By Pam Jernigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November 2005
Summary: In a universe where Superman is a fictional character and everybody knows he's really Clark Kent, it's tricky for Lois to turn Kal-El of New Krypton into a superhero with a secret identity… even with a little help from their friends. But the Nightfall asteroid and Bureau 39 soon combine to make that the least of their worries. The sequel to "Hearts Divided."
Dedicated to Elena. With much gratitude to Claire Hess, Rachel, and Wendy Richards, who beta read for me, Erin Klingler who was my long-suffering GE, and to Wendy Richards and Sara Kraft and all the participants in (Inter)National Finishing WIPs Month (NaFinWipsMo) — without the motivation and encouragement, this might never have been finished.
Lois Lane awoke slowly, trying to clear the cobwebs out of her brain. She'd had the weirdest dreams. First, she'd dreamed she was her comic book counterpart, living and working with her very own Clark Kent, but she'd had that dream lots of times since she started reading the comics. That wasn't the really weird one. The other dream had been something about being undercover, then kidnapped — to a spaceship! — and then falling in love with one of the aliens, who loved her too, but couldn't stay… She wondered fuzzily if she'd eaten too much pizza last night.
"Wake up, Cinderella…"
Lois smiled. She knew that voice. It was the voice of her dreams, the voice of Clark Kent, the voice of the handsome alien… Her eyes flew open. It was a real voice — her dreams had come true. Lord Kal-El of the house of El of New Krypton was here, and he was all hers. She squinted against the light to see that he was crouching down by her bedside, his face close to hers. "G'morning."
"Good morning," he replied with gentle good humor. "It's time for breakfast… what would you like? I can set out cold cereal, or…" He paused for effect. "I *think* I can manage microwave pancakes."
"Um… pancakes." A huge yawn nearly cracked her jaws. "Why am I so tired?"
He leaned in for a brief kiss. "Probably because we were up half the night working on the Tsunami thing. I'll go get breakfast started then, and let you get dressed." Still smiling, he got up and left the room.
Lois stared at the doorway he'd disappeared through, slowly processing that he was really here, and remembering. There had been aliens, and a spaceship — and Kal-El had given up his chance to rule a whole planet, just so he could be with her. It seemed too good to be true.
Maybe, once he'd been here for more than a week, she'd be able to relax. It had been a busy few days since he'd returned to Earth, but that had been working. Now that that was wrapped up, she looked forward to spending more time with him. Maybe she could talk him out of his noble insistence in sleeping on her couch rather than next to her. The thought was thrilling and scary, all at once.
She focused on that corner of her mind that held her mental connection to him. A shey-ana bond, he'd called it. It wasn't telepathy, exactly, just an awareness of his presence in her world. She visualized it as a floating ball of fire. At the moment, the ball was burning evenly and cheerfully, radiating the warmth of Kal's contentment.
It felt very odd to always have that connection with him. Odd, but she was finding that she liked it.
The distant ding of her microwave brought her attention back to the here and now. She'd have to hurry up and get ready for breakfast.
Kal-El regarded his soulmate across the tiny kitchen table. She was looking beautiful this morning, and a little shy. It had probably occurred to her, as it had to him, that they still had a number of unsettled issues between them.
"You know," Kal observed, "one of the things I always loved about Earth was the amazing variety of foods."
Lois looked up at him expectantly. "Yeah?"
"Oh, yes. Indian, Chinese, American, French… I tried all sorts of things when I was here before."
"So, you can cook?" She smirked at him. "I thought you lords of New Krypton didn't sully your hands with that sort of thing."
Kal grinned. "Let's just say, I went out to eat a lot. I ate a lot of pre-packaged foods, too. My favorite was probably the pop-tarts."
Lois didn't quite laugh, but he could feel her amusement bubbling beneath the surface.
"That's at least half the diet of college students everywhere, you know. The other half, traditionally," she added, "has been macaroni and cheese."
"Well, you know me. I'm very traditional."
She laughed at that. "I'll have to remember to stock up for you."
Kal glanced down at his plate. She'd just touched on one of the peskier unresolved issues. "Yeah, about that…" She looked up. "What about it?"
"Now that the immediate crisis is resolved… I can't…" He paused, and rephrased. "We have to talk about permanent living arrangements."
Lois narrowed her eyes warily. "What do you mean? It's been no trouble sharing. It's been nice. Hasn't it?"
He reached across the table to capture her hand. "I want to live with you, shey-ana. Don't ever doubt that."
"I know." She quirked a smile. "I can feel it. So then what's the problem?"
"We're not yet married."
"Yeah, so? We're both adults…"
He sighed, trying to find a way to explain himself. "Lois, living here, making love to you… that would be how a man behaves with a concubine. And I don't want you as a concubine."
She raised an eyebrow at him, a faint sense of amusement trickling through their link.
"Okay, part of me wants you any way I can get you," he admitted with a grin, then sobered. "But the larger part… well, we need to get married first."
She frowned at him, and the sense of her amusement dissipated. "I distinctly recall you *asking* me to be your concubine."
"And I distinctly recall you being quite insulted at the question," he replied wryly. "Look, that was when I thought I had no choice but to marry Zara. I didn't believe I had anything more to offer, and I was desperate not to lose you. But now, well, I can treat you with all the respect you deserve."
Come to think of it, while they'd both been assuming it would happen, he hadn't yet formally asked her to marry him. He'd held off, due to a vague sense that she deserved the most romantic proposal he could muster. He needed to spend some time planning that.
She still seemed unconvinced. "What if I tell you it really doesn't matter to me?"
He shrugged slightly. "I'm afraid it really does matter to me. You deserve the highest honor I can give you — and, to me, that means getting married first."
She took a deep breath, studying his face. Kal thought about how much he loved her, and valued her, and let that affection and respect flow full-force through their bond. The mental image of her emotions brightened. He felt the moment she decided to stop fighting.
"Hmm…" She smiled wryly and reached for his hand. "Okay. But we'd better get married as quickly as possible."
Kal smiled. "My thoughts exactly."
"Well, then." Lois squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. "We need to get you some new identification."
Her sense of determination was rubbing off on him. "Yes — I used to have a number of things under the name 'Kal Lewis,' but I'd gotten rid of them."
"It's just as well, really," she assured him. "I do *not* want to go through life as Lois Lewis. Not when we've got a choice in the matter." She pushed back her chair and stood, carrying her empty plate to the dishwasher and setting it inside. "But it will probably take a few days to get decent fakes."
"I don't know if he's still there," Kal replied, copying her actions, "but I knew a guy in West River who does very nice work."
She raised an eyebrow, smiling. "You would. Tell you what, it's a beautiful day outside — let's you and I go for a walk. Since it takes me longer to get ready than you, and if it wouldn't wound your male dignity too much," she smirked at him, "maybe you could clean up the kitchen."
"Oh, I think I can handle it." He grinned. "And you're just looking for an excuse to call me a sexist creep again."
She grinned back, not denying it. "I'll be ready in a few minutes." She disappeared into her bedroom, leaving only a mental echo of laughter.
Lois walked slowly around her block, hand in hand with Kal, just enjoying the mere fact of his presence. It was a beautiful day, and she was happy. Still, practicalities refused to go away entirely. "I hope your guy in West River is still there. I've never had to worry about getting fake identification before now."
Kal glanced sideways at her. "And you don't really like the idea, do you?"
She sighed, trying to put her uneasiness into words. "Well, no, I don't. My whole life has been about following the rules and respect for authority. This just goes against everything I believe in." She squared her shoulders. "But it's necessary, so we'll do it anyway."
"I do know how you feel, you know."
She glanced up at him. "Yeah, I guess you would, from what you've told me about growing up on…" her voice dropped to a whisper, "…New Krypton."
"Yes. But I've had a little more experience at bending the rules. It does get easier with practice."
She snorted softly. "Yeah, that's what I'm worried about. But never mind, I'll deal with it. The more pressing question is, what name to use?"
"You said you didn't like 'Lois Lewis,'" Kal commented. "Does that mean you're planning on sharing this new name?"
Lois shot him a startled look. "That's what I was thinking, yeah. Do you have a problem with that?"
"No, not at all." He looked rather startled in turn. "It's a very traditional NK thing to do, and it's pretty traditional here, too, from what I've seen — but it's gotten less popular in the last few decades, hasn't it?"
"I suppose." She pondered that as they turned a corner. "I hadn't been keen on the idea of changing my name, to be honest. But under the circumstances, I think I'd better, don't you?"
She glanced around to see if anyone was close, and then lowered her voice anyway. "Well, if you're going to be Superman, I can't really stay Lois Lane, can I? It'd be a dead giveaway."
"Ah, good point." He grinned. "I guess that means I can't call myself Clark Kent?"
She rolled her eyes. "That would seem to follow logically, yes. I kind of wish you could, really, but it would be *way* more trouble than it's worth. No, you should stay Kal — it's kind of unusual, but this *is* Metropolis. We've got immigrants here from every corner of the globe, and they all have different types of names."
"There's an idea — we can go through the phone book later and see if we spot anything we like."
"Sounds like a plan. Seriously, though, we have to do something to protect our privacy. Even if I change my name now, there will still be all sorts of records with the old one."
"True. Do you have any ideas?"
"At the moment?" She sighed. "No."
They approached the neighborhood news stand and she slowed down, pulling Kal to a halt as well. The National Whisper and Metro Post were both running pictures of yesterday's near-disaster, but she skipped past those to find and purchase a copy of the Daily Planet. The headline screamed, 'TIDAL WAVE AVERTED, CONGRESSMAN IMPLICATED.' She grinned up at Kal. "Nice work."
He peered over her shoulder. "What do they know about the tidal wave?"
"Pretty much everything, except for how it was stopped," she reported, skimming through the article. "They've got Harrington and Rourke. Arms-dealing, bribed politicians, sabotage — the works. Well, there's no mention of us, but the cops know more than half of this stuff came from me."
"Hey!" Kal gently jostled her shoulder.
"Okay, okay, it's from me and my new partner," she corrected herself cheerfully. "Let's go peruse this in private." She folded up the paper and started walking.
"Hey, I thought we were old partners," Kal teased.
Lois flashed him a grin. "Yes, but I didn't think I could explain the whole spaceship thing to the cops."
"What's so hard about that? Just tell them you were kidnapped by aliens."
"Yeah, that'd work. Has anyone explained the term 'funny farm' to you yet?" Laughing, she led them into the lobby of the apartment building.
Kal waited until they were back inside her apartment before drawing her close. As she giggled, he pulled her into his arms for a kiss. He closed his eyes, concentrating on feeling her— with his lips, his hands, and with his mind. Her presence sparkled in his mind's eye, giving him a warm feeling of contentment.
He'd never believed in love. Not growing up on New Krypton, where life was harsh and marriages were arranged. But there had been a legend of an emotional bond that some couples formed — "shey-ana." He hadn't really believed in that, either, until he'd experienced it for himself. With Lois. Now he was always aware of her — could feel an echo of her emotions. It was strongest when they were actually touching, but never really went away. He tended to visualize it as a standing waterfall, with varying colors and intensities, but that didn't do it justice.
**I love you, Lois.**
She moaned into his mouth, then broke away, her eyes wide. "I heard that. Normally I don't hear you thinking. I can feel you, get some idea of what you're feeling, but usually that's it." Her speaking pace picked up as her excitement grew. "And I know you said you could read my surface thoughts, if you choose. But I didn't think it went both ways. Does this shey-ana thing include telepathy?"
He shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. It might have to do with how close we are to each other."
She smiled slowly. "I guess we'll just have to experiment a lot."
"Hmm, sounds like it. It might require some long-term study," he warned her, tracing a finger along the side of her face.
"Oh, that's terrible," she replied, sounding distinctly unalarmed. "But if we must, we must. The things we do for science…" She sighed theatrically, then leaned in to kiss him again.
"Morning, Francine!" Brenda practically bounced into the theater's back office.
Francine winced at the young black woman's energy, but smiled in spite of herself. "Good morning, Bren."
"Have you seen today's Metro Post?" Without waiting for an answer, Brenda moved to her desk, dropping a tabloid on Francine's desk as she passed.
Francine rolled her eyes. "No, and you shouldn't either. It's full of crap, you know that."
Brenda grinned at her. "Well, they do claim Earth has been visited by aliens."
Francine snorted at that. "So what has you so excited?"
"It's the story about the tidal wave."
Francine sighed and pulled the paper closer for a look. "Mystery Man Defuses Tidal Wave," she read aloud.
"Check out the picture."
"Okay…" Francine glanced at it. "It's a shot of the tail end of the wave."
"Yeah, now really look at it, girlfriend. They've helpfully circled the important part."
Francine squinted to focus. "It's a blurry shot of … wait a minute." She sat up straighter. "Are they saying this little blob is a person?"
"Yep. There's an enlarged version inside, and it sure looks like a guy to me."
"A guy who can float in midair?"
"Just like Superman, yeah." Brenda smiled smugly. "I've been reading up — since we're friends with Lois and all. And it occurs to me that she's hanging out with a certified, authentic alien these days."
"You think this is Kal?" Francine threw her partner a pained look. "Bren, he can't fly."
"Not as far as we know. But hey, just by looking at him, you'd never guess he was from another planet, either. And the timing's interesting, don'tcha think?"
"Well… I guess it couldn't hurt to ask them. Think she'd tell us if it really was him?"
"She'd damn well better, after everything we've been through."
"Yeah," Francine conceded. "Being harem girls together does make a sort of a bond."
"So, is it true?"
Lois opened the door wider to let her friends in. "Good morning to you, too, Brenda. Hi, Francine." Turning, she gestured further into the apartment and added, "You guys already know Kal, of course."
Actually, it occurred to her that Francine and Brenda had known him longer than she had. How strange.
Kal put a hand on his heart and did a half-bow toward both of them, radiating respect. "Greetings, Ladies."
Lois smiled at the way he managed to put a capital letter on that, but after the initial greeting he relaxed back into normal mode.
Francine smiled at him, but Brenda was focusing on Lois. "I don't think we know him as well as you do, chickie." She waved around a paper that Lois recognized as the Metro Post. "Anybody you recognize?"
"Way to be subtle, Bren," Francine muttered before moving over to the kitchen. "It's good to see you again, Kal."
"Good to see you, too, Francine," he replied with a smile.
Lois snatched the paper from Brenda's hand. "What is that?"
Francine rummaged around in Lois's cabinets. "Anybody else want coffee?"
Brenda, now paper-less, crossed her arms. "It's a picture of that tidal wave, Lois. And I want to know if that little guy on there is anyone we know." She shot a pointed look at Kal before focusing on Lois again.
Lois ignored her, skimming through the article and then re- examining the picture. "Oh, this can't be good."
Kal came to stand beside her, frowning at the paper. "Well, it's not exactly detailed, is it?" he suggested. "It could be anything."
Lois turned to look toward Kal. They hadn't really had the chance to talk over the pros and cons of having her friends in on the Superman thing. She realized she'd like to share, but would he?
Maybe she could buy some time. "Yeah, Francine, I'd love some coffee. The filters are in the — oh, never mind," she said, a smile twitching at her lips. Francine had not only found the filters, but had already started the coffeemaker. "Make yourself at home," she called over.
"Thanks, Lois," Francine replied with a hint of a grin. "I just figured I'd make enough for all of us."
"Lois!" Brenda's foot was starting to tap on the floor. "Hello?"
"Yeah, yeah, Brenda, okay," Lois said, while moving toward the living room sofas. "I guess we have some stuff to talk about." She sat on the sofa; Kal automatically sat next to her. "But let's wait 'til we all have our coffee, so Francine doesn't miss anything."
"It's a conspiracy," Brenda muttered, but unbent enough to sit on the other sofa. "I just wanna know if that's Kal in the picture."
Lois was beginning to enjoy this. "So, Brenda, how's the theater doing? Did you get the problem with the set designer worked out yet?" As an aside to Kal, she whispered, "My office is across the hall from theirs."
Kal's eyes twinkled. "I had noticed that, yes."
"Don't make me hurt you, girlfriend."
Lois laughed. "Gimme your best shot."
Kal pretended to cower. "Ladies, please. Innocent bystander, here."
Francine entered the room with a tray full of mugs, distracting everyone while they sorted out who had which cup. With all the coffee dispensed, Francine sat with Brenda on the opposite sofa, relaxing back against the cushions.
"So…" Lois looked at Kal. "Think we should tell them?"
Kal pursed his lips for a second. "Well, I think that if we don't, we're both in big trouble."
"Damn right. Now talk!"
"Okay." Despite all the teasing, Lois realized she was still a little nervous about this. Or maybe she was feeling Kal's nervousness. He gave her a reassuring glance and squeezed her hand slightly. "Yeah, that was Kal."
"I knew it!" Brenda crowed, then leaned forward. "C'mon, I want the whole story."
"Okay…" Lois decided to downplay things as much as she could. More serious discussions could wait until she and Kal had more things settled. "Well, you guys know Kal was here for a few years, right? Observing the Earth, learning our cultures, etc. Sometime after he got here, he says he started noticing, well…" She motioned to Kal to take over; this was his story, after all.
"I began to realize I could do things that I hadn't been able to do before," Kal said. "Like flying."
"Cool," Brenda breathed out.
"Well, it didn't seem very important, when I thought I had to go back to New Krypton. Things faded out fairly quickly after I left Earth. But, now that I'm back to stay…" He shrugged. "We'll see."
"It seems like they came in handy," Francine observed.
"Yeah…" Lois jumped back in to the story. "A few days ago, we saw Congressman Harrington meeting the bad guys in secret, and we investigated. So, we had a little forewarning about that wave. Not enough to get the test cancelled, but… Kal was able to dive under the water and disrupt the wave's structure. Or something like that. Anyway, it collapsed."
"And apparently," Kal concluded with a wry grimace, "someone was watching the whole thing and got a few pictures."
"So what are you going to do about it?" Francine leaned back against the couch, her eyes still watchful.
"I'm not sure there's anything we can do," Lois replied. "Not about this picture, anyway." With an optimism she didn't feel, she said, "But that's a tabloid. Who pays any serious attention to the Metro Post?"
Francine cracked a smile. "Told you so, Brenda."
Brenda waved her off. "Never mind that. I want to know what went down on New Krypton! I mean, you're here, so I'm assuming you didn't do the 'marry the princess, take over the kingdom' routine…"
Kal grinned. "Not exactly. It was a little bit more complicated than that…"
"I think we've made good progress today, Kari. One or two more sessions should do it. Let me know if the nightmares return."
"I sure will, Dr. Porter." The young woman smiled trustingly. "Thanks so much."
Gwen maintained a professional smile until Kari had closed the door behind herself. She reached for her notepad, reviewing her notes from earlier. The phone rang.
Absent-mindedly, she picked up the receiver. "Hello."
The voice on the other end of the line commanded her full attention. "Kari's useless," she reported crisply. "I've hypnotized her three times, but she still can't give me any useful information about the enemy."
"Are you certain?"
She put the notepad back down on her desk. "I'll put her under one more time, but I believe she's a fake abductee." Within certain circles, it was a mark of honor to have been 'taken' and most of those, she'd come to believe, were faking it. Which still left those few who weren't.
"Damn. So why are you spending any more time on her?"
"Because she pays me to, Colonel." With her daddy's credit card. "The Bureau is rather stingy, I find. And I have the time."
"What else have you got time for?"
She shifted uneasily. "Well, besides Kari, I've currently got three others who claim to have been abducted. The ad we placed in the alternative paper has paid off. One of them looks promising. I'm starting to believe she can give us more details about the alien's propulsion systems."
"Keep me posted, Porter. And since you have so much spare time, I'm going to give you another task."
Gwen stiffened in her seat. Did he think she was his errand girl? She was a trained professional, damn it. This had better be worth it. "What is it?"
"It's about the tidal wave yesterday."
That intrigued her, as unexplained events always did. "Yes?"
"We have a few pictures taken moments after the wave was disrupted. There appears to be a figure coming out of the water, hovering for a moment, then shooting straight upwards and disappearing completely."
She leaned in over her desk, reaching for her notepad and pen. The page about Kari was ripped out and crumpled into a ball. "We have a picture of an alien in action?"
"We have to assume so." The voice was smug. "I've got experts working on the pictures — they're a little blurry. It doesn't show the detail we need."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I'm sending over the photographer — she should be conscious again by the time she's arrived. Make her think she was there to lose weight or stop smoking, afterwards. First, though, get as much information as you can from her memory. Then start asking around. There are a few things from last month that I want checked out, too. The guys who deliver the girl will bring you what details we've got."
Gwen scowled. The request for hypno-therapy was reasonable, as that was what she did, both for the Bureau and for a living. Not that the therapy was anywhere near as efficient and reliable as Trask seemed to believe. The other part, though… "Chasing rumors isn't my specialty," she pointed out coldly.
"Your specialty is whatever I say it is. Unless you'd like certain documents to be mailed anonymously to the police."
"Don't be a fool," she replied with as much scorn as she could muster. "I'll look into it, but I'm not guaranteeing anything."
"I'll check back with you in a few days."
The connection went dead.
"So then the ship dropped me off just outside Metropolis," Kal concluded. "I found Brenda, who pointed me to Lois, and… here I am."
"Nice job, Kal." Francine actually smiled at him. "I'm glad you were able to work it out."
"Yeah," Brenda concurred. "You two deserve each other."
Lois grinned, then snuggled against Kal's side. "Are you saying we got what was coming to us?"
Brenda snickered. "Something like that. So what are you going to do now?"
Kal adjusted his arm around her shoulder and glanced down at her, wondering how much to say.
"Well, Kal needs identification — you know, social security number, driver's license, that kind of thing."
"Not that I know how to drive, you understand," he threw in. "I've never really needed to. But I think I could pick it up." He glanced sideways and grinned. "If Lois ever trusts me with her Jeep, that is."
Lois ignored his teasing. "And I've got an investigation going." She glanced up at him. "I'll fill you in later, Kal."
"Okay," he said, willing to follow her lead on this, at least until he could find out what she had in mind.
"So, Francine, how's show business?"
Francine smiled slightly. "Coming right along, thanks."
"She's actually pretty good at the business side of things," Brenda added. "So I stick to the creative side."
"Sounds like a good partnership, then," Kal said.
Lois smiled at them. "You know, gals, when I first met you, you could barely stand one another." Francine had been a bitter, fading blonde, resentful of the younger, outspoken black woman. Under pressure, however, they'd managed to come to terms, and had both been a tremendous help to Lois on the spaceship, helping her keep her emotional balance. Nowadays, they not only got along, but they were on their way to being successful theater-owners, which was quite a change from being dancers in a club floor show.
Brenda grinned. "We've come a long way, baby."
"You're telling me." Lois smiled at her friends. "It still surprises me sometimes that we all get along so well. I never really had any female friends before, or not for long. This is nice." She grinned. "Which is good, considering my PI office is in the same building as your theater."
"And speaking of which," Francine said with a glance at her watch, "we've got to get going — I've got a meeting with the set designer, and I think there are some girls coming in for auditions."
"Damn," Brenda said, standing up. "I didn't know it'd gotten this late. We've gotta go. Are you coming in to the office today, Lois?"
Kal and Lois stood as well, escorting their friends to the door.
"I don't think so, Brenda — I'm considering this my day off. But if you see any fabulously wealthy would-be clients hanging around the place, call me."
With a laugh and a round of hugs, Brenda and Francine took their leave.
"I'm glad they've been friends to you," Kal observed quietly. "I know it can't have been easy, when you first returned."
Lois smiled at him, leaning against the inside of the door. "They were great. I'm not sure what I would have done without them."
Kal smiled a little, but it didn't reach his eyes.
"Hey, don't feel guilty, Kal." She reached up to touch his cheek. "And anyway, now I have you *and* them, so I figure I'm doing pretty good."
"Hmm." Kal smiled at her, reassured. "They bring up a good point, though. If I'm to use these powers of mine, we have to find a way to protect our privacy. It was bad enough that all this made you give up your military career."
"Kal, that's not your fault."
He shook his head, unwilling to avoid responsibility. "You had a life, and then I blundered in and—"
"And you improved it," she interrupted. "Kal, there have been lots of changes, yes, but mostly they're for the better." She laid a hand on his arm. "I wouldn't change it back even if I could."
He allowed himself to be convinced. "Still, I don't wish to be responsible for wrecking your *new* life, which is what would happen if anyone found out what I could do."
"Not necessarily," she protested, she didn't seem confident. She walked away from the door and sat on the sofa. "And even if it did, it would be worth it."
He recognized that stubborn tone of voice. Well, he'd do some more thinking about it, and bring up the topic later.
"I mean, really," she continued, "it's based on a comic book for goodness sake. That's hardly proof. Nobody's accusing Lex Luthor of trying to take over the world… well, okay, I am investigating him, but even *I* think I'm crazy, half the time."
He sat next to her, taking her hand. "Only half the time?"
She snorted at that. "Well, there are a few strange things…"
Kal listened as she quickly related what little evidence she had on Lex Luthor and his possible involvement with the Toasters.
"It's not proof, though, is it? Honestly, it's not very convincing."
"No, it's really not."
"Then why do you keep working on it?"
"Because my old Colonel believes it. Or at least he's strongly suspicious. When I resigned my commission, he suggested I look into things — dig up things that he couldn't. Except I'm kind of at a dead end."
Kal shrugged. "Maybe you should check back with him, then. Show him what you've got. See if he has any ideas."
"Yeah, I guess I could." She moved toward the kitchen, then stopped. "I don't want to do it over the phone." She glanced at the wall clock, calculating traffic times. "I guess I could go see him at Fort Truman. It's not that long a drive, and that way I could talk to him without being overheard."
"It's a shame it's not dark out," Kal commented, grinning. "We could get there even quicker if I took us."
She looked at him with a new gleam of interest. "Flying? Oh, yes, please. After all, you've got a lot of comic-book precedent to live up to."
"Not in broad daylight, shey-ana."
She sighed. "No, I guess not. How about after dark?"
He grinned. "Try to stop me."
"All right, I'll drive — but we have got to find you some sort of outfit."
Half an hour later, they were parking at Fort Truman. Kal got out of the car and looked around with professional interest. It was a different style of military than what he was used to, of course, but seemed well organized.
Lois locked the car and came around to his side. "The Colonel's office is over this way." She took his hand and pulled him after her. In a more contemplative tone, she added, "It's really weird to be here, you know."
He thought he could guess, but… "Why is that?"
"Well, I'm not in uniform, for one thing." She shrugged. "And I have to keep reminding myself not to salute." There was a brief pause before she said, "It's busy here today. Normally, it's not quite this… I don't know. Intent."
Kal glanced around and noticed a building further down the street. The parking lot was full, and a few cars were double- parked. "There seems to be a lot of activity over there…"
Lois leaned over to see which one he meant. "Oh, that's Satellite Intel. And it's much busier than normal. I wonder why?" They reached a front door, which brought her attention around. "And here we are."
He followed her inside the building, down a few corridors, and past a secretary into Colonel White's office.
"Thanks for seeing us today, sir." Lois smiled at the older man. "This is my friend and partner, Kal, um… Kal…" She glanced at him, wide-eyed, and he could almost hear her asking him what name to give.
"Kal-El," he supplied helpfully, trying not to smirk.
"Kal… Ellison, yes," Lois recovered smoothly. "He's from out of town."
Colonel White reached across the desk to shake his hand.
"It's an honor to meet you, sir," Kal murmured. "Lois speaks highly of you."
As they sat down, Lois slipped him a brief glare. He tried not to laugh aloud.
The Colonel was watching them with great interest. "So, what can I do you for?"
"Well, it's about that project we spoke of before, sir. But if I may ask — what's happening over at Satellite Intel? People were looking worried."
He sighed. "I probably shouldn't tell you this, Lois."
"That's your call, sir." She smiled at him, reminding Kal that she'd said her Colonel was also a friend of her father's. "But I wish you would, anyway."
He snorted. "Well, I suppose I can trust you — but what about your friend here?"
Kal looked him directly in the eye. "I have been a man under oath, sir, and have never betrayed a trust."
"Even at great personal cost," Lois said quietly, nearly to herself. She glanced over at Kal, the remembrance of past hurt clear in her eyes.
Kal reached over to hold her hand. She smiled at him softly, then directed her attention back across the desk.
Colonel White studied Kal, with a few occasional glances at Lois. At length, he cleared his throat. "All right, then. It's not like you could do anything about it anyway, as long as this doesn't get around to the general public." The Colonel sighed, looking down at his hands. "We want to avoid a panic," he began obliquely. "But we've detected an asteroid out there, heading right at us. It's days away — almost a week — but the brain boys say it's going to hit us. Hard."
Lois's face lost color, and she gripped Kal's hand tighter. He tried to project reassurance through their link. "How hard?"
"Depending on where it hits…" He paused again, leaning back. "It could wipe out most of humanity."
"That's end of the world stuff, sir." Lois seemed almost in shock.
"Which is why news can't get out! We've got everyone working on options, but it's early days yet. Still, I'm sure they'll come up with something," he added without much conviction.
"Yes," Kal replied, giving Lois's hand a gentle squeeze. "I'm sure someone will come up with something."
"Okay, that should work," Francine was finally able to tell the set director. He had had his own notions about what should go where, and those notions clashed with her own. It hadn't been easy to come to an agreement — although, she thought with a mental smirk, it had gotten easier after she'd reminded him that she was the one paying the bills.
She brought the mail in from the front box and sat down to sort through it. A few of them could get shuffled right on over to Brenda's desk, as she was, among other things, the casting director. And a few could be tossed into the trash. The rest, she had to deal with. Bills and invoices, mostly.
Running a theater was a far more complicated proposition than being a dancer had ever been. And, to add insult to injury, she was actually making less money now — she and Brenda both wanted to invest as much as they could into creating a successful showplace. It was hard work, but, to her own surprise, it was work that she loved.
Although paying the bills was not her most favorite activity. Her mind tended to wander, and after only a minimal struggle to concentrate, she leaned back in her chair. It was like Lois said earlier — things had changed a lot in the past few months.
Next time her ex-husband paid one of his rare visits, she'd greatly enjoy telling him off. She'd confronted and beaten up alien bad guys. Harry was nothing compared to that — and he couldn't even claim that he'd gotten her this job and therefore she owed him. She'd have to warn Brenda not to fall for any of the bastard's tricks or sob stories. He'd manipulated her for the last time, thanks to Kal.
In fact, now that she was free of Harry and Johnny, and standing on her own two feet, maybe it was time to think about having a *good* relationship for a change. Not that she knew many candidates; the only one that came to mind was Bill. She'd always thought there was a spark between them, but neither one of them had ever acted on it. Still, if she happened to run into him again… She knew she was reasonably attractive, and last she'd heard he wasn't involved with anyone… well, who knew what could happen?
She smiled a bit, remembering how Kal and Lois had looked this morning. Totally in love, and showing it more than they probably thought they were. Lois deserved to be happy, though… and she was forced to admit that Kal was a decent guy. Always had been, really, even when he'd been just another of the Metro Club patrons, though she would never have said so. Finding out that he was an alien had been… well, shocking. Enough of a surprise for even a cynic like her to look at him through new eyes.
And then this morning, they'd surprised her again. Kal could fly? And who knew what else he could do? She was dead certain Lois hadn't told them everything. But hey, a girl had a right to a few secrets. Besides, Brenda would get Lois to 'fess up to everything sooner or later.
Brenda, in fact, had pretty much already decided that Kal was Superman come to life. Francine felt that was stretching things, but supposed it wasn't impossible. She certainly wouldn't mind seeing Kal in skin-tight spandex.
That mental image made her smile, and then provoked a question. If Kal wanted to play Superman, he'd need a costume — something high-quality, but which couldn't be traced back to any costume shop or tailor.
It was a good thing for them that she was a pretty darned good seamstress.
She laughed at herself for that grandiose thought, and shook herself back to reality. Time to get back to work and pay some bills.
Lois mechanically processed what little information the Colonel had on Lex Luthor, jotting down a few notes, but her heart wasn't in it. When she'd first heard about the asteroid, she had thanked God for sending Kal to them. But then, upon reflection, she wasn't so sure what Kal could do. He didn't even have a ship to use.
He certainly seemed very cool and collected. His mental echo was a touch more uncertain, but not by much. He turned his head to catch her looking at him, and he smiled. She needed to talk to him.
"Thank you, sir," she told Colonel White as he seemed to run out of steam. Apparently, his heart hadn't really been in it, either. She stood, and Kal followed suit. "Um… we'll be in touch." She managed a ghost of a smile. "Probably not before next week, though."
"Ah, it's not that bad, I'm sure," he replied, managing half a smile.
They all shook hands goodbye, and then Lois reached for Kal's hand again. Their bond worked better when they were touching, and she needed the reassurance.
The drive back to Lois's apartment was very different from the earlier one. Then they'd been laughing and joking. This time they were silent, and Lois seemed lost in thought.
"Don't worry, Lois," Kal said again, feeling her anxiety.
"I'm not worried," she snapped at him.
He considered contradicting her, then decided to let it slide. It was more important to lessen her worry than to badger her into admitting to it. "I can take care of this all by myself, you know."
"Oh, really?" She scowled at him. If she'd been standing, he thought, she'd have crossed her arms. "Just going to fly on out there, in vacuum, and knock it out of the sky?"
"Something like that, yes." He'd been considering the best approach to the problem.
"Kal, be reasonable. You don't know what you can do out there. Yeah, I know you've gone all over space and all that, but that was in a *ship,* ya know? It makes a difference."
"Yes, Lois, it makes a difference, but think about it. I'm invulnerable — the lack of pressure won't be an issue. I'll have to see how long I can hold my breath — I've never had occasion to check, before — but there are such things as air tanks."
"It's still too risky, Kal." Her scowl faded, and her worry shaded toward outright fear. "Anything could happen."
"Shey-ana, it's more risky if I *don't* go." They parked behind her apartment building and just sat there for a moment. "You heard Colonel White. They haven't got any idea what they're going to do, if they can even do anything…"
"They're working on it, Kal. Give them a chance, okay?" She looked across the front seat at him, silently urging him not to leave her.
He sighed, hating the thought of distressing her. "Okay. We'll give them a day… but Lois, that thing is getting closer every minute."
"It's just…" She faltered, reaching for his hand. "You've hardly even gotten here."
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. "After all the work I put in to come be with you, there's no way I'm going to let some space rock wreck everything."
She looked at him again for a long moment, then took a deep breath. She brightened somewhat, to both his inner and outer sight, and managed a smile. "Okay, let's go in."
As they entered her apartment, a thought occurred to Lois. "You know, I should really get you a duplicate set of keys."
He tilted his head, considering that, then smiled. "Either that, or always leave a window unlocked."
"Yeah, that could work, too." Dwelling on the mundane was comforting somehow. "The first thing we should do, though, is to get you a new identity. Do you think your guy in West River is still there?" As the plans formed in her head, her speech speeded up, giving Kal no chance to answer. "Would he be open now? Could I come with you, or should you go alone? Because I think that's got to be our very first priority — to get you legal standing, I mean, even if it's done illegally." That thought still made her a trifle uncomfortable, but it was necessary, so they would do it. "I was thinking of what name to use this morning, but I didn't—"
"Actually," Kal interrupted, "I liked the one you gave me."
"Kal Ellison," he elaborated. He looked at her with a warm smile. "If I understand the naming conventions properly, that means 'son of El.'
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that." She pondered briefly. "Well, that's not it exactly, but yeah, that's the idea. We could certainly use it that way. That's a nice idea."
"Yes, it is," he replied solemnly. "Thank you for coming up with it."
That drew a smile out of her. "I think it was mutual."
He shrugged, not disputing the point. "So, do we like that name?"
"Well, let's see…" She tested how it sounded when said aloud. "Kal and Lois Ellison. Lois Lane Ellison — although," she added in a quick aside, "I think I'd just as soon drop that; the name is far too famous for safety. So… Lois Ellison. Mrs. Ellison. As long as we never name any daughters Allison, I think 'Ellison' should work just fine."
He grinned at her. "I'll keep that in mind."
"So, let's go get you legal. And to celebrate afterwards," she informed him, "you can take me out to dinner."
Kal held the door open for Lois as they left the pawn shop. Just as Kal had remembered, the forger worked out of a backroom. And, given enough monetary incentive, he'd agreed to set Kal up.
"Is it just me," Lois asked crossly, "or did that take forever?"
Kal reached over to hold her hand, just because he could. It seemed strange to be here — where he'd spent three years alone — — with Lois, the woman he'd fallen in love with while on a spaceship. He decided it was the combination of factors that felt odd — and exhilarating. He was on his way to realize the dream of his life.
Well, there was still an asteroid to deal with, of course, but he refused to believe it would be especially difficult.
"It took a while, yes," he belatedly replied. "But he was just being thorough."
"Well, it was kind of fascinating," she allowed. "I had no idea it would be so complicated."
"Yes, but worth it." He held up the envelope. "With this birth certificate, I can apply for a social security number. Everything else will follow." He smiled down at her as they continued down the street.
"Yeah, I guess so. I never really gave it much thought."
"Well, don't worry. It shouldn't take long — it's just paperwork." "Speaks the man who's never worked for the federal government," she pointed out. "It could take them *weeks.*"
He laughed. "I hope it's not that bad. And I think I can apply in person, which will speed things up. So, where to next? It's a bit early yet for dinner."
Lois looked around, getting her bearings. "Well, I think if we hurry, we can get to the courthouse before it closes for the day. I want to know what marriage laws we've got to deal with, here. Maybe we could get started on some of the paperwork. Maybe," she glanced up at him, "they don't have any waiting period at all, and they'll take a birth certificate as proof of identity…"
"That would be nice. But like you say, this is the government we're dealing with." Kal began scouting for a convenient dark alley to duck into. The December daylight was already fading, as the sun sank low enough to cover the city in shadows. "Let's try this next alley," he suggested quietly.
They turned the corner into a narrow passage, barely large enough for the garbage trucks that toiled there. The noise of the busy street faded behind them.
"I don't know if you know where the courthouse is?" Lois looked up at him. At his headshake, she continued. "It's about fifteen blocks this way, then—"
The rest of her sentence was lost as a screech of metal filled his hearing. Instinctively, he pushed Lois behind him and toward the side of the alley as he surveyed the threat. It was a wrecked station wagon, wedged into the alley mouth at an awkward angle. Someone had taken the turn much too wide and much too fast. The car was no longer moving, except for some incidental late breakage, but even as he watched, a flame sprung up from the crumpled front hood. He could hear a few screams from out on the street.
"Stay back!" he told Lois, before moving forward to investigate more closely. He would probably be able to help, if he didn't mind the risk of discovery. Actually, he realized, he was going to have to help. There were two young women in the front seat of the car, and neither of them were moving.
"Don't let that fire get to the gas tank," Lois urged from right behind him. Blistering words of reproof formed in his mind, but he pushed them back. Lois was not under his command. Besides, she was right. That fire could be deadly.
He moved forward again, almost to touching distance. The one good thing about the fire, he discovered, was that it provided a literal smoke screen between him and the growing crowd of onlookers he could hear out on the street.
"Blow it out," Lois urged from a few paces behind him. "Freeze it!"
He resisted the urge to roll his eyes at her, and promptly blew cold mist onto the fire. It hissed and sputtered to an almost immediate stop. The smoke and steam both began to dissipate, and he heard voices from on the street. Time to get out of here.
He turned, collected Lois, and super-sped down to the other end of the block. He tucked her into the shadow of a dumpster. "I hear an ambulance already," he reported after a moment's careful listening. "I think it's coming here. Those women should be okay 'til it gets here." He turned toward her and sighed. "I wish I could have done more."
"Well, you couldn't — not without a disguise — and they'll be fine," Lois said, trying to peek over the edge of the dumpster. She turned back towards him and patted him on the chest, smiling up at him. "You were great."
He shrugged uncomfortably. "I didn't do much."
"You did as much as you could, and you saved them both, plus probably a few people on the street." She paused for emphasis. "It was enough. Although we really need to start thinking about a disguise for you. And right now…"
"Let's hit the courthouse," he finished for her. "Okay. After you, m'lady."
Gwen Porter looked around the seedy bar and suppressed a shudder. It was for moments like this that she had invested in a small handgun. The place was filthy, badly lit, and smelled strongly of spilled alcohol and stale tobacco. She tried to breathe shallowly and mentally cursed Trask again. She moved forward, gingerly stepping around chairs, tiny tables, and the occasional debris on the floor, and wincing as the bottoms of her shoes got progressively stickier.
Her target was in one of the back corners, a noisy group of six or eight people. She could just make out Kari's face, which looked faintly green in the uncertain lighting. She angled around to her side of the table, then spoke. "Excuse me. Have I found the UFO meeting?"
The people, mostly men, around the table looked up at her in varying degrees of suspicion and hostility. Kari seemed dumbfounded. "Yeah, that's us… Dr. Porter, what are you doing here?"
A very good question, she thought bitterly. "May I join you?"
"Yeah!" Kari jumped to her feet, an eager smile on her face, and offered her seat. "C'mon, guys, get me another chair. This is my hypno-therapist, Dr. Porter. She's been totally amazing."
After a swift doubtful glance, Gwen sat in the vacated chair. "Thank you. Yes, I'm a therapist, specializing in repressed memories, particularly those of alien abductees."
The crowd seemed at least partly impressed by this, so she continued. "I'm also investigating, shall we say, strange or inexplicable events." She pulled a pencil and a small notebook out of her bag. "I was wondering if you could tell me of anything odd that's happened in this area recently."
That seemed to open the floodgates, as nearly everyone at the table attempted to tell her things at the same time. She held up a hand. They quieted down. Some. "I do want to hear from each and every one of you. However, I cannot listen to you all at once." Turning to her right, she suggested, "Shall we begin with you, sir?"
By the uncertain look on his face, he wasn't quite sure what 'shall' meant, but apparently he'd caught the part about beginning, and started talking.
Lois entered her apartment with Kal close behind. "I'll have to visit the bank tomorrow," she thought aloud. "I've got a safe deposit box. The lobby opens at eight, as I recall."
"Okay," he replied, with an annoying hint of humor in his voice. "I don't mind if we have to wait a day or two."
She hung her coat in the closet then turned to stick her tongue out at him. "Yeah, go ahead, laugh it up."
"Well, you must admit it's ironic." He grinned at her. "There I am, with my identification right at hand, and we get turned away because you haven't got yours!"
"Plus there's a two-day waiting period. Which won't start until tomorrow. Stupid regulations." She kicked off her shoes. "I was born right here in Metropolis — can't they just look it up or something?"
"Well, they need to update their system." A thought struck her. "I know, they should get you to do data-entry!"
"You'd be the fastest way." She grinned, her spirits reviving. "I can see it now — there you are, in full Superman costume, sitting in a basement somewhere typing in old records… think they'd pay you more than minimum wage?"
He rolled his eyes at her. "I don't think we're going to find out."
"What, haven't you got any civic spirit? You'd look cute in one of those little visors."
"Laugh at me, will you?" he asked darkly. He began pacing towards her. "I'll have to teach you a lesson."
She grinned at him. No matter how menacing he was trying to look, she couldn't feel any real anger. There had been a flash of it earlier, but none now. "And what would that be?" she challenged him, raising her chin a bit.
He pulled her into a hug. "Give me a minute. I'll think of something."
She pulled her arms free and began running her hands over the outsides of his arms and shoulders. "While I'm waiting… think there's anything we could do to pass the time?"
"Oh, I think we can come up with something," he murmured, one side of his mouth twitching upwards.
"And then, Kal, for tonight," she said softly, "I'd really like it if you'd sleep with me, instead of on the couch."
He pulled back, frowning slightly. "Shey-ana, I really don't want—"
"We can just sleep," she hurried to reassure him, launching into the argument she'd been thinking about all day. "Like we did on your ship that last night. I know you want to wait, and while that's frustrating, I also kinda like the idea that you respect me too much to skip the formalities. But there's really no point in you looking for an apartment, because by the end of the week, God willing, we'll be married and you'd have to cancel the lease almost immediately after you signed it." His frown had faded, and she suspected he was beginning to be amused, but she'd built up too much momentum to stop now. "And I know you can afford it, what with all those diamonds and rubies you found lying around on New Krypton, but honestly, I can think of better uses for that money, and if I have anything to say about it, you're never going back to New Krypton to look for more of them, so—"
Her words were abruptly stilled as Kal's lips closed over her own. For half a second, she was upset at the interruption, but then gave that up in favor of enjoying the kiss. Long moments later, he released her and said, "Yes."
"Yes? Yes what? That you want to wait, or that it's frustrating, or…"
He smiled warmly. "Yes to all of that. And yes, I'd love to fall asleep with you in my arms."
"Oh. Good." That had been easy. Maybe too easy. She squinted at him suspiciously. "It won't make you see me as a concubine?"
"No, Lois." He shook his head, looking almost embarrassed. "It's not — well, let's just say that concubines are mostly there when you're awake, and then they leave. Sharing sleep is different. You're the only woman I've ever slept the whole night with."
"Really?" She pondered that for a moment, then smiled. "Okay, then. I like that."
"You like being the only woman I've slept with?" he teased.
She poked him in the chest. "I like being the only woman, period, from now on. You are *mine,* buster… and I don't share. Got that?"
"Yes, m'lady," he murmured, right before kissing her again.
"But before that," Kal murmured a moment later, "I think we talked about going flying…"
Her eyes lit up. "Yeah, we did — think it's dark enough out?"
"If we wear dark clothes and head out of town… yeah, I think so."
"Cool," she breathed. "So… what do we do?"
Kal tilted his head. "Well, I'll have to hold you, I guess."
"You guess?" She looked skeptical.
"I've never really had to think about it," he said defensively. "I tried not to use my powers much when I was here before, and I sure never took anybody with me."
"I suppose you wouldn't. Hah. There's another first for me — your first passenger." She laughed softly. "If we go by the comics, you'd hold me in your arms, sort of in a cradling position."
He grinned. "Like this?" He swooped her up, one arm behind her back and the other beneath her knees.
"Whee! Yeah, like this." She settled her arms around his neck. "I always wondered how this would feel."
"Or how this would feel?" He levitated a few inches up off the carpet and moved them toward the window.
"Wow, it's a smooth ride. I mean, I figured it would be, but that's not the same as experiencing it…"
He stopped at the window. "Will you do the honors, m'lady?"
She grinned at him. "Certainly. But first, let me down."
Surprised, he set her back on her feet. She opened the window, then turned and hugged him, running her hands up his arms to rest on his shoulders. "I always thought it would be more fun this way."
He rubbed her back, enjoying the feel of her body against his. "Good thinking." With his arms securely around her waist, he lifted off, angled through the window, and shot upwards.
Gwen closed her apartment door and sighed in relief. Her first priority was to kick off her shoes before she could track any residue of that bar onto her pristine carpets. Next, the jacket came off. She sniffed at it and scowled. She ought to bill Trask for her dry-cleaning. She walked in stocking feet to her bedroom and quickly stripped off the rest of her clothing. The lingering smell of smoke in her hair convinced her that she really needed a shower.
Twenty minutes later, she finally felt clean. Wearing her softest velvet and cashmere lounging outfit, she settled in on her couch to review her notes. She needed to organize first, and then decide which things to pass along to Trask.
She glanced at her watch, grimacing at the late hour, then set up three piles. One for first-hand experiences, another for second- hand accounts, and a third for the 'friend-of-a-friend"/urban legend type of story. That third pile should really go straight into the trash, but it was possible that Trask would want to have the notes. She intended to make no mistakes.
Half an hour later, they flew back in the window. Kal set them both down and released Lois. She was smiling widely, her eyes shining. "I could have done that for a few more hours."
"Let's wait 'til I have a costume, okay? Have you thought of any names for me, by the way?"
"Not really. Everything I come up with sounds silly. Krypton Man?"
He winced. "Maybe not."
"Exactly my point. Well, we might as well sleep on it."
Kal stilled, suddenly unsure. "Uh, yeah. About that…"
"I've got first dibs on the bathroom," Lois said, not quite meeting his eyes, and in no time at all, she called out, "Your turn!"
He took care of his nightly ritual, then stepped into the bedroom. He felt just a little awkward, sliding into bed next to Lois. They were both fully clad — sleep shorts and a t-shirt for him, a pair of cotton pajamas for her — but just the act of getting into bed together was intimate. They had shared sleep before, of course, but that hadn't been a planned thing. And sleep would be all they were sharing, no matter what his body was urging.
Lois smiled shyly, lying demurely on the other side of the bed. "Hey, you."
"Hi there." That shy look only increased his physical reaction to her, he realized ruefully.
Her eyes widened slightly. "This bond thing is going to be interesting."
After a confused moment, he realized what she meant. With very little effort, he could *feel* her welcoming reaction to him, which was intensifying his own feelings… which were probably spilling over back to her. "I love you, Lois."
"Yeah, I know." She smiled. "You're burning bright."
He looked askance at her, and she blushed.
"Oh, sorry — it's how I think of you, in my mind. I guess it's stupid, but it's like I can see you there, as this floating, well, ball of fire, I guess. And it changes with whatever you're feeling. Like I said, it's stupid."
He smiled, sliding closer to her, and reaching out to hold her hand. "It's not stupid. At least, I hope it's not. Ever since we were on the ship, I've sensed you the same way. Except you're not fire, you're a waterfall."
She moved closer, cuddling up beside him. "A waterfall? Like Niagara Falls?"
"Not exactly… it's like this thin, shimmery curtain of water." He wasn't quite comfortable describing it aloud, but she'd already done it. And if anyone could understand and approve, it was her. "It sort of speeds up or slows down, or changes colors, like it's lit from behind, depending on what you're feeling." He hesitated, then added, "It's beautiful."
She pondered that for a moment, shifting slightly to rest her head on his shoulder. "I like it." She yawned, then continued sleepily, "I'm glad I'm not the only one — I didn't know what to think about it at first."
"Ah, shey-ana… don't you know?" He kissed the top of her head, and said softly, "You'll never be alone again."
She looked up, her eyes filling with unshed tears. "I love you so much."
That called for a kiss, then a few more, before Kal brought things to a halt. "Sleep, my lady. We've got plenty of time for other things later in the week." She settled against him again, yawning, and soon falling to sleep. Holding her, he smiled and slept, and dreamed of waterfalls.
Lois woke, feeling more rested than she had in months, and too content to move. Kal was lying close next to her, an arm thrown over her waist. The weight and warmth of it felt wonderful. She moved slightly to get a better view of his face.
His eyes opened. A moment later, he smiled. "Good morning, Lois."
"Good morning, Kal. I'm glad you're here; this feels so nice…"
"And in only a few days," he murmured in a husky tone, "it'll be even nicer."
She grinned and stretched, pressing towards him. "Yes, I think it will."
"But for now," he said, scooting backwards, "we need to get up and get going." He got out of bed, then stopped, looking down at himself ruefully. "I need some new clothes."
"We can do some shopping this morning, maybe," she offered, looking him over shamelessly. Going shopping had never been her favorite activity, but with the incentive of seeing Kal try on multiple outfits, it might be a fun outing. Speaking of multiple outfits… "You know, you need a costume, too."
For a moment he looked confused, then his expression cleared. "Oh, for do-gooding? Yes, I do."
"Like that car fire earlier." She propped herself up against the headboard with a pillow, thinking aloud. "With a costume you'd have been able to do a lot more."
He sat on the edge of the bed. "I suppose so, yes. Well, we had been talking about me becoming Superman, as it were. He's got a costume, hasn't he?"
"Yep. Blue suit with a big yellow and red S-shield. Which looks rather like your El symbol, actually. Well, depending on who's doing the drawing. Some of those so-called artists for the comics have tried all sorts of variations, to show off — assuming they're not trying to get it right and failing miserably, which I would also believe."
His face twisted. "I just can't see myself in those bright primary colors."
She felt a pang of disappointment; she would love to see him in the traditional suit. Still, privacy was important. "There's an idea — maybe we should forget making you an imitation Superman. With the names and everything, it's just too risky."
"Lois! You know I can't be here and not help…"
"Oh, I know! I was just thinking — what if we said you were some *other* super-powered guy? With your own suit and backstory."
Kal pondered that. "I guess… you know, I've just about decided that a Kryptonian's visited Earth before, and H.G. Wells knew about it, and what powers he would have had. Then he built the whole hero thing around that. We could explain that, to cover the similarities."
"Maybe…" Lois stood and began to slowly pace. "You know, you really don't look that much like the way Superman's always been drawn. They tend to give him a huge square chin, with one little curl of hair on his forehead — and blue eyes, of course." She turned to look at him. "This could work."
"I think I'd like to wear black and burgundy — those are the colors of the House of El."
"You wore that on the ship, didn't you? Of course, it would have to be skin-tight," she smirked. "That would look really good on you."
"You'll have to help me get it right, then," he said, looking only a little nervous. "And I want to keep my house symbol, but if we stylize it so that it *doesn't* look like an S…"
She nodded. "Yeah, that could work. Maybe. We'll have to try it. I can sew a few things, but I'm no expert. And we wouldn't want to buy anything off the rack; it'd be traceable."
"You would know," he agreed. "Actually, it's a good thing you're a private investigator; you'll know all the tracks we need to cover."
"That's the theory, anyway," she agreed. "But in the meantime, we'll have to be very New Kryptonian and—"
"—make do with what we have," he finished for her, grinning. "Come on, let's get that marriage license!"
"So we went back this morning," Lois explained as she stood in the doorway, sorting her office mail. "We've officially applied for a license. We have to wait two days, but then on Friday, we're getting married!" Lois was so happy and excited she was bouncing a little on her toes. "And it won't be a big thing, just a civil ceremony, but you guys have to be there."
Francine leaned against her desk and hid a smirk. She pretended to think. "Well, I don't know… we're going to be pretty busy…"
"Don't listen to her, Lois," Brenda advised cheerfully. "Of course we'll be there."
Francine's smirk emerged, though she tried to tamp it down to a polite smile. "I wouldn't miss it for anything," she admitted. She'd watched Lois and Kal's courtship, separation, and reunion. The wedding was the essential next step. Even if it wouldn't be very fancy… "Actually, I'd like to arrange a reception for you, if you don't mind."
Lois looked rather more surprised at the offer of help than Francine liked, but she was also clearly happy. "That'd be a great idea! Thank you! I hadn't even thought about that."
"Well, it won't be a long guest list," she pointed out dryly. "But if you think of anyone you'd like me to invite, Lois, just give me their addresses. No, wait," she corrected herself. "The wedding's only two days away. Better give me their phone numbers."
Lois grinned. "Thanks, Francine, but like you say, it'll be a short list — and I should probably do the inviting, myself. Since this will be the first time anyone's heard about this whole wedding thing, and all."
"Heh, good point," Francine replied, leaning back over her desktop to grab onto her day planner. "I'll get it set up and let you know the particulars."
"So," Brenda asked cheekily. "Where's the groom this morning?"
"Shopping," Lois replied. She gathered her mail together and made a small move towards her office, across the hall from theirs. "He said he wanted some new clothes."
Francine would just bet that Kal was shopping for something more valuable than clothes, but it wasn't her place to say so. A faint ringing was heard, and Lois turned her head to follow the source of the sound.
"I think that's my phone." She waved at them and vanished.
"Yeah… Hope it's a client, not a creditor!" Francine called after her. She looked over toward Brenda and cracked a smile. "We've got a wedding reception to plan."
"What do you mean 'we,' white girl?" Brenda asked with a laugh in her voice that made it impossible to take offense. "But okay, I'm in. This is gonna be fun."
Gwen shuffled her notes one more time, then told herself to stop stalling. He was expecting a phone call from her today, so she would have to call him. It wasn't entirely due to his possession of some embarrassing documents, either. Unexplained phenomena had intrigued her since she'd been a child, and she'd seen enough to be convinced there were aliens afoot. The Bureau was one of the very few groups that shared her concerns.
Resolutely, she reached for the phone and dialed Trask's number. "Gwen Porter here," she announced as soon as she heard his voice. "I've got a few things to report."
"You were able to find the right people to talk to, then?"
"Of course I did. I could hardly be in this business and not know about UFO groups." She'd made it a priority, in fact, to keep tabs on them as unobtrusively as she could. She could usually get her patients, who often were plugged into such informal groups, to talk about them. They were a bunch of amateurs, but every now and then, they might stumble across something. "I spoke to one such group last night. They had a few tales to tell."
"Good — write it all up in a report. Anything significant?"
"The most interesting was a story of an auto accident yesterday in West River. Two young women took a curve badly, and their engine caught fire after they hit the corner of a building. One of the women in the group last night claims to have seen the whole thing." Of course, Kari also claimed she'd been abducted by aliens, which Gwen had already disproved to her satisfaction. "The car crashed, the engine caught fire, lots of smoke, then suddenly the fire vanished. She thinks there was someone on the other side of the car, but when the smoke cleared, there was no one there."
Gwen ignored him and carried on. "There was another account of someone saved from a fire — this was second or third hand. I'll try to verify."
"Another mysteriously-quenched fire?" He sounded skeptical to the point of derision. But then, he always did, unless he was giving orders.
"No, the building was totaled." She'd double-checked that. "Supposedly, a man who had collapsed on the top floor was found by paramedics at the rear of the building, totally unconscious. With no idea how he'd got there."
"Hmm. See if you can talk to that man."
She scowled, secure in the knowledge that he couldn't see it. "I told you, I'm checking. There's also a report of a fairly standard abduction. I've got her coming in for regression therapy tomorrow. On a more non-standard note, a few weeks ago, the entire floor show of the Metro Club — four dancers — disappeared into thin air overnight. Two of them have since returned, but the other two have not. This was about the time the Metro Club closed down, however," she qualified, "so there may be nothing there."
"Find out," Trask said crisply. "If they seem promising, get me a background check on them."
"I'll pass along any names or addresses I get," she promised. They shouldn't be too hard to track down.
"Fine. What else?"
"Apart from several Elvis sightings, not much." She dared slip into sarcasm. "Unless you'd like for me to investigate the man who claims Harry Truman is living in his blender."
"Don't try my patience, Porter. Anything else?"
"I've asked about the alien from the tidal wave, but all they had was speculation. Nothing else."
"Keep looking. Keep me posted. Out." Trask hung up on her.
Kal turned the key in the lock with a slight smile. Having a key to Lois's apartment was a little thing, he supposed; he was temporarily staying with her, and needed his own access. Perfectly sensible and mundane. He was a little surprised by how good he felt about it. He opened the door and entered the apartment. A perfectly normal apartment. What was extraordinary, he decided, was that *he* was welcomed there. Not as a noble, or a fellow officer, but him personally. He tried to recall when he'd last felt that.
Maybe this was what people talked about when they said, 'home, sweet home.'
He became aware that he was standing in the middle of Lois's — no, *their* living room, staring out the window at nothing in particular, and smiling. He gave himself a mental shake and got back to business.
He hadn't yet found a ring. None of the engagement sets he'd looked at had felt right. Lois deserved something very special — — he wasn't quite sure what he was looking for, but he would know it when he saw it. He just hoped he saw it soon; he was running out of time.
He'd bought new clothes and accessories instead, but only enough to last a few days. Kal wanted Lois to go with him when he picked out the rest of the wardrobe. After all, she was the one who was going to have to look at him. He wasn't entirely sure where to put the things, so he figured he'd just lay them on the sofa for review.
Where was Lois, by the way? She'd planned to go into work and catch up on things, but he thought she'd wanted to be home by now. He tried to focus on the bond, but the mental image didn't tell him much. Well, wherever she was, she was fairly happy.
He flicked on the television — naturally, it was tuned to the all-news station. At the moment, though, they were going on about some high-profile case of assault, so he wandered over to the kitchen to see if there was anything to snack on.
He'd barely scanned the cupboards when he heard the sound of the *other* key in the lock. He turned towards the door with a big smile. "Hi, Lois!"
"Hi, yourself, Kal," she replied, coming over to give him a kiss and a hug. "I missed you."
He grinned at her, holding her loosely in his arms. "Lois, it was only four hours."
She gave him a wide-eyed, innocent look. "Is there a minimum amount of time before I can miss you? I mean, I knew the police wouldn't look for missing persons until they'd been gone for two days, but I didn't think that would precisely apply here. Oh, I know!" she exclaimed, as if the thought had just occurred to her. "We should practice spending time apart, so I'll get used to not missing you."
She laughed. "Or not. What did you get today?"
"Clothes, mostly." He waved toward the living room. "See what you think."
That caught her attention and led her to look over the back of the sofa to inspect his purchases. "These are nice. Pretty basic… basic black, mostly," she added as she sorted through the small pile. She turned to smile at him. "Wasn't that one of the outfits you had on board — a black suit, with the S on your chest?"
He chuckled. "It's not an S; it's the Kryptonian symbol for the house of El. I brought one with me, actually."
"Something like that, I guess. The house line ended with me, so…"
She grinned. "Oh, not necessarily. Baby Allison can carry on the traditions."
He hadn't looked at it that way. "I guess she can. Sort of, anyway. The context will be completely different."
"We'll make do with what we've got," she told him. "Isn't that a very New Kryptonian attitude?"
Kal laughed. "Yes it is, actually."
"There ya go, then," she concluded, glancing down at the clothing again. "So, you want lunch?"
"Sure. What've you got?"
"I'll have to go check," she said, suiting action to words. "I'll be right back."
While he waited for the results of her food investigation, a burst of music reminded him that the television was on. Now they were talking with a field reporter. "—won't tell us exactly what's going on, but they have said there's some trouble with a satellite, and this gathering of astronomers and other experts is studying the problem."
The studio anchor replied, "Bob, isn't that a lot of intellectual firepower for a satellite malfunction?"
"Yes, Dana, it is. But for the moment, it's all we know."
"Okay, thanks, Bob. And now, let's check in with CeeCee over at our sports desk—"
Kal turned the TV off, no longer hungry. The chances were getting greater that he was going to have to do something. He'd like to be prepared, too, just in case. He'd seen a sporting goods store that morning that might have the air tanks he'd probably need… but he knew it would upset Lois. Well, he didn't have to tell her just yet.
"You know what, Lois?" He tried to make his voice sound normal. "I, um, forgot something this morning. And I'm not really that hungry, so I'll just dash out to the store to pick up the, uh, thing." He winced inwardly, knowing he was doing an incredibly poor job.
She frowned at him from the kitchen. "Are you okay? You're kind of nervous."
Oh. Darned bond. At least there were limits to what she could sense.
"It's just something I meant to get, earlier, but then I forgot." He wracked his brain trying to find a suitably innocuous item to name.
She took a few steps toward him, concerned, then suddenly stopped. A look of enlightenment crossed her face, and she smiled a little, leaning against the door jamb. "Don't tell me there was a limited supply."
"Actually, I think there is. They might run out."
A smile played around her mouth. "You'd better get going, then. I'll be here for a little while, then heading over to my office again. The number's written down by the phone."
"Okay — I'll be back soon, I'm sure." He didn't know what she thought he was going to do, but he appreciated her willingness to play along. She seemed to be enjoying this just a little too much, in fact.
"Happy shopping," she said blandly.
"Thanks. Um…" For a moment he hesitated, then walked over to give her a quick kiss. He stepped back again before her kiss totally distracted him, and let himself out of the apartment. "See you soon!"
He decided he really didn't like lying to Lois. Which was just as well, he figured, as he seemed to be spectacularly bad at it. Well, at least she knew he was lying. That made it seem better, somehow.
Francine looked up from her desk at the sound of someone coming in the building. She waited, counting footsteps, wondering idly if the person was headed for her office or Lois's. If it was a member of the public, they probably wanted Lois; the only people who came into the theater's back office were delivery guys.
Well, that answered that question. "In here."
A woman's head appeared in the doorway, followed closely by the rest of her. She was tall and seemed scrawny, though it was hard to tell, given that she was dressed in an over-large, ill-fitting dress.
Francine supposed the style could, charitably, be described as 'vintage' — but it must have been a very bad year.
"If you want to audition you'll have to come back later," Francine said, though there was no way Brenda was going to hire her.
The visitor scowled. "I'm not here to audition. I'm here to talk to you." She paused, probably waiting for Francine to recognize her. And she did seem vaguely familiar, but… "I'm Kari Shankenberg." She paused again, but to no avail. "Melanie's friend!"
"Oh, right!" Francine sat up straighter, wishing Brenda was here. Kari had visited once before some weeks ago, and she'd already been told the cover story. It hadn't seemed to satisfy her.
"I want to know where Mel is."
"Look, the last I heard, she was perfectly happy and not interested in coming back. To Metropolis."
"Yes, but you never said where she went!"
"I told you, we were held on a ship of I don't know what country. So she fell in love with a sailor and went with him back to wherever."
Melanie had always been into crystals, universal transcendence, whatever that was, and similar screwy notions. When she'd gotten the chance to live on an alien planet, she'd jumped at it — well, she probably wouldn't have if it hadn't been for her falling for Zak like that, but it was a big plus, in her mind, that she'd be going to another planet.
But Francine couldn't very well say any of that to Kari.
"But don't you even know what country it is? How would you ever be able to get in touch with her?"
Francine shrugged. "She knows how to contact us, if she needs to."
Kari frowned. "Unless she's in one of those backwards societies where women aren't allowed to drive or go outside unless they're covered from head to toe!"
Well, if total coverage was the ideal, they'd love Kari. "No, it's not that bad. It is kind of a backwards society," she said, remembering some of the darker aspects. "But they're trying to modernize, and Mel's in good hands. Zak loves her, and the, uh, queen of the place was personally going to look out for her." Kal had said he'd made Zara promise that before he'd left. "The king, too," she added before Kari could object.
"It still sounds fishy to me," Kari objected, crossing her arms. "And I don't like the way you just wave it off, like she's not important. Anything could be happening to her!"
"Look, sweetie, anything could happen to her here, too." Like being kidnapped as a concubine, for instance. "Trust me, she traded up."
This didn't mollify Kari in the slightest. "I have no reason to trust you. Melanie never liked you, and from what I saw, you didn't like her, either."
Francine shrugged. "Things change. We got to know each other a little better, is all. Heck, just look at me and Brenda — I couldn't stand her before. And now we share an office. Oh, and Brenda and me leaned on Zak pretty good, to make sure he'd take care of Melanie. Look, I didn't have much time for her before — I thought she was a silly kid — but did you ever hear her say I went out of my way to be nasty to her?"
"Well, no." Kari bit her lip. "She wasn't a kid. She was twenty-two."
"Still is, as far as I know," Francine pointed out. "But at my age, Kari, anyone under thirty seems awfully young."
Kari looked frustrated at that reply, but was clearly struggling to come up with anything to say. After a moment or two, she calmed herself down and said, "Okay, Francine, say I trust you. I still don't have the foggiest idea where Melanie went. I'm sure that you do, but you won't tell me. So that means you don't trust me."
Francine groaned inwardly. "It ain't that simple."
"No, really — I think it is." Kari drew herself up in righteous indignation, and said with a tremendous effort at dignity, "Thank you for your time."
"Aw, come on, Kari…" Francine started. She did sympathize with the girl. There just wasn't anything she could tell her.
Kari pretended not to hear her and sailed back out the door. The outer door thumped closed with unusual force.
Lois looked at her closed door and laughed softly. Kal was such a bad liar. She'd been concerned at first, until it had occurred to her that he was probably off to buy an engagement ring. With that settled, it had been fun to watch the rest of his stammering performance.
Gosh, he was cute. Of course, he'd need to get somewhat better at lying convincingly — to people other than her, of course — if he wanted to be a superhero. And what were they going to call him? She'd have to help him out with all that.
But first, they had a wedding to arrange. This was going to be a very short guest list, she realized ruefully. Her parents were overseas, she hadn't kept up with any school friends, and she'd never gotten that close to anyone in the service. With one exception. Before she could talk herself out of it, she picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number. After only a short negotiation with his secretary, she was connected to Colonel White. "Hello, sir, it's Lois Lane."
She heard a warm chuckle. "I recognized your voice. So what's new since yesterday?"
"Well, not too much," she replied happily. "But I thought you'd like to know that I'm getting married."
"What? That's terrific, Lois, congratulations." He sounded surprised but pleased. "Have you set a date?"
"Yes, actually. Friday."
There was a short pause. "Of this week?"
She grinned. "Yes, sir, this week. I know it's awfully short notice, but we don't want to wait."
"I see," he replied more thoughtfully. "You, ah, sure about this? And who's the groom? You know your dad is going to ask me."
"Yes, sir. You met him yesterday — Kal Ellison." The name was starting to sound more natural.
"Ah. I thought there were some serious undercurrents going there. How long have you known him?"
"Long enough," she assured him airily. "He's a great guy."
"Good, good… so, that's your ship captain."
Lois blinked. "Um… what?"
"I'm only assuming here, but it seems to me like he's the captain of that ship you were held on."
"Why would you think that?" she asked, curious and stalling until she decided what to say.
"Speaking as an old friend of your dad's… Lois, before you were kidnapped, you had no social life. And from what you said, when you came back… well, I just put two and two together, is all."
"Oh." A smile spread across her face. "Well… I can neither confirm nor deny that."
"Heh. I'm happy for you, honey."
"Thanks, sir. So, I called to invite you to the reception. The wedding itself is going to be very small, just a civil ceremony downtown, but a friend of mine is planning a party for afterwards. I don't have all the details yet, but—"
"When you know, call my secretary; she'll arrange for me to be there."
"Good. So…" Lois steeled herself to ask the question she didn't want to ask, switching from personal to professional mode. "How are things coming with that asteroid?"
"Not very well." He sighed. "And the news crews are starting to notice all this unusual activity. So far, we're telling them it's just a satellite problem, but they're not all buying it. Of course," he added with a tinge of humor, "the Metro Post would have everyone believe we've been contacted by aliens and are trying to negotiate with them."
"They would." Lois allowed herself a brief grin then paused, toying with the phone cord. "So… do I take it no one's come up with a brilliant plan yet?"
"'Fraid so. They're talking about hitting it with rockets or missiles, but those wouldn't be very effective *or* accurate until the rock is fairly close."
"And by that point, there won't be much time to try anything else," Lois filled in, fatalistically. "Do they think they can hit it?"
"Well… they keep talking about how even a partial hit to the asteroid would up the odds of the human race's survival. And there's a lot of talk about doing everything possible to survive it hitting us. Underground complexes, bomb shelters, that kind of thing."
She closed her eyes. "Damn." Somehow, when fantasizing about living in the comics, she'd always focused on the fun parts, not the bits where Superman had to go off heroically to save the day even if it killed him.
"Yeah. But they don't think it'll hit 'til Saturday, maybe later, so I'll still come dance at your wedding. There's really nothing else we can do."
"It doesn't seem like it, no." Unless Kal could stop it. In the comics, of course, he'd be able to. But she didn't think she could put too much faith in comic book precedent. "Well, I've got things to do, Colonel, so I'll say good-bye."
"Good-bye, Lieutenant. Until Friday, that is."
Kal walked home from the sporting goods store, thinking. He'd had no idea scuba gear was so complicated, but apparently it was, with a bewildering array of options and accessories. From what the salesman had said, though, he thought he could get by with just a back-pack style twin tank and a decent diving regulator to breathe through. He didn't need to breathe much, anyway, so that shouldn't be a big deal. He hoped the pressure wouldn't be a problem; the equipment was made to withstand external pressure from the water, not for flying in vacuum. Still, that was only a logical extrapolation from the decompression process, and they were also built to withstand that, weren't they? So he was probably in good shape. He already had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to buy.
He didn't think there'd be any way to communicate, though, not without powerful and expensive radio equipment. It wasn't as if there was a large private market for them, so very likely the only usable set-ups were run by governments or scientific researchers. In short, they were inaccessible. He'd manage without them, then.
So, that only left the most dangerous part of the whole adventure — breaking the news to Lois.
He became aware that he was walking more slowly, to further postpone the inevitable. That was unacceptable. He picked up the pace and, for good measure, found an alley short-cut he could speed through. Lord Kal of the House of El was no coward.
He slowed to normal speed as he approached the apartment building. It belatedly occurred to him to check on her emotional state. She wasn't as happy as she had been earlier, he thought. Suddenly, being with her was his most important priority. He barely restrained himself from using super-speed into the building and up the stairs.
"Lois?" He unlocked the door to find her sitting at her kitchen table.
She smiled at him, but it wasn't up to her usual standards.
"How are you?" He walked over to stand behind her and began gently massaging her neck.
"Oh, I'm fine. Still tired from yesterday, I guess."
"What have you been up to?"
"Oh, I thought I'd call all my friends to tell them about the wedding…" She looked up at him with a rueful smile. "But apparently I haven't got any friends who don't already know about it. I hadn't really thought about what a social life I didn't have in a while."
He tried to work out the syntax in that last sentence, then mentally shrugged. He sat down next to her, leaning in close. "For the record, Lois, you are the best friend I have *ever* had."
Her smile widened. "Ditto."
"We're getting married, Lois; that's the main thing. So what if it's a small party?"
"Yeah, you're right. I did invite one person, though — Colonel White."
Kal raised an eyebrow at her.
Glancing up at him, she amplified, "He's not just my ex- commanding officer; he's also an old family friend — served with my dad for a long time. My folks are overseas at the moment, and I've no idea how to get in touch with Lucy, but at least I can have someone there."
"Well, that's good," he concurred, sighing as his thoughts turned back toward the Nightfall asteroid. "Did he say anything about them finding a way to stop that rock?" "Nope. Well, he said they had a plan but that they weren't very hopeful that it would make much difference."
Kal folded his hands on the table, looking down at them. He knew the obvious next step, and so did she.
"This means it's time for Plan B, I guess," Lois said with an attempt at lightheartedness. "Or in this case, Plan K, where the K is for Kal-smashing-the-asteroid."
He looked at her. "Are you okay with that?"
"No, I hate it." She shrugged. "But the alternative is worse, I guess."
"I'm afraid so."
"Well, then," she straightened up and looked him in the eye. "We're going to do everything we can to get you back in one piece."
"Right." He still didn't really believe there was any great danger in it, but he appreciated her determined attitude. "Well, let me tell you what I found out about scuba equipment today."
When the phone rang, Francine looked up from the paperwork she'd been studying, but before she could reach for the phone, Brenda had picked it up. She didn't pay much attention to the conversation — if Brenda thought it was something that concerned her, she'd get her on the line. In a very short time, Brenda put the phone back in the cradle and for a moment, stared at it with a puzzled look on her face.
"What is it, Bren?"
"That was Lois," her partner reported. "She wanted to come over right away, and said she and Kal had something to tell us."
"Well, we already know about the wedding. Unless they couldn't wait and flew to Vegas this afternoon?"
Brenda grinned. "After all the trouble Lois went to? If Kal suggested a shortcut now, she'd probably deck him, just on principle."
"Or not," Francine replied dryly. "I don't think he's very deck- able."
"Hey, he can have whatever superpowers he likes, but this is Lois we're talking about. He'd be toast."
"Nah, my money's on Kal."
"You want to put some real money on it?" Brenda challenged, grinning. "I'll bet you a nickel."
Francine laughed. "You're on. But I'd rather not have any occasion for her to try."
"Well, sure—" Brenda started, then turned, frowning slightly. "Was that our door?"
As Francine paid attention, she could hear quick footsteps in the hall, and a moment later their office door was opened to reveal Lois and Kal. "You guys got here quick."
"Oh, you know," Lois muttered as she sat in her usual guest chair. Kal stood behind her, leaning against the wall, looking more gorgeous than normal, dressed all in black. "Faster than a speeding bullet and all that."
Francine lifted an eyebrow at that. "You turning him into a full-fledged Superman, Lois?"
Kal looked surprised, but Lois just laughed. "I'm working on it. But that's not the problem today."
"Okay, then, spill it," Brenda urged, scooting her desk chair a bit closer to the group.
"Well, the military's still trying to keep this top-secret, but I've got connections — and if I can't trust you guys, I can't trust anyone." Lois took a deep breath. "There's an asteroid out there headed right for us. Depending on how it hits, it's going to wipe out most of the human race — maybe even all of it."
Francine blinked, but otherwise kept her face as straight as she could. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Brenda's jaw drop. "No way…"
"Unfortunately, she's telling the truth," Kal said quietly.
There was a rather strained silence for a moment. Francine let the papers she'd been holding slip through her fingers. They didn't matter now.
Brenda stirred first. "Damn. I knew we should have gone to New Krypton!"
Lois laughed a bit at that, but the tension didn't leave her face. "They say it won't hit until the weekend."
Short honeymoon, Francine thought, but didn't say aloud. "I see." "So why are you telling us?"
Kal shrugged. "Well, because Lois is going to need your support."
Suddenly, Francine figured out what he must be trying to say. "And because… this sounds like a job for Superman?"
Kal arched an eyebrow at her, but nodded.
"Yeah, pretty much," Lois confirmed. It was obvious she was unhappy with the situation, but she soldiered on anyway. "We've got some gear for Kal to wear — air tanks, mostly. And the dark clothes, of course, to try to avoid another picture. We're not sure how long it'll take him to get out to the asteroid — they're calling it Nightfall, by the way — and it's still pretty far out there."
"Whoa," Brenda whispered.
Francine glanced at her partner; Brenda was never quiet. She looked shaken, her eyes unfocused.
"So, what's the plan?" Francine asked.
"I'm going to put on the gear and take off," Kal replied. "Actually, I was hoping to use the alley behind this theater; it's secluded enough that no one should notice me."
"And then, once he's gone," Lois added, "you two are going to be propping me up until he gets back."
"You've helped us before, so we know we can count on you."
Francine nodded slowly, remembering the ruse under which they'd infiltrated Nor's ship. "Sounds a lot simpler than the last plan you asked us to help with."
Kal flashed a grin, showing a glimpse of perfect white teeth.
"Also more dangerous," Lois said, getting to her feet. "But we're doing it anyway. So — we left the gear out in the alley. Wanna come watch?"
"What, you're leaving now?"
"I haven't got anything more important to do," Kal pointed out. "Have you?"
"More important than saving the world?" Brenda pretended to ponder. "No, guess not."
Kal lead them all out to the alley, then picked up a bundle of tanks, straps, and hoses. It took a few tries until they collectively figured out how to get him into the harness to hold the tanks on, but in no time whatsoever, he was standing there, ready to go. He looked taller somehow, Francine decided.
"There ya go, Kal!" Brenda patted him on the upper shoulder and stepped back, smiling bravely. "Have fun out there in space, okay?"
"And take a sweater," Francine added, tongue firmly in cheek. "It might get cold."
As hoped, that pulled a giggle out of Lois. Kal gave that heart- stopping grin again. "I'll be careful. Okay, I might as well go… step back a bit, ladies."
Francine and Brenda stepped back, but Lois lingered for a moment at Kal's elbow. He looked down at her and brought up a hand to cup her cheek. "I'll be fine, Lois. I promise."
She nodded, then reached up to give him a brief kiss. "For luck." She paused. "And this one's for me." Pulling him close, she kissed him thoroughly.
Francine looked away to give them a moment of privacy. Soon, though, Lois stepped back to join the others.
"I don't know how long this will take, exactly," Kal warned while gently floating upwards. Francine tried not to goggle at him, but it was hard. "It might be a few hours. I'll come back here when I'm done — or Lois, if it's late, I'll just head home, okay?"
"That'd be fine," Lois said, her arms crossed closely in front of her. "I just want you back."
Kal smiled one last time, then all of a sudden accelerated. Francine couldn't help gasping. As she looked up at the strip of sky between buildings, the small figure that was Kal rapidly dwindled out of sight. "Wow."
"Well, okay, show's over," Brenda said, with a look at Francine that she had no trouble deciphering. Their job was to distract Lois.
She reached out to give Lois a sideways hug and maneuvered her back into the building. "Who wants to play Parcheesi?"
Lois slowly climbed into bed. She hadn't let her friends take her home until nearly midnight, and she was tired. It had been an interminable evening. The worst part was that the feeling of the bond was gone; it hadn't lasted more than a few minutes after Kal's take-off. She'd lived twenty-six years with no one else in her mind and had always been fine, but now… she missed the warmth and cheery glow of Kal's presence.
He would come back. The bond was only interrupted due to inter- planetary distances, not anything permanent. He'd be back soon. She sighed, turned over in bed, and tried to sleep.
The stars had been bright when viewed from the terrace of his ship, but it was nothing compared to this. They were positively dazzling. Kal turned slightly, using his special vision to locate the asteroid, then began moving in that direction.
He was relieved to find that the lack of gravity hadn't impaired his flying ability at all, a worry which had only occurred after he'd taken off. He wasn't sure how these powers worked, after all. But however they worked, they were still working.
Through the bitter cold of vacuum, he still felt warmth where the direct sunlight hit him. It seemed almost… invigorating. He glanced back at Earth's sun. It was a bright and cheery yellow, brighter than the duller red of New Krypton's star. As he recalled, the "Lois and Clark: the Adventures of Superman" novel had mentioned something about Superman getting powers from the sun. The author *must* have known a Kryptonian, somehow.
Just chalk another thing up to the mysteries of the universe. He turned to look outward again. The asteroid was still only a small speck, blotting out the view of only a few stars. He added a little speed. The sense of her presence had gone, and he wanted to regain it as quickly as possible. Even though she'd put on a brave face, he knew Lois would be worrying about him. The sooner he returned to her, the better.
He could see more of the asteroid now as he got closer. He adjusted the breathing regulator to test the air tanks. Fresh oxygen emerged; good, the pressure hadn't ruined anything. He hadn't run out of air yet, but why take chances? He filled his lungs and let himself breathe every few minutes.
Nightfall was very large; he could see that. Definitely a planet-killer. He shivered. He'd seen recorded images of Krypton falling apart; it was not something he ever wanted to see in person.
Come to think of it… if he'd delayed much longer on New Krypton, he would have arrived just in time to see Lois's world destroyed. He shuddered and offered up heartfelt thanks to any deities who might be listening.
He poured on a little more speed. The asteroid grew bigger, blotting out more stars, but didn't seem to be getting any closer. Then he realized he'd misjudged the distance; with no scale for comparison out in the vacuum of space, he'd assumed it was a lot smaller and closer, instead of just looking small at a great distance.
It began to occur to him that this might not be quite as easy as he'd thought.
Still, the principle remained. An object in motion remains in motion until acted upon by an outside force. He was merely adding that outside force. He was still invulnerable; in fact, the sunlight seemed to be boosting his energy just a bit. He put his fists together in front of him, flying head-on toward the rock.
A few endless moments passed, then with shocking suddenness, the rock filled his vision and he was very close to it. Traveling very fast. Despite himself, he ducked his head between his two outstretched arms, and braced for impact.
Lois woke abruptly, shaking from the aftermath of her nightmare. She didn't remember much, other than the huge approaching asteroid slamming into her. She took a few deep breaths, willing herself to calm down. It wasn't any sort of connection to Kal; he would have been far beyond their range. It didn't mean anything. She was worried about Nightfall, was all; she didn't need any dream specialist to tell her that.
As she waited for her heart rate to slow, she realized that she could feel Kal's presence again. He was back! And alive, if not immediately in the apartment. The relief was so profound it almost left her gasping, and she laughed shakily at her own theatrics.
Of course he was back safely; it had been silly of her to ever worry about it.
Truly relaxed for the first time since his departure, she pushed herself up onto her pillow part-way to await his return. As she waited, she let her mind wander. With Nightfall out of the way, the most momentous thing they had to worry about was planning a wedding. They weren't having a fancy affair, but they could still dress up. She smiled sleepily, her eyes closing to savor the mental image of Kal in a black tux. Her thoughts grew fuzzier, her eyes heavier, and she surrendered to a peaceful sleep.
The first thing he was aware of was confusion. His head felt groggy, and a gray fog muffled thought and sensation alike. He opened his eyes. It was dark, and he seemed to be in a hole of some kind. There were scattered patches of light above him, illuminating a few decrepit buildings, but he didn't recognize any of them. He felt a stirring of wind and realized that he was naked.
"Hey buddy, you okay?"
He jerked his head up to see someone standing at the edge of the hole. It was a man every bit as decrepit as the buildings around him, and just as unrecognizable. "Uh… I guess so." The fog was parting, ever so slowly, but still hiding much more than it revealed. The words coming out of his mouth sounded strange and unfamiliar in his ears.
"Well, you can't go round naked," the man pronounced. He turned away from the hole for a moment, then turned back and tossed down a bundle.
The bundle revealed itself to be a shirt and pair of pants, and he donned them gratefully. At least he wasn't cold. "Um, thanks."
"Just give 'em back when you're done. I'm Jed."
"Jed," he repeated. "Okay. And I'm…" He stopped, unable to continue. His name was still lost in the gray mists of his mind.
"Hey, don't tell me if you don't want to," Jed offered, shrugging. "You gonna stay down there all night?"
Reminded of his surroundings, he made his way up to the street level, then stood, at a loss. "I… don't know where to go."
Jed frowned at him. "Well, I ain't leaving you here. C'mon to the shelter with me; they'll feed ya, anyway."
"I guess." There was a nagging sense that he was supposed to be somewhere in particular, *with* someone in particular, but all the details were still lost in the gray fog. With a shrug, he followed Jed toward the shelter. It seemed as good a destination as any.
When Lois next woke, the sunlight was filtering into her bedroom, and she was surprised to find that Kal wasn't with her in bed. She closed her eyes, checking the bond. His fire seemed to be damped down or something, but he was probably just sleeping — she hadn't ever paid attention to what the bond would feel like when he was sleeping. There was no need for her to worry. Flying millions of miles ought to be enough to tire anyone, even him. She dragged herself out of bed, reaching for a robe to throw on over her pajamas.
Why hadn't he come to bed with her? After last night, she'd thought he would understand how comforting that would have been. Still, the important thing was that he was still alive, and somewhere nearby. She hurried out to the living room, unable to banish her worries, needing to feel his arms around her. "Kal?"
The living room was empty, the sofas un-slept on. The first stirrings of panic gripped her gut. She frowned and rechecked the bond. She was still learning to interpret the nuances of color and heat, but it was definitely still there, which meant he was back. So why wasn't he here?
There must be some reasonable explanation. There had to be. On cue, the phone rang, and she lunged for it. "Hello?"
"Hey, Lois, it's Brenda. How's things?"
Lois sat down abruptly. "Not so good, Bren. He's back, but he's not here, and there's no note or anything…"
Brenda seemed to do a good job of interpreting that. "Hold on, girl; we're coming over."
The shelter was fairly quiet as they geared up for another day, but they were already serving breakfast, cafeteria-style. Following Jed's lead, he picked up a tray and stood in the short line.
"The food ain't that good," Jed confided. "But it's hot. And we're in luck today; we got the pep squad serving it."
He looked down and across the counter. He saw three young women handing out various plates. They seemed rather dour for a pep squad. "Why do you call them that?"
"Oh, they're just all idealistic about stuff. Can't be a day over twenty-one, but think they know all the secrets of the universe. I just ignore 'em." True to his word, Jed shuffled forward and collected a tray of food without making any eye contact.
When he moved up to take his turn, he realized that the woman pouring the coffee was staring at him. She seemed harmless enough in a baggy dress and braided hair. He smiled politely before focusing on the food again.
She frowned at him. "Kal?"
He looked up sharply. "You … know me?"
"Well, yeah, sort of. I'm Kari."
"Oh. Hi." He tried to decide what to say. He hesitated to give away too much information and expose his vulnerability.
"I'm a friend of Melanie's," Kari explained, sounding impatient with him now. "I don't suppose you know where she is, do you?"
"Um…" Did he know a Melanie? And was his name Kal? It sounded vaguely familiar.
Kari rolled her eyes. "Oh, right, I forgot, it's a state secret or something."
He tried to figure out what that meant. "Uh… a state secret?"
"No, never mind, forget I asked. Here." She thrust a mug of coffee at him, splashing it a bit into the air.
Deftly, he reached out to take control of it and place it safely on his tray. "Thanks. Um… I'm sorry, I'm not trying to keep secrets. It's just… well, I can't remember much of anything. I was wondering if you might be able to help me."
"Where is he?" Lois paced around her living room, looking tired. "I've been calling everyone I know, getting the word out that he's missing, but so far no one knows anything."
"Did you talk to Big Louie?" Brenda asked. "Cause I could…"
Lois waved the offer away. "He was the first one I called. I tried to act like this was just a normal missing persons case for me, but I don't think he bought it. I've been trying everyone else I can think of, too — which was a short list, but I couldn't just *sit* here…"
"Calm down, honey," Francine said soothingly. "You said he's okay, right? So don't worry about it. I'm sure there's some reason he hasn't got here yet."
"Yeah, Lois," Brenda chimed in, "he's probably just pulling a cat out of a tree or something."
Francine frowned repressively at her, then turned back. "He's a big boy, Lois. He can take care of himself."
"So then where *is* he?"
"You said you could *feel* him?"
"Yeah, Brenda, it's a telepathy thing — probably empathy is a better term, because we can't talk to each other — but anyway, I know he's alive, and I'm pretty sure he's somewhere in Metropolis. I just don't know where."
"Hey, as long as he's alive and on this planet, you can work anything out."
"I hope you're right—" Lois was interrupted by the shrill ring of the phone. She grabbed the receiver. "Lois Lane." She listened intently for a moment, looking impatient. "I'm fine, thanks. What do you know?" She scribbled something that Francine couldn't see on a piece of notebook paper. "I'll check it out. Yeah, please do."
She hung up the phone with an expression of guarded hope and turned back to her friends. "That was one of my contacts. Apparently a fireball crashed near West River last night. I've got the address." With quick efficient movements, she unlocked her deadbolts and opened her door. "Come on, let's go!"
With a shrug towards Brenda, Francine followed her out the door.
Gwen Porter frowned over her Accounts Receivable spreadsheet. Running the practice all by herself meant not having to pay salaries or worry about any staff's loyalties, but it also meant she had to do everything. And there were currently more accounts with balances due than not. Really, she ought to consider implanting post-hypnotic suggestions for people to pay her bill promptly. It wasn't strictly ethical, but it strongly appealed to her all the same. She would only be encouraging people to do what they'd already agreed to do, after all. Chances were, no one would catch her at it. She jotted down a note to herself.
She was adding up a long series of numbers when the phone rang. She groaned, tried to finish her calculations quickly, then lost her place and swore quietly. She picked up the phone on the third ring. "Dr. Porter."
"Porter. High Alert."
She rolled her eyes. Would it kill him to say hello? "What is it?"
"We've got possible alien activity."
All sense of pique vanished. "Tell me."
"Early this morning, a small meteorite — suspiciously small and fast — entered the Earth's atmosphere. It may have landed somewhere in Metropolis; it was too small to track with any accuracy. We need to discover whether or not this was the beginning of an alien invasion."
Gwen considered that. "Splashy misdirection? But why bother, since they can visit without being detected?"
"Maybe they needed to bring in some special equipment. I don't know. I want to know. Ask around. If you hear anything interesting, report it back to me."
"Right." There were a few people she could call. "I'll see what I can do."
"See that you do. Trask out."
Kari studied the man across the counter from her. Was he making fun of her? No, that didn't make sense. And he did look a little confused. "Okay. Let's go sit."
Leaving Glenda and Erica to mind the cafeteria line, she directed Kal to an empty table. "What do you remember?"
He shrugged, flashing a beautiful smile. "Not much of anything, I'm afraid. Did you say my name was Kal?"
"I always thought it was short for Calvin," Kari offered. "But I've only ever heard people call you Kal."
"What people?" He leaned forward hungrily.
"Um…" Kari tried to remember. She'd spent some time at the Metro Club, hanging around waiting for Melanie, but hadn't really paid much attention. There was something about him… a nagging sense that she'd seen him somewhere besides the Metro Club, but she couldn't pin it down. And the club had been closed for weeks, so how was she supposed to find anyone who knew him? "I'm not sure."
He sank back into his seat, looking defeated.
Kari's heart went out to him. "The only people I know who *might* know you would be these two dancers," she offered reluctantly, still hoping to find some other solution. "Mel never knew much of anything about you, though, so I doubt they would."
"My friend, Melanie." She made a face. "She just *disappeared,* weeks ago. I think Brenda and Francine know where she is, but they never liked me or Melanie, and they won't *tell* me anything." She'd had to accept that, but it didn't mean she ever had to speak to them again.
"Never mind." Kari tried to concentrate on the problem at hand. "Maybe I should take you to a police station."
There was no mistaking the look of alarm that flashed across his face. "I don't think that's a good idea."
He shifted in his seat. "I… don't know."
Well, Kari figured any regular patron at the Metro Club might have good reason to avoid the police. She was sympathetic to that, so she wouldn't push him. Especially now that she'd thought of a better plan. "You need some professional help — and luckily for you, I know a really great hypno-therapist."
Lois turned a corner into a back alley, immediately finding what she sought. It was difficult to miss the gaping hole in the ground.
Brenda followed, glancing back the way they'd come. "Hope Francine has fun just sitting in the car."
Lois shrugged. "Can you blame her? I wouldn't want to leave my car just sitting around this neighborhood, either."
Brenda moved to stand beside Lois. "Wow, that's one big pothole."
"No kidding." She moved closer, scanning the ground around the crater for any clues. "I don't see anything useful, do you?"
"Nah, it's all just normal alley trash," Brenda confirmed. "Maybe I should stayed with Francine." She walked to the other side of the crater.
"The crater's pretty clean." Lois looked up toward the nearby billboard sporting a hole with burnt edges.
"Shouldn't there be, like, a rock in it or something?"
Lois tried to remember what she'd learned about astronomy and asteroids. "You'd think so, wouldn't you?"
"Maybe… it was destroyed when it hit?"
Lois shook her head. "I don't think so. Whatever did this was big enough that if it vaporized, it would have made a much bigger explosion." She glanced around the alley; the damage was very localized.
Brenda met her eyes from across the alley. "Interesting size, this hole."
Lois nodded, throttling down hope. "Isn't it, though? Just about the size of a person…"
"He's invulnerable, right?"
Lois swallowed. "I think so. We haven't really tested everything."
"Well, there aren't any body parts lying around or anything, so that's good, right?"
"But if he's not here, where is he?" She looked around, hoping for an eye witness to pop out of the shadows.
"Well, with anybody else, I'd say he can't have gotten far, but…"
Lois grimaced agreement. "Think we should check hospitals? I just can't figure out why he hasn't come home, or called me."
Brenda glanced upwards, through the hole in the billboard. "Well, that was a pretty major impact, right? On TV that'd be enough to give a person amnesia."
"Try to stay with the real world, here, Brenda."
Brenda shrugged. "Hey, I'm not the one dating a flying alien."
Lois paused. "Yeah, but still…" A flicker of movement caught her eye, and she moved towards an intersection with an even smaller alley. "Hello?"
It was an older man, obviously homeless. He seemed to have built a temporary shelter, so… "Sir… can I ask you a few questions?"
He scowled at her. "I ain't answering no survey."
"No, that's not it, it's about… well," she gestured, "that hole out there. What do you know about it?"
"Well, I dunno — it weren't there last night, then this morning it was. Darndest ruckus, too."
Lois hesitated, unsure how to phrase her real question. And was he hinting for a bribe?
Brenda stepped up beside her. "Have you seen anyone hanging out around here this morning? He might have been confused. Lola here had a big fight with him, so he ran off, and he'd been drinking, so now we're a little bit worried."
The man nodded knowingly. "That'd explain it."
Lois took a deep breath and smiled through clenched teeth. "Explain what?"
"How he come to fall into that hole, o' course. S'why I don't drink." His gaze flickered uneasily around the end of the alley, which featured a number of empty bottles. "Much."
Lois fixed her eyes on his face, holding her breath. "Was he okay?"
"Oh, sure. Nothing was bleeding, anyways."
Lois closed her eyes and felt herself begin to sway. Brenda grabbed her arm to steady her.
"I'd'a seen it, if he was," the man continued, cackling a bit. "He'd taken all his clothes off. Couldn't seem to remember much, neither. Must'a been some party."
Brenda laughed — faking it, Lois hoped. "Yeah, that'd be him. So where did he go?"
"I gave him some duds and took him to the shelter for breakfast. He was talking with some woman when I left. And he ain't give me my clothes back yet."
"I promise, you'll get them back," Lois said. "Actually, never mind that…" She dug into her pocketbook. "Here, take this. That ought to cover it."
The man peered at her offering and then snatched the twenty from her hand. "Thank'ee."
"So which shelter?" Brenda asked. "And where is it?"
"Riverside," the man said, examining his new money before carefully tucking it under several layers of rags. Lois vaguely hoped the money didn't get spent on drugs or drink, but it was the least of her worries.
"I know it," Brenda replied. "Come on, Lola, honey. Let's go get him back."
Gwen was on her way out the door when the phone rang. She hesitated, then reluctantly turned back towards her desk. She leaned across the clutter-free surface to grab the receiver. "Dr. Porter's office."
"Dr. Porter, is that you?" The voice sounded familiar but she couldn't place it. "It's me — Kari Shankenberg."
"Yes?" Even with the name it took a moment to remember who Kari was. Fake abductee, lots of money. Gwen's voice warmed slightly. "What can I do for you, Kari?"
"Well, it's not me, it's… this guy I know."
Gwen noted the slight pause. Kari's boyfriend? Not that she remembered Kari as having any boyfriends to speak of. "What can I do for him, then?"
"He's lost his memory, I think. I mean, I don't know him very well, but I think right now I know more about him than he does. So I figured you could, you know, hypnotize him and help him remember."
Gwen gently massaged her forehead. "I daresay I could, Kari, but I'm afraid I can't do so today."
"But…" Kari's voice trailed off and Gwen could picture the girl's bewildered expression.
"There's been something of a crisis, you see," she explained. There was no point in antagonizing a client, after all. "I haven't any time for new patients."
"Oh. More UFO stuff, I guess…"
"Something like that, yes." Gwen glanced at her watch. "And I've really got to be going—"
"Wait!" Kari's voice sounded triumphant. "Now I remember where I saw him. You know I told you about that car accident the other day?"
Gwen stiffened. "Yes, I remember."
"Well, I think he's the guy I saw in the alley."
Gwen dropped her handbag to the carpet and leaned across her desk, scrabbling for pen and paper. "Where are you?"
"Riverside shelter, it's on —"
"I know it." She dropped the pen and grabbed for her handbag. "I'll be right there."
It took only a few agonizingly long minutes before Francine reached the shelter. It felt strange for Lois to be riding in the passenger seat, but the older woman had pointed out her shaking hands and distracted mental state, and taken over.
"There's nowhere to park," Brenda observed. "Francine, just slow down. Lois, you go on in — we'll find a place for the car." Lois had the passenger door open almost before the vehicle had stopped, and dashed in the shelter's front door without a backwards glance. Once inside, she had to pause to look around, letting her eyes adjust to the dimmer light.
There was a man sitting at a desk to the left, and on the right were a set of swinging doors, one of them propped open. Lois rushed to the doorway and scanned the room. There was a counter along one edge of the room, obviously a cafeteria-style arrangement, while the bulk of the room was taken up with tables and folding chairs. The place was nearly deserted, and Lois felt her stomach sink to her shoes. She'd been so sure…
She spotted motion behind the counter and walked over to see a short man mopping the floor. "Excuse me… I'm looking for someone who I think was in here this morning…"
The man turned around, and replied in a mix of Spanish and heavily-accented English.
"I'm sorry, um…" She tried to remember the phrases she'd been taught. "No hablo Espanol."
The man shrugged, pointed back toward the swinging doors, and went back to mopping the floor.
Lois stepped back, at a standstill.
From behind her a voice called, "May I help you, miss?"
She turned gratefully to see the man from the desk approaching her. "Yes, I'm looking for someone… I believe he was here this morning."
"Hi, I'm Gary Meeks, the director here." He looked wary. "Why do you want to know?"
"I'm a private investigator," she replied, pulling out her wallet to give him a card. She took a deep breath and tried to sound professional. "He's approximately six feet tall, Caucasian, dark hair, approximately mid-twenties. He's been missing since last night, and I have reason to believe he may have lost some or all of his memory."
Mr. Meeks narrowed his eyes, glancing at her card before staring off into the distance. "I think I might know who you mean, but he's not here."
Lois tried to breathe her way through a mix of wild hope and sick apprehension. "Where did he go, then?"
"Well, I wasn't really paying attention, but I did notice him — he was dressed poorly, but was, well, unusually clean."
Lois blinked at that.
Mr. Meeks smiled wryly. "I've been helping the homeless and desperate for over a decade. With that much experience, I know what to expect, and this guy didn't fit the profile. Usually when people come in off the street they're in pretty poor shape. They've either not had the opportunity or the inclination to keep themselves clean. There's usually dirt under fingernails, beard stubble, body odor, that sort of thing. We help them clean up, of course, but… well, I noticed him."
"What was he doing?"
"I'm not sure, but this woman came in looking for him — she was professionally dressed, like you, but about ten years older, I'd say. She took him off with her."
Lois forced a smile. "Thank you." Screaming would not be helpful here. "Do you know where they went?"
He shrugged. "Haven't a clue. Unless someone wants to stay here, I don't ask questions. I was just glad he'd found someone to help him."
"Ah, here we are." Dr. Porter announced. Kal decided that her store-front wasn't that different from the rest of the small shops along the block — except of course, this one had a sign advertising hypno- and psycho-therapy.
He followed her inside, trying to ignore the uneasiness that possessed him. Of course he was uneasy; he couldn't remember who he was. That was why he was here, so that the doctor could *help* him. Why did that seem like such a foreign concept?
The interior wasn't very large, featuring a desk on one side of the room, and two chairs on the other, with a small end table between them. The carpet and upholstery were looking worn, but there were several healthy-looking plants — one on the end table, one on the desk, and a ficus standing in the corner.
"This is my reception room," Dr. Porter explained, hanging up her coat. She surveyed him with a faint sniff, making him very conscious of the ragged clothing he was wearing. "My real office is upstairs." She led him to the door behind the desk and unlocked it, revealing a narrow set of stairs.
Kal hesitated, then headed up the stairs. A feeling of urgency was growing from nowhere, bringing with it a strong urge to go somewhere — if only he knew where. He was tempted to run back outside and just walk around until he discovered… whatever, but he knew that was foolish.
The door at the top of the stairs wasn't locked, so he walked through it. This office was somehow classier than the one downstairs. There was plush carpet and a leather-covered reclining sofa, framed by more plants, and a heavy wooden desk under the front window, facing the couch. Four filing cabinets lined up neatly on one wall, while the other side of the room had two closed doors. There were a few plants and a telephone, but all the flat surfaces in the room were innocent of clutter.
He stood in the middle of the room, awaiting direction. Dr. Porter emerged from the staircase and closed the door behind her, doing something with the locks.
"Why don't you sit down on the couch?" she suggested civilly. "So, what do you know about hypno-therapy?"
He spread his hands, palms upward. "Not much."
She smiled at him. "Don't worry. Among other things, it's a way of getting at knowledge that you have but that your conscious mind doesn't want to recall."
"Do you think that's what's going on with me?"
"That would be my first guess," she replied. She looked at the couch, then at her desk chair, stationed behind her desk, under a small high window. "I'll move this chair over so I can sit with you." Suiting action to words, she moved behind the desk and began pulling at her chair.
She appeared to be having a little trouble with it. He guessed she normally preferred to keep the desk between her and her patients. "Stand back," he directed, going to the nearest corner of her desk.
The desk and chair were both old, he thought. Solid wood construction, leather padding on the seat. And he could see the problem; there wasn't quite enough space behind the desk to allow the chair to move easily out from behind it. Getting a good grip on the side, he lifted. He set it out a few more inches from the wall, then repeated the procedure on the other side of the desk, to make it parallel with the wall once more. Something told him that Dr. Porter would prefer everything to be straight lines and right angles.
As he turned to face the doctor, he thought he detected a hint of astonishment in her gaze, but then her features smoothed out. "Thank you, Kal. That old desk is fairly heavy, I'm afraid."
He shrugged, moving to seat himself on the couch. "It was lighter than it looks." Though he supposed it might still have been too heavy for her — she was, after all, only a woman.
"Well, let's get back to business," she said, seating herself near the couch. "You don't appear to have any serious injuries, which tends to rule out brain damage. A less violent knock to the head, however, can prompt a memory loss — generally centered around one or two things that the person is scared of, or disgusted at, or otherwise doesn't want to face."
He scowled at her. "Are you trying to suggest I'm scared of something?"
"Not with your conscious mind, no — or at any rate, you wouldn't let it stop you. However, your subconscious isn't so rational, and is hiding the information from you, to stay safe."
He re-arranged his seat on the couch, inching away from her. "So how do you get around that?"
"By hypnotizing you, I can dampen out those fears, allowing you to access whatever it is you're blocking. Once that's taken care of, generally the rest of your memories return on their own."
She shrugged. "Nothing is guaranteed. Often, people will first remember moments of their life that were associated with strong emotion, especially negative emotions. The hypnosis will greatly speed the process, but it's essentially unpredictable. When the negative memories come up, try to glean as much detail as you can from them. Are you ready to begin?"
She was holding up a crystal on the end of a chain and beginning to swing it gently. He looked away for a moment, thinking. He was uncomfortable with this idea, and he was getting tired of going along with other people's plans — he was a leader of men. Wasn't he? If he wanted to find out, he didn't seem to have other options.
"It is quite safe," she commented. "And everything you say is confidential, of course."
He sighed. "Well, let's give it a try. What do I do?"
"Just lie back," she said in a softer voice. "Look at the crystal and listen to my voice…"
It took longer than she'd expected, but soon enough, the strange man was entranced. Gwen always enjoyed this moment, the rush of power she felt at the thought of how many things she could do to people or make them do. She didn't often abuse this power, but the possibility was always there, tantalizing her.
She took one moment to pull out a tape recorder and turn it on; it was much more reliable than written notes. For the moment, though, she needed information. Usually she'd know quite a lot about a subject, but with this one… she'd just try to get the basics, and see if she could uncover any areas of interest.
"Kal, I need you to listen to me," she said in a soothing voice. "What is your real name?"
He wet his lips, his eyes glazed. "Kal — Kalel."
She hadn't heard that one before, unless she was misunderstanding Khalil. She double-checked that her tape recorder was on. "That's very good, Kal. Tell me, what's the earliest thing you remember? Just think back. Nothing here can harm you."
"I 'member the crater. Jed. Then the shelter."
"Was that this morning?"
"How did you get into that crater?"
His features shifted unhappily. "I don't know…" So much for the direct approach, but it was worth a try. "Okay, that's fine. You're doing fine." At her reassurance, his face lost its tension and smoothed back out. "You're perfectly safe here. I want you to think back, to a peaceful place. Maybe a garden, or a seashore…" she suggested. "Somewhere you felt relaxed and comfortable. I want you to feel that relaxed and comfortable again. Do you remember a garden?" She hated working blind.
His eyes moved beneath his eyelids. "Garden… terrace." He smiled. "Stars."
"Good, good. Think back to that terrace. Picture yourself there. Are you there?"
"Keep that picture in your mind. No matter what we talk about, you're safe on that terrace. You're feeling very relaxed, aren't you?"
Now, what to ask… "You seem to be very strong. How are you so strong?"
"Don't know… just something that happened when I came here."
"When did you come here?"
"Couple of years ago. I left, but then came back." A beautiful smile crossed his face. "Shey-ana."
Gwen fought to keep her breathing even and her voice soothing. "When you say, 'here', what do you mean?"
"Do you mean you came from a different planet?" Or, she supposed, he could have been talking about the Daily Planet.
Still too vague. "How did you get here?"
"A ship dropped me off."
Almost holding her breath, she asked, "What kind of ship?"
"It was…" he began, before switching into a string of unrecognizable syllables in a conversational tone.
"Kal, I need you to speak English. Can you do that?"
"Good. Remember, you're on your peaceful terrace, and we're just talking." Let's try this from a different angle. "Tell me about your childhood, Kal. Think back to when you were five. Remember being that child. Remember your mother. Tell me about her."
He frowned. "No mother. Never had one."
She raised an eyebrow and noted that down. "That's good, Kal. Good remembering. Did you have a father?"
His head rocked a little, side to side. "No father. Mahkrah."
"Mahkrah?" she repeated. "Could you spell that?"
The syllables he responded with sounded like no alphabet she'd ever heard. "Very good, thank you, Kal," she responded automatically. "Who was Mahkrah?"
"Very good. And who was Zahra?"
"Friend… Playmate… Wife."
Both eyebrows went up this time, but she kept her voice even. "You had a wife when you were five?"
Okay, that wasn't working. "Very good. Now remember being six, and eight, and twelve, and eighteen — all the way up to becoming a grown up. Okay? You're now a grown man."
His face grew more serious. "Yes."
"What do you do, Kal? Are you in college?"
"Do you have a job?"
"I'm… in service — training, learning."
This was good; a military man could be traced. "What are you learning?"
A frown passed over his face again. "Command. Flying."
"Flying?" As in the floating figure near that tidal wave? A small thrill went down her spine. "Were you flying airplanes?"
The tingle intensified. "Were you flying under your own power?"
That was disappointing. Strange, too. She wasn't up on her military terminology — she could ask Trask, she supposed — but she didn't think ships were usually flown. Perhaps Kal had sustained a harder knock to the head than she'd thought.
He stirred restlessly on the couch, and she recognized the signs of a resistant personality, trying to reassert itself. She glanced at her watch. That was quicker than she'd expected. Of course, she was mostly used to fake abductees these days, and they were pathetically eager to surrender their wills for a time. With Kari, a session could last nearly an hour. This one, though…
He stirred again. Automatically, she said, "It's okay. You're safe." Should she try to keep going? She knew a few tricks to keep a person under her control. However, she decided she would be able to get more information from him next session, once she had time to formulate good questions.
She could also use some time, it occurred to her, to procure some cleaner clothes for him. If he were going to stay in her office for long he'd have to clean up.
"That's good, Kal. Now, I'm going to count backwards from ten, and when I reach one you'll be awake again, remembering everything we talked about. Okay? Ten… nine… eight…"
Lois closed her office door behind her and sank into her chair. Across the hall, she could hear Francine and Brenda bustling around to catch up on the work they'd missed this morning. They'd insisted they didn't mind helping her chase leads, but since there weren't any current leads to chase, she'd felt guilty monopolizing their time.
She could manage by herself. Tracing missing persons was her job, after all. She wished she had a picture of him, but he'd only been back for four days, and they'd been too busy to take snapshots. There might be photos of him floating around from back in his Metro Club days, but she had asked around before, to no avail. No, she'd focus on tracking Kal, not a picture. It might take a lot of legwork, but he was out there somewhere. She would find him.
She glanced at her answering machine, but the message light wasn't lit. Leaning forward, she dialed her home number. The faint hope that Kal would answer faded with every ring until her machine picked up. She entered the code to check for messages; it told her she had one waiting. With suddenly shaky fingers she pushed the button to play it, only to sag back when she recognized Big Louie's voice, reporting that he didn't yet know anything, but would keep his ear to the ground.
She hung up the phone and closed her eyes. The sense of Kal's presence was still there, though his normal cheery flame had subsided to mere sparks and sputterings. If she was interpreting it right, he was unhappy — and confused. **Come home, Kal!** she said silently. It probably wouldn't work, she knew. Even if she had the capacity, she didn't know exactly how to project her thoughts. Still, it was worth a try. **I love you, I miss you, I'm looking for you… come home to me, Kal.**
Kal prowled the small office. Dr. Porter had gone out to get him some cleaner clothes, for which he would be grateful. These rags he was wearing were better than being naked, but not by much. He also welcomed the chance to think in private.
The hypnosis had worked, but not that well. He now had a handful of hazy memories that seemed to make no sense. He'd gained a sense of a very regimented and controlled upbringing, with an emphasis on strict adherence to duty. And he'd had some sort of important duty to do, from what he could tell. Had doing his duty landed him in that crater? Or… was he running away from his responsibilities?
There was *something* nagging at him. Something he had to do, somewhere he had to be. He just couldn't pin it down amongst the general fog of his memory. He sat on the couch, leaning back with his eyes closed. There was something…
Trying to search his memory, he became aware of a strange sensation. It wasn't physical, and if he didn't know better, he'd say it didn't originate with him. It was a self-contained sub-section of his mind, emanating emotion. For some reason, it seemed very important to him.
It fascinated him. He could almost see it… a standing wall of dark-colored, churning water. It didn't feel happy, though he didn't know why he'd think that. It made him unhappy, too. As if something important was missing.
Maybe he really was cracking up.
He wished Dr. Porter would hurry back. Another session or two might bring him fully back to himself. She said she'd cancelled her other appointments for the day, which was convenient, but it made him wonder what she expected to get out of this. He had the vague idea that doctors needed to be paid, and he certainly hadn't any money. She didn't strike him as the type of person to put herself to a lot of trouble for no reward.
He wondered what sort of reward she might be looking for.
"You haven't?" Lois sighed. "Will you keep an eye out, and call me if one does come in? Thanks."
She hung up and checked "Spirit of Mercy" off her list. She'd had hopes for that one — it wasn't one of the city's major hospitals but it was located near the West River district. Besides a hospital, where would an amnesiac man turn up?
Methodically, she worked the rest of her way through her list of hospitals, clinics, and police precincts, but no one would admit to having seen a dark-haired male who seemed not to know who he was.
It reminded her forcefully of calling the pound to search for a lost pet. No, he can't tell you where he belongs. No, he's not wearing a collar. She snorted at her flight of fancy. Next, she'd be tacking posters to telephone poles.
Although that might not be a bad idea. She jotted a note.
Before she resorted to that, though, she ought to start calling private psychiatric offices. Metropolis wasn't that big; it couldn't have more than a thousand or so.
Gwen walked back to her office, suppressing the urge to call Trask. She hadn't nearly enough information yet — what she did have was tantalizing, but not conclusive. She didn't want to present a case that would fall apart upon closer inspection. If she was right, though, it would be a tremendous coup. Not that she expected to impress Trask to any visible degree — she wasn't sure that was possible — but this could be momentous news, and she intended to make sure all the right people knew of her involvement. Perhaps finally she would garner the respect that she deserved.
The trip to the Goodwill store was more complicated than she'd expected. She was confident enough about the two shirts she'd bought — her patient might wear a medium, but to be on the safe side, she bought size large. The pants had been perplexing. Men's clothing sizes were nothing like the ones she was familiar with; how was she to know what "34 x 30" meant? The clerk had helped, though, and she was hopeful that the pants would fit. If she had to go back out, she was bringing him with her, to try things on. Although that presented several dangers in itself; what if someone recognized him? Her working theory was that he'd come from another planet, but he was familiar with human customs and spoke English fluently, so he may well have been here for awhile.
Would others of his kind be looking for him? Most of the data she'd gathered in the past few years suggested that the aliens were lone-wolf, low-profile agents. But then, the initial clues about her patient deviated from that profile in significant ways.
She checked that train of thought as she reached her office again. Carefully, she affixed her professional smile. So far he'd been co-operative; she wanted that to continue. She mounted the stairs to her office.
Francine found a place along the street to park and carefully backed her old Ford into it. The police precinct was open for business, with a steady trickle of people going in and out. She took a deep breath, marshalling her courage. This was a perfectly legitimate inquiry. The fact that she was going to see a man she might be interested in was neither here nor there. She exited the car, double-checking to make sure it was locked, and then walked towards the front entrance.
In the glass of the front door she glimpsed her reflection, which prompted her to take a minute to smooth her hair and adjust her dress. Okay, so she was a little nervous to see him. Popping a breath mint, she entered the station. The desk sergeant wasn't familiar to her, she was glad to see. In her career around the fringes of the underworld, she'd only ever seemed to encounter the corrupt and the callous members of the force. With one notable exception. "My name's Francine Hess," she told the sergeant. "I need to talk to Inspector Henderson."
A few moments later, she was directed to an office. Bill was as lean and dour as ever, but the look he gave her was almost friendly. "Francine. It's been a while."
"Did you miss me?" she asked, settling herself into the chair facing his desk, subtly showing off her legs.
"Well," he drawled, giving her a once-over, "you're better- looking than most of the crooks around here."
"Be nice," she shot back. "Those are your colleagues you're talking about."
His lip twitched. "Them, too. What can I do for you?"
A number of interesting suggestions came to mind, but all she said was, "I need a favor."
"Yeah. There's a guy who's gone missing."
He raised an eyebrow. "Boyfriend?"
"Not mine. He's engaged to my friend Lois." He looked skeptical. "I have friends, you know."
Bill shrugged. "Good for you."
"His name is Kal," she said, dragging the conversation back on track. "He left yesterday afternoon and was supposed to be back last night."
"Yeah, I know," she said. "It's too soon to make this official, I know that. And I know a lot of guys who disappear are doing it on purpose, but not Kal. He's crazy in love with Lois. We've been asking around — he was seen in West River this morning, but we think he must have lost his memory."
He leaned forward, grabbing a pen. "Why do you think so?"
"It's a long story," she said. "And I really can't explain it." She wouldn't get past the part where he flew off into space to smash an asteroid before Bill would think she'd lost it. She knew she was asking a lot, but she didn't figure she had a choice. "Just… trust me."
Bill studied her for a long moment, and she did her best to match his impassive expression. With most people, staying detached was as easy as breathing, but this man tended to get to her. Then he nodded. "Okay. Give me a description; I'll do some asking around."
She couldn't help smiling, though she tried to keep it small. "He's six foot, Caucasian male with just a little bit of Asian mixed in. Mid-twenties." After all the phone calls of this afternoon, she had this down to a science. "Black hair, brown eyes. Lois thinks he's gorgeous," she added in, to see if she could get a reaction. "And she's not far wrong."
Bill glanced up from where he was scribbling notes. "Careful," he said mildly. "You'll make me jealous."
As if. Though it would be kinda nice. "Ah, you're okay, too. He's a little too young for me, anyway; not that it matters, 'cause he's utterly hung up on Lois. They've been through a lot."
"Okay. Where can I reach you?"
She fished out a business card. "Here's the office number, and this," she paused, writing on the back of it, "is my home phone." She congratulated herself on sharing that without making it seem personal.
He accepted the card. "Running your own theater?"
"We're trying. Opening night's in a couple of weeks." Trying to sound casual, she added, "If you want, I'll give you tickets."
"Thanks, but I'm more of a football fan."
"Really? I used to be." Why had she stopped, anyway? Oh, right. Her ex-husband had hated the sport, probably because he was hopeless at it. Loser. "I haven't been to a game in years, though."
"Well," he said casually, looking down at his desk, "maybe sometime I'll give you tickets."
She didn't quite know how to take that — meaningless comment or exceptionally obscure date invitation? With Bill, it could be either. "You've got my number," she replied, in what she hoped was a convincingly unconcerned tone. Though it couldn't hurt to give him some encouragement. "I'd love to see a game again."
"I'll be in touch, then," he said, standing. She rose, too, and he escorted her back out to the front of the station. "Take care of yourself, Francine."
She smiled, just a little. "You too, Bill."
Brenda came into the office just as Lois was raising the phone for one more call. "Do you have a second?"
Lois put down the receiver. "Yeah. Actually, it's good to have an excuse for a break." She leaned back and stretched, rotating her head to work out her tensed neck and shoulders. "It feels like I've been doing this for hours."
"Well, I hate to break it to you, hon, but you have been doing it for hours."
Lois looked at the clock. "Oh, yeah, I guess I have."
"And unless I miss my guess, you totally skipped lunch." "Lunch?" The thought hadn't crossed her mind, but on cue, her stomach growled. She looked up ruefully. "You know me too well."
Brenda nodded, coming in and plopping down a white paper sack on the desk. "That's why I brought you a burger and fries."
"Ooh! You are a lifesaver, Bren." Lois tore into the bag, dumping the food onto a hastily-spread napkin.
Brenda laughed, producing a soft drink to go with the meal. "Hope you like diet."
"We had lunch two hours ago," Brenda commented. "But then I was thinking and figured you'd be stuck in here. Francine left to pursue some sort of mysterious lead of her own, but the only thing I could think of that was useful was to get you some food."
Lois nodded and took a long sip of soda. "This was definitely useful. I owe you one."
"Honey, you owe me a lot more than one," Brenda said, laughing.
"Put it on my tab," Lois suggested, making a conscious effort to slow her eating.
Brenda grinned. "I'll bill you. One of these years. So, how have things been going?"
Lois lost some of her good cheer. "Not so hot. I've called all the hospitals — no luck. So then I moved on to clinics and private practices. I think I've got twenty percent done by now — — although a lot of the time, I didn't get to talk to anyone and had to leave a message. God only knows when someone might hear them."
"You never know," Brenda insisted. "And it's worth the effort. Speaking of which, why don't you give me a list and I can help you out with these?"
"You've put so much time into this already!" Lois protested, feeling guilty. "I don't want to keep you away from running the theater."
"Sweetie, we wouldn't even *have* a theater if it weren't for you and Kal. Trust me, this is the least I can do."
Well, if she put it that way… "Okay, fair enough. I've been going through the yellow pages, under Physicians/Psychiatrists." She pondered the best way to share the list, then shrugged and carefully pulled one of the pages right out. "Do as many of these as you can, okay? I've been checking them off as I do them."
Brenda took the yellow page. "Wow. There's a lot of these little suckers."
Lois groaned. "I know. And it's probably a gigantic waste of time, but I can't think of anything better to do. It's either this, or I'll start making posters and sticking them to light poles."
"Never mind. Anyway, I appreciate the help."
"No problem. Oh, and I was wondering — Kal zipped out to space and came back, but did he get anything done while he was out there? What's happened with the asteroid?"
Lois stared at her. "That's a very good question. I've been so busy… I think I'll give the Colonel a call."
"Good. Keep me posted," Brenda said, before walking back across the hall to her own office.
"Are you awake?"
Kal felt dizzy, disoriented for a moment, then remembered. Hypno-therapy. "Did you find anything?"
Dr. Porter shook her head slowly. "Not much. You seem to come from a place called New Krypton. Does that seem familiar?"
He searched his foggy memory. "Maybe."
"I've never heard of it." She made a note. "We'll have to follow that up a little later."
"What sort of place did it sound like?"
"I couldn't get a clear picture, Kal. I think you'd better rest for a while. There's a room in the back; it was originally an office but I put in a futon. I use it when I'm working late, or my patients use it if they need a short break. How about you go back there, lie down, and see if you can sleep any?"
He frowned at the blue sky seen through her window. "What time is it?"
"Half past one," she replied calmly. "An excellent time for a rest." She stood, waving him along with her to the door at the back of the office.
Unsure, uneasy, he followed her, and allowed her to show him the converted office. She pointed out where to find pillows and even a blanket for the futon, then left the room, pulling the door gently closed behind her.
The futon was arranged as a sofa right now; she'd shown him how to adjust the frame so that the mattress would lie flat, but he didn't feel that was necessary. He sat, slouching into the cushion.
The picture of his background was slowly gaining coherence — not that any of it even began to explain why he'd ended up naked in a crater. His mind was releasing information in some areas, but still stubbornly refusing to explain that part.
So… New Krypton. That did sound familiar. Was there an old Krypton? The name seemed to imply so… and he felt a rush of sadness connected to it. A tragedy of some kind, he assumed.
His upbringing had been strict, he was sure of that. He had duties and responsibilities, though he wasn't clear on what they were, exactly. He must never show weakness — and emotions were weakness. Or at least showing them was, and he had a feeling that feelings were not encouraged.
A memory floated up from deep within the recesses of his mind. He'd been a boy, of about eight or nine, sitting at a large table with five or six grown men. He'd worn a body suit with an over- vest, as had the rest of them. His legs weren't yet long enough to reach the floor, so they swung below him, occasionally kicking the chair supports. It was a meeting, something to do with mining contracts and ore refineries, and he had the sense that he'd been there quite a while already.
"Father?" He thought he'd whispered it. "May I go home now?" There had been some sort of game, with Zara, which had been interrupted.
"No, Kal-El," Mak-Ra had responded calmly — and loud enough for all to hear. "It is your duty to attend these meetings."
All the men at the meeting looked at Kal, with varying degrees of disapproval at the interruption. He flushed scarlet.
"You are the head of your house," Mak-Ra continued. "You have responsibilities. One day, you will be First Lord of New Krypton. You have much to learn before then. It is time you started learning in earnest."
Thoroughly humiliated, he could only reply, "Yes, Father."
Kal blinked, trying to process all that. He'd been some sort of nobility — presumably still was. And First Lord? Was that like a king?
Another, a female voice, intruded, saying, "… I'm assuming you didn't do the 'marry the princess, take over the kingdom' routine…"
That voice was a much more recent memory. At least he thought so. It brought a happy feeling with it, but when he tried to recall some context for the remark, his mind remained stubbornly blank.
Lois looked at the phone with loathing. After hours of fruitless calling, she'd be happy if she never saw a phone again. This was different, but… if Nightfall were still on course, would she really want to know?
Well, yes, she would. She picked up the receiver and punched in a number she knew by heart. With a quick friendly stop at his secretary's extension, she was put through to Colonel White.
"White speaking," he answered, sounding distracted and harassed.
"Colonel, it's Lois Lane."
"Lois!" His voice cheered up, and she could almost see him leaning back in his chair. "How are the wedding plans coming along?"
"Uh, well, we've" — lost the groom — "run into a few minor set- backs. That's not why I was calling, though."
The Colonel sighed. "I figured not."
"I wanted to ask, sir…" It occurred to her that she should phrase this carefully. It wouldn't do to tell him she was checking up on her fiance's handiwork. "Have there been any developments with Nightfall?"
"Actually, yes. Last night some time — they weren't looking when it happened, though I'm blessed if I know how they took their eye off that particular ball — anyway, they've got all kinds of theories, but the upshot is, Nightfall shattered."
Lois closed her eyes in relief. At least Kal's effort hadn't been in vain.
"So that's got them more optimistic about our survival," the Colonel continued, sounding resigned.
"What?" Shock slammed into her gut. "I… I thought it shattered!"
"Well, yes — but a rock that big still breaks into some pretty good sized chunks. Most of them will miss us now, or burn up in the atmosphere, but a fairly large fragment is still headed in our direction."
If she hadn't already been desperate to find Kal, Lois thought grimly, this would be the time to start. "When will it hit?"
"This weekend, they think — Monday at the latest. But the brain boys are talking about this missile they want to launch. Even if all it does is break the thing into smaller pieces, that'll help."
In the corner of her brain that wasn't screaming in panic, she could see the sense of that. "Smaller impacts. Right."
"Ah, they're pretty smart over there, Lieutenant," he tried to reassure her. "Just don't tell them I said so."
That drew a faint smile. "Your secret is safe with me. I guess they're probably pretty busy right now." Looking at the phone book, she added, "and so am I."
He took the hint graciously. "You go on and take care of that wedding. I'm looking forward to the reception."
"Yeah, I'll work on that." Her reply came out a little flatter than she'd intended, and there was a pause at the other end of the line.
"Is there anything I can do?"
She was tempted — having a literal army out searching for Kal couldn't hurt — but she wasn't yet desperate enough to try to explain that request. Maybe tomorrow. "No, thanks… I'm fine. My friends are helping me out."
"All right then. I'll let you know if I get good news."
"Take care, Lieutenant."
She heard a click on the other end of the line, and slowly hung up. This was even worse than she'd feared.
Not only did she need to find Kal for her own personal needs. She needed him to save the world. The fate of millions rested on her efforts.
She crossed her forearms on top of the yellow pages and buried her head. She just couldn't take this right now.
Kal startled to wakefulness, grasping at the fragments of a dream. Someone had been searching for him, and had cried out in fear… or perhaps it wasn't a dream, but a reaction to that strange waterfall in his mind. It seemed unhappy and tired. Which he knew was ridiculous — how could water be unhappy? — but the impression remained. Even more ridiculous, he longed to be able to do something about it.
He wasn't learning that much from these hypnosis sessions, but the information gleaned from them and from within seemed to indicate that he was a rather strange man. Different. Alone.
This was getting him nowhere. He needed more information, and at the moment there was only one source of that. He stretched and stood, leaving the little converted office without a backwards glance.
"I'm ready," he announced as he emerged into the main office.
Dr. Porter looked up from where she was doing paperwork at her desk. All traces of lunch had been cleared away; he could barely even smell it.
She smiled thinly. "Good. I'm glad you're rested."
He didn't feel especially rested, but no matter. He would make do with what he had. He frowned, considering that — the phrase, or perhaps the concept, seemed very familiar. Was he poor, then? Though that didn't feel right. The answer remained stubbornly out of reach.
"We'll do the session in a moment, then. If you'll excuse me, I must finish this work. Merely a few business matters; they won't take long."
For a moment, indignation stirred within him. How dare she put him off? It swiftly faded; a physician should be obeyed. That was the proper order of things. Everyone else, though, should submit to… to… him? He couldn't tell. He frowned.
For lack of anywhere else to sit, he sat on the edge of the couch. For lack of anything to say, he stared at the carpet and kept his silence.
The silence dragged on for a few minutes, disturbed only by the faint scratching of pen on paper. He jumped when the phone rang. Looking up, he saw the doctor frown as she answered.
"Dr. Porter's office." She listened for a moment, then turned her chair away from him, hiding behind its tall back. "I haven't got time for this right now," she said in a low tone that he could still hear perfectly well.
He felt vaguely that he shouldn't be eavesdropping. Another part of him, however, was hungry for any information.
"What?" she squeaked out. The alarm in her voice riveted his attention. "What do you mean, *was* due to hit…" After a moment, though, she seemed to relax, and to sound interested. "Shattered? Have they any idea why?" Another pause. "Well, that's hardly any improvement. Still… perhaps what happened before will happen again." After a few more terse words, the call was completed.
She swung her chair back around toward him, a speculative look in her eye as she studied him. He dropped his gaze back to the carpet.
"You know," she began slowly. "While hypnosis is, I feel, the best overall approach, it might be useful to try a few different techniques on you, as well. How about a little word association?"
"How would that work, exactly?"
"It's quite simple. I say a word, and then you say whatever pops into your head. Your mind has areas into which it does not want to go — but we may be able to pinpoint those a little more."
Slowly, he nodded. "Subterfuge, instead of frontal assault."
She blinked. "Yes, I suppose so. Shall we?" Anticipating agreement, she pulled out a clipboard and held it at the ready. "You can sit, but it might work better if you're lying down, and not looking at me for clues."
He'd been doing an awful lot of lying down today, and he was getting restless. However, sitting was no better, so with a mental shrug, he settled himself along the couch. Later, he decided, he would go for a run. Getting out into the sunlight would do him good, and perhaps familiar sights would jog his memory.
"We'll start simply," she said. "And work up to the interesting areas. Green?"
"Red." Kal relaxed into the rhythm of it.
"Girl." A flash of someone in a yellow costume. Someone important?
Kal recoiled as if he'd been struck. There was a brief flash of a mountain-sized rock floating somewhere, then pain and darkness. He blinked and the vision was gone, leaving behind an unfocused sensation of anxiety.
"Um… deadly." But what the hell was it? "Why would I think that?"
Dr. Porter looked at her notes. "Well, there could be many reasons…"
He sat up, studying her. "You know what it is." He didn't know how he knew, but he was absolutely certain of it.
She looked up, meeting his eyes for a long moment. "Yes. It's an asteroid. It was on course to hit us, and might well have wiped out the human race."
The hand of panic squeezed his chest. "Was?"
"Early this morning, it shattered. However, a sizeable remnant will still hit Earth within a few days."
He lay back on the couch again, feeling stunned. For a brief moment, it was terribly hot, and he couldn't breathe. What was happening to him?
Gwen eyed her patient cautiously. He'd had an abnormally strong reaction; there was definitely something going on there. "What do you remember?" she asked softly.
He shook his head. "Nothing."
"Think about it," she coaxed.
"I don't remember anything." His breathing accelerated, and his hands clenched into fists, whether in fear or frustration, she couldn't tell. Still, as strong as he was, she wouldn't want to provoke him.
"Okay, let's move on to something else." Something innocuous, she hoped. "City?"
After a few more bland exchanges, he seemed calm again. "I think perhaps it's time for another session of hypnosis."
He frowned, then nodded. "Yes. We need the information."
"Good. Now, watch this crystal…"
It was easier to take him under this time. "Now, Kal, I want you to picture your peaceful terrace. Are you there?"
"What does it look like?"
"Plants… you can see the stars so clearly…"
"Good, good. Now, we're on that terrace, and we're talking. Nothing can harm you." She took a deep breath. "What do you know about Nightfall?"
He had a definite negative reaction to that. "Big rock. Too big. Blots out the stars."
"Yes, it's a big rock, but it can't hurt you."
"It's too big," he insisted, shrinking away from her.
"Maybe it's not really real," she suggested. "It was just a dream."
That calmed him somewhat.
"If Nightfall were real, what would you do?"
He frowned again. "Fly out. Break it up. But it's too big. Too big."
"Fly out? In a ship?"
"No…" he said, though it was unclear whether he was replying to her or lost inside his memories. "Have to get back… can't breathe… Lois…"
Well, they'd run into a very distressing area, obviously, though she still didn't quite understand why.
Was it possible that this man had shattered Nightfall?
"You're safe, Kal. Who is Lois?"
His face relaxed a bit. "Shey-ana. Have to get back to her…"
"Is Lois in New Krypton?"
Lois must be a more recent acquaintance, then. "Is she in Metropolis?"
"On Lincoln street…" He shifted restlessly.
That was a problem. The last thing she wanted was for him to have someone and somewhere specific to look for; she needed to keep him under her control. "Okay, Kal, we're going to wake you up again. I'm going to count backwards from ten, just like before. When you wake up, though, you won't remember anything about Lois. Lois isn't real; she's only a dream. Listen to my voice, Kal… ten, nine, eight…"
"Get some sleep, Lois," Brenda urged. She'd found Lois in her office, with her head on her desk, and had proceeded to take charge. Francine had driven them both to her apartment, with Lois protesting all the way.
Francine opened her apartment door and reached inside to turn on the light. "You'll feel much better after a nap."
"How can I relax?" Her head was pounding, and her stomach was in knots.
"You'll figure something out," Francine replied unsympathetically. "And no pacing. You've nearly worn out the floor at the office."
"'Cause if you're gonna pace," Brenda said, "we're gonna have to stay, and honey, I don't know about you, but I'm tired."
Lois smiled wanly. "Thanks for helping me out today, girls."
Brenda snorted. "For all the good it did. But we had to try. I know nothing's shown up yet, but we've spread the word. He's here, hon. We'll find him."
"And you're not going to kill yourself looking for him," Francine said, pointing her index finger sternly. "So go get a nap."
Francine puffed a tiny laugh. "I'm not *that* much older than you. But I am that much smarter — at least for the moment."
"Do you want us to stay?"
Lois looked at Brenda, registering the genuine caring in her expression, and felt the urge to cry. "No, I'll be fine. I'll go right to bed, I promise."
Brenda just looked at her for another moment, then nodded. "Okay."
"Are you planning to come back to the office after your nap?"
Lois smiled. "Of course."
Francine rolled her eyes. "How did I know that? You want me to pick you up later?"
"No, I'll be fine," Lois repeated, sniffling. "Good night."
Reluctantly, they left, pulling the door shut behind them. Lois wiped her eyes. She was not going to cry. She was — had been — — an officer of the US Army. So they hadn't found Kal yet. They would. Someone would call soon, surely.
Tiredness crashed over her and she headed for the bedroom. Succumbing to temptation, she sat on the bed and hugged Kal's pillow. They'd only had one night… it wasn't fair. She blinked, fighting back tears, then closed her eyes to focus on her connection to him. He was confused and unhappy. **I'll find you, Kal. I promise.**
She wiped the trace of tears off her cheek. Once before, she'd thought he was gone forever. He had come back, though. And he would do so again.
He had to.
Moving sluggishly, she peeled off her outer clothing and tucked herself in, holding onto his pillow. It didn't really smell like him, but it was the closest she could manage at the moment. Her eyes fluttered closed, and sleep claimed her.
**I'll find you, Kal. I promise.**
Kal's eyes snapped open at the whisper of a voice. He'd been dozing on the futon, his thoughts wandering in unpredictable ways, but that voice had been real. He looked around the room, trying to pinpoint it, but there was no one else there. His sudden surge of hope leaked away, leaving him lower than before.
He slumped back against the cushions. Obviously he'd imagined it. It wouldn't make sense to say 'I'll find you' if he had already been found. And if no one was there, he couldn't have heard anything. He was so desperate to believe he belonged somewhere that he was fantasizing. He couldn't afford that.
Still… was anyone out looking for him? Restless, he stood and began to prowl around the room. It wasn't that Dr. Porter wasn't nice… well, actually, she wasn't that nice, but she was civil, and she was helping him out. It had been her suggestion that he should come back to this office/bedroom and rest for a while. According to her, hypnosis therapy could be tiring, and it worked best when the patient had time to consider and absorb what had been learned in the last session.
Which wasn't much. The mere thought of Nightfall kicked his adrenaline into overdrive, but he still didn't know why. Of course he was upset about the impending end of the world — who wouldn't be? But that didn't begin to cover his reaction. It almost felt like he ought to be *doing* something about it. Or that it was somehow something personal.
Personal. Between him and the asteroid. Yeah.
Maybe a psychotherapist's office was the best possible place for him. He was getting sick of it, though. He wanted to feel the sun on his face — and it got dark early in December. Dr. Porter seemed to want him to stay inside, but he could ask.
It seemed very wrong, on some fundamental level, to have to ask anyone for permission to do anything. From what he'd remembered earlier, he was a person of some responsibility.
Another memory broke free and bobbed to the surface of his mind. This time, he was an officer, fresh out of training, facing down a friend.
"Why did you do it, Vor?" He remembered clearly how anguished he'd felt.
Vor-Chal shrugged. "Look, Kal, all I did was use your engine as a model."
"Vor, it was a test." He was aghast at Vor's lack of comprehension. "You need to know how to assemble that engine *without* a model."
"Oh, like I'm ever going to need to know how to repair a ship's engine. That's what the lower classes are for. Don't worry, Kal; they'll never know."
"Yes, they will," Kal had replied.
"They never noticed before; why should they start now?"
Kal's stomach lurched. Vor had been his best friend since they'd entered the academy. Or at least, so he'd thought. "Don't you see? I have to tell them. You'd be a danger to your crew."
He'd called Mak-Ra and the house guards, and the guards took Vor- Chal away, still protesting that he'd done nothing bad.
"Well done, Kal-El," Mak-Ra said, resting a hand on Kal's shoulder.
Kal fought back tears. It was in mastering his emotions that a man matured. "He was my friend."
Unexpectedly, Mak-Ra was sympathetic. "I know. It's hard. It's a lesson we must all learn, however. Trust only in yourself, Kal-El. Be on guard, watching, so that you can spot treachery in the making. We cannot afford to trust. As you saw."
Kal nodded, and lifted his chin. "Yes. I can see that now."
The memory faded out again… leaving behind residual traces of anger, humiliation, shame, and loneliness. He was alone, no matter who came looking for him. He always would be.
Then another memory intruded. "Ah, shey-ana… don't you know?" he heard himself asking tenderly. "You'll never be alone again." He was lying in bed with a woman, feeling safe and loved and protective, and happy… and suddenly he knew.
Although… it would be helpful if he knew her last name, too. Or anything else about her. His initial rush of euphoria ebbed away. He could almost recall her face, but it was fuzzy, and all other details were missing. The sense of contentment and closeness was fading, too, no matter how hard he tried to hold on to it.
Fading, just like a dream. Reality smacked back into him. It was a dream, a mere wishful thought. He couldn't remember details because there weren't any, and never had been. He knew that now. Lois wasn't real; she was only a dream.
He was alone, and always would be.
Gwen drummed her fingers on her desk, trying to think. As incredible as it seemed, she was ninety-nine percent certain that Kal was an alien. There was that pesky one percent doubt, though, and she had no proof. She would have to rectify that before presenting any of this to Trask.
She glanced at her notes. Kal was from someplace called New Krypton; he'd said so under hypnosis, and she had it on tape. He hadn't explicitly said it was a different planet, though. She'd checked with the local librarian, who hadn't been able to come up with anything on a place called New Krypton, not in any of the variant spellings they'd tried. It had to be a different planet. One with spaceflight.
He was amazingly strong. Her old desk was made of solid mahogany, and had been known to require the combined efforts of three men to move. Kal had picked it up and repositioned it as if it weighed very little. He didn't seem to be aware of his strength, though.
What other abilities might he have forgotten about?
He'd been close enough to the fireball that it had burned his clothes off — but he wasn't even scratched. He was familiar with the aborted tidal wave, enough so that he could name one of the guilty parties. She pulled out her copy of the Metro Post. The picture was nearly useless, but… yes, that could have been Kal. And he'd said that to stop Nightfall he should fly into space and break it up. Which may well have been precisely what happened.
Gwen didn't like to reason in advance of her data, but the conclusion here was hard to avoid. Also quite irresistible. One lone man could save the world from impending doom — but only if she helped him remember.
In a way, the fate of the world lay in her hands. The rush of power was exhilarating. They'd never properly appreciated her; no one had. But she alone knew what had happened to Nightfall. She alone had the opportunity and skills to save the planet.
With a little help from Kal, of course. And when he recovered his memories, he would no longer be in her control… unless she could take advantage of her opportunity and skills to implant in him a certain amount of loyalty to herself. It was always a tricky task, brainwashing, but if it worked…! Beginning with the session after dinner, she'd add those special commands to her other agenda. It might take a few times, but with any luck, Kal would soon be loyal to her, and to her alone.
"Lois, what are you doing here?"
Lois looked up from her desk to see Brenda standing in the doorway, hands on her hips. "Making a few more phone calls."
"You're supposed to be sleeping, remember?"
"I know, and I did sleep for a while. But then I woke up a little, and figured I might as well be here as anywhere." Being alone in the apartment had quickly become unbearable, in fact. Not that being at the office was much of an improvement. All she seemed to be able to do was look at the huge list of queries they'd made, all of them either no reply, or negative.
Brenda came in and plopped herself down in Lois's guest chair. "So, how are things? I'm still making calls, but so far I got nothing."
Lois leaned back, weary and unsurprised. "I know. It's hopeless."
"Hey, weren't you the one earlier who was telling us to think positive?"
"You're right." Lois smacked herself theatrically on the temple. "How could I have forgotten? Okay, let me start over — it's *positively* hopeless."
Brenda chuckled, and Lois couldn't help but smile a little.
"Come on, Lois. He's only been gone, what, less than a day? You've looked for missing persons before, right?"
"Yeah. I guess I'm just sick of phone calls."
Brenda shrugged. "So get out there and pound the pavement a little. The exercise might do you good."
"But where would I go? We talked to that homeless guy, and the director of the shelter, and the people in the kitchen didn't even speak English."
"Well, this 'professionally dressed' woman left before we got there; maybe other people did too."
"I suppose." Lois frowned, pondering. "They get people to volunteer in there, right? Maybe our mystery woman was a regular volunteer? No, the director said he didn't recognize her. But there might have been other people there, and one of them might know something." She sat up and flipped through her much-abused yellow pages until she found the shelter's number. "It can't hurt to ask, right?"
Kal wandered restlessly from the back room to the front of the office. Dr. Porter was at her desk again, studying a file of some kind. She seemed a little startled when he emerged from the back. "Hello. Have you remembered anything new?"
He shrugged. "Not really."
"Well, I'll tell you what," she said, glancing at her watch. "I'm hungry, and it's nearly dinner time. I'm going to go out for a little while to get us something. Chinese food, perhaps. What sort of food do you like?"
"Beats the hell out of me."
"Oh, of course. Well, I'll bring an assortment." She stood, pulling her handbag out of a desk drawer and holding on to the file folder she'd been studying. "I won't be long. You will stay here, I hope. It's not such a nice neighborhood out there after dark."
He glanced at the window. "It's not dark yet."
"It will be soon. I'd better hurry."
"I could go with you," he pointed out. "I might not know where I'm going but I think I could handle myself."
"No doubt you could," she said, pulling the door to the stairway open. "But I'll be just fine. Why don't you use the time to try to remember more things?"
"Okay." Slightly perplexed, he watched her leave, then laid down on the couch. He wasn't really enthusiastic about remembering anything else. Everything he'd pieced together so far had been depressing. He wasn't really hungry, either, but he supposed he needed to eat something.
He wandered over to the window, but it was too high; from this angle he couldn't see anywhere close to the street. Turning, he spotted the corner of a newspaper stuck in one of the desk drawers.
Something to read. That was what he needed. Something to distract him from the bleakness of his barely-remembered life. He opened the drawer enough to extract the paper, and unfolded it.
The Metro Post. It looked vaguely trashy, and not at all the sort of thing Dr. Gwen Porter would read. But at the same time… it seemed familiar. He checked the date against her desk calendar — the paper was two days old. Had he seen it? Why would she be keeping it? After scanning the headlines, he checked out the picture only to be hit with an even stronger sense of deja-vu. This was something he knew — a mystery to others but not him. He studied it, focusing on the small figure hovering over the water. Was that a person?
Out of nowhere, a memory popped into his mind. He was in an apartment, with several women. One of them was saying, "I just wanna know if that's Kal in the picture."
The woman next to him evaded the question, he thought. For some reason, he found the whole scene amusing. Or he had, when it had happened.
The first voice returned. "Don't make me hurt you, girlfriend."
The woman by his side — Lois! — laughed. "Gimme your best shot."
He remembered having joined in the teasing. "Ladies, please! Innocent bystander, here!"
The memory was chased away by the ringing of a phone. He scowled at it. The first positive memory he'd had, and whoever was calling had to ruin things. The phone continued to ring, but he had no inclination to pick it up. He wanted to immerse himself in his recovered memory… But no, he reminded himself, it couldn't be real. He must have had quite a fantasy world set up for Lois and him. So detailed that it felt like a memory.
The ringing stopped, but the click and whir of an answering machine began. It must have been set to broadcast voices, as he heard Gwen's aristocratic voice informing callers that they should leave a message, but at least the volume was low.
This was not what he wanted to be thinking about! He moved away from the desk. If he'd been fantasizing, why would he have come up with that scene? And either the dream or the memory must have been recent — for some reason he knew they had been discussing the picture he was looking at.
He stopped, the words coming out of the answering machine grabbing his attention.
"…may have lost his memory. If you see him, please contact me at 555-9976. Thank you."
Could this woman be calling about him? He moved over to the desk and grabbed for the phone with trembling hands. "Hello?"
Dial tone. Whoever the woman was, she'd hung up the phone hard on the heels of the 'thank you.' He looked around for a pen and paper, trying to remember the number, but there was nothing to write on or with. That voice… it had sounded flat and tired, but he knew that voice. It was Brenda, from his dreams. But Brenda was in the dreams with Lois, and if Brenda was real…
Lois was real.
"Yes, I realize that was this morning, but I was hoping the director…"
"Sorry, Ms. Lane," said the bored staffer. "He's gone home."
"Can I talk to *anyone* who was there this morning? Surely you have volunteers?"
"Well, yeah, I guess. Hang on." There was a scuffle of paper in the background. "Okay, here we go — this morning. Glenda Harris, Kari Shankenburg, and Erica Young."
"That's great," Lois said, scribbling notes. "But have you got any phone numbers for them?"
"Um… no, don't think so. The director might have them stashed away somewhere, but—"
"Yes, I know; he went home." The universe was clearly out to get her.
"Well, they'll probably be back here tomorrow morning. You could call then."
Or show up in person. "Okay, thanks; I appreciate all the help."
"You're welcome," the staffer replied, oblivious to the sarcasm. "Good night."
Lois hung up the phone and leaned back, stretching. Turning, she saw Francine standing in the doorway.
"Can I come in?"
"Yeah, sure. That was the shelter. They say I can call back in the morning, which is fine, except I may not have any fingernails left by then."
"Ah, you'll do okay," Francine said, looking more hopeful than convinced. "If it'll help — I wasn't going to tell you, but… well, I know a police inspector. He's a straight-up guy, too. I went to see him around lunchtime. He said he'd keep an eye out for Kal."
Lois blinked back sudden tears. "Thanks, Francine."
"Oh, it wasn't anything. Really, I should be thanking you." She smiled slyly. "I was glad to have a reason to see him again."
That was so unexpected that Lois giggled. "Really?"
"Yeah. I knew him a while back — we'd talk sometimes." She shrugged. "But then I went to the Metro Club and got tangled up with Johnny… and you know the rest."
"Well, I hope it works out for you. Oh, and if you're so friendly, maybe you can ask him about these names. You know, as another excuse to talk to him. I was going to go through the phone book looking for these three — well, actually, there are too many people named Harris and Young, so I figured I'd try for Kari Shankenburg. How many Shankenburgs can there be?"
Francine drew in a breath. "You won't have to look her up, sweetie. I know her!"
He had to get to Lois. Somehow. The waterfall in his head seemed to be urging him into action. Even if he hadn't the faintest clue where to look, sitting in this office any longer wasn't an option he was prepared to consider. Dropping the newspaper on the desk, he walked over to the door. A quick turn confirmed his suspicion; he was locked in.
He could wait until Dr. Porter returned, but he'd really rather not. Even beside the sense of urgency, something about her made him nervous. He paced around the room once, then returned to the door. Frustrated, he grabbed the knob again and rattled it. There was a peculiar crunching, and then the knob turned. Success!
It was only a moment before he was standing out on the street. He looked around, wondering which way he ought to go. The sunlight was fading fast, casting an ominous pall over the neighborhood. Well, the only place he knew how to get to was the homeless shelter, and that seemed as good a destination as any. He needed to find someplace public, with a phone and phone book. Hadn't Lois said something about a theater?
Nodding and stuffing his hands into his pockets, he started walking.
"You know her?"
"Yep." Francine was annoyed at Lois's disbelief. "Why does everyone have trouble with the concept that I have friends?"
"Of course, you have friends; never mind that. Do you have her number? Or if you know where she lives, maybe we should just go there." Lois jumped up from her chair and grabbed for her coat.
Francine blinked at this sudden surge of energy, but supposed it was only reasonable. "Yeah, I think I can find her — and I'm driving."
"Okay, fine, whatever. Come on!"
Following Lois out of the building, she just hoped this wasn't going to be a wild goose chase.
Gwen hurried along the street, keeping a sharp eye out for hooligans. While the interior plan of her office was superbly suited for her, the neighborhood left a lot to be desired, and it was getting dark. She clutched her purse strap tighter. True, in several years she hadn't yet been assaulted, but the chance was always there. It was the main reason she'd purchased a small but serviceable handgun two years ago. She'd even gone for training at a gun club. The place was noisy, dirty, and appallingly low-class, but Gwen was a very practical person at heart. The time spent there had been worth it, if only for her peace of mind.
The first step in Kal's programming had already been taken, she reflected. It had been successful, she hoped. She would need to re-enforce the thought that this "Lois" of his was fictional. Perhaps, she thought with a faint smile, he'd spent too much time reading Superman comics.
Actually, Kal had a few things in common with Superman, or so she thought. She'd never wasted her time on comics, but it was hard to avoid having some notion of his powers.
Imagine if she had Superman under her control. It seemed unlikely on a number of fronts, but the possibilities were dazzling.
Be that as it may, she must make sure that her role in saving the world was well-publicized, and that she received all the respect and rewards that she would be due. Her report was already half- written in her head, composed while waiting for the take-away food to be ready.
She shifted her grip on the large paper sack, turning the last corner. Giving the scene a quick glance, she could see no obvious threat in the gathering gloom. There was only one man on the street, in fact, though she noted he was standing nearly in front of her building. If he'd noticed her, he'd given no sign. Walking a little quicker, she advanced upon him. He turned to look down the street away from her, and as he turned, she recognized his profile.
It was Kal. He'd left the office. Very likely, he just wanted to take a walk, but it was obvious that her control would need to be established soon.
She sped up. She must catch up with him and persuade him back inside. He was her ticket to fame and fortune, and she was prepared to do whatever was necessary to keep him.
"Kari?" Francine called through the door while Lois knocked again. It turned out that Kari lived only two blocks away from Riverside Shelter. Ironic, thought Lois, or perhaps not. Judging from what she'd seen of the building so far, it seemed highly unlikely that any of the tenants owned a car. So Kari would have to be within walking distance.
There was a rattle of locks behind the door, drawing Lois's attention. The door opened only as far as the safety chain would permit.
The expression on the woman's face was not encouraging. "Yeah, Francine. What do you want?"
Francine smiled thinly. "Can we come in? We need to ask you a few questions."
Behind the door, Kari snorted. "You never answer my questions; why should I answer yours?"
Lois glanced at Francine, who shrugged. "She wants to know where Mel is."
"Kari," Lois said clearly, "I'll tell you where Mel is, but I have to ask you something first."
"You will?" Her surprise was clear. "Okay, then." She fumbled with the chain and opened the door far enough for Lois and Francine to step inside.
"So what is the big freaking deal with Melanie?" Kari demanded. "All I want to know is where my friend is."
"Yeah, I'm missing a friend of mine, too," Lois said. "So I know how you feel. This morning, at the shelter, did you see a tall, dark-haired guy who didn't seem to know who he was?"
Kari's eyebrows went up slightly. "Yeah. Now you answer my question — where's Mel?"
Lois repressed the urge to throttle the girl. "Remember when Mel and Francine and Brenda disappeared? A month or two back."
"Yeah, I remember." Her impatience was clear.
"Well, I was with them, too, and… you may not believe this, but we were kidnapped by these two guys, and they took us to what we later learned was a ship."
"How did you not recognize a ship?"
Lois took a deep breath. "It was a space ship. I know, it sounds nuts, but it's true. The ship took off in the middle of the night, with us on board, and it was a week or so before they brought us back. The two guys who kidnapped us were acting against orders, so the ship captain took care of us. And while we were on board, Melanie fell in love with the younger of the two guys. His name is Zak, and he's not a bad guy, just kind of easily led. So when they were bringing us home, she decided she'd rather go with him back to his home planet. They're probably married already. That's why Francine never wanted to tell you anything; she didn't think you'd believe her. And that's about it." Lois waited, trying to gauge the girl's response.
Kari's eyes were as round as saucers. After a moment, she breathed out a long "Wow."
"You believe me?"
Kari blinked, then smiled. "That is so cool. Good for her! Man, when the aliens took me, it was just for tests and stuff. I never got to talk to any of them."
Lois breathed out, shaky with relief. "Well, I think this was a different bunch of aliens."
"Mel was kinda disappointed in 'em, actually," Francine put in. "Guess she'd been thinking of a different kind, too. They weren't near as enlightened as she thought they'd be."
"So she decided she might as well enlighten them. And then she hit it off with Zak, and that was pretty much it." For the first time, Lois realized, she could talk about Mel and Zak's romance without feeling a heavy overlay of sorrow and envy. "Now *please* tell me? What happened with the guy this morning? Did you recognize him? Do you know where he went?"
Kari came back to reality. "Oh, yeah, it was Kal. You knew him, I think, Francine, from the Metro Club. I used to see him there when I'd go visit Mel, and she always thought he was awful cute."
Yes! Lois closed her eyes. This was progress, finally. "Do you have any idea where he went?"
"Oh, sure." Kari shrugged. "He looked like he needed some help, so I thought of what *I* did when I wanted to dig up repressed memories. My kind of aliens don't want you to remember anything, you know."
"Where. Is. He?" With great restraint she managed not to yell.
"I called my hypno-therapist. She came and took him — I'm assuming they went to her office."
"And do you know where that is?"
"It's only a couple of blocks west of here. I'll get you the address." She vanished around the corner into what Lois assumed was a kitchen, rummaging around. She tried to calm her heart rate. Although part of her problem was that Kal was agitated, and leaking the emotion through the bond.
Francine touched her shoulder. "It's okay, Lois. We're gonna bring him home."
"Kal?" Where did he think he was going? "Kal!"
Through the failing light she saw him stop, his shoulders slumping. He turned to face her, but made no move towards her. By the time she reached him she was slightly breathless. "What are you doing?"
He shrugged, not quite meeting her eyes. "Going for a walk."
Right, just a quiet stroll to take some air. She was certain she'd locked that door. "But how did you—"
"Escape your locked office?" he finished for her helpfully, smiling in a not particularly friendly fashion. "The lock just wasn't that sturdy, I guess. So why did you feel it necessary to lock me in?"
She took a deep breath, stalling for a few seconds. "Kal, you're not well. You don't know who you are or where anything is — I just didn't want you to get yourself into any trouble."
He seemed unimpressed. "So it was for my own good?"
"If you must put it that way, yes. Kal, we were on the track of something, something important. You can't just walk away from that. If this is anything to do with Nightfall…" She paused, seeing a flicker of unease in his expression. "Then it is imperative that we continue our efforts."
She sensed that he might be wavering, and held up the paper sack. "Look, just come back long enough to share this dinner with me. I got some fried chicken and some ham. I've already bought it; we may as well eat it. I certainly can't eat all of this myself."
"Well, maybe… no." His expression hardened. "When I recover my memory, I'll pay you back."
Time for a change of tactics. Putting on her best impassive look, she mentioned, "It can be a rough neighborhood around here."
He glanced around. "I suppose."
She set the dinner bag on the ground and slid one hand into her purse. "For my own safety, I've gotten into the habit of carrying a gun." She tilted the purse slightly towards, so that he could see her hand on the trigger. It took all her self control to present an appearance of calm. "It's not licensed, so I'd rather not use it, but…"
He tensed, his eyes flickering from her purse to her face. Judging the threat? She couldn't be sure but she doubted that a mere bullet could harm him. However, he didn't know that.
She smiled. "We wouldn't want the food to get cold, now, would we?"
He didn't feel nearly as scared as he thought he should. Generally, when people have guns trained on them, they're terrified, right? But amidst the sense of urgency that had been growing for the past half-hour, the most he felt was a mild concern. It wasn't that he thought she was bluffing. She seemed like the sort of person who could shoot someone, then walk home to eat dinner in perfect composure.
"This is pointless, you know," he commented, shifting his weight slightly. The purse smoothly tracked the movement. "I don't know anything, unhypnotized, and I won't agree to be hypnotized again."
She gave a light, ladylike snort. "There are ways… Kal, I cannot emphasize strongly enough—"
The waterfall in his mind abruptly flared to brilliant life, speeding up and spraying drops of joy. It demanded his attention and was deeply pleasing, in a way he couldn't explain.
"Kal!" A voice called from a little ways behind him. A familiar voice? He turned to see, and found himself hugged tightly by a brown-haired woman who felt absolutely right in his arms. "Oh, god, we found you…" She reached up to grab his head in her hands and kiss him. He slid his arms around her waist, enjoying, if not fully understanding, the moment.
Too quickly, she pulled back far enough to inspect him. "Are you okay? Where have you been? How much do you remember? I was so worried!"
"I'm fine," he said. "But I don't remember much of anything."
"Which is why," Gwen interposed acidly, "he should immediately return to my office to continue his therapy. We've been making excellent progress."
The woman in his arms merely glanced at the doctor before continuing her study of his face. It was highly distracting, but a movement to the side caught his attention. Turning his head to face Gwen, he saw that she was still holding her purse/gun. Only now it was pointed at the newcomer.
He still didn't feel concerned about being wounded or killed. But the threat to this woman — who he didn't even know, really — — terrified him.
Lois ran her hands up Kal's arms and around his neck. He seemed not to recognize her, but at the moment she really didn't care. He was alive and well, standing right in front of her. She felt weak with relief and the release of tension.
Unexpectedly, she felt a spark of fear — it was coming from Kal. He couldn't possibly be afraid of her, could he? He was, however, focused on the older woman who'd interrupted them. Lois looked, as well, to find the other woman staring at her, a paper sack at her feet, and a rather awkward grasp of a purse. "I'm sorry, who are you?"
"I'm Dr. Porter," the woman said coolly. "And I must ask you to unhand my patient."
Her grip tightened. "No way."
"Kal? Kindly tell your friend that you need to come with me." The purse swung slightly, and Lois caught her breath. That woman had a weapon of some sort in there, Kal knew it, and it was pointing straight at her.
"Look, lady," Lois said flatly. "This is my fiance we're talking about." There was a slight jerk of surprise from Kal. "I've been looking for him all day, and you can't imagine how utterly important it is that he come with me."
"No," said the doctor, adjusting her grip on her purse. "He needs to come with me. The fate of the world depends upon it."
Lois blinked at the woman's dead serious tone. What did she know? She loosened her grip, moving a half-step back.
"Say goodbye to your friend, Kal," the doctor ordered, with an ominous little wave of the purse.
Kal met Lois's eyes, and she could see the turmoil there. He was afraid for her? It was sweet, but showed how very little he remembered about himself or her. **It's okay,** she thought at him, then swept a leg out in a high arc, kicking the purse toward the middle of the street.
The gun discharged as it flew toward the street, mortally wounding a trash can. At the same time, the doctor cried in surprise and anger. After one wide-eyed glance at Lois, Kal moved forward to capture the woman's arms and hold them behind her back.
Gwen struggled, but Kal had no trouble keeping hold of her. He was having some trouble absorbing all that had just happened, though. The mystery woman was his fiance? Squinting at her, he asked, "Lois?"
She flashed him a smile before darting out into the deserted street to claim the handbag and contents. Holding it carefully by one strap, she peered inside. "What a nice bag you've got here," she said, rejoining them on the sidewalk. "Sorry about the bullet hole, but if you hadn't had your finger on the trigger… see, one of the things Kal's forgotten is that until just recently I was an Army officer."
Gwen slumped, the fight going out of her. "You have no idea what you've done. You've killed us all."
Lois was untroubled. "Actually—"
She was interrupted by a dry voice. "Drop all the weapons! This is the police."
It seemed to take forever to get things settled, but Francine, arriving just behind Henderson, did a lot of the explaining. Lois couldn't really concentrate on those details. Her attention was taken up by Kal. There were so many things she wanted to ask, to do and to say, but for the moment, she was focused on the simple pleasure of being held by him. He seemed to derive as much comfort from the contact as she did.
"Okay, kids, that's about all we need for now," Henderson announced finally.
"Thank you! So we can go now?"
He pulled out a notebook and a pen. "I need contact information for both of you—"
"Francine knows our address; can you get it from her? I just want to take him home."
His face softened slightly. "Yeah, okay. Get out of here. Tell you what — Peters here will drive you home in the squad car."
Lois smiled. "I'd appreciate that. Metro cabbies are bad enough during the day, let alone after dark."
The ride back to their apartment was quiet. Kal kept studying her when he thought she wasn't looking; when she caught him at it, she'd just smile and squeeze his hand. Lois led the way from the street up to their apartment, and let them inside.
Alone at last.
He wasn't alone. Amid all the swirl of confusing details, that fact was his favorite. He savored the thought that he was loved — that *Lois* loved him. He still remembered next to nothing about her — at least not with his mind. His heart knew her and wanted to stay with her forever.
"So…" He stood next to the sofa, unsure what to do. She looked tired.
"Just… have a seat, Kal. I'll make some coffee."
"Okay," he replied, sitting down. "Do I like coffee?"
"Yes," she said, spooning dark-colored crystals into a small whitish basket. "You take it black, just like me."
"Okay." She continued to fuss around in the kitchen while he examined his surroundings. Superficially, it resembled Gwen's office — neat and uncluttered, with several plants. But it felt entirely different. It wasn't cool and reserved, it was welcoming and warm. An impression that was reinforced by the smell of coffee that began to permeate the room.
Lois came to the sofa and sat next to him. It felt natural to put an arm around her shoulder; she snuggled into his side. What had he done to get this lucky?
There was a long moment of comfortable silence.
Eventually, Lois stirred. "I missed you," she said softly. "I was so scared I'd lost you… I don't think I could do that again."
He raised an eyebrow. "Had you lost me before?"
She shrugged. "Sort of — it's a long story."
He looked around the quiet room. "We seem to have some time."
"True enough. Let me get the coffee." She walked to the kitchen, then came back a few moments later with two mugs of dark steaming liquid. When she handed one to him, he took a cautious sip. Not too hot, and a strong taste, but he decided she'd been right. He did like coffee.
"So." Lois set down her mug and turned sideways toward him. "You are Lord Kal-El, of the House of El, of New Krypton."
He frowned. "That sounds right, but… where is that? Europe?"
"Not exactly. Um… I'm not sure how to say this, but… you're from another planet."
"What?" It seemed impossible, but she was dead serious. It gave him a cold and lonely feeling. "Are you from there, too?"
"No, I've never been there," she said, dashing that hope. "From what you've told me, it's a pretty… severe place. Duty is everything, emotions are to be repressed…"
He nodded, thinking back. "I remember some of that. Mak-Ra was saying I should only trust myself, never anyone else, not all the way. And there was something about… did I rule the planet or something?"
Her lips twisted in a half-smile. "You were supposed to. You didn't really want to, but you were afraid the society would fall apart without you — something about the balance of power."
Fear struck at his heart; he'd known there was something he must do, was this it? "Do I have to go back there?"
She reached for his hand. "No. You found a way to leave them in good shape. It's pretty funny, actually, but very complicated, so I'll wait 'til later for that, okay?"
He supposed he'd have to trust her on this. "Okay… but how did I get here, then?"
"You were sent to spy on us." She grinned. "You spent a few years observing and learning about our cultures, and then you were supposed to go home, but…"
He thought he could guess. "I met you?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"Did we like each other right away?" It felt so *odd* to hear about his life this way, but it was vastly better than not knowing.
She squirmed a little. "Well, we didn't *not* like each other. There was a brief conversation while we were trying to put out a fire — and then the next time we met, I had a gun on you."
He looked askance at that. "You wanted to shoot me?"
"What I wanted was for you to turn the space ship around and take us home — one of your crewmen had kidnapped us…"
Kidnapped them? Who was 'them'? And what kind of society was he from, anyway?
Next to him, Lois shrugged. "Anyway, like I said it's a long story, but we spent some time together over the next week, and… fell in love," she ended simply.
That part he had absolutely no trouble believing. "So I came back here with you?"
She grimaced. "Not right away; we didn't think you'd be able to. But then you figured a way out of the problem, and came back a few days ago."
"A lot of this is sounding familiar. I remember a moment from not that long ago — in this room, I think — you and I were there, along with Brenda and some other woman."
"Really? What did you think of it?"
"I thought that you were all I'd ever want in a woman — but that you weren't real."
She'd begun to smile during the first half of that sentence, but then the second half had clearly puzzled her. "Why would you think that?"
"I… don't know, really." Now that she mentioned it, that *was* strange. He hadn't doubted his memories where New Krypton was concerned. Why this one? "I was convinced that you were just a dream, that I was alone, and…" Maybe this was a clue. "…that I should stay with Dr. Porter. All things considered, she's my prime suspect."
"Well, she sure didn't want you going off with me, so maybe that's it. That woman gave me the creeps."
"She made me uneasy, too, but I didn't see that I had another choice. She said I was subconsciously blocking my memories, but that hypno-therapy could help me retrieve them."
Lois tilted her head to one side. "Sounds like post-traumatic stress to me. From what I remember hearing in the Army, your memories should be coming back on their own in the next day or two."
"That would be good," he admitted. "I was… *hungry* to get my memories back."
"Which is why you put up with Dr. Porter so long, I'll bet." Lois leaned against him. "So how'd you end up out on the street with her trying to force you back inside?"
"Ah… I was waiting inside when she got a call — I heard Brenda's voice on the answering machine. So then I figured you must be real. How did you find me?"
"It took all day, but I tracked you down — the girl from the shelter this morning said you'd gone off with a Dr. Porter, and that she had an office in that block… I'm glad you were outside, though; it made things a lot easier."
"Well, I didn't really know where I was going," he confessed, leaning back against the sofa. "But I had to get out of there."
She leaned back, too, sighing a little, and looked up at him. "I'm glad you did."
"Me, too." Slowly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, he bent his head and kissed her.
Lois relaxed into the kiss. It felt as if she'd been missing this for weeks, and it had wrung her heart to see that lost uncertain expression in his eyes. An unhurried embrace was just what they both needed. **I love you so much, Kal.**
All too soon, he broke the kiss, pulling back to stare into her eyes. He was throwing off sparks of uncertainty in her mind. "Um, did I just hear… no, never mind."
He looked sheepish. "It just sounded like you were talking, but we were kissing, so…" "Oh." She smiled. "Did I forget to mention that you're telepathic?"
He sat back, staring at her. "Yes!"
"Well, I can't do it very well, and only with you, but all Kryptonians are telepathic, apparently."
His eyes went distant. "I'll bet that explains it."
He focused on her again, smiling ruefully. "In some of my memories, I thought people were whispering… but it was probably telepathy."
"Might have been, yeah." She had a flashback to sitting in a shuttle with Ching and Zara, frustrated that the two of them were ignoring each other… until she'd realized they were speaking silently. "It was quite a surprise for me — just hearing about it, and then realizing I could do it, just a little. Only with you, though." She smiled at him.
He looked intrigued. "Why can you do it with me?"
She took a breath. How to explain that? "Well, you said emotions weren't encouraged on New Krypton, but that occasionally a couple would bond telepathically. They'd be linked, and could feel each other's feelings. I can sense you; I visualize you as a ball of fire, sort of."
"This awareness… have I ever told you what it felt like, on my end?"
"You said it was like a waterfall."
"Yeah… so that's what that is. I've been wondering all day long!" He grinned at her. "Thought I was going crazy there for a bit. So, do you have any other shocks to my system?"
Lois thought about the fragment of Nightfall tumbling towards Earth, and looked at Kal's open, trusting face. It was so comfortable just to sit here with him… and what the heck, it wasn't due to hit for another two days. "Have I mentioned that we're getting married?"
"I think you alluded to it, yeah…" He stared down at her, studying her. "It's the weirdest thing. Just about the only memories I have are of duty, responsibility, self-control. But then I saw you… it was as if my world had been black and white, and suddenly went Technicolor."
She smiled and snuggled. "That's beautiful. Oh, it's wonderful just to be here with you. Even if you don't know who I am."
"I know enough," he said, dropping a kiss on her hair. "I love you, Lois."
Her stomach in knots, Gwen dialed a familiar number, looking around the station house to make sure no one was eavesdropping. She had a right to one phone call, and a right to privacy, and she was grimly pleased to see that the police were honoring both.
"This is Trask." The sound of his voice nailed down her wandering attention. "What is it?"
"This is Gwen Porter," she stated coolly. She really didn't know if he'd work with her here, but she had to try. "I need someone to post bond for me. There's something terribly urgent I need to do," or at least attempt, she thought, and looked around again to be sure no one was listening. "I can't do it from in jail."
"Well, well, well." Trask sounded alarmingly amused. "Got yourself into trouble?"
She didn't miss the distancing in that phrasing. Her fingers curled around the phone line. "No, I was pursuing the investigation you sent me on," she reminded him. There were only a few ways to extract help from Jason Trask, she'd found. Appealing to his sense of responsibility wasn't one of them.
The best way was to be useful to him. "I was — am, if you get me out of here — following a hugely promising lead."
"How about you tell me what that lead is, and I'll tell you if it's promising?"
She nearly laughed. "How about I don't. Get me out of here, Trask, or you may not live to regret it."
Kal was the world's best hope — she didn't put much stock in the rocket they were planning to launch. NASA couldn't even notice alien incursions; how were they supposed to be expected to do anything competently? It was Kal or worldwide destruction. She had to locate him.
"What are the charges?" Trask asked in a tone that if not warm, was at least no longer amused. She closed her eyes briefly. This was working. A moment's thought convinced her that this was a bad time to tell him about the manslaughter charge.
"Possession of an unlicensed handgun." Her nostrils flared. Such a stupid charge. Gun control laws were meant to impede *criminals*, not people like her. "They've set a ridiculously high bail amount."
"Oh, really?" Trask was amused again. "Isn't that ironic? You think they'd be interested in proof that you're practicing psychotherapy without a license?"
Damn that paper trail. Driven to her last ropes, she took a deep breath. "Not nearly so interested as they would be about Bureau 39."
"You don't want to do that," he stated quietly, all amusement gone.
"No, I don't. But I will if I have to. I think the American people would be greatly interested to know how their tax dollars are spent."
There was a moment's pause, and she found herself holding her breath. "I'll have someone there in half an hour. You'll be out in time for dinner."
It would have to be an awfully late dinner, she thought, irrelevantly. Never mind. She exhaled slowly, feeling trembly. She'd done it. "That will be acceptable."
Kal wished he could stay there forever, with Lois in his arms. Although he suspected Lois might fall asleep soon, and he wasn't quite sure what they'd been doing about bedtime arrangements. Did they make love? On some level that felt wrong, but he couldn't say why. At any rate, this couch wasn't very comfortable, so he'd have to move her sooner or later…
All too soon, though, the phone rang. Lois startled, and sat up. It rang again, and while Kal was wondering if he ought to answer, she reached for the receiver. "Hello?"
"Oh, hi Brenda. Yeah, it's okay." She smiled at Kal. "He's right here."
Brenda? Come to think of it, the voice on the other end of the line did sound familiar. He concentrated on it, and it seemed as if it got louder and clearer as he listened. "Is he okay?"
"He's fine — still can't remember much, but we're working on that." A chuckle. "You go, girl. Remind him of the fun stuff first."
Lois grinned. "Don't worry, I have been."
"But, ah, don't take too long to tell him about Nightfall, sweetie. It's gonna hit, when, Sunday?"
The rest of the conversation passed unheeded as Kal was bombarded with images. Space, a huge mountain of rock, a desperate struggle to return to Earth… Suddenly, the crater made sense. Wow. But he'd done it, hadn't he?
No, Gwen had said there was still a threat. A suffocating heat enveloped him, as panic squeezed his heart. He had to do something…
"Kal?" Lois's voice intruded on his thoughts.
He looked up. "How am I supposed to do it?"
She blinked. "Do what?"
"Save the world," he replied. "I have to do something, I'm just not quite sure what."
Her face registered dismay. "How did you… oh, never mind." She sighed, then said cryptically, "Superhearing."
He ignored that, preoccupied with the topic at hand. "I know there's a huge chunk of an asteroid out there — Gwen told me — and when Brenda mentioned it, I started to remember… but not enough!"
"Yes, okay." Lois took hold of both his hands, sitting facing him. "You flew off into space to shatter Nightfall. And you did it. But I guess it was a close thing, because apparently you came back fast and, ah, out of control."
He appreciated the delicacy of that phrasing. "Barely conscious would probably describe it better. But there's still a threat."
She grimaced. "Yes, but it's not due to hit for three more days, and you're not going back out there yet."
"Lois, you have to tell me how I did it—" If he'd done it before, he could do it again, right? Only maybe a little smarter this time? "I can really fly?"
"Yes, Kal, but…" She overrode him, squeezing his hands. "I just got you back. I spent last night here without you, and I don't plan to go another night alone. You can go in the morning, maybe, but not right now."
He frowned. "Can you sleep with a killer asteroid on the way?"
"Now that I have you here, yes," she assured him. "Don't go anywhere tonight. Please?"
He fell silent, unhappy with waiting, but unwilling to distress Lois anymore. He could feel her fear and desperation rippling through his mind, far stronger than she was allowing to show in her face. Well… another twelve hours couldn't hurt, could it? And maybe by morning he'd remember. He pushed the nagging restlessness back. "Okay. So, um… where do I sleep?"
"You sleep with me, Kal," Lois said, looking calmer. Her waterfall smoothed out.
Kal glanced at her, feeling strangely uneasy. "Um, Lois… it's not that I'm not interested, but…"
She seemed to interpret that accurately, and smiled. "We're just going to cuddle and sleep. Honest."
"Oh, okay." In that case, Kal felt free to enjoy the continued intimacy. "Do I have any pajamas?"
"Yeah, sort of," she said, getting up from the sofa. "I'll get them for you."
A few minutes later he was changed and ready to crawl into bed next to Lois. "I'm ah, glad to wear my own clothes again," he said to fill the silence. "Those other things weren't too bad, but… they weren't mine."
She looked up. "Well, I've seen you look better. But by the time I found you, I was so glad to see you that I didn't care *what* you were wearing." She laughed. "You could have been wearing my chicken costume!"
He paused halfway into bed. "Is this something I *want* to remember?"
She giggled, his internal waterfall shimmying slightly. "It's not high on my list of Things You Need to Know."
"Uh-huh." He crawled the rest of way into the bed and lay there, looking at Lois only a foot away. This felt so natural, and at the same time, utterly strange.
"I was just making a point…" Her voice trailed off and her eyes lost focus. "If someone's relieved and grateful," she said slowly, thinking out loud, "they're not too picky. Kal, you need to have your superhero debut tomorrow. Fly into a press conferences, maybe. Your first public act will be saving the world."
Kal's eyes got wide. "Superhero?" he echoed. "Look, I'm willing to try to take care of the asteroid, or whatever it is. If I can. But it sounds like you're talking about a full-fledged career here!"
Oh, right. Even though he looked like Kal and kissed like Kal, he wasn't yet fully himself. It was hard to remember that. "Yeah, I kind of am," she agreed. "We'd talked about it before — — actually, I think it was your idea." His eyes widened further. "What… why…" He waved a hand in the air, apparently trying to conjure up words and failing. "How?" he finally demanded.
"I'll explain it, Kal, really." She laid a hand on his arm. "I know this is weird for you. Sometimes *I* still have trouble believing the things we've talked about."
"Fill me in on that, please."
"Okay." She took a deep breath. "It's to do with you coming from another planet…"
It was more than an hour before Trask made good on his promise. Gwen had counted every minute in this blasted jail cell. She had expected him to send a lawyer, someone low-profile. Instead, Trask had sent a muscle-bound flunky wearing camoflague. He'd looked almost impressed when he found out about the manslaughter charge. Still, he'd gotten her released, and now she stood on the sidewalk, searching for a cab to hail.
"Where to now, ma'am?" the flunky asked.
She dismissed him with merely a glance. "You can crawl back under your rock. I am going home."
"Colonel Trask said I was to keep an eye on you, ma'am." She ignored that, and after a moment, he added, "He wants to see you."
"The Colonel will have to wait until tomorrow." She had research to do and plans to formulate, but most importantly, she needed a long hot shower. And possibly burn her suit. She spotted a taxi and whistled for it.
"Ma'am, if you don't come with me, I'll only follow you." He seemed apologetic but determined.
The taxi pulled up and she opened the door. "You may do whatever you like."
"I'll be watching your apartment."
"As you please." She sat herself in the back seat. "I'll go with you tomorrow, if you're there. If not, Trask knows how to contact me."
The goon looked almost impressed again. She pulled the door shut before he could get notions of sharing the cab, and gave the driver her address.
As he pulled out into traffic she inspected the seat. Finding it reasonably clean, she relaxed against the back rest.
Trask was free to engage in paranoid delusions about her running away, but that was the last thing she intended to do. Kal was somewhere in Metropolis still, she assumed, and she needed to find him. After a hot shower and a good night's sleep, of course. One must be practical. But she would track him down. The fate of the world — and her future prestige — was at stake.
Powers. Abilities. She'd told him about all sorts of things he was supposed to be able to do. It seemed unreal. He couldn't even grasp the concept. And he was going to do this in public? For free?
Oddly enough, that thought steadied him. If he was doing it for free, then it was a form of service to the community. That was a concept he knew well. If he had the capability to do things that others could not, good and useful things, then… it would be his duty to do them.
He only hoped that he really *had* the capability; if so, it certainly wasn't apparent to him. But apparently he'd thought so before, and Lois thought so now. "A superhero. Right." He refocused on Lois's face. "So, you were saying something about a debut tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I thought it might be good timing." She shrugged. "We wouldn't have to, but it's a great opportunity."
He nodded slowly, trying to wrap his mind around the idea. "I can see that, I guess. Seize the publicity high ground, as it were. I don't think I'm really after publicity, though, am I?"
"No, and that's why it's perfect," she explained, a smile growing as she talked. "You've just saved the world; they'd give you just about anything." "Well," he thought aloud, "if you want them to be that grateful, maybe we should let the rock keep coming for another day or two?"
She swatted him. "I'll assume that was a joke. You have to do it tomorrow, because if you wait until the weekend, there will probably be riots and panic all around the world, and people will get hurt. And Friday's not good for you; you're previously engaged."
"You and I have an appointment with the justice of the peace, and we're getting married." She frowned and looked at him in dismay. "At least, if you get your memory back. You don't want to marry a virtual stranger — it wouldn't be fair."
He leaned across the small space between them and kissed her. "Trust me. I want to marry you. All I've lost is details."
The worry seemed to recede, though a faint trace remained. "Well, you'll probably remember everything by then, anyway."
"No doubt," he agreed. He was remembering little things here and there. In another day and a half he'd likely remember everything. And if he hadn't, he'd do his best to fake it.
"So anyway," she said, getting back on track. "You'll save the world, introduce yourself, and tell your story."
"It would help if I knew what my story was," he muttered, reluctantly amused.
"Yeah, we'll have to figure out something — I've got some ideas on that, though, so remind me to mention them," she said. "You introduce yourself, then gracefully bow out. The humble hero. They'll love it."
"So…" He tried to picture the scene. "I just say 'hello, my name is Kal, and I'm from another planet'? 'I just saved the world, but there's no charge. Later!'?"
Lois giggled. "Something like that. Although you can't let them know your real name. Well, okay, it's really a fake name, at least partially, but it's the one you'll be using for our private life."
He contemplated that. "So I'll be an alien with an alias?"
"Yep," she confirmed, her eyes dancing with mischief. "Two of them, actually. Trouble is, we couldn't think of any superhero names for you. Can't use Superman — that's already taken, and they'd probably sue for copyright infringement."
"Right… I'll just assume that made sense."
"Another long story. Anyway, we need a different name. A whole different kind of name," she added decisively. "Not AdjectiveMan."
He was still adrift, but decided to go with the flow. Either he'd figure it out or remember everything. Sooner or later. In the meantime it was fun to watch her think. "Then where do you start?"
"Maybe something associated with Nightfall," she mused, her eyes narrowing and staring into the middle distance. "Or would that be too negative?"
"Not if I stop it from harming anyone," he pointed out, then continued in a light tone. "And if I don't stop it, I don't think anyone will care what I call myself." The thought was chilling. Life without Lois wouldn't be worth living, he was certain.
Possibly the same thoughts were going through her mind — he thought he saw a glimpse of fear on her face before she schooled her expression back to a smile.
"I'll stop it, Lois. I promise."
Her smile wavered just a trifle, then came back stronger. "I know you will."
"So then what will we call me?" he asked, wanting to steer her back towards happier topics.
"Names. Right. You're going to wear black and burgundy, I think we decided — assuming we can get a suit ready by tomorrow. I'll have to call Francine first thing in the morning and hope either she or Brenda can sew."
"Burgundy?" That just didn't sound right, somehow.
"It's what you wore on the ship. Sort of. We could think of it as a dark red…"
That didn't seem like much of an improvement, but if those were his colors, then those were his colors. "Yeah, I guess."
"And maybe we ought to add silver accents, to lighten it up a bit. Anyway, with a dark-colored suit like that, we don't want a dark-sounding name, either, so nothing with 'night' or 'dark' in it. We want you to look approachable and trustworthy."
She paused, and he felt it appropriate to let her know he was listening. "What else then?"
"I don't know… Tsunami? Nah, too negative. Maybe something that references your flying, like 'wing' or 'sky' or something…"
"FlyBoy?" he quipped, but she was paying no attention. Her eyes narrowed, and then she was looking at him again, wearing a triumphant expression.
"I've got it."
With some trepidation he asked, "What?"
"Windfall. The 'wind' part is for flying, and the 'fall' part is for Nightfall, as in, the hero who stopped it. But the best part is, 'windfall' means unexpected good fortune, which definitely describes you."
"Windfall," he repeated, testing out the syllables. "Well… I like the double meaning. As long as people take it that way, and not think it means I tend to fall out of the sky."
She just rolled her eyes, then scooted toward him, snuggling up to his side. "I think it'll be just fine."
He wrapped his arms around her. "How about we sleep on it, and see what we think in the morning?" With any luck, he'd remember himself by then.
"That sounds like a good idea," she said and yawned. "Sorry — it's been a long day."
"It's okay," he told her. "Go to sleep. I'll be right here."
Seven hours later, Kal woke up. A quick glance around the room confirmed his theory of where he was. He'd had some strange dreams, though he couldn't really remember them. He had to assume his memory was on its way back. He turned on his side to see Lois, her short hair fanned messily across the pillow, her mouth partially open. Even so, she was beautiful. He reached over to gently smooth back her hair and tuck some behind one ear. She didn't stir.
She must, he thought, trust him very much to be this relaxed. His inner waterfall was slowed to a trickle. Because she was sleeping? He'd have to ask her.
Such a strange life she'd been telling him about. Spaceships, superheroes, and secret identities. It was a shame that the spaceships weren't available anymore, but he would make do with what he had. Could he be a superhero? Lois seemed to think so. For her, he was willing to try. And that entailed having a secret identity. Not that it was all that secret, he supposed, but he had a feeling that Brenda and Francine could be trusted.
Dr. Porter, on the other hand… his stomach clenched as he realized how much she knew or could guess. True, she had no proof, but based on some of the things she'd said out there on the street, she seemed to think he had the power to save the world. And she seemed perfectly capable of using any knowledge against him.
Beside him, Lois stirred. She lifted her head and opened her eyes with a frown. "What is it?"
"What is what?"
She turned on her side to face him. "You're worried about something," she stated matter of factly.
Oh. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up."
She waved that away. "That's not important. What is it that you're worried about?"
Curiosity overtook him. "Don't you know? I mean, if you know I'm worried…"
"I know what you're feeling, Kal. I don't know *why* you're feeling it. I don't like not knowing. Have you recovered your memories?"
He shrugged. "Not really. I had some weird dreams, I think, but I don't remember them much. I was just thinking about Dr. Porter."
"Dr. who? Oh, right. Does she know about you and Nightfall?"
She was amazing. Give Lois one clue, and she'll manage to figure out incredible things. He was pretty certain he'd known that before. "Not for certain, but I think she's guessed it. She knows about New Krypton. Obviously she doesn't know much — I didn't know much. I didn't tell her everything I remembered, either, but still."
Lois grimaced. "That's going to be a problem." She fell silent for a moment, then shot him a quick, apprehensive look. "I don't know how you'd deal with this on New Krypton, but we are not going to do anything to her to keep her quiet."
"Lois! Of course not." He tried to suppress his indignation.
It didn't seem to work. A look of regret crossed her face, and she reached over to touch his arm. "I'm sorry, Kal. I didn't mean to imply…"
"Oh, it's okay." He let the anger fade. "Much as I hate to admit it, you had reason to be concerned."
She shrugged apologetically. "Every society has some bad apples. I shouldn't judge you by them."
A brief flash of memory sped past him. He frowned, trying to catch and make sense of it.
"I just remembered something. I think. I don't know where we were. You were dressed…" His mind's eye lingered over the appealing sight of Lois in scraps of lace. "…in not much. Francine and Brenda were there, too." More of the memory unfolded, dashing his momentary pleasure. "There was a man there, looking at you." He remembered the hot rush of anger he'd felt, standing by passively, and despised himself. "He was threatening to rape you, Lois, and I just stood there!"
Her eyes widened in sudden comprehension. "Lord Nor. Kal, he didn't get a chance to do anything. We were pretending to have been captured so we could get on his ship, but the pretense didn't last all that long. You wouldn't have let him hurt me, okay?"
More bits of memory returned, enough to confirm what she was saying, and he let out a trembling breath. "If that's your experience with New Kryptonians," he said bitterly, "it's no wonder you think the worst of us."
"If I've seen the worst, Kal. I've also seen the best. I love you, I trust you, and I respect you… you're just, you know, not exactly yourself right now."
He couldn't argue with that. "Well, if we've ruled out violence, then what do we do?"
"There you are!"
Francine winced at this explosive greeting, but continued on to her desk. "Good morning, Brenda."
"I was trying to call you all last night," Brenda announced, coming to sit on the corner of Francine's desk.
Maybe she ought to put a plant there as a visitor-repellant.
Oblivious, Brenda continued, "I want to know what happened!"
Francine pulled out some file folders at random. "I left a message, didn't I?"
Brenda rolled her eyes. "Honey, 'we found him' does not begin to cover what I want to know. I called Lois, but she was busy." A smirk emerged, only to disappear again beneath the surface of indignant disapproval. "So I confidently expected to hear about it from you, girlfriend, but I guess you were avoiding me."
What a nice idea… Just keep away from Brenda until she sorted out what she was feeling. Of course, the trouble with that was, it might take weeks — if not months — and she didn't have the time.
"No, it's not that," she insisted, irked. "I wasn't home." Geez, didn't Brenda know when to quit?
"Well, you weren't here or at Lois and Kal's place, either, so where the heck were you?"
Obviously not. "I can have other friends, you know."
Brenda snorted. "You could — but you don't. Come on, what was it?"
Maybe she could get by with part of the truth. It seemed unlikely, but what the heck, it was worth a try. "Okay, I went back to the police station to give them some background details. And then after that… I went to a coffee shop." Despite herself, a smile slipped out. "I just got home late."
Brenda leaned forward, frankly staring at her. "Well, damn! You had a date!"
"No, no, no. It wasn't a date."
"No, of course not," Brenda said, smiling. "And you're not blushing now, either, are you?"
Blushing? She hadn't done that in several decades…
"Francine, this is great! Do I know him? When did you meet him? What did you talk about, and was it just talking, or did you get some action?"
"Brenda!" After that token protest, Francine sat back and surrendered. "His name is Bill — I don't think you know him. He's a cop. I met him a coupla years back, before I was at the Metro Club."
"A cop?" Brenda's eyes sparkled. "That makes a change from sleeping with a mob boss."
Francine shuddered. "You're telling me. Johnny was lousy in all kindsa ways. And it wasn't a date," she insisted once again. "We were just talking. No action, okay?"
"That's a shame." Brenda was enjoying this far too much. "Maybe next time. Speaking of which, when will that be?"
"I don't know, all right?" She sighed. "I thought it went pretty well — I mean, apart from anything else, he asked me. But it's hard to tell with that guy. He said he was just catching up; maybe he was. Hell, maybe he was trying to cultivate me as a source. I mean, at my age…"
"Hey, you look pretty damn good for someone ten years younger than you," Brenda said. Thank God the laughter was gone, but the sympathy was almost worse.
"Yeah, well, we'll see."
"Hmm." Brenda retreated to her own desk for a moment, at least, blessedly silent. "Y'know," she said finally in a suspiciously airy tone. "Somebody's going to have to check back with the police today. At some point. Just to see what's been happening."
"For crying out loud, Brenda…"
"Speaking of which," she continued with barely a pause. "You still haven't told *me* what happened! I want details, girl!"
Any topic was better than the one they'd been on. "Okay, fine. Lois called the homeless shelter and got some names…"
"I don't know," Lois finally said. "Did Dr. Porter seem like the sort to blackmail people?"
Kal considered that, then shook his head. "I think she'd want everyone to know how clever she'd been."
"Of course." She sighed. "Well, we can't do anything about it right now, so let's work on something else. Have you remembered how to fly yet?"
He grimaced. "Not really. I *do* know how, right?"
"Yeah, you do. It'll come back to you," she predicted with more confidence that she felt. Not that she could hide it from him. "The theory here is that some deep unconscious part of you doesn't want to remember yourself, because if you do, you'll have to fly back out into space and that deep part is deeply scared, right?"
"Right." He frowned. "It's cowardly and pathetic."
"No, it's not! It's post-traumatic stress. You haven't got any control over this, Kal." On this issue it was easy to project confidence and reassurance. "You'll remember. The memories are coming back to you, and we've got plenty of time. How about we talk to Francine about a costume?"
"Might as well." He tried to remember how he'd interacted with Francine before. "Lead the way, m'lady."
Lois walked into the theater office, holding Kal's hand and loving life. "Hey, girls, how's show business?"
Brenda looked up first and she beamed at them. "Lois! Kal! It is *so* good to see you!"
Francine's expression was, as always, more reserved. But Lois thought she definitely looked happy.
After a general round of greetings, Brenda shot a glance at Lois and said in a quieter tone, "Have you told him yet?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "No, you did — he heard you, on the phone last night." She seated herself in the guest chair. Kal stood behind her with one hand on her shoulder, leaning against the wall. She'd told him who the girls were, but suspected he still might feel awkward with them.
Brenda's eyes went wide and she slapped a hand to her mouth. "Damn! I'm sorry. One of these years I'll figure a way to keep my trap shut."
"I doubt that," Lois said with a grin. "But I forgive you, because you were a huge help in finding Kal."
"Aw, hell, Lois, all I did is make some phone calls!"
"And you left messages," Kal said. "I recognized your voice. Thank you."
"Damn," Brenda repeated in a softer tone. Then she looked at Lois and the familiar spark of mischief returned. "Didn't I say you'd owe me one? Mm-hmm, I'm gonna have to think of something *good.*"
Lois laughed. "Well, you can *ask*…"
"If it's reasonable, it's yours," Kal promised with a soft smile. "But that's a one-time only ticket, so think long and hard."
"Francine, that goes for you, too," Lois added. "I couldn't have done it without you."
"Oh, sure you could have."
"Well, okay, maybe," she allowed with a smirk. "But it would have taken longer, so thanks."
Francine allowed a smile to creep across her face. "Anytime, Lois."
"Yeah, really, she owes you one, Lois," Brenda said with a wicked grin. "She got to look up an old boyfriend."
"Brenda!" Francine's mouth twisted in a frown. "He's not an old boyfriend. Just a guy I used to know."
"Uh-huh." Brenda winked at Lois, who resolved to ask more about this later. "A guy she was pretty happy to run into."
Francine's eyes narrowed, and Lois decided now would be an opportune time to change the subject. "Well, we're here to ask for your help again."
That got both their attentions.
She glanced over her shoulder in an unspoken cue. Really, he should be the one asking. He stood a little taller, crossed his arms over his chest, and said, "I need some sort of outfit."
"Yes!" Brenda pumped her fist in the air. "I knew you were gonna turn him into Superman, Lois."
"An outfit?" Francine raised an eyebrow and ran a critical eye over Kal. He flushed slightly. "I can help you with that, yeah."
"Well, not Superman, exactly."
That got Francine's attention. "Then what?"
Kal moved away from the door and stood leaning on her desk. "Well… if I'm Superman, then everybody and their sleazy reporter friends are going to go looking for Lois. I don't think the whole glasses disguise idea would stand up to close scrutiny."
"They're gonna go after you anyway, honey," Brenda advised. "What can we do?"
"Well, what if I weren't Superman?" he asked. "I know, I've got all the powers and all, but we think we can explain that."
"See, H. G. Wells wrote this book in the late forties," Lois explained. "We think he must have known a Kryptonian, even if the guy didn't actually act as Superman, and that's what gave him the idea for the novel."
"We'll never know who it was. Old Kryptonians didn't like to travel, and the council would not have approved an official visit," Kal said. "And all the records were destroyed when the planet blew up, so even if there was some record of it once, there isn't anymore."
Francine nodded, leaning back in her chair. "Handy."
"So Kal is, what, some sort of descendant?" Brenda asked.
"A descendant?" Kal looked over at Lois, a question clear in his face. He would like to keep this story as close to the truth as possible, and this seemed a bit of a stretch.
She nodded thoughtfully. "We hadn't thought of that, but maybe that would be a nice touch. Give you that extra bit of credibility."
Come to think of it, the Superman symbol did look sort of like the symbol of the House of El… so maybe it had been a relative of his who had served as a model. Though if the man had lived on Earth and not used his powers, Kal wasn't sure he wanted to be related to him.
"Well, if you're not going with the primary colors, what are you looking for?" Francine asked. "I've got lots of fabric around here, but I can get more if we need it."
Of course, Kal had lived here for what, two to three years, and not gone public. Well, he was going to make up for that now, and if he could atone for the negligence of his ancestor, as well, so much the better.
"We had some ideas. Can we see what's available?"
"Yeah, sure." The ladies led him over to the other door out of the office, which led into the backstage area of the theater, chatting about colors and fabrics. He reminded himself that he trusted Lois. And these ladies were their friends. How bad could it be?
Gwen looked about the cluttered warehouse and sniffed her disapproval. True to his word, the goon had been waiting outside her apartment building this morning, and he'd driven her to this place. Bessolo… boulevard, she thought it was, though she'd hardly describe it as such. She assumed the building was owned by the Bureau. With any luck, this would be the first and last time she saw the place.
She glanced at her watch, wishing Trask would hurry. She had only a day to find Kal and gain control of him, and while she was sure her plan would work, she wasn't entirely certain about the timeframe. She hadn't yet decided if she should ask for Trask's help. Lois had said she was ex-military, so the Bureau might be able to locate her. But Trask wouldn't do it without knowing why, and once she told him that, he would attempt to take over and claim credit.
If that was the only way she could locate Kal in time, she supposed she would have to involve Trask. Prestige or not, she did want to live. That could wait a day, though. Much could happen in twenty-four hours.
"Porter." Footsteps echoed as Trask approached.
She turned toward the voice but made no effort to meet him halfway. "Trask."
"What have you told the police, Porter?"
Was he still on about that? "Nothing, of course."
"That's good. No one crosses the Bureau and gets away with it."
She sighed and shifted her weight. "How melodramatic."
"You don't believe me?"
"It's beside the point," she said impatiently. "Look, you wanted to see me; here I am. Can we move this along? I've something important to do."
He studied her for a moment. "Yesterday it sounded like you were on the trail of something big. What was it?"
She bristled. "Nothing — yet. I promise I'll inform you when I have something." Preferrably after her part in saving the world had been well documented.
"I think you're bluffing."
"Think anything you like, Trask. I'll show you."
"You know," he said conversationally, "sometimes when someone thinks they're about to die — or that the world is about to be destroyed — they suddenly develop a conscience. The urge to confess all, to try to right the wrongs they've done."
"And this has what to do with me?"
He barely moved, but suddenly he was holding a large handgun. Pointed straight at her. Shock dried her mouth and scattered her thoughts. "What…?"
"You're a liability, Porter," he announced. "You know too much, and you've threatened to expose me. I can't have that. I wanted this meeting to find out if you knew anything important… but I can see that you don't. Therefore, I have no more need of you."
"Wait, you don't understand…"
The gun fired. Gwen felt herself pushed backwards and down to the dusty floor. Looking at her chest she saw that blood was beginning to stain her white blouse. That would never wash out. With some difficulty, she realized that it wouldn't matter.
The world around her was blurring. Trask was speaking again, but she couldn't make out the words. The arrogant bastard had just doomed the whole planet. At least he wouldn't survive her for long. Her head dropped down to the floor again, landing with a crack she barely felt. The world went dark.
"There. How's that?" Francine stood back to evaluate her handiwork. After some time working backstage, they had moved back into the office for inspection. The light was better. This latest outfit really was pretty good, if she did say so herself. Of course, Kal would probably make anything look good, but the dark colors and tight fit… mmm.
He looked down, frowning. "I don't know… it seems awfully… tight."
"You need it to be tight," Lois told him. Again. "It helps keep you aerodynamic. We could add a cape, thought… what do you think, Francine?"
A cape? Francine tilted her head. "Well, maybe. But I kinda like it this way."
"No cape," said Brenda, leaning on a desk behind him. "Definitely no cape."
Kal frowned over his shoulder at her, a faint flush staining his cheekbones. "I am not going out just in this."
"Yeah, but a cape is just too derivative," Lois argued.
He looked frustrated, then brightened. "How about a vest? I think I remember wearing a long vest."
Francine looked at Lois, who seemed to be considering it. "Yeah, you did. Something straight, just fabric on the back, and with the front sides just hanging down from the collar to the floor…"
"Elegant but different," Francine offered, trying to picture it. "I can do that. You'll just have to give me a little while."
Kal looked relieved. "That would be good."
Lois laughed. "Don't mind us, Kal. You look splendid, really. You need to stand taller, though. Pretend you're addressing the New Kryptonian Council."
He gave her a dubious look, but then straightened up, squared his shoulders, and crossed his arms.
"Oh, yeah." Lois sounded smug. "You look fabulous."
"Drool over him on your own time, Lois," Francine said, taking pity on Kal. "Let me measure for the vest…"
"Okay, and then—"
A knock at the door stunned them all for a second. Francine's eyes widened. Kal couldn't be seen in here with that costume on. "Who is it?" she asked, trying to sound normal.
Kal and Lois started grabbing up the scraps of cloth and sewing equipment, then vanished through the other door.
"It's Henderson. Let me in, Franny."
Oh, god. She shot a warning glare at Brenda, then opened the door. "Hi, Bill." That sounded casual. "What's up?"
He leaned against the door jamb, his eyes sweeping the room. "Nice office. Doing a little sewing?"
Damn. She thought they'd gotten rid of all that. "Yeah, you know, costumes."
"Dresses for the dancers, mostly," Brenda chimed in, moving closer. "So you're Bill Henderson?"
He stuck out a hand. "You must be Brenda." The corner of his mouth twitched. "I've heard a lot about you."
Brenda thought she could interpret that, if her brief scowl in Francine's direction had anything to say about it. She shook Bill's hand. "Don't believe everything you hear."
Bill raised an eyebrow. "Oh, so you're not really a great choreographer? Huh."
It took half a second, but then Brenda rallied. "Well, *that* part's true. Nice to meet you."
"Not that it's not nice to see you, Bill," Francine drawled. "But you don't usually drop by just to chat."
He nodded. "I just wanted to let you know," he said, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "Your Doctor Porter made bail."
That was so unexpected she could only blink.
Brenda rushed in to fill the silence. "How the hell'd she do that? And how much was it, anyway?"
"Last night, after my shift, someone came in to post bond for her. One hundred thousand. Front desk said he looked military, but no uniform."
"A hundred thou?" Brenda whistled. "Man, she's got some connections."
"Yeah," Francine agreed, thinking out loud. "And if she makes the connection between—" She stopped herself, and settled for meeting Brenda's eyes before giving a significant glace to the theater door.
"Connection?" Bill asked. His tone was casual, but his eyes were shrewd.
She should have known thinking out loud was dangerous around him. "Oh, it's nothing."
He just looked at her.
"Okay, so it's something, but it's nothing you could arrest her for."
"I'd like a chance to decide that for myself," he said mildly, his expression turning subtly cooler. "It wouldn't involve your missing person friend, would it?"
She raised her chin and met his gaze squarely, not giving an inch. "It's personal. Nothing that could help your case at all."
He tilted his head a fraction.
"Look, Bill, I've been hanging out with petty crooks and crime bosses for—" Oops, better not say how long it had really been; she'd seem even older than she was. "—for at least a decade now. I know who the good guys and bad guys are." She hadn't always cared, but she'd known. "Kal's a good guy." He'd been hiding so much more than she could have imagined, but she'd still known he was a decent man.
"And that doctor is definitely a bad guy. I promise I'll tell you if I find out anything that can help you get her."
He looked at her for another long moment, then shrugged. "You do that, Franny. I'll check back with you later, then."
"Drop by anytime, sugar," Brenda invited, a suspiciously innocent look on her face. "Franny's almost always here."
Well, it could have been worse. Brenda was going to pay for calling her that nickname, though. To forestall further banter, she said, "Thanks for coming by, Bill. Let me walk you out."
He nodded and stepped back to allow her passage through the door into the back hallway. She led him to the side door, the official entrance for both the theater and Lois's office. "If you have any more news, I'd appreciate a call."
"I've got your number," he said easily.
"You could call me, too, you know." He reached into his wallet to pull out a business card.
This was looking promising.
"If you remember or find anything about Doctor Porter, of course."
Or maybe not. She faked a smile. "Oh, of course."
He glanced down at his watch and muttered something that sounded profane. "I gotta go. See you later."
She sure hoped so. "Take care." She watched him go down the street until he turned the corner, and then she stepped back inside. They had much more important things to think about.
Lois hovered nervously by the door. Kal reached for the doorknob, but she gently knocked his hand away. She didn't want to open it until she was certain Henderson was gone.
The door abruptly opened, and Brenda was standing there. "It's okay, the coast is clear."
"Thanks, Bren." Lois laughed a little as they re-entered the office. "That was a close one."
Kal sat in the chair facing Francine's desk. "So, we've got another problem."
She frowned at him, but Brenda was nodding. "Yeah. I can't believe somebody got that woman out of jail."
"Would one of you like to tell me what you're talking about?"
Kal glanced up in surprise. "Henderson said someone had bailed out Dr. Porter. Weren't you listening?"
She sighed. "Not everybody hears as well as you do, Kal." He gave her a brief recap of the conversation.
"What sort of damage could she do, anyway?" Brenda asked.
"That is a very good question." Lois stood behind Kal, draping her arms over his shoulders and chewing on her lip. "She knows a lot, I think."
Kal nodded. "She's the one who told me about New Krypton. And I think she suspects what I can do. She doesn't know my last name, at least. But once Windfall goes public she could probably put the pieces together pretty easily."
"And the thing that bothers me," Lois said slowly, "is that someone bailed her out. She's bad enough working on her own. Who knows who she's hooked up with?"
"She did get a phone call once. Actually, I think that was when she learned about Nightfall, though I don't know how much."
"Still, while rumored about, it's not public knowledge yet."
"It's what I said," Brenda said. Looking up, Lois realized Francine must have slipped back into the room while she'd been thinking. "She's got connections."
There was a moment of gloom, but then Kal stirred. "We can't do anything about that right now," he pointed out and stood. "Let's focus on what we *can* do."
A surprisingly short time later, they were standing in the alley behind the theater. Kal glanced down at the finished costume. With the vest added, he liked it better; it swirled gently as he moved.
"So now what?" Francine asked.
Kal looked up at the three faces surrounding him — two pale, one dark — all wearing similar expressions of mingled hope and fear. "I don't know. I still don't remember how to fly."
Lois smiled encouragingly. "You'll remember. We'll help."
"Yeah, it looked easy," Brenda interjected. "One minute you were on the ground, the next one you weren't."
"Thanks, Brenda," he said dryly. "I never would have thought of that."
"Oh, anytime, Kal," she assured him airily.
Lois stepped closer to him, drawing his attention. The faith and trust in her expression humbled him. He glanced up at the sky, a bright blue ribbon between tall buildings, with a few wispy clouds drifting along. "You're sure I can do this?"
She smiled at him, with only the faintest trace of anxiety shimmering beneath the surface. "You can do this. You are Lord Kal-El of the House of El, after all." With one finger she traced the symbol on his chest. "And soon, you'll be Windfall, a distant relative of the Kryptonian H.G. Wells knew and called Superman."
"Don't forget my favorite," he said, cupping her cheek in one hand. "Husband of Lois Lane." He leaned in to kiss her, concentrating on feeling her with his lips, his hands, his mind… just as he'd done a few days ago. She pressed herself nearer to him, wrapping her arms around his neck. Just as she'd done, when he'd taken her flying… He wrapped his arms around her waist and closed his eyes.
Eventually, he had to pull back, but he didn't let her go, instead burying his face in her hair. "But in order to win the fair maiden, I guess I need to slay the dragon — if I can remember how."
She giggled softly. "I don't think it'll be that hard."
He pulled back to look at her, then noticed they were slowly spinning, about a foot above the pavement. He laughed. "Maybe not." Gently, he returned them to the ground, re-gaining confidence as they moved.
Brenda and Francine, he noted, were laughing by the side of the building. He was too happy to care. He remembered!
Lois was smiling at him, her eyes shining for a moment before the glow faded into worry. "Be more careful this time, huh?"
"Smarter, you mean? I don't know exactly what I did last time…" He thought he could make a pretty shrewd guess, actually, but if he was right, he'd rather not admit to it. "But shattering didn't really get the job done, so I guess I'll just have to nudge that big chunk onto another course. Some of the other ones, too, maybe."
"As long as you don't stay out there too long," Lois cautioned.
He smiled at her. "I'll be careful. I have a lot to live for." That called for one more kiss, then he stood back and began drifting upwards. "Okay. Time to go save the world. I *will* be home before dinner."
"You'd better be," Lois muttered, though he suspected she hadn't intended for him to hear that. He winked at her, then looked up and accelerated into the sky.
Lois watched until he dwindled out of sight, her heart contracting painfully. He was going to come back to her. He had before, and this was much easier. All she had to do was wait.
She hated waiting. And there was something she could do. She turned towards her friends. "Francine, Brenda, want to help me on one more little investigation? I'm going to start working on tracking down Doctor Porter."
Brenda pursed her lips. "Yeah, that's a good idea, but how are you gonna do it?"
"Come on back inside," she urged them. "We can check out her office, see if she's been back there. And I'll bet I can dig up a home address, too. Francine, could you ask Kari if she knows anything?"
"No problem, Lois."
"Good. If that woman is out there, we'll find her."
This time, Kal had a healthy respect for the mass and inertia of the tumbling rocks. He spent some time planning his approach, enjoying the warmth of the sun's rays, and thinking back. He was beginning to get all his memories back, if in somewhat jumbled order. A mental picture of Lois dancing in a chicken suit appeared, and he choked back a laugh. No wonder she hadn't been keen on his remembering that. But even then, he'd felt drawn to her. He remembered that part very clearly.
As he was maneuvering some of the smaller rocks, another memory surfaced. He must have been on New Krypton in this one. He was wearing the same sort of outfit he'd remembered earlier. A body suit with a long overvest, in his house colors. He was in a court of some kind, making an appeal to a group of hard-faced elders. It was the trial of the man who'd threatened Lois. He remembered having been almost desperate for success, feeling that a guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion, but insignificant on its own. What had he been trying?
He watched the memory almost as if it were a play being performed for him. He'd been addressing the council, tricking or manipulating them into something. Kal frowned. The council was always right; so to go against them was… had he been a traitor?
And yet, it didn't seem as if he'd wanted anything but the best for the people of New Krypton. They were his responsibility, after all. The council had agreed with whatever he had proposed, and a fierce elation had shot through him. Now he could tell what he'd been doing — setting things up so that he could leave his home in good hands. So that he could be with Lois.
Feeling that his resources were getting a little depleted, he flew back to the Earth's upper atmosphere to breathe in some oxygen. More memories and details were flooding into his mind as he hung there, standing on nothing.
He flew back out to take care of the last rock, then turned back to Earth for good. His home. He smiled.
The smile faded as the realization hit him: There were one or two little crucially important details that he had forgotten to take care of. He sped up, planning as he flew. That was definitely going to be his first priority.
"So, Francine, you bringing a date to their wedding?"
Francine frowned across the office at Brenda. "It's not really going to be that kind of wedding, Bren."
She shrugged. "Well, sure, but we're putting on a party afterwards. And it's an easy invite, too. Everybody knows you have to bring a date to a wedding, so nobody thinks too much of being asked."
"He'd see through that pretty quick," Francine predicted gloomily. "Probably as soon as I tried it, which is why it ain't happening."
"Well, you know, that wouldn't be a bad thing, altogether — that way, he knows you're interested, without you actually saying so."
"I don't think so, Brenda." She was a mature woman, not a high- schooler. She didn't need to resort to ploys. Besides, if he wasn't interested, what would it matter whether she'd been direct or not? They'd both still know what had happened, and it would be embarrassing. There were *degrees* of humiliation, maybe, but she didn't want to face any sort of rejection. Subtle or otherwise.
Besides, Bill was so damn obscure most days anyway, she'd never be able to figure out what he'd meant by it.
"Aww, come on, Francine. Take a chance. You never know—" The phone rang, cutting her off. Brenda looked at Francine, who waved for her to pick it up.
Brenda went into professional mode and answered the phone. After a moment, though, the professional face wore off and was replaced by a wicked grin. "Yeah, she's right here." She looked across the office to Francine and said cheerfully, "Run for it, Francine. You're wanted by the cops."
"I've got it!" Francine lunged for the phone. "Hello?"
She relaxed as she recognized the voice. He was the one cop she wouldn't mind being wanted by. With a pointed glance at Brenda, she swung her chair toward the wall for a little privacy. "Hi. What can I do for you, Inspector?"
"Oh, I had some news I thought you'd want to know."
"We've found Dr. Porter. She's dead."
"Really?" She felt a guilty rush of relief, then reconsidered. Why should she feel guilty? The woman had been a menace. "How?"
"We received an anonymous tip that there'd been a shooting in the warehouse district. When the beat cop checked it out, he found the good doctor on the floor, shot through the heart."
"Wow." She didn't know what to say. Would he think less of her if he knew she was glad to hear it?
His voice went soft. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, Francine?"
"What? No!" Did he really think so little of her? Although after how mysterious she'd been with him earlier, she probably shouldn't blame him for asking.
"Take it easy," he said, sounding more apologetic. "I had to ask. Procedure."
Well, that was better, at least. "For the record, I don't know anything."
"She was killed mid-morning, they think," he continued, his voice regaining its usual dry tone. "There are a few leads."
A shake of the chair drew her attention to Brenda, who was standing next to her desk and looking worried. "Yeah, hang on a second, Bill." Cupping her hand over the phone for a moment, she said, "Porter got herself whacked this morning. Well, shot, anyway. Go across the hall and tell Lois, okay?"
She turned her attention back to the phone and her chair away from Brenda. "So you're investigating? That's why you called?"
"Yes and no. I thought you'd want to know."
"I did. Thanks." That was a loose end they wouldn't have to worry about anymore.
"Least I could do. We'll keep looking into it. There might be some kind of paramilitary group involved. Point is, none of the stuff so far points toward you or your friends, so you're officially off the hook."
"Oh. Good." Damn. No more investigation meant no more excuses to talk to him. Was this a subtle brush off? She slumped back against the back of the chair. "Well, thanks for letting me know."
"No problem. So, uh, Franny…"
She sat upright again. "Yeah?"
"The Tigers are playing tonight. There's a guy here in the department who gets season tickets. I snagged two of them."
"Tonight? Uh, yeah. My schedule's open." Of course, that hadn't exactly been an invitation, but then, what else could it have meant?
"He's got some pretty good seats. What do you say?"
"I love football."
There was a huff of laughter on the other end of the line. "Good. I'll pick you up after my shift, okay? Should give us lots of time."
"Sounds good." Us. What a nice word. Daringly, she added, "It's a date."
He chuckled. "Yep. See you around six? Dress warm."
"I'll be ready. See you later, then. Bye."
She hung up the phone and slowly turned her chair around toward the office again. Brenda was sitting at her desk, regarding her with a fascinated expression. "A date?"
Francine shrugged. "He's taking me to the Tigers game tonight."
"Excellent. And after that?"
"I don't know," she confessed, "but I'm looking forward to finding out."
"Well, okay, now it's official," Brenda declared with a grin. "Kal had better save the world, 'cause you have a lot to live for."
Lois sat in her office, staring into space and idly turning in her chair. It had been a relief to hear that Dr. Porter was no longer a threat — although who knew what she had in her notes. And Kal had said she'd tape recorded the sessions. Maybe she ought to visit that office to destroy whatever evidence remained.
Nonetheless, they would continue with Kal's debut. A press conference about the near-miraculous reprieve from planetary disaster still seemed like the best opportunity they had. Assuming there was a miraculous reprieve. She had faith in Kal but he'd been gone for hours and she wouldn't have thought it would take that much time, judging from what she'd heard about interceptor missiles.
Well, he would doubtless be back soon — and they weren't going to run and hide just because one woman knew too much. The whole world knew too much. She made a mental rude gesture toward the ghost of H. G. Wells. Of course everyone would be searching for Windfall's secret identity, but Lois meant to establish Windfall as entirely separate from Superman — different backstory, different life, different supporting cast. They might get away with it.
Or not. Only one way to tell.
Even so, it would all be worth it, if only Kal would come back to himself, and come back to her, too. The man she'd spent the last day with was wonderful, but he wasn't really her fiance. If he still didn't remember by tomorrow, she'd have to postpone the wedding. She couldn't let him make such an important choice if he wasn't legally competent.
Still, assuming everything was going well out there in space — she involuntarily glanced upwards — they would have lots of time to deal with his memory loss and recovery. Whatever happened, they would handle it. Even if Kal never remembered, he was still her partner. They were bonded. She wanted to spend her life with him, one way or another.
The fictional Lois Lane never backed down from a challenge. Neither would the former Army Lieutenant Lois Lane.
There was a diffident knock on the door. She swung her chair around to see Kal standing there, smiling at her.
She jumped up and gave him a hug. "It worked?"
"Like a charm." His light-hearted words seemed at odd with the seriousness of his expression. "I remembered some more things, too."
"Oh, good — like what?"
"I remembered that I'd forgotten an important step in our relationship." Holding her gaze, he went down on one knee and produced a small velvet box. "Lois Lane — will you marry me?"
She moved her mouth, but her voice refused to emerge. She swallowed and tried again, then paused, her eyes narrowing. Had he remembered, or was this AmnesiaMan? "Who's asking?"
He smiled. "The sexist creep."
"Kal!" She choked out a laugh. "Of course I'll marry you."
She tugged on his shoulders, but he stayed where he was and opened the little box.
"Oh, it's beautiful."
He pulled it out and slipped it on her finger. The gold band was two-toned, wrapping around two small heart-shaped diamonds. It was the most lovely thing she'd ever seen.
"I'd been looking all week for something special," Kal said as he got back to his feet. "I was having no luck but, after these last few days… I didn't want to put things off any longer. But then, I found this… remember what shey-ana means?"
"Hearts united." She smiled and blinked to hold back tears. "It's perfect."
He bent to kiss her, and as she reciprocated, she realized. As unlikely as it had sometimes seemed, and no matter what name he went by, she finally had her very own personal Clark Kent.