SMALLVILLE: THE BLACK RIDER
EPISODE 1: WELCOME TO SMALLVILLE
"Do you have those upgrades ready?" Lex Luthor said, sifting through a pile of papers in search of the diagram he'd designed.
"Hello to you, too," Bruce Wayne responded in Lex's ear. His graveled voice dripped with sarcasm. "I'm doing well, thank you for asking."
The bald, blue-eyed, nineteen-year-old pursed his scarred lips with impatience. "Bruce, I'm not in the mood." He slid another sheaf of papers aside. He knew the diagram was on his workbench. He paused, thinking. Maybe he'd moved it to the cabinet.
The multi-tiered private garage was located in a parking structure on the outskirts of downtown Metropolis. Each floor had its own set of roll-door garages for the rich and powerful who wanted to drive to work instead of being chauffeured. The rest of the working masses parked in the yellow lined and numbered spaces. High rises stood like sentries around the parking structure, ubiquitous in design and function.
Lex's private garage doubled as his base of operations. The main portion was reserved for his car and his motorcycle. A black lacquered workbench was pushed against the back wall, a matching stool tucked under it. Beside it was a tilted glass drafting table with metal accents. Shelves packed with books about combat, guns, technology, and motorcycle maintenance lined the wall above the two tables.
Along the sides of the garage were various cabinets holding tools, changes of clothing, and a hidden cache for his firearms. A tiny shower was tucked into the corner, delineated only by the drain in the floor and the pull-chain showerhead above it. The garage was fastidiously clean, though Lex had been neglectful lately in filing his papers away.
"What happened?" Bruce said. Lex could hear him punching buttons on the computer over the line. "I don't see any reports from Metropolis."
"There wouldn't be any. Perp got away. I was shot again." Lex crossed the private garage and opened one of the drawers on an old cherry wood laboratory worksheet cabinet. He tucked the phone between his shoulder and his ear to free up both hands. "Thermal imaging would've solved that problem."
"I can have the helmet to you by the end of next week. I'm adding some software upgrades as well."
Lex found the diagram in the drawer. He brought it back to the workbench, flipped on the detail light, and scanned the diagram's components. "You'll make the adjustments to the controls, too, right?"
"Good." Lex's gaze flitted over the sketch. "I hate being shot."
"Same here," Bruce said. "I take it the bullet went through the Kevlar?"
"Bullets. Yes." Lex sighed, turned, and leaned back against the workbench. He shifted the phone to his other ear. "Two in the right lung. Died a couple of times before I could get them out. It's a good thing no one creeps around dark alleys in Metropolis in the middle of the night."
"Except for you." Bruce didn't chastise, or press for details. "My offer still stands on the molded armor, like mine."
Lex snorted. "And look like a giant, demented bat? No thanks. One Batman is enough. I'll stick to being the Black Rider."
The Black Rider was already etched into the minds of Metropolis. Lex had been helping the citizens of his city since he was eighteen. With his fucked up healing ability that he'd gotten at the age of nine in Smallville, he made for a formidable opponent. One that healed within minutes and couldn't stay dead.
The Black Rider developed from Lex's friendship with Bruce combined with Bruce's desire to be the Batman. Bruce had transferred to Lex's boarding school when they were both twelve. Bruce hadn't cared that Lex had been labeled a freak, with his bald head and night terrors. Bruce had witnessed his parents' deaths and also suffered from terrible dreams. Placed together in a room, so as not to disturb the other students, they'd confided in each other about the dreams, their pasts, and what they'd wanted for their futures. Bruce had planned, and trained, to become the person who could seek vengeance on his parents' killers. Lex had followed along until graduation separated them.
Armed with knowledge of how to fight and the desire to do something beyond what was expected of him as a Luthor, Lex had donned black leather motorcycle gear and set a goal to clean up Metropolis one street at a time.
As time passed, Lex's methods were refined, his gear upgraded, and his actions noteworthy. His black leather jacket and pants were lined with Kevlar. He carried a tranquilizer gun at his hip and a bean bag shotgun on his back. His fitted helmet had GPS, a phone link, a radio transmitter, and, with the upgrades, thermal imaging in the tinted, bulletproofed visor. He carried pepper spray, zip ties, and a stack of calling cards with only a number etched on them. He rode a Suzuki GSX 1300R Hayabusa, painted matte black, to which his scoped tranquilizer rifle was strapped. He was coined the Black Rider by The Daily Planet newspaper and the name stuck. In two years, Lex had systematically etched a crime-free section of Metropolis in a ten mile radius. He'd hoped to make Metropolis the safest city in America by the time he was forty.
"Is there anything else?" Bruce said, and Lex could tell his friend was itching to go out and fight crime himself, in Gotham.
"No, that's everything," Lex said. "Watch yourself out there."
"You, too. You're not invulnerable," Bruce said.
Lex frowned. "Yes, I am."
"Not when it comes to your secrets."
Lex gave a middle-fingered salute to the Welcome to Smallville, Meteorite Capital of the World sign as he drove past in his Porsche 911. All he could see surrounding him was corn fields, like there had been for the past hour, ever since he left Metropolis. He hated corn.
"Thanks, Dad," he muttered, his driving gloved-fingers tightening in anger on the steering wheel. He'd been banished to the cornhole of Kansas by his father, who'd suddenly up and decided Lex needed a job and put him in charge of the fertilizer plant in Smallville. Lex was only twenty-one. He should've been starting his junior year at Metropolis University. Instead, he was remanded to reigning over the Shit Palace in the town that stole his hair and made him into a freak of nature. He knew there was irony in that somewhere, but he couldn't be bothered to find it.
Luckily, the distance between Smallville and Metropolis wasn't too great. The disappearance of the Black Rider wouldn't bode well for his city. He could take the chopper if he had to, and cut the hour drive-time in half. The private garage where he kept his things was near enough to an office building with a landing pad.
Lex eased up on the accelerator as he caught up with a truck loaded with bailing wire. He flipped on the radio, hoping to drown out the sound of the corn mocking him.
Lex was tall, sleek, and attractive. His baldness, once a plague to him, now fit him as well as his tailored designer suits. His only physical flaw was a small scar that split his upper lip that he'd earned pre-meteorite storm, as a child.
Lex tapped his finger on the steering wheel in irritation at the slowness of the driver in front of him. Patience wasn't his strong suit. He was rich - he could get what he wanted, when he wanted it. He saw no reason not to use his money, or pretend it wasn't a part of what defined him as a person. He could be generous with it or use it to bribe or bully. Like his intelligence, it was a tool in his arsenal that allowed him to be the Black Rider.
His cell phone rang. Lex pulled it from the inner pocket of his suit coat and glanced down at the screen. Vicki Vale. He wondered what the Gotham reporter wanted with him. Probably another quote about Bruce.
Let swiped the phone to decline and returned his eyes to the road, in time to see one of the bailing wires bouncing out of the back of the turning truck and onto the road. He dropped the phone, hit the brakes, and swerved, trying to avoid the debris. The Porsche protested, spinning out, sending him careening for the rail of the bridge in front of him.
And directly for a person in a bright red coat.
Lex had only a moment to suck in a sharp breath of regret before his car hit the person, sending the body crashing against the windshield, as they both went over the edge of the bridge. He knew he would survive, unless he was decapitated, but that person...
Before he could think of it any more, the car hit the water, Lex's head hit the steering wheel, and everything went dark.
Lex's first thought upon returning to consciousness and vomiting up water was: I hate drowning. He hadn't liked it when he'd experimented on ways to die and he still didn't like it. The dying part wasn't the issue. It was when he revived with his lungs filled painfully with water, his body wet and clammy and cold, and his ears clogged for days.
Lex sucked in several sharp breaths of air, the pain already fading thanks to his healing ability. His mind ticked over and he drew in another sharp breath, this time in panic. The person he'd hit!
Lex's eyelids flew open as he sat up fast - and promptly clonked into something hard with his head. "Ow," he said, more shocked than hurt, and turned his gaze onto what he'd hit.
It was an angel.
Strike that, it was a sinfully gorgeous man, with dark, wet hair making ringlets around his chiseled face. Sharp cheekbones. Lush, pouty lips. Hazel eyes framed by thick, dark lashes that stared worriedly at him. A hint of perfect, white teeth. The better to bite me with...
Lex shook off that thought immediately. Wet clothes and arousal didn't mix. Besides, it wasn't the time or place. He'd just hit a man as he crashed off a bridge and drowned. The same man who now knelt beside him on the riverbank.
Lex's eyes widened in surprise. "You're not dead."
The attractive man blinked a few times in shock. "Um... no?" He sounded confused, questioning that he wasn't dead. He looked back at the broken rail of the bridge above them.
"But I hit you," Lex said. He looked over the man, checking for injury and found none.
"No, you didn't," the man said, still sounding unsure. "If you did, I'd be... I'd be dead."
Lex knew he had hit the man. There were sparkles of glass in the man's hair and more dotting the broad shoulders of the wet red jacket. That he wasn't dead meant he either wasn't human or... "You're like me," Lex breathed in amazement.
The man stared at Lex like he'd lost a step. "Um..."
On the road above, a car stopped and the driver got out. The woman rushed over to the broken rail and yelled down to them. "Are you all right? I'm calling an ambulance!"
The bridge spanned a shallow gorge that was cut by a river deep enough to swallow Lex's car whole. Rocks, moss, and bits of garbage dotted the banks on either side of the river. Graffiti painted the underside of the bridge; J.B. + L.C. 4EVA, Rick Was Here, Whitney + Lana surrounded by a heart, Go Crows! The gorge wasn't steep, and the woman speaking into her cell phone was making her way down to them. The woman wore bright yellow overalls with a picture of an ear of corn on the bib.
A laugh bubbled from Lex's gut. Of course she was wearing corn gear. He grinned at the man whose befuddlement and concern went up several notches. "I'm Lex Luthor."
"Clark. Clark Kent," the man, Clark, said. "It's, um, nice to meet you?"
Lex laughed outright at that, and he clapped Clark on shoulder. "Yes, it is."
Word spread fast in Smallville. A tow-truck, a reporter with photographer, the police, and looky loos appeared at the same time as the ambulance. Lex and Clark were checked over by the EMT and given blankets after they both declined going to the hospital. The police took their statements with the reporter hovering nearby. Lex omitted the part about hitting Clark, saying instead that Clark had been walking nearby and had come to Lex's rescue when his car went over the rail. The grateful relief on Clark's face at the lie spoke volumes to Lex. It more firmly cemented the fact that Lex had hit Clark and Clark had survived with nary a scratch.
Lex was instructing the reporter's photographer to get pictures of the accident scene for insurance purposes when a tall, blonde farmer hopped out of a rusted truck that had joined the group of vehicles parked off the bridge. "Clark!"
"Dad!" Clark looked both worried and relieved to see his father. Mr. Kent rushed over to Clark and gave him a short, but full embrace. The kind of hug a worried father should give.
"What happened? Mrs. Griffin called and said you were in an accident," Mr. Kent said. Lex could hear a thread of disapproval in his tone and wondered about it.
"I, uh..." Clark looked around helplessly, obvious in his not wanting to lie to his father, but couldn't tell the truth with people around.
Lex stepped in, hand extended to Mr. Kent. "Mr. Kent? Lex Luthor. Your son saved my life," he said, sticking to the fabricated story.
"Jonathan Kent," Jonathan said, but ignored Lex's proffered handshake. The tow truck's winch revealed Lex's damaged Porsche as it was lifted from the water. "I know who you are. And you were probably driving like a maniac in that thing. You're lucky you didn't kill anyone, including my son."
Lex's lips pursed as anger flared inside of him. His response was cold and clipped. "The fault belongs to the truck driver with the improperly fastened load of bailing wire that dropped in front of my car and the shoddy road maintenance that caused me to spin out when I stepped on the brakes. Luckily, Clark was not loitering illegally on the wrong side of the bridge, no one got hurt but me. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to ensure the proper documentation and pictures are in order for my negligence lawsuit against the trucking company and the county maintenance department. Good day."
Lex turned his back on the Kents before either could reply and strode away.
"You haven't been in Smallville for five minutes and you're already making headlines!" Lionel Luthor barked over the phone.
Lex pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned back in his leather desk chair. He sat in the newly appointed office of the bought-and-paid-for "ancestral" estate he now lived in, in the middle of a corn field on the outskirts of Smallville. The office was furnished in dark leathers and dark woods. Sunlight streamed through the giant stained glass window and painted the room in purple and pink. A fire danced in the ornate fireplace to fight the chill from Lex's dunking. A pompous coat of arms hung above the mantle. Modern artwork hung on the walls, complimenting the low, dark chocolate leather sofa and matching chair. A glass topped coffee table stood between the two pieces of furniture.
Lex's desk, another modern piece, had a glass top and narrow drawers in the legs. Behind the desk on a dark wood side table sat two antique swords on display. A set of stairs led up to a library balcony, with shelves of decorative classics. Two winged reading chairs flanked a marble chess table, the chess pieces artistically arranged mid-game.
The mansion had come fully furnished, as Lionel had used it as a place to conduct his affairs, both business and pleasure. Lex had made sure not to pick his father's bedroom as his own.
"It wasn't my fault. I plan to sue," Lex said to his father. He didn't bother asking how Lionel knew about the accident already. "Also, I'm unhurt. Thanks for caring."
Lionel scoffed. "Of course I'd care if you were hurt. I already knew that you were not, so I don't need to waste time on trivialities."
Lex's well-being was a triviality. It wasn't news to him. "Why did you call, Dad? Aside from berating me on something I didn't do on purpose."
"There is purpose behind an accident," Lionel said. A bon mot of wisdom from the annals of Lionel Luthor. "You are there as a representative of LuthorCorp, and are in charge of the fertilizer plant. Embarrassing yourself by driving off the road does not do well for your credibility. It will also not change my mind about sending you there."
Lex didn't bother protesting about the validity of the accident's cause. It would only fall on deaf ears. Lex rarely pleased his father. It was a fact he lived with and worked around daily. Approval came with marionette strings moving him as precisely as Lionel wanted. Lex had his own mind and ambitions, and they were at odds with the course his father had set out for him.
"I expect a full report on the plant's shortcomings by Friday," Lionel said, and hung up without saying goodbye.
Lex tossed the cell phone onto his desk and blew out a stressed breath of air. "Nice talking to you, too, Dad." He shook his head in defeat, opened his laptop, and began reviewing the plant's financials.
Lex's second day in Smallville was his first day going to LuthorCorp Fertilizer Plant Number Three. The plant was located practically in Lex's new backyard, and that made him chuckle. Landscaped woods and a pond separated the two properties, but if Lex were feeling plebian, he could walk to work in under ten minutes.
Dressed in a fitted dove gray, single breasted suit with a lilac shirt and deeper hued tie, Lex stood at the rail on the second floor walkway in the main body of the plant. Gabe Sullivan, the plant manager, stood beside him, wearing a white shirt and cheap store tie, wringing his hands nervously. Below, the full roster of employees gathered for the mandatory meeting, hemmed in by pipes and girders and machinery that processed crap.
Lex glanced at his gold Rolex. At precisely 9:00, he cleared his throat, and Gabe leapt into action to quiet the employees. Lex graced Gabe with a nod of thanks as silence descended. He rested his hands on the green-painted rail and addressed the staff.
"Good morning. I'm Lex Luthor. My father has put me in charge of this plant with the sole purpose of shutting it down and putting you all out of a job."
Instant uproar. Gabe stared at him with shock and dismay. Lex waited for a count of twenty before prompting Gabe to get everyone quiet again. He tapped a finger with impatience at the amount of time it took for them to settle down. Finally, he was able to continue.
"My father likes to play games, and his favorite game is toying with me." Lex smiled wryly. "He told me that I could turn this plant around and make it profitable again. Even if I succeed in doing that, he would still close it down as a lesson to me in power. He doesn't care that it will affect your lives. I do. That's why I'm telling you this to give you the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere. I will give glowing recommendation letters to everyone. I'm hiring on a resource officer to help you find those jobs commensurate with your experience and salary. The plant will remain open for as long as I can keep it open, which I anticipate will be half a year, give or take."
The buzz started again as the employees spoke amongst themselves. Lex knew word of the pending closure would hit the local newspaper tomorrow, a strategy Lex put into play to keep the doors open even longer. Lionel wouldn't want the news to be proved correct. It would be bad for his reputation.
"In the meantime," Lex said, drawing attention again. "I will be implementing some changes to hopefully improve output and branch out into ethanol fuel. If you have any ideas on how to do those things, bring them to the attention of Mr. Sullivan. If you have any questions with regard to anything else I've said, bring that to the attention of the resource officer, who will be starting on Monday. Thank you."
Lex stepped back from the rail, and voices rose again in collective worry and some with anger. Lex motioned to Gabe to follow him, and he led the way to the third floor where the offices were located. "Shut the door," he instructed, as they entered the small office Lex had claimed for his own.
Gabe closed the door, and Lex waited for him to speak on cue. He didn't disappoint. "Mr. Luthor, are you sure you should've done that?" he said.
"Done what? Help people?" Lex smiled enigmatically. "It's something I do." He reached for the folder he'd compiled yesterday that he'd left on the desk. "Now, let's review my list of changes along with specific details on how to put them into operation."
Later that evening, Lex sat with a glass of brandy in hand, watching the colors shift on the floor in his office as the sun began setting. Fast food wrappers littered the coffee table. He'd fired the entire staff immediately upon arriving and had a guy come in to sweep for bugs. There had been twenty-seven of them, along with six cameras not connected to the security feed. It was good to know Lex's faith in his father being a bastard remained true.
Lex toyed with the idea of heading to Metropolis and doing a patrol as the Black Rider. His day had been difficult, though, and long. It was nothing like attending university classes, homework, or studying. Business wasn't his forte, either. He had been a double Math-Science major in school before Lionel had pulled him out to come to Smallville. Engineering and technology captivated him. Managing a shit factory, not so much.
Tomorrow was Friday, and Lex decided it would be a better night to go. Saturday wasn't a work day, so he could sleep in. Staying in Metropolis for the weekend was out of the question, until he hired a new security person. Someone not in Lionel's wallet. Lex didn't need more bugs already.
Lex leaned forward and snagged the local newspaper, the Smallville Ledger, off the coffee table. The headlining story was Lex's accident from yesterday. He knew tomorrow's would be about the plant closing. Lex idly perused the article, wondering how Clark Kent was faring. The fact that Clark hadn't been hurt or killed fascinated Lex. The idea that Clark was like Lex, that he had accelerated healing or was invulnerable to injury, tickled Lex. This was Smallville, where Lex had come into his ability. It made sense that another person could have been affected by the meteorite shower, too.
There was an article on the hospitalization of a high school teacher, and another on the disappearance of someone named Jeremy Creek who'd been in a twelve-year coma. Lex read them without really paying attention, his thoughts more focused on the possibility of no longer being alone.
Lex returned to Smallville exhausted on late Friday night, or rather early Saturday morning. He gone on patrol in Metropolis after working all day, and it had been a bear of a night. He stopped a robbery in one of the outlying neighborhoods of his crime-free zone and had gotten a call from one of the locals about a drug pusher attempting to set up shop. He didn't chase police calls, letting law enforcement do their jobs. But the police couldn't be everywhere and usually arrived after a crime had been committed. Lex did his best to catch the perps in the act, tranquilize and cuff them, and convince the victim or witnesses to testify. Sometimes there was video surveillance to assist the prosecutor. Sometimes the criminals had to be released due to lack of evidence. It didn't stop Lex from continuing to do what he could to remove crime from Metropolis.
It was afternoon by the time Lex awoke on Saturday. He worked out in the mansion's gym, a perk over the university's facilities. Afterward, he cleaned up, dressing in black trousers and a plum pullover v-necked sweater. The weather in Kansas in October varied, cold one day and warm the next. The day's newspaper indicated the arrival of a cold front alongside the headlines on the electrocution and critical condition of two former Smallville High School jocks.
Lex decided to head into town to forage for food. He added a black leather three-quarter jacket to his ensemble, snagged the keys for the replacement Porsche, and headed into the garage. His Suzuki was hidden under a tarp beside the riding mower. Lex had chanced returning to Smallville as the Black Rider due to his tiredness and because he'd be going out again that night. His clothing and guns were stowed safely in the butler's cupboard, where his father's snoops wouldn't think to search. He doubted Lionel would have anyone come in right away, but Lex wanted to minimize the risk he'd taken by bringing the Black Rider home.
Smallville was busy on a Saturday. People of various heights, widths, and colors strolled down Main Street, patronizing shops selling antiques, pies, furniture, art, hardware, and pharmacy items. Banners supporting the high school hung from the lampposts that lined the streets. Conversation hummed about the Homecoming football game that started at four.
Lex found a coffee shop called The Beanery and headed inside. The motif was pure small town, painted in garish colors with eighties framed posters hanging on the walls. High school spirit was in full effect, with crepe paper ribbons and signs supporting the Crows and promoting Homecoming. Kids in school colors, cheerleader uniforms, and football jerseys congregated at the round, high tables and on the curved, overstuffed orange couches.
Lex approached the scarred wood bar that acted as a serving station. He was surprised and pleased to see Clark Kent talking to a pretty girl with long, black hair wearing a cheerleader uniform. "Clark, hello. It's good to see you again. Still in one piece, I see."
Clark turned, and a polite but wary smile graced his lips. "Mr. Luthor. Hi. I- I'm fine."
"It's 'Lex'," Lex corrected. The wariness hurt, even though Lex should've expected it. "And I can see you're fine. In fact, I wouldn't mind talking to you about that, if you have a minute?"
"Lex Luthor?" the girl beside Clark spoke up. She, on the other hand, gave him a genuine smile. "I'm Lana Lang. I don't know if you remember me. We met many years ago, poolside." Her hazel eyes crinkled at the corners in amusement. "I wore a one piece suit with a flowers on it. You wore a busty redhead."
Lex barked a laugh, from her forwardness and in remembrance. "Yes, I do recall that day with fond, if now embarrassing, memories. How's your Aunt Nell?"
"She's good. She runs the flower shop next door. You should stop in and say hi," Lana said.
"I'll make sure to do that," Lex said. He placed his order for coffee before gesturing between the two of them. "Are you two together?"
Clark blushed and started to stammer, which amused Lex. Lana shook her head with another smile. "No. We're only friends. My boyfriend, Whitney, is the quarterback of the football team." The bell above the door chimed, drawing Lana's attention. Her smile grew larger. "And here he is now." She patted Clark on the arm. "I'll see you later, Clark. Bye, Lex."
Lex watched her bounce across the coffee shop to a blonde jock wearing a Smallville High School football jersey and a scowl. Whitney glared daggers at Clark. Lex picked up the coffee cup that had been delivered and hid his smile behind a sip. High school jealousy. It never changed.
"So, Clark. About that talk...," Lex began, only to be cut off by Clark.
"Sorry. I've gotta go." Clark shoved his hands into the pockets of his ill-fitting beige jacket and scurried for the door. Bemused, Lex watch him leave. For someone built like a football player, Clark certainly managed to make himself appear small. Lex was surprised that Clark hadn't been wearing a jersey, as well. The newspaper article on the crash had indicated that Clark was seventeen and a junior at the high school. Perhaps he was a basketball player, instead. Lex would have to find out when they next spoke - and they would speak again. Lex wasn't letting Clark off the hook that easily.
Lex spent the afternoon puttering around town, chatting with Nell Potter, eating at the diner, and putting an ad in the newspaper for a cook. At the antique store, he found an antique pocket watch engraved with Shakespeare's quote from Richard II: "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me." He bought a rhubarb pie from the bakery and a bag of gummy worms from the pharmacy.
Most everyone not working headed to the high school for the Homecoming game around four, and Lex decided to join them. High school football wasn't that entertaining to him, but watching the crowd go hog wild over it was fun. He learned the intricacies of the coach's playbook from the parent sitting next to him. A wife sitting behind him leaned forward to quietly thank him about telling the truth about the future of the fertilizer plant, and then engaged him in conversation about high end cars. A trio of high school girls kept looking back at him from further down the bleachers, batting their eyelashes, and giggling behind their hands. It was nice. Homey. Something he'd never experienced.
Maybe Smallville wasn't that bad.
The stadium lights came on at halftime as darkness grew on the horizon. Lex picked out Lana from the cheerleading squad, being tossed around like fresh fish at a fish market. The marching band played rousing off-key tunes. Most people in the stands used the time to stretch their legs and use the port-o-johns that flanked the field. Lex checked his new phone for messages, having lost his old one in the car crash. He hadn't given the new number to very many people. Bruce had it. Gabe Sullivan. Nell Potter. The newspaper. His bank in Metropolis. Unfortunately, also his father, but he would've acquired it even if Lex hadn't passed it on to him.
The stadium lights grew brighter, fizzled, and several of them popped, sending showers of glass onto the edges of the field. Startled cries rang out. A twisted, young voice came over the stadium speakers. "They will learn tonight!"
Lex and the crowd waited for more. It didn't come. People began conversing worriedly and looking around at their neighbors, wondering what to do. The off duty police in the audience rose and held out calming hands. A pair of them went up to the radio booth. After a few minutes, an officer spoke over the speaker. "It was a prank from a kid, folks. Surprised the announcer and shot off his mouth, but he's gone now. Let's play some football!"
Relief spread quickly through the stadium. The marching band began to play again, weakly at first, then going stronger when nothing happened. The cheerleaders resumed performing. Football players from the opposing team jogged from the locker room to their benches as halftime neared to a close.
Lex excused himself and made his way from the stands to the parking lot. Contrary to what the police officer had said, Lex didn't think it was a prank. The vehemence and rage-tinged tone spoke of someone who had violence on the mind. The police would be more alert in the audience, but afterward it would most likely be brushed off if nothing happened at the game.
Lex had a feeling it was after the game they had to worry about. And if they weren't going to do anything, the Black Rider would.
Snug in his motorcycle leathers and Kevlar, with boots that went up to his knees, Lex drove slowly down the back roads of Smallville. The Suzuki's single headlight cut a swath through the darkness. It was around eight and nighttime had fully settled over the town. Lex had listened to the remainder of the football game on the radio, and had tuned in to the police frequency on the internet scanner he'd downloaded to his laptop. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened, but Lex wasn't chancing it.
The shotgun was a comfortable weight against Lex's back as he leaned forward on the Suzuki. The visor on his helmet displayed a GPS map on the right side, displaying his position. The radio scanner buzzed quietly near his ear, embedded into the black helmet. His plan was to ride around town, avoiding the main streets if he could, keeping an eye out for someone causing trouble. Most of the teenagers were at the Homecoming Dance, which would make it easier for Lex to spot a lone kid.
He wasn't expecting that lone kid to step out of the cornfield and into the road ahead of him.
Lex pulled off to the side, quickly shutting down the bike and drawing the shotgun as the kid dashed back into the field. The Suzuki had false plates for protection, but on the isolated stretch of road Lex didn't expect the police to show up.
"GPS off, radio off," Lex said, and the helmet responded to his voice commands. "Thermal on."
The right side of the visor changed to thermal imaging, leaving the left side clear for him to see normally. Lex panned the field ahead of him. The kid had appeared to be a Caucasian teen, dressed in a dark shirt and pale gray hoodie. Lex searched for the heat signature hiding in the corn. He found it almost immediately, in a straight line from where the kid had stepped onto the road. The kid appeared to be standing on something with his arms outstretched. He approached cautiously, not wanting to spook the kid into running again.
A small clearing appeared ahead of him, and Lex found himself not looking at the kid through the normal side of the visor, but at Clark Kent hanging from a scarecrow cross.
Lex checked the area to make sure it was secure before rushing over to Clark. He holstered the shotgun. "Thermal off," he said, as he pulled a flashlight from his belt and flipped it on. He ran the light over Clark. Clark was tied with rope around his arms, ankles, and his waist, to a wooden crossbeam post. Wearing only blue boxers with a red S painted on his chest, Clark hung suspended approximately a foot off the ground. An overturned apple crate was discarded nearby.
"Help me," Clark whispered, his face a sickly green color. Sweat soaked his hair and dripped off his face. Lex didn't know if Clark's coloring came from the distress or the glowing green stone on a necklace around his neck.
"Hang on," Lex said. He put the apple crate under Clark's feet before circling behind him. Lex found a sloppy slipknot holding the ropes. He freed the one around the ankles first, followed by the arms. Clark slumped forward, the rope around his waist holding him upright.
Lex maneuvered so he would catch Clark against his shoulder when he released the last tie. Clark's weight made him stagger, but he didn't fall. Gently, he helped Clark to sit down on the apple crate.
"Who did this to you?" Fury now overrode Lex's concern, his tone harsh beneath the helmet. He took a patch of gauze from another compartment on his belt, ripped it open, and used the white linen to dab at Clark's sweaty face. Lex couldn't see any injury, and considering Clark hadn't died from suffocation, it served to confirm that Clark was like him. Not that it mattered at the moment.
"Doesn't matter," Clark rasped, fumbling with the necklace tied around his neck. He pulled it free and threw it into the corn. He took a deep breath and immediately his face returned to its rosy hue. He looked eighty percent better than he had the moment before. "You're the Black Rider."
"I am," Lex confirmed. The tint of the visor shaded Lex's eyes and the helmet distored his voice. He wasn't concerned that he'd be recognized as Lex.
"You have to stop Jeremy," Clark said. "He's heading to the high school. He plans to kill everyone at the dance."
Lex now had a name and location of the kid. "As soon as I get you home, I'll go--"
"No," Clark interrupted. "It's okay. I can get home myself. You need to stop him before it's too late."
The plea coupled with Clark's fearful expression at what might happen had Lex moving. "I will be checking to make sure you got home all right," Lex told him, before running back into the cornfield and toward his bike.
"GPS on. Plot course to Smallville High School," Lex said. He turned off and tucked away the flashlight when he reached the Suzuki. Dirt and stones kicked behind him as he sped off.
The GPS led him to the school. The parking lot was filled with cars. The building was lit up, and he could hear music coming through the open doors. Teenagers in Homecoming dresses and suits went in and out, chatting and laughing.
Lex drove around to the darkened side of the building. As luck would have it, his headlight caught the pale color of a gray hoodie inside an open maintenance area. Jeremy spotted him at the sound of the Suzuki and ducked out of sight. Lex parked the bike and drew his tranquilizer sidearm. He approached the maintenance garage.
A florescent light hummed above a workbench in the otherwise dim garage. A pickup truck with the school's logo was parked in the bay. Tools for vehicle repair and building maintenance hung from pegs or leaned against the walls. Oil stains discolored the cement floor.
Lex crept quietly into the interior. "Thermal on," he whispered. The right side of his visor changed, and he could see hot water pipes, the furnace, and Jeremy crouched behind the truck.
Lex carefully sank to his knees and looked beneath the truck to the other side. Jeremy's legs were in clear view. Lex took aim and fired. The tranquilizer dart imbedded itself in the side of Jeremy's calf.
Jeremy's gasp was loud in the otherwise silent garage. He yanked the dart free and tossed it aside. Lex waited for him to fall unconscious to the floor, but Jeremy instead let out a scream of rage. The truck between them suddenly flared in Lex's thermal imaging before electricity jumped from the truck and fried Lex's helmet's circuitry.
Lex scrambled to his feet. He could feel his face burning from the electrical shortage beneath the helmet. Lex fought down the pain - it would vanish shortly, as would the burns. Through his visor he saw what appeared to be an electric current danced back and forth around the outside of the truck. Jeremy stood on the other side, palms flat on the hood, glaring at Lex in anger and defiance. The electricity seemed to be coming from Jeremy's hands.
"How dare you try to stop me?!" Jeremy shouted at Lex. "They must pay for what they did!" Jeremy looked to be around fourteen. He appeared pale and gaunt, and had a thatch of wild, dark hair.
Lex held up his gloved hands in a gesture of surrender. The amazement of Jeremy's electric palms would have to take a back burner. "Who? And why?" he asked calmly.
"Them! The jocks! The ones who strung me up in the cornfield!" The truck sparked and sizzled between them. "The ones who strung up another scarecrow this year!"
Lex continued to try to diffuse Jeremy's anger. He had to catch the kid off guard in order to pull the shotgun without hopefully getting fried. Lex hated being electrocuted. "I'm angry about that, too. I found Clark in the cornfield, trussed up like a sacrifice. He could have died out there."
"I almost did! I was in a coma for years because of them!"
"Then, let's report them to the police. Have them arrested. Have them go to court," Lex said. "What they did can be construed as a hate crime and that has a stiff penalty attached. If you don't think the county courts will be fair, we can take it to the FBI."
Jeremy went silent at the suggestion. The electricity dancing across the truck dimmed. Finally, Jeremy said, "It's too late. I already killed them."
Lex sucked in a sharp breath. He tamped down on the fear that he'd been too late, that he'd failed. He kept his voice steady, calm. "Who did you kill?"
"Frank, Steve, and Kirby," Jeremy said. He took his hands off the truck and looked down at them. "I electrocuted them with my hands."
Lex should've used the moment to draw his shotgun and shoot Jeremy with a beanbag, but he stayed the move. Jeremy hadn't been affected at all by the tranquilizer dart. The power behind the beanbag shot might knock Jeremy unconscious, but it also might not. Jeremy appeared to be calming down, as well.
Lex tested it by lowering his hands. Jeremy didn't immediately attack, run, or send more volts through the truck. "Do you think you should turn yourself into the police?" The names Jeremy listed sounded familiar, and Lex searched his brain until he alit on them. The electrocuted men written in the Smallville Ledger. "They're not dead. They're pretty bad off, but they're not dead."
Jeremy slumped in relief. The anger had drained away, leaving him nothing more than a lost teenager.
"What about the others? The ones who strung up this year's scarecrow?"
"Clark will take care of them," Lex said. "He was the victim, not you."
Jeremy balled his hands into fists, and just when Lex thought he'd been wrong and was about to go for the shotgun, the fists unclenched again. "I guess you're right."
"And the police? You still hurt those men."
Jeremy shook his head, his expression turning sullen. "I'm not turning myself in to the police. I've already lost twelve years of my life. I'm not going to lose any more."
Lex was in a quandary. Jeremy had hospitalized three men with grave injuries. Lex believed in the justice system, as flawed as it was, and Jeremy should be held accountable for his crimes. However... "Can you really conduct electricity with your hands?"
The sullenness turned into a grin. "Yeah. It's so cool."
Lex was reminded that the kid in front of him was exactly that - a kid. And while kids did commit heinous crimes, Lex was wavering on what to do with this one. "Listen, hurting people isn't something I can let slide. You're old enough to know it's wrong and that there are consequences for your actions. But what if I told you there was a way to pay for your crimes without going to prison?"
Jeremy mulled it over, and eventually asked tentatively, "What do I have to do?"
In the end, Lex had called Bruce. He'd moved into the shadows to use the disposable cell phone he kept in the storage seat of the Suzuki. Over the phone line, they argued, debated, and finally came up with a plan for Jeremy. Lex called up the private LuthorCorp jet and had it sent to the Smallville airport to pick up an unaccompanied passenger. From there, Jeremy would fly to Gotham and stay with Bruce, until Bruce decided what to do with him. Lex would've simply kept Jeremy in Smallville until he figured it out, but Lex was currently the Black Rider and it was paramount the two didn't overlap.
After delivering Jeremy to the airport and waiting until he was safely in the sky, Lex headed out to the Kent farm. It was a little after nine at night. The house was dark, and Lex wondered if he'd have to peer into windows like a perv to check that Clark had arrived home safely. A light from the barn drew his attention as he walked onto the property, having parked the Suzuki near the mailbox. He spotted Clark standing in the hayloft window, as if he were pining. Lex smiled beneath the helmet with amusement.
Clark spotted him and perked up. He gestured for Lex to come inside. Lex found the door, entered the barn, and looked around. He'd been horseback riding in the past, but that didn't include going into many barns. The bottom floor was open and clean. It appeared to be used more as a storage area than for keeping animals. Farm implements, crates, packing boxes, and gardening tools hung on the walls or sat off to the side out of the way. It had the scent of hay, but lacked the requisite manure smell.
Clark came down a set of wooden stairs that led to the loft. "Did everything go okay?"
Lex nodded and spoke in a lower tone to disguise his voice. The helmet muffled it as well. "It did. Jeremy isn't a danger anymore."
"You didn't... kill him, did you?" Clark said.
The question hurt. Lex pursed his lips. "I don't kill people. I'm glad to see you arrived home safely. Good night."
"Wait!" Clark's hand clamped onto Lex's shoulder, stopping him from leaving. "I didn't mean... I mean... you're the Black Rider."
Lex was tense beneath the leather and Kevlar. "I am. And I still don't kill people. They're given to the proper authorities alive and well."
"I'm sorry." Clark hand dropped. "I've only read a few stories, and Pete's told me all sorts of things that probably aren't true."
Lex faced Clark again, and sighed. "It's okay. It's not the first time I've been accused of such things."
Clark frowned. "It's not okay. You helped me - helped others, too - and I turn around and cast aspersions on you."
"'Cast aspersions'?" Lex said, bemused.
Clark ducked his head sheepishly. "We're reading Tom Jones in school."
"Ah," Lex said. "Speaking of school and the bullies who attend it, you are going to report them to the police tomorrow, aren't you?"
Clark looked off to the side. "I don't think so. I'm not hurt or anything."
"Clark, standing aside and doing nothing is worse than if you were the one stringing someone up tonight," Lex said. "This year it was you. Next year it will be another person, and then another and another. Do you really want this barbaric tradition to continue when you have the ability to stop it?"
"When you put it that way..." Clark scrubbed a hand through his hair and sighed. "My parents won't be happy about it."
"Your parents should be proud of you for standing up for yourself, and the other scarecrows. And if they're not, I'll be proud of you," Lex said.
"I think I could handle that," Clark said, a bright smile crossing his lips. "Pete's gonna be jealous that I got to meet the Black Rider."
Lex chuckled. "Have a good night, Clark."
"You, too," Clark said.
Lex headed out of the barn. Just as the door was swinging shut, he heard Clark say to himself, "I met the Black Rider. This is so cool."
Lex parked the Black Rider back in Metropolis where he belonged. He had a What the fuck were you thinking? moment for appearing in Smallville as him. Of course, he'd also rescued Clark and stopped Jeremy from going postal on a school dance. He chalked it up to a one time thing, and went home.
Sunday dawned crisp and cruddy, and Lex didn't venture from beneath his warm bedcovers until hunger gnawed his belly. He worked out, got dressed, and headed into town for hot coffee and food. His ad for a cook would run in today's paper and he should start receiving phone calls soon. Background checks using Bruce's software would be paramount to ensuring Lionel wasn't pulling his new cook's apron strings.
Lex was pleased to find Clark at The Beanery, ensconced in a corner with a textbook on his lap. The blue t-shirt and faded jeans Clark wore made Lex feel cold, even though Lex had dressed in layers, wearing a cream-colored wool sweater over a pale pink, long sleeved shirt, which was tucked into dark gray trousers. Lex ordered a coffee and a blueberry bagel with cream cheese, and carried his items over to where Clark sat. "Mind if I join you?"
Clark looked up from his textbook and smiled. "Lex, hi. Sure. Pull up a couch."
The greeting was much better than the one Lex had received yesterday. "I'm not interrupting, am I?" He motioned to the book after sitting down across from Clark. He set his coffee cup on the low, faux wood table between them, and tore a piece of bagel to eat.
"Please do," Clark said. "I'm tired of history."
"'Study history. Study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft'," Lex quoted. "Winston Churchill. He also said: 'History will be kind to me because I intend to write it.' And he did."
"Neither of those sayings make studying for my test tomorrow any less boring," Clark said.
"Other than boring yourself, how's your weekend been?" Lex knew it was a bit cruel to ask, but 'Lex' didn't know that Clark had been strung up in a field last night and Clark hadn't indicated that he recognized Lex's voice. Lex was also curious as to whether or not Clark had gone to the police.
"Not great," Clark admitted, looking uncomfortable. "I had some trouble with my classmates and had to get the police involved."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Clark," Lex said, inwardly pleased about the police involvement. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Clark shook his head. "No. I just want to forget about it."
"All right," Lex said, and changed the subject. "You were in Smallville in 1989, weren't you?"
Lex nodded in confirmation. "Were you in the meteorite shower that happened that year?"
Clark grew wary. "Yes, I was. So were a lot of people. So what?"
"I was here, too, when it happened. It... changed me," Lex said cautiously. He was treading into territory that would reveal something only Bruce knew about. But the thought that he wasn't alone pressed him on. "I think it changed you, too."
"You're wrong. I'm exactly like everyone else." Clark slapped his textbook closed and stood. "I have to go."
"Clark, wait--" Lex grabbed Clark's wrist as he went to pass. "Never mind. We all have our secrets. I was just hoping yours was like mine. I was wrong. Please, sit. Stay. Ignore me."
Clark hesitated. "You're not that easy to ignore."
Lex smiled at that, a bit tickled. He let go of Clark's wrist. "I promise to sit here, eat my bagel, drink my coffee, and say nothing more while you torture yourself studying history."
"When you put it that way..." Clark's grin was small, but there, and Lex took the victory. With one last look to the door, Clark returned to the couch across from Lex and reopened his textbook.
As promised, Lex didn't speak. He ate his bagel, watching the world pass on the other side of the window. With the cold front that had settled in, there weren't as many people strolling around outside, and those that were, were bundled in coats and wooly sweaters. Across the street at the hardware store, he could see a larger man chewing out a shorter blonde, finger-shaking and all. A girl with dark hair, around Clark's age, stormed out of the antique shop and stalked down the street. A group of football players, high off of yesterday's win, jostled each other as they made for The Beanery door. A rusty jeep drove slowly down Main Street, seeking a place to park.
"I met the Black Rider last night." Clark broke the silence between them with a doozy.
Lex set his coffee down with nonchalance. "Oh, yeah? Is he as charming and dangerous as I've read?"
"He was... nice."
Clark shrugged. "He came to check if I was okay after my... problems with my classmates. He was the one who urged me to go to the police. He was nice."
"I see." Lex leaned back on the couch and rested one foot on the opposite knee. "Are you planning on seeing him again?"
"Not that I know of. I don't know why he was in Smallville to begin with," Clark said.
"Perhaps he was just passing through."
"Maybe." Clark's brow furrowed, then smoothed, as whatever thought he had passed. "It was neat meeting him, though. He's a real hero, like Batman."
"There are plenty of other heroes out there. Cops, firemen, people in the military," Lex said. Inwardly, he preened.
"I know. My dad thinks vigilantes should be jailed, and that they're making a mockery of good, hardworking police officers."
"And what do you think?" Lex asked, unsurprised by Jonathan Kent's outlook. He was one of many who thought similarly.
"I think they're helping people, and that's a good thing. I'm proud that we have them."
A broad smile spread across Lex's face and happiness bloomed in his chest. It was the first time anyone had ever been proud of him.
"You know, last night, the Black Rider said he would be proud of me for speaking up against the guys on the team. I guess it really stuck with me," Clark said. "Now, I'm glad I did."
"A hero in the making," Lex said.
Clark ducked his head, a faint blush staining his cheeks. "Maybe."
Lex picked up his coffee and changed the subject. "So, history. What aren't you studying?" he said. This young man he was getting to know was proud of him.
Maybe being banished to Smallville wouldn't be so bad, after all.
The Torch Online
October 10th, 2001
BLACK RIDER COMES TO SMALLVILLE
by Chloe Sullivan
It has been reported that the Black Rider was seen in Smallville on Saturday night. An eyewitness saw the crime fighter in action, rescuing the victim of a vicious hazing ritual. What were his reasons for being in Smallville? Was he passing through? Was he on vacation? Should we be worried?
More to come as this story develops.