By Zoomway (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: A dejected Clark Kent, who despairs of ever getting Lois Lane to notice him, wakes up one morning in bed beside her. Supposedly, he's been married to her for years. He's in heaven. Meanwhile, a much-married Clark is sent mysteriously five years into his past. He wants back, really bad.
Time flies. Time is money. Time waits for no man. Time is precious. Unknown to most however, time can be a prison, or a paradise, and strangely enough it can co-exist as both in the same parameters of geography and with the same players thrown into the mixture. All of these contradictions in time would soon impart themselves to Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper.
Clark knew Lois was back from her vacation long before he saw her enter the newsroom. It pleased him that he was so attuned to her, that he did not have to have verification of any sensory type to know that is was so. He loved her, and whether or not human men had this ability, he did not know, but until Lois felt the same for him, it seemed rather a moot point. He had no way of knowing that the few dates Lois had shared with Lex Luthor would conspire shortly in the future to break his heart, topple an empire and destroy the Daily Planet, but that was yet to be. Time is relative.
This was all in a future which would play itself out soon enough, but for now, Clark was oblivious to what the future had planned for him. Lois Lane was his closest friend, and he had to be content with that. He held great hopes that the article he had written in her absence about Luthor's dealings in Central America would open her eyes to just a fraction of the evil and cruelty to which Lex Luthor was capable.
Lex Luthor stood in his penthouse and stared placidly at the severe electrical storm raging outside his window. He placed his hands behind his back and sighed. "All of that power, Nigel, but it lacks one thing." Luthor turned and faced his servant. "Do you know what that one thing is?"
"I'm afraid I don't, sir."
Luthor smiled through one side of his mouth. "Control, Nigel. The ability to aim and direct it."
Nigel's expression brightened. "Ah, Luthor Technologies has perfected the weapon then?"
Lex turned his head sharply. "Device, Nigel, not 'weapon'."
Nigel felt beads of perspiration form at his temples. One did not cross Lex Luthor, even by accident. "Quite right, sir, 'device'. I misspoke. My apologies."
Luthor's half smile returned as he waved the hand in which he held a cigar so expensive it could run an inner city lunch program for a week. "That's quite all right, Nigel. Everyone is entitled to 'one' mistake." He busied himself with a small control board hidden beneath a false panel on his desk. After a moment, a section of wall parted and a more sophisticated control board attached to a monitor emerged. Luthor managed a complete smile. "Control, Nigel. My R and D people at Luthor Technologies assure me that this device will create a bolt of lightning indistinguishable from the genuine article."
Nigel, though cautious, knew when to ask the right questions. Questions he knew that Luthor would have the answers to, and therefore actually desired to hear. "But, sir, if it is exactly like the genuine article, how will you know if the damage was incurred by your device, or by—"
"An act of God?"
"Elementary, my dear Nigel. I simply choose whatever target pleases me," he sighed and retrieved the latest addition of the Daily Planet. "And it pleases me to target the Planet."
"Ah, yes," Nigel nodded. "That slanderous article. You should sue them, sir."
"Perhaps I will, Nigel," he shrugged and tossed the paper back onto his desk. "But the wheels of justice grind slowly," he said, and activated his machine. The exterior of the Daily Planet appeared on the monitor. "But retribution travels at the speed of light!"
Clark's visions of a welcome back hug vanished as Lois angrily approached him and dropped the offending newspaper on his desk. "I leave for one week, and you go completely berserk! Perry must have been taken over by aliens to allow this pack of lies to see print."
"Lies?" Clark rose from his chair and became a mirror of Lois' anger. "I can give you every scrap of evidence I gathered to back up this article!"
Lois placed a hand on her hip. "Then I'd like to see it and judge for myself."
"What exactly is it with you and Luthor? Why do you automatically assume that he's innocent, and I'm a liar?"
"I don't really think you're a liar, Clark, it's just that it's hard for me to believe that a man who's done so much for Metropolis—"
"Oh, yes, how could I forget?" Clark said sarcastically. "Lex Luthor, savior of the city."
"That's not fair, Clark!"
"Let me tell you something, Lois. Saints don't strut around in two thousand dollar handmade suits, or navigate Heaven in chauffeur driven limousines."
"I get it now," Lois nodded. "You'd back Lex for canonization if he hit up more blue light specials at K-Mart."
Clark leaned heavily on his desk. "Well, you know how the old verse goes, Lois. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter Heaven."
Lois leaned forward from the other side of the desk until she was almost nose to nose with Clark. "Sometimes it just takes a man with a bigger needle!"
If there was one fatal flaw to Clark's personality, it was his inability to think cohesively when dealing with his anger and hurt feelings. Of course this could largely be due to the fact that he had never had to deal with anger or hurt feeling until he met Lois Lane. "Maybe your frequent dates with Luthor have put your journalistic ethics in a 'compromising position'." Clark's double entendre had hit its mark. Lois' expression changed from anger to hurt. He had stepped over the line and had turned the argument into a personal assault. Lois' eyes glazed over with a film of tears. "I guess we're through discussing this, Clark," she said softly, turned from his desk and moved quickly away.
"Lois—" Though Clark had hurt her, it always surprised him how little satisfaction he gathered from the effect. In fact, it left him feeling cold and sick inside. He moved around his desk to follow after her and apologize, but a loud cracking sound suddenly echoed through the newsroom, and the offices became dark. Clark heard a faint crackling noise through the complaining moans and groans of his fellow employees. He used his x-ray vision and detected a rapidly spreading fire burning below.
Under the cover of darkness, Clark made his way down to the sub-basement, and began extinguishing the fire. Though the damage was of a cursory nature, it was extensive, and had he not detected it as soon as he had, it would have reached the upper floors and trapped everyone inside. He picked up a fire extinguisher and spayed foam around to make it look as if he had stopped the fire in the customary manner, though in reality, the little extinguisher would have been no match for this fire. He found it strange that lightning would strike the sub-basement at all, but even stranger was the fact that in the technological retro- fit to bring the Planet up to fire code standards, the control system for the building's sprinkler system was located here, and that control system seemed to be the first thing destroyed by the fire. Clark might have thought more deeply about the ironies of the convenient lightning strike, but he heard a young voice say 'ow' several times near the top of the stairs. He smiled, "Jimmy! Is that you?"
"Don't ask me. I can't even see my hands in this black hole!"
Clark scanned a custodian's locker and extracted a flashlight. He trotted up the stairs and greeted Jimmy. "This should help you out."
Jimmy grabbed the flashlight and then sniffed. "Man, you smell like a bar-b-que grill!"
Clark laughed, "I almost was one," he said, and directed the flashlight down the stairs.
"Wow," Jimmy whispered. "It looks like the storm had a grudge against the Daily Planet."
Clark nodded, "I guess I'd better get back upstairs. I have to talk to Lois."
Jimmy ran his thumb along the flashlight. "Lois Lane has left the building."
"Then I'll head over to her apartment. I've got to talk to her."
Jimmy put a restraining hand on Clark's arm, "No good. She went to her mother's house. I heard her call the cab company."
"She was kind of upset, I think she was crying, but I really couldn't tell in the dark."
Clark sighed and lowered his head. "We had an argument."
"That must've been some argument. The last time I heard of Lois running home to her mom was when that French creep pretended to be in love with her so that he could steal her story."
"Oh, so you know about it."
"She told me."
"She was really busted up about it from what I hear. They said she wouldn't even smile at a man after that," Jimmy said, and then his eyes widened slightly. "Come to think of it, Lois didn't really return to the land of the living until Superman flew into town."
"And then I jump into the hearse and offer to drive her back to the graveyard."
"No," Jimmy soothed. "You're not like that French backstabber. You really care about Lois."
Clark laughed bitterly, "You're right, Jimmy. It always feels better to have your heart broken by someone who cares about you."
"Jimmy!" Perry White's voice thundered from the darkness.
"Uh, oh, my master's voice. Down here, Chief!" Jimmy shouted and then dropped his voice to a whisper, "I'd better find a broom and a dustpan to sweep up what's left of the chief when he sees this mess down here."
"In that case," Clark said. "I'll head on home. I've seen about all the devastation I can stand for one day."
Clark headed up the stairs and bumped into Perry. "Great shades of Elvis, Kent! You nearly scared the life out of me. Put your brights on next time, son."
"I'm sorry, Chief…I'm truly sorry."
Perry shook his head as he approached the flashlight. "What the devil's the matter with Kent? He sounded like a man who's seen a fatal x-ray."
"He and Lois had a fight about something."
Perry sighed in disgust. "When are those two young idiots gonna stop playing games, and get down to business."
"How do you mean, Chief?"
Perry clapped a heavy hand on the young man's shoulder, "Jimmy, for your information, Clark Kent is in love with Lois Lane, but doesn't quite pack the gear to just come right out and tell her." Perry shrugged, "'Course, at his point, Lois is so wrapped up in a red and blue flying fantasy, she'd probably turn our Mr. Kent down flat anyway."
"Why trouble yourself with real men when they've hurt you all your life? Pick a movie star, or Elvis, or even Superman, and you're safe."
"Huh," Jimmy said thoughtfully. "That makes sense."
"You bet it does. They'll finally come around to each others way of thinking, but until they do, there's gonna be a lot of misery on the road ahead."
Jimmy swallowed. "Speaking of misery," he said, and swept the flashlight across the sub-basement.
Perry sat heavily on the stairs and whispered, "Great shades of Elvis."
"Do you recognize this building, Nigel?"
Nigel surveyed the humble apartment building appearing on the monitor. "I'm afraid I don't, sir."
"It is 344 Clinton Street. The residence of one Mr. Clark Kent, and unlike the Daily Planet, we shouldn't lose our monitor picture when the lightning strikes."
"That was a pity, sir. I suppose you'll have to catch the late news broadcast."
Luthor continued to manipulate dials. "I'm a patient man, Nigel. I prefer to read about the Daily Planet's destruction in one of her competitor's headlines."
"But how do you know Mr. Kent wasn't killed in the fire?"
"I'm not completely without a heart, Nigel. Lois Lane is in that building too. I made certain that at the very least the city room would be spared."
"Thank you, Nigel." Lex looked up at the monitor and beamed. "There's our Mr. Kent now. Note the head down and the hands in his pockets. He doesn't look terribly happy, does he?"
"No indeed, sir."
"What's say we put him out of his misery, eh, Nigel?"
"It would be the humane thing to do, sir."
Clark stared at the pavement as he approached his apartment and wished fervently that he could have controlled himself and simply given Lois his evidence against Luthor and not stooped to innuendo. He had just come level with the alleyway adjoining his building when he heard a strange whirring noise. He turned to look, but never got to see anything more than a bright flash. Luthor's lightning hit him full in the chest and blew him several meters backward into the dark alley.
After a couple of stunned moments, he extricated himself from the debris and began dusting off his clothing. It was then that he noticed the lightning had burned away a good portion of his jacket and shirt, revealing his Superman costume underneath. Had it not been for the fact that Clark's invulnerable aura extended a bit beyond his skin and protected his costume, it would have been destroyed as well. "My cherry on the cake of the day."
He drifted up to his alley window and entered his apartment. He could not risk someone in the building seeing his costume, so the window was the only entrance left to him. He flipped the light switch upon entering, but nothing happened. "Great!" He moaned and scanned his night table until he found an old mechanical alarm clock. He wound it up and placed it on his now non-functioning radio alarm. He suddenly felt very tired and so he disrobed quickly and fell into his bed. He could not remember ever being so tired, but this seemed to be the day for unpleasant surprises.
It was early. The dawn was still grey without a blush of color when music began to blare loudly in the apartment. Clark's arm began to swim towards the brass-heavy music. His fingers fumbled with buttons and slide switches. Finally the music stopped. Clark sank back into his pillow, but then he craned his neck and looked at the radio alarm. The little mechanical clock had disappeared. "I didn't set that."
"I know, I did."
Clark whipped his head around and stared at the woman in the bed next to him. He pulled the covers up to his chest, but after a moment, he realized it was Lois. Her hair was longer, and wavy, but it was definitely Lois. "How…why—"
"Don't look so shocked, Clark. It's your turn to make breakfast and I want you to make your mom's French toast, besides, " she draped herself over Clark and kissed him. "Getting up this early gives me a chance to relax in the tub."
She exited the bed, and Clark noted she seemed to be wearing a rather long sweatshirt, and little else. She turned in front of the bathroom door and faced him. "And no cheating, Clark. Fry the toast in a pan, and don't use your heat vision. I can taste the difference." She then vanished through the bathroom door.
Clark shook his head vigorously, as if this one ritual had the power to re-set the universe. He opened his eyes, but he could hear the bath water running. He looked around his apartment and discovered that it had changed rather drastically. It had become an amalgam of his, and Lois' possessions. He stepped out of bed and noticed that even the blanket and sheets were unfamiliar. He began to wonder if this was some sort of vivid dream, or hallucination brought on by the lightning.
There were certain things he was able to piece together instantly about his new situation. It was obvious that he and Lois were living together, and since she mentioned that it was his turn to fix breakfast, they had lived together long enough to establish some type of routine. Most jarring of all was the fact that she knew he was Superman, and seemed unfazed by the fact.
"Clark, would you bring me one of the wash clothes folded on the sofa. I didn't have a chance to put them away."
Clark numbly grabbed one of the cloths and began to walk towards the bathroom. Even though this was some type of dream, Clark could not bring himself to raise his eyes as he entered. He merely walked in the general direction of the tub and held out the wash cloth. Lois grabbed it, "Thanks, sweetheart." Sweetheart? Sweetheart! Clark raised his eyes and looked at her, and then found he could do nothing else.
She smiled up at him as she saturated the cloth with soap. Her body fulfilled and surpassed every expectation he had ever conjured. He was living in a waking dream. He was actually in the midst of one of thousands of fantasies. He knelt next to the tub and started to take the wash cloth from Lois.
"Oh, no you don't, Kent!" she said, and placed a wet hand over his. "That's how you got out of making French toast last week." Last week? Clark knew there was nothing in his memory remotely resembling anything like this from last week. Lois noticed his troubled expression and patted his hand. "Don't worry, sweetheart, it's finally Friday. We've got the whole weekend ahead of us."
Clark smiled faintly. "Okay," he said, and reluctantly left the bathroom. He began to ponder the larger significance of all of this. Why would a dream or fantasy have rules? Why would it even have days of the week? As he stood turning over these odd facts in his altered universe, his eyes glimpsed a photo album in the bookshelf. On the spine was written Our Wedding. Clark removed the album and began to thumb through the pages. It contained standard wedding photos; the exchange of vows, cutting the cake and an assembly of family and friends. The only thing which made this particular album of any interest to Clark was the fact that he and Lois were the starring couple. He smiled. "We're married."
He traced his finger around a photo of his father kissing the bride, and his mother beaming with approval. He decided if there was any answer to this mystery, he would find it in Smallville. He dressed himself quickly and took one last, lingering look at Lois in the tub via x-ray vision. He sighed and leaped out the window.
"I swear it's getting harder and harder to wake you up in the morning, Jonathan."
Jonathan picked at his breakfast. "You have to remember, Martha, most men my age are already retired."
Martha leaned against Jonathan's shoulders from behind and laughed. "You'd be crazy inside of a week if you retired, Jon."
"Maybe so, Martha, maybe so, but I'd sure like to have that week to find out." Martha patted his back and began to walk towards the refrigerator, but just as she grabbed the handle, she heard the front door open and close. Jonathan, hearing it too, stood in front of his wife. The couple watched the kitchen entrance anxiously.
"Mom? Dad?" Clark said as he rounded the corner.
Jonathan put a hand to his chest. "Good lord, Clark. You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
Martha stepped forward smiling. She looked at her son as if she had expected something. "Where's Lois, honey?"
Clark shook his head. "Well, that answers my question. This hallucination has spread all the way to Smallville."
"Well," Clark shrugged. "Yeah, dad, for lack of a better word." He dropped into a kitchen chair at the end of the table, "I mean, what would you call it if you went to bed single and then woke up the next morning married?"
Jonathan, thinking his son was setting up a punchline, went along with the joke. "A nightmare."
"Dad, this isn't a joke!"
"Honey," his mother said. "I'm not sure what you're driving at either. Did you and Lois have a fight?"
Clark laughed. "Mom, Lois and I lock horns practically every day over something."
Jonathan became concerned. "Since when, son?"
Clark's eyes widened. "Since when? Dad, Lois and I have found something to fight about everyday since the day I met her eight months ago."
Martha and Jonathan exchanged glances, and then Martha walked over to her son's chair. "Clark, I don't know what's happened to you, but you've known Lois a lot longer than eight months. You'll be celebrating your third wedding anniversary next month."
Clark's expression became the picture of incredulity. "This can't be happening."
Jonathan removed the calendar from the wall and set it in front of Clark. "See, son, your mother has your anniversary marked right here."
Clark picked up the calendar, but he was less concerned with his mother's handwritten reminder than he was with the year. "This is impossible," he whispered. "According to this, I've lost five years of my life."
Jonathan looked down at Clark. "Maybe we're going about this the wrong way, son. What's the last thing you remember before you went to bed last night."
Clark tipped his head back and closed his eyes. "I was walking home from the Planet, and was almost at my apartment building, when a nice jolt of lightning knocked me into the alley."
"Oh, honey! No wonder you're in a fog!"
"She's right, son," Jonathan nodded. "You may be Superman, but we learned way back with that asteroid you tangled with that you have limitations to the amount of punishment you can take."
"I know that, dad," Clark sighed. "But when I hit that asteroid I forgot everything, even that I was Superman. This time," he sighed. "I'm just missing a chunk of my life." He smiled. "And from what I saw this morning, it's a pretty pleasant chunk."
Martha laughed. "It is, honey. You and Lois have a wonderful marriage."
"But what if I don't get my memory back this time, mom?"
"Well, son," his father smiled. "Think of all the fun you'll have getting reacquainted."
Clark laughed. "Good point." He rose from the table. Though there was absolutely no verification possible for his parents' theory, Clark was more than willing to accept their premise. He had Lois Lane in his bathtub awaiting his return. He wanted no greater truth to intrude on that reality. "I guess I'd better head back home before she misses me." He turned to leave, but noticed a serving dish filled with French toast. "Um, mom, do you mind if I take this with me? Lois wants me to make French toast, but I don't remember how."
"Sure, honey," she said, and handed the dish to Clark. "But heat it up in a pan, don't use your heat vision. Lois can taste the difference."
Clark rolled his eyes and smiled. "Okay, mom."
The tiny alarm clock rang insistently. Clark flung his arm out sharply, and the clock flew across the room, hit the wall, and its many parts rained down to the floor. Clark grimaced, and then yawned. "Sorry, honey." When Clark received no response, he opened his eyes and looked at the vacant spot in the bed next to him. "Lois?"
He could already feel a fear creeping into him. He knew something had looked wrong for the brief moment he had opened his eyes and seen the alarm clock hit the wall. He sat up in bed and looked around the room. Everything had changed overnight, or perhaps reverted, would be a better word. He recognized the decor. The apartment now looked as he remembered it from four or five years ago. "Lois!"
He exited the bed and began to x-ray every inch of his apartment. There was no trace of Lois Lane, or even the fact that she had ever lived there. "What's happening!"
"You might call it a glitch in time, Superman," a soft voice spoke from the rear of the room.
Clark spun around and beheld a cloaked, hooded figure. He dashed at it with super speed, but it vanished. "Can we talk, Superman?" The voice asked, and the figure reappeared. Clark took another quick run at it, but as before, it vanished. "I'm afraid my ability to put myself out of sync with time makes it impossible for you to attack me, but you're welcome to keep trying."
Clark's hands curled into fists. "What have you done with Lois Lane?"
"Nothing," the voice said, and then hands appeared from the voluminous sleeves and pushed the hood back revealing a middle-aged man with sandy-blonde hair. "She's asleep in her apartment. At least in this time reality."
"This time reality?"
"If you haven't guessed, Superman, you've been thrown backward in time."
Clark's eyes narrowed to angry slits. "Who are you?"
"I'm one of the Linear Men."
"Linear Men? That sounds like something from a comic book."
The man shrugged. "If you prefer, you can think of us as the police force of time. Once humans learned to time travel, it became necessary to police their activities. Having people in the past, with knowledge of the future, plays havoc with time lines. It's our rather thankless job to make certain that time remains as relatively undisturbed as possible."
"Then why did you throw me into the past?"
"We didn't, Superman. Your counterpart, the Superman who actually belongs to this time reality was thrown into your future quite by accident." The Linear Man began to pace as he spoke. "Some type of weapon imitating lightning struck your counterpart. Had he been human, he would have been killed instantly. As it is, however, this homemade lightning had very strange properties, and somehow pushed him forward in time. Nature abhorring a vacuum, sent you backward in time to fill the void he had left behind."
"If I'm a future version of him, then why wasn't I hit by this lightening weapon in 'my' past?"
The Linear Man sighed. He knew this would be difficult, if not impossible to explain. "To put this as simply as possible, Superman, everyone can have several time lines paralleling and even overlapping each other. This weapon not only thrust him into the future, but forced him across linear lines until he came to an abrupt stop in yours."
Clark thought a moment. "So what you're saying is, I'm not just a future version of him, but I'm an alternate version as well."
"Yes," the Linear Man nodded, and was grateful Clark grasped the difficult concept.
"Can't you fix this?"
"Of course, in fact it is a very simple matter."
"Then why haven't you?"
The Linear Man sighed. "Because, Superman, just like your own Metropolis police department, we have rules governing what we can and cannot do. We more or less have carte blanche when someone time travels intentionally. We can send them back to where they belong with no questions asked, but," he shrugged. "When someone becomes an unwitting time traveler, then we must get permission from the time traveler to set things straight."
"You've got it," Clark said enthusiastically. "Set things straight."
"Thank you, that solves half of our problem anyway."
"Half? You mean my counterpart hasn't agreed."
"We can appear to no one else but the time traveler, Superman, and your counterpart has not been alone as yet."
"Of course not." Clark set his jaw angrily. "He's with my wife!"
Clark could not seem to kick the grin from his face as he entered the Daily Planet building. Lois clung tightly to his hand and talked about their upcoming anniversary. Though he had only experienced his new life for a few hours, it already seemed natural and comfortable. As soon as the elevator doors closed on them, Clark swept Lois up into his arms and kissed her. He felt aroused as she reflected back his own passion. She pulled away with a breathless sigh. "You almost make me glad that we didn't quite get around to eating the French toast again."
Clark searched her eyes, "I love you, Lois." He said, and his words almost sounded like a question.
Lois stroked his cheek, "I love you too, sweetheart."
Clark's ubiquitous grin returned, "I was hoping you'd say that."
They exited the elevator and stood on the landing above the city room. Lois looked at Clark slyly. "You know, I had to research an article a few years ago, and I discovered that the exchange of 'I love yous' between couples who had been together for years, had become more or less a reflex response."
"Sort of like shocking a frog's leg?"
Lois smiled. "Let's not drag my cooking into this."
Clark laughed as they descended the stairs. A young man whom Clark did not recognize approached them. "Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Kent." "Hi, Tim." Lois smiled.
Clark's grin broadened. Mr. and Mrs. Kent. His father was right. It was fun getting reacquainted. Clark set his briefcase next to his chair and was pleased that the city room did not look all that different. He began to scoot his chair closer to the desk when he noticed a paper airplane tangled in the wheel. He was about to throw it away when he noticed that there was writing inside. He unfolded the airplane and raised his eyebrows. The note was actually a very erotic poem from Lois, and he guessed it had been written yesterday because she mentioned French toast for breakfast. Obviously he and Lois had the habit of sending messages back and forth via paper airplanes on slow news days. "Better and better," he whispered and placed the note in his pocket. He was about to compose a note of his own when he noticed Perry White approaching. Aside from a thinner top, and a wider middle, Perry looked pretty much the same.
"Okay, kids, I need you two to get over to the Hobb's Bay Retirement Home. They're evacuating the building because of a gas leak, and for some reason the city can't shut it off at the source."
"Come on, Clark," Lois said as she grabbed her purse and ran for the elevator. Clark sprinted after her, and as the elevator doors closed, she kissed his cheek. "Be careful, sweetheart."
Clark looked puzzled for a moment, but then smiled when he understood what she had meant. "I will," he said, and in a blur had changed into Superman. He shot through the trapdoor at the top of the antiquated elevator and began navigating the shaft to reach the roof. He was astounded by how natural it felt to turn into Superman in front of Lois, and how having her in on the secret made his job so much easier.
He reached the top and forced open the roof door. Once outside the building he increased his speed to Hobb's Bay. He reached the scene quickly and noted all of the chaos down below him. The building had not been built with the aged, handicapped, or infirmed in mind, so evacuating the residents was not going well. Clark flew into the building and told the attendants to leave under their own power, and he would evacuate the others. Each time Superman flew out of the building caring another border, the growing crowd cheered. On the most recent trip in, Clark had begun to actually smell the gas, and warned the crowd to back up as far as possible. He scanned the building again, but saw no one else, however he decided that he'd take one last tour of the interior to make sure.
He had just begun to explore the second story when a deafening roar surged around him. He was engulfed in white and orange flame. His cape, not being skin-tight like the rest of his outfit, and therefore not protected by his aura, began to burn. The concussion of the blast had disoriented him, and he literally did not know which way was up. As he tried to get his bearings, the fire and noise abruptly ended, and he was surrounded by a silent, black void. Though he could perceive no floor below him, he knew he was standing, not floating. He also discovered that his special visual powers were useless here. It was not so much the presence of darkness, but rather the absence of substance. There was literally nothing here to see.
A voice pierced the silence. "Superman."
Clark tried to turn in the direction of the voice, but it was impossible to tell where it was coming from. "Show yourself!"
The sandy-haired man emerged from the darkness. "Sorry to bring you here so abruptly, Superman, but it was the only way I could contact you privately."
"Here? You wouldn't mind telling me where 'here' is, would you?"
"Welcome to Vanishing Point, Superman. You might call it the home of the Linear Men."
"Linear Men, that sounds—"
"Like a comic book, yes, so I've been told."
"How did you know I was going to say that? Can you read my mind?"
"If I could read your mind, Superman, it wouldn't have been necessary to bring you here."
Clark folded his arms. "So why did you bring me here, and what's Vanishing Point, besides the home of the Linear Men?"
"Vanishing Point is a place where time is watched, recorded, repaired, and protected."
Clark managed a half-smile. "That's impossible. Time can't be manipulated."
"I wish that were true, Superman. If it were, I and those of my kin would not be relegated to Vanishing Point for eternity. Unfortunately," he sighed. "Times is all too often easily manipulated."
Clark laughed, "I'm sorry, but that's completely ridiculous."
The Linear Man, unshaken by Clark's disbelief, continued. "Have you ever experienced a day where time seemed to pass very quickly? Making comments like, 'I can't believe it's already five o'clock', or 'I can't believe it is already Wednesday'."
"Or conversely. Time moving slowly, 'it's only five o'clock', or 'it's only Wednesday'."
"Everybody experiences that! You can't seriously expect me to believe that you and your people are responsible."
"You are living proof, Superman. You plunged five years into the future, and though it was an unintentional manipulation of time, it was a manipulation nonetheless."
Clark stiffened. Now his convenient amnesia had been redefined. "How did it happen?"
"A weapon, resembling lightening."
Clark lowered his head. "So I suppose you'll send me back now."
"Yes, if you'll let us."
"It must be voluntary on your part, Superman."
Clark narrowed his eyes. "On one condition. Guarantee me this future, and I'll go back."
The Linear Man shook his head. "You know I can't do that, Superman. I've already explained how time can be manipulated. Guaranteeing any one specific future would be impossible."
"Then I'm not going back."
"I want this life, Linear Man, and if you can't guarantee it, then I'll stay here and live it anyway."
The Linear Man ran a weary hand through his hair. "I can do nothing to stop you, Superman, but understand this; you are of little import in the scheme of time, but your counterpart who has been cast backward to your past is capable of causing an upheaval in time."
"Is 'that' a guarantee?"
The Linear man replaced his hood, obscuring his face. He walked backward until he had merged with the darkness. "You now possess everything of value in his life, Superman." The voice seemed to pour from every direction. "As fiercely as you seek to hold onto to what you have taken from him," the voice began to fade. "That is nothing compared to how fiercely he will seek to regain it."
Clark did not have the opportunity to respond. He found himself back in the inferno that was once Hobb's Bay Retirement Home. He felt a crumbling railing beneath his foot and that gave him the bearing he needed. He rocketed upward through the enormous fireball, and heard the crowd cheering below. He noticed the fire department approaching and flew to the lead engine and landed on the running board. "Do you need my help with the fire?" He asked the driver who was attired in full turnout gear.
"'Ey, Superman!" The driver beamed. "Wait'll I tell my kids."
Clark smiled, "Uh, about my help?"
"Huh? Oh, sorry, Superman. No, the city finally shut off the gas. We can take it from here."
"Okay," he said, patted the driver on the shoulder and lifted into the air. Clark surveyed the crowd and easily picked out Lois among the throng of reporters. He landed near the barricade and was immediately mobbed by the press. Lois stayed back and waited. After Superman gave his statement and answered a few questions, the reporters trotted off to telephones and taxi cabs. Clark slowly approached Lois, "No questions, Ms. Lane?"
She smiled as she examined the burned tatters of his cape, "I think I'll wait for an exclusive."
"I think that can be arranged."
Lois, knowing she could not make an overt display of emotion with a crowd watching, lowered her voice. "I was so worried, Clark. I know only a few seconds passed between the time the building exploded and you reappeared, but it seemed like time was crawling."
Martha tried to take in everything her future son was telling her about Linear Men and time travel, and his marriage to Lois, but found it all rather overwhelming. "Honey, I've always tried to be there for you, and help you with your problems, but this one is beyond me."
"You and me both, mom."
"Well, if it's any consolation, I'm happy you married Lois."
Clark smiled weakly. "You liked her right away, didn't you?"
"I did," she nodded. "I just had some odd feeling that she was the one."
Clark sighed. "She's the one all right."
"Don't worry, honey. I'm sure when that Linear Man you spoke of explains everything to my Clark, he'll come back to where he belongs."
Clark leaned against the windowsill and stared blankly into the front yard. "No he won't, mom."
"Mom, I'm not saying that your Clark is unhappy in this time frame, because he's not. I mean he's in love with Lois, but as long as it's unrequited, he has no great expectations." Clark took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "But now he's in a place where he's got what he's always dreamed of. Lois is as deeply in love with him, as he's always been with her."
"Still, Clark, I can't imagine him living a lie."
"Mom," he said, and turned away from the window. "I don't think you and dad ever realized just how lonely I was growing up, and that's partly my fault because I tried to hide my feelings and pretend that it didn't matter."
"Well, honey, your dad and I knew that you felt as if you didn't fit in—"
"It was a lot more than that, mom. Usually someone who doesn't fit in has made some effort to belong, but I knew even from an early age that I couldn't afford the luxury of a close friendship. One slip, and it would have been all over," he said, and turned back to face the vacant front yard. "I was so different that I could only dare be my whole self at home, but at the same time, I was so like everyone else, it made me hurt inside."
Martha walked over slowly and joined the future version of her son at the window. "Does having Lois in your life make that much of a difference, Clark?"
Clark smiled down at his hands. "It's more than just Lois sharing my apartment, or my bed, mom. She shares my life, and she shares it in a way that makes me belong. For the first time in my life I really belong."
Martha smiled. "Maybe I'm asking the wrong questions. What makes the belonging you feel with Lois, different from the belonging you feel with your dad and me?"
"I wouldn't say different, so much as enhanced. I guess it's almost like she saved my life." He smiled, but did not look up. "People can recognize and cheer a rescue made by Superman, but Lois Lane's rescue of Clark Kent was no less spectacular."
"I know it's hard to understand, mom, but like I said, I didn't dare get close to anyone for fear they'd find out. I was grateful for the opportunity to travel the word after college because I could always pack up and move on if I was ever in danger of discovery. But," he shrugged. "That all changed after I met Lois. I didn't want to run anymore."
Martha rubbed her hand lightly across Clark's shoulders, "I think I understand, honey. Wanting to stay near Lois lead you to a permanent job, and a permanent home."
Clark nodded. "It also lead me to Superman, and a way to protect my privacy." he looked at his mother. "Then Lois started to warm up to me, well, as a friend anyway, but even that was new, mom. She wanted to be close to me, and I was more than ready to be close to her."
"Then she fell in love with you."
Clark finally managed a smile that did not look forced or polite. "When she started loving the man, instead of the cape, I knew that what I was, and what made me different wouldn't matter anymore." His eyes became distant. "After Lois learned the truth about me being Superman, we had a long talk, well, maybe argument is a better word, and I was worried that she might not accept me in a dual role as part of a life together."
"That would be hard for any woman to accept, Clark. It's not exactly what every little girl dreams about."
"I know, mom," Clark nodded. "But Lois finally got to a point where she said she could deal with it, and accept the whole me."
Clark shrugged. "I still wasn't really convinced. I just thought she was trying to put up a brave front because she didn't want to hurt me. Anyway, some big gang war erupted in Metropolis, so I went out and did the Superman bit. I decided to stop by Lois' afterward to give a blow by blow sidebar to go with a gang violence slug she was working on." He smiled. "I flew into her window dressed as Superman. It was the first time I'd appeared as Superman to her since she learned my secret. She just looked up casually at me and said, 'Hi, Clark.' I know that doesn't sound like it could mean very much," he placed a hand on his mother's arm. "But, mom, it meant everything." Martha hugged her son. Though he may not have been 'her' Clark, he was still her son, "I know, sweetie."
"I can't start all over at square one with Lois, mom. I just can't." He pulled away. "I've been there, I've done that!"
"I'm hoping it won't come to that, Clark."
Clark's expression softened as he looked into his mother's concerned eyes. He'd worried her enough. "Me too, mom," he kissed her cheek. "I'd better head back."
"Don't you want to wait for your dad, he shouldn't be too much longer."
"I'll come back later, mom, I promise." He kissed her again and hurried out the door. He lifted into the air and decided he would drift back to Metropolis, but when he caught a glimpse of his old tree house, he drifted there instead. He landed softly in the tree and traced his finger across the lettering on the piece of wood outside the door; Fortress of Solitude. A blatant reminder of his lonely childhood. He crouched low and crawled inside the door.
Amid the old mildewed comics, baseball cards, and a toy truck with a missing wheel, sat the small globe from the planet Krypton. It at least gave Clark better knowledge of what time frame he was dealing with. "So he has the globe already," he whispered. That meant that soon Lex Luthor would propose to Lois Lane, and a chain of unhappy events would follow. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. He could smell the damp, aging wood and the distant scent of honeysuckle. There had been honeysuckle at his wedding, and orange blossoms too, of course. Lois was so beautiful—
Clark opened his eyes and looked at the Linear Man. "Is he coming back?"
The Linear Man lowered his eyes. That was answer enough for Clark. He ducked outside the door, "I'll play my trump card then."
The Linear Man tipped his head to one side. "Trump card?"
"The only piece of leverage I have in this time frame," he said, and then darted quickly from the tree.
The Linear Man shook his head as he watched Superman blend into the sky. A second cloaked figure appeared next to the first. A woman with long red hair pushed back her hood. "This is where it all starts you know."
The Linear Man nodded, "I know, and there's not a single thing we can do to stop it."
Lois slept soundly, her body draped on top of Clark's. Clark stroked her hair gently, "I won't give you up," he whispered. He was now living a complete lie, but he had begun to justify his decision by convincing himself that his counterpart had full memory of how he had won Lois, and he could simply use the technique to win her all over again.
He was grateful that there was really little difference in appearance between people in their late twenties compared to people in their early thirties. He noticed very little change in Lois' appearance, and in fact thought she was even a bit more beautiful. He decided at that moment that he would not tell her, and though this compounded his lie, he could think of no better way to avoid the reality of his actions. This decision out of the way, Clark felt he would now be able to get some sleep. He was about to close his eyes when he saw a figure at the foot of the bed. Clark's whole body shuddered. Lois stirred, "Clark?"
"I hear…an alarm going off, Lois. It's probably nothing the police can't handle, but I'd better check it out."
"Okay," she yawned and slid away from Clark and snuggled into the covers without once opening her eyes.
Clark dashed out the window and soared up to the roof. The Linear Man was already waiting for him. Clark approached him angrily. "That was a stupid stunt! What if Lois had seen you?"
"Suppose she had?" The Linear man asked calmly. "You could easily explain who and what I am, and why I have business with you." He folded his arms. "Or is that precisely why you don't want Ms. Lane to see me?"
"I don't have any more business with you."
"By Ms. Lane's friendly demeanor, I would assume that you haven't told her how you usurped her true husband's place, and then doubled the lie by not returning with me." The Linear Man shrugged. "Don't worry, Superman, it's not my place to interfere with your decision. In point of fact, I'm not permitted, but I had to ask you, one last time, if you'll return with me before certain things are put into motion that I won't be able to stop."
The Linear Man studied the anguish in Clark's face. It was clear that the young man before him was being torn apart by too many choices, and that all of the right and honorable choices only served to rip him away from a happiness and contentment that had eluded him all of his life. "I won't intrude again, Superman, but my request of you does not have an infinite property. Even Linear Men run out of time."
Clark lowered his head, but said nothing. The Linear Man walked to the ledge of the building. "I suppose the best I can do is to keep an ear open. If I hear you confess your lie to Lois Lane, I'll take that as a signal that you are ready to return and re-set your time line. If I don't hear from you soon," he sighed. "Then the time limit on this option will have run out, and your time line will take its new course."
Clark looked up, but still said nothing.
"It all comes down to the little details, Superman." The Linear Man said, and then vanished.
Clark hovered outside of Lois' open window. He had almost forgotten what her apartment had looked like. All the late night visits he had made, innocently of course, but they allowed him to be close to her, even if it was as Superman, and not as Clark Kent. He hopped into her apartment and scanned the bedroom wall with his x-ray vision. She was asleep cuddled up with the teddy bear he had won for her at the Smallville carnival. It was one of the contradictions about Lois Lane that had helped draw Clark to her. He had more or less always ignored the public face Lois wore, and instead looked at the contradictions.
It was time to make his move. He had originally thought that he would capitalize on his knowledge of Lois garnered from their life together, but he realized that even though this was Lois, it was not his Lois, and any attempt to recapture artificially what had come naturally before, would be a cheat. Now he would simply seek her out as a friend, and hopefully a friend who could help figure out something to get him back home. He needed an ally.
He walked into the bedroom. He placed a hand on her shoulder and whispered, "Lois."
Lois stirred, opened her eyes casually and then closed them again. Clark was about to shake her again when she suddenly sat up shock-white. "Superman!"
"I'm sorry I startled you, Lois, but I have to talk to you."
Lois began to furiously smooth down her hair. "Oh, you .. you didn't startle me, I mean…well…you did, but well, in a good way."
"Calm down, Lois." Clark said, forgetting how painful it was to have Lois so completely out of control where Superman was concerned.
"I'm calm…really, but would you mind if I got…dressed."
"No, of course not. I'll be waiting in the other room."
After a while Lois emerged. She had done her hair, applied make-up and wore a dress with a short hem-line and a low neckline. Clark rose to his feet and tried to remember the shy persona she had been so attracted to. "You look very nice, Lois."
"Thank you," she blushed. "Shall we sit down?"
Clark nodded and reseated himself on the sofa. Lois sat next to him and tried to sound casual. "So, what did you need to talk to me about?"
"This is going to be kind of hard to explain," he sighed. "But I'm here from the future."
Lois' expression blanked for a second. "The future? You mean in addition to being from Krypton, or instead of—"
"No, I am from Krypton. I simply meant that I'm a future version of myself, as opposed to the Superman that you're acquainted with."
Lois blinked a couple of times. "It must be the time of night. I'm not sure I'm following what you're saying."
"Some sort of accident sent your Superman into my future, and sent me backward into his past."
Lois shrugged, "I think I understand, Superman, but aren't you still him…the one from the past?"
Clark sighed, "I guess, in a way, but I need to get back to the time I belong in. I've lived this part of my life already, Lois."
"I can understand that, Superman, but even if you have to relive the past, what difference could—"
"I'm married in the future, Lois. I want to get back to my wife."
Lois could not have looked more stunned even if the sky had suddenly begun to rain goldfish, "I see…that would make a big difference."
Clark sighed and touched her cheek, "I'm married to you, Lois."
This was clearly a bit more than Lois could completely take in. She began to cry and buried her face in his chest. Clark held her and began to stroke her hair, "I know this is pretty overwhelming, and I'm sorry to tell you everything so bluntly, but I want to get home."
Lois sniffed and pulled away. She ran her fingers beneath her eyes attempting not to smear her make-up. Her hands trembled. "If for some reason you can't get back home, Superman, I want you to know I love you, and I guess I always have. We can still…be married." She looked up at him, "I know it won't be exactly the same as before—"
Clark lowered his head. "The hardest part of this is something I still haven't told you, Lois, and though it didn't happen this way in the past, I'm afraid I'm forced by circumstances to do it this way." He rose from the sofa, shrugged and in a moment had transformed into Clark Kent.
Lois' eyes became enormous, almost as if they were filled with terror, rather than surprise. She screamed. Clark winced and covered her mouth. "Please, Lois!"
Lois began to flail her arms at him angrily. Clark, fearful that she would harm herself, backed away. "Keep your hands off of me, Clark!" Her voice began to break. She was enraged, hurt, betrayed, but mostly disillusioned. Her fantasy ideal man had just vanished like smoke on a windy day, and was replaced with her partner and the man she had considered her best friend. Until now. "I hate you for this, Clark. I don't know what you hoped to accomplish, but what ever it was, it didn't work."
"I just wanted to talk—"
"Lois, please calm down. I didn't do this to hurt you, or—"
"Then you failed, Clark, because I am hurt." She turned away. "Oh, God, I feel like a complete idiot. I trusted both of you more than I've ever trusted anyone in my life, and you both turn out to be the biggest liars I've ever met!"
"I never meant it to sound like lying, Lois. I had my family to protect, my privacy—"
Lois reeled on him angrily. "Did you think I would betray your trust? Endanger your family? Is that how little you thought of my integrity, Clark?"
"No, Lois," he sighed. "This all happened between us a lot differently in the past…I mean the future."
"You're still not pretending that you're back from the future, are you?"
"I'm not pretending anything, Lois! I have been thrown into the past…I'm scared, Lois."
Whether it was the statement itself, or the quaver in his voice, Lois was uncertain, but she knew this man, whoever he was, was frightened. "All right, Clark. Let's talk about this."
"Not here," he said, and approached her slowly. "Will you let me take you to the place we usually talk…will talk, in the future?"
She looked at him suspiciously, but relented. "I guess so."
Clark put his glasses in his shirt pocket, and lifted Lois into his arms. She held his neck as they drifted out of the window. She felt exhausted from lack of sleep and the heated exchange. She rested her head against his shoulder and drifted off to sleep, but soon she felt gravity returning. "Where are we?"
"Top of the Newstime building. See the helicopter pad?"
"We talk here?"
Clark smiled, removed his jacket and placed it on a shipping crate. He indicated that Lois should have a seat, and she was grateful to sit down. "We used to meet on top of the Daily Planet building, but they started construction…will start construction of a giant globe there. Sort of a replica of the globe on the edifice."
"Mmm," she yawned. "That sounds nice, but it's kind of chilly up here."
Clark sat behind her and put his arms around her waist. "I'm sorry, honey, uh…Lois."
She smiled slightly. "You call me honey?"
"Yes," he shrugged. "And baby."
"I like that. What do I call you?"
Clark smiled behind her. "Stud muffin."
Lois literally laughed so hard that she rolled off of the crate. "Oh, God, Clark, I hope you're kidding!"
Clark laughed as he helped her back up, "I'm kidding. You usually call me sweetheart."
Lois considered a moment. "Really? I never thought I'd be the sweetheart type."
He put his arms back around her. "It took months of indoctrination."
She snuggled backward and held her arms over his. "Why can't you just start over, Clark. I'm through having my fit."
Clark laughed softly. "Believe me, Lois, if I can't get back, I'm at least glad to have you in my arms again. I guess it's just that there were so many memories we shared together that could never happen exactly the same way again, not even if I crossed a thousand time lines."
"I guess your desperation to get back is a good sign that you and I are fairly happy together."
"You could say that," he smiled. "I've loved you for about as long as you've loved Superman, and when you finally came around to loving me as Clark," he moved his lips close to her ear and whispered. "You weren't too thrilled to find out I was also Superman."
"That's pretty ironic," she said. "But knowing you this way, for even a short time, tells me a lot about how I could change my mind." She looked toward the adjacent building. "Where do we live, Clark?"
"Mmm, I've always loved that balcony." She tipped her head back and looked up at his chin. "We still work at the Planet, right?"
"Sure. We have a reputation for picking up the hottest stories in town. Of course that was after you suggested I exploit my Superman repertoire while we did investigations."
"I'll bet!" She laughed. "What do we do on our off time?"
Clark leaned back slightly to rest his back against the wall. "Well, the usual stuff I guess. Dinner and dancing once in a while. An occasional movie. Of course mainly we rent movies and watch them snuggled up on the sofa." He emphasized the last by momentarily hugging her tighter.
"I can't wait," she smiled. "What about ordinary day to day stuff?"
"Is this an interview, Lois?"
"Why not? Now, day to day stuff."
"We take turns making breakfast and dinner—"
"No, Lois, you've become a really good cook."
"You have! You even took lessons."
"I'd almost have to," she sighed. "What else?"
"We fly together a lot, which is great. We make love a lot, which is heaven. We go to—"
"Where did we first make love, Clark?" "Ah," Clark cleared his throat. "Well, we'd gotten pretty serious with each other, and I invited you to Smallville for the Fourth of July weekend. We spent the day at a church carnival and then picked out a spot on a grassy hill to watch the fireworks. We hadn't been there long before we started kissing, and the longer we kissed, the more intense it became."
"Ooh, go on."
"We sort of got that mutual look…if you know what I mean."
She smiled, "I have a pretty good idea."
"Well, we left the park and got into your rental car and headed back to the farm. I remember it was really humid because of a storm front moving in. The windshield was so black I could see my reflection every time headlights coming from behind would light up the interior," he sighed. "I looked so nervous!"
"Were you nervous?"
He kissed her temple and whispered. "Extremely."
"When we walked into my bedroom, you told me you were scared. You said you didn't want the night we were about to share to change things between us."
"That's kind of depressing, Clark. At the moment of intimacy, I turn into Doctor Joyce Brothers!"
Clark laughed. "It wasn't like that, honey," he said, and forgot to correct himself. "You just wanted to make sure that this wasn't going to be some one-night-stand, or that we'd start acting differently towards each other afterward."
"That sounds fair." She said, and made a quarter turn so that she could look at Clark. "What did you tell me?"
"That I loved you and that I wanted you for more than just one night—" He saw the look in her eyes. A tentative kiss soon became a hungry one. Clark was losing himself to the past, and he might have contented himself with an imitation through loss and loneliness, but his future wife would not let him.
Lois broke off the kiss. "I want to wait for that rainy night in July, Clark."
Clark pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. He closed his eyes, his lashes were moist with tears. He rocked her in his arms, "I wish I could take you there, Lois, but that night, and that farmhouse are so far away now, they might as well be on another planet."
Clark tossed and turned in his sleep, and was relieved when the alarm released him from his nightmares. He heard water running in the sink, and checking through the wall, he saw Lois brushing her teeth. He rubbed his temples and sighed with resolve. "Linear Man," he whispered.
"I'm here," the soft voice said.
Clark turned and saw him standing by the alarm clock. "I want to go back."
The Linear Man smiled. "Thank you, Superman. I see the legends about your desire for truth and justice are not unfounded after all."
"Can I tell Lois goodbye? I mean I'd like to tell her the truth before I leave."
"She knows the truth, Superman."
The Linear Man's smile widened. "Your counterpart did something very clever, and the best part is, he did not know he had done anything at all."
"What do you mean?"
"He told," the Linear Man shrugged. "He told the Lois Lane from the past the truth, and by doing so—"
"It insured that Lois would always know of my arrival in the future, and know that I was not her true husband."
"Exactly," the Linear Man nodded. "But I will allow you to tell her, Superman, because I think it would mean a great deal to her—and you."
The Linear man suddenly looked about the room in terror. "I'm too late!"
Clark was thrown to his knees by a force which felt like a dramatic increase in gravity. He clamped his hands over his ears as a high-pitched whine drilled into his head. He could barely keep his eyes open, but he did manage to keep them open long enough to see the walls of his apartment strip away like wallpaper in a fire. As rapidly as the walls vanished, they were replaced by a different configuration of walls. All at once the horrid sensation stopped.
Clark wearily pushed himself to a standing position. He noticed that his wardrobe had also changed. The shorts he had been wearing were replaced by an old pair of blue jeans, and he was wearing a threadbare T-shirt that was as filthy as the blue jeans. The entire room was filthy. Everything from the half eaten food on the table, to broken shudders on the window, showed signs of abandonment and neglect. His cape was mounted to the wall, and the S shield had been deliberately burned away. "What is this place?" He asked, as he opened the door. He immediately became aware that this was a cabin in some remote wilderness. As far as he could scan in the forlorn tableau, he could read nothing but native animals and birds. He closed the door and stared questioningly at the Linear Man.
The cloaked man shook his head. "I'm truly sorry, Superman. I thought I would have enough time to spare you from this."
"From what?" Clark shouted in frustration.
"I told you that time was capricious, and that it all comes down to the little details—"
"I'll answer your question, Superman, if you'll answer one for me."
Clark sighed out of exasperation. "Ask," he said, and seated himself in the corner on a grimy chair.
"Why did you decide to return to your past?"
Clark laughed without really laughing. "When I first arrived in the future, and was living in what you could call my 'fool's paradise', I found out what it felt like to finally be whole. To be comfortable with what and who I am. It didn't matter that it was just with Lois that I felt this," he smiled. "She was enough."
"And when you learned the truth, you couldn't reconcile it with your fool's paradise?"
He shook his head. "Before I learned the truth, as I said, I felt like I belonged for the first time in my life, but after the truth came out, I was a bigger outcast than I had ever been in the past." He lowered his eyes. "Not only was I hiding a lie from Lois again, but I knew I'd have to keep the truth from my parents as well. I guess this was the rare exception to the 'truth will set you free' rule."
"So it would seem."
"Now, where is Lois?"
"You'll recall that I said your counterpart could wreak havoc on the future," he said. "Well, I may have underestimated him. He had a splendid memory for cataclysmic events; a factory explosion, train derailments, snipers, oil spills. You name it, and he remembered it. He was changing time lines so quickly, even Vanishing Point could no longer keep up with them."
"Where is Lois?"
"Would you remember the exact day and time your car ran out of gas five years ago?"
"Your counterpart didn't either." The Linear Man began to pace. "In the original, unbroken time line, you and Ms. Lane were given some type assignment on the outskirts of Metropolis. The car you were driving ran out of gas. You and Ms. Lane exited the vehicle and proceeded to walk back to town. At that exact moment in your time line, in the state of Texas, the worst oil refinery disaster was beginning to unfold. You felt a great deal of guilt over that, Superman. You began running a litany of 'if only' scenarios through your mind. If only I'd made sure there was enough gas, if only we'd stayed in the car a moment longer and could have heard the bulletin on the radio, if only I hadn't wasted so much time on the roadside looking for Lois' earring, or replacing that fallen sign post, and so on. Your list was quite extensive."
"In the new time line, on the day of the catastrophe, your counterpart called in sick. He knew even Superman could not be in two places at once, and calling in sick allowed him to forego the assignment with Ms. Lane so that he could fly to Texas as Superman and avert the disaster."
"I still don't see where this is leading. If I had foreknowledge of some disaster, I'd have done the same thing."
"Of course, being the same man, you could hardly do otherwise." The Linear man nodded. "But now we get to the little details. Ms. Lane drove out on her own to cover the story, and as before, the car ran out of gas, and as before, she began walking back to town, and as before she came across the fallen sign post—"
Fear and recognition widened Clark's eyes. "Please—"
"Though Lois Lane had teased you in the original time line, calling you a Boy Scout I believe, for putting the sign post back in its proper place, she herself tried to do the same, however, she did not have the strength necessary for such a task. This is where the altered time line literally takes a fatal turn."
Clark buried his face in his hands. The Linear Man looked down at him sympathetically. "When the motorist took the wrong turn because of the missing sign post, it was already getting dark, and that country road was unlit, not to mention the last little detail. Ms. Lane was crouched down on the road trying to find the missing earring I had mentioned." The Linear Man picked up a pair of dust covered glasses from the table. "Do you know why human beings kill themselves, Superman?"
Clark did not look up, or even acknowledge that he had been addressed. The Linear man wiped a thumb across one of the dusty lenses. "Because they can. Because it's an option. If they were immortal, or invulnerable, they would have to face their problems and deal with them, or at the very least, live with them." He tossed the glasses back onto the table. "Are you ready to go?"
Clark looked up through red eyes. "Go, but I thought you said that you had run out of time."
"Even Vanishing Point does not have a premium on time, Superman, but I had been in reference to running out of time so that you would have been spared from viewing this rather grizzly piece of history." He extended a hand to Clark. "Shall we?"
Clark gripped his hand. "Yes, please. For God's sake."
Without a sensation of movement or travel, Clark found himself in the void known as Vanishing Point. His counterpart, dressed in a dark suit with a black armband around the sleeve, stood just a few paces away. Clark thought about apologizing to his counterpart, but anything he could say at this point would only sound hollow. He turned instead to the Linear Man. "Will we remember any of this?"
"Fragments perhaps, and only then in a dream state."
The mechanical alarm began to ring. Clark shut it off without opening his eyes, but after a moment, he turned, "Lois?" He stared at the empty space in his bed and raised his eyebrows. "That's what I call a dream," he smiled, and then pulled the phone book onto the bed. He zipped through the yellow pages until he found florists. He quickly dialed a number. "This is Clark Kent. I'd like a dozen roses sent to the desk of Lois Lane in the city room of the Daily Planet. The note? Um…'I'm sorry about yesterday. I guess I was looking forward to a nice get together after your vacation, and I didn't expect an argument. Please accept my apology, your frien…no, make that 'love' Clark' Yeah, thanks…wait! One more thing. Could you fold the note into the shape of a paper airplane?"
Clark awoke a full hour before the alarm was set to go off and screamed, "Lois!"
A small lamp snapped on near by. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"
The terror stricken man turned and faced Lois. He threw his arms around her and sighed loudly. "That's what I call a nightmare."
"What was it about?"
Clark tried to concentrate. "It was pretty disjointed, but I know I was trying to reach you, and I couldn't."
Lois smiled as she slowly moved her hand down his chest. "Did you know I have a cure for nightmares?"
Clark tried to suppress a smile. "Guaranteed?"
Lois reached over and switched off the light. "Trust me on this one, Kent."
As an addendum to these events, it is only fair to note, that once Lex Luthor discovered that his new toy had not only failed to destroy the Daily Planet, but had also failed to destroy one average man named Clark Kent, a mysterious explosion rocked the research and development wing of Luthor Technologies. There were, tragically, no survivors.