Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Shades of White, Part 2
"Why the hell can't I get a picture of Superman?"
Perry White didn't bother to keep his voice down. He rarely did. The noise volume in the bullpen abruptly lowered as he came to a halt in front of Chloe Sullivan's desk.
She looked up at him coolly. That was what he liked about Sullivan-- she was the one person at the Daily Planet who didn't cringe or cower when he bellowed. Sometimes she even bellowed back.
Today wasn't one of those days. "I'm not a photographer, Perry," she said, her voice calm and even. "I write articles. I don't take pictures."
"Apparently I don't have any photographers on my staff!" he yelled, waving the paper he held. "Superman is the biggest news to hit Metropolis in years, and all I have is this!" He dropped the printed-out photo on her desk and glared at her. "That's not a photograph. It's a blur!"
"Maybe you should read the article," Sullivan suggested, leaning back in her chair with that annoying little smile she often wore curving her lips. Her light brown hair fell back in a sleek, gleaming cascade, and her hazel eyes sparkled with humor. "I don't know if you've heard, but Superman flies really fast."
"I'm aware of that, damn it." Perry dropped his hands onto her desk and leaned forward, getting right in her face. "But he has to stop sometime. Sooner or later, someone's going to get a good photo of him. And it damn well better be one of my photographers."
She didn't flinch. She looked straight into his eyes. "I'm sure Jimmy will get a good shot eventually."
"Jimmy." Perry snorted. Jimmy Olsen was actually a decent photographer, but he had a knack for getting into trouble and pissing off the wrong people, which meant he was perpetually at the bottom of the Planet's food chain. He lifted the paper and waved it again. "This is an example of Jimmy's brilliant work, right here. Forgive me if I don't share your confidence."
"That's a better shot than anyone else has gotten."
"You've actually talked to the man," Perry said grumpily. Superman had popped into existence in Metropolis about eight weeks ago, and since then he'd become a regular feature on the front page of the Daily Planet, thanks mostly to Sullivan's articles. "He granted you that exclusive interview, and I know you've interviewed him a few times since then, too. Why the hell didn't you take a photographer along?"
"You know perfectly well why. Because he asked me not to. He's giving me interviews on the condition that I not try to take his picture."
"Just sneak a shot or two with your cell phone."
"Are you serious? You really think he wouldn't notice? He has superhearing, remember?"
"Here's a bit of wisdom for you," Perry intoned. "One picture is worth a thousand words."
"You know, I think I've heard that once or twice before." She smiled serenely. "Or, I don't know, maybe about a million times."
"Shut the hell up, Sullivan. It's a cliche because it's true. All our readers have to go on right now are your descriptions. And saying Superman is tall and dark-haired and broad-shouldered doesn't tell us much. Hell, you could be describing Kent over there."
At the next desk, Clark Kent glanced around at the sound of his name, looking a little nervous. He always looked a little nervous. When Perry had first met him, back when the kid was sixteen or so, he'd stood straight and tall, radiating confidence and poise. Now he always seemed huddled in on himself, giving the impression he was always poised to dive under his desk if someone looked at him funny.
He flashed an awkward, too-bright smile at Perry, shoved his dark-framed glasses back up his nose, and ducked his head, hastily resuming typing.
Perry sighed. He honestly wasn't sure why he'd hired Kent six weeks back. Yeah, the kid wrote well enough, but Perry had plenty of good reporters, one of the best being Kent's girlfriend, Sullivan. He'd hired Kent at least partly because he thought he was hiding something-- because the kid had changed completely from his sixteen-year-old self, and because even when the boy was sixteen there had been some really strange and inexplicable things about him. Perry had sensed a mystery in Clark Kent, and he'd never been able to resist a mystery.
The more he observed Kent, though, the more he thought his journalistic instincts must have gone haywire. Because there was nothing remarkable about the young man. He blundered his way through life, knocking over other reporters on a regular basis, forgetting assignments, and constantly spilling his coffee mug all over other people's papers, much to their annoyance. Half the time he was late for work, or got lost on the way to an interview, or missed the train. He was a complete and utter geek, and whatever self-confidence and poise he'd possessed when he was sixteen had long since disappeared into a black hole somewhere.
"I have eyewitness descriptions, too."
Sullivan's cool voice distracted him from his annoyed contemplation of Kent. He looked back at her, glowering.
"Yeah, and all they can tell us is Superman has dark hair, too. I know he moves fast, but someone should at least be able to describe him enough for a police sketch, damn it."
"A police sketch?" She lifted her eyebrow in a way that managed to make him feel about five years old. "He's a hero, not a criminal, Perry."
Annoyed by that supercilious eyebrow, he flung the blurry photo back down on her desk and glared at her, then at the whole room for good measure.
"Just get me a better photo, damn it!"
Suddenly a murmur of horror ran through the room. Perry saw faces turning up to the flatscreen televisions mounted overhead. A live feed of GBS showed an airplane plummeting through the sky.
"That's that experimental airplane that went up this morning," Sullivan said, coming to her feet and staring at the TV. "It's out of control. And it looks like it's falling toward Metropolis."
Perry stood frozen for a long moment. Then he shook off his shock, because after all, an airplane plunging toward the city was all in a day's work. His voice rose to a bellow. "Get that story, people!"
The bullpen was suddenly a bustle of activity as everyone dove for phones or headed for the stairs at top speed. Perry glanced over at Kent's desk, wondering what the kid's first instinct would be-- to get the story, or to hide under his desk.
To his surprise, he didn't see Kent at all. Perry frowned and took a step toward the desk, expecting to see the kid cowering under it. But Kent wasn't there.
Perry hadn't even seen him move... but Kent was gone.
The plane plummeted through the air, toward the buildings of Metropolis, and Chloe's heart plummeted right along with it. She wasn't afraid for herself, because she knew the chances of the airplane happening to hit the Daily Planet building were remote. But she imagined the plane smashing into buildings, killing everyone in them instantly, imagined the flaming debris falling and smashing innocent people on the streets, and the thought made her cringe in horror.
She might be a hardened reporter, but she didn't want to have to report that kind of news.
Clark, she thought, staring at the television while typing furiously-- because the story had to be written, no matter what the outcome. Oh, Clark, if only you can get there in time...
As if she'd conjured him up, a red streak appeared on the screen. The shot was distant-- and a journalistic corner of her mind wondered exactly where GBS's cameraman was, and how they'd gotten on this story so darn fast-- but there was no doubt that it was Superman, his crimson cape streaming behind him as he zoomed toward the unfolding disaster. A second later he reached the plane.
It continued to fall.
Chloe realized with horror that the plane was so big that even Superman had difficulty stopping its momentum. It was too big and awkward for him to simply catch, and if he grabbed onto a wing or the tail he'd pull it to pieces, killing the people aboard and creating a debris field that might well crush people in the streets.
She could see him, a little red speck on the screen, struggling to hold the plane by the nose and not succeeding too well. But his efforts paid off, because the plane finally started to slow, then stopped, appearing to hover impossibly in midair just a few hundred feet above the tops of the highest buildings of the city.
She suddenly found herself able to breathe again. Thank God. Metropolis was safe, and Clark was safe. For the first time she acknowledged to herself that she'd been terrified for both of them.
But as scared as she'd been, she'd never stopped typing.
"The guys on board that plane got a picture, Chief."
"Don't call me Chief." Perry frowned at Jimmy Olsen. "I guess it's already being flashed a hundred times an hour on GBS?"
"Pretty much, Boss. But it's the best we've got." Jimmy held out a printout. Perry took it, and got his first look at the Man of Tomorrow.
The quality wasn't bad, for a cell phone picture, although the guy's features were pretty blurry. But despite the blur, Perry could make out dark, slicked-back hair, a square jaw, and eyes narrowed with determination. Superman had a kind of aura about him, Perry thought, a look of nobility and grandeur, an almost inhuman air of self-confidence and poise...
Self-confidence and poise.
Shaken, Perry stared harder.
"Looks a little like Kent, doesn't he?" he said at last, his voice unnaturally quiet.
"Kent?" Jimmy stared at him for a moment, then whooped with laughter. "I don't think so, Chief. Hell, he looks more like me than like Kent."
"Yeah," Perry said, his voice still very quiet. "Yeah, you're right." He put the picture down on his desk and frowned up at the photographer, and his voice rose to its normal volume. "What the hell are you standing around for, Olsen? Get it in the paper, damn it!"
Chastened, Jimmy scurried from his office like a whipped puppy, and Perry picked up the picture again, studying it very carefully. Even though he couldn't make out details of the facial features, he was convinced that he knew this guy, damn it. He was absolutely certain of it.
This man had once risked his life to save Perry from falling to his death. It had been long before he'd been called Superman, but Perry had no doubt that it was the very same man.
And now the very same man spent much of his days working in the Daily Planet offices, his pale green eyes hidden behind thick, dark-framed glasses, his natural poise and nobility concealed behind a facade of nerdy ineptitude. It seemed crazy, but Perry was as certain of it as he'd ever been of anything.
Clark Kent was Superman.
Read the sequel, Welcome to Resistance.