By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted February 2006
Summary: In this humorous take on the "lost ep" genre, the viewers get a rare look behind the scenes. Each segment of the story is preceeded by a "production staff" meeting, where we learn about just what went into "filming" that part. The problems that come up in the meetings affect the final "aired" version of the story.
A few quick words of explanation:
First and foremost, the characters in this story are in no way intended to be accurate representations of their real life counterparts. The actress who plays Lois is *not* Teri Hatcher. She just happens to look very much like her and have the same job. The same goes for the rest of the cast and crew. Any resemblence beyond that is purely coincidental.
This story was originally posted on the Fanfic Message Boards ( http://www.lcficmbs.com ) in eight parts (nine with the promo). The long asterisk bars (
) divide one post from the next. The short ones (
) divide the story within the posts.
The original author's note (just below the promo) explains the concept and most of what's going on. The one additional thing to note is the meaning of "fan reaction." Although the story takes (more or less) the format of a "lost episode" (meaning, among other things, that all the characters are living in 1995), the FoLCs of the boards stood in for the fans. In other words, Seth's reports are based on the MB comments threads. Some things in them may not make sense if you haven't read the original comments posts.
There are basically two options:
1) You can ignore the confusion and pretty much skim over Seth's reports. They're not critical to the plot. They're just a bit of extra fun that probably won't mean too much if you weren't participating in it.
2) You can read the comments on the boards. They're all linked off the TOC, which can be found here: http://www.lcficmbs.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=6;t=0 00754
Promo: The Inside Scoop
*See* a "lost episode" of Lois and Clark chopped into eight tiny little pieces!
*Watch* never before seen behind-the-scenes footage of the production meetings!
*Learn* just what causes those crazy plot twists!
*Prepare* to have your disbelief gently suspended so far you'd swear it was being held by a sleeping Kryptonian!
It's *The Inside Scoop*!
Airing *this Thursday* on Must-See MBs!
Hi, FoLCs! This is an unusual story, so let me take a moment to explain.
I was channel surfing on my TV, hoping to find something decent, when I stumbled across this really cool show on the DCU channel. It was about Lois and Clark, and not only did they have a new episode (actually, it was a miniseries, a collection of short episodes), they included footage of the production staff meetings! So, I got to see the story as it unfolded, and I also got a look into the work that went into making it. It seemed to fit into the show's continuity at the end of Season Two, between Individual Responsibility and Whine, Whine, Whine.
Now, I know most of you don't get the DCU channel, so I thought I'd share. Unfortunately, I don't have a good set-up for screen captures. So, I took the liberty of writing it up for you, kind of like a novelization. In doing that, I found that I had a hard time telling the story. Writing gives me different narrative tools than TV. For example, I have fewer visuals to work with, but I can write as much introspection as I want. So, I ended up having to adapt a lot of things to keep the spirit of the story. That means that despite all the references to cameras and filming, you're going to see something that looks a lot more like a written story.
While I'm explaining things, I should mention that the cast of the show is not the cast we know from L&C. I was a bit confused by that, at first, especially since the people they found bear a striking physical resemblance to the original cast. Lois looks *exactly* like Teri, Clark is a dead ringer for Dean, etc. Despite that, they are entirely different people with different lives and personalities. You know, they say everyone has a double somewhere. I guess the casting director must have lucked out.
Oh, speaking of "Lois" and "Clark," I should mention that I didn't catch the cast's names. The director had an odd quirk in that he insisted that the staff refer to the cast only by character name, even during the production meetings. So, in the meetings, when someone said "Lois," they were usually referring to the actress who played her. Sometimes, though, when they were talking about plot developments, they would use the character names and mean the characters. Luckily, things were pretty clear in context.
So, there's a lot to be confused about, I guess, but I did my best to keep things straight. Hopefully, it'll make sense, and you'll get the hang of it as we go.
The production staff:
Producer/Director: Paul — Nominally in charge of everything. He actually does little more than organize the crew, who are quite capable on their own.
Writer: Timmy — Writes the story, and makes changes to cover over any glitches that pop up.
Stage Manager/Assistant Director: Steph — Manages everything inside the studio. Works closely with the cast, makes sure the details of the set are right, keeps an eye out for errors during filming.
Working under Steph's supervision:
Casting Director: Brian — Finds people to play the various parts, mostly extras, minor roles, and guest stars. Makes sure they show up in the right place at the right time.
Technical Director: Kate — Oversees and coordinates all technical aspects of the show.
People who work under Kate's supervision:
Special Effects Manager: Ezra
Consultant: Meg — The on-set representative of the studio executives. Also coordinates with DC Comics as needed.
That's pretty much all the major players. I'll try to help you keep them straight as we go.
Before we continue, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank my BR, Sorcha. She stuck with me during the *long* transcription process, and, when I finally got back to it a year later, she was ready to start right up again. This despite the fact that it was the finals/holiday season and everything was nuts. We did end up having some technical difficulties after that, but I can still honestly say that this story wouldn't have been finished without her.
I'd also like to thank Sara Kraft, who heroically stepped in as BR at the last minute (due to the aforementioned technical difficulties). Despite some busy times in her RL and my frequent boards posting schedule, she managed to read over every part before it went up. The BR files were filled with wonderful comments, and she went above and beyond to post public FDK, as well. She really made the whole process so much better.
Last but not least, I'd like to thank my GE for her quick yet very careful reading. She saved me from several embarassing and confusing errors (mostly in patches of text which hadn't been BRed), and was just a pleasure to work with. So, thank you, Janet!
With that said, let's get going!
Production Meeting One:
"Okay, good," Paul said, glancing around the table. "Everyone's here. Let's get started. Seth, why don't you get the ball rolling?"
"Well, we put the ads up in the usual places," the head of the publicity department responded. "I'm sure the fans have seen them, but there hasn't been much talk. Not surprising, really. You can't expect much from a thirty-second promo."
"Fair enough. Thanks, Seth." He glanced around again. "So, we're getting ready to shoot Part One. What's the latest?"
Brian, the casting director, spoke up. "We have a casting call out for extras and minor roles. We're going to need a lot of people, especially for Gotham."
Paul nodded. "Sounds good." Turning to Steph, the stage manager, he asked, "We have everyone we need for today, right?"
Paul raised his eyebrows inquisitively. "Almost?"
"It's Bobby. He's here, but he's just getting over the flu." As she talked, Steph moved her hands around, unconsciously illustrating her words. She'd picked up the habit while working with the cast. The actors had trained themselves to use such gestures as a matter of course, so that doing so on stage would be more natural. Steph had started using them because she found the actors responded better when she did, but, like them, had soon found herself using them all the time. "He says he can work, and he assures me he's not contagious…"
"Okay. That doesn't sound too bad. So what's the problem?"
"Well, he's still a little queasy," she said hesitantly, with an odd little flutter of her hand. "He doesn't think he'll be able to eat."
Paul shook his head. "But… that's his character's trademark! I mean, it's half the reason he's named Bigmouth. The audience is going to be expecting him to be wolfing food down left and right!"
Steph sighed, her hand pressed to her forehead. "I know, I know. But he's sick. He can't do it this time."
Next to Paul, Timmy had been taking notes. There were papers scattered in front of him, including three different notepads, a copy of the script for the day, an outline of the story arc, and some bits and pieces of another planned story. "Don't worry," he said without looking up from his scribblings, "I'll figure something out."
"Thanks, Timmy," Paul said, relieved. "Let me know what you come up with."
"Sure thing," he replied absently, already rewriting the scene.
"Moving right along, then… Kate, what do you have?"
Kate scanned her notes. As Technical Director, she was in charge of all the technical aspects of the show. That included the sets, the lights, the sound, the special effects, the props, and basically anything else that wasn't a living actor. There were other staff members below her who worked like a president's cabinet to manage the individual aspects, but they weren't at the meeting. "Lights and sound are ready, and the camera crew is ready to roll. I don't think we'll have any problems there, and if we do, we can take care of that in editing."
"Fair enough. What else?"
She skimmed down her notes. "Ezra says we're looking good for this part," she said, referring to the special effects manager. "His major concern right now is the Enforcer. The mock-up of the cockpit is moving along, but we're still working with the computer guys on the rest."
"I see," Paul said, making a note of his own. "Well, we have time on that. What's going on with Gotham?"
"We have the set ready. The studio backlot is all ours. We're trying to see about the car."
Kate looked up from her notes and grinned. "We're trying to get the car from the movie."
"Which movie?" Brian asked, curiously.
"What do you mean, which movie?" Kate retorted, frowning ominously.
"Well, there were four of them," Brian said, cheerfully oblivious. "Plus the one based on the old TV series…"
"No, there weren't," she said flatly.
"Sure there were," Brian said, a little confused. "There was the first one in 1989, then…"
Her nose back in her notes, Kate cut him off. "The others don't count."
Brian looked startled. "What?"
"They. Didn't. Happen."
"Oh. Well, uh, what about the TV series?"
"We could probably get one of those, if we really wanted," she said, glancing up for a brief moment, "but I don't think we do. Wouldn't really fit the tone we're trying to set."
"True enough, I suppose," he said thoughtfully. Then he paused, confused. "Wait… what do you mean *one* of them?"
"There were a dozen of them made over the course of the show," Timmy said, as he jotted something down on one of his notepads. "A couple were sold to collectors and such, but most of them are on tour around the country."
"Oh. Huh. Okay."
"So, we're trying to get the movie car," Paul said, in an effort to get things back on track. "Cool. Let me know how that goes. Anything else? Are things ready for today?"
She hesitated. "Well, uhm…"
"We don't have the Kent farmhouse set," she said, her eyes firmly focused on her notes.
Her hands rifled needlessly through the papers in front of her. "There was a mix-up in storage. They gave it to the wrong guys. That weird FBI show has some farmhouse scenes today, and…"
"Oh, great. So what are we supposed to do?"
"I'll rewrite that, too," Timmy said, changing notepads.
"Thanks, Timmy," Paul said. Timmy waved vaguely with one hand, still writing with the other. "Anyone have anything else?"
"Yeah," Timmy said. "Can we start shooting with… Oh."
Paul did not like the tone of that "oh." Coming from Timmy, it could mean real trouble. "What is it?"
"I was going to ask if we could start shooting some of the later scenes first, since I'm rewriting the beginning, but I just realized there are no later scenes now."
Steph blinked, startled. "What?"
Timmy put the script down on the table so he could better address the group. "Well, with these rewrites, I'm going to have to take out the farm scene and the Bobby scene." He flipped through the script to emphasize his point. "That means taking out the travel scenes, too. Going back over things, that leaves us with one scene."
"One scene for the whole part?" Paul asked, worriedly.
"Looks like," Timmy replied, fiddling with a pencil.
"That's pretty short."
The pencil tapped against the table. "Well, I was thinking the script could use some tightening up, and we have the footage from this meeting to pad things out." The pencil started wiggling back and forth in the air. "Besides, it's just the intro. We don't have much happening in this part." Timmy started absent-mindedly chewing on the pencil. "Maybe it's for the best." The pencil was wiggling back and forth again. It was like he didn't know what to do with it if he wasn't writing.
"Can't we add some of the scenes from Part Two?" Paul asked hopefully.
"We don't have the cast for that," Brian said. "They're lined up, but we told them not to show up until next week."
"Besides," Kate added, "we don't have the right sets. I don't know if we could get them on such short notice."
Paul nodded. He hadn't really expected it to work. "I guess we'll have to make do, then."
Timmy shrugged his left shoulder and cocked his head. His right hand was, of course, busy writing. "I'll finish this up as quickly as I can, then."
"I'll get the new scripts out to everyone as soon as Timmy finishes," Paul added. "Kate, let Jason know we won't be needing the other sets. You're going to have to work out a new shooting schedule, too."
Kate nodded and began industriously working with her ever-present notes.
"Steph," Paul continued, "let the cast know about the rewrites. They're going to have to learn some new lines."
"They won't like it," Steph said, with a gesture that was half fist and half thumbs-up, "but they'll have to deal with it."
"Yeah, well, I don't like having to rewrite at the last minute, either," Timmy responded.
Timmy waved a hand, and got back to his edits.
"Looks like that's it for now," Paul said. "Let's get out of here and let Timmy work his magic."
Everyone collected their things and left the room, except for Timmy, who took the opportunity to spread his various papers across a larger portion of the conference room table. He didn't even look up when the camera crew left, closing the door behind them.
Well, everyone, that was our first production meeting. Exciting, wasn't it? Now, let's get on with the story!
The Inside Scoop, Part One
The newsroom was busy when Clark walked in. Everyone was hard at work, collecting information, writing articles, editing the pieces that were ready, looking through pictures, and generally doing the things that needed to be done to get the paper ready for the next edition. No one commented on his late arrival. They were used to that happening by now, and knew better than to complain. Clark Kent wasn't the most punctual person at the Planet, but he got his job done. He was certainly talented enough to have earned a little slack.
Besides, he had a knack for picking up Superman exclusives on his way into work. Nothing major, most of the time, but anything Superman did was news. Staff gossip had it that the reason Clark was often late coming into work was that he had a secret arrangement with the hero to meet in the mornings. Speculations ran wild as to why Superman would do such a thing. Some held that Clark had done the hero a favor at some point in the past. Others said that Clark had been the one to meet him when he had first stepped out of his space ship. Still others argued that it was simply a matter of Clark's writing. Clark was known to write clearly, compassionately, and, most of all, fairly. That was, they said, something Superman probably respected. If he was going to be in the news, they reasoned, why not make sure that the news was written by a reporter he trusted?
Trust. That much the rumors agreed on. Whatever the reason Superman had for talking to Clark Kent, it was clear that the hero trusted the reporter. That meant a lot to the Planet staff. Clark was well-liked, in any case, but the fact that Superman trusted him so much was something special. It was a reason to ignore Clark's odd little quirks and disappearances, and more, it was a reason to be proud of him.
Not that they said any of this directly to Clark. No reason to let Clark know they were on to him, or to let him know that they were ready to cut him a little extra slack. They only spoke of such things when they were sure they were out of earshot. At least, they thought they were out of earshot. Clark Kent, as it happened, had considerably sharper ears than his coworkers expected.
Clark put these thoughts aside as he approached his partner's desk. She, too, was hard at work. "Howdy, partner," he said cheerfully, setting a cup of coffee on her desk.
Lois looked up at him. "Howdy?"
"I don't know," he replied, somewhat sheepishly. "For some reason, I've had the old west on my mind this week." He couldn't tell her that the strange dreams he'd been having had started shortly after his exposure to Red Kryptonite had weakened his mental defenses. Even with that, he wasn't sure where the dreams had come from. Last night, he'd dreamed that Jesse James had tried to rob his parents, only it was 1966, his parents were a young couple, and Clark had been a baby. It had been very disorienting.
"Well, get your head back to today, Clark," Lois said, breaking into his thoughts. "We have work to do."
"Oh, right. Sorry, Lois." He shook himself and prepared to get back to business. He leaned over her desk, left hand braced on the desk itself, the other lightly touching the back of her right shoulder. In response, she leaned back by a tiny degree, putting herself more fully into the space his arms were half-enclosing. "What are we working on?"
"Intergang," she replied, as if that said it all. In a way, he supposed it did.
"Does that mean we're definitely dropping the follow-up on Jimmy and Sarah?" He hadn't thought they were going to do it, anyway, but a piece on how the two survivors of "Project: Valhalla" were dealing with their new knowledge would have been news.
"Yes," she said, leaning back from her work. She turned to face him, so that they could better talk, smiling to herself as she felt her back slide gently under his hand. At the same time, she put her arm on her desk, fingers pointed towards his hand. Though both she and Clark were in suitably professional poses, their arms and bodies now defined a small, almost intimate, private space, a circle of their own cut out of the vastness of the newsroom. "I talked to Perry earlier. He wanted to give Jimmy and Sarah the chance to quietly get on with their lives anyway, and now, with all this Intergang fallout, the story would have been bumped to the back pages."
"Right. That's good." Clark knew from his experience as Superman how uncomfortable an unwanted spotlight could be. He was glad that he wouldn't have to do that to Jimmy, and was hopeful that no one else would be doing it, either. "So, what do we have in the works on Intergang? Perry did the original story on the arrests. Is he going to be doing any of the follow-ups?"
"No," Lois said, shaking her head. Clark absently moved his right hand to catch at a few strands of hair the gesture sent floating his way. Lois tilted her head a little, but gave no other sign that she'd noticed. "Perry knows that as the editor, he's really not supposed to be writing articles. He got away with it this once, but he's not going to push it."
"So that leaves us with pretty much everything?" His fingers began idly toying with more of her hair.
"More or less," she said, subtly leaning her head into his hand. "We're the only ones covering the investigation itself, but everyone will be handling the story to some degree. The business section is doing a spread on the effects on the CostMart chain and its stocks, as well as the competition and the overall market. Myerson is doing a piece on the public reaction, focusing mainly on CostMart customers. The society page will have an angle, too, I'm sure. Oh, and I think I heard that someone is writing an amusing little editorial about how CostMart prices really were criminal."
Clark chuckled, and Lois smiled back. He leaned in a bit more, ostensibly to better review the notes sitting on the desk between their hands. He was really enjoying the closeness when suddenly he heard a phone ringing nearby. At first, he ignored it, but after a moment, he realized that the phone which was ringing was the one on his desk. He hurried over to get it, and managed to pick it up just before it would have been shunted to voice mail. "Hello?"
"Clark? Oh, honey, you are there."
"Hi, Mom. What's going on?"
"Nothing important, honey. I just wanted to ask if you were coming over for dinner tonight."
"Oh! I'm sorry, Mom. I forgot. I meant to call you. I won't be able to make it. I'll be…" Clark caught himself before he said anything which might be awkward to explain if it were overheard. "I have… other plans."
"Other plans?" Martha repeated, interest clear in her voice. "For dinner? Tonight?"
"Yeah," Clark replied happily.
"Didn't you two go out last night?"
"Yeah, we did. I had to let… other people deal with a few… things, but it was worth it." Clark smiled to himself at the memory. As he'd promised, he'd been there at 7:00 and 7:01 and 7:02 and much, much later. He'd had to hold himself back from helping out with a few rescues, but thankfully, it had been a relatively quiet night, overall, and he hadn't felt too bad about leaving things to the authorities. After a while, the subconscious filters in charge of his hearing — the ones he'd developed to sort out all the various sounds that reached his ears from across the entire city — had seemed to get the idea that he was not to be disturbed except for the most urgent matters. Over the course of the evening, fewer and fewer distress calls had made it past those filters to his conscious awareness, and he'd been able to relax. For the first time in what had felt like far too long, he'd focused entirely on his immediate surroundings. That, he'd found, had been something he'd needed to do more than he'd realized, and his company for the evening had made it an eminently enjoyable experience.
"That's wonderful, honey," his mother said, breaking into his thoughts. There was a hint of laughter in her voice, and he was embarrassed to realize he'd probably been quietly reminiscing for a noticable length of time. "So you're going out again tonight?"
"Yeah, we are." Clark couldn't help but look back at Lois as he said it. As if feeling his glance, she looked up at him, and the slight raise of her eyebrows told him he was probably grinning foolishly at her. He tried to force his expression into something more suitably professional, but the twinkle in her eyes and the warm, almost shy smile pulling at her lips made it very difficult for him to keep proper control.
"Well then, you two have a good time. You can come over for dinner another day and tell us all about it."
"Sure, Mom. I'll let you know."
"I'll look forward to it. Talk to you later, honey."
"Bye, Mom." Clark was still smiling as he hung up the phone and returned to Lois's desk. A quick exchanged glance said all that needed to be said about the call. Clark leaned over the notes again, replacing his hand on her back. The pair returned to work, and soon found themselves right where they'd been before Martha's interruption. They reviewed the notes they already had and planned out the follow-up articles to Perry's Intergang story. When they were done with that, Lois turned to her computer to start work on her share of the writing. Clark reluctantly left her to it, and returned to his own desk to do his part.
He'd gotten one article done and was working on a sidebar when he heard Lois's phone ring.
"Hello? … Bobby? What is it?" She turned to Clark, covering the mouthpiece for a moment, and whispered to him. "It's Bobby Bigmouth."
Clark tuned in his hearing so he could listen to both sides of the conversation.
"… got a tip for you," Bobby was saying. His voice sounded unusually hoarse, Clark noticed.
"Meet in the usual place? What should we bring?"
"Not this time, Lois," Bobby replied with a cough.
Lois frowned. "Are you okay, Bobby?"
"Sure. Just got a bit of a cold or something. I'll be fine, but I don't want to give it to you, too."
"Oh. Thanks, Bobby. That's nice of you."
"It's nothing, Lois. Besides, I wouldn't want to ruin your plans with Clark."
"What? How did you…? Never mind. You had some information?"
"Some. Not much. We're not talking Peking Duck here, but I'd say it's at least a pint of soup and an egg roll."
"That doesn't even meet the minimum amount for delivery, Bobby."
"Yeah, well, that's the other reason I'm giving it to you over the phone."
"Hmm. I don't like the sound of that cough, Bobby. I'll tell you what… I'll throw in a Ginger Chicken to put you over the minimum order, and you keep your ears out for anything else that comes up."
"That sounds fair. All right, here's what I've got. It's a name. 'Project: Enforcer.'"
"That's it? Not much to go on…"
"Yeah, I know. I'll see what else I can find for you. For now, all I can say is that it's something to do with the military and it's big. Oh, and I heard them say something about Superman. That might not mean anything — might have just been talk — but I thought you should know."
"We'll look into it. Thanks, Bobby."
"Sure thing. Sorry I don't have more."
"We've started off with less," Lois responded with resignation. "So, the food…"
"Have it sent to…"
Clark tuned the rest of the conversation out and sat back to think. A mysterious secret military project run by people who might have an eye on Superman… that did not sound good, and with so little to go on, he and Lois were going to have their work cut out for them.
Production Meeting Two:
"Okay, everyone," Paul said, "to kick things off today, we've got Seth with the publicity report."
"Well, it looks like we had a good number of viewers. Fan reaction on the internet was very positive, too. They're excited to see us airing again, and seem to like being able to see these meetings." He glanced at the clipboard in front of him, which contained printouts of fan reviews. "Well, not all of them like the meetings, but even the ones who don't seem to be enjoying the actual show."
"That's good to hear," Paul replied.
"Yeah. Hope we can keep that up," Kate added.
"We'll see," Paul told her in hopeful tones. "What else is there, Seth?"
"Mostly, they seem to be enjoying the romance aspect, but some of them are enjoying the humor, too."
"Sounds about usual," Brian put in.
"Yeah," Seth replied, "but the important thing is that it's working for them."
"True," Paul agreed. He started to turn away, but an odd expression on Seth's face stopped him. "Was there anything else?"
Seth coughed. He looked at something on his clipboard, then back up, clearly torn.
Paul looked at him more closely. "Seth? What is it?"
"Well," he said hesitantly, "I'm not sure why, but one of the fans out there seems to want to kidnap Timmy and lock him in an attic."
"What?!" Timmy exclaimed. For once, he actually looked up from the pages in front of him.
"I don't know, that's just what he said."
"Don't worry, Timmy," Paul said, trying to sound confident. "It's just the internet. People say all sorts of stuff. We've got good security here. You'll be fine."
Timmy made a face, but settled back into writing.
"So…" Paul started, trying to get things back on track, "who's next?"
Steph coughed nervously. "We've got a problem."
"What else is new?" Timmy muttered, without looking up from the scattered pile of papers in front of him.
Paul glanced at him but chose not to say anything. He was obviously still unsettled by the fannish threat, and deserved some slack for that. Besides, disturbing Timmy while he was working often wasn't worth the potential loss. "What is it, Steph?" he asked with calm concern.
She took a deep breath. "Lois called in sick."
The calm left Paul's demeanor. "What happened? Is she okay?"
Steph coughed again, but this time, oddly enough, she seemed to be stifling a laugh. "From what I can tell, it seems to be a severe case of 'My-boyfriend-is-in-town-itis.' Should clear up in a couple of days or so."
"Oh, that's right," Brian put in. "That thing he was shooting in South America got cancelled just as they were supposed to be finishing up, so he has a bit of unexpected time off."
Paul thought about this. "I guess it's been a while since they've seen each other, huh? So… where does that leave us?"
"With no Lois?" Timmy commented, already rifling through pages. "Let me see… I can write her out, but it'll leave us light on story again."
Paul sighed. "Nothing for it, Timmy."
"Right," he responded, crossing things out and making notes.
Paul turned back to Steph. "Any other news?"
"Well, Clark has a sore throat," she said, unconsciously gesturing towards her neck, "but nothing major. We'll just have to be careful that it doesn't show. Wouldn't do for Superman to sound hoarse."
"I'll give him fewer lines," Timmy said, resigned, "and I'll try to group the ones he does have together, so he can get them out before the cough drop or whatever wears off."
Paul nodded approvingly. "Sounds good. You're the best, Timmy. So, Kate, how are things on your end?"
The technical director, dressed, as usual, in black, ran her finger down the edge of her neatly organized notepad. "Looking good. Lighting and sound are set up and ready, as are the camera crew. Effects for today are in place. Ezra says the CG guys have started on the Enforcer. They're still debating the design, but we've got time. Jason and I talked to the sets department. They were very apologetic about last time. We won't have any problems today."
"I'd hope not," Steph said.
Kate nodded ruefully. "The props department is going through final uglification of Dan's… thing." Her choice of words caused a few chuckles around the room. She smiled briefly, then continued. "Gotham is shaping up nicely. We have people going over the old sets. I tracked down the guy who has the car. He bought it in an auction a few years back. Negotiations are ongoing, but I'm hopeful. Of course, we're lining up something else, too, just in case."
"Sounds good. Nice to hear something is going smoothly. Anything else?" Paul waited for her to shake her head, then turned to the next person down the table. "Brian, what about you?"
"We're still lining up extras, but I've got Bruce cast, and Lex said he'll come in when we need him."
"Great. So, if Timmy can just figure out how to put together a whole part without Lois, everything should be fine."
Timmy, as usual, did not look up from his work. "Gee, thanks."
"Oh, thank you, Superman!"
The hero, already several feet off the ground, turned back and waved before flying off. It was nice, he thought, to take care of the little things for a while. With Lois out doing her own investigating all day, it was easier for him to slip away and go on patrol. He hadn't done much that would be considered newsworthy, but he had still accomplished some real good, helping to improve people's days and to put several lives on slightly better tracks. It was an indulgence, perhaps, but as indulgences went, he liked to think it was a good one.
Soaring above the skyline, he scanned the city. The sound of gunfire attracted his attention. There were some thugs trying to hold up a bank. The shots had been for warning only, but the situation could easily get out of hand. Superman made it across the thirty or so blocks to the bank in the blink of an eye, swept in through the doors, and had the would-be robbers disarmed and trussed up before anyone had registered his presence.
After leaving the bank, he made one more sweep over the city before returning to the Planet. Although he was somewhat concerned about Bobby's mysterious "Project: Enforcer," there wasn't much he could do about it. Lois was out investigating what leads they had, and, much as he disliked it, she'd insisted on doing so alone. For this, she needed old contacts, ones who might be spooked by a partner, even if he had been working with Lois for over a year.
That, of course, hadn't stopped him from keeping an unobtrusive eye on her — yet another reason for his increased patrols today. He knew, though, that he needed to put in some real work, too. Something to earn his paycheck. Quickly, he wrote up a short piece on the bank robbery, then got to work on an Intergang follow-up.
He wondered how much he should say about the Red Kryptonite. He wanted to reassure the populace that Superman's odd behavior had been a temporary anomaly with a simple explanation, but just mentioning Kryptonite made him uncomfortable. He hated to remind criminals that there was something out there which could affect the Man of Steel. In truth, he hated to remind himself, too.
A voice broke into his musings. "Hey, Kent, where's Lois?"
Clark looked up to see Dan Scardino standing a few feet away, near Lois's desk. "She's out," he answered his rival curtly. "Doing her job," he added pointedly. Didn't a federal agent have anything better to do than hang around a newsroom?
"Too bad. I'm supposed to meet some people tonight, but I've got the day off."
"Yeah, too bad," Clark said unsympathetically.
Dan put some kind of mobile/sculpture thing on Lois's desk. It had a gaudy bow on it (which did nothing to improve its appearance) and a card attached. "Well, let her know I dropped by, will you?" he asked, as if the object (whatever it was) wouldn't make that perfectly obvious.
Clark waved noncommittally, and was happy to see the back of the flashy hawaiian shirt slowly receding towards the elevator. He looked back at the gift on Lois's desk and spared a moment to wonder where the things came from. Maybe Scardino made them himself, from bits of things he'd found in the trash. The man certainly seemed to have more than enough time on his hands to do so. Clark shrugged and got back to work.
He'd just finished the article and was considering another patrol when his phone rang. "Hello? … Lois? Is everything okay? … *Whew* Had me scared for a minute. … Yes, I know you can take care of yourself, but — … Fine, I'll stop being so overprotective when you stop taking huge risks and winding up in death traps on a weekly basis. … Okay, sorry. I just — never mind. What did you find out? … What? Are you sure? … Of course I wasn't questioning your abilities. It's just… this is big. … For you, too. I know. Well, we'll have to be careful. Make plans tonight? … After dinner, of course. I wouldn't want to ruin *that* with business talk." He chuckled at her response. "No, I assure you, Miss Lane, that my intentions are entirely honorable. … Well, okay. Maybe not *entirely* honorable. It *would* be nice to have you come up to my place after dinner, but I promise I won't show you my art collection. … Okay, then. See you tonight." The smile stayed on his face for a few moments after he hung up, but then one word from earlier in the conversation returned from his memory to spoil his mood. Lois had found a name associated with Project: Enforcer — Lexcorp.
Production Meeting Three:
"Is everybody here?" Paul asked, looking around. After a moment, he nodded. "Great. So, Seth, why don't you start us off?"
"Actually," Steph said, interrupting before Seth could even start, "we've got a crisis that needs to be dealt with ASAP."
"What?" Brian asked. "Lois not back yet?"
"Oh, no. She's back. That's not the problem. As a matter of fact, her little side trip last week probably saved her. No, the problem this week is that Clark's little sore throat was just the beginning. Turns out it was a budding case of laryngitis, and since he was working with everyone here while he was at his most contagious, half the cast has it. I'm just lucky I escaped."
There was a moment of stunned silence while everyone absorbed this, then Paul sighed. "Well, I suppose we can air a rerun this week and…"
"No, I've got it," Timmy said. He'd already discarded the script for the day and was busily reworking everything from the start. "If the effects department can pull a few things together for me at the last minute — blurred air, mostly — I should be able to work something out. I'll make it a two-parter. It'll give me time to work out the details, and it'll give Brian time to cast a villain." He flipped a page and started scribbling on the next one without slowing down. "Steph, see if you can get me Klein or someone. Oh, and I'll need some extras and bit parts. Let effects know we'll need an evil machine next week." He paused to scratch out a note. "Here are the general specs," he said, tossing the note in Kate's direction. He went back to writing without looking to see if she'd caught it. "We're going to need some new locations, too," he added, tossing her another note.
Paul looked at the technical director, who was still sitting, staring at the notes in front of her. "Think you can swing that, Kate? Whatever it is?"
She shook herself. "Uhm… yeah. I think we can work something out. I don't think we'll be able to do the airport, though."
"Never mind. If you can get me some stock footage and maybe a cockpit, I'll work something out."
"I'll see what I can do." She stood, with a dazed look on her face, and walked out the door, clearly on automatic pilot.
"Right, then," Paul said. "Seth, how about that report now?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah." He glanced at his printouts to refresh his memory. "Chatter on the 'net is down a bit, but that's to be expected. The first and last parts always get the most attention. They're still very positive, though. Kate's 'uglification' comment got a lot of laughs, and they really seem to like Timmy."
"Anything more from that guy?" Paul asked in a whisper.
Seth hesitated, but Timmy was clearly wrapped up in the editing process. "Yeah. He's back, and… he's got keys!"
Seth looked back at the printout. "Uhm, I don't know. That's just what he said. Attic keys, I guess."
"Oh, right. Well, keep an eye on that."
"Sure thing," Seth replied, nodding seriously.
"Okay, if that's it, then let's leave Timmy to work his magic. See you guys when we've got a new script worked out."
"Oh, and tell the sound guys they can leave early today," Timmy added just before the door closed.
"Hey Clark," Lois said, coming up to her partner's desk. "Last night was great," she whispered.
Clark grinned up at her.
"So, I was thinking we need to investigate this Lexcorp connection…" she said, before he could say anything too troublingly romantic. She wasn't quite ready for that.
Clark's grin vanished, and he rapidly turned serious. He opened his mouth, but was again cut off.
"Oh, I meant to tell you… In my investigations yesterday, I found a link to Gotham City. Parts coming in or something. I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but it might be worth checking out. Remind me to talk to Perry about that. We may have to… Hey! What's this thing doing on my desk?"
Clark thought it should be obvious, and indeed, before he could tell her, she'd figured it out.
"Oh. Dan came by, didn't he?"
Clark nodded, not wanting to say any more.
Lois contemplated the odd gift. "No note?" she wondered aloud. "Never mind. I'll get to it later. First, we need to work out exactly how we're going to —"
A blurry wave washed through the air, jolting everyone.
"What was that?" Lois asked, bewildered. Or tried to ask, anyway. Her mouth moved, forming the words, but there was no sound.
Clark shook his head. He cocked his head, listening. There wasn't a sound to be heard anywhere, even within his considerable earshot. Suddenly, a fly dropped out of nowhere and landed on his desk. It flapped its wings desperately, but couldn't get airborne. The complete lack of buzzing was eerie. Clark was morbidly fascinated, but realized there were more important things to worry about. He nudged his glasses down and scanned the city. The airport! Planes were circling, but with no sound, they couldn't communicate with the air traffic control tower!
He dashed out of the room, barely holding himself to plausibly human speed. In his wake, not a single paper so much as fluttered.
Lois watched him go, shaking her head. He was a good guy, but that disappearing act of his was driving her nuts.
Putting Clark out of her mind, she turned to her rolodex. She pulled out the card for Dr. Klein, picked up the phone, and then froze when she realized that, of course, there was no dial tone.
Off to the side, someone turned the TV on. Lois glanced over to see that LNN had "ALL SOUND GONE FROM METROPOLIS" splashed across the screen in place of the news anchors. More text scrolled across the bottom of the screen, ticker style. "Superman saves airport! Personally directs all planes!" it read. Lois smiled, glad to know that the hero was, of course, on the case.
Suddenly, realization struck. If Superman was tied up dealing with airplanes, he wouldn't be available for other matters, such as finding the source of the problem. With Clark gone, too, that left her by herself. Well, if that's how it was, so be it. She glanced again at the card with Klein's information on it, then headed for the door, a determined expression on her face.
Above her, unnoticed, more text scrolled across the TV screen. "Roads unsafe."
A few minutes later, on Seigel Avenue, a flash of light caught Lois's eye. An ambulance was racing up the street towards her. Its emergency lights were on, but the siren was mute. The driver of one car, having apparently noticed the lights in her rearview mirror, pulled to the side, trying to get out of the way. The person behind her in the next lane, not having seen the ambulance, pressed angrily — and, of course, ineffectively — on his horn. He started to swerve out of the other car's path, but was startled by the passing of the ambulance. He swung out further than he'd meant, right into Lois's path. She slammed on the brakes, but it was too late.
The two cars came together, then bounced apart. Glass flew everywhere. The continuing silence gave the entire thing an air of unreality.
The ambulance faded into the distance, its drivers focused on the road ahead of them, unaware of the chaos they'd left in their wake.
Lois slumped in the driver's seat, unconscious. Around her, the roads were emptying as people, heeding the warnings, avoided the streets.
Lois looked around woozily. Her eyes widened in horror when she saw the puddle slowly forming underneath the other car, a thin trail of liquid seeping out from the vicinity of its gas tank. "Help, Superman!" Her lips formed the words automatically, the last item on the emergency checklist before she passed out.
Miles away, with no way to know of his partner's jeopardy, the hero in question continued the vital work of directing air traffic, hovering outside one cockpit after another, relaying the tower's instructions with hand signals, intent on communicating rapidly and accurately.
The little puddle, left to its own devices, continued to grow…
Production Meeting Four:
"Looks like everyone is here," Paul said, sitting down. "Great. Seth, why don't you start us off?"
"Sure thing. Internet response is holding steady. That's more than I'd usually expect, and it's great to see."
"Cool!" Kate said, speaking for everyone.
"They're a little tense with the cliffhanger," Seth continued, "but it wasn't as bad as you might expect."
Paul nodded. "It's a good thing we're including these meetings in the format of the show. Can you imagine what they'd be saying otherwise? A plot like this turned into a two-parter? … No offense, Timmy."
Timmy waved absently, dismissing the need for an apology.
"Hey," Steph said suddenly, "did anyone catch the continuity glitch with Dan's note?"
Seth skimmed his printouts. "No, I don't think so. Why, what happened?"
She did a little double-take, seemingly surprised that she had to explain. "Oh, everything was so rushed that the note on Dan's thing vanished between one part and the next. But if no one noticed, that's good."
"Well they know about it now," Brian pointed out, gesturing to the camera filming the meeting.
Steph hit her forehead. "Oops." A moment later, the self-flagellation turned smoothly into a throwing motion. "Oh well. Never mind. Too late now."
"So what else do you have, Seth?" Paul asked, trying to get things back on track.
"Well, they seem alternately amused and impressed with Timmy's ability to work around problems, but either way, they clearly like him."
"Yeah, a little too much sometimes," Timmy muttered.
"You'll be happy to know that he didn't show up this time, Timmy."
"Oh, good," Timmy responded, sitting a little straighter. "Maybe he gave up."
"Or maybe he's too busy planning or flying out here to post on the internet," Brian said.
Everyone glared at him. Everyone, that is, except for Timmy, who slumped back in his seat.
"What? … Oh. Sorry, Timmy."
"Don't worry, Timmy," Paul said soothingly. "You'll be fine. Really."
Timmy nodded, but the gesture lacked confidence.
"Seth, what else do you have?" Paul prompted.
"Well… uhm… let me see… Oh, there's this one woman…"
"She noticed that I was reading the forum where she posts, and wrote something to get herself on the air…"
"Oh, yeah. You always get a few of those." Paul glanced at Timmy, and seemed to decide that distraction was a good thing. "She have anything good to say?"
"Well, she wanted me to say that, 'There was at least one fifty-year-old lady who thought young Clark was so sexy and cute when he was shutting up and being all silent and mysterious in the last episode.'"
"Uhm, okay. Good to know," Paul said.
"Hey, everyone loves Clark!" Kate commented.
"Not when he's talking, apparently," Brian put in.
Steph shrugged. "Guess she's into the strong, silent type."
There were some shrugs around the table. Paul turned back to Seth, a questioning look on his face.
"Uhm… what else? Oh, they were wondering about the music department."
"Music?" Brian asked. "We have music?"
"Sometimes," Kate told him.
"Oh, I guess I never noticed."
"It can slip into the background," she assured him. "Anyway, what did they want to know, Seth?"
"They were just mentioning that even though the sound guys left early yesterday, the music people probably had to work overtime."
"Oh, yeah. Different department. But working on short notice, it's usually better to see if you can use something prerecorded, anyway. We can do that in editing. And, of course, the editing crew are the ones who really had to work overtime on the last part. It's not easy for them when things are so last-minute, but we have good Saras."
Seth looked confused. "Saras?"
"Yeah, our chief editors are both named Sara."
"Oh, right. Anyway, that's about it for the highlights. Overall, we're getting some very positive reviews."
"Great! Thanks for the report, Seth." Paul waited while everyone basked in the glow of a job well done and well appreciated.
"Oh, wait!" Seth said before Paul could move on. "I almost forgot! Timmy, this is for you." He handed the writer a hat.
"Genius at Work. Do Not Disturb," Timmy read.
"Yeah, one of the fans suggested it for you. Well, she said it should be a sign, but I thought this worked better."
There were some chuckles and applause around the table as Timmy sheepishly put the hat on.
"What about you, Steph?" Paul asked after a few moments. "Do the cast have their voices back yet?"
She nodded happily. "It looks like. A few of them might be a little hoarse, but generally they should be fine."
"Glad to hear it," Paul said with a relieved smile. "Anything else going on that I should know about?"
"Nope. For once, it looks like everything and everyone is good to go." Her hand automatically flashed him a thumbs-up to back up her words.
"Great! Brian, what about you?"
"I've got our guest villain lined up," he responded, leaning back at ease. "I had to bump back a few auditions for Gotham, but we should still be ready when it's time. We're down to the last three candidates for Bruce. Final callback is tomorrow. I've got a good feeling about one of them."
"Perfect. I'll look forward to seeing your choice, then." Paul turned his gaze to the next in line. "Kate? What have you got for me?"
She looked up from her notes, a serious expression on her face. "Lighting failure."
"Some idiot crossed the wrong wires," she said, nervously toying with the edges of her notebook. "We lost some good lamps, and it'll take hours of repair work before we're even ready to start hanging replacements. We might need a new board, too."
"Oh boy," Paul said heavily. "What can we do?"
"Outdoor scenes," Timmy said absently, pencil flying across the page. "It's a sunny enough day out there. Tell the studio to have the backlot ready for us."
"On it," Kate announced, and that seemed to do it for the meeting.
Lois slumped in her seat, head flopped forward onto the steering wheel. The car next to her, which had hit her Jeep head-on, was a wreck. Gas leaked out of the cracked tank, spreading out in an ever-expanding puddle. It was only a matter of time before some stray spark from elsewhere in the damaged vehicle set the whole thing ablaze.
Suddenly, her door opened. Hands reached out and undid her seat belt. She fell to the side, and was neatly caught by the waiting arms of her rescuer.
The rush of fresh air woke her. She stirred, and her bleary eyes noted the flashes of red and blue from the brightly colored fabric covering the arms and chest holding her. "You came," she mouthed. "I knew you'd make it." Her lips stretched into a happy, woozy smile. After a moment, she flopped back again, content that she was in good hands.
He smiled down at her and carried her to safety. When he was sure she was clear, he headed back to get the driver of the other car. He rushed back to her as soon as the other man was secure, but something was odd. It shouldn't have taken him so long, and he hadn't done anything about the gas leak.
Lois forced herself awake. Her eyes focused on the man standing over her, looking down with a concerned expression. Dark hair, check. Handsome face, check. Red and blue outfit, check… but there were too many clashing colors and… Wait. That wasn't Superman's uniform. That was a garish hawaiian shirt. "Dan?"
He nodded and grinned, knowing better than to try to speak through the blanket of silence.
Across town, Superman saw the last of the planes make it safely to the ground. All the others had been warned off and rerouted to nearby airports. He scanned the city, and quickly locked in on Lois. He was there in a flash. An x-ray scan revealed no serious injuries, and she'd somehow escaped a concussion. Dan was obviously fine, and was quickly forgotten. The other driver was not so lucky, and the car was still leaking gas. Reluctantly leaving Lois, Superman zipped away to move the cars to a safer location and to carry the injured driver to the nearest hospital.
Several minutes later, Clark jogged over to where Lois and Dan were sitting, gesturing at each other. He was carrying two legal-sized notepads, with pens. He handed one to Lois, then shrugged apologetically at Dan, reserving the other pad for himself. Lois shared her pad with Dan, allowing all three to communicate with each other.
Everyone agreed on the obvious fact that the situation needed to be investigated, but each had his or her own ideas of how to go about it. Lois wanted to look into people with grudges against the phone company. Clark wanted to investigate the airport, to see if there were any people or packages coming in which someone might not want to arrive safely. Dan thought that the whole thing might be a distraction, to allow something to arrive at the harbor unnoticed.
They agreed to split up. Clark and Dan weren't happy about leaving Lois, but she insisted. It was clear that she had recovered and wasn't about to put up with any perceived mollycoddling.
Clark scanned her once more, to be sure, and then they all headed out, agreeing to meet again at 5pm, outside the Daily Planet.
By 5:30, they were all there. No one had found anything, to their mutual frustration.
"I wish I knew how to contact Superman," Lois wrote on her pad.
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Why?" his posture asked.
"I could ask him to fly around the city, find the edges of the bubble. Whatever is causing it is probably at the middle."
"You're brilliant!!" Clark wrote.
"I knew that," Lois responded, grinning. "Good of you to notice."
"Oh, I knew before. It's one of the reasons — Never mind. I better go see if I can find Superman."
It was Lois's turn to raise her eyebrows, but the expression was wasted on Clark's back. She turned to Dan, who shrugged.
"Wanna go for dinner?" he mimed.
She stared at him.
He waved his hands, seeming to indicate that there was nothing else they could do.
Lois considered it a moment, then shook her head. "The city first," she wrote.
Above them, Superman flew in a weaving circle around the city, listening carefully to see where he could and could not hear. Surprisingly, the center of the bubble seemed not to be in Metropolis itself, but rather a nearby suburb. He moved around, mentally marking places on the borderline, then flew up high enough that he could see the whole thing. From that vantage, he triangulated his mental reference points to find the exact center. He flew down to find… an apiary?
The sign out front showed a friendly cartoon bee welcoming visitors to "Sabbitini and Sons Honey." Superman scanned the area. Rows of boxes containing removable squares of honeycomb filled the yard. The main building clearly served several purposes, with partitions separating home, factory, and store areas. Below, in the basement, there was… a lab. Of course. He looked around for the mysterious machine he knew would be whirring and pulsating. It took a moment for him to spot it, sitting out in the open, next to the boxes with the bee hives.
A nondescript man — barely more than a kid, really — in casual clothes stood next to the machine. His jaw dropped when he saw Superman landing in front of him.
The hero imperiously gestured for the device to be turned off, with the implied threat that he would take care of it himself, if he had to.
The man fairly ran to the switch. He flipped it off. Soon, a ripple went through the air, and sound returned.
"What's wrong, Superman?" he asked, with a concerned expression on his face.
Superman looked at him disbelievingly. "What's wrong? You blanket the entire city in silence, nearly kill countless people at the airport and on the road, cause massive panic, and you're asking me what's *wrong*?"
"Oh my gosh! I did all that? I had no idea! The bubble wasn't supposed to extend past the edges of the farm!"
"What were you trying to do?"
"It's the bees. I'm… allergic. I thought if I could ground them, I'd be able to help out without worrying about my own safety."
"And this machine…"
"Was designed to do that, yes. You see, bees use something called 'vortex shedding' to fly. Their wings are flat, not curved like on an airplane. Each flap makes a tiny disturbance in the air, a brief miniature whirlwind centered around the low pressure zone created by the displacement of the air. Most people are used to ignoring the effect as negligible, but it's just enough to hold a bee up until the next flap. Without it, they wouldn't be able to fly at all. So, I thought if I could make the air resistant to vibrations…"
"You'd keep the bees on the ground, unable to get to you."
"Exactly. I guess I did a better job building it than I thought, though… I'm so sorry." He looked genuinely disturbed by the thought of what he'd inadvertently caused.
"Have you ever considered that maybe beekeeping wasn't really your field?"
He frowned, confused. "What? But it's the family business. What else would I do?"
Superman gestured at the machine. "Something in science, perhaps? I'm sure there are plenty of companies who would be happy to employ someone capable of designing and building something like this."
"Huh. You think?"
"I'm sure of it." He moved his hand, fishing a business card out of… somewhere. "Here, this is the contact information for Dr. Bernard Klein at STAR Labs. Tell him I sent you. I'm sure he'll be able to find something for you, or at least point you in a good direction."
The young man took the card, beaming. He practically glowed with excitement. "Wow! Thank you, Superman!"
"You're welcome. And next time… be more careful at the test stage."
"I sure will!"
Superman smiled, waved, and flew off. Unbelievable.
Production Meeting Five:
As usual, the meeting started with Seth's report.
"Well, internet chatter started off slow this time, but it did get up to nearly the same level as it's been." Seth shrugged. "Must have been a busy weekend."
"Fair enough," Paul said. "What did they have to say? Did they like the story?"
"Actually, most of it was about Timmy."
The writer looked up from underneath the brim of his new hat, a haunted look in his eyes. He didn't say anything. He didn't have to.
"It was very supportive," Seth hurriedly assured him.
Timmy looked tentatively hopeful.
Honesty forced Seth to qualify the remark. "Well, for the most part, anyway."
The brim went back down. Light reflected off the hat's message. "Do Not Disturb."
"Look, someone offered to let you hide out at her place. Said you could have your choice of couches."
"Oh. Well, that's nice," Timmy said into his pile of script pages.
"And someone else asked if you have a girlfriend…"
"Yeah? What do you know about her?"
"Well, she represents herself with a phoenix."
"As in 'baby bird rising from the ashes'?" he asked, sounding interested despite himself.
Seth glanced at the printout. "Yeah, pretty much."
Brian jumped in while Timmy was thinking this over. "Sounds like one hot chick!"
There was a pause, then everyone groaned.
"Look, Timmy," Seth said, "they think you're brilliant. They really like you. It's a good thing."
"What about that guy? He likes me, too…"
"Yeah," Seth agreed uncomfortably. "Here's the thing about him. He… uhm… made a little mistake."
"He stopped to post his… activities. Security teams know just what to look for now."
"Uhm, good. I guess."
Paul spoke into the uncomfortable silence. "What did they say about the show itself?"
"Oh, they enjoyed it. They actually liked the beekeeper thing. Oh, and the sight gag with Dan standing in for Superman. Actually, one of them liked it so much she wants to see Superman in a hawaiian shirt."
That shook Timmy out of his funk. "What?"
"She thinks it'd be really fun to see Superman flying around in a hawaiian shirt."
Timmy raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh."
"Hey, she's a fan, and one of the good ones. Well, except that she seems to think she's a Mary Sue."
Seth shook his head, confused. "Uhm, because we noticed her and included her in the show?"
"She does realize she wasn't part of the actual story, right? And that she's not the writer?"
"Maybe she has unusually colored hair," Brian suggested.
Seth shrugged. "Maybe. I guess I should skip over the part where she thinks Timmy is her father…"
"What?! Do I look old enough to be someone's father?"
"Well, in this day and age, who knows?" Seth asked, trying to keep a straight face. "But of a fifty-year-old woman? Probably not."
"Right, okay. I guess that makes the request seem more reasonable by comparison. Well, I'll see if I can work something out. Maybe there's some confusion when he's unpacking in Gotham…" He started flipping through script pages.
"Anything else, Seth?" Paul asked. "We're kind of running late…"
"I think we've covered the highlights. They hate Dan, but we knew that."
Paul nodded. "True enough. Thanks, Seth. Steph, what do you have for us today?"
"Everything looks good," she said, smiling. "Well, except for one little thing…"
"Uh-oh. What is it this time?"
"Oh, no. Sorry! Nothing to worry about! It's just that Perry feels left out. He hasn't been getting many lines lately, and he hasn't shown up in this series at all…"
"I can work him in, I think," Timmy said.
"Thanks!" Steph replied happily.
"Whew. Well, what about you, Brian?"
"All set here. We've got everyone we need for this week and next! We had to push up the schedule for Gotham because of the special scripts the last couple of weeks, but everything is set now."
"Glad to hear it! Kate?"
"Lights are fixed, sets are ready, sound is in place… It all looks good. We've even got permission to use the car! Effects department is still tied up working on the Enforcer — something about getting it to move right on the screen — but that's fine. We're light on effects today, anyway."
"Perfect. So, then —"
Paul was cut off as Meg, the studio consultant, rushed in the door. She was in charge of communications with the higher-ups in the company. Having her burst in suddenly at the last moment was generally a bad sign. "I just got a call. We can't use Gotham."
Everyone at the conference table spoke at the same time. "What?" they asked, shocked.
"They're coming out with a new Batman series. They just decided. Apparently, we've been doing well enough with Superman that they're willing to give it the green light. We'll see if anything actually comes of it, but for now… They're pulling the rights."
"That's nuts!" Kate exclaimed. "Allowing us to use Batman would *increase* interest in a new show!"
"I know," Meg said regretfully, "but there's some kind of legal tangle. We can't have the rights while they're working on getting the new show together."
"So what are we supposed to do?" Paul demanded. "We've been setting this thing up for *weeks*."
"There's nothing I can do," Meg responded heavily. "I tried, believe me."
"Change the signs on the lab and the construction bay," Timmy said, scribbling away on various papers. "We'll just have to relocate."
"And just as I got the car, too," Kate said. "Hmm. Maybe we can use it in another episode sometime down the road…"
There was more muttering around the room, but the meeting footage cut out. Apparently, the producers had chosen to keep the staff's comments about the studio private.
"Lois, Clark! My office! Now!" Perry White's voice boomed across the newsroom.
The two reporters, used to their editor's gruff ways, smiled at each other and made their way to his office at an only slightly hurried walk.
"Yeah, Perry?" Lois asked, while Clark closed the door behind them.
"It's about this Gotham thing…"
Lois and Clark exchanged a glance. By the sound of Perry's voice, this wasn't going to be good news.
"I've been speaking to the boys in travel, and they say they can't do it."
"What?!" Lois was outraged. "They can't —"
"Exactly," Perry cut her off. "They can't afford it. Our budget is strained now, Lois…"
"Strained? Perry, someone out there is building dangerous military-grade hardware, something so mysterious we can barely find anything to show it even exists, and the only clue we have points directly to Gotham City. We can't let something like this go just because the pencil pushers are pinching pennies! If we'd let them do that, we'd still have guns pouring onto the street from the Congo and —"
Perry knew better than to let her work herself into full-steam-ahead babble mode. "Lois, listen to me. The paper is on a tight budget now. The money is tied up with legal battles from this whole CostMart mess."
Lois did a double-take. "Costmart? But they…"
"Claim that, whatever their boss may have been doing, they are a legitimate business, and that, thanks to the stories we've been running — your stories — they're losing millions of dollars a day."
"But… but… that's…"
"Completely ridiculous. I know," Perry, said interrupting again. If there was one thing he hated, it was giving people bad news. At least, when those people were his best reporters rather than paid subscribers. The way he saw things, it was better to force the issue and get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible. "They were about as clean as a junkyard dog who'd been digging for scraps in the compost pile on a rainy day."
Lois frowned for a second, digesting this, before nodding. "So, what's —"
"The problem is that, until the lawyers can prove that in court, we've got to be *very* careful about where we put our money, where we send our people, and what we go poking into."
Lois took a breath.
"You bring me something solid, something to prove this thing poses a real threat to the public, that it's not just a run-of-the-mill classified project… maybe I can work something out. But as it is? No. That's my final word, Lois."
Clark, who had been standing behind Lois the whole time, quietly supportive, spoke up for the first time. "Gotcha. Thanks, Chief." Carefully, he steered his partner towards the door, his hand on her back silently assuring her that there was nothing more productive that could be done.
Moving with an agreement that didn't need to be spoken, the partners made their way to the conference room, where they could review the situation in private.
Lois paced rapidly, trying to work off her frustrations and get her mind working better at the same time. "So what do we do now?"
"Look into local connections, I guess. It's all we can do."
"Local connections, right. That means…"
"PROPERTY OF LEXCORP" the sign declared boldly, its clean face almost seeming to gleam in comparison with the dingy wall to which it was attached. Lois, dressed in dark, nondescript clothing, stood with her back pointedly turned towards the "No Trespassing" sign on the fence that ran around the perimeter of the property. It might as well have been a welcome mat to the fearless and intrepid reporter.
Clark, also in dark clothing, seemed somewhat less at ease, although the letters "LEX" alone could perhaps have accounted for that.
Lois crept towards the door, then began working on the lock. Clark watched her for a moment, then wordlessly scanned the area. By the time the telltale click announced his partner's success, he had used his breath to point a camera in a more favorable direction, his heat vision to disable three alarms, his x-ray vision to find the most likely path to their target area (a lab which was, of course, lead-lined), and his hearing to locate all the guards.
Between Lois's experience and Clark's surreptitious help, the break-in went very smoothly. Inside the lab, they found blueprints for Project: Enforcer. It was some kind of high-end military plane, but notes scrawled on the blackboards mounted on the room's walls made it clear that it had been designed with Superman's capabilities in mind. Unfortunately, there was no way to prove that the motives for doing so were any more sinister than just using the Man of Steel as a performance benchmark.
They were rifling through files, looking for something more concrete, when Clark heard one of the guards approaching. He signaled to Lois, and the pair reluctantly hurried away.
Production Meeting Six:
"How are things looking, Seth?" Paul asked when everyone had settled into place.
"Pretty good," he replied. "Traffic is holding steady. People come and people go, but it averages out. It's actually kind of impressive. We're not seeing the usual mid-story sag. What they have to say remains very positive, too."
There were smiles and happy sounds around the table as everyone took in the news.
"Some of them were disappointed about Gotham," Seth continued after a few moments, "but they seem to understand it was beyond our control."
"Yeah," Kate said, "we were disappointed, too."
"Uhm, let's see…" Seth muttered to himself as he flipped through the printouts. "There was a request for an appearance by… Is this right…? Mindy Church? Who's that?"
"Someone we were talking about introducing next season," Timmy replied. He started muttering something about obsessed fans and spoilers.
"Oh. Okay, then. There was also a request for the return of Cat Grant."
"Yeah, we get those from time to time," Steph said. "The execs don't want her around anymore because we have an earlier time slot this season. She wasn't deemed 'family-friendly.'" She turned to the camera. "Sorry, guys. I don't think we'll be seeing her around again."
"Hey," Seth said, looking at something on one of the printouts, "what's this about the Congo?"
"That was a former case of Lois's," Timmy explained. "Part of her backstory. I don't think we've mentioned it before, but we may end up doing something about it later."
"Gotcha. Thanks, Timmy."
The writer nodded absently, his attention once more focused on the scripts and notes spread out before him.
Paul got up and went to look over Seth's shoulder. "Anything more from that guy?" he whispered.
"Yeah, but not much. Looks like he might be laying low."
"Darn. There were signs of a break-in earlier. Security's on it, but I was hoping we'd know more…"
Seth looked up, shocked. "A break-in? What?"
"Yeah. Luckily, he missed. Timmy was out, explaining to that other fan that he's not her father."
"He actually went to see her?"
Paul nodded. "That's what I hear. Don't know why he wasn't scared to do it, but I guess she seemed nice, even if a little nutty."
"Seriously. I mean, she thinks *George Clooney* makes a good Batman." Seth shook his head, and glanced over to make sure Kate hadn't heard.
That seemed to remind Paul that it wasn't exactly polite to hold a whispered conversation in the middle of a staff meeting. He went back to his chair. "What else do you have, Seth?"
Instead of answering, he passed around one of the printouts. He'd written a brief note at the top. "Looks like Timmy picked up another fan. At least this one just wants to marry him."
"Muse?" Brian asked.
Seth shrugged, not sure how to respond. "Oh, got something else from our favorite hot chick. She's still a fan of Timmy's, but she says she's impressed with how the rest of us have been keeping up with changes, too."
"That's always good to hear," Paul said.
"I like her!" Steph put in happily.
"Sounds like a good note to end on," Paul said. "Unless there's something else."
"I think that about covers it," Seth replied.
Paul nodded and glanced down the table.
"Everything is good here," Steph announced before he could ask. "After the problems we had in the first few weeks, everyone really shaped up and pulled together." She clasped her hands for emphasis.
"Glad to hear it," Paul said, smiling. "I love it when things go right." He turned to the next person, but saw that Brian was looking away. Deciding to give the casting director a little time, he moved on to the technical director. "Kate? What about you?"
"Looking good here, too," she responded, giving her notes one last unnecessary check. "We've got everything we need for this part, and the effects department is putting the final touches on the stuff for next week. Should be quite a sight."
"I'll look forward to it! Brian?"
He looked over, reluctantly. "Lex can't make it."
"He got cast on some other show, and they need him to start immediately. He told them he was due to work with us, but they weren't listening. So, he had to choose between a regular gig and a one-shot guest appearance. Guess who won?"
"But he's our main villain! We've been working up to his appearance the whole time! First Gotham and now this… How are we supposed to tell the story when crucial elements keep getting yanked?"
"We'll just have to find another villain," Timmy said, as if this were obvious. In a way, perhaps it was. "I'll try to leave it ambiguous for now," he said, flipping through pages with a pensive frown. "Let me know whom you can get."
"Ambiguous?" Paul asked, incredulous. "Last week, we mounted a sign that said 'LEXCORP' in giant letters. We even made sure to focus the camera on it because the set was designed to represent some shady place in Gotham. How are you going to make it ambiguous now?"
Timmy, hard at work, ignored the question.
Paul sighed and, as he'd done so many times before, trusted that Timmy would find a way.
Lois Lane looked over her notes in frustration. Sifting through the information they'd collected at the Lexcorp site was taking forever. The partner she was supposed to have to help her was late. Again. She sighed. Things could be so perfect with him, if only he'd be there when she needed him. If only he didn't run away at the worst possible times. If only he could show her that he cared for her as much as she — The knocking at her door broke into her thoughts.
She jumped up and ran to the door, hating herself for how happy she felt. "Hi, Cla — Dan?"
"Hey there," he said, flashing her his most charming smile.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, trying to pretend that her surprise and confusion had nothing to do with the man she *had* expected to be at her door.
"I thought I'd drop by and give you the opportunity to thank me for saving your life the other day," he said with a teasing gleam in his eye.
She wondered what she could say to that. "Oh, uh… yeah. Thanks."
He leaned casually against the doorframe. "I think you can do better than that."
She raised her eyebrows. Did he expect…?
"How about this?" Dan suggested playfully. "I'll let you take me out to dinner."
"Dinner? Well, I, uh…"
"Hi, Lois," Clark said, slipping through the door, "Sorry I'm late. Hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"No," Lois said, throwing Clark a quick glance before looking back at her other visitor. "Look, Dan, Clark and I have work to do. I'll talk to you… later, okay?"
"Yeah, sure. I'll see you around." He strolled off with deceptive casualness.
Lois closed the door and turned around to face her partner. "Where have you been, Clark?"
"I'm sorry, Lois. There was some trouble in the subway…" Unconsciously, he brushed some iron filings off his hands. The situation with the runaway train had been a close call.
"Oh. Well, now that you're here…" She gestured towards the papers on the table.
Together, they attacked the pile.
"Hey, look at this," Clark said some time later. He handed her a small bundle of sheets. "It looks like a genuine military contract. Lexcorp is working on a one-man craft designed to allow a single soldier to patrol an entire city, giving him capabilities on the order of Superman's."
"So… what? You think it's a legitimate project?"
"I don't know." He handed her another bundle. "It might have started out as one, but from the looks of these notes, someone else took it over. Changed the designs, increased planned production, maybe even found a new buyer. It's hard to tell, but I think someone may have hijacked the whole thing…"
"Which could mean that Lex isn't involved." Lois wasn't sure what to make of that idea.
Clark's expression was oddly tight and very intense. "You can never be sure, with Luthor."
Production Meeting Seven:
Everyone was in place around the table when the cameras went on. "Traffic on the net is still holding steady," Seth reported happily. "Still very positive, too."
The production staff grinned. They never tired of hearing that their work was appreciated.
"A lot of sympathy about losing Lex," Seth continued. "A bit of confusion as to where he went, but that's how rumors on the net go, I guess. Oh, and one of the fans seems to have forgotten that Lex went bald in 'The Phoenix.' I guess his Season One appearances were more memorable. Or maybe she missed that episode."
"It happens," Brian said, shrugging.
"It's just a really good thing we're showing these meetings," Paul said. "The fans don't usually get to see all the craziness that goes on around here. Usually, they're just upset by the odd twists and turns without realizing how much is simply beyond our control."
Steph nodded. "Like the proposal. Meg is *still* trying to get permission to let us do that sometime next season…" She clenched her fists in frustration.
"Well, we have some time," Paul assured her. "We'll see how that goes. Meantime, what else do you have, Seth?"
"There's some curiosity about our new villain."
Paul turned to Brian.
"I'd prefer to let our viewers be surprised," he said, "but I did find an emergency guest villain." He leaned back, a self-satisfied smile on his face. "I already talked to Timmy. We should be good to go."
Timmy, casually flipping through pages and making minor corrections, nodded his agreement.
Paul smiled back, looking relieved. "Good work, Brian!"
"Ah, I guess that means we don't need to worry about this Chris O'Donnell suggestion," Seth announced, not sounding very surprised.
Paul shot him an odd look, then shrugged. "Guess not. What else is there?"
"That guy is back," he whispered. "He denies being responsible for the break-in, but he doesn't sound like he's in good shape."
"Oh, don't worry about that," Paul said a little more loudly than usual. "They caught him. He won't be bothering Timmy any more."
Timmy looked up, startled and hopeful.
"They found him camping out nearby. He was in pretty bad shape. Mumbling something about Kryptonite and chicken."
"Keeps the chicken from flying away," Timmy said cheerfully.
Paul grinned at him. "Anyway, he really needed some help. The nice people in the white coats came and they'll make sure he's taken care of. Clean and fed with all the chicken he wants, and even radioactive green stuffing. It's a cafeteria specialty, I hear. Once they work out the legal details, he'll probably be shipped back home, but for now, the important thing is that his needs are being seen to."
Timmy looked happier than he had in weeks.
Paul gave him some time to enjoy the feeling before getting things moving again. "Anything else, Seth?"
"Nothing to top that. We do have a couple of new viewers. Enthusiastic ones, too. Welcome, Beta, and… uhm… some kind of crazy animal."
"I don't know. Her icon has a super chicken on it."
"Better keep her away from that guy with the avian Kryptonite!" Timmy said, bouncing.
Paul spared him a grin before turning back to Seth. "Anything else?"
"They still hate Dan. A lot. Regulars and new viewers alike. He's become their new punching bag."
"Well, his contract isn't up yet, but we don't need him any more for this story. Right, Timmy?"
"He did have a few lines, but I can get rid of them easily enough."
"Fair enough," Paul said. "We'll take care of him next episode, then."
Seth looked back at the printouts. "Good," he said, sounding both firm and relieved. "I think that pretty much covers it."
"Okay then. Steph, what about you?"
"Everything is on track," Steph replied. "I don't think we'll have any more problems."
"Great! We've already heard from Brian." He spared the casting director a glance, in case there was anything else. When he saw the nod of confirmation, he turned to Kate, who was staring at her notepad. "Kate, what have you got?"
"Problems, I'm afraid," she said, toying with the pages without really seeming to see them.
"It's the CG guys who were working on the Enforcer."
"They had some kind of crash. They lost everything."
Steph waved her arms dramatically. "This is why you need back-ups, people!" She paused, seeing that everyone was staring at her. "What? I have Windows 95. I know about backing up data."
"They couldn't," Kate said into the awkward silence. "Didn't have the storage space."
Brian looked up, disbelieving. "What? Don't they have some kind of ridiculously large drives? Like six gigabytes or something?"
"Yeah, but apparently, they needed every k of it. We weren't their only project…"
Paul closed his eyes. "That dogfight with Superman was supposed to be the climax of the whole thing! Action! Stunning visuals! Aerial combat! An effects extravaganza! The groundbreaking 'I can't believe they did all this for a TV show' sequence people would be talking about for the rest of the year!"
The room went still as the crew gave Paul a moment to compose himself.
"Right." He took a deep breath. "What do we have?"
Kate tapped a spot on her notepad. "A few stills and test shots, and a full-scale mockup of the cockpit, made for live action close-ups."
"Okay," Paul said, clearly trying to believe it. "It could be worse."
"I'll make the changes," Timmy said.
"Good then. Meeting adjourned."
Lois and Clark met up again the following afternoon in the Daily Planet's conference room. They'd split up that morning in order to speed up the investigation. If someone was daring to work behind Luthor's back, stealing and altering plans for a very dangerous piece of military hardware, time was clearly of the essence.
"I did some digging into the project staff," Lois started.
Clark looked up sharply. "How'd you do that? The thing's supposed to be top secret."
"I had Jimmy… Never mind that. It's not important."
"Not important? Lois…"
She quelled him with a look.
He sighed. "We'll talk about it later. What did you find?"
"Thank you. What I found is that just as the people in charge were getting ready to scrap the project and declare it unfeasible, someone new entered the picture. Doctor Chronian. No one knows where he came from or how he got involved, but they say he's some kind of genius. He started giving them solutions to problems they hadn't even been aware of yet. He saved the whole thing single-handedly, and made it better, faster, and cheaper in the process."
"Hmm. That lines up with what Doctor Klein told me."
She frowned at him. "You took stolen top secret plans to an outside consultant?"
"Well, I, uh…" he stammered, blushing.
Suddenly, she grinned. "Never mind, Clark. Just teasing."
He smiled, tentatively, but with a pensive look on his face.
"Clark, it's okay. Really. What did he say?"
"Huh? Oh, right. He said he'd never seen anything like it. That the circuitry and various systems were years beyond anything he knew about."
"Doctor Klein said that?" she asked, her eyes widening. "STAR Labs is supposed to be on the cutting edge!"
He nodded, worried. "Yeah, that's what I thought, too. … Wait, what did you say the guy's name was?"
"The new one, the one who saved the project."
"Oh. Doctor… uhm… There it is… Chronian."
"Chronian? As in Chronos… Time."
Lois looked up at that. "And Doctor Klein said his work was years ahead…"
"What if it's a time traveller?" Clark wondered.
Lois started to object, then froze, a confused frown on her face. "I suppose it's possible. We've seen weirder things." She looked like she was trying to remember something, but after a moment, she gave up. "Okay, so it could be, but what would a time traveller be doing working at Lexcorp?" she asked, bewildered.
"Who knows? Looking to influence history somehow, I'd assume."
"And not for the better, from what I've seen." She thought this over, then her eyes widened in horror. "Clark, with technology from the future, the Enforcer could be a real match for Superman, and if he was planning to mass produce it and sell it on the black market…"
"The whole world could be in danger." Clark closed his eyes, seeing the possibilities. "Goons with that much power flying over every city…" He shuddered at the thought. "We can't let this go any farther," he said grimly.
"How are we supposed to stop it?"
He pointed to one of the sheets in front of him. "It says here that the manufacturing plant is near the airport. So I had Jimmy look up all the places in that area with the right equipment to put something like this together and had him cross-check that list with places getting deliveries from Gotham. There are only three buildings that fit."
She grinned at him. "Good work, partner."
"Thanks," he said, beaming back at her. "So, I'm going to go find Superman, and give him the addresses. He can check all three places faster than we could get down there."
"Okay, but…" Lois trailed off, seeing that it was too late. Clark was already gone.
Superman burst into the hangar to find what appeared to be a completed Enforcer prototype. The small, sleek, and stealthy craft was hard to see, even under the bright work lights. The man already settling into the cockpit looked up at the hero's entrance, startled.
"What? You! You weren't supposed to be here yet!" Tempus exclaimed before quickly regaining his composure. "Well, no matter. You're too late, Superman! As you can see, the Enforcer is ready, and it's more than a match for you! So back off, before I'm forced to…" He trailed off as the control lights flickered and died. While he'd been speaking, Superman, familiar with the blueprints, had disabled the craft with a few high precision bursts of heat vision. "Oh."
Superman smirked at him.
"Curse you, you big blue meddling boy scout!" He began fumbling with the pockets of his shiny futuristic flight suit. "Lucky for me, I planned for this contingency. I have a handy escape plan ready. A pocket time window generator. Don't leave home without —" The steely grip on his arms stopped him short. "I really have to learn to curtail my more dramatic instincts," he said to no one in particular.
Tempus went still as Superman dragged him away. No point trying to escape now. He'd just have to bide his time until one of his emergency contingency plans kicked in to get him out of wherever he was locked up. He smiled to himself. Time travellers were awfully hard to keep contained. And when he got out, he'd… he'd… "Maybe I'll run for president," he said thoughtfully.
Superman gave him a stern look, then took off in the direction of the nearest police station.
Production Meeting Eight:
"So… home stretch, people," Paul said, looking around. "Seth, what have we got?"
"A lot of traffic this time. It's looking good. They loved seeing Tempus."
"He's fun to write," Timmy said. "We'll have to do more with him next season."
"Sounds good to me," Paul replied. "What else, Seth?"
"A fair amount about the effects issues from last part."
"Some disappointment, some admiration for the work-around… Some guy who thinks computers have eighty gigabytes of storage…"
"Eighty gigs?" Brian's eyes nearly popped out. "What year is *he* living in? I thought the two gig drive I just got was pretty good. Sheesh. Next you'll be telling me he's got a 10x CD-ROM drive."
Seth shrugged, then went back to his printouts. "It looks like that guy has some company."
Timmy looked up at that. "Yeah?"
"That woman who thought you were her father…"
"I liked her," the writer commented.
"She's afraid she'll disappear when we go off the air or she'll be erased from this part or something."
Timmy turned to address the camera. "It's okay. You'll still be here. After we're done filming, the whole episode will go into the studio archives. It'll be kept there for a long, long time."
"She's still making that same request," Seth added.
"Well, I'll see what I can do," Timmy said, scribbling on his notepad. "After all this, she deserves it."
Seth went back to his printouts. "Hmm. Looks like Dan has at least one sympathizer. Of a sort."
"There's always one," Steph said. "Sorry, whoever you are. Looks like you're outvoted."
"Well, at least we can tell Dan that someone appreciates his work," Kate put in.
Seth glanced down again and hastily covered up something about a proper funeral. "Uhm, yeah. Sure."
"Anything else?" Paul asked.
"Mixed feelings about seeing the end. Looking forward to the conclusion, but sad to see it go…"
"Wow, it's not every episode that can get that kind of reaction. Good job, everyone!" Paul let them enjoy that for a while before continuing the meeting. "Steph?"
"Jimmy quit," she announced.
"What? Oh. Well, that's okay. It's not like we've really had much use for him lately…"
"That's exactly why he quit," she replied, waggling a finger.
"We can always find another one if we need to," Brian added.
"Anything else?" Paul asked.
She waved her hand vaguely. "Perry still wants more lines."
"Maybe next week," Paul said. He turned to Timmy. "There's that street fair at the beginning…" he suggested.
Timmy gave a little sideways nod. "I'll find something for him."
"Good," Paul replied. He turned to look across the table. "Brian?"
"My work for now is done. We have everyone we need for this week and next."
"Great! Kate, how are things on the technical side?"
"Just fine." She scanned her notes once more. "Everything's in place."
"Wow. Okay, then. Let's get to it!"
Lois struggled with her bonds, but whoever had tied the ropes holding her to the chair had been very thorough. An ominous ticking sound filled the room.
She looked up at the sound of a familiar woosh. Superman had come to help her! Oddly, he seemed to be wearing a garish hawaiian shirt instead of his cape. His hair was curly and unkempt, and she had a hard time focusing on his face. It seemed blurred, somehow.
"No!" she shouted. "Stay back, SuperDan! There's a Kryptonite-coated chicken!"
"The colonel's secret recipe!" the hero exclaimed, stumbling back in horror. "My one weakness! Will I never be free of your vile legacy, Trask?"
"You can't help me this time."
"But I want to save you," he responded plaintively.
"I don't want a rescuer," she found herself telling him. She stopped her struggling and stood up, the ropes falling away. "I want a partner." She looked at the ticking clock, then back to the man in the brightly-colored outfit. "Sorry, but I have to go. He's waiting for me. I just hope I'm not too late…"
She turned away and headed for the door, but just as she put her hand out to open it, a loud buzzing sound filled the room.
Lois gasped, startled. The room disappeared. She opened her eyes, and… Oh.
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she rolled over and turned off the alarm.
"… so it turns out this time traveller, Tempus, was behind the whole thing," Lois told Clark that evening. He'd come over to her place, ostensibly so they could review the situation. Both knew, without having to say it, that there would be more to it. "You know, every time I hear that name, I get this nagging sense of deja vu, but… never mind. As far as I can tell, Lex didn't even know about the project in the first place. He still has ties to what's left of the company, but they're trying to distance themselves from him. They especially don't want him involved with military projects, not while he's in prison."
Clark shifted and put an arm around her. "Well, Tempus has been turned over to the proper authorities. Superman brought him to the police, but no sooner was his name in the books than some people walked in, claimed jurisdiction, and took him away."
She pulled away so she could look at his face. "What people?"
"Some kind of… time police," he said, shaking his head. "Superman didn't know what to make of them, but they seemed genuine."
She frowned, pursing her lips. "Hmm. Well, I hope they can keep him from coming back."
He took the opportunity to plant a quick kiss on her lips. "Me too."
She smiled up at him, but then sighed as a new thought crossed her mind. "You realize, of course, that we can't possibly print any of this."
"A top secret military project headed by a time-travelling villain who vanished off the face of the Earth… Yeah, probably best if we don't try to write it up."
"Who would believe it?"
Clark grinned mischievously. "The National Whisper?"
She slapped him playfully on the arm. "So what do we write?" she asked after a moment.
"We'll find something," Clark said, unworried. "Worse come to worse, we'll do a write-up on the charity street fair tomorrow."
"I told Perry I wasn't going. He wanted me to do some kind of hokey fortune telling gig."
"Well, we don't have to go as volunteers…"
"How else would we go?"
"As just another everyday couple?" he suggested, with only a slight hint of tentativeness.
She chuckled with a slight shake of her head.
He smiled back, but not very convincingly.
"You and I, Clark, will never be the 'everyday' sort. I mean, just look at everything that's happened in the last two years…"
The smile became more genuine. "I have to give you that." He waited, but she didn't say anything more. "So what about it?" he prompted her.
"What about what?" she asked innocently.
"Going. To the fair. As a… couple."
"Oh, that," she replied as if she'd forgotten. Perhaps she had. "Well, it's not exactly dinner at Fouquet's…" She paused, thinking about it.
Clark held his breath.
"But it's not the Smallville Corn Festival, either," she said, with a twinkle in her eye.
"Don't tell me you didn't have fun at the Corn Festival."
She smiled ruefully, caught. "Okay, so maybe I did. Helps to have the right company."
She was rewarded with a blush and a grin. "So…"
She finally gave in. "Yes. I'll go with you."
"It'll be just a nice quiet day out," he assured her.
She snuggled into him a little. "Sounds good," she said.
Plans set for the following day, they shifted their focus to the present, to exploring their budding relationship. Dan Scardino, distracting suitor and annoying rival, was forgotten for a time. There were more important and immediate concerns. For example, just how many kisses were too many at this stage? Only one way to find out…