By Cindy <Chm25@aol.com> (and world-famous incognito co-writer)
Original Air Date: March 8, 1998
Summary: What if you went for a walk to blow off some steam and never came back? Lois and Clark are about to find out. Part 1 of 2. Episode 14 of S5.
*Metropolis — Present Day*
The flames from the warehouse showed no sign of dying down and the people assembled outside watched intently as firefighters fought the blaze with everything they had. The crowd — all of them, the newscrews; the people who, having barely escaped with their lives, were anxiously waiting to see if others would be as lucky; the passer-by who stopped to help or just simply gawk as the giant building lit up the gray sky — cheered as Superman emerged from the building again, carrying yet another lucky survivor of the blaze. He left the man with an EMT crew and disappeared inside one more time.
A television reporter, standing next to the fire chief, was reporting live from the blaze. "This is Lynn James, LNN News, reporting live from a devastating four-alarm fire in Metropolis' West End garment district. Behind me is the biggest clothing warehouse in the city, located on the corner of Cash and Mulroy Avenues, almost entirely engulfed in flames. Luckily, Superman has arrived and is working against the clock to rescue dozens of workers still trapped inside the building."
She turned the fire chief. "With me is Fire Chief Andrew Park. Chief, do you have any idea how this fire was started?"
Park, a thirty-year veteran of the force, sighed as he answered, "Not at this time. Firefighters were dispatched immediately after we received an anonymous phone call tipping us off about the blaze. This is one of the worst I've seen in a while."
"Can you tell us how many people are trapped inside?"
At this moment, Superman reemerged from the building carrying another worker. Amid more cheers, he left this woman with another paramedic crew and ran up to the Chief. "Excuse me," he said to the reporter, who was delighted to have this moment captured on camera. Superman turned to Park. "Sir," he said hurriedly, "I've X-rayed the building and there are no more people inside. Unfortunately, the entire top floor has started burning by now. I'm going to take the hoses up to the roof to try and stop it from spreading." He hurried off to grab a fire hose as the Chief hastily excused himself from the interview. Lynn James turned back to the camera.
"As we have just heard," she continued, trying to keep the excitement from her voice, "There are no more people trapped in the building, thanks to Superman. I repeat, every one of the trapped workers has been rescued. Superman has saved the day once again!"
Superman flew up to the roof as fast as possible, fire hose in hand. As he went to signal to have the water turned on, a massive fireball erupted from one of the lower floors, apparently triggered by the rush of air in his wake. He could hear screams and cries of horror from the crowd below as the building began to sag and then collapse under the flames. The firefighters began to move the people away as quickly as possible, as Superman, still holding the limp fire hose in his hand, watched in undisguised horror as the building crumbled before his eyes, the thundering noise even louder as it echoed in his head.
In the alley across the street from the warehouse, a man watched from the shadows. Unlike the other horrified witnesses, he seemed to be deriving great pleasure from the disaster unfolding before him. The sight of the people scattering and Superman's helpless dismay actually set him to laughing with what one might even consider glee as he fingered a remote control he held in his left hand.
"Oh," he gasped, attempting to catch his breath from laughter, "now I remember why wreaking consummate havoc and unmitigated chaos is so much fun!"
Had Superman's full attention not been focused on the catastrophe at hand, he would have heard the laughter — Tempus' laughter.
In the Daily Planet newsroom, Lois Lane was seated at her desk, arguing on the phone, obviously in the middle of a major story which was NOT going well. "What do you mean he won't talk to me?" she demanded, sweeping a stack of papers unnoticed onto the floor. Several staffers looked at each other as if wondering if they should give her a hand, but the consensus was pretty much that when Lois got like this it was best to stay far, far away. Admittedly, it had been a while since she had worked herself up into this kind of state, but Clark, who could usually calm her, had been out most of the morning, and since she had become pregnant, her moods were unpredictable. "I confirmed the interview yesterday afternoon!" she was thundering furiously. "Well, I think I would remember if he had told me he hated reporters … what exactly are you trying to say?" She held the phone away and looked at it, as the person on the other end was obviously no longer there. "Great. Just great." She picked up a printout of questions intended for the interview, and in a fit of frustration, crumpled it up and threw it across the room.
Perry White was innocently crossing through his newsroom when he was suddenly, and rudely, hit in the face by a flying piece of paper. Startled more by what he took to be the accuracy of her aim then by the tantrum itself, he strode over to the desk of one half of his star reporting team. "Lois, what in the Sam Hill do you think you're doing?"
"Don't start with me, Chief," Lois waved him away from the floor where she was attempting to reorganize the sheaf of papers scattered under her desk.
"Excuse *me*," Perry replied, leaning down and picking up handful of papers, which he stacked neatly on her desk. "Maybe I'm just old-fashioned that way, but I'm not accustomed to having -"
"Chief, the interview's off," Lois interrupted, standing up and dropping the rest of the papers unceremoniously on top of Perry's neat pile.
"What do you mean, the interview's off?" Perry demanded, the earlier insult now forgotten.
"Just what I said. Crawford bailed. One of his nameless drones called and cancelled."
"Crawford's interview is the cornerstone of tomorrow's front page story exposing the fact that Congressman West committed the biggest tax fraud of this century!" Perry was now gesturing wildly with his hands - not a good sign. Lois didn't care.
"Well, obviously we won't be seeing that front page story, or a federal indictment against West for that matter, anytime soon."
Perry shook his head. Lois was obviously in some kind of funk, maybe something to do with hormones or somesuch, but he knew better than to even mention that. He couldn't let this go on though, and he stopped her as she shrugged and started towards the ramp.
"Oh, no. No you don't. Lois, I'm telling you right now. That story will run in the morning. And I don't want to hear another word about it. Got it? Take Clark, drive over to Crawford's office and park yourselves on his $10,000 leather executive chairs till he talks to you if that's what it takes."
"Chief … "
"Don't say it. I'm no longer listening. JIMMY!!" Perry turned and walked back into his office bellowing for Jimmy.
Lois sighed and looked at Clark's vacant chair. "Take Clark," she muttered, walking back to her own desk. "Sure. The only problem is, I have no idea where he is." She looked at her watch. "Oh yeah, this is turning out to be a truly great day." She sighed again and began attempting to put the papers now scattered across her desk in some form of order. The elevator doors opened and she turned, hoping to see Clark, in the process, knocking the papers onto the floor again. On top of that, it was Jimmy who exited, carrying a sheet of paper and looking decidedly gloomy. He walked past Lois, seemingly not seeing her, and actually stepping on several of the papers in his path.
"Jimmy!" Lois cried from her position crouched on the floor. "Watch what you're doing!"
"Lois, please, I just can't right now."
"What?!" Lois stood up, papers clutched in both her hands, watching as Jimmy went over to Clark's desk, dug out a phone book and began flipping the pages.
"Hello?" Lois was not accustomed to being ignored, especially by Jimmy, and it was not enhancing her mood. "Where is that file from STAR Labs? I needed it two hours ago!"
Jimmy dropped the heavy book onto Clark's desk. "Lois, I wanted to get that file for you."
"Oh, well, I'm glad to know you had sufficient motivation," Lois snapped, wondering if one tiny little thing could possible go right today.
"I just couldn't go through with it," Jimmy continued, turning his attention back to the phone book.
"Lois, I wanted to go get that file. Unfortunately, to do so would require a car! Motor vehicle! Automobile!" Jimmy was getting worked up now. "None of which I have!"
Lois stopped her tirade, perplexed. "Jimmy, what are you talking about?"
Jimmy was beyond control now. "My car, Lois! My car was stolen! I parked it in the parking garage, and it's not there anymore." He held up the piece of paper. "The police came by to take my statement and get the information, and apologize for my loss, but I'm still left with no car, and with my bike in the shop, no means of transportation. Which is a problem I really need to deal with right now."
He began dialing a number on the phone, as Lois just stood there, dumbfounded and feeling like a heel. "Jimmy, I'm so sorry," she began. "That's awful … "
Jimmy ignored her. "Yeah, Reliable Red's Rental Cars? Great. Yeah, I need to rent a car. Like now."
Lois turned her attention back to her papers, most of which she had by now managed to re-pile on her desk, when a sudden rush of wind blew through the newsroom, rescattering them across the floor. Lois shook her head and threw the ones in her hands up in the air in a gesture of total defeat.
An instant later, her husband casually strode up, smoothing his tie, with a trace of soot and a slightly distressed look on his face. He would have walked past Lois' desk, but his wife was staring him down, so he stopped there. "Where have you been?" she inquired in a fierce whisper.
"Fighting that fire in the garment district," Clark replied, rubbing the back of his neck in a weary gesture which Lois ignored.
"For THREE hours?" she demanded, her voice getting slightly louder than Clark would have liked. "What did you do — have a meet and greet with Calvin Klein?"
Clark just looked at her for a long moment and then continued over to his desk and began to put away the phone book Jimmy had abandoned there. It was clear something was wrong. "Clark?!"
"I'm sorry I was late," Clark answered shortly, without looking at her.
"Oh, don't do this with me," Lois pleaded, completely out of patience.
"I don't want to talk about this right now, OK?" Clark said, too quietly. "Later. I need to think."
Lois stopped for a second, unsure of what to make of his reticence, and, off her earlier mood, slightly annoyed by it. "Fine. Look, just in case you're feeling any sort of curiosity about how your wife is doing on this very not so fine day, I'll save you the trouble and invade your thinking schedule for ten seconds to fill you in. After two weeks worth of exhausting research, and two days on the phone landing a very sticky interview, Thomas "Slimeball" Crawford has cancelled on us at the last minute and Perry's about to have a coronary. We've got to go down there and sit him out. Oh, and Jimmy's car was stolen — no thanks to Superman."
Clark appeared to be in deep concentration, not having heard a word she said. "Fine," he muttered.
"Clark!" Clark snapped to attention, looking at up at his by now angry wife. "Clark, if you aren't going to talk to me, you could at least listen! Jimmy's car was stolen and all you can say is 'fine!' And if you haven't noticed, I've practically written this entire story myself — it would be nice if you tried to exert some effort toward earning your byline!"
Clark stood up. "I've got to change clothes, Lois. I smell like smoke. I'll meet you there." His voice was still quiet, as if he hadn't noticed there was practically steam coming from her ears.
Lois was beyond control, beyond understanding. Clark was so maddening when he got like this. There was nothing worse than being in an argument with someone who wasn't participating, and Clark had discovered a long time ago that if he didn't respond to Lois, it irked her more than actually taking part. He rarely did this except when he was extremely upset and the fact that he was now, and wouldn't tell her why, was driving her nuts.
"I'm sick of pulling all the weight in this partnership! I want you to go with me on this!" Lois tried and added, "And don't you even want to *talk* to Jimmy about his car?"
"I'll meet you at Crawford's in twenty minutes, OK?" Clark appeared to not hear her question and Lois gave up.
"Twenty minutes. Great. You'd better be there, Clark. I mean it." Lois bent down, picked up the crumpled piece of paper which had bounced off of Perry, grabbed her briefcase and headed to the elevators.
Clark glanced up at her retreating figure. She turned and met his gaze, pointed to her watch, and mouthed, "Twenty minutes," as the elevator doors shut.
Perry emerged from his office then and stopped in surprise at seeing Clark at his desk. "Kent! Why aren't you with Lois chasing down that interview?" he demanded, wondering why no one seemed to be listening to him today.
"On my way, Chief," Clark promised, grabbing his coat. "I just got back from covering that fire in the garment district."
Perry's harshness evaporated. "Oh, son, I heard that Superman caused that blaze to spread … "
Clark whirled around sharply. "That's NOT what happened. He … "
Perry interrupted him, sniffing. "Kent, you smell like a barbecue. Maybe you should go get yourself cleaned up … OLSEN! There you are … " He took off after Jimmy's retreating figure.
"What a good idea," Clark muttered. He began to put on his coat, but suddenly froze, looking up in alarm.
"All units in the vicinity of Smith and Maple, burglary and possible hostage situation at Drogin's Art Gallery … " It was a sound only Clark could hear and at this moment he cursed it. "Oh, no … " He had no choice in the matter though. "I'm sorry, Lois … " He disappeared in a gust of wind. Most of Lois' papers landed on her desk this time.
Outside Drogin's Art Gallery, police cars and officers surrounded the area. Their attention completely focused on the situation at hand, they didn't notice the man lurking in the shadows. Neither did Superman, who landed in front of the building, catching Inspector Henderson by the arm. "What's the situation?" he asked the startled officer.
"Superman!" Henderson exclaimed, relieved. "The perpetrator is inside, armed and threatening to destroy priceless artifacts if he doesn't get five million dollars."
Superman stopped. "You're kidding. He's holding the *gallery* hostage?" Henderson shrugged wearily, and Superman nodded. "Let me try."
Inside the gallery, a short swarthy man stood against a wall, holding what appeared to be a metal hammer. Next to him, within swinging distance, were several ancient pottery exhibits. The man started when Superman swept into the room. "Don't come any closer," he warned, raising the hammer. "I'll smash them!"
Superman moved closed. "Take it easy," he warned. With his superbreath, he froze the metal hammer, causing the man to drop it with a cry. It shattered on the floor and Superman leapt forward and grabbed him for the police who swarmed in and took him away.
"Thanks, Superman," Henderson grinned.
"Glad I could help," Superman replied, feeling a slight lift in his mood.
At that moment, the art gallery dealer, a tall man with a pencil-thin mustache, dashed into the room. With a thick accent, he began to berate the startled superhero. "Ah! Look at vat you have done!" he cried in a rage. "That hammer — eet eez from the Hiroshige Dynasty in zee 14th Century! Eet eez ruined! Destroyed!"
Genuinely horrified, Superman stammered, "I'm sorry -"
"Sorry? You are sorry?! You have destroyed priceless art!"
Superman couldn't ever remember being at such a loss for words.
Fifteen minutes later, Superman exited the gallery, waving off the apologetic Henderson. Heading to a nearby phone booth, he closed the door behind him and dialed his home number. After four rings, the answering machine picked up. Lois had recently rerecorded their greeting, uncharacteristically insisting Clark's old one was too "businesslike" for their home machine. Her voice, sounding entirely cheerier than it had earlier that day, came through the phone and he relished the sound of it. "Hi, we're not at home now and we can't take your call, but please leave us a message!" The machine beeped then and Clark sighed as he began speaking.
"Hi honey — I'm sorry I didn't meet you — I had … an emergency. I'll explain when I get home. I love you." He hung up the phone, opened the door to the phone booth and flew off.
Back inside the dealer's office inside the art gallery, Tempus finished paying off the dealer. "Quite a worthy performance," he complimented. "You may have a future in the theater!"
"Whatever," the "dealer" replied.
"What was that accent, anyway," Tempus wondered. "French, Russian … Polynesian?"
"Does it matter?" The guy counted his money and left.
Tempus snorted. "Dilettante." He picked up the phone on the desk near him and dialed the Kents' home number. After Lois' voice finished its greeting, he punched in a two-digit code and listened. "Please enter your security code to delete voice messages." Tempus dialed in a five digit number.
"Oh, people," Tempus grinned, amused. "You're never supposed to make your security codes so predictable." He listened to Clark's message, ("Oh, how sweet") then promptly deleted it. "Too bad Lois won't hear that. I hope she's not too upset with you, Clark."
The office building at 1411 Edison Avenue was still partially under construction and as Lois exited, putting a notebook and tape recorder into her briefcase as she walked, she had to step around several orange cones in her path. It made the activity more difficult, but she was too annoyed to stop and do it properly. "This construction site has been here for like two years," she muttered. "How long does it take to finish a building?" She made a mental note to find out as soon as she was finished with this godforsaken story. At least Crawford had finally been willing to talk and his testimony would go a long way to convicting West of tax evasion.
As she headed to her car, a radio blared and a construction worker whistled at her as she finally paused to find her keys. "Oh, please," she muttered, digging them out of her purse. "Don't even try it."
She climbed into the car and started the engine, pulling her seat belt around her. Only then did she remember and she turned to look back toward the construction workers for a moment. "I guess you should enjoy it, Lois," she reasoned, smiling briefly to herself. "It may be a while before you hear that again — disgusting as it may be." The radio came on, tuned to the same station as the radio in the construction site. "I hate this song," she grumbled, her dark mood returning, and as she put the car into drive, she pushed a cassette into the tape deck.
She drove off then, past the construction workers who turned their attention to the radio when the announcer's voice suddenly cut in. "We interrupt our music for a special report. Superman successfully apprehended a man threatening to destroy priceless artifacts at the Drogin Gallery this afternoon. The man is in police custody. The gallery did sustain minimal property damage — apparently accidentally inflicted by Superman. And now a word from our sponsor … "
Lois slammed through the door into the townhouse at 348 Hyperion Avenue, dropping her belongings onto the sofa. "Clark? Clark are you here?" Her voice carried through the dark, empty house as she leaned over to check the answering machine, its steady red light indicating there were no messages.
"Why am I shouting after a man with superhearing?" she wondered to herself, shaking her head as she headed upstairs.
She had reached the first landing when her husband flew through the window, creating a cool breeze as he landed. She hesitated briefly and then continued climbing without turning around.
"Oh good, you're here," he said, turning to close the window behind him.
Lois stopped then, having nearly reached the top, and turned around sharply. She began to walk downstairs slowly and Clark was startled by the anger etched on her face. "Yes, I am. Thanks for making an appearance - it will make me feel more justified in putting 'and Clark Kent' after my name in the article."
Wearily, Clark shook his head, reaching for the lever which opened the secret compartment behind the fireplace. "I'm sorry, Lois — I had to -"
But Lois, just getting warmed up, reached the bottom and stood with her hands on her hips. "You know something, Clark, I'm sorry, too! I'm sorry it took me all day to nail down a terrible interview I ended up having to conduct myself. I'm sorry Jimmy's car was stolen." Clark had disappeared into the compartment by this time, but Lois continued, without pause, "Mostly I'm sorry you weren't around for this, because even though these technically couldn't be classified as 'disasters,' the fact is, we needed you and if you had been where you were supposed to be, none of this would have happened!"
Clark reappeared then, shutting the compartment behind him. He was dressed in his own clothes and he was seething. It took quite a bit to get him this worked up; in fact he couldn't remember being this upset for some time, but when he got this way, he could be just as formidable as Lois. "OK," he said sharply. In that one word, his ire was evident, his voice hiding none of his feelings now. It was enough to momentarily silence his startled wife, but he continued, on a roll. "Let's talk for a second about 'where I'm supposed to be' — where exactly is that? Is that at my desk, working on an article with you? Is that guarding Jimmy so his possessions aren't stolen? Or is that answering the hundreds of calls for help that I hear every day? Please tell me, because I'd really like to know!!" He was shouting now, the trials and horrors of that day wearing on him. Lois had recovered by this time, though, and was ready to give as good as she got.
"Don't turn this around on me," she snapped back, indicating the answering machine. "I'm not the one who disappears for hours without a word!"
Clark, furious by now, advanced towards her. "What are you talking about?!" he cried. "I left you a message that I was needed somewhere! But you know what? You're right! I *should* have gone with you and saved hundreds of people in this city the trouble! Nothing that I've done in the last few days has turned out right. I've destroyed an entire building, shattered 14th century art. I can't please anyone, least of all myself! So you tell me, Lois, where am I supposed to be?" He was standing in front of her now, shaking with anger, near tears from frustration. Lois was taken aback — she had never seen him so utterly distraught.
"Clark -" she began, struck with the notion that one of them needed to calm down, but he suddenly glanced up at the window. "What?" she sighed.
Clark seemed to make an internal decision and looked back at her, his eyes still blazing. "Nothing."
Lois threw up her hands in confusion. "*What?!*"
Clark shrugged. "An alarm. Don't worry about it."
Lois shook her head, bewildered. "Go."
"I said no! This is more important. We need to talk about this now!" He was calmer now, which puzzled Lois even more.
"You can't just — not do anything! You have to help!"
Clark looked at the ceiling, shaking his head, becoming agitated all over again. "No, you know what?" He laughed bitterly. "I really don't! Nowhere is it written that I have to jump every time someone in this city calls!"
"But Clark … you're *Superman.*"
Clark nodded fiercely. "That's right, Lois. I am Superman. And maybe it's about time for Superman to take some time off — get his ducks in a row.Figure some things out."
Lois was now thoroughly lost. "Ducks? What are you talking about? Superman can't take time off — he's … Superman! Why are we talking about him in the third person?!"
"Because he IS another person," Clark shouted, picking up a pillow from the sofa and pounding it between his fists, sending stuffing flying all over the room. "And he's taking over my life!"
Lois, a bit frightened by this uncharacteristic burst of temper, had finally realized that she may have pushed Clark too far. It was one thing for her to be annoyed by his inconvenient exits and absences, but there was obviously more going on here than a marital spat. Clark, unused to letting off steam, was fast becoming out of control. Even a few weeks ago, when she had been under the influence of that drug and picking fights herself, he wasn't nearly this upset. "Clark, calm down -" she tried but it was too late. He was no longer listening.
"Lois, I can't win no matter what I do," he ranted, striding across the room, oblivious to the bits of foam flying through the air. "If I try to help people, you tell me I'm shirking my responsibilities! If I tell you I'd rather stay and finish our conversation, you tell me I have to go!! We're going to have a baby in a few months, and I can't do this anymore!" He had reached the front door and was reaching for the knob.
"Where are you going?" Lois cried, nearly in tears herself.
Clark had the door open now, and turned around in the doorway, suddenly so calm that Lois was even more terrified than before. "You know something Lois, I don't know. I'll let you know when I figure it out." He spoke so quietly that Lois wasn't sure she had heard him correctly until he turned and walked out.
"What? Wait a minute! Clark!"
The door shut firmly behind him and Lois stood alone in the empty room, a mixture of anguish and confusion, the remnants of the shattered pillow strewn about at her feet.
Clark walked rapidly down the street. He tried to ignore everything around him, but one of the ironic curses of having superhearing was that he could never shut it off completely, so he was forced to hear, at some level, the very calls that were contributing to his torture.
He turned into Centennial Park, finally collapsing onto a bench. He leaned back, staring up at the stars and then turned to stare at the fountain — their fountain. Remembering that night, that fateful rainy night, he smiled grimly. How had it all gone so wrong? The fact that Lois had known he was Superman was the first step in their being able to build a life together. Now he wished he had never heard of Superman. He buried his head in his hands.
He must have been more successful than he had thought in tuning out the world around him, because he never heard footsteps behind him. The first he was aware that he was not alone was the hand that gently touched his shoulder. Startled, he looked up into the face of H.G. Wells.
"Good evening, Mr. Kent," the older man said kindly. "Having a bit of a rough go of it, are we?"
Clark closed his eyes and shook his head. When he opened them again, Wells was still there, waiting patiently. "I'm really here, Mr. Kent," he said, almost apologetically. "I have become quite the harbinger of doom, though, haven't I?"
"Do you realize," Clark said, to no one in particular, "that I have had probably one of the worst days ever? In my life?"
Wells winced. "I'm dreadfully sorry to hear that. It makes what I have to tell you all the more difficult."
"There is no way things could possibly get worse."
"That's just it, Mr. Kent."
Wells hesitated. "I came tonight because I have something to show you. Something that I can't possibly tell you. You could take my word for it, but I think this is something you need to see for yourself."
Clark just looked at him for a moment. "Does this mean what I think it means?"
"Probably, Mr. Kent," Wells nodded.
"Do I have a choice?"
"Well, Mr. Kent, that depends," Wells replied.
Wells studied him seriously. "On whether or not you're satisfied with your life — right now — in this moment." He pulled out the time control device and began to fiddle with the settings.
"No time machine?" Clark asked, amazed at how blasť he had become about time traveling.
"Oh, this is much easier to park," Wells laughed at his own joke and Clark stared at him as the images of the two of them shimmered, swirled and disappeared.
*Tom Crawford's Office — Present Day*
Tom Crawford sighed, burying his head in his hands. He knew, he just *knew* when Tempus had first come to him, that he should have "just said no," kept going in his position as city councilman, Congressman Ken West's former financial advisor. Sure, it didn't net him much income, and there was surely no glory in it, but at least he wasn't kept up at night … He was sure that lady reporter knew he was lying to her. He'd never been very good at lying -
His thoughts were interrupted when his office door flew open and Tempus came through, a look of delight on his face. "Good evening, Tom," he greeted Crawford in his usual dramatic fashion, flinging himself into the chair opposite the desk and plopping his feet up. "I believe we have some business to conduct!"
Crawford took a deep breath and stood up. "Yes," he said, trying to keep his voice steady. "I wanted to talk to you about -"
"Tom! What's to talk about?" Tempus laughed. "I told you, you'd be well compensated for lying to Lois Lane! In fact, you did such a good job, there's a bonus in it for you!"
He held up an envelope. Crawford swallowed hard and then reached for it, and began looking through it with some uncertainty. "I don't know, this doesn't seem right — I don't think it's a good idea for us to -"
"Such a punctilious display of conscience," Tempus interrupted. "All misgivings aside, you've just earned $10,000 for two hours work!"
"No, it's not that," Crawford said, shaking his head. "It's just that the Daily Planet is going to print a story that is completely untrue!"
Tempus burst out laughing then and got up, heading for the door. "Tom, your solicitude humbles me, but trust me on this — justice is being served, in a big way. Besides, it's just a little too late now to avert the crisis. Lois Lane's scandalous article is being printed as we speak. It's shameful, really."
"But Superman -"
"Superman? Now there's an interesting dynamic. It's just too bad for Lois Lane that he's caught up at the moment. And I do mean caught up." Still laughing, Tempus left a confused Crawford staring after him as he left the office and slammed the door behind him. As he stood in front of the closed door bearing Thomas Crawford's nameplate, he sighed in continued amusement. "Piteous fool."
*Metropolis — Six months in the future*
In a deserted alley across from the Daily Planet building, the air seemed to shimmer and images began to swirl as Clark and Wells came into view. As they got their bearings from their trip through time, Clark looked around, recognizing his surroundings and Wells checked the calculations on his time control. "Ah, yes," he said, pleased. "Splendid. Just splendid."
Clark was terribly confused. "If I can just … why are we here? And, uh … exactly *when* are we here?"
"Patience, Mr. Kent. Patience," Wells chided him gently. "You'll see soon enough. We have simply proceeded into the future exactly six months from the day we left. Come, let's take a look." He held out a hand towards the street. "Shall we?"
Clark reluctantly followed him and they crossed the street toward the Planet. As they reached the opposite curb, they passed a newsstand. Wells was walking ahead, but turned back when he realized Clark had been distracted by the front page of the Daily Planet, which bore the headline, "Crime Wave Continues Unchecked."
Clark leaned forward to get a closer look. The byline read, "by Lois Lane and Roger Darmon." "What?" he sputtered.
Wells looked as if he were going to say something, but then thought better of it and simply shrugged instead, trying to convince Clark to move on with him. Clark, however, would not budge and Wells gave in. "Yes, Mr. Kent," he said gently. "I know this is … well, certain events have precipitated … " He stopped, attempting to find words and then sighed, giving up. "Some things have changed."
"What things?" Clark demanded.
Wells indicated the Daily Planet building. "Perhaps it's best if we proceed inside."
"Perhaps it's best if you tell me what's going on first."
Wells shook his head. "Trust me, Mr. Kent. Things will be all too clear soon enough. Let's go in. I've found it's best not to complicate the future by wearisome explanation." He took Clark's elbow then, and guided him into the revolving door, following him inside.
Daily Planet Newsroom — Six Months in the Future
The elevator doors opened, and Clark and Wells exited and looked out over the newsroom. It looked the same as always. In fact, if it hadn't been for the newspaper headline, Clark could have sworn not a day had passed. Staffers were rushing around, phones were ringing. He looked around for Lois, who was not at her desk, which, though empty, was exactly where it should have been.
His own desk, however, bore a nameplate that read "Roger Darmon."
"OK. *What* is going on here? And *who* is 'Roger Darmon?!'"
Wells seemingly ignored him, pointing toward the conference room where a mini-staff meeting was already in progress. Perry was running it, of course, and Jimmy and Lois were seated at the table, along with a handsome, dark-haired thirtyish man, who Clark surmised was Roger Darmon. Wells motioned for Clark to follow him.
The next thing Clark knew, they were standing in the conference room. He looked around, puzzled and stunned. "How -" He stopped, realizing suddenly that no one in the room was acknowledging their presence. "Can't they see us, hear us?" he whispered to Wells.
"Oh, no, Mr. Kent," Wells answered in a normal tone of voice. "We are quite invisible to them."
Clark would have questioned him more, but he was distracted by Lois' wail of frustration. "But Perry … "
"Lois, there's just nothing I can do about it," Perry White answered her firmly.
"Well, what are you saying? That we should just — give up?!"
"Look, honey," Perry began in a tone Clark recognized as Perry "dealing" with Lois. "I know you're upset. But we have to try to remain objective about this. We're just going to have to do what we can under the circumstances."
But Lois apparently would not be mollified. "Maybe that's what we really need to be discussing! The circumstances!"
Roger Darmon leaned over and caught Lois' eye. "Lo-is," he said warningly and Clark was struck by the familiarity with which Darmon placed his right hand over Lois's left one in an attempt to calm her. He felt an ache inside as Darmon's hand covered Lois' wedding ring.
Perry ran a hand through his thinning hair. "The circumstances are that we're sitting ducks on a sinking ship! Over the past six months it's been nothing but one disaster after another — and that lawsuit over the Crawford/West story was the straw that broke the camel's back. Honey, the money just isn't there. And this time, we can't even find a criminal like Lex Luthor to take over."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Lois snapped. "After all we've been through, Stern is just … throwing in the towel?!"
"Well, Lois," Perry sighed, "if you could manage to dig up a story that anyone in this city would actually want to read, I bet Stern would be so tickled he'd send the entire staff to the 20th annual Elvis Look-A-Like convention, all expenses paid."
Lois looked wounded. "Are you saying that what I'm writing isn't … " she couldn't bear to say it, "isn't … "
Perry held up his hands, indicating the discussion was over. "Lois, I need a front page story. At this point, if you brought me photos of the King living in an igloo on the Alaskan tundra, I wouldn't complain. I just need a story! OK?"
Lois's mouth dropped. "Perry!"
"We're working on it, Chief." Roger Darmon's voice cut in, effectively stopping a potential Lois tirade.
It was Clark's turn to look stunned. "He just called him 'Chief!'"
"Indeed," Wells replied enigmatically.
"What we need," Jimmy said, thoughtfully, "is a good Superman story."
Perry waved him off. "Jimmy, give it up, OK? That's one ship that's already sunk."
Lois appeared not to hear either of them.
Clark had had it at that point and Wells, sensing that, caught his eye. An instant later, both men were in the bullpen. Clark waited for Wells to say something, but when that didn't happen, he held up his hands, shrugging his shoulders. "Well? Let's have it!"
Wells scratched his head. "Ah, well you see … Superman hasn't been seen in Metropolis in six months."
"He hasn't been *seen?*"
"Apparently, the whole thing is rather a mystery. Quite disconcerting, really."
"Disconcerting?! Are you kidding me?!" Clark stared at him. "And Lois … she's like, it's like she doesn't know anything. How could she not know anything? How could she not know where I am?" He stopped suddenly. "Wait a minute. How … how could *I* not know where I am? And," he indicated Roger's desk, "*who* is Roger?"
"Yes, well," Wells seemed nervous, "Mr. Darmon is Ms. Lane's new partner."
Clark was stunned. "What?"
Wells waved it off. "Investigative. Nothing to be concerned about."
Clark seemed at a loss for words and turned his attention back to the conference room where everyone was getting up as the meeting ended. For some reason, Lois' outfit caught his attention — it was one of his favorites, and he hadn't seen her wear it in a while … because she hadn't been able to fit into it in a while. He gasped suddenly, realizing what else must have changed in six months. Going over to Lois' desk, he was shaken to see a framed picture of Lois, holding a tiny baby. Tears sprang to his eyes as he gazed at his child and he turned to see Wells watching him.
"Well, oh my — we'd better go," Wells said, turning toward the elevators, but Clark reached out and stopped him.
"No way," he said, deadly serious. "If you're not going to tell me anything, I'm going to find out what's going on myself." He started toward the conference room, but this time Wells restrained him.
"Mr. Kent, wait," the older man said, moving so he was in front of Clark. "If you recall, you can't talk to anyone out there. They can't hear you. I know this is confusing and probably a little disturbing … "
"You don't *know* disturbing," Clark responded, not kindly.
"You must remember," Wells continued, soothingly, "we're simply looking in on the future. It hasn't happened yet. And we are not actually a presence here. Think of it more like … more like an intergalactic, interdimensional vista over tomorrow."
Clark was not impressed. "What happens if I don't like the view?"
Wells paused. "Um, let's see. The truth is that things aren't going so well for the Daily Planet at this particular point in the future, Mr. Kent. It's all quite complicated, but apparently the lovely but rather determined Ms. Lane insisted on conducting some type of interview which resulted in a lawsuit. Some ridiculous charge involving slander and libel as I recall. It's been rather nasty — rather litigious society, you realize."
Clark did not respond, and Wells continued. "There's talk that the Planet will be bought out and the owner … "
Clark interrupted, shaking his head, "Wait one second. If this is supposed to be the future … how come I don't seem to be anywhere in it?"
"Yes, well, apparently you, uh, aren't really in the picture at the moment."
"Oh, I'm not." It was more of a statement than a question and Clark had a bad feeling about where this was going.
"Mr. Kent," Wells said, pulling out the time control, "in order to grasp the full implication of the events unfolding before you, we need to go forward in time — just a bit more, you see. To give you a better look, as it were."
"A better look at what?" Clark demanded.
Wells, busy programming the machine, did not answer and Clark, looking as though he were developing a headache, began to rub his temples. A moment later, Wells looked up, satisfied. "There now. All set. Prepare to move ahead to -"
"I don't think I'm prepared for any of this," Clark interrupted wryly.
For the second time since their "adventure" began, Wells wanted to respond to Clark, but then changed his mind again. "Yes, well, Mr. Kent," he replied instead, "that's why I'm here to serve as your guide." He patted Clark's hand. "I haven't steered you wrong yet, have I?"
Clark was not mollified. Their images began to whirl and shimmer and they disappeared from the middle of a busy newsroom, among staffers who never even knew they were there.
348 Hyperion Avenue — Present Day
Lois sat in the dark on the sofa. After the initial shock of Clark leaving, she had stood in the center of the room for what felt like hours, unable to comprehend what had happened. Finally, desperate to do something, anything, she found herself pulling out the vacuum to clean up the pieces of the demolished pillow that covered the carpet. Then, after putting away everything she had carelessly thrown down when she had come in, she changed her clothes. Now, two hours after Clark's exit, she was curled up, unsure of what to do next. Though it was getting late, she knew sleeping was out of the question, so she huddled up on the sofa, hearing their words echoing in her head.
<<"Where are you going?">>
<<"I'll let you know when I figure it out.">>
The sound of the door closing rang in her ears until she realized it was the phone that was ringing. Jumping up, she grabbed the cordless phone, hands shaking as she pressed the "talk" button. "Clark?"
"My every dream come true, Lois," came a muffled voice from the very full mouth of Bobby BigMouth. He was leaning against a phone booth in a seedy back alley, munching on a supersized Big Mac.
"Bobby?" Lois asked, trying to orient herself. "I'm sorry — I was expecting Clark to call … "
"Big guy late for dinner, eh?"
Lois was losing patience. "Did you have a reason for calling, or-"
"Lois, you've got that tone in your voice." Bobby crammed eight or ten fries into his mouth.
"What tone?" Lois asked, defensively.
"You and Clark having a little dispute, are ya?"
"Okay, okay," Bobby relented. "Don't run the Crawford interview."
Lois put a hand to her head, trying to switch gears. "What?"
"You run the Crawford piece in the morning and you'll be sued for libel faster than I can down these fries," he warned.
"I don't understand. What are you talking about?"
Bobby laughed. "You don't feed me well enough for specifics, babe. And, anyway, all I know is that Crawford is a bigger slimeball that you thought. That interview today, he's going to claim the information was given under duress or something — apparently there's some heavy throwing his weight around town. Something stinks, Lois. Crawford just doesn't check out … it's like he made it all up."
Lois was panicking now. "But — made *what* up?! This is tomorrow's front page — it's a done deal!"
Bobby shrugged, noting that the doughnut place across the street was closing in ten minutes. "That's what I don't know. What I do know is that West's no more involved in tax evasion than, well, you are. You've been set up."
"But Bobby, who-"
"Look, that's all I know," Bobby cut her off. "Gotta go, babe. And you can send three large pepperoni pizzas, two liters of Pepsi and a gift certificate for a free Mega-Mountain sundae to the usual drop off point." He grinned and added, "Oh, and go easy on Kent. See ya." He hung up abruptly and ran across the street.
Lois clicked off the cordless phone and laid it on the table, looking at her watch. "It's been over two hours, Clark. This is ridiculous," she said softly, getting up to look out the window.
The ticking of her watch was deafening.
*Metropolis — One year in the future*
The images of Wells and Clark shimmered and swirled yet again, and they reappeared at 1411 Edison Avenue in Metropolis, in front of a relatively new building which bore a sign reading "Luxury Offices." Clark shook his head to clear the time travel cobwebs and looked around. "We're obviously back in Metropolis," he commented. "How far have we traveled? It doesn't seem so different."
Wells nodded, consulting the device. "Yes, Mr. Kent. We are back in Metropolis. The date? Precisely one year in the future from the your present time. And although it doesn't appear so different at first glance … perhaps you might take a closer look?" He indicated a newsstand about five feet away from where they were standing.
Clark stepped over and scanned the headlines. "Well, obviously things haven't changed for the better — the National Inquisitor and the New Metro Times are still in business," he noted dryly. Then a puzzled look crossed his face. "Where's the Daily Planet?" He looked over all the papers displayed, a look of horror crossing his face as his eyes fell on what could only be the Daily Planet.
The newspaper that was once Perry White's pride and joy, that gave Clark himself a stab of self-satisfaction whenever he passed a newsstand or someone reading it, had been transformed into the lowest of the low supermarket rags. "The Daily Planet — Welcome to Our World," read the logo. And the front page didn't even have the decency to be printing the usual lies about celebrities. Instead, there was a pathetically doctored photo of Elvis standing next to an igloo below the headline "Elvis Lives in the Alaskan Tundra!"
Clark was rooted to the ground in shock. "The Daily Planet is a tabloid?" he whispered in dismay. "How can … no, I can't believe Perry would ever let this happen!"
Wells patted him on the shoulder sympathetically. "Sadly, the Planet finally went under despite Mr. White's truly gallant efforts. I'm sorry to report that it was finally sold to a conglomerate which publishes these … hallmarks in yellow journalism, shall we say."
Clark scanned the front page for signs of the former Daily Planet staff. "But what happened to everyone?"
"Yes, well, most of them left to harvest greener pastures after the … well, you know. Young Mr. Olsen followed his heart and has become a photographer for a well-known wildlife magazine. He's in Africa now."
Despite himself, Clark grinned. "Jimmy? In Africa?" He laughed. "And where's Perry?"
Wells shook his head gently.
A look of horror crossed Clark's face. "What? What are you -" He broke off, distracted by something behind Wells. The older man turned around and together they watched Lois' jeep heading toward them, stopping at a red light. "Lois!" Clark turned and grabbed Wells by the shoulders. "What about Lois?"
Wells indicated the newsstand again with a wave of his hand. Clark turned back to the racks, puzzled. "Well, she *can't* be writing for … "
He stopped suddenly and did a double take as his eyes fell on the cover of PERSONALITIES magazine. "That isn't … " he breathed. "Is that - that's Lois!" He stared at his wife's beautiful, smiling face on the cover, underneath a headline reading, "Loves, Lives and Losses: Everyone's Reading It — Meet the Woman Behind It." The caption underneath read, "Best-selling author Lois Lane."
"Best-selling author?" he asked softly.
Wells smiled and then nodded. "Apparently, Ms. Lane has been a closet novelist for quite some time, Mr. Kent. After the circumstances at the Planet forced her to reevaluate her career, so to speak, she published a stirring piece of literature — some heartrending story about a journalist who lost her one and only true love or some such tragedy. It's been on the best-seller list since the day it was published. She just sold the movie rights."
Clark's eyes widened. "Movie rights?"
Lois had pulled up and parked her jeep directly behind them and was now emerging from her car, dressed casually and carrying a small shoulder bag.
Clark, unable to take his eyes off of her, asked, "Why is she here?"
"Well," Wells answered, "knowing Ms. Lane the way you do, I'm sure it won't surprise you to learn that spending the days doing interviews and publicity tours wouldn't satisfy her for long. She recently began doing some free-lance investigative reporting again."
Lois was walking toward the office building and Clark and Wells followed her, stopping as she went inside. "But how does she have time for all this?" Clark wondered. "I mean … " he hesitated. "With the baby and all … "
Wells nodded. "Well, a best-selling novel, not to mention the sale of movie rights, allows Ms. Lane to give her child the best of everything, including child care. And although her newfound career also allows her to spend a great deal of time with her baby … it appears Ms. Lane prefers not to have any downtime beyond that. It's evidently very important that she stay busy."
"But … " Clark was confused by the implication, but his attention was focused on Lois who was apparently loitering in the lobby far from the security desk. As soon as the guard was busy with a delivery, though, she slipped into the fire stairway.
Clark groaned. "Oh, no … what is she doing?"
Wells was amused. "Mr. Kent. Some things never change. She's investigating."
Clark was stunned to suddenly find himself and Wells in a deserted hallway on an upper floor of the building, standing in front of an office door with a nameplate that read "Thomas Crawford." Before he could ask what was going on, the staircase door opened behind them and a slightly winded Lois slipped through, checking both ways to make sure she was alone.
When she was satisfied that she was, ironically having no idea that she was not lacking in companionship, she pulled a long, thin, metal file from her bag and began to attempt to pick the lock on Tom Crawford's office door.
"Oh, Lois," Clark sighed. He leaned against the doorjamb, watching her struggle with jimmying the lock, and laughed quietly. "Honey, you were never any good at -"
Almost at the same time, Lois, under her breath, muttered, "Oh, come on, Lois. You used to be so … " she struggled again, "good at this!"
Nearly dropping the file, she got a better grip with her right hand and placed her left on the doorjamb to steady herself. Clark, looking down, realized her left hand was within inches of his own and felt almost a physical pain at being so near and yet so far.
That pain was nothing compared to the agony he felt an instant later when he realized something was missing from Lois' left hand. Her wedding ring was gone.
He gasped, trying to make sense of it, trying to be sure he hadn't gotten the wrong hand … but of course, he hadn't, and tears sprang unbidden to his eyes. He looked up at Wells who was watching him sympathetically.
"I don't understand," Clark stammered, still hoping this was some kind of confusion … a mistake … "She's not wearing her wedding ring … "
At that moment, Lois got the lock to click open. "Yes!" she cried softly to herself as she opened the door and hurried inside.
*348 Hyperion Avenue — Present Day*
Lois was pacing the living room on the portable phone. All the lights were on now, her earlier misery pushed away in light of the crisis at hand. "That's the point, Perry," she was saying, waving a pencil in the air as though the editor-in-chief could see her, and then shook her head at his response. "I just think that we should put a hold on it until I can do some digging and figure out if Bobby was onto something … Clark? Forget about Clark."
Her face darkened then and she hurled the pencil across the room and threw herself onto the sofa. "Very funny. No! I'm not going to call Superman. Why? Because I'm not! Perry, listen to me. I want you to put a hold on the story. I need time to figure out what's going on."
*Tom Crawford's Office — One Year in the Future*
Clark and Wells stood in the now completely deserted hallway outside Crawford's door, Clark staring in shock at his left hand. Wells made a move to follow Lois, but Clark, too fast for him even in these circumstances, whirled around and grabbed his shirt front.
"Either you start giving me some answers right now," he began, in an icy tone, "or you're going to have to find yourself a new traveling companion, because I'm about one time warp away from … "
"I say, Mr. Kent!" said a highly insulted Wells, who was not used to being manhandled. "There's no reason to get upset about this! I've already explained … "
Clark was in no mood and before the older man knew it, he was pinned up against the wall, staring into a very angry pair of eyes. "I'm looking at a future where the Daily Planet's been destroyed and Lois Lane is no longer my wife! Perhaps you'd like to explain further?"
Wells met Clark's eyes and held the gaze until Clark relaxed his grip and Wells could extricate himself from his grasp. "I never would have guessed you to be a violent person," he muttered, straightening his clothes, his usual reserve forgotten.
Clark looked as though he might grab Wells again, but the older man ducked inside the office quickly, Clark following him.
Inside the dark room, Lois was quietly going through file cabinets with the aid of a flashlight. Wells and Clark watched her from the doorway, Clark momentarily forgetting his anger as he focused on her. A moment later, Wells looked up at him, and, seeing him calmer, took a deep breath. "Now that we're here … " he began, but Clark was no longer listening.
"What is she looking for?" he asked.
Wells shook his head. "As I was saying, now that we're here, I thought we'd get to that."
Clark pulled his attention away from Lois and once again focused on the man next to him. "It's a lucky thing for you, you know that?"
"Oh, come now, Mr. Kent … I'm sensing some resentment."
"Oh, you think?" Clark was beyond pleasantness or politeness now.
Wells seemed not to notice the sarcasm as he took a seat on a leather sofa and prepared to tell his story. Lois, meanwhile, began pulling files from the drawer and thumbing through them one by one.
Wells motioned for Clark to sit beside him. Clark sighed and joined him, his expression one of impatience. "Well?"
"As you've seen through our travels," Wells began, ignoring the rudeness, "the Daily Planet fell upon some rather hard times after a certain article written by Ms. Lane was printed. The Planet was named in a lawsuit because the story was based almost entirely upon an interview with some fellow named Crawford whose information turned out to be completely untrue. And, as you can see, we're sitting in Mr. Crawford's office right now."
"Crawford," Clark mused. "That was the interview I was supposed to go on with Lois. But why wasn't he implicated for making false statements to the press?"
"Apparently, Mr. Crawford recanted his story, stating that he was misquoted by Ms. Lane, and that she had personal motives to discredit him."
"But — didn't Lois have a record of the interview? Tapes, notes … "
"Gone," Wells explained. "Mysteriously disappeared." He raised his eyebrows. "Luckily, Ms. Lane was cleared of any wrongdoing through some type of legal loophole, but she has steadfastly contended that Crawford intentionally lied both directly to her in the interview and during the trial. She has made a personal vow to prove that Crawford was working for someone else who had it in for her and the Daily Planet. She's looking for evidence."
Now Wells was puzzled. "Mr. Kent — surely you hold Ms. Lane in higher esteem than … "
Clark was growing more upset. "Yes, no — what I mean is, I'm her husband. I'm her partner! I should be here — she shouldn't be fighting this alone! Raising our child alone!"
Wells nodded. "Quite."
"So tell me," Clark said, pleadingly. "Please."
Wells sighed. "It's apparent, that … by all accounts … "
Wells met his eyes. "You left her, Mr. Kent."
Clark shook his head. "That's impossible."
Wells shrugged. "As near as I can make it out, you two had a slight … well, somewhat major disagreement. You walked out and never returned. You haven't been seen or heard from since."
"But I'd … I'd never leave her." Clark looked at him. "You just don't understand. If you did, you'd know that I can't live without her."
"Yes, Mr. Kent. Yes." Wells patted him on the shoulder and then looked at him helplessly. "But the only explanation anyone can find for your disappearance is … "
Clark was horrified. "Everyone thinks I left my wife?!"
Wells shook his head, and held up his hands. "In point of fact, not. Your absence over the past year has been ruled an unexplained disappearance. Many fear the worst."
"Lois told everyone I was missing?"
"What else was she to say?" Wells asked, sadly. "She alone knows your secret, knows of a surety that foul play would be nearly impossible in your case. An anxious wife on the surface is much preferred to a battery of unanswerable questions. But in private, she has no choice but to believe the man she married disappeared into the sunset, as many a man has before, as many will after."
Overwhelmed at this, Clark dropped his head into his hands. Wells continued gently, "Her defenses are strong and unyielding, Mr. Kent. They are all she has left to shield the ache she feels inside — the pain of abandonment by the lover she knows to be her soulmate."
Wells finished speaking, his words hanging heavily in the ensuing stillness. The only sound was the rustle of papers as Lois continued her investigation.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by her exclamation of success. Lois, having found what she was looking for, pulled out a mini-camera and began furiously snapping pictures.
She was so intent on her photo-taking and Clark and Wells in watching her, that none of them noticed the door opening and a man entering the room, very quietly. He, too, stood watching Lois' lovely face as she read over the evidence, pleased at her major discovery. "So, this is what you've been hiding," she murmured, flipping the page. "I don't know why I'm so -"
"Stunned? Shocked? In need of oxygen?"
The lights flipped on then and to Clark's shock, there stood Tempus, with a gun pointed directly at Lois. "Ms. Lane!" he grinned. "Fancy meeting you here — in an office which clearly does not belong to you, perusing file folders which also, ironically enough, do not belong to you! I can't tell you how pleased I am with this fateful turn of events … although I really don't even dare hope that you feel the same."
Clark had jumped up from his seat by this time, all too aware, though, that he and Wells were helpless observers of the action straight before them. Lois remained seated at Crawford's desk, staring straight at Tempus, no apparent fear in her eyes.
"It can't be! You recognize me? And without my glasses on!"
Lois did not respond and Tempus advanced towards her, the gun now pointed at her head. Lois allowed the file folder to drop closed as she sat up straighter in her seat.
"Now," Tempus said, "as we've done away with the obligatory small talk, let's get straight to business."
"I don't do business with psychopaths, Tempus," Lois answered coolly. "Direct violation of my instincts."
Tempus waved the gun at her. "How amusing, Lois. I'm really going to miss your snappy comebacks after I lose my temper and put a bullet between those lovely brown eyes."
"Do us both a favor and spare me the false compliments," Lois snapped and Clark could see she was stalling for time.
"I'll tell you what, I'll do better than that," Tempus promised, grinning. "I'll do us both a favor and summarily do away with you instead!"
"Sounds like I did find the right file," Lois said, desperately. "The one which clearly holds the evidence that you paid Tom Crawford to falsely accuse Congressman West and leak the story to me. That he was so afraid for his life he kept lying to make sure he didn't end up at the bottom of the river. So afraid, he watched the Daily Planet drown instead, along with my career … and my marriage."
Clark looked desperately and helplessly at Wells who placed a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm impressed, Lois," Tempus admitted. "You really are a damned good reporter. Haven't lost your edge over the past year, have you? It's just too bad you lost all that good sense that brilliant investigative reporters seem to carry with them. Oh wait! Never mind, you didn't have any common sense to begin with." He cocked the gun and his tone became deadly. "Get up."
Slowly, and now obviously terrified, though trying to hide it, Lois stood up.
"We're going for a little ride."
"Ride to where?"
Tempus grinned. "Interesting question. I'll have to think about that. Some place deserted, quiet … where no one will hear your scream when I pull the trigger."
"People know where I am," Lois protested.
"Sure, sure," Tempus agreed. "But guess what? I don't care!" He grabbed Lois then around the neck, and put the gun to her back. "Let's go," he urged, pushing her out of the office ahead of him.
"Where is he taking her?" Clark asked Wells, terrified.
"Someplace quiet and deserted," Wells reminded him.
Clark turned on him. "How can you joke about this?! He's going to kill her!"
"Mr. Kent, I assure you, I am not joking. Ms. Lane has reached the end of her lucky streak. She's carried things too far this time. I'm afraid that the inevitable is … "
"No," Clark interjected, "no! There's always an alternative! You brought me here for a reason, and it's not to see Lois get murdered! Let's go!"
He headed out the open door, Wells at his heels.
Tempus and Lois had just exited the building, and Clark and Wells were behind them. Tempus had his arms around Lois as they walked, and several passerby smiled at the apparently happy couple. None of them could see what Clark could — that Tempus had a gun pressed to Lois' ribs.
They approached the passenger side of Lois' car and Tempus opened the door. "Get in and slide over," he muttered into her ear.
"I don't think so," Lois replied, knowing that if she stayed here, on this busy street in front of half the world, she'd be all right. He couldn't kill her right here, could he?
Tempus shoved the gun harder into her side, dispelling any notion of reason, as Lois winced in pain. "It's amazing how running into you always brings out the worst in me," he hissed.
"What a coincidence," Lois answered as he pushed her into the car.
Tempus climbed into the passenger seat beside her. Neither of them knew they had two passengers riding in the back seat, one of them inches from panicking, the other strangely calm.
"Start the car and drive, Lois," Tempus ordered. "I'll tell you where to go. And don't get any ideas or I'll fire this gun before you can say 'faster than a speeding -' well, you get the idea."
"No!" Clark attempted to reach for the gun, but Wells restrained him.
"We talked about this, Mr. Kent. We are merely observers here … "
Clark shook his hand off, frustrated.
Lois was glaring at Tempus, off both the threat and the reminder of Superman. He waved the gun at her again and resolutely, she started the car.
They drove for several miles, the silence deafening, Lois sure the pounding of her heart was giving away her true terror.
"Where is he taking her?" Clark demanded of Wells.
"Where are we going?" Lois demanded suddenly.
"Good question," Clark muttered.
"My god, Lois," Tempus exclaimed, "haven't you learned yet that it's those reporter instincts of yours that keep getting you into trouble? I'll tell you what — you keep driving and I'll keep telling you where to go, OK? Now, turn right here and pull over."
Clark looked out the window. "We're at the pier," he said in a low voice. "It's deserted at this time of year — there won't be anyone here to help her!" He turned to look at Wells who met his gaze but did not respond.
Lois parked the car and Tempus, still holding the gun, turned to her. "Get out — slowly."
"No!" Clark was screaming now, despite the fact that Lois could not hear him and was therefore not responding. "Lois, don't do it!"
"Easy now … " was all Wells said.
Lois slowly got out of the car and Tempus slid over and got out after her, shutting the door behind them. He took her arm and guided her to the edge of the pier.
Clark and Wells now stood outside of the car as well, watching as a terrified Lois turned to face Tempus. "You're not going to get away with this," she warned him, tears threatening.
Tempus laughed. "Oh, I was wondering when you were going to get to that! Wait, I'll finish for you … " He looked up at the darkening sky and shouted, "HELP!! SUPERMAN!!"
Horror dawned on Clark's face. Very, very slowly he, too, looked up at the sky. There was nothing, naturally. No response. He closed his eyes briefly and then fixed his gaze on his beautiful, frightened, helpless wife.
"Oh, that's right," Tempus sighed, "I forgot — Superman has been gone for a very long time, hasn't he, Mrs. Kent?"
Lois did not respond, but instead glanced right and left as though expecting someone to come from the shadows at the last minute. Then, without warning, she struck out at Tempus, who staggered backwards as Lois took off at a run in a last desperate attempt to escape. Tempus shook his head almost regretfully and raised the gun, pointing it at her retreating figure.
Clark, panicking, didn't know which way to turn, what to do. "He's really going to kill her!" he cried out, to no one in particular.
Wells nodded, very calmly. "Yes, I'm afraid he is."
Clark looked at him in disbelief and then ran forward toward Tempus and Lois with his arm outstretched. "STOP!!!"
He wasn't sure if he had actually screamed, though, because even without superhearing, the gunshot was the loudest sound he'd ever heard.
Clark wasn't sure exactly what happened in the seconds after that, but suddenly he and Wells were alone on the pier. There was no sign of Lois, Tempus or even Lois' car for that matter. He was on the ground, shaking, his legs having given out on him after the shock of seeing Lois murdered.
Wells looked at him and, feeling Clark had had enough time to recover, decided to break the silence. "Mr. Kent?"
He was apparently wrong, because Clark didn't answer.
"Mr. Kent? I say, are you all right?"
"I couldn't save her." Clark's voice was barely audible; he seemed to be speaking only to himself.
"No, Mr. Kent," Wells agreed. "Not this time."
Clark finally looked up at Wells. "I can't — I don't understand. How could she … How could this happen? I couldn't hear her? I couldn't get to her?"
Wells hesitated before speaking. It was time for Clark to fully understand the purpose of their trip. "If you recall," he reminded Clark slowly, "you said you couldn't handle being Superman anymore — and then you left. In fact, I believe right before our meeting in the park, you were wishing you had never even heard of Superman."
Clark looked startled. "But — no!! I didn't mean *never!* I didn't mean … *forever!*"
A light dawned for Clark and he sat frozen for a few more moments on the ground. "I walked out," he whispered. "And somehow I never came back." He slowly got to his feet and turned to face Wells. "And because of that, this is what happened?"
"Looking over the events that followed after your hasty departure tonight, er, that would be tonight in your time, that is precisely what has happened," Wells informed him.
"But how?" Clark demanded. "I know myself and I know Lois. And I know that the two of us together are more important, more *powerful* than any superpower I possess. I *have* to go back and help Lois. I have to prevent this from happening." He turned to indicate the pier, but realized that it, along with everything else, had disappeared.
"Well, I should tell you that -" Wells began.
Clark interrupted, close to panic, "It's not too late, is it?"
"Of course not, Mr. Kent," Wells hastened to assure him. "It's never too late to learn from a mistake — and it certainly helps matters to have the capability to learn from the foresight rather than the hindsight. Wouldn't you say?"
Clark suddenly grasped Wells' hand warmly. "Thank you," he said sincerely. "Thank you for showing me everything that I could have thrown away."
Wells smiled briefly, but then withdrew his hand. "But I must warn you, Mr. Kent. There are several things I haven't had the chance to explain. Things that may not be rectified so simply."
"What things?" Clark asked uneasily.
"As you have said over and over again, your reactions would never preclude your disappearance from Metropolis, no matter how the everyday pressures and frustrations affect you and your relationship with your wife." He seemed at a loss suddenly and then said, "Let me show you."
He pulled out the time control and pressed several buttons. Information began to flow freely across the screen, information Clark could make neither heads nor tails of. Shaking his head in puzzlement, he looked at Wells for clarification.
"Through my travels back and forth across time, I've been able to narrow down the exact moment where action and reaction broke down, precisely at which moment the chain of events we've seen together were set into motion." Wells stopped and looked at Clark. "You see, everything seems to center on your leaving Ms. Lane and walking down the street toward Centennial Park. But I cannot determine exactly how everything went, well, haywire, if you will, after that point."
"I don't think I understand," Clark said, for what felt like the thousandth time that day. "I go out for a walk after a really bad day, I take a nice midnight fly to clear my head and then I go home. First on my list? The most sincere, heartfelt apology I've ever made in my life."
"That's precisely the point, Mr. Kent. For some reason the timeline clearly indicates that you did not return home. Rather, all evidence I've been able to gather points directly to the fact that you suddenly, inexplicably disappeared."
"How could that happen?"
"Well," Wells figured, "today, *your* today, was a most trying day in just about every respect for both yourself and Ms. Lane."
"Right," Clark agreed. "It was all my fault that I caused the collapse of the building, and missed meeting Lois for the interview. She was reacting to all that and I realize now that there was no excuse for my blaming her."
"But Mr. Kent," Wells protested, "there you've hit on it. Everything I see in the future indicates that neither you nor Ms. Lane had control over your own actions for the last twelve hours. Rather they were entirely *reactions* to some other unseen and unexplained force."
"So what you're saying," Clark said thoughtfully, "is that something caused these things to happen independently of anything either Lois or I did? Something … or *someone,*" he mused, the wheels in his head starting to turn.
Wells was on his own track. "I should tell you, Mr. Kent, that all evidence points to the fact that you and Ms. Lane were the only intended targets. It's as if time is being used as a weapon against you … " his voice trailed off as he met Clark's eyes and realized they were thinking the same thing.
Clark said it. "Tempus. I have to go back. I have to get back and protect Lois … *now.*"
"Precisely, Mr. Kent." Wells was already working on the time control. "Ready?"
"There's no place like home," Clark muttered as their images swirled and morphed and disappeared.
They reappeared on a deserted roadside, in what appeared to be the middle of a country field. There was nothing to be seen anywhere for miles except the dirt road and blowing grasses. Clark and Wells, who had, of course, been expecting Centennial Park, looked around confused.
"And this wouldn't be anything close to home," Clark pointed out needlessly. "At least not Metropolis."
"Oh my," said Wells, fiddling with the time control. "I'm sure it's just a simple malfunctioning of the transmittal orbital randipolimeter … I just can't seem to find the appropriate … "
He broke off as he noticed a display scrolling across the control screen. Putting the control in his inside coat pocket, he pulled out a ragged pamphlet, hurriedly flipping through the pages.
Clark felt a now familiar sense of unease flow through him. "What's wrong?"
"Oh my god." The normally unflappable H.G. Wells was as close to utter panic as Clark had ever seen him. "According to all my charts, we're in a time vortex!"
Clark began to panic as well. "A time vortex?! What's a time vortex?!"
Wells, seeing Clark's distress, tried to be less fatalistic. "It's … not a good thing … "
Clark would not be calmed. "Well, what kind of thing is it?!"
Wells shook his head in confusion, reduced to hitting the time control with his hand. "I don't see how this could have happened — there's no way we could have been subverted into this dimension level unless someone has tampered with … "
His voice trailed off and he and Clark exchanged a horrified glance as they realized what must have happened. Before they could speak, however, there was a sudden, blinding flash of light.
Tempus appeared next to them, brandishing his gun and looking extremely pleased with himself. "Well, what have we here," he grinned at them. "It's a bird, it's a plane … no it's Clark Kent, trapped in a time vortex! Hello, Herb," he added, turning to greet Wells. "Is that a time control in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"
He reached into Wells' coat and removed the time control, much to Wells' shock. "Tempus, my god! What are you doing?"
Clark's fury had grown to an extreme point by now and he started towards Tempus, ignoring the gun he was holding. "You're responsible for this — for me not being able to get back to Lois, aren't you?"
"Oh … " Tempus frowned. "I take that to mean you're not glad to see me. And after all we've been through together. Careful." He sidestepped Clark and aimed the gun at his head. "Remember — superpowers in the rear view mirror are not as close as they appear."
"How did you get here?" Wells demanded.
"Oh, Herb, really," Tempus laughed. "By now you must realize I am not bound by the constraints most people are. Like oh, Clark here is, for instance. Trapped in a cornfield. Poetic, don't you think? Reminds one of that godforsaken town where you grew up. Maybe you should have clicked your heels together three times before Herb punched that button. Oops." He laughed again.
"What have you done?" Clark cried in anguish.
Tempus raised his arms high above his head in triumph. "I thought you'd never ask," he said gleefully. "Now I get to explain my diabolical plan! I love this part!"
"Make it good," Clark hissed threateningly.
Tempus cocked his weapon. "Clark, you know your powers are useless here, and I'd hate for you to miss anything."
"Oh — such as the truth about how that terrible warehouse fire spread, or about the tragedy at the art gallery. Oh yes — and the fact that Lois never did receive that phone message you left her."
Clark stood rooted to the spot in shock. "You … you did all … but *why?*"
"And by god, how?" Wells wondered.
"I should think the 'why' would be rather obvious, what with you having just come from the future and all," Tempus pointed out.
"But how could you possibly know what the future holds?" Wells asked again.
Tempus sighed. "That's why it's called a 'diabolical plan,' Herb - because I know how it will turn out. So far, so good," he added, laughing.
"You set us up!" Clark didn't know whether to scream or kill him.
"And they say you're no good without Ms. Lane," Tempus praised him. "Yes — I set you up. And it worked so well. You, Mr. Kent, are now trapped in time. *Forever.* It's a shame — your wife will never *really* know what happened to you. Tragic, really."
"No," Wells breathed.
"Yes!" Tempus cried. "It just keeps getting better, doesn't it, Herb!"
"You can't do this!" Clark protested.
"Oh, really? And who's going to stop me? Certainly not *you* Superman — oh, I suppose that name doesn't really suit you anymore, considering here you are, stranded in time with no powers! Good-bye, Mr. Kent. I'll be sure to give Lois your best. Herb, always a pleasure. I'll see you in time!" Laughing at his own joke, he pressed several buttons on the time control and disappeared.
Clark, in a complete and total panic, looked around desperately. "OK," he said to Wells, "here's the part where you tell me how we're going to get out of here."
"Oh, Mr. Kent," Wells wailed, "I'm sorry — I can't … Tempus has fixed it so there's nothing I can do!"
To Clark's horror, Wells' image began to swirl and disappear.
"Wait!" Clark cried. "What do you mean? Mr. Wells! No!"
He could barely make out Wells' form, but he could hear the older man's voice, faintly. "He's sending me back, he's locking me outside the vortex … I'm so sorry, Mr. Kent — it wasn't supposed to turn out like this … "
And he was gone. Clark turned slowly to survey his surroundings. Nothing but corn and dirt as far as the eye could see.
*348 Hyperion Avenue — Present Day*
Lois was on the phone with Perry for what seemed like the millionth time that night. "As soon as I have something, Perry, I'll call you back." She hung up wearily and buried her head in her hands, then rubbed her hands tiredly. Her attention focused on her left hand and she twisted her wedding ring thoughtfully.
<<"Lois, you and I are going to be as permanent as permanent can be.">>
Clark voice came back to her as she remembered his reassurance and she glanced over toward the window, willing him to enter.
Clark was in a state of utter panic. There was no place to go, there was nothing for him to do. "No! Lois!" His voice died in the wind and he sank to the ground in despair.
*348 Hyperion Avenue — Present Day*
Lois walked over to the window and stared out at the sky.
<<"Lois, not everyone walks away."
"I hope not.">>
Lois sighed, finally giving way to the tears. "Where are you, Clark?" she whispered softly. "I just want to tell you … I'm sorry. And … and that I'm lonely for you. Please … come home, Clark." Her voice broke and the tears flowed freely down her face as she watched the night sky for a figure that would not appear …
To be continued in Season 5, Episode 15 — "Second Time Around"
Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 5 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1998 to the author.