Couch Potatoes or Ourselves As Others See Us …

by Phil Atcliffe <>

Rated PG

Submitted September 1997

Summary: Lois and Clark relax and watch a video together — "Superman, the Movie"?!? First in an irregular series.

[This story doesn't have much of an A plot, if any. Or a conventional B plot, for that matter. So you might wonder what I could have written so much about; read it and find out… B-)

Since this story features two Loises and two Clarks (Don't Panic — there's not a clone in sight! Nor any time/dimensional travel), not to mention Jimmy, Perry and Superman, you might become confused at times as to just who's doing what where and unto whom. I've tried to make the text as unambiguous as possible, but… In any case, characters with their names in quotes are the film versions. If you _still_ can't tell who's who, let me know.

Notes as to where the idea for the story came from are at the end — PA]


The tapes were ready. The VCR was ready. The popcorn was almost ready. Even the weather was co-operating: it was grey, wet and dull outside, but not too rough. All in all, Lois thought, it was a perfect day to be indoors and shut out the world, without any great risk of storm and tempest to call Clark away.

Once he got here, that is.

After an unusually strenuous week, even by their standards, Lois and Clark had decided to spend Sunday afternoon and evening relaxing in one of their favourite ways: "veging out", watching movies together at Lois' place, complete with popcorn, soda and disrespectful comments. Some of their colleagues at the Daily Planet had termed it "MST3K-ing" when they heard about this pastime, but Lois had been relaxing in this manner long before "Mystery Science Theater 3000" had hit the airwaves, and Clark had found it to be a terrific way to cope with the stresses of the big city — not to mention his other life. It had always been fun, and it had only got better as he and Lois became closer. These days, now that they were engaged and Lois knew about his "relationship" to Superman, it was way up there on his list of the Top Ten Ways to Spend a Day Off.

Or so he said when they arranged this yesterday.

'So where *is* he?'

Lois looked at her watch yet again. 1:15 p.m. Clark, usually very punctual, was now 15 minutes late. With anyone else, Lois wouldn't have been worried; unfortunately, in Clark's case, if he didn't arrive exactly on time, it was all too likely that he'd had to fly off on some mission or other, and no-one, least of all him, could guess when he'd be back. And they'd both been looking forward to this *so much…*

But then, just as she had begun to work herself up to curse the world, the Fates and all the crooks, disasters and victims who were conspiring to ruin their afternoon, she heard a familiar knock on the door. She rushed over and looked through the peep-hole; saw, to her relief and delight, that it *was* Clark; and began to undo the various locks and chains.

He was standing in the hallway, waiting the obligatory ten to fifteen seconds while the usual clicks, clunks and rattles announced that Lois was unlocking the door. He was used to this short wait; in a strange way, it was almost precious to him. He could have come through the outside window, no trouble, and saved time doing it, but having Lois open the front door for him, and the look on her face when she did so, had become something important and meaningful to him. It was, he fancied, symbolic: she opened her door to him as she had come to open the barriers that she kept between herself and the world, letting him discover her inner self. And to him, Clark, rather than to Superman. 'Okay, so I'm a hopeless romantic,' he thought. 'She knows that; she *likes* it…'

The door swung open and Lois grabbed his arm, yanking him inside with a happy smile on her face. The grab turned into a hug, and the hug into a kiss. Once their lips parted, she said, slightly breathlessly, "Where have you *been?* I was getting worried…"

Clark let her go and moved over to the coffee table, putting a plastic bag down on it. He looked… odd. A little bit sheepish, and slightly puzzled on top of that. "Yeah… Sorry about that. I… I left my place about half-an-hour ago to go get some tapes. And… and I found a new store renting videos a couple of blocks away."


"Well… it's funny. I said it was a new store because I've never been in it before. But it didn't look new at all. 'Well-worn' is the word that comes to mind. Kinda shabby, in fact. But the funny thing is, I don't remember ever seeing it there before, and I thought I knew the neighbourhood pretty well. And then, when I looked inside…"

"Clark, you're not making too much sense here. What's the problem, and why did it make you late?"

He didn't answer her question directly. Instead, he pointed at the bag that he had just put down. "Take a look at what I rented from this store."

She went over to the coffee table and opened the bag. Inside was an ordinary-looking tape, nothing special about it. The box was bright orange and only had the name of the store on it, so she opened it… and saw the title.

"*'Superman'?*! Clark…" She looked up at him, now equally puzzled.

"Yeah… Weird, huh? That's what took me so long: I couldn't work out where this came from, and I wasn't quite game enough to rent it… until I realised that someone *else* could walk in off the street and take it home for a few bucks. Fortunately, this was the only copy that the store had… although the guy behind the counter did say that he was expecting to get in copies of the other *three* films in the series next week. He liked the second one, but didn't seem to think that the others were much good, though. Said that they downplayed your role too much."

"*My* role..? Who made these things?"

"That's the really odd part. That's a genuine, professional, commercial videotape — not bootleg or pirate stuff — but somehow all the studio details are blurred or defaced to the point of illegibility. Even to my eyes. The only thing that's readable is the name on the tape — *and* the year in which the film was supposedly released."

She looked at the tape. "*1978?* That's crazy! In 1978, you were—"

"Twelve. Superman wouldn't even be *thought* of for another fifteen years. I mean, I didn't even have all of my powers then. I couldn't fly, I wasn't that much stronger or faster than normal…"

"So what was somebody doing making movies about you then? And as an adult?"

"Beats the heck out of me… Anyway, that's why I was late."

"Boy, when you find a reason not to turn up on time, you don't fool around, do you?"

Clark recognised Lois' flippant tone as concealing, or trying to, a mixture of surprise, annoyance and concern. It was easy to recognise because he felt much the same way. He moved towards Lois to reassure her, only to find that she had had the same idea. They reassured each other by taking their time over a hug.

Lois, having had less time to brood over the puzzle, recovered first. "Well, there's the TV, and the popcorn's ready, so let's have a look!"


Lois put the tape into the machine and they took up what had become their usual veging-out positions: Clark sitting up one end of the couch with an arm resting along its back and the popcorn on his lap, and Lois leaning on him with her head on his shoulder and her feet curled up on the cushions. Feeling the need for a little more closeness, or possibly feeling that Clark might need it, Lois reached up and pulled his arm down, wrapping it around her and tucking his hand in hers.

After the usual beeps from the VCR, the film began. The TV showed a set of curtains which drew back to reveal a small movie screen. To the accompaniment of the sound of a projector starting up, the screen lit up to show a black-and-white picture of a… comic book?

"'Action Comics'? Hey, I've heard that name before," said Lois, freezing the tape.

"Me, too," replied Clark. "A publisher from New York got on to my agent a few months ago about putting out a comic featuring Superman, and that's what they were going to call it. They're still negotiating over it — I'd like some editorial approval if they're going to do fictional stories about me, which apparently surprised them; they seem to think that I should be honoured by their mere offer and let them do what they like in print."

"Ha! I know you were a comics fan as a kid, Clark, but have you *seen* some of the stuff that gets published these days? It's all weapons, angst and women with… with… impossible anatomy!"

"Yeah, I know. That's why I want to have some control. I don't want Superman made out to be some psychopathic vigilante. And then, of course, there's what they'd do to you…"

"Humph!" Lois snorted. "Just let them try…"

She started the tape again and a hand opened the book to show a typical comic page. The camera zoomed in on one panel, which showed a average-looking city building, circa 1940; the crude artwork then changed to a more realistic filmed image. What caught the reporters' eyes, however, was the large globe mounted on top of the building with the rotating band around it lettered with the words "Daily Planet".

"Hey, that's taken straight from the Planet masthead!" commented Lois.

"Yeah, just like the globe outside the building. Didn't Perry say something the other day about Mr. Stern wanting to put another globe on top of the building, just like that?"

"Yeah, but he wasn't too wild about the idea. You know Perry: the important thing about the Planet is what it prints, and nothing else." She giggled. "He couldn't see the point. He said that Superman already *knew* where the office was, so why spend money on advertising that only he and a few people in planes or helicopters would ever see?"

They laughed together at that and turned their attention back to the TV. They had to rewind slightly to listen to a little girl's voice tell them of the responsibilities of the Daily Planet, a "great metropolitan newspaper", to the public during the Great Depression. The year 1938, to be exact.

"1938?! What is this — Superman meets Al Capone?"

"We already did that, remember — or a reasonable facsimile, anyway. Besides, Prohibition was over and Capone was in jail by then. If this is set in 1938, it's more likely to be Superman versus the Nazis."

"Oh, great! I had enough goose-stepping and creepy Gestapo types in the Indiana Jones films. Not to mention those three genuine Nazis that tried to nuke you, a while ago."

"True. Well, we can always fast-forward through those bits if I'm right. Though I hope I'm *wrong*; this is odd enough without having to put up with cliched villains."

The image had panned up from the "Planet" building as they spoke, and now appeared to be moving out past the moon into space— a rather weird kind of space, full of fiery sparks and funny-looking splashes of colour. This, they realised, must be the credits, and so it proved. To a background of what Lois called "anticipation music", various names, none of which either of them recognised, zoomed into focus on the screen with an audible whoosh. Then the music changed to a fanfare, and the famous "S" shield appeared, followed by the title of the movie.

The after-the-title credits were more of the same: unfamiliar names listing all the people needed in the business of making a movie, and the couple on the couch were left none the wiser as to how someone had managed to make a film about Superman fifteen years before there *was* a Superman.

Lois thought that she had the theme music, which she rather liked, figured out. "See, Clark, the anticipation music is obviously the build-up to you changing into Superman, the fanfare is for the actual switch of identities and you taking off, and what follows is for Superman being heroic."

"I'll take your word for it. Real life doesn't include background music. Except, maybe, when I kiss you…"

"Oh, really, you incurable romantic, you…" Lois had heard this from Clark before, and couldn't quite make up her mind whether it was silly or wonderful. She decided to make another attempt to find out. "Wanna play a little tune?"

He did. They did. They managed not to spill the popcorn.

The journey through space on the TV finally seemed to have reached a destination, namely a red star which grew to dominate the screen. The camera continued to zoom in, and another point of light appeared near the star. This turned out to be a planet, the surface of which looked to be covered in… well, it was either mountains, or ice, or a spectacular new form of architecture — possibly all three. As the image moved in even further, the background music, which had begun as low, portentous and brooding, swelled to a crescendo that was both dramatic and somehow tragic.

Lois turned to Clark. "Krypton?"

"Beats me. I guess so, but… I wouldn't really know. All I know about Krypton is what I was told by the Globe. I do know that the planet didn't look like *that* from space — it was relatively normal as these things go. The sun's right, but who knows about the rest?"

He would have said more, but was interrupted by the first spoken line of the film: "This is no fantasy!"

The shot pulled back to reveal the speaker, a tall-looking, heavy-set, white-haired man in a black robe with the familiar pentagonal shield on it in white, carrying a long, glassy rod.

"Who's that? And why's he wearing Superman's emblem?" whispered Lois.

"Dunno. He might be a relative of mine. Remember, the shield is the El family arms, or something like that. It's pure luck that it looks like an S. I wonder how they knew that…"

The man continued speaking and it became apparent that he was serving as the equivalent of a prosecutor in the trial of two men and a woman for treason. All three were clad in something like black leather and were lit in such a way that Lois decided that she would not care to meet any of them in a dark alley — or even a well-lit one.

"Ah, I think we may have met the bad guys," said Clark. "I mean, those three have got to be there for some reason."

"Either that, or they're setting things up for the sequel. Wasn't 1978 about when Hollywood got its most recent bout of sequel-itis? The one that hasn't finished yet?"

The defendants were found guilty by the "Council", a collection of grotesque-looking images projected on the walls of the trial chamber. The prosecutor had to cast the final vote to make the verdict unanimous, thereby earning the enmity of the chief villain, "General Zod", who vowed revenge on him *and* his heirs.

"Uh-oh… we're *definitely* going to see those guys again…" muttered Lois.

The three traitors were sentenced to be confined in the "Phantom Zone", which turned out to be a flying sheet of glass or crystal which somehow swooped down on the criminals and imprisoned them in itself. Neither Clark nor Lois were paying that much attention, though, because the prosecutor had been named. He was indeed a member of the house of El — Zod had called him "Jor-El".

"Jor-El?" whispered Clark in amazement. "Lois… that's meant to be my real father!"

"Really?" she whispered back. "Wow… Does he… does he look anything like your father?" She paused for a moment, then went on, hesitantly. "Um… would you know? I mean, do you know what your father looked like?"

"Well, yes and no… I've seen that hologram of him that the Globe showed me. That guy's a little on the heavy side, and the white hair is wrong… but I guess he's good enough for Hollywood, anyway."

"Now I know I wanna see this Globe of yours in action." She looked up at him. "There's so much I don't know about you, and I want to. I want to know it *all*."

"I don't know much more than you do, Lois. And I don't really care all that much — here and now, with you, is more important to me than a long-dead world." He paused to hug her again. "But, okay, the next time we're in Smallville, I'll show you. I *think* we'll both fit in the tree house… if we stay nice and close." He smiled at the thought, and so did she.

The Council members were revealed to be more than just huge heads as they gathered around Jor-El, now dressed in white with a black shield — as were the other Councillors, except that their shields were different. But they weren't there to congratulate him on successfully convicting Zod and his minions or anything like that; the discussion was quiet but heated, and it became apparent that Jor-El knew what was going to happen to Krypton but no-one else believed him. Indeed, the Council members seemed more concerned with stopping Jor-El from warning anyone and creating a panic. The actor came across on the screen as calmly reasonable, but filled with an inner sorrow, as though he knew what the reaction to his warning would be. In the end, out-voted and without a single ally, Jor-El agreed that neither he nor his wife would leave Krypton.

"Hey!" yelled Lois, sitting up. "Where does he get off, promising his *wife* won't try to leave? The world's about to blow up and he's condemning her to death! What is this, the planet of the super MCP's?"

"I don't think so, Lois. Look, there are women Council members."

"Yeah," said Lois disgustedly. "And how many of them have actually *said* anything? Super-simperers!" She turned to poke a finger at his chest. "Let me tell you something, farm boy: don't expect me to let you get away with any of that MCP junk when *we* get married!"

"Lois…" Clark replied in a pained, how-did-we-get-into-this tone. "If I was a male chauvinist pig, from Krypton *or* Smallville, would I have put up with *you* all this time? This isn't real!" He pointed at the TV. "That *isn't* the real Krypton; he's *not* my father; it's a movie! And I'm beginning to wish that I'd never found it!"

Lois looked apologetic. "I'm sorry, Clark… I guess I got a bit carried away. It's… it's just that, okay, this is a movie, but how often do you come across one of *those* all about the man you're going to marry? And there is so much about you that I don't know — that we may *never* know — and, I guess, this got a bit too real."

Clark smiled at her. "Okay… but now I'm gonna make sure that I show you the Globe sometime soon. I want you to know what little *I* know about what the *real* Krypton was like. I don't want you having the wrong idea of the planet — it was bad enough putting up with your… forceful opinions of Smallville."

"Okay, okay…"

While they were arguing, Jor-El had returned home to his wife and child and told them the Council's decision. There had been some talk which they had missed, but they decided not to rewind the tape just yet because the baby had just been placed into what looked like half of an overgrown Christmas tree ornament. Lois was reminded of her prized Christmas star that Clark had given her two years ago, saying that Superman had carved it out of an asteroid — which, of course, he had. The "ornament" rose to meet its other half, sealing the baby in a spherical chamber inside the multi-pointed star shape. Jor-El moved over to a control panel and operated something.

"Is that the spaceship? Your ship didn't look anything like that."

"I know. But the production designers seem to have gone overboard on the crystal motif for everything from Krypton, so I guess it matches with the architecture and those rods and all that. Look — it *is* the spaceship: there it goes…"

On the screen, the ship began to rise. It started slowly and then accelerated, crashing through the glassy roof panel and out into the red sky.

"Ouch," muttered Lois as the shards of the roof fell to the ground. "Those splinters… So much for safety in the home. He *must* be certain that the place is about to go Boom!"

If so, he was right, because Krypton was rocked by a series of earthquakes and eruptions. There was panic in the "streets" and in the Council chamber as the truth of Jor-El's prediction was forcibly impressed upon the sceptics. The huge buildings began to collapse and break up; people were hurled about and thrown into giant abysses, falling out of sight. The planet and everything on it was dying violently.

Lois felt Clark tense slightly behind her. She realised that she wasn't the only one to be taking this movie a bit too seriously — although, in Clark's case, she knew that he wanted to help the people on the screen as he would have in a similar situation on Earth. She just wished that this whole sequence would end. She had never been a fan of disaster movies because they went on and on and *on*, showing every single catastrophe that the writers could think of and that the SFX people could work out how to present; this part of this weird film was just the same, and she sent the TV a mental 'Get On With It!', in the hope that wishful thinking might, for once, do some good.

It seemed to work: the picture cut to a shot of the spaceship fleeing the doomed planet, which finally, almost gracefully, exploded.

"I've seen *that* shot before," said Lois. "That looks just like the Death Star blowing up in Star Wars."

"Yeah… well, that would make sense. Star Wars was released in 1977, so if this came out the next year, it'd be about right. State-of-the-art effects for their time, both of them."

"Came out *where?*"

"I don't know…"

The TV now showed the spacecraft on its travels, flashing across a series of shots of "outer space" like those that had featured in the credits. Intercut with these were pictures of the child inside the craft. He seemed to be in some sort of hibernation, and the voice-overs in the background indicated that he was also receiving an extensive education while he slept. The trip must have taken some time, because the child, a baby at its start, had grown into a healthy-looking toddler with a shock of black hair by the time the ship approached a certain blue-green planet and entered its atmosphere.

The heat of re-entry (although, of course, it wasn't a *re*-entry) shrivelled and blackened the crystalline craft as it streaked across the sky and over a battered farm pick-up before ploughing into the ground. The pick-up, its driver understandably startled by the strange object whizzing over his head, went into a skid and blew a tyre.

As the driver regained control and braked the truck to a stop, Lois' mind flashed back to the weird events of a year or so ago, when she and Clark had been taken back in time by H.G. Wells to prevent Tempus from killing Clark as a baby. She remembered how, after they had thwarted the villain together, Clark had flown off to create the "light in the sky" that led his parents to discover him, as a baby, in his spaceship. She guessed that this was the film's version of the same event, except that neither she, an adult Clark nor Tempus was involved this time.

She was right: the driver of the pick-up and the woman with him called each other "Jonathan" and "Martha". The odd thing, though, was that both of the "Kents" were, or looked to be, considerably older than the real ones, even today. Lois had seen photos of the Kents with baby Clark — had seen *them* in 1966 — and they had both been in their late twenties or early thirties, young and healthy; the perfect age, really, for dealing with a small child, even one who turned up in the incredible manner that Clark had.

"Clark… those people are meant to be your *parents?*"

"Looks like it."

"But… but, they're so… *old!*"

"I know. I don't think Dad would be flattered — I *know* Mom wouldn't!"

Lois could understand that. What she couldn't understand was how he could take it all so calmly — until she remembered just who the *child* was supposed to be…

Jonathan Kent got out of the truck, saw the flat and kicked it in exasperation. Only then did he finally notice Martha staring at the huge rut gouged in the nearby field by the spaceship, and the crater at its far end. The film cut to a shot of the rim of the crater, with the Kents looking over its edge…

And there, stark naked in the smoking remains of the spaceship, was the toddler. He smiled happily and raised his hands to the amazed couple.

"Ohhhhh… isn't he adorable?" cooed Lois. "What a cutie… were you that cute as a little boy, Clark?" Then she remembered looking after Clark as a baby, back in 1966 — 'Well, yes, you were,' she thought. 'Only more so.' She put on her best reporter's poker face, but giggled inside herself. 'And you're even cuter now, big boy…'

Clark didn't notice her sudden silence; he was taken aback, as always, by Lois' rare plunges into gooeyness over children. For someone who freely admitted that she generally preferred children to be somebody else's problem, she was remarkably prone to going all slushy when she was actually confronted by a small child, especially a little boy. Feeling that he had to answer her, but at the same time certain that this was one of those female questions that his dad said were designed to keep men in their place, he settled for, "You'll have to ask my mom about that." 'Just not until I have to go save someone in, say, New Zealand, please…'

If the Martha Kent on the screen was anything to go by, his mother would agree with Lois; she was instantly besotted by the child, whom she saw as a gift from Heaven. Her husband was rather more stolid about it, being preoccupied with changing the truck's burst tyre, but looked to be already more than half-resigned to his wife's determination to keep the little boy.

Martha warned her husband to take it easy changing the tyre; apparently this Jonathan Kent had a heart condition. 'Uh-oh,' thought Lois, 'I can see what's coming here…' She looked up at Clark, who was watching the screen impassively; if he'd picked up on it too, he wasn't reacting — yet. But then her attention was caught by Jonathan when, in mock exasperation, he referred to his wife as "Martha Clark Kent".

"'Clark'..? Clark, is that right?"

"Is what right? Oh, my mom's maiden name. Yeah, that's right. That's where my first name comes from. Didn't you know?"

Lois muttered something about well, of course she didn't know or she wouldn't have asked, but didn't pursue the matter. To be honest, she was more intrigued than annoyed. What *else* was this incredible movie going to tell her about the guy behind her? She could hardly wait..

Enthralled by the idea of more fantastic revelations, she missed seeing the truck slip off the jack. Jonathan didn't seem hurt, although Martha was frightened for him, and Lois couldn't tell if he was trapped or not. It didn't matter, anyway, because the little boy lifted up the end of the truck to release his soon-to-be-father, standing there holding the back end of the pick-up off the ground with a wide smile on his face. His would-be parents were stunned by this casual display of strength but, in what Lois, self-confessed "city girl supreme", considered to be true Corn Country fashion, said nothing — not so much as the "Oh, my…" with which Jonathan had greeted the spaceship. They just looked at the blackened rut in the field, and back at the boy…

The film cut to a football field. A team and a squad of cheerleaders came in from training, plonking down pieces of kit on a bench as they passed. A dark-haired water-boy moved around, tidying up. A pretty red-haired girl was carrying a pile of pom-poms, and he went over and offered to look after them for her. It was immediately obvious that several years had passed and the boy was meant to be a teenage Clark Kent, but neither reporter could work out who the red-head was until "Clark" called her "Lana".

Clark's eyebrows rose. "Oh, boy…" he murmured to himself. Lois had an odd jealous streak regarding his old girlfriends — if the schoolmates that he had occasionally dated and taken to dances could be said to warrant that title — and he didn't look forward to telling her more about Lana Lang than what she already knew. Not that there was anything to tell, really, but try to get Lois to believe that… This girl didn't look much like the real Lana, who was not only blonde but had been rather gawky at that age, but she was attractive, and that was all that was needed for the Lane Inquisition to break out the thumbscrews.

Lana shyly invited Clark to come with her and some others to go listen to some records. Clark, equally shy but obviously pleased to be asked, thought it was great. Unfortunately, one of the football team — a thick-set, sandy-haired guy named Brad — didn't like that idea, so he dumped Clark's carefully-arranged piles of gear onto the ground and dragged Lana, reluctant but trapped by both Brad and peer pressure, off to his car. The girls in the car waved goodbye to Clark — all very friendly, but still leaving him to clean up on his own — and the jalopy drove off.

Clark looked mad enough to kill, but controlled himself — almost. He reached down and picked up a football, and kicked it not a bad punt. The coach should have been watching; it went straight over the posts… at the other end of the field! And kept going, and going, still rising, right out of sight.

"Ouch… don't you just *know* that he's wishing that he was kicking that creep instead of a ball?" Lois looked pained, and then a thought struck her. "Wait a minute: you played football at school, didn't you? I know you did — I've seen your trophies."

"Yeah, I did — after a lot of persuasion. I didn't really want to play, because I was afraid that I'd hurt somebody, but the coach got all my friends to pester me about it, so I gave in. It turned out okay — we played a passing game rather than a running one, so I was able to keep away from most of the tacklers. Everyone at school was really pleased, except the coach; he said that he didn't think that I was giving everything that I had to the game — which, of course, I wasn't! But when we won the state final fifty to nothing, nobody really paid that much attention to him."

"What about… whatshisname, Brad? Is he based on anyone real?"

"Hmmm… no, I don't think so," said Clark, slowly and thoughtfully. "He acts like the cliched I'm-quarterback-so-I'm-God type that you read about, but Mark, our quarterback, was a really nice guy. He was even a bit like your friend Joe. And bullies never managed to get anywhere much at Smallville High. We had a few, but they used to get into deep trouble with the other kids, especially the football team. Or, if they were sneaky enough to keep a low profile, something awful — *really* embarrassing — used to happen to them eventually, and they'd get caught red-handed. They usually straightened up after that, or left. Funny, how that always happened…"

"I'll just bet…" muttered Lois, poking him gently in the ribs. "Hey, how come *you* weren't quarterback?"

"I was, in junior teams, but the coach thought I was better at receiving passes than throwing them, so he made me reserve quarterback, in case Mark got injured — which he didn't — and told Mark to pass to me as much as he could."

"Didn't that make you unpopular?"

"A little bit, for a while. The other guys used to kid me that they'd been made into the Kent Protection Squad, and the coach wouldn't have cared if I was the most hated guy in school, so long as Mark and I went on making touchdowns. But Mark and I put our heads together and realised that we could use this: he would pass to me as much as possible in the early part of the game, so that the other team would catch on and start to chase me — and then Mark would pass or give the ball to someone else. *Anyone* else, so long as he was unmarked. And it worked! We confused them rotten! I think *everyone* on our team made a touchdown that year. 'Spoofin' Smallville', they called us…"

Lois, never a great football fan, had had enough. Back to the TV: young Clark was now seen running — really running, as the camera pulled back to show him racing a train and keeping up with it easily. He was obviously enjoying himself, and he waved to a little girl on the train, who waved back. She tried to tell her parents about the boy outside, but neither her mother or father took her seriously — or looked out the window. Her mother made an all-too-typical parental remark about what an imagination she had, which is when Lois' eyes widened — the little girl was supposed to be *her*, as a child!

"Hey, she's kinda cute…" teased Clark, rewinding the tape to get a better look at the girl. 'Sauce for the goose…' he thought. "Yeah, I like the look of her. Definite fence-post material. Give her a few years…" He started to kiss Lois on the top of her head, gradually moving down to her forehead and then off to one side to nibble her ear, in between continuing to murmur, "…and… she'll… almost… but not quite… be… as cute… as you!"

Lois shivered as he kissed her ear a final time and relaxed back on the couch, hugging her as he did so. 'Oh well,' she thought, 'I shouldn't be jealous of myself — even if it is Hollywood's version of me as an eight-year-old.' Then she sat up, saying in a shocked, not-quite-sure-if-I-should-be-insulted-or-laughing voice: "What was that? *Fence-post* material?!"

Clark laughed and stopped the tape. "Yeah, fence-post material. It's an old saying of my dad's — it may even date back to *his* dad. Calling a girl that means that she's so attractive that her father — well, originally, her father; I guess, these days, maybe she should have it herself. Anyway, *somebody's* gonna need their own special fence post — I always imagined it to have a carved handle, like a baseball bat — to beat off the boys!

"Now, *you*," he continued, kissing her again, "have always been fence-post material — whole fence material, if it comes to that. And I can think of a few people that I would have liked to work over with a fence post…" But, in lieu of having a convenient fence post to hand, along with any or all of Messrs Luthor, Scardino, Deter and a certain slimy Frenchman, he settled for turning the movie back on.

Mollified, amused and pretty sure that she could guess who Clark's would-be victims were, Lois watched as the teenage Clark poured on even more speed, beating the train to a crossing by a fraction of a second in his own form of "Chicken", then raced up the road towards the Kent farm. The camera pulled back to show a car coming up another road. It pulled up outside the farm gateway, where Clark was leaning back on the fence, smiling to himself. It was, of course, Brad's jalopy with "the gang" in it; they were amazed to see Clark who, when asked how he got home so fast, merely replied, "I ran."

The adult Clark winced — that was *not* an answer likely to endear his screen self to his schoolmates, particularly unpleasant, bull-headed jocks like Brad. And he was right: the car shot away in a shower of dust with Brad making loud comments about "oddballs". The younger Clark was left to face his father. Jonathan Kent was paternally forbearing with his special son, realising that sometimes the frustration that Clark felt in always hiding what he could do would boil over, but stressing that those same special abilities should — *must* — be used for a better purpose than merely starring on the football field.

Lois, who was the first to admit that she didn't have much knowledge of either side of a father-son relationship, was impressed by the actor playing Jonathan. Although he had only a few lines to do it in, he managed to convey a sense of… solidity, of firm support and unshakeable goodness, together with a very deep love and understanding between himself and his son. Which made it all the more shocking when he collapsed and died of a heart attack, barely seconds after reassuring Clark and reconciling him to his masquerade.

She had been expecting it at some point in the film, but had still been caught unawares. She turned and put her arms around Clark, not saying anything, just holding him and trying to convey the message that she was there for him as he watched the funeral of Jonathan Kent. Her eyes stung, but she refused to wipe them or give in to any emotion because Clark might need her, right *now*.

Eventually, after his screen counterpart had lamented that all his powers had been useless to help his father, he turned his face to hers and kissed her forehead gently. "It's okay, Lois…" he said quietly, "But, thank you. This will happen, one day; I know that. But not today, I think, or for a while, God willing."

He hugged her, and she hugged back, resting her head on his shoulder. In some ways, Clark's parents were closer to her than her own, especially her father, and it would be a tragedy for both of them when the time depicted on the TV did finally come. Fortunately, as Clark had said, it probably wouldn't be soon — the real Jonathan Kent wasn't as old as the film one, and had looked as strong as an ox the last time that Lois had seen him.

To relieve the melancholy mood, she asked Clark, "When are you going home next?"

"I hadn't really thought about it. I guess I could con Perry into giving me the weekend off next week, if I wanted." He looked at her and raised one eyebrow. "Maybe even both of us… wanna come?"

"Yes. I'd like to see them again… and Smallville… and the farm… and your tree house… and the Globe…"

"Okay. Let's try for that weekend, then. Of course, if we really want to be sure that he'll let us go, we'll have to keep him happy this week…"

"No problem!" chirped Lois, her mood much lightened by the prospect. "All we have to do is come up with yet another red-hot scoop from the team of Lane and Kent, peerless investigative reporters for the greatest newspaper in the world. That's the *least* of our difficulties…"

Clark wasn't so sure, but kept his peace lest she decide to start working on this "red-hot scoop" then and there. He looked back at the TV; while they'd been talking, he'd also kept half an eye and ear on the film, in which his younger self had been "called" in the middle of the night by a strange green crystal from the bottom of the spaceship, which was kept hidden in the barn. The crystal had apparently communicated something to him, although the film was deliberately vague on how and what, and he had decided to leave home, heading, as he told his tearful mother amidst sweeping panoramas of wheat country plains — Clark was fairly sure that the film had been shot in Canada, and was a little peeved that they hadn't used Kansas, since that's what it was supposed to *be* — "north".

"Clark" went north, all right — *far* north. He was next seen climbing across pack ice with the sun very low on the horizon. He came to a stretch of water and paused, then reached into his pack and took out the green crystal. He seemed to commune with it for a moment, then raised his arm and threw it with super-strength across the vista of ice and water.

The crystal landed on a patch of snow far from where it had been released, rested there for a moment, then sank into it, disappearing from sight. The water surrounding the floe began to boil, and a series of long, pointed columns of a white, shiny material started to rise up from the sea, interlocking with one another to form a giant, gleaming shape, an artificial mountain of crystal.

"What is *that?*"

"Your guess is as good as mine. It looks Kryptonian — according to this version of Krypton, anyway — so I guess that the green crystal was programmed to build something just like home. I wonder what it's supposed to be made of. Not ice, I hope, or that entire building won't last past mid-summer…"

Young Clark was next shown climbing into the structure. He looked around in bewilderment at the steps, platforms and canyons that made up the inside of the place, then moved over to a central, raised dias, a collection of crystals and hollow tubes.

He picked up a single crystal spike that was lying on top of part of the structure and, after some hesitation, dropped it into one of the tubes. For a moment, nothing happened, then an image began to form in the air in front of the dias. It was Jor-El.

Jor-El began by welcoming his son and explaining who he was, and who and what the boy was. Whatever was producing the image was more than just a simple projector, because it could sense and answer questions, and Clark had plenty.

As part of their "conversation", the image of Jor-El described the crystalline building as a "fortress of… solitude". The real Clark's jaw dropped at that; so did Lois', and when she turned to ask him about it, his expression made her burst out laughing. He looked down at her, one eyebrow raised and a pained look on his face, and she managed to control herself, at least partially. "Boy," she giggled, "That's some tree house you got there, Kent."

Clark raised his eyes to the heavens and said nothing.

Jor-El's face grew bigger and hazier, until it dissolved into yet another space sequence. The actor's voice rose and fell over the blobs and washes of colour, describing his son's extra-ordinary abilities on Earth, considering their possible effects on the world and its peoples, discussing aspects of the human condition that Kal-El should know to be able to use his great power wisely, and, finally, laying down certain strictures as to what it should *not* be used for.

"Wow… Kryptonian college. 'Man and Superman 101', huh?" commented Lois.

And that was the impression that the sequence gave — a long (*years*-long, the dialogue implied) and detailed course on how to be a Kryptonian amongst humans, with special emphasis on the ethical use of great power in a world of much weaker, but equally worthy people.

"I guess so. I wouldn't know," Clark replied drily. "*I* went to MidWestern State."

Eventually, the sequence ended and the picture became a long shot across the interior of the Fortress, showing Superman, in full costume for the first time, in the distance.

"Finally!" snorted Lois. "I was starting to wonder if he was going to turn up! Or was this going to be the film equivalent of an origin issue in comics — you know, where they spend 20 pages setting up the supporting cast, the major villain and the sub-plots for the first six issues, and only *then* do they get around to the guy that the story's about."

Superman rose from the crystalline platform on which he was standing and flew straight towards the camera, only banking away at the last second.

"Hmmm… slightly wonky take-off, wouldn't you say, Clark?"

"A little, but that's probably the hardest bit for the FX guys to make look right. The actual flying looks pretty good."

"Claa-arrk… sometimes, you're so reasonable, it's infuriating!"

The scene now switched to a city skyline, which both Clark and Lois easily recognised as that of New York. It seemed, however, that the Big Apple was doubling for Metropolis in this film, because suddenly an un-named, off-screen character was getting out of a taxi in front of "the Daily Planet building". As Clark had earlier, Lois, a native Metropolitan, bristled a bit at this what was wrong with the *real* city? — but didn't say anything because she was waiting to see what the paper's offices were like.

She soon found out: the screen now showed an image of a large, open-plan office, as seen through the viewfinder of a camera. Lois' first impression of the office was not favourable; being used to the Planet's happy combination of old-world style and comfort and high-tech equipment, the large open space, rather sterile desks and total lack of computers did not impress her.

"Urrrggghhh… That's the 1970s, all right. Look at that furniture. And typewriters? *No*, thank you…"

The viewfinder swung around, finally coming to rest showing the head of a young, dark-haired woman bent over a typewriter. A voice called out, "Smile!" and the woman tossed her head, flashing a professional but attractive smile at the camera, which clicked.

"Who is *that* supposed to be?" Lois wondered. "Not me, I hope."

"Oh, I don't know. She's the nicest-looking woman that we've seen so far." Lois merely glared at him, so Clark hastily continued, "She's not as beautiful as you, of course, but who is? You could do worse." He paused for a moment, weighing the advisability of continuing before taking the plunge: "Hey, she's better than Linda King, isn't she?"

Lois merely snorted at that, refusing to rise to the bait, and concentrated on the TV, where she found that, as was quickly made clear by the dialogue, the woman *was* "Lois Lane". The photographer was "Jimmy Olsen", although the actor, who was dark-haired, looked less like the real Jimmy than the screen version of Lois resembled the woman sitting next to Clark.

"Lois" and "Jimmy" chatted a bit. Jimmy seemed normal enough, maybe even a bit calmer (although that was relative) than their own James Bartholomew, but Lois acted positively manic. The real Lois did not like the way in which the dialogue kept making oblique references to sex and gore, as though her film counterpart spent all her time concentrating on sensational, tabloid-style stories. She had just finished typing up one such story — about a serial killer — and headed for a glass-walled office at one end of the newsroom, labelled "Editor". In the room were two men: one was tall, broad-shouldered and black-haired, wearing a dark suit and hat and large, round glasses; the other, a few years older and in his shirt sleeves, was shorter and thinner, with an air of authority and bustle about him.

Lois recognised the actor in the suit as the same one who'd been wearing the *other* suit a minute or two ago. Presumably, this was Clark Kent as an adult. Which meant that the other man had to be…

"Perry? That's meant to be *Perry?*" she laughed.

"Well, I think he'd like to have lost that much weight, and the guy is frenetic enough. But what happened to Elvis? When I first met Perry — and you — he used to talk about him all the time."

"You mean as opposed to now, when… oh, all of *twenty minutes* can go by, some days, without a single word about The King?"

"Something like that. Actually, he's toned that down a lot, lately."

"Yeah, I noticed… it's either since we got engaged or since Alice left, I'm not sure which. I guess he's had other things on his mind."

"Perry" introduced "Lois", who had barged straight in, to "Clark". He was pleased to meet her; she, totally preoccupied with presenting her latest scoop to Perry and convincing him that it not only didn't need editing, it should go on page one with a banner headline, hadn't noticed Clark yet, nor did she until she nearly spilt a bottle of soda over him.

The scene that followed, especially the dialogue, sent the message that Clark had gone from being a teenage victim of bullying to become a complete and total nerd — clumsy, ineffectual and self-effacing to the point of near-invisibility, except when he made a fool of himself. Lois, by contrast, was cynical, streetwise, self-opinionated, and amazed that anyone like Clark could exist, much less survive in the big city and get a job at the Daily Planet.

Clark grimaced. "Lois, I know you weren't exactly overwhelmed with me when we first met. I know that you thought I was naive, gullible, wet behind the ears, a hick, all that… But, *please*… tell me I wasn't like *that!*"

"Okay, Clark, okay. Actually, you weren't anything like that bad. Now, will *you* please tell me that I wasn't like *her!* That woman is a sensation-seeking, sex-obsessed maniac!"

Clark stopped the tape and moved so that he could look into Lois' eyes. "Well-ll…" he began, "she is like you, or what you were like back then, in some ways. She's bright, energetic… wrapped up in her work…" His tone became rueful. "…none too impressed with Clark Kent, the new boy in town… except maybe just a little, in spite of yourself." 'And,' he thought, carefully keeping the idea and the grin it evoked from him out of his face and voice, 'about to get the shock of her life.'

"She does seem to have a different attitude to what's news, though," he went on. "I can't imagine you being quite so enthusiastic about a sex killer story. *And* you can spell — or is it just that you know how to use a spell-checker? But I do recognise the woman charging straight into Perry's office, arguing for a page one banner headline…"

"Oooooohhh… I'll get you for that, Kent."

"Is that a threat or a promise?"

"Which would you prefer?"

"I'll *show* you what I would prefer…" And he did. Some time later, when she was able to concentrate on other things again, Lois decided that she preferred it, too…

The tape was started again. "Lois" was now steaming about the new guy being assigned to the city beat — *her* beat. Perry countered her anger by reciting a catalogue of "Clark's" virtues, most of which were boy-scoutish; the obvious implication was that Lois had none of these good points.

The real Lois would never admit it, especially not to Clark, but, deep inside her, she did recognise something of herself in the film's portrayal. The difference was that the character on the TV screen seemed to be an exaggeration, almost a parody, of how she remembered herself before she met Clark — for one thing, she'd always had a lot more respect for Perry, even when he'd partnered her with a "hack from Nowheresville", than that woman did for her editor. She might have pursued this train of thought further, but Perry finished up the list of Clark's excellences by describing him as being the fastest typist that he'd ever seen. The thought of Clark at a typewriter was irresistibly funny and she burst out laughing, stopping the tape while she recovered.

"What's so funny?" Clark asked, looking at her bemusedly.

Lois took another few seconds to get over her laughing fit, then managed to say, "Sorry, Clark… I just had this mental image of you at one of those typewriters, banging away at super-speed, sheets of paper flying… Have you ever used a typewriter?"

"Actually, yes, a few years ago, when I was freelancing in Europe. You're right, it was kinda funny. I wore out one really old, dilapidated, mechanical typewriter completely — the guy who decided that it couldn't be fixed said that he'd never seen a better example of metal fatigue. After that, they let me use an electric one, which was an improvement, but it still jammed up when I tried to type more than about 300 words a minute!"

"More than… *why* do I ask you these things? Now I'm gonna have an inferiority complex for the next week!"

Clark reached over and took her chin in his hand, gently turning her head to face his. "Hey," he said quietly, "you've got nothing to feel inferior about, *partner.* I may be able to type fast, but I learned a long time ago — I even remember the very wise woman who taught me — that it's *what* you write, not how much, that's important. And I know for a fact that we're the best reporting *team* around. We do it together, remember?"

"I remember…" Lois replied, equally quietly. She hadn't really meant the bit about the inferiority complex — he was Superman, for Pete's sake — but Clark's understanding and loving response made her feel, not for the first time, that she was the luckiest woman on Earth. She kissed his hand lightly, wriggled back into her comfortable position against his strong, broad shoulder and reached for the popcorn bowl, serenely happy.

The scene with Lois and Clark moved out into the newsroom, hammering home the contrast between Clark as Mr Goody-Two-Shoes, a pleasant and likable klutz who was casually ignored by almost everyone, and Lois the archetypal, wise-cracking newshawk. Both of the real reporters were embarrassed by this, and it got worse when "they" went out for lunch and were promptly mugged.

"Clark" now revealed further facets of "his" character — not only was he a nerd, he was a timid nerd, *and* the kind who tried to talk a mugger out of taking his wallet with trite phrases about social conditioning and self-worth. Naturally, it didn't work.

"Lois" was having a hard time with this, mostly due to her companion's attempts to keep her out of the line of fire of the mugger's gun. When the thief had first appeared, she would have run, but Clark wouldn't let her. Then she got dragged into a maze of back alleys, with Clark looming in front of her so that she couldn't get past him. She finally got to do more than stand there when the mugger demanded her purse, which she dropped just out of his reach. He bent down to get it and she kicked him, hard. He fell backwards and the gun went off. Lois would have been hurt, possibly killed, but Clark, in a neat piece of slow-motion photography, reached over and caught the bullet.

He fell back against the wall, feigning unconsciousness. The mugger, certain that he'd shot the man, ran off. Lois, thinking the same thing, was almost distraught until Clark "woke up", saying that he wasn't hurt but must have fainted. She was disgusted and went to get her purse. Clark opened his hand, showing the bullet, and his whole expression changed from a nervous stare to a smug smile, which Lois missed completely.

As they left, Clark gave Lois a little homily on not taking risks, which she ignored — 'Well, *that's* in character,' thought the real Clark to himself — until he came out with an exact description of what was in the purse that she had fought so hard to save, nearly getting shot for her pains. She was astonished by this, but Clark tried to laugh it off as a lucky guess.

"Ohhhh, sloppy, Kent, sloppy…" teased the genuine Lois. Clark's mouth quirked, but he said nothing. He agreed with her but, remembering some of the awful excuses that *he'd* had to use at times, he was in sympathy with his counterpart on the TV.

After the mugging fiasco, it was a welcome change when the movie cut to a tracking shot of a short, fat, bumbling man walking along the street. "Ah… comedy relief time," said Lois with a grin. And so it proved. The bumbler bought a newspaper >from a blind street vendor and tried to steal a piece of fruit, only to be foiled by the man's very large, very alert dog.

"Is that supposed to be his *guide dog?*" asked Clark, who couldn't quite imagine it, because the dog looked more like a Doberman than anything else.

"Only if it's meant to lead him through the valley of the shadow of death," Lois replied. At Clark's look of incomprehension, she went on, "You know… like that old gag: 'Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil… For I have the biggest, *meanest* dog in the whole damn valley!'"

Clark laughed and they went back to watching. The comedy relief, whose name was Otis, had been recognised by two plain-clothes policemen and was being followed; there seemed to be some link between him and Lex Luthor, and the cops were hoping that Otis would lead them to a hide-out.

He eventually led them to "Metropolis Station", alias New York Grand Central. The two police split up, one following Otis and one calling for back-up. "Harry", who kept on Otis' trail, saw him climb on, and off, a train and followed him down into the tunnels on the lower level of the station. Otis walked along the track and stood in a workman's wall niche just as a train went past. When the train was gone, so was Otis, the rear wall of the niche having moved back, courtesy of a giant hydraulic ram, to let him into a tunnel while he was presumably hidden by the train. Harry guessed what had happened, though, and went to examine the niche. Then, another train came past and he had to take shelter there, whereupon a dark figure who had been following Otis' progress on a series of monitor screens manipulated some controls and the niche wall moved forward rather than back, pushing the unfortunate Harry under the train.

Clark snorted. "Huh! Catch Luthor doing his own dirty work. He'd have hired some goon to do that, while he sat back in the comfort of his penthouse. Then he'd complain about being disturbed when the goon told him that the cop was dead!"

"I think he's still in 'the comfort of his penthouse' — take a look at that set!"

Sure enough, Otis had entered what looked to be a further extension of the railroad station, all carved and polished stone, but one which had been converted into a combination hide-out and luxury apartment, complete with a bank of TV screens and electronic controls in a far, dark corner and large areas fitted out with expensive furniture as different "rooms", including a library.

"I don't believe that!" remarked an amused Lois. "How is he supposed to have got all that stuff down there?"

"No idea," Clark replied, equally entertained by the villain's lair. "But how do *any* criminal masterminds set up their headquarters? I reckon that there must be someone out there who makes a living setting these things up…"

"Yeah, they're called set designers, and they're all totally out of touch with reality!"

"Lois… No, I mean a secret, word-of-mouth-only contractor who charges huge fees to build hidden headquarters for bad guys like SPECTRE, THRUSH, KAOS… and Luthor. 'Master Villain Constructions, Inc.' No Job Too Big Or Too Awkward. Design Your Own Lair Or Use One Of Our Tried-And-Tested Layouts. Secret Equipment Installed At No Extra Charge. Let Us Build You The Perfect Hide-Out While You Get On With Plotting. Self-Destruct Capability Standard. Discretion Guaranteed."

Lois rolled her eyes. 'That's my Clark,' she thought. 'He'll eat anything, and he'll watch or read anything. Just as well he's got good taste in women…'

The figure at the control panel emerged from the darkened area, demanding the newspaper from Otis. It was revealed to be a slightly plump, middle-aged man with dark brown hair, wearing a rather loud plaid suit, a yellow shirt and reading glasses. This, it seemed, was "Lex Luthor".

"That's *Lex?*" yelped Lois, surprised and barely holding in a laugh. "Ohhh… if he only knew. He'd be furious! And what would Nigel have said about this Otis clown?"

"Something short, insincere, and probably Anglo-Saxon."

Lois laughed, but Clark didn't. She turned to look at him, and saw that he was lost in a reverie, a rather intent frown on his face. He looked up at the ceiling and his expression changed, becoming… mischievous?

"Clark?" asked Lois in a quiet voice. "What are you thinking about?"

He started. "Hmmm? Oh, sorry, Lois. I was just thinking about Luthor — the real one. You know, I think I'd have preferred that one to the real thing. At least that guy is ethical enough to acknowledge that he's a criminal, instead of using his wealth and power to masquerade as an honest businessman and philanthropist, fooling everyone into thinking that he was a benefactor of the city."

'Fooling everyone but *you*, you mean,' thought Lois. "Okay, so what was the wicked smile for?"

"Oh, that?" And the smile was back. "I was just imagining sending him a copy of parts of that tape… Like you said, he would have just *loved* to see himself portrayed like that. Now, what could I put on the card?"

Lois decided that she'd heard enough about Lex Luthor, now permanent holder of the Number One position on her All-Time List of the World's Worst Scumbags, even though he was dead, but then she had an idea that she couldn't resist, and didn't think that she should: "I know *one* thing you could put on it…" she said sweetly.


"Yeah. Write the rude message of your choice, sign it, and then add as a PS: 'Lois says to tell you that she's never been so happy…' *That'd* hurt him!"

"Ohhh, that's cruel… You can be vicious when you want, can't you?"

"I can where *he's* concerned, the.. the…" Lois' voice trailed off into a snort as she tried and failed to find a strong enough word to express her opinion of Lex Luthor.

Clark held her for a moment in silence, inwardly rejoicing that she no longer cared, if she ever had, for his one-time rival. He knew that Luthor had also desired Lois in his own, twisted way, and Clark could find it in himself to be sorry for the man — just not very much, and he was glad that neither he nor Lois would ever have to deal with the skunk again, not even with a fence post. Then he turned his attention to the important part of Lois' message. "'Never been so happy', huh? Is that a fact, 'Miss' Lane?"

"You better believe it, *Mister* Kent. Now, come here."

He did, and the movie was forgotten for quite some time.

They re-wound the tape to watch "Luthor" harangue his sidekicks, namely Otis and a wise-cracking, glamorous, very buxom blonde woman, referred to only as "Miss Tessmocher". This version of Luthor, the scene established, was incredibly vain (Clark muttered something about "they got *that* right, at least…"), particularly with respect to his intelligence, and had a fixation about acquiring land, particularly valuable land. There were also hints about some sort of master plan involving a forthcoming nuclear missile test that was going to enable him to do just that.

Otis also had to feed some kind of "pet": he lowered a side of beef into a pit, there were a few loud, vicious roars, and he pulled the now-empty meathook back up.

"What was *that* supposed to be?" Lois wondered.

"Beats me," said Clark. "It sounds like some kind of big cat, but the way it's supposed to have eaten that meat is more like a school of piranha!"

"Oh, well, I have a feeling we'll find out before too long."

"I think you're right…"

Back at the Daily Planet, "Clark" had just finished his first day and was starting to leave. "Lois", who had somehow managed to change her clothes since lunchtime, and who also seemed to be intrigued by her new colleague, asked him how he had enjoyed it. This was his cue to demonstrate his total lack of sophistication by using what she considered rustic slang, and to compound the error by asking her out to dinner. Naturally, she declined. She was polite enough about it, having a perfect excuse: Air Force One was coming in to Metropolis, and she, ever the workaholic, was going out to the airport by helicopter to interview the President.

She ducked into the Ladies' room to change clothes yet again; Clark, paying rather more attention to her than to where he was going, nearly followed her in before she stopped him. Having agreed to run an errand for her, he said good night and went to the elevators, where he was, as was beginning to be usual, ignored or abused by various people and left standing there, waiting.

The real Clark groaned. "I can see that this is going to get old, real quick. I know I'm supposed to be mild-mannered, but where does it say that that equates to being totally disregarded by everyone you meet?"

Lois snuggled against him and squeezed his hand. He felt better immediately.

Outside, night had fallen and "Lois", now dressed in a natty yellow outfit, complete with hat, waited while the Planet helicopter made its approach to the helipad on the building's roof and landed.

"Hey," said the real Lois, "where'd the globe go? There wasn't room for a helipad with that globe on top of the building!"

"Dunno. Maybe it got taken down since 1938 — if this is even supposed to be the same building."

Lois subsided at that and watched "herself" get into the 'copter. It attempted to take off, but a cable somehow got entangled with the landing skids, so that it couldn't lift more than a few inches. Unable to go up, it lurched sideways, striking the edge of the building. That started it spinning and the tail boom wiped out the rooftop waiting-and-operations room that the film Lois had just come from. The helicopter bounced a couple of times and eventually came to rest hanging precariously over the edge of the roof. The passenger side door hadn't been shut properly and it now came open, giving "Lois" a perfect view straight down the side of the building to the street below. Her hat went flying. She screamed.

She leaned over to close the door but, restrained by her seat belt, she couldn't quite reach it. The pilot looked to be unconscious, so…

The real Lois moaned and buried her face in Clark's chest. Her muffled voice, half angry, half anguished, *totally* embarrassed, came softly from somewhere near his ribs: "Clark… tell me that woman isn't doing what I think she is. Please tell me that she's not taking off her seat belt to climb around inside a helicopter with an open door that's hanging halfway off the edge of a skyscraper… *please?*"

The final word sounded almost desperate, but that was exactly what the woman on the screen *was* doing, so Clark didn't say anything. Instead, returning the favour and the moral support that his love had given him earlier, he put both arms around her and hugged her gently. Lois hugged him back, not wanting to watch what "she" was doing on the TV. The muffled voice was heard again: "Didn't that… that *idiot* ever watch The Italian Job?"

Police and ambulances had arrived by now, and the cops were having a particularly hard time keeping the crowds back. Clark had the awful feeling that the 'copter would hit most of the crowd if it went over the edge, but he had seen too many equally stupid crowds not to be certain that this one was doing exactly what might be expected of it.

The helicopter shifted again, just as "Lois" tried to climb out. She lost her balance and slipped until she was hanging out of the fuselage over the sheer drop to the street. She screamed again.

By now, it was obvious to Clark that anything that the actress did could only make matters worse, and he was right. A desperate attempt to climb back into the helicopter simply caused it to move again; Lois fell again and ended up hanging at the end of the 'copter's radio microphone cord, screaming. 'Enough, already,' he thought. 'She's in trouble; we can all *see* that, so could we please get on with the plot?'

The screen Clark finally came out of the building, saw Lois' hat on the ground, noticed all the commotion and looked up. He was suitably horrified and began to run down the street, to the accompaniment of a variation on part of the theme music.

The real Lois, hearing the music, pulled her face out of Clark's shirt and watched the actor start to run. "Where's he going?"

"I think he's looking for somewhere to change. I know the feeling; there's never a deserted alley around when you need one…"

Clark was proven correct as his screen counterpart appeared to head for a phone booth, only to find that all the payphones on the streets were mounted in open stalls. The actor's double-take on discovering this made Lois and Clark crack up completely, so much so that they had to stop the tape.

"Oh, that was priceless," Lois managed to get out between fits of laughter. "The *look* on his face… Have you *ever* changed identities in a phone booth?"

"No," chuckled Clark. "I don't know how that story got started. Even if I could find one these days, there's not that much room in there. And it's not as though they're very private — their sides are made of *glass*, after all. Besides, you've seen me make the change outdoors — you've even done it yourself, my darling Ultra Woman! Why would I need a *phone booth?*"

Lois insisted on rewinding the tape and watching that part again, dissolving in giggles. After his failure to find a handy phone booth, the screen Clark ran across the road, wrenching open his shirt to reveal the S before ducking into a revolving door to emerge as Superman.

"Now, that's more like it!" enthused Lois. "Hey, he's not bad. He's taller than you, and a bit broader across the shoulders… Nice."

"Oh, yeah?" muttered Clark in a slightly indignant, albeit playful tone. "But can he do this?" So saying, he reached down, turned Lois' face to his and kissed her, hard. After a moment, he gently rose off the couch, taking her with him, until they were hanging in mid-air, their bodies gently resting against one another. He didn't even spill the nearly-empty popcorn bowl.

"Oh, I hope so…" murmured Lois as they slowly eased out of the kiss. "For her sake, I mean… even if she doesn't deserve it. Why should *I* have all the luck?"

Meanwhile, the film Lois had finally lost her grip on the microphone cord and was falling, screaming again. Fortunately, Superman was streaking upwards and caught her.

"Oh, I know what *that* feels like!" said Lois.

"Me, too, but from the look of her, I'm not sure *she* does… More than a touch of shock there, I think."

"Maybe. Can you blame her? Hey, that reminds me — I've always wanted to ask you this: just how *do* you catch things — and people — like that, without hurting them?"

"I'm not really sure. I don't think about it, I just *do* it. I guess that, maybe, when I touch them, I sort of absorb their downwards motion and cancel it out with my ability to fly. Maybe we should ask Dr Klein about it someday."

"Only if you're ready for a couple of weeks of experiments. You know what he's like…"

"Yeah, but it's worth it. He's been a lot of help to both of us."

A gentle descent back to the couch and another rewind. After catching Lois, Superman told her not to worry, that he had her. The actress, with a totally-stunned look on her face that Clark recognised from real life (but carefully let no sign of the recognition show outwardly), stared at her rescuer, looked downwards, wished she hadn't, and clung to him as they began to rise, then uttered the immortal line: "You've got me— *who's got you?!*"

This was too much for Clark, whose head fell back onto the couch as he laughed and laughed. Lois, giggling herself, would have asked him what, exactly, was so funny, but he shooshed her and they watched as the helicopter finally fell off the building, only to be caught, one-handed, by Superman, after yet another scream from the actress. Clark winced, having grave doubts as to whether the helicopter could safely be carried like that.

Lois was getting a bit tired of the continual shrieking of her screen counterpart. She began to grumble, "I know how *she* got that role: they lined everybody up at the audition and hired the one who could scream longest and loudest. Talent, huh! — who needs it when you've got lung capacity?"

Clark was about to offer some sympathy, and *not* mention what "a good set of lungs" had been a euphemism for when he was a teenage boy, when his attention was caught by another scene between Superman and Lois. He settled for gently tightening his grip on the real Lois and kissing the top of her head.

Back on the screen, Superman had set the helicopter down on the Planet helipad and called for someone to help the pilot. He then came out with a series of incredibly hackneyed statements about the safety of air travel, presumably to reassure Lois, who was still in a state of shock, shaking her head, nodding and "uh-huh"-ing in desperate fashion to everything that he said. Only when he began to leave did she finally manage to get out a coherent sentence, asking him who he was. His reply — "A friend" — did not impress Clark at all. Okay, he'd used the exact same words himself, way back on the Messenger, but there was something about the way in which the actor delivered the line that just set the cap on his terrible dialogue.

Superman then flew off into the night, with a gentle wave. Lois stood watching, waved back half-heartedly, and fainted. Clark cringed inwardly — he wasn't sure which was worse: the sheer banality of Superman's lines, or that he'd left Lois Lane to collapse onto a concrete-and-tarmac helipad.

Lois, however, was ignoring the plight of her screen "double", and seemed to be in pain, if the groans that she was making were any indication. "Ohhhhh, Clark! Who wrote his dialogue? I haven't heard lines that bad since I saw some '60s sitcom re-runs when I was eight! And they were *meant* to be corny!"

The next few minutes showed Superman doing typical super-hero stuff — capturing a cat burglar and a boat-load of robbers, saving Air Force One after it was hit by lightning, even rescuing a cat from a tree — to the amazement of assorted crooks, policemen, aircrew and one little girl. Much to Lois' chagrin, though, no-one else suffered from a paralysed stupor to quite the same extent that it had overcome "her".

There was another short scene with Lex Luthor and his sidekicks in the underground lair; this time, they were using a flooded stairwell as a swimming pool, complete with sunlamps and a back-projected screen showing a beach. It was more of the same: Luthor paraded his ego and hinted at his master plan, Otis once again proved himself to be an idiot, and Miss Tessmocher, wearing a vibrant red wig, showed off her impressive figure and kibitzed. The one difference was that Lex was wearing a bathing cap and there was at least one other wig on a stand near the pool, hinting that the character was actually bald.

Lois, naturally, picked up on this. "Hey, how did they know that Lex would lose all his hair? That didn't even happen until nearly two years after Superman came on the scene."

"I don't *know*, Lois. How did they know that he was a criminal? How did they know about Smallville? How did they even know that you or I *existed* in 1978, much less that I was from Krypton? *I* didn't even know that then."

Lois heard the frustration in his voice and decided to keep any further questions like that to herself. This was weird enough without her making it harder for Clark. She snuggled back against his shoulder and brought his hand to her lips to kiss gently. He relaxed slightly and she was pretty sure that he was smiling, though she deliberately didn't look. 'That's better,' she thought.

The Metropolis and national media had a field day with Superman's first heroic deeds, just as they had had in real life, except that the film versions knew even less about him than their counterparts had found out when he first appeared for real, those few years ago. Perry White was shown delivering a tirade to the assembled Daily Planet newsroom staff, wanting to know who, what, when, where, why and how about the mysterious caped figure, preferably yesterday.

Lois and Clark looked at each other and did their best to keep a straight face: the actor, even though he was thirty pounds lighter and several inches shorter, had no trace of Perry's accent and didn't make so much as a single mention of Elvis, was doing a remarkable imitation of their own editor on the warpath: exhorting, cajoling, pushing and driving his staff up the wall in his efforts to get the news first and stick it on the front page.

The actress playing Lois, looking less outgoing than usual with her hair tied back, found that she had somehow acquired a small, handwritten note. She immediately lost interest in Perry's pep talk when she saw what it said: "Tonight at eight. Your place — hopefully. A Friend." Nor did she notice Clark looking at her over the heads of his colleagues.

By now, Perry had worked himself into a frustrated frenzy in his efforts to motivate his reporters. He began snapping questions about the "flying whatchamacallit" at anyone that he saw; the poor victims had no time to respond, even if they'd known what to say. When he got to Lois, the woman who'd actually met the hero, his question to her was, "Does he have a girlfriend?" He didn't wait for a reply, by which he showed himself to be less astute than the real Perry, who never asked a question that he didn't expect to get an answer to, even if it was "No Comment". Lois' expression — a small, hopeful smile, and an "innocent" casting of her eyes around the room, conveying the unspoken comment "could be…" — would have been a dead giveaway, had he been watching. The real Lois, who *was* watching, grinned in sympathy — she knew just how the woman must feel — and Clark cracked up completely.

Lois looked at him in surprise and with a certain amount of pique. "Just *what* is so funny?" she asked in a this-better-be-good tone.

It took Clark a few moments to recover, at least enough to speak between further guffaws. "Oh, Lois…" he chuckled, "that look was *so* you…" and he was off again.

Lois looked around for a cushion to hit him with. He was sitting on them all.

Her screen self didn't seem to be having any more luck; it was now evening, just after eight, and she was standing outside "her place", waiting, and seemingly none too happy about it. She looked at her watch and grumbled about this "friend" who hadn't turned up. Lois might have been more sympathetic if she hadn't been astonished at the woman's "home" — a roof-top apartment, and not a small one, complete with a large garden/courtyard area.

"How does she rate *that* sort of place? On *my* salary?" she cried. Clark thought about her previous comments on the subject of set designers and, perhaps wisely, didn't say anything.

"Lois" was dressed to match her apartment, in an elegant white sheath dress, over which was a diaphanous pale blue over-dress with long, flowing sleeves. She had obviously taken considerable trouble over her hair and make-up, but the whole ensemble looked wrong to Clark. Pale blue wasn't Lois' colour, and it didn't look all that great on the actress, either. More to the point, in similar situations between Lois and himself in the early days of their relationship, her clothes had been a lot more… emphatic, tending towards "little black dresses" with low necklines and high hemlines. That had been fun, or would have been if he hadn't had to spend so much time fending her off as Superman. He looked forward to seeing her in that sort of outfit again in the future, this time as himself, and *not* feeling the need to fend her off…

The actress poured herself a glass of wine, thereby missing seeing Superman glide down silently behind her to land on the wall surrounding the courtyard. She nearly jumped a foot into the air when he spoke to her.

The next couple of minutes were rather embarrassing for Lois, as her film counterpart stumbled and stammered her way through the beginnings of a conversation, deprecating compliments about her appearance and coming close to panic when Superman asked if she was expecting anybody, and should he leave? Needing something to steady her nerves, the actress went to light a cigarette and he gently warned her about smoking, checking her lungs for signs of cancer while her back was turned. The change of subject seemed to start her brain working; Clark, familiar with the wow-it's-Superman syndrome, although not from Lois — at least, not to *that* extent for some time now — figured that the reflex response to a common complaint probably did help her steady herself down. She did stub the cigarette out, though.

Eventually, "Lois" managed to calm down enough to adopt something like a proper professional manner, and the "interview" began. There *was* an interview in there somewhere, but a dispassionate observer (which didn't include either person watching the tape) would have said that it was one part interview to about four parts mating dance — the early, getting-to-know-you bit. The tone for much of the scene was set by her first question: "Let's start with some vital statistics — are you married?"

And so it went on. "Lois" would make one or two genuine reporter-type inquiries, including some that neither the real Lois nor Clark could figure out how she'd known to ask (bad script-writing and continuity, they concluded), and then she'd toss in something that might pass muster as a legitimate question or comment but was much more concerned with the mating dance.

Superman wasn't any better; he may have been there to tell the world something about himself, but he seemed to be spending a lot of time telling Lois certain things that weren't really for public consumption, such as the fact that he didn't have a girlfriend at the moment, but that she'd be the first to know if he did.

Even Lois' genuine questions had suggestive overtones, such as when she asked if all his bodily functions were normal. He didn't quite catch her drift, or pretended not to. Lois put her head in her hands and leaned over the table towards him; he responded by drawing nearer until, their heads close together and their gazes locked, she quietly asked, "To put it delicately… do you… eat?"

Clark, a Monty Python fan from way back, struggled to remain impassive at that one — he was certain that *eating* was not what was on the lady's mind, and it was all too similar to lots of Python gags about "noses" and "washing". He kept expecting John Cleese to burst in, pretending to be the King of France with a broad Scots accent — either that or the Spanish Inquisition. Then he remembered his Lois asking him more or less the same question and the careful way she made notes when he answered — "Does not need to eat, but likes to" — and their long-running tease about his eclectic taste in food, and couldn't hold his laughter back any more.

Meanwhile, the real Lois had her own comments to make on that subject. "Does he *eat?*" she addressed the TV in a sarcastic tone. "You don't know the half of it, lady! Any*thing*, any *time*, any*where!* And spicy?! Why don't you offer him a nice bomb vindaloo?" As she finished speaking, her eyes slid sideways to look at Clark's face. He caught her attempt at a sly glance and his laughter got harder. It was infectious; in spite of herself, she began to laugh as well, and that was it for the movie for a minute or two.

Yet another rewind got them back to "Lois' place", where their other selves had moved outside. Lois, having somehow found out about Superman's x-ray vision, invited a demonstration by asking him what colour her underwear was. He didn't answer, and she got flustered, thinking that she'd embarrassed him, but it was only that they were standing on opposite sides of a lead planter, which blocked his x-ray vision. The film Lois, relieved and still over-reacting to everything, said that *that* was interesting and wrote it down; the real Lois thought she saw a plot development. "I think he's going to regret telling her that before long…" she hazarded.

"I think you're right, but it's too late now," Clark responded. "The cat's out of the bag, and she'd probably be as hard to persuade not to write about it as you were."

Lois was about to answer that one, but she noticed that the actress had moved away from the planter, out into a direct line of sight for x-ray vision. She put the subject of her devotion to reporting the news to one side for a while — a *little* while — because she wanted to see what happened now. 'This should be fun,' she thought.

She wasn't disappointed. "Lois" was in the middle of saying something when Superman answered her previous question: "Pink." Now it was *her* turn to be embarrassed, and she moved back behind the planter. She recovered, though, because after he had told her that he was from another world — another galaxy, in fact. The real Lois looked at Clark at that, but he shrugged his shoulders. Meantime, Superman was now helping "Lois" with the spelling of "Krypton" (Lois glared at the ceiling in disgust; hadn't the woman done high school chemistry?) when she slipped another question in, very quietly and with her head bowed demurely over her notebook: "Do you like pink?"

He did.

"So, farm boy, tell me…" Lois said with a teasing note in her voice, "Do *you* like pink?"

"Depends who's wearing it…" Clark replied lazily, having expected this one. "I don't think it's really your colour — you'd look better in a deeper shade of red — but you can wear *anything* and look great in it, and you know it."

Lois smiled at that, but then turned thoughtful. "Clark…" she said sweetly — *so* sweetly that Clark was immediately hyper-alert for what was to come next. "Tell me something… in the days when we were getting to know each other… I wasn't like her, was I? I wasn't all tongue-tied and moony-eyed and flirty… was I?"

The last two words were said in a worried tone, which didn't make Clark's life any easier. 'How do I answer that without making her mad?' Lois hadn't *quite* been like that when Superman was around — she was far too assertive and self-confident for that. Actually, she'd been *worse*, because she'd combined her romantic obsession with the new hero with her reporter's zeal and a manic determination to find out *everything* about him (but not about Clark), something that the movie Lois seemed too preoccupied, or possibly just too zonked out, to do at the moment. She'd never actually asked him what colour underwear she was wearing, probably because it took a while for the story of his super-vision to get around, by which time they were on sufficiently close terms that she would have been monumentally embarrassed to ask such a thing, both on her behalf and his.

He stopped the tape and said carefully, "Well, to tell you the truth… you were a bit tongue-tied — so was I, for that matter but only at the start. It didn't take you long to get over that, and then you were anything but!" He looked up at the ceiling and his voice became reflective. "Me, I stayed that way a lot longer — as Superman, anyway; you were so different with me when I was Clark that *I* acted differently, too. When I was in the suit, I was never quite sure how to deal with you. It was so important to me, and I'd never had to deal with someone who meant so much to me — and to totally complicate the whole mess, I wasn't being *me*, if you understand what I mean. I was playing this part, but it wasn't just an act. And, of course, I've *always* been tongue-tied around you, in either identity, when it comes to expressing my feelings…

"Moony-eyed… well, yes," he chuckled. "You didn't stop staring at me for a long time — and you still do, sometimes. Not that I mind, especially now, but it *was* disconcerting at first. I shouldn't talk, anyway; I find myself gazing at you dozens of times every day. I just love to look at you… and I think I always will.

"Flirty — no. You were never flirty. Not like she is, anyway. Actually, I reckon that she's got a bad case of hormone-aggravated shell-shock; she's not thinking straight at *all*. I don't think that she's recovered from falling off that building yet, and he's dazzling her at exactly the wrong moment for her mental stability. His timing's as bad as mine is, sometimes… probably for the same reason!

"No… you didn't flirt with me. You were stunned by my sudden appearance, I guess, and you were attracted to me, just like I was to you, but you didn't flirt. You… tried to attract my interest — fairly forcefully," he commented, his voice suddenly dryly amused, "and I *was* attracted. I guess that we could have had a relationship then — it would have been *so easy* to give in and encourage you to love me as Superman. Except, of course, that Superman isn't a real person, but there was no way that you could have known that."

Lois said nothing. Clark hadn't given her the flat-out denial that she had wanted, but his words rang so true and showed such understanding that she wondered whether his answer might not have been better — at least as far as the prospects for a long-term relationship went. She'd have to think about that at some length but not right now. Just now, the thing to do was to reach out to him and kiss him to show her appreciation and gratitude that he loved her, and to assure him yet again that she loved him — *all* of him.

Which she did. He responded with just a little more tenderness than usual, which suggested to her that he may have been having similar thoughts. So much the better.

Meanwhile, there was the film, and it was time to refill the popcorn bowl. A quick trip to the kitchen later, Lois snuggled back down with Clark to see "herself", obviously running out of questions — reporter-type ones, at least — ask Superman how fast he could fly. This was his chance; he'd had enough of the by-play, suggestive or otherwise, and decided to move the two of them out of it, literally, by suggesting that she take a flight with him, under the pretext of doing some impromptu time trials. Of course, he then proceeded to make sure that she left behind any sort of recording materials, making the pretext even flimsier.

At first, "Lois" couldn't seem to take the idea seriously, but a little patient cajoling from Superman — not to mention taking her by the hand, which seemed to partially short out her brain — got her to go along with him. There was a short bit of dialogue which could only be described as Clark-bashing — the real Clark winced, remembering the pain that he'd gone through, having to compete with himself for Lois — and then the couple lifted off into the night sky, to the accompaniment of swelling background music — and the inevitable startled cry from the actress.

"Oh, my God," cried Lois, amused and half-disbelieving, "It's the 'Flying Nun' theme!"


"Listen to it, Clark!" And she began to croon, ever so softly, "Who needs wings to fly… Certainly not I…"

The funny thing was, Clark thought, that the words fit rather well with the music coming from the TV. That might just have been Lois, though — she had an excellent singing voice, and Clark was of the firm opinion that she could make *anything* sound good if she sang it.

While Lois was singing, she was also watching "herself" and her reaction to flying. At first, her counterpart seemed to be overcome by vertigo — an understandable response for someone who'd been rescued from falling off a skyscraper only the day before — but, as time passed and she didn't fall, she gradually began to emerge from hiding against Superman's arm and enjoy the ride. She didn't relax her grip on him, but she began to feel more confident about looking around. It helped that they had climbed a bit, the ground not seeming to be quite so close any more. They swept past some of the taller city buildings and out over the harbour, the blackness of the water helping Lois to relax even more as they circled the brilliantly-lit Statue of Liberty — although what *that* was doing in Metropolis Harbour was anyone's guess.

Sight-seeing was over for the moment; Superman took the two of them up, away from the city into a suddenly cloudy sky, eventually emerging atop a moon-lit cloudscape that somehow sparked a recollection in the real Lois. It took her a moment to realise why it looked familiar, but then she remembered — it was so very like a place that Clark had taken her to, not long after he'd proposed to her. A place half-way between the earth and the stars; a place where he'd spent many a lonely night, just drifting, wondering how, or *if* he could ever fit in down below in a world of "ordinary" people; a place that he'd never taken anyone else to, because there had never been anyone *to* take, or, if there was, he hadn't been sure enough of himself or the other person to dare to let them see this side of himself and the loneliness that came with being so different; above all, to her, it was the place where he'd said that he'd wait for her to decide what their future would be, for as long as she needed.

As with so many things in their lives, the world had intruded on them and made this promise harder to keep than it might have been for Joe and Judy Regular. He'd— they'd *both* gone a little crazy in the days following, but, thank God — and she said it reverently, even though she had no real idea of what sort of deity might be watching over them — that was behind them.

She looked around at him to see that he might have been thinking the same thing, because his eyes were fixed on her with a regard that could only be described as wistful. "Remembering something?" she asked gently, with just a hint of playfulness in her voice.

"Lots of things…" he replied. "So many things…" His voice had become rueful and a little sad, so Lois reached over and gently took the remote control from him. She stopped the tape, put the remote control down and wrapped her arms around him, laying her head on his shoulder. He turned and kissed her head, and they sat there for a while, not moving, not speaking, hardly even thinking — just being, together.

Eventually, Lois had to move to ease an incipient cramp in one leg. Clark got up and massaged the complaining muscles until they relaxed, then picked Lois up bodily and sat down with her in his lap. She was surprised by this, but didn't object because it suited their present mood for them to be that little bit closer to one another. She wriggled a little to get comfortable and relaxed in Clark's arms, her legs stretched out along the couch.

Once the tape was started again, they watched Superman getting "Lois" used to flying, encouraging her to release the still-near-panicky grip she had on his arm. In particular, he gestured to her to spread her own arms and move away from him a little; he would still be supporting her, holding her by one arm, but she would be able to enjoy the full sensation of flight. She looked uncertain, but he continued to encourage her until she finally let go with one hand and brought her arm back across her body.

Lois was a bit unsteady at first, once she finally managed to spread her wings, so to speak. She bobbed and weaved in the air before getting the hang of using her outstretched arm and hand to steady herself.

"That's it," murmured Clark as he watched her eventually manage to settle into a steady, comfortable flying position. "Nice and easy. Gently does it…"

"Hmm?" said his Lois, looking up at him curiously.

"I was just remembering something that somebody said to me… oh, must be more than ten years ago, not long after I first found out that I could fly. I wasn't too good at it at first — I could get off the ground okay, but controlling myself in the air was another matter." His voice became dry. "And I'm not even going to talk about my *landings*…

"Anyway, I decided to see if I could pick up a few tips from the guys at the local airfield. I told one instructor that I was thinking about taking flying lessons, and as we talked about what was involved in learning to fly, I eventually managed to lead the conversation round to technique. It wasn't hard; pilots are only too happy to chat about flying, and this guy was one of the real old school, who just loved to pass on hints that he'd learned the hard way."

"Oh, I can just imagine," said Lois. "A real windbag, right? One of those guys who can bore your socks off, unless you happen to be interested in what he's talking about."

"Maybe, but he told me one thing that's always stuck in my mind, and it certainly was a big help in learning to fly. He said that flying doesn't take any great effort. It doesn't matter whether it's aerobatics, tight manoeuvres or just simply flying straight and level; the important thing is to fly as smoothly as possible, and everything else just follows. He was right, and I think *she's* just found that out for herself."

Lois, her curiosity satisfied, made a mental note to find out more about Clark's first few landings from Martha and turned her attention back to the TV, where she suddenly figured out something that had been bothering her about her counterpart. She sat up, a sudden triumphant look on her face. "A-*ha!* So *that's* why she's wearing that silly pale blue thing…"

"What do you mean, Lois? Pale blue doesn't particularly suit either of you, but…"

"*Look* at her, Clark! She's dressed to kill, in a long, slinky dress — black or your favourite burgundy would be better, but white'll do in a pinch — and she puts *that* thing over the top. Why? It can't possibly be for warmth — the material's far too thin. If she's trying to seduce him, it'll just get in the way…"

"Oh, yes?" he said dryly, one eyebrow raised. "Are you speaking >from personal experience of seducing Kryptonians here?"

"Who was it who told me that he liked spaghetti straps because they didn't get in the way so much when he was kissing my shoulders?" she shot back, grinning, enjoying the new game.

"Good point," replied Clark, put in his place but quite happy about it. "Actually," he went on in a lower voice, "that gives me an idea…" and he began to kiss the back of her neck.

"Clark…" she breathed softly, shivering at his touch despite herself. She moved away from him on the couch, turning so that she could look directly at him. "That's wonderful, but I thought you wanted to watch this…"

"I do…" he murmured, "But you're very distracting…"

"I know what you mean," she sighed. "Let's keep watching, and we can distract each other later, okay..?" He seemed to acquiesce, but she saw in his eyes that he would hold her to that promise, and the thought was almost enough to make her change her mind.

"What I was *trying* to say, before I was so… delightfully interrupted," she went on, "was that there's no real reason for that pale blue over-thing — unless someone is going to take you flying, Superman-style! It's a visual thing; now that they're in the air, it's her equivalent of Superman's cape."

They turned their attention back to the television, and Clark saw that Lois had a point. The flowing blue over-dress did visually balance Superman's cape as the couple soared together in the moon-lit sky above the clouds, and its pale colour made it stand out against the dark, star-spangled background more clearly than even the bright red of the cape.

"Lois" was gaining more and more confidence, and had really begun to enjoy flying. Her face had lost the worried look and now showed a fascinated, amazed delight. She looked across at Superman, smiling in wonder, and he smiled back. With this encouragement, her grip on his arm gradually slid downwards until they were holding hands, then just fingers, and finally just the tips…

And then she let go of his hand. In an instant, the magic was gone, and she fell. No longer a creature of the air, she had been reduced to an ordinary human again, plummeting through a gap in the clouds towards the lights of the city, far below. Naturally, she screamed.

Superman looked rather resigned, as though he'd been expecting this, before diving down after her. Clark frowned; he, if anyone, knew about Lois' tendency towards over-confidence, but what was that clown *doing*, allowing her to let go? He'd never have let his Lois get beyond the holding-hands stage, more likely the forearm grip— but then he shook his head, realising that this had to be the idea of some script-writer, and the intentions of his counterpart didn't really enter into it.

Lois had been having similar thoughts, and her suspicions were confirmed when she saw Superman swoop down and catch "her", holding her close with her arms around his neck, the two of them looking deeply into each other's eyes. She looked at Clark and snorted deliberately. He looked back, one eyebrow cocked questioningly.

"Okay, Kent, tell me — it looks to me like he let her fall so that he could catch her that way. What do you think?" she teased. Clark didn't particularly want to argue the point, even in fun, but he was saved from having to point out that the real blame for this resided with the writers by another of their master-works — the poetry started.

The idea behind the poem, a reasonable one — quite good, in fact — was to express Lois' reactions to being with Superman: amazement at his god-like abilities; astonishment that he was prepared to take her, a mere mortal, into his world, however temporarily; a kind of hopeful wondering if he might want her there on a more permanent basis; and an awed offering to be there, to be *anything* for him if her hopes could, by some miracle, be realised. It made sense in the context of the story, being a logical development of the mating dance earlier, and the actress who played Lois did what she could with the words, but the rhyme and metre were so appallingly clumsy that the two reporters looked at each other in sheer disbelief at how bad it was.

They rewound the tape to see — and hear — that bit again. It didn't improve the second time around. Finally, after another long exchange of incredulous looks, Clark stood up, lifting Lois over his head as he did so. She looked startled at first until he playfully declaimed to the world at large, "Let it be known that I, Clark Kent, do hereby state, affirm and declare that this woman, Lois Lane, can write better poetry than *that* any day of the week, with both hands tied behind her back, so help me God! And so can *I!*"

Lois giggled at that and leaned down to kiss him. He lowered her until he could hug her properly and they spent a moment or six helping each other "recover" from the shock induced by the poem, before resuming their positions on the couch.

The poem served as a voice-over to more flying scenes, culminating in Superman gathering Lois into what both the real Lois and Clark recognised, grinning as they did so, as the classic "scooping" position that they had spent a lot of time flying in themselves, before returning her to her apartment. He set her down gently but her arms were still around his neck, and she looked as though she would be happy to leave them there all night, but then came to and let go.

That "moony-eyed" look was back, but it was softer this time, with less of the will-he-won't-he about it and more wow-he-did in there. The nervous uh-huhs also made a reappearance as a smiling Superman asked her if she was all right before saying good night and flying off. His departure seemed to bring Lois back to earth, so that she was able to think again; she took a few steps across her courtyard, saying softly to herself, "What a super man…" And then the penny dropped: "Superman…"

The real Lois grinned and said softly, "And so the name is born… Pity they couldn't give Lucy the credit she deserves, though."

"I don't think she's even been mentioned," began Clark, but he had to stop talking because someone was knocking at the door of "Lois'" apartment. It turned out to be "Clark", arriving to take Lois out to dinner. The real couple looked at each other — what was *he* doing there, just then? Neither of them said anything, but they didn't have to; the idea that Lois would have made a date with Clark for *that* evening was equally incomprehensible to both reporters.

"Lois" didn't seem to notice the incongruity of his arrival, either — nor anything else much. She had reverted to the bedazzled state of a few minutes before, prompting Clark to ask, by means of a hand-signal, if she'd been drinking. Alcohol might have had less of an effect on her, although she was at least able to function enough to go through the motions of getting ready to go out. While she was off-screen getting her purse, Clark babbled on about what they were going to do, but his actions belied his voice. He began by taking off his glasses and playing with them gently, a smug smirk on his face at Lois' current state of mind. Then he looked thoughtful and, in a rather neat piece of acting, his whole stance changed. It had not been readily apparent, but the actor must have been hunched over in his Clark Kent guise, because he was able to straighten up to stand at least two inches taller, which, combined with a change of expression, meant that had Lois come back at that moment, his double identity would have been totally blown.

Indeed, he seemed to be thinking of blowing it himself, because his voice changed subtly, becoming stronger, and he seemed to be working up to telling Lois the truth — only to chicken out at the last moment, hunching up, putting his glasses back on and relapsing into babble as she came back into the room. She didn't notice anything because she was still zonked out; her state of mind was clearly demonstrated by her dreamy comment to Clark as he closed the door behind her, still gabbling about what a good time he was going to show her: "That's Clark, nice…"

"Ooooohhhhh! You *eediot!*" snorted Lois in her best Ren Hoek imitation. She turned to Clark. "Why didn't he tell her?"

Clark was in two minds as to whether to answer, having been guilty of the same deception himself. Lois *said* she understood why he hadn't told her about his dual identity, and also that she knew that he'd tried to tell her several times but, deep down, he thought that they both wished that, one of those times, he'd been able to finish what he'd been trying to say before Jason Mazik or someone else had dragged him away.

"I think for the same reason that I didn't want to tell you, right at the start," he said finally, and very carefully, "He doesn't know how she'll react, and his secret is too important to risk. And, by the way he acted, he's so used to keeping the secret that it's almost instinctive to retreat into his disguise, to dissemble, to act the fool — *anything* rather than let someone know that Clark Kent could be more than he seems… And she's so… spaced out over Superman — I don't know whether it'd be safer or more risky to tell her than it would have been to tell you."

"Huh?" said Lois in astonishment, turning to face him with a mixture of anger and concern in her eyes. "What does *that* mean?" she challenged, her heretofore-perfect future suddenly filled with doubt. So comfortable until then, she could feel herself tense up, and she knew that, inside, she was involuntarily preparing to lash out at him, her usual knee-jerk reaction to any sort of emotional threat.

"Hey, take it easy…" he murmured, stopping the tape and looking deeply into her eyes. His expression, especially that in his eyes, showed nothing but love and concern for her. That almost calmed her down, but the insecurity that had sprung up in response to his words would not be pacified so easily. She said nothing, but he felt her relax just a little, and so went on, "Lois, we've been through all this before. It took me nearly two years before I was ready to tell you about Superman because I didn't know how you would react to finding out that the hero was really only me, Clark, the 'hack from Nowheresville'. You were infatuated with Superman and we'd become friends at work, and I was afraid that you wouldn't want to have anything to do with me once you found out that I'd kept this secret from you, that I'd lose all of what little I had if you knew. It wasn't until your feelings for Superman cooled and you began to feel for me — the *real* me, the farm boy from Kansas — what I have always felt about you, that I could justify to myself taking the risk of telling you.

"Then, of course," he continued in a dry, resigned voice, "when I *wanted* to tell you, so that we could take our relationship beyond that point, I could never get the chance!

"What I meant about *her*…" He waved one hand in the direction of the TV. "…was that she's reacting to Superman even more strongly than you did, and that makes her unpredictable. Even at your most obsessed, when you would charge halfway across town because someone said that Superman had been seen flying overhead, you were always so much… sharper than she is. It was the considered opinion of the newsroom that you were completely nuts, totally ga-ga over Superman, but your mind never stopped working, you were always *thinking*… That was— *is* one of the things I love about you.

"But *she's* barely on the same planet! If he was to tell her that Clark Kent is Superman, then one of two things could happen: either she'll think it's great, and they might get to somewhere near where we are now, in two days rather than two-and-a-half years; *or*, she'll be so angry and let-down that she'll reject both men and probably splash his secret all over the front page of the Planet. The first alternative is wonderful, but the risk of the second is just too great… Remember, it's not just his life, he's got his mother to think about.

"That's all I meant…" His voice trailed off as Lois moved over to hug him tightly, her face buried against his chest, sniffing to herself quietly.

She was so relieved, and more than a little annoyed at herself. How many times did Clark have to reassure her that he trusted her completely? Why was she so scared, even after all this time, that he would hurt her? How long would it take before she could stand to listen to what he had to say without instantly going on the defensive — *her* defensive, which anybody else would call all-out attack — against real or imagined criticism? And why did he put up with her, anyway? She didn't know, but she thanked God yet again for it. And then she stopped berating herself and simply lost herself in the feel of him, of his arms around her, and in the peace which their being together brought to her.

"I was *not* ga-ga over you," she muttered, some time later, in a small, snuffly voice which somehow managed to be indignant and happy at the same time, "And I *didn't* go charging halfway across town just because someone said you'd been flying past…"

"Oh yes, you did. Remember Berkowitz Park?" he chuckled, teasing her.

She lifted her head from his chest, obviously thinking hard. Suddenly, she reddened and her head bowed. He laughed and hugged her again. She looked up at him through her hair, her slightly moist eyes sparkling as she murmured nervously, "Um… can I plead temporary insanity?"

He reached out and took her head in his hand in a certain way. He gently tilted her face up to his. "Only if I get to plead *permanent* insanity," he said, "Because *I* am totally, utterly and completely nuts about *you!*" Before she could say anything, he leaned forward to gently kiss her. The kiss began as the gentlest brush of lips, but Lois, suddenly needing to express her feelings — love, gratitude, relief, passion — took it deeper. Clark had been holding himself back, waiting to see what was appropriate, but he responded enthusiastically, and time stopped for both of them for a while.

Eventually, smiling and breathing rather heavily, they wriggled back into comfortable positions on the couch and started the tape again to see Miss Tessmocher poring over the Daily Planet in Luthor's "library". The paper bore the headline "I Spent The Night With SUPERMAN: An Exclusive Interview by Lois Lane". Lois was slightly embarrassed by the double-entendre headline, but said nothing; if Clark had picked up on it, he was also keeping quiet. They listened to the woman extol the virtues of the hero to Luthor, who wasn't particularly impressed. Indeed, he seemed to regard Superman as a mere annoyance; it needed to be dealt with, but he begrudged the time and effort that it would take to do so. And it became obvious, in amongst the by-now usual banter between the three villains, that he had already worked out how to overcome this minor obstacle.

Luthor was looking through a back copy of National Geographic, and he triumphantly tore out a page showing an Ethiopian geologist with an unusual green meteorite that had been found about the time that Superman had arrived on Earth. Miss Tessmocher and Otis didn't get the point, so he explained with great patience (or what he would have thought so, anyway; anyone else would have called it massive condescension) that the rock was a piece of the planet Krypton, and its "specific radioactivity" was so high that it would be lethal to Superman. Miss Tessmocher thought that, even so, Luthor wouldn't be able to get anywhere near the Kryptonian with the rock, but he countered with Superman's inability to see through lead. The scene ended with Luthor smiling benignly while Miss Tessmocher and Otis discussed the latest fashions in Addis Ababa.

"Aha! I *knew* it was a bad idea to tell her about the lead problem with your vision gizmo," said Lois gleefully.

"Hey, I'm not arguing…" agreed Clark. "What *I'm* trying to work out is how he knows so much about Krypton. Unless there was a lot more to that interview than we saw, there was no mention of where Krypton was, other than it was in another galaxy, or how long it took the spaceship to get to Earth, or even that I came to Earth as a child. So how does he know where and when to look for Kryptonite?"

"I take your point. And what's this 'specific radioactivity' business, oh science whiz?"

"Beats me… But then, no-one really knows why Kryptonite only affects me and not humans, anyway. Guess this is their version of technobabble to explain that."

"Ah, my man the Trekkie…"

The film cut to a scene of a driverless car moving along a country road. The car turned out to be radio-controlled by Luthor, who was suddenly looking a lot younger in a blond wig and a white outfit of some sort. With a few quick motions of his controls, Luthor sent it into a tumbling skid which ended with it back upright after a couple of rolls, but in a distinctly wrecked state.

Coming the other way was a convoy of three cars and an Army missile transporter. They probably would have stopped to render assistance to a wrecked vehicle anyway, but the sight of Miss Tessmocher lying spread-eagled next to the car, displaying liberal amounts of cleavage and leg by means of a bright red, *very* low-cut, very short dress, guaranteed that the convoy stopped and soldiers poured out to gather around her. A sergeant examined the "unconscious" woman, reporting to his lieutenant — who was all business, snapping out orders intended to get the convoy back underway as soon as was possible after rendering aid to any victims, until he actually *saw* Miss Tessmocher — that she was having trouble breathing ('Probably choking from trying not to laugh out loud,' Lois thought to herself). The lieutenant recommended vigorous chest massage and possibly mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, at which point Clark, who had been frowning shortly before, cracked up again.

Lois looked over at him with a long-suffering expression. "Care to explain yourself *this* time?" she asked.

"Sure, Lois," he chuckled. "I was wondering how she was supposed to have been thrown out of that car when all the doors and windows are shut, but then that guy started talking about how to treat her 'breathing problem'. Remember I told you a while ago that during my travels, I spent some time in Australia, doing some surfing? Well, I got to know some of the volunteer life-savers on various beaches; when they're on duty, it's like being on stake-out — long, boring waits with maybe a few exciting moments. Anyway, one topic of conversation during the boring bits was which position in the rescue squad would be more fun if you pulled a girl out of the water; was it better to be the one who gave her mouth-to-mouth or—" Lois saw where Clark was going and joined in, amused in spite of herself: "—*chest massage?*"

Rank hath its privileges, so the lieutenant took over the "treatment" of the "casualty", ordering the disappointed sergeant to call an ambulance. In what was presumably meant to preserve the lady's modesty, the lieutenant then ordered his men to gather round, to shield his ministrations from public view; this they were only too happy to do — until the officer barked out a sharp order to "About Face!"

With the convoy's entire complement of soldiers, save for the lieutenant and sergeant, standing in a circle in the middle of the road, their attention firmly concentrated on what was going on behind their backs, it wasn't hard, even for Otis, to sneak up on the missile transporter from the blind side and sneak under the tarpaulin over the missile. Once hidden from view, he opened a panel on the side of the missile and began to change the settings on a bank of controls, using numbers written on the inside of his arm as a guide. Lois and Clark grinned at that, remembering Jimmy's past use of his arms as notepads.

An ambulance arrived, and the driver was revealed to be Luthor, explaining the white outfit. Miss Tessmocher was loaded into the van, which drove off, as did the convoy. The "ambulance" stopped a short way down the road to collect Otis, who was flushed with pleasure at completing his assignment successfully.

Luthor wasn't so sure, however, and, as he drove off, asked Otis to go over exactly what he had done, step by step. Luthor's mistrust turned out to be justified; it seemed that Otis had mislabelled his arm, combining the settings for two of the "directional vectors" into one. Naturally, Luthor was furious and, after abusing Otis verbally with increasing fury, he began to attack the unfortunate fool physically — while he was supposed to be driving the van. Only by Miss Tessmocher leaping for the steering wheel did the ambulance not run off the road and down the side of a hill.

So they had to do it all again. This time, an identical Navy convoy crossing a bridge found itself blocked by a large truck moving a house. The naval men were enraged by the obstruction on a road that supposedly had been cleared for their passage, and the Marine escort poured out to confront the obstructers, but Luthor and Otis played the ignorant and slightly dumb rustic types to good effect and soon had the officers poring over a map, trying to work out how the truck had got to where it was and how it could get to where it was supposedly going.

Meanwhile, with all the attention at the front of the convoy, Miss Tessmocher, still in the red dress but with a tool belt around her waist, climbed onto the bridge by the rear of the missile transporter and ducked under the tarpaulin. She proceeded to open a similar access panel and set this missile's directional vector indicators; she must have done it to Luthor's satisfaction because nothing further was mentioned about the job.

The next scene showed "Jimmy" on top of a large concrete dam. "Hey, that's Boulder Dam, isn't it"? said Lois.

"Sure looks like it."

Jimmy took a few pictures and then the film cut to a red car driving along a deserted road out in the middle of nowhere. Inside the car, "Lois" was interviewing a Native American Chief about his tribe selling their land to an unknown buyer. The Chief had no qualms about the sale because the land was, in his words, "worthless desert", and the price paid for it was stupidly high.

"Uh-oh," murmured Lois. "I smell a plot development." Clark raised an eyebrow at her, and she continued, "Well, you heard 'Lex' going on about how valuable land was, and all of a sudden she's writing about someone buying lots of worthless land at crazy prices; sounds to me like his Master Plan — which obviously has to have something to do with those missiles — is about to get put into motion."

Clark nodded in agreement and turned back to the screen in time to see Lois' car nearly run off the road because she was concentrating on talking to the Chief rather than driving. He had to grin at that, because it was very much in character; the real Lois had yet to actually leave the road when she focused on something else while driving, but he remembered several hairy rides in the jeep.

Lois noticed the grin and wanted to know what was so amusing. He tried to duck the question, but she wasn't having any. Finally, he gave in and said, "Well, if you must know, I was remembering that time when we were going to interview Tim and Amber Lake, when you slammed on the brakes because you were mad at James Bond…"

"Oh, is that so, Mr Ricky Ricardo Kent?" Lois shot back playfully. "And who was it who answered the phone saying, 'Hola'?"

"Okay, okay. You got me there, Miss Goodbottom." Lois broke into giggles, which only got worse when Clark leaned over and looked her up and down, then went on, "Actually, you do have a good bottom. More than good — excellent, I'd have to say."

Lois stopped laughing and looked into his eyes, her face and voice suddenly provocatively sultry. "So do you," she said huskily.

"Oh, you noticed?"

"You better believe it…" She proceeded to demonstrate this by reaching down and gripping that bit of his anatomy, firmly and, for Clark, very pleasantly. He decided not to "retaliate", because that would probably mean goodbye to the movie and, as tempting as the idea was — *incredibly* tempting, he had to admit to himself — he was concerned about the origin of this strange tape and wanted to see the rest of it, in case it provided some clues as to where and how it had been made. He settled for turning slightly in order to put both arms around Lois — *above* the waist — and kissing her thoroughly. Her hands tightened on his buttocks as the kiss intensified, but he managed to retain enough semblance of conscious thought, despite the wonderful feel of her hands on him, to gently move her body onto his lap again when they broke for air.

Lois was a little disappointed, but resolved to play a waiting game. What was that about distractions? But he wanted to see the rest of the movie — okay, there couldn't be *that* much of it left; but once it was over, watch out, Kent!

A rewind brought the scene on the TV to the Planet newsroom, where "Clark" was just arriving. TV sets around the room were showing preparations for the simultaneous launch of both XK-101 missiles.

The real Clark looked puzzled. "Since when does the Pentagon televise missile tests?"

"Beats me," Lois replied. "If the real DoD did this, I'd want to know what they were using the tests to hide. This sounds like something the NIA might have tried in Trevanian's day…"

Back in the newsroom, "Clark" was looking for "Lois", but she was off in the desert, which turned out to be somewhere in California. After the obligatory bout of Kent-bashing by his co-workers, Clark was summoned to Perry's office for what, after a few obviously expository comments — such as where Lois and Jimmy were, and how a "worthless" meteor had been stolen from a museum in Addis Ababa — turned out to be a pep talk about being more assertive. Fortunately, before the editor could get too much into his stride, his voice was faded into the background as a high-pitched squeal blared out. Clark winced, and there were several shots of dogs barking to emphasise the fact that the squeal was meant to be ultra-sonic. The effect was somewhat spoiled by Lex Luthor's voice, overlaid on the squeal, calling to Superman and threatening to gas a large part of the city's population.

Lois turned to Clark and asked, "Would that work? Using ultrasonic sound to get a message to you, I mean?"

"It might," Clark replied unenthusiastically. "But it wouldn't sound like *that*. There's no way that you could get a voice to sound normal and keep it above the range of human hearing. It'd be more like a cross between that deafening watch of Jimmy's and Chip 'n' Dale gone mad. There's *gotta* be a better way of reaching Superman than that!"

Lois giggled at the thought of Luthor sounding like a chipmunk, and Clark looked pained. He really didn't like Jimmy's signal watch, and the thought of having to listen to someone harangue him in a squeaky voice over the top of the horrible noise was *not* attractive.

Meantime, "Clark" had left Perry's office and was making his way along one wall of the newsroom. Such was his ability to be ignored by everyone that not only did the editor not realise that he'd gone, but everyone else on that floor of the building paid no attention to him as he finally reached an open window, climbed out to sit on the ledge, and then pushed himself off the ledge and fell towards the street.

Lois was flabbergasted. "Did you see that?" She turned to Clark, her famous I-don't-believe-this look on her face. "He walks out on Perry, casually strolls over to an open window and jumps out — in the *Planet newsroom?!* We can't even *talk* to one another without half the people in the place watching us and trying to listen in on what we're saying, and he effectively commits suicide — well, he would be if he weren't you… er, Superman… oh, you know what I mean!" Clark grinned and nodded. "The point is, he jumps out the window, and *nobody notices?!*"

Clark shrugged. This was just an extreme example of the everyone-ignores-Clark-unless-he's-making-a-fool-of-himself theme that was basic to the portrayal of "him" in the film. He didn't like it, but there was nothing that he could do about it except suffer in silence. So he did. Lois was indignant, and voluble, enough for both of them, which he appreciated, and he decided to express his appreciation by kissing her. Lois appreciated the appreciation and kissed him back. The film was forgotten yet again while they appreciated each other.

They rewound the tape to see the point of "Clark's" unorthodox exit from the newsroom. As he fell, he assumed the classic flying position, his clothes shimmered to become the red-and-blue suit, and Superman pulled out of the dive to streak across Metropolis at low level.

*Superman* wasn't ignored; office workers (mostly female) rushed to their windows to see him fly past, following Luthor's taunting voice, and cars screeched to a halt and pedestrians gathered around almost immediately when he eventually touched down on a sidewalk. He waved them back and began to spin in place. But he wasn't changing clothes the way the real Clark did when he spun; this Superman was somehow turning himself into a human drill to dig down to Luthor's underground lair.

Lois looked at Clark. "How's he doing that? I mean, what's doing the cutting — his feet?"

Clark shrugged again, which Lois recognised as meaning that he didn't have the slightest idea, add it to the list of questions to ask whomever was responsible for this blasted tape. She also sensed that he was getting slightly fed up with the melange of oddities, not-quite-right-details and downright impossibilities that the film kept throwing at them. She hugged him one more time, trying yet again to convey that she was there to help, and was rewarded by not only having the hug returned but by feeling a certain tension leave him. She smiled; knowing that she could help in situations like this, and that he would accept her help gratefully, without feeling threatened by it, was something that she valued greatly about their relationship. Of course, the fact that "helping" often involved getting her hands on his gorgeous body sure didn't hurt…

By now, Superman had reached the underground walkway between the wall niche and the actual entrance to Luthor's hide-out. As he walked along the short length of corridor, he was attacked by various of Luthor's defences — flame-throwers, machine guns and the like — but all were completely ineffectual. This surprised neither person watching the TV, nor, it seemed, Luthor, who looked to simply be going through the motions.

The three villains waited expectantly as the reinforced door into the hide-out bent, bulged and finally exploded under the impact of what sounded like a super-strong push and a couple of punches, allowing Superman to enter. Lex sat back, basking in his ego and the self-assurance that it brought; Miss Tessmocher, unusually demure in white, ran a hand over her hair and clothes; and Otis listened at the door, rapidly retiring behind Luthor when the metal deformed under Superman's attack.

Superman strode in, glowering at Luthor, who enjoyed a little mocking banter with him before revealing with a laugh that the poison gas was a hoax, just an idea that Lex had toyed with once and had used to get Superman to come to him.

Superman wasn't impressed. His reply to Luthor's teasing was to abuse the man, calling him sick and twisted. Clark winced; this guy had a *serious* over-confidence problem, not to mention manners that his mother would *not* have stood for from any member of her family. Luthor had gone to a lot of effort to get Superman there — modulated ultrasonic signals strong enough to blanket the entire city didn't just happen, they required something pretty powerful to generate them, which implied the availability and use of a *lot* of resources. And the underground lair was hardly the residence of a harmless crank. Okay, so the guns and flame-throwers and things hadn't worked, but Clark was pretty sure that he'd have suspected that there was more to Luthor than met the eye, even in the earliest days of his super-career. In fact, he *had* — but then, the "Messenger" sabotage attempt was a pretty clear example of the real Luthor's basic, but carefully hidden, evil nature. And the screen Luthor was an acknowledged criminal…

Not so his screen counterpart, who, having calmed down slightly, became involved in a long expository conversation with Luthor. The villain proceeded to lay out his Master Plan for the hero in classic Hollywood fashion. Basically, Luthor had bought up thousands of acres of worthless land adjoining the San Andreas Fault (on the safe side) and was planning to make it into very desirable, very *expensive* beachfront property — the "Costa del Lex", a name that Clark considered very much in character — by targeting one of the nuclear missiles on the Fault itself, causing a massive earthquake that he expected would drop most of the existing California coast — and, in passing, the millions of people who lived on what he described as "the most expensive strip of land on Earth" — into the Pacific Ocean.

Lois, meantime, was distracted from the details of Luthor's plot by his off-hand mention of the size of the missile warhead that was to turn much of California into a second Atlantis. "*What?!*" she cried. "Five *hundred* megatons?!" She looked at Clark, appalled — although at what, it was difficult to say. "Are they kidding? The Army and Navy are conducting nuclear missile tests with *live* warheads that big? In *public?*"

Clark shrugged, but said nothing. The idea made as little sense to him as to Lois; in fact, he was sure that the military didn't even *have* nukes that big — yet. But, given the unlikely concept of highly publicised, televised missile tests in the first place, he supposed that having the missiles carry live nuclear warheads of planet-cracking size was not that much more of an exercise in absurdity. He was more interested in the fact that, unlike the typical Hollywood criminal mastermind, Luthor's plan had been set in motion *before* he told the hero what was going on; the conversation between the villain and Superman had been intercut with scenes showing the launch of both XK-101s, their sudden departure from their planned trajectories — one turned east, one west — and the frenzied but ineffective efforts of the staff of the command bunkers to regain control and/or destroy the rogue missiles.

Back in the underground lair, Luthor had "revealed" that the only way to stop both the missiles was by using a "detonator" that he had. Superman grabbed him and demanded to know where it was. Luthor wasn't talking — instead, his eyes slid towards a corner of the "living room" (rather obviously, Lois thought) — so the Man of Steel tossed him aside and began to look for it using his x-ray vision. He soon found an ornate box that he couldn't see into and, totally ignoring all the electronic equipment over in the far corner of the lair, immediately jumped to the conclusion that *this* was where Luthor had hidden the precious device, mistakenly relying on the inability of x-ray vision to penetrate lead as protection.

After insulting Luthor one more time, calling him a "diseased maniac", he went to open it. Luthor warned him not to, but naturally, Superman paid no attention, and neither Lois nor Clark were at all surprised when the over-confident hero staggered backwards with one arm raised and a look of horror on his face as he felt the effects of a large chunk of Kryptonite.

Luthor now took his revenge for the name-calling, taunting Superman with the superior intelligence and foresight of the "diseased maniac" as he stalked the suddenly-helpless Kryptonian with the glowing green rock. He had, indeed showed a fair amount of foresight, because he had attached a chain to the Kryptonite, which he looped around Superman's neck before kicking him into the swimming pool and leaving with a final verbal barb before turning out the lights in that part of the lair — and, symbolically, for the Man of Steel: "We all have our faults — mine's in California!"

Luthor walked towards his control room, leaving his fallen foe to drown, die of Kryptonite poisoning, or both. On the way, he was stopped by a tearful Miss Tessmocher. While he was gloating over Superman's helplessness and his forthcoming triumph, Luthor had casually mentioned that the other missile, the one whose guidance system Otis had messed up setting, was headed for Hackensack, New Jersey. Miss Tessmocher's mother lived in Hackensack. Luthor's reaction to this was to look at his watch and then slowly shake his head. Then he headed for the control room. Miss Tessmocher was left to look out over the darkened pool area before turning away and rushing off in response to another of Luthor's roared summons.

Clark couldn't help but feel that his costumed counterpart had received a well-deserved comeuppance. The sheer stupidity and arrogance of "Superman's" confrontation of Lex Luthor had demanded a response from the bad guy, and the hero had got his, in spades — green ones. Clark didn't know how he'd get out of it, but knew that he was bound to for plot purposes, and just hoped that the experience would teach the guy a few lessons. Then he felt slightly silly — this was a *movie*, and he shouldn't take it so seriously.

Lois, after feeling slightly disgusted with Luthor's off-handed dismissal of Miss Tessmocher's worries about her mother — he *could* have been more insensitive about it, she supposed, but it would have taken some work — had also been thinking about how Superman was going to get out of Luthor's death-trap, and had realised that the very thing that she had just been annoyed about had to have been added to the plot deliberately. "A-ha…" she whispered to herself, "Dissension in the ranks…"

"Hmmm?" murmured Clark, giving up reflecting on the film in favour of the much more enjoyable pastime of nuzzling Lois' ear and neck. "What was that?"

'Oops,' thought Lois, 'Forgot about his hearing again.' "Oh, I think I see what's going to happen next. Miss Messmaker there is obviously going to think twice about Lex's plan and rescue whathisname there in order to save her mother. Another convert to the cause of Truth, Justice, Mom and Apple Pie."

Clark grinned at the nicknames, even as he winced at the mixed metaphor. But that was Lois — nothing was sacred — and he loved her for it. He came to the conclusion that she was probably right and settled back to watch the plot unfold.

Lois *was* right; after pacing thoughtfully for a few moments, Miss Tessmocher sneaked away from the control room and made a bargain with Superman, who looked to be going down for the third time; she would save him if he would save her mother. He was more worried about the people in California, particularly Lois and Jimmy, but she was adamant: he had to promise to take care of the Hackensack missile first. Finally, he agreed, and she jumped into the pool.

She dragged the hapless hero to the shallow end of the pool and went to take the chain off. Before she did, though, she paused for a moment to think about something, then kissed him tenderly on the lips — or something like tenderly; the emotion, or *an* emotion of some sort, looked to be there, on her part at least, but the situation was rather incongruous. She eventually pulled away, took off the chain and threw it and the Kryptonite over her head, out of the pool and onto the staircase, where it slid across the floor and down a drain.

Lois bristled a bit at the sight of the woman kissing Superman, but she refrained from commenting until shortly afterwards, when a fast-recovering Man of Steel asked Miss Tessmocher why she had kissed him before removing the Kryptonite. Her reply caused Lois to have to stifle a giggle: "I didn't think you'd let me later…"

She sobered up quite soon, though, reflecting on the blonde's words. 'Oh, boy, do I know how that one goes…' Except, of course, in the days when she had been mad to kiss Superman, she hadn't been the "moll" of a criminal mastermind. She'd nearly been the *wife* of one, though, so it ill behooved her to feel too superior to the woman on the screen. But before she could go too deeply down that unhappy track of memory, her attention was caught by Miss Tessmocher lamenting her inability to "get it on with the good guys."

Lois suddenly felt an almost painful need to connect emotionally with her own "good guy". Miss Tessmocher's plaintive question was too reminiscent of some of her own lonely, longing feelings before, and after, she met Clark, and she wanted some reassurance. She wriggled around on the couch and took his head in her hands, gently but firmly pulling his face to hers for a deep, passionate kiss.

Clark, who had been curious about Lois' muffled giggle, caught on quickly and wrapped his arms around her. Something about this kiss, while as wonderful as all of Lois' kisses, hinted that she was feeling a little unhappy about something. He wondered what exactly the problem was, but decided that that could wait; for now, she seemed to need him and that was more important. He held her close and they spent a little time just being together.

Clark's closeness, his being there, strong, caring and… *solid*, in a way that no other man that Lois had ever known had ever been — or perhaps *could* — was balm to her soul, and her anxieties gradually faded. Eventually, she raised her head from where it had been resting on his shoulder and kissed him again. "Thanks, Clark…" she whispered.

"Any time…" he replied, equally quietly. He looked into her eyes with one eyebrow quirked and a slightly concerned expression on his face. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really," she said, laying her head on his shoulder once more. "There isn't anything *to* talk about — well, not much. It was just something that she said — it reminded me of a lot of unhappiness that I went through over the years before you and I got together. Sometimes — usually after one of my 'federal disasters' — I would sit and wonder if there were *any* good men out there, or if my dream of one day meeting and loving a guy who was honest, reliable and who would care for me the same way that I wanted to care for him was just that — a dream. Other people seemed to find them — why not me? And then I met you… and I couldn't even see that the man I wanted, the embodiment of that dream, was right there by my side…" She lifted her head again to look at him. "Sometimes I still can't quite believe that this is real…"

"Oh, it's real, Lois — *I'm* real. And you did find me, just as I found you — just as I found the one, the *only* woman in the world whom I could love with my entire being."

Clark would have said more, but Lois, tears suddenly sparkling in her eyes, grabbed him in a ferocious hug and pulled him to her for another soul-shattering kiss. There was no need for any more words.

Once they came up for air, Lois wiped her eyes and blew her nose, and they snuggled together to watch the film, their arms wrapped around one another. There had been assorted roaring noises coming from the TV while they had been talking, and rewinding the tape revealed these to come from the engine of one of the XK-101 missiles. Once he had recovered from the Kryptonite (Lois muttered, "*That* was quick." Clark agreed; by rights, the hero shouldn't have any powers at all, much less be back to full strength), Superman had crashed his way out of the underground lair (nearly hitting Miss Tessmocher with debris from the pool area ceiling) and raced after the first missile.

There were some quite good flying shots as Superman chased after the missile; the XK-101 was obviously a ground-hugger, and it raced in and out of rocky valleys with the Man of Steel in hot pursuit. A pair of farm-workers looked up from fixing a fence to see them flash past close overhead. Lois grinned and Clark looked resigned at the hayseed stereotypes. Actually, by the looks of the scenery (rocky desert with not much in the way of plants) over which the missile, and then Superman, was flying, the XK-101 was still some way from the US eastern seaboard — it may have even been west of Kansas!

Slowly, Superman closed the gap between himself and the missile. Eventually, he grabbed hold of its tail and, grimacing against the heat and glare of the rocket exhaust, pushed it off-course and upwards, heading towards outer space.

"That's that one out of the way," said Lois, "But what's taking him so *long?* I mean, if you had to do that, you could do it a lot quicker, couldn't you?"

"I think so…" replied Clark thoughtfully. "I certainly don't think I would have the trouble catching up to it that *he* seems to be having. I can fly a lot faster than any missile. Maybe he's still weak from the Kryptonite? Nah… if he could crash out of Luthor's lair that way, he should be fast enough to catch it.

"I don't like the way that he's getting rid of it, either. If it were me — and if I was sure that I could do it without affecting the warhead, but there's been no sign that he's even checked — I'd burn out the guidance system and either cut or rip the engine off, and *then* get rid of the nuke. I guess that pushing it into space is fair enough, but he's just making it hard for himself by having to fight the engine and the guidance system."

Lois smiled — this was the *real* Superman, working out how to take care of a critical situation in the quickest and most effective manner. It might have been presumptuous of her, but she liked to think that she'd played some part — and an important one at that — in developing his problem-solving skills to their current level; at the very least, he'd got better at handling this kind of situation since he'd first put on the suit, and who *else* had he shared so many adventures with, and learned the ins and outs of investigative journalism from?

On screen, stunned staff in the command bunker were watching the blip on their radar monitors representing one of their rogue missiles suddenly accelerate to fantastic speed; presumably they could also tell that it was climbing equally fast. Down in his lair, Luthor, who seemed to have patched into the tracking network, was equally dumbfounded, the difference being that *he* knew what must be causing this. It didn't take him long to figure out what must have happened (Lois wondered idly why he hadn't heard the sound of Superman smashing through the ceiling) and the scene closed with him roaring again for Miss Tessmocher — an *angry* roar which boded no good at all for his henchwoman.

Clark had been watching the radar pictures and was shaking his head. "No, no, no…" he murmured in what sounded to Lois like exasperation, "The *other* way, you dummy!"

"What's the problem?" she asked.

"He's going the *wrong way!*" he replied. At her look of incomprehension, he went on, "You know how rockets are always launched eastwards?"

Lois hadn't really thought about it. She knew that launches >from Florida were always out over the ocean, but she had always thought, or assumed, that that was for safety; if anything fell back to Earth, it would land in the Atlantic. She nodded anyway, figuring that he'd explain the significance of this.

He did. "The reason they do that is to take advantage of the Earth's rotation, which is from west to east; it's like a slingshot, giving an extra boost to the rocket, and it helps it get into space.

"But, if you believe the radar picture, *he's* taking that missile *west*, so he's having to fight the Earth, which just makes his job harder! And the missile was going east in the first place! Who wrote this… this *junk?!*"

They didn't know, so they dropped the subject. Up in space, with or without the help of the Earth's rotation, Superman finally released the XK-101 and turned back towards Earth… to see a blinding white light shine from the south-west coast of North America.

"Oops…" commented Lois drily, "Not that I didn't expect it — after all, it wasn't likely that the special effects guys would pass up that sort of opportunity."

"Really? I was sort of expecting a last-second save — rather like that real nuclear missile that I stopped in eastern Europe that time. You remember, the one that Anonymous fired?"

Lois remembered. She also remembered what, and *who* else had been involved in that affair, and it wasn't a particularly happy memory. She wished Jesse and his mother well, but she'd just as soon not ever see them again. To have just become engaged and then have *that* happen… She only hoped it wasn't an omen for the future.

Intercut with the flying shots and the scenes in the bunker and Luthor's lair had been a few very quick shots of "Lois" and "Jimmy", which could now be seen to be setting things up for after the big bang. Lois was driving along a deserted road in the desert and pulled into a gas station to fill up; Jimmy, standing on the top of the dam, looked over towards the source of a rumbling noise and saw a mushroom cloud rise up from the distant horizon. The ground began to shake.

"Huh? That's *it?* A five-hundred-megaton H-bomb goes off in the middle of California, and *that's* the only thing that happens?" Lois sounded incredulous and slightly angry. Clark said nothing, so she continued, "I mean, I've seen those films taken at Trinity and Bikini Atoll, and they were of *little* nukes." She waved a hand at the screen. "If Jimmy can see that mushroom cloud, he ought to be dead! Where's the flash? Where's the shock wave? Where's the *radiation?* That's got to be the most environmentally friendly H-bomb there's ever been! Who needs neutron bombs with one of *those* things around…"

The movie now cut to an overhead shot — *way* overhead, because it looked to be showing miles and miles of the San Andreas Fault, and a huge crack began to open as the ground along the fault line began to sink.

Lois felt that this was about as crazy as the eco-sensitive nuke, but didn't say anything because the movie suddenly switched back to her counterpart, who had been honking the horn of her car, trying to attract the attention of someone in the garage — if there was anyone there, because the place looked deserted. The question rapidly became moot, because the quake hit and the whole building began to shake. "Lois", sensibly deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, gave up the idea of getting gas and drove off as quickly as she could. She wasn't over-reacting, either, because no sooner had she got out from under the forecourt canopy than the structure collapsed, and her rear-view mirror revealed the ensuing destruction of the entire garage as the fuel tanks exploded.

"Lois", startled, had no time to reflect on her good fortune because the continuing quake began to topple roadside power poles and she found herself having to negotiate an impromptu slalom course as she drove. An amusing counterpoint — to the couple watching the film, that is — to the screech of the car tyres, the crash of the poles as they fell and the actress' startled cries was the "emergency message" that came over the car radio as she drove: "California is suffering a major earthquake…" 'Gee, no kidding…' thought the real Lois to herself.

Superman, who had last been seen heading back to Earth, reached California and immediately dived into the ground. Once underground, he was shown racing through what appeared to be molten rock. "Well, that looks realistic enough," commented Clark, "The colour's a little off — real molten rock is more yellowish."

"If you say so," said Lois, who had no intention of ever finding that out for herself. Something about molten rock — the way it was so fluid and yet so hot — bothered her, and she had always been glad that she'd never had to get involved with it during her brief sojourn as Ultra Woman. She could handle most unpleasant or messy things if she had to, but the idea of liquid *rock* just spooked her.

The scene now shifted to a variety of impending calamities caused by the quake: a school bus on the Golden Gate Bridge was first shaken about by the tremors and then involved in a multiple-car pile-up, ending up hanging half off the side of the bridge, which itself was badly damaged; an Amtrak train full of passengers managed to cross a bridge while the quake hit, only to find itself heading at high speed towards a break in the track where a crack in the ground had crossed the line and broken the rails; and Jimmy Olsen was still on top of the dam as it began to come apart.

In between shots showing the onset and development of these would-be disasters, Superman was still racing through the ground. Finally, he seemed to have arrived at wherever his destination was, because he slowed up and began to… push on the rock above him?

Lois' jaw dropped and her eyes grew wide. She looked at Clark, who had both eyebrows up and was rather wide-eyed himself. "I don't believe this…" she said quietly, somewhere between laughter and incredulity. Her voice became stronger. "I don't *believe* it! Is he…" She stopped, almost unable to get the words out. "Is he supposed to be pushing it — the entire San Andreas Fault, in one piece yet! — back into place..?"

She looked back at the screen and watched as the ground that had sunk after the missile detonated reappeared. The view was >from the same high overhead vantage point as the original collapse had been shown from, and Lois couldn't decide if the film people had actually made another shot or were merely running the same footage in reverse.

She turned back to Clark and they looked at one another in amazement. This… this mind-boggling film had been bombarding them both with oddities, weirdness, off-key moments and absurdities almost from the very start, and this one was the final straw.

Lois felt slightly numb inside, and she thought that Clark was feeling pretty much the same. This was just too much. She was fairly certain that Clark would know if anything like what was being shown on the screen was even remotely possible, which she doubted; even her limited knowledge of geology made her think that there was no way that an entire fault line could be pushed back to where it had been before a slip — not to mention that actually *doing* it would produce another, equally large earthquake — but she didn't really want to think about it at the moment, much less discuss it. Later, maybe, but right now all she wanted was a chance for her brain to have a brief rest from having to deal with all these… incredible concepts.

Clark seemed to think much the same, because he stopped the tape, snorted, rolled his eyes heavenwards and then tightened his grip on his fiancee for a long hug. Eventually, he gently disengaged himself from her and reached out for the popcorn bowl.

"So much for the popcorn," he said, standing up, holding the empty bowl. "Do you want some chips, or nuts or something?"

"Uh, no," Lois replied. She was grateful for the mundane change of subject, but she hadn't been quite ready to stop hugging him. "I've had enough to eat for now, but you help yourself. I wouldn't mind a cold drink, though. There's cream soda in the fridge, and Coke, and milk — all the usual stuff."

"One cold drink, coming up…" Clark went to the kitchen and filled the bowl with a variety of snacks; he figured that Lois might decide to join him if the food was right there in front of her. Then he filled a glass with cream soda and another with milk, put them on a tray with the bowl and headed for the couch.

Meanwhile, Lois had taken the opportunity to visit the bathroom. After her ablutions, she took a wet facecloth and wiped it over her face and the back of her neck. This made her feel much fresher, and she returned to the couch much more comfortable and ready for another bout with Hollywood's version of Clark's life, and hers, however weird.

They sat together on the couch, not as close as before because of the drinks, and took their respective glasses. Clark caught Lois' eye and raised his glass in a silent toast. She smiled at that, and at the warmth in his eyes, and raised hers to him. Then, great minds thinking alike, they both reached out to gently clink their glasses, their eyes never leaving one another's as they sipped at their drinks.

This meeting of eyes soon became a gentle meeting of lips, and then they settled down to return to the film. To Clark's amusement, although no-one, not even Lois, could have detected it, Lois did start to nibble at the snacks as they watched Superman flash across the sky to help the people that the quake had endangered.

The bus was no great problem; he simply pushed it back onto the bridge, calling out to the kids inside to reassure them. They were excited to see him, or at least the very brief glimpse they got before he flew off, and looked to have forgotten all about the danger that they had been in. Clark was a bit dubious about this; *his* experience was that people, especially kids, didn't recover from the effects of that kind of peril that quickly or easily, but he hoped that his presence could provide that much reassurance to real disaster victims.

Next came the train. Given the speed that it looked to be moving at, Clark knew that there was no point in trying to stop the train before it hit the break in the rails; even if he could do it, which he probably could, the force necessary would throw the passengers around and severely injure some, if not all, of them. To his credit, or to the scriptwriters', his screen counterpart didn't even consider the option; instead, he provided a makeshift track over the crack in the ground by bending one of the rails back into shape and holding it in place with one hand while substituting his own body for the missing piece of the other rail. The train rushed past, with only the amazed faces of the engine crew to show that there had been a problem — other than the quake, that is.

The way in which "Superman" had dealt with the situation surprised Clark, who had been thinking in terms of welding one rail with his heat vision and maybe providing some sort of support — a slab of rock or something — under the missing piece of rail, relying on the whole rail to keep the train on the track, with his own strength and reflexes as a back-up if something went wrong. But using his *body* as one of the rails…

He noticed Lois was looking at him. Catching his eye, she asked, "Would that work?" She sounded as surprised as he was by what they'd just seen.

"I… don't know. I've never tried anything like it. But it might be worth keeping in mind if I ever do encounter anything like that — it's certainly quicker than what I had in mind…"

"Well, there you go," said Lois brightly, not wanting him to get lost in detailed planning of How To Help A Speeding Train Over A Set Of Broken Rails. "Some good has come out of this weird movie, after all."

Clark wasn't so sure about that, but let it go. His other self was now at the dam, where Jimmy had been caught by the quake on top of the dam wall, which was starting to break up. Large chunks of concrete were coming away right where Jimmy was standing, and cracks were developing in the main part of the wall, releasing comparatively small jets of water that hinted darkly at torrents to come.

Things were even worse in the hydro-electric power station at the foot of the dam: sparks were flying, cables snapping and flailing about, assorted machinery exploding, and workers were screaming and dodging the sparks and debris — not always successfully. Superman dealt with this problem with his usual speed, slamming a large switch closed, cutting the power to the broken equipment, and then checking that no-one was in need of urgent medical aid.

The power station people were only too eager to escape, because it was now obvious that the dam was going to go — and Jimmy was right on top of it! He was doing his best to get off the wall, but his path to safety kept getting re-arranged as another chunk of concrete cracked off and fell. He'd managed so far not to be on any of the pieces of wall that had fallen, but his luck finally ran out and he ended up hanging desperately by his fingers from a section of wall that looked as though it was going to break off any second.

The wall shook as another large chunk of the dam fell, releasing a stream of water behind it, and Jimmy lost his grip. Fortunately, before he could fall very far, Superman grabbed him and flew him to a level section of ground away from the dam — and away from the path that the water was going to take when the dam finally collapsed, because there was nothing that even Superman could do to stop that from happening.

Which meant that he had to work out what to do, and right now, because the dam broke even as he flew away from it with Jimmy. The water crashed down onto the power station, completing the destruction that the first quake had begun.

But that was only the start; in a masterpiece of bad planning and/or wishful thinking, there was a town at the other end of the river gorge leading from the dam, and it was right in the path of the water as it rushed down the gorge. The townsfolk knew it, too, because the next scene showed them madly scrambling to get away, although there didn't look to be much in the way of nearby high ground that they could reach quickly enough. Then, to make matters worse, the whole area was shaken by another tremor.

As Superman flew off, Jimmy yelled after him that "Miss Lane'll be along here soon" to pick him up. Maybe not all that soon, though, because the film cut to "Lois" in her car, which had finally run out of gas. She kept trying to get the car to start, in that slightly desperate way that drivers have when they *know* they've run out of fuel but can't quite give up hope that the engine might kick over anyway, if they only keep turning the key and pumping the accelerator. It wasn't working, and she was getting annoyed.

She might have been better advised to listen to the car radio rather than spending her time cursing the car, because there was a warning of severe aftershocks, and almost immediately she noticed that the ground was shaking. Jimmy, who had been sitting on a slope by the side of the road, also felt the tremor and, sensibly, ran away from the hillside and onto open ground as fast as he could. Lois ought to have done likewise, but she made one last attempt to get the car to start and thereby missed her chance to escape. Rocks began to fall, and another of those large cracks in the ground came running right up the road and under her car.

The real Lois felt that the coincidence of one of those cracks neatly running along the road was a bit much, but she forgot about that as she silently willed her counterpart to *get out of the car!* The first rule of survival in any earthquake is get outside and away from falling debris and things that can trap you, but "Lois" didn't seem to know this, and before she could do any more than scream — again — it was too late.

Rocks began to roll down from the slope above the road; a few small ones bounced off the car and one or two larger ones barely missed it. Then the mobile crack reached the car and a large crevice opened under it. To the accompaniment of more screaming >from the actress, the car sank on one side into the ground, and began to fill with dirt, rocks and pebbles from the nearby slope.

Meanwhile, the water from the dam was rushing down the gorge towards the town. As Superman flew over, it engulfed a bridge and broke it apart with the indifferent ease of a child standing on an insect. Fortunately, the bridge was empty and Superman didn't have to spend time rescuing anyone.

He outraced the water and landed on one side of the gorge, where, after a short pause, he was shown pushing a large boulder over the edge. It bounced down the side of the gorge, starting a not-so-small landslide of its own as it went — which, Clark realised, was the idea.

"I get it," he said. "He's fighting fire with fire — or, in this case, water with rock."

"Water with papier mache, you mean, Kent! Take another look at that 'boulder' when he moves it — it's right out of the Star Trek props department!"

She grabbed the controls and rewound the tape to where Superman was manhandling the "boulder". Clark was forced to agree; it *did* look all too like the simulated rocks from many a Star Trek episode, both the original and later series. Fortunately, the second such lump of "rock" that Superman started another landslide with, this time from the other side of the gorge, was more realistic. The two landslides formed a barrier of rocks that blocked the gorge next to the edge of the town. The torrent of water finally reached the barrier, crashed into it… and stopped, unable to get over the makeshift dam.

Superman smiled and heaved a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived because his super-hearing finally picked up Lois' cries for help. She was frantically struggling to get out of the car, but she kept being forced back by the earth and rocks that were pouring into the car in much the same way as the water had poured from cracks in the dam.

Throughout the rescues and super-feats that he'd done to deal with the crisis, Superman's face had been serious for the most part; occasionally he had frowned in concentration or had presented a pleasantly reassuring expression to people whom he'd snatched from the jaws of death, but in general he'd been too busy to show much in the way of emotion, whatever he may have been going through inside. Only now, as he leaped into the sky, hurtling towards the car and the woman trapped inside it, did his face clearly and unmistakably reveal his feelings — and those feelings were horror.

The horror seemed justified. The scenes that followed were like those from a bad dream, especially to Clark — one of those dreams in which you reach out to another person, but can never quite get to them or touch them, no matter what you do. The distance between the town and the car must have been quite short, and Clark was sure that he could have covered it in microseconds *nano*seconds! — but on the TV screen, Superman's flight dragged on and on, intercut with shots of Lois becoming ever more desperate in her fight against the tide of earth rapidly filling the car… and then, finally, succumbing, the flood of soil cascading over her head.

Superman landed by the car, lifted it out of the crevice with ease and ripped the door off, but it was too late. "Lois" was dead.

The real Lois noticed that Clark had tensed up beside her; in fact, he was almost rigid. She turned to look at him and saw that his face had gone blank; his expression was that of someone with a perfect poker face, something that he'd never been able to do when they *played* poker. She gently turned his face to hers and said softly, "Clark… what is it?"

"Nothing, Lois… nothing," Clark replied. "It's just the film."

"What *about* the film?" He didn't say anything, so she began to jab at his stomach with a finger, gently but firmly. "Come on, Clark, give… What's the matter? I thought we agreed not to shut each other out… to *talk* to each other! Remember?"

Clark didn't react for a second or two, but then shook his head slowly. "I'm sorry, Lois," he said, his voice tight. "You're right. It's just that… this is my nightmare. *This* is the one thing that I dread more than anything else… to have saved all those people — the kids on the bus, the people on the train and in the town; even Jimmy… the whole damn state! But he, I, wasn't there, couldn't be there… to save *you!*"

He looked at the screen, where Superman had lifted Lois' body >from the wrecked car and was now cradling her in his arms. "He's helped thousands… *millions* of people; they're alive and they haven't suffered much more than they would have from a normal earthquake — the people in Hackensack haven't even been touched! But it's all turned to ashes, to *dust* in his hands, because he's failed one person… the most *important* person in the world to him.

"And the worst part of the whole thing is that he's only just *met* her; even if he fell in love as quickly and as hard as I did with you, what he feels now is only the merest fraction of what could have been… but she's dead…"

"Oh, Clark…" Lois sighed. She paused, just for an instant, thinking hard, then launched herself at him in the hardest, most ferocious — if that was the right word — hug that she could manage. He had, only a few minutes ago, helped her when some of her old fears had raised their ugly heads, and now it was time to return the favour. She was almost desperate to reassure him, distract him, cheer him up— *anything*, before this *damn* film and his hyperactive ability to worry ruined their day off and probably made him gloomy for the next week! She didn't think that he'd do anything as stupid as try to break their engagement, the way he'd "broken up" with her after Bob Fences had used her to distract him, but once bitten, twice absolutely determined not to give him the chance!

Lois knew what it was like to have fears, phobias and emotional scars deep inside, just waiting their chance to emerge and ruin one's chances of happiness. God knew she had enough of her own, and she was only too aware of what it had cost her in the past to deal with them — most of her personal life, for a start. But that was before she met Clark. Since then, especially since she'd dragged herself, kicking and screaming, into first friendship and then love with him, they'd never quite had the same power over her. Now… oh, they were still there — they'd probably always be there — but they were cowed, as helpless before the might of Superman — no, *Clark!* — and his love for her as any ordinary bad guy.

So she knew that something like this could hurt. He cared *so much*, and not just for her but for the whole world, that any kind of helplessness — a menace that he couldn't defeat, a disaster that he couldn't avert or relieve, a life he couldn't save — cut deep. And this film, even though it was only fiction, was just too close to home for him to shrug off.

She released him from the hug — which he had been returning, just not with her determination — but only so that she could grab his head and pull him to her for an equally determined, loving, passionate kiss. When that ended, she put her arms around him again and drew him down to rest his head under hers. She stroked his hair and found herself echoing what he had said to her not long before. "It's not real, Clark — but *I'm* real! *We're* real." She reached out and took his hand and squeezed it with all her strength. "Feel that? Here and now, *this* is reality. *That's* just a movie…"

Clark was feeling slightly dazed. He'd tried to hide his reaction to seeing one of his greatest fears played out in front of him, and had failed miserably, as usual now that he and Lois were really close. But he hadn't expected her… attack on him, and what seemed to be her *need* to convince him that she was there for him and not drowning in a landslide.

In a way, that was what did it. Lois needed him, and he responded to her need as he always had. And the response was the sudden realisation that it *was* just a movie, of no more substance than— what was the phrase? — castles in the air. His fear was still there, and probably always would be, but he could deal with that. It was an inevitable result of caring about someone, of giving a hostage to fortune, but if he'd learned anything at all over the last year or so, it was that the love that he and Lois shared was worth the risk — *any* risk.

He raised his head to look Lois in the eye and laughed. Her face, at present a concerned frown, broke out into a joyous smile, and they hugged again. Before long, the hug turned into another kiss. And another. And several more anothers… Then they just put their heads together and gazed into each other's eyes in a timeless moment of delight.

Clark had once read a story in which the heroine had been described as being plain-looking until she smiled, at which time she was transformed into a creature of radiant beauty. Clark would never describe his fiancee as plain, but when Lois smiled he could imagine the image that the author was trying to convey. It was one of the many reasons that he loved to look at her, and it was one of the most powerful; it clutched at his heart, but it was a pain of pure joy. Right now, her smile had his heart in a grip of steel, and he loved it.

"Lois… Oh Lois, what would I do without you?" Clark whispered, shaking his head slightly as he yet again marvelled at his incredible good fortune to love and be loved by this wonderful woman.

"I don't think I want to answer that," Lois teased through a few tears of happiness. "And you're not going to get the chance to find out, either, 'cause *I* know enough to get out of a car in the middle of an earthquake!"

Clark laughed again and gently lifted Lois off the couch. He stood up and swung her around in a hug, just for the sheer joy of it, before returning to the couch and carefully placing her next to him in the same position in which they had begun watching the film. She snuggled up and they rewound the tape. Whatever happened on the screen now — and Lois was pretty sure that Superman was going to save "her" somehow, or how could she be in the other films in the series? — didn't matter. Lois had Clark, and he had her, and *that* could get them both through anything.

On the TV, Superman knelt, holding Lois' lifeless body, as the sun set and twilight descended. Then, finally, he laid her down and walked away. He had managed to keep himself under control while he held her, but now his feelings began to break through. He shook his head, his eyes tearing as he tried to deny that this tragedy had happened— *could* happen. But his denial was empty, because the evidence was right there behind him.

Then, his emotions finally getting the better of him, he leaped into the air and screamed, an anguished howl of loss, grief and rage that rang across the desert and echoed from the nearby and distant hills. His face showed the same overpowering combination of pain and rage as he tore upwards into the sky.

Neither Lois nor Clark had any idea what he might have in mind, but they began to get a glimmering of an idea when Superman stopped his upward flight as the faces of his fathers appeared in the clouds. Both men spoke to him: Jor-El repeated a stern warning that he was forbidden to change human history, but Jonathan Kent simply said what he had told his adopted son just before he died — that Clark/Superman had come to Earth for a *reason*, the implication strong that this reason was why he had those extraordinary powers and abilities.

Superman's expression had changed from the grief-stricken near-madness of his flight into the clouds to open astonishment as he heard the voice of each of his fathers. He frowned in thought for a moment, examining the two halves of himself and what they urged him to do.

But any hesitation was only momentary. He shot upwards again, clearly resolved to continue whatever it was that he had in mind. The pause, however, had enabled him to regain some self-control; his face was no longer a mask of grief and anger, but showed only determination. Confronted with a choice between Kryptonian law and Terran compassion, he had chosen Earth, and with that choice made, he *would* carry out his plan, whatever it was, despite any strictures or censures that he might encounter from the remnants of his dead home world, because it was the *right* thing to do.

Clark raised his glass of milk in a silent salute to the man's decision. He had spent most of his life feeling out of place and different, a lone Kryptonian in a world of humans, even before he had ever heard of Krypton. But, despite his curiosity about his home world — which was more than mere curiosity, being rather a need to fill in the blanks in his past, so that he could look to the future with the certainty that comes from knowing who and what one is — he knew that, deep inside, most of what made Clark Kent the person that he was came from Earth — from the Kents and their farm; from Smallville, Kansas; from MidWestern State University; from places all over the world that he had seen and loved during his wandering years; and, lately, from the city of Metropolis.

His Kryptonian heritage was, compared to all that, very minor. There was so little of it, for one thing; Jor-El's few messages in the Globe were all that he knew of his planet of birth. There might be more to learn from his spaceship, if he could ever find it — Bureau 39 had had it, but Clark had a nasty feeling that Intergang may well have stolen the ship, because where else could they have got that virus that they infected him with last Christmas?

In any case, Clark's need to know about Krypton was becoming less and less urgent as his life settled into something approaching "normality". He had a home in Metropolis, a good job that he found rewarding, friends and colleagues who liked him, a way to use his special nature to help people, and, above all, he had his parents and Lois — people who loved him and whom he loved. Soon he would be married to the wonderful, crazy, maddening, gorgeous woman sitting next to him on the couch, and then there was the possibility that they might be able to have children…

Lois lifted her head from his shoulder and smiled up at him. He hugged her gently with the arm not holding the glass, thinking for the umpteenth time how incredibly lucky he was to have so much. This thought also reaffirmed his conviction that, though he had been born on another planet, he was *of* Earth. He hoped that he would never have to make a choice between the world of his birth and the world of his life but, if he did, he would do as his counterpart on the screen had done.

Said counterpart had, by now, flown into space and was speeding around and around the world, leaving a wake of blue-and-white — blue-and-white *what*, neither Lois or Clark could work out, although Lois thought it looked rather like Christmas ribbon — to mark his passage. The Earth, smoothly rotating, was ringed with loops of this "ribbon", but nothing else seemed to be happening… until the planet began to slow its graceful turning and go backwards!

Lois looked at Clark. Clark looked at Lois. For a moment, they exchanged stunned glances in complete silence, then each went to say something, but stopped before actually making a sound because they saw the other one was also about to speak. Finally, Lois managed to get out a half-strangled, "*What* is he *doing?!*" Clark didn't know; he did know, however, that it couldn't be what it looked like unless the people behind this unbelievable film had totally lost touch with reality, because stopping the Earth's rotation, however gently it was done — and how flying around it was supposed to do anything, he had no idea — would turn the entire planet into molten rock!

Before he could reply, though, the image on the TV screen showed that the world wasn't the only thing going backwards. Intercut with shots of Superman pushing himself to the limit as he raced around the globe were scenes showing rocks falling back up hillsides and the water from the dam rushing back up the river gorge and leaping up into the cracks in the dam wall!

"Time…" breathed Lois. Her voice became stronger. "Clark, he's got to be going back in time!" Clark, once he thought about it, agreed, although *how* "Superman" was able to do that had him stumped; there'd been no mention of a time machine, nor was "he" using one, and H.G. Wells' contraption was the only way Clark knew to travel backwards and forwards — or sideways — in time. He certainly couldn't just *fly* there— er, then? Yet that was what the hero on TV looked to be doing.

Time continued to rewind itself until Superman suddenly shot out into space, looped around and dived back to Earth. The film cut to a shot of "Lois" sitting in her car, muttering at it as she tried (again?) to get it to start. Superman gently touched down beside it, a gentle smile on his face, and told her not to bother because the car was dead. Lois looked up, gawking in surprise at his sudden appearance for a moment before getting out of the car, slamming the door and launching into a list of complaints about how she'd had to deal with exploding garages and falling telephone poles, and how there was never a Man of Steel around when you needed one…

Superman just stood there, still smiling, letting her rant until she ran down and looked at him again; never mind her grumbling, he was enjoying every second of having her there, *alive*. He apologised for not being there when she needed him, but he had been kind of busy. She looked abashed and apologised herself, then just gazed at him. They stared at each other for a few moments, unconsciously coming closer and closer to one another until their kiss seemed inevitable… and then Jimmy appeared from behind a nearby hill, yelling and waving.

"Aaarrrggghhhh!" groaned the real Lois, throwing her head back and then lowering it to rest her forehead on Clark's shoulder in something like frustration. "He even does that to us in *films!* What *is* it with Jimmy — apart from the world's second-worst case of chronic bad timing?"

Clark just laughed. He could guess whom Lois thought had the *worst* case… He had been enjoying watching the actress; for one thing, her disgruntled babble was so like Lois at times, and he could empathise with his counterpart's well-controlled but only partially-hidden joy at her "resurrection". But then, as Jimmy began to rattle off his own grievances about being left out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of an earthquake, something struck him. "Aren't we about due for that crack to appear and swallow her car?" he mused.

"You're right," replied Lois. "Guess it's not going to happen the second time around. Don't ask me why — maybe he stopped it before he came to see her?"

Clark just grunted; it sounded like something that he might do in a similar situation, although just how he would go about stopping something like that from getting started was something that he'd have to think about. Since Lois was the only known casualty from that particular crack, it would have been easier and less time-consuming to just move her car…

Meantime, Superman had made sure that both his friends were okay and could take care of themselves as far as getting back to civilisation went, and then flew off with a gentle farewell and a wave. "Lois" watched him until he had presumably flown out of sight and then turned her attention to Jimmy, who was saying something about how "Mr. Kent" would be sorry that he'd missed all the excitement. She thought about that for a moment or two and an idea almost visibly struck her: Clark was never around when Superman was, which could mean… but she dismissed that idea as crazy.

"Yes…" said Clark, grinning at his fiancee, whose expression was just ever so slightly annoyed and embarrassed. "Completely crazy. Totally and utterly ridiculous — right, Lois?"

"I dunno, Clark — I don't think you should describe yourself that way," she shot back. He roared with laughter at her come-back, and she sat back with a satisfied smile. Truth to tell, she was more than a little chagrined inside, though she'd never admit it; she'd never guessed Clark's secret, never even *suspected* it until confronted with the obvious, and to have this… doppelganger start to wonder about it so soon, on no more evidence than the fact that she hadn't seen the two men together and how many times had she seen Superman? Three? Four? Whereas she, Lois, had worked with the man and seen him hundreds of times in both identities, for nearly *two years* before she guessed — was just a little humiliating.

Fortunately, Jimmy changed the subject by saying, "…I think he really cares for you…" "Lois", her mind still on "Clark", dismissed this — Clark snorted; yet another put-down for his other self — before realising just whom Jimmy was referring to by the word "he". Then she got embarrassed and tried to hide it by saying that Superman cared about everyone, as though she was afraid to admit to the world that "he" might think of her as someone special. But she couldn't stop herself from wondering out loud, half wistfully, half challenging, "Who knows… maybe some day, if he's lucky…"

"Oh, I'm lucky, all right," declared Clark as he hugged Lois. "I am, without doubt, the luckiest guy on this planet — or any other…" He reached over and gently drew Lois' face to his, pausing just long enough to whisper, "…because I have *you*…" before kissing her. Lois would have replied, but she didn't want to waste the breath — there was something so much better to do with it right now…

They separated, reluctantly, after a while and rewound the tape for the final time. The scene was now Luthor's underground lair, where Miss Tessmocher was bound hand and foot and suspended by her wrists over the pit of Luthor's "pet". Luthor made a trite, totally unconvincing statement about how sorry he was to have to do this (Clark smiled sardonically; in some respects, the film's portrayal of Luthor was spot on) and dropped her into the pit. However, virtue, albeit belated, was rewarded when Superman came crashing in and dived after her. A few seconds later, Miss Tessmocher was standing tall in the centre of the picture, slightly shaken but otherwise unharmed, while Superman grabbed Luthor and Otis and informed her that her mother sent her regards. Lois felt that the woman had no reason to look so superior as her boyfriend and his stooge were taken away; she may have saved Hackensack from being nuked, but she was also the person who'd set the other missile for the San Andreas Fault. By rights, Superman would be back for her as soon as he'd disposed of the men.

But it didn't happen that way; Miss Tessmocher wasn't seen again. The next scene showed a flood-lit Superman and his captives descending into the courtyard of a prison, watched by the warden and a number of guards and dogs. Superman handed the men over to the warden, who didn't recognise Luthor. This proved too much for the man's ego, and he yanked off his curly wig, revealing, as Lois had guessed from the pool scene, that he was totally bald. Luthor tried to "serve notice" of something — probably a declaration that no jail could hold him — but Otis kept echoing what he said, like the chorus from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, until he could stand it no more and gave up, lashing out at his unfortunate henchman, and was bundled off by the guards. Lois giggled.

The warden thanked Superman on behalf of the entire country as the hero began to rise from the ground — Lois and Clark exchanged glances; how did *he* know so much? — but the Man of Steel turned it away with a comment about their being on the same team. Then the scene changed to a shot of the Earth from orbit; as the background music swelled into a repeat of the main theme, Superman was seen to climb, turn and fly into the sun. The angle of the image changed and the actor smiled into the camera as he "flew" past. And that was it: the end credits began.

Lois and Clark looked at each other again, then both let out heartfelt sighs. It was over. Clark relaxed back against the couch; Lois relaxed against Clark, and they sat listening to the end theme, saying nothing in quiet companionship and with not a little relief.

The credits — which they ignored, the names on the screen not telling them any more than those in the start credits had, which was nothing; the film had been made on location in various places including Great Britain and New York, but there were no details of the studio or anything related to it — and the music finally came to an end. Clark hit the rewind button and got up and started to clear away their glasses and the empty popcorn bowl. Lois looked at her watch; the running time on the tape label had said 138 minutes, but it had taken them nearly three and a half hours to watch it. 'Hmmm…' she thought, '138 minutes. Add in trips to the kitchen and the bathroom, the usual rewinds, more than a few looooong kisses…' She smiled to herself at that — ooh, he was a *good* kisser. 'Yep, the time slips away. Still, I think this one took us longer than usual to get through.' That didn't surprise her; there'd been a lot to think about while seeing this incredible film, and even more for them to talk about and try to express to one another.

Clark, rinsing and putting the washing-up in the sink, was also thinking about the film. He was confused, and more than a little worried, as to how whoever had made it could possibly know so much about him, and yet get so much wrong! He put aside the oddity of the alleged year that the movie was made in, because there was no way to even begin to work out what was going on there. Besides, after his and Lois' adventures with time travel and alternate universes, there were too many possibilities; the only way that they would ever know the answer to the puzzle of the tape's origin would be for someone else to tell them — and if that was going to happen, then it would, in its own good time.

No, what had startled him about the tape, putting aside the scientific inaccuracies and quite a number of downright impossibilities, were the differences between himself and the Clark/Superman depicted in the film. It was unsettling enough to see himself as a character in a movie, but to have the two halves of his life given the wrong emphasis was deeply disturbing. He was Clark Kent; he always had been, from all but his earliest memories. Superman was a disguise that he put on to use his powers openly to help people. Yet, in this peculiar video, *Superman* seemed to be the real person, and *Clark* was the disguise that the Kryptonian used to interact with "ordinary" people — including, most of the time, Lois Lane.

And *what* a disguise — a timid, clumsy, socially inept *schmuck!* Clark had been described as many things by many people (especially Lois) in his time in Metropolis: mild-mannered, a farm boy, a tight end, a hick, a hack, a hunk; the list went on and on, but at least it meant that they'd noticed him. The thought of being so casually ignored, of having to put up with such universal, unthinking contempt from everyone around him, including his so-called friends, *all* the time, made him feel sick; the idea of only being himself *in the suit* made him shudder. And to not even have his Dad to help…

He looked out of the kitchen window. The rain had stopped and the clouds had lifted slightly; the sun could be seen here and there, golden shafts of light emerging from the now-broken grey overcast. The city and the air above it looked clean, as such places do after it rains, and a sun-lit rainbow could be seen crossing part of the sky. He thought of the tape again and raised his eyes skyward, silently thanking Whomever that he had one further blessing in his life that his counterpart in the film lacked — at present, anyway. He had Lois.

Clark dried his hands on a kitchen towel and walked back into the living room. He came up behind Lois, who was taking the rewound tape out of the VCR and replacing it in its box. She stood up and Clark gently encircled her with his arms from behind. She leaned into his embrace and they lost themselves in just standing together, being together. Eventually, after a timeless interval which was both an eternity of peace and far too short, Clark kissed her hair and whispered, "So, Miss Lane, would you like to see how fast *I* can fly?"

Lois smiled, and Clark felt his knees go a little weak. "I don't think so…" she murmured in reply. "Actually, I was going to ask you to take a look at my neck. I think I must have cricked it slightly while we were watching the tape — could you do something about that?"

Clark grinned as she turned her back and bent her head. A quick x-ray sweep of Lois' neck confirmed his suspicion that there was nothing physically the matter with it, but he remembered her reaction when he had kissed it earlier — and his own feelings while kissing it. 'I guess this must be the "later" she was talking about,' he thought. 'Suits me…'

He began by gently massaging her neck, paying special attention to the area that he had kissed while they were watching the tape. It was Lois' turn to feel *her* knees go weak, and the rest of her began to feel equally drained and heavy, but oh, so blissful, when he began to kiss her instead. She managed to turn in his arms and put her own around him before almost all conscious thought was blotted out as he moved his mouth from her neck to her lips… Neither of them noticed that they had gone flying, just a little, after all.

It is a matter of record that Lois returned several videotapes to her local video library the next day, only to rent the exact same tapes two weeks later…


Clark returned the Superman tape the following morning. The owner of the store, a short, bearded man who seemed to be the only member of staff, asked him if he'd enjoyed it and said again that the other films in the series should be coming in next week, offering to hold them for him. Clark, somehow forgetting to ask certain unimportant questions like where these inexplicable tapes were coming from, thanked him, said he'd drop in again soon, and left.

It was only when he got to work and Lois asked him what he'd found out about the tape that he realised that he hadn't even *thought* about questioning the owner while he was in the shop. Lois was shocked, and demanded to know how Clark could *possibly* have forgotten anything that important; he, equally stunned, had no idea. However, before either of them could think about it further, Clark's super-hearing picked up a major fire alarm just as the office TVs showed a live broadcast from the scene of the fire. Perry shot out of his office and bellowed, and Lois and Clark were out the door at a run.

As they separated with a quick kiss on the stairs, Lois to head to the parking level to get her jeep and Clark to change and fly off, each made a firm mental note to visit the tape store after they'd finished with the fire story. This was easier said than done, however, as Superman was kept busy, almost non-stop, all day, and Lois and Clark were as busy writing up his exploits.

It wasn't until late that evening that Clark, after taking an exhausted Lois home, had the time to think about the Superman tape. He spent a few minutes mentally listing the questions that he wanted to ask as he walked the few blocks between his apartment and the store, but… he couldn't find the shop again. In fact, he couldn't find the building that it had been in. He searched the neighbourhood, both on foot and from the air, but there was no sign that the shabby little store had ever existed. In time, both he and Lois forgot that it had…


[AUTHOR'S NOTES: The first version of Superman on the big or small screen was the famous Fleischer cartoon series of the 1940s. This was very successful, so much so that DC Comics (or National Periodical Publications, as it was then) actually did a story in which Lois and Clark went to see one of the cartoons. This required a certain amount of extra suspension of disbelief in the reading — for instance, Clark had to distract Lois during certain scenes, like when "he" changed into Superman on the screen, but it didn't seem to bother him that everyone _else_ in the theatre saw the switch — but was very funny. Lois' reaction to seeing herself and Superman (cheers, cries of "go get 'em", etc.) is one of the highlights of the story (did people really _do_ that at the movies in the 40s? B-) ), so it occurred to me to wonder how the modern Lois and Clark would react to seeing earlier incarnations of "themselves", specifically the Christopher Reeve/Margot Kidder films. This is the (first) result — there may be more…

It should be noted that the views of the characters, or those in the text of the story, on comics, the movies, life, the universe and everything do not necessarily correspond with those of the author. For a start, I enjoyed "Superman: The Movie" quite a lot, and would consider many (but not all) of the comments about that film in the story to be wrong or, at best, un-necessary nit-picking. The film has quite a few lapses in logic and/or continuity, but I don't find them jarring to the point that I am no longer prepared to suspend my disbelief and simply enjoy the story for what it is. So remember, just because I wrote it doesn't mean that I believe it. By the way, I wrote this (mostly) from memory, so complaints that I got small — or even large — details of the film or the series wrong will probably be ignored. Maybe the film was a little different in my world… B-P

Continuity-wise, this story must fit into the third season, some time between IASWAA and the New Krypton arc, although I'm undecided as to whether New Krypton exists in my universe. Sequels, if any, will be set after the (real!) wedding.

The mysterious video store just might have something to do with those strange travelling shops that turn up in a variety of literature, from comics to the works of Terry Pratchett. They contain all sorts of unusual items and move about, but somehow, when they arrive at a particular destination, they've _always_ been there! Until they leave.

The title of the story (and perhaps series) alludes to the "Couch Potato" column in SFX magazine. They haven't done Superman yet, although I've suggested it, but their "critique" of the various screen incarnations of Batman was fun.

Oh, yes, and it shouldn't need to be said, but I will, anyway: This story is for _fun_, and should not in any way be considered as disrespectful or mocking to Christopher Reeve or Margot Kidder, two excellent actors whose performances (and not just as the characters from the Superman mythos) gave me, and many others, a lot of pleasure. I wish both of them well in their current troubles and hope that they can overcome them. More than that is none of my %$*#&! business.

All appropriate disclaimers regarding December 3rd Productions, Warner Bros, ABC, DC Comics, etc., and their properties should be taken as given. It's all theirs except the story, which is mine, and I'm not getting anything from that except the fun of telling the tale.

Thanks are due to Margaret Brignell and Kathy Brown for their comments, proofing and encouragement to write the sequel(s) — see, I _said_ that there might be more… <g> In addition, I'd like to pay special tribute to Lejean Messer, who edited this monster before she had to give it up for personal reasons; nonetheless, her efforts were and are very much appreciated. Thanks heaps, Lejean, and hang in there…

Do I need to say that constructive comments are welcome? — PA]