By Nan Smith <email@example.com>
Submitted: January 2006
Summary: Someone is watching the Kent family and CJ in particular. Is it an old enemy or someone new? This is the sequel to "Suspicions."
This story is part of Nan Smith's "Dagger" series. See a list of all the stories in this series and get links.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read A Tasteful Lesson. Need the previous story? Read Suspicions.
Disclaimer: The characters and familiar settings in this story are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else can legally lay claim to them, but the story is mine.
"CJ Kent!" The PE coach was a new sub today, CJ thought. All the regulars knew him. He raised a hand. "Here, sir."
The sub was a fairly young guy with the kind of build that told CJ he took his position seriously. He looked CJ over appraisingly. Linda, from her position four spots away, glanced at him with her eyebrows up.
"Okay; I'm told you're the team captain." The man glanced around the class. "Who's Francis Larson?"
There were a few muffled snickers. Biff raised a hand, scowling at the sub. "That's Biff."
"Right — Biff. Okay, I'll see you two. Everybody else head out to the exercise field."
Biff and CJ stood to one side while the rest of the class left. When the others had gone, the new coach stood up, surveying CJ's slender form next to Biff's larger, more muscular body. "I'm told you're the best pitcher on the team," the coach said. He looked dubiously at CJ.
"That's right," CJ said confidently.
"Hmm." The man shrugged. "All right. You both know your team is going up against Eastside Elementary tomorrow in an exhibition game. I want to be sure we're going to have a team effort here. Biff, I understand you and Kent don't get along well."
CJ was careful not to shrug. "Not on the playground, sir," he said politely. "Biff's in sixth grade and I'm in fifth. Biff's a good right fielder, though."
"I'd think with your muscle you'd pitch a good fast ball," the coach said doubtfully, looking at Biff. "I'm going to want to see the two of you pitch. I'm not sure Kent is the best for starting pitcher."
CJ didn't smile. All that the guy had to see was Biff trying to pitch. CJ could handle any kind of pitch the catcher wanted. Biff could throw a long way, but he couldn't have pitched a ball if his life depended on it.
Biff grunted again. "I ain't a pitcher."
"Well, we'll let me decide that. Head over to the field and pick me out a decent catcher."
"That would be Wyatt Dillon," CJ said. "He's our best catcher."
The coach didn't say anything, but CJ got the feeling that this guy wasn't too sure about the players on the Metro Elementary baseball team. They'd just have to show him that they knew what they were doing. He hoped he wasn't going to sub for Coach Tibbets for long. Trying to change pitchers the day before a game didn't strike him as the smartest move he'd ever seen.
The rest of the class was doing stretches when CJ and Biff followed the coach out to the field. The man made a megaphone of his hands. "Dillon! Put on your catcher's gear and go on over to home plate. We're going to have a little test."
Wyatt trotted over to the box where the team's supplies were kept during the day and a couple of minutes later was in place.
"Okay, Larson," the coach said. "Show me what you've got."
Biff picked up the ball, wound up and let fly. Wyatt had to throw himself flat to avoid the ball. The coach frowned. "Haven't you ever pitched before, Larson? Throw it in the batting zone, over the plate. Aim for the glove."
Biff shrugged and tried again. The ball went over Wyatt's head.
The coach scowled. "You've got to be able to throw well enough to get the ball in from right field, Larson. Try again."
Throwing a ball in from right field was a bit different from putting it precisely through the batting zone, CJ thought, but he didn't say anything.
This time the ball clipped Wyatt's shoulder, knocking the boy to the ground. He got up, rubbing the spot, and the coach stood up. "You okay, Dillon?"
"Yeah." Wyatt rubbed his shoulder again.
Biff glowered at the coach. "I told you, I ain't a pitcher," he said. "Kent's the starting pitcher."
The man looked doubtfully at CJ. "You're the best on the team?" he said. "You don't look very muscular. All right, let's see you throw a fast ball."
"Are you sure you're okay, Wyatt?" CJ asked. "If not, I can have Gary catch."
"Gary can't handle your pitches," Wyatt said. "I can. Just hit the glove, not my shoulder."
"Count on it." CJ pulled on his glove, picked up the ball and strode to the pitcher's mound. Wyatt pulled his catcher's mask into place and held up the glove.
CJ wound up and threw. With a smack that echoed across the field, the ball struck precisely in the middle of the glove. Wyatt grinned and threw it back. The coach frowned.
"That's not half bad," he said. "Can you put some spin on it?"
CJ complied. The man's eyebrows climbed. "Not bad," he repeated.
Not bad his foot. CJ knew darned well that he was the best pitcher in the local Little League, and so did everyone else — and he had been since well before he had started to show any super powers. As a matter of fact, being a good pitcher now required more control than ever in order to keep the pitches normal and not too fast or too hard. His dad had told him it was good practice.
Three pitches later, the coach called a halt. "Okay, I guess you're right. You're the starting pitcher tomorrow. Split into your usual teams and get some practice in. Kent, I want to see you after class."
Now what? CJ wondered. He'd been careful not to show any abilities beyond a normal kid's, but this guy was paying him a little too much attention for comfort.
The coach was sitting in the PE office when CJ changed out of his gym clothes and presented himself. There was a gym bag by one wall, with the man's name on it in indelible ink, and what looked like a record file on the desk before him. CJ took in the scene with a quick glance around and waited for the coach to speak.
"CJ Kent — that stands for Clark Jerome," the man said. "I guess I know why you go by CJ. You named for your father?"
"Yes," CJ said. "Why?"
"No reason, really. Would that be the reporter?"
"My dad is a reporter, if that's what you want to know," CJ said. "What does that have to do with PE?"
"Nothing." Coach Pilson smiled. "I wondered when I saw the name. I thought maybe that was why you were the captain. Guess I was wrong. You're an exceptionally good pitcher."
"Thanks," CJ said.
"How long you been playing baseball?"
"I've been in Little League since I was eligible," CJ said.
"Oh. Any special training?"
"My grandfather taught me to pitch," CJ said. "He used to pitch for the Smallville Sluggers."
"Oh." The man seemed surprised. "Okay. I guess that makes sense."
What did he mean by that, CJ wondered. This guy seemed a little too inquisitive for his taste.
The phone rang, and Pilson picked up the receiver. CJ glanced around. The gym bag caught his eye and on impulse, he x-rayed it.
A gun? That was the first thing that he noticed. Something was definitely wrong here.
Careful not to betray that he had seen anything unusual, he continued to look around the office as if he were bored, then looked back at Pilson. The coach had swiveled away from him and was listening to someone on the other end. CJ decided that he should listen, too. If this guy was interested in Clark Kent's son, he wanted to know why.
"Have you seen any indication of unusual abilities?" the voice was asking.
"Not yet," Pilson said. "I'll continue to observe, of course."
"Do that. If the boy is one of them, we need to know."
CJ glanced casually at the file on the desk. It had been covered by another sheet of paper, but that was no barrier to his x-ray vision. He wasn't surprised now to see that it was his record.
Pilson signed off and hung up. "I understand you're adopted."
"Yeah," CJ said. "What about it? My mom was one of Dad's cousins."
"Do you know who your dad was?"
CJ decided that it was time to cut this off. "Her boyfriend. And this is none of your business!"
"Easy there." Pilson held up his hands. "I didn't mean to insult you."
"Yeah, well I'm going to be late for class if I don't go."
"All right. Be sure you're here at lunch for practice."
"I have to rest my pitching arm before a game," CJ said. "It gets sore if I don't, and my grandfather told me to be careful not to hurt myself."
"All right. But be here, anyway, for the pre-game briefing."
"All right." CJ made a personal vow not to let this guy get him alone again. The memory of Bureau 39 was still fresh in his mind. Dad needed to know about Coach Pilson right away.
Wyatt met him in the hall outside the PE office and they headed back for their classroom. "What did the new coach want?"
CJ waited until they were far enough from the office that he was sure Pilson couldn't overhear him. "There's something weird about him," he said flatly. "He's got a gun in his gym bag, and he was talking to somebody on the phone who wanted to know if I'd shown any unusual abilities. I'm thinking those Bureau 39 guys."
"Didn't they get busted up?" Wyatt wanted to know.
"I thought so. I have to talk to Dad."
"Yeah. Maybe he can find out. In the meantime, be sure you don't do anything different."
"Yeah." CJ figured he didn't need to worry about that. He made sure not to do anything outside the normal anyway. Still, if this new coach was trying to decide if he was one of the children of the New Kryptonians, he could very well set traps that CJ might be expected to fall into, if he wasn't on the alert.
Dad would know what to do, he thought. He wished he could talk to him right now. This was scary stuff, and he felt very vulnerable suddenly. Still, he was probably safe for now, as long as he stayed with other kids. And the last thing he needed to do was to scare his mother. It wouldn't help Lois to get upset about crazy government agents right now. He didn't want to send his mom into premature labor again.
During the lunchtime practice, CJ sat on the bench, watching the others. He had already warned Linda, who was careful not to do anything spectacular while on the baseball field with Coach Pilson watching. Linda was the team's shortstop, and very good at it. Lunch period passed, and CJ returned to his classroom. He was anxious to get home and let his dad know what was going on.
When school let out, he, Linda, Wyatt and Marta left school together, headed for the Kent home. Wyatt's mom was still working, as was Linda's, and the two children always came home with CJ and Marta. CJ watched as they walked, keeping an eye on everything around them.
And parked across the street from his home was a red sports car. It figured that Pilson would have a red sports car, he thought. The man was definitely watching him.
CJ didn't let on by the slightest glance that he had noticed Pilson in the red car. They walked sedately up the steps to the townhouse and CJ used his key to open the door.
He felt slightly safer once the outer door had closed behind them, but he wouldn't feel completely safe until Dad knew what was going on. Mom, as usual, was lying on the sofa with her feet up. Grandma Martha could be heard clinking around in the kitchen, and as they stepped through the inner door into the living room, she poked her head out the kitchen door. "Hi kids. I have some cookies and milk in here for anyone who wants some."
"Hi, Mom," CJ said. "Is Dad still at work?"
"Yes," his mother said. "Where else would he be? He'll be picking up Jonny from his after school class in half an hour."
"Okay. I wanted to ask him something about my science assignment." CJ turned to glance back out at the street, looking through both walls at the red sports car. The guy was fiddling with some kind of electronic gadget aimed at their house, but was apparently having trouble with it, judging from the scowl on his face and the fact that he was occasionally hitting it with his hand. CJ could make a guess at what it was. The creep was trying to eavesdrop on his family, probably with a directional microphone. He needed to get in touch with his dad pronto, before the guy got it working. CJ went up the steps to his parents' bedroom and picked up the phone.
There was a low buzzing on the line that probably wouldn't have been audible to anyone without enhanced hearing. CJ put down the phone. Not a good idea. He needed some way to talk to his dad without the possibility of bugged phone lines.
'Dad,' he thought, despairingly, 'come home! I need to talk to you! It's an emergency!'
No one could have been more surprised than CJ when his father's voice said in his mind, accompanied by a sensation of utter astonishment: 'CJ!?'
Clark was shutting down his computer in preparation for leaving when his son's voice said loudly and clearly in his mind: 'Dad, come home! I need to talk to you! It's an emergency!'
For an instant, he thought he was imagining things, and then the twelve-year-old memories of the New Kryptonian telepathic contacts flashed into his mind. CJ was communicating with him via telepathy!
'CJ?' he answered, astounded.
An instant's silence that, in itself, held a startled quality, and the CJ's mental voice said incredulously, 'Dad?'
'Yes,' Clark said. 'I'll explain later. What's the matter? Is it your mother?'
The sensation of astonishment had faded almost at once. Trust a modern kid, Clark thought briefly, to accept such things as telepathy so easily. 'Dad, there's a guy watching the house. Watching *me*. I think he's got a directional mike, and the phone sounds funny, like it might be bugged or something. I don't know what to do!'
With any other child, Clark might have been a little skeptical, but this was CJ. CJ was a calm, down-to-earth boy who rarely let his imagination run away with him. Plus, he had already had some experience with some of the not-so-nice members of society. 'What happened?'
CJ told him, starting with the substitute coach's interest in him at school, the gun in the gym bag and the fact that he was now sitting in his car across from the townhouse, fiddling with a piece of equipment that didn't seem to be working. Clark listened in silence until his son had finished.
'Okay,' he said, 'go downstairs and warn your grandmother — via a note — about what's happening. No one is to talk about anything involving super powers. Warn your sister and Linda and Wyatt, too. Your grandmother can warn your mother. I know you don't want to scare her, but she needs to know. Has Coach Pilson got his equipment working yet?'
Silence. 'I don't think so. He just hit it a couple more times.'
'Good. Hurry now.'
'Okay. Thanks, Dad.' CJ's mental voice 'felt' calmer now. Clark swept the contents of his desktop into a bottom drawer in a manner similar to Lois's favorite method of desktop cleaning and stood up. Jim Olsen saw him, and raised an eyebrow.
"In a hurry?"
"Yeah. There might be a problem at home."
"Lois?" Jim asked quickly.
"No. It seems that someone is watching the house and has a directional mike aimed at it. Phone might be bugged, too."
"Oh." Jim glanced at Perry White's office. "Better take off. I'll tell Perry." He paused. "I'm about to leave for the day, too. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Uh —" Clark was about to refuse and stopped. "Jonny needs to be picked up from his after-school class. I can do it if you can't, though."
"Say no more," Jim said. "I'll get him. It sounds like you might be busy for a while. Sandi's going to pick up the baby, so we won't have a conflict."
"Thanks." Clark headed for the elevator, grateful one more time that he no longer had set hours as long as he continued to bring in headlines, and that Jim Olsen had figured out the Kent family secret years ago. How would he have ever managed without the close circle of friends who knew his secret and rallied around to help him solve the problems that he had to deal with every day?
A short time later, Superman was floating above the townhouse, five hundred feet in the air, looking down at the man in the red sports car. He had a directional mike, all right, and apparently had it partially working, for he was wearing a pair of earphones and frowning at the sounds he was picking up from the townhouse. Clark listened for a minute and had to grin, even through his concern, at the information that was being transmitted to the listener.
Jimmy, in the playroom, was engaged in playing the newest in the family's acquisition of Playstation games, full of crashes, machine gun fire and explosions, with the sound turned up high. Wyatt and CJ had retreated to CJ's room and were doing their English homework while listening to the newest music group to hit the airwaves — indistinguishable to Clark's ears from the last ten, at least — in the last couple of months. Marta and Linda had apparently undertaken to make a cake under Martha Kent's tutelage, and were engaged in running the electric mixer, and Lois had evidently decided to engage in an Ivory Tower marathon, judging by the stack of tapes sitting on the coffee table. Hopefully their eavesdropper would get tired of the racket in a hurry, but Clark had little faith in that. Still, the family, with the exception of Jimmy, who had no way of knowing that anything was wrong, had apparently deliberately chosen activities designed to make the listener as bored and uncomfortable as possible.
Still, he needed to find out who was interested in his son, and by extension, his family. Too much interest in the Kent family was definitely something to be avoided.
He noted the license plate on the car, then pulled a U-turn in the air and made a beeline for the office of Deputy Mayor William Henderson.
Bill Henderson was working on the rough draft of the speech that he was planning to make before the City Council and, of course, the press, at the next Council meeting that was scheduled in two days, when he heard the light tapping on the glass of his office window. Since the window was on the second floor of the building, and Lois Lane was pretty much grounded with her triplets, there was only one person it was likely to be, unless the media was starting to employ human flies as their correspondents.
Sure enough, floating beyond the window was the shape of a tall man in a skin-tight costume of electric blue and a flapping red cape. He grinned sardonically. "Come on in," he said. "It's unlocked."
The city's resident superhero opened the window and dropped to the rug. "Hi, Bill."
"And what can the Mayor's office do for you today?" Henderson asked. "I hope you're not using your celebrity status to get a sneak preview of the Deputy Mayor's blockbuster speech day after tomorrow."
Clark looked slightly shocked. "I'd never do a thing like that!"
Henderson shook his head. "Unfortunately, I know that all too well. I take it this isn't just a social call?"
"I'm sorry to say, not. I wanted to know if you've been keeping track of the situation regarding Bureau 39, and what their status is."
Henderson frowned. "The investigation is still going forward. Cash and his buddies are in prison, awaiting trial for kidnapping, murder, treason, and several other charges. Why?"
"My son's PE coach is apparently getting snoopy about him." Clark hesitated. "He overheard someone on the phone asking the coach if CJ was exhibiting any unusual abilities. CJ x-rayed the guy's gym bag and saw a gun in it, and as of five minutes ago, the coach's car is parked across the street from my house, with a directional microphone aimed at it. My house phone is probably also bugged. I want to know who he works for."
Henderson sat up straight. "So do I. What's his name?"
"Well," Clark said, "at the school, he's going under the name of Pilson."
"Got a description?"
Clark stepped forward and picked up a pencil and notepad. "I can sketch his face for you." The pencil was flying over the paper, and an instant later, he held out the pad with a very skillfully done line drawing. "I don't know about height or weight. He's fairly good-sized and muscular. I'd guess two hundred pounds, somewhere between five-ten and six feet. He was sitting down when I saw him. I've written his license plate number below the drawing."
Henderson took the paper. "If I were the curious sort, I'd wonder why your adopted son was developing your powers, but fortunately I'm not. Curious, that is. Let me make a few inquiries. In the meantime, you might want to go back and keep an eye on this fellow."
"Thanks," Clark said. "Call my cell phone if you find anything."
"I will." Henderson cocked an eyebrow at him. "How do you know when to answer 'Superman' and when to answer otherwise?"
"Caller ID," Clark said. "How else?"
"Of course," Henderson murmured. "All right, get going. I'll let you know what I find out."
The red car was still sitting across the street from the townhouse when he pulled up in the Jeep. Jim's restored, classic Studebaker was parked by the curb, so he concluded that his co- worker hadn't left yet. He parked directly in front of the house and jogged up the steps, never glancing at the man who was apparently spying on his family. Maybe the guy was hoping for some kind of incriminating dialogue when he got there. If so, he was going to be disappointed.
He unlocked the door and went in, locking it behind him. He hadn't seen any sign of Kryptonite in the red sports car, but it was just as well not to take chances.
Jim Olsen was seated in the armchair next to the sofa where Lois reclined, and the two of them were looking at the screen of the computer that Lois kept within reach of her spot. "The Ivory Tower" was blasting away at a level that made him wince.
"Hi, CK!" Jim said, his cheerful voice at variance with the expression on his face as he beckoned Clark over to the sofa.
"Hey, Jim. Thanks for bringing Jonny home for me." Clark crossed the room and bent to see what they were doing.
"No sweat," Jim said. "I guess all this leave for Lois is giving her a chance to catch up on her soap opera. How'd the interview go?"
"Fine," Clark said. "I'll write it up in a bit and send it to the office. It should make the deadline."
On the screen of the computer, Jim had pulled up the DataNet and he and Lois were looking at a picture and profile of Boris Pilson, presumably a substitute coach currently at Metropolis Elementary.
The picture was of a much older man, in a state of considerable less physical fitness, than the man Clark had seen in the car across the street. It also gave an address. Clark nodded and jerked a thumb at the rear of the house. "I'm going to go change, honey. When I get back I'll see if Mom needs any help with dinner."
"Thanks, sweetheart," Lois said. She made a slight face and rubbed her back.
"Anything wrong?" Clark asked.
"No. Just more false labor. I've had so much of it ever since the premature labor scare."
"If it keeps up, let me know. It won't hurt to take you over to Women's Hospital to check it out."
"Clark, I'm *fine*. If anything seems even the slightest bit off, I'll tell you. I promise."
"I'll hold you to that."
"I'm going to take off," Jim said. "Sandi won't like it if I'm late for dinner. I'll see if I can dig up more background on that story for you, CK. If I find anything, I'll email it over, okay?"
Jim headed for the front door. Lois pointed silently to the screen where a Word document was now displayed prominently. On it, Jimmy had typed: "Will contact my dad."
"I'll go change, now, honey," Clark said. "Back in a few minutes." He bent down to kiss his wife on the lips.
Lois nodded. "I think I can manage here for that long," she said, making a shooing motion with her hand.
Clark went up the stairs to the master bedroom. A glance upward at the attic playroom showed him that Jonny and Jimmy were now arguing vociferously over the possession of the game controller. He smiled grimly. He hoped that the watcher, whoever he really was, was getting an earful of a busy family with nothing unusual about them at all.
A look out the rear window of the house convinced him that there was no one paying undue attention to them from this side. Apparently the pseudo-coach was there to eavesdrop, but wasn't watching for any comings and goings by other members of the family. A minute later, Superman was on his way to the address of Boris Pilson.
"I checked out Mr. Pilson," Clark told Deputy Mayor Henderson a short time later. "He's due to retire in a couple of years. All his information matches the stuff I found on him at the school except his age and picture."
"In other words, the guy at the school's an impostor," Henderson said. "Not that I'm surprised. From my end, I'm working on the assumption that if he isn't from Bureau 39, then he's got some kind of connection with it. Maybe a friend of Cash's in another government department. I doubt that all the nuts are in one basket. Security agencies are normally manned by dedicated men and women, but they do have the tendency to attract the occasional conspiracy freak. Trask and Cash were prime examples. I wonder if there's something about the idea of aliens that brings out the paranoid in some folks."
"Maybe," Clark said, somewhat dryly. "The trouble is, my presence, and Nor's invasion, make it kind of hard to laugh at the idea. I'm living proof of the existence of aliens. I guess the idea of our inclusion into the human race scares some people."
Henderson snorted. "Don't give me that. The very fact that human/Kryptonian hybrids exist proves that you *are* human — even if you're a long-lost branch of the family. I'd like to hear Klein's theory on that some day — if I thought I could understand it. Still, you have a point. Some people are still living in the Stone Age. You say Olsen is trying to get hold of his father?"
Clark nodded. "Jack Olsen might be the right guy to identify this character. In the meantime, though, I need to do something about my phone. There's definitely a bug on it. I can hear it."
"Hmm." Henderson rubbed his chin with his index finger. "Let's see …"
CJ and Wyatt had finished their English homework and graduated to Math while the adults of the family went about dealing with the problem of the snooper. English was CJ's subject of expertise, and he frequently had to help Wyatt with the mysteries of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and general spelling. On the other hand, Wyatt excelled in Math, and had a knack for explaining to CJ the finer points of the day's math lesson. The two boys were wrangling through the latest assignment, with CJ occasionally glancing through the wall at the man in the red car. Pilson looked bored, and was reading a magazine. CJ got a glimpse of the picture on the cover and made a face. The woman was so top-heavy as to seem in danger of falling over. He knew that someday Linda would have a figure like other adult women, and the prospect didn't disturb him at all, but the way the man was drooling over the pictures made his stomach turn. He decided that, even if Pilson hadn't been spying on him, he just didn't like the guy. His mother and father had taught him long ago that he should respect women. Even if he tended to think that most girls were a nuisance, he always treated them politely, and ever since he had gotten to know Linda, he'd felt somewhat differently toward them. Maybe he was growing up, he reflected. He'd always thought the way his mother and father smooched in front of their kids to be a little embarrassing, but the thought of kissing Linda someday didn't seem so bad. In fact, it might be something to look forward to. Maybe Dad was onto something after all.
Wyatt was watching him. CJ glanced back and made a face. Wyatt rolled his eyes.
They finished the math and stuffed their books into their backpacks. CJ stood up and stretched. "Want to play a computer game?" he asked.
"Sure," Wyatt said. "That's unless Jimmy and Jonny are on it."
CJ caught himself before he informed Wyatt that Jonny and Jimmy were on the Playstation, wiping out the Mindworm Invaders. "Let's go see," he said.
Linda and Marta entered the playroom seconds after CJ and Wyatt. Marta promptly sat down behind her younger brothers and started directing them in their play. CJ smiled at Linda, who looked questioningly at him. He jerked a thumb toward the front of the house. Linda's eyes took on a distant look, and then she made a face.
It was too bad, CJ thought, that they couldn't talk to each other without a pencil and paper. Then, the memory of what had happened earlier in the day crossed his mind. Would it work with Linda? Dad and he were full Kryptonians, but Linda was half. Would that make a difference?
Well, there was one way to find out, if he could figure out how he'd done it with Dad.
"Hey!" he said. "I've got an idea! Let's have a seance!"
Wyatt and Linda looked at him like they thought he'd gone crazy. He pointed with his thumb toward the front of the house again and raised his eyebrows. Marta had turned from her job of annoying her younger brothers and CJ saw her look toward the red car. "Yeah, let's," she said. Wyatt and Linda looked at each other and then Linda spoke.
"Okay," she said slowly, "I guess we could. Do you have an Ouija board?"
"Sure," Marta said. "It's on the shelf with the other games. I'll get it."
"I'll go get Dad's paperweight," CJ said. "It's a piece of round glass. It'll do for a crystal ball."
"Don't we need some candles?" Wyatt asked.
"Mom wouldn't like us lighting candles," Marta said, "but you could get a couple of flashlights. CJ has a mini-mag in his room, and there's one on my dresser."
"It's in my top drawer," CJ said. "You get them while I get the paperweight."
"Okay," Wyatt said, game as always. With a clatter of shoes on the wooden steps, the two boys departed in search of the paperweight and flashlights.
A short time later, the four children gathered in one corner of the playroom. They had turned out the lights, although Jimmy and Jonny continued to play on the Playstation without pausing. CJ doubted that they even realized that the lights were out. Other than the television, the only light in the room was provided by the two mini-mags sitting on end, braced by several books, in the middle of the circle of four children. The light reflected off the glass of Clark's big, round, glass paperweight, and Linda had laid the Ouija board on the floor in front of her.
CJ had no idea how a seance was supposed to be conducted, but it didn't really matter. He'd only suggested it to give himself cover while he tried to figure out how he had communicated mentally with his father that afternoon. If he could make it work, he might be able to talk to Linda and Marta the same way. It was a shame he and Wyatt wouldn't be able to do the same thing, but Wyatt wasn't even part Kryptonian, so it seemed unlikely that it would work for him.
"Now what?" Marta asked.
"Now, we all join hands and close our eyes," CJ said.
"Aren't we supposed to chant or something?" Wyatt asked doubtfully. "You know, like those guys on 'Beyond This World', when they contacted the spirits?"
"What should we chant?" Linda asked.
"How about 'Ohmm, Ohmm'," CJ suggested. "That sounds pretty much like what they did."
"Sounds like my mom's meditation class," Linda said. She shrugged. "Okay, let's. But who are we going to try to contact?"
"How about the spirit world," Marta said. "Maybe somebody there would like to give us a message."
"Fine," CJ said, trying not to sound impatient at all the irrelevant interruptions. A glance out the front of the house showed Coach Pilson yawning cavernously. Good. They were boring the guy out of his mind.
The children linked hands and Marta started, rather cautiously, to chant. CJ closed his eyes and concentrated. 'Linda!'
Nothing. Maybe this wasn't going to work with a half-Kryptonian, he thought, but since she seemed to be getting all the super powers, at least so far, he wasn't ready to give up yet. Maybe he wasn't going at this right. What had he been doing when he had contacted his dad?
He'd been scared, he remembered, and desperate to get hold of Clark. Maybe he had to try harder. 'Linda!' he thought at her.
And suddenly he was feeling something different. Surprise, bordering on shock.
'Linda!' he thought again. 'It's CJ. Don't say anything, okay? I just found out my dad and I can do this.'
Slowly, the sensation of surprise faded. 'CJ?' her voice said. It was funny how the voice in his head sounded like her real voice.
'Yeah. I wanted to see if we could talk without that creep overhearing us. Let's see if I can talk to Marta.'
"If you're not going to chant," Marta said, "this isn't going to work."
"Sorry," CJ said. "I can't carry a tune very well."
"You don't have to," Wyatt said practically. "Just hum."
"Okay," CJ said. "Let's try again."
They began to hum with more conviction this time. With more confidence, CJ closed his eyes, thinking hard at his sister. 'Marta! Can you hear me?'
Marta gave a funny squawk. "CJ?"
'Shh! *Think* at me!'
The sense of shock from his sister faded even more quickly than it had with Linda. 'What are you doing?'
'We're talking with our minds. Telepathy. I think it's a Kryptonian power.'
'Oh wow!' Marta seemed to adjust to the idea with frightening speed. 'But does that mean Wyatt can't talk to us?'
'I don't think so. He's not a Kryptonian.'
'Why not try?' Linda's voice said, breaking in on the conversation with amazing ease. 'He's our friend. Maybe he can learn. Think at him, CJ.'
'Wyatt?' CJ tried.
Wyatt didn't respond. CJ tried again and then shrugged. 'No luck.'
Linda was also trying. CJ could hear her almost shouting at him with her new skill. Wyatt obviously heard nothing.
'Wyatt!' Marta's mental voice rode over both Linda's and CJ's. 'Can you hear me?'
Wyatt's head jerked up. "Why are you shouting at me?" he asked, giving Marta a somewhat irritated look. "I can hear you just fine."
Normally, Bill Henderson regarded the occasional threat received by his office as one of the minor annoyances of his job, but since he was running for Mayor in this year's election, he had been assigned two bodyguards as a matter of course. Between them, Clark and he had decided that the first order of the day was to remove the immediate complication of an eavesdropper by chasing away the pseudo-coach, and allowing Superman to follow him to see where he went. It would have to be done in a way as to avoid even the hint that anyone might think Pilson was spying on the Kent residence, but since the man *was* spying, it was bound to cause him some anxiety. Anxiety was good, in Henderson's personal opinion, because it was likely to send the spy scurrying to his superiors for instruction.
Therefore, shortly after Clark Kent arrived at his family's home, Mr. and Mrs. William Henderson strolled casually up the walk to the Kent townhouse, accompanied by their two bodyguards. They entered the townhouse, and Henderson wasn't surprised to find himself greeted with a blast of sound from various sources.
Lois Lane reclined on the living room sofa, frowning at the screen of the computer that was parked on the coffee table beside her while the television blasted away in the background. In the kitchen, he could hear the sounds of a newscaster's voice, also turned up a little too high. From upstairs, a radio was playing music at a level likely to cause hearing damage, and over that, he could hear the gunfire and explosions of a videogame, accompanied by the occasional child's voice raised in a shout of triumph or frustration.
For an instant, he wondered how Lois could stand the racket, and then he noticed that she was wearing earplugs. An older woman, that he belatedly recognized as Clark Kent's mother, emerged from the kitchen, two white wads of cotton stuffed in her ears. Henderson grinned.
"Got any more of that?" he inquired, making certain not to mention what "that" was. No point in tipping off the snooper — assuming that he could actually hear anything intelligible over the noise pollution in here.
Martha Kent wordlessly handed him two balls of cotton and he stuffed the substance into his ears. Sue Henderson had stuck her fingers in her ears, and Martha also presented her with a pair of cotton balls. The two bodyguards, a pair of plainclothes police officers, had been briefed as to the presence of the snooper in relation to the fact that the Hendersons were having dinner with the Kents, and the senior officer nodded to his charges. "If you don't mind, sir, Joe and I will just go look around the area to make certain it's secure."
Henderson nodded. "That's a good idea. We'll be fine in here in the meantime."
The two men left, and Clark stepped out of the kitchen. "Hi, Bill. Hello, Sue. Why don't you have a seat in the living room for a few minutes? Dinner will be ready shortly. I'm helping my mom with the last minute stuff. By the way, you were right." He nodded toward the kitchen.
It was just as well, Henderson reflected, that his experience on the Force had made him adept at understanding directions given to him under less than ideal circumstances. Lip reading came in handy, sometimes, even now. Sound wasn't completely blocked, of course, although everyone's voices now had a muffled quality. He nodded to Clark and escorted Sue into the Kents' comfortable living room.
Lois smiled brightly at them and gestured to chairs. "Sit down. So, how are things at the Mayor's office, Bill?"
"Not bad," Henderson said. "The Mayoral campaign is in full swing. Hizzonor is looking forward to some vacation time."
"I know," Lois said. "I hear he's eyeing the Governor's office, next election cycle. I saw your ads on TV this afternoon. I have to say, you've got my vote. I wouldn't vote for your opponent if he were the last politician on Earth. Of all the sleazy, know- nothing, self-important windbags —"
Henderson prudently said nothing, although he privately shared Lois's appraisal of Henry Carruthers. Five years ago, Lane and Kent had brought in enough evidence to indict the top figures of Intergang, including, interestingly enough, Mindy Church, the wife of Bill Church, the organization's previous boss, who had died in prison the year before. It had been a genuine shock to everyone concerned that the seeming blond bubblehead was actually the coldly conniving brain of the organization.
Henry Carruthers had been loosely linked to Mindy Church, but he had sworn that he was unaware of her criminal connections, and nothing had ever emerged to disprove it. Still, Henderson, then on the verge of retiring from the Force, had harbored his suspicions. He'd resolved to keep an eye on Carruthers, at least as much as he was able. Now the man was running against him for the Mayor's seat.
Lois grimaced slightly and rubbed her back. Henderson frowned quickly. "Are you all right, Lois?" he inquired, ignoring Sue's elbow to the ribs. Sue wasn't aware of the special nature of the babies that Clark's wife carried.
Lois gave a long-suffering sigh. "False labor," she said. "I already told Clark that."
Henderson relaxed. "Sorry. I've delivered a few babies in my time, but I don't really want to get back into practice with triplets."
Lois snorted. "I don't want you to have to!" She gestured with her thumb at the front of the house and mouthed, "What's going on?"
Henderson stepped to the window and glanced cautiously through the curtains in time to see one of his bodyguards straighten up and step back from the window of the red car. The vehicle pulled away from the curb and vanished down the street at a leisurely pace.
"I think my guards told him to move on, since he doesn't live around here." Henderson turned toward the television and paused with his finger on the sound control. "Do you mind if I turn this thing down, now?"
"Go ahead. I think the kids are all up in the playroom, so we'll have to wait to turn down the radio in CJ's room." She removed the earplugs from her ears as she spoke and gave a sigh of relief. "I know it was necessary, but I'd really rather not have to do that again for a while."
Martha emerged from the kitchen. "Clark went next door to borrow a cup of sugar," she said. "Do you mind if I turn down the radio upstairs?"
Lois waved at the stairs. "I was hoping somebody would."
Henderson pulled the cotton from his ears. "I'll do it, if you want."
"That's all right." Martha started up the stairs. "I have to call the children to come get their dinner, anyway."
Sue grimaced slightly. "Why on Earth would somebody be eavesdropping on your house?"
"We're not sure," Lois said. "It may have something to do with the Bureau 39 mess a few months ago."
Sue bit her lip. "More people trying to find Valerie and the others?"
Henderson put his arm around his wife. He hadn't been free to tell her about Clark, but she knew the relationship between Valerie, CJ and Linda Lennox. "We aren't sure, but we're going to find out. Superman was waiting to follow that guy as soon as Joe and Harry chased him off. We're going to get to the bottom of this."
Sue nodded, still biting her lip.
"Trust us," Lois said, quietly. "Now, if you can just get rid of the phone bug for us, Bill —"
"I'll do my best," Henderson said. "I've removed a few telephone bugs in my time. Did you have any repairmen in the house recently, specifically in the kitchen?"
"Yeah," Lois said. "This morning. He was fixing the fridge — again. I think we're going to have to spring for a new refrigerator soon. Martha says it isn't doing much better than it was before."
"Well," Henderson pointed out, "if his main reason for coming in was to bug your phone instead of fixing your fridge, it might be a case of getting a real repairman to do the job. Do you mind if I take a look at the kitchen phone?"
Martha Kent was returning down the steps. "I'll show you where it is."
Henderson followed Clark's mother into the Kent kitchen. There was no sign of Clark, which didn't surprise him. Superman was undoubtedly following the false Pilson to see where he went. He glanced around the room, which was remarkably modern for such an old building. Clark had probably done some redesign work on it, he thought, or at least someone had. For a moment, he thought a bit enviously of the resources that Clark Kent could bring to bear on something like the maintenance and repair of his home, much less the amount of time he must save in just everyday cleaning, and then the humor of the idea hit him and he had to repress a snort. One didn't visualize Superman doing laundry, polishing silverware or scouring out burned food from a pan. Or, for that matter, taking out the garbage, but he probably did all those things. Henderson knew for a fact, from several occasions when he and his wife had dined here, that Clark Kent was an excellent cook. It just went to show that Superman, in his own way, was an ordinary man, if only in his own mind.
"Where's the phone?" he inquired.
"Right here." Martha Kent indicated an alcove in the wall.
Henderson picked up the phone, covering the mouthpiece with one hand, as a precaution. "If someone's listening, I think it would be best if they think it's an accident," he said quietly. "I'm going to make a phone call, and drop the phone. I'll replace it, if it really breaks, but it will provide an excuse for the bug to stop working."
Martha laughed. "I'm sure we can afford a new phone, Mr. Henderson. I'm just glad Clark has you for a friend."
"Bill," he said, aware of a slight sense of embarrassment. "Your son has been a good friend to me for years, and so has Lois, even if I'd never admit it to her out loud. He's still helping me out. Did he tell you about Valerie?"
"No, he never mentioned a Valerie."
That figured. Clark would never talk about a friend's business without his permission. "My daughter. Clark mentioned that you and your husband are the definitive experts on raising a — gifted — child. He suggested I talk to you when I can find the time."
"Oh." Martha Kent obviously grasped the situation instantly. "Of course. We'll be glad to help, if we can."
Henderson nodded. "Let's take care of this, first." He uncovered the mouthpiece, began to punch in a number, swore, and dropped the phone to the floor, at the same time reaching to disconnect the phone cord from its receptacle in the wall. "Now," he said. "Let's see what we have here …"
CJ stared at Wyatt and then at his sister. Wyatt hadn't been able to hear him, but he'd picked up Marta without any trouble. That was really strange, he thought, but they could figure that part out later. He lifted his finger to his lips. "You have to chant," he said. "Don't talk. The spirits won't come if you interrupt." He looked frantically at his sister. 'Marta!' he thought at her. 'Tell Wyatt what's happening, and not to talk out loud!'
Marta had an intense frown on her face. 'Don't talk.' CJ heard her thinking hard at Wyatt. 'Just listen. I'm talking to you with my thoughts. CJ says it's a Kryptonian power.'
Wyatt threw him a wide-eyed look, but CJ saw him press his lips together. CJ winked at him.
'Tell him to listen for me,' CJ directed his sister. 'Maybe he can hear Linda and me if he knows what to listen for.'
He waited while Marta relayed the message, then looked directly at Wyatt. 'Can you hear me, Wyatt?' he thought, as loudly as he could manage.
Wyatt had scrunched his face into a grimace of effort, his eyes squeezed shut. CJ waited, holding his breath. Wyatt's eyes opened wide and he nodded.
'Try talking back,' CJ directed. 'I don't know if you can, but we can try to listen for you.'
Wyatt squeezed his eyes shut again. CJ waited hopefully. He wasn't sure an instant later if the faint sensation in the back of his mind was anything more than his imagination. It was more like a tickle in his brain than anything else, but there was *something* there. Almost like someone whispering to him too softly to understand.
'Can you hear him, Marta?' he asked.
His sister nodded. 'A little. Can you?'
'Sort of. I can't understand what he's saying.'
'I can, but I have to listen hard.'
Linda's "voice" interjected. 'I can hear him a little, but not loud enough to understand.'
Wyatt's face was turning back and forth between them, and his eyes were wide. He looked at Marta, and CJ again felt the tickle in his brain.
'He says maybe he needs to practice,' Marta relayed. 'Wow, this is great!'
'Why can Marta hear him when we can't?' Linda said. 'Think at me, Wyatt. I'll listen real hard.'
'He says he can hear you when he listens, but it's like you're a long ways off,' Marta said. 'But he can hear me real clear. Okay, Wyatt, think at Linda.'
Jonny turned his head. "You guys are making too much noise," he said. "You're making me miss."
CJ gulped. He should have realized his little brothers would pick up the conversation. Fortunately, since they had been humming, the guy with the microphone probably hadn't figured out anything weird was happening.
"Okay," he said. "We'll hold the sťance down in my room. Come on, guys." He picked up the paperweight and got to his feet.
Marta glanced through the wall at the street. 'He's driving away! A couple of guys just told him to leave!'
"Cops?" CJ asked aloud.
"I don't know. They're a couple of guys in suits."
Now that he was paying attention to something besides the snooper and the strange telepathic conversation, CJ was aware of voices downstairs. The volume on his mother's soap opera was suddenly lowered. He listened as they gathered their props and gave a sudden sigh of relief. "Mr. Henderson is downstairs. That explains it."
"What does?" Linda asked.
"Mr. Henderson is the Deputy Mayor, remember?" CJ said. "He's probably going to be the next Mayor if he beats the guy running against him. Those two guys were probably his bodyguards."
"Why does he have bodyguards?" Marta asked.
"Don't you ever listen? There's crazy people all over the place. Sometimes Mr. Henderson gets threats from them, 'specially since he's been running for Mayor. He used to be a cop, remember."
For once his sister didn't take offence at the implied criticism. "Oh. Well, I guess we can put this stuff away. CJ, you better take Dad's paperweight back before something happens to it."
"Okay." CJ reclaimed his flashlight and switched it off. "Let's go down to my room. I hope we can talk to Dad about this, later. Maybe he knows how to help Wyatt do this better."
The radio in his bedroom cut off as suddenly as the television had, and CJ descended the steps from the attic playroom in time to see his Grandmother Martha emerge from his bedroom.
"I guess Mr. Henderson's guards chased the guy away," he remarked.
Martha Kent nodded, a slight smile on her face. "My goodness, CJ, you don't miss anything around here, do you?"
"Marta saw them," he said. "Where did Dad go?"
"He's following Mr. Pilson to see where he goes. We'll be having dinner in about half an hour, and Mr. and Mrs. Henderson are here, so you and the others should wash up."
"All right, Grandma," CJ said. "How is Wyatt going to get home?"
"Your dad will give him a lift when he gets back. Linda's mother called a little while ago. She's going to be late, so Linda will be eating here. We'll get Wyatt a little snack so he won't be the only one not eating, but we don't want to ruin his dinner."
"Okay, I'll tell her," CJ said. "If you ask me, Wyatt likes the food here better than at his house."
His grandmother's eyes crinkled. "Maybe, but I don't think you should tell his mother that."
CJ shook his head. "I won't," he said. "It might hurt her feelings." He held up the paperweight. "I just have to put this back in Dad's study. We borrowed it for a sťance, but now we don't need it anymore."
"A sťance?" Martha's eyes crinkled at the corners again, and the corners of her mouth twitched. "I see."
"I'll explain later," CJ said. "We weren't just playing or anything."
"No." CJ shook his head. "I need to ask Dad something, too. Something pretty weird happened."
"Weird?" his grandmother asked.
"Uh — yeah." CJ hesitated. "Grandma, did you know that Kryptonians can talk to each other with telepathy?"
"Where did you hear that word?" Martha asked.
"I saw it in a book. It means communicating with thoughts. Did you know that Kryptonians can do that?"
"I think your dad mentioned that the New Kryptonians could. Why?"
"Marta, Linda and I can, too. We can talk to Wyatt with it, but he can't talk back, yet — except to Marta. She can hear him."
Martha Kent's eyes widened slightly. "You're not pretending, are you, CJ?"
"Of course not!" CJ was slightly outraged at the suggestion. "That's why I wanted to talk to Dad!"
"Oh my!" his grandmother said. She glanced over her shoulder at the stairs that descended to the house's first floor. "I have to finish getting dinner ready, CJ. Go ahead and put the paperweight back and tell the other children to wash up. You're going to be taking your dinners up to the playroom tonight. I'll be sure to tell your father that you need to talk to him as soon as I see him."
The red car moved slowly down Hyperion Avenue until it was a good two blocks from the Kent townhouse, and then Pilson made an abrupt right turn onto Tulip. Floating above him just within the lowest layer of the cloud level, Clark followed his progress with nothing to betray to anyone who might be following the false coach that anyone had any interest in him at all.
The car pulled sharply to the side of the road, and Clark watched as the coach extracted a cellular phone and hit the speed dial.
The phone had rung only twice when someone answered.
"Hello?" a cultured female voice said.
"This is Bob," Pilson said. "A couple of Henderson's guards just chased me away from the house."
"Did they suspect you?" the voice asked sharply.
"I don't think so. Henderson's running for his boss's seat. I think they were just being careful."
"Very well. Your report?"
"Nothing," Pilson said, a faint note of disgust in his voice. "I got an earful of some sickening soap opera, and my ears are still ringing from the radio. The kids were doing homework, and Henderson and his wife showed up for dinner. Probably to try to get the Daily Planet on his side for his campaign."
"You're sure they didn't suspect you?" the woman's voice said again. "You spoke to the boy during class today, did you not?"
"Yeah. He didn't act like he was suspicious. He's a kid, for Pete's sake. Eleven years old. He isn't likely to pick up on anything." The man's voice became faintly envious. "Hell of a pitcher, though. Said his grandfather taught him."
"Never mind his sports acumen," the voice said coldly, "and must I remind you to keep a guard on your language?"
"Sorry," the man muttered.
"You will continue your observation tomorrow in class. My contact indicated that he believes the boy to be one of our targets. If we can't verify it one way or the other, we'll have to take further steps to be sure."
"I understand," Pilson said. "What do you want me to do about listening in? Shall I go back after Henderson leaves?"
"No, the car has been noticed. You must do nothing to raise their suspicions. You'll be given instructions, tomorrow." The phone went dead.
Clark waited, watching. It seemed unlikely that he was going to find out much more tonight, but he might as well see where the man went.
Pilson seemed to be shuffling papers for a moment, then he dialed another number into his cellular phone. Clark waited, listening.
"This is Gemini," he said quietly. "The surveillance of the Kent home turned up nothing, so far."
"Acknowledged," a male voice said. "And the other party?"
"She believes the oldest child to be Kryptonian," Pilson said.
"Any indication that the suspicion may be correct?"
Clark frowned. Tonight was definitely a night for deja vu. The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but the distortion of the phone was just enough to prevent him from making a positive identification. Still…
"No, sir," Pilson said. "The information doesn't support the theory. The child was apparently the illegitimate son of a Kent cousin, since deceased. The date of his birth makes it unlikely that he could be one of the Kryptonian offspring; it's several months too soon — if there really are any, that is. That Cash guy is a nutcase if I ever met one. As for the clone theory, apparently, the Kents adopted the child before the raid on the island."
"There was the Luthor clone's claim that the child is the missing Superman clone," the voice said.
"According to the STAR Labs DNA analysis, the boy is human," Pilson said. "My contact gave me a copy of the report."
"Who signed the report?" the voice asked.
"Bernard Klein," Pilson said. "He's a bit of an absent-minded professor, but the man's credentials are impeccable. Apparently, according to my sources, the Kents had the analysis done to prove to all concerned that the child was normal. Apparently, with the attempts on Mrs. Kent and the child, they were worried that there would be some doubt. I'll fax you the report from the hotel."
"Very good," the voice said.
"Any further orders?"
"Continue in your position. It's vital that we locate the target."
"Yes sir." A pause. "I don't understand why everybody in that house hasn't gone deaf. The noise level in there is incredible."
"You're certain they don't know they were being observed?"
"I'm certain, sir."
"Hmm. Well, they do have four children. That would make anybody's house noisy."
"Apparently they also have two friends who spend the afternoon there while their mothers work, so I get the point." A pause. "The videogame sounded interesting, though."
"Forget the videogame, Maxwell. Concentrate on your job."
"Naturally, sir. But I'd like to try that game on my spare time."
Clark clenched his jaw. Whatever was going on here, it was obvious that Pilson was playing a double role and the talk of the 'target' was disturbing. He heard the man sign off and watched as the red car pulled away from the curb.
The red sports car wended its way across the city to the Apollo Hotel, and Clark watched as Pilson parked his car in the hotel lot and made his way to the entrance.
After a moment, he took out his cellular phone and hit the speed dial for his home. The phone rang twice before someone picked it up.
"Hello?" his mother's voice said.
"Hi, Mom," he said. "I'm going to be a while. Make my excuses for me, will you?"
"Don't worry," his mother's voice said. "I'll take care of it. Did you find anything?"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure what it is."
"Well, all right — but be careful."
"I will," he said.
When CJ and the other children filed into the kitchen to collect their dinner, his grandmother had their plates lined up on the kitchen table. "I called your mother, Wyatt," she said. "Clark got called away, so he won't be able to drive you home until later. Your mom said it was all right if you ate dinner here. Clark will drive you home later, or, if he's delayed, I'll do it."
Wyatt's face lit up in a wide smile. "Okay," he said. "Mom was gonna have meatloaf anyway."
"Well, we're having hamburgers and French fries tonight," Martha said. "I hope that's okay."
Wyatt nodded vigorously, reaching for the ketchup bottle. The children applied their condiments of choice and headed back for the playroom with their plates and tall glasses of milk.
CJ settled on one of the chairs at the kid-sized table in the playroom, and Wyatt, Linda and Marta took the others. Jimmy and Jonny resumed their places in front of the television. Jonny took a huge bite of his hamburger, licked ketchup off his fingers and reached for the game controller again.
"Hey," CJ said. "Remember what Dad said. Make sure your hands are clean. He isn't going to replace the controller again if you ruin it."
Jonny paused, reached for one of the paper towels that had accompanied them back upstairs, and wiped his hands off. The game resumed.
CJ glanced through the wall at the street in front of their townhouse, but the red car had not returned. He picked up his hamburger and took a bite. He hadn't felt very hungry while Coach Pilson had been spying on them, but now his appetite had made a miraculous recovery.
He glanced at his little brothers, completely immersed in their game, and leaned forward so that Wyatt, as well as the others, could hear him. "We need to practice this stuff," he said. "We know what's gonna happen to us the older we get, and since Wyatt's in on it, it might be a real good thing if he could hear us too — and us him."
"Yeah," Wyatt said, "but how are we gonna do it without the little kids hearing us? They heard us before."
"Maybe we were just too close," CJ said. "Let's finish eating, and then we could go down to the basement. Grandma won't mind, if we tell her what's going on."
"I guess your grandma knows about the telepathy stuff, huh?" Linda said. "I wasn't sure."
"Well, yeah — sure. She and Grandpa Kent *raised* Dad, you know. They found his ship when he first came to Earth."
"Wow," Wyatt said in a low voice. "I'd sure like to see it someday."
"Dad got it back from Intergang when Mom and him busted it up," CJ said. "Grandpa Kent has it hidden. Maybe we can ask Dad about it, sometime. Anyhow, what do you think?"
"About practicing? Yeah, we probably should," Linda said. "It would sure be great if we could do it if one of us gets in trouble some time. Coach Pilson was spying on us for some reason. Somebody might be looking for us, still. Bureau 39 or somebody."
"Yeah," Marta said. "If they come after us again, I'm gonna be sure we can yell for help without them knowing."
"Well, I called Dad by accident this afternoon," CJ said. "Maybe we can find other kids like us that way, too. Dad knows about five others, so far. There's four in Smallville, and one here in Metropolis."
"Maybe that's all there are," Wyatt said.
"Let's hope so," Linda said. "You never know when you're going to get somebody like Biff. Wouldn't it be awful if *he* had super powers?"
"Well, he doesn't," Wyatt said, practically. "CJ beat him at arm- wrestling. Boy, was he mad!"
"Yeah, I heard about that after I came to the school," Linda said. "It served him right." She looked admiringly at CJ in the way that made his stomach feel funny. He grinned, a little embarrassed. He knew he wasn't supposed to like girls, but that was before he'd met Linda. Some of his friends kidded him about it a little, but he thought they were sort of jealous. Linda was pretty, and she was a heck of a good shortstop. She'd told CJ that she was trying hard not to use any of her super strength or speed when she played, because Superman had warned her about it, and told her that it was good practice to learn how to control her powers.
"Biff's a jerk," Linda added. "Yesterday he knocked my books out of my hands in the hall."
CJ sat up, bristling at once. Linda shook her head. "It was okay," she said. "Red — you know, that sixth grade guy that you sometimes help with his homework — picked 'em up and told Biff to leave me alone or else."
CJ made a mental note to thank Red the next time he saw him. He'd been surprised to realize that Biff was scared of Red, even though he made nasty remarks about how his former friend was getting to be a brain now that he was passing his classes. In spite of it, Biff never made the mistake of getting in Red's face anymore — ever since he'd turned up with a black eye one morning and a flimsy story about having tripped on the way to school. Since CJ had seen the two of them facing off before school, he'd had a pretty good idea where Biff's facial decoration had come from, but he hadn't said anything.
"Red's okay," Wyatt said casually. "He's got a lot smarter than he used to be. Look, why don't I try thinking at the rest of you? The kids aren't gonna pick up on that if you can hardly hear me."
"I can hear you okay," Marta objected. "I don't know why CJ and Linda can't."
CJ had his own ideas about that, but if Marta could tell when Wyatt was thinking at her — and he and Linda could tell when he was thinking at them, even if they couldn't tell what he was saying — maybe Wyatt could get better at it if they practiced.
"Okay," he said. "Think at me."
The two boys stared into each other's eyes, and again CJ felt the faint tickle at the back of his mind that he thought was Wyatt trying to communicate with him. All at once, his friend reached out a hand and grasped his arm.
'… Hear me …' Wyatt's voice said faintly in his mind.
CJ jumped so hard he nearly fell off his chair.
"I heard that!" he stuttered.
"Really?" Linda leaned forward. "Touch me and see if I can hear you, Wyatt!"
Wyatt's eyes had widened, and a smile of triumph lit his face. "Okay." He reached out to touch Linda, and CJ again felt the tickle in his mind, but this time it was almost audible. '… Hear what I'm saying? …' The words were a faint whisper in his brain.
Linda nodded vigorously. "This is *so* cool!"
CJ stuffed the last of his hamburger into his mouth, glancing at his younger brothers. "Let's go down to the basement," he said. "We have to test this out!"
Lois glanced up at the whoosh that told her that her husband had landed in the back yard. An instant later, the front door opened and Clark stepped in. William Henderson glanced briefly at him. "Did you get your story?"
"More or less," Clark said. "Sorry I had to leave like that."
"Oh, that's all right," Sue Henderson said. "I guess it must be par for the course for a reporter. Sort of like being married to a cop." She smiled at her husband. "Have I mentioned that I'm awfully glad that you retired from the force, Bill? You may have odd hours as a politician, but at least it isn't likely that people will be shooting at you."
"Not as much, anyway," Henderson said "Did you happen to see my bodyguards out there anywhere, Clark?"
"They're sitting in their car, eating sandwiches," Clark said. "I suspect they're not too anxious to come in here again with all the racket that was going on the last time. I hope you had a good dinner."
"Excellent, as usual," Henderson said. "I see where you got your cooking talent. Martha's a terrific cook."
Martha Kent smiled. "Thank you."
"Any problems here after I left?" Clark asked.
"No. I took the bug off your phone," Bill said. "I'll pass it to some friends of mine, the first chance I get. I also checked your other extensions, but they were clean."
"Thanks," Clark said. "Just to keep you in the loop, I talked to Superman before I came back. He followed Pilson and eavesdropped on a couple of cell phone conversations he had. Gave me a fax address, too. Maybe we can get Jim Olsen to trace it for us."
Henderson nodded. "I wish we'd had Olsen working for the Department when I was on the force," he said. "Best computer whiz kid I ever met."
Lois looked around at the sound of footsteps on the stairs, and saw that CJ, Marta, Linda and Wyatt were descending so quickly that Wyatt almost missed a step. "Do you kids need something?"
"Um — not exactly," CJ said. "We're going down into the basement for a little bit. We need to find something."
Clark turned to look at them as well and then raised an eyebrow at Lois. "All right. Just don't stay there too long. This is a school night. I have to drive Wyatt home in a little while."
"Sure," CJ said. He led the way through the kitchen door, and it swung shut behind the four older children.
"Wonder what they're up to," Lois remarked.
Clark shrugged. "They're good kids," he said. "I'm not worried."
"Clark," Sue Henderson said, "do you think that Valerie could be in any danger?"
Clark shook his head. "From what Superman overheard, whoever the second group is, they aren't even sure the Kryptonian hybrids aren't a figment of Cash's imagination. Just be sure she doesn't do anything out of the ordinary and I think she's probably safe. She'd better keep an eye out for anyone paying any unusual attention to her, though — just to be sure."
"And if they are?"
"She needs to be sure no one manages to get her alone," Clark said. "Tell her to —" He hesitated. "Tell her to go to CJ for help if she thinks she's in danger at school. He can call Superman for help. I'll warn him — if that's all right with you."
Henderson's eyebrows rose slightly, but he nodded. "I guess we're all going to have to stick together, this time."
"Yeah." Clark nodded. "Let's not panic over it, though. We don't know what's behind it."
"If it's any kind of danger for our daughter," Sue said quietly, "I don't want to take any chances!"
"I don't blame you," Lois said. "We'll let you know what we find out as soon as we find out, ourselves, Sue. That's a promise."
Clark took a seat next to his wife. "How are you feeling now? You were having false labor earlier."
She shrugged. "It's eased up for a bit. I can't say I'm sorry."
"No, I imagine not." Sue Henderson shook her head in sympathy. "I can't imagine being pregnant with twins, much less triplets."
"Don't even try," Lois said, a trifle grimly. "This is absolutely the last time I'm doing this."
Clark smiled faintly. "I agree. We planned on three kids, counting CJ. Jimmy was kind of a bonus, but I guess Mother Nature had other plans."
"Mother Nature doesn't have to spend the last four months of the pregnancy feeling like a beached whale," Lois said. "If these three have to be delivered by Caesarian, I'm going to have Dr. Klein make sure that this is it."
"I can't argue," Clark said. "In fact, I think it's a good idea." He lifted his head slightly, almost certain that he'd heard a voice, but realized a second later that no one else had heard it. It must be something that only Superman could hear. He listened, but whatever it had been was gone.
Henderson checked his watch. "Well, as interesting as this evening has been," he said, "I have to be at City Hall early tomorrow, so I think Sue and I should say goodnight. Let me know if — or when — our friends make their next move."
"We will," Clark said. "If you don't mind, Superman said he'd like to drop by tomorrow to speak to Valerie. And tell her to go to CJ if —"
"We will," Henderson said.
"Clark —" Sue Henderson hesitated. "I know CJ is — like Valerie," she said cautiously. "Was he premature, or something? He's at least two months older than Valerie." She stopped quickly. "I'm sorry. If this is none of my business, just say so."
Clark and Lois looked at each other. This question had been bound to come up, and they had thoroughly discussed how to answer it without exactly telling a lie. That didn't mean, however, that they had to tell the whole truth. CJ and Linda had told them some time ago that the story of his origin was no one's business but theirs. Linda already knew, and both children had decided that nobody else needed to know — at least for now, and maybe never. The seriousness with which they had approached the matter had startled Clark, and at the same time reassured him. Linda was already watching out for CJ's welfare. It looked as if his first hunch had been correct. Linda was almost certainly destined to become part of the Kent clan a few years down the line — which wasn't a bad thing, he thought. If he had met Lois when they were both younger, they might not have had to go through so much before they had finally gotten together.
"Um — well," Clark said carefully, "I'm afraid we misled everyone about CJ in order to protect him. CJ is a full Kryptonian, not a hybrid. Apparently he's a close relative of Superman's."
"I don't understand," Sue said, "but he does kind of look like Superman, now that you mention it."
"Kryptonians apparently have some very strange customs," Martha said, calmly. "At least by our standards. From what we understand, CJ is actually Superman's sibling. Younger, of course. There was some talk of stasis chambers and so forth. I didn't understand it all."
"Could CJ have been left for Superman by the New Kryptonians — maybe an embryo that had been frozen to be revived later?" Sue wondered. "I know infertile couples sometimes do that kind of thing."
Lois shrugged. "We weren't given much in the way of details, and at the time we were too thankful to have a child to ask questions. Anyhow, CJ has asked us not to talk about what we do know."
"I guess I can understand that," Sue remarked. "No child wants to be different."
"Maybe that was how so many of them were saved from Krypton's explosion," Henderson said.
"It could be. I guess we'll never be able to ask them, now." Sue gave a tiny shrug. "It's just as well. Some of them were all right, but Nor's followers —" She broke off, and Clark noticed that Henderson had clasped her hand. She smiled at him. "It's all right, Bill. It was a long time ago, and if it hadn't happened, we wouldn't have Valerie."
Her husband nodded, looking a little grim. "I wouldn't want to give her up," he said. "But I didn't cry when Cash's crowd gassed Jen Mai and the others."
"I don't think any of us did," Lois said. "That was probably the only useful thing he ever did in his life."
"Anyway," Clark said, feeling that a change of subject was a good idea, "the less said about it, the better. Kryptonians are telepathic, so CJ can call Superman for help if Valerie needs it."
"I remember something about that," Henderson said. "That's convenient." Again, he glanced at his watch. "We'd better go. I guess I'll probably see you tomorrow, Clark. I have to appear at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the afternoon. Hizzoner has the flu."
Another voice was speaking softly, not far away, but it didn't sound alarmed. He must, Clark thought, be picking up a conversation in the townhouse next door, and wondered for a second why his super-hearing had kicked in. Another voice spoke, louder than the first, and suddenly he had to restrain himself from jumping to his feet. That had been Linda Lennox's voice, and he wasn't hearing it with his ears.
"This is really weird," Wyatt said.
CJ had to agree. After Wyatt had touched them while trying to talk to them with telepathy, CJ had been able to hear him, and so had Linda. It was like they were all suddenly on the same channel or something. Marta could still hear him much more clearly than CJ and Linda could, but Wyatt's "voice" was getting louder all the time.
He pushed forward one of the boxes that his parents had placed here for storage and took a seat on it, facing the other three. Linda looked up at the roof over their heads. "Do you think we're far enough away?" she asked.
CJ shrugged eloquently. "How do I know? Dad heard me this afternoon while I was here and he was at work, but maybe that was because I was thinking *at* him."
"The only thing we can do," Marta said, "is to try to think just at each other. Besides, they're playing a videogame. They probably won't even notice."
That, of course, was true, CJ thought. Jonny and Jimmy had been known to miss calls for dinner when they were absorbed in a videogame. It really irritated his mom, although he had seen her do the same thing when she was working on a story.
"Maybe they won't," he agreed, cautiously. "Come on. We don't have much time. Wyatt, think at me. See if I can still hear you."
'Okay,' Wyatt's voice said immediately in his head. His voice was soft, more like a loud whisper than an actual voice, but it was definitely louder than it had been upstairs.
'Hey!' Linda said, 'I *heard* that! Way to go, Wyatt!'
Marta had a wide grin on her face. 'I *knew* Wyatt could do it!' she said smugly. 'He just had to figure out how to tune in to the rest of us!' She and Wyatt exchanged a grin. 'This is great! I wonder how far apart we can be and still hear each other.'
"We'll have to figure that out later," CJ said, checking his watch. It was a Batman watch, with the Caped Crusader peering menacingly out of the watch's face at him, and the eyes glowed in the dark. The effect was satisfyingly scary. "It's almost time for Dad to drive Wyatt home, and I think I hear your mom's car," he added to Linda.
Linda nodded. "That's it, all right. Mom says she has to get the muffler fixed. I guess we'd better go upstairs."
They emerged from the basement door in time to hear Mr. Henderson and his wife saying good night. CJ heard the door open, and then the voices of the adults as Linda's mother was introduced to Mrs. Henderson.
"Good night, Clark," Henderson said. "I'll let you know if I find anything useful."
"Thanks," Clark said. "I'll tell CJ what we've arranged about Valerie."
CJ pushed open the kitchen door and let Linda through ahead of him. Such courtesy, of course, wasn't necessary for his sister, but he held it for Marta and Wyatt anyway, since he figured his dad would give him one of his disapproving looks if he let it close in Marta's face.
"There they are," Martha Kent said. "Right on time."
Caroline Lennox smiled at them. "I'm sorry I'm so late," she said, turning to CJ's parents. "I was held up by a couple of last-minute clients."
"That's all right," Clark said. "Better get your stuff, Wyatt. I'm going to drive you home in a minute."
"Okay, Mr. Kent," Wyatt said. "It's up in CJ's room. I'll be right back."
"Hello, CJ," Carolyn said, turning to him.
CJ gave her his best smile. "Hello, Ms. Lennox," he said, politely. It always struck him as funny that Linda's mother was barely taller than Linda, and that at nearly eleven, he was the same height as she was.
Carolyn smiled at the four of them. "I hope you all had a good time. Better go get your school things and we'll go, Linda."
"Okay, Mom." Linda ran up the stairs, passing Wyatt who was headed back down.
"I'm ready. Mr. Kent," Wyatt said.
"Okay, then, come on." CJ's father motioned him toward the door. Wyatt glanced over his shoulder at CJ and Marta.
"See you tomorrow," he said.
'I'll meet you in front of your apartment house,' CJ said.
'Okay,' Wyatt said. Clark gave him an odd look and then looked back at CJ and Marta.
"You two go get ready for bed, but don't go to sleep before I get back," he said. "I need to talk to you about a couple of things."
"Sure," CJ said.
Clark turned to Linda's mother. "Before you go, Lois needs to have a word with you. There's been a small complication that's come up about the kids, and you need to know what's happening."
"Oh?" Carolyn asked.
"We're checking it out, and Superman is on it, too, but we want to keep you in the loop," Clark said. "I'll be back in a few minutes and I'll try to answer any questions you might have that Lois can't — if any," he added. "Come on, Wyatt."
"All right," Carolyn said.
Linda was coming back down the stairs. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow," she said to CJ.
"Why don't you, CJ and Marta sit down in the living room," Clark added. "You three need to know what's happening, too. I'll fill Wyatt in on the way home."
"Okay," CJ said. "Come on, guys."
Wyatt and Clark walked out to the Cherokee and Clark unlocked the passenger door for the child. He was still a little stunned at what had happened back there. He had heard CJ casually communicating with Wyatt, indisputably a human boy, by telepathy. There had been a few cases in his long relationship with Lois that the two of them had communicated in such a fashion, so he knew it was possible, but it had never been a regular thing, and had only occurred under stress. It was obvious that the children had gone much farther with the ability than he and Lois ever had. Could he and Lois have done more with it if they had made an effort, or could it be because the children were so young, and more adaptable than the adults?
He got into the driver's seat while Wyatt was fastening his safety belt, and started the engine. "All fastened in?" he asked.
"Uh huh," Wyatt said.
Clark glanced over his shoulder and pulled out onto the dark street. "I guess you guys figured out something this evening," Clark said. "I heard you talking to CJ in there."
Wyatt nodded. "Yeah. It's pretty cool."
"Yeah, it is," Clark said. "I guess I don't have to tell you not to talk about it to anybody else, do I?"
Wyatt shook his head. "'Course not."
'Can you hear me, now?' he asked.
'Sure.' Wyatt's mental voice was like a soft whisper in his brain. Not as loud or clear as CJ's had been, but the boy was definitely talking to him.
"That's amazing," he said. "I knew Kryptonians could communicate with each other with their thoughts, but I didn't know regular Earth people could, too. How did you learn?"
"I couldn't, right away," Wyatt said, candidly, "except for Marta. I could hear her without any trouble."
If Clark hadn't been paying close attention to his driving, he might have gone off the road at that remark. "Marta?" he asked, keeping his voice level with an effort.
"Sure," Wyatt said.
"I see," he said, and he thought he did. "Want to tell me how it happened?"
"Sure," Wyatt said, and went on to explain what had happened up in the playroom. Clark drove without speaking until the boy finished.
"You know, Wyatt," he said, "you're the first Earth person to be able to do that, as far as I know. I've communicated with my wife a few times, but never like you kids have managed."
"Yeah?" Wyatt said. "That's good, isn't it?"
"I think so," Clark said. "If any of you ever get into trouble, you might be able to call CJ or Marta for help."
"Yeah," Wyatt said. "We were thinking about that. Is Coach Pilson part of those Bureau 39 guys, Mr. Kent?"
"We don't know yet," Clark said. "Mr. Henderson and Mr. Olsen are helping me to try to find out. You be careful around him, Wyatt. We don't know what he's up to, but if he finds out what you can do, it could be dangerous for you."
"Yeah," Wyatt said. "I'm not gonna tell anybody. The kids think I'm kinda weird anyway, 'cause I get good grades and got jumped ahead a grade. The only reason I don't get picked on anymore is 'cause I'm friends with CJ. And 'cause I'm the team's best catcher," he added. "Nobody else can catch for CJ like me."
Clark grinned at the boy's complete lack of modesty, although he didn't blame Wyatt. "Well, if anybody knew, they might guess about CJ and Marta and the rest of us, too," he said. "That mustn't happen."
"Yeah," Wyatt said. "I won't say anything, but I'm gonna practice this until I'm as good at it as the others. It's kinda cool to be able to talk to somebody and nobody else knows it."
"I guess it is," Clark agreed. "I want you to do something for me, if you would."
"Sure," Wyatt said.
"After I've dropped you off at home, I want you to wait for half an hour and try to call me. I want to see if this works at a distance. If I don't answer you, try to call Marta. Okay?"
"Okay," Wyatt said.
"As for what's going on now, after Mr. Henderson's guards chased Coach Pilson away, I followed him," Clark said. "I overheard him reporting to someone by cell phone. The other person said something about thinking CJ was one of the Kryptonian kids, so they're trying to decide if he is. If Coach Pilson tries to get him alone — or if anyone else at school does — I'd like you to try to watch where they go, and call me — but *don't* let anyone know what you're doing. I don't want you getting in trouble, too."
"Okay," Wyatt said. "I can do that."
After the door closed behind Linda and her mother, Lois stretched. "I think it's time I went upstairs to bed."
"Okay," Clark said. "Stay right there, and I'll give you a lift."
Lois did so, grimacing as he picked her up lightly from the sofa. "I'm leaving a permanent dent in the sofa cushions," she remarked.
"I doubt it," Clark said, with a slight grin, "but even if you do, hanging onto those babies as long as possible is worth it."
"I don't see how you can stand me like this," she said, gesturing to her abdomen. "I'm as clumsy as an ox, and —"
"And it's only temporary," Clark said. He was ascending the stairs with her held effortlessly in his arms. "At the most it will only be a few weeks, and when it's over we'll have three healthy babies. And you'll have your usual trim figure back in a few months. Besides, you're always beautiful to me."
"I'm worried about the stretched skin," she fretted. "A friend of mine had twins, and the skin on her stomach never did go back to the way it was."
"If it doesn't," he said, "we can talk about doing whatever it takes to fix the situation, but I'm betting it will."
"And," she asked as he set her carefully on her feet by the bathroom that opened off their bedroom, "what makes you so sure of that?"
"I'm not sure," he said. "Completely, that is. But Dr. Klein said the reason your stretch marks disappeared after the other kids was because of the effects of my aura on you. It might work the same way with the stretched skin. If it doesn't, we'll fix it some other way."
Slightly mollified, she turned to enter the bathroom to prepare for bed. "Okay, but I'll hold you to that."
Clark shook his head, smiling slightly, and ambled over to his dresser to get his sleeping shorts. These days, Lois's nighttime routine took twice as long as it used to, and he usually waited for the children and his mother to finish in the other bathroom, before going in there to shower before bed. While he waited, he went to lean on the windowsill, looking out at the night sky.
As usual, the haze of city lights hid the stars and he casually scanned the city for sounds that might tell him that Superman was needed. From somewhere he heard the warble of a police siren, and from somewhere else the wail of a fire truck on its way to some emergency or other, but he had learned over the years that the people of his city could take care of themselves most of the time. Once he had figured that out, Superman's presence at minor emergencies had become more of a rarity, and it enabled him to spend more time with his family.
The odd tickling sensation in his brain was more of an annoyance at first, and then the tickle resolved itself into the faintest of whispers. '… Hear me?'
It was Wyatt. It had to be. The whisper was almost recognizable as the boy's voice. 'I hear you.'
He felt the flood of triumph in Wyatt's mind before the boy replied with words. 'I didn't think it was going to work. I've been trying for a couple of minutes. Your voice isn't too loud, but I can hear you.'
'Okay,' Clark said. 'Thanks. I guess the test worked, all right. Good night. We'll talk more about this tomorrow.'
'Good night,' the boy's voice whispered.
And then, as Wyatt's whisper disappeared into silence, another voice, one that he had never heard before, said suddenly in his head, 'Who are you? Who said that?'
Clark cut off the telepathic channel as if he had been burned. The voice had been young, loud and male. Definitely not Valerie Henderson, he thought. Somewhere nearby was another human/Kryptonian hybrid who had picked up on the conversation.
Carefully, he reached out again, questing. 'Who are *you*?' he asked.
For long moments, silence answered him. Then the voice said, 'I thought I was going crazy! *Am* I going crazy? Who are you?'
'First tell me who you are.'
For an instant, he thought he wasn't going to get an answer, and then the voice said, 'I've got to go.' The voice, and the faint feeling of emotion behind the words, snapped off as sharply as a wire being cut.
CJ poured maple syrup on his pancakes and tore into his breakfast. Clark shoveled scrambled eggs on to the plates of his daughter and younger sons, added bacon and finished pouring milk into their glasses. Lois was still asleep, and he intended to see to it that she slept as long as she could. The three growing babies had made rest very difficult for her for the last several months, so when she was able to sleep, Clark made every effort to see to it that she was not disturbed.
Today, fortunately, was his day off, which was just as well, because there were several things that he needed to take care of. Perry had tried to arrange it so that he could take the days that he wanted whenever he found it necessary. Now that both of them acknowledged that Perry knew his secret, and there was no longer any necessity to pretend that Perry didn't know, he had to acknowledge that it was a lot easier on both of them. Why they hadn't simply been straightforward with each other before he now couldn't quite understand. There hadn't been any question in his mind for years now that Perry could be trusted.
In any case, as long as he held up his share of the bargain and contributed stories on a regular basis, Perry pretty much let him do as he chose. Today, he needed to attend the exhibition game between Metro Elementary and Eastside. Not only was CJ the starting pitcher, Clark wanted to look over the situation with Coach Pilson, or Maxwell, or whatever his real name was, without that individual being aware of it.
Martha Kent stepped into the kitchen, glancing at the clock. "Okay, kids, ten minute warning. Jimmy, when you're finished, I want you to go up and put on the clothes that I've laid out on your bed."
"Okay, Grandma," Jimmy said.
CJ finished shoveling pancakes into his mouth, drained the glass of milk, wiped his hands on his napkin and stood up. "Done," he announced, picking up his plate and silverware and depositing them in the sink as he spoke. "I'm going to get my stuff and wait in the car."
Clark nodded. "I'll be right there," he said. "Marta, you and Jonny need to hurry."
"I'm done," Marta said. "Hurry up, Jonny."
"I'm done, too," the six-year-old informed them.
"Good," Clark said. "Go wash your hands and come out to the car. I'll move Lois downstairs when I get back," he added to Martha.
"All right. I'll tell her, if she wakes up before you get back." Martha poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot on the table and sat down to read the Daily Planet.
By the time Clark made it to the Jeep, CJ was already waiting for him. Cautiously, Clark lowered his glasses and looked the whole area over, but it seemed that no one was watching them. He opened the driver's door and got in.
"Dad," CJ said, as soon as the door closed, "You know the stuff we talked about after you got back?"
"Did you think of something else you wanted to ask?" Clark asked.
"Sort of. We didn't really have time to talk a lot about it."
"Go ahead." Clark closed his mouth and thought as clearly as he could directly at his son, keeping the thoughts clearly focused on CJ. The New Kryptonians had been able to do that, he knew, when they wanted to. 'I don't think anyone is listening, but after last night I think we should probably be careful. Think *at* me, CJ. Try not to let your thoughts go anywhere else.'
'Okay,' CJ thought back at him. Clark could almost see the narrow stream of communication directly to him. CJ was better at this than he was, he thought. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that CJ was still a child, and more adaptable than an adult. 'I wanted to ask about Wyatt,' CJ continued. 'I mean, it was great that he could hear us, but how can he hear us at all? At first the only person he could hear was Marta, but after she told him to listen for us, he could hear the rest of us, and then …' He went on to detail exactly what had happened the night before. 'How can that be, Dad? I thought regular people couldn't do that.'
'I've managed it with your mom a few times,' Clark told him. 'We never practiced, but if we had, we might have gotten better at it. As for Wyatt — I'm not sure. Some people do have ESP here on Earth, though. I know one personally, although she isn't always as accurate as you might think. In any case, I'm going to talk to Dr. Klein about it when I get the chance.' He paused. 'Marta really didn't have any trouble talking to him, though — or hearing him?'
CJ shook his head. 'She didn't even have to try very hard. Does that mean Wyatt and Marta are like Linda and me and you and Mom?'
'What do you mean?' Clark asked, a little startled.
'You know,' CJ said. 'Like that New Kryptonian thing — sort of tied together?'
'Where did you hear about that?' Clark asked.
'I heard you and Mom talking about it,' CJ said. 'Does it mean that Linda and I are going to get married when we grow up?'
'Maybe,' Clark said. 'I learned a little about it from Zara when I was on the New Kryptonian mother ship. Kryptonians tend to do that when they meet the person that's right for them. It's called bonding.'
'Oh,' CJ said. He looked thoughtful. 'Well, that's okay. If I get married someday, I wouldn't want to marry anybody but Linda. Will Wyatt marry Marta?'
'It's possible,' Clark said. 'Would you mind?'
'No,' CJ said, surprising him. 'Marta's pretty cool, when she isn't trying to boss me around.'
Clark reflected that Wyatt might not mind that part, as long as it was Marta doing the bossing, any more than he minded Lois bossing him around, but he didn't say so. He looked around carefully and spoke aloud. "I wanted to tell you what happened last night, before Marta and Jonny get here. Mr. Henderson is trying to find out who this Pilson — or Maxwell — is, for us. Your mother and I talked it over with him last night, and he wanted you to do something for him."
"Sure," CJ said. "What?"
"You know that I've found one of the Kryptonian kids here in Metropolis, but I didn't tell you who it was."
"Yeah, I know," CJ said. "It's Valerie Henderson."
Clark paused infinitesimally before he continued. "How did you know that?"
"I didn't. Linda told me."
"How did *she* know?"
CJ shrugged. "She just did. The same way she knew Marta was, I guess. Valerie's one of her friends. She isn't going to tell anyone."
"Oh," Clark said. He was definitely going to need to talk to Linda in private as soon as he could make the time. "Well, Mr. Henderson knows about you, you know. He's afraid that whatever this thing is, that Valerie might be in danger. He's going to tell her that if she thinks she's in danger, she's to go to you, and you can call me. All right?"
"Okay," CJ said.
"And one last thing. You should pass this along to Linda and Marta when you get the chance. Something happened last night. Wyatt was talking to me — kind of a test to see if he could. Someone else overheard us. Someone spoke to me the same way. I think he was surprised, but this means there's another Kryptonian hybrid around here somewhere. When you talk telepathically, be careful. Understand?"
CJ nodded. "I'll tell them both as soon as we get away from Jonny. Jimmy and him; they overheard us talking with telepathy last night, but they didn't know what was going on."
"Yeah," Clark said. It sounded as if things were getting more complicated than ever.
CJ was frowning. "This is kinda scary," he said. "I wanted to ask you last night — do you think it would help if I wore glasses like you? I mean, people wouldn't think I was a superkid if I had to wear glasses. Besides," he added, "if I start doing super things like you, when I grow up, I don't want anyone to recognize me."
"Well," Clark said, after a pause, "your grandmother and grandfather put glasses on me when I was about twelve, to remind me not to use my vision powers. That was right after I set a haystack on fire by accident. It's up to you, really, because you already know how to handle your super-vision."
"Well," CJ said, "I think maybe I should. D'you think I could get some really cool frames, so I don't look like a nerd?"
Clark couldn't help grinning. "I think we can manage that."
"Strike three!" the umpire announced. CJ rubbed his shoulder as he straightened up from the final pitch that ended the game. The score was four to nothing, largely due to CJ's pitching and the excellent support of his teammates.
Coach Pilson, or whatever his name really was, was standing on the sidelines, a grin on his face, as if he were responsible for the way the Metro Elementary Wildcats had played — which, CJ thought, he wasn't. Coach Tibbets was the one who had taught them to play as a team, even when the pitcher and the right fielder could barely stand each other. The parents and families of the players were going crazy in the stands, and behind home plate, he could see Wyatt doing a victory dance, clutching the ball in his catcher's glove and waving it in the air. Then the other members of his team descended on him, screaming and pounding him wherever their hands came in contact with his body. He found that he was grateful for his partial invulnerability.
He could see his dad in the fourth row, yelling along with the other parents, and the fact that he was there made CJ feel considerably safer. Whatever the coach was up to, CJ thought, his dad wouldn't let him get away with it, at least for now.
The Eastside Elementary Wolves were advancing to shake the hands of the winners, and the Wildcats lined up behind him to graciously accept the congratulations. That was something that the schools insisted on to show good sportsmanship. CJ suspected that congratulating him was the last thing they wanted to do. He had heard the remarks when the opposing team had discovered that he was the Wildcats' pitcher today. Not many members of Metropolis's four other elementary schools' baseball teams were too fond of him.
Linda had moved up behind him. She was looking at the members of the opposing team with a serious expression, but she didn't say anything. At last, the Wildcats traipsed off the field, to be met by their family members. Wyatt, Linda and CJ walked together in a small group. CJ could see that his dad was trying to work his way down from the stands through the crowd of parents. Coach Pilson had moved toward them, and as CJ approached the area by the gate, the coach stopped beside him. "That was great pitching," he remarked casually. "Not many kids can pitch as well as you, Kent."
"Other kids didn't have my grandfather to teach them how," CJ said.
"Was he really that good?" Pilson asked.
"Yeah, he was," CJ said. "He pitches for the senior's team in Smallville, now. He's still better than any of the others there."
"Too bad your dad didn't decide to play," Pilson said. "Didn't your grandfather teach him?"
"Yeah," CJ said, wondering a little about the questions. "My dad liked football better than baseball. He played at Midwest U."
"Oh," Pilson said. "And then he decided to be a reporter."
"Yeah, he did," CJ said. "Why?"
"Just making conversation," Pilson said. "I've read a lot of his stuff." He looked at Linda and Wyatt. "That was fine teamwork," he said. "I guess catching for Kent here keeps you on your toes," he added to Wyatt. "Do you always catch for him?"
"Yeah," Wyatt said. "Coach Tibbets always assigns me to catch for CJ."
"I can see why," Pilson remarked, casually. "Been catching for him long?"
"Just this year," CJ said. "At least here. Wyatt's in Little League, too."
"Oh, I see," Pilson said. "How about you, Lennox?"
"I just transferred to Metro Elementary this year," Linda said. "I used to go to Susan Bitterwerth Elementary before this."
"Oh," Pilson said.
Linda pointed. "There's your dad, CJ," she said suddenly. Relieved, CJ saw Clark Kent coming across the blacktop toward him. Pilson turned in time to come face to face with CJ's father. CJ could hear his heartbeat speed up.
Clark looked the coach up and down. "You must be Coach Pilson," he said. CJ and Linda looked at each other.
"Yeah," Pilson said. "John Tibbets has the flu, so I'm substituting. You must be CJ's father."
"That's right. Clark Kent," Clark said, extending a hand. Pilson took it, and the men shook hands. CJ saw the coach wince slightly.
"Your son's a terrific pitcher for his age," Pilson said.
"We think so," Clark said. "My father taught him, when he was about five." He looked past the coach to CJ, Wyatt and Linda. "If you three hurry, I'll give you a ride home with Marta. Linda, your mother called to tell Lois that she's going to be late again tonight, so you're eating with us again."
"Okay," Linda said. "We'll be just a few minutes, Mr. Kent."
As he entered the gymnasium to change out of his baseball gear, CJ glanced back. His father was talking to Mr. Pilson, but without employing his super-hearing, CJ couldn't hear what they were saying.
Linda was also looking back, and he saw that she was biting her lip, but she didn't say anything. Inside the gym, they split up. Linda headed for the girls' changing room, and he and Wyatt for the one reserved for the boys.
There were three other boys from their class there, changing clothing. Paul Roberts, the Wildcats' third baseman pulled his T- shirt over his head and looked around to see them. "Hey!" he said. "Wildcats rule!"
CJ grinned and went to his locker to retrieve his clothes. They were lying in a jumbled heap in his cubicle. He frowned at the pile of clothing. He wasn't given to excessive neatness, but he could have sworn he'd more-or-less folded his shirt and jeans before he'd left them here. And he definitely hadn't left his pockets turned inside out like that.
"What's the matter?" Wyatt asked.
"Somebody's been messing with my stuff," CJ said.
Wyatt glanced at the clothing. "Did you have any money in your pockets?"
"No." CJ bent to retrieve the pencil that had been in one pocket. It was lying on the floor under the bench. "I know better than that."
"There's your house key," Wyatt said. He picked the key up from the spot where it had fallen, nearly out of sight by the foot of the bench.
"Thanks." CJ took the key. Had someone been searching his pockets for money, or was it something worse? He began to dress, frowning thoughtfully.
'You suppose it had something to do with that stuff last night?' Wyatt's voice asked in his mind.
'I dunno,' CJ answered the same way. 'I guess it might just be somebody looking for stuff to steal.'
'Biff, you think?' Wyatt asked.
CJ thought about it. 'Doubt it. He was on the field the whole time, and I saw him talking to Grunt when we came in here. He didn't have a chance to take anything.'
'Oh.' Wyatt was buttoning his shirt. 'Maybe you should tell your dad.'
'I'm going to. Let's hurry up.'
"I'm done," Wyatt said, aloud. He tucked in the tail of his shirt.
The final bell, announcing the end of school, rang as CJ picked up the bag that now contained his very dirty baseball uniform and together the two boys left the locker room. Other team members passed them, several giving CJ and Wyatt a high-five. Even Biff didn't give CJ his usual scowl as he passed. CJ grinned at his friends, knowing that his stock was pretty high with them right now, but he didn't stop to chat. His dad was waiting patiently, with Linda and Marta beside him, but there was no sign of Coach Pilson. At least, CJ thought, he didn't have to be back until Monday. Maybe by then his dad and Mr. Henderson would figure out what was going on and put a stop to it.
Clark was talking to Linda in a voice low enough that no one around them would be able to hear, and CJ didn't bother to try to tune in with his super-hearing. His dad was frowning but it wasn't an angry frown. It was more as if he was thinking hard about what Linda was saying. He nodded a couple of times, and then glanced up as CJ and Wyatt approached.
"Come on, guys," he said, noncommittally, "let's get home."
"Somebody searched through CJ's clothes in the locker room," Wyatt said.
"Oh?" Clark glanced at CJ. "Is anything missing?"
CJ shook his head. "No. I didn't have anything worth taking. Just a pencil and my key, and they were there, only on the floor."
"Maybe somebody was looking for money," Marta said.
"Maybe," Clark said. He didn't say anything more as they crossed the blacktop toward the parking lot, but CJ had the impression that he was listening for something, though what it might be he had no idea. He tried to listen, too, but he wasn't as good as his dad when it came to using his super-hearing; at least yet. Trying to sort out what lots of different people were saying tended to make all the sounds blend into one big gabble, and generally gave him a headache.
When they reached the parking lot, CJ saw that the Jeep was completely hemmed in by the cars of parents that had come to see the game. He wasn't really surprised. Cars were jammed together just like rush hour in downtown Metropolis, and it occurred to him to wonder why grown-ups couldn't take turns like the teachers taught the kids in his school to do, instead of trying to be the first in line to exit the lot. As he watched, the driver of a Chevy van tried to shove its nose into a spot too small for a Volkswagen, and the guy in the fancy pickup truck that had been moving into the space had to slam on his brakes to avoid the other vehicle. The car behind the pickup jolted to a stop half an inch from the truck's bumper, but the car behind *him* wasn't quite fast enough and CJ winced at the shriek of metal against metal.
Other cars screeched to a stop as well. The drivers of the two cars jumped out and ran to inspect the damage, which, CJ's enhanced vision informed him, was limited to a minor scratch on the rear bumper of one and a tiny dent in the front bumper of the other.
The minor nature of the damage didn't seem to matter, however, judging by the language that was issuing from the drivers of the two cars. Clark opened the doors of the Cherokee after a glance over his shoulder at the accident.
"You kids get in," he said. "I think Superman's going to step in here."
Wyatt, Marta, Linda and CJ got into the Jeep and at Clark's insistence, shut and locked the doors. When CJ again had the leisure to look up, his father had vanished, and an instant later, Superman had arrived on the scene.
"You think we'll ever be able to fly like him?" Marta asked wistfully, watching the drama.
"Sure," CJ said firmly. "You and Linda can already float down when he throws you into the air. It's gonna take a while, but I bet we'll be flying before we're eighteen. Dad says he thinks he probably could have flown when he was fifteen or sixteen — he just didn't know he could."
"And," Wyatt said, "CJ can even do better than that — and he's only about a year older than you, Marta. Last time I stayed overnight, CJ floated in his sleep. I saw him."
"I *did*?" CJ said.
"Uh huh. I woke up in the middle of the night, and you were floating maybe three or four feet in the air."
CJ was struck dumb for several seconds. "Why didn't you *say* something?"
Wyatt shrugged. "I figured you probably knew already. 'Sides flying's no big deal for you guys, is it?"
"Yeah, it kinda is," CJ said. "Next time you see me floating, wake me up, okay?"
"Sure," Wyatt said.
"What was Dad frowning about?" CJ asked, turning to Linda. "He looked kinda worried."
Linda was watching Superman as he separated the drivers, picked up the vehicles and moved them to the side of the lot. "He was," she said. "There's another Kryptonian somewhere around."
"How do you know?" Wyatt asked.
"I always know," Linda said. "I don't know how; I just do."
"Is he around, now?" CJ asked.
"Yes. Not as close as he was a while ago."
"Where was he a while ago?"
Linda shrugged. "I don't know. Just close."
"One of the Wolves' team?" CJ asked.
"Maybe. I don't know."
"But he's not around our school most of the time?" CJ asked.
"No," Linda said. "I've never felt him before."
"He probably came with the other team," Wyatt said. "Or maybe with his mom or dad."
"Maybe," Linda said, but she didn't look convinced. "He was scared."
"Scared? How do you know?"
Again she shrugged. She probably really didn't know how she knew, CJ decided. She'd known Marta was a Kryptonian, and she'd probably known Jonny and Jimmy were, too. And she'd spotted Valerie Henderson as well. Linda seemed to have some way of telling, even if she didn't know how she did it. But then, Linda was pretty special, CJ thought with a twinge of pride.
"He's getting farther away all the time," Linda added. "He's probably in one of the cars that were in the parking lot."
"Yeah," CJ said.
The front door of the Jeep opened and Clark got in. "It looks like we'll be out of here in a few minutes," he said.
"Dad, can you tell if somebody's a Kryptonian?" Marta asked.
He shook his head. "No."
"Then how does Linda know?" Marta asked.
"I don't know," Clark said. "I don't know that much about Kryptonian powers. Zara did mention that sometimes the noble families of Krypton produced someone with better than normal mental abilities. That might have been how the noble families got to *be* the noble families. I wonder if that might be how they found me in the beginning."
"What do you mean?" CJ asked.
"Well —" His father started the engine and began to back cautiously from the parking space. "When the New Kryptonians arrived, they somehow knew that I was one of them, and since Kal- El had been sent to Earth, they figured that I was him — and of course they were right," he added. "Zara never told me how they did it, though. It might have been someone like Linda who pointed me out to them."
"Yeah, maybe," Marta said. "I guess Linda's dad was from one of the noble families, huh?"
His dad glanced quickly over his shoulder, and CJ couldn't interpret the expression on his face when he looked at Linda, but an instant later he was paying attention to the traffic that was still crowded much too closely around them for CJ's comfort. "Probably," he said. "It doesn't matter who it was. Linda's from Earth, and the New Kryptonians are gone. As far as I'm concerned, we can forget they ever existed."
"That's sure," Linda said. "I hate him, whoever he was."
CJ couldn't help himself. He reached out, took her hand and squeezed it. 'Dad's right. It really *doesn't* matter,' he said, aiming his thoughts directly at her, so that Marta, Wyatt and his dad wouldn't hear; or at least he hoped they wouldn't. '*I'm* glad you're here. It wouldn't even matter if it was Lord Nor; and Lord Nor tried to kill my dad. *You* didn't have anything to do with it, anymore than I had anything to do with where I came from.'
She met his eyes, and for a long moment they looked at each other very solemnly. Then Marta giggled. "You guys look just like Gwendolyn and Vincent on 'The Ivory Tower'!"
CJ stuck his tongue out at his sister and squeezed Linda's hand again, but he didn't say anything.
It was the beginning of rush hour, so it took nearly twenty minutes to reach the townhouse on Hyperion Avenue. Clark pulled the Jeep into the garage in the rear of the property and cut the engine. CJ saw him lower his glasses and look in the direction of the house. He frowned.
"What's the matter?" CJ asked.
"We have visitors," his father said.
"Good guys or bad ones?" Wyatt asked.
"Good ones," Clark said. "But a little unexpected. When we get there, you four go on upstairs and start your homework. I'll call you if you need to be there."
"You're gonna tell us what's going on, later, aren't you?" Wyatt asked.
"If it's related to this business with Coach Pilson," CJ's father said, "you can be sure I will."
When Clark walked into the living room of the townhouse, followed by the four children, William Henderson and his companion got to their feet.
"Hi, Clark," Henderson said. "We've been waiting for you to get home."
Lois, stretched out on the couch, as usual, looked at the four children. "Why don't you guys go up to the playroom with Jonny and Jimmy."
"Okay," CJ said. They headed up the stairs and Clark looked questioningly at his second visitor.
"I didn't expect to see you, Rene."
The French Interpol agent had risen to his feet. "It's good to see you, Clark. I wish it were under better circumstances."
"What's going on?" Clark asked.
"My inquiries to Agent Olsen got more results than we expected," Henderson said. "He evidently contacted Agent St. Cloud here."
"Are *your* people behind the surveillance of my son?" Clark asked, levelly.
"Not exactly," Rene said. "I shouldn't have been surprised that you discovered it, though. I recall clearly how impressed I was with your work on Crescent Island. No, my people are not behind the surveillance, but one of my men is involved in it."
"Pilson," Clark said. "Or Maxwell."
"Yes," Rene said. "I had hoped not to have to alarm you, but I should have realized that it was a vain wish." He gestured to the empty armchair. "Sit down and I'll explain. John Maxwell is one of my best men. He will be most chagrined to discover that a reporter has penetrated his disguise. I did explain to him that you were no common reporter, and warned him not to underestimate you, but I don't think he was convinced."
Clark glanced at Lois, who nodded at him. Martha Kent entered the room, a tray bearing four cups of coffee and a glass of juice in her hands. She distributed the coffee to Clark and the two guests, set the juice in front of Lois and sank onto the foot of the sofa, setting the last cup and saucer on the end table.
Lois sipped the juice and set the glass on the coffee table. "You have no idea how glad I'm going to be when I can have a real cup of coffee again," she remarked. "Go ahead. I want to hear this explanation, myself. I don't particularly like the thought that my son is being watched by his PE coach."
Rene St. Cloud nodded. "I don't blame you, Ms. Lane, but it was a choice of his being watched by one of my men or by someone else who had no reason at all to try to protect him. Quite the opposite." He sipped the coffee. "You recall, I am sure, Arianna Carlin."
"What's *she* got to do with this?" Lois asked, sharply.
"Everything, I'm afraid," Rene said. "She vanished during the raid on Crescent Island and seemed to completely disappear. But we believe she has surfaced again, at last." He met Clark's eyes. "I understand, my friend, that you are angry that your son has become the target of surveillance, but when you hear the circumstances, I think you will be willing to forgive me."
"All right," Clark said. "Let's hear it."
"Very well." Rene shifted his position in the chair so that he was partially facing both Lois and Clark. "Six months ago, the founder and head of a major U.S. corporation apparently cleaned out his fairly substantial personal bank accounts and disappeared."
"What does this have to do with CJ?" Lois asked.
"Everything," Rene said. "It has to do with Arianna Carlin, Lex Luthor, and the project in which they were engaged while Luthor was, in effect, a prisoner on his own island — which, in this case, leads directly to Arianna Carlin's interest in your son." He smiled faintly. "John Maxwell was very impressed with the boy's pitching skill, by the way. He thinks CJ should become a major league pitcher when he grows up. I told him that I suspected that the son of Lois Lane and Clark Kent was more likely to become an investigative reporter, or perhaps a world leader."
"Just so long as he doesn't become a lawyer," Lois muttered. She shifted position uncomfortably and rubbed a spot on her abdomen. "CJ's too honest for that."
Henderson snorted. "Believe it or not, I've actually known some ethical lawyers," he remarked. "It does happen, as unlikely as that may seem."
"Whatever," Lois said, clearly unconvinced. "When a DA tries to frame me for murder to get himself elected governor, it makes me wonder if *any* of them are trustworthy. Go on, Rene."
The Interpol agent nodded. "Very well. During the investigations following the CEO's disappearance, it became evident that the man in question had been siphoning money from his company for months. The funds had been transferred to numbered bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, and were not recovered. A week after his disappearance, the man's body was found behind the wheel of his car, just south of the Mexican border. He was apparently dead of a heart attack. His money was gone."
"You don't think it was a heart attack?" Clark asked.
"To all appearances it was," Rene said. "However, you have to agree that the circumstances were somewhat odd. What's more, exactly the same thing happened ten months before that, only the head of the company involved was Canadian, and the car turned up in North Dakota."
Clark glanced at Lois. His wife was frowning thoughtfully. He knew a quick flash of admiration that even in these circumstances, his Lois was still the investigative reporter that she had always been.
"Were these the only examples?" she asked.
Rene shook his head. "No. The same thing happened two years ago to another company head in California. His body was found in a Tijuana hotel, and the money was also gone. By the time of the latest incident, as you might guess, the authorities had begun to believe that more than chance was involved."
"Big surprise there," Lois said.
"The U.S. and Canadian authorities had begun to put the pattern together, and it was your friend Jack Olsen who spotted a possible connection," Rene continued. "He was involved in the investigation of Caribbean Imports, and the raid on Crescent Island ten years ago, and he noticed that at one time or another all three of the men had been the guests of Alejandro de Los Rios."
Clark glanced at Lois again. She was biting her lip. "Go on."
"Very well. Jack Olsen contacted me. I had been tracking five similar happenings in Europe, and our suspicions were now thoroughly aroused. This triggered an autopsy on the body that was somewhat more thorough than usual, and as a result, the diagnosis of a heart attack was changed somewhat.
"What the analysis revealed was frog DNA. We exhumed the other bodies and analyses were performed on their DNA as well. The men were all clones, and our researchers believe that the heart attacks were somehow programmed in, possibly in response to some external signal. Apparently they had been executing a long-term plan, but were probably unaware of the ultimate fate intended for them."
"That makes sense," Lois murmured.
"These events were enough to convince us beyond a doubt that the situation was not a coincidence," Rene said.
"I'd say so," Lois interjected. "And I guess that's what led you to Arianna Carlin."
Rene nodded. "We went to New Troy's state law enforcement and obtained the record of visitors to Lex Luthor — both Lex Luthors — over the last ten years. There were quite a few by the media, of course, but none by any known friends or relatives —"
"— As might be expected," Lois interjected.
"Until I noticed that a particular newswoman had visited him — both of him — several times for exclusive interviews," Rene said grimly. "We obtained the photograph that is automatically taken of visitors, and a copy of the signature."
"It was Arianna," Lois said.
Rene nodded. "Recently, she also interviewed one Ambrose Cash, formerly a member of the United States Army and a covert operative for the discredited agency, Bureau 39."
"I begin to see the connection," Clark said.
"I thought you would," Rene said. "After that, using the list of visitors to Crescent Island, we pinpointed companies with compromised owners."
Lois glanced at Clark. "That was the plan we uncovered while we were on the island: to replace the owners or CEOs of companies with their copies — copies that would do as they were told by Luthor and Arianna."
Again, Rene nodded. "Yes. I'm afraid the civil authorities were less willing to believe such a wild story, in spite of prior experience with Lex Luthor, than you were. It's my understanding that you two have had close-up contact with Mr. Luthor's clones."
"You could say that," Clark said.
His attempt to speak casually didn't fool Rene for an instant. The man smiled briefly, without humor. "In any case, my friend, *I* believed you, and after finding that the dead executives were clones, others did as well. In any case, we believed that Arianna Carlin is implementing a long-term plan of some sort — whatever it may be. We know that the Luthor clone claimed that your son was the rumored Superman clone, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. We also know that Colonel Cash claimed that the rumored offspring of the New Kryptonian invasion intended to take over the world. How a man with such delusions could have become a colonel in the United States Army is a scenario that I find incredible as well as frightening."
"That's for sure," Lois said, with feeling. "Paranoid secret government agencies scare me. When we were on Crescent Island, we thought that Lex and Arianna were trying to essentially create another group of companies equivalent to the original LexCorp. It sounds to me like she's trying to amass capital to finance the project."
"It seems logical," Rene said. "In any case, we believe the two Luthors and Colonel Cash passed the so-called 'information' about the Superman clone and the hypothetical New Kryptonian hybrids to Arianna Carlin. That is where the connection between her and your family comes into play." He shrugged. "We didn't discover this at once," he continued. "When we found the connection of the cloned CEOs, we saw it as a possible lead to locating her. She is considered a criminal of the same stature as Lex Luthor, as you may know, and if she is behind this situation, as we believe, she has been elevated to the rank of international criminal mastermind. So, as I said, we used the list of visitors to Crescent Island to pinpoint the companies with compromised owners. John Maxwell worked his way into one of the companies and after some time discovered three persons who were working with the CEO. I won't go into all the details, but eventually he managed to bring himself to their notice in such a way that he was inducted into their organization two months ago. He reports that a Mrs. X gives the orders, and only via cell phone. He has never seen her, but he believes Mrs. X to be Arianna Carlin. Maxwell has managed to work his way into a position of trust with Mrs. X, and last week was given this assignment — to discover the truth or falsity of suspicions about your son. He accepted the assignment not only in the hope that it would lead to Arianna Carlin, but because the other candidate was not a man of scruples." He stopped. "I ask your forgiveness for this intrusion into your lives, especially —" he looked toward Lois with a smile, "in the current circumstances. John Maxwell has two sons. He will not harm yours."
When Rene St. Cloud finished speaking, Clark looked at Lois. His wife was a hard-headed and intelligent woman who tended to think more clearly than he did in circumstances such as this. His first instinct was to tell Rene that he appreciated his attempt to protect CJ but that he was going to move his son as far away from Arianna Carlin as it was possible to take him.
But, of course, that wouldn't solve anything. All it would do would be to delay the inevitable and convince Arianna and Lex Luthor that they were right to suspect CJ Kent of being the Superman clone, or just possibly a Kryptonian hybrid. And it could definitely raise such suspicions in others. What was more, such a move would derail Rene's attempt to capture the renegade wife of Lex Luthor, who was certainly as evil and as much of a threat to his family as Lex Luthor or Colonel Cash.
Lois was looking back at him, biting her lip. He glanced at Rene and back at his wife. "What do you think, honey?"
Lois turned to Rene St. Cloud. "Exactly how much of a threat is this to CJ?" she asked.
"I can't say that he is in no danger," Rene said. "He is. But that would be so whether my people are involved or not."
"Yeah." Lois said. "We can't hide CJ from her forever, Clark."
"I know." Clark resisted the urge to get to his feet and pace. "Bill, you're an ex-cop. What do you advise?"
Henderson shrugged, more as a nervous gesture than as a dismissal. "If it were Valerie, I'm sure I'd feel the same as you," he said, "but I also know the kind of people we're up against."
"If it *were* Valerie," Lois said, "what would you advise?"
Henderson met her eyes directly. "I'd say we need to carry through. If we can nail Arianna Luthor and put her in prison, she and Luthor won't be a threat any longer, and you can debunk their claims about CJ once and for all. Once she's discredited and in jail, I don't think there will be anyone wasting his time listening to the Luthors and their crazy theories."
"Dr. Klein tested CJ once," Clark said. "Isn't that enough?"
"It is for the world of normal people," Bill said, "but Arianna Luthor and her husband aren't normal. They're going to keep up their attack on you and CJ until they either succeed and prove that CJ isn't their clone — and then probably kill him to hide what they've done — or are stopped."
"He's right," Lois said. "I don't like CJ being at risk, but until Arianna is in custody, she's never going to leave him alone. No one is going to be able to convince her that her precious Superman clone isn't around anymore — or, if he is, that he isn't CJ. At least we can bring Superman in on it." She glanced at Rene. "You probably know that he has an interest in Lex Luthor and Arianna. He's already volunteered to help keep an eye on CJ." She added with apparent irrelevance, "He's CJ's godfather, you know."
Rene nodded. "Yes, Superman's friendship for you and your husband is well-known," he said. "I certainly won't turn down his help, but it would be well if he would consult with me before he takes action."
"I'll tell him," Clark said. "How should he contact you?"
"Does Superman have access to a cellular phone?" Rene asked.
"He has one of his own," Clark said, wondering for the millionth time why it was so difficult for persons to visualize his alter ego possessing the modern accessories of the day. Why should Superman unnecessarily handicap himself by eschewing such conveniences as a cell phone?
"Excellent," Rene said. "If you will give me his number, I will call him after I am at some distance from your home. It would be best if anyone who observed me leaving believed me to be simply another of William's campaign staff."
"I'll call him for you," Henderson said, dryly. "I'm one of the few that has his number. What makes you think that we're going to get to Arianna this way? She seems to have carefully avoided showing up in person so far."
"But," Rene said, "from what I have gathered, the Luthors had planned to use the clone they created as a weapon against Superman. It seems to have been an integral part of their scheme to reacquire power. They will not give up that plan without a struggle. If anything will bring Arianna Carlin — Arianna Luthor — out of hiding, it would be the possibility of recovering their clone. As you say, they will not willingly believe that your son is not the object of their desires. Very will, we will use that weakness to trap her."
Clark looked at his wife. "We need to bring the kids down here and let them know what's going on."
Rene hesitated. "Is it necessary? Frightening your son isn't something that I want to do."
Lois rubbed the spot on her side again. "CJ and Wyatt were involved with that Bureau 39 mess last year," she said, "and so were the girls. In fact, the boys helped Bill and his people get it under control by getting rid of the piece of Kryptonite before Cash could use it on Superman. They've all been worried about all this since yesterday when we figured out that something was wrong. Besides, CJ's their target. This way, he can at least be on guard for anything unusual."
Henderson nodded. "You'll find that CJ is a very level-headed kid," he told Rene. "So are Wyatt and the girls, and they deserve to know what's going on, if only to help protect them."
Rene shrugged fatalistically. "Very well, William. You know them better than I."
CJ didn't ordinarily eavesdrop on his parents and their friends — at least not since he'd realized that his excellent hearing was a super power and that he could control it — but this time it was a little different.
He had heard about Lex Luthor. It had been impossible to do any kind of computer search about his parents and all the things they had done without the man's name turning up. He'd read about how the great business magnate had turned out to be a criminal and how his mother and father — mostly his father, actually, with help from Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Perry — had brought the man down. The creep must have been awfully smart to fool his mom the way he had apparently done. She'd nearly married him, for Pete's sake, and then the guy had managed to kidnap her from her first wedding to his dad and a horrible mess had happened as a result. The whole story had been there in the tabloid stuff online, and lots of newspaper articles. CJ had found it fascinating in a hair-raising sort of way. Then the clone of Luthor had turned up, after everyone thought Luthor was dead, and after that it turned out that the real Luthor was still alive, a prisoner of his own wife on a private island. The guy seemed to be like one of those comic book villains that kept coming back over and over, no matter how many times he was supposedly killed.
His dad had mentioned that an old enemy had cloned Superman to use as a weapon against him, and CJ had suspected for a while that Luthor was the enemy he'd been talking about, but what he had overheard now confirmed it. It was a scary thought that he might have wound up his parents' enemy if things had been just a little different. Still, that part didn't matter, just as he had told Linda that where she'd come from didn't matter. It was, as his dad had said, what he was now and what he made of himself that was important, and there was no way this Arianna babe and the creep she was married to were going to turn him into a weapon against his dad. Normally, CJ would never have thought of any grown woman as a "babe", but he'd heard his mom refer to female criminals and sometimes other women that she didn't like as "babe", so he didn't think she'd really mind, even if she pretended she did.
Linda and Marta were also listening, and he noticed that Marta was relaying the information to Wyatt as fast as she heard it, so none of them were surprised when they heard his dad call them from the foot of the stairs. They looked at each other and as one, got up from the battered sofa, from which they had been watching Jimmy and Jonny demolish the minions of the Beringi Overlord in the process of saving the galaxy, and headed down the stairs.
"I guess you overheard most of that," his dad said quietly to them as they arrived on the second floor.
"Yeah." CJ said.
"Don't worry," Clark said. "We're going to stop these people."
"Dad, why do they think CJ is a clone?" Marta asked. "That's dumb!"
"We'll go into it later," Clark said. "The point is, the people after him think he is, and that's what puts him in danger. The man with Mr. Henderson is a friend of ours that your mother and I met ten years ago when we were on an undercover assignment. His name is Rene St. Cloud and he's a cop from France."
"Okay," CJ said.
'He doesn't know about Superman,' his father added on their mental channel. It was interesting, CJ thought, how the new way of communicating had turned out to be so useful so quickly. It was a shame Mom couldn't do it — but maybe she could if she practiced. Later, of course, when she didn't have quite so many things to worry about. After all, Wyatt had done it, once he figured out how to get on their wavelength.
'Okay,' he thought back. 'We'll be careful.'
'Oh,' his dad added. 'I almost forgot. I picked these up in Smallville just until we can get you a set of glasses with cool frames. They used to be mine.' He held out a pair of kid-sized glasses.
CJ took the glasses. The frames were heavy and probably would make him look like a dork, but at least if he was wearing them he didn't look like Superman, and that was the important thing. He put them on and resolutely ignored Marta's giggle.
Linda cocked her head sideways, obviously examining the effect. "Oh well," she said. "In a couple of days you can pick out some better ones."
Yep, they made him look like a dork, all right. "Never mind," he said. "Let's go talk to Mr. St. Cloud."
Lois awoke. Her back was aching, which wasn't unusual, but there was a pressure across her abdomen that was too familiar. The ache across her back intensified and radiated around the sides. Lois bit her lip. Maybe, she thought hopefully, it was false labor again.
Clark stirred and his eyes opened suddenly. "Lois, what's wrong?"
She discovered that she was clenching her teeth. The pain gradually subsided, but Clark was looking at her with instant comprehension. He reached for his glasses on the nightstand. "It's labor, isn't it?"
"I'm not sure. It could just be —"
"Lo — is."
"Yeah." She rubbed her bulging middle. "Yeah, I think it is."
Clark got out of bed so fast that she didn't see him move, and was dressed in another instant. "Here's your robe. Let's go."
"I need to get dressed," she protested.
"Why?" Clark asked. "Just so you can undress as soon as we get there? You know what Bernie said."
"Yeah, yeah," she grumbled. "Don't wait. But —"
"Let's go. I'll tell Mom, and then take you downstairs and go get the car. I'm going to fly you to the hospital. Let's not risk anything going wrong at the last second, honey."
Clark was definitely taking charge, Lois thought, and she suspected that he didn't intend to let anything stop him. Inwardly, she wondered at her own reluctance. Was it just her typical objection for the control of any situation to be taken out of her hands, or was it that she was worried about the situation with CJ and wanted to be around to deal with it? But such things weren't going to stop Mother Nature from doing what she intended. The babies were on their way, and the sooner she was under the watchful eye of Bernie Klein, the safer they would be.
CJ woke suddenly, aware of noise in the hall outside his room. It hadn't been a loud noise, as Wyatt, who was snoring softly on the rollaway bed in the corner, hadn't awakened. He usually stayed overnight on Friday so that the two of them could go to Little League practice together in the morning. CJ listened, tuning his enhanced hearing to the rest of the house. His father's voice was speaking quietly.
"Easy, honey. I'm going to get the car and bring it around; then I'll carry you to it. It won't take a minute."
"Clark, I need to wash my hair! I wanted to do it last night, but they stayed too late, and —"
His father's voice answered, sounding determinedly calm. "You can wash your hair after it's all over. Even if it's squeaky-clean when you go in, it'll be sweaty when you're done, anyway, remember."
A low grumble from his mother. His father's voice cut in again. "Just go with me on this, Lois. We don't know how much time we have."
"All right, all right. Do you want to wake up the kids?"
"Let them sleep. Mom can tell them what's going on in the morning."
CJ slipped out of bed, already knowing what must be happening. His mom was having the babies. Quickly, he counted on his fingers. The babies were six weeks too early, but that wasn't as bad as it had been a couple of weeks ago. He remembered Dr. Klein saying last week that he was surprised that they had made it this far.
When he opened the door, he saw his father floating down the stairs, carrying his mother. Clark glanced back over his shoulder at him, and his mom also turned.
"Are you having the babies?" CJ asked, well aware that it was a silly question. What other reason could there be for his dad to be carrying his mom downstairs at — he glanced at the hall clock — two-twenty-two in the morning?
"Yeah," Clark said. "You help your grandmother take care of the kids, all right, CJ? And try not to let anything happen about that other thing. Don't go anywhere alone. And if something does happen, call me. You know how."
"I will," CJ said. He gulped as he saw his mother grimace and clutch her abdomen. "Hurry."
His father smiled. "We will. We'll let you know as soon as something happens, son. Don't worry."
CJ nodded, but he was still worried. Dr. Klein had said that if the babies didn't get into the right position, his mom might have to have an operation to have them, and the whole idea scared him. He hurried forward to give his mother a kiss on the cheek. "Be okay, Mom."
"I will, sweetie," she said. She glanced down and her eyebrows went up. "It looks to me like you were kind of a late developer, Clark."
"Huh?" Clark looked down and CJ followed his gaze. CJ's feet were floating a foot from the stairs. As he saw it, he felt himself drop to the carpeted steps. He grasped the banister for balance. His father grinned faintly. "I'd say we're going to have to start working on that, after this is all over. Try to help your grandmother, CJ. I'll call you as soon as it's over."
"Okay," CJ said. "Hurry."
He followed his mother and father down the stairs and sat on the couch beside Lois while his father brought the car around. A couple of moments later, Clark was carrying her out the door to the waiting Jeep. CJ followed with the small bag that had been sitting in the hall closet for the past month and then returned to the townhouse and watched through the glass of the entranceway as the Cherokee pulled away from the curb.
Slowly, he went back up the stairs and got into his bed, but sleep wouldn't come. He wasn't a bit sleepy, and the thoughts of what might be going on at the hospital kept his mind active. Sure, Dr. Klein was a good doctor, but sometimes things happened anyway. He would feel much better when his dad called with the word that it was all over and the babies were safely here.
The illuminated number of his alarm clock told him it was three- fifteen when he gave up the attempt to sleep and sat up. This wasn't working. It was probably going to be a while longer, and if he stared at the ceiling all night, it was going to seem three times as long. Besides, Grandma Kent had made an apple pie for dessert, and CJ was pretty sure that there was some left in the refrigerator. Maybe if he got a piece, and some milk, he'd be able to get back to sleep.
Silently, he got to his feet and started for the door. As he reached it, Wyatt gave a snort and sat bolt upright. "CJ?"
"Yeah," CJ said.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing," CJ said. "I got hungry."
"Oh. You gonna get something from the kitchen?"
"Yeah," CJ said.
Wyatt pushed the covers aside. "Can I come, too?"
"Sure." CJ waited while Wyatt reached out and put on the bathrobe that he had brought along. "Let's be quiet. We don't want to wake up the others."
"Yeah. Will your mom and dad mind?"
"Dad's taking Mom to the hospital," CJ said. "She's going to have the babies."
"Oh," Wyatt said. He wasn't much on babies, of course, but he liked CJ's mother and father. "She's gonna be all right, isn't she?"
"I hope so," CJ said. "Dad said Dr. Klein was going to meet them at the hospital."
"Dr. Klein's pretty cool," Wyatt said. He padded across the rug to the door. "I'm glad you thought about the pie. I'm hungry."
Quietly, the two boys opened the bedroom door and tiptoed down the hall to the stairs, and a few minutes later CJ was opening the refrigerator. "Good; there's half a pie left."
"Can we warm it up?" Wyatt asked.
"I'll do it," CJ said. "The microwave will make the crust tough." He set the pie plate in the middle of the table and trained his heat vision gently on the contents. Wyatt went to get saucers and forks as the scent of warm apple pie began to fill the room.
"Smells good," Wyatt said.
"Yeah," CJ agreed. He fished the pie server out of the dishwasher and turned back to the table to cut two generous pieces of pie and shovel them onto the saucers. "Get out the milk and a couple of glasses, will you?"
"Yeah," Wyatt said. He appropriated glasses from the dishwasher and a moment later the two boys were sitting at the kitchen table, their late night snack in front of them. Wyatt inhaled the scent of apple pie. "I wish my mom could make pie like your grandma," he remarked, cutting off the first forkful. "She always buys it from the supermarket. It's always too sweet, and the crust falls apart when you try to eat it."
"Yeah," CJ agreed. "That's what my mom does, but my dad makes it from scratch. Grandma Martha's taught me a little about it, too." He ducked his head. "Don't tell the guys at school, okay?"
Wyatt shook his head. "Hey," he pointed out, "My dad says some of the best cooks in the world are guys."
"I think they're called chefs," CJ said. "My Grandma Martha cooks the best of anybody I know, except maybe my dad, and she's just as good as him. He says she taught him most of what he knows about cooking food."
Wyatt nodded. "You're lucky," he said. He took a mouthful of pie.
The boys ate in silence for several minutes. At last, CJ shoved his empty saucer back and drained the last of the milk from his glass. "I feel better," he remarked.
"Me, too." Wyatt picked up the carton of milk and restored it to the refrigerator. CJ covered the pie with aluminum foil. "I got this off the bottom shelf. Is there room to put it back?"
Wyatt shook his head. CJ regarded the refrigerator shelves that had previously held the pie and milk and wondered for a minute where the space could have vanished to. At last, he slid the pie plate carefully on top of his grandmother's leftover lasagna. Hopefully the pie pan wouldn't squash the other food too much.
Wyatt shut the door. It gaped open by about a quarter of an inch and he opened it, rearranged the food again and managed to get it closed. "There," he said. "That'll do it."
"Did you say something?" CJ asked.
Wyatt shook his head.
The voice was clearer this time. Wyatt stared at him. "Did you hear that?"
'Help! Can anyone hear me?' The word was accompanied by a wash of despair. CJ bit his lip.
'Please …' The mental voice sounded young — younger than Wyatt or him, CJ thought, and a boy's voice. 'Is anyone there?'
'Where are you?' CJ asked.
'Hello?' The voice was suddenly alert. 'Is someone there?'
'Yes,' CJ answered cautiously. 'Who are you? *Where* are you?'
'I'm locked in a basement! I think she's going to kill me!'
'*Who* is going to kill you?' CJ demanded.
'*Her*,' the voice said.
'Who is she?' CJ asked.
'*Her*,' the voice said. 'She's called Ms. de Los Rios. I have to call her Ma'am.'
'Is she your mother?' Wyatt asked.
'No!' A wash of hatred and fear. 'She bosses me around all the time. She says I'm useless. She's going to kill me.'
'Where are you?' Wyatt demanded.
'I don't know,' the voice said, despairingly.
'Why are you useless?' Wyatt asked.
'I'm supposed to have Superman's powers,' the ghostly voice said. 'Some scientist was supposed to give me his powers, but I don't have them. She says I'm worthless.'
'Does she know you can talk to us like this?' Wyatt asked.
'No. I don't want to tell her,' the voice said. 'She'd hit me. She'd say I was lying.'
"What are we gonna do?" Wyatt whispered.
'Can you tell us anything that can help us find you?' CJ asked. 'Before she put you in the basement, did you see anything that could help?'
'I could see the park from my room,' the voice said. 'There was this statue of a guy on a horse.'
'You're on the north side of Centennial Park,' Wyatt said, at once. 'I've seen it lots of times.' He looked at CJ. "Maybe we should call your dad."
CJ shook his head. "He'd have to leave Mom. I don't want Mom to be by herself."
"Then what do we do?" Wyatt whispered. "We can't let her kill him!"
CJ got to his feet. "Let's get dressed," he said. "We'll go see if we can find him. If we can't get him out ourselves, then we'll call my dad." He switched to the strange mind speech that had so suddenly become familiar. 'Are you by yourself right now?'
'Yeah.' The boy's 'voice' had a lost quality to it.
'We're going to try to help you,' CJ said. 'Can you sing?'
'Then sing, or hum. Not loud; don't let anybody nearby hear you, but don't stop.'
'Okay,' the voice said.
'What's your name?' Wyatt asked.
'Alex,' the boy's voice said.
'Okay, Alex,' CJ said. 'Sing.'
'You take Marta's bike,' CJ said. 'Good thing she doesn't go for pink.'
Wyatt wheeled out the bicycle. 'She's pretty cool, you know.'
'Yeah, I know,' CJ said. 'Let's go.'
'How are we gonna get Alex out?'
'I don't know yet.' CJ pulled the garage door shut. 'We've got to be careful. If this Mrs. de Los Rios has a super-kid in her basement, she might be mixed up with this whole thing with Coach Pilson. Maybe she's really Mrs. Luthor or something. She might have Kryptonite, like Colonel Cash did.'
'He said he was supposed to have super powers but didn't. How can that be?' Wyatt got onto Marta's bike and together the two boys began to pedal toward Centennial Park.
'He sounded kind of young to me,' CJ said, slowly. 'I didn't start to get my powers until I was about ten, and neither did Marta. Maybe she doesn't know that super-kids don't get their powers right away.'
'Yeah, maybe,' Wyatt said. 'But he said a scientist tried to give him super powers and it didn't work.'
'I dunno,' CJ said. 'He can sure talk the way we do.' He glanced at his best friend with a slight grin, reflecting that Wyatt wouldn't have been able to either, if not for Marta. At least, probably.
'I can talk like this,' Wyatt pointed out, 'and I'm not a super- kid.'
'Yeah, but you hang around with super-kids all the time,' CJ said, unarguably. 'It must make a difference. Anyway, the New Kryptonians could talk like this before they got to Earth, so it's kind of different.'
'Oh,' Wyatt said. 'You mean, they didn't have to wait to grow up before they could use telepathy.'
'Right,' CJ said. They swooped around the corner and Centennial Park came into view. They were on the western side of the park. CJ glanced in both directions and led the way across the street and into the park. The statue that Alex had described was still some distance away. He and Wyatt cut diagonally across the park, dodging various obstacles as they pedaled.
Wyatt stayed close behind him, letting him lead. Both of them knew that CJ's night sight was considerably better than a human's, just as Wyatt had undoubtedly figured out that CJ intended to use his super-hearing to locate the house where Alex was imprisoned.
A quick glance at his wristwatch told him that it was just after four-thirty in the morning. The sun would be rising in another half-hour, and their chance of helping Alex without anyone catching on would likely disappear with the arrival of the dawn. CJ wasn't particularly happy with the whole situation as it was. What they were doing was risky, to say the least, and his mom and dad were bound to be upset with him, but calling his dad meant that his mother would be left alone in the hospital, and CJ didn't want to do that. Deputy Mayor Henderson would have been his next choice, but Mr. Henderson would want to know how he and Wyatt had found out about Alex, and CJ wasn't sure that his dad wanted anyone to know about the telepathy thing — or about Alex. Sure, Valerie was a half-Kryptonian, but if CJ had learned anything, it was to keep his mouth shut when in doubt. Still, if he and Wyatt ran into trouble, at least they had the telepathy to help bail them out.
There was the statue. CJ brought his bicycle to a halt on the sidewalk. Wyatt stopped beside him and waited. CJ listened.
At first, the only thing he could hear was the night-noises, but he did as his father had showed him, slowly filtering out the meaningless noise.
Someone was humming softly, not far away. CJ recognized the tune of an old children's song that his mom had sung to him when he had been much younger. He turned his head, trying to pinpoint the direction.
It was coming from the north and a little to the east. One of the houses across the street from the park, he thought. He lowered the glasses his dad had given him, grimacing a little at the familiarity of the gesture, and began to scan the candidates slowly and carefully.
'He's in the house over there,' CJ said suddenly. 'The one with the blue fence.'
'I can't tell what color the fences are,' Wyatt said candidly. 'It's too dark.'
'Oh; sorry. It's the third house to the left after the corner. There's a little kid in the basement — looks about nine years old, maybe.'
'How are we gonna get in?' Wyatt wanted to know.
'I don't know,' CJ said. 'Let's go look.' He hesitated. 'Just a minute.' He raised his mental voice. 'Alex!'
The answer was immediate. 'Yes?'
'Does Ms. de Los Rios have any burglar alarms or anything?'
'No, but there's a couple of big, mean wrestler-type guys that live here. And a dog.'
'Yeah. This nasty little yap-yap of a dog, about the size of my foot. It barks at me all the time. Ms. de Los Rios says he doesn't like the way I smell.'
'Why not?' Wyatt wanted to know.
'Because I don't smell like a regular person. She says I smell like an alien.'
'Oh,' CJ said, reflecting that that was probably why dogs barked at him a lot, too. On the other hand, Wyatt's family cat, Custer, didn't seem to care. 'If her dog starts barking and she comes to check, can you make her think it's barking at you?'
'Yeah,' Alex's voice said. 'How come you can talk to me?'
'We'll tell you later,' CJ said. 'When we tell you, be ready to help us, okay? We're going to try to get you out.'
A surge of sudden hope. 'Can you? But you gotta be careful. She doesn't like snoopy kids. The last time a kid came around here, selling stuff for his school, Barry told him he'd send the dog after him if he came back.'
'Yeah, well, we're not selling anything,' CJ said. 'You just be ready to move fast; okay?'
'Okay.' Alex sounded nervous but determined.
'Truck coming!' Wyatt interrupted.
CJ lowered his glasses again, scanning the house. There was no light, but that didn't mean everybody was asleep. In fact, the pickup truck that Wyatt had spotted was moving slowly down the street and, as he watched, it pulled into the driveway of the house where Alex was imprisoned. The headlights went off and a moment later two men hopped out. CJ pulled Wyatt back into the deeper shadow of the big oak tree that overhung the street. "Shh," he said.
Silently, they stood watching. CJ strained his ears, trying to pick up any conversation, and an instant later was rewarded by a sentence from the taller figure.
"I don't like this. If anybody figures out who killed the kid, you can bet *she* isn't going to try to save our necks."
"Then we just be sure we don't get caught," the other man said. "Look, he's useless, and if anyone figures out what he is, it's gonna lead straight back to us."
"I still don't like it," the first man said again. "It's an unnecessary risk."
"It's an unnecessary risk to keep him around. Sooner or later, he's going to get away. Come on. The quicker we get this over with, the better."
"Nobody's going to believe the story. He's just a kid, for god's sake."
"Don't go squeamish now," the second man said. He started up the walk toward the house. "You know what she does to people who do."
CJ swallowed. It was evident that the boy hadn't been exaggerating when he'd said his life was in danger. He scanned the basement of the house with his x-ray vision as the two men continued up the walk, and the instant the door closed behind them, he was dashing across the street. Wyatt was right on his heels.
'What's going on?' he panted.
'We have to get him out,' CJ said. 'They're going to kill him! They were talking about it just now!'
'You should call your dad!' Wyatt said.
'Maybe,' CJ said. 'If this is the woman they're trying to find, she's Lex Luthor's wife. She might have Kryptonite around. Mom said Lex Luthor always said Kryptonite is power. I don't want my dad anywhere around it. She already tried to kill him once.'
'When?' Wyatt wanted to know.
'I'll tell you later. Right now, we have to get Alex out. We'll take him home and Dr. Klein can figure out why he was supposed to have Dad's powers.'
'Maybe we should call the police,' Wyatt suggested.
'Sh!' CJ brought them to a halt next to the house. Upstairs he heard the yapping of a small dog, and a quick glance with his x- ray vision confirmed that it was probably the one Alex had mentioned.
There were glass windows almost at ground level, dirty and coated with grime, but they gave onto the basement, just like the ones at his own house did. CJ glanced around, checking the surrounding area for observers.
It was dark and quiet. Somewhere, not far away, he heard the chirp of a bird, awakening a little early. The sky to the east was still dark, so they had a little more time.
Something was tickling at his awareness, a familiar, unpleasant sensation, and after a second he identified it. His muscles had begun to hurt just slightly, and his joints to ache. There was only one thing in the world that could cause that. 'Wyatt, there's Kryptonite somewhere around.' He glanced into the house again, with his x-ray vision. He couldn't see the green-glowing mineral anywhere, but his own physical reactions told him it was there. He had been right to be sure his dad stayed away from this house, but he knew now that he had to call someone for help. These were most likely the people that Inspector St. Cloud was looking for, and he needed to tell someone before they got away.
There wasn't time now, though, he realized. The two men that had entered the house a couple of minutes ago were headed toward the basement door in the kitchen, and behind them, a woman, wearing a thin dressing gown, followed. CJ recognized her with a shock, although he had already more than half-expected it. The woman was Arianna Carlin Luthor, whose picture Inspector St. Cloud had shown them the evening before.
'They're coming,' he said. He seized the window frame, sinking his fingers into the soft wood, gripped it hard and pulled.
Either the wooden frame was rotten or he was stronger than he had expected. The window came loose in his hand, and he shoved it aside. "Alex!" he whispered.
The boy was directly below him, reaching upward. CJ snaked an arm downward through the aperture. 'They're coming!' he said. 'Jump! Hurry!'
Alex bent his knees, crouched and jumped as hard as he could. CJ caught his hand and dragged him upward. Wyatt reached past him, gripped Alex's wrist, and helped to pull. Alex came out of the window like a Jack-in-the-box, and as he did so, CJ heard the sound of the basement door opening.
'Here they come!' he said. He scrambled to his feet, hauling Alex with him.
'We've got to hide!' Alex said. From the quick glimpse CJ had of him, he was a slender boy of about nine with curly light brown hair and dark eyes. CJ looked around, and an idea hit him.
'This way!' he ordered.
The pickup truck still sat in the driveway, a sheet of canvas stretched taut across its bed. CJ lifted the canvas for the other two. 'Get in, quick! And don't make any noise! I'll get them to follow me, and then you get out and head home!'
Leaving Wyatt and Alex hiding in the bed of the pickup, CJ ran across the street to a spot not far from the place where he and Wyatt had left the bicycles. His super-hearing told him that the three persons in the house were pelting toward the front door as fast as they could move and as he paused on the sidewalk in the dim illumination of the street light halfway down the block, the front door burst open and the two men charged out.
'Marta!' He blasted the mental call to his sister. 'Marta, wake up!'
No answer. An idea hit him as he turned and darted away into the dimness of the park. Marta was probably Wyatt's soulmate, just as his mother and father were — and Linda Lennox was his. He ducked between a pair of close-growing trees, making sure he was just an instant too late to prevent his pursuers from catching a glimpse of him. With luck, they would think he was Alex. 'Linda!' he called to her. 'Linda, I need help!'
For a second, he thought it hadn't worked, and then Linda's voice said in his mind, 'CJ?'
William Henderson started awake at the sound of his cell phone playing its usual incongruously cheerful melody. For an instant he had to remind himself why he shouldn't hurl the device across the room, but then common sense reasserted itself and he picked it up. "Henderson."
"Mr. Henderson!" The young, female voice at the other end of the phone was unfamiliar for a minute and then he recognized it as the voice of Linda Lennox. "We need help!"
Henderson grabbed his bathrobe one-handed and made a quick exit into the hall, closing the door behind him so as not to disturb his wife. "What's the matter, Linda?"
"CJ called me! He's found Arianna Luthor and he's being chased by two of her men!"
That was enough to bring him to full alertness. "*What*? How did — no; never mind. Where are you?"
"I'm at home, but CJ's in Centennial Park. He told me to tell you that Arianna Luthor is at 1651 Parkside Villa Street. He and Wyatt found her, but she caught on and now they're after him!"
It sounded to Henderson as if the girl was leaving out a heck of a lot of details, but considering who he was talking to, he was willing to take the story seriously. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Wait — where are his parents?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Kent are at the hospital," Linda's voice said. "CJ said to keep Superman away. There's Kryptonite! Please, Mr. Henderson; hurry!"
It figured, Henderson thought. Arianna Luthor was making her move and Lois had naturally decided that now was the perfect time to have her triplets — and of course, CJ didn't want to pull his father away from his mother at such a critical juncture. The boy was becoming more and more like Clark Kent every day — which only figured, he thought — except for the fact that there was a disturbing streak of Lois Lane in him. Clark, Lois and he were going to have to come up with some way of convincing people that the Superman clone was long gone; that was for sure. CJ didn't need to have that suspicion hanging over his head for the rest of his life. He might be his father's genetic twin, but he tended to think like his mother; at least in certain circumstances. In any case, Henderson thought as he was yanking his pants on over his pajamas, he was going to have to somehow keep St. Cloud and Pilson from realizing that CJ was that clone. One thing was for certain: life had certainly become a lot more exciting since he had discovered Clark Kent's secret — but he wouldn't willingly give up the knowledge, or the responsibility that came with it. It wasn't exactly being on the police force, but it was certainly just as important for society at large.
Well, the first thing to do was to notify St. Cloud of the location of Arianna Luthor. He had no doubt that the boy was correct in his identification of his father's enemy. He and St. Cloud had shown the children a picture of the woman the evening before. Henderson had reasoned that it would help them to recognize her if they saw her, and also help them to avoid her. He should have realized that CJ would probably use it to track her down. Clark and Lois were definitely going to need to talk to him about this tendency to involve himself in things best left to adults, but Henderson had to admire the boy's initiative. If he managed to survive to adulthood, the world would definitely benefit from a superhero with the drive and investigative instincts of Lois Lane. However, if it hadn't been probably a useless endeavor, he would have been strongly tempted to tan the boy's hide. Of course, he'd also been of the opinion that Lois might have benefited equally from the same treatment when she had been a child. On the other hand, he thought, as he headed for his car, with Lois, it might not have made any difference, either. It took all of her husband's super powers to keep up with her. How could mere human parents have managed?
Once in the car, Henderson dialed St. Cloud's number with one hand while steering expertly as he backed out of his parking spot, and pulled out onto the street. Single-mindedly, he headed for Centennial Park.
Wyatt waited, huddled next to Alex, until the sounds of running feet disappeared into the distance.
'Are they gone?' Alex's mental voice asked apprehensively.
'I think so.' Wyatt ventured to push up the edge of the canvas and peek out. Darkness met his gaze, but to the east the faintest hint of light was apparent. If they didn't get out of here soon, it would be too late. 'Do you hear anybody?'
'No.' Alex's mental voice was trembling.
'Neither do I.' Wyatt listened again, but all he could hear was the pounding of blood in his ears. CJ had led the bad guys away. He hoped that his friend was fast enough to escape the two of them. 'Come on.'
'I'm scared,' Alex said.
'So am I,' Wyatt answered. 'Let's get out of here anyway.' He lifted the canvas and squirmed from beneath it. After a slight delay, Alex followed.
Crouching low to stay in the shadow of the pickup truck, Wyatt led the way to the end of the driveway. From somewhere, he could hear the rumble of motors, and when the first car came around the corner, its headlights off, he wasn't surprised. Quickly, he pulled Alex down next to the wheel. 'Quiet!'
The cars screeched to a stop in front of the house. Wyatt hesitated a moment, wondering what to do, but the answer hit him almost at the same instant. 'Keep quiet,' he told Alex. 'Just agree with everything I say.'
'Okay.' Alex answered.
Wyatt continued to kneel on the concrete of the driveway as shadowy figures piled out of the cars. Men streamed past him, and he could see the outlines of weapons in their hands. For a moment he entertained the hope that they wouldn't be seen, but as the last man came even with them, he paused.
"You two!" he ordered softly. "Stand up!"
Wyatt obeyed, careful to keep his hands in sight. He didn't *think* the guy would shoot a kid, but he didn't want to test the theory. "Don't shoot us!"
The man surveyed them. All Wyatt could see of him was a man- shaped shadow and the blur of his face dim in the pre-dawn light. On his chest a badge of some sort gleamed in the pale light of the fading moon. "What are you kids doing here?"
"We're paperboys," Wyatt quavered. "We saw you guys and it scared us!"
"Oh. Well, get out of here, now," the man directed. "Move!"
"Yessir!" Wyatt replied. "Come on, Alex!" He led the way across the street toward the spot where he and CJ had left the bicycles.
"Can you ride a bike?" he asked Alex.
"Yeah. Not very well."
"Follow me," Wyatt directed. He righted CJ's bicycle and waited while Alex picked up Marta's bike. "All we need is to get around the corner." He mounted the bike and rolled forward with Alex wobbling unsteadily behind him.
CJ ran, keeping tabs on his pursuers with his super-hearing. They weren't exactly the Flash, he thought, or even Quicksilver. They crashed through underbrush and pounded across open areas with all the grace of a pair of tanks thundering forward across barbed wire and stones toward the enemy lines. Still, if they managed to catch him it wouldn't be good. Somewhere in the distance he heard the warble of a police siren and hoped that Mr. Henderson's people wouldn't arrive at Arianna Luthor's house with horns blaring and lights flashing. The siren, however, seemed to be moving toward the opposite side of the park, so it was probably a police pursuit or something.
To the east, the sky was lightening. The sun would be up in fifteen minutes, and his advantage in the darkness would disappear. Surely Wyatt and Alex had had time to get away by now, he thought. It was time to lose this pair before they managed to catch him.
The footsteps behind him split suddenly, and he realized that the two men had gone to the right and left, apparently in an attempt to come at him from different directions. 'Come on, Mr. Henderson,' he thought. 'I could sure use some help right now.'
In actuality, he knew that he had no claim on the Deputy Mayor, but Henderson was his dad's friend, and he was sure he could count on the man to at least send help. CJ was quite sure the former police inspector was going to be mad at him, but what, after all, had he been supposed to do? If Mr. Henderson wanted to punish him after this latest mess, CJ could hardly blame him, but he hoped he would at least listen to the explanation. After all, he had a half-Kryptonian daughter.
He paused in a clump of trees, listening hard. There were no pounding footsteps now, but he could clearly hear the heartbeats of two men and the faint rustle of bushes and grass as they moved forward. They must, he thought, be pretty scared of Arianna Luthor. Well, if the things that he had learned about the woman from what she had tried to do to his mother, and the stuff about the clones and Crescent Island, were true, he was scared of her, too. She sounded to him like she was just plain crazy. Holding her own husband captive on an island and cloning the heads of companies so she could steal the companies' money and build a crime empire sounded pretty weird to him. And a woman who was willing to kill a little kid like Alex, just because he was inconvenient, had to be about as evil as it was possible to be. Dad always said that everyone had some good in him somewhere, but CJ didn't see where Arianna Luthor could be hiding it.
Someone was coming toward him through the bushes ahead, and he thought for a moment that one of the guys chasing him had somehow managed to circle around in front, but an instant later, he realized it wasn't so. He could still hear their heartbeats behind and to both sides of him, although they were growing closer.
The man stepped into view, and in dim glow of pre-dawn, CJ recognized Bill Henderson.
"Look out, Mr. Henderson!" CJ ran toward the Deputy Mayor, and at that instant he heard the click of a hammer being drawn back from somewhere to his left and behind him. CJ risked a quick glance over his shoulder, to see the second of his pursuers clutching a handgun, trying to bring it into line with Henderson.
Henderson, however, was faster. In astonishment, CJ realized that he, too, was holding a handgun, in the way CJ had seen the cops do on his favorite television show: his feet apart and planted firmly, one hand bracing the one that held the pistol, and the weapon aimed directly at Arianna's henchman.
"Drop it!" Henderson's voice sounded just like the cops on television, too. Something heavy thumped to the grass, but at almost the same instant, there was the click of another hammer from a spot perhaps twenty feet to his right, and then the report of a fired handgun.
Later, CJ wouldn't quite remember how he had done it. Instinctively, he twisted about. He could see the bullet spinning toward William Henderson, aimed for his heart and everything dropped abruptly into slow motion. CJ took two steps forward. With a dreamlike sensation, he slapped almost casually at the projectile with the flat of his hand, knocking it aside. His palm stung, and he wondered in a detached way if the bullet had gone through the skin. Then Henderson's weapon fired, and everything jumped back to normal speed. There was a scream of pain and the big bruiser-type with the gun spun to the grass, where he lay grasping his shoulder, his weapon skidding to the dirt path. CJ could see blood leaking out from between his fingers.
"Don't move!" Henderson barked. CJ twisted around to see the second gunman, his hands held high in the air.
"Don't shoot!" The man's voice was a shrill, terrified squeak.
"Lie down," Henderson ordered in a somewhat calmer tone. "Right next to your buddy there. Spread your arms and legs as wide as you can." He kept his handgun aimed at Arianna's henchman until he was stretched on the ground next to his less fortunate companion. Then he glanced sideways at CJ. "Are you all right, kid?"
"Yeah." CJ put his hands behind his back, determined that no one would see his hand bleeding. Henderson raised an eyebrow, but removed a cellular phone from his pocket and punched in a two- digit number with his thumb. "Rene, I have a package for you." He glanced at CJ. "My car's that way. Go get in and wait for me."
"Yes, sir," CJ said.
It was nearly half an hour before Henderson opened the door of his car and got in. CJ roused himself from the half-doze into which he had fallen and braced himself for a scolding.
The Deputy Mayor didn't say anything, however, until he had started his car and pulled out onto the street. It wasn't quite six o'clock but it was broad daylight, and there were already cars on the road.
"I'm not looking forward to explaining all this to your mom and dad," Henderson said, finally. "Is your hand all right?"
CJ opened his hand to display a colorful bruise on the palm, but, as he had discovered a while earlier, the skin was unbroken. "It's a little sore. It'll be okay."
Henderson glanced briefly at the bruise. "I guess you probably saved me from being shot," he said. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," CJ said.
"Want to tell me just what you thought you were doing?" Henderson inquired, mildly. "I thought your dad and I told you to try to stay out of trouble."
"You did," CJ said, "and we really meant to. Honest."
"Where's Dillon?" Henderson asked.
"Back at the house," CJ said.
"Didn't he come with you?"
CJ nodded. "Yeah." He cleared his throat. "How did you find me?"
"Your friend, Linda, told me you were running from two of Arianna's goons," he said. "And the address of her house. It wasn't hard to figure out which way you'd gone."
"Oh," CJ said.
Henderson glanced sideways at him. "Why don't you start at the beginning and tell me how you found her," he suggested.
CJ gulped and took a deep breath. It looked like he was going to have to tell Mr. Henderson about the telepathy thing. He hoped his dad wouldn't be upset. "I can talk telepathically to other Kryptonians," he said. "To my dad, and Marta and Linda."
"I know," Henderson said.
"Oh," CJ said, relieved. That made it easier. "Well, this morning, I woke up when my dad was taking my mom to the hospital to have the babies —"
The whole story came tumbling out. To his credit, Henderson didn't interrupt except to encourage him to clarify a point or two when the explanation became so involved as to make no sense, but other than that, he remained silent. As CJ finished, he pulled his car up to the curb of the Kent townhouse and cut the engine. "That's quite a story," he said as he set the emergency brake. "And you say that Wyatt and this kid, Alex, are waiting for you in your room?"
"Yeah," CJ said. He glanced sideways at Henderson. "I'm sorry, Mr. Henderson. I didn't know what else to do. I didn't mean to get into trouble."
The Deputy Mayor raised an eyebrow. "If I didn't know better, I'd say that was your mom talking," he said. Slowly, his lips relaxed into a faint smile. "I guess I can let it slide this time, but you're going to have to explain to your mom and dad," he said. "And next time try calling for some backup instead of trying to handle something this serious on your own. Is it a deal?"
CJ nodded, feeling somewhat relieved. "Mr. Henderson?"
"What about Alex? What's going to happen to him?"
"Now that," Henderson said, "is a very good question. Normally, he'd wind up with Social Services, but if by some chance he's partly Kryptonian, that could be a bad idea. I guess we'll have to get Dr. Klein to find out for us. Fortunately, I'm in a position to pull a few strings. Don't worry about Alex yet. We'll think of something."
"He said a scientist was supposed to give him Superman's powers, but that he doesn't have any," CJ said. "He can talk the Kryptonian way, though, and I didn't start getting my powers until I was ten. He might not be old enough."
"That thought did occur to me," Henderson said. "What I'm really interested in, though, is how he can be part Kryptonian, and younger than even your sister. It's not as if there are a bunch of Kryptonians around to choose from. Why don't you take me in and introduce me. I'll figure something out."
"Okay," Bernard Klein said. "The first baby is crowning. On the next contraction, I want you to push. These guys are small," he added somewhat unwisely. "It shouldn't be hard."
"Not for *you*!" Lois practically snarled.
Clark squeezed her hands. "We're almost done," he said encouragingly. "Think how nice it'll be to be able to see your feet again." He noted Lois's slight flinch as the contraction began to build. "Okay, honey. Push!"
Lois bared her teeth at him, but then closed her eyes and mouth as she put all her effort into the job. That was his little tornado, Clark thought proudly as he let her squeeze his hands so hard that it would have paralyzed the fingers of an ordinary man. Nobody could concentrate on getting a job — *any* job — done like his Lois.
"Stop!" Bernard Klein said quickly. "Just pant for a minute, Lois."
"What's going on?" Lois gasped as she struggled to obey.
"The cord's around this one's neck," Klein said. "Just let me get it untangled here … okay, now one more push and I think we'll have a baby."
Lois breathed heavily. "Just a second —" Her hands jerked as the next contraction began. Without urging, she took a breath, held it and began to push.
"Great!" Clark looked over his glasses at the doctor's exclamation, trying to see what Bernie was doing, but the scientist was too quick for him. "Congratulations," he continued. "You've got a baby."
"Well, what is it?" Lois demanded, acerbically.
Clark saw Bernie grinning behind the mask; then the doctor held the baby high for its parents to see. "What is it?"
Clark hugged as much of his wife as he could, fighting the tears that were trying to fill his eyes as they took in the red, gooey baby girl. "Marta has a sister!"
"Well, finally!" Lois said, but Clark saw her turn her head as Bernie handed baby number one over to the waiting nurses and the attending pediatrician. Then she grimaced as the next contraction rippled over her abdomen. "Uh, Bernie …"
"Oh, I know. We're not done yet," Bernie assured her cheerfully. "Okay, on to baby number two … looks like this one is bottom end first," he added a moment later. "Not a problem. We know there's plenty of room."
"Well, what is it?" Lois demanded. "If you can see it, you know what it is."
The corners of Bernie's eyes crinkled as the doctor grinned. "Impatient, aren't we?"
"Bernie!" Lois said warningly.
"You're playing with fire, Bernie," Clark said, only half-joking.
The doctor snorted. "CJ and the boys have another brother," he informed them with a grin. "Maybe together the four of them will have a fighting chance."
Clark was glad the mask he wore hid his grin as Bernie finished delivering the second baby.
Baby number three was right on the heels of its brother, it seemed. At least, so to speak. Lois had almost no breathing space before the third baby made its appearance. Bernie held up the smallest of the babies: a second girl, who weighed in at a healthy three-and-a-half pounds. The nurses allowed the two new parents a few minutes to hold their babies and then whisked them away to the preemie nursery, where they would be monitored for any signs of complications arising from their early entrance into the world. Clark stayed silent, holding his exhausted wife's hand as the nurses moved around, doing all the various things that they did for a new mother.
"We did it," Lois whispered.
"We certainly did," Clark said. "You were amazing, honey."
"You always say that," she said, her voice a thread of sound.
"That's because it's always true," he replied promptly. "Go to sleep. You missed out on a whole night."
"Are you going to call Martha?" she asked.
"In a little while." His watch said it was quarter after six. The reality of the problems facing them would return soon enough, he thought. He preferred to stay here with Lois for a little while longer, watching her sleep and enjoying the relative peace after the last few frenetic hours. "Let's let everyone sleep for a little longer. It's Saturday morning."
"It's okay," CJ said. "Mr. Henderson's a friend of mine. He won't hurt you."
Bill Henderson stood quietly in the doorway of CJ Kent's room, observing the child called "Alex". The fact that he had been in Arianna Luthor's custody and also possessed the name of her husband — and was supposed to have Superman's powers — had already predisposed Henderson to certain suspicions, and looking at Alex did nothing to dispel the theories that were circulating in his brain.
The child was almost the image of Lex Luthor, with certain differences that were, in their own way, eerily familiar as well — but oddly enough, in relation to someone else that Henderson knew well, and had many times trusted with his life. The curly, light-brown hair and angular face, softened by youth, was certainly Luthor's, but the olive complexion, the dark, faintly almond-shaped eyes and heavy eyebrows belonged to Clark Kent. The blending of the two men in the form of a nine-year old boy was almost surreal. Clark had mentioned Arianna Luthor's rumored "special project" in which she had been engaged on Crescent Island, and the fact that when the authorities had invaded the island they had found a functioning clone cylinder, empty. They had suspected for some time that the cylinder might have contained her "special project." If Alex was that project, he thought, a clone that was a combination of Lex Luthor and Clark Kent, the situation would have to be handled with great care.
"Hello, Alex," he said, quietly. "I'm glad you're all right."
The boy seemed to relax slightly. He glanced at Wyatt, who nodded firmly. "Mr. Henderson is okay," he said.
"You're not going to take me back, are you?" Alex asked.
"No," Henderson said. "Mrs. de Los Rios is under arrest and in jail." He ventured to cross the room to where the boy sat on the foot of the bed. "May I sit down?"
After a moment of regarding him cautiously, Alex nodded.
Bill sank down onto the foot of the bed. "Hi," he said. "I'm Bill Henderson." He extended a hand. Again a pause while Alex frowned at him, obviously trying to decide whether he was friend or foe. At last, he put out his hand.
Bill took it. "I hear Wyatt and my buddy CJ here pulled you out of a bad spot," he said.
Alex nodded cautiously. "Yeah."
"Why was she going to kill you?" Henderson asked.
"Because I'm useless!" Alex burst out. "I was supposed to have Superman's powers, but I don't!"
"Who told you something like that?" Henderson said.
"Mrs. de Los Rios," Alex said.
Henderson frowned. "Alex, whatever abilities you were supposed to have or weren't supposed to have, it wasn't an excuse to hurt you. Suppose you tell me what you know about this whole 'Superman's powers' thing. I should tell you that Mrs. de Los Rios is an international criminal, and wanted by the law in at least five different countries. She's not in any position to tell you or anyone else that you're useless."
Alex bit his lip, and nodded. "Okay."
"All right." Henderson frowned. "How long has it been since you had anything to eat, Alex?"
The boy swallowed. "Sometime yesterday," he said. "Maybe about breakfast."
CJ glanced out the door. "I think I hear my Grandma Martha getting up," he said. "I'll go get you some apple pie for now, okay? And maybe some milk."
Alex nodded again and CJ vanished out the door.
Henderson regarded the child with a certain amount of sympathy. He couldn't blame Alex for being scared, but he needed to find out what the boy knew. "Alex, whatever happens, we won't send you back to her. We just need to know why she said the things she said about you. I know you called CJ for help. You can use the mind speech. That means you're not an ordinary boy, no matter what Mrs. de Los Rios may have thought. How long have you been with her?"
Alex hesitated. "I've always been with her," he said. "I thought she was my mother."
"Did she treat you well? In the beginning, that is?"
"When did she stop treating you well?"
Alex shrugged. "A while ago. A few weeks, maybe. When she said that I was a failure, and wasn't going to have Superman's powers."
"Did she ever say why you were supposed to have Superman's powers?"
Alex shrugged. "She said I was special. I was made special, from part of Superman."
"Did she say how?"
Alex shook his head. "No."
Henderson nodded, certain things told to him by Rene St. Cloud and by Clark Kent running through his mind. "Well, it doesn't really matter." He glanced around as CJ came back into the room. "Here's something for you to eat. Not exactly standard breakfast fare," he added, eyeing the thick piece of Martha Kent's pie, "but at least it'll help fill you up. CJ, why don't you go tell your grandmother that we have a visitor?"
"Okay," CJ said. He put the glass of milk and the pie on the nightstand and patted Alex's arm. "Don't worry, Alex. Mr. Henderson'll fix things. He's smart." He turned and left the room again.
From somewhere, a phone began to ring.
"Are you going to tell Superman about me?" Alex asked.
Henderson regarded him thoughtfully. He could just imagine the things Arianna Luthor had told the boy about Superman. "Is there any reason I shouldn't?"
"Cause Moth — Mrs. de Los Rios said he'd kill me." Alex seemed to huddle into himself.
Henderson ventured to rest an arm around the boy's shoulders. "Let me tell you something, Alex," he said. "I know Superman. He never even hurts bad guys. He sure wouldn't hurt a kid, no matter where he came from."
"Really," Henderson said. "Ask Wyatt here. He knows Superman, too."
Wyatt nodded vigorously. "Superman's cool!" he said. "Mrs. de Los Rios was the one that was gonna hurt you — not Superman." He added, "She was lying to you."
Alex nodded, still looking doubtful. "Yeah, I guess."
"Absolutely," Henderson said. "She doesn't like Superman because he put her in jail a long time ago."
"Oh," Alex said. "Will he put me in jail?"
"Superman'll help you," Wyatt assured him. "He saved CJ and me from some big kids that were gonna beat us up."
It was obvious to Henderson that Alex was having some difficulty reconciling this new image of Superman with the one given to him by Arianna Luthor. "I'll tell you what," he said, "I'll arrange for you to meet him in a day or two, and you can see for yourself. All right?"
"Will you stay with me?" Alex asked.
"Sure," Henderson said, wondering what he was letting himself in for. Still, a boy with the potential of developing Superman's powers couldn't be left with the picture of the Man of Steel that Arianna Luthor had painted. "You'll see what we're talking about. Right now, however, I think we should take you out and introduce you to CJ's grandmother. She'll get you something more to eat and then we'll go from there; all right?"
"Okay," Alex said. He took a huge bite of pie. "This is good. Moth — Mrs. de Los Rios never had pie this good."
"That's 'cause CJ's grandma made it," Wyatt said. "She's the best cook in the world — except maybe for CJ's dad."
CJ stepped back into the room. "Grandma's talking to Dad on the phone," he announced. "Mom had two girls and a boy, and she's okay. He said he'll be coming home to change clothes after while." He turned to Alex. "Come on. Let's get something to eat."
Alex got to his feet, cramming the last of the pie into his mouth. "Okay." He looked back anxiously at Henderson. "Are you coming?"
"Sure." Henderson got to his feet as well.
Martha Kent regarded the group that emerged from CJ's room with a faint smile. "Hi," she said to Henderson. "I hear some things went on last night."
"I'd call that an understatement," Henderson said. "Do you mind if I call my wife? I need to let her know what's going on and where I am."
"Not at all," Martha said. "You know where the phone is."
Henderson patted Alex on the shoulder. "Go with CJ," he said. "I'll be there in a few minutes."
Alex seemed to have relaxed a little when Henderson walked into the kitchen. He was seated at the kitchen table with CJ and Wyatt, working on a bowl of dry cereal and milk while Martha Kent fried bacon and eggs and simultaneously mixed up pancake batter. On the counter, the waffle iron was heating up, the toaster was toasting four slices of toast and, on the kitchen island, the electric coffeepot perked cheerfully. Clark Kent's mother might not have his super speed, Henderson thought, but she might as well have. She was definitely going to have to be in on any discussions he had with Clark and Lois on the subject of Alex — and her husband, as well. When all was said and done, she and Jonathan Kent were the definitive pioneers in the field of raising a super-powered child. At least, he thought only half- humorously, if he was going to have to deal with this mess, it was good that he had the ultimate experts for technical advice available.
"Would you like some breakfast, Bill?" Martha Kent asked. "From what CJ said, you had a pretty early morning."
"You could say that," Henderson said. "The coffee smells great."
"The mugs are there," she said, indicating one of the cupboards. "Help yourself."
He was sipping Martha Kent's excellent coffee a few minutes later and working on a slice of wheat toast, slathered with cream cheese and grape jelly, when he heard the front door open. Alex looked alarmed, but CJ glanced casually in the direction of the living room, lowering his glasses slightly. "Dad's home," he said.
Alex looked anxiously at Henderson, who nodded reassuringly at him. "CJ's dad won't hurt you, kid," he said. "From what I hear, CJ has a new little brother."
CJ nodded at Alex. "I've got three brothers now," he told Alex. "I guess I'm going to have to hide my rock collection again. Jonny used most of it for his slingshot last year, and I've only just managed to replace most of my specimens."
Henderson hid a grin. Superkids apparently had the same problems growing up as ordinary kids, after all. He remembered vividly the day his younger brother had broken the glass container for his ant farm and he'd had ants all over his room for weeks. He'd been afraid to tell his mom for fear she'd bring in the Raid while he hunted for his queen ant. Eventually, however, the inevitable had happened and the roaming ants had perished. He'd been devastated.
The door to the kitchen opened and Clark Kent entered. His hair was disheveled, his shirt was rumpled and the rest of his mismatched clothing looked like he'd been sleeping in it, but the wide smile on his face told Henderson the whole story.
"Congratulations, Clark," Henderson said.
"Thanks," Clark said. "I thought I recognized your car." He glanced around the table and his gaze settled on Alex. His eyebrows went up. "I guess something happened while Lois and I were otherwise occupied," he added.
"You could put it that way," Henderson said, dryly. "CJ will have to explain it later, but he, Wyatt and Alex here helped Rene capture Arianna. This," he added, "is Alex. He was Arianna's prisoner. He's an — unusual boy."
"So I see," Clark said. "I'm glad to meet you, Alex."
Alex met his eyes and nodded. "I'm glad to meet you too," he said politely. Henderson guessed that Arianna would insist that the boy learn manners, no matter what else she tried to teach him. "Are you CJ's dad?"
"Yes, I am," Clark said. He looked at his mother. "Lois is sleeping right now, so I thought I'd get a shower and a change of clothing. The kids can come to see her this afternoon."
"They'll be ready," Martha said. She glanced at the kitchen clock. "Oh, goodness, look at the time. CJ, you and Wyatt need to get ready to go to Little League shortly. Hurry and finish your breakfasts and then go on upstairs and get into your uniforms. Clark, you can drop them off on the way back to the hospital."
"All right," Clark said. He turned back to Alex. "I don't know exactly what Bill has in mind, but if he wants you to stay here for now, you're certainly welcome, Alex."
"Well, we'll have to decide exactly how we're going to deal with Alex," Henderson said, "but Sue wanted me to bring him home after he'd had some breakfast, if it was all right with him."
Alex looked quickly at him and swallowed a mouthful of pancakes. "Yes, please," he said in a small voice. "I'd like that."
"Then that's what we'll do," Henderson said, decisively. "We'll have to see what else needs to be done later, but I think Alex can use a little peace and quiet for now."
"I don't blame him a bit," Martha Kent said. "Go on, Clark. Let's get this show on the road."
Clark Kent walked into his wife's hospital room, a vase containing an enormous bouquet of red roses in his hands. One of the nurses that he had seen this morning just coming on shift smiled at Lois, who was sitting up and eating the contents of a tray of hospital food as if she had never tasted anything so delicious in her life. "Here he is now. My goodness; what lovely roses!"
Clark set the roses on Lois's nightstand. "Only the best for the mother of my children."
"Wait until you've gone through a few sleepless nights with them," she said, dryly, but anything else was cut off as he bent to kiss her.
"I stopped by the nursery to see how everything was going," he said, as the nurse left the room. "Dr. Klein says that so far there aren't any problems, and he doesn't expect anything they can't handle. I thought I'd bring the kids by this afternoon, after Little League practice. CJ sends his love. The other kids were still asleep when I got home," he added.
"How's Martha doing?" Lois asked.
"Honey, this is my mom we're talking about," Clark said with a grin. "She's got everything under control."
"Of course," Lois said. "What was I thinking?"
"I also called your parents before I came back, and they'll be by pretty soon."
"Did you call Perry?" she asked.
"Naturally. The word is all over town by now." He chuckled. "Bill sends his congratulations, too."
"Of course. He was at the house when I got home — along with a young man named Alex."
"What was he doing at the house?"
"Well —" Clark found himself grinning. "It seems that CJ and Wyatt are following in our footsteps. They gave me a summary on the way over to Little League practice."
"Uh-oh," Lois said. "What happened?"
"Well, a little while after we left, CJ and Wyatt picked up on a distress call, on their special channel …"
Lois remained silent while Clark gave her a quick rundown of what had happened. "Anyhow, we're going to have to talk to Bill to get the rest of the details," he concluded. "I'll get hold of him after he's got Alex settled down at his place, but if you're thinking what I'm thinking —"
"That Alex could be Arianna's special project," Lois said. "I've wondered about that project ever since we found the cloning facilities on Crescent Island."
"That's what I'm thinking. We'll have to get Bernie to run some tests. Alex looks literally like a combination of Luthor and me. It's uncanny."
"It sounds like we were lucky that she got impatient," Lois said. "She couldn't know that the powers don't show up until around the beginning of Kryptonian puberty. What are we going to do with Alex? We can't allow a child with Superman's powers to wind up in the hands of Social Services. I can just see some unsuspecting foster family trying to cope with that!"
"That's for sure. We're going to have to talk to Bill about it," Clark said. "He may have some suggestions. At least Alex is safely at his place right now. I felt sorry for Alex, though. He thought Arianna was his mother, and then once she decided he was useless to her, she was going to kill him."
"I've always said that she was as bad as Lex," Lois said. "Maybe worse. Lex at least kept Jaxon around so he didn't feel guilty about his circumstances. Arianna didn't care about Alex at all. That's horrible!"
"Yeah, it is."
"And now we have someone that is essentially Lex's son who is going to grow up with Superman's powers —"
"Maybe, maybe not. Bernie will have to figure that out for us. But there's also something else."
"You could say he's Superman's son as much as Luthor's," Clark said quietly. "And if we're lucky, he'll be more like Superman than Luthor. Just because he has part of Luthor's heredity doesn't mean he'll be like him."
"True," Lois said. "And this time around we'll have some say in how he's raised."
"Exactly. I think that between Bill Henderson and us, Alex will have better than a fighting chance."
"I sure hope so," Lois said. "Do you ever get the feeling that the Fates have it in for us?"
"Often," Clark said, "but why specifically this time?"
"It's just that life seems to be getting more challenging all the time," Lois said. "I guess we'll handle this one, too. It's not as if we really have a choice."
"No," Clark agreed. "At least this time we aren't alone. We'll have help." He turned his head as his super-hearing picked up voices. "We're about to have a visitor."
A moment later, Rene St. Cloud knocked lightly on the doorframe. Clark glanced around with a smile. "Hi, Rene. Come in."
The Interpol agent was bearing a bouquet of flowers, which he set on Lois's nightstand. He smiled at her.
"I heard from my friend William that the long-awaited event had arrived," he said. "My congratulations to both of you." He turned and extended a hand to Clark.
Clark took it. "Thanks," he said.
Rene shook his hand vigorously. "I am happy for both of you, my friends," he said, "and I hope, now that Arianna Luthor is in custody, that there will be no more threats to your son — or your family."
"She's going to keep on saying that CJ is her Superman clone, you know," Lois said.
Rene gave a somehow very Gaelic shrug. "Let her," he said. "Arianna Carlin — Arianna Luthor — will have troubles enough of her own in the coming years. The report by Bernard Klein of STAR Labs about your son will somehow become known in connection with her wild claims, and they will be quietly discredited." He smiled blandly. "When the sons and daughters of Superman appear someday, a simple statement by Superman of their paternity should be sufficient. Everyone knows the enmity of the Luthors for the Man of Steel. Their story will not be taken seriously."
Clark glanced uncertainly at Lois who raised an eyebrow at him.
"Luthor had a great deal to say about Superman after the affair on Crescent Island," Rene continued mildly. "Specifically in relation to you, Ms. Lane. I had come to know Raoul Desrosiers over the few days that he spent on Crescent Island, and later, when I learned of Lex Luthor's Kryptonite ring, I recalled Raoul's strange weakness when my men discovered him in Luthor's study. It took some research and work with a computer to satisfy my curiosity, and, of course, I still officially know nothing. But you will, I hope, tell Superman when you next speak to him, that he has nothing to fear from me. He is, after all," Rene said blandly, "one of France's most honored citizens."
"Yes," Lois said, after a short pause. "We'll do that."
"I appreciate that," Rene said seriously. "Raoul was a master chef and my good friend. I wouldn't wish that to change over a detail that can be so quickly and easily forgotten."
"You know," Bernard Klein said, "I haven't been to a Little League game in years. Not since I passed the age limit to play."
"You were in Little League?" Lois asked. Clark was careful not to grin at the tone of her voice. He could hardly blame her. Somehow the image of Bernie Klein on a baseball field was hard to come to grips with.
"I played a mean first baseman in my day," Bernie said. "I've tried to interest Frederick in baseball, but his interest is in Judo. I suppose I should be thankful that he's interested in any physical sport at all, considering all the time he spends at his computer."
Frederick Klein was Bernie's seven-year-old son. "Judo can be a good thing," Lois said. "All the karate I've taken has probably saved my life more than once."
"Probably," Bernie admitted. "I can't complain. Carolyn enrolled him, and he's surprisingly good. It amazes me sometimes. I never expected to marry, much less have two children. You and Clark set a good example for me."
"Glad we could help," Lois said.
"Strike three!" the umpire announced. There was a patter of applause from the crowd and a scattering of cheers, and Wyatt Dillon threw the ball back to CJ, who caught it deftly. The batter threw his bat to the ground and stalked back to the dugout. Clark watched his son rub his shoulder slightly as he waited for the next batter to take his place at home plate. CJ was being extremely careful to keep his pitches normal and hittable — assuming that the batter was competent. He'd pitched the same way before his acquisition of super powers, Clark knew, and it gave him a surge of pride to know that CJ was being scrupulously fair, and that he had gained such fine control of his new abilities in such a short time.
"I know it's going to be hectic, but I can't wait until we can bring the babies home," Lois said wistfully. "I know they're doing well, and I'm pumping every day to keep my milk supply up, but I really want to have them at home."
"Well," Bernie said, "Lucille only has a few more ounces to go and she'll be clear to come home, and the other two are gaining weight steadily. It won't be long."
"I know — but it seems long," Lois said. "It's been over two weeks!"
"I'm just happy that they're healthy," Clark said. "We've been incredibly lucky, when you think about it."
"Yes, we have," Lois agreed. She paused as Linda Lennox intercepted the grounder hit by the current batter and threw it to second base in time to take out the runner, finishing the inning, and the game. The crowd of parents went wild and Lois jumped to her feet, applauding. Clark cheered along with the others, all the while watching Lois. In the two weeks since the birth of the triplets, she had regained her energy and a good deal of her figure. No one would have believed that she had given birth to triplets a mere sixteen days ago. Taking her out to a Little League game where their son was the pitcher had seemed like fairly mild excitement for her, after the weeks she had spent lying on the sofa, but he thought she was enjoying it a great deal. As for him, it was good just to be going places with her again. He'd missed having her as his work partner, and now, even with the babies taking up their time, Lane and Kent would be going back into action again before long.
They waited until the crowd of parents had cleared somewhat before attempting to descend from the bleachers to the spot where CJ, Wyatt and Linda waited for them. As they did so, Clark saw a familiar face in the crowd. Boris Pilson — or John Maxwell — was approaching.
"Hi, Mr. Kent," he said. "I wanted to say hello, and to apologize for everything that happened a couple of weeks ago."
"Apologize?" Lois asked.
"Yeah." Maxwell looked slightly embarrassed. "I didn't want to worry you, and it never occurred to me that you'd realize anything was going on. I just wanted to say I'm sorry if I scared you — and to tell you I think that boy of yours is a helluva pitcher. You should be proud of him."
"We are," Clark said.
"Is that why you're here?" Lois asked.
Maxwell shook his head. "Not exactly. I'm trying to get my oldest boy interested in Little League. He's thinking about it."
"Oh," Lois said. "Well, he could certainly do worse." Clark turned as he heard the distinctive sound of CJ's heartbeat. His son and his two friends hurried up to the group of adults.
"Hello, CJ," Maxwell said. "You pitched a great game out there."
"Thanks," CJ said.
"Rene says hello," Maxwell added to the adults. "He said to tell you that he'll be in Metropolis in a few weeks, and that he'd like to drop by and see you, now that the crisis is over."
"That will be nice," Lois said. She glanced at the children. "You guys head for the car. We're having take-out tonight. Pizza."
As the three children hurried off, Clark saw Linda raise her head and look searchingly around the crowd. Then the three broke into a run.
They exchanged small talk for another moment with John Maxwell, and then the man excused himself to talk to one of the coaches. Lois, Clark and Bernie headed in the direction of the Jeep.
"Did you complete that set of tests on Alex?" Lois asked Bernie.
"Yes, I did," Bernie said. "I already spoke to Mr. Henderson about the results. He wanted me to talk to you, when we have the chance. They were — interesting, to say the least."
"Oh?" Clark said.
"Yes," Bernie said. "Our guesses based on his appearance were essentially correct. The child is almost a perfect blend of Lex Luthor and Superman — except in the case of one chromosome pair that is entirely Superman's. The child is approximately 48 percent Luthor and 52 percent Superman."
"Why the discrepancy?" Clark asked.
"I'm still trying to figure that out," Bernie said. "It may be that they were unable to separate that chromosomal pair."
The scientist shrugged. "I'm not sure. They were the sex chromosomes."
Lois and Clark looked at each other. "Well," Lois said, "if you ever do figure it out, let us know."
"I'll keep working on it," Bernie said. "Anyhow, from all my models, Alex should start developing super powers about the same time CJ did — a little later than the girls. Evidently Kryptonian females enter puberty a little sooner than males."
"I guess it's probably a good thing that he's staying with Bill," Lois said. "I'd ask him how he managed to swing that, but I really don't want to know."
"Neither do I," Clark said. "After Arianna, Bill and Sue are probably the best thing for him."
"Probably," Lois agreed. "He could sure do a lot worse."
They were silent as they made their way back to the Cherokee and the waiting children. As Clark climbed into the driver's seat, Linda Lennox spoke suddenly. "Mr. Kent —"
"Remember what you told me a couple of weeks ago?"
"What was that?"
"The thing about sensing other Kryptonian-human kids."
"Yes," Clark said.
"There was one at the Little League game," she said. "I don't think he was one of the players, but I'm not sure. But he was the same one that was at the exhibition game with Eastside Elementary. I just thought you should know."
Ready for the next story in this series? Read A Tasteful Lesson. Need the previous story? Read Suspicions.
Stories in Nan Smith's "Dagger" series, in order: Dagger of the Mind, Dagger's Edge, Assassin's Dagger, Doppleganger, Blind Man's Bluff, Countdown, Priorities, Vanishing Act, Charade, Heritage, Unforeseen Consequences, Christmas in Metropolis, Daddy's Little Girl, Suspicions, Mother's Day, A Tasteful Lesson, Too Hot to Handle, The Sting, Consequences, Middle School, and Degrees of Separation