Steel Shadows

By Paul-Gabriel Wiener <>

Rated: PG

Submitted: May, 2007

Summary: Whatever happened to Tommy Garrison, the cyborg boxer from "Requiem for a Superhero?" Where did the Smart Kids end up? What's the deal with Bobby Bigmouth? Just what was going on behind the scenes, in the places Lois and Clark never thought to look? The answers to these questions and more unfold inside!

A 2006 Fundraiser Fanfic

Author's note:

This story was written for and donated to the Archive/MBs/etc. DVD fundraiser. There was a spiffed-up HTML version with a logo/banner created by BanAnna and some nice visual and navigation features that I threw together (with help from some friendly FoLCs here on the boards — particularly Karen), but I decided to make that exclusive to the DVD.

As with all my longer stories (and this one is my longest solo effort to date, not counting "Finding Clark Kent," where the readers did most of the plotting work), this one is rather different than you might expect. Each of my rare 50k and over stories has been unique in its own way. This one has been written in journal style, and spans almost the entire timeline of the show. Don't expect it to be funny or whatever (though it has its moments now and again, I hope). I'm not saying it's a bad story. In fact, I'm fairly excited about it. I'm just saying that I think you'll have a better time if you approach it as free from expectations as possible.

Moving on to more important and less confusing matters, I'd like to thank my secret guardians, Sara Kraft and CC Aiken.

Sara was there from the beginning on this one, and with plenty of enthusiasm, to boot. Even when she was swamped with work and RL stuff, she always found the time to help with odd random questions and throw in some words of encouragement. Her comments were a delight to read, and, basically, I don't know where or what this story would have been without her. Oh, and let me not forget that awesome trailer. (Yay! I have a trailer! No one's ever made a trailer for me before!) She did a fantastic job, and was very patient and understanding as I "helped" her with the editing process. In short, she is just too cool.

CC's involvement started when I cautiously and tentatively wrote asking for permission to borrow a little something (which slowly grew during the writing process…). I was on vacation at the time with my family and having a great time, but CC's response was so glowingly positive that it remains in my mind as a highlight of the trip. We exchanged a few more emails over the next week or so, and next thing I knew, she'd signed on as a full BR. It was more than I'd ever hoped for. Her comments were even better. Some helpful, some very insightful, some hilarious, and all a joy to read. Furthermore, without my saying anything, she would invariably manage to praise exactly the things I'd been doubting. Working with her has been an unforgettable experience.

I'd also like to thank my GE, Tricia Walpole. She read quickly and carefully, and her response was friendly, efficient, and, most of all, gratifying. She turned necessary work into what felt like one of the best FDK letters I've gotten in a long time. Working with her was a pleasure. :)

With those three on the job, I can confidently assure you that any mistakes left are purely Tommy's.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to extend my thanks to BanAnna. She made the awesome logos for the trailer and the (Fundraiser DVD exclusive) HTML version. She worked amiably with me through several revisions, skillfully putting together what I referred to as the "I have no right to ask for this" version of my original idea. She patiently reassured me more than once (when I worried about the imposition) that she enjoyed helping a friend. She was even glad to get suggestions for revisions so that she'd know I'd be happy with the final results. She, like the others, was an invaluable help and a real blessing.

Finally, the good old standard disclaimer. Lois, Clark, and related characters are not mine. They belong to Time-Warner, ABC television, December Third Productions, and possibly others. I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun. They go right back in the box when I'm done. Dialogue and plots were also taken from various episodes of the show and worked into the story as needed. Those are rightfully the property of the show's writers.

Okay… enough of that. On to the story!




(I'll try to get the dates right, but it's been a long time…)

This is a story that needs to be told. Even if it's never read, it should be written down somewhere. By now, it should be safe.

My name is Tommy Garrison. You probably don't remember me. My fifteen minutes of fame were up a long time ago. I was a boxer. The best there was. Thanks to a little mechanical help, that is. Unfortunately, the boxing commission didn't think it was really fair to have cyborgs in the ring. I was banned from the sport, fired from the only job I knew how to do.

Things did not go well for me after that. I hadn't committed any crime. All I'd done was let a doc rebuild my arms using better materials. Oh, and then get cocky from it and challenge Superman to a fight. Which I lost. Badly. Not the greatest idea in the world, I'll grant you, but let's just say that I was thinking with my fists at the time. Superman, though… he knocked some sense into me.

After our fight, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and set about trying to do the right thing. Like I said, though, things did not go so well. No one wanted to hire a guy with robotic arms and a reputation for having a short temper. Especially not after said guy had tried to punch out Superman. Besides, I had no skills. There isn't much call for a boxer who can't box anymore.

I tried moving away, hoping to start fresh somewhere else, but it turns out that travelling with what amounts to a pair of concealed deadly weapons (made with enough metal to set off even the weakest detectors)… It's not so easy.

I tried hiring myself out as muscle, but quickly found that a boxer's reflexes don't do so much good when the other guy has a knife — or worse, a gun. I probably could have learned, but I didn't have the money to train myself. The kind of people who would have hired me weren't about to pay for my training out of the goodness of their hearts, either. Not with my history.

I did eventually get hired as a dockworker. They don't ask too many questions there. Not if you can bench press crates that normally take a forklift to move. But that didn't last, either. There was a strike, and I had to go with it. By the time it was resolved, I'd gotten rusty. Literally. And I had no one to fix me back up.

So, barely a month after I'd been looking at a national title, I found myself a washed-up wreck. No job. No money. No place to live. And a pair of arms that were rapidly becoming little more than dead weights.

I probably wouldn't have made it at all if not for Bibbo Bibowski. I'd met him on the docks. He was an ex-prizefighter, like me. Though that didn't really help matters. Bibbo had retired after a good career. I'd been kicked out for illegal enhancements. It also didn't help that Bibbo was Superman's self-proclaimed "number one fan."

Somehow, though, Bibbo didn't let any of that stop him from looking after me. He didn't have much, but he did whatever he could. He said "the big guy" would do no less. I could have pointed out that "the big guy" had, in fact, done less. I almost did, but… Superman was Bibbo's hero, and Bibbo was about the only friend I had left. So, I ignored the subject and life went on.

Then, one day, out of nowhere, a note appeared. It just fell, seemingly out of thin air, into my lap.

"Tommy, if you join us, we can help you. Come to 38th and Shuster at 9pm tonight. — S. S."

Well, that seemed pretty suspicious to me, but it wasn't like I had a better choice. So, I went.

The corner was dark, quiet, and empty. Very empty. Or so I thought before a scraping sound attracted my attention. Looking around, I noticed a manhole cover starting to move. One end had been raised an inch or so above street level. As I watched, the other end started to rise, as well. Then, the whole thing moved, seemingly by itself, to the side, leaving the manhole open.

I waited, but no one came up. I looked down the hole. There was no one there. The street still looked empty. I made my way over to where the cover was lying in the street. I picked it up. There was nothing attached to it. No hidden wires or anything. I frowned. Something had to have moved it.

"Just go down the ladder, will ya?" The voice came suddenly, from somewhere near my elbow. It sounded like a kid. I jumped and whirled around, but there was still nothing there.

"Shh. No talking above ground." Another kid. A girl, by the sound of it. There was still no one in sight. I glanced around, hoping to spot some speakers, but it was too dark.

"*You* just talked." The first voice again, still close by.

"Only because you did."

"You just talked again."

"So did you."

I sighed, annoyed but also somewhat relieved. At least if it was kids (even if I couldn't see them), I could probably stop worrying about at least a few of the possible reasons a person would have for inviting me to a mysterious meeting in a dark and isolated section of the city. On the other hand, the note had promised help, and I doubted a couple of kids, whatever little tricks they had to hide themselves, could fix my arms. "You the ones who're supposed to help me?" I felt kind of stupid talking to thin air, but it wasn't like standing around listening to the voices argue was much better.

"Well… yeah."

"You gonna fix this?" I moved my arm a bit, in a way I knew all too well would make a noticeable grating sound.

It was a moment before he spoke again. "Oh. That. That doesn't sound so good… We couldn't fix that. Not anymore. But we'll take you to someone who can."

"Someone who lives in the sewers?"

"Shh." The girl again. "We really shouldn't be talking like this up here. Go on down. We'll follow you. We can talk when we're all at the bottom."

I thought about it. The whole thing kept getting more and more suspicious. Called out to a dark alley, spoken to from out of thin air. Instructed to go down into the sewers, where anything could happen. But… what did I have to lose, really? And they had promised help. I needed help, I admitted to myself. I needed it badly enough that I couldn't afford to pass up even this slim and dubious chance to get it. So, finally, I climbed down the ladder. I tried to move my arms as little as possible. No sense making those gears grate any more than necessary, especially not after that demonstration. By the time I got to the bottom, the manhole cover was back in place.

Less than a minute later, a girl's head appeared, floating in mid-air. She was wearing some kind of weird-looking goggles. I was still staring when suddenly a boy's head appeared a couple feet from the girl's. He was wearing goggles, too. The goggles made it hard to see their faces, but I guessed they were about 10 years old. Early teens at the most.

"Okay," the girl said, taking off her goggles. "We can talk now. I'm Karen. He's Dudley. We were sent to meet you and lead you back to the Fortress. Everyone else is waiting there." As she spoke, the rest of her body thankfully came into view under her head. She was wearing a coverall made of some kind of whitish fabric.

"Everyone else? Who else? And what's this all about?" I demanded, frustrated. I was getting a little tired of all this mystery. And, despite myself, I was still nervous.

Dudley spoke up. He was visible now, too, and wearing a suit made of the same material as Karen's. "Right now, there's Philip and Alan and Bobby and —"

I managed not to growl. Barely. "Never mind. Names tell me nothing. Just tell me what's going on. The note said you could help me."

"Yeah, that's Alan. He's the guy who made these suits. He can take care of your arms."

"It's not just that," Karen added. "You'll have a place with us. A room, food, something to do…"

"Uh-huh." A room in the sewers. Great. Just what I always wanted. "And what do I gotta do for all this help?"

Dudley looked at me like it should have been perfectly obvious. "Help us."

I frowned at him. "Help you what?"

It was Karen who answered this time. "It's… complicated. The others can explain it better. Come on, we'll take you to them and we can talk it out when we're all together."

Reluctantly, I agreed. I still didn't know what I was getting into, but standing around badgering a couple of kids wasn't going to help. So I let them lead me through a maze of tunnels. By the time we got to the door, I was completely turned around. Nowhere to go but forwards, I thought to myself.

Karen opened the door. I followed Dudley through it and into another tunnel. This one was different, though. There were a couple of cameras and some kind of nozzles set into the walls. Around the bend and past what seemed to be defensive barricades, there was another door, this one reinforced metal. It swung open by itself as I neared it. The kids led me through that door, a few rooms, and another tunnel. Finally, the tunnel opened into a larger room.

It was clearly set up as a multi-purpose living space. There was a small kitchen area, a recreation area with a large TV and a variety of toys and games, and a central table. It could have been the main room in just about any city bachelor pad. Except for the stone sewer walls. And the complete lack of windows. And, of course, the equipment in the corner. It was a complicated set-up involving a lot of monitors, controls, and other things I couldn't identify. I'd never seen anything like it, but it looked like it belonged in a certain rumored cave in Gotham. There was an armchair in front of the main console. It swung around. Seated in the chair was… another kid.

"Welcome," he said grandly, "to the Fortress of Sewertude."

"Uh, yeah. Thanks."

"Okay, Phillip," said an amused voice behind me, "you got to say it. Are you happy now?"

I whirled around. There was someone standing in the doorway across from the monitors. An adult. Thank heavens. "Who're you? You in charge of these kids?"

He chuckled. "Not exactly. My name is Bobby. I'm kind of the group's front man. I don't spend as much time down here as the others, but it's okay. The kids can take care of themselves, mostly."

"Yer kiddin' me. You telling me these kids live down here in the sewers by themselves?" Kids hiding out in the sewers? It sounded like something out of a cartoon. Well, at least they weren't green or something.

Another man, this one small and middle-aged, stepped forward, around Bobby. "Not exactly. I live down here, too. Got my workshop and everything. But the kids really can take care of themselves. I mean, they did take over the city for a while…"

"What? Oh! Turning the water into goo and that thing with the ATMs. That was you guys?"

"Yeah, that was us," Phillip said. "We were the Smart Kids."

"How'd you end up down here?"

"Well, we kind of got lost in the system," Phillip explained. "The orphanage records got taken by the police, and everyone thought someone else was looking out for us. Not that we really had a place to begin with. That orphanage was where they stuck kids they didn't know what to do with. When it closed, they kind of ran out of options for us. Not that the place was that great to start out with."

"They closed the orphanage on you guys?"

"Temporarily, they said. For investigation. The staff doctor was doing some pretty shady things."

"Like experimenting on us," Karen put in.

"Experimenting on you?" She couldn't possibly mean it like it sounded, I thought. I was wrong.

Phillip shook his head at my ignorance. "How do you think we got so smart? He came up with some stuff. Mentamide 5, he called it. When we drank it, it made us smart. For a while. Then it wore off. He had us going back and forth, on and off, so he could study us. That's why we broke out."

"So, what? You still taking the stuff now?"

"Nah," he responded. "We ran out, and the doc died. Besides, it's not good for you long-term. Most of us are back to normal now."

"Most of you?"

He nodded. "Except me. I took a newer version. Mentamide 6. I only had one dose, but it lasts a lot longer. Some of it's worn off, but I think I'll always be at least a little sharper than I otherwise would have been."

"Good for you, kid." I turned back to the new guy, whom I (correctly, as it turned out) assumed was Alan, the one who'd made the invisibility suits. "So you live down here with the kids, and you guys do… what?"

"Well," he responded shyly, "not much… yet. We've mostly been getting things set up. Phillip here had to remake his whole camera network by himself. Bobby and I have been making this little place more livable. The other kids have been scouting around and placing new cameras…"

"Uh-huh." Camera networks, invisible scouts, secret underground lair… What was I getting into? "So yer spies?"

Alan stepped back, shocked. "No, no! Nothing like that. Well, not really. We're… uhm… Bobby?"

Bobby smiled ruefully. "Thanks, Alan," he said dryly. Then, turning back to me, he gestured at the table. "Why don't we all sit down, and we'll try to explain things to you…"

So, that's what we did. It took a while, so I'll spare you the details. It seemed some guy by the name of H. G. Wells had gotten in touch with Bobby a few years back. Wells was a time traveller. Bobby didn't believe it at first, and I had a hard time, too, but Wells had come armed with an "advance copy" of the Daily Planet. It was enough to convince Bobby. I still wasn't sure, but I decided to let it go. Later events were enough to erase any lingering doubts I had.

Wells had come to Bobby to offer him a deal. Wells, using his knowledge of the future, would help Bobby get rich. In return, Bobby would help guide events to some kind of happy ending. Bobby would work as an informant for a couple of reporters, pretending to work for nothing more than some food. The information would come from Bobby's street contacts, but also from a secret group which Bobby would help found. The group would be made up of the forgotten people. People like Alan, the invisible man. People like the kids. People like… me.

The group would monitor events, gathering information. Sometimes, they'd pass it along to the reporters, through Bobby. Sometimes they'd act on it themselves. And that was where I came in. They wanted me to be the group's muscle.

"Hey, I tried muscle work," I told them when they got to that part. "It didn't work out so good. I'm a boxer, not a bodyguard. I'm not used to dealing with weapons. I found that out the hard way."

Dudley flashed me a grin. "Yeah, but you didn't have an invisible suit before."

"I'll help you train, too," Bobby put in. "I've got the money and the contacts. I can send you to a school where they won't ask too many questions."

"Besides," Phillip said, "it's more of a risk to go back. We'll give you food and shelter and fix your arms. How much longer do you think you can manage topside, without us?"

I had to admit, those were some good points. It still didn't sound that great to me. Risking my life to help people I didn't know, at the direction of some nutty guy who said he was a time traveller. But, as I'd told myself a few times already that night (and as Phillip had just reminded me), it wasn't like I had a better choice. I needed their help. Room and board sounded good, too. If they were a few tacos short of a Happy Meal, well, I'd put up with worse. So, I said I'd join up. They all smiled at that, but I ignored it.

We moved on to more technical stuff. Phillip had the camera network set up. The monitors would keep track of events on the surface, and the kids would go out as needed. There were two more kids who'd be around during the day. Aymee and her little sister, Inez, had been at the orphanage with the other Smart Kids, but their mother was still alive. She'd given her kids up shortly after her husband had left her. With little money and no income, she hadn't felt like she could properly provide for a family. After everything that had happened, though, she'd decided to give it another try. Bobby had quietly helped by seeing that she was hired at one of his restaurants. He'd also told her that he'd provide day care for her kids. He just hadn't mentioned that it would be in the sewers. She'd been shown a facility, had met Alan, found him trustworthy, and had been too grateful to ask more. Amy and Inez, who had already proven that they weren't too shy to stand up for themselves, had assured her they were happy with the arrangement, and (new to parenting and all too aware of the tentative nature of the as-yet-barely-reestablished bond with her kids), that had been enough for her.

As for Alan, he'd been recruited after quitting his job at Lexcorp. He'd happily taken the position after his invisibility suits had hit the front pages, but had rapidly learned that it wasn't the working environment for him. He'd been asked to make too many ethical compromises. He'd fought with his wife over the decision. Their marriage had been on shaky ground, anyway, since Alan had a way of paying a lot more attention to his lab equipment than his spouse. They split up, and he moved out.

Unlike me, when Bobby had approached him, Alan had jumped at the chance to do some good in the world. Already used to spending most of his time in an underground lab (first in his basement, then at Lexcorp), he'd settled smoothly into life at the Fortress. Bobby provided him with all the equipment he needed, and he wasted no time in using that equipment to do exactly what he'd refused to do for Luthor — recreate his invisibility suits. The work had gone quickly, with Phillip's help, and they'd even made some improvements, like adding UV goggles to pick up the invisible light the suits put out. I was glad for that. One of the first things I learned when I started working with the group was that it really helped to be able to see your own hands, not to mention your teammates.




Not much really happened for the first few weeks after I joined up. I started training. Alan made a suit in my size. I met the kids' pet pig, Socrates. I taught the kids' pet pig, Socrates, to stay away from me. Dudley came up with a name for the group — The Steel Shadows. I wasn't too happy about the Superman reference, but I decided that as long as I was getting what I needed from them, I didn't really care what they called themselves. I went back up to the surface a few times. Told Bibbo I was moving, but I'd keep in touch. Oh, and I met Gina, Aymee and Inez's mother.

She'd heard that there was someone new working at "day care," and she wanted to meet me. So, one night, at the end of her shift, I went topside. Bobby arranged for us to have dinner at one of his restaurants. Nothing too fancy, but good food. We were seated in a booth up front, in a corner behind the door. It was oddly placed, but it gave us a little more privacy.

Sitting across from her, I was kind of surprised to realize that she wasn't a bad looker. Her kids were cute enough, I supposed, but I'd never really thought about their mother. She'd had a hard life, that was plain to see, but underneath that, she cut a nice figure. Not that I was looking that much, but it made being sent up to ease her suspicions (something that hadn't really been in the job description) a little less bothersome.

"So what did you do before, Tommy?" she asked me at one point. "You don't seem like the type for day care."

"I used to work on the docks," I admitted. "But the union went on strike, and well… I guess you could say I was down on my luck." I stopped myself, realizing that I didn't really want to talk about it. "What about you, Gina?" I asked. Thankfully, she seemed to understand.

"I work at the diner all day. It's not easy, but I take home decent pay. It's for love, really. After the whole thing with the kids, I realized that you've got to hold on to what you've got in this world. The girls and I, we've got each other, and that's a lot. So, whether I'm ready for single motherhood or not… for love of my kids, I'll give it a shot."

I stared at her, fascinated by her intensity. She noticed, suddenly, and trailed off, blushing. "I'm sorry," she said, looking away. "I didn't mean to…"

"No, it's okay. I know what you mean. Sometimes… you live for the fight when that's all that you've got." It wasn't quite what I'd meant to say, but it seemed right, somehow. She looked back at me, then, and we saw it in each other's eyes. A mutual understanding of what we'd both survived.

Then some kid walked by outside, his stereo blasting out an old Bon Jovi song, and the moment was broken.

We stuck to more casual topics after that. After dinner, we went our separate ways. I returned to life in the sewers, which, somehow, had started to feel like home.




Things went pretty normally for a while after that. Training continued. I learned how to fight while invisible. Alan had to redesign part of my suit, since the gloves tended to wear out pretty quickly. We had a small Christmas party. Bobby got gifts for the kids. New Year's came and went. I saw Gina a couple more times, when Alan was working on something and asked me to return Aymee and Inez from "day care." Like I said… normal.

And then *he* showed up.

It was late. The kids were in bed, and Alan was either asleep or holed up in his lab. It was my turn to stay up and watch the monitors. I was having a quiet dinner at the table (while glancing at the monitors every now and again) when a voice spoke up behind me.

"Good evening."

I jumped up and whirled around. The voice had been polite enough, but it wasn't one I'd recognized. Worse, there had been no warning. Whoever it was had bypassed all the alarms.

I was shocked (and a little relieved) to discover that it was a small, unassuming, and somewhat elderly man. I didn't know what to make of him, but I was fairly sure he didn't belong in the Fortress. "Who're you?" I demanded.

"You must be Tommy," he said, giving me a quirky little smile. "I am delighted to meet you."

I glowered at him and took a step forward.

"My name," he continued, seemingly unfazed, "is H. G. Wells." He spoke in formal and precise tones, as if we were at some kind of tea party.

"Uh-huh." If he was Wells (and he did seem to fit Bobby's description), then I supposed he had a right to be there. "And, uh, what brings you to, uhm, grace us with your presence at this time?"

If he realized I was making fun of him, he chose to ignore it. "Excellent question, my boy. You see, I have come to —"

"My boy?"

My tone of voice got through that time. "Er, sorry. Force of habit, you know, my… good man?"

I grunted assent. "That'll do," I added when our esteemed visitor continued to hesitate.

"Yes. Good, then." He fidgeted around for a second before managing to pick up the thread of what he'd been saying. "*Ahem* Well, you see, I came here to warn you of a dire catastrophe."

"Something bad's gonna happen?" He didn't exactly look the part of the messenger of doom.

He paused, a confused frown on his face, then gave another little cough before continuing. "Yes, exactly, my b — good man. An asteroid will shortly be discovered heading for Earth."

"Uh-huh. And what are we supposed to do about that?"

He paused again, fidgeting. I made a mental note to try not to interrupt him so much. It seemed to really throw him off. "The asteroid. No, you don't need to do anything about that. In fact, part of the reason I came here was to tell you not to worry about it. Superman will take care of the asteroid. He will strike it, breaking it into smaller pieces. Unfortunately, he will lose his memory in the process."

"It'll be that — Never mind."

"Right. He will lose his memory, but there will still be a large chunk threatening Earth. Because of his amnesia, he won't show up for a while, and everyone will think he is missing. Eventually, of course, he will regain his memory and save the day. With fourteen minutes to spare, actually. The time leading up to that, however, will be… *ahem* rather tense."

"I see." I tried to imagine what it would be like if everyone thought the world was about to end. Not a pretty situation. I'd be glad to be in the sewers, away from the panic.

"Yes, well, obviously Superman won't be around to help calm things. So you and the others will have to help, shall we say, keep the peace?"

Oh, right. We were supposed to be the "good guys." That was my job, the reason they'd taken me in. On the other hand… "Everyone will be going nuts because they think it's the end, that Superman won't be able to save them, right?"

"Yes, exactly. You, on the other hand, will be able to keep calm because you will know in advance that Superman will recover in time."

"So why don't you just tell everyone else that?"

He seemed genuinely taken aback by the situation. "Oh no, that would be interfering with history. I couldn't do that. Very dangerous doing that, don't you know…"

That raised my eyebrows. "And, uh, what do you think yer doing with us? Tipping us off in advance? Heck, getting the group together in the first place. Isn't that 'interfering with history'?"

"No, no. That's entirely different. You are here to help keep history on track."


"Yes, very different," he said, nodding enthusiastically to himself. "Very different, indeed."

I stared at him, saying nothing.

"Which actually brings up a good point. You see, history records the challenges and difficulties which were overcome by Superman and… uhm… the people close to him." He looked uncomfortable as he worked his way through that last part, as if he was picking his words with even more care than usual. I didn't pay that too much attention at the time, though, because something had clicked in the back of my mind.

"Like those reporters the kids are always watching." I'd always wondered why they seemed to keep a closer eye on that newsroom than any place else. Well, any place but that warehouse…

He brightened at that. "Exactly! Now, if you were to interfere with those challenges, you could alter history. The consequences could be catastrophic. So, for the most part, you should assume that situations involving Superman will be properly resolved. I'll let you know when that is not the case. For example, history does not mention anything further about Bureau 39 from this point forward."

"Yeah. Phillip is keeping an eye on them. Dudley and Aymee set up some cameras and stuff near their meeting points."

"Ah, excellent. Well done." He smiled, and looked like he was going to try to pat me on the arm or something, but then thought better of it. He fidgeted a bit, then continued. "The other exception is clean-up work. Once the situation is resolved and Superman has done his part, history generally records that as the end of his involvement."

"You mean like the way he left the kids to get lost in the system? Or never checked on Alan? Or me?" Not that what had happened to me wasn't my own fault, or that I'd been particularly nice to him, but it irritated me sometimes, the way everyone talked about him as if he could do no wrong.

"Er… well… I suppose so…"

"Yeah. Great guy. Real super."

Wells jerked straight, as if he'd suddenly developed a very rigid backbone. "Young man, we are talking about someone who is about to risk his life to save the entire world, and who will do so again many times. A man who has arguably done more good in this world than just about anyone in all of history. He may not take every waking moment to check on all the people he's previously saved, but do not question his accomplishments!"

"Uhm, yeah. Sorry," I said halfheartedly. I still wasn't entirely convinced, but I didn't feel like arguing about it. "You were saying?"

He blinked, and seemed to deflate a bit as his indignation melted out of him. "Mmm, yes. Quite. You should avoid situations in which Superman or his friends are involved. You should, however, attempt to avert those disasters which history said weren't supposed to happen and attempt to help with situations of which Superman is not aware or cannot, for some other reason, be of help."

I looked at him blankly. How were we supposed to know whether a situation was supposed to happen?

Noticing my expression, Wells paused. "In cases where the difference between those situations is not obvious, I will, of course, warn you. If you're still not sure, Phillip's computer also has a special secured database. It's designed to give you only the minimum necessary information. You will not be able, for example, to use it to access information about the future. It should, however, be able to help you determine whether or not a given situation in the present will require your involvement."

I nodded. That was good to know.

"Good, then. You should also keep an eye out for the aftermath of situations in which Superman's involvement is complete. Those situations are particularly important, since they can lead to later problems. Cleaning up will also sometimes present the group with new recruits. For example, the asteroid's approach will be a life-altering experience for many people. If you keep your eyes open, you may well find an unexpected ally."

"That's a tall order."

"You'll manage. All of you. I'm sure of it."

"Yeah, sure," I said dismissively. Before he could respond, I brought up another question. "What about Bobby?"

That threw him off. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Bobby. You said we shouldn't interfere with Superman or his friends. So what about Bobby?"

"Ah. He's a little different. History records that he was an invaluable source for Lois Lane and Clark Kent, providing key information on several occasions. If Lois and Clark come looking for help and information, then you are to provide for them to the best of your abilities."

I shrugged. "Okay."

"Well, that's good, then. I think we've covered the important things. So, Mr. Garrison, how do you find life down here in — Oh dear." He looked down. I followed his gaze. Socrates had noticed our visitor and become curious about the unusual fabric of his pants. "Oh my. Uhm, pardon me…" Wells continued to mutter in distressed tones as he struggled to free his pants leg from the pig's mouth. "Yes, well, if there's nothing else…"

I didn't quite manage to hide my smile. "No, I think we're okay."

"Good, good," he replied, distracted. He started to head for the door, struggling to keep himself free of Socrates. "I think I'll be going. Carry on. Remember about the asteroid. You'll do fine, I'm sure. Until next time…"

"Yeah. Bye." After Wells had made his way out the door and disappeared, Socrates came back. He gave me a wide berth, as usual, but then I slipped him a few scraps from the remnants of my now cold dinner. He seemed surprised, but wasn't about to complain. "Good pig."




The group took the news about the asteroid pretty well. I also mentioned the other stuff, about what we were and weren't supposed to do, but it turned out that they already knew most of it. They had, after all, spoken to Wells before I'd joined up. So, we focused on the asteroid. What we would need to do, how we could prepare for it… I still wasn't quite ready to believe it all, but the others seemed to take it that if Wells said it was going to happen, it was going to happen.

Then, that afternoon, it happened. An unexpected solar eclipse. I didn't notice it myself, but Dudley, on monitor duty, called us together and pointed it out. It was an odd moment for me. Seeing solid proof that Wells knew what he was talking about was pretty jarring. Suddenly, I started to take our vague plans a little more seriously.

Superman took off the following morning. We listened in as he approached, impacted… and then disappeared. We'd known it was coming, but it was still a shock.

The next few nights, as we'd planned, I went out on patrol. Phillip watched the monitors, keeping in touch with us by radio. It wasn't so bad at first. People assumed Superman would recover and save the day. Every day he didn't show up, though, things got a little more chaotic. The first night or two, I went out with Dudley and Karen as backup. After that, though, things were so bad that we decided to keep the kids in the Fortress. Being invisible just wasn't protection enough.

I wasn't too happy about going out, myself, but I didn't need anyone to remind me that it was my job. The Steel Shadows had kept their promise. They'd fed me, given me a place to live, and kept my arms in good condition. It was time for me to hold up my end of the deal.

So, I went out into the night, sometimes visible, sometimes not. My training paid off, as did the immobilizing goo the kids had developed. I stopped muggers and looters, and saved people from other dangers. There was always someone out there who needed to be saved from something. I started to get an idea of what things must be like for Superman. I wondered what made him do it.

I got a clue to that puzzle on the fourth day. I hadn't really been paying too much attention during the days, since I was mostly on night duty. But the word "amnesia" caught my attention. Wells had told me Superman would have amnesia from the impact. But when I looked at the monitors, I saw that it was Clark Kent they were talking about.

I asked Aymee, who was taking her turn at the monitors, about it. She looked at me oddly, like she was wondering if I was joking or something. Then her face changed and became more guarded. I wasn't sure what to make of it.

"That's because Clark is Superman, silly!"

I nearly jumped. I'd forgotten Inez was there.

Aymee looked at her little sister furiously. "Inez! You're not supposed to tell anyone about that!"

Her eyes opened wide. "Even Uncle Tommy?"

Aymee looked at me, then back to her sister. "Well… Uhm…"

"Eh, it's okay," Dudley said, yawning. "He'd have found out soon enough, living here with us."

"Wait a second. You all knew this and you didn't tell me?"

"We found out when we set up the first camera rig," Dudley said defensively. "After we escaped from the orphanage. We haven't told anyone."

I considered pressing the issue, but then a new thought struck me. This was valuable information. When things settled down, I could use it. I could get… nothing, really. Except kicked out of my new home. For betraying the guy who'd just risked everything to save us all. The guy who was standing there, on the monitors in front of me, lost and confused, with no memory of who he was. I couldn't do it. I still wasn't sure how I felt about him, but I couldn't sell him out. It just wasn't right.

So, I said nothing. Instead, I just left the room, pleading fatigue. It wasn't far from the truth, really. I knew I'd need my rest if I was going to face another night like the last few. That night promised to be the worst of them all. The asteroid was due to hit the following afternoon. Tension had been building over the previous days, but everyone knew that if no one stopped the asteroid, that night would be the last before the end of the world. Despite Wells's reassurance, even I was scared.

When I got to the surface, however, I found that everything was quiet. Eerily so. After all that had happened that week, it seemed that people had better things to do on the last night of their respective lives than to loot and steal. I walked around the empty streets, trying to tell myself that I enjoyed the unique view of the city, that I wasn't lonely or scared.

I'd never felt like I'd needed anyone before, but standing out there, in the empty streets, knowing that the world could end the next day… It was spooky, to say the least. And the streets… they were empty because everyone else was huddled up with their loved ones. And there I was, alone but for the distant chatter from the comlink in my ear. But even that wasn't for me. Not really. They were talking to each other, mostly. Me? When it came down to it, I was just the hired muscle. They were… a family. I didn't matter. Or, at least, that's how it felt then, when I was out there.

Then, suddenly, something happened. A door creaked open. A priest dashed out of the church I'd been about to pass. He didn't spare me a glance, but just rushed by as if… as if it was the last night of his life. I watched him go, the only other soul I'd seen since I'd left the Fortress.

"Just my luck," said a voice behind me. "I have a spiritual crisis, and the priest I'm talking to suddenly finds Earth."

I turned around, cursing my stupidity. I'd been so focused on the priest that I hadn't even noticed that someone else had come out after him. She was wearing a formal but tight sleeveless black dress, a black lace prayer covering, and a lot of jewelry. It looked like she'd wanted to dress conservatively, but wasn't quite sure how.

As I came closer, I realized that she was older than she'd first appeared. Fortyish or so, but clearly in good shape. Physically, at least. It was also clear that she'd been crying. Inwardly, I groaned. I was no good with crying women. But there was no one else in sight. Even the priest was long gone.

I tried to find something to say, but soon realized I hadn't even understood what she'd said to me. "Finds Earth?"

She looked at me, startled, as if she hadn't really noticed I was there. She looked embarrassed for a second, but then just sort of shrugged. It was the last night on Earth. What did a little embarrassment matter? So, she started to speak. "Yeah. I was in the confessional. Making progress for the first time in… probably ever. He said something to me. He said… that what I want is reassurance that I'm not alone, that I'm loved for my soul. And it seemed so right. So true. I've been going to parties and having flings and just having a good time. But I've never really had anyone care about me because of who I am. I'm not even sure *I* know who I am. So, I thanked him, and I told him he was right. That was exactly what I needed, what I'd never had. And I asked him… isn't there something you passionately want to experience, just once, before you die? … And the next thing I know, the window slams shut and there are footsteps racing away. By the time I got out of the booth, he was gone."

It didn't seem right. But people didn't always do the right thing when it was the end of the world. If nothing else, the last few nights had taught me that. I tried to think of what to say. She was asking for a lot, and I didn't know what to tell her. But she'd also said something about parties and flings and not being happy with that. "So, yer looking to do something that counts, is that it?"

She blinked at that, though whether it was the question itself or just the reminder that I was there, I couldn't tell. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is."

"And what do you do? Other than go to parties?"

"I… write about parties."

I started at her. "That's yer job?"

She nodded. "I'm the gossip columnist. For the Daily Planet."

"Daily Planet…? You… Cat? Is that yer name?"

She was surprised by that, and not entirely happy. "Uhm… yes. You know my work?"

"Well… not exactly," I said, not wanting to admit that I recognized her from having spied on the Planet's newsroom. I needed something to distract her, I realized. A thought struck me. She wanted to do something that mattered. She worked at the Planet, with Clark Kent. Hadn't Wells said something about keeping an eye out for someone going through a crisis? "But… look. I may be able to help you."

"Uh-huh," she said, crossing her arms and giving me a look. "Your place or mine?" she asked sarcastically.

"No, really. I'm with this group. We kind of… look out for people. You could help us."

She stared at me, saying nothing.

I wasn't any good at this, I realized. I needed time. Come to think, so did she. I also needed to get away so I could deal with the voices that were suddenly shouting in my ear, courtesy of the comlink. "This asteroid thing… It's going to work out. Superman will save the day with…" It took me a second to remember what I'd heard. "Fourteen minutes to spare. Trust me. So, tonight… go home. Try to take it easy. Tomorrow night — and there will be a tomorrow night, I promise — if you still think you want to do some good, wait in the lobby of the Planet building and someone will meet you."

She stared at me a little longer, then nodded vaguely. There didn't seem to be anything more to say after that, so we just went our separate ways.





Explaining my decision to the others wasn't easy, but they finally agreed to give Cat a try. So, the next night, Bobby was sent out to the Daily Planet building. She was there, in the lobby, waiting for him. They talked. He didn't tell her everything, of course, but it was enough. They accepted each other.

The next month or two was thankfully routine. Cat helped us keep an eye on the newsroom and around town. We didn't have much contact with her, but she provided helpful information from time to time. She clearly felt good about doing it, too.

The group gained another reserve member. Eugene Laderman, a computer programmer who helped stop a crippling virus from taking over the city, agreed to help us when we needed. We didn't tell him too much, but we gave him enough that he was willing to support us. He even wrote a program to help sort through the information coming in through the camera network.

I went out on regular patrols. It was never as intense as it had been with the asteroid looming overhead, but there was something to do every night. I started to get pretty good at handling muggers and petty thugs.

I also started to see Gina a little more often, as Alan asked me more and more frequently to be the one to return the kids. He'd always been the reclusive type, from what I understood, but I didn't mind. As for Gina, she seemed to appreciate seeing me. She, like many others, had been pretty shaken up by the asteroid. Seeing a familiar and friendly face was good for her.

Then, one day at a group meeting, Phillip said something that changed it all.

"Bureau 39 is developing liquid Kryptonite."

He'd been watching their activities for months, but it was the first time he'd been able to get some idea of what they were up to. He'd seen one of their operatives obtain the Kryptonite months before, but none of us had been able to intercept the deal in time or even track the rock afterwards. The best we'd been able to do had been to keep an eye on one of their warehouses and look out for known agents. Apparently, that had finally paid off.

We went into high gear, trying to find out what they were planning to do with the deadly new substance. Even so, it took us more than two weeks to find the lab, get past their security, and place an invisible camera in a good spot. With the camera in place, it took days to learn what we needed to know.

Despite their change in leadership, the rogue organization was still intent on trying to kill Superman. That much had been obvious to us for some time. Faced with the death of Jason Trask and the need to go even more deeply into hiding, they hadn't managed too much at first. Now, it seemed, they had a plan. They were going to contaminate the Daily Planet's water supply with liquid Kryptonite. Fortunately, they didn't know how to find Superman. Unfortunately, they knew he had an association with the Planet and its staff. If necessary, they would fake a disaster to lure the hero into their trap. They were hoping to avoid that more active and potentially visible involvement, though. Instead, they were gambling that he would be in or near the building before the Kryptonite, which was designed to spread slowly through the building and set into the pipes, was washed away.

It was an even better bet than they knew. Clark would be slowly poisoned while he was at work. Just being in or even near the building would hurt him. Washing his hands, taking a drink… Who knew what it could do to him? At the least, it would make him vulnerable. And expose his identity to the people who knew what to look for.

We had to stop them. Superman still wasn't my favorite person in the world, but he was starting to feel like a colleague. Patrolling the city, stopping crimes, helping people… It was my job, and it was what he did, too. Even better than the Shadows. He'd saved us all from the asteroid when there was nothing the rest of us could do. He deserved better than to be poisoned by those fanatics.

Given how difficult it had been just to get the camera into an isolated corner of the lab, we knew there was no way we would be able to get the Kryptonite out of the building ourselves. We would have to wait until it was taken somewhere more accessible — the Planet building itself.

If we were going to intercept them at the Planet, we'd need a diversion. Something to keep people — especially Clark — out of the way, and to mask any signs of the fight. Phillip's scans had picked up someone interesting a while back. His name was Willie, and he was a recently paroled prisoner. He'd been convicted of murder, but seemed to be very gentle and non-violent. His claims of innocence actually seemed believable. What had caught Phillip's attention, though, was his mention of the Daily Planet. Apparently, Willie thought some old gangster's treasure was in a safe hidden somewhere in the building.

We contacted Willie. Using Cat and some of Bobby's connections, we convinced Perry White to help get him a job as the Planet's nighttime security guard. In exchange, Willie agreed to wait on his plans to dig up the vault until we gave him the go-ahead. Willie assured us that he would find a capable crew who would keep any other Planet employees out of the way, without using guns or lethal force. Their work in digging up the safe would, of course, make plenty of noise. It was perfect. We'd be able to get into the building and take care of Bureau 39's thugs, and everyone else would be distracted by Willie's crew.

We also contacted Eugene. From what we'd heard, Bureau 39 was planning to inject the Kryptonite into the Planet's pipes from underneath the building. It might have been easier for them to put it directly into the water tower on the roof, but they were afraid that the pumping mechanism would be too visible, especially given that their intended victim flew. Eugene got us maps of the tunnels and water system underneath the building. We found the water main access and studied the nearby tunnels carefully.

By the time we got all that ready, the lab camera had relayed the one piece of information we'd been missing — the date Bureau 39 would make its move. We contacted Willie and set about making our final preparations.



MARCH 26, 1994

Everything started out fine. Bureau 39 had chosen a Saturday night to make their move. In that, their goals were the same as ours. They didn't want to be noticed or disturbed. We got into place early with no problems. Karen and Dudley came armed with squirt guns filled with immobilization goo. We set up a few remotely controlled nozzles, too. Not only would the remote stations help with the fight, but their presence would help mask the existence of the kids.

What we hadn't expected, though, was that a few of the Planet's staff were in the newsroom. Jimmy was helping Perry clean out his office. Clark was, oddly enough, working on his taxes. He'd probably chosen to do them at the office in order to keep Perry and Jimmy company. Jack, the new guy, had chosen to hang around, too, though he looked to be bored. Then, to make things worse, Lois came in with Lex Luthor, saying something about needing to rewrite a story.

We were worried about having so many people unexpectedly in the building, but the distraction team arrived right on time. Phillip was disturbed to note that they had guns, but there wasn't much we could do about that. Fortunately, they didn't seem to be using them, other than to gain the attention of the Planet's staff. Clark and the others were herded into Perry's office and put under guard. The team leader claimed to have a bomb, but, knowing Willie, we were fairly sure he was bluffing.

Overall, the situation seemed okay, but we couldn't be sure. The newsroom camera didn't have a good angle on Perry's office. Phillip called Cat and asked her to check things out, just in case. Hopefully, if there was something wrong, Clark would be able to handle it. We were going to need everyone we had to deal with Bureau 39.

I waited for them in a darkened tunnel, hiding in the shadows. After talking things over with the team, I'd decided to leave my invisibility suit behind. We were giving away enough just showing up to stop them. If they knew that we could become invisible, they'd be a lot more prepared for us in the future. Thanks to Alan, my arms were in top shape, and I'd had plenty of practice fighting while out on patrol. I was confident in my abilities, and figured that with the support of the kids, I wouldn't need the extra advantage of the suit.

The wait started to become intolerable. It got worse when Phillip relayed the news that someone in the newsroom had been shot. Bureau 39's goons showed up while we were still trying to figure out what to do about the situation upstairs. There were four of them. One carried welding equipment. Another had the tank of liquid Kryptonite. Attached to the tank, inside a protective (but not lead-lined) case, was a small sample of Kryptonite in its natural crystal shape, presumably intended as insurance. The other two soldiers were carrying pipes and pumping equipment. All were dressed in black fatigues, making them almost impossible to see in the darkness of the tunnel.

I went for the welder first. I didn't want to have to worry about him turning his blowtorch on me. Surprised by my presence and overwhelmed by the force of my punch, he went down quickly. The other three, however, reacted a lot more quickly than I'd expected. Almost immediately after taking down the first soldier, I found myself being attacked from two sides by pipe-wielding enemies. I realized my mistake too late — these weren't street thugs, they were professional soldiers.

The kids opened up with their immobilization goo, but their aim was a little off. They told me later that they'd felt shaken and off-balance. Like me, they hadn't been as prepared as they'd thought. They did manage to slow down one of my attackers, though, and that gave me enough of an edge that I could at least hold my own.

"Situation upstairs is stabilizing," Phillip said into my ear.

"Great," I muttered, dodging a punch. "Just what I needed to know." Didn't he realize I was fighting for my life? Distractions were the last thing I needed.

"Luthor's getting better. I think Clark had something to do with it."

"That's wonderf — *oof*." I staggered back from a kick to the stomach.

"Oh. Sorry. I guess you didn't need to know that just yet…"

"Really?" I responded tersely, as I lashed out with a couple of quick jabs.

"I'll just —"


Phillip thankfully lapsed into silence. With Dudley and Karen's help and some superhuman punches, I eventually managed to knock out one of my attackers. That took it down to one on one, but I still took a few hits before taking care of the other. I caught my breath, then blearily looked around. It took me a minute to realize that there were only three soldiers on the ground but that four had come in. The one carrying the Kryptonite had run away, presumably under orders to safeguard his rare cargo and bring it back for another attempt.

Luckily, Phillip had managed to tag him with a stream from one of the remote controlled nozzles. He was running, but slowly, hampered by the thin layer of rapidly hardening goo. I chased after him, but with the aches and bruises I'd gotten from being hit with the pipes, I wasn't going too fast, either.

I was still chasing him when Cat called Phillip back. She somewhat reluctantly agreed to leave her date to go check on the situation in the newsroom, but was understandably nervous about the guns. Still, she was willing to at least look in on things. She told her date that she was going to pick up something a little more "comfortable" and headed back across town.

When I finally caught up to my quarry, he turned around and started to fight. Battered and somewhat winded, I wasn't at my best. He was somewhat hindered by the goo, but had the advantage of better training. I managed to get a good shot in and take him down, but the tank of Kryptonite got lost in the scuffle. I looked around as carefully as I could, but it had rolled completely out of sight.

I dragged the fourth soldier back to where the kids were watching over the other three. Soon, all four were firmly encased in goo. That's when we realized we didn't know what to do with them. I wasn't going to just kill them, but it's not like we had a place to keep them. Finally, we decided to leave them there with their equipment, and let them try to explain to the authorities what they'd been doing.

Soon after, Cat checked in to let us know that she made it in and out of the newsroom. She'd seen the others, and while they'd been worried, they'd all seemed to be pretty much unharmed. They'd waved to her in distress, but she'd pretended to misunderstand the signal. Then she'd hurried back out to give us the report.

We felt like we should check for ourselves, but I was in no shape to do so. In fact, I soon found that I needed the kids' help to get back to base. Phillip finally realized that he could have Alan call the police, but by the time they arrived, Clark had already managed to save the day.

Wearily, we took stock of the situation. We'd messed up. Badly. It was our first real operation, and our lack of experience had clearly shown through. The only good thing that had come out of the whole thing was that, amidst all the chaos, we'd actually somehow stopped the soldiers from carrying out their plan and gotten the Kryptonite out of Bureau 39's hands. In that sense, it was a victory, of sorts. I comforted myself with that knowledge as best I could and slowly, carefully, and painfully eased myself into bed.




MID MAY, 1994

While I slowly healed, the others tried to follow up on the aftermath of the fight. There was no sign of the Kryptonite. Bureau 39, surprised by our interference, had gone even further underground. The lab we'd bugged was abandoned, as were most of the meeting places we'd been monitoring. They hadn't found the cameras (which the kids were quick to remove), but clearly they suspected something. Meantime, the Planet building exploded, surprising us all and adding to our failure. We watched, disheartened, as the staff scattered.

Then, as seemed to be his wont, Wells showed up out of the blue. He was even more fidgety than usual. He'd come armed with a newspaper. Of course, it wasn't the Daily Planet. It was their rival paper, the Metropolis Star. "SUPERMAN DEAD," the headline boldly declared in large letters.

The story explained that the hero's body had been recovered from Hobb's Bay. There'd hardly been a mark on him. The reporter, Linda King, speculated that Kryptonite, the substance rumored to be able to harm the Man of Steel, had been the cause of death. There was little more to go on, and Wells assured us that little more would surface.

The date on the paper was about a month away. No one was certain, but the guess was that he'd been dead for a few days before the body had been found. The only thing we really had to go on was Wells's suspicion that Lex Luthor, who had been due to marry Lois Lane on around the same day that Superman had likely died, was somehow involved. Wells assured us that Luthor was an "unimaginably vile villain" and that, according to history, Clark and some of the Planet's staff had stopped the wedding and exposed his criminal activities to the world. Clark was not supposed to die, and Lex was not supposed to win. The Steel Shadows would have to step in and fix things.

Phillip added Luthor and his known associates to the list of people for Eugene's program to watch. Bobby started gathering whatever information he could get off the streets. I talked to Bibbo, and also used my fists to back Bobby up when he needed it. Eugene did some digging of his own. Information came in, slowly but surely. It was what we were good at, and we were all eager to make up for what had happened on our last mission. We started piecing things together about Luthor.

We channeled what we had to Clark and the others, who had gotten back together and started their own coordinated investigation. Bobby talked to Clark directly. I made sure Jack heard the right things off the streets. Eugene quietly helped Jimmy through his computer. We helped get them what they needed, and their investigations helped us find angles we might otherwise have missed. It was all coming together nicely, but we still didn't know anything about the Kryptonite or what was going to happen to Clark.

We got our first clue from a bank robbery. An alarm was set off, and Superman rushed to the scene. He seemed to stumble a bit as he left, though. It got our attention. The cameras spotted Luthor's aide, Mrs. Cox, in the background. Looking carefully, we noticed a small chunk of green crystal around her neck. It looked suspiciously like the one that had been attached to the canister of liquid Kryptonite.

It still wasn't much to go on, though, and Luthor's wedding was approaching rapidly. Things got even worse when Clark suddenly disappeared the next day. We left Perry, Jimmy, and Jack to finish up the investigation on their own and put all our efforts into trying to find Clark.

It was Bibbo who brought us the vital bit of information. He'd been listening for any news about Luthor. I hadn't told him why, and he hadn't felt the need to ask. He told me that he'd heard someone complaining about a job. Seemed Lex had wanted a cage made in a hurry and installed in his wine cellar, of all places. Not only that, but he'd wanted the bars coated with a special glow-in-the-dark green paint. Pressed for time, the dockside metalworker had converted a shark cage to suit Luthor's needs. As soon as the task had been completed, however, he'd gone straight to his favorite bar to tell the story. Given that it was the night before Luthor's wedding, the odd request had sparked off a series of wild speculations.

Not realizing the importance of the story, Bibbo didn't contact me until the following morning. I, on the other hand, jumped when I heard the news. Aymee, Dudley, Karen, and I suited up and rushed across town. Invisible, we slipped past Luthor's security and found our way to the wine cellar. We weren't sure exactly what we'd find or what we'd be able to do, but we had to help. Even if it meant exposing our existence to him — something Wells had informed us was never to happen and should be avoided at all costs.

When we got there, Superman was still conscious, but looked to be in extremely bad shape. He was lying on the floor, surrounded by glowing green bars, clearly in pain. All of his attention was focused on a key ring sitting perched on a nearby cask. He was desperately trying to use his breath to get a strip of white cloth to go through the ring. It looked like an impossible task.

It was a difficult scene to grasp. This was *Superman*. The Man of Steel. Hero to the world. A man capable of doing or surviving just about anything you could imagine, generally without breaking a sweat. I wasn't his biggest fan, but seeing him like this — weak, pained, brought low — it affected me more than I would have ever expected. It was wrong. Profoundly wrong. On every level. He was supposed to be flying above us, not trapped down here, barely able to hold his head off the floor. It was disturbing, and, in a way, almost embarrassing, as if I'd intruded on something private, something I wasn't supposed to see.

Part of me, the part which saw him flying overhead and thought it made him distant and superior, the part which still resented him for having everything (including his reputation) come so easily, the part which was still angry about our last encounter and its aftermath… Part of me saw him lying there, struggling just to move a little strip of cloth, and wanted to crow, to shout out, "How does it feel to be stuck here with the rest of us?" Even that part, though, knew it wasn't right. He didn't deserve this.

Before I could decide what to do about it, Aymee dashed over. She took the cloth in her invisible hands and threaded it through the key ring. Superman instantly tugged on the rope, pulling the key off the cask. It landed near him, but not close enough to pick up. He tried to use his breath again, but was barely strong enough to get it to move. Aymee rushed over to a better position and, just as Superman tried to inhale again, she kicked it over to him. It landed out of his reach. Painfully, Superman got up and rushed at the bars. The cage jumped a little closer to the keys, startling Aymee, who had gone over to try to help again. The cage moved, but not far enough. He rushed the bars again, despite the pain it obviously caused him.

It was amazing. Even in his condition, he was still fighting. I knew a lot of people who wouldn't have had nearly that much willpower. It made me pause. Maybe things weren't always as easy for him as it seemed. Strength of will is like any other kind. It helps to start out with a good frame, but (yellow sunlight aside) developing it to that level takes exercise.

He reached out, straining, and finally managed to get the ring. He stopped to rest, but not a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. Soon, he got the door open. He stumbled out, looking almost delirious. Quietly, Aymee and Karen moved in to support him. It was a risk, but he clearly needed it. By then, he was far gone enough that he didn't notice. If he did, he probably put it down to his imagination.

He wasn't strong enough yet to make it out of the room. Even with the kids helping him, he could barely stand. They helped him find a place to rest, away from the cage and out of sight. It seemed to help. Alan told us later that water is good at deflecting radiation. The wine inside the huge casks he was hiding behind had most likely shielded him from the worst of the Kryptonite's effects.

He was still recovering, too weak to escape, when Luthor burst into the room, looking to finish off his victim. Luthor grabbed an axe off the wall, then rushed down the stairs. If he found any of us, it would be a disaster. There was no time to worry about it, though. I took up a defensive position in front of the cask, ready to do whatever I had to.

He froze when he spotted the empty cage. The shock and disbelief on his face was quickly replaced by frustration, hatred, and, most of all, rage. He roared, then smashed the axe through a nearby barrel. I watched, tense, ready in case he decided to investigate further.

Suddenly, a noise came from upstairs. I wasn't sure what it was, but it startled Luthor out of his anger and sent him racing, panicked, out of the room.

Clark's sigh of relief covered my own. Soon, he tried to stand. Aymee and Karen moved in to help him again, but he managed on his own. They followed him closely as he made his way up the stairs. They kept twitching, starting to reach out to support him, then pulling back, knowing that they mustn't let him know they were there. They helped him a time or two anyway, holding their breath, hoping he wouldn't notice.

Once Clark and the girls were clear of the room, Dudley and I set about dismantling the cage. We took it out in pieces and brought them over to the Fortress to keep them out of the wrong hands until we figured out how to dispose of them.

Later, we found out what had happened. Perry, Jimmy, and Jack had managed to put together enough evidence to get a warrant for Luthor's arrest. The wedding had been stopped, and, in the end, Luthor had chosen to jump off the balcony rather than face the consequences.

Aymee and Karen had watched Clark leave the building. Much to their relief, he'd improved rapidly in the sunlight. He'd made his way into a nearby alleyway, then started to change clothes. Embarrassed, the girls had left him then, secure in the knowledge that he would survive. We never did find out where he'd kept his other clothes.

Lois and Clark took some time to recover from their respective ordeals, Perry found a backer willing to rebuild the Planet, and things returned to normal. Mostly. Jack decided that working at a newspaper, particularly one he'd been convicted of helping destroy, wasn't really for him. He also couldn't afford to wait until the reconstruction was finished before getting a new job. On the other hand, he clearly admired Clark and was reluctant to leave him. We were surprised to discover that Jack knew Clark was Superman. We talked about it, and, all things considered, decided to take him in. We'd seen his work, and he was obviously capable of keeping a secret. With us, he'd have a home, food, something to do, and the opportunity to help his hero from time to time. He was quick to take us up on the offer.

Things with Cat, however, were a little different. She'd felt like she was of little use to us in Metropolis. She'd hardly done anything for us in months. She told us she'd been thinking of moving since the Planet had been destroyed. She'd looked around, and had managed to get herself hired at the Washington Post. There was always plenty of gossip in DC, she told us, and she'd be in a good position to put her skills to use if we needed information about government activities.

One other person's life changed at that time, too. It was because of the newspaper Wells had left. We'd celebrated when we'd seen that the headline had changed, but, one night, I'd decided to read further. As I was doing so, something caught my eye. It was a little box at the bottom of the front page which I usually ignored. It contained the winning lotto numbers from the day before the paper had been published — a date which was still in the near future. I rushed out to buy a ticket.

Once I had the ticket in hand, though, I realized that it wouldn't do me much good. For one thing, Bobby's money already provided for me. For another, I'd been lying low, literally and figuratively, since joining the group. Winning the lottery would call attention to me, which was the last thing I wanted. But… I had a winning ticket in my hand. I couldn't just let it go to waste.

Then I remembered. There was someone I owed. Someone who had taken care of me when I needed it most. Someone who watched out for a lot of people. Someone who had provided critical information at the last second. If anyone deserved the ticket, it was Bibbo. So, I made my way down to the harbor. I told him I'd picked it up for him on a whim, as a thank-you. I'd just had a good feeling about the numbers, and figured maybe his lucky find on the information front deserved to be paid back. He took it smilingly, clearly not thinking anything would come of it but appreciating the gesture.

He was surprised by the win, and tried to split the money with me. I told him I'd have none of it. It was his ticket. He tried to press me, but I insisted. So he told me about his plans to open up a restaurant and bar. A good, safe place for the community with clean food and fair prices. Since it had come from luck, he was going to name it after a card. The Ace O' Clubs. I told him it sounded like a good idea, and that he'd need all the money to make it work. Reluctantly, he agreed. He thanked me. A lot. Then he left to go pursue his dreams. I went back to the sewers, smiling at having done something right.




Yeah, I know. That's a long span of time to cover in one entry. It's not like it wasn't a busy time, either. Thing is, while a lot happened, there isn't much I can specifically point to as being worth writing about. If you know Superman's history (and, if you're reading this, it's probably a safe assumption), you probably think big things were happening just about every week. But, you see, for the Shadows, things moved more slowly than that. The sort of things we faced, they take a lot of planning. Months. Maybe more. And, sure, we did other stuff, too, but do you really want to read about the kids sitting around with Alan, doing their homework (can't escape that, even in the sewers, it seems)? Or all the little cases? The muggings and the petty thieves and the purse snatchers? Oh, the purse snatchers. Dudley loved messing with them. Sticking his invisible foot out and tripping them up. And yeah, it was kind of funny sometimes to see their reactions, but really… you had to be there.

So, what did happen? Well, Jack moved in with us. That was good. It was nice to have someone else on the team with a less than perfect record. Someone who'd grown up on the streets. Sure, he was still a kid and he had a mouth on him, but, all things considered, I liked having him around.

And that's something else. Things started to feel different. I can't say how or when it happened, but I started to feel more like I belonged. Partly it was that we had newer people. Eugene and Cat were associates, but not really part of the group. Jack was a full member, but also the newest. It made me feel like less of an outsider. That was only part of it, though. The bigger part was that we got used to each other. We were very different people, but we lived together and worked together and hung around together. We were a family. It had taken me a while to accept it and to feel accepted, but there it was.

Speaking of changing relationships, Gina and I started spending time together outside of the few minutes here and there when I was picking up or dropping off her kids. We weren't dating or anything like that, but we were taking time to be together. We were… friends. It was a new thing for me. I mean, I'd had friends before, but they were all jocks. It was different with Gina. More… mature.

Then, there were the not-so-good changes. The bad guys. With Lex's death, a lot of things went into chaos. His whole empire crumbled. Bureau 39 quietly picked up a few pieces for itself. So quietly that even we barely saw it. They were being careful, and it felt good to us to at least be able to take credit for that much. Still, it was frustrating. We didn't know where they were or what they were up to. All we did know was that they'd recruited some of Luthor's top scientists, including the guy who'd cloned Superman. They'd also absorbed parts of the vast criminal organization Luthor had built. It wasn't much, not compared to what Intergang snapped up when they moved in, but it was enough to change them. They grew, and branched out. And they started calling themselves something new: Cadmus.

I guess I should mention a couple of other things that happened during that time. One of them was pretty much a routine job. Superman had stopped a villain with a sound weapon from… I don't know. Taking over the world or something. As usual (and as Wells had warned us), Superman had left the scene after he'd turned the bad guy over to the cops. He assumed they'd take care of the rest. For some reason, he didn't stop to wonder about what could happen if the wrong people got their hands on the deadly new machine. So, we took the liberty of claiming the thing for ourselves. Phillip and Alan were very impressed with its design, and quickly turned it into a force field projector to help defend the Fortress in case of emergency. They also started looking for ways we could use it in the field. That would take longer, though, both because they needed to understand it better and because they needed to find a way to use it without damaging the invisibility suits.

The other thing that happened is, in a way, something I already mentioned. Intergang moved in. They were a large criminal organization, but it seemed that Luthor had been keeping them out of Metropolis, which he'd claimed as his own territory. With him gone, all bets were off. They tried to get a toehold in the city by moving in on the South Side first. We'd been quietly slowing their progress, but hadn't been able to do much more than that. When it came down to it, they were a world-wide organization and we were just a handful of people with a few cameras and a couple of tricks.

One thing we did manage, though, was to help convince a cop to step forward. He was one of the few good cops left in the area, and he didn't like what he was seeing. Bobby helped nudge his conscience in the right direction and promised that there would be people who would look out for his family. Bobby also suggested the names of a pair of reporters whom he thought were trustworthy and effective. The cop, it turned out, had worked with Lois a couple of times before. He gave her what information he had, along with more that we'd gathered.

Around the same time, Intergang made a move against Superman. They targeted the people near him with some kind of new "smart bullets" they'd invented. They warned Superman that if he interfered with their operations on the South Side, one of his friends would die. We couldn't do anything about that, but Wells had told us to trust that Superman would be able to take care of this sort of thing himself. In the past, it had proven to be true, for the most part. What we could do, though, was step up our own activities in the South Side. If Superman wasn't going to be able to help the people of that neighborhood, we'd do everything we could for them.

Of course, Superman did find a way to pitch in. He disguised himself as a cop and single-handedly stopped a gang from burning down a restaurant. He may have also stepped in a few more times, but it was hard to be sure. Still, there were plenty of bad guys to go around, and we ended up doing a lot of good.

Ultimately, what made the biggest difference was the information. Lois and Clark put it to good use in a series of articles which got national attention. The situation in the South Side turned around almost faster than it seemed possible. Intergang went back underground, dirty cops cleaned up or got kicked off the force, and the city government saw a lot of changes, too.

I walked around the neighborhood, and I felt it for myself. People who had been scared to leave their homes at night were out walking freely. Gang graffiti was painted over or turned into murals. Everything seemed cleaner and brighter. It was a complete turnaround, and we had helped make it possible. We'd made these people's lives better, safer. Not just a few people, either. The whole South Side. We'd done some real good, and I realized… I liked that feeling.




I guess the next thing worth mentioning would be the pheromones… No, wait. That was after. The gangsters were first. This guy, Emil Hamilton, came up with a cloning technology which allowed him to bring gangsters back from the dead. He wanted to use them for some kind of experiments. Thought he could tinker with their genes and surgically remove the evil in them. Something like that. Anyway, we originally thought that it wouldn't have much to do with us, since Lois and Clark were clearly on the case. But then they ran into a dead end and decided to call on Bobby. Luckily, we'd at least kept an eye on the situation.

It was standard procedure for us to monitor Bobby's conversations with Lois and Clark. He'd have reported it to us anyway, but sometimes he needed a little extra info. So, we listened in and relayed whatever he needed through the comlink. Bobby's earpiece was specially designed to take Clark's abilities into account. Not only was it invisible, but it projected the sound in focused waves aimed directly at his ear drum. If Clark could even hear it, it would seem far away to him, and would hopefully be drowned out by the innumerable other conversations taking place within his considerable earshot.

Even so, we'd had some close calls. Times when he'd seemed to catch something, or when he stared directly at one of our cameras. We held our breath whenever something like that happened, but nothing ever really happened. He would shake his head or shrug or blink or something, clearly dismissing whatever he'd vaguely sensed. Gradually, he did it less and less often, the little noises and tells of the equipment surrounding him slowly being accepted as background noise.

This time, the meeting was in an ally. We were supposed to have a camera in position, but it wasn't functioning right. Luckily, we were prepared. Some time back, while Lois's Jeep had been in the shop, we'd taken advantage of the opportunity to do a little "custom work." Breaking in to the garage had been easy enough. Once there, we'd installed a well-hidden access panel in one of the back doors. We'd also planted a few bugs inside.

I should mention that we'd done the same in their apartments, for emergency use only. When we'd broken into Lois's place, we accidentally knocked the numbers off her front door. We made a mistake replacing them (in our rush, we put them on backwards), but somehow, she never noticed. It was amazing, really. Lois and Clark, two of the best reporters in the world, were surrounded by cameras (and little tell-tale mistakes) but they never seemed to notice or realize that they had an audience beyond the people who were visibly in the room with them. Odd folks.

We turned the Jeep cameras on shortly before Bobby was due to arrive on the scene. We normally kept the bugs offline, to give them privacy. We were there to help them and to protect them, not to spy on their every move. Once Eugene was on board, though, we did have him develop a program to quietly monitor the input for indications of an emergency.

When the view came up on the monitors, we saw that Lois and Clark were sitting in the front of the Jeep, keeping an eye out for their informant. There was a large bag of take-out in Clark's lap. "Mmm. That ravioli smells great," Lois said.

"Lois, it's for Bobby," Clark reminded her.

"Yeah, that's right, you sneak!" Karen said, shaking her finger accusingly at the monitor. Lois and Clark, of course, couldn't hear her, but it amused the kids to comment on the meetings.

"He won't know," Lois assured her partner.

"You wanna bet?" Dudley asked, smirking.

Clark gave Lois a look. "Oh yeah? Remember what happened that time you picked some of the cheese off his pizza? He got all pouty and wouldn't tell us anything…"

"Not that we knew much anyway, that time," Aymee put in defensively.

Lois shook her head. "I still don't know how he knew that cheese was missing. I was very careful not to disturb the pepperoni."

Karen stuck her tongue out. "Because Bobby has people looking out for him! That's how!"

Just then, Clark's beeper went off. "That's the office. I better call in," he said. He got out of the car, paused to wave an admonishing finger when he noticed Lois eyeing the bag he'd left on the seat, and went off to find a phone.

Lois watched him go, then made a grab for the ravioli.

"Bobby," Phillip called into the comlink, "I'm not sure if you're in position yet, but Lois is going for your food again."

Immediately, Bobby sat up. "Hey!" He called out, indignant.

Lois gasped and nearly jumped out of her seat. "Bobby, how did you get back there?"

"Trade secret," he replied.

"Oh, and she's hiding dessert," Phillip added.

"Trade secret, my butt!" Dudley said. "He used our secret door! He's not supposed to do that! What if they saw him? Or what if Clark decided to take a closer look?"

"We'll talk to him about it when he gets back," Aymee assured him.

"We talked to him about it last time," Karen complained. "He likes surprising them too much."

"What else can we do?" Aymee asked.

"Guys, quiet!" Phillip cut in. "I can't hear what's going on."

"… bring me?" Bobby was asking.

"A wide variety of culinary delights," Lois said almost resentfully. "As usual."

Bobby shot her a look. "Do I detect an attitude here? Uh-huh. Well, look. You know, I don't have to snitch for you anymore. There's a reporter at the Star who is going to give me my own chef if I start working for them."

"Yeah, right," Dudley remarked as Bobby started to chew a handful of breadsticks. "In your dreams."

Luckily, Clark returned before Lois could respond. "That was Jimmy," he told Lois. "You're not going to believe this. Al Capone just paid Perry a visit."

"How many of these characters are out there?"

"I don't know, but Capone tried to bribe him. Apparently, the mayor got the same offer." Clark turned to Bobby, who, predictably, had his mouth full. "Bobby, what do you know about all this? Who are these people?"

Bobby swallowed hastily. "Look," he said, licking his fingers clean, "all I know is it's an experiment gone bad."

Clark turned back to Lois. "Hamilton really did it."

"And this regenerated Capone character?" Bobby continued. "Not a real big fan of the no smoking laws."

"What else?" Lois asked expectantly.

"What else?" Bobby echoed, looking up from the sub he'd just taken out. "What? For this? You didn't even bring me dessert. Come on!" It wasn't just that we'd told him Lois was holding back. It was a code phrase, telling us that he needed some help.

Phillip had the file ready. He filled Bobby in while Clark persuaded a reluctant Lois to retrieve the last bag.

"What is with him and food?" I asked. "I mean, I know Wells set it up as a front, but how can he eat like that? Especially a skinny guy like him?" I'd been wondering about it for some time.

"Oh, you didn't know? Wells gave him some special pills from the future," Aymee answered. "Doctor Sam Lane's Abs In A Bottle," she intoned. "It speeds up his metabolism, I think. He can eat as much as he wants and never gain an ounce. He takes them before he goes to see Lois and Clark. Makes him really hungry, but keeps up the illusion."

"Whoa! Tortes," Bobby said when he got the information from Phillip and the bag of dessert from Lois. "Way to go, girl. You redeemed yourself."

"Now talk," Lois demanded.

"Look," Bobby said around a mouthful of pastry, "there's this guy. He's got this illegal gaming club. Downtown, on Hobb Street. His name is Georgie Hairdo. Capone's thugs have been leaning on him pretty hard."

"What's Capone's interest in the club?" Clark asked.

"Aw, come on," Bobby responded as if it was perfectly obvious (and as if he hadn't just been filled in on that very thing by Phillip). "He wants a piece of the action, just like the old days." Then he looked down, as if he'd forgotten something. "Oh, anybody want this pickle?"

Lois grabbed it, obviously thrilled to get some food back from the monster eating his way through the bag in the back seat.

Phillip, responding to the signal, confirmed that there was only one piece of information left to give.

"Look," Bobby told them, "something's going down at the club tonight. That's all I know. I gotta run." He started to leave, but then turned back. "Oh, and by the way, next time bring me something to drink, huh? And I don't mean none of that imported water. Something American." Then, he let himself out (using the correct door), and rushed away.

We closed down the cameras when Lois and Clark drove off a short while later, trusting that they'd manage, as they always had.

The next day, we were shocked to hear that Clark had supposedly been shot and killed. Still, we knew it wasn't our job to interfere. Sure, things could have gone differently, in any number of ways, but who knows what effect that would have had on their future? Our job was to make sure history unfolded the way it was supposed to — especially when it came to Lois and Clark — not to stick our noses into their lives every time we thought something was wrong.

We did, however, quietly help to cover up any questions people may have had about Clark's supposed return from the dead. In part, that meant talking to Hamilton and convincing him to go along with the story. We ended up recruiting him as an associate. Bobby helped set him up with a new lab in exchange for his help with scientific problems when we needed it.





It wasn't long after that when we got our next surprise. Clark's powers were accidentally transferred to a man who looked startlingly familiar. The details of the power transfer aren't important. Things worked out, as usual. The impact it had on us was the revelation that, by some unfathomable coincidence, the man who got the powers — the man who became known to the world as "Resplendent Man" — was, in fact, Alan's long-lost twin brother.

Unfortunately, William Wallace Webster Waldecker (now there's a mouthful of a name if I ever heard one) turned out to be very different from his brother. He didn't have nearly Alan's genius, nor his morals. We passed on recruiting him, but Bobby made sure that he and his sister, Wandamae, were well taken care of. Alan himself meant to meet them, but, perhaps not surprisingly, ended up spending the time in his lab. Alan was a nice enough guy, but he was no good with people.

That Christmas, we got our next clue to Cadmus's workings. A disgruntled toymaker by the name of Winslow Schott had come up with a substance which, when inhaled, caused people to act like greedy children. Lois and Clark took care of Schott, but we looked into the substance itself. It seemed to be more than you'd expect from a man who'd spent his life working in a toy factory, especially since it was able to affect Clark. It turned out to have been developed from a pheromone spray which had been created the year before. Luthor had gotten his hands on the formula, and when Cadmus had absorbed the remnants of LexLabs, they'd inherited it, too. They'd apparently been tinkering with it, hoping to turn it to their own purposes. They'd found Schott and sold a variant to him, using him as a dupe so they could have a field test. We still weren't sure what Cadmus was planning, but we made certain to collect a sample of Schott's spray for Hamilton to analyze.

Then, shortly after New Year's, something happened which was of interest to me. A robot appeared on the scene. He was home built by two brothers, Rollie and Emmett Vale. Rollie, one of the few LexLabs scientists who hadn't gone over to Cadmus, had somehow gotten his hands on a chunk of Kryptonite, without ever knowing what it was. Superman eventually managed to disable the robot, and Rollie, though we didn't know it at the time, took the Kryptonite back. We made sure Vale was caught and sent to prison, then salvaged the body of the robot. There'd been a human brain inside the thing, but it was long dead by the time we got to it. There was nothing we could do for him, but the robotic body gave Alan and Hamilton some new ideas for me.

Not long after that, we found out what Cadmus had been up to with the modified pheromones. It took us a little while to catch on to it, but we noticed that everyone around Clark was acting pretty strangely. The men, even the reasonable and intelligent ones, started to act more aggressively. They reverted to chauvinism, too. The women, for their part, became overly defensive and sensitive. Crazy things started to happen and no one was acting like themselves. Meantime, there was some kind of ninja going around stealing things. We trusted that Superman would deal with the ninja, but we were concerned about the way everyone was acting.

To make a long story short, it turned out that Cadmus had sprayed Superman with a new pheromone variant. We're not sure when, exactly. Probably during a disaster they set up. A fire or something. It not only changed his behavior, but also that of everyone around him. Some of them even seemed to develop hallucinations. The plan, it seemed, was to ruin Superman's reputation by changing his behavior. They might have also planned to blame him for affecting the people he associated with. Fortunately, we'll never know. Hamilton, having already analyzed Schott's version, was familiar with the basic formula. He was quickly able to make up an antidote. Thanks to the secret door in Lois's Jeep, we were able to administer it to Clark without his noticing.

The ninja turned out to be a woman named Lin Chow, who, watching her father, had secretly learned some very advanced martial arts. With her skills augmented by a pair of magical bracelets, she was a formidable fighter. We were quick to talk to her. She graciously declined our offer of membership, explaining that she needed to stay with her family and look out for the people of her neighborhood. She did, however, agree to help us when needed and to train me and the kids.




February… February… Oh, I've got a little story for you. I mean, it's nothing big. Kind of a "day in the life" thing, but maybe it's worth putting a few bits like that in. I was sitting in the living room one day when Bobby suddenly activated his comlink. "If it ain't the two lovebirds," he said. Aymee, at the monitors, nearly jumped out of her chair. Quickly, she looked up Bobby's location and activated the camera nearest him. Luckily, we'd thought to put a few here and there on the properties Bobby owned. He was working in the kitchen of one of his restaurants, it seemed. Upon seeing Lois and Clark, he'd instantly put on his act, dropping his manners and "sampling" food left and right. It was a good thing he owned the place, and a better thing that the food he was "working on" would never be put in front of actual customers. Bobby had warned the staff in case of just such an occasion.

"Did you tell him?" Lois demanded of Clark, in response to Bobby's question. We'd known about their date of course, but they'd been trying to keep it quiet.

Bobby assured them that he'd gotten the information from Clark's ticket broker. "He's a barracuda in the business, but a romantic at heart." He paused to "sample" another dish, then started talking again before they could respond. "So, you two excited?"

"Bobby," Clark said, "we didn't come here to talk about —"

Bobby cut him off. "I want you to know how happy I am for you, and that there are a lot of people out there who are really pulling for this to work out."

"What's he thinking?" Dudley demanded, coming into the room. "He can't tell them about us!"

"He's stalling," I told him. "They surprised him, and Aymee is still going through the database."

"What people?" Lois asked suspiciously.

"Couldn't he have found a better way to stall?"

"Give him a break, Dudley," I said. "He had to think on his feet. You sure you could have come up with better on such short notice?"

"What?" Bobby asked, responding to Lois. "You think it's a big secret that Clark here has been mooning over you?"

"I wouldn't say 'mooning,' exactly," Clark said defensively.

"Yeah? What would you call it, Clark?" Aymee said, chuckling. Then she activated her side of the comlink. The rest of us quieted down, so as not to provide too much extra noise or distraction. Bobby had enough to do, and every excess sound was another thing Clark might pick up. "Okay, Bobby. I've gone through the database. Reviewing recent newsroom recordings, it looks like they need to know about someone by the name of Ramin Tarbush. He was part of some kidnapping plan. We don't have an address for him. Looks like he lives out on the streets. But he goes regularly to the Union Street shelter for dinner."

"I love being in love," Bobby was saying. "I mean, there's no feeling like it in the whole world." He paused to take a big bite off another plate. "Except, maybe, a really full stomach… And I love the fact that we are pushing Pigs in a Blanket." He was babbling a bit, but it was hard to blame him considering that he was talking while getting vital information through a hidden earpiece.

He relayed the information to Lois and Clark, then took a swig out of a newly-opened quart of milk. "What happened to my manners?" he asked when he noticed their stares. He wiped the mouth of the bottle with his hand and made to pass it over to them. "Anybody thirsty?" Lois and Clark were quick to leave after that, and Bobby was happy to restore order to the kitchen.




If the last entry was routine business (even if it did later turn out to have involved Rollie Vale, Kryptonite, and the return of Lex Luthor from the dead), the events of this one were anything but.

It started out simply enough. Top Copy's Diana Stride came into town, looking to do a story on Superman. She put a radioactive tracer on him, which he easily eluded. Clearly, she was a "Lois and Clark" problem, so we stepped back and just kept an eye on things. Then we found out that she was a retired Intergang assassin, and that they were reactivating her. She was supposed to take out a snitch who was due to testify about Intergang, ruining some of their major operations. That made the situation a little more complicated. We wondered if we should get word to Lois and Clark.

That situation was resolved, though, when she struck at her target while Lois and Clark were in the area. Clark rescued the target and Lois found Diana's lucky necklace. The witness was sent to the hospital, but he was expected to recover. So, it looked like Lois and Clark would be able to handle things on their own, as usual.

Then Cadmus stepped in. They hired her to kill Superman, a job she was glad to take after he'd foiled her first strike. Cadmus's involvement made her our problem. Except that she was also a "Lois and Clark" problem, which meant that we weren't supposed to interfere.

Diana got Kryptonite through Intergang, but then Cadmus contacted her, saying they could do a better job with it. We didn't know what to do, or even what she was planning. The whole thing was a mess.

Of course, that's when Wells suddenly showed up to make things even more tricky. It seemed Diana was going to expose Clark's secret identity, which would throw off history entirely.

Cadmus used their experience in formulating liquid Kryptonite to put the small sample Diana had obtained into a more deadly form. She'd already had Intergang grind it into a paste, but Cadmus found ways to enhance its effects. When applied to Superman's skin, it would penetrate into his bloodstream, circulating through his body and poisoning him. Cadmus also gave her plans and frequencies for a better tracker, which she passed on to Intergang. The new tracker would use the enhanced Kryptonite itself as the radioactive tag.

She used it before we could find a way to stop her. But Lois came up with a way to burn it out of his system. For some odd reason, she thought Kryptonite poisoning could be treated like cancer, with radiation. That was, of course, completely off-base, but Clark was too sick to realize it. So, he walked into the reactor chamber of the local nuclear power plant. Which seemed incredibly stupid, even to me.

We were all stunned when it worked, but we later figured it out. The intense radiation of the reactor had torn through his body. His powers, in part fed by the radiation itself (some of which was similar to solar radiation), had healed him. The Kryptonite, however, had been ripped apart, broken down into more harmless substances. Then, when he'd walked back out of the reactor, his aura had somehow absorbed the excess radiation, allowing him to safely move around without irradiating everyone around him.

That, however, still left the problem of the exposed identity.

Wells ended up taking care of that himself, although he "bent" some rules doing it. "I, er… Went back in time," he explained.

"You did?" I asked. "But nothing seems different."

"Ah, yes," Wells replied, unconcerned. "It wouldn't. Yet. Rather than preventing the story from ever airing, I made it possible for Clark to cast it into doubt."

"How'd you swing that?"

"Well, you see, I secretly replaced Martha Kent's regular art teacher with… *ahem*"

"Folger's Crystals?" Inez piped up brightly.

"Er… no." Wells fidgeted some more, clearly having trouble making the admission. "With… a man from the future."

"Uh-huh," I said, not quite sure what to make of it.

"Yes. He's… sort of a policeman, if you will."

I frowned, confused. "And what is a policeman from the future supposed to do, posing as Martha Kent's art teacher?"

Wells beamed, clearly proud of himself. "He's going to introduce her to a new form of sculpture — advanced holography. She will then be able to use that holographic equipment to create a realistic image of Superman which can appear next to Clark."

"I see. So you got someone from the future to bring advanced equipment back in time and teach Martha Kent how to use it."

"That's right," he replied happily.

"And that's not interfering with history?"

He hesitated for a moment, but then rallied. "Uhm… Of course not. It's setting things back on the right track."

"And you had no trouble convincing this policeman to go along with it?"

"Of course not. I've worked with the Peacekeepers from the very beginnings of their organization!"

"I thought you first encountered them after you decided to take Tempus home as a souvenir," Dudley commented, joining the conversation.

"In my personal timeline, yes. But in their history, I've been there from the start."

"The wonders of time travel," Phillip said, shaking his head.

"Exactly!" Wells replied, grinning.

We all took a moment to digest it.

"Incidentally," Wells said, breaking the silence, "I don't know if I should be asking this, but curiosity has gotten the better of me. Do any of you happen to know anyone who goes by the name 'Hawk Master'?"

We looked around, confused, before agreeing that none of us had ever heard of anyone who used a name anything like that. Wells was reluctant to tell us more, but eventually admitted that he'd been browsing the Peacekeeper's archives, looking for information about us. According to history, a mysterious new recruit by the name of "Hawk Master" would one day help us complete our most critical mission. No one, it seemed, knew anything more than that.

We assured Wells that we couldn't satisfy his curiosity. Embarrassed at having revealed as much as he had, he left soon after. We shook our heads and got back to work.

Except… between Lois, Superman, and Wells, the entire mess had cleaned itself up without our having to do anything. Diana Stride had been captured, the witness was safe, Clark had recovered from the Kryptonite, and Wells had provided him with the means to protect his identity. It had been a confusing and worrying time, but everything had worked out, more or less. I almost wished that all our cases could go like that. Almost.




We spent the next few weeks cleaning up after the Diana Stride case. Looking for the lab that had made the enhanced formula lipstick, trying to find out where the Kryptonite had come from, and working to find Cadmus's new headquarters. So, when Kyle Griffin broke out of jail, we were less than concerned. With everything we were doing, some guy pulling pranks hardly seemed like a priority.

We'd already disposed of the lipstick itself, shortly after Diana's arrest. Tracking down the lab wasn't too bad, since we'd already had some clues from watching Diana. With Jack and Lin to help us, breaking in was almost easy. We copied what information we could from their computers, then destroyed everything, starting with the physical notes on Kryptonite.

Eugene cracked the encryption on the copied data for us. Sifting through it, we got some information about Cadmus HQ, but nothing on where the Kryptonite had come from. That wasn't too surprising, since Intergang had been the ones to obtain it, but, knowing that Cadmus had managed to get Kryptonite before, we'd been hoping to find something.

We'd hit a dead end when Cat called to tell us about a black market auction. It was a semi-regular thing, it seemed, where dangerous and exclusive items could be obtained. The organizers would only accept bidders and sellers known to them. Cat had heard about it through one of the military contacts she'd managed to cultivate in DC. Colonel Cash had been looking into it because he saw Superman as a potential threat.

He wasn't like Trask. He didn't think Superman was a spy or part of some conspiracy. He was, however, very concerned about the power Superman had, and what might happen if it got out of control. He wanted to be ready for the worst. So, he'd been keeping an ear out for anything — legal or otherwise — that could possibly be of use. He'd found the auction, but had been unable to get in. It especially frustrated him because this time, there was a chunk of Kryptonite going up for sale.

We were discussing possible plans when Bobby activated his comlink. Lois had called him, looking for information on the Prankster. We had nothing, and told him so. Jack volunteered to look into it while the rest of us continued on our various projects.

When Lois found out that Bobby had come to their meeting empty-handed, she tried to reclaim his pay. She actually grabbed the sandwich out of his hands. After a struggle, Bobby managed to get it back, telling her to consider it as feeding him "on spec." I'm not sure what happened during the rest of the meeting, except that I heard Bobby mention to Lois that Hamilton had a new lab. I wasn't really paying too much attention to the monitors. Watching Lois and Clark was entertaining, but sometimes there are more important things in life.

I went to the auction with a briefcase full of Bobby's money. The guards, of course, stopped me. I told them truthfully that I was representing a bidder who wished to remain anonymous. Predictably, they weren't happy with that answer. All three of them moved in on me. I grabbed one with my right hand and slowly but easily lifted him over my head. That gave them pause. I gently lowered the guard back to the ground, then stepped back.

"How did you do that?" he asked.

I opened one of the panels on my arm, giving him a brief glance at the mechanical workings inside. "You ever heard of Rollie Vale?"

"Ain't he the guy who got busted out of the joint a coupla weeks back?" the second one asked.

"Yeah," said the one next to him, "but what's that gotta do with anything?"

The guard I'd lifted put a hand to his shirt, where I'd grabbed him. "He was in there because he built some kind of robot, wasn't he?"

"I heard he built himself a robot arm, too."

The first one looked suspiciously at my briefcase. "But he had to do it out of spare parts because he didn't have money for better."

"You guys know who busted him out?" the third guard asked, rejoining the conversation.

"It was Luthor, wa'innit?"

"Luthor's in jail now."

"So? He's still *Luthor*."

They looked at each other, then back at me. I said nothing.

"Okay, g'wan in."

"Thank you."

The auction room was sparsely decorated. There was little more than a few rows of chairs facing a podium. The room, though, was filled with a who's who of the criminal community. I recognized agents of Cadmus and Intergang among others, and was very glad that I knew them from having seen them on the monitors rather than in person. There was also a couple who seemed out of place. We later identified them as Tim and Amber Lake, who were known to enjoy collecting unusual items. They'd already snatched up a good deal of Lex Luthor's personal collection. We assumed they wanted the Kryptonite purely for its rarity.

Between Cadmus, Intergang, and the Lakes, the bidding quickly escalated past what I had. I sighed. I hadn't really expected that it would be that easy, but I'd been hoping. I took out a device Alan and Hamilton had designed, based on the sonic technology we'd picked up a few months previously. The thing looked like an ordinary cell phone (and we were fortunate that cell phones were so big back then), but it was capable of much more.

I pointed the "antenna" at the Kryptonite on the auction block and pressed a button. The Kryptonite shook a little, but that was about it. Alan had warned me that the frequency might not be exact. I didn't understand it all, but he and Hamilton had made some guesses based on the research we'd stolen from Cadmus. There was a range of possible frequencies, and to make it easier on me, they'd set the device to start at the low end. I moved a dial with my thumb, slowly moving along the range. The Kryptonite started to hum. I nudged the dial a little further. The crystal shattered. Tiny shards exploded outward from the podium, and glittered as they fell to the floor in an emerald cloud. (Heh. I'm getting poetic in my old age.)

The sound of gasps and curses filled the room. People started looking around wildly, trying to figure out what had happened. Then, suddenly, there were sirens. The crowd panicked. I ran with them out the back door. Everyone scattered. I waited until I was safely underground, then signaled Phillip to let him know he could shut the speakers off. The sirens trailed off, as if moving away. We'd considered actually calling the police, but realized that we wouldn't be able to rely on their timing and that, even if they caught anyone at the auction, they'd have no proof of any criminal activity.

So, we'd taken a piece of Kryptonite out of the picture, found some new faces to keep an eye on, and were in a better position to find other auctions in the future. We'd also given the people who'd organized and attended the auction something to be nervous about. We wouldn't be able to pull the same trick again, but still… Not a bad night's work.

Back at the Fortress, I learned that Jack had found the Prankster. Using skills he'd learned from Jimmy, he had learned that Griffin's childhood home had been condemned and abandoned. It wasn't hard to check and find out that he actually had returned to use it as his new base. Bobby passed the information along the next morning, and Griffin was captured that afternoon. We collected the device he'd been using to cause temporary paralysis. Hamilton, working for Lois and Clark, had already come up with a set of contact lenses which would block the device's effects. Lois and Clark had even been good enough to test them for us. We weren't sure what we'd do with it, but we knew it would be useful some day.




The rest of the year was pretty much more of the same. We picked up another recruit, or at least set the foundations to do so. Sarah Goodwin was a psychology student who, along with Jimmy Olsen and several others, had been the subject of a military experiment. Lois and Clark took care of that situation, but we realized she could be useful to us. We quietly encouraged her to pursue criminal psychology. Years later, with proper training and some experience, she joined up, providing analysis and insights.

There was also a case with a mind-altering drug Intergang had developed, but, for once, someone else cleaned up the mess. We did look into the case, since Lois had asked Bobby to check it out. Cat, looking into the Washington end of things, came across the cover story of the DEA agent in charge of the case. Not knowing any better, she told us that he was an FDA official. We knew better, but only because we'd seen him with Lois and Clark. We talked about it, and decided that Bobby should alert Lois to the cover story without letting on that he knew any better. So, he told her only that he'd heard Agent Scardino was with the FDA. Lois put the rest together on her own.

The DEA, led by Scardino, did manage to take care of the drug. They arrested those who were directly responsible and took their research. Unfortunately, they weren't able to get to Intergang, the organization behind the company which had developed the drug.

In the meantime, Cadmus had been up to something new. They armed one of their more attractive agents with pheromones and sent her to become Bill Church's nurse. Soon, he was hopelessly in love with her, and she pretended to return his feelings. She convinced him to go straight. Presumably having gotten the idea from vague glimpses of the Shadows, she even encouraged him to turn Intergang's criminal network into "The Church Group," a vigilante peacekeeping force.

It did confuse us when someone in the organization hired an explosives expert, but we couldn't connect that to anything else that was happening. Fortunately, Lois called Bobby about it, so we knew that side of things would get taken care of. Still… we weren't sure what was going on in the bigger picture. It seemed like Cadmus was trying to shut down Intergang in order to get rid of the competition. We weren't about to object. We learned too late that we'd been wrong. Mindy wasn't there to shut Intergang down. She was there to take it over.

With Cadmus's help, she neatly managed to get both Bill and his son arrested, then convinced Intergang's board to accept her as their new leader. She quietly toned down their criminal activities, and began directing them more and more towards Cadmus's original goal — getting rid of Superman.

In the aftermath of that, we realized that some of the Church Group members were genuinely good people with useful skills. Most of them had been nothing more than mercenaries, of course, but some had joined up because they wanted to make a difference. We carefully screened them, and secretly hired a handful to keep up the work.

We agreed that it wouldn't be right to keep using the name "The Church Group," but we weren't sure what else to call them. Alan came up with "The Baker Street Irregulars." He said it wasn't quite right, but that he liked it anyway. None of us had anything better, so we agreed. I took to calling them "The Bakers" for short, and that caught on.

The Bakers were kept completely separate from the Shadows, but it was still good to have a few extra hands doing the work. We even passed them a few assignments here and there (through their mysterious employer), mostly when we found ourselves tied up with something else.

Things were happening in my personal life, too. Gina and I had started casually dating that winter. Gradually, things had begun to get more serious between us. Then I watched Clark propose to Lois. He hadn't told her about Superman. As everyone knows by now, she figured it out for herself. That lack of trust really hurt their relationship. I thought about that. Then I talked to the group. A few nights later, instead of bringing Aymee and Inez to Gina, I brought Gina down to the Fortress.

We had a long talk. It wasn't easy for any of us. I had to risk losing Gina. Aymee and Inez had to sit through their mother's reaction to finding out what they'd really been up to. Gina, of course, had the worst of it. She had to deal with the shock of learning about her kids, about me, and about the group as a whole. She didn't take the time travel aspect of it any better than I had. Understandably, she wasn't too happy about her kids had been exposed to.

When she started to get used to the idea, however, she was very proud of what they'd helped accomplish. Seeing that they had a home and people who cared about them helped, too. So did knowing that they'd been kept safe for well over a year. Knowing that her kids had helped save Superman's life certainly didn't hurt, either.

She left that night, needing to get the kids to bed, saying that she wanted some time to digest everything. Given our crazy world, it was only reasonable. We knew, though, that we could trust her not to tell anyone. She had a good heart, and more, her own kids were involved. Letting the word out would only put them in danger, which was the last thing she wanted to do.

Aymee and Inez weren't allowed down the next day. We were disappointed, but not surprised. Bobby offered to get a regular babysitter to keep an eye on them, but Gina preferred to find her own.

I didn't see much of Gina for a while after that. I was tempted to keep an eye on her with the cameras, just to see her, to make sure she was okay, but I knew it was wrong. So, I did the hardest thing I've ever done. I waited.

To keep busy, I threw myself into the work. It was just as well, since it was about that time that Lois and Clark went on vacation to some exclusive island resort. That meant no Superman, especially since Lois made Clark agree to just be "ordinary" while they were gone. That left a lot more for us to do. He wasn't gone long enough for anyone to notice, but every situation he wasn't there to handle was one more for us to try to take on.




It was almost a week before Gina came back down with the kids. When she did, it made up for everything. Aymee and Inez rushed around, greeting everyone happily. After celebrating their reunion with the group, they rushed over to the lab. Apparently, they'd missed being invisible as much as anything. I have to admit, I barely noticed them. My eyes were only for Gina. (Come to think, that's not really saying too much, considering how quick her kids were to become invisible again. Still, you know what I mean.)

She stood there, shyly, waiting at the door to the Fortress.

I walked up to her. I paused, realizing I had no idea what to do next. "Hi," I said with a nervous smile on my face.

"Hi," she said, smiling back. That was a good sign.

I fidgeted awkwardly. Idly, I wondered if this was how Wells felt all the time. "I missed you," a voice said. After a moment, I realized the voice had been mine.

"I missed you, too."

The next thing I knew, she was in my arms. Looking back on things, it seems like a scene I've watched a hundred times in movies and TV shows. Living it, though, it just felt *right*.

We talked, later. And hugged some more, of course. As much as we felt comfortable in front of the kids. When she left that night, I knew things were going to be okay.

After that, I started to keep my eyes out for something. Bobby would have helped me, I'm sure, but I wanted to do it myself. A couple of weeks later, it came to me. Lois and Clark had gotten tangled up with this guy. He was trying to claim the power of the ancient druids for his own purposes. Another nutcase looking to take over the world. Clark stopped him, of course, but left us to clean up. It wasn't too bad that time, but we did end up with a few shards from a cracked emerald. One which experience had shown me was genuinely magical. (Yes, I know. I had a hard time with magic, too, but if you can accept a flying alien and a time travelling writer, magic isn't so bad.)

We returned the larger pieces of the emeralds to their rightful places, of course, but didn't want to risk them becoming whole again. So we kept a few of the shards. I was worried that they might be evil, or at least bad luck, but Phillip assured me that the druids hadn't been nearly as evil as their reputation had suggested. Clearly, Patrick had been, but the ancient druids had, Phillip explained, suffered a fate common to the priests of conquered people. The victors had demonized them, telling stories of horrors and atrocities, in an effort to stamp out the last of their religion. The real druids had been protectors. They'd also been keepers of knowledge (sometimes secret), which they'd used for the good of their people. That sounded apt to me.

I took a shard to Alan, and had him mount it on a piece of metal from my right arm — a gear which had been due for replacement, but more importantly, a true part of myself. Alan smoothed out the gear and secured the stone. I hadn't done it all myself, but it felt better than just taking money from the boss.

I presented the ring to Gina a few days later. She cried a little when she saw it, which only made my nervousness worse. Then she said the most important thing she's ever told me. "Yes."




We decided to have an engagement period a few months long. We didn't need time to plan a big wedding, but we did need to get some things settled first.

As it turned out, the one we were most worried about was the easiest. Aymee and Inez were thrilled by the news. Inez even asked us what had taken so long.

Other matters turned out to be trickier. Where we were going to live, for one. Gina, understandably, didn't want to move down to the sewers, but I wasn't too sure about moving away from the group and the Fortress. Gina pointed out that the "commute" wouldn't be too bad, and I did have a comlink in case of emergency. I'd still take a night watch every once in a while, too.

After that, we had to find someone to perform the ceremony. Someone who wouldn't ask too many questions of me. Someone we liked and could trust. That was tougher than we expected. Then I remembered something. Bibbo had used some of the lottery money to buy a ship for himself. Having spent so much time on or near the water, it was only natural. I figured that made him a captain. If we went out to sea with him, he could marry us. We didn't really have that many people to invite — neither of us had many friends, or much in the way of family — and getting married out on the water sounded pretty good.

I mentioned it to Bibbo, but he explained that the whole "captains can perform legal marriages" thing was a myth. I was disappointed until he told me that he might be able to do it anyway. A friend of his in a similar situation had gotten a special temporary license from the city, allowing him to perform a wedding on a specific day. Bibbo said he'd look into doing the same.

In the meantime, the Shadows had a few things to clean up. We took down a machine capable of generating storms and gave it to Hamilton to play with. Eventually, he used them to create the prototype stations for the global weather control system we have today. That took years, though. It was a much better use than its original designer had intended, or than Cadmus would no doubt have put it to.

A few weeks later, Lex Luthor's son showed up out of nowhere. He ended up nowhere, too. Somehow, he got trapped inside a computer and then set loose on the budding network known as the Internet. (You know, it sounds strange to write it, but at the time, it seemed almost run-of-the-mill. With all the things we saw back in those days, I don't think anything could have seemed odd or far-fetched.) Jaxon (or, as he preferred to be known, X) had even worked his way into the Daily Planet systems. Eugene, working with Phillip, had to work overtime on that one, but they finally managed to trap "X" in a simulation. Then, just to be safe, they'd isolated that computer, making sure it would never communicate with any other devices. Unplugging it would have been tantamount to murder, so they left it running in a quiet little corner.

Then we found out what the Lakes had been up to, but luckily Lois and Clark took care of that one for themselves. We had been working on it, but Clark, not surprisingly, was faster than we were.

Let me see… what was next? Oh, right. The thing with Clark's ship. Cadmus came up with this idea that they could use germs from Clark's ship to infect him. They gave the ship to Mindy so she could have Intergang's labs do the work. Phillip thought they were wasting their time. Between the cold of space and the heat of going through the atmosphere, nothing should have survived on the outside of the ship. Clark would, most likely, have been exposed to anything on the inside, either as a baby or when he'd encountered the ship in Bureau 39's warehouse.

Unfortunately, Phillip had missed two important things. First, the germs had left DNA (or whatever the Kryptonian equivalent of DNA is) on the ship, and Mindy was able to find someone who could work with that. Second, the things were Kryptonian, and they'd responded to yellow sunlight just as well as Clark.

Fortunately, it turned out fine. Lois's father, called in on the case, had done the perfect thing. He'd used Kryptonite. His theory was to take Clark to the brink of death, so as to starve the germs. Whether it was because of that or the germs themselves being even more vulnerable to Kryptonite than Clark (being smaller and weaker creatures than a full-sized person), it worked.

Even so, we knew we had to prevent it from happening again. We needed to get the ship back. We knew that was going to be hard to pull off. The ship was large, and closely guarded. Worse, Cadmus had recruited Dr. Henry Leit about a year previously. Leit was a brilliant scientist who specialized in light. He'd managed to temporarily blind Superman. Setting up UV sensors to look around for any invisible people or objects was a simple matter for him. With his help, Cadmus had already gotten most of the cameras and bugs we'd set up to keep track of them (luckily, they hadn't been too concerned with finding our other ones around the city). We'd switched to more long-range (and somewhat less reliable) techniques for surveillance, but breaking in was another matter.

We thought of calling Clark (eventually), but realized he was still recovering from his ordeal. So, to do the job, we called in Lin Chow. She had the skills and experience to break into the facility, and her magical bracelets gave her superhuman strength and abilities. I went along to help, armed with a sonic stunner, another useful little thing Alan and Hamilton had developed from the Wall of Sound technology. I had one based on the Prankster's equipment, too, but the flash of light it made was too noticeable for most situations.

Lin went in first, stealthily. Ten minutes later, she appeared behind me, tapped me on the shoulder (almost making me jump out of my skin), and waved me in. She'd taken care of the guards and the cameras.

Even with the local security taken care of, we knew that we wouldn't have long before reinforcements showed up. We worked quickly. I was just able to lift the ship. Barely. If not for the enhancements Alan had made over the years, I wouldn't have been able to do it. Lin moved in and rapidly but smoothly and slid a dolly underneath it. We hurried out the door. We'd gotten around the corner and a little ways down a nearby alley when Lin stopped me. She signaled that she'd heard something from around the corner. Reinforcements had arrived. We hid in the darkness.

The troops, wearing goggles capable of detecting infrared and ultraviolet light, spread out to check the building and the surrounding area. One pair, working together, came down the street towards me, looking intently at every possible hiding place. I held my breath and readied my stunner. They came closer. Closer still. In another moment or two, they would be sure to spot me. I took careful aim, hoping that I'd be able to get them both before either one had a chance to report back to the others.

One of them fell to the ground, crumpling quietly into an immobile heap. At one point, I would have frozen, startled. By then, however, I'd had enough experience to know better. Not questioning my luck, I aimed and took out the other one. He fell next to his partner. Lin (whom I could have sworn had never left my side) stepped out of the shadows and over the two stunned bodies.

We'd bought ourselves a little more time. With any luck, we'd have at least a few minutes before the others noticed that a pair of soldiers hadn't checked in. That was good, but our options were limited. I couldn't move the ship without the dolly, but its wheels were too loud. The noise would bring the rest of the troops down on us in moments. A distraction might help, but I didn't want to risk leaving the ship.

A gunshot echoed through the streets. It sounded like it had come from a few blocks away, on the far side of the warehouse. "That should get you guys a little extra time," Phillip whispered into my comlink. "Now *move*!"

Lin tapped her ear. Phillip had spoken to her, too. She moved to the front of the ship, moved her arms through a series of flowing gestures which suggested she was preparing herself for something, put her hands under the nose of the ship, then looked up to me. I raised my eyebrows, but the meaning was clear. I went to the back of the ship, got a grip, and looked back at her. She nodded once. Together, we lifted the ship clear of the dolly.

It was a difficult load for me, and must have been for Lin, too, but somehow she managed to move gracefully. Luckily, we didn't have too far to go. Just down the alley was an open manhole cover. Carefully, we set the ship down beside it. There was no way the hole was big enough to fit the ship, of course, but that wasn't the plan. I reached down inside to get a heavy and cumbersome case we'd stashed below. Carrying it with us would have been too much of a hindrance, and we wouldn't have had enough time to set up the contents anyway. The kids could perhaps have helped, but the mission was too risky for them.

Together, Lin and I unpacked several interconnected bits of equipment from the case and attached them to the bottom of the ship, underneath its rounded hull. Crossing my fingers for luck, I pressed a button. The ship rose, smoothly and quietly, lofted by a force field made of controlled sound waves. It had become a stealthy hovercraft.

Suddenly, Phillip was speaking into my ear again. "Guys, I didn't want to interrupt you while you were working, but the distraction is over, and they've noticed their missing friends. You don't have much time before they come your way."

"I will keep them busy," Lin whispered to me. "You go."

It was as good a plan as any. I nodded.

She vanished.

I pushed the ship. It moved, sliding easily on a bubble of hard sound. I maneuvered it along a prearranged route, down darkened streets and forgotten alleys.

There were more gunshots behind me. I tensed, wondering about Lin.

"Take it easy," Phillip told me. "She has them good and confused. They're not aiming anywhere near her. She's fine."

I blew out a breath I hadn't quite realized I'd been holding, then started moving again.

I'm not sure how long it took me, moving through the darkness and the eerie quiet and trying not to jump at every little disturbance, before I made it to our chosen hiding space. It was an abandoned construction site. There had been some kind of trouble with the building that was supposed to have occupied the lot (or maybe it was with the company that was trying to build it, I'm not sure), and Bobby had managed to buy the land cheaply through a company he secretly owned. It looked quiet and unused, but it was filled with security equipment. Cameras and other sensors kept track of everyone who came within a block of the lot. Holographic projectors backed with speakers were ready to create a wide range of illusions to deter any casual visitors. Force fields, stunners, immobilizing goo, and a variety of other traps awaited anyone more determined.

I stashed the ship inside what looked to be an ordinary mound of construction dirt, but which actually contained a hollow reinforced steel shell heavy enough that I could barely lift it. That was partly due to the layer of lead which formed the outline of Superman's S shield across the top of the shell underneath the dirt. After I got the ship inside, I closed the shell and locked it into place. Doing so activated yet more security measures, including a device which would send a heavy electric current through the shell if it was moved without authorization. When Phillip reported that all the lights were green, I smoothed out the dirt near the opening, then made my way to a sewer entrance hidden in the back corner of the lot. Once underground, I breathed a sigh of relief. It hadn't been easy, but we'd done it.

Unfortunately, we'd tipped our hand with Lin. They'd be more ready for her next time. Still, it had been worth it. There was no way we wanted to let any other bad guys get their hands on that ship.

Of course, that still left us with the question of what to do with it. Clearly, it belonged to Clark, but how could we contact him?

We considered doing what we always did when we needed to channel information to the outside world — using Bobby. It seemed risky, though. We didn't want to connect him with us or any mysterious business. Instead, we sent Dudley to break into the Planet's mailroom, where he dropped off an anonymous envelope addressed to Clark.

Inside the envelope was a note and another sealed envelope. The note asked Clark to pass the envelope along to Superman without opening it himself. We thought it was better not to admit that we knew his secret, and the kids were amused by the instructions, which would be very difficult for Clark to follow truthfully.

Inside the second envelope was another note.

*Dear Superman,

We have your old globe stand. We're holding it for you. If you want it, look for the sign near the bay that only you can see. Landing nearby will alert us. Alarms will be deactivated and a console will appear when we're reasonably sure it's you. Your password can be found in microprint somewhere on this note, and it must be entered within one second. Sorry for the runaround, but hopefully you understand the need for caution.

Your landing may attract notice to the area. Please be prepared to take the item with you the first time you enter the site. We don't want to risk it falling into the wrong hands again.

Some Friends*

We figured the lead shield would be obvious enough on an x-ray sweep of the area, but hard for anyone else to see. We were right. We saw him fly out over the neighborhood, then pause, looking intently at the ship. He landed a few blocks away, hiding in the shadows, then stared at it through the (unleaded) side panels of the shell. Then he checked the rest of the site. We weren't sure what he was looking for, but there was no Kryptonite anywhere in the area, and, despite the security, nothing which could prevent *him* from zipping through, smashing his way in, and zooming off with the ship. After a while, he nodded, then flew off. Apparently, he was satisfied the ship was real and secure, but not ready to claim it. We didn't like having to reveal so much of ourselves, but we were honored by his implied trust and approval.




MAY, 1996

We had a bit of a scare in early January. Actually, two. The first was when Lois and Clark got mixed up with a bunch of spies. It turned out that Jimmy's father was actually a secret agent, a fact which we filed away in case we ever needed it. The scare came when some people decided to try to spy on Lois and Clark… and Clark noticed. He cleaned out the bugs at the Planet, in his apartment, and in Lois's apartment. He even got a few of our older ones.

Luckily, we'd gradually upgraded our equipment over the years, sometimes specifically because of Clark. He didn't catch our more recent plants. Still, we were all on edge for a while. Gradually, it became clear that he'd assumed all the bugs had been planted by the same people, and that there were no more. At least, we were pretty sure that was how he saw things. That didn't stop us from walking around on super-thin eggshells for the next week or two, though.

Somewhere in there, we got a jolt from an entirely different direction. Lois and Clark had gotten engaged in November, about a month after Gina and me. After talking to Bibbo, the Shadows, and a couple of others, we'd picked the weekend before Valentine's Day for the wedding date. It was as quiet as any other time of the year, and it seemed romantic. After Lois and Clark got engaged, they took a while before they even started looking into dates. They had a lot of friends and relatives to consider, too, and a lot of planning. With our relatively short engagement, we figured we'd be fine.

We were shocked when we found out that Lois and Clark had chosen the same day! It was too late to change things. Bibbo had already gotten his license from the city, and changing the date on it would be a huge hassle. We didn't know what to do. We knew we wouldn't be invited to the wedding, of course, but we'd kind of wanted to be there in spirit (and maybe electronically, though there was some discussion about the morality of that). We were also worried, given Lois and Clark's collective track record, that something would go wrong.

When things got close to The Week, we went into high gear. Or, as much as we could with the President scheduled to come into town. We made sure that things were so quiet that even Superman noticed. Our software tripped when it heard Lois calling Clark in a panic. It turned out to be nothing more than a case of pre-wedding jitters (which I certainly could sympathize with), but, before we turned the microphones off, we heard Clark assure Lois that there wasn't a villain in sight.

There had been something the week before about Lois disappearing, but even Clark admitted that it was only for ten seconds. We weren't sure what the big deal was, but with so much else going on (including our own wedding preparations), we decided not to worry about it.

Faster than I'd thought possible, The Day came. It was beautiful. The whole week had been unseasonably warm. Possibly due to Hamilton's work with Smiley's weather control device. We were never sure. In any case, we went out into the harbor on a bright clear day. The city stretched around us in all directions. Light glistened off the waves. We stood, surrounded by our closest friends, and exchanged simple but heartfelt vows. It was probably the best day of my life.

It wasn't until much later, after my honeymoon, that I found out what had happened to Lois that day. Replaced by a clone. Only Lois. And, apparently, the President of the United States, but Lois and Clark had taken care of that. The rest of the Shadows, trying to give Lois and Clark their privacy, didn't find out for another day or two. Gina and I were in blissful ignorance at the Lexor Hotel, where Bobby had paid for a suite for us. I wasn't far in case they needed me, but they decided to leave me out of it. In fact, they checked the encoded database Wells had left and found out that history was going according to plan. It was probably a relief to them, in a way, but it also meant that they had to sit back and watch with a minimum of interference.

At least the situation did finally take care of itself, even if it did involve a surprising number of detours along the way. Lois even showed up at Bibbo's place, The Ace o' Clubs. It was when we'd all lost track of her, when she thought she was Wanda Detroit. Bibbo took good care of her, but it made me wish we'd told him at least something about Lois and Clark along the way. He had no way to recognize her and no way to know that whatever "Wanda" had told him, *Clark* was the good one.

That whole period was a confusing mess. Phillip checked several times to make sure that things were going according to history, and still couldn't quite believe it. The Shadows did step in to make sure that Cadmus didn't get their hands on Doctor Mendenhall, a scientist who had been brainwashing hypnotherapy patients into becoming unwitting assassins, but otherwise, it was pretty much hands-off.

Things even stayed quiet for us for a while. We picked up a shrink formula, figuring it might be useful some day. Did a bit of clean-up work here and there. No big deal.

And then… aliens invaded.




We heard about it first through the bugs in Clark's apartment. The software tripped when it noticed that Clark seemed to be in trouble. A shot from a camera hidden across the street showed him to be facing off with a man who had trapped himself inside a Kryptonite force field. That was new technology, even to us. The man threatened to shoot himself. We wondered why Clark didn't use his heat vision. Then again, there was no telling if it would have penetrated the force field.

Clark managed to disarm the man, but only by flying through the barrier. He almost didn't make it. We watched as the man and a woman we vaguely recognized from the Planet newsroom flew away, leaving Clark unconscious but breathing shallowly.

We watched closely as he recovered. Then, later that night, he got some kind of telepathic message from the woman, and went off to meet her. When he came back, he explained the situation to Lois. We listened avidly. I'm sure you already know the story. Zara. Ching. Visitors from "New Krypton." On Earth to claim Clark (or, as they called him, Kal-El) so he could help them avert (or was it start?) a civil war. Oh yeah, and, as part of the whole deal, Zara needed Clark to accept their crib-side betrothal.

Zara, to prove her claims, asked Clark for his ship. He told her that he knew where to get it, then flew out to the construction site. He'd flown out to check on it several times before, but had never landed anywhere close enough to attract notice. We were a bit surprised at first, but given the mess with the wedding (and I don't think any of us wants to dwell on that) and the fact that it had been so easily stolen from its previous hiding place, it made sense that he hadn't had time to find a secure place to put it.

He retrieved the ship, having remembered our instructions perfectly, and brought it back to Zara that night. You probably know what happened after that. There was a message hidden in the ship, activated by the presence of both Clark and Zara. The message helped convince him of Zara's story, and it wasn't long after that when he left the planet.

He gave a good speech before he left, imploring everyone to be heroes in his absence. It helped quite a bit, but we still had a little more work to do than usual in keeping the streets safe. At least it helped us deal with the shock of his departure. We'd known it was coming, but the moment still had plenty of impact.

Even more of a shock was finding out that the guy he'd gone chasing off into space to find had instead come to Earth. Lord Nor, as he called himself, quickly took over Smallville, Kansas. We hoped no one would realize the significance of the fact that he'd chosen Clark's home town or the fact that it was the same town which had seen the end of Jason Trask and his quest for Superman. We were very surprised when Hamilton actually came up with something to help prevent that very thing.

It seemed he'd been working with The Prankster's immobilization flash, Dr. Neal Faraday's visual learning device (an object in the shape of a pen designed to implant knowledge into the brain by means of a beam of light shined into the eyes), and something called a Vibro Whammy (it used an electric signal to make people vulnerable to suggestion) created by Herkimer Johnson, brother of the infamous Bad Brain Johnson. Superman had destroyed the prototypes of two of the three, but we'd collected the original notes, which were thankfully detailed in both cases. Of course, that only helped so much. There were, according to Hamilton, only eight people in the world capable of even understanding Faraday's more advanced theories, and, unfortunately, Hamilton himself wasn't one of them. Still, studying the Prankster's similar (but much simpler) device had helped him get at least a basic understanding of Faraday's.

Working with bits and pieces of all three, he'd constructed a device of his own, one capable of using a flash of light to implant a simple suggestion into someone's mind. Hamilton came up with a single positive statement to serve our purposes. "Superman is Kal-El of Krypton and has no other identity." People who knew better would reject this, but most of the general public already believed it (including, thanks to the New Krypton situation, the name Kal-El). Reinforcing the idea would help avert most casual suspicions.

Some of the Shadows were a little uncomfortable with the idea, since it was a little too close to brainwashing for comfort. I wasn't sure what to make of it, myself. Back then, I wasn't used to thinking about things like that. Aymee and Alan worried that we were being overprotective, supporting the right cause but going too far with it. Phillip and Bobby, each in his own way understanding the importance of information (getting it to the right people, using it properly, keeping it out of the wrong hands, etc), were both for it. The rest of us were kind of in the middle, not sure enough to commit to either side.

In the end, we did it. Bobby ran a series of ads for his restaurants (one of which had become a national chain) and added Hamilton's flash of light to the background. The ads ran on just about every major station across the country at some point. After that, very few people were willing to seriously entertain the idea that Superman had another identity. The few who did (like Penny Barnes, who showed up using the name Barnebeedian about a year later) often found themselves scoffed at.

Back to the invasion… There wasn't much we could do about it. We were good at some things, but facing down Kryptonians wasn't one of them. We did, however, notice one human trying — Our old friend, Col. Ambrose Cash. Having nothing better to work with, he first tried conventional weaponry. Nor's force field easily withstood Cash's battery, and his thugs had no trouble dealing with the soldiers and their tanks.

Cash showed up in Metropolis a little later, and overheard Superman asking Doctor Klein about the Kryptonite in the STAR Labs vault. That night, the vault was opened. We found out through Cat that Cash had people working on a Kryptonite gas grenade. A couple days later, it was announced that Kal-El and Lord Nor would be fighting a duel in the streets of Metropolis. The general location was given as a warning, to keep the area clear. It didn't take us long to figure out that Cash would take this as his best opportunity to deal with the threat.

Since the duel grounds were considered very dangerous territory, I was sent up to keep an eye on things without the kids. I watched, invisible, as Clark fought Nor. I heard Lois warn them both about the gas, though of course Nor didn't understand. I saw Clark win the duel, and Nor's thugs come in to change the outcome. Suddenly, the street shook with an explosion. All five Kryptonians were hurled back and surrounded in a fog of green gas.

I adjusted my goggles to infrared and navigated my way through the cloud. The tiny radioactive particles made it hard to see even with the goggles, but I had at least a couple feet's worth of visibility. I found Clark at the bottom of the pile of bodies. He was unconscious but alive. I put an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth and turned a special flashlight (more like a miniature sun lamp) on his face. I prayed it would be enough. I'd seen enough of the man that all my old grudges had been left behind. He needed to live. For Lois. For us. For the world.

Around me, I could see the gas starting to dissipate. Clark, still unconscious, was breathing much easier. I turned the flashlight off and hid it in an invisible pocket. I looked up to see several people cautiously approaching, although they weren't nearly close enough for me to recognize them through infrared lenses. I kept the oxygen mask on as long as I dared. When they got within a few feet, I slowly backed off. The cloud was pretty much gone, anyway. I moved back to a corner of the alley and adjusted my lenses back to normal. I watched Lois's expression as she discovered that Clark was still breathing. It went far beyond relief into territory they don't have words for. If I'd ever had reason to question the risk I'd taken in standing in that alley, that one look would have been enough to settle the issue. Smiling to myself, I snuck back down to sewers. I'd saved Clark. I'd saved *Superman*. Life was good.





You know, I seem to be skimming more the further I get through our history. I guess it's because things seemed so much more important back when we were first starting. They left much deeper impressions. Some things stand out, like those long moments sitting in green fog, watching every breath intently, shining my little light, hoping, praying that somehow it would make a difference, that it would be enough. Other things, they just became too *normal* to be remarkable. When three very popular and very *American* celebrities turning out to be unfrozen Nazi spies becomes just another thing that happened some week or other, it really takes a lot for something to be memorable.

So what did happen during those late months of 1996? Lois and Clark got married. The real ceremony was very private, which wasn't surprising, given that someone calling herself "The Wedding Destroyer" had set her sights on our favorite couple. Still, we were given the privilege of bearing silent witness to the event. The details of it, I'm afraid, will have to be left to your imagination. Like I said, it was private.

Their honeymoon presumably went well. We didn't come close to it, of course. We turned the sensors in their apartments completely off, so there'd be no chance of accidents. We were a little worried when they showed up at the Planet acting strangely, but everything seemed fine when they left. We checked with the computer, just to be on the safe side, and were assured that everything was going according to recorded history.

There was more run-of-the-mill stuff. A machine capable of transferring life energy from one person to another. A new holographic technology (not developed from Wells's equipment — we checked that very carefully). The Quantum Disbander, a military prototype based off of Luthor's Quantum Disruptor (Col. Cash had been arrested, but there were others who shared his views). Little things in need of sweeping up.

Something happened that Christmas, but we're still not entirely sure what it was. It just seemed like a long and depressing day. Lois and Clark had something to do with getting it fixed, but that's about all we're sure of. None of our records from that day make any sense.

In the meantime, we'd been working on a way to break into Cadmus HQ. They were working on something big. We knew that much. We thought it might have something to do with cloning, since Dr. Leek and Dr. Mamba (who had been broken out of jail) seemed to be at the focus of it. They'd even stepped down Intergang's operations (well, we'd had something to do with that, too, in our own quiet way, gathering enough information to seriously hinder their major operations, sometimes directly, sometimes by tipping off the right people). They were being extremely careful about this operation, though. Not even Lin could get past their security.

Then, one day in January, it hit me. Literally. I was just out walking in the street when a white furry ball fell out of the sky with enough force to knock the wind out of me.

"Sorry," it squeaked.

I did a double take, thinking that I must have been hit harder than I'd realized. Rats did not generally talk. Then again, rats did not generally fall out of the sky at high speed, either. Not even in the city. I sat up.

The rat shook its little head. "I don't know what's gotten into me lately," it said.

I looked very closely. Its mouth had not moved. Come to think of it, the words had felt a little strange in my head. After a moment, I was sure. I hadn't heard them. They'd been put directly into my mind. "Who or what are you?"

The rat shook itself again, then looked up at me, as if consciously realizing for the first time that I was there. "Don't mind me. I'm not here. I'll just be going…"

"No, wait!" I called out, though I wasn't sure why. It just seemed like the thing to do. It was hard to think clearly. The voice in my head, I realized, wasn't really speaking in words. There were just ideas that were coming across, and my mind was turning them into words. "Please, tell me. Who are you? Where did you come from?"

Images flooded my brain. It took me a few minutes to sort them out. The rat in my lap had been part of some experiment. It — or, I should say, she — had been hit with some kind of lightning or something. Suddenly, she had found itself with strange abilities. Her mind was faster. Her memory was perfect. She had a much greater awareness. There was more, too. She could fly. She could fly *very* fast. She was strong. She couldn't be hurt. In short (although she didn't realize it), she had gotten all of Superman's powers. Later, I traced this to about the time when Alan's brother, Walldecker, had gained and lost those same powers. Powers which, it seemed, included limited telepathy.

At first, she hadn't done much with her new powers. She hadn't really known what to do with them. Then something had fallen out of the sky and hit her. She'd turned to find herself facing one of the deadliest predators known to ratkind. A predator of the same type as the one — perhaps it even was the same individual — who had killed her parents. She'd fought it off, surprised at how easy it was.

It was a key moment for her. After that fateful battle, she had dedicated herself (in her non-food-hunting time) to fighting off others of its kind and to protecting her fellows. She had become, in short, not just a rat, but a superhero. Doing so had earned her a new name in the rodent community — Hawk Master.

The name sent a shock through me. It was the name Wells had let slip way back in the beginning, saying that "he" would be the key to our most important case. We'd speculated about the identity of the mysterious Hawk Master from time to time, talking about it over dinner or during long stretches of monitor duty. None of us had had a single clue. Now, she'd dropped herself right into my lap.

We were never quite sure what had caused the accident in the first place, but it always seemed suspicious that it was right around the same time that a piece of Red Kryptonite had surfaced, causing Superman to lose control of his powers.

In any case, I convinced Hawk Master to come down to the sewers with me and meet the rest of the Shadows. It wasn't easy, given species barriers, but somehow I got the sense across that it was important.

They were stunned, of course. The whole thing was strange and unexpected, even for us. Phillip was the first to recover, and the first to realize what our new member represented. She was small, extremely fast, had a perfect memory, could project thoughts and images telepathically, and, if noticed, looked completely unremarkable, like just another city rat. She was, in short, the perfect spy. She would be able to get into Cadmus HQ, look around, and come back with a detailed report of what she'd seen. She really was the key to what could quite possibly be our most important mission.




Before Hawk Master could start spying for us, of course, she needed a lot of training. A lot of coaxing and convincing, too. Phillip and the kids worked with her, teaching her to go where directed, to really look around, to notice things from a more human perspective, to report it all in a way that could be understood. Along the way, they had to keep assuring her that it was important, as important as keeping the hawk population in check. It took months.

In the meantime, life went on more or less as normal for me. Gina and I had settled into a good routine. She'd really come to accept the Shadows… what we meant and what we did. She still worked as a waitress, but she'd cut back her hours to spend more time with us (me, the kids, and, to a lesser degree, the rest of the Shadows). It was good that she had work, and good, too, that she was more a part of our lives.

In late January, a reporter caught Lois apparently cheating on her husband with Superman. Luckily, the shot hadn't come out, but things didn't look good. Wells's database assured us that things would turn out okay, but we were still worried. So, I had a little chat with Samantha, the reporter who had broken the story. Don't worry. I didn't get violent. I just convinced her that it was best to drop the matter. Not that she had much credibility, anyway. Not after she'd taken part in a plan to blow up a building filled with the leaders of two countries in the middle of crucial peace talks, a fact we were sure to let the press know, even if Lois and Clark hadn't bothered to do so themselves.

After that, John Doe showed up out of nowhere, running for president. He would have made it, too. Superman stopped him, though. A Superman, anyway. I think there was a parallel universe or something mentioned. Anyway, John Doe turned out to be a villain named Tempus (we hadn't heard of him before, but apparently Lois and Clark had). He'd brainwashed the country with some kind of electronic device. Strangely, Wells showed up to take care of that himself. Tempus was taken to prison, never to be heard from again. It was too bad, really. He'd seemed like a darned nice guy.

A couple of weeks later, Penny Barnes showed up. She thought Jimmy was Superman, but otherwise seemed like a good kid. She'd clung to her theory of an alternate identity for Superman despite everything, and she'd gotten pretty close, too. We recruited her to act as an extra pair of eyes and ears.

There was some kind of mess in April with another one of Luthor's sons. He started buying up pieces of his father's old empire (Cadmus and Intergang, the former owners, didn't really care at that point, and may well have been happy to have a buyer), kidnapped Lois, and was busy hatching more evil schemes. Lois and Clark took care of most of that, fortunately, since we'd finally gotten Hawk Master to start scouting around Cadmus HQ for us and were focusing on that. We did get some interesting bits of robotic technology, though, from the Vixen robot. We didn't have much use for them as yet, but we filed the notes and blueprints and such under "R" for "robots" and gave copies to Hamilton and Alan, to see if they could develop some further upgrades for my arms.

Oh, the filing system. I guess I forgot to mention that. As you've seen, we'd come across quite a few gizmos, devices, and innovations over the years. Some of them proved to be very useful, sometimes immediately, sometimes far down the road. To help keep track of them, Phillip had created a system of archives, both on the computer and in hard copy. The computerized database was easily searchable, but the hard copies were kept in strict alphabetical order. We simply couldn't come up with a better system. There were histories and case files, too, but those tended to be dry, bare bones reports.

By June, we had enough information to really start planning our raid on Cadmus HQ. We knew, too, just why it was so important that we get in to do it. Three years previously, Dr. Fabian Leek had worked for Lex Luthor. He had tried to clone Superman, but the clone had turned out to be unstable. Cadmus had recruited him to continue the work, but he hadn't made much headway. Kryptonians were just too difficult to clone, especially given that human medicine had relatively little knowledge of alien DNA.

Dr. Mamba had helped change that. He'd had some success in creating clones by splicing together DNA from different species. In his case, he'd used frog DNA to help stabilize human clones. Sent to work with Dr. Leek, he'd proposed trying something similar with Superman. A human-kryptonian hybrid clone might be more stable, he thought, than a pure clone from either species. That was much easier said than done, of course, but it looked like they were getting pretty close.

That was something we couldn't allow to happen. With one or more kryptonians on their side (grown and raised for their purposes), Cadmus would become all but unstoppable. No doubt their first task would be to finish the job they'd been trying to do since the beginning — destroying Superman. After that, they could go on to do just about anything they wanted. It was no wonder they'd dedicated so much of their resources to the project.

We were making plans when something else happened. An insane former toymaker started kidnapping children. Superman took care of him, and we cleaned up. Standard operation in a way, but we gained something very important. The Toyman had taken the kids to his hideout with a teleporter. We were very quick to pick up that little bit of technology (and file it under "T" for future reference). It became the final part of our plan.



JUNE, 1997

The assault started well outside Cadmus. Dudley, Karen, Aymee, Jack, and Penny went up to the higher floors of several neighboring buildings. Phillip worked with them to jam any radio communication signals not set to our specific frequencies that were going into or coming out of the target area.

With that in place, we sent Hawk Master into the building itself, and had her chew on some key wires. That provided enough of a distraction for Lin to get in. She couldn't get in far, but she didn't need to. She got into place and set up a teleport beacon. Alan beamed in with a tank full of shrink shampoo, which he quickly attached to the building's sprinkler system. Lin, meanwhile, disabled the fire alarm, making sure it wouldn't attract the attention of anyone outside the building.

When they were both done, Hawk Master was sent zipping through the building, setting off all the sprinklers with her heat vision. She came back before the first drops had hit the floor, and teleported back to base with Lin and Alan.

A few minutes later, we sent Hawk Master back to Cadmus. The shampoo had run out, but it had done its job. Everyone in the building had been reduced to a mere few inches of height. Hawk Master had no trouble herding them into little cages, which were then teleported away.

Lin and I entered next, sweeping the building to be sure we'd gotten everyone. Alan and Hamilton teleported in behind us and set up a force field dome to ensure that we wouldn't be interrupted. The whole operation was going extremely smoothly, but it wouldn't have been possible without Hawk Master's detailed scouting. The teleporter made it a lot easier, too.

Lin and I made our way to the lab, where we set about copying all the files we could find. We were about to put the explosives in place when cry came from one of the large boxy pieces of equipment. Startled, we moved over to it and carefully opened the lid. We both gasped. There was a baby inside. There were monitors attached to it, but it seemed to be healthy and well-developed. Old enough that it didn't need an umbilical cord.

I couldn't be sure just by looking, but I had a good guess as to where the baby had come from. It seemed Cadmus hadn't just gotten close to creating a human-kryptonian hybrid clone. They'd succeeded.

Panicked, I called the others. It was decided that we'd teleport the baby to the Fortress, and figure the rest out from there. It was the only possible option. We sent the entire crib/monitor set-up, along with all the notes and information we'd gathered.

With that done, we got back to the plan. We set explosives throughout the building, activated the timers, and teleported back to the Fortress. Force field generators set up outside the building kept the explosion in check, making certain that the building was completely consumed but that the neighboring area was not threatened. The sonic bubble even kept the sound of the explosion bottled up.

We'd done it! We'd captured most of Cadmus's major players, destroyed their headquarters, and stopped their plans. We had evidence on most of the important people we'd captured, and there would certainly be more in the files we'd taken. We'd have little trouble seeing that they were put away by the authorities for a good long time. Until we were ready to do so, we would have little trouble keeping them contained at their current size.

There was only one thing left to do. We had to figure out what to do with the baby. Looking through the notes, Phillip was easily able to confirm that it was a human-kryptonian hybrid. The kryptonian genes had come from Clark, of course, on one of the occasions when he'd encountered Kryptonite and had left some blood behind. It took a little more digging to learn about the human genes, but when we did, we were delighted by the choice of donor. It seemed the people in charge at Cadmus had decided to take a sample from the human most closely associated with Superman. The one most likely to be compatible with him. The one, perhaps, who would make the most ironic choice. Lois Lane.

The baby was, genetically speaking, Lois and Clark's child. Once that was clear, there was really only one thing we could do. We teleported into their living room. Fortunately, Clark's parents had already sent a proper bassinet. It saved us some trouble, since there was no way we wanted to use Cadmus's evil-looking metallic "crib" for this. We wrapped the baby in a Superman blanket (innocuous enough — they were available in just about every baby store in the country — but still meaningful to Lois and Clark) and left a note. We'd been forced to keep that simple, since we couldn't risk telling them too much about ourselves. It said, simply, "Lois and Clark, this child belongs to you." It was all they needed to know. Well, that and the research into how to make human and kryptonian genes compatible. That, we left in a sealed envelope underneath the bassinet. They'd find it in time, we'd decided. Let them focus on more important matters first.

We waited, invisible, to be sure that the baby would be okay. I have to admit, we also couldn't resist seeing Lois and Clark's faces when they came into the room. We stood, all of us, arrayed across the back of the room. A soft cry rose from the crib. Lois and Clark answered the call, to find the sleeping infant waiting for them. Soon, they were joined by their parents.

We watched the looks of wonder and astonishment cross all their faces, and knew, without a doubt, that we had done the right thing. There would be questions, of course, but those questions would be secondary to the reality of the baby gurgling happily in Lois's surprised but loving embrace. Our most important task was complete. We'd performed a miracle.



In a dimly lit corner of a quiet room, a woman sat, curled up in a windowseat, leaning against a bookcase. Gently, tenderly, but with a hint of reluctance, she closed the battered and dusty old journal. There was more, but she told herself firmly that she'd read enough for one night. Carefully, she tucked it away on a shelf in a place of honor. The unassuming notebook seemed out of place, leaning as it was against an aged (though, oddly, not *too* aged) signed first edition of "The Time Machine" (a book which, truth to tell, had gone unread for nearly as long as the journal), but she knew better than to judge the proverbial book by its cover.

Walking across the room, past the little reading cubbies with their wooden desks and built-in computer terminals, she made her way to the antique wooden conference table at the center of the room. She ran her hands lightly over the initials carved into the center. P.M. Everybody in the building knew what those stood for. The famous Phillip Manning, first director of their little organization. But now the others seemed just as familiar to her. D.N., A.V., I.V., K.T., B.B., A.M., E.H., and, of course, T.G. There were others, too, spiraling out from the middle. Someday, although she'd never admit it to anyone, she hoped to earn the right to add her own. Then again, the same was probably true of all her coworkers.

Her fingers paused over Tommy's initials, feeling the connection to the past. She shook her head. Phillip's early accounts, now mostly relegated to obscurity, had left a great deal to be desired. So much had been lost. She'd had no idea, when curiosity had sent her down below the archive stacks in the basement, just what she'd find. She'd been surprised to discover the unobtrusive little hatchway leading down to a forgotten level below the R-Z floor.

The place had been set up as a museum once, one open to a very small number of people. The ancient monitor set-up, ancestor of the current monitor room, had been carefully preserved behind a stasis field. Much of the rest, however, had been allowed to gather dust. She'd felt almost like an archeologist when she'd discovered the faded old bowl with the name "Socrates" painted on the side. Awe and excitement budding in her heart, she'd explored the rest of the little underground complex.

She'd found the journal buried under the debris of a collapsed shelf in one of the bedrooms. She'd skimmed the first few pages until the import of what she was seeing had settled in. Almost shaking with the shock of that realization, she'd clutched the treasure to her chest and headed back up to the new archive room in the back of the second floor.

There she'd sat, enthralled, soaking in the details of a long-lost secret history. Wells, it seemed, really *had* been there from the beginning. That dangerous overprotective streak had been there nearly as long, too. She wondered again about The Baker Street Irregulars, who had come to be known as The Bakers. Was it just a coincidence, or…? She shook her head. It was a mystery which would have to wait. She had more to read, and much to share.

She turned back, looking longingly at the shelf in the back of the room, but then forced herself to turn away. Tomorrow promised to be a long day, she reminded herself as she started the long walk to the door. She sighed, annoyed with her own virtue. Practicality was just too deeply ingrained. She stopped suddenly, realizing that she'd been walking with the dejected stride of a child deprived of her favorite sweet. She laughed at herself, quietly. Perhaps not so deeply ingrained as all that.

Feeling inexplicably better, she made it to the door, which hadn't been as far as it'd seemed. Turning off the lights and closing the door behind her, Madge smiled. The journal had reconnected her with the past, something she and all of the Peacekeepers prized greatly, and the discovery of it held promise for a very exciting future.


("Livin' On A Prayer" lyrics copyright (c) 1986 Bon Jovi)