By Genevieve Clemens (NightSky@erols.com) and Pat Peabody (email@example.com)
Summary: When Clark's parents are faced with the possibility of losing the family farm, Superman is challenged to effect a very different kind of a rescue. Lois and Clark journey back to Smallville and, in their efforts to help the Kents, find themselves embroiled in a twenty-year-old mystery. (Episode # 19 of The Unaired Fifth Season)
Lois Lane slowly became aware of the fact that she had to go to the bathroom. She lay in the dark room, warm beneath the heavy quilt thrown over her, and thought to herself "two more months!" She carefully rolled to one side and began to push herself up on one elbow. The week before she had made the mistake of rising too quickly, and the pain from the stretched ligaments in her abdomen had been a real surprise.
"Take it slowly," her doctor had advised. "Use your arm muscles to push yourself up, not your stomach muscles." When she finally achieved a sitting position, Lois breathed a sigh of relief. She pottered over to the bathroom.
In the hallway, she was surprised by the lights coming from downstairs. When she had awakened, she'd noticed her husband was missing — a not uncommon occurrence for a woman married to Superman. Clark frequently left in the middle of the night, but rarely turned on the lights. Even more rarely did he sit downstairs at four in the morning. Leaving the bathroom, Lois grabbed a robe and went downstairs.
Clark was sitting at the computer, reading his e-mail. He looked up as Lois walked in. "Couldn't sleep?" he asked.
"Just wondered what you were doing," she answered. "What's up?"
Clark shrugged. "Two ferries crashed in China," he said. "I was over there for a while scooping people out of the water. I got back about half an hour ago, but I didn't feel sleepy. I made some cocoa," he gestured at the empty cup sitting by the keyboard, "and decided to check my e-mail before I came to bed."
Lois nodded understandingly. "Anything interesting?" she asked.
"No, it's mostly stuff from work, and you'll see it in the morning. The Daily Planet's Finance Department has a new form to fill out when you make a long-distance phone call." Lois groaned. "This last message looks like junk mail."
Lois leaned over his shoulder and read the subject line aloud. "Be Your Own 007 — The INTERNET SPY."
Clark opened up the message and read the first line out loud. "Learn EVERYTHING about your friends, neighbors, enemies, employees, or anyone else! — even your boss! — even yourself!" His eyebrows went up as he read the preposterous claims the ad made, insisting that it would enable anyone to use the Internet to find any and all information he or she might desire.
Lois gave a short laugh. "Wonder how many people would really pay $39.95 for that?" she asked incredulously. "It's probably just a bunch of bookmarks to free sites available to anyone who knows where they are."
"Probably," Clark agreed. "Free enterprise at work." He deleted the message and powered down the computer. He stood up and took her hand. "C'mon, honey. Let's go to bed."
"Feeling sleepy now?" Lois asked.
Clark shrugged. "You?"
Lois didn't miss the hopeful note in his voice. "I'm mostly awake," she responded. "But it's too early to be out of bed. Let's go back to bed and see if we feel sleepy once we get there."
Clark smiled. Hand in hand they walked towards the stairs.
Hundreds of miles away from Metropolis that same night, two men stood in the moonlight and watched an eighteen-wheel truck drive away down a deserted dirt road. "We'll have to be moving on pretty soon," one of the men said. "We've pretty much filled as many holes here as we can."
The other man nodded. "It's been more than twenty years," he said. "This place has been good to us. And very lucrative." He patted his pocket. "But you're right, of course. Some of the long-term effects are beginning to show. We do need to find a new place. Maybe somewhere up in North Dakota."
The two men began walking towards their cars in the moonlight. "Two more months," the first one said, "and we should have fulfilled all our contracts here, and we can start over somewhere else. Goodbye, Smallville!"
As the men drove away, the moonlight shone into the gaping hole in the ground they had left behind. The hole was at least thirty feet deep, filled with metal drums and barrels, some of which bore a skull and crossbones, others clearly labeled "TOXIC WASTE." As dawn broke, a gentle rain began to fall, the water washing over the containers and soaking slowly into the ground.
The early morning rain in Kansas didn't reach Metropolis. The sun was shining in the large window of the Daily Planet newsroom when Lois and Clark stepped out of the elevator, ready for another day at work. Lois was carrying her briefcase and a bag from the local bagel shop. The bag contained not only breakfast for herself and her husband, but also a mid-morning snack. Clark, carrying two large, steaming cups procured at the cappuccino shop in the lobby, had long since stopped teasing her about the amount she was eating these days. They headed towards their desks, routinely answering the "good mornings" their colleagues tossed in their direction.
"Morning, Jimmy," Clark pointedly directed the greeting towards Jimmy Olsen. Although Jimmy was normally the first person to greet them when they walked into the office, today he was sitting at his desk, totally engrossed in his computer.
"Good *morning*, Jimmy," Lois said even more pointedly when Jimmy failed to respond to Clark's greeting. Annoyed at being interrupted, Jimmy looked up, but when he realized who was there, a grin broke out over his face.
"CK, Lois!" he exclaimed. He turned back to his computer. "You have *got* to see this!" Setting their breakfasts down on Lois's desk, Lois and Clark exchanged a look of amusement before moving over to Jimmy's desk.
"What's so neat?" Clark asked, trying to figure out what Jimmy was doing. At first glance it appeared he'd hacked into a local bank's computers.
"You haven't checked your e-mail yet this morning, have you?" Jimmy asked. Without waiting for an answer, he went on. "Man, there was this ad I couldn't resist. How to find out everything about everybody, for only $39.95. Anyway, I sent them my credit card number and in just a few minutes I had my password. And this is fantastic."
Lois raised her eyebrows. "Jimmy, don't you know that most of the stuff offered by junk e-mail isn't worth the paper it's not printed on?"
"Not this, Lois." Jimmy turned back towards the computer. "Look, I put in my name, and see how much came up. Here are all my bank accounts, my credit card bills, *including* what I've spent money on in the last six months, my record at the DMV — just about everything. Man, this is neat!"
Lois frowned. "This sounds like an invasion of privacy to me. Clark, I wonder if there is a story in this."
Jimmy went on. "They claim that their database covers the whole country. It's easy to get information like this on people in Metropolis; I have access to most local databases. I need someone from out of state for a real test."
"Try my father," Clark offered. "The Kents have banked at the Smallville Bank for over a hundred years; there are only two branches, and I doubt if either one even owns a computer."
"Everybody's wired," Jimmy said disparagingly. He began to type in "Kent, Jonathan" in the name blank on the form and put "Smallville, Kansas" in the location blank. Then he pressed return, and they waited.
"You won't find much," said Clark, as the screen began to fill. "They paid off the farm years ago, and I can still remember the lectures I got about the evils of credit cards when I started college."
"That's what you think!" Jimmy exclaimed. "Man, are they in debt! Look at all this!"
"What?" Clark didn't believe it, and he leaned forward to take a closer look. It didn't take super-speed to figure out what was on the screen. "That's impossible!"
A sudden crash outside the building sent Lois and Jimmy rushing over to the window. "Car crashed into a bus!" Jimmy exclaimed as he grabbed his camera and headed for the stairs. Lois kept watching out the window, waiting for Superman to appear. Even after all these years she still felt a flutter of excitement when she saw the red and blue descend. After a moment, when Superman still hadn't arrived, she turned away from the window.
To her surprise, Clark was still sitting at Jimmy's desk, staring in dismay at the computer. She walked back over to him. "Clark?" she said gently. "There was a bad accident outside."
Clark seemed not to hear her. He clicked the mouse again and watched in horror as new figures filled the screen. "They've mortgaged the farm again," he muttered to himself, "and they're four months behind on the payments. They've maxed out *all* their credit cards."
Lois tried again. "Clark, there may be people hurt outside."
Clark appeared to snap out of it. Lowering his glasses he stared towards the wall. "Nobody's hurt badly," he announced. After a pause he added, "The police and ambulances are on the way." He turned back to the computer again and then looked up at Lois. "Lois, they could lose the *farm*!"
Suddenly, Clark pushed back the chair and stood up. Lois took a breath in relief, glad that Superman was finally going to put in an appearance outside. But to her surprise, Clark headed towards Perry's office, not the hallway.
"Clark, where are you going?" she asked.
"Smallville," he answered, "to find out what's going on. I'm going to ask Perry for a week off. If my parents have gotten into this without giving us so much as a clue about it, they won't be willing to talk about it if I just fly out for dinner one evening."
Lois slid her arm under his. "Ask for a week off for both of us," she commanded. "I'm going, too."
"Perry may have a fit," Clark said.
"He deserves it for putting me on 'desk duty.' Besides, you're my husband, and I've never seen you so upset before. I'm going with you."
The next day, Lois and Clark were in an airliner, heading towards Smallville. For the last few months, Lois had found it difficult to breathe when Superman flew with her in his traditional carrying-the- bride-over-the-threshold fashion. Being carried by the arms with her feet dangling in mid-air was fine for dancing, but wasn't an option for the lengthy flight to Smallville. Clark's lighthearted suggestion of an over-the-shoulder-fireman-style carry had been met with a hostile glare from his would-be passenger. Lois had made the airplane reservations before Clark left Perry's office the day before, much to his dismay.
"I can't wait till this baby's born, and we can fly the usual way," Clark grumbled as he adjusted his seat, grateful the plane was only half full and there was no one behind them. There was something about being trapped inside an airplane that made him uncomfortable. "We're in a tin can with wings. The passengers on this airplane have less chance of surviving a disaster than the passengers on the Titanic."
"I don't think we're going to encounter an iceberg in the air, Clark," Lois pointed out tartly, wondering what could have possessed the airline to show *that* film on *this* flight.
"And I'm not sure there is anything *usual* about the way we normally fly," she added. A thought struck her. "How do you think you'll manage it — carrying me *and* the baby? It's a long way from Metropolis to Smallville."
Clark thought for a moment. "Well, when it's small, you'll carry the baby in some kind of baby carrier, and I'll carry you. Maybe one of those front-pack things. I guess when it gets to toddler age and squirms all over the place, we'll be back in airplanes." He shuddered.
The plane finally landed, much to Clark's relief. They got in their rental car and headed to Smallville. Lois was still considering their transportation options.
"We could drive," Lois suggested. "How many hours would it take with a crying baby in the back seat?"
"I'd rather take a plane," Clark responded dryly. "Hey, maybe the kid'll be able to fly alongside us."
"Don't even think about it, Clark! I am not dealing with a super- powered child having a temper tantrum in the grocery store because we won't buy him any Ho-Hos or Ding-Dongs."
"Maybe we could move to Smallville," Clark said. "That'd make the trip easier." When Lois did not respond, he glanced over, only to find her looking at him pensively. "Honey, that was a joke, too," he said. "You can laugh."
"Was it?" Lois asked. "I still can't get over the fact that Superman didn't help out at the bus accident yesterday, or that we're here," she gestured at the farms along the road, "at the drop of a hat. Just why are we here, Clark?"
Clark was quiet for a moment, staring at the road. "I just want to find out what's going on — how they got in so much trouble, and if we can do anything to help. We can't lose the farm, Lois; it's — it's unthinkable."
"We?" Lois wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly. "I thought your home was in Metropolis, with me." Lois's voice was almost too quiet, too controlled.
"It is! It is, honey. I couldn't live anywhere without you — you know that — and I know that Smallville isn't what you dream about when you think of the ideal life. But this farm has been in our family for generations; I know how much it means to my folks. If there's anything I can do to stop it from happening, I have to do it." His voice dropped. "Our children may want to live here. How can we deny them the opportunity?"
Lois couldn't imagine any child of hers wanting to live in the country. "So you're just going to waltz in there and offer to pay off the mortgage for them?"
Clark grimaced. "It won't be that easy. Dad's never been one to ask for help." He glanced at Lois. "I checked before we left Metropolis. It would be a stretch, but we could write a check to get them out of arrears — and our budget could cover their monthly payments for a while if we just economized a little."
"I'm not worried about the money, Clark. You've always worried about money a lot more than I ever did, and I know that you won't bankrupt *us*, not with the baby coming, not even to help out your parents. But — I'm still not sure I understand why we're doing it this way. What if your folks are ready to give up on farming? It's certainly not an easy way to earn a living, and they're not getting any younger. Maybe they don't want us to help them save the farm. Shouldn't we be more concerned about what they want, rather than saving the farm because you want it to be saved?"
"I have to try to help. They're my parents. And — *I* need the farm. You're right, Lois. I'm trying to save it for me, too. You and I may never live here in Smallville; I knew when I was fifteen that I'd have to leave someday. I love Metropolis and our life there. But, at the back of my mind, I'm always thinking of my next visit back here. This farm is my refuge, my strength — and I need it."
"I thought I was your strength," Lois said in a small voice.
"That's not what I meant! It's not the same thing," Clark began, but one glance at her showed him she was teasing. He flashed a grin at her and turned his attention back to the road.
They drove in silence for a while. The miles sped past as Clark concentrated on the road and his own thoughts, while Lois stared out the window. Suddenly, she spied something. "Oh, Oh! Clark, pull over."
Clark did so. "What is it?" he asked her.
"Look!" Lois pointed.
Clark looked. He saw the meadow blooming with early spring wildflowers rippling in the breeze. There were a few birds flying overhead and dark storm clouds on the horizon. Then Lois pointed, and he realized what had caught her attention.
"The old Sowerby place?" he asked. "What about it?"
"How marvelously spooky," Lois said. "It looks just like every haunted house in all the cartoons I've seen, especially with those dark clouds behind it. Has it always looked like that?"
"Well, obviously, not always. Someone must have lived in it once. But it's been abandoned for years. Funny you should say that about it looking haunted," he continued. "The school bus used to drive along this road, back when I was in high school. Some of the guys who lived around here used to say it was haunted — that they saw floating lights during the night and heard strange noises." Lois looked intrigued.
"Do you want to go up there and look around?" Clark asked. "Or shall we go on? We're still about fifteen miles from home, and I'd like to get there before this storm hits."
Lois gave the house another look. "Let's keep going," she answered reluctantly. "I have to use the bathroom again. We'll be here for a week; maybe I'll have time to come back. You don't think anyone would mind?"
Clark shrugged as he started the car back on the road. "I doubt it," he said. "But we can ask Mom and Dad to be sure."
Lois was still curious. "Do you know why the place is abandoned?"
Clark frowned, trying to remember. "It's a tragic story, Lois. I don't remember all of it; I was just a kid, but my parents can tell you what happened."
"Why? What happened?"
Clark shook his head. "Wait till we get home. Mom and Dad can tell you the whole story. Besides," he grinned, "I *know* how you hate hearing only half of the story at a time."
Lois thwacked him on the arm, but none of her cajoling could force him to tell her what he knew. Eventually she grew silent and stared out the window at the Kansas countryside.
As they approached the farm, Lois began to feel a little nervous. Clark hadn't told his parents the real reason for their sudden trip to Kansas. In typical Clark fashion, he'd made excuses, mentioning Lois's need for more rest now that she was in the final trimester of her pregnancy, especially after being beaten up by that stalker a few weeks ago. Lois knew from past experience how lame Clark's excuses could sound, and she was certain he hadn't fooled his parents for a second. This lack of honesty between Clark and his parents made her uncomfortable. Subterfuge was not uncommon among the Lanes, but she'd become accustomed to the Kents' openness and sorely missed it in this situation. Her discomfort increased as the distance to the Kent farm lessened.
She wasn't sure what she'd say to Clark's parents when she and Clark arrived at the farm; she doubted her ability to fool Jonathan and Martha for long. Lois was capable of lying to a nun to get a story, but being less than truthful with the Kents was something entirely different. As Clark parked the car in front of the wood-sided farmhouse, fate, in the form of baby Kent, intervened on her behalf. The car had barely come to a halt when Lois jumped out of the passenger seat and into the welcoming arms of her in-laws, announcing, "Hi, Martha! Hi, Jonathan! I need to use your bathroom *right now!*"
After Lois returned, baby Kent provided safe topics of conversation. Martha and Jonathan solicitously inquired about Lois's health and cautioned her about overdoing; Clark mentioned Lois's need to snack "constantly"; and finally, Lois reminded him that she hadn't eaten anything since "those woefully inadequate lunches on the plane." Martha laughed and led the way into the big farm kitchen. Clark joined them after he carried their luggage into his old bedroom and did a super-speed unpacking job.
"These blueberry muffins are wonderful, Martha," Lois said as she reached for a third one. "Are the berries from your garden, or grown locally?"
Did she just imagine the anxious glance that passed between Martha and Jonathan? Maybe her reporter's intuition was in overdrive, prompting her to assume intrigue where there was none.
She pushed her suspicions aside when Martha laughed and answered, "Oh, no, Lois. These are just from a mix I found at the Hi-Lo. It won't be blueberry season here for a few months yet."
Clark looked up, surprised by Martha's response. "The Hi-Lo, Mom? You and Dad never shopped there before. You said they had shriveled produce and dirty floors."
"Things change, son," Jonathan replied before Martha had a chance to answer.
"…And I just ran over there to pick up a few things after you called last night," Martha chimed in. "You didn't give us much time to get ready for your visit, honey." Seeing Clark's stricken look, she quickly added, "That doesn't matter, because we're always happy to see you and Lois!" and she hugged them both to emphasize her statement.
Dinner that evening was far less strained than Lois had feared, and she found herself relaxing and laughing at Martha and Jonathan's reminiscences of Clark as a baby.
"He used to watch me when I was working in the kitchen, " Martha continued, "and he always looked so happy when he saw the refrigerator opening, because he knew that meant it was mealtime. One afternoon I'd left him alone in the kitchen for a just a few minutes while I went to answer the door. I didn't think he could get into any trouble because he'd only just started walking and we'd installed child-safe locks on all of the cabinets, but I'd hardly closed the front door when I heard a blood-curdling howl from the kitchen. I was so afraid that he'd managed to hurt himself! Well, when I got into the kitchen, the floor was littered with frozen food. I looked in the direction the sound was coming from, and there was Clark, balancing on one foot on top of the breadbox on the countertop, hanging by one hand from the handle of the freezer door, and trying to grab a pint carton of ice cream with the other hand. That little dickens had gotten the freezer door open and found the ice cream he was after, but he couldn't figure out how to get down again without letting go of the ice cream!"
"And he wasn't about to let go of that ice cream," Jonathan chuckled. "I ran to the house as fast as I could when I heard him screaming." He shook his head. "I wouldn't have run so fast if I'd known he was just screaming about ice cream." He laughed again, and said, "But you know Clark, once he gets an idea in his head, or decides to go after something, he doesn't give up until he has succeeded."
Lois's softly spoken, "I'm glad you didn't give up on us, Farmboy," was nearly drowned out by the warning rumble of the approaching thunderstorm. She jumped in surprise at the suddenness of the sound.
"It's OK, honey," Clark said as he slipped his arm around her protectively. "Thunder sounds louder out here because there aren't other noises like traffic and sirens to camouflage it, or tall buildings to muffle the sound."
"Why don't you help me clear the table, Lois?" Martha suggested. "We'll have coffee and dessert in the living room a little later."
About fifteen minutes later Lois was sitting on the living room couch, snuggled up against her husband's chest, enjoying the feeling of his arm around her shoulders and listening to the steady beating of his heart. Clark was thinking about how neatly Lois fit into the crook of his arm and how absolutely right it felt to have her there. Temporarily forgetting the mission that had brought them to Kansas, Clark thought about how perfectly *everything* in his life seemed to fit right now and momentarily felt a contentment he could only have dreamt about five years earlier, when he'd first decided to settle in Metropolis.
Without warning, the Kents' living room was brightly illuminated by a brilliant purple-blue bolt of lightning. An explosive peal of thunder followed almost immediately. Lois's eyes widened, and she moved closer to the window to get a better look. "This is magnificent," she exclaimed, as the sky continued its light show. "We can't see anything like this in Metropolis."
"That's because we don't have smog-free skies and wide open spaces like this in the city," Clark said. Then, remembering Lois's interest in the abandoned house they'd seen earlier in the afternoon, he asked his parents, "Mom, can you or Dad tell Lois anything about the old Sowerby farm? I seem to remember the other kids saying it was 'haunted,' but I don't remember any of the particulars."
Martha looked a little surprised with the direction their after- dinner conversation was taking, but a quick glimpse at Lois's alert, intrigued expression explained why Clark was asking about the Sowerby place.
"Oh, after a while people will start to call any abandoned house haunted, especially if it's in poor repair and in an isolated area. The Sowerby place is miles from its nearest neighbor. I think that's probably one of the reasons the Sowerbys couldn't get over what happened and eventually moved away."
"What did happen, Martha?" Lois asked, moving back to the sofa, her curiosity overcoming her fascination with the storm.
Martha answered Lois's question by asking one of her own, "Clark, do you remember the Sowerbys' daughter, Rebecca?"
"I don't really remember her, Mom. I remember the incident, but I'm not sure that I remember all of the details, or even if I knew all the details at the time."
"You weren't at home at the time it happened. It was the fall you went to the football camp at the University of Kansas, Clark. Remember, you wanted us to bring you home early, after that boy got hurt in the skirmish and you were sure it was your fault. Rebecca was almost ten years younger than you were, so you didn't have any friends or activities in common. Everyone deliberately avoided talking about her around the other children, for fear of upsetting them. A missing child is a terrible thing for parents and a community to come to grips with, and it was even worse for the Sowerbys, because nothing like that had ever occurred in Small County.
"It happened in the autumn of 1978, during the Corn Festival. Rebecca was almost four and had been voted that year's Corn Princess. It was the last night of the Corn Festival, and she was beside herself with excitement because she'd be leading the parade into the Grange Hall later that evening."
The storm outside the Kent farmhouse was breaking in earnest now. Lois was vaguely aware of the sounds of wind and rain pelting against the windows and the slightly rhythmic pattern of hailstones hitting the roof. Her attention, though, was on the story that Martha was recounting.
"The last time we saw Rebecca, Mrs. Sowerby had just helped her change into her orange and gold Corn Princess costume." Seeing Lois's puzzled expression, Martha added, "It looked like a flower girl's dress, with a long full skirt and tiny ears of corn embroidered along the hem. I'm not sure about the origins of the Corn Princess tradition, but I think it had something to do with the Corn Queen representing the present year's harvest, and the Corn Princess representing the rebirth of the crop in years to come. That's why the Corn Princess was always played by a very young child. The parade was supposed to start just after dark, with the Corn Princess and her torchbearers leading the group out of the darkness at the festival grounds and into the light at the Grange Hall."
Lois was remembering her first visit to Smallville's Corn Festival; she hadn't realized until now how close to the truth her unthinking comment about "ritual crop worship" had been. The whole ceremony had a kind of pagan ambience about it.
"The party at the Grange…" Martha's narrative was cut short by a deafening crash of thunder that startled even the longtime Kansas residents. The lights flickered on-and-off a few times, then died, leaving the lightning outside the window as the room's only illumination.
Jonathan was the first to speak. "Looks like the storm knocked down the power lines again. This usually happens at least once or twice a year, Lois. The county power company will have a chance to try out their new 'emergency preparedness and response plan' tonight. Clark, maybe you could light the fireplace; that should give us light *and* heat. The furnace is on an electric thermostat and won't come back on until the power does."
Clark could feel Lois shiver slightly as she snuggled closer to him. He lowered his glasses and focused on the kindling laid in the fireplace, then used his heat vision to start it ablaze. The fire caught, filling the room with warmth and a golden glow.
A wide smile lighted Lois's upturned face. "You are *so* handy to have around," she murmured as she leaned closer to kiss him.
Pleased with the compliment and blushing only slightly, Clark waited for Martha to continue her story. Superman wouldn't be putting in an appearance to repair the power lines anytime soon, because the storm would most likely knock them out again. Besides, who was he to deny the Small County Power Company the opportunity to test their disaster plan? He'd involve himself only if the plan failed or the power company found itself overwhelmed by outages.
"You were telling us about the party at the Grange Hall, Mom," he prompted gently.
"Jonathan, could you tell them the rest of the story, please?" Martha asked. "Lois looks as if she's ready for some cocoa, and I'll bet everyone else is feeling thirsty, too." Martha lit one of the mantle candles and carried it with her into the kitchen. "I'll have to use the stove instead of the microwave." she added, "Good thing we have propane!"
Jonathan nodded and, as soon as Martha was out of earshot, said quietly, "Your mother has a hard time telling this part of the story; I guess that's another reason we never really talked to you about it." Jonathan directed the next part of the story to his daughter-in-law. "Lois, harvest is probably the most important time of the year in a farm community. Every September, up until Rebecca disappeared, we'd elect a Corn Queen and a Corn Princess. The previous Corn Princesses would become part of the current Corn Princess's court when she led the torchlight parade to the Grange Hall. For years the tradition had been to close the festival with a party at the Hall. There was a potluck dinner, a square dance, and a midnight bonfire, lit by the Corn Princess, to burn the old husks from the corn-husking contest. After that, the party would break up, and everyone would go home.
"That year, when it was almost dark enough for the parade to start, Rebecca had waved good-bye to her parents at the entrance to the Grange Hall. Mr. Sowerby had a new home-movie camera and planned to film Rebecca's entrance. Rebecca walked the two blocks to the festival grounds with her court of nine or ten older girls. One of the teenagers in the group was one of the most popular babysitters in town. Who would have thought anything could happen? It all seemed perfectly safe.
"The princess and her court entered the festival grounds about ten minutes later. Shortly after that, when everyone was getting into place for the parade, Rebecca couldn't be found. Between the time she arrived at the festival grounds and the time the parade was due to start, Rebecca Sowerby had vanished without a trace."
Lois's eyes were moist when she looked up at Jonathan, and her hand was resting protectively on her stomach. "Did they ever find Rebecca, or a ransom note, or…anything?"
Jonathan shook his head, "Nothing, not a ransom note, or a scrap of clothing, or a body. People formed search parties and combed the town and the surrounding woods all night and for the next three days. The local police eventually brought in the FBI; they ran down a lot of false leads, but never found the girl, or found out what had happened to her. We've always assumed that she was kidnapped. The kidnapper would have had a good head start, between the darkness and the confusion. No one was exactly sure when they'd last seen Rebecca—there was a lot of activity and quite a crowd at the festival grounds that night, and it would have been easy to get lost in it."
"That must have been horrible for her parents," Lois said slowly. "Never knowing what really happened to their daughter would make it nearly impossible for them to get on with their lives. I can see why they couldn't live here any longer."
Jonathan nodded, "They were nearly immobilized by their grief. After the first few weeks, there was no place in the area left to search, and no more leads to follow. The shock of the kidnapping wore off, and the reality that Rebecca was gone set in. Mr. Sowerby wanted to leave the farm; he said he hated the sight of the town and everything connected to it. Mrs. Sowerby was torn between staying and going. Everything on the farm reminded her of Rebecca. She didn't want to leave that behind, but living with it became too painful. Mr. Sowerby finally convinced her to leave, but only by promising not to sell the farm — Mrs. Sowerby was convinced that Rebecca would eventually come home, and she wanted the farm to be there when she did. That's why the farm is abandoned."
"You mean the Sowerbys still own the farm, after all these years?" Clark asked incredulously.
Martha re-entered the living room, carefully balancing a tray laden with a pot of cocoa, cups, marshmallows, a plate of cookies, and a candle. Clark and Jonathan both jumped up to help her, and the next few minutes were spent pouring the cocoa into cups and passing around the cookies. Since the rain had almost stopped, Clark took the opportunity to retrieve the Coleman gas lantern from the barn, providing the room with a less spectral illumination than the flickering candles and firelight.
Martha took up the narration, less uncomfortable with talking about the aftermath than with the story of Rebecca's disappearance. "The Sowerbys left the farm the following summer and moved to Hutchinson, about forty miles from here. They bought a small convenience store in the town. There were too many bad memories connected with farming, but I guess they chose another occupation that demanded long hours and hard work, so they wouldn't have time to think about what had happened. Peggy — Mrs. Sowerby — got pregnant a few years after they moved there. They have two children now."
"I hope they found some peace and consolation with their second family," Lois said fervently.
"I think they did, Lois. I usually hear from Peggy around the holidays. She seems to be reconciled with what happened and has gone on to build a new life."
The room was silent for a moment, save for the crackling of wood burning in the fireplace. Then Martha pointed to the starlit vista of sky visible through the window. "Look, " she said, "the storm seems to have passed over. Clark, why don't you and Lois take advantage of that full moon? You can't see the sky or the stars this way when you're in the city."
"Great idea, Mom," Clark said, eager to lift the solemn mood that had settled over the group. "Lois, would you like to take a walk under the stars? I'll throw in a personally guided tour of the Kents' main barn and chicken coop, with a side-trip to a genuine Kansas irrigation pump that doubles as a windmill. And I promise, you won't even get your feet wet!"
"Are you offering to show a city girl a Kansas good time?" Lois teased as they walked to the front door."
"It looks like I already did," Clark replied, patting her swollen belly. "Ouch! That hurt!" He exclaimed, rubbing the spot on his arm where Lois punched him.
"Did so!" Clark insisted in an aggrieved tone.
Martha and Jonathan watched through the living room window as Clark gently floated Lois over the muddy ground and towards the windmill.
"You meant what you said earlier about not seeing the stars and the sky in the city, didn't you?" Jonathan asked soberly, slipping his arms around Martha's waist as he stood behind her.
Martha covered his large hands with her smaller ones. "It will be all right, Jonathan," she said, leaning back against him. "We'll be together, and that's all that's really important to me."
As was the norm in the country, the whole household went to bed early. Clark woke before sunrise and lay awake in the darkness, thinking for a long time. Finally, he heard his father moving about. Carefully, so as not to wake his wife, he slid out of bed and dressed. Going downstairs, he met up with his father in the kitchen.
"Pour me a cup, too, Dad?" he asked.
Jonathan started. "Didn't expect you to be up," he said tersely, as he reached for a second coffee cup.
"Thought I'd help with the chores, just like old times," Clark answered, sitting down at the table.
Jonathan carried two cups of coffee over to the table and sat down. "I can remember times when you weren't so pleased to be up before dawn. But there's not as much to do these days. Your mother and I — well, we're getting older."
"Is that why there's not as much to do, Dad? Why you look so tired and stressed out? Because you're getting older…or because the farm doesn't pay?"
Jonathan looked sharply at his son. "That's why you're here, isn't it? I don't suppose I need to ask how you found out, do I? It's in your job description — snooping into people's private affairs."
Clark had the grace to look away. There was some truth in what his father said. "Believe me, Dad, I found out by accident," Clark replied. "And I never expected to find what I did. What I can't understand is how you could let things get this bad without…without at least *warning* me!"
"Warning you? Clark, you know we've had bad crops for three years running — no crop at all, last year. What did you think? That we were living on *savings*?"
"I don't know. I just — you should have told me, Dad. I could have done something. This is my home, too."
"Why? What could you have done? Even Superman can't make the wheat grow. And your home's in Metropolis, Clark. You haven't lived here in years."
Clark was getting frustrated. "Maybe not. But this is where my roots are. I come here when I can't take the rat race in Metropolis — everybody rushing to get somewhere. I come here sometimes at night, after I've been out being Superman." Jonathan shook his head, frustrated and at a loss for words, and stood up, taking his coffee cup to the sink. Clark tried again. "Dad, Lois and I are having a baby. What if our child develops superpowers the way I did? We'd have to find a place where we could feel safe and comfortable. Where we could work with our child while he or she learns to control those superpowers, just like you and Mom helped me. Dad, we need this place."
Jonathan snorted and walked to the door. He opened it and looked back at Clark. "I can see where you might need a refuge, Clark, but you should be looking somewhere else for it. Try looking in Montana or Idaho, maybe. But don't count on Smallville. The land around here is cursed."
Clark was left at the kitchen table, staring speechlessly at the swinging door. Standing abruptly, he dumped his untouched coffee into the sink and followed his father outside, into the predawn darkness.
Dressed in sneakers, snap-waist maternity jeans, and an old flannel shirt of Clark's, Lois eased back against the faded cushions on the porch swing and used both hands to lift the mug of tea to her mouth. It felt good just to sit back and do nothing. She recognized this last thought as a very foreign one for Lois Lane, but the hot tea, the warm Kansas sunshine, and the soft cushions were especially welcome after a morning spent helping with the farm chores. It was only about one-thirty in the afternoon, but it felt much later to someone unaccustomed to rising with the sun.
She looked up at the sound of the screen door closing. "Is your leg feeling any better, Lois?" Martha asked sympathetically, as she sat down in a wicker chair near the swing.
"It's feeling fine, thanks, Martha. The only real damage is to my pride." Lois's face darkened as Martha tried unsuccessfully to suppress a giggle.
"I'm sorry, Lois…" Martha started to say, but this time the giggle turned into a full-blown laugh that brought tears to Martha's eyes and threatened to take her breath away. It took her a few seconds to get her reaction under control. "When you came running into the kitchen like the hounds of hell were chasing you and asked me if our chickens had had their shots…"
"I didn't look that funny!" Lois said with a small pout, then asked plaintively, "Did I?"
Martha nodded, "I never thought I'd hear our free-range hens referred to as a 'gang of chickens.'"
"They were awful! I'd always thought that chickens were — well — chicken. If I'd known they were going to behave that way, I never would have volunteered to get the eggs — at least not without a weapon."
"Volunteered?" Martha questioned. "It sounded more like an ultimatum than an offer! And I'm still not sure that I understand exactly what happened in the chicken yard this morning."
"OK," Lois offered, in a slightly better humor. "I'll tell you the whole story. It started this morning, when Clark left to help Jonathan with the chores and left me asleep. I didn't wake up till I heard you in the kitchen making breakfast. When I realized that everyone else was up and working, I was annoyed that Clark hadn't woken me before he went out. After all, I'm pregnant — not crippled."
Martha tried to excuse Clark. "But, Lois, Jonathan generally gets up before five! Even I don't get up that early."
Lois shrugged. "Well anyway, when I joined you in the kitchen, you were making breakfast, but you said you didn't really need any help. I was *determined* to prove that I was perfectly capable of doing farm chores. Clark had already been out in the fields working with Jonathan for hours, and I felt that I wasn't contributing at all. So when you said that you'd send Clark out for the eggs as soon as he came back, I decided I'd go get the eggs."
Martha patted Lois's hand sympathetically, now understanding the belligerent look she'd seen on Lois's face that morning. "You looked so stubborn, I wasn't going to argue with you, and since you did come back with the eggs, I guess you held your own with the chickens!"
Lois nodded and continued, "It wasn't the chickens that got me, although they didn't have a very cooperative attitude. It was that thug of a rooster who attacked me!"
Martha swallowed her laugh successfully this time. "You mean Jamie? I should have guessed! He's very territorial, and he's getting more ornery by the day. You didn't try to get eggs from him, did you?"
"Really, Martha, I don't know much about chickens, but I know that roosters don't lay eggs," Lois said in a mildly affronted tone.
"Of course you do! I'm sorry, please, tell me the rest."
Somewhat appeased, Lois continued, "When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I saw the ground was still muddy from last night's rain, so I rolled up the legs of my jeans before I walked through the chicken yard. I went into the coop — chickens really do smell a lot better when they're roasted, don't they? Anyway, I found four eggs in unoccupied nests; I guess those chickens were having their own breakfasts. I put the eggs in the basket you gave me. You said to bring eight eggs, so I looked for the four sleepiest chickens, because I thought they'd be the easiest to get eggs out from under. They weren't too happy about it, but they grudgingly stepped aside to let me have the eggs, except for the one that flew up towards my face and made me feel like Tippi Hedren in 'The Birds.' All right, I had the eggs, and I was feeling *pretty* competent about farm chores, when that rooster came in through the dog door."
"Chicken door, sweetie," Martha corrected.
"Chicken door," Lois echoed absently, engrossed in telling her story. "He cocked his head to one side and glared at me as if he'd never seen anyone gathering eggs before, so I cocked my head and glared right back at him. Then, when I tried to leave the coop, he jumped in front of me and blocked the door. Well, no chicken gets the better of Lois Lane! So I just squared my shoulders, lifted my chin, walked right past him — and that's when he bit me! Twice!"
Martha bit her lip at the last, then finished Lois's narrative, "And that's when you made a run for the house."
"You made it back here with all eight eggs, and not a crack in one of them," Martha continued. "I'm impressed! And I can't tell you how much I appreciated your cleaning up the kitchen and washing all the breakfast and lunch dishes. But you don't have to prove anything, Lois, and we don't expect you to work like a farm hand when you're here on your vacation. This is your home, honey." Eyes sparkling, Martha added, "There are a few things that I was hoping you wouldn't mind helping me with, though."
Lois looked delighted at the idea of Martha asking for her help. "Well, sure, Martha," Lois replied happily, "anything I can do."
When Lois had gone out to the fields earlier to call Clark and Jonathan for lunch, she'd been genuinely pleased to see the camaraderie they shared, but had been uncertain about her ability to form a similar bond with Martha. Martha was her mother-in-law, her friend, and sometimes, her confidante. She knew Martha respected her, loved her as a daughter, and took pride in her accomplishments, but in Lois's mind, those accomplishments belonged to Lois Lane, city girl. Clark was as competent in Smallville as he was in Metropolis. While they were on the farm, Lois's keen sense of competition would not allow her to be satisfied unless she was as valuable an assistant to Martha as Clark was to Jonathan.
"Could you drive into town with me to pick up some supplies?" Martha was asking her. "I'll need your help selecting the groceries because I'm not sure what your favorites are. And — I volunteered to put 75 baskets together for next Sunday's egg hunt in the park on the town square. I know you love chocolate—you're probably a much better judge of chocolate rabbits and ducks than I am — could you help me to pick out the candy and to put the baskets together? The manager at the Cost Mart said that we could choose whatever we wanted; it's their contribution to the Easter Egg Hunt. I didn't realize how big a job it would be until the 4-H coordinator dropped off the 75 empty baskets the day before yesterday."
"I'd love to, Martha. It will only take me a minute to change," Lois beamed as she slid off the swing and headed towards the back door. "On the way into town, do you suppose we could stop at the old Sowerby place and look around?"
"We'll do better than that; I'll bring a camera, and we can take photos." Martha grinned slyly and added, "And tomorrow morning, you and I will both go out to the coop for the eggs; if Jamie successfully pecks either of us, there'll be chicken soup with dinner."
Martha and Lois found their men-folk out in the barn, with bits and pieces of the combine spread around them. The women announced they were heading into town and asked if Jonathan or Clark needed anything. Jonathan asked if they could pick up a few bags of fertilizer at the local Agway, so they decided to take the truck rather than the rental car.
After the women left, Jonathan stood up and sighed. "I don't know, Clark. I'm not sure this old thing will ever get us through the wheat harvest next month. I could barely keep it running last year."
Clark looked at his father. "What did you mean this morning when you said the land was cursed?
"Ah, I don't know. Burnett used to say that, and I can't come up with any other reason why we can't get a crop out of the ground anymore. I guess you don't believe in curses, eh?"
"Dad, I've seen enough strange things in the last five years to believe in almost anything, but enough of Lois has rubbed off on me to know that it's usually a good idea to look for logical explanations most of the time. Why do you say a 'curse,' and not just 'bad luck'?"
"You saw the fields yesterday, Clark. Last fall I sowed the fields with good old red wheat — the most common kind of winter wheat there is. And now it's April. We should be sitting here looking at fields full of grain. But they're mighty poor looking fields out there right now. And why? We've had plenty of rain. Most of the county is going to have a bumper crop this spring. Everybody but us. There are about ten of us here in the county who just haven't been able to pull a good crop out of the ground for years now."
"Any ideas why?"
Jonathan shrugged. "Some folks think it has to do with the 'ecological disaster' over at Irig's. I know, I know — there wasn't one, but lots of people don't know that. Other people think the New Kryptonians poisoned the land somehow. I'd be tempted to believe that myself, except that things started going bad before they showed up. It's just gotten more obvious the last couple of years."
Jonathan was quiet for a moment, then continued. "Your mother didn't want me to put a crop in last fall — wanted us to both get jobs in town until the mortgage was paid off. But a farmer is just a gambler at heart, I guess — I borrowed more money for sowing, instead. We had a real fight about that, she and I. Maybe that's why I didn't tell you — figured you'd be on her side."
"You two still fighting?"
"Nah. It's done now; nothing to do now but stand together and face the music."
Clark thought for a minute. "Have you checked out soil samples?"
"Colin Burnett and I sent some soil samples in to be analyzed. They came back normal."
"The Burnetts get a crop this spring?" Clark asked.
"When his crop failed last year, they moved to the city," Jonathan answered, "put the farm up for sale — no one's bought it yet. I think that's one of the reasons the bank's leaving us alone — no one would buy this place either."
"I would," said Clark quietly. "Make no mistake, Dad. If this farm goes up for sale, I'll buy it."
"Don't waste your money, son. You've got to put your own family first; you need to provide for Lois and the baby. Don't put your pipe dream of holding on to your past before them."
Clark was quiet for a moment. Then he spoke. "Money's never going to be a problem, Dad. Superman's never going to be short of money."
Jonathan spoke sharply. "Superman doesn't accept money."
"Because he's never had to," Clark answered. "But if there was a need, he would. Dad, if someone found out about — you know — me being," his voice dropped, "Superman — I'd have to spend more money than Lex Luthor ever did on security, just to keep Lois and the baby — and you and Mom — safe. Don't think I haven't thought about it, because I have. There is no way Clark Kent could earn that kind of money. But Superman could."
Clark went on. "All the licensing fees from the sale of Superman T-shirts and dolls and that sort of stuff — that goes to charity. But there is no rule that says it has to. Or — the Weather Service asked me to repair a satellite for them the other day. I just went and did it, but I could have charged them. The telecom companies could pay me *half* of what it costs the space shuttle to repair or deploy satellites. They'd think they had a real bargain, and I — I'd have enough money to buy all of Kansas. Or I could dive for pearls in Japan, or mine for diamonds…"
Jonathan interrupted. "I've always been proud of the fact that Superman does what he does without accepting money for it."
"Well, so have I, Dad. It's part of what makes Superman so special. I'd never charge for saving someone's life. But there are so many day-to-day things that I could do for people, which wouldn't be immoral to be paid for. The laborer is worthy of his hire. There are times when you have to put real needs above your ideals and your ego."
"Is the farm a real need for you, Clark? You've moved on. Is the farm worth making that sacrifice for?"
"I wouldn't have to sacrifice Superman for the farm. Clark Kent is a pretty good writer, and he makes a pretty good salary. Lois makes even more than I do. And yes, the farm is worth it to me. I may have moved on, but I always come back. It's not the red earth of Tara, but it *is* where I draw my strength. The yellow sun may recharge me, but my roots are here in Kansas, with you and Mom on this farm. When I was a kid, you told me those stories of Silas Kent moving to Kansas before the Civil War, and of Nathaniel Kent coming to Smallville as sheriff, with his wife Mary. I want to tell my children those stories, here on our farm too."
"Humph!" Jonathan turned back to the combine, thinking hard. "Clark, you got the half-inch socket wrench over there?"
Geographically speaking, the Sowerby farm was only about fifteen miles from the Kents'. In terms of appearance, the two farms could easily have been located in two different worlds. Lois had noticed the day before that some of the buildings on the Kent farm could have done with a fresh coat of paint and that a few of the fences were in need of repair. Given her previous experience with the farm's usual well kept state, this had surprised and saddened her. The Kents' farm, though, had suffered from a lack of attention and resources for only the last year or so, particularly after the hired man had left, while the Sowerbys' had been neglected for more than ten times that long.
As Martha drove the pickup truck onto an overgrown driveway riddled with ruts, Lois could clearly see the damage to the house. Peeling paint had left the clapboard siding bare in spots, windowpanes were shattered or missing completely, and a badly sagging porch gave the whole house a dilapidated, forlorn appearance. From what she could see of the barns and outbuildings, they were experiencing the same deterioration. "Careful," Martha warned Lois as they exited the truck. "The driveway's sunken pretty badly in spots; don't trip on the uneven ground."
"Let's look at the house first," Lois suggested. "Then we can explore the outbuildings if we have time." Martha nodded her assent, and the two women moved off in that direction, carefully picking their way over the muddy, rutted ground. Arriving at the front porch, they trod tentatively, testing the rotting boards before trusting them with their full weight.
Lois peered through the empty window frames, trying to see inside the house. She hoped the camera's flash attachment was powerful enough to penetrate the dark interior and capture the place's sense of abandonment. The visible rooms were empty of furniture, and the sun had faded the wallpaper in spots. A few stray paper napkins, some beer cans, and the remnants of a fast-food meal gave evidence of the house's occasional use by vagrants or what Martha politely referred to as "courting couples."
Lois was puzzled by that last observation. "Why would couples use a dirty, abandoned house? A hayloft is much more comfortable."
Martha's jaw dropped open in surprise, but her eyes twinkled when she asked, "Why, Lois Lane! How much do you know about haylofts?"
"Oh, I know enough." Lois replied, grinning slyly, and laughing at Martha's surprised and amused expression. "After all, I'm married to a farmboy."
Laughing, Lois and Martha left the porch. If she had been alone, Lois would have picked the tarnished lock on the front door and explored the house more thoroughly. She knew Martha wouldn't condone breaking and entering merely to satisfy her curiosity, even in an abandoned house. Lois stepped back a few feet and snapped more photos of the house's exterior. Then she and Martha went off to investigate the barn and outbuildings. While Lois and Martha explored the farm, they were unaware that in a wooded area a short distance away, two sets of eyes, aided by binoculars, were watching them.
"What *are* those things?" Lois asked, pointing to what looked like small hills fitted with roughly finished doors.
"You mean the dugouts?" Martha responded. "They're storage areas. Wood wasn't always readily available for building barns and sheds. The early settlers discovered that by digging out part of a hill and shoring up the hollow interior with a few timbers, they had an insulated storage place for root vegetables, or anything else they needed a place for. Didn't you read 'Little House on the Prairie' as a child?"
"People lived in *those*?" Lois asked incredulously.
"Well, not in *those* particular dugouts, but they lived in slightly larger ones. Those are too small to hold a family, although they probably were used as shelters from twisters. They were pretty solid, and it was safer than possibly having the house collapse on you. I wouldn't go in there now, though," Martha added, observing the intent scrutiny Lois was giving the dugouts. "The support timbers are probably in the same condition as the rest of the farm. They've most likely rotted, and you'd be in danger of the hill caving in on you."
"Do people still use dugouts?" Lois asked, snapping photos from every possible angle.
"I'm sure they do," Martha replied. "These must have been in use up until the time the Sowerbys left. The hasp locks look to be relatively modern. They were probably added in the 1950s or '60s."
The ground between the dugouts and the barn was rutted and uneven, its gouges and furrows probably the result of the previous night's downpour. Conversation halted as Lois and Martha concentrated on taking the least treacherous route and avoiding the deep, muddy puddles of water. As they walked on towards the barn, Lois mumbled to herself, "Got it. 1950s or '60s, relatively modern, in *Kansas* years."
Lois and Martha entered the barn through the large double doors, all the service doors and windows having been boarded over years before. The barn itself was unremarkable, but Lois was interested in examining the few items the Sowerbys had left behind. It was while Martha was explaining how the various tools were used that she and Lois first heard a scratching sound.
"What was that?" Lois asked, looking for the source of the noise.
"Lois—honey, I don't think you want to go farther into the barn," she cautioned. "Why don't we go out the same way we came in?"
"Why?" Lois asked, stopping to turn around, but still determined to find out who or what was responsible for the scraping sound.
Martha pointed towards a dark corner on the far side of the barn. "Can you see them? They're rats, probably looking for the remnants of more Happy Meals, like the trash on the floor in the house. They're not all that dangerous, but they can carry disease. If you get too close, you might get bitten."
Looking in the direction Martha had indicated, Lois could vaguely see the gray, squirming, squealing forms in the poorly illuminated corner. She shivered, remembering her last encounter with that species. "You're right, Martha. Let's go outside, and back to the truck. It's probably time for us to get going on that grocery shopping."
Rather than satisfying Lois's curiosity, the brief visit to the Sowerby farm piqued it. For the rest of the drive into Smallville, Lois continued to bombard Martha with questions about the Sowerby family and Rebecca's disappearance. Each answer seemed only to generate more questions. By the time they arrived in Smallville, even the normally unruffled Martha was close to losing her patience. As she drove past the town's library, an idea occurred to her.
"Lois, would you like to read the articles that ran in the Smallville Press when Rebecca disappeared?" Encouraged by Lois's smiling face, Martha continued. "We spent longer than I realized at the Sowerby place, and the town library is only open for another two hours. Why don't I drop off the film at the one-hour photo store and get the groceries while you look at the old editions of the newspaper? We can meet back at the truck in about an hour and a half, and then we'll go to the Cost Mart for the candy.
"I'd love to read those articles, Martha," Lois said guiltily, "but I'd feel bad about leaving you to do all of the grocery shopping."
Martha parked the truck near the park on the Town Square. She shook her head, dismissing Lois's objection. "Why don't you give me an idea of what some of your favorite foods are, and I can just add them to my shopping list?"
Looking relieved, Lois eagerly took the proffered pencil and hastily scribbled six or seven items at the bottom of the list. As Lois exited the truck, Martha pointed out the library, double-checked the time and place they were to meet, then drove off in the direction of the grocery store.
A few minutes later Lois was walking through the double doors of the Smallville Public Library. There was a long counter near the front door with a "Reference" sign hanging over it. Behind the counter, a red- haired woman in her early twenties was talking on the phone. As Lois got closer, she could hear the woman patiently explaining to the caller that, no, unfortunately, there were no living dinosaurs, not even in wildlife parks or preserves. If the caller would like to stop by the library on his way home from school tomorrow, though, the library staff would be happy to help him to find information about dinosaurs, along with some pictures of them, for his science fair project.
The woman hung up the phone and smiled at Lois as she approached the counter. "Can I help you find something?" she asked.
Lois introduced herself and explained what she was looking for. After hearing Lois's abbreviated version of Rebecca's disappearance, the librarian's green eyes widened. Where she had previously been professional and helpful, she now looked genuinely intrigued. She exited the reference area to show Lois where to find the microfiche and the fiche readers.
"I've only lived here for a few weeks myself, so I'm interested in learning more about the town's history. I certainly haven't heard that story before! Oh," she added, extending her right hand, "I'm Frannie Hodgson. It's very nice to meet you, Lois."
The two women spent the next hour looking through back issues of the Smallville Press and copying any references to the Corn Festival, the Sowerby family, Rebecca's disappearance, or anything else occurring around that time that struck either of them as unusual. Frannie was interrupted three or four times answering reference questions and phone calls, but kept coming back, curious to see what Lois had uncovered.
Jonathan hadn't exaggerated when he'd called the harvest and the Corn Festival the most important events in the community. There was extensive coverage of the Corn Queen pageant, accompanied by black and white photos of the contestants in the slim-skirted formals of the period. Other photos showed local workmen setting up the booths and tables on the festival grounds, and farmers unloading the bushels of corn that would be shucked, roasted, and eaten at the festival.
"There she is!" Frannie said excitedly, as they scrolled through the next piece of microfiche. Both women leaned closer to get a better look at the little girl pictured above the heading "Rebecca Sowerby Chosen as Corn Princess." Lois wasn't quite certain how she'd pictured the child in her own mind, but she felt both letdown and saddened when confronted with the unremarkable smiling face of a light-haired preschooler. It was a sweet face, with fine features and merry eyes, but most likely a face that would have blended easily into a crowd, increasing the difficulty of finding the missing child. The girl's disappearance had spawned an abundance of press coverage, with a profusion of photos of the Sowerby family, their farm, and even a picture of the family truck.
The farm had looked a lot different then. The house had a fresh coat of paint, and there were curtains at the windows. The lawn had been neatly landscaped, and the front porch was surrounded by flowerbeds. Like Lois, Frannie was intrigued by the idea of the abandoned farm, frozen in time like the dated photos accompanying the articles.
Both Lois and Frannie started at the sound of a polite cough behind them.
"Martha! What time is it?" Lois looked at her watch in embarrassment. "I'm so sorry; we got involved in looking at the newspaper, and I guess I lost track of time. Oh, Frannie, this is my mother-in-law, Martha Kent. Frannie Hodgson is the town's new librarian, Martha."
Martha smiled, expressed her pleasure at meeting Frannie, and thanked her for helping Lois with her research. Learning of Frannie's interest in the story, Martha opened the envelope of newly developed photos and spread them on the table near the fiche reader. Engrossed in comparing the current photos with those in the old newspapers, none of the three noticed the two men surreptitiously watching them from the periodicals section.
Maybe Lois felt more relaxed and safer in Smallville than she did in Metropolis, and that dulled her usually keen street sense. Maybe it was the fact that Lois was thinking about the chocolates that Martha had promised earlier. Whatever the reason, when Martha and Lois left the library a few minutes later, both were unaware that the same two men were slowly following them down the sunny, tree-lined street.
In Metropolis, Maisie's Diner would have been a trendy theme restaurant, decorated as it was in the style of the late fifties, with formica tables and counters, vinyl booths, and glass-fronted stainless- steel refrigerator cases displaying salads, cakes, pies, and Jell-O in tulip-shaped dishes. In Smallville, it was simply the place you went to for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or coffee when you were in town.
Martha was sitting in one of those booths right now, idly sorting through the photos of the Sowerby farm while waiting for Lois to return from the powder room. She hadn't really looked at the farm the many times she'd driven past it in the last twenty years. She had to admit that Lois had a point. The house did have a sad, haunted look about it.
"Those photos came out nicely, didn't they?" Lois asked, as she worked at maneuvering herself into the booth.
"They certainly are striking," Martha replied.
"That's funny," Lois said, giving half her attention to the conversation and the other half to the diner's menu. "Frannie said something very similar when we were looking at the photos from the newspaper. She said there was something 'riveting' about the house, and that it gave her the oddest feeling to look at it—almost as if she could tell what it looked like inside just by looking at the exterior." Lois continued to study the menu, then added, "It's not a terribly unusual style, though. She's probably been inside a number of similar places." Lois closed her menu. "I'll have a bowl of the vegetable soup, a turkey club sandwich with fries and cole slaw, and a large glass of chocolate milk."
Martha's eyebrows rose and she smiled as she listened to Lois order. "Eating for two, huh?" she teased.
"I'm always *hungry*," Lois exclaimed. "And it's a little embarrassing, as big as I am. I can hardly fit into this booth and I feel like Moby Lois, the great white whale — but I can't stop *eating*!"
"Wait a minute, Lois!" Martha replied sharply. "I don't want to hear that; you're pregnant, not fat. That's my grandchild that you're feeding! Why not have dessert, too?
"Dessert I'd better skip, or I'll be pregnant *and* fat. Maybe I'll have a salad; your grandchild is pretty hungry," Lois admitted with a giggle as she picked up her menu for a second look.
Medlock and Craven stood on the sidewalk outside Maisie's restaurant. "Well," Craven said to his companion, "we've got two choices. We can stand out here and try to look inconspicuous or we can wait inside and risk them spotting us."
Medlock was spared any amount of deep thought when the sun dipped behind a cloud and another spring shower threatened. He and Craven strolled nonchalantly into the diner, found what they hoped was an unobtrusive spot at the counter that would allow them a good view of Lois and Martha's booth, and ordered two coffees.
Running the diner was a perfect career for Maisie. Even though she was the owner, she still occasionally waited on the customers. It gave her a chance to catch up on the latest news about them, their families, and anything interesting that might be happening in the area. When Ethel had called in sick this morning, Maisie had decided to work the shift herself, and now she was doubly pleased that she was waiting on the trade. This was the first time she'd seen Martha in months, and one of the few times she'd seen the Kents' daughter-in-law. It looked like her baby was due pretty soon, too! Maisie wondered what could have brought Lois all the way to Smallville so close to her due date and resolved that she'd do her best to find out. She absently-mindedly refilled the coffee mugs of the two men who were deep in conversation at the counter, then headed towards Lois and Martha's booth, carrying a heavy tray.
"Turkey salad sandwich and tea for you, Martha, and vegetable soup, salad, a turkey club sandwich with fries and cole slaw, and a large glass of chocolate milk for you, Lois." Placing the bowl, glass, cup, and plates on the table, Maisie spotted the stack of photos that Lois and Martha had moved aside. "Aren't those the old Sowerby place?" she asked, surprised that anyone would bother to photograph an abandoned farm with derelict buildings.
"Yes, they are," Martha replied, handing the photos to Maisie. "Lois and Clark saw it yesterday on their way in from the airport and were curious about it. After we told them what had happened there, Lois wanted to stop by for a better look today."
Maisie leafed through the stack of photos, noticing the shots of the house, the barn, and the surrounding fields. Lois and Clark were interested? Now this whole thing was starting to make sense to her.
After inquiring about Clark and Jonathan, and spending a few minutes talking about the weather, the crops, and the egg hunt next weekend, Maisie excused herself to wait on her other customers.
"Look," Craven nudged Medlock, indicating the conversation Maisie was having with Martha and Lois. "That waitress knows them. When they leave, we'll ask her who they are."
They didn't have too long a wait. Lois made short work of her meal and took another side trip to the ladies' room. Then she and Martha walked over to the cash register to pay their check.
"Don't be a stranger, Martha; and Lois, I'm looking forward to seeing that new little Kent. You be sure to send me some baby photos!" Handing Martha the change, Maisie asked, "Where are you off to now?"
"Kent?" Craven, now close enough to overhear, whispered to Medlock.
"Shhh," Medlock hissed, "I want to hear the rest."
"Lois and I are going to the Cost Mart to pick out candy for the Easter Egg Hunt baskets," Martha replied in answer to Maisie's question.
"That place is just enormous," Maisie enthused. "I can never get out of there in less than an hour. People drive for miles to shop there! With 75 baskets to fill and all those other departments to look through, you two will be there for the rest of the afternoon!"
As the door closed behind Lois and Martha, Medlock signaled Maisie for another coffee refill. Maisie obliged, and Medlock gave her what he thought of as his most disarming smile, politely inquiring, "Excuse me, Ma'am, but did I just hear you call one of those ladies 'Mrs. Kent'? I'm interested because I have some distant kin by that name somewhere near Great Bend. Is either of them a Mrs. Jessica Kent?"
"No," Maisie replied helpfully, "that was Martha Kent and her daughter-in-law, Lois, but I don't think Lois changed her name when she married Clark. She still goes by Lois Lane. She and Clark are both reporters for the Daily Planet, but they're syndicated nationally. You've probably heard of them," she added proudly.
Medlock had indeed heard of them, and he hoped his face didn't betray his shock and displeasure, which was increasing by the second as Maisie continued. "It wouldn't surprise me at all if Lois and Clark were our neighbors soon, though. Clark grew up here in Smallville, but he always had the wanderlust. He traveled all over the world for five or six years after college. It looks like he's gotten that out of his system now; he's got a good job, a wife, and pretty soon, a family. With their first baby due any day now, he's probably remembering what it was like to grow up in a place like this. Metropolis may have its advantages, but it's not like growing up in a town where your family's raised its kids for the last hundred years."
"So he and his wife are thinking about moving back to Smallville?" Medlock tried not to choke on his coffee. Two world-famous *investigative* journalists, actually *living* here? It wouldn't take them long to find out what he'd been up to for the past twenty years, and once they did, they'd concentrate their energies on finding *him.* He'd heard about Lane and Kent: they were *very* good at what they did; they were tenacious; and they were thorough.
"Oh, they're doing more than thinking about it. Looks like Martha and Lois have been out scouting the area for available real estate. They've even taken photos of the place they're interested in buying!"
Medlock fought his rising panic. Lane and Kent had the skills, the energy, and the connections to track him down and the clout to prosecute him. If they bought the old Sowerby place, they'd definitely have the motivation to do both. He was as good as convicted once they got on his trail. He corrected himself — *if* they got on his trail. He was going to do something about that right now—as soon as he and Craven could get out of this restaurant and locate that beat-up truck Lois and Martha had driven into town.
Carrying two large bags filled with candy, Lois led the way to the parking lot. As she approached the truck, she almost tripped on a pair of boots. She glanced at the muddy toes of the boots, sticking straight up in the air, and her eyes followed the blue-jean clad legs as far as they could. The top part of the legs, and the trunk and head of the man owning them, was hidden under the Kent family truck.
"Can I help you?" she asked pointedly.
"Oh, oh, sorry ma'am." The man wriggled his way out from under the truck and looked at her apologetically. "I dropped a quarter, and I was just trying to reach it."
"Under *our* truck?" Lois's disbelief was apparent. It was only a quarter, and this man had crawled almost completely underneath the truck.
Martha caught up to Lois and laid a restraining hand on Lois's arm. The man nodded to Martha and left.
"Do you know him?" Lois asked. "I've seen him around town a few times," Martha answered. "Lois, are you feeling all right? You were almost rude to that man!"
"Ha! That wasn't rude; I could show you rude."
"It is much easier to be rude in Smallville than in Metropolis." Martha opened the driver's side door. "I'll drive. This truck is tricky to shift."
The old truck bounced along the back roads. Martha shot a look at Lois. "Is this bouncing too much for you?" she asked. "I didn't think about the fact that the roads are bumpy, and there are almost no shocks left in this old thing."
"I'll be OK," answered Lois. "You know, I really hate the way so many people treat me like an invalid when I'm just pregnant, but you manage to be concerned without making me feel incompetent or handicapped. Thanks."
"Being pregnant doesn't change who you are, Lois. Not deep down inside. It's not an illness, just a temporary condition."
"That's what my doctor says," Lois said.
"Clark told me you changed doctors. How are you getting along with the new one?"
"It's like night and day." Lois was enthusiastic. "You know, I'd tell that old Dr. Fuddy-duddy that I didn't want any drugs during labor, and he'd look at me with this smug smile and say 'We'll see' as though I'd change my mind once labor started. Judith — that's the new doctor — says, 'Of course you don't,' as though it was the most normal thing in the world. And then she talks about all the different things we can do if it gets too uncomfortable — like back rubs, showers, walking around — and says that drugs are always the last resort."
"You're working with her, then, instead of against her," Martha observed.
"Exactly!" said Lois. "I feel like I can relax around her and trust her to do what I want. I know she'll do whatever she needs to keep me and the baby safe, but she won't totally ignore what I want either. I never felt this comfortable with the other one."
"You always have liked to be in control, Lois. But you can't completely control having a baby," Martha warned.
"I know." Lois flashed a grin at her. "But I can try!"
"You can't always control what happens," Martha repeated. "Like us about to lose the farm." At Lois's surprised look, Martha said sharply. "Don't try to tell me you didn't know. That's why the two of you are here."
Lois was relieved to have it all out in the open. She nodded. "What gave us away?"
"Clark. I knew there was something fishy when he was trying to explain why you were coming and then today — he's sticking to his father like glue. I've got news for you, Lois — Clark's never been a farmboy. Oh, he did his chores, and helped his Dad when Jonathan needed him, but he always preferred to be inside, reading or writing, or just talking to me. If he's hanging around his father in the barn, he has an ulterior motive."
"He wants to help you pay off the mortgage. He's absolutely set on keeping the farm in the family. There's a part of him that's more of a farmboy than he realizes."
Martha nodded. "The farm means a lot to Clark, I know. It means a lot to Jonathan, too. He's sick over the thought of losing the farm, but he's blaming himself, and he's too proud to ask for help. It's always been hard for him to admit he can't take care of his family. I remember when he hurt his back, and I had to get a job in an office — how he hated that."
Lois thought for a moment. "What do *you* want, Martha?"
"I want to stay here. We've lived here all our lives, and I'm not ready for the retirement home yet."
"Well, we'll just have to wear Jonathan down and get him to accept our help," Lois said. "With the distaff side of 'Lane and Kent' working against him, he doesn't stand a chance."
Martha smiled. "Maybe. But give Clark a chance. He can be very persuasive, and Clark and his father have always been close. We probably won't have to do anything."
Without warning, the truck surged forward, as though Martha had tromped on the accelerator. Lois looked over, her surprise turning to alarm as she saw Martha stomping helplessly on the brake. The truck continued to gain speed.
"The emergency brake," she suggested, glad they were in Kansas on this straight narrow road, rather than in Metropolis.
"It's been broken for months," Martha answered. "Oh, my!"
Lois looked forward and saw a slow-moving train crossing the road in front of them. She remembered sitting in a car with Clark during her first visit to Smallville, waiting impatiently for a train to get out of the way. This time, however, the gap between the train and their truck was closing far too rapidly. Without another thought, she reached over and turned the ignition key off.
Although the engine quit instantly, the truck was still careening towards the railroad crossing, and Martha's frantic pumping on the brake pedal was having no effect. Martha glanced at the side of the road, wondering if she could pull off the road, but quickly saw that wasn't possible. Over the years, a deep ditch had formed on both sides of the road, sinking down five to six feet into the ground. Grasses and wildflowers grew up almost level with the road, but the steep drop cut off any escape into the fields.
As the truck continued to speed towards the moving train, Lois glanced at Martha. "Only one thing to do," she said.
"What?" said Martha, beginning to panic.
"Yell for help!" Lois answered, and she began to scream in earnest.
In the Kent barn, Jonathan was once again reaching for the half- inch socket wrench. During the afternoon, he and Clark had taken the engine of the combine completely apart, trying to ensure that the old piece of machinery would make it through one more harvest. They'd replaced some of the belts, lubricated the joints, checked the hydraulic and fuel systems for leaks, and cleaned the battery terminal connections. Clark's x-ray vision had come in handy when they checked the screens that the grain would be passed through during the harvest. He was easily able to see any loose fittings or holes that would cause problems. Now they were busy putting all the pieces back together again.
Jonathan grunted as he strained on the wrench, tugging with all his might. As he struggled, he glanced up at his son. Clark was absent- mindedly tightening a nut with his fingers. As Jonathan watched, Clark loosened the nut a little and then reached, slowly and deliberately, for another. As Clark began twisting this nut with his fingers as well, Jonathan spoke up.
"You know exactly when to stop, don't you? Exactly how tight to make it so someone else will be able to get it off again later?" Jonathan asked.
Clark shrugged. "Practice, control. You taught me how, Dad."
"Sometimes your life just goes out of control," Jonathan continued. "You have to take what life sends you."
"My life gets out of my control a lot. Weird things always seem to be happening to me. One thing I've learned over the years is that even Superman needs help sometimes. And I've learned to ask. Lois, Dr. Klein, Inspector Henderson, Dr. Friskin, you, and Mom… All of them are willing to help out. That's the best thing about having friends and family — you can always turn to them for help."
Jonathan turned back to the engine and grunted, tightening the nut. "Maybe so, son," he began. Suddenly Clark moved, so quickly that he banged his head on the combine. Jonathan looked up in surprise as the heavy machinery shuddered at the impact.
"Hold that thought," Clark said as he moved towards the door of the barn. "I'll be right back." Jonathan heard a whooshing sound outside as he found himself alone for the first time that day.
Martha waited until the last minute before she wrenched the steering wheel to one side. It would be better to run the truck into the ditch than to crash into the train. As she watched the deep gully getting closer and closer, she suddenly realized that the truck wasn't sinking, and, in fact, was going up and *over* the ditch, the bushes, and the train.
Lois gave her a self-satisfied smile. "That always works," she said complacently. "Yelling, I mean."
Martha was still breathing heavily and trying to slow her racing heart when the pickup truck was gently placed in a field next to the train tracks. Although part of her mind knew there was only one way the truck could have escaped crashing, it still took her a moment to recognize the familiar caped figure who was opening the door to the truck and helping Lois out.
"What happened?" Superman asked.
"Someone sabotaged the brakes!" Lois announced. "That man who was under the truck in the parking lot!" Superman blinked at her in surprise.
"Lois, nonsense," Martha spoke up from inside the truck. "Jonathan and I've been expecting the truck to break down any day now; we just thought we'd be stranded on the roadside somewhere. That's why we never go anywhere without the cell phone."
"Martha, trust me," Lois said. "I'm an expert at this kind of funny business. If your brakes fail *and* your accelerator goes into overdrive *at the same time*, it's not mechanical failure — it's sabotage."
There was a pause as Superman stared at the hood of the truck. Then he looked apologetically at Lois. "There is a tear in the brakeline, but it's jagged, not smooth like it would be if it were cut." He looked again. "On the other hand, that brakeline is really worn; it's not impossible that someone could have torn it in two with his bare hands."
"Told you!" Lois said victoriously.
Superman shook his head slowly. "I don't know, Lois," he said. "This is Kansas, not Metropolis. Brake failure is rarely life- threatening. No hills, no traffic. Only Lois Lane would have break failure in front of an oncoming train. Besides, why would someone want to kill you?"
"I don't know," Lois answered, "but something is going on here." She looked back and forth from Superman to Martha and realized they were both skeptical. With a grimace, she got back in the truck and slammed the door. "I'm right, you know," she announced. "How fast can you get us home, Clark? I need to use the bathroom."
Superman looked at her pensively for a moment, then looked at his mother. "Fasten your seatbelt, Mom," he said. "And enjoy the flight."
Lifting the truck easily, Superman floated into the sky. He set off at a leisurely pace for home, which was only a few miles away if he cut across the fields. As he flew, he surveyed the ground, noticing all the familiar places he had played as a child.
He frowned slightly as he noticed something about the Kent farm, visible in the distance. The color seemed off. He quickly cycled through his special visions and saw that there was a decided anomaly visible in the fields. Remembering what Jonathan had said about a curse, Superman sped up a little. Reaching the farm, he carefully set the truck down and walked over to the window. "I'll be right back," he said, and he rose again into the sky.
Hovering high above the Kent farm, Superman scanned the landscape below. He could see the same anomaly he'd noticed in the Kent fields on various farms below. There didn't seem to be much of a pattern, just random occurrences. He stared over towards the Burnett farm, now abandoned after the last year's crops had failed. Whatever this was, it was definitely there too. He scanned the area again, memorizing which areas were affected.
Martha watched her son take off into the sky again. She opened the door of the truck and slowly got out, amazed at how shaky she was. "I'm too old for this much excitement," she thought to herself, as she looked at her daughter-in-law. Lois had seemed unfazed by the entire adventure, cracking jokes in the car about peanuts and an in-flight movie during the flight back. Now she stood, staring into the sky.
"Can you see him?" Martha asked. She looked up, but couldn't see anything.
"Just a blue dot, way up high," Lois answered. "I wonder what he's looking at?" She looked over at Martha. "You OK?" she asked. Martha was still holding onto the handle of the truck, and she looked very pale.
"Let's go inside and make some tea," Lois suggested, sliding an arm around Martha and leading her into the house. "Screaming for Superman has immediate results, but it makes my throat sore."
Martha was sitting at the table, and Lois had just put the kettle on, when Superman came in. "Mom, do you have a county map?" he asked.
"In the junk drawer, I think," Martha answered. Superman got the map and unfolded it on the kitchen table. Taking a pen, he began marking certain farms. Lois stood beside him and looked at the map over his shoulder.
"From a height," Superman said, "I could see —something — I don't know how to describe it. But there was definitely something *different* about our farm, and some of the other ones. These are the places that were affected."
Martha looked. "Those are all the people that are having the same kinds of problems we are," she agreed. "But there doesn't seem to be any kind of pattern, does there?"
"Do you know what it reminds me of?" Lois asked. "Do you remember the heat wave, your first winter in Metropolis? Jimmy and I put together a map of all the spots where the temperature was highest. It looked a lot like this."
"And it corresponded to the high points in the Metropolis aquifer," Superman said.
"Mm hmm," Lois agreed. "Does Kansas have an aquifer?"
"It sure does," Clark said. "Let's get a map and compare it. In the meantime…Mom, Dad said he had the soil analyzed."
"Yes, he did. The results are probably in the file cabinet. Nothing unusual, though."
"They may not have found anything, but there is definitely something unusual going on. I think I may collect some samples of my own and fly them to STAR Labs. Dr. Klein may be able to find something the local lab missed."
"That's a first," laughed Lois. "Clark Kent admitting Metropolis might be better than Smallville in some ways."
Clark made a face at her. The kettle started whistling, and Lois got up to make the tea. "Are we just having tea," Clark asked, "or is there pie to go along with it?"
"There's pie," said Martha, getting up to get it. "But you'd better call your father if we're going to eat it." Clark rose and headed outside. "And change your clothes!" Martha ordered. "I don't want to be getting stains off the suit!"
"Yes, ma'am!" Superman went out the kitchen door, but it was Clark Kent who ran down the porch steps two at a time.
Later that evening, Superman landed in front of STAR Labs. The guards at the door waved him through, and he headed quickly towards Dr. Klein's lab. When he walked through the door, Dr. Klein looked up, none too pleased to see him.
"One of these days, Superman," he said, "you're going to come here late at night and I'm not going to be here. I'll be at a baseball game, or out on a date, or something."
Superman grinned. "It would probably be good for you," he said, knowing that such a scenario was about as likely as Perry White taking time off from the Daily Planet.
"Nevertheless," Dr. Klein continued, "I hope whatever you've got in that container is *not* of the drop-everything, matter-of-life-and-death sort of thing that you usually come in here with. I'm here tonight to try to measure the amount of electricity needed to disassociate human blood into its elemental components."
Superman blinked. "Why?"
"Do you really want to know?" There was a hopeful note in Dr. Klein's voice.
"Ummm, no, probably not." He'd had too much experience with Dr. Klein's explanations to fall into that trap again. He took the containers he'd brought from Kansas out from under his cape. "This isn't critical, Dr. Klein, but I'd appreciate it if you can analyze these soil samples as soon as possible."
Dr. Klein took the containers and looked at them. "Dirt?" he asked incredulously.
"I was flying over Kansas," Superman explained, "and I noticed there were spots where things looked … strange. So I thought maybe you could take a look? You might be able to find something unusual?"
"Well, I may have some time tonight while I'm waiting for the centrifuge to separate the blood after I'm finished evaporating the water. I'll try to look at it then."
"Thank you. And if you could let Lois and Clark know what you find out."
"As usual. Certainly, Superman."
"They're not in Metropolis. They're staying with Clark's parents, in Kansas. You can call them at 316-555-3287."
Dr. Klein sighed, but he scribbled the phone number down. "Anything else?" he asked, clearly anxious to get back to his experiment.
"No, no. Thank you. I knew I could count on you." As Dr. Klein turned back towards his distilling apparatus, Superman left. He'd have time to do some superhero stuff in Metropolis before heading back to Smallville. Clark Kent was on vacation in Kansas, but Superman wasn't.
The Kent house was quiet early the next afternoon. Lois finished washing up the lunch dishes and then lay down, dozing on the sofa. She was startled awake when the phone rang suddenly. Groggily, she reached for it.
"May I speak to Lois Lane or Clark Kent, please?"
"Dr. Klein," Lois was suddenly wide awake. "This is Lois. What did you find out about those soil samples?"
"Disnium, synthetic eisnerium, and tarsinium oxide."
"Disnium, synthetic eisnerium, and tarsinium oxide. All synthetic, and all present in the soil. What makes it fascinating is that all of them are on the experimental materials list; their disposition is firmly controlled by EPA regulations."
"How could those — whatever they are — show up in the soil on a Kansas farm?"
"An interesting question. However, it is the kind of question that you and your husband generally worry about, not me. Shall I fax you the full report on the soil samples?"
"Yes, please. To this number. I'll just make sure the fax machine has paper."
Lois hung up the phone and checked the fax machine. As she did so, she was thinking. Something didn't make sense. There was something she'd missed.
She wandered into the kitchen, poured herself a glass of milk, and picked up an apple. She wished there was someone to talk things out with, but Clark and Jonathan were puttering around on the farm somewhere again, and Martha was also out and about, probably in the chicken house again. Lois certainly didn't intend to track her down there. She looked out the window at the mud in Martha's vegetable garden, and suddenly she knew. Mud. That was it. Scribbling a note, Lois grabbed her purse and headed for her car. A minute later she was on her way to the Sowerby Farm.
A car was parked in the lane when Lois drove to the abandoned farmhouse. Other than that, the house looked just as it had the day Martha had brought her here. Lois got out of the car and began to explore the farm. She hadn't gone far when she heard someone call her. Turning around, she saw Frannie walk out from behind the house.
"I don't know why I came here," Frannie said. "After hearing you and Martha talking about it, I just felt I had to see this place. And it's so odd. This place is giving me the most mysterious feeling of deja vu."
"Really?" Lois asked. She didn't want to be suspicious of Frannie, but it was strange seeing her here.
"Yes, as if I've been here before — with lots of people, and there were tables set up outside with food on them. Cake, I think. I'll prove it. There is a big building behind that corner of the barn."
The two women walked behind the barn. "Well, I guess I was half right," Frannie said. "There is a building."
Lois stared at the broken down chicken coop. "My mother-in-law says this farm has been abandoned for almost twenty years. If you were here before, you must have been very young. This could have looked like a big building if you were just a small child."
"I suppose." Frannie still looked haunted by the place. Lois continued snooping around the barn, then suddenly came to a dead stop, staring at the ground.
"Tire tracks. That's what I saw the other day." She looked at Frannie. "Why are there fresh tire tracks on an abandoned farm?" Lois's eyes narrowed as she strained to focus on a vehicle parked near the edge of the property. "And what is a bulldozer doing here?"
Frannie shrugged and accompanied Lois as she followed the tracks out into the overgrown fields. After all the rain that week, the fields were muddy, and Lois grimaced as the mud tugged at her shoes, threatening on a few occasions to pull them off. Suddenly she stopped as she came to a large, deep hole in the ground. "What on earth?"
"What is it?" Frannie had lagged behind.
"Only one way to find out," Lois said. She spied a ladder sticking out of the hole and headed for it.
She had only taken two steps down the ladder when a strange voice suddenly called out. "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Lois froze and looked around. The man who'd been looking for a quarter under the truck the other day was walking towards her, gun in hand.
Lois scrambled awkwardly back up the ladder. "Looking for some more change?" she asked belligerently as she stepped back onto the ground.
"No," he gestured with the gun. "Looking for some snoopy women."
"What's in there?" Lois looked back into the hole. Beside her, Frannie was silent, staring at the man.
"You don't want to know," he answered Lois.
"They're toxic chemicals, aren't they?" Lois asked. "You've been dumping them here, and now they are being dispersed through the entire county."
He shrugged. "Toxic chemicals, experimental stuff — anything that costs too much to dispose of the legal way." He smiled nastily and added, "It's been quite profitable."
Frannie spoke suddenly. "Medlock." Both Lois and the man with the gun turned to look at her. "Your name is Medlock."
"How did you know that?"
"I just know. We've been here before. Someone else — Archie — held me, and you had a gun, and my…my father was here."
Medlock stared at Frannie for a second; then he started to laugh. "I'll be hanged. You're the girl! I can't believe it. Talk about your sins coming home to roost!"
Suddenly it all made sense to Lois. "You kidnapped Rebecca Sowerby."
Medlock nodded. "Twenty years ago, her father leased us this land. When he found out what we were doing, he threatened to go to the police. We couldn't have that, so we kidnapped his daughter. We met him here later, to show him we had the kid. Told him if he ever breathed a word, we'd kill her. Then we took the girl away with us. It worked. Her father never told anyone, never came back to the farm, never sold it. We didn't need a kid around, so we abandoned her in Chicago.
"Twenty years!" Lois couldn't believe it.
"Obviously one week too long. You're the first person who's ever figured out what's been going on."
"I won't be the last. Chemicals are starting to turn up in soil samples."
Medlock shrugged. "We'll be long gone by the time anyone figures out what's happened." He gestured with the gun. "C'mon. Let's go."
Jonathan was enjoying the spring sunshine, standing out in the fields, working with Clark to repair a fence the winter snows had not been kind to. It had been enjoyable working on the farm with Clark again, as long as he ignored Clark's obsession with the financial situation. Jonathan was often envious of the other families in the county, the ones where two or three generations lived and worked on the farm together. His friend Mark Lennox, now — his two sons and their wives and children all lived on the farm. They'd had to build an extra house, but there was plenty of land to build on, and Mark didn't have to worry about what would happen to the farm when he was gone — he knew it would be well taken care of, and kept in the family.
Not that Jonathan was complaining. He'd accepted the fact that he and Martha would never have children when a miracle brought Clark to them. Even before Clark's special abilities had begun to emerge, Jonathan had known his son wasn't meant for farm life. Jonathan was proud of Clark — not just of Superman, although there were times when he had trouble believing he'd actually had a hand in creating the superhero, but of Clark himself. Clark had grown into a fine man, a compassionate human being, a loyal husband, an award-winning reporter. Clark had made a life for himself that would make any father proud.
But today — today had been special. Having someone to notice that the barn needed shoring up and to help make plans to get that done. Having someone around to talk about how the Royals would do this year. And now, just standing here in the warm Kansas sunshine working with Clark — not at super-speed; it was broad daylight and someone might notice — but just normal human speed, fixing this fence. Companionship. That was what it was all about.
Jonathan remembered Clark as a toddler — perhaps two or three years old — watching him dig up potatoes one summer. Clark had been more of a hindrance than a help, but somehow, watching the child's wonder as each new potato was unearthed, Jonathan had realized anew the miracle of growing food in the living earth. He'd soon put Clark to work scrubbing the dirt off the potatoes, and Martha had been furious when she realized how wet and muddy their son was. She and Jonathan had both appreciated Clark's enthusiasm at the dinner table that night, as he chattered nonstop about how the potatoes they were eating had come out of the ground. A small child made the things adults take for granted seem wonderful again.
Jonathan's mind skipped ahead, to when Clark was about eight or nine — third grade. Clark had been given a baby pig to raise by the local 4-H and had taken his responsibility so seriously. When the pig was a baby, Clark had carried it around with him and had even given it baths. Jonathan had complained about that, but Martha had come to Clark's defense, saying that it didn't hurt a human to keep clean, and it couldn't hurt a pig either. The baths became a thing of the past when the pig got bigger and bigger and had been wont to roll in the mud as pigs do. When it came time to exhibit the animal in the county fair, he and Clark had had the devil of a time getting it clean and in the truck. Clark had won an honorable mention for that pig.
It had been the day Clark got his driver's license, though, that Jonathan realized his son would never be content to be a farmer. Clark had turned sixteen in February, but Martha wouldn't hear of him driving on the snow-covered roads. It wasn't until a spring day in April that she finally agreed to drive Clark into Smallville for the test. Jonathan had been working in the fields when an excited Clark joined him and displayed the small plastic card that was his pass to the world. Jonathan had congratulated him and given Clark permission to take the car for the rest of the day. Clark ran back towards the house, bounding actually, taking impossibly long leaps over the muddy ground. Jonathan had looked down at his own feet, enclosed in Wellingtons and planted deep in mud which reached his ankles. Watching his son clear a twenty-foot muddy patch, Jonathan realized that his son would never be bound to the earth that had so firmly anchored him and his parents and grandparents before him. The Kents had been farming this land since shortly after the Civil War, but Jonathan Kent would be the last one to do so.
He'd never reproached Clark, nor tried to tie him to the farm, although he'd been terrified when the boy first struck out on his own. Now, perhaps as a reward, or as a payment for a hard job well done, he had a *friend* in his adult son. And Martha really enjoyed having Lois around, sharing things. It was hard to imagine two women more dissimilar than Lois and Martha, but deep down inside, where it counted, they both had an inner strength that was a rare quality.
They formed an odd little parade; Lois and Frannie in front, followed closely by Medlock, with his gun pointed directly at Lois. He'd guessed that pregnant or not, she was far more likely to make a break for freedom or to cause a problem than Frannie. He was glad that Craven was waiting for him in the barn. He'd rather not deal with these two by himself.
Lois was angry. Angry with Medlock for stealing a child, for poisoning the soil, and for depriving a community of its economic life's blood. She was angry with Frannie for complicating the situation with her presence. Lois felt, perhaps unfairly, that her chances of talking her way out of the situation would have been better if she were on her own. Mostly, though, she was angry with herself for being where she was right now. She should have been more cautious; she should have waited for Clark, instead of rushing off to investigate on her own, and, most annoyingly of all, she should have learned from her past mistakes.
She hadn't, though, and now she was going to have to figure out a way to save all three of them: herself, Frannie, and the baby. Shouting "Help! Superman!" was out of the question for the moment. If she yelled, Medlock would fire that gun, and he had a good chance of hitting her, or the baby, or both, before Clark would have the opportunity to intervene. "Nice going, Lane," she mumbled to herself as they entered the barn.
The barn looked the same as it did the day Lois and Martha had visited, except for a truck parked in the middle of the floor. Medlock called, "Archie!" and a man with short blond hair and the build of an aging prizefighter walked out from behind the truck.
"This is Lois Lane, investigative reporter, and Frannie Hodgson, a.k.a. Rebecca Sowerby," Medlock answered with a smarmy grin.
Archie Craven's mouth gaped as he stared at the two women. "Why did you bring them here?" he asked.
Medlock gave an exasperated groan. "I didn't *bring* them here; I *found* them here. This one," he pointed to Lois, "was looking into the dump sites and accusing us of tainting the soil; and this one," this time he pointed to Frannie, "has fond memories of us from twenty years ago, when we liberated her from this backwater. She remembers the incident, the guns, *and* our names. Get that rope from the back of the truck, and tie them up while we figure out what to do with them. And make sure that they can't yell — I don't want to hear them shouting or whining while I'm trying to think."
As Craven left to get the rope, Lois focused her attention on Medlock, hoping to brazen her way out of the situation. "You won't get away with this! If you know who I am, you know I'm not stupid. They'll find my story notes and figure out what's going on. Your best bet is to leave us here and get out now."
"They may know what's been going on," Medlock replied, "but there's nothing in those notes to connect it to *me* because you didn't learn my name until a few minutes ago. If I get rid of you two now, you'll just become one more part of the unsolved mystery of Sowerbys' farm. Archie and I will be long gone, and there'll be nothing or no one to connect us to any of this."
Craven had returned, carrying rope and a roll of silver-colored duct tape. While Medlock held them at bay with the gun, Craven got busy with the rope. He tied Frannie's wrists behind her back and covered her mouth with the tape, then began to do the same with Lois.
"Please," Lois begged, looking up at him with tears in her wide, frightened eyes. "With my hands tied behind me and tape over by mouth, I'll smother. I won't be able to breathe because," she looked down at her stomach, "of the baby." She held her wrists out to him, imploring, "Please, tie them in front of me."
Craven looked at Medlock, who sighed, "Go ahead, make her happy. It's only delaying the inevitable, but I'd rather have them alive until we can decide what to do with them."
Archie complied with Lois's request, then Medlock directed Lois and Frannie to a corner of the barn and ordered them to sit down. While Archie tied their ankles, Lois found herself being thankful for small favors — Medlock hadn't chosen the corner with the rats' nest. The job completed, Medlock and Craven strolled back to the center of the barn, out of Lois and Frannie's hearing range. The men leaned against the side of their truck, apparently planning what to do with their unwanted visitors.
Clark headed straight for the house while Jonathan went to put the tools back in the barn. Entering the kitchen he saw his mother setting the table for dinner.
"Smells great!" he exclaimed. "Where's Lois?"
"She left a note," Martha said, "saying she was going back to the Sowerby place. It's on the counter."
Clark read the brief note and then picked up the report Dr. Klein had faxed earlier that afternoon. He frowned and looked at his mother.
"I think I'll zip over there and see what she's up to. I should be back before dinner."
"Do you think there's a problem?"
"I don't know, Mom. That incident with the truck worries me. Lois has good instincts about things like that. And Dr. Klein found some chemicals in the soil that shouldn't be there. There's just something — suspicious — about all this." He twirled into his Superman costume and headed towards the door. "I'll be right back."
Lois watched her captors carefully. They were deep in conversation and appeared to be arguing. She felt that her luck might be turning. The men's evident disagreement over the best way to dispose of their prisoners would focus their attention away from her and Frannie, and give her some time to plan an escape.
Lois quietly wiggled a little closer to Frannie, nudged her, and made eye contact. Frannie stared back, obviously frightened, but fighting to remain calm. Lois shifted her eyes to Frannie's wrists, hoping that her unspoken message would be understood. Frannie looked puzzled for a second; then comprehension dawned. She turned slightly and scooted back towards Lois. Keeping her hands held low and blocked from Medlock and Craven's view by the rest of her body, Lois struggled to untie Frannie's wrists.
Archie had tied them with the same type of one-inch rope that he and Medlock used for hauling the waste containers. The rope's thickness, coupled with the fact that Craven had obviously never been a sailor or a Boy Scout, worked in their favor. The knots he'd used weren't terribly complex, and the rope's stiffness had made it difficult to tie the knots tightly. With her hands in front of her, Lois could see what she was doing as she expertly picked at the knots binding Frannie's wrists.
Lois kept an eye on Medlock and Craven while she worked on untying the knots. In spite of that, Frannie's wrists were freed in a remarkably short time. The women shifted position slightly, and Frannie worked to untie Lois. Archie must have felt that the seemingly terrified mother- to-be presented little or no threat; he'd done a sloppy job on the knots restraining her. Another quick glance over her shoulder showed Medlock and Craven still quibbling. Holding what looked like a map, they were probably at odds over a burial spot.
With their hands free, Frannie and Lois quickly slipped the ropes off their ankles. Lois motioned Frannie to leave the tape in place temporarily. If Medlock or Craven happened to glance in their direction, they'd think the women were still securely bound and gagged. Shouting to Superman for help still held the unnerving possibility of being shot in the split second before help arrived. They had to get safely outside the barn before Lois would risk calling for assistance.
Lois and Frannie were now faced with the problem of getting past Medlock and Craven to the barn's only door. The truck was in the center of the barn, directly opposite that door. The men lounged against the front of the truck, consulting their map and blocking the exit. Lois and Frannie desperately needed a diversion.
The baby's energetic kicking centered Lois's attention on her stomach and, by association, the overalls covering it. An idea forming, she looked across the barn, past the back of the truck, to the barn's opposite corner. The faint movement in that area was barely discernable, but as she'd hoped, the rats were still in residence.
Lois reached into the overalls' deep pockets and cautiously withdrew a chocolate chicken and two chocolate rabbits, which she'd tucked away for a late-afternoon snack. Carefully and quickly removing the tape from her mouth, she whispered her plan into Frannie's ear. Frannie nodded, getting ready to sprint for the door, as Lois quietly unwrapped the chocolate animals. Lois did a quick stretch to limber her arms, then slowly rose to a standing position. They had only one chance; this had to be perfect the first time. With a fluidity of motion that would have made a major-league pitcher proud, Lois lobbed the Easter treats into the center of the rats' nest.
The rodents' excited squealing and panicked scrabbling for the chocolates had exactly the effect she had hoped for. Medlock and Craven, already on edge as a result of Lois and Frannie's intrusion, ran to the other side of their truck, fearing that additional trespassers had arrived.
With Medlock and Craven temporarily occupied with a frenzied search for the noise's source, Lois and Frannie ran through the barn's open door and towards the wooded area at the farm's edge. Unfortunately, Lois had misjudged both her own speed and Medlock and Craven's intelligence.
Before she had a chance to shout for help, Lois realized that Medlock and Craven had figured out what had just happened and were in furious pursuit. Hoping to hide before they spotted her and Frannie, Lois frantically made for the dugouts. Once inside, she and Frannie could wait until Medlock and Craven were out of earshot; then they could *both* howl for Superman.
Lois yanked the dugout's door open, grateful beyond words that it was unlocked. She and Frannie rushed inside, carefully pulling the door shut behind them. They heard Medlock and Craven run into the area. They could hear the sound of agitated voices, but couldn't make out the words. There were a few seconds of silence; the women looked at each other, wondering if they had been lucky enough to escape their pursuers. Lois pointed to her watch, indicating that they should wait a minute or two longer, to be certain they were alone.
The silence was replaced with the mechanical hum of an engine. Then they heard Medlock's voice: "You ladies have made my job a lot easier for me. Not only did your tracks in the fresh mud lead me right to you, but you've also solved my *final* disposal problem." Medlock and Archie's laughter had a decidedly unpleasant sound. "Now I know how to get rid of the last two things that can't be dumped legally, and best of all, it will look like an accident. Thank you, ladies, and adios!"
The sound of the engine was accompanied by a loud, crunching kind of noise, like ice cracking as it thawed or…Lois's thoughts were interrupted by a fine trickle of dirt dropping on her upturned face.
"Lois!" Frannie screamed, "They've used the bulldozer to pull out the support beam — the hill is caving in on us!"
Before either of them had a chance to yell for help, a blow on her back knocked the wind out of Lois. Trying desperately to get her breath, she realized she and Frannie had been lucky — the timbers inside the dugout had fallen in such a way as to protect the women from the falling hillside. Blinking the dirt out of her eyes, she realized from the surrounding darkness that the doorway had been destroyed. Now there was no way out of the dugout, which only a few moments before had seemed a refuge. Taking a breath to yell for help, she was overcome by a paroxysm of coughing, as the dust in the air overwhelmed her.
Instead of taking the direct route over the fields, Superman followed the roads towards the Sowerby farm, looking for Lois's car. When he didn't see it, he hovered over the Sowerby farm, trying to focus in on her heartbeat. There it was! He heard it, and the quicker beat of the baby as well. But it seemed muffled somehow, and it seemed to be coming from — under the hill? Using his x-ray vision to peer through the dirt, his eyes widened as he saw the two women huddled together, protected from the crushing weight of the dugout by only a few fragile timbers.
Dust flew as Superman demolished the dugout at super-speed. The women blinked at the sudden light as Superman lifted the final timber away from them and slowly helped Lois to her feet. "Are you all right?" he asked, his concern apparent. Lois was breathing the fresh air deeply; although they hadn't been buried long enough for lack of oxygen to be a problem, the dust had been overwhelming. The other woman, whom Superman didn't recognize, seemed to be in a state of shock, staring at Superman as if she didn't believe he was real.
Superman took Lois in one arm and Frannie in the other. He flew them slowly away from the dugout, setting them down in a small grove of trees. Frannie sunk to the ground, as though her legs wouldn't hold her. Lois continued to hold on to his arm, although he could tell it was more for moral support than any physical need. "Are you all right?" he repeated. "What on earth possessed you to go inside an old dugout?"
"We didn't have a choice," Lois said, still gasping in the fresh air. "They were going to kill us; we had to run somewhere!"
He listened carefully, hearing the sound of machinery in the distance. "Wait here," he commanded, as he quickly left them.
A simmering anger rose inside him, although at this point he wasn't sure whether he was angrier with Lois for always getting into this kind of trouble, or with himself, for not instantly believing her the other day when she'd told him that the incident with the truck was no accident. "Only Lois," he thought, "only Lois could find something like this going on in Kansas." And, he reluctantly admitted, a part of him was angry that Smallville was no longer the haven he relied on. "Na<ve, idealistic fool," he muttered to himself, as he scanned the area for the low-life scum who had almost killed his wife and unborn child.
The sound of a motor running gave him an idea where to look, and he saw a man on a bulldozer, preparing to fill in a large hole. He spied another man, frantically loading boxes into a truck over by the barn. Resolutely, he suppressed his underlying anger. Clark Kent could occasionally indulge in anger, but Superman could not afford the luxury.
First things first. Years of working with the police and the justice system had taught him one thing well — don't let the bad guys destroy the evidence. Turning on the speed, he zipped under the bulldozer.
Medlock had been working frantically to bury the toxic waste ever since leaving Lois and Frannie in the dugout. Now, as he pulled the lever to pour another load of dirt into the hole, he was surprised to find that the shovel didn't dump. He was even more surprised when a head floated up in front of him. The man ascended, obviously holding the shovel and keeping it from releasing the dirt. Medlock didn't recognize the face at first, but as the figure rose he immediately recognized the "S" emblem on his chest.
With a muttered curse, he jumped off the bulldozer and began to run, even though the sensible part of his mind was screaming there was no escape. In fact, he hadn't gotten far, when he felt a pull on his arms and realized he was airborne. In another second Craven was being held aloft beside him, having been plucked unsuspectingly as he straightened up after putting the last box of documents into the back of the truck.
"Whaaaa!!!" exclaimed Craven in terror, as he flailed his arms and legs helplessly. Both men were suddenly deposited on the ground, but had barely breathed a sigh of relief when a whirlwind flew around them, and they found themselves bound to a dead tree not far from the still-running bulldozer.
"Other than attempted murder, what's going on here?" Superman asked. "What were you so desperate to hide?" Walking over to the large hole, he shut off the bulldozer and looked in. What he saw made him pale. "How long has this been going on?" he demanded.
"We don't have to say anything," Craven said defiantly. "We want a lawyer."
"You'll need one," Superman replied. "I'll be back." He flew back to the grove of trees where Lois and Frannie were waiting.
"I want you out of here," he said curtly to Lois. "Did any of the toxins touch you?"
"It's OK; they didn't," Lois answered, but she moved towards him obediently.
Superman gathered Lois in one arm and turned to Frannie. "Are you all right, Miss?" he asked politely.
"Uh, yes…Superman." Frannie seemed to be in shock.
"I'm going to fly you both to the Kent farm," he said, gathering Frannie in the other arm. "When you get there, call the sheriff and tell her to get out here as soon as possible."
After dropping the women off at the farm, Superman returned to the Sowerby place. Using his x-ray vision, he saw there were eight other dumps, all covered with barren earth. When the sheriff arrived, Superman rose slowly into the air, trusting that Lois had told the entire story. A pair of glasses might work in Metropolis, but Rachel Harris had known him as a boy, had been part of the group he'd hung out with in high school. Somehow, he'd feel much more comfortable keeping Superman at a distance from her. Hovering overhead, he watched her take the two men into custody and heard the deputy's cry of dismay when he looked into the hole.
After Superman had dropped the two women off in the Kents' yard, Frannie had followed Lois slowly into the house. While Lois had urgently called the sheriff, and Martha had fussed, ordering them to shower and finding them clean clothes, Frannie had been almost too quiet. She moved mechanically, obeying Martha's orders without protest, but it was obvious that her mind was far away, trying to come to grips with the memories that threatened to overwhelm her. She sat on the porch, ignoring everything that happened around her. Clark had come home; the sheriff had arrived and left; and Frannie was still sitting there, staring pensively off into the fields, when the four Kents came out to talk to her.
"Frannie?" Martha asked gently. "Lois tells us you remembered a few things this afternoon?"
Frannie nodded. "Until today, I couldn't remember anything about my early life. My earliest memory was of being in an orphanage. They found me in Chicago, abandoned in a shopping mall, when I was around four. I didn't speak for a couple of years — not a single word. Two wonderful people adopted me. I had a marvelous childhood and I love them dearly, but — I've never been able to remember anything from before."
"Until today," Jonathan said.
"Until today. After I saw the photos of the Sowerby house in the newspaper, I couldn't stop thinking about it. When I got there today, I knew I'd been there before, and when that man was standing there, pointing that gun at us, it all came back. I remembered him holding us and pointing a gun at my father. I remembered him grabbing me, dragging me into a car, and driving away. I was crying…" her voice trailed off.
"It's hard to believe, after all these years," Martha said. "I'll bet your parents had given up hope of ever finding you again. I'll go get the phone book; you've got to call them."
"No," said Frannie suddenly.
Martha turned back, amazed. "No?" she echoed.
"I don't know," Frannie said. "It all seems so strange. I mean — I can't just go waltzing in on people I don't know and say 'Hi, I'm your long lost daughter.'"
"You can't?" Martha echoed again.
"No, I — I can't. Do I really need another family in my life? I have a perfectly good family already in Chicago. How can I turn my back on them?"
Frannie missed the knowing looks that passed between the four Kents. "Honey," Martha said, "I can see how you could feel that, but for the last twenty years, the Sowerbys haven't know whether you were dead or alive. If you didn't speak for two years, your kidnapping was traumatic enough for you — how do you think your parents felt? You have a brother and a sister you've never met. You really have to at least let them know you're alive."
"I'm not really sure I want to," Frannie said quietly. "They knew I was in the hands of those men — those men who thought nothing of burying us alive this afternoon. And they gave permission for the farm to be turned into a poisonous garbage dump! Is that really the kind of family I want to claim?"
"You don't know that," Clark spoke up for the first time. "You don't know whether your father was in league with them from the beginning, or whether they forced him into silence. You have to find out, Frannie. You took a job in Smallville — a big step for someone from a big city. Maybe deep down you were drawn here, by the memories you kept locked away, because you were looking for your past." He took her hands in his. "It's the not-knowing, Frannie. You have to know. It'll kill you if you don't. Whatever you discover."
Frannie stared into Clark's earnest eyes for a long time. Then she nodded. "I'll — I'll give them a call," she said. Martha led the way inside to the telephone.
It was deja vu for Lois as she, Jonathan, and Martha drove up to the yellow tape proclaiming the Sowerby farm "off limits" the next morning. As they parked the car and approached the boundary, a tall, slender woman in her forties with short blond hair walked towards them, holding a clipboard.
"Off limits to the public," she announced. "I'm sorry. The EPA is investigating a bad case of toxic waste disposal here."
"I'm not the public," Lois announced. "I'm the press."
The woman shook her head. "Doesn't matter. We'll make a statement to the press when we have finished our initial investigations. In the meantime," she glanced at Lois's abdomen, "you should leave."
"You're just being an alarmist," Lois accused her.
"Probably. But we've already found more poisons here than I care to think about and we still haven't finished testing. And it's *your* baby."
Lois stared at her for a moment and then turned and headed back to the car. Martha followed her. Lois got in the car and slammed the door.
"I *hate* being cautious!" she exclaimed angrily.
"No, you don't, not really," Martha replied calml, "because it *is* your baby, and you won't let anything happen to it. Even if it means you have to be a bit more cautious than you're used to."
Lois stared out the car window at the activity beyond the yellow tape. "There's a story out there, and I'm turning my back on it."
Martha smiled. "You'll get the story, Lois; you'll just have to find another way to do it. Not even a baby could make Lois Lane change *that* much."
Jonathan waited at the barrier after Lois and Martha had left, explaining that he lived a few miles away and had been having problems with his crops for years. Was it possible, he wondered, that this problem here had had some effect on his land?
"We won't know until we've finished our investigation," the woman answered. "But it's possible. Let me get you the right form to fill out."
She returned shortly with a clipboard holding a four-page form. Sighing heavily, Jonathan picked up the pen and started filling in the blanks. He'd only reached the second page when a sudden commotion made him look up. There, floating slowly to the ground, was a familiar caped figure.
Jonathan had seen Clark in the Superman suit many times — when Martha pinned the cape for a hem, or when Clark arrived or left the farm, and even occasionally when Jonathan watched Superman rescue someone — but he'd always seen Clark, wearing funny clothes. Now as he watched the awe on everyone's face and saw the respect and deference given to the Superhero, he felt as if he was seeing "Superman" for the first time.
People stopped their work to stare, and Jonathan could hear cries of "It's really him!" and "Where's Dr. Adams?" Finally, Dr. Adams was found, and she walked up to Superman and introduced herself as the EPA project director. She and Superman walked away, deep in conversation. Jonathan's mind was on other things as he turned back to the forms. Finishing them, he tried to hand them back to the blond woman but found her attention was still on the red-caped figure off in the distance.
"Uh, Miss?" he asked, trying to get her attention so he could return the forms.
She turned, with a star struck look on her face. "Wow!" she exclaimed. "My sister lives in Metropolis and every time I visit I look for him. To think I'd finally see him here, in Kansas. Superman's really something, isn't he?"
"Yes," Jonathan had to agree. "Yes, he is."
When Jonathan got back to the car, he was surprised by the fury on Lois's face. He shot a questioning glance at Martha, but she shook her head slightly, warning him to silence.
"Right!" Lois was muttering, as she backed the car down the lane. "They send me away, but *he* just floats down, and they fawn over him like a king. I have to worry about my baby; he gets the story handed to him on a platter." As Lois reached the main road, she took off with a squeal of tires. "It's a darn good thing we're partners," she went on. "And Kent, you'd better tell me *everything* when you get back. You may be doing the research on this one, but *I'm* going to be doing the writing."
After the flurry of activity that always accompanied his arrival, Superman walked away from the crowd with the director of the EPA crew that had been dispatched to Smallville. Dr. Adams was a large, African- American woman, with the air of authority and self-confidence that Superman had learned to associate with competent scientists working within their fields.
"It's a real mess, Superman," Dr. Adams said. "We've found two major dumps, and there are bound to be more. The Sheriff tells me that the culprits have confessed to using this farm as a dumping ground for more than twenty years."
"Is this a map of the farm?" Superman asked as he took the clipboard from Dr. Adam's and began marking on it. "I could see eight separate dumps from above," Superman answered, marking the locations on the map. "Let me help you uncover them."
"This doesn't seem like one of your usual activities, Superman. Not that we don't appreciate your help."
"I live on this planet too; keeping it healthy is as important to me as it is to anyone else. Actually, I prefer this to thwarting robberies, or catching villains. It seems more…long-lasting, somehow."
With Superman's speed, the eight dumps were uncovered in record time. How to dispose of the chemicals posed a problem, until Superman spotted an old, high-sided hay wagon in the field. Moving quickly, he loaded all the barrels and drums from one of the dumps into the wagon. Making sure his cargo was secure, he took hold of the wagon and floated straight up.
High up in outer space, away from the Earth's gravitational field, he let go of the wagon, leaving it suspended in space. He picked up one of the large metal drums and gave it a gentle nudge that would eventually send it plunging into the sun. Once there, in its fiery depths, the drum and the poisons it contained would quickly be reduced to safe and simple elements. In quick succession, the rest of the containers followed the first. When the wagon was empty, he carried it back to Earth for another load.
By noon all the toxic waste was on its way to the sun. Superman took a cleansing trip towards the sun before returning to the Sowerby farm. There he found the EPA crew, covered in protective suits, taking soil samples at the bottom of each waste site.
"Is there anything else I can do?" he asked Dr. Adams.
"You've just done ninety percent of our job, Superman." Dr. Adams was grateful. "I think we've been lucky on this one. This is a small, relatively recent dump, and it's pretty isolated here. We've been doing some quick soil testing, and it doesn't look like that much leaked into the ground. I've got the reports from the public health officials; there haven't been any increase in illness or cancer in Small County yet. We'll have to check the groundwater throughout the county, and some of the crops and plants may be showing some effects, but it looks like we caught this one before any people or animals could be harmed."
Good news, in a sense. Giving his job-well-done Superman-type smile, Superman floated up into the air. He was pleased that they'd found this site now, when the damage was minimal and comparatively manageable. At least "Smallville" wouldn't become a household word, like "Love Canal." However, it was *his* family's farm that was showing traces of "experimental chemicals" in the soil. It may be "minor damage" to the EPA officials, but it could turn into a major disaster to a family whose livelihood depended on the soil. A few minutes later, a subdued Clark Kent was walking up the steps to the old wooden farmhouse, only to be met by an extremely curious Lois Lane.
Later that afternoon, the EPA agents descended on the Kent farm. They took groundwater samples, soil samples, and crop samples, looking like doctors doing a full physical on an unsuspecting patient. The four Kents sat on the front porch and watched the scientists roam around the farm. Finally, Dr. Adams came up to the porch.
"That should be it," she announced. "We should have some preliminary findings in about twenty-four hours."
"We've already had some work done," Lois said as she handed her the report Dr. Klein had faxed the day before. Dr. Adams' eyes opened wide as she saw the name on the report.
"STAR Labs? Bernard Klein?" she looked at them incredulously.
"Dr. Klein is a friend of ours," Lois said innocently. "Is there a problem?"
"Oh, no, no. He's just … quite famous." Dr. Adams scanned the report. "Disnium, synthetic eisnerium, and tarsinium oxide," she muttered. "I wonder what else. I'd like to talk to him about this; do you have his phone number?"
Lois took back the report back and wrote Dr. Klein's phone number on it before returning it. "Do you know for sure how long this has been going on?" she asked.
"We've talked to the guy who owns the farm — Sowerby. It looks like they started dumping about twenty-three years ago."
"Will you be pressing charges against Sowerby?" Clark asked, out of concern for Frannie as well as to satisfy his own curiosity.
"No, I don't see how," Dr. Adams answered. "He claims he had no idea what they were dong at first, and when he discovered what was going on, Medlock and Craven kidnapped his daughter. I guess you all would remember when she disappeared?" The Kents nodded.
"He may have been more involved than he's letting on," Dr. Adams continued. "But even if we could prove it, with his daughter being kidnapped, we'd never get a conviction. The worst that could happen to him is that he won't be reimbursed for the land because we can prove that he knew of the dumping all these years and took no steps to stop it. And that old farm will be posted and off-limits for a long time."
The next evening, Lois and Clark sat on the porch in the early twilight. The headline on the Smallville Press read "Ecological Disaster in Smallville — Illegal Dumping Going on for Years," and the byline read "Lois Lane."
"I have to admit, Lois," Clark said, laying the paper in her lap, "the first time I brought you to Smallville, I never expected to see your byline in this paper."
"It's not a bad paper, or a bad town. I might even be able to get used to living here someday." Clark's eyebrows shot up, in surprise. "Don't get your hopes up, Kent — I said *maybe*. But as a place for vacations and recharging one's batteries, this is just about perfect."
The screen door banged, as Martha and Jonathan joined them. "Good news!" Jonathan announced. "The preliminary tests the EPA did yesterday indicate that the damage will wear off in a year or two. I didn't understand all the scientific stuff, but the government's going to pay us for the crop this year. Seems they think it's important that nothing grown here be put on the market and possibly poison anyone."
"That's probably a good idea," said Clark. "I don't think anyone knows just what effect those chemicals had on the crops growing around here."
"They'll be doing more testing," Jonathan continued. "We may have to stop farming for a while and let the land lie fallow. But we won't have to move. With the government compensation I'll be able to make the mortgage payments for this year, at least. But Clark — I will accept your offer to make up the late payments. I'd appreciate that. I'll pay you back…"
Clark shook his head. "Just take care of the farm for me, Dad. That's payment enough." He looked at his father and said quietly, "Thanks for letting me help."
"Well, of course you can help," said Martha in her sensible, down- to-earth voice. "We're a family, and that's what families are for." She glanced at Lois's protruding abdomen. "We all have to take care of the little ones, but as adults, we help take care of each other." She looked pointedly at Jonathan. "It is more blessed to give than to receive, but if we are not willing to receive, we deny others the blessing of giving."
Jonathan turned to face his wife. "So I'm a proud, stubborn, old man," he said. "Sue me."
Martha laughed and put her arms around his neck. "Sue you? What have you got worth suing for? Just this old farm and a broken-down truck."
Jonathan hugged her close. "I don't know where I'd be without you, Martha. Or any of you," he added, looking over at Lois and Clark. "I'm a very rich man, Martha. I have a family that's worth more than all the money in the world."
Copyright, 1998, Genevieve K. Clemens and Pat Peabody. All rights reserved.
First, we'd like to thank our husbands, Mike and Larry, for their support, help and patience. Both of them took on extra duties around the house to help free up our time. We also need to thank all of our proof- readers: Joyce Fitch, Janeen Grohsmeyer, Patty Macy, Patty Patterson, and Kat Picson. They helped find plot holes and grammatical errors, and tried to keep us on the straight and narrow in terms of physics and science. While we didn't always take their advice, we gave serious consideration to each and every suggestion.
Special thanks to Janeen Grohsmeyer for coming up with Dr. Klein's experiment: calculating the energy required to disassociate the molecular components of blood cells. Highlander fans in particular may be interested in the results, which can be found at <http://www.sevenpillarsarabians.com/march/quickenings.html>.