By Tara Smith <email@example.com>
Submitted: February 2002
Summary: Lois, Clark and their friends and family are getting ready to celebrate Christmas. Naturally, trouble hunts them down. Meanwhile, the crew of the Starship Voyager run into trouble of their own in their search for supplies. Sequel to the author's "The Black Circle."
Disclaimer: All worship the mighty Paramount, Viacom, DC Comics and December 3rd productions for they own all (except for the plot and Maggie Carmichael—they belong to me!)
Maggie stepped off the elevator and paused, taking in the sounds of the newsroom.
It had only been two days since the Black Circle had tried to summon up their evil lord, Dahak, and practically destroyed Centennial Park in the process. They had been stopped, of course, or she wouldn't have a newsroom or a job to return to. She wouldn't even have a life since she had been intended as the receptacle for Dahak's essence. She was fortunate to have survived.
The people here at the Daily Planet had taken the whole thing in stride. She had heard one employee say that this wasn't even comparable to when the New Kryptonians had come to Earth. It was only a park-leveling explosion, after all. Nothing that couldn't be cleaned up.
"Maggie! What are you doing here?"
Maggie turned to see her boyfriend, Jimmy Olsen, coming up the ramp towards her. She smiled at him. "I work here, Jimmy."
"Perry gave you a few days off, remember? You should be at home, resting."
She had been exhausted after she was rescued from the clutches of the Black Circle. Perry had seen that and given her the rest of the week off. She, of course, had felt mostly better after just one day of sunning and wanted to come back to work.
"Jimmy, I'm fine. I don't need another day off. Besides, Lucy was starting to drive me crazy. She was babbling about this new boyfriend of hers in California. He's going to some medical school out there," she made a face. "'Sides, I had to go out and do some things and figured that if I was up to that, I could come in to work."
The elevator dinged behind them and she half turned to see Lois Lane and Clark Kent coming out of the elevator. Lois, she knew, had been on an interview. Clark she had run into on one of the rescues earlier in the day. Clark had one arm around his wife's shoulders. From their expressions, she could tell they'd been … close on the ride up from the ground floor.
She grinned at them. "Hi, guys! How's that elevator music?"
They laughed. Lois held up her recorder. "It's nice to see you back in, Maggie. I have to get this interview typed up, but we should talk afterwards."
Lois and Clark exchanged a rather restrained kiss for them and Lois headed over to her desk and immediately started typing before she had really seated herself. Clark turned to the younger couple.
"I ran into Superman on the way back. He said you seemed to be feeling better."
Maggie nodded. "Yep. I'm at 100% again, CK."
"That's good. Lois and I were a little worried about you."
Maggie grinned up at the handsome reporter. Lois and Clark had come to be like family to her since she'd come to Metropolis just a few months ago. It probably had something to do with her being the only other Kryptonian living on Earth. That, along with her age and her abilities being less powerful than Clark's had at first made Clark overprotective of her. She had thought it was rather sweet, actually, except for when it interfered with her need to help others. He seemed to have mostly gotten over that since she had helped bring down the evil cult just a few days before.
"Thanks, CK, but you two don't need to worry any more. I'm all better now!"
He grinned back at her, obviously relieved. He opened his mouth to say something more but their superhearing kicked in, interrupting him. A jetliner had suffered explosive decompression and was trying to come in for an emergency landing. Maggie couldn't tell where it was, but Clark undoubtedly could.
"Um, I forgot, I left my …"
"Your Christmas present for the Chief in your Jeep," Maggie supplied. "You can't forget that!"
"Right." He smiled gratefully at her. For some reason Maggie couldn't divine, she and Lois were both better at coming up with excuses for his sudden departures than he was. "I'll see you later."
Maggie nodded, fiercely quelling the feeling of inadequacy that she always got when reminded of the things she couldn't do that she should be able to. They still hadn't figured out why her abilities were so much weaker than Clark's were. Dr. Klein had run some tests the day before and had promised to get back to her … well, Sara, as quickly as possible.
"I'll see you later," she said to him as he turned and stepped into the elevator, which had just disgorged a small group of people.
"Maggie," Jimmy said. Maggie pulled her attention back to him. "We need to talk."
"Ok," she agreed, puzzled by the uncomfortable note in his voice. What could he possibly want to talk to her about that would make him feel nervous?
"Um, in the conference room?"
She nodded, now even more confused, and followed him to one of the conference rooms set along one wall. They were usually used for meetings or interviews and were equipped with blinds for privacy. They entered one and Jimmy pulled the blinds.
"So, what's up, Jimmy?" she asked.
He turned to face her. "I want to talk to you about Sara."
"What about her?"
"I mean, about what she… what you do."
"Is there a problem?"
"Well, sort of. I think you should stop being Sara. For a little while, anyway."
"What?" Maggie stared at him, stunned. Of all the possible things he could have said, this was the only one she hadn't thought of.
"I mean, you're not invulnerable. You can be hurt. Like with what the Black Circle did. You were almost killed!"
"Key word here, Jimmy! 'Almost'! I'm fine now!" Maggie was beginning to get mad. How could he suggest something like that? Give up being Sara? He might as well ask her to cut off her own arm!
"Yeah, but what if someone throws a bomb at you like they did at Superman? How badly would that hurt you?"
Maggie shrugged. "I have no idea! But that's not the point! You want me to give up something that I need to do as much as I need to breathe!"
"Why? You're nowhere near as powerful as Superman is! Why could this be so important to you?"
Maggie jerked back as if she'd been slapped, all of her feelings of inadequacy about her powers rekindled. "What did you say?"
"I don't understand why you have to put yourself at risk like that! You're not as powerful as Superman is! You can't …"
"If you can't understand why I do it, then maybe we shouldn't be dating!" Maggie shouted.
The newsroom outside the conference room went dead silent at her shout, which was audible even through the plate glass windows of the conference room.
"Maybe we shouldn't!" Jimmy shouted.
"Fine!" Maggie threw open the conference room door. Clark, who had returned from the airplane rescue and was standing behind it, caught the door before it collided with the glass window and shattered it into a million pieces. Maggie barely noticed him as she stalked away.
Clark exchanged a meaningful look with Lois, who was still seated at her desk.
"Is this a newsroom or a soap opera?" Perry was standing at the door to his office looking irritated. "C'mon, everybody, the show's over. Get back to work!"
Maggie stared glumly over the city. She was perched on top of the highest building in the city, figuring that this was the only way she could be left alone while she thought. And she had a lot to think about. How dare Jimmy try to make her quit being Sara? It wasn't just a job! She couldn't just stop wanting to help people! So what if she wasn't as invulnerable as Superman was! She still had these abilities and the need to use them! She couldn't just turn it off!
A whooshing behind her announced Superman's arrival. She sighed. What she would give to be able to do that.
"Can I join you?" He sounded concerned.
"Sure. Grab a patch of concrete." She motioned to the edge of the rooftop beside her.
He settled himself down beside her, cape tucked beneath him, and stared off over the city. "I heard about your fight with Jimmy."
Maggie laughed shortly. "I'm pretty sure half of Metropolis heard it. We weren't exactly quiet."
"No, you weren't." A pause. "You know, Jimmy's feeling pretty bad about it, too."
"So?" She flashed Superman an indignant look. "Why should I care? He brought this on himself! How dare he ask me to stop helping people! Lois would never ask you to stop!"
"Our situation's a little different from yours." Superman sounded a little uncomfortable. He still wasn't used to the thought of Maggie knowing his secret, even though she had the same secret to keep. "Maybe you should let it cool off a little before you talk again."
Maggie nodded, gaze on the skyline again. "That's what I'd planned on. Assuming we talk again, of course. So was that why you came up here? To tell me to cool down before talking to him again?"
"Actually, no, it wasn't. Lois and I know that you were planning on spending Christmas night with Jimmy, but …"
"That's off. I was thinking of patrolling on Christmas night. Y'know, make sure the criminal element didn't get out of hand."
"Lois and I, well, we'd like you to have Christmas dinner with us."
Maggie turned a startled look on him. "Really?"
Maggie grinned and wiped sudden tears from her eyes. She threw her arms around Superman. "Yes! Of course I accept! Thank you so much!"
Superman gingerly returned the hug. "You're welcome. We couldn't let you spend Christmas night alone. You're like a little sister to us."
Maggie smiled up at him. "Well, big brother, it's nice to have family again."
Kathryn Janeway brushed sweat out of her face as she measured off the distance between herself and her opponent. She threw a challenging grin at her opponent as she took a step backwards behind the white line and hefted her chosen weapon in her right hand. In one smooth practiced motion, she threw the ball up in the air and expertly served. The tennis ball arched gracefully over the net to bounce off the ground in front of Seven of Nine.
Seven gracefully stepped to one side and swung her racquet, returning the ball to Janeway. The ball shot back and forth over the net for several minutes before it landed just outside the white line on Janeway's side of the court.
"Point," Janeway said, "and game."
Seven watched as the captain retrieved the ball. She, too, was sweating, showing the results of playing tennis for the past two hours. "Another game, Captain?"
Janeway mopped sweat off of her forehead with a towel that had been lying off to one side of the court. "No thanks, Seven. I think I'd better quit while I'm ahead."
"Computer, end program," Seven said. The tennis court and balls vanished soundlessly, leaving the familiar grid of the holodeck. The two women exited the room.
"Captain, wait up." A familiar voice made Janeway stop and turn to allow her handsome First Officer to catch up with her. "Good game?"
She nodded. "Very."
"You know, tennis isn't the kind of game I'd expect you to be playing. You seem more like the Parises squares type," Chakotay said with a smile.
Janeway flashed him a grin. "I know. My parents made me take tennis lessons in high school. They said it built character. Naturally I hated it."
Seven looked puzzled. "Why would you hate a character-building experience?"
Janeway and Chakotay laughed.
"Well, Seven, character-building experiences are usually boring or unpleasant to teenagers," Janeway explained. "Teenagers hate to be bored."
"I see." Seven looked thoughtful.
"Sickbay to the Captain."
Janeway tapped her commbadge. "Go ahead, Doctor."
"Captain, we have a problem. Could you come down to sickbay?"
Janeway and Chakotay exchanged a worried look. What kind of new problem could have arisen now? "We're on our way. Janeway out."
Janeway strode into sickbay, Chakotay and Seven of Nine a step behind her. She spotted the Doctor immediately and went over to him. "Well, Doctor? What's the problem?"
The Doctor was standing with his back towards the entrance to sickbay. He and Tom Paris, the ship's chief pilot and the Doctor's medical assistant, were concentrating intently on something on the table between them. At the sound of Janeway's voice, the Doctor turned, exposing the subject of their scrutiny.
Captain Janeway stopped and stared at the mess on the tray. It was a green and brown pile of decaying plants. It was in such a state of extreme decomposition that she couldn't even identify what kind of plant it had been. "Well, Doctor?"
"Mr. Paris, run a microcellular scan on the plant matter," he told his medical assistant before turning away to face Captain Janeway. "Ensign Wildman went down to the airponics bay this morning to get some fresh fruit for Naomi and found all of the plants in the bay in this condition."
"All of them? Do you know what caused it?"
He gave her an affronted look. "Of course I know."
He activated a console and brought up an image of an insect. To Janeway it looked like a cross between a human head louse and a millipede.
"Impressive," Seven commented.
Janeway shot her a bemused look. "Not exactly how I'd put it."
"Nasty looking critter," Chakotay said.
"Isn't it, though," the Doctor agreed. He placed a leaf that appeared mostly intact on a slide and placed it beneath the magnifier. The image appeared on the screen beside the mite. "These insects produce a toxin that breaks down the cellular integrity of the plant. As you can see, it works extremely rapidly."
The three onlookers watched—two of them aghast, the other cool and calculated—as the mites on the leaf destroyed the leaf in a matter of seconds.
"Where did this insect come from?" Chakotay asked.
"I would assume from the spacedock. It seems to be Lonaran in origin."
The Doctor was referring to the space station belonging to a race they had encountered a few weeks before. The Lonarans had been suffering from a plague and had been quarantined by the other races in the area. No one had been able to find a cure. Then, not knowing about this plague, Voyager had rescued a small one-man craft with an infected Lonaran onboard. The Doctor, assisted by Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway, had managed to find a cure for the horrible disease. The Lonaran they had rescued had turned out to be Saffin, the youngest daughter of the Lonaran High Chancellor. Out of gratitude for the cure to the plague and the rescue of the High Chancellors daughter, the Lonarans gave them free run of a spacedock orbiting their home world.
B'Elanna Torres, their chief engineer, had taken this rare chance to perform repairs that could only be done in a spacedock. As a result, Voyager was in as close to top running order as she had been since their arrival in the Delta Quadrant five years previously.
"Are they dangerous to the crew?" As always, the safety and well being of her crew was Captain Janeway's first priority.
The Doctor shook his head. "Not unless we have a crewmember who is a plant. These mites attack chlorophyll- based plants only."
"Almost all of our plants were chlorophyll-based. We're going to have to get some new plants," Chakotay told them.
"I don't know how long I can survive on Neelix's mushroom meals," Janeway told her first officer wryly. Chakotay grinned at her. "Doctor, can you eradicate the mites on the ship?"
"Good. Do it." She turned to the ex-Borg. "Seven, I need you to find an uninhabited M-class planet. Preferably something not too far off course."
Seven nodded brusquely and strode out of sickbay.
Janeway sighed. "Things were going so well. I knew it couldn't last."
She, too, turned and strode out of sickbay, Chakotay right behind her.
Night had fallen swiftly on Metropolis and was accompanied by a new cold front to offset they day's relative warmth. Maggie knew from things Lois and Clark had told her that by morning there would be a crust of ice on the snow which would make for more accidents the next morning. She wasn't really looking forward to that. Fortunately, there hadn't been anything that required her presence yet.
As Maggie hurried down Hyperion Avenue with her covered dish in hand, she was once again thankful that she wasn't affected by the cold like humans were. The light jacket that she wore was the only one in her possession at present and she didn't really want to have to go buy a new one. She knew that Jimmy had been planning on getting her a new 'cool' jacket but … firmly, she banished all thoughts of Jimmy Olsen from her thoughts. Now really wasn't the time to let herself dwell on things she couldn't change. Still …
She finally reached Lois and Clark's brownstone. She had walked the distance from her apartment using only a little superspeed. Despite the refining of her control she had acquired since moving to Metropolis and using her powers on a daily basis, she hadn't wanted to chance damaging her contribution to tonight's dinner—a dessert she was sure that Lois, at least, would love.
She walked up the steps to the front door and unlocked the door using the key Lois had given her earlier that day. Neither Lois nor Clark would be home right now, so Lois had given her the spare so she wouldn't have to wait outside until one of the two returned. As she stepped inside and closed the door behind her, closing the chill night out, she could clearly hear someone moving around in the kitchen.
She juggled the covered dish from hand to hand as she shed her light jacket and hung it on the coat rack by the door.
"Lois? Is that you?" a strange woman's voice called from the kitchen.
"No, it's not!" Maggie called back. "It's Maggie Carmichael. Lois gave me a key so I wouldn't have to wait for her or Clark to get home."
An older woman stepped out of the kitchen. Maggie recognized her instantly from the pictures she had seen around the house as Martha Kent, Clark's adoptive mother. She was wearing a plain blue dress with an apron over it and was drying her hands on a dishtowel. From the smells emanating from the kitchen, Maggie knew Mrs. Kent had been preparing food.
Maggie smiled brightly. "Hi, Mrs. Kent."
Martha Kent smiled back. Maggie could tell from the warmth in the smile that she was everything Clark had said she was. "Oh, call me Martha, dear. You're practically family, from what Clark tells me."
Maggie quelled a surge of worry at that phrase. The woman undoubtedly knew about her son's secret and had kept it for over thirty years, now. If she did know Maggie's secret, she was unlikely to spread it around. She smiled at her. "Lois and Clark are really cool people, Mrs… um, Martha. They've helped me a lot since I've moved to Metropolis."
"Why don't you come into the kitchen with me?" Martha suggested. "That way we can talk while I finish up some of the food for dinner."
"Fine by me." Maggie followed Martha back into the kitchen.
The scents she had detected from in the entryway hit Maggie almost like a physical force as she entered the kitchen. She inhaled deeply, recognizing most of the scents as ones she had smelled the last Christmas before her parents were killed, when her mother had actually had enough time to cook Christmas dinner for her family.
"Mmm! Smells great!" she commented. "I can see where Clark learned to cook."
"Thank you," Martha said.
Maggie held out the covered dish. "I brought something for dessert. It's just something I threw together. Nothing much, really."
Martha accepted the dish and popped the lid off to peek inside. Her eyebrows lifted and she shot a look at Maggie. "I wouldn't call this nothing much. I'd better put it in the refrigerator to keep it safe."
By safe, Maggie knew she meant hidden from Lois. The woman might not be able to resist sampling the dessert ahead of time if she saw how much chocolate was in the cake.
Martha placed the dish in the refrigerator and turned back to Maggie. "Do you like to cook, Maggie?"
Maggie grinned sheepishly. "Sort of, but all I really know how to make is desserts."
"Well, why don't you help me with dinner. I can show you a few things."
"I'll match you and raise you a star system!" Maggie said.
Lois pushed open the front door, certain she couldn't have heard what she thought she just had. Jonathan Kent, just a step behind her, laughed softly.
"I'll see that." Martha was seated across the table from Maggie and both were looking very intent as they stared at each other across their cards. "And I'll raise you a star cluster."
Lois stifled a laugh—they just looked so serious about it! "Playing high-stakes poker, are you?"
Maggie, who undoubtedly had already known Lois and Jonathon were there, flashed Lois a grin. "Of course! That's the only way to play poker!"
Lois and Jonathan had gone out for some ingredients for dinner that they had run out of. They had been held up by a minor traffic accident until Superman cleared it away.
The two hung their coats on the rack beside the door and went into the living room. As they did so, Lois caught sight of a pile of poker chips in the center of the table Martha and Maggie were seated at. Apparently this hand had been going for quite a while, now. As she watched, Maggie tossed some chips into the center.
"I raise you a star cluster!"
Martha laughed and shook her head. "I fold."
"I finally beat someone at poker!" Maggie said, laughing. She put her cards face down on the table and raked in the chips.
"Do I get to see what I lost to?" Martha asked.
Maggie gave her a look that was part dubiousness, but mostly suppressed laughter. "Hmmm, I don't know … ok."
The two flipped their cards over. Maggie had an ace; Martha had three of a kind. When Martha saw what Maggie had won with, she burst into laughter.
"Has Clark gotten back yet?" Lois asked when the laughter died down. Martha opened her mouth to reply when a whoosh and a thud interrupted her. A moment later, Clark strolled casually down the stairs, glasses in hand. Martha gestured covertly for him to put them back on.
"It's ok, Martha," Lois told her. "Maggie figured it out a few days ago."
Maggie nodded at Martha and Jonathan's surprised expressions. "Actually, I figured it out right after that business with the kryptonite last month. I just didn't tell Lois and Clark I knew. I figured the less said about that, the better."
"But … how did you find out?"
Maggie smiled and shrugged. "I have a photographic memory. When I met Clark, I'd already seen Superman up close. Something about Clark seemed very familiar, but I couldn't figure it out right then. About two days later, when I'd mostly recovered from that bullet, I thought about it a little and figured it out."
Martha frowned worriedly and Maggie hastened to assure her, "Don't worry, Martha. Neither wild dogs nor psychotic madmen nor rampaging aliens could drag this secret out of me. Lois and Clark are two of my best friends! I'd never betray them."
"It's okay, Mom," Clark interjected. He looked, to Lois, a little sheepish. "We trust her. We were going to let you know she knew, but things just kept coming up."
"Well, if our boy trusts you, that's good enough for me," Jonathan told Maggie. "Now, why don't we see about that delicious dinner I smell."
Dinner passed quickly—almost too quickly, as far as Lois was concerned. But then, that was the way it was when they were having a good time. The conversation was lively, and by the end of dinner, Martha and Jonathan were treating Maggie like a good friend. Superman hadn't been called on once, amazingly.
Dessert had been provided, as planned, by Maggie. She had baked a cake—a chocoholic's delight. Lois hadn't realized that Maggie even knew how to use the oven, from the kinds of things Maggie kept in the cupboards in the apartment she and Lucy shared. Lois had assumed on seeing it that Maggie had bought it from the store because of how professional it looked. Maggie sheepishly admitted that she'd made it herself—she was a chocoholic, too.
Lois leaned back in her chair, smiling at her husband, who was sitting across the table from her. Everyone seemed to be finished eating. Clark, as usual, started to pick up the dishes but Maggie stopped him.
"Why don't you two go take that romantic flight you were planning on? We can take care of the dishes for you." He started to protest, but Maggie didn't let him. "Don't worry about it! You two just go enjoy yourselves! Shoo!"
Lois exchanged an amused look with Clark. "It sounds like we've been given our marching orders, doesn't it?"
Clark came around the table to her. "It sure does. And I can't think of any reason to disobey."
He stopped in front of her and spun into his uniform. She put her arms around his neck and he scooped her up in his arms and turned towards the staircase. They drifted up the staircase and out the master bedroom window.
The city was as quiet as it had ever been as they flew leisurely north. The sky was clear for now, despite the weather predictions that a new cold front was moving in. Lois, cuddled close to her warm husband, didn't even notice the chill in the air.
A little while later, they had gotten a few miles out of Metropolis when Lois noticed a familiar expression on her husband's face. "Something wrong?"
He nodded. "It sounded like an accident. It's fairly close to us."
She sighed. "Can't people stay out of trouble for just one night? Let's go."
They reached the scene of the accident in a matter of minutes. A truck had been driven into a ditch alongside the road and a man, apparently the owner of the truck, was standing beside it speaking into a cell phone. When he saw Superman coming in for a landing, he said something into it and closed the phone.
Clark deposited Lois just outside of the ring of light the truck was producing and walked up to the man.
"Hi, Superman. Sorry to bother you on Christmas night and all."
"It's all right. I'll have your truck out in no time."
He didn't seem drunk, Lois thought. Why had he driven off the road? The man, seemingly hearing her thoughts, continued talking to Superman, telling him what happened as the Kryptonian moved the truck carefully out of the ditch.
"I was driving along minding my own business when these kids in a sportscar tried to pass me. I think they're drunk, 'cause they tried to run me off the road. I was just letting the highway patrol know about it when you got here." The man seemed extremely annoyed as he related his story, his breath steaming in the cold air.
"There you go, sir. Good as new." He looked up at the gathering clouds. A flash of light lit up the sky for a moment and a second later the rumble of thunder hit them.
"Thanks, Superman. Merry Christmas." The man shook Superman's hand, then spoke to Lois. "Merry Christmas to you, too, ma'am!"
Lois lifted her hand in a wave as the man climbed back into his truck and drove away. Clark came back over to her and scooped her up again. "We should get going too. This storm looks like its going to be a lively one."
Lois looked up as lightning again illuminated the sky. "That's odd. I don't remember the weather forecaster predicting an electrical storm."
"Neither do I. We should go home and check the news."
"Well, it'd better not be a criminal controlling the weather again. It was annoying enough the last time."
Clark wrapped his cape partly around her and prepared to launch himself. As he did so, a brighter light than the lightning flashed in the sky. At the same time as it hit the ground by them, lightning flashed, this time directly in front of them, striking the ground, combining to create a flash of light that dazzled their eyes for a moment. The universe blinked.
"Coming up on the system, Captain," Tom Paris announced. He glanced back over his shoulder at the command area, where Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay sat.
Captain Janeway sat up straight. She had been leaning towards her first officer, undoubtedly discussing the current food problem—that was all anyone had been talking about aside from ships business for the past few days. The only fresh food items that had survived the mites had been leola roots and mushrooms—neither one of which were food items that he, Tom, would willingly eat if there were another option. Unfortunately for him, he had used the last of his replicator rations the night before the mites were discovered on a romantic dinner with B'Elanna Torres. That left him no choice but to eat the concoctions that Neelix threw together for the rest of the month.
"Take us out of warp, Ensign, and take us into orbit of the second planet," Janeway ordered.
"With pleasure," he said. Skillfully, he manipulated the controls and brought the starship back into normal space. As he did so, an alarm sounded behind him. An instant later, Harry Kim, chief operations officer, spoke up.
"Captain, I'm detecting a plasma storm bearing." There was a brief pause as he determined the exact coordinates. "346 by 82 by 12. It's a small one but it's interfering with my scans."
Janeway stood and turned to face the younger officer. Tom turned his chair slightly so he could watch her and his controls as the captain spoke to Kim. "Why didn't we detect it before, Ensign?"
"The storm appears to still be forming. I would say it just moved into the system at the same time as we did." Harry looked up at Janeway. "It is producing quite a bit of interference. Transporters are offline and communications will be disrupted."
Janeway shot a wry smile at Chakotay. "I guess we'll have to send down a shuttle, to scout the planet before sending the collecting teams."
Chakotay nodded. "That shouldn't be a problem. All of our previous scans indicated the system was uninhabited."
"Harry, I want you to monitor that storm and inform me immediately if it begins to pose a danger to the ship. And see if you can find a way to bypass the interference."
"Entering orbit now, Captain," Tom interjected.
She turned back to him. "Good. Tom, assemble an away team. Take the Delta Flyer and stay in as close contact with the ship as you can."
Tom quickly turned his station over to the relief pilot and strode across the bridge and up the ramp that led to the turbolift.
"Oh, and Tom," Janeway stopped him. "I'm going to need B'Elanna onboard. Take anyone else you need, though."
"Yes, Captain." Tom hid his disappointment. He had been planning on making her the first on his away team. Ah, well, he couldn't have everything he wanted, he thought as he stepped into the turbolift. "Deck six."
The Delta Flyer eased out through the shuttlebay doors and arched gracefully towards the planet below. Tom, at the controls, was thoroughly enjoying himself. The Delta Flyer was his baby—it didn't really matter that others had worked on her design, he had come up with the concept and he was the one who did most of the flying on her.
He flashed a glance back at the rest of the away team. He'd tried to put together a balanced team. Neelix was a natural; he was there to pick out the types of plants he could use to cook with. The Doctor, seated beside Tom, was there to verify that everything that Neelix selected was edible—of course, leola roots had been deemed edible by the Doctor, but no one onboard could stomach the things. Seven of Nine, the ex-Borg drone, was the last member of the group. She had actually been suggested by Captain Janeway— Janeway wanted Seven to get more experience working in small groups like the away team.
He directed the Flyer towards the area they had picked as being the most likely to have the most edible plant life. The planet was very similar to Earth in most respects, being approximately seventy percent water and thirty percent land. The landmass they were heading for was extremely green and teeming with life. It was surprising that such a fertile planet didn't already have inhabitants—then again, this was the delta quadrant—it was always possible that nobody had been here yet and didn't know what a find they were missing.
"It's a beautiful planet," the Doctor commented. He was seated beside Tom on the small seat he commonly occupied when in the Delta Flyer. "Too bad I didn't bring my holocorder."
"Don't worry, Doc," Tom reassured the hologram. "We're going to be here for a few days at least. I'm sure you'll get a chance to snap a few pictures."
Something beeped interrupting him. Neelix, the Talaxian who had appointed himself morale officer and chef after they had agreed to let him stay onboard the vessel five years previously, was at the ops station. He spoke up nervously, "Um, there're two ships coming up from the planet. They seem to be fighters of some kind."
Tom brought up a visual of the craft on a small screen. The vessels were sleek, deadly looking things. The sensors identified at least four phaser ports, all active, as well as two torpedo launchers on each vessel. They were painted in a way that practically screamed predator to Tom; they looked vaguely like a stylized version of a shark.
"I see it! I thought this planet was uninhabited!" Tom objected as he tried to raise Voyager on communications. "Delta Flyer to Voyager."
"…terference … holographic shields … ere hiding … plasma storm. Voyager … der atta …" The communication cut off in a burst of static.
"Interference is blocking any further communications with our ship," Seven of Nine informed them coolly from tactical. "The attacking vessels are closing."
"Shields up, initiating evasive maneuvers," Tom said. "Where did they come from?"
The ship shook from a phaser blast. Tom returned fire and swerved to avoid another blast from the other ship.
"Unknown." Seven replied. "Shields are at 85 percent."
The ship shook with phaser fire again and again they returned fire. "Direct hit. Shields at 53 percent."
"They may be small, but they pack a punch!" Tom commented. He directed the Flyer down at the planet, hoping to surprise the enemy fighters, then swooped up between two of them. The vessel shook with phaser fire again. "Smart, too. Let's see if they can handle this!"
Tom executed a complicated maneuver that left the enemy fighters confused for a few seconds, then they were once again on the tail of the Flyer. The ship shook again then again as the enemy fighters' phasers found their mark. "Shields are failing."
Something burst and vapor jetted across the cabin. Tom ignored it as he struggled to lose the fighters by taking the Flyer down into the atmosphere. His evasive maneuvers just weren't working!
"Life support is damaged," Seven's voice cut across the alarms. "Shields have failed. Inertial dampeners are failing."
"Attempting to compensate." Tom fought to keep the Flyer stable despite the shaking caused by the failing inertial dampeners. Another phaser blast rocked the vessel. "Impulse engine's are offline. Thrusters are damaged. I'm going to try to land her."
"Just try to keep us in one piece, Mr. Paris." Tom could barely hear the Doctor over the noise in the cockpit.
"I'm doing my best!" Tom swerved the Flyer to one side, narrowly avoiding one of the enemy vessels. A moment later, the ship rocked with the impact of another phaser blast. "Thrusters are offline! Switching to manual controls!"
The vessel rocked with another blast and the panel before him exploded in a shower of sparks. Tom was thrown out of his chair. His head hit another console and the world went dark.
Maggie wrinkled her nose in disgust at the properties she held. Out of the entire board, she had only four properties. Martha had almost two full sides and Jonathan had everything else.
"Your turn," Martha said. She held the dice out to Maggie.
Maggie examined the board. This version of Monopoly had been based on Metropolis. Many of the properties were places she, herself, had seen—including the Lexor Hotel and Luthor Towers. The playing pieces had also been based on people who were now or had been living in Metropolis— Superman, Ultrawoman, Lex Luthor and Vixen, to name just a few. Maggie had chosen Vixen as her playing piece. Interestingly enough, Martha had chosen Superman and Jonathan had chosen Lex Luthor.
The area before her piece was fraught with danger. Martha owned Luthor Towers and the Lexor Hotel—the replacements for the standard Boardwalk and Park Place. She had hotels on both of them. The railroad and other property group on that side, which also had hotels on them, were both owned by Jonathan. Unless she managed to land on Community Chest or Chance, she was doomed. Knowing her luck, she'd probably land on Luthor Towers.
She eyed her small pile of money, then grinned. "Here goes everything!"
She rolled the dice. They came to a gentle halt against the chance cards—an eleven. Maggie sighed and moved her piece to the Luthor Towers. "How much do I owe you?"
Maggie picked up her small stack of money and four properties and handed them over to Martha with a grin. "I am now officially bankrupt. Here's my stuff!"
Martha accepted the small pile and properties and placed them with hers. Jonathan reached for the dice to take his turn.
Maggie leaned back in her chair watching the two. She wished she'd met these two earlier. Clark had suggested that she come to Smallville with him and Lois several times, but something had always come up to keep her from going. They seemed like very nice and trustworthy people—they'd raised Clark, after all. She was pretty sure she could trust them with her secret, too, if she decided to tell them.
Of course, telling them might not be necessary. They had raised a Kryptonian, after all, and Maggie had undoubtedly already shown them many times that she was no normal human without even knowing it. Maybe she should just come out and tell them …
With a suddenness that caused her to sit upright, her superhearing cut in. Something had just exploded north of Metropolis. An instant after she heard the explosion, the room seemed to ripple. Maggie swayed in her chair and leaned back as vertigo got the best of her. She closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them, Martha and Jonathan were watching her, looking worried.
"Did you feel that?" she asked them.
"Yes, we did. Are you all right?" Martha came over to her chair, a concerned look on her face.
Maggie nodded. "I'm fine. It just felt like the world dropped out from under me for a minute there. I wonder what caused it."
"Maybe there'll be something on the news," Jonathan suggested. Maggie nodded and grabbed the remote from the table beside her chair.
She turned the TV on and switched to a channel she knew of that gave nothing but continuous news broadcasts. It was showing an old broadcast of a major pile-up that had happened earlier in the day, but, after a few minutes, it was interrupted and the scene shifted to one of the news studio.
"We interrupt this newscast to bring you a special bulletin," the newsman said. "Just moments ago, there was an explosion a few miles north of Metropolis. Jim Stevens takes you to the site of the blast."
He turned and the camera zoomed in on another large screen behind him. It was obviously the site of the explosion. Pavement and dirt had been blasted away, leaving a crater, and the edges of the site looked scorched.
The anchor, a good-looking dark-haired man, was standing just in front of the crater. Wind was whipping around him and lightning occasionally flashed in the background. "Thank you, Alex. I am standing on highway 253, north of Metropolis, before a crater caused by a mysterious explosion just a few minutes ago. We were fortunate enough to be close enough to actually see the explosion when it happened, although we didn't manage to get any footage of the event. Although we do not know what the cause of the explosion was, we do know that at least one person was caught in the blast—Superman."
Martha gasped. Maggie shot a look at her. "I hope Lois wasn't there, too. Superman wouldn't be hurt by a little explosion."
"With me here is an eyewitness of the explosion." Jim extended a hand and motioned another man to step up beside him. "Mr. Dalton, could you tell us what you witnessed here, tonight."
"Um, sure." The man was wearing what Maggie would have called the classic wanna-be cowboy outfit—leather cowboy boots, tight blue jeans, flannel shirt and a cowboy hat. She'd seen plenty of them in California to be able to spot the type a mile away. He probably drove a truck, too. "Well, I was driving along and these kinds in a convertible ran me off the road. I was calling a tow service when Superman flew up and pulled my truck out of the ditch. He had this lady with him. She stayed out of the light, so I couldn't see who she was. I was driving off and looked back in my rear-view mirror. I could see Superman 'cause of the lightning. He was holding the lady. That's when that explosion hit. When I could see again, they weren't there."
"Thank you, Mr. Dalton." The anchor turned back to the camera. "More as it develops. Back to you in the studio, Alex."
The view on the TV changed back to the studio, but nobody was listening. Maggie muted the TV and turned to Martha and Jonathan. "Do you think they're all right?"
"I hope so. There's really no way to find out." Martha stood and went over to the window and looked out. "If only we had some way of contacting them—like Batman's sky signal or something."
"A signal …" Maggie sat up straight. "Wait a minute! We can! Jimmy's got this signal watch! He wears it everywhere! I'll bet Clark would show if he heard that!"
"Signal watch?" Martha looked puzzled for a moment, then grinned. "Of course! It emits a hypersonic signal that only Superman—"
"Or Sara," Maggie interjected.
"Right. Or Sara can hear." Martha flashed Maggie an indecipherable look. "Let's just hope we don't call up the wrong superhero by mistake."
"Right." Maggie jumped out of her chair. "I'll go call Jimmy."
"Wait a minute," Jonathan stopped her. "They could be on their way home now. We should give them a little time to get home or call and let us know they're all right. It's only been a few minutes since the explosion, after all."
"What about that weird ripple thing, though?" Maggie brushed her hair out of her face. "They didn't mention it on the TV. Something strange happened out there. We need to know if Lois and Clark are all right. We need to know now!"
"She's right, Jonathan." Martha turned away from the window to face her husband. "Go call your friend, Maggie."
Maggie nodded and ran for the phone.
The universe blinked.
Clark staggered, nearly overcome by a wave of vertigo. Only the feel of Lois' body in his arms kept him from giving in to it and falling to the ground.
"Clark? Clark, what's wrong?" Lois' voice sounded faintly through the ringing in his ears.
He shook his head and fought to steady himself. Lightning flashed with the crack of thunder almost immediately after.
"Clark! Clark, we have to get out of here! Clark?" Lois sounded frantic.
He pushed back the vertigo by sheer force of will and lifted about a half-foot off the ground. He flew as fast as was safe for his precious burden out of the storm. As soon as they were out of danger, he came to a skidding halt on his knees in the dirt and let Lois down.
Lois went to her knees in front of him and took his face in her hands. "Clark? Are you all right? What happened?"
The vertigo was receding. Clark looked up into the face of his worried wife and smiled shakily. "I'm all right now, honey. I don't know what happened, but I'm fine now."
She looked unconvinced. "I felt a little dizzy for a minute there, too, but nothing like what happened to you. Are you sure you're all right?"
Clark cupped her face in one hand and smiled. "I'm fine, honey. I promise."
She looked doubtful, but didn't say any more about that. Instead she said, "Maybe we should head back to the house and see if we can find out what happened."
"Good idea." He stood slowly, then scooped Lois up and looked around, trying to determine which way home was.
"Clark, I don't see Metropolis."
"Me neither." He glanced back at the storm that still raged behind them. "We can't have gone that far. Maybe we're just looking in the wrong direction."
He grinned reassuringly at her as he lifted off into the air. As they gained altitude, both concentrated on looking for the city they called home. There was no sign in any direction of anything man-made. No roads, houses or telephone poles anywhere. It was as though no one had ever been there. After searching fruitlessly for an hour, they set down on a near-by hillside.
"Maybe that thing that made you dizzy—maybe it was time travel," Lois suggested.
"It could have been, I guess. It didn't feel much like it, though. I didn't get dizzy when H.G. Wells took us back in time." He looked up at the clouds that covered most of the sky and stopped, staring. "Lois, it wasn't time travel."
"What?" Lois, too, looked up. "Oh, my God! We're not on Earth anymore!"
Above them, partially covered by the clouds but clearly visible nonetheless, shone two reddish moons. Both were significantly larger than the Earth's lone moon.
"Clark, what are we going to do?" Lois sounded panicky. "How can we get home from another planet?"
Clark took a deep breath and gathered Lois into an embrace. "I don't know, Lois. We'll figure something out. Maybe there're people on this planet somewhere who can help us."
She looked up at him, a strained expression on her face. "I hope so."
His superhearing cut in abruptly, and he jerked his gaze upward towards the faint sound. It sounded familiar— like a shuttle entering the atmosphere. "Well, this planet isn't completely deserted, anyway. I can hear a space vessel of some kind." He listened for a moment, then pointed. "It's coming from that direction."
The noise from the shuttle became rapidly louder, until Lois, too, could hear it. It became obvious fairly quickly that the shuttle wasn't slowing down. Clark couldn't even hear an attempt to use maneuvering thrusters. He focussed in on the source of the noise and caught a brief glimpse of an unconscious pilot.
"Lois, they're in trouble. They're coming in out of control."
"Go. Help them." Lois pushed away from him and stepped back. He flashed her a grateful look before flinging himself into the sky towards the tumbling shuttle.
He reached it quickly and caught it by the nose. From that vantage point, he could see directly into the interior of the shuttle. One of the passengers—a man in a blue, gray and black uniform—was pulling the unconscious pilot out of his chair. Behind them, a young blond woman with a strange metallic device over her left eye was rapidly pressing controls on the console before her and a strange looking humanoid was staring at him. Clark smiled reassuringly at the creature as he slowed the shuttle.
The craft was going fairly quickly—still well over the speed of sound and faster than most planes could go—so it took him a little longer to slow it down than it would have if it were a plane. When he had it slowed enough, he brought it down to land it on the hillside near where Lois was waiting for him.
He set the shuttle down and stepped back. Lois ran up beside him.
After a moment of looking the craft over from its scorched stern to the bow, Lois said, "Clark, whoever is in there speaks English. They might be human."
Clark nodded. "I noticed that too. I'd say they probably are human—or at least some of the people onboard are. I caught a glimpse of them while I was landing the shuttle."
"Maybe they'll help us get home. Can you see what they're doing?" Lois asked impatiently.
Clark concentrated for a moment, trying to use his x- ray vision to see through the hull of the craft. After a minute, he stopped and shook his head. "Too dense. I can't hear what they're saying, either—it's soundproofed."
"We're going to have to wait for them to come out? Great." Lois looked somewhat less than thrilled by that.
"Well, I do know that at least one of them is an alien." At her surprised look, he continued. "It's got spots on its face and forehead and slitted amber eyes. Other than that, it looks pretty humanoid."
"Great. Just what we need! Little green men."
Clark grinned. His wife's tendency to get sarcastic when she was irritated was one of the things he loved about her.
A sound from the ship made both of them turn to look at it. A hatch had opened at the rear of the vessel and the alien Clark had been talking about had just come out. He looked around, then came around the ship to Lois and Clark.
"Hi there! I'm Neelix. Thank you for your help. I'm not sure we would have landed well without it." He eyed Clark uncertainly. "Um, pardon me for asking, but just how did you do that? Catch the shuttle and all without a tractor beam or a hover pack or anything? I'm not ungrateful or anything, but …"
Clark shot Lois an amused look, then turned back to the alien and deliberately sidestepped the question. "I'm Clark Kent and this is my wife, Lois Lane. We were hoping you could help us with a problem now."
"I'm sure the Captain wouldn't mind helping you since you saved our lives. We'll have to get back to Voyager first, though." Neelix looked curious, now. "Just how did you get all the way out here, anyway? I know that at least Ms. Lane is human, and we thought we'd met all the humans out here already."
"That's our problem, actually." Lois said. "We were on Earth just a little while ago, then we were here. We don't even know where here is."
Neelix looked startled. "You don't know … we're in the Delta Quadrant. Voyager got dragged out here about five years ago and is trying to get back to Earth."
"Neelix! I require your assistance!" a stern female voice called.
"On my way, Seven!" Neelix replied. Then he said to Lois and Clark, "Come on inside. We can talk more in there. When Seven of Nine says she needs assistance she's usually not joking."
Clark exchanged a look with Lois before they followed the alien to the rear of the craft.
"Seven of Nine … that's an unusual name. Is she an alien, too?" Lois asked.
"What?" Neelix glanced at Lois. "Oh, no! She's as human as you are. She was a Borg drone. She has a human name but she prefers to be called Seven of Nine."
As Clark entered the craft, he glanced around, not certain of what to expect.
The Delta flyer had a more spacious interior than he had expected based on what he knew of space shuttles on Earth. These people seemed to have a level of technology pretty close to that of New Krypton.
Lois was apparently thinking along the same lines, for she said, "Well, at least these people have a better sense of aesthetics than the New Kryptonians did."
The alien—Neelix—hurried over to where the young woman Clark had seen earlier was working on some futuristic looking circuitry of some kind.
"What do you want me to do, Seven?" he asked eagerly.
"Hold this." She handed Neelix a tool of some kind and positioned it above the stuff she was working on. The device, whatever it was, hummed slightly. "Who are they?"
"They're from Earth, too! That's Clark Kent and that's Lois Lane. They're stranded out here, too."
"Hold the inducer still," Seven ordered. "We must repair the impulse engines before the alien fighters reach our position."
"Alien fighters?" Lois asked. "Did we just get ourselves into a war?"
"We were attempting to re-stock our food supplies when we were attacked by unknown alien fighters. We uncertain as to why they attacked." Seven told them.
"How long until the drive is repaired, Seven? I need to get Mr. Paris back to sickbay. He has some injuries I can't fully repair here." The newcomer paused as he saw Lois and Clark. "Hello. I see we have guests."
"I'm Clark Kent and this is Lois Lane."
"Ah, yes, you're the one who landed our shuttle. You have some very interesting bio-readings—what we could get of them, anyway." He looked Clark's outfit over. "Nice cape."
Clark quirked an eyebrow at Lois and smiled faintly at her expression. This man's attitude seemed much like that of their own Dr. Klein.
"Repairs will take approximately twenty minutes, Doctor." She turned and gave him a pointed look. "They will proceed more rapidly if I am not interrupted any more."
"Of course, of course. I should get back to my patient, anyway." He nodded at Lois and Clark. "Nice to have met you."
"Is there any way we can help?" Clark asked Seven and Neelix.
Seven gave him a cool look. "Not unless you can lift the shuttle back into space."
He grinned. "Actually, I can. You'll have to tell me where to take it, though."
"You are serious?"
He nodded. "Very."
"Very well. Neelix, take Mr. Kent into the cockpit and show him where Voyager is. I will continue to repair the impulse engines." The woman took the device back from Neelix and turned back to the circuitry.
Neelix turned to Clark. "Just follow me."
Clark followed Neelix through a door in the forward bulkhead and into another room. This was obviously the cockpit of the Delta Flyer. There were several stations with chairs and a lowered area he remembered seeing when he'd caught the ship. The Doctor was kneeling over the blond man Clark had seen—evidently Mr. Paris. He was running a device over Paris and consulting another one.
Neelix led him over to one of the stations and pressed controls. A screen beside them lit up with a schematic of a solar system. It had six planets, including one that Clark assumed was the one they were on, and an asteroid belt. Also shown in the diagram was a small ship.
"This is Voyager's last known position." Neelix told him. "We can't get an accurate fix on her because the plasma storm—" He indicated a picture on the diagram. "— is disrupting our scans. We can't get a fix on the alien ships at all, any more. They seem to have some kind of field that keeps us from getting a lock on them."
"Can I see a larger picture of this ship of yours?"
Neelix pressed controls and the picture of a ship replaced the diagram of the system. "This is Voyager."
"Do you have some kind of portable breathing system I can use? I can only hold my breath for twenty minutes."
Neelix gave him a startled look. "Twenty minutes? Sure, we've got portable breathing units. I'll get you one."
A beeping from the console in front of them drew their attention. Neelix pressed controls and the image changed from the ship to the hillside they were on. Part of the hill had vanished and a group of uniformed lizard- like aliens were coming out of a large door set into the hillside. They were carrying large, dangerous-looking weapons.
"Seven, we have a problem!" Neelix yelled into the back. A moment later, Seven appeared through the door and came over to Neelix and Clark to look at the screen.
"I have been unable to repair the impulse engines. If you can lift this ship into space, you had best do so now," Seven told Clark.
"Right." Clark turned and nearly bumped into Lois. He took her by the shoulders and kissed her. "You'd better find a seat and strap in, honey. If there're enemy fighters out there I don't know how smooth this ride will be."
"Ok." She smiled up at him. "Be careful."
"Don't worry, Mr. Kent. We'll take care of her," Neelix told him. He handed Clark a small device and quickly showed him how to strap it on over his face.
He nodded and squeezed past her and went out the back. The hatch closed behind him. He went around the side opposite the oncoming aliens and bent to lift the ship.
The sound of boots on dirt was getting closer. Just as he began to lift the ship, one of the aliens came into sight. It aimed its weapon at Clark and fired. A beam of blue energy jumped from the weapon towards Clark. Clark flung himself into the air and sent a beam of heat vision at the weapon. The beams hit something mid air and dissipated harmlessly less than a foot from the weapon. The alien jerked it up and fired again and once again, Clark dodged agilely.
A sound behind him caught his attention and he dodged, trying to avoid two more energy beams. He failed and one of the beams struck him and coiled around him, pinning his arms to his side. The thing flared and he fell, unable to stop himself as the thing drained energy from him. He landed at the feet of two of the aliens, still fighting to free himself from the glowing coil. One alien took aim at him and fired. The last thing he saw was another of the aliens firing at the Delta Flyer.
"Go call your friend, Maggie."
Maggie nodded and ran for the phone.
She grabbed the phone off the wall in the kitchen and quickly dialed Jimmy's phone number from memory. After listening to it ring, unanswered, for several minutes, she hung up. Where else could he be? This was Christmas night, after all. His father hadn't been able to make it to town and his plans with her had been cancelled, so where could he … the answer abruptly popped into her head. Of course! The Planet!
She punched the number for Jimmy's desk into the handset and waited impatiently while it rung.
"Olsen," Jimmy answered the phone.
"Hi, Jimmy. It's me," Maggie said. "I need your help. Do you still have that …"
"Listen, Maggie, I'm a little busy right now. I'll talk to you tomorrow." There was a click and the dial tone replaced his voice.
Maggie pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at it disbelievingly. He'd hung up on her? This was too important for personal problems! She hit redial.
"Hi, you have reached the desk of James Olsen. Leave a message after the beep."
Maggie hung up the phone and stared at it, feeling slightly stunned. She'd thought he was different, but she'd been wrong. He was just like the others who'd pretended to be her friend in the past. He was deserting her when she needed him the most. She compressed her lips into a thin line. Well, this wasn't just her problem! It was too important for her to walk away from. She'd just have to go see him in person.
She turned and went back into the living room.
"Maggie? Did you talk to Jimmy?" Martha asked.
Maggie nodded. "Yeah, but there were some … communications problems. I'm going down to the Planet to talk to him. It won't take long."
She saw Martha exchange a worried look with Jonathan out of the corner of her eye. "Or course, dear. But shouldn't you take your coat?"
Maggie paused, one hand on the doorknob. "Right. My coat. Thanks for reminding me."
She turned and snagged her coat from the rack and threw it on on the way out.
The run to the Planet didn't take very long. In just a few minutes, she was standing in front of the building. She went through the doors and took the elevator up to the newsroom where Jimmy was sure to be. Before the elevator doors were open fully, she knew he was there. She stepped out and scanned the room.
It was empty, as was to be expected this late at night on Christmas night, except for one desk. Maggie slipped under the railing and went quietly over to Jimmy's desk. As she came up to him, he looked up at her. "What do you want, Maggie?"
"We've got a problem. I need your help."
Jimmy looked dubious. "What kind of problem?"
"I take it you haven't been watching the news?" When he shook his head, she took the remote he had on his desk and flipped one of the newsrooms TV's on. Then she leaned against another desk and watched his face as he watched a replay of the same newscast she had seen just a little earlier.
"Jimmy," she said as soon as the broadcast started to repeat again. "We need to know if Superman's all right. Do you still have that signal watch on you?"
Jimmy nodded and held up his wrist, displaying the watch. "Do you want me to signal him?"
"I need you to." Maggie put her hands over her ears and nodded at him. He pushed the knob on the watch. Maggie winced as the sound cut right through her hands to her ears. After a couple of painful minutes, Maggie motioned for him to stop. "Nasty sound, that. Now we wait. If he heard that, he's sure to come running."
"Right." Jimmy nodded.
They sat in silence for some time. After twenty minutes had passed, Maggie shook her head. "If he were coming, he'd've been here by now. Jimmy, can I borrow your watch?"
Jimmy unstrapped the band and held it out to her. "What're you going to do?"
"I'm going to check out the site of the blast. Maybe I can find some answers there," she told him as she strapped the watch on.
"I'll keep an eye on the news and see if anything turns up there. Do Lois and Clark know Superman's missing yet?"
Maggie paused for a minute, then said, "Of course they know. They were going to call up some of their contacts and see what they can find out."
Jimmy nodded. "That sounds like them, all right. I'll let you know if I find anything. Good luck."
"Thanks. I have a feeling I'm going to need it," Maggie said. She stepped away from the desk and performed a quick spin change into her black costume, then leaned forward and placed a hand on Jimmy's shoulder. "Thanks for being here."
"Always," he said solemnly.
She flashed him a brief smile, then turned and ran for the nearest window.
The site of the explosion was pretty much as it had appeared on the newscast. The storm that had been raging in the background had diminished slightly to an occasional flash of lightning across the overcast sky. The local police had blocked the road in both directions from traffic. Several news vans were parked just outside the cordoned off area, apparently doing live broadcasts on the explosion.
Maggie came to a halt just outside the roadblock. An officer who was turning back cars waved her through. She headed over to the officer who was apparently in charge of the scene. "Mind if I take a look around, sir?"
"Go ahead," he told her distractedly. "My men haven't been able to find anything."
"Thanks." She turned and went over the small crater that marked the site of the blast.
Floodlamps had been set up around it and lit the area up well. Several men Maggie recognized as being on the forensics team were examining the site. One was taking a soil sample as she approached.
"Hi, Sara. Merry Christmas," he said as she stopped beside him.
"Merry Christmas, Bill. Find anything unusual?"
"Not yet. We still haven't determined the cause of the explosion."
"Hmmm," Maggie knelt down beside him and examined the sample he held, then looked over the crater. Nothing. She turned her attention to the surrounding area. A small black object caught her eye. She focussed in on it. It was a cell phone with a small label that said "Property of Lois Lane" on one side.
Maggie froze for a moment. She couldn't let anyone here find that! It would raise too many questions— especially since the eyewitness had spotted a woman with Superman. If Lois and Clark were still alive—they had to be!—then they wouldn't want any suggestion that Lois was seeing Superman again to get out. Maggie could still remember the scandal it had caused the first time. If this cell phone was found here, it might just start people wondering again.
Maggie nodded casually at Bill and rose, ostensibly examining the area around the site. She slowly worked her way over to the phone. When she was beside it, she bent down and grabbed the phone, glad for once that it was one of those phones that folded in the center. She shoved it up her right sleeve in one smooth motion and hoped no one would notice the bulge in the spandex of the suit.
"Find something?" One of the other forensics officers came up beside her.
"What? No, nothing."
The phone in her sleeve shrilled, making her jump slightly. She flashed an apologetic smile at the officer. "A friend of mine got me a cell phone for Christmas. I'm still getting used to it."
"Oh. Okay. Let us know if you find anything." The man moved away.
Maggie pulled Lois' phone out of her sleeve as it continued to shrill at her. She flipped it open, pulled out the antenna and placed it against her ear. "Yes?"
"Pumpkin? Is that you?" an unfamiliar male voice said.
"Um, no. This is Maggie. Lois went for a walk with Clark. She'll be back later," Maggie lied. She glanced around to make sure nobody was close enough to overhear her. "Can I take a message?"
"Sure. Tell her that her mother and I will be coming back from our trip a little early. We'll be back on New Years Eve." Lois had told Maggie that her parents had decided to go on a cruise in the tropics for Christmas.
"Okay, I'll let her know."
"Bye." The man hung up.
Great, now what? Lois' parents would expect Lois to be there when they arrived. How would she ever explain her absence?
A ripple in reality, like the one she'd experienced earlier but weaker, hit her. She staggered slightly, suddenly dizzy. There was a flash of lightning and something slammed into her, knocking her to her knees. Thunder rumbled deafeningly.
Maggie shook her head, dazed, then pushed herself to her feet. The police team was staring her in stunned silence.
"Is everyone all right?" she asked. At the murmur of assurance, she said, "I'd better get out of here. I make too good a lightning rod for your safety."
Bill came over to her. "Are you all right, Sara?"
"I'm fine. It'd take more than a simple lightning bolt to take me out." She grinned at him. "Can I have that soil sample? I'd like to have a friend of mine at Star Labs analyze that."
"Sure." He handed it to her.
"Thanks." Maggie flashed him another smile, then turned and jogged off.
After she'd put a little distance between herself and the storm, she paused and checked Lois' phone and Jimmy's watch. As she'd expected, the lightning had fried the phone, but she'd thought the watch would have been protected. Well, obviously not. She sighed. "This is just not my night for electronics."
Well, she still had to get back and report in to Jimmy and the Kents. She'd just have to do it the old fashioned way—in person. She put the cell phone back in her sleeve and broke into a run towards Metropolis.
Unseen by her, there was a flash of light in the spot she'd been standing in and a man appeared there. He had brown hair and was wearing a black spandex outfit with the letter Q emblazoned on the front.
"This is going to be interesting," he said with a grin. He brushed imaginary lint off of his Q, then snapped his fingers and vanished in another flash of light.
"Clark? Clark, wake up!"
Clark groaned. His head was pounding and his body hurt all over.
"He's coming around," a strange male voice said.
"Open your eyes, Clark," Lois' voice commanded him.
Clark forced his eyes open and found himself staring into the worried face of his wife. "Lois? What happened?"
"How are you feeling, Clark?"
"Like I've been hit with an asteroid. Where are we?"
Lois looked up at the blond man who was kneeling beside them. Clark suddenly realized he was lying on the ground with his head cushioned in his wife's lap. He started to push himself up, but the man placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Take it easy. You were hit harder by that weapon than any of us were." He glanced around the room before answering his question. "We've been taken prisoner by the natives of this planet. They're not exactly very friendly to tourists. I'm Ensign Tom Paris of Voyager."
"Clark Kent," Clark introduced himself. He, too, looked around the room they were in.
It was a square, concrete room. Three of the walls and the floor and ceiling were a featureless gray. The fourth wall was broken only by a rectangle stretching from floor to ceiling that was about the width of two regular doors. The shimmer in the air there told Clark that it was closed with a force field. Neelix, the friendly Talaxian, was seated in a corner and was working on a small device. As Clark watched, he pulled out another piece and attached it to what he had already assembled. Seven of Nine, the beautiful but cold human woman, stood beside the force field, looking out and down the corridor.
Footsteps sounded faintly in the distance. After a minute, Seven turned to Neelix. "The guard is almost here."
Neelix quickly hid his device in a pocket and stood up as the guard stepped in front of their force field.
The being was tall and obviously not human, despite being vaguely humanoid. It was reptilian, with patterned red and green scales all over its body. It had an elongated face with gleaming white fangs. It had a crest that reminded Clark of a frilled lizard he'd once seen in Australia. It was wearing a leather harness, with metal snaffles to attach things to. Small bits of metal were affixed to various parts and a weapon like the one he'd seen earlier was attached at the waist.
The being looked them over and grinned, showing more of its needle sharp teeth.
"Good, you are all awake now," it said slowly. "Very good. It is only fitting that you, as kretch'ta, should be awake to fully experience every minute of your excruciatingly painful deaths." It chuckled softly. "I must go inform my superiors."
As the creature hurried off, Clark exchanged a worried look with Lois.
"We'd better get out of here," Lois said. "I, for one, don't want to be here when that creature gets back with some of his friends."
"That's what Neelix is working on right now," Tom told them. "He just 'happened' to be carrying an interphasic dampener in his pocket."
Neelix gave them an offended look. "If you must know, it came with the outfit."
"Right," Tom grinned. He gripped Clark by the arm. "Let's get you on your feet."
Clark let Tom help him to his feet. He still felt strange—like something wasn't quite right.
"Clark, what's wrong?"
"I'm not sure, Lois. I just feel … strange."
"It's probably just the after-effects of the bio- energy weapons. The feeling should pass." Tom reassured them. "Just give it a little time."
"Wait a minute," Lois stepped around Clark to face Tom Paris. "Bio-energy weapons? What exactly do those do?"
Tom looked puzzled. "They drain bio-energy. They only knocked us out, so I'd guess that they were set at a low level. At high levels they'd probably kill."
"Clark!" Lois looked up at him. "What about your powers?"
"Powers?" Tom said blankly.
"I don't know." Clark looked around the room, then turned to face the force field. "Let's see."
He focussed in on the base of the force field, trying to use his x-ray vision to see through the stone. Nothing happened. After a minute, he quit. Quickly, he ran through his other abilities. Again, nothing. Lois placed her hand on his arm. "Clark?"
He shook his head. "My powers are gone! The bio- energy weapons must have drained my reserves."
Seven, still by the force field, turned slightly to face them. "How do your powers function?"
"Well, they seem to be solar powered. Something about a yellow sun gives me the powers."
"That could be a problem," Tom said.
"How?" Lois asked.
"This system's star is a red one," Seven told them.
"Finished!" Neelix broke in. He held up his device in triumph. "Now all I need is a power cell."
Tom shook his head. "You didn't bring one, Neelix? I thought you were always prepared for anything."
Neelix glared at Paris. "I did have one, but those weapons they used on us drained it!"
"Mr. Neelix, Mr. Paris," Seven of Nine interrupted them. "These pointless arguments will not help facilitate our escape."
"You're right, Seven. I'm sorry, Neelix. I'm just so frustrated about this." Paris rubbed his forehead.
Clark looked around the room, suddenly remembering something. "Wasn't there another person in your group?"
Jre Thil forcibly relaxed his crest. A Kordu soldier should not show fear. Not even when he was in the shuttlecraft of a disgusting kretch'ta. The disgusting creatures would not be coming back to the shuttle anytime soon, as they had been imprisoned below in the holding cells awaiting execution. They always broadcast those to the entire planet. Jre Thil had seen the aliens being carted into the base, and had never been so disgusted in his whole life. They weren't even reptiles! They were mammals! This was one execution that he was especially looking forward to. Monsters like those were shouldn't be allowed to live.
In the meantime, his job was to investigate the technology of the kretch'ta. Occasionally these creatures had interesting new technology that the Kordu could use for their own benefit. Not often, of course, since kretch'ta were never as intelligent as a Kordu, but it was possible that they could have picked up an artifact from a reptilian race somewhere and everyone knew that, while not really people like the Kordu, reptilian races came the closest to it.
Jre Thil ran his scanner over the bulkhead and examined the results before moving on to one of the stations. He pushed the badly designed chair aside and ran his scanner over the control panel. This was evidently the station that controlled the weapons. The simplicity of the controls simply confirmed to him that these aliens were as stupid as he thought. That was standard, of course.
His scanner beeped suddenly. It was programmed to alert him to any sudden power fluctuations and it was detecting one right now. It was coming from a small device on the floor that he hadn't noticed before. He picked it up and scanned it quickly. It seemed to be a holographic projection device of some kind, although not of a type he'd seen before. According to his readings, it was much more advanced than anything they had. Impossible! These were inferior mammals! How could they possible have advanced technology? They'd undoubtedly stolen it from some laboratory on the planet, but how? He'd have to let his superiors know about this.
He started to turn to go, when something abruptly took shape. Jre Thil jumped backwards, his tail hitting the chair he'd moved just moments before, and gaped in astonishment at the figure that formed. It was one of the mammals! It was revolting, with pink scaleless skin and hair on its head. Even their holograms were disgusting. If they had to use holograms, why didn't they use more aesthetically pleasing, like a reptile?
The thing straightened up and looked around the cabin of the vessel.
"Hello," it said. "And who might you be?"
"I have to inform my superiors of this at once!" Jre Thil said, panicking. This couldn't be happening to him!
"I'm afraid I can't let you do that," the hologram said. It grabbed an implement Jre Thil hadn't gotten around to examining just yet and advanced toward Jre Thil. Jre Thil backed away from the thing, forgetting the chair in his way, and tripped over the chair. His scanner went flying to the side and he went over backwards. The last thing he remembered was the feel of the deck coming into violent contact with his head.
The Doctor looked over the unconscious alien loftily. "That wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but it will do for now. Computer, erect a level one containment field around the unconscious reptiliod."
A force field shimmered into existence around the being. With the level one containment field in effect, the being wouldn't be able to signal for help once he regained consciousness, and they wouldn't be able to take the field down easily if they discovered it was up. The Doctor nodded in satisfaction and picked up his medical tricorder from the floor where he had dropped it when the aliens had arrived. A quick scan of the immediate area showed him that, surprisingly enough, the Flyer hadn't been moved. It also showed a grouping of reptilians nearby that, from the readings, were underground. Near the reptilians were three humans a Talaxian and another alien, presumably the one who had landed the Flyer. His readings were much lower than they had been earlier, but were far from what he assumed were dangerous levels.
"Well, I suppose I'll have to go rescue them now," he muttered. "They just can't get along without me for long."
He quickly gathered a few items he thought he'd need and, still scanning, exited the Delta Flyer.
Maggie awoke to the smell of pancakes and bacon cooking. It took her a minute to remember why she was sleeping on the Kents' couch and not in her own bed. Then the reality of the situation set in and she sat up, blinking the sleep out of her eyes.
The night before, when she had gotten back to the brownstone to report her findings to the Kents, she had been exhausted. She wasn't sure if it was the worry over Lois and Clark, the lightning, the reality ripples, her situation with Jimmy, or a combination of the above and didn't really care. Martha had seen how tired she was and refused to let Maggie go home. The buses had stopped running hours before, and Martha wasn't willing to let her walk home alone in the state she was in. So she ended up sleeping on the couch while the Kents took the guestroom.
She sat up and looked around. From the angle of the light coming through the windows, it was still fairly early in the morning. Doctor Bernard Klein, from what she knew of the man, was probably already at STAR Labs, though. He was as much of a workaholic as Lois and Clark were. That would work to her advantage today, though. She needed to get that soil sample analyzed as soon as possible. With that thought in mind, she pushed the blankets down and got up.
She was wearing one of Lois' old nightshirts—a Superman nightshirt, appropriately enough. Maggie was pretty sure that Lois hadn't worn it very recently, though, knowing the two reporters. Maggie grinned a little at the thought as she quickly folded her blankets and put them away before stepping into the bathroom to change into her own clothes at regular speed. The smile faded quickly, though, when she caught sight of the news program that was on the television when she re-entered the living room.
Martha and Jon had come into the room and were seated before the television, watching the news. They were undoubtedly checking for anything that might have happened during the night. From their expressions, though, she knew nothing had.
Martha caught sight of her and lifted a plate from a side table. "Good morning, Maggie. Have some breakfast."
Maggie went over to her, a grateful smile on her lips. "Thanks, Martha. I'm ravenous and that smells delicious."
"Eat up," Jonathan said. "If you want more, there's some in the kitchen."
"Yum, delicious!" Maggie managed between bites as she worked her way through the heavily loaded plate. "I forgot to tell you guys last night, Sara picked up a soil sample for me from the blast site last night. I'm going to take it down to Dr. Klein at STAR Labs today. Maybe he can find out what caused the explosion. Sara didn't spot anything unusual, but then, she's not Superman."
"I'm sure Sara is very good at what she does," Jon said. "There might just not be anything to find there."
"I hope there is," Maggie jabbed a piece of pancake savagely. "Lois and Clark are like family to me. They're pretty much all I have. I can't lose them, too!"
She looked up at the two, slightly surprised that she'd actually said that aloud. Martha and Jon were giving her compassionate looks. She swallowed hard and put the plate down. "I've gotta go."
She was out the door before they Martha had a chance to say more than her name.
She paused in a nearby alley to change into her Sara costume.
I have got to find a new name, she thought to herself to distract herself from what was happening. Something a little more superheroish. More intimidating, maybe. Or something more impressive. It didn't really matter which.
When she arrived at STAR Labs, she was waved through security, as always. Something about the way she came to an abrupt halt just before the security gate always convinced the security guys that she was who she claimed to be. Plus Dr. Klein had left orders with security that she was to be let through anytime she showed up.
When she got to his lab, she was unsurprised to find him already hard at work on an unidentifiable device. She stepped carefully up to the table across from him and waited for him to finish whatever it was that he was doing before alerting him to her presence.
He looked up at her. "Sara! Hi!" He gave her a sympathetic look. "I heard what happened to Superman. I wish there was something I could do to help."
Maggie smiled slightly. Whatever else she had been told about Klein, she knew he was a good man and a good friend. "Actually, there is something you can do."
She pulled out the soil sample. "This is a sample from the site of the explosion. I know STAR Labs is quicker than the police lab and I was hoping …"
"Of course!" Klein accepted the container. He started to turn away, then apparently noticed her expression. "Was there something else, Sara?"
"Actually, there was." She quickly unstrapped the inoperative signal watch and held it up. "Mr. Olsen got this from you, right? I borrowed it last night to try and signal Superman with it. When I was at the site I got hit by lightning and the watch got fried."
He accepted the watch from her, a puzzled expression on his face. "That's odd. You were wearing it at the time?"
"Yes, I was. That was what was so strange about it," Maggie said. "I can't figure out why it got fried."
"Has anything unusual happened recently that might have affected your aura? Anything at all?"
"Well," Maggie considered. "It was a split second after one of those … ripples, I guess I'd call them."
"That's exactly what they seem to be. I've been trying to figure out what caused them here," he said. "How did you react to them?"
"Well, I know my reaction was stronger than the humans I was with when they hit. Um, dizziness, vertigo. It was really tired afterwards, too." She raised her eyebrows at him questioningly.
"The watch's vulnerability and your reaction to the ripples are undoubtedly connected." Klein tucked the watch into a pocket. "I'd like to run some tests on your aura, Sara."
Maggie shook her head. "I don't have time for that, Dr. Klein. I have to cover for Superman."
"Sara." Klein came around the table to stand face to face with her. "If we don't find out what happened we may never get Superman back."
"That's assuming he's still alive," she said and sighed. "All right. Run your tests."
Over the next few hours, Dr. Klein ran every test that he could think of to test the strength of her aura. It might have taken less time, except that Maggie got called away several times to deal with situations. As she had expected, the criminal element was trying to take advantage of Superman's disappearance. For the most part, they were stymied by an increased presence on the part of the Metropolis PD, but they did need her help a couple of times.
"Well, Sara." Dr Klein looked up from the results of the tests. "Your aura doesn't seem to have weakened. It's possible that it's only disrupted when the ripples hit."
"That's good, right?" Maggie asked. She took a long drink from the soda she had bought at a nearby vending machine.
"No, it's not! It brings us no closer to understanding the cause of the ripples or finding out what happened to Superman!" Klein sounded extremely frustrated.
Maggie sighed slightly as her superhearing cut in. "I'm sorry, Doctor, but I've got to go. Duty calls."
He waved at her dismissively and she took off at a swift jog.
This time the emergency was on the Hobbs Bay Bridge. A driver had managed to flip her car onto one side and blocked traffic completely. Maggie managed to get the woman out of the vehicle and the car turned upright in very short order. Calming her down took a little longer and by the time she had managed, the ambulance had worked its way through the now sluggishly flowing traffic to them. She reported to the EMT's what she had done and what her scan had revealed before backing away from the situation.
Her part of the situation taken care of, she turned and jumped onto the concrete wall that had kept the woman from falling off the bridge to the water far below. There was no way she would be able to make good time going through the backed up traffic without causing more accidents, and that was the last thing she wanted to do. That left using the cables that suspended the bridge. She had used them before to avoid traffic jams that hadn't broken up after dealing with accidents.
Maggie paused at the sound of Jimmy's voice. She turned to see that he had parked his motorcycle at the edge of the bridge and was running towards her. She waited, rationalizing that he might have found out something important. She dismissed the idea that he could be there for an interview—this was a serious situation, surely he wouldn't be looking for something like that from her right now!
"Sara," he said, coming to a halt beside her. "I …"
It was then that the ripple hit.
Far above the scene of the accident on a convenient ledge, Q sat back in his human form and observed. He hadn't caused the accident, but he knew from the circumstances that this Maggie/Sara could not stay away. It would be the perfect opportunity to begin the test.
He observed as she ran up to the overturned car and calmed the driver. This one definitely had potential. Given time, she might even be able to rise above the limitations of petty mortals, as a few humans Q had known had been able to. She just had to have the right stimuli …
Q considered his options as the scene played out below him. Sara scanned the woman for injuries then, finding no serious ones, righted the car. The ambulance, with assistance from the police, managed to make its way through the traffic to the scene of the accident and Sara prepared to go. Q grinned as he saw the human male Sara favored drive up behind her, unnoticed by the girl, and call out to her, making her pause and turn.
The ripple was coming. Q could feel the disruption in space/time. This would be a perfect time to put his plan into effect.
Jimmy Olsen pulled his motorcycle to a halt. Maggie … no, Sara—he had to remember to call her Sara in public—hadn't yet left the scene. He still had time to talk to her.
That morning, when he had reported in to the Planet, Perry had called a staff meeting. He, along with everyone else, had been surprised to see that Lois and Clark, crack reporting team and good friends to Superman, hadn't shown up. Perry had gone ahead with the meeting, anyway. He told them they had to find out the cause of the explosion and what had really happened to Superman as quickly as possible. Since Sara was a Kryptonian, he figured that she might know what had happened. So, of course, the order of the day was to find Sara and interview her.
Jimmy wasn't sure how she would take it. He figured she'd probably take it better after a successful rescue, so had waited for an accident to take place. With the snow on the ground and the overnight freeze, one was bound to happen sooner or later. He just had to be near when it happened.
As it turned out, he was actually going on to the bridge when a woman managed to flip her car on its side. That had naturally slowed traffic to a crawl as everyone slowed to gawk at the site. Of course, none of them thought to stop to help the woman. Why would they do that? She was a complete stranger to them. When Sara got there, traffic slowed even further. Fortunately Jimmy was on his motorcycle and managed to split lane his way to her. He made it just in time, too, because she was just getting ready to leave when he pulled up.
He parked his motorcycle out of the way and jumped off. "Sara!"
She paused and looked back. She was standing on the concrete railing, obviously intending to use the cables to leave the bridge. She'd told him that was one of her routes across the bridge when it was blocked with traffic like it was now.
He ran up beside her. "Sara, I …"
The ripple hit.
Jimmy felt momentarily dizzy, and brushed it off. Sara's reaction, however, was much stronger.
She paled and staggered, eyes closing and hands going to her head. Her foot hit an icy patch on the concrete and she slipped. She didn't even try to catch herself as she fell sideways off the side of the bridge.
"Sara!" Without thinking, he grabbed for her, then when he missed, jumped onto the railing and dove after her. He hit the water just seconds after her now limp body did and surfaced, looking frantically around for any sign of her. He dove under again at the spot he thought she'd hit and was rewarded with a handful of long hair. He grasped it and used it to pull her to the surface. As he did, a tingle like a mild electric shock ran over him. He brushed it off as irrelevant and pulled Sara's head above water. He couldn't tell if she was breathing or not. He hooked his arm under her chin and swam sidestroke in toward the shore.
As soon as he could, he stood up and lifted her out of the water to carry her the rest of the way in. He was surprised at how light she felt—he'd thought she'd weigh more because of her dense molecular structure. He lowered her to the ground just a short way from the water and checked her over. She was limp and pale and her lips were tinged slightly blue. A jolt of panic went through him when he realized she wasn't breathing.
He gulped, now glad that he'd taken that CPR class a few years before. He quickly checked her airway for obstructions, as he had been taught. Nothing there. He positioned her head and gave her two quick breaths.
She choked and gagged, spitting out water. Jimmy turned her head to the side as she spit out what seemed an exorbitant amount of bay water.
"Jimmy?" she whimpered.
"It's all right," Jimmy told her. He lifted her up slightly and hugged her close. Now that the big emergency was over, he suddenly noticed that he was soaked to the skin—but he wasn't cold! "It's all over. Let's get you somewhere warm."
He lifted her easily and hurried toward the nearby buildings.
Clark looped his arms around Lois. She leaned back against him slightly. Together they watched as Tom Paris worked on one of Seven of Nine's implants.
The Borg, Neelix had told them, were cyborgs. Unlike Metallo, whose head had been attached to a robot body, these creatures replaced large amounts of their victim's body with mechanical implants, while leaving the basic shape of the body intact. They also added on to the basic humanoid form with devices attached to the arm and face to reshape the victim to whatever image the Borg Queen had in mind for that individual. These mutilate individuals were then stripped of their individuality and hooked in to the hive mind that the Queen directed.
Seven of Nine had been put through that process. She, however, had been rescued by Captain Janeway and the crew of Voyager. Neelix hadn't gone into much detail, but the transition had apparently been less than smooth. Despite that, most of Seven's implants had been removed or deactivated—as many as Voyager's Doctor had deemed safe for Seven.
Tom Paris was now attempting to reactivate one of these remaining implants. If he succeeded, Seven would have a personal force field that would adapt to the one keeping them captive and allow her to simply walk through it as though it weren't there. Unfortunately, Paris didn't have the tools he said he needed to do the job quickly and efficiently, just the few tools Neelix had had with him. So Seven was trying to talk him through the process.
"Seven has a human name, too," Neelix babbled. "Annika Hansen. I'm not really sure why she doesn't use it."
Lois turned her head slightly and met Clark's gaze. Clark could see a faint smile on her lips. He smiled back. It wasn't often that they met someone who could out-babble Lois. Neelix had been babbling on about some of the things that had happened to Voyager for at least ten minutes.
"Her parents studied the Borg," Neelix went on. "They followed a cube all the way out here to the Delta Quadrant to do it, too. They found out some really interesting stuff about them, too, before they got assimilated. That's when Seven was assimilated. She was— "
"Neelix!" Seven's voice cut sharply in on the stream of words. "You will cease to discuss my personal history with Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent. It is irrelevant to the situation at hand."
"Yeah, not to mention rude and distracting, too," Paris said.
"But I was just …"
"Neelix!" Paris said warningly.
"All right, all right," Neelix said. "I'll change the subject and keep my voice down."
He motioned to Clark and Lois and the three moved a short distance away from Seven and Paris.
"So, what's the deal with this Doctor of yours, anyway?" Lois asked Neelix quietly. "I've gotten the impression that he's not human."
Neelix shook his head. "He's not. He's a hologram."
Clark exchanged a surprised look with Lois. "How is he so solid, then? I've never seen a hologram that solid before. Not even on the New Kryptionian ship."
They had told Neelix a little about their personal history, as well, including what little they knew about Krypton, the New Kryptonians, and the other non-humans Clark had learned of while with the New Kryptonians.
"Force fields," Neelix told them. "He wears a portable emitter that lets him go almost anywhere he wants to. It's actually from the 29th century …"
He broke off at a sudden sound from Seven and Paris. Paris had dropped the tool and was shaking his hand somewhat gingerly. Clark could see a burn mark on the man's palm.
"Are you injured, Mr. Paris?" Seven asked.
Paris winced and shook his head. "Don't worry. I'm just scorched. I'll live."
"Practicing medicine without a license, Mr. Paris? That's never a good idea," a dry voice said from outside the force field.
"Doc! Am I ever glad to see you!" Paris hurried over to the force field where the Doctor now stood. After a moment, Lois and Clark joined him along with Neelix and Seven. "You have to get use out of here!"
"Of course. Just let me find the controls." He turned away from them to look around. "There don't seem to be any controls in here."
"Well, we don't really have time for you to go looking around for them," Paris told him. "The natives here are very unfriendly."
"We are scheduled for execution in approximately half an hour," Seven said coolly. "You must find an alternative means of releasing us."
"Try the tricorder, Doc," Paris suggested. "You'll have to set it to emit an interference pattern to disrupt the force field."
"How do I do that?"
Seven quickly talked him through the alterations to the tricorder, none of which Clark understood. He hadn't had much to do with the New Kryptonians technology while onboard their flying palace and the technology the Voyager crew was using was so far ahead of current technology of his time that he lost track of what was being done quickly. In just a few minutes, the Doctor, with Seven's help, had created a large hole in the field just large enough for them to go through.
"Ladies first," Paris said. He ushered Seven then Lois through the opening, followed by Neelix and Clark. Just as he was going through, an alarm began to blare.
"This way," the Doctor said. He led the way over to a door to their right. It slid open and released them into a corridor. The alarm was still blaring and there were flashing green lights on the walls. Faintly, in the distance, Clark could hear the sound of boots on metal. The Doctor indicated they should go to the right. "This is the way I came."
They ran down the corridor. It was featureless, save for the flashing green lights at intervals set into the walls. The green lights gave the corridor an eerie look. They turned a corner and came to a halt at another door. The Doctor quickly opened it and they came face to face with a group of three of the aliens.
The aliens came to a halt and their crests stiffened up in what Clark assumed was surprise. One of them reached for its weapon. Clark jumped for the creature.
It shoved him backward and knocked Clark into the metal wall behind him hard. Through the stars that jumped into existence before his eyes, he saw Lois deliver a kick to the creature's throat, then another one to its midsection. She delivered another kick to its midsection, slamming it backwards into the wall. Seven grabbed one of the others and slammed it into the wall, then backhanded it, knocking it to the ground. Tom Paris tackled the other one a little more effectively than Clark had and grabbed its weapon. There was a flash as the weapon discharged, catching both Tom and the alien. Both went limp.
Clark shook his head, clearing it, and straightened up. Lois was standing over the unconscious alien she had taken on. She turned and hurried over to him, looking worried. "Clark, are you all right?"
Clark rubbed the back of his head. "I'm fine, Lois. Don't worry."
The Doctor leaned over Paris and scanned him quickly with his tricorder. "Just unconscious. He'll be fine in a while. He'll have to sleep it off, though. I don't dare give him anything right now. Someone will have to carry him."
Clark stepped past Lois. "I'll do it."
Seven hefted the rifle-like weapon one of the aliens had been carrying. "We must hurry. Others will be coming."
As Clark lifted Paris to his shoulders, he saw Neelix handing the bio-energy weapon Paris had fallen on to Lois and quickly show her how to use it. Then they were off again.
As they rounded another corner, they heard the sounds of running footsteps behind them. A bolt of energy struck the wall near Clark. Neelix returned fire and they stepped up the pace. The rest of the way up to the surface was a running battle as more of the aliens came to help their comrades. Once, they had to detour to avoid a group of the beings that were apparently searching for them.
When they reached the surface, the sun had risen. The orb was, indeed, red. Clark knew he wouldn't be regaining his powers anytime soon.
They ran for the Delta Flyer which, surprisingly, was still where it had been before they were captured. Clark gratefully lowered Paris down where the Doctor told him to. The man had grown increasingly heavier the longer he'd carried him.
Seven went quickly to work, finishing her repairs of the craft's engines. She was finished within just a few minutes—apparently she'd been almost finished when they were captured earlier.
"Stay in here and strap in," Neelix advised them. He, Seven and the Doctor hurried into the cockpit of the craft. Clark exchanged a look with Lois and the two hurried to comply.
Maggie slowly pulled herself out of blackness with the realization that she was warm and dry. The last thing she clearly remembered was being soaked and freezing so this was something of a surprise.
From what she could feel, she was tucked into a bed. From the antiseptic smell in the air, she was in a hospital. Something nearby beeped softly and regularly. In the distance, she could hear muted voices. Slowly, she opened her eyes.
She was in a hospital room. Unidentified machinery sat near her bed displaying various readings. Above her hung an IV filled with a clear liquid and a tube went from it to her left arm. The door to the room was closed. She started to push herself to a sitting position and spotted Jimmy standing at the window looking out.
"Jimmy?" she said. Her voice sounded like she hadn't used it in years.
Jimmy spun around, relief spreading across his face. "Mags! You're awake! How are you feeling?"
She cleared her throat. "Pretty good, actually. What happened?"
"You drowned, Maggie!" Jimmy looked and sounded extremely upset as he came over to her. "If I hadn't been there … I . I almost lost you!"
Maggie put a hand on his arm. "I'm all right, Jimmy!"
Jimmy caught her up in an embrace. Maggie could feel him trembling. He'd been really worried about her! Maybe he hadn't meant quitting being Sara permanently before. "It's ok, Jimmy. I'm fine! Ouch!"
His embrace had tightened until it became painful. At her exclamation, he instantly released her and jumped back. "I'm sorry! Did I hurt you?"
"No, I'm fine!" She paused for a minute. "Wait a minute! That shouldn't have hurt! I'm almost invulnerable!"
"Not anymore," Jimmy looked, if possible, even more worried. "They didn't have any problem getting that IV in. I don't know how, but your powers … they've, uh, transferred to me."
"What?" Maggie asked flatly. She felt herself go pale. "How is that possible? How could that happen?"
"I don't know. I figured it out after I pulled you out of the water when I realized I didn't feel cold." Jimmy looked, if anything, more worried than before.
Maggie took a deep breath. "Ok, Dr. Klein should be able to figure this out for us. We have to get to him somehow."
"That's going to be a problem. There's a bunch of news crews out there waiting for you to wake up. I guess they heard you'd been brought in."
Maggie glanced down at her left arm then impatiently pulled the tube out. "So we sneak out. I'm going to need a disguise and you're going to have to get it."
"What should I get?"
"I don't care. Just as long as it covers this," she looked down at her black outfit, which she still wore. "There is no way I can sneak out in this!"
Jimmy nodded and went to the door. He opened the door a crack and peered down the hall, then slipped quickly out, closing it softly behind him.
After he'd gone, Maggie climbed out of the bed and went over to the window to look out. How could her powers have transferred to Jimmy like that? And how was she going to deal with it? Since her powers started appearing at about twelve she'd grown to rely on them. Without them she felt incredibly vulnerable—things that wouldn't have bothered her before could now kill her. If Dr. Klein didn't have an answer for her …
A flash of light behind her made her spin, pulse racing. A man was standing in the center of the room. He was an older man with brown hair and eyes. He was wearing a black outfit much like the one she wore, except that the logo on the front of his outfit was a stylized letter Q instead of an S.
"Hello, Maggie! How are you feeling today? Not as well as yesterday, I'd say. Of course, you had your powers yesterday." The man had an arrogant tone to his voice that instantly set Maggie on edge.
"Who are you and why are you calling me Maggie?" How could he possibly know who she really was? She was still in her black costume!
"Didn't I introduce myself? No, I guess I didn't. You can call me Q of the Q continuum." He smiled arrogantly at her. "I know everything about you!"
Maggie stared at him for a long moment, then laughed shortly. "You have got to be kidding."
"Would this face lie?"
Maggie frowned at him. "How did you get in here?"
"Try to stretch your puny mortal mind around this—I am a Q. We are nearly omnipotent beings far greater than any mere human can possibly comprehend. I have no need for mortal devices such as doors. I simply will myself to be somewhere and I am there."
Maggie was thinking furiously. "Nearly omnipotent powers, huh? And this applies to everything? Not just your physical location?"
"Of course it does," he replied. "Why with a wave of my hand I could wipe out Metropolis and everyone in it."
"You transferred my powers to Jimmy, didn't you!"
"Of course I did. Everything gets much more interesting when you have to deal with your problems on a human basis." Q sighed. "Trust me, I know."
Maggie stalked up to him, fury growing inside her. "Transfer my powers back to me immediately!"
"Sorry. No can do. You're going to have to find a way to transfer them back yourselves."
"How dare you come into my life and muck things up! You have no idea what you're messing with here! We have a crisis on our hands and Metropolis needs me—"
"Metropolis needs me … we've got a crisis…" Q whined. He shook his head. "Don't you ever stop whining? You don't even truly understand the nature of the danger at hand, do you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the spatial rift you were investigating the other night, silly mortal."
"What are you…" Maggie gasped in sudden comprehension. "The explosion north of Metropolis that no one can explain. That's a spatial rift?"
"Yes, and it will only get larger unless you do something about it." He looked her directly in the eyes. "Now do you understand? It isn't only Metropolis at stake here—it is quite possibly the fate of the entire puny dirtball you call home."
"You have to give me my powers back!" Maggie fixed his gaze with an intense one of her own. "I can't do this without them!"
"Oh, yes, you can. Just use some of that highly overrated brain you humanoids are so proud of. That's what it's there for, right?"
The door to the corridor without opened suddenly to admit Jimmy. He was carrying a small bundle of green clothing. He was peering behind himself and down the hall as he entered.
"I've got our disguises, Mags," he said and turned. He came to an abrupt halt when he took in the scene before him. "What's going on? Who is this guy?"
"Well, if it isn't your boyfriend, what was his name again? Stuperboy?" Q shook his head. "I'll be around."
He snapped his fingers and vanished in a flash of white light.
"Who was that?" Jimmy asked after a moment of stunned silence.
"I'll tell you later. We've got a bigger problem than we thought we did. I have to get out of here right away!" She indicated the clothing. "Those our disguises?"
The green clothing turned out to be scrub outfits like Maggie had seen doctors wearing. Jimmy had brought two pairs so they could both sneak out without being noticed. They quickly donned the outfits and snuck out into the hallway. Miraculously, nobody seemed to notice them and they managed to get out of the hospital without anyone the wiser. As soon as they were clear, Jimmy ditched the scrubs. Maggie prudently hung onto hers. She was just too conspicuous in the black skin-tight outfit she wore as Sara.
Maggie made a quick phone call to let the Kents know she was all right before she and Jimmy headed for STAR Labs.
Neelix jumped into position at the tactical station. Simultaneously, the Doctor took operations and Seven of Nine took the helm.
"Initiating primary systems," Seven announced, her voice as cool and composed as ever despite the tense situation.
Neelix glanced back into the mission module at their two guests and Tom Paris. Lois and Clark had seated themselves so they could see through the door that Neelix had set to remain open and into the cockpit. Clark caught his gaze and gave him a thumbs up signal, which Neelix had learned from Tom meant all was well—or was it good luck? Reassured that they were keeping an eye on his friend, Neelix turned back to his station.
"Initiating thrusters," Seven said. There was a brief heaviness as the damaged systems fought with their sudden acceleration. "Doctor, reroute power from the warp drive to inertial dampers."
"Of course. Rerouting now," the Doctor said. A moment later, the feeling of acceleration vanished. Something on the Doctors console beeped. "I'm detecting alien fighter craft approaching from the north."
"Time to intercept?"
"Acknowledged," Seven said. "Raise shields."
Neelix hurried to comply and was rewarded with a malfunction warning. "The shields are offline. The shield generators were damaged in the fight. All we have are navigational."
"Then you would do well to "cross your fingers," as Mr. Paris says," Seven told him. The craft rocked suddenly as the lead ship fired at them. "Initiating evasive maneuvers."
"Returning fire!" Neelix said. He fired phasers at the lead ship. They hit the shields, but did little damage. "That should have done something!"
"That wasn't five minutes, Mr. Neelix," the Doctor said pointedly.
"I know it wasn't! That's how it looked on my scanners! They shouldn't have gotten here that quickly!"
"Agreed. They appear to have displacement fields on their vessels. I will adjust the scanners."
A moment later the fighter ships seemed to jump on Neelix's scanners. "Firing again!"
This time the scanners registered damage to the ship. An instant later the Flyer again rocked with enemy fire.
"Mr. Neelix, reroute shields through the secondary emitters," Seven instructed.
"Right away!" He rerouted the shields just as the fighters fired at them again. "We've got half shields!"
"Good work, Mr. Neelix!" the Doctor praised him.
"These fighters appear to be atmospheric vessels," Seven said. "They are also slower than we are."
A moment later, Neelix's controls told him Seven was taking them directly upward, leaving the alien fighters below them.
"We're clearing the atmosphere!" Neelix said. "The atmospheric fighters are out of range, but I'm picking up the fighters that shot us down earlier. ETA five minutes."
"I'm picking up a transmission," the Doctor announced. He looked up at Neelix, an excited look on his face. "It's Voyager!"
"Put it through," Seven instructed.
"… to the Delta Flyer, please respond," Ensign Harry Kin's face appeared on a secondary monitor. The image was partially obscured by static. "Tom, are you there?"
Seven pushed a button on her console. "This is the Delta Flyer. Voyager, we require assistance."
Kim's face was replaced by that of Captain Janeway. "We're on our way. Seven, what's your status?"
"We have sustained damage to primary systems. Shields are at 50%."
"Understood. Where is Ensign Paris?"
"Mr. Paris was rendered unconscious in an altercation with the inhabitants of the planet. The Doctor has informed me he will recover."
Janeway looked relieved. Neelix knew that one of her biggest fears was to lose one of her crew—it already happened far too often, from her point of view. She always took it very personally—they were more than crew to her, they were family.
She nodded sharply. "All right. We're on our way. Try to hang on. Voyager out."
The screen blanked. Neelix gave the Doctor a big grin. The Doctor acknowledged it with a smile of his own. Captain Janeway was on her way and they knew she would let nothing stand in her way.
"What's going on?" Lois called from the mission module.
"The cavalry's on its way!" the Doctor called back to her. "How's Mr. Paris?"
"I think he's waking up," Clark said. "He's moving around like he's in pain."
"I'll be right there." He rose and went quickly into the aft section.
Neelix transferred conn to his station just as the Flyer was jolted by a phaser blast.
"Shields are down to forty percent. Returning fire," Neelix said.
Seven swerved the ship, narrowly avoiding another blast as Neelix did his best to damage the attacking vessels. The ship jolted again and the conn station threw sparks and began to smoke.
"Shields are at 32%." Another blast hit them. "23%."
On Neelix's monitor, phaser bolts lanced in from above, hitting two of their attackers. Belatedly, the Flyer's damaged scanners beeped to alert them to the presence of a larger vessel in close proximity.
Seven glanced over her shoulder at Neelix. "I believe Mr. Paris' expression is "The cavalry has arrived"."
Neelix laughed, pleased to hear a human colloquialism from the ever-sober Seven. Her understanding of humanity was obviously still progressing by leaps and bounds.
Neelix fired at another of the alien vessels. "Their shields are down!"
As one, the suddenly outmatched vessels came about and fled the scene as quickly as possible.
"Delta Flyer, prepare for a tractor beam," Captain Janeway's voice said over the com.
"Acknowledged, Captain," Seven replied and glanced back at Neelix. Neelix could have sworn he saw the ghost of a relieved smile on her lips.
"Well, Mr. Paris," the Doctor said as he put away his tricorder. "Once again your thick head has saved you. Despite being rendered unconscious twice with the bio- energy weapon, you're fine."
"Tell that to my head, Doc," Tom Paris complained, rubbing his temple.
The doctor picked up a device from a nearby table and adjusted it before placing it at Paris' neck. "There, that should take care of that."
"Thanks, Doc. You're a life saver." Paris jumped off the bed, grinning at the Doctor.
"Naturally," the Doctor said dryly.
Clark, standing just a few feet from the two, grinned. He could tell, despite the holograph's acerbic nature, that he truly cared about his crew in a way that probably went far beyond any programming he had.
Lois, who was standing next to Clark, looked up at him with a look on her face that told him she was thinking the same thing.
The door to the corridor without swished open abruptly to admit a woman wearing the now-familiar red, black and gray uniform. She had more pips on her collar than Paris did. That, combined with the air of command she seemed to practically exude, told him that this was the Captain Janeway Neelix had spoken of.
She walked up to the Doctor and spoke to him quietly for a few minutes. She patted Paris on the shoulder and smiled at him before turning towards Lois and Clark.
Neelix hurried forward. He had been standing near Lois and Clark. He'd already been checked over by the Doctor, as had Seven, but neither of them had left sickbay.
"Captain, this is Lois Lane and Clark Kent. They're the ones who helped us down on the planet," Neelix introduced them. "They were instrumental in our escape, too."
"So I gathered, Mr. Neelix," she said dryly. "Welcome to Voyager. I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway."
"Thank you, Captain," Clark said as he shook the hand she extended to him.
"I hear I have the two of you to thank for saving the lives of my four crewmen," she said, smiling.
"We were just in the right place at the right time," Lois said.
"Isn't that the way it always is?" Janeway's smile grew slightly. "I'm just glad you were there for my crew when they needed help. So, as a way of thanking you, we're going to help you get home."
"You are? Thank you so much." Lois paused and smiled. "It's not that we don't like it here, it's just …"
"I understand." Janeway nodded. "It's not home. We've been away from our homes for almost six years, now. I understand completely."
Clark smiled at her. "Thank you."
"If it's all right, I do have a few questions for you," she raised an eyebrow inquiringly.
"Go ahead, Captain."
"Well, first of all, how did you get out here, so far from Earth?"
"We're not really sure of that, ourselves," Lois said. "One minutes we were standing on a road on Earth, the next we were on that planet. There was a flash of bright light when it happened, if it helps."
"That must have been the anomaly we detected on the planet's surface forming," she said, nodding as if to herself.
"Anomaly?" Clark asked.
"Yes, we detected a subspace rift on the surface. We didn't get many readings when we first detected it, but from what we could tell, the rift has grown since then. It appears to be expanding at an alarming rate." Janeway cocked he head to one side. "Mr. Kent, my officers tell me that you flew up and caught the shuttle."
Clark nodded. "That's right. And before you ask, no, I can't demonstrate it for you. Whatever weapon those aliens used, it drained my powers. I don't think I could lift an inch off the ground using my powers right now."
"Hmm, that's too bad. Would it be all right with you to work with the Doctor to determine if he can restore your powers to you?"
Clark nodded. "Of course."
"All right," she nodded abruptly, as though coming to a decision, and turned slightly to address her crew. "Mr. Paris, I want you to work with Seven on the readings we managed to record of the anomaly. See if you can find a safe way to send our new friend's home and close it, if you can. Doctor, I want you to work with Mr. Kent here and find out what you can about his powers—and see if you can restore them."
"Yes, ma'am," Paris said. The Doctor chimed in with an "Of course, Captain."
"By our rough calculations on the growth rate of the rift, we have until morning to find and implement a solution. Have your reports ready by 1600 hours for the staff briefing." She turned back to Clark and Lois. "I'd like the two of you to be there, too."
She smiled at them, then turned and strode out of sickbay.
There was a brief pause, then Paris motioned to Seven. "C'mon, Seven. We've got some data to sift through."
The two quickly left the room.
"Clark glanced down at Lois and grinned. "I think we've finally met a woman as intense as you are, honey!"
"Very funny!" Lois elbowed him gently in the ribs and made a face at him.
Neelix, who had been silent since introducing them to the captain, stepped forward. "I'm sure the two of you are hungry by now. How does a little food sound?"
As if on cue, Clark's stomach rumbled. Lois laughed lightly. "That would be wonderful, Neelix."
The Doctor made a skeptical noise. Neelix ignored him and smiled at Lois and Clark before he, too, hurried from sickbay. Clark was beginning to wonder why everyone seemed to be in such a hurry to leave sickbay. What did they know that he didn't?
"Mr. Kent." the Doctor stepped up to him, a medical scanner already in hand. He'd detached a part of it and had started running it over Clark's body. It beeped softly. "Why don't you start by telling me all you know about how your powers function."
The next few hours were nothing like Clark had thought they would be. There he was, everything about his body being recorded by a doctor without any worry about being 'dissected like a frog'. This culture seemed to be very accepting of differences. It was one he would have loved to be able to live in.
The time passed fairly quickly. They were interrupted only by Neelix returning with two plates of food and a young helper who he introduced as Naomi Wildman. Lois agreed to go with Neelix to help him out in the Mess Hall only after she was reassured that she would be informed when they found out anything significant.
Finally, though, the Doctor had run every test he could think of.
"Well, the Doctor said at last. "I think it's safe to say that we've narrowed down the exact spectra you need to recharge your batteries, so to speak."
Clark, who was looking over the Doctor's shoulder at the monitor that was displaying the results of the tests, nodded. "Now what?"
The Doctor picked up a device from the countertop and quickly changed settings. "Now we plug you in to the recharger."
"How?" Clark watched curiously as the hologram fiddled with the device.
"This—" The Doctor indicated the device. "—is a dermal regenerator. I am modifying it to emit different frequencies—the ones you need to power your abilities, to be exact. All we will need to do is apply this to your skin. The results should be quicker than with normal Earth sunlight."
He finished making his modifications and turned to Clark. "Let me see your hand."
Clark wordlessly held it out. The Doctor took it in one of his on. He held the dermal regenerator over Clark's hand and activated it. A warm yellow light played over his hand as the hologram ran it back and forth, covering every inch of the exposed skin.
A tingling sensation ran up his arm and to his body until it encompassed his entire body. Clark figured this had to be what Lois had described feeling when her foot had started to 'wake up' from being sat on for too long—like pins and needles all over his body. After just a minute or two, the Doctor deactivated the device and looked at him expectantly. "Well?"
"I definitely felt something. There's only one way to really know, though." Clark concentrated and was rewarded by his body lifting off the ground and a full foot into the air. He broke into a wide grin. "It worked!"
"Well, you don't need to sound so surprised," the Doctor muttered as he began putting his testing equipment away. "You did have the best doctor in the quadrant helping you, after all."
"Thanks, Doctor," Clark said, still grinning widely. He was suffused almost a feeling of euphoria. He was sure that he and Lois would be able to go home now.
The man nodded at him absently.
Behind Clark, the door the corridor opened. Clark instantly recognized the heartbeat and breathing of Lois Lane. He turned mid-air and floated towards her.
Lois was accompanied by Naomi Wildman. The girl was standing beside Lois, a surprised look on her face. "Wow! I wish I could fly like that!"
"I guess I'll have to take you flying before we leave, then, Miss Wildman," he said as he landed in front of the two. Lois stepped forward and wrapped him in a warm embrace. Clark kissed her lightly, then stepped back from her. "Just a second, honey."
Lois raised her eyebrows at him enquiringly. He just grinned at her. "Miss Wildman, if you liked the flying part, you'll love this."
He quickly spin-changed out of his superman uniform and into the clothing he'd been wearing before their flight the night before. It was a good thing he'd brought them along with him. He'd been starting to feel incredibly conspicuous on Voyager in the outfit. As he slowed to a stop, he tucked his glasses into his shirt pocket. There was no need for them, here, after all.
"Wow!" Naomi said again. Then she forcibly changed her expression to one more serious. "The Captain requests your presence in the main briefing room."
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"
"Naomi here is the Captain's helper," Lois told him.
"Ah!" Clark smiled at the girl. "Well, if you would be so kind as to escort us there…"
Naomi giggled, her serious expression vanishing. "Of course! It's this way."
She indicated the direction, then led the way down the corridor.
When Maggie and Jimmy got out to the street, Jimmy immediately hailed a cab. At Maggie's questioning look he shrugged. 'My bike's still back on the bridge. I just hope they haven't towed it yet."
Maggie gave him an apologetic look as a cab pulled up in front of them. "I'm sorry, Jimmy."
"Hey, it's not your fault," he said. He pulled the door open and gestured for her to get in.
"If they do tow it, I'll pay the fee for you," she told him.
"Where to?" the cab driver asked.
"STAR Labs," Maggie told him.
The cab took off with a squeal of tires. As they rocketed down the avenues of Metropolis, with Maggie clutching at the seat to keep from being thrown around the cab, the man glanced back over his shoulder at them. "Hey, did you hear about that alien critter they found in that crater?"
"What?" Jimmy asked.
"Yeah," the man continued, giving only the faintest amount of attention to his driving. "I was there when it happened. I was dropping off this fare—the guy had to be FBI or NIA or somethin'—and there was this big flash of light."
They screeched to a stop at a stoplight and the man turned almost completely around to face them. "Then, when the light was gone, the eggheads all started going ga-ga over this dead critter in the crater! It looked like some kind of six-legged lizard or somethin'!"
"Eggheads?" Maggie asked blankly. She knew the police forensics team had been there, but she didn't think they could really be called eggheads.
"Yeah, didn't I tell ya? There was a bunch of vans from STAR Labs there. Had some pretty complicated lookin' equipment set up, too."
Maggie turned to Jimmy. "Do you think he'd … ?"
Jimmy nodded. 'Probably. It would make sense."
She turned back to the cabbie. "Take us there!"
"Okay," the man said. He performed a U-turn, completely ignoring the sign that announced "No U-turns!", and sped back the way they had come. "You should know that they've blockaded off the area. They ain't lettin' anyone through."
"That's okay," Jimmy said, giving Maggie a significant look. "I think they'll let her through."
They arrived at the scene in what Maggie was sure was record time. She couldn't really be sure, since that had been her first ride in a taxi, but judging from Jimmy's slightly wild-eyed expression, it had been something else in the taxi-ride business.
"Hey, Sara!" the cabbie called to her through the window. "Good luck in getting Superman back! We all need him!"
"Thanks, Ray!" Maggie called back. "I'll do my best!"
After their sudden change in plans, she'd figured she didn't really need the scrubs for a disguise anymore—so she'd taken them off in the cab. The man hadn't even seemed surprised by it. Cabbies must get a lot of odd passengers, Maggie figured.
Maggie and Jimmy made their way past the crowd that had formed since the newscast she'd seen just that morning. They nodded at the police officer at the barricade, who, when he saw who she was, waved them past.
"Now all we have to do is find Dr. Klein in this mess," Maggie said, gesturing at the gathering of military and white-coated lab personnel.
Jimmy was already scanning the area for Dr. Klein's familiar face. Abruptly he froze in mid-step. "Sara!" he hissed.
"We've got another problem."
"That's just what we need! What now?"
"What? Isn't that the group who wanted to kill Superman?"
"Yeah. We haven't seen them since their leader, Trask, was killed." Jimmy discreetly turned her slightly. "See the guy in the suit? He's next to an army guy and a lab tech."
"He was at the Planet with Trask when they invaded the place."
"Oh, great. As if we didn't have enough problems!" Maggie shook her head disgustedly. "Ok, let's deal with one problem at a time. We need to find Dr. Klein and tell him what I found out about that rift. Maybe we can find a way of getting Superman back before we have to do anything about Bureau 39."
"Right," Jimmy agreed. "But I'll keep an eye on him anyway, just in case."
"Oh, yeah! Definitely!" Maggie agreed fervently. "I just hope he isn't planning on doing anything right now!"
Maggie snagged a passing lab tech, who pointed them to where Dr. Klein was taking readings on the crater and the rift that was now visible and hanging above the crater. The rift glowed an ominous orange.
They waited quietly for him to finish, but after a few minutes it became obvious that, whatever he was doing, he wouldn't be finished any time soon.
"Dr. Klein," Maggie said.
"Just a minute, I—" He broke off abruptly and turned to face her. "Sara! It's you! Are you all right? I saw the footage of you falling into the river. I tried to call the hospital, but I couldn't get through. I—"
"It's all right, Dr. Klein!" Maggie interrupted the stream of words coming from the man. "I'm fine." She made a face. "I'll be fine, anyway. We've got more important problems right now, anyway. What have you found out about the spatial rift?"
"The what?" Klein looked startled. "That's a very good term for it, actually. Well, it seems to be emitting a very broad spectrum of radiation. It's nothing more dangerous than what we get from our sun, mind you."
"So what caused it?" Jimmy asked.
"We're not entirely sure. I believe it may have been a small antimatter explosion."
"A small amount, of course. Because of the highly volatile nature of antimatter, only a small amount—say a molecule or two—would have been required for an explosion such as this one. If there had been much more, it would have caused far greater destruction than it did," Klein said soberly.
"I know antimatter's nasty stuff, Dr. Klein, but how could that have caused this rift?"
"I believe it may have interacted with a place where the walls in space/time were especially thin. An explosion of the type caused by antimatter could have ripped a hole through the fabric of space/time, essentially opening a door between our world and another one." He gestured at the monitor he'd been working on. "That would explain some of the readings I've been taking."
"These readings are consistent with the emissions of a K class star-probably one very much like Krypton's star was, Sara," Klein said. "I would say there is a planet on the other side, as well. The spectrograph shows signs of having been filtered by an atmosphere."
"So Superman and … he could be alive over there?" Maggie asked.
"There is a good possibility of that. I'm afraid we've got another problem, though." Klein turned back to his equipment and adjusted the settings. He tapped the screen. "When we arrived here earlier, the rift was approximately five feet high and two feet wide. Now, as you can see, it has grown to about ten feet high and five feet wide and shows no sign of reversal."
"I guess that Q person had it right, after all," Jimmy said. Maggie nodded. She'd filled Jimmy in on her meeting with Q in the taxi.
"Long story, Dr. Klein. I'll tell you about it later. Do you think you can find a way to close it?"
Klein shook his head. "I'm not sure. I'll need to study it a little more."
"Okay," Maggie said. "You'd better hurry up. We don't have much time left."
"What about Superman?" Jimmy asked. "Maybe we can send a signal through it or something."
Dr. Klein shook his head. "As far as I've been able to tell, nothing we have will be able to cut through the interference the rift is producing. He would have to have something to receive the signal, too. I don't think that will be possible."
Maggie forcibly choked down the sudden surge of fear that statement sparked. Clark and Lois could be stuck on an alien world if they didn't come back soon and she had no way to do anything about it. She took a deep breath. "Well have to hope he can find his way back on his own."
"Hope?" Jimmy sounded offended. "Superman has done so much for us and you're willing to just give up on him?"
Maggie just stared at him for a moment, stunned that Jimmy could have said something like that. This was turning out to be a week of surprises. "What?"
"You're not even going to try to get him back! And you call yourself his friend!"
"You have no idea what you're talking about!" Maggie heard her voice rising and forcibly lowered it. "Superman- -Kal-El—means more to me than you can possible imagine! He was the first family I had after my parents died! He was the first person I could share my secret with! He has given me so much more than you will ever understand!"
"Then how can you give up on his so easily?"
"I have no other choice!" Maggie said forcefully. "One of the first things I learned from him was that protecting this planet and the people on it is more important than catering to my own needs! If I have to strand Kal-El on an alien world, no matter how much it hurts me to do so, I will do it. He would never forgive me if I let the planet be harmed just to rescue him and you know it! If I had to give my life to keep this planet and its people intact-I would!"
"Bravo!" Q said from behind her. He clapped softly. "You're starting to understand!"
"Q!" Maggie rounded on the being. "Haven't you caused enough trouble! Get out of here!"
"My, my! A little testy, are we? Is it that time of the month?" Q asked in a patronizing tone.
Suddenly Maggie just couldn't take his attitude any more. She pulled back her fist and swung. It connected solidly with Q's smirking face, knocking him backward to land on the ground with a thump.
He looked stunned and reached up to touch his face with one hand. "You hit me!"
"Q, this is your last warning. If you're not going to help us, get out of the way!"
"Well, fine then! If you're going to be that way about it!" Q snapped his fingers and vanished in a flash of white light.
Maggie turned back around to find Jimmy and Dr. Klein staring at her open-mouthed.
Jimmy recovered first. "Sara, you just punched a person with enough power to wipe out the Earth if he wanted to."
"Yeah, well, he didn't. And he won't—it's not his style."
"That, I take it, was Q?" Dr. Klein asked.
Maggie nodded. "Jimmy can tell you all about him while you work on a way to close that thing. Okay?"
"Right." Klein nodded soberly and turned back to his equipment.
Naomi Wildman triggered the door and stepped back, motion for Lois and Clark to go through. They smiled their thanks as they passed her.
The room they entered was set up along very much the same lines as the conference rooms back at the Planet. In the center of the room, and taking up much of the available space, was a long rectangular table with chairs set up at regular intervals. At the far end, set into the wall, was a computer interface where, at the Planet, Perry would have had relevant information displayed on a stand. In the walls to the left of that were windows that showed the star-scape without.
Tom Paris, Seven of Nine, Neelix and Captain Janeway were already there and seated, along with four others— three men and a woman—that Clark didn't know.
Captain Janeway stood up with a smile as they entered and gestured for them to seat themselves at two of the three remaining seats. "Please, have a seat. Let me introduce you to my senior staff. You already know Ensign Paris, Neelix and Seven of Nine. The others are Commander Chakotay, my first officer." The competent-looking man at Janeway's left with the tattoo on his forehead nodded at them. "Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, my security chief." The black man with the pointed ears and reserved air inclined his head at them. "Lt. B'Elanna Torres, my chief engineer." The fierce-looking woman who was seated beside Ensign Paris nodded at them. "And Ensign Harry Kim, chief of operations. "Kim, a young Asian man, smiled at them.
"The Doctor should be here soon—" The door behind her swished open, interrupting her, and the Doctor walked in.
"Ah, speak of the devil!" Janeway said with a wry smile.
"Sorry I'm late, Captain," the Doctor said as he took the last empty seat.
"That's okay, Doctor, we were just getting started," Chakotay assured him. "You haven't missed a thing."
"As I am sure all of you know by now, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are responsible for saving the Delta Flyer and her crew from crashing on the planet." She rose and walked slowly around the table, coming to a stop behind Paris' chair, where she rested her hands on the man's shoulders and smiled at Lois and Clark. "For which we are deeply grateful."
Clark found himself returning the warm smile. "We do what we can."
"Well, not it's our turn to see what we can do for you." She resumed her walking and stopped at the far end of the table from where she had started. "Ensign Paris, Seven, what have you found about the anomaly?"
"Well," Paris had obviously been waiting for this, for he got up, went to the computer interface and activated it. A representation of the planet appeared, along with a glowing spot that Clark assumed must represent the anomaly. "We seem to be dealing with your classic subspace tear. It's almost textbook quality."
"A subspace tear?" Neelix asked. "I don't believe I've ever run across one of those. What is it?"
"You should be grateful you haven't encountered one, Mr. Neelix," Seven said as she rose and went to join Paris. "A subspace tear is literally a tear in subspace. They are usually caused by an intense explosion at a stress point in the subspace continuum. They are highly disruptive to the area around them, due to the intense energies released by the tear's existence."
"The Federation doesn't have much data on subspace tears, Seven. What do the Borg know about them?" Janeway asked.
"The Borg have experimented with them in the past," Seven told them. "They were attempting to use them as an energy source. The experiment was abandoned after it was proved to be uncontrollable. Several cubes were destroyed in the attempt."
"That doesn't sound promising," Chakotay said.
"Actually, we think we can close this one before it causes much more damage," Paris said. He tapped controls on the interface and a diagram of a funnel-shaped object appeared on the screen. It rotated around to present the larger side. "We have determined that the rift was formed in Mr. Kent and Ms. Lane's universe. In the Borg experiments, the tears were opened from our side. To close the tear, they administered an antimatter charge five times the size of the one which opened the tear originally."
B'Elanna Torres shook her head. "That's not an option. We don't have enough antimatter onboard to close something like that."
"We think there's a slightly less extreme way to do this," Paris said. He rotated the diagram around to show the smaller side. "This is the opening on our side. We think we can close it from our side using a much smaller amount of antimatter—probably not much more than what caused this."
"There is one additional problem, Captain," Seven said. "Due to the state of subspace flux around the tear, we will not be able to use a photon torpedo to deliver the antimatter. The antimatter charge must be delivered to a precise position or it will not succeed."
"Can we beam it in?"
"Not if we're going to try to send Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent back through at the same time," Torres said. "We've only managed to get transporters partially operational after that beating we took back there. They managed to fry the main transporter buffers. Secondary buffers will be enough for two people, but they won't be able to handle a torpedo."
"We'll have to find another way." Janeway looked at the diagram.
"Um, Captain? I'd like to volunteer for that," Clark said.
"What?" She turned to face him. "How do you mean?"
"Well, now that the Doctor's returned my powers, I'm invulnerable again. I could deliver the explosive to exactly where you wanted it."
The Doctor nodded. "From what I've been able to tell, he is invulnerable to almost everything. Delivering the antimatter to the precise site shouldn't be a problem for him. The only problem I see would be a constant source of energy for him. I think, however, that with a little help from Lt. Torres, that shouldn't be a problem."
"Good. Lt. Torres, how soon do you think you'll have most of the repairs finished?"
"Tomorrow morning, at the earliest, Captain."
"Do you think you'll be able to spare someone to help the Doctor?"
"That won't be a problem, Captain. The repairs we are doing don't need a lot of manpower, they're just time- consuming. I'll be able to help him, myself."
"Good. Anything else?" Janway looked around at her officers.
No one said anything. Then Chakotay broke the silence. "You're not going to say anything about the Prime Directive, Tuvok?"
Tuvok shook his head. "The Prime Directive clearly does not apply in this case. The aliens on the planet already posses space flight and highly advanced technology. Also, due to their highly xenophobic natures, it is highly unlikely that anything we do will significantly affect their culture in any way."
"All right, then. Let's get to it, people. Dismissed."
The officers stood and headed out of the room. Clark and Lois got up and went over to Janeway, who was standing by the windows looking out. "Captain, is there anything we can do to help?"
She turned to face them. "No, I'm afraid not, Ms. Lane."
"Perhaps they could assist Neelix with the children while I am occupied in engineering?" Seven suggested from behind them.
Janeway nodded. "That's a good suggestion. Well, Mr. Kent? Ms. Lane? Do you think you're up to it?"
Clark exchanged a look with Lois. "I think we can handle it."
"Good." She smiled at them sympathetically. "I realize this is difficult for you, being on a starship so far from home. We'll have you home by morning. Don't worry."
"Thank you, Captain," Clark said.
"If you will come with me," Seven said.
Clark and Lois followed Seven out of the briefing room.
Maggie glanced at the monitor showing the rift for what seemed the thousandth time. It was still growing larger, and the rate at which it was growing was speeding up. Klein had better find the solution soon, she thought, or we're not going to be able to do anything about this thing.
The military personnel there had already moved everyone except for her, Jimmy and Dr. Klein back from the rift because of how large the rift had grown to be. The storm was worsening, as well. Maggie wasn't sure if it was because of the rift or something else, but she was betting on it being the rift's fault. She didn't dare interrupt Dr. Klein and ask him.
Lightning flashed, striking the rift. The thunder that accompanied it was deafening. Dr. Klein didn't even look up, this time. Maggie knew the van he was working in was grounded, so there wasn't really any danger to him or anything else inside.
Jimmy had long since finished telling Klein about Q and was sitting beside Maggie, watching the rift. He hadn't spoken to her since just after she'd decked Q.
"Jimmy," she said suddenly. "Do you have a cell phone?"
"Oh." She lapsed back into silence.
"Sara," Dr. Klein called to her. "I think I have that answer you wanted."
Maggie got up and went over to him. "What have you got, Doc?"
"Well, the rift seems to be acting like a leak—a very large one, of course, but still just a leak."
"So, how do we plug this one?"
"You remember I told you I thought it was formed by an anti-matter explosion, right?"
"Oh, I don't think I like the way this is going," Maggie muttered. "Right Dr. Klein. A point of weakness in the space/time continuum or something like that."
"That's right. I think that the way to close this would be another anti-matter explosion—this time on the other side of the funnel." Dr. Klein's face fell. "Unfortunately, we have no source of antimatter available. We can't even make more than a few particles at a time."
"Maybe some other explosive would work?" Maggie suggested.
"Possibly, but we don't have access to any other types of explosives, either. Much less the quality or quantity we would need for this."
"Doc, didn't you say that if this rift is allowed to continue expanding, it'll start to pose a significant threat to the planet? Destabilize the orbit and rip the planet to shreds, or something like that?"
"That's a dramatic way of putting it, but yes, that is a possibility." Klein shook his head. "What are you getting at?"
"The army guys!" Jimmy blurted out. "We can get it from them!"
"Exactly!" Maggie said. "They've undoubtedly got something we can use that's not too far away."
"How are you going to get their cooperation on this?" Klein asked.
"That's where you come in, Doctor. I'm going to need your backing on this …"
"The time is 0700 hours."
Lois woke instantly at the sound of the female voice. She was pressed tightly against her husband's body, just as she had been when they finally got to sleep the night before. She opened her eyes and looked up at her husband to find him looking down at her, a tender look on his face.
"Hi," he said softly.
"How are you feeling about what we're doing today?"
The night before, Lois had been worried about Clark's task in the attempt to get them home. No matter how he protested, flying through futuristic alien fighter craft to deliver a powerful anti-matter bomb was a little more dangerous than the things he normally did, or had done before. Especially when you factored in the bio-energy draining weapon that could knock out his powers, leaving him helpless.
"A little. Your therapy worked wonders." She smiled up at him.
"The time is 0701 hours," the computer's voice said again.
"How do you get that to shut off?" Lois asked slightly acerbically.
"I don't know. Let me try something," he said. "Computer. Shut off the alarm."
"Please re-state command."
"We're awake. You can stop reminding us of what time it is."
It beeped. "Acknowledged."
He looked down at her again. "We'd better get up and get dressed. Naomi will be coming by in just a little bit to take us to breakfast."
"I remember." She smiled at him. "She's a nice kid, isn't she?"
"A little too serious, but yeah, a nice kid."
The climbed out of bed and dressed quickly in their freshly cleaned clothing. Naomi had shown them how they could set the sonic shower in their bathroom to clean clothing the night before. The sonic shower was a pretty nice piece of technology, she mused. It would be nice if they had one back in their brownstone—in addition to the regular water shower, she hastily added. She and Clark had too much fun in a water shower to want to give it up completely.
Just as they finished dressing, the door chime sounded.
"Come in, Naomi," Lois called. The door opened and the girl came through.
"Good morning," she said. "Are you ready? Neelix has prepared a special breakfast for you for luck, he said."
"Lead the way," Clark said.
Jimmy Olsen watched as Maggie and Dr. Klein talked to the officer in charge of the military personnel that were there. So far they didn't seem to be having any trouble convincing the man that what they were requesting was vitally important to the safety and security of the U.S.
Finally, the man nodded and stepped away from the two to talk to one of his underlings. Maggie smiled, obviously relieved as she turned away from Dr. Klein. Her face froze as she caught sight of Jimmy watching them.
He gathered up his nerve and approached them. "Well?"
"They're bringing in a small tactical nuclear weapon. Dr. Klein thinks it should do the job." She was silent for a moment. "Dr. Klein is going to get me an insulated suit to try to protect me from the effect the rift has on my aura. That way I'll be able to set up the bomb when I get to the other side."
"Ma—Sara, why are you doing this?"
"I have to, Jimmy. It's what I do."
"But, you don't even have your powers! I do! I should be the one to do this!"
Maggie shook her head. "It doesn't matter. I have to do this—for myself as much as for everyone else."
"Why? Can you at least tell me that?"
She sighed. "It's a little complicated, Jimmy. You remember when the New Kryptonians came to earth? As soon as I heard about them and what they were, I hid. I did the same thing when my parents got into that car accident. Then with the kryptonite thing, I ran off and left you and Lois in danger. It's something I've been doing all of my life. I can't keep running away and hiding whenever something dangerous is happening."
"You're not running and hiding anymore. You dealt with the Black Circle investigation, even after it got dangerous."
She shook her head sadly. "You still don't understand, do you. This is something I have to do. I will do it, no matter what happens. I was hoping you would wish me good luck, but you obviously aren't. I have to go call the Kents and let them know what's happening. Goodbye, Jimmy."
She turned and walked away from him.
The ship shuddered as multiple phaser blasts hit Voyager's shields. The four people in the shuttle bay did their best to ignore it, concentrating, instead, on last minute preparations for Clark's flight down to the planet that they could see through the shuttle bay doors.
The anti-matter bomb Clark was to deposit at the rift wasn't as big as Lois had expected it to be. Then again, with the small amount of anti-matter B'Elanna had said they were using, it shouldn't be surprising. B'Elanna Torres, herself, was going over the bomb to make sure everything was as it should be. She was double-checking, as she did so, that Clark knew exactly what he was supposed to do. Everything had to be perfect.
Clark was standing just a few feet from B'Elanna and the bomb. He had changed partially back into his Superman costume—all that was missing was the shirt and cape. The Doctor was attaching a device that he insisted had to be worn under his costume to decrease the possibility of it being damaged.
"… I set the timer, start it going and fly through the rift." Clark finished.
"Right. Just make sure the bomb is set exactly as you practiced in the holodeck and everything should work fine." B'Elanna closed up the circuitry and stood up. "Ok, I think you're ready."
The Doctor finished adjusting the device attached to Clark and stepped back. "Go ahead and put on your shirt, now. I need you to make sure it will be protected by your aura, so go ahead and speed change."
"No problem," Clark said, grinning. He spun around, blurring to the human eye, and when he came to a stop, was wearing the shirt as well. The Doctor pulled out his medical tricorder and scanned the device.
"Well, it seems to be working as well as ever. You're ready to go." He tapped his combadge. "Shuttlebay to the Bridge. We're ready whenever you are, Captain."
"Acknowledged, Doctor. Tell Mr. Kent he may proceed. Janeway out."
Lois turned to her husband. "Clark?"
He took one look at her expression and stepped forward to envelop her in his embrace. "Don't worry, honey. I'll be all right."
She leaned into him. "I know. Just be careful, okay?"
"Always." He kissed her lightly on the forehead, then tilted her chin up and kissed her full on the mouth. "I'll be all right. Don't worry."
"You know I can't help it," she said. The ship shook again from phaser blasts. She pulled away from him. "You'd better get going. I'll be watching from sickbay."
Clark kissed her one last time before pulling away from her and walking over to the force field. B'Elanna handed him an oxygen mask. He probably wouldn't need it, but Janeway didn't want to take any chances with him running out of air on the way to the planet.
He accepted it with a smile and strapped it into place before stepping out through the force field. He turned and lifted his hand in salute to them before flying upward and out of sight.
"… do my best, Martha." Maggie glanced up as she heard the sound of a helicopter over the storm. "I've got to go. The chopper's here with the bomb. Okay. Thanks."
She closed the phone and went over to Dr. Klein. "Thanks, Dr. Klein. Here's your phone back."
"You're welcome, Sara." He accepted the item, a worried look on his face. "The helicopter is here."
"I know, I heard it," she said. She smiled wanly, then, impulsively, threw her arms around him in a tight hug. "Don't worry, Dr. Klein. I'll be careful."
He returned the hug gingerly. He, more than anyone else, Maggie knew, knew the risk she was taking. She, too, could be stranded on an alien world with no way to return. "We'd better get you into that insulation suit. Have you as protected as possible from the disruptive influence of the rift."
"Right." Maggie followed him back to the van where he'd had a tech put the insulation suit. He helped her put it on. As she finished putting on the last of the suit, the munitions officer along with the officer in charge came up to them with what looked like an ordinary metal suitcase. She knew, of course, that it was actually a tactical nuclear warhead despite its innocuous appearance. She glanced at Klein. "It's time."
"Good luck, Sara," Klein said.
She flashed him a smile and accepted the suitcase. She glanced one last time at Jimmy, who was standing nearby watching her, and turned toward the rift, which was obviously larger than it had been just half an hour ago. She turned her head towards the officer. "You'd better get your men out of here, sir. We don't know if this is going to affect the surrounding area or not."
The man nodded and started shouting orders at the last of the remaining military personnel.
"You, too, Dr. Klein," she ordered him.
He nodded. Most of the STAR Labs personnel had left right after they sent for the bomb Maggie was now carrying. There were a few media vans left but, as she watched, they were ordered to leave the area by military personnel. "I'll make sure Jimmy comes with me, too."
"Good." She waited for a few minutes for everyone to at least start moving out, then turned back to the rift.
The thing pulsed an ominous shade of red as she approached it. She reached the edge of the crater far too quickly and paused, looking up at the thing. Then she ran forward and jumped, clutching the case to her as she entered the rift.
Clark dodged a phaser blast. The alien fighters were out in force. Clark didn't know how many there were, but they seemed to be congregating around his position for some reason. Maybe they just couldn't believe that an alien was flying around in space without a space suit or any kind of propulsion unit. He didn't mind the curiosity, he just wished they'd stop taking potshots at him while he was carrying the anti-matter bomb.
Lois, he knew, was undoubtedly in sickbay by now. They had planned on monitoring him via a com link they had equipped him with—that way, once he entered the atmosphere, he could communicate any problems to them. He hoped he wouldn't have to use it.
He dodged another phaser beam, then a fighter. He got a glimpse of a lizard-like creature with its crest raised to its fullest extent as he did so. Then he reached the atmosphere. Atmospheric fighters were waiting. Evidently they'd been monitoring the battle in space and were waiting for any shuttles that might try to make it to the planet's surface. Great, he thought. More phaser blasts to dodge.
Well, there was one way he could avoid that. He dove straight down. He was faster than they were and much more maneuverable. It only took him seconds to get out of their range—temporarily, of course. Whatever else these aliens were, they were incredibly tenacious.
"Voyager to Kent."
He pulled the now unnecessary oxygen mask off and tapped the com. "Kent. Go ahead."
"Is everything all right? We lost sight of you in the firefight," Janeway said, sounding concerned.
"I'm fine. The bomb made it through intact, too," he confirmed. "I'm coming up on the rift now."
"Good luck, Mr. Kent."
Two phaser blasts cracked past him, just barely missing him. He rose up above the craft, then sent a beam of heat vision at the spots Lt. Torres had told him were vulnerable in craft like these. It worked, and the two vessels went spiraling down towards the ground below trailing smoke.
"Two down, eight to go," Clark muttered. He didn't really have time for this, though. Fortunately, he had almost reached the cloudy area that covered the subspace tear. He put on a burst of speed, then came to a soft landing under the overcast area. The fighter craft that were following him veered off and began circling the area.
The rift was at ground level. It was glowing bright yellow and was very obvious. It was larger than he'd expected it to be—close to four feet in height.
Lightning was flashing continuously and bright enough to light the area as bright as the area outside the clouds. From the state of the ground, it had obviously struck the ground numerous times. Clark just hoped it didn't hit the anti-matter bomb while he was setting it up.
He placed the bomb on the ground at the precise spot Lt. Torres had instructed him to and checked the thing over as best he could. Everything seemed all right.
He tapped his communicator. "Kent to Voyager. I'm all ready."
"This is Janeway. Good luck, Mr. Kent. Ms. Lane is about to be sent through." Clark could barely hear her through the static.
"Thank you, Captain, for all of your help."
"It was our pleasure."
"Goodbye, Captain. I hope you find a way to get home, too. Kent out." He tapped the communicator and jumped into the rift.
"Well, Ms. Lane, it's been a pleasure," the Doctor said.
Lois stepped onto the transporter pad and smiled nervously at him. "Thank you, Doctor. Good luck to you and your crew in getting home. I know how important that is."
"Thank you, Ms. Lane. Bon voyage." He turned to the transporter tech and nodded at him. "Energise."
The man activated the transport sequence. Lois began to fade out. Abruptly, something on the console beeped. "Sir, the transporter beam is losing cohesion. The turbulence from the subspace rift is affecting it!"
"Bring her back! Right away!" The Doctor ran around to the console. "Boost the annular confinement beam."
The man complied and a moment later, the form of Lois Lane re-appeared on the pad. She looked around the room. "What happened?"
"Bridge to the Doctor." Janeway's voice said. "The anti-matter bomb is about to explode. We're reading a female Kryptonian lifesign beside it. Get her out of there!"
"Yes, ma'am!" He re-focussed the transporter and activated it.
"Doctor, do you have her?" Janeway sounded as anxious as if it were one of her own crew. The ship rocked beneath them. "Doctor?"
"Almost." The stream was resolving. "Got her!"
He looked up at the transporter pad. A very dazed- looking brunette was standing there looking around the room.
"Captain, the subspace tear?"
"It's gone, Doctor. Were you successful in sending Ms. Lane through?"
He paused. "I'm sorry, Captain. No, we weren't. We started to lose confinement and had to bring her back."
"Understood. Janeway out."
Lois stared at him for a moment. "What happened, Doctor?"
He sighed. "Your transporter beam started to lose cohesion. We had to bring you back or you would have died."
"What about the tear?"
He shook his head slowly. "It's gone. I'm sorry, Ms. Lane. You're stuck here."
Clark came out the other side of the subspace tear, still flying. He came to a sudden halt and looked around. Lois should be near there. They had to get out of the area. Captain Janeway had warned him that there would be a small explosion on their end of the tear, as well, and they had to get out of the way as quickly as possible.
The area was completely clear. The ground around the tear showed the same kind of disruption as had the other side. Lois was nowhere to be seen.
"Lois!" he yelled. "Where are you!"
Behind him, the tear pulsed red one last time, then flared pure white. Clark was knocked forward. He landed half a mile away and plowed up a furrow of dirt. He pulled himself out of it, feeling slightly dazed, and looked back at where the subspace tear had been. The telltale glow of the rift was gone as if it had never been.
"Looiiss!" he yelled, knowing he wouldn't get an answer.
Lois stood at the window, staring out at the stars that were passing in blurs of light. She wasn't really seeing them, though.
The door behind her swished open. "Lois?"
She took a deep breath to make sure her voice was steady. "Yes, Maggie?"
"Captain Janeway says that they'll try to find a way to send us home." She hesitated.
"But she doesn't think she'll find a way, does she." Lois already knew the answer to that.
Maggie hesitated, then sighed. "No, she doesn't. But she's going to try. You can't give up. We will get home."
"You can't be sure of that, Maggie."
"No, I can't. It's just a feeling." She hesitated again. "Good night, Lois?"
Maggie hesitated, then turned and left the room. Lois pressed her face against the cold window and closed her eyes. "I'm sorry, Clark."
Continued in the sequel: Threads of Fate