Superman: Dawnbreaker (DC Icons #4)(7)

It took all Clark’s strength to kneel in the mud as the massive machine jolted and twisted in his grasp. Spinning out of his control, it landed on its side with a tremendous crash, blades digging into the soft earth with a wet thwacking sound, shrapnel flying everywhere.

The chopper settled only inches from the side of the old barn, at the lip of the crater that had always marked this part of the Kent farm. Clark stared in shock at the helicopter’s battered underbelly, smoke and steam spewing out of the wreckage.

“Hey!” he shouted, scooping his glasses off the ground and putting them back on. “Anyone need help?”

No answer.

He thought maybe he’d failed again, but in a few seconds the smoke had thinned and he spotted someone hanging halfway out the cracked back window.

Clark hurried over and pulled the limp body down from the vessel. Just in time, as the remainder of the window fell from the frame in a single sheet, shattering against the side of the chopper. Clark held the guy in his arms, looking him over. It was a kid he recognized from school. Bryan Something. He must’ve been thrown from the cockpit when the blades smacked against the ground. His head had punctured the window.

Bryan’s eyes were closed, and his pale arms hung lifelessly.

“Son!” Clark’s dad was calling for him in the distance. “You all right?”

A sick feeling spread through Clark’s stomach the longer Bryan stayed still. But eventually the boy groaned weakly and blindly reached a hand up toward the raw scrape on his forehead.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Clark set him on the ground.

Bryan tested his arms and legs as if trying to confirm that he was still alive.

Clark studied his dark, scraggly hair. His deep-set eyes and stooped shoulders. He was thin, like one of the fence posts Clark and his dad had just been repairing. Yet there was a fire in his eyes. Then Clark remembered how he knew Bryan. He was new at school, having started just before the end of the year.

“What…happened?” Bryan managed to say.

“There’s been an accident.” Clark motioned toward the ground near the helicopter. “You’re lucky you landed here. In the mud.”

Bryan scrambled to his feet. “Corey!” he shouted, hurrying around to the battered cockpit.

Two other people were now cautiously climbing out of the wreckage. They each had several cuts and bruises, but miraculously none of their injuries appeared to be serious. One was a middle-aged, balding man. He wore thin glasses that were slightly bent, and he was holding a cell phone in his right hand. He stood in the mud, looking back and forth between the helicopter and Clark, something unsettling in his gaze.

The other passenger wasn’t much older than Bryan. He was taller, though. And broader. They looked like brothers.

“Thank God you’re okay, Corey,” Bryan said.

His brother marched right up to Bryan and jabbed an angry finger into his chest. “What were you thinking up there! You could’ve killed us!”

“I just looped back around like you—”

“This is the one thing you’re supposed to be good at, Bryan! But you suck as a pilot, too, don’t you? God, no wonder Mom and Dad think you’re such a loser!”

Clark watched Bryan turn away silently.

Jonathan showed up, breathing heavily after sprinting across the field. Mercifully, he stepped between the brothers, saying, “Easy, guys. I’ve already called for help. What matters is that everyone’s okay.”

Clark marveled at how quickly Bryan’s older brother’s demeanor shifted. Two seconds ago, he’d been berating his brother. Now he was smiling at Clark’s dad like some kind of overcaffeinated tractor salesman. He held out his hand, saying, “I was just explaining that to my brother, sir. The main thing is we’re all okay.”

Clark’s dad tentatively shook the guy’s hand.

“I’m Corey Mankins,” he said through an artificial grin. “This your farm?”

Jonathan nodded.

Clark realized these weren’t just any brothers. They were the sole heirs to the powerful Mankins Corporation. But what were they doing in a helicopter above his farm? He glanced at the middle-aged man with the bent glasses, who appeared to be discreetly snapping pictures with his phone. He aimed it at the wrecked helicopter, and the barn, and the crater, before slipping it back into his pocket. Clark watched the man suspiciously.

When the rain picked up again the man pointed to the old barn and said, “Why don’t we duck inside here, wait for this to pass—”

“Unfortunately, I don’t have the key with me.” Clark’s dad looped around the wrecked chopper so that he was in front of the barn doors. He grabbed hold of the rusted padlock and looked up at the dilapidated building. “Roof’s pretty much shot, anyway. We can duck under the eaves here.”

All of them crowded under the part of the roof that extended over the ground. It was broken in several places, but it gave some relief from the rain.

Jonathan had always been oddly protective of the most run-down structure on the Kent farm. He’d told Clark it was dangerous. That the whole thing could come crashing down at any moment. Clark had never really given it much thought. But now, watching Corey and the man in glasses share a curious glance, he wondered if there wasn’t more to it.

“Where are my manners?” Corey said to Jonathan. “This is Dr. Paul Wesley, a renowned scientist from Metropolis. And you’ve already met my brother, Bryan. The three of us were out here taking atmospheric measurements to help inform our harvest schedule.”

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