EXCERPT: The Last Dignity of Man by Marjorie M. Liu

CATEGORY: Unexpected Cryptozoological Ramifications

RULE 1451.2b: Pick Your Supervillain Name With Care

SOURCE: Alexander Luthor, biotechnology billionaire

VIA: Marjorie M. Liu

What is “destiny”? Does it come from the stars, like the astrologists say? Is it spun out of a person’s DNA, the kind of birthright monarchies claim? Is it measured out by mysterious figures, like the Greek Fates in their cave? Or could it be that a man’s future determined by his name?

This is a story of a man who has allowed his name to drive his destiny. Alexander Luthor, the mind behind the multi-billion dollar LuthorTech corporation, has a talent for biotech invention—and success has brought him many government contacts. With the power and protection of the federal government behind his experiments, Alexander Luthor finds himself in a position to change the world.

As he plumbs the reaches of science, Alexander must confront the choices he’s made. What is he becoming? And can he make a name for himself—one that isn’t simply villainous?

 

The Last Dignity of Man
by Marjorie M. Liu

“Put on the cape,” Alexander says. “Careful now. Do it slow.”

He sits very still, breathless, as the young man unfolds the shining red cloth. This moment is part of an old dream, a red dream — red on blue, with gold trim, and that lovely brand upon the young man’s fine, fine chest. The finest letter in the alphabet, Alexander thinks. A mighty letter, for a mighty myth.

The cape will make it perfect.

But the young man grins, ruining the effect. What was to be serious, epic, suddenly feels like the farce it is, and Alexander looks away in shame. He barely notices the young man clip the cape into place, can barely stand to hear his own voice break the quiet.

Alexander does not know the young man’s real name — only the one he has been given for this evening. All part of the ruined fantasy.

“Clark,” Alexander says. “Clark. You may go now.”

The young man frowns. “Sir?”

Alexander shakes his head. “Just . . . get your things and go.”

Puzzlement, even a little disappointment, yet the young man does as he is told. He gathers his belongings: a business suit, with tie; thick glasses. He is a beautiful creature: long of muscle and bone, with pale eyes and dark wavy hair. A lucky find, and Alexander feels a moment of regret. But no, this is not right.

The young man leaves. Alexander sits in his chair by the window and stares at the city. There is enough light to cast a reflection in the glass; like a ghost mirror, he sees his face in shadow, transparent and wry.

Alexander is bald. He thinks he looks good, bald, though it is quite unnatural. The men in Alexander’s family are fine bushy blonds, but when Alexander turned eighteen he shaved all the hair from his head. Shaves it still, so that his scalp gleams polished and perfect.

So. Alexander has the look. He has the money. Yet, he is still alone. Alone in his tower, his fortress of solitude.

It is a joke and Alexander knows it. His name is Alexander Luthor — Lex Luthor — but this is not a comic book, and there is no such thing as Superman.

Still, it is an old dream.

***

The research department at LuthorTech takes up an entire city block. The building squats in the center of downtown, where streets and sidewalks are a jungle during rush hour. Alexander likes the crowds; he keeps his office on the first floor so he can watch strangers pass scant yards beyond his tinted windows. He has other offices, better offices, in prettier parts of town, but he has not seen them in over five years.

Alexander’s brothers do not understand this. The big picture has always eluded them, along with humility and the practical application of science and business theory. It is why Alexander’s father made his youngest son the principle shareholder in LuthorTech, why his two oldest pretend to manage sales and marketing while alternating between office and golf course, why the old man rests easy at night, without fear his life’s work will die. Despite their differences in lifestyle, which have crippled communication, Alexander’s father knows his son is a smart man. Too eccentric, perhaps, to be acceptable — but very, very smart.

Smart enough to appreciate the backbone of the company, to dwell close within the marrow, directing firsthand the genius on his payroll. His enthusiasm helps. The employees like Alexander. They respect him, even — though he knows they make fun of his name, his appearance. Lex Luthor in the flesh, they say. Our boss, the mad scientist. Does he keep kryptonite in his shorts? Ha. Ha. Ha.

Alexander blames his mother. She insisted on his name, on the dignity of its sound. Alexander wonders if he would be a different man if she had called him George or Simon or Larry. A name without myth or power. Without expectation.

But no, he is Alexander. He is Lex. And he has lived up to that name, in more ways than one.

[End Excerpt]