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He was hungry, more hungry than he could bear.

Here, in the cold and deep water, the constant burning of his insides and the crushing and tearing of his body against its own weight was soothed to a point where he could rest, could be at peace. He had been to the surface, and found it a place of noise and pain and madness. Up there, everything hurt, but he could not die. Down in the cold and dark, he could rest, he could be left alone, he could sleep away the rest of his miserable days.

But now, he was hungry.

Not hungry for meat or blood, though he had tried to slake his hunger by attacking the swimming things near the surface. Even the bigger ones were too small to fill his gullet, and some had hard shells with no meat inside, filled instead with tiny two-legged creatures that screamed when they died. There was no food in the world that could satisfy the hunger he felt.

Instead, the hunger was for something else, for more of the burning pain inside his gut. He could sense other sources of it, like a trace of blood in the water, up towards the surface. He wanted to ignore the scent, to retreat back to the depths and return to his sleep. But the hunger was greater even than the burning, crushing pain of the surface.

He was compelled, forced by sheer instinct to hunt for the burning fuel to quench his hunger. There was no room for other thoughts in the simple, primal mind that urged him onward.

He knew going to the surface again would be agony. He knew it was infested with the little two-legged creatures and their sparkling noisy hives, full of things that burn and sting and choke the air. He knew once he reached land, all would be madness and pain again.

He didn't care. He was too hungry to care about anything.

The burning scent and maddening hunger propelled him forward, instinct driving him to follow old paths......

.....to swim towards familiar waters.......to the territory he had claimed as his own.


"Calm down, Smallville, I'm going to be okay," Lois says as she folds another pair of slacks into her suitcase. "I already checked to make sure I'm safe to fly; Doctor Jurgens says it won't be any danger to the baby until I'm 28 weeks in. There's nothing to worry about, honey."

I lean against the doorway to our bedroom, arms folded, shaking my head.

"I thought you said you were going to take it easy while you're expecting, Lo," I say to her, which she casually waves away with her hand.

"I am taking it easy," she responds. "It's not like I'm digging up dirt on LexCorp or going undercover to expose Intergang again. I'm just flying out to cover a conference where a bunch of dignitaries bluster at each other, get a couple of man-on-the-street interviews, and then I'll be home by next Tuesday."

I nod, conceding her point. She's flying out to cover an international conference regarding a string of mysterious radiation leaks in the Pacific. Ambassadors from the US, China, Russia, Japan, North and South Korea, Madripoor, Singapore, and Australia have all been up in arms, claiming everything from irresponsible dumping of nuclear waste to secret undersea weapons testing. There are rumors that Atlantean officials may arrive as well, but nothing's been confirmed. I'll need to speak to Arthur about the situation and see what he makes of it.

"I still don't like the idea of you traveling alone in your state," I say, meekly.

"Clark, seriously," she says, her patience running a bit thin. "It's Tokyo. Not Gotham City. And I'm not going alone. Jimmy's coming along, too; said he needs to stock up on his manga collection."

She rolls her eyes at that a bit; Jimmy's a great guy and one of the best photographers in the business, but he's drawn to pop-culture and collectibles like flies to--

"I've handled mobsters, terrorist leaders, corrupt CEOs, and invaders from other planets before," she says as she sorts through her travel bag to make sure everything is in its place. "Seriously, why are you so nervous about me covering a meeting?"

"Because I know my wife," I answer, "And I know Lois Lane wouldn't fly halfway around the world to sit in on this kind of meeting unless there was something else going on."

There's a long pause as she considers her response. Lois is the one person on Earth who never ceases to surprise me, but there are some things about her that I can read like a book. The way she purses her lips and shifts her weight to one leg tells me her first instinct is to go on the offensive, maybe accuse me of being paranoid or not trusting her. But she then looks down and away, very slightly shaking her head to dismiss the move. For a few seconds she closes her eyes and furrows her eyebrows, running through a dozen other responses, before she finally shrugs.

"Okay," she says, "No sense in being secretive about it. I've been doing some digging into the radiation leaks, and I think there's a lot more to it than people are letting on. In the past three weeks? Six commercial fishing boats and cargo ships have gone missing in the area. It hasn't hit the major outlets yet, but some of my sources told me a Russian nuclear sub has gone missing, too, which is why they're suddenly calling this meeting. It's not just the water being polluted, Clark; I think people are dying, and there's an effort being made to cover it up."

"This is still you taking it easy?" I say with a raised eyebrow. She gives me a sour look, which shuts me up.

"There's more to it. I've been studying the guest list for this conference, and you know whose name I found on it? General Yuri Malenko. JSDF Minister Rei Yanada. And our old friend Secretary Calvin Swanwick. If this is supposed to be an environmental issue, what the hell is the Secretary of Defense doing there with the Russian and Japanese Defense Ministers?"

"You think there might be something to that weapons-testing theory, then?"

Lo shakes her head.

"I think it's something else," she says. "I started probing the deep end of the web for any and all communications regarding the missing vessels in the area. While there aren't any official stories, I turned up a good bit of anonymous encoded chatter that was intercepted around the time of the radiation leaks. I'm not even going to pretend I can crack the codes that these messages use, but at least one guy out there managed to decipher a key word, being used over and over in these messages: MONARCH."

"Monarch...." I repeat, mulling over the word. That's not a lot to go on, but it definitely suggests either actual royalty or someone of extremely high stature. Then again, a codename could just be misdirecting gibberish. "Lois, if this is as serious as you're implying, please don't stir up trouble. For the baby's sake, at least?"

"I'm not going to go start a world war or get myself shot over a story, Smallville," she says, putting a reassuring hand on my cheek. "Not to mention, I know that at the first sign of trouble, you'll be there in about two seconds. Baby or not, I've still got a job to do just as much as you do. And hey, maybe this whole conspiracy-theory thing turns out to be nothing. That'd actually be a nice change of pace for us, wouldn't it?"

"And if it isn't?"

"Then we do what we always do," she says with a grin. "I set 'em up, and you knock 'em down. Truth and Justice and all that good stuff."

She gives me a quick kiss, just long enough to leave me wanting more, before pulling away and checking her phone.

"My ride to the airport just pulled up," Lois says as she closes her suitcase. "And you've still got to finish that story on the Boardwalk remodeling this afternoon. Don't worry, Clark; we'll be fine. A few days in Tokyo and an international powderkeg isn't anything I can't handle. Now be good, don't run off with any bug-eyed monsters while I'm gone, and I'll bring you back a souvenir."

"Okay," I say, giving her one last kiss before she heads for the door. "Just not another postcard of me lifting up Mount Fuji, okay?"

She laughs, and steps out the door, pulling her suitcase behind her. As soon as she's gone, my smile drops.

Lois is one of the most capable people I've ever met, and I know she knows well enough not to get herself and Jimmy in any serious trouble. But I can't help but be worried. I hate getting involved in politics and international affairs; it's so easy to get swept up by powers that you can't confront by just lifting heavy things or shooting lasers out of your eyes. And while Tokyo is still just a few seconds away if I really open up the throttle, it's still far enough away that seeing and hearing things there is going to be murky at best.

And I don't like the sound of these encoded 'Monarch' messages. Paranoia is usually something people associate with Batman, but given how many powerful and influential people have come after me in the past, you learn not to brush things off too lightly. I might want to talk to Bruce about it and see if he thinks it's worth pursuing.

But like Lois said, I still have my own story to finish writing today. And, barring any unforeseen catastrophes, I might just enjoy a relatively quiet day. These days, that would be a heck of a gift in and of itself.
Your wish is granted.


Fishing Vessel Xingyun Long
121 miles off the coast of Madripoor
Saturday, February 12th, 2017
02:46am ITC


"Damned useless weather app," Zhiao cursed as he wrenched hard on the helm, struggling to keep his footing as the Xingyun Long lurched starboard. "'Calm seas,' my ass."

In fact, the sky was clear, the moon bright and not a single cloud obscuring the glittering stars above. The sea, however, had grown unusually turbulent, swelling and crashing as if in a typhoon. It battered down on the small fishing boat, slamming against the sides and threatening to capsize her more than once. While deckhands scrambled to make sure everything was secure, captain Zhiao Sun Fan fought to keep them all above water. He could not explain why the seas were so rough, so for now, he would settle on blaming the new LexCorp Global Weather app he had installed on his GPS system to tell him what to expect. With the latest and greatest of modern technology failing him, Zhiao had to rely on his instincts and his years at sea to ride out the.....well, he would say 'storm' were there a storm at all.

"Captain!" shouted Hu Shin, his first mate, "The port engine's out!"

"I know, I know," grumbled Zhiao, cursing the half-hearted job his mechanic had done before they set sail. 'Doesn't matter,' he'd said at the time, 'the money we get from this next catch will be enough for a whole new one.' But the fishing had been bad the past few days, nets either coming up empty or full of fish that were strangely already dead. Zhiao was never the type to believe in omens and signs, but between the nets of dead fish and the roiling sea under a calm sign was enough to make even the most skeptical man start to wonder.

Over a hundred miles between the ship and home, only one working engine, and a sea that was determined to bring them down. Still, the old sailor thought as he gripped the helm so hard his knuckles turned white, there was no boat he'd rather be on in the situation. His father's boat, and his father's father's boat before that, and it had survived everything from monsoons to World Wars. This moldy old pile of junk had more than earned the name Xingyun Long-- 'Lucky Dragon.'

"Get everyone below deck," Zhiao shouted over the crashing waves to Hu, "I'm going to get us out of this mess!"

Hu nodded, and began shouting to the deckhands to drop what they were doing and get below to safety. Meanwhile, the old captain gritted his teeth, and turned again hard to starboard, trying to turn the ship back south towards Madripoor.

A large swell rolled over the deck, water splashing into the cabin. Zhiao's concentration broke when he heard the water hissing, steam rising from the floor. In fact, the usual mist of choppy water grew thicker, as more steam churned in the air above the rolling sea.

No.....not rolling, Zhiao thought. Boiling.

On the port side, Zhiao noticed another swell coming, this one far larger than anything they had seen before. There was no crest, no break in the wave, just a rolling rise in the water like an enormous hill. As if something were moving just underneath the surface......a submarine? No, something else....

....something impossibly huge....

From within the watery hill, Zhiao saw a faint blue glow, barely illuminating the dark mass beneath it. The glow became stronger, and Zhiao became aware of a low humming sound in the air, one that grew louder and higher-pitched as the colossal shape beneath the waves approached.

Vaguely, he remembered hearing an old friend of his father telling stories that Zhiao wasn't old enough to hear at the time. A low hum, a blue glow, things that his father's friend had seen before....in Tokyo.....

"No," he heard himself say, the word a kind of powerless denial that utterly disintegrated in the face of an unimaginable reality.

The old fisherman had been in some tight scrapes in his life before, and on more than one occasion he'd confronted the possibility that he would die. Never, though, had it ever been more certain to him. Never before had it been such an immutable, horrible fact that froze his blood and seized every muscle in his body. He could not even bring himself to scream.

The top of the watery mound broke, pierced by what looked like giant crude blades that sliced through the ocean in three uneven rows. The blue light, now searing to Zhiao's eyes, emanated from these jagged fins, and the low hum had become a frantic buzzing, like a thousand high-voltage wires brimming with power.

For a moment, Zhiao could see two points of red. Two monstrous, hateful eyes peering at him from the boiling waves. He knew that no turn of luck, no act of any god, could save him now. The devil had risen to take him.

There was a flash of white light, and for a split-second, everything was heat and pain and terror.....

......and then there was nothing.


GIFTS

Chapter 3



Glenmorgan Square
Metropolis
April 1st, 2016


"Gotta hand it to ya, Spit-curl, you sure are persistent!" the cackling aberration says as he hurls a pulsating purple bubble towards me. "I've literally turned your entire world upside-down and inside-out, and here you are, still thinking there's a way you can strong-arm your way out of this!"

Well, he's not entirely wrong, I say to myself flying downwards towards the bottomless sky-pit to avoid the bubble. It bursts against an office building, causing it to sprout enormous hairy legs and begin to tap-dance, sending clouds of dust and shattered glass and debris tumbling upwards into the crackling ground high above us.

I'd been having such an easy day, too, until Jimmy transformed into a sock puppet and all the air turned green.

The entity calls itself.....well, I can't really pronounce it, but the closest approximation you can make with a humanoid mouth is something like 'Mxyzptlk.' He--I assume it's a "he," anyway, given that he's taken the form of a diminuitive balding man with a purple suit and bowler hat-- claims to be an imp from the Fifth Dimension, a being of pure infinite possibility, who enjoys messing with lower-dimensional beings to keep himself entertained. I faced him once about ten years ago, and his 'pranks' were no less destructive and bizarre than they are now.

"I don't have to out-muscle you, Mxy," I say as I weave my way between bolts of nightmares. "I remember the rules from last time I defeated you, and I can do it again."

"Oh right, right, you 'defeated' me," he mocks, rolling his eyes and making exaggerated air quotes from actual thin air as he gestures with his fingers. "I've been giving this sad little slice of time-space you call a 'universe' a subatomic wedgie from the word go today, and so far you haven't even managed to get me to say a single syllable of my name backwards! All you've done is zig-zag around while I've taken pot-shots at you! Speaking of which, BOOM!"

Mxyzptlk points his finger at me, and a beam of white-hot nothing screams towards me. I put every ounce of energy I have into speed, zipping up and down the streets and avenues, banking hard and looping back on myself to keep out of the way of his attack as it slices through skyscrapers like a hot knife through butter. I really hope everything goes back to normal like last time, or the reconstruction effort is going to take ages.

"What's your game, Mxy?" I call out, rolling to the left to avoid a rift in timespace and the thousand gibbering horrors that pour out. "If you can go anywhere in any universe you want, why come back here?"

"Who says I spend all my time here?" he replies, lazily lobbing nightmares after me as I come close to completing the pattern. "This form, this name 'Mxyztplk?' It's like an avatar, a username for an account in one of your video games--well, not your video games, those are all terrible. Maybe more like one of those internet forums where some fat loser in his thirties thinks he's really clever by breaking the fourth wall like that isn't a total cliché by now. Anyway, I use variations on this gimmick all over the place, and I've messed with a whole bunch of different yous."

I have no idea what he's going on about, but it doesn't matter. I've got to keep him talking, keep him throwing his attacks at me, following the pattern....

"And it's not like I just mess with Supermen," he continues. "Sometimes I got and stir up trouble with a space captain in the future. Sometimes I dress up like a triangle and mess with a kid in Oregon. Every once in a while I go screw with a bunch of cartoon horses. But none of those are ever as fun as messing with Big Blue."

The sky below me turns black, and what looks like a gigantic grapevine made of gnashing mouths comes swirling up to chase after me.

"It still sounds like you're a one-trick pony, Mxy," I say, veering near a row of shops as the mouth monster drags itself across them, ripping up the brick and mortar facades. "It sounds like a pretty dull way to live if everywhere you go, all you can think of doing is messing with other people's lives."

"Oh, come on, Boy Scout," he sneers. "You're talking about an infestation of bags of wet meat, some fuzz on a wet rock, like they're actually people? I mean, you're essentially to them what they are to the bacteria in their stomachs, and you think they're your friends! Get some perspective!"

With that, I fly up directly towards him, stopping inches from his face.

"I think you're the one that needs some perspective today, pal."

"Oh yeah? And what exactly do I need to--"

Casually, I glance downward to the crumbling buildings, the swirling sky-pit and the rings of circling debris.

Slowly but surely, he sees the destruction he's wrought has formed a pattern.

Or rather, a sequence of letters.

"Wha......I, err.......you--"

By trying to hit me with his most devastating attacks, he wrote it with his own actions into the fabric of the universe itself. In huge flaming letters.

KLTPZYXM


"You know the rules, imp," I say, the game truly over. "Now put everything back the way you found it, and then get the hell out of this dimension."

"But.....that's--....I just....you....ahhhh! HA! He suddenly starts to laugh. "AH-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA!"

It's not a laugh of triumph, or of a villain whose master plan has just come to fruition. It's the kind of laugh a con man might get when he realizes he's been out-conned.

"Oh! Oh, you are good, Spit-Curl! I gotta say, I'm impressed!" Wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, Mxyzptlk snaps his fingers, and without so much as a 'poof,' the sky and ground are where they should be, the gibbering horrors are banished to the dark places of the multiverse, and none of the people are sock puppets or vegetables or chalk drawings anymore.

"Don't worry yourself, farmboy, I'll stick to my word and make myself scarce," he says, slowly fading away as the laws of probability reassert themselves.

BUT KNOW THIS: his voice rings through my mind. A CRISIS IS COMING, FAR GREATER THAN ANYTHING YOUR PUNY REALITY HAS EVER KNOWN. NEW GODS ARE AWAKENING, AND THEIR WAR WILL SOON SWALLOW ALL. BEFORE THIS IS OVER, YOU WILL STAND ALONE AGAINST THE DESTRUCTION OF ALL THAT WAS OR WILL EVER BE. AND YOU WILL FAIL, SUPERMAN. YOU WILL FAIL.

Below me, life goes on like nothing had happened. People are heading to and from their work, popping into stores, trying to catch the cross-town bus or riding the monorail. The LED banners in Glenmorgan Square start playing an advertisement for LexCorp's new 'Net of Tomorrow' software. The Meteors are warming up for the afternoon's game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

And just like the last time, I'm floating above it all with a look of bewilderment and a tinge of horror.

I feel something in my hand that wasn't there a moment before. It's a note, hastily written on a scrap of paper that simply hadn't existed.

Supes,

Don't think I'm a bad sport. I left you a prize for winning today, but I'm not telling you what it is. You'll find out soon, though, and I can't wait to see how you handle it.

-Mxy


Off across the bay, I hear a fire siren. I find myself blinking a few times before I shake off the surreal daze, and then I crack my knuckles and get back to work. Whatever 'prize' the imp has gifted me, I can deal with it later.

For now, I've got a job to do.


GIFTS

Chapter 2



The Fortress
Somewhere in the Arctic Circle
July 16th, 2013


"So," Conner says, his hands in his pockets as he looks around at the vaulted crystalline ceilings and morphing liquid-geo displays, "This is the Fortress, huh? Kara never let me in here while you were gone-- she said it's because she's worried I might have some Cadmus sleeper-program left in me, but I think she just does it to tease me."

"Well, you won't have to worry about that anymore," I say as I enter in a sequence of gestures at one of the many computer terminals. After a moment, the swirling nanite cloud forms into a slim pentagonal key with the El family crest at the head, and I pluck it from the cloud and hand it to him. "Your very own command key. Now you've got full access to everything the Fortress and Kelex can do, just like Kara and me."

Conner eyes the key, then gives me a skeptical look, but ultimately takes it and puts it in his jeans pocket.

"This is still really weird," he says, looking downward. "Not coming to the Fortress, I mean, just.....this whole thing, it's......I don't really know how to deal with it."

"I know how you feel," I say, trying to put a hand on his shoulder, but he walks away before I can.

"You really don't," he mutters as he walks off, down the winding corridors towards the Interstellar Zoo.

"Don't mind him, he's always like that," says Kara, flitting through the air as she greets me. "Everything with him is always so grim and so serious. I've been telling him he needs to start dating; it'd do him a world of good. Maybe see if Batgirl's seeing anyone? Or if Wonder Woman knows any Amazons who are looking for--ooh! I know! That Raven girl from the Titans! She's always all 'ohhh, look at me, I'm so dark and misunderstood, isn't that coooool,' she'd be perfect for--"

"You know he's got super-hearing like us, right?"

"Pffft, I say that to his face all the time," she shrugs it off.

"Still, I'd appreciate it if you'd go easy on him," I say, taking a sterner tone, "He's having a tough time getting used to, you know......the situation."

"Okayyy, fine," she relents. "Speaking of, how are you doing?"

"Oh, you know," I shrug, "about as well as someone can be doing, given everything that's happened while I was.....away."

Kara raises an eyebrow.

"You're saying that like you went on vacation," she says. "You were dead, Kal. I was supposed to look after you, help raise you, and by the time I came to Earth you'd already lived out your life. I only knew about you through stories, hearing the members of the Justice League talk about you, seeing your statue in Heroes' Park. Now you're back, and you've been acting like you'd just stepped out for a long lunch or something."

I sigh.

"Honestly? I've just been trying not to think about it," I admit. "The world's changed so much since Doomsday. And not just the 'tights and fights' part of my life. Lois is having a hard time with all of this. And I'll be honest, it's not easy for me to get my head around it, either. So for now, I think it's best if I just focus on the job and let everything sort itself out."

"Well, if you ever need an ear, I'm always here, cousin," she says, opening her arms wide. "Hugs?"

"Okay, but-

"Huuuugs!" she exclaims, squeezing me with enough force to crush a mountain.

"Nnngh!....Kara.....can't breathe--"

"Oh! Ogmigosh, sorry!" she gasps. "I got a little carried away there."

"Not to break up the touching moment here," says Conner, re-entering the main hall, "but that Kelex computer just told me there's a pretty massive storm approaching Thailand. Do we wanna, I dunno, go help people or something?"

"You're right! We should go save people together! It'll be awwwwe-sommmme!" She exclaims, zipping out of the Fortress's main entrance and into the open air. Before I go, Conner grabs my arm.

"Hey, um, Superman," he says. "God, I don't even know what to call you. I mean, are you like, my dad now? My big brother? Or--"

"Let's start with Clark," I say with a slight chuckle.

"Right, right, um, Clark," he nods. "I know everyone's going through a weird time right now, and maybe I'm not the best about dealing with it. I just wanted to say, y'know.....thanks. For being cool with, y'know....with me."

"Don't worry about it, Conner," I say. "I don't where you came from, or what Cadmus or ARGUS or anyone else wanted you to do. You're family now, and whatever you decide you want to do, whoever you decide to be, I've got your back."

That may actually be the first time I've ever seen him smile.

"Now come on," I say, giving him a pat on the back. "We've got a force of nature to fight. You up for it?"

"I'm always ready," he says, cracking his knuckles.

I take to the skies, and look down to see Conner bounding across the frozen plains, taking a half-mile or more with every stride.

Things are strange these days, everything's so uncertain. But it's times like this where having people who are there for you means the world. My second lease on life was a gift, to be sure, but having a family to share my life with this time.....that's a whole other gift entirely.
So Byrd's character proposal got me thinkin'......not about doing a similar character, but an otherwise out-there property with an established history in comic books, and one that could be a great catalyst for team-ups.

Byrd may prefer to do mystery stories, but me? Well.......I like to think big......



GIFTS

Chapter 1



Metropolis
12:00pm EST
December 25th, 2007


Ma and Pa were never the devout church-going type, but Christmas was always something special to us. My parents would plan sometimes months in advance to find exactly what I wanted, and when I was old enough to start giving back, I'd go to the ends of the Earth- sometimes literally- to do something special for them. As a kid, I'd show off and do something crazy like move every boulder and heavy rock in every acre of our fields and make a statue. As I got older, it became more personal, like learning how to painstakingly restore the old broken pocket-watch that had been a Kent family heirloom since the Civil War. Point being, this is the time of year I go to great lengths to get the people in my life the thing they want or need more than anything else in the world.

Christmas morning in Smallville was wonderful; Ma was up before dawn making breakfast because she knew I'd insist on making it myself when Lois and I arrived. We caught up on all the daily goings-on in the old town and what we were up to in the big city, and exchanged gifts after I put the dishes away. Over the past few months, I'd secretly brought all of the heavy machinery from the barn to my Fortress and had Kelex retrofit them all with menial AI systems to drive themselves, and we surprised Ma with a completely automated self-sustaining farm. She found Pa's old baseball glove and re-stitched it together for me. She was always better at finding the perfect gift than me.

I would have stayed longer, but sadly, my job doesn't allow for holidays. I spend the rest of my morning putting out fires, stopping a few potentially fatal car crashes, and helping Captain Turpin and his men take down the Helgrammite, who had apparently assumed I'd taken the day off and thankfully didn't seem to be in the mood for a fight when I arrived.

With things relatively calm, it's time for my next stop, and the I'm the least certain about trying.



The tower is one of the most imposing man-made structures ever assembled, stretching even higher than the Burj Khalifa. I've been told that with normal human vision, the very top of the spire isn't visible from ground level on a cloudy day. And yet, despite reaching heights that would collapse most known designs under their own weight, the place is shockingly sturdy. Through disasters, bombings, rampages from super-powered criminals and terrorists, and even the Dominator invasion, the tower has never sustained more than cosmetic damage.

I'll say this for Lex Luthor: he's one hell on an architect.

The upper floors of the LexCorp tower blossom out on one end like mushrooms on the side of a tree: layer after layer of helicopter pads and observation decks, added in recent years to accommodate visitors from the sky. For someone who's never been able to stand the sight of me, he sure did go out of his way to make sure I had plenty of places to meet him for our occasional conversations.

Today, as I touch down on the uppermost observation deck, I see he's not out to greet me with his usual smugness. I peer through the layers of reinforced ferro-crete and poly-alloy structure to see him at his desk, typing away at one of several laptops arranged around him. Of course he'd be hard at work on Christmas Day; while I'm sure he's never said it out loud, he's the type of person who's had "bah, humbug" on the tip of his tongue all his life.

"The door's open, Spaceman," he calls out, not even looking up from his desk as I approach the office. I raise an eyebrow at how clearly I'm able to hear his voice- usually the windows in LexCorp Tower are so perfectly soundproofed that even I can't hear through them. I suppose he's created some way to selectively filter sounds coming in and out of the Tower, similar to my own senses, but that's another question for another day. Today, I'm here for a talk....and to deliver a gift.

"Keeping your nose to the grindstone, I see," I remark as I step into the clean, almost sterile office. Every piece of furniture, every light fixture, every piece of art, was precisely engineered to be in its exact space, giving the room an impressive but soulless air. "I'd read that a few years ago, you'd replaced most of your board of directors with high-functioning AI to handle the day-to-day business at your company."

"Yes, well, after the Brainiac incident I soured somewhat on the idea of turning that much work over to software," he says, a bitter tone in his voice. "Now, what do you want? Here to scold me on another project that doesn't adhere to your Commandments? Maybe make a few more accusations that I'm some criminal mastermind even though you just can't seem to whip up the evidence to prove it? Or did you come here to blubber and beg me to see the light so we can be friends?"

"Actually," I say, brushing off his rebuke and producing a small gift-wrapped box, "I just wanted to give you your Christmas present."

Lex finally stops typing, one eyebrow raised.

"Did you bring a soccer ball?"

"Excuse me?"

"Oh come now, you have to know about the Christmas Truce," he says, looking up from his desk with a mocking smile. "It's 1914, and Europe is in the first stages of tearing itself to pieces. A whole generation of bright-eyed young men are thrown into the meat grinder and empires are broken forever. The destiny of the world hangs in the balance of two lumbering alliances trying to clog the enemy's throat with the corpses of their young. But ah, it's Christmas. So the Germans and French and British all climb up out of their trenches, sing songs, trade trinkets back and forth, and play a friendly game of futbol. It's a tear-jerking story that really shows the inherent goodness of the world and the magic of the season.

"So, I ask you again,"
he says, an edge sharpening the smile on his face, "if you want us to have a little Christmas truce, did you bring a soccer ball?"

"No," I answer plainly. "I thought you might like--"

"Might like what?" Lex cuts me off, standing up and rounding the desk to face me eye to eye-- or really, eye to chin for him. "This is supposed to be some gesture to show me that you're not all that bad, right? That maybe, deep down, you really do care? Do you know what Christmas is to me, Superman? Christmas is my old man buying me a new video game I'm never going to play, a new suit I'm never going to wear, or a new car I'm never going to drive, to make up three hundred and sixty-four other days of his fist, his insults, or his indifference. Just like every other higher power that either puts you through hell or ignores you, only to turn around and hope a token act of kindness will make us all forget how awful you really are."

He snatches the box out of my hand, contemptuously ripping off the wrapping paper and digging his hand into the box.

"So let's see what the mighty and merciful Man of Tomorrow got for the man who opposes everything he believes," he says. "Some sappy reminder of happier days, or a souvenir from some amazing adventure, or a........what............what is this?"

In his hand is a small, seashell-like bowl of shimmering crystal and dark dull metal. Inside the bowl seems to be a handful of bright white sand which shifts and stirs with his movements, but never spills out even as Lex turns it upside-down.

"It's a small matter compiler, I tell him. "It pulls trace elements out of the surrounding environment and re-configures them on a subatomic scale into any substance you want, once you understand how to operate it."

Lex scowls at it, perhaps annoyed by how interested he is.

"And how do I operate it?" he asks idly as he turns it over and over in his hand.

"I'm not telling you," I say with a grin. He stops fiddling with the device and glares. "On Krypton, this was a toy meant to entertain children. I'm sure you can figure out how to make it work with no problem."

"Ah-ha," he says with a bitter laugh. "So that's your 'Christmas present,' mocking me."

"Daring you," I correct him. "This little device can only make objects about the size of an apple, but the principles remain the same no matter what the scale. With the right design, you could make one big enough and powerful enough to feed everyone on the planet, manufacture shelters for the homeless, custom-build medicine for the sick, and conjure it all literally out of thin air...."

"....or build a whole new society from the ground up and rule over it myself," he says, his eyes fixed on the trinket. "I could make anything with a device like that, and you're just giving it to--"

"No," I say, deftly snatching it back from him, "I'm letting you look at it, and daring you to make a better one."

There's a long pause in the air between us.

"Get out of my office," he says coldly.

"Merry Christmas, Lex," I respond with a wink.

"GET OUT!!!!

I duck out of the way to avoid the laptop that Lex hurls at me, which shatters against the bomb-proof window as I leave. Taking to the sky, I find myself wondering if I got through to him. Someone like Lex Luthor won't accept a mere present, or a peace offering, or a token of friendship. But if there's one thing he will accept, it's a challenge.

We'll see if he ever puts that gift to use. In the meantime, there's plenty of day left, which means there are going to be plenty of people who'll need me to use my own gifts.

All in a day's work, I suppose.
@AndyC if you ever need your resident speedster for JL shennanigans, just ask.


Of course. There's ample opportunity for the traditional "Superman and Flash race around the world for gits and shiggles" arc.


SUPERMAN
"Being Superman isn't about what planet you're from, or what powers you have, or what symbol you wear on your chest. It's about what you do. It's about action."
Clark Joseph Kent♦ April 18th, 1978 (39) ♦ Male Neutral Good

C O N C E P T A B S T R A C T:
My first attempt for Superman in this RP was....a little too ambitious for its own good. Not to mention meta to the point of outright pretentiousness. After spending so long away from roleplaying, I'm going to dial it back and make sure I've still got the fundamental chops to do justice to my favorite character. No weird time warps or fictional awareness, just prime-era Superman at the top of his game, fully formed and easy to interact with. I may get weird with it later, but first and foremost I want to have some fun, save the world, maybe bench-press the moon a couple of times, that sort of thing.


N O T E S:


Superman's powers, supporting cast, and rogues' gallery are more or less the same as they always are. I'm willing to make edits if, f'rinstance, someone wants to play Supergirl differently from what I have in mind, but the general idea is that everything is accessible and within people's expectations. The exact details may be a little different here and there, but it's nothing too wild.

T I M E L I N E:



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