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The first wave of the Dogs came two months after the Daily Planet hired Clark.
Their species name was unpronounceable. Their drooping features and soulfully large eyes did give them a certain hound dog aspect, though their muted maroon hides were hairless and they had the flat, wide teeth of herbivores.
They wanted Earth's fertile lands and seas for their agrarian collective. They offered humanity two choices: surrender, or sterilization.
Surrender would be unconditional. The terms were the destruction of any electronic and electric devices, and the written words of all human languages, unneeded for a farming population. Slave population.
Sterilization would be monitored until the final death—natural, the Dogs assured—and complete, excepting a genetically diverse representative sample to be transplanted to a preserve world. "We do not condone genocide."
After the losses of the first wave, the remaining representatives of the world's governments and military forces considered a third choice: scorched earth. The combined nuclear armaments wouldn't render the surface uninhabitable forever, but it would be a thousand years or more before the Dogs could grow a thing on it.
The second wave came eight days after the first, when the ruins of capital buildings, military bases, and universities worldwide were still smoldering. And almost everyone, raising their eyes to the skies, to fifty times more ships than before, realized the world was ended either way.
But not everyone. Some soldiers ran, but other people stood forth to take the place of those fled or dead. Some were warriors. Some were teachers, train conductors, stay-at-home mothers. Prostitutes fought beside lawyers. Plastic surgeons joined drug dealers, cattle herders, door-to-door salesmen. Their weapons were guns and knives and rocks and boots. Molotov cocktails and cars loaded with open gasoline canisters and burning branches.
Queen Industry satellites were shielded such that they survived the electromagnetic pulses. Oliver used their readings to isolate vulnerable points on the orbiting base ships. The Dog aerial armored warriors could swat a missile from the sky easy as a fly, but Clark was not so easily swatted.
He hadn't yet mastered flight when the first wave attacked. By the second wave, he was ready.
He took out eighteen ships in three days, twice the count of Earth's haphazardly allied military forces. He didn't sleep and his skin burned from the black ash, his lungs burned from the vacuum of space above the upper atmosphere. Oxygen masks wouldn't last through battle and he could hold his breath, long enough to manage.
On the fourth day, the Dogs had identified the threat and prepared a new weapon. The artificially generated kryptonite radiation wasn't as effective as the real thing; it didn't hurt, not really. But Clark fell. From orbit he fell, plunging down towards the earth, Kansas's fields—still green; the cities were burning but the Dogs left their precious land mostly untouched.
The wind tore tears from his eyes and he knew, he knew this world he loved, this world that was all he had ever known and ever wanted to, was ending.
That was when he saw the soldiers, a troop of a hundred men with blank faces and black body armor, racing past him, to face the landing ships and the Dog warriors marching from them.
They ripped the warriors apart with their bare hands, and hammered the ships with their fists. The kryptonite radiation had no effect on their altered human bodies. They targeted the weakest points, moving in perfect tandem, absolute coordination, like a hundred cells of a single giant organism.
Clark, watching them, recognized the soldiers' impossible strength and their empty eyes. He had fought their like before. When the warriors were gone and the ships destroyed, he followed the survivors to the outskirts of Metropolis, to the LexCorp facility that was on no official plans, concealed deep underground, untouched.
In three more days, the second wave was driven back, by those troops and dozens of other cells planted around the world.
And there was Lex Luthor's face on television, Lex Luthor's voice over the radio, what televisions and radios remained. "It's not over," he warned, his cheeks hollowed and his eyes glittering with a febrile sincerity. "I'll need volunteers."
When the third wave came, there were tens of thousands of soldiers ready, each altered human stronger than six Dog warriors. LexCorp missiles designed to penetrate the Dog ship shields maneuvered past the aerial warriors to explode the vessels' power sources mid-air. LexCorp energy fields provided shelters, protecting hundreds of thousands who could not be evacuated from the cities.
Clark fought, on the ground and in the air, anywhere: Kansas, Japan, Australia, Lebanon. He fought Dog warriors and Dog ships. Wherever he fought, thousands followed him, not the mind-controlled enhanced troops but regular people, ordinary humans, rallying around him. Our hero, they cried, screaming his name—not his real name; no one knew his real name or cared—but the name they had given him in the first wave.
The Dog's final attack, as the commander snarled incomprehensible curses from her mother ship on every wavelength, came as a creeping gray mist, released from five hundred ships, blanketing cities around the world.
Humans coughed, and wiped tearing eyes. But they didn't fall and they didn't die, and Clark put on a helmet and a tank of air and flew to the shadow of the moon, smashed his way into the mother ship. "You've lost," he said. "Surrender," and the commander bowed her head, her long ears tucked back in submission.
The knife was invisible to his special vision, and he was exhausted. She had slit her throat before he could grab her six-fingered hand. Her remaining warriors felt her death, and died by their own hands. Their ships crashed.
The sticky wet of her frothing green blood was burned away in reentry. Clark flew back to Smallville. The yellow farmhouse stood empty but undamaged in the green fields. He collapsed on his old bed, and slept.
A week later, the Daily Planet published its first edition in two months. The print run was ten thousand, six pages photocopied in a basement, folded by hand and given away for free, passed from hand to hand across the city. The headline read, "We Won."
Some wanted the capital in Metropolis. Some wanted it in Tokyo, or London, or Beijing, or Delhi, but in the end it was built on the ruins of the UN building in New York, with auxiliaries in all those cities, and more.
The memorials erected for the half a billion who had lost their lives in those three months were not statues or towers. There weren't gravestones enough. Instead there were schools and libraries, air fields and capital domes, skyscrapers and television studios. Every new brick and stone laid was in honor of those dead, in honor of those surviving.
Two months after the First Session of the New World Council opened, Lex Luthor went alone to the Metropolis police department's newly rebuilt main office, and turned himself in.
The trial raged for eight weeks across the new airwaves, in the restarted papers, over the reborn internet. Luthor accepted no counsel, defended himself. Indicted himself.
Certain LexCorp offices and labs had survived relatively intact. There were reams of documentation, video, witnesses. Illegal, unsanctioned human experiments. Abductions and incarcerations. Mind control by drugs, psychics, and implants. Radioactive dumping, ground water contamination, other environmental violations. Blackmail and extortion. Insider trading and investor fraud. Assassinations. Murder.
He would give no names, would not cooperate in identifying any scientists or politicians involved. Many of them were dead. More than one had ended up as subjects to projects they had designed. They had, for the most part, been coerced. He had evidence enough to prove that, too.
In the end, LexCorp was dissolved, its assets claimed by the New World Council, and Lex Luthor was sentenced to one hundred years for crimes against humanity.
He had served five weeks when Clark first came to see him.
The cell was large, fifteen by fifteen feet. There were no bars, but the glass windows on two sides were reinforced with steel mesh. The bunk was a single mattress, half a foot thick. The commode and shower head were behind a translucent screen.
"Welcome," Lex said as Clark entered. "Kal-El. Or should I say Superman?"
"No," Clark said, unable to interpret that utterly bland tone. "Clark. Please."
One of Lex's eyebrows went up. From that, he'd know that Clark had asked that no one listen to or record this conversation. He didn't want to talk thinking about what he could or couldn't say.
Lex could refuse. Clark saw him eying the costume, the red cape, the blue suit.
He had to come in costume. This prison was too high-security to allow casual visits, and Lex had refused to grant interviews with any reporters. But Superman was eagerly ushered anywhere in the world he wished to go, even here.
"Clark, then," Lex said. "It's good to see you, Clark." His gray eyes lingered on the cape.
"It's a soldier's uniform," Clark said desperately. He had explained it, but how many papers or news reports did Lex see in here? Would he care anyway? "Of Krypton. Where I came from." So the Dogs would know what they faced. Might think that Earth had allies too dangerous to cross.
It hadn't worked. But then, so little had.
"But you're not Kryptonian," Lex said. "You're of Earth. One of us."
"Yes," Clark said, as he had told so many reporters and generals and leaders in the last months, but he had never more needed to be believed than now. "I grew up here, I thought I was human for more than half my life—I don't remember anything but Earth—"
"I believe you," Lex said, and smiled. "I believe you, Clark. I think you more than proved it—you're the best friend humanity could have. The least we can do is grant you honorary species membership."
Still smiling, he stuck his hands in the pocket of his gray jumpsuit, rocked back a little on his heels. "So what can I do for you, Clark? I'd offer you something to drink, but as you can see," and he tilted his head toward the four walls, two white-painted cement and two wired glass, "the accommodations are pretty sparse. If better than half the population's, these days. There's plenty of water, at least. LexCorp treated, naturally," and he quirked an eyebrow with inappropriate humor.
It hadn't been until the trials that the truth had come out of why the Dogs' gray mist had failed. Chemical tampering in a quarter million reservoirs worldwide, drinking water contaminated with a counteragent against the Dogs' organic poisons. But that had had government sanction, official cooperation. What governments had been active, then.
"What are you doing, Lex?" Clark demanded. Only after he had spoken did he realize what he had said, how he had used his name, so casually familiar. Like they were in the office in the mansion, years ago, and the light shining over them wasn't bleak fluorescents but the mottled reds and golds of sunlight through stained glass.
The mansion was still standing. Smallville had remained untouched, too small a target for the Dogs to bother. During the attacks Clark hadn't dared go there once, couldn't risk drawing a strike. He slept there now, every night, though he worked in Metropolis, in other cities around the world. He flew over the castle every day.
Lex didn't comment. Instead he indicated the electronic workstation in the corner, and answered, "What am I doing right now, before you came? Community service. I'm working on a potential anti-mutagenic formula, to reverse the super-soldier alterations."
"Over eight thousand soldiers survived," Lex said, as if Clark hadn't written articles enough on the matter, "but the behavioral restraint implants can't be removed until the neurological damage from the mutations can be repaired, or they're a lethal danger to themselves and others."
"But don't we want a contingent of soldiers still," Clark quoted from a hundred different editorials, "if the Dogs come back?"
"They won't," Lex said, more confidently than any pundit or general Clark had interviewed. "Once beaten, they won't challenge the established dominance; that's their psychology. We're the alpha now. And they're a powerful enough race that we've bought ourselves time; no other species will dare attack us without some deliberation, since we've proven our fighting prowess. We're working on better weapons now, better defenses. By the time another invasion comes, we'll be ready."
"But you're not building weapons now."
"I've done enough already, wouldn't you say? And look where it got me." Lex gestured with one hand at the cell, and laughed.
Laughed, not bitterly, not resentfully; but freely. Like he smiled, so openly.
Clark grabbed his shoulders, pulled Lex close enough to look down into his eyes. Looking for anger or for madness, but Lex's eyes were clear. The dark circles and pinched cheeks were gone and Lex looked healthy. Young, younger than that day in Smallville on the riverbank, younger than that day in the mansion after he had returned home from Belle Reve. His eyes had been clouded then, blindly ignorant acceptance in a ravaged body, a damaged mind.
There were so many people hurt now, irrevocably broken in mind and body. So many more than LexCorp's remaining eight thousand soldiers. But Lex looked up at Clark, awake and aware. Knowing what he was, knowing everything and facing him clear-eyed, and Clark could see no hatred in his face, no rage.
"What are you doing now, Lex?" Clark asked again, letting go.
Lex touched Clark's arm, perhaps only to steady himself, a light quick touch. "Is that why you're here? I told you," he began.
Clark shook his head. "No, I mean—what do you want? What're you doing here? In prison?"
"Would you say I don't deserve it? After all the years you tried to have me arrested, prosecuted—no, you're right, of course." Lex shrugged. "I deserve far worse than this luxury, but in the current atmosphere of rebirth and repopulation, the death penalty isn't as politically sound as it once was."
There had been riots when the verdict had been announced. There were pickets outside the prison every day. Clark had flown over them, rather than walking the gauntlet, and the people holding signs below had shaken their fists, had screamed up at him, "Free him! Break him out, Superman!"
"Not everyone thinks you deserve this much," Clark said. "A lot of people think..."
"You should have given testimony, Clark," Lex said. "A personal perspective. There weren't many left who could do that, but you knew what I was doing. How long I had been doing it for, the people I exploited, the men and women I hurt, murdered, destroyed. Long before the Dogs came."
"But you knew they were coming. You always knew."
Lex raised his hand in mild protest. "No, I didn't. I've tried to make that clear. I knew a hundred hours before any government became aware, and took precautions because I realized the second wave would follow the first, and I couldn't lose the only chance I thought we had. But the vast majority of my projects were started years before that."
"Not the Dogs, then. But what you did—you knew there was danger. That we, that Earth, humans, were in danger."
"Paranoia. Not entirely unfounded paranoia, I'll grant you; but psychotic all the same. I had no absolute proof, only suspicions."
"But if you hadn't—"
"If I hadn't what? Used people? Tortured human beings—there were some volunteers, oh, I paid well, but I rarely offered full disclosure. Too difficult, too time-consuming, to find enough people sufficiently unbalanced that I could sway them to my paranoid vision, so I didn't bother. How many people died, Clark, in my experiments? You were there, for some of them. You saw the deaths. People you knew." He wasn't smiling now, but his voice was so calm that Clark almost couldn't understand what he was saying. Could only think of facing Lex months ago. Shoving him against the wall, swearing at him, tears in his eyes and her life's blood on his hands. "You won't get away with this. I'll never let you."
And Lex's lip had curled and his snarling voice had cut like glass and his eyes had been broken. "What are you going to do to stop me, Clark?"
Half a billion deaths between then and today, and Lex's voice now was calm, without anger, and his eyes were whole. "If you'd tell them," he told Clark, "tell the world, everyone would listen to you."
"Is that what you want?" Clark asked. "Me to condemn you, so they'd hate you?"
"Well, it is a bit irregular, a convicted felon coming in the top three in the primaries of every major political party on the planet. You beat me, naturally, but by a smaller margin than I predicted." Write-in campaigns for all of them; Clark certainly hadn't run, and Lex hadn't been permitted to put in a bid from prison, of course.
Lex shrugged. "But no matter. There are enough out there who do hate me, I suppose. I get death threats enough. The security here is high, but someone might get through, sooner or later, I suppose."
"Is that why you're here, Lex?" Clark said. He had wondered. "For the security?" Surely, if Lex had stayed free, he could have guarded himself. He had successfully defended the planet; he would have been able to defend his own person, better than these walls and the guards outside. "Or do you want to give someone that chance—"
But Lex shook his head. "No, I'd rather not be assassinated. Whether or not I deserve it. The last thing needed now is yet another martyr."
"Then what do you want? Why do you have to be here?"
Lex sighed, sat down on the edge of the computer desk. "You haven't asked me that in years, you know." He considered. "I don't know if you ever asked me that, really. Why does it matter now, Clark? It never mattered before—it's what a man does that matters, isn't that what your dad would have said? The road to hell—intentions count for squat. It's the deeds that a man is judged by. And I've been judged. Fairly, trial by my peers, due process and all that. There's nothing to contest."
"Lex..." If Clark had asked before; if he had known, had understood. Before the Dogs came. "Your deeds—"
"What? Saved the world? So does that make me a hero now? But you called me a monster before—if the Dogs hadn't come, what then? I'd still be a monster?"
"I..." He shouldn't have come. He had no reason to be here. What he wanted to say, he didn't know how, not to Lex, not after this long.
Lex stood, moved toward him again. "Clark. Please excuse me. I'm not trying to upset you, I'm not angry with you. I'm honestly glad to see you; that wasn't merely courtesy. It's just...disconcerting. I haven't seen you in months—on the television, these days; on scopes during the battles, before. The day of the surrender, the day you flew back from the moon, I was watching the sky, hoping...but it's always been the costume I'm looking at. The soldier. Not you, and you couldn't see me.
"And now you're here, standing before me, and looking at me differently. Like I'm a different man, when I'm not. I'm the man you've always known; I'm still the man who did those terrible things, those monstrous things, willingly and knowingly. That hasn't changed."
"But you're not angry with me," Clark said. "That's a change."
Lex laughed again, as openly as before. "I was the one mistaken, before. I shouldn't have been angry with you. If it weren't for your tests, the trials against your powers, the soldiers never would've been strong enough. Besides, I always understood why you were coming after me. You had reason; I shouldn't have been angry with you for that. I tried not to be, you know. I tried, but you know my temper, and I wasn't at my best. Not for the past few years. I'd apologize for that, if it'd mean anything, if you'd let me."
"Is that what this is?" Clark looked around the prison cell. "An apology?"
"This is justice, Clark," Lex said. "This is order; this is civilization. Something we came so very close to losing, and that we can't afford. Humanity needs more than living human beings to survive. The things I did, no one should have done. It can't be allowed. And it sure as hell can't be glorified—making me a hero? That'd destroy us, as surely as the Dogs almost did.
"Humanity has its heroes. We have you—you're one of us, even with your powers and that alien uniform. We have all the millions who gave their bodies and their lives. We have heroes enough. What's needed is the villain. We're so afraid, so paranoid, and it's too risky now, too easy for us to tell ourselves that anything is necessary, against what we face. I know paranoia. It's too easy to listen to any idea, anyone who tells us they can make us safe, without thinking about it. We need the reminder of mistakes, the warning not to take the easy way. To find another way. The right way."
"And if there wasn't another way?" Clark asked, as he had asked himself for weeks and weeks now. Lying in bed at night, not sleeping, looking up at the ceiling—looking through the ceiling, through the rafters and roofing, to see clouds and stars and a sky empty of ships. Humanity's sky. He had done all he could to protect the world, but he hadn't been enough. Not alone. "If there never was a right way?"
Lex didn't answer, meeting his eyes without a word.
"So this is what you want? To be the villain, everyone knowing you as a symbol—the easy way out. You'll spend the rest of your life in here, reminding people that even though we fought off the Dogs, humans can still do bad things, too."
"Most of my life," Lex said easily. "Unless it gets cut off short. If I continue my service, I might get out on good behavior in thirty or forty years. The cities will be rebuilt by then. Metropolis will have a new skyline. And I'll be forgotten, mostly. Reviled, maybe, for what's remembered. Infamous. I might have to make a new name for myself, otherwise," and he looked at Clark, sideways and sly, almost laughing again.
Clark couldn't think of Metropolis now, the construction amidst the rubble, though every day he stood in the ruins, lifting, moving, building, helping; whatever he could do. Instead he thought of the fields; the farmhouse, and the castle, standing alone and abandoned.
He could go anywhere, in this costume. He could ask anything. Could raise his voice and summon guards to open the door, for both of them. He could promise to guard and protect the prisoner, could say he needed Lex's help. Could request Lex's assistance in building the new defenses, and no one would do anything except eagerly agree.
"What do you really want, Lex?" he asked, one final time.
Lex looked at him, and smiled, wide and clear and happy. "What I've wanted since the Dogs lost, and you came back to Earth," he said. "Nothing. We're alive, Clark. Humanity made it through this, and now we understand the danger out there. It's not just me and you anymore, but all of us, fighting to save ourselves. We're going to survive. What more could I want, after that?"
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