By Betsy R.
Summary: When her family is kidnapped, Meghan Avery — a friend from Clark's past — comes to the Daily Planet for the special kind of help only Clark can provide. And Meghan is rather special herself.
[Author's Note: This story was written before TAG,D, so the villains are quite campy and CK is a little short on brain power. It takes place somewhere in the fourth season where our happy couple is married :-) Thanks to my proofreaders (you guys are great!) and their infinite patience with my lack of computer skills! Superman, Lois and Clark, and all the rest are obviously property of someone else…]
The Daily Planet. Clark Kent had gone on one of his mysterious "errands", everyone else was busy at work. Lois Lane looked up from her desk to see a bookish-yet-pretty red head enter the room as if looking for something. As she approached the area in which Lois and Clark both worked, Lois addressed her.
"Can I help you?" Lois asked tiredly, wanting to get back to her story.
The woman glanced at Lois, recognition dawning on her face. "Yes, I'm looking for Clark Kent," she said, with hope in her voice.
Lois, whose interest was now piqued, got up to approach the stranger. Clark had excused himself a while before, and one never knew how long he would be on these missions of his. "Well, he's stepped out. Perhaps I can help you…?"
The woman chewed on her lip, a mixture of disappointment and thought clouding her eyes. She slowly replied, "No, I don't think so. I'll wait for Mr. Kent. Is this his desk?" As she addressed Lois, the stranger approached Clark's desk. She seemed to recognize it by the photo displayed prominently on the corner of the desk. She looked more closely at the picture, a wedding shot of Lois and Clark, with a smile on her face.
Lois noted the stranger openly studying the intimate photo and started to feel a little uncomfortable. She cleared her throat and answered, "Yes, that's his desk. I'm his partner…"
The woman softly interrupted without looking up. "I know who you are, Ms. Lane. I don't mean to be rude. But I REALLY need to speak with Mr. Kent and no one else."
Lois was a little stunned. There was obviously something very wrong here. Her female and reporter's instincts were screaming at her. But if the stranger wouldn't open up to her, there was nothing more she could do…for now. She replied, somewhat sarcastically "Well, he's not always, um…punctual, so you may be waiting a while."
The woman sat down in a chair at the edge of Clark's desk. She looked weary and dejected, but her voice was strong as she said, "That's fine." She opened a voluminous bag that she had been carrying on her shoulder and pulled out a book of some sort. She began writing in the book, seeming oblivious to what was going on around her.
Jimmy Olsen exited Perry White's office and approached Lois's desk. He stopped and studied the redhead, who had been sitting at Clark Kent's desk for half an hour. Never one to miss out on an opportunity, Jimmy casually (yet with curiosity) asked Lois, "Who's she?!"
Lois thoughtfully chewed on her pencil while studying the woman, who was now simply looking down at what seemed to be her wallet and the pictures in it. "I don't know. But she wants Clark," Lois answered quietly.
Jimmy chuckled. "My, my, isn't he the popular one lately?" After receiving a glare from Lois, Jimmy moved on. Lois decided that she couldn't ignore the stranger anymore. She couldn't work on her story, her concentration was blown. Lois stood up and casually started walking past Clark's desk. Checking to make sure she was unobserved, Lois attempted to get a closer look at the documents in the stranger's wallet .
At that moment, Clark returned to the newsroom. At once, he noticed his wife. Lois had the grace to blush a little, for being caught in the act of spying on the stranger at his desk. "Clark, you have a guest that has been waiting for you for a while. Guess she didn't have an appointment."
Clark smiled at Lois, then glanced at the woman seated at his desk. The stranger had heard the brief conversation and was looking up at him. The reply that had been forming in his head suddenly melted away, to be replaced with a look of shocked recognition on his face. "Meghan?" he asked shakily.
Lois noted that Clark seemed to recognized this woman and grudgingly returned to her desk to study from afar. The woman stood to face Clark and smiled sadly. "Hey, Clark. It's been a while."
Clark returned her smile and greeted her with a hug. As he pulled away from her, he asked, "How are you and Sean?" Noting her strained face, he pulled her aside and more quietly continued, "What's up?"
Meghan sighed and studied her feet. After a pause, she looked into his eyes. "We need to talk. Let's go somewhere quiet. I need a BIG favor."
Clark restrained her. "Hold on— do you need a favor, or do you need a FAVOR"
"Actually, I'll probably need both."
Clark smiled. "Well then, perhaps I should get Lois over here. She may be able to help." He began to get up and move toward Lois's desk.
Meghan put up a hand to stop him. "No offense, Clark. But her mind has been tampered with at least three times that I can see. She may not be reliable enough. And right now, I don't trust anyone but you."
Clark stopped to think. He didn't agree, but decided to at least hear Meghan out. Sometimes she knew more about these kinds of things than he did. He reluctantly conceded. "OK. Let's get out of here to a place we can talk. Wait just a sec while I catch up with my partner." Smiling fondly, he approached Lois. He could see from the expression on her face that she knew something was up. Something she might not like. He began simply, "Listen, she's an old friend of mine."
Lois was obviously getting into one of her moods. With an arched brow marking her expression, she impatiently said, "Save it. I know when I'm not wanted."
Clark gently caught her hand and spoke softly. "It's not like that. But something has her scared. She and her husband were my only real friends for a long time. They have done a lot for me over the years. Now, she's asking for help. I have to…"
Lois smiled, "I know. I know. But sometimes I just hate sharing my hero, Clark. It's bad enough having to share Superman."
Clark blushed slightly and smiled into her eyes. This woman never ceased to surprise him. Pleasantly, mostly. "I'll call in later— I promise." He gave Lois a quick peck on the cheek and returned to Meghan, who was standing, waiting for him. He offered a bent arm for her to take. "Care for a drive?"
Meghan accepted his arm for support. She looked very tired. "Actually, a walk in the park would be better…I could use some fresh air."
Meghan and Clark slowly rambled through the park and found a relatively isolated path to walk down as they talked. Clark noticed that Meghan glanced very nervously around them quite often, as if looking for someone to be watching her. He didn't want to say anything, though. He knew she would talk when she was ready. After a while, Meghan began to speak softly while her hair hid her face from Clark. "I wanted to come to the park because I think it's harder to bug a park. And I think people may be watching me." She stopped speaking and seemed lost in her thoughts.
Clark waited a bit, then gave in to curiosity. "OK. Out with it. Where have you been? Where's Sean and the kids?"
Meghan stopped walking abruptly and lifted tear filled eyes to Clark. "Clark, he's gone. Someone has taken him and the kids. And I just don't know what to do!" Her voice was rapidly approaching panic.
Clark thought about how to answer. Could Sean have left Meghan? Or had someone really kidnapped three-fourths of a family? He asked in astonishment, "What do you mean? Gone? Are you sure someone has taken them?"
Meghan tried hard to swallow her tears. It looked as if she had cried enough tears in the past few days to last a lifetime. And he knew that her life had had enough tears. "Yeah. Someone took them. They left a note and everything…it's all so complicated…we finally thought we were safe." She looked lost.
Clark tried to sound reassuring and steered them to a bench to sit. "Come on. I'll do everything I can to help. But you are going to have to start at the beginning. I mean, I don't have the faintest idea what you guys have been up to lately. And you need to tell me everything. Slowly."
Meghan took a deep, fortifying breath. "Well, after what happened at college, we decided to lay low, basically disappear. We didn't want to drag you or anyone else into my problems. I mean, all you need is someone watching you, too…anyway. We kind of burned our bridges after the wedding. We were a bit lonely, but we knew it was safer for everyone else. Then the twins came along…it was the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. Do you know that I was aware of them from about the second month on…"
Clark interrupted. "Then they are like you?"
Meghan smiled. "Yeah, they are like me— only more so. I've been inadvertently teaching them everything I know since they were in the womb. They have all of my…um… talents." She closed her mouth, yet Clark still clearly heard her words, within his mind. *They hardly ever speak out loud, their telepathic ability is so good. Normally, their conversations include me, too*
Clark spoke, but in a very hushed tone, "Normally?"
Meghan also spoke lowly now, so they would look normal to passers-by. "Two days ago, I came home to an empty house. I reached out my mind for the three of them and there was no answer. There was this note saying that I would need to cooperate if I wanted to see my family again. Clark, someone has my husband and children and I can only guess the reason is that they have somehow found out what they can do! And who knows what they are doing to them at this very minute. And I cannot do ANYTHING!" As she was speaking, she began to cry openly.
Clark put his arm around her and handed her his handkerchief. He gently spoke to her. "You have to calm down so we can work together. Now, have you used your abilities in public?"
Meghan took a long, deep breath and looked sideways at Clark with a touch of humor in her eyes and one eyebrow raised. "What, you mean like Superman?" Clark flushed. "No. After what happened in college…Well after all the publicity about me being able to read minds and the scandal over whether or not I used my abilities to cheat my way through school and the student paper bugging me and the tabloids following me…if it hadn't been for you and Sean I never would have made it. Plus, I started getting stronger."
Clark looked very surprised. "Stronger?!" He couldn't see how she could be stronger than she had been when he knew her. *What, can she control people's minds now or something?*
Meghan smiled. It was obvious that she heard what he thought. He had forgotten that she could do that…just pick up thoughts if she wanted to. "Well, I probably could do that when you knew me. But what would be the point? Anyway, I had noticed that my telekinetic abilities, which up to that point were minimal, were getting VERY much stronger. At first they just sort of surfaced whenever I got angry…" Hearing him think *Like that movie _Carrie_ * she quickly added, "Well I never electrocuted a room full of people or anything…but I was afraid the witch hunt would start again. And I just couldn't take it. So Sean and I kind of ran away."
Clark's tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. "Kind of???"
Meghan sighed. "OK, OK… we ran away. We never meant to hurt anyone. Especially you, Clark. But we felt like we could only put you in more danger."
Grudgingly, he realized that this argument sounded a little too familiar to his ears. Clark gently lifted her face to look in her eyes as he spoke to her. "If there's one thing I have learned over the last few years, it's that you have to give the people you love the chance to make that decision. You can't make it for them. If someone really cares about you, forcing them to be away from you hurts them more than you can imagine. You have to allow them to decide what kind of risk your relationship with them really is. Life is risks. It is what makes life worth living."
Meghan smiled, and the smile reached her eyes for the first time that afternoon. She reached for his hands. "She is really special, that wife of yours. I remember a time not so long ago when you would have agreed with me. She must have knocked a good deal of sense into that thick skull of yours!"
Clark grinned. "Yeah, well, what can I say. Only the best for Superman!" Suddenly, his face took on a serious expression as he returned to the reason for this meeting. "You mentioned a note. Where is it?"
Meghan reached into her bag, pulled out a Ziploc baggie, and handed it to Clark. "I haven't touched it. I picked it up with tweezers to put in this bag, just in case, before I read it thoroughly. Besides telling me to be here in Metropolis tonight to answer a pay phone, it didn't seem too helpful to me…" She noticed him studying the note thoroughly. "They wouldn't be so stupid as to leave prints on it, would they?"
Clark looked a little smug as he replied. "Well, maybe not prints that humans could normally see, but I may have a little more luck." He lowered his glasses and studied the paper intently. After a thorough search, he found one small, partial print. He fixed his glasses and looked back at Meghan. "Was there anything else?"
"Well, not that I could tell. But I'm not an investigator. I checked with the neighbors and I found that the last place Sean had been seen was the bank, after work. The bus driver said the kids got off at the house, like usual, and that Sean greeted them in the yard. But I was afraid to ask too many questions, and I was afraid to go to the police…I mean the whole thing could blow up in my face. The first thing they are going to ask me is why someone would kidnap my family. If they don't already know what the kids can do, it's bound to come out, and they will put all of us in some secret government lab. If they already know, they are probably the ones who took the kids and Sean, and they are just waiting to get me. I just didn't know who to trust. I am sorry for having to dump this on you, but there is no one else I can go to."
Clark looked at her intently. "What are friends for, hmmm?" He returned to studying the note. "It specifically tells you to come to Metropolis for further directions… Why would they want you here?"
"I would imagine that they have Sean and the kids hidden in the city somewhere. It's easiest to hide a needle in a haystack. Suspicious things happen all the time in the city and are ignored. You can't cross the street in our town without everyone knowing it. Besides, they probably didn't realize I had any connections here, and they wanted me to be as vulnerable as possible."
Clark nodded in agreement. "Well, it looks like you need my reporter instincts just as much as my other talents. But you need to believe me when I say that Lois has much better reporter instincts than I do. Not to mention the fact that we're going to need as much help as we can get."
Meghan sighed. "I guess you're right. The mind control things looked temporary. But I needed to talk to you first. I just couldn't open up to a complete stranger."
Clark stood up and offered her a hand. "Tell you what. I'm going to drop you off at my place and run this note over to her. Maybe she can get something out of it. Then I will have Superman come and get you— you can take him to the scene of the crime. Maybe he can find some extra evidence."
Meghan looked at him wryly and thought, *Do you always speak of yourself in the third person? Well I guess it is better than first person plural. It would get VERY annoying if you started referring to yourself as the royal 'we'.*
Clark quickly picked up on her attempt to lighten the situation. "Do you want my, uh OUR help or not?! Now come along."
"Yes, dear." Meghan smiled rising to meet him. They started to walk away.
Clark sighed. "Now _there's_ a phrase I almost never hear. Right."
Lois had been intently working on her computer in the apartment she and Clark shared when her husband walked in with Meghan Avery. Since they had faxed the fingerprints from the scene of the crime, Lois had been very busy. They both looked windblown from their flights. Lois looked back to her computer, plugged in the printer, and called up a file to print. She looked up at Meghan as if sizing her up and finally nodded her head, as if she approved of what she saw. She stood and extended her right arm. "I don't think we've been properly introduced…"
Meghan looked a little sheepish as she remembered how she had come across at the Planet earlier. Now that she was thinking a little more clearly, she knew an apology was in order. As she accepted Lois's handshake, she said, "Ms. Lane, I must apologize for my behavior earlier. My name is Meghan Avery. My excuse is stress…"
Lois smiled in understanding. "Say no more. Been there. Done that. And the name is Lois. Clark explained everything…well almost everything. And do I have some news for you. Jimmy and I traced the prints Superman got, Clark. Both the prints on the banister at the Averys' house and the one he found on the sheet. They don't match, but they do have something in common. You were right to start with the government agencies. Your family-nappers both have two things in common. First, they both supposedly died three years ago. Second, they both worked for the same boss…Trask was his name." Clark looked startled to hear this. Lois continued. "The group was Bureau 39. You may remember them, Clark. They have been a pain in the past, if I remember correctly."
Meghan looked a bit confused. "Bureau 39? What are they?"
Clark answered with a little strain in his voice. "They were a rogue government agency that took an…unhealthy interest in Superman." Clark heard Meghan's stomach growl and remembered he had been with her most of the day and she had not eaten. Realizing she would need her strength now more than ever, he headed to the kitchen.
At the same time, Lois handed Meghan a stack of sheets that had come out of the printer. These documents contained most of the information she and Clark had dug up on Bureau 39. Meghan promptly leafed through the pages, and as she read the account of what happened in Smallville, she paled. "God. Did they ever realize that you are exactly who they were looking for?"
Clark answered from kitchen. "Almost, but that's another story."
Lois was startled to hear these words. She knew, of course that Trask had figured it out, but how could Meghan know? Lois headed to the kitchen. Quietly, she asked Clark, "She knows that you're Superman?"
Clark turned from the vegetables he had been chopping at super speed and put his hands around Lois's waist. He looked deeply into her eyes as he replied, "Lois, she and her husband knew before there WAS a Superman. They knew I came to Metropolis to be a reporter and that Superman appeared at the same time with my powers. They just put it together. Don't worry. We can trust them."
Lois was relieved to know this. It also gave her a little thrill know that he always thought of himself in connection with her. The problems and the secrets were no longer his alone, they were _theirs_. Still, she couldn't resist teasing him. "Gee, and I thought _I_ was the first!"
Clark flushed a little at the double entendre, but winked at Lois just the same. He talked a bit more loudly to include Meghan in the conversation. "I'm fixing us all something to eat. Let's discuss further plans over stir fry. Meghan, what would you like to drink with supper?"
Lois fixed the plates as Clark finished cooking. They walked back to the living room carrying food and drinks. Although Meghan would have said, if asked, that she wasn't hungry, the smell of the food resuscitated her appetite. It wasn't long, though, before conversation turned back to the problem at hand. Clark turned to Lois. "Meghan is supposed to receive instructions at a pay phone tonight. I gave Jimmy the number and location of the pay phone. Do you know if he patched that line through to this one? That way she can answer it here."
"Yeah, the patch is working fine. Jimmy tried dialing the number of the phone booth this afternoon while I was working here. It rang directly through to here."
Meghan perked up with interest. "This is like real investigative stuff. So, do you have a trace set up on this line?"
Lois grinned. "Better. We have caller ID. Besides, a trace might take too long."
Meghan insisted on helping to clean up, and as she and Lois were stacking the dishwasher, the phone rang. Clark quickly noted the number and started the recording machine. Meghan nervously eyed Clark and Lois, who both nodded at her. She picked up the phone.
A rough voice answered. "Mrs. Avery. Good to hear you can follow directions. You're even a little smarter than we bargained, since you aren't in the phone booth. But no matter where you are, this call will still be too short to trace."
Meghan could not remain calm. She interrupted. "Where's Sean? Where are my children?"
The man on the other end laughed in a patronizing way. "All in good time. We need you to make a withdrawal. Be at the corner of 42nd and Walnut tomorrow at noon. Have one million with you in cash."
Meghan was startled. She had not expected this. "Where am I going to get that kind of cash?"
The man answered shortly. "How about First Fidelity and your husband's inheritance account, which he hasn't touched and has well over a million in it. We are just telling you to share the wealth. Or you will never see your family again." There was a sharp click and a dial tone. Meghan looked sadly at the phone as Lois and Clark exchanged questioning glances.
Meanwhile, in a small, dimly lit warehouse, the other end of the phone conversation ended. The warehouse was mostly dark except for an area in which two thuggish looking dudes pow-wow-ed, while a third was working furiously on a computer. After a few moments, he informed the others that the quick trace placed the phone link to the Kents' apartment.
As the first man played with the phone, the second said to him, "So, it's going according to plan."
The first smiled a little roughly. "Yeah. She was at the Kents' place. Perhaps they will get his old pal to help out. The cute thing is, she'll have no clue that we're really after him. Even if she does, it's kind of hard to track a moving hideout." The two men stopped to study the nondescript moving van and large truck.
"Well, it wouldn't hurt to get that one mill, too. This hunk-of- junk computer system cost a good deal, not to mention all of the equipment in the truck."
"I think that our friends will reimburse us after we download all of our results. After all, it took relatively little convincing to let us borrow this pretty rock," He gently tossed a rather large chunk of Kryptonite in his hands as if it were a toy. "So they must have a little faith in us."
The third man at the computer looked up at the other two. "Hey, you guys done with the phone yet? I need to get hooked into the mainframe."
"Yeah, it's all yours, Einstein." The other two chuckled.
Lois looked thoughtful. "So, do you think it is possible that they may be trying to hide their real motive with money?"
Clark shrugged. "Maybe they just need to finance some fascist mission of theirs."
Meghan chewed on her lip as she answered. "Also, it would explain why they brought me to Metropolis. I could only make that kind of quick withdrawal from the main branch of our bank." She paused looked resigned. "Well, whether they are after me, the money, or both, I think I better get the money, anyway. I mean, they are pretty much calling the shots. And if one million dollars gets my family and our privacy back, it is a small price. We have always felt kind of guilty about having all that money, anyway. We have always thought that having that money would bring unwanted attention to us."
Clark looked angry. "Well, I think Superman will make sure you don't loose the money or your family. Besides, he has bone to pick with this group of losers."
Meghan looked tired, but knew that the clock was ticking. She looked at the slip of paper which contained the phone number of the recent caller. "So, what can you do with that phone number?"
"Well," Clark said as he grabbed the cordless phone, "let's try calling it back."
After trying a few times, he put it back down. "Busy."
Lois got up from her seat to head to the door. "Maybe Jimmy can help"
Clark suddenly had a faraway look in his eye, they jumped up to head Lois off. "Good idea. You two stay here and make sure you get some rest." He quietly said to Lois "Do you think you can watch Meghan? She's ready to fall apart."
Lois wasn't sure why Clark had to leave, warranting her to stay behind, but she had learned to trust him on these things. "Sure. You go off, save the day, and play with Jimmy. Us girls will…um…make girl talk?"
Clark smiled but looked in a hurry. "Whatever. See you later. And be careful."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Clark. Honestly. You don't always have to tell me to be careful."
Clark stopped to grin at her "Yeah, you never are anyway. But it makes you feel good to break rules, so I'm just trying to make you feel good by giving you a rule to break!"
Lois chuckled and pretended to throw her keys at him. "GET!" Clark spun and in a flash he was out the window to help at the fire he had heard in progress. Lois turned to Meghan. "So. You've known Clark for a long time. Funny, he's never mentioned you before."
Meghan looked up from her chair. She decided to answer as truthfully as possible. "Well, I think we kind of hurt him. We just wanted to hide, so we cut all our ties."
Lois looked distracted. "Yeah. I read about some scandal…" She noted that Meghan looked slightly astonished and embarrassed. Lois suddenly realized that she has been caught snooping again. Blushing, she stuttered. "Sorry. I can't seem to help it…mysteries are always my downfall. When Clark told me your name and that there may be some reason that the government may be looking for you illegally…well…I did some digging." Stopping, she realized she couldn't really get in any deeper, so she decided to try to satisfy her curiosity. "What was all the hubbub about anyway?"
Meghan got up and walked to the window Clark had left open upon his hasty exit. She sighed. *Well, I have some pretty strong abilities in some unnatural areas.. and, well, people never really outgrow their ability to throw stones at the different person.*
"Oh come on, you expect me to believe this Amazing Mind Reader thing?!"
Meghan turned to Lois with a slight smile on her obviously closed mouth before replying, *Lois, honey, anyone bugging this apartment would hear you talking to yourself.*
*You'd think being married to an alien would prepare me for anything, but life is always full of surprises.* Aloud, Lois answered, "Okay…I buy it. But why come after you now? I mean, if they suspected the truth then…well, let's just say this particular bunch of goons doesn't feel the need to justify any persecution."
Meghan answered slowly. "I am not sure, but I have a good idea. You see, my kids can do it now, too. Mostly because I learned how to teach others how to do it. "
This piqued Lois's interest. "Really?"
"At first I thought it was just because they were a part of me. You know, it was almost like I couldn't wait to communicate with them. I was just doing what the doctor said, 'Talk to them, it's healthy'. Well, I talked a little too much in too many ways. They started answering. Then I was able to teach it to Sean, too."
"Could you teach anyone? For example, could you teach Clark?"
"No. Well, I suppose I could, but I wouldn't want to. At this point, I am not sure people are ready for this. It is really a big responsibility. I couldn't give Clark more responsibility than he already has. And even if I did think I could teach him, could you stand him if he were any more perfect?"
Lois smiled at the thought. "Yeah, I see what you mean." After a pause, she began again. "Listen, you need to rest. I'm gonna work on my story…" She showed Meghan into the spare bedroom and got some fresh linens and towels for her. "We will get up bright and early tomorrow and go to the bank, I promise."
In an almost empty, pre-dawn newsroom of the Daily Planet, Jimmy and Clark looked done in. After finishing the rescue, which had taken longer than he had anticipated, Clark had gotten Jimmy out of bed to help him. The two of them had been trying to get information on the phone number for hours, with little luck. The information section of the computer at the phone company was down for routine maintenance. A patient, yet not too helpful, operator had explained to Clark that this was the case and that even if it were not the case, addresses were not meant to be given out at random. They just had to try other routes. While they were thinking and waiting, they had both been doing a little more digging on Bureau 39, its illustrious members, and their possible resources. Clark wanted to be prepared for any eventuality. Still, this was busywork when all he needed was really only a phone call away. And he couldn't get through.
"The phone is STILL busy."
Jimmy suddenly walked over to Clark wearing a cocky grin. "CK, a few hours ago, I was thinking of what would make the line busy for that long. I thought maybe they were using an external modem. That would account for this long of a tie up. I worked on it, and figured out a way to patch in to the phone line they are using and figure out what number they are connecting to. That could give us more information on where the headquarters are for this Bureau 39! Maybe we can do something for Superman for a change!"
Clark nodded his head in agreement. "Yeah, that's great work Jimmy. But why are you over here telling me instead of downloading information?"
Jimmy looked a little sheepish. "Well, I got the site, but there are all kinds of passwords. They are too sophisticated for my programs. I have gotten through three of the locks, but the fourth is some unrecognizable puzzle. And I need help deciphering it."
Clark smiled. "Well, at least that will give us something to do while we wait for the phone company office to open up and bring its computers back on-line. I have tried every other way I can think of to connect an address to that number. They won't be back on-line until six o'clock. Let's get cracking on that puzzle."
At Lois and Clark's place, Lois padded into the kitchen to see Meghan sitting at the table staring out the window. The clock hands pointed to five o'clock.
Lois tried to cover a stretch and a yawn. "It's still early. Earlier than I almost ever see. What are you doing up?"
Meghan looked at Lois without a hint of sleepiness in her eyes. "I have been trying to get in contact with Sean or one of the kids."
Lois chose to ignore this; it was too early in the morning for leaps of faith and imagination. "Yeah, well I couldn't sleep, either. Let's get dressed and head over to the Planet. I am sure the guys would have called if they had found anything. They probably need our help."
They both showered and dressed in record time. Lois had made coffee before jumping in the shower, so now, as she was driving the two of them to the Planet, she was much more alert. And for her, alert was synonymous with curious. "So I'm going to probe now…I really want to know how you found out about Clark and well…you know…"
"Well…you know he and Sean were roommates. Living in close quarters, you notice odd things…especially if you're 'odd' yourself. So I had suspicions. Then one day the three of us were walking in the park. There had been a huge storm the day before with really high winds. The wind blew up again while we were hiking. I heard a cracking noise. As I looked up, I saw a dead tree falling on Sean. It was big enough to kill him. Clark, who had been about a quarter of a mile ahead of Sean, ran faster than it is possible for humans to run and deflected the tree. When he realized he'd blown his cover in front of us, he started to panic. So to calm him, I looked at him and said, 'Don't worry, Clark, we all have our little quirks.' He started to argue with me until he saw that I hadn't moved my lips. The bond sort of forged itself then. Up until then, we both had felt kind of…isolated." She stopped with a faraway look on her face. "I guess our desertion made Clark feel even more isolated. But Sean and I had so many other worries. When Kate and Tim, our twins, came along, and they started to…you know.. we had our hands full. Besides, between Clark Kent, headline reporter, and Superman, headline news, we felt like we were keeping an eye on him from far away. A few Christmas cards and birth announcements to keep him informed relieved our consciences a little. Not much, but a little."
Lois could hear the regret in Meghan's voice. She decided to change the subject. "Did anyone ever notice anything about you or the kids?"
"No, not really. We kept pretty much to ourselves. We only involved ourselves enough so we didn't look suspicious. In fact, we were just starting to feel comfortable when this happened."
"You can't think of anything that triggered them to do this?"
Meghan suddenly had a very fierce look in her eye. "No, but if they have done ANYTHING to my family, I'll erase their minds!!"
This shocked Lois a little. She remembered a time when her memories were gone and knew exactly how harsh this punishment would be. She quietly asked, "Can you really do that?"
Meghan smiled weakly. "Probably… but I probably wouldn't. But just saying it makes me feel a little bit better. I think if I really wanted revenge on these clowns, I would just start ruining all of their weapons. Guns that don't fire, bombs that make fertilizer, I think I could even concentrate hard enough and change the structure of nuclei to disable nuclear weapons. That would keep them all busy chasing their tails enough so that normal citizens could get on with their lives."
"That's like taking toys from a kid." Lois scolded, but suddenly grinned. "But I have never really liked kids. Especially bullies and brats. If you need any help with that plan, count me in." As they pulled into the Planet's parking garage, Lois noticed how easy it was to get her favorite spot on the off hours. "Well, we're here. I wonder if the guys have come up with anything?"
The two women entered the Planet newsroom and greeted Clark and Jimmy. The men barely acknowledged these greetings. Both of them were busily typing at different computers.
Lois cleared her throat loudly and tried again. "So, what did you guys find?"
Jimmy stifled a yawn and he briefly looked up from his computer. "Well, it ends up that there's a geek among the goons. They've been accessing a pretty big computer. After I tracked the address, and broke through three of the access codes, CK and I worked together on the fourth." He looked down at his computer again, eager to get back to work. "At five forty-five, when the phone company's computers were about to come back on-line, CK insisted that he would keep cracking at the access code while I try to break into…ah…access the phone company's computer to get an address on that…phone num…CK!!…I just got it. The address is in the warehouse district…2018 Front street…CK?" He turning to Clark's desk, to find it empty, with the chair spinning. He walked over to see if Clark had somehow fallen underneath the desk or something, and his eyes widened as he studied Clark's computer screen.
Lois, meanwhile, tried to cover for Clark's disappearance. "Uh, Jimmy, he probably went to get Superman or something."
Jimmy, however, was already distracted. "Sure, Lois, whatever. But check this out. He solved the puzzle. Cool. Only one more password to go. I have a handy little program that will solve this step. Then we can find out what kind of stuff these guys have on their computers."
Lois clapped Jimmy on the shoulder. "While you work on this, we are going to try another angle. You have my cell phone number. I want you to call me the minute you get through to that computer." She turned to Meghan. "You and I are going to check out that warehouse. I am sure by now either Superman has the situation under control, or it's a dead end."
Superman circled the warehouse several times. He did not notice any lead shielding, and he could see at least seven people. Three of these were unconscious, piled in a heap in the back of a van. The other three were packing things into the van and a large truck. He figured that since they were obviously in a hurry, he must be missing a party or something. So he decided to swoop in and join them.
"OK, guys. The game is up. Where are Sean and the children?"
One of the men looked up briefly as he carried a box to the truck. He seemed unconcerned and answered truthfully. "They're drugged up nice and quiet in the back of that van, where they'll stay until we get our cash. It is so much easier to manage zombies than petulant children, don't you agree?"
"You're awfully bold for someone about to go to prison."
At that point, one of the men gently opened a lead box and crossed the room with Kryptonite in hand. "One could say the same for you, Superman." The large chunk of rock affected Superman immediately. As he fell to the ground, the man holding the rock sneered, "or should I say NOT so Superman?" Looking down on the fallen hero, he mumbled to himself. "Fools rush in…" Superman had underestimated his enemy, yet again. This man would not do the same. He turned to the other men in the room. "You get the cage ready and carry him into it. Don't take the Kryptonite off of him. Keep it close enough to sedate him, but not too close. We need to test him while he's alive. Once we're done testing him we'll kill him with it and complete the set of tests."
One of the men was chewing his lip. "What about the others?"
The first answered with a smile on his face. "Who am I to turn down a million bucks? Besides, if they don't hear from Superman, they will have to go according to what we have told them to do. They know if they don't, the hostages will die. And they've already played their trump card. So I think they will be dancing to our tune. Now let's get moving, boys. I want to tie up all the loose ends so we don't keep our former employers waiting. Once we return the rock with the added bonus, they're sure to pay us even more. Besides, this hovel is getting on my nerves."
Lois and Meghan had been searching the warehouse for about half an hour. They had arrived at the warehouse to find it empty, with a trace of exhaust in the air. They had found little to go on, except a few desks, an empty potato chip bag, and a few tire tracks. When a call came through on Lois's cell phone, Lois and Meghan crowded around the phone to hear what Jimmy had to say.
"Guys, I just got through the final password. And I do not believe what I am seeing." Jimmy was typing furiously…the more files and directories he accessed, though, the more puzzled became. "Jeez, I knew these guys had it in for Superman, but ALL of this stuff seems to be about Superman. I mean EVERYTHING. Directly or indirectly. And there is just SO much of it. Wait, here's an AVERY file…listen to this." He quoted from the screen as Lois and Meghan waited silently. "And I quote, 'connections with Clark Kent could mean connections with Superman…all indications are that he would come to her aid'…"
Lois suddenly paled, and grabbed on to a desk for support. "OH, GOD!"
Meghan looked unconcerned. The file Lois had given her to read on Bureau 39 had been slightly edited. Lois had taken out all references to Kryptonite to limit the number of people who knew about the poison. As a result, Meghan had no idea of the possible danger. "Well, Superman can take care of himself, can't he?"
As Lois dropped into the nearest seat, Jimmy tried to explain. "Well, Superman asked us to keep it as much of a secret as possible, but there is one thing that can really hurt him. Kill him, even. It's called Kryptonite. And all indications are that Bureau 39 has a stash of this."
As this information began to sink in, Meghan felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. "All this time I thought…and I lead them right to him…"
Lois recovered from her momentary shock and had a grim look of determination on her face. She grabbed the phone. "Jimmy, I want you to download everything you can out of these files. After we catch them, we're going to need some hard conspiracy proof to get them put behind bars for a long time. Meghan and I have some more searching to do here."
They continued to search the warehouse. They tried, in vain, to decipher the vehicle tracks they found. Eventually, they were forced to give up.
Meghan had a firm grip on herself at this point. "Okay, Lois. We've exhausted this lead. There is no way that we can get anywhere here. It's eight o'clock. Let's get to the bank and withdraw some money."
Lois looked astonished. "You're not giving up, are you? You can't plan to go along with these guys."
"Look, if your sources are correct, they probably have access to Kryptonite. They've moved everything. They have been one step ahead of us every time. We need to get a plan and use our own advantages."
"I am assuming that you have a plan?"
Meghan nodded firmly. "You bet. They've REALLY pissed me off now. I am going to need a large bag to carry all that cash, though. Just to convince them we've given up…"
As Meghan left the bank, she looked calm and confident to the casual observer. But there was a nervous energy pushing her. It had taken three hours to convince the bank of her identity and get them to hand over that much money in cash. The clock was ticking, and she only had one hour to make everything work. As she jumped into the passenger seat of Lois's Jeep, she turned to Lois. "Let's move. I want you to drop me off about six blocks from the drop site. Make sure you are not seen. I will hand over the money; I assume they will make sure I don't follow them, even if they allow me to get away. But they can't stop YOU. Just make sure you stay out of sight."
Lois was a bit confused. "Out of sight? How am I supposed to follow them?"
Meghan smiled. "Trust me."
Suddenly, Lois's eyes widened in understanding. After a moment, she turned to Meghan and grinned. As she started the jeep, she felt better than she had in hours. She felt like it was possible. They could actually pull it off. If Clark wasn't dead already.
Meghan arrived at the money drop off point about five minutes early. The location was isolated and dirty. She paced nervously, unaware that she was being observed from a distant corner. Suddenly, the large black van that had been watching her headed towards her. It pulled over in front of her. A man stepped out and looked at Meghan. "Does that case have what I think it has in it?"
Meghan squinted in the morning light as she looked up at the stranger. "Well, that depends. Does your van have what _I_ think it has in it?"
The man smiled and opened the side door. Meghan gasped as she saw her family reclining in the back. She pretended not to notice the man approaching her from the back. As he placed the cloth over her mouth and nose, she held her breath and pretended to succumb. Just when she thought her lungs would explode, he removed the cloth and pushed her in next to her family. He slammed the side panel shut and jumped back in the passenger seat in the front.
As the van headed to an unknown rendezvous point with the tractor- trailer, Meghan quietly started untying her husband and her children. As she worked, she fervently hoped that Lois would be able to follow the van. The van turned onto a rocky path, what could have been a long driveway, and slowed. Meghan furiously tried to prod Sean awake through a fog of drugs which have kept him mostly asleep for the past three days. He finally started to come to as the van stopped. Meghan quickly "told" him to play along. There was a lot at stake here, and she needed his help. When the men looked in the back of the van, they saw two comatose children and two seemingly unconscious adults. Satisfied that the prisoners were not a problem, they began to discuss the situation.
The driver of the van seemed troubled. "Don't you think it's a little cruel to just kill these people. They didn't really do anything, and they have been quite useful. After all, they won't remember anything, we've had them drugged for the entire time. And the bureau will cover what tracks we haven't covered."
The man who had pushed Meghan into the van was disgusted by the lack of guts in his partner. "That's the trouble with you. You think too much about things that aren't your problem. We are not paid to think about anything except how to get Superman. Besides, I think it's time we paid Clark Kent back for the big pain in the butt he's been over the years and for getting Trask killed. Killing his friends will not only warn him not to mess with us, but will pay him back in spades!"
A third man approached them aiming his gun at the head of the second speaker.
"Hey pal, what the heck are you doing?"
The man shrugged helplessly. "I'm not doing it, man. It's like someone has a string on my arm or something!"
The men were too distracted to notice two pale faces in the van searching the area. They also missed the look of pleasure on the faces of their prisoners as the armed man knocked out the bully. The 'thinker' tried to run, but somehow, his shoes had managed to become tied together and he fell to the ground. The armed man approached him and knocked him out, too. As he was bent over, a large rock came up from the ground and knocked him out.
The Averys high-fived each other and exited the van. They used the ropes that had formerly imprisoned them to secure the other men. "Make sure you tie them tight. We need to take care of them again later."
Sean winked at his wife as he tied the ropes as tightly as he could. Sean, although no Superman, had played college football. He looked wiry, but his strength was evident as he tied the rope. "Don't worry, hon. They're not going anywhere. You go get the kids awake and make sure they're okay."
Inside the truck there was a laboratory reminiscent of Knight Rider. Except this laboratory contained equipment to experiment on one particular person. Two men, one of whom had subdued Superman with Kryptonite and the other who had joined the group once the specimen was obtained, stood discussing results. They were preparing to experiment upon an unconscious and unclothed Superman. The famous blue suit hung limply in a corner, where it sported numerous cuts, burns and bullet holes.
"Why haven't the others reported back? Go and see if they have finished dispatching the prisoners. I'll wait for you to come back to assist me before I start this stage of the experiment." For some reason, he didn't want to start experimenting directly on the specimen until all the loose ends were tied up. He couldn't help being nervous about violating the man of steel. But more important, he told himself, was the fact that the lab results needed to be completely precise and accurate. *And I certainly don't want to be the only one here to verify the results. The Bureau would never stand for that.* So he waited for his partner to get back.
The other man exited out of the sterile lab and then out the back of the truck. The man inside heard a brief sound, as if his partner were speaking. "What the…?" He rolled his eyes impatiently. Why could he never work with competent people? He angrily strutted outside to see his partner floating in mid-air. He was understandably distracted, especially when his airborne friend suddenly fell toward him. The two were so confused upon collision that they did not see the rocks coming. Fist-sized pellets connected with a satisfying crunch to the skulls of these would-be scientists.
*Gosh, there's really nothing to this, once you get the hang of it.* Lois thought to herself as she quickly checked to make sure the men were out cold. *It is tiring, though, so I guess I should do the rest by hand.* She jumped up into the truck and began to search for something to tie the men up with. Her search led her to the large examination room. What she saw made her catch her breath, and tears formed in her eyes. There, lying helplessly on an examination table was the one person who meant the world to her.
She recovered quickly and noted that he was still alive. A quick search found a large chunk of Kryptonite on a shelf under Clark. She searched her fanny pack for a piece of the lead foil she always had on hand. As she wrapped the foil around the Kryptonite, she silently cursed the closed-minded men who had done this to Clark. Suddenly she remembered the men outside. They needed to be tied up while they were unconscious, or they could quickly gain the upper hand on her. She found some cables that patched the computer into some maniacal device and quickly tore them out of their sockets. *They won't be using this, anyway.* She hated to leave Clark, but this needed to be done to ensure their safety.
Lois jumped out of the truck and hastily approached the forms on the ground. Her nervous energy had almost vanished now, leaving her weak in its wake. Tears coursed down her cheeks as she tried to tie the cables securely around the arms and legs of the men. She was too preoccupied to hear footsteps approaching from behind.
*You go to him. He needs you. I'll finish this. And I will make sure to these 'gentlemen' are indisposed for quite a while.*
Lois looked up to see Meghan reaching down to her. She quickly grabbed the offer of a hand and, saying a brief word of thanks, hoisted herself back into the truck.
When she reached the examination room, she quietly approached Clark. She pulled a chair up next to his reclining form. Holding his hand, she lowered her head to his chest. Just listening to his heartbeat, which was getting stronger by the second, calmed and reassured her. He would recover. She felt his chest move and raised her head to watch him. His eyes fluttered open.
"Lois? How did you find me?"
Lois smiled into his eyes. "Hush…Don't worry about anything. Everything is okay. I guess I should have been the one to say 'be careful' this time."
"I guess I get to say thanks this time. How can I repay you?"
*I'll think of something, farm boy, but I think it can wait till you get a little stronger.* Clark looked confused upon hearing this in his mind only. She smiled reassuringly as comprehension dawned on his tired features.
Clark decided to test his theory. *If this means what I think it does, then give me a kiss for therapy.*
Lois smiled. Aloud she answered, "Any time, my love," and lowered her face to his.
In the clearing, Meghan and Sean struggled to put the criminals all into the jeep. After hoisting the last one, they returned to their kids, who greedily clung to their mother and father. They weren't exactly sure what to do at this point.
"I know Lois has a phone in her car. We could use it to call the police. Then again, maybe we don't really need to bring the authorities into this. And I wouldn't like to have to explain how we were able to turn the tables on them."
Sean pondered this. "I suppose we could just use a bit of suggestion in their minds to change the events as they remember them. But if they are questioned too much, they could regain their true memories. I really don't know if we'll be safe in any case. We are such a target with Kate and Tim."
"Well, if it's any consolation, it seems this group was never really after us after all. They just wanted Superman. Perhaps we can just change this week in their minds…"
"Well, it seems a shame to leave them unpunished."
Lois approached from the truck and heard the end of the conversation. "Well, I think that since these boys have lost a large chunk of Superman repellent, lost Superman, and led us to their computer, the Bureau will likely punish them quite enough. Especially after the Daily Planet exposes them for trying to get money from you. We will just make them believe that Superman saved the day after you and I were able to neutralize the Kryptonite. It could also lead them to believe that Kryptonite is not as good a weapon as they believed. Once we fix their minds and their computer files, along with a big story in the Planet, they will have no reason to question what happened. If the Bureau even allows them to live." Lois took a deep breath and smiled. "Now, how about some introductions?"
Meghan smiled proudly. "This is my husband, Sean, this is Kathryn Margaret and this is Timothy Clark." She knelt to her son. "and soon, young man, you are going to meet your namesake!"
Tim's eyes lit up. *You mean Superman?!*
Sean looked a bit uncomfortable. "Now son, you know about keeping secrets!"
*But DAAADDY, no one could hear!*
Lois quickly nipped the child's tantrum in the bud. "I have been thinking. Those guys seemed really unprepared for what you can do. It seems that your secret is still safe. And you know what? It would be really nice now that Clark knows where you live if we could visit you sometimes. Maybe if we need some help on a case or something, you'd let us call you…"
Sean smiled. "May I call you Lois?" At her nod, he continued. "Lois, we had already thought about getting in contact with Clark when this all happened."
Meghan turned to Lois. "We have been investigating the possibility of moving to Metropolis, or at least near it. Sean has relatives here and Clark is here, and there no longer seems to be a reason to be alone. But of course, after how we've treated him, Clark may not want to see us anymore…"
Superman gingerly approached them in a rather tattered suit that he had obviously tried to patch. He seemed to lean on Lois for support, but his words were forceful. "I thought we discussed letting ME in on these decisions from now on. Besides, any pain caused in the past can be forgotten, and any, uh, inconvenience caused recently is more than made up for by what you seem to have done for my wife. Of course, I may never get a moment's peace again!" He smiled fondly at Lois while she playfully punched at his arm.
Meghan smiled. "I spent a lot of time last night thinking about you two. I realized that the best way for me to pay you back for helping me would be to help you. This does even things out between the two of you quite a bit. When I started searching Lois's mind, I realized I had a very good connection. We both care a great deal about you. So putting my 'gift' into motion was pretty easy. I just had to show Lois how to turn it on. Which I did right before the drop off. That is how she was able to follow us." She looked at Lois. "Don't worry, no one can ever mess with your mind without your permission again. It will take you a while to master what I have given you, and there is a large responsibility that comes along with this talent. If you want me to turn it off…"
Lois smiled. "No way! I like having an up on Clark. Besides, this could come in handy. I still think that we should still try out some of those weapon-neutralizing techniques you were talking about before. Between the three of us, we could certainly have some fun. Besides, we still have to pay back Big Brother…" The two started to plan…
Sean and Superman look at each other. They both had resigned looks upon their faces, knowing that these two powerhouses could take care of themselves. They had more than proved that in the last five hours. Superman turned to the children, for he had always had an affinity for kids. "So you two helped tie up the bad guys, huh? Well, if your daddy says it's okay, maybe I can take you for a ride someday."
"I think it would be safe to say that someday could be any day soon. I have a feeling that we'll be seeing a quite bit of each other in the future."
Just a few notes. The title is an allusion to a short story by Vonnegut; it is found in a book of shorts entitled _Welcome to the Monkey House_. Also, some light humor. While attempting to spell check this, my computer insisted that Trask be replaced with Trash…hmmm…