By Debby Stark <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Uploaded to the Archive in January 2000 (Originally written in 1997)
Summary: Lois and Clark find themselves in an alternate universe where they are characters on a television show, played by Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain. Meanwhile, Cain and Hatcher are sent to Metropolis in Lane and Kent's place. Can the foursome solve the mystery of their switch and get back home where they belong? Winner of the 1998 Fanfic Kerth for "Best Crossover," this amazing story is now available on the Fanfic Archive! This story should be read along with its mirror story, "SwapMeet: Metropolis."
This is the mirror half of a story called "SwapMeet: Metropolis," subtitled "We're Not in Kansas Anymore…" by Margaret Brignell, which is available in its entirety from Margaret at <http://www3.sympatico.ca/brignell/> and on the L&C Fanfic Archive
The original idea for this story was by Dory Weiss, who could not participate due to a heavy schedule.
Disclaimer for Swapmeet: Burbank - I have only ever shaken Mr. Cain's hand and he wouldn't know me from Eve. I was in the same room with K (three times), and Teri and Justin (once each), and recently (August, 1996) Eddie Jones patted me on the back. However, just about every verifiable "fact" I use to base my writing on has been gleaned or extrapolated from a variety of probably trustworthy interviews. I hope I have not done any harm to any current or past inhabitants of Burbank or environs. Note: in my parts, there are some purposeful typos
While this was originally finished on February 20, 1997, it was looked at again and fixed up a bit on November 5-8, 1997, and reloaded to my site as well - Debby, Debby@swcp.com
Swap Meet: Burbank orWe're Not in Kansas Anymore…
*An Alternate Burbank
Warner Brothers Studio
Wednesday, Day One
Approximately 6:30 a.m.*
43 EXT. METROPOLIS SUNSET MEMORIAL CEMETERY - NIGHT - DARK AND STORMY
Lois hides behind a gravestone. She's lost Clark somewhere but she's not worried; she is intrepid and after a killer story.
As LIGHTNING FLASHES, mound of moldy dirt STIRS.
LANDS, looks sternly at Lois, frowns at GRAVE and then smiles like he can't believe how ridiculous this is.
Out of GRAVE RISES KRYPTONITE-COVERED DRACULA.
SCREAMS, WETS PANTS, HIDES behind Lois. Lois whips out CRUCIFIX and courageously approaches Dracula, demanding a QUOTE.
46 DRACULA CRINGES and promises FIRST RIGHTS.
Dean Cain sat back and shook his head. "I don't *think* so…"
Teri Hatcher smiled hopefully. "What? Did I… misspell 'intrepid'?"
"No, it's not that either."
She pointed at her screen. "The special effects should be easy on that one part, huh?"
Dean rolled his eyes, which gave Teri a chance to grin like he hoped she would; she'd been kidding. Unfortunately, it *was* funny. It would shed a new light on a different aspect of Superman as he… shed.
"Look, don't mind *me*, go ahead and submit it. I liked the Vibro Whammy mention in the bit you showed me yesterday, the continuity is good, the fans will love it, and they'll probably… love this, too. It will give me a chance to really stretch my… talents."
"Well, maybe…" as though to ease the pressure on him, "Superman is a clone in this one."
"Argh—no! We did that out the…" he waved at the screen and by extension the history of his show, "the *kazoo* already!"
"Okay… victim of Carbon Copy Man? Power transfer to a hapless nerd who just *looks* like Superman but parts his hair on the other side and walks with a gimp?"
"Please… Those critics on the internet will hate it."
"No, they hate meaningless, unromantic arcs, just like we do. Not that this scene *romantic,* exactly, but they're working together, see?"
Dean looked to the heavens again and sighed dramatically, then couldn't help but smile a little. "Yeah… I guess I better warn you: spending yesterday afternoon in that damned harness getting nine minutes of useable stock footage did *not* make me a happy camper."
She squeezed his shoulder. "You'll recover, you always do, you already have," she said blithely, pitiless, but she could; she'd only had one bad scene in the episode they were wrapping up. She had been up to her knees in and then pushed by the villainess face first into simulated chocolate (two takes)—and Superman hadn't rescued her. He'd jumped into the scene, on dry land, a few moments "too late," after she had rescued herself. He had then withstood a tongue lashing and taken her home to clean up. He bet the fans on the List would speculate on how frisky, creative Clark did *that*.
Teri had said something about fearing that after all her work, the scene would end up on the cutting room floor (when Clark's apparent tasteful follow up, for example, hadn't even been alluded to, another missed opportunity). However, Dean knew she wouldn't let anyone see her disappointment if she was right. She had only hinted at how disappointed she had felt when the "real" writers had torn into her last script and the network's meddling had caused it to be slotted totally out of place in the show's already-too-tampered-with timeline. That was probably the reason she was sharing bits and pieces of what she had so far with him. It was a nice act of trust—and it made him an accomplice; he'd be bound to support her if she wrote in any of his ideas.
Before he could make any concrete suggestions about this scene, though, she promptly changed the subject. "Did your family decide yet? Are they coming back early for the holiday after all?"
There was a real downer. "No, they can't make it this weekend. I guess there's something more fascinating about New Hampshire in the fall than LA in the… whatever season we're in now, what with the extra rain." It had made shooting outside difficult at best; a muddy Superman was not a sight for sore eyes. "And Jon?"
Talk about sore eyes, and red sometimes, too… Teri smiled bravely. "He's *sure* he'll be done shooting by the *next* weekend. I *know* Caracas is more fascinating than LA, but it's also too far away and complicated for me to just… drop in for a visit. But you, you won't be alone, there's that girl… what was her name? Ah…"
"My latest 'luv interest'?"
She cringed a little. "I wouldn't have put it *that* way."
"I know, I'm just being… When we had to shoot late Monday, that blew the date we'd planned to some club opening somewhere, and she called and…" He shrugged, trying to feel like he could shrug the whole thing off. "I'm between love interests again."
"Oh, I'm sorry…" She patted his shoulder in sympathy. "Well, I'm sure you'll find something to do this weekend, some sport or something. You can wear yourself out having fun."
"Yep, probably," he smiled, though he hadn't the faintest idea what he'd do since he had kept his schedule clear in the hopes his family would be back from the film his dad was shooting. Five long days, from Thursday through Monday…
Well, it might not be *that* bad; something could come up if he relaxed and let it happen. It wasn't often these days that he had so much unplanned-for free time all in one lump. It was almost scary, as scary as Dracula's unexpected appearance in Teri's script… which maybe she had written just to make him laugh. She was thoughtful that way. Maybe she'd already heard about his getting dumped; things like that got around pretty quickly.
He saw her glance at her watch. "Oops, 6:55, time to go." She saved her work, got out of her script-writing program, powered down her computer, and grabbed the last of the three heavy, whole-wheat honey donuts she had been munching.
They left her trailer, Dean holding the door for her, then closing it firmly, making sure it locked this time. She'd come back between shots two days earlier to see a fan just beginning to open it. The distracted tour guide had yelled, rushed to the rescue and dragged the screaming girl away. Teri had been unnerved for a while after that.
But she looked in charge now. He admired how she was able to quickly transform herself from would-be writer to excellent actress. She could easily go from being light and funny, like in this latest installment of her script, to a consummate, hard- driven, narrow-eyed professional approaching a shoot. Her walk alone was almost enough to convey all that. She liked the smoothly fitting red dress and high heels she was wearing, and her hair and makeup already looked good and in little need of touch up on the set.
He felt more casual about his own appearance, particularly after having survived the day before without losing his lunch. He hadn't eaten much anyhow, making up for it with a big dinner, the last of the skinless roast chicken his mom had prepared and frozen for him. Then he had worked on his idea file and a script treatment and turned in around ten, getting plenty of rest for this early-morning call. He was now in a typical CK-blue shirt, dark jacket, and, earlier on his swing by Wardrobe, he'd requested the eggplant tie (they called it that on the List).
They walked down Avenue C towards Sound Stage 14C where the "Daily Planet" set was. Dean glanced up, barely making out through the lights that the cool sky was still as dark and uncertain looking as it had been during his drive in almost two hours earlier. He wondered if it would rain or just be foggy or clear up or what. It rarely rained much this time of year and hardly ever in the morning, but this was shaping up to be an unusual year in many ways. Hey, what if it rained all weekend, just *stormed,* and he had to stay inside and… sleep? Ah, sleep! Catch up over Thanksgiving Day and then start having fun on Friday. The beach—or the mountains. Take the bike, maybe look up some friends, speaking of which, it would be fun to sneak onto the Batman set again and make faces at George and Chris while they were trying to look stoic-heroic in those awful rubber suits. They had sure changed their tunes about *his* suit…!
Well, something interesting was bound to happen. He sighed and, in the interest of keeping his Supermanish figure, unwrapped a piece of gum for breakfast.
They entered the set just east of the elevators and looking over the main floor. The place was a typical riot. Teri plunged into it and was converged upon by makeup people and assistants with script changes since besides the final scene with him, she still had a wrap-up scene with Lane to shoot.
Dean's scene with her was scheduled and would fall naturally right after that. Waiting gave him the opportunity to stand back and watch, to drink it in and learn, he hoped, more about how to direct television shows.
He folded his arms across his chest, leaned back against a file cabinet, chewed thoughtfully, and blocked out the scene. In an hour or so, he, as Clark Kent, would emerge from the elevator and bounce down the ramp, flush with success in another Superman job well done, a hero again in the eyes of his beloved wife (who had entertained some doubts in this episode). He would approach Teri with just the right amount of elan, deliver his brief lines, kiss her passionately, and, then, five days of vacation.
An assistant director holding a notepad rushed by, stopped, came back, frowned at him, uncertain, then had it and said: "Gum, Dean."
He smiled at the fellow, tongued the wad into his cheek and said, "I know, thanks!"
The AD nodded and resumed his rush away.
Dean ignored the instructions and moved to an out-of-the-way place behind the camera to watch the scene play out.
After twenty minutes of lighting and set fixes, everyone was ready to rehearse, which took about ten minutes. The two shots of the few opening seconds of the scene from Teri's POV (the director didn't like the first take) and then a wide angle encompassing the newsroom and some extras took another ten minutes, typical. The camera was moved, and for five minutes they shot the same scene from Lane's POV.
At last, after more lighting changes, everyone was ready for the final, extended version of this scene: Lane came out of Perry's office, copy in hand, and congratulated Lois (Teri *was* Lois now). Her and Clark's latest story would put the Pasta Pirate, Al Dente, and his arch rival in the Metropolis snack food wars, the Praline Princess, in prison for eternity. "I *knew* he was a crook," Lois said, "as soon as we purloined a portion of that over-cooked pasta he was trying to pawn off on the public."
"But Clark was right about her, too," Perry reminded her. "She was just too saccharin to be believed."
Dean was glad Lois and Clark were getting in some newspaper work: the List was always demanding that and they were right, too. Everyone would be surprised in a few weeks because this detail was unlikely to be mentioned in the spoilers.
Lois smiled and said she'd pass the good news on to Clark, and then she and Perry laughed over her strong hint/in joke that both of the Planet's best investigative reporters could use a raise to pay for newlywed expenses, like that new terrarium in which she wanted to raise frogs…
The Director yelled, "Cut!" and said they'd go with this shot, "Good work, you two, etc., etc…"
Dean noted the man's upbeat attitude was a little too hyper. Too much coffee too early in the morning probably, and probably not quality brew from Priscilla's, from which Dean special ordered when the going got tough.
The camera dollied around and the lights were readjusted for the next scene, Clark's triumphant return. This was the last scene either he, Teri, or in this case, Justin were scheduled in, barring reshoots. Dean hadn't heard of any for himself or Teri yet, and he knew he should have by now. Maybe that was the director's problem. Was he debating sending an AD or going himself to reshoot those laboratory/test kitchen scenes for the touchy guest stars? They were demanding more *angst* and more *cringing* from their respective sidekicks, Manicotti and Jellie Beane, and better lighting for themselves.
Dean decided he didn't need to sneak in to watch all that.
He wound his way through the fast-moving crew. He smiled at the extras, actors playing newsroom staff people who never seemed to talk to Lois or Clark, though during these last four years they had thrilled at Superman's intrepid appearances and dutifully gawked at Lois's dazzling outfits and her show-stopping outbursts. They had also studiously looked elsewhere when the Daily Planet's two top reporters practically made out on one or the other's desk. Now that Lois and Clark were married to each other and rarely did that kind of thing any more, the "newsroom crew" could be directed to look like they were actually working.
Dean spotted and high-fived Justin, who was searching for his mark, apparently moved from the day before. "Hey, man," Justin smiled, "I want to talk to you after we wrap up, okay?"
"Gotcha, no problem."
Just as he hit the bottom of the ramp to head up toward the elevator, Dean heard his name called and he turned back to walk over and consult with the script girl, who was standing at the Clark Kent Desk and who claimed to have a "minor" change in the script. He read it over quickly, agreed it was minor but fantastic, and committed it to memory. It was best to ignore the fact that the dialogue still didn't make much sense given the overall story line and Lois nearly being killed again, but yet another mile on the rocky road of married life had been traveled successfully. The fans would think it was Truly Wonderful and even Steamy. He nodded. "Thanks."
He looked up. "Yo?"
The Director, who was up on the landing ahead of him, pointed. "Gum."
"Oh, yeah, thanks."
This was one warning he couldn't "overlook." Only having to be told twice today wasn't much fun; his record was six times. He looked around for someplace to stick the well-chewed wad and chose his usual spot, the missing "L" in the Clark Kent Keyboard. Would they never get the hint and buy some real computers for the set? The fans noticed when they toured the lot. Hey, the studio got the cars at a discount rate, surely they could work a deal for some decent-looking computers. Then again, the fans might be responsible for cleaning up after him, for he had yet to return the next day to find his gum where he had "stored" it.
He walked back up to the elevator, only to be attacked as Teri had been earlier by makeup and clothing experts and even more assistant directors. At this time the eggplant tie was fit around his neck and he was given Clark Kent glasses.
He frowned at them. "I was wearing the hornrims earlier."
"No, you weren't."
"Yes, I was, yesterday, around two, for the change-in-the- alley scene, which takes place about two hours before this scene is supposed to. I distinctly remember it." This was mainly because the hornrims were light plastic and pinched less than these frameless-looking ones which actually had metal frames and heavy glass lenses. Also, the hornrims made him look less like either himself or Superman, integral to a subplot of this episode, and, besides, fans noticed such bloopers.
"It says here you weren't." A continuity sheet was waved before his face too fast for him to read it.
The Director shouted something about hurrying things along. Makeup wouldn't be dissuaded by the truth about the glasses, so Dean sighed and put on the ones he'd been given and stepped into the "elevator." The door closed.
All alone, he felt his gut tighten and ordered himself to relax. This was going to be all right, it always was, he was a pro now, or played one on TV.
Dean squared his shoulders, looked around for the feeling of Clark, and as the elevator doors open and the bright set lights hit him he transitioned into the role. He grinned to himself, practically dancing out of the elevator and down the ramp—and with every right: Al Dente, Manicotti, the Praline Princess and Jellie Beane had been dissuaded from inundating Metropolis with millions of gallons of marinara sauce on the east side of town and caramel sauce on the west; Superman had survived the masticating jaws of a giant, Kryptonite-powered taffy puller; Jimmy had been rescued from the roving, predatory noodle extruder; and Lois had rescued herself from spending the rest of her life as a chocolate-covered cherry. All was well with the world again, until next week.
As she had been when Lane had left her, Teri was concentrating on her fake computer screen, fingers dueling with the glued-down, fan-proof keys of her keyboard. Justin, as Jimmy, was sitting on the edge of the desk trying to get her attention without actually interrupting her.
Dean snuck up.
"I can hear you…" Teri said.
Jimmy rolled his eyes, gave up, grinned, and left quickly.
"I can't pull one over on you, *sugar*," he smiled. He was glad now they'd added that word to the script.
She turned slightly and gave him a loving smile. "Oh, you're so *sweet,* lover."
"Candy jokes, ha-ha, just what we need…" and he leaned forward to meet her face to face, lip to—
"Cut, hold it, stop, freeze. Dean. Those glasses…"
Dean straightened and looked at the man in charge. "Hey, I *told* them…"
The Director frowned at the Assistant Director, who translated the frown and wailed to the crew at large, "Where are the other frames!?"
Makeup scrambled. Dean shrugged at Teri, who, as always, looked annoyed at the interruption. It wasn't just that this one had been awkwardly placed, any interruptions annoyed her. Try being suspended 30 feet in the air, he thought at her, facing a broken camera everyone says they can't fix…
The right frames were found within two minutes. Dean traded for them and went back up to the elevator to begin the reshoot. The doors closed on him. His gut tightened all over again but less so this time.
The doors opened. The lights would be up again for the scene, but the light that hit him was a little brighter than expected, blinding him for a second, making him hesitate, probably causing a restart, damn.
The cast and crew, every last one of them, took the opportunity of his pause to yell: "Dean! Gum!"
Dean staggered back into the elevator, grabbed on to the fake walls to steady himself, then timidly stuck his head around the right-hand edge of the door, opened his mouth wide and pointed into it. "Nah-gua…" he throated.
"All right, all right!" the Director screamed.
Everyone laughed, even Teri.
My god, he thought, and they think *I'm* the joker around here…
He wondered if she had thought this up.
The laughter died down and the shoot resumed. As the door closed again, it occurred to Dean that anyone watching him could see that he had broken out in a grin despite himself.
This lasted until he heard something crash outside and, following on that, several people cursing. He wondered if another of the small spot lights had fallen; he'd heard there had been a near disaster on Monday when Props had been in here cleaning up the fake marinara sauce. He'd heard maintenance men blaming the excessive rain they'd had lately. A Warner exec had been looking over the four L&C sound stages just yesterday, but he hadn't heard her say anything. They were pretty careful about what they said anyhow. She had stopped to gaze at him up in the harness and he'd had to fake enjoying it. Maybe they were going to put some money into upgrades since the show was committed to a fifth season now.
Up? he thought. I wish they'd upgrade me to virtual reality so I wouldn't have to fly…
He sighed at himself for dwelling on that again and licked his lips—and then pulled his tongue back in quickly, reminding himself that Clark Kent didn't do that unless he was under stress and he was under no stress whatsoever now since Lois had forgiven him for her being duped under the cover of feminism by the wily Praline Princess.
The air felt full of electricity.
"Action! This is the Real Thing, people…"
The elevator door opened and Dean glided down the steps much as he had ten minutes earlier, knowing he was just almost *smokin'* as he snuck up on Teri, who was typing away madly again.
"I can *hear* you…" she sang.
"I can't pull one over on you, sugar," he smiled, having decided this time to let it flow as part of the sentence, as though Clark had been saying it for ages. The Director didn't contradict the delivery method.
Justin "the Emmy Winner" Whalin threw up his hands in surrender to the inevitable, muttered "Oh, boy," grabbed a stack of folders and made a big production of getting out of the way and out of the scene.
Teri turned a little more this time, and gave him a loving smile. This further indicated her having forgiven Clark for "siding with the men" in his support of Pasta Pirate; after all, he'd been wrong—and just as gullible as she was in her support of the Praline Princess. Where did they get such awful villain names? But the little kids in the audience would love it.
"Oh, you're so sweet, lover." She almost breathed it this time.
"Candy jokes, ha-ha, just what we need…" He rested his hands on the arms of her chair, trapping her, and began to lean forward suggestively.
"I've gotta million of 'em, my big cheese…" she claimed.
The camera eased in closer.
"Pasta jokes now?" He smiled. "Honey?"
"You or chocolate," she whispered but the strategically placed mikes hovering overhead would pick it up just fine, "must I choose?"
She chose, taking control and grabbing his tie, which he himself had remembered to leave loose. "Because of you," she continued tersely, "I was almost a hundred and five pound box of—"
"The best candy *I've* ever tasted," he finished. Then he leaned further forward to kiss her upper lip, an action that the cameras would translate into the real thing—what did they call it on the List? Tonsil hockey? Absolutely!
A light somewhere blew out, he could hear it. Someone cursed but the Director didn't yell cut. The air seemed more than electric suddenly and it wasn't due to cucumber oil lotion this time.
The earth moved.
*An Alternate Burbank
Warner Brothers Studio
Day One, Morning
Approximately 8:10 (Continued)*
Clark Kent was of the opinion that one of the most wonderful things about being married was the teasing that lead up to locking lips with his wife. The locking lips was wonderful, too, and, if they were in the right place and had the time, what that could turn into was even more than wonderful. Hey, he could face it: everything about being married was as wonderful as he had dreamed, except the occasional argument, but even Mom and Dad had them from time to time, so that meant things were normal, he was living a normal life, and that was wonderful, too.
However, the teasing and the locking was all they had time to do now. Lois was right, they had to attend Perry's meeting so the Chief could give them more details about the next assignment he wanted them to tackle. The outline hadn't sounded interesting yesterday afternoon and a night to sleep on it hadn't helped Clark to come up with any exciting possibilities. But their editor was in such a mercurial mood, what with his nervous, tentative reunion with Alice, that arguing with him would be tantamount to committing professional suicide and being late without a good excuse could merit some unpleasant verbal abuse.
So stealing the kiss here and now was all the more delicious. Tension did that, he found, as long as it was good tension. Seeing Lois tied to Kryptonite-coated railroad tracks (or her seeing him in such a situation), for example, was not good tension. That kind of thing still happened just often enough for Clark to feel he had to seek out every opportunity and make these daring moves.
Also, despite her protestations, he was sure his doing this kind of thing turned Lois on, or at least it helped her feel better, which was even more important.
Her kiss tingled.
He liked that about being married, too, each kiss felt different and exciting.
A male voice he couldn't identify shouted "Cut and wrap! Another good one! That's it for you two, go home, enjoy your holiday, see you… no, I won't see you, who is it Tuesday? Do I know him? Her? *Her?* Where's my hat?"
Something was wrong.
Clark retreated mentally to being immediately aware of his own body, perhaps due to the tingle of Lois's kiss wearing off.
The taste of… spearmint? was rapidly disappearing from his mouth.
Of all things to next be aware of, his clothing felt strange. His jacket seemed to fit tighter across his shoulders while his long-sleeved shirt fit loosely—ohmigosh, *the suit is gone!*
He felt like he was settling into something, and then, in an instant, the "settle" was done and wrapped up. It seemed to pat him on the back and say "Here you are!"
Otherwise, one-tenth of a second into thinking there was something wrong and barring these external oddities, he did not feel different. He flexed the muscles across his shoulders and they felt exactly like they should. Then he levitated one-quarter inch from the floor with no difficulty whatsoever.
He had been holding Lois, easing her back over the conference table. It was a move that would go no further, a tease that she'd grasp quickly. She'd wind up punching his shoulder and giving him a dirty look that would probably turn into a grin despite herself, proving she did feel better after all.
Now he was leaning over her, *not* holding her. His hands were on the padded arms of a chair. He was definitely kissing her and she was still reciprocating, except the kiss was off target. Why am I kissing her upper lip? he wondered. Not that it wasn't… interesting, but it wasn't as exciting, either. The word "kinky" came to mind, but he doubted this fell into that as-yet rarely explored territory.
Lois smelled different than she had a moment earlier. Cucumbers? Where was the hint of warm tropical rose perfume they had bought during that afternoon fling in Tangier last month?
His superior hearing reported in next. The junior conference room's teak-paneled walls should have muted the sounds of the newsroom. But there was no rusty sound from the copy machine as it tossed out faded, uneven copies; no one grumbling about the mid-morning coffee and the only donuts left being unglazed blueberry cake; and no one yelling at Jimmy about pictures that hadn't been delivered yet, and Jimmy not yelling back that it wasn't his fault this time but the new guy's, that he, Jimmy, had more important things to do these days.
Instead, in this first three-quarters of a second spent surveying his surroundings, he heard the sounds of movement, like equipment being pushed about, and people walking around where he stood over Lois.
They were apparently ignoring what he and Lois were doing— a good thing. Perry had asked them twice now to cut out the lovey-dovey stuff in the newsroom proper, which included simply gazing appreciatively at each other while pausing between crafting Kerth-calibre paragraphs. It was distracting to the staff who had better things to do with their time than moon over their spouses, who had no *idea* of the problems *some* people in *charge* of the whole shebang were having just trying to *survive,* so Lois and Clark better think twice before indulging in such gawl-derned silliness again!
Yeah, Alice problems, Clark and Lois had agreed. They'd also agreed not to press the issue until Perry's life was more settled.
Yet here they were, pressing it.
Clark opened his eyes. His glasses had changed. They were lighter weight and plastic, he could tell that immediately. He preferred glass because it looked more real, more human somehow, and they reminded him of his bucolic childhood even though it meant having to look over them from time to time if he needed to see x-ray or heat something.
Through these ones now he could see Lois's right ear. She was wearing what he thought were different earrings, little spot things, emeralds maybe. Her hair looked somewhat different, too, but it could have been the unexpected angle, unless he had simply failed to notice earlier how she was wearing it today. He tried to keep up with her fashionable apparel and hair styles so he wouldn't sound like a normal, clueless husband who didn't care about such things. It was true that he didn't care that much, but he felt he should try since she still had trouble accepting the fact that he thought she looked great in and out of just about everything.
In a glance beyond her ear and hair, he saw her desk. It was not cluttered with the notes, phone books, scraps of papers with doodles, and barely hidden candy wrappers he had noted when he had invited her to speak it him in the conference room. The desk had a simple half-desk-sized calendar pad, a newspaper opened to a generic page 4, and a stenopad with short-hand-like scribbles on the top page. Lois's personal version of shorthand looked nothing like that.
This had to be a joke, and a bad one at that.
Then he had it. This was one of Kyle Griffin's pranks!
…except the fellow was securely locked up in New Troy Penitentiary. Just the other day Clark had read a report of the villain having fended off the advances of two large, hungry felons. They had retaliated by destroying something he was working on secretly and the authorities had confiscated the remains of it. No pranks for him for a while.
Tempus? No, he was still in high security, too, though in the wing for the reality challenged. Clark and Lois made it a point to check his condition every day if they could. Lois had sources who confirmed that Tempus hated watching television and had turned his nose up at the simple personal computers offered to the inmates as training tools. It looked like the nearest he wanted to get to technology was pipecleaners, construction paper and white paste. He was making no friends, either: most of the more stable-minded prison population was busy dealing drugs or getting GEDs and had no time for the snarling self-proclaimed time traveler who promised to tell Superman's secrets to anyone who would help him escape. He was being roundly ignored.
Which left no explanation at all for what Clark had sensed in the last four seconds.
He pulled an inch way from Lois, licked his lips briefly, and decided he better try to prepare her. He whispered, "Act your *heart* out."
"Hmm…?" she murmured, as she often did when she had decided to enjoy the moment as much as he wanted to.
He should have expected this, he told himself, but at least it further confirmed that she was feeling better and in the mood to listen. "Pretend we're *exactly* where we should be."
As he straightened and watched her open her eyes, he recalled all the times she had taken on a different persona, either after a few minutes' careful thought or on the spot by force of misadventure. She was a good actress, particularly under pressure, he felt confident about that.
This was, of course, assuming that this woman was indeed Lois, and the tight red dress she wore—he could have sworn she been wearing navy blue—did make him wonder. Then again, he had a different suit on, one he'd never seen before and by the looks of it a new one, one more expensive than he would normally have indulged in, particularly in light of the big mortgage eating the big hole in their tight monthly budget.
But this woman… *felt* like Lois, and he had to pin his hopes on it *being* her as well, for if it wasn't her, he knew he was in even bigger trouble.
He was of two minds suddenly: he didn't want her to be at any risk. After all, it seemed likely the perpetrator of this scheme was observing them even now and might take advantage of his confusion to attack her. But Clark didn't want to meet this perplexing situation alone, either, not when there was always the grim chance that the experience might prove to be the last one he ever had.
Whatever was happening, he was not about to start running around in circles screaming his head off even if it sounded like a marvelous idea at the moment.
The room, a somehow inadequate word for the overall immense space, was decorated to look like the Daily Planet newsroom. "Decorated" did describe it: the area did not have a lived-in, used or even real appearance. It was things like old, mismatched chairs and desks, and stacks of the LA Times (of all newspapers!) in corners. On unused desks there were heaps of papers that had nothing to do with newsroom business ("flea spray Lois's apartment" and dated a year earlier, what did that mean?). Family snapshots were spread out over Jimmy's desk when Jimmy had no family. Lois's plant dead when she had been trying a sure-fire, nearly-impossible-to-kill philodendron.
At Clark's enlarged first glance this all looked solid and yet because this was clearly not a newsroom, let alone *his* newsroom, it was insubstantial, a set up, just adequate enough to pass a cursory inspection, and all inundated by strong lighting from several different angles.
Then, off to his right where it was darker, was what looked for all the world like a hulking big television camera. It was being rolled backward to join more equipment, furnishings, a half dozen people, and other totally unfamiliar sights.
This might be a good time, a little voice told him, to reconsider your decision not to high tail it to the North Pole for a dizzyingly good scream…
I haven't ruled out that idea entirely, he replied—then shoved the voice away, certain that it was the warped advice of his own conscious and not some new villain with a bug in his ear.
He did not recognize any of the people milling around the camera or moving quickly to get out of its way or otherwise rushing here and there carrying papers and looking busy. They didn't seem to be watching him or Lois, either. That small thing was comforting somehow.
There were echoing clicks as some of the lights began to dim.
Lois's foot touched his ankle, by accident, he thought, because when he immediately looked back down at her she was blinking as though waking, but his kisses sometimes had that effect on her.
Things appeared to come into focus for her and her eyes widened as she looked at him. "Your glasses…!" she mouthed out.
It was her! He nodded slightly, not daring to say anything to influence her estimation of the situation, which unfortunately had to mean not grabbing her up to hug her, either.
She returned the nod, her beautiful brown eyes (made up too much, weren't they?) full of a similar physical desire but more so a look of "If something is wrong, don't worry, *I'll* figure it out."
*We* will, he almost said but didn't because it usually helped if she thought she was in charge.
She sat back carefully and she began to look around—then sat up again, clearly in restrained shock. He noticed her clutch the arms of the chair, her knuckles white. Possibly thinking to restart with something a little easier, she aimed her face downward.
She looked from her right to her left slowly, no doubt at the strange red dress and jewelry. That wasn't her watch and those weren't the rings he had given her—he realized suddenly that his own rings were missing, simply gone. *That* was distressing…
Lois raised her head a little, frowning at the scuffed up, blue- and black-squared tile floor. Rehalia would be very upset; when she tackled the newsroom with her mop she frequently muttered in Ecuadorenyo-accented Spanish, "*My* clean newsroom, *my* clean newspaper!"
A few seconds later, Lois unobtrusively scanned the room at eye level. She was good at hiding this maneuver; he wouldn't have suspected it had he not known her. Next her gaze traveled up his body, taking in this new suit. She glanced at his face, her thoughts about all this unclear to him, and then she looked up past him and squinted.
Up, oh, of course, he hadn't looked *up* yet. He did so.
The high, fluorescent-bulb-fixture and acoustic-tile-covered ceiling of the newsroom they knew was now replaced by a jungle of bright, focused lights of all sizes (only a few of them on now), metal catwalks, ropes, booms and pulleys, curtains of some kind that were painted with cityscapes (Chicago? San Francisco?), entire false walls and corners that looked a little like parts of the newsroom but they were now hanging up out of the way, and a distant ceiling and walls padded with what couldn't be mattress, could it?
She touched his ankle for real this time. He looked back down at her, and there was a question in her eyes now: Do *you* know…?
He gave her what he hoped she would understand as a barely panic-contained "I'm a little lost, too…" look.
"Tempus," she whispered, as much a statement as a question.
Well, if she thought so, the man might have visited from some future and broken himself out, this morning maybe, and now he was (would be? might have been?) attacking them by putting them here, wherever or whenever this was, and confusing them terribly…
Except his modus operandi was to use complicated machinery he barely understood *and* to let them (usually Lois) know he was in charge of their fates again so that he could gloat all the more. She might have picked up some clues this morning—but she would have warned him immediately, cutting off his suggestion of the visit to the board room.
Besides, this didn't feel like a Tempus trick.
"But no," she muttered. He noted it was noisy enough around here they could almost have talked in normal voices and not been heard. "This doesn't feel like him."
Her conclusion was both good and not good. Clark didn't want it to be Tempus because that man was so clever. On the other hand, Lois needed someone to blame; it usually helped to calm her. A calm Lois was a thinking Lois, the best thing they had going for them. Clark supposed he could suggest Baron Sunday, but several months earlier they had heard from reliable sources that the man had been killed in an ambush in Belize. Not that a little thing like death would stop him, but manipulating two minds at once from beyond the grave was probably beyond even Sunday's abilities from what Clark had studied of voodoo since that encounter.
Whoever was to blame, once Lois got her mitts on him, and she clearly needed someone to grab and yell at, they'd both feel better and get to the bottom of this in no time.
Her target would probably not turn out to be the young woman in her early 20s who they spotted seconds later heading for them among the seething mass of people inhabiting this… this, well, funny, but it did look a lot like sound stage. Clark had been in several at various times following story leads or visiting friends. But why a sound stage?
The young woman carried a clipboard and wore knee-length purple shorts and a T-shirt decorated with an array of cartoon figures playing basketball with a big Black man. The words "Space Jam" were emblazoned across her bosom and the shirt moved provocatively as she walked. Clark tried not to notice. Perry certainly would have; he disapproved of such attire and would have advised her gently not to dress this way in the office. He would do so only once. If she repeated the performance, she'd be transferred, period, all shook up and singing the jailhouse rock.
Apparently unaware of this possibility, she came right up without hesitation, stopped, and held out her hand to Clark, as though expecting him to give her something.
Ah, "Hi," he said and smiled. Lois had recently informed him that his smile was "disarming." He didn't need a gun or a pit bull as long as he pulled out that friendly grin of his. She was trying to get his goat, he'd thought, but she had looked sincere. After all, they had been approaching that interview with the notorious Duchess of Mondellini. Lois had elbowed him at what she thought was the right time, he'd tried a "disarming smile," and, by gosh, *some*thing had encouraged the aloof woman to warm up… He hadn't known what to do with this bit of personal information other than be overconscious about it for a while. He'd eventually decided to try to forget it—but now it seemed like the perfect weapon.
The young woman grinned in return and snapped gum. "Glasses?"
"Well, I know we goofed up about them, but since we're wrapping up the shoot and you don't need them and since you're not supposed to have them unless you *do* need them… I'll take them."
"And I'll take really good care of them, believe me."
He glanced at Lois. Lois shrugged microscopically: it was up to him, though she was ready to run with him if he decided to do that instead. If it came to it, she could scream more piercingly than he could, too, though he could race circles around her as well as keep her warm at the North Pole.
The young woman added, "I even have this." She held up a glasses case. That did sort of clinch her argument.
He noticed that the young woman had a name tag ID (neither he nor Lois had one). "Ah, well, Dory, I trust you with them…" for she certainly looked sincere and sounded as though her proposal was no less than natural and reasonable.
He reached up and began to take them off with care. Even though they weren't his (he felt no attachment to them), they were still cover. He glanced at Lois again; she was watching but unable to offer help. Well, she could have provided a distraction, like shouting and pointing into the distance—she'd spotted an escaped felon!—but then what? He wanted even less for any attention to be directed at her.
He took the glasses completely off.
The world did not stop. No one stumbled to a screeching halt, clutched at their hearts or pointed at him and gasped "You're…!" Top reporters from the Metropolis Star didn't jump out from behind the fake walls and flash pictures; women didn't faint *or* lunge at him; and babies didn't gurgle knowingly.
No one seemed to notice at all. This was… good.
He folded them carefully and handed them over. Dory stuck them in their case, chirped "Thanks!" and bounced away.
Lois stood up now and stretched, but to him it looked more like she was trying to adjust the dress; it did look a little tight. She checked her nails, okayed them, ruffled both her hands through her hair (which looked like her normal hair) and then folded her arms under her breasts (those looked normal, too), as though trying to decide what to do next as she glanced around casually. She said in a quiet, almost indifferent manner, "Just where are we, anyhow?"
"I think we're in a sound stage at a place called Warner Brothers Studios."
"I've heard of them," she frowned. "A little outfit in…"
"Southern… California." She raised her right hand as though to scratch her cheek but actually hide behind as she said, "I think I'm going to scream."
"Oh, good. You know how I hate to scream alone…"
She glanced at him and narrowed her eyes to keep from smiling despite herself, as though she didn't appreciate any attempt to lighten things up. He wondered about that; he hadn't meant it to sound amusing.
Then she happened to notice her fingers and her eyes widened a bit. "Makeup?"
Huh? She had been in hurry this morning and, what with the headache attack, she hadn't put on much at all. Anyway, she only "got all dolled up," as she occasionally put it, when she was after the interview of a lifetime, or about twice a month.
She touched her face again. "I'm wearing a *ton* of makeup!"
"Don't 'shh' me," she told him in her most secret hiss, "*You're* wearing almost as much as I am!"
He began to reach for his face but she touched his wrist en route, stopping him. "Don't worry, you look fine. Really."
"How *can* I look 'fine'?!"
She tried to sound comforting; she almost pulled it off. "I don't know, but it works. Shh…"
Makeup? Good grief… his face did feel a little… stiff maybe, and there seemed to be something in oily his hair, too. What next?
"You know what?" she said, her attitude returning to casually bored, "I think we should get out of here, fast."
Admittedly that was a great "what next" and better to think about than superficial appearances. "I think you're right."
"We just need to find a door. How about you looking around for one?"
"Okay, should be easy," particularly without his glasses.
He began to x-ray discretely, but it was no easy task after all because it meant looking through people without seeing anything he shouldn't but figuring out when to stop to see the right things.
"Cla… ah, turn around. A lot of people seem to be moving off that way."
He pulled back his vision in time to see Lois nodding. He turned a bit and saw an opening in the walls between an elevator landing and ramp up to it and a bookshelf-lined wall with a staircase up to a door that said "Morgue."
"There's a breeze coming from that direction," he muttered to her, "I can just feel it."
"Open air, good. Let's go for it—ohmigosh, it's…"
Perry walked through that opening!
He was here, this was great!
No, wait, it wasn't great, not quite, in case Clark needed to use his hidden talents, which, sans glasses (the bulk of his disguise sometimes), wouldn't remain hidden for long from their sharp-eyed editor.
Before this became a bigger worry, that Dory woman stopped Perry a good twenty paces away. They chatted briefly. Clark listened in and breathed a tentative sigh of relief. "It's not Perry, it's someone named Lane. His last name may be Smith—"
"Well, *that's* obviously fake. What he's up to?"
"Maybe nothing. She called him 'Lane,' and 'Lane Smith' is on her call sheet, that's what she's showing him."
"It's sort of a list of actors and sets and props used for scenes in TV shows and movies."
"At Warner Brothers."
"Looks like. She's telling him when he's expected to be back here. Tuesday."
"And today is…?"
"I don't know. Friday maybe? People are talking about the weekend like they're wrapping up here."
"Okay, Friday, that's good," she said calmly. "Smith is an actor, everyone here but us is actors. Okay. That makes sense."
"This is an elaborate trick to get us to crack, so of course it make sense. Do you see *us* in any form on that call sheet?"
Dory and Smith parted, each going in different directions, neither toward Lois and Clark or in the direction the two were planning to go.
"No," Clark almost pursed his lips. "I didn't think to look and now she's moving too fast."
"I have the feeling we'll find out soon enough, but for now, let's *go*."
They made it just through the opening, where they noted that the backdrop of the "newsroom" was made of plywood and wooden beams. Clark noted that the main walls of the building really were lined with what looked like mattresses and there were even more signs of this being a sound stage. Electronic and carpentry equipment, cables, and, high above and easier to see now, were those giant curtains that looked like giant, flexible slides of San Francisco at night and Chicago by day. Both would have been visible through the big window back on the set of the newsroom, over the array of world time clocks and the stairs up to the Morgue. Clark had to admit that both cities did rather resemble Metropolis, but wouldn't it have been easier to take pictures of the real thing since someone was already going to the trouble of faking it here?
And faking people they knew, for here another startling sight almost stopped them in their tracks. It was someone who looked incredibly like Jimmy Olsen.
This "Jimmy," though, didn't have the two cameras around his neck that he had this morning, reflecting his recent desire to get every assignment possible. He was desperate to earn extra money to fix his motorcycle after he and it had been tied to the railroad tracks on the east end of Suicide Slum. Superman had saved him in the nick of time and the bike, too, but the villains had manhandled it, so it was out of commission at the moment. Their Jimmy also rarely wore that old plaid shirt anymore, either. Jimmy had to dress better so the Chief would agree to assign him to take pictures at important events, increasing the photographer's chances of getting published and being given bonuses. Clark doubted the change to wearing more business-like apparel would become a habit, but there was always hope.
Lois and Clark glanced at each other and shook their heads simultaneously, agreeing it wasn't Jimmy, and not breaking stride for more than a few seconds.
They were heading for a heavy door, the kind of door that typically led to a staircase or, with luck, outside and away from this place. Actually, they had their choices of doors, for there was a little room in the corner that Clark saw contained a water fountain and another door. The second door was outside, to the left and in line with the one in the little room. But for the little room (an air trap of some kind?), the doors were side by side. That didn't make sense, but nothing else did, either, despite Lois's assurances that the very senselessness of the situation made incredible sense for the simple purpose that it was meant to confuse them.
It was working.
A man wearing dusty blue jeans, a white shirt, a "WB" baseball cap and an ID that identified him as an employee opened the more direct door and entered. He almost ran into Lois. They both jumped back, and without a thought Clark stepped up behind her to offer support and protection. The man smiled at her, not noticing Clark's somewhat faster-than-human move probably because Lois was prettier to look at. The man immediately reached back and pushed the door open to the left. It was bright out there; it was "outside," good. The man said, "Sorry, Ms. Hatcher, I didn't see you."
Lois blinked, nodded, smiled, and said, "Oh, that's all right." She looked back at Clark. "Are you coming? I need to show you something."
"Sure." Clark smiled (but not disarmingly) at the employee and took over holding the door as they passed through it.
Outside. The temperature, the amount of daylight, the partly cloudy sky and general awake attitude of the people they had observed led Clark to think it was morning, sometime between eight and nine maybe. The moist-smelling air (wasn't that unusual for Southern California? What time of year was it?) was cool and fresher than inside the… He went down a short flight of steps, reached a asphalt-paved road, turned and looked up and back toward where they had been.
He saw they were at the corner of a very wide, very tall, buff-colored building. It displayed a sign to his left, near the corner: Avenue C, 14C. There was another building beyond that looked virtually identical, and another beyond that, and similar buildings across the road and heading off in the opposite direction as well. Yep, he thought, sound stages. This Warner Brothers place was bigger than he had imagined.
"Whoa…" Lois said as she walked out into the street, too, wobbling a bit in the high heels she wore (she preferred flats for work), turning carefully and looking around. She stepped back toward him as a golf cart-type vehicle carrying two men dressed in business suits slowed and then zipped round her after she moved. One of the men starred—no, leered at her, but they didn't stop.
"Yeah, I think 'whoa' about describes it…" He noticed other passersby glancing at them in mild interest, so he said a bit louder, "You were going to show me something?"
She also noticed the casually-dressed people, who were no doubt simply employees, and she whispered though they were now probably out of earshot, "I just said that because of what that man said. Did you hear him? 'Ms. Hatcher'? Ms? Does that tell you something?"
"Other than they don't know who you really are…"
"Whoever 'I' am supposed to be now, I'm not married, that's what it tells *me*."
"Well, it could be the other person's stage name. At least it doesn't sound fake."
"It's better than 'Smith,' true, If it turns out that whoever they think *you* are is married, we're getting you a quickie divorce if you aren't married to *me*."
"Heh…" He didn't even want to think about that possibility.
In an effort to return to the basic idea of escape, he chose a direction—to his left seemed safe for no particular reason— and began to stroll that way. Not arguing, she walked along side him. He said, "What do you say we find a some place where I can take off from unnoticed and fly over this area to try to make some sense of it."
"Somewhere *we* can take off from."
"Yeah, sorry, we." There was no question, she had to go along. It wasn't like he could tackle one part of the mystery and her the other since they had no idea how big it was and what parts were tackle-able.
"Besides," she admitted, "I don't want to let you out of my sight."
He shook his head. "Me, neither."
"And I don't mind bringing…" she couldn't say it here; she used their secret signal "…in on this case."
"I agree, except I don't have the suit."
She stopped. "What?"
He stopped, too, facing her closely to whisper. "I put it on this morning, just like always, but I'm not wearing it now. One moment everything is normal and I'm kissing you, and the next moment everything has changed."
She folded her arms under her breasts again, a typical move which he knew helped her to repress a cool shudder. Then she covered this with a quip: "I didn't think I was *that* good a kisser…"
"You're the best, but even your kisses can't put makeup on me," he sighed, wishing he could find some water with which to scrub his face clean. "Or give us both new wardrobes."
At this point Lois grimaced slightly. Though the red dress and brown sash were a bit tight, he thought they looked okay on her. "Who could possibly wear these clothes… and wasn't that the tie got chewed up by that Doberman on the Church's estate?"
"*That* one was." The poor dog had gone after his hand next, but letting the animal gnaw on him for a minute or two had given Lois time to scramble over the wall since she had been in a snit that evening and hadn't wanted to leap over it with him. Fortunately, the dog had not broken any teeth in simply doing its duty.
"So no suit and no…"
"No appearances by yours truly unless I can find a substitute suit before we get home."
"And if somehow we've misplaced home like everything else?"
"I don't know, I just know Warner Brothers is in Southern California and they aren't a very big studio. Or weren't. This place…" he looked around again, "is big."
"Well, it's not *that* big, nothing is, and wherever we are, we don't really need him." She loosened up a little, sniffing the challenge more distinctly. "We have *us*."
He nodded, withholding another sigh. "Yep," though the two of them all alone suddenly didn't seem adequate.
"Hey, guys, wait up!"
When they turned back to glance at who was calling, that not-Jimmy person waved at them from the door of the sound stage holding the imitation Daily Planet newsroom. The impostor hopped down the steps and began striding toward them.
"We should have walked faster," Lois muttered.
That could have looked strange, Clark thought, and it could look stranger if they ignored whoever this was because he obviously knew whoever he thought them to be.
Maybe the fellow could be distracted; Clark decided to try his secret weapon. "Hi!"
"Hiya!" Not-Jimmy grinned, undaunted and friendly. Other than the clothing and the makeup and the well groomed, somewhat shorter hair, this fellow did look, and at the moment act, incredibly like Jimmy.
As he approached, he stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans, then, arriving and stopping, he immediately pulled a hand out to gesture with. He looked at Clark. "Hey, man, I'm sorry your folks couldn't make it back." He shrugged in sympathy, these things happen, and then he looked at Lois. "And what with John out of town, well…" But he brightened, "My mom told me to ask you to come over for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow and I think it's a *great* idea. She bakes the *best* turkeys, and she always fixes a really big one." He pulled his other hand out to indicate at least a twenty pounder. "And her stuffing…! *Out* of this world!" He looked at Clark. "You and I can watch football, and you," to Lois, "can… well, do whatever you want! Go shopping with Mom or something." He smiled eagerly and looked at them back and forth as though hoping for immediate acceptance. Not getting it continued quickly, "So consider yourselves invited, okay? *Both* of you!" He looked at Lois again, "After all, you need to, ah, bulk up for the aideswalk on Saturday, right? Though with these tight dresses you're wearing now, you already look bulkier."
Lois's eyes widened. "I'll have you know *I'm* fit! It's these *clothes* that don't fit!"
The young man blinked in surprise. "That's what I meant—you look *ready*!"
Clark realized he better jump in quickly. He asked, "Aideswalk?"
The young man nodded. "Yeah, you know about it." He looked at Lois. "You're still going, aren't you? *I* am. I don't get invited to many of those things."
"Oh, *you* know," she elbowed Clark, "*that* aideswalk."
"Ah, that one, yes. The one," he pointedly surveyed her, "you have to bulk up for."
"Ha… I suppose I'm going—if my foot feels up to it…"
"You hurt your foot?" The young man looked down at Lois's shapely ankles.
She lifted her right foot slightly. "Just a strain, I can hardly feel it, ohh…"
"I saw her wince a little," Clark said. He consider adding that she had strained it while chasing down and thrashing a bandit, but maybe Hatcher didn't do that kind of thing.
"Oh, gosh… Do you think it will be all right by Saturday? I don't want to go alone—Hey, maybe you can crash the event, Dean! I'm *sure* I can get you in," he said proudly, apparently reveling in beating "Dean" out on something.
"Yes, maybe…" Clark tried to smile along with the joke on Dean.
So he was a "Dean" and today was Wednesday, in the morning some time—I'm wearing a watch, he realized, I should have checked that!
He moved his left arm slightly and glanced down and through the sleeve of the tailored jacket to see the time piece. Like everything else, it wasn't his own and it looked expensive.
8:44, Wednesday morning the 27th. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving. This was something to go on. Okay, let's say that "Dean" and "Ms. Hatcher" had Thursday and possibly Friday off work (which consisted of them being actors). Maybe this Jimmy-like fellow could be tricked into confirming it. Saturday, Ms. Hatcher was expected to participate in an aideswalk, or was that aides walking? Walking aides or assistants? Maybe aides was AIDES or even AYDS, an acronym for something local? Maybe a charity group, Actresses Yearning to/Innocently Distribut(e/ing) Engaging Smiles?.
Whatever it was, Ms. Hatcher would be participating as planned because he and Lois would have resolved this problem fairly for everyone *long* before Saturday. Probably in an hour or two at the most.
Oh, nice conclusion, Kent, but does having figured out "when" you are come anywhere close to offering a solution to the overall problem?
Clark realized that he was in desperate need of a quiet corner and a few extra seconds to give the situation a little more hard thought, preferably with Lois's creative input.
He started the delaying move by saying, "So, Thanksgiving dinner. That's a interesting idea. We'll consider it."
"Yes, we'll get back to you on it," Lois chimed in, smiling again, covering better than he was. What an actress!
"Great!" The young man returned the smile, then glanced past Lois and looked like he had spotted someone trying to sneak up on them. "Oh, there's Kay, and," confidentially, "I bet she'll ask you the same thing. She's a pretty good cook—but *I've* got first dibs on you two!"
They turned and looked. Clark nearly dropped his jaw. *Mom*?
But the didn't quite look like Mom once he recovered his wits half a second later and telescopic-looked at her. Whoever it was wore a cozy beige sweater, light blue slacks and a matching blouse. Mom's hair was a little grayer and she needed glasses because she was myopic, but this woman was a strawberry blond and she wasn't wearing any glasses.
She was strolling in their direction. She waved, picked up her pace, and called, "I hoped I'd find you all here!"
Just then a large flat-bed truck carrying a variety of potted plants rounded the far corner of the Building 14C and began bearing down on the woman. Clark nearly launched into a rush to grab her out of the way, but a slight brush of his sleeve, a hold-it message from Lois, made him hesitate.
Apparently hearing the danger, Kay looked back and then stepped over to the side to let the truck pass. Her facial expression didn't change; maybe such traffic was commonplace.
As the truck passed them, Clark checked on the driver. The man looked competent and appeared to be paying attention to surroundings as he slowed, approached the next sound studio, and pulled into a big, square opening there. No villainy here. Maybe a set was being decorated with the live plants. Interesting.
But that woman… Clark looked back at her. Her cheerful manner, the bounce in her step, the twinkle in her eyes… she looked so much like Mom…
"Did you finish up, too?" she asked as she came closer than shouting distance.
"Yeah, just now," the young man replied. "Did Vincent get to chase you around the lab again or did they rewrite that like you hoped?"
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, he got to chase me around the lab like mad again, but this time I got to bop Manicotti before my escape and Vincent applauded—*after* we cut, thank goodness!—I couldn't stand any more rehearsals or takes with that octopus!" She passed them, not stopping. "Of course, Eddie's still grappling with Tina and her angst!" She grinned about that. "But he wanted more to do! Come on, let's go to your trailers, it's too noisy out here. Besides, Vincent might decide he wants to 'talk' to me again, so I need a place to hide out, and someone big," she glanced at Clark and winked, "to defend me. The Pirate role has gone right to his head, but I may have distracted him by mentioning that Eugenie loves Italian food."
"Good thing he's not gay," now not-Jimmy winked at Clark. "Since you like Italian, too."
Clark nodded, smiled a little, and shunted this bit of information about "Dean" off to a mental side street with all the other material that would surely coalesce to make sense eventually.
"Trailers, good idea," Lois smiled at the woman's back.
Trailers? Oh, of course. Actors on movie and TV sets had trailers to change and rest in. I need a rest, Clark thought.
They headed back to the right (Clark couldn't determine compass directions yet) and then angled left, not-Mom talking about more of Vincent's antics, and she and not-Jimmy both laughing. They must have shared a scene together. They were actors, Lois was right, everyone here was actors. Nothing was real except this street out here and the world beyond, a world through which they had no idea how to navigate. There was way too much happening, too much detail for this to be just an elaborate trick, despite what Lois hoped.
In a few moments a huddle of white trailers came into view. They were each about 25 feet long, they lined the sides of yet another sound stage, and they would provide a place in which to hide. Clark wondered if the doors would have their counterparts' names on them. Maybe "Dean" shared one with "Ms. Hatcher." Then hoped that the doors weren't locked and, chiding himself for not thinking of this earlier, he began to search his pockets for identification and quickly came up with a ring full of keys. Some appeared to be house keys, and two were keys to a Ford automobile of some kind. The others were a mystery.
The first trailer they came to had a wide piece of masking tape on the door on which was hand-printed "T. Hatcher" and, under it and slightly slipshod in attachment, was a sticker with a logo: the Superman S shield, and on it "Lois and Clark" smartly stylized, and, beneath that in an arching yellow spray, smaller letters spelled out "The New Adventures of Superman."
What? "New Adventures"?
That's an understatement, Clark thought dully…
Lois spotted it, too, and then glanced at him for his reaction; he knew she would not give her own away until she had gauged his.
Stunned would be a good way to describe it.
How could this be? How could any of this be?
He noticed Lois now glancing down at his hand and the keys he held limply. She smiled apologetically, probably for the benefit of the two watching them, and touched Clark's shoulder. "Wait, let's talk in *your* trailer, *Dean,* mine's a *real mess*!"
Oh? He looked beyond the sign, through the door and then off to his left and into the rest of the trailer. It was sparsely furnished, but that included a laptop computer on a desk and one piece of clothing thrown over the back of a chair. T. Hatcher did not impress as being a messy woman, wherever she was now, if she were alive still…
The overwhelming nature of all this began to reassert itself on Clark's consciousness and the idea of running about in tight little circles, screaming gibberish at the top of his lungs, was more tempting than ever before…
"Ah," he didn't think he could call her Ms. Hatcher, not considering he, or rather whoever he was standing in for, had been in the midst of kissing her 15 minutes ago. He just looked at her. "I think you and I do need to talk a moment."
The two strangers didn't look particularly surprised; maybe talking privately wasn't an unusual occurrence for Hatcher and Dean.
"Talk?" Lois repeated helpfully. "*You and I* don't need to talk."
He eye-reminded her that they were on the same side, and he didn't want an argument. "Yes, we do, over… over there." He nodded at what looked like a free space between the trailers.
She wanted to balk at this. She no doubt had a plan brewing and he was sure it consisted mainly of waiting for him to discover the right place to use the keys he'd found so she'd have more to work with. This might include locking these two people into Dean's trailer, so a delaying time-out couldn't be part of her plan.
He put the keys back in their pocket, took her closer arm gently and coaxed her away from the strangers, who now did look a little surprised. Well, Clark sighed to himself, they weren't a fraction as surprised as they were going to be.
Some 20 feet away and between Hatcher's and the next trailer, he cornered Lois. He whispered, "I know this won't be easy for you to consider because it's hard for *me* to consider, and I know you're going to argue with me, but… we have to tell them the truth."
"What?! What truth?"
"About who we really—"
"Brilliant, Clark, and if whoever's behind is *hoping* that's what we'll do? Admit to the world who you are?"
Oh, he thought, that hadn't occurred to him.
But it didn't sound right. "Wait a minute, whoever did this, if it wasn't some freak accident—"
She moderated her skeptical look somewhat. "Sorry, I'm just…" she didn't want to say any word that sounded remotely like "frightened."
He knew he was the only one she ever allowed to see this weakness. "I know. I am, too, but whoever did this, they have to already know—"
"Or they're using us as bait for you-know-who to come rescue us."
Another angle that hadn't occurred to him. It sounded logical, too. He searched for an equally logical rejoinder. "But… But I'm already standing right here, out in the open, and have been for the last fifteen minutes, and no one has recognized me or him."
She frowned. "True… but they could be stunned with surprise and waiting for you to do something to prove it. They *could* be watching us" she leaned a bit closer and mouthed it out, "with hidden cameras."
This guess could be right: this place had lots of cameras. He looked up and scanned the area quickly but thoroughly, paying particular attention to every visible edge of the high roofs of the buildings surrounding them. Then he closed his eyes and concentrated on simply listening… but he heard none of the slightly echoey sounds that even long-distance eavesdropping devices always seemed to make. This could also rule out hallucination-producing devices. He smelled no noxious gases, just the normal by-products of gasoline combustion in cool, humid air.
He recalled the fleeting taste of the chewing gum but other than that, he hadn't eaten since breakfast. Even though she had claimed to feel better, Lois had only been picking at her granola bar when they had parted upon arriving at work. The evidence on her desk of the poorly hidden candy wrapper meant she had indulged in her usual midmorning snack after the press conference at S.T.A.R. Labs. While neither of them were starving, it was unlikely they had been poisoned. His clothes being a little tight and the stupid makeup caking his face were the only wrong things he could detect about himself physically. If there were a drug in the makeup, odds were it wouldn't have effected him. He x-rayed her quickly and saw nothing amiss except the tight clothing that made her look uncomfortable.
He shook his head a few seconds after starting his search. "Nothing."
"All right, nothing *now*, but we can't just *tell* them— we're gathering clues right and left! We'll figure this out!"
"Under other circumstances—like being back in Metropolis or anywhere else that we could make sense of, I'd agree with you. It could even be fun. But it looks to me that the clues we're gathering are only confirming how critical the situation is."
"And you know I'm *not* usually a pessimist."
She softened her frown. "I know…" She touched his chest comfortingly; the gesture felt good. Maybe it gave her strength, too. "But it's… it's because we don't have enough if the *right* clues yet. When we have enough and we've wrestled them into submission, it'll be clear sailing and we'll charge down the field and hit a home run out of the ring, I just know it!"
"Lois," he said as gently as possible, "we're really in trouble when you start mixing sports metaphors."
She retrieved her hand, folded her arms and frowned again, "Don't try to sand-trap *me*, farmboy!"
That sporting near-expletive, said in a deceptively soft tone of voice, told him that she agreed with him and that she could be on the verge of conceding to it, not a happy prospect.
Worse still, next she'd probably dream up some way to blame herself for all this.
An attempt to distract and appeal to her altruistic nature was called for. "Let's say for the sake of my argument that we're here by accident."
She just looked at him, letting her expression say "Ha!" for her since she'd already used up her quota of that verbal challenge.
"Okay, I agree, it's unlikely—but, whatever, however this was done to us, we seem to be standing in for two totally innocent people. If we just bumble along trying to figure out what's happening, we could very well ruin their lives while we're trying to save our own necks."
"If there *are* two such people."
"I think there are," he said quietly. "And I think they're only actors, and I think that if somehow they're taking *our* places then they're definitely in worse trouble than we are."
She looked at him, her lips pursing in a fair imitation of his at the moment, their eyes dueling… but she blinked first and looked away. "All right, maybe there are two such people and they are in trouble because they're not as smart as we are, they're probably scared stiff, and we should protect them if we can."
He smiled but kept it small as not to provoke her. He wanted to hug her and withheld that, too. This was the soft-hearted Lois he knew and loved, the one who had to feel she'd come to important conclusions on her own.
She continued, "And if this John person comes home, what if he's her brother? I'll never fool him, and *you* could never fool that guy's parents."
"Right. I'm already having trouble thinking of things to say to these two people. Complications like that just keep building up."
"Yes… I still don't think we should do it…"
He refrained from saying "Lois…" as he had used up his quota, too.
Besides, she didn't disappoint him. "…but I won't stop you if you want to go ahead and try it—but ask them some questions first. *Test* them."
A compromise he could live with. "Okay, that's a good idea."
"Of course it is!"
Clark let himself smile now. He glanced around to check that they still weren't being observed, confirmed it, and leaned forward and kissed her forehead briefly.
She looked exasperated and whispered "Hey!" tersely. She grabbed the tie he was wearing, pulled him toward her, and got a real kiss out of him, one that lasted several seconds.
It made him feel better about this plan. Being this close, it occurred to him to ask, "Does your head still hurt?" for that could be behind some of her testiness.
"Huh? Ah…" She looked away, reflecting on it. She had to think about it? Didn't one just… know? She said, "No, it doesn't… that's good."
"There, see? There's *something* good about this."
She rolled her eyes at the optimist in him trying desperately to resurface. She looked cute when she did that, and her ensuing frown probably meant she suspected he was thinking that very thing. "Well, it might be a *clue*!"
"Okay, we'll work on it when we find some time to breathe."
He glanced through the corner of the trailer. The two look- alikes were still waiting patiently, testimony to their friendship to be willing to humor Ms. Hatcher and Dean like this.
As Clark could also see that the street that they had been on was busy and passersby threatened to take this side road frequently, he decided not to approach the Jimmy look-alike and Kay but to presume on their kindness once more. He stepped out and motioned. "Could you both come here for a moment?"
They looked at each other. The young man shrugged and indicated that Kay could go first if she wished.
She did. "Are you two all right? Justin was warning me that he's already invited you for Thanksgiving dinner and I think that's wonderful, but if you'd like to come to my place for lunch today, I can make some nice chicken and leek soup."
"That sounds good, I am hungry," Lois said, her stomach overruling her head as it sometimes did.
There was the chance, Clark thought, that it could be an invitation they would be able to accept. He wondered if this woman's cooking would taste like his Mom's. He then wondered if he'd even see his Mom again.
"With the girls away," she said, "my house is almost too quiet, so it would be nice to get together to visit without worrying about work."
Did she have no one to share the holiday with? Clark felt for her, glad his real Mom had Dad to keep her company.
But he knew he couldn't dwell on any of this. The two strangers were close enough now. "Well, Kay and Justin, ah," He motioned at Lois, "…and I have been having a little argument and we want your opinions."
"Argument? You two, argue?" Justin shook his head and smiled. "Since when? Unless it's over some lines or something and it can't be that right now. Good thing they don't allow cameras back here, huh?"
Cameras—*hidden* cameras? Was the young man trying to clue them into something? "Pardon?"
"The tabloids, you know…"
Tabloids? The Metropolis Star? Other than in friendly rivalry, why would that paper be interested in him and Lois? But if this young man suspected that some other hungry newspaper and not a villain bent on revenge would be interested in them—they might be responsible somehow for this mess, and they weren't allowed "back here" anyway… except it wasn't him and Lois but Dean and Ms. Hatcher…
Clark pulled himself away from the unlikely and confusing scenario and said simply, "Oh, yeah."
"The tabloids," Lois said, elbowing him. She looked at the two next. "We need you to help us settle this argument. Go ahead, tell them, *Dean*," she poked him again, "but *don't* give your opinion away."
He frowned at her. For someone who wasn't going to stop him, she was exercising a little bit too much editorial discretion here. "I won't," he told her clearly, hoping he also implied that he didn't want her to poke him any more.
Her expression became a touch skeptical. He recognized it as a goad attempt to get him to do it her way, even if she probably couldn't tell him what that was. He wouldn't allow her to succeed though; this had to be done carefully.
He addressed the two strangers again. "We were just arguing about…" It suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea what to say that would prompt the two to give him and Lois what they needed to make the right choice about a revelation. Interviewing ax murders was easier than this. "…about something important to us."
"Actually, it was about the tabloids," Lois said.
Good start. "Exactly."
"And about Superman."
"Right, Superman." Superman?
"Does Dean look at all like Superman? The tabloids, well, you know *them.* *I* think…" She paused, shrugged and smiled guiltily, "it doesn't matter what I think, does it? I've been fooled in the past, so what do *I* know?"
What kind of test question was that from an award-winning journalist? "Hey, I wasn't supposed to give them *my* opinion…" or give away any secrets, not that he had an opinion or she had given one exactly, and not that these people might not know certain things, given the strangeness of seeing the Daily Planet on a sound stage… but fair was fair.
"You were arguing about *that*?" Kay asked.
"Well, sort of," Clark said quickly. "I mean, after all…" After all what?
"I can't remember that we've talked about it since… oh, since we did the pilot. Most critics seemed to think you did a good job and still do a good job."
"And I wasn't even part of that," Justin said. "But I thought you did okay."
"You've been at it for three and half years now," Kay said, "and most fans accept your interpretation."
"It's true you don't have muscles on muscles on muscles like the guy in the comics," Justin added, "but he's unreal—two dimensional, ha-ha…"
"I like how your Superman looks, too, like he could be from almost any part of the world. American, European, Asian, Indian. And most people prefer your Clark anyhow. To be honest, last summer the List discussed it and seemed to think Chris Reeve was a better Superman, but *I* like how you pull it off. You look more real as Superman, less… daunting."
Less what? He agreed with the multiracial assessment because he'd heard it numerous times before, but "List," "Chris Reeve" and "daunting"?
"Ah, thanks…" He glanced at Lois, who didn't appear to understand it any better than he did. "You see?"
She frowned, unwilling to "see" anything yet, and dragged her eyes off him to pin them on Kay. "And me, is my… Lois Lane like the Lois you… imagine?"
"Well, of course, dear! I think the fans like your Lois the best of all of them."
Lois smiled briefly, taken by surprise by the honest and totally unexpected opinion. "Oh, good, the fans like *my* Lois."
"She's—*you're* certainly the *prettiest* Lois," Justin chimed in, grinning.
While Clark could agree whole heartedly with this sentiment, whatever it actually meant, he knew Lois hardly ever believed anything positive said about either her physical or intellectual attributes, even if he were the one telling her… though in those very tender, very private, very close moments she was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and permit herself to revel in his admiration of her many sterling qualities.
However, at the moment, Kay and Justin's admiration for someone who only looked like Lois had little chance of making a long-term, positive impact on the real woman. This was good because in a way it reinforced the reality of the situation.
Lois looked at him, her smile lapsing already, traded for an expression of begrudging acknowledgment.
"But you're not stereotyped as a ditzy reporter, I don't think," Kay said innocently, "if that's what you're worried about."
That was like a slap across the face. "'Ditzy'?!"
"It's one of Lois's endearing qualities that you have down pat."
"Ditzy…" Lois grumbled under her breath.
"But with your movies," Kay continued, "and your… other activities like the photo shoots, fans see other sides of your… talents—and yours, too, Dean. So just relax about all that." She glanced at Justin. "I think they *do* need this vacation."
"Yeah. Hey, maybe you two'd like to…" he suggested this gently, "get some rest tomorrow instead of getting together…?"
"No," Clark said, the course they had to take clear now even if he had no idea of the outcome. "We have something to investigate. I don't think we'll be getting much rest."
Kay, concerned before, now looked confused, too. Clark wondered if actors Dean and Hatcher were likely to do any investigating. He then began to wonder what if anything the two did together when they weren't here working. Ms. Hatcher, who had to be a beauty if she looked so much like Lois, must have been constantly busy doing charity work and fashion layouts wearing the finest clothing.
"We'll be tracking down something," Lois explained. Clark was glad she kept most of the sarcasm she must have been feeling out of her voice. "Something 'ditzy' people don't do, I'll have you know. We'll be solving a *genuine mystery*."
"But we've already found out one thing," Clark tried to assure Kay, not wanting to see this woman flustered and not just because she reminded him of Mom. For that matter, he didn't want to see Justin worried, either, and he hoped Lois would get over the "ditzy" comment soon. "We found out we need some help."
"Yes," Lois said. She then got over being ditzy by mounting an undisguised coup d'etat on his plan: "We've found out that you have *no* idea who we really are."
*An Alternate Burbank
Warner Brothers Studio
Day One, Morning
"So much for *me* telling them," Clark muttered.
"Well, *you* were beating around the bush, what was I supposed to do, take up *knitting*?"
"Hold it, hold it, you two," Kay said, waving her hands for attention. "This argument of yours must have been a lot worse than you're letting on. What do you mean we don't know who you really are?"
Justin leaned close to her. "Maybe it's a script idea," he suggested. "Remember when she asked us if we wanted to play leetle teeny people," he held up his thumb and forefinger, indicating half an inch, "and only Dean volunteered?"
"I think she was joking on that one," Kay told him, also aside, "and that he was just as surprised as everyone else, especially by that shower scene."
"Well, it was still fun, the big pencils and pictures and everything, so maybe this will be, too, whatever it is." Justin looked at them. "So, what is this, research? Who are you *really*?—maybe you're *spies!* From NBC? CBS? I know!" and he winked, "Paramount?"
Clark squared his shoulders, not easy since the suit jacket was at least a size too small, glanced at Lois to warn her to keep her "help" to herself for a minute, please, and said as simply as he could, "I am really Clark Kent and this is really Lois Lane, my wife."
"And he's my husband," Lois threw in as an equalizer.
The two look-alikes gave them long consideration.
Finally Kay said "Uh-huh…"
"I don't think five days of vacation is gonna be *nearly* enough nap time for them…"
"They need proof, Clark," Lois diagnosed, as though she had expected this all along.
"But taking off my glasses didn't help and they weren't mine anyway, and I don't have them so I can't try that again."
She blinked at him.
He looked back over it and realized he had been babbling there for a moment. Things were even worse than he thought. "Maybe shoring up Hoover Dam and then carrying that ocean liner into port yesterday were a bigger strains than I realized…"
"Yes, maybe," she said calmly. "I think they need *other* proof."
"Show-off proof," she clarified.
Oh. The kind she had been afraid bad guys were watching for.
"Yeah, show off," Justin said, a play-along tone in his voice, "If you're Clark Kent, then do something that Superman would do."
Ohmigosh, they weren't joking along with Lois (Ms. Hatcher) before, they really did know about him… and they treated the secret like it was common knowledge.
This did seem to confirm the "this is all a freak accident that has thrown us into an alternate universe" theory lurking in the back of his mind. That brought Tempus back into the picture, though, if only at the extreme periphery since he should have made himself known long before this. Please don't let Tempus be involved…
Retrieving himself yet again, Clark felt compelled to clear up something. "I'd like to ask just one question first: I think we're in Southern California. If so, where is Metropolis?"
"Good one," Lois whispered, which strengthened his resolve.
"Why?" Justin asked, deadpan, "gonna fly there?"
"Maybe…" What would it take? Sixty seconds minimum, with Lois protected from windburn by this stylish if somewhat small jacket and his perfectly fitting aura.
Kay put her hand on her friend's shoulder, as though advising him against making any more sarcastic remarks. She proceeded carefully. "It's thought that Metropolis is a stand in for New York, though we've mentioned New York in the show a few times already. It's one of the continuity bloopers the fans like to point out. Wherever it is, when we have shown it on maps, it's in the general area of New York City, in a state called New Troy."
"And there is no such state in the United States," Justin said. "But there *is* a Kansas, which is where Superman's ship crashed except he wasn't Superman but a little baby and the Kents found him and adopted him, but everyone knows *that*."
"I see…" Clark glanced at Lois. Subdued for the moment, she clearly didn't see, which actually matched his entire understanding of this. How could these two people—how could "everyone" know so much?
"There is no Metropolis here," Lois whispered, "on this world." She moved closer to him and took his hand, intertwining her fingers with his. "In this… this universe."
She was thinking the same thing, so it must be true. "Looks like."
The two strangers noticed her gesture and his acceptance of it and looked surprised. Clark tried to ignore the implications (Hatcher and Dean weren't this close). What was important was that it felt like she was surrendering to the inevitable at last, and she confirmed this by saying quietly, "Give them some proof."
Yes, he told himself, let's get on with it, both of us.
He squeezed her hand lightly, then broke contact and rubbed his hands together, licking his lips briefly. He checked the street; it was clear in the immediate area, good. "I have to show you something. It could be startling. I'd appreciate it if you didn't start screaming or running in circles or anything like that."
"Don't worry," Kay said kindly.
"No problemo," Justin agreed. He sunk his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.
When seeking this out-of-the-way place in which to talk to Lois, Clark had noticed the Hatcher trailer's heavy-duty hitch. He held up one finger to show the onlookers, hooked that one finger under the closest edge of the hitch, and lifted the trailer about two feet, as far as he dared here in public.
Justin's jaw dropped.
Kay covered her mouth with three fingers.
No tabloid reporters jumped out with cameras blazing.
No Tempus, no Kyle Griffin, no Baron Sunday, no Lex laughing…
"Show off," Lois whispered, but her eyes twinkled. Clark dared a small smile.
"Well, ah," Justin began.
"Dean's a very strong young man," Kay told them in defense of sanity. "He works out every day, he…"
Clark looked around the immediate area again and spotted possible witnesses in a black car headed their way, but he figured he had about half a minute. This was enough time to pull his legs up and sit Indian style about three feet in the air. This better be enough proof because he disliked showing off for anyone except Lois and his folks.
"…but he can't do that."
Justin, shaken, looked skyward. "No scaffolding, no ropes, no wires…"
Clark unfolded his legs and regained the ground. "I don't need those things."
In a few seconds, the black car passed by slowly. It was carrying men in business suits. Their heads turned and someone in the car said, "Actors, on some show made here," but the car didn't stop.
Justin and Kay watched the car pass. Clark noticed that these two utter strangers took several protective steps back, closer to him and Lois. This impressed him. He glanced at Lois; she had noticed it, too, and she smiled a little, hopefully.
When the coast was clear again, the young man turned back and looked at Clark. "You saw the car coming…"
"You looked right through the trailer and saw it coming."
His eyes widened with excitement. Clark could see this coming, too. Justin whispered, "Wow… You *are* Superman…"
"No, I'm Clark."
"Superman is what he can do," Lois added.
The young man and the older woman looked at each other. She said, "That's just what *he* said in Tempus Fugitive!"
"Yeah! I only had a few lines in that one, but it sure was fun to watch!"
The woman nodded and breathed a little more deeply, patting her chest in a self comforting manner that worried Clark. She said, "I think I need to sit down for a minute…"
"Good idea," Lois said, "you can sit, we can talk."
Clark pulled out the keys he had found and handed them to Justin. "If your friend Dean's trailer is here, too, maybe one of these keys opens it."
"I'm sure one does. I have one—a key to his, I mean, *and* my own trailer, of course. It's not a real big one, but we're buds, you know? I can get you in, it's right here, it's the next one…" He turned, a sense of purpose overcoming his stuck-in- gee-whiz gear. They followed him.
Walking next to Lois, Kay advised, "Terry often pins her key to whatever dress she's wearing, she's very conscientious about that."
"'Terry'? That's her name?"
"Yeah," Justin smiled back at her. "Terry, T-E-R-I, Teri Hatcher."
"Oh, figures…" which to Clark meant Lois thought that all Hollywood types spelled their names in an unusual manner. She continued more politely, "We hadn't heard it yet…" She began feeling about the brown sash wrapped around her waist. "This is so tight…" She it took off and shook it. "Ah-ha! Here's a key!"
"Your clothes do look tighter," Kay said carefully, "you are a little more… substantial than Teri."
"I'm a size six usually, depending on the store, up to a ten sometimes, and this dress is about to squeeze me to death. Doesn't she care about what she wears? I mean, *this* to the newsroom? It's too short—and these heels! They're too high to do *any*thing useful in, let alone track down a breaking story. What size is she, anyway?"
"A two, the last I heard."
"Huh? What does she do, starve herself?"
"No, not at all."
"Then what does she eat—plankton?"
She looked at Clark as though this was one of those things men would *never* understand. "I'm serious!" She looked back at Kay, who by now appeared astounded and speechless. "Does this Teri person work out?"
"Oh, yes, she's in great shape and always on the go, she's just… slender."
"Even though she eats constantly," Justin looked back and said.
"She enjoys eating," Kay interpreted.
"She just shovels it in sometimes. I've seen her do that myself. It's almost scary. We have to hide our own lunches."
Lois looked down at the tight but stylish dress. "If you say so…" which meant she didn't put any stock in what the young man said at all. She looked up. "Speaking of which, Kay, does that chicken-and-leek soup offer still stand? I'm starving. Doing whatever we did to get here just takes it right out of a person, *believe* me."
Justin caught Clark's eye. "She really does babble, doesn't she?"
Lois reached forward to pinch him so Clark moderated the response he had considered ("You haven't heard anything yet!") to a "No, not always."
"The offer still stands. This must mean you don't know how you got here…"
"That's exactly what it means," Clark confirmed. "And we don't know where your friends are, either, but we'll find them."
"We can't talk about this out here," Lois warned. "Whoever caused it might be watching us."
Kay blinked as though she found that surprising to consider.
Justin said, "Wow, yeah…"
They could talk about it in Dean Cain's trailer (the man's name was on the door). The trailer was as sparsely furnished as Hatcher's, but Clark noticed right away that it offered a small bathroom with a shower and a bottle of liquid soap, and, out in the main room, a selection of looser-looking clothing. "I want to take a shower."
"And *I* want to change clothes. I'm sure there's time. We can talk more easily if we're comfortable."
Clark agreed and the necessary course became clear: they had to split up briefly. Clark assured Lois with a look that he would hear her if she so much as breathed the word "Trouble." Her look naturally replied, "Don't worry!" though she added an appreciative wink. Then she and Kay headed back toward Teri Hatcher's trailer, leaving behind an agreement to meet again in twenty minutes for a planning session.
Justin remained, offering assistance, endless and boundless. His eager-as-a-puppy attitude almost made Clark laugh. It was also clear that the young man hoped to see more super stunts but didn't want Clark to realize it. Maybe, he thought, he'd feel like accommodating the desire once they figured out what had happened and were on the way to correcting things. There could be time for stunts then.
He picked through Cain's clean clothes and chose among other things an extra-large plain white T-shirt, blue jeans and well worn but comfortable-looking Nikes. Justin commented on all the clothing, saying what Dean liked to wear each piece for.
"Your friend sounds like an athlete."
"Oh, he is, he's in great shape and he's really into sports and he's really good at most of them, except surfing, but he tries."
"I see. Surfing can be difficult. Think about him some more, what he's like and what he likes to do, and when I come out of the shower we'll talk about him so I'll know how to imitate him if I have to."
"That's a great idea! Hey, I'll go change, too, my trailer's just down there," he pointed in some as yet indeterminable direction. "Ah, unless you need help. Are you going to shower real fast? You know, like, superspeed?"
Clark could easily imagine water flying everywhere. "Ah, no, I don't think there's enough room for all that movement." Besides, he preferred leisurely showers. But there probably wasn't enough water for that and he was mostly concerned with removing the make up and the goop in his hair. "And you feel free to change clothes, too. I'll probably still be here when you return."
Upon entering Hatcher's trailer, Lois kicked off the annoying shoes. Then she and Kay went through the clothing they found in a small closet and came up with what Lois thought would be innocuous, unobtrusive, good to relax in clothing: a loose, comfortable blouse, baggy exercise pants and scuffed running shoes. "It looks like she does work out. These will probably fit me. Kay—do you mind if I call you that or is it Kathryn or Kathleen or…?"
"It's K, and just the letter K, K Callan."
That was odd… except it probably wasn't. Maybe she'd been duped into taking the unusual name. "It must be a Hollywood thing, huh?"
"No, it's a family thing," she said as though she had been asked about this many times and still found it amusing. "I was K before I became an actress back in the 60s."
"The 60s… what year is it now?"
"1996. And in Metropolis?"
"Oh, the same, and it's midsummer, but it looks like it's November here, if you have Thanksgiving in November, too."
"Maybe if other things here are like they are at home, Clark and I won't have so much to get used to, though we'll figure this out quickly once we have a chance to think about it, so we won't be here very long. Oh, and we'll save your friends, too."
"I'm glad to hear that…"
"We save people all the time, it's part of the job. Now you said 'family'…" but before she could ease K onto into this line of questioning, Lois noticed herself in the mirror over the desk/dressing table and gasped. "I *have* to wash my face, this makeup is *awful!*"
K smiled. "Now *that's* Hollywood. It's all for the cameras and the lighting. After you remove it, you might put on a moisturizer. Teri has some here on the desk and in the bathroom. I don't think she'll mind if you use it."
Lois spotted a collection of bottles to the left of the mirror. What with the desert dryness of Southern California (compared to the high humidity of the east coast) and the added assault of the makeup, using moisturizers made sense. "Okay. I don't use much makeup usually, I don't have time for it, and I've only been in the desert, um, twice, following leads for stories and avoiding sand fleas and Gila Monsters and that kind of thing…" She headed into the tiny bathroom but called out. "You said the girls are away. Your daughters?"
"Yes. I have two daughters and a son, but none of them can make it home for Thanksgiving this year."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that…" Though it could explain why the woman was here and not at home boiling or frying a turkey or whatever—no, *roasting* one, that's right. When the real Thanksgiving approached back in Metropolis, she and Martha were going to have a little meeting about that. She was, Lois figured, already ahead of the game, what with remembering the roasting angle.
She found a washcloth, wet it, and squirted some scented soap on it from an expensive-looking bottle. She patted the cloth over her face to remove the makeup and began to feel better, fresher. She'd be looking like herself in no time. "And Mr. Callan?"
"There is no 'Mr. Callan.'"
"Oh." Lois noticed the matter-of-fact tone in the woman's voice. There must have been 'no Mr. Callan' for quite some time; the woman had probably answered as many questions about that as about her unique name.
Lois looked around the corner. K was sitting at the desk, appearing more rested than before. The sight was comforting for some reason, and Lois did not want to ruffle the feelings of anyone who looked so much like Martha Kent. This realization made Lois feel a little guilty. "I'm snooping, aren't I? I'm sorry."
"Oh, it doesn't bother me, but it must be an occupational hazard for you."
Lois smiled. "You not only look like Martha, you sound like her, too."
K looked thoughtful. "Thank you. I've always thought of her as an interesting character. To think that somewhere out there, in another dimension, she's a real person…"
Another dimension, an alternate universe, yes… Why are these things always chasing after Clark and me? Lois sighed but covered it with a smile. "She's very real, like… like me…" She decided not to think about this for the moment, because Martha Kent and everyone else she and Clark knew were Somewhere Else… She concentrated instead on the immediate chore. Dimensions had to do with time, and time meant Tempus, and Tempus never hesitated to hurt anyone if it would hurt her or Clark. She'd have to watch out for these new friends.
Then again, she hadn't heard that man's infuriating laugh yet, and it was well past time for him to put in an appearance
…if he was responsible for this. And if he's not? What have I done now to attract some nasty character?
She tried to ignore that question and when she couldn't she faced it and herself: nothing, she had done nothing, these things just happen sometimes…
She rinsed the soap off her face and patted it dry using a soft towel from those lying folded on the top of the toilet tank. Then she saw a bottle of moisturizer right there on the little shelf over the sink. She opened and sniffed it, decided the scent was okay and applied it. She rubbed the last of it into her hands when she was finished. The lotion soaked right in; it must have been expensive. She ran her hands through her hair to fluff it. She liked that about this cut, it was easy to shape. She also liked what she saw in the mirror now, herself. Yes, this would do until she and Clark fixed things and got home again.
She returned to the main little room. "Do you mind if I change clothes right here?"
"Not at all, unless you'd like to do it outside…"
Lois laughed. "No…!"
K smiled and turned away discretely. Lois quickly stripped off the red dress and pantyhose, tossing them over the back of a spare chair. "Do I have to wash these now? Does she do that?"
"No, Wardrobe will do it. Teri has an assistant who usually takes care of all that, but I heard she won't be on the set until this afternoon."
"We'll be out of here—out of this *world,* wherever this is, *long* before that." Lois pulled on the blouse and pants. They fit and were subdued and wouldn't attract attention. Then she sat down on the chair she'd thrown the dress over to put on the socks and shoes. "I guess all this must be as odd for you, too. Do those two really look like us?"
K turned back. "Yes, they do. It looks like you've already fooled everyone on the set and you probably would have fooled me if you and De… I mean, Clark, hadn't given us the proof."
"That's good, we can go undercover here as long as we need to. This will work out just fine."
"Wait now, Dean and Teri's faces are well known. The paparazzi are always chasing them, poor kids…"
"Paparazzi? Those failures? They don't have anything on *me*. You should see some of the disguises I've made up on the spur of the moment to fool *real* villains."
"Well, Teri's disguised herself as a lounge singer, a copier repair person *and* a giant chicken, among other things."
"Wha…? *She's* done that, too? And they still recognized her even though she had a whole Hollywood studio to help her disguise herself?"
"No, that was for some of the episodes. She was playing you."
"Oh. I just had me, *and* I defended myself with karate while in that chicken suit, too, did she do that? I don't *think* so. She's just an actress. *I* have…" She looked around quickly. "These sunglasses." She plucked them up from the back of the desk. They had been lying on a folded scarf. "And that hat," a baseball cap hanging from a hook on the back of the door. "It's really sunny out here, isn't it?"
"Usually, though you have a nice tan like Teri does."
"I worked hard to get it, we don't get as much sun in Metropolis sometimes. I can use all of these things to make a great disguise. Even Clark won't recognize me—well, that's not true, but nobody else will." Maybe Hatcher tried to do something like this. "Does *she* go out in a disguise?" Hollywood people did that; they put on funny hats and heavy coats and then stood on street corners praying that agents and photographers would see them and make them famous.
"Sometimes she does."
"Then I'll do it even better." She put the things down and returned to tying the shoes firmly; they fit, too. Hatcher must have bought them in a larger size than she needed to wear with heavy, protective socks, not the anklets Lois had found in the closet. She put both feet down flat on the floor… and found a sigh welling up from deep inside.
Now what? She realized that she hadn't yet taken a moment to simply think and here she was, both feet firmly on the ground (well, the floor of this trailer), with that moment at hand.
What had happened to her and Clark, just *what* had happened? If a villain like Tempus or some new version of Bureau 39 using a weapon against Superman were responsible, why were they taking their time getting around to rubbing it in? Clark's secret was out—if it had ever been a secret—if somehow a whole TV show was based on him and her (with her name first). Wasn't all this enough to throw Clark and her off guard? What were the perpetrators waiting for?
Unless… there were no perpetrators and Clark was right, they were in the middle of a very strange accident.
That was hard to believe but… if that were the case it did free up a lot of their time. They wouldn't have to be watching their backs or those of their new friends and could concentrate on solving this.
If their disguises were effective so that no one bothered them.
If they could find their way around this town.
If they could figure out how to get out of this studio so they could find some S.T.A.R Labs-type company and force a scientist to help them or…
"What am I saying…?"
"Well, no, I know that, I'm just thinking… about this, about… all this," she tried to indicate it but hand gestures were inadequate, "and what Clark and I are going to do to fix everything and… oh…" Usually plans just sprang nearly full grown right into her mind, but not now. Now everything just looked daunting and now she understood how Clark (yes, he was easily bewildered sometimes) had felt earlier. "K, I've never been to Southern California except to land at the Los Angeles Airport once or twice. I don't have my driver's license! I don't have any money—I don't even have my *purse*! We don't know anyone here but you and Ji… Justin… and somebody who looked like Perry but it wasn't… I… Oh…" She sat down, closed her eyes and ordered herself to stop complaining because it wasn't helping at all and she bet *Clark* wasn't acting like this, he was probably being quiet and reserved and trying hard to understand this and using the Kentium computer part of his brain to think up solutions…
"Lois? Lois, dear, it's okay to panic. I'm surprised you haven't already, even as much as I think I know about you…"
Lois felt the woman's strong hand on her shoulder and she tried to explain. "I can't panic, I have to be calm," she explained. "For Clark. He doesn't need to worry about me. You know… no, you don't… He needs me to be… not *this* way… *I* don't need me to be this way…"
"To me it sounds like you're gathering facts and facing them, and this is frightening, isn't it?"
She blinked her eyes open and nodded. "Uh-huh…"
"The way he looked at you when we decided to split up ten minutes ago, that told me all *I* need to know about your relationship. Listen: I'd be pleased to help you both, and I could tell Justin wants to. You may not be here long enough to need us anyhow, things will probably work out quickly, they always do on the show. Until then, you don't have to drive, we can take care of that, and we can loan you money if you need any. Teri and Dean can pay us back on your behalf," she winked. The expression was comforting. "They'll sure be upset that they didn't get to meet you! And, you know, you can both stay at my place if you want to, the paparazzi *never* bother me. They think I'm old and uninteresting."
"Ha is right, and they'll never know how wrong they are. I don't even think you'll have to try hard to pass yourself off as Teri if you want to for a while. She enjoys a quiet home life when she's not out promoting something and when John's not home." Her eyes widened. "Oh, my! John…"
"John? Her…" please… "brother?"
"No… her husband."
Lois sat back, not easy since she was sitting sideways in the chair. "Oh…" another one to explain all this to…
"But he's in Venezuela, shooting a movie, so…"
"Venezuela? Is that down in South America, too?"
"Good—Movie? Is *he* an actor, too? Good grief, how could she marry an *actor*?"
"The same way *you* could marry a mild-mannered reporter."
"No, that's entirely different."
"Only your jobs are different. Actors hang out with actors, reporters hang out with reporters. Teri and John, it was one of those fairy tale things." She pointed. "That's his picture, there."
On the back of the desk was a small, framed picture of a handsome man. *I wish I were there with you—Jon.*
"They're very much in love, but they don't see each other as often as they'd like. Maybe that keeps it going, the expectation."
"Oh…" Now she felt sorry for the woman. Lois had an absent husband to, but not *that* absent… "At least since he's in Venezuela, I won't have to explain what's happened to his wife— you won't have to explain, either, she'll be back here in *no* time," she nodded firmly, smiling. "I promise you." This was the attitude to take. Sure she didn't know how she and Clark were going to pull it off, but she once again had no doubt that they could do it.
She stood up and wiggled her toes in the shoes, glad they had comfortable arches. "Okay, that takes care of my disguise. What does Dean Cain usually do that I can help Clark work around?"
K thought about this question a moment. Lois rethought it. It must have sounded confusing. "I mean…"
"I know what you meant, I was just thinking how to describe Dean. He's a friendly, handsome—like Clark—30-year-old single man with no girl friend at the moment."
"No girl friend?" Oh, good. "Poor guy, I'm sorry to hear that…"
K gave her a knowing look. "No, you're not…"
"Okay, I don't want girl friends chasing after Clark. I could take care of Jon if he were here, but Clark has a hard time putting his foot down sometimes."
"Our show's version has the same problem. Well, Dean does all the things an active young man brought up in California does, except he also works all day long on the set and then spends time in the gym to keep up his Superman physique—and by the looks of the real thing he's done well… and he likes to write scripts and stories, have some fun on the town when he can, and sleep."
"Are he and Teri having a torrid love affair on the side by any chance?"
"No, not after spending as many hours as they do together already. We'll have to be careful about that. When we're all out in public," she smiled, "Justin and I will chaperon you."
"Okay, we can do that, if you're ready for heavy-duty undercover work. And what does this Teri Hatcher like to do?"
"I suspect she planned to enjoy the peace and quiet of home. I know she was going to participate in some charity thing…"
"An aideswalk. On Saturday. Justin told us without realizing he was telling us. She'll be back in time to do that."
"I hope so. Until then, I think you can help Clark safely avoid the beach and surfing, and the nightclub scene, too, if you both have to stay through tonight."
"Well, I certainly want to stay long enough to try your soup."
She raised her eyebrows, amused. "You are hungry, aren't you? That's good. On the way to my house we can show you around a little. It will be fun. I just…" Her face took on a troubled look, "I just hope Teri and Dean are okay. If Metropolis is *anything* like we've portrayed it—big and dangerous and full of villains that Superman has to keep under control… they could be in trouble."
"Well, things have been quiet in Metropolis lately," Lois
said, not that there was anything anyone could do about it anyhow, she thought, other than try to cheer the kind woman. "They can act, can't they? As long as she doesn't play me as 'ditzy'…"
"Oh, I'm sorry about that…"
"It's how Hollywood sees things, I understand. If Dean doesn't try to pass himself off as anyone *other* than Clark, like you know who, and if they lay low, maybe find our home and stay there, they should be okay." She picked up the scarf and fit it around her head, tying it in back. "Clark has tons of videos they can watch, and he and I have a little vacation time coming, too, so they can use that. We were in the office. If they completely switched places with us somehow, they may have wound up there. If they sweet-talk Perry—which is *incredibly* easy to do…" unless, like now, the Chief was on an everyone-who-gets- paid-around-here-has-to-work kick, in which case when they got back, she and Clark could find themselves out on the street looking for new jobs… which was something K didn't need to know. "I bet he'll tell them to go home because they're acting strangely. Clark and I rarely do, so Perry will know they need some rest. Then they play it safe while can figure this out and switch us back. Simple, huh?"
"Well, they are intelligent and resourceful, that should help them keep out of trouble. They know everything the show has done and something about what the comics are doing, so if your real life is anything like that, except for maybe the monsters that eat buildings and all the supervillains…"
"Comics? As in… the funny pages?"
"No, as in comic books. There is 50 years of history behind the show."
Lois tried to fathom this. It refused to make any kind of sense. It didn't even want to be thought about at the moment. She didn't try to argue with her own mind. "Okay, that's fine, don't say any more. I don't think I want to know about it right now."
"Justin probably knows more about the comics than I do anyway."
"I won't ask him, either, if you don't mind."
"Not at all. Let's go talk to the boys. I think everyone will like my soup."
Clark hung up Cain's business clothing, took a full, fast shower, and then in the little cubicle of a bathroom changed into the clothing he had picked out. Afterwards, he wondered why he'd confined himself to this almost telephone booth-sized space when he was alone in the trailer. Fear of exposure maybe. Whatever. He found a comb and ran it through his hair. He considered himself in the mirror and nodded. He now felt like himself through and through.
And Lois? He sensed nothing amiss with her, so she hadn't found any trouble yet, that was good. If—*when* she got into trouble, he had to be there, there was no choice. They knew so little about this world that they couldn't afford to rely solely on each other's instincts or his powers to pull themselves out of any problems.
Clark heard Justin returning just as he was about to step back into the main room of the trailer. The young man, attired in different, equally comfortable clothing, had an excited look on his face and bouncy quality even when he was trying to stand still.
"Wow," his new friend said. "Your hair *is* black!"
"No, it's still wet. It's brownish when it dries."
"It's not blue tinted?"
That made no sense. Clark briefly imagined himself among a bevy of little old ladies. "Pardon?"
"Oh, nothing, that's just the comics."
"Comics?" Don't go there, a little voice warned him.
"Yeah, Superman's been in the comics for*ever*. He's an American *legend,* an *icon*."
"Oh," then the "forever" could explain the blue-tinted hair. "Okay… We can talk about that later."
"Does it slick back when you change into Superman?"
The hair. "It does a little."
"It doesn't do that in the comics, just on our show. Where do you keep the cape and the boots? *Everyone* wants to know!"
There were questions and there were questions, and he'd hardly even taken two steps. "I just… keep them, okay?"
This nonanswer didn't phase the young man. "Do you have the suit on under those clothes, even under the T-shirt?"
"No, I don't have the suit at all. I suspect Mr. Cain is wearing it at the moment and he's probably finding it warm." Clark hoped his double didn't try anything unwise while wearing it. Indeed, it would probably be best if Cain got out of it as soon as possible.
Here and now, though, Clark had to find out more about the man. "Does his hair slick back or does he wear it like this?"
"It slicks back hard, like it's spray-painted on when he's… Superman, but loose like yours is now for Clark, except I think his is a little shorter than yours."
"If I go out like this, do you think I can pass for him?"
"Oh, yeah, no problem," he said quickly, trying to please. "Your face is a little smoother and you don't smile as much—not that you have very much to smile about I guess… but you still fooled *me* and he and I are buds."
"I see…" He saw that he was saying "I see" a lot even when he didn't see, when he knew that Justin's "no problem" didn't describe the situation at all.
But he also saw that his assessment of the reality of the situation, as well as his reactions to it (the failure to smile) might be making him sound blunt and even harsh. He never liked encountering that attitude in others, so if indeed *he* was using it, it could be spooking Justin into useless passivity or, worse, hero worship.
It was time for honesty. He tried to smile. It didn't want to happen. He didn't force it. "I realize you must be almost as overwhelmed about this as I am."
"You?" The young man's eyes widened. "*You're* overwhelmed?"
"Yes, because this is…" He looked down and then around the room, trying to find something familiar and comforting, but even looking through the walls didn't help. It was the same as it had been almost fifteen minutes earlier, busy and foreign. "This is incredible." He sat down in a nearby chair and tried to distract himself a bit by putting on the clean, heavy socks and designer athletic shoes he and Justin had found earlier. "I think Lois and I are in some kind of… parallel universe. Your world is similar to ours, but *actors* are playing us and everyone we know, playing the story of our lives, and you know all about us, or at least a version of us. That's why it's incredible."
"When you put it that way… So there's a real Jimmy Olsen, huh? Do I look like him?"
These questions came out naturally, the young man was concerned.
"Yes, you do, and if you play him with that exuberant attitude, you probably do a good job of it."
"I try to, I want to do him well, it's important. I don't get much on-screen time, so I have to put everything I can into it. I know Kay does, too…" He sighed thoughtfully, then brightened again. "Hey, I have all the shows on tape, even the first season, which I wasn't in, another actor played Jimmy, but he was okay. Maybe you'd like to see some of them—and I have scripts, too, and Kay has some, so you could look at them—real fast!"
There was an angle that hadn't occurred to Clark. It would be like doing research on a truly unusual subject. He remembered the shoes and pulled on the second one. "I want see them, yes, if we have time. The solution to our current problem may pop up at any moment, though, so we all have to be alert for it."
"Oh, yeah, *we* have to be…" he nodded, obviously pleased to have been included as one of the solution seekers. Perhaps he didn't know the value of his knowledge. He said, "Well, Kay and I will help you, you can *bet* on that. I called my mom while and told her I'd be hanging around with you today, all day long. This morning I thought I would anyway because Dean's girl friend dumped him for some stupid reason, so I was going to keep him company, you know, to help him keep his mind off all that, but now I'll help you, if you don't mind."
The shoes fit snugly, like shoes should, and Justin's offer fit, too. Clark smiled, feeling it at last. "I don't mind at all, because we will need help. Even if we can pass ourselves off as your friends we don't know anything else about this world."
"Well, Dean does look like you, except you're…" He tried to indicate breadth and depth with inadequate hand gestures. "…bigger, I guess, somehow, and smoother, like, for example, he has a little mole up here," Justin indicated his own upper right lip. "But other than that… I'm not sure what it is, unless… unless it's because you're really… him."
Clark, who simply saw himself as someone who had just taken a shower and put on clean, nondescript clothing, had never been subject to such clear adulation (other than by his wife). If he had been wearing the suit, he could have understood it. Unless… "So there are no… 'him's in this world?"
"No, none, and we could use some, use a Superman or someone like him sometimes…" He looked soberly introspective… but this didn't last. He perked up again. "I think we do a good job on our show. It's lots of fun, and we have millions of fans— we've even been renewed for a fifth season and we're only half way through the fourth one!"
"Is that good?"
"It's terrific! It was sort of a political thing, but I still think it's really great."
"I see… And so millions of fans would recognize Mr. Cain and Ms. Hatcher…"
"Sure! *All* the time. He's in a campaign now with George, George Clooney—he's playing Batman—they want to stop the paparazzi from hounding everyone and it's sort of working, big stars are joining up, and some of the TV tabloid shows are scared. But the fans, they're great. When he doesn't want to be noticed, though, Dean likes to wear sunglasses and a baseball cap—he keeps them in the desk there," he pointed to a drawer to left of where Clark sat, "and usually nobody notices him. There are lots of good-looking guys in LA, he just sort of blends in, I guess. I don't worry too much about it myself because I'm not as popular, but that's okay," he laughed, "*I* don't have to get in a harness and pretend to fly."
Clark nodded to avoid saying "I see" again. Harness, fly?— Ah, something would have to be rigged up to make it appear that the actor could fly. Hollywood magic. And Batman… "So, other than the fans and the paparazzi who could recognize him if he's not careful… You said something about Mr. Cain's family, didn't you?"
"Yeah, his folks and his brother and sister are in New Hampshire making a movie. His dad is a good movie director. They're a real close family, so Dean wasn't too happy about having to be here on his own. He was hoping they could maybe meet in Aspen and spend the holiday there, but that didn't work out because his folks couldn't get away after all."
"And he wasn't going to be in this aideswalk thing on Saturday."
"Right. He does charity work all the time, as much as he can fit in, but he wasn't invited on that, I don't know why—or maybe he was but he didn't accept because of the Aspen thing."
Sorted out, this was adding up nicely. "So his schedule is free for now and I won't be likely to ruin his life if I'm careful. You said he has no girlfriend at the moment."
"Yeah, the last one dumped… well, it didn't work out. Too many schedule conflicts. It happens all the time really—for all busy people, not just for him."
"Is he simply friends with Ms. Hatcher?"
"Yeah, good friends, but they practically have to be. They spend hours and hours together on the set acting like married people, like you and Lois, I guess, I hope," he smiled as though he knew what all that entailed, "probably *less* like you and Lois… but they don't hang around together off the set. Paparazzi watch for that kind of thing since she's married and he's not. You know," he waved his hand to paint a headline, "'While her husband's away, Teri plays with costar.'"
Clark nodded. "She's married. To John."
"Right, but he's out of town, too, in *Venezuela*, and he's not due back until next weekend. Since *he* can't fly, and he's not going to take a plane up here for the weekend since there's no Thanksgiving in Venezuela, we don't have to worry about him."
Another complication resolved. "Good." Some things were going to be easy, others tough. "So Ms. Hatcher and Mr. Cain don't do anything together off the set?"
"Well, not often. They promote the show and do things for charity, but he'd rather hang out at the beach or work at home writing. She likes to putter around her house and make movies and do fashion shoots where it somehow turns out that she doesn't wear many clothes. You know, that kind of thing."
"That kind of thing…?"
"I think she's a little afraid of being stereotyped as Lois Lane."
"But Lois wears nice clothes, so Ms. Hatcher…" didn't? Did she do… oh, my, nude layouts or worse? "I see." No, he didn't. He advised himself to toss that one on the far side of the pile of imponderables, too. Fortunately, what Hatcher did in her spare time did not matter to him or Lois. Unless… "She wasn't planning to do another… fashion shoot soon, was she?"
Justin shrugged. "Not that I know of. She usually mentions it, like when she went to Mexico to do that beach thing. "
Beach thing… maybe just swim suits.
"But I think she was just going to relax for the holiday except for the Walk she and I are doing."
Clark smiled. Hatcher would no doubt dress appropriately for that. Good for her. However, in the unlikely event that Lois found herself totally mistaken for Hatcher and asked do an on-the-spot nude fashion layout, there was no way that he'd condone it. Not that she'd dream for a moment of asking for his permission, but if she showed *any* interest, he'd step in and put his foot down. There were times such a reaction couldn't be avoided.
But that probably wouldn't be necessary. "I'm sure we'll have your friends back in time to participate in whatever they planned to do."
…though how he and Lois would engineer that he had no idea. Dressed and ready to go, Clark realized that despite his confidence, he didn't know what exactly to do next. Here he had been worried about protecting the lives of those who they were replacing temporarily, and now it meant that he couldn't be seen in public with Lois, who was likely at any moment to be asked to drop her clothing and smile for a camera. What if Ms. Hatcher, unable to be the investigative reporter she played on TV, felt inclined to fall back on using her other skills while in Metropolis?
They heard a knock on the door. Clark stood up.
Kay's voice sang out, "Hey, in there! Are you decent?"
As Justin stretched over to open the door, Clark rushed to dawn the baseball cap and sunglasses as a test.
Lois was carrying a small purse (not the big one full of notebooks, camera and minitape recorder she usually used) and a computer bag with that laptop computer he'd spied earlier. She was also wearing sunglasses and, over a scarf, a baseball cap. She looked relaxed, happy to see him, ready to go.
Justin smiled at her and Kay nodded at Clark. The two actors said almost simultaneously "Wow, you look just like him/her!"
Lois and Clark looked heavenward, assuming that in this universe Heaven was accepted as being up.
"No, really!" Justin said quickly. "But it's okay!"
"We know what Teri and Dean look like when they dress this way, but most fans won't recognize you unless they're primed to look for you."
"It's amazing how it works, really…"
Clark took off the disguise and tossed the glasses and cap on the desk. "Come in, come in…" He motioned and made way for Kay to sit if she wanted to. "We have to make some plans."
Justin popped up and offered Lois his chair but, too antsy, she politely ignored him. Had she taken it, that would have made her a member of the audience when she wanted to direct. "You're right," she nodded at Clark. She took off her sunglasses, too, and perched them securely on the bill of the cap, which she didn't take off. Aside she told him, "This Kay spells her name with the letter K only…"
"Oh? That's unique."
"But otherwise she's a lot like your mother, so watch out."
"'Watch out'?" K echoed, smiling. "I'll take that as a compliment!"
"I hope you do," Clark smiled, too, finding the woman's expression contagious. He realized that was what he'd been missing, the chance to genuinely smile about something pleasant. "My mom's terrific."
"That's right," Lois said. "But we're terrific, too, and we can figure out what happened, reverse it and get everything straightened out again."
"Wow…" Justin sighed.
She stopped and looked at him. "'Wow' what?"
"Wow, Lois and Clark in action!"
They all looked at him.
He took a small step back, put his hands in his pockets and shrugged helplessly. "Sorry…"
"Well, to be honest with you, I'm in a wow mood, too," K admitted. "So I might say something like that, especially seeing you…" she motioned at Clark, "so… big as life. Bigger even, so please forgive me ahead of time."
That was easy. "You haven't done anything wrong, neither of you have. But we're not in action, we don't have much to tackle this problem with."
"We can make an outline and flesh it out," Lois suggested. "First we have to figure out who did this, and that will help us figure out how it was done."
"Or we figure out how it was done and that may tell us who did it, if that's important. In either case, knowing how it was done can tell us how to reverse it."
"We'll each work on our own angles."
Justin and K sat in rapt attention.
"But the more I think about it," Clark said, "the more I doubt this was done on purpose."
Lois considered this. "Well, I've been wondering why no one's jumped out and shouted 'Boo! Caught you!'…"
"Wow, they're not arguing," Justin whispered to K. "They're *thinking alike.*"
K nodded. "Interesting…"
Lois frowned "We *don't* think alike,"
"Though we do tend to agree more than we used to."
"Justin…" K warned, then she turned to Lois and Clark. "For the-who-is-responsible part, as far as I know, there haven't been any… villains plotting against Dean and Teri or you two, on the set or off. The worst that happens is that paparazzi will get pictures they shouldn't and the pictures wind up in the tabloids if the paparazzi don't get caught first."
"Yeah, like for Batman. Security *creamed* those clowns."
Clark whispered aside to Lois: "Someone named George Clooney, who is a friend of Mr. Cain's, is portraying Batman."
Justin's eyes practically popped out of his head. "Wow, yeah! Is there a Batman where you come from, too? A *real* one?"
"Ah, well, there is someone in Gotham City…"
"There's a Gotham City!"
"We don't have time for this…" Lois said quietly,
"We can talk about it later," K agreed, "though Dean is good friends with George and there's the chance they might have been planning to get together today, so we'll have to try to avoid him. I don't think we have to worry about paparazzi villains though. They usually only give us trouble when we go on location and can't control what they see."
"Yeah, like for your first wedding. They took all kinds of pictures outside the church and leaked the frog-thing news."
"Frog-thing…" Lois said faintly.
Clark touched her arm supportively and to warn her against saying anything she'd regret.
"You know, the clone thing," Justin explained, "and Clark married the frog and nearly slept with her and—"
"What?!" Nearly slept with…!
Lois touched his arm. "Careful… K, it happened that way here? Your *pretend* Clark slept with the clone?"
"Well, it was a close thing…"
"*I* didn't sleep with the clone! How could I? I *knew* she was an impostor practically as soon as I saw her. My big problem was that I didn't know where Lex Luthor had taken Lois and the clone was all over me and then it wanted to kill Lois."
"And Lex drugged me, too, but I escaped. Then I hit my head and got amnesia, and things got really weird, almost as weird as now…" She looked at Clark. "Lex? He vowed revenge…"
"He always vows revenge."
"Always?" K whispered to Justin. "That means…"
Justin nodded, "He didn't get killed off in their world, wow…"
Clark tried to ignore this.
Lois did, too. "Besides, he'd keep me and send you."
They nodded in agreement. "It can't be Luthor."
"Clark rescued me," Lois continued for their friends, "and the hospital had me see an amnesia expert, but he drugged me, too, *and* hypnotized me into thinking I was in love with him, but that *never* felt right. I couldn't even *force* myself to kiss him."
"I got her away from him, but not before a deadly machine nearly killed everyone in Metropolis by warping their thinking processes."
"The Vibro Whammy," Justin nodded. "It made everyone want to dance." He took a few fancy steps and chanted something that sounded faintly African. Habba-heeba-huuba. "That was fun!"
"It made everyone but Superman very suggestible," K explained.
"It also made a lot of people very sick," Clark said grimly, "and several senior citizens had heart attacks."
"S.T.A.R. Labs dug up that machine and they're rehabilitating," Lois told him. "Great, huh? I saw it this morning. I wish they'd junked it—I wish *you'd* destroyed it, it's a horrible thing."
"It was evidence, I couldn't destroy it."
Justin had stopped dancing since no one was commenting on it. He looked a little embarrassed. "We didn't get into all that on the show, the effects of the machine, how it probably hurt people, there's only so much time. Superman just pulled the plug. It helped Lois to, ah… well, you regained your… her memory and she—the one on our show, I mean—she remembered she loved Clark." He looked at Clark. "You… well, *our* Clark, Dean. She thought she nearly lost him, but it was okay because they didn't lose each other, we only lost some of the audience, and then they, Lois and Superman, flew away and floated in front of the moon and kissed and everything was all right and the fans who saw that part loved it."
"Well, mostly they liked that it was all over," K added.
Lois blinked and homed in on one detail. "After he nearly slept with a frog 'everything was all right'?"
"He'd been blinded by love and the circumstances. After all, it was his honeymoon night and he was vulnerable and human, so it was…" K searched for a word. "Understandable."
"*And* he was *really* eager to lose his…" Justin hesitated, "ah, well, his…" he searched for a word, too. "Patience."
Clark blinked now. This made no sense, and how could they just talk about… No, he reminded himself, it wasn't real. "I think we're getting off track again…"
Lois must have sensed his discomfort, but rather than insist he help her argue about it, she nodded. "We can talk about this later, too, when we talk about… Batman," which Clark knew she would not do voluntarily. She focused on K. "So you don't have any villains here—except whoever made all that up about our first wedding attempt."
"No, no villains, and certainly not like the ones you're used to," K confirmed. "But let me assure you that your second wedding went off… okay, mostly, and most of the viewers, those we pulled in for it, they did love it."
"What was there not to love? Sure we had a little trouble getting to Smallville…" She glanced at Clark; he shrugged in agreement. Being trapped in a hijacked 747 had been "interesting," as she'd put it later, he recalled. It had helped her get over some of her new round of pre-nuptial jitters. "But the ceremony there in the farm yard, surrounded by our friends and all the farm animals, the little chickens and the horses and the hay and that angelic pastor, it was really…" she softened; the animals had honestly made her squeamish, but in retrospect… "beautiful."
K looked at Jimmy.
Lois caught this and frowned, "What? Now what?"
K looked uncomfortable and not Mom-like. "You can see it on tape if you want…"
Clark decided it was time to take over. "Right, we'll do that. For now, no villains, but that makes sense because I doubt Ms. Hatcher and Mr. Cain draw that kind of attention."
"True," K nodded.
"Has anything odd *not* connected to them happened around here lately?"
"We had another thunderstorm overnight," Justin offered. "That's a little unusual. It's cooler and we get rain this time of year, but not like that."
"Yes, it was another violent storm. I'm glad we weren't shooting outside today, everything's still soggy. They've been having some wiring problems with some of the lights in the sound stage housing the Daily Planet set," K said, "but nothing to worry about. Those things do happen now and then in a business as complex and technical as this one."
"Okay." Clark looked at Lois. "There may be a connection with electricity, but that alone wouldn't be the cause or even the trigger, just maybe a side effect."
Lois nodded, frowning, not liking this, muttering, "There's something about the weather though… what was it…" She shook her head; Clark hoped she wasn't experiencing another headache. "I can't remember… It will come back to me, but you're right. We need to find a trigger here, if there is one, so we can backtrack and fix what caused it. Unless it was in Metropolis…"
Clark nodded now. "We could be…"
"Trapped here," Lois concluded, "forever," and she pursed her lips.
K dashed in with, "Don't give up so quickly! What were you two doing back in your world just before you realized something had gone wrong?"
That was a good question. "Lois and I were in a private conference room at the Planet—"
"Going over notes, getting ready to talk to Perry about an assignment."
"No, we have to be accurate. We were sharing a kiss."
"Oh, you want accuracy? It was a *passionate* kiss, and we were about to forget Perry's deadline and head home as fast as you could fly."
"You bet your sweet chumpy we were!"
"Wow…!" Justin's grin and K's gentle, knowing smile kept Clark from escalating this in turn. She'd wanted to rush home, too?
Lois frowned at the two. "We're *married!* We can do that now!"
"I didn't plan on us going *that* far, Lois…" Clark informed her quietly.
"Next time I want a memo to that effect, please."
"*But,*" he continued, louder for their friends' benefit, "I can't see how that in particular caused our problem. That's what we were… concentrating on, though, and the next thing we know, we're in a television production studio. We were still kissing, but our positions had changed completely and we were wearing your friends' clothing and makeup. I remember there was a… an *electric* feeling about the whole thing, but it passed quickly."
Lois nodded. "I remember that, I thought it was static electricity."
"That must have been some kiss!" Justin exclaimed. "The fans love that kind of thing!"
"I don't think that's what they mean," K whispered.
"No, it's not," Clark agreed. "We do make sparks, but not that way."
"Well, *I* didn't feel anything, even though a bulb went out a few minutes before we started the final shoot," Justin said, "Of course, I wasn't kissing anyone. Before Dean kissed Teri, I was sitting on the Lois Lane Desk. We were supposed to talk about something, but as usual when Clark came up—not you, our Clark— and they were obviously going to kiss, I, Jimmy split the scene." He looked at K. "That was wrap-up—hey, that's lucky! They don't have to do any more scenes. You two… or Dean and Teri don't start shooting again until Tuesday. But, anyway, I was close enough for most of that scene that I would have felt an *electrical charge* building up."
Lois smiled, a solution at hand. "It was the wrap up of the story? The episode? Maybe there's a clue in the story line! Lots of times stories Clark and I work on have repercussions we never expect."
"I don't think it's the same thing, Lois. It had to be all written down, there are scripts—"
"Well, maybe they didn't follow the script, maybe they ad- libbed!—You do that, don't you?"
K said, "Sometimes…"
"Fine, there, see? Besides, it may be all we have." She faced the two actors, the excitement of a clue within reach prompting her to smile expectantly. "What was the episode all about?"
K and Justin explained that it was a two-part story about a Pasta Pirate and a Praline Princess vying to rule Metropolis's snack industry by drugging consumers into eating like pigs. Superman, Lois and Clark had each been nearly killed in separate attacks. Jimmy had fallen briefly for a beautiful character named Jellie Beane despite his soul-mate attraction to a pretty blonde in a previous episode. The Pirate tried to woo Martha Kent, while the Princess had been attracted to a flattered Jonathan Kent. In the end, Perry had saved the day somehow, but neither Justin nor K knew many details of that; Justin said that Lane had been pleased with his part though.
Lois drew back, unimpressed. She and Clark looked at each other and shook their heads.
"No triggering mechanism there," she said.
"I'm beginning to suspect our main problem may not be on this side."
"And *I'm* beginning to worry about their show's viewers."
"So it must be something you two did," K said. "After all, here in Burbank, we just don't have the… the super science or the truly villainous people. It's all special effects and politics."
"Yeah, so what else were you two doing today besides kissing?"
"Well, I wasn't starving like I am now." Lois picked up the purse and the laptop, resettling the straps of both on her shoulders. "I know I'll be able to think more clearly over a nice bowl of soup." She gave Clark a little shove. "Tell them."
"Feed her and she's a regular little chatter box."
"And, believe me, Clark can eat anything, even my cooking, though I'm sure he'll settle for something a lot better than that. So," she looked at K, "how about it?"
*An Alternate Burbank
Warner Brothers Studio
Day One, Morning
They made plans. Dean and K had both driven in. He lived in the area, while Teri lived further out. She had requested a company car and driver so she could work on a script she was "slaving over." That was why Lois was carrying the laptop computer: the device could also inadvertently contain clues, perhaps notes the actress had made that very morning. While Justin had a car, his mom had dropped him off so that he would have a good excuse to hang around with Dean and keep him company.
"I suggest Lois come with me," K said, "and, Clark, you can drive Dean's Bronco. I'll follow you."
"Or *I* can drive," Justin offered swiftly. "LA traffic is scary sometimes. I have my license with me, too." He pulled it out quickly and waved it in front of Clark, who caught the particulars with ease.
Not that it mattered, Clark had Cain's license and no qualms about borrowing it. "No, I can drive. I've driven in Cairo *and* southern Florida. LA traffic can't be as bad as that."
"I suggest that you leave the Bronco at Dean's place," K continued. "You can check on his dogs, and then we'll head for my home in my car."
"Teri has lots of pets, too."
"We can check on her home and her pets this afternoon if this… adventure isn't over by then."
"But she's a famous actress, isn't she?" Lois asked. "Doesn't she have maids and housekeepers? Wait—does my voice sound like hers? I can call and tell them she won't—I won't be in for a while and they should take care of everything. Simple!"
"No, even if she had help, she would have let them off for Thanksgiving because she likes taking care of her home by herself. We can do that, don't worry. Besides, you'll want a change of clothing if you're here for very long. You, too, De…"
He put on the sunglasses and hat in a blur.
"Right, and I'll want more clothes, too."
"And more other things," Lois frowned. "You can't go out like that.
Clark looked down at himself.
"He looks like Dean," Justin said, "except I can already see some differences. The fans won't know, though, that's what's important."
"There's more to it than that," Lois informed him. "Teri carries a purse. Does Dean carry a wallet? Was there one in the pocket of his other pants?"
"No, only the keys, but you're right…" Out of habit Clark lifted the sunglasses and looked around the room quickly.
"Wow!" Justin said, "And no blue rays!"
Blue hair, blue rays. Clark filed this away, too.
There was a wallet locked in the top drawer of the desk, but a small steel key on the key ring got him in. He retrieved the wallet and looked through it. It contained $54 and some change (all of which looked on quick inspection like money used in the world of Metropolis), credit cards, pictures of what Clark assumed were Cain's relatives, bits and pieces of paper with notes on them, a half-punched buy-10-get-one-free card from a fast-food franchise, and a driver's license with Dean George Cain's picture. The man did look like him in a bland, Motor-Vehicle-Department sort of way. There was the small mole on his upper right lip and a few freckles, none of which Clark could claim, though he wondered if such minor blemishes might have made him feel more human sometimes.
Lois held out her hand and he passed the wallet over in trade for the one she pulled from Hatcher's purse. Her double looked more like her than his did. Hatcher was 31 years old and soon to have another birthday. The wallet had a free pass to an amusement park in the name of Mrs. Jon Tenney; several pictures of the same handsome, smiling man, presumably Tenney; credit cards; and $36 and change rounded out the information.
"I think we know enough now," Lois announced. "I'm ready."
Naturally they met their first test almost immediately.
Both K and Dean had parked nearby, about a half studio building away from their trailers, and they nearly made it there unchallenged.
K saw them first: two long, open, blue and white, motorized vehicles with four two-person seats and a fifth seat facing backwards. Each cart had a driver and each was packed with a variety of colorfully dressed people, many in shorts despite the lingering coolness of the air.
"Oh, my," K said as she pulled up. "Is it that time already?"
Justin checked his watch. "It's just past ten"
K turned to Lois and Clark. "The studio gives tours all day long. The public gets to see how a famous movie studio really works. The Lois and Clark sets… that sounds odd to say now… our sets are the most open on the whole lot unless we're shooting. Personally, I think at least half the tourists come hoping to see anything to do with our show."
"Well, they've spotted us," Clark said.
The drivers of the vehicles, who were probably also the tour guides, had put on the brakes and were whispering into microphones, informing their charges about not molesting anyone in the studio they might be fortunate to see, that as visitors they were also guests and that any stars they might see were also working employees, doing a job. The warning reminded Clark of what one might hear on a photographic safari into the wilds of Africa. Lois read his mind: "Don't bother the animals, this is their territory where they feed and play…"
K's statistics held true: more than half of the tour group members were staring in their direction. Many jaws were slack; others were mobile as observers whispered to companions or barely withheld squeals of delight. The more level-headed observers were elbowing the uninitiated and clueing them in.
"None of them are taking pictures of us," Clark noted.
"No cameras are allowed beyond a certain point, which they probably passed 30 seconds ago," K said. "That always seems to happen."
"Who cares about cameras?" Lois muttered. "Our disguises are *history*."
"No, they'll still work out on the street, but the public comes in here hoping to see famous people."
"Now that they have," Clark said, "what do we do?"
"Anything from ignore them totally, to wave from this distance, to even walk up and talk to them. It's our call."
"I'm inclined to wave," Lois said.
Clark knew that was because she disliked being thrust into the center of attention; trying to get her to sing before an audience, her friends said, was worse than the trials of a root canal. But, not having to worry about his teeth and having heard her sing in the shower, Clark overlooked all that and wondered if waving would be enough. "What would your friends do?"
"It depends on how busy they are. Dean's usually talkative, but I've seen Teri bounce out between scenes to talk to small groups."
"We're not very busy," Justin pointed out. "*I* try to talk to them if I can, and K does, too."
"Yes. Fans are what we're in the business for."
Lois sighed at Clark. "It looks like we should talk to them then."
He nodded. "I agree, if it will up hold our doubles' reputations."
"But what should we say? And for how long do we have to say it?"
"We don't have to say much at all and it should only take a few minutes. The guides are trained to keep everything under control. Just smile and ask questions, the visitors will be thrilled that you—or who they think you are—are curious about them."
"They'll tell all their friends back home," Justin added, "and maybe they'll get more people to watch the show."
"It sounds like an interview situation," Lois said as they strolled in a line, shoulder to shoulder, toward the waiting vehicles. "I can do that."
The closer they got, the more palpable the excitement from the two loaded vehicles. Tourists started calling, "Hi, Dean! Hi, Teri! We love your show!"
K's recommendations worked like a charm. Over the seven minutes of the encounter, Clark said a total of 62 words, not including um!s and ah!s. He said things like "Thanks!" "Yes, it is!" "I'm not sure" and "Where are you from?" as well as "What do you do when you're not here?" When he wasn't paying attention to these interesting people, all of whom politely kept their seats, he was shaking hands and smiling. He was glad no one asked him to sign any autographs because he realized he had neglected to look at Cain's credit cards to see the man's signature and average it with the tiny one on the driver's license.
Lois, concentrating on the second of the two vehicles, kept her distance from the tourists and shook fewer hand, but she smiled and asked questions, making the fans happy.
K and Justin, the real stars, had fun with all this, too.
Soon the guides got K's attention and made hand motions; one, the little Black woman, pointed to her watch. Time was up. In a moment K announced, "Well, we have to go home and get ready for our Thanksgiving dinners! You all have a nice vacation now!"
The tourists made disappointed sounds that quickly turned to well wishes and waves as they rolled away. Many began squealing at each other again; some sighed as though they might faint; still others proposed to hijack the vehicles and turn back. "I saw him, I really saw him…!" Justin was certainly popular, Clark smiled. The young man had pegged it: these people were going to take home fond memories.
"Well," Lois said, "they never recognized *us*…"
"It's a good thing they didn't though," Clark told her. "They'd be disappointed."
"Ha!" Justin laughed.
"But they would be."
"They expect TV stars and they only got two real ones."
"Cut it out," K warned Justin with a smile. "Let's get going before one of these hungry nonTV stars," she glanced subtly at Lois, "starts chewing the scenery."
K's car was a nondescript, well-cared-for sedan. She opened the passenger door for Lois, who reached across to unlock the driver's side. Before she got in, K pointed at Justin, "We'll see you at Dean's place."
Cain owned a big black Ford Bronco that was securely locked and armed, but Justin circumvented all that and unlocked both doors. Clark got in behind the wheel and discovered how to adjust the seat but decided he didn't need to change anything. He belted himself in and then watched as Justin point out all the controls. Nothing unusual. The vehicle roared to life at his command. He backed out slowly, followed Justin's instructions and wound up driving in the direction opposite the one K and Lois had taken. "Mr. Whalin…"
"Heh, call me Justin! It's okay if I call you Clark, isn't it?"
"Yes. Why are we heading this way instead of following them?"
"Well, this way's almost as fast," the smiling young man claimed, "*and* you get to see more of studio. This place is historic. They've been making movies and TV shows here for years and years!"
"None of which I have seen. There's a Warner Brothers on my world, but it's a small, struggling business."
"Oh. Well…" his shoulders slumped. "I guess you're not really interested then. I'm sorry, I should have asked…"
Clark had no desire to put a wide distance between himself and Lois in a world where Superman couldn't just pop up and save her—though by gosh he'd pop if there was no choice.
But still he didn't feel that she was in any danger, and he was a little curious about this place, so maybe it was okay for him to take a brief look. "I am interested, I just didn't expect it" Clark told the young man as calmly as possible. "This may be good idea, we may find some clues."
Justin perked up again. "Yeah, you never know! A lot of strange things happen here if you don't know how to look behind the scenes. It takes more than x-ray vision sometimes."
They drove carefully through the busy, narrow streets between the sound stages and finally reached what looked like a real street. They were still on the lot, Justin explained, but this was an immense place and more than half a century old. He pointed out that they were driving through "the midwestern town" and "over there" were several streets worth of typical houses, some of which had real insides.
"We shoot Smallville right here, does it look familiar? The windows still have signs for the spring sale that was happening when the New Kryptonians took over. The fans point out things like that on the list. That house there is sometimes used as the Kents' farm house—see? They decorate it with bales of hay so it looks real. It does, doesn't it?"
No. Clark's parents kept their bales of hay under cover, out of the elements. He decided not to ask what "New Kryptonians" and "the list" were, fearing for a millisecond what he'd find out.
They drove through the twisting streets, avoiding more tourists (though Clark heard someone squeal about spying Justin). They saw a big-city brownstone neighborhood set and, through an opening they didn't take, a western set. "Clark, our Clark, nearly got hung in there," Justin said. "The gallows are still up. The fans love seeing that… and this building here is used for S.T.A.R. Labs and any other modern building, and they use it for ER, too, but it's really full of offices, and that building there's a parking structure…" Then he hit himself lightly on the forehead, "Of course! I forgot what the really fans like to see!" He had Clark make a U-turn at the first chance. The reason for this was… wait for it now…
Metropolis. The city had a population of between 15 and 20 million, depending on what demographer one consulted, but little of it was represented here. There were basically of four streets, five sides of which were lined with buildings while three sides delineated a patch of land standing in for Centennial Park. At the meeting point of two street was the outside of the Daily Planet and its dominating world globe.
At that intersection, Clark stopped the Bronco, put it in park, rested his arm on the window sill, took off the sunglasses, and simply looked out at the Planet, at the tailor shop across the way, the Daily Java to his left of the Planet's main entrance. Across from the Planet mock-up there was a theatre and the sign for a pizza parlor.
Only the DJ was in "right" place. Bits and pieces of this set did looked faintly like the streets he knew so well. Maybe it was all scrunched together due to lack of room and to make filming easier. With the right camera angles, Clark guessed, it could look like any place in the city probably… as long as one didn't look too closely, for none of the shop doors had door knobs.
It was somehow sad, impermanent, abandoned—no, never lived in when the real thing was teaming day and night with interesting people doing fascinating things. The real Daily Planet building took up the entire block, and it held court in the heart of downtown Metropolis, impervious to the taller, more modern buildings surrounding it. These facades were no more than three or four stories high, topped with lights and other movie-making equipment, and all supported behind the scenes by wooden beams reminiscent of telephone poles. Justin said that the building style lent flexibility to the structures in the occasional earthquake. There wasn't much room, so those behind-the-scenes areas were also used to store landscaping and building materials. Beyond all this, looking down the streets, which the cameras probably never did, one could see dry hills with typical low- desert, southern California plants and stubby trees.
The sight of people at work here—electricians, set dressers, laborers and the like—and the glimpse of the dry natural world beyond the confines of the lot told Clark more about the reality of this world than anything he'd seen yet.
I'm not in Metropolis anymore, he thought grimly.
"This is really something, huh?" Justin smiled, proud.
Clark pulled back in. "Yeah, something…"
"Sort of like home, huh?"
"Sort of." Clark considered putting the Bronco back in gear.
"But not enough…"
Clark looked at him. "No, not nearly enough."
Justin's shoulder's slumped. "Sorry…"
Clark realized he must have been sounding discouraged. Maybe he *was* discouraged… but even if there was reason to be, he knew that due to lack of practice he wasn't good at concealing it and could be inflicting the attitude on his new friend.
He tried again to lighten up. "Don't feel sorry. I'm sure our problem isn't due to anything you or K did. I appreciate your showing me all this, I've always been interested in how they make television shows." Under other circumstances he would have enjoyed getting out and exploring. "You work in a fascinating place."
Justin seemed to sense the truth of this. He smiled again, but less broadly, more understanding.
Clark looked ahead, realized he should put the vehicle in gear and *go* somewhere… but there were no familiar roads and only the feeling of Lois out there somewhere waiting for him. He looked at Justin again. "Would you still like to drive?"
Justin took over and didn't dally, getting them off of studio grounds in short order. They headed out what he explained was a lesser-used exit, waving at the guard, and they found themselves in a tree-filled neighborhood. The calm streets quickly lead to busy Olive Avenue, along which were some impressive modern buildings. Justin pointed, "The BBC has offices in that building… That's NBC over there, our show's on ABC…"
Clark was reminded of his own world's southern California, though this Burbank, north and west of Los Angeles proper and away from the cluster of modern buildings, impressed as having a small-town air. Even the major industry here, entertainment, was for the most part nonpolluting and confined, protected behind high walls so the public would be continually surprised by what was produced.
The normal world was represented by shops and strip malls, gasoline stations and fast-food restaurants, and, down side streets, ordinary, peaceful-looking neighborhoods, schools and churches. None of this was garishly colorful, which Clark decided was what Justin meant when the young man asked, "Does this look like the comics?" Clark replied, "I have no idea." His favorite cartoon strips, most of which the Planet ran, were two dimensional. This place frankly appeared to be a little boring and dry despite the puddles left from the rain. People lived here, doing things that people everywhere did and getting along with each other. There was nothing two dimensional about that. After being inside the one studio, the two cramped trailers, and touring the lot, all this was by contrast substantial and honest. Clark knew that any part of it he chose to touch would feel solid and be no less than what it represented.
"Look, it's them," Justin pointed. Half a block ahead K had pulled over to the side and parked in the shade. "I wondered if she'd wait for us to catch up."
Clark bet Lois had asked the woman to stop, concerned that he and Justin had been waylaid. It wouldn't be the first time for either he or Lois, but did such things happen in this world? Clark bet not. As congested as the traffic was around the studio, it didn't seem dangerous.
As they passed, Clark gave the women a smile and a thumbs up, both of which he realized that he actually did feel. The depression was lifting; maybe that was in part because they were enjoying in fresher air and the unabashed, strengthening sun was burning off the fog. Seeing Lois helped, too.
Cain's bungalow was hidden away on a quiet street on enough land, Justin reported, to give the man's dogs space to run and provide a hidden storage spot for the Bronco and Dean's Harley. "He and I watch big games together sometimes, so I know my way around here. At this time of morning though people won't be watching who's coming and going…" He pulled up into the drive, got out, unlocked the gate (he had a key for this, too), turned to see that Clark had slipped into the driver's seat, and so motioned him to ease the Bronco forward.
Clark looked back to see that K had pulled up across the street and parked there. He took off the sunglasses and saw that Lois had ducked down on the floor before the front passenger seat, hiding. Good idea. He turned his attention to Justin and followed him in. They put the vehicle away and Justin led him to Cain's back door.
"He keeps the dogs inside when he's not home. They'll probably bark at you, they're pretty good guard dogs, but they know me, so just, you know, just play it cool and…"
"Don't provoke them?"
He looked Clark up and down. "I was going to say don't let them bite you, they might hurt themselves."
"Animals and I generally get along okay."
"Yeah, I bet," Justin said, a touch of awe creeping back into his voice. "Even elephants and bears, huh?"
"Sometimes," Clark smiled, remembering for a moment how at the tender age of 23 he had traveled with that Russian circus for a month.
The three mixed-breed dogs came in three different sizes and they all came at once there in the kitchen. They all stopped a good six feet away, too, and none of them were fooled for a moment. They knew, as Clark had expected, that he was in no way their personal human being-type dad. That they were mongrels told him a lot about Cain; the man cared for the unwanted. They were happy to see Justin, though, and proceeded to bounce all over him and make him laugh, but while they didn't bounce on Clark, they didn't bark at him, either.
"That's odd," Justin said as they calmed down, "they usually don't like strangers and they'll at least growl at them until Dean introduces everyone."
Clark said, "I understand," and he knelt and held out his hand, palm down, to the dog who impressed him as being the eldest and probably the leader despite his smaller stature. The animal looked at him warily, then seemed to soften a bit, and walked up carefully to sniff the offered hand, doing no more.
Clark withdrew his hand and didn't press the animal, nodding at him instead. "I know how you feel, I'm confused, too…"
The dog sat down, sighed and looked dolefully at the truly strange stranger. The other two dogs shared the expression. They knew.
Justin said. "I didn't expect this…"
"Neither did they." Clark stood up. "Let's put out some more food for them and check their water, and maybe let them out for a little run before we go, hmm?"
"That's a good idea. I'll take care of it."
"And I'll look around quickly and get some extra clothing."
Cain's home reminded Clark of his old bachelor pad, except the furnishings were more expensive. It was decorated with odds and ends of furniture; quality stereo and other electronic and computer equipment; knickknacks, sports paraphernalia and trophies, framed certificates and diplomas; shelves full of books, magazines, scripts, and writing materials.
There were pictures of relatives. Among them: Cain hugging someone who was probably a brother; them both hugging a small blond woman (their mother?); the brother hugging a young blond woman (their sister?) who looked like the older blond woman; a man, maybe a stepfather for he didn't look like either brother, hugging both women. Perhaps Justin knew enough about these people to help smooth any interaction Clark might have them.
Finally on the walls were posters from "Lois and Clark, the New Adventures of…". Clark looked away for a moment; he wasn't sure he could get used to seeing that title, it was so… immense. He understood Cain's pride in displaying the proof of his show business success. To be starring in a popular television show was quite an accomplishment, though given the topic, Clark smiled ruefully, it was a natural for success. The decision to give Lois top billing insured triumph if nothing else did.
Despite the home being comfortable, though, it didn't feel quite lived in. This could be easily explained if the actor was as busy as the reporter was. He'd be even busier now in Metropolis, if that's where the poor fellow and his companion were.
I'll help you as soon as I know what to do, Clark silently promised the stranger whose life he was expropriating for the moment.
Cain had a nice variety of clothing. Clark went through it at speed, tried out and borrowed spare underwear, a quiet shirt, jacket, slacks and shoes. Something made him pause, look over the contents of the closet and dresser again, and add a black turtle- neck sweater and black socks that matched the slacks and shoes. He even found a black bandanna that the Cain might wear while riding his motorcycle.
Justin returned with the relieved but, upon encountering Clark again, still reserved dogs. Justin shrugged apologetically. "At least they don't *dis*like you…" He took over locking up the house and resetting the alarms, showing Clark how it was done, "Just in case."
Outside, Clark glanced around but did no one, paparazzi or villain, was watching them. He put the baseball cap and sunglasses back on anyway (Justin said they looked cool), and they went out to the street and K's car. He got in the back, behind Lois, leaned forward, and looked over the front seat at her way down there. He smiled. "I don't think you have to hide any more…"
She didn't retake the seat she had abandoned when they had pulled up until K put the car in gear again and they were in motion. As she buckled up, Lois asked, "I thought we'd lost you back there. Did you see anything? Any clues?"
Clark leaned forward again to be better heard. "Justin took me on a tour and showed me where they shoot outdoor scenes for movies, but I didn't see anything that I can honestly say was a clue. Nothing looked quite…" he glanced at Justin, "…real."
"It looks real on TV though," Justin explained. "You'll see. K, they can watch your tapes of the show, can't they?"
"Certainly, if they wish to."
"If we have time," Lois said. "Soup first."
K smiled and angled them expertly through traffic, on to a freeway and into the mid-morning rush. Clark sat back and tried not to watch, afraid he'd see a situation he would have to ignore, like an accident or even a stranded motorist. He couldn't as much as lift a finger to help unless it was clear that the world was about to come to a screeching halt and someone doing superfeats would go unnoticed in the panic.
Lois looked back at him and considered his countenance until he realized she was doing so. The woman could read him like a large-print book. She winked. "This is the vacation we haven't had time to enjoy," she whispered. K wasn't watching and Justin couldn't read lips for he said, "What?" but Lois just gave him an indulgent smile and turned to face forward again.
What about Tahiti?
The jaunt on the freeway was a short one. K pulled off and as the noise around them quieted to a reasonable level, she began to explain that she had lived in her neighborhood for quite a few years but was always in the process of, well, rebuilding her house. She had fun figuring out and using new tools and thought of herself almost a carpenter. She even knew something about welding, which she had learned for her role in the show's pilot, but that hadn't been filmed after all.
Interesting, Clark thought, and K grinned when he said, "My mom *can* weld!"
They pulled into the carport of a home that boasted an eclectic landscape style, private back yard, and several house cats that would probably stay just out of sight. Clark glanced through the walls, just in case, and saw both calm, regular- looking rooms and rooms in the process of being repainted, wallpapered, fitted with shelving or any of a number of other improvements.
The kitchen, the first room they entered, was spacious and filled with appliances that were in good repair and looked lovingly used.
"Wow…" Lois said. "I wish our kitchen looked like this." She glanced at Clark. "I might even *like* to cook if it did."
Clark nodded. "It does feel like mom's."
K winked at Justin. "These two certainly know the right things to say!"
Justin looked surprised. "Well, you *do* have a nice kitchen!"
"Then you'd like some soup, too, hmmm?"
Lois offered to help set the table, which gave her the opportunity to snoop around but more to hurried the process along. K said something about Teri loving to cook but Lois probably not having any time to do so. Lois said that was the truth; besides, Clark liked to cook so why not indulge him?
"Our Clark likes to… taste Lois's cooking," K smiled as she opened the refrigerator and pulled out a big container which she placed into her microwave oven. "I made this just last night…" Within ten minutes she was serving the soup and thick slices of heavy, whole-wheat bread she said she had purchased at a local bakery.
Lois dug in, her appetite healthy. Clark, on her right, was pleased to see that she was over her headache and maybe here, in this world, she wouldn't get another one. It certainly wasn't a good reason to stay, even for a vacation, but it would make solving the mystery a lot easier.
Since she was busy and it was time to get to work, Clark decided to go first. "I think we can conclude that there doesn't seem to be anything here in this world that's responsible for what happened to us. Ms. Hatcher and Mr. Cain were just unfortunate victims. It could have been anyone, but maybe something about them was enough like us, physically probably, that they became the targets of this… this switch, which I hope is all this is. I hope they're in our world and not somewhere else."
"Eww," Justin grimaced. "What if they went to somewhere with *dinosaurs* or *giant bugs* or…"
Lois stopped mid spoonful and stared at him.
"Or an island paradise with endless beaches and delicious natural food, or a giant mall world where people don't need money?" K speculated quickly. "They may not *want* to come back."
"I could use being on a nice little island in the South Pacific myself at the moment," Lois sighed… then added, "though it would be nice if you both were there, too, and everyone else we know who's played by someone TV…"
If they're on the *other* side of the island, Clark thought. "Agreed. For now, we need to get them back but we don't know enough to pinpoint any triggering event here, if there was one. That lighting problem on your set may be important, but I don't know how. K, I like your idea that Lois and I go over what we've been doing lately. Something in our world is probably the cause of what happened, maybe in tandem with some trigger here, and one of us may have gotten in its way."
Lois nodded as she took another spoonful of the thick soup.
"I travel around a lot," Clark continued, "so chances are it was me."
"Except for the travel part—but I don't need to travel, trouble comes looking for me, so it could have been me, too."
Clark refused to argue this: Lois might win by relentless force even without any facts at her command. "Let's just examine what we've been doing first," he advised her, then he looked at the other two. "Lois and I had a meeting with Perry scheduled for 10:30 this morning, and we… conferenced about it until almost 10:26."
Lois nodded again and reached for the bread, the tub of sweet butter and a butter knife. She paused. "Want some?"
"Yes, please. I suggest we go back as far as 24 hours before that. Whatever I encountered that caused this couldn't be any older than that. From 10 until about 10:15 yesterday morning, I had a chat with Bobby Bigmouth."
"Wow, we have one of him, too!"
"On the show," K clarified, touching Justin's arm to calm him. "I don't think either of us really know anyone who's a… criminal of the calibre you two meet daily."
"I'm glad about that. I was looking for leads on what the Mayor is up to. Some of her actions have been a little… unusual lately, so I wanted some background before I attended her news conference this morning. I didn't get anything, and this morning her conference was about the new school district rezoning in west Metropolis. I think she's feeling out the press before she challenges the city council about some bond issues."
"So she's not a criminal," K observed.
"No, probably not. I hope she isn't, anyway; I voted for her."
"Me-doo," Lois added around a bite of bread.
"Sounds boring though," Justin said.
"It *was* boring. A lot of a reporter's job is tedious, but the people have a right to know everything we can find."
Lois slipped in, "The prison riots weren't boring."
"True. We heard about them at almost 11 a.m. and covered them until the authorities—"
"Yes, until we all got them disarmed and under control, and you traipsed away from your interview with the ring leaders like a cat with canary feathers on her lips."
"Their story had to be told, too, and they needed a good mediator."
"They also had legitimate complaints and they were outgunned 20 to one."
"And no one was hurt."
"Least of all, you."
"'Least?' I was in *no* danger!"
"You were probably the only woman those men had seen in…" Clark paused when he noticed that K and Justin were watching them back and forth.
The two realized they had been caught and they smiled.
"*I* knew I'd be okay," Lois said, ignoring—or very well aware—of her audience, "and you did, too, because you weren't hovering over me all the time except that once."
"And then you asked me to get you a bagel and black coffee."
"But you didn't."
"You bet I didn't, I had better things, especially after I noticed that most of the rioters were holding each others hands… But after all that, you stayed late last night working on the story and were going to wrap it up this morning."
"Which I did, using your notes, which you couldn't work from because of the dam thing."
"Hoover Dam," Clark clarified. "Bomb threat. More than a threat, a bomb did go off and I had to rush there and keep things from collapsing. That took some time but turned out okay. It was a regular bomb made of C4 apparently, which is suspicious but the authorities can work that out, they just couldn't shore up the dam as quickly as I could."
"And there was nothing bad, no gas, no chemicals, no strange devices at the prison. Nothing to contaminate me—or you since you were in more places around that area than I was."
"True. On the way home from the dam, I detoured to help an ocean liner get back to port. It had been crippled by a fire and lost most of its power."
Lois pointed. "You carried it back."
"A whole *ocean liner*?" Justin asked.
Clark shrugged. "It was faster that towing it and it was only about fifty miles."
"Wait—Do they know what caused the fire? I didn't get to read your copy on that."
"Most likely faulty maintenance due to cost cutting."
"But was there anything about any of those things—the mayor, the riot, the dam, the ocean liner, any of that," K asked, "which could cause what happened to you two?"
Clark looked back over it all and was forced to admit, "Ah… no, not that I can think of. None of it was aimed at me— sometimes things are, I know that—but the bomb was intended to incriminate an environmental rights group, for example, even the authorities saw that, and the boat's problem was owners looking for short-term profit at the expense of safety. Nothing else big happened yesterday, and nothing small that I can think of that required me to do anything in my…" what would the two understand best? "Superman suit. We went out to dinner after I got back and then caught a late movie."
"Which you slept through most of."
"Yes, because it was boring"
"No, sometimes you don't understand *avant garde* films."
"I understand that sometimes 'avant garde' is French for Snore City."
"No, it isn't."
"We had free tickets anyway, I didn't *have* to stay awake."
"Okay, you two." K pointed at Clark. "You were *very* busy within the 24 hours before whatever happened happened, and it probably wore you out—listening to it almost wore *me* out."
Justin said, "You did a lot of hero things but no evil villain attacked you like happens on the show every week."
"Yeah. We meet the villain right off and they usually get the A plot going by attacking Superman or Lois or sometimes me, Jimmy, and the rest of the show is spent repairing the damage and catching the villain with Lois and Clark kissing on the side, though the fans wish there were more of that and less villains."
"I agree," Lois chirped.
"It often does take around 24 hours for our Lois and Clark to solve problems," K said. "Maybe you're right to pick that time frame."
"So since nothing out of the ordinary happened to you then, Clark," Lois summed, "and even though it was real life for us, villains and accidents usually do happen quickly to you, you usually know right away, it means that it probably happened to *me.*"
"No, not necessarily…"
"Yes necessarily, but it's okay, I can face it, I have a full stomach now." She patted her stomach with one hand and his hand with the other. "Don't worry."
"But I *do* worry."
"And you'd be right to—*if* we were under attack, but villains have been leaving us alone for ages, for *weeks* now, two or three at least! It's unusual but I like it. So to me that means it probably was an accident after all, and I can live with that if I was the one who caused it." She pointed at him as he opened his mouth. "Don't argue." She used her pointing finger to push his untouched plate of buttered bread toward him. "Eat."
K and Justin covered smiles. Clark gave up and sampled the bread. It was good.
"Okay." Lois continued. "At least half of *my* 24 hours was spent helping the rioters negotiate better living conditions. They aren't perfect people, but they *are* paying their debt to society and they shouldn't have to eat gruel and watch sitcoms, right?" She looked around the table and got unanimous nods. "I got back to the Planet by five and I worked on the story with Jimmy…" She glanced at Justin and smiled, "you do look like him… except he almost always has a camera around his neck these days. Aum… We worked on it for over two hours. You," she motioned at Clark but didn't look at him as not to distract him from his meal, "got back about then and filed the stories about the dam and the ocean liner, then you and I went out to eat and you took a little nap in the theater and a longer one at home overnight. I kicked you out of bed at about… seven, I think, we got ready for work, you drove us in, left the car with me and went on to cover the mayor while I finished the prison story—"
"Wait a minute, wait, you're skipping over important things— like your headache."
"Well, it was so brief…"
"But as intense as always, right? And the doctors can't explain it?"
"That's the medical profession for…" Her eyes widened and she sat back suddenly. "Ohmigosh!"
"Oh my gosh…"
He covered her nearer hand after taking the butter knife out of it. "Lois?"
"It does? Ah…" Clark looked pleadingly at K. "Do you have any… aspirin or something stronger maybe?"
Lois blinked and looked at him. "No, Clark, I mean *the* headaches, you're right, they *are* important." She looked at their friends. "I've been having these brief but intense headaches for a week now at the same time, about 7:30 every morning, and I think I finally figured out what's causing them! I just didn't get the chance to follow up on it because we're here now, darn…"
K asked, "Headaches for a whole week?"
"Yech!" Justin said.
"Every morning for the past week—*except* on Saturday and Sunday!"
"But we were trapped in that wine cellar overnight into Saturday morning, and you decided you wanted samples, so…"
"Being underground and doing a little wine tasting doesn't matter! Distance doesn't matter, either! On Friday morning, the day before, at the same time we were clear over on the west side of town breaking into that warehouse when S.T.A.R. Labs is on the *southeast* side of town, you see?"
"Ah…" He looked back over it. Five times. "No."
"But it's obvious! I had the headache and nearly set off the warehouse's alarm, remember?"
"Do I? And then you wouldn't go back to the car and rest."
"And leave you all alone?"
"Yes, I wound up finding the evidence myself anyway. And what does the distance from S.T.A.R. Labs…" It hit him. "You were there this morning."
"Yes! And every morning for the past week—*except* on the weekends—Clive Tisdell, one of Dr. Klein's junior assistants, has been testing the Vibro Whammy!"
Clark sat back. "Ohmigosh…"
"Exactly! Except they claim they've 'rehabilitated' it—ha! —and they're calling it the 'Storm Tamer' now but of course it's a miserable failure. Our tax dollars at work, let's mess with the weather at drive time…"
"But it hasn't been raining at drive time in the morning *or* the evening. Our normal summer storms have been gentle and refreshing. It's not improbable, the machine might not have anything to do with it, but it's nice not to have any flooding or lightning-caused fires or tornadoes in the county…"
"Well, *we've* had storms," Justin peeped.
Clark looked at him. "And storms aren't normal for here at this time of year?"
"Rain is, sometimes hard rain, but these storms are *scary*…"
K leaned forward, resting on her arms on the table. "They started about a week ago. The clouds became turbulent and that evening I had to drive home from the studio through rain. It did the same thing on Thursday but it was little worse and meaner looking. It calmed down Friday and was nice on Saturday, but Sunday afternoon it got bad again. We had more rain and more thunder and lightning. I stayed in rather than going out to a movie like I'd planned to. Every evening since then it's gotten worse, and the weather forecasters are stumped, but that's not unusual. The storms seem to start out of nowhere to the west, off the coast. With all the lightning, I'd worry about bad fires, except the rains have helped put out any that get started."
"There's got to be a connection!" Justin exclaimed. "The weather gets better in Metropolis but worse here!"
"It may be more than a coincidence," Clark agreed, "but I don't see any real connection for Lois and me. If she and I weren't here we'd certainly never know, and you wouldn't make any connection, you'd just keep suffering with the unusual weather until the machine breaks down, if it ever does."
"But there has to be a connection. I'm sure the Storm Tamer is causing my headaches—Dr. Klein confirmed they recalibrated the machine and started the latest series of tests just last Thursday—*a week ago*—and that's when my headaches started…" She paused, then frowned, "but your storms started on…? Wednesday night? Oh… then maybe there's a… a backward time lapse or something here…"
"Not necessarily," Clark said. "Today, here and now, if Mr. Cain's watch is right," he indicated his wrist, "it's Wednesday, November 27th, 1996. In Metropolis it's Thursday, August 15th, of the same year. Obviously our two time lines aren't running parallel anyway, so that doesn't rule out the machine somehow affecting weather here on different days."
"Wow," Justin sighed. "Like it's dumping your summer storms on us?"
Clark nodded. "Maybe. We just lack the connection that brings us into it."
"No, we don't, it's me, it really is me, *I'm* the connection."
"But *I'm* the one having the headaches, and I'm the only one, other than you, who the machine didn't affect like Herkimer Johnson thought it would. It keeps attacking me, I'm marked…" She seemed to shrink a little into her chair. "It hates me…"
"Lois…" He reached for her hand.
"Oh, what am I saying?" She frowned at herself and straightened up. "That's silly." She took his hand instead and squeezed it confidently. She looked at K. "Can I have some more soup, please?"
"Certainly, dear," and the woman rose immediately to get it, keeping half an eye on her reanimated young guest.
"Make it a *big* bowlful, please…" Clark asked.
Lois gave him an exasperated look but didn't contradict the request. "Oh, Clark, I know the machine can't hate me. Of course, I hate *it*… but it's just a *machine,* for gosh sakes! And I'm, well, I'm flesh and blood *and* I'm special, what can I say?"
"You *are* special, honey, but…" He paused to watch K set the steaming bowl of soup before Lois.
"Thanks, K. I'm sorry I got crazy there for a moment."
"Maybe you were right to get crazy, maybe in your world, machines can hate people…"
"No, no, they don't, not unless they're cars or standard kitchen appliances. Sometimes those things go ber*serk*…" But she smiled. "It is a little hard to really hate that machine, it *did* help me get my memory back. I was on the edge and it tipped me back over."
"You and I could have done it more gently," Clark said firmly. "Now they've changed it and they've tested it five times, at times that coincide with your headaches. I don't like the sound of that. Did you tell Dr. Klein about it?"
"I thought about it, but Tisdell knows more about the experiment, he's in charge of it. He wasn't in, so I made an appointment with him this afternoon. I figured he could fix things before the next test and I wouldn't have to worry about another headache, but now here I am, so…"
"Okay. Did you get a chance to check out the machine itself?"
"Check it out? Not quite, but I saw it, that's how I recognized it. I couldn't believe it was the same machine, but Dr. Klein confirmed it. I did… touch it, I…" Her eyes widened and she sat back again. "Ohmigosh…"
"Nothing! I mean, well, nothing *much*…"
"Well, it was strange, except… it wasn't, now that I know more…" She sat forward again and tested the bowl of soup's heat by daring herself to hold it, keeping her hands busy. "I touched one of the levers—*very* innocently, I didn't move it or *anything,* I just *touched* it, and suddenly I was in the newsroom! Except it *wasn't* the newsroom and I wasn't really there, I don't think I was, anyway, it was like an illusion. I was sitting at my desk, though it didn't look like my desk, and I was typing, except it looked like a fake keyboard. The screen had a cartoon pasted on it. We *don't* do that in the newsroom," she assured Justin and K. "We're in a *serious business.* Then I remember… there was something happening behind me and someone said 'Pssst!' and I turned around. *You*," she pointed at Clark, "were coming out of the elevator until voices from everywhere shouted 'deegum' or 'ghumdee' or something like that and you fell back into the elevator like you'd been hit by a sock full of cold spaghetti."
"That wasn't *me*."
"*I* was there," Justin burst out. "It was 'Gum, Dean!'"
Lois stared him. "Huh?"
"It was a joke on Dean. It was Teri's idea. He chews gum. It's a nervous habit. He likes to chew it right up to the last moment, sometimes he sort of ignores the time and cuts it close. Teri and the director arranged this joke on him today and sprung it on him and boy was he surprised! But I know he thought it was really funny, too, because he smiling after it."
Lois looked thoughtful. "Well, you were, no, he was wearing the clothes we… you… arrived here in, and I was only 'there' for a few seconds but *now* I know that it looked like the studio."
"The machine is the connection then, the mechanism," Clark frowned.
"It must still have the hots for you," Justin nodded then sat back and pretended someone else had suggested that.
"You touched it—like *I* would have done—and it transported you here briefly."
"And pulling my hand away brought me back—or I never left in the first place but my… mind did. Our whole bodies are here now somehow."
"And we both switched as we kissed."
"Wow…" K said. She glanced at Justin. "That 'wow' was for both of us."
"So maybe something contaminated me, built up in me, waiting for me to kiss someone…" She grimaced. "Think of who I *could* have wound up here with…!"
"No, it probably had to be me, and maybe just touching you would have been enough. The machine didn't affected me when Johnson used it, but it could have contaminated me, and I've been holding the charge. Maybe not a lot of it but enough. You get… contaminated by the machine by touching it, then the first time we get in close contact," he snapped his fingers, "the machine switches us by remote control somehow. We go to the same place that it's sending Metropolis's bad weather and maybe taking the good weather from. It has to balance things out somehow, so it takes your Mr. Cain and Ms. Hatcher."
"It 'has' to?"
"Well, no, but it has."
"But wait," K said. "Metropolis is standing in for New York, not Los Angeles, at least I think…"
"New York and Los Angeles are big cities, that might be enough, or…" Clark considered this quickly, using all he knew of meteorology, quantum physics, time warps, science fiction classics, and the fact that nothing ever "goes away," from trash to the weather. "…perhaps time doesn't matter to the machine. It just looked for a matching alternate universe to take some weather from and dump Metropolis's poor weather. It's been doing that for a week and along we come, contaminated, and we… match some profile it has. It trades us for our closest doubles here, Mr. Cain and Ms. Hatcher. Maybe we inadvertently opened a reverberating time door and the weather has… preceded us. Maybe the machine was forced to pick Los Angeles's weather and not New York's or any other place's to trade for Metropolis's weather…"
Both K and Justin blinked a collective "Huh?"
"Don't worry," Lois advised them with a smile. "A lot of what we get into doesn't always make sense until we've thought about for a while afterward."
"Sometimes it doesn't make any sense even then," Clark admitted. "Okay, I think we can say for now that the machine caused what happened. There are probably other factors, but…"
"But they don't matter," Lois sighed. She pushed her empty bowl forward, put her elbows on the table, rested her head in her hands, and looked glum. "The Vibro Whammy is in Metropolis and we're here in an entirely different world, in southern California of all places. If those actors *are* in Metropolis, it doesn't matter if they're brain surgeons, they have no clue about what happened. We're *all* stuck…" She folded her arms down on the table and put her forehead on her upper wrist. "I'm *not* an *actress* and I *refuse* to wear tight little clothes and too high heels any more!"
Clark had sudden visions of Lois choosing to do nude layouts rather than be stuffed into TV star clothing… He rolled mental eyes at himself, did an about face, and patted her on the back. "There, there, have some more soup."
She rose enough to give him a dirty look. "Clark…"
"We'll figure this out," he assured her, despite the nervous little worry that whispered a suggestion that *he* might be reduced to doing nude layouts if they were stuck here, for he couldn't act…
No, he told himself, he'd find and put to good use another supersuit before he tried acting. In the meantime, "Think of this as the vacation we haven't had time until now to enjoy."
Lois sighed, appeared to regain her composure, and she had some more buttered bread, claiming that she wasn't depressed about their prospects but thinking up a totally unexpected solution.
K and Justin clearly didn't know what to do to help, and Clark had a hard time watching Lois secretly mope, trying to it keep even from him. Help, Superman!
Finally he said, "We can't just sit here, we're used to solving our problems. Maybe there *is* a solution somewhere in this city. Let's visit Ms. Hatcher's home and get Lois some more clothing and then take a drive around. We can sightsee." He looked at K, "If you don't mind…"
"Not at all. I enjoy showing out-of-towners around, and you're from *way* out of town…"
Donning their disguises again, they headed for Teri Hatcher's home, Lois and Clark in the back seat this time. Just as Justin knew how to enter Cain's home, K knew about Hatcher's, and Clark and Justin entered along with them to help.
Hatcher's clean, tidy home was larger than Cain's. She had more pets and a beautiful garden as well. Lois marveled politely at how the busy woman kept everything going and had, according to K, single-handedly refinished the bathroom while at the same time working on a movie. Justin and Clark helped take care of the friendly pets, then headed for the living room, where Clark looked over Hatcher's library. No clues here. He did find several scrap books and in them came across some of the fashion layouts the actress had done. Justin told him that the pictures had appeared in famous magazines and he marveled at outtake shots that hadn't been published but given to the actress anyhow.
To Clark's great relief, while some of the pictures left little to the imagination, in none of them did the woman appear in the all-together. Justin disrupted this thought by pointing out that in the her video move collection was a copy of "Heaven's Prisoners," in which she had a nude scene, but apparently it was integral to the character and not gratuitous. She wasn't the star of the film but her name was recognized and she had done lot of promotion. She worked hard, he said, and her efforts had paid off. Clark closed the scrap book, told himself to smile and commented favorably about Hatcher being so industrious. He also declined Justin's offer to cue up the scene.
K and Lois picked out clothing that Lois could use, most of it for relaxing but one nice outfit in case for any reason they decided to go out on the town. Clark couldn't imagine them doing that, but it was good to be prepared. If Lois insisted that they do so in the pursuit of a clue, he could fly at near invisible speed to Cain's home and choose something appropriate.
When the women joined them in the living room, K pointed out the scrap books and Lois sat down immediately to flip through them.
She was shocked at some of the pictures… "Did you see these?" She demanded of her husband. "She better hope I don't have to play her for very long—*I'm* not going to do this!… But she does seem to be famous… and these ones with Dean… he does look like you, except when he combs his hair that way and wears that kind of clothing… He's not bad looking… And there's her husband…"
K sat down beside her and they went through the scrap book, K explaining things differently than Justin had. Relieved by what he was hearing her say and somewhat embarrassed about what he had been thinking, Clark realized that Lois might catch his expression and read it as other than he intended. To avoid this, he excused himself and went out to visit the garden.
At just past three, the quartet assured themselves that the animals were happy and the garden was in good shape, they closed up the home again and headed away to see some of the highlights of the Los Angeles area. The traffic was deemed "light," and K and Justin speculated this due to the impending holiday. Lois and Clark were nonetheless reminded of typical heavy traffic in Metropolis.
They struggled down three blocks of Hollywood Boulevard, rolled through Beverly Hills, angled past the La Brea Tar Pits (the scent of oil heavy in the still, humid air), headed east through neighborhoods perched on hillsides, and twisted around to the top of a mountain in Griffith Park, finding the Observatory. There were few tourists here because clouds were moving in and a storm threatened. They took time to get out of the car, stretch their legs and glimpse the immensity of the city from this viewpoint. They even caught sight of the big, white "Hollywood" sign. This wilderness in the midst of the city amazed Lois, but Clark noted that the only wild animals were a few common birds and one squirrel industriously stuffing squares of paper towel into its hole. Half way back down the mountain they saw a bird sanctuary, but its non-native plants were artificially watered. Pretty but at the same time straining credulity. The rain arrived with a sprinkle as they passed a covered merry-go-round in the process of being restored. Lois said that if they stayed here much longer, she wanted to ride it.
They made it back to K's home by 5, just as the storm broke. Justin braved the lightning to call home and inform his mother where he was and that he was safe. K watched the storm from one of her picture windows, worried. She explained that she had a session scheduled on "America Online" to talk about the progress of her latest book and about the show. It was supposed to start at six but she wouldn't even turn on her computer if the weather didn't calm down. She'd call and talk to someone named Amy by phone if the storm kept up that long.
Watching it didn't help anything, she declared. She turned away and proceeded to give Lois and Clark a tour of her house. They had seen part of it already (the kitchen and the nearer bathroom mostly), but now they saw everything, ending up in the guest bedroom. K said she usually used it for a den and an entertainment room. There were a TV and VCR here, and half a wall of video tapes and a shelf full of scripts that included those for Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of…
It also had a queen-size bed, which Lois sat down on to try out. She bounced a little. "This is comfortable! This is so nice of you, K!"
"I'm sure you'd do the same for me."
"Consider yourself invited!" She looked at Clark though. "We *must* get that other bathroom installed!"
Hey, he'd been bugging her about it, hadn't he? It was hard to give parties when they had to ask everyone use the one upstairs.
K smiled, but didn't offer her carpentry skills. "Now, is it my imagination or haven't we had any lightning in the last five minutes?"
"Almost ten," Clark said, "And I think the pressure's rising, too." Naturally, they heard thunder at that moment, but he shook his head, "No, that distant. The storm is either moving inland or blowing itself out."
"It's certainly shorter than the last few then. I wonder if it says anything about the tests of the machine…"
"Maybe this storm was due to this morning's test… or tomorrow's if it bounces back…" Lois looked at Clark but he could only shrug.
"*Maybe* it blew a fuse," Justin said. "And couldn't dump as much as it wanted to on us."
"No, it can't," Lois told him. "It has work just right until we get back. *Then* I will personally take a sledge hammer to it."
"You'll need your strength for that," K said. "I'll fix some snacks. I don't feel like making a heavy dinner since that's what I'll be doing tomorrow. If you're here, you can join me, but maybe you'd like to watch some tapes now?"
"Oh, yeah!" Justin smiled. "I think you should watch the pilot. *Every*one liked it, even me, even though I wasn't in it. You can see if it's like what really happened."
Lois and Clark agreed to this and K let Justin figure out how to set things up. She then made sandwiches, brought them in and stayed to watch for the first half hour as the rain slowly eased. She gave them some background information about what went into making the pilot and how the actors had been chosen. At about 5:50, she quietly informed them that she had decided it was safe to go on line after all and she crept away.
Lois and Clark watched the rest of the pilot of the show based on their lives and were pleasantly surprised at how close to the truth it was. There were a lot of things missing, of course, but that was an inherent limitation of the media. The story hit the high points, from one of "Lois"'s hobbies being curling up with ice cream to "Clark" saving her and that version of "Jimmy" from the burning hanger.
It was spooky watching all this… but somehow satisfying, too. The production team had done a good job, while the actors were… credible. Clark thought Cain was a little wooden, but Lois said that worked in a "Clark" searching for a place to settle down and begin a life-long adult job. The poor man was uncertain and the isolated feelings Cain projected into the character worked for her. "Besides, you were *such* a neophyte…!"
"Compared to you, the know-it-all veteran…"
"Almost burned out…"
"Couldn't tie his shoes…"
"Couldn't get a date…"
"Are you two really friends?"
She bored a finger into one of Clark's more ticklish spots.
He grabbed her and tossed her up into the air.
She shrieked. He caught her like the rose he swore she was and indulged in the kiss she granted him.
K rushed in, came to a screeching halt and frowned, hands on hips. "Children!"
"Hmm?" Lois and Clark said together.
Justin explained: "They were just showing me what good friends they've become since the pilot."
"Well, calm down, I'm on the IRC now and it requires more of my attention since it's not moderated."
"IRC?" Lois blinked. She pushed away from and looked at Clark, questions—no, suspicions—no, *hope* in her brown eyes. "I've got a wild thought, maybe too wild…" She gripped his shirt. "Don't look at me like that, Clark, not all of my thoughts are wild!"
"No, they're not, but…"
"I'm not getting my hopes up or being unrealistic. Humor me. I humored you about telling them."
"You did? Was I present for that?"
"Yes! Listen, there *might* be a connection—and don't you want to look, too?"
*K Callan's Home
In Some Suburb of Some Alternative Los Angeles
Day One, Evening
K explained that she usually kept her desktop machine in the den, but had recently moved it to the sunroom which, despite its name, wasn't getting much sun this time of year but it did give her an inspirational view of garden and she enjoyed listening to the birds.
Now Lois and Clark watched a typical IRC session scrolling by on her 15-inch screen. She said she had signed off AOL and was using her more reliable local provider. Lois said that she and Clark used one, too, and their software looked similar. Their two worlds even shared the idea of nicknames, nicknames like…
"Look!" she pointed at the screen, "It's 'Zoomway'! *That's* a name you can't forget!"
Clark nodded. "And Teragram and Uni were on this morning, too."
K frowned at the screen and turned a confused look at Lois. "People use these nicks in Metropolis, too?"
Justin shook his head. "Nah, there can only be *one* Zoomway."
"Well…" Lois frowned in thought. "It's the strangest thing. Jimmy gave me a program he found called 'lois.exe,' which is an odd name to say the least. He thought it was a communications program, but he hadn't tried it. It was clean because I checked it; I don't put just anything on my system. But my curiosity got the better of me this morning, sometimes it does." She shot a warning glance at Clark, who wisely immediately looked at some far corner of the room. "The program self extracted, found my internal modem and turned it on and dialed a local number—it didn't say what one."
"555-4321," Clark said. "It played some jazzy music to cover the dial tone, I think, but I caught it anyhow."
"They didn't figure on you listening in. It got right through and suddenly we were in the middle of a Windows IRC session—"
"You have Windows in Metropolis?" Jimmy asked.
"Certainly!" She looked at Clark. He knew just a little bit more about some programs than she did.
"Her system has Win2000, or WinMet, or Windows Metropolis 2000," Clark explained. "We looked into it for a story just before it was announced last year, and it turns out that the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce paid a lot of money to put Metropolis's name on an operating system that just has more bells and whistles than Win3.5, which I personally prefer because it doesn't crash as much and it recognizes all my peripherals and doesn't sulk if it doesn't find what it likes as opposed to what I want."
That tired old argument again? "Well, my system came with it already installed and *I* like it." But before she could think of a more stinging retort, Lois noticed that K and Justin were watching them back and forth again, as though she were playing pingpong with Clark. They were wide eyed and paying close attention. Why did the two *do* that? It was distracting.
"*Anyway,*" she decided to continue because she really had no desire to humiliate Clark in front of their new friends even if she could have thought of a way to do so, "it was a Windows session and it had a status bar on the top that said we were in the… what was it… Locally Accessed…" She glanced just at touch at Clark.
"'Locally Originating InterStellar Communications Link Access.'"
"Yeah, that, it was right on the tip of my tongue."
Justin worked it out. "L-O-I-C-L-E…"
"Not 'excess,' 'Access,' A, and InterStellar was two linked words."
"Oh, I knew that."
"L-O-I-S-C-L-A…" K raised her eyebrows. "That's interesting… Oh." She had to pause and answer a question that was addressed to her in the group she had joined.
Lois spotted her nick. "You don't look like a Danny."
"I do when I'm knee deep in wood chips or putting up wallpaper…"
"Let me get this straight," Justin said, "Are you saying that the program named after you could log into the Lois and Clark channel on *our* IRC? On the Undernet yet?"
Clark straightened up. "It's beginning to look like that. It is strange…"
"But surely not in your…" K paused. "I mean, stranger things seem to happen where you come from than they do here. Strange things are just *dreamed up* here…"
Her computer beeped. The window she was in minimized slightly and below it flickered an icon.
Lois asked, "What's that mean? Who's ILuvCK—wait, don't tell me…"
"I don't know who it is, but they want to private chat."
"Oh, I don't do that."
"You lurk too much," Clark reminded her.
"I use a genderfree nickname and hide my real name. It's also how I find out things." Besides, if she wanted to talk to just anybody she'd use a nick like Lola or Desperate.
"Well, I'm not taking that one." K clicked once on the box and told the resulting pop-up menu to close. Someone else, MetroDuo, tried a different method to achieve a chat session, and she simply clicked on the "refuse" button.
"But they recognize your name?"
"Yes, some do. I get on IRC every now and then. Generally everyone's quite nice. Teri and Dean get on, too, but they're mobbed unless they hide their names. If fans got used to them, saw them as real people, I don't think they'd have so much trouble".
"I've been on a few times, too," Justin smiled. "I hide out *really* well, though, so *no* one's ever suspected."
"Oh, there's a clever one, Talk2meK." Lois shook her head. "Who do you usually talk to?"
"Zoomway, Demi, a couple of others." Another DCC request interrupted her. "Hmm, the kids are a little restless, but I don't blame them. They get three new episodes in a row, then nothing this weekend. I understand that they're antsy, but they should really identify themselves better, in the main channel, if they expect me to talk privately to them." She clicked on the refuse option for this one, too. "They mean well and they love the show and I love saying hi, but I simply can't talk to everyone. I'd rather stay on the channel and talk in the whole group, it's more fun."
<CatG> I suppose we should give equal time for MATHs
<kena> that guy in MAY was somthn else
<Kathy-B> LOL, Zoom. Did you notice that Clark didn't ask Lois what she did while he was away. ???
"They're talking about your show, obviously, except what's a MATH?"
"Men Admiring Teri Hatcher," Justin smiled. "I've used that myself a few times."
"Well, it is…"
What am I worried about? Lois wondered. She winked at Justin, hoping that told him she was just kidding. He smiled, accepting that.
<Ultragrl> Kena: my thoughts exactly :P
<Fidler> Cat, ;) Hi, K!
<zoomway> but despite that they won't have a new episode until after Thanksgiving :P~~~~
<Teragram> LCWS allert!
"Lois and Clark Withdrawal Symptoms."
"Syndrome, wasn't it?"
"Well, it could be, depending on how many weeks and reruns…" K smiled and keyed in quickly:
> you all ae strong
> ae = are
> You'll survive.
<Cheequi> Chocolate sustains all.
*MetroDuo wonder if Lois and Clark like Burbank?
<Kal-eL> eeewww… Dan kissed me?!?!?!?! Where's the rabies shots!
* Jei-El hands karl a coottie shot ;)
<Fishstic> hi uni, I'm lagged :(
"Reruns?" Lois asked.
"We only film 22 episodes," Justin explained, "but there are 52 weeks, so there are reruns and specials, and no new shows at all in the summer."
"The special effects must take some time," Clark guessed.
"Yeah, they do, and we have good ones, too."
K had frowned and leaned closer to the screen. "What was *that*?"
Lois saw that the screen was scrolling madly, apparently in reaction to what "Danny" had said.
Concentrating on the channel again, K moused over to grab the edge of the screen and scroll the conversation back. When she reached her destination, she used her mouse to point out the line. "There, that."
Clark read it aloud this time, though Lois was sure he'd memorized everything he had seen. "'MetroDuo wonder if Lois and Clark like Burbank'… Ohmigosh…"
Lois was struck at last by what this could mean. She grabbed his arm and squeezed, hard, which she knew he could take. "They *did* find our house!—And my computer!—*And* that program! They even figured out how it works! They *are* smart!"
Justin raised his eyebrows. "Of course they are! You left your computer on?"
"And this *can't* be a trap," she exclaimed, aiming this at Clark because he looked shocked, even doubtful and here *she* was usually the suspicious one. "There's no noxious gas coming out of the… the A drive there, no strange unearthly noises, no men dressed in military fatigues attacking this house…"
"I certainly *hope* not!" But K smiled. "Let me whois them," She slightly minimized her active window and clicked on the edge of her status window. "It's faster going this way." She keyed in
After a few long moments came the reply:
MetroDuo ~test@LocOrISComLinAcc.Metropolis.nt.us * MetroDuo
MetroDuo Metropolis.nt.us.universalnet.edu [101.010.101.01]
Universal Online Services/"Over The Rainbow"
MetroDuo End of /WHOIS list.
"I've never seen anything quite like that," K admitted.
None of them had. "Can *we* message *them*?" Lois asked.
"Sure—no, they've beat us to it," she nodded at the second DCC request from the mysterious nick, clicked on "accept" this time, and was informed that a chat was being initiated. Time passed.
Session Start: Wed Nov 27 19:29:46 1996
DCC Chat session
Client: MetroDuo (000.0.00.00)
Acknowledging chat request…
DCC Chat connection established
K thought a moment and, taking the first shot, typed:
> Hi! Interesting question, who wants to know?
In a moment, the reply:
<MetroDuo> Hi K:) Teri and Dean.
Lois caught her breath and gripped Clark's arm again. "See? See?"
"I see, I just think we should be a little cautious."
"But this *can't* be a coincidence," Justin claimed. "That looks *just* like how Teri types, I think…"
"I agree," K nodded, "about the coincidence, anyhow, but still…" she typed:
> Teri and Dean who?
There was a painfully long pause that Lois thought Clark probably would have clocked at a matter of seconds.
"More than 60 seconds," he muttered… Then, maybe 5 seconds later, they read.
<MetroDuo> The refugees from the Pasta Pirate. Did you escape Vincent's clutches again, in the lab this morning?
"Well, I guess paparazzi *could* know that," Justin pointed out. "Even somebody on the list could know that, darn it…"
K said, "You're right, though list members are more careful, but I've had a few jokers try to fool me this way in the past, so…" She typed,
> Yes, but anyone could know that.
"Still, they might be just innocent kids…" so she added:
> Give me something else.
"Either we're dealing with hunt-and-peck typists," Lois growled, "or the universe is *really* lagged…"
"It's only been twenty… 8 seconds," Clark told her calmly.
She punched his shoulder.
Justin raised his eyebrows.
Clark didn't notice either thing, naturally, but kept his eyes on the screen.
Some time later:
<MetroDuo> Martha wants to know if Lois is still getting her early morning headaches.
Clark's eyes widened a little. "*Mom*'s there!" he whispered, his voice coming *this* close to cracking with delighted surprise.
Lois didn't wonder about this. His hesitation, his belief that this could be a good thing, must have unconsciously hinged on his mother's presence "over there." It *was* startling, except, "Well, she was due in—and they didn't know they had to pick her up. I bet she took a cab, waltzed right into the house, realized right away they weren't us, and she slapped them around."
This was working, distracting him out of his cautionary mood. "It probably wouldn't take much to force the truth out of them."
"Mom is sneaky but never violent."
He couldn't really think she believed otherwise, could he? "I'm just joking."
She smiled; yes, he probably did know that now.
K said, "Well, how do you want me to answer this? Do you think it's them?"
Clark nodded and said calmly. "It's them. I thought so all along."
Lois punched him again.
This time he grinned.
> Not now she isnt:)
> Is it really you?
<MetroDuo> Yes:) I guess we're not in Kansas any more:p
K looked back at Lois and Clark. "I think one of you should take over from here."
"Me!" Lois said, and she took the back of the chair to help K out of it.
But Clark took Lois gently in turn, by her shoulders, and eased her away from the chair. "You can't type, you have to rest your knuckles. You've already punched me twice in the last five minutes."
"Wait a minute…"
"And I'm bigger than you."
"That's not fair…"
"Too bad, eat and exercise more, and get plenty of sleep." He made himself at home and continued with a straight face, "It made me the man I am today." He typed:
> Neither are we
Time marched on.
<MetroDuo> Are Lois and Clark there? Martha's anxious.
"I wonder who's typing for them? Can't they type any faster?"
"They're writers," Justin informed him. "Of course they can type, and fast, too."
> We're right here, and we're fine :) This si Clark
Lois clapped her hands and said triumphantly, "Ah-ha! I *told* you!"
> is Clark. Worn out after taking a tour of the set and LA. Fascinating :| .
After a long pause:
<MetroDuo> Did they offer you a job? Don't tell them you cn fly or you won't get hazrdus duty pay.
"That's gotta be Dean."
> Dont worry, you can keep your job.
> We have a biggr problem than that
There was another long pause, then a reply.
<MetroDuo> Other than Supermn cant type?
Another pause; Lois could imagine someone who looked like Clark laughing his head off. He must have fallen right off the chair.
<MetroDuo> Our problem is, how do we get back?
"Now that's gotta be Teri," Justin said. "She gets right to the point."
"*I* should tell them how," Lois said, gripping Clark's log- like shoulder.
"We don't know how, just what, and I can type faster. But I won't send anything unless you agree with it."
That was the best argument he could have made. She dictated and he typed up a summary of what they had worked out at the lunch table. On a hunch Clark asked them what time it was and they were astounded to see that it was only 2:43 in the afternoon in Metropolis. This seemed to confirm a time warp between universal planes. Clark speculated a two hours local time to one hour Metropolis time distortion, but there was no telling if that would hold constant. There was, Lois thought, no telling what that meant, either.
But she didn't care. "That gives them time to keep my appointment with Tisdell!"
"I don't know. What I mean is, for every minute of time here—"
"I *know* what you mean and it doesn't matter—it can't, we *have* to try!"
Clark acquiesced without further comment and keyed in what Lois said, correcting her English and turning commands into requests, but making up for that by not committing a single typo. She ordered them to call Dr. Tisdell, S.T.A.R. Labs' number was in the Rolodex on the right side of her desk (they could surely see it right there; he agreed but didn't type that). They should reconfirm appointment; dress nicely but not provocatively; take a cab to S.T.A.R. Labs, that was probably best; listen to Tisdell, scientists love that; then distract him, get the man out of the room. Touch the closer of the two red levers on the left of the Storm Tamer, aka Vibro Whammy, and see what happens. "That could be the key. If they're *ready,* it will probably work smoothly. She better be wearing proper clothes."
"I'm sure she will be wearing… nice clothes," Clark muttered, then he smiled (at something secret by the looks of it) and added on the screen
> you may have to be kissing each other while you touch that lever
A long pause. The lag was terrible… and terrifying as well. What if the instructions weren't getting through?
<MetroDuo> Hahahaha. We'll see.
<MetroDuo> Martha will stay here and keep in touch.
<MetroDuo> If it doesn't work, we'll think of somthing else
A pause. Clark started to type "Sounds good" but MetroDuo continued:
<MetroDuo> *You* two kiss and keep it up.
"That's Dean again," Justin grinned.
> Sounds good. Thanks for advice. Now, go!
Clark sat back and pursed his lips at the screen. Lois saw that he still wasn't sure about all this. He must have been tired to be this pessimistic, even with his mother on the other side cheering things on. She squeezed his shoulder. "It will be okay."
"I don't know. We just sent them into what could be a dangerous situation. They have to travel through Metropolis, get past S.T.A.R. Labs security and then deal with an unstable piece of equipment…"
"But they're adventurous," K said gently. "One doesn't survive in this business if without a little bit of courage."
A long pause:
<MetroDuo> Martha here, I'll stay on line if you can, too.
"I don't see why not," K smiled. "I'm not expecting any calls, and I have an unlimited-time account."
> Okay, Mom, we'll be here waiting for them to succeed.
After a minute and then two without a reply from his mother, Clark relinquished his seat so K could sit down and figure out what had happened. Finally she sighed. "I'm not getting anything. I think I've been kicked off somehow. That usually only happens on AOL, and that's because they're so busy."
Clark frowned. "But I didn't touch anything."
"I know. This is usually due to the system being so complicated."
"You could have been netsplit," Justin suggested. "Undernet itself has been lagging lately."
"And since it looks like we're dealing with an unusual piece of software on the Metropolis side and, oh, strange forces beyond our understanding in between… I'll get us back on, don't worry…"
As K closed old windows and opened new ones, Lois slipped her arms around Clark from the back and whispered up into his ear, "We're almost home…" She had, she realized, thought *she* would miss Metropolis, but here she was, estranged from her entire life and her wacky family and hardly thinking of them. Her lover, on the other hand, had just got a glimpse of his beloved mother's typing and was no doubt reminiscing about his wonderful childhood. "We'll see her again soon."
"Yeah, they'll be okay. It's not rush-hour time in Metropolis yet, and S.T.A.R. Labs isn't *that* dangerous."
Lois hugged him again. "That's the spirit!"
"It's too bad you only got to see the pilot," Justin sighed. "If you'd had time, I'd like you to see one of the episodes Dean wrote. VD would be the best one because its plot is sort of like what's happening now, with alternate worlds, and I, well, Jimmy gets to be a computer nerd and all that…"
"Virtually Destroyed. We use a lot of acronyms."
"I think they still have time," K said as she waited for her program to do get her back in. "It will take time for Dean and Teri to get to that machine and arrange to be alone with it, so unless you want to stand here watching me not making much headway, you might as well watch that episode. Justin, maybe you should call your mother and make some arrangement to get home."
Justin agreed, first setting Lois and Clark up with the episode. As he did this, he gave them a quick rundown of how the relationship of the show's version of them had evolved up to this point, some two-and-a-half years later. "They had some rough times, but now it's great!"
As the Lois and Clark settled down to watch, sitting back against on pillows on the bed again, Justin slipped away to the living room to use K's cellular phone to call home and assure his mother he'd probably be in before midnight. "I'd like to be here to see you go, you know?" he explained to his friends when he returned. "In case you go before then, however you go, if you just switch bodies again or something."
Lois smiled at him, said "That would be nice," and motioned for him to take the comfortable chair he'd enjoyed while they had all watched the pilot. Then, using the remote, she signaled the VCR to do its thing.
Dean Cain's episode was startlingly different from the pilot. The pacing was faster, but there were only some 45 minutes to work with. The actors looked different; both wore shorter hair styles, but also both acted more at ease with each other, reflecting a more compassion-filled relationship. Justin's Jimmy was a confident, competent actor.
But there the similarities ended. The story did not reflect anything that either Lois or Clark had actually experienced. There was nothing inherently wrong with this; it could make things more interesting. Both were intrigued by the villain with the unusual name. They were surprised that the show's Clark was, like the real one, a virgin before marriage. Lois saw Justin sneak a glance at Clark at this point. He saw Clark take her hand and squeezed it. She grinned; she'd certainly fixed *that* little roadblock. Next, Lois felt warm and cuddly when the on-screen duo fell into mad passion on the bed in an attempt to distract the villain if not also test Clark's "patience" to the limit… but Lois was admittedly disappointed when the passion went nowhere.
K chose this point to signal to Lois to pause the tape. "I was able to get back in and I got in touch with Martha again. Dean and Teri haven't left yet. It didn't seem to notice I was gone when it took almost half an hour for me to get back in and find her. Since I can't understand the… time distortion, I warned her that our connection might not be very stable. I'll keep chatting with her—she's very interesting—and I'll let you know if anything happens."
"That's all you can do," Clark agreed. "And we appreciate it. Don't be surprised if her answers get even slower though. I have the funny feeling that we're running faster than they are."
"I'm used to lags—I'm an actress, we have to wait a lot, and, frankly, I'm not surprised by very much at the moment, considering…" she indicated her guests and the miracle of their being here. She turned away but turned back. "You know, I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact… if you can call it that, that we here in this world think of that one as imaginary. We… portray the highlights of what happens there, while here we live with a tremendous amount of detail."
"Yeah," Justin said. "And for the show, the writers try to tie up all the loose ends by the end of the episode. What could happen in days in the story actually only happens in 45 minutes, unless it's a two-parter."
K nodded. "Maybe that compresses time for them."
Lois felt her eyes glazing. Time felt just fine to her, in Metropolis and here. "*I've* never noticed any compressed time," she said, "not that it matters. If we get to meet them, we can ask if they notice anything. Let's keep watching this." Maybe the two actors would fall into bed again!
The villain was eventually trounced through clever thinking by Jimmy as a computer expert ("I didn't used to be," Justin told them, "but everyone decided it would be a good idea since Jimmy doesn't seem to take many pictures anymore"). Superman, who, despite being powerless, did the physical work in tackling the virtual world and turning its terms into ones he could control. He rescued Lois from X, and she rescuing them with some fast thinking, and all turned out well in the end.
Lois decided it was no use to point out that *she* was rarely victimized like that, and a faked Clark even in a virtual world would never have fooled her for a second. No, she approached danger with care and consideration; she planned things. Most times. She had a plan now, one based on knowing the real Clark Kent so well. She stretched and yawned. "Oh, I'm more tired than I thought…"
"Maybe you'd like to rest. After this morning…"
"Yeah…" She closed her eyes for a moment, resting against him, but then sat up slowly. "No, there're things to do. Let's go see how K's doing first. I'd rather sleep in my own bed if we can."
K was exasperated. "It's been almost 15 minutes since I typed that," she pointed. It was a sentence describing one of her daughter's activities. "I'm still on line, I'm sure of it. I've changed my nick and I'm lurking here and there so I don't get kicked off for inactivity. I don't know if she's still on, though, but look up there…" earlier in the sequence of messages on the DCC screen. "They *still* hadn't left. They were picking out appropriate reporter-style clothing and trying to decide how to approach that scientist."
"Well, that's good," Lois said. "They're making a plan, they're not just rushing into it."
"With the time warping," Clark frowned, "even if they're right on time, their time, we could still be here tomorrow morning."
Justin blinked. "Tomorrow?"
K looked up at him. "You can stretch out on the couch if you want."
The young man turned, looked through the entry way and saw the living room couch. "Maybe, except I told my mom I'd take a cab home and try to be in by midnight. If it hasn't happened by then… Maybe you could videotape it…?"
"If it happens suddenly, I wouldn't be able to catch it."
"Whatever happens," Clark continued, "maybe your friends will alert my mother, and she can warn us… except the time lag would make that impossible…"
"I should have told them to…" Lois yawned again, "…take my cell phone… Well, I'm so sleepy, I'll probably sleep through the whole thing anyhow."
"Maybe you should take a nap, honey."
"I can let you two know as soon as I get any news from Martha or anywhere else. Go on now, *both* of you…"
She shooed them away, back into the guest bedroom.
Clark walked ahead and began to turn down the bed, doing a typical good job of it. "I'm glad you agreed to nap. This morning and that headache… I'll admit it, it frightened me to see you in pain and I couldn't do a thing to help. Then all that you went through there at the lab, and *then* this mess we're in now— which certainly isn't *your* fault. No wonder you're tired. *I'm* tired, too…"
For a few moments Lois watched him make the bed into a comfortable nest, then realized she couldn't put him through all that work under false pretenses. She walked up behind him. "Clark…" The world could turn upside down and the little mother hen in him would shine through regardless.
"Just lie down here and I'll turn off the lights and stay with you."
She began to massage his broad back. "I'm not that sleepy."
"Lois, really." He turned and gave her a knowing look. "It's all right, you can be sleepy, you've already admitted you are."
Knowing looks didn't mean a thing when the person employing them didn't know what he thought he knew. "But I'm not…" She ran her hands over his chest now, and, as hoped, he slipped his arms around her protectively. "I *am* on edge." She took a firm grip on his T-shirt. "I'm tense. Look at our situation. Our entire future rests on the slim shoulders of those two…" She let him go and turned away from him so she could wave her right arm toward the infinite universe "*actors* who just manage to look enough like us to fool everybody—*maybe*—until they're put to the real test, and tackling S.T.A.R. Labs is probably the greatest test they'll ever face in their Hollywood lives. They've been us for, what, a couple of hours?" She called on her other arm to help emphasize this.
She had Clark's entire attention, no doubt because he had no idea what was on her mind. She wasn't sure herself, but it felt right, more than anything in the last 18 hours had.
"They managed to get out of the newsroom but who knows what they did to our reputations? Maybe Perry fired us!"
"I think they would have mentioned that—"
"Unless they're afraid, and they can't afford to be afraid. If they take one, just *one* wrong step in S.T.A.R. Labs, security will be on them in a moment. We like to think the labs is our playground, but we're brilliant, we can deal with scientists *easily*! Those two…" she twirled away again, as though in a wild search of the right words, "*TV stars* will go to *jail,* the police will question them, they'll break down and sob out their stories and ruin their lives *and* ours and…"
She felt him ease near her again but before he could work on reassuring her, she continued: "We'll *never* get home, and I'll have to pretend to be an actress and I *hate* actresses and *you'll* have to run around in a, a *cotton* supersuit you can't really use and be a *playboy* when you're not pretending to be you and you won't be able to get near me, and I'll have to deal with some poor *schnook* who I *don't* love and… Argh!"
He carefully cupped her shoulders with his warm hands. "Lois…"
"I *can't*—I don't *want* to—I *won't* do it!"
She seethed. She felt like screaming but kept her voice quiet. "I'm a reporter! A journalist! You're a reporter, too! *And* a hero! You can't be that here! Journalism is my life— *you're* my life!"
She took him by the shirt again, roughly, stretching the tight piece of cloth even further. "And do you know how being *trapped* like this makes me feel?"
She looked up at him, her eyes full of barely restrained passion. "I feel like our future is on the razor's edge!"
His breathing was beginning to match hers. She knew he was drowning in her eyes. "Oh, yes…"
"And do you know what I want when I feel like that? What I want to do with our last moments of sanity?"
He certainly did know. He turned his face just right as she slipped her arms up around his neck and pulled him down to her. They began to devour each other. He plucked her up and took her to bed, precisely as she had hoped. They tangled together, tearing off each other's clothing (with some small modicum of care on his part) and made crazy, quiet, passionate love on almost every surface of the dimly lighted room. It was timeless.
*K Callan's Home
In Some Suburb of Some Alternative Los Angeles
Sometime past midnight*
Lois sat up in bed, very pleased with herself. She felt warm and lazy and totally fulfilled. Her lover and husband was curled up next to her, sleeping, his face buried in her side. Somehow he could breathe this way; she saw his chest rise and fall, slowly, steadily. He was spent but happily so, she was accustomed to this. He had admitted after their first time of experiencing such all-out physical love that if he *had* to wear himself out, this was *the* way to do it. Even then, if duty called, he could be wide awake in a second.
His right arm was under her and he had draped his left arm low over her belly, protecting her and his numerous attempts over the last hour or so to make a genetic investment in the future (though he probably wouldn't have thought of it this way).
She smiled at herself. She had encouraged every attempt and hoped one would at last be successful. She wanted this even though she still wasn't sure she was cut out to be a mother. However, she had almost convinced herself that she wouldn't know for sure unless she tried. There were a lot of people out there who thought they were perfect parents, just ask them, and their kids were holy terrors.
She massaged the upper part of his left ear. She had read somewhere that body workers who massaged animals used this to calm their clients. She had no idea if it worked, but he liked her to touch him anywhere and his ear was convenient.
The most powerful man in any universe snuggled closer. She ran her hand comfortingly through his hair and rested it on his cheek for a moment.
She looked at the TV. The remote was on the bedside table and controlled the TV and the VCR… but there was no tape in the machine and she didn't want to make any more noise anyhow.
She considered the shelves of books… and scripts.
"I have to get up for a moment…" she whispered to him.
She eased out from between his arms and temporarily substituted a pillow for herself. He snuggled into that, a not exactly pleased expression on his face, but she was sure he'd be patient for a few minutes. She slipped over to the bookcase with the scripts and began to go through them quickly, pulling out one and then another to check the titles.
They meant nothing to her. She reconsidered her strategy. The Pilot was on the left end so she moved right and about four fifths of the way down found Virtually Destroyed. Assuming that between the two episodes was a steady build up of the relationship, did she really need to know about that? Probably not, not at the moment. She counted two to the right, two because… she didn't want any more than two kids, how about that?
"The Dad Who Came In from the Cold." Who's dad? Not Clark's, nor hers… in from the cold… spies? Jimmy's dad? A story about that? A good idea but not bedtime reading.
She tried the next tome, which definitely did not reflect the number of kids she wanted.
"Tempus, Anyone?" How did they know about Tempus?
She decided she didn't want to know.
The next script was entitled "I Now Pronounce You". She blinked. Oh! The *wedding* episode! Of course! After all these episodes and the problems the TV version had no doubt gone through, it was time to get them married!
The next script was "Double Jeopardy." That could be the honeymoon story—or a false start at one. Lois and Clark, double now. Justin had said that the writers emphasized adventure and so danger, thus Jeopardy. "Seconds," the next script, was probably a continuation of the honeymoon, as in "second chances" to get it right. It would probably have an adventure, too, but with lots love and fun.
She straightened with these three scripts, tiptoed back to bed, put the scripts on the bedside table, lifted Clark's arm (he helped), and removed the pillow, propping it back up again. She slipped into her place and he resnuggled happily.
"In a little bit. I want to read first. You catch up."
"You're more powerful than a locomotive…"
"Oh? And do I leap tall buildings?"
"And I know how tall."
"But speedin' bullets…"
"Go back to sleep, Mr. Slow Silly Sleepy Head…"
"Ummm." He sighed, content.
She pulled up her knees, opened the first script, propped it up on his arm, and settled down for a pleasant read.
It didn't take long for her to realize that this was *not* the story she had assumed it would be. Frogs were everywhere, not bucolic farm scenes or Clark's hometown friends or their Metropolis friends who had taken earlier flights, awaiting their arrival, and waiting and waiting because the plane had been hijacked, no… And, in the end of this episode, as she had been warned, this world's playful, libido-driven Clark, anxious to toss away his patience, had every intention of sleeping with—frog woman! He couldn't tell the difference? What was wrong with these people?
She looked down at her version.
Pure innocence. He also knew her very well, very basically, very tenderly. He still stumbled on the small things and probably would the rest of his life, however long that was, but that was good because it helped her keep one up. She stroked his shoulder lightly to keep from waking him. "You're not fooled by superficial beauty, *you* would have known it wasn't *me*…"
He readjusted his hold slightly, getting even more comfortable.
The story got worse in the next script. It was probably good for the beautiful star, though: Hatcher she got to play two and then three roles. Poor Cain was stuck playing someone who didn't seem to realize who his enemy was, or enemies were: himself and this erratic, diabolical version of Lex Luthor.
The superduo's world came crashing down in "Seconds" because it looked like "Clark" missed a lot of second chances, probably because "Lois" was totally out of it and unable to assist him. K's "Martha" had gone through a horrible time, but the script didn't detail how she had survived Lex Luthor's predatory actions. Not surprisingly, "Luthor" met a different fate in the end of this story than he had in reality. Here he'd deserved the crushing he'd gotten— to kidnap *Martha*…! But even in death it seemed he had won since "Clark" had to beg him to release "Lois" and "Lois" apparently couldn't have cared less, having been turned into something only "Lex" had the power to release.
Lois shook her head.
Clark frowned a touch, stirring. She pulled the sheet up over him a little more and then covered his ear with her hand. Don't listen to what they've written here, you don't want to know…
There was no more clone in the end, and the lounge singer was gone, too. It looked like Hatcher had only one more role to play in this strange story, that of amnesia victim who understandably didn't recognize her lover. She'd gone through the wringer and he hadn't been very helpful, taking days to realize the clone wasn't his lover. The show's Lois sure seemed to be a victim a lot of the time.
Snap *out* of it, you! Lois wished she could take the two- dimensional woman by her shoulders and shake her, hard. Clark doesn't need a victim. Then again, *your* Clark… He needs a shaking, too. In the Pilot she had fought bravely, like in reality she, Lois, the genuine article, had done so *plenty* of times. That Pilot Clark had shown initiative and courage. Maybe the real one got side-tracked occasionally because he didn't add up the clues correctly and other times he had to act in a split second, but he'd never been *this* wrong. The television's wimpy version…
Was this what the people of this world wanted to see? How would they react if they ever learned about the real people?
I don't think they'd appreciate you, Clark, so don't go out there unless you can sneak around…
Lois didn't think she wanted to read or watch the following episodes to find out how things were resolved. Odds were, as psychic as the writers had somehow been—and that in itself was startling, how close they had gotten on some points… Maybe Clark had some ideas on that like he did on the time distortion effect.
But odds were they had thought up Dr. Hindur or someone like him to prolong the agony (what did they call it? dramatic tension?) until Clark managed to save Lois. She bet they first had her not only fall madly, physically in love with Hindur without drugs or a second thought but run away with him for a few episodes, too.
But, according to Justin, there was a Vibro Whammy involved and it had helped save the day. Hatcher had probably enjoyed acting in all this, too; maybe she would win an award. Cain probably got to look anguished, as ineffective as his character had been in the previous three episodes. How could even an *actor,* even a *good* one, stoop to doing that, to playing such a useless character?
Well, it probably wasn't his fault, there were probably extenuating circumstances, like… like directors who wanted it done this way. Maybe Cain had even argued with the writers because he was a writer himself and his episode had been fine. Yet here he had appeared in these episodes. He couldn't have written part of this mess—could he? Was there the chance he thought it was good writing and even enjoyed it?
If I could just have one word with him, she thought, just ask him…
After she smacked him silly, that was, for not recognizing the woman he'd pledged his undying love to was *not* the woman he'd married, then letting her run away with Lex Luthor, and not foreseeing that Luthor might attack the rest of his family…
No, wait, that's the character, not the actor…
The actor just agreed to portray the character.
She yawned, and the room wanted to blur a bit. She blinked it clear again briefly and thought, I *am* sleepy now. This is all TV and not real at *all* and I shouldn't let it bother me because it's already done, they're stuck with it, it's not my problem, I'm leaving here soon…
She put the script on the table, reached over and turned off the light, and slipped down into the full security of the one and only Clark Kent's arms.
"Welcome back," he murmured.
"I'm glad to be back."
"You were getting tense there, I wondered about rescuing you…"
"I was just reading something foolish and made up for TV land. It can't get any worse than that. I'll tell you about it sometime when we need a laugh."
"Okay. They haven't done so badly…"
Yeah, and he'd only seen two samples. "But we've done better. Just hold me now," she whispered.
In reply he pulled her gently to him and kissed her softly until, feeling like—*knowing*—they were each other's greatest treasures and that was the best thing in any world, she fell asleep.
*K Callan's Home
In Some Suburb of Some Alternative Los Angeles
Day Two, Thanksgiving Day
Sometime after Dawn*
Clark couldn't sleep any more. He was bursting with energy (a night full of passion tended to lead to a bright-eyed morning). He was also curious about why it was daylight and K hadn't so much as coughed, let alone shouted "Eureka!" since Lois had closed the bedroom door the night before.
However, he was also perfectly willing to lie here with the love of his life, holding her safe against all threats… except those that involved things like the Vibro Whammy, which had sneaked up on both of them. He didn't know what to do about it now other than what they were doing, waiting and cuddling.
Well, I try, he thought. Fortunately, Lois seemed to be well aware of that and forgiving of his failures. I'm getting better…
And if Hatcher and Cain had failed…?
He didn't want to think about that because there was nothing he could do to help them.
However, it wasn't so bad here. The bed was big and comfortable. Their unexpected hostess was a fine woman in her own right…
Maybe Mom had found out what had happened to the two but hadn't wanted to report it…
No, no, no, it's the time stretching thing, that's all. If they were taking Lois's Jeep, they might not even have pulled out of the driveway yet. Maybe they couldn't find her keys! Maybe that's another reason Lois had advised them to take a cab, that and not to encourage them to search through her purse.
The cool, sweet-smelling air left after the storm the evening before was breezing lightly in from the garden through the open window behind him. It felt good against his bare skin.
Cain and Hatcher had probably taken the Jeep so they'd have some control of their situation (Lois would have done that if flying wasn't an option). Maybe they couldn't get it started. It had been having battery problems for a week, but Lois had refused to acknowledge them since it had a guarantee. That meant it should *work*, she claimed, shouldn't it? He had been undecided about suggesting that her headaches might be causing her to fail to see the whole picture.
You know, he told himself, it really could be okay to consider this interlude a little bit of forced vacation. They certainly had been forced into far worse situations. Life threatening. Even life *taking* sometimes…
Maybe a villain had ambushed Hatcher and Cain and they hadn't even made it as far as S.T.A.R. Labs…
Stop thinking like that!
"Oh, that's a sad one…" Lois murmured.
"Yeah, for a while."
"How do you do that? I thought you were asleep."
She inched up so her head was on the pillow, too, and they were lying face to face. "I can't tell you, it's a secret." She looked him right in the eye, putting him under her spell. "You're rested, but you don't look happy."
"Me? I'm deliriously happy."
"If I said that, you'd say 'Lois…'"
"Okay, I'm a little worried about them."
"Yes, I know that, but there's more to it…"
He raised his eyebrows. "There is?"
"Um-hmm, and I think I've got you figured out."
"You said that once before."
"I was right then, too, really, so don't argue with me."
"I won't if you'll tell me what you've figured out."
"It doesn't work that way." She pushed him flat. "Is K up? Look out there in the garden for her, I bet she's there. I think she's one of those people who likes to get up with the chickens and pick fresh peas and that kind of thing."
He turned and looked through light drapes on the window and then, a little further on, through the wall. "You're right. It looks like she's gathering herbs."
"Umm, for breakfast, I bet! I'm starving again!"
"It's Thanksgiving day. Maybe it's fresh sage for turkey dressing."
"Oh, good idea! Let's go find out."
Lois showered and changed into a pink sleeveless top, navy- blue slacks and the same running shoes she'd borrowed the day before. "Hey, I look like I'm taking a vacation! You, on the other hand…"
He had to put on the same clothing he'd found in Cain's trailer. "Yes?"
"You could use some shorts, some raggedy cut-offs, I think."
"I'm lucky *these* clothes aren't raggedy, the way you attacked me last night."
"I loved every second of it," particularly how bouncy she got, too, after a night full of passion.
"That's better. Come on," she took his hand, "let's go help her."
They met K as she entered the kitchen from her garden. She was wearing a sun hat, dressed in light clothing and a sweater, and carrying a basket with cut herbs in it. "Good morning! I was going to let you sleep! It's still early." She glanced at a sunflower- shaped clock on one wall of the kitchen. 7:40. She smiled at Lois. "Don't tell me: you're hungry. We snacked too much last night."
"Yes, I *am* hungry, *and* I want to help."
"Lois Lane, cooking?"
"Well, I'm not very good at it, true, but…"
"Sometimes I help," Clark whispered
"Yes, sometimes I have a helper."
K smiled at that but waved her hand at Clark. "No, go check the computer. The last time I heard from Martha was more than half an hour ago and that was just a smiley face. I'm sure she's still there. I seem to feel her somehow, but the lag is incredible."
Clark nodded and did as she asked. The screen was being occupied by a screen saver that resembled an aquarium full of exotic fish. He moved the mouse and the IRC program popped back into place. He saw:
> That's funny!
Clark scrolled back up the screen to catch the thread of the conversation. Dean and Teri had left more than six hours previously, California time but maybe only 15 minutes Metropolis time.
K and Mom were comparing humorous anecdotes about their respective childrens' weddings. Mom's most recent comments were about Lois explaining to Wayne Irig that it was easy for a team of three people to hijack an entire 757. All Wayne could think of to do was give her a live chicken to take back to Metropolis. Clark remembered Wayne advising solemnly, "If you get a hijacker on your flight back to Metropolis, throw this hen at him. Then hit him with that big purse of yours before he gets his bearings. Clark can take care of any other hijackers, he's a big fellow. That's what *I'd* do."
Clark, upon hearing his name, had strolled by to the rescue, reminding Lois that while the hen was obviously a prize winner, few landlords in Metropolis allowed livestock on the premises no matter how much she wanted to take the chicken home.
K had been jotting down the time and the first few words of each message on a lined pad of paper. He couldn't discern any consistency in the times, but not only was there the waxing and waning universal lag to consider, but Mom wouldn't have replied to each of K's messages immediately. She would have thought about them and composed something appropriate, anything from a winking ";)" to several sentences.
K's notes told him something she hadn't intended. When the woman stopped in to check on how he was doing, he looked at her. "Did you get any sleep last night, ma'am?"
"Yes, between messages. They beep at me. Things moved quickly, well, relatively quickly at first, then they slowed way down."
"Twenty-five to thirty minutes between each message, yes, but that's not enough time for you to sleep! Next time, if there *is* a next time, feel free to ask me—"
The computer beeped.
<MetroDuo> And you should have heard what Jonathan said!
Clark plucked up the pen and wrote this and the time down as K had been doing.
"What did he say?"
"Your father? What did he say when Mr. Irig gave Lois the chicken?"
"He took me aside," Lois said from the doorway, "and said he was sorry, but his wedding present for us would be late. He'd bought me a portable chicken coop. He assured me that *every* farm girl had one as part of their hope chest, whatever that was. I'd never heard of that before, hope chests, I mean." She waved away the self distraction. "Anyhow, he thought I'd like one, too, but now since we couldn't have livestock in Metropolis, he'd have to send it back to Omaha and get us something else. Clark would be devastated, he said. He kept a perfectly straight face. The coop had indoor plumbing, all the windows had gingham curtains, and the whole thing was cable ready. It was obvious he'd really put some thought into it, he almost broke my heart!"
K started to laugh.
Clark, looking at the screen, trying to think of what to say to his mother that would somehow magically speed up communications, realized that at this rate he had time to join in the conversation behind him, so he added as K's laughter eased, "That wasn't the end of it. Lois started feeling guilty and she tried to convince Dad that if he'd reconsider, she'd find a place for the coop in our spare bedroom—she was sure we'd have one though we hadn't done much house hunting yet—and she'd sneak that chicken home and love it as though it were her own child."
K started laughing again. "No…"
"Well, it *was* a cute chicken, I guess, as chickens go, and for all I know it was destined to be *soup* if I didn't help it, and… you know," she said, failing to keep a serious tone, "that's *not* funny…"
K gave her a hug. "That's all right, dear, I don't know anything about chickens, either."
Clark turned back to the computer and typed:
> Hi, Mom, any news? We got some sleep here, it's 7:21am and the morning looks nice. This time lag is amazing.
He hit the return button and his message appeared on the screen. He looked at Lois, who was smiling again. What a woman. She had quickly gotten over his dad's joke and then, when it looked like the rest of town had heard about it and was joining in to tease her, she had easily turned the tables and gotten people to laugh with and not at her. Old friends and neighbors had made it a point to tell him how lucky he was and of course he agreed.
"I was right," he told her in reference to this morning's events, "they've just now left for S.T.A.R. Labs. If they map their way straight there and the traffic is good, it will still take them at least ten minutes…"
She said "Ummm…"
"Okay, 20, plus another, oh, two to find a parking space— five? Then another ten to get through security to see Dr. Tisdell."
"But I bet he'll be late. Scientists who aren't used to dealing with the media just shuffle along, so make it 15. He tells them about the machine in nauseating detail, and they pretend to understand. Then they set him at ease somehow—"
"Teri's good at that," K assured them.
"I'm sure she is. Okay, so that takes… 30 minutes. They think of some way to distract him and when he's gone, they do what I told them to do. They'd better, anyway."
"Don't worry," K said. "I have faith in them."
"Well, I *want* to, this is so important…"
"So let's give them around an hour, their time, if things work out," Clark summed before Lois could continue. He could understand her fears since he shared them himself. "If the rate of these messages is any indication, it may well be this afternoon before we find out anything."
"Well, I can keep you busy," K said, "and Justin will help again. He went home around 11 last night, but he'll be back. I invited him to stay for dinner, which should be about…" she added it up on her fingers and concluded, "two if you're still here then, but I warned him that his mother's meal should be his main course for the day. Other than that, I'm sure he'd like to watch football with you."
"Eh…" Lois grimaced.
"I forget. Teri likes football, but she used to be a cheerleader. You and I can talk turkey if you'd prefer. I'm about ready to put ours in the oven if you'd like to watch…"
Lois tried to brighten up. "Okay." She looked at Clark. "Turkey for me, football for you."
K continued, "The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will be starting soon, too. I like to have that on in the background."
"It sounds like fun," Lois smiled. "It's so… domestic."
"And it doesn't bite, not really."
"Do you think we could catch up on the news before then? It doesn't matter that it's this world's news, it's just…"
K gave her a knowing look—Lois Lane, ever the reporter— nodded and led her back to the kitchen.
Clark was glad for Lois, though it would have been nicer if Lois's own mother had been the teacher, had that woman been interested. Next best would have been his mom, but mom was… He glanced back at the computer screen. Nothing new. On a whim he pinged Metroduo then rose and followed the women into the kitchen, stopping to lean in the doorway to watch.
They had turned on a small, cable-equipped TV on a counter top and it was in the midst of a commercial. Clark tuned it out. Lois was carefully watching K shove into the oven a deep blue roasting pan that had an aluminum foil-covered object in it. Lois applauded as the door closed on the production ("I didn't think it would fit!"), and K told her to wash her hands.
"Oh, look, it's the CNN news," K said next. She turned up the sound.
"'CNN'? We have 'LNN.' They've wanted to change the name for ages but there's money and the government regulations involved, and they don't do a very good job reporting anyhow."
The first item was about the aftermath of a 5.7 earthquake that had hit Taipei only hours earlier. There wasn't much damage reported, but people were frightened and the night there was dark…
Lois turned from the sink, her hands dripping, and she looked at Clark. She said simply: "Go."
"'Go'? I can't 'Go.'"
"Sure you can 'go.' It's night over there, isn't it?"
"Yes, if time zones work the same way, it's just after midnight tonight there."
"And they need someone to see that no buildings fall over."
"And nothing's going to happen here with the Vibro Whammy if it does at all until this afternoon, right? You said so."
"I'll take notes! I'll tell you everything. You'd sense it anyway and be here in a second, I know you will. And one time you told me…" She was distracted by K pulling produce out of the refrigerator. "Oh, can I cut up an onion? I'm really good at that! I hold them under water, you see, and… No onions yet? Okay, later. Clark, when you were younger you felt free to help people as long as it was dark, you told me about that, remember? So it's dark over there and you can help them. Go!"
"And there are winter storms all over this country, too," K added. "I don't think they're caused by that machine though. You might check what's happening to people affected by them if you want to dare daylight."
He frowned, thinking. "Okay, okay, you've convinced me, but I'm going to wear a disguise. I already have an idea for one." And there was one last important thing: "Do you have a world map?"
As K looked for that, Clark returned to the bedroom and pulled out and put on the stylishly dark clothing he'd gathered at Cain's home. This included the black bandanna, which he tied around his head like a pirate.
K found a world atlas and presented it to him when he came out.
"Good idea," Lois said as she looked at his disguise.
"Thanks." He thumbed through the atlas at high speed. The world and its cities looked a lot like the one he and Lois knew. He made a quick check but found no "Metropolis" except one in Illinois and another in Nevada, and the populations reported for them were much too tiny. No Smallvilles at all.
K looked over his costume now. "I don't know," she frowned, finger to her lips. "There's something missing…"
"Don't tell me," Clark said, unable to keep a smile from creeping across his face. "Under your bed you have a box and in it is a blue blanket and a big patch with a red S."
"No, but I wish I did! I loved that scene. I have some old Girl Scout patches…" Everyone shook their heads simultaneously. "I didn't think so. How about another black scarf to cover the rest of your face…" She dug through a closet near the front door and found it quickly. "Here it is. It even has a little the S symbol on it in the corner here. I bought it at a Warner Brother's store after I made the show's pilot and we didn't know if we'd be picked up."
"Oh, a good luck scarf," Lois smiled. She insisted on tying it into place.
"Thanks," Clark smiled, too, though it was now covered by the extra scarf. "I'll be careful and fly low and fast and do all I can to avoid being detected."
"I know you will," Lois said. "But there's not much to worry about because there's nothing here that can stop you. If there was no Krypton to blow up, there's no Kryptonite, either."
He paused. "Wow, yeah, I hadn't thought of that…" Maybe there were advantages to being the only one of his kind and particularly in this universe…
"Well, if you are seen, try to mention the show, hmm?" K winked. "We can use all the free publicity we can get!"
"I'll hum the theme song, too, okay?"
"That'll be wonderful."
Lois touched his arm. "I think this is what I meant earlier about you not looking deliriously happy. You've been needing to do this."
"Yeah…" It felt just right. He pulled the second scarf down and gave her a quick kiss, then without hesitation gave K one, too. She almost blushed. He grinned, retied the scarf into place and tucked the excess down into the turtleneck. Only his eyes showed; he hoped anyone who might glimpse them would see that they were full of compassion and that he was nothing to be afraid of.
"My hero!" Lois sighed.
"You look great!"
"Heh…" He felt a little silly, people shouldn't have to disguise themselves to help others. "I wish I didn't have to dress so darkly. Now all I need is a utility belt and a cowl."
"*And* a scowl."
He stepped into the backyard, into a patch of early morning sun, took a deep breath, rose a few inches, waved, and flew away, merely "quickly" at first until he got his bearings and could feel the magnetic pulse of the planet. I must be getting used to this place, he thought. Then he geared into top speed and headed north. Yes, this really was what he needed to do.
*K Callan's Home
In Some Suburb of Some Alternative Los Angeles
Day Two, Thanksgiving Day
Justin paced the floor of K's cordially decorated living room, from the front window to the dining room and back again, where he looked out and sighed. His hands were sunk into the pockets of his jeans, and a frown was troubling his face. Clark, standing quietly in the alcove between the sunroom and the living room, had moments before floated in quietly as not disturb anyone. He had also overheard Justin ask K when the heck Clark was coming back.
Clark found it fascinating. The young man had been in awe of him at first, had quickly overcome most of that to become a friend, and now was fearful for him. Had there been other powerful helpful people here on this planet in recent times who had met awful fates? Had Lois not mentioned the realization that there was no Kryptonite here? Was the Superman in their TV show careless enough times to make this young man worry so?
Clark hadn't sensed anything dangerous to himself during his last several hours' worth of helping, no villains involved, no plots, only accidents and the typical problems humans had with nature. He decided to ease Justin's fears by consciously clearing his throat, which he knew how to fake.
Justin turned immediately and gawked at Clark. "You're back!"
Clark smiled. "Yes."
The young man rushed up to him and grabbed Clark's nearer arm, then obviously thought better of it, thought himself presuming too much maybe, and quickly let go. "Sorry, but I was—well. I mean—"
Clark silenced this by giving his new friend a quick hug.
Justin smiled, returned it, let go, regained most of his composure and shuffled a bit. "Ah, are you okay?"
"Sure. No problems at all."
Justin looked him over. He pointed to the black scarves in Clark's right hand. "Did you really wear those?"
"And these black clothes?"
"You got sort of… dusty."
Clark looked down, noticed Kunlun Mountain dust on one knee, and brushed it off. He also saw grass stains on his shoes from that landing on the shores of the Ucayali River. Easy to clean. "It happens. My regular disguise is tighter than this and doesn't get as dirty."
"Oh, that's your aura."
"Ah, right." How did they know so much…?
"And *nobody* recognized you?"
"I don't think anybody really saw me."
He turned and accepted an icy glass of tea from Lois. "Thanks, honey… Um…"
"I guess nobody was looking for you."
He looked back at Justin. "That's the other thing. Back home, people sort of expect me to turn up any more."
"Or they hope or pray for him," Lois smiled helpfully.
Before this could get embarrassing, he gave her a "okay…" nod, to which she twinkled. He sipped more tea; she said nothing; he continued: "If I was spotted, it was dark and they were in a panic anyway. After Taipei, I moved west, staying with the night as much as I could, until I hit the Atlantic Ocean, where it didn't matter. I just went for a quick look in South America next, and then in this country there was a airplane trying to land in the snowstorm over… I think it was Kansas City. It needed some help. That was the one big chance I decided to take in daylight."
"You saved a plane full of people?"
"Some probably got shaken up."
Justin's eyes widened. "Some *probably* didn't get smashed all over the landscape! But you've saved bigger things than that, haven't you?"
"A few. I also stopped by Mr. Cain's house and checked on his dogs. They're just fine."
"I'm glad you thought of that," K said from the doorway into the dining room.
"I let them out to run, fed them and changed their water."
Lois looked him up and down, mostly down. "You carried his keys in those tight pants…"
Clark just smiled.
"Why didn't I notice the bulge?"
"Well… you're on vacation?"
"No, I'm not, not after…" she said 'last night' only with her eyebrows. "Ah, well, checking on pets… is a good idea. We can visit Teri's pets again after dinner."
"Good idea, is it almost ready? I can smell the turkey…"
"No, it isn't ready," she informed him. "Good cooking takes time. Go save some more people or sit down and watch football with Justin and leave the kitchen," she glanced at K, "to the experts."
Clark refrained from asking, "And to you?" instead nodding and then saying he wanted to change before indulging in football.
Justin outlined the day's worth of games and what they had to choose from since K had cable. Clark said, "I'll watch whatever you like." Lois excused herself from this, saying since the kitchen didn't really need her at the moment, she'd prefer to close herself in the guest bedroom, peruse scripts and watch episodes of the show based on her life. Clark said he'd like to keep up with that, too.
He had earlier noticed that the computer had powered down and he now asked about the IRC session, only to be told that it had stalled out. His question to his mom had sat there alone and unanswered for so long that K had decided to sign off and let the computer rest a while. Lois said she had agreed with this move, that the longer K was on line, the more she could attract power spikes. Clark said he understood.
After changing and cleaning up, he wound up migrating between the games and the episodes and indulging in snacks. No news emergencies broke in to the live football game Justin chose to watch, so Clark didn't have to consider sneaking out again. Some episodes of the Lois and Clark show exasperated Lois and she loved others.
The turkey was done early, by one, but it had to sit and "gather its juices," leaving plenty of time to prepare the rest of the meal. K rounded up a quiet Lois, who explained when pressed that while most of the stories and scripts she'd seen or speed-read through so far had been at least… interesting, many of them just didn't seem to… work, to put it politely. Clark decided not to comment; what could he say? The show was apparently a fair success in this country and a better one abroad, so someone was doing something right. Clark's only question was how the various writers had managed to hit so close to his reality so many times—even one time out of a hundred would have been surprising, but so many times… but it looked like that would remain a mystery of the universe, where there was enough time and space for literally anything to happen.
Lois helped make gravy and it had hardly any lumps. She didn't spill a drop while pouring it into the gravy boat. She'd chopped the onion for the dressing, she informed Clark; he'd been away or he would have seen the marvelous job she had done on that.
Justin, who could stay because his mom's dinner wouldn't be ready until six at the earliest and he promised he wouldn't eat very much here though he was still a growing boy and all… was pulled away from the game, and he and Clark set the table and helped carry food out from the kitchen.
K took the seat of honor, said grace, and surprised Clark by handing him the carving knife. "You don't mind, do you? I don't expect it to be tough, but in case it is, at least I know *you* can get through it."
The turkey sliced like room-temperature butter and oozed hot, fragrant juices. "It's organic and free range," K confided to Lois, who nodded and said that's what she would buy next time.
Clark just licked his lips and Justin's eyes widened eagerly.
Lois seemed to realize suddenly, "We're going to have *two* Thanksgivings this year, Clark!"
"That's right," he smiled, "but is two enough?" The good days made it easy to overlook all the painful moments this year. "We have so much to be thankful for…"
They all talked about this once they settled down to eat. K asked for more details about their real wedding, and Clark was pleased to see Lois become so animated in talking about it.
About 45 minutes later, at almost three, K looked over the table. It looked almost like a pack of starving wolves had attacked it. She said, "Wow, we did it with leftovers to spare… Does anyone have room for pumpkin pie?"
Clark did, no question. Justin hesitated; he had saved plenty of room, he said, for what his mom was making, but he would try a tiny piece. Lois thought she could wedge in piece of the same size, and K agreed with them both on the size she wanted. "More for me," Clark grinned.
K gave him a narrow look that turned into a smile. Then she asked if Lois knew how to whip cream. "Whip?" Lois asked. "You mean like," she made a hand motion and a sound effect.
"No, not like Zorro. Come on, I'll show you."
"I've gotta see this!" Justin claimed, but Clark held him back with a whispered, "Let's clean off the table first, hmm?"
So they were in motion once again, with the kitchen becoming the center of attention. Although K insisted that she could wash dishes later, Clark figured out the routine, rinsed off most of the dinnerware, and put it in the dishwasher, while Justin found plates to set out for the pie.
K showed Lois how to insert the blades into her hand-held electric beater, asked Justin to get the small cartons of cream out of the refrigerator, and suggested that Clark, who "didn't have to do the dishes…!" take the pie out of the oven and set it on the table so it could cool a little. He couldn't find hotpads immediately so he did this by hand, which everyone but Lois was amazed by.
K began giving Lois her simple recipe, and they tackled the ingredients with the beater, in moments making a merry racket. Justin covered his ears in play and said something about this being one of the best sounds a kitchen could make. Lois began to grin and Clark squeezed her shoulder gently. It was great to see her having fun with the appliance. She leaned toward him briefly, letting him know she relished his touch and support.
On the other side of the room, time and space were being ripped wide open and whole universes threatened to heave and change.
Clark felt something funny going on behind him.
He turned, saw it, and immediately grasped what it could be.
A portal between worlds.
Or a reasonable imitation of one. Admittedly it was a fairly cheap, discount one, with little in the way of special effects, even so close to the Entertainment Capital of the World (this according to a billboard they had seen while sightseeing). It could not even be called a "portal" but was more a split that caused the air around it to shimmer out of focus.
Without taking his eyes off the strange sight, Clark squeezed Lois's shoulder again, this time with some urgency. He heard the beaters clang against the side of the bowl.
Lois, maybe less in control than she had been letting on, cursed and demanded, "What!?"
K helped her put the thing down—"No, turn it off first!— Oh, Ah! Don't worry, don't worry, we can clean that up, you just got some on your blouse…"
"And my shirt!" Justin laughed. "Umm, but it tastes good."
"I nearly wrecked everything! Now it won't get all fluffy!"
"Sure it will, dear, it only *looks* delicate. We can rescue it."
"Well, I'm *going* to! What *is* it, Clark?"
He felt her eyes on him so he nodded. "It's that. I think the Vibro Whammy is doing… something."
"Wow!" Justin exclaimed. "I think I saw this on Star Trek once!"
"Oh, my!" K said, as curious as she was startled. "It looks like a crack opening up."
"Yes, but I think it's static, it's stopped opening."
"Maybe it's just a demo model," Justin guessed.
"We need more than that, maybe she's just barely touching it," Lois frowned. "It's not making any noise. Something like that should be roaring."
"I do hear a slight, high-pitched sound."
"You do? High-pitched? I wonder if that was part of my headaches."
"I don't hear anything," Justin said, "And why is it just floating there? These things usually make a big entrance—I mean, look at the warp holes on scifi shows. They really cost a lot if the effects people are any good. This is… well, pitiful."
"Justin," K whispered, "it's practically a miracle…"
Clark put aside these judgments because they were of no immediate help. "I can see through it, just, it's hazy. Two figures… they have to be Ms. Hatcher and Mr. Cain." He decided to approach the quantum anomaly with care, and, thinking positively, to wrap things up as well. He took Cain's wallet and keys out of his pockets and tossed them on the nearest counter, then he turned briefly to K. "Lois and I hate to eat and run, but in case this is our way out, thanks for your hospitality, it's been a wonderful experience."
"Oh, I understand, this has been so special…"
"Maybe they can take some pie with them."
"Yes, of course they can…"
Clark noticed that none of the three moved to pack any goodies. They were captured, fascinated, by the unexpected sight. He felt that way, too. "I wonder if the edges are solid," he muttered to himself.
"Be careful…" Lois whispered.
He nodded. "You bet. Just stay back until I give you the word," if there were one to give.
He reached out first with his right hand and touched one of the shimmering sides of narrow crack. There actually was something to touch, and it felt almost alive. He tried the other side and it felt the same. "It's cool and tingly…"
This close, he also noticed that the crack was slowly lengthening. This was promising: it was trying to open. Was there enough time for it to do so on its own, if that was the plan? It was best, he thought, to assume it would need some help.
He squinted through the shimmer; there were a few centimeters worth of distortion-free space. Beyond this was an artificially lighted room. Even the tantalizing unsteadiness of the edges of the portal failed to liven up what he could see of the standard, boring laboratory colors.
"It's S.T.A.R. Labs, okay, yes!" He had feared that moments earlier wishful thinking had prompted him to imagine Hatcher and Cain, that this anomaly could have been something else entirely. Now he could definitely see two people on the other side. They were watching what was happening and had surprised expressions on their faces. The man was wearing glasses—his hornrims—and he looked a lot like him, and the woman did look like Lois. Interesting.
Clark glanced over his shoulder at K and smiled. "It's definitely your friends, they've done it somehow. All I need to do is get this thing open a little wider. Lois, get ready to jump."
"Okay!" She whipped off her apron, tossed it somewhere, and gave both K and Justin big hugs, which were no doubt meant to include him since his hands were full. This done, she turned back to him. "I'm ready when you are!"
He nodded, pushed his hands a little further through the crack, back to back, and began to ease them apart. The hole cooperated with this for the first inch or two—then locked up and refused to budge. Clark, who had hardly put any strength into it at all, smiled to himself, unlocked his knees, flexed his shoulders carefully and increased his efforts slowly, confidently. If somehow the crack was alive, it wouldn't do to (super)manhandle it.
The hole gave but by only millimeters, nowhere near enough.
Maybe being polite wasn't working. He took a deeper breath and began to put real muscle into it.
In a minute or two he was grimacing because the effort began to hurt, to strain every muscle. What he wanted to do was possible—it simply had to be—it was just becoming a greater exertion than he'd ever made in his life. In comparison, picking up that ocean liner had been a breeze and launching the Prometheus, his first really, really big effort, had been child's play.
The universes simply would not concede without a royal fight.
But in time, Clark had no idea how long—though neither Hatcher nor Cain turned gray in the process so it couldn't have been very long—he forced the portal open a meter wide. This had to be enough; he felt his body trembling slightly and protesting that he could do no more.
He dared to glance over his shoulder and catch Lois's eyes. "Now! Move, now!"
She looked afraid now and almost frozen in place. She shook her head. "Clark, I… I *can't,* something's wrong about this…"
No, the only thing *wrong* was her failure to *move*! That was S.T.A.R. Labs, he was 100 percent certain. Their destinies were awaiting them on the other side of this hole. He turned a pleading look on Justin; that was all he could spare the strength to do.
Justin snapped out of gaze, nodded and moved out of sight, presumably to grab Lois. Maybe K helped "encourage" her as well.
Clark looked forward, through the hole in time and space, and right at the woman who resembled his wife. She was standing next to that infernal machine and the levers Lois had described. She wasn't touching anything; he wondered vaguely if she had been touching the machine if that would have made things easier for him. She was wearing one of Lois's more business-like outfits, one Lois wore to impress interviewees of the seriousness of her work so she wouldn't have to throttle them for information or beat off romantic come-ons.
Well, the woman better see the seriousness of *this.* "You, ma'am, come through now, *please*…"
But the woman was speechless and looked small and frightened.
The situation merited some fear and careful consideration, true—but *not now.*
Clark switched his look to the man, who was almost as paralyzed with awe and surprise. "*Make* her move, now! Before I…" he dared not say it; he simply could not afford to lose his grip before the job was done.
To his credit, Cain blinked and shook himself out of his reverie. He quickly approached the woman and took her by her arms, forcing her forward. As he was larger than her and she apparently didn't possess Lois's martial arts skills, Cain had no difficulty.
Clark realized though that his watching them, even if he had no choice in his position, could be distracting. He looked down. He noticed that the crack didn't quite reach the ground; they'd have to step over but only a few centimeters. He looked up, which his straining neck didn't appreciate. The crack appeared to reach only about half a meter above his head and here he was bending a bit to put his shoulders into the effort to keep the thing open. All this meant that there was no space for adult-sized bodies to just waltz through, for example, carrying pie. They'd have to crouch and twist and do their part, because he couldn't for the life of him force the crack open any wider and dared not move back out of the way.
When he looked forward again, he caught a glimpse of pink slipping under him—Lois! Then Cain was pushing Hatcher forward into the swirl under him.
Or Clark thought that was what was happening. He realized he was beginning to lose touch with… reality? What *was* real here? and did it matter? This was so unusual, so immense…
In the haze Cain seemed to pause to bend over the pink. Why? Was she hurt? Was she moving now? Clark couldn't be sure of anything; his vision was fading, his hearing was being overwhelmed by the high-pitched sound, and he was beginning to have trouble caring about anything.
Cain rose and came forward again, very, very slowly. Clark tried to perk up, though it was clear that something was wrong with time. The edges of the portal seemed… mushy and he was losing contact with his body. Not good signs.
Cain reached forward and Clark felt a very slight pressure on the backs of his hands. The fellow must have thought he could be of assistance in holding the universes at bay. That was endearing—and funny. Cain was no doubt strong, but he was otherwise an ordinary human being. Clark almost laughed at himself. To think *I'm* doing this…
Then a shock ran through his body and there was a thunderous roar. He felt like he was flying though it wasn't under his own power or direction, and suddenly the world grew dark and peaceful.
*K Callan's Home
In Some Suburb of Some Alternative Los Angeles
Day Two, Thanksgiving Day
"He's gotta be alive! He's gotta!"
"He *is* alive, calm down, he's just… I don't know… holding his breath… I hope…"
"It's him, isn't it, it's really him."
"Yes, it is… Clark?"
"Wow, it *is* him… Can I use your phone?"
"Ah? Yes, of course, but don't touch it in case—I mean, use my cell phone, it's in the living room on the table next to my rocking chair."
"Okay, I'll charge—no, I can't, I don't have my—I'll pay you back. I *have* to talk to Jon…"
"At a time like *this*?"
"Yes, Justin! I… I don't know what time it *is*! It's the next day, isn't it? He calls every night and I missed it—I missed *Thanksgiving!* Even my turkey's ruined!
"No, no, it isn't. You were defrosting it correctly, in the refrigerator, I checked it yesterday. It was still mostly frozen then, it will be fine now."
"Yesterday? Oh, good, thanks! He won't be able to share it with me—he'll wonder why I wasn't home—he'll be so worried!—I *have* to talk to him!"
"Just don't tell him about *any* of this. Make something up— tell him we went to a movie last night and forgot about the time."
"Okay, I will, that's a great idea, don't worry… Where's your living room again?"
"That way… Clark?"
"Come on, Clark, wake up, please?"
Clark was figuratively floating above all this, not quite part of it. There was something… strange and incomplete about it and the awareness of that made him curious, which in turn caused him to fall into the trap of life as we know it and finally consciousness.
He noticed that his ears were ringing painfully but this was rapidly diminishing, allowing him to really hear, not just be aware somehow of the voices. They were voices he hadn't exactly hoped to hear ever again.
This prompted him to make a self assessment. He was tingling (something about kissing Lois came to mind) but it was wearing off with the ringing. He realized that K was right, he wasn't breathing. A protective reflex, he thought; that or I died for a minute maybe…? What an odd thought. Whatever, it was probably one reason that someone out there was gripping his shoulders.
He decided to get things going again with a tentative exhale.
"He's breathing now!" Justin must have been shaking his left shoulder. "Do you think he's hurt? Like he wasn't invulnerable for a while and he broke something? Like his back?"
"Oh, God, I don't know, I hope not… Clark? Can you hear me? How do you feel?"
He took a deep breath next. It hurt. His muscles protested the strained, but none of the pain was from his spine, and nothing felt broken anyhow. He wasn't sure what broken bones felt like, true, but he guessed that the pain would have been a lot sharper. The ache he felt was confined mostly to his shoulders and upper back. With the buzzing sound and the tingling, did he have a headache? He checked, saw that he didn't have one, and almost smiled at himself for wondering earlier why Lois done the same thing. Now he understood.
Why was he lying here on his back with two worried people hovering over him when Lois could be lying somewhere hurt, too?
No, wait they were concentrating on him. Surely they would have been worried about her if she were hurt, if she were…
He forced his mind to delve beyond the dark haziness of the immediate past and he pieced things together quickly. Lois wasn't here. After she had made or been helped to make her move, he thought, something had forced him to let go of the crack.
Or maybe the crack had spit him out.
Whatever, he hadn't gotten through. "Darn…"
He frowned and opened his eyes.
Justin broke into a grin. K's relieved smile followed quickly.
"Lois?" He focused on K and whispered so that fate wouldn't hear him. "*Did* she get through?"
"I think so. We helped her and then jumped back. I'm sure I saw Dean checking to see if she was all right. That was after he pushed Teri through to our side."
"Yeah, they passed through at almost the same time. I was surprised there was enough room."
They passed through…
"I think if she was hurt Dean would have tried to help her," K said, "but I saw her bat at him, pushing him away, so…"
"Oh, good, okay, that's just like her, she must be okay then, she knows how to roll, it's a martial arts thing…" He closed his eyes again, feeling secure enough to do so. He couldn't remember if Lois had rolled, but if she was batting, then she was okay. "I'm glad he got through, too, I wasn't sure, I just couldn't see…"
"But, ah… he didn't get through."
That popped Clark's eyes open again.
"You said 'they passed through.'"
"Yes, Lois and Teri exchanged places."
"Then all hell broke out here," Justin said. "The hole started to shimmer like mad and then it made a sound like breaking glass. It was scary, and there was a lot of electricity in the air, I felt it this time."
"At the very same time something caused my egg beater to short circuit and maybe my microwave and some other things, too."
Clark stopped looking back and forth at them (it threatened to make him dizzy), settled on in between and frowned again. "Short circuit?"
"Yeah," Justin said, "and I think it happened just before that… that hole, well, it was like it punched you except there wasn't a fist. You crashed back into the table really hard, and then the hole closed up and disappeared." He made a sucking sound and slapped his hands together. "Gone. Anyhow, that's why I thought maybe your back was broken."
"Oh. It isn't."
"Whew! I don't know what happened to Dean, though, I hope it just pushed him back, too."
"Lois is there," K said. "She can help him if he was hurt. But for you…"
Clark tried to absorb all this and chastised himself for not already having reassured them of his condition. "I'm okay."
Then prove you didn't just lie, he ordered himself.
He decided it was time to sit up. He made it but the room spun momentarily. He rubbed his face, paused and then just leaned into his hands. The dizziness reinforced the idea that there was too much going on again, like the morning before but much worse.
"*Are* you okay, Clark?" He felt K's hand on his other shoulder now. "Is there anything we can get for you?"
There were things he wanted, people, one person, but she couldn't be "gotten." He could only shake his head slightly.
"You look really weak. Do you… do you still have your powers? Can you test them for a minute?"
"Justin, don't push…"
"I do feel weak." Clark uncovered his face and tried to look competent. "That took a lot out of me, I didn't expect it." He sighed and eased himself into a momentary float, just an inch or two, enough to confirm that more was probably possible, later. Then he glanced through the nearest wall and into the garden, so his eyes were working fine now. He could hear a woman who wasn't in the room and wasn't shouting; she was trying to speak Spanish "Kee-air-oh hah-blar cone…" It didn't sound like she was getting very far and he wondered how he could help… but that would have to be later, too. "I just need to rest up, to, ah, recharge my batteries, so to speak."
"Electricity does have to have something to do with this, doesn't it?" K speculated as she squeezed his shoulder again.
"Actually, I'm thinking solar power for me, but you could be right about the electricity, though I don't know how…" There was something else, too, something unsettling about the combination of a massive electric shock, himself, and a human caught in between that he decided not to mention to his friends because they wouldn't understand. Besides, there was no guarantee that Cain had survived the ordeal—that the Vibro Whammy hadn't blown up.
That Lois wasn't…
He refused to think about that.
"There was the electric problem in the studio, the lightning storms over the county, the… well, maybe we had a power surge here and it effected that… that crack or the crack brought it on."
Clark nodded but stopped because his neck protested. "Good thinking. The crack might have drawn power or released it, I don't know, and I… I have no idea how to use this idea…"
"Gosh, you shouldn't have to think right now, you're tired!"
"Yes, Clark, maybe you'd like to lie down."
"Later…" He looked at her and tried to smile a little, "in your garden, in the sun."
"I have a lawn chair you can use, but it's getting late, soon there won't be much sun."
"Then I better get moving." He began by pushing himself to his feet, carefully, taking inventory and comforting what hurt around his body and using efficiently what didn't hurt. Standing at last, using the back of a kitchen chair for some support, he looked over the area quickly.
K had a sturdy, centrally located butcher block table to work on and it had been shoved well out of the way. That had to be what he had crashed into. He hip nudged it back into place without trouble. He could detect a touch of ozone and smoke in the air from burnt electrical wiring, but there was no other evidence of danger. "Did you unplug things you suspect were damaged?"
She hadn't. She and Justin rushed to unplug the egg beater and the microwave. Clark glanced through the other plugged-in appliances but didn't see any damage and gave K that good news.
"I can replace anything that was fried," K said, trying to sound like it didn't really matter. "They were all on their last legs anyway. Now you can lie down—"
"No. Please check your computer and try IRCing. Our two times have met. If we can reach Mom, maybe they called her to tell her what happened."
"Oh, good idea!"
K rushed to do this.
Clark didn't feel like rushing suddenly. If the Vibro Whammy, which had cause the crack, also caused it to shut down— or his straining to open it further had caused the shut down— though surely it would have backlashed a lot sooner if it hadn't "appreciated" his efforts… there was no telling what else had happened. The machine might have blown up. It might have taken S.T.A.R. Labs with it and maybe parts of Metropolis…
His actions might be to blame.
Lois might have been right to hesitate…
K's computer had been untouched by the events in the kitchen. She logged on to her carrier easily. It required what she said was a typical 30 seconds to reach the Undernet using the same server she had earlier. She began searching for MetroDuo.
But, five minutes later, had found nothing.
"I'll keep trying. The way I imagine it, they were shaken up but they realize they need to get to a phone. They can't tell anyone why they need one, so they have to bide their time and time being as unusual as it is…" She looked at him, projecting strength and motherliness, "there's time for you to take a little nap in the sun."
"I can wait."
"You can rest." She stood up to add height to her argument and somehow grew a figurative ten feet in the process. "Clark, we thought you'd been killed and now, frankly, you look just awful."
"Yeah, Clark, you're sort of pale and you're leaning there…"
Clark straightened up.
Justin narrowed his eyes somewhat, skeptical. "And that didn't help. You still look like you came out on the bad end of a street fight, except you don't have any knife wounds…"
I've lost is what you're saying, Clark thought. I may have lost more than you realize…
He closed his eyes. He was, he admitted, in no condition to think depressing thoughts. He needed strength and he just didn't have any at the moment.
He sighed and opened his eyes again. "Okay, where is that lawn chair?"
"I'll show him, K. You can keep trying to find them, okay?"
K smiled confidently at him and nodded. She pointed at a small sofa there in the sunroom. "Take one of those blankets. It could get a little chilly outside…"
Chilly… Clark realized he felt chilly, yes…
He turned to go, to follow Justin, but paused when he saw Justin raise his eyebrows at something or someone.
Ms. Hatcher was in the doorway between the sunroom and the living room.
Clark thought she looked small and a little time worn in the Lois-sized tailored business suit. The heel of her (Lois's) right shoe was broken but Hatcher, disoriented, didn't seem to notice. She whispered, her voice breaking. "I couldn't get through…"
K went to the woman and embraced her. "Oh, I'm sorry, dear…"
"I could get through *a space-time anomaly* but I couldn't get the international operator to *understand*…"
"Well, Jon's probably couldn't come to the phone anyway, he's probably busy shooting in the jungle and fending off mosquitos."
"And head-hunters," Justin added, then caught himself; Hatcher hardly blinked at the horrible thought. "Or probably *not.* They're probably wrapping up, you know, last-minute things…"
"Yeah…" She looked at Clark. Her eyes were brown, like Lois's, and there were other similarities that Clark didn't care to dwell on at the moment. She said, "Ah… you're him? You're Clark? Clark… Kent…"
The question-statement hit hard. Having already heard her voice, he told himself that he should have easily withstood the effect, but no. Her voice was almost Lois's, a Lois in a tired, just-past-overwhelmed panic and in need of him.
*Really* in need of him now…
Or far past need of him.
But Hatcher didn't need him, no, not this woman. He steeled himself. "Yes, ma'am."
Oh. Hearing that made things a little easier. She saw him as an icon, a thing. "Sometimes, yes, I am."
Justin eased over to her. They were the same height when Lois had been a little taller than the young man. He whispered, "Superman is just what he can do."
"Ah, oh, yes…" She took a deep, careful breath, straightened a bit, blinked her eyes clear, and looked right at Clark. "Can you fly me to Venezuela?"
Now Clark blinked.
She added, "Please?"
"Disoriented" didn't quite cover this; even "ditzy" was a reach. "No, ma'am, not right now." Besides the request being presumptive, it was also somehow scary. It didn't matter that her request would eventually be entirely within his power, he just didn't want to do it for some reason. The reason he thought of to say was adequate. "I need to rest and I suggest that you might like to do the same."
"Oh, Teri…" K hugged the younger woman again, glanced at Clark with a "she doesn't usually do this kind of thing" expression, then returned her attention to her friend. "When did you last eat?"
"I don't know—no, yes, I do, Martha made lunch before we went to S.T.A.R. Labs—we really went to S.T.A.R. Labs!" She grabbed at K, her eyes wide. "We drove through Metropolis, K! It's a *huge* city and it's *real!* It's a *real* place somewhere!"
"We met Martha! The real Martha!"
"Yes, I know—"
"Dean's still trapped there!"
"And the suit nearly *killed* him!"
"But he got better…"
Hatcher nodded quickly. "Yes, after Martha gave him a bath."
K paused but remained on course. "That sounds… nice. Would you like some pie?"
"Pie? Pie at a time like *this*? When we have to help Dean?"
"Ah…" She seemed to review her options. There were either too many or not enough. Her shoulders slumped a bit. "Okay."
"Fine. Come in here to the dining room… and sit down…" Assuring herself that Hatcher was seated and would probably stay so, K turned back. "Clark, unless you feel like having a piece of pie, too, you have a date with a lawn chair and a sun beam."
Clark took one last glance at Hatcher, decided he preferred to keep his distance from the woman, and chose to cloister himself with the blanket Justin had picked up and that Southern California-style sun beam.
*K Callan's Home
In Some Suburb of Some Alternative Los Angeles
Day Two, Later*
"I'm sorry I asked if you would do that, I don't know what came over me…"
I'm always opening my eyes to see something weird, Clark thought.
He had lain awake for quite a while after Justin had opened up and positioned the lawn chair. The young man had then asked him if he needed anything—a glass of iced tea? a radio? "I could read to you if you want…"—but Clark assured him he was comfortable and Justin had left him alone at last.
Feeling chilled, though, Clark had pulled the blanket over himself. It helped a little.
He had then unavoidably overheard what went on inside the house. Hatcher gulped down some pie, chattering through it about her adventures, mostly how *real* everything had been. Minutes later she realized the time and that she had to rush home to check on her pets, garden, house and answering machine. She gathered everything that Lois had borrowed and stuffed it in a paper bag K gave her. They were just things. Lois had thought the apparel and accessories interesting, even fun in some cases, but now Lois was gone… Hatcher voiced no upset that Lois had taken with her the blouse, slacks and running shoes. She could easily buy new ones. She said nothing about Lois's business suit other than it was a few sizes too large and she wanted to get *out* of it and be herself again.
Justin offered to take her home since he had to leave, too. He had invited his girl friend Stacy to eat dinner at his home, just as he had invited Dean and Teri, and he wanted to greet her at the front door. Hatcher accepted his offer. He instructed K to watch out for Clark because he looked depressed (I *am* depressed, Clark thought… and he didn't know what to do about it). In a matter of minutes both visitors were gone and the house grew quiet.
A short time after that, Clark heard K moving around the kitchen, cleaning up. He ordered himself not to move, not to go in to help her… and let the pleasant, purposeful, domestic noise (will Lois be making a noise like that some day? Is there still a Lois?) finally lull him toward sleep. The warm glow of the unhindered late afternoon sun did the rest. The sky was cloudfree, no storms threatened.
No Vibro Whammy?
The following hour or so was mercifully dream free. Upon waking, he guessed that it was nearing six, given the appearance of sky (still cloudless and some stars visible already) and someone having turned on the light in the sunroom.
Ms. Hatcher stood at a discrete distance, watching him. She had changed clothing. She held her hands in front of herself, like she could at any moment begin to wring them nervously, although she could be cold; it felt like it was in the upper 60s.
But of all the things he might have said, he said without thinking it through first, "You came back."
"Yes. Everything was fine at home, K said you all visited. Thank you. But I couldn't just stay there while you…" she stopped nearly wringing her hands and intertwined her fingers, seeming to express togetherness. "Well, you might need some more help."
How could she possibly help? She had done a great deal already. She and Cain had found their way to S.T.A.R. Labs without getting into trouble, and she had apparently touched the device in the right way. The results had been beyond anyone's control except his, and he had done what appeared at the time to be the only thing to do, open the crack wider. What more was there for her to do now? Nothing. However, "I appreciate your offer. Did your husband call you last night?"
She looked a little surprised by the question. "Oh, yes, it was on my machine."
"I see. I know you were worried."
"Yes, *too* worried. I mean, I've missed his calls before, though not for the same reason…" she smiled a little. What a reason! "Now I've got my cell phone." Still keeping her fingers intertwined, she aimed her thumbs back toward the house. "It's in my purse. I'm forwarding my calls to it. I guess I was worried I'd never hear his voice again when here I was," she unleashed her hands now, "perfectly all right…"
She looked at him for a long moment. "You sure do, don't you? I hope you're not thinking what I *think* you're thinking…"
Good thing she wasn't psychic, but he raised his eyebrows anyhow, curious.
"That you won't hear Lois's voice again, because you *will*. It's just a matter of time, the Vibro Whammy was smoking— figuratively speaking, of course, because it was just humming and doing whatever it thought it was supposed to do. It didn't look like it was straining at all, but it won't hurt it to… cool off a little bit."
He found himself nodding though he didn't agree at all.
"So K's egg beater went to that great kitchen in the sky. I'll buy her a new one. Dean will probably insist that Lois rest a little, like you insisted for me, and they'll try again and they'll succeed, I just know it. Look at my case." She indicated herself. "Jon *did* call last night, but even if I had been there, he didn't have time to talk. He said he had one more night shot in the cantina because the monster's make up for the last shot hadn't been right. But he left me one of the *steamiest* messages…" She grinned. "I'm saving the tape."
Clark nodded. "I see. But I still can't take you to Venezuela."
"Oh, no, you don't have to, I don't know where my passport is anyhow and how would I ever explain it? I couldn't. You and Lois probably do it just fine, but I can't. And you two probably talk steamy all the time, too, we just can't do it on our show." She perched her hands on her hips now, teacher like. "You *did* understand what I said about you and her getting back together, didn't you?"
"Did I make *any* impression on you?"
He nodded. "Yes, you did," hoping he sounded chastened.
"Well, just remember that and think positively, *I* am. I *could* be panicking. My co-star's in another universe, and who knows what's happening there, and K's kitchen could have been blown up."
My body absorbed most of the force of the potential explosion, Clark thought glumly. There was nothing to absorb it on the Metropolis side…
"But, worse, Jon's down in some mosquito-infested swamp filming some god-awful rip-off aliens-landing-in-the-jungle-to- take-over-the-oil-fields movie—like they'd kill for oil in outer space—and he's not sure if his character is going to survive because they're practically writing the script on the fly, but he's working with one of those famous, eccentric directors so you never know what's going to happen, but it could be terrific for his career, and at least they're not using *vampires,* but then I almost used them, even though that was just as a joke on… a friend, to make him laugh…" she paused introspectively.
"Did your friend laugh about the vampires?"
She smiled a little, self consciously. Lois did this sometimes, in private moments, because she felt free to do so with him… Hatcher said, "Yes, he did, he needed a laugh… Would you like to read what I've written? My latest script? K said you read a few of our scripts, that you're interested in the show…"
This was unexpected. "I'd be honored to, and it looks like even thinking positively I'll have time."
"Oh, great! It's not done, I'm sort of stumped on some of the A plot but…" She blinked. "Wait a minute—what a coincidence! I'm bringing back the Vibro Whammy in my script, did you know that?"
He shook his head slightly, carefully, but it didn't hurt. He added a shrug and that went well, too. It looked like he was recovering nicely from holding two universes at bay, if that's what it had been. It seemed a little like a bad dream now, with only the nightmare of possibly never discovering Lois's fate to deal with. "I had no idea."
She rolled her eyes at herself. "Well, of course, you didn't, how could you? *Dean's* read it, not you. You, ah…" She paused, looked at him, caught herself, looked away, at something, at anything, then back at him tentatively. It was as though she wondered if he had seen her hesitation. Lois did have a way of rushing into a challenge and then, if she had time, backing away until she had a better view of what she was tackling. She wasn't in the habit of letting anyone but him see it, and even then she sometimes tried to hide it from him. He wished this woman would stop acting almost but not quite like Lois.
Maybe he should try to help her relax. He sat up; the blanket fell away. He folded it rapidly and then motioned at the lawn chair several feet away to his left. "Ms. Hatcher, please sit down, unless you'd like to go inside where it will be warmer and easier for you to see."
"Oh, I can see all right and it's not cold out here." She took the chair but perched on the edge. Maybe it was too soon for her to relax, maybe she had some things that had to be said first. "You know? We were never properly introduced, and here we are, all in this together so we shouldn't be formal. I'm Teri." She held her hand out.
He took it gently. "Clark."
"Pleased to meet you. Maybe I should tell you something right off, too. You don't look like Dean."
"No, not really. I mean, to people who aren't as close as he and I are you pass for him just fine, but to me…" she shook her head. "I've *kissed* the man, and you… you're…"
"I understand." He did not want to kiss her.
"You're bigger. Not a lot but…" she paused, her eyes widening a touch, "and not *that* way, you know, I mean, I wouldn't know *that*, he and I haven't done anything like… that. He and I are close *professionally.*"
"You are a happily married woman in real life and you also play one on television."
"Yes, exactly! Jon's just… gone so much, he might as well be on…" she waved a hand, "New Krypton or somewhere." She shook her head. "*Venezuela…*"
"New Krypton?" He hadn't noticed that place name in the atlas.
"Oh, it's a planet we dreamed up for the cliffhanger last year. It didn't go over well with the fans and there wasn't much suspense, but…" It was her turn to shrug. "A rocket ship load of Kryptonese survived the planet blowing up and they found their own planet. Some came to Earth to convince Clark to be their new Lord, and he went with them at the end of last season."
"He went? He left Earth?"
"It was that or they'd have a civil war and kill each other and an evil Lord would rule the survivors, and Clark couldn't have that. They were his people and practically family."
"That's just the way it was written," she added quickly.
"As far as I know, there are no other surviving Kryptonians. It would be great if there were more, but it's been thirty years and…" no communications, no hints, nothing… and certainly nothing in this universe. "I'm the last one…"
"I'm sorry… but, you know, it was just for the show…"
"So the Kryptonians would kill each other if they didn't have a ruler?"
"I don't know, yes, I guess so, that was the premise, but don't let it bother you, they probably won't come back. We never saw their planet because we could only afford the fX for the mother ship and the black suit Dean had to wear. Oh, and I got to wear this wild concubine outfit. The evil Lord and his friends snuck on to Earth and killed people and played golf and threatened to take over, and he and Clark fought in the end. Then the Army used Kryptonite gas to kill the bad guys, but Superman, who beat them and then tried to save the bad guys, was the only survivor of the gas."
She said that so matter-of-factly… "Oh." Clark reminded himself of how surprised he had been when the pilot and some of the first-season scripts came startlingly close to what he knew as reality.
When they deviated and wildly at that, he told himself, he should have been happy. "Good."
"The New Kryptonians decided they could live with a woman ruler, which if they'd had half a brain among them they would have realized a lot earlier, but then we wouldn't have had a plot. They all went away, and Lois and Clark got married in the next episode." She sat back and nodded, the story wrapping up nicely, apparently, at least for her, her employers and the viewers.
"I'm glad to hear that," because if everyone here was happy, he might as well be happy for them.
"So… you're not really like him. You're a little… heavier."
"His clothes, the ones I was wearing on the set, were somewhat tight."
"Well, they would be, that's because you're…" she opened her hands, releasing the fact, "him."
That him. "Yes."
He simply nodded.
"Just so you know."
"Are those clothes too tight?"
"Oh, good." Apparently satisfied that he knew who he was and he was comfortable, she relaxed and looked around the garden. He had no idea what she could see since most of the immediate area was now lit only by the ceiling lamp in the sunroof more than 20 feet away and by the ambient light of the Los Angeles basin reflected by the stratosphere. "It's pretty out here. It smells so nice. We've been having more rain than usual… Ah, where was I… Oh. I'm not as… adventurous as Lois is, obviously. What we did in Metropolis wasn't very dangerous and we didn't see any villains. We did meet Jimmy Olsen and Perry White, they were real people!"
Oh, that might cause trouble later… "Did your… stay at the Daily Planet go well?"
"We didn't stay, we got out as quickly as we could. Perry, who looks a lot like Lane, that fooled us at first… Perry and Jimmy thought I was, I mean, Lois was having amnesia again because we were acting strangely, me the most, I guess. What had happened, I thought it was a big practical joke, and I was already a little angry because Jon can't come home for Thanksgiving, so I *wasn't* in the mood. I could help pull a joke on Dean, but nobody better pull one on *me*…" she admitted, but she sounded a little sheepish, too. "Perry was mad about some meeting you and Lois were supposed to attend but when he thought I had amnesia, he told Dean, who he thought was you, to take me home. We found a map in the car and your address. Then your mother turned up just as we were trying to figure out the IRC because we recognized Zoomway's name and… you know the rest."
"You made it to S.T.A.R. Labs."
"Yes. It took about, oh, 20 minutes. I've driven in worse traffic around here, so that wasn't any problem. We got in okay, but that Dr. Tisdell was late and he once he got talking we couldn't think of a way to shut him up and get rid of him—I bet that happens to you in investigations, huh?"
Clark nodded. "Consistently."
"He tested it on me—I faked having a horrible headache—and then it turned out he had to leave soon anyway—and he wanted us to go, too. Of course we wanted to stay, do I faked still feeling faint and Dean faked feeling concerned, so Tisdell let us stay there alone until I," she marked quotations in the air with the fingers of both hands, "'felt better.' As soon as he left we rushed over and touched that lever. A big, colorful… *crack* appeared out of nowhere in the air above the main body of the machine! It was even *musical*, it sounded like windchimes and… banjos—like Deliverance, you know?"
"The movie," she laughed, "not heaven—though who knows? It could have been, except it didn't have a stairway. It floated down to floor level, and we didn't know what to do but stare at it—until we saw you. That was a big relief. You opened it up further and Dean practically picked me up and tossed me through. I'm sorry I froze, I was frightened… and, well, you know the rest. I suspect the anomaly was unstable, but now the machine has practice, the next one will be stronger. I wish there had been time to get a better look at it, to hack the program and see how it matrixed its algorithms…" She looked thoughtfully into the dark distance.
"We didn't really *do* anything other than touch that lever, and anthropomorphizing the machine—thinking of it as having some purpose in life—doesn't give us any answers, so I'm sure it's in the program somewhere. Maybe a… a virus gives it the *desire* to… explore the universe."
"Ah, I see…"
"Ah… no. It sounds like you're anthropomorphizing."
"Um, I am, aren't I? Well, we can blame the machine for that, too," she grinned. "It switched us and then opened a hole in time and space that maybe shouldn't have been open as long as it was, but thanks to you we could take advantage of it, or Lois and I did, until destabilized. Who knows what else it's doing…? But it's over there, in Metropolis, a comic-book city and…" She glanced at him. "I know it's real for you, and it is real in that universe, but it's more fantastic than anything here, so maybe it *does* have a plan…"
"If it's more fantastic than anything here, how come your guesses sound so plausible?"
"Ha! Maybe keeping up with math journals when I have time helps. I was going to be a teacher before the acting bug bit me. This whole thing looks like a mix of quantum physics, unusual computer programming, and… and magic."
"Ah, I see…"
"Do you say that a lot?"
"It's comforting, actually, and we do have hope: the program will probably figure out a way to make a more stable hole next. That may be its goal in life, a program glitch that S.T.A.R. Labs doesn't realize."
"So, anthropomorphically speaking, its focus on Lois could be because of it somehow sensed she reacted differently than anyone else did when Johnson used it…"
"And you, you're part of this, I'm sure it hasn't forgotten you. Maybe the program looked for… ways to go exploring and it found you two. That would naturally happen on our show. For here and now though, until we find out what it decides to do next, I can help you have some fun here in Southern California. I mean, I… I know my way around the Valley, you might need someone with that knowledge."
"Yes, I might, though I understand that we can't be seen together." The thought of being alone with this unusual woman… frightened him a little. She was as overwhelming in her way as Lois was.
"Um, Dean and I don't do much together…"
She sounded lonely… And, having talked to her now, it seemed like the last thing she would do was disrobe at the slightest provocation. "K and Justin have offered to chaperon us."
"They did? Oh, okay," she smiled again, a nice thing to see, "that's a good idea, and you deserve all the help you can get anyhow. You're a hero, and…" she hesitated, then continued carefully, "well, you can't be very happy here now…"
"No, it's been surprising and I've met some fascinating people…"
She was watching him closely. He could see a faint outline of himself reflected in her brown eyes. She didn't appear to be hanging on his every word or in awe but… concerned.
He decided to add, "…and, no, I'm not very happy."
"Well, just remember: we'll help you get back together with Lois again, and we'll save Dean, too."
It was Lois and her confidence all over again. He wished he could feel her state of wellbeing; he had always been able to before this… There was no reason to burden this woman with his fears. "Then I'll try to make the best of my… vacation here."
"Good! There, see? I knew there was a reason you're here, to have a vacation. So… do you have any plans? Is there anything you'd like to see? Disneyland? Hollywood? We'd blend right into the crowds, I always do. I go out in disguise."
"We did disguise ourselves and that seemed to work, but I can plan better if K can contact them again on the IRC. Maybe you could… apply quantum physics and magic to that, hmm?"
"Maybe!" she laughed, this time at herself. "Do you know what? We'd barely get a message typed and sent when your reply would pop right up. We thought *you* were typing because of the speed."
"I did type the instructions Lois gave you, but at only about 75 words a minute. Otherwise, there is definitely a time distortion between universes."
"Oh, thus your quantum physics joke, okay, yes…" She paused to speculate. Lois would hardly have done this; she didn't have time for heavy-duty science unless it was directly involved in a story, and then she usually let him try to make heads or tails of it. Lois… "We'll have to figure out how that IRC program is connected to all this, if it is, unless the angel we used for the wedding is helping on the Metropolis side, too… Did an angel help in your wedding by any chance?"
Magic and now angels… "No, nothing like that." He decided it was time to get moving. "I'm going to see if K's had any success. If she hasn't, I think it's *her* turn to get some rest."
Teri nodded. "She looked tired."
K was typing, but not on IRC. She explained that she had switched to a word processing program and was working on her latest book. She had set up her IRC program to beep her if MetroDuo showed again, and she was checking back periodically anyhow to make sure she remained on line.
Clark and Teri told her of their speculation about quantum physics, with Teri throwing in lots of theories that K absorbed with a polite expression on her face. Finally during a pause, the woman said, "What are you *really* trying to tell me?"
"That it's, ah, just this side of magic," Teri admitted.
Clark said, "And that it may be hours again before we hear anything."
"I wish we had taken a cell phone with us to the labs," Teri said, "but didn't occur to us. Even if you can get a message through that the switch back worked half way, it might arrive in Metropolis before it happened, and Martha might try to warn them, us, but we didn't *get* any warnings. Personally, I don't like tickling the space-time continuum if I can help it…" She looked inwardly a moment. "I can't believe I just said that… Anyhow, Lois and Dean will probably call her, or just head back to rest and do some more planning. They obviously didn't stay to try again or they might have been able to open another hole."
Clark saw a chance to lay some ground work in case they didn't hear from Metropolis again. "It probably blew a few circuits at the Labs, too," or worse, much worse… "and the guards," if any survived… "came to see what happened and ushered them out."
"If Lois is one of the triggers for this, maybe that unusual program… funny, the word 'shareware' just popped into my head. We're sharing each other's worlds here, huh?"
Clark nodded. "That's a clever observation."
"Anyhow, it's going to take a long time and, K, we think you should take advantage of it and get some rest."
"I don't plan to stay tonight," Clark said. "So you don't have to watch after me, either."
"I noticed you're looking better than you were, your color's better," she patted his arm. "So I'm not worried about that now. Just what were you planning on doing then?"
He smiled despite himself. "I think I should put in some time at Mr. Cain's house to keep up appearances and keep his dogs company, at least until midnight. I noticed he has a computer, so he may have access to the internet and thus the IRC. If I can figure that out, I'll take over the watch."
"I hadn't thought of that," K said.
"You've been busy. If it doesn't work, if I can't get into his computer, I may put on his black clothes again and go flying until morning."
"That does sound more interesting than…"
He could say it for her. "Moping round here? Yes, it does."
"Oh, Clark…" She stood up and gave him a tight hug.
It was almost too hard to take; he had to ease her away. "Thanks, but don't, you're… you're too much like Mom and I'll just get depressed… again."
Teri reached to comfort him but held back at the last moment.
He smiled apologetically at her, too. "I'm sorry, I'm not good at being depressed. If I can keep busy, start thinking about reasons and solutions, and even use the computer, who knows? There's always the chance I may find something that will help everyone."
Teri offered him a ride "home," but as Clark gathered Cain's wallet and keys, he assured her that he thought it was dark enough for him to fly there without any trouble. He'd already done this in broad daylight, admittedly at nearly the speed of light, and there had been no repercussions.
The trip was easy; even the Tupperware container full of pumpkin pie made it just fine.
Cain's home was as Clark had left it. The first thing he did was attend to the dogs, who knew the routine. They went out and romped around a bit then came in and stared at a kitchen closet door, behind which Clark discovered a big bag of dry dog food. He made them happy by topping off their bowls and putting down more fresh water.
Next on the agenda was exploring Cain's home more thoroughly than he had before but, he hoped, without getting too personal about it. Some time, maybe soon, a thorough investigation this might be necessary, but it wasn't that time quite yet.
He confined himself tonight to what he figured was the man's den. This room held the computer as well as file cabinets, stuffed book cases, a TV, VCR and dozens of tapes. Everything was neat and clean except the man's immediate work space.
The potential for doing a little research began to stir Clark's creative juices. He sat down at the computer, opened the container with the pie, dug in with a fork, and looked over the messy desk as he enjoyed his much-delayed dessert.
The desk was littered with computer disks, some labeled; bits of paper with notes jotted on them; pens and pencils; and pictures (snapshots, magazines clippings, and print-outs probably from the color printer off to Clark's right). To Clark's left was a stack of file folders.
The folders were labeled and the top one was "Ideas - AIDS".
Clark tingled (aidswalk?), blinked, frowned, put down the pie, and picked up the file.
It contained newspaper clippings and tear-outs from magazines about a physical ailment Clark had never heard of. The file's information gave him a good idea though. The next-to-the- most-recent addition to the file was a press release about the Walk that Teri and Justin were going to participate in. It was to raise money for research. On top of all the information was a print out dated only two days earlier from an internet news group called "alt.conspiracy". It detailed a theory about right-wing political groups striking out at politically progressive activists, specifically those who marched to support their causes.
Clark had only flipped through the file initially. Now he scanned the entire contents with care and moved on to the remaining folders. They covered other topics and reminded Clark of his own idea files at the office, but in this case Cain must have been collecting ideas for scripts or novels.
He returned to the first folder. This AIDS thing was odd, particularly in connection with the Walk his new friends would be in. Why had Cain connected the Walk with the unusual (if it was unusual) newsgroup item? Was it merely for a story or had he thought there was some potential danger? Had he been invited but declined because of this?
That didn't sound right, not from Clark's indirect knowledge of the man. Cain would have warned his friends; he couldn't be a coward and play *me*, Clark mused. Then he made a "Well…" face at himself; there's cowardice and there's discretion. He may have suspected something could go wrong at the Walk and was gathering information. Perhaps he planned to warn his friends and the authorities when he had enough proof. He had simply been interrupted in his research, and look where the poor man was now, if he was even alive…
Clark sighed and eased that idea back out of the way. If the man's legacy was to unintentionally give Clark Kent an puzzle to work on, the least a good reporter could do was follow up on his tingle about it.
He reconsidered the computer, the closest thing he had to a library at the moment.
He got into it without trouble. There were no artificial barriers to his entry, no passwords or traps. The programs were unfamiliar but easy to figure out. A little exploration through the wordprocessing and database documents gave him no new information on the AIDS idea file, so Clark turned next to the internet. Within a quarter hour of turning on the powerful computer, Clark had logged on to Cain's internet provider (the man's password was built in to the log-on program) and activated the IRC program. He checked to make sure his identity was hidden, changed the nick to CKent just for the heck of it, reconfigured the setup for the server K was using, and he sat back to wait for the program to gain entry.
This took about ninety seconds. He /whois'd MetroDuo but without luck. He wasn't surprised. Doing the same for K's nick was successful; he found her lurking in several rooms and sent her a message, but got nothing. He re-nicked himself to MetroDuo and messaged her again with: "I'm on. You're supposed to be resting!"
She replied in a DCC chat, "I'm about to turn in :) Good thing you changed your nick"
Clark changed it back to CKent. "What are you about to turn into?"
"Heeheehee :) Anything I want. It will be quieter tonight!!!"
Lois, you are… were… so good to me…
Clark chuckled to himself, melancholy, and typed, "Yes, it will!"
"Teri stopped chatting and went home. Call me if you have any luck at all. Did you get my cell phone number? Dean has one too."
"I have your number and I know where his phone is."
He turned and looked back. Yep. He typed, "They're observing me. They may be friendly. You stop being friendly. Go to bed."
"Coming from you, I better take that seriously! :D 'night."
Clark figured out how to instruct the program to beep him if the elusive real MetroDuo logged on again, then he changed screens and pulled up Cain's web browser.
He spent the next almost three hours surfing the world and discovering both scientific and theoretical information about AIDS. He also tracked down conspiracy theories about its origin, spread and future effects, and the reaction people had to it. The more he read, the less Cain's having grabbed that particular alt.conspiracy article seemed to be a fluke but a genuine inspiration.
(Despite his trust of his IRC warning system, he checked it at nearly five-minute intervals. Nothing.)
While he was waiting for pages of information to download, he noted a shelf full of scripts for "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of…", determined what order they were in, began reading through them from the beginning.
Midnight neared and his not having heard any beeps and perhaps reading too many scripts in one sitting began to take their toll. Clark reacted by trying to focus his energies elsewhere, away from looming depression and the craziness of television. Even his tingle about the Walk and a possible conspiracy to disrupt it was becoming upsetting. He told himself he needed a break.
The last thing he did on line that night was to ferret out a WWW site devoted to the Saturday event. He noted it had taken several hundred hits since its creation two weeks earlier but had no way to find out the origins of the hits. That didn't bother Clark much; the vast majority of the queries were no doubt totally innocent.
The site gave detailed information about the cause, the purpose of this particular rally, who was expected to attend (thousands of members of the public and hundreds of celebrities by the looks of it), and where it would be, someplace called the Universal City Walk, a large, neon-lighted shopping mall according to two pictures of it on the site. The Walk route was for the most part around this mall. People then weren't walking distances to gain dollars per miles, and the celebrities were mostly showing up to give speeches and pitch their strongly held beliefs. Members of the public were expected to both donate and learn.
Okay, Clark thought, he'd seen this kind of rally before. He had also seen people who held diametrically opposite beliefs making attempts to interfere with such gatherings. Disruptions could come in many forms. To tingle like this did, though, must mean the form would not be a pleasant one. He memorized the map of the City Walk and environs offered by the site, then sat back and sighed.
Not that I have any *proof* that anything's going to happen, he told himself, imagining Perry was looking him straight in the eye. He knew he would have blinked and shuffled and promised to get proof immediately… Perry encouraged his reporters to have and cultivate tingles, but before one word ever hit print, there had to be irrefutable proof for something as big as this.
Clark exited the web browser and checked on the IRC.
Nothing. Even K was gone. He joined #loiscla for a few minutes and the inhabitants, about half of them Australians, were polite, laughed at his nick, then ignored him when he failed to participate. It might have been easier to do so, considering all the scripts he had just read, if he could have thought of something thrilling to say about either Dean Cain's or Teri Hatcher's bodies. But that explained the channel's nickname, "The Aussie Gutter".
With an "I'm sorry, Lois…" he logged off the internet, turned off the screen, powered down the computer, and rose from the chair, stretching long and hard. "Well, boys, you're own your own again," he told the dogs.
They followed him into the front room and watched him unpack the brown bag he had brought along from K's and pull out the carefully folded black clothing. He put it, wishing Lois were here to help, petted the lead dog, turned off the lights, slipped out of the house, locking it securely behind him, and headed into the sky. He zipped up and half way around the world, finding morning and a full charge of sunlight, which helped alleviate some of his depression. Then he returned to the Los Angeles area, flying low now, looking for Universal City.
He returned to Cain's home hours later, just before dawn, showered, rinsed out the clothing, looked through Cain's refrigerator and grabbed an apple, and sat down at the computer. A quick log on to the internet and the IRC was still unproductive. He logged off, opened up Cain's most used wordprocessing program, and began to compose his thoughts.
*K Callan's Home
In Some Suburb of Some Alternative Los Angeles
Day Three, Friday Morning*
"If I'm here on Saturday," Clark told Justin and Teri over a 9 a.m. breakfast at K's home, "I'd like to go on the AIDS Walk with you."
"You can go as Dean," Teri agreed, then told herself loud, "Well, duh, who else? But are you sure you want to?"
"Yes. I have an odd feeling about it." He gave them an idea of what he'd found in Cain's den, for now keeping to himself most of the graphic, conspiracy-oriented details. "It may be nothing, there may be threats like this all the time and the police are ready for them, but I'd appreciate it if you'd humor me…"
"'Humor' you?" K asked in the midst of adding milk to her granola. "You're a great investigator, you must be on to something. Of course, now *I* want to go, too…" she smiled.
"That's perfect!" Teri said. "We're supposed to bring everyone we can possibly get, the more famous the better. We'll have all kinds of coverage, too. We're going to bring the house down."
Clark began to wonder if he should have given them more of the more gory details. The last thing he wanted was to see *anything* brought down…
He told them that he'd looked over Universal City Walk from the air shortly after midnight was surprised to see the crowds there so late on a holiday night.
"I guess that means there's room for trouble," Justin said. "I never thought about that…"
"Not necessarily," Clark said. "It means it's a popular place." He asked them a few leading questions, trying to ease out of them what they might not realize they knew, but his friends added little more to his previous knowledge about the event, the disease they were campaigning against, and the political atmosphere surrounding it.
The three in turn tried to pry out of him why he was worried, but he adroitly sidestepped every one of their well- meaning amateur attempts. Living and working with Lois had taught him a great deal. He'd always be grateful…
"So if someone's planning something to disrupt the Walk, who?" Justin asked.
"I don't know, I don't know the criminal element here." Though he suspected a group whose name had come up several times in his web surf: Dark December. Stories of sinister groups came and went, no doubt the bulk of them the creation of feverish imaginations trying out story plot lines.
But there were some that stood out, that lasted, that lurked, and Dark December had been lurking, as far as Clark had been able to gather, for more than a year. What was worse, it seemed to be connected with a smaller even more murky group called November Storm… "It's more clear cut in Metropolis, though it could be my perspective. We've got everything from street gangs to evil scientists—they usually come in twos like they seem to in your scripts—to immense, dangerous organizations. Also," he shrugged but felt free to admit, "Lois was better at keeping track of all of them than I am—"
"Was?" K raised an eyebrow. "*Is*."
They were watching at him.
"Think *positive,*" Teri insisted.
"I'm trying. She… She's cultivated a lot of contacts over the years, when I only got started about three years ago. So," Clark continued, "you all know more about crime here than I do. I've only heard one television news broadcast. Mr. Cain had a week-old newspaper in his kitchen; it was under the dogs' water bowl. I'd like you to tell me what's been happening here in California lately, but we can do it the car, anyone's car, while we're driving around the Universal City area."
K nodded and stood up. "After I do the—"
"No, you don't," Clark said as he rose just as quickly. "It's my turn to do the dishes."
"But you did them yesterday—."
He held up a single finger that hushed her. "No buts. I do this all the time at home…" home… "and this place is beginning to feel like home."
She gave in with a smile. "Do you do windows, too?"
He smiled and nodded.
Teri eased in with, "What does *Lois* do?"
Justin snickered. Teri elbowed him. Clark raised his eyebrows.
"I'm… taking notes." Teri admitted.
"Well… mental notes."
"We decided yesterday afternoon, when I drove her home, that we should try to make our version of Lois and Clark the best possible, so…"
"So you're taking notes."
"But I haven't really taken any until now."
"I'm sure Dean is taking them about *Lois*," Justin said, "*I* did…"
Clark didn't know what to say. He told himself he should have expected this.
Justin continued, "It's all right, isn't it?"
Teri bit her lower lip then said, "You're so quiet…"
Quiet? Oh, yes. "It's… all right, I'm just surprised."
"Embarrassed, too, hmm?" K guessed.
"A little. I don't mind being watched when I'm… Superman, but…"
"So these budding investigative journalists have surprised you out of cleaning up my kitchen, hmm…"
Now the two looked embarrassed. "*We'll* do it then."
Their contrite insistence eased the situation considerably. Clark found it easy to forgive them. "No, I'll do it…" He looked toward the kitchen again—and cleaned it up at superspeed, for once enjoying seeing jaws dropping en masse. There wasn't much to do, but it was helpful. In about two minutes he was drying his hands on a hand towel and smiling at K. "Can you think of anything else?"
"I would have been faster but I realized half way through the right way to stack this many dishes in the washer so I had to restack them."
"All I saw was a blur!"
"And I didn't answer your question about what Lois… does, around the house, did I…"
"She does anything she wants. Mostly, she directs."
Teri smiled and nodded. "That sounds like *my* Lois."
"And does your Clark clean up?"
"Well, we haven't explored that very much. They washed dishes together once before they were married, and he dried them with heat vision."
"You don't do that?"
"No, not if they can air dry."
K said, "I think Dean would have Clark ordering out for Italian and eating on paper plates anyway."
The actors agreed on this and that they'd have to clue Dean in when he got back.
Clark wanted to get away from this. He reminded them of his desire to see Universal City Walk. They decided to use K's nondescript car to reconnoiter the area. This meant a return to the Burbank and more talk about the studio and the various rivalries within the entertainment industry. Clark slipped in a question here and there, encouraging this chatter for a few minutes until he determined that the gossip they related had nothing to do with November Storm, Dark December or anything else that might threaten the Walk unless someone named Elizabeth Taylor was mobbed by admirers.
Lois probably could have taken these little bits of information and made a mountain out of them…
As they approached the City Walk, Clark decided he wanted to know the exact locations of the police and fire stations nearest the big mall. K got out her map of the valley and one of the phone books they had brought along, looked them the installations, and then drove by them. Clark checked them off a mental list, then suggested they drive onto the Universal City Walk grounds and inspect the huge parking structure.
This turned out to be as weak and insecure an area as Clark had determined it to be from the air and he wasn't surprised. They parked, he and Teri donned their disguises, and they headed for the elevators up to ground level to see the big mall first hand.
As expected, it was crowded with tourists and local people. The colorful, noisy mall lead to the Universal Studios and more places for the visitor to spend money and have fun. Justin explained that the Studios did double duty as backlot sets for the movie company and a complex theme park with rides and shows. Indeed, the Lois and Clark cast and crew had even shot some scenes for their own show on sets here, but studios did that for each other, sharing what each had. Clark said he thought that was generous of them.
They paused to watch children play in a fountain built into one of the mall junctions. Water bounced out and kids splashed through it, many of them barefoot despite warning signs.
"The tour is okay," Justin confided. Clark had noticed quite a few people had recognized his friend but not had the courage to approach him. "I've been on it a couple of times, I've taken some relatives on it, but if you were into this kind of thing, I'd recommend the new Superman ride at Six Flags."
Clark looked at him. "I don't think so."
"No, I don't mean just for that, it's a good ride. Dean helped inaugurate it. You go straight up like 40 stories in about 7 seconds and then you experience free fall and then you head down again at a hundred miles per hour!"
"And Mr. Cain is… wary of heights?"
"Well, he didn't get sick or anything…"
"Ironically," Teri added, "the ride is called 'Superman - the escape.'"
"Well, if I'm still here on Sunday…"
"You'll eat dinner at my place, won't you? So you can… clean up?"
"Ah, yes, if I can bring my…" he glanced at K and Justin, "chaperons."
Teri shrugged, smiled and nodded.
"Have you noticed?" Justin asked the other two confidentially. "People stare at me and you, K, but they *really* stare at you, Teri. I'm surprised you were only asked once for your autograph."
"That's right…" she frowned, looking around and trying to look as though she weren't looking around. "But no one has asked 'Dean' for anything."
"They sort of like don't see him…"
"I'm not Dean," Clark reminded them.
"But you'd fool practically *any*body…" he whispered.
"Still, I'm not Mr. Cain."
"And that's it," K decided. "You're not projecting any… Dean-ness, you're projecting, oh, mild mannered maybe."
"Boring," Justin translated.
"And I suspect," Teri said, "that *Superman* can really project…"
"Yes. I bet he could do it with cameras, too…"
The three looked at him speculatively.
Clark tried to ignore them, but thinking about the mall instead wasn't fun: the place would be impossible to protect. It wasn't easy to access by auto, true, at least by the entrance they had used, but nothing would stop people from bringing in weapons on foot, an attack from the air would be incredibly easy, and who knew what could be or even had been set up right here ahead of time? He had seen the occasional security guard, bored men who appeared to be nearing retirement age or were probably working here as a second job. He doubted they experienced much trouble with the tourists or fairly upscale locals visiting here.
And this could only get worse tomorrow with far more people even if there was improved security.
He wished he didn't feel this way.
As they stood looking at a window full of animated animals made of common kitchen utensils, he whispered to Teri (it seemed a natural thing to do), "We need to go somewhere to talk…"
Teri suggested they have a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant off Olive Avenue. As they drove over, she explained to Clark that they had all eaten here before, it was frequented by people who worked nearby at Warners. The interior was dark, and they were shown to a small wing near the fire exit. She thought no one would bother them, so no disguises were necessary. This turned out to be true.
However, Clark didn't feel like talking about a serious subject here. He didn't feel hungry, either. He wanted desperately to be eating lunch with his wife, not these well-meaning strangers. But, stuck and not wanting to worry them, he asked for the house special and then ordered himself to eat it and not pick at it like he had gotten away with doing at breakfast.
The food was excellent. Pleasantly surprised, Clark offered to chip in to pay for it using Cain's money, but his friends refused to take any, pooling their funds, daring him to eat habanero peppers while they counted it out, then begging him to stop because of how scary it was to observe the ease with which he slowly relished the very hot peppers.
Lois would have threatened to throw ice water at him to put him out… Lois…
Teri rolled her eyes at him and reached for his wrist to keep him from eating another of the little green delicacies.
A distant expression came into her eyes. She looked at Clark for a long, bewildered moment.
Lois… he felt, he *felt* her all around!
He smiled and took her hand, a tremendous relieved feeling overcoming his heart and threatening to do the same to his tearducts.
Then Teri shook her head for a moment and blinked. "Oh…"
"Wow," Justin said. "Too much salsa, huh?"
"No, it was Lois…" Clark heard himself whisper.
Teri was looking at the way he was holding her hand. He realized what he was doing and let her go gently.
She didn't seem to want to retrieve it right away.
"What did you just feel?" he asked.
"Oh…" Now she took her hand back so she could cover her cheeks and think a moment. "Like I was here… but not here… standing back… watching… This happened before…" She thought about it for a moment; no one gave her any clues. "On the set…"
"Was it painful?"
"No, not at all. It was like I was standing at a window and some one came up and took a look out the same window, someone I know…"
"Lois," K said.
Teri nodded. "Yes…"
K looked at Clark, who sat back and gave her the complete go-ahead to explain what Lois had said on Wednesday about being on the set but not really being there, seeing through what turned out to be Teri's eyes.
"Wow… See," Teri whispered, smiling at Clark now, "I told you she's alive and well."
Clark had had time to digest this. "Yes. I thought…" Tears threatened again. He picked out another habanero to play with. "If a breakdown of the Vibro Whammy caused the hole to blow out… I absorbed most of the shock on this side but on that side…"
"And with no IRC, well, naturally, anyone would worry about that…"
"Yeah…" But something else occurred to him, or re-occurred, the idea of that combination of a massive electric shock, himself, and a human caught in between… He sighed, shook his head, and found himself smiling now. He sat forward again, swallowed the habanero whole, faked a burp, which had the desired effect of shocking his friends… and he said, "I have the feeling those two are having some very interesting adventures."
They talked about one aspect of this on the way back to K's home. Their mutual conclusion was that Dean and Lois had returned to the Kent home, done some planning and resting, and tackled S.T.A.R. Labs once more, at which time Lois had touched the machine and seen through Teri's eyes. It was odd how when Teri touched it she hadn't seen anything.
"But we did get that portal right away," Teri said as they settled in around K's dining room table. "I don't know how the time lag is working but it seems to me that if they formed a portal after that, we should have seen it by now.
"I prefer to think that they had no trouble forming one but we missed it—maybe it was… outside the restaurant, though I didn't hear anything."
"Or someone came in and distracted them," Justin guessed.
"Yes, there's always that. It doesn't look like they've had a chance to try again immediately, but I bet they will, Lois will insist."
"We have written her as being very persistent," Teri said, note taking.
"Persistence is her middle name. But because of that, it may mean I could go home any time now…" He tried to keep from smiling broadly, instead thinking of what they had been doing earlier in the day. "So, since I may not be able to follow up, you deserve a good explanation for this chase I led you on this morning. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I have a 'good explanation.' Despite all we saw, I can't be sure of anything. At work when we get wind of something about to happen, we talk to our police contacts and Bobby Bigmouth and everyone else we can think of. If that doesn't help, I put on my suit and put in appearance."
"Which the bad guys would expect," Teri pointed out.
"True, criminals sometimes hope I'll show up so they can try new weapons out on me."
They blinked collectively, worried.
He hastened to add, "But the weapons rarely work. Even if they do, since they're concentrating on me, they're usually distracted and don't harm innocent bystanders. You see, it works out okay."
"Well, not for *you*…"
"It has so far… but that's not important here. Here, I have no connections to check other than the internet, and I can't hover. On the other hand, if I'm right that there will be trouble, nobody is going to be gunning for someone like me."
"Clark, what *exactly* do you mean by trouble? I think we have a right to know."
He agreed. If he could save only three people… It took him ten minutes to explain what had been in Cain's file, how he had made his search through the internet, and what he had found. He had been careful, conservative… and appalled. "An event like this is perfect for a group like that to attack."
"The name alone is scary." Justin shuddered. "November Storm…"
"From what you describe, they're ultra right wing," Teri frowned. "They would naturally see people gathering to support people with AIDS as being liberals, communists, gays, whatever, anything that represents what they love to hate. Act-Up, one of the most active groups, is going to be there, too."
"If the Walk fails for any reason," K said, "it will be seen as victory for their cause."
"A storm in November leading to a Dark December…" Justin whispered. "You know, I hope you're not right."
"I agree, because any attack could be lethal," Clark sighed.
"Surely the police know about all this, or at least suspect it…"
"I hope they do, but I didn't see much evidence of that at the mall. Security wasn't tight, people were coming and going freely—which is how it should be. That open area in front of the Hard Rock Cafe where everyone is supposed to give their speeches? It's visible from lots of places."
"But it has to be, so they can be seen…"
"Okay, okay," Justin said, frowning at his hands, which he had placed flat on the table. "If you say it's dangerous, even if you don't have any proof, even if we hope it isn't, it probably is. After all, you're, well, you're…" He looked up, "you, and I trust you. But what do we do? Not go?"
Clark shook his head. "I can't tell you not to go, I might be wrong."
"You're sure the police don't know?" Teri asked.
Clark could only shrug.
"Could you email them all the information you gathered?"
"Yes, but they might trace it back and Mr. Cain doesn't need the trouble."
"Then you could print it out, couldn't you?" Teri said. "Dean has a good printer. You could use regular typing paper that anyone can get, then wrap it up and drop it off late tonight." She flew her hand just above eye level. "From overhead."
"Maybe not 'late,'" K said, "in case Lois is successful."
"Then I should probably fly to Mr. Cain's house and start now." He stood up. He glanced around the room, this wonderful, safe place, and decided he didn't want to go on a low note. "Could I take another piece of pie with me?"
K smiled. "Certainly."
He next glanced through the doors into the quiet sunroom. "Let's try the IRC again, too."
Justin got on, /whois'd Metroduo and received notice that they were idle. "That's great! It means they're on!" He pinged them next and sat back, smiling, and waited… and waited… "I guess they're still lagged…"
"Well, keep an eye on it and time it."
"We'll do that," K told him. "Take this pie and go. Be careful."
His trip was uneventful. Readying the documents for print and then printing three copies took an hour. Clark used the waiting time to care for the dogs, and, since they seemed to be feeling lonely and allowed it now, he played with them. He hoped this would be the last time they'd have to indulge him, that Lois would find out how the Vibro Whammy worked, even if it meant bringing Dr. Klein in, and convince it to make another hole. Add to that, here in California, he hoped the authorities wouldn't ignore the packages he would plant here and there. That wasn't much to ask.
On the way back to K's home, he spotted a police car, its driver stopped to deal with a minor traffic accident. The officer had left her squad car's door open, inviting Clark to zip down and leave on the front seat one of his packages, wrapped in a finger-print free, clear, plastic bag and labeled URGENT!
Dusk, hindered by storm clouds building up, was falling over the Los Angeles basin as he landed in K's garden. He walked into the kitchen and saw Teri first.
She was just closing the refrigerator door. She smiled. "I wish I could go flying with you. We make it look like so much fun on the show…"
"It is fun, but…"
"I know, you're a married man and it's dangerous…"
"That and it's difficult to carry along a chaperon." He put the second of the print outs on the table. "Look through this, see what you think."
"Oh, good, I like a mystery even more than flying." She opened the can of soda she had gotten and poured the contents into a glass. "Want one?"
"Yes, but I can get it. You read, okay?"
She nodded, picked up the package, and took it into the dining room, which was beginning now to look like a command center.
Justin was reading comic books and he looked up from one. "No answer to the ping, weird. Everybody else we try answers, and I could get into channels when I needed to, so…"
Clark frowned and nodded, going in to check the computer for himself. He noticed that Justin's pings reported various reasonable lag times; he pinged one himself and got a "4 secs". He then /whois'd MetroDuo and this time examined the results with more care. He scrolled back up the status log and looked at what Justin had been doing, then looked over the handwritten notes.
"See something?" K asked as she paused in the door.
"Yes, something odd… No, not odd for what's happening, I guess, and I don't have enough information. Back when Justin pinged, their sign-on time was 13:15 Friday, so their her local time when they tried to IRC again was 8:15. See this…" He pointed out the whois Justin had done before Clark had left to print out his results
MetroDuo ~test@LocOrISComLinAcc.Metropolis.nt.us * MetroDuo
MetroDuo Metropolis.nt.us.universalnet.edu [101.010.101.01]
Universal Online Services/"Over The Rainbow"
MetroDuo 2 minutes idle, Friday August 16 13:15:15 signon time
MetroDuo End of /WHOIS list.
"Hmm… They'd only been idle 2 minutes but we can't get a ping back…"
"Right. Now look at this…" He scrolled down. "This is my last whois…"
MetroDuo ~test@LocOrISComLinAcc.Metropolis.nt.us * MetroDuo
MetroDuo Metropolis.nt.us.universalnet.edu [101.010.101.01]
Universal Online Services/"Over The Rainbow"
MetroDuo 34 minutes idle, Friday August 16 13:15:15 signon time
MetroDuo End of /WHOIS list.
"It could be more than that. First, it's Friday morning there but Friday evening here. The appearance of time… running slower in Metropolis has changed somehow. It's still slow, they're still behind us, it's only been 32 minutes for them between whois's but almost two hours here…"
He sighed. "I have no idea. The time though is interesting. Friday morning. After the… partial success they had on their Thursday afternoon, they must have gone back again on their Friday morning."
"I saw Lois through Teri, sort of."
"And… And I don't know where I'm going with this."
"That's okay. There's something that's keeping them from IRCing but we can see they're there. Maybe if Lois and Dean return, they'll try it again and…"
Clark nodded; yes, that was it. "Be successful. We got on the Lois and Clark channel when Lois was at the keyboard, but we lost contact with them when it was just Mom."
"If they're at the Labs and she's the only one there now, maybe the connection is improving a little."
"Maybe they can get on when they come back."
There was the sound of distant thunder. Clark sat back and looked west, through the wall. The clouds had arrived. "Darn…"
"No, we can't risk it." He turned off the computer himself. "We can wait."
Teri and Justin had been listening in quietly. "Another crack could open up practically any time now and give you your chance to go home."
"Be sure to *grab* Dean and yank him through!" Justin advised, smiling.
Clark nodded. "Oh, I think he may be flying…"
Teri touched his arm. "Those papers are beginning to convince me. I'll make sure they get delivered to the right people if you're not here to do it."
She was right, this could be it. He smiled at her for that reason and for the assurance in her voice. "Thanks. I won't worry then."
There was suddenly a crack of lightening—outside the home— followed almost instantly by a WHAM! of thunder and nearly everyone in the house cried out, startled. The lights dimmed, the VCR in the living room recycled, the refrigerator burped.
With the next flash only moments later, they lost power altogether, leaving them only the dim light of a surly, stormy evening. K found candles, but no matches. Clark took the candles, lit them for her and helped set them in holders on the dining room table. By the time this alternate lighting arrangement had been set up, the lightning-accented part of the weather had eased and it was followed by a hard rain.
Trying to ignore the scary weather, his friends dug into the printout he had given Teri. Farthest away from the light to give the bulk of it to his friends, Clark settled down with some of the comic books Justin had brought. The first one was thick and had a white cover with an S shield embossed in it. He read at a leisurely pace, enjoying "The Wedding Album" even though none of it related to anything he knew of as real. The art was fine for the most part, the story interesting, the whole thing cleverly done to give tribute not only to the characters but to their creators. Interesting idea. Perhaps this had all happened in yet another universe…
After being assured by Justin that this blue-haired Superman would regain his powers in another issue or two, Clark switched over to the evening paper. In a column dedicated to odd happenings around the world, he found a brief note about an Angelito Negro with compassionate brown eyes saving a truck full of people trapped in the rapids of the Ucayali River in Peru. Compassionate, that was good. He'd been worried about what the black clothing would say to the people he'd rescued since he'd been unable to hide from them.
When his friends were finished reading the printouts, he answered all their questions to the best of his ability. Again, he refused to advise them about what to do since he had no idea if he would be able to go with them.
The storm passed, the rain eased to a gentle shower, the electrical service returned to normal, and K agreed it was probably okay to try the computer again, maybe she could get on and chat, drawing the elusive MetroDuo.
Her computer had no trouble booting up, though it took time for them to reaccess the IRC. Eventually she could /whois MetroDuo and discovered them to be still idle as far as Burbank was concerned, and another 40 minutes had passed.
"About the same time amount of time as here, we're beginning to parallel." Trying to indicate this, Teri held her hands together. "August," the left, and "November," the right. "As long as one of us doesn't drift irreversibly…" she eased November away, "then I think if they can get another portal going, it should be more stable. Otherwise…"
Justin reached over, took her hands lightly and eased them parallel again. "Hey, I want Clark to go on the Walk with us, that would be neat—and maybe we'd save the day and everything, but I want him to go home, too, and Dean to come back. So let's not drift irreversibly, okay?"
"Not if I can help it, not that I've been *asked*…" She put her hands together and held them safe before herself. She added a nod full of the assurance of inborn woman's intuition. "But everything will be okay."
Some 45 minutes later…
Session Start: Friday, August 17 13:29:46 1996
DCC Chat session
"Their time it's… 9:29."
Client: MetroDuo (000.0.00.00)
Acknowledging chat request…
DCC Chat connection established
<MetroDuo> CLARK!!! O thank god you're okay! And K? And Justin?
> They're fine, they were surprised when the crack closed but they weren't hurt. How are you? I've been so worried.
<MetroDuo> Clark? Were fine. We tried to get on but we couldn't ping you. We'v been busy, having lots of fun. I now you'v been having fun with Teri.
"Huh? Fun? Tell her you won't even take me flying."
Clark looked up at her, confused first by what Lois was typing and now by Teri's comment. "Pardon?"
"I'm joking. Can't she… type?"
"Ah…" He looked back at the screen and reread his wife's words. "She's excited, that's all," and something else that made him feel uncomfortable for some reason. He shouldn't be feeling this way.
> I've been keeping myself busy traking down a mystery. I wish you were here to help me with it, but I'm glad you're okay.
<MetroDuo> I'm always fine. Dean wants to talk to you.
"If he can type," Justin smiled, "he's okay."
"Well, honestly, I don't want to talk to *him*, but…"
"I'll talk to him," Teri offered. Clark immediately gave up his seat. She sat down and typed,
<MetroDuo> Hi, Dean here:)
> So you weren't hurt by the power surge?
<MetroDuo> No, I wasn't hurt, but I did have a few problems adjusting to the super powers.
"Oh my god!" She looked at Justin; his jaw had dropped. She placed trembling fingers back on the keys.
> *Super* powers?
She glanced up at Clark. "How…?"
"The normal way. I suspected it might happen, assuming he survived the blast, if there was a blast on that side when the crack closed. Your show covered this in three separate scripts. 'Bolt from the Blue' was the most like what Lois and I actually experienced. Under certain very specific conditions, a regular human being can acquire a copy of my powers. I don't like the idea at all, it doesn't really make sense to me since I'm not human… but I make every effort to avoid those conditions. Yesterday… I won't ask you to talk quantum physics to explain it."
"Thanks. In our show, each time it involved a terrific blast of energy. Twice it was lightning."
"The short circuit could have been like that," K said, "though it wasn't a 'terrific blast' or I think the electric company would have come out to check. But if most of the short circuit was on that side, and, Clark, if you thought that machine had blown up…"
"I sure did. I guess nothing happened over there. I'm glad. I was afraid maybe even Metropolis had blown up…"
<MetroDuo> <G> Yes, flying is *wonderful*.
"Is this the Dean we know?"
"It could be, *I* like flying…"
"Then maybe you better take over. Dean with super powers *and* liking to fly? I don't know, maybe it's an impostor. If it isn't, I'll need time to think up some extra clever pranks to pull on him…"
Clark took the chair again and changed the nick to DannyCK. "I'll use my brilliant investigative skills to track down this mystery…"
> Hi, Dean, Clark here. You say you got some of my powers? During the power surge?
<MetroDuo> Yes. We figure it was when I touched you, just before the portal slammed shut. Lois seemed to think this was almost a regular occurance around here<g>
"I think that means he's genuine. Maybe you can work his new powers into your show."
"The publicity will be great!" Justin smiled.
"Yes, but," K shook her head, "he won't get hazardous duty pay for harness work any more…"
The two sides continued to chat, exchanging information quickly, learning what had happened on Lois and Dean's recent revisit to S.T.A.R. Labs and how her touching the machine had allowed her to see through Teri's eyes. Clark nodded at this. "I knew it…"
"My eyes weren't 'glazed over.'"
"It's just a metaphor…"
Cain had also had a brief encounter with Kryptonite and was now entertaining a theory about the Vibro Whammy's secret agenda.
"He's creative," K said, "but now he sounds like a scientist!"
Dean and Lois were going to try to sneak into the Labs again that night—before the machine was destroyed, Dr. Klein's latest edict. Thus, this IRC warning was critical, Clark should be on the alert.
"I will be…" Clark told the screen as Cain signed off. "That's about all I can be, alert…"
"It looks like we're at least 12 hours ahead of them, maybe more. If they go at midnight their time, it will be about… oh, two tomorrow?
"Could be," Justin said, "so it may be after the Walk. We can all be standing around alert."
<MetroDuo> Clark, we have to talk, Den's gon. Are you alone?
Justin was whisper-reading and he read this, then thought about it and straightened up. "Oh…"
"Come help me order pizza, you two…"
Teri nodded. "Good idea."
K shepherded them out of the room quickly.
> I'm alone now. Are you really okay? Please tell me the truth.
<MetroDuo> I'm perfectly fine. I landed a little hard and then the crack thingy closed on you and I kickd and yelled at machine but that didnt help. A guard came to take us out. We pretended Dean was sick and the gard
<MetroDuo> guard helped him walk. Dean was shakey but hes just marvelous now. He's such a nice man. He's learning fast, too.
That was a switch in attitude. He smiled. Of course she'd face the facts when it counted.
> I'm glad you're getting along with him. I'm sure he appreciates your help.
<MetroDuo> I could see your geting along with Teri. What were you and her doing in thta dark Mexican restarant
He almost laughed.
> I was showing everyone how to really eat habaneros.
<MetroDuo> That's all you were doing????
> Other than wishing you had been there, then glad to see that y Remember that little restaurant outside the Plaza Mexico?
<MetroDuo> I remember you not being sure who to root for, the bull or the bull fighter.
> We have to do that again.
<MetroDuo> I want to see you so bad.
> I can be so bad :D
He grinned as close to lasciviously as he could muster at the memory of her without her t-shirt pajamas on.
<MetroDuo> LIkely sotry. I can see you laughing. You'r making me laugh, stop it !
> I've got a million of 'em.
<MetroDuo> You have about tthree and you dont tell them very well. You need me.
> Yes, I do.
In more ways than one, countless more ways…
> I need a coach, coach. You willing?
She was almost always willing. Thursday morning it had been touch and go, true—they'd touched and *gone*, but then Thursday evening…!
He waited, watching the screen.
Three minutes later, he pinged. No such nick. He waited another three minutes but she didn't or couldn't sign back on.
He cursed under his breath, "Darn…!" He had the feeling there was no use waiting. The universe was going to allow them to have only so much fun apart, it seemed. He signed off the IRC, logged off the provider and backed out to the C:\ prompt.
Be careful, Lois…
He decided he was too pepped up to be hungry and so didn't wait around for the pizza to arrive. He excused himself, saying that all was well in Metropolis (his wife was hungry for him but he didn't mention that). No, he had no new information about how Dean was doing with super powers, but he suspected the man was doing fine, what with the… coach he had inherited. In the meantime, he had to use his own original version of the powers to deliver his last package.
*In and Over the
Suburbs of Some Alternative Los Angeles
The delivery went smoothly. He chose the station closest to Universal City Walk and left the package under the nose of a police dog whose officer was busy sorting out keys to his squad car. The dog accepted this as normal apparently, for he made no comment on what Clark did. Clark hovered overhead then, beyond the reach of the parking lot lights. The officer turned to indicate the dog should get in (the dog hadn't moved), saw the package, picked it up, "What's this?" The dog didn't say. "Wasn't there a minute ago, was it, Buddy…" The officer relocked the squad car and the dog led him back into the building.
Clark removed the scarves, pocketed them, and dropped into the nearest convenience store. He wasn't openly recognized as Cain or anyone else. He purchased a newspaper and stood out of the way, reading it and listening to the store's radio. No news alerts, and nothing of particular interest in the paper. He folded it back up and returned it to the bin for resale. Then he left the store, rounded the nearest corner into darkness, and took off.
The night turned into a general repeat of the one before. He flew here and there, letting intuition draw him, helping people, recharging himself when he was on the light side of the world, and refusing to feel sleepy, for he might dream of Lois and how much he missed her.
He had warned K that he would be eating breakfast at Cain's and he did so at around five. He wasn't due at her home until 9, when she would take care of the driving. Justin and Teri had decided to accept K's offer that they go together to this event, carpooling being politically correct and more efficient. Clark wondered if this would be noted by the paparazzi, but he seemed to be the only one who was curious about that. Weren't Hollywood stars supposed to arrive at events in limousines? Maybe not, and big cars would make the traffic worse anyhow.
During and after breakfast, he read the rest of the scripts, watched several episodes to see how they differed from what he had read, and added more thoughts to the notes and observations he was leaving—or hoped he was leaving behind for Cain. Perhaps the man would find them useful; perhaps he would delete them. Maybe living with Lois in Metropolis for a while as well as having the powers would show the actor what things were really like in the universe Clark knew.
Then again, he thought as he perused his writing, if I'm stuck here and somehow find myself playing him, I can insist on some of these changes myself…
Universal City Walk
Day Four, Saturday
About 10 a.m.*
Universal City Walk was a mad house. They took a back entry but it was packed, too. As K crept them along toward the special parking, Clark suggested they park on the outer edges if possible, to be able to get away faster. It meant a longer walk into the mall, true, but…
"Well, we all brought our walking shoes," K said. She turned down the first aisle there in the big parking structure and found an empty slot easily. "The exit's right over there, too. Do you think we'll have to make a fast one?"
"I don't know, but if we have to, I can make sure we all get back to the car okay." He realized that wasn't much help, but there was nothing more to go on than what he and Cain had gathered. Perhaps, if the universes were still running roughly parallel (MetroDuo hadn't been whois'able this morning), Lois and Cain were approaching STAR Labs even now.
There were overt signs of more security, particularly private security officers looking unamused and "unimpressed by all the star power," as Justin put it in a whisper. He mocked taking a picture of them with his SLR when they weren't looking.
They should have been impressed by Teri, Clark thought. She was wearing a tight black t-shirt with a silver super S emblem placed so it accented and was accented by her small but shapely figure. She wore a visor cap, too, but it in no way disguised her.
"You look fetching," he told her, hoping she wasn't expecting to look sexy.
His comment made her grin. "Thank you!" She had called that morning and left a message on Cain's machine. Fortunately, Clark had been there to listen to it; he had decided not to answer any calls as not to interfere any more than he had to with Cain's life. She had strongly suggested that he find something to wear, among Cain's closet full of clothes, that reflected her show.
He had found and rejected a white shirt with a red and yellow S on it, but approved of a baseball cap with the same symbol as well as the show's name. Teri said that it was a fine choice, and then pinned a folded red ribbon to his black T-shirt, there on his left. "Dean looks good in black, too." She patted the ribbon, an emblem that both reminded the viewer of those who had succumbed to AIDS and designated the wearer as a warrior in the fight. "Just remember to smile a lot," and she showed him how, beaming at him. She must really enjoy events like this, Clark thought, as she was smiling so much at everyone.
"He did fine on the set when we met some fans," Justin told her. He was wearing an over-sized plaid shirt that he had said fans would recognize as "Ned." He held up his camera and said he had lots of film. If they wanted him to take any pictures, he'd be glad to. "Hey," he said, "it's part of my Jimmy disguise, see?"
K tied a scarf decorated with Super S's fashionably around her neck. "If some one sticks a microphone in your face, just smile big—Dean always does—and say you're having fun and it's a great cause. That will be enough, they just want sound bites."
"You'll get used to it," Teri assured him.
"I'm sure I can do it," Clark said, "but I may not be paying complete attention."
"So maybe you won't get noticed then," Justin speculated. "Like yesterday."
There were so many other celebrities in attendance that Justin could be right by default, Clark thought as he began to recognize television and movie stars who were the same in this world as in his. They had hardly reached the elevators before Teri began whispering which ones she knew and was sure Dean knew, too. Fortunately, with the press of the VIP crowd and the media (who were invited, calmer than paparazzi and on their best behavior), Clark mostly needed only to grin and nod and let his friends make most of the comments. He hoped Cain wasn't very verbal at events like this, and that Cain tended to "glow" and "look like he'd really been working out." Clark credited being "pleased with the show." This was always accepted and camera-wielding reporters moved on to be replaced by nearly identical people.
The quartet finally broke out into the open, a stretch of pavement between the parking structure and the main mall area. It was a bright morning, the sun a globe through the fog, which someone commented was taking forever to burn off. There were also clouds on the western horizon. Clark wondered if the distant weather was more fog and not a little message from Lois…
When he wasn't distracted by thoughts like this and by having to be Cain, Clark watched the crowd. There was less of an obvious police presence here, but, cheating a bit and following the dictates of his intuition, Clark glanced just under some people's clothing and saw holstered guns… and communication devices, badges and other police paraphernalia. The more such people Clark detected ambling among the crowd, trying to blend in, the more relieved he felt. They were ready and perhaps had been before his warnings. This boded well. He mentioned it in a whisper to his friends—"There are a lot of undercover police here…"—and they smiled.
The main gathering was in the large open area which was dominated by the Hard Rock Cafe, a major sponsor of the event, and surrounded by a cineplex and a colorful theme restaurant. On other days, that architectural layout funneled people into the mall toward the studio and park rides. A stage had been set up and musicians were performing rousing music. This lasted until 11 a.m., when they stepped down and representatives of the event's sponsors made short speeches. They gave some history of AIDS, outlined the purpose of this particular march, rallied the crowd into cheers, reminded them of the importance of donations, and sent them off on their "march", which consisted of walking once through the mall, then out and around it and back to this meeting place. More for appearances, Clark thought, than for exercise.
Also, not every celebrity walked: he noted that many of the older, perhaps less exercise-oriented ones remained in the main area and chatted with the press. That was probably equally glamorous and beneficial to the cause.
Many of the marchers were regular members of the public. Justin told Clark that these people had paid a fee, received a t-shirt, and could tell their friends they had walked with stars. The stars were expected to donate not only their time but money as well; Justin said he thought Dean had already done so, he had just not planned to come.
Clark could imagine the thrill the spectators were feeling, for he had been in the presence of venerated stage actors, presidents and kings numerous times, both interviewing them and while in the suit. But personally this didn't feel the same. He was in an awkward position: he was Clark Kent pretending to be Dean Cain who pretended to be Superman who was Clark Kent's disguise to express his unique abilities while trying to live a normal, meaningful life, which didn't often include participating in marches. Clark not only had to appear to be enjoying all this (which wasn't difficult), but he could use few of his unique abilities as they marched along the route lined with spectators and the enhanced potential for danger among the poorly policed, cheering crowds.
What's more, Lois made an unexpected visit: One moment Teri was laughing and waving at a clutch of fans who held a placard that declared in small letters "No more frogs!" and in large ones "More Steam!" and the next she had paused to gaze at her surroundings uncertainly.
Lois! He wanted to grasp her… but didn't. He touched her elbow and she turned to look at him. She blinked. "It happened again…"
"A portal better not open here."
"I think we're okay, things don't…" he paused and nodded at a group of preteen girls shouting "DEAN!" "things don't feel… right yet."
"Do you go with your feelings a lot?"
"Sometimes that's all we have…" He noticed a landmark ahead. "I think we're almost to the end of the march. Maybe we'll have time to leave before a portal shows up."
He noticed a teenager towing a red wagon and an ice chest full of cold cans of soda, so he pulled out Cain's wallet and used a ten to purchase four cans. The seller smiled and assured him the profit would go to the cause.
As the entered the mall again, Clark passed the drinks to K, Teri and Justin. "I think our absent friend can afford this."
"And it's clouding up, so it should be shady and cooler soon," K observed. Clark wondered if she had seen Teri's momentary transformation.
"Clouds could mean a storm…" Teri whispered thoughtfully.
"Oh, a portal!" Justin said, barely containing himself. Then his eyes widened. "We can't let it happen here… except the publicity for the show would be great. Dean could come back, you fly around, Lois Lane could wave through the hole…"
K took his shoulder. "Shh…"
"Oh, yeah…" A fan shoved an autograph book at him and he signed automatically.
"That's okay," Clark assured them the next time they had a free moment. "I haven't seen anything suspicious." He glanced around, smiling at onlookers, saying quietly and projecting it to include K and Justin, "I'd prefer to watch from the edge of the crowd, but you don't have to if you'd rather stand closer…"
"But on the edge we'll be closer to where we parked, in case of rain," Justin pointed out.
Also, Clark thought, they didn't want to leave his side, probably more curious than fearful.
They eased through the crowds in the direction of the Hard Rock Cafe and the parking garage, being stopped only once by a camera-wielding man. The reporter with him held a microphone, said into it, "How does it feel to represent *truth, justice and the American way,*" he emphasized those words, then nearly snarled out, "among these…" disgustedly: "so-called *activists*?" He held it to Clark for his reaction.
Clark wondered about the man's statement of the question, but maybe he had… hemorrhoids and they were acting up (he didn't check), so a gentle response was called for. "I see it as supporting a good cause that's more important than a television show, sir."
"And what's more American than *that*?" Teri inquired pointedly, apparently without concern for the reporter's physical condition.
The reporter looked as though he thought this typical, ignored her in a superior manner, said no more, and led his cameraman into the crowd.
"Jerks…" Teri frowned.
"Geesh, why are they even here if they're so unhappy?"
"They must be freelancers from some religious station," K guessed, "though I didn't see any station or network emblems on that camera."
Clark frowned in the direction the two had gone, but they were already buried in among the crowd and impossible to scope out. "I should have paid better attention to them…"
"There are always troublemakers, don't let it bother you."
But it did.
They found a relatively quiet place at a corner of the Hard Rock Cafe from which they could watch the stage and Clark could observe the crowd. The countless conversations and the musical entertainment quieted as speakers began to approach the podium and address the crowd. Nearly everyone's attention was riveted on the stage as music, television and movie stars as well as progressive politicians rose to say a few words and lead the crowd in cheers.
What no one seemed to notice, though, was that the disgruntled reporter and his cameraman slipped out the exit toward the parking structure. Clark noticed.
He elbowed Justin and nodded. Justin turned, saw, and said "Wow…"
"Stay here with the ladies."
"Okay, like, protect them?"
"Yes, like that."
Justin touched Clark's arm to hold him back. "You're going after those two? Do you need help?"
"No. I think since they're leaving it means something more important is going to happen here. According to the schedule, there are still a lot of speakers to go, but…
"They're leaving." Justin's eyes widened a bit and he whispered conspiratorially: "I see…!"
Clark just nodded. He glanced at Teri and K. They were watching him, not someone called Bill Belamy, "MTV Host," who had just told a joke that was causing a ripple of laughter through the crowd.
Teri said flatly, "I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not, not unless you have at least a black belt in some hard martial art—and not even then."
"We're not going," K said just as flatly. "We're staying out of the way."
"Yeah, *I'll* protect you."
Teri rolled her eyes. The action gave Clark the chance to slip away quickly at no more than fast human speed.
He walked along the edge of the crowd, toward the cineplex and the back of the stage. He could imagine well-armed commandos attempting to raid the stage and doing so from the back would be the easiest way.
Perhaps the police thought so, too, for he spotted two jump- suited undercover officers at the right-side end of the stage, both of them watching Belamy leave the podium, high-fiving Melissa Ethridge, who was taking his place.
The officers failed to notice two business-suited, middle- aged, Anglo men slip into the dark alcove provided by the cineplex entry. Perhaps they were there to tell commandos hidden inside that their time was drawing near.
An x-ray peek into the big lobby, though, showed it was uninhabited. Still, the two overly-dressed men had plans, for they wore hidden under their out-of-place suit jackets what looked too much like automatic weapons.
Ethridge began to cite government funding figures and the crowd reacted with great concern.
A calm approach to the gunmen was called for; Clark didn't want to attract attention any more than they did. He was glad he had the innocent can of soda as cover.
The two men were scanning the area, no doubt preparing to take out their guns, when they spotted Clark sauntering at a leisurely pace in their general direction. They redeposited their guns and tried to look like they weren't there.
Clark made a show of noticing them. "Hey, fellows, have you seen any restrooms around here?"
Ethridge introduced Dustin Hoffman.
The closer man frowned at Clark, "No," then a trace of recognition crossed his face. "Wait, aren't you…"
Within five feet of the first man, Clark tripped over a conveniently placed pebble, fell into him, reached into his coat at lightning speed, touched and pinched the barrel of the gun, and crushed it with thumb and forefinger.
He recovered quickly. "Oh, gosh, I'm sorry!" He turned to the man's companion, full of apologies. "Hey, did I get any soda on you…?" He brushed at the second man's suit, reaching inside it and disabling his weapon at the same speed and in the same manner as he had the first one.
The man, who hadn't been touched by the soda, pushed him away, cursing at him under his breath.
Clark bounced back, "Whoa, *sorry*!…"
The men glared at him. The first one muttered, "Degenerate" and the second said, "I won't let my kids watch your show," and he spat out something that sounded like "Touching Angels."
Clark shook his head, tried to look embarrassed, and turned to wander away, apparently still searching for the restrooms.
Hoffman thanked the crowd and introduced Sting.
Moments later Clark heard the men curse again; they had discovered his parting gifts but didn't connect them with him. This was working out just fine! If all the terrorist were this clumsy and obvious…
His pleased self congratulations were cut short by a curtly spoken: "Mr. Cain…"
He looked to his left and saw that he was being addressed by a small Asian woman dressed in a security guard uniform. She looked legitimate; others were wearing the same uniform and he'd seen two such people talking to a group of police officers at the entry to the parking building.
"I recognize you. My kids love your show." Her frown deepened. "I like it, too."
Huh? Praise yet dissatisfaction? It looked like being a TV star was harder than the average viewer might think. "Ah, I see."
"Why did you accost those two men?" she nodded at them.
They didn't notice. They had moved deeper into the shadows of the alcove and were discussing their situation in heated terms. Clark again overheard no reference to himself; they were on the verge of blaming each other. Typical.
He looked back at her, all innocence. "Accost them, Officer…" she was wearing a badge, "Huang?"
"They're very dangerous. We've been watching them and their friends for days now."
Days?—*days*? Wow! Great!
Ah… "They have friends? They didn't seem very friendly at all. They could use courses in…"
She was not amused.
He decided he could do worse than to ask, "How many friends *do* they have?"
"Even if you were Superman," she said, her eyes narrowing, "I wouldn't tell you."
"Yes, there are rumors going around that there could be trouble here." Her slightly Chinese accented voice and soft but serious tone gave her statement a penetrating tone that even one with as thick a hide as his, he admitted, couldn't miss. She continued: "I think some of the trouble could be caused by people who are trying to help."
"Ma'am, *I'm* just trying to find the restrooms."
"Good, you find them, that way," she pointed. In the direction he had been going. "And you remember," she raised her thin eyebrows, "I'm watching you, too…"
"Oh, I'm glad, I don't want to get into any trouble…"
This time he tried to look like an innocent citizen simply searching for relief. He hoped he was enough of an actor to pull that off.
Sting's heart-felt rendition of a popular labor movement song came to an end and he introduced the Mayor of Los Angeles.
Dean found the restrooms, a line of white structures, portable toilets which he had glimpsed earlier, during the walk. They were hidden back to the side of the cineplex, away from the crowd. They were also full, with people lined up waiting.
The Mayor told some politely received jokes and introduced Denzel Washington.
Clark ambled on, drawn again by intuition. Behind the second row of structures, he spotted a medium-sized grocery bag, its top folded over—and stapled shut. Very odd. He looked back for the Officer Huang but didn't see her. Perhaps her attention had been drawn elsewhere. No one seemed to be noticing him at all, which was fine as all he wanted to be at the moment was a mild-mannered reporter.
He walked over to the bag, casually picked it up and strolled away with it to a parking area behind the cineplex. A quick check told him that he was alone here for the moment. The bag contained a crude but no doubt effective incendiary device that careful carrying had not upset. He determined its weight and how much force he'd have to use, and then he launched it in the general direction of Comet Hale-Bopp, which happened to be heading behind the sun.
Washington explained dramatically how everyone's money, even the smallest amount, would assist the cause, and then he introduced Pamela Sue Anderson.
Clark came across three other such devices in his peregrinations, including one of them snatched out of its carrier's hands when the man sneezed due to a sudden puff of dust. Clark also relieved the bomber of his wallet, not sure what he'd do with it but something would probably occur to him.
Anderson read some somber statistics, expressed anger about them, and then welcomed Richard Gere on to the stage.
Clark got rid of two of the bombs the same way he had the first one: throwing them toward the comet.
Gere told of his travels in India in search of world peace and introduced the Dalai Lama.
As Clark spied the next bag bomb, he also spied Officer Huang, who had at last caught up with him. When she looked away for a second to see the speaker, Clark planted the wallet he'd lifted under the bag and returned to where he'd been standing out of the way, all in about half a second. He then wondered aloud about the odd sight of an sealed-up and abandoned grocery bag near the entry to the Suncoast Sound store.
She immediately warned him to stay away from it and pulled out her radio to call in the suspicious bag's location.
She also decided at this time to say by his side. "You are not Superman," she informed him, "but you're a big man with sense of curiosity and I do not think you can stay out of trouble."
"Don't worry, I will now keep you out of trouble," and that was all she would say on the topic.
He found himself not really minding having the companionship. Her accent was endearing, protection was after all her job, and she might know some useful form of martial art. Her presence and that of her fast-moving colleagues proved that while he'd been right to be worried, it had been out of proportion. Maybe he'd been conditioned to worry by the unfortunate observation that sometimes every police officer in Metropolis seemed to be either on strike or on vacation at once. Here they seemed to be more efficient and on the ball. It was beginning to look like this world didn't need him nearly as much as his own did.
I really have to get home, he sighed.
The Dalai Lama spoke with gentle compassion and introduced Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
Officer Huang's presence, however, did not exactly shackle Clark. He still watched for lurking terrorists and, as they reached the three-quarters point of their walk around the crowd, his vigilance was rewarded: a tall, well-dressed unemotional man watching the stage muttered, "They drag children into their perversions…" and discretely pulled out a hand gun.
Clark immediately warmed it with a shot of heat vision, and, just as JTT introduced Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, the would-be
gunman yelped and dropped his weapon. Officer Huang zeroed in on the sound of the gun bouncing, saw who had dropped it, and she rushed to subdue and take him into custody. People in the immediate area shied away and tried not to notice. She quickly, quietly called for back up, which equally quickly and quietly appeared to help her and not disturb any more of the activists.
The wind began to rise a little as Moore and Willis spoke of their commitment to the cause and introduce Madonna, who brought along a band and guest dancer John Travolta. The well-received duo proceeded to belt out a crusading song of love and respect for children.
Despite this riotous music and the boisterous crowd, Clark heard something out of place. It was a creaking, straining, dangerous sound that within moments Clark isolated to the three- to four-story high, neon-light-covered, stylized guitar attached to the front of the Hard Rock Cafe. A deeper look told him that some of the bolts, tie downs and other devices holding upper part of the structure into place had been severed, sabotaged.
He could easily imagine what would happen. With the rising wind, which any observant terrorists must feel lucky to have (God was on their side…), the heavy decoration would begin to fall. The crowd, captivated by the singers' flamboyant performances, wouldn't notice until too late.
Too late, that is, unless he did something first, something right out in the open. He hadn't brought along his disguise, but he doubted he could get away with being a black angel here anyhow, not since he had come here representing Cain and a show about a flying man.
Nonetheless, the fastest and as far as he could see only way to stop a giant falling guitar was to fly up to it, grab it, take it up into the air again, put it somewhere, and return to explain himself, all in the plain sight of maybe thousands of people and almost as many still and video cameras.
The guitar trembled, seeking release…
Clark knew, though, that if he acted, Cain's life, if he ever made it back to this world, would be pretty much totally destroyed. So would the lives of K, Justin and Teri.
Then again, if his friends and their families and all the people who knew them could ever cobble back together the pieces of their lives and somehow resume their work, their show might soar in the ratings.
If Cain didn't make it back, almost all the same things would happen anyway, and Clark would have something to do here after all.
It beat acting though.
The guitar strained at its moorings.
"We did not expect the wind," Officer Huang said.
This took a moment to soak in and then Clark, on the verge of deciding to throw caution and himself to that very wind, wasn't sure he had heard it. He looked down at her. She was watching the giant guitar, a calm expression on her round face. It looked like this could be the way she approached most death-defying situations, didn't it?
He asked, "Pardon?"
"During this last week, they came in here disguised as construction workers and they loosened many things," she said as though she saw this every day. Maybe she did. She continued, her soft voice ignoring many of the "r"s in her words. "We took pictures of them. They will go to jail soon. We fixed almost everything this morning."
"Almost?" Like the bolts atop the giant guitar?
"The important parts. The rest will be fixed later. King Kong down there…" back into the mall, where more giant neon- outlined structures hovered over the broad walk ways, "almost fell as we fixed it." She looked back. "But they will not fall now unless we have a hurricane. Maybe two hurricanes at once."
Madonna ended her song to a roar of approval, kissed Travolta, and at the first sign of the applause easing, they introduced the final speaker, Elizabeth Taylor.
Clark, trying to regain his bearings, realized that the threat of his being forced to be Superman had diminished to what it had been before he'd seen the file on Cain's desk.
He sighed and smiled at the officer. He only had one problem now and Lois was working to solve that.
The wind rose another notch. He looked up.
The sky was overcast and darkening a bit.
Why am I thinking of it like that? he wondered.
Storm, lightning… Lois through Teri's eyes… problem solved… crack—door. Here?
"Officer, this has been enlightening but I must be going."
"Ah, so. If you need help on show, let me know." She quickly opened a breast pocket, pulled out a card and presented it to him. He glanced at it, nodded, pulled out Cain's wallet, wished he had a card to give her, and stuck her card in among the bills. She said, "You may need an advisor."
"Yes, I think you're right. I'll mention it to the producers."
She smiled, a radiant expression.
He returned it and nodded good-bye.
The breeze that had eased for a moment came up again as he approached his friends.
"Nothing happened here," Justin informed them. "Except Teri decided she wanted some pictures…" He looked around for her and pointed. "And that she had to go to the restroom, but that was almost half an hour ago…"
The restrooms were not in the direction Justin had pointed.
"She really wanted to follow you."
Clark thought, I have the feeling she did… otherwise, why take Justin's camera to the restroom?
She covered like a pro (like Lois). "How am I going to do you justice if I can't see you in action?" she asked, exasperated.
"Use your imagination," and the pictures… Oh, well, no harm done really. He looked to K. "Another storm. I think it's due to you-know-who and I don't think we should be here."
"Back to my place then?"
"No, your kitchen doesn't need to host another universe- violating event. I want to try someplace that should get a lot of lightning, someplace high."
They eased away from the crowd and into the parking structure, where they could pick up their pace. When they reached the car, Teri insisted on sitting in back with Clark and demanded he tell her what he'd been thinking as he did what he had done. He relented and gave her the details and Officer Huang's business card. "Okay, if you think she's good, I'll see what I can do. Now, about you and Lois's relationship…"
Clark couldn't escape this, even sitting back.
But… he didn't want to. It didn't matter. He had the thrilling feeling in his stomach—butterflies?—that this adventure was coming to a close. Maybe because this was his final chance to escape, there was some rule that it had to feel like a close thing. It had to end favorably, too, because the alternative was unthinkable. Lois would do her part, he didn't doubt that. It was his job to be where he could best take advantage of this one last shot to rescue himself and Cain, someplace high and full of power.
The mountain that Griffith Observatory sat on filled the bill, it had to.
As K entered the Park, it began to sprinkle.
Teri asked a string of questions, Justin turned in his seat to join her, and even K thought up a few. Clark answered them as best he could as long as they weren't too personal, and only a few strayed into that territory… but he answered them, too. These people cared about him and about their show, he had no doubt about it. If Cain got back okay and if he had learned anything in his adventures, these four would be a powerful force in influencing Lois and Clark, the New Adventures of… Superman.
On their way up through the park toward the observatory, they passed car loads of tourists coming down. This wasn't surprising: it was beginning to rain heavily and the clouds were thick and dark.
Upon arrival in the parking area, which was several lanes of spaces on either side of a large stretch of well-maintained grass, they found they were alone. Clark told them that here were staff people inside the Observatory, but that none of them were watching out the few windows their direction, toward the mountain peak. Those he noticed observing the weather were looking out over the valley to the south and west.
As they pulled up to park, Clark emptied his pockets and pressed the contents into Teri's hands to give her something to do. "I want you all to stay in the car. Maybe nothing will happen, but if it does, you don't need to be out in the rain imitating lightning rods. K," he reached forward and touched and squeezed her arm, which she had draped across the back of Justin's seat. "You've been great. I wrote up a letter of recommendation for you at Mr. Cain's house. It's silly, and I know you don't need one, but it's the only thing I could think to do other than offer to… repaint your house very, very quickly."
She grinned. "Oh, I think it's sweet!"
"Well, you can consider it a souvenir if you want. I've put it and some other things in a folder called 'Clark.' He'll find it on his desk and in his computer. Justin."
The young man, turned in his seat completely now, smiling, excited. "Do I get a souvenir, too? I mean, not like you're a… I mean…"
"I know what you mean. You have the pictures you and Teri took."
"Huh? Oh, yeah, and we won't use them, we'll just… cherish them."
"That's okay." Clark smiled and patted him on his shoulder. "I hope you realize that I don't think I could have survived with my sanity intact without your help."
"Wow…" he blinked. "Oh, it was nothing…"
"No, it was great. Teri—"
"I know what I want for a souvenir." She dropped Cain's things on the floor at her feet, sat forward and slipped her arms around Clark's neck. As she was targeting his lips for a kiss, he moved just a little faster, turning his face, receiving that kiss on his check and brushing her's with a diplomatic kiss of his own. "Oh," she said, a little disappointed. "At least it wasn't on my forehead…"
There was a crack of lightning nearby; it felt full of messages for him.
He eased her arms off gently but quickly. "I'm a happily married man, and while you're a wonderful, helpful woman—you're not Lois."
"I know that," she smiled, and she didn't look giddy at all. "I know who I am, and I think I understand you better now, too. I'm glad I got to meet you."
"No more than I am. I *must* get out there. Watch for Mr. Cain, he may need help."
He slipped out of the car quickly and into the pouring rain. It was chilly and the breeze whipped the rain in several directions. None of this mattered. He moved away from the car and into the grassy area.
Here I am, he thought, now what?
I want to go home.
He wondered if he should tap his heels together and if the effect would be the same with athletic shoes as it had been over Kansas with ruby slippers…
He closed his eyes and stood still. Lois, Lois, Lois… He put aside awareness of the storm and concentrated on that one goal.
Until he felt the crack again. It shimmered into being about five feet in front of him.
He smiled at it, walked up to it through the rain, and, as he had before but without hesitation now, touched it and worked his hands into it.
The sparkley, rainbow-colored anomaly was easier to work with this time. I could have been doing this in the middle of the crowd at the AIDS Walk, he thought, relieved as he used only a little pressure to begin to open it. The top and bottom of the crack merrily split the air further in agreement with his idea. He would have been stuck in the mall trying to explain things and protect Cain while the Lois's storm came up and his chance disappeared again.
He preferred things happening this way.
The crack continued to open easily and the air cleared enough so that he could look through, and, then, without hesitation, step foot into S.T.A.R. Labs and Metropolis, home.
about 1 p.m.*
Dean was surprised to find himself rolling out of his dive to his feet in squishing wet grass, in a pouring rain that soaked through his—*Clark Kent's* clothes immediately. However, it wasn't at all cold when he realized he should have been freezing. As much as he had been of two minds about having the powers, there were a lot of benefits to being invulnerable.
He looked around and to his right noticed the observatory. Griffith Park. Clever. This was one true lightning rod of a place. It had never occurred to him to take advantage of that. Perfect. Brilliant.
"Dean, if you can hear me, I need help."
Huh? He turned.
The portal was still there, standing open unassisted now, not snapping shut again like an elephant trap. Weird. It shouldn't have done… then again, the thing didn't seem to know shoulds and shouldn't haves.
Clark was trying to close it and he was right to be doing so. If the thing liked being open, it might like being open wider. The ramifications were serious: an open hole in time and space meant that the two universes would collide in every way possible: ecologically and biologically, as well as with human ideas, actions and dangers passing freely unless at least one Superman guarded it, and only a Superman could do that if it kept growing…
"Please, Dean," Clark said, grimacing, his voice distorted through the portal and the rain on the Burbank side, "help me push the portal closed."
Dean nodded. *Two* Supermen would be needed to guard any open hole when there were better things to be doing with life.
He licked his lips, stepped forward, and touched the opposite side of the portal, finding that it felt rounded and yet there was a roughness to it that allowed him to think he could get enough traction to push it closed again.
He saw Lois watching Clark, worried for him, cheering him on. He felt a momentary pang of jealousy… but it wore off quickly as the job began to demand his full attention.
The portal stopped opening and began to ease back toward closing again. It somehow didn't seem to feel very happy about the idea though. Dean planted his feet in the wet grass and began to apply more pressure. He looked up to see that Clark had also taken a firm stance and was also beginning to grimace with the effort, much as he had in opening the portal originally. Dean wished he had a clear view of the other side: he'd fry that stupid machine with a blast of heat vision…
The center, pushed edges of the portal touched at last. Lightning struck, at the very same time thunder boomed incredibly, deafening, and the entire portal closed with a snap and simply was no longer there.
Dean pitched through the vacant space but managed to turn it into something like another roll into the cushioning grass carpet. He staggered to his feet, surprised and a little disoriented by the suddenness of it all. One moment he had been straining with all his might to save his universe—and the next, he was straining against nothing at all, his ears were ringing and he was trembling with fatigue.
He wasn't even sure where he was any more. It looked familiar though, a building in the distance through the haze of the heavy rain and a nondescript car pulling up beside the grassy area. People were dashing toward him, people he thought he recognized. He felt a great sense of relief wash over him… and then he felt the world spin as his conscious abandoned him and he dropped forward into darkness.
Dean's eyes were blinking open a little but he didn't seem to be home.
"This happened before with Clark!" Justin cried out to Teri as he helped drag his friend's body into the back seat of K's car. Teri grabbed an arm and tugged as well.
"He's *not* dead!" K insisted and in moments she confirmed this. Dean was breathing, raggedly but with increasing steadiness. "We're taking him to my place and getting him into a warm bed."
No one questioned this. Teri comforted him and gave running reports of her observations of his condition as they sped back down the mountain and toward K's home.
Dean appeared to be somewhat more oriented and able to walk with considerable assistance as they pulled him out of the car, guided him into the house and dropped him on the guest bed. He said nothing intelligible all this time—maybe he didn't want to talk?—as they stripped him to his briefs and he curled up under the blankets on the bed.
Hours later, without a sense of time or place but feeling the immense comfort and enjoying it, and then eventually deciding that someone was cooking something delicious, Dean woke up.
It was night, or at least it was a night kind of dark inside this strange room. Off to the left was a nearly closed door and beyond it, a light. He rose, waited out a touch of dizziness, got to his feet and headed for the light. A bathroom. Good. He used it.
Before he left it, he leaned on the vanity and stared at himself in the mirror, trying to remember.
Gad, he haunts me…
But he began to remember more, he remembered flying… and his stomach wanted to turn.
He gripped the edge of the vanity and calmed himself.
Okay now… Where the hell am I…?
K? She was knocking at the door; the door threatened to open more. He wasn't sure what to do. K's here?
He looked around the edge of the door, wishing he had some clothes. She'd seen him in about as few clothes before, but that was on the *set*, not here, wherever, not in some strange bathroom, bathing him… no, that hadn't been K, that had been… ah…
Here and now: it *was* her. K! K!? He pulled back, hiding, then realized there was nothing to hide from, she knew he was there. "K? What are *you* doing here?"
"I live here. Take this." She poked her hand through the narrow opening of the door. She was holding his robe.
He took it. "How did you get this?"
"I didn't, Justin did. Put it on and come out. If you're hungry, I'm making turkey noodle soup."
Hungry? "I'm starving."
"That's good. You know where the kitchen is…"
Ah… yes, he remembered that.
He noticed as he crept through it a few moments later that K had changed some things about the house but that wasn't unusual, the house was always changing. The kitchen was in the same place, though, and she was there, placing a big, steaming bowl of thick soup and a great looking dark bread on the table. "I did this on Wednesday for… some friends, and it worked like a charm then, too…"
He sat down in the chair she pointed at, where she had put the food. "Wednesday…?"
She paused and looked concerned, then motherly. "What do you remember, Dean?"
"I… I don't know. Bits and pieces…"
The phone rang. He searched for the source of the sound and in the process saw a sunflower-shaped clock. 8:55. It must have been night time, okay. How had he gotten here, how had he gotten "now"…
His stomach asked, Does it really matter? Nope, not at the moment. He dug into the food. He tried to listen to what K was saying but she was in the next room and apparently speaking quietly. He wondered why he even tried to hear her; she'd share if it was something he should know.
After all, it wasn't like she was… calling for help…
One of K's cats walked in. Dean preferred dogs just a little more, which was why, he had figured early on, some cats liked to bug him. This tiger-striped one of hers was among that tribe who seemed to think it her special task in life to bug Dean Cain into getting a cat of his own. "I'm on to you…" he couldn't remember it's name. "Cat. Now, if you were up a tree, I'd res…"
Something big hit him full force, a giant memory.
He sat back away from it. "Ohmigod…"
K returned, muttering about wrong numbers, and stopped in the doorway. "What? Are you all right?" She put her arm over his shoulder and waved her other hand in front of his face. "Dean…?"
"Ah, I'm okay, I just… I just remembered… everything."
"But that's good!"
"Yeah… It's just…" His stomach murmured. "Do you have any more soup?"
Plenty. She fed him and, wisely, he realized, didn't press him for any details. He wasn't sure of them anyway, though he was sure they were all lumped into that massive memory.
There were some things he remembered clearly. When she wasn't looking, he discretely tried to lift the heavy oak table. He could have—if he had stood up and used both hands and then only this end. He couldn't see through the table down to his bare feet, though he could wiggle his toes. He couldn't hover above the chair. He couldn't do anything… super, and it was almost a relief.
Teri and Justin showed up within a half-hour. First thing, Teri hugged him, hard, like a long-lost brother.
Second thing, Justin hugged him then assured him that his dogs were okay. He'd seen to them himself that afternoon, while Dean was "sleeping it off," and earlier, over the last two days, Clark had taken care of them.
Wow, Dean thought, Clark Kent took care of my dogs…
They asked him carefully several times about how he felt until he realized exactly what they were really asking. "I don't have the powers anymore. They must have been zapped out of me by the lightning strike or whatever it was while I was helping to close the portal. All gone… but in a good cause, you know, saving the universe…"
They nodded. He had been joking but they were enthralled. Great. That meant he had to continue, "And… I'm not *really* disappointed that I can't fly."
They smiled along with him, it helped to break the wall they'd unconsciously thrown up between themselves and him. Sure it would have made the harness obsolete, but, like an exposed Clark Kent, he shook his head, "What kind of life would I have had? *None.* My friends, my family would have…" He paused. His family. What if they had been trying to… He looked at Justin. "I have to get home!"
They argued gently with him, he should relax and rest, but he won, proving he was at least mentally stable enough for the trip and Justin would be driving anyhow.
Home was fine. The dogs were pleased to see him and of course didn't obey when he told them to calm down and sit, but that was okay. They hadn't taken immediately to Clark Kent, Justin explained, but they hadn't barked at him either. Weird, huh?
Yep. Dean glanced around, but the visitor hadn't done anything easily discernible to his home except leave the closet door open in his bedroom.
Clark Kent went through my clothes…
"Your clothes fit him okay, the looser ones. He was just a little bigger than you. At first he looked a lot like you, but the more I was around him and got to know him, the less he looked like you. He just looked like himself," Justin said. "If we put you side by side, in the same clothes, I could tell the difference right away. I got pictures of him, you'll see…"
"That's… good, I guess. No one questioned it in Metropolis except his mother, but we stayed away from almost everyone…" Dean stopped. "Pictures? You took *pictures* of him?"
"Sure. Teri did, too, she used my camera. We're trying to decide who to get to process them, someone we can trust."
"Oh, yeah, especially if he was flying… I'll try to think of someone, too."
"Great. You know what? Clark said I'm like Jimmy."
"You look like him. We saw him briefly, and Perry White, too… We decided not to press our luck and got out of the… the Daily Planet building as fast as we could… I wish we could have stayed and explored more." Dean checked the bathroom. The soap had been used and his comb. Hmm, no Clark Kent hair… but the towels—he'd put out fresh ones Wednesday morning and they were used now—had been hung neatly to dry. Dean wondered, Should I save them for souvenirs?
Clark Kent used my towels…
He thought, I'm obsessing…
I need more sleep.
"We missed so many opportunities…"
"I'm sure you still saw a *lot*… Clark said he left some things for us on your desk."
Clark Kent used my desk?
Sure enough, in a folder marked "Clark" in neat script were three sheets of paper with hand-written letters, one to Justin, one to K, and the third to Teri. Dean didn't look at them past seeing they were signed by Clark Kent. Dean wondered if the man had left anything for him.
He didn't get to know me—I didn't get to meet him, damn…
Whatever, these had to be protected. "There are some plastic bags in the kitchen. You can use one to protect this and take these to K and Teri if you want…"
"Okay. You know, maybe I better get going. You still look beat and could probably use some more sleep. I'll give you a call about ten, okay? Or you can call me earlier if you want."
"Will do. We all need to meet and compare notes."
"Great!" He smiled and turned away but turned back. "Oh, Clark said he left things in your computer, too. I know he used it to surf the net and do some other things we'll tell you about tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay…" He stared this computer.
Clark Kent used my computer…
"I'll see myself to the door…"
"And, Dean? Go to bed *first,* okay? If you're rested, then it will be easier for you to do other things."
"Huh? Ah…" easier, rested… He sighed and nodded. "You're right."
He saw his friend to the front door and watched him leave, the he went to bed, his very own bed, and slept like a new man.
Over a late breakfast of maple granola and low-fat yoghurt, a wide-awake and determined Dean Cain searched through his computer.
Clark Kent hadn't hidden his tracks. Indeed, he'd left lots of evidence of what he had done.
What he had done was astounding.
Clark Kent did astounding things on my computer…
Dean shook his head at himself… and smiled. He hoped it would be a long time before he got over this feeling of awe.
He printed out what he found, all but the terrorist information, which Clark had noted had already been printed out.
Clark Kent saves trees…
He called K and as soon as he said "Hi, it's me," she invited him to lunch. Teri and Justin had already accepted a similar invitation; her house, she said, was the command center.
Dean liked it. Good idea, he told her. On the way over (had Clark Kent driven his Bronco?), he stopped at a copy shop and made three copies of the Clark Kent Material.
His friends gave him more hugs and reiterated that he looked great. Gad, he thought, I must have looked awful before… but now he *felt* great. "I can't leap tall buildings anymore, but I don't need to. I feel like the powers left me… healthy, I guess. I *better* not get the flu this year…" As he sat down at the table, he smiled at the big sandwich K put before him. "I think I lost some weight, too, so I can afford to eat this…" He dug in, then a few bites later, noticed that they hadn't started yet, they were watching him. Oh. He put down the sandwich, smiled self consciously, "Sorry, being super left me hungry, too…"
He called up his best announcer voice, "I've got something important here." He laid a hand on the stack of papers in the yellow plastic bag to the right of his sandwich. "Something for our eyes only. He didn't title it but we could the Clark Kent Memo. It's what's wrong with our show… and what's right with it, too. So, if we can use it, it's a manifesto—*our* manifesto."
"A secret manifesto," Teri whispered, excited.
"We can illustrate it, too."
"Yes," K smiled. "When Justin told me about his pictures and finding someone to develop them, well, *I* can, I can easily set up my darkroom again in the spare bathroom. I even took some pictures of Lois Thursday morning, when she was here in the kitchen, helping me. I didn't think to take one of Clark in that black outfit though…"
"He wore black?"
They told him about it.
"Wow… well, I'll save all those clothes. This is going something else… Okay." He opened the bag and passed out the copies of the Memo. "I've put it on diskettes, too, and configured for your machines, so it won't get lost." He passed out labeled disks next. "I've even mailed one to myself…"
"We sound like spies. I'll make plenty of copies of the pictures for everyone."
They proceeded to read as they ate. K provided marking pens so they could note anything significant. They made lots of notes.
Then they began to plan. The outline for show's coming season had to be scrapped, no doubt about it. New scripts were definitely needed then, and they could begin with the one Teri was already working on. Other than the Dracula part, it already, Dean thought, fit the new ideas they wanted to inject into the show. He had several ideas for scripts, too, based upon what he had seen, and these were jotted down for later outlining.
Some overall resetting of the show might be needed, and definitely flashbacks to fill in of events left unexplained, things fans had wondered about but probably given up on learning more about. Clark had commented heavily on the show's tendency to make light of or simply skip important milestones. This could be fixed.
The Powers That Be would not Be happy.
"So?" Teri said. "We present a united front. I'm sure we can pull Lane and Eddie in, and others, maybe even some of the writers, and, of course, we can rally the fans if we have to. We don't have to tell them what we have, only that we've decided that we have to act—I mean, for the show, for… you know what I mean."
"We've got to get the show turned around and headed up again or…" she looked down at her heavily annotated copy of the Manifesto, "or their visit here won't have been worth anything in the long run."
"Yeah," Justin nodded. "And he was a great guy, we owe it to him… and her, she was great, too."
"I liked Lois. I was in love with her for a while," Dean admitted, "so I can see what he saw in her… I don't *still* love her, you understand. It was like flying, I loved that for a while, too. It really confused me, but Martha said I'd probably picked up both things from Clark along with the powers. I mean, Lois just isn't my *type*… she's ditzy and she worries a lot about Clark and… and I think they're desperate to have a baby…"
Teri nodded. "Yes, exactly. They have a home and it's incredibly important to them, trying to be real, average— *ordinary* people when they're faced with what they face… There's so much we've only touched on the show that is really important to them. Real things that can make the show better."
Dean sighed, agreeing, that decided it. "Okay, tomorrow, first thing, we…?"
Plans were made, a strategy conceived.
They outlined scripts into the night. Characters, both primary and supporting, were fleshed out more than they had been before and made real. New characters and sets were suggested. Biographies of truly challenging villains were sketched out. Metropolis became a large, vibrant city full of adventure. Superman (and the Clark and Lois duo that he consisted of) became truly larger than life.
The next day, they began to gather allies and dissected the script for the next episode. It was unacceptable in its present form. Rewriting it, the quartet took it back to the "real" writers and producers.
This was the first test of their ideas, the whole thing could rise or fall on what happened in this unexpected script meeting.
Their united front held. The lead writers (who were also the shows lead producers) begrudgingly joined the team and they headed next for the offices of those higher up, and, in time and en masse, to the offices of ABC.
Things began to change, slowly, inevitably.
About three weeks later, K Callan sat down at her computer on Wednesday evening and logged on to the IRC through her local provider. She was tired. She and Eddie had spent most of the day filming an adventure that took place between Smallville and Metropolis and feature only cameos by Superman, Clark and Lois. She felt exhilarated.
Almost as interesting, someone—she had her list of suspects—had jumped the gun by two days and leaked the word that things were changing on the set, there was a whole new attitude toward the show. No more than that; the leaker held rain on his or her excitement.
The List was already trying to think up names for it, Coup de Cast (CdC) being among the top contenders, as well as The Cast Strikes Back (TCSB). Fans wanted to talk about it, naturally, and she looked forward to signing on and pretending to be innocent… but letting on to a few more of the details. The team had plotted out this public relations angle, too, and she had happily taken on the assignment to be the main internet contact. Dean would talk to people from Extra on Friday, and Teri promised to mention it coyly to TV Guide, which wanted her for another fashion shoot on Monday.
This way interesting details were being trickled out to fans and the media, making the last to notice, the reviewers and the bigwigs, sit up and marvel at how the ratings were being tickled… and how they would surely respond by slowly rising.
She had been trying something for the last three weeks, every time she logged on to chat and before she did anything else. If it didn't work again today, this, she told herself would be the last time. She promised.
And almost immediately received.
Metroduo no such nick/channel
She sighed and smiled fondly. "Well, kids, if you were here you'd be so happy. And, eventually… you'd be parents."
Your author wishes to thank Margaret B, Lynda L and Lori H for proofing and editing advice :) All remaining typos (other than those properly in place, i.e., IRC sessions, and in the beginning) are my own and you may correct them if you wish.
Reedited on November 5-9, 1997