Lion-Headed Goddess with Bandages in Her Mouth
I'm Lois Lane. I'm the best investigative reporter living.
Today, I'm in Yamec again. The landscape is tired and ragged. The heat
penetrates my headscarf and hat. My scalp prickles with sweat. It's hard
to believe frost covered the ground last night. A goatgirl herds her scraggly
charges down the hills. She's bent over like a miniature old woman. Her
arm is in a rough sling. She picks her way through the brush like the
sands are blades waiting to cut her. Her cynical sidelong glance, barely
visible from under a ragged headshawl, should make me sad. Instead, I'm
fired up. Mentally, I place her in Smallville's cornfields. I was there
yesterday with Clark, at peace in the Rockwellian landscape. Her hair
should be in braids. Her headcloth should be brilliant oranges and reds,
a stark contrast to the vegetation. Her dress should be sky blue with
daisies dancing on the hem. Her eyes should look up, joyful and light
as she twirls in aimless circles. Her cheeks should be sticky with the
candy she holds in her uninjured left hand. The more detailed the vision,
the better I can make it a reality.
The Justice League had the tech for the nanites. They had the power-- alien and magic-- for the rockets and bombs. What scared me was the bucket of rusty nails, incongruous in the corner.
I'm ten years old. My dad is based in Yamec this year, overseeing the handover of the government from a ten-year tyrannical dictatorship to a clan more open to Western-style democracy. He said I couldn't be part of the procession because it had to be about the people of this country. They had to believe this was their decision, not outsiders'. I don't quite understand. I'd played with the young princes and princesses in their tents before. They told me I could march with them in ceremonial gear. This was yet another injustice in a long list that I started writing when my mom died two years ago.
I watched the procession on TV, several miles away at Bravo Camp. I'm a foot away from the screen because my dad always told me to sit at least six feet away. I don't really feel the explosion of the pipe bomb when it goes off in pixellated flames. I'm nauseous from the herky-jerky camera, not the smells. TV can't project smells. The cameraman trips on rubble. The lens fixes on an injured bodyguard on the road, bleeding from a dozen nails. One protrudes from his eye and he ignores the rest to scrabble for that one. My father's aide quickly shuts the TV off but I'm already under the blankets, shaking and hating myself for the weakness.
The serial numbers on everything have been scratched smooth. I crouch beside one of the rockets. It's cool, asleep. Dust hasn't had time to gather on them. Either these just got moved in or they were being used quicker than they could be restocked.
"Jimmy, get some macro shots on the scratches," I say. "Maybe we can enhance them later."
"It doesn't look like a lot," Jimmy says.
"They wouldn't put everything in one huge depot. It would be scattered everywhere. Behind a school in one city, in a cave in another, in a classic bunker elsewhere."
"A bunker? But we always look in old bunkers."
"Exactly. Let a little cache fall into enemy hands, let them think they have one up. They know the States is methodical about munitions. Meanwhile, ninety percent of the goods are still hidden away."
I step around the perfect little pyramids to check out the hollow rounds. They're the length of my hand and perfect for killing. The long, synthetic jacket makes it through metal detectors, hiding the anti-armour core made of depleted uranium, or DU. The hollow or flattened tip ensures the bullet will fragment on impact, causing even more damage to the target. The use of DU is banned in several countries under the UN especially in connection to the Gulf War Syndrome. NATO hasn't.
"How many more of these do you think are around?" asks Jimmy. "If we can figure that out, we can get the information to the Justice League and they can--
"The League's aware of these bunkers. They've taken care of a few of them but they get restocked within a month. We need to know where it's coming from."
"You have a theory."
Of course I do. Before I can share it, our guides yell out. Outside, dirt geysers towards the ramshackle building. The sharp cracks of the guns come five seconds later, out of sync with the bullets raining on our tiny caravan. I swear, grab Jimmy's vest and throw him to the floor under the rifles. I grab one and check it over-- it's pretty near to crap. No one's cleaned it in months. Disgusted, I rack it back and flip open an inside pocket to my vest. Friends in high places mean you're never out of long-range stun bombs.
The bullets tracked in a north to south pattern. That means the shooter's hidden in the scrub on the hill to the north. I belly crawl to the door. The stun bombs mount on an air rifle tucked in my backpack. Accuracy doesn't matter with these. The retina-toasting flash and the big, bad boom renders anyone within twenty feet useless. I fire them at the largest bushes then follow it up with some smoke bombs. Our guides screech in with the Jeep and we race in the opposite direction.
I'm seventeen. I hate my father. He represents everything I believe is wrong with the world: patriarchy, imperialism and right-wing hot air. I resent my sister: blonde, slender and oblivious to the world outside fashion magazines. I hate Okinawa; it's in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. The Japanese hated US military presence. The US military patronised Japanese culture. I hate school. I don't need a reason.
I run away to Tokyo. No one notices for a week. I'm not sure if I'm pleased or hurt. I dance. I drink. I sleep around. I inhale all sorts of things. The General drags me back to the base, reverting to staff sergeant decibels. His aide is silent. I hear nothing. I'm strung out. I don't care.
My next felony is falsifying records. I'm nineteen, not twenty-four, when the Daily Planet hires me. It's the best and last crime I've ever committed.
Our guides hide us in a village several miles from the bunker. The people who share our hut are dirty, poor and scared. Quietly, they share their dinner. Its supposed to be stew, I think, but the broth is thin and the few shreds of meat are mealy with age. I mop the bows clean with some stale bread to show my appreciation. I nudge Jimmy to do the same. The meal goes down better with hot herbal tea and goat's milk. The little goatgirl I saw in the hills ducks through the cloth door. She heads straight for her mother without making eye contact. There's a ruckus outside.
A man and a teenager argue outside. They don't care who hears. No one pays attention. Apparently, this is a regular event. Our hostess clicks her tongue disapprovingly as she doles out food for her daughter. "Fathers and sons should not fight."
"My father and I fought all the time," I commented. My accent isn't the best but I can get by. I've always had an ear for languages provided everyone else around me speaks it.
"You're an American. And there is a difference between arguing and fighting."
The goatgirl crumbles bread into her soup. The father and son are too far away and speak too emotionally for me to make sense out of it. "What are they fighting about?"
"The boy failed to--" She says something I can't translate. I ask her to explain. "He fights in the army. He has been in the same rank for two years now. The other boys have been promoted and given larger salaries."
"He's barely eighteen!"
"He is sixteen. A soldier."
No, he isn't. The General raised my sister and me under military command but kids can't be soldiers. They should break rules not break under them. My nails gouge into my palms.
"I have lost a child to war," our hostess continues. "But the army pays well."
The goatgirl slurps her soup. The edge of her headscarf is in the bowl. She doesn't have the luxury have baby fat but her nose is snub and her eyes are wide as dinner plates. I try harder to imagine her in Smallville.
"How did she hurt her arm?" I ask the woman.
"Bones break sometimes."
I rear back. I must have heard that wrong. "Can you please repeat, slowly?"
"Young bones break easily. She tried to carry a bag like a grown woman and hurt herself."
"Her muscles are sore?"
Our hostess clicks her tongue at me now. "Her bones. Bones. They break very easily, especially in children. It happens with all children."
Actually children's bones are more flexible than adults because they're still part cartilage. That's why idiot kids, like yours truly back in the day, get greenstick fractures. Kids' bones aren't supposed to break after carrying an over-sized purse. At my nod, Jimmy takes more pictures.
I start out in City because Metropolis is the last place I lived where my family was whole. Metropolis was a shining Art Deco star in my memories as we moved from base to base. I want to put roots in the city. I want to graft myself in its glow to fill the dark, scared corners of my self. I ache for its hope.
The first story that matters is the Suicide Slum Arsonist. He wanted to up his insurance business by scaring people into buying it. Then, I help the MPD crack a burgeoning war between the old mafia and two up-and-coming gangs. For my hat-trick that year, I reveal sweatheart deals between LexCorp and state officials. Somewhere between the schoolyard bullying piece and the one about the geeks who fought back, journalism stopped being about pissing the General off. Because of my stories, people write in to thank me. I make a difference. I give a damn.
My reach spreads beyond Metropolis' limits in the years that follow, first National, now International. Clark shines to show people the way. I glow to reveal the dirt in the corners. It works well. I'm made for this job. Superman is a tank. I'm a stiletto. When I hit you, it hurts more.
I'm just outside Vatican City the next day. Jimmy's still sleeping when I'm gulping down my second cup of coffee in the Secret Archives of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences. They haven't been secret since 2003 but the title stuck. They've done their own research, focused on politics and bioethics. Only the Cold War material is solid. The current stuff has holes. I can't have holes in my pieces. They have to be anvils to make people care.
The fall-out from the East European war of the 1990's is the best comparison. When civil wars broke out, the people were still reeling from effects of the Cold War. DU ordinance is cheap around these parts. Raw material poured from the abandoned smelters and nuclear reactors. Unfortunately, this is one of the few times when reduce, reuse and recycle isn't the best option.
"Perhaps I could be of more assistance if you tell me what you're looking for," the librarian-priest says.
"I need everything you have on the ecological and medical effects of warfare," I say.
"We have thousands of such studies since the use of mustard gas in World War I."
The most recent information is raw data by the Capfield Group. They usually deal with industry like mining. Shortly before his death, Thomas Wayne commissioned them to create a long-term study of the effects of DU ordinance. He wanted to convince a few key pharmaceutical subsidiaries to sell medication to these countries at a lower price than the competition. There would be no short-term profit but customer loyalty and brand recognition in developing countries had already proven itself. Africans trust Merck medical products the most because the company has given away treatments for river blindness since the eighties. Wayne wanted something similar for Eastern Europe. Maybe he was also just a good guy.
I type notes on my netbook while Jimmy finally joins the party. He makes photocopies. The culmination of Capfield's twenty years of research is a tome of carcinogenic, genetic, reproductive, and neurological effects on the generations of people living in the area. After a couple hours, Jimmy's freckles stand out against his pale green complexion. He's not used to reading about things like this. I've grown up with it.
"When will the finished paper be published?" I ask the librarian.
"We were due to receive the first draft five weeks ago," the librarian answers. "However, we were informed that their sample size was faulty."
The librarian presses his palms together. His rough-woven sleeves roll over his hands. "We have many studies from the Capfield Group, as you probably know from your research so far. They have always had exemplary samples. In fact, their environmental studies are often cited as near-perfect templates for subjects such as statistics and laboratory-based sciences."
Jimmy and I hit the current events the next day. After teatime (which the librarian offered just outside the main floor), I find two interesting articles. In the same week Capfield withdrew their study, several countries signed a seventeen-year economic agreement for weaponised DU. The deal means millions in revenue. It breathes life into shrinking industrial cities in developed countries. The small, blue-collar towns are saved. The national debt is reduced. The hard-working middle-class can breathe easy again because now they have something to build. Now they can contribute to the dream-- financial stability, well-fed children a house with all the comforts. Funny; Yamecians have the exact same dream.
I take one or two correspondence courses and night classes every semester while I work. I'm good with languages. I pick up the writing pattern immediately after some intro courses. I dress the part of the professional and no one believes I'm more a runaway than a college grad. I even fool Perry for a short while. I receive my Bachelor of Arts in Journalism seven years after I started working for the Planet. Clark, Perry and Jimmy are at my convocation. They're the best cheering squad a girl can ask for.
Ninety percent of the time, investigations are boring as hell. I'm on hold for a quarter of the day, transferred for another quarter, and out-right rejected for the third. The remaining twenty-five percent of the job is hazardous to my health. Writing the news is hard, too. It can't read like gonzo or conspiratorial or else, it'll be ignored. On the other hand, readers don't digest much any more. The most important, compelling parts must stay in the first two hundred words. Those are the two hundred words the Associated Press picks up and breastfeeds to the masses via blogfeeds and sound bytes. But when it's done, it's permanent. The Planet archives go back a hundred years. The Internet has never really been anonymous. People remember what you did to warrant being on the news. The news never forgets.
I display my degree beside my awards. I leave a space for my Editor-in-Chief nameplate. I'll have one by the time I turn forty. Glow, Lois, glow.
Another day, another time zone. Jimmy begs off on this trip, citing a broken internal clock. I'm in Vancouver, Canada. The fir-coated mountain range is a fitting backdrop for an environmental watchdog. George Rikamai, the representative for the Capfield Group, wears a suit but his hair is shoulder-length and stiff with salt.
"Ms. Lane. I'm sorry, I must not have synced my phone to my scheduler properly. I didn't know you were coming today."
I wave his apology away. "I didn't make an appointment."
"Oh." He blinks, nonplussed as he tries to blow me off politely.
"Tell me about the Wayne study for Yamec."
Instantly, his stance hardens and his expression goes dark. He fits the suit now, cold, implacable. "I'm afraid I can't talk about unpublished work--"
"I thought it was corporate policy to be completely transparent," I interrupt. "You've given interviews about unfinished studies before. There was the salmon farming piece two years ago, the wetlands study from the late nineties, the ecotourism crit in Time Magazine. Capfield is a bastion of honesty in the industrialised world."
He holds his hands up. "I understand, Ms. Lane. You didn't let me finish. I was going to say I can't talk about unpublished work when I have a federally instated muzzle." He looks around furtively. "I'm sorry I can't be any more help. Please, let me walk you to the door."
"I'm not walking out of here empty handed."
"I wish I could help you. I truly do."
He means it. His frustration is plain to see. Time to give him an out. "I saw the native plant rehabilitation garden around back. Metropolis is thinking of greening its roofs in the same way; tell me about that."
His forehead wrinkles but he plays along. "Very well, Ms. Lane."
Contrary to popular belief, I'm not stupidly reckless. I rarely go into situations that I can't handle. I can handle a lot of things. The General raised me within the strict boundaries of military command and that included bootcamp. I had sized my host and our surroundings as soon as I arrived. The building has two other exits besides the front door. One of them is alarmed and leads to greenery. The unalarmed exit goes to the south parking lot. The glass is probably tempered; a good whack with the receptionist's chair could break it. Rakimai is tall and moves with the grace of an athlete but he hadn't studied me the way I did him. He's no trained fighter. As he leads me to the native plant rehabilitation garden, I catalogue escape routes and kill shots. Option one: kick his ankle out, slam his head against the closest boulder, head back to the parking lot. We turn around a giant cedar. Option two: grab his hair to smash his nose against the tree trunk, punch his flanks above the kidneys, and smash his head again. We skirt a blackberry bramble. Option three: hook my ankle around his, shove him into the bramble, kick his stomach to keep him there.
I let Rakamai do his press spiel for two minutes before interrupting. "I can't help but admire all of Capfield's new projects. I read about them online. The lobby has a lot of nice posters, too. You must have a lot of funding to be able to create a fifteen-year plan."
Rakimai coughed. His eyes widened. "I don't know what-- we've had some generous-- If you're implying that we're taking bribes--"
"Be quiet. If you don't talk, you technically didn't tell me anything and therefore, you can't be responsible for the wild accusations of headline-hungry reporter, right? Right. So let me tell you what I think happened. Feel free to admire the scenery while I do.
"Governments or government-linked businesses didn't like what Capfield was going to say in the DU study. They'd just locked a deal worth kajillions to stabilise the currently fluctuating economy. Now move your mouth and point at things like you're tell me to smell the roses."
"Roses aren't native to Canada," says Rakamai inanely. He's in shock. I have that effect on people.
I brush my hand against a fern. Spores coat my fingertips. "The Capfield Group has never allowed themselves to be muzzled. I think it's a point of pride with you people so I figure the only reason you'd bend is because they bribed--"
"Okay, okay, bribe is a harsh word. They 'donated' enough funding for the company to be completely autonomous for the next fifteen to twenty years. There are salmon habitats and tropical jungles to be saved. Animals and plants are more helpless and less numerous than people I guess."
Rakamai is distressed. Sweat beads on forehead and nose; it's more than sixty degrees out. "Capfield is also involved in humanitarian ventures, Ms. Lane, such as farming alternatives in Sub-Saharan countries and rebuilding in New Orleans."
"Of course. Those are very immediate problems."
Rakamai sighs. "Choosing projects isn't easy. In fact, in our last major meeting, one of the founders of the company quit over... certain decisions made for the company's future. Our mandate is to be that stalwart watchdog on behalf of vulnerable populations but this year we learned the hard way that sometimes... sometimes you lose."
He's broken up about this. I ease up on the pressure. "I understand that. Part of a reporter's job is to decide which stories to break and how, which ones to suppress and why. It's part of the shit that comes with the job. But if we help each other, we can get through the shit. If you let me help you, I promise I'll do your work proud."
Vicious glee sparks in Rakimai's eyes. He's going to go with it. "Let me give you a tour of the building, Ms. Lane. You strike me as the type of woman who appreciates the inner workings of this company."
I return that night with a scanner-interrupter and a list of passcodes I snitched when Rakimai "went to the bathroom." I now have a draft and, more importantly, I have names. Next time I fly through Vancouver, I'm buying the guy a round.
The spandex clad up in that Watchtower wonder about my marriage. I know they do. Very few of them have functioning relationships with people who aren't in the heroing business. I guess it's tough but I don't know any better. I'm a military brat on both sides of the genealogical tree. Lanes and Lis have been going to war and hugging folded flags for centuries. Every other day, I watch my husband bombarding enemy lines like a bright beautiful tank. I worry. I tuck the worry away.
Clark dislikes violence. Absurd, considering his powers. Watch him and you see he uses them as indirectly as possible for as long as possible. He doesn't punch so much as shove. He freezes rather than burns but when he burns, he uses objects around his enemy as ordinance. When he's left no other choice, he'll answer directly but he hates every moment. He's a genius who acts as the strong man. The introvert who goes out in garish dress. The simple farmer from outer space.
This is my husband, the contradiction. People worship him as a god. But I hold him down, I hold him close and he shatters, gasping, between my thighs.
My research leads me right back to Yamec, to one William Brown. He's average height and average weight with nondescript features and mouse brown hair that may or may not be thinning. With the tan he's sporting, he could also pass as Latino or Arab. Dye his hair a shade darker and he could be Southeast Asian. He's the CIA's wet dream. He's supposedly a travel writer.
"Well, well, how can I help the famous Lois Lane? Need epicurean tips abroad?" He holds out his hand. His smile is too avuncular. I give in to the temptation to wipe my hand after the handshake.
"I wouldn't trust anything grown in this place for the next, oh, 4.46 billion years."
"Now, now, Ms. Lane, that positively irks of racism."
"No, it 'irks' of radiation poisoning." I lay a few pictures of the DU hollow points then a couple ground zero sites. "I know you all but negotiated a death sentence for the Yamecians."
His bewilderment seemed genuine. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Is this about the eco-tourism piece because I--"
"A knowledgeable travel writer such as yourself," I didn't bother to hide my sarcasm, "should know that country's been saturated with depleted uranium munitions since the Cold War. Capfield found a mile-long list of medical defects in the people who've been chronically exposed to DU for almost two generations now. But they recanted their findings almost two months ago supposedly because of poor samples."
"That's the trouble with statistics, Ms. Lane. Crunch the numbers a certain way and it leads to a different conclusion." He smiled. He steepled his fingers under his chin. "Any other tidbits you want me to add in my next blog entry?"
The best punch uses a tight fist. The wrist should be held in perfect alignment to prevent a fracture and transmit all the force efficiently. It should come not from the elbow or the shoulder or even the hips. For strength, start at your feet, grounded. It shouldn't land on the nose or cheek but on the throat. Aim for the Adam's apple if you're going against a man. It takes only five pounds of pressure to crush the windpipe.
As he gags, I hold him up by the collar to look at a portrait. Jimmy takes money shots. "This little girl has osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as brittle bone disease. It's supposed to be rare but in her village, almost all the children are born with it in varying severity. Can you imagine that, Brown? Can you imagine being ten years old and breaking a bone every time your mom hugged you too tight? Can you imagine your joints dislocating spontaneously? Or being unable to breathe? Losing your hearing? Can you imagine being her parents, eking out a garden in toxic soil? Working in artillery factories because it's the most stable job in the country?
"I'm going publish this study in every news media available. You'll go deaf with the Tweets. When I'm done, I'll find you again and give you to this little girl's parents. May God have mercy on your shrivelled little soul."
The Justice League circles the planet, satellites as necessary as the moon. They're perfect for the big sexy problems: the evil aliens, the crazed magicians and the megalomaniacal cyborgs.
I'm human. My pen is my lasso. My computer is my cave. My press pass is my cape.
I'm Lois Lane. I'm the best investigative reporter living. You do NOT fuck with me.