The black stream, catching a sunken rock,
Flung backward on itself in one white wave,
And the white water rode the black forever,
Not gaining but not losing, like a bird
- Robert Frost
When planning the drive to the Grand Canyon, Lex had chosen the most scenic route. The results were nearly overwhelming for a farmboy who, ignoring an intergalactic journey of millions of light years, had seldom left his home state.
They left early on a perfect day in late May, Jason and Lana in one car, the rest of them in the other. Clark was thrilled when Lex tossed him the keys and challenged him to put the Porsche through its paces. Then he had to sit white-knuckled when Lois had insisted on her turn. Grudgingly, he had to admit that she'd handled it well.
They travelled west through hundreds of miles of familiar Kansas farmland, which gradually gave way to ranches sprawling amongst the foothills of eastern Colorado. Clark, so used to the limitless vistas of his home state, felt vaguely disoriented whenever they descended into a valley and the horizon narrowed to only a few miles. But from the hilltops, the views of the fast approaching Rocky Mountains had been stupendous.
They stopped for the night in Denver, where Lex had shown them around the LoDo district, pointing out the most famous historical buildings and expounding on the colorful characters who'd once populated the saloons and brothels. They had dinner at one of the numerous sidewalk cafés and did a little shopping. Clark bought himself a vibrant blue and white plaid shirt – a vintage western design – that Lois said was all too likely to cause epileptic seizures.
"It's like strobe lighting," she said. "The way the color keeps fading in and out."
"But it's perfect," protested Clark. "Don't you love the horseshoes? And the snaps are so neat. And it matches my favorite jacket."
"Burn them both," advised Lois.
They almost had to drag Chloe out of the Tattered Cover Book Store. She'd been in heaven browsing through the eclectic collection and exultantly showed off her find. "It's a sequel to my favourite book," she said. "Remember, Clark?"
"Tales of the Weird and Unexplained," he confirmed. It had been the day they'd met: Chloe had lost her copy but he'd managed to replace it, thanks to a little superspeed.
"Yeah. This one focuses on tales from the southwest." She showed them chapters on familiar stories like Roswell and many older myths going back long before the arrival of Columbus.
Lex had been the perfect host, pleased by both the sights themselves and everyone else's reactions. But he'd never seemed so distant to Clark – polite, yes, but approachable, no. Clark tried several times to start a conversation on the geology or history of the area but Lex, normally so voluble on such topics, quickly shut him down. Clark went to sleep feeling frustrated by the standoff.
Next day, they drove up Mount Evans to admire the view from 14,000 feet. The air was so thin that they had to cut short a hike when Jason started to experience altitude sickness. They then continued across the continental divide and started descending. They made a brief stop in Golden to soak up the Old West feel, and again in Grand Junction where the Colorado River doubled in size when joined by the Gunnison River. Here, the landscape changed dramatically – they were now in the high desert, and the forests on the higher slopes of the Rockies gave way to cactus and brush.
They continued west into Utah, where the Colorado started to carve a torturous route through the desert. They turned south towards Arches National Park, where they drove past the Courthouse Towers and Petrified Dunes and Rock Pinnacles and the Window, before hiking down to Double Arch. Clark quickly ran out of words to describe the sights and inside just soaked in the atmosphere. He'd never seen anything like the delicate arches formed by the wind, especially as the sun started to set and the rocks took on ever more dramatic hues.
They all shot plenty of pictures, especially Lana, who had designated herself the official trip photographer. She was in artistic heaven as she directed everyone to stand here, move there. With one shot, she posed Clark with his arms in the air and a large arch in the background. When she showed them the resulting photograph, it looked like Clark was weightlifting, with the pillars of the arch acting as his weights.
"How close is that to the truth?" asked Lex, speaking to Clark for the first time that day. "Lifting the arch I mean."
Clark looked at him and then the arch. "The arch would break first, before I could get the rest of it in the air."
Lex had grunted and wandered away.
They then headed to the campground, where they stayed up late to admire the heavens. In the desert air and far from city lights, the stars shone brilliantly, the red of Arcturus contrasting strongly with the pure white of Spica. Clark pointed out the constellations and Lex shared the related myths from cultures all over the world. Then Lex dragged out the telescope that he'd brought for just this purpose. Delighted, Clark focussed first on Jupiter, and then moved on to the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. According to Dr. Swann, he'd come from a humble star in M66, part of the Leo triplet. Clark felt a twinge of sadness as he searched the area, but tried to shake it off when Lois demanded her turn at the scope. Sensitive to his mood, Chloe leaned her head on his shoulder as they watched the moon start to rise. Lex looked at him searchingly and advised everyone to turn in for the night.
On the last day of their drive, they continued heading south into Arizona, and then turned westward once more. The desert seemed endless and utterly desolate.
Then the land started to change. They were forced to turn north by a currently dry creek that had gouged deep into the bedrock. As they continued north, they saw an ever growing maze of side canyons and dry creek beds. But the Colorado itself was hidden from sight until suddenly they were crossing the Navajo Bridge. They'd made it.
Lex stopped the car and they all got out to peer down into Marble Canyon, the easternmost portion of the Grand Canyon. At this point, they were only 4 miles west of the start of the canyon, but the river had already bored down more than 450 feet. The cliffs in this section were almost sheer, made of successive layers of sandy red limestone accented by narrow bands of white, gray and purple. The river itself was browner than Clark had expected, especially along the sides, and showed few signs of life beyond some grey-green scrub. Chloe was filled with questions, which Lex patiently answered. Clark asked some questions of his own about the rock formations, but Lex's replies were curt – no, there were no dinosaur bones here.
They got back in the car and made one last turn, eastbound, to Lee's Ferry. There they were greeted by Karyn, who introduced them to the last member of their expedition, Charity.
"Or Bitty for short," said Karyn with a grin.
"Because I'm not," added Bitty. Indeed, Bitty was nearly six feet tall, with black hair, brown eyes and dark brown skin covering a stout, well-muscled body. She gave Clark the impression of a coiled spring, and he wasn't surprised to hear that she normally worked as a part of the LuthorCorp close protection team. She was also a rowing enthusiast and would be in charge of their supply raft. Lex was obviously measuring her up, and seemed satisfied by what he saw.
Karyn quickly showed them around, urging them to check out buildings dating back to the old west. Before the Navajo Bridge had been built, Lee's Ferry was the only place where you could cross the Colorado for nearly seven hundred miles. There'd once been a thriving ferry business here (hence the name). Now it was known mainly as the start for all full length Grand Canyon river expeditions.
The boat launch area was busy as several commercial expeditions were preparing their rafts for the next day. After a raft was rigged and launched, it was moved downstream where the loading was completed. Nearby was a campground where they would spend the night before getting an early start the next day. Karyn let them absorb the atmosphere for a few minutes before assigning tasks. Bitty was placed in charge of rigging the raft, while the rest of them were kept busy fetching and carrying supplies.
A ranger soon came by to start his inspection of their required equipment. They each had to put on their lifejacket and adjust the fit so it was comfortably snug. Clark nearly panicked when he couldn't find one of the right size, and then realized Lana had taken his by mistake. She'd pulled all the buckles as tight as she could but it had still dwarfed her. Laughing, they straightened things out and moved on with the inspection. Condition of the supply raft and kayaks – check; oars and rescue equipment – check; repair kits, first aid kits, emergency communication equipment – check, check, check.
There was a hiccup though when the ranger came to one particular item on the checklist – the 'human waste carry-out system'. The seat of the LeoLet (LuthorCorp eco-friendly outdoor toilet) looked like a scaled up version of a children's potty – as Karyn put it, all the magic was in the other components. There was a portable privacy screen, a large waste storage tank that would be left in the raft throughout the trip, a portable storage tank that slotted under the toilet seat, and most important of all, a purifying canister that slotted into the back. LuthorCorp had managed to get the prototype certified by the National Park System and other government agencies, but the ranger was unconvinced. He was concerned the 'newfangled critters' in the canister that helped break down the waste might get out and harm the environment. Karyn produced a seemingly endless set of documents to prove the contrary, but seemed to be making little headway.
Lex and Clark listened to the debate while continuing their current chore – filling the water casks. "Are you going to step in?" asked Clark.
Lex shrugged. "If I get involved, things can get messy in a hurry. She's handling it."
Karyn suddenly changed tactics. She first filled the LeoLet with some water, and then heaved it at the side of the ranger hut. She then picked up an oar and started whacking away. Finally, she picked up the LeoLet and presented it to the ranger. It hadn't leaked – it didn't even have a scratch.
"Not quite how I would have dealt with the matter," said Lex with amusement.
"Yeah, that's more my style," agreed Clark.
Lex snorted, but then gave Clark a glare. "I'm still mad at you."
Clark shrugged and stifled a grin. The ranger was satisfied and moved on with the inspection.
They heard it long before they saw it – a hissing sound, mixed with the occasional gurgle and pop. Their trip along the Colorado was encountering its first major obstacle – Badger Creek Rapid.
They got out to scout the rapid and Karyn pointed out the optimal route – follow the tongue right down the middle of the river. On the right edge of the tongue was a large hole, and there were lots of rocks on both sides of the river to worry about too. To further complicate matters, the entrance to the rapid bended to the left, which tended to push boats to the right, and into the hole.
Lex and his companions were all far more excited than alarmed – this is what they'd been looking forward to throughout the mostly flat portion that marked the first seven miles of the canyon. They'd taken it easy that morning, at times just floating with the current, and were ready for adventure.
Karyn smiled at their enthusiasm. "Okay guys, once you get past the hole, you can relax and really have some fun with this one. But take your time at the beginning, because that hole can easily flip a raft, much less a kayak. You've all heard this before, but until you get caught up in a hole, you have no idea how big a deal it can be. The hydraulics can be just unbelievable, spinning you around in place. So remember: if you can't get out, try rolling up in a ball so you sink down into the river current. And once you do get out, start swimming hard to the middle of the river, away from the rocks. Got it?"
Everyone nodded in agreement and Karyn continued, "Great! So I'm going to go first to show you the line. Then I want Clark and Lex to follow so they can help with a rescue in case of trouble. Girls," she said turning to Chloe, Lois and Lana, "whatever you do, don't pay attention to anything Clark does. He's strong enough to make a mistake and get himself out of it and even make it look like the right thing to do. Us ladies, we don't have that luxury. Watch Lex instead. He's pretty good – and I'm not just saying that because he's the boss of my boss's boss!"
While Karyn tucked herself back into the kayak and Lana lined up the video camera to film the run, Lex took the opportunity to pull Bitty aside. "So. A LuthorCorp bodyguard whose favourite hobby is rafting – what are the odds?"
Bitty kept her eyes on Karyn while responding. "First thing when my boss heard about this trip, she called me into the office. Told me I had a new hobby. Got me some training. Introduced me to Karyn." Bitty glanced at Lex then turned back to watching Karyn. "No way was she letting you go on this trip unprotected."
Lex grimaced. "And your loyalties? Are they to me, or to your boss?"
"You of course – it’s the only way it works. Otherwise, you start running around behind my back and get yourself hurt."
Lex nodded. "Okay, but you have to play by my rules. My friends – they're off limits. You talk to no one about anything you see around me, not your boss, not the police, no one. When in doubt, play dumb and come talk to me. Can you deal with that?"
Bitty blinked, and then gave him a firm handshake. "Deal."
An excited yell from Chloe turned their attention back to the river. Karyn was starting her run, paddling strongly towards the rapid. For the first few yards, the center of the river remained calm while waves started to boil on either side. This was the tongue that Karyn had referred to in the briefing. She powered through it and past the hole on the right, and then entered the main section of the rapids. It wasn't very long but it was intense, with waves that made the kayak look insignificant. Occasionally hidden from sight, Karyn dodged and dipped and weaved her way through the waves. Near the end of the rapid, she pivoted the kayak, paddled upstream and started to play in one of the standing waves. She did a few rolls, and then pulled an ender, dipping the front of the kayak into the wave so the boat went vertical. She then twisted her body and the boat responded by performing a pirouette. On the shore, Lex and his companions cheered loudly at the display.
Clark went next and Lex watched his progress while preparing for his own run. Clark hit the tongue dead centre, but the curve of the river pushed him right. Clark didn't react in time and the kayak hit the edge of the hole. The boat swerved right as the current on one side tried to push it forward while the hole tried to lock it in place. Clark responded by rolling the boat, using the weight shift to break the hole's grip. He headed back to the middle of the river and attacked the wave train with characteristic power. He too pivoted around to surf the last standing wave for a few moments before being kicked out.
My turn, thought Lex as he started to paddle forward. The noise from the rapid quickly grew as he neared it and Lex felt the rest of the world fade away. For this moment, there was nothing but the river and the canyon it had formed. He entered the tongue in the perfect position and avoided Clark's mistake by staying to the centre, even as the river tried to push him right. Then he neared the first wave and made some small maneuvers to hit it head on. He started climbing, briefly rode the crest, and then fell down the wave to the trough. He then had to immediately adjust to meet the next wave.
Even after all their training and the scouting session, the height and complexity of the rapid took him by surprise. These weren't ocean waves, building slowly in a predictable fashion. These were standing waves, created when turbulence caused the river to flow backwards onto itself. The waves formed at random angles, and were much larger than they looked from the shore. Lex had to really fight to maintain his course. It was exhilarating.
Up, down, adjust, up, down, adjust… The wave train seemed endless until he found himself climbing one last wave and could see beyond to the eddy where Karyn and Clark were waiting. Lex fell down the wave, pulled a 180 to face the boat upstream and paddled forward to re-enter the wave. Karyn (and of course Clark) had made it look easy, but it was not. Lex could only make slow progress against the current and started to feel his energy flag. But then he suddenly found the spot where there was a perfect balance between the current in one direction and the wave action in the other. Like a surfer, he could now ride the wave – side to side, up and down. And this wave never broke – he could ride it as long as he maintained the right position.
Lex played in the wave until, of all things, he started to feel a chill. Though it was nearly 90 degrees outside, Lex was thoroughly soaked by the spray of the rapid and the water was cold. He pulled into the eddy and reached into the kayak's foot locker for his rain jacket – he would definitely remember to wear it on the next rapid. Looking down at his watch, he was astonished to find that his entire run had taken less than three minutes. Time definitely seemed to flow differently on the river.
The rest followed in short order. The girls all made it through without fuss, though only Lois had managed to make the turn back into the last wave for some playboating. Jason caused the biggest concern when, in trying to avoid the eddy on the right, he had gone too far left and had skated perilously close to the rocks. But Jason had kept his cool and came through with only a few scrapes on the kayak. Karyn congratulated them all on a job well done and started moving them downstream.
The pattern– paddle for a few miles, scout, and then run – repeated itself twice more before they stopped at Hot-Na-Na for the night. Just downstream they could hear the rumble of House Rock Rapid – one of the most formidable challenges they would face on the first week of their journey – and Karyn wanted everyone well rested. They quickly divided up the chores and fell to setting up camp.
They set up their tents in a spot halfway between the riverbank and the canyon walls to protect themselves from the equal possibilities of a flash flood or rock fall. The Colorado River may have been somewhat tamed by the numerous dams built across its length, but it could still be deadly under the wrong conditions.
Lex chose to do the cooking and surprised everyone with a very passable meal – poached salmon, asparagus and potatoes – finished off with strawberries and cream. Then Lex relaxed by the fire while Clark and Lana did the dishes – a surprisingly complex and time consuming task.
Chloe ambled up and sat down next to him. After fidgeting for a few minutes, she asked, "What's up with you and Clark? You've hardly said a word to him all trip, and when you do, you then look mad at yourself for breaking the silence. And then he gets that hurt puppy dog look."
"And you want to make everything better."
Chloe shrugged, "Sure, why not? It's better than holding a grudge."
Lex felt like he had a right to hold his grudge, if so mild a word was adequate for the situation. Clark had deceived him for years, and the lies had hurt people. Of course, said the voice he was learning to call his conscience, so too did some of my lies.
Chloe let the silence stretch and Lex was reminded of his impression from several months ago when she'd been dealing with Clark's amnesia: she knows something. He eyed her speculatively. Chloe smiled calmly in response and started reading her book in the rapidly fading light. Silently, Lex stared into the fire.
They were now in the Roaring Twenties, a series of about ten rapids in as many miles. And that count didn't include the first rapid of the day, House Rock, which had a long and storied history as a raft flipper. The river there did a hard right turn and all the water fed into two large holes on the outside of the curve. Karyn stressed once again the importance of keeping clear. A hole, she explained, is a bit like an underwater wave. Water just keeps recirculating around within it, kind of like a giant washing machine. The worst part is the undertow that pulls swimmers down, and just won't let go. The relatively lucky ones bob up and down close to the surface so they can grab a breath now and then. A strange kind of luck also favours those who sink to the bottom of the river, since the current there will often push them out of the hole. But truly unlucky are those who get trapped in the middle depths, where they can easily become completely disoriented while fighting a losing battle to reach the surface.
Although they'd made it through safely, it had required a lot more precision than the earlier rapids. They'd actually had to position the kayaks sideways to the current so they could maintain their line. This made it hard to maintain the kayak's balance when they were hit by a wave, and there'd been many a roll. Even Clark had felt a little tired by the end of the run, if only from holding his breath in concern while his friends were underwater.
Compared with that experience, the Roaring Twenties were relatively straightforward. But Karyn still insisted on thoroughly scouting each rapid, even though many other expeditions, especially ones in the large motorized rafts, just plowed through most of them. Those expeditions seemed to be racing through the canyon, and would be finished in a week or less. Clark preferred the pace Karyn was setting, which gave him a chance to look around and admire the scenery.
Contrary to his initial impression from Navajo Bridge, the canyon was far from desolate. Wildlife abounded, even if a lot of it seemed to be snakes and lizards, not to mention scorpions and mice and midges and flies and fire ants. But he'd already spotted some coyote, a spotted skunk and a beaver, and was pretty sure he'd seen a bald eagle circling high overhead earlier that day. Yesterday at sunset, flocks of bats had descended from the cliffs to feast on the insects – it had been an amazing sight. And was that a bighorn sheep high up on the canyon walls?
Karyn thumped him on the shoulder to get back his attention. "Okay, guys, listen up. This one's called Mile 23 or Indian Dick – it's not even included on a lot of lists because it's really straightforward. Just keep to the left. The only problem is a blind hole at the bottom right. Repeat after me: stay left!"
Clark grinned and joined the chorus, "Stay left." He quickly adjusted his gear and then moved his boat to form a line for those waiting to enter the rapid. Karyn, who normally went first, waved him ahead while she helped Bitty tie down some equipment that was working its way loose.
Clark paddled forward and entered the rapid on the left. As Karyn had said, it was a simple run. But it was also a fun rapid because you could just enjoy the river rather than having to focus on complex maneuvers. Clark practiced his edge control while maneuvering through the waves, and then tried his hand at some basic freestyle moves. All too soon though, it was over. Clark pulled into the eddy at the end of the rapid, pulled off his lifejacket and leaned back in the kayak to enjoy the sun.
After a brief pause, Lex joined him with a curt nod, followed by Lois then Chloe. Chloe, though grinning widely, was red in the face from the heat. Lois's solution was to start splashing her to stay cool, and Clark soon joined in the fun. Lex loftily ignored them until he suddenly pulled a surprise attack on Clark. The three teenagers eyed Lex warily and decided discretion was the better part of valour. They put down their paddles and reached into their foot lockers for water and a snack.
There was a brief lull, and then Clark saw Lana come around the bend. She was glancing backwards and Clark soon saw she was followed by a large raft, moving fast. Clark realized that the guide on the raft hadn't stopped to scout, and had also ignored the queue of boats waiting to enter the rapid. The raft was now almost on top of the kayak. Both boats swerved to avoid collision.
Lana swerved left to avoid the hole. She would have been fine except the wash from the raft's engine tipped her kayak sideways. She rolled and did not come up.
Meanwhile, the raft swerved right. But suddenly it stopped as if it had hit a wall, spun wildly and flipped to the side, sending all of its occupants into the water. The fortunate ones were hurled through the air and managed to avoid the hole completely. They were struggling in the current and risked slamming into rocks, but at least they could move freely. Those in the hole had no such luck.
Clark and his friends were frozen for a second watching the accident happen. Clark's first reaction was to help, but who, and how?
In the next moment, Clark spotted Karyn paddling furiously through the rapid. He was astonished by her speed – he'd never realized how much she'd been holding back. She yelled something at them, and then disappeared around the next bend.
"What'd she say," asked Lois. "I couldn't hear."
"She's going after Lana," said Clark. "She put Lex in charge here."
Lex nodded and immediately started firing off instructions. "Chloe, Lois, go after the swimmers. Get them to shore as soon as possible. There's another rapid just ahead and they're going to get pretty banged up if they swim it." The girls nodded and peeled off. "Clark, you and I will deal with the hole. I know …"
Lex's voice faded as Clark felt his time perception shift – the activity all around him suddenly seemed to move into slow motion. Given a clear objective, he was freed for action.
He quickly assessed the situation. Fourteen people were originally on the raft – thirteen passengers plus the guide. Nine swimmers. Five in the hole. Three of them are bobbing up and down and weren't in imminent danger. The other guys though…
Clark took a deep breath and deliberately rolled his kayak upside-down. He dropped his paddle and kicked free – the kayak would only hinder his rescue efforts for now. He started swimming underwater, making quick progress until he reached the edge of the hole. Here, the turbulence caused even him difficulty. The motion of the water was chaotic, pushing him first down, then up, right, then left. To compound the matter, he was practically blind – the water was heavy with sediment and light couldn't penetrate far. But slowly, by his standards at least, he made his way forward.
Finally he spotted his target, who Clark mentally named 'Four'. Four was in a panic, trying desperately to avoid the urge to breathe in. Clark reached for the shoulder strap of Four's lifejacket and deftly avoided the flailing limbs. Clark then started swimming in a tight circle, dragging Four behind him. When he'd built enough speed, Clark released Four and physics took over. Like a shot put, Four was thrown up to the surface and far enough away to clear the hole. Clark watched for a moment until Four rolled onto his back, and then moved onto his next target.
Five, who was a girl, was going limp – no time to waste. He grabbed her lifejacket and started swimming underwater towards Lex. Once clear of the hole, he released the girl who started floating to the surface. Clark altered course, picked up his paddle, swam back into the kayak, adjusted his position and rolled back to the surface.
"… worried about Lana…" Lex's voice broke off. For him, perhaps a second had elapsed – a second that had felt to Clark like many minutes. Clark's roll would have been barely a flicker of motion in the corner of his eye, but Lex's face showed he knew something had happened.
Five suddenly bobbed to the surface just in front of Lex's kayak. Closer to the shore, Four started coughing.
"First aid or those guys?" Clark gestured with one hand at Four and Five, while the other waved towards the three people still struggling in the hole.
"I'll take the hole," said Lex. He'd already opened his foot locker and now hauled out some rope. "I'll try to drag them out."
"Stay square to the edge," said Clark. He paddled towards Five and pulled her to shore. He jumped out of the kayak and did a quick evaluation. He was relieved to find she still had a pulse, so she didn't need CPR. Clark then checked her airway and removed some debris that had lodged in her throat. He rolled her to her side and leaned down to hear any signs of breathing.
Five's eyes suddenly sprang open and she started to cough. She spit out some water and drew a deep breath. "I thought I was dead," she gasped.
"Ssshhh. Just breathe," said Clark. He reached into his foot locker and pulled out his rain jacket, which he draped around her shoulders. "I'll be back in a second."
He headed towards Four, and helped him make his way out of the water. Then he saw the guide, who was one of those thrown free when the raft flipped, running up the shore towards them. The guide started apologising profusely, but Clark wasn't in the mood to listen. Instead, he told the guide to gather his passengers. Clark then headed back to his kayak to help Lex with the three people still stuck in the hole, and finally towed the raft itself to the shore.
The crisis seemed to be over, but where was Lana?
"If Karyn didn't catch up in time," said Lex, "Lana would have been washed through the next rapid, and possibly even the next. I find myself wanting to strangle that guide for being so careless." Lex glared at the group on the shore, currently gathering driftwood for a fire.
"I'm sure you'll satisfy yourself by just ruining his career," said Clark. He wasn't being sarcastic or vengeful – he honestly believed that for putting so many lives in danger, the guide deserved a serious reprimand at the very least.
Lex nodded firmly. "Let's get out of here."
Almost against his will, Lex had been impressed. When he'd watched the accident unfolding, he'd half expected Clark to go haring off after Lana, ignoring the risk to the passengers of the raft. But Clark had chosen to follow his lead instead, and together they had prevented a tragedy.
Lex remembered his initial impression of the accident. Five people had gone into the hole and two had immediately disappeared from sight. He didn't know how Clark had saved them, but he had. Obviously, Clark moved a lot faster than even Lex had guessed. And he'd been smart too, using the muddiness of the river to hide his actions from anybody watching on the shore.
But somehow, the most gratifying aspect of the whole experience had been when he saw that Clark shared his anger at the guide's actions. Clark's standards were maddening and often unrealistic, but he wasn't inhuman.
Except that he was. It was confusing.
Lex took a deep breath and brought his thoughts back to the present. He looked over the group of his friends, clumped under the makeshift shelters that they'd rigged against the glare of the midday sun. They were tired, almost too tired to eat, but they were safe.
It had taken over an hour for the group to reform. Lana had been swept downstream more than a mile, through three separate rapids. After rolling at Indian Dick, she'd fought to right the kayak until she was nearly out of breath. She'd then kicked out only to find herself in the middle of another stretch of whitewater. She'd swum hard to avoid the rocks, but once clear no longer had the energy to get out of the current. Karyn had finally caught up and had thrown her a line, but Lana had missed and instead found herself going over the ledge at Georgie Rapid. Amazingly, she'd come through with hardly a scratch.
But she hadn't got off scot free. Nearly an hour after finally being pulled out of the water, Lana was still shivering despite the 100 degree heat. Bitty was monitoring her closely and was on the satellite phone with the park's EMT. The situation was serious but not critical. Lana herself was determined to continue on, and Lex had to respect that. They'd decided to take a break while she recovered and were just finishing a quick lunch.
Lex knew he should probably rest too after the morning's exertions, but he couldn't keep still. So he decided to explore the area, examining the canyon walls closely for signs of fossils. He felt soothed by the effort of building up a mental map of the area's complex geological history.
As he wandered downstream, the sound of the next rapid grew quickly louder. Lex climbed a rock to get a better view and gave a low whistle. Repeated contact with white water didn't diminish the visceral impact – if anything, it made him more aware of the dangers. In this case, there were two holes on the left and then a ledge on the centre-right followed by another hole.
Clark, who had been trailing behind him for the last few minutes, clambered up beside him and also whistled. "Wow!" He then looked back at the rest of the group and grimaced. "I'd be a lot more excited though if everyone wasn't so tired already."
"Everyone but you of course." Clark's hair was slicked down from the water, but he looked otherwise unaffected by the exertion and oblivious to the temperature changes that so bothered the rest of them. The heat of the sun didn't make him sweat – the cold of the water didn't make him shiver.
Clark looked about to argue, but instead looked up. "Helicopter coming," he said. It was a distant speck in the southwest.
"Probably park rangers checking out the accident," said Lex.
Clark nodded and continued to watch the helicopter.
"I suppose I shouldn't ask about what happened back there," said Lex.
"It's easier if you don't," agreed Clark. "There was an accident. We got everyone out. What else really matters?"
God is in the details, thought Lex. So's the devil. I need to know those details so I can figure out which one you are. But there didn't seem any point into pushing Clark into another lie.
The silence lingered, broken only by the sound of the helicopter as it passed overhead, and then started to descend near the site of the accident.
Clark fidgeted. "So… Ummm, how high do you think the cliffs are now?"
Lex rolled his eyes at Clark's avoidance techniques, but decided to play along. If Clark was going to turn into some sort of alien overlord, at least he could be a somewhat educated one. "We're about 2000 feet down from the plateau now," he said. "Kaibab Limestone at the top, then the Toroweap and Coconino Formations – those form the upper cliff. All pretty hard rock. Then where the slope changes, that's the Hermit Shale – nice soft rock, easier for the river to erode so the canyon gets wider. And then the Supai – hard rock again forming the lower cliff. And this," pointing to the lowest band of rock, "is the start of the Redwall Limestone. Know The Canyon's History. Study Rocks Made By Time."
"It's a mnemonic, Clark, to help you remember the sequence of the main rock layers. Though we haven't reached the MBT yet, not to mention the Pre-Cambrian rocks and the Vishnu Schist."
Lex suppressed a smile. He did enjoy teaching the farmboy, if only to see the baffled look on his face. "The farther downriver we go, the deeper the canyon, the older the rock you'll see at river level. The stuff on the plateau overhead is 'only' about 200 million years old. Right now, the oldest rock you can see down here is about 300 million years old. But further downstream, the oldest rocks are up to 2 billion years old."
"Huh," grunted Clark. "So…"
Clark broke off at the sound of a raft quickly approaching, laden with passengers and supplies for another expedition. According to the logo, it was from the same company as the boat that had flipped. The guide cut the engine and waved up to them. "You the guys who helped back there?" At Lex's nod, the guide broke out in a brilliant smile. "Way to go, man. We stopped to check them out and they're all just going on and on about their guardian angels. I just wish y'all were going to be around when I get to Crystal – I could use some spotters like you."
Lex smiled politely. "Glad to help but we seem to be moving a bit slower than you."
The guide laughed. "True, true. Anyways, I just wanted to stop and say thanks. Imagine flipping at Indian Dick though! I'll be ragging on Tim for weeks for making such a dumb mistake."
Lex's smile sharpened. "And will you also be 'ragging on' Tim for nearly colliding with one of my friends?"
The guide grunted. "So that's what happened. Tim really screwed the pooch there. Imagine ignoring a kayak's right of way!" The guide shook his head at one of the cardinal sins of boating.
"So I take it Tim will be in trouble." Lex paused. "Good." By his side, Clark nodded.
The guide's smile faltered for an instant. He cleared his voice. "So, yeah. Oh, and girl back there gave me this," holding up Clark's river jacket.
"Is she okay?" Clark asked while retrieving the jacket.
"Yeah. Swallowed a lot of water though – medics might want to evac her. Nobody likes that. Lot of money down the drain."
Lex made a decision. "Perhaps you could pass on a message. Tell her that LuthorCorp will help with expenses if she has to leave. Or if she decides to sue."
The guide's smile disappeared. "And just who are you to be saying things like that?"
Lex pulled off his sun cap and gave a shark like grin. "Lex Luthor, that's who."
The guide's expression told Lex that his name was known even here. The guide nodded jerkily, started up the engine and headed quickly off into the rapid.
Lex sighed, "I'd better warn public relations. News of the accident is going to spread, fast once my name gets attached. All the media outlets who want to get on my good side will be talking about the 'heroic rescue'. Everyone else will find a way to make it my fault."
"Why'd you tell him your name then?" Clark asked. "I thought you were trying to lay low."
"It seemed the right thing to do," said Lex with a shrug. "Wasn't it?"