By Margaret Brignell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted November 1998
Summary: The Clark Kent of the Alternate Universe starts work at the Daily Planet. Will life in Metropolis with Lana be enough for him? Or will a visitor show him what he's been missing? This is the third part in the author's "Only You" series, and a continuation of Part 2, "Only You: Promise."
This is the third in a series of fanfics that came out of an idea by Laurie F. She liked my Pre-Metropolis Clark stories (The Rules, The Long Road, and The One) and thought this set would also make a good story.
In order to fully understand this story, you need to read "Only You: If Only" and "Only You: Promise" if you have not already done so:) It might also help to have read "The Rules" and seen the episode "Tempus, Anyone?"
I acknowledge that I am just borrowing the characters created for the television show "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." However, the story and additional characters came from the brain of myself and the people who are kind enough to proof my work:) It should be noted that in this story too, the British spelling prevails:)
I would also like to thank my proofers, Laurie F., Peace, Debby S., Lynda L., Lauren W. and APP, for their input and support (also to my critics for at least prompting me *think* about what I was doing.<g>) A huge vote of thanks is also due to the original writers of the scripts for making them so interesting I couldn't resist this story. Special thanks to Debby S. for providing me with a copy of the relevant scripts:)
Words surrounded by *asterisks* are emphasized.
Previously in "Only You" Clark lost his parents at age ten and bounced around a variety of foster homes. Lana Lang knows the secret of his origins. When we last saw Clark he had just got a job at the Daily Planet as a replacement for one of their top reporters, Lois Lane, who is missing — presumed dead.
The saga continues.
Metropolis, New Troy — June 1993
Clark sprinted across the newsroom floor to catch the ringing phone on his desk. It was Jack Lawson, Jr., his lawyer in Kansas City.
"Well, Clark, my boy, how's things out there in the big city?"
"Well, J …"
"Life treating you good?"
"Sure, Jack, what did you want to talk …"
"Lana up to her usual tricks?"
What the heck was Jack talking about? "Usual tricks?"
Jack's booming laughter came through the phone. "Just kidding, Clark. How's your job going?"
"Great. I'm really getting into the swing of it now. How are things in Kansas?"
"Fine. Fine. Did you know that Donny Wheeler had moved to Phoenix to work in the aerospace industry?"
It took a moment for Clark to make the connection. "Mavis and Elmer's son? No, I didn't know that."
"I didn't think you had. That's why I'm calling."
Clark breathed a sigh of relief that Jack Lawson had, finally, came to the point. "What has Donny going to Phoenix got to do with me?"
"Mavis and Elmer don't want to be that far from Donny and the grandchildren. They've decided to retire. They figure if they move to Arizona that they'll be close to family, and Phoenix will be great for Mavis' arthritis."
Mavis and Elmer Wheeler had been a great couple to have in charge of the farm for the past five years. He didn't want to lose them.
"But, aren't they too young to want to retire?"
There was another boom of laughter from Jack. "No-one's ever too young to retire! Besides, Elmer is 63. They've worked hard all their lives. They deserve to enjoy their senior years."
Clark struggled against the inevitable. "When will they be leaving?"
"End of August at the latest. If you can get a replacement sooner, so much the better. If you had said your job wasn't going all that great I'd have suggested you moving back yourself."
Clark opened his mouth to respond, but Jack continued.
"Or, you could sell. It would take a while, and you'd still need someone to look after the farm in the meantime. Or, you could just find another family to look after the farm."
"I want to stay in Metropolis and my job is going just fine. I don't want to move back to Smallville just now."
"The thing is, Clark, with the Wheelers leaving to join their kids in Arizona, you're going to have to let me know what you want to do with the farm."
"I don't know, Jack. I kind of want to keep it. It's the last place I was with my parents." A sudden kaleidoscope of memories of Mom singing, as she kneaded bread in the kitchen, and of Dad and his young self building a treehouse together ran through his head. Then, other images of Mr. Stinger — hitting his wife, swinging his fist at Clark's head, beating his children — overlaid the more pleasant images of life with Mom and Dad. "But, on the other hand, I was miserable the last time I was there. So I'm also considering selling. I'd like to talk it over with Lana. Can I get back to you later?"
"Okay, Clark, but I need to know by the end of July, if you want to have a smooth transition."
"Okay, I'll get back to you on that."
Jack went on in some detail about the implications if Clark didn't get back to him in time. Clark made reassuring noises and finally hung up the phone.
While he was mentally trying to sort out his dilemma about the farm, an assistant ran up to him and handed him the photos he had requested — bringing him back to the here and now.
Like he'd told Jack, Clark was getting into the swing of his new job at the Daily Planet. He had been given the desk that used to belong to the reporter who disappeared a couple of months back — Lois Lane. The only thing that had been left from her occupation was a dead plant, which Clark had taken pity on, ending its miserable existence by dropping it in the trash can. Clark didn't think about his lawyer's call again until he got home that evening.
It had been a busy day and he breathed a sigh of relief as he unlocked the front door of his apartment. He bent down to pick up his mail scattered on the floor just below his mail slot and threw it on the end table while he went into the kitchen to get a can of soda. He flopped down on the sofa with the opened can of soda and gazed about him.
When Clark had first moved to Metropolis, Lana made overtures for him to move in with her. Clark had felt that they should have a commitment to some kind of definite relationship before taking that step. Besides, he'd become too used to living on his own since he'd received his parents' inheritance. He didn't want to give that up until Lana decided whether or not she really wanted to marry him.
He was glad he'd decided to get his own place. He loved this loft apartment in a not-so-great part of town. The apartment suited his budget and the rough brick walls and open spaces made a great backdrop for the variety of souvenirs he had gathered on his various trips. Lana was still upset about the downscale "ambience" of his neighbourhood and the conversation they'd had when he first signed the lease ran through his head as he took his first sip from the can of soda.
"But, Clark, that part of town is *full* of muggers and thieves. You've *got* to choose a nicer part of town."
"Well, to be honest Lana, I don't really have to worry about being mugged. And, I can't honestly see thieves being all that interested in my Borneo fertility statue or my Tao meditation tapes. I really don't think there's anything to worry about."
"But thieves don't know that's all you've got, they'll break in anyway!"
"Look Lana, it's not like I have a TV, stereo or computer yet, so I'll take my chances."
"But what about me, when I come to visit. Don't you care about me being in danger from muggers?"
"Lana, if you're in this neighbourhood, it will be with me. So *stop* worrying!"
She'd given up *that* time, but still brought up the issue occasionally. Nevertheless, despite his desire to please Lana and do what she asked of him, on this one issue he'd stuck to his decision. He really liked this place. It just felt *right*.
He leaned over and picked up the pile of mail on the end table and sorted through it. In among the bills and flyers was an invitation to Tim and Lori's wedding September 4th. He picked up the phone to call Lana and got her answering machine.
These days, he found he spent a lot of time listening to her taped message. She was extremely busy with her job and somehow their schedules didn't seem to click as often as they used to. He had thought when he moved to Metropolis that they would see each other more often, but their jobs and lives in general seemed to be conspiring against them. He left a message that he had called, and hung up.
He stood up, walked into the kitchen to prepare dinner, and started thinking about what he wanted to do with the farm. If he kept the farm, what would he do? Hire someone to take care of it? Rent it to another family? Quit his job and move back to Smallville?
The latter definitely didn't appeal. On the whole, he liked being in Metropolis. He liked his new apartment and was settling into life in one of the biggest, most exciting cities in the world. He had a good job. Mr. White had told him on several occasions that he was quite satisfied with his work, and Clark was slowly progressing to more and more complex stories. Lana was close by when he needed to talk through things about his special nature, which wasn't all that often lately, but that was life. The only thing he didn't like about living in Metropolis was the general level of paranoia in the big city. Having people constantly on the lookout for the strange, unusual or just plain different was uncomfortable for someone who had a secret to hide.
Then again, if he sold the farm, would he always regret it? He flipped the omelet over on itself and slid it onto a plate. He poured a glass of juice and took the plate and glass to the table. His only happy childhood memories were centred on the farm, but then again some of the worst moments of his life had been set there too. Since all he had left of his parents were memories, would keeping the farm really make that much of a difference? He sat and slowly consumed his dinner. He'd told Jack he would talk it over with Lana, maybe he should. He was too involved in this decision emotionally and didn't know what he really wanted. It would be good to get a second opinion.
Later that evening he was finally able to speak to Lana on the phone. When she heard about the upcoming wedding, she was delighted for an excuse to buy a new outfit and quickly agreed to go.
Once Lana had stopped anticipating the thrill of her proposed clothes purchase, Clark changed the subject to his problem about whether or not to keep the farm.
"Clark, it's really up to you. I know you feel alienated from the place, but you *do* realize the tax implications if you sell. Don't you?"
Clark sighed. "Yes, Lana, I know." That wasn't really the issue for him, but he didn't know what *was* the real issue, either. He really should stop bothering Lana with his problems, but over the years he'd learned that if he didn't tell her *everything*, and she found out later, she'd be really upset. He didn't want to upset her, she meant too much to him for that. "So, how was your day?"
He spent the next half hour listening to Lana's complaints about her boss and how the boss was overlooking her for on-camera work in favour of a second cousin of the owner of the station. Clark made the appropriate responses at irregular intervals and pondered his own problem in between. When Lana finally wound down and said goodnight, he hung up the phone with a guilty feeling of relief.
On his way to bed he acknowledged that he really needed more time to decide what to do with the land and farmhouse long-term. The next morning he called Jack Lawson and told him to find another family to take care of the farm.
Over the summer, Clark filled in for people as they went off on vacation. He was partnered with a variety of co-workers on different assignments all over the Daily Planet.
While he was helping out in Business, a billionaire entrepreneur committed suicide which sent the Business Editor into a tizzy of activity writing articles about buy-outs and takeovers of the former LexCorp companies. Clark couldn't kindle any interest in the death of Lex Luthor, although the new talk show host, Larry Kidsign, made as much mystery out of the story as he could to garner higher ratings. Everything Clark himself had researched, indicated Luthor was your typical big business operator, only interested in his own personal advancement. When LexCorp took a heavy hit in the stock exchange, his death was inevitable. The man had obviously measured his self worth by his company holdings. His death was only significant to his stockholders and business partners. Once LexCorp was redistributed, he was pretty much forgotten, although some of the buildings in town did still carry his name.
When he went to work with Karl in Travel, the man was ecstatic to learn that Clark had travelled all over the world. Karl put him straight to work on stories about Bali and the Seychelles — he wanted to be sure to give Mr. White a choice of stories for the next quarterly edition of the Planet's glossy travel magazine.
Clark was happy to comply. He had spent almost a month on Bali early last year and was able to quickly piece together a story on 'the Jewel of the East.' It was almost no effort at all to rhapsodize over the beautiful, mountainous island with a tropical climate and fertile soil. The photographs the Planet travel photographer had submitted, although good, didn't do it justice at all. Clark felt it had to be seen first-hand to truly comprehend its beauty, and hoped he had conveyed that in his story.
On the other hand he had never been to the Seychelles. He needed to do actual research to write the story and paid a visit to the Planet's morgue to get background material. There he found file pictures and a brief overview of the history and politics of the republic consisting of about 100 islands in the western Indian Ocean north of Madagascar. The pictures looked fabulous. For a fraction of a second he thought about paying a quick visit, but on second thought, decided the risk was too high. He wrote his story from the material at hand.
Karl was pleased with Clark's work and regretted his return to the newsroom. Clark, on the other hand, was relieved at his return to familiar territory. Although Clark had liked the work in Travel, he wanted to return to the action of the newsroom. He preferred being in a job where he wasn't tempted to fly to his stories.
Early in August, Jack Lawson called and confirmed the new tenancy. He asked that Clark come and inspect the property prior to the arrival of the new family.
"Oh, and Clark, there's some boxes in the attic that belong to you. Now that you've got a place of your own, do you want to take them?"
"Boxes? I don't remember any boxes."
"Sure you do, a couple of old trunks and three cardboard boxes that belonged to your parents. The new people have several small kids. They want to use the attic as indoor play space. I'd recommend you get the boxes out of there, before the family arrives early in September."
"Okay, Jack, I'll come and look at them. Lana and I will be in Kansas City for a wedding on the long weekend. I'll drop by for the key."
"Sure thing, Clark, any time."
Over the Labour Day weekend, he and Lana flew a commercial jet to Kansas City to attend Tim and Lori's wedding.
The bride and groom were obviously ecstatic about getting married and the weather cooperated for them to have their small, garden wedding just the way they had planned. Lana thought the wedding was a little too small and intimate for her taste, but Clark was just happy for Tim and Lori.
The next day, Lana went shopping while Clark visited the farm and packed up the boxes and trunks to be shipped back to Metropolis.
He stood in the lane leading up to the farmhouse and stared at the house. How did he feel about this house? He wasn't really sure. Memories of running up this same laneway calling out joyfully to Mommy as she waited for him on the porch were jumbled together with the memories of slowly walking up this laneway towards the trembling Mrs. Stinger and the figure of Mr. Stinger looming in the doorway, one hand convulsively hitting the palm of the other. Clark shuddered as he stepped up onto the porch. He turned the key in the lock and slowly opened the door, almost afraid of the memories this house would bring back.
What he saw was a sparkling clean kitchen and living room. The furniture and window dressings were now completely different from when he was a child here. There was nothing to remind him of his early childhood or the horrible time he'd spent here with the Stingers. Even the shape of the rooms seemed different somehow. Grateful that there was nothing to remind him of the awful times, but regretful that the happy times seemed to be lost as well, he turned towards the staircase and headed for the attic.
The trunks and cardboard boxes were just where Jack Lawson had said they would be. Clark hunkered down to sort through the contents before putting on the shipping labels. He found a small picture of his parents that fit perfectly into his wallet, so he could always have them with him. In the last box he found an envelope containing the triangle with the S logo his Mom had given to him, explaining it had been with the blue blanket they found him in. He was glad no one else had looked through these boxes. The special logo would have created some awkward questions that couldn't be answered by a generic 'my mother made it' statement. The triangle with an S on it didn't even remotely look homemade.
When Clark got back to Metropolis, he put the envelope in the trunk he was using as a coffee table. He'd figure out what to do with it later.
Metropolis, New Troy — June 1994
Lana had reserved dinner at the hot new restaurant at the top of the Lexor Hotel, to celebrate his first anniversary on the job, and his recent success with his story on the opening of Space Station Prometheus. She also booked them into the honeymoon suite for the night.
Clark thought this was a little presumptuous. She hadn't asked him what he wanted to do for dinner, and certainly hadn't inquired what he wanted to do for the night. "Lana, we haven't even decided if we want to be married. Why did you book us into the honeymoon suite?"
"It'll be romantic, Clark. They have one of those heart-shaped tubs and a nice big bed." Lana snuggled up to him and whispered, "It'll be great, you'll see."
Clark briefly considered saying 'no.' It just didn't seem right to be using a honeymoon suite when you weren't actually on your honeymoon. But he couldn't hurt her feelings, he just wasn't built that way. So, instead of protesting, he said, "Yes, sweetheart, of course."
He had learned over the years that once Lana had made up her mind there was no changing it. She loved him enough to want to be with him — that was sufficient. Wasn't it?
After he had written his story covering the launch of the first transport vehicle to dock with the Space Station, work in the newsroom wasn't all that exciting.
Mr. White had been pleased and had praised Clark's initiative in getting an exclusive interview with Commander Jack Laderman, pilot of the transport vehicle, Messenger. The commander had said he had given him the interview because he had been impressed with Clark's knowledge of flight trajectories and the depth of his research into space flight and the development of the space station.
Clark had hoped that Mr. White might have given him more praise on the story. However, the Editor-in-Chief was obviously distracted by the Daily Planet's current financial woes. There were rumours flying around at the coffee machine that the Planet was ripe for a hostile takeover. A lot of people were starting to brush up their resumes in preparation for the cuts by the new owner, or owners. Clark thought he'd wait and see what happened before doing anything drastic.
Mr. White had now assigned Clark to work on a series of exposes that would feature examples of government waste and mismanagement. It wasn't the most exciting assignment he had been given, but Clark felt it was doing a public good by keeping the government on its toes.
Clark had pretty much resigned himself to simply working through the list of government projects Mr. White had given him, when one of his more reliable sources called to tell him that he should check out a building down near Hobb's Bay. There was supposed to be some kind of top secret, hush-hush, government holding-tank down there.
This could mean another exclusive! After telling Mr. White he was going to follow up on a lead, Clark caught a cab to the Hobb's Bay district. After paying off the cab, and ensuring no-one was following him, Clark walked along the waterfront for a couple of blocks and then turned right and headed for the Bessolo Boulevard address he had been given.
He stood nervously outside the chain-link fence and gate of a nondescript building and wondered what on earth had led his source to believe *this* was of any importance. He turned to walk back towards the busier part of Hobb's Bay feeling deflated and disappointed with his independent lead. He should forget this crazy idea and just follow up on the next project on Mr. White's list.
Then he felt it … a strange tug at his mind. He didn't know what it was, but it was *compelling* him to come to it! Clark had no idea why, but he felt he *had* to investigate. His heart raced as he pulled two of the chain's links apart slipped the chain holding the two sides of the gate together from between the links, and entered the yard in front of the building. He made sure he closed the gate behind him, putting the chain back through the links of the fence and pressing the links of the chain back in place. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure he wasn't being watched, crossed the dirt square in front of the building and came to a halt.
The door into the building was fastened by a combination lock! How was he going to get around this? Maybe he should just go away. He felt the force of the tug in his mind again. It, whatever *it* was, wanted him inside! He peered over his glasses but couldn't see through the wall. The paint on this old warehouse must be chock full of lead! He lowered his gaze to the door and was able to see the lock's interior. He turned the dial, and used his special hearing to listen for the confirmation of the tumblers connecting. It took a couple of tries before he got it right, but finally he pulled at the hasp and the lock drew apart.
Afraid to open the door, yet compelled by whatever was tugging at his mind, he glanced over his shoulder again and entered the building. The tug on his mind had lessened now that he was inside the building. It was almost as if *it* knew he was there.
Clark stared around him. He was in a *huge* hangar space whose floor was filled with tarp-covered bulges and filing cabinets. The warehouse hadn't appeared to be anywhere near this big from the outside. He put a clamp on the excitement he was now feeling. He had to keep on track. His crazy idea might just turn out to be an award-winning story after all!
He randomly opened the drawers of several filing cabinets. All the file folders had "Bureau 39" logos on their labels. He wondered what Bureau 39 was and what jurisdiction it came under because he couldn't remember coming across that name in his directory of government agencies. Then his heart almost stopped beating when he saw a file labelled "Smallville Incident, 1966."
He rapidly scanned the contents of the file. It contained several government reports on a possible UFO sighting in the town of Smallville, Kansas. A small spaceship had been recovered, although it had been buried six feet down in a field, presumably by one of the locals. Two agents had revisited the town in 1972 and were of the opinion that a child by the name of Clark Kent was possibly of alien origin.
Clark sank to the floor, his back against the file cabinet, the file folder in his trembling hands. His heart clenched and a moan escaped from his lips. All those years of worrying that the government would find him out … and they already *knew*! If it hadn't been for general inefficiency and mismanagement, they could have come for him years ago!
He remembered those agents mentioned in the file. They had been rude to his parents, and after their visit, his Mom and Dad had explained about his other, Special, parents and emphasized how important it was that no-one find out his Special nature. He slowly stood up. He really had to get out of here before someone came and found him in this warehouse. He couldn't leave the file here for anyone to find, either! Clark tucked the file inside the breast of his coat.
He did *not* want to expose this warehouse, no matter how many awards he might win. Someone might remember that Clark Kent, reporter, had been a child in Smallville, Kansas, at the relevant time. If he never told anyone about his visit here and just followed up on the next project on Mr. White's list, it was unlikely anyone else would think to look inside this warehouse.
Anxious to put as much distance as he could between this building and himself, Clark turned to leave when he felt that strange compelling tug at his mind again. It was almost as if whatever it was sensed his intent to leave. Swallowing to moisten his dry mouth, he turned around full circle. The pull was from further inside the warehouse. After taking a look around for possible monitoring equipment, Clark tiptoed forward.
About thirty feet further down the aisle he came across a mound that seemed to be begging him to lift the tarpaulin sheet. He did.
Underneath was a small spacecraft, almost like a child's version of a racing car without wheels, certainly not large enough to hold a man, with strange symbols around the outside edge. Clark stroked his hand across the cuneiform-style lettering … until he came across the now familiar S symbol on the nose of the craft. He swallowed. Was this the ship he had arrived in?
Then his trembling hand stretched out instinctively and picked up a small leather pouch resting on the makeshift table holding the little craft. It seemed to want him to. The pouch held something round inside it and was labelled "Smallville, Exhibit A." Opening the pouch, he found a softball-sized globe of the Earth. As he touched the globe, he felt at one with the object as the surface swirled to a different formation tinged in red, and a voice in his mind said "Krypton." Clark almost dropped the sphere, but got a tighter grip and then carefully replaced it in the bag. He wondered if Krypton was the name of the planet he was from.
He did *not* want this spaceship to stay here, either. There was still a remote chance someone else might investigate this building.
Putting the bag in the spaceship, together with the "Smallville Incident, 1966" file, he wrapped the tiny craft, globe and file folder in the tarpaulin and lifted the bundle over his head. Manoeuvring his way between the other covered bulges, he carried it out to the dirt square between the building and the gate, locking the door behind him.
He heard a sound. Maybe someone had followed him? Maybe they were watching him now?! He placed the ship bundle on the ground and turned around slowly, using his Special sight to see if anyone was watching him. He saw only a stray dog scuffling in an overturned trash can further down the street. Now sure that there was no one in the vicinity to see him leave he picked up the bundle and then jumped, with it on his shoulder, up into the air. Once his feet had lifted off the ground, he pressed his mental button that said "fly."
Within minutes he was at the farm near Smallville. He wasn't sure what instinct had brought him here. After all, anyone in the know would look to Smallville for more clues. However, it felt right that the artifacts related to his origin should be here, where he had spent the first years of his life on Earth.
He decided to bury the spacecraft and the file near the tree where he and Dad had built the tree house together when he was small. Dad had chosen that location because the tree was out of sight of the farmhouse and the road — it would be perfect for his needs. But first, he took the globe up into his old childhood tree house so he could find a hiding place for it there. Once inside the treehouse, he realized that hiding it here wasn't such a good idea. The new people on the farm had small children who would want to use this tree house within the next couple of years. He stood, irresolute, with the globe in one hand. Then he gasped and stared at it in awe as it slowly began to glow again.
He wished the globe could talk to him and tell him everything he wanted to know. He stroked it gently with his other hand, almost dropping it again when it suddenly flashed a bright light and a three-dimensional picture of a man appeared. Clark gasped and had to consciously close his mouth as he stared at the strangely familiar-looking man wearing a tunic with the same 'S' symbol that had been on Clark's baby blanket and on the small space craft outside.
As Clark stared in amazement at the image, the vision began to speak, "My name is Jor-El. And you are Kal-El — my son."
Clark drew a sobbing breath. His *father*! No *wonder* the man looked familiar. He saw a younger version of that same face in his own mirror every morning. His mind wrestled with this new information and he almost missed the next part of the message. He combed his hair with the fingers of his free hand. He really needed to concentrate. The image continued to speak.
"The object you now possess has been attuned to you. That you now hear these words is proof that you survived the journey in space and have reached your full maturity. Now it is time for you to learn your heritage."
Clark gasped as the image shifted to show a red planet hanging in space. Then the scene shifted again and Clark saw Jor-El standing in what appeared to be a kind of scientific laboratory. "Time grows short and we continue to search. The immensity of space is both a blessing and a curse. In that near infinite variety there must be some place suitable." Jor-El appeared to suddenly feel anguished at the limited time available. "Hope and desperation drive us in equal measure."
Then a tall, elegant woman joined the man. Clark felt suddenly overwhelmed and sank to the floor of the tree house. Could this be … his *mother*?!
"Lara works by my side. She is tireless and endlessly patient. Considering what is soon to come, this is my greatest consolation: that we are together." A tremor shook the lab, indicators on the console flared and Jor-El took Lara in his arms. The tremor subsided.
Clark suddenly realized the man was speaking English. How could that be? Shouldn't he be speaking Kryptonese, or something?
As if the globe sensed his puzzlement it responded to his unspoken question. "You may wonder that I speak your language, and not my native Kryptonian: I don't. That is another property of the object." Then Jor-El continued his story. "Unmanned Kryptonian probes have explored every corner of the known galaxy and beyond. For thousands of centuries we have received data back from those probes. I have every confidence that, given enough time, we can achieve the conversion to a manned vessel. But, will we have the time?"
Another tremor, more violent than the last, almost knocked Clark's parents off their feet. They clung to the console for support.
"The pattern of core disintegration continues to accelerate. Even I cannot predict when it will end."
Lara and Jor-El walked over to a small space craft exactly like the one Clark had left on the ground below the tree house. "There is an ancient Kryptonian saying: 'On a long road, take small steps.' Precision and care are the watchwords. Yet, we still have far to go."
There seemed to be a shift in time, as if filming had stopped and then restarted. Both of his parents looked sad as Jor-El continued, "There is no longer any doubt. The chain reaction has begun. As panic spreads, the population awakens, too late, to its fate. Our future is inevitable." Another tremor shook the lab and an alarm chime sounded from the console that Jor-El was standing beside. "At last the computers have located a suitable destination: a planet physically and biologically compatible with Krypton whose inhabitants resemble ours, and whose society is based on ethical standards which we, too, embrace in concept, if not always in deed."
The image shifted again to show an image of Earth floating in space. "The inhabitants call it, simply, Earth."
"We have installed the hyperlight drive and tested it as best we can. So much is unknown." Jor-El and Lara unhooked something attached to the console: the globe with its red Krypton appearance. "Contained within the sphere is the navigational computer that will guide the ship through the maze of hyperspace, as well as this account of our final days."
Jor-El carried the globe to the ship, fitted it into the mounting designed for it. Once in place, it changed to display the Earth's blue marble appearance. "All is in readiness. We have selected the ship's exact destination on Earth and programmed it into the computer."
Then Clark covered his mouth and gasped as Lara brought in an infant swaddled in blankets. This was himself as a *baby*!
"Kal-El, our child. Under Earth's sun his Kryptonian cells will give him powers and abilities no Kryptonian has ever had." Lara gently laid him in the space craft. In a choked voice, Jor-El said, "He is the last son of Krypton."
Another tremor shook the laboratory. Jor-El and Lara stood over the ship. "I try to picture where you are now as you hear this last chapter. What do you look like? Are you alone? What have you become? Lara and I will never know. But that you should live to experience this … that is enough. We are content."
Jor-El began to seal the hatch of the space craft. Lara lightly touched the baby in the craft and the infant reached for her. The ship's hatch closed. Yet another tremor began. "We give you to Earth, to a realm called America, and a place called Kansas. Remember us, but do not regret our passing. All is fate."
It almost seemed unreal. Clark had to remind himself that this was his mother and father and himself as a baby that he was seeing.
The image shifted yet again. Clark realized he was seeing Krypton from the point-of-view of the globe on the surface of the tiny space craft. The planet surface receded away from him until he could see Krypton hanging in space, beautiful, alien, at peace. Then, in a flash of greenish light, it exploded, reduced to dust and space debris. Another moment … and it was as if it had never been. The image vanished.
Clark sat on the floor of the tree house, his face wet with tears. This was how his Special parents had died — in a fiery ball almost uncannily the same fiery death as Mom and Dad! Why his Special parents hadn't been able to save themselves, he didn't know. Perhaps one day the globe would tell him that too?
The globe looked like the Earth again, and had ceased to glow. But one thing kept spinning through his mind … he hadn't been abandoned by his parents! He had been safeguarded by them! He whispered the name they had given him, "Kal-El!"
Memories flooded his mind — of Mom and Dad being hit by the truck — of Krypton exploding. He found himself sobbing for what might have been. He hadn't known them but they were his *parents* and he was devastated that they had died and yet had done everything in their power for *him*.
Clark hugged the globe to his chest, rocking back and forth in an effort to stop the pain he was feeling. When he finally regained his composure, Clark looked at his watch only to find he had been in the tree house for almost three hours!
He didn't know what he was feeling any more. Inside he was a turmoil of grief for the death of his Special mother and father, joy at the knowledge of their love, and sorrow at what might have been. The globe had told him *so* much! He wasn't a mistake in some kind of scientific experiment. He really *had* been loved, and wanted. Wiping the tears from his cheeks with the back of his sleeve, he carefully placed the globe back into its bag and stood up.
Clark floated down from the tree house, laid the globe inside space craft, and buried the craft and its contents in the ground. After they were lowered into the ground, he made sure that the ground above the burial site did not appear to have been recently dug up by covering the disturbed earth with some artfully arranged rocks. He didn't want anyone finding this burial site of his personal history. He stared through the earth at the tiny space ship. Waves of sorrow swept over him. Why couldn't just one set of his parents have survived? Why? He gulped back sobs.
Once he had some control over his emotions again, he whispered "Thank you … Jor-El and Lara … Thank you!" After this final memorial message to his parents, he flew back to Metropolis with the memories of everything that had happened this afternoon spinning round-and-round inside his head. It wasn't until he was almost at the New Troy state line that he wondered if he should tell Lana about this latest development.
In Metropolis, he landed outside the gate to the warehouse on Bessolo and double-checked that the lock on the gate was fastened they way he had originally found it. He walked towards the docks and hailed a passing cab. If anyone checked, it would seem as if he'd spent the entire afternoon doing research in the Hobb's Bay area.
The cab got him home within minutes. By this time the numbness he had felt after burying the space craft had worn off. The pain and sorrow of this new loss combined with the memory of his earlier loss was back in full force. He was really looking forward to a quiet evening at home to think through his feelings about his birth parents and the way they had died. As he got out of the cab, he saw an extremely irate Lana pacing back-and-forth at his front door
"And, just *where* have you been! We're late! Or, did you forget that we had tickets to 'Beauty and the Beast' on Broadway and we still have to eat dinner, and …?"
Clark had known they were going to see the Broadway show, but he'd completely forgotten this detail in the emotional upheavals he'd gone through today.
"Lana, I'm s-s-sorry. I f-f-forgot. It's been k-k-kind of a traumatic day. I …"
"Clark! How could you *possibly* forget these tickets? They cost a fortune! I had to beg and plead with the ticket office to get them on one of your evenings off and *now* you tell me you *forgot* because you've had a hard day!"
Clark felt disconcerted. He knew how much these Broadway tickets meant to Lana, but … "I'm sorry, Lana. It's just that I found out something that upset me … I just forgot, that's all."
"Okay, you forgot. I understand. But you know how much I hate being late." She patted his arm. "Right now, you have to change. We have to be there by eight."
"I can't. I need for us to talk." Clark hoped she would listen to what he had to say.
"Can't! Don't be ridiculous. We can't miss this! It's too late to back out!"
Clark swallowed, close to tears again, "I can't! I just *can't*!" Through the tears he managed to get the key in the lock and open the front door. "You have to understand, I just c-c-can't!"
"Clark, you promised! We can't back out now. We *have* to go!"
"But …" Clark turned around to face Lana. He searched for the words to tell her what he was feeling.
Lana moved close to him and put her arms around his neck. "You'll really like it! I just know it. It's a love story, just like ours." She kissed the corner of his mouth. "Please, sweetheart. It'll help you relax. We'll talk about your rotten day later. Okay?"
Clark opened his mouth to tell her that he had lost yet more people who loved him to a fiery death, but Lana continued, "Clark, I can see you're upset, but we have this commitment. We can't just not go. Please, Clark, you promised." She blinked up at him.
Clark swallowed, he couldn't back out of this and hurt her, could he? Clark whispered, "Okay."
She gently released her hold on him and pushed him in the direction of the bathroom.
Dazed, Clark walked slowly towards the bathroom trying to sort out his feelings. He had to tell her he wasn't up to this. He *had* to! He turned to reiterate his need to just talk.
However, Lana waved him back in the direction of the bathroom. "Sweetheart, this is for the best, really. You need to hurry."
He was about to protest but couldn't. She loved him. She was only thinking of what was best for him. Then he realized the truth — that Lana was now the only person left who loved him. He needed her love, so he turned back towards the bathroom to get ready for the theatre.
In the shower, Clark leaned against the tile letting the water wash over him and wash away his tears. He mustn't spoil Lana's evening. It wouldn't be fair to her. He thought again about insisting that Lana hear about today's events, but realized it would be futile. When she was this focussed on the Broadway tickets, he knew she wouldn't listen. It really didn't make that much difference, anyway. She had always thought he was from space, and knowing that it was true would not help ease her fears of his being caught and put in a lab. He should just keep this knowledge to himself.
Later that evening, as Beauty found her true love amidst clamouring town mobs and bewitched castles, Clark had a nightmare thought. What if people found out his true nature — would they see him as a monster and mob *him*? He shuddered and, trying to forget this appalling possibility, returned his attention to the happy ending unfolding before his eyes.
London, England — October 1994
Joan Dough was in her weekly session with Dr. Mamba, her psychotherapist. She still could not remember much of anything prior to her arrival at the Sutcliffe Hospital for Post-Traumatic Stress a year ago. She did not know her real name and was still in physiotherapy to recover from the injuries she had sustained just prior to her arrival at the hospital.
Joan had spent the last twelve months in the hospital trying to recover from her injuries and do the best she could to remember her previous life. Dr. Mamba was hopeful that she would eventually regain her memory. However, without a framework of known places and people they both knew this would be virtually impossible.
The one memory she had was of the name 'Joan Dough' and a place — Venus, Nebraska. She was pretty sure that the name was not hers, and that she was *not* actually from Nebraska. However, she had no other memories to prove otherwise. The hospital had contacted the authorities in Nebraska. However, as Joan had suspected, there was no record of any Doughs, particularly a Joan Dough, from there.
Dr. Mamba looked up from reading her file. "So, Joan, you don't remember anything more than when we met last week?"
Joan shook her head. "No. Every time I think I'm close to remembering *something* I get one of those blinding headaches and I can't think of anything but getting away from the pain."
Flipping through her file, Dr. Mamba, scanned some of her medical records. "Your physicians can't find any fracture or injury that might be causing those headaches. However, they haven't given up hope of finding the solution just yet. Your injuries *were* pretty severe. It could be just that your body needs more time to heal."
Joan nodded glumly. Dr. Mamba was nice and reassuring, but the truth was that none of them — not her physicians, Dr. Mamba or herself — knew how to get her memory back, or even how to stop those headaches. "Did they say what I can do to prevent the headaches? They only seem to happen when I try to remember."
Dr. Mamba shook his head. "We can only assume that whatever caused you to forget was so traumatic that your body is fighting that memory. And to stop you from remembering *it*, whatever *it* was, your mind refuses to let you remember *anything* prior to your arrival here, even causing you pain in order to prevent that from happening."
"So there's nothing I can do?"
Dr. Mamba smiled reassuringly. "I suggest you relax. Don't *try* to remember and eventually you *will* remember."
Joan wanted to be well. She *wanted* to remember. But, they had gone through all this so many times already. She was starting to learn some new skills to help her get a job and be more independent, but not being able to remember was all just so *frustrating*!
Sighing, resignedly, Joan said, "Yes, Doctor. I'll try to do that."
Dr. Mamba's suggestion *was* a good one. She should try to just live for the moment and stop yearning for a traumatic past she couldn't remember.
Metropolis, New Troy — December, 1994
It was Lana's birthday and they had gone to the elegant Chez Victor's for dinner and dancing.
During a slow dance, after they had finished dessert, Lana tightened her hold on his shoulder and asked, "Clark! How long have we known each other?"
Clark skilfully sidestepped around another couple on the dance floor as he responded, "Over twenty years. Why?"
"I didn't mean *that*, I meant in the biblical sense." Lana gazed up at him through her lashes, tightening her arms around his neck and moving closer.
It took Clark a couple of seconds to realize she meant 'know intimately.' "Oh … er, about ten years."
"Wrong, Clark … it's been *exactly* ten years — tonight."
"Oh." Clark wasn't sure where she was heading with this and that made him uncomfortable.
"I think we should get down to thinking about getting married … don't you?"
Clark blinked. He had become used to the idea that they had an indefinite relationship. Lana had always seemed to want it that way. What had instigated this question? "We were going to get married right after we graduated college, but you didn't want to — then. Why now?"
Lana stopped dancing and looked up at him. "I've been thinking about it. My biological clock is going tick-tock, tick-tock and I don't want to miss out on the chance of having children."
Embarrassed by her forwardness in such a public place, Clark said, "Lana. Maybe we should go somewhere and talk about this?"
Lana nodded and said, "Let's go back to my place."
He escorted her off the dance floor and asked the maitre d' to call a taxi so they could go to Lana's apartment in the upscale part of town.
After the cab stopped in front of Lana's elegant apartment tower, Clark assisted Lana out of the cab, paid the driver and followed her up the steps into the lobby of her high-rise. Once they were in her apartment, Lana sat on the sofa and patted the seat beside her to indicate she wanted him to sit down.
She took his hand in hers and continued their conversation from the restaurant. "Clark, I mean it. I don't want to miss out. I think we should get married now, before it's too late."
Clark felt hesitant. She was making some fairly large assumptions here. "We don't even know if I can father children."
"Don't be silly, Clark, of course you can. You know you *want* them."
Clark nodded. "Yes, I'd like that very much."
"Clark, let's get married — soon." Lana blinked up at him.
He smiled back at her. She *did* love him. She knew exactly what he was and yet she still loved him! There was only one possible response. "Yes, when do you want to do it?"
"Soon." She rested her cheek against his shoulder and hugged him close. "Really soon."
"Soon" could not be for a year and a half according to Lana's mother's calculations.
Right after they had committed to getting married, Lana had called her mother and father to tell them the news. Her mother had immediately booked a flight to Metropolis and was staying with Lana for a few days. Lana and Clark had hoped to hold a quiet wedding in the Spring. However, Mrs. Lang had other ideas.
"Lana, honey." Her mother took up her engagement calendar again. "The *very* earliest we can book a Saturday wedding at the Montgomery Country Club is July 1996."
"We could get married on another day," Clark said, trying to be helpful to both his future wife and future mother-in-law.
"No, it *has* to be Saturday. You cannot expect out-of-town guests to arrive in the middle of a week. It would be entirely inconsiderate." Lana's mother was adamant.
"Mummy! We can't wait a whole year and a half! Can't we do it somewhere else? Maybe, in Smallville? Smallville is really pretty in the Spring." Lana had tears in her eyes.
"Now, honey, don't be so silly. It *has* to be in Metropolis. You're our only daughter and you deserve the best." Her mother looked sympathetic but obdurate. "Besides, any place else worth considering wouldn't be available much before that, so it's settled. You and Clark will be married at St. Michael's Oratory and the reception will be at the Montgomery Country Club." Mrs. Lang clicked her pen and wrote this in the 1996 Events section of her engagement calendar.
Over the next few months, Clark began to realize how much work was involved in preparing for a wedding. He'd had no idea. As time went by, he was more and more grateful that no-one expected much of him but to show up at the appropriate time and place, dressed in the style of tuxedo selected for him.
The one thing that he did do, almost on his own, was to buy the engagement ring. He and Lana visited a number of jewellery stores before finding just the right ring for Lana.
He and Lana had their engagement portrait taken. They both looked happy, although Clark guiltily remembered thinking about flying in order to comply with the photographer's request to "think happy thoughts."
New Year's Eve he presented Lana with the ring she had selected and formally asked her to marry him.
She said "Yes."
For some reason, Clark found this kind of daunting. However, he quickly dismissed his apprehension as typical pre-marital jitters and carried on with his life.
Metropolis, New Troy — April 1996
The wind gusted and blew the trash around on the street as Clark hurried, at normal human speed, back to the Planet. Clark was on his way back from meeting with a source. Bobby Bigmouth had not added much to Clark's knowledge-base about this new candidate for Mayor — Tempus — which was kind of disappointing. Mr. Olsen, the new owner of the Planet, wanted all the information he could get on Mr. White's opponent in the mayoral race.
Mr. Olsen had taken a real chance on the Daily Planet when no-one else would. He was a computer whiz who had made millions before the age of twenty-one and was well on his way to becoming one of the richest men in North America, if not the world. He'd bought the Planet last year and had encouraged all the Planet staff to promote the newspaper whenever possible. He'd even talked Perry White into running for mayor. Clark knew Perry would like to *be* mayor, but the whole campaign side of things was getting him down. Perry had never been one to conform to other people's expectations.
Clark was now hurrying to get back to the office by noon, because he had agreed to meet with Lana over lunch to discuss the details of their wedding. They wanted to make their own decisions together so that they could form a united front when they met with Lana's parents tonight to discuss final arrangements about the guest list and their nuptial dinner. He slowed down. It wasn't that he didn't *want* to have the 'perfect' wedding. It just all seemed so … he couldn't come up with the right word … frivolous? He shrugged mentally. Regardless, he didn't really feel like discussing the intricacies of place-settings and seating arrangements.
He stopped at the sidewalk coffee vendor and picked up a caffe latte. He really should hurry, Lana wouldn't be pleased if he was late. Despite this prudent instruction from his inner voice, he slowly walked back to the office, sipping his latte and browsing through this morning's Daily Planet. Just as he stepped off the curb to cross over to the Planet building, he could have sworn he heard someone call his name. He looked out into the sea of faces of office and construction workers converging on the street, on their way to lunch.
Ever since he was in his early teens his Special hearing had seemed to kick in on its own accord whenever trouble was brewing within the vicinity of his ability to Special Hear. Where there was trouble he had to help. He couldn't just not help people — he *had* to help when he could, no matter how upset Lana might get at him. Before he could identify who it was that had called, "Clark, it's me! Over — " there was gunfire a half a block down the street.
Everyone scattered, ducking around corners or behind any available cover. Many people drew out their own guns, ready to return fire if necessary. A car squealed into view. The driver shot at a storefront as the woman in the store fired back. The car peeled away. Clark ducked behind a nearby newsstand, and, using the buildings for cover, sped as fast as he could to prevent the car from escaping. He used his Special Sight to melt a hole in one of the car's tires; and, as soon as he heard the police arrive, sped as fast as he could back to the Planet — hoping to get there before Lana arrived.
Lana was waiting for him in the back conference room.
"Clark, I can't stay long. The station manager has called a snap meeting for one o'clock. I'll be lucky if I get a chance to eat, and we definitely won't be able to have lunch together. Can we make some quick decisions now? We can deal with the details tonight when we meet with Mummy and Daddy."
"What do we still need to decide?"
Lana pulled out her file folder on the wedding arrangements.
"Well … whether to have dessert *and* wedding cake, what kind of centrepiece to have at the head table, and whether to have paper or cloth napkins. Paper are more convenient, but cloth look so much nicer, don't you think?"
"I guess. Look, I don't really care which way we go on any of those things. Why don't you decide what you would like and I'll back you up?"
Lana smiled and patted his arm. "Thanks, Clark. You're so sweet. Now I just have to go powder my nose and I'll be on my way."
Clark watched her depart in the direction of the ladies' room, with relief. She hadn't realized he was late or seen him do that save outside, after all.
He went into the morgue to pick up a file on the mayoral candidates. As he walked back towards his desk, he read through the file, trying to determine if there was any clue to what the new candidate, Tempus, was all about.
Suddenly, he heard someone call his name. Just as he raised his head to see who was calling, a woman flung herself into his arms, saying, "Oh, Clark, I'm so glad to see you." Then in a whisper, "You and Superman," and to his astonishment she kissed him full on the mouth!
He gently but firmly pushed her off, astounded by the ardour of her kiss.
"Miss. Who are you … and what's Superman?"
She was looking at him, dumbfounded. As if she were feeling like Alice in Wonderland, where nothing was as it seemed to be.
This was just about the way that Clark himself felt right now. He was feeling decidedly disconcerted and had to fight a sudden insane desire to kiss her in return.
At that moment, Lana came up behind him and said, "Clark? Who is this?"
"I have no idea." But, he wanted to know. This woman seemed to have mistaken him for someone she liked very, very much. He kind of wished *he* was that special someone.
"Well, I guess she knows *you*. So she ought to know me. I'm Lana Lang, Mr. Kent's fiancee." Lana held out her right hand to the strange woman. "And you are … ?"
The woman seemed even more lost than she had been a few moments ago when Clark had pushed her away. Clark was desperately fighting the urge to comfort her. What on earth was *wrong* with him all of a sudden?
"Uhh, I … "
A short, elderly man with greying hair, metal-rim glasses and a large moustache appeared at the young woman's side.
"Lois Lane. And still a bit feverish, I'm afraid, aren't you, my dear?"
Lois Lane! *The* Lois Lane. But she was dead! Wasn't she? How on earth … ?
Lois Lane looked totally confused as she said, "I, I guess." The older gentleman led her off towards Mr. White's office.
Lana was definitely in no mood to accept Clark's excuses for this woman kissing him. She obviously thought he had invited the action somehow, and was *not* pleased. Clark tried to reassure her, but his stuttering excuse sounded lame even to himself.
Just then Perry and Mr. Olsen came up to them.
"Clark, I see you've met Lois Lane. It's a miracle isn't it?" Perry was looking in Lois Lane's direction with a pleased smile on his face.
Clark followed Perry's gaze and asked, "I thought she was dead. How did she survive?"
Mr. Olsen responded, "It seems she's been in a coma for the last three years. Mr. Wells, the old man with her, says he brought her here as soon as he could."
"Just who *is* this Lois Lane, anyway?" Lana was definitely not pleased. Her hands and body language added punctuation to her question, emphasizing her disapproval.
Clark put his arm around Lana, reassuringly. "Remember, sweetheart, she wrote that news report on Claude."
Perry elaborated, "She sure did! She was one of the best darn reporters it was ever my pleasure to work with. The girl was a wonder. She did take risks, though. I thought she'd bought it with this last one, but she somehow survived this one, too."
"Oh, *that* Lois Lane." Lana shrugged Clark's arm away and stood beside him with her arms crossed. "She seemed to think she knew Clark."
Clark was feeling the panic of the falsely accused. However, before he could say anything in his defence, Perry spoke up, "She couldn't have known Clark. Clark didn't arrive here until a month after she disappeared."
Clark felt himself relax. It didn't matter what Lana might think he had done, it was the truth. He had never met Lois Lane. Although, this didn't explain why she seemed to think she knew him … or why he felt as if he knew *her* from somewhere.
Perry excused himself and headed back to his office. Clark followed his progress with his eyes, and watched as his boss met Lois Lane and they talked outside the editor's office door. He wanted to listen in, but didn't. Somehow Lana always seemed to know when he was using his Special skills and would tell him in no uncertain terms what she thought of such behaviour.
When he turned his head back from looking at Lois Lane, he found himself walking beside Lana on the way to the elevators. Clark had zoned out. Lana had been talking for some time, while his attention had been elsewhere.
" … and we're meeting my parents at seven to go over the final guest list."
Oh, right. The wedding plans.
"Okay." He glanced back towards the bullpen to look at Lois Lane again, still talking to Perry and Mr. Olsen. Why had she kissed him? Clark's attention snapped back to Lana at her next words.
"Last thing — I saw that little stunt you pulled a few minutes ago."
Oh, God. She'd seen him gazing at Lois Lane. But that couldn't be called a "stunt." What was she talking about? He really had to stay focussed.
"Don't give me those puppy eyes. The gunfight out front? You ducked away and … ?" She made the flying motion with her hand.
Shoot, he'd completely forgotten about *that* incident. "Sweetheart, no one saw me. I just used the … " He made a laser vision motion with his hand, " … zzz, burned out his tires and the cops got him."
She was not buying it. "Clark, you promised."
Clark swallowed. He wished she wouldn't keep trying to pin him down to that twelve-year-old promise. Rather than answer he commented, "This is the *slowest* elevator!"
Lana was giving him her pleading look again. "They'd lock you up in some lab and study you. And even if you broke out, you'd never have a life." She moved closer to him and played with his lapel. Looking up at him she continued, "We'd never have a life. No one will ever love you more than I do … "
"I know." Clark sighed quietly. Lana was right … as always.
" … and no one understands you better. So promise this is the last time."
Clark was trying to think of a way of getting out of this corner, when the elevator pinged, and the doors opened.
"Here you are."
Lana wasn't that easily distracted. She stepped into the elevator and turned to face the front.
Clark sighed inwardly and tried to brazen it out. "I'll see you at seven."
"Clark — " Lana looked as if she was going to get off and continue her demands, but the doors closed before she could.
Clark sighed with relief and crossed to the lunchroom area to get some coffee. Lana wasn't going to let him hear the end of this for some time to come, but he had work to do, so he should just get on with it. On the way back to his desk, he decided he should also think about getting some lunch. However, before he could put this thought into action, Perry called him into his office.
Lois Lane and the old man were still in Perry's office. Perry explained that since Clark had already done so much research on the candidates for the mayoral election, he wanted Clark to work with Ms. Lane on her plan to write an expose on Tempus.
Clark was more than a little apprehensive about working with this woman after the way she had greeted him, but she seemed to be all business now. She hardly glanced in his direction. He wondered why she would want to write a story on a mayoral candidate she couldn't possibly know anything about since she'd been in a coma for the past three years. He'd have to remember to ask her that, later.
Clark followed Ms. Lane and Mr. Wells into the conference room closest to Perry's office. Mr. Wells entered the room first and sat at the table and started fiddling with what looked like a transistor radio.
As he followed Ms. Lane into the room, Clark said, "So, you want to do an expose on Tempus?"
He knew it was a redundant question, but he was having trouble coming up with any other conversational opener. There was something about this woman that seemed to short circuit his ability to think clearly.
"Yeah, but first we have to talk about us."
Did she still think they knew each other? "Us?"
"Well, *you* actually. For instance … " Clark heard the conference room door close quietly as Lois Lane continued, "how many people know you're from another planet?"
Clark's heart lurched. "What?!"
"Or that you can bend steel in your bare hands, leap tall buildings in a single bound — ?"
"Hey, hey, keep your voice down … !" Even if the door *was* closed she shouldn't be saying these things in such a loud voice. Then it hit him — how did she *know* all this?
Lois Lane lowered her voice but kept on itemizing all the things about him he had kept secret all his life. "That you came here as a baby, in a spaceship — "
Clark was having trouble breathing. This was the fulfilment of his worst nightmare — exposure! "Oh, God, Lana said this was gonna happen … " He turned to face the wall, willing this woman to not know everything there was to know about him.
" — you were found by the Kents and raised in Smallville, Kansas — "
This woman *did* know everything. Lana's cautions played through his mind. He sighed. "I didn't listen."
" — but from there, I'm sure things get different because — "
He *had* to know how she knew all this information. Did it have anything to do with that Bureau 39 warehouse he'd discovered two years ago? "Okay, just tell me: Are you from the government?"
Both of the strangers found this highly amusing. Mr. Wells emphatically stated, "Certainly not, my boy."
Lois Lane explained, "No, we're from another dimension."
Clark just looked at them, bewildered. Were they serious?
"Is this some kind of joke?"
Lois stroked his arm, comfortingly. "No, Clark. It's *not* a joke. I'm Lois Lane and this is H.G. Wells. Tempus kidnapped each of us and brought us here."
"What does this have to do with me?"
Lois continued, "You are Clark Kent in *this* dimension. Apparently there are parallel universes in which we each exist but in slightly different forms. In *our* dimension," she turned to Mr. Wells for confirmation, "there's *another* Clark Kent who was sent to Earth as a baby and brought up by the Kents. As he grew older he developed all those powers that you have and became Superman."
There was that mysterious name again. "What's Superman?"
"Superman is the means for Clark to use his powers to help people. Clark disguises himself in tights and a cape and flies wherever he's most needed." Clark noticed Lois still was touching him and looked down at his arm. She promptly stopped stroking him in that familiar manner that he had found really comforting. He wished he hadn't looked down and drawn her attention to what she was doing.
Mr. Wells continued the explanation. "The rest of the time he is Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter at a great metropolitan newspaper."
Clark was feeling totally out of his depth here. All this talk of parallel universes, alternate Clarks and bizarre costumes was making him lightheaded. He sat down. "Why are you here?"
Mr. Wells looked the most angry that Clark had seen him. "That villain Tempus brought us here! We're trying to get back home. I'm hoping *this* will find the time machine," he waved the device he was holding, "and with *your* help get us back there."
"So how can *I* help?" Clark was still not sure if this was all for real, or not.
"Once I have this tracker working, we're going to need someone with your powers if we're going to get back to the time machine unmolested." Mr. Wells turned back to tinkering with his device.
Lois explained further. "A while back, Mr. Wells used his time machine to travel to the future in search of Utopia." Lois paused and poured a glass of water. "There he found … Tempus." She sipped at the water. "Tempus is a violent psychotic and he *really* hates Superman."
"But you said that Superman was just your Clark's disguise for helping people."
Lois nodded. "Yes, but Tempus tried to kill our Clark Kent as a baby, hoping to change future history. We managed to stop him, that time."
"Then you think he's here to try to kill me?"
Lois put down her empty glass and shook her head. "I don't really know, it doesn't make any sense. I thought you were Superman because Tempus was here. But, you didn't even know what Superman was, so now I'm stumped. If you're not disguising yourself as Superman, there doesn't seem to be any reason for Tempus to be interested in you, or this dimension. He seems to be chiefly motivated by trying to stop Superman from creating Utopia."
"So, if there isn't any Superman here, there isn't much likelihood of me creating this Utopia?"
Lois shrugged. "I guess not. I really have no idea why he's here, now … and as for why he'd run for mayor of Metropolis, now *that* has me completely baffled."
"He says he's here to defend the citizens of Metropolis from 'the enemy,' although he hasn't said who or what that might be."
Lois stood up and started pacing. "Well, up until you said you didn't know who Superman was I would have thought it was you, but maybe there's some other 'enemy' he has in mind that we don't know about. What did you learn in your research on him?"
Clark gave her a quick summary of the information he had gathered, which was virtually nil.
"That's not much to go on. How about we pay a visit to the morgue. I might be able to find something with my inside knowledge."
They went to the morgue, came back to the conference room with numerous files, and started to go through them one by one.
They had been in the conference room for hours. Clark had sent out for sandwiches and coffee, while H.G. Wells tinkered with the tracker and he and Lois Lane went through the files.
It was now past dinner time and they were still no closer to figuring out Tempus' game plan, or getting the tracker to work.
Lois sat at the table beside Mr. Wells. "How long do you think it will be before you get that working?"
"I have no idea, my dear. All I can do is keep trying." Mr. Wells didn't even look up at her.
Lois frowned. "Well, we can't just sit here hoping for a miracle. Let's get out there and *do* something!"
"Like what?" Clark continued to feel as if he were being pulled by forces out of his control.
"I dunno. But, we have to do … something! I *hate* just sitting around waiting." Lois stood up decisively. "Come on. Let's go!"
Clark blinked. Was she always like this? She must have seen his hesitation as he opened the conference room door for her because she asked, "Is that a problem, Clark?"
He followed her out of the conference room and tried to explain his bewilderment. "I'm sorry, I just … I have a lot of trouble believing all this."
"What? That Tempus is a criminal? Or, that he's H.G. Wells or that we're from a parallel Metropolis?"
"No, that … that this other me flies around in tights."
"Well, your mother made them … "
"But the Kents died when I was ten."
She stopped and turned to face him, a poignant look on her face. "Oh, Clark, I'm sorry … Who raised you?"
He tried to distance himself from the nagging hurt of the question he hadn't had to answer in years. "I kind of just bounced around."
Her expression cut right to his heart. He wanted to remove that look of pity from her eyes. "It's okay, it happened a long time ago. I'm fine."
The look of concern nearly broke his brave front. Why did he feel that he knew her — had known her a long, long time? They seemed to stand looking into each other's eyes for eternity, or a few seconds — he wasn't quite sure which.
His voice cracked as he said, "This is the weirdest feeling. I know I shouldn't talk to you, I *know* I should just walk away but … "
He continued staring at her. He *needed* her. " … I can't."
Behind Clark, a harsh beeping sound erupted from Mr. Wells' tracking device. Mr. Wells hastened to them saying, "Eureka! It works! The tracking device, it's locked onto Tempus' transport."
"Clark. Help us get back where we belong!"
Clark hesitated. If he helped them, Lois would be gone out of his life. But, he *had* to help them. They needed to get back to their own world.
Mr. Wells supported Lois' request. "Yes. Help us rid your world of Tempus before he destroys it."
Clark made his decision to support their request and opened his mouth to answer when the elevator pinged and Lana stepped out.
"Clark? It's seven-o-three!" She was staring at Lois Lane.
Clark swallowed. Sometimes Lana could be so jealous.
"Uhhhh … " He looked down at his watch. " … oh, seven, of course, your parents. Uh, we were just … "
Lois finished his sentence, as if she were used to making excuses for him, " … working on a story."
This did not mollify Lana. "Together?"
"P-p-perry teamed us up." Clark found himself stammering, again.
"Did he?" Lana was not believing a word he said.
Lois turned to him and said, "But we can take point while you deal with your wedding. I know how overwhelming it can all be. Just promise we'll meet up later?" She looked into his eyes, pleading.
Lana said, "Let's go, Clark." She turned and headed for the elevators, expecting him to follow.
Lois wanted a reply. "Clark?"
He whispered to Lois, "I'll catch up to you later."
Lois said, "Great."
Clark, torn between his fiancee and his story partner, hurried after Lana. She talked at him over her shoulder on the way up to the elevator.
"I don't like having to come look for you. You know how Daddy gets when you're late … "
Clark was reliving his newfound feelings for Lois Lane and tuned out the rest of Lana's complaint.
Clark and the Langs had dinner at a trendy new restaurant in a recently rejuvenated warehouse district close to his apartment.
After dinner, they all came back to Clark's place for coffee while they discussed plans for the wedding. They had decided that it was too far to go to the Lexor Hotel, where the Langs were staying, or Lana's apartment, which were both on the other side of town from the restaurant. The discussion grew heated in places, but Lana won out on all of her major points — with Clark's support.
There was still the final decision about napkins to make, but Mrs. Lang wanted to get back to the hotel early. There was a boutique in the lobby of the hotel which had the perfect ornament for her mantlepiece — they'd have to hurry if she was to get there before the store closed at 9:30. As they left Clark's apartment, Lana was asking him again for his support " … and we want cloth napkins, not paper, right, Clark? Clark?" Clark had intended to escort Lana back to her apartment. However, he suddenly heard a scream.
"CLAAAAAAAAAAA-RRRRRK!" It was Lois!
He distractedly replied to Lana's question, "I'll get back to you on that," and rushed back into his apartment, closing the door behind him. He ran out onto his balcony and, jumping into the air, flew in the direction of Lois' voice.
In seconds he found Lois, blindfolded and wrists handcuffed together behind her back, tumbling and screaming. He caught her as she plummeted to the ground.
Holding her gently, he floated to the ground and took off her blindfold.
"Are you all right?"
Lois nodded as Clark snapped the bands off her wrists.
"Fine. Thank you." She was rubbing her wrists but otherwise seemed to be unharmed.
"Who did this?"
"Tempus." She didn't seem to be as upset as he would have expected … almost as if she were used to being tossed off buildings and caught mid-air.
"Let's call the police."
"Well, okay, that's *one* way of handling it."
Puzzled, Clark asked, "What's the other?"
Lois took him by the arm and lead him — in the direction of his apartment. How did she know where he lived?
"Let's talk about that … "
On the way back to his apartment they stopped at a ski shop having an end of season sale and bought a blue ski suit. Then, they stopped in a drapery store and bought some red and yellow material, and then a shoe store for some brown leather boots. The shoe store owner locked the door on them as they left, just after ten o'clock. Clark wasn't real sure where they were going with this but he had a *bad* feeling about it. She said he was going to be a hero, of all things!
Eventually, laden with the results of their shopping, they arrived at Clark's apartment. He was really grateful that Lana's mother had been in a hurry to get back to their hotel. He really didn't want to have to explain Lois to them at this point in time.
On the other hand, the problem he had at hand was going to be difficult enough. He'd better explain his position to her, he'd procrastinated about this long enough.
He unlocked the door and as they entered his apartment said, "Look, I don't want to be a hero."
"Really? Then why did you go after that gunman this morning? Why did you save me?"
He stopped at the bottom of the short flight of stairs into his living room, turned and looked at her. "I help when I can … but I want to *live* my life."
"Well, that's why you need to have a secret identity."
He put down the parcels he'd been carrying.
"A secret identity?" Was she trying to turn him into this 'Superman' character her Clark used as a disguise? "Is that why you bought that ski suit?"
"Just go with me on this … " She emphasized her words with her hands. "It's not a ski suit — I mean, it *is* but it's more than that — " She looked him directly in the eyes which made his heart lurch, "it's a symbol, you're making yourself into a beacon."
Her enthusiasm was exhausting. "Are you always like this?"
"I'm sorry, I'm a little high-strung."
Clark flopped back onto the sofa. High-strung didn't even come close to it! "Lady, you're a Stradivarius."
Lois looked patient yet exasperated. "Well, maybe this'll help." She took out her wallet and sat on the sofa beside him. She opened the wallet to a picture of a man with slicked back hair, wearing a tight blue outfit and a cape, arms akimbo, with an heroic expression on his face. "That's what I'm talking about."
The guy looked *ridiculous*. "That's … what I'm afraid of." *He* certainly would never go out in public dressed like *that*!
He flipped the pocket to look at the next photo. It was Lois and *himself* in a smiling embrace.
They both looked so *happy*! He looked at her in awe. "Is this … us?"
"Well, it's me and him."
"Are we — ?"
She lifted her left hand and showed him an engagement ring. Clark was having difficulty breathing. His other self was *engaged* to this incredible, dynamic woman.
"This is just too weird."
The next picture was sideways. He turned the wallet around so he could see the picture clearly. This was *himself* and a man and a woman who were his parents — only twenty years older!
"Oh, my … !" Clark choked on his emotions. He stared at the picture, devouring every last detail.
"They're alive?" Clark looked up at Lois, his eyes blurry from tears. She nodded. Clark stroked the picture, as if by just touching their image he could be with his parents.
"Does he … spend a lot of time with them?"
Clark felt as if his heart would burst. Somewhere, his parents were *alive* — and his other self could see them whenever he wanted. "That's great. That's … " He couldn't continue. He was too overwhelmed.
She smiled softly. "They're really proud of him. I'm sure your parents were, too."
A kaleidoscope of memories darted through his mind. Of Mom baking in the kitchen, of Dad and himself building the tree house, of the two of them saying good-bye to him as they left for Seattle. They were good thoughts, but would Mom and Dad have been proud of who he was now? He wasn't sure. Clark blinked the tears back. "I guess so. It was a long time ago."
He avoided looking at her. If he saw the sympathy in her face, he wasn't sure he could cope. The images of *that* day vividly intruded on his mind. He swallowed.
"Car wreck. I saw it happen. I was pretty fast, even then, but … not fast enough. Lana said I shouldn't blame myself." Clark felt compelled to pace. He got up and walked to the bookcase and stared blindly at the books shelved there as he continued talking. "One man can't really make a difference … no matter what kind of powers he has."
Lois got up from the sofa and came near to him. "I know things are different here. I know *you're* different. But trust me … powers or no powers … one man *can* change any world." Lois looked at him, beseechingly.
Clark sighed aloud. Was that true? Could he *really* make a difference? He doubted it, but he could never resist helping someone in need and Lois needed him to do this. He picked up the wallet and flipped back to the picture of the man in the cape. "His Mom made this for him, huh?"
"Can you sew as well as she does?"
Lois gave him a deprecating smile. "Well … "
Lois had made him a costume out of the ski suit and material. She was in the process of dying the brown boots red and talking on the phone to Mr. Olsen while he, Clark, tried on the parts of the costume she had finished so far. It was awfully tight.
Lois hung up the phone and called out, "How's it fit?"
"Well, let me see." She moved so that she could see him. He straightened up so she could see the effect. "It needs a few pieces here or there … "
Clark ran his hand across his chest and realized that it was too smooth. The man in the picture had a familiar logo on his chest.
"I just remembered something; from that picture. It's in that trunk over there."
Lois moved over to the trunk, knelt down and opened it.
"My Mom gave it to me when I was little. She said it was on the blanket they found me in."
Lois picked up the envelope, pulled out the S and smiled. He heard her whisper, " … always shows up, just in the nick of time," and wondered what she meant.
It had taken a while longer for the boots to be finished, and the S to be sewn onto the costume, but now he had on the full outfit. He felt kind of silly. However, if this was what Lois wanted — he was willing to give it a try. He walked out to the balcony, and stood at the door in the pose he'd seen in the picture, hoping she wouldn't laugh at him.
She just stared at him. Oh, god, he *knew* he shouldn't have done this.
"I *knew* it, I look stupid." He turned to go back inside and change out of this silly outfit.
Lois breathlessly said, "No. No. You look great."
She indicated that he should turn around so she could see the whole outfit. He complied.
When he was facing her again she nodded, satisfied. "It probably needs a couple of things to straighten the line on the cape, but it'll do for your first time."
He looked down at himself wearing this skin-tight outfit and a cape. "Are you sure about this?"
Lois nodded. "I'm sure." She must have seen his hesitation because she continued, "But you're not. So let's get you comfortable."
She made a small flying gesture and put her arm around his neck. He automatically picked her up. It wasn't until they were in flight, with Lois cradled in his arms, that he realized that she must do this with *him* all the time. It seemed so natural for her. He envied his other self. To have someone who not only knew about all of him, but fully accepted what he was and helped him *be* that. It took Clark's breath away.
At first, helping people as Superman had made him feel foolish. However, none of the people he helped seemed to be distressed by his appearance. One guy even told him "Superman" was a cool name. As the night continued, Clark felt his confidence strengthening. He was being everything he was capable of being. He was helping people. No one laughed at him. No one sneered. He remembered Tim's analogy of the little boy inside hiding in the dark. That little boy was being led out into the light, because Lois Lane had shown him how to unlock the door that kept him in the dark.
He couldn't believe that he was now doing the very thing that he'd spent his entire life guarding against: using his Special skills publicly. And, yet, he had never felt such joy in being alive!
By sunrise he had helped dozens of people. He had flown openly and used his powers for the good of others. He *had* made a difference.
As they headed back to his apartment, Lois said, "Well, nobody's laughed so far. And I don't see any men with nets. So how does it feel?"
Clark took a deep intake of breath. "Well. It feels …" He found himself grinning. " … great!"
They landed on his balcony. He felt as if Lois had released the bonds that tied him to a cramped and mediocre life. He was grateful beyond belief. "My whole life, I've never felt so good about being *me*. Thank you." He felt at one with Lois Lane and leaned forward to express his gratitude. She leaned towards his kiss and then jerked back.
"Wait. I can't."
Oh, god. Neither of them was free to continue a relationship. She was engaged to his other self. He was engaged to Lana. He did his best to retreat from his faux pas.
"You're right, that was crazy. I'm sorry."
"No, it's okay, it's — " She was totally flustered.
She shouldn't be flustered. This was all *his* fault. He tried to explain, " — this feeling I keep having when I'm around you, I can't control it." Why did he keep losing track of who and what he was when he was with her? It was crazy! … and yet being with her felt so *right*!
"It's fine, we're fine." He saw her fighting for control. "I should straighten the line on your cape before we go out again."
He swallowed and tried to keep the reality of their situation firmly in the front of his mind. He followed her back into the apartment.
"Just because I'm not wearing my glasses, are you sure nobody's going to recognize me?"
Then he heard Lana's voice saying, "Clark!"
He cringed. She was standing there, waiting. Furious!
"What are you doing?"
"What's going on?"
Clark could see that he was in deep trouble. He'd better explain, and *fast*.
"Lois knows. About me. And … well, I've decided that I need … no, I've decided that the world needs me."
"Needs you to *what*? Model men's underwear? Bring capes back into fashion?"
With Lana's help, he was starting to visualize how silly he looked, again.
Lois interjected. "All right, that's it — "
Clark didn't want anyone fighting his battles for him. "Lois — "
Lana interrupted, "Clark. You didn't … you didn't go out there and … " Lana made a broad flying motion. "People didn't *see* you?"
Before Clark could respond, Lois intervened. "Of *course* people saw him! He's Superman!"
Clark felt torn between his newfound freedom on the one hand and the years of habitual hiding and pretending on the other.
Lana was now scolding Lois. "I don't know how you talked him into this or what you're really after but *this* is between him and me." She turned to Clark. "Clark, I want things the way they were — the way you promised." She paused to take a breath. "Or else — "
Before he could find out what she was threatening to do if he didn't do as she asked, the phone rang. He wondered if he should answer but decided it was better than continuing the fight with Lana. He answered and passed the handset over. "It's for you, Lois."
Lana glared. "That's it!"
Clark knew it looked bad — Lois receiving phone calls at his place. But he could explain. "Lana … "
Lana didn't wait. She stormed out as Lois took the phone. Clark went after Lana. "Lana, come on, this is stupid … Lana!"
He caught up with her just outside his front door. "Come on, Lana. Be reasonable."
Lana turned and glared at him. "Don't you *dare* go out in the street dressed like that, and humiliate me. Don't you *dare*!" She made as if to push him back into his apartment.
"Lana … !"
"You disappear right in the middle of saying goodbye to my parents last night … then *this*." She glared at his costume again. "We'll talk about this when I get back from the airport. *We* were supposed to see my parents off. Obviously, you have more *important* things to do!" Lana turned on her heel, stomped to the curb, quickly got into her car and drove off.
Clark retreated back into his apartment and closed the door, wishing he could be on some other planet by the time Lana got back from the airport.
Lois rushed up to him. "I got a call, we have to get to the television station on Carlin Avenue!"
"Who was it?"
Lois shrugged. "Whoever it was said there's going to be a debate on TV in a few minutes and Perry is going to be killed!"
Quickly, Clark picked Lois up and flew out of the balcony door.
Clark landed in the middle of the television studio, lowered Lois feet first to the floor and moved towards Perry to protect him.
Lois rushed ahead of him up to the podium asking, "Perry, are you all right?"
Her concern for Perry was apparent. On the other hand, Perry seemed stunned to see Clark … or at least the costume. Clark started to comprehend how ridiculous he must look and wanted to back away. But he couldn't. He had to find out what Tempus planned for Perry.
Perry exclaimed, "I'm fine … my Lord, who is — ? What — ?"
People in the studio audience were getting to their feet for a better look, staring and murmuring. Clark ignored the background noise as best as he could and concentrated on finding any nearby weapons that Tempus might have on hand to kill Perry. Clark x-rayed the walls and saw Mr. Wells tied up in a chair. He moved to the back wall.
Behind him Tempus was precipitating panic in the audience. "Everyone get back! He's very dangerous!"
Clark shoved the false wall aside, revealing a steel door. He grabbed the handle and peeled the door from its frame as if it were cardboard, revealing Wells tied in his chair to everyone in the TV studio.
Mr. Wells begged, "Superman, be careful, there's a bomb … "
Tempus loudly repeated, "A bomb? Did he say bomb?"
Clark wished Tempus would just shut up. His editorial comments were making it very hard for Clark to concentrate. However, Clark's immediate concern was to get the bomb away from Mr. Wells.
"I see it." He grabbed it out of Wells' pocket and moved towards the exit.
Tempus' assistant stiltedly declared, "He has got a bomb! The alien has got a bomb!"
Some women in the audience screamed. Everyone started to rush for the exits.
Tempus yelled over the noise, "Stand back! Everyone back! I will save us!" and with a flourish Tempus produced a glowing chunk of green rock.
Clark couldn't figure out what the guy expected to do with a little piece of rock. It wasn't like stones could hurt *him*.
Lois seemed to have a different opinion because she screamed, "No!" and lunged at Tempus. She was held back by one of Tempus' assistants.
That did it! Now Clark was mad. How *dare* they harm Lois? He stepped towards Tempus, saying, "You've got a lot of explaining to do, Mister Temp — " Pain and dizziness suddenly hit him and he couldn't go on. The room spun around him. Another wave of pain swept over him and he dropped to his knees — the bomb slipping out of his numbed fingers and onto the floor.
While the pain ebbed and flowed Clark heard Tempus say, "I think you're the one who owes this planet an explanation — invader!"
Clark tried to get up, but he couldn't. He hadn't felt this kind of pain since he was small and had fallen out of the treehouse, breaking his arm.
Tempus was now almost on top of Clark. Clark could barely see and hear as he writhed on the floor in pain.
Tempus stood over him and accused, "You are part of an invading army, are you not?"
Clark had to deny it. He gathered up the little strength he had to whisper, "No … " Through the pain, Clark could only dimly hear what was going on around him. He knew that Tempus was still hurling accusations at him. He thought he heard Mr. Olsen protest and was almost sure he heard Lois say, "Stop it, you're killing him!" Then the room faded away from him and all he knew was pain.
After what seemed to Clark a long time later, the physical pain receded, but then he heard Tempus denounce him with, "That's right! Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper!"
Clark's worst fear was realized. Exposure! He looked at Lois, who appeared distraught.
Lois exclaimed, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I never meant for this — "
Perry said, "Kent … "
Mr. Olsen exclaimed, "My God, who'd've thought?"
Tempus' accusations continued. "Aided and abetted by James Olsen, Perry White and Lois Lane!"
Clark was trying to cope with the pain. He heard Perry, Lois and Mr. Olsen protesting, but couldn't concentrate long enough to get the details.
The next thing he heard was Tempus state, "It's ticking?" shortly followed by, "It's gonna blow!" and then "Run!"
Another wave of pain swept over Clark as he saw the shining green rock drop to the floor beside him. The next few minutes seemed very confused. Then suddenly the pain was receding and his strength was coming back.
He heard Mr. Wells yell, "These are innocent people! You can't just abandon them!"
Tempus was pushing his way towards the exit. "Watch me!" He pulled out a gun. "Clear out, you morons, or I'll blow you away!"
Clark wasn't exactly sure what happened next, but abruptly Mr. Wells was beside him with a rapidly ticking bomb. He tried to crush it, but he wasn't strong enough. Suddenly the bomb gave off a rising whine. People in the studio screamed. They would die if he didn't *do* something! He broke the bomb in half with his teeth and swallowed the central explosive. That's not exactly what he'd intended to do, but he *had* to protect these people from the detonation … he *had* to … and the bomb was already in his mouth.
He heard Lois say, "No, Clark, you're too weak!"
Too late. He gulped and felt — a low, rumbling boom! His world went black.
He could faintly hear Lois crying, "Clark, please … " and someone was shaking him. He coughed and breathed in.
He rose up onto his knees and feeling bloated, brought his hand up to his mouth and belched. "'Scuse me." Clark apologized and then, concerned that people might have been hurt, asked, "Is everyone all right?"
Lois patted him on the back and helped him to his feet.
Perry said, "We're fine, thanks to you, Kent."
Mr. Olsen asked, "Why didn't you tell us about yourself before?"
Clark tensed. Here it came! Now they knew what he was they were going to lock him up and dissect him like a frog!
Lois stepped into the fray with, "I'm sure everyone has a lot of questions — but the important thing to remember is, he's here to help."
Clark relaxed again. Lois understood his need to help others and was letting everyone know that he wasn't just a freak.
Mr. Wells added, "He is in every way no less than a … Superman."
Perry repeated, "Superman … "
Mr. Olsen jumped in with, "Kind of a nickname, Kent?"
Finally, Clark was able to get a word in edgewise with, "Well … "
However, that's all he got in. Mr. Olsen continued, "I love it. And the suit is great. Touch of patriotic, stand alone kind of thing, lotta muscle." He turned to Perry and exclaimed, "White, we ought to get you one of these."
Perry protested, "No, thank you, sir. There's only one … Superman."
Mr. Olsen seemed to stare at a vision he could see in his head. "That name. I can see it right now on the front page of the — "
It had taken Clark a few more minutes to fully recover from the effects of the rock that Lois told him was Kryptonite. He had known about Krypton ever since he'd found the little spaceship in the government warehouse. However, this Kryptonite thing was news to him.
Lois seemed surprised that he recovered as quickly as he did, but Clark wasn't questioning it. He was just happy that no-one had been hurt.
He needed to hurry home because he figured that Lana would be back from the airport by now, and he needed her to understand the truth about what had been going on. He excused himself, assuring Perry that he would be at the Planet before the newspaper went to press.
Lana was sitting on the sofa in his living room watching TV. She glared at him in his Superman costume.
"I'm not talking to you until you get out of that *silly* outfit."
"Lana. It's *not* silly. Other people like it. Mr. Olsen thinks it's great. People I help think it looks cool."
" … and I suppose that *woman* loves it too?"
"Well, yes — she made it for me."
"I imagine you both had a lot of *fun* with the whole fitting process, didn't you?" Lana glared at him.
Clark blushed. Then, angry at the insinuation, he lashed back, "Lana, you have a vulgar mind. That's *not* how it was."
"Do I look like a complete *idiot*!? I've seen the way the two of you are together. It's obvious you're in love with her. Don't *lie* to me!"
"Lana. I would never lie to you … or, anyone else."
"Oh, right!" Lana stood up and waved her hands in his direction. "What do you think all that keeping your skills a secret was, if it wasn't lying?"
"I only ever told *you* that I could do them … that's true. But I never actually said I *couldn't* do them. No one ever asked."
"You told *her*." Lana spit out the word. "How *dare* you tell that … that … *woman* about yourself. You've known her less than twenty-four hours! How *could* you?"
"Lana, calm down. I did *not* tell Lois about me. She already knew."
Lana was standing with her hands on her hips, her whole body expressing her anger. "*How* did she know?"
"She's from a parallel dimension. In her world, she and the Clark of that world are engaged to be married."
Lana threw up her hands. "And you believed her? Clark! How can you be so naive? She's *using* you! Can't you *see* that?"
"Lois is trying to help me."
"By putting you on display like some kind of … stud? How is *that* going to help you?"
Clark felt helpless. How was he going to explain so that Lana would understand? He took a deep breath and quietly elaborated, "She helped lead me from the darkness of my fears to the lightness of being the person I was meant to be. She wants me to be everything I can be. Don't you?"
"Clark, I want *you*. I want the *you* I've always known. I don't *like* this … this …" She waved her hand at his costume.
"Lana. This *is* who I am. I *am* Superman. I've always *been* Superman … I just didn't know how to *be* him. Lois showed me the way."
"Clark. Stop saying that. I can't be married to someone who flies around in *tights*!"
Clark's heart lurched. Was she telling him their engagement was off? He must have misunderstood. She loved him, that *couldn't* be what she meant.
"So, what exactly is it you're trying to say?"
"You either want to be married to *me* — have a home and a family, or, you want to fly around in that silly costume. Which is it going to be?"
Clark's illusions about Lana's love for him splintered into a thousand tiny pieces revealing the truth he'd tried to pretend wasn't there. She wanted him, yes. But, she wanted to possess him, to control him, to make him into her image of the man she wanted to be married to. He now knew he had so much to offer the world. He couldn't shackle himself to the kind of restricted life Lana wanted.
"I want to help people … to be the Superman they need." Clark saw the anguished look on her face. "I'm sorry, Lana. I'm not the man for you. I have to be the *me* I was meant to be. I'm sure you'll find someone else who *will* make you happy."
Lana grabbed her purse from the end table and with a tiny sob stalked out of the front door of his apartment.
Clark felt numb. He didn't bother to change, just flew back to the Planet to talk to Perry and Lois.
London, England — April 1996
Joan Dough was in the television lounge of the hospital. She *still* could not remember much of anything prior to her arrival at this hospital three years ago.
Joan had spent her three years in the hospital trying to become a well-rounded, normal person. She had taken courses in cooking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, keyboarding, interpersonal communication, writing and dramatic arts as part of her therapy at the hospital. She seemed to have a flair for writing and dramatic arts more than anything else.
However, her frequent and debilitating headaches prevented her from leaving the hospital and living in the community. The one part-time job she had obtained at the local bookstore had lasted less than a day when she had collapsed while sorting some news magazines onto a display shelf. A second attempt to have her work as a proofreader at the local newspaper had aborted when she fainted on her way through the Daily Sun's front door. She never tried again. She had no idea why trying to work would make her react that way. She was beginning to wonder if she would *ever* be well enough to live a normal life.
She usually avoided watching television, especially the news. For some reason watching the news gave her horrendous headaches, resembling the ones she got whenever she tried to remember her life before the hospital.
Today someone had left the channel on LNN, which was repeating coverage of a special story about a phenomenon in Metropolis, New Troy. Apparently, an alien had saved an entire television audience from being blown up. Joan felt like her head was about to split open. She tried to get up to change the channel or leave, but found she couldn't. She broke down and sobbed from the rapidly increased pain in her head. The announcer continued with the story. They showed the man in red, blue and yellow swallowing a bomb and saving everyone around him from instant destruction. The announcer said the man was calling himself "Superman".
At the word "Superman," Joan's excruciating headache peaked and she felt herself falling as she blacked out.
Metropolis, New Troy — April 1996
Clark had given his "exclusive" story to the Daily Planet. Mr. Olsen was ecstatic. He had his headline printed large saying "Not Bird. Not Plane. Superman!" He gave Clark the byline for his story, under both of his names. Only yesterday, Clark would have been thrilled to have his byline under a 200 point headline … today, he *was* that headline and the byline seemed unworthy.
Lois indicated that she wanted to leave for her own dimension. Now that Tempus had been arrested, there was no longer any need for Clark to escort Lois and Mr. Wells to their time machine. Mr. Olsen told him that Mayor White wanted to present Clark to the people of Metropolis.
Still dressed in his Superman costume, Clark followed Lois into the elevator and they rode down to the lobby in silence. He wondered what she was thinking, all the while trying not to think about the inevitable goodbyes to come.
As they walked to the centre of the lobby, Lois said, "I'm sorry the secret identity thing got blown."
Clark tried to reassure her. "It's all right. Honestly, I don't know how you thought a pair of glasses would keep people from recognizing me. It's ridiculous."
"Don't get me started." The wry expression on Lois' face made him wonder if the disguise thing was as preposterous as it sounded.
"So is Lana okay with all this?"
Clark swallowed. He'd rather not get into Lana's insinuations about his and Lois' relationship. "Lana said it was either her, or Superman."
Lois looked sympathetic. "Oh, Clark, I'm sorry."
"I wish I felt half as bad about losing her … as I do about losing you." A faint hope leaped into Clark's mind as they looked into each other's eyes. "What if I asked you to stay?"
He'd been afraid she would say that … even though he *needed* her. "But I'm not sure how to … *be* this. You made it happen."
"All I did was help you make the right choice. You'll keep doing that. You just have to believe in yourself as much as I do."
Clark was torn between the fear that he could not do this on his own, and the realization that *this* woman was the woman he should have been with. "Lois, I don't just need your help … I need *you*."
"So does he."
Clark flinched. But he *loved* her. "What I'm trying to say is … I know this sounds crazy but … I think I … I … "
"So does he."
She was reminding him that she was the *other* Clark's Lois. His own Lois had died before he could even get a chance to meet her! That other guy was *so* lucky. He had his parents, this wonderful woman and a private life. He looked into Lois' eyes. "Does he know what he has?"
She understood exactly what he meant. "We both do."
Years of accepting the inevitable kicked into place. Clark took a deep breath and responded. "We all do."
Just then Mr. Wells came through the revolving door. "Well, Tempus is taken care of and all is right again in both universes." He looked at Lois. "Except for you, my dear. Are you ready?"
She looked at Clark for a second, smiled tentatively, and said, "Yes."
Mr. Wells indicated the revolving doors. "We're in the alley across the street. Right this way."
Lois gave Clark one good-bye glance and went through the revolving doors.
Clark stared after her … desolate … wishing she would change her mind.
Mr. Wells interrupted his thoughts. "I must say, my boy, I envy you."
Clark was startled. "Me? Why?"
Wells gestured in the direction of the crowd outside. "With every eye upon you, every breath held in anticipation, you hold in your hands a world waiting to be shaped."
"I'm just not sure that I can …"
"That you can take on such great responsibility? What do you think Shakespeare meant when he wrote, 'In apprehension how like a god?' It's not that gods are anxious about their responsibilities. But with such great weight comes great understanding. Trust that, Clark, and trust that you've found your true destiny. And in you, a once-hopeless world has found its future. Good luck to you." Wells clapped him on the shoulder and followed Clark as he exited the Daily Planet through the revolving door.
Clark took a deep breath and went forward to meet the crowds that Perry wanted him to greet. The crowd greeted *him* with cheers and cries of adulation. He saw Mr. Wells move through the crowd.
Across the street from the Planet, he could see Lois near the dimension machine, watching. He couldn't hear what she and Mr. Wells were saying over the noise of the crowd, but her eyes said it all. He could see the tears she was fighting. Then she and Wells walked into the alley and onto the machine together.
Clark felt tears in his own eyes as he saw the flash of light indicating the activation of the machine. She was gone … forever!
Gone! She was gone! How was he going to survive without her? He *knew* that he'd survived without her before, but that was *before* he'd realized that there could be someone especially for him. Knowing that there had been someone for him and he'd lost *her* too was almost too much to bear.
Clark was startled out of his reverie by a tug on his arm accompanied by the words "Now, folks, the hero you've all been waiting to hear from — *Superman*, also known as Clark Kent of the Daily Planet." Perry pushed him in the direction of the microphone.
Clark stood at the microphone unable to say a word. He saw a sea of faces turned upward in expectation and felt panic rising within him. He couldn't *do* this. It was impossible. He wasn't a hero, he just … He took a deep calming breath. Lois said he could, so he at least had to *try*.
A little girl at the front of the crowd broke into a big smile and the rest of the crowd responded with a aspirated "Hi" in return. They sounded as if they liked him. Maybe he *could* do this? He coughed politely and the crowded shushed each other.
"Mr. White has called me a hero. I don't want to be a hero, I just want to help people. If you'll let me."
There was a roar of approval from the crowd.
"Thank you." Clark stepped back away from the microphone.
Mr. White stepped forward. "Okay, folks, that's it for today. Let's everyone give Superman a big hand!"
Clark felt himself blushing as the crowd burst into applause. This being in the public eye was going to take some getting used to.
Metropolis, New Troy — June, 1996
Clark dashed into an alley to escape the mob outside the Daily Planet. It seemed like every day the crowd grew larger and he was becoming afraid.
It wasn't that he was afraid that they would hurt *him*. He was afraid that his invulnerability would hurt *them*." Also, nothing in his life up to now had prepared him for this … this … insanity!
Clark stood at the end of the alley, his back to the wall. Any moment now the crowd would surge around the corner and he would have no place to go but up. It was better if he took off now, when they couldn't see it happen. Clark looked for a place to change quickly, but there wasn't a nook or cranny anywhere in this alley. As a result, he jumped and pushed his mental button that said "fly," dressed as Clark Kent.
He was several hundred feet in the air before the crowd of women entered the alley, looked around and then up, and began screaming and clamouring for him to come back down. Clark closed his eyes and fled to the farthest part of the Arctic to get away from the noise and to catch his breath.
Right after Lois had left, he had wondered if he had made the right decision about being Superman. He was alone … no Lana … no Lois. What was he going to do?
He and Lana had always thought that his discovery would mean his being locked up and analysed. So far it hadn't been like that — at all!
Most people seemed to almost worship him, as if he were some kind of minor deity, high profile movie star or European royalty. In fact, he'd heard that a tribe in central Africa literally *had* started worshipping him as some kind of new god. Everywhere he went he was surrounded by crowds of people fascinated by his every move. It was worse when he was dressed as Superman. It seemed as if people were willing to give Clark Kent *some* private space, but considered Superman public property.
On the other extreme, there were some wackos who thought he should *not* be allowed in public areas … because he was an alien … because he might hurt someone … because he wore a ski suit in public.
There had been a great curiosity about the second disappearance of Lois Lane, but all he could tell anyone was that she had come when Metropolis needed her the most, and now she was gone.
When Lois had disappeared in a flash of light he had felt desolate. After meeting her, he knew what might have been, and yet it wasn't possible for him to have it. The Lois he should have met was dead!
He had spent the days following Lois' departure throwing himself into the work that he, and she, had set for him to do. Whenever he slowed down to think he found nagging, distressing questions spinning around-and-around in his brain. Why was it *he* had to suffer? Why couldn't it have been *his* parents that survived? Why did the other Clark have *everything* and himself nothing? He recognized that he was grieving for a phantom life, but didn't know what to do about it. Instead, he did the best job he could as Superman.
At first he'd had no idea where to even begin helping in a city full of people with guns and short fuses. He'd spent his first couple of days just breaking up face-offs between two people, or groups of people, waving guns at each other. In between he'd rescued a woman from being raped, a construction worker from being crushed by a falling crane, and a cat from being stranded in a tree.
In almost no time at all, Clark had found himself in the need of a lawyer to fend off the mounting number of lawsuits: by people whose guns he had confiscated, by people he had saved — but not their property, and by people he had failed to rescue for whatever reason. Lawyers had flocked to him to take the notoriety defending Superman would give. Clark rejected them all.
Mr. Olsen had recommended the daughter of one of his friends. He had been glad for a recommendation of someone not just out to gain the notoriety. He recalled the initial meeting with Constance Hunter.
"Superman … er, Mr. Kent."
"Clark … please."
"Clark. I'm sorry you've wasted your time, but you need someone with a lot more experience than I have."
"Mr. Olsen thinks you're right for the job."
"Mr. Olsen doesn't realize how *new* I am to this profession. I've been out of law school less than three years."
"Please, call me Constance."
"Constance. I've been Superman less than three *weeks*, I need *all* the help I can get."
Constance hesitated. "Okay. But don't say I didn't give you fair warning." She slammed thick legal tome on her desk. "So, who exactly is suing you right now?"
Over the next few weeks Constance had taken care of his legal problems and left him free to do his job.
He had made Metropolis as safe as he could for its citizens. He was amazed to find that fewer and fewer people felt it necessary to carry guns, because he was on the job. In fact, not only were people no longer as cynical and frightened as they had been before he arrived on the scene, many now felt so comfortable with him that he had a large and loyal following. Best of all, he realized he was actually *good* at this. Helping came naturally and he always seemed to know the right thing to do. Often, he wasn't even sure himself where the answers came from. He put it down to natural instinct. Lois had been right, he *could* do this!
In the beginning, the worshippers and reactionaries had almost driven him crazy, but there was one group of people that had kept Clark sane. These were the people that supported him in his efforts to *be* Superman. Most of them were people whose nearest and dearest, if not they themselves, had been rescued in one way or another by Clark. He was grateful that there were such people in the world. He was doubly grateful for his friendship with Tim Neer.
During the insanity of the first few days after his coming out, among the phone calls from every talk show and wacko in the world, there had been a call from Tim simply requesting a return call.
Clark had flown to Kansas City straight away. He had gone dressed as Clark, in an attempt to keep the visit quiet. Somehow, that had worked. Unlike Metropolis, Clark Kent wasn't that familiar a sight in Kansas City, and he was able to visit with Tim and Lori without any media attention whatsoever.
Tim had been the *best*. He and Lori kept Clark's visits private, and never mentioned their friendship to anyone. When an intrepid reporter had uncovered the fact that Tim had roomed with Superman in college, Tim was able to honestly say he had never noticed anything unusual. When the reporter finally clued in to Tim's blindness, he stopped calling and dropped the story. Tim regaled Clark with this anecdote on his next visit, early in August.
"It's hard to make an eyewitness out of a blind man." Tim was cracking up with laughter as he recounted this story to Clark.
"But, of all the people I knew back then, *you* were the one that came closest to guessing the truth," Clark said. "You at least saw that I had a part of me that I was afraid to expose."
"So the 'little boy in the dark corner' was really *you* hiding your special talent?" Lori was sitting beside Tim on a bench on their deck, holding Tim's left hand while they all talked about their previous lives together.
Clark nodded. "Lana was the only one who knew the whole truth. She was the only one I could talk to about myself as I discovered new things about me."
"It was unfortunate, for you, that she wanted you to hide your talent rather than encouraging you to use it." Tim took a sip from the glass of beer he had in his right hand.
"We *both* thought I'd be locked up if anyone found me out. Even my Dad was always saying I'd be 'dissected like a frog.' So far *that* hasn't happened. Although, I'm not sure being a celebrity is all that much better."
"So, Mr. Celebrity, can I interest you in another burger?" Lori released her husband's hand, got up and headed for the barbecue.
"Oh, definitely. I *have* been known to eat seconds."
Tim laughed. "You're going to have to watch this guy, honey. He can eat us out of house and home." He grinned in Clark's general direction to let him know he was just kidding.
Lori handed Clark another burger, and told him to go ahead and add his own fixings. Tim asked for lettuce and tomatoes and she put the burger on his plate in the precise location for him to find it easily.
"I never realized that my prediction, back in college, of you becoming one and then finding someone you'd been waiting for, would have such a profound effect. I mean, your meeting Lois Lane. Talk about significant events. Now you're at one with yourself and I'm sure that Lois was the one you'd been waiting for to make that happen!" Lori added mustard and relish to her burger and returned to her chair. Once seated she asked, "So how is Lana taking your celebrity status, Clark?"
"Not well. She's always thought that being on television was the hallmark of having 'made it.' The fact that I'm on the nightly news, every day, is not sitting well with her."
"What about her parents?"
"Her mother is *horrified* that she encouraged her darling, sweet, innocent daughter to become intimate with an *alien* of all things." Clark took a bite out of his burger, to stop himself from saying anything less complimentary about his former future mother-in-law.
Shortly after their break up, Lana had called to tell him that her mother was in a state of shock about actually encouraging her daughter to become engaged to "that … that … alien!" Clark wasn't entirely sure why Lana had gone out of her way to let him know this. He decided that it was almost surely vindictiveness, especially since her parting words were to ask him sarcastically how his sex-life was, now that he was Superman.
If Lana only knew! Clark was inundated with offers for any kind of relationship he would care to think of … and some he couldn't imagine were possible. Opportunity was not his problem. However, having met Lois Lane he did not want *that* kind of fleeting pleasure. He had resigned himself to a celibate life. What he wanted was a lifelong relationship with the woman he was meant to be with … and it wasn't possible. 'His' Lois Lane had died three years ago!
Over the summer, Clark had tried searching out the Lois of this world, at the place she had disappeared in the Congo, without success. He hadn't really thought he could find her but he'd *had* to try.
Clark felt a hand on his shoulder and came out of his reverie. Tim was sympathetic. "Forget them, Clark. What you're doing is the *right* thing. You can't please everyone."
It took Clark a few seconds to realize Tim was referring to Lana and her parents.
"I know. I get calls from all the talk shows … Geraldo, Larry Kidsign, the Tonight Show — asking to appear with Lana. I've refused. I don't want to be part of that media circus. It's bad enough that they've swarmed all over Smallville. I feel sorry for all the families who fostered me. The media is making their lives a public spectacle. However, my refusing to go on the talk shows hasn't stopped them, they're putting Lana on alone. So she gets to spread *her* side of the story — and I don't get a rebuttal. I'm not sure I shouldn't go on and set the record straight."
"Forget it, Clark. If Lana has a new career touring the talk shows that's *her* problem. Don't let them suck you in to that merry-go-round too. You'll only be sorry." Tim took a bite out of his burger.
Clark knew that was probably true. "You know, what I really don't get is why she's willing to put herself on all those shows. Lana was never one to cope well with public embarrassment."
"Well, Clark, I've seen her on those shows." Lori sounded disgusted. "She's obviously got an ax to grind and it's overriding her personal aversion to embarrassment. I say, just let her talk. Eventually, they'll get tired of her and move on to the next 'exciting new revelation' about some other poor sucker's life."
London, England — August, 1996
Joan Dough was spending less and less time in the hospital lounge. Every time there was another story about this new phenomenon, "Superman," she had an attack.
A lot of the women — and some of the men — at the hospital, both patients and staff, were enchanted by this man who could fly. Joan was having difficulty staying conscious whenever there was any mention of him.
Joan's doctors were worried about this new setback in her recovery. Dr. Mamba tried to find the source of her trauma, but even hypnotism was not able to bring it to the forefront.
Joan was becoming more and more reclusive and now rarely did anything to change her routine of meals, crafts, sitting in the garden, and sleeping. She had given up hope of leading any kind of normal life, or of remembering her past.
Metropolis, New Troy — February 1997
Clark stared at the space that had held the dimensional machine just a few moments ago. The echo of Mr. Well's statement that "Nothing is impossible, my boy," echoing through his brain.
Mr. Wells seemed to imply that *he* would be able to find *his* Lois. But, he couldn't believe it. You couldn't raise people from the dead!
He was feeling confused and dejected. He had gone to help Lois while *her* Clark was trapped in Eternity by John Doe, aka Tempus. He had known ahead of time that the experience of going to the other dimension would not be a happy one for him. However, the chance of seeing Lois — again — was more than he could resist. He *had* to help her. He had no choice.
Clark remembered the middle of the night talk that he had with Lois Lane — giving Lois a pep-talk about believing in her love for *her* Clark in order to bring him back from Eternity. It was only fair he return the favour. She had set him on the road to being Superman by letting him know that if he only believed in himself, he could do anything. He wished he could convince *himself* to believe that *his* affinity for the Lois of this world could do the impossible and bring *her* back to life.
The visit to the other dimension hadn't been totally bad. He had met his parents — the way they would have been if they had survived in his own world. Leaving them had been as painful as leaving Lois.
In just his short while there, in the other dimension, he had seen what the possibilities might have been if he and *his* Lois had ever been able to work together. It dismayed him to think it could never be.
Metropolis, New Troy — April, 1997
Clark was flying his usual patrol over Metropolis, keeping an eye out for trouble … and swarms of screaming women. It seemed like nothing deterred them in their quest to catch Superman. He had hoped that, over time, the obsessed women would get bored or move on to other interests. However, that didn't seem to be the case.
In the few months since his trip to the other dimension, he'd been kept busy mostly by natural disasters. There were some interpersonal conflicts, but for the most part he had been able to cover most of the crime in Metropolis by carefully timed patrols. The hoards of fans were his greatest problem.
Clark was at the end of his midnight tour. After breaking up a couple of fights and stopping a bank robbery, Clark headed back home. He still lived in the loft apartment he had inhabited since he moved to Metropolis. It was his by choice and nothing and nobody was going to drive him out.
Not that some hadn't tried. The landlord had been so furious at the devious ways people had tried to force their way into Clark's apartment that he had *personally* taken on the security of Clark's domain as his responsibility. He had even spent his own money on part-time security guards for the first few weeks after Clark's 'coming out.' Eventually, people got the picture and left Clark alone, at home. However, getting to and from the office was still a challenge.
Clark dropped down onto his balcony. It had been a long day. He needed a shower, a hot meal and then some sleep.
He came out of the shower to be greeted by Mr. Wells. Clark wondered what was up in the alternate universe *now*.
"Hello, my boy." Mr. Wells smiled up at Clark.
Well, Mr. Wells was smiling so whatever it was couldn't be *that* catastrophic. "Hi. I was just about to eat dinner. Want to join me?" Clark headed towards his kitchen.
"No. No. We don't have time. I'm here to take you to Lois."
Shoot, he'd been wrong. "Again? What happened to her Clark this time?"
"Eh? Oh, not *that* Lois. The Lois of *this* dimension."
Clark stopped still. He couldn't have heard right. "But, but … she's d-d-dead."
"Oh, not if you hurry. We really must hurry, you know."
Puzzled and anxious, Clark quickly followed H.G. Wells onto the contraption he used to travel through time and dimensions and stood waiting while Mr. Wells poured a handful of gold fuel into the metal funnel at the front of the machine.
"Where are we going?"
"Not so much where, my boy, as when." Mr. Wells climbed into the time machine and turned the dials on the dashboard so that they read April 24, 1993. "Sit down, my boy, sit down!"
Clark followed instructions. The machine whirred and shook and seemed to turn itself inside out. This was starting to feel really familiar. Clark found himself in a hot steamy jungle in the Congo. He had been in almost this exact same location only last year … or was that three years in the future? He was getting confused.
There were some huts over on the right with a few lanterns lit. Inside one of the huts he could hear two men talking. One sounded like *Tempus*!
"Well. Is she *dead* yet?"
"She *has* to be, Mr. Tempus. I saw her go down with the last bullet, myself."
Clark was about to dash into the hut, but Mr. Wells touched his arm and held his finger to his lips. He whispered to Clark. "We must find *Lois* before these … these *scoundrels* make sure she *is* dead."
Clark slowly turned around looking for signs of Lois in the area, but couldn't see any sign of movement anywhere. Then he heard it — a tiny whimper coming from about a quarter of a mile away, off to the left. He grabbed Wells and took off, straight up until he could see a woman on the ground in the direction of the sound. He flew as fast as he could in that direction and landed beside her.
He would not have recognized her, if he hadn't known who she was. She had massive injuries to almost every part of her body and was covered in blood. Her shoulder was still bleeding from a bullet wound she must have received just minutes ago. He could see where someone had hit her on the head and the subsequent concussion. She was making the pitiful sounds of a mortally wounded animal.
Oh, God! He was too late! Clark felt a sob rise in his throat.
"You have to get her away from here, my boy. If *he* finds her, she might as well *be* dead."
Clark was torn between the desire to get her to a hospital and fear of hurting or killing her in the process. "But, if I move her, she could die, or be permanently injured!"
"If you *don't* move her, she *will* die." Mr. Wells flapped his hands, shooing Clark away.
Gently, carefully, Clark lifted Lois into his arms. Slowly floating up he carried her higher and higher. Where to take her? She needed to be some place with good medical facilities, far from here and nowhere near Metropolis — where Tempus might be able to find her.
He recollected that when he was in London he had learned about one hospital that specialized in post-trauma victims. He headed in that direction. He didn't know how to get her admitted and decided to leave it up to the hospital. He lay her gently on the porch floor and rang the doorbell before making a quick exit … a trick he had learned from the Jamieson twins in childhood. He didn't want any record of his part in this to be known, and help Tempus find her. He hovered several hundred feet over her stricken body to make sure she was taken care of.
Several hours later, he was reassured by what the doctors were saying that Lois was to be admitted and her most severe wounds had already been taken care of. He was sure she would receive the best care possible. Now he had to get rid of that — that *monster* — Tempus.
He headed back to the Congo to get Tempus before he could do any further damage. However, in the time he had been gone Tempus had removed all traces of his encampment and the clearing was much the same as it had looked when Clark had visited it in 1996.
He found Mr. Wells hiding behind a tall tree and together they returned to Metropolis.
It was late Metropolis time, the same evening in 1997, when they got back. Clark was thankful that Tempus was now in jail in the other dimension. Unless Tempus had taken advantage of the time window to interfere again with *his* Lois' life, Lois should now be traceable. After four years she would have been discharged from the Sutcliffe hospital but, hopefully, Clark would be able to follow up on her life from there. It would be another three hours before he could call the administration office of the hospital in London to find out where Lois was after all this time.
He stripped off the clothes covered in Lois' blood, threw them in the washer, took another shower, and went to bed. With a major search for Lois in front of him, he figured he'd need all the rest he could get.
Metropolis, New Troy — April, 1997
"I'm sorry. We have never had anyone by that name in our facility." Clark could hear the clipped accents through the static in the overseas connection.
"I'm pretty sure that Ms. Lane was admitted to your hospital late in April, 1993. She may have been using another name."
"April, 1993?" There was a brief pause. "Could you describe Ms. Lane? We do have a patient that was admitted at that time. She isn't using that name, however."
Clark was puzzled, after four years was it likely that Lois would still be there? He swallowed. Had she been even more badly injured than he had thought? He replied to the question, "Tall, brown eyes, brunette, slender."
"That *does* sound like our patient."
Clark sat on the edge of his chair, undecided whether he wanted to know that this patient was Lois, or not. "What name is she using?"
"Joan Dough … d-o-u-g-h. She says she's from Venus, Nebraska."
Clark closed his eyes. One part of him was relieved, another was apprehensive. "Ms. Lane used that name and place as her cover in a story she did for the Daily Planet about ten years ago. She must be using it again."
"Mr. Kent … could you come here and see Joan Dough?" There was a strange quality to the woman's voice, as if she were holding back some vital information, which made Clark even more nervous.
"Yes. I could do that. Why?"
"The woman who calls herself Joan Dough has no memory of anything prior to her arrival with us. If she *is* Lois Lane, then your news could be very instrumental in her recovery."
"Lois has amnesia?" It was almost a relief to hear that. Surely, loving care in familiar surroundings could cure that?
"We're not sure yet if she is Lois Lane. I'm hoping that you can shed some light on that."
"Definitely!" It took all the control he had to prevent himself from immediately changing into Superman and flying to London this instant, to finish this conversation.
"Oh, and Mr. Kent … "
"Yes?" Clark was anxious to hang up and just *get* there.
"Please come dressed as Clark Kent. Joan Dough has something of a phobia about Superman. We wouldn't want to add to her distress … would we?"
London, England — April, 1997
Clark saw the psychiatrist in charge of Joan Dough's case. The tall, tanned man stood as Clark entered and extended his hand.
"I'm Dr. Mamba. I'm so happy to make your acquaintance. Please. Sit down."
Clark sat and began the explanation he had developed about why he was looking for Lois Lane in this hospital.
The Daily Planet had thought that Lois Lane had been killed in the Congo, but a rumour had come through one of their more reliable sources saying that a woman who looked remarkably like Lois Lane had been seen in the Sutcliffe Hospital for Post-Traumatic Stress in London. Since the woman under discussion was using one of Lois Lane's former aliases, Clark was here to determine if the rumour was true.
Dr. Mamba nodded understandingly. "Do you have a picture of Ms. Lane?"
Clark produced the Planet's byline photo, taken just shortly before she disappeared in 1993. Dr. Mamba studied the photograph.
"Yes. It certainly looks a lot like Joan Dough. Perhaps you should meet her and ask her some questions." The doctor stood up. "I should warn you however that the patient does not remember any of the events in her life prior to arriving at this facility. Any attempts to force her to remember produce severe and overwhelming headaches. I'll go with you, just in case she has another of these attacks."
Clark, escorted by Dr. Mamba, walked through the patient lounge, through the french doors and out into the gardens behind the hospital building.
He saw her almost at once. She was sitting in a garden chair intent on the crochet square she was creating. Clark, apprehensive about how she might react to him, adjusted his glasses and walked slowly up beside her.
He studied her intently. He could see minor differences from the other Lois. The woman in front of him had a small scar just above the hair line on the right-hand side of her head. No-one else would have been able to see it. For the most part, it was as if he were seeing Lois' identical twin … the same, but different.
She didn't seem to be aware that he was there. He coughed quietly and said, "Hello."
Lois looked up at him — puzzled. "Do I know you?"
"No. We've never met before."
Clark's breath almost stopped as she smiled, radiantly, up at him.
"Oh, I'm so glad. I spend so much of my time worrying about whether or not I should know someone. Not that I meet that many new people, of course. And, even if I did they probably weren't from my old life. Anyway, it's still nice to know I don't have to even try to remember." Her smile widened even more. "I'm babbling, aren't I?"
Clark smiled in return, his initial apprehension forgotten in the warmth of her smile. "I like your babbling. It's nice." He gazed into her eyes, feeling himself drawn to her.
Dr. Mamba interrupted their conversation, "Mr. Kent is here because he thinks perhaps you used to work for the newspaper he works for."
"Really?" Lois looked less happy, but not exactly unhappy — wary might have been the right description for her expression.
"Yes. The Daily Planet. I'm Clark Kent, and …"
Lois clutched her head and screamed in pain. She struggled out of the chair and tried to run away from them. Clark stared at her, dismayed at her reaction.
"Lois … what …" He caught up to her and tried to stop her from running into a prickly, low-lying hedge. His touch seemed to increase her agony beyond bearing and she fell unconscious into his arms.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Kent. I had *no* idea she would react this violently to remembering your newspaper. She has only ever had this strong a reaction to seeing Superman on television."
"There doesn't seem to be any logical connection between the two. How could you know that she would react like this?"
Clark cradled Lois in his arms and carried her back into the patient lounge to lay her on one of the sofas there. His heart pounding, he x-rayed her head to see if there was anything he could identify as the cause of her pain. He was looking for broken bone, or pieces of whatever Tempus' cohorts had used to bludgeon her with. He didn't see either of those, but he did notice something else that should not have been there. That rotten, miserable *bastard*! How *dare* he! Clark swallowed his venom, he had to get this thing out of Lois, *now*.
"Dr. Mamba, do you have any small forceps handy?"
The doctor looked puzzled, but went into the nearby nursing station to bring back a pair of forceps.
Clark gently pulled Lois' jaw down so that her mouth opened wide. He reached in and pulled a piece of metal from her back molar.
"What on earth are you doing? Why are you pulling out one of her fillings?"
"It's not a filling. If you look at this under a powerful microscope I think you'll find a highly sophisticated mechanism."
"Mechanism for what?" Dr. Mamba held the forceps close to his eyes, perhaps hoping that he could see what Clark was seeing.
"Mind control. The person I think is responsible for Ms. Lane's abduction and injuries is a master of mind control." Clark indicated the tiny piece of metal held by the forceps. "This is just the kind of thing he loves to use."
Lois moaned and stirred. "What happened?"
London, England — April, 1997
She was feeling totally disoriented. She felt like she had collapsed from another one of her devastating headaches. But, something was different this time.
Also, when she opened her eyes she was looking into the most beautiful brown eyes of the most gorgeous man she could ever remember seeing.
She closed her eyes again. She must be dreaming. People who looked like that did not just appear out of nowhere.
A soft, anxious voice asked, "Are you okay?"
She opened her eyes. The beautiful man was still there. He looked at her with a concerned expression. She wanted to stroke the distress from his face. "I — I'm fine." She struggled to sit up. "What happened?"
The man put his strong arm around her to support her as she moved into a sitting position.
"You became sick when I mentioned where I work."
She was feeling a little lightheaded and was hoping she wouldn't do anything silly — like faint again.
"I don't … I don't think I understand." She put a trembling hand to her forehead, hoping that the disorientation and wobbliness would go away soon.
She felt *his* arm tighten his hold on her, as if he knew exactly how unsteady she felt.
Dr. Mamba began to ask her his standard questions. The ones he always asked after one of her attacks.
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Two." She felt exasperated. He *always* held up two fingers.
"What is the last thing you remember?"
"There was a man. He tied me up." She paused as she remembered his gloating face. "He was *evil*!"
"What was his name?"
"He said they called him 'Tempus', but I could call him 'John Doe'."
The beautiful man exhaled sharply.
Dr. Mamba asked, "What is *your* name?"
"Where are you from?"
"Metropolis, New Troy."
"Where are you now?"
Lois paused before answering, "I don't know."
"What is today's date?"
"I — I — don't exactly know."
"What year is it?"
The beautiful man covered his mouth with the hand that wasn't holding her, closed his eyes and seemed to be having trouble breathing. He seemed almost relieved about what she had said.
Puzzled by his reaction, Lois asked, "Is something wrong?"
Dr. Mamba coughed gently. "You've been having trouble remembering some of the details you just outlined. We're glad that you can remember again."
"You mean I lost my memory?"
"Yes." Dr. Mamba nodded his head towards the beautiful man. "Mr. Kent came to see if you were the Lois Lane that went missing from the Daily Planet a while back."
At the mention of the Daily Planet, she could see the busy newsroom in her head. "I remember — I think — working at the Daily Planet. There was some story that Perry warned me was dangerous. I guess it was." The snapshot image she had pictured was all there was. She couldn't remember anything else about the Daily Planet. It was as if her memory was a sieve. Some things stayed and others just slid right through.
"I remember flying to the Congo … and then that awful man, but that's all." She looked up into the face of the beautiful stranger. "I don't remember *you* being at the Daily Planet. How long have you been working there?"
Mr. Kent spoke again. "I arrived after you left for the Congo. It's been … " He looked at Dr. Mamba, who gave a slight nod. "It's been four years since you disappeared."
"Four *years*!? That's impossible! It can't be!" Lois felt afraid. It *couldn't* be four years. It only seemed like yesterday since she had been facing Tempus and his threats.
She felt Mr. Kent's gentle hold tighten reassuringly. "I'm sorry to break it to you like this, but it *has* been four years since you disappeared."
Lois looked from Mr. Kent's face to Dr. Mamba's. She could see the truth in their eyes. She had been here four years. She shut her eyes against the implications.
London, England — April, 1997
A nurse had assisted Lois to her room to rest.
Dr. Mamba consulted with his research staff and confirmed that the tiny mechanism that Clark had taken from Lois' mouth had some kind of subliminal messaging system. They were working on discovering exactly what the subliminal messages had said.
Dr. Mamba asked Clark to come to his office and answer a few questions.
"What made you realize that this … this *thing* could be some kind of mind control device?"
"I just recently helped someone in another dimension find and break down one of Tempus' other mind control devices. With that one, he used the phone system to control the minds of an entire continent. This seemed like a similar, somewhat smaller device, set to specifically control Ms. Lane's reactions … particularly to any name or memory that would allow her to recover."
"He could *do* that?"
"Dr. Mamba, Tempus used that other device to get a whole continent to distrust the Amish because they didn't use phones. He couldn't control the Amish, so he controlled the rest of the population."
"That's *terrible*." Dr. Mamba took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. "But, why did Ms. Lane react so violently to Superman? She didn't even know who that was! You didn't arrive on the scene until *after* she left for the Congo."
"My guess is that Tempus wanted to make sure that Ms. Lane would never meet Superman. He seems to believe that Superman and Lois Lane are a deadly combination for him. As a result, I'm sure he took special delight in making sure that she would have an adverse reaction to me, if by some miracle she survived the torture he had put her through."
Dr. Mamba speculated some more on the potential damage the device might have done to Lois Lane. She would need care and familiar surroundings to counteract its effect. Dr. Mamba said he would look into getting Lois Lane transferred to Metropolis so she would be close to family and former friends. He had the names of several doctors who were particularly good in this kind of case.
By this time, it was mid-afternoon and Clark had to get back to the Planet and bring Mr. Olsen up to date on this latest development. If he hurried he would be back in time for the morning newsroom meeting in Metropolis.
Before Clark left Dr. Mamba's office he asked that Dr. Mamba keep him informed of Lois' progress. He would come and pick her up as soon as she was capable of travelling.
London, England — May, 1997
Less than a week later, Lois was packed and waiting for Clark Kent to pick her up for the flight back to Metropolis.
During the intervening week, she had gone through a battery of medical checks. She was declared medically sound and to her relief she found she was now able to watch news programs all the way through.
Dr. Mamba had told her the reason for her attacks. Apparently, Tempus had been trying to keep her and Superman from meeting. Neither of them really understood why. As she watched the news on TV with renewed interest, she saw Superman putting out fires, stopping floods and appearing at children's charity functions. She wondered why Tempus would have prevented them from meeting. What possible significance could her writing a story about this man in tights have that would make Tempus go to all this trouble? She wished she could remember more of that awful conversation with Tempus. It might give her the answer to this conundrum.
Despite the fact that she was medically fit, her memory was *still* intermittent. She remembered some things prior to her arrival at the hospital, and most of the ones after her arrival, except for the periods immediately surrounding her attacks. However, often the memories were jumbled and she was having trouble coping with the confusion this created. Also, she was still experiencing pain whenever she made an effort to remember. Dr. Mamba told her that this was only to be expected, since she had been conditioned to feel pain whenever she tried to remember for four years.
In Dr. Mamba's judgement, being in Metropolis with her family, and familiar surroundings would help her jumbled memories. Her conditioned response to feel pain for remembering should lessen over time, with the right therapy. As a result, he was referring her to Dr. Friskin in Metropolis for follow-up treatment.
She came out of her reverie as Clark Kent arrived to pick her up. It had surprised her he was still in London. He must have been on a story here for the past week. She wondered who would have escorted her if she had taken longer to be ready to travel. She gave a mental shrug, probably whoever the Daily Planet had in London at that time.
He smiled, said, "Hello" and took her luggage to the cab. He made sure that she was settled and comfortable before getting into the cab himself. She was grateful for his consideration. This was her first trip outside the hospital in years. The whole thing was kind of daunting.
As the journey progressed, Lois became more and more puzzled. The cab driver kept looking back at them with an amazed look on his face … as if he couldn't believe they were there. At the airport, Lois found that their way was being cleared for them … as if they were some kind of VIP entourage. Perplexed, she looked at the mild-mannered man beside her. Who *was* this man that he got this kind of service from people?
As they boarded the plane, Lois was baffled by a comment from the flight attendant about Mr. Kent not normally flying with them. She would have assumed he normally flew with another airline, but how could the flight attendant know that? She was even more puzzled by his response.
"Ms. Lane's doctor advised that she travel *this* way to safeguard her health."
What difference did it make which airline she took? When they were seated, in first class, Lois asked him for an explanation.
He shrugged and said, "Dr. Mamba said you should fly this way."
"Why did she say you don't normally fly like this?"
He smiled at her and said, "I haven't flown commercially in years."
While he dressed nicely, she thought, he didn't look wealthy enough to have a private jet. She wondered what he meant. The Daily Planet didn't send their reporters to stories by company jet, at least not that she remembered when *she* worked there. However, before she could interrogate him further, the pinging sounded signalling the flight attendants to get to their stations. The standard safety instructions were given, via a video screen hanging just over the seat in front of her, as the plane taxied down the runway and took off.
As soon as the seatbelt sign had extinguished, a little girl in a blue organza dress ran up to Clark Kent and asked him for his autograph … saying "You're *him* … You're *him*!" over and over, under her breath while he wrote his name on the napkin she held out to him.
"What was *that* all about?" Lois asked after the child had skipped back down the aisle to her grandparents.
He just shrugged and reached for the magazine in front of him.
Lois put her hand on his to get his attention. "Mr. Kent, I want to know. What's going on? We've been treated like VIPs, or movie stars, ever since we got in the taxi. Why?"
"Clark! Please, call me Clark."
"Okay … Clark … but I still want to know why!"
"Well, I guess Mr. Olsen figured that you were injured on an approved assignment … and … he's afraid you'll sue the socks off him, so he's giving you a first class trip home."
He looked at her nervously, as if he were hoping she wouldn't press for more information. Well, he didn't know Lois Lane if he thought *that*!
"What about the flight attendant and the little girl … they both seem to think you're some kind of … I don't know … some kind of *celebrity*. What's that all about?"
To Lois' astonishment, he was blushing. "I'm … I'm a little different. I thought … I thought you knew."
"Different, what kind of different?" She paused for a second, trying to figure out what he could possibly mean. "Don't tell me you're gay … why is it all the great looking men are always …" She stopped when he took her fingers in his hand.
"I'm not *that* kind of different."
She now saw anxiety in his eyes. What was he afraid of? It was as if he were wary of telling her *how* different he really was.
"What kind of different are you?"
She saw him take a deep breath before opening his mouth to answer her. Then he looked as if he heard something she couldn't hear. And then he was *gone*! One second he was toying with her fingers and then he just simply wasn't in the seat beside her. Seconds later Lois heard and felt the compression of an explosion. And then he was there in the seat beside her, readjusting his tie and his glasses.
Lois blinked. What on earth! Had he really disappeared, or was this a new side-effect from her head injury? Before she could ask him, the captain's voice came over the public address system asking everyone to remain calm. There had been a minor accident with some oxygen tanks in the cargo hold which had been averted by the quick intervention of Superman. There would be no need to return to London after this mishap, they would continue on to Metropolis because they were in Superman's capable hands.
Before Lois could even raise herself up to see where this phenomenon was located, the people sitting across the aisle reached over and shook Clark Kent's hand, thanking him profusely. There was general applause around the plane.
Lois' brain clicked and whirred as she put the pieces together — the awe of the people they had met, the *not* flying by commercial airline, his sudden disappearing act. She finally understood.
"Oh, *that* kind of different."
He looked at her, uneasily. "Does it bother you?"
Lois shook her head, "I guess I wasn't too bright. I should have seen the resemblance. I just wasn't expecting a mild-mannered guy like you, wearing glasses, to be *Superman*!"
"That's what the other Lois said."
Not *another* conundrum! Why did everyone around here talk in riddles? Why couldn't anyone just come out with the straight story? "Other Lois?"
"It's a long story." Again, he reached for the magazine.
"We have several hours to kill until we get to Metropolis. Why don't you fill me in?"
Clark took a deep breath. "Okay." He paused, trying to gather his thoughts. "There are apparently parallel dimensions where each of us lives and has a counterpart in the other realm. Last year the Lois Lane from the other dimension came to visit this one and taught me how to be Superman."
"You've been Superman for only a year?" Lois looked at him with wide eyes. "I kind of remember … last April … a story on LNN about a man in tights swallowing a bomb."
Clark blushed. "That was me."
"Yeah, I guess it would be. Too bad I couldn't stay conscious long enough to figure it out."
Clark gently squeezed her hand. "It's okay, you know now."
Lois nodded. "But, if you've only been Superman since last spring, what were you before that? Where do you come from? What kind of childhood did you have? You did *have* a childhood, didn't you?"
Clark grinned. She was in full babble mode.
"Yes, I had a childhood." He smiled reminiscently. "Up until I was ten, I had a really nice childhood. We lived on a farm just outside of Smallville, Kansas, and my Mom would bake the *best* cookies and breads. Dad would take time out from his chores to build me a tree house, teach me to fish, and play ball with me. Then my parents were killed in a car crash and everything changed." Clark paused to take a breath.
"Oh, Clark! I'm so sorry. Who raised you after that?" Lois touched the back of his hand, gently. She had a concerned look in her eyes.
Clark swallowed. The touch of her hand was so distracting. It was hard to stay focussed.
"I was kind of passed around from one foster home to another. My parent's relatives didn't want to take me because they thought I was the illegitimate child of a cousin. I don't know what they would have done if they'd known I was found in a field."
Lois' eyebrows rose to her hairline. "A field?"
Clark gave her a lop-sided grin. "Yeah, the spaceship I came to Earth in crash-landed in Shuster's field near my parents' farm. My parents found me as a baby, there. My other — birth — parents had sent me to Earth to escape the destruction of Krypton."
"Uh, huh. I come from a planet called Krypton. It exploded right after I left. I don't know why."
"How do you know all this? You were just a baby when you landed on Earth."
"My birth parents left me a message, in a globe I found a few years ago. My Mom and Dad thought I was about six months old when they found me in May 1966. They told everyone my birth-date was at the end of February."
"That doesn't add up. February to May would only be three months."
Clark shrugged. "I know, but amazingly enough, no-one ever noticed that at the time. I guess they just figured it was all part of the hush-hush surrounding my supposed illegitimate birth."
Lois grinned wickedly up at him, making his heart do another flip- flop. "Yeah, it's amazing what whoppers people will swallow if they're preconditioned to believe them."
The steward came to ask if they wanted aperitifs before dinner. They ordered and Clark opened his mouth to continue.
"Anyway, Mom and Dad were the best possible parents I could have had. I started doing these Special things and they somehow dealt with the difficulties and tried to let me know I was okay." Clark swallowed. "Then they were gone."
The wine arrived and Clark sat quietly remembering the good parts of his childhood while he sipped his drink.
Lois interrupted his reverie. "What kinds of Special things can you do? Besides fly, I mean. I've seen you fly, on television."
"I didn't learn to fly until quite late. While my parents were alive I was able to make fire with my eyes, hear things they didn't want me to hear, and see at a distance. Most of my skills didn't develop until I was in my teens. My invulnerability was starting to become evident, just before they were killed. The first problem I had right after they died was with my hair. I couldn't go to a barber because it needed garden shears to even make a dent in it. I didn't know what to do, but finally figured out a solution."
"What was that?"
"I used my eyes and a mirror to sear off the ends of my hair. It worked really well. I still do it pretty much the same way."
She smiled. "I'd like to see you do that, sometime."
"I don't have to do it very often. My hair grows quite slowly."
Lois mulled this over as she sipped her white wine, and then moved on to her next question.
"How did you cope with being Special after your parents died? You couldn't tell anyone … or, could you?"
"At first I tried to go it alone, then I told one childhood friend." He sipped his wine. "It was a mixed blessing."
"It must have been nice to have someone to talk over your problems with."
Clark nodded glumly. Should he go into the whole fiasco with Lana, or not? "Yes, but then there were *two* people to worry about what might happen if anyone else found out, and we kind of fed on each other's fears."
The stewardess stood beside Clark and asked the two of them, "Would you like Filet Mignon, or Grilled Salmon Steaks?"
Almost together they both said, "Salmon." Lois choked back a laugh and Clark grinned back at her.
The stewardess moved on and Clark asked, "Where was I?"
"Playing worry-wart with your school friend."
"Oh, right. Anyway, as I grew older I got better at hiding the Special things I could do, I went to Journalism School at KU and after I graduated I travelled the world. I moved to Metropolis just after you disappeared."
He paused while dinner was placed on trays in front of each of them. Once the steward had moved on to the next passenger, Clark continued his story.
"Last year the Lois Lane from the other dimension was kidnapped by Tempus and brought to our world. She showed me how to use my Special skills openly and had hoped to help me have a secret identity. She said that no-one would recognize me, wearing glasses, as Superman — but that didn't work out. I've been Superman for the past year and, thanks to Tempus and his television studio bomb, everyone knows I'm also Clark Kent. Then I was able to find you …"
Clark looked at the woman sitting beside him. She was extremely pale and was holding her forehead as if in pain.
He desperately wanted to cradle her in his arms and erase her pain. "Are you all right?"
Lois swallowed and nodded. "I was trying to remember what Tempus told me. I had a memory flash for a second … then it was gone. That happens sometimes."
"Do you remember what the flash was about?"
Lois shook her head. Her colour was coming back. "Not really. I heard a voice, I think it was Tempus', saying something about 'its inhabitants called it simply Earth.' There's nothing else. It makes no sense. It's kind of like there's this flash of light and then I'm back in the dark again. I'm sorry. You hadn't finished your story. Please, go on." She smiled tentatively.
Clark was startled. "My Kryptonian father said something like that. I can only assume Tempus was quoting him and that's what you remember."
Lois was still looking fragile, and he didn't want to trigger any more memories that might cause her pain. In his mind's eye, he kept seeing the image of her lying, whimpering on the jungle floor, covered in blood and close to death's door. Maybe, if he hadn't moved her, she wouldn't have lost her memory. If he'd only paid closer attention he could have found Tempus' mind-control device back when he found her and she wouldn't have had that pain for four years. It was all his fault she was suffering now. He should have been more careful!
He didn't want to go on with his life story. All that was left to tell was his relationship with Lana and how he'd found Lois in the Congo. There was no point in dwelling on the painful parts of his own life, or the details of how Lois was found. It would only add to her pain. He finally said, "What I've related so far is pretty much all there is to tell. The rest is just details. You should rest." He looked at her anxiously. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'll be fine. Really." She was looking a great deal better but had obviously not yet fully recovered from whatever pain she had felt.
Still concerned, Clark asked, "Do you still get the headaches when you try to remember?"
"Not exactly. I feel kind of disoriented sometimes, but I don't get the headaches any more. Dr. Mamba says the pain I feel now happens because I've been trained to feel pain, whenever I try to remember, for four years. He tells me that eventually I'll learn that remembering doesn't really trigger any pain." She took a deep breath. "He also said that Tempus gave me those headaches because he didn't want me to meet Superman … you!
"I'm pretty sure that's true. Tempus is very good at getting what he wants. If he doesn't want something to happen he'll do pretty much *anything* to prevent it." Clark took a deep breath. "Meeting me could put you in more danger. Does that bother you?"
"I don't know." She looked up into his eyes and studied him thoughtfully, making his heart flutter again. "I don't think so. Dr. Mamba said that Tempus was in jail, so I think I should be okay."
Clark thought 'Well, at least until the next time he escapes,' but decided not to express this concern out loud. Instead he chose to change the subject.
"Are you planning to come back and work at the Planet?"
Lois shrugged. "I don't know yet. It's been four years. I'm not sure I have what it takes any more."
"Oh, I'm sure you do! The way Perry White talks, you could walk on water and get the exclusive on the most confidential story at the same time." He smiled at her.
Lois smiled back which sent his heart soaring. "Maybe, back then, I could." Her expression changed to pensive. "Now, I'm not sure I can."
Clark took her hand in his and squeezed it reassuringly. "I'm sure you will be the kind of reporter I've heard stories about, again. It just takes time."
Lois nodded. She was staring at their clasped hands.
Clark swallowed. Maybe he'd been too bold? He started to loosen his hold on her hand. "Am I hurting you? Sometimes, I don't know my own strength."
"Oh, no. It's not that. I … I … just wasn't sure if you were holding it to comfort me … or you."
Clark opened his mouth to ask how she had known, just as the steward came to collect the remnants of their dinner and ask if they wanted ear phones for the movie.
Lois shook her head. "I think I'll try to get some rest."
A few moments later the steward came back with a pillow and blanket for Lois, and ear phones for Clark.
Metropolis, New Troy — April, 1997
Clark helped Lois to descend from the plane and ushered her through customs and immigration, using her medical transfer documents to facilitate the process.
"Clark! I'm not *that* sick. You don't have to treat me like I'm an invalid." Lois was standing next to a wheelchair with her arms folded, looking peeved to say the least.
"Dr. Mamba entrusted your transfer to me. I'm obligated to make sure that you get to meet your new psychiatrist, Dr. Friskin, in at least the same shape as Dr. Mamba last saw you."
"But this is *ridiculous*!" She slapped the wheelchair the airline had insisted he use to transport her through the airport. "I can't *remember* some things. I am *not* about to collapse."
"I know that … and *you* know that, but the airline is afraid of getting sued. Just hang in there until you've been discharged into your parents' custody."
"Discharged? What are you *talking* about?"
Clark sighed. He should have told her all about this on the plane, but they'd been too busy covering his life story and then she hadn't been feeling well, and in the meantime he'd forgotten about telling her.
"You have to be discharged from Metropolis General Hospital before you can move in with your parents. You're basically being transferred from Sutcliffe Hospital to Metropolis General … then, once you leave Metropolis General, you can stay with your parents."
"And, how long was it going to be before you told me all about this?"
He hadn't thought she would get this upset. She must be really tired, despite her attempt to rest on the plane. He should have remembered she was still unwell.
"I was going to tell you on the plane, but you seemed more interested in my life story."
"Oh, sure, blame me and my curiosity." Lois sounded miffed as she waved her hands in obvious frustration.
"I wasn't blaming you … honest. I just didn't get a chance to bring the subject up."
She was looking at him … as if she were deciding exactly how she was going to dismember him — piece by piece.
Lois' shoulders relaxed. "Okay, I guess I did monopolize the conversation with questions about your life … but you should have tried harder to tell me what I really needed to know." She pursed her lips and seemed to be thinking about the situation at hand. "So what else should I know before I blow my stack at you again?"
He breathed a sigh of relief. "Because we're getting in so late, you're going to have to stay in the hospital overnight. Dr. Friskin will see you in the morning, and then you can go home with your parents."
"Oh, great. Just what I wanted … another night in a hospital." Lois sank down into the wheelchair.
Clark decided to take advantage of the fact that she was seated in the wheelchair and stepped around the back of the chair, taking hold of the handles. "You could try to look on the positive side — you'll be over jet lag before you have to reintroduce yourself to your parents."
Lois looked up at him over her left shoulder. "Thanks, Clark. You're right. I need to be reminded about those things every once in a while." She sighed. "You know, I don't even remember my parents. Isn't that awful?"
"You're getting a chance most of us don't get more than once in our lives." Clark remembered how it had felt to meet the older version of his parents. He hoped Lois would feel just like that when she met *hers* again.
Metropolis, New Troy — May, 1997
Clark had left her at the admitting station of the hospital. He'd helped her sign in and just as the duty nurse was explaining that he could *not* escort Lois to her room, she didn't care *who* he was, Lois saw him tilt his head as if he heard something she couldn't hear and then excused himself. Superman must have been needed somewhere.
Now she was admitted to the observation ward and was in bed. She had been so tired when they got off the plane she could have sworn she wouldn't have had any trouble sleeping. But, now that she was in bed, her tiredness had evaporated and she was just bored, waiting for lights-out. Maybe once the room was in darkness she'd be able to relax and get some sleep.
She was killing the time until lights-out by watching television. She had been flipping through the channels on the TV hanging over her hospital bed, hoping to find something of interest to keep her mind occupied. She didn't want to just lie there with only her own thoughts. Her mind had a disturbing tendency to dwell on a mild-mannered man in glasses. She had stopped on a channel waiting until the commercials were over to find out what was on, before she skipped on to the next channel.
The show came on, finally. It was some kind of talk show and she was about to flip channels again when she heard her own name.
The bleach blond being interviewed said, "I blame Lois Lane for all of this. If it hadn't been for *her*, we would have been married and living a happy life together. Smallville would be a sleepy backwoods town and the media zoo we have all been going through would *not* be happening."
Lois gaped at the screen. She was *sure* she had never seen this woman before, never met her, never done *anything* to her. Had she? What the *heck* was this woman talking about?
"Lana … can I call you Lana?" The woman nodded. "We all know how much he meant to you. Why do you think he rejected you in the end?"
"It was *her*! He was obsessed with *her*. I'm sure of it. I don't know what she did to him, but overnight she had him under her spell. He had *me* and yet he refused to follow through with the wedding after he had met *her*. Now he's brought her back from her European hideaway. He's bewitched. What else could it be?"
Any doubts Lois had entertained that this might be about another woman named Lois Lane evaporated at the mention of the return from Europe. They *had* to be talking about *her*. She gaped at the screen, trying to understand just exactly what was going on.
The TV host nodded sympathetically. "So now that she's once again back in Metropolis, what do you plan to do?"
"Fight. I plan to fight. I have no intention of letting her get away with this a second time." The woman crossed her arms and set her chin, as if determined to not budge on this issue. "And all that talk about amnesia and her being lost in the Congo is just a smoke-screen for what *really* happened. I mean, really! What kind of story is *that*?"
The channel broke for yet another commercial, saying to stay tuned, there was more with Larry Kidsign and his guest, after these few words from his sponsors.
Lois stared at the tiny television screen. What on earth was this woman *talking* about? Why was this woman blaming *her* for her spoiled wedding? Lois was at a loss.
The woman must be talking about Clark. She had mentioned Smallville in her list of complaints. Clark Kent had spoken of growing up in Smallville during the recitation of his life story. He'd briefly mentioned a childhood friend, but Lois didn't remember him giving a name to the friend, and this woman certainly wasn't a friend by Lois' definition. So that couldn't be who she was.
Could this woman have been Clark's *fiancee*? It seemed unlikely, she didn't seem to be his type, but why else would that … that … *woman* be on a talk show? Lois had seen what kind of celebrity status Superman had. His ex-fiancee would be news with a capital N!
On the other hand, why was this woman linking her broken wedding plans with Lois Lane? Clark had said he had met a Lois Lane from another dimension. Could *that* be the Lois Lane this woman was talking about? Hopefully, things would be clearer in the next part of the interview.
The commercials were almost finished when suddenly the lights in the hospital dimmed and the television shut off. It was lights- out time, and there was no way that Lois was going to be able to watch the rest of this interview. She pounded her pillow in frustration.
Lois tossed and turned for the next hour, the woman's invective against her running round and round in her head. She was pretty sure that she did not know this woman. There was not even a smidgen of a hint of recognition in her mind. She *had* to be talking about that other Lois Lane … but why had that woman talked about herself being brought back from Europe by Clark? It was all so puzzling.
Lois finally fell asleep — still wondering why Clark Kent had not mentioned his relationship with this woman, Lana, in his narration of his life story.
…to be continued in "Only You: Reality"
Last revised: November 16, 1998