By Dandello <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February, 2008
Summary: Lois gets a chance to see what the world would be like if she hadn't been born.
Copyright: Dec 8, 2007
Country of first publication, United States of America.
Author's Notes: In order to make this work, I had to rework the events of 'The Source' and 'Season's Greedings'.
Her world was in tatters, shambles, ashes. Stuart Hofferman was dead and although the police hadn't said it, she knew it was her fault -- she hadn't gone to them for help when her source was threatened. Viologic's reaction to her story had caused the Planet's board of directors to order Perry White to fire her -- Perry had called it a suspension, but Lois knew the truth. The Daily Planet considered her a loose cannon, too dangerous to employ. Even Clark was staying away from her -- being around her could endanger his career as well. He hadn't returned any of her calls the past three days. She could read the writing on that wall.
"What do I do now?" Lois Lane murmured to herself. She stared down at the black water beneath the Clinton Bridge. Snow was falling and she could hear carolers in the distance. Oh, yes. Tonight was Christmas Eve. Clark would be celebrating with his parents. Perry would be with Alice and the boys. Her parents were having their own celebrations and Lucy was off with her friends. Even Superman was shunning her. Lois had no one.
No one cared if she was alive or dead. Nothing she had ever done had made any difference. "I have no career, nobody will have me..." The water below looked so inviting. Would Superman even notice if she just slipped over the side of the bridge? Would he mourn her passing? Would Clark or Perry even notice she was gone?
"I've done nothing... I wish I was dead," she whispered. "I wish I had never been born."
"You don't really mean that," a gentle voice said from close beside her. She looked over to see an oddly familiar face. The man smiled at her but there was sadness in his eyes.
"Mike?" She didn't know how she knew him, only that she did.
"Hello Lois... I heard what you were saying. You don't really mean that, do you? You don't mean that you wish you had never existed in this life?"
Lois felt the tears running down her face. The wind across the bridge was freezing, but she didn't care. "I made a promise to protect someone. I didn't think it through, didn't take proper precautions, and they were killed. I lost my job... no one will hire me. My reputation's shot. Even Clark's turned his back. He can't afford to even be seen with me. What do I have left?"
"You're sure that's what's happening?" Mike asked.
"It's my life," Lois stated. "I think I know what's going on in it."
"Lois, are you sure this is what you want?" His expression was so sad.
"I don't know what else to do," she admitted.
He nodded, then looked up into the sky.
"Looking for Superman?" she asked.
"I don't think this is a job for Superman," Mike told her. His eyes seemed to focus on something she couldn't see. He nodded again then looked at her. "It's done."
"What's done?" Lois asked.
Mike gave her a sad smile. "Lois Lane was never born."
"You're out of your mind," Lois protested. Something about the way Mike had said it scared her. She ran to the end of the bridge where she had left her jeep. It wasn't there.
"Great, just great," she yelled, waving her hands in frustration. "They towed my car. It's Christmas Eve and they towed my freaking car!"
"Lois, you don't own a car. You don't have a driver's license, or credit cards. You have no name, no past."
"What do you mean, Mike? My name is Lois Lane..."
Mike gave her another one of his sad smiles. "No. Lois Lane was never born."
"I don't buy this," Lois protested. She started to reach for her wallet and realized her purse was missing. "Where's my purse, my keys, my phone?"
Mike sighed and shook his head. "Maybe we should get somewhere warm," Mike suggested. Lois nodded and followed as he led her toward downtown.
She was cold, but the snow had stopped. The stores were closed -- in fact a surprising number were boarded up and there were large swaths of graffiti on the walls.
"I don't remember this neighborhood being this bad," Lois said, mostly to herself. The mass of graffiti and litter indicated the neighborhood was reaching the 'tipping point'. The small rules that kept a community clean and running weren't being enforced indicating no one particularly cared if the large laws were.
"The Metropolis connection to the Bolivian drug cartels was never exposed," Mike explained. "Nor were Lex Luthor's criminal activities. For all intents and purposes he owns Metropolis. Even Intergang doesn't dare oppose him. He's already announced that he's thinking about running for president."
Lois heard sirens. She ran toward the sound, rounding the corner to see an apartment building with flames shooting out of the upper windows. A woman and child were on a fire escape, trying to escape the flames. "Where's Superman?" she asked, looking up toward the sky to see if she could catch sight of him.
"There is no Superman," Mike said.
"Of course there's a Superman," Lois protested. "There has to be."
Mike shook his head. "Superman was never invented, Lois. You gave him his name. You helped establish who and what he was..."
"There has to be a Superman..." She looked around in the darkness. The firefighters had managed to get the woman and child off the fire escape, but from where Lois was standing, she couldn't tell if they were alive or dead.
Then she spotted a familiar face. "There's Clark. He'll know what's going on..." She waved her arm to catch his attention. "Clark! Clark Kent! Over here!" she shouted.
One of the fire fighters caught Clark's attention and pointed in her direction. He had a puzzled expression on his face as he came closer.
"Oh, Clark, am I glad to see you," she started. "My jeep's been towed and my purse is missing..." She stopped when she realized there was no recognition in his face.
"I'm sorry, miss, but am I supposed to know you?"
"Clark, this isn't funny. It's me, Lois, your ex-partner at the Planet?"
"I'm sorry, but I don't know anybody named Lois, and I've never worked for the Daily Planet," he told her. He looked past her at Mike and she saw a glimmer of recognition for the older man. "But hey, you're a friend of Mike's and you look like you could use a friend. The coffeepot's still on at the Star."
"That sounds good," Lois admitted. But Clark's lack of recognition scared her more than she wanted to admit even to herself.
There was something universally bad about newsroom coffee. But it was hot and for that Lois was grateful. The newsroom was festive and she reasoned that the Planet newsroom looked much the same. A Christmas tree in the corner, tinsel garlands around the pillars.
She sipped the coffee and took the time to observe her former partner. Physically he was the same old Clark, Mister Hard-body in a Brooks Brothers' suit. Except there was a wariness in his eyes she didn't ever remember seeing before, a world of weariness that was unlike the Clark she thought she knew. What's happened to him?
He noticed her watching him. "So, you work at the Planet, Miss...?"
"Lois Lane," she introduced herself. "And no I don't work at the Planet, at least not anymore..."
"I had a really bad month," Lois began. "Final straw was... I was trying to protect one of my sources and he ended up dead anyway. The suits ordered Perry to fire me..."
Clark frowned. "Perry? Perry White?"
"Well yes, why?"
"Miss Lane, I don't know what you're playing at. But Perry White of the Daily Planet died six months ago. A massive stroke."
Lois felt her insides freeze. "But that's... Oh my God, I've fallen into the Twilight Zone or that stupid Jimmy Stewart movie they're always running at Christmas." She looked at him in horror. "Mike told me I was never born. I was standing on the Clinton Bridge thinking about... Well never mind that, but Mike was there and said 'It's done.' And when I asked him what he meant, he said 'Lois Lane was never born.'"
"But you're here, so you had to have been born," Clark stated reasonably. "Maybe you hit your head, or..."
"Or I'm deranged?" she suggested.
He had the courtesy to move his attention to his coffee cup.
"It's okay. You're not the first person to suggest it." She looked around the Star newsroom. "So what's it like working with Linda King? She must be pretty hot stuff since there's no... well... no Lois Lane."
Clark gave her another odd look, like he couldn't decide if she was joking or not. "Linda King used to work here. About eight months ago she was indicted for her part in the Omir Embassy massacre as well as a couple of fatal arson fires. Turns out she and an ex-NIA black ops agent, Stark, were setting up emergencies for her to cover for the paper."
"But... what about Preston Carpenter? Wasn't he indicted too?"
"He was as surprised as anyone at her involvement with Stark."
She sighed. Things were so different.
"So, are your parents in town for Christmas?" she asked, trying to make small talk. She knew that in 'her' world, Clark and his parents were probably sitting down to watch an old Christmas movie with some eggnog and stollen or cookies.
He shrugged. "Not much sense in them spending the money coming out when I'm working the holidays." He gave her one of his 'searching' looks then sat down at his desk. "It's pretty quiet. Maybe we can figure out what's going on with you."
"Assuming I'm not either deranged or having one hell of a nightmare?" She pulled up a chair to sit next to him, watching as he brought up a search engine on his computer.
"Let's look you up first," he said, fingers poised over the keyboard.
He typed it in and waited as the screen filled. 552 instances. Lois Lane was an alley in Suicide Slum famous for its incidence of crime in an area known for its appalling crime rate.
"I have a sister named Lucy."
Clark typed in 'Lucy Lane' -- 10 instances, most of them relating to 'I Love Lucy'.
"Doctor Sam Lane?"
Yet another odd half-frown from Clark. He didn't bother to type it in. "I covered Doctor Lane's trials last year. He's currently serving multiple sentences for being an accessory to, and conspiring to commit, murder. He was also convicted of malpractice, doping, a bunch of other crimes. He was turning athletes into cyborgs, replacing parts of their bodies with mechanical parts, making them a lot stronger and faster than a normal human. A couple of his 'creations' murdered their opponents in the ring."
Lois felt her mouth drop open.
"Among the things that came out in my background research on him was," Clark continued. "Samuel Lane has no acknowledged children. He married his assistant, a woman named Ellen Carstairs, in 1963. They were divorced in 1967. A very public and nasty divorce. One of the comments at the time was that it was lucky there weren't any children. They would have been a real mess with parents like that."
"What about his wife?"
"She moved to California right after the divorce. She was one of the people killed in that big quake last year."
The look he gave her was full of pity. She tried to ignore it. She was Lois Lane -- she didn't need Clark Kent's pity.
"I guess Superman wasn't around to help."
"Superman?" Clark asked. "What is Superman? Aside from the obvious reference to the Nietzschean 'Ubermensch'?"
"He's a man, an alien, from a planet called Krypton. He's really strong, really fast. And he can fly."
"Lois, humans -- normal humans -- don't fly. Not without machines at least," Clark said. His expression was no longer one of pity. It was one of barely controlled fear, and she wasn't sure but she thought she'd heard a tremor in his voice.
"Superman flies," she told him in a small voice. "He's good. He helps people. He's the best, kindest, sweetest person I know."
"People aren't afraid of him?"
"There are a few people who don't understand. Some government crazy-types still think he's part of an alien invasion," Lois admitted. "But he saved the Prometheus station, kept the Nightfall asteroid from hitting the Earth... And he was my friend, until I screwed up."
"Interesting," Clark commented more to himself than to her. "When the Prometheus project was canceled, LexCorp went ahead with its space platform. As for Nightfall, turns out Luthor had armed the station and it was in a good position to lob nukes at the asteroid, deflecting it enough that it missed the Earth. The rock's in orbit around the sun now."
The enormity of what had happened finally hit her. "Clark, how could all this happen? My father's in prison, my mom's dead. My sister was never born. Perry's dead. Oh my God... I don't have a family. Perry's dead. I don't understand..." She started to shake.
She felt a strong pair of arms around her and she buried her face in his chest. "I don't understand..." she kept saying. Tears started down her face and she didn't bother to try to wipe them away.
"I don't exactly understand either," Clark said. His voice rumbled in his chest. "But my mom says that a life is like a stone thrown into a pond, it sends out ripples and every thing it touches is changed, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. And every life that is changed sends out its own ripples, changing other lives. Eventually, every life affects every other life in some way."
After a moment Lois pulled away from him, wiping the heel of her hand across her eyes. "I'm getting your jacket all wet. I'm sorry, I..."
"It's okay," Clark told her. He took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache. "I just wish I could help you, but I have no idea where to even start." He gazed at her, brown eyes full of concern.
Lois gasped as pieces started to fall together. "Mike said Superman was never invented. That I gave him his name, I helped establish who and what he was... Superman said his mother made his costume for him." She studied his face, wondering why she had never seen the similarities before. Superman was Clark Kent.
He was looking scared again, like he was ready to bolt.
"What happened, Clark?" she wondered aloud. "What's made you so afraid?"
"Lois, without you at the Planet that first day, Clark never got the lead he needed to prove his abilities to Perry White," Mike said gently. She hadn't noticed him come back into the room. "He didn't get the job at the Daily Planet, didn't get assigned as your partner. He never heard the stories about Lois Lane going undercover in disguise, never got your suggestion to keep a change of clothes in his locker."
"Superman was never invented, because it never occurred to Clark to invent him." She finally understood what Mike was trying to tell her.
Mike nodded. "Without Clark Kent working at the Daily Planet, Perry White never heard about paava leaves to help lower his stress levels. Without Lane and Kent working together, there was no one to oppose Lex Luthor, no one to expose Preston Carpenter, no one to stop Bureau 39 from terrorizing innocent people, including Clark and his parents."
Clark's look was one of alarm. "I've never told anyone about them... If they figure out..."
"Your secret's safe with me," Mike assured him. Clark relaxed a little. Mike had that effect on people.
"Without Superman," Mike continued, "there was no one to stop LexCorp from poisoning the rivers when its nuclear plants began to leak. There was no one to stop Barbara Trevino from destroying large sections of the Brazilian rain forest, no one to stop Miranda Miller from poisoning the city."
"And my parents?" Lois asked. "My father's in prison, my mother's dead, my sister...? Superman didn't have anything to do with that."
"Without you, your parents had no reason to stay together," Mike explained. "Since they weren't together, your sister couldn't be born. And without being a parent and recognizing his attachment to the rest of humanity, Sam Lane had no reason not to proceed in his questionable experiments on humans."
"You're saying I'm responsible for all these horrible things happening? That my selfishness on that bridge made all these horrible things happen?" She tried to keep her voice from going shrill. If Mike had been intending on making her feel better, he was doing a lousy job.
"No, Lois," Clark said. "He's saying you were responsible for the good things that happened because you were around."
"Like Superman," Mike added.
"But you said I was never born, so it didn't happen," Lois protested. "It can't happen..."
"Lois, do you want it to happen?" Mike asked.
"The world needs Superman," she answered.
"That's not what I asked."
"I want my life back. I want Perry and Lucy and Mom and Dad to all be okay. I want to see my Clark and I want to wish him a Merry Christmas... I want my life back," Lois Lane sobbed. Outside the newsroom, a clock began to strike.
She was sobbing and coughing and smelled car exhaust. She opened her eyes and realized the interior of her Cherokee was filled with fumes. She tried to roll down the driver's side window but the window seemed frozen shut.
Suddenly there was a flash of blue and red and the driver's side door opened with a groan of metal. "Lois?" Clark's voice broke through the haze in her mind. "Are you okay?"
"Clark?" She looked up at Superman. There was worry and surprise written across his face.
"Are you okay?" he repeated, reaching into the cab to turn off the engine. "What happened?"
She looked around to get her bearings. She was in her car and the car was sitting facing the end of the guardrail at the north end of the Clinton Bridge, just where she had left it. Snow had drifted around the car. She could barely see out the windshield.
"I, uh, parked here. I was going to go for a walk and... something happened," Lois told him. She remembered being in a world where Superman hadn't been invented, where Lois Lane had never been born, where the world was a much darker, meaner place. "I must have fallen asleep..."
"With the engine on?" Superman asked. "I've been looking for you. Your sister called m... Lucy called Clark. You weren't answering your phone. Clark got worried."
"Clark was worried?" She asked. There was something wrong with how Superman said it and she had a brief flash of dream memory, of Clark without his glasses, looking just like Superman only in a suit and tie. Some pieces of her nightmare were still utterly clear, but other pieces were fading away like snow on a radiator. Clark invented Superman?
Superman nodded. "He was very worried and asked me to find you. He also wanted you to know that he's sorry he didn't return your calls but he was chasing down leads on Stuart Hofferman who is alive and well and singing like a bird to the D.A. about Viologic's little manufacturing problems."
"I didn't kill him?"
"Hofferman and one of his buddies set it up," Superman explained. He still looked worried. "Do you want me to fly you home?"
She shook her head. She knew exactly what she needed to do. "Take me to Clark's place," she said. "I didn't have a chance to wish him a Merry Christmas. And then I need to call Perry and Lucy and my parents..."
"Lois, are you sure you're all right?" Superman asked. There was alarm in his voice.
"I'm fine," she assured him. "Something happened a little while ago and I realized something. I have a good life. In fact, I have a super life." Snow was falling again and in the corner of her eye she thought she saw Mike standing among the snowflakes, grinning at her.
She wrapped her arms around Superman and gave him a hug. "Merry Christmas, Superman."