Superman: Dawnbreaker (DC Icons #4)(5)

Clark grinned. No one could make a powerful adult sweat quite like Lana Lang could.

The hallways were filled with students excited for the weekend. Clark and Lana swerved around a group of JV defensive linemen doing some kind of pre-practice chant Clark vaguely remembered from freshman year. They ducked past a group of loud pom-pom-wielding cheerleaders. After a while he was able to filter out all the peripheral noise and focus solely on the crying girl.

What was wrong? he wondered. Was she hurt?

“Listen, Lana,” Clark said as they neared the front doors, “there’s something I gotta do real fast.”

“Sounds mildly intriguing. What’s up?”

“It’s not a big deal. Just have to check if I, uh, left my—”

“Lana?” Speak of the devil, Principal Rice was standing in the doorway of the front office, wearing her usual gray power suit. “Can I have a quick word?”

Clark and Lana shared a knowing glance, and Clark whispered, “Meet you at the front steps in ten?”

Lana nodded and turned to Principal Rice. “Of course, ma’am. Would you like to speak in your office?”

Clark watched Principal Rice and Lana start toward the office, then turned his attention back to the crying. He followed the sound through the freshman locker hall and past the gym, where the women’s basketball team was warming up. The sound eventually led him to an empty classroom halfway across the school.

He recognized the girl right away.

Gloria Alvarez.

A senior he’d always admired from afar. She was one of the few people at Smallville High who were able to navigate effortlessly across multiple social groups. One day she’d be eating lunch in the library with the Latinx Book Club. The next day Clark would see her laughing in the halls with a group of white cheerleaders. He also knew she was one of the smartest kids in the school and so good with computers that she codes.

Gloria sat at a desk in the front row, hunched over, wiping tears with a bundled tissue. At first she didn’t notice Clark in the doorway, so he simply stood there and watched her, feeling awkward. She clearly wasn’t in any danger. But the depth of her sadness was so gut-wrenching that he couldn’t pull himself away. He wondered if he’d ever felt anything so intensely.

Was he even capable?

In a way, he actually envied her sadness.

He took a tentative step forward and cleared his throat. “Excuse me, but…are you okay?”

Gloria looked up at Clark, startled. Her eyes red, cheeks streaked with tears.

“Sorry,” Clark mumbled, averting his gaze. “I just—I was passing by or whatever and…” He studied her again. “What’s wrong?”

“Everything.” Gloria stood up, then froze, staring at him. “People are disappearing,” she snapped, “and no one in this town even cares.”

Her words caught Clark completely off guard. “Who?”

She shook her head and pushed past him, out the door. Watching her hurry into the crowded hallway, Clark felt confused.

And helpless.

People were disappearing from Smallville?

After school that day, a small helicopter whirred above the field of the Kents’ rural farm, just a few miles south of Smallville. Clark and his dad watched it pass overhead yet again. Third time in the past twenty minutes.

This didn’t sit well with Clark.

He’d always felt protective of the farm. And his aging parents. The feeling had only intensified as he’d gotten older.

Helicopters were a rare sight in the area. Most farmers no longer dusted crops by air. But what really bothered Clark was the way the chopper weaved across the gray sky in a distinct pattern—flying over their small farmhouse, past the pond and the cornfields and the chicken coop, and then dipping lower near the large crater that butted up against their old barn.

Whoever was up there was looking for something.

But what?

When Clark had brought up his concern earlier, his dad shrugged it off. “Can’t say I appreciate it either, Clark. But there’s no law against flying over someone’s property.”

So Clark stuck with the other law-related subject they’d been discussing: the controversial new stop-and-search issue on the ballot in Smallville. It had already been passed into law in a couple of neighboring towns, but Clark refused to believe the residents of Smallville would support it. Would they? “So the police would be able to stop anyone?” he asked his dad. Clark was thinking about what Gloria had said about people disappearing. “At any time? With no cause?”

Wiping his brow on the shoulder of his flannel shirt, Jonathan Kent turned to Clark. Clark thought his dad had been looking older lately. There was more gray in his hair. More puffiness under his eyes. All the years of backbreaking farmwork were catching up to him. “The population’s changing, son. And some communities…I think they’re scared about where this change might leave them.”

“But it’s racist.”

His dad studied him for several seconds before saying, “Well, it’s probably a little more complicated than that. But still, I’m voting no on the issue.”

Clark nodded and drove his shovel back into the ground. Even in his annoyance, he was careful not to use too much force. He’d already snapped a half dozen shovels this spring. And his folks didn’t have money for that kind of extra expense. But it seriously depressed him to think that anyone in Smallville could vote for a law that allowed police to make traffic stops based solely on the color of someone’s skin.

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