By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <email@example.com>
Submitted January, 2004
Summary: A fic in honor of Beta Reader Appreciation Day. A "guardian angel" named Beta is introduced to "Chi of Steel" resulting in a humorous "beta version" of the episode.
Author's Note: This fic is a rewrite of the Lois and Clark episode "Chi of Steel," written by Hilary Bader. It is the only Lois and Clark episode she wrote, and, as it happens, it is not my favorite episode in the series by any means. For the record, I did enjoy some of her work on other shows. I'm guessing that as a guest writer early in the second season, she simply wasn't especially familiar with the show. In any case, this story makes heavy use of characters, scenes, and dialogue from that episode. Some parts of the story may not make sense if you haven't seen the episode or don't remember it. Hopefully you'll still be able to enjoy it, though, even if you miss some of the references. Whether you've seen the ep or not, whether you enjoyed it or not, I hope you'll take this story in the spirit in which it was written, which would be best described as "playful satire."
A few lines were also taken from the episode "The Phoenix," which was written by Tony Blake and Paul Jackson.
On to more important matters… This story was written for Beta Reader Appreciation Day. It is intended to thank our beta readers for the work they do. They help improve stories, giving an author their thoughts and reactions, making suggestions of things to add or remove, pointing out errors in continuity and characterization, saving us from embarrassing typos and mistakes in spelling and grammar, and a myriad of other things, great and small.
In this fandom, we're also blessed with a centralized fanfic archive with a staff of volunteer General Editors. GEs are, as far as I know, unique to FoLCdom. A GE reviews each and every story sent in to the archive, checking meticulously for spelling and grammar while holding back any more subjective comments they may have. Unlike BRs, who choose which stories to read and which authors to work with, GEs read the stories as they are assigned.
Beta Reader Appreciation Day is a time to make sure that we thank the BRs and GEs for all the work they've done, generally behind the scenes, to improve the stories we enjoy.
In that spirit, I want to send out a *huge* thank you to Laurie, Beta Reader extraordinaire for agreeing to BR on short notice, reassuring me at every opportunity, reading through in record time despite various real life circumstances, and responding with encouragement.
I'd also like to thank my GE, CC Aiken. Her careful reading, cheerful comments, pleasant demeanor, polite style, and easy flexibility exemplify everything a good GE should be. :) She's even gone above and beyond, not only patiently dealing with half a dozen "oops…got a few more edits…" emails from me, but even going so far as to keep *me* entertained throughout the process.
One final note before we get to the story: This story was originally posted on the fanfic message boards (http:\\www.lcficmbs.com), where I was able to take advantage of MB formatting codes. Since the archive uses plain text format, I replaced the code with low-tech alternatives for *bold* and /italics/. It doesn't look quite as nice, but it works.
Now, with no further ado, on with the story!
It started off like an ordinary enough day. Clark woke up, got his clothes ready, and took a shower. He had just put some moose in his hair when a voice spoke to him out of nowhere.
"What? Who's there?"
"/My name is Beta. I'm… kind of a guardian angel./"
"Guardian angel? I thought that was Mike."
"/Mike is higher up. He's there for everyone, but only from time to time./"
"/Besides, you're not supposed to know about Mike yet. We're only in season two./"
Clark blinked, absorbing this. "Mike who?"
"/Never mind. That's not why I'm here./"
"Why /are/ you here?"
"/Well, it's your hair./"
"/I know you have super powers and all, but it can't be very comfortable having several 800 pound creatures on your head. In any case, I think people would look at you kind of strangely./"
"Huh?" Clark looked in the mirror. "Oh, right." Embarrassed, Clark took the moose out of his hair. He reminded himself to fly them back to Alaska later. Instead, he reached for some styling mousse. "Thanks, Beta. That could have been embarrassing."
"/No problem, Clark. That's what I'm here for./"
Clark thought about this. It seemed strange, but stranger things had happened to him before. He shrugged and went on with his day. He got dressed, then went to the kitchen. There, he opened the fridge, got out some eggs and milk, and started making breakfast.
"Uhm, yes, Beta?"
"/You forgot to close the fridge./"
"Oh, right. Thanks, Beta."
Clark closed the fridge, finished with breakfast, then looked at the clock. He was late for work. He'd have to fly. He went to the window and got ready to take off.
"/Clark, aren't you forgetting something?/"
"/People would find it rather odd to see Clark Kent flying overhead, wouldn't they?/"
Clark looked down. "Oh, wow. How could I forget?" Quickly, he spun into the Suit.
He flew to the Daily Planet building, then spun back into Clark Kent in the stairwell. As soon as he walked into the newsroom, Lois ran up to him.
"Clark! There you are! We have to go!"
"What is it?"
"Someone stole Perry's life savings! He reported it to the police, but they can't do anything. The robber was masked and the money was in bearer bonds. I told him we'd look into it ourselves."
"I'll tell you on the way, Clark. Let's get going."
They went down to Lois's Jeep and hit the road. As she drove, Lois filled Clark in. It seemed that Perry had been meeting with his broker, preparing to invest in an overseas company that required bearer bonds. A hooded thief dressed entirely in black except for a pair of intricately carved metal bracelets had knocked down the door to the room, thrown the broker across the room, tied Perry to a chair, smashed the safe open with his bare hands, and made off with the money before anyone could react.
Once during the conversation (fortunately while they were stopped at a red light), Beta had spoken up.
"/Perry put his life savings into untraceable bearer bonds?/"
"Who said that?" Lois had asked, startled.
"That's Beta. A… guardian angel."
"I… see. Well, uhm, Beta, it wasn't Perry. It was his broker. Perry wasn't too happy about it when he found out, either."
"/Oh. Okay. Sounds like Perry should get a new broker./"
The conversation had gone normally from there, without any more interruptions. Soon enough, they were in the area, and Lois found a parking space. Walking up to the building with Lois, Clark introduced them to the doorman. "Lois Lane and Clark Kent, from the Daily Planet. I believe Perry White called ahead to let you know that we would be coming."
The doorman checked his clipboard. "Yes, here you are, Mr. Kent. Go on up."
They started up the stairs, but the doorman held Lois back. "Ma'am? You'll have to wait here."
"This is a men's club."
Lois tried to push past him. "And I'm a reporter on a story. Now excuse me."
He caught her arm. "Sorry, Ma'am."
They argued for a while, but the doorman was insistent. Lois tried to convince Clark that if they wouldn't let her in, then he shouldn't go either. "Are we partners or not?" she demanded. "You go in without me and it's as if you're saying there's nothing wrong with this kind of discrimination."
"Fine, fine. What do you want us to do?" Clark asked.
"We don't need to go in here. We can get the police report. That'll tell us everything we need to know."
"/Lois, are you serious?/"
"Of course I am!"
"/You would actually trust the police report to have everything? You don't want to see if they missed some crucial detail? After they admitted that they don't know anything and won't be able to help at all?/"
"Well, no. But they won't let me in."
"/So, let Clark go. He can look around and come back. You'd go without him if your investigation led you to a women's- only health club, wouldn't you?/"
"Yeah, but that's different."
"/Somewhat, yes. Does that mean you're going to endanger Perry's life savings because his broker works out of an outdated men's organization? If one of your sources was a KKK member, would you refuse to use his information?/"
"No… Okay, Clark. Go up, see what you can find."
Clark nodded and walked in. On the way up, though, he scanned the office. There were two people in it. He wouldn't be able to check the room as effectively as Clark. He ducked into a restroom and changed clothes. As Superman, he was welcomed into the office and allowed to search the room. He was also offered a club membership, which he politely declined. Looking around at super speed, he found nothing, but a close examination of the safe proved more fruitful. Something had been imprinted on the side, too shallow for the human eye to see. It was an intricate design showing two dragons curled into a Yin-Yang symbol. He grabbed a piece of paper, held it against the safe, and used his heat vision to make a copy of the marking. With the broker's permission, he took the paper, then headed back out to Lois.
"/Superman? Are you forgetting something?/"
"What? Oh, right." He dashed back to the restroom. There, he changed clothes so quickly that, when he walked out, it appeared that Clark had opened the door from the inside.
"Thank you," Clark replied, smiling. He left the building, then rescued the doorman from Lois.
"Did you find anything?" she asked eagerly as soon as they'd rounded the block.
"Yeah," he said, reaching for the paper.
"/Clark,/" Beta whispered so that only he could hear, "/I hope you're not planning to show that to Lois. How are you going to explain it? The design is burned into the paper. That's not something most people could or would do./"
"I'll show you when we get back to the office," Clark said to Lois.
She nodded, and the two walked to Lois's Keep.
"/Lois has a castle?/"
"I got tired of moving all my stuff up and down four flights. 501, 105, 501 again… I had to get out of that building."
"/So you moved into a castle? In the middle of Metropolis?/"
"Why not?" Clark put in. "They built one in Centennial Park."
"/How can you afford the rent?/"
"Okay," Lois said, sighing. "I give up." Reluctantly, she and Clark left the tower behind and got into Lois's Jeep.
Before Lois started the engine, however, Clark's watch alarm started to beep. "Shoot," he said. "My folcs are coming in. I have to let them into the apartment."
"/Your FoLCs, Clark?/"
Lois and Clark exchanged glances, then shrugged. "So if you're going to meet your parents," Lois asked, "what can I do?"
Clark thought about this for a second. Suddenly, his eyes darted to the rearview mirror. "Who's that walking down the sidewalk behind us?" When Lois turned to look, he surreptitiously grabbed a pencil and paper from the supplies Lois always kept handy. He copied the paper from the club at super-speed and had everything stashed away before Lois turned back.
"I don't see anyone, Clark."
"Sorry, Lois. It's a small mirror. I must have been mistaken." He showed her the paper with the pencil tracing. "Here, I found this etched into the side of the safe. It was very faint. I think the police missed it."
"What is it?"
"It's a power totem. Some of the more obscure Chinese martial arts use them. The symbols are cut into an artifact — a necklace, a ring — which bestows power on the wearer."
"If they're so obscure, how come you know about them?"
"I travelled in China for a while. I only know a few, and I don't recognize this one. I know who might, though. I have a friend, Chen Chow. He's the editor of the Chinatown Daily. His grandfather is very big into this stuff. Here's his address." Clark scribbled something on the back of the paper, then handed it to her. "I'll head back to my place, let my parents in. You go talk to Chen and his grandfather. With cross-town traffic at this hour, I'll probably be home before you make it to Chinatown, so I'll call ahead for you. It shouldn't be a problem, but it'll go more smoothly if he knows to expect you."
"Sure thing. See you later." Clark got out and started walking briskly in the direction of the nearest subway stop.
Lois waved to him, checked the address he'd given her, then drove off.
Three quarters of an hour later, she arrived at the Chows' loft, which seemed to serve as newspaper office, martial arts dojo, and family home all at the same time. A woman stepped up to her, silently. Lois introduced herself. "Hi, I'm Lois Lane."
The woman bowed, silently.
"I'm here to see Chen Chow. I believe Clark Kent called to let him know I was coming."
The woman remained silent.
Lois gave it one more try. "You are…?"
The woman nodded, then walked away.
Lois decided to take a look around and try to find someone a little more talkative. Across the room, an old man, presumably Chen's grandfather, was watching a pair of students as they practiced an elaborate flowing sequence of movements. She watched them, fascinated by the beauty of the kata. Soon they finished, bowed to the old man, and left. Lois started to look around again for someone who could help her, but the woman who had met her at the door was already returning with someone in tow.
"You must be Lois," he said, coming up to her. "I'm Chen."
"It's nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you."
As Lois wondered what to make of that, the old man walked by, using a cane for support. The woman left to bring him some tea.
"So," Chen said, leading Lois to desk, "I hear the Hooded Figure strikes again."
"Clark said you've heard of this guy."
"/When did Clark say that?/"
Lois thought about this, then blinked. "When did he say what, Beta?"
Lois was confused, but pushed it aside. "You've heard of this guy?" she asked Chen.
"He's hit four businesses in Chinatown in the last week." Chen checked something on his computer. "This is his first robbery outside of Chinatown. Same M.O.? Alone, big cash, no clues?"
"One clue," Lois said, proud that she and Clark had found the first lead on the case. She brought out the paper Clark had given her. "We're hoping you can tell us what it means."
"I don't know," he said, taking it. He got up and brought the paper over to the old man, who was being formally served by the woman. "Hey, Grandpa, do you recognize this?"
"It is the Shuwee-Wah. The Dragon's Heart. Power totems of the Yi Chi discipline. Two bracelets worn on the wrist. Taken from the Dao Monastery many years ago."
"Where are they now?" Lois asked.
"Only the one who took them knows," he replied. With a casual wave of his hand, he dismissed the woman who had been serving him.
Lois turned to Chen. "Could I get a list of all the businesses here in Chinatown that were robbed, the dates, the reports, whatever you have…?"
"I'll fax it to your office."
"Thanks." Lois turned back to the old man. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Sir. I just wanted to say, I was watching you with your students. I've studied a little Karate and Tai chi. I'd be interested in maybe taking a class if —"
"Women are not allowed to take the master class."
Lois did her best to hide her furies.
"/Wow. I thought those things only existed in Greek mythology. Good luck hiding them./"
Lois frowned, confused. The furies vanished, shrieking. Lois blinked, then walked angrily out the door.
She was still upset when she got to Clark's apartment. "What a day this has been. What a /rare/ mood I'm in."
"How are you, Lois?" Jonathan asked. "You look tense."
"We're investigating this story at the Metropolis Men's Club. When Clark and I get there, they won't let me in."
"/You know, Lois, when Jonathan said you looked tense, I don't think he meant that you should start talking about the past using the present form./"
Martha and Jonathan looked around, startled. "Who said that?" Martha asked.
"Oh, that's Beta," Clark explained. "A guardian angel."
"If you say so, Dear." Martha looked back to Lois. "Why wouldn't they let you into the club?"
"Because I'm a woman." She turned to Clark. "Then, at your friend Chen's, I found out that I can't take a Yi Chi class because I'm a woman."
"How awful," Martha said.
"Yeah," Jonathan agreed. "Still, you can understand why it's like that…"
Everyone stared at him.
"/Jonathan, is that really what you meant to say? It doesn't seem like you./"
"What? Oh, no, I didn't mean that I agreed. I was just saying that they're old-fashioned. Raised in a different time. They never learned any better."
"/Oh, that makes more sense./"
"Yeah. Good thing you cleared that up, Dad."
"/Yes. By the way, you ladies weren't about to suggest some kind of ridiculous sitcom-like bet, where you switch jobs with the men to prove that you do a lot of work, were you?/"
"Uhm… No, Beta," Martha said with a strange expression on her face. "Of course not. What would give you a strange idea like that?"
"/Just checking. Clark, Jonathan, you guys respect Lois and Martha and the work they do, right?/"
"Of course!" Clark said immediately. "Lois is my partner, and she's the best reporter I've ever met!"
"I've been married to Martha for almost 35 years now. We've always shared the work on the farm. There's no one I'd trust more to do it, and no one I'd rather do it with!"
"/Glad to hear it./"
Everyone stood around for a moment, happy that they'd come to an understanding, but unsure what to do. Thankfully, the phone rang. Clark went to answer it. Martha and Jonathan got back to unpacking. Lois gave them a hand.
A few minutes later, Clark hung up the phone and rejoined the others. "That was Jimmy. He got the fax from Chen and did a little digging. It turns out that all four of the Chinatown factories that were hit are subsidiaries of the same company. Son Kwon Industries."
"Did he give you an address?" Lois asked.
"Got it right here," he replied, waving a notepad.
"Then let's go, partner."
Clark hesitated, looking at his parents.
"Oh, don't worry about us," Martha assured him. "We can take care of ourselves. Besides, I've got some errands to run."
"Yes. I wanted to get some groceries so I could make dinner for tonight. I'd like to do some shopping, too, while we're in the city. We could use some new sheets, and I'll probably get a few other things, too."
"Thanks, Mom, but I already got groceries. You didn't think I'd have you and Dad come here and not stock up, did you? As for dinner, I'll be cooking tomorrow, but I thought for tonight it would just be easier on everyone if we ordered in. Lois and I are working on this story, and you and Dad had a long flight today. So, if you want to get some things for yourself, that's fine, but don't think you have to run errands or do housework or anything while you're staying at my place. Consider yourselves on vacation, okay?"
Martha smiled, proud of how her son had grown. "Okay."
That settled, Lois and Clark left the apartment. Getting into Lois's Jeep, they made their way to Son Kwon headquarters, a large industrial complex just outside the city. The guard at the door to the main building, however, refused to let them in. They tried to talk their way past him, but it soon became obvious that if they wanted to get inside the building, they were going to have to go through other channels.
They had just gotten back to the Jeep when someone ran past them. Someone who was clothed entirely in black, except for two intricately carved bracelets. Someone who was carrying a couple of full bags. "Look!" Lois shouted to Clark. "It's —" She cut herself off. Clark wasn't there. Then, from the other direction, she heard tires squealing. A limo had come racing around the corner. She wondered who was inside. Another movement caught her eye. Superman had just landed in front of the Hooded Figure.
"Drop the money and come with me," he ordered.
The Figure dropped the bags. Superman reached over to grab an arm, but his hand was knocked aside. He tried a second time, but again his hand was deflected. He stood back, confused.
"/Excuse me. Mr. Hooded Figure? Can you really do that?/"
The Figure looked around, confused.
"/That's Superman. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive… The guy could juggle ten-ton trucks, if he wanted. Are you sure you should be able to just knock his hands away like that?/"
The Figure looked down, pointedly. The bracelets were glowing. The Figure nodded.
"/Oh, okay. You've got magic. Just making sure. You can get back to fighting now./"
The Figure nodded again.
Superman rushed forward. The Figure jumped over him. Superman spun around and tried again. The Figure grabbed his arms, twisted, and threw him across the parking lot into a crate. Lois hurried to his side.
"Superman, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. A little mad, but I'll get over it as soon as this guy is in…" He trailed off. While they'd been speaking, the Figure had thrown some dust into the air. As it had settled, the Figure and the bags of money had vanished. "… jail," Superman finished, stunned. He shook himself, then searched for clues. There was nothing. Superman flew off, determined to do better the next time. The limo drove away, unnoticed.
Turning back to her Jeep, Lois remembered that Clark was still missing. She looked around, but didn't see him. "Clark?" she called.
"Over here, Lois," he said, coming around the corner of the building.
"Where were you?" she asked when he got closer.
"When I realized that we weren't going to get past that guard, I decided to check and see if there was another entrance we might use."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to say it with the guard right there."
She nodded. He had a point. With that in mind, she waited until they had gotten back into the Jeep before she asked, "Did you find anything?"
"Not really. There are a few other doors, but they seem to be just as closely watched."
"Oh well. It was a good thought. So, back to the office?"
"Yeah. Might as well. We should look into Son Kwon Industries. Maybe we can turn up another lead or find a way into that building."
A little more than half an hour later, they had returned to the planet.
"/Wow. Lois's Jeep can drive into outer space?/"
"Well, I decided to, uhm…"
"… Go a few miles out of the way, to avoid traffic. Lois has a way with alternate routes."
Lois shrugged and parked in the Planet's garage. Up in the newsroom, they found Perry and filled him in on the progress of their investigation. It wasn't much, but they figured that with his life savings at stake, he'd want to know every detail. Then they started sifting through whatever they could find on Son Kwon Industries. It seemed that the company had been implicated in the activities of some smugglers who were bringing in families of illegal immigrants from China. The smugglers had been caught by Superman, but the police had been unable to prove the link to Son Kwon. It was interesting, but not especially helpful in regards to the current case.
Suddenly, Lois looked up. "I got it! It's been nagging at me all night, and I just realized why! The Hooded Figure's moves were exactly like the ones I saw Chen's grandfather teaching those students. They were Yi Chi moves!"
"/Really, Lois? You could tell that? As far as I could tell, the Figure blocked a couple of grabs at super speed, then used a fairly generic judo throw. That was enough for you to place the specific martial arts discipline?/"
"Well, uhm…" Lois trailed off, blinking. "Hey! I just remembered! Chen's grandfather said that the bracelets were from the Yi Chi discipline. You said those power totem things were specific to a single discipline, right? And that the disciplines that used power totems were fairly obscure. Seeing as how we're so far from China, what are the odds that there are two Yi Chi masters here? I don't think it's Chen's grandfather, but I'll bet it's someone he knows!"
"/Better. Thank you./"
"You're right, Lois! That's brilliant! It's getting late now, but we should go back and see them tomorrow."
They went first thing the next morning. When they got there, though, the place was a wreck. It looked like it had been thoroughly searched by people who lacked a basic respect for the property of others. Scanning with his x-ray vision, Clark noticed that Chen and his family had been left, bound and gagged, behind a screen on the other side of the room. "I think I hear something…" he told Lois as he led her towards the screen. Quickly, they untied the Chows. "Chen, what happened?"
"Four guys broke in, tore the place up."
"Who were they?" Lois asked.
Chen's grandfather answered. "The Tong."
Lois raised her eyebrows. "The Chinese Mafia?"
"What did they want?"
"They think we have those Dragon Heart Bracelets Grandpa was talking about," Chen answered him. He seemed bewildered that they had thought so.
"Well, that's part of the reason we're here," Lois said. Obviously the idea didn't seem so far-fetched to her.
Clark explained. "The Hooded Figure has been robbing Son Kwon Industries. We saw him yesterday, and he was wearing the bracelets. We realized he had to be a Yi Chi master, so we came here."
"He threw Superman around like a rag doll…"
"Well, I don't know about 'rag doll,' Lois…"
"… and then disappeared."
Chen's grandfather nodded. "A Yi Chi master makes use of many devices. A smoke that can paralyze, a sound that confuses, a dust to make an image so real that even another Yi Chi master would be fooled…"
"/Smoke bombs? Devices that make confusing sounds? Is that what being a Yi Chi master is all about?/"
The old man didn't seem to think it strange that a voice spoke to him out of nowhere. "No, of course not! I meant that a Yi Chi master can make those devices and employ them skillfully. A small part of a master's talents."
"/I see. So what about throwing Superman around? That doesn't sound like smoke and mirrors./"
"That would require much power," he admitted.
"The bracelets?" Clark prompted.
The old man studied Clark closely for a moment. "Your Chi is strong," he said. "Very strong." He hesitated a moment longer, then decided. "Yes, I will trust you. I have the bracelets."
"Whoa, Grandpa. For real?" Chen seemed truly stunned.
"/Chen? When did you become a surfer?/"
"Huh?" He thought back over what he'd just said. "Oh." He tried again. "What?" he asked, astounded. "Grandpa, you really have them?"
"When my Grandfather died, he gave them to me to hold for the next worthy one. I thought it would be a student of mine — Jzuk Mao — but he was seduced by evil and greed. My last action before I left for America with my grandchildren was to have him arrested."
"/Gee. Someone who knows you have the bracelets, knows how to use them, is greedy and evil, and has cause to resent you. I wonder if he has anything to do with all this…/"
For once, everyone ignored Beta. Instead, Chen's grandfather walked over to the side of the room and pressed a particular spot on the wall. "Like so many, the Tong search without seeing," he said, trying to be mysterious while he waited for the secret panel to open. When it did, however, it revealed an empty shelf. "No, it can't be! Someone has stolen them!"
"/Why are you surprised, exactly?/"
"What? This is my secret safe. No one knows about this."
"/You knew the bracelets were being used in the robberies./"
"Well, I uh…"
"/You couldn't have thought they were fakes. Obviously, the robber was using their magic./"
"That's true, but… They were here yesterday. I checked while you were here, Miss Lane."
"/While she was there? You trained your students, sat down, had tea, told her she couldn't join your class, and then watched her storm out. When did you check them? Why would you have done it while she was there, anyway?/"
"Okay, I checked them just after she left. That's not important."
"/It matters. You have to be careful with these things./"
"Fine. It's settled now. The important thing is that the bracelets were here yesterday, after the previous robberies, but they're not here now."
"/Obviously, the Hooded Figure took them for his robberies, then put them back so you wouldn't be suspicious. You should have realized that by now./"
"I wasn't thinking, okay? Are you happy?"
"/I just want things to make sense./"
"I'll see if I can come up with a better reaction. Can we move on for now?"
"/Okay by me./"
"So, where were we?"
"/You were surprised that the bracelets were gone, and I think someone was about to come into the room./"
A middle-aged Asian man ran into the room. "Chen!" he said, excited.
"How did you know…?"
"/I'm an angel. I have psychic powers./"
He considered questioning Beta some more, but the excited man distracted him by dumping a large amount of cash out of the bags he'd been carrying.
"Liu," Chen asked, more concerned than excited, "where did you get this?"
"The Hooded Man left it with us. I can pay back the factory… My boy can go to school… Please, Chen, you understand these things. Can you make arrangements to pay the men, so they won't bother us again?"
Chen nodded. "I think I know who to talk to in order to straighten things out."
The man thanked him and left.
"Where does he work?" Clark wanted to know.
"So the thief has been hitting Son Kwon…" Lois said, thinking out loud.
"… To hand out donations," Clark finished. "So why did he hit Perry? What's the link? Chen, do you know anything about Son Kwon? We've been looking into them, but we haven't been able to find out who's in charge."
"There are rumors. Nothing's been proven, but everyone is talking about Harlan Black."
"That's Perry's broker!" Lois said, stunned.
"So, Harlan has been bringing in illegal immigrants to use as cheap labor…"
"… Keeping even more of the money because he claimed they owed him for getting them here…"
"… And using investments to help fund it. Meantime, the robber has been stealing from Son Kwon to help the people pay their debts…"
"… And he thought Perry's money was just as dirty!"
"So to get the money back…"
"… We'll have to convince him that Perry was out of the loop."
"If only we knew where he was," Clark said, looking directly at Chen. Chen, who had been watching the exchange with fascination, seemed taken aback by Clark's implication.
Lois was equally surprised. "You thought Chen was the Hooded Figure? A mild-mannered reporter, really a superhero? Clark, /please…/"
Clark's face took on an odd expression. Lois was about to call him on it when Beta spoke up again.
"/Clark, what could make you think it was Chen? He didn't even know the bracelets were here./"
"Well, yeah, but… you know… Glasses, mild-mannered reporter… Never mind… Look, Chen, even if you're not the robber, maybe you can put the word out that we want to talk to him…?"
"Well, I guess I could try. Don't know if it'd work, but I could give it a shot."
"We should go, Clark. Maybe we can dig up a solid connection between Harlan and Son Kwon."
"Right. We'll check back with you later, Chen."
Back at the Planet, Lois and Clark had Jimmy start looking for information on Son Kwon and Harlan Black. After he dashed off, they headed to Perry's office to fill him in on the latest. Horrified, he confirmed that he'd known nothing about Harlan's real business. They comforted him as best they could, then got back to work.
As they sifted through the pages Jimmy had brought them, a man came out of the elevators, unnoticed. He was wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt and was carrying a strange-looking sculpture or mobile of some sort.
"/Dan, what are you doing here?/"
"Who said that?" he asked, dropping the… thing.
"/Never mind that. You have to leave. You'll only get in the way./"
"In the way of what? Actually, you know what? I don't care. I'm not leaving."
"/Okay, how about this? It's too early. Mayson hasn't even shown up yet. You're supposed to be in D.C. now./"
"What?" he ran over to a nearby copy of that day's Planet. Glancing at the date, he turned pale. "Oh no, you're right!" He rushed back to the elevator. "I have to get to the airport!"
"/Well, that took care of *him*./"
A staffer walked by, noticed the thing Dan had left behind, correctly identified it, and deposited it into the nearest trash receptacle.
Lois and Clark, in the meantime, weren't getting anywhere. Lois decided to start looking into anyone who could be the thief. They knew it had to be a Yi Chi master, but Chen's grandfather had had many students over the years. Clark went to check back with Chen, to see if he'd made any progress in contacting the Figure and to see if he had any more useful information. To save time, he changed into Superman and flew over.
He had just gotten to the area when he heard Chen calling for help. Clark flew towards the sound. Soon, he spotted his friend. He had been badly beaten. A large muscular Chinese man was in the process of throwing him off a rooftop. As Clark swooped in, he noticed there was a rope around Chen's neck. Quickly, he severed it with his heat vision, then dove down to catch the plummeting Chen. "It's okay," he said, gently lowering Chen to the ground. "You're going to be all right." He looked back up at the rooftop. Chen's assailant had vanished, leaving only a few glittering motes of dust behind.
"Harlan…" Chen managed to rasp. "I tried to pay him… He thought I was the robber… He hired Jzuk…"
Clark nodded his understanding, but he was more concerned about his friend's health. "Don't talk. I'm going to take you to a hospital."
The doctors at the local E.R. were obviously concerned, but assured Superman that Chen would make a full recovery. Clark nodded his thanks, then flew to the Chows' place. It was empty. They were out, probably looking for the bracelets. He considered leaving a note, but didn't want to take the chance that the wrong people would see it first. Instead, he returned to the newsroom, resolving to check back with the Chows later.
As soon as he arrived, he changed back into Clark, then filled Lois in on what had happened with Chen. She told him that she hadn't gotten anywhere with her search; there had simply been too many students. She hadn't been able to find any solid proof of Harlan Black's dealings with Son Kwon, either. They went to Perry, to see if he could offer any suggestions. He told them that Harlan had done most of his business at the club, so if there were any records to dig up, they'd probably be there.
Perry took Clark to the club, introducing him as a potential member. They'd left Lois at the Planet, having insisted that it would be easier to get Clark inside. Once inside the club, Perry insisted that he would be the one to go to Harlan's office. He missed his days as an investigator, and, he pointed out, he belonged in Harlan's office more than Clark did. Clark was reluctant, but Perry left him no choice by sending him off on a tour of the club.
"/Uhm, Perry? Why did you bring Clark if you were only going to send him off anyway?/"
"I thought he might be useful, as a backup. I hadn't planned to send him away."
"/Hmm. I guess… By the way, why weren't you surprised to hear me?/"
"We've met before, haven't we?" Perry thought back over things. "No, wait. You're right." He blinked, then looked around, confused. "Who are you? Where are you?"
"/I'm Beta. I'm… a friend of Clark's./"
"Oh. Well, uh… that's good. Nice to meet you."
"/Thanks. You too./"
"Thanks. Now, about Clark. Like I said, I hadn't planned on sending him away. Its just that, when it came down to it, I wanted to do this myself."
"/Fair enough, but, uhm, don't you mean 'it's'? The contraction for 'it is' rather than the possessive of 'it'?/"
"Well, yeah… Wait, you can /hear/ apostrophes?"
"/What can I say? I'm just that good./"
"Uh, right. Look, I'm going to go to Harlan's office now, okay?"
"/Go right ahead./"
"Thanks." Just outside the office, Perry bumped into a slim man with a cigar. Perry apologized, but the man simply walked off. Perry never even saw his face. He shrugged and turned back to Harlan's door just in time to see Harlan himself coming out. Perry pretended that he'd come looking for Harlan, but Harlan must have realized what was happening. Carefully guiding Perry away from the door, Harlan insisted on taking him out to dinner so that they could have a nice long talk about insurance claims and the situation with Perry's money. Perry tried to talk him out of it, but it was no use. The two walked off down the hall. Unnoticed, the man with the cigar snuck back and proceeded to break into Harlan's office.
Later, Perry and Clark met up outside the club. Perry was upset that he'd lost his chance. Clark decided to go back inside. He'd just taken his first step when a man called out from the darkness nearby. "Got a light?"
"Sure," Perry responded, absently.
"/Perry? Since when do you carry a lighter around?/"
"What? Oh. Well, I, uh, have it from my old investigative days. I used to smoke back then — heck, everybody did, or at least that's how it seemed. I got this one as a gift from one of my sources. Went by Sore Throat. He's the reason I gave up smoking, come to think of it. It was useful from time to time during investigations, though, and it as gift from a friend. So I took it with me whenever I went undercover. I guess I just brought it along for old times' sake."
"/Oh, I see.It just seemed odd for you, but as long as you have your reasons, that's fine./"
Perry nodded vaguely, then flickered the lighter and held it towards the man's cigar.
"On second thought, smoking is a bad habit," Lois said, stepping out of the shadows. Smiling, she handed them a computer disk. Never one to be left behind, she'd disguised herself, talked her way into the club, broken into Harlan's office, and gotten the files. Clark and Perry grinned, happy that she'd succeeded at the task which luck and circumstance had kept them from completing, amused by thoughts of the reactions of some of the club members if they ever found out that a woman had been inside, impressed with her daring and resourcefulness, but not surprised that she'd pulled it off. She grinned back. Perry pulled her into a hug.
A man coming out of the club looked at them strangely. Perry was suddenly conscious that he was hugging someone who looked like a man. He stepped back. "Hey, she's a girl! She, uh… She… Come on, Lois, tell the man…"
"/Perry? Why are you concerned about what this guy thinks? Besides, what are you embarrassed about?/"
Perry thought about this. He hugged Lois again. "What are you looking at, anyway? Haven't you ever seen a guy hug another guy? A father hugging his son? A couple of best friends? Random strangers who like the same football team?"
The man shrugged and walked off.
"/Hey Clark,/" Beta said playfully, "/I dare you to kiss her!/"
Lois grinned mischievously.
Clark thought about it. It was weird, but, on the other hand, how could he pass up an opportunity to kiss Lois? If he closed his eyes… He stepped forward, pulled her into his embrace. Their lips met. It started out playful, but quickly became more. Soon, all thought of what she was wearing dropped away. The woman of his dreams was in his arms, he was kissing her, and she was responding. Oh, was she responding! There was a connection between them, undeniably strong. It felt good. It felt right, on the most basic fundamental level. They belonged together. They —
Perry's polite cough reminded them that there was a world outside, and an audience. They stepped apart, reluctant but embarrassed. Silence reigned.
"So…" Perry tried desperately to find something that would shift the focus from the uncomfortable moment. "No one even suspected that you weren't a man, Lois?"
Lois looked at him, grateful for the change of topic. She shrugged. "People see what they expect to see, Perry."
Clark thought about that. He couldn't deny that it was true; it was the principle that made his secret identity possible. Who, looking at mild-mannered unassuming Clark Kent, would think to see Superman? It was amazing how easy it was for people to just overlook… "That's it!"
Lois snapped around, startled. "What?"
"We've been missing someone… It's not Chen or his grandfather, but it's a master… Or someone who has been around one for her whole life. Chen's sister, Lin Chow."
"You're right, Clark! We should go find her! Where do you think she is?"
"I don't know. There was this shop Chen mentioned. He said she liked to go there at night to buy tea for her grandfather. We could start there."
"/Excuse me? She and her grandfather have been out of the house all day. Her brother was just put in the hospital. You just figured out that she might be the one who's been sneaking around playing Robin Hood. The bad guys are after her and her family. You think she's going to be out buying tea?/"
Clark looked sheepish. "Well, when you put it like that…"
"So… what? We search all of Chinatown for her?"
"/Well, Lois, you've got that disk with Harlan's files. Maybe you should go back to the Planet with Perry. You can look through what you have, try to find something usable. Clark knows Chen and his family. He can look for Lin./"
Clark thought about it. If they split up, he could change into Superman and search more effectively. "Makes sense to me." The others agreed and went their separate ways.
Flying over Chinatown, Clark soon picked up the sound of Lin's voice. He focused on it, trying to find out where she was and what was happening. She seemed to be pleading with someone… It was Harlan! He was threatening her and her grandfather. He wanted her to return the money she'd stolen. The sounds led him to the Chows' loft. He paused, hovering outside, and surveyed the scene with his x-ray vision.
Lin was being held, her arm twisted painfully behind her back, by a large man whom Clark could only assume was Jzuk Mao. He was wearing the bracelets. That wasn't good. Harlan was in front of her, talking. Behind him, Lin's grandfather was being held at gunpoint. Clark recognized the one holding the gun as the man who had been talking to Harlan the day before, when he had searched Harlan's office and found the markings on the safe. Thinking rapidly, Clark realized the man was probably associated with the Tong. That wasn't what mattered at the moment, however. What mattered was getting Lin and her grandfather to safety, and, if possible, capturing the bad guys.
"You know, I like this," Harlan was saying. "Your arm is about to be torn off, and you're little miss spunk. Tell you what. We'll table the money thing for now. There's something I want more… Superman. You have until eleven o'clock to bring him here, or your grandfather dies."
"Why wait?" Clark asked, flying in. "I can be here right now."
Harlan grinned. Jzuk tossed Lin aside and turned to face his foe.
Lin looked up in despair. "Superman, you should have waited! Your chi is strong… I could have taught you, used the time to prepare you…"
"/Teach him? Prepare him? Just what did you think you'd be able to teach him in so little time that would offset a lifetime of training?/"
"Well, I… Uhm…"
"/Right. As if Superman needed to know Kung Fu. Look, big guy… He's got magic and martial arts skill. You've got super powers. Even if he's somehow strong enough to hurt you, if you focus on dodging, he'll never be able to hit you. If you try to hit him, he can do what Lin did and use your strength against you. He can't do that, though, if you attack him indirectly. That should be everything you need to know./"
Clark nodded. He circled Jzuk, staying out of reach, but maneuvering him away from the others. Like Beta had said, Jzuk couldn't lay a hand on him. When there was nothing behind Jzuk but the wall, Clark used his super breath. His opponent was blown across the room and slammed into the wall. Clark had been careful, not wanting to risk killing the man. The impact should have been enough, though, to knock him out, or at least hurt him enough to give up.
Jzuk was momentarily stunned, but the magic of the bracelets made him tougher than an ordinary human. He got up and reached for a pouch at his belt. Probably more of that illusion dust. Clark blew again, a little harder this time. Then, while Jzuk was still recovering, Clark dashed across the room, grabbed some handy belts and sashes, and tied him up tightly. Even bound, Jzuk tried to struggle, but Clark just raised an eyebrow. He slumped, defeated. Clark took the bracelets then turned to face the others.
Harlan looked like he was about to bolt. The grandfather looked impressed. The man holding the gun looked nervous, but he held on to his hostage. Lin was focused on them. She crept up behind the man with the gun and freed her grandfather with a few quick strikes. Seeing that they were okay, Clark went after Harlan, catching him before he could reach the door.
Clark and Lin tied up Harlan and the man who'd had the gun while the grandfather called the police. After that was taken care of, Clark brought the bracelets to the grandfather.
"Thank you," he said, "but they're not mine. They belong to Lin, now." He took the bracelets and formally presented them to her. "My granddaughter… Tenth Level Yi Chi master." They bowed to each other.
Clark smiled, touched by the scene. He waited until the police arrived and everyone had given their statements, then flew back to the Planet. He found Lois and Perry there and filled them in on what had happened.
"How did Jzuk get the bracelets?" Lois asked him.
"He used an illusion to trick Lin into thinking that he was her grandfather. He told her that she had stolen the bracelets and demanded them back. She didn't realize it was Jzuk until after she'd handed them over."
"What's going to happen to her now?"
"The police said things would probably go well for her if she returned the money. It shouldn't be a problem. She was taking it to help people pay off illegal debts to Harlan. Now that he's in custody, he won't be collecting."
"Speaking of which, I found a lot of interesting information in those files I took from his office. With that and the rest of what we dug up, they should be able to put him away for a long time."
"Now Perry just needs a new broker and everything will be fine."
"Oh, I've already got that covered," Perry assured them. "Jimmy's been telling me about his investments. Seems he's been playing the market on the computer, as a hobby. Kid really knows his stuff. I'm going to get working with him tomorrow, see how he does with real money."
Lois raised her eyebrows. "You sure you want to give him that much responsibility, Chief? He's smart, good with computers, and all that, but we're talking about your life savings here…"
"Don't worry, Darlin'. I'll be cautious. Invest slowly, run things by a professional first… Still, I think Jimmy will prove himself, in the end."
"Sounds like a plan," Clark said with a smile. If it worked out, and he thought it would, it would be good for both of them.
He and Lois left Perry's office a short while later. As he walked with her through the empty newsroom, Beta whispered in his ear.
"/Hey, Clark, why don't you ask her out? After that kiss today, I don't think she'll say no…/"
Clark thought about this. It did seem worth a try. "Lois…?"
"Clark, what is it? Spit it out already!"
"I wanted to know… if you'd like to go out sometime, see a movie or something…"
"Clark, are you asking me out?"
"Like, on a date?"
"A real date? Like where I take out my best perfume, the one I bought after seeing 'Love Affair', the good one not the remake, and put a dab behind my knee, even though I have no idea why?"
"Er, yeah… I guess so… What do you say?"
She hesitated for a moment, but the kiss was still fresh in her memory. "I think I say… yes."
Clark was excited, to say the least, but remembered to keep his feet on the floor. They made some tentative plans and agreed to firm them up in the morning. It had been a long day, and they both needed to get some sleep.
When he got home, however, Beta spoke up again.
"/Hey, Clark… whatever happened with those moose?/"
"Moose? Oh, I forgot! Hopefully they haven't bothered my parents too much. I think they're asleep now — my parents, that is, not the moose. I should probably take the moose back to Alaska now."
He picked them up and flew out with them. Fortunately, his balcony had double doors. The moose weren't happy about flying, but they held still.
"Beta," Clark said as he flew across the country, "I want to thank you for everything you've done. You saved us from making some big mistakes, helped me beat the bad guys, and even got me together with Lois. I don't know what we'd have done without you!"
"What's wrong, Beta?"
"/I just realized… I have a funny name, I know your secret identity, I have unique psychic powers, I helped you beat the bad guys, I got rid of Dan, I brought you closer to Lois…/" There was a sobbing sound. It was another second before Beta continued. "/I'm… a Mary Sue!/"
"/I'm sorry, Clark. It wasn't supposed to be like this. I have to go./"
"/Don't worry, I'll still watch out for you. I'll look out for your mistakes and if anyone from New Krypton shows up, I'll take care of them…/"
"/Supposedly, a colony settled by Kryptonians who fled the destruction of the planet./"
"What are you talking about? There was no colony!"
"/That's right, Clark./"
"I'd know about it if there was. Jor-El would have mentioned it in his globe messages."
"Besides, there'd have been no reason for him to even send me to Earth. He'd have sent me there."
"/You're preaching to the choir, Clark./"
"Come to that, I'm pretty sure he said that no one would believe him about Krypton being unstable…"
"/Clark! I know! Don't worry about it!/"
"Sorry. It's just that…"
"/I know. Look, I have to go now. I'm sorry./"
"I don't really understand, but if you say so…"
"/It's for the best, Clark. Trust me. Besides, I have to go explain to a certain researcher that making full-grown adult human clones, especially when you need to use frog DNA to finish the job, is just not a good idea. After that, I should see if I can talk a well-meaning soul into letting the timestream take care of itself. If not, at least maybe I'll be able to convince him that people should not be considered potential souvenirs./"
"/Never mind. The point is that I really do need to go./"
"Then goodbye, Beta. Thanks for everything."
By now, Clark had reached Alaska. He set the moose down in Denali National Park. It took a little while for them to realize that they were free and safe, but once they got the idea, they were quick to start roaming around. Assured that they were okay and knowing that they were where they belonged, Clark took off. On his way, he saw a park ranger patrolling the area on a dogsled. He smiled to himself. Whatever else happened from now on, he knew that, like the moose, there was someone watching over him. High above the mountaintops, he whispered once more into the wind. "Thank you, Beta."