By Dandello <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted February, 2008
Summary: Lois and Clark have a strange encounter in a mysterious coffee shop. But who or what is Superman? (Part of the Planes Series)
"That's funny," twenty-one year old Lois Lane commented as she and her self-appointed body guard, Clark Kent, crossed the street in Midtown Metropolis. "I don't remember that being there."
"What don't you remember?" Clark asked, looking around the area. It was one of those neighborhoods that was just starting to regain the glory it probably had in the thirties -- New Age shops, funky clothes stores sitting next to new condominiums and a coffee shop on every corner. He'd counted three Starbucks alone in the space of four city blocks, not to mention all the independent coffee places and sandwich shops.
Lois had gone to meet a source concerning strange goings on in Midtown -- inexplicable rescues, people walking around corners and disappearing without anyone showing up on the missing persons list, that sort of thing.
Clark had decided to tag along with her since he was free for the day. Summer quarter at Met U didn't start for another week and his mother had flown to Washington DC earlier in the week to take up her new position as the newest U.S. senator from the proud state of Kansas.
The source had photos of men in suits that all bore an odd similarity to one another. He had claimed each one of them had gone around the corner of the building they were standing in front of and simply vanished. He wouldn't, or couldn't, answer the question of how he managed to get photos of the men or who they were. "Well duh, they're all Superman," he had said with a smirk before leaving her alone on the sidewalk. "Galactically stupid, the lot of them," Clark had heard him muttering as he disappeared around a corner.
"Earth to Clark," Lois called out, pointing out the storefront in question. It was tucked between a New Age bookstore and a flower shop. 'The Bakery -- coffee and sweets' was the name painted on the door in ornate script. Beneath it was also a UPC style code done in silver. Strangely futuristic considering the age of the building and the neighbors.
Clark was at least as familiar with the Midtown area of Metropolis as his companion was, but he didn't recall ever seeing or hearing of a coffee shop or restaurant named 'The Bakery' in this part of town. He narrowed his eyes and tried his x-ray vision on the door -- nothing. There was nothing there. The space beyond wasn't lead lined. He could see lead even if he couldn't see past it. No, this space simply wasn't there.
"Let's see if it's any good," Lois announced, heading for the door. "I need a pick-me-up. And you're buying, Smallville."
"Hey, you're the one with the job," Clark protested. He reached the door before Lois did and opened it, senses on the alert for anything -- the nothingness of space, a room full of rampaging meteorite freaks. It was, in fact, a coffee shop with a large pastry case at the back filled with delicacies. However the inside of the shop seemed much larger than the space between the two other shops would have allowed.
Lois sailed into the room, purse flung over her shoulder as Clark fell in behind her. The restaurant was nearly full -- men and women, most of them in business suits. Several of them looked up curiously when the door opened then, apparently satisfied with what they saw, and went back to their own conversations. But something about them struck Clark as odd.
It wasn't the usual Metropolis coffee house mix, -- young urbanites and college students with a smattering of retirees. Here, the men were uniformly fit, as were the women. There wasn't an extra ounce of fat anywhere except for the two older women at the counter. The ages of the customers seemed older than the usual mid-afternoon coffee crowd too. He and Lois seemed to be the youngest people in the place aside from several children, two of them in high chairs at one table.
Lois didn't seem to notice the oddities as she strolled up to the order counter. The two women smiled cheerfully at them.
"And what would you like today, kids?" one of them asked. Her name tag identified her as 'Madge'. Her hair was blonde and her brown eyes twinkled as if she was in on the best joke in town.
"A tall cappuccino," Lois ordered. "And one of those chocolate éclairs, and an old fashioned."
The second woman, Joy, hurried to get the pastries out of the case for them.
"And for you, Clark?" Madge asked.
"How do you know my name?" Clark asked.
Madge laughed. "You just look like a 'Clark'. So, what would you like?"
"A small Americano with room and an old fashioned donut, please?" I look like a 'Clark'? "How much?"
Madge peered at the total on the cash register and read it off to him. He pulled out some cash and paid the bill. At least Lois didn't decide to try one of everything. Everything in the case looked absolutely devastatingly wonderful. He made a mental note to let Chloe and Jimmy know about this place.
He turned around to find Lois looking for a place to sit. At the table with the highchairs there were two couples. It was one of the larger tables and they were apparently sorting through paperwork or letters. Clark was struck by the similarities between the two little girls in the high chairs. The same wavy black hair, the same brown eyes, the same almond shaped eyes. Twins?
The older of the two men at the table looked up and waved Lois over to join them and Clark followed dutifully. Then he stopped, recognizing the source of some of his disquiet. All the men had a familial resemblance to one another. All were Caucasian with dark hair, ranging from dark brown to a raven's wing black. All were tall, at least six-one and most were taller than that, and built like football players -- the older men tending to the build of a fullback while the younger ones looked more like quarterbacks. And with three exceptions, one of them being Clark, all the men, every single one of them, were wearing eye glasses of varying styles.
The women had a little more variation, hair ranging from Lois's dark blonde to bright auburn to black.
Lois took one of the offered seats and beckoned Clark to join her. "What's going on around here, a twins convention?" she asked her hosts curiously.
"Not exactly," the older, brown-eyed man said. "I'm called Jerome, and this is my wife Joanne and this little princess is our youngest daughter, Martha Michaela."
"I go by Charlie and this is my wife Wanda, and our daughter Esperanza," the younger, blue-eyed man told them. Clark noted that Wanda was pregnant, although she wasn't showing much.
"I'm Lois Lane and this is Clark Kent," Lois announced. "I'm a reporter."
Jerome chuckled, as did his wife.
Lois bristled. "I really am a reporter. I work for the Inquisitor."
Wanda started to choke. "You work for that rag?"
"Honey, be kind," Charlie admonished. "Not everyone can start at the Planet."
Lois's expression became one of narrow eyed suspicion. "You guys work at the Planet? I've never seen you there, and my cousin works there. She's never mentioned a Charlie or a Wanda."
"Well, we've never seen you there either," Jerome stated. "Unless you're hanging around the basement. But then, the Planet does have about 670 employees, give or take. It's hard to keep track of everybody."
"You work there too?" Lois asked.
Clark could tell her BS meter was going off, but for the life of him, he would swear they were all telling the truth -- no change in heart rate, no sweating, none of the tell-tales that said they were lying.
"And what do you do?" Lois demanded.
"I work in editorial," Jerome stated. Wanda started choking again in an obvious attempt to keep from spewing her mouthful of coffee all over the table. Charlie patted her on the back until she started breathing again.
"It's okay, Lo... honey," Charlie was saying.
"I'm fine," Wanda managed to say giving Jerome a dark look. "'I work in editorial'," she mimicked. "Give me a break."
Three other customers who'd been sharing a table walked over to them. The two men looked alike, and they both bore an uncanny resemblance to Charlie. The woman looked like she could be Wanda's twin.
"Everything okay over here?" One of the men asked.
"We're fine," Charlie said, chuckling.
The man clapped Charlie on the shoulder. "Congratulations," he said with a grin, nodding toward Wanda. "How long have you been married?"
"Six months," Charlie answered. "And you?"
"Nine weeks," the man said, putting a possessive arm around the woman at his side.
"What about Richard?" the woman asked.
"He left for Paris last October with his female assistant," Wanda explained. "We just got the wedding invitation. And yours?"
"He was murdered last October," the man said softly. "There was nothing I could do." The woman with him patted him on the hand, her expression sad but resolute.
"I'm so sorry," Wanda said. She turned to the other man standing with them. "And what about yours?"
"They got married," he said simply. "It hasn't been easy, but I'm putting my life back together." He started for the door. "It's was nice seeing you."
"Nice seeing you, too," Jerome said. "Good luck."
The man waved at Madge and Joy and was reaching for the door handle when the door burst open and two school-age children burst in, dragging an older man with them. The men who looked like Charlie disappeared out the door -- literally. Clark watched them pass through the door frame and then they simply weren't there.
"Grandpa Perry!" the girl was saying excitedly, "They have chocolate eclairs, and I bet they have lemonade too."
"Lois, hon', that's an awfully big eclair," 'Grandpa Perry' told her. He had a southern accent. Tennessee, Clark guessed, and he was smiling at the girl fondly.
"Why don't we get one and you can split it with Clark?" Perry told the girl. She looked to be about fourth or fifth grade, as did the boy. Clark was struck by the boy's resemblance to Jerome. The girl looked like a grade school version of Joanne.
Clark glanced over to Lois to see she was as puzzled as he was. Lois and Clark? Neither was exactly a common name.
Joy was smiling at them. "One chocolate eclair cut in half and two lemonades," she recited. "And for you, Mister White?"
"My usual, coffee and a dunker," Perry told her. Clark watched as Joy collected the money and assembled their order.
"I've met Perry White," he said to Lois. "A couple years ago. That's not the same man."
"Of course not," Joanne said. But there was a sadness in her expression as she watched the older man with the two children. She turned to her husband. "I miss him so much."
"So do I, honey," Jerome told her gently. "So do I."
"What's going on here?" Lois demanded. "Who are you people?"
Clark looked over at the papers on the table, the papers that Charlie, Jerome, Joanne and Wanda had been going over before he and Lois sat down with them. The top sheet had a drawing of a man in blue tights and red cape with a familiar symbol on the chest -- the sign of the House of El colored in red and yellow. The man in the picture seemed to be flying.
"I know that symbol," Clark told them.
"You should," Joanne commented. "It's your house symbol, too."
"My house symbol too?"
"Who are you people?" Lois asked. "What is this place?"
Her question was interrupted by several of the other couples leaving. An odd little man with wire-frame glasses carrying an old fashioned bowler hat walked in. He looked around the room diffidently, his face lighting up when he caught sight of Jerome and Joanne. "Oh there you are Mister Kent, Missus Kent."
"Hello Mister Wells," Jerome greeted him in return.
"Mister Wells, you've been warned not to disturb our customers," Madge stated. Her perpetual smile had been replaced by a glower.
"What do you need, Mister Wells?" Jerome asked.
"A cup of tea and Superman's help?"
"Better you than me," one of the men who looked like Jerome called as he and his version of Joanne hurried for the door.
Another pair followed them, that Joanne looking daggers at Wells. "Shouldn't we at least hear him out?" her Jerome was saying.
She grabbed his arm, pulling him to the door. "You remember the last time we got involved with Wells and Andrus, don't you Clark?" she asked sternly. "Exploding time gates. I'm not going through that again, Flyboy. You have a family to worry about."
Like the others before them, they went through the door and vanished.
Clark looked over at his Lois to see she had actually turned pale, eyes wide as puzzle pieces started to fit together. He just wasn't sure what picture she was getting from the puzzle.
"Wells called you Mister Kent," she stammered. "Jerome Kent?"
"Jerome is my middle name," Jerome said. "He's Clark Joseph Kent." He nodded 'Charlie' who dipped his head in greeting.
"Clark Jerome Kent, Clark Joseph Kent," she murmured. "How many 'Clarks' and 'Loises' are there?"
"Lots," Jerome answered. "The multiverse is a very large place."
"This is too weird," Lois stated. "I must be unconscious somewhere. In an alley maybe. This can't be real."
"I assure you, this is quite real," Wells said. Joy set down a cup of tea for him and he took a sip, nodding his approval. "This place is a nexus, a crossing point if you will, where the various Clarks and Loises and others can meet and talk for a while."
"Have a cup of coffee undisturbed," Joanne added with a meaningful look at her husband. He chuckled softly.
"You are my counterparts in other universes?" Clark asked. "Like the show Sliders?"
Jerome nodded. "More like Number of the Beast, but close."
"But you're older..."
"I was born in 1966, and arrived on Earth in late May," Jerome said. "You were born in about 1986 or 87. Charlie was born in 1972, and the older versions are, of course, older. But we're all Clark Kent, all Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara, all the survivors of the dead planet Krypton."
"Krypton?" Lois asked. "You're saying Smallville here is from another planet and so are you?" She turned to Clark. "You're an alien?"
Clark nodded. This is getting completely bizarre. Lois wasn't the only one hoping they're unconscious in an alley.
"I thought we were friends," Lois protested. "When were you going to tell me?"
"Well, if he takes after most of them, sometime after he proposes," Joanne told her.
Lois's eyes widened even further. "We're supposed to..." she sputtered. "Not happening, Smallville. Absolutely not happening. Don't even think about it..."
"Her?" Clark responded with an embarrassing squeak. "I don't even like her that much..."
"Hey, wait a minute..."
Clark winced at the look she was giving him and he wished he could take back his last statement. It wasn't that he didn't like her. It was just that she was obstinate, domineering, bossy, intense, driven... overwhelming. He watched her expression turn thoughtful.
"Tempus said something about someone called 'Superman'. And Mister Wells did too..." Lois began.
"Tempus?" Jerome asked, alarm coloring his voice. "You know Tempus?" He looked over at Wells, whose pale eyes had widened in concern. Joanne had actually paled.
"Yeah. He said he had some information for me about disappearances in the area," Lois explained. "But he didn't have any proof, just photos of guys who look a lot like you and Charlie here. He said all the men in the photos were 'Superman'."
Jerome crossed his arms across his chest and glared at Wells.
Wells' cheeks turned pink. "Ah, that was what I came to tell you, Mister Kent. Tempus managed to escape, again. I suspect he is the reason they..." He indicated Clark and Lois. "Were able to find 'The Bakery'. It's only supposed to appear in time-planes where Superman does or has existed. The Peacekeepers designed it as a safe place for time-plane travelers."
"We've found the programming change," Madge announced, coming over to their table with a fresh pot of coffee. "We'll be able to go back to the proper configuration as soon as they leave." She nodded toward Lois and Clark.
"But, who's Superman?" Lois asked. "What's Superman?"
"That is something for your future," Madge said, taking Lois's arm and urging her to her feet. The older woman smiled at Clark and he found himself following her and Lois to the door.
Clark stopped and looked back at Charlie and Jerome -- Clark Kents and their Loises. "Will we ever find this place again?"
It was 'Charlie' who answered. "I'm sure you will. The day when a man who flies decides to openly become the defender of Metropolis and the world." He smiled and turned back to Jerome and Wells. "So, what's Tempus up to now and what do we do about it?"
Madge opened the door for the two of them and there was a bright flash as they passed through, bright enough to make Clark wince. "Forget," a woman's voice murmured in his ear. The door closed behind him.
"That's funny..." Lois started.
"What's funny?" Clark asked. Something had just happened, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. He was struck with an odd sense of deja vu, of something important just at the edge of his memory, something out of a dream.
"I would have sworn..." Lois muttered. She shook her head. "Nah, it's just my imagination." She looked around and then checked her watch. "Oh crud, he's already gone."
"Who's already gone?" Clark asked, puzzled.
"The source I was supposed to meet," Lois told him. "Oh well, I guess he didn't really want to give me the stuff he said he had." She looked over at her companion. "Back to the office, Smallville."
When a man who flies decides to openly become the defender of Metropolis and the world. A distant memory or something else? Clark heard the faint pop of a sonic boom somewhere in the distance. Maybe someday.