By Jeff Brogden (email@example.com)
Summary: In the alternate dimension, Clark Kent wants to find his world's Lois Lane. There is a piece of him missing that he feels only she can fill. But as he searches for her, he finds himself in a complex relationship with a new Daily Planet employee and the infamous lost Lois Lane herself. (Episode # 20 and # 21, titled Two Become One, of The Unaired Fifth Season)
(Originally published as Episodes 20 and 21 of the Krypton Club's Unaired Fifth Season. The first half of this story was originally titled "Then Came You.")
PRESENT DAY, METROPOLIS
"Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, Clark," she licked her lips, "this chocolate mousse is delicious."
Clark watched, fascinated, as her tongue ran across her lips. "It certainly, er, looks delicious." It suddenly felt warmer.
Lois shot him a wicked grin. "Is it getting hotter in here?"
"You noticed it too? I thought it was just me."
A flash of lightning highlighted her features, and thunder sounded close by. The spring showers were a bit zealous tonight.
"Aren't you impervious to…" she slowly sucked a bit of chocolate off her finger, "temperature changes?"
"To temperature changes, yes. To you, no." He squirmed a bit in his chair. He glanced around to see if anyone else noticed the effect his wife had on him. He had planned on eating on the terrace for privacy, but the weather hadn't cooperated. The staff had tried to seat them as far away from everyone else as possible, but it wasn't the same.
She brought his attention back to her. "Thanks for the wonderful anniversary present. This little cafe is just charming. The food was great, the dessert even better." She leaned toward him, letting the low cut neckline of her blouse work to her advantage. A new heart-shaped diamond dangled from a simple chain. She reached up and fingered it lightly, drawing his attention to it. "The pendant is beautiful. Nice and simple — just like you." She looked up with a smile.
His attention was fixed on the necklace, and the cleavage behind it. She laughed a little, snapping him out of his trance. "I'm, uh, I'm…" he had to clear his throat. "I'm glad you like it. It looks *great* — on you," he hastily added.
She reached over and took his hands in hers. "It's hard to believe we've only been married for six months. I've only known you a little over a year, but sometimes I feel like I've known you all my life."
Clark smiled warmly. "I know I'd searched for you all of mine."
They stared into each other's eyes, letting their emotions and feelings convey themselves naturally.
"I sometimes feel like this is some B-rated romance movie and any moment I'm going to wake up and you'll be gone." Lois squeezed his hands a little harder.
"I'm not going anywhere, hon."
Just as he spoke the words, there was a brilliant flash as lightning struck just outside the cafe, hitting an electrical pole. The transformer mounted on the pole exploded and sent hot chemical-laden oil streaming everywhere. Pieces of metal from the transformer sliced through the air, embedding themselves in everything close by: metal, brick, and flesh alike.
Inside the cafe, people were screaming as the darkness sent a flood of panic through the small crowd. Clark jumped up and gave an apologetic look to his wife. "I'm…"
She held up her hands and smiled reluctantly. "Go. There are people hurt."
Clark hurried over to the large street-front window which had been shattered by the flying debris. A young couple had been sitting right next to the window when the lightning hit. They were covered with multiple cuts from the flying glass, but what worried Clark the most was the large chunk of metal sticking out of the woman's left thigh. His X-ray vision confirmed it was dangerously close to an artery. If she didn't receive medical attention soon, she could bleed to death.
"Can someone help us?" the young man pleaded. "Has anyone called an ambulance, please!?"
"The phone isn't working," someone answered.
"I'm trying my cell phone, but I'm not getting through," came another voice.
The young man, despite the cuts he had suffered, was trying to comfort his companion. Clark could see the fear in the young man's eyes as he saw how much blood she was losing. He stepped forward through the crowd. "Here, let me help." He bent down beside the young woman.
"Are… are you a doctor?" she asked in a weak voice.
Clark smiled to her. "No. But I can get you to one *very* fast." First checking for a back or neck injury, he effortlessly picked her up off the floor.
"What are you doing?" the young man exclaimed, as he leapt up from the floor.
Looking the young man in the eyes, Clark put on his voice of confidence. "I'm going to take her to the hospital. I'll be back for you in a moment." With that he lifted himself and the woman off the floor about three feet. There wasn't time to change into the Suit. He angled forward and started to fly through the shattered window. "Don't worry, Miss. We'll be there in no time."
After a faint whooshing noise and a distant boom, the crowd was left staring at the empty spot where they had once been, a slight backwash of air signaling their departure. Lois stepped through the crowd and muttered, "Showoff."
18 MONTHS EARLIER…
She tore through the jungle, small branches whipping at her legs and hands. She was making too much noise! They would find her for sure if she didn't go quietly. <I can't go quietly, they are almost on top of me!> she screamed back to herself. Faster, she had to go faster. <I've got to get away. I've got to let someone know I'm alive.>
She tripped and fell down an outcropping of rock. She landed wrong on her left ankle, the pain shooting through her leg. <I've broken it. It's going to slow me down.> She quickly looked around to get her bearings. She could hear them calling, yelling her name. <They're close — I've got to hide.> She crawled under the outcropping of rock, biting back the pain as she moved. She positioned herself up against the rocks and covered herself with leaves, twigs and other scattered greenery. They were very close now.
Her pursuers stopped directly above her. She could feel the little pebbles their boots had kicked over the edge fall and scatter across her legs. She was scared to even breathe for fear that something would move and they would find her. <I wish my heart would quit pounding so hard — they might hear it!> She could barely control her muscles. They were on the verge of shaking from fatigue and fear.
They were talking in French. <Wish I knew more French. What are they doing? Why won't they leave?> In shock, she realized she could smell them. The pungent odor of their sweat drifted down to her. If she could smell them, could they smell her? She closed her eyes and willed them to leave.
She could hear them move away from the edge and go tramping into the distance. She was exhausted. <I'll just lie here a moment, then I'll go before they decide to come back.> She relaxed a little bit and let her head lay down on the ground.
Something hit her like a ton of bricks. Her eyes shot open to find that one of them must have stayed behind when the others went to look for her. He had jumped off the outcropping directly on top of her. His wide, toothy grin filled her field of vision.
"My, my, my. What do we have here?" He was lying on top of her, pressing his full weight onto her. He moved his leg and bumped her injured ankle, and she let out a small yelp.
"Oh, are we hurt?" he asked with false concern. His toothy grin returned. "Don't worry. I'll take good care of you." His hands roamed down to her hips and up again. She instinctively tried to yell, but he covered her mouth with his dirty hand.
"No, no. We don't want the other boys to find us before we've had a chance to have our fun. They'll get their turn… in time." He reached up with his free hand, grabbed the front of her shirt, and pulled.
She sat up straight in bed, her own screams echoing in her ears. She cast her eyes around wildly, searching the room for any dangers. It took her a second or two to figure out where she was.
"A… dream," she mumbled between panting breaths. "Only… a… dream." She got out of bed and made her way to the small bathroom. The room she was renting wasn't big, nor was it necessarily in the nicest part of the city. But it did have its own bathroom and it was cheap.
She clicked on the overhead light and turned on the cold water. She picked up the washcloth she had used earlier to remove her make-up and began soaking it. She looked up into the mirror over the sink, and stared into bloodshot green eyes. She looked like death warmed over.
"Hello, beautiful," she said sarcastically to the image in the mirror. She turned off the water and wrung some of the excess water out of the washcloth. Applying the cool cloth to her face and neck, she could feel the tension start to subside.
Again, she looked into the mirror. She looked little better. Not much, though. She ran her fingers through her short, red hair, straightening it as best she could. No sense in trying to go back to sleep right away. Ever since she came to Metropolis she'd been having nightmares." She turned back toward the room, shutting the light off as she went. She made her way through the dark to the bedside table and turned on the lamp.
Sitting down on the bed, she pulled out a folder from under the bed. She began flipping through the newspaper clippings. She pulled out the largest one and laid it face up in her lap. A large, color photo of a familiar red, yellow and blue figure stared back at her.
"You're gambling a lot, coming here, Amanda. Let's just hope your interview at the Planet goes well tomorrow…" She glanced at the clock on the bedside table. "Today," she corrected. So much depended on him, the man in the suit.
Was he for real? Was he to be trusted? Regardless, her answers lay at the Planet, so that's where she had to go. Amanda put the clipping back into the folder and removed another piece of paper. She stared at the address and phone number.
"I want to call you, Sis. I want someone I can talk to. It's been so long." She could feel the tears start to form in her eyes. She blinked them back, and wondered yet again, <Is it safe?>
MARCH 1997, THE SKIES OVER THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (FORMERLY KNOWN AS ZAIRE)
Superman hung in the air like a lifeless doll, staring down at the ground, but not really seeing anything. He had been flying around this miserable country for hours, searching, hoping. Yet, he knew the answer before he even bothered to look. Nothing. He had found nothing. Again. What was it H.G. Wells had said? Never say impossible? He had been so cryptic. Clark had tried to get more information out of him, but the little man wasn't very forthcoming. <It isn't fair!>
Clark had been so filled with hope at Wells' words. Maybe Wells was going to bring him back just before his Lois would die and he could prevent it. He would save the day, save the girl and save his life. Cut — print — get-it-developed-so-we-can-start- making-money.
However, upon his return to his own dimension, he found he was still alone. H.G. Wells was nowhere in sight. At first he thought he was in a different time, a different place, but after checking, he realized that Mr. Wells had put him back at almost the exact time they had left. Confused and needing Lois more than ever, he had decided to give the Congo another look.
As his disappointment grew, so did his anger. <If I could get my hands on that little twerp!> He flexed his hands around some unseen throat. <How could he do this to me?> Take him from his lonely, torturous life; thrust him into the presence of the one person who had cast a shred of light on his darkened existence; and then to throw him back, as if nothing had changed. The little weasel had even made that parting remark about 'nothing is impossible', 'look where you least expect', yadda, yadda, yadda.
Clark turned toward home and shot across the sky. In the blink of the eye, he was in his apartment in Metropolis. There, on the table, was a hand-written letter, from Mr. Wells.
Don't think me too cruel. I suspect you went back to the
Congo for another look around. Remember what I said.
Look where you least expect. The answer to your quest may
be closer than you think.
"Well, that doesn't help me any!" Clark yelled to no one in particular, as if he could shout his frustration across the time and dimensional barriers.
He flopped down into a leather chair and stared out the window overlooking Metropolis. He lived in the penthouse of the tallest building in the city. One reason was to get away from everyone after his "skills" had been discovered. The other was that he could get anywhere from here pretty fast. It was a good operational decision. But it didn't have the same homey feel his original apartment did, though, and he missed that.
<Why couldn't Wells make this easier? Hadn't I suffered enough in my lifetime? Why was that other Clark always getting everything so easy?> He recoiled in disgust at having even entertained that thought. He knew it wasn't fair; he barely knew anything about the man. Or the woman beside the man.
He tried to imagine what that other Clark's life must be like working at the Planet, investigating stories with his soulmate. Investigating. At the Planet.
"Yes!" He levitated into the air automatically, riding on the joy of his thoughts. <I'm going to have to start investigating. I've relied too much on my powers; thinking they would solve the problem for me. If I want answers, I'm going to have to go looking for them. Dig them up, hunt them down.> He stood up and walked over to the French doors. The very fact that H.G. Wells had given him any hope at all more or less confirmed that his Lois Lane was still out there; he just had to find her. Once out on the terrace, he located the Daily Planet. He took a quick peek to see if Mr. Olsen was in his office. He was. In a flash of color, Clark was gone.
The doors of the elevator opened on the newsroom floor and Clark felt a little numb, unable to move. <How long has it been since I've come up here?> He quickly put up his hand to keep the elevator doors from closing. He exited the elevator and stood there, taking in the sights, sounds and smell. He missed it. Sure, he still wrote freelance for the Planet, but it wasn't the same. He looked over in the direction of Mr. Olsen's office and saw that he was still there. He made a beeline toward his office, determined to find the answer to his constant question: "Where is Lois Lane?"
Fixed on his mission, Clark failed to realize that Mr. Olsen had someone else in his office at that moment. Clark knocked on the door and, without waiting for a reply, walked into the room.
"Mr. Olsen, I need to have access to the Planet's archives…" The rest of his sentence died on his lips as he realized how rude he had been by barging in like this. His single-minded mission had blinded him to the presence of someone else in the room.
James Olsen sat up with a surprised look on his face at Clark's intrusion. He took a moment to acknowledge him.
"I'm… sorry, Mr. Olsen. That was incredibly rude of me." Clark turned to leave, pulling the door shut behind him.
Recovering, James held up his hand. "No, wait, Clark!"
Clark hesitated, then turned back.
"Come on in, Clark. It's good to see you. I don't think I've seen your face around here in quite a while." James got up from behind his desk as he talked and walked over to shake his hand. "How have you been? You should come around more often." He led him back over to the desk and offered him a chair.
Clark sat down. "I've been… busy." The word seemed to lack the ability to express just what his life was like now, but it would have to do.
"I understand. Clark, I'd like to introduce you to one of the newest Daily Planet employees." He stepped to one side, motioning with his hand to the other chair. "Clark Kent, this is Amanda Hart. Amanda, Clark Kent."
Clark was struck speechless for a second. He felt a faint tug in his chest, but wasn't sure why. She was staring at him, her hand extended to shake his, but hanging in the air where he was ignoring it. He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Ms. Hart. My mind is a bit preoccupied at the moment. Nice to meet you." He reached up and took her hand is his. He almost jumped at the tingle he received when their hands touched.
"Oh!" she said in a soft voice. She laughed. "Static shock. Sorry. Nice to meet you, Mr. Kent."
Clark stared at her another second then realized he was still holding her hand. He let go. "Clark. You can call me Clark."
"Okay. Just Amanda then." She gave him a peculiar look. "Are you all right?"
"I'm just… I came to…" he looked up at James, who was giving him the same peculiar look. "I wasn't expecting anyone to be here and I didn't mean to interrupt anything. I will wait outside, and when you're finished, I have something I want to ask you, Mr. Olsen."
James had gone back to his side of the desk and sat down. "No problem, Clark. Amanda and I were just wrapping up. Sit tight." He picked up his pen, signed some documents, and handed them to Amanda. "Here you go; anything else?"
"No, sir." She stood up and turned to Clark. "Nice to meet you," she said as she left the room.
Clark watched her go. There was something strange about her, but he couldn't figure out what.
"So, Clark. What can I do for you?" James pulled Clark's attention to the problem at hand.
"Mr. Olsen, I'd like your permission to have full access to the Planet's archives of information."
"Sure, no problem. I still consider you an employee of the Planet's even though you only freelance for us. What's up?"
Clark hesitated to state his reason. "I'm… searching for… something."
Caught. He smiled. "Or someone."
James sighed. "I won't pretend to understand what happened a little over a year ago. If you feel it's worth pursuing, then by all means, pursue it."
"Thanks, Mr. Olsen." He stood to leave.
"I'll get someone to help you," James picked up his phone and started to dial a number.
"That's all right. I won't need any help."
"You haven't seen the new computer system I've put in down in Archives." James flashed him a smile.
Clark remembered that Mr. Olsen was big into the computer industry. He thought about his offer for a second, then decided against it. He worked alone; for now. Someday he would have a partner, but not today. "No… really. I want to do this alone."
James held up his hand in surrender. "All right, all right. I'll just let them know to expect you and to cooperate fully." He waved him on and finished dialing the phone. Clark walked briskly across the newsroom, shooting a quick glance at where his desk had been. James shook his head as he watched him enter the elevator. "Amanda? Clark Kent is coming down to archives for some *private* research. I'm giving him full access to anything he wants. Give him anything he needs, all right? Great."
He hung up the phone and steepled his fingers under his chin. "Good luck, Clark."
Clark rubbed his aching temples. "Why doesn't this computer system like me?" he mumbled not quite to himself. Clark was glad the criminal element hadn't attacked him with a computer yet. It seemed capable of reducing him to ashes right now. "I'm usually so good at this sort of thing…" He attacked the keyboard again, only to be rewarded with numerous beeps and error dialogs.
He slumped back. He was out of practice or something, that's all. Right. Hadn't had much use for a computer for awhile. Right. <Only been at this for what? Two hours? See? Nothing to it. Just any moment now, I'll get it.>
Amanda walked up as he let out another sigh. She touched him on the shoulder. "Is everything going okay?"
Clark jumped. He had forgotten she was down here. "Fine. Fine. I just seem to be… stuck… a little."
She smiled. "At first I thought we had a gas leak down here. I kept hearing this sound like air escaping or something. Now I know it was only all the sighing going on over here."
Clark threw up his hands. "I just don't remember it being so hard to use before."
"Want some help?"
"No, no… I'm sure I can…"
"It's my job, you know. Working down here in archives, helping people. Researching things, finding clues."
Clark looked up into her green eyes. Something about her made him uncomfortable. He looked back at the screen. He made his decision.
"If you could just… give me a quick course on how to navigate around this software, I think I can handle the rest myself."
<What is he hiding?> Amanda thought. <I'm going to have to be careful. I need his help; I'll have to gain his trust. But can he be trusted?> "I've only worked here a month or so, but I was here when Mr. Olsen had this new system installed, so I'm pretty good on it." She pulled up a chair next to his.
Clark scooted a little to one side to give her access to the mouse and keyboard. He couldn't explain why, but he felt uncomfortable around her.
"First thing we need to do is get rid of all these open dialogs and documents. We'll start simple and work up from there." She began closing down windows on the screen. Soon she was left with only the main window. "What would you like to look for?" She turned and looked into his eyes.
Maybe that was what bothered him. She always looked straight at him. Almost like she was looking into him.
Most people these days were too busy gushing over his other identity to *really* look at him; Clark Kent. Amanda didn't even seem fazed by the fact that she was sitting next to Superman, Champion of Justice, Man Of Steel, Defender of Truth, Justice and the American Way, All Around Hero.
Was his ego suffering? Didn't he always want people to act like this around him? Just like he was a "normal" person. Now that he found someone who was, he felt — odd.
"What if I was looking for someone? I want to look up all information that might be available about them," he answered guardedly. He didn't want to tell her, a virtual stranger, that he was looking for the love of his life, even though he had never met her. He definitely didn't want to go into the whole alternate dimension thing. It made his head, and his heart, ache.
"Okay, we can see what the Daily Planet has written about that person, if anything. We can also link to most major newspapers in the world. Finally, there's the Internet." She put the cursor over the words "Daily Planet Archives" and clicked the button. Next, she clicked on "Search" and put her hands on the keyboard. "Who should I do a search for?" She looked over at him again.
"Oh, ah… how about…" think of someone else, "someone who has disappeared." That left it fairly vague.
Amanda ran her hand through her short red hair and laughed. "Someone who disappeared? Like who? Got someone in mind? Are you looking for someone in particular?"
Clark squirmed in his chair. He was getting annoyed. "Do you always ask so many questions? Just anyone. Try that Dobs fellow who started that computer company, Pear."
"Orange," Amanda corrected. "Okay, okay. Are you always so personable?"
Clark let out a loud sigh.
"There's that escaping gas noise again," she popped off. She looked around at the ceiling, acting like she was searching for the source of the sound.
Clark had to smile despite himself. "You never give up, do you?"
"I mean, I might not feel like… socializing… right now. I might not feel like sharing with you, a perfect stranger, what I'm looking for, or what I'm doing down here." He looked her straight in the eyes, and she looked straight back. That unfamiliar tug in his chest returned.
Amanda looked right at him. "Something tells me you need me."
Clark pointed at the screen. "Just show me how to use the system — please."
Amanda sat at her desk and thought about how the training session had gone today. Clark was a reluctant pupil. At first, he seemed very closed-in, focused inward. He was not at all what she had been expecting. He had needed to run off a couple of times to do some Superman jobs. He was never gone long, and she never saw him in the Suit. One second he would be there, watching her as she showed him the system. Then, he would politely interrupt her and, almost instantaneously, be gone. He would reappear just as fast after several seconds, or once, after several minutes. It was — breathtaking. She tried not to let it show; she wanted him to feel comfortable around her.
As they worked together, he had opened up a little — letting some of his charm show through. She suspected the real Clark Kent was a totally different person, and she felt the sudden urge to find out what that person was really like. She could read all she wanted about Superman, but what was the *man* in the suit really like? Blushing, she realized how her thoughts could have more than one meaning. He was good looking after all.
She walked to the break room to get some coffee. As soon as she entered the room, a hush fell over most everyone there. She proceeded to the coffee pot, noticing the odd looks people were giving her.
"What is everyone staring at?" Amanda finally asked.
Carol from accounting spoke up. "What's he like?"
"Superman! What's he like? You've only been working with him all day!"
Amanda looked around the room, and noticed that everyone was hanging on what she was about to say.
Amanda finished pouring her coffee, took a sip, then sat down. "Well, he's… quiet. He doesn't say a whole lot. I just showed him how to run the new archive system, and he listened."
Megan from procurement sighed. "He's so different looking in real life. I just love the way that blue suit fits him."
Several other female co-workers agreed.
Amanda felt like defending him. "He's more than something to look at. He's got a mind too. There is a real person inside that suit."
Carol giggled. "Yeah! You and nearly every other female would like to find out what he looks like under that suit."
That got a response from the crowd. The men looked disgustedly jealous, and the women looked starry-eyed.
Amanda cleared her throat. "I admit, I've looked at his… external attributes…"
"Hah!" several women laughed.
"… But! After spending some time with him, it became clear to me that he's really a sweet guy. Probably lonely."
"Whoa, slow down, girl," Megan said. "Get those thoughts out of your mind right now. The Defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way is taken. Or at least he thinks so."
"Right," said Pamela. Amanda placed her; she worked on the newsroom floor. "He's already picked out his dream woman." She rolled her eyes.
Amanda was curious now. Clark had seemed so private, she couldn't imagine who would have been able to break through that shell of his. "Really? Who is she?"
Carol spoke first. "Well, there was this reporter that worked here at the Daily Planet ages ago. Seems she was some top banana. She disappeared on a story before Clark ever worked here. Somehow, he's become infatuated with finding her."
Amanda sat back in silence at this revelation. <So, that's what he's doing in archives.>
"I wish he would give up that pipe-dream and move on," Pamela said. "I mean, I'm readily available, and I exist!"
Everyone chuckled at that.
Amanda's watch beeped at her, interrupting her thoughts. "Well, I've got an appointment. I'll keep you all informed if he comes back." She smiled at the look on their faces.
"You had better!" the crowd of women said in unison.
Amanda left the Daily Planet building and hailed a cab. Surprisingly, she had little trouble getting one. After a short trip through Metropolis' better side of town, she arrived at a simple apartment complex. She thanked the driver as she paid, then almost hollered out for him to stop once he started to drive away.
<No! I need this. No one has been following me — I'm sure.> She felt the feelings of indecision rise again. Before she knew what she was doing, she was ringing the doorbell on the appropriate apartment. Within seconds, a young, dark-haired woman answered the door.
"Yes? May I help you?"
Amanda stood motionless, staring at the young woman. <She's grown up so much! I wasn't ready for this…> She tried to open her mouth to say something but couldn't form the words. She realized she should have planned this better, although, how she didn't know. She laughed slightly at herself, ashamed at how silly she must appear. Out of habit, she reached up to push her hair behind her ear.
"I'm sorry… it's just that I thought I knew what I was doing, but I guess I really didn't."
The woman had a strange look on her face as she watched Amanda brush her hair back. Her hair was almost too short to need it. The gesture was more out of habit, she decided.
"Do I know you?" the young woman asked.
<This is it. Give her something solid. Get her inside quickly.> "I'm sure you do. We can talk about it, and I can explain everything once we get inside… Punky."
The young woman had started to pull the door closed slightly at the mention of coming inside. The nickname Amanda tacked on the end of the statement left her wide-eyed and shaken.
"Who… how did you know that?" Her voice was starting to rise in octave and volume.
Amanda looked at her, fixing her with as serious a look as she could muster. She, herself, was starting to feel her emotions reach the breaking point. "Punky — trust me. We need to get inside… *now*!"
The young woman hesitated a brief second, then opened the door fully. Amanda brushed past her into the apartment. The young woman looked around to see if anyone was around before shutting the door.
The two women turned to look at one another. Each looked the other over from top to bottom. Finally, the younger woman looked Amanda in the eyes, searching for something.
Amanda let her look, let her take her time. She saw the emotions play across her face. Anger. Confusion. Searching. Wonderment. Surprise and finally, recognition and disbelief.
"Only… only my sister called me that. It was a pet name."
"It's true. It's really me, Lucy."
They closed the distance quickly, throwing their arms around one another, crying. They both started talking at once, not making much sense to each other, but not caring. Finally, Lucy stood back to look at Amanda.
"My God, Lois. I thought I'd never see you again! You just… disappeared!" Anger started to come alive again. "Where on *earth* have you been! Do you realize how… long—?"
Lois cut her off. "Lucy, stop. I said I would explain everything, and I will. By the way, it's Amanda now. Amanda Hart. At least till I can get this mess straightened out."
They sat down on the couch together. Amanda took a deep breath. "Where to begin?"
"How about the beginning?"
"Easier said than done, believe me." Amanda shook her head trying to compose herself.
"You left to find some gun runners…" Lucy said, trying to get her talking.
"Right. Perry called me in and told me about this hot tip he had about gun runners operating out of the Congo. I jumped at the chance. He knew I would," she added bitterly.
"I'll get to that in a moment. So, I'm off to the Congo, searching for some non-existent gun runners. I didn't know that then, but I do now." She paused and wiped some more tears from her eyes. She could feel them starting to build again. "What really happened is even worse. I was… betrayed… by the only man I thought I could trust." She couldn't hold it back. She started crying again. <I would have thought these tears would have dried up long ago.>
"Amanda! You *must* call me Amanda." She got up. "I shouldn't have come here, I shouldn't have put you into the middle of this." She started toward the door.
"Where the hell do you think *you're* going?" Lucy grabbed her by the arm and swung her back around. "Don't think for one second that you can waltz in here, disrupt my whole life, and then waltz back out again without even sticking around long enough for me to beat some sense in you… AMANDA!"
That stopped her. She could see herself in Lucy. Herself from four years ago. The infamous Lane attitude. She sat back down. When Lucy didn't sit down, she patted the sofa next to her. "Please?"
"You won't try running off again, will you? Because I'll tackle you and fight you with all my strength to keep you from leaving again."
Amanda laughed. "I won't leave. I promise. Now sit down. Okay, good. Where was I?"
"Oh yes. So, I thought there were gun runners. However, what I found waiting for me at the airport in Bandundu was the Border Patrol."
"I'm lost again."
"It seems they had a 'tip' that an American woman posing as a member of the press would be transporting illicit drugs into the country. I landed in Zaire, and in less than 30 minutes I was being strip-searched." She shuddered at the memory.
"I'm so sorry." The pain for Amanda was audible in Lucy's voice.
"It's okay. It could have been worse. They didn't try anything, and it was a woman who did the search, but still. They didn't find anything, naturally, but I was still sent off to jail. I was there in that filthy little rat's nest for 3 weeks. Finally, they came to take me to my trial. I asked: What trial? I haven't done anything! They produced all this 'evidence' of my drug smuggling at the trial. I tried to tell them that they didn't find it on me, but the officials who did the search claimed they had."
"What did you do?"
"What could I do? I was being railroaded! They sent me back to the prison to await sentencing. Some of the guards got a little drunk and thought they could take advantage of the fair-skinned, weak American woman."
"Oh, mistake number one."
"Right. They're probably still singing soprano. What was really stupid was they left the cell door open. I got out and hit the streets. Conditions over there are very, very poor. The military muscles everyone around horribly. Since the locals saw that the military was after me, they helped me out of defiance toward them. I slowly made my way across the border into Angola and from there to South Africa."
"Wow. How long did all that take?"
"It took me a year to get to South Africa. On foot mostly into Angola. From there, I had to work to get enough money to make it into South Africa."
"Why didn't you just call home for help?"
"Where!? It wasn't like I could use my cell phone; they took that. I doubt it would have worked anyway. An AM/FM radio seemed to be the high-tech toy to them. I very rarely found a phone or radio that worked. And when I did, it was owned or manned by the military. Since I didn't exactly fit in, I couldn't walk up and ask to make a call. I tried to get messages relayed home through the underground. I could never tell if they made it out."
"If they did, we never heard about it. Mom and Dad have been going crazy since you left. It's brought them back together. They spend all their spare time and money bugging the officials about you. We never gave up."
"Thanks. We can't tell them yet."
"Lucy, no. Not yet. Every time I thought I was safely away, someone would show up looking for me. There had to be more to my situation than a faked drug smuggling. It just doesn't make sense. After I got to South Africa, I started searching for why these people were after me. I couldn't stay in one spot for long. I tried several times to get out of the country, but was stopped every time. It was like they had people everywhere.
"I soon became afraid to contact you or someone else for fear that they would come after you to get me. So I decided to stay away until I could figure out what the hell was going on. I must have something they want. They kept coming and coming after me."
"So, what can I do?" Lucy looked at her expectantly.
"I just needed to see someone. I needed to talk. I've been carrying this around for so long, I feel like I'm dying."
"You mentioned something about a betrayal. Is that why you're back in Metropolis?"
Amanda stood up and looked out the window, barely trusting herself to speak. "I heard one of them one time. He said something when he had me trapped in the jungle." The nightmare came back and she fought back the feelings. "He said that Mr. White had always said I was a pretty girl; it was just too bad he had to use me like this."
"What? What does that mean?"
"I can only guess that somehow, Perry was part of whatever it is I'm involved in." Amanda threw up her hands in surrender. "I can't believe it, but after I thought about it, it started to make sense."
"No way, not Perry."
"I denied it for a long time. Then, one day I got to putting the pieces together. He sent me over there. Alone. He made the travel arrangements. Usually I did my own, but he said he did them because of time. He was the only one who knew I was going and only he knew where I was going to land. I've done some checking on him, and he appears to have several bank accounts in foreign banks, very cleverly hidden, by the way. He's getting money from somewhere, and not from being Mayor of this place."
"He… he always seemed to be so nice. Like a father to you."
"I know, I know. Don't remind me. I've heard his name used several times by my pursuers."
Lucy sat back. "It's still so hard to believe. Why would he have done this?"
"I have no idea. I ran and ran, and yet they always found me. Then, about a little over a year ago the chase started to slack off. I haven't seen anyone for about 8 months now. I don't dare feel like I've slipped away from them yet."
Amanda sat back down next to Lucy. "And that's another piece to this strange puzzle. I know now that Perry won the mayor's race about the time the chase slacked off. I don't know what the correlation is, but I'm looking into it."
"This is going to take some getting used to. I mean, Perry was a father figure even to me at times. I would have trusted him with my life before," Lucy said.
Lucy looked at Amanda, going over her again, from top to bottom. "Man, that hair style and color sure change your looks. And the eyes… contacts?"
"I *know* it's you, but when I look at you, I find it hard to believe. I guess because you have been gone for so long."
"Did anyone come around, asking questions about me while I was gone?"
"Sure," Lucy said, "when you first disappeared, several government types showed up. Then there was Superman. He's been around several times."
Amanda was surprised again. "Superman?"
Lucy looked thoughtful. "I'm not sure why he's interested, but he seems very intent on searching for you. I couldn't help him much. He always seemed so stressed — so on edge. It was like he *had* to find you."
"This complicates things," Amanda said.
"Why? I would think he would have been a good choice for helping you solve this situation."
"Well, I thought so as well. It was one of the reasons I came back here and got a job at the Daily Planet."
"You work at the Daily Planet!? And no one recognizes you!?"
"No one yet," Amanda smiled. "Anyway, I wanted access to the Planet. I figured that something had to be buried there somewhere about what was going on. Plus, I figured I would see Clark there."
"Clark Kent — Superman," Amanda said, surprised at having to explain it.
"Oh yeah. I forgot what his name was. He almost never uses it anymore." Lucy got up and started walking toward the kitchen area. "Want something to drink?"
"Thanks. Water would be great." Amanda stood up and followed Lucy into the other room. "You are right. Initially, I planned on getting Clark… Superman… to help me. But now, twice in one day, I've found out that he seems to be searching for Lois Lane on his own."
"Do you always talk about yourself in the third person?" Lucy asked with a smile.
"More than I care for." Amanda took a sip of water. "Clark worked under Perry for awhile, and he seems to be pretty good pals with the Mayor's office. I'm starting to wonder if I can trust him."
"You're telling me you can't trust Superman, Man of Tomorrow? Defender of Truth, Justice and…"
"… and the American way. Yes, yes, I've heard it all before. Wonder how those things get started?"
They laughed at the small joke.
"Clark seems so private, so closed-in. It took me almost an hour to get him to crack a little and relax," Amanda stated.
"You've seen him then? Recently? In real life?"
"What is it with people? Sure I've seen him. Today. We worked together for awhile in archives. I showed him how to use the new computer system." Amanda shook her head in wonderment at Clark's ability to awe people.
"So. What are we going to do now? He will probably be back around here again. He's come by several times, asking about you. What you did before you left, that kind of thing. I would bet that he'll show up again."
Amanda agreed. He would be back to interview Lucy again. "We need a cover in case we're spotted together."
Between the two of them, they outlined a basic past history. They had met online, in a chat room. They needed something in common to chat about though. They both had tropical fish as pets, so they used that. When they had found out that they lived close together, they had started a friendship.
Amanda left, promising to keep Lucy updated on her findings and to stay in touch.
APRIL 1997, METROPOLIS, DAILY PLANET ARCHIVES
Amanda watched Clark as he stared at the screen, scanning information at super-speed. Over the past few weeks, he had come in only about once a week. He never stayed long, always leaving from time to time to perform super-acts. She decided that if she were going to learn more about him, she would have to initiate the conversation since he was ignoring her.
Clark wished that Amanda would quit staring at him. She wasn't like everyone else who stared. They all stared at him as if he was an alien. Maybe he was, who knew? The mixture of awe and fear most people pointed in his direction was difficult for him to accept. Amanda stared at him as though willing him to talk to her. He didn't want to talk to her. She was friendly enough. Good looking enough. She was helpful, but not subservient. His feelings toward her puzzled him. At times over the past few weeks he had almost come into the Daily Planet. He had planned on using the search as an excuse to see her and talk to her. When he had realized what he was doing, he would avoid the Daily Planet as much as possible. Only when his information trail ran dry would he go back for more.
What was it that he was feeling? Every once in a while he would catch himself staring at her when she wasn't staring at him. He let out a sigh as he punched the mouse button over the search icon.
"I thought I'd heard the last of that escaping gas weeks ago," Amanda said cheerily as she walked over toward him. The closer she got, the stronger the tug in his chest became. He was both glad and upset that she was talking to him. <Remember why you are here. We've got to find Lois.>
"I'm just starting to run out of leads, that's all," Clark said, pointing to the screen.
Amanda sat down next to him, and looked him right in the eye. So far, she was the only one who could do that on a consistent basis and make it seem so natural. It unnerved him. "Why don't you tell me what it is you're looking for? Then I can help you find it."
"I can't. You would think it's silly," Clark wrung his hands together. "Everyone thinks it's silly…" He let his voice trail off.
"I promise. I won't do that."
She sounded so sincere. He looked into her eyes for a moment. <If I'm not careful, I might fall into those eyes.> He could feel the attraction. The computer beeped with a system message, breaking the hold her eyes had on him.
"I'm trying to find someone."
Amanda sat there patiently, waiting for him to continue.
"She… she used to work here at the Daily Planet. Her name is… Lois Lane. She disappeared about four years ago on a story in the Congo." He looked at her for some reaction. What he found was stranger than what he expected. He expected to see a smirk, hidden laughter in the eyes. This was the common reaction from people he knew. It wasn't a *big* secret that he was looking for Lois Lane. Still, he didn't like to admit it to people because most of the time they tried to humor him.
Amanda, however, looked almost sad. With a touch of guarded fear. He tuned into her heart beat and found that it was a little fast.
"What…" her voice cracked a bit, and she had to clear her throat. "What have you found so far?"
Clark summarized what he knew. She had left and never returned. There was no record of her showing up in any of the airports that he had been able to check out. He pulled up the list, and Amanda noted to herself that Bandundu was in it. He had checked out all the major hospitals and detention centers, again with no results.
"Surely, those aren't online," Amanda said in disbelief.
"They're not. I went over there and checked them out in person."
"There must be *hundreds* of places to check!"
"I'm fast," Clark shrugged.
"Didn't you take a look at Travel's records? Surely there are records as to where she was going."
Clark shook his head. "I checked. There were no records. No credit card transactions on her business card. No requests filed on-line for funds. Nothing. I've checked her personal credit cards, and found nothing there either. She never purchased tickets with a credit card for this trip. I can't find any records of savings account or checking account transfers either."
Amanda looked at him in surprise. "How did you get that information?" She was starting to get a little worried about her plan to include Clark. <What kind of access does he have?>
Clark fidgeted in his chair for a moment. "Well, let's just say it's a good thing I can move real fast, can read real fast, and have a photographic memory. We'll keep this to ourselves; otherwise, there are certain financial institutions that might start to panic." He grinned genuinely at her.
"Okay," she smiled back. He had a nice smile. She decided to change the subject a bit. "I've only seen you here a few times the past few weeks. I know from the paper and the television you've been pretty busy with your… job."
Clark laughed. "Job. Right. Superman. Defender of…"
"Please! I don't want to hear it again, sorry."
Clark really laughed this time. "Hey! That's fine by me, I don't know where they get this stuff anyway."
"Marketing," Amanda said between laughs.
Clark laughed harder. Gosh it felt good to laugh like this, with someone else. "I'll have to ask Murray if he's responsible for that."
"He's my," a brief sigh, "agent. I guess that's a good word for him. Back when I first went public, I quickly realized my job at the Daily Planet was pretty much forfeit. I used to work here as a reporter," he explained to her. "Anyway, I was going to need money somehow, somewhere, some way. It seemed natural to form the Superman Foundation. Murray Brown tracked me down almost the same day I made myself known publicly. He made me an offer I couldn't refuse. He would market the Superman persona — cape, boots, S and all. The majority of the money goes to various charities and community programs. He keeps a percentage and I get a percentage."
Amanda nodded. "Seems reasonable. I've noticed all the toys, shirts and stuff. Guess I never thought about where it all comes from." She turned their attention back to Clark's "problem."
"Did you go over there and ask about Lois Lane by name? Did you show them a picture?"
"Maybe that's why you didn't find anything. If they were wanting to hide something, you tipped them off to exactly what you were looking for."
Clark thought for a moment. "I suppose they could have been hiding something from me. I was so narrow-minded, I might have missed it."
"Did you check court records for a trial of some kind? How about the morgues? Military records, command orders? Did you try to find out who the local underground is and nose around in there?"
"Wow. You act like an expert in all this cloak-and-dagger stuff." He looked at her with a new appreciation. She was actually trying to help him!
"I've just been around a bit. You read some amazing things down here as well." She paused as she tried to find the words for her next question. "Why exactly do you want to find this… Lois Lane so badly?" Was that too forward?
She could see the beginnings of his good mood dissipate. He shrank back into himself a little.
"Let's just say, I need her."
<Huh?> Amanda thought. She looked at Clark, silently asking for more.
"Don't look at me that way, I'm not going to tell you why. You'll think I'm crazy," he shook his head. There was real sadness in his eyes.
Amanda continued to sit there patently, giving him the tell me look.
Clark glanced at her. She sure was stubborn! He could feel his resolve disappearing. "Promise you won't laugh, or roll your eyes or any of those other goofy things."
"Lois Lane is that special someone I've been searching for all my life. Whenever I was around her, I could feel this… thing… this *chemistry* that made everything so much better."
Shocked was a bit of an understatement to describe how Amanda felt about now. "When you were around her? I thought you said she disappeared before you came to work for the Planet?" She would have remembered seeing him, she was sure of that.
"You're right. I showed up later. This is where it get weird and people start thinking I'm a nut or something." He paused. "Somehow, another Lois Lane from an alternate dimension showed up here one day." He looked over at Amanda and could see she was beginning to think something had slipped upstairs.
"I'm serious, Amanda. She showed up in the newsroom bigger than life. Ask Mr. Olsen, or anyone else who was there last January. She was here. She changed my whole life in the short time she was here. I'm Superman today because of her. Recently, I saw her again; in her own dimension. The feelings only got stronger, deeper. As I was coming back, I was told that nothing is impossible."
He looked deeply into her eyes. His faith, love and conviction heavy in his voice. "The Lois Lane of this world is out there, and I'm going to find her."
Amanda almost blurted out "I'm here! It's me!" She held back at the last instant; it was too soon, and she wasn't sure of anything anymore. An alternate dimensional version of herself? It was a bit hard to believe, but then who would have believed a man could fly, and here she was sitting right next to one who could.
Clark looked at her, trying to read a reaction. "Well?"
"I don't know what to say."
"You believe me?"
"Sure. I mean… it's a bit… out there. But so is a guy who can fly. If that can be true, then so can this."
Clark shook his head and laughed. "You're amazing. Most people think I'm some sort of kook or something. I've heard what people have to say about me," he tapped his ear. "These pick up more than I care for sometimes."
"Clark, I've a question for you," Amanda stated. "Do you spend much time doing things other than being Superman?"
That was a surprise. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, do you do your job 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Or do you play Clark Kent once in a while as well?"
Play Clark Kent? Where does she get off on thinking… "Look, Amanda. I help people. They need me. I represent something to most people they didn't have before. A whole world out there looks up to me. I…"
"What about the one person who needs you the most?" she reached out and laid a hand on his chest. "Yourself?"
Her touch felt like a small charge of electricity again. That feeling in his chest centered around where her hand lay. It nearly knocked the wind out of him.
"I… I'm fine," he whispered.
"Are you? Do you realize you spend most of your time being something for someone else, and no time being you, Clark Kent?"
"There's no reason to be Clark Kent. He's got no family. Few friends. People need me. They need Superman. I help them." <I wish you would move your hand, please?>
Amanda sat back, removing her hand from his chest. He was torn between happiness and sadness at the gesture.
"Oh, please. I've only known you a little while, and even I can see that there is more to you than just being Superman. That may be your job, but it's not the whole you."
Clark had never had anyone talk like this to him. <That's not true. Lois talked like this.> The whole situation had him reeling, trying to regain his emotional balance. What was she doing to him?
Amanda could see she had him off-balance. She reached out and grasped his hands. He flinched slightly. "I want to help you, Clark. I'm not trying to upset you." She squeezed his hands slightly. "Look, it's almost quitting time. Why don't I go get us something to eat and we can work some more on your problem." She stood up and walked over to her office. She reached in and took out her coat. "What sounds good?"
"I don't know. I should probably be going."
"Clark! Give yourself a break! You're not going to get anywhere unless you do some research first. You have to have your facts straight before you go after the story."
Clark looked at her with a puzzled expression. "Have you ever been a reporter?"
"No! No, why?"
"That last comments sounds like something someone who was used to doing some investigative reporting might say."
<Oh no! Cover, cover!> "Well. Down here is no different. Sometimes you feel like you're investigating things while you search for information. All those reporters up there," she waved a hand over her head, "have to get their information somehow. I provide it for them." <You're babbling.>
"You're babbling," Clark said with a strange smile on his face.
"What's so funny?"
"I've only known one other person who babbles quite like you just did."
"Oh, well. Lots of people babble. I'll… go… now. I'll go get something to eat. You stay here." She turned and started walking away as fast as she could and still keep it natural looking. <Gee, might as well spill the beans here and now. Get a grip!>
They sat in the middle of various Chinese take-out boxes. Amanda hadn't asked Clark what he had wanted, so she bought some of everything it seemed. Clark laughed when he told her he didn't need to eat.
"You don't need to eat?" she had asked, her eyes wide with disbelief.
"No, but I like to." He couldn't keep a straight face for long when he saw her look of dismay at all the food she had gotten. He had let her in on his little joke. "Of course I have to eat, everyone does, and I really do like to as well."
Now that supper was over, they were taking a bit of time to talk before going back to work.
"So, Clark, where are you from?"
"You're kidding. No place is named 'Smallville'."
"Seriously. Smallville, Kansas exists. I haven't been home in a while, but I'm sure it's still there," he laughed. He told her about his parents, their accident, how he had developed his powers slowly.
Amanda was content to sit back and listen. She could tell he needed to talk it out. There was still a lot of pain evident in his voice when he talked about his parents.
"So, how come you started developing these powers? Do you have any clue?"
Clark shook his head. "I don't know. I might be a mutant…"
Amanda shook her head and wrinkled her nose. "Too good-looking to be a mutant."
Clark smiled. "Thanks. I know I was adopted. My parents never tried to hide that. The only thing they ever told me was that they found me right when they needed me the most." He used his chopsticks to scrape the last bit of food out of a container.
"I could be a misplaced government experiment, or an alien from another planet. I have no idea. I was told I was found in a spaceship as a baby."
"You don't look like an alien either. From what I can see, you seem to have all the parts of a regular man…" she looked up in shock as she realized what she had said aloud.
Clark looked amused. "I am a man, Amanda, just like you're…" he took a quick glance over her from head to toe, "a woman."
Amanda felt the blood rush to her cheeks. She felt like crawling under a rock, right then and there. She looked up into Clark's eyes and saw that he was still intently looking at her.
She wasn't sure how long they looked at one another like that. Suddenly he got a strange look on his face. With a bit of disappointment he stood up. "I'm sorry. I hate to eat and run, but I think I just overheard a report of a struggling refugee boat off the coast of Florida." He started to gather his stuff together.
"You could hear that? How does that hearing gizmo work?"
"I'm not sure. Sometimes my 'hearing gizmo' just seems to automatically tune in to certain things. I'll be back in a few seconds probably."
He stood up and paused. Having reached an internal decision, he did his spin change in front of Amanda. The look on her face made it worth it. He smiled and then disappeared.
"Wow!" Amanda whispered to herself. She blinked several times, as if she was trying to clear the image from her retina. She picked up the empty food containers and threw them away. <For someone who claimed they didn't need to eat, he sure ate!> She was just finishing up when he came back. He did his spin change again.
"That was fast."
"It usually doesn't take me long. One of the first skills I mastered was speed. Even before I became Superman, it was important to do what I could to help people. When I was trying to hide, I had to learn to do things very fast. The faster I moved, the less likely someone would see me and find out about me. Now, speed is just as important since I have so much more to do. If often wondered if I had been faster if my parents…" He let the sentence trail as a wave of sadness came over his face. "Well, anyway, speed is important in my kind of work."
Amanda pulled up a chair to the computer. "Well, let's get busy, shall we? Let's start by going over everything you know, and we'll see what we can do from there."
Clark pulled up his chair. "Thanks, Amanda."
She looked up at him. "For what?"
Clark smiled. "Just because."
The next day, Amanda and Lucy had made plans to get together since it was a Saturday. They met at the park, and each had a brown sack lunch. They walked around together for awhile, catching up on things in the family. Finally, they settled down on a quiet park bench, away from the afternoon crowd.
"So, have you seen Superman lately?" Lucy asked.
"His name is Clark, and as a matter of fact, we spent a great deal of time together last night."
"Ohhhhh. I want all the dirty little details," Lucy said, her eyes gleaming.
"Nothing like *that*," Amanda said. "We did some research on his problem — finding Lois Lane — and we ate. Talked a little." She smiled at the memory.
"Are you falling for him?"
"No!" Amanda firmly shook her head. "Clark is, well, he's complicated. He's moody, closed, private, a bit pigheaded at times… unselfish, caring, gives too much of himself and doesn't expect anything in return. He's… wonderful. God, I am falling for him."
"You could do worse," Lucy said with a note of laughter in her voice. She bit into her sandwich and grinned at Amanda.
"It's just… well he's so hung up on Lois Lane."
"There you go again, third-person-talk," Lucy shook her head.
"Not really. I could give you the whole story, gory details and all, but he has fallen in love with a version of Lois Lane I never was. I don't know if I ever will be."
"I guess I'm going to have to get used to being lost around you. You seem to enjoy it so much."
Amanda recounted Clark's story of the alternate dimensional version of herself. How she had helped him to become Superman. What he felt about her, and how he had described her.
"You're right. That doesn't sound like you at all. What happened to Mad Dog Lane, I can do it myself, I don't need anyone? Ms. I'm top-banana, you're scum, now get out of my way. Top Investigative Reporter, who just so happens to be a woman and damn proud of it, now move, I'm off to a story. Ms…"
"Are you quite through now? I wasn't that bad was I? Really?"
"Sometimes, you made me wonder where all that hate came from. I won't deny that you used it well, moving up the ladder, becoming a respected reporter. But you stepped on people sometimes. Unintentional or not, it happened." She bent over slightly and parted her hair. "See? I think some of the marks are still there…"
Amanda playfully swatted her head. "Oh stop. Okay, okay, I was a bit… high strung." She shot a nasty look at Lucy's laugh. "Things are different now."
"I know. So what makes you think you couldn't ever be like the woman he described?"
"That's just it! I don't want to be like someone he described. I want to be me! The real me. Not some pipe dream of his, or — or *this*," she said, gesturing to her herself. "I want to be the real me. The one who overcame incredible odds to escape from hell, clawing her way back to civilization, digging up the dirt on the slime bag who pushed her down, and knocking their teeth in with the evidence she's uncovered to triumphantly proclaim 'I'm back! You couldn't put me away! I'm *ME* again!'"
Lucy put her sandwich down, applauded, and whistled. "You go, girl!"
"You're terrible," Amanda laughed. "I want Clark to love me for who I am now. Not who I was, or who she was."
"So what's stopping you? Go for it — or him, I mean."
"In a weird, twisted sort of way — I'm stopping it. I'm fighting a battle with myself."
METROPOLIS: DAILY PLANET ARCHIVES
Amanda and Clark searched through the Daily Planet's Travel Department's records. Amanda was taking advantage of the fact that Mr. Olsen had given Clark complete access to all internal records. It had said a lot about the trust between the two of them. After several minutes of digging, Amanda pulled up the travel request voucher she knew had to be there. "Got it."
Clark leaned over to get a better look. On the screen was a copy of a travel voucher Perry White had written for a trip to Bandundu. "Well, that at least gives me a starting place. Does it have anything about what airline?"
Amanda brought up the information and showed it to Clark.
"They surely have documentation on who got on and off the plane," Clark said excitedly. He stood up and spun into the suit. "Keep looking. I'm going to pay some people a visit." With a whoosh he was gone.
<I'll keep looking all right,> Amanda thought. She used Clark's access to prowl all over Travel's records, looking for more clues. She wanted to see if there was any pattern to Perry's traveling. She noticed several trips to Washington D.C. Next, see went into Accounting's records and looked at Perry's expense records. Again, the pattern in Washington D.C. developed.
Clark returned a couple of hours later. "Well, we've got something. The airline records show she boarded the plane. Also, they show she de-boarded the plane in Bandundu. I went over there and did some digging around. After some talking, and some pressure, I found out that she was taken in by the Customs Bureau. I looked through their records, and they show the apprehension of a white, American female drug smuggler posing as a reporter. The report said she was sent on for prosecution, but it doesn't say where."
Amanda brought up a second screen she had been saving for this moment. "I did some digging while you were gone. Here is a list of all the state-run Houses of Justice in that area. Along with each one is a list of the types of trial they have there. There are three that conducted trials for drug smuggling. Since we know roughly what time frame to look at, we should be able to tell what courthouse her trial might have taken place in. Maybe they will have more information there."
"Great! I'm going to head back over there and rouse a few bodies. I think it's time for Superman to pay them a direct visit."
Amanda looked at him. "Didn't you go over as Superman before?"
"No, I went as Clark Kent."
"And people don't recognize you?"
"Not usually. I sometimes wear a disguise." He laughed at her surprised look. "It's incredibly simple. I just put on a pair of jeans and any old shirt and my glasses. The real secret though, is the ball cap. I put that on, and it's like I'm invisible." He could see her skeptical look. "It's true! No one would guess that Superman would walk around like a normal guy. Everyone expects him to be this bigger-than-life persona. Which is good. I try to foster that actually. I don't stay in one place long. I don't carry on conversations with people in the Suit. I do my business, do it fast, and move on. The majority of the population think Superman is over six and a half feet tall, with blue eyes."
"Amazing. I'm surprised you can get away with it. I would have thought you might have to do something like," <careful girl> "change your hair color or something to hide out."
He looked at her for a disturbing few seconds. "Hmmm. That might work, but a wig would be easier. It takes time to dye hair. And all the switching back and forth would make that impossible. But a hairpiece is something I could carry with me."
"You actually foster this misconception in people? Why?"
Clark sat down next to her, putting his arm around the back of her chair unconsciously bringing him close to her. "I wanted to live a more normal life. I hadn't planned on going public. That was sort of… forced… on me. In the beginning, people flooded me with requests, pleas for assistance. I had governments bugging me and every criminal in the world seemed to have the need to test me. I got sick of it real quick. I was so used to living a private life, I missed being me. So, I had Murray build the dolls bigger than life… with blue eyes. I try not to let myself be photographed. If I think someone might take some pictures, I vibrate my face in such a fashion that the pictures come out fuzzy looking. I've thought of using my X-ray vision to wipe out the film, but people have to make a living. I figured a fuzzy picture is better than no picture."
Amanda smiled at Clark. Just like him to think of others when he was trying to protect himself. What a Boy Scout. Inspiration struck.
"Clark, why don't you come over to my place for supper tonight. What time do you think you will be back?"
Clark was a bit confused by the change of subject. <I should be used to that by now; she always seems to have my head spinning.> "I can be back at any time I guess I…"
"Great. Be there around seven," she scribbled her address on a piece of paper. "Here you go."
He looked at the piece of paper, trying to figure out how they had gotten here from where they started. He shook his head and gave up. He looked up to notice that her face was only inches from his. How did they get so close? The tugging in his chest became stronger. He felt his body lean closer to her. Her perfume filled his every breath. He looked at her lips, red and inviting. He watched her tongue slip out and wet them.
"Hey! Anyone down here?" James Olsen called from the doorway at the other side of the room.
Clark sat up straight, becoming very self-conscious with how close he was to Amanda. He pulled his arm back off of her chair and leaned back, crossing his left ankle over his right knee.
James came around the bookshelf. "Oh, there you are. I was hoping to catch you here, Clark. I was wondering how the investigation was going?"
Clark had to clear his throat. "It's going great Mr. Olsen. I… we…" Clark motioned to Amanda and himself, "have pinpointed where Lois was headed, and I was just about to…" he looked at Amanda, who was blushing. "Um. I was just about to go over there and do some more digging."
"Great! If you find her, make sure she knows she has my full support in clearing up whatever it is that caused her to be gone so long, all right?"
Amanda looked up at Mr. Olsen, and saw the genuine concern and honesty on his face. <This is surprising,> she thought.
"Okay, Mr. Olsen, I'll make sure to tell her."
James sat down. "I want to help her. I want her to know she has a place to come where her friends will look out for her."
Amanda had to do some revising of her puzzle. Originally she wondered if Mr. Olsen wasn't in on the whole thing. His money could have been used to back some kind of operation. She was sure a person in his position would know something. His offers of kindness confused her.
Clark stood up. "I'd better be going." He turned to Amanda. "See you later." Then he was just gone.
Amanda blinked a couple of times, and then looked at Mr. Olsen. He sat there with an amazed look on his face, blinking himself.
"Wow!" he said.
"You actually get used to it after a while — kind of."
METROPOLIS. AMANDA HART'S APARTMENT. 7:23 P.M.
Clark climbed the stairs of the old building, searching again for the address hand painted on the doorway. He, again, verified the address with the scrap of paper he was carrying. It was a match, but Clark was finding it hard to believe that she would live in such a place. <I guess I've gotten too used to living in my 'Ivory Tower',> he chided himself. He would have to try harder to keep up on the living conditions and neighborhood safety of others.
He went in and saw a man at a desk behind what he assumed to be bulletproof Plexiglas. There was a large, steel door to the right. Clark walked up to the Plexiglas and waited to be acknowledged. The man behind the desk was watching television and seemingly didn't see him. Clark knocked on the Plexiglas to get his attention.
"Yeah! Whadda you want?" he shouted without looking away from the television screen.
"I'm here to see Amanda Hart."
The man looked at him, assessing him from top to bottom. "What's your name?"
He checked a list out of Clark's sight, then pointed at him. "Got any I.D.?"
Clark laughed. He got out his wallet and showed the man his New Troy driver's license.
The man grunted then pointed at the door. "When you hear the buzzing noise, push real hard." He went back to watching the television.
Clark pushed when the buzz sounded and was deposited at the foot of a set of stairs. He looked at the piece of paper. "Apartment 501…" he mumbled out loud. As he was about to round the landing to go up the second flight of steps, he noticed a sign out of the corner of his eye. It read: "Series 500. 500-510 Left. 511-520 Right."
He opened the door at the first landing and looked at the door right in front of him on the other side of the hallway. Apartment 501. "501? On the first landing?" He shrugged, then stepped over to the door. He tried to knock on the door, but couldn't bring himself to do it. He was suddenly a bundle of nerves. Why was he here? Why did he agree to this? <I can't leave now, she's expecting me.> He thought of looking through the door. Maybe she had given up on him and had left. He started to pull his glasses down, then thought better of it.
He wanted to see her. The feeling in the core of his being started making itself known to him. At first it had felt like a tugging in his chest. Now, he didn't know how to describe the feeling. It was almost like when he discovered he could fly. All crazy and mixed up. He thought about what he had discovered in The Democratic Republic of Congo. His feelings for Lois Lane were still as strong as ever, but somehow he had developed this new feeling.
Suddenly the door opened, and Amanda came walking out, her head down. She ran right into Clark, and nearly fell over. Instinctively, Clark wrapped his arms around her waist to keep her from losing her balance.
"Oh!" she said, startled.
"I'm… sorry, Amanda. I was just about to knock…"
She had gripped his shoulders for support. They stood looking at each other in this semi-hug embrace.
"I thought you might have changed your mind. I was just about to go ask Lou if he had seen you."
Clark, shook his head. "No. I just had to stop by Australia. The funky weather patterns haven't been kind to them."
"I'm glad you came."
Clark just smiled and nodded.
"If you would like to dance, I can put on some music."
With a look of horror, Clark realized he was still holding her. "No, no! Sorry. I… I was just… being foolish."
Amanda stood to one side and allowed him to come into her apartment. "You were not being foolish. You were keeping me from falling." She smiled to let him know she was teasing him.
Apartment? Room was a better description. Clark looked around the single room of the apartment, amazed that she lived here.
"It's not much, I know," she said, seeming to read his thoughts. "It's cheap, and clean. There is just this room, and the bathroom is over there."
"It's…" <think of something> "quaint."
Amanda laughed and shot him a hurt look. "Please, don't try to compliment it. It's hopeless and I know it."
Clark took the opportunity to take a good look at her for the first time. She was breathtaking. She wore a simple dress that accentuated her figure perfectly. Funny, he didn't remember her curves looking so curvy before. Her hair was slightly curly, and swept up, away from her face, giving definition to the shape of her neck. He traced the line from her collarbone, up her neck to her ear with his eye. He lingered at the earlobe, looking at the small earring there. Simple — like her.
Clark blushed slightly. "No, I was just… you look wonderful tonight."
"Thanks," she smiled. She looked at him; his black slacks, simple collared shirt, and ever-present glasses made him look very GQ. "You look nice too. I noticed you came without a ball cap."
He laughed. It was so good to hear him laugh. She walked a little further into the room and pulled out one of the dining area chairs. "Dinner's ready; why don't sit down? You probably get hungry out ~->" she made a wavy motion with her hand.
"Huh?" Clark repeated the wavy hand motion.
"Out… flying… doing your job?"
"Oh… I get it. Neat hand signal there."
"Thanks." She patted the back of the chair. "Sit."
Clark sat down. "So, how was the rest of your day?"
"Not bad. I have some more stuff we can go over after we eat." Amanda pulled out some plates from the oven and put them down on the table. "They were just starting to get a little dried out. I put them in the oven on low to keep them warm. Be careful, the plates are hot." She looked up at his chuckle.
"Amanda, hot plates are something I usually don't have to worry about," he smiled, the humor shining in his eyes.
Clark looked at his plate, and was surprised. "Chicken-fried steak? Mashed potatoes, with milk gravy, corn and a hot roll."
"I… did some research on native Kansas cuisine. Did I get it right?"
Clark shook his head. "I don't know… do you have any idea how long it has been since I had one of these?"
"I thought it might have been a while," she sat down and put a napkin in her lap. "Go ahead… taste it. It won't hurt you."
Clark took a bite. "Oh man. Hhhmmm. Mmmmm. Oh."
"What? What? Too hot? No, that wouldn't hurt you either. Too much salt? It said salt to taste, but I've never had one of these before so I wasn't sure what that meant. Too greasy? I tried to use…"
"No, no, no… It's wonderful." Clark swallowed, and let out a sigh. "Absolutely wonderful," he smiled warmly.
"Great! I was worried about the gravy. I didn't want it to taste too floury. Is that a word?"
Clark was trying to clear the mouth full of mashed potatoes to answer her. "Mmmm. It tastes fine. Better than fine."
Amanda cut herself a piece and tried it. "Hmmm. Not bad. A bit heavy for what I'm used to."
Clark was eating with enthusiasm. "Boy, does this bring back memories. Where did you get the recipes? They are very similar to my mother's."
"Oh, I found them on the Web. It's amazing what you can find out there. A really nice grandmother in Plains, Kansas sent them to me."
"The only thing that could top this would be some home made ice cream."
"Really? I didn't think of that. I did make an apple pie though. I even have some ice cream to put on it if you want. It's store-bought, but from that marble-slab creamery over on 122nd street. They claim to make their own ice cream fresh each day."
Clark put a hand over his heart. "Oh! I've died and gone to heaven. Apple pie and ice cream. Is the pie still warm?"
Amanda laughed and nodded her head in affirmative.
"Oh! You've done it again," Clark reached over and took her hand in his. "Thank you."
"Why? What have I done?"
Clark smiled. "Just because."
"That's the second time you've said that."
Clark felt his chest get tight, that familiar tugging getting stronger. He reluctantly let go of her hand. "I mean every word too."
"Well… I'm glad you are enjoying the food so much."
"And the company," Clark added.
"And the company," she agreed. "I like to cook, but don't get to really go crazy too often. Cooking for one is the pits."
"I know. I can't remember the last time I cooked," Clark sat back and buttered his roll. He motioned with his knife around the room. "I'm afraid to admit, I was surprised to see you living here."
"It's not exactly the best side of town. And it's a little…" he looked around again, "small."
Amanda put her silverware down. "Well, it's not much, true. And it could be in a better neighborhood. But, when it's all you can afford, you have to do what you have to do."
"I'm sorry. I'm not trying to…"
Amanda cut him off. "It's okay, Clark. Really."
Clark fumbled with his silverware, poking at his food, trying to think of something to say. "I appreciate this, I really do. You've been nicer to me than just about anyone. I have a hard time making friends. Before it was because I was always hiding. Afraid that if people found out I was different, they would come and get me or people would hate me for being different. Lana seemed to be the only one to understand. What a joke that turned out to be."
Amanda was curious. "Lana?"
"Yes. Lana Lang. High school sweetheart from Smallville. We nearly got married. She used to tell me that she was the only one who understood me. Only she would be able to live with who or what I was." Clark sat back, a far away expression coming over his face. "Then she showed up. Lois Lane. She made me feel things, made me think things, I'd never felt or thought before. She made me realize that being 'super' was all right. That just trying was sometimes enough."
Amanda shifted awkwardly in her chair. It was obvious he was head over heels for this Lois Lane. <I don't stand a chance. Why do I try so hard?> She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice. "She's made quite an impression on you. We better get down to business and find *your* Lois Lane for you."
Clark snapped his attention to her. He'd heard something in her voice, even though he could tell she was trying to hide it. Jealousy? "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to go all gushy. This dinner was great. I can't wait to try the pie."
Amanda stood up and cleared their plates. "I'll be right back."
There was an uncomfortable silence as she dished up the pie and ice cream. Clark tasted it and melted just like the ice cream. "Oh… this is great."
Obviously, he had done something wrong, but he wasn't sure what. Was it his comments about Lois? Amanda knew what his mission was: Find Lois Lane. Did this suddenly upset her? It upset him that she might be upset. He was just about to ask her what was the matter when she stood up.
"You can leave your plate and stuff there, I'll clean up later. I found some interesting information while you were gone earlier." She walked over to a desk set into the corner of the room on the far wall. There were papers and clipping spread all over the top of the desk.
Clark followed, not sure what to do.
"On a hunch, I contacted some people I know who owe me some favors. I wanted to know if the government had any dealings in Zaire back in 1993, especially around the time Lois Lane disappeared. I used Mr. Olsen's weight in certain circles to confirm the rumors I found. The Center for National Security's Agency 38 was operating out of Washington D.C. and was involved in some slightly shady dealings in Zaire at the time. The name of the city that her plane was going to…" she held up a finger for Clark.
"Bandundu," he supplied.
"Right, Bandundu, was mentioned as one of their operations hubs."
"Wow. What possessed you to look into our own government, of all places?"
"Disappearing without a trace takes backing. There is going to have to be a lot of money trading hands to keep things quiet, to cover tracks, to do away with certain documentation, that sort of thing. Very few people have that kind of money or influence. The government, on the other hand, does have the money and the influence. So does organized crime. Since the government was the easier of the two to get information about, that's where I started."
"You really think there is a tie-in?"
"I don't know. Further investigation reveled that Agency 38 is now operating here, out of Metropolis. They're kind of considered a bunch of kooks now. Funding is getting tight, and information leaks freely. I got the address of a warehouse on the East Side that is supposedly a storage depository of some kind. I thought we might check it out."
"We? As in you and I?"
Amanda started to get mad. "Yes, dammit, we. I found this information, and I'd like to go along. You might need me."
"No. If there's trouble, you could get hurt."
"Oh, and you can't right? So you have to protect us poor, weak females."
"Yes, I can't get hurt. Mostly. And no, not because you're a poor, weak female."
Clark shrugged. "Well, there's this green rock, but I've only seen it once. Anyway, you're not going."
Amanda continued to simply stare at him.
"No. No way am I taking you." Clark turned around and walked over to the window. He opened it and turned back around. Amanda was pulling out some dark clothing.
"You're not going Amanda. That's final."
Amanda simply smiled.
METROPOLIS. WAREHOUSE RUMORED TO BE OCCUPIED BY AGENCY 38.
Amanda was having trouble catching her breath and regaining her balance. "You should really slow down a little when you're carrying passengers." She reached over and grabbed him for support.
"Sorry. I'm not used to carrying passengers. I still don't think that you…"
"Come on," Amanda strode off toward the warehouse.
Clark shook his head. How had she managed to convince him to bring her along? He wasn't exactly sure how it had happened, but it had. He decided he had better try to regain some control of the situation.
"Will you slow down a second?" he grabbed her by the arm firmly but gently. "We don't need to go barging in there. I can take a peek inside. It's safer that way."
"Clark, we've been over this before. I'm perfectly capable…"
"I do this all the time, Amanda," Clark sighed. "I never go barging into a situation. I always look before I leap, so I don't have any surprises to deal with. It's just standard operating procedure — nothing to do with your capabilities."
"Oh. Okay. Fine then. Go ahead and," she made a motion with her finger next to her eye, "look inside. Tell me what you see."
Clark shook his head. What was it with her and all the hand signals. She seemed to have one for every super power he had. He concentrated on the wall of the warehouse and let it dissolve away before him. What he found inside surprised him. Clark let out a low whistle.
"What? Tell me what you see," Amanda tugged at his arm.
"They have enough hardware in there to invade a small country. Probably even a medium-sized country. There are a few people stationed here, but for the most part, it looks relatively unguarded. Hmmm! Interesting."
Amanda was alternately staring at him and at the warehouse. She was getting frustrated at not being able to see what he was seeing. "What? What!?"
"Just hold your horses, geez. They have several areas that are lined with lead. Wonder what's in there?" He looked at Amanda, refocusing his attention on her.
She looked at him, her eyebrows coming up. "Can't you tell?"
Clark shook his head. "I can't see through lead."
Amanda focused her attention on the warehouse, seemingly willing herself to see into the structure. "Wonder if that little bit of architectural detail was set up to keep you from looking in?"
"Lead is also used to shield things from radiation," Clark offered.
Amanda nodded. "True. It would still be worth a look to see what was inside those areas."
"They almost certainly have a security system," Clark warned.
"We can use your talents to find a way around them." Amanda got out a pad of paper and a pencil from the bag she brought.
Clark could feel the excitement build in him. It seemed so natural to work with her like this. It was almost fun! <Watch yourself! This "fun" could get her killed.> That thought sobered him up.
He took his time, X-raying the building and surrounding areas. Focusing on keypads to determine access codes. He could examine the surface of the pads to determine which ones had more wear and tear on them. This greatly reduced the number of possible combinations. They got lucky, and Clark witnessed someone entering one area. He watched him enter the code and Amanda wrote it down. After about an hour of monitoring, he felt as confident as he could about entering the warehouse.
Using his speed, and the information obtained, he had the two of them outside the large door leading into the largest of the lead-lined areas. He paused to let Amanda regain her sense of balance.
"It wasn't as bad that time," she whispered.
Clark looked at the access code they had written down. This was a different door, but he thought it was as good a place as any to start. He examined the access pad to verify the digits of the code were still valid. They were. The keys on this access pad matching the digits in the code were more worn than the other keys. Clark keyed the code in and the door unlocked with a loud clunk.
The sound seemed to echo through the hallway, growing louder instead of softer. Clark quickly whisked them inside and shut the door behind them.
They were in a vast storage area. The lights were on, but Amanda wasn't sure if they had been on before or if they had just been turned on. "Wow. Look at all this stuff!"
The room was full of odd-looking equipment. One side of the room was lined with file cabinets. There were several pieces of machinery in various states of disassembly in the middle of the room. The very center was home to the most impressive piece of machinery.
"A spaceship!" Amanda said.
Clark was drawn to the ship. As they walked around to the front of the craft, the stylized S-shield the world had become so familiar with came into view. "Oh my God," Clark could barely talk. He ran his hand over the S.
"Guess this answers the question of where you came from," Amanda put her hand on his back. "Or at least how you got here."
The hatch was open, and embedded in the center of a control panel was a globe. It was throbbing a weak color of red. Clark reached out to grab it. As his hand approached the globe, it glowed brighter.
Amanda grabbed his arm. "Are you sure you want to grab that thing?"
"It's okay. Somehow, I feel like it's… calling me. It's telling me to touch it. Not with words… just a feeling."
He reached out and grabbed the glob.
[CONNECTED. INTERFACE ESTABLISH WITH NODE KAL-EL.]
Images, sounds, smells, and emotions assaulted Clark's consciousness. He tried to let go of the globe, but found he couldn't command the muscles of his arm any longer.
[PROTOCOL NEGOTIATED. INITIATE PRIMARY MESSAGE FROM NODE JOR-EL.]
His mind was suddenly clear again. Then, an image of a noble looking man filled his mind's eye.
[Hello, Kal-El. If you're viewing this message, then our desperate attempt to spare your life has succeeded. I imagine your full of questions. Let me try to anticipate what they might be and answer as many of them as I may.]
Amanda was starting to get worried. When Clark grabbed the globe, there had been a flash of blinding light. Now, he was just standing there, staring at the globe. The globe was pulsing, its surface alternating between an image of the Earth and an unknown planet.
Clark's eyes refocused and he slumped slightly as his muscles relaxed. He blinked several times. The image on the globe was frozen at the image of the unknown planet. "Krypton," he whispered.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," he turned excitedly toward her. "This is Krypton. It's where I'm from. This globe is like a messenger. I just *watched* a vision of my real father. He was telling me where I came from, why they sent me away…"
"Clark, I think we should get out of here," Amanda looked around the room. She was getting an uneasy feeling.
Clark noticed it too. Something was different. He tuned in with his hearing and could hear people approaching. He did a super-fast search of the rest of the contents of the room, committing it to his photographic memory. Every piece of information or object he thought was even remotely related to himself, he collected and deposited into the spacecraft. He picked Amanda up and put her in the cramped cockpit as well.
"What on earth are you doing?"
He picked the craft up just as the door swung open. Armed men came rushing into the room. They started firing some kind of energy weapon at him. The amount of energy the weapons released surprised him. He decided not to stick around to see if they would hurt him or anything else in the room. He, and the load he carried, just disappeared.
One of the men started yelling. "Cease fire! Cease fire!"
"Did we get him?" another one asked.
The headset the commander wore crackled to life. <"Commander! Report!">
"Colonel Trask, Sir! The target has… vanished, sir!"
<"I can see that Commander, what I want to know is what it got away with.">
"Sir, it looks like it took everything we had on it, sir."
<"Damn. Okay Commander, execute evacuation procedure Delta. Over and out.">
"Aye sir!" The commander turned to his men. "Okay boys, evacuation procedure Delta… let's go!"
SMALLVILLE, KANSAS. KENT FARMYARD.
Clark sat the spaceship down, and helped Amanda out of the cockpit. "Are you all right? Did you get hit?"
Amanda mentally checked herself over. "I'm fine. What was it they were shooting us with?"
"I'm not sure. It didn't really affect me in any way. I wasn't sure about you and the ship."
They looked it over and check the contents. Nothing seemed to be damaged.
"I'm surprised," Amanda said. "With that kind of firepower, I was sure we were molten slag. Wonder how come nothing was damaged?"
"I'm not sure. I have this theory. I've never had it verified. I think there is this aura that protects me. On occasion, I've felt like I've been able to extend it to things that are around me."
Amanda looked at him with a rare open expression of awe. "You are amazing."
Clark smiled shyly. "I'm going to… find someplace to stash this. I'll be right back." Two seconds later, he reappeared.
"So, where are we? Smallville?"
"Correct. This is the farm my parents owned. I inherited it when they… passed away. I've used the money from the Superman Foundation to fix it up. It had fallen into disrepair. I had sort of ignored it… too many painful memories."
Amanda turned around and looked it over. The night sky twinkled with the lights of thousands of stars. "The sky is so clear!"
"Yeah, you can see even more stars out in the field, away from the mercury-vapor light. I sort of use this as a haven. A place to get away from it all, be myself. I call it my Fortress of Solitude."
"Oh, that's a sad-sounding name."
Clark shrugged. "The story of my life. Sad." He looked at Amanda, the mercury-vapor light casting a silvery cast to her skin and hair.
She looked at him, the sadness in his expression evident.
"Till I met you. You've made things… better," Clark said. "Thanks."
Somehow, the distance between them had shortened to the point where they were mere inches apart.
"For what?" she asked.
Clark smiled. "Just…"
"Please, don't say it," she reached up and put her hand behind his neck, pulling his head closer to hers.
The wind picked up and caused the old windmill to turn. The creaking and banging broke the moment, and Clark straightened up.
Amanda shivered as the cool wind blew around her.
Clark noticed she was cold. "I'll take you home now. Thanks for the wonderful supper." He picked her up. "Hold on!"
"Wait! Let's take it a little slower this time. I want to enjoy the ride."
THE NEXT DAY, 7:00 A.M. CST. A FIELD OUTSIDE SMALLVILLE, KANSAS.
Clark stood perfectly still, eyes closed, letting the wind blow through his hair. The roar it made as it blew past his ears sounded wonderful to him. The south wind picked up into a gust for a few seconds, then settled back down into the ever-present breeze. He could feel the sunshine on his face, see it through his closed eye-lids.
At this time of year, the wheat field Clark stood in was a brilliant green. The stalks of grass about a foot tall or so. The evenly spaced rows marching off into the distance for miles.
Clark let his sense of smell and sound explore the surroundings. He could hear the birds singing away to each other. He could smell the young wheat he was standing in. The ground was moist after a brief April shower, and he could smell the earthy fragrances drifting in the wind.
Clark kicked off his boots and socks, and stood barefoot in the field. The damp soil made an interesting contrast to the warmth of the sun. He flexed his toes and let the mud goosh between them.
<Fixing up the farm and leasing out the land was the best thing I ever did,> he thought to himself. He could hear his neighbor, Mr. Irig, driving his tractor in the next field over. If the condition of all Mr. Irig's fields were as good as the one Clark was in now, then Mr. Irig was going to have a good crop this year.
Clark could see how everything looked, even though his eyes were closed. He built the mental picture from his memories and what his senses were telling him right now. He projected the image forward in time to around mid-June, early July. The tall, golden stalks of wheat, each with its own heavy head of granules swaying back and forth in the southerly wind. That southern wind was important to the life cycle of the wheat. It helped the sun dry the wheat out, assisting in the ripening of the wheat.
Clark could see and smell the acres and acres of the golden sea before him. <I'm going to have to make sure to be here for harvest this year.> He could almost taste the grains of wheat, fresh off the stalk, coming out of the combines chute.
He heard a car driving down the gravel country road about a half mile to his right. He could still hear Mr. Irig's tractor to his left. Overhead he could hear the birds, cutting and drifting in the ever-present wind. What few trees there were growing here, all bowed in respect to that southerly wind. Its constant pressure from one side caused most trees to grow leaning slightly to the north. A car door to his right caught his attention.
Deputy Rachel Harris looked out into the field and saw the lone figure standing there. She smiled to herself and shook her head. "I thought it might be you," she said in a normal voice. "I'd recognize those slumped shoulders a mile away." She could almost see him smile. She waited for a minute, leaning against the fender of her cruiser. "Are you going to stay out there or are you going to come over here and talk?"
Clark opened his eyes and blinked several times. He looked over in her direction and dropped his head. He bent over and picked up his socks and boots and started walking toward the car.
"Oh come on, don't make me wait for you to walk over here. I need to talk to you, so hurry up. I know you can hear me," she crossed her arms over chest and waited.
Clark smiled. Of course he could hear her. He continued to walk slowly, laughing while she mumbled and cursed at him under her breath.
Rachel put her fingers up to her mouth and cut lose with a patented County Fair Champion Cow Calling, Ear-Splitting Whistle. "HURRY UP, SLOW POKE!"
Clark grabbed his ears. "Rachel…" he growled. Instantly he was beside her. "Did you *have* to whistle like that?" He rubbed his ears gingerly.
"I wanted you to hurry. I've got to go over to ol' Mrs. Harmon's and help her to the doctors," she looked at her watch. "Her appointment is at 9:00 a.m." She looked him over. Damn fine looking as usual. He was decked out in a pair of faded overalls. No shirt, no shoes. Just a pair of overalls that fit just right in all the right places. She noticed he had his glasses clipped in the front pocket of the bib.
"What did you come around here for?" Clark asked.
"We've had reports of someone walking around in the fields all morning. Since we've had a lot of reports of people snooping around lately, I thought I better check it out."
Clark's brow furrowed. "People snooping around? What kind of people?"
"Don't know… haven't caught them yet. Anyway, so… how are things with you? Something must be bothering you, I don't think I've seen you in a wheat field since the whole Superman thing exploded."
Clark laughed. "It's been a while."
"Clark, I'm here for you, you know?" She looked up at him. "If you want to talk, I'll listen."
"Thanks, Rachel," Clark sighed. "It's just…" he looked down at the road and kicked a rock. "It's just that I'm not sure what I'm feeling. That's why I'm here. Things are so much simpler here. It helps me think."
Rachel let the silence between them sit. "Been busy?" she finally asked.
Clark nodded. "Sort of. Nothing out of the ordinary on the Superman front. I've been looking for Lois again."
"Ooohhhh. Now I know why you're out here. Any luck?"
"Some. I know where she went, and that she got there. I also know that everyone seems to want to keep something quiet over there. Then, last night, Amanda and I were checking out this government Agency and I found some… things."
Rachel's ears perked up. <Amanda? Who's she?> "What did you find?"
Clark looked at her seriously. He simply stared at her for a long moment. "We've been good friends for a long time, Rachel. I know you've felt more than friendship toward me at times. I'm glad I have a friend like you… I don't want to lose you."
Rachel laughed nervously. "You won't lose me, Clark. You may not see me in the same way I see you, but we will *always* be friends."
"I found a spaceship. It had my S-shield logo on it. I found a bunch of documentation, and other things. More importantly, I found a globe, a message device, that told me some things." He looked at her to see the effect this was having on her. So far, she was just looking at him wide-eyed.
"It told me I was from the planet Krypton. It was a dying planet, and my birth parents sent me away in a spaceship to Earth so that I might have a chance to live."
"Yeah. Holy cow. The government had this information for who knows how long. I'm not sure what they know about me. I haven't had the chance to go through it all yet."
Rachel sat there for a moment, letting the news sink in. <An alien! Clark was an alien.> She had to admit it made sense. After what the world had learned when he went public with the Superman persona, everyone in town had been buzzing about it. Here was Clark Kent, orphan home-town boy, mild-mannered reporter, the strongest man in the world. Everyone had their theories about how he came to possess these powers. For a brief moment, the strongly religious-based community feared him. It quickly passed when everyone realized that Clark was still Clark.
"Does this change things between us?" Clark asked.
Rachel could hear the pleading in his voice. "No. You're still Clark in my eyes," she smiled.
"Good! Other than you and a few other people here, Amanda is about the only one who treats me like you do. Just Clark."
Rachel couldn't resist any longer. "Who's Amanda?" She tried to keep her voice sounding neutral, she really did.
Clark became even moodier at the mention of her name. "She's… she's this woman who has been helping me look for Lois. She works at the Daily Planet in Archives."
"What's wrong with her?"
"What? Nothing, why?"
"Well, as soon as I mentioned her, you got all moody. You've started pacing, and you're worrying your hands."
Clark looked down and noticed what he was doing. He put his hands into the pockets of his overalls.
"She makes me feel… strange."
"I thought you just said she made you feel like 'Just Clark'?"
"That's just it! She treats me like I'm anyone else. Most people don't do that. When I'm around her, I feel more relaxed, more *normal*. We work *together*. She doesn't expect me to be some miracle worker all the time. She does things *for* me." He had begun pacing again. His hands had come out of his pockets and were waving about as he talked.
"She confuses me constantly. She's always babbling about something and then something brilliant will come out. She's stubborn and pigheaded. She always seems to get her way, no matter how hard I try to change things." He stopped in front of Rachel.
"She's the one who found the warehouse, and insisted on going. We were shot at! She could have been hurt! I didn't want her to go, but somehow, she managed to get me to fly her over there." He started pacing again. "Maybe it was the chicken-fry. I should have known better than to go over there."
"I thought we were just friends. But after last night, I'm not sure anymore," he continued. "One minute we're talking about our narrow escape, the next, I'm about to kiss her."
"Why would I be doing that? I'm supposed to be looking for a Ms. Lois Lane — reporter lost in the Congo. Love of my life, my destiny. Have I told you about her? She's the reason I'm Superman."
Clark looked at her. "What?"
"Now you're babbling. It's obvious to me. It breaks my heart to say it," she put a hand over her heart, "but you're in love."
Clark's mouth opened and closed several times, with no sound coming out. "I can't be!"
"Why not? Happens to the best of us. Not you and me, obviously, but…" she shrugged her shoulders.
"I can't be though. That wouldn't be fair. I can't be in love with two women at the same time." Clark leaned back against the car. He looked completely lost. "Somehow, she got to me. Snuck up on me when I wasn't paying attention."
"Oh come on! Don't make this out to be her fault, Mr. Gorgeous, Man of Steel, can sweep a woman off her feet… literally."
"What do I do? I still love Lois Lane. It wouldn't be fair to Amanda."
"Clark, talk to her. Maybe Amanda should decide for herself what's fair." Rachel looked at her watch. "I'm sorry, Clark. I've got to go get Mrs. Harmon." She patted him on the back. "If you want to talk some more, come by the office. If you ever feel like dumping those other two women, I can be packed in record time. No super-help needed," she smiled at him.
Clark stood back and watched her car disappear over the hill. He turned and started walking back to the farm house. <What am I going to do now?> He looked up into the sky one more time, then spun into the Suit and was gone, heading east.
SAME MORNING, METROPOLIS. 8:00 A.M. EST. AMANDA HART'S APARTMENT.
"Amanda? Are you in there?" Lucy pounded on the door to Amanda's apartment a little louder. Inside, she could hear someone moving around.
<"Just a minute, just a minute! You don't have to break the door down.">
The door opened to reveal a very tired, ruffled Amanda Hart. "Lucy? What on earth are you doing here so early in the morning?"
"Early? Amanda, we were supposed to meet for breakfast over an hour ago. It's eight o'clock."
"Eight!? Oh my gosh!" Amanda disappeared back into the apartment.
Lucy came in through the open door, and shut it behind her. "Are you feeling okay?"
Amanda was in the bathroom, brushing her teeth. She held up a finger, letting Lucy know she needed a minute.
Lucy looked around the apartment. The table was still set for two. The bed was in disarray. The dirty dishes were still in the sink. "Ah, Amanda? Did you have company last night?" She sat down at the foot of the bed.
Amanda came into the room and went to the dresser and started grabbing things out of drawers. "I don't have time for a shower, darn it," she mumbled to herself. "Clark came over…" she disappeared back into he bathroom, still mumbling.
"Looks like the two of you must have had a wild ride," Lucy played with the corner of the bedspread.
Amanda came back out, dressing as she talked. "Oh! You have no idea. It was… fabulous. I knew when he picked me up in his arms what he had in mind. I asked him to take it slow, so I could enjoy the ride. 'Yes, ma'am!' he said." Amanda slipped her shirt over her head.
Lucy's eyes were about to fall out of their sockets.
"We went up and up and up. He made me feel as if I was floating on air. I started to get dizzy from the rush. The things he can do! I don't know if I will ever get used to it. I didn't want it to end. I wanted it to go on and on. Over and over." She started putting on her shoes.
"He was only too happy to oblige. The man never seems to tire out. I was seeing stars… literally. They were everywhere. And the lights!" She stood up and paused, catching the look of total shock on her sister's face.
"Lucy? Are you all right?"
"I'm… I'm… I'm not sure. I think I need a cold shower." She stood up and started fanning herself. She felt the urge to look at the bed again, then felt embarrassed when she did. "I mean… you didn't have to tell me *everything*! I was only kidding."
Amanda watched her, and realized what had happened. "Oh my God! No! No, no, no, no! We are not communicating here. What you think happened, didn't really happen. Honest."
Lucy looked at her like she had grown two heads. "Come on, I mean… your bed… your *detailed* description. What am I supposed to think went on. You more or less described it to me in TechniColor detail." She walked over and opened a window. "Is it hot in here?"
"Lucy! I was describing what it felt like when he took me flying last night."
"Flying! As in what Superman does to move from point A to point B along the shortest path!" She thought back to what she had said, and tried to look at it from Lucy's perspective. Suddenly she burst out laughing.
"It's not funny! Can you imagine what I was thinking, looking around this place? A table for two, obviously abandoned. Dirty dishes… a crumpled bed. I asked if it was a wild ride and you start describing the ride of a lifetime." She turned back to the window. "It was almost too much to take!" She bust out laughing as well.
"Oh man… the look on your face," Amanda said through the tears. "It was priceless. I would have given anything to have that on film."
"Laugh all you want, tease. I'll get you back when you least expect it."
"No fair! I wasn't out to get you on anything. Your own, twisted little mind jumped to the wrong conclusions. I can't help it if you were in the gutter while I was in the sky."
"My version had you in the sky as well," Lucy said.
"Besides, I've never…" Amanda stopped short and turned around.
Lucy gave her a peculiar look. "Amanda, are you saying you've never…"
"Lots of people never. It's not that uncommon. Once, this guy named Claude tried to, but he was… unsuccessful." Amanda wrapped her arms around herself. "Another time was close. In the jungle, a man…" the words caught in her throat. The nightmare loomed on the horizon. Amanda swallowed the lump. "A man tried to take me. He'll never bother anyone again, though."
Lucy stepped forward and put out her arm. "I'm sorry…"
"Anyway… we never…" she waved her hand at the bed. "I just kept him out flying too late. By the time he brought me back, I was so exhausted from the adrenaline rush that I nearly fell asleep in the hallway. I probably only got a few hours sleep, total."
"Have a good time?"
Amanda recalled the near kiss at the farmyard. "It was wonderful."
A tapping noise from the window brought complete silence to the room.
"You hear that?" Lucy whispered.
The noise repeated itself. Lucy stepped away from the window as Amanda pulled back the curtain. There in front of her was the red and yellow stylized S-shield of the object of misunderstanding himself.
"Oh," Amanda said in a small voice. She looked up into Clark's eyes. "Hello, Clark."
"Hello, Amanda. I was on my way to the Daily Planet, when I noticed your window was open. I heard voices and decided to see if you might be running late and need a… ride."
Lucy tried hard not to laugh, but the giggles came out just the same.
Amanda was smiling so hard it hurt. <Don't laugh. Don't look at his face. You looked!> She turned quickly from the window and shook her finger at Lucy. "Sssshhhh!!!" She turned back to Clark, and almost lost it again.
<What the hell is going on?> Clark was thinking. The confused look on his face was so adorable.
"I'm sorry, Clark. Why don't you… I'll be ready in just a moment. I'll just be a second."
Clark looked over her shoulder and saw Lucy trying to hold back some laughter.
"Lucy? Lucy Lane?"
<Uh Oh! Cover! Cover!> "Oh, yes, this is Lucy… Lane. She's a good… friend of mine."
"Right!" Lucy said a bit too quickly. She glanced nervously at Amanda. "We are good fish friends."
<Oh, gesh! Fish friends?> "We both like tropical fish," Amanda explained.
"Can I come in?" Clark asked. He had floated a little closer to the window.
"Sure! Sure, come right in."
Clark floated through the window, then settled down to the floor.
"Can I borrow your bathroom?" he asked.
Amanda just stared at him.
"I need to… change," he fingered the cape.
"Oh! Sure, go right on in."
Superman entered the bathroom, closing the door. Immediately it opened again, and Clark stepped out, dressed in slacks and a shirt. He had his glasses on.
"In a way, it's a good thing you're here Lucy, I was going to come by and talk to you today." He looked at Amanda. "Funny, you never mentioned you knew Lois Lane's sister, even after you knew what I was looking for." His tone of voice was accusing.
"Oh, that's my fault, Superma- er, Clark," Lucy jumped in. "I asked her to not say anything. When she told me you were looking for Lois again, I wasn't sure I wanted to talk to you."
"You've already come by several times. I can't tell you any more than I already have. I want you to find my sister more than anything," she glanced at Amanda, "especially now. I'm just afraid to hope."
Clark listened to her heartbeat. He listened to Amanda's next. Both were within acceptable ranges. He got the feeling they were hiding something from him, but he had nothing to back this feeling up.
"I just want to find her… to put an end to this whole thing," Clark walked over and sat down on a chair at the dining table.
The evident pain caused Amanda to take a step forward, like she had reached a decision. "Clark…"
He looked up, a strange expression on his face. "I've got to go." He stood up and spun into the Suit. "I'll see you later at the Planet. Sorry I couldn't take you." Then he was gone.
"Wow!" Lucy stood looking at the spot he had just occupied. "That suit change is amazing!"
Amanda walked over and shut the window.
"You were about to tell him," Lucy said.
"Are you ready for that?"
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION OF AGENCY 38.
Colonel Johan Trask sat in his make-shift office, going over the information on the alien known as Superman. It had been wise to make copies of the information they had already developed. There wasn't much he could do about the loss of equipment. The ship had held the most promise. He cursed to himself again at the thought of the lost items.
He turned his chair toward the video monitor behind him. On screen was the frozen image of the woman who had been with the alien. He pulled out a photograph of Lois Lane, taken when the alien had made his public appearance in the outlandish suit it wore.
"So, Clark. Someone else is helping you now." He put the photograph away and rewound the tape. Again, he watched as the alien known as Superman moved at super-speed and collected everything his agency had on it. Even using the special equipment they had, the cameras were barely able to keep up with the alien's movements. Who was this woman, and why was she helping him? How had they found Agency 38's warehouse?
He reached over and picked up the phone. He dialed a number and waited. "Hello. I need to know the identity of someone. Yes." He hung up the phone. Within minutes, someone knocked.
Trask ushered in the assistant and handed them a photograph of the woman on the video. The assistant nodded and left. Trask was just about to sit down, when his phone rang.
"Yes? Good. I can bring it up now? Thank you." He hung up the phone and sat down at his workstation. He logged on, and brought up a map of the country. A little red dot blinked quietly over a region of northeastern Kansas. Trask picked up the phone and dialed a number.
"Congratulations on getting this to work. You will be rewarded… assuming the ship and the globe are there." He hung up the phone and used the mouse to zoom in on the red, blinking dot.
"Gotcha." Again he picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Prepare a recovery team: destination northeastern Kansas."
METROPOLIS. DAILY PLANET ARCHIVES.
Clark walked into the Archive Room, carrying a stack of steaming bamboo baskets. "Hello? Amanda, are you here?"
She stepped out from behind some shelves. "Over here."
"I brought something to eat. I've been away a lot today with Superman things, so I thought you might like something special."
Amanda came over to where he was setting out the different dishes. "What is it? It smells wonderful."
"Authentic Chinese food. I know how much you like Chinese, so I thought — why not get the best?"
"Hmmm. Thank you." She sat down and started eating after he had finished setting everything out.
"Sorry I've left you searching on your own. Find anything?"
Amanda swallowed her food. "No problem. I've been following what's been going on over in India. Senseless."
Clark grunted his agreement.
Amanda picked up some papers and handed them to Clark. "Here is everything I've found on Agency 38 and what they might have been doing in Zaire back in 1993. The information you got, about a drug trial, seems funny. Why would everyone go through so much trouble over a supposed drug smuggler?"
Clark leafed through the papers. He didn't even use super-speed. There just wasn't that much to go through. "This is it? That's all?"
Amanda nodded. "So far."
Clark flopped the papers down and sighed. "Why would they arrest her for drug smuggling, then try so hard to cover it up? You're right. There has got to be more." He ate some more. "I know they had a trial. I know she was found guilty. I find that hard to believe."
"You should," Amanda mumbled.
"Nothing. I don't think she would have done that. There is nothing to indicate she was that type of person."
"Right. Where the trail ends is back at the prison. She goes in, then she's never seen again."
<Time to toss in some clues,> Amanda thought. "What if she escaped? They wouldn't want to have a record of that."
Clark nodded. "Good point. If she somehow got away… and if anyone could do it, it would be Lois… then they would want to cover that up for sure." Clark put down his chopsticks. "The problem becomes even more difficult now."
"Well… when someone escapes, they generally want to stay hidden. You don't want your captors finding you. There will be no records, no trail to pick up."
"Military communication records," Amanda said. "Surely they have records of orders issued, troop movements, that sort of thing. We know the time frame to narrow the search down to."
"We still don't have a tie-in with this Agency 38," Clark fingered the papers.
"I wonder if there is anything in the information we got from the warehouse?"
Clark looked skeptical. "No, It's all about me."
"You never know what we will find. We should at least look."
Clark thought for a moment. "You know, if Tempus could travel dimensionally, he could also travel in time… like H.G. Wells."
Amanda tried to open her mouth to ask him something, but realized there were too many questions and not enough time. "When we have time, you're going to have to explain that all to me."
Clark laughed. "Okay… deal. Tempus could have traveled back in time, removed Lois Lane, and kept this world from seeing its Superman."
Amanda's eyebrows had gone up at that one. "Wouldn't he have tried to kill her?"
"I doubt it. He never really seemed capable of physically hurting Lois. I'm not sure why. But he knew she played a large part in who I am. If he could prevent her from meeting me, it would be the same as getting rid of me all together."
Amanda eyed him. "I somehow doubt that if you had never met Lois Lane… from any dimension… that you would be content to sit back and not help when you could."
"You're right. I did help, when I could. I was just phobic about being caught."
The Look came over his face.
"Better go," Amanda said.
"Sorry." Clark spun into the Suit and was about to leave when he hesitated. "I'll tell you what. We'll go out to Smallville and go through the information tonight. Would that be okay?"
"Sure! Sounds good to me. Just pick me up here when you are ready."
"I'll bring something to eat." Clark smiled then disappeared.
10:23 P.M. CST, SMALLVILLE, KANSAS. KENT FARM HOUSE.
Clark was on the phone. "Hello, Rachel? This is Clark. How are you? I'm fine. Say, have you had any more reports of people snooping around? You have? Where? I see. Okay, thanks. No, I'm not sure, but I think I will look into it. All right, bye."
Amanda hated being on only one side of a phone conversation.
Clark hung up the phone. "She said there has been some more reports of strange people being where they shouldn't be. A large number of reports seem to be coming from the area around Shuster's Field."
"That name sounds familiar," Amanda began shuffling through the stacks of papers around her.
"It was where my parents found me in the ship," Clark sat down and picked out the report from the stack with easy.
"That darn photographic memory. Wish I could do that," Amanda mumbled to herself as she re-read the report. "I wonder what they are looking for?"
Clark thought for a moment. "Well… since there has only been one thing that I know of that can hurt me, I would guess they are out looking for green, glowing rocks."
Amanda put the piece of paper back on the pile. "You think this rock has something to do with where you are from?"
"I don't know. However, according to that report, when they found the crash site, there were 'numerous glowing geographic specimens'," he quoted. "They only collected a small sample according to the report. I didn't find them at the warehouse, and I went back there today. It's completely empty. No trace of them ever being there."
"So, you think they might have some, and now want more since you took all this stuff?"
"They seem to be pretty paranoid about me. I think it is a distinct possibility."
Clark leaned back against the couch, and rubbed his temples. "I'm getting a headache."
"You get headaches?" Amanda didn't know why this surprised her, but it did.
"Sure. I think too hard or concentrate too much on something and I get one like everyone else."
"It's just that, with your invulnerability, I would have thought you wouldn't be affected by things like that."
"I wish I wasn't, believe me."
Amanda looked over the documents they had gone through already. "Would it help if you went through all this stuff at super-speed and then filled me in?"
Clark sat up with a smile. "I thought you would never ask. Ever since I went public, I've been relying on my powers a little more every day. Now, it's almost a hassle not to use them." He became a blur as he read and sorted all the papers in the front room. In a few sort seconds he stopped.
He looked completely devastated. In his hand was a piece of paper. He was staring at it in disbelief.
"What is it? What did you find?" Amanda put her arm on his shoulder. "Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost."
"They've known all along," his voice was barely a whisper. "They were there almost from the beginning. Monitoring me. Monitoring my parents." Clark suddenly felt like a caged animal, a zoo specimen. "Then I found this," he handed the piece of paper to Amanda.
She scanned it quickly. "Oh, Clark. I'm so sorry. I don't know what to say. I'm…"
"How could she have done this to me?" His voice was still small and quiet. "I trusted her! We were going to get married!"
Amanda re-read the report. It clearly stated that Agency 38 knew when Clark had started developing his super powers. It also outlined the plan to pair him up with someone who could monitor him, direct his development, and report back any new findings. Lana Lang and her father had been singled out and they had agreed to do the job. The amount paid was even listed. The words were cold and impersonal. Lana Lang had been payed to be Clark's girlfriend and to steer him away from using his powers in any way whatsoever. There was a bonus if she could get him to marry her. The government expressly forbid any breeding of the two species, but was interested in the alien's sexual habits and behaviors. There were detailed instructions on what was allowable and unallowable behavior in Clark.
Clark put his face in his hands and felt the tears building up behind his closed eyelids. Betrayed! By someone whom he'd trusted. His whole life was something for the government to play with it seemed. He could remember growing up with Lana. She never seemed to be anything different than his friend. When had they gotten to her? What kept her doing it? He wouldn't be surprised to find the answer in the report, but he wasn't going to read the whole thing. Not now, not ever. He wasn't sure he could take the pain of knowing. Right now, it felt pretty bad.
"Clark?" Amanda wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into an embrace of support. She wanted him to know that she was there for him. That she would never hurt him. <I need to tell him who I am before I hurt him like this.> "I'm here, Clark."
Clark grabbed onto her like a lifeline. The feeling in his chest, this tugging, this connection, seemed to strengthen. He could feel the support she was offering through it.
Amanda felt a strange movement within her. She could feel Clark's pain as if it were her own. She could feel this sudden bonding occurring between the two of them. "Clark, I *know* how you feel." It was said in amazement as much as in comfort.
Clark looked up at her through his watery, red eyes. He could feel it too.
The farm house was lit up in various shades of green. The night-vision goggles each of them wore supplied them with excellent vision out here in the darkness.
The commander gave each of his men some hand signals, directing their search. They would have to find the stolen craft and recover it with It here! This was no longer a simple recovery mission. If It found out about them, they might as well forget about it. He had tried to talk Colonel Trask out of going ahead with the operation once it was discovered that the alien was in residence on this particular night. Trask would have nothing of it. He kept saying he had planned for every contingency. Stubborn man.
<"Commander, report."> Trask's voice came over the commander's head set. <Damn him! I said radio silence!>
Clark leaned closer to Amanda. He put his arms around her waist, and pulled her closer. He could feel the bond in his chest strengthening as he closed the distance between them. He centered on her lips, and fully intended to explore them with the utmost care. <"Commander, report.">
Amanda was confused. She knew Clark was going to kiss her, finally. Now, he had suddenly stopped. Again. "Please, Clark, I want…"
"Shhh…" he said softly. He continued to listen.
Colonel Trask was watching the infrared images of Amanda and Clark on the monitor in front of him. Through his head phone, he was listening to what they were saying, their sound being picked up by the laser microphone he had aimed at the front room picture window. "I should have watched her closer," Trask muttered to himself. "I wonder how many other lovers the alien has stashed away." The truck he was in was filled with high-technology surveillance equipment. Yet, he still wanted more. "I wish I could see them, see the looks on their faces, interpret their emotional responses."
Clark had managed to use his X-ray vision and hearing to pin-point every one of the 10 men moving around the outside of his house. He had found they carried surveillance equipment. All this took less than a second for him. He decided to act as if nothing had happened.
He looked at Amanda's questioning eyes. He thought about finishing the kiss he was about to give her, but then he wouldn't be able to communicate with her. Once he started kissing her, he wasn't sure he would be able to stop — even if he wanted to, which he wasn't to sure he would.
"I'm sorry, Amanda. I shouldn't have." He sat back, then cringed at the look of hurt on her face. He picked up a pencil and a piece of paper. "I'm just in shock over this whole Lana thing." He wrote the words:
Men outside. Watching us.
He moved it over to her. "I'm sure you understand."
Amanda wanted to look around immediately, but resisted the temptation. It would be important to act natural. "Sure, Clark. I understand. You're probably hurt." She mouthed: We need to save this stuff.
He was amazed at how she handled situations like this. She always seemed to know how to act — what to do.
Clark wrote out his plan as he continued to talk. When Amanda nodded that she understood, Clark took off. He used his super-speed to zip outside and round up all the men before they could realize what was happening.
Amanda came outside to see a pile of men, all hog-tied. A pile of nasty-looking weapons and other equipment was next to them. The men were struggling, and fighting against their bonds.
"I wouldn't move around too much," Clark said. "The more you struggle, the tighter the ropes will get." He winked at Amanda. Several men quit struggling. Clark picked up one of the men. "What were you doing here?"
The man simply stared at him.
"Tell me, I'm liabel to fry you right here and now! I don't appreciate people trespassing on my private property." He let his eyes glow a little red. He'd learned this trick while watching a cop show on television.
The man passed out.
Amanda had gone over to the pile of weapons and equipment, and begun poking around. She found a scanning device that was beeping. She picked it up and pointed it around the farm. It beeped louder when she pointed it toward the barn. "Clark! Look at this." She help it up for him.
He took a look at it and knew what they wanted. "The ship. Somehow they tracked the ship here. You boys must be from Agency 38." He disappeared and returned with the small bug device. He crushed it into fine dust. "Amanda, would you mind going inside and calling the Sheriff's Office. Tell Deputy Rachel we have some trespassers she needs to see to."
Amanda grinned. "No problem."
"I'm going to gather everything up and take it someplace safe."
Colonel Trask was furious! <Those bungling idiots have ruined everything. They will pay for their insubordination.> He climbed into the driver's seat of the vehicle and turned on the auxiliary monitor. He watched and listened as Amanda called the Sheriff. He heard the alien talking to his men as he gathered everything together. When the alien had left with the spaceship, Trask put the vehicle in gear and headed towards the farm. He turned on the police scanner, and monitored the progress of the local law enforcement. He wouldn't have time to recover the team, but he did have time to pick up a passenger.
HIMILAYAS: UNSPECIFIED LOCATION
Clark finished smoothing the walls of the make-shift cave with his heat vision. <It should be safe here,> he thought. It would take quite a while for a team to climb up into this remote mountain range and locate this cave. He felt a sudden rise of panic coming from his chest. This new feeling, this bond he seemed to be developing with Amanda, was transmitting some uneasy feelings. Just as suddenly, they were gone. He checked to make sure everything was safe, then headed for the farm.
SMALLVILLE, KANSAS: KENT FARM
Rachel was helping the other deputies to put the last of the men into the modern-day paddy wagon when Clark showed up.
Rachel shrugged. "I thought she was with you. There wasn't anyone here but these hog-tied, commando wanna-be's."
Clark did a quick scan of the whole place. All he found was her purse in the front room of the house, right where she had left it earlier. He picked it up and let himself relax into the feeling he had within him. He could feel the bond. It wasn't as strong as before, but it was still there. He concentrated on it, trying to learn something from it. Anything. He had the urge to fly west.
He went back outside and found Rachel. "I'm going to fly west, and look for her. Can you take care of things for me?"
"Sure. I'll take them down to the jailhouse and book them on trespassing, carrying illegal weapons, concealed weapons, anything I can think of right now."
"Thanks." He took off, going slow, letting the feeling he had guide him.
UNDERGROUND FACILITY OF AGENCY 38. UNSPECIFIED LOCATION IN COLORADO.
Colonel Trask lay on the cot in his room and rested. His escape from Kansas, away from the alien, had taken a toll on him. He had managed to grab Amanda, get to Wichita and the Air Force Base there, and on a plane heading west in little over an hour. Once in Colorado, he had made his way to the Agency 38 safehouse, buried deep within the mountains. There was no way for the alien to follow them. He had put Amanda on the other cot in his room. He didn't want to let her out of his sight. She knew information about the alien that might prove useful. He intended on interrogating her as soon as the drugs he had used on her wore off.
Amanda drifted toward consciousness. The years of running had conditioned her to the point where she was able to wake up without looking like she was awake. It had saved her several times. She listened to the room around her. She could hear machinery. She heard someone breathing off to one side. It sounded like they were sleeping or nearly asleep. She risked cracking her eyes open a fraction of an inch to peer through her eyelashes. She appeared to be in a small room. Laying on a cot nearby was a man dressed in military-style fatigues. Several monitors lined one wall.
One of the monitors came to life and a sound went off, waking the man on the cot.
"Oh Gawd, not now," he stumbled out of the cot and over to a desk with a control panel on it. He punched a button and someone appeared on the screen. They were military looking as well. "Yes? What is it?"
"Sorry to disturb you, sir. The alien has been reported heading west. He appears to be on a course that could possibly bring him here."
"It is still several miles out and moving slowly, sir."
Trask had planned on holing up for a while. That would drive the alien crazy, looking for the woman. He thought about what the report might mean. True, the alien was moving in the right general direction, but that could be luck. "Keep me posted. Go to alert level two." He signed off. Just as he was about to turn back toward the cot, another buzzer went off.
Trask cursed to himself again, too quiet for Amanda to hear. He punched a button and a screen lit up with the faceless, black outline.
"Hello, Colonel Trask," a well-cultured, smooth voice spoke.
"Hello. What can I do for you, Mr. X?"
"I was wondering if this… Superman… was going to be a problem to my little operation?"
"No problem, I can assure you." Trask sat down.
"I haven't been funding this project for the past four years for it to fall apart now. Superman has actually been making progress on the whereabouts of Ms. Lane. He has tracked her movements to Zaire, and the prison she escaped from."
Trask sighed. "Maybe if your operatives had been able to hold onto her, you wouldn't have this problem now."
"Mr. Trask," the voice sounded annoyed, like the person was talking to a child who wasn't listening.
"Listen. I can understand why you're upset," Trask continued. "You let this… female reporter… get away carrying the complete new National Security Plans in her skull. Now you're afraid the Big-Blue-Boy-Scout will throw a monkey wrench into your little scheme." Trask leaned back. "Sabotaging the Security Plan's implementation so you can step in and sell the government your own Plan is a brilliant idea. You paid me to make sure the alien won't be a problem. He won't."
The figure on the screen shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "You seem to know a great deal, Colonel Trask. Might I ask how you come to posses this knowledge?"
"Cloak-and-Dagger is my middle name. I know. I have ways of knowing. You, one of the richest men in the world, should have some idea how important information is."
"You're quiet right, I do know. Since you seem to know so much, do you know where Lois Lane is now?"
"I thought you were tracking her?"
"We were. The bug we implanted in her was only designed for short term use. It has long since quit working."
"Since you were leading her to believe that her boss was who set her up, I would think the first thing she would want to do is to get back to the States. Get to Metropolis and get that SOB for making her life a living hell. You've got to assume she knows nothing of the information she's carrying."
The figure on screen looked to the side as someone off camera spoke to them. "I must be going. I'll look into what you've suggested." The screen went blank.
"Fool. All that money," Trask shook his head.
Amanda was nearly shaking with emotions. <Perry is okay! He didn't sell me out. I've got to get out of here, find Clark and bust these guys. We also have to tell someone about the Security Plans.> Amanda thought back to her captivity. There had been a brief time, while she was awaiting trial that she could remember being unconscious. They must have doped her food or something, then embedded this information and tracking device in her.
The plan must have been to put the information in her, then use the U.S. Embassy's weight to get her released. She would then carry the information into America for them, and they could use the tracking device to pick her up when they needed. That was why they always seemed to know where she was. Now, to get out of here. She wished Clark was here. She felt the threads of the bond, and mentally touched them. She grabbed onto them with all her mental might and "screamed" for help down them.
THE SKIES OVER WESTERN KANSAS.
Clark felt the flutter in the bond almost instantly. He was rocked a second later by the cry for help down the bond. He could feel the bond strengthen. He called back down the link. "I'm on my way," and rocketed toward the mountains of Colorado.
UNDERGROUND FACILITY OF AGENCY 38. UNSPECIFIED LOCATION IN COLORADO.
Alarms were going off everywhere. Amanda could hear people running outside Trask's door. Trask, himself, was on the phone demanding to know what was going on.
"He's here? How did he…"
His voice was cut short as the earth trembled and shook around them. Amanda could hear booming and crashing noises from all over. She called back down the bond. "I'm here! I'm here!"
Trask slammed the phone down and slapped a button on the control panel. Large, protective grills snapped into place, and Amanda had the feeling she was falling. She let Clark know what was going on. Trask turned his attention to her for the first time and noticed she was awake.
"Well… we'll have to use you for protection — alien lover." He pulled as small container from a desk drawer.
Amanda decided not to give him the opportunity to get a hold of her. She launched herself at him intending to hit him hard and fast, then put him away. It was a technique that had worked for her before. Most people underestimated her.
Unfortunately, Trask didn't underestimate her. The canister he carried contained pepper spray. The chemical hit her in the middle of her chest then moved up to her neck, before she rolled out of the way. The pain was incredible!
Clark felt the pain in the bond and flew down the shaft leading deeper into the mountain. He ripped through the steel reinforced walls as if they were paper. The room halted its descent, and Clark entered the room, looking for Amanda.
Trask had her down on the floor, a small box in one hand, a syringe in the other. The syringe was embedded in her neck. Trask flipped open the lid to the small box, and a familiar green glow highlighted his face in the dark.
"Hello… alien. This chunk of rock may not be enough to kill you, but it will slow you down. Before you could get to me, I could inject this deadly poison into the neck of this lovely lady." Trask pointed the box in Clark's direction. "Precious stuff, this rock. A Superman stopper. It's the only piece I've been able to find. The one that Tempus had disappeared. I searched Shuster's Field over and over, only to discover this one small piece. Wise of you to get rid of it all."
"I'd still get to you," Clark's voice cracked from the emotion. "I'd make you pay."
Trask smiled. "A small price to pay to see you suffer, if you ask me. I don't care about myself. I'm here to protect the world from your alien invasion."
"You are one sick, twisted, little man."
Trask just smiled. "It only takes a drop to kill her."
"What do you want?" Clark pleaded.
"I want your death. You can't use your alien powers of subliminal messages on me. I'm not affected…"
As Trask talked, Clark realized the man was insane. He probed the bond, asking if Amanda was all right.
She was, she responded. The pepper spray still hurt, but at least she could think now.
<What do I do? I can feel the effects of the rock, even from here.> Clark was begining to feel desperate.
<I'll roll to the opposite side, away from the needle. He won't expect me to move. If I move away fast enough, the needle should be pulled free and then you can get to him. I'll take care of the box.>
Before Clark could object, he "heard" Amanda count to three, then watched in slow motion as she rolled away from Trask, the needle coming free. He moved as fast as he could, but the rock had its predicted effect on him. He was almost knocked to a stand still. He shoved Trask across the room with all his might, feeling the strength fade from his body as he did so. Trask hit the far wall with a crunch and slumped unmoving to the floor.
Amanda was on her feet again, wiping her eyes to clear the tears. She saw Trask land and drop the box. She managed to pick up the green rock and hurl it through the hole that Clark had made on his entrance. She heard it clatter out of sight, deeper into the shaft.
Clark swept her up into his arms, and hugged her tightly to his chest. "Are you all right? Do you feel okay?"
"I'm fine. This pepper spray still hurts," she pulled harder against him.
Clark leaned back to look at her. She could see the love and relief on his face. "Do you realize how dangerous… how dumb that move was? What if a drop had gotten into your system?"
"All I could think about was getting away from him. I just reacted."
Clark hugged her again. "Do you feel this *thing* between us as strongly as I do?" he whispered in her ear.
"Yes. What does it mean?"
"It means I love you, Amanda."
She stood back. Afraid to admit she heard what he said, wanting him to repeat it again and again.
"I'm not sure what that means since I still love Lois Lane as well. I probably always will. This thing, this chemistry, this bond between us. It's like *nothing* I have ever felt before. Even with Lois from the other world, it was never this strong."
"Clark, I've got something to tell you."
"I don't want to be unfair to you or her. I keep asking myself, how can I love two women at the same time? Can I ask you to love me knowing I still have feelings for her?"
"Clark, It's important. I want to tell you that I'm…"
Pain. That is all there was. Pain. She fell down to her knees and gasped for air.
"What's wrong! Amanda!" He could feel her pain, but what scared him even more was he could feel the bond weakening. He gathered her up in his arms and laid her on a cot.
"Clark, I've got to tell you something," Amanda said through clenched teeth.
"What is it Amanda?" It was the drug. Clark wanted to take her to a hospital, but he had no idea what Trask had injected into her.
"I can't see," her breathing was getting shallow. "I can't feel my legs."
Clark was trying to hold onto the bond. It kept getting smaller and weaker. "Amanda! Don't leave me, please. Don't leave."
All she could see was white. It felt like she was fading into a tunnel of light. She wanted to stay. She could hear Clark's pleas, she could feel the desperation through the bond. She just couldn't make herself stop going into the tunnel. <I've got to tell him — I love him.>
Clark was desperately holding onto the bond. He was employing mental powers he didn't know he possessed. It felt like something was being ripped from his soul. The feeling of love came though the bond. He followed it, supporting it with his own feelings of love. A picture started forming in his mind. It was Amanda. Before his mind's eye, the image slowly changed into Lois Lane. Understanding flowed through to him from the link. The image faded away and the bond all but disappeared.
With sudden, maddening reality, Clark realized that Amanda was Lois Lane. She had been there all along, and now — now she was slipping away and there was nothing he could do. A great swell of emotion erupted from his lungs as he screamed his agony and despair. The mountain shook from the force.
HIMALAYAS, UNSPECIFIED LOCATION
A globe made of a material unknown to man suddenly sprung to life. It rose about three feet into the air, then shot off around the Earth in the blink of an eye.
UNDERGROUND FACILITY OF AGENCY 38. UNSPECIFIED LOCATION IN COLORADO.
Clark could feel her body relax in his arms. A sudden glow and humming noise caused him to look up. There, floating inches from his forehead was the globe. He held up his hand and the globe literally leapt into it.
[CONNECTED. INTERFACE ESTABLISH WITH NODE KAL-EL. PROTOCOL NEGOTIATED.]
He suddenly knew what to do. Images and information flowed into his awareness. He put the globe on her chest, and placed her hand on it. He placed his hand over hers and the globe, then put his forehead to hers.
Clark could feel the stored energy he possessed in his cell structure begin to flow from him, through the globe, and into Amanda — Lois. The globe begun to glow brighter, encasing the two of them in an aura.
[POWER LEVELS INSUFFICIENT. SOLAR ENERGY REQUIREMENTS INCREASING TO SEVERITY LEVEL.]
He needed to get them outside, into the sunlight. He lifted them both toward the opening in the wall and shot up out of the mountain into the morning dawn. He set them down on the east side of a mountain top. The glow surrounding them increased in intensity as the sun's rays covered them.
Clark heard something. Concentrating, he realized it was Amanda's heartbeat. It was faint, but still there. He directed his attention on strengthening it, willing it to beat stronger. He poured more of his life-force into her through the globe.
[POWER LEVELS INSUFFICIENT. ABSORPTION RATE INSUFFICIENT TO MEET DEMANDS. INITIATE SECONDARY ACQUISITION METHOD.]
Clark could feel the aura that surrounded them expand. All the plant-life around them was being consumed and converted into the stored energy they had obtained from the sun. He channeled it into her, willing her to open her eyes. He grasped the bond and pulled.
Suddenly, the aura was gone. The globe was cold and lifeless in his hand. He leaned back and looked at her. She took a shaky breath and opened her eyes. The bond between them flared to life, filling them both with its presence.
"YEEESSSS!!!" Clark screamed. He scooped her up and whirled her around. He had risen about 200 feet into the air in his excitement. They were both crying and they held onto one another for what seemed like forever.
Finally, Clark pulled back to look at her. "I love you, Amanda Hart."
"Clark, I have something to tell you. My name isn't really…"
"I love you too, Lois Lane." He reached up and pulled her head towards him and made sure he planted his lips firmly against hers. There would be no denying this kiss, he had waited too long for it.
Gasping for air, they pulled back and looked below them. Extending out for nearly 100 yards in all directions was a large, burned out area. It looked like a forest fire had burned a perfect circle on the side of the mountain. Or a crater, only without the hole.
"What happened?" Lois asked.
"I used the globe to transfer my aura to you. I know now, that the yellow sun gives me the powers I have. My body chemistry uses the sun's energy to create this aura of invulnerability around me. The globe helped me to channel that energy into you, essentially giving you that power to heal."
"You think I could fly now?" she asked, a look of excitement on her face.
Clark shook his head. "I don't want to let go of you long enough to find out." He pulled her into another kiss and slowly lowered them to the ground.
"I guess I can call off my search now." Clark gave her a stern look. "You do have a lot of explaining to do, you realize. I'm happy to have found you… both of you… but I want an explanation."
"I think you're due one. It may take a while."
"We have a lifetime."
SMALLVILLE, KANSAS. KENT FARM.
Amanda was laying down on the bed, Clark examining her head with his X-ray vision. She had told him the whole story, from the beginning, when Perry had informed her she was going to the Congo. It had taken the bulk of the day to tell him and answer all the questions.
"Found it. It's a micro-dot, embedded just below your scalp." He reached over and touched the top of her head. "Right there. We'll inform some people I know about it as soon as we get back."
Amanda sat up. "I'm so relieved to know that Perry is clean in this whole thing."
"Me too. Now we just have to figure out who the mystery man was. I think we have enough clues to track him down. Getting the proof will be the hard part."
"Where do we go from here?"
Clark looked at her. "I don't know. I was so intent on finding you, Lois Lane, that I never gave much thought to what I would do once I found you. Then, when I found you… Amanda Hart… all I could think about was what I shouldn't be doing."
"Shouldn't be doing?"
"Yes. Like… this," he leaned over and kissed her lips. "Or this…" he kissed her cheek. "Or this, or this…" Each phrase was followed by a kiss.
PRESENT DAY. OUR METROPOLIS. DAILY PLANET NEWSROOM.
Lois Lane looked up as the elevator doors opened. Her husband, Clark Kent exited and smiled immediately when he saw her. He made his way to her desk and gave her a hello kiss.
"How are you?" he asked.
"Doing fine. Yourself?"
"Never better," he smiled. "I have a message for you. It came from a very unique source."
"Oh? Who?" She was curious now.
"A mutual friend. We can go see it at home during lunch."
"See it? Is it a video?"
"Mmmmm… yes, sort of," Clark evaded her question. He liked to tease her. He knew she hated not knowing.
"Clark," Lois sounded like she was going to launch into lecture mode. "I don't need you deliberately…"
"Lois! Here's that information you needed on the Mayor's office," Jimmy set a folder down on her desk then disappeared again, off to who knows where.
"Come on, Lois. I've already asked Perry if it was all right to take you home for some rest, being in your condition and all."
He laughed. "Come on."
348 HYPERION AVENUE
Clark sat Lois down in the darkened living room. Then he opened the secret compartment.
"Clark, the suspense is killing me. What exactly is going on?"
Clark returned with the globe. It was glowing faintly. "Earlier today, I got a call — from this."
"The globe," Lois whispered.
"Watch." Clark handed the globe to Lois, and watched as she went into a sort of trance. After a moment, he could see her eyes clear again.
"How?" she looked up at him. "How did they manage to send that message?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe Mr. Wells told them how, I don't know. It seems to have something to do with the globes. Did you notice it in the message?"
"Yes. I'm happy for him. I just *knew* he would find her. They looked like they had just found the world."
"Wait until they've been married a while, then they will know that not only have they found the world, they've discovered their universe, their life, and their soul." He looked at her with all the emotional truth of his words bared for her to see.
Lois pulled Clark down to the couch with her. "You're such a hopeless romantic. I'm glad you're all mine. Kiss me."
By Jeff Brogden
A special thanks to Chris Mulder who, in a round-about way, gave me the all important glue to put this togther.
Thanks to all the TUFS staff for editing my original "nightmare."