept her eyes closed the whole time so it was tough to say. Superman had begun a demonstration of his powers, and Luthor quizzed her on each of these, though she’d already included all of that in the article. Superman could crush a rock to dust with his bare hands. He was faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. He could see straight through walls and read newsprint from miles away. He could hear the faintest whisper while the ocean roared around them. Luthor asked for details about all of these.
“He called it x-ray vision?” asked Luthor. “Or was that an invention of your own to describe the phenomenon that you observed?”
“That’s what he said,” Lois replied. “I know it’s probably not how it works.”
“No,” said Luthor with a frown. “It’s not.”
After the demonstration, Superman had asked her if she wanted to return or if she had further questions. She had almost said that she would get a taxi, but she wasn’t sure where she was and didn’t want to offend him. She had already been thinking about the next interview, even then. He’d scooped her up and flown her back to the top of the building, and she’d tucked her face into the crook of his shoulder to protect herself from the wind and so that she wouldn’t have to be sick from the view below. She felt him lean his head towards her, pressing his cheek against her hair, but he hadn’t tried to kiss her.
She’d thought about that often afterwards. Superman was untouchable. If he’d wanted to act against her, there was nothing that would stop him, and no retribution that could be enacted against him. Lois had been trained by her father in hand-to-hand combat and carried a pistol nearly everywhere she went, but both would be useless against the Man of Steel. It was frightening simply on the face of it, to know that you were completely at the mercy of another person. It was worse knowing that he could watch everything that you did and hear everything that you said. The whole thing was hopelessly complicated of course. Superman was attractive, there was no questioning that, and he was the most perfectly good and selfless man in the whole damned city, but there was an extreme imbalance of power between the two of them and questions of what it would mean for her career. She didn’t even know whether she liked him, though she suspected that she didn’t.
Luthor was staring at her, and she realized she hadn’t said anything for a while.
“Wait right here,” she’d said when they got back. Her legs were shaky on the roof, but if Superman noticed he didn’t seem to take it as anything more than the effects of the flight. “I need a picture or no one will ever believe me.” She’d rushed downstairs and grabbed Jimmy Olsen, the first photographer she’d seen. She’d half expected Superman to be gone when she came back up to the roof, but he was still standing there, looking out over the city. It had taken Jimmy three tries to get the photograph that ran on the front page and in all the extra editions, since he was nearly as out of sorts as she was. And after that, Superman had shook their hands and flown away. Lois had typed the story up right away, not wanting to risk someone else getting the jump on her since she stupidly hadn’t confirmed that the interview was an exclusive. She’d left the article on her desk for three hours along with a note to Superman asking his blessing on the article even though that wasn’t strictly necessary and she had no idea whether he would even spare her a glance. He hadn’t stopped by to make any comments, and she hadn’t spoken to him since.
“And that was it?” asked Luthor. His eyes were cold and piercing, the earlier warmth forgotten. He had listened intently the entire time, drilling down into the details of the interview, the minutiae that surely didn’t have any bearing on anything. He seemed to remember himself, and the veil of friendly concern lifted back into place.
“That was it,” said Lois. “You’ll keep your end of the bargain?”
“Of course,” said Luthor. “I’m a man of my word. And if you do get that second interview, I’d be very interested in talking to you about it. In fact, I have a few questions I’d like to suggest, if you don’t mind …”
Lex wrote down his findings in a notebook. The language he used was of his own devising, one that he’d invented a decade ago specifically so that he could write down what he was thinking without the risk of anyone reading it. The book that defined the grammar and vocabulary had been burned in a fireplace shortly after he’d felt confident that he knew it all. Lex was reasonably certain that Superman didn’t have a universal translator of some sort – he’d heard a few reports from the immigrant neighborhoods of Superman having difficulty communicating. It could be a feigned weakness, but Lex thought the odds were that it wasn’t.
Superman had access to a typewriter. He either had money to buy a card or he stole one. If Lex could get his hands on the card itself, he might be able to divine something about the typewriter that had been used to make the letters, some pattern of offset keys that would give some clue to its origins. Most likely it was a dead end, and the typewriter would prove to be Miss Lane’s own, but it was something to look into. Furthermore, it might be possible to lift fingerprints from the note itself. If not, Lex would look into getting some from the crime scenes. He wasn’t sure what use that would be, but it never hurt to get more data.
There were a number of points of curiosity in the story as it had been relayed to him. The first was the distance. Superman had said that Krypton was millions of miles away, but it had to be trillions at the least. A hundred million miles would get you to the Sun but not much further. It was either a revealing mistake or a simplification that the alien had used for a non-technical audience. Second, he had called his vision x-ray vision, which was plainly false. X-ray photography worked by placing an object between the source of the x-rays and the x-ray film. If Superman could actually see on the x-ray spectrum, everything would be too dim, and wouldn’t have much of an advantage over visible light. If his eyes were emitting x-rays, they’d have to output an enormous amount that would have to be reflected back mostly by chance, and if that were the case he’d likely be killing people simply by looking at them. It was possible that the term “x-ray” was another colloquialism, but to Lex it suggested that Superman didn’t know how his powers worked.
There was no easy way to know how much if any of Superman’s story was true. A civilization capable of interstellar travel being destroyed so utterly that there was only a lone, ignorant survivor, who somehow made it across unimaginably vast distances to land on a planet filled with people who looked exactly identical to him? Some part of it had to be a lie. Lex could think of a hundred ways in which the story would start to make sense. If Superman’s race had the technology to travel between stars, then perhaps they had the ability to alter their form at will, and the perfectly chiseled features of Superman were merely a mask laid over something tentacled and many-limbed. Superman could be an exile or a narcissist who had chosen to leave of his own volition or been forced out by his peers or elders. Lex could think of a thousand variations on the story that would make it more plausible, but it was an exercise in futility. None of it could be trusted in the first place. Lex was reasonably certain that Superman was an extraterrestrial, because for him to be a product of human ingenuity would require a vast network of scientists and engineers operating in secret and working toward some unfathomable goal. It was even less plausible than the entire Krypton race being at once capable of sending a ship to Earth and being utterly wiped out in a single planetary event.
In the face of such uncertainty, lesser men might have simply given up. Lex Luthor believed that very few problems were unsolvable if you put your mind to it. Examinations of the evidence that Superman left behind could only go so far though. It was time to escalate.
Author’s Note: This is a “bonus” chapter – I’m still planning to update on Sunday, I just didn’t want to have too long a chapter and this stuff was relatively easy to finish up and post now. As always, I appreciate corrections/feedback/reviews.
Lois Lane getting hired as a teenager because of an anonymous letter to the editor is a detail pulled from the life of Nellie Bly, a female reporter of roughly the same era (who Golden Age Lois was based on).