By Emily M. Hanson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: August 2001
Summary: Someone is unleashing purple gas that is turning people into mutants. Can Superman and Spider-man stop them? Also features an appearance by Rogue from "The X-Men."
Disclaimers: The characters in Lois & Clark are not owned by me. They were originally created by DC comics. Spider-man and the X-Men are also not mine. The characters from Spider-man and the X-Men are owned by Marvel comics. I'm only borrowing them for some fun. I am not making any money from this fan fiction. No infringement is intended.
I've created some original minor characters in this story. They include a cab driver, several nameless police officers, an ambulance driver, the bomb squad experts, Jennifer, Bernice, the skinheads, Tatiana Alexander, Jack Whitfield, his receptionist, and the mutants who are bad guys. Thanks for reading. You can send feedback to me at email@example.com.
It was a hot summer day in Metropolis, as the sun beat down on two reporters and a photographer from the Daily Planet sitting outside at a Chinese restaurant. They'd had to settle for a table outside, since the inside was full. Clark Kent didn't mind the heat wave. After all, he was Superman and the sun energized his powers. Lois, his wife, fanned herself with a menu as Jimmy Olsen tried to decide what he wanted.
"Tofu…ugh. Egg Foo Young…nah. CK, is there anything good here?"
"I've had the Kung Pao Chicken. It's pretty decent," Clark replied.
"Okay." Jimmy set the menu down and gulped some ice water. "Could it be any hotter?"
Behind the young photographer, Clark spotted a bank temperature sign that boasted 103 degrees Fahrenheit. "Hopefully, not." He wished that he could loosen his collar a little, but underneath was the Superman suit, and Clark didn't dare take a risk on revealing that. Lois knew the truth, having been married to him for several years now. But Jimmy still didn't know. And they were in public.
Suddenly, Clark overheard from the radio in a passing car that there was a bomb threat at city hall. Lois recognized the I- have- to-go-be-Superman look on his face, and smiled. "Honey, I seem to recall you leaving your wallet at the office. You'd better go get it, because I'm not washing dishes to pay for lunch, and I doubt Jimmy would want to wash them, either."
"Huh? Oh, yeah. I'll be right back, I promise." He gave her a grateful smile for the excuse and left.
Clark wasted no time in ducking into a nearby alley, becoming Superman, and taking off. The bomb threat sounded real; they were evacuating. He landed in front of an astonished police officer, who stepped back and gaped at him with awe.
"Superman!" The cop exclaimed.
"How's the situation?"
"Not good." Lowering his voice, the cop whispered, "It's real. There are two bomb experts in there right now, trying to defuse the device. But it's got extra security; there's apparently a numeric keypad protecting it with a password. They're trying to find the wires to disconnect it."
Superman nodded and went inside. He found the bomb experts right away in the lobby, with several laptops set up and working with wire-cutters.
"It's Superman," one of them said, a tall man with sandy blonde hair and thick glasses.
The other expert, a woman with long red hair tied back in a braid, started to reply, but the device went off. A purple haze spread across the room, and both humans started to cough. Superman grabbed them and flew them outside.
"Seal the building. It's not a bomb, it's some kind of gas grenade," the woman said, coughing.
"Gas?" A fireman asked.
"It was purple gas," Superman clarified. "Who knows, it might be deadly."
"Okay. You heard him, seal the entrances off. We don't want anyone going in there until it's clear."
"Yes, Sir." Several fire fighters moved quickly to do the job.
Then, another call came in on the police radios. There was another bomb threat, this time downtown…in a building right across from the Chinese restaurant where Lois and Jimmy were. Looking horrified, Superman took off.
Police cars and fire trucks were already starting to arrive. Lois and Jimmy watched from their table. Jimmy grinned, patting his camera. "Good thing I didn't leave without this."
Lois took a notepad out of her purse and followed Jimmy, who was already asking the nearest cop questions, across the street. He had good reporters' instincts, and the cop was answering some of his questions.
"What's going on?"
"There's a bomb threat. The building is being evacuated."
Superman came into view. Lois could easily spot his bright red and blue costume as he landed. "Need any help?"
"There are a few people still inside, Superman. One woman is in a wheelchair."
"Okay. I'll get them out."
Superman ran up the steps and listened for heartbeats. The bomb hadn't yet gone off. He found the wheelchair-bound woman and flew her out, setting her gently on the ground. Then he went back in. Fighting against the clock was always a challenge, and this time was no different. The bomb squad hadn't been able to disarm the other device. If these two cases were related, and there was no reason to suspect they weren't, Superman figured he had about one minute before the device went off. In a blur, he flew the remaining people out and finally looked through the building's window. Purple smoke filled the air and was rising quickly. Too quickly, Superman thought.
"What's going on?" Jimmy asked again. "That can't be a regular bomb. What's with the purple smoke?"
"I was just at city hall," Superman said. "A similar device was set off there. The gas launchers have computer security, which the bomb squad hasn't been able to bypass yet."
"Superman," Lois asked, "do you know what the effects of the smoke are?"
"No, everyone has gotten out in time. I hope we don't have to learn that the hard way."
Back at the Daily Planet, Perry watched with growing horror as one TV news report after the next described explosive devices that launched harmful purple gas into the air in cities around the world. In New York, a physics conference that included the world's top scientists had been one of the locations. Several people were taken to the hospital, including Peter Parker, photographer for the Daily Bugle.
No one knew which terrorist group was responsible for the attacks. All of the major terrorist organizations claimed responsibility, but few would have the resources available to attack in so many places at once. Perry suspected a new organization was the culprit, and in a short time, they would make themselves known. Until then, he hoped Superman could control most of the damage. Lois, Clark, and Jimmy came in looking tired, but pleased.
"We got the story, Chief," Jimmy said.
"You mean the purple gas, son?" Perry asked.
"Yeah. There was an attack on City Hall, and another at an apartment building downtown. Superman got everyone out, just in time."
"Good. You need to see this." Perry waved towards the TV. "There have been similar attacks all around the country."
"No," Clark exclaimed. He stood stock- still, glued to the TV screen as the reports came in. New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Dallas…just about every major city in each state had been attacked, even Honolulu. Why? Who was behind it? And what did they hope to accomplish? This purple gas was causing chaos everywhere.
"It's chaos," Lois echoed his thoughts. "Do you think it might be a diversion tactic?"
"What on earth could whoever is behind this be planning with such a large diversion?" Clark asked.
Lois shrugged. "Taking over the world? It seems like that's every super-villain's ultimate goal."
Clark had to agree. "Either that, or killing Superman, or both."
"Just get the scoop," Perry said. He didn't have to say the Daily Planet would be the best-selling newspaper, if his star reporters figured out the master plan before everyone else. That was a given.
"Will do, Chief," Lois replied.
Peter Parker awoke in the hospital with a pounding headache. His thoughts were all jumbled and incoherent, as if they weren't his own.
*He's waking up. He looks so pale.*
*Why am I green?*
*I'm levitating! I don't believe it.*
*She looks so different now.*
Suddenly, Peter realized that those thoughts weren't his own. "Impossible," he muttered. "I'm not telepathic."
"Peter?" Aunt May asked, sounding worried.
His eyes shot open. "Aunt May!"
"Yes, I'm here." She squeezed his hand. "How do you feel?"
"I have a headache the size of a Mack truck."
"That's understandable, considering what you've been through," a nurse said. She'd just entered the room.
"I barely remember anything after this morning. What happened?"
"You were at a physics conference. There was a terrorist attack," Aunt May explained.
"There was purple gas everywhere," Peter replied, recalling it. "Everyone tried to get out, but we couldn't." He'd felt incredibly guilty for not bringing his Spider-man suit along. There had been no reason to expect an attack. It was supposed to be just an average, ordinary physics conference, which he'd been covering for the Daily Bugle.
"Mr. Parker, I'm afraid there have been complications," the nurse began.
"What do you mean?"
"Your DNA has been affected by the gas."
Peter didn't want to face the realization that was growing in his mind. He didn't want to accept it, couldn't accept it. Maybe they'd seen the Spidey factor and mistaken it for the X- factor.
"I'm sorry," the nurse continued. "But our lab samples indicated that the X-factor is present in your DNA now."
"No. I'm not a mutant. I can't possibly be a mutant."
"It may be temporary. We don't know for sure. All we know is that your genetic structure has been altered to include the X- factor."
Aunt May squeezed his hand tighter. "You'll get through this, dear. I know you will."
Looking miserable, Peter didn't respond, just stared blankly at the ceiling. They didn't understand. Ever since the brief time he'd spent as the man-spider — an ugly half-spider, half- human creature, he had been terrified that his unstable DNA would revert and turn him back into a monster. The genetic treatments he got from Dr. Connors, who was also the Lizard's alter-ego, helped Peter remain human. He was afraid that being a mutant now, he'd revert back to the man-spider and lose his a chance of having normal life again.
"We have crisis counselors working with patients," the nurse said. "If you'd like to talk to someone, that can be arranged."
Peter shook his head no. How could they possibly understand? His life was turned upside-down. Not many events could compare. It wasn't like someone close to him had died, or he'd broken up with a girlfriend. This was completely different. Certainly, no psychology textbook covered turning into a mutant unexpectedly, at least, for someone who was well past puberty. In the past, Mary Jane had been Peter Parker's emotional support. Now, when he needed MJ the most, she wasn't there. The universe definitely had a grand sense of irony.
"Just go away," he said flatly. "Please."
"You can always press the call button above your bed for assistance. I'll be in to check on you later. My name is Margaret, but I prefer Maggie."
Peter nodded. The silence in the room was thicker than adamantium, until Aunt May broke it. "Peter, dear, you'll manage. You always have." "Manage. Yeah. I'll manage to lose my job, and my friends, and who knows what else." "I'm sure they won't fire you." "Want to make a bet? J. Jonah Jameson isn't exactly the most tolerant guy in the world." "You were just doing your job, dear. I'm sure he won't fire you." Maybe not, Peter thought, but he was more likely to get a pink slip from the owner of the Daily Bugle. Worse, as a freelance photographer, he might not be able to find work anywhere if no one was tolerant. How would he pay the rent then? "You're probably right, Aunt May," he said aloud. "And, if worse comes to worse, we'll manage." He might be able to get a job working for the Fantastic Four or the X- Men, depending on whether he retained any of Spider-man's powers. With just telepathy, he couldn't be much of a super- hero. May Parker watched her nephew drift off to sleep. Peter had been through so much recently. First, he'd lost Mary Jane, and now this. Well, he was a survivor. Peter would bounce back eventually, but it might take some time.
Clark Kent was kept very busy that evening, both as himself and Superman. In the midst of writing his part of the story, there were three more terrorist attacks — one in Detroit, and two in Washington, D.C. The last one had been in a restaurant frequented by wealthy politicians and business executives. Clark tried his best to come up with a pattern, but all he could think of was that the terrorists wanted to affect the most people as possible. Finally, Clark entered through the bedroom window at about 4:00 am. Lois was sound asleep. He kissed her on the forehead and climbed into bed.
Later that morning, Lois turned on the TV before grinding coffee. Clark was still in bed. She'd always been amazed by his ability to function perfectly well on two hours of sleep. It was one of his many talents she wished she had.
"This just in," the reporter said. "Reports that the purple gas is somehow turning people into mutants have been verified by a hospital in Queens, New York. 42 victims are in stable condition, among them some of the nation's top scientists and a photographer, who has requested that his name not be released. The X-factor was not present in their DNA before the terrorist attack, but it is now. Furthermore, some of them have already developed mutant powers. The hospital has professional counselors working with the victims to help them deal with situational stress.
"The president has issued a national security alert. Government officials recommend staying away from large, especially high-profile, public gatherings and not making unnecessary trips out of state. So far, the only terrorist attacks have occurred in cities with large populations. The government also recommends staying close to home. The president is asking the public to remain calm, and to give the victims of these bizarre attacks emotional support, which they will need in the days to come."
Clark entered the kitchen and got a coffee mug from the cupboard. "Morning, Lois."
"Morning, Clark. Busy night?"
"You could say that again." He poured a cup of freshly-brewed coffee and sat down. "We've got to find out who's behind this."
"None of the terrorist organizations I can name would have the resources to hit so many locations in such a short time. It has to be someone new, or else they're all working together."
"Terrorist groups get along about as well as Lex Luthor and I do," Clark replied. "They'd be at each others' throats before you could blink."
"Good point." Lois sat down with her cup of coffee. She unfolded the newspaper. The front page headline read PURPLE CHAOS STRIKES METROPOLIS! By Lois Lane and Clark Kent. A breaking news alert flashed on the screen. "We have breaking news," said the reporter. "There has been a terrorist attack at the Daily Planet, a major metropolitan newspaper. We're going live to the scene now."
Clark nearly spilled his coffee as he jumped up and ran into the bedroom at super speed. A few seconds later, Superman was in the room. "I'd better get going."
"I'll be there as soon as I can," Lois replied as her husband whooshed out the window in a red-and-blue blur.
"Great shades of Elvis," Perry White groaned as the fire alarm went off. "What now?"
Jimmy Olsen, who'd been carrying Perry's coffee, noticed the purple haze creeping across the floor. It was like a living thing, stretching out to reach whatever it could. He set Perry's coffee cup on the nearest desk and banged on the office door. "Chief? You OK in there?"
"Olsen, what's going on?"
"We're under attack. Don't open the door! It's the gas."
Perry's face turned several shades paler. Then, he opened the window. For a frightening moment, Jimmy thought the Chief was going to jump out.
"Get in here, Olsen! Now!"
"Can't…breathe…" The young photographer stumbled and nearly fell over.
Perry opened the office door wide and grabbed him, then gasped as the thick haze burned his lungs.
"Don't inhale," Olsen whispered. He passed out and Perry caught him, just as Superman flew in.
"Mr. White? Jimmy?"
"I think it's too late for us, Superman."
"I don't." The Man of Steel scooped both of his friends and flew them outside, then inhaled all the gas with one super breath. He felt a bit light-headed, but that passed quickly. He called an ambulance, then rushed outside to see how Perry and Jimmy were doing.
Jimmy lifted one eyelid up as Superman landed in front of him. The image of the super-hero blurred with Clark Kent. Was he seeing double? "CK? Superman? What…"
"He must be hallucinating," Perry offered.
"Yeah, thatsh pro'bly it," Olsen agreed in a slurred voice. "I feel awful. Am I turning into a mutant yet?"
"You just turned green," Superman replied, unable to resist teasing him. "You're growing a second head, as a matter of fact."
"I'll never get a date now," Jimmy groaned.
"Superman!" Perry gaped at him. "He's just kidding you, son. Relax."
That was easy for the Chief to say, the gas probably hadn't changed him at all, Olsen thought. His head throbbed with pain. He'd have given anything for an aspirin.
"I called an ambulance. It should be here soon," the Man of Steel replied. "Mr. White, do you feel okay?"
Perry coughed to clear his dry throat. His head was starting to pound. He wasn't sure if it was from stress, or other causes. "Well, I've had better days, Superman. But I'll survive. I'll make sure Jimmy is all right, too."
"Ok." Superman took off.
A few minutes later, Clark Kent arrived on the scene. "Perry! Jimmy! Superman said there was a terrorist attack here. Are you all right?"
His boss looked up at him and blinked, looking confused. Clark's jaw dropped, for Perry's eyes had turned silver.
"What's wrong, son? You look like you just swallowed a catfish whole."
"Are you ok, Chief?"
"I've never felt better," he declared.
"There's uh, something you need to know."
"Well, spit it out."
"Your eyes, they're um…"
All of a sudden, Clark heard Lois coming up behind him. She gasped. "Perry, your eyes are silver!"
"What?" She replied.
"I was trying to break it gently to him," Clark explained.
"It's all right, son," Perry said. "I've heard a lot worse news than that. I'll live with it, if I have to."
The ambulance finally arrived. Jimmy was taken to the hospital, but Perry declined the offer of a ride.
"Chief, are you sure about that?" Clark asked, concern edging into his voice.
"What medical treatment could they possibly give me that will help? Besides, Olsen's the one who passed out. I feel fine, except for a slight headache." As he spoke, an ice-cold chill suddenly flooded his body. "And a little cold," Perry added. "I should go inside and warm up."
"All right." When Perry White had his mind set on something, Clark knew better than to argue with him. "Is it safe to go in?"
"I watched Superman inhale all the gas. I hope that young man doesn't get sick."
"You won't have to worry about that, Perry," Lois replied. "Superman never gets sick. Right, dear?"
"Right," Clark said confidently. "He's not human, so it shouldn't affect him."
"That's good to hear." Perry rose to his feet and wavered a bit. Lois caught him on one side, and Clark on the other. "Maybe I'll just sit down for a while."
Escorted by Lois and Clark to his office, Perry sank down into the leather chair and picked up his coffee mug. Perry's lips touched ice as he brought the frozen cup to his mouth. It was solidified into a solid block of ice. "Great shades of Elvis!"
Lois and Clark both stopped in mid-stride and dashed into the office.
"Perry, what is it?" Lois asked, then stared at the frozen coffee cup in shock. "I've heard of iced cappuccinos, but that is…" For once, she was speechless.
"Completely ridiculous," Perry finished for her. "What am I going to do?" He set the coffee cup down. A fine layer of frost spread across the desk. "This is hopeless. I can't live the rest of my life like King Midas."
"Maybe Superman could teach Perry how to control his powers," Lois suggested.
"Do you think he could?" The Chief looked hopeful.
"Well," Clark answered, "it's worth a shot. I'll see if I can find him."
Perry hoped that he wouldn't be a poor student.
Peter Parker was home now, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and generally feeling sorry for himself. He'd called in sick. He didn't want to be at work on his first full day as a mutant. Who knew what might happen? He could blow up the place by accident, or somehow give away his secret identity as Spider- man. Peter wondered if Spider-man still existed, but he didn't want to risk using his old super powers until he figured out how to control his new abilities.
The doorbell rang, cutting into his thoughts. He got up to answer it, and was surprised to see Flash Thompson and Betty Brant there. "Hi," Peter said, feeling awkward. "Come in, if you want."
"Peter? Are you okay?" Betty asked. "We heard that you called in sick to work, and you'd been on assignment yesterday." She left out the obvious: that he'd been at the physics conference.
"Do you want some coffee? Aunt May had some made this morning, and there's some left over. I can nuke it in the microwave."
The abrupt change of subject worried Betty. Even Flash didn't miss it. They both exchanged glances. "Sure," Brant replied. "If it's no trouble."
"It isn't." Peter left the door open for them and went into the kitchen. Getting three coffee cups out of the cupboard, he poured the coffee and stuck them all into the microwave. His friends were probably wondering if he was a mutant. How was he going to tell them?
"Peter, the microwave," Betty exclaimed.
"What?" He spun around, wondering if it was about to explode or something. They were both very close. If glass started to fly, Peter hoped he'd be able to get Betty out of the way.
"Don't you think ten minutes is a little long for coffee?"
He looked at the microwave. Oh, yes, he'd punched the wrong buttons. Distraction and cooking did not go well together, evidently. Peter pressed cancel, then re- entered the time for two minutes.
"Sorry," he said. "I've, uh, been a little distracted today."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. No. I don't know."
"So, Parker, do you have the flu? A cold?" Flash asked.
Peter shot him an annoyed look. "Neither. I'm not sick."
"You're playing hooky? I don't believe this. Peter Parker, the bookworm, is playing hooky from work. Man, what I wouldn't have given to see you do that in high school."
"I have a pretty good excuse, Flash."
Peter took a deep breath. "I was at the physics conference when the terrorists attacked."
Flash's eyes widened. "You mean, you're a mutant now?" At Parker's nod, he continued, "So what super powers did you get?"
"I'm not entirely sure yet. Nothing good, I suppose. My luck's never been great."
The microwave beeped, and Peter got up. As he reached to open it, the door suddenly swung open and the closet coffee cup floated toward his hand. Peter gaped at it.
"Wow!" Flash exclaimed.
"That's amazing," Betty agreed.
"Parker, if you get really good at that, I bet you could become a super-hero."
*I'm already a super-hero, Flash,* he wanted to say, but bit his tongue. Instead, he said, "Looks like the coffee's done."
Jimmy woke up with a splitting headache. He remembered seeing Superman earlier that day, and then Clark…or had it only been Superman? He recalled the fire alarm going off, and there had been purple gas everywhere. Hesitantly, Jimmy looked at his hands. They looked normal, which was a good thing. The Man of Steel must have been joking about him being green.
He was alone in the hospital room. Cautiously, Jimmy climbed out of bed and went into the bathroom. Flipping on the light, he let out a deep breath as he realized that his reflection was perfectly normal. Maybe he wasn't a mutant after all. Then he had a vision of a red-haired nurse coming in, and a moment later, he heard a woman say his name.
Jimmy whirled around, nearly tripping. "Do you sneak up on all of your patients?"
The nurse looked slightly embarrassed. "No, I'm sorry. How are you feeling?"
"Great. When can I get out of here?"
"I only need a blood sample, and then you can go home."
Jimmy supposed there wasn't any way to avoid complying. So he said, "Okay," and sat on the bed.
It took Nurse Rosalind a few moments to get the sample. "Your physical injuries weren't serious, but you received oxygen in the ambulance due to asphyxiation. Are you in any pain?"
"I have a headache. I'll live with it."
The nurse nodded. "How long have you been awake?"
"A couple of minutes at the most. Can I go home?"
"Doctor Renford would like to examine you first, just to make sure you're all right."
Jimmy sighed. "Okay, I guess." He wished the nurse would just let him leave, but she had to follow procedures. He flopped down on the bed and tried to relax. How did you relax when your life had been changed so drastically? If he was a mutant, and Jimmy had no reason to believe the gas hadn't affected him, his life had been turned upside-down.
Doctor Renford was a short, stout bald man with glasses. He was, in fact, a full head shorter than Jimmy. The doctor smiled, but it was a fake smile, the kind of expression those who deal with people for a living plaster on their faces all day long. Sometimes, the smiles are real, but this wasn't. "Mr. Olsen, how do you feel?"
"No one calls me Mr. Olsen, except for telemarketers. Call me Jimmy, please. And except for a headache, I feel okay. Can I go home?"
"I'd just like to make sure you're all right. Other people exposed to that gas have had complications."
"What kind of complications?"
Doctor Renford searched for the right words. "Their DNA was…altered to include the X-factor. If you'd like to be certain, you could wait for the results of the blood test. Otherwise, we can mail them to you tomorrow."
"Fine, mail them. Can I get out of here now?"
"If you feel up to it, yes."
"Great. See you." Jimmy hopped off the bed and headed for the nearest elevator.
As Superman flew through the open window in Perry White's office, his red cape unfurled like a banner behind him. He looked surprised to see the frozen desk. "You really should get your air conditioner checked out."
"That was me, son."
Superman glanced at Perry, whose eyes had turned back to normal now. "Clark mentioned you'd been affected by the gas this morning." With his heat vision, Superman melted the ice on the desk and Perry's coffee mug. "That should do it, Mr. White."
"Clark also suggested that you could use a little help adjusting to your new abilities. Can you take the day off?"
"I guess I'd better. Otherwise, this whole place might become an igloo. Lois?"
"Can you watch the place for me? Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Sure." She smiled. "Good luck."
"Thank you, Lois. I'm going to need all the luck I can get." Superman offered his hand. "Ready to go?"
At first, Perry hesitated to touch him. "Uh…are you sure this is a good idea?"
"I'm invulnerable, Mr. White. You won't be able to freeze me."
"I guess not."
They soared out the window. Perry clenched the Man of Steel's hand so hard that his knuckles were white. For the first few moments of their flight, he refused to open his eyes. "How in the name of Elvis do you fly like this every day, son?"
Superman laughed. "I'm used to it. Relax. I won't let you drop, Mr. White."
"Call me Perry! And where are we going?"
He could barely hear Superman over the wind blasting past his ears. "What? Did you say Kansas?"
A short time later, they landed in an abandoned field overgrown with weeds. It was about six miles from Clark's parents' home, but he wasn't about to tell Perry that. Superman glanced around to make sure no one was watching. "Okay. Pick up that rock."
Perry did. After a second, it froze. Superman noticed that his eyes turned silver whenever he used his power. They remained silver for a few moments afterward, then turned back to normal. "What now?"
"Pick up another rock, but this time, think warm thoughts."
It couldn't be that easy, could it? Perry bent down and picked up another rock, concentrating on the sun beating down on it. This time, the rock remained normal until Superman distracted him.
"You're doing great."
The rock froze as Perry's concentration broke. "Darn it!"
"It's okay, keep trying."
They spent several hours in that field, picking up rocks until finally, Perry was able to pick up the rock without freezing it and listening to Superman talk at the same time. He had no doubt what the Man of Steel was doing. At the office, there were constant distractions, and Perry couldn't afford to lose concentration easily. No one would take him seriously if he froze everything in sight.
Superman easily heard Perry's stomach rumbling. "Want to take a lunch break, Chief?"
"Sure. Wait, what did you just say?" Perry latched onto Superman's slip. Had the Kryptonian just called him Chief, or was it just his imagination?
"I asked if you wanted to a take a lunch break. It must be closer to noon than I thought."
"You called me Chief."
"Yes. Only my employees call me that."
Clark tried to think of an excuse. He really tried, but nothing sounded plausible. Would it be so bad if Perry White knew the truth?
Perry noticed the Kryptonian's expression and said, "Superman, do you work at the Daily Planet?" The thought that the hero might have a secret identity had crossed his mind more than once.
The Man of Steel nodded. "I have a confession to make. We see each other every day. Superman is just what I can do, it's not who I am. My identity has to be kept secret for the sake of my wife and parents. If anyone ever found out, they could attack the people I care about the most to get back at me."
Wife? Parents? Suddenly, it all clicked. Why else would Superman have gone to Kansas? He could fly anywhere in a matter of minutes. "Clark Kent," Perry whispered, amazed. "This is just too much in one day."
"Chief?" Superman looked concerned as Perry sat down. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, son. Really." His head spun with the revelation. It was incredible. But at the same time, Perry realized he couldn't print it. Clark was right, there was a reason that Superman's identity had to be kept secret. "What do you say we grab a bite to eat someplace?"
"Well, I can't exactly walk into a restaurant dressed like this. My parents don't live very far from here, and they won't mind if we stop by."
Perry nodded. "Sounds good to me."
Jonathan Kent was working on the car outside when he saw a familiar red and blue streak in the sky. Superman landed in the driveway, along with Perry White.
"Dad, is Mom in the house?"
Jonathan gaped at his son for a second and then nodded. "What happened? We heard on the news that the Planet was hit by terrorists this morning. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Clark glanced at Perry. "He was there when it happened."
"It's all right," Perry said. "I'm in one piece."
"Was Lois there?"
"No, she was at home. It was about 7:00 am when it happened," Clark answered. "But Jimmy was there, too. He got sent to the hospital. Mr. White may have helped save his life."
"I doubt that. You're the real hero, not me. I could never do what you do, Kent."
"Never say never, Chief. If you want, my mother could make you a costume."
"You're kidding me."
"She made my Superman suit."
Perry White gaped at Clark Kent for a moment, and then shook his head. "I'm too old to be running around in a cape and tights. What would they call me, anyway? Gray-haired man?"
"What's all this talk of you being a superhero?" Jonathan asked.
Perry looked slightly embarrassed for a second. "Well, I was there during the gas attack. Actually, I saw Jimmy in trouble, so I opened the office door and yanked him inside. Clark here came to the rescue, but by that time, the gas had already affected us. I mean, me and Jimmy."
"He's got some pretty cool superpowers, Dad," Clark said.
Perry picked up the nearest rock and demonstrated by freezing it into a solid block of ice. "Yeah, that's cool, all right."
Jonathan looked amazed, then grinned. "Why don't you come inside? Martha's out for the day, antique shopping with her girlfriends. There are sandwich fixings in the fridge."
Jimmy arrived back at the planet to find Lois in charge and deep in concentration at her computer screen. "Hi, Lois."
The startled reporter nearly jumped out of her chair. "Jimmy!" Relieved to see him back, she asked, "Are you okay?"
"Fine. They gave me oxygen and took a blood sample, which I won't know the results of for at least a day. But I'm pretty sure already how it will turn out."
"Lois, I can't talk here," he replied. "There are too many people around."
"Oh. Right." She saved the file she was working on and got up. "Okay, let's go into the conference room."
Jimmy followed her. "Is Perry okay?"
"Well…" Lois said while closing the door, "he was affected by the gas. You'd realize it because you were there, so I'm telling you. But I haven't told anyone else yet. That's his decision to make. The Chief can freeze things now."
"Wow. I didn't get anything good. Not like that, anyway. But I can see the future."
"Really?" Lois was intrigued. That skill would come in handy for a reporter. You could get all the scoops before anyone else and cover all the major stories. "What you do see now?"
Jimmy closed his eyes and concentrated. "I can see you and Superman flying. It's night. There are lots of stars out. I hear gunfire in the background. Lots of gunfire. I can't see anything else."
"Okay, I'll take your word for it."
"Wait. I see a sign. It's a neon sign with several letters burnt out."
Lois grabbed a marker and prepared to write on the nearby whiteboard. "What does it say?"
"S…A…R…O…N…S. Looks like 'star' something to me. The last word is missing three letters."
"Do a computer search and see what you can find. This might turn into a lead."
"Okay." Jimmy opened his eyes. "I'll do my best, Lois."
"I wouldn't expect anything less from you," she answered.
He grinned. "I trust you, uh, won't say anything?"
"I'll keep a lid on it," she promised. But Lois wondered how long it would take everyone to conclude that Jimmy was a mutant now. It was public knowledge that he'd been in the hospital because of the purple gas.
The next day, Peter Parker came to work half an hour earlier than usual, hoping to avoid all the inevitable stares and questions on the way to his desk. Only a few people would be at the Daily Bugle at 6:30 am. It just so happened that one of them was J. Jonah Jameson.
"Parker!" Jonah's voice boomed across the empty office space. "Glad to see you here bright and early, for once. I want to see you in my office, now."
Peter felt like he was on his way to the gallows and about to be hung. "Yes, Sir."
Robby Robertson, the Editor-in-Chief, gave him a sympathetic look. "Don't worry. I'm sure all Jameson wants to know is if you got any good pictures yesterday. You did get pictures, right?"
"Two or three, before I passed out."
Robby winced. "Well, they might be worth something. I'll keep my fingers crossed, okay?"
Peter nodded and headed to Jameson's office.
"Sit down, Parker."
Not having much choice, he did just that. "Sir?"
"How much do you recall of what happened at the psychics conference yesterday?"
"I remember everything in painful detail."
"Good. You can write an article." As Peter's jaw dropped, Jonah continued, "I want a report on what it was like to be there. Put everything you recall into it."
"Okay. Do you want to see my photos? There aren't many."
"Let's see what you've got."
Peter had developed the pictures after Flash and Betty had left, thinking that maybe he could get some cash for them before losing his job. Thankfully, it didn't look like that was going to happen now. One photograph showed the terrified expressions on most of the scientists' faces as shadowy figures stormed in. Another photograph showed the gas rising with purple tendrils stretching into the air. Peter's third picture had caught one of the terrorists leaving, and it showed a purple spider on the back of his suit. The word CHAOS was inscribed beneath the spider.
"That must be a new organization," Jameson remarked. "Ever hear of a terrorist group using purple spiders as their logo?"
"Spider-man is probably involved with them, somehow. Try to dig up some information about him."
Peter winced. He knew for a fact that Spider-man hadn't been involved. Why did Mr. Jameson always have to take the anti- Spidey stance? "Yes, Sir."
"We can definitely use those pictures. No one else has gotten a clear shot of the terrorists in action. This is going to sell lots of papers. Get cracking on that story. I want it on my desk in time for the afternoon edition, at the absolute latest."
Peter nodded and rose from the chair. "Thanks, Mr. Jameson."
"Not firing me."
"Why would I do that?"
Peter shook his head. "Forget it."
"No, tell me why I would have fired you."
"I'm…" he took a deep breath. "I'm a mutant now."
"Well, that's hardly your fault, Parker. Besides, you have the opportunity of a lifetime. A story like that might win a few awards. At the very least, it'll sell papers."
"Do you think so?"
Jameson leaned closer. "Only if you get to your desk and write the darn thing!"
The younger man nodded and took that as his exit cue. J. Jonah Jameson saw monetary potential in his experience, but Peter didn't see anything good about it. He wasn't sure he wanted to write the story. After all, it would be like shouting to the world "Hey, I have an X-factor now, everyone!" Did he really want to do that? It was a dilemma.
"How'd it go?" Robby asked.
"Better than I thought it would."
"Great. Do you mind showing me those pictures?"
"Not at all." Peter spread them out onto the desk.
"Hey, these are excellent. That one there, especially." Robby indicated the photo of the terrorist with the purple spider.
"Thanks. I'd better get started on that story. Jameson wants me to write from the witness's perspective."
"Oh. I'm sure you'll do fine."
"There's just one reason I'm hesitating."
"Why is that?" Robby asked.
"Everyone will know I was there."
"They already know you were there, Pete. What's your point? Unless you mean…" Was Parker a mutant now? If so, Robby could understand his concern.
"That's it exactly. They'll know I'm a mutant."
Robby gave him a speculative look. Had Peter Parker just read his mind? If so, it was absolutely incredible. "You could always try to get a job with the X-Men."
Peter laughed. "Yeah, I'm sure that I would look wonderful in yellow and blue spandex. Anyway, what do you think?"
"About the story? It's your choice. Jameson's right, though. That's Pulitzer material, if you can pull it off."
"I guess I'll give it a shot."
Peter filled up a coffee cup and went to his desk. After staring at the blank word processing screen for a few moments, he began to type.
Tatiana Alexander closely read her copy of the Daily Planet, one of two dozen newspapers from around the world that got delivered to her Moscow apartment every day. Apparently, the gas launcher set off at the Daily Planet building had the desired effect. Perry White, the newspaper's owner, had been there that morning, and so was another employee, whose name remained unreleased. Superman cleared the building, but the anonymous employee was sent to the hospital. Perry White took a day of vacation and returned the following morning. Speculation remained as to whether the Daily Planet's owner and the other employee were affected by the gas.
That was unsurprising, Tatiana thought. If they were mutants now, and their appearance hadn't changed, they probably wanted to keep it quiet. She scanned the other newspapers to see if the other targets had been successful, and was pleased. The gas launchers were 100% effective, so far. Only those who were already mutants escaped the DNA alterations. The mutant population around the world was increasing. Phase two would soon take place. After phase two, the world's government could no longer afford to ignore mutants, for they would hold positions of power.
A very tired Jimmy Olsen staggered over to the coffee machine and poured himself a cup. He wasn't normally a coffee drinker, but he hadn't slept well. He'd had visions all night long. Some of them had been in the near future, and some were so far ahead of his time that Jimmy hadn't a clue when they were supposed to take place. Having psychic powers wasn't all it that was cracked up to be. He wished fervently that his powers were only temporary.
Lois looked up from her computer screen. "Morning, Jimmy."
"Yes," he replied, "it is that."
"Morning." Yawning, Jimmy sat down in an empty chair and rolled it over to her. "I got almost no sleep at all last night."
"I kept seeing the future. It was like a dream but not, because I was awake the whole time." He downed half the coffee cup's contents in two swallows and frowned. "I need something a lot stronger than this."
"There's a Starbucks two blocks down, you can't miss it. Did you find anything on the computer yesterday?"
"Oh, yeah. That's what I came over to tell you. There's an old abandoned warehouse near the docks, owned by a company called STARtronics. It's a spin-off from STAR Labs. They used to make computer software for scientists, but STARtronics recently went down the financial toilet. Anyway, I checked with a couple buddies of mine who live down that way, and there's been activity at the warehouse recently, but only at night." Jimmy fought back another yawn.
Lois could see that he was exhausted. "Go home, Jimmy. You might as well take the day off."
"Is the Chief coming in today?"
"He said he was."
"I'd better stay awhile, then. I'll go find that coffee shop. Thanks, Mrs. Kent."
"Jimmy, how many times have I told you to call me Lois?"
"Sorry, Lois, I'm running on empty right now. When I get some caffeine, I'll be able to think. See you in a bit."
It was a good excuse to make an exit. Jimmy hadn't been able to think of a way to tell Lois that one of the visions he'd seen had to do with her and Superman — or rather, Clark Kent. Surely she knew about CK's secret identity, but on the slim chance that Lois didn't know the truth, Jimmy wasn't willing to risk his hide. He'd wait until CK himself arrived. In the meantime, he really did need caffeine.
He ran into Perry White standing in line at the coffee shop. "Jimmy!" The Chief said. "I'm glad to see you made it out of the hospital."
"You look tired, son. Didn't you get any sleep?"
"No, Sir. I kept having nightmares." In public, that was all he could say without drawing lots of embarrassing attention. He'd tell Perry later.
Perry got his coffee, a double-shot espresso. "There's lots of work to do today. Feeling up to it?"
"Yes, sir, Chief."
"That's good to hear, son. I'll see you back at the Planet."
Jimmy ordered his coffee and patiently waited. As the clerk gave it to him a minute later, they accidentally brushed against each other's hands. He felt a slight buzz in his head and then saw an apartment on fire. "Did you unplug your iron this morning?" He heard himself ask.
"I think so," Jennifer replied with a look of confusion. How could the young man possibly know that? Was he psychic? But that was quite rare, and he'd have to be a mutant to be psychic. He looked normal enough.
"You'd better go home and check right away."
The women behind the counter exchanged glances. "It's okay," the other one said. Her name tag read Bernice. "I'll stay here."
Jennifer nodded, giving her co-worker a grateful look as she untied her apron and left.
"I saw a story in the paper yesterday," Bernice whispered. "You work at the Planet, don't you?" Jimmy glanced around. There was no one else in line behind him, so he nodded. "You may have just saved Jennifer's apartment, you know."
"I just thought I should mention something."
"That was very sweet," Bernice said with a smile.
Jimmy's eyes widened. She thought he was being sweet? Did that mean she wasn't repulsed by his mutant status? Or hadn't she figured it out? "Uh…okay." He took his coffee. "Thanks, I gotta get back to work."
"I'm off at four, if you'd like to talk."
"I don't get off work until 5:30."
Bernice looked disappointed. "Oh. Well, have a nice day."
"Maybe I can stop by later for coffee," Jimmy suggested.
"That would be nice."
Meanwhile, back at the Planet, Lois was telling Clark about Jimmy's vision. "So, I suggested doing a computer search, and this is what he came up with."
Clark read his wife's notes. "Honey, do you think he knows?"
She shrugged. "It's possible. Why don't you ask him?"
"I can't very well ask Jimmy if he knows, without telling him the truth."
"True," Lois replied. That was a problem. "If Jimmy doesn't know, he'll probably find out soon enough in one of his visions."
"Find out what?" Olsen asked, walking in with his coffee.
"Good morning, Jimmy," Clark said.
"Not really, but I'll take what I can get."
"Are you okay?"
"I'm just fine, CK. Can we talk?"
In the conference room, Jimmy began, "I didn't get any sleep at all last night, CK. You want to know why? I saw the future. It was kind of all jumbled up. I kept seeing all these different bits and pieces, like broken windows into other places. You were in some of them."
"What was I doing?"
"Saving Earth, founding a Utopian society, and taking your kids to school with Lois in a mini-van."
A large grin spread across Clark's face as he latched onto the younger man's last statement. "Lois and I have children? You're sure they were our kids?"
"They looked like both of you."
"Jimmy, that's great news. We didn't even know if we could have kids until now." Clark could barely contain his enthusiasm. He felt like jumping for joy, but that would hardly be considered professional. The expression on his face was that of a kid who'd just gotten the big expensive toy he'd wanted for Christmas. Something else that Jimmy said caught his attention. "Wait a second. You mentioned saving Earth?"
"Yeah, CK. I know you're Superman."
Clark's jaw dropped. Finally, he said the only thing he could think of. "That's incredible."
Olsen shook his head. "No, you're incredible. I'm just an ordinary guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and ended up becoming a mutant."
"It might only be temporary."
"I sure hope so."
Perry White was catching up on missed work, when the phone rang. Seeing the number displayed made him catch his breath. Alice hadn't called in months since they'd divorced. The last he'd heard, she was vacationing in Hawaii with a man ten years younger than herself.
"Hello, Perry. After seeing the front page story today, I just had to call. How are you?"
"Oh, I've been better. Things have been much less…strange."
Hearing his ex-wife's hesitation made Perry wonder what she was thinking. If they'd stayed together, would she have supported him through all this? Probably, but he didn't know for certain. Perry wondered if he'd really known her. "How are you?"
"Oh, not too bad. I broke up with Charles. After we got back from Hawaii, I found out that he's married and has a teenage daughter."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"So was I," Alice replied with a dry chuckle.
"I spent the entire day with Superman yesterday. He told me a little bit about what it was like to grow up with super powers. He got used to being different. I don't think I'll ever get used to it."
"Well, you never know. There might be a way to reverse the process. I'm curious, what can you do?"
"You'd be amazed. I can freeze things into solid ice. Actually, I had to learn how *not* to freeze everything. That's trickier. Yesterday, I started the morning by freezing a cup of coffee and my desk. If Clark hadn't gotten in contact with Superman, the whole building might be an igloo by now." Perry started to laugh, then Alice joined in. "I'd have to change the dress code to long underwear and winter coats. I might be digging a path to my desk through several feet of snow. Everyone would be huddled around the coffee maker for warmth. I tell you, nobody should have powers like this. They're too easily misused, even by accident."
"Not even Superman?" She asked.
"Superman's different. He was born with his powers and knows how to use them. I barely have the foggiest idea what to do with mine."
"I'm sure it'll work out. Take care, Perry."
"You too, Alice."
Spider-man swung from building to building in downtown New York, occasionally distracted by stray thoughts that weren't his. The distractions wouldn't be good in a fight. But he had to test his powers and make sure everything worked properly. Then, he'd try to figure out how his new abilities worked. Peter had finished the article and put it on Robby Robertson's desk at a quarter to five. It was now five-thirty. The evening rush hour was well underway.
Suddenly, his spider-sense went off as a yellow-and-blue blur whooshed past.
"Sorry," a woman with a southern accent called. "Didn't mean to nearly run over ya." She paused in mid-air. "Spider-man?"
Now that she wasn't moving so fast he couldn't see her, Spidey recognized the woman as Rogue. She was one of the X-Men, a group of mutants who worked for the greater good of all mankind, but were frequently mistrusted and misunderstood by the very people they were trying to help. Their goal was to make the world a better place for both normal humans and mutants. Spider-man had worked with them on several occasions.
"Thought so. You seem a bit distracted, are you okay?"
"I'm thinking of getting a T-shirt to wear. One that says I'M OKAY in big huge letters with a yellow smiley face," he responded. "I'm okay, you're okay, we're all okay…"
"Sorry." He shook his head. "It's been a very rough week. One day everything's normal, the next, my world's turned upside- down."
"Wanna talk? Ah'm not in that much of ah rush."
"It's funny how you take certain things for granted. Normal for me is relative, you gotta understand, but after about ten years of web-slinging, I've gotten used to my spider powers. Then, one day, bam! Someone decides that there's not enough havoc being created in the world, so they go out and create more. With my luck, I got caught in the middle of it all."
Rogue stared at Spider-man, her mouth agape as she realized what the webslinger was telling her. Had he been a victim of the gas attacks? But that would mean he wasn't a mutant before. How had Spider-man gotten his spider powers, then?
"Exactly," Spidey replied.
She looked at him more closely. Had he just read her mind? She couldn't recall him being telepathic before, either. His spider-sense was close to psychic abilities, but not quite the real thing.
"Congratulations, you've just won the million-dollar bonus round," Spider-man quipped.
"What about your other powers?" Rogue finally asked.
"They seem to be working. I just have to get the hang of my new powers."
"You've got more than one?"
"I'm telekinetic now, too."
She wondered if his abilities were on the scale of Jean Gray's or the Professor's. "If you need assistance, you're welcome at the mansion."
"Thanks. I may take you up on that later."
Rogue nodded. "Ah'd better get going. Good luck, Spider-man."
He watched her fly off, then continued his webslinging.
It was just about 4:00 pm, and Jimmy Olsen decided to take Bernice up on her offer for conversation. He found her and Jennifer, still at the coffee shop serving cappuccinos and espressos.
"Hey," Jennifer exclaimed to Bernice, "it's him!"
Jimmy glanced around, then realized she was talking about him. "Me?"
She nodded. "You saved my apartment from burning up this morning. I actually forgot to unplug my iron. How did you know?"
"Uh…it was a lucky guess," he answered with a shrug. Everyone standing in line was staring at him now. Jimmy felt their gazes burning through him like Superman's heat vision, especially three bald guys at the front of the line who looked like gang members. But maybe he was just being paranoid.
"Thanks! I owe you a coffee."
"No, you don't."
"It's the least I can do. It's impossible to find a decent apartment in this town. I'd have been looking for weeks and weeks if my place burned down. I might have had to move back in with my parents."
"Fine, I'll wait." Jimmy leaned against a light pole and crossed his arms.
As the coffee line dwindled, several very tall guys with their heads shaved bald and wearing several earrings glanced at each other, then at Jimmy. In one fluid motion, they picked up their coffee cups and headed in his direction. He suddenly had a very bad feeling. Was that a Nazi symbol on their shirts, partially hidden beneath the black denim jackets? Jimmy had a horrifying suspicion that it was.
"Uh, hi, guys. How's the weather? Hot, isn't it?" He started to back away slowly.
"Yeah," said the first Nazi. "It's real hot. I can feel it, can't you?"
Suddenly, the Nazis threw their coffee cups at Jimmy. He avoided the first two, but got hit by the third. "Ow!" Jimmy swore as the hot liquid seeped through his shirt. He picked up a lid from a nearby garbage can. "Know what I see in your future? This." Jimmy threw the lid at his attackers with all his might, then turned and ran.
He darted into the Daily Planet building. The Nazis stood outside staring at each other. Jimmy had a sudden mental image of them grunting like cavemen, and would have laughed if he wasn't in pain from the scalding coffee.
"Olsen!" Perry exclaimed, seeing the young man with coffee stains all over his shirt. "Great shades of Elvis! What happened?"
"Oh, I ran into some trouble." He pointed at the Nazis.
"What'd you do?"
"Nothing! A girl at the coffee shop thanked me for saving her apartment this morning. I told her she'd forgotten to unplug her iron. Those idiots just happened to be standing in line and overheard."
"Nazis buying espresso," Perry muttered. "Now I've heard everything." Lois and Clark were out doing research for a story, but maybe he could do something. "Stay inside, son. I'll take care of it."
Jimmy gaped at him. "Chief? What are you going to do?"
"Give them a very cold reception," was Perry White's mysterious reply. Olsen stared as he went out the door.
"Hey, old man," the first skinhead said. "We're looking for a mutant. You wouldn't have seen him, would you? Tall, skinny guy with brown hair, claims he can see into the future?"
"I own this newspaper, and you're not welcome here."
The skinheads scowled. "This is public property," another of them said.
"I can have you arrested for loitering," Perry replied. "Not to mention assault. That young man in there is lucky you didn't give him first-degree burns. Last I heard, that's a crime."
"What are you, a mutie lover?" The third one responded with a sneer.
"It's called equal-opportunity employment, baldie."
"Bad move, old man." The skinhead who he'd called baldie pulled a knife. "No one insults me and gets away with it."
Perry gaped at the knife. Maybe he should've listened to Jimmy, but now was not the time for regrets. "Son, you could put someone's eye out with that thing!"
"I can put out a lot more than that."
The first skinhead made a sudden move towards Perry, who instinctively stepped back. Stupid, he thought. The silver blade was coming for him, quick as a flash of lightning. Perry reached out and, even though he didn't make contact with the younger man, he felt a cold blast of air. A moment later, the first skinhead was frozen solid from his neck down to his feet.
"He's a mutant! Get him!" The human Popsicle shouted.
As if it wasn't obvious, Perry thought. The remaining skinheads also pulled their knives. He wondered how he was going to take on the both of them, when Jimmy stepped outside with a grim look on his face.
"Chief, I can't let this happen," Olsen said seriously.
"I can't let you get hurt because of me."
"Don't worry about that, son. Worry about these crazy bald kids instead."
Jimmy laughed nervously as he dodged a knife and retaliated with a kick. But something happened. Instead of connecting, Jimmy's foot went through his attacker's body. "Oh, great. How the heck am I supposed to fight?"
"Olsen, think! If you can't hit them, they can't hit you."
The Chief was right, he realized. Jimmy's phasing ability proved to be useful. He was able to disarm one of his attackers by grabbing the knife, even as the skinhead tried to hit him and kept going through him. Perry froze the other one. Even immobilized, they were still able to shout epithets and curses at the top of their lungs.
Perry winced and looked at Jimmy. "Do you think we can get them to shut up? I'd hate to freeze them above the neck. I'm not sure if they'll be able to breathe through all of that ice."
"I've got an idea, Chief. Bring a CD player out here and play some of your Elvis music. If nothing else, it'll drown them out." Besides, Jimmy had a sneaking suspicion that forcing the skinheads to listen to Elvis would be like torture for them, and it would be getting even.
Perry's eyes widened, then a grin spread across his face. "Olsen, I like the way you think." He put his hand on the younger man's face and looked in through the glass window, where the Daily Planet employees had stopped whatever they were doing to watch the scene. "We'd better face the music inside."
After opening the door, Perry was greeted by stunned gazes from his employees. Suddenly, Cat Grant started to clap. "I think we should all give Metropolis's newest superhero a round of applause for getting the scum off our streets," she announced. No one disagreed.
Perry grinned as the thunderous applause died down. "Thanks. Now get back to work, people! We still have an evening edition to get out. Oh, and if anyone puts my picture on the front page tonight, I'll turn *you* into a human Popsicle."
"But Mr. White, this is news," Cat protested.
"My super powers are not news…at least, not front page material. So get cracking."
A chorus of "yes, sirs," rang out. Perry went to his office and closed the door, got his Elvis CDs and a CD player, and walked back outside. He set the volume just loud enough to drown out the skinheads' curses. Their expressions when the strains of "Blue Suede Shoes" filled the air were worth several thousand words.
Spider-man was about to head home, when he glimpsed a black truck without headlights approach a warehouse that was supposed to be abandoned. His spider-sense told him it wasn't a normal delivery. Spidey crouched in the shadows on a nearby building while several mutants got out of the truck to unload some crates. Spider-man didn't have X-ray vision, but he could tell what the men below were thinking. There were gas launchers inside the boxes. Remaining perfectly still, Spider-man watched the men unload the crates and get back into the truck. Then, Spidey tossed a tracking device onto the truck, which he'd be able to follow later. He wanted to see who picked up the crates.
A tall, slender woman with silvery-white hair appeared in a cloud of white smoke. Apparently, she was a mutant with teleportation abilities. After glancing around, she picked up the first box and vanished in another smoke cloud. Spider- man couldn't learn so much as her name; the mutant had sophisticated telepathic shields. And if he tried to get past them, she would be alerted to his presence. So he waited until she teleported all the crates away.
Who was the mysterious teleporting woman, and where had she gone? Spider-man wished he'd been able to bug one of the boxes, but the silver-haired mutant would have noticed. Well, he'd figure it out, sooner or later. Right now, he had a truck to find. Spidey thwipped a line of webbing out and swung away. He followed the truck for several miles. Once the mutants reached the freeway, it became obvious that they were headed towards the airport. Spider-man followed discreetly until the truck stopped at one of the far terminals. He watched the mutants get onto a twin- engine airplane and take off.
He'd picked up from the passengers' stray thoughts that they were going to Metropolis. Peter Parker was going to have to come up with a story to tell J. Jonah Jameson so he could get a business expense- paid trip. "I found the terrorists and read their minds, and they're headed for Metropolis?" Spidey shook his head. He'd have to come up with something better than that, especially since he couldn't very well tell Jameson how he found the terrorists. He turned around and headed for home.
Jimmy was leaving the Daily Planet, when he almost literally ran into Jennifer on the way out. She was carrying a steaming cup of coffee.
"Oops," she said, blushing. "Sorry!"
"That's okay, one more coffee stain won't make that much of a difference," Jimmy replied, glancing down at his formerly- white shirt.
"I really do want to thank you. I had no idea those guys were gang members. I'm so sorry. But you did save my apartment, and I'm very grateful for that."
Jimmy found it difficult to believe that anyone could be so na<ve, but anything was possible. He took the coffee cup from her hands. It smelled good. "I've never been much of a coffee drinker, actually. But I needed the caffeine today. First thing I'm going to do when I get home is crash. I've gotten no sleep since my life turned into the Twilight Zone."
"Do you have nightmares?" Jennifer asked.
Jimmy shook his head. "Whenever I closed my eyes last night, I saw the future. Do you know what that's like, Jennifer? It's scary, especially when you don't have any idea what you're seeing or when it's going to happen. I saw my friends get old. My dad…" Jimmy drew a shuddering breath. "I was at his funeral. He hasn't died yet. Lots of things are going to change. You won't recognize this world in a few years."
"Lots of things change."
"Yeah. You're right. I shouldn't dwell on it, but I can't help that right now. I'm not used to this, you know. I'm used to being like everyone else."
"It must be hard," Jennifer replied sympathetically.
"You don't know the half of it," Jimmy replied and closed his eyes for a moment, then said, "I'd better get going. Thanks for the coffee."
It was about 5:30 am when Peter Parker fell into bed. Dazed, he looked around and wondered if he was dreaming. The realization that he'd fallen into bed, instead of the other way around, begged the question: How? Had he been sleepwalking on the ceiling? That was possible, but Peter didn't have a history of sleepwalking. Flying could be an extension of telekinesis. So, could he fly? As soon as the thought of flying crossed his mind, Parker floated off the bed.
Apparently, the sound of his fall woke up Aunt May. "Peter? Are you all right, dear?" She peered into his room and flipped the light switch.
"I'm flying…I mean, fine!" Peter hastily responded. "Unless this is a really weird dream."
"Oh!" Aunt May exclaimed.
"How do I get down from here?" As soon as he thought about landing, Peter slowly sank onto the bed. "Well, I guess that problem is solved."
"Since we're both up," Aunt May said, "shall I make coffee?"
"That sounds great," Peter replied.
Two hours later, he nervously approached J. Jonah Jameson's office. The owner of the Daily Bugle was talking to a couple of men from the FBI. What were they doing here, and what did they want? Before Peter realized it, he was scanning their surface thoughts. Inside Jameson's office, Agent Browning and Agent Jones suddenly exchanged glances. They'd had computer chips implanted to warn them of telepathic screening, which none but the most experienced telepaths could detect, because the chips gave off static signals disguised as normal brain waves. Peter's Spider sense alerted him to the fact that he was in trouble. He jumped back from the office door, just as the agents walked out.
"Mr. Parker," said Agent Jones by way of greeting. "What a coincidence." His green eyes narrowed sharply, reminding Peter of a hawk. Agent Jones was tall and well-built with reddish- blonde hair.
"We'd like to ask you a few questions about your story that appeared in the Daily Bugle this morning," Agent Browning said. He was tall with dark brown hair and blue eyes.
"Was that you earlier?" Agent Jones asked, giving Peter a suspicious look. Seeing his deer-caught-in-headlights expression, Jones added, "Are you aware that penalties exist for attempting to access classified information without proper authorization?"
Browning turned to his partner. "Lay off, Bill. Parker's only been a mutant for two days. I doubt he even knew what he was doing."
It was the classic good-cop, bad-cop routine. As Spider-man, Peter had seen it so many times that he immediately recognized it. These two were good, though, and would have fooled just about anyone else. There may also have been just a touch of professional rivalry, which added to the authenticity. "What do you guys want with me?"
"Like I said," Jones replied, "to answer questions. Your unfortunate experience could help us solve this case. We need to talk someplace more private."
They went into an empty conference room and closed the door. Peter hoped the questioning wouldn't take too long.
Jimmy Olsen awoke with a yelp. He'd dreamt about phasing through his bed and the floor, then falling and falling through the earth. In his panic, he really had phased through the bed and hit his head on the floor underneath. Jimmy crawled out from under the bed covered with dust bunnies, then sneezed. After showering and getting dressed, he grabbed a pair of sunglasses on the way out to hide the dark circles under his eyes.
There seemed to be more traffic than usual this morning. He pulled his motorcycle along a car with the windows down. The car's driver was listening to the traffic report. An overturned truck carrying dangerous chemicals was blocking the road. A fire had just broken out. In addition, someone with a cell phone reported seeing Superman in the sky, presumably coming to help.
Jimmy glanced up and glimpsed the familiar red and blue blur that was CK. It was not a difficult connection to make, just difficult to accept. Clark Kent could fly, see through walls, and move faster than a speeding bullet. Superman worked for the Daily Planet, liked to play basketball on occasion, and went to movies and rock concerts with his friends. It was weird for Jimmy to think of CK as Superman and vice versa. He wondered if Perry White knew the truth.
The next exit was blocked off by road construction. Traffic slowed to a standstill as drivers wanting to get off the freeway realized they couldn't, and had to merge again. Jimmy saw coils of purple smoke lazily twirling into the air from the fire. Wait a minute…purple smoke?
"Uh oh," he said aloud. This could turn into a catastrophe very quickly, if Superman didn't get it under control. Superman landed next to the flaming truck, which was on its side. He ripped the door off in order to get the driver out. Clark noticed the purple smoke. Taking a deep breath, he inhaled the fumes so they wouldn't spread.
"All right," he said to the truck driver in his best I-am- Superman-don't-mess-with-me voice, "what were you hauling?"
"Chemicals," the driver gasped. "That's all I was told, Superman. Honest!"
"Where did you get them?"
"A couple of mutants with New York accents dropped them off. I don't know their names. One of them was green with bumpy skin. The other looked fairly normal, except for his glowing yellow eyes."
The trucking company's logo, splashed all over the vehicle in bright blue paint, read 'Metropolitan Transportation.' "Do you work for Metropolitan Transportation?" Superman asked.
The truck driver nodded. "Jack Whitfield is my boss."
Clark filed that bit away. It might prove to be useful later on. He handed the driver to the nearest cops. "Take him away."
Jimmy watched Superman launch himself into the sky, and he couldn't help but envy him. Would there ever be a day when anyone respected him half as much? He doubted it. Traffic finally began to inch forward.
Peter Parker glared at Agent Jones, who was giving him an icy stare. Agent Browning thrummed his fingertips on the conference room table. Something had to be done to break the gulf of silence and lighten the tension. Softly, he began to hum the theme song from "Jeopardy."
Agent Jones raised an eyebrow and asked, "Can't you be serious for once?"
The corners of Parker's mouth turned upwards into a grin. "Guys, I'm having a blast, but I should get back to work soon."
"Did you learn anything else?" Agent Jones inquired.
"You didn't happen to catch what they were thinking?"
"The gas took effect after they left," Peter pointed out.
"Okay." Agent Jones flipped open his billfold and handed him a business card. "Mr. Parker, if you learn anything else, no matter how, please let me and my partner know."
After shaking hands with him, the two agents left. Peter took the opportunity to approach J. Jonah Jameson about a plane ticket. It took him a while, but he managed to convince his boss that the trip was necessary. The flight would leave in a couple of hours. Peter debated flying alone, but he wasn't sure yet how his powers worked. Falling out of the sky was definitely not on his agenda.
After telling Lois and Jimmy about the truck, Clark decided that it would be a good idea to check out the company. Metropolitan Transport Services was located in one of the more dilapidated areas of town. The building's paint was peeling, exposing a drab olive green paint job from the 1970's beneath the current layer. Inside, a threadbare, beige carpet looked as though it had seen better days. The receptionist was a young woman with dark hair and honey brown eyes, wearing jeans and a bright red T-shirt. She glanced up from her computer screen, which belonged to a type of PC Jimmy hadn't seen since high school.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes. We're here from the Daily Planet." Lois flashed her press badge. Seeing a framed certificate hanging on the back wall signed 'Jack A. Whitfield, Manager,' she said, "we'd like to ask Mr. Whitfield a few questions about an accident that a vehicle owned by your company was involved in."
"Let me check his schedule." The receptionist tapped a few keys. After a moment, she said, "He's out of town until next week, actually." Surprise was evident in her voice, as if she hadn't expected it. "Would you like to make an appointment?"
"That won't be necessary. Thanks, anyway." Once they were outside, Lois remarked, "I find it interesting that one of the company's trucks crashes while carrying dangerous chemicals, and the boss skips town."
"There's definitely too much of a coincidence," Clark agreed.
"Guys, I could snoop around," Jimmy whispered. "All I'd have to do is walk right through the walls."
"Someone might see you," Clark said. "It's too risky."
"CK, you're talking to a guy who nearly got creamed by skinheads yesterday. This is nothing compared to that. I can handle the risk."
"What if you get caught?" Lois asked. "You'll end up in prison for breaking and entering."
Jimmy shrugged. "Superman could always get me out later. Right, CK?"
"Sorry, no," Clark said. "Superman puts people in jail. He doesn't break them out."
"There's another answer," Lois whispered. "Wait until it gets dark."
"Lois," Clark protested. "I thought we were trying to discourage Jimmy."
"Only from getting caught," she pointed out. "If he's phasing through walls at night with all the lights turned off, I doubt anyone will see him.
"What about the STARtronics warehouse? Have you checked into that yet?" Jimmy asked.
"Nope, that's next on the agenda," Lois answered.
As they drove away, Peter Parker's plane took off from New York. It was scheduled to land in just under an hour. The photographer picked up a newspaper that someone had forgotten. 'Purple Chaos Terrorists Target Daily Planet' was the headline, with a photo of Superman flying in through a window at the office building. The story was written by Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Peter decided to check with them when he landed, to see if they'd learned anything useful. Maybe they could work together.
The STARtronics warehouse was located near the docks. It appeared abandoned, but Clark glimpsed something nearby that made him think otherwise. Several crates on the far side of the parking lot, partially hidden behind the building, were stacked on top of one another. They were marked "DANGER: HAZARDOUS!" Taking off his glasses for a moment, he noticed that the shipping label was dated one day ago. "Someone was here yesterday," Clark said. "Metropolitan Transportation Company," he added.
"Can you see what's in the boxes?" Lois asked.
"Lots of foam popcorn and round metal things. They look like the gas launcher I saw the bomb squad trying to disarm the other day." Clark grinned. "I think we've hit the jackpot."
"Why hasn't someone picked them up by now?" Jimmy wondered aloud.
"I don't know. You brought your camera along, right?"
"Yeah." He held it up.
Lois parked the car and they all got out. Jimmy cautiously approached the boxes, half expecting something to explode or, at the very least, jump out at him. What if this was a trap of some sort? At about six feet away, he held up his camera and took several pictures. Then, he took a couple of steps forward. There was something on the top crate that he wanted to see closer. A piece of paper had somehow fallen onto it, and was caught between the wooden boards. The lettering was in a foreign language.
"Hey, CK, check this out. I found something."
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure what language this is. It might be Russian."
Clark ran over and looked at the paper, being careful not to touch it. "It's Russian. It looks like an inventory list of what's actually in the box. Can you get a close-up shot?"
"Sure." Jimmy took two more pictures. "What now? Wait and see who shows up to claim this stuff?"
"Not a bad idea, but I think we should call the cops and let them know what we've found." Clark went back to the car, where he had his cell phone. Jimmy took one last look at the crates, then followed.
In Moscow, Tatiana Alexander frowned as she read an urgent e- mail from the American, Jack Whitfield. He'd left town immediately after the truck accident. "Moron," she muttered. Whitfield could have convinced the police and news reporters that the vehicle had been stolen, but now they would be suspicious. She couldn't afford to have loose ends, lest they strangle her.
Tatiana's mutant abilities allowed for long range teleportation, but not short range. Concentrating, she teleported into Jack Whitfield's office. Fortunately, he was sloppy and left his computer on. The travel web site Whitfield had book marked allowed automatic login. Tatiana checked his account and learned exactly where he'd gone: Bermuda. He was staying at a major chain hotel there. She brought up a photograph of the hotel and smiled. Yes, Jack Whitfield would get what he deserved.
Peter Parker's plane landed at the Metropolis airport. He planned to meet up with Lois Lane and Clark Kent at the Daily Planet, and offer to trade information. At least, Peter thought, he'd be relatively anonymous here. Getting into a nearby cab, he was surprised to see the driver with several newspapers stacked up. One of them was the Daily Bugle, with his picture of the terrorists and by-line on the front cover.
The driver looked in the rear-view mirror and did a double- take. "You're that fellow from the New York newspaper, aren't you?"
"Maybe," Peter replied.
The cab driver chuckled. "Don't like being famous, huh?"
"Bummer. Where are you headed?"
"The Daily Planet. After that, I don't know. Where I can get a good map of this town?"
"I've got one right here, but it'll cost you." The cab driver held a map up. "Five dollars. I have lots of spare maps. People ask for them all the time."
That was actually a fair price. Peter didn't mind paying it.
"Are you staying overnight?" The driver asked.
"Probably not. I don't know yet."
The driver pulled away. It was afternoon, but not time for rush hour yet. Still, traffic was very heavy on the freeway. It took about an hour to get to the Daily Planet office building from the airport. The cab driver didn't ask lots of annoying questions, for which Peter was grateful.
Inside, the Daily Planet was busy, about what you'd expect from a newspaper in the middle of the day. Nobody paid Peter much heed as he looked on the desk nameplates for Lane and Kent, until Jimmy Olsen nearly ran into him with two cups of coffee.
"Hey!" Olsen exclaimed. "Watch it. This stuff's hot." Jimmy's eyes widened as he suddenly recognized the photographer. "Peter Parker? What are you doing here?"
"Looking for Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Do you know where I can find them?"
"Yeah, I'm bringing them coffee. Follow me."
Peter followed the younger man over to the reporters, who he vaguely recognized from Daily Planet publicity shots.
"Guys," Jimmy said, "this is Peter Parker. He's looking for you."
Parker was several years older than Jimmy, with wavy brown hair. He carried a camera bag and a backpack. They all shook hands. Clark had seen his pictures in the Daily Bugle and on the internet. He'd gotten the only clear photographs of the terrorists so far. Not even Superman had that kind of luck. "What can I do for you?" Clark asked.
"I think we might be able to help each other out, actually."
"You want to trade information?"
Clark nodded. "Let's talk. Jimmy, you're welcome to join us."
Peter found himself in a second conference room for the day. The setup was not as nice as the Bugle's, but it was easier to relax here. Of course, that might have something to do with no FBI agents being around this time. Jimmy took a seat next to Lois and asked, "Did you want coffee, Mr. Parker?"
"No, thanks. And please, call me Peter. Your name sounds a little familiar. Do you write articles?"
"No, I take pictures."
"That explains it. I know I've seen your name in the news someplace."
"I was also here on Tuesday when the terrorists attacked that morning," Jimmy admitted.
"We have something in common, then. Did you get any pictures?"
"I took a couple, but they didn't turn out. Besides, I was a little busy coughing and gasping for air."
"Jimmy, you took pictures?" Clark asked.
"Yeah. They're all blurry."
"Can you get them?" "Sure." Jimmy got up and left. He returned a few moments later with the photos.
Clark moved his glasses down just a bit so he could use his super vision. "I'm seeing something in the background, here." He put his finger under the blur. "I can't quite focus on it, though. Is there any way we can run this through a computer and enlarge it?"
"Let me take a look," Peter said. Squinting at the picture, he could just barely make out what Kent had seen. "I recognize that guy. I followed him last night to the airport. He was headed for Metropolis."
"How do you know?" Lois asked.
Her eyes widened, and she exchanged a glance with Clark. Was his secret still safe, or did Peter Parker know he was Superman? Uh oh, she thought suddenly. How on Earth was she supposed to stop thinking about that? And how could her husband guard his own thoughts? Well, if Parker didn't know before, he probably did now.
Peter felt his jaw drop. Kent was Superman? He'd never expected the Man of Steel to have a secret identity, let alone be a reporter. It was so mind-boggling that he didn't realize he was staring at Clark until the reporter asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. I just realized something."
"I'm not the only one in this room with a secret identity."
Clark gaped at him. "You read my mind?"
"Not exactly, and not on purpose. I'm still adjusting to this whole mutant thing. I haven't quite figured out how everything works yet. Look, I'll come clean if you promise not to tell anyone."
"I won't tell anyone your secret if you don't say anything about mine."
"Fair enough. See, I'm not here just for the story. I want to make sure the bad guys get put away behind bars. I, uh…" Peter took a deep breath. "I'm Spider- man."
"Hey, this is great," Jimmy said. "With you guys working together, the terrorists won't stand a chance."
"If we can catch them," Clark answered. "Try scanning in your photos and see what you can come up with."
Jimmy scanned in the photos and enlarged them in a graphics program. Sure enough, there was someone in the background. Why hadn't he noticed it before? "Because you don't have super vision, idiot," Olsen told himself. The mutant in the back had bumpy green skin and red eyes. He was barely visible through the purple haze. "Now that is one ugly dude," Jimmy remarked. It occurred to him that he could have ended up looking similar. Not all of the purple gas victims appeared perfectly normal. Even Perry's eyes turned silver whenever he used his freezing power. They'd both been lucky. Jimmy brought the pictures back to the conference room and announced, "Hey, everybody, the new pictures are ready."
"Great," Clark said. "Let's see them."
Jimmy spread the printouts onto the table.
"Nice work," Peter said. "That guy there is definitely the one I saw before. If only we knew where he was staying."
"What about the STARtronics warehouse?" Jimmy asked.
Lois exchanged glances with Clark. "We're planning to go there this evening," she said. "You did specify night."
Peter gave her a questioning look.
"Jimmy's apparently psychic," Lois explained.
"I know it must seem hard to believe," Olsen added.
"Not as hard to believe as floating above my bed at 6 am this morning, then crashing down," Peter responded. "After everything that's happened this week, I'm willing to believe in just about anything."
"You can fly?" Clark asked.
"Yeah. Probably not as fast as you. I haven't exactly had time to practice today."
"Ah. Well, Jimmy, I think we should turn these pictures in to the police. It's up to you, of course, but they're good enough that they can be used as evidence."
"Sure, CK. I've got the originals right here."
"Great. We should probably meet at the warehouse around eight tonight. That should give us enough time to watch whoever shows up."
And with that, the impromptu meeting was adjourned. Peter Parker, having nothing better to do, decided on a sight-seeing tour by air. It would give him a chance to practice flying, as well as actually see Metropolis. Clark offered to go as a tour guide and flying instructor, but Peter declined.
On the way to his desk, Jimmy Olsen saw Jennifer from the coffee shop, apparently looking for him. She made her way through the maze of desks, occasionally saying a polite "Excuse me." Jennifer was holding two slips of paper in her hand. They looked like tickets. "Hi," she said. "Please tell me you like 'Five For Fighting'." "Sure. Why?"
"Bernice and I planned on going to their concert tomorrow, but she has to work the late shift at her other job. I couldn't think of anyone else who might want the other ticket."
A grin spread across Jimmy's face. "I wouldn't mind."
"Great. What time do you get off work?"
"It depends on when everyone else leaves. Usually, around 5:30."
"Okay. I'll meet you in front at 5:30, then. We can take the express bus, unless you're lucky enough to have a car."
"I have a motorcycle. There's enough room for two, but I've only got one helmet. You could wear it, I don't exactly need a helmet anymore."
"Let me put it this way. I'm not likely to be injured in an accident because I can pass through anything solid."
"Like a ghost, you mean?"
Jimmy gaped at her. He couldn't believe she thought he was cool. It had been months since he'd last had a date, and he hadn't been a mutant then. "You're sure?"
"Positive." Jennifer smiled, lighting up the room like a beacon. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah. See you." He waited until she had left, then exclaimed, "Yes!"
From his desk, Clark Kent gave his friend a thumbs up. He'd overheard the whole conversation, and was glad that Jimmy had gotten a date. The young man certainly could use a boost to his self-esteem.
Heading out of his office for some air, Perry asked, "What are you so excited about?"
"I got a date, Chief."
Jimmy's enthusiasm was so infectious, Perry couldn't help but grin. Finally, Olsen's luck was starting to turn around. Maybe it was a sign that things were settling down to what passed for normal, lately. "That's great, son. Who's the lucky lady?"
"Jennifer, from the coffee shop."
"Wasn't she the one who forgot to unplug her iron?"
"Yeah, that's her. She had an extra concert ticket and asked me to go with her. I still can't believe it."
"I'm glad to hear that, Olsen. Now, get back to work."
The STARtronics warehouse appeared to be abandoned at first, but fresh tire tracks proved otherwise. Lois, Clark, Jimmy and Peter followed them to the rear entrance. Listening for signs of like inside, Clark heard nothing save a few mice scuttling around. Jimmy phased through the door and unlocked it. The pitch black warehouse was eerie. Vague shapes could be seen in the darkness, but nothing more. Lois stepped on something soft, which squeaked in protest. Were those glowing red eyes?
"Clark!" She exclaimed.
"It's just a mouse, Lois." He found it slightly ironic that a woman who got kidnapped and pushed out of windows on a regular basis was frightened of a mouse, but decided it wouldn't be wise to say so.
"It has red eyes. What if it's a lab mouse used in weird experiments? What if it's radioactive or something?"
"Come on," Peter said. "Do you realize just how difficult it is to make an animal radioactive? The chances of that happening are about one in a billion."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this from a guy who was bitten by a glow-in-the-dark spider in high school," Lois replied.
"Okay, so I had incredibly bad luck."
"Hey, this must be the light switch," Clark said and flipped it.
Suddenly, the warehouse was flooded by flickering florescent light. Stacked against the north wall were dozens of crates marked "Hazardous Chemicals" and "Handle With Extreme Caution." Jimmy and Peter pulled out their cameras at the same time. While the photographers were taking pictures, Lois went to investigate something that had caught her eye.
A soft yellow glow shone beneath an office door. After listening and hearing nothing suspicious, she slowly turned the doorknob. Lois discovered an office with a computer turned on. Moving the mouse to deactivate the screensaver, she was rewarded with a geographical map of the Western hemisphere. Certain areas were colored red. Metropolis and New York were two of them.
"I found something," she called. "Jimmy, I could use your help."
Olsen poked his head through the door. "Yeah, Lois?"
"Take a look at this." She moved over so that he could see the computer screen.
"How much do you want to bet all of these places were targeted by the terrorists?" Jimmy remarked. Realizing there was no printer, he took a few photographs of the computer. He pressed a few keys and brought up another map. The locations were highlighted in cyan this time. "I wonder what this is for?"
"Targets they haven't hit yet," Lois suggested. "That's where the G-8 conference is being held tomorrow."
Jimmy took a few more pictures, then noticed that moving the mouse over the highlighted areas brought up a time and date in the upper right corner. "I think you're right. This says 09:00 GMT, with tomorrow's date. We'd better warn the authorities."
"Clark, Peter," Lois shouted. "We know for sure where the terrorists are going to attack next. The G-8 economic conference tomorrow, at…whatever time 09:00 GMT is in their time zone." Suddenly, Peter's spider sense went off as the warehouse door opened. One of the people entering was the mutant from Jimmy's photo…named Sam, Peter's telepathy told him; the mutant with yellow eyes, Roberto, stood right behind him and looked menacing. The third figure behind them was much shorter. As she stepped into the light, Peter saw that she had long, silver-white hair and pale skin. Her eyes were a deep shade of violet. He'd never seen this mysterious woman before, but she came in with the bad guys, so he had to assume that she was one of them.
"Hey! What are you people doing here?" The bumpy-skinned mutant demanded.
"I recognize Lois Lane and Clark Kent," Tatiana said in English with a heavy Russian accent. She'd teleported to Metropolis after dealing with Whitfield. The supplies needed for tomorrow's event were here, and she needed to bring them to Switzerland. "They're reporters. Please show them to the exit. If they won't leave, then take them out…permanently."
"Yes, ma'am." Sam took a handgun from his pocket and aimed it at Lois. "Please leave. You're trespassing on private property."
"Wait a second," Lois said. "We're the good guys, you're the terrorists. Get it? We're not leaving."
"As you wish." He prepared to pull the trigger. Suddenly, Sam's gun was telekinetically ripped from his hands. It went flying across the room, hit the far wall, and clattered to the ground.
Peter Parker grinned. "I'll be happy to disarm the rest of you. Go ahead, try me."
"Honey," Clark whispered, "don't you think we should leave?"
Lois gaped at him in disbelief. How could he actually suggest such a thing? "Are you out of your mind? We're winning."
"Yeah, but now would be a really good time for you-know-who to show up."
"Oh. Right." Lois cleared her throat and spoke much louder. "Uh, we've decided to leave."
"Good thinking," Sam replied. "The exit's this way, folks. Don't forget to close the door on your way out."
In the parking lot, Clark whirled into Superman. Peter stared at him in amazement. Jimmy's mouth hung wide open.
"Wow," Jimmy said. "Cool."
"You got your Spider-man costume, Parker?" Clark asked.
"Yeah. I don't change that fast, though."
"I'd be amazed if you did."
Peter ducked behind a bush and quickly changed, then emerged as Spider-man. It was hard for him not to feel a little self- conscious while standing next to Superman, still the most powerful super-powered being on Earth. Jimmy seemed to be in awe of them both, and Lois did too. Spider-man wasn't invulnerable, but he was a lot closer to being in the big leagues now. Before, he'd always relied on his brains more than his brawn. The fact that Superman was willing to work with him said a lot. Maybe he could get Mr. Jameson to tone down the anti-Spidey rhetoric after this was over.
"Lois, I don't suppose I could get you to stay out here?" Clark tried.
"Not on your life."
He nodded. "That's what I thought you'd say. Jimmy?"
"Stay here and miss all the action? No way. Besides, someone's got to take pictures."
"I usually set up an automatic camera with a timer," Peter said, "but I didn't bring it with me."
"So that's how you get the pictures," Jimmy replied.
"When this is over, I'll show you a few tricks."
"Okay," Clark said. "Let's go."
Inside the warehouse, Tatiana turned as two superheroes, Jimmy and Lois re-entered. "Oh, wonderful. First those meddlesome reporters, now this. Somebody get them!"
"Meddlesome?" Lois replied incredulously. "Is that the best insult you could come up with? I've heard worse from my parents!"
"Lois," Clark whispered, but she was not to be deterred.
Roberto withdrew his gun. Peter hesitated, knowing that if he disarmed him in the same manner as Sam, he risked revealing his secret identity. Spider-man was not telekinetic. Superman realized his friend's dilemma, and moved forward in a blur. Roberto fired, but the bullets simply hit Superman and bounced off.
"Most people are smart enough to realize that guns are not effective against me," the Man of Steel said. He took the mutant's gun and threw it across the room. Suddenly, Roberto flung his hand out, and a crimson-colored energy beam hit Superman square in the chest. He blinked in surprise, but it had no obvious effect. Roberto used a colorful phrase that made Clark grimace.
Tatiana disappeared in a flash of light and reappeared behind Lois. She put a knife to the reporter's neck. "No one moves, or she gets it."
Superman and Spiderman froze. Jimmy racked his brains for an idea. He was the closest one to Lois, but nothing he thought of would work. By the time he phased and was able to disarm the Russian woman, she'd have already used the knife. If only it was possible to turn back time for just a few seconds.
*Olsen, you may be onto something.* Jimmy recognized Spider- man's voice inside his head. *Sorry, I couldn't help overhearing your thoughts. I have a crazy theory about your phasing power. You're physic, right? What if that's also somehow linked to it? What if when you phase, you're actually stepping outside of time?*
*Do you really think so?*
*I'm not 100% sure,* Spider-man admitted, *but it's worth a shot. Try thinking back to a few seconds ago and phasing at the same time.*
Jimmy tried it and felt extremely lightheaded for a moment. In the space of a few heartbeats, he saw events unfold backwards, much like watching a video tape while rewinding. Glancing around, Jimmy realized that he'd succeeded. He stepped behind Lois just as Tatiana teleported, and pushed the Russian woman away. Lois spun around and kicked Tatiana, who punched her back.
At the same time, Spider-man aimed a forceful punch at the yellow-eyed mutant, who shot gold energy beams from his eyes. It stunned Spidey, but not badly. He'd taken on much tougher opponents in the past. Sam levitated several feet above Spidey's head, not realizing Spider-man had the same ability now.
"Hey, what do you know," Spidey quipped, flying up to the same level. "This spider can fly. Didn't count on that, now did we?"
"What? How's that possible? You can't be the real Spider- man."
"That's funny. Last time I looked in the mirror, I was still me, unless I'm a clone. And don't get me started on clones." Spider-man grabbed his opponent and dragged Sam down. He quickly looked around for something to tie up the yellow-eyed mutant, and found a piece of computer cable that would probably do the trick.
Superman pinned Roberto to the nearest wall. The mutant struggled but finally gave up. Satisfied, Superman grabbed a handy steel bar that happened to be lying around and used it to restrain Roberto's arms.
Lois and Tatiana were still going at it. It looked like the Daily Planet reporter was winning. She had no superpowers, but her black belt in Tai Kwon Do proved useful. Tatiana was frustrated since she couldn't concentrate long enough to teleport away. Finally, a well-placed kick landed the mutant on her back and Superman seized the opportunity to tie her up.
"You're annoying, do you know that?" Tatiana asked Lois.
"Don't forget meddlesome," she replied.
"Thanks, Spider-man," Jimmy said.
"For what?" The superhero sounded puzzled.
"Giving me the idea about going back in time."
"I don't remember doing that, but you're welcome." Olsen must have succeeded, Spider-man thought, if he couldn't recall giving Jimmy the idea.
Olsen took a few pictures of the three mutants tied up together, then took a picture of Superman and Spider-man. Unable to resist, Spidey put up two fingers for bunny ears behind Clark's head as Jimmy took the photo. Lois laughed out loud.
"I need something that Perry will print in the paper," Jimmy said. "Please be serious."
Superman frowned. "How's this for serious?"
"Guys, I've only got three shots left, and I'm really not keen on putting in a new roll of film underneath these florescent lights."
"You could just phase back in time," Spider-man suggested.
"Wouldn't I still have the same amount of film left?" Jimmy wondered. Then he finished up the roll.
The next day, the Daily Planet's headline read "Superman and Spider-man Foil Purple Chaos Terrorists." Lois and Clark gave Jimmy, who was enjoying the positive attention and seriously considering CK's offer for a costume designed by his mom, credit for assisting the superheros. Jimmy wasn't quite sure he wanted to take the leap of being a superhero. In the meantime, he had a date.
At the Daily Bugle, Peter Parker amazed a few of his co-workers by telekinetically pouring a cup of coffee; and without spilling a drop.
"How long did you have to practice that trick?" Robby Robertson asked, impressed.
"I spent a couple of hours at home practicing various things, yesterday." Aunt May had not been very pleased with the spills on the floor, but Peter cleaned them up.
"Planning to join the X-Men anytime soon?"
"Robby, I'm not anywhere close to being in their league, and there is no way I am putting on spandex." Tights, maybe, but not spandex, he thought to himself.
"What are you all standing around for?" J. Jonah Jameson bellowed. "Get back to work!"
Some things would never change, no matter what else happened. Peter grinned as he took the coffee cup back to his desk, ready to face whatever the universe decided to throw at him.