By Tank Wilson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February 2004
Summary: In this sequel to the author's "A Future Rewound," Lois is forced to confront Clark about his powers, while she continues to establish her life in this Alt-dimension. What does the future hold for Lois Lane?
Those who are familiar with my Future series should be happy to see that I've finally wrapped the thing up. This story represents the end of the second trilogy, or Lois' story. It also represents the end of the entire series. As with most of my stories this was posted in installments on the fanfic message boards. The 'chapter' numbers represent the parts as they were posted. Whether this wraps things up satisfactorily is for the gentle reader to decide.
As always, all characters are trademarked and copyrighted to their various owners. Any and all feedback is welcome at TankW1@aol.com
Lois brushed an errant strand of hair out of her eyes. She dropped the file she'd been reading onto the coffee table in front of her and picked up another one. She glanced briefly over her shoulder. "Clark, how long does it take to warm up that pizza?"
The young man looked over and grinned at her. "It will be ready when it's ready. Patience is not your strong suit, is it, Lois."
Lois waved her hand in the air. "I don't have time for patience."
She snuck another glance at her junior partner. They'd been paired up for nearly three months now and as a reporter he was rounding into shape quite nicely. His natural instincts were coming to the fore, and his writing was improving with each story they worked on. He exhibited the same strength for the 'touchy — feely' type story that all Clark Kents seemed to possess. As in her own world, their contrasts worked to the advantage of their partnership.
She had to smile as she couldn't help but notice that he was looking better than ever also. He'd lost the blonde surfer look, and instead now looked like the young professional he was supposed to be. Lois had hinted that if he wanted people to take him seriously, that he'd have to look the part. Not only had he tamed his wild locks, but he dressed much better also. She felt he looked even better than before, but then he looked more like her own Clark, so perhaps she was prejudiced. Though Jenny didn't seem to mind the new look Clark.
The object of her attention strolled over and set the reheated remains of their earlier pizza order in front of her. He then set two glasses of cream soda on the table next to the pizza. "Okay, supper's on. Good thing we ordered an extra large. We got two meals out of it."
Lois took a bite, then a sip of her soda. "Yeah, well it pays to be prepared."
It was obvious to her that Clark had used a little heat vision to rewarm the pizza. She hadn't caught him doing it. He was very good at not letting anyone see him using his special abilities, but having lived with Clark as long as she had, she could tell. Clark's supervision must have some sort of microwave-like component to it because whenever he heated stuff up with his heat vision it reminded her of microwaved food. She grinned to herself. One day, she was going to catch him using his powers.
Which brought up another question which she didn't want to think about yet. What about Superman? She knew one of the reasons Wells dumped her into this world was the fact that this Clark needed a push to become Superman. He must have had it drilled into him from an early age that he must hide himself. She remembered her Clark telling her that his father used to warn him that, if he was ever found out he'd be locked away in a lab and dissected like a frog. It was a ridiculous notion, but one that could have a lasting effect on an impressionable young boy. Lois shook her head, to clear it of those thoughts. Superman was for another day. She still had Clark Kent, the reporter, to hone into shape.
She gave the now seated Clark a sidelong look. "Is this really okay with you? Working on the weekend, on your day off?"
Clark shrugged. "Hey, I knew that investigative reporting wasn't a normal nine to five when I started, though I'm only just beginning to realize how much of a commitment it really can be."
"Just if you want to be the best." Lois took another bite of pizza. "What about Jenny?" she asked between bites.
"What about her?"
It was Lois' turn to shrug. "Doesn't she mind that you are spending your day off working… with me?"
Clark grinned. "She probably would, except that she's not home. She's in Florida visiting her mother."
"So, she doesn't know that you're spending so much time alone with your sexy partner?"
Both Lois and Clark turned at the sound of the voice behind them. A large grin was on the face of Cat Grant as she entered the room. She flung her rap on a nearby chair, walked over and grabbed a piece of the pizza, and took a quick sip out of Lois' glass.
"No, that's okay," Lois said, grinning. "I was done with it anyway."
Cat slapped Clark on the back. "Hey, stud, how's it going?"
Clark blushed but quickly regained his composure. "Great. Lois and I are really making progress on this McReedy Plastics thing. We're pretty sure they're illegally dumping their waste products. We have a lot of circumstantial stuff. We just need to get something hard either in a picture or on tape. We're trying to decide who might be most likely to roll over on the company." His voice had gradually gained in animation as he spoke.
Cat laughed. "Really?" She laughed again at the befuddled look on Clark's face. "You know, if you keep spending so much time together you might damage Lois' reputation?"
"Caaat," Lois admonished. The note of warning in her voice was completely ignored by Cat.
"Well, you know what all those rumor mongers are saying." She strolled over and ran her finger along Lois' cheek. "That Lois and I are hot and heavy gay lovers."
Cat laughed harder at Lois' indignation. Clark frowned. "I know what those sleezeballs say, but I know it's not true." He looked hard at both Lois and Cat. "Is it?"
Lois swatted Cat's hand. She'd been playing with Lois' hair. "No, but what if it were?" Lois gave Clark a searching look. "Would it bother you?"
"I, I, no, I guess not," Clark finally managed to stammer. "I just think that Lois is, well, both of you, are beautiful women. Very feminine. I can't believe that some guy hasn't snapped the two of you up already."
"Mmmmm," Cat purred. "One guy, two women, kinda kinky." She gave Clark a crooked smile. "You volunteering?"
Clark blushed furiously. "No! I mean, I just… you know what I mean." He paused to take a breath. "It's just that the two of you don't look… ah, gay."
Lois had to hide the smirk that wanted to show on her face. "So, gay women have to be — what; big, hulking gals who wear flannel shirts, no make-up, and combat boots? That a woman can't be a complete person without some man by her side?"
Clark pursed his lips into a tight line. "That's not what I meant, but since you asked; I believe that all of us, be they man or woman, are meant to have a life partner. The one person, who does complete them. A person with whom they can become greater than the sum of the individual parts."
Cat snorted in a very unladylike manner. "Nice sentiment, but do you really believe that there exists someone for everyone. That we all have our individual 'soul mates'."
"I do." Lois' voice was barely a whisper, but Cat heard her and shot her a calculating look.
"I do too," Clark responded. He'd heard Lois' comment but not being privy to the things that Cat was, he didn't give it a second thought. "Besides." Clark gave Lois a stern look. "Didn't I hear some rumors about you and Perry being quite an item before you disappeared?"
Cat allowed her lips to curve into a big smile. She flopped down in a nearby chair and placed her chin in her hand. "Yes, Lois," she said, coyly. "What about that?"
"I think…" Lois sighed in exasperation. "That this topic has been exhausted. What was in the past, is past. Perry is my boss. I don't sleep with the boss." Lois stared daggers at Cat, almost daring her to say something else.
Cat chuckled and grabbed another piece of pizza. "Well, I guess I'd best leave you two hard working reporters to your story. I've got a date to get ready for."
Lois noticed the inquisitive look on Clark's face. "Don't even ask," she warned him. Clark snapped his attention back to Lois. "Let's get back to work."
Lois sat at her desk still shuffling through her and Clark's notes on McReedy Plastics. She had come in early this Monday morning, but slowly the newsroom had come to life, to the point where now it was the typical barely contained chaos that it usually was. She couldn't keep the smile off her face. She'd really missed this.
She glanced over at Clark's desk and frowned. He wasn't in yet. It was well past nine, yet the young man hadn't made his appearance yet. She was wondering what could be keeping him when a newstory on the bullpen's television caught her eye. She got up and walked over to the set. Reaching up, she turned up the volume so she could hear what the TV Barbie had to say.
"… and so, to recap. A certain disaster was averted today at the West Central Subway Station. A speeding train, whose brakes had apparently failed, blew past the station toward an imminent collision with another train which had pulled out just minutes before." The blonde blow dry indicated the station platform behind her with a negligent wave of her hand. "But miraculously, the out of control train came to a screeching halt just inches away from the other. How it stopped in time, the conductor had no idea. I guess somebody on that train had a powerful good luck charm working for them. Back to you, Myron."
"More likely, a do-gooder alien," Lois muttered under her breath as she turned the sound back down. At least she now knew why Clark was late.
Just then Perry leaned out of his office. "Lois, where's Clark?"
"Ah, he's out checking on a source for our latest story. He should be back anytime now." She lied, but then she'd had plenty of practice in the old days.
Perry frowned briefly, then nodded. "Okay. Well, as soon as he gets back I want you two to head over to EPRAD. There's supposed to be some big news conference in about an hour."
Lois waved at her boss. "We're on it, Chief."
She went back to her desk. She wondered what the EPRAD news conference was going to be about. She quickly punched up the Daily Planet database and keyworded 'Nightfall'. There was no mention of the rogue asteroid in any of the past Daily Planets. That meant that it was never a story on this world, or… it just hadn't happened yet. Could that be what this conference was going to be about? Had the potential planet-killing rock finally showed up?
The sound of a throat clearing caught Lois' attention. "Ah, Ms. Lane, if I may have a word?"
Lois looked up. "Nigel?" she said, surprised to see the elder aide-de-camp standing next to her desk. He hadn't changed much. He looked older, but then so did she. A bit thinner perhaps, but for the most part, nearly the same.
He gave her a puzzled look in return. "I don't remember it, but have we met previously, Ms. Lane?"
Oops, Lois thought. Got to be careful. Obviously the Lois Lane of this world has never met the ubiquitous Mr. St. John. "Ah, no… no, we haven't. I think I saw you and your name mentioned in an article about Lex Luthor recently." Lois gave him a weak smile. "You do work for Lex Luthor, don't you."
Nigel St. John didn't look convinced, but let it slide. "Yes, I do. Mr. Luthor would like the pleasure of your company for an early brunch, at his penthouse. He feels there are matters of mutual interest that need discussing."
Lois leaned back in her chair. She didn't know what this was all about. Unfortunately, that seemed to be a problem she was continually having ever since she was dumped into this world. She'd been confronted with one perplexing situation after another with no clue as to what her part was supposed to be in it. It was getting quite annoying. And now she was going to have to deal with this world's Lex Luthor. A prospect she wasn't looking forward to.
Did this world's Lois have any history with Lex Luthor? Had they dated, like she had before she had found out what kind of slug he was? Actually, she didn't even know if the Lex Luthor of this world was a criminal. But she'd bet that he was.
"Ah, when did Mr. Luthor want me?"
St. John gave her an indulgent smile. "Now would be good." He glanced up toward Perry's office. "I'm sure your editor wouldn't mind."
"What's up?" While her attention had been distracted by Nigel, Clark had come up and was standing on the other side of Lois' desk.
Lois looked at Clark, then at Nigel, then back to Clark. She bent over and scribbled something on a scrap of paper. "I've got to go out for a bit. I've an interview with Lex Luthor. If Perry's asks, that is where I'll be."
"Okay, but what do you want me to do?" Clark looked suspiciously at St. John.
She shoved the slip of paper into Clark's hand. "There's a news conference going to start soon at EPRAD. You have to go there and find out what's going on. We'll compare notes once I'm back."
Lois grabbed her coat from the back of her chair and turned back to St. John. "Shall we go?"
Clark watched her move up the ramp toward the elevator, accompanied by the old gent. Frowning, he unfolded the paper that Lois had given him. It had been scrawled quickly but was still readable. It said; 'Find Prof. Daitch get the REAL scoop'.
Clark looked back toward the elevator, but Lois and the other man were already gone. Shrugging, he reached down and grabbed his notebook and his recorder. Might as well head over to EPRAD now.
Clark Kent sat, stunned, in his chair at the EPRAD news conference. While the other reporters were running for the phones, or taxis, Clark sat, unmoving in place. He couldn't believe what he'd heard. An asteroid was heading in the general direction of the earth. A large one. What had professor Daitch called it? Oh, yeah, Nightfall.
All the other reporters were hustling to get the story in to their respective papers or stations, but Clark just sat there. He remembered Lois' note. He should be trying to corner Daitch and find out the real scoop. What did she mean by that? Did Lois have some prior knowledge of this? How could she? Well, he wasn't going to find out anything by sitting here wondering. He stood up and, using a little 'special' help located the Professor in a room near the back of the complex.
As he got closer to the room in question, Clark 'overheard' Daitch talking to a couple of other men. The military man was a highly decorated general and the other civilian was addressed as Mr. Secretary. So Clark held back, knowing that a very important conversation was going on.
"No, General, there is no doubt in my mind," said a voice that obviously belonged to Daitch. "All my calculations point to a direct impact with earth. The results of such a collision would be catastrophic."
"What is the timetable, and how catastrophic are we talking here, Professor?" Clark had switched on his 'vision gizmo' as he sometimes called it, and was watching the three men as well as listening. It had been the Secretary who had spoken.
Professor Daitch looked grave. "Nightfall should enter our atmosphere in a little over six days. It's big enough such that it could mean the end of life as we know it on this planet, Mr. Secretary."
The Secretary turned to the short, robust military man. "What are our options, General?"
"As we speak, we are preparing our most powerful rocket. We will outfit it with a nuclear payload greater than any the world has yet seen. We are confident that, once Nightfall is close enough, we can launch the rocket and blow the giant rock out of the sky."
Clark couldn't help but notice the skepticism on Professor Daitch's face. The Secretary seemed caught up in his own thoughts for a few moments as he nodded. "And what about the danger of fallout?" The Secretary, again addressed the General. "I assume that there will be some?"
The General frowned. "Yes, I'm afraid there is a definite danger of a fair amount of fallout, but it's a risk we'll have to take. What choice do we have?"
The Secretary nodded again. "Okay, but we all agree that we must keep the calamitous nature of this coming collision a secret. We must publicly continue to minimize the severity of our dilemma, until the President can unveil the military's solution to the world." The Secretary paused, then placed his hand on the General's sleeve. "What if your rocket should miss? Do we have time to set up and launch another?"
The General's lips formed into a tight line. "Given how narrow the window of opportunity for this shot is, I'd have to say, no."
"Then we'd best get it right the first time."
Clark quickly backed around the corner as the three men exited the room. His mind was spinning from what's he'd heard. The press conference had been merely a smoke screen to explain to everyone the coming occasional solar eclipses, and the growing light that people were going to see in the night sky in the coming days. But nowhere in the conference had the Professor detailed the actual danger that the earth faced. He'd merely reassured everyone that the matter was under continual scrutiny, but that there was really no need for any concern at this time.
It had been a lie. Clark's emotions warred with themselves. How could they keep this from the general public? Didn't they have a right to know? But, then, what would be served by telling the people that the world could be coming to an end? Would it just serve to fuel a panic that would be counter-productive to arriving at a solution to the problem?
Apparently the military did have a plan in progress to address the situation. Maybe the President was just waiting till that was fully ready before telling everyone. Then he could present the problem and the solution all in one fell swoop, and avoid any unnecessary panic.
Still, the solution that Clark overheard was a dicey one at best. It had sounded like they would have to let the asteroid get real close in order to have a good chance of shooting it down, if that even made any sense in this context. The General had made it very clear that they probably would only have one chance at destroying Nightfall. And even if they did succeed in blowing the rock to pieces, what about those pieces? Would they all be small enough to burn up in the atmosphere? Or would several of them be large enough to strike the ground, causing untold damage and suffering? And there still was the manner of the nuclear fallout. What about that? What effect would that have on the unsuspecting planet?
Clark was a jumble of confusion and fears as he slowly made his way out of the building and headed back toward the Daily Planet. This story was big! Maybe too big to keep to himself. It would definitely be the scoop of a lifetime, but there were other issues here. More important issues than just the public's right to know. This wasn't just about a great headline. This was about survival. The survival of the world as they knew it.
It didn't set well with him, but Clark decided, for the time being, that he'd have to go along with the President on this one. But what amazed him even more was… how had Lois known?
Lois glanced around the sumptuous penthouse anteroom nervously. She didn't like going into a situation without some idea of what it was about, and why she was here — she had no clue. A quick survey of the outer rooms confirmed they were quite similar to the penthouse that she'd been in on her own world. There were some slight differences. She wasn't sure, but she thought that the wallpaper was different; and the fireplace was on the opposite wall… or maybe it wasn't. It had been several years since she'd been in the LexTower penthouse.
"Lois, so good of you to come." Lex waltzed in and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "And may I just say that I'm so glad that you have finally come back to us. All of Metropolis is overjoyed that you are back." Lex placed his arm around Lois and led her into the dining room. "We are all glad that the reports of your death were greatly exaggerated."
Lois peered up at the billionaire. There were some streaks of gray in the curly brown hair, and a few more crow's feet about the eyes, but he definitely looked like Lex Luthor.
As Lex pulled out a chair for her, Lois had to admit that he put on a nice spread. The table was laden with dish after dish of delightful-smelling fare. A suddenly growling stomach reminded her that she hadn't eaten any breakfast, and not much of a dinner the night before. Whatever Lex wanted, Lois was going to enjoy eating at his buffet.
Lois quickly sampled several of the offered culinary delights. She grinned at Lex's strange look. "Sorry, I guess I was more hungry than I thought."
Lex chuckled. "That's quite all right, Lois. But please, if you can between bites, tell me your incredible story. Whatever happened to you for ten years?"
Lois swallowed a bit of strawberry crepe. Well, she had known that this would be coming; time to go into her act again. So, between bites, as it were, she told Lex the story she had prepared for this world. It was essentially the same story that she told Perry, complete with her near death experience and the long ten year climb back from amnesia.
Lex ate very little. Instead he kept his attention riveted onto Lois. A tiny smile played at the corners of his mouth. Finally Lois had exhausted her story. She took a sip of water and was a bit uneasy at the look on Lex's face.
"A truly incredible story, Lois. The amnesia part is inspired," Lex began.
"Inspired? I'm not sure what you mean, Mr. Luthor." Lois was beginning to have a bad feeling.
"Mr. Luthor? My, how formal. Really, Lois, after our history together?"
Lois put down her glass. "Our history?" She gave Lex her best apologetic smile. "Look, Lex, I told you I had amnesia, and unfortunately, I still have many blanks in my memory."
Lex frowned. "Save the fairy tale for children and the naive." His voice, for the first time, betrayed more than a hint of anger. "You know why I asked you here. I would have thought that I'd have been one of your first contacts once you returned." Lex stood and paced on his side of the table. "Now, you feed me this cock and bull story about having amnesia and being cared for by some kindly nuns in a remote Congo mission."
Lois stood. She knew her only defense was to go on offense. "I don't care for your tone… *Mr. Luthor*, but I won't stay here another minute to be insulted by your accusations." She turned to stalk out of the room. She didn't turn around as she heard Luthor hurl more words after her.
"I don't know what you're playing at Ms. Lane, but be advised that Lex Luthor doesn't take kindly to being betrayed. We will settle accounts, believe it."
The elevator opened up onto the bullpen floor. Lois was out before the ding of its bell quit echoing. She nearly ran down the ramp to the newsroom floor and zeroed in on Cat's desk. Before she even had a chance to acknowledge Lois' presence, she was yanked out of her chair and dragged by a frantic Lois into the nearby conference room.
She propelled Cat toward a chair, then slammed the door closed behind her. She quickly drew the blinds before turning to her flummoxed roommate.
"Well, hello to you too, Lois." Cat quickly regained her composure. "Did you want to ask me something?"
Lois took a couple moments to catch her breath, then she dropped down into the chair next to Cat. She reached out and grabbed her arm. "What do you know about me, I mean, Lois, and Lex Luthor."
Cat leaned back in the chair and studied the flushed woman in front of her. "She went out with him a couple of times, but I never got the impression she was really interested in him… in that way." Cat frowned as she tried to retrieve the decade-old memories. "Lois always used to wonder about Lex. Said she thought he was too good to be true. But then she felt that way about anyone who appeared to do anything that wasn't for personal, or professional gain. She didn't trust philanthropists, and Luthor was the most visible one in all of Metropolis."
Lois turned her head and bit her lip. She turned back to Cat. "Is it possible that she might have been investigating him? Getting close to him to try and find some dirt she could unearth?"
Cat shrugged. "I dunno, it's possible, I guess. It was the way Lois tended to operate, but I don't remember her confiding in me about it." The cagey auburn-haired reporter gave Lois a long hard look. "Why are you asking?"
Lois stood and paced a bit. "I just came back from a brunch invitation from the mighty Mr. Luthor. He threatened me. He didn't believe the amnesia story and wanted something from me, but I have no idea what." When she turned back toward Cat, the look on her face was quite serious. "I have no idea what the short conversation was about, but there was no mistaking his tone, and I know he wasn't after anything legal."
Cat leaned forward, her face suddenly became more animated. "Ooooh, so you think that the, oh so perfect Mr. Lex Luthor, the fifth richest man in the world, has some dirty secrets?"
Lois snorted. "I'd bet on it."
"Say, didn't you tell me that the Lex Luthor on your world was a big time crook, or something?"
Lois sat back down. "Oh yeah," she said, nodding. "To call him just a crook would be a gross understatement. He was into nearly everything illicit, and unwholesome that went on in Metropolis. He was a classic megalomaniac. He lived to acquire and wield power."
"Sounds like you knew quite a lot about him," Cat said through a sly smile.
"Well, Clark and I were the ones who finally brought him to justice." Lois glanced off toward the other side of the room. "And I almost married the man." This was said a lot softer than her previous sentence.
Cat nearly slipped out of her chair. "You what?"
Lois waved off the obvious surprise her friend was exhibiting. "It's a long and sordid story. I'll tell you some other time. Right now I have to find out what he's after, and why he thinks I have whatever it is."
Cat placed her hand on Lois' arm. "Sounds like fun. Count me in."
Lois shook her head. "I don't think so. This is definitely something nasty. It will probably be very dangerous."
Cat patted her hand. "All the more reason for me to be involved. He'll be having you watched. I won't be on his radar, so I'll be much more free to move about and investigate things." Cat chuckled. "You may find this hard to believe, but I've actually never met the man."
Lois gave her a look of surprise. "Really? Now that's something I do find hard to believe."
Suddenly Lois was aware of someone lurking outside the conference room door. She got up and peeked around the window blinds to see Clark standing in front of the door. It was obvious that he wasn't sure whether he should interrupt the women or not. She could see that he was visibly upset.
"Oh, no," Lois groaned. "So it is true."
Cat looked up at her roommie. "What?"
Lois sighed as she reached for the door knob. "When it rains it pours."
Pulling the door open, Lois stepped back and waved Clark into the conference room. He gave Cat a questioning glance, then, almost shyly, moved over to a chair at the far side of the room. Cat shook her head, a grin on her face. She stood up.
"Well, Lois, I'll leave you two partners to whatever story you're currently working on." She gave Lois a wink. "It looks like Clark has something to tell you. He's practically ready to burst." She laughed at Clark's immediate look of bewilderment. "In the meantime, I'll think I'll initiate a few feelers of my own on *our* possible story."
Lois frowned at her roommate and her too-cavalier attitude. "Just be extra careful."
Cat gave her hair a flip as she glanced back over her shoulder at Lois. "Always."
Lois rolled her eyes and shook her own head as she closed the door behind Cat.
"What was that all about?" Clark asked.
Lois waved off his question as she came over to sit next to the young man. "Later. Now, I take it from your manner that you found out something interesting."
Clark took a deep breath. "Well, the press conference was pretty mundane. A Professor Daitch… how did you know that it was going to be Daitch at the press conference?" Lois shook her head, and indicated that he should continue. "Anyway, this Daitch gave everyone a rundown on the cause of the solar eclipse from this morning. Apparently, a large asteroid will be approaching earth over the next several days. We can expect more things like the eclipses, and some spectacular viewing in the evening as it gets closer. They claim that they will continue to monitor the progress of the asteroid, which they call Nightfall, but as of now they feel there is no reason for concern."
Lois' brow rose. "And…"
Clark ran his hand through his hair. Lois felt a small twitch in her heart at the sight of such a familiar gesture. "Well, I was curious, given the note you gave me before I left, so I followed Daitch after the general press was dismissed."
Lois nodded. "And did you get to talk to him?"
Clark shook his head. "No, but I did overhear him talking to two other gentlemen. A military general, and a fellow they addressed as Mr. Secretary."
A small smile stole over Lois' face. "And what did you hear?" She knew that he'd used his extra sensitive super hearing to eavesdrop. It was what she would have done. Curiously, she wondered if he gave in to the urge to 'peek' also.
"Plenty," Clark said, his voice giving away his apprehension. "Lois, this Daitch guy said that this Nightfall asteroid was going to strike earth! He said it would be a catastrophe. It could end life as we know it on this planet!" He reached over and grabbed her arm. "How did you know?"
Lois knew that Clark was watching her intently. She wasn't sure how she was going to answer him, but the fact that her initial guess had been correct was no comfort to her. This definitely upset her timetable. Clark was going to have to become Superman, and he was going to have to become him real soon.
The question Lois had to answer was… how much did she tell him about herself? Was it even necessary to bring in the whole multiple worlds stuff to convince him to do what was necessary? She had needed time. Time to find out why he wasn't Superman now, and if he had any desire to be a Superman. Time she no longer had.
His voice jogged her out of her thoughts. "Hmm? What? Oh, what did you say?"
"I asked, how did you know?"
Lois got up and started to pace about. "I didn't. I just know that when these scientist types call a press conference it's usually to hype some obscure breakthrough that the general public couldn't hope to understand or even care about… or, it's to downplay something potentially disastrous that they don't have a clue how to deal with. I just needed you to find out which… just in case."
"Just in case?"
Lois stopped her pacing. "Look, we need to talk, but not here. I'll come over to your place tonight." Lois bit her lip. "Is Jenny back from Florida yet?"
Clark looked at Lois warily. "Yeah, she got home this morning."
Lois nodded, more to herself than to him. "Does she know about you?" The look on Clark's face told Lois all she needed to know. "Okay, never mind. I'm not surprised you haven't told her, but if you two are ever going to become a real couple you can't keep this from her. She deserves to know. Better now than later. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about."
Lois' rambling was halted by Clark standing and grabbing her by the arms. "Lois, what are you talking about?"
Lois reached up and patted him on the cheek. "I'm talking about your special abilities. I'm talking about your *super* powers. We're going to need them if we're going to get out of this asteroid problem alive." She moved toward the conference room door. "But we'll talk about that tonight. I'll be over at about eight." She gave him a grin. "I don't expect anything fancy for dinner. Simple, and filling, will do fine." Seeing the thunderstruck look on his face, Lois had to suppress a giggle as she left the room.
Lois found herself rushing around the apartment. She was looking through all the old books and things that Cat had kept of the Lois of this world from all those years ago. Maybe there was still something in there that would tip her off, or give her some clue as to what that Lois had going with Lex Luthor all those years ago. Was she investigating Luthor? Playing him to get 'the goods' on him, as they say. Was she in it for the big story, or was she Luthor's willing accomplice?
Just then Cat burst in. "You having any luck?" she asked.
Lois shot the woman a confused glance. "How do you know what I'm doing?"
Cat grinned. "Because it's the same thing I've been doing for the last several hours. I've been down in the Planet archives all afternoon poring through any old story files of Lois' from around that time period."
"Wouldn't most of the stories be on a computer, or a microfiche?"
Cat nodded. "The copies of the Planet, and any stories contained within would be, yeah. But many reporters got into a habit of putting all their notes and various bits and pieces of information into a regular paper file and would send it down to be archived even after the story had been printed. This would give them access to that information if they ever needed it, after the fact. In case a follow-up, or related story might be called for."
Lois nodded. "I can see that, we did a similar thing at my Daily Planet. But I know there was no story ever written. I looked."
Cat shook her head, causing her hair to swirl about her face. "True, but often reporters, if they had a strong hunch about a story, would send down their file even if they had come up dry and had nothing to print. That way, if something ever did break, they'd have their initial research and notes on hand to continue from."
A slow smile spread over Lois' face. "That's a great idea. So, Lois did this type of thing?"
Lois spread her hands out. "And… did you find anything?"
Cat shrugged. "Ahhh… no."
Lois shook her fist at the infuriating woman. "Some day, Ms. Grant, you and I are going to have a conversation about this predilection you have for trying to drive me crazy."
Cat gave Lois a wicked smile. "Seems to have worked." She held up her hand before Lois could fire back a retort. "Wait, I did remember something that might prove helpful."
Lois instantly dropped her mock anger and grabbed Cat's arm. "Really? What?"
"I seem to recall that, just before she left for her ill- fated trip to the Congo, Lois had purchased a laptop computer. The reason I remember this was back then laptops were pretty new technology and it was frightfully expensive." Cat seemed to lose herself in the memory. "I asked her where she got the money for such an extravagance. She merely claimed to have come into a little money."
Lois frowned. "She didn't say where the money came from? An inheritance, or a… gift from a rich new friend?"
Cat shook her head. "No, she never said. I should have been more suspicious because she usually told me everything, but she was pretty tight lipped about this." A look came over Cat's face, as if something suddenly becoming clear. "You know, now that I think on it, from that day till she disappeared, things changed. Lois became more withdrawn. She didn't confide in me any more. Actually, the last few weeks, we barely spoke."
"You didn't find that odd?"
Cat laughed. "I probably should have. But, at the time I was pursuing my own agenda, and didn't have much time for Lois anyway." Cat winked. "I think his name was Brad… or was it Brenda."
Lois shook her head in mild disgust. "You're incorrigible. Do you know that?"
Cat grinned. "Oh, I hope so."
"Let me get this straight." Lois paced a bit. "You *think* that Lois had a new laptop computer some ten years ago. And we both think that maybe this could be where Lois kept her notes on the Congo story before she left. And, maybe, they might just indicate how Lex Luthor might fit into the equation."
"Sounds about right."
Lois turned to Cat, spreading her hands in supplication. "So, where is this mystery laptop now?"
Cat shrugged. "Haven't a clue."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Thanks for the helpful memory."
Cat patted Lois on the shoulder as she moved toward her bedroom. "You're welcome."
Lois sighed, as she realized that if she was going to get over to Clark's when she told him she'd be there, she'd better get herself changed and ready. This little problem would have to wait till later.
It wasn't the first time Clark had cooked for Lois, so she knew that he knew his way around the kitchen. If fact, she had expected it. Getting to know him over these last few months had been quite a series of revelations for her.
She was saddened when she learned that his parents weren't living. They had died in a freak car accident while he was away at college. He'd been spared the 'difficulties' that a foster home might have presented, but eighteen was still a young age to be suddenly on your own.
With his parents gone, Clark had grown restless. He had dropped out of school and, like her own Clark, had begun to travel the world. Without his parents to act as an anchor for him, Lois could only imagine how alone he must have felt. She speculated that he'd probably come into all his powers by then, but that would only serve to isolate him even more. No wonder he didn't use his powers openly.
He had pretty much resigned himself to a nomadic existence and had taken up freelance news writing as a vehicle to support himself. He became a stringer for both AP and UPI, traveling all over the world sending in stories from the hot spots all over the world. It had been a heady time, and it was were he got his initial training, but eventually he yearned to settle.
So, a little less than a year ago, he had landed in Metropolis and made a run at the Daily Planet. Perry had politely turned down the eager young man three times before his persistence finally wore the editor down and he gave Clark the job.
Lois assumed that, without parents, that Clark was desperate to find a home and family of a sorts. Like she had done so many years before, when she basically divorced herself from her own parents, he had turned to the Daily Planet to fill that role. Which brought Jenny into the picture.
Lois snuck a peek at the pouting red head. Jenny hadn't been thrilled to come home from her trip to find out that the much looked forward to 'alone time' with her boyfriend was being derailed by a visit from his work partner, that 'older' woman who took up too much of his time.
Lois could understand how Clark could have been attracted to the young woman. They were about the only people at the Planet of like age. Both were good looking, outgoing people. Lois still couldn't get over how much the woman reminded her of Jimmy. She could be his twin. Which actually made sense, since in a way she was. Still, Lois never would have thought that Jimmy would make an attractive girl… but he did.
The two of them had been together for a little over eight months, and had been living together for the last three. It had seemed like a rather fast moving relationship to Lois, but then, upon reflection, she realized that once she actually opened her eyes and saw Clark for the great guy he truly was, they'd only dated a few times before they were engaged.
Lois knew that Jenny was guarded around her. With everyone else, she had observed the woman being funny, friendly, helpful, and eager to please. But around Lois she was mistrustful, and a bit standoffish. Which, Lois had to admit, did make a small amount of sense. The young woman had to be just a bit jealous of all the time that Clark and Lois spent together. Even if she didn't believe that Clark felt anything 'romantic' towards Lois, and there was no reason that she should, she had to be envious of the fact that their partnership forced them to be together a great deal.
The two young people were clearly smitten with each other, but Lois had to wonder how deep their feelings really went. How much of the relationship was merely hormonal, and how much was actually… love? Lois held back a sigh. Well, they'd surely put that relationship to the test tonight. Lois was going to have to force Clark to acknowledge his specialness for the sake of the entire world. But would it destroy the pleasant little world he'd made for himself and Jenny? She really hoped not, but Lois had no clue how the enamored woman would deal with a revelation of this scope.
Clark silently cleared the dishes from the table. It had been a strained evening so far, with both the women in his life sharing the dinner table with him. He had to stop and wonder at that idea. He and Jenny had been together for a while now, and he knew that he loved her. It was more than just the physical. True to her youthful age, Jenny wasn't necessarily a deep thinker, nor was she overly concerned about things beyond her daily existence, but she wasn't a shallow person, nor was she stupid. Right from the start Clark had seen the goodness in her and knew that she would grow into an even more caring and compassionate woman.
Then there was Lois. They'd only been partnered together for a short time but already he could sense something between them, a connection of sorts. It wasn't anything hormonal, or romantic, really. It was, if possible, even deeper than that. It was a growing respect they had for each other as people. In that short time they had become good friends. He had come to cherish that friendship and there was no denying how much Lois had helped him become a better reporter. It was hard to imagine how he'd gotten along without Lois' support and guidance all these years. He was glad for it now, but he knew that Jenny wasn't.
His lover didn't understand the deep friendship he'd established with Lois. She felt that somehow, no matter how many times he would try and tell her differently, that it lessened the bond the two of them shared. He didn't know how to set her mind at ease about that, but he also knew that he could never give up his relationship with Lois either. It was more than a brother and sister type thing, but, perhaps less than a married couple. They were partners, and friends.
He just hoped that Jenny would be able to come to accept that. He wanted… and needed both women in his life. He could easily be considered selfish in that regard, but he wasn't ashamed of it either. It was just the way it was. It was just the way he felt.
He set the dirty dishes in the sink and turned, giving both women a searching gaze. But everything could… would change tonight. Lois had left no doubt that she knew about his 'special abilities'. He was also certain that she had known about the seriousness of the Nightfall situation before he even left for the news conference. It was going to be a wild night all around. The only thing he was sure of was that even if they all survived the asteroid threat. Nothing would be the same ever again. And, in all honesty, he couldn't say for sure he thought that would be a bad thing.
Both women had adjourned to the living room and were seated. Jenny had taken half the couch, probably thinking that Clark would take the other half. Lois had wisely picked the wingback chair opposite. Clark slowly made his way into the room and leaned against the couch, his hands resting on the back. He looked to Lois.
"Where do you think we should start?" he asked. Jenny shot him a confused look.
Lois leaned slightly forward, her forearms on her thighs. She looked up at Clark. "I suppose you should fill Jenny in on what you overheard at the press conference. It'll make it easier when you have to tell her the rest."
Clark ran his hands through his hair. How did Lois know these things? She'd only hinted at things back at the Planet, but what she'd said left little doubt that she knew about him, about his unusual powers. What astounded him almost as much was the manner in which she intimated what she knew. There was no fear, nor any veiled excitement. She seemed to take it pretty much for granted. It was almost like she expected her partner to be someone who could bend steel in his bare hands, and… fly.
Jenny's frown quickly changed to a look of concern as she saw the nervousness, and hesitation on Clark's face. "Clark? What is it?"
He stalled a few more moments, to clear his throat. "Well, I went to the EPRAD press conference today. You know, the one where they told us about the asteroid that is approaching the earth?"
Jenny nodded. "Yes, I saw it on the early evening news. They called it Nightfall. But they said there was no reason for any concern, that it was only going to come near the earth."
Clark pursed his lips. "That's what they said to all of us in the audience. But Lois warned me before I left that I should try to corner Professor Daitch to get the whole story." Clark shrugged. "I didn't think anything of it since it only made sense. Look for the best angle sort of thing." He sighed and ran his hand through his hair again. "I never got to talk to Daitch personally, but I did manage to overhear him talking to a couple of other guys."
"And?" Jenny's voice had a slight waver in it. She could see how upset Clark was.
"The asteroid isn't just coming close to the earth… it's going to collide with the planet in a little over six days days."
Jenny's hand flew to her mouth. "Omigod! What will that do?"
Lois' grim voice cut into the conversation. "It will cause untold devastation within hundreds of miles of its impact from the shock wave alone. It will raise such a cloud of dust and debris into the atmosphere as to block out the sun's rays for months, perhaps even years. It could lead to another ice age." Lois met Jenny's eyes. "It's what they call a planet killer."
Clearly aghast at what Lois had said, a tearful Jenny Olsen stood and rushed into Clark's arms. He stroked her hair as he calmed the shudders that ran through her body. Finally she pulled back a bit and turned to Lois. "Is there nothing we can do? No escape? Get as far away from ground zero as possible?" She turned her anguished face back toward Clark. "Are we going to… die?"
"There is one hope." Lois' voice was calm. "Clark."
Lois watched the two young people closely. Clark was frowning. A teary-eyed Jenny had pulled back and was looking from Lois to Clark and back. She was clearly confused.
"Perhaps you should tell us your story," Lois said.
Clark led Jenny back to the couch. He sat next to her and stared at his feet for several moments. "There's not really that much to tell. I don't really have the answers."
He leaned back and sighed. "I'm not Jonathan and Martha Kent's natural son."
"I know you were adopted," Jenny volunteered. "You told me that a long time ago."
"Yeah, I was adopted, sort of." Clark smiled sadly at Jenny's confused look. "The story always was that I was the illegitimate child of a young niece, who wasn't prepared or capable of providing for a new life. So, since my parents weren't able to have children, they volunteered to take me in and raise me as their own."
Well, Lois thought, so far Clark's story paralleled her own husband's cover story, though she couldn't remember if it was a niece or a cousin that had supposedly birthed the baby Clark. Watching him, Lois knew that Clark was talking mostly to Jenny.
Clark hesitated. Lois could see the warring emotions flashing across his face. This was the crucial moment. "That was just a story. A story for the townsfolk and the authorities. It made it easier for my folks to legally adopt me." He paused again, running his hand trough his hair. "The truth is… I was a foundling."
"A what?" Jenny stared at Clark. "Do you mean that someone left you on the Kents' doorstep, like in some old movie?"
"Not exactly. My folks found me in Shuster's Field… in some sort of space craft." Clark immediately looked over at Lois. She knew he was looking for her reaction. She gave him none.
Jenny's voice betrayed her incredulity. "A space craft? What are you saying?"
Clark shrugged. "That was what they told me. They were coming home from a visit to the neighbor's when they saw what they thought was a shooting star blaze across the sky over Shuster's Field. Thinking it might be a meteor, they stopped and went to investigate. They found a strange looking craft half buried into the soft dirt of the field. I was inside."
Jenny was shaking her head in total confusion. "I don't understand. Who would put a baby in a rocket and shoot it into the sky?"
Clark couldn't meet her eyes. "Folks thought I might be some sort of Russian experiment."
"Well," Clark stammered a bit. "I'm not exactly… normal."
Jenny's bewilderment warred with her concern over her lover. Lois could see how torn and confused the young woman was. Lois made eye contact with Clark.
"I think you'd better show her."
"Wait!" Jenny interrupted, her tone suddenly angry. "I get it now. This is all some big joke, isn't it. The two of you cooked up this ridiculous story as a gag to play on poor gullible Jenny when she got back from Florida. How stupid do you think I am? Oh yeah, I'm going to believe that Clark came to earth as a baby in some sort of rocket ship. Well let me tell you. I don't find this at all fun — ny …" Her tirade was cut off as her mouth dropped open. Clark was hovering in mid-air at least a foot and a half from the floor.
She jumped up from the couch and ran over to Clark as he slowly settled back to the floor. "Omigod." Her voice was a strangled whisper. She reached out and touched Clark.
Lois was waiting for the fear and awe to overcome Jenny, but was confused when she didn't see it. There definitely was some awe in the young woman's actions, but there was no fear. It seemed more like wonder and… excitement?
Jenny's voice was soft and husky. "That was so cool." A small smile slowly crept across her face. "Do it again."
"What?" Clark was clearly even more confused by Jenny's reaction than Lois was.
She motioned upward with her hand. "Do it again. Float, or levitate, or whatever it is." Clark glanced at Lois, then shrugged helplessly. He allowed himself to drift up till he was able to reach out and touch the ceiling. "How do you do that? How far up can you go? Can you do other stuff?" Jenny's questions came in rapid fire succession.
Lois bit on her lip to keep from laughing at the bewildered look on Clark's face. This certainly wasn't the reaction she had expected, and from his reaction, neither had Clark. She got up and led Jenny back to the couch.
Sitting next to the young woman, Lois waited for Clark to explain himself to his girlfriend.
Clark went into his 'aw shucks' posture and hummed and hawed for a few moments. "Well, I don't really know how it is that I can fly…"
"You can fly! Like, for real? Like a bird, or a plane?" Jenny interrupted.
"Um, yeah. But I don't really know how it works. I just sort of will it to happen. Actually, flying was the last power I seemed to develop. It didn't happen till shortly after my eighteenth birthday."
"You have other powers? What are they?"
Clark began to pace. "Well, I'm real fast, and pretty strong. I can heat things up just by staring at them, and can cool stuff by blowing on it. I can see through most solid objects. There are some things that I can't seem to see through."
"Lead?" Lois chipped in.
Clark frowned as he considered her comment. "Yeah? Now that you mention it, lead did seem to be the common factor." Clark eyed Lois suspiciously. "How did you know? Beyond that, how did you know about me? You clearly mentioned 'powers' to me at the Planet earlier. How did you find out?"
Lois waved off the young man's questions. "That doesn't matter now. What matters is the one power you forgot to mention." Lois waited a couple of beats before she continued. "Invulnerability?"
Jenny gasped. "You're invulnerable? Does that mean nothing can hurt you?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "Why don't you ask Lois. She's the one with all the answers."
Jenny turned to Lois, expectantly. It was Lois' turn to roll her eyes. "He's pretty much indestructible, as he could tell you."
Clark gave her an accusing stare. "I don't know that, how can you know that?" He paced back and forth a couple of times, then turned back to her. "Again, how do you know about me? I never told anyone." He threw up his hands. "I never met you until a few months ago. For the last ten years you were supposedly in the Congo, lost." Suddenly a wary look came over Clark.
Jenny's head looked like one of those bobble head dolls the way it bounced back and forth between Lois and Clark. "What? What is it?"
A look came over Clark's face as if he was remembering something. "Before I came to Metropolis, I traveled around the world. There was this time a few years back when I was in central Africa. There was a huge fire outside of Brazzeville when I was there. It was a confusing time, total chaos, but I know a lot of people saw … something. I left the next day so as not to arouse suspicions from any of the locals." Clark stared hard at Lois. "Were you there?"
Lois just raised a brow and allowed herself a small, wry, smile but refused to answer.
Clark nodded, more to himself. "Yeah, I bet that was it. You've probably been wondering why I looked familiar to you. I bet you caught me using my powers at work every now and then." He slapped himself in the head. "And I thought I was being so careful and clever. I knew I should have used the stove to heat up that pizza."
"Pizza? What pizza?" Jenny asked.
Lois put her hand on the woman's arm and shook her head when Jenny looked at her. She knew that the evening was in danger of devolving into an interrogation. A situation that she needed to avoid. There were more pressing issues to be dealt with.
Lois took a breath and stood up. It was time to take charge of the conversation. "Look, Clark, it doesn't matter what I knew or didn't. What is important is the crisis the world is facing and what you can do about it."
"I heard about your little escapade down in the subway this morning. It's obvious that you wish to use your gifts to help others." Lois was now the one pacing.
"Sure, I'd like to be able to help others and I do try whenever I can. But I have to be careful. Do you know what would happen if anyone ever found out about me?"
Lois had to hide a smile. "Actually I do," she said under her breath. Louder, she continued. "What? I suppose you think they'd lock you up for study and dissect you like a frog?"
Clark was sulky. "Of course not. There isn't a scalpel made that could cut my skin. But you realize that if the public knew about me that they'd never give me a moment's peace." He sighed. "Believe it or not, despite these incredible powers, I do crave a somewhat normal life."
Lois placed hand on his chest and smiled at him. "I know you do. But we have to find a way for you to do both. I'm afraid you'll have to go public in some guise. In about a week one heck of a big rock is going to collide with our planet causing untold devastation and killing millions, maybe billions." Lois' smile for him was one of understanding. "You're the only hope, Clark."
Clark turned away, then looked back over his shoulder at her. "What about the military's missile?"
Lois raised her brow. "You want to put your faith in a huge atomic bomb that will rain fallout in the form of deadly radiation all over the globe even if it's successful?"
"What can I do?" Clark shook his head. "That's an awful long way. I need to breathe like anyone else does, and though I can hold my breath a pretty long time, I can't hold it that long. And that's an awfully big rock. I may be pretty strong, but strong enough to handle that? I don't know." Clark spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.
"Trust me, you can handle it." Lois ignored the skeptical look on his face.
"Besides," he said. "The government hasn't even acknowledged that there is a danger."
Lois nodded. "I know. That's something we'll have to discuss with Perry tomorrow. In the meantime we need to find a way for you to use your powers publicly, in the open. You need a disguise." The two young people just stared at Lois as if she'd lost her mind. Lois grinned at the two and gave Clark a wink. "It's time for this world to meet… Superman."
Lois sat at her desk staring at but not seeing the words on her computer screen. Her mind was elsewhere. Time and circumstance had forced her hand. She hadn't wanted to have to create Superman yet, but the fates had intervened. They had no choice now. If the world was to survive, Superman had to exist.
Unlike when she'd first met the Clark from that first alternate dimension, she had been putting off bringing up the whole super powers thing to this Clark. Then, there had been an urgent need. Tempus had to be stopped, and to do that, Superman was needed. On this world there hadn't been that urgency. She could take the time to get to know the man before she had to throw his world into chaos. Time for him to get to know her well enough to trust her. At least that was what she had continued to tell herself as the weeks went by.
Now she wondered if there wasn't another reason. One that was a little more personal. It was hard enough on her heart to interact on a daily basis with the pleasant young man who was so like her own Clark when they first met. Would a Superman flying the skies of Metropolis make it that much harder to bear? Would the memories be too painful?
It was true that she had managed to survive for over five years without Clark when she was imprisoned in that first alternate world, but there she'd had no choice. Once she had been released from her confinement she had chosen to come to this world. Her own dear husband had thought her dead those many years. He had managed to move on with his life and had found comfort and happiness with another woman… another Lois. She couldn't bring herself to destroy what he and the other Lois had worked so hard to build together. It wouldn't have been fair to either of them. Even if she and Clark had been able to reconcile the situation, where would it have left the other Lois? The woman had lost her entire world, something that she could now fully appreciate. Didn't that Lois deserve her shot at happiness too?
So she had agreed to come to this world, and step into the shoes of a dead Lois Lane. But it had been a lot more difficult than she had thought. There had been so many confusing differences and twists that she had to be constantly on her guard as to not make too big a faux pas. The latest mystery, the one concerning Luthor, was a doozy. But all that could be dealt with. The hardest part was knowing that her Clark was only a switch on a 'magic box' away and not being able to do anything about it. She had agreed to this situation with her eyes open, knowing that there was no going back.
In the short time she'd been here she'd managed to make some friends. Cat had been a life-saver, and even she and Perry had managed to come to a friendly understanding. And there was Clark. She couldn't deny that there was an attraction there. She had been attracted to the first alternate Clark when they had been thrown together a couple of times. With this man it was different. He was younger, and was definitely involved with someone else. Clark had become a good friend, but he wasn't her Clark. In a way, it had been easier when she was in her cell. She'd had little human contact and there had been no constant reminders of what she was missing. She had her memories for company and the hope of being reunited if she ever got out of her incarceration.
Now she knew that the longed-for reunion was never going to happen. Clark had thought her dead. Wells told her it had been very hard for him, but eventually his heart had healed enough to let someone else in. Lois knew Clark well enough to know that he hadn't replaced her, he'd merely moved on. She needed to think of him that way. That he was, for all intents and purpose, dead to her and that she should move on. But he wasn't dead, and that made all the difference in the world.
Before she'd met and married Clark she'd have been perfectly happy with the life she lead in this world. She would have seen it as a good life. A few good friends and a job she was born to do. But now she knew that it would never be a complete life. There would always be a piece of her missing. The piece that had been Clark.
That was not to say that someday she might not find a man she could share some of herself with. A comfortable companion who could help ease the loneliness of an empty bed and a bruised spirit. She didn't think it likely. More like a dream. But people needed their dreams. You could take comfort in a dream.
"Hey, why the long face?" Cat had come up on Lois unnoticed.
Lois shrugged. "No reason, just thinking."
Cat gave her an understanding smile. "You still miss him, don't you."
It wasn't a question, and there was no confusion of who she meant. "Every day." Lois turned to face Cat. A sad smile on her face. "You don't share what we had and ever truly get over it."
Cat cocked a brow. "Apparently he did."
Lois' smile became wistful. "No, I don't think he ever did. Not really. He was confronted with a different situation. Our life together is a cherished memory for him. But he had the right to know love again. I haven't been forgotten, merely moved to a different corner of his heart."
"I don't know how you do it." Cat shook her head slowly. "I don't think I could be so understanding."
Lois shrugged. "What choice do I have? I'm glad he was able to find someone to ease his pain and heal his heart. I met the Lois from that other world. I liked her."
Cat chuckled. "Big surprise."
Lois answered her laugh with a small one of her own. "Actually, it is. I'm not sure I'd be someone I'd like to have as a friend. But this woman had suffered a lot, and she showed incredible strength in the face of daunting times. Remember, she lost her whole world."
"So have you, now."
"Yeah, but I'm a survivor, too." She swatted Cat on the arm. "Besides, I've got some good friends to help me through."
"He's a friend."
Cat leaned against Lois' computer and studied her for a few moments. "Your Clark found love and a new life with another Lois Lane. Who says you can't find the same with another Clark Kent?"
Lois bit on her lower lip, then sighed. "It's just not the same."
Clark came out of the stairwell onto the newsroom floor. He'd surreptitiously aided a large pile up on the interstate on his way to work this morning. He'd managed to free several people from their twisted and burning vehicles without being seen. He'd set the unconscious individuals on the side of the freeway, making it look like they'd been thrown from their cars. Once the emergency services had arrived he had flown off.
Landing on the roof, too quickly to have been seen by anyone even if they'd been looking that way, he'd made his way down the stairs to the news floor. He figured he wasn't too late, and if Perry asked after him he was sure that Lois would have come up with some excuse for his tardiness.
In some ways it was nice that Lois knew about him, about his special abilities. She had known that he would occasionally be delayed by his need to perform some clandestine deed, and could cover for him like she had the other day.
He spied Lois at her desk. Cat was there and they were talking. The two women were very close, he knew that, but he wondered if Cat knew what Lois seemed to know. And that brought up the crux of his problem with Lois Lane. The woman knew too much. She knew things that she couldn't possibly know.
The more he'd thought about his actions in the Congo those few years ago, the more he was convinced that, even if she had seen him in action back then, she'd never have been able to make the connection to him now. Could she? Not only had she known about his powers, but he'd swear that she knew about the Nightfall asteroid, the true story behind it, before he had told her what he'd heard.
His brow furrowed as he approached the women. There was just no way that she could know these things before they even happened. There was something about Lois Lane that didn't quite ring true. As much as he considered her a good friend, in light of recent revelations, he thought it might be best to keep an eye on the all-knowing Ms. Lane.
Clark affected his best casual air. "Good morning, ladies. Not talking about me, I hope." He gave them a smile.
Lois rolled her eyes but Cat's grin was a bit unsettling. She ran a long fingernail across his chin. "Not exactly." She turned back to Lois. "Gotta go. I'll check back with you later." Cat rose and began to head back toward her desk. She stopped and blew Clark a kiss. "See ya, stud."
Clark frowned. "I know she's your friend, but is there something wrong with her?"
Lois just shook her head. "She just likes to push people's buttons. If you don't let it get to you, she'll get bored with it and leave you alone."
"Sure she will."
"Well, it might take a while." Lois gave her partner a searching look. "You look like crap. Didn't you get any sleep last night?" A grin snuck onto Lois' face. "The young Ms. Olsen must have missed you very much while she was away."
Clark rolled his eyes. "I wish. No, my sleep deprivation is mainly your fault."
"Yes." Clark looked about, making sure that no one was close at hand. "It was all your talk about a — disguise. She's all excited about making me some sort of costume. She kept me up all night looking at sketches and discussing fabrics."
Lois had to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud. "Well, aren't you glad that she's okay with it? That's a lot better than her being scared of you, or thinking that you're some sort of freak."
Clark frowned. "Why would she think that?"
Lois shrugged. "Not everyone would be so accepting of a strange visitor from another pla… place."
Clark stared at his blushing partner. He was sure that Lois had been about to say something else. But what? There was no denying that he felt some sort of connection to this woman, this Lois Lane, but she was a total mystery to him. There was more there than met the eye, much more. And until he figured out what, he'd best keep his wits about him.
Lois swatted Clark on the arm, bringing him out of his musings. "Come on — stud. We need to run this Nightfall story past Perry."
It had taken nearly twenty minutes for Lois and Clark to fill Perry in on what Clark had overheard at the press conference the other day. Perry had frowned during most of Clark's narrative and then had questioned him about what he'd overheard versus what had been said in the original conference.
"We can't let them get away with this, Chief," Lois said. "The people have a right to know."
Perry leaned back in his chair and looked over his newest reporting duo. A partnership that seemed to be working better every day. "Do they?"
Clark frowned as Lois looked aghast. "What do you mean? Of course they do. This is a cover-up. We can't let them get away with it."
Perry held his hands up. "Now just hold on a second, Lois. From what Clark says, they have a pretty good reason to keep things quiet — for a while. A panicky populace is an ugly thing to see."
Lois snorted. "I'm so sick of that sort of reasoning. Give the people more credit than that." Lois shrugged. "I'm not saying that there won't be some fringe elements that will over-react, or try to take advantage of the situation, but that's the price of a free society. Surely you don't condone keeping the people in the dark as possible doom threatens everyone?"
"No," Perry said slowly. "No, I don't. But I also don't see any reason to go off half-cocked. Clark said that they intend to let the people know as soon as they are confident of their plans to deal with the crisis. That makes sense to me… as long as they don't wait too long."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Oh puleese, you don't really think they have any clue as to what to do? This is the government, for crying out loud."
Perry shook his head. "Even if I agreed with you. And I'm not saying that I don't. You have to see the big picture. What can I print? The two of you have no proof. You have no independent corroboration. Just Kent here claiming he overheard someone saying that the asteroid is going to strike the Earth." Perry shook his head again. "All they'd have to do is deny it, and it would be his word against theirs. Not a situation that the paper's lawyers would be too happy about."
"But this is big! This could be the end of the world, and you want to sit on it?" Lois was clearly exasperated.
Perry spread his hands. "Lois, what would you have me do?"
Lois sighed in frustration. Obviously she couldn't tell Perry about Clark. "I don't know." She moved closer to Perry's desk. "But I do know that people need to know. I'm not too keen on the government's idea for a solution to this problem. We need more options. And the only way to get those options is for more people to be in the know."
He leaned forward until his face was only inches from hers. "Then go out and get me some hard proof. Facts that will stand up to the glare of the spotlight."
Lois expelled a held breath. "Okay." She turned to go. "Come on, Clark."
"Ah, Lois." Perry's voice stopped the pair. "If I could have a word with you… alone."
Clark smiled. "I'll see you back at your desk. In the meantime I'll try to get in touch with other observatories to see if they'll verify our suspicions."
She gave his arm a squeeze, then he was out the door. At Perry's nod, Lois moved to close the door. She then walked over and sat in the chair in front of his desk.
"What did you want to talk to me about?"
Perry hesitated, almost as if embarrassed by what he was going to say. "How are you doing?"
Lois was confused by the question. "I'm fine."
Perry shook his head slowly. "No, I mean how are you doing? It's been a few months now, how are you adjusting? Are things going okay?"
Lois bit on her lip. She had a feeling there was a lot more to Perry's question than just a simple concern over how she was adjusting to her supposed return. "Really, I'm doing fine. I've got a nice place to live and I'm back at the job I love. I'm fine."
"Look, Lois. I know you better than you think. I can see that you've gotten back in the saddle and are more than proving the paper's faith in you as a reporter. You've done a great job with Kent, and… well, you seem to be getting on okay with your co-workers."
"But, I can tell there is something missing. Something in your eyes betrays a sadness that wasn't there before. I'd like to think that… what I mean to say is… well, I just want you to know that I'm here for you, if you need me. Whatever it is, whenever it may be, I'm just a phone call away."
Lois favored him with a warm smile. "I appreciate that, Perry. I really do. But we've been over this ground before. I'm sorry I can't be who you want me to be. Things are different now. Different with me, and with you. I don't remember us the way that you do, and you're my boss now; it just wouldn't feel right."
"I could quit." Perry spoke softly.
Lois shook her head. "No, you couldn't. The Planet is more in your blood than it is in mine. I don't think any woman could truly replace this paper in your affections." Lois gave him a friendly grin. "Besides, I have the feeling that the intervening years have romanticized our relationship all out of proportion to the reality."
Perry leaned back in his chair and got a far away look in his eyes. "Don't underestimate what we shared back then, Lois. It had its turbulent moments but that just made the good times that much sweeter. I know you don't remember it, and that makes me sad. But trust me on this, from someone who was there, it was incredible."
Lois bite her lip. How could Perry still hold such feelings for that woman? A woman who, Cat claimed, only used Perry to give her career a boost. Could Cat have been wrong? Could that Lois really have had feelings for Perry? That didn't jibe with the other things that were attributed to this world's Lois Lane. Her dislike of men in general, her self-serving attitude, and her apparent lack of any real concern for others. These did not paint a picture of a woman that a kind and compassionate man like Perry White would have fallen for. Then there was Lex.
"So, what did Luthor want?" As if reading her mind, Perry's voice broke through her thoughts.
She wasn't sure how much to tell him. "He invited me over for brunch. Called it a celebration of my return from the dead."
Perry frowned as he studied her for several moments. Lois had to fight back the urge to squirm. "I know you're keeping something from me, but keep in mind that Luthor is not someone to cross. I warned you about that back then. Back when you got it in your head to investigate the man. We may both believe that Luthor is as dirty as they come, but he's also smart. Real smart. He hasn't slipped up in the ten years that you've been gone, so he's not likely to do so now." Perry ran his hand through the slightly graying hair. "Be very careful around that man. He's more dangerous than you think. I'm pretty sure he had something to do with your original disappearance, and I surely don't want that happening again."
Lois didn't speak. She sat, staring at the man who had just confirmed her suspicions about Lois and Luthor. Or had he? If Lois was a good enough actress to have convinced Perry that she had feelings for him that she didn't have, maybe she was good enough to lie to him about her dealings with Luthor too. It was beginning to make Lois' head swirl. Just what had been the woman's relationship with these two men? Would she ever really know? Did she want to know?
Lois slowly rose from the chair. "I'll be careful." She moved toward the door, pausing briefly as she opened it, turning to him one more time. "Thanks for caring."
Turning back to the doorway, Lois nearly ran into Gladys, Perry's secretary. The woman gave Lois a smile and stuck her head into the room. "Hey, boss, there's an Alice Johnson here to see you. Should I send her in?"
Perry looked up, then back down at his desk as he shuffled through the pile of papers strewn about. "Yeah, send her in."
Lois slipped out the door and watched with a wry smile on her face as she saw the attractive forty-something woman stride into the Chief's office. As she approached her desk a silent chuckle rumbled in the back of her throat. Clark was seated at his neighboring desk with Jenny hovering over him. She kept shoving pieces of paper at him as he tried to hide them away as fast as she placed one in front of him. Lois had a hard time hiding the grin from her face.
"What's up?" she asked innocently.
"Oh, Lois," Jenny exclaimed. "Look at these ideas I had for a costume for Clark. You know — that disguise you were talking about."
Lois gave a quick glance around, then placed her hand on the enthusiastic young woman's arm. "I think it's great that you are behind this and are so involved." She risked one last look about. "But I don't think this is the time or the place to bring it up. Let's all get together tonight and discuss this more fully."
Jenny frowned briefly, then shrugged. "You're right, I suppose. We'll do this tonight." She leaned down and gave Clark a quick, fierce kiss. "I've got to get back to work, lots to do. See ya later, lover." She spun on her heel and was off in a flash.
Lois raised a brow. "I don't think I ever had that much energy when I was her age."
Clark snorted. "Yeah, right." He stuffed the sketches into his bottom drawer. "She's really all worked up about this disguise thing." Clark shook his head. "A costume? I don't know, it just seems so silly. And what was that code name you used the other night? Superman? Come on, Lois, really."
Lois patted him on the wrist. "Tonight. Right now we have to work on this Nightfall thing from the other direction."
"Right, and I'll have you know that I *was* working before Jenny came by." He grinned at Lois' raised brow. "I was shut out by all the main science and research facilities. Got the company line, and a referral to contact EPRAD. But I did get in touch with our old friend Professor Hamilton."
Clark nodded. "Yep, and he's expecting us."
Lois stepped back as Clark got out of his chair. "Well, then, let's not keep the man waiting."
Allowing her to lead the way, Clark and Lois made their way up the ramp and to the elevator.
Clark gazed around the somewhat dilapidated lab that the somewhat disheveled Prof. Hamilton now called home. His involvement in the recent reanimated gangster problem had left his reputation a bit sullied. His standing in the scientific community, never too prestigious in the past, had taken quite a tumble. It seemed that not too many legitimate research facilities were interested in someone who had nearly brought back the Roaring Twenties. Still the man had managed to find a place, and some meager backing for his current research. Clark was almost afraid to ask what that might be.
Lois was busy bustling about the place, looking at everything, as they waited for the professor to acknowledge their presence. Hamilton finally looked up from the notes he was scribbling and was clearly startled to see them standing there.
"Oh!" The professor nearly knocked the glasses off his head. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you come in." He stood and extended his hand. "Mr. Kent, nice to see you again." He turned toward Lois. "And Ms. Lane, so good to see you up and around. No permanent injury suffered, I hope."
Lois gave him a frosty smile. "No, I managed to survive this time."
"I see." Hamilton, sensing Lois' less than cordial manner, turned his attention back to Clark. "So, Mr. Kent, what did you need to see me about?"
Clark took a breath. He hoped that they weren't wasting their time. Hamilton's reduced status probably meant that he was out of the loop as far as the asteroid emergency went. But Clark hoped it didn't also indicate that he'd not have the means to find anything out.
"Well, Professor," Clark began. "I'm sure you've heard the news about the coming asteroid, Nightfall?"
Hamilton suddenly became animated. "Oh, yes, quite exciting. Haven't had an opportunity like this in decades. It's pretty rare when an asteroid of that size comes this close to the Earth. It will be pretty spectacular. I can't wait to start examining my readings."
Lois waved her hand in a gesture that encompassed the room. "So you have a way to track it… here?"
Hamilton nodded. His head bouncing up and down like a ball on a string. "I don't have access to any of the optical telescopes like the one at EPRAD, or Star Labs. But I was able to cobble together a radio telescope using my television satellite dish and some equipment I had left over from my old lab."
"So you have been tracking the asteroid's progress?" Clark was skeptical but hopeful.
"Yes, I've been recording signals since yesterday. I was just about to do my first analysis of the readings." He moved over to a bank of antiquated electronic gear. "Are you here about the asteroid?"
Clark nodded. "Yes, Professor. Ms. Lane and I are on that story."
Hamilton shrugged. "I'd think that Prof. Daitch over at EPRAD would be the one to talk to. He has access to much better equipment than I do."
"We've been there. EPRAD and the government aren't too forthcoming about this Nightfall rock." Lois' voice betrayed her irritation.
Hamilton frowned. "Really? I wonder why that is?" He gave each of them a smile. "Well, no matter. Let's see what I have here."
Clark watched the eccentric scientist as he bent over his data. He watched as the professor's excitement turned to puzzlement. The professor pulled several sheets of paper over to his debris-piled desk. Sweeping papers and other junk off the desk onto the floor, Hamilton pulled over a calculator and began to work his index finger furiously.
Clark got a sinking feeling in his stomach. "What is it, professor? What's wrong?" He ignored the look that Lois gave him that said they both knew what was wrong.
"Oh dear, oh dear. This can't be right."
Lois moved over to the desk and, with her finger, tilted the professor's head up till he was looking at them. "Don't tell me, let me guess. The asteroid is going to hit Earth in about six days."
"More like five days." Hamilton had turned white. "This is bad, very very bad."
Lois turned to Clark. "But now we have some corroboration. We can use Hamilton's data to support our story. We can bust the government cover up and make them come clean. This is too important to keep from everyone."
Clark could see that Lois was excited about getting the proof that Perry had wanted but he was still torn. He wasn't sure it would be such a good idea to tell everyone that their world was doomed. What purpose would it serve? It would just send everyone into a panic.
"I'm still not so sure about this, Lois." Clark laid a hand on the woman's shoulder. "I think we should give the government some time. What good would be served by putting the people into a premature panic."
Lois' turned and stared at her younger partner. "The people have a right to know. If this was to be your final week on earth wouldn't you want to know?"
Clark shrugged. "I'm not sure."
"Excuse me?" Hamilton's weak voice interrupted the partners debate. "Are you planning to use my data to substantiate your breaking the news to the world of the impending strike?"
"Yes," Lois said, forcefully.
"Um, well, I think you should know that I'm not exactly considered an eminent scientist anymore." He blushed. "Actually, I think the term used most is… crackpot."
"It doesn't matter," Lois added, quickly. "We'll just take your data to another facility, like Star Labs, and get them to verify your findings."
Hamilton was running his hand through his thinning hair. "I'm not so sure if that would work. If this is being covered up at the highest level, then I'd think Star Labs would be in on the cover-up too." His look was apologetic. "And even if you could get someone to look over my data, it wouldn't do any good."
"What do you mean?" Lois' tone was sharp.
"Well, as you can see, my equipment is not exactly state of the art. It's mostly a series of jury-rigged stuff that was never meant to be used for such purposes. And because of that, the stuff is rather unique in the way it delivers the data."
Lois' eyes narrowed. "What does *that* mean?"
Hamilton couldn't look Lois in the eye. "It wouldn't make sense to anyone else. No one can read this data but me."
Lois closed her eyes and clenched her fists. Clark was afraid she was going to do bodily harm to the timid scientist. He reached over and laid a gentle hand on her arm.
"Come on, Lois, " he said, in his calmest voice. "Let's go."
Her eyes snapped open and glared at him for a moment. Then the fire died out. "We might as well," she said with a sigh. "There's nothing for us here." She marched toward the door.
"I'm sorry," Hamilton called after the retreating woman.
Clark gave the man a sad smile. "It's okay, Professor. Thanks for your help." He turned and hurried after his partner.
Lois was already in the street looking for a taxi. Clark frowned at the hunch in her shoulders. She was really worked up about this set back.
"Lois, take it easy." He had reached her side. "I don't know why you're so keen to blow open this story? I know you don't think the government has a good handle on this, but we have to have faith."
Lois whirled to face him. Sticking her finger in his chest, she spoke in a low tone, but with a sharp edge to it. It got his full attention.
"You just don't get it, do you?" Her finger jabs corresponded with her words. "I'm doing this for you."
"Yes, you. This nuclear missile plan of the government is futile. It won't work."
"How do you know that?"
"I… I just do, okay. I'm just trying to protect you. If we can't find some other way to move, or break up that asteroid, the planet will only have one chance… you."
Clark stepped back. She'd mentioned this the other night. They hadn't gone into it in much detail, but Lois seemed to think that he could fly out into cold, airless space and shatter the asteroid before it hit the earth. She'd been confident that he could do it, but at the same time he sensed that she feared it also.
"Look, Lois, you obviously know something here that I don't. And I'm tired of this guessing game when it comes to you. What do you know about this, and me?" He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder. "And how do you know it?"
Lois shook off his hand. "What I know is — you have the capability to go out and smash that rock to bits. But I also know that it won't be without risk."
Clark shook his head. "Uh ah. I'm not letting you off this time. You are going to tell me how it is that you seem to know so much about me. And how all this seems to be more like a memory to you than a new experience." He could swear that he saw shock in her eyes. He had hit on some nerve.
Lois nodded once. "Okay, tonight. I'll tell you what I can tonight." She turned away. "Taxi!" A metro cab screeched to a halt beside the pair. They climbed in the back.
The trip back to the Daily Planet was made in silence. Neither wished to voice their thoughts in hearing range of another person. Mercifully, the ride back was a short one, and soon they were back out on the sidewalk in front of the paper.
Lois began to move toward the front entrance. Clark frowned and began to follow. "Look, Lois, I didn't mean to…"
Suddenly Clark heard a strange sound, like a door lock being slid back, as the hairs on the back of his neck tingled. Engaging his enhanced vision as he swiveled his head to look over his shoulder, he saw him. Up on the roof of the building across the street was a man. He was dressed in plain gray clothing, with a wide brimmed hat pulled low, obscuring most of his face. The man held a high powered rifle in his arms. The sound he'd heard had been the bolt action being pulled back. The gun was ready to fire. Following the direction of the rifle barrel, he was quickly able to see where the gunman was aiming.
"Lois! Look out!"
Clark threw himself headlong at his partner. Lois had begun to turn at the sound of his shout but was knocked off her feet by the force of his body crashing into hers. At the same time the crack of a gunshot echoed off the brick walls of the nearby buildings.
"Are you all right?" Clark helped her to a sitting position, but still kept his body between her and the assassin.
Lois looked up at him, confusion clearly marked her face. "Yeah, I don't think you broke anything with that football tackle." She tried to look around him. "What happened?"
Clark glanced over his shoulder. "Someone tried to take a shot at you."
"Apparently, someone did. They just missed, thanks to you."
Clark stood up and focused his attention on the building across the way. He began to move toward the street when a hand on his arm stopped him.
"Where are you going?"
He looked back at Lois. "I'm going to go after the guy who shot at you."
Lois shook her head. "What are you going to do? Fly up there?" She pulled him back to her. "No, by the time you get over there at normal speed, he'll be long gone."
"This kind of thing comes with the territory. Let's just get back inside. For all that's happened today, we still don't have any story for tomorrow's edition."
Clark was confused by her attitude, but decided to follow her anyway. "Lois?" he asked. "Who would want to kill you?"
"Would you like the list chronologically, or alphabetically."
Lex Luthor stared out the french doors leading to the balcony of his sumptuous penthouse apartment. There had just been another brief partial eclipse. His frown indicated that he was irritated by that. He'd seen the press conference that EPRAD had given, but he also had his own sources which had given him the true story.
It was lucky that he was prepared for the eventuality. He had built his 'Ark Luthor' deep beneath the unsuspecting city of his birth as insurance against an all out nuclear war. It would serve well enough for the catastrophic consequences that could come about with the coming of the Nightfall asteroid. His teams were on stand by and he and his progenitors of the new world order could be buttoned up and safe within 12 hours if need be. He had people monitoring the progress of the giant space rock. He would have plenty of notice to put his plan into action. The 'ark' was ready. It just needed the passengers to arrive.
Lex's attention was pulled back into the main room by the noise created by the arrival of the special elevator. He turned in time to see Nigel step off the conveyance into the room.
Lex gave Nigel a slight nod. "I assume the message has been sent?"
Nigel gave him an answering nod. "Yes, my man took a shot at Ms. Lane just a few minutes ago."
"She wasn't hurt in any way?"
Nigel shook his head. "No, the instructions were quite clear on that." Nigel followed Luthor over to his desk. "Actually, her partner, the young Kent, must have seen our man out of the corner of his eye because he launched himself at Ms. Lane, managing to knock her to the ground as the shot was fired."
Lex allowed himself a small smile. "Excellent. Adds a dash of verisimilitude to the whole affair. Don't you think?"
"Most certainly, sir." Nigel hovered for a few moments more. "Will there be anything else, sir?"
"No, Nigel. That will be all for now. Thank you."
"Yes, sir." The stately aide-de-camp moved quickly to the elevator and in a few more moments was gone, leaving Luthor to himself again.
He didn't know what Lois was playing at but she had been given her only warning. She'd been gone a long time. Maybe it had addled her wits. Lex was willing to wait a bit for Lois to come to her senses, but he wasn't a patient man. He didn't give second warnings.
He was at a loss to figure out her game. The plan had been worked out to the smallest detail possible. He hadn't thought anything could have gone wrong, but when Lois had disappeared, he'd figured that she had messed up somehow and had run afoul of either the local authorities or a rival group. He had been saddened to have lost her. She had potential as a possible companion. She had possessed a desirable combination of beauty and brains that Lex had found intriguing. But he was even more saddened by the loss of their intended prize. It had taken him quite a while to reconcile himself to that.
When Lois Lane had mysteriously reappeared, his hopes had risen. After all this time, that which he had so jealously coveted was again within his reach. He'd been puzzled when months went by and Lois never made any attempt to contact him. At first, he'd just assumed she was being careful. But, eventually, he'd had to bring her in. He'd been extremely disappointed in her flimsy amnesia excuse. While such a thing was within the realm of possibility, Lex had watched her closely. She had been lying. She had lied fairly well, but she'd been lying none the less.
Luthor wasn't sure how Lane thought she was going to get away with what was rightfully his, but he'd give her one chance to wise up and come clean. After all, if the world were going to suffer some nasty times ahead, it would be nice to be able to share the long lonely nights with someone as desirable as Lois Lane. But if she persisted on her present course, she would live only long enough to regret the folly of her actions.
"What do you think you're doing?" Lois asked of her partner as he reached for his phone and began to dial.
"I'm calling Inspector Henderson." He gave her a look that said, 'what else would I be doing?'. "Lois, someone just took a shot at you. We have to call the police."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Hang up the phone, Clark. The guy is long gone and we have no way to connect him to anything. Heck, he could have just been a random nut."
Clark paused in his dialing, but didn't put down the phone. "Lois, someone tried to kill you!"
Lois shrugged. "Are you sure? Maybe they were firing at you?"
Clark shook his head. "No, I saw him. That rifle was definitely pointed at you."
"Hey, what's all this commotion?" Perry had come down to see what the furor was about.
"Perry, someone just tried to kill Lois." Clark said, giving Lois a stern look.
Lois, using a wave of her hand to, in essence, dismiss Clark's concerns, turned toward her boss. "It was just some random sniper. Tell him, Chief, it's just part of life in a big city like Metropolis." She shook her head. "Even if he'd been gunning for me specifically, hey, it comes with the territory. You cant write award-worthy stories without ruffling a few feathers."
Perry cocked his brow. "And which award-worthy story would that be, Lois?"
Lois returned Perry's sarcasm with a mock smile. "All my stories are award-worthy."
Perry glanced at Clark. "Hang up the phone, son." He turned to Lois. "And you, young woman, are coming with me." He placed his hand on her elbow and led her up the ramp toward his office.
Lois had a chance to watch Perry's face as he 'escorted' her toward his office. His mouth was drawn in a tight line, and his eyes betrayed a touch of anger. She guessed he didn't totally buy into her cavalier attitude about the shooting. He probably had his own idea as to who was behind it — as did she.
He guided her to the chair in front of his desk, not saying a word until he'd managed to close the door and regain his own seat. Once seated he stared at her for a couple of moments. She couldn't help feeling like a truant high- schooler about to be lectured by the principal.
Perry sighed and shook his head. "We both know who was behind that gunman, don't we, Lois."
Lois shrugged. "I have a suspicion."
"A suspicion, yeah." Perry pinched the bridge of his nose even though he hadn't been wearing his reading glasses. "I told you to be careful with Luthor. I am certain he was responsible for your problems in the Congo and now he is responsible for this latest attempt on your life."
Lois leaned back in her chair. "Maybe, but we have no way to prove it." She shook her head slowly. "Look, Perry, I haven't had any contact with Luthor since I came back from his brunch invitation. I haven't initiated any investigation, nor have I done anything that should make him think I have." Lois shrugged helplessly. "He thinks I know something I don't."
Perry looked sharply at Lois. "He what? You seemed to have forgotten to mention that when we spoke the other day."
Stupid! Lois would have slapped herself in the head if she'd been alone. How could she have let that slip. Now Perry knew that the brunch invitation hadn't been an innocent welcome back. She also knew that Perry would grill her until she told him what actually had happened in Luthor's penthouse. The trouble was — she didn't really know what had happened. She was missing some important details. Like the memories of a decade-long dead reporter.
Lois squirmed under the glare of her boss's stare. "Well, he sort of threatened me."
Perry's frown grew tighter. " *Sort of* threatened you?"
Lois tried to convey an indifference with a casual shrug. "He thinks I either have something of his, or know where it is. He doesn't believe that I still don't remember much from back then."
"So, what you're saying is," Perry began, "That you and Luthor had cooked up some sort of deal. One which, I assume, you planned to use to finally get the goods on our phony philanthropist. Only you don't remember what it was, and now Luthor thinks that you are holding out on him. Does that about cover it?"
Lois smiled meekly. "Yeah, I guess that pretty much covers it."
Letting loose an explosive sigh, Perry leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling for several moments before returning his attention back to Lois. "Tarnation, woman, you really stepped into one colossal cowpie this time." He held up his hand to forestall her objection. "Look, I know this wasn't your fault. You have no memory of this past association with Luthor, so you couldn't have known that anything was up when he invited you over. Still, I wish you would have checked with me first. Maybe, together we could have figured out a way to have seen this coming and come up with a way to, at least, stall him for a time." Perry shook his head. "This is bad, Lois. Luthor is not somebody who is going to give up after one missed attempt."
"I think we're losing sight of the more obvious problem here, Chief. With that asteroid about to fall into our lap, I think my personal problems with Lex Luthor can wait until we know whether or not the world will even be here in a week."
"I still see the bigger picture, Lois, but don't underestimate the danger you are in. I had to clean out your locker once. I certainly don't want to have to do it again."
Lois was touched by Perry's concern. It was nice to know that someone actually cared about her. Even if he thought she was someone else. It showed her that the relationship they had managed to form was one that included real feelings for each other's welfare. But she really didn't have the time to give to the Luthor problem right now. With Nightfall coming so soon, she had a lot of work to do getting Clark ready for the task she had hoped to spare him, but knew he was going to have to tackle.
She and her own dear Clark hadn't talked about it much, but she knew that he'd really put himself on the line taking on such a huge assignment. That he'd only suffered from a temporary amnesia had been fortunate. What if he had been more seriously hurt? Or, if he had missed coming back to earth at all? Lois' blood ran a little colder anytime she thought about the possibility that Clark might not have made it back to earth at all. Now, it looked like she was going to have to ask another fledgling hero to risk it all for the sake of a world who didn't even know he existed.
Turning her attention back to Perry, she tried to allay his fears with a confident smile. "Look, I know that Lex is dangerous. And believe me, I am being careful, but…" She stopped. "What did you say about my locker?" An idea had suddenly sprung into Lois' mind.
Perry seemed a bit startled by the quick turn about. "I, ah, I said that I had to clean out your locker once. I don't want to have to do it again."
Lois' mind was working furiously. Could it be possible? "What ever happened to that stuff?"
Perry shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. It was boxed up and stored down in the basement until someone came to pick it up."
Lois bit her lip. "Do you know if anyone ever came to pick it up?"
He spread his hands in a gesture of ignorance. "I couldn't say. I'll admit that after a few weeks I completely forgot about it. I was more focused on missing you than on your whether your personal effects had ever been claimed. I can say that I never heard of anyone stopping by to pick them up."
Lois crossed her fingers in her lap. "What are the chances that they'd still be down there somewhere? Or do you think that they would have been thrown out after all this time?"
Perry shrugged again. "Only one way to find out, Lois. Go on down and check."
Lois drummed her fingers on the fake wood paneling that made up the walls of the elevator. Why was this darn thing going so slow? With her luck, the blasted thing would probably break down, stranding her between floors till the Nightfall asteroid hit.
Finally the doors slid open to reveal the concrete and tile of the sub-basement of the Daily Planet. She stepped out into the cavernous hallway, not really sure which way to go. This was below the parking garage, and locker room level, so Lois hadn't found many reasons to come down here. Not even in her own world. She knew that the presses were housed in one half of the floor, so it followed that materials storage would be in the other half. She calmed herself to listen. There was definitely the noise of machinery coming from her left, so she turned right.
After walking for quite a stretch, Lois finally came to the end of the hallway. She was faced with an imposing pair of large double doors, which were closed. A smaller door on the right, also closed. And a small office on the left. Through a dirty window she could see an old man sitting in a ratty old chair at a beat up metal desk. He appeared to be listening to a small radio, or he was napping. She knocked once on the metal door and stepped into the office.
Lois cleared her throat. "Excuse me." The old man started, then turned to face her. "Marty?"
A warm smile creased the lined face. "Hello, Miss Lane. I heard you were back. I'm glad you are well."
Lois couldn't believe it. Marty Simmons had been the head of custodial maintenance since long before she had ever joined the Planet. It seems the same was true here. And he was still here. She gave the kindly old man a quick once over. He had to be at least seventy.
She couldn't stop the smile that spread over her face, nor would she have wanted to. "Marty, it's good to see you. I'm happy that you are still here."
The old man shrugged as he stood. "Where would I go?" He gave her a wink. "It's been a long time since you were down here. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I was talking to Mr. White — Perry, and he said that when I disappeared all those years ago that he had been the one to clean out my old locker." Lois felt just a little foolish to be asking about this after all this time, but it was a long shot that needed to be played. "He didn't think that anyone ever came to pick the stuff up. Is there any chance that it's still lying around somewhere? I realize that it was probably thrown out a long time ago, but I thought I'd check."
Marty had listened to her patiently, never interrupting. Once she was finished he gave her a smile. "Well I know I didn't throw it out. Let's go see if it's still around, shall we?"
Lois watched as the old man grabbed a huge ring of keys from a hook on the wall and moved toward the door. She followed.
They crossed the hallway to the single locked door that Lois had seen earlier. Marty found the key almost immediately and had the door open in a couple of moments. After swinging open the door he flipped on the light switch.
"If it's still where I put it, it should be over in the corner, up on that last shelf." He spoke as they both walked toward where he had pointed.
They came upon the shelf in question and Marty pulled a severely dusty cardboard box down from the self. It wasn't much to look at. A typical box, like the kind you'd see at a grocery store. He handed it to her. It didn't weigh much.
"I'll just leave you to your things, Miss Lane. Just turn out the lights and close the door behind you when you leave. It'll lock automatically."
She gave him a grateful smile. "Thanks, Marty, you're still the best."
The old man chuckled, then winked. "That's why I'm still here."
Once Marty had left, Lois took the box over to a small bench and set it down. Sitting down next to it, she stared at it for several moments. What if there was nothing in there? She knew there was something in the box, but she had to prepare herself for disappointment. The odds that this box contained anything of value, let alone that laptop, was astronomical at best. Taking a deep breath, she ripped the tape off the box and pulled back the flap.
The first thing that met her eye was a garish red woolen scarf. She pulled it out. Not the height of fashion, but it looked warm. There were a few other articles of clothing. A hat, some mittens, and a small zippered bag that held an emergency make-up kit. Another, slightly larger zippered bag contained some under garments. A plain beige sweater, and a pair of black jeans occupied the bottom of the box. She couldn't hold back a sigh of disappointment.
Tossing the scarf, mittens, and hat back in, she closed the lid on the box then lifted it in preparation to her leaving. She felt an unusual weight shift as she moved the box. She immediately put it back down and ripped the flap open again. She thrust her hands deep into the box, under the jeans which she had thought were at the bottom. Her fingers came into contact with hard smooth plastic. Holding her breath, she pulled out the object. In her hands was a technologically ancient laptop computer.
Lois hurriedly closed the door to the apartment, and rushed to her bedroom. She'd had a hard time getting through the rest of the day, waiting to be alone so she could take a crack at the old computer she had tucked under her arm.
After quickly changing into something a bit more casual, she brought out the batteries the guy at the computer store assured her would work for this machine. She knew that she was expected over at Clark's later, but for now all her thoughts were focused on the little gray laptop.
It took a few frustrating minutes and several choice epithets to finally get the batteries in place and the machine booted up. Now came the hard part. She opened a few menus and finally found a file listing that looked promising. It was labeled Lexnotes. A grimace and a soft cry of disappointment escaped from her lips as the request for a password came flashing onto the small screen. She'd been afraid of this. It was going to be difficult to get into the file. She was going to have to try and think like the woman who had encrypted this file ten long years ago. One would think that being a Lois Lane herself should be an advantage, but everything she'd been finding out about her counterpart on this world showed her that she knew very little about the way that woman thought. The only advantage that she had was that the password was only five characters long. She frowned. That meant there were probably only several million possible combinations.
She tried several obvious choices; like Lois1, or Lane1. She tried other newspaper terms like, scoop and print. She ran through variations of family names, and places she remembered from her past. There was no guarantee that this Lois was familiar with all those places, but she had to try. After many fruitless minutes, Lois sat back and just stared at the machine. She was lucky that the machine was an obvious early model and the makers had not seen fit to add an automatic lock out after a number of failed attempts at a password, as was true with most computers now. She closed her eyes and attempted to picture the woman who had used this computer all those years ago. Who was she? What was she going through back then?
Lois' eyes snapped open, on a whim she typed in 'Perry'. Password acknowledged, she was in. Words filled the screen. It took Lois only a few moments to realize that the file was in the form of a diary, or more accurately, a journal. Dated headings started off each entry. Lois took a couple of minutes to fetch herself a cold soda, then sat down with the little machine for some serious reading.
"April 17th I hocked the diamond necklace that Lex bought me to buy this computer. I've gone out with the slime three times now and he thinks that I'm enamored with him. What an egotist. I knew, ever since I broached the subject with Perry, that Luthor was just too good to be for real. It's nice to know that my instincts are still solid. This guy is as dirty as they come. He's just smart, and very careful. If I'm to get what I need to blow this guy out of the water, I'm going to have to be very careful. I don't think he'd hesitate to have me killed if it suited his purposes. Poor Perry, he's really worried about me. It's really sweet, but he's wrong. I know what I'm doing and I can handle Lex Luthor. Up to this point, everything has just been gut feelings and intuition. But I'm sure I'll be able to convince Luthor that I can be trusted, and he'll let slip something I can really use.
April 23 I finally let Lex seduce me last night. It wasn't a very pleasant experience, but it had the desired effect. I'm pretty sure he trusts me now. He hinted around at some dealings he had coming up down in the Congo, and that perhaps I might be interested in participating. Seems that he's running into some sort of scheduling conflict. He needs to be in two places at the same time. I think he plans to use me as his representative down there. At least that's the signal I'm getting from him. Why me instead of one of his other flunkies I can't say — yet. Hopefully I'll find out soon. If I have to sleep with him many more times I'm not sure I'll be able to stay convincing. He's such a selfish lover. But then, all men are. Well, not all men. Perry's not. I can't ever let Perry know that I've slept with Lex. It would hurt him badly."
Lois' attention was jerked away from the computer by the sound of the front door being opened. She left the little computer lying on her bed and went out to see if Cat was home.
"Hey roommie, what's up?" Cat tossed her bag and wrap into the chair by the front door.
Lois couldn't stop the grin from forming on her face. "I've found the laptop."
Cat's eyes got big. "You did? Great!" She gave the main room a quick once over. "Where is it, and where was it?"
Lois shook her head. "Would you believe it, Lois' things from her Daily Planet locker were still in storage down in the basement. The laptop was with some old clothes that were boxed up after she'd been gone long enough for people to have given up on her. Nobody tossed them out."
Cat shrugged. "They probably forgot they were even there."
Cat patted Lois on the cheek. "He always did like you for some reason. I think he thought of you as a surrogate daughter."
"Catherine?" Lois knew she hated to be called that. "It wasn't me. Remember? I'm the Lois Lane from another world."
Cat waved off Lois' good natured admonition. "This world, that world. I don't know one dimension from another. All I know is that you are Lois Lane and you are my friend."
Lois smiled. "Thanks."
Suddenly Cat's look became conspiratorial. "So, where's this mystery laptop, and is there any juicy stuff in it?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "You never stop, do you?" She didn't wait for a response. "It's in the bedroom, but I've only just begun to read her file on Luthor. It looks like she was definitely trying to find a way to prove Luthor was dirty… Omigosh!" Lois had glanced at the clock over the fireplace. "Is it that late already? I've got to go. I'm supposed to meet with Clark and Jenny tonight."
"Really?" Cat practically purred. "I didn't know you went in for such things, Lois."
At first Lois was confused by Cat's words, then once it dawned on her what she had been alluding to, Lois could only shake her head at the grinning woman.
Cat followed Lois into her bedroom as she searched for her bag and a jacket. Cat spied the laptop on the bed. She strolled over and sat down glancing at the screen.
Lois came over and shut down the machine. "I guess I took more time than I thought breaking the password in order to get into the file."
Cat nodded in apparent appreciation of the effort. "I'm surprised you were able to come up with it. There must be millions of possibilities."
Lois gave her a modest grin. "I guess I'm just brilliant."
Cat snorted. "Yeah, right. I bet I could have come up with the password before you did. After all, I knew Lois pretty well."
"I don't think so." Lois chuckled. "It was just a hunch that gave me the password. It actually went against what you had told me about her." Lois furrowed her brow. "Actually, I'm beginning to put together a picture of Lois that doesn't quite match what a lot of people have been telling me."
Cat gave Lois a challenging look. "Do tell?"
Lois shrugged. "Hey, who would have thought that Lois would have used Perry's name as her password."
Lois was rewarded with a genuine look of surprise on Cat's face. "Who indeed?" Cat shot a glance at the innocent looking unit, still lying in the middle of Lois' bed.
"Bye," Lois said as she moved toward the door. "Don't wait up. I don't know how long I'll be."
Cat waved at Lois, not looking at her. Her eyes were still riveted on the small computer. "Don't worry about me… I'll find something to occupy my time."
Clark let Lois into his apartment. She walked through the door briskly and handed her wrap to him to hang up. He noticed her looking around. He could guess what she was looking for.
"Jenny is over at a girlfriend's. I told her we would be working over some details on our story for awhile. She'll be back later." He directed Lois to the couch. "I figured it might be easier to have this discussion in private. Afterward, you can decide what to tell Jenny, or not."
She gave him what appeared to be a nervous smile. "Thanks," she said.
"Can I get you something to drink?" he offered.
She shook her head. "So, how's the costume design coming along? You and Jenny work out what you plan to wear as a disguise?"
Clark knew Lois' comments were merely delaying tactics. She wanted to avoid the real reason they were there. The reason she agreed to earlier today. He wasn't going to let her off the hook this time. No more stalling, no more procrastinating. It was time for her to come clean with him.
"We'll talk about that later, once Jenny comes back. Right now we need to deal with some other issues."
He almost smiled at her attempt at an affected innocence. She knew, as well as he did, what this conversation was going to be about. He moved over and sat in the chair directly across from her. He leaned forward, his arms on his knees, and stared into her eyes.
"Who are you?"
"Lois Lane." She had answered immediately, without hesitation.
"Really?" He watched for any signs of indecision or awkwardness.
"Yes," Suddenly there was a slight waver in her voice. "But I'm not the Lois Lane you think I am."
Clark made sure he showed no surprise or confusion at her statement. "Then which Lois Lane are you?"
She stared at her hands for a few moments, then took a deep breath. "Clark, do you trust me?"
This forced him to stop and think for a few beats. Since he'd known her she'd been nothing but a help to him. Her support and guidance had done wonders for his skills as a reporter. He wasn't under any illusion as to his abilities when he first joined the Planet. He'd thought he had made significant progress, but in the few months that he and Lois had worked together he had learned more than in all the previous months prior.
To his knowledge, she had never lied to him. She'd shown an uncanny skill at evading questions she didn't want to answer, but he knew that she was avoiding answering them rather than telling him a lie, or leading him on. Even his assumption that she might have seen him in the Congo way back when was such a case. She had merely said nothing, allowing him to think what he wished rather than confirming his hypothesis, which he now was certain wasn't true.
Did he trust her? That was the 64 thousand dollar question, wasn't it? "There are some issues yet to be resolved, which I hope can be cleared up here, tonight. But, over all, I'd have to say that I trust you." He added a grin. "I don't always understand you — but I guess I trust you."
Lois sighed. "Well, that trust is going to be put to the test. I'm going to tell you a pretty fantastic tale, and I'm going to need you to believe me. I'll have no way to prove what I say is true. You are going to have to take it on faith. Accept my word."
Clark frowned at his hands. He hated it when people said stuff like that. He hated the idea that there would be no way to support what the other person said. It was one reason why he was a reporter. He liked to get beyond the words that people threw out in public in their daily lives. He wanted to know the hard core, iron-clad, provable facts.
He was always ready to believe the best in people. It was the way he was raised. His investigations always seemed to be pointed in that direction. But he rarely just accepted things at face value. He wanted to prove that most people were generally good, and had good intentions. He was often disappointed, but he felt that was preferable to being gullible, or pessimistic.
"I can promise you I'll listen to what you have to say with an open mind. As far as believing on faith, I — I'll try."
Lois gave her head a sharp nod, as if accepting his conditions but not being too happy about it. "Okay, I'm not from around here… not from this world, exactly."
Clark raised his brow. "Not from this world?"
Lois shook her head and sighed again. "I'm sure you're familiar with the concept of alternate dimensions. You know, the science fiction convention of multiple realities all coexisting at the same time, but separated by some sort of barrier?"
Clark felt a sense of disappointment. Was this woman really going to try and convince him that she was from some alternate dimension? What did she take him for? He held back a sigh of disgust. He had promised to hear her out. He just nodded.
He could tell by the look on her face that she knew he was having trouble with her tale. "Look, I told you that this would be hard to swallow, but the truth is, I'm from another world. I'm the Lois Lane who worked at another Daily Planet for another Perry White partnered with another Clark Kent. The reason that I seem to know so much about you, and about what is going to happen, is that I've already lived through the Nightfall asteroid situation."
Clark's mouth firmed into a tight line. "I take it that your world wasn't destroyed. Or is that why you're here now? Because your world is essentially gone."
Lois shook her head. "No, our world was spared. We were saved by… Superman."
Suddenly some of Lois' actions made sense to him. Of course, that would mean that he had to accept her story, which he wasn't quite willing to do. "So, that's why you are so hot for me to become this Superman, as you call him? You think that I can fly out into space and take care of this asteroid that's threatening us?"
"I know you can. It's just… it's not without some risk."
Clark nodded. "Okay. Maybe you'd better tell me what happened on *your* world."
Clark sat silently as Lois filled him in on what supposedly happened on her world when threatened by the Nightfall asteroid. He almost broke into her narrative when she spoke of the part where her Superman was hurled back to earth bereft of his memory. He frowned during the part where the Asgard rocket launched by the military failed to impact the asteroid. He couldn't help but think that her tale sounded like a movie or television plot, with this Superman regaining his memory just in time to save the day. While it was true that she had known about who he was and about his powers. it was still very hard to accept what she was saying, and being the perceptive reporter that she was, it seemed she was able to read him.
Lois' look bordered on anger. "Okay, I realize how far- fetched this other dimension stuff sounds, but really, is it any more hard to believe than a strange visitor from another planet who can bend steel in his bare hands and fly?"
"Look, Lois, I'm not saying… what do you mean, strange visitor from another planet?"
Lois, leaning forward hands on her thighs, chewed on her lip. "Back home my Clark found a globe in his space craft that crashed in Schuster's field that night. It told him that his birth world was a planet called Krypton. He was rocketed to earth to save him from the impending destruction of his home world. He was found by the Kents and raised as their own."
Clark had to take a deep breath. What she'd said was easily as fantastic as what she'd told him about parallel dimensions, but it did make a certain amount of sense. As unbelievable as beings from another planet may be, it was actually a more logical explanation of the what and why he was than some scientific experiment gone awry.
He also hadn't missed her reference to 'my Clark'. There was more to that relationship than she was telling. Given the age difference between He and Lois, he had to wonder if the Clark Kent/Superman on her world was her age, or his. If he believed what she was saying he'd have to guess the former since it seemed Superman had existed on her world for some time now.
"Do you still have your space craft?" Her question jolted him out of his musings.
"No, but I know where it is." He took a moment to think about it. "Wait here. I'll only be gone a few minutes."
Lois watched as Clark got up and strode over to the doors leading to his balcony. It was late enough so it was already quite dark outside. He stepped out onto the small porch, and in a classic whoosh of wind, he was gone.
She knew that things weren't going well with Clark. It was obvious to her that, despite his assurance that he'd listen with an open mind, he clearly wasn't buying into her parallel dimension story. Not that she could blame him much. She'd been there, several times, and she still had trouble believing in it. That was why she'd been forced to reveal his extra planetary origin. If he still had that globe, and if it revealed his true origins as the one her own Clark had, then she had a shot at convincing him. If he had to accept what she'd just told him about himself, then maybe he'd have to give a bit more credence to her own story.
She wasn't sure what she'd do if he didn't believe her. She hadn't wanted to tell him the truth about her at all. It was a complication she had hoped to avoid for just the reason she was seeing tonight. She gave him credit for not throwing her out as a lunatic right from the start. But the look in his eyes told her how he felt, even if he hadn't come out and said anything.
Not quite sure what to do with herself, Lois got up and began to look around. She'd been to Clark's place several times in the past few months, but had never really allowed herself to see it. At first glance it looked very much like Clark's place on Clinton Street. It had the step down from the outer door to the main living areas. It was an open plan with the bedroom being separated from the main room by a partial wall. She knew the bedroom was larger and held more furniture than her Clark's ever did. After all, Jenny was there too. Lois purposely stayed away from that room.
This Clark had a bookshelf full of his mementos just like her own husband had before they were a couple. She wandered over and really looked it over for the first time. She saw some things that she remembered; his football trophies from Smallville High, some weird tokens and artifacts that he'd picked up in his travels. She lifted the strange little wooden carving that occupied one corner of a shelf. She'd never figured out what the thing was back home and this version gave her no clues as to what it was supposed to be either. Putting it down, she moved to the books holding center position on the bookshelf.
Many of the books were the same. A few were different but Lois recognized the titles. And there were some that she'd never heard of. Moving down the shelf, she came across a somewhat familiar picture. The frame was the same as were the poses of the two people in the picture. Clark's smile was typically incandescent, but the woman he had his arm around wasn't her. It was Jenny.
She felt the slight burn at the back of her eyes. No! She wasn't going to wallow. Not tonight. It wasn't just her own new future that was at stake here. The world needed a Superman, and it was up to her to make that a reality. She didn't have time to indulge in a bout of self pity now. She would allow herself to succumb to the pain when she always did. When she was back at her place, in the dark, in bed… alone.
Suddenly a draft caused her to turn back toward the balcony doors. Clark was coming into the room, closing the doors behind him. The look on his face was hard to read. It was serious, but she couldn't tell if he was angry, or just conflicted. She moved back over to the couch, biting on her lower lip as she went. This would tell the tale. Had he found the globe? Did it 'talk' to him as her Clark's had? Would he believe her?
His gaze fastened on her. His eyes locked with hers. She could almost feel the intensity of his stare boring into her soul. She continued to chew on her lip as she waited for him to speak.
"My name is Kal El."
A sigh of relief escaped from her as she nodded. "I know."
His mind was a tumultuous jumble of new sensations and information warring with preconceived notions and assumptions. His world had literally been twisted into a shape he wasn't sure he was capable of handling. And she just sat there with that calm look on her face. She had known! She had known all along who he really was.
He'd flown out to the old Kent farm outside of Smallville. The land was still under cultivation by neighboring farms. The rent money he received from that had been what had allowed him to travel for several years. But the old homestead, and the immediate out buildings were still vacant. Left as they were when his parents died. It was the first time he'd been back since shortly after their deaths.
He had quickly found the spot under the big oak next to the barn that was the burial site of his ship. Under the cover of the darkness, but with little to fear of discovery, he'd swiftly uncovered the tiny vessel which he now knew was a space craft. Just as Lois had mentioned, there was a globe nestled into an indentation in the front of the interior of the small capsule. As he reached for it, a weak green glow appeared to emanate from it. The glow got stronger as his hand got closer. Finally, he clutched the object and drew it from its resting place.
The globe first took on the appearance of earth as seen from space. Then the colors seemed to liquefy and flowed into a different configuration. It had an earth like appearance, in that it had shapes that could be considered land masses and seas or oceans. But it definitely wasn't a representation of Earth. Suddenly a name sprang into his head… Krypton.
He had been mesmerized by the glowing globe. He'd taken a few steps away from the ship as he continued to stare into its luminous depths. He was so startled by what happened next that he almost dropped the object.
What could only be described as a hologram was abruptly projected into the clear night air in front of him. For the next several minutes he was subjected to a nearly unbelievable tale of his birth on a far distant doomed world, and his biological parents' desperate plan to save their infant son by sending him to another planet. A planet that could sustain him. A planet called earth.
She had known. Lois had known the truth. How could she have known unless the other things she'd been saying were also true? His logical mind rebelled at the idea of multiple dimensions and counterparts, but no more so than it had against alien visitors from other planets. Yet now that he had irrefutable proof of the one, how could he deny the possibility of the other?
As he sat he saw the calm expectation in her eyes. There was a touch of nervousness there also, but it was clear she knew what he'd found out about himself, and counted on that to bring him around to belief in the rest of her story.
"I'm sorry for doubting you," he began.
"Don't be." She smiled at him. "I would expect any rational person to doubt the story I had to tell. I'm just glad that we can go forward without any more need to keep secrets from each other."
"Does anyone else — know?"
"About you? No. Just myself, and what you told Jenny, of course." Lois sighed and cocked her head to the side as one brow rose in a look of uncertainty. "About me? Just Cat, and now you."
Clark was sure that his surprise showed on his face. "You told Cat Grant?"
Lois shrugged. "Yeah, it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I'm not sorry I did. I'm not sure she actually believes me, but I don't think she really cares one way or the other. She's just happy to have an old friend back. Even if it's just a substitute for the real thing."
Clark couldn't help the slight crooked smile. "From what I've heard, I think we've gotten the better end of the deal with you rather than the Lois original to this world."
Lois' smile was wistful. "Thanks, but don't be quick to judge that poor woman too harshly merely from the rumors and innuendoes. The more I've delved into her past the more I'm finding that contradicts the pictures that have been painted of her."
Clark just nodded. He was only too familiar with people making snap judgments about others with little or no information. First impressions weren't generally very reliable.
"So," he said, changing the subject. "How exactly do I go about keeping a seventeen-mile-across chunk of rock, hurtling through space at unimaginable speeds, from crashing into our fair planet?"
Lois was pleased with the discussion they'd had, and felt that Clark had a good grasp of what needed to be done and what risks were involved. She was particularly happy with the method they had worked out as to how to deal with the asteroid. Rather than smashing into the giant rock head on as her Clark had done, which resulted in his being hurled back to earth, dazed and bereft of his memory, they had come up with a different approach. Neither she nor Clark were physicists, but they each felt that Clark would probably not be able to stop the momentum of such a large object traveling at such a high rate of speed head on.
The fact that on her world a large chunk of the asteroid continued on its collision course with earth after Superman had initially smashed into it had shown her that. Instead, they'd decided on coming at Nightfall from the side. Clark could angle in, using his incredible strength to add an additional momentum vector tangent to Nightfall's course. He should be able to force the asteroid far enough off its present course such that it would miss the planet entirely.
If it turned out that he wasn't able to divert the asteroid enough, there would still be time for a head on strike as her Superman had done. And, Lois grudgingly had to admit, the government's rocket strike was still an option. Just because they had missed on her world didn't necessarily mean they would miss here. It just wasn't an option she wanted to have to count on.
Knowing that he couldn't hold his breath long enough to fly the immense distance out to the asteroid, execute their plan and fly back, they'd discussed possible options. Lois told Clark about the air supply that the government had provided Superman, along with the radio set up. They agreed that they would be able to come up with something to allow him to breathe.
Just then Clark's head perked up as he looked toward the front door. "Jenny's just parked the car. She'll be here in a couple of minutes." He looked to Lois. "How much should I tell her?"
Lois sighed. She knew this was coming, and was torn as to what she should say. After hesitating for only a moment, she gave him a warm smile. "Tell her whatever you think she should know. I trust you."
Clark frowned. "Well, I have to tell her about me. About who I really am. It wouldn't be fair to keep that from her." He stared at Lois for several heartbeats. "But I think there's no need to tell her that you're from another dimension. It's going to be hard enough to tell her that her boyfriend is really a little green man from outer space. Telling her the truth about you will only confuse her." He shrugged. "Besides, there's no reason she needs to know. You have a right to your privacy. If a situation arises where I think she needs to know the truth about Lois Lane, I'll ask you first."
Lois smiled. "Thanks."
"So," Clark began. "About this costume thing. You don't have any pictures of your Superman, do you?"
Lois couldn't help but chuckle. "No, I'm afraid I quit carrying photos of Superman years ago." The fact was once she was married she only carried pictures of her and Clark… and one of Lucy. It didn't seem quite proper for a married woman to carry photos of a super hero.
"So how am I supposed to know how a Superman is supposed to look?"
Lois chuckled. "Be yourself. I'm confident that you and Jenny will come up with something appropriate." Lois shrugged. "The only advice that I'd give you; capes look very sharp while you're flying, the tighter the tights the better," she grinned at his raised brow. "And, use this shield as your chest emblem." She quickly sketched out the famous 'S' pentagram.
His eyes widened as he looked over her quick drawing. "That emblem was on the ship. Do you know what it means? I find it hard to believe that my Kryptonian parents knew about my eventually becoming someone called Superman."
Lois smiled. "I didn't know it at the time, which is why I dubbed him Superman, but apparently it's the emblem of the royal house of El. It just looks like an 'S'."
Suddenly the knob turned and Jenny came through the door. She bounded over to where Clark was now standing and gave him a hug and a fierce kiss. Lois had to wonder if that was normal for the couple or if it had been for her benefit. "So," she said, a big smile on her face. "What did I miss?"
Lex looked up as Nigel St. John came into his office again. "Yes?"
Nigel gave his employer a slight bow. "Some news, sir. Our source at the Daily Planet tells us that Ms. Lane recently retrieved a box of her things that had been stored there since her disappearance."
Lex, intrigued, raised a brow. "Really. Was our man able to ascertain the contents of that mysterious box?"
"He didn't get a good look, since she was only away from her desk long enough for him to take a quick look." Nigel shrugged. "It was mostly just old articles of clothing she'd left behind."
A sly smile crept onto Lex's face. "I don't think you would have bothered me with such inconsequential information. So, what is it you are holding out on me, Nigel?"
"Sorry, sir," the stately gentleman apologized. "Sometimes I can't help myself." He took another step closer to Luthor's desk. "It appears that there was also an older model of laptop computer."
Lex's smile grew wider. "The perfect place to keep notes, or perhaps a log on one's activities. Maybe even instructions as to where to find certain items one might wish to hide?"
"It is an interesting possibility, sir."
"Where is this computer now?"
"Ms. Lane left the Planet with it, so I can only assume it's at her apartment."
Luthor pondered that bit of information. It made sense that Lois would take the laptop home, but why she had waited so long to retrieve it he couldn't fathom. Perhaps he had spooked her into acting sooner than she had originally intended? He could imagine a scenario where she would want to take the time to completely reestablish herself as merely a Daily Planet reporter and get her life back into an apparent routine before she set up the making of such a momentous 'discovery', especially so soon after returning 'from the dead'. Patience was not a virtue that he'd ever thought Lois would embrace, but under the circumstances, he could see where even she would want to wait until she could be sure that time would be right for whatever her plan might be.
He knew Lois had a roommate, or more accurately, Lois was Cat Grant's roommate. Luthor had never met the woman but had long ago dismissed her as someone with marginal investigating talents who was more dependent on her body for her stories than her brains. While she might have made a pleasant diversion for a night or two, she'd never sniffed around any of his enterprises so he'd never felt the need to pay her any attention. Now, he wondered if Lois had shared anything with her former and current roommate.
"Nigel." Lex reached for a cigar. "I think we should acquire that laptop."
"Very good, sir."
"Oh, and have her roommate, Cat Grant, followed. I want to know if the woman knows anything."
"Will that be all, sir?"
Lex took a few moments to light his cigar and take a puff. He watched the smoke ring dissipate. "Increase the surveillance on Ms. Lane. I no longer am satisfied with knowing her comings and goings. I want to know what she is doing when she is at home, at work, or at that young partner of her's place. I not only want to know what she's doing, but what she's saying and to whom."
Nigel inclined his head. "As you wish, sir."
Lex watched Nigel through another smoke ring as the aide- de-camp left via a private exit. Soon, Lois, he thought. Very soon I will know what your game is. Once Lex Luthor became a player, the outcome would definitely tip in his favor.
"Lane, Kent, in my office." Perry's voice knifed through the general murmur of the newsroom. Lois gave Clark a quizzical look at which he merely shrugged. Taking only a moment to shut down the file she was looking at, Lois rose from her chair and joined Clark on his way up the ramp toward their editor's office.
"What's up, Chief?" Lois asked, as she sat in one of the chairs in front of Perry's desk.
"Well, it appears that our government is ready to talk." He slid a piece of paper across the desk. "This came over the wire a few minutes ago. The President will broadcast a worldwide press conference this afternoon. Apparently they've got their plan of action in place and are willing to share it with the rest of the world."
Lois quickly scanned the news brief. It gave no details, just the time of the press conference. "So, how do you want us to cover this, Perry?"
"EPRAD is planning to show the national press conference on a giant screen, then be available to answer questions from the press corps." Perry leaned back in his chair. "I want you to go there, hear what the President has to say, and then ask the hard questions of those people at EPRAD. Now's the time to air all your questions and concerns, Lois."
Lois snorted. "You expect them to tell me the truth?"
Perry fixed her with a stern stare. "I expect you to do your job."
Lois opened her mouth, then closed it. With her lips drawn into a tight line, she nodded once. She rose, without another word and exited her boss's office. Clark followed her out.
"What was that about?" Clark asked, as he caught up with Lois at her desk.
She gave him a sideways glance. "That was Perry reminding me that if I want the truth, I have to go out and find it." She swatted him on the arm. "Come on, we're going to pay Professor Hamilton another visit."
Cat strolled down the cracked sidewalks of Siegel Ave. She was not in a very nice part of town. Beggars and derelicts decorated most of the doorways and stoops of the boarded up storefronts and tenements. Occasionally she would pass by a business that was still open, but she knew that whatever they advertised on the window was not the primary commodity they dealt in.
She walked down the mean street with a calm impunity. She had purposely dressed the part of a low class hooker just for that reason. She garnered her shares of whistles and catcalls, but knew that nobody was willing to mess with someone else's merchandise. Nobody she passed had the price of a hot meal, let alone a the means to satisfy their sexual urges. So she was pretty safe from that standpoint also.
Lois had been gone till quite late last night, which had suited Cat just fine. She'd taken the opportunity to sneak more than a peek at the file in Lois' laptop. She wasn't sure if Lois meant to give away the password to the relevant file or just accidentally let it slip while making the point she had wished to make. Either way, Cat was able to access the LexNotes file and had indulged herself in some fascinating reading.
She felt no guilt over what she had done. After all, she was doing this to help Lois out. With her and Clark so busy on the asteroid story, and with Lex obviously focusing his concern over what Lois might be doing, she figured she could slip in under Luthor's radar and do a little investigating on her own. It would be really great if she could find something juicy to pin on the phony philanthropist, then she and Lois could break the story and finally put Luthor where he belonged — behind bars.
Cat had no idea how far Lois had gotten in reading the file before she had to leave, but she had seen quite a few interesting entries. Ones that made her sad when she realized what her former roommate had put herself through, alone, to try and incriminate Luthor. Why she hadn't confided in Cat at the time she couldn't imagine. Maybe she was just protecting her only friend from possible danger. Cat didn't know, but as the present Lois had mentioned, she was finding out things about the former Lois that didn't jibe with the public persona she had projected.
The sidewalk had given way to just broken blacktop, and the shops and housing were left behind as she came upon a warehouse district. The area was terribly run down and most of the buildings were abandoned. She was close. Two more blocks and she would be at a particular warehouse mentioned prominently in the laptop's file. What she might find there now, ten years later, she didn't know, but it was worth checking out.
Another couple of minutes later she was at 27th and Siegel. Set back several yards from the street, and surrounded by a rusty chain link fence, was the Acme Imports warehouse. From the condition of the building it seemed obvious that the place had been left for dead some years ago. The gate on the fence was still padlocked, but the neighborhood kids had ripped several large gaps into the rusted fencing over the years. She had no problem getting inside the fence.
Moving quickly, she made for the nearest window of the building. It had a couple of boards nailed across the glassless opening, but they had the look of age also. Cat was able to pry one of the boards loose and slip inside.
Dust covered everything. The grimy windows that ringed the top of the building let in just enough light to navigate by. Cat felt like she was walking in twilight. A dirty twilight. She coughed as the fine dust rose from the floor with every step.
There were boxes and crates sparsely littered across the wide expanse of the warehouse. She peered inside several, but they were all empty. She could hear the rustling of the movement of fast little feet amongst the shadows. She tried to ignore them.
Apparently whatever this warehouse had been used for, it no longer was, and whatever had been in here was long gone. She was just about to leave when her attention was caught by the office in the far corner. She quickly moved over to get a better look.
It had the look of any typical warehouse office. Modular walls had been installed in order to section off a corner of the large warehouse. She could see old-looking metal furniture through the window. For all intents and purposes, it fit the picture of an abandoned building as did the rest of the place. But there was something nagging at the edge of her brain. Something that said, there was a flaw in the picture. She reached out and tried the handle of the office door. It was locked. Suddenly it hit her. There was no dust!
The door handle, and much of the door, was free from dust. She couldn't be sure looking in from the outside, especially in the dim light, but there didn't appear to be any dust on any of the furniture either. It didn't make sense.
Taking a closer look at the floor in front of the door, she was barely able to make out what appeared to be disturbances in the floor dust and dirt. It could have been footprints at one time. Since it was still partially visible, that meant that the dust hadn't had time to completely recover those tracks. Cat had no way of knowing how long it would take for the dust to resettle and obscure any prints, but given the state of the building she didn't imagine it would take too long. That meant that someone had been there… recently.
She followed the partial trail only to lose it in the darker shadows along the wall. She quickly went back to the office door. Pulling her lock picks from her pocket, she bent to the task of opening the door. She pulled back, immediately confounded. There was no key slot for her to work her larcenous magic on. She became more confused as the realization sunk in. The door was locked from the inside!
Frowning in defeat. Cat retraced her steps to the window that had allowed her access in the first place. Looking around, to make sure she was unobserved, she slipped back out of the run down building and made her way back to the street.
She wondered what Lois would say when she told her.
Professor Hamilton opened the door to his lab, and myopically peered over his glasses at his guests. "Oh, Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent, won't you come in?"
"Thank you, Professor." Clark gave the man a smile as Lois pushed past, and moved to the center of the mad scientist's lair.
Hamilton seemed a touch nervous as he offered Lois the one chair that existed in the lab. Lois refused it. Instead she walked over to the small, single window that graced the far wall. She turned.
"Professor — I assume you've heard that the President will be holding a press conference regarding the Nightfall asteroid this afternoon." Hamilton just nodded. "Okay, I've reason to believe that their solution is going to be to fire their biggest rocket with a huge nuclear payload at the asteroid. I imagine their hope is that it will blast the space rock to pebbles." Lois frowned, then spread her hands in entreaty. "Does it have a chance of working?"
Hamilton pulled his glasses from his face and began to absently wipe the lens with his tie. He frowned. "How do you know this, Ms. Lane?"
"Ah, " Clark interrupted. "I overheard Professor Daitch talking with some military types at the first press conference. They were discussing such a possibility then."
Hamilton went over to his desk and scribbled some numbers on a scrap of paper. "Well, in theory, it could work. The megatonnage needed is well within the scope of the United States government, but it has several drawbacks."
Lois started nodding more animatedly. "I knew it! What drawbacks? What could go wrong?"
Hamilton began to pace around the room. "Well, first of all; even an asteroid the size of Nightfall is a relatively small target to hit, especially at a distance. It may seem like the asteroid is coming in at a predetermined course, but that's not entirely true. Any gravitational force that Nightfall encounters, the other planets, the moon, even other space flotsam, will act on it as it approaches. The general course has been plotted, and we know that it will impact somewhere along the eastern seaboard of the planet."
"Really?" Clark's eyes got wide.
"Yes, but the path won't be a straight one. As I said, other bodies can act on it. And, also, the fact that this is not a spherical body means the it will perturb more as it tumbles toward the Earth." Hamilton began to make hand gestures trying to illustrate his point. "In effect, the asteroid sort of dances as it comes along its path. On a astronomical level, these are very small perturbations, but to a rocket that's trying to hit such a small target, they can present quite a problem."
Lois brow furrowed as her frown grew. "Which means what? That it's possible, even with all this high-powered computer guidance, to miss the asteroid completely?" She already knew the answer to that question.
"I'm afraid so. Of course, the obvious solution is to allow the asteroid to get as close as possible before launching, giving you the best possibility to hit it."
"But…" If it wasn't for the seriousness of the situation, Lois would be enjoying dragging what she knew to be true out of Hamilton.
"Well, two problems really," Hamilton responded. "First, if you miss you don't have time for another shot. And, the other problem, which I think would be of great concern, is the fallout possibility. The power of the nuclear device that would be needed would create a tremendous amount of radioactive fallout which would rain down across the globe. The consequences could be almost as disastrous as the impact itself."
Lois glanced over at Clark, her lips drawn tight. She turned her attention back to Hamilton. "So, you're saying that you don't think that the government's plan is a good idea?"
Professor Hamilton didn't answer immediately. He stared at Lois for several moments. She could almost see the little hamster running in the flywheel in his brain.
"I'm going to have to listen to the news conference to get the full details of what they have planned, but even given all the inherent problems, and the high probability of failure, I have to say that it's a good plan of action." Hamilton was nodding, more to himself than to acknowledge Lois' question.
Hamilton shrugged. "What other choices do we have, Ms. Lane?"
Clark could virtually feel the impatience in his partner as they sat in the hastily set up, temporary, audience seating that EPRAD had arranged for the local media. Once they had left Professor Hamilton's place the two of them had gone back to the Daily Planet. Lois had immersed herself in any information she could find regarding the Asgard rocket and its capabilities.
He glanced up at the large screen television that had been set up on the large patio like area in front of EPRD's main entrance. The schedule handed out called for all the reporters to sit and watch the President's address together, then Professor Daitch would give a brief presentation of the plan and answer questions from the assembled fourth estate.
Clark did his best to relax and wait for things to play out, but Lois' agitation seemed to be rubbing off on him. Knowing about her, and how things had played out in her world had given him a sense of foreboding. He knew that just because the rocket had failed on her world didn't mean that it would fail on this one. Of course, even if it did succeed there was the problem with the fallout.
If he took the time to think about it he would be amazed at how easily he'd come to accept Lois' fantastic story about herself. The idea of parallel dimensions, and other world counterparts, was the stuff of science fiction. But then, so was a being who could fly. Maybe, under the circumstances, it wasn't so hard to accept what Lois had told him. What was the hardest for him to accept was that he would be able to fly thousands of miles out into the cold depths of space and deal with a huge asteroid hurtling at unbelievable speeds to prevent a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.
Clark felt, rather than saw, Lois begin to stir beside him as the big screen suddenly flickered to life. The image of the President burst onto the screen. The eyes showed dark circles which betrayed a lack of sleep. There were telltale lines of worry on his face, but Clark had to give the man credit. His outward countenance was one of gravity, yet showed no fear or panic. His smile was warm and paternal. With no preamble, or dissembling, he began.
Clark sat quietly, only occasionally taking notice of Lois' squirming, as the President spoke. He confirmed that the Nightfall asteroid 'appeared' to be on a collision course with our planet, but made all the reassuring noises about how the scientific and military communities had the problem under control. He mentioned that he'd been in contact with the League of Nations and many of the leaders of the major industrial countries of the world. All had agreed that their present course of action was the best course of action to take. He gave only the broadest outline of what the plan to handle Nightfall would be. He didn't go into any specific details. Instead, he said he'd leave those to the various facilities around the globe which would be having the media press conferences. He closed with some homilies about having no fear and his complete trust in the abilities of the plan to safely deliver them all from the threat that hung over them.
Clark wondered how many people seated there actually believed what the President had said, or if they believed because they had no choice. He knew that Lois was chomping at the bit to ask her questions, but it would be more telling to hear what the other media people might ask. That would give him a much better read on how they really thought.
Professor Daitch stepped up to the podium that had been set up next to the large screen. "Ladies and gentlemen of the media. We are glad you are all here today, so we can put your minds at ease, and then you can put the minds of the general public at ease. We are confident that our plan for dealing with the coming Nightfall asteroid will be successful."
Clark watched and listened intently as Daitch outlined their plan to pack one of the military's Asgard rockets with a nuclear payload and launch it at the coming asteroid. Their calculations, based on the size of the space rock and the typical compositions of asteroids, assured them that the blast would be powerful enough to shatter Nightfall into tiny pieces. Pieces small enough so that any which still might stay on course toward Earth would burn up as they entered the atmosphere.
Suddenly there was a flurry of shouted questions. Mostly questions about technical aspects of the mission. Because of the nature of the press conference, most media outlets had sent their science reporters. So many of them were enamored with the sheer technological magistry of the mission and seemed less worried as to what chances it had for success, or the consequences if it failed. Clark watched Daitch closely as Lois finally got her turn.
"Professor, this is a pretty incredible nuclear payload. What about the fallout?"
The Professor seemed to perk up at that question, which told Clark he'd been prepared for it. "Yes, it's true that a nuclear explosion of that magnitude would produce a significant fallout, which is why we are sending the rocket up as soon as feasible. We calculate that the earliest optimal window for launch will be at 3:37 p.m. local time. We intend to intercept the asteroid while it's still quite far from our planet and, in so doing, avoid any possible fallout problem."
He tried to move on to another question, but Lois wouldn't be denied. "But isn't it true, Professor, that even an asteroid as big as Nightfall, at that distance, would be a very small target to try and hit. Sort of like picking a fly off a fence post at several hundred yards — with a pistol?"
Clark could see Daitch blush a bit. He hadn't expected his answer to be questioned. "We have the finest computers in the world calculating our flight path, and that of Nightfall, to the most exacting precision possible. I have every confidence that we will achieve our desired results."
Lois wasn't finished yet. "But how can you be so confident? Isn't it true that even at the Asgard's maximum fuel capacity only about half the flight will be powered and thus controllable? After that, you will run out of fuel and have to rely on the hope that the directional momentum you have established will take you to your target? The slightest miscalculation, or sudden change of conditions, could throw your rocket way off course with no way to correct the mistake? It's possible that you could miss the asteroid entirely?"
Daitch looked flustered. "You speak of a worst case scenario. I see no reason to dwell on the negative aspects…"
"Could you miss?"
Daitch took a deep breath, to calm himself. "Yes, it could miss. But we do have a back up rocket prepared. We would hold off firing that rocket until the asteroid was well within the rocket's control perimeter. This would virtually guarantee a direct hit."
Another reporter piped up. "But what about that radiation fallout you mentioned. Wouldn't that become a factor then?"
"Well, yes, which is why we have to all hope and believe that we'll be able to destroy the asteroid the first time around."
Clark glanced over at Lois. Her lips were pursed in a tight line. He wondered how different the press conference had been that she'd had to go through on her own world. They'd had a Superman to take care of the problem for them, but even he had failed the first time and they had resorted to firing their own Asgard rocket, which had missed.
Clark's attention was drawn back to the front where Professor Daitch was trying to get back control of the crowd whose members were stepping all over each other throwing out questions about doom scenarios. The din was nearly unintelligible. Daitch had to shout to make himself heard. "Ladies and gentlemen, please! Control yourselves." The din began to subside. "I admit that in any operation there is always some risk. That is unavoidable. But believe me, we've done all the calculations, and worked this mission out to the best of our abilities. It will work."
Clark saw a grim smile crease Lois' face as a voice from the back shouted out. "How do you know?"
Daitch's look was equally grim. "Because it has to."
Lois opened the door to her apartment, stepping aside to let Clark follow her through. After closing the door she called out to Cat, checking to see if her roommate was home. There was no answer, so she led Clark into the kitchen.
"Would you like some coffee? It will only take a minute to make some."
Clark shook his head. "No, I shouldn't stay long. Jenny will be expecting me." He grimaced. "She wants to get the costume finished tonight." He'd used his fingers to make the quotes sign when he'd said 'costume'.
Lois had to grin. "Well, I look forward to seeing what you and she come up with."
Clark rolled his eyes. "She wanted to use a lot of red, white, and blue. Said it would give me a very patriotic look."
Lois had to bite her lip for a moment. Once she regained a straight face she looked up at him. "Makes sense. You can say you represent truth, justice… and the American Way." She had said that with a dramatic flourish, then had to turn away to keep from cracking up after seeing the look on his face. What was it that made Clark Kents so modest?
"I hope you're kidding."
She raised a brow but said nothing more on the subject. "So, I got the impression that you weren't too happy with our story. What did you think we should've written?" she asked.
Clark shrugged. "I guess we wrote it up the only way we could've." Lois' face took on a stormy countenance. He held up his hands. "Look, I never advocated sugar coating it. We laid it out as it was told to us, and used our own research to point out the possible problems with the plan."
"I dunno, I just think it wouldn't have hurt to leave the public with a little more hopeful outlook."
Lois shook her head. "I'm sorry, I can't be the cheerleader for a plan I have no faith in." Lois placed a hand on his arm. "Look, it's in your nature to want to put the best possible spin on things. It's one of the things that makes you so special." Clark blushed. "But, that does lead to the burning question… what are you going to do?"
Clark looked confused. "What do you mean?"
Lois sighed. "Clark, I know you are very unsure about this, but I know… I just feel it in my bones, that you are going to have to be the one to save us. I'm not just using my own experiences as a guide. This plan of the government is just too iffy to actually succeed." She gave his arm a squeeze. "It's going to be up to you."
Clark frowned. "Maybe, but let's give them a chance, shall we? No matter what your 'bones' tell you, or what happened in your world, there is a chance that this plan will work. However slight that chance is, there is a chance. I think we should give them that."
"Okay," Lois nodded. "I can understand that, and I agree. If there is no reason to put you at risk, then I'm all for it. Let's give the government their chance. If their plan works, all the better. If it fails, there should still be plenty of time for you to deal with the problem before they need to launch that second rocket."
Clark nodded. It was obvious that he wasn't too keen on the idea of flying out into space to deal with a giant asteroid, but she knew he'd do what had to be done. She wasn't sure if he was just overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the task, or if he was actually afraid. It was probably a combination of both, not that she would blame him if he did have some fear. It would only be natural. Still, he was a Clark Kent, and even if he didn't know it yet, he was Superman. He wouldn't be able to not do what had to be done. It was who he was.
So, it wasn't too much to ask to give the military boys their shot at saving the world first. After all, the first shot didn't posses the collateral fallout danger that a second, much closer attempt would. She actually hoped that the Asgard rocket would succeed… but she knew it wouldn't.
"So, I guess I'll see you tomorrow at the Planet?" Clark moved toward the door.
"Sure." Another grin found its way onto her face. "Make sure you bring a snapshot of you in that new costume." She laughed when he rolled his eyes and shook his head. Muttering, Clark quickly made his exit as Lois watched.
She couldn't hold back a sigh as the past intruded on her conscious mind. He was so much like her own Clark, yet different. Now that he'd abandoned that ridiculous blonde hair, his physical appearance was a constant tug at her memories. The fact that he didn't wear glasses just seemed to make it worse. He wasn't a reminder of the public Clark Kent that she had first met and that everyone else knew. No, his image was more like that of the private Clark that only she, and his parents got to see.
It was good that she'd had a lot of work-related activity to keep her mind focused, because it was moments like right now, where there was a short pause in the action, that her mind immediately flashed back to a life that she'd lost so many years before. A life that she would never know again.
Cat had made comments, saying that if her Clark had been able to find happiness with another Lois, why couldn't she find a similar relationship with another Clark. Lois knew that Cat was just kidding her. It was her nature to be outrageous like that. At least, Lois assumed she was kidding.
The situations were very different. Her Clark thought she was dead. She knew he was alive and well. While it was true that he was no more accessible to her than he'd thought she was to him, it still made a difference. There might be a time when she could move on. Find some sort of romance with another person, but not with this Clark. It just didn't feel right.
There was no denying that she felt a connection to the young man. She couldn't help but like him… he was Clark Kent. But he was different, too. It wasn't just the age difference. His life experiences had molded a somewhat more guarded person. Not that he wasn't personable and friendly, he was. She knew that he still wanted to expect the best in people, but unlike her Clark's tendency, this man didn't automatically assume it. She figured that losing his parents and their continued support as he moved into adulthood probably had something to do with it.
She wandered back into the kitchen and began to mechanically go through the process of making a pot of coffee. She was barely aware of her movements as her mind continued to chew on matters of the heart.
She could tell that Clark was attracted to her on some level. They'd become good friends fairly quickly. Yet there was still Jenny. She wasn't sure of the depth of their relationship, but she'd have to say that the two of them thought they were in love. The petty side of her had to think that, whatever the two of them shared, it could never approach the wonder of what she and Clark had back home.
Even if Jenny weren't in the picture, she doubted if she could ever see her and this Clark as more than friends. It just wasn't in her to make that leap. On one level she was surprised that she wasn't angry with, or at least, jealous of Clark for being able to find happiness with another Lois Lane. But she wasn't. Clark, for all that he was the strongest man on the planet, was still much more emotionally fragile than she was. As devastated as she would be if she ever found out that he had died, eventually she would be able to get on with some sort of life. She was a survivor. Clark would need help. He would need to find a reason to continue. The other Lois was also in need. It was natural that, at some point, their mutual pain would draw them together. It wasn't so much that the woman was a Lois Lane as it was two compatible people who needed each other.
She was realistic, and did hope that one day she could meet someone who could blunt the pain and loneliness that existed in her heart, but the Clark Kent of this world wasn't going to be the one to do it. And she was under no illusion that, if such a person came into her life, whatever they shared could ever approach the oneness that she felt when she had been with her husband.
There had been no tears this time, but she knew she'd have to derail this chain of thought or they'd be coming soon. She took a deep breath and poured herself a cup of coffee. It was time to get back to the matters at hand. She had a computer file to read.
Lois wandered into her bedroom looking to get back to reading that file on Lex this world's Lois had compiled on the laptop. It had been fairly late when she got home last night so she'd set the machine aside, promising herself that she'd attack the file tonight. She hadn't gotten very far in her reading the other night before she had to leave, but she had nothing pressing till the launch tomorrow, so she should be able to give the little computer her undivided attention.
She wasn't sure how much information would be on that little computer. After all, the woman had died shortly after arriving in the Congo. So it was possible, even likely, that Lois hadn't made any of the contacts that she'd been sent there to make. Which meant she probably never knew where whatever it was that Lex sent her down there to fetch was. She only hoped that there might be a clue as what it was that Lex was accusing her of holding out on him.
All she'd been able to glean so far was that Lois was 'working' Lex in an effort to prove that his benevolent philanthropist facade was just that. A phony public face that hid his true activities as the biggest crime boss in Metropolis. She'd managed to gain Luthor's confidence by playing the role of girlfriend. It would be interesting reading to see how much her acting had gained her in information, and more importantly, if it was something that Lois could still use at this late date. It would be a definite plus if she knew what it was that Lex had been threatening her about.
She glanced at the dresser where she had set the small laptop the night before and frowned when she noticed it wasn't there. A quick but thorough search of the room produced no compact computer.
Suddenly a random memory from the other night flashed through her mind. In talking to Cat before she left she'd mentioned that the password that Lois had chosen was Perry. She'd mentioned it to make a point about the departed reporter, but hadn't thought at the time that she'd just given Cat access to the file also. Knowing the woman's curiosity, she had to have succumbed to the temptation and read the file. Nodding to herself, Lois made her way to Cat's room.
After a few minutes of rummaging through the other bedroom, a perplexed Lois came out into the living room. Had she taken it somewhere else to read? More minutes were spent searching the rest of the apartment. Finally, a defeated Lois had to admit that the little machine wasn't there. Where was it? She glanced at the clock on the wall. For that matter, where was Cat?
It was later than she'd thought, and Cat normally would have been home by now. Of course, that assumed that she didn't have a date or some lewd last minute assignation. Lois had been around the woman enough to know that spur of the moment decisions were her stock and trade, and on more than one occasion Cat had simply not come home. Lois shrugged. She could even be out on a story.
Still that didn't answer the question of where her laptop was.
Going to the phone, Lois dialed Cat's desk at the Planet. As expected, she got her voice mail. Lois left a message for Cat to call her if she came in. Her frown deepened as she hung up the phone. Lois hadn't expected the woman to be there, nor did she really think that Cat would have taken the laptop to work. That assumed that she had looked at the computer file at all.
Lois picked her cup back up and took a sip of her coffee but quickly set it back down, a grimace on her face. It was cold. Too bad she didn't have heat vision like Clark to warm it back up again. Frowning again, she plopped down onto the couch. Where was that darn computer?
Lex Luthor was standing out on his balcony gazing up into the sky, as if he could see the doom that approached the planet. He heard the private elevator door open and turned to see his aide, Nigel St. John, enter the main room. The man was carrying a outdated laptop computer. Lex entered the room.
"Ah, I see you've retrieved the computer in question."
"Yes sir. It took our people a bit of time to crack the password protected file, but they were successful and now the file is available for you to read."
Lex nodded. "I assume you have already read this file."
Lex reached his desk and sat down. "Anything I should be made immediately aware of?"
"There was an interesting development." Nigel's tone never strayed from the cultured monotone he always affected. You'd never know by listening to him what emotions he might be experiencing. That was, assuming he even had any emotions. His unflappable demeanor was one the things that Lex appreciated in his assistant. "There is a mention in the file of the old warehouse on Siegel Ave, and earlier today our surveillance team assigned to Ms. Grant followed her there."
"Did she see anything?"
Nigel shook his head. "No, we are currently between ventures, so there was nothing for her to see. But it was interesting that she was there at all."
Lex nodded. "Obviously the woman has been reading the file. I wouldn't have thought Lois would share this information with the woman. She seems too unstable to have confided in, or taken on as a partner. Still, she does know something." Lex leaned back in his chair. "I think it would be best if we brought her in for a talk."
Nigel inclined his head. "I anticipated your desire to do so and had the woman picked up as she left the Daily Planet this afternoon."
Lex rose and walked over toward a large glass trophy case. In it were many one of a kind displays; a sword supposedly carried by Alexander the Great, a large piece of ivory purportedly taken from the tusk of one of Hannibal's elephants, and an ancient gold breast plate once worn by Julius Caesar. There were art treasures there also. A miniature Tiffany lamp sat on a shelf next to an uncatalogued Fabrege egg of unmatched beauty. But amongst all these wonders he was unaccountably drawn to one of his newest acquisitions. It was a cluster of some sort of crystals. One of his LexOil geologists had found it while on a survey out west somewhere. It seemed to glow with an inner pale green light that was both beautiful and repulsive at the same time. It wasn't any form of jade, for he'd had it tested. No, its value came from its mystery. His scientists had told him that it wasn't any known substance, and that its origin was probably extraterrestrial. That knowledge had pleased him. So much so in fact, that he'd had a small piece of the crystal chipped off and carefully cut and set in a beautiful platinum ring.
He turned back to St. John, who was still standing dutifully in front of his desk. "So, Nigel, what do you think of all this doom prophecy of the coming asteroid, and our government's plan to deal with it?"
Nigel shrugged. "Not my area of expertise, sir."
Lex nodded slowly. "No, I suppose not, but you must have an opinion as to whether that rocket will be able to do the job."
"Either it will, or it won't. I imagine we will deal with either eventuality as it comes."
Lex smiled at the unperturbable servant. "Yes, exactly. Have the supplies been moved into the bunker yet?"
Nigel nodded. "The last of them will be in place by this evening, sir."
"Good." Lex wandered back over to the large glass door leading to the balcony. He looked out over the city for a few moments. "I know our people tell us that the government's plan has only a small chance of success, but I do hope they are successful. I'd miss this city."
Luthor stared through the glass for a few more moments before turning back to his desk and seating himself in his large leather chair. "I have to compliment you on the bugging of Lois' apartment. I just heard the tapes from earlier this evening. An interesting, if perplexing, conversation Lois had with her partner. There seems to be more to this Kent fellow than meets the eye. I don't know if it has anything to do with my disagreement with Lois, but the two of them are definitely up to something." Luthor reached over and opened his ornate, antique cigar box. After a moment's hesitation, he put the havana back and closed the lid. "Be prepared. We might have to ask Ms. Lane and her partner to come in and explain themselves."
Nigel nodded. "As you wish, sir." St. John stood there for a few more moments. "Will that be all?"
Lex steepled his hands in front of him as possibilities continued to run through his mind. After several moments he looked back up at his aide. "Yes, that will be all for now. Thank you, Nigel."
With another nod the stately British import moved silently over to the private elevator and left Luthor to his musings.
Lois stormed off the elevator when the doors opened to the newsroom floor. The look of determination on her face was momentarily broken by a huge yawn. She had been up half the night trying to find the missing laptop. Then she'd spent the rest of the time lying in bed getting more upset that it was gone. The only thought that she could come up with was that Cat had it, but Cat had never come home last night.
Fully intending to confront her this morning, Lois marched over to her roommate's desk. Cat wasn't there. Lois frowned as she glanced over the woman's desktop. There was nothing there that gave a clue as to where she might be. Lois, not worrying about propriety, began to pull open the drawers of the desk.
"Looking for something, Lois?"
Lois nearly jumped out of her skin. She turned, fixing Perry with a scowl. "Don't sneak up on me! I could've had a heart attack."
Perry snorted. "Not likely." Perry peered over her shoulder as Lois returned to her task. "Since this is not your desk, may I ask what the devil you think you're doing?"
Lois blushed, as she turned back to Perry. "Ah… Cat borrowed something of mine, and I need it back. She didn't come home last night." Lois sat on the edge of the desk. "Do you know where she might be? Was she working on a story?"
Perry shrugged. "I hope she was working on a story. But, no, I have no idea where she might be… and I like it that way." Perry glanced over to the area where Lois and Clark's desk sat. "Speaking of missing reporters. Where's Kent?"
Lois was about to shrug and reply that she had no idea when the elevator bell indicated the arrival of the conveyance. They both looked up as the doors parted and Clark stepped out.
"There," Lois said as she pointed toward the young man.
Perry rolled his eyes and began to head back toward his office. At the top of the ramp he turned. "I want you two to be ringside for the launch of that rocket this afternoon. Then I want your follow up story for the evening edition… Capeesh?"
Lois gave Perry a mock salute. "Got it, Chief."
Clark came down the ramp, one eyebrow raised, and a smile on his face. "I see Perry's already cracking the whip." He looked down at Cat's desk, which Lois was still sitting on. "New desk?"
Lois gave his arm a playful slap. "Don't be silly. You'd never be able to read over my shoulder all the way over here." She stood. "No, Cat just had something of mine that I needed back, but it wasn't here."
They moved over towards their desks. "So," he said. "Why don't you just ask her for it?"
"I haven't seen her."
"Where is she?"
Lois' face conveyed her concern. "I don't know. She didn't come home last night." She looked up at him as she sat in her chair while he perched on the edge of her desk. "I don't know whether I should be worried or not."
"Has she ever stayed out all night before?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Cat? Lots of times. I don't know, this time it just feels different." Lois fretted for a couple more moments, then shook her head. "Oh, well, I'm probably making a big deal out of nothing. She'll most likely come dragging in here about noon, with one heck of a story to tell."
Clark smiled. "I'm sure that's right."
Lois leaned back in her chair, a look of mischief on her face. "So, how did the fittings go last night." She grinned when she saw the blush creep across his cheeks.
"I told Jenny what you had told me — you know, about the cape and chest thingie. She liked the ideas, but I think she got a bit carried away."
"What do you mean?"
Clark looked around, making sure no one was paying any attention to them. He pulled a small photo out of his pocket. "She wants me to wear this!"
With a grin of anticipation Lois quickly snatched the snapshot out of his hand. She gave a low whistle, then laughed at the scandalized look on Clark's face. The photo showed Clark in a tight spandex body suit of royal blue. The boots were red as was the long flowing cape.
"What, no red shorts?" Lois asked, a grin still on her face.
Clark's brow furrowed in confusion. "Why would I need to wear a pair of shorts?"
Lois waved him off. "No reason. Inside joke." She continued her assessment of the 'suit'.
It looked very Supermannish, but there were definite differences. As she had commented on, there were no red shorts, and the color scheme was a bit different. A wide, white belt encircled Clark's waist and the Superman shield was red and white, rather than the red and yellow she was used to. Apparently this Clark had never had the symbol for the House of El embroidered on his baby blanket. Still, it provided a nostalgic tug on her heart to see the stylized 'S' again. There was one other addition.
"Why the red gloves?" she asked.
Clark shrugged. "Jenny said it would keep me from leaving fingerprints behind. I suppose, in case someone was trying to track me down, or find out who I really am."
Lois nodded. "Makes sense, I guess." She gave him the picture back. "Looks good to me. I think Jenny did a great job."
Clark looked crestfallen. "I knew you were going to say that." He looked around and lowered his voice. "Don't you think it's too… revealing?"
Lois had to grin again. "They don't call them tights for nothing." She laughed again, when he rolled his eyes. "Seriously, Clark, the sheer flashiness of it will keep people from paying too close attention to your face."
"That's another thing." Clark leaned closer. "How are people not going to recognize me? I don't like the idea of a mask. Makes it seem like I have something to hide."
"Which you do." She held up her hand to forestall his response. "But I know what you mean. The Clark in my world normally wore glasses. So, when he was Superman, he just took them off and severely slicked back his hair."
Clark frowned. "And that worked."
"Yeah." Lois shrugged. "It took me two years before I caught on and I was as close to him as anyone."
She caught a hint of something in Clark's eye. Something that said he was aware that there was more to her relationship with the Clark Kent/Superman of her world than she was letting on. She didn't want to get into any of that now, so she redirected the conversation.
"I think maybe the reverse will work in this situation."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, you know those ski goggles that look like a large pair of wrap around sun glasses, only they come in different shades, like yellow and blue, and red?"
"Yeah," he replied somewhat warily.
"I just thought that you could wear something like that when you are Superman. It would keep people from being able to see your eyes clearly."
Clark nodded. "I think I know what you mean." He ran his hand through his hair. "Still, even if I slick my hair back and wear some sort of goggles. That won't be enough to keep people from recognizing me… will it?"
Lois patted his hand. "You'd be surprised. People tend to see what they expect to see. They aren't going to make the connection between a powerful heroic being from another planet, and a farm raised mild- mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper. Don't worry I'll give you some tips." She got up from her chair and began to walk up the ramp.
"I don't know… wait, what do you mean, mild-mannered?" He followed her up the ramp. "Lois?"
Catherine 'Cat' Grant was scared. She'd been in tight situations before and had been forced to deal with varying levels of apprehension and fear, but nothing like this. She'd never been this afraid for her life.
She had gone back to the Daily Planet to get some notes on another story she was working on. Then had left to go home and change out of her 'working girl' outfit. She hadn't gotten more than a couple of blocks from the Paper when she had been picked up. At first she'd thought they were just a couple of guys trying to bid on her services. Just to tease them she had held to her cover, but had blown them off, claiming she was 'off duty'. She realized too late what their true intentions were. She knew the type — hired muscle. She must have inadvertently stepped on someone's toes back at the warehouse. Given the source of her information, that could only mean Lex Luthor.
She was in a plain, windowless room. It looked like it had been a storage room. There were signs that boxes had sat on the floor, and there had been shelves on the wall. All that was gone. Except for the hard plaster walls and the single overhead light fixture, there was a simple hard cot, and a plain wooden chair which had been bolted to the floor. She assumed that was so she couldn't use it as a weapon against her captors.
The fact that they hadn't blindfolded her or made any attempt to keep their identities a secret worried Cat. It had to mean that they didn't feel that she represented any threat to them. Which meant that either they had nothing to hide, which she strongly doubted, or they didn't plan on letting her live.
Her morbid thoughts caused her to jump out of the chair when she heard the door open. In stepped a man she was sure she had never met before, but who strangely seemed familiar to her. He was tall, past middle age, and what hair he had left was completely white, as was his moustache and goatee. Even given his advanced years, he projected an air of menace that warned others not to underestimate him. His slight smile was for show only, it never touched his eyes.
He inclined his head ever so slightly, as if barely acknowledging her presence. "I hope the accommodations haven't been too uncomfortable, Ms. Grant. Please sit, make yourself comfortable." She sat. His accent was cultured and definitely British.
"I've stayed in worse places, though I think you need to upgrade your bathroom facilities. The decor is too utilitarian for my tastes."
Even amidst her fear, Cat couldn't help herself. Wisecracks were her defense mechanisms. Just her way of dealing with tough situations. Not more than an hour ago some muscle head had come in and forcibly escorted her to what must have been a janitor's closet of some kind. In the far corner were a single metal sink and a stained lavatory. She'd been instructed to take care of 'her business'.
Since it had been several hours since she'd had the use of any bathroom facilities, she quickly overcame her natural disgust over the conditions and answered her call of nature. She'd then tried to wash up as best as possible given the icy cold water and lack of soap. Harsh, scratchy paper towels had completed her restroom visit from hell. She had barely finished drying her face and hands when the door had been flung open and her escort had grabbed her by the arm and had dragged her back to her 'room'.
A smile that almost bespoke amusement stretched the tall man's lips after hearing her comments. "Ah, well, you can take that up with my employer, who should be here shortly." The man turned as the sound of someone approaching drifted through the doorway. "That should be him now."
Cat gasped as the newcomer walked into the room. She shouldn't have been surprised, given the circumstances, but it was one thing to know that Lex Luthor was behind your kidnapping, and another to see the man actually walk into your cell.
Whereas the Englishman's smile had been indifferent, Luthor's was positively scary. It was the smile of a predator, with all the warmth and compassion of arctic winter. She couldn't help but shiver under that cold steely gaze.
"Ms. Grant, so good of you to accept my invitation. I think we have some things we need to discuss."
Cat took a swallow, trying force down the lump of fear that was growing in her throat. "Well, I do have some complaints about the accommodations."
Lex ignored her comment. "What were you doing at that old warehouse on Siegel Ave?"
She licked her lips. Suddenly her throat was very dry. "I got a tip that there might be something shady going on down there. Why? Is it yours?"
Luthor turned his feral grin back on her. "Not anymore. At least, there are no legal records that can trace it back to me." He paced a few steps then lunged toward her. He grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her head back so that he was staring directly down at her.
She cried out in pain but he ignored it. "I don't like it when people lie to me, Ms. Grant. I know about the laptop." He jerked his hand away, letting her head fall back onto her chest. Several strands of auburn hair were still clutched in his fingers.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she muttered into her blouse.
Suddenly she was knocked out of her chair by a vicious backhand that struck her across the cheek. She cringed, lying on the floor, as he loomed over her. He reached out and grabbed her by the throat. She could feel his perfectly manicured nails digging into her neck. She struggled to breathe.
"I'm not a patient man. My request is a simple one. Tell me what you know about Lois and what's she's really up to, and I might let you live." His voice dropped in pitch and was even more menacing in its intense monotone. "Defy me any longer and you will be begging for death just to stop the pain."
Cat was no novice reporter. She'd been on dangerous stories before, and had, on more than one occasion, put herself in dicey situations. She was a good investigative reporter, but she'd never faced anything like this before. She'd never looked death so squarely in the face. Suddenly something she'd been fooling herself about for ten years became crystal clear. She was no Lois Lane, and never had been. She didn't want to die, and she was afraid. Unable to help herself, she broke down. Tears flowed as she flailed ineffectually against Luthor's grip.
"I only know what I read in that file on the laptop. Nothing more. Lois doesn't know anything." She choked back another sob. "I don't even think she got to read much of it."
In fury, Luthor hoisted Cat to her feet by the throat and forcefully threw her onto the cot. He took a few moments to regain his composure. She shrank back as he approached. "You two are roommates and friends. Don't tell me that she hasn't confided in you as to what her plans are. I would find that very hard to believe."
Tears flowed freely as Cat shook her head back and forth, her hair swinging in front of her face. "She doesn't know anything that happened back then. She was trying to find out."
Lex's face darkened in anger. "Don't you dare try to lay that ridiculous amnesia story on me." A loud smack echoed through the small room as Luthor slapped her hard, leaving a bruised and reddened cheek. "I told Lois that it wouldn't work on me, and I'm telling you." His anger had raised his voice to a shout. "Now tell me what I want to know!"
"All I know is what was on the computer, I swear!" Her voice broke and she had to take a moment to catch her breath. Her fear was making it hard to breathe. "I know that Lois was supposed to meet someone down there for you. I know she was supposed to receive some diamonds or something. But she never made it to the meet!" Cat pounded her fists on the cot. "She came down with some sort of jungle fever and never made it to the scheduled rendezvous. She never had the diamonds." She tried to choke back her sobs but only succeeded in causing a coughing fit.
Lex snarled in disgust. "I'm inclined to believe that you don't know anything. I think your *good* friend, Lois Lane, is using you just like she used me." Lex managed to calm his anger. Instead a deep frown furrowed his brow. "Well, it seems that Lois is playing things very close to the vest. She is trusting no one. Apparently she has more brains than I gave her credit for."
Luthor reached down and pulled Cat to her feet by grabbing the front of her loose blouse, causing it to tear. "Just so you know what it is that your *good* friend is going to let you die for, it's not diamonds she was supposed to fetch. Just diamond, just one. The world's largest uncut gemstone. A diamond the size of a large man's fist was stolen and smuggled out of South Africa. I went to a lot of trouble to make the proper contacts and set up the buy." Lex stuck his face right next to hers. "I lost a lot of money on that deal and I want what's mine. Lois is deluded if she thinks she can get away with taking what's mine, no matter how long it's been."
Lex savagely shoved Cat toward Nigel. "Bring her along. Maybe she'll have some use yet as leverage." Lex began to leave the room. He stopped and turned back to St. John. "Have Lois and that junior partner of hers picked up. Bring them to the warehouse. It's time Ms. Lane and I settled accounts."
"Clark?" Jenny called out but the elevator door had closed. She'd just missed him. She had wanted to talk to him about the costume, but once again he and Lois had run off somewhere.
What was it about Lois Lane that had her boyfriend under such a spell? Jenny had to admit that Lois was a beautiful woman, but she knew that Clark thought she was pretty also. She twisted a long red curl around her finger. Maybe if she cut her hair short like Lois. She shook her head. No, she knew that Clark liked her hair the way it was. That style might work fine on an older woman like Lois, but it wasn't for her… and Lois *was* much older.
Was it that 'older woman' mystique? She knew that she was younger than Clark, and some people thought she acted too immature at times, but Clark never complained. Even though he was between the two of them, he was a lot closer to her than to Lois in age. She'd assumed that they would have more in common than 'the partners'.
Was that it? Was it just the fact that they were partners in their jobs? The close proximity of working together day after day. The bond that they had so quickly formed as Lois had taught Clark so much about investigative reporting. Jenny wasn't stupid. She knew how much working with Lois had made Clark a better reporter. A blind man could see it. She just wished that he didn't enjoy being with her so much.
Then there was Lois. She'd never made any overt moves on her Clark. At least nothing that Jenny had ever seen, but she saw how the woman looked at her man on occasion. There would be a certain look in her eye. It was almost like she was fondly remembering a time with him, and that worried her.
She shook her head. She was being foolish, and insecure. Clark loved her. She knew he did. If there was one thing she was sure of… well, pretty sure of, is that Clark would never betray her. He would never be unfaithful to her. It just wasn't in his nature. If he — and his partner fell in lo- had feelings for each other, he'd tell her. He would break it off with her. He would never two- time her. He would never lead her on.
She sighed. So, that meant that she should trust him when he told her that he and Lois were just friends. She loved Clark. She trusted Clark. So, why was it so hard to believe him when it came to Lois?
There was something about her, something besides her confident air, and dynamic personality. It was like she knew things that she wasn't sharing. Even though Clark had shared his 'specialness' with her, it was clear that Lois had known before she did. Had he told Lois before he'd told her? Or had Lois somehow found out? She snorted in silence. Not that it would have surprised her. She doubted many people could keep a secret from Lois Lane if she decided she wanted to know what it was.
Still, she had the distinct impression that Clark and Lois were keeping something from her. She didn't know what, and given the situation the world found itself in currently, it probably wasn't that important, but it still bothered her.
Then there was this whole Nightfall problem. It made her head swim. If Clark wasn't there to hold her each night she'd probably have fallen apart by now. How could that woman be so calm about the possible end of the world?
If that Asgard rocket didn't take out the asteroid, she claimed that Clark would be able to do it. How was that possible? Jenny knew that Clark had some pretty remarkable powers. Powers which she was just beginning to find out about. And the idea of him donning the disguise costume they'd come up with, in order to use those remarkable gifts to help others, excited her. But they were talking about a rock seventeen miles across tumbling through space at thousands of miles an hour!
She glanced up at the clock. Only a few more hours till the launch. Her gaze strayed over to the currently quiescent elevator. Where were they going now?
"Lois, where are we going?" Clark hurried to catch up with her as they hit the sidewalk out in front of the Planet building.
Lois stopped and allowed Clark to catch up. "I'm hungry, so I thought I'd head over to Manning's for an early lunch."
Clark looked confused. "Lunch?" He checked his watch. "It's only 9:30."
Lois shrugged. "So, it will be a real early lunch."
Suddenly the sky darkened. Everyone and everything halted as the city experienced another of the frequent solar eclipse. All eyes were turned toward the sky. There wasn't anything to see yet. The asteroid was still too far out. Actually, Professor Hamilton had told them that the asteroid wouldn't be visible to the naked eye until just minutes before impact. Not the most comforting thought. You see Nightfall, kiss your butt goodbye.
They entered the nearby coffee shop and took a booth near the front window. Lois quickly ordered coffee, some french fries, and a double chocolate brownie sundae.
Clark shook his head. "That's your idea of lunch?"
Lois winked at him. "Comfort food."
Clark grinned at her. "And here I thought that you had this all figured out. You've already lived through a Nightfall asteroid, and have all the bases covered. Why should you need comfort food?"
"I'm not worried about the asteroid." A frown tugged at her mouth. "I'm worried about Cat."
"I thought you said that it was probably nothing. When was the last time you actually saw her?"
Lois chewed her lip as she tried to pinpoint the when. "Just before I went over to your place the other night, but I know she was home that next morning. I yelled at her before I left for the office and she grunted at me."
"So, she really has been gone only one night?"
Lois frowned. She wasn't sure if Clark was actually trying to make her feel better, or was just humoring her. "Yeah, it's only been one night and, yes as I said before, she's been out in the past and not come home."
Clark reached over and gave her hand a squeeze. "So, why is this time any different?"
Lois stared out the window for several moments, during which time the waitress brought out her order. "I don't know, it just doesn't feel right." She munched on a few fries, and took in a spoonful of her sundae. "I'm pretty sure she read the file on the laptop, and now that's missing too."
Clark leaned back, bewilderment clearly showing on his face. "Laptop? What laptop are you talking about?"
She brought her attention back into the restaurant and onto his confused face. "That's right, I didn't tell you about that, did I."
"No, I think I might have remembered you mentioning a laptop. Is it yours? What was on it?"
As she ate, Lois studied Clark, wondering how much to tell him. It wasn't as if she felt she needed to keep secrets from him anymore. It was just he had enough on his mind with the Nightfall situation. He didn't need to be distracted by her disagreement with Lex.
She was just about to dodge the issue. Come up with a way to brush it off. Postpone it for another time. But she changed her mind. He'd only be hurt if she kept this from him. They were supposed to be partners, and partners didn't hide things from each other… well, they mostly didn't hide things from each other. Mainly, though, she was worried about Cat. Who better to have on your side when looking for someone than Superman?
Lois sighed. "The laptop belonged to this world's Lois. She'd used it to keep her notes on her investigation of Lex Luthor."
Clark shook his head. "I don't understand. Why was Lois investigating Luthor ten years ago?"
"She suspected that there was more behind the too good to be true public persona that Luthor projected, so she decided to do what she did best — investigate him."
Clark was still puzzled. "How do you investigate someone like Luthor? It's not as if he's all that accessible."
Lois shrugged. "For her the solution was simple. She went undercover. She began dating Luthor and became intimate with him in order to gain his confidence."
Clark looked shocked and appalled. "I can't believe she did something like that, just for a story." He seemed to be trying to peer through her eyes and read into her soul. "You'd never do anything like that… would you?" He stared at her for a time. She didn't answer. "Would you?"
Lois frowned. "There was a time… I don't know, maybe, if the story was big enough… no, I don't think I could've, even back when I was young and stupid." She reached over and touched his hand. "But then she and I are different people. You have to realize that Lois believed in very little, and saw most people as a means to an end. She used people… it was a hard lesson she learned early in life."
Lois took a sip of her coffee. It had gotten cold. She held the mug out to him. He glanced around, then shifted his gaze to the cup. In moments the brew was warm again. "Anyway, she had apparently gained Luthor's trust because she was supposed to go to the Congo to pick up something for him because he couldn't go himself."
Clark pursed his lips. "The Congo? That's where she died, isn't it?" Lois nodded. "So what was she looking for? Do you know?"
Lois shook her head. "No, I never finished reading the whole file."
"So, you're just assuming that Luthor was up to something illegal because Lois thought so?"
Lois let a sad chuckle escape. "Not exactly. First off, the Lex Luthor on my world was behind virtually all the major crime in Metropolis." She held up her hand. "Now I know that doesn't automatically mean that this world's counterpart must necessarily be a crook also, but he threatened me."
"The morning of the first EPRAD conference, I had to let you go alone because Luthor had invited me to a brunch." She watched Clark nod as his memory slipped back to that time. "I was curious as to why Lex would want to see me, so I went. The conversation quickly got ugly. He accused me of holding out on him. He was convinced that my amnesia story was just a ploy to hide my real agenda. He's certain that I've got whatever it was that Lois was supposed to secure for him, and he wants it back. And now the laptop is missing, and so is Cat."
Clark's brow furrowed in confusion. "I don't think I see the connection."
"I'm pretty sure that Cat read the file the other night…"
She could almost see the light bulb going on over his head. "And you think that she might have gone out to do some investigating on her own?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah, it does sound like her." His frown deepened. "Lois, why didn't you tell me about all this sooner?"
Lois shrugged again. "I figured it could wait a bit." She pointed to the sky. "Besides, you have bigger problems to worry about." She pulled a few bills out of her pocket and threw them on the table. "Come on, let's get back to the Planet. Maybe I've been worried about nothing and Cat is back at her desk with another lurid tale of a night of perverse pleasure. We also have to plan out our story for when the government's rocket misses Nightfall."
Clark helped her to her feet. "Or when it succeeds?"
The pair left the small coffee shop and headed back in the direction of the Daily Planet. They hadn't gone more than a block when a large black limousine pulled up to the curb beside them. The passenger window silently wound its way down. A head poked out.
"Nigel," Lois said without thinking.
"Ms. Lane, nice to see you again." He nodded at Clark. "Mr. Kent. Now would the two of you be good enough to get into the car?"
Lois shook her head. "I don't think so. We have a lot of work to do, what with the Asgard launch going up later today." She began to edge farther away from the curb.
"My mistake," the genteel Englishman said. "I shouldn't have couched it as a question." The cold blue steel of a revolver suddenly appeared in his hand. "Get in the car."
Lois felt Clark's body tense beside her. She quickly looked up and saw a look of determination in his eye. She grabbed his hand and squeezed it to gain his attention. When he looked down at her she gave him an almost imperceptible shake of her head. No need for Clark to perform any heroics just now. There'd be time for that later. Better to go along and find out what Luthor wanted.
As they moved toward the dark limo, the back door swung open and the two of them entered. The door slammed shut and the big sedan sped quickly away from the curb.
Clark followed Lois, who followed Nigel, as they moved through the tunnel system. A couple of toughs with guns drawn took up the rear. He understood why Lois hadn't wanted him to 'rescue' them immediately. From what little they'd had a chance to discuss, he knew that Luthor and this world's Lois Lane had some sort of past. He wanted to know what it had been as much as Lois did. His curiosity had been aroused as much as hers, so he was more than willing to go along with things. He could always use his special abilities to get them out of any trouble later if things got dangerous. After all, he didn't want to expose himself unnecessarily. Maybe a better, more discreet opportunity would present itself later. If not… well, they'd cross that bridge when they got to it.
Luthor's man had taken them into the basement garage of the LexTower but had entered a vehicle lift that had taken them to a lower level that apparently wasn't on the LexTower directory. They had been led into a tunnel that resembled a miniature version of the Metropolis subway system. Judicious use of his vision gifts had allowed Clark to see that the subway was indeed just beyond the far side concrete walls.
They then were instructed to get into what could only be described as a hybrid golf cart. A twenty minute trip with guns trained at their backs had led them to a small opening in the tunnel. It was circular in shape, and about thirty feet in diameter. There'd been a few boxes piled over to one side, and Clark had seen three other tunnels leading off in different directions. He'd been amazed. Who knew that Luthor had his own private subway system under the streets of Metropolis?
They'd all disembarked from the golf cart and walked on foot down one of the other side tunnels. After walking for a few minutes, Nigel led them up a set of masonry stairs. There were globes along the wall that lit as they go closer to them and went out after they had passed by. An interesting use of motion detectors. Clark had to smile when Lois made a crack about saving on the electric bill. Nigel hadn't responded.
At the top of the long climb, a pair of metal doors was pushed open and they all entered what appeared to be an old abandoned warehouse. More accurately, they were in an office in an old abandoned warehouse. He looked back and saw that they had entered through a metal storage locker which stood in the corner of the room.
"Cat!" Lois suddenly burst into motion, running to the far side of the office.
Clark followed her with his gaze and saw the huddled form of Catherine Grant slumped against the far side of the metal and glass walled room. As he got closer he could see that the woman had been abused. Her blouse was torn and her face showed swelling and bruises on her cheeks. Her neck also showed signs of scratches. Clark could feel the anger welling up inside him. What kind of people beat up on a woman!
Lois was on her knees beside the battered woman. Cat reached up and stroked her gently on the cheek. "Can't say I think much of your *old* friends, Lois. I don't think Lex really knows how to treat a lady."
Lois gasped. "Lex did this?"
"Enough!" Nigel came over and, gun in hand, gestured for Lois to back away from Cat. He directed a menacing gaze at the cringing woman. "You had your chance to talk, Ms. Grant. Now be a good little tramp and keep your mouth shut."
"How dare…" Lois began, her indignation and anger obvious.
Nigel swiveled his glare and his gun over to Lois. "You too, Ms. Lane. Your chance will come soon enough. Now, sit and be quiet, both of you."
Clark tensed as one of the thugs gave him a push toward the floor. His hearing picked up a faint whisper coming from Lois.
"Not now," she said. "We have to wait for Lex. It's the only way we'll find out what this is all about."
Reluctantly, Clark slid down the dirty glass wall to the hard cement floor and settled in next to Lois.
They all waited in an uneasy silence for several minutes until the metal doors on the phony storage locker opened and a well-dressed man stepped into the derelict office.
Lex Luthor's smile was cold and not something that could ever convey amusement. Clark wondered how anyone, if they'd ever seen him like this, would think that the man was anything but a cold-blooded criminal.
As Luthor came toward them, Clark began to feel a tightness in his chest and a pounding behind his eyes. Sweat began to bead up on his forehead. He shook his head a couple of times but the pressure seemed to increase. It was then that he realized what was happening to him. For the first time since his powers had manifested themselves, he was feeling pain. He didn't understand it. He was invulnerable. He didn't feel pain.
With a groan he slumped over, falling against Lois.
Lois' eyes were riveted onto Lex as he strode into the small office, his arrogance flashing like a neon sign. This was a man who loved being in control, and she had to think that he thought he was now the one holding all the cards. She began to doubt the wisdom of allowing herself and Clark to come here. Even given Clark's powers, there was a risk of someone getting hurt. There were too many gun-happy minions around, which surprised her. The Lex Luthor she had known didn't trust a lot of people knowing who he really was and what he did.
His smile was recognizable, though. The cold smugness that stretched his lips ever so slightly upward was only too familiar. Lex reveled at any situation where he could bask in his imagined superiority. Lois risked a quick glance over at Cat, and new feelings of anger mixed with the older feelings of hatred and disgust. Was there a dimension where Lex Luthor wasn't the scum of the earth?
Suddenly Lois heard a muffled groan and was rocked by the weight of Clark falling against her. She managed to catch his head in her lap before it struck the floor.
"Clark? What's wrong?"
"Hurts," was all he was able to get out through clenched teeth.
A chill ran through her as she noticed the sweat beading on his forehead and the clear indications that he was in pain. Clark was Superman, yet he was suffering. That could only mean one thing — kryptonite!
Lois frantically began scanning the room. There was no place that she could see that might hold some of the evil crystal. Maybe in the desk? But then Clark didn't show any signs when they first entered, nor while they waited for Luthor. It wasn't until Lex…
Her gaze fastened back on their captor. It only took her a few moments to notice the ring and the telltale, sickly green color of its stone. He was wearing a kryptonite ring! Did that mean that he knew about Clark, or was it just her own bad karma that allowed coincidence to provide the city's most evil man with the only means to defeat a Superman?
"What's wrong with him?" Lex strolled over and gave Clark a nudge with his foot.
Lois cradled her suffering partner protectively. "Ah, he has the flu. We were just heading back to his place so he could go to bed when your flunkies picked us up." She smoothed a lock of wet hair that had drooped down away from his forehead.
Lex immediately backed away, a look of repugnance on his face. He signaled to a couple of his bully boys. They came over and, despite Lois' protests, pulled Clark away from her and dumped him unceremoniously in the corner. Lex then signaled with his hand that Lois should stand. Cautiously she stood and faced him. Several times her glance snuck back for a look at Clark.
Lex reached over and grabbed her chin and held it firmly so that she faced him. "Forget about him. We have a serious matter to discuss." Lex's eyes narrowed as he released her. "I sincerely hope that since we had our little meeting a few days ago you've spent the time wisely, and have come to the *correct* decision."
"He wants his diamond, Lois."
"What?" Lois' head snapped around at Cat's words.
Cat tried to look apologetic. "I read the file. I know about the big diamond you were supposed to fetch for Lex."
"The diamond?" Lois' head swiveled from Cat to Lex.
"Yes, the diamond," he said. "I've also got your little laptop so no more games, Lois. I want what's mine."
Lois chewed on her lip. She looked over at Clark lying on the floor. He was still breathing, but she was worried. He wasn't moving anymore. She hoped that he hadn't lost consciousness. From his reaction, Lois guessed that this was the first time Clark had ever been exposed to kryptonite.
Lois made a show of staring at the three men who were clearly nothing more than hired muscle. She licked her lips and stepped closer to Lex. "I don't think you want me to reveal anything *significant* in front of the hired help — do you?" She ran her hand along his lapel as she gave a little jerk of her head toward the nearest no-neck.
Lex turned his gaze away from Lois' eyes, and looked over the top of her head. A frown finally replaced his smug smile. Lois didn't kid herself into believing Lex would suddenly start trusting her now, but she did rely on his overweening belief in his own infallibility to control a situation. An imperceptible nod was directed toward St. John. Nigel returned the gesture with the barest acknowledgement.
Nigel pulled his own pistol from his jacket and waved it toward the office door. "If you gentlemen would be so good as to wait for us on the other side of the warehouse." The cultured Englishman moved over and unlocked the glass and metal door. "We'll call for you when we need your assistance." Nigel closed the door and turned back to face the group.
Lois glanced at Nigel, then back to Lex. "What about him?"
Lex chuckled. "Oh, I think Nigel will stay."
Lois shrugged. "Suit yourself." She leaned closer, as if she were going to whisper something into Lex's ear. He leaned in.
With a sudden savage motion, Lois rammed her knee into Lex's crotch. When he doubled over in pain she grabbed his hand and ripped the ring from his finger. With the same motion she pushed the disabled billionaire into St. John. She then rushed toward the mock locker, threw open the door, and rushed down the stairs.
Once she reached the bottom of the concrete flight she glanced down the tunnel in each direction. She could hear the commotion above her. With everything she had she tossed the ring as far down the left tunnel as she could. Then she fled toward the junction room they had arrived at earlier, which just happened to be in the opposite direction of her ring toss. She knew there was that goofy golf cart there, but she had no intention of leaving on it. She just wanted them to think so.
True to expectations, Nigel arrived only a few moments after she reached the tunnel junction. She made a show of trying to start the cart.
"Looking for these, Ms. Lane?" St. John held up the keys, letting them dangle from a silver chain. His gun was trained on her. "A valiant effort, but ultimately doomed to failure." He stepped aside and waved the gun in the direction of way they had come. "If you please."
Lois gave him her best grimace, and with her head down, meekly complied. She knew that there would be tax to pay for her actions, but if her plan worked, it would be worth it, and they just might get out of this alive.
"You bi ..!"
The rest of the expletive was lost to Lois as she was violently flung against the far wall the moment she emerged from the phony locker doors. She yelped in surprise and pain as she hit the glass and aluminum of the modular wall panel with her shoulder and back. In an instant Lex was upon her, lifting her back to her feet by her hair.
"Did you really think you could get away that easily? Did you!" He shook her, then flung her to the hard cement floor.
"Leave her alone." The voice was weak, but the words were measured and resolute. Clark had crawled to his hands and knees and was facing Lex.
"So now the junior partner decides to be heard." Luthor laughed, his voice filled with derision. "Get away from me you worthless punk." He lashed out with his foot and caught Clark in the jaw, sending him sprawling back to the opposite wall.
"Lex, stop it!" Lois' shout rang through the tiny space. "What is wrong with you?" He turned an evil gaze back onto her. "The world is teetering on the brink of destruction and you're worried about some stupid diamond?"
He grabbed her by her shirt front and pulled her up so she was face to face with him. "Not just *some stupid diamond*, Lois; as you well know. It was reportedly the world's largest diamond." He thrust his face even closer. "And it's mine!"
She tried to push him away but his grip was too firm. "Lex, get it through that solid granite head of yours; there is no diamond. I don't have it. I never did. The meeting never happened." She continued to struggle until she finally able to savagely wrench herself out of Luthor's grip. "Lois Lane caught some sort of jungle fever and died a couple of days after arriving in the Congo. The diamond was lost ten years ago."
Luthor had been holding his pistol loosely in his hand. He now brought it up and pointed it at Lois. "You aren't making any sense, woman, but if you don't have the diamond then there is no reason to keep you around anymore… is there?"
When she looked back on that moment, Lois couldn't clearly remember the exact order of events. Luthor had his gun trained on her. Suddenly Clark flashed by and crashed into Lex, bringing the two of them to the floor. At virtually the same time, Nigel, whose own weapon was being brought to bear, was struck down from behind by Cat. She had waited for an opportunity, for a time when no one was watching her any longer. She had grabbed the heavy, old model desk phone from the small metal desk nearby and had clobbered Nigel from behind with it. The elder aide went down like a poleaxed steer.
Lois and Cat grinned at each other. Figuring Clark had probably lost his powers from the kryptonite exposure and was working with just a normal human's strength, she turned to see how Clark was doing with Luthor. Before she could act Cat's voice broke through. "Lois! Look!"
Turning, she saw immediately what Cat had. The three thugs, whom she'd forgotten about, were coming at a dead run toward the small office. Lois quickly looked for, and found, Nigel's gun, which had fallen from his hand when Cat had clocked him. She picked it up and began firing wildly into the main part of the warehouse. Glass shattered and bullets ricocheted off cement pillars and concrete floors as she continued to fire in the general direction that Luthor's lackeys had been coming.
Finding no place close at hand for cover, Luthor's 'hired help' showed their true colors and fled for the front door of the old warehouse. Again, Lois and Cat grinned at each other.
Just as she was ready to give Clark a hand, a partially muffled shot was heard coming from between the two men. Lois held her breath as her blood chilled. She shook her head. No, don't let it be, she cried to herself. As if in a dream, she moved toward the two men, both lying so still next to each other.
Hesitantly, she reached down and touched Clark on the shoulder. He turned and looked up at her. Shock and anguish were reflected in his eyes. "I couldn't help it," he began in a halting voice. "The gun just went off."
Lois jerked her gaze toward Luthor. She saw the spreading crimson stain on the front of his shirt. She reached over and felt his neck for a pulse. He was still alive, but just barely. They would have to get him medical attention, fast.
A part of Lois wanted to just leave the man there. Let him bleed to death. It would be a fitting way for a man such as Luthor to die. She shook off the thought. No, it would be better to see him rot the rest of his miserable life in a six by eight prison cell. She reached over and helped Clark to his feet.
"Come on, let's get you in a chair." She propped him up a bit as they both shuffled toward the old desk and chair. She could tell he probably didn't really need any help, but Lois felt like helping anyway. She touched his cheek once he sat down. "Are you all right?"
He smiled up at her, then nodded. "Yeah, I'm feeling much better. I'm weak, but the pain is gone."
Lois returned his smile. "Good, let me help you clean up." She moved back to where her purse was sitting, back where they had sat on the floor originally. "I've got some wipes in my bag."
"Lois, look out!"
Cat's shout caused her to turn. She froze as she saw Luthor glaring up at her. The hatred in his eyes was frightening. He had his gun in his hand. She cursed herself for not thinking to locate it after Lex had gotten shot. Now it looked like Luthor would get his revenge after all.
She felt Cat slam into her at the same time as she heard the shot reverberate through the close confines. The force of hitting the hard concrete floor momentarily knocked the breath from her. She was only peripherally aware of Clark hustling over and snatching the gun from the now lifeless fingers of Luthor. His final act had been one of attempted retribution.
The warm stickiness of blood covered the front of her shirt. Had she been shot? She tried to push herself to a sitting position, but was still weighed down by Cat's body. That was when the awful truth dawned on her.
She managed to roll the woman over, until she was lying across Lois' lap. A blood red rose soaked the blouse of her best friend and roommate. Tears fell, as Lois rocked back and forth holding Cat's head in her arms.
The blue green eyes opened and stared up at Lois. "Hey, roomie, don't cry." Her voice was little more than a whisper.
"Catherine Ann Grant, what were you thinking?" Lois tried to make her voice sound stern but it was her anguish that carried through.
Cat tried to chuckle but it just rattled around in her throat. "After all you've gone through, I couldn't let a slimeball like Lex Luthor hurt you, now could I?"
"Shhh," she said, as she placed her finger against Lois' lips. "Hey, this world deserves a Lois Lane too." Cat closed her eyes as a spasm of pain wracked her body. With obvious effort, she opened them again, staring at her friend's own flooded gaze. "Love you."
Suddenly the woman's body went still. "Cat?" Lois smoothed an errant lock of hair from Cat's forehead. "Cat, don't do this. Cat, don't give up on me, girl. Cat? Cat!" Her voice was raw with pain. "No, no, no, no, no, no, " she continued to cry.
Clark knelt down next to her. Tears streaked his face also. He gently reached over and felt for a pulse. Lois' watery gaze moved to his eyes, searching for a miracle. A quick shake of his head crushed her hopes and she turned her attention back to her dead friend.
Her mind screamed in torment. Why did this have to happen? It wasn't fair. She didn't deserve this… neither of them did.
It was a somber group that sat in Perry's office watching the coverage of the EPRAD launch of the Asgard rocket. Jenny and Clark sat next to each other on the couch. Perry was in his usual spot behind his desk, and Lois was in the chair which sat just in front of the big oak desk. She couldn't focus on the announcer on the screen as he mimicked the countdown. She had too much else on her mind. If only she'd had the presence of mind to retrieve Lex's gun after he'd shot himself, she wouldn't have to be sitting there not caring whether or not the government's rocket succeeded or failed. She wouldn't have to be sitting there feeling the grief and the guilt for having been responsible for the death of her dear friend.
After the debacle at the warehouse had finally played itself out, Clark had left to find a way to call in the police. Lois stayed behind, holding Cat in her arms. Nigel recovered during that time. He noted Luthor's dead body lying nearby, and then saw Lois sitting on the floor holding the body of her friend. She never spoke but her glare dared Nigel to try something. With his employer dead, apparently the elder Englishman felt no reason to act — or to stick around. He quickly exited through the stairwell to the tunnel system. They should have thought to tie St. John up with something before Clark had gone, but Lois couldn't work up enough reaction to his leaving to care.
Clark came back a few minutes later, and Henderson and his men were there a few minutes after that. It took two strong officers and Henderson's calm reasoning to get Lois to let go of Cat's body. After that, with Clark's arm about her shoulder, the police gave them a ride back to the Daily Planet. They both gave their initial statements while in the squad car, but promised Henderson they'd come by later to give a more detailed deposition.
Once back at the Planet they had marched into Perry's office. Jenny having seen them come back, and seeing Lois drenched in blood, had run into the office after them. The partners then proceeded to tell their tale.
Lois knew that Perry, having already known about her problems with Lex Luthor, had half expected something like this to happen. He was shocked, and deeply distressed over Cat's death. Things like that weren't supposed to happen to his reporters. Jenny had just sat back, staring blankly, numb with horror. No one spoke after they had finished their story. Finally working up enough interest in the fate of the world, Lois shifted her gaze from her own hands to the screen. The rocket was away.
The next several minutes were spent in mute concentration to the happenings on the screen. The announcer droned on about the massive nuclear payload the Asgard rocket carried and the effect the strike was calculated to have on the large asteroid. When the rocket was very near its target the announcer turned the audio over to a live mission control feed. Everyone listened as the countdown to impact began.
The rocket missed. Even though Lois knew that it would, she couldn't help feeling a sense of disappointment when the huge nuclear missile slipped past the giant asteroid and continued on into empty space. With a sigh she rose and looked pointedly at Clark. They now had less than three days until impact.
"Time to go," she said. He gave her a quizzical look, then a slight nod toward Perry. She shook her head, then turned to Perry. "I'm sorry, Chief, but we promised Henderson that we'd get down to headquarters as soon as we could to give our depositions."
Perry nodded. "I understand… and look, Lois, I know you two have been through a lot here. We all grieve for Cat, but I'm going to need the Luthor story for the morning edition. If you feel you're not up to writing it I can assign someone else to do it. Just give them the details and …"
Lois shook her head. "No, Perry, that's okay. Clark and I will have it for you later tonight. I'd appreciate it, though, if you had someone else write up the EPRAD failure today. Clark and I will be pursuing a different angle." Perry cocked his brow, and Jenny put her hand to her mouth in a worried gesture. Lois answered with an enigmatic smile.
Lois was standing in front of the elevator before Clark finally caught up with her. The doors opened and the partners entered the car together. Neither spoke until the doors closed.
"So, what are we going to do now?"
Lois turned and fixed him with a determined stare. "We're going to do what we have to. We're going to see Henderson, then we're going home to write up our story." She paused to sigh. "Then, if your powers have returned, we're going to schedule a press conference for first thing tomorrow morning."
"Lois, what's all this about a 9 o'clock press conference? I was told that you scheduled it?" Perry pounced on Lois the moment she stepped off the elevator.
"Good morning to you too, Chief," she replied with just a hint of sarcasm in her voice. "And you're welcome for the story that's splashed all over the front page of the paper this morning."
Perry placed his hand on her back and steered her into his office. "Don't be playing any games with me, Lois. You know I don't like cute, or coy. So, spill it."
She took her time moving over to the chair and sitting. "Okay, here's the scoop." She paused. This was going to be critical. If she could sell Perry, then they should be able to sell their story to everyone else. "The other day, Clark and I were approached by this… person, who said that they could help us."
Perry looked properly confused. "Help us? Help us with what?"
"With the Nightfall asteroid."
"What?" Perry held up his hand. "No, forget that, just explain this to me."
Lois nodded. "All right. Anyway, this person expressed their concern over the government's plan to deal with the asteroid. He didn't think it would work."
"He?" Perry said with a raised brow. "Gee, I wonder why you were willing to listen to him."
Lois blushed. "I never made any secret of my doubts about the rocket, and you have to admit that they proved to be correct." She waved off any further remark from her boss. "Anyway, he said that he had a way to safely move the asteroid off its collision course with the Earth."
Perry leaned back in his chair. A practiced look of skepticism was on his face. "And just how was he going to do that?"
Lois bit on her lip. "Ah, he was going to push it."
Perry snapped forward in his chair. "He was going to what?"
Lois stood up. "Never mind now. It will all be explained at the conference. I've got to get out there. The rest of the city's media are already gathering, and I'm the one who has to address the mob." She turned to go.
"Now hold on a minute." Perry had also risen. "You can't just schedule a press conference to introduce some crackpot with a hair-brained scheme to stop an asteroid. Especially one as lame as this one. Lois, I don't understand. You're not some gullible rumor monger working for a grocery checkout scandal rag. What's the real deal here? And where's Clark?"
Lois shook her head as she moved to the door. "There's no time to explain, Chief. Just trust me. I've got to go." And she was out the door, heading for the elevators.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the Metropolis media." Lois took a breath before continuing. She didn't like to be behind the microphone. She much preferred being out there in the crowd with her pen poised. "Some of you know me, and some more may have heard of me. I'm Lois Lane and I work for the Daily Planet." She paused to let the gentle hubbub die down. "As you all know, the government's recent attempt at solving the Nightfall problem has failed. They do have a back-up plan in place, but as many of you already know, it is a plan that has many dangerous draw backs of its own, even if it is successful."
Again there was a general murmur from the crowd. "Recently, my partner, Clark Kent, and I were contacted by someone who claimed to have another solution to the problem. A safe option to the one the government has planned. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Superman!" She raised her head and pointed skyward.
A collective gasp rippled through the assembled media as an impressive figure in royal blue and scarlet descended from the sky to land next to her on the hastily erected platform in front of the Daily Planet. Clark's powers had returned early that morning. She'd had him basking in the sun as much as possible yesterday after they'd left the police station while she wrote up their story on Luthor. Lois guessed it was the fact that the stone on Lex's ring was so small that allowed Clark to regain his powers more quickly than she would have thought for his first exposure. They'd been lucky in that regard. She hadn't wanted to have to put this off any longer than they had to.
Lois had to admit that Clark was quite the imposing figure in the skin tight outfit. He stood formally erect, as she had taught him. His slicked back dark hair gleamed in the early morning light, and his smile for the crowd was genuine but still reserved. It was amazing how easily he had been able to adopt the Superman 'persona'. Maybe it was genetic.
She stepped back as he approached the microphone. The dark wrap around ski glasses were quite effective in taking his eyes away as a possible recognition factor. The blue frames and the hint of red in the lenses fit in well with the rest of his costume. She had wondered if they would hinder any of his vision gifts, but he'd assured her that they wouldn't. His special vision enhancements, just like regular sight, were a matter of focus. Just like a normal person's ability to switch from seeing things close up, to far away, and back again, his enhancements worked similarly. Both the heat and X-ray aspects of his vision only manifested at the point he was focused on. She remembered that her own Clark had taken to wearing glasses with lenses of leaded glass early on to help him learn to control his powers, which was why he always pulled his glasses down when he wanted to secretly scan something. Lead was also a problem for this Clark.
So the glasses worked well to help hide his identity, but just like back home, it was the outfit that most effectively disguised him. No one was looking at his face. A pang of nostalgia surged through her. She missed the red shorts.
She could see a touch of hesitancy as he stepped up to the mic. He quickly quelled it and replaced it with the calm confidence of a Superman. There was quite a bit of commotion out in the crowd, but Clark held up his hand. "Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I appreciate your coming. I've got a short prepared statement then I'll try and answer some questions."
He looked out on the assembled crowd, which had finally calmed down. Lois was actually proud of him. "I'm not native to your planet, yet I come here to help." He held up his hands at the expected uproar. "Please, let me finish. As I said, I'm not native to this planet, but it is my home now, and I don't want anything to happen to it any more than any of you do. The only difference is, I'm in a position to do something about it." He paused to let more of the murmuring die down. "I don't understand why, but I've been gifted with powers far beyond those of normal men. As you all saw, I can fly, and I can move with incredible speed. I'm exceptionally strong, and have enhanced vision. It's these powers which will enable me to attempt to force the Nightfall asteroid off its current collision course."
As expected, the crowd could no longer be contained and everyone was yelling questions and derisive comments at the same time. Clark glanced over at Lois. She just shrugged. They had discussed the possibility of Clark giving the crowd some sort of demonstration of his strength, but both had agreed that bending a steel bar or lifting a car over his head wouldn't prove that he could move an asteroid. Again he held up his hands to try and quiet the crowd but it didn't work this time. Instead he was forced to shout.
"Look, I know that what I'm saying is unbelievable. All I ask is that you keep an open mind." He frowned as the mob of reporters remained unruly. He continued to shout over the din. "After I leave here I plan to confer with the scientists from EPRAD, if they will talk with me, then at about noon, with or without their help, I plan to fly out to the asteroid and do what I can to prevent the disaster that threatens us."
Again he looked helplessly toward Lois. She had to bite her lip to keep a smile off her face. He really was out of his depth. Luckily she knew that would change with time. With a nod of her head she indicated that he should just leave and she would take care of the mob. The look of gratitude on his face was almost comical. With a final wave and nod to the assemblage, 'Superman' stepped away from the microphone and lifted into the air. That momentarily quieted the crowd and gave Lois her chance to get back to the mic.
As soon as Clark was out of sight the crowd erupted again. Lois was able to pick out a few comments amidst the clamor. 'What are you trying to pull, Lane?' and 'How gullible do you think we are?' were the two most common jibes she heard. Also there were a few mentions about the ego of someone who called themselves Superman.
Lois let the chaos reign for a few more moments before she put up her hands. "Shut up!" she yelled. Startled, the crowd quieted. "Now I know that you are all confused and in a state of disbelief. Frankly, I don't blame you. Now, he could have put on a show for all of you; juggling some cars or turning a lamp post into a pretzel, but that would have been pointless. We don't have time for such puerile indulgences. The beauty of this whole situation is that in a few hours you'll all know what he can do." She paused to let her words sink in. "I'm the one who named him, Superman, because… well, he is." Lois let a smug smile steal across her face. "As far as what the rest of his story is… you can read all about that in this afternoon's edition of the Daily Planet." She turned and calmly walked back into the Planet, ignoring the outraged cries of her fellow journalists.
Not surprisingly, Perry was waiting for her as she came off the elevator. "Lois, what in tarnation? That was the most…"
Lois stopped him by reaching into her bag and handing Perry several sheets of paper. "If you hurry I'm sure you can proof this in time for the afternoon edition."
The editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet opened his mouth, then closed it. He took the proffered papers with a stern glare at his most outrageous reporter. Without another comment, he turned and disappeared into his office.
Lois stared at the newsroom's television monitors. The scene outside the Planet building was still on screen. Lois sighed. "It's up to you now, Clark," she whispered.
Even if this guy was some sort of nut, he got full media attention. That included live coverage by LNN of his meeting with the EPRAD scientists, and the subsequent take off. Like everyone else in the newsroom, Lois watched the pictures on the monitors as Clark discussed his options with the science team and was outfitted with air tanks and a radio receiver. As Professor Daitch said to the assembled media just minutes before Superman was scheduled to leave, 'We may not know who this man really is, or the true extent of his professed powers, but given what we are up against, it would be stupid of us not to give what little help we can offer him in his attempt.'. And a couple of minutes later an unknowing public watched their future hero fly off to save the world.
It wasn't until it was over that Lois realized that she'd barely breathed during Clark's ordeal with the asteroid. Their original supposition had been that he could approach the asteroid from the side and just give it a 'super' push and everything would be fine. Actually, it was lucky that he was in radio contact with the scientists at EPRAD during the procedure. They were able to tell him almost immediately, from their long range measurements of Nightfall, how much effect he'd had on the giant rock. It took twelve separate pushes, on different spots of the rock, by Superman before the experts back at EPRAD announced that the asteroid's course had been changed significantly enough and the world was no longer in danger.
A huge cheer went up in the newsroom, which Lois was sure was echoed throughout the planet. It was then that she was able to release the huge breath she'd been holding. She was still worried. Clark hadn't had to smash into the rock like her own Clark had, but he'd been out there a lot longer. She wondered how his air supply was holding out and if the cold of outer space was beginning to affect him.
She went back to her desk and typed the few last sentences to her article about Superman's handling of the asteroid. It would dovetail nicely with her and Clark's 'exclusive' background interview. After sending the article to Perry's computer she grabbed her bag, then headed for the elevator. As she passed Jenny's desk she gave the young woman a nod, which was answered. Jenny began to gather her things together also.
Before she could reach the top of the landing Perry stuck his head out of his office door. "Ah, Lois? Where you headed to now? Don't you want to see your headline in the afternoon's edition?"
Lois gave her boss an off-handed wave. "No time, Chief. I'm sure it will be fine. I've got to meet Clark. We've arranged an interview with our super hero savior for later." She turned and gave Perry a grin. "Wouldn't want to be late and have him go to some other paper, would we?"
Jenny stepped up beside Lois. "Jenny, now where the heck are you going?" Perry asked.
"Um, Lois asked me to come along… to take some pictures." The elevator door opened and the two women stepped in.
"Take pictures? But you're not a photographer?" Perry's words hung in empty air as the elevator doors had closed and the women were on their way. He ran his hand through his hair as he glanced out at the rest of the bullpen. Everyone was just standing there watching him. "What the heck are all you standing around for? Get to work, we've got a newspaper to get out." He glanced at the front page mock up he held in his hand, the 60 point type boldly proclaiming 'A Superman Saves the World'.
Jenny opened the door, and she and Lois entered the apartment. They saw the costume lying on the couch. Lois went over and fingered the shiny fabric. It was very cold to the touch. That surprised her because she figured that his aura would have kept it protected. Of course, she was only assuming that Clark had the same kind of aura that her Superman had. Then again, maybe it had just been that cold. Suddenly she became aware of the sound of the shower running.
Looking over, Lois saw a look of mischievous glee on Jenny's face as the young woman was already unbuttoning buttons and unzipping zippers while in a hurry toward the bedroom and the master bath. Lois rolled her eyes and headed for a comfortable chair. It looked like she was going to have to wait a while.
She picked up a magazine that was on the coffee table. It was obviously one of Jenny's since Lois didn't figure that Clark was into 'Modern Decorating'. She tried to ignore the sounds of giggling coming from the other room as she flipped through the pages of the ad-filled magazine.
After a few minutes she tossed the periodical back to the table and grabbed the television remote. A push of a button brought the screen to life and she was seeing the replay of the events of just a short time ago being replayed again and again on LNN. Funny how there was no news of the police raid on the Siegel Ave. warehouse, and Luthor's death. She wasn't sure if that was because of the enormity of the catastrophe that had just been averted, or because Luthor had owned LNN and they didn't wish to bring any negative attention to themselves.
Before she could check other channels to see if they might have a different slant on things, Clark stepped into the room. He was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. His hair was still wet. She was aware of Jenny, behind him, running around in the bedroom, obviously looking for something to put on herself.
He gave her grin. "Sorry, I really needed a hot shower. I've never been that cold before. I didn't think that I was affected by heat or cold, but I was out there for a long time." He ran his hand through his wet hair. It was slicked back and he looked so much like the Superman she'd left behind. Once again she had to force her heart to ignore him. "Then you guys came in and, well…"
Lois just shook her head. "No need to apologize. You deserved your hero's welcome." He looked a little confused. She pointed at the screen. "You saved the world, and they are grateful. You are a super hero. You are Superman."
He blushed then he grinned. "Yeah, we did it, didn't we?"
"You did it. I just knew that you could." She cocked her head. "How do you feel. I know, because of the kryptonite, you might not have been at your best."
He shook his head. "Naw, I feel good. It was an incredible rush pushing against that huge rock and knowing that I was actually moving it." He sounded almost like an excited kid with a new toy. "I can't believe I'm going to be able to use my powers openly to help people." He gave her a big smile. "For that, I can't thank you enough, Lois."
Lois' return smile was a touch sad, but held a lot of warmth. "Well, you're very welcome, and since this is now my home too, I think there was a little bit of self- preservation involved in my actions."
"So, what do we do now?" Jenny had entered the room and asked the obvious question.
Lois stood up. "Actually, you two are going to write up the *exclusive* interview we told Perry about. Me, I'm going home. I'm tired and I need to get some sleep."
Clark looked surprised. "But, Lois, we're partners. Shouldn't we write up this interview together?"
"That's what partners are for. They cover for each other. I wrote up the before interview, you can write up the after." She winked at him and moved toward the door. She turned back. "And, Jenny, I'm counting on you to make sure he doesn't come off too humble. After all this is supposed to be an interview by a totally objective reporter."
"I can do that." The young woman grinned at Lois, then joined Lois in laughing at Clark when he rolled his eyes.
"Good night, kids. I'll see you in the morning."
It was a bone-tired and soul-weary Lois Lane who walked through her apartment door. She tossed her bag and her keys onto the small table near the front door. Zombie- like, she shuffled into the living room and dropped bonelessly onto the large couch. A sigh escaped her lips as she stared at the far wall, not really seeing it.
Well, it seemed that she had succeeded in her assigned task on this world. She had created another Superman, and luckily it was in time to save the world from Nightfall. Now, she supposed, she could concentrate more on herself, and what she was going to do with the rest of her life.
When Herb had dropped her here originally, there had never been any doubt in her mind that this was where she would stay. After all, she had nothing to go back to. What would be the point? Her life at home was being lived by someone else. There wouldn't be room for two Lois Lanes on the same planet. There was barely room enough for one.
Cat's death was still like a raw wound tearing at her heart. She had really come to like the outrageous woman. Cat had been her touchstone on this world. But because she had made a mistake, her best friend was dead, and she would have to live with the guilt of that for the rest of her life… alone.
Clark was still her good friend, but he would always have to be kept at arm's length. She could never let down her guard around him, she couldn't afford to. He belonged with Jenny, Lois could see it even if her treacherous memories might lead her to occasionally think otherwise.
She figured that if she was to make a life here, she was going to have to face the prospect of being completely honest with Clark. It was clear to her that he suspected there was more to her story than she had told him. She had purposely avoided too much talk about her relationship with her world's Clark and Superman. He knew that she had been partnered with Clark Kent in her own world but she hadn't said much else. He trusted her, and respected her privacy, so he'd never pushed it, but the lad was no dummy. Lois was sure she'd let slip enough in her conversations to lead Clark to believe there was more there than she was saying.
Still, what purpose would that honesty serve? Would his knowing that she'd been married to his counterpart benefit their relationship in any useful manner, or would it just be a complication that could make things more uncomfortable? One thing was for sure, Jenny didn't need to know.
Her mind refused to argue with itself any longer. She was too tired. She could begin the debate again tomorrow. After all, it wasn't like she was going anywhere. With another sigh, Lois turned out the lights and walked into her bedroom.
The next day had dawned bright and sunny. There were no sudden solar eclipses nor were there any fearful glances skyward by the people on the streets. They had all been saved. They'd been saved by this new super hero, this Superman.
Superman was all the buzz around every water cooler in the city. Both Lois and Clark were roundly cheered by their co-workers for their impressive scoops concerning this new 'Man of Steel', as one media type had dubbed him. The partners humbly basked in the praise of their cohorts for several minutes until Perry, ever the practical boss, broke up 'this little coffee clatch' and sent everyone scurrying back to their respective jobs.
Lois sat down at her computer and began the start of a new day. It was one of the things that she loved about her job. No matter what you produced the day before, you were only as good as your next story. She had helped save the entire world, and now she was just another reporter looking for a lead.
About a half and hour into the morning Lois glanced over at Clark and saw a familiar scene. Suddenly his head cocked slightly and he got a faraway look in his eye. She smiled as she realized what was happening. He was hearing something that no one else could. He shifted his gaze to her. A look of confusion and uncertainty crossed his face. She knew he was unsure what he should do.
She almost laughed at his indecision. She cocked her brow and made the little flying motion that had become so commonplace between her and her husband. Clark caught her meaning right away, and nodded. She smiled and mouthed the word 'go'. He gave her grateful look and was quickly on his feet, reaching for his tie as he headed for the back stairwell. The more things change, she thought to herself.
She hadn't focused her attention back to her screen for more than a couple of minutes when Perry's voice cut through her concentration. "Lane, Kent, in my office." She rose from her chair and moved up the ramp. "Where's Kent?"
"He got a call. He's checking out a lead," she lied with practiced ease as she entered his office.
"Well I might have a lead for the two of you." Perry followed her in.
Lois stopped and stared at the fellow who was seated on Perry's couch. He was about her age, nice looking, with a crop of unruly dark hair and a quick smile. He stood as she came into the room.
"This is Agent Scardino, from the DEA. He's in Metropolis, down from Washington, on a case. He's asking for our help."
Lois was able to swallow her surprise. She stepped forward and took his hand and shook it. "Agent Scardino."
His smile grew larger. "Please, call me Daniel."
Lois finally logged off and shut down her home computer. This latest story was finished and she could finally go to bed. She yawned once, then ran a hand through her short dark locks, which now were beginning to show more than a few threads of silver. She didn't care. What did it matter?
She'd been on this world for nearly ten years now and it wasn't as if she was worried about her looks anymore. Exercise, and a job that still had her on the run, had kept her figure trim and firm, but time had a way of curbing one's vanity. Laugh lines became full fledged wrinkles, and her raven dark hair wouldn't stay that way much longer.
She still missed Cat. Rattling around by herself in the large two bedroom apartment seemed unnatural somehow. Even after all these years, she expected Cat to come through the door at any moment and make some wise crack about Lois' all work and no play attitude. But that wasn't going to happen. Cat was gone, and Lois was alone.
Not that she didn't have her friends still. Perry had finally gotten over his crush on her and had found happiness with Alice. They'd been married for about eight years. Her relationship with this Perry was nothing like the one she'd had with her old boss back home, but it was friendly nonetheless.
She was still partnered occasionally with Clark, and he'd become her best friend on this world, but they could never even be as close as she and her own sweet Clark had been before they'd admitted their feelings for each other. It just never was the same.
As Superman's fame and popularity grew, he found that he was pulled away from his duties at the Planet more and more. Finally, he'd had to come to an arrangement with Perry. Clark worked as a free-lancer; bringing in stories where he could and teaming up with Lois from time to time on some of the bigger ones. Even though, by rights, he was allowed to sell his stories anywhere, he never gave them to anyone but the Daily Planet. She'd never asked him directly, but Lois was pretty sure that Clark had confided his secret to Perry in order to uncomplicate his work situation, which at one point had brought him to the brink of being fired.
Clark and Jenny had married shortly after that. Lois had even been a bridesmaid, but that was only because Jenny wouldn't let Clark have her be his best man. She didn't think it would look proper.
She and Jenny had become friends of a sort. They were able to socialize and interact easily enough, but there was always a certain wall that stayed in place between them. Lois understood Jenny's continued guardedness around her. Even though Clark loved her and had chosen to marry the young woman, she still had some insecurities when it came to Lois. She had a hard time accepting Clark having a woman as a close friend without there being a sexual component to it.
That had also had a collateral effect on her work life. In the ten years she'd been on this world she'd found herself yelling 'Help Superman' no more than a handful of times. Knowing who he was, and what she might be disturbing if she called out, kept her from invoking that famous phrase unless absolutely necessary. That didn't mean that Lois had become more cautious in her investigative methods. Three trips to the hospital over the years had finally caused Clark to confront her over it, and he had made her promise to call out if she ever felt she was in any danger, of any kind. Of course, Lois and Clark differed on their opinions as to what actually constituted danger. She smiled at the memory. Eventually she relearned just how far she could push before a story began pushing back.
Lois had tried dating on a few occasions, Scardino had been a pleasant diversion for a short time, but nothing ever came out of any of them. She couldn't help but compare every man, and every possible relationship, to what she'd had with her own Clark. She knew that wasn't fair, but it was human nature to do so, and no one ever measured up. Not that she really thought that they would, but she had hoped that she might find someone who could give her some sort of companionship as the years went by. But nothing ever worked out. Besides, it was just easier to fall back on Clark's friendship rather than try to work on a relationship.
Of course, a lot of that had changed about two years ago. In a freak accident Clark and Jenny had been struck by lightning. They'd been coming back from a vacation in some remote spot, Clark flying, Jenny in his arms, when they wandered too close to a thunderstorm. A random bolt had struck the couple.
Clark had been horrified at first, expecting Jenny to have been killed or, at least, badly injured. But she had quickly recovered and shortly after, a red-headed Ultra Woman had joined Superman in his pursuit of truth and justice. Since then Lois had seen less and less of the couple as they expanded their super hero duties ever farther across the globe. In the last month she'd only worked with Clark once, and talked with him, briefly, one other time.
She was just about to turn off the lights and head to bed when a soft knock on her front door caught her attention. Curious as to who would be coming around at this hour, she quickly went over and took a peak through the spy hole. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw who it was standing out in the hall.
She unlatched the several locks and swung the door open. She stepped back and with a gesture waved the visitor in. "Come on in, Herb." There was no welcome in her voice. Merely weariness. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" She closed the door then moved over and flopped down in one of the easy chairs.
The time and dimension traveler was still dressed in clothes from his own era, and he held his derby hat in his hands. He continued to run his hands around the brim as he made no move to sit.
"How are you, Ms. Lane?" Lois could see in his body language that he was uncomfortable, but wasn't about to make things easy for him.
She shrugged. "I guess you'd say I'm fine. Just waiting to die."
Alarm suddenly registered on Wells' face. "Oh dear, are you ill? Is there something wrong with you?"
Lois shook her head and chuckled. "Wrong with me? No, Herb, nothing like that. Nothing morbid, or life threatening. It's just that I've arrived at what I am, and what I'm going to be. My life has settled into a pattern, a routine. I get up every morning and go to work. Don't get me wrong, I still love my job. But even that has become somewhat automatic. There comes a time when there seems to be a certain sameness to every story, no matter what the story might be. I come home, late most nights, and either read or watch a little television. On my days off, I clean the place and maybe take in a movie. This week is pretty much like last week, is pretty much like next week."
Wells stared at his hands which were still playing with the brim of his derby. "I'm sorry things didn't work out for you here."
A frown furrowed Lois brow. "What didn't work out, Herb? I helped create a Superman for this world… in time to save the planet from a disaster of epic proportions. I'd have to guess that some form of Utopia is guaranteed for this world. Heck, there's even two super heroes flying around this Earth. Isn't that what you wanted? Isn't that why you put me here?"
Wells finally looked up at Lois and met her eyes. "I'd had hopes — for you too. That you could be happy here."
Lois let a little bit of the resentment she'd held for so many years slip in. "Hope for what, Herb? That I might fall madly in love with a much younger Clark Kent? A man who was already involved with someone else?" She became more animated as her voice rose in volume and her arms began to fly about. "What were you thinking, Herb? That because my Clark was able to find solace in the arms of another Lois Lane, because he thought I was dead, that I could just pick up with the next Clark Kent that came along? Is that what you thought?" She didn't let the supposedly long-dead author respond. "Look, I told you things would be different for me. The situation was different. I knew my husband wasn't dead, but I couldn't do anything about it." She made a conscious effort to reign in her hands and arms. Instead, she crossed them over her chest. "If you must know… yes, I did feel an attraction for this Clark Kent, but it wasn't the same. Even if I'd fallen head over heels for the man, he wouldn't have felt the same way. He was already in love. We became friends, and that was all I wanted. That was all he wanted."
Lois dropped her head and scrubbed her hands through her hair to calm herself down. When she gazed back up at Wells her face was more composed. A look of resignation had replaced her previously emotional state.
"Am I happy? I don't know. Is anyone really happy? I know I'm glad that I'm not rotting in that stinking prison anymore. I have a good job, and a few friends. So, my life may not be as fulfilled as it might be, it could be a lot worse. Maybe there just aren't any more windmills for me to tilt at. And maybe that's a good thing. I don't know that I'm up to it anymore."
Wells' countenance had become serious. "Apparently there is nothing truly holding you here anymore." His pause was unintentionally dramatic. "You could leave."
Lois held up both hands in front of her. "Oh no, not again. I'm not going to go traipsing off to another dimension so I can create another Superman for you. I'm too old and tired for that." She sighed. "Can't you just let me live out the rest of my years in peace?" She dropped her head into her hands.
His voice was soft, but steady. "I just thought if there was no longer anything here for you, that you might want to go… home."
Her head snapped up. Her eyes locked onto his. "Home?"
Wells gave her a quick nod. "He needs you."
Lois' mind was still trying to sort out all the things that Wells had told her.
Time moved at different rates in different dimensions. She'd been in that first alternate dimension, imprisoned for nearly five years. Apparently time flowed at a similar rate between that world and her own. But that wasn't true of her home dimension and the world where she had spent the last ten years of her life. Wells had brought her back home, but not a home she was familiar with. Instead she was brought to a world where nearly fifty years had passed in the time she had been gone. Fifty years! Some of the buildings and the landmarks were the same, but more were different. Newer, more modern architecture and building methods had produced a city that was an interesting, if somewhat unsettling, amalgamation of the familiar and the foreign.
But those were just buildings. What was more unsettling was the fact that all the people that she had known were gone. Perry had passed on several years before. Jimmy had married Penny, and had a full career as an investigative reporter for the Daily Planet, until it, like all other newspapers, had become strictly an electronic news source. Now he was a long retired grandfather. Her sister Lucy had apparently met and married a man named Pat McPhereson, some sort of research technician. She lived in California and was a great-grandmother. All the people she knew, as she had known them, were gone. All except Clark.
She had known ever since that fateful day in Bernie's lab that Clark was likely to outlive her, and everyone else. Even after the incident with Veda Doodsen and her machine that could steal a person's youth, she knew that Clark would, barring some kryptonite encounter, still live much longer than the normal human. So now, even though he had been on the planet for over eighty years, he looked liked a man in his forties.
Lois stood in the shadow of a large oak tree, overlooking a small peaceful cemetery. Less than thirty yards down a gentle hill from her position stood a still-handsome man of apparent middle years. His hair was still thick and dark, with only the barest hint of silver at the temples. His tall, well-muscled frame was still straight and unbowed by the years, but now it was bowed in grief. He grieved the recent death of his second wife.
She knew whose name was on the headstone that Clark stood over. Wells had told her that Lois had died peacefully in her sleep less than a month ago. She'd been fighting a malignant cancer for the last year of her life. As any Lois would, she had battled the disease with the same ferocity and intensity which she had brought to every other aspect of her life. A few months ago she had achieved a remission. For the first time since stricken she had been able to live pain free. But, unfortunately, as often happens in these situations, the illness struck back. One evening Lois had gone to sleep, and she never woke up. She had lived a full and rewarding life, but all things eventually come to an end, and so it was with the Lois Lane of the alternate dimension cum Lois Lane of this world.
Clark had once again had to deal with loss. The loss of his partner, his best friend, his lover, his wife. To have lost someone that special to you twice in one lifetime was an unimaginable cruelty. Something someone as kind and giving as Clark should never have had to experience. Yet death was a part of life, and being who he was, Clark was going to have to deal with more than his fair share of the loss of loved ones.
A tear slid down Lois' cheek. She'd met this Lois way back when she and Clark had made the trip to the alternate dimension to help that world's Superman deal with an invasion by their version of the New Kryptonians. Considering what that Lois had gone through, she exhibited a strength and resilience that had amazed Lois. In their short time together she had come to respect and really like her other world twin.
When she had been tossed against a wall by a super-powered Kryptonian thug, she knew that she wasn't going to survive their adventure and had begged that Lois to help her Clark. She had known how her death would affect her dear husband, and that he would need someone to help him live again. The woman had kept her word, and in doing so had created a wonderful life for herself as well. Lois envied the time her counterpart had spent with Clark. But fate had a way to bringing things back full circle. It looked like it was going to be Lois' turn once again.
She began to move slowly down the hill toward him. She hadn't walked more than ten yards when she saw his head snap up. He cocked it to one side, as if listening to something. She could also see his nostrils flare as he took in the smells the gentle breezes carried him. He seemed puzzled. Slowly he turned until he was facing her.
Lois had kept walking and didn't stop until she was only a couple of feet from him. The shock on his face caused her to smile as another single tear slipped from the corner of her eye. "Hi."
He reached out a trembling hand, seemingly afraid that if he touched her she'd go away, but not able to resist. The hand touched her face, cupping her cheek. She leaned into it.
"It is you." His voice was full of wonder. "I couldn't believe my senses when I first detected your presence." He let his thumb run against her cheek. "But, I'd know you anywhere." A tear snuck out of his eye. "If you're a vivid hallucination, or just a dream, I hope I don't wake up."
Lois' own vision was now being blurred by tears. "Nope, it's really me. I've been gone for a while, but I'm back now."
Clark opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again, but all that came out was a sigh.
"Still as glib as ever I see," she joked, as tears continued to fall.
"How? You, you look…" he finally managed to stammer out.
Lois sidled up next to him, slipping her arm around his waist, and smiling when his arm went automatically around her shoulder. She leaned her head against his chest, staring at the elegant little headstone in front of her.
"It's a long story, I'll tell you about it later. For now let's just say, I've been busy."
He gave her a squeeze, as much to reconfirm she was real as to comfort her. "How'd you get back?"
"Herb brought me."
"Herb!" His voice held more than a hint of alarm, and a great deal more than a hint of anger.
She took his hand in hers. "Later." She nodded toward the headstone. "I'm so glad she was here for you, Clark. Really."
She looked up and immediately saw a flash of guilt ripple across his face. "Lois, I…"
She placed her finger on his lips. "No, I mean it. I'm glad you had each other. She really was a wonderful person, wasn't she?"
Clark gave her a sad smile. "Yeah, she was. But how could she not be? She was a Lois Lane, after all."
She gave him a playful swat on the chest. "So, did Perry ever convince her to lose the red hair?"
Startled, Clark turned a questioning gaze on Lois. "Did Perry what?" He held up his free hand as he saw the look on her face. "No, I know, later." He smiled, but this time it was not directed at her, but inward, as he accessed fond memories. "No, she kept it red. She hated it, but she saw it as a means to defining herself as a individual. She didn't want me, or even herself, to be confused as to who she was. She was Lois Lane, but she wasn't… you." He shrugged. "She was a wonderful woman in her own right, there was never any confusion. I tried to tell her that, and I think she believed me, but she could be stubborn. I think she used the red hair as a sort of badge of her separate identity."
Lois nodded. "I can understand her reasoning… but it looked ghastly." Clark laughed. It was so good to hear that laugh again. "So." She gave him a cocked brow. "Was she a good reporter?"
Clark looked around, pretending to avoid looking at Lois. She punched him in the ribs. He grinned. "Okay, what do you want me to say? She was a good reporter. She won a few Kerths, a Pulitzer, a few Merriweathers, and she had more than her share of front page headlines."
Lois stepped back and looked Clark in the eye. "She — won — a — Pulitzer?"
"Well… yeah." Clark shrugged.
Lois shook her head and rubbed her eyes. "Do the Lois Lanes of every dimension win Pulitzers except me?"
"Just how many Lois Lanes from other dimensions have you met?"
"Forget about that." She planted herself directly in front of him and stared up into his misted eyes. "Right now I need you to do one thing for me."
Knowing Clark never needed a second invitation, Lois braced herself as he leaned his head down and captured her lips with his. If a person could actually die from pleasure, the ecstacy that she was feeling then would surely have done her in. Suddenly her heart was so filled she thought it was going to burst. It was heaven, it was bliss, it had been so, so long. She could have stayed there, kissing Clark, for the rest of her life had it not been for that pesky need to breathe.
Breathless, Lois finally pulled back. Her lips were red and swollen. Her eyes couldn't leave his. She knew that the unconditional love she felt showed in her eyes and was mirrored in Clark's. She took a long slow breath. "That was nice." A smile slowly turned up the corners of his mouth. She reached up and traced his lips with her finger.
"Clark… take me home."
(Fade to black)