53 Billion Lights Years from Earth
Jimmy Olsen looked around at the faces gathered before him here in the Imperial Palace. They were as diverse a group as anything this palace had ever seen walk through its marble floor. They each represented every one of the various races, social classes, and religious beliefs that Olvaris XI contained. And Jimmy had needed everyone of them and their support in the war against Parnivores. The hard fought and bloody revolution had been waged in every city, neighborhood, and home across the planet. And how here they were inside the palace. Parnivores had fled shortly before Jimmy and his generals took the capital city, but everyone knew it was a matter of time before the emperor was caught.
The gladiator turned revolutionary nodded slowly at his troops. He still only knew so little about this planet, but even he was aware of the incredible feat his coalition had been. Tribes and races had put aside centuries and millennia of bad blood to unite under his banner. It was truly inspirational to him. He just regretted that he couldn’t put it on his resume.
“The war is over, but now comes the hard part,” said Jimmy. “History on my planet has shown when the revolutionaries become the government, they eventually morph into something just as bad as the power they overthrew. It happened with the French, the Bolsheviks, Paul Atreides from Dune
, and even the New England Patriots who were scrappy underdogs once upon a time…”
He paused and gave them a gentle smile.
“But I know, in my heart, that the bonds we forged in the heat of war are strong enough to last through the new peace and the new status quo. You all showed me that no matter your skin color, your genetic code, your social status, or what gods you keep, you care about the fate of Olvaris XI. And those differences can be put aside for the wellbeing of the planet. I believe in each and everyone of you, your ability to do the right thing. That's how we make sure what comes next will be far more better and representative than what came before. And it is with that mindset we need to go forward and make this planet a--”
A chiming noise coming from Jimmy’s wrist cut him short. He looked at the signal watch strapped to his wrist and cleared his throat.
“I… have to go. Sorry, guys. Best of luck!”
He fiddled with the watch for a moment before he disappeared in a flash of bright blue light. The generals looked around at each other in what was becoming an awkward moment of silence.
“Sssso…,” a green skinned snake man hissed. “Uniting for a better Olvarisssss…”
The snake man suddenly pulled his blaster, along with the other generals. The group opened fire on one another all at once.
Calvin and Lois sat in the backseat of the limo with Pete Ross as the motorcade pulled onto 17th Street. The drive from The White House to Capitol Hill was a short one, though the heavy security that flanked the presidential limo meant it would be twice as long before they reached their destination.
“Jimmy fielded questions from the press this morning about last night’s event in Montana,” said Pete.
“He is the world’s foremost expert on Superman,” said Lois. She paused and gave her husband a smile. “Well… second most?”
“Something like that,” Calvin said to Lois. He looked at Pete. “Were they trying to get Jimmy to give them some kind of angle?”
“Trying to get his opinion on Superman playing politics,” said Pete. “But he knocked it out of the park. I can’t remember his exact words, but it was like criminals with political agendas are still criminals. Blackwood and the 100 are no different than the Atomic Skull.”
“He also went on some weird tangent about the nature of change and how nobody or nothing really changes when a reporter asked about our renovations to the Roosevelt Room,” said Lois. “I don’t know what that was about.”
Calvin shrugged. Sounded like Jimmy being Jimmy. He’d seen the news about his actions in Montana. ARGUS and FBI agents rounded up Blackwood and the armed members of the 100 after Superman was done with them. Overall it seemed Pete’s concerns were unfounded. There were of course those in the fringe media who scrutinized the actions of Superman, but they would do that no matter what. Superman had attacked a well-regulated and lawful militia, one commentator said, and he argued with the slippery slope who might be next. But Calvin saw what Blackwood had been dispatched to Montana to do. There was no way in the world you could argue he and his cohorts were anything close to peaceful.
“Cal,” Lois said, her hand reaching out to take his. “You look nervous.”
“I am nervous. Eyes of the world are about to be on me.”
Calvin looked past Pete towards the driver partition. It was closed and locked. Utterly soundproof.
“Before it was different. As Superman I don’t have to worry about big speeches. I just show up, save the day, and fly off. Tonight I have to convince the world with my words, and knowing full well that for about half the people watching it won’t make a bit of difference what I say.”
Pete held his hand up and started to search through his suit coat with his other hand. He pulled a cellphone from his pocket and answered it. After a moment, he glanced towards Calvin and passed him the phone.
“It’s for you.”
“Mr. President,” the baritone voice of Senator Morgan Edge said through the phone. “Can’t wait to see the speech tonight. I wish you well. Any jitters?”
“The normal stuff,” Calvin replied coolly. “I know you’ve gotten out of the habit of making much in the way of speeches, senator. You just kind of keep getting reelected no matter what.”
“I have a very loyal and grateful constituency back in Metropolis,” replied Edge. “I mean, you remember that first senate race? What was that your paper called me? Metropolis’ crime boss?”
“‘Crime Boss Tries New Racket: Politics.’ That was the Daily Planet
headline, I believe.”
“Yep. All that mudslinging from you, your wife, and the paper and yet I still won. And I kept winning.”
“Any reason for this… social call?” Calvin asked tightly.
“Yes, actually. I want to give you a peace offering, of sorts. I know tonight you’re naming your supreme court pick. And I also know you had three names on your shortlist. I’m fine with two of them. But If you pick Justice Glastonberry, Mr. President, I will make it my mission to see that nomination goes down in flames. I will grant you Justice Woods as a nice compromise. He’s just moderate enough for me to stomach, and Judge Harrison wouldn’t be on the court long enough to really do that much damage. Any one of those two, Mr. President.”
“Is this the advice and consent portion of the Constitution coming to life?”
Edge chuckled deeply.
“It’s just me trying to help you out, Mr. President. You get your SCOTUS pick through and we both look good as bi-partisan allies.”
“But only on your terms.”
“That’s how negotiations work,” replied Edge. “The more powerful party tends to set the terms.”
Calvin didn’t respond. He saw both Lois and Pete watching his conversation with rapt attention.
“Thank you for your kind words, Senator. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Madame Speaker… the President of the United States!”
The sergeant at arms stepped aside to let Calvin make his way down the aisle of the House of Representatives Chamber towards the triple dais. The crowd erupted in applause as Calvin started down the aisle. He stopped here and there to shake hands and say hello to those on the aisles. He gave half-hearted welcomes and greetings. His mind was on the speech ahead, as well as Edge’s words. Despite all his talks about sticking to his guns… a guaranteed political win would be just the thing his new administration needed. But was it worth sacrificing a bigger, yet far more risky, win?
“Mr. President,” Senator Joe Siegel said, his hand out. “Good luck tonight.”
They shook hands and Calvin saw something dancing behind the old senator’s eyes. A small smirk formed on Siegel’s face and Calvin had the strangest thought that he and Siegel were on the same wavelength.
“Big stakes tonight.” said Siegel. “Lots of people watching. Stir the pot, Calvin, cause a little bit of trouble.”
Siegel winked as Calvin started back down the aisle. He stepped up to the rostrum where Vice-President Troupe and Speaker of the House Paula Hershey were clapping. After handshakes for them, he turned to look out at the crowd below. Members of the House, Senate, Supreme Court, and presidential cabinet were all gathered in the benches below. The members of Congress sat according to party affiliation, the now eight Supreme Court justices sat in the first two rows away from Congress, and Calvin’s cabinet members sat left of Congress. Calvin’s eyes looked up to the balcony where Lois sat. He waved at her as the applause began to fade.
“Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice-President, members of Congress, thank you for inviting me here for my first address. I wish to speak to all the members of Congress, along with the American people… the people who sent us all here on their behalf.”
Calvin paused. There was something awesome and scary to him about his new role. Superman was the most physically powerful person on this planet, yes, but that was raw power. Moreover it was just seemingly dumb luck he had those powers at all. Calvin had been sent here from Krypton not knowing the effects the yellow sun would have on his body. This power here, this power to address the nation, to shape and dictate the course of his country, had been given to him. He had been entrusted with it with the promise to speak on behalf of those who could not speak for themselves, act for those who could not act for themselves, and defend those who could not defend themselves.
“Our country seems to sit at some crossroads," he said. "Some precipice where we have to make a decision on what kind of country we will be. There’s been a lot of talk in our discourse lately about what it means to be American, who America is for, and what exactly were the intentions of the people who founded this great country. I think to continually look back in the past is to bog ourselves down in rhetoric, to stall any chance of progress. We must instead look forward. Instead of thinking about what this country was or is, we must instead think about what this country can become.”
ARGUS BLACK SITE
CODENAME: “THE SLAB”
Amanda Waller looked through the plexiglass window at Arthur Blackwood with something close to contempt. She noticed that through all the bruises and swollen eyes, the look on his face seemed to be mutual. Blackwood sat on the other side of a small cell. He reached for the heavy metal collar around his neck and tried to adjust it.
“Uncomfortable, isn’t it,” said Waller. “But then again that’s the point. In addition to negating your metahuman abilities, there’s a little psychological torture there. It’s just tight enough to be uncomfortable without restricting airflow. A little permanent reminder that you are always under my thumb.”
Blackwood snorted and spat a wad of snot at Waller. The phlegm thumped against the plexiglass before it slid down in a long, slimy streak.
“Let me out of this goddamn cage, you black bitch, and I’ll rip you to fucking shreds.”
Waller crossed her arm and laughed.
“I bet you would, Blackwood. But then again it seems like your track record against people of color isn’t faring too well these days.”
Blackwood stared ahead without speaking. Waller could see the embarrassment on his face. How could you call yourself the master race… and then go out there and get your ass handed to you by a brother, a brother in a cape no less?
“Let’s get serious,” said Waller. “This facility you’re in? It’s not on any government log or ledger. If anyone bothers to go looking you are in FBI custody. But nobody is going to go look. Nobody cares about you, Blackwood. You’re lower than the dogshit I wipe off my shoes. I can easily throw you into some hole somewhere and throw away the key. Nobody cares about the civil rights of some white supremacist asshole.”
“And? I’ve been in enough fucking interrogations to know how this works. You showed me the stick, now I'm waiting for the carrot. I ain’t saying shit about who I was working for or what I was doing. I don’t stitch and I always stand tall, so do your worst, bitch.”
“I don’t care about that,” said Waller. “I have an entire army of intelligence operatives to find that out, Blackwood. But what I care about is you. That master race bullshit is just that, but you are… gifted. Special. And I like to think I have an eye for talent. Talent I can use, and talent that you can use to get out of this situation.”
Waller raised an eyebrow.
“Tell me, Blackwood… ever been to Louisiana before?”
Calvin let the latest round of applause die down. His promise to pass legislation to repair and improve the nation’s infrastructure drew a standing ovation from only part of the crowd. Perhaps it was the cost of the proposed legislation that kept the other part of the crowd from rising and clapping? Maybe, thought Calvin, but for the most part the same senators and representatives sat still no matter what Calvin said.
“As I try to look forward to the future of this country, a very important question hangs in the air. After Justice Herbert Hartwell’s sudden death, there now is an opening on the Supreme Court. By constitutional law it is my duty to appoint the justice to fill that seat. And given the nature of the court and its lifetime appointments, I want a justice who is right for today and
Calvin’s eyes glanced around the chamber. He saw Senator Morgan Edge sitting comfortably along with a handful of like minded senators. He could hear Edge’s heartbeat quicken. This was the moment he was waiting for. And, like the America in his speech, Calvin was at a crossroad. But then he thought about his talk with his parents the other night, his role as Superman, and Senator Seigel’s words. Stir the pot and cause some trouble.
“Which is why,” he finally said. “I will formally nominate Federal Justice Syliva Glastonberry to take the seat. She is a fantastic jurist with a track record of decisions that were well thought out, well-argued, and always favored progressive causes. She will be one of those forward-thinking people that this country needs to fulfill that long ago promise that we are a nation of the people, by the people, and truly for
Calvin paused as another standing ovation rippled through the chamber. This time he made sure to lock eyes with Edge, who sat stone still in his seat. Calvin could hear his pulse and heartbeat were steady. No fear or anxiety. A small smile formed on Edge’s face as he continued to stare at Calvin.
Senator Morgan Edge checked the time on his phone and sighed. It was nearly three AM and his contact was late. Edge was in some drafty ass Civil War era bunker not far from the Maryland line. His contact had insisted this is where they would meet and discuss what had happened earlier in the night. Edge was finishing up a cigar when he heard footsteps approaching on the concrete from outside.
“Sorry,” Senator Joe Siegel said. “I got away from my after party as soon as I could, but that new Senator from California will not shut up about Napa Valley wine.”
Edge scowled as he tossed the cigar butt on the ground and stomped on it.
“Do you remember what you told me, Joe, on inauguration day?”
“I say a lot of things to a lot of people,” said Siegel. “It’s my job.”
“You said that the incoming president held you in quite high regard, quite high. Such high regard, in fact, that he had reached out to you already to act as an unofficial advisor on policy. And you said that if we worked together, we could guide---”
“Manipulate,” said Siegel.
“Guide sounds so much better,” replied Edge. “Sounds cleaner. But if we worked together we could guide the president’s hand. So, tell me, the first time we try to guide his hand, Joe, he goes off and does whatever the fuck it is he wants to do?!”
Siegel held his hands out.
“I thought we had come to some kind of agreement in the meeting that he would pick anyone but Glastonberry.”
“Right,” said Edge. “And it was your idea that I call Ellis just before he took the stage and threat--”
“A friendly reminder,” said Siegel. “That sounds so much better. Sounds cleaner. A friendly reminder of what was at stake.”
“And you spoke to him on his way to the dais,” said Edge. “What exactly did you tell him?”
“I told him good luck and whatever choice he made, it would be the right one.”
Edge shook his head and turned away from Siegel. His eyes inspected the old bunker curiously.
“It doesn’t matter. I have to do what I have to do, Joe. I’ll crush the nomination and he’ll have to come up with another candidate with his tail between his legs. So be it. Many a president have had their hopes dashed upon the rocks of the Senate. Why shouldn’t Calvin Ellis be different? Why did you want to meet all the way out here to talk about this?”
“This old bunker?” asked Siegel. “It’s lead-lined. Old school. You’d be surprised what kind of surveillance simple lead can block out.”
Siegel saw Edge turn to make another point. But halfway through his motion the man froze in place. Siegel blinked before he turned his head slightly. He looked to his right and smiled. Right at you.
“I’m sure you probably saw this twist coming right? Old mentor figure turns out to be not quite what he seems? But it runs deeper than that, actually. I’m not really on Ellis’ side, and I’m not really on Edge’s side. I’m playing a different game. One you have to see at a different angle or some… higher plain. Just keep reading and you’ll see.”
“Get some sleep, Morgan,” said Siegel. “You look tired.”
“I’m fine,” Edge grunted as he moved again. “Your boy in the White House is going to need all his strength.”
“I’ll think you’ll find he’s much stronger than you realize,” Siegel said, turning to you with a wink.