I’ve seen your face before, my friend,Phil collins, “In The Air tonight”
But I don’t know if you know who I am.
Well, I was there and I saw what you did,
I saw it with my own two eyes!
So you can wipe off that grin,
I know where you’ve been –
It’s all been a pack of lies!
In The Air Tonight
There had been a plan, but it’s critical to remember that planning isn’t a match for preparation.
On the Kent farm, days stretched into weeks, and weeks stretched into months. Alfred Pennyworth absolutely lost himself in his assumed identity. He was a masterful actor, never overselling or under performing the role of Elias Clayton, and the performance had earned him the trust of many of Smallville’s current and former residents, including Martha Kent and her son, Clark.
Correspondence with home had been sparse – Bruce trusted Alfred, and Alfred trusted Bruce so after confirming their suspicions about the identity of Superman’s alter ego, Alfred would be the judge of how to best proceed. Safety, operational security, and whether and when to act were left entirely up to Alfred’s discretion.
Alfred – as Elias – had finished painting the toolshed that he’d built for Martha earlier in the day so he let Martha know that it was time to move the tools.
At one point or another, there was a full barn on the property, but a twister had taken it, along with the last of their horses, when Clark was young. In its place was something more like a large garage which housed the chicken feed, a 1920 Hispano-Suiza H6 (which appeared not to have been driven in six or more years), some spare parts for the truck, and a tractor which, as far as Elias could tell, was older than Clark, but was in perfect working condition. It was certainly not required for such a small property.
“Nice car in there, does it run?” Elias asked.
“Not very good, I’m afraid,” Martha answered wistfully, “it belonged to a neighbor – Greg Hummel – who stored it on our property. They lived three properties over, and couldn’t really store it for some reason, but he and Johnathan worked out some kind of an arrangement, and they’d been working on it for about a year when Jonathan passed, and then Greg passed in the same month that year, and I don’t know all the details, but Greg’s wife and son moved off somewhere and I don’t know how to get in touch with them. But I also don’t really know how to get it up and running again. Maybe if Greg’s son wants to come for it some day, he could have it. I don’t have any use for anything so fancy.”
Tools had been kept in the garage as well, but it was so far from the part of the backyard where most of the work was done that when Elias suggested putting up a closer outbuilding, Martha jumped at the idea, proclaiming (a little too excitedly) that a small garden shed would be very convenient when Elias eventually left her.
Now, Elias found himself loading tools from the garage into the bed of the pickup, to drive across the property to their new home.
“Be careful with that,” said Martha, referring to the oxygen and acetylene tanks that he was lifting onto the truck. “They’re for the torch.”
“You got it, Martha.”
Elias never asked about the storm cellar, and if Martha were more paranoid, the absence of questions would’ve made her nervous. The doors were welded shut. And there was a padlock too (which looked brand new). No one in all of Tornado Alley would be okay with their storm cellar being welded shut. No one, except Martha Kent.
Martha Kent was not a woman who worried about trivialities like tornadoes or bandits. She could grant trust to almost anyone, and never suffer any consequences for it. Being the mother of a god had its perks.
Tonight, thought Elias, and he turned the key in the truck’s ignition.
Is this some kind of a ploy, Bruce?” It was five o’clock, still two hours before the curfew, and Lily Rose was startled when Bruce opened the door to receive her.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Lilian,” Bruce replied, smiling.
“Inviting a woman on a date in your home, just before curfew?” She returned the smile, stepping into the great room, and handing Bruce her coat. “I’ve heard the rumors Bruce, but I have no intention of getting stuck here, I have a note.”
“I was under the impression that this was a business dinner, Ms. Rose,” Bruce chuckled and led Lily on an abbreviated tour of the manor, through the gallery, the dining hall slash campaign office, the library, and ending in the kitchen, where they stepped out onto the backyard terrace to a circular table with a gingham runner and a bottle of wine in a bucket of ice.
“No candlelight?” Lily teased.
“You’re a difficult woman to impress.”
“You have no idea, Bruce.”
“Well, I do love a challenge.”
The pair discussed an investment in a job creation program that Lily had been working on with one of her team.
“Paying women to learn agricultural skills, urban farming, chemistry, and doing it in conjunction with Gotham Harbor College. What’s not to love?”
“Well, you might balk when you hear who came up with it,” Lily noted with playful hesitation. “He’s an attorney and he comes from a wealthy family, comrade.”
Bruce’s expression became a mockery of discomfort.
“Lily, someone as well-read as you must know that Engels was quite wealthy. Which is to say nothing of my family’s considerable means. So who was it?”
“The President, part of a labor initiative from back when he was in Albany.”
“In a series of pretty remarkable coincidences,” Lily continued, “the policy director who inspired Roosevelt works for me selling ice pops and doing kind of general labor.”
“You have a Democratic policy director selling popsicles?”
“He used to work for you, Bruce.”
Bruce tilted his head to one side. He was certain she knew he didn’t own Wayne Enterprises, but it made for a more interesting conversation. Lily provided an explanation, and the man who called himself Jeremy (originally Jervis) Tetch’s story came into clearer focus.
Jervis Tetch was a Wobbly with an enthusiastic commitment to ending poverty. He worked for Roosevelt as state senator, and later as an aide when he moved to the Executive Mansion in Albany. His antipoverty advocacy became the framework for the governor’s labor and agricultural welfare programs, but Jervis didn’t think those went far enough. When Roosevelt closed three orphanages upstate, Jervis began inconspicuously taking children in to live with him on his family’s property. When someone reported seeing him take a child by the hand, the police were called. Jervis was charged with multiple counts of kidnapping, and with resisting arrest, though he was never convicted; those children who testified on his behalf in court indicated that no impropriety had occurred.
“Doesn’t it seem a bit antithetical to your policy of second chances to have fired him, Bruce?”
“Lucius Fox is the closest thing to ‘in charge’ at the company. I trust his judgment, but he’s not infallible. Though I would maybe question hiring someone with Tetch’s past given the current state of things.”
“It’s quite sad. And I’m sure the curfew has made being the most eligible bachelor in Gotham less of a perk,” Lily winked, and Bruce offered a subtle laugh. “You heard about Falcone’s son?”
“He and my father were pretty close for a time. He still sends me a Christmas card every year, but yes, I heard.”
“Do you ever regret not having children, Bruce?”
“Dick is basically a child.”
Lily laughed, almost spitting out her drink at the remark.
“In seriousness, I don’t mind children, but I struggle to imagine how I could be as good a parent to them as my parents have been to me.”
“As if all the money in the world wasn’t enough of an advantage, you’ve had three wonderful parents.”
Bruce’s face fell, just for a brief moment, then rose into a melancholy smile.
“All things considered, I’ve been quite fortunate.”
“Which is exactly why you’re in a unique position to help disadvantaged women in Gotham to achieve financial independence,” Lily rebutted with vigor and a satisfied grin.
“Lily, I insist you learn to take ‘yes’ for an answer. Some things will need to be finalized with the foundation, but I’ll personally commit to matching funds for the pilot program, and, in all likelihood, we’ll fund the whole project.”
Lily’s eyes went wide and her grin broke into a grateful smile.
Bruce offered a toast, and their meal was served and finished with the setting sun. As the light faded from the sky, Lily finished the last of the wine, and stole a glance at Bruce, which he pretended not to notice.
“This was nice, Lily” Bruce stood, offering his hand to Lily, who took it and stood as well. “But it’s getting to be late, and I wouldn’t want you to take any chances with the curfew. If it’s not too forward, I’d enjoy seeing you again – but I want to be absolutely clear that this funding isn’t contingent on you saying ‘yes.’”
“Is it contingent on me being sober? Because my heart is beating like a marching band, and I don’t know if I can trust my judgment at the moment.”
“A racing heart feeds a keen mind,” Bruce quoted.
“Is that Wordsworth?”
“We’re going to change the world, Bruce, and we’re gonna start right here in Gotham.”
“And Lily, if I can’t make your heart race when you’re sober, I really don’t deserve a proper date.”
“Well you’re free to keep asking until I say ‘no.’”
“Wonderful!” Bruce escorted Lily through the house and to the driveway finally shaking her hand with faux formality. “We’ll be in touch.”
“Oh, don’t be an ass, Bruce,” Lily scoffed a laugh and opened her arms, hugging him around the neck, and pecking him on the cheek.“
Opening a cellar door that had been welded shut was really a two-person job to do it properly. Otherwise it could be loud, it could damage the door in a way that couldn’t be repaired with discretion, and it could lead to burns from the gobs of molten slag it was likely to produce.
Alfred Pennyworth had set his mind to a goal, and he had laid out preparations to achieve it, but the lightning on the horizon meant it wouldn’t be tonight.
For now, he would write a simple letter home. Two words, unsigned:
There was an open question: In a place where it wasn’t unheard of for two twisters to touch down in the span of a week, or even in a single evening, what would the excuse be for Superman showing up to a specific farm twice within such a short span?
And it was a question that Bruce had been asking himself since he’d received the correspondence almost two months ago.
What was his plan? Did you even need a plan when the very rules of physical science bent to your whims?
Bruce looked down at a pad on his desk, opened to a list of bullet points from a lifetime ago:
1. He should be a great fighter.
2. He gets answers.
3. He is meticulous, thorough, and observant.
4. He doesn’t zero in on one case, because the seemingly unrelated may be connected.
5. He can be inconspicuous when he needs to be…
The list was always there, in his original folio. It was how Bruce, on occasion, would ground himself, recenter. It was the first thing resembling real writing that he’d really ever done. Alfred had made Bruce into someone who assessed and re-assessed. He kept a memo pad and a sharp pencil with him most of the time.
Alfred taught him to write down notes about experiences and encounters as they happened, and then compare the notes to his memory.
“Not at the expense of the experience,” Alfred had explained. “Just if you’re bored, or distracted, take out your notebook and scribble down some details that seem otherwise mundane.”
“Why?” Bruce wasn’t exactly defiant with Alfred, but he did challenge things that sounded like they would make boredom more boring.
“Because our memories are alarmingly unreliable. Writing down mundane details helps your remember mundane details more accurately, and allows you to test your memories from time to time.”
Alfred also taught Bruce to write down his expectations before observing them.
“But that’s just a guess.”
“No,” Alfred corrected the boy. “That’s a hypothesis. Or a forecast.”
Bruce just stared at his adoptive father.
“Practically developing your accuracy in predictions will do many things, but two that I think are germane, Mister Bruce. First, it will align your predictions better with reality, allowing you to better prepare yourself for the short-and-long-term future. Secondly, it will allow you to better strategize in the moment. The problems with lesser thinkers’ proposed solutions will open up in front of you in ways you can’t truly understand until it becomes rote.”
“Alright,” Bruce understood the application; at the most base level, it was why Alfred was nearly untouchable in their sparring – Bruce was, for all his training, someone who Alfred could successfully forecast.
Bruce closed the folio, and opened his eyes. He took a deep breath.
“Yes, Mr. Falcone, I’m taking your offer very seriously,” Johnny listened to the man on the other end of the line. “I need funding for fifty more men….”
Say nothing. Wait. It was a salesman’s trick; you make the ask, and then you let the other person break the silence. Never compromise. Never offer a discount, at least not in the space of the silence.
Johnny took to business-oriented self help information like a fish to water, even going so far as to take a weekend course offered in Trenton by a supposed graduate of the Carnegie Business Education and Public Speaking Program prior to taking his first job as an officer so many years ago. A lot of the information was drivel, but the tactics around “effective negotiation,” and “using your words to make an impact” resonated with him.
The certificate from the course hung framed on a wall behind him, and he held it in the same esteem as he would a diploma from a prestigious university.
“Yes, Mr. Falcone. And how do I spell that? P-I-C-C-I-O-N-E. Yes, I’ve got it. Pitch-ee-oh-knee. And he’ll have been briefed?”
Falcone spoke through the receiver.
“I’ll ring him right within the hour. Yes sir. Thank you again. Let’s bring him down.”
Carmine Falcone had used the words “carte blanche.” Men who were more polite than Johnny might have heard “within reason” as an implied appendix to such an offer, but Commissioner Johnny Gelio was not a man who was afraid of imposing.
Johnny would have his army, and humanity would be safer for it.
“Well, commissioner, the arrangements have been made, but fulfillment –“ Wilfredo Piccione was told not to ask questions when it came to requisitions from the Gotham Police Department.
Piccione was a professional, and he was certainly not about to second guess a direct request from Mr. Falcone.
“– yes sir, commissioner. One hundred recruits first thing Monday morning. Mhm. I’ll personally see to it that you have another hundred by the end of next week. It was a pleasure helping you today, Commissioner Gelio. All right then. Please let me know if I can be of additional service.”
It was a clear night at the Kent Farm in Smallville, Kansas. Creeping stealthily through the house, Alfred Pennyworth, under the guise of an aspiring actor named Elias Clayton made his way to the tool shed he’d stocked just a day before.
He held a rope, bowlined to the outer door handle, and over the galvanized steel t-post of the clothesline, which he would pull as he cut with the torch. From a distance in the dark, looking down upon the property, he suspected that from above it would look like he was drawing a straight fiery line into the black earth.
Alfred held no concrete expectations of what he would see in the cellar. A laboratory, or an empty cellar, or a tunnel leading to some secret base of operations were all possible, although he reckoned that the laboratory, or evidence of a former laboratory, was the most likely possibility in his estimation.
His breathing was calm, regular, and measured. His mind was clear, and focused strictly on the task at hand.
Cut quickly as soon as it begins to glow, Alfred reminded himself. Slow leaves slag. That’s how he was taught.
He kept the rope taut, pulling just a bit too much to ensure that the pressure would keep the seal from melting back into place.
For a hack job, the line was reasonably straight, only making a soft creak when he finally heaved the still-glowing door open.
Alfred Pennyworth descended the wooden steps into the storm cellar.
Only two newspapers in Gotham covered the expansion of the Board of Estimates, and only Bruce Wayne’s had insinuated, in any way, that this was a ploy for power. Mayor Basil “Clayface” Karlo kept public sentiment on the matter mostly neutral, holding impromptu town halls on manufacturing floors, and holding press availabilities and exclusive interviews with the more well-read papers.
It was a bit morbid, but it didn’t hurt that the distributions of Wayne’s rag fell off a cliff when Peter Pan killed Extra, and none of the members of the city council wanted to be seen as against a public safety initiative that, on the surface at least, cost the taxpayers nothing.
Following the executive authorization that added Commissioner of Gotham Police Dept. or his Designee as a voting member to the Board of Estimates, ‘Face was more confident than ever that Gelio was the right man for the job.
The Mayor had the votes for his budget now, and his charismatic, straight-shooting commissioner had his line items. The good fortune was heralded by a bombshell that Gelio had shared with him: Even considering Peter Pan’s killing spree, violent crime had come to a virtual halt in Gotham City.
North American Racers are not uncommon in Kansas, and, while mostly harmless, could eat a young chicken or one of its eggs if it got into the coop.
Alfred had found an adult racer in the corner of the old chicken coop, just a few days before he’d met Clark, which looked like it had just consumed what looked like an egg. Snakes have a tendency to be more vulnerable, and therefore, more defensive, after a meal, and so Alfred had carefully placed a large burlap sack over the serpent – bites weren’t dangerous, but that didn’t make them hurt any less.
Even as a boy, Alfred had an affinity for snakes, and he remembered reporting to Martha that he’d taken this particular constrictor to the far edge of the property to release it. She wrinkled her face into a scowl, and, at first, he thought she was upset that he’d let it live.
“That rascal! You should’ve put him back under the porch. Now we’ll need to get a cat to deal with the mice. For future reference, I’ll gladly trade a couple eggs a month for a mouse catcher.” The scowl faded into a smile, which broke into a hearty laugh.
Alfred thought of that snake with the egg bulging out of it when he pulled the toggle on the overhead light and saw what was in the storm cellar, half-covered by a large piece of canvas. He slid the cloth off of…whatever this was…and noted stubby, forward-swept blades on either side.
Wings? He wondered silently. This didn’t look anything like the rockets that were, if reports were to be believed, being tested in Germany. Almost looks like a bullet, and he recalled the film “Le Voyage dans la Lune” where men were shot from a cannon into space.
There was no sound and no warmth coming from the thing, not that Alfred could deduce anyway. He thought that it was emitting a very faint glow, but he couldn’t be sure if that was just the reflection of the metal in the low light.
Minutes stretched on into more than an hour, as the former soldier and undercover operative took detailed notes, and sketched, to the best of his ability, the ovoid in front of him.
He curled himself into a ball, lying on the floor next to it – if this was a transport, it was much too small for a grown man. Having hesitated for long enough, he decided to touch it, to try to detect anything like a seam or an opening.
The cool metal warmed immediately when he placed his palm upon it, and a soft-but-evident glow emitted in a hexagonal pattern which he hadn’t previously seen during his non-tactile observation.
He placed a blank page from his notebook across the narrower side of the object, scribbling his pencil rapidly to create something like a stone rubbing of the pattern.
When he removed his hand, the glow and warmth both persisted, and part of him worried that it was sending out a signal to Superman. Or possibly to Martha? Alfred had the sudden and unnerving realization that he wasn’t sure that Mrs. Kent wasn’t also a superhuman. She had never displayed any abilities that he’d detected, but neither had Clark in his human persona.
I need more time, but I need to get back for now. He tried to restore the canvas covering to the egg in a way that at least resembled the way he found it and he pulled the toggle, casting the room into a darkness that was broken by the thing under the canvas, and the rectangular hole at the top of the stairs.
As he approached the wooden steps, Alfred Pennyworth heard the unmistakable sound of a waving flag.