By Duane Takamine (Duane@PIXI.COM)
Summary: Terrorists create diversions for Superman while they rob high-tech installations. Unfortunately, the miscellaneous explosions make it difficult for Clark to get through a date with Lois — who is becoming increasingly annoyed with Clark disappearing while she's trying to discuss their relationship. A story that takes place after the episode "Target: Jimmy Olsen."
This story is my first contribution to the Lois and Clark fanfic list. It was prompted by a challenge by The KAZ (Karen Irving). I suspect she was trying to reduce the number of my posts to the LOISCLA list by making me write fanfic, but I can't prove it.
This story takes place after _Target: Jimmy Olsen_, and since it was originally drafted before _Individual Responsibility_, it is contradicted by events in that episode. Too bad, I'm not going back and write this thing over. I made only one alteration to the story after viewing IR, and that was to alter the scene where Clark opens the locked door. In the original draft, Clark opens the door as he does in IR, by burning a hole through the wall to cut the power to the lock. It was cool when I thought the idea was original, but I tend to hate repetition.
In this document, underlining looks like _this_ and italics, usually used to indicate thinking, *are bracketed by asterisks.*
Comments, suggestions, criticisms, and ego-stroking are all greatly encouraged.]
"Lois, where's that rewrite on the sewage plant mismanagement story?" Perry White's voice echoed across the newsroom which housed the Daily Planet writers. Regardless of how noisy and chaotic the newsroom got, everything seemed to pause for a fraction of a second when Perry spoke. Years of managing the paper earned him the respect of everyone who worked for him, and his voice was etched into the minds of everyone on that floor.
Even Lois Lane, star reporter, couldn't help but react when her name was called, although after years of experience herself, she could react with her composure intact, and always seemed to be prepared for whatever Perry threw at her. "Just putting the finishing touches on it. Boy, those guys in Legal really know how to gut a story."
"Now, Lois, you can't just go around calling government officials `weasels,' " Perry gesticulated, "unless of course they start to sprout claws and whiskers."
Clark Kent, another one of the Daily Planet's star reporters, walked in from the elevator. He dumped his briefcase and coat on his desk and went to pour himself some coffee before beginning the day. He walked over to Lois' desk, having filled her mug with coffee as well.
"Morning, Clark." She sipped at the coffee, and continued typing.
"So, how's the rewrite going?"
"Legal took an axe to it."
"Didn't care for the 'weasel' comment, I take it?"
"Some people just have no sense of humor. Are we still on for dinner tonight?"
"I am all yours."
"Uh, huh. Just make sure this time." Unlike the last date, and the date before.
"You know, Clark, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about." She sat at the edge of his desk. "Clark, I…"
Just then, Clark's super hearing began picking up an ominous sound. An electronic pulsing sound. Clark lowered his glasses and began x-ray scanning in the direction of the sound, which seemed to be coming from across the street. Immediately, his eyes picked up something, and they telescopically magnified the roof of the building across the street. There, near the edge of the roof, was a large metal object. Displayed rather prominently on it was an electronic timer. And there were thirty seconds left on it. Clark was moving towards the elevator, and turned to Lois. "Uh, look, Lois, I'll be right back, I have to … use the rest room. Must be too much coffee. Really," he was already backpedaling from Lois, "I'll be right back, Lois, promise."
Lois watched him head off. Clark was getting good at that, avoiding a serious conversation with her. She sighed. "Why do I bother," she thought to herself, aloud. She looked down at his empty chair, and thoughts of Clark swirled in her mind, not all of them good.
Clark didn't have time to think about Lois. He didn't even bother to lower his glasses as he scanned the bathroom with his x-ray vision. The glass in them always seemed to create annoying specks in his x-ray vision which, while tiny and usually did not interfere with his x-ray vision, were nevertheless irritating. The bathroom was fortunately empty, and as the door closed behind him he changed into his Superman costume, moving faster than human eye could follow. The window didn't open quite wide enough to allow him to exit, so he pulled out the window from its frame and placed it against the wall, then flew through the opening.
Superman immediately arced upwards and continued in a fast loop over the Daily Planet building, then headed straight down towards the bomb. There were only ten seconds left on the timer. He scanned the device with his x-ray vision. It was basically a large vat of petrochemical explosives and electronic detonators. Simple, but highly effective. There didn't seem to be any easy way of disarming it. To make matters worse, it seemed to contain enough explosives to destroy several floors of the building. He moved to lift it and discovered that it had been bolted to the roof. He could rip the bolts out, but he could also accidentally set the explosive off. He concentrated his heat- vision on the device's stand, and cut a path around the base inside the bolt holes. It took six seconds. He lifted the device. He had to get it as far away as possible. He headed straight up as fast as he could fly while carrying the bomb.
The explosion was quite large, even as seen from the ground. It shattered windows for dozens of blocks, and was heard throughout Metropolis. It attracted the attention of everyone in the Daily Planet building, which was almost directly below the blast. Jimmy Olsen was quick to lean out the window to take photos of the still expanding fireball. As Lois watched, she thought she saw a small object descend rapidly from the explosion. She was already entering the elevator when the people huddled near the glass strewn windows saw a blue and red shape fall past them at enormous speed.
When Lois ran out into the street, she saw a wide depression in the pavement. There were cars stopped all around it, and a small crowd of people began to gather. She pushed past them. There, at the center, was Superman. He was just beginning to rise, and it was clear that he was shaken, but seemed otherwise okay. Lois scrambled down to him, while everyone else kept a respectable distance from the shallow but still smoking crater.
"Superman, are you all right?"
Superman looked down at his suit, and brushed himself off. "I think the cape is going to need some work."
"I mean, are _you_ okay."
"I'm fine, Lois. Was anyone hurt down here?"
Lois blinked. Of course. He's probably worried that he might have dented a car that was double-parked. "I don't think so." Lois glanced around at the damaged cars. "Just some people trying to avoid a pothole." Only slightly larger than average for Metropolis. "What happened?"
"Someone planted a bomb on the roof of the building across the street. I didn't have enough time to stop it or fly it out of the city, so I had to get it as high as possible, and I was hoping my own body would deflect much of the blast upward." He glanced at the surrounding buildings. "I guess it worked."
"I guess so. Are you sure you're okay? Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I appreciate the thought, Lois. I'll just take two aspirin."
"And call me in the morning?" Lois winced as she heard the words come out of her mouth.
"I have to go." He backed up a step, and then flew up into the sky. She smiled. Probably off to do another good deed, like stop an earthquake, freeze a tidal wave, or something.
Clark came scrambling down towards her. "Lois, are you all right? What happened here?" He was looking at her intently, as if he thought she might be injured by whatever had made the crater in the street.
"Clark. Oh, I'm fine. Superman was here. He was trying to stop a bomb from blowing up the building across the street."
"Was he hurt?"
"Who can tell with him. He just dusted himself off and flew away."
"I'm sure he had something important to do." Clark took her hand. "Let's get out of the middle of the road," he said, and led her back up out of the crater.
The date went quite smoothly, perhaps to Lois' surprise. Service at the restaurant was relatively quick, and her shrimp curry was agreeably spicy. And of course, they both actually made it to the date. The conversation was the usual light fare they started with when they weren't talking about work. While working, they spent a great deal of energy being both challenging and critical of each other; they were equally probing and sarcastic. It was what made them the perfect team. When they were alone, it seemed they both needed time to switch gears. Even while they both continued to tease each other over little things throughout the dinner, the conversation clearly became ever more relaxed.
The night air was cool, and they decided to walk home. As they strolled, they spent the time chatting. Lois found Clark so easy to talk to, it was scary. They talked about work, and coworkers. She found them shifting easily between talking about television's role in journalism to debating which was the funniest of Jim Henson's Muppets. They tried to see who could do the best impression of Perry, doing his best impression of Elvis. Before they knew it, they found themselves in front of Lois' apartment. Clark walked Lois to her apartment door. Lois turned back to Clark as she entered her apartment. She began to feel the butterflies again, but she had thought about this moment all day.
"Would you like to come in?" *Should we see what happens next?*
"Are you sure?" *Are you sure this is the right time?*
Lois nodded, nervously, but with certainty. *Let's just see what happens.*
Clark took a step towards the door, and Lois opened the door a bit wider to let him in.
The explosion was felt by everyone within a quarter of a mile. Lois, being miles away, didn't notice a thing. To Clark, the explosion wasn't simply startling. It was heart-breaking. He stopped, and then took a step back. It caught Lois completely off guard.
"Lois, I'd like to. Really. But I have to go." Lois' expression, a mixture of confusion and rejection, burned into his mind's eye as he strode off.
Lois closed the door, and leaned up against it. If it was anyone but Clark, she might not even be disappointed. If it was anyone but Clark, she wouldn't even be thinking about it.
But if it was anyone but Clark, she wouldn't have seen him change his mind halfway through the doorway. She wouldn't be wondering what was wrong with him. With her.
If it was anyone but Clark, she wouldn't have asked at all.
*He isn't worth a single tear.* *Or two.*
Superman flew high above Metropolis, heading for the explosion he heard at Lois' apartment. For a moment, his thoughts wandered back to Lois, but he forced the thoughts out of his head. The explosion he heard was a powerful one, coming from Metropolis' industrial sector. It was almost certainly endangering lives, lives he had to try to save.
Something caught his eye, and his telescopic vision zoomed in on the scene up ahead. A large fireball was rising over a chemical plant. He descended quickly, and landed near someone who appeared to be a foreman.
Superman got his attention. "How can I help?"
"I'm not sure how. We had some kind of explosion, I'm not sure what caused it, but the damage and the fire are getting out of control. I've got to try to get as many of my people outta here as possible." He ran off, shouting near the top of his lungs at a group of people who emerged from the smoke billowing from one of the structures.
Superman scanned the complex with his x-ray vision. There were only four more people trapped in the complex. He quickly moved to get those people to safety. Two he managed to simply lead out, clearing a path through the debris-strewn walkways and two he flew out of harm's way.
Then he began to work on the fire in earnest. Most critical were the large chemical storage tanks which were quickly being surrounded by fire. Superman interposed himself between the tanks and the fire and blew the flames away from the tanks in all directions. That solved the immediate problem but he couldn't blow the fire out, he might make it worse. He needed a way of smothering the fire over a large area without triggering more damage or possible explosions. Then he spotted the tank.
The tank was a huge container of liquid CO2 under pressure. Superman carefully lifted the tank and rose slowly over the industrial complex. When he was properly positioned, he shifted the weight of the tank onto one shoulder and used his free hand to punch a hole in it. The CO2 vaporized into a frozen stream of snow that quickly engulfed the entire area. Soon, the flames were completely extinguished.
With the fires extinguished, Superman turned his attention to the injured. Most were suffering from relatively minor injuries and could wait for the fire rescue and ambulances to arrive, but a few were suffering from critical burns or other trauma. He jury-rigged a set of metal stretchers by bending pieces of metal into shape and welding it together with his heat vision. Satisfied that the structure would hold the weight of the injured men, he loaded them aboard and flew them to the nearest hospital.
When Clark arrived at the Planet the next morning, Lois was already there, typing away. Jimmy greeted him as he walked over to his desk, loud enough for Lois to hear. She didn't bother looking up. Clark sat down, and looked her way. He couldn't think of what to say to her. Clark thought of Superman as a role he played, or like a job he had. But when he looked at Lois, he realized that it wasn't that simple. He knew that Superman couldn't be everywhere and save everyone; he had rationalized that long ago, even though it still bothered him a little from time to time. But Lois was making him confront a deeper issue. Superman might be a job, but it was a boundless one. It was one thing to claim that he couldn't be in more than one place at a time; that was physics. But could he ignore people's need for him while he was with Lois? That was an ethical dilemma he didn't enjoy thinking about. Of course, police officers weren't on duty twenty four hours a day. And neither were doctors. But neither had any superpowers, either. This whole line of thinking was torturously convoluted.
Perry came out of his office and called them both. It took Clark a moment to realize it, and he walked over to him. Lois was careful to keep Perry interposed between them.
"Looks like we had a busy news night. Someone seems to have set off an explosion at the Metropolis chemical processing plant. Good thing Superman was there to lend a hand. We got about twenty injured men and a lot of damage.
"Apparently at exactly the same time there was a break in at Fort Greggory about twelve miles away. Now, isn't it a coincidence that twice in twenty-four hours we've had two serious problems happen at the same time?"
"What do you mean, twice?"
"I mean that apparently at the same time that Superman was disrupting traffic yesterday STAR Labs was being broken into." He handed Lois the police report. "STAR Labs is being a bit tight-lipped about what was stolen, but apparently someone broke into one of the research labs and stole some kind of hazardous material."
Clark leapt to the same conclusion Perry had. "You think the bomb and the chemical plant were diversions for the two break-ins?"
"Well, it does seem unusual, don't you think, that while both break ins occurred Superman was busy elsewhere. Anyway, I want you two to follow up on this. If there's a connection between these events, find it."
Perry looked more carefully at the two of them. "Is something wrong with you two?"
"Wrong, what could be wrong?" Lois answered.
"Well, you haven't spoken one word to each other so far, Lois, and you seem to be using me for a linebacker."
Lois looked at Clark. "Don't be silly, Chief. Clark? Let's get to work on this." She walked off, with Clark close behind. Perry watched them, and wondered to himself if he shouldn't start taking out insurance policies on his two star reporters.
Clark followed Lois all the way to her desk. "Look, Lois, about last night…"
Lois turned to him, and waited.
"Lois, I — I just wanted to apologize."
"Apologize for what?" She turned back to her computer screen.
"Look, I just got a little nervous, and I…"
"Forget about it, Clark."
"I said forget about it." She raised her voice enough to turn a number of heads, all of whom wisely turned back. She took a breath. "Clark, I don't want an apology from you."
"What do you want?"
"If you have to ask, Clark…" Lois took another breath. "I want you to talk to me. You are full of apologies, but you won't talk to me."
"I promise, Lois, I'll" Clark began, but Lois interrupted him again.
"Promise? What can you promise, Clark? How many times have you just, just, left," she added with emphasis "with _no_ good reason? Don't I deserve an explanation?"
She calmed down a bit. "Look. I know this is … complicated. I've done some things I regretted myself. But if this is going to work, we have to be in this together. That means, when we have problems, we talk them out."
"You're right, Lois." Clark decided to stop thinking about this. It was time to act on what he felt. "Look, Lois, give me one more chance. I just need some time to think. Tonight." Lois rolled her eyes. "No, really. Dinner, no interruptions," he moved into her line of sight, "and we'll talk. There's a lot I have to explain to you, but I can't do it now."
A large part of Lois was tempted to say "no, forget it," but she found herself simply nodding. "Okay, Clark. All right. Look, let's just get to work, okay?" then Lois added, "partner." As much as she still felt hurt and embarrassed by last night, a part of her recognized the relief in Clark's face when she said that, and felt a little better.
Clark knew how much effort Lois was making. It didn't help the terrible guilt he felt, but at least he knew that he hadn't lost Lois yet. He was going to make sure he didn't. "Okay, partner, where do we start?"
"We should start with," she frowned, but continued, "with last night. There isn't much we can do about the bomb, and STAR Labs isn't talking. Maybe Fort Greggory or the chemical plant will tell us something."
"Okay. I'll take the plant, you take the Fort. I'll meet you back here in a couple of hours."
"I think I've met the base MP commander before, when I did that story on defense cutbacks. Where are you going to start at the plant?"
"I'm sure I can find someone who might have some clues."
It took Clark a while to find the foreman he had seen the night before.
"We've had crews working since last night. We haven't been able to get at all the areas yet — some of them are contaminated by toxic chemicals or are structurally unstable. We _have_ discovered where this all started." They walked to an area roughly central to the compound, and the foreman led Clark to a pile of twisted metal.
"This was where it started. See this?" he pointed to a part of the metal pile. "This used to be a pressure monitor station. Seems someone got the bright idea to plant an explosive here. It blew open five separate lines," he gestured as he described his findings. "Three of them were volatiles: solvents and petrochemicals. Two were corrosives. What a mess they made. I have teams working with the police and the FBI, and they all seem to be telling me, this was a top notch job. Found the perfect place to put their little device."
The foreman led Clark back through corridors made of twisted metal, until they were back out in the open. "You know, if you're gonna do a story about this, make sure you don't forget to mention Superman. I got maybe a half a dozen of my men that would be dead if it weren't for him. That's what's important. Say, you Daily Planet reporters, you got some kind of relationship with Superman, don't you?"
"Well, we do see him from time to time."
"Well," the foreman tipped his hard-hat upward, "you get a message to him. You tell him that there's at least six grateful families that would like to thank him, and you tell him that I would be proud to shake his hand."
"I'll do that. Thanks a lot for the tour." Clark shook his hand. "I'm sure Superman was glad to help." As he left, Clark's mind continued to be flooded with confusing thoughts. If the explosion had happened an hour later, would he have been able to leave Lois? What would he be thinking now if he hadn't? The tangle in Clark's mind continued to get more twisted. He thought briefly about Mayson Drake, and her death, then shoved the thought aside. He should concentrate on Lois first, he thought. Once again, he managed to put Mayson out of his mind, to convince himself that he didn't have to deal with her death.
Clark used his cellular phone to call a cab. It was apparent last night that something had gone horribly wrong at the plant, but it was clear now that this was not just an act of sabotage, but a carefully planned one. He was beginning to believe Perry; this began to look like something designed to keep Superman busy for the longest possible time while something else went on.
"If it wasn't for everything else going on, we might have stopped them."
Lois was interviewing the base's military police commander. "Just exactly how did they breach security?"
"An unknown number of people tried to breach the back gate at about 21:30 hours. They managed to deactivate the perimeter security, and then began breaking into a number of storage depots in the west quadrant of the base."
"Was anything stolen from them?"
"Actually, no. We sent out a number of patrols to capture and detain the intruders, but in fact it seems they broke into a number of secure buildings just to set off the alarms. Inventory checks so far indicate that nothing was missing from any of the structures. It'll take another day to be sure, but spot check indicates that nothing significant appears to be missing. It appears to have been a diversion. At about 21:40 there was an explosion on the aircraft tarmac in the northern quad. A C-130 aircraft was destroyed."
"Was there anything significant about that aircraft?"
"Not that I'm aware of. It was scheduled for a weapons test at 09:15 this morning, but its crews were not scheduled to report to the flight line for hours."
"Was the aircraft armed when it exploded?"
"No, the aircraft wasn't armed, and it isn't possible that an accidental discharge was responsible for the explosion. We are still operating on the assumption that a group of saboteurs or terrorists destroyed the aircraft, maybe to send some sort of message."
"Thank you, colonel. Would it be possible for me to take a look at the wreckage?"
"I'm afraid not, Ms. Lane. Until the base completes its investigation of the aircraft wreckage, no one else is allowed access to it."
Lois shook his hand. "Thanks for your time, colonel."
Lois reviewed her notes. This wasn't a prank or a stunt. This was a carefully planned attack on the base. Why go through all this trouble just to blow up one plane? It looks like they could have done almost anything they wanted, and they blew up a single plane. And an empty plane at that. There had to be more to it than that. Lois decided to head back to the Planet. Maybe Clark had some information that would be useful. Lois was still upset at Clark, but she found she couldn't break the association that Clark was a good partner to have, and she wanted his input right now.
God, only Clark could make her fight with herself when she would rather fight with him.
Clark arrived a few minutes behind Lois. They compared notes and came to the same conclusion. Both events appeared to be very carefully planned and executed, and they happened within minutes of each other. That just couldn't be a coincidence. The fire at the chemical plant was a diversion, and minutes after Superman arrived the base was attacked. But what was the goal?
"STAR Labs won't talk to us. Maybe we should pay them a visit tomorrow."
"How are we going to get in there to poke around?"
"Well, I've been thinking about that…" Clark glanced over at Jimmy, until he turned and made eye contact from across the room. He noticed and walked over.
"What's going on? What are you guys up to?"
Lois looked from Clark to Jimmy, then back to Clark. Then she did something Clark hadn't seen since last night. Something that made him feel a little better, and made Jimmy squirm.
The receptionist at STAR Labs followed the kid as he approached. As he entered through the glass doors, she called out to him.
"Can I help you?"
"Yeah, my name is Jimmy Olsen. I work for the Daily Planet. I'm here to take some background photos for an article being worked on. No need to get up, I know the way." Jimmy headed for the elevators, but the large security guard blocked his way. "Hey, haven't you heard of a free press?" Jimmy asked. The low rumbling grunt he got for a response told him that the only press he had heard of was a benchpress. The guard shepherded him out of the lobby, and in jostling Jimmy around, caused him to "accidentally" hit the flash on his camera, right into the eyes of the receptionist.
The security guard pushed Jimmy out of the lobby and continued escorting him down the pathway, careful to steer him clear of the two people in lab coats that had just arrived. They headed straight for the front desk, signed in, and waited for the elevators. The receptionist greeted them, slightly embarrassed that the spots still floating in her vision prevented her from doing so by name.
As soon as the elevator doors closed, both people exhaled.
"It worked, Clark."
"I just hope for Jimmy's sake that security guard isn't hungry — it _is_ close to lunch time."
They headed for the fifth floor, and walked together down the hallway. When they got to the office they were looking for, they stopped. Instead of having a key lock, there was a magnetic card lock on the door.
"Great. So much for picking the lock with a hair pin. So how are we going to get in there, Clark?"
Clark was already working on that. He scanned the lock with his x-ray vision. It seemed to be a stand alone lock; there were no wires connecting it to anything else, except power. At least it wouldn't set off an alarm.
"Maybe there is a way to override the lock, by entering a passcode on the panel."
"And I suppose you have the password?"
"No. But maybe it's something simple. Keep an eye on the hallway while I try to open this." Clark scanned his heat- vision on the lock, heating the mechanism until it burned out. When Lois turned to check on him, he began punching a number of buttons, and turned the knob on the door. Lois looked amazed when it opened.
"How did you do that?"
"I just punched in `SYSTEM.' A lot of electronic locks have a default password, and people often forget to change it." Actually, Clark knew nothing of the kind, but it seemed to satisfy Lois. They entered the room, and closed the door behind them. Clark manually locked the door knob behind them. He sat at the computer terminal and turned it on.
"Now, you're sure Dr. Franklin is out of the country?"
"I told you, Clark, he's in Europe for a nuclear fusion conference or something." Clark noticed that this computer, meant to be used in a secure room, wasn't password protected. Luckily. He began browsing STAR Labs' inventory system. Nothing. He moved to lab contents. Still no luck. He moved to hazardous materials manifests.
They heard voices in the hallway. "Maybe we should download this data and take a closer look at it later." Lois handed Clark the floppy disk, and Clark began copying inventories and manifests to the floppy disk. The disk filled quickly with information, and they had to use a second disk to get all the information they needed. They shut the terminal down, and began getting ready to leave.
As they left and were closing the door behind them, Clark felt a hand grip his shoulder. He turned with a start, and Lois backed up to the wall.
"Dr. Franklin?" The hand belonged to a young looking man in a lab coat. Clark tried to regain his composure.
"Yes, can I help you?"
"I thought you were in Paris for the conference on meson-induced fusion."
"Uh, I was. I returned early. You know those conferences." Clark motioned a yawn. The young man laughed.
"They told me about you. I read all your papers on fluid dynamics when I was back at Cal Tech. Look, I was wondering if I could meet you for lunch tomorrow, have you got some time for hypercanes?"
"Uh, sure. Whatever you want for lunch is fine with me." Clark and Lois glanced at each other for a moment when the young man had a puzzled look. Then he laughed again.
"Oh, I get it. It was nice to meet you, Dr. Franklin."
They ran into several more people on their way back to the elevator, apparently all headed for lunch. Clark tried his best to make small talk, with varying degrees of failure, but apparently eccentric people were the norm at STAR Labs, because they all took the nonsense he was spouting in stride. When they got to the elevator, Lois turned to Clark.
"Well, all we have to do is get past the East German border patrol in the lobby, and we're home free." Clark stopped, and turned back to Lois. "You do have a plan to get past them, right?" Clark continued to look at her. "Clark?"
"I didn't quite think that far ahead."
"Great." Lois pushed the elevator button. "Well, why don't we just walk out. After all, what can they do, kick us out?"
"What can they do, kick us out?" Clark mocked.
"Okay, Clark. So they could do something after all." For example, they could call the police and have them arrested.
"At least they didn't search us."
"I don't know about you, but that security guard sure seemed to be searching me."
"Was it really necessary to throw him into the water fountain?"
"Hey, he was big, I didn't think he'd go that far."
"Well, the police were impressed enough to use handcuffs." Clark glanced around again. Two large men had been staring at them for some time. He noticed that they began to walk over to them. Clark shifted a bit closer to Lois.
By the time they were hovering over them, Lois noticed them too, and shifted a bit closer to Clark. One of them spoke. "You Lois Lane?"
"Who wants to know?" Behind their backs, Lois began to grab a hold of Clark's arm.
"You are Lois Lane, ain't 'cha?"
"So what if I am?"
"Look, we don't want any trouble," Clark began to rise, but the other man pushed him back into his seat.
"We ain't lookin' for trouble, either." He reached behind his back, and Clark prepared to jump between them.
"Here," the man said, and pulled out a pen. "Could you sign my shirt sleeve? I'm a big fan of yours." The man smiled wide enough for Lois to count his missing teeth. The man leaned down towards her, and flexed his bicep in front of her face, the sleeve cloth stretching taunt enough to write on. As Lois signed her name, the man continued "I especially liked your article on mismanagement of state retirement funds. I gotta nephew takin' journalism now." The two walked off.
"It's nice to have fans." Lois pushed herself away from Clark when he said that, then allowed a small smirk.
"I'm still supposed to be mad at you."
"I know, Lois."
"Well, stop being charming so I can get back to it." Lois pouted, and crossed her arms. She couldn't contain herself for long, though.
"Did you see the look on Jimmy's face?" she asked, without turning.
Clark chuckled. "We're going to owe him, big time."
"_You're_ going to owe him big time. It was your idea."
"He's probably gonna want to borrow your car again."
"Is he still going out with Sarah?"
"I think so."
"You know she has a small crush on you."
"What makes you think that?"
"Oh, come off it, Clark. Everything that walks by in a skirt gets a crush on you." Lois caught herself too late to avoid saying it. The conversation was steering in the direction of Mayson Drake, and Lois knew that whatever ghosts still haunted Clark about her death, he wasn't ready to discuss them. Clark became slightly more morose, but recovered quickly.
"You weren't particularly fond of me when you first met me."
"Yeah, well. I liked you okay." Lois had already forgotten to be mad at Clark, and began to get mad at Clark for making her forget she was supposed to be mad at him. Only Clark could do that to her, too.
Jimmy Olsen walked up to the jail cell and motioned them over.
"Good news, CK, Lois. Perry's upstairs posting your bail."
"It's about time."
"Take it easy. We don't want to insult your fan club." Jimmy looked at Lois when Clark said that, but she just shrugged end elbowed Clark.
The jail officer came down and released them. Perry was with him.
"Well, how's my two jailhouse rockers?"
"So, did you two finally get to spend some quality time with each other?" Clark just walked past him, but Lois gave him a look that made him remember why he never touched the remote control when his wife Alice was watching television.
Clark was examining the computer files back at the Planet, and Lois was leaning over his shoulder.
"Look, Lois, on the day of the break-in, laboratory 21-C reported a container of hazardous material was missing from inventory."
"What kind of hazardous material?"
"It only has a code number. I'll try to cross reference it." Clark continued to bring up computer files. While he did, Jimmy walked over.
"Hey, Lois, I was thinking of taking Sarah camping over the weekend. Do you think I could borrow your car?"
"Camping? Why do you need my car to go camping?"
"The camp grounds are outside of the city, that's why. Come on, she says she really _loves_ camping. The stars, the trees, the fresh air, the…"
"Okay, okay. I get the picture." She sighed. "Take the car. But it had better be washed spotless when I get it back. And no mud in the car. And…"
"Gotcha, Lois." Jimmy bounced off. Lois watched him go. It was nice, being young. It was simple.
Clark turned back to Lois, and pointed at the computer monitor.
At the top of a detailed screen of information was a single word that made further reading unnecessary.
"Someone stole a large sample of Kryptonite from STAR Labs?"
"It appears so."
Lois said what they both were thinking. "There's no way this can be a coincidence. Someone distracted Superman to make sure he wouldn't interfere with the theft of the Kryptonite. Then they went to Fort Greggory, but what did they need there?"
"The colonel you talked to said that there was nothing stolen from the base, right?"
"Right. Wait," Lois got her notebook and rapidly flipped to her notes of the interview. "No, he said that he had checked all the buildings that were broken into on the west side of the base. What if our mystery terrorists stole something from somewhere else? What if the break-ins weren't the only diversion they used?"
"What if the plane they blew up was also a diversion?" Clark finished the thought.
Lois picked up her phone and made a call back to the base. While she was on the phone, Perry White exited his office. "Jimmy," he called, "turn up that monitor." Jimmy was standing near the television set and increased the volume on the sound, which was normally muted.
"Again, to repeat: terrorists have announced that unless the city of Metropolis pays their ransom of fifty million dollars, they plan to strike a blow at the heart of the city. The Mayor has three hours to respond to demands…"
Lois got off the phone and walked over to Clark. "There's no answer at the base."
"Well, according to the news reports, the city has less than three hours to meet the terrorists' demands."
"How does the Kryptonite fit into all of this?"
"Maybe they intend to use it against Superman if he tries to stop the explosion."
"We need to get this information to Superman. If he tries to stop them, he needs to know they might have Kryptonite."
"I'll try to find Superman. Keep trying to find out what kind of weapon it was that was stolen, I'll see if I can find anything out on the street."
Clark ran off. This time, Lois was too busy to take notice.
Superman was flying over the city, using both his x-ray vision and his telescopic vision to search for the bomb. There was still no trace of it. It was unlikely they were going to drop the bomb on the city; they would need a plane for that, and he would spot the plane relatively quickly. He had flown patterns over most of the city. The terrorists said they would strike at the heart of the city. Maybe they were lying, but why would they lie, and place the bomb in some out of the way place? Anything was possible, of course. He continued to search the city, in ever widening circles.
"Hello, yes, colonel. This is Lois Lane. Thanks for taking my call." Lois had been trying for over thirty minutes to reach the colonel she had talked to earlier. "I'm sure you know why I'm calling. I was just wondering if you could confirm or deny that there are any weapons missing that the terrorists could have taken." She listened to him for a minute.
"What? Are you sure? But that can't be." She listened a while more.
"And that's all it does?"
"Thank you very much for your time." Lois hung up. Perry walked over to her, and so did Jimmy.
"That was the base MP commander. He just told me that the only thing stolen from the base was a test weapon. That plane that was destroyed, it was supposed to test a new bomb drop system. The bomb itself is a dud. I mean, it explodes but mainly it just makes a big cloud of colored smoke so that they can see where it hits the ground."
"But that doesn't make any sense. Why would anyone go through all this trouble to steal a dud?"
"Maybe this isn't the bomb they're using, chief" Jimmy offered. "Maybe it's another distraction."
"No, I don't think so." Perry's newspaperman instincts were well respected. "I think that something is going on here that we aren't seeing."
Lois was thinking the situation through. Why all this trouble for a bomb that won't cause any damage to the city? Why is it so important that they have to distract Superman to get it? Why steal Kryptonite, unless they want to use it against Superman?
*Oh my god.* What if Metropolis isn't their target at all?
Lois grabbed Jimmy. "Here's your chance to pay for the use of my car."
"I thought I already did that." he said, not that Lois was listening. She nearly yanked his arm out of its socket as she dragged him towards the elevator.
Lois was on the ground, and spotted Superman flying in the sky. She waved at him, but he was either too busy or too far away to spot her, she thought. She needed to figure out a way to get his attention. She turned to Jimmy. "Are you already packed for that camping trip?"
"Just about. Why?"
"Come on, let's head back to your place."
Lois and Jimmy stood at the top of Jimmy Olsen's apartment building. Superman was still in view, although he was flying around the city and not directly overhead.
"You're sure this thing works, right?"
"Hey, I bought it two days ago. It had better work."
Lois took Jimmy's flare gun and fired it high into the Metropolis sky. She hoped Superman would notice the flare.
Superman still hadn't found any trace of the bomb. Maybe the terrorists were bluffing. Maybe the bomb was somewhere else. Maybe they hadn't even planted it yet.
Just then, he caught sight of the red flare. His telescopic vision zoomed in on it and confirmed it was just a signal flare, and then traced the light smoke trail back to the ground. There, he saw Lois and Jimmy standing at the top of an apartment building, waving at him.
Superman landed a few feet from them. Lois ran up to him immediately.
"Superman, you've got to stop trying to find the bomb!"
"I already talked to Clark. I know about the Kryptonite, Lois."
"No, it's not that. I mean, it is, but it isn't. We've figured out what the terrorists are after. They aren't terrorists at all. They're after you."
"What do you mean?"
"The bomb they stole, it's a test bomb. It just makes a lot of dye-colored smoke."
Superman realized where Lois was headed. "The Kryptonite."
"It makes sense. They load the bomb with Kryptonite, and when you get near it to stop it, they blow it up."
"That does pose a problem."
"We have to find the bomb and defuse it without you getting anywhere near it."
Superman thought about that. "No, Lois, I have to keep looking."
"What if this is just another trick? I can't help thinking that if they wanted to lure me somewhere, they would have made the bomb easy for me to find. What if this is just another diversion to get me out of the way. I'm afraid I can't sit by and take that chance. Thanks for the warning, Lois." He leapt back up into the sky.
"Boy, he sure is something." Jimmy remarked.
Lois just watched him soar back into the cloudless sky.
"So now what do we do?"
"We go back to work, Jimmy. He has his job, we have ours." And hers now included keeping Superman from getting himself killed.
Lois was huddled over a map. She had progressively scribbled over it to indicate areas she figured Superman would have already found the bomb, and places the Daily Planet had information that the police had searched. So far, no one had found anything. Perry came over to her.
"I've been staring at this map until my eyes hurt, but how am I supposed to know where a bunch of crazies have hidden a bomb?"
Perry patted her shoulder. "I just had a talk with a friend in the police department. Off the record, the M.O. of the break-in at STAR Labs matches that of a man named Jason Kirtch." He handed her a FAX. "Here's a copy of his criminal record." She read the FAX carefully. One of the convictions against him raised a red flag in her mind. She called Jimmy over.
"Jimmy, I need you to check something in research." She scribbled some information onto a sheet of paper and handed it to him. "As soon as possible, Jimmy."
Lois' phone rang.
"Hello, Lois Lane." She listened to the voice on the other end of the phone. "Really? Are you sure?" She hung up.
The caller was one of Lois' street sources. Word on the street was that the explosion at the chemical plant was set by a bomber that had just recently been released from prison. Certain pieces began to fall into place in Lois' mind. She turned back to the map.
"The heart of Metropolis" was the phrase the terrorists used. Everyone was assuming that they meant somewhere near the geographical or population center of the city. She hoped her deductions were wrong, but if they weren't, then everyone was looking in the wrong place. She drew a large circle around a spot near the edge of the city limits. She decided to check it out for herself.
The primary water pumping station for Metropolis was normally unmanned; the station was completely automated, so Lois wasn't surprised that there was no one there when she arrived. She searched the building, trying to be as quiet as possible. After a few minutes, she found a door that had no identifying name plate or door window. She opened it, and walked into the room.
There, before her, was the missing bomb. It had a low, greenish glow that she immediately recognized. She knew now that her hunch had been right — and she also knew who was behind everything that had happened the past few days.
Lois pulled out her cellular phone to call the police, but she couldn't get a good signal. Probably all the metal conduits and piping. Suddenly, someone grabbed her from behind. She opened her mouth to scream, but it was quickly covered with a cloth. She struggled to fight her attacker off, but her head was spinning, and before she could break her attacker's hold on her, the chloroform in the cloth had rendered her unconscious.
Clark returned to the Daily Planet. Superman was just not having any luck finding the bomb. Maybe he could make more progress without the suit. Lois might have more information, or a lead that might prove useful. When he arrived, though, he noticed she wasn't there. He found Jimmy Olsen and asked about her.
"I don't know where she went, CK. She was working with that map on her desk, and then I think I saw her up and leave." He reached under his arm. "By the way, Lois wanted me to do a search on this name, and this is what I found." Clark read the paper, and gritted his teeth.
"Thanks, Jimmy." He ran over to Lois' desk. If Lois was thinking what Clark thought she was thinking, she might be in serious trouble. He looked at the map, but it seemed to be just a maze of pencil lines and scribbled notes. Then he noted the circle she had drawn.
With all the activity at the Daily Planet, Jimmy was being run ragged performing errands for various reporters. He heard his name being called by Perry, and turned to head for his office. As he did, a strong draft suddenly blew him backwards a step. It almost seemed like someone had pushed him gently aside, but of course, he knew no one could move that fast.
Although, as he heard Perry call for him again, he wished other people knew that.
When Lois regained consciousness, she found herself locked in the room, handcuffed to a bracket on the bomb. Time was running out. Lois tried to stop herself, but she found herself glancing at the timer on the bomb every few seconds. In less than two minutes it was going to go off. The timer was at least an hour ahead of the deadline the terrorists announced to the press. So they weren't interested in the ransom at all. But apparently, either Superman wasn't their target either or she was just more bait. She didn't know who would want to kill her, but that didn't matter much now. She spent nearly half an hour trying to twist out of the handcuffs, but they were on too tight and her purse was on the other side of the room, so she didn't have anything to try to pick the lock with. She could only hope someone would find her soon.
The door opened, and Lois jumped up.
"Clark! How did you find me? Clark held up the map he had taken from her desk. As soon as he reached the door to the room Lois was being held in, he changed out of his Superman suit. Why he did it, he wasn't entirely sure. He had x-ray scanned the station and discovered Lois trapped in one of the rooms. He also saw that the bomb was sheathed in a Kryptonite shell. As soon as he approached it, he knew his powers would be sapped. Maybe a small part of him wanted to be able to save Lois as Clark instead of as Superman. Maybe a small part of him thought he was going to fail, and wanted to spend his last moments with her as Clark. Just right now, though, it wasn't worth thinking about.
"Clark, get out of here. This bomb is going to go off soon." She showed him the handcuffs. Clark ignored that and ran up to her. The Kryptonite in the bomb was already affecting him, and he struggled to shake its effects off.
Clark grabbed the handcuffs and focused his heat vision on the chain links, without even trying to hide it from Lois. The Kryptonite in the bomb had already sapped too much of his strength, however. He couldn't focus it powerfully enough to melt the handcuff chain, and he couldn't break the chain either. Lois thought he was thinking about the handcuffs.
"Grab my purse. Maybe I can pick the locks on these cuffs." He ran over to her purse and handed it to her. She extracted a paperclip and began fiddling with the lock. It wouldn't open. The timer had run down to less than a minute.
"Clark, I can't open the lock." She looked over at the timer. "You'd better get out of here. That bomb is going to go off soon."
"I'm not going anywhere, Lois. We're in this together." Lois looked into Clark's eyes, and she saw he meant it. "Let me try."
Ever the optimist, Lois thought as she handed it over. Clark began trying to pick the lock. He struggled to penetrate the lock with his x-ray vision, and keep the lock mechanism in focus. Was his x-ray vision clouding, or was it his normal vision?
There was a click, and the lock opened. They looked at the timer. It showed ten seconds. Clark grabbed Lois' hand, and ran out of the building, dragging her behind him. He didn't stop until they were completely outside the structure. Behind them, the bomb exploded with a muffled boom.
Lois was struggling to catch her breath. Even weakened by the Kryptonite, he must have still been running faster than normal, although he was also breathing hard. It was a while before they could speak.
"We'd better get back to the Planet. I've got a story to write." She looked at Clark. "I mean, we've got a story to write."
She explained her deductions to Clark. It would take a lot of effort to even begin to confirm her theory, but it was effort Clark was more than willing to expend.
It wasn't often that people got visitors in the maximum security wing of the Metropolis prison. The prisoners in this wing didn't have many friends that wanted to be anywhere near the prison in the first place, and prison restrictions limited the number of visitors in the second place. Still, for some people, the rules could be bent a little.
The prisoner was escorted to the waiting room from his cell by five security guards, all of them armed. No one spoke to him, and he did not try to speak to them. He simply followed them to the waiting room.
"Hello, Luthor." Lex Luthor rarely showed surprise, even after his fall from his position of money and power, and his betrayal and near second death engineered by the upstart Intergang. It still took some effort to mask his surprise at his visitor.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't the Lone Ranger. What can I do for Superman?"
"I'll make this short and sweet, Luthor. I know it was you who was responsible for the bomb at the water pumping station."
"I don't know what you are talking about."
"I can't prove it of course, but eventually someone will. It all fits. You wanted to kill Lois and force me to watch helplessly. Or maybe use Lois as bait to kill me. All the tricks and diversions, they had your name written all over them."
"Moi? You wound me, sir. How is my erstwhile fiancee?"
"She's safe and sound, Luthor."
"How fortunate for her."
"It was Lois that discovered the connection between the theft of the Kryptonite and a former associate of yours, Jason Kirtch. Wasn't he arrested for aiding your illegal takeover of the Daily Planet?" Kirtch was linked to the theft of confidential files pertaining to the Daily Planet and several large financial institutions.
"I believe that case was thrown out for lack of evidence. At least, that is what I've read. As you will recall, I was unable to observe his arraignment."
"She and Clark Kent are going to connect you to the chemical plant, the pumping station, and the rest."
"Ah, yes. Mr. Kent. I understand that it was he, and not you, that saved dear Lois from her eminent demise."
"The important thing is that your plan failed."
"No one is perfect. So, what do you intend to do about this specious theory of yours?"
"I'll be watching you, Luthor."
"You have an exceptional ego, to think that I spend my days plotting your demise."
"It isn't my ego we're dealing with here, Luthor." With that, Superman departed.
As Lex Luthor was escorted back to his cell, he allowed himself a small smile. Luthor had been remote, withdrawn ever since he was incarcerated. For weeks he had languished. Then, he began to create a new purpose for himself.
It wasn't enough to kill Superman. That was easy. A rifle and a large number of Kryptonite bullets would dispatch him in short order. No, Lex Luthor didn't want revenge. Revenge was for small minds. He wanted justice. And for Lex Luthor, justice was inflicting on Superman what Superman had inflicted on him. He would make Superman suffer, as he had suffered. He would demonstrate to Superman the lesson he himself had learned. He would show Superman that all of his power was an illusion.
Although he was stripped of his money and power, he still had a few friends. Correction: he had a few transient allies. Lex Luthor had no friends. There were still people in the world whom he could manipulate into helping him, and of course he had the prison that confined him to provide further human resources. Resources such as the gentleman who was released a few weeks ago, willing to make his demolition skills available in exchange for information Luthor provided regarding a cache of explosives Luthor had hidden years ago. It was a pity, really, that the gentleman in question didn't ask about the booby traps which protected it. Kirtch was going to be a larger problem. No matter, a phone call, and Mr. Kirtch would be taking an indefinite vacation. Using Kirtch was a mistake, but a correctable one.
His plan had failed to reach fruition, but he could take satisfaction in at least one thing.
He had definitely gotten under Superman's skin. Lex Luthor had shown him that for all his power a single person could reach beyond a concrete and steel prison and threaten an element of his life.
He had failed to take into account the staid and unassuming Mr. Kent. He would have to correct that failure in the future. He had lots of time to do that.
And one day, he would succeed completely. After all, he was Lex Luthor. He could experience a setback or two, but in the end, he had to succeed. It was his defining characteristic.
It was destiny.
They were seated next to each other at the small table finishing dinner. They had to postpone this dinner from last night, as both Clark and Lois were busy with the events of yesterday. They discussed the information they were gathering. If it was Lex Luthor that had planned this, he had covered his tracks very well. There were a lot of suggestive facts, but no proof. The police were unable to find Kirtch, nor were they able to pick up the suspected bomber for questioning. Neither of them was especially optimistic they would be found. It was clear to Clark, however, that Lois wasn't simply thinking about recent events regarding Lex Luthor.
"Clark, we've never really talked about my, uh, relationship with Lex."
Clark stopped eating and looked at her, surprised. "I just thought you would talk about it when you were ready."
"Do you know what attracted me to Lex?" Clark shook his head.
"When I was a kid, I didn't have a lot of friends. I was smarter than the other kids, and I guess I shoved that in their face too much. I worked hard in school, I guess to show them, show them that I was going to succeed and they weren't going to get me down.
"It was pretty much the same in college, and by the time I began working for the Planet, I was pretty good at it — being a successful loner, that is. Until you came along, no one at the Planet would work with me, as a partner I mean. Not that I really wanted one, either. But it was still a little lonely, I guess.
"See, I thought I understood Lex. I guess I saw a little bit of me in him. Here was this rich, powerful, successful man, and so many people seemed to detest him because of that. They misunderstood him just because he was successful. I saw all the people who disliked him as little kids teasing the smart girl in class. I thought even you were jealous of him."
"I wasn't jealous, Lois." *Actually, maybe I was, but not of his success*, Clark thought.
"I know that, Clark. I was wrong about him, and you. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that it's over between me and Lex. I'm not sure what it was to begin with, but now, I just feel sorry for him. I can't help feeling that.
"But, if he is getting involved with crime again, we have to try to stop him. You can count on me there."
"I'll try to remember that, Lois."
"I guess that is what," she was going to say "attracts," but changed her mind. "…draws me to Superman. He seems so…alone. Like he needs someone to be close to, that understands him. That isn't jealous of him or afraid of him. He feels so responsible for everyone around him. I thought I could help him, and instead I almost got us both killed."
Clark gave her a look then, a strange look that Lois couldn't quite place. "Superman is very lucky to have a friend like you." He smiled, and she reciprocated. Then she reached for his hands.
"Like us, Clark."
"Like us, Lois." *She trusts me, trusts me with her secrets. How can I _not_ tell her?*
"Lois, I've been giving this a lot of thought." Clark looked at her. This was It. I'm going to tell her, he thought. I'm going to tell her…
"This is hard. I don't know how to tell you this." *Just tell her* he kept thinking.
Lois squeezed his hand and smiled.
"It's okay, Clark. I think I understand. Look. We've both been acting kind of weird these past few weeks. It will take time for us to work all of this out. It can get kind of scary. Sometimes, it's so confusing. It's like I have to be one person at work and another person when I'm … not. Believe me, I feel the same way you do.
"But this running out on me. That has got to stop, Clark. If this is going to work at all, we have to be able to express how we feel. You don't have to run away from me."
"I know, Lois. At the time, it always seemed the right thing to do, but I know now the reasons I had were not … healthy. I promise, from now on, when I'm with you, I'm with you." He couldn't say it. The words wouldn't come out of his mouth. He knew he had to tell her, just not tonight.
"Now, don't go overboard on me, Clark. Hang around me every minute of the day, and I'll go nuts. Let's take this slow. Can I count on you to make it to the end of dinner?"
"I think I can manage that."
"Feel like walking me home?"
"Just lead the way."
"And after that?" Lois smiled at him again, the warm smile she seemed to reserve just for him, and Clark found himself unable to do anything but look at her. He wasn't sure how long they were staring at each other, leaning slowly toward each other, until their lips met and they kissed.
He opened his eyes, and broke their kiss when he saw the waiter discretely standing near the table. He seemed to have been waiting patiently there for some time.
The waiter stepped forward. "Would you be having some dessert tonight?" They both suppressed a laugh at that.
"Lois?" Clark gestured towards her, and the waiter turned toward her.
"Yeah. I'll have some ice cream." She looked at Clark with a devilish smile. "Chocolate ice cream."