By Jeff Brogdan, Craig Byrne, Genevieve Clemens, Matt Combes, Beth Freeman, Sheila Harper, Pam Jernigan, Julie Mack, Pat Peabody, Kat Picson, Matt Schiller, and Beth Washington.
Summary: Lois is in labor — but an earthquake and fire are keeping Superman busy in California. The Lanes and Kents gather to lend Lois moral support as she waits for Clark to come home. Meanwhile, Jimmy is vacationing in California and finds that in a crisis, even Superman needs help! (Episode # 24 of The Unaired Fifth Season)
Edited by Genevieve Clemens
The first day of summer came to Metropolis with a heat wave. It had been a cool and wet spring, but yesterday, a mass of warm, humid air had blown in from the south, and the evidence that summer had begun was incontrovertible. Children, only recently released from the tyranny of school, frolicked in the city streets, cheering as they succeeded in popping a plug off a fire hydrant. As the cool water gushed out, their faces lit up, as they rushed into the spray, splashing and laughing.
In the small parks scattered around Metropolis, birds sang in the trees and the pigeons were everywhere, begging for crumbs. The daffodils and tulips had come and gone; now rose bushes were blooming in the gardens and along the fences, their sweet scent filling the air. As noon approached, office workers were emerging like ants from the tall city buildings, carrying their lunches into the parks. They sat on the grass under the large shade trees, their sports coats lying on the ground beside them, eating and relaxing for an hour before returning to their sterile, air-conditioned, controlled environments to work the afternoon away.
As the sidewalks of Metropolis bustled in the noontime rush, a family stood off to one side, trying to stay out of the way of the bustling city-folk. They were obviously tourists and they were obviously lost. The mother and father were consulting a guidebook and a map, while the children stood gazing hopefully into the sky. Metropolis had many museums, historical sites, and stores to draw tourists, but each visitor always hoped to catch a glimpse of Metropolis' most famous citizen. He had no fixed address, and no one ever knew where or when he'd appear, but everyone wanted to see the flying man in the red cape.
A man stopped next to the family, smiling. "Do you folks need any help?" he asked in a friendly fashion. The parents looked up. They'd been rather put off by the self-centeredness of most Metropolis natives, but this man seemed downright neighborly. He was tall, with dark hair and glasses. He was wearing a suit, which clearly marked him as a city-dweller and, in spite of the noontime heat, appeared as cool as a cucumber.
"We're looking for the Metropolis Museum of Art," the woman responded. She was not looking cool right now, but rather hot, sweaty, and tired. "We seem to have gotten turned around somehow."
"Good choice — it's air-conditioned and only a few blocks away." The man pointed down the street and gave directions. When he finished, he asked, conversationally, "Where are you guys from?"
"Iowa," the father answered. "A small farming town. We wanted to take the kids to the city this summer."
"I'm from Kansas myself," the city man answered, "although I've lived in Metropolis the last five years."
"Please, sir," the little boy, who appeared to be around eight, finally found the courage to speak. "Have you ever seen *Superman*?"
"A few times," the man answered with a broad smile.
"He is the greatest!" the boy's sister exclaimed. She was older, probably around ten. "Absolutely the greatest. I'd give anything to see him! And I'd just *die* if he actually looked at me!"
"Well, just keep looking up," the man answered. "You'll probably see him sooner or later. Metropolis is his home." He nodded farewell, and they watched him cross the street, entering a building that was world famous. The large globe over the doorway was unmistakable; it was the building that housed the offices of one of the greatest newspapers in the world: the Daily Planet.
Clark Kent stepped off the elevator into the busy newsroom of the Daily Planet. In all the years he'd been coming into this office, he always looked for one thing first. His eyes had always been drawn, irresistibly, toward the desk of Lois Lane. The first few years he'd been able to observe her unnoticed as he had walked down the ramp, as she would be engrossed in her work, typing furiously away, or speaking vivaciously on the telephone, hardly noticing the people around her. The last few years, however, his quick glance toward her desk had been greeted with a more joyful sight. She seemed to have a sixth sense that knew when he was coming, and now, as he glanced toward her desk, he was greeted by a welcoming smile from this woman — his wife, Lois Lane.
Smiling back, he made his way to her desk through the maze of messengers, reporters, and mail carriers. Her chair was pushed back slightly; now that she was nine months pregnant her lap no longer fit under her desk. She was wearing the same dress she'd worn two days ago; most of the maternity clothes she'd bought five months ago were too small now, and of the three that still fit, one had been declared "too hot." She had been updating her Rolodex, but she looked up when he approached.
"Hi," she said in greeting. "I'm almost done here, and then I'm going to go home. I wanted to make sure all these contacts were up-to-date, in case you need them while I'm on leave."
Clark nodded. "When you get home, try to get some sleep," he suggested. "I know you didn't sleep well last night."
"It was *so* hot," Lois complained. "But I can't sleep this afternoon, Clark. I have to get the guestroom ready for your parents. Are we picking them up at the airport tonight?"
Clark shook his head. "Mom was adamant about that, honey. I think she feels bad enough that we bought the plane tickets; she insisted that they'd take a taxi. I'm glad they agreed to come, though. We'll need the help, and without a crop in the ground this summer, Dad's feeling pretty useless on the farm." A thought struck him, and he asked. "Do they know the real due date?"
Lois nodded. From the beginning she'd been vague about the due date, telling people the baby would come "sometime in the summer." As the weeks had gone by, Lois had had less and less patience with the complete strangers who asked her when the baby was due or, worse yet, the belly-patters. She had answered politely enough, saying that the "due date wasn't for weeks yet." She'd found that that effectively cut off the conversation, and only Lois, Clark, and the doctors knew it was an out-and-out lie. The fact that the actual "due date" had come and gone four days ago was the Kent family's second biggest secret.
In spite of Lois's desire for privacy, however, it seemed that nothing stopped people from speculating about a pregnant woman. The office baby pool was a secret, and if her colleagues were wise, Lois would probably never find out about it. Not all her co-workers were that clever, however. Yesterday morning, Ralph Claremont, a fellow reporter, had come up to her and casually remarked that she "looked ready to pop." What followed was vintage Lois Lane, as Lois lost her temper and made comments about Ralph's upbringing, a person's right to privacy, and ended her tirade by suggesting that commenting on a woman's pregnancy should be covered by the sexual harassment laws. When she was finished, Ralph had slunk back to his desk, new reporters who had never seen the classic Lois Lane were staring in amazement, and Clark was smiling proudly at his irascible wife.
Perry White looked out of his office window at Clark and Lois. They made such a heart-warming couple; it was enough to make him long for the family and love he'd lost when his wife had left him two years ago. He and Alice were in counseling these days, trying to see if there was any way they could work things out.
Perry left his office and approached Lois's desk. "Clark, you're back. How was the press conference?"
"Boring," Clark answered. "Nothing we haven't heard a thousand times before. MaxCorp's new plant will solve all of Metropolis's problems from unemployment to the poor school system."
"Oh, well, that's fine," Perry answered. "And I'm, uh, I'm sure a great reporter like you will have no trouble writing it up so that it's a fascinating, riveting, must-read article for the Daily Planet."
"Sure, Chief, no problem."
"And I'm sure you'll have it on my desk by two this afternoon."
"Absolutely," Clark said confidently.
Perry turned to Lois. "And you — are you done updating your files before you go on leave?"
"Almost done, Perry." Lois sounded quite cheerful.
"Well, do you think you could get it finished before you leave in, what?" He glanced at the clock. "About twenty minutes?" He gave the two of them a stern glance. "C'mon you two. This is a newspaper, not a coffee house." He grinned at them and walked away. He knew Lois and Clark would deliver — they always did. But he had a reputation to uphold, and not all the reporters at the Planet were as trustworthy and hard working as they were.
Lois glowered at Perry's back as he walked away. "Hasn't he ever heard of lunch?" she muttered.
Clark grinned. "Want a cup of coffee?" he asked. "I'm going to get one."
"Thanks," Lois answered. "Decaf."
Clark walked away in the direction of the coffeepot. Lois barely had a chance to sit down at her desk when a familiar face burst from the elevator. With her black curls racing around her head in a reflection of the energy contained within, Star hurried down the ramp, her feet clicking quickly with each step. Lois smiled, hoping that Star would never change.
"Oh, Lois, you're here," Star blurted as she rounded the corner of Lois' desk. "I'm so glad your here. I hate it when you go somewhere to see someone and they're not there, like the time I told my sister I was flying into Boston and when I got to the airport, she wasn't there, and I had to take a taxi to her house, and when I got there, she wasn't. Can you believe the …"
"Star! It's good to see you too," interrupted Lois.
Clark walked up with two cups of coffee. "Hi, Star," he greeted with a smile. He handed one of the cups to Lois.
"Oh good, you're both here. I had a feeling you would both be here, but then I had a feeling that you," she directed her comments toward Lois, "wouldn't be here in the near future, and that I should bring you this." She handed Lois a gift bag.
Lois took the gift bag and turned it around, looking at both sides. One side had a baby laughing on it, and the other had it crying.
"Open it," Star urged.
Lois looked at Clark, and she could tell he was just as curious as she was. She opened the bag and pulled out a small baby sleeper, and a receiving blanket. Both items were blue, with little farm animals quietly sleeping pictured all over them both.
"Star, how did you know? The last time we saw you, you were still recovering from … you know." Clark inquired, reaching for the sleeper to feel its softness.
"I know, I know, don't reminder me," Star shook her head. "I still get this slimy feeling when I think about that … man … using my body to kill people. But that's not why I came. I've been seeing this master psychic to help me out with my abilities. She's been teaching me on how to focus on what I see so I can get a better picture. I can even get a clear picture from someone who's brain is broadcasting like a television full of static —"
Lois eyes took on a look of worry.
"like yours, Lois. Anyway, the other day I got this feeling that you were really getting fat, and I couldn't believe it since I know my good friend, Lois Lane, would never let her figure get out of control like that, being a high class reporter and all, not to mention she's married to Mr. G.Q. So I concentrated and felt that you weren't fat in the conventional sense, but in the pregnant sense, and that you didn't have long to go, so I rushed over." Star stopped and looked at the two reporters. Both looked stunned.
"Well, " she started rather sheepishly, "I did say I was going to get this thing fixed," She gently knocked on her head with a loose fist. "And it looks like it's working."
Lois patted her abdomen and agreed, "I guess it is."
Clark added, "But why did you buy a little boy's outfit? We don't even know if it's a boy or a girl yet."
Star shrugged. "Just a feeling, but I also like blue, and I don't think that you would be conventional parents and dress your child according to the norm. I mean, I figured you would dress a little girl in both pink and blue, or a little boy in either as well." She glanced up at Clark. "I mean, Clark looks good in pink, why wouldn't any son of his? We're all brought up thinking that boys wear blue, girls wear pink, but well, I didn't think you two were going to follow the norm. I mean, I get this feeling that they're…"
"Star," Clark interrupted this time.
"Sorry," Star said, stopping her diatribe instantly. "Well, I don't have time to hang around. I hope you like it, and that you'll let me come by and see the baby sometime."
"We love the gift, Star, and you are more than welcome to stop by our place to see the baby after it … after *he* is born," Lois answered, rubbing the soft, blue, flannel blanket against her cheek.
"Thank you, Star," added Clark. "I'm sure the baby will sleep soundly with these."
"You're welcome." Star was beaming. "Well, I gotta run. I have an appointment with the master psychic, and she doesn't like it when I'm late. She always knows when I'm going to be late, which gives her a lot time to stew over it before I get there. She's tough." She started to walk away, up the ramp, back towards the elevators.
"Bye Star, and thanks again!" yelled Lois after her.
Both reporters could see her waving vigorously as the door to the elevator closed.
Lois put the blanket back in the gift bag. "She never changes, does she? It's exhausting just listening to her sometimes."
"It sure is," Clark agreed. "We'd better get to work," he added. "Right after a quick trip down the …" he gestured down the hall.
"Men's room?" Lois suggested.
"Men's room," Clark agreed. Leaning closer to her, and dropping his voice, he whispered, "and a quick fly-by the Metropolis Museum of Art."
"Why, what's happening at the museum?"
"Absolutely nothing," he answered as he disappeared down the hall.
Lois shook her head, looking after him. "You are so weird sometimes, Clark. Works for you though," she murmured, baffled. She shook her head in puzzlement before returning to her work.
Much later that afternoon, as her eyelids grew heavy, Lois settled back into the sofa. She rubbed her back at a mild twinge and chastised herself for overdoing it once again, but she had been determined to have the guestroom ready for Martha and Jonathan. She was so glad they were coming to stay and help with the baby for the first few weeks.
At the combined insistence of Clark, Perry, and her doctors, Lois had finally begun cutting back on her hours at the Planet, working in the morning and coming home around one or two o'clock to relax and rest. She hadn't wanted to cut back her hours; the thought of just staying at home waiting for the baby to make its appearance in this world just sounded so … not her. But, Lois also realized she'd needed more rest than she got in her typical ten-hour workday. So, here she was, at three o'clock in the afternoon, lying on the sofa and reading "The Baby Book" by William and Martha Sears, taking special note of the chapters on how to recognize the beginning signs of labor.
Her due date had been four days ago, and the perfectionist in Lois was just a bit perturbed that a deadline had been missed. Lois chuckled to herself as she remembered the conversation that she had held with her unborn child the other day. Actually, "conversation" wasn't the correct word — "lecture" was probably more accurate.
As she remembered her words of advice on the evils of tardiness and missed deadlines, Lois couldn't help but remember back to when she and Clark had first been partnered up. Lois was "senior partner," making all the rules, giving all the unsolicited advice, and basically doing everything she could to prove that she didn't need anyone's help to get the story. Not even Clark's.
She shook her head as she thought of some of the things she had done in that first year of their professional partnership: stealing the story from him, sneaking out of the Lexor Hotel so she wouldn't be scooped, deliberately not passing on information. Lois sighed. Anyone else would have gone to Perry and asked for another assignment.
But not Clark. He had hung in there, even when she had been so galactically stupid. Clark had been her partner, her confidante, and her best friend. He still was all of that, but now he was — more. Clark was her husband, her lover, and the father of her child. It had taken them a long time to get to where they were, but they had made it. She wouldn't have changed a single thing they had been through, but she was certainly glad that she wouldn't have to go through any of it again.
Lois checked her watch. She had time for a short nap before getting dinner ready. She closed her eyes and was quickly asleep.
Across the country, in California, Jimmy Olsen lounged on another sofa, his feet on the coffee table. At the other end of the sofa, curled up like a ball, was his friend, Sarah Goodwin. The coffee table bore, besides Jimmy's feet, remnants of their breakfast and lunch. A blanket and a pillow had been thrown onto the floor next to the sofa. Ever since Jimmy had awakened that morning (none too early, since they had stayed up late the night before talking), he and Sarah had sat in Sarah's living room watching episodes of their favorite show, "Sally McNeill."
"And just think — last week, we were there," Sarah said, pointing to the TV. "On the set. Part of the show."
"It's a good thing the police and Superman put a stop to the things Church was doing," Jimmy said. "If he and that Sesrat woman had had their way, this show might have had an early cancellation." Jimmy was quiet for a moment, remembering. "I hate it when shows end without a proper ending. They did it to 'Alf.'"
Somehow, Sarah wasn't surprised that Jimmy had watched "Alf" when he was younger. It fit his psychological profile. "Didn't that show end with a cliffhanger?"
"Yeah. And, Sarah, it was awful! The network just cancelled the show; they didn't even bother to finish the cliffhanger. I still get mad every time I think about it."
Sarah wondered for a moment if it would be unethical to use Jimmy as a subject for a paper she had to write for one of her classes. "Perhaps some of your anger stems from the fact that with it being a final episode, you wouldn't see these characters every week anymore."
"Yeah, you might be right — but I like shows to at least have an ending. Leaving a story with aliens coming down and taking something away, or leaving something behind — it's unsettling," Jimmy said.
"Everybody likes closure, Jimmy. But maybe the people involved didn't want to do the show anymore. Would you have wanted to wear that suit? Unfortunately TV's like real life; it doesn't always leave room for the concluding happy ending where the characters say their farewells, goodbye forevers, amens, and all that."
"I know," Jimmy agreed. "But it's like these characters that we have come to know and care for are taken out of our lives, never to be seen again."
"Jimmy," Sarah said patiently. "They're not real. They're figments of the imagination."
Jimmy didn't want Sarah thinking he was *too* crazy. "Well, anyway, we saved 'Sally McNeill.' We'll get to see it again in September."
"Yeah," Sarah said. "Of course, if it weren't for Superman saving our lives, we wouldn't be watching *anything* in the fall."
"And now, with Intergang gone, Superman should be able to breathe more easily. Although, you do have to admit, that Mindy Church was quite a look— " Jimmy started to say, before noticing Sarah's evil stare. "Um, quite a sneaky woman. That's it."
Sarah shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Classic male fantasy case. Put on a blond wig and inflatable boobs, and they go crazy."
The episode ended. As Sarah got up to take some dirty dishes to the kitchen, Jimmy searched for the remote. Finding it under the empty pizza box on the coffee table, he began flipping through channels. He flipped past game shows, talk shows, and sports events. Finally he saw a familiar show and stopped.
One of the first shows Jimmy could ever remember watching was "The Brady Bunch," and he remembered this episode from years ago. The entire Brady family, including Alice, went to Aspen on a ski trip. Greg did a wipeout going down Schlumpf Slope and the family didn't know where to find him in the snow. Jimmy was surprised that he found the show hilarious; he remembered being concerned for Greg years ago, when he'd been a kid.
Watching the Brady family on the slopes reminded Jimmy of the last time he'd been skiing. The Daily Planet employees had gone to a ski resort in northern New Troy many years ago. Sarah came back from the kitchen to see him laughing.
"What's so funny?" she asked, handing him a cup of coffee, before walking toward the VCR to eject the tape and insert a new one.
"Oh, I just remembered one time when a bunch of us from the Planet went on a skiing trip, and Lois — "
"Lois is really special to you, isn't she, Jimmy?" Sarah interrupted as she sat down next to him and pulled the remote control out of Jimmy's hand.
"Yeah, she is. She's changed a lot in the last few years," Jimmy said. "She's still independent, but in the old days — man, was she a pistol! But everyone loved her just the same. Lois, Clark, and the Chief especially have been my role models. I wouldn't trade them for the world. But let me tell you about that ski trip!"
"Don't let me stop you," Sarah kidded. She pressed the mute button on the TV, silencing the Brady Bunch, and turned slightly toward Jimmy, ready for the story.
Jimmy looked toward the ceiling as he remembered the occasion. "About twenty of us from the Planet went; the lodge split us up into four smaller groups. Perry and his wife Alice had promised my mom they would look after me. It was my first year at the Planet, and I was still in high school. Also in our group were Lois, this guy Claude, and Cat. Claude was really hitting on Lois, and she was trying to impress him, but that's another story.
"Anyway, there were four slopes: Beginner, Intermediate, Difficult, and Advanced," Jimmy continued. "Of the six of us, only Perry and Cat had actually had any experience skiing. Lois had *never* skied before, but, being Lois, she insisted on going up the Difficult slope. 'It'll be a piece of cake,' she said.
"Lois stood there on her skis at the top of the slope, and a ski instructor tried to talk her out of going down, but of course she snapped at him and refused help. He made her sign another release form, though. Everyone tried to convince her not to go down but of course, stubborn Lois has never been one to go the easy way."
"So what happened?" Sarah asked, intrigued.
"She started down the slope," Jimmy said.
"Something tells me there's more to this story," Sarah said, fearing what Jimmy had to say next.
"Actually, yeah. Lois took a tumble — man, she was cartwheeling like the 'agony of defeat' guy on the old sports show. She fractured her ankle. They had to go down and get her and bring her back to the lodge. The whole rest of the week Lois had to walk around in the cast, and if anyone made any comments about it, she gave them that look — the famous Lane Look that makes Superman's heat vision look like a birthday candle. We used to call her 'Mad Dog Lane.' She was ferocious."
They laughed. "And of course, you're not ferocious at all, hmmm?" Sarah said, scooting closer to him on the couch.
"Only when I've got this programmed-killer thing going on and I knock DEA agents down the stairs," Jimmy joked.
"That reminds me Jimmy. I've got this itch — " Sarah said, lifting her arm.
Jimmy gave her a fearful look.
"*Just kidding*!" Sarah began to laugh.
"That wasn't funny, Sarah," Jimmy said, but he was smiling. "You're gonna pay for that!" Jimmy leaned forward until he could reach her, and began to tickle her. Sarah's laughter changed in tone as he tickled her, and she gasped for breath and struggled to get away. As she struggled, she fell back onto the couch, and Jimmy pinned her down, tickling her for all he was worth.
Suddenly, Sarah gave a twist, and the next thing Jimmy knew he was lying on the floor next to the sofa, with Sarah on top of him. She was tickling him, now, and he was laughing too, trying to find her ticklish spots from his vulnerable position. Suddenly, they each stopped, looking at each other seriously. Jimmy took a deep breath, but then Sarah blinked and looked away.
"Let's … let's watch another tape," she said, climbing back on to the couch and picking up the remote again.
Jimmy slowly got up off the floor, not sure whether he was relieved or disappointed. He picked up his coffee cup, and sat back down on the couch, trying to focus all his attention on the old episode of "Sally McNeill" now showing on the television set.
At five o'clock, Clark unlocked the door and paused as he entered the brownstone. He tuned in briefly before smiling as he gently closed the door. Softly walking into the living room, he stood behind the sofa, a tender smile playing on his lips as he gazed down at his sleeping wife.
"The Baby Book" lay across Lois's chest, rising and falling with each breath. Leaning down, he reached out and pulled the book away, careful not to awaken her, marking the page Lois had been reading before closing it. His other hand gently brushed a stray lock of hair away from her face before lingering a moment against her cheek in a gesture that brought him both comfort and contentment.
Clark was glad to see that Lois was resting. Finally. With the "nesting instinct" kicking in at last, she had been in a frenzy of activity at home lately, and even Clark had been hard- pressed to keep up with her pace.
Lois stirred and shifted her position, a slight frown crossing her brow, and Clark heard her soft grunt of discomfort. His hand left her face and settled along one side of her swollen abdomen. He felt the tightening of her muscles and assumed that she was having one of those "false" contractions — what was it the book had called them? Braxton-Hicks contractions. He silently sighed, knowing that Lois wished that the real contractions had already come and gone.
"Settle down, kiddo. You'll be out here in the real world soon enough," Clark whispered to his unborn child. His hand lightly caressed Lois, and he felt the baby stirring underneath his hand in response to his gesture. He felt Lois moving also and turned back to see her watching him, a bemused expression on her face.
Lois stretched her arms above her head. "Mmm… Home already?"
He leaned down to capture her lips in a soft kiss. "Yeah. Some of us don't have the luxury of leaving early."
Lois reached out and pulled him down for another kiss. "Some of us don't have an extra thirty-five pounds to carry around. How're things?"
"Same as they were when you left this afternoon. Jimmy's still on vacation in California. Mom and Dad are still flying in tonight." He took her hand in his and brought it to his lips briefly. "And before you ask me, no, the Pulitzers haven't been announced yet."
She looked into his eyes and smiled before checking her watch. Her smile faded slightly. "Oh, Clark! I'm sorry. I was going to have dinner ready for you when you got home."
Clark came around the couch and kissed her forehead. "That's OK, honey. I'll fix us something super-quick." He headed toward the kitchen. "Besides, didn't your doctors say to eat something nutritious?" He winked and grinned before ducking the pillow that Lois threw at him. He blew her a kiss as he went through the kitchen door.
Just as Lois finished swinging her legs over the edge of the sofa and using her arms as leverage to push herself to a sitting position, Clark came back through the kitchen door carrying …
"A banana split? You call *that* nutritious?" Lois couldn't help but eye the three-scoop concoction suspiciously.
Clark just grinned. "Hey! There's fruit in this — and dairy products."
Lois just smirked at her husband and raised an eyebrow.
Clark ignored her look and continued. "Besides, bananas are high in potassium. Doesn't that help with getting labor started?"
"Mmm hmm. That's what my doctors say." She swiped a dollop of whipped cream with her finger and placed it in her mouth. "But, I like the other method they told me about to start labor …" Her voice trailed off and she chuckled as she saw the pink blush of embarrassment beginning on Clark's face.
"Um … yeah … well …"
"I really enjoyed last night, Clark. And the fact that you kept us levitated just made it so much more — exciting."
"You're sure they said that making love toward the end of a pregnancy is supposed to speed up labor?"
Lois swallowed a spoonful of banana and chocolate ice cream, nodding all the while. "Yeah. Something about the release of certain hormones or something like that."
She put the spoon down. "Sweetheart, I really appreciate this dinner surprise, but I'm just not in the mood for something this sweet and caloric."
Clark smiled his easy smile — the one that always sent a warm and fuzzy feeling through Lois, just like right now.
"OK." He reached for the bowl. "No sense letting this go to waste." With those words, he quickly inhaled the entire banana split.
"Show off," Lois muttered.
"What can I say? I look like Mr. Hardbody and eat like an eight-year-old — or so someone once told me long ago."
Lois just smiled, inwardly groaning. "You remember that?"
Clark nodded. "I remember everything you said to me, honey."
That comment took her aback. "Everything?"
Clark's grin widened. "Yeah. Even 'Don't fall for me, Farmboy. I don't have time for it.'"
Lois grimaced. "You *would* remember that."
Clark held the bowl in one hand and helped Lois rise from the couch. "Your warning was too late, honey. I'd already fallen. Hard."
Lois followed Clark into the kitchen, her hand pressing against the small of her back. "Hard?"
"Uh huh. Hard. Completely, totally, unconditionally, and irreversibly head-over-heels in love with you."
"Yeah. But, I didn't really know it. Not until the White Orchid Ball. When I saw you there, ready to take on the world, I was swept off my feet. Literally."
"So was I." Lois smiled tenderly at Clark. "Of course, it helped that you were flying me through the windows of the Planet at the time …" Lois remembered that first flight.
~~~~~EPRAD SPACE CENTER, 1992~~~~~
Lois watched as the blue and red-clad figure underneath the space shuttle's engine exhaust disappeared into the upper atmosphere along with the space shuttle. He was going to "give it a push" he had said. After she'd been escorted off the colonists' transport and changed out of the flight suit she had "borrowed," she watched along with everyone else in the viewing stand and still didn't believe it. She couldn't believe it. She *wouldn't* believe it. She was already mentally writing the opening paragraph of her article when something stopped her in mid-thought.
Maybe he could push the shuttle into space. After all, he had stopped the bomb from destroying the space shuttle. By *eating* it. She couldn't *not* believe that; she had seen it with her own eyes. He had popped the bomb into his mouth the same way she would have put a Double Fudge Crunch Bar into hers — like it was candy. The bomb had still exploded of course, but the only reaction had been a slight burp and a polite "Excuse me."
"A push," she said aloud to no one in particular. She looked toward the launch pad. Where only minutes ago the space shuttle had stood, now there were only the scorch marks from when the rockets had burned the pad before the aborted takeoff.
"A push," she repeated. She shook her head, once again looking through the notes she had taken on the crowd's reaction. Closing her notepad and putting it back in her briefcase, she sighed. Shielding her eyes, she looked upward, knowing full well that by now — if this … this … person … was true to his word — the space shuttle was on its way to the space station.
She turned in search of a telephone to call Perry when a collective gasp from the crowd caused her to turn in the direction of the pointed fingers. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. It was *him*. Floating in the air. She still couldn't believe that she was really seeing a *man* flying. Maybe he's not a man, she thought. STAR Labs and Luthor Technology were always working on some sort of robotics. That's it, she determined. It's not a man. It's not even a little green alien. It's a robot. A very sophisticated one, but a robot nonetheless.
Still, there was something …
She stepped to the side of the building and began waving her arms to catch his … its … attention. Her actions were successful when the costumed figure softly landed near her. She studied him as he walked toward her. Nice body, she thought quickly before she looked at his face.
"There's a lot of people that are looking for you …" her voice trailed off as a slow, easy smile began on his face. Wow, she thought, maybe he's a more sophisticated robot than I thought.
"Thank you," he said. "I'm not used to crowds." He turned to look behind him. He and Lois saw several scientists in white lab coats hurrying toward them along with several security personnel.
"We'd better get out of here." She looked into his eyes as he turned back toward her.
He nodded. "Hang on."
"Wha … ?" She couldn't finish her question. Her breath was being taken away as the stranger scooped her into his arms and rose from the ground. Her arms went reflexively around his neck and she pressed herself a little closer to him … to it.
No, it was definitely a *him*. Under her hands she felt the warmth of his skin and the steady beating of his pulse along his neck. She softly gasped at the realization that this was no robot. This was a living, breathing person. An *alien* person, maybe, but definitely flesh and blood, not steel and motor oil.
"Don't worry. I've got you." He subtly adjusted her in his arms and smiled confidently at her. "Just enjoy the ride." He then looked straight ahead as they left the launch site, heading back towards Metropolis.
Lois relaxed a bit and took the time to study his face. He had such an exotic look about him, that she couldn't quite figure out where he was from. Asia? The Australian Outback? Mars? Jupiter? His thick black hair glistened in the sunlight, and Lois had to resist the urge to run her fingers through it.
"Snap out of it, Lois," she told herself. "You've been around men before."
That was certainly true. But, she doubted that anyone had been around a man like this one. One who could eat bombs. One who could push a space shuttle into space. One who could fly.
"Oh my God!" she realized. "I'm flying! I'm really flying!" The pragmatic, sensible journalistic side of her tried to rationalize the entire situation, but was quickly shoved aside by her other side — the one that told her to just enjoy the feeling and sensations. The one that told her to admit to herself that she was attracted to this stranger in a way that went beyond just a purely physical attraction.
She sighed silently to herself. Ever since Claude had betrayed her, stealing her story and taking all the credit, she had been wary of any emotional entanglements, burying herself in her work, proving to Perry White and all the other journalists that even at her young age, she was a top-notch reporter. She had done just that. The three Kerth Awards she had won proved that.
But, as much as she hated to admit it to herself, her Kerth Awards made lousy companions on the quiet nights when she was all alone in her apartment with a half gallon tub of Baskin Robbin's jamoca almond fudge ice cream. She could feel herself responding to this stranger whose flying seemed as natural to him as reading "by Lois Lane" under the Planet's headline was to her. It wasn't just physical, she realized. She could feel an emotional connection with him. As if he were her best friend in the entire world. As if he were the one person she had been looking for all her life. If she believed in it, Lois would have sworn that she had fallen in love with him at first sight.
She shook herself from her reveries as he headed toward the closed windows of the Daily Planet. She watched as he opened them with a short gust of breath and then glided smoothly through them. She briefly looked around her, hearing Perry's astonished "Great shades of Elvis!" before focusing intently on the side of his face, memorizing his features, and mentally recording the feeling of utter freedom that flying with him gave her.
She heard the oohs and aahs from the newsroom and the whirring of the automatic setting on a camera, probably Jimmy's. She even heard bits of conversation.
"I see it, but I don't believe it!" Cat Grant just stood there and watched as the flying stranger gently set Lois on her feet by her desk.
"What? A man who flies?" another Planet employee asked Cat.
Lois kept her hands on his shoulders, continuing to stare into his eyes. A silent message passed between them and a soft smile played on both their lips.
"Lois Lane — finally — literally swept off her feet." Cat smirked. "Too bad he's an alien."
Lois broke off her glance and swallowed convulsively before finding her voice. "I … I think considering that I saw you first, you owe me an exclusive …"
His smile widened and his eyes twinkled with — mischief? "Is that the rule?"
Lois was surprised by his comment, but quickly regained her composure. "No … but I'd appreciate it very much …"
He smiled and turned away from her without answering. The crowd that had gathered around them stepped back as he lifted off and headed toward the open window.
Lois shifted into semi-panic mode and hurried up the stairs to the landing. "Wait! How do I find you?"
He glided toward the window, glancing back over his shoulder at her. "I'll be around." With those words, he floated through the window and was soon out of sight.
"Smooth," Jimmy commented, admiration evident in his voice.
Cat came up the stairs behind Lois. "Did you find out what the 'S' stands for?"
Lois continued to look out the window. Almost to herself, she breathlessly whispered, "Super …" She blinked once and came out of her self-induced state of amazement. Stepping back down the stair, she whispered loud enough for Cat to hear.
"Superman …" Lois turned toward her desk.
Lois leaned against the kitchen island, shaking her head in disbelief and rubbing her lower back. "Even way back then I was in love in you, Clark. All that wasted time …"
Clark finished rinsing the ice cream bowl out and came around to stand beside her. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he turned her to face him, all the while looking intently into her dark brown eyes. He reached out to caress her face in a familiar and loving gesture.
"Not wasted time, honey. Invested time. Time well spent. *I* knew that you were the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. So did you. You just had to figure it out for yourself."
Lois reached up to press his hand against her cheek. "You were that sure?"
Clark's thumb stroked her cheek. "That sure." He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts together. "Remember what I said on that island? This thing between us — "
"Being with you is stronger than me alone? I remember."
"It's truer now more than ever. After all we've been through — all the psycho psychiatrists, all the wedding destroyers, all the other obstacles — being with you is the most important thing to me. Lois, without you in my life, I'm just a super-hero in tights."
A tear escaped from Lois's eye. "Oh, Clark …"
Clark brushed the tear away with the back of his hand. "Lois Lane, you're the only woman I'll ever love. The only woman I want to live my life with. The only woman I want to *have* a life with." His gaze fell to her abdomen. "To have a family with."
Lois sniffled. "You really are the most romantic alien I've ever met." The ache in her back gone for the moment, she inclined her head toward him. As they hugged side-by-side, she placed her hand on his chest, feeling his strong, steady heartbeat.
"Y'know, even back when I was 'top banana,'" Clark's laughter rumbled in his chest and against her hand, "I always had a feeling that you'd be an important part of my life. Little did I guess."
They held each other as closely as they could, enjoying the feeling of completeness that washed over them, the companionable silence broken only by their mutual sighs of contentment.
"I love you, Lois."
"I love you, too, Clark."
Lois raised her head to meet Clark's lips as he leaned down to kiss her. The kiss was soft and gentle with a sense of wonderment and reaffirmation of their commitment to each other. Lois sighed into the kiss a moment longer before breaking it off. She smiled and held Clark's hand against her stomach. The baby stirred. Clark smiled back at Lois.
"Soon," they said in unison.
Jonathan Kent looked out of the small, round window at the infinite white clouds that surrounded the airplane. He slowly sipped his coffee and leaned back contemplatively in his seat.
A short time later, the flight attendant picked up Jonathan's plastic tray and the plastic cup and continued down the aisle. With a sigh of relief, Jonathan put the tray up and stretched his legs out. There never seemed to be enough room in an airplane, especially for someone with his girth. Next to him, Martha was placidly knitting another pair of booties for the new baby.
"Martha," he said, "that baby'll have a pair of booties for each day of the week."
"They lose them," Martha replied. "Their little feet kick all the time, and the booties come off."
Jonathan nodded. "I can't believe we are going to Metropolis to help out with a new baby. In all the times we've gone to the city to help Clark, I never dared dream of this."
Martha remembered all the times they had flown to Metropolis to help Clark out. "Do you remember the time we brought my hologram laser equipment when he was afraid everyone would find out he was Superman?
"And then the time we had to go to Metropolis, because Lois *did* figure it out. And then when Clark was bone-headed enough to break up with her …"
"I remember you sitting in the barn, talking to the cow," Martha said with a laugh.
Jonathan looked out the window, remembering …
~~~~~ Smallville, 1995~~~~~
Jonathan lifted the bucket and stool from their usual storage place, and made his way to Gwendoline's stall. "Hey, girl. Ready to give ol' Jon some milk?" He slapped her on the side, a signal for her to move over so he could get into proper position. Being in a cooperative mood, Gwendoline shifted to allow him access. "Oh? Going to be nice today, huh?" he laughed as he settled down to the chore at hand.
As he worked, he found his mind troubled by his son's actions over the past few days. "I just don't understand that boy, Gwen. I mean, he loves Lois. Why in the world did he think he needed to break up with her? Can't say I blame Lois for being gun-shy." He sighed heavily as he fell into a steady rhythm, extracting the milk in long steady strokes. The barn cat, smelling fresh milk, came out of hiding and began begging him for a free handout. "Want a little taste, eh Tiger?" Jonathan angled the jet of milk over the edge of the bucket, striking the cat in the face. Quickly recovering from the attack, Tiger eagerly slurped up all the milk she could get. "Tastes pretty good?" He sighed heavily again.
"Must be rough to be a barn cat. Your only worries are where the next mouse is going to come from and if you can bum some milk off of ol' Jon …" He returned to milking Gwendoline, his thoughts again returning to Clark.
"What makes that boy tick? Why would he think he could solve a problem by doing what he did — separating himself from the very woman he wanted to be with?" Jonathan leaned into the task of milking Gwendoline for several quiet minutes, letting his mind work on the problem without consciously thinking about it.
Gwendoline, sensing his quiet moment, went back to chewing some of the tasty hay Jonathan had put in front of her before he had started milking her. The hay was nice and sweet; the crop had been good this year, despite the large rainfall. Gwendoline looked back at Jonathan; she could tell he was troubled.
"I think there are four things that Clark has set as goals for himself," Jonathan said just as Gwendoline was about to switch her tail at him to lighten his mood. "One, he wants a home. Two, he wants a job. Three, he wants a wife, and four, he wants to be a decent human being whose name is respected.
"He has the home — Metropolis. He left here and traveled the world looking for that one place he felt … wanted. Metropolis was it. He has a good, solid job. Working for the Daily Planet is a dream come true for him. He *is* a decent human being." Gwendoline looked back at Jonathan and gave a small grunt. "OK, OK … he's a decent Kryptonian, who was raised as a human being … happy?" Gwendoline flipped her tail and turned back to her munching.
"All those goals… Clark achieved them by working hard, reaching out and grabbing the problem with his own two hands and figuring out the solution. He was in control; he could make the decisions that determined the outcome. He could do what was necessary to achieve the desired results.
"He traveled a long time before he found Metropolis. He just kept going, moving from place to place, until he was happy. He had to pull out all the stops to get that job at the Planet. Other men would have taken Perry's rejection and moved on. Not Clark — he knew what he wanted. He wanted the job at the Daily Planet. And he worked hard and got it, too.
"Martha and I have worked his whole life to instill in him what it means to be a good, decent, respectable person. And Clark has done a wonderful job of it. Clark Kent, investigative reporter for the Daily Planet. That Kerth award is proof of that. A respected name. Superman. The boy has certainly worked overtime on that one.
"So, what do these things all have in common?" Jonathan paused and sat up. Gwendoline looked back at him, and blinked. "What they have in common is that Clark is always able to control the situation. He was always the one to make the decisions, always the one who acted." He leaned over and started milking again.
"Now, he wants a wife. Suddenly, with four little words, Clark is relinquishing control of everything. He's giving himself over to Lois, putting himself in her hands. He can't make the decision; he can't reach out and grab it with his hands and wrestle anything out of it. He can't use his mind to think his way through it. He's out of control. It's up to Lois."
Jonathan leaned back and looked up into the hayloft. "So he says, 'Will you marry me?'" He looked over at Tiger, who was still cleaning herself after her treat. "Sounds like a simple enough phrase, right? Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth." He thought back to his own proposal — proposals, actually, for he had had to ask Martha more than once.
"He's lost. He doesn't know what to do; he's so used to doing things on his own. When Lois didn't give him the answer he thought she would, he started a downward spiral that could only lead to a crash of some sorts. He tried to wrestle control back by telling her that they couldn't be together. 'For her own good.' What a *crock*!"
Gwendoline gave her opinion of the matter with a stamp of the hoof and a loud bellowing moo. "Darn tootin'. Crazy, mixed up, love-sick moron. Now, of course he sees that he was a fool and made a mistake." Jonathan slapped the dust off of his legs and stood up. He started rubbing Gwendoline's back. "Poor Lois. First he says 'we're off'; then he says 'we're on.' Can't blame her for sending him packing." Tiger, seeing that Gwendoline was getting more attention than she was, made her way over to where Jonathan was standing and started making figure eights between his feet, trying to get his attention. Without thinking, Jonathan reached down and scooped her up, scratching her ears just the way she liked. "Maybe I can talk some sense into that boy …"
"Maybe *we* can talk some sense into our boy," Martha interrupted from the open barn door.
"How long you been there?"
"So, we're headed to Metropolis again?"
"I just finished packing several homemade goodies."
Jonathan dropped Tiger and picked up the bucket of fresh milk. "Maybe we can convince him to crawl back to her on his hands and knees, begging for forgiveness."
"Flying back would be faster."
That was almost three years ago. It had taken a miracle to get Lois and Clark married, but it had happened, and they had a strong, fulfilling marriage. "And soon they'll have a baby — another miracle," Jonathan thought, looking over at Martha, who had finished one bootie and had started on the second. There were big changes in store for his son and daughter-in-law.
The "Sally McNeill" theme song filled the small apartment as another videotape came to an end. Sarah was in the kitchen making them a snack as Jimmy continued to sit on her couch and stare at the television. Sarah thought that she didn't remember Jimmy leaving her couch since they finished the "Sally McNeill" assignment with Cat Grant. She guessed he didn't have much time to just relax in Metropolis; he'd told her this was the first vacation he'd had since he was promoted, and she knew he worked long hours at the paper. She put the nacho dip in the microwave.
"So, Sarah, can we see the episode where Sally kicks the fat gnome again? Please?" Jimmy begged.
"Hold on a sec," Sarah called from the kitchen. "The nacho dip is almost ready."
Jimmy leaned his head back on the couch and closed his eyes. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so relaxed. He was tired; he didn't know if it was because he and Sarah had stayed up so late last night, or if the unaccustomed "couch potato" lifestyle was more hypnotic than his usual frenzied activity. Oh, well. He could sleep tomorrow on the flight back to Metropolis. His eyes flew open as he heard a rumbling noise that seemed to be coming from under the sofa. "Uh-oh …" Jimmy said, but then shrugged it off. "Maybe Superman sneezed or something," he said, keeping his humor. He glanced out the window. It sounded like an airplane was about to land in the living room.
The rumbling became louder and more intense, and was suddenly accompanied by a deep vibration. Pictures dropped from the wall; items fell off of Sarah's shelves. Confused, Jimmy figured it was another super-villain attack. Jimmy, the boy from Metropolis, remembered the Kryptonian invasion, bombs going off in the Daily Planet, green goo falling from the sky, and tidal waves. All he could think of as the shaking continued was that some super-villain was attacking L.A.
"Sarah, I may have to use that signal pager thingy to call Superman again!" Jimmy called. "Sounds like some bad guy's causing some tremors outside!" Without thinking, he grabbed his camera. "This will make a *great* article and pictorial!"
"Wait, Jimmy!" Sarah called back. She stayed in the doorway, leaning against the frame. "This is *California*! It's an earthquake! A *natural* disaster, not some maniacal super- villain trying to get revenge on Superman and Lois Lane. You're supposed to stay *inside*. Get under something, or stand in the doorway. There could be more tremors!"
It was too late. Jimmy, camera and notepad in hand, was already out front to see just what was going on.
"Oh, what the hell!" Sarah grabbed her purse and ran outside after Jimmy. Behind her the light over the dining room table swung slowly back and forth in the deserted apartment.
The summer evening was still warm, so Lois and Clark were eating dinner out on the patio. Clark had made a quick run for Chinese food, getting enough so that there would be leftovers for his parents when they arrived.
"How's that backache?" Clark asked. He popped another egg roll in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.
"Gone. That shower helped." Lois picked up a piece of broccoli with her chopsticks. "This food is delicious."
Clark smiled. "Just a little hole in the wall — "
Lois returned his smile, nibbling at the broccoli. "Y'know, when you said that the first time, little did I know you meant the *Great Wall* of China." She sighed and placed her chopsticks down on the side of her plate. "That's it, I'm stuffed."
Clark frowned. "You hardly ate a thing."
Lois rubbed the sides of her belly. "Can you blame me? All my innards are squished together by the baby. It's amazing that I was able to eat at all."
She pushed herself up from the table, grunting softly. "I'm going to go lie down on the sofa … well, *try* to lie down."
Clark chuckled and kissed her forehead as she slowly walked by him. "I'll clean this up."
Lois waved her hand at him as she walked into the living room. She picked up the remote control and clicked on LNN. The reporter's announcement made her stop and listen intently. Clark came into the room carrying the dirty plates.
"… injured in the earthquake that struck southern California just moments ago. Seismologists have not yet determined the magnitude of the quake, but apparently more than one fault is involved …"
Lois turned to Clark. "Go."
Clark hesitated. "Lois …"
"I'm fine. Those people need you right now more than I do. Jimmy's in California. Go."
Clark looked intently into her eyes before handing her the plates. Stepping back, he spun into the familiar blue and red suit. He leaned over and kissed her not so gently on the lips. "Love you."
Clark nodded. With a whoosh, he was out the window, speeding to California.
Lois whispered a soft "love you" and rubbed her belly. "Get used to this, kiddo. Daddy does it a lot."
It was the first time Jimmy had ever been in an earthquake. He couldn't help but feel overwhelmed and slightly in awe when he looked around. He was used to seeing Superman leap tall buildings and change the course of rivers, but this was a force of nature that had the power to crack water mains like toothpicks, topple trees, and shift the foundations of homes. Looking at the houses tilting crazily to one side made him feel slightly dizzy.
Many people were outside surveying the mess as Jimmy and Sarah roamed the streets. They were able to help a few injured people, shift some of the debris that had fallen in roads and driveways, and push cars that had stalled out where the streets were flooded because of the broken water mains. Everywhere he went, Jimmy's eyes were open. All he could think of was the story he would write for the newspaper.
A young girl, about five, was crying on a street corner. Jimmy and Sarah went to see what was wrong. "Mama! Mama! Quiero mi mama!" [I want my Mommy!] she said between sobs. Jimmy, who didn't speak Spanish, looked at Sarah helplessly.
"Todo va estar bien. Adonde estabas la ultima ves que tu viste a tu mama?" [Everything is going to be good. When was the last time that you saw your mother?] Sarah asked. The girl pointed toward an apartment building. Taking her hand, Sarah and Jimmy led her toward the building. A frantic woman, carrying an infant in one arm and holding a toddler by the hand, was calling "Teresa" over and over. When she saw Sarah and Jimmy with the girl, she ran over, fairly dragging the toddler. She knelt down and began speaking to the girl in a torrent of Spanish. After a moment, she looked up at Sarah and Jimmy.
"Gracias a Dios. Gracias. Muchas gracias. Estaba judgando en la calle cuando empeso un temblor. Muchas gracias por ayudarla. Gracias por cuidar a mija despues del temblor."
Jimmy, understanding the "gracias," smiled. Sarah murmured "de nada," and they left the apartment complex, continuing down the street. They could hear sirens in the distance, so they knew that there must be more damage, more people hurt somewhere, but in this residential area everything seemed more or less normal. As they continued following the sounds of sirens, Jimmy became quieter and quieter.
"Jimmy, are you all right?" Sarah asked him.
Jimmy stopped and looked around for a moment before answering "Yeah. I — I just haven't seen anything like this before. I know things like this happen — earthquakes, tornadoes, floods — but this sort of thing just doesn't happen in Metropolis. We have weird problems caused by villains, but Superman flies in and saves the day and that's it."
Sarah surprised him to speechlessness by kissing him on the cheek. "It'll be OK. After a disaster like this, everybody helps everybody else. You'll see."
The two of them heard a siren wind down and stop; it seemed to be coming from a few blocks east. Jimmy and Sarah went toward the noise and saw that four ambulances were trying to get down Simkins Avenue but a fallen light post was in the way. As Sarah had predicted, a group of about twelve people were working together to move the post so the ambulances could get by. "The human quality is still here," Jimmy thought, realizing this would be a perfect angle for his article. Joining the group trying to shift the post, Jimmy couldn't help but think how easily Superman would be able to move it. But Superman was in Metropolis, and besides, he wasn't needed. A cheer went up as the light post was moved to the side of the street and the ambulances went down the street. Jimmy cheered with the rest of them, proud of their accomplishment. This was a case where the "regular people" could handle it.
Superman tore through the sky, the time zones melting away behind him. High above the clouds, the sky was blue and the sun dazzling, while ahead of him, the sunlight glinted off the Los Angeles smog as if it were a brown sea, the tops of the Hollywood Hills poking up like islands. His super-vision cut through the murk to the buildings and roadways below, seeking earthquake damage while he monitored the emergency channels to direct him to where he was most needed.
Despite the many calls for assistance on the emergency bands, he had no trouble recognizing the situation that most required his help. An officer was reporting a collapsed overpass, but the frayed edge of desperation in the man's voice as he requested more emergency vehicles made Superman's heart sink. He waited long enough to find out where the overpass was located; then he shot across the city in a streak of red and blue.
From a distance, he could see that part of one of LA's famous stacks had collapsed. Six levels of high-speed roadways crisscrossing in one spot: the potential for disaster was enormous. Super-vision detected the lingering cloud of concrete dust, much of which had settled onto the unmoving cars on the approaches to the disaster area. Two police officers were at the scene, their cars parked sideways across the lanes of traffic, emergency lights flashing, acting as hasty barricades to traffic as the officers tried to reach people who had been caught under the collapsing overpass.
As Superman soared over the stack, he saw that only one of the levels — the topmost one — had actually fallen, but it had taken out a five hundred foot span that had apparently been crowded with cars. Vehicles, concrete, asphalt, and steel reinforcements had plummeted onto the two levels that crossed below. Both lower levels still stood, a testimony to the earthquake-conscious engineering that had gone into them. But those roadways had been as crowded as the top one, he realized sickly.
He lighted beside one of the officers. "Sir?"
The weary, bedraggled man kept his head down as he shoved at a table-sized chunk of concrete. "Go back to your car and wait," he said automatically.
"Here — " Superman pushed the concrete boulder out of the way. "I can help."
The officer stared in disbelief at the blue Spandex-clad arm that made nothing of the impossible weight; then he raised his eyes to the hero's face. "Superman. Thank God!"
"Let me do this while you get the traffic cleared away. The ambulances'll need to have room to get through, and I'll need some space."
Metropolis International Airport was one of the largest and busiest in the world, but Martha and Jonathan Kent knew their way around it as well as they knew their own farm. Although they frequently flew "Superman Express" to Metropolis, they arrived by more conventional means just as often.
As they headed away from the gate, Jonathan paused and looked longingly at one of the lounges that lined the concourse. It was almost seven o'clock and he was hungry. The peanuts on the plane hadn't filled him up in the least. The food in the airports was *so* expensive, though, and he had to agree with Martha that the quality of airport food just wasn't worth it. He'd just have to wait until they arrived at Clark's. He was about to catch up with Martha, when the television screen in the eating area caught his eye. A familiar figure in red and blue was lifting pieces of concrete off cars.
"Martha," he called, gesturing to the television, and she turned back and joined him. They stood for a moment and watched the live pictures of the devastation in Los Angeles, the crowds of people outside, clearing the streets, the damaged buildings, and then again, the terrible tragedy at the highway.
Martha shared a look with Jonathan, full of sympathy and concern for the victims of the earthquake, and of pride in their son. Silently they turned and headed back down the concourse, toward the baggage claim area.
Jonathan found a large cart, and he and Martha began to pile their luggage on it. They were planning on staying in Metropolis for six weeks, and Martha had packed most of her art supplies, as well as necessities like clothes and freshly baked pies. He maneuvered the cart out the automatic doors, while Martha went to find a cab.
An unsuspecting taxi-driver pulled up. He hopped out of the cab to help Martha but his eyes widened in disbelief when Jonathan pushed the cart up to the curb.
Ten minutes later, Martha announced, "There, that's the last of the suitcases! Now we just need to load these large boxes." She studied the dimensions of the boxes, and the size of the cab doors, and came to a decision. "Jonathan and I can keep the picnic hampers in the back seat with us, and it looks like you'll have room in the front seat for the smaller boxes," she energetically instructed the cab driver. "Why, thank you," she added, smiling, as the slightly dazed driver held the door of the cab open for her.
Jonathan looked a little uncomfortable as he settled into the back seat, careful to avoid both of the large baskets that Martha had set on the floor of the cab. "You know, Martha, it might not have been a bad idea to let Lois pick us up in the Jeep. Clark said that she's been bored and a little restless since she started her maternity leave. She might have liked the opportunity to get out of the house for an hour or two."
Martha shook her head. "She probably would have, honey. That's why I didn't ask her. You know how stubborn Lois can be; she'd have insisted on helping us with the luggage." Here, Martha was interrupted by a sarcastic mumble from the front seat that sounded suspiciously like, "and that would be a *bad* thing because?"
Martha cleared her throat and raised her voice slightly, choosing to ignore her critic. "And she'd be entertaining us, and probably stopping for a late dinner on the way back to the brownstone …" At the mention of dinner, Jonathan looked as if he might be tempted to side with their driver, so Martha hastily made her point, "… and that baby is *already* four days late. Why, Lois could go into labor at any moment, and this poor man — " Martha paused to indicate their intrigued but slightly wary driver, "would be driving us to the hospital, rather than to Lois and Clark's. Your first grandchild might be born in the back seat of a taxi!"
Jonathan chuckled as he glimpsed the driver's horrified expression in the rearview mirror. Probably best not to mention that he or Martha were both perfectly capable of driving Lois to the hospital, or that Lois would most likely insist on driving herself. The driver was definitely convinced that he'd gotten the better of two possible scenarios, which was undoubtedly just what Martha had planned. Grateful for his good luck in having to deliver only boxes, baskets, and suitcases, rather than a baby, the driver's mood rapidly changed. For the rest of the drive, he graciously indicated what he felt might be points of interest to his passengers, as well as inquiring, quite courteously, about the Kents' impressions of Metropolis, the smoothness of their flight, and the condition of crops in Kansas.
Pulling up in front of the townhouse, the driver parked the car, jumped out to help the Kents alight, and rushed to open the trunk. By the time Lois had reached the front door in response to the ringing doorbell, the driver had neatly piled the parcels, suitcases, and picnic hampers on the stoop of the brownstone. He was pocketing the bills Jonathan had just handed him when Lois opened the door. Martha and Jonathan practically ran up the outside stairs to hug her.
"Jonathan! Martha!" Lois hugged each of the Kents as well as her bulging midsection would allow. "I'm so glad you're here, but you should have called. I would have been happy to pick you up at the airport." Lois took a short pause to catch her breath, then slipped into full babble mode, "although in a way, this is even better, because I've found a million things that need to be done before the baby arrives."
The cab driver's eyes widened as he got a look at the Kents' very pregnant daughter-in-law, and he quickly moved the luggage from the front porch to the hallway. Task completed, he wished the Kents a nice day, ignored Jonathan's attempt to hand him an additional tip, and moved rapidly down the brownstone's stairs. Lois watched, puzzled, as the driver sped off, taking the corner on two wheels, and rapidly disappeared from sight. She turned toward Jonathan and Martha and sighed apologetically, "I swear, Metropolis cab drivers get stranger by the day." Then, as Lois closed the front door, and ushered her guests into the living room, she asked in a slightly aggrieved tone, "What *are* you two laughing about?"
If the Kents had thought that Lois would slow down once they were all settled in the living room, they were badly mistaken. Lois had laughed when Martha told her why she and Jonathan found the cab driver's hasty retreat so funny, repeated that picking them up at the airport would have been no problem, and then launched into a description of all the things that she needed to do before the baby arrived.
"Up until this morning, I just couldn't wait for this baby to get here — he's four days overdue you know," Lois informed the Kents for the third time, "but today I realized that nothing is ready for him — I don't know how I'm going to get everything together in time. Of course, we really can't be certain when he's due, either, because Kryptonian babies might be on a completely different time table."
"Lois, why don't we go up to the nursery?" Martha interrupted, as Lois paused once again to take a breath. "Jonathan and I can help you with whatever you need to do. That's why we're here! We've brought a few small things for the baby, but let's leave those until we've organized everything that's already in the baby's room. Then we'll make a list of what you still need, and send Jonathan or Clark out to pick them up while you and I relax, and fuss over baby clothes," Martha added, giving Lois a sly wink.
Lois accepted the suggestion eagerly. As the Kents followed her upstairs to the newly decorated nursery, Martha and Jonathan exchanged an excited glance. While Martha had never experienced a pregnancy firsthand, both she and Jonathan recognized Lois's frenetic activity as the rush of energy that often immediately preceded labor.
LOS ANGELES: 5:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT))
Jimmy Olsen found himself filled with adrenaline as he watched the ambulance make its way down the street. The crowd of people that had helped clear the street stood milling around. Jimmy interviewed a dozen people and took their pictures; then he headed down the street, following the ambulance. It was heading toward a low-income housing unit at the end of Simkins Avenue. Part of the poorly built structure had collapsed during the earthquake, injuring a few people and leaving many homeless. Jimmy stood still for a moment, surveying the damage, before approaching a paramedic.
"Jimmy Olsen, Daily Planet," Jimmy identified himself. "How many people are injured, Mr. —" He looked at the paramedic's nametag. "Russo?"
"The others were just taken out by other ambulances," the paramedic answered as he bandaged a boy's knee. "I've got one here, which makes it eight in all, I think. These people are lucky to be alive. We didn't have any fatalities here, thank God."
"Have there been fatalities other places?" Jimmy asked.
"Yeah, a real disaster over on the Ross-Leming Memorial Highway, close to the Minear Avenue overpass. Superman's been over there, helping out, but a lot of people have been hurt or killed." The paramedic finished bandaging the knee, and let the little boy go with his mother.
Jimmy smiled at the mention of Superman's name. Russo looked up at him for the first time. "You look familiar. Hey, you didn't ever date my sister, did you?" he asked with a frown.
"No. I'm a Metropolis boy … err, man," Jimmy said, before taking a breath of contentment. It was good to know there were some things, some *people* you could depend on, even across the country. He also knew that he and Sarah had some walking to do to reach Minear Avenue. Perhaps there they could catch up with Superman and get some quotes from him.
Superman rose into the air above the devastation of the three roadways, pinpointing the signs of life he heard and scanning the mountain of steel and concrete around them, looking for the safest way to reach them, calculating what megaliths of concrete and steel had to be moved first. Practice — knowing what to look for, knowing what effect moving this or that supporting slab would have — had made this a faster process than the first time he had performed such a rescue. Even so, it took time that he was achingly aware some of the survivors might not have.
The first car was easy to reach. It was wedged nose-down between two large chunks of broken roadway, its frame twisted, its glass shattered. Rather than move it and risk the concrete on either side shifting and falling elsewhere, Superman peeled the car roof back like a flip-top can. A woman in her late twenties was crumpled over the steering wheel, her dark hair straggling over her face and sprinkled with broken glass, her breathing short and shallow with pain. He scanned her, identifying a broken wrist and leg and cracked ribs. Involuntarily, he glanced back at the torn-off end of the overpass above him. She had been lucky.
Superman eased her upright and broke off the steering wheel and column so he could gently lift her out of the car without hurting her more. A short flight to the area the officers had cleared for the injured, and he was setting her down on a blanket one of the officers had spread on the roadway. One down. Dozens to go.
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS: 9:00 P.M.
For the better part of an hour, Martha and Jonathan had helped Lois unpack shower gifts, sort baby clothing by size, and stack cartons of diapers neatly on the closet shelves. "Lois, honey," Martha inquired, glancing surreptitiously at her watch, "don't you think it might be a good idea to take a little break?"
Lois momentarily stopped tucking in the sheets on the crib and looked up at her mother and father-in-law. Her jaw had taken on the stubborn set that all three Kents had learned to heed as one early warning sign of a potential explosion. "I can't, Martha; I have too much to do and too little time to do it in. This baby," Lois pointed to her swollen mid-section, "could be here in a few hours, and I haven't made her … uhmm … his bed, or organized the supplies for the changing table, or separated the bed toys from the bath toys or …"
Seeing that Lois's agitation was growing along with her to- do list, Martha smoothly interrupted, "Well, we're here to help you now! Jonathan and I have a lot of experience — especially," and here Martha's eyes twinkled, "with getting a nursery together on *very* short notice."
"Why don't you two go downstairs," Jonathan chimed in, intercepting the "help-me-out-here" look that Martha had flung in his general direction, "and let me take over here. I'll have the last of these gifts out of their boxes and the boxes broken down in another fifteen or twenty minutes. Maybe," he suggested hopefully, "you two could check the picnic hampers. I thought I saw Martha put a pie in one of them."
The idea of pie seemed to catch, but not engage, Lois's attention. "I am a *tiny* bit hungry, now that I think about it," Lois admitted. Her eyes widened in the sudden realization that she'd forgotten to offer her guests anything to eat or drink. "Oh! You two must be starving after that long flight. I'm so sorry! What could I have been thinking of?"
"Our grandchild, most likely," Martha replied with a wide grin. Looking more serious, she inquired "Lois, have you been having contractions?"
"Why would you say that?" Lois asked suspiciously, her eyes narrowing.
"You've stopped talking or working a few times to take deep breaths, and it seems to be occurring at fairly regular intervals," Martha replied. "You haven't been snacking at all, and you have even more energy than usual, which is almost scary," she added with a smile.
"I *might* have had one or two contractions," Lois admitted, not quite looking Martha in the eye.
Upon hearing this latest news, Jonathan paused momentarily. Surprised that Lois's labor was already underway, he looked up from the instructions of the EZ Assemble Tiny Tot Umbrella Stroller long enough to give Martha a smile of pleased anticipation. He was about to reiterate that Lois should take a break and let him finish up here, but didn't get the opportunity. Martha was asking Lois another question.
"About a half hour apart?" Martha persisted.
"About twenty minutes," Lois answered with a "now the cat's out of the bag" kind of resignation. "Can we go look for that pie now? Because I know that once I get to the hospital, they won't let me eat or drink much, and I'd really like some tea, and maybe a cookie, before we go."
Martha slipped her arm around Lois's shoulders, and gave her a little hug. "I don't know how Superman keeps up with you," Martha said with a chuckle, as the two women headed off to the first floor.
LOS ANGELES: 6:30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. EDT)
A siren blared as an ambulance sped down Minear Avenue, heading toward the disaster site. Pulling in next to a police car with blue lights flashing, the ambulance driver hopped out of the emergency vehicle. "Who else is here?" she asked the police officer who had directed them through.
"You're the first EMTs," he answered and gestured to the line of earthquake victims near the end of the roadway.
The driver's eyes bulged. "My God! How long have you guys been at it?"
The officer smiled. "Not long. We've had … help," he added, turning at the grating sound of concrete against concrete to see a semi-trailer-sized chunk of broken roadway rise into the air, a small, blue-and-red figure beneath it guiding it to a swift landing on a pile of similar debris on the open easement surrounding the freeway.
Superman returned to the scene of the disaster in a blur of red and blue, and when he emerged a moment later, he was carrying the passenger compartment of a smashed car. He gently set it down in a cleared area near the other victims and, using his laser-like heat vision and strong, steel-hard fingers, began to extract the people trapped inside the crushed vehicle.
The ambulance driver watched with mouth agape. "Oh, wow! I've never seen him in action before."
By that time, Superman had reached the injured driver and was lifting him out. The ambulance driver suddenly remembered why she was there, and she hurried back to the ambulance to get her equipment and join her fellow EMTs in setting up a triage unit.
The officer watched a moment longer, until a call from the dispatcher sent him hurrying to Superman, who was setting a young child on the ground beside his injured parents. "Superman!"
The superhero looked up, his face drawn and grim, his hands and suit covered with blood and dirt. "Yes?"
"A couple of ambulances can't get through the traffic jam. Can you bring them over here?"
"Where are they?"
As Superman rocketed into the air, the officer shaded his eyes to watch him. Younger than he'd expected and not as hardened to death and disaster, but …"wow" didn't begin to cover it.
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS: 9:30 P.M.
Back in Metropolis, the pie had been found, cut, and served, with a generous amount left behind for Clark, whenever he returned home. Lois had eaten little, but had enjoyed the Kents' company as the three of them sat around the kitchen table. Jonathan and Martha had realized that with Clark still in California, Lois didn't want to think about how her labor was progressing, or discuss leaving for the hospital. They'd kept her entertained with stories about life in Kansas and Clark's childhood there, but after about twenty minutes, Jonathan had sensed her restlessness. He suspected that there were some things that she wanted to discuss with Martha alone.
"Martha," Jonathan suggested, as he prepared to leave the kitchen, "This might be a good time for you and Lois to look at those baby things you mentioned earlier. The nursery is almost finished; I just need to clean up the last of the packing material and double check the fittings on that stroller. And," he added playfully, "I've already seen those hand-painted denim overalls and that spotted cow sleeper that you made for the baby, at least six times."
"Jonathan! Now you've ruined the surprise!" Martha replied in mock indignation, as she, too, left the kitchen. Lois, looking intrigued and a little apprehensive, remembering Martha's penchant for the abstract, followed her to the pile of luggage and packages in the living room.
DAILY PLANET BUILDING, METROPOLIS: 10:00 p.m.
The blaring noise and commotion from the newsroom could be heard in Perry White's office. All the television sets were on, following the latest events in California, and a large handful of reporters and researchers collected information on the damage and rescue attempts, rushing to finish their stories before deadline. Amid the hussle, there was a knock on Perry's door.
Perry looked up and found one of the Planet's beat reporters, Sherri, leaning halfway in the door, a short stack of white papers in her hand.
"Come in," Perry said gruffly as he went back to work at his desk.
Sherri walked over to his desk and promptly plopped the papers down in front of him.
"Sorry to bother you, Mr. White, but I've got the latest stats from the earthquake. Another couple dozen people found dead where the bridges collapsed. Superman's there digging the bodies out. A few other casualities scattered around the city. All the hospitals are overwhelmed. Et cetera, et cetera. It's all there."
As Perry let out a heavy sigh and leaned back in his chair, a pencil rolled off his desk. He had seen too many calamities like this, where the counts of the dead and the wounded mounted inexorably. He was tired of the torrential work the day had brought. The calls were never-ending, and all the new information and damage reports that came in made him change the size of the front-page stories in the next paper's layout that he was working on.
"A sane man," he thought, "would go home to his wife and forget about all this. But Alice isn't waiting for me at home anymore." He glanced at the Elvis bust clock on the wall, which read 10:03 p.m. Turning back to the piles on his desk, he cracked his knuckles and sighed again.
Sherri had started to leave, but paused at the door after hearing Perry's sigh.
"Are you okay, Mr. White?" Her eyes showed signs of concern.
"Fine, Sherri. Really. Thanks for the reports. You're doing a great job."
Sherri smiled and left, closing the office door behind her. Standing up and walking over to the office window, Perry pulled the blinds open and gazed out into the newsroom, which was full of people bustling here and there, answering phones, typing on computers, or, in Ralph's case, lounging in a chair in front of the television set eating a piece of cold pizza.
As Perry scanned the area where he had spent more nights than his actual home, he found his eyes resting on a spot that wasn't so busy; in fact, nothing was happening there at all. Jimmy had attained cub reporter status a while back, and he had finally acquired a desk of his own. It was an old and scarred, crammed into the corner next to the fax-machine, but Jimmy proudly called it home.
But Jimmy wasn't calling it home right now. As a matter of fact, Jimmy was in California right now, in the very midst of the earthquake itself. And if Perry knew Jimmy, he knew that the boy would be out in the middle of everything, taking pictures and writing a first-person perspective. He'd better be — the Daily Planet needed a good front-page story. But, Perry knew, like Lois and Clark, Jimmy would probably be ignoring his own personal safety to get the story. And Perry couldn't help worrying.
Standing there, looking at the desk, Perry recognized Jimmy's youthful vibrance and eagerness … traits that he himself had held when he was Jimmy's age. Actually, Perry had been around Jimmy's age when he had first started in the journalism business. He could remember his very first story …
~~~~~ DAILY PLANET, 1962 ~~~~~
"Aw, c'mon, Chief, the car carnival? What's so newsworthy about a bunch of souped-up cars? Couldn't I have something a little more … I dunno … exciting? What about that Klan firebombing downtown?" whined a skinny teenager obnoxiously.
"Rosenthal and Grant are already on that. Listen to me, White. You don't become a journalist by hitting all the hard stories right off the bat. You gotta take a couple practice swings and even a few strikes before you'll really hit one out of the park, you catch my drift?"
"Yeah, sure thing, Chief," Perry said as he turned to walk away, a little downtrodden.
"Oh, and White …" the editor in chief called back to him. The young Perry turned around expectantly.
"Don't call me 'Chief.'"
~~~~~ DAILY PLANET, 1998~~~~~
Perry smiled nostalgically, remembering his old boss — John Q. Umphres, the longest-serving editor in chief at the Planet, and one huge baseball fanatic. He never gave Perry any breaks, but made him work for everything he wanted. And even though he hadn't wanted to cover that car carnival, had resented every minute he spent talking to those egotistical race-car owners, and had felt he was wasting his time as he wrote the article, Perry could still remember how great it felt to see his first story in print with his own byline under it.
Perry had realized from that point on that even the most prominent investigative reporters had to start out small, just like he had. And look where he was now — editor in chief of one of the largest and most respected daily newspapers in the world, with an award-winning staff and a young man, much like himself, trying so hard to get to the top. Perry hoped that when the time came for him to finally step down and retire, he would hand over his job and all the responsibilities that came with it to a man who had every bit as much journalistic integrity as he had. And it would be no surprise if that man's name was —
"Jerry Seinfeld! No way!"
Ralph's sudden outburst interrupted Perry's thoughts. Ralph dropped his pizza slice back into the box and wiped his hands on his pants as he walked closer to the newsroom's television sets.
"Ralph, what in the name of Graceland are you yelling about over there?" Perry growled, walking out into the newsroom.
"Haven't you been listening, Chief? They just discovered that Jerry Seinfeld's been trapped under some rubble caused by the earthquake! They're trying to dig him out now! Isn't that something?" Perry attempted to restrain himself and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"For Pete's sake, Ralph, we don't pay you to sit on your tush and eat pizza. Get to work!"
"Right, Chief. Sorry. I'm goin'. Really … I just gotta …" Ralph picked up his half-eaten pizza slice and shoved the rest of it in his mouth. "I juss gohha finis up dis pissah wheel quick." He swallowed. "See? On my way." He started to make a grab for another slice.
"Okay, Chief. Gotcha. Goin' now." Ralph started to run off.
"Oh, and Ralph …" Perry called out to him.
Ralph turned around.
"Don't call me Chief."
LOS ANGELES: 7:00 p.m. (10:00 p.m. EDT)
Superman studied the slope of rubble a second time and once again listened for the faint, erratic heartbeats of the people trapped under that pile of broken concrete. If he burrowed into the pile, he would dislodge the boulders balanced precariously over the vehicle at the bottom of the pile, and they were big enough to crush the fragile car. And if he came in from the top, he could grab the first boulder, but he was afraid the second one would slip down and smash the car like a pop can. But if he waited much longer… The creaking and groaning of shifting concrete was a roar to his sharpened senses.
All right. Try it anyway. He bore into the pile from the side, spinning like a drill, the friction of his passage melting the concrete and steel into a tunnel that would hold, he hoped, until he got the victims free. The tunnel was dark, barely enough light sifting in from the entrance to allow even his enhanced vision to locate the car and its passengers. He cleared a space alongside the driver's side door, listening to the ominous rumbling above him, removing the door as swiftly and delicately as he could.
But not delicately enough.
Something above him growled and scraped as it moved. In the instant before the kiloton boulder lost the support that had braced it above the car, Superman threw himself on his back between the car roof and the huge slab and *shoved.* The downward motion slowed, but the car roof under him was buckling. He couldn't afford to retreat before this, and he reached inside himself for more strength. His muscles tightened and bulged under the strain, and his breath hissed out sharply as he threw every bit of his will into resisting the pull of gravity on the pile above him.
Slowly, slowly, the megalith gave way before him, and he raised it far enough to get his knees, then his feet under him. Watching with his x-ray vision, he lifted carefully, using one slab to push the other. Beneath him, rubble slid into the open space, and he prayed desperately that the car roof would withstand the new assault, but he couldn't do anything about it while he held the boulders. Moving as quickly as he could, Superman balanced the enormous slabs one above the other until he had a clear drop to the easement. He gave one last shove, sending the huge chunks of roadway tumbling onto the open ground, even as he spun back and dug through the newly settled rubble to reach the car and its helpless occupants.
The roof had given way, but when Superman peeled it back, he saw that the seat backs and dash kept the load of rubble off the unconscious woman. Her companion hadn't been so lucky, and at the sight of that battered head, he closed his eyes for a second, helplessly wishing that he were faster or stronger or somehow able to perform the impossible.
Gritting his teeth against a sick feeling of futility, he lifted the woman out of her metal prison, only then noticing that she was heavily pregnant. A vision of Lois, smiling, telling him to go, her hand resting on her baby-swollen belly, flashed into his mind. She believed that he didn't have to be able to do *everything* in order to make a difference, that whatever he *could* do was enough, and he took strength from the memory. He soared out of the heap of debris and handed the unconscious woman over to the EMTs before he returned to the car and, almost tenderly, lifted the dead man from the wreckage.
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS. 9:45 P.M.
Martha and Lois sat at the patio table, enjoying the light evening breeze and the scent of the mid-summer roses blooming nearby. The sun had set about an hour ago, but sufficient light shone through the glass door to light the area to their satisfaction. Fireflies darted back and forth between the garden and the terrace, illuminating the darker areas of the back yard with their soft glow.
Lois had carried the tiny overalls and sleeper out to the terrace with her, and was examining them yet again. She'd been genuinely pleased and touched by this latest gift of Martha's. The hand-painted baby animals were both realistic and charming, and happily lacked the outre' look of some of Martha's more avant garde artwork. Lois was playing with the minuscule buckles on the overalls, practicing opening and closing them.
Martha smiled at the look of intense concentration on Lois's face. "They're pretty small, aren't they?" Martha asked, guessing that Lois was thinking about more than labor and the impending birth.
"The overalls or the buckles or the baby?" Lois asked, looking both confused and a little worried.
"Yes," Martha replied, "all three of them." Seeing Lois's look of concern deepen, she added, "And you'll do fine with all of them, Lois! Once that baby is in your arms, you'll be amazed at how instinct just takes over. Why, the day that we found Clark …"
"That's not really what I was worried about, Martha." Lois interjected suddenly. "Oh, I mean I was worried about that part, at least a little bit, but I think I'll be fine with it." Martha waited patiently as Lois worked her way through a verbal maze of her own making. When Lois approached her point via a circuitous route like this one, it could only mean that the issue involved was one that she'd been ruminating over seriously, and probably for a long time.
"The baby will be so tiny and helpless and dependent," Lois continued, "and I'm afraid — " Martha leaned forward as Lois's voice became softer. "I'm afraid that I might start to resent giving up my career … and … I want this baby so badly, every bit as badly as Clark does, but what if afterward I start to feel that I sacrificed one for the other?" Lois surreptitiously swiped at her cheek with the sleeper, brushing away what looked suspiciously like a tear.
"Lois! I didn't know that you planned to give up reporting! Is that what you and Clark decided?" Martha asked aghast, trying her best not to show her astonishment.
"Nnnoo … ," Lois said, with a quiet little sniff, "I plan to go back to work in three months, when my maternity leave is over. But I don't know how it can ever be the same. I won't be able to run out at any hour to meet a source — what if I left the baby with Clark, and there was an emergency, like the earthquake today? Clark would have to choose between leaving the baby alone, or letting hundreds or thousands of people die because Superman wouldn't be there to help. I can't do that to him!"
"Have you talked to Clark about this?" Martha asked softy.
"Not really," Lois replied, looking down at the tabletop, "I felt so selfish for thinking that way, that I just kept putting it off, and now the baby's here, and it's too late."
"Too late?" Martha asked. "Too late for what? I suppose it *is* too late to decide you don't want to have children, but I don't think that it's too late for anything else."
Lois looked up at Martha, and answered, "I can't shortchange my baby, and I can't deprive the world of Superman, so I guess it's my career that has to be sacrificed."
"That's just silly, Lois!" Martha replied, with some force. "Being a good mother takes some sacrifices, but it doesn't mean being a martyr for your child. That wouldn't be good for you or for the baby! Raising a child to feel that he or she is the center of the universe isn't healthy. Not for the child and not for the universe! Not even," Martha smiled at Lois, "if he *is* my grandchild."
Lois looked at Martha, a little wide-eyed at what she was hearing. Martha continued. "This isn't the first time you've had to overcome your fears about a relationship, Lois. After you found out that Clark was Superman, you had some doubts that things would work out. And you weren't sure that marriage was in the cards for the two of you either, were you?"
Lois shook her head, "No," she replied quietly, "I wasn't."
"But you discovered that you and Clark together," Martha began, "were …"
"… were stronger than either of us alone." Lois finished for her, with the hint of a smile returning to her face.
"You and Clark looked at some of these issues even before you married," Martha continued. "You were the one who comforted Superman when he first realized that he couldn't save everyone. You kept him from giving up when you told him that whatever he *could* do was enough. You're a strong person, Lois, and you've always managed to meet or exceed any goals that you set for yourself. Maybe you need to give Lois Lane that same encouragement, and that same permission to fail occasionally."
"I don't like to fail," Lois said with a small pout. "I still want to win that Pulitzer."
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to have it all," Martha replied, "as long as you realize that it doesn't mean having it all at the *same* time. Do you remember that evening you and Clark and Jonathan and I were talking about books we'd especially enjoyed?"
Lois nodded, "Yes. We were amazed at the similarities and differences in each other's choices. It didn't surprise me that Jonathan liked Zane Grey, but I never would have guessed that as a child he enjoyed reading Nancy Drew."
Martha chuckled, "Jonathan has surprised me any number of times with the range of his interests. But do you remember that everyone mentioned 'Gone With the Wind' as a favorite?"
Lois nodded again, not certain where the discussion was leading. "That novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1937. The book's author, Margaret Mitchell was a newspaper reporter, too, in the 1920s, but you probably already know that."
More confused than ever, Lois mumbled an affirmative and Martha continued, "Mitchell spent more than ten years writing her novel. She worked in bits and spurts, writing for a few days or a few months, then not working on it for weeks or months at a time. She felt that she had responsibilities to her husband, her family, her friends, civic responsibilities, and responsibilities to herself. All of those things were important parts of her life. In a way, I suppose you could say she 'had it all.' She just had it all at different points in her life, but I don't think that diminishes her achievement in any way, do you?"
Lois grinned, now understanding Martha's point. "And they accuse *me* of babbling!" she said to herself. "Thank you, Martha," Lois said confidently, looking more relaxed despite the increasing frequency of her contractions. "I don't know what we'd do without you and Jonathan."
"That's what we're here for, Lois" Martha replied, "Jonathan and I are always happy to help our children."
LOS ANGELES: 7:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. EDT)
The biggest chunks of shattered roadway had been cleared from the two levels of the stack, and Superman had brought out the last vehicle, an open-topped Jeep, whose roll bar had never been designed to withstand a collapsing overpass. He was carrying the last victim to the ambulance that was functioning as a temporary morgue when the head of the emergency team, a gray- haired man in his late forties, fell in step beside him. "Superman, I want to thank you for your help this afternoon."
Numbly, Superman nodded and continued plodding to the ambulance, only relinquishing his grisly burden when the EMTs directed him to lay the smashed body on a stretcher. He had delayed long enough to recover the dead as well as the living, knowing that the emergency workers would have risked their lives searching through the collapsed roadway if he hadn't done so. But the long exposure to sudden, violent death left him shaking inside, consumed with the need to hold his wife and feel her living flesh against his, to feel his child moving within her. He needed to draw strength from her vitality, to remember why he kept trying, to rekindle that hope for the future that their child represented for him.
Yet he wasn't the only husband and father who longed to be home with his family, and he swallowed back his desperate desire to fly away and said, "I haven't heard what else has been happening. Is there some other emergency like this?"
The older man looked at the superhero's face for a long moment. Maybe he saw something in the younger man's expression; maybe he just knew how it felt to bring out fifty-seven dead bodies, children among them. For whatever reason, he said, "This was the worst of it. We've got everything else pretty much under control."
He smiled faintly and continued, "Not that we wouldn't welcome some more super-help if you want to stick around …"
Superman was already shaking his head. "I'm needed elsewhere."
The emergency coordinator stuck out his hand. "Then, thank you, Superman. You made a difference for a lot of people today."
"Thanks," Superman managed, gripping the older man's hand. He stepped away and lifted effortlessly into the air. "I couldn't have done it without all of your help. Thank everyone for me, please."
The other man nodded and watched in awe as Superman took off at such speed that he seemed to vanish. Thank God for an angel in blue and red he thought and turned back to the ambulance where the rest of his team waited. In the distance, he heard the faint wail of a fire siren, and a gust of wind stirred up the concrete dust as he climbed into the ambulance.
"Let's get out of here," he said.
Jimmy and Sarah arrived at Minear Avenue and saw the collapsed highway in the distance. "Look, there's Superman!" Sarah pointed to a caped figure, who stood talking to one of the rescue workers. Jimmy began running to try to greet the super- hero but before he got close enough, Superman rose into the air, and disappeared into the sky.
"Oh," Jimmy said, disappointed.
Seconds later Jimmy heard a cry for help. "Help me! Somebody!" The noise came from a two-story apartment building that appeared to look all right from the outside.
"Hold this," Jimmy said, passing his notepad and camera to Sarah. "I'm going in."
"Why don't you just call the rescue crew?" Sarah asked, but by the time she said it, Jimmy was gone. She shook her head.
Inside, the building still looked fine. Jimmy ran up the stairs to the second floor, where the cries originated. As Jimmy ascended, he could hear a woman crying, as well as the cries of children. He moved down the hallway until he found the apartment where the cries were coming from.
"Hey, what's the problem?" he yelled.
"We can't get out! The doorway is blocked," the woman called from inside the apartment.
Jimmy tried the door, but it was locked. "Can you push your key under the door?" he asked? "Get a yardstick or something if you need to."
It seemed like forever, but eventually he saw a bit of silver sliding under the door. He reached down and picked up the key. He then immediately unlocked the door and pulled it open.
As the door opened, he jumped back when books crashed down on his head. Two heavy bookcases had fallen over, blocking the doorway. When the door was opened, the books fell to the ground. Jimmy picked up the books, and then was able to push the shelves back up.
He was glad he had stopped to help when he saw that the woman in the apartment was pregnant — at least as pregnant as Lois. She also had two small children in her arms. She thanked Jimmy profusely, explaining that she and her children had been watching Superman's rescue efforts, expecting he'd come rescue them when he was done at the highway. When they saw him fly off suddenly, they knew they needed to cry for help.
"Never fear, Jimmy Olsen is here," Jimmy chanted happily. Jimmy held a child in one arm and escorted the grateful woman with his other arm. Once they were outside, Sarah returned his notes and camera to him amid the woman's words of thanks. The two of them took off again, heading toward the city's business section.
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS. 10:30 pm
Clark wasted no time returning to Metropolis. He flew in the bedroom window, quickly spinning out of his dirty suit and into an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt. He rubbed his eyes as he headed for the stairs. The hours spent helping with the earthquake had been both physically and emotionally draining, but as much as his body craved a hot shower and a nap, his heart needed his wife more.
"Lois?" he called down the stairs. It was not, however, his wife's voice that answered back.
"Clark, we're down here," he heard Martha say as he reached the bottom of the stairs.
In the living room, Lois was pacing slowly around the couch, her breathing slow and deep. After a few seconds, she stopped and looked up, smiling at Clark. It took him only a second to realize what had just happened.
"You're in labor?" he asked, his eyes wide with panic and concern.
At the look on his face, both Lois and Martha began laughing. Lois walked up to him and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. "Honey, I'm *fine*!" When she saw he wasn't convinced, she continued. "Clark, I am really OK. My contractions are twenty minutes apart, and except for the half minute they last, I feel fine." Her smile widened. "Clark, we're going to have our baby!"
Clark smiled softly at her excitement, his hand reaching up to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear before falling to rub her stomach gently. Lois could see that something was troubling him, and a quick glance at Martha told her that her mother-in-law was thinking the same. "Um, Clark," Martha said, walking over to the couple. "Why don't you and Lois go into the kitchen and get a snack? You'll both need your strength later."
"That's a good idea, Martha," Lois said, smiling gratefully at the older woman. She led Clark into the kitchen and headed for the table.
Clark walked over to the cabinet. "You want some of that raspberry tea, honey?"
Lois settled into a chair, then looked at him. "Clark, spill it."
Clark stopped rummaging through the cabinets long enough to say, "Spill what?"
"Tell me what's wrong. Why do you look so sad? We're finally having our baby, Clark. You should be excited."
Clark sighed and turned to face her, leaning against the counter. "I know, Lois, and I am. It's just …"
"Clark, what is it?" Lois asked in a slightly exasperated tone.
Clark looked down at the floor before answering in a low voice. "I wasn't here." When he looked up at her, Lois could see tears forming in his eyes. "I missed part of it."
The sadness in Clark's eyes wrenched Lois's heart, and she had to struggle to keep her own tears in check. Reaching out a hand to him, she said, "Come here." He crossed the room and took her hand, kneeling in front of her. "You're here now. That's what's important."
Clark absently rubbed her knee with his hand before raising slightly to sit in the chair next to her. "In my head, I know that. I know that I had to go and help those people. But Lois, all my life, I've felt like I've been missing out on things. That because I was running off saving other people's lives, I was missing my own."
He paused for a moment and sighed, collecting his thoughts. "When I was in high school, I dreamed of going to Metropolis U. It was the best journalism school in the country, and I was sure I could get in. The only way my parents could afford to send me somewhere out of state was for me to get a scholarship, but I was positive I could get it. When the morning of the SATs came, I was a few minutes early, so I was sitting outside the building. That's when I heard the people in a car down the street. Their brakes had gone out and they were heading right for an intersection where several cars were. I didn't even think. I just took off running toward the car. I managed to stop it right before it reached the intersection and get out of there before anyone saw me. Afterward, I hid behind a tree for a minute and watched the couple in the car. They were young, and had a baby with them, and I knew that I had just saved their lives. It felt so good. It was the first time that I had really been able to use my powers to help people. But by the time I got back to the building, the test had already started and the proctor wouldn't let me in. I couldn't take it again for several months, and by then, it was past the deadline for the big scholarship."
Lois touched his hand and broke him from his reverie. He looked up at her. "It was that day that I realized what these powers really meant. What I was giving up. I mean, I know it all worked out great, but at that moment, all I could think of was that I had just missed one of the most important events of my life, and that I was never going to get that back."
Lois brought his hand up to her lips, placing a kiss in his palm. "Clark, I know that sometimes, it must seem like you miss a lot by being Superman. But you are always here for the important stuff." She smiled at him, laughing a little. "You were here for all three of our weddings." He grinned at her, stroking her hand lightly with his thumb. "And you were here for our honeymoon," she added with a gleam in her eye. Her gaze then turned serious, and she reached up to touch his face. "Clark, sometimes the world is going to need you. We may not like it, but that's how it is. But you are always here when it really counts."
She reached up and brushed a tear from her cheek, then returned her hand to Clark's face. "Remember what you told me once? That you always come back?"
Clark smiled at the memory. "I always will," he said.
Lois reached down and laid one hand on her stomach. "And we'll always be here waiting." Leaning forward slightly, she kissed him softly on the lips, then sat back with a mischievous grin on her face. "Now, where is that raspberry tea you were going to make me?" Clark laughed, then got up to fix them a snack.
LOS ANGELES: 7:50 p.m. (10:50 p.m. EDT)
Jimmy Olsen was starting to feel hungry. It seemed like forever since he'd run out of Sarah's apartment, although it had really only been five hours ago. But five hours without eating seemed like a long time to him, and it was way past dinner time. The sky was darkening, and a few stars were visible. He could still hear sirens moving throughout the city, but now, instead of looking for a story, he began looking for a restaurant.
Suddenly there was a large bang. Jimmy jumped and looked behind him. A huge cloud of black smoke was rising into the air, and the acrid smell burned his nostrils. As Jimmy and Sarah looked up into the sky behind them, and despite the time of day, it looked like the entire area a few blocks away was completely illuminated.
"I didn't know there was a fire!" Jimmy exclaimed. "This is hot! No pun intended."
"Wait …" Sarah said. "Do you think Superman knows about this? I mean, we did see him flying off …"
"Good call," Jimmy said. "I think this calls for use of my special pager." Jimmy pulled it out and hit the button. He gave the pager a closer look, frowning. "Oh, *no*!" Jimmy complained.
"What? What's wrong?" Sarah asked.
"I accidentally picked up *your* pager — your *regular* pager! I can't summon Superman with this. Mine must be back at your apartment. And we'd have a ways to go to get back there," Jimmy said.
"Maybe we could just call for help? You know — 'Help, Superman' and all that?" Sarah asked.
"No," Jimmy answered. "If he's still in town, I don't want to distract him so he thinks *we're* in danger." Jimmy again looked up at the sky, which was turning a bright crimson. "This is getting scary."
Despite his fear, Jimmy did what he had been doing a lot lately — he went right to the problem. Jimmy ran to a bicycle shop that was just down the street. The large display window was broken. The glass on the ground crunched under his feet. Without a second thought, he lifted two bicycles from the display and set them in the street.
"Come on," Jimmy said. "We're riding downtown."
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS. 11:00 p.m.
Clark watched Lois as she walked off another contraction. It was the second one she'd had since he had returned home. His mind was reeling with all the techniques he'd learned in their childbirth classes to help Lois relax and get through the contractions, but it was obvious that at this point she didn't need any help. He smiled. Part of him was terrified at the thought of the upcoming ordeal; the other part couldn't wait to finish the pregnancy and finally have a baby.
The phone rang a few minutes later, and Lois answered it. "Hello? … Oh, hi, Mother … No, we're still up, probably won't be going to bed for a while. Why? … Sure, come over tonight … No, it won't be a problem … See you. Bye."
When Lois hung up the phone, she looked at the three Kents. "My mother was shopping over at Zabel's, the big discount warehouse store. Anyway, they had a huge sale on frozen entrees, and she bought us some, seeing as how we won't have time to cook once the baby comes. She wants to drop them off tonight, so we can put them right in our freezer."
"Well, it doesn't look like anyone will be getting much sleep tonight, so I guess that's OK," Martha said.
Suddenly Clark stood up, a familiar look upon his face.
"What now?" Lois wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer.
"The television news" he answered, and all four of them hurried into the living room, where the television had been left on. Their eyes widened as they looked at the scene. Los Angeles was burning. It took Lois only a second to make up her mind.
"Go!" she told him.
Clark turned to her, indecision evident in his face. "But, Lois —" he began.
"I'll be fine. This is early labor; we both know it can last for hours. Twelve or sixteen. There could be people dying there! Go!"
Clark hesitated another moment, then he reached out and touched her cheek. "I'll be back," he promised. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
Lois nodded. She had no doubt of that. A second later he was gone.
LOS ANGELES: 8:05 p.m. (11:05 p.m. EDT)
Evening had arrived in LA while Superman was in Metropolis, and the orange glare of flames was visible through the murky cloud of smog. At least this time he didn't have to wait for an emergency call to tell him where the trouble spots were. He saw several fires burning in one small area, and he swooped toward it. The water mains had broken in the earthquake, and without water, the fire department wasn't able to fight multiple fires.
A quick glance down the street showed him that most of the fires were burning in a small business district where the shops had closed several hours before. He felt a pang of sympathy for the business owners, knowing how devastating a fire could be to a small, marginal business, but when he looked the other direction, he forgot all about property damage. He hurtled through the darkening sky to the old-fashioned wooden building where flames were sticking their fiery heads out the roof and he could hear panicky cries.
The staff of the assisted living center was trying to move residents out of the building, but too many of the occupants couldn't get around without help. In the hot, gusting wind, the fire was progressing faster than the evacuation was. Superman dropped down beside a frantic nurse aide who was trying to get her confused, struggling patient to let go of her and sit down so she could return to the center for another resident. "Oh, Superman, thank God!" she exclaimed in a typical greeting.
He didn't waste time on pleasantries but gently removed the old man's clinging hands from the aide's plump, muscular arms. "Are there any residents on the top floor?"
"Yes," she gasped, hurrying back to the front door against the wind. "And, thanks." But he was already gone in a hurricane rush of wind, aiming for an open window on the third floor.
Superman landed inside and scanned the rooms on the floor. Smoke hung in a dense curtain from the ceiling, and heat and sparks blasted at the invulnerable skin of his face and hands. Above his head, the fire roared, crackling sharply as it devoured the roof supports, but the rooms were empty —
— except one.
Whipping into the apparently empty bathroom, Superman stopped and pulled back the shower curtain to reveal a young woman crouching fully clothed in the corner. The tumult of the flames had grown louder in the moment since he entered the building, and when he stepped toward the bathtub, the terrified woman cowered away from him, afraid of a stranger invading her hiding place, afraid of the fire.
Her eyes were confused, and she coughed as the smoke flowed in through the open door. He extended his hand slowly, as to a frightened animal. "I'm a friend," he said calmly. "Will you come with me?"
He didn't dare take his eyes off her to follow the progress of the fire or let his friendly, reassuring expression show any tension or uncertainty. "Come with me," he said, continuing to hold out his hand.
He saw the indecision in her face; then she set her hand in his, and he closed his fingers around hers. "Come with me," he repeated, and she shuffled out of the bathtub.
Once she stood beside him, he risked a quick scan of the ceiling. There was no time left. The roof joists were burning through above them and flame licked across the ceiling. "Hold on," he told her and, scooping her into his arms, shot out of the bathroom and down the hall to the window.
Outside, the wind was hurling dirt and grit at the milling, bewildered residents. Superman gently loosened his passenger's death grip around his neck and set her on the grass. Around him, staff members were assisting residents in wheelchairs from the first floor. He took a moment to scan the second floor, then rocketed through the nearest window, pulverizing the glass as he passed through it.
For the next few minutes, he carried out people who had gone to their rooms after dinner. Most of them recognized him and were relieved and eager for him to fly them out of the building, and he was able to evacuate the second floor very quickly.
By the time he brought out the last old man and set him down on his frail, trembling legs, the center's staff had cleared the main floor. A staff member hurried over to help the old man, and Superman turned to scan the entire building once more. Everyone was safely outside, but the fire continued to devour the second floor, and by the sound, the fire trucks were still several minutes away.
Reluctantly, he pushed the thought of returning home to Lois to the back of his mind and soared over the building where he could get a clear view of the fire. The increasingly fierce winds were whipping the flames higher, and they had nearly eaten through the roof. Starting at one end, Superman tackled the blaze, drawing energy from the heated air and breathing out bitter cold to drop the flames below combustion temperature. Over and over, he blew enormous lung-fulls of super-cooled air onto the fire, and gradually, the flames retreated before him.
In the meantime, a pumper truck and hook-and-ladder truck arrived, and the firemen scurried around, setting up their hoses. Between the gusting winds and the uneven pressure from the pumper truck, their aim was erratic at first, but after a few minutes, a stream of water was spurting onto the opposite end of the roof. Superman would have smiled in relief if he hadn't been so busy putting out the fire. The sooner this blaze was out, the sooner he could go home and be with Lois.
Once he was sure that the fire department had the conflagration under control, Superman landed beside the fire chief, who held out his hand in greeting. "Superman, I'm glad to finally meet you."
That was a change from the more usual, "Superman, thank God," which was a good indication that he was no longer needed here. The superhero shook the chief's hand. "I'll check on the fires down the block," he said, when the howl of a hurricane- force wind and a coughing boom cut him off.
"Supe — " the fire chief began, jerking around to look at the sound behind him, but Superman was already gone.
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS. 11:20 p.m.
About twenty minutes after Clark left, the Lanes arrived. Ellen set two large paper bags down on the floor and went over to hug Martha. Sam entered more slowly, carrying two more bags. Lois wondered briefly how all of this would fit in her freezer. She started to pick up one of the bags, when she felt another contraction beginning. She tried to stand still and be inconspicuous, but her body didn't want to stand still, and she began pacing in the small entryway.
At first Ellen continued talking to Martha and Jonathan without taking any notice, but she soon noticed Lois's strange behavior. After a few more seconds, Lois stopped pacing and smiled, placing her hands on her bulge and rubbing gently. Ellen blinked.
"Lois," she demanded. "What's going on? Was that a contraction?"
Lois's smile broadened. "Yes, it was. I've been having these contractions about every twenty minutes for four hours now. Isn't it wonderful?"
Ellen's eyes opened wide in surprise, and she stared at Lois in horror. "Lois! Shouldn't we be on the way to the hospital? Have you called your doctor?"
Lois looked at her mother. "Yes, mother, I've called the doctors. They said to make sure it wasn't false labor and to call them back when the contractions were lasting at least one minute and were four minutes apart and it had been that way for at least an hour. Right now they're lasting about thirty seconds and are twenty minutes apart. So we have a while to wait."
Ellen wasn't mollified. "Things can happen fast; I remember. Are you ready? Do you have everything you need?"
Lois sighed. Her mother would never change. "Mother, Clark and I have been preparing for this baby for nine months now. The suitcase is packed; the labor bag is ready. I've been drinking raspberry tea until I never want to see another raspberry. I've been doing my Kegel exercises, my relaxation exercises, and everything else, and all there is to do now is wait."
"What about your breathing?" Ellen demanded. "I still remember how. Hoo, Hoo, Hah!" She proceeded to demonstrate. "C'mon Lois, breathe with me. Hoo, Hoo, Hah!"
"Mother," Lois began but Ellen continued panting. "Mother!" she repeated in another attempt to get her attention. Ellen stopped and looked at her. "Mother," Lois said calmly. "Breathing is Lamaze; Clark and I are using the Bradley Method."
"Bradley? What's Bradley? I never heard of it."
Lois gave up. "Childbirth classes, Mother. Like Lamaze, only different. Bradley doesn't do patterned breathing; we're taught to relax and yield to our instincts."
"It also teaches women to argue more with their doctors," Sam muttered under his breath.
Ellen started at her husband for a second. "Well, I'm sure Lois didn't need any help with *that,*" she replied tartly. Martha hid a smile in her coffee cup. She had been thinking the same thing.
"Now, Lois," Ellen continued. "Where's your suitcase? I'll put it in the car." Ellen paused as Lois sat down with an audible sigh. "Don't roll your eyes at me like that, young lady. I've had two babies; things can happen fast, and *you* don't know how confused you'll be shortly, or how much pain you'll be in. Didn't you find it that way, Martha?"
There was a sudden silence as everyone looked at Martha. Lois tried desperately to remember if anyone had ever mentioned to her parents that Clark was adopted. Obviously not. It wasn't a secret, exactly, but it wasn't anything they tended to talk about either.
Martha sat up a little straighter and gave Lois a reassuring smile. Then she looked at Ellen. "One thing I've learned is that childbirth is different for every woman, and that every birth is a wondrous creation."
Lois smiled slightly. "I hope it will be wonderful. Clark and I did all the Bradley classes — twelve weeks worth — and I have talked things out with my doctors. I wrote a birth plan, telling them how I want things to go. I included every possible complication — even the incredibly rare complications. I've done everything I can think of to prepare for having this baby. All there is to do now is wait."
Ellen spoke up. "Lois, having a baby isn't something you can control. It controls you. The only thing you can control is the environment, and that's why you should get to the hospital as soon as possible."
"That's why I should stay here," Lois responded. "I'm in control here; I won't be in the hospital. Besides, Clark isn't home yet." Lois stood up and picked up the bags her mother had brought. "Are these the frozen casseroles you bought? I'll go put them in the freezer." As she headed toward the kitchen, she turned and looked back. "Are you leaving soon, or would you like a cup of coffee?"
Ellen looked at her in disbelief. "There is *no way* I am leaving here when you are in labor," she announced. Sam gave a slight sigh and sat down on the sofa.
"I'll go make another pot," said Lois, as she walked into the kitchen.
Sam Lane stared up at the ceiling. He knew Lois was a grown woman, married, but she was still his little girl and it was hard to believe that the adorable child he remembered was going to become a mother soon. He knew from his medical training how difficult childbirth could be, and he hated to think of her in pain. Lois was stubborn, and he knew from previous conversations with her that she was determined to have the baby naturally, without medication. He also knew, perhaps better than Lois did herself, how frightened she was. There were very few moments when Lois showed her vulnerable side to her father, and he felt lucky she had been able to confide in him.
"Daddy, are you OK?" Lois asked.
Sam suddenly snapped back to reality, and saw Lois had come back into the room and was looking at him, concerned. "I'm all right, pumpkin. I was just remembering your childhood. And all the times I saw that determined look on your face."
"Sam, you were hardly there for Lois when she was a child," Ellen pointed out with a roll of her eyes, a gesture that was reminiscent of her eldest daughter's. "You worked all hours of the day, and you moved out when she was barely a teenager."
"Mother," Lois admonished quietly. She wasn't in the mood for another argument between her parents — not tonight.
"Actually, I was thinking of the time when Lois came to live with me," Sam said. "It was her senior year. And I remember why she came to live with me. You, Ellen, moved to a different part of town, and Lois wanted to stay at Metropolis High School."
"That's right," Lois said, remembering with a smile. "I had just been appointed editor of the paper, and there was no way I was going to transfer schools."
"Anyway," Sam continued, "I was adamant about Lois being a doctor. I used to bring her to the gyms with me, and instead of watching me work, she would watch the fights."
"It was no place for a seventeen-year-old girl," Ellen mumbled. But neither Lois nor Sam heard her.
"Oh, and the guys got me into tae-kwon-do," Lois said. She almost felt the excitement of the gym atmosphere in her bones. "That's when I started to take martial arts lessons," she told Martha and Jonathan.
"I thought she was interested in all the wrong things," Sam said. "She was quite the journalist, even in those days. She told me she wanted to attend Metropolis University — one of the best colleges for journalism, even now."
"But I was stubborn. I wanted her to be a doctor. In fact, I had decided not to pay her tuition unless she majored in medicine."
"And Lois never would have taken up medicine," Ellen said. "She just wasn't interested."
"No," Lois agreed, arching her back slightly in her seat. She wasn't in pain, but she was a bit stiff. "I couldn't stand all the stuff — like dissecting frogs — that went with medicine. Besides, I already knew my calling was in writing." She stood up and took a few random steps. She was much more comfortable moving around.
Sam sighed, remembering his mistake. "I was so determined to have a daughter in the medical profession. I couldn't even talk to Lucy — she was always with her mother, or holed up in her room. I thought Lois was my only chance."
"It was a fat chance," Lois said. She headed for the kitchen. "I'll see if the coffee's ready."
"All right, sweetie," Ellen said, watching her daughter leave.
"So what did you do, Sam?" Martha asked, engrossed in the story. "Did you force her to major in medicine when she started college?"
Sam nodded, but said, "I was prepared to. And then, during Lois's senior year — it must have been winter, because she was wearing flannel pajamas and had a heavy blanket wrapped around her — I came home around six in the morning. The dining room light was still on, and I found Lois sleeping there."
"What on earth possessed Lois to fall asleep in the dining room?" Martha asked, confused.
Sam grinned as he remembered the vision of Lois's head propped up on one arm at the dining room table. "It was obvious she had been up all night. She had fallen asleep sitting at the table, next to this old, dilapidated typewriter she'd found. There was stack of typewritten pages next to her; it must have been two inches tall. And a book on journalism scholarships was propped up against the candelabra. I helped her upstairs to bed. Two hours later she woke up and everything was business as usual."
"Sam, I never knew about this," Ellen said, surprised. There was a new appreciation in her eyes for her former husband.
"After that night, I knew if Lois was that determined, I couldn't deny her a college education, whatever she wanted to major in," Sam told Ellen.
"He paid for everything," Ellen told Martha and Jonathan. "Metropolis U was expensive, even with the scholarships she won. Sam paid for Lois's books, her car payments, dorm fees, and her apartment when she was a senior. And I never did figure out exactly *what* had changed Sam's mind." Ellen looked at Sam proudly. "Until now."
"With Lois," Sam said. "Sometimes it's best just to give her what she wants. She'll get it anyway."
Lois came slowly back into the living room, carrying two mugs of coffee for her parents. She'd had another contraction when she was in the kitchen, stronger this time. "Could someone turn up the television?" she asked. "I'd like to see how close they are to getting the fire in California under control."
LEVINE CLEANERS, LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA: 9:30 p.m. (12:30 a.m. EDT)
Jimmy and Sarah raced through the LA streets, weaving through the debris that littered their path. Behind them, fire was rapidly engulfing the city. Smoke billowed up from the flames, hiding many of the buildings under its dense blanket of gray. Ahead of them, the skies looked relatively clear, but they knew it was only a matter of time before the flames reached this part of town. As they turned off the main street onto a smaller street near Sarah's apartment, they could only hope that they could somehow contact Superman before the entire city was destroyed.
The main streets had been crowded with rescue vehicles, but the quiet side street was deserted. The effects of the earthquake were just as apparent, however, even on these smaller buildings. The sidewalks in front of most stores were covered in millions of tiny pieces of glass that had once made up the store windows. Inside, merchandise covered the floors, shelves were overturned, and long cracks appeared in many of the walls. The stores, which were mostly privately owned, would take a long time to recover.
Sarah and Jimmy were about to round the corner when Jimmy suddenly skidded to a stop. It took Sarah a second to realize that he had not followed her, and she stopped a few feet down the road, yelling, "What is it?"
Jimmy held his hand up distractedly, gesturing for her to be quiet. His eyes were fixed on the small drycleaners on the corner. Suddenly, he hopped off his bike and ran to the front of the store. Sarah quickly followed, repeating her earlier question. "What is it?"
"I heard someone inside here," he answered. He quickly surveyed the shop, trying to find a way to get in. Unlike most of the small stores that lined the street, this one had no front window, only a small door with the words "Levine Cleaners" painted on it. He banged on the door and called, "Hello? Is anyone in there?"
Faintly, they heard a man's voice answer back. "We're back here."
"It sounds like it's coming from the side of the building," Sarah said, grabbing Jimmy's arm as they ran around the corner. On the side of the building, they could see several small barred ventilation windows, and through one of them, they saw a man's face. "Sir, what happened?" Sarah asked, running up to the window.
"My family and I were in the office when the earthquake hit," he explained. "Something fell against the door, and we can't get it open. Please, you have to get help."
"Don't worry, sir," Jimmy assured him. "We'll get you out of there."
Jimmy and Sarah raced to the front of the store, heading straight for the front door. But when Jimmy moved to open it, nothing happened.
"Is it locked?" Sarah asked, reaching out to jiggle the handle.
"I don't think so," Jimmy said. "I think something is blocking it. Here, help me try to push it open."
Sarah and Jimmy braced themselves against the door and began to push. At first, it appeared as if it was working, but as soon as the door was open a few inches, it stopped moving again. Jimmy threw himself against the door, again and again, and they finally were able to squeeze into the store.
The small store was a maze of fallen equipment and racks, including one that was wedged against the door. They spent some time trying to get through, even trying to crawl under the mess. But it was a maze of steel bars, boxes, and slippery plastic bags, which made it hard to breathe.
Finally Sarah gave up. "There's no way we are getting in this way," she said, turning back to Jimmy. "There's got to be some kind of service entrance in the back — maybe we can get in there."
They made their way back to the front door and ran around back, pausing to explain the situation to Mr. Levine. When they reached the back, however, they found the service entrance locked. "Great!" Jimmy yelled, hitting the door in frustration. He quickly dug through his pockets, turning up a rubber band, a few slips of paper, and the item he had hoped would be there, a paperclip. He turned to Sarah and said, "I'm gonna try to pick the lock, but I'm not sure I can get it open. You have to go and find some help."
Sarah opened her mouth to protest, then realized that Jimmy was right. They had to get this family out as quickly as possible. She reached out and squeezed his hand. "I'll be back as soon as I can." With that, she was gone.
Jimmy's gaze lingered down the alley for only a second before he turned his attention to the task at hand. Kneeling until he was eye level with the lock, he stretched the paper clip into one long wire and carefully inserted it in the lock. It took him longer than usual, but eventually, he heard the soft metallic click of the lock turning and opened the door. He stepped into the room and took note of its contents. It appeared to be a cleaning room, complete with vats of chemicals marked "Flammable." "Perfect," he said. Then he noticed the door on the opposite wall, or what he could see of it. Several large racks of clothes had fallen against it, and Jimmy could see that there was no way he was moving them alone. He ran over to the door and knocked on it. "Mr. Levine?" he called.
He heard some shuffling on the other side of the door, then Mr. Levine's voice. "You got in," he said, sounding relieved.
"Sir, there are some racks against the door, and I can't move them alone. My friend went to get help, and we'll get you out as soon as they arrive." After hearing Mr. Levine's assent, Jimmy settled onto the floor. "Come on, Sarah," he whispered. "We're counting on you."
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS 12:30 a.m. EDT
Lois stood behind the couch watching the television, appalled, as she watched the reports of the fire spread throughout Los Angeles. Her common sense told her there was no way the fire would be out soon; only her faith in her husband kept her believing that he would be back when she needed him. As she stood there, she felt another contraction coming on. She breathed deeply through it, trying to keep the intensity of it from her parents. But her mother was watching her closely, and was not fooled for a second.
"Lois," Ellen said in a no-nonsense voice. "The contractions are getting longer and they are coming more often. We need to be getting ready to leave. Where's Clark?"
There was a moment's silence, as three pairs of eyes turned to the television set. As if on cue, the picture switched to footage of Superman, carrying an old lady out of a burning house. The anchor's voice came clearly, "This was the scene an hour ago, as Superman rescued dozens of people from an assisted living home in a suburb of Los Angeles. The fires continue to burn fiercely …"
"He'll be back soon," Lois said. "He's out working. He had a … an interview."
"At this time of night?"
"It was the only time the source would talk to us," Lois answered hastily. "I wanted to go, but Clark wouldn't let me."
"I should think not. I'm glad *someone* can make you see reason, Lois, for heaven knows I can't. But I don't care how important the story is," Ellen said. "Clark should be here *now*."
"He'll be here as soon as he can, Mother," Lois answered.
"Can't you just call him and at least tell him you're in labor?"
Lois bit her lip. "He's undercover, and he doesn't have a cell phone with him." That, at least, was the literal truth. Her gaze returned to the television where the camera cut from the news anchor to a vision of hell: wind-driven flames reaching into the night sky while sheets of smoke obscured the surroundings.
"In Los Angeles," the anchor said in a solemn voice-over, "a fire rages out of control as high winds defeat the fire department's attempts to contain the blaze. Gloria Chambers is on the scene with a live report."
The middle-aged woman obviously didn't owe her position to her physical beauty, and the buffeting wind blew her hairdo into a tangled mess, but her report was accurate and professional. "Thank you, Leslie. The fire departments of the greater Los Angeles area have been stretched to the limit, fighting the many fires that broke out following today's earthquake. Hampered by a lack of water after water mains across the city broke during the quake, the fire fighters have had to ignore some of the smaller fires as they battle the larger blazes. But with high winds fanning the flames, what were small, isolated fires have joined together. The combined fires create updrafts that draw more air and make the fires larger and hotter, which in turn have even stronger updrafts. It's a vicious cycle that eventually results in firestorms, with hurricane-like winds feeding flames that reach hundreds of feet into the air until the fire is hot enough to melt cars and burn brick and concrete.
"Just such a firestorm is raging through the quiet suburb of La Playa behind us. Gale-force winds prevent the use of helicopters to drop flame retardant, and with the city water mains broken, the fire departments of the surrounding communities are helpless in the face of this disaster. All they can do is evacuate people from the neighborhoods threatened by the blaze, leaving one man to fight this dreadful holocaust: Superman, who may be La Playa's only hope …"
LOS ANGELES: 9:30 p.m. (12:30 a.m. EDT)
The TV reporter hadn't exaggerated in her description of the fire. Twice Superman had looked into the face of that nuclear furnace called the sun, and tonight he almost felt like this was the third time. Except space was silent, and here, the newly fallen night was made hideous by the demonic roar of fire and wind and by the frantic cries of people in the path of the storm.
Wind generated by a pair of super-lungs couldn't stop it. The flames greedily sucked up any source of oxygen and spread faster, so he had been trying to super-cool the leading edge of the blaze. With each breath, he drew energy from the air he took in, strengthening himself as he quieted the action of the nitrogen and oxygen molecules. And when he breathed out, it was a blast of cold, hundreds of degrees below zero, set against the blast of fire hundreds of degrees above zero.
Again and again, he repeated the pattern, drawing more and more energy from the surrounding air until he felt like his aura was shining as bright as the flames, his body super-charged with power that he couldn't release fast enough. He zoomed back and forth across the front line of the fire, trying to use up the energy stored in his tissues, blowing deadly cold at the flames.
But it wasn't enough. Each time he dropped the temperature far enough to put out the fire in that spot, the raging winds drove new flames across the area, again torching off the building. He tried battling it from the rear of the fire, and this time, what he cooled off didn't reignite. But in the time it took to put out the fire in one building at the back of the storm, the hellish flames had devoured another building at the front edge, and that was a battle he couldn't win.
Eventually, the time came when he couldn't draw any more energy to cool another breath of air. His body was glowing like a star, pulsing with the energy he'd absorbed so far. Superman hung motionless in the night sky, as bright as the moon above him, trying to figure out what to do now, and all the time, his body was screaming for him to *move,* to use up the power that was throbbing through him.
He grinned suddenly. Of course. And he took off in a streak of light.
From the ground, it appeared that a red-and-blue tornado had descended over the fire, spiraling upward until the entire conflagration was enclosed within the vortex. Superman hurtled around the blaze, trying to enclose it with an impenetrable wall of force. If he could fly fast enough, maybe he could keep the air from reaching the insatiable flames. He had barely begun his task when a sonic boom rocked the buildings around him, but he couldn't slow down, couldn't risk letting the fire loose. The flames became a gold-white blur as he accelerated around them. His aura began to dim as it absorbed the killing G-force, drawing on the excess energy that filled him. He pushed harder, as fast as he had ever flown in the atmosphere, and then faster still as he turned himself into a living cyclone.
Minute after minute, he maintained the swirling barrier, increasing his speed until it seemed as if he was in every place around the fire at the same time. He monitored the firestorm, watching for a decrease in its ferocity, for that moment when the hurricane-force winds stopped blowing and the fire became nothing more than a large fire and then snuffed itself out.
But it wasn't happening. Despite his best speed and effort, his barrier couldn't seal out the raging winds, and the fire within his artificial whirlwind continued to burn.
At least it wasn't spreading; he had successfully contained the blaze within the vortex of his super-swift spiral. If he could keep it up, eventually the flames would consume everything inside and die for lack of fuel.
Eventually. If he could keep it up.
Thousands of revolutions each second, plowing through the thick air at sea level: he was using energy at a profligate rate. Already he had consumed the extra he had drawn from the surrounding air, and he was beginning to dip into his own vast reserves. As each moment ticked past and his energy levels dipped a little more, he realized that this was not the solution. He was only buying time until he could come up with an idea to snuff out this fire for good.
For the first time since he had seen the firestorm, he felt a panicky sense of urgency. For several hours, he had battled the holocaust with everything he had, and he still hadn't stopped it. Maybe it was just too big. Maybe he *couldn't* handle it.
As always, feelings of inadequacy turned his thoughts to Lois, who had never failed to encourage him or help him find a solution when he needed it. But she was three thousand miles away in a battle of her own, struggling to birth their child. The thought of her pain was like a lash of Kryptonite, and he found himself flying even faster in an unconscious attempt to finish quickly and return to her. He couldn't let her go through it alone. He had to be there to support her and to share in the miracle of their baby's birth.
But he couldn't leave before the firestorm was extinguished, either. Without his help, firefighters would have to try to tackle the conflagration themselves, and if some of them died, it would be his fault for leaving.
His mouth tightened in frustration. None of this was getting him closer to a solution to putting out the firestorm, and now he needed to concentrate on maintaining his speed as he used up his energy reserves. If only he could suck up all the oxygen in the area in one deep breath and damp the flames that way.
If only …
A memory nudged its way to the surface of his mind. A couple of years ago, he had written an article on military weaponry, and there was something… An antipersonnel bomb that left equipment untouched. Like chemical warfare, except … it sucked the oxygen out of an area around it.
That was it. He stopped his furious circling around the wall of flame and landed next to the fire chief, who was directing the establishment of fire breaks around the blaze. "I need to use your phone," Superman said.
DAILY PLANET BUILDING, METROPOLIS 1:00 a.m.
Everything was finally winding down. A few hours ago, the newsroom had been chaotic, but now it was still as the last few people left, gathering up their things. The elevator doors gave a final soft ding as they opened and then shut again, taking the last reporters away and leaving the office deserted. All except for one person.
Perry White sat in his office, alone. He'd managed to put the paper to bed less than half an hour ago. The presses were rolling with the morning edition, filled with news of the disaster on the West Coast. Only the sounds of the rumbling press could be heard within the building, and the slight quaking reminded him of Jimmy in California, amid the chaos of the earthquake.
The televisions in the newsroom were quiet now, but all evening, as he had listened to the broadcasts, he had worried about Jimmy. The fact that the fires were pretty much confined to a business district and not a residential area had offered him some comfort. Perry had half-hoped Jimmy would call, but — no matter how much your co-workers were like family, they weren't. You called your mother or your wife to say "Hi, dear, I'm fine" — not your boss. Jimmy was due back at work the day after tomorrow, and Perry couldn't reasonably expect to see or hear from him until then.
His hands clasped together on top of his desk, he simply sat there, lost in thought. He relished the peace and quiet of the office that was more a home to him than his apartment, too tired to leave. Eventually his wandering eyes made their way to a picture frame on his desk … and inside, a photograph of himself, Alice, and their sons. Picking up the frame, Perry took a closer look.
What a family he had made for himself, Perry thought remorsefully. One son's life had been torn apart by crime; his wife's had been torn apart by lack of love. And he himself had always been stuck in the middle, wondering what to do; wondering what he could have done differently. He was the editor in chief of one of the finest newspapers in the world, a prominent and respected man in one of the great cities of the world, but all that power couldn't help him fix the emotional problems that plagued him and destroyed his family.
Perry brushed his fingers longingly against the glass before he gently set the picture frame back into place on the desk. He thought of his family — of families in general — and then his thoughts went to a particular family. He had known Clark Kent for five years and Lois Lane for a good many more than that. Five years ago, watching those two, not a soul would have ever guessed that today Lois would be married to Clark and that she would be pregnant with his child.
"A perfect family," Perry thought to himself. "That baby is going to have the best parents in the world." Perry made a silent prayer that Lois and Clark would be able to avoid the mistakes he'd made. He wasn't sure just where he'd gone wrong, but Alice was sure — and he had to agree with her — that one of his mistakes had been putting the newspaper first, spending too much time in the office, and not enough time paying attention to his family.
Perry hoped with all his heart that Lois would avoid that particular pitfall. She and Clark were one of the best pairs of investigative reporters in the world as well. Lois had always been incredibly driven, dedicated to her career. Clark had softened her a bit, but Lois had also given Clark the spark, the impetus to drive him along too. Would either of them be able to turn their back on the lure of the story, on the satisfaction of changing the world, to settle for attending PTA meetings, and making Halloween costumes? He never had been able to. He could definitely recall being in their shoes … before he had ever become the editor, he was top banana in the investigative reporting business. To Perry, it didn't seem so long ago …
~~~~~ METROPOLIS, 1972 ~~~~~
A much younger Perry White sat at the typewriter, his fingers flying as he typed up his latest story detailing the recent discovery of radioactive waste buried at the bottom of the Callan River. He stopped momentarily to check his notepad. The door to the editor in chief's office opened quickly and out came John Q. Umphres. Umphres was thin and gray, hacked with a chronic cough. In only a few years, he would succumb to cancer, a consequence of the countless cigarettes he'd smoked over the years.
"White! I just got off the phone with John McNamara downtown. Terrorists have just taken over the mayor's office and they're holding Mayor Romano hostage! I want you and Krakowski down there two minutes ago! Go!"
Perry nearly flew up from his seat, picking up a notepad and shoving a pencil behind his ear. He grabbed his suit jacket from his chair and was joined by his partner as he headed for the front door of the Planet.
"Aren't we the lucky ones," noted Jim Krakowski, Perry's partner in crime-investigation. "Always getting thrown into the high-risk, death-tempting situations."
"What are you talking about?" Perry questioned as they made their way out of the building and into the busy Metropolis street and attempted to hail a cab. "It's a handful of terrorists in the mayor's office. We just sneak in, find out exactly where they're holding him, and snag ourselves a one-on-one interview with the terrorists themselves. We can be out within the hour." Perry seemed very nonchalant about it all as a cab finally pulled up to the sidewalk.
"Yeah. Very low-risk and non-life-threatening," Jim remarked dubiously, as he climbed into the car.
Less than an hour later, Krakowski closed his eyes, praying silently. His worse fears had come true. How did he ever let Perry talk him into things like this? Craning his neck and trying to see his partner's face, he muttered, "I can't believe you made me do this."
"Be quiet. I'm trying to hear what they're saying."
The two full-grown men lay cramped, stuffed, and sweating inside an air-conditioning duct, directly over the Mayor's office. Perry was in front of Jim, his face peering through a vent into the room below,. He could see the mayor, sitting in the chair behind his desk; one of the mayor's aides off to the side; and about six other men, dressed in camouflage army uniforms, each holding a rifle. Perry's notepad was out and being put to good use, as he took notes in shorthand on everything he could see.
"Well? What's going on?" whispered Jim from the back. "I can't see a damn thing, Perry. What's happening?"
Perry made a shushing sound and motioned to Jim to stay quiet. Jim rolled his eyes.
"Fine. I'm going to sleep. Wake me up when you've grabbed the interview and you're ready to go." Jim laid his head down on the cold metal of the air conditioning duct and closed his eyes.
Perry smiled and turned back to the room. He wiped off a layer of perspiration from his forehead and matted down his black hair, listening closely to the commotion from below. One of the camouflaged men was speaking to the mayor.
"Are you sure this is going to work, Mr. Romano?"
"Yeah, Ray," another spoke up. "How exactly is this going to —"
"Of course it's going to work," interrupted the mayor. "Just follow the plan. My approval ratings have dipped below fifty percent. If you can't get the public to love your politics, then you get them to sympathize. And there's no better sympathy than for a mayor with a gun to his head. And when the police finally succeed and you guys surrender, the people of Metropolis will realize that the police force is still as effective after my cutbacks as they were before."
Perry couldn't believe his ears. This was too good to be true. Another of the "terrorists" spoke up.
"And you're sure you can get us all pardons, right?"
"For the last time, Julius, you'll get your pardon, and you'll get five thousand apiece, as agreed. Now quit whining, and start making some noises like terrorists make or something."
Perry turned back toward Jim, who was still sleeping.
"Jim!" Perry whispered as loud as he could. When he didn't get a response, he tried again, this time with a slight kick to Jim's head. "Jim!"
Jim's head bounced up, hitting the top of the duct. The sudden impact shook the flimsy duct. The bolts holding the duct to the ceiling, already strained by the weight of the men, gave way, and both of the men and the air conditioning duct crashed to the ground — right in the middle of the mayor's office.
Perry and Jim quickly stood up. The camouflaged men, the mayor, and the aide all simply stared in shock. Taking advantage of their momentary confusion, and realizing that this was probably *not* the most opportune time to get caught, Perry ran straight for the door. As he opened it, the camouflaged man closest to the mayor trained his gun on Perry.
"Hold it right there!"
"Sorry," said Perry. "Can't stay long, just dropped in to visit." Jim made a mad dash for the door, pulling Perry outside as they both dove for cover. Expecting sounds of gunfire, they both hit the floor, hands on their heads. After a few seconds of quiet, they both slowly looked up to find twenty police officers watching them, guns in hand.
Perry managed a weak smile and, still lying on the floor, reached for his pants pocket. Suddenly, all of the guns were directed at him. He slowly brought his hand back out, holding a thin, square item. He held it up for the cops to see.
~~~~~ THE DAILY PLANET, 1998 ~~~~~
It was that story that got Mayor Romano indicted and removed from office. What fun times those were, Perry realized as he remembered more incidents during his career. He chuckled to himself as he remembered all the messes he used to get himself into. He'd been more like Lois Lane in those days than he'd ever admit. But those were the days he liked to remember. Being an investigative reporter, getting all the big stories, making a real difference in the city — that was the highlight of his life. As editor in chief he still made a difference, calling all the shots, but it was all secondhand. His reporting days were the ones he most treasured.
"I just don't understand how Lois and Clark do it," Perry thought to himself. "Perhaps if Alice had been a journalist, it would have worked out so much better than it has."
Perry stood up, cracked his knuckles, and stretched before making his way out into the newsroom, which now stood as an empty wasteland compared to all the vigorous activity that happened during the daytime. Most of the computers were off, although some were running screensavers. Perry walked up to Clark's desk, paused momentarily, and then sat down in his chair. Breathing in deeply, he ran his hands across the fine, polished-wood desk.
"Always running off to save the world, Clark, yet you still find the time to be a super reporter, a friend, a husband, and soon, a father," Perry whispered to thin air. "I'd give anything to have half the strength of heart that you do."
Looking at the clock, Perry stood and walked up the ramp to the elevator. Turning off the lights, he pressed the button to call the elevator. As he waited, Perry turned around to look at the darkened room. He'd given his life to this newspaper, and he had made a difference. But at what cost? He was going home to an empty apartment, and he had to be honest with himself — even if Alice had been home, waiting for him, he would have stayed here until the first edition was rolling anyway. And he'd be standing here at two a.m., the last one to leave, bone-tired, and bleary eyed.
He remembered how Umphres had worked until the cancer got so bad he couldn't work anymore. When he'd finally been hospitalized, there had been anarchy in the newsroom, no "crown- prince" to take charge. Perry was only fifty-five, and healthy, but he wouldn't last forever. Maybe it was time to find someone to take charge of the late nights.
The elevator doors opened up, and Perry White stepped inside. He turned to face the empty pit of desks. "See you tomorrow," he said aloud to no one in particular. There would be news tomorrow — the fires in LA were still burning. He pressed the button for the lobby, and the doors slid closed, as they had thousands of times before.
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS. 1:30 a.m.
The night had dragged on at the brownstone in Metropolis. The conversation had moved from the fire in California, to politics, to cooking, to baseball, and back to the fire again. At first Lois had taken an active part in the discussion, stopping whenever a contraction came. Then all conversation stopped, and Lois stood up and walked around for a bit. After it was over she smiled to show everyone she was fine, and sat down again. She had dug out one of the many books on childbirth from the stack by the sofa, and showed her mother where it said that this stage of early labor could last eight hours if this was your first baby — or many more. Ellen stopped fussing about leaving for the hospital after that, but she didn't really relax, and her concern was apparent in her eyes.
But as the evening went on, Lois quieted down, taking less and less part in the conversation. The contractions were coming about every twelve minutes now, although they still lasted less than a minute. But Lois found she was thinking about them more, anticipating the next one, and finding it hard to concentrate on anything else. Finally, after one contraction that was quite a bit stronger than the others, Lois slowly went upstairs, away from what seemed like an incredible amount of noise and confusion downstairs. All of a sudden she felt as if she couldn't bear being around people any more. She didn't want all the attention they gave her each time she stood up and walked around the room. She went into her bedroom and shut the door.
Walking over the window, she looked up at the sky. The moon was shining; its gibbous shape looking like a pregnant woman's belly hanging in the sky. That same moon would be shining down on Clark, in California, right now. Lois closed her eyes in silent supplication. She wanted her husband home. She'd told him to go; she knew that her own needs didn't even begin to compare with the needs of all the people in Los Angeles whose lives were being threatened by the raging fire. But as she felt another contraction about to begin, she closed her eyes and sent a silent entreaty through the ether, poignant with longing. "Clark, finish up there quickly, and come home. I need you."
LOS ANGELES: 11:00 p.m. (2:00 a.m. EDT)
Leaving Jimmy behind, Sarah ran out of the dry cleaning shop into the alley. All around her the sky glowed with an unearthly light, unlike any she'd ever seen before. The strong wind whipped her hair around her face, but rather than cooling her off, it made her more uncomfortable, as blistering hot air was blown around her. She grabbed one of the bicycles they had stolen earlier that day and took off down the street.
When she reached the main streets, she was relieved to see the flashing lights of rescue vehicles. But they were blocks away. Sarah began to run toward them, away from the flames, away from where Jimmy and the Levine family were trapped.
She was breathless when she crossed the wide avenue that the fire-fighters had set up as their main fire-break. One of the policemen charged with crowd control grabbed her as she ran, berating her for being inside the fire-lines.
"You don't understand," she panted as soon as she could speak. "There are people trapped about half a mile away. A family, with two little girls! My friend stayed behind. He's trying to get them out, but the door is blocked."
The policeman looked around desperately for the fire-chief. At that moment, a cry of "breakthrough" came. The wind-blown flames were shooting across the avenue — the avenue they had hoped would be wide enough. In a sudden flurry of activity, all the fire-fighters began fighting this new threat; they could not afford to have the fire take hold in this part of the city.
Sarah knew she had to get back to Jimmy. She'd delivered her message, but it was obvious that there weren't enough rescue workers to help. Without another word she headed back across the avenue, only to find her arm grabbed by the policeman, who dragged her back.
"No way," he told her sternly. "There are five people trapped there — you won't make six."
"They could die!" she yelled above the roaring of the fire, and the rushing of the wind.
"So could you!" he yelled back. "We'll find somebody to go get them."
Sarah looked at the fire-fighters, desperately trying to control the fire. She looked at the police officer in disbelief. He looked away, shamefaced. There was nobody to go rescue the people trapped at the Levine Cleaners. Even Superman was gone, trying to find a way to extinguish the whole fire. In the light of the looming larger disaster, no one had time to save five individuals trapped inside the firelines.
Sarah tried to wrench her arm away, but he held her fast. She bit her lip in frustration, tears coming to her eyes as she stared at the fire. It wasn't going to be easy to just stand here and wait. She lifted her eyes to the smoke-filled sky. Superman was their only hope.
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS. 3:00 a.m.
Martha awakened with a sudden jerk. She heard her husband snoring; he had fallen asleep on the sofa. There was another unfamiliar snoring sound, and she looked around and saw Ellen, her head leaning back against the back of the chair, her mouth open slightly. Martha shifted stiffly, and looked around. Sam was still awake, watching some sports event on television, its flickering light the only illumination in the room. She glanced at the clock on the VCR — 3:07.
She yawned, and walked over to Sam. "Is the fire out?" she asked.
He shook his head, and pressed a button on the remote. Immediately the television switched back to LNN, and Martha drew in her breath at the intensity of the fire, still burning unchecked.
"There's not much going on now," Sam told her softly. "Superman had it contained for a while, but even he can't extinguish it. He's disappeared now; apparently he has some sort of super-plan he's trying to put into action. The firemen are doing their best to contain it, but it keeps getting away from them."
"She's still upstairs. Not a sound." Martha bit her lip, concerned, and Sam went on to reassure her. "I haven't delivered a baby since my intern days, but it does take a long time, especially for first babies. Lois is too smart to stay up there and give birth all by herself; she'll come get us when she needs us. She must know —" he gestured to the television — "that Superman's too busy to come and save the day this time."
Martha found herself staring at the television. Even she was beginning to be afraid that Superman wouldn't get home in time. "I think I'll go check on her, and see how she's doing. And then, if she's OK, I'll lie down in the guestroom. It's more comfortable than the chair."
"I'd wake Ellen up and take her home, but she wouldn't go — and she'd just worry and fret about Lois." He flicked the channel back to ESPN and his attention back to the television.
Martha looked at Jonathan, lying on the sofa, and shook him gently. Together they went upstairs. Jonathan walked into the guestroom, but Martha knocked gently on Lois's door. "Lois? Are you in there?"
"Yes, Martha. Come in."
Martha opened the door. The room was dark, with only a dim light on — almost a nightlight. Lois was on the bed, lying on her side with her feet drawn up, almost in fetal position. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, sure," Lois answered without opening her eyes. "I just wanted to lie down for a bit, that's all. I'm tired. I wish I could sleep."
Martha nodded. "Jonathan and I are going to bed. Your mother has dozed off downstairs; your father is still watching the fire on the news. It's still really bad out there." When Lois didn't answer, Martha sat down on the window seat. She sat there quietly, watching Lois. In a moment, she could tell from Lois's changed breathing that Lois was having a contraction. She looked over at the clock, but didn't say anything.
It was a mere four minutes before the next contraction began. Martha watched Lois breathe deeply through it. Lois's eyes never opened; if it weren't for the changes in her breathing, one would almost think she was asleep.
Martha waited until the contraction was over. Then she spoke quietly. "Lois? The contractions are four minutes apart. Do you think we should go to the hospital now?"
Lois remained still on the bed. "Clark will be here soon," she said. "We'll wait for Clark."
Martha stood for a moment, looking at Lois, remembering the out-of-control fire spreading through California. Biting her lip, she turned and went into the small guestroom. Jonathan looked at her questioningly. She shook her head, conveying her concern to him. "She just keeps saying Clark will be home soon. I hope she knows something we don't."
Martha lay down fully dressed on the bed, wanting to be ready to leave on a moment's notice. The house was quiet as she lay in the darkness, staring at the ceiling, waiting.
LEVINE CLEANERS, LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA: 1:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. EDT)
Jimmy poked his head around the corner of the building. It had been over two hours since Sarah had left, and while he had anticipated it might take a while for her to find help, he was beginning to realize that waiting for Sarah might be using time they didn't have. In the distance, he could see the smoke and flames from the citywide inferno. The deadly flames were closer than they had been the last time he looked, and he knew they couldn't wait much longer.
Jimmy sighed as he headed back into the cleaners. The Levines had put their faith in him and Sarah to help them, and he desperately hoped they would be able to follow through. When Sarah and Jimmy first arrived, the relief of someone finding them had calmed the family, but Jimmy knew that their fears were escalating with each passing minute. Each time he returned to the store without help, the panic grew in Mr. Levine's eyes. He could only imagine what the Levines must be going through, knowing that the lives of their two small children were in the hands of rescue workers who had not yet arrived.
"Anyone yet?" Mr. Levine called through the office door when he heard Jimmy enter the next room.
"Nothing yet, Mr. Levine," Jimmy answered dejectedly. He could hear Mrs. Levine's muffled sob, then some shuffling.
"Jimmy?" he heard a small voice ask. Jimmy smiled at the voice of eight-year-old Emma, who had introduced herself only a few minutes after Sarah had left. Although Rose, the younger of the two girls, had been crying for the better part of the last hour, Emma had forced herself to remain calm. She had instead passed the time by finding out everything there was to know about Jimmy, Metropolis, and what was going on outside. She reminded Jimmy of Lois, and he could only imagine that a young Lois Lane might have been a lot like Emma Levine. There was, however, one subject she had yet to bring up, and Jimmy knew that if she were really anything like Lois, it wouldn't be long before …
"Jimmy, will you tell me about Superman?"
Jimmy chuckled at the excitement in the little girl's voice. Yes, she was Lois all over again. "What do you want to know about him?"
There was a pause — Emma was obviously trying to sort through the many questions she had about the hero. Finally, she said, "Well, have you ever met him?"
"Sure have," Jimmy said. "He's kind of a friend of mine. Of everyone that works at the newspaper I work at." Jimmy paused for a moment, noticing that Rose had stopped crying. Thinking that talking about Superman might take the family's mind off their situation, he began talking again. "I remember the first time we ever saw Superman in person. Everyone was standing in the newsroom when he just flew through the window, carrying my friend Lois. It was funny, but as soon as he landed in the newsroom, it was as if he belonged there."
Jimmy paused, trying to think of an interesting Superman story for the family when it happened. In the distance, there was a loud explosion, followed by several more that sounded much closer. When the noise died down, Jimmy could hear Rose crying again, and even Emma's voice held a frightened tremble as it asked, "What was that?"
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out," Jimmy assured her before heading to the door once again.
As soon as he opened the door, the heat and smoke hit him, leaving him gasping for air. The smoke was so thick he could barely see, and although he didn't see any flames directly in front of him, he knew from the magnitude of the heat that they couldn't be far away. Trying to control the panic that was threatening to overtake him, Jimmy realized that the Levines' time had run out. He was going to have to get them out himself, one way or another.
Quickly, he pulled the door shut against the scorching heat. His eyes darted around the room, trying to find something that could help him. He was just about to start tugging on the racks again when he noticed a large metal vent in the ceiling outside the office. He dragged a large box beneath the vent, then climbed on it. Reaching up, he slid the grate off the opening to reveal a large air duct. Briefly, his mind flashed back several years to when his friends had been held at gunpoint and he had taken his journey through the air ducts of the Daily Planet building. "Maybe it'll work this time," he muttered to himself before raising his voice to yell, "Mr. Levine, is there a large air duct in the office?"
There was a short pause, then, "Yes, why?"
Jimmy smiled and said, "I think I just found a way to get you out of there."
LOS ANGELES: 1:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m. EDT)
It had taken several calls, one of which rousted a three- star general out of bed in the middle of the night, before Superman finally got permission to take the special bombs from their storage facility at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. The base was halfway down the coast to San Diego, but after the distance he had covered to maintain a living wall around the firestorm, a 150-mile round trip was hardly worth noticing. If only the human interactions could have been accomplished as quickly as his super-speed flight! Instead, calling for permission, finding out which bunker housed the bombs, and locating a van to hold them had taken over an hour — and the process had only been that fast because his name opened doors and shut off arguments that would have delayed him further.
Superman set the bomb-laden van at a prudent distance from both the fire and the fire fighters, and he conferred briefly with the fire chief, explaining his plan so the fire fighters could coordinate their actions with his. While they organized personnel and equipment to continue to hold the blaze, Superman searched for the helicopter dip buckets the fire chief had arranged for him to use and began the time-consuming task of carrying one in each hand out to the ocean and scooping up thousands of gallons of water in each one and carrying them back to the firebreak surrounding the inferno.
Despite his super-speed, filling a hundred dip buckets took time — and almost led to disaster. While he was gone, gale- force winds drove the firestorm across one edge of the firebreak, and the fire fighters were forced to retreat, trying to find another wide cross-street where they could re-establish the fire break. But one small group was trapped between two blazing arms of the fire, their equipment like toys against the inferno.
Hearing their cries, Superman set the two buckets down and rocketed through the flames to grab two of the men and lift them to the safety of their fire trucks several blocks away. Again he whisked through the blaze, feeling the heat of the fire draw nearer as he gathered two more men. The terror in the eyes of the men who were left behind wrenched at his heart. Two at a time wasn't enough. He had to moderate his speed to keep from hurting his passengers, and by the time he reached the last men, it would be too late. After dropping off the next two, he picked up the nearest dip bucket and soared over the firestorm, dumping the water onto the blaze — where it evaporated before hitting the ground — and set it next to the remaining fire fighters. They scrambled into the bucket, and he lifted it up, rising above the raging flames, and put it down next to the fire trucks.
Before the fire fighters could even thank him, Superman grabbed the empty dip bucket and sped to the van. With the fire spreading again, he was in a race against time. He super-cooled the bombs and set them in the bucket, then took to the air above the firestorm. Following the plan suggested by the fire chief and a specialist in capping oil well fires, he dove into the inferno and swiftly placed the bombs where their concussion and oxygen-damping qualities would have the most effect, turning the "dumb," non-directed bombs into "smart" bombs.
When he had carefully placed the last one in its designated position, he swooped down and picked up two full dip buckets. Giving the signal to the fire chief, Superman soared upward, where he could watch the gold-white heart of the firestorm. If he chose to, he could *see* at super-speed: the agonizingly slow movement of the fire chief's thumb on the detonator, and then the swift bloom of the bombs exploding simultaneously in the fire storm. The blasts spread, flames vanishing at their touch, and the superhero took a deep breath and shot into the nearest flameless area, buckets in hand. He blew the cold of outer space onto the blackened landscape, then dumped the buckets, further cooling the site.
At super-speed, he repeated the maneuver with the other fifty pairs of buckets, super-cooling the burned structures and drowning them as soon as the bombs extinguished the flames. Desperately pushing his speed to the limit, he fought to drop the temperature below combustion level so the conflagration wouldn't reignite when the winds blew fresh air into the area. He didn't know if he'd succeeded until he emptied the last two buckets and suddenly realized that the sky above him was dark. He had stared into the blazing light of the firestorm for so long that he had forgotten night had fallen hours ago. From his vantage point hundreds of feet in the air, Superman scanned the burned-out devastation left by the fire. Steam and smoke rolled skyward in choking clouds, but everywhere he looked was dark. The hellish orange light was gone. The fire was out.
LEVINE CLEANERS, LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA: 2:00 a.m. (5:00 a.m. EDT)
Through the tiny ventilation window in the office, a billow of smoke blew in, aided by the strong winds that ripped through the city. The smoke flowed across the room, joining the rest that had seeped in the office through the tiny window. Jimmy coughed, the thick air choking him, before reaching up to wave away some of the smoke hanging around the opening of the vent. "You ready?" he asked Emma, who was standing by his side, staring up into the gaping hole through which her family had just disappeared one by one.
The little girl looked up at Jimmy, hazel eyes full of concern. "You'll be right behind me?"
"Right behind you," he assured her.
"Okay, then I'm ready," she said.
Jimmy peered up into the air duct, then called out, "Mr. Levine! Here she comes."
At Jimmy's voice, Mr. Levine appeared at the edge of the duct, ready to pull his daughter up. Jimmy scooped her up and set the little girl on his shoulders. Reaching down, Mr. Levine pulled her up and into the air duct. There was some shuffling, then Jimmy heard Emma's muffled voice.
"How will you get up, Jimmy?" she asked.
"No problem," he said, pulling a large desk under the opening. "I got it covered. Now start crawling." When he saw that she had crawled away from the opening, Jimmy climbed up onto the desk and hoisted himself into the air duct, where he found himself staring at Emma's feet. "Okay, now all you have to do is climb over there," he said, pointing to an opening about thirty feet down the duct where Mr. Levine was lowering himself to the ground. "Then, I'll lower you down to your dad."
Emma nodded and started moving. Together, they began to crawl through the duct.
The smoke, which had hung so heavily in the air of the office, was beginning to drift into the air duct, and it only took a moment to begin filling the small space. Their rapid crawl slowed slightly as the smoke began burning their eyes and throats. "Keep going, Emma," Jimmy managed through fits of coughing. "We're almost there."
Suddenly, a deafening boom tore through the air, echoing through the metal duct. Emma shrieked, and both she and Jimmy covered their ears, trying to block out the earsplitting noise. The smoke that had filled the air duct was pulled through the openings on each end in a matter of seconds, and as both he and Emma began gasping for breath, Jimmy realized that the air had also been pulled out. Then, just as suddenly as it had been sucked out, the air rushed back into the tiny space. It was then, as he drew in deep breaths, that he noticed that the noises that had only a few minutes ago echoed through the building were gone. He could no longer hear the crackling of the flames only a few blocks away, or the roaring of the strong winds that had swept through the city all day. For one brief, terrifying moment, Jimmy thought that he might be deaf, until he heard Emma quietly calling his name.
"Jimmy, what was that?" she asked, tears threatening to spill from her eyes.
Jimmy reached out and touched her reassuringly. "I don't know, Emma. Let's just get out of here."
Emma nodded her head, and they quickly crawled the rest of the way to the cleaning room, where they found the rest of the Levine family just as shaken as they were. Together, they ran for the door and out into the alley behind the building. Jimmy blinked a few times when he stepped outside, stunned. The alley, which had only a short time earlier been filled with smoke, was now completely clear. He looked back at the Levines to see them puzzled as well. Quickly, they made their way around the corner, where they saw that the fire had somehow been extinguished.
"Jimmy!" they heard from down the street. Jimmy looked up in time to see Sarah running toward him, a team of EMTs in tow. And not far behind, several reporters and news crews were following. Jimmy smiled, then took off running, meeting Sarah halfway.
"Jimmy!" she said, throwing her arms around him. "They wouldn't let me come back, and I was so scared that …" She trailed off, her eyes telling Jimmy the words she was afraid to say.
He smiled at her, then kissed her lightly on the lips. "I'm fine. We all are. Come on," he added, taking her hand and starting back down the street. "I want you to meet the Levines."
Over the next few minutes, the EMTs checked out Jimmy and the Levines, and except for a few bumps and bruises, they were fine. By the time the EMTs were done, the reporters were crowding in, all trying to get the story on one of the heroes of the day. Jimmy answered their questions cheerfully, enjoying his moment in the spotlight. Finally, one of the reporters turned to Emma, who had been standing beside Jimmy the entire time. "So tell me, young lady," he said. "Were you disappointed that Superman didn't rescue you as he did so many others today?"
Emma looked up at Jimmy, her eyes shining. "Oh no," she said, a smile covering her little grime-smudged face. "*Everyone* gets to have Superman for a hero, but Jimmy is *our* hero." She then turned to the journalist. "I'm going to be a reporter one day, just like him."
Jimmy smiled, then picked Emma up. "Well, when you are, there's a job waiting for you at the Daily Planet. I have a feeling you are going to make one smooth reporter."
High in the stratosphere, where the air was thin and dry and offered little resistance to his supersonic passage, Clark Kent, a.k.a. Superman, raced eastward toward the dawn. Six weary hours earlier, he had reluctantly left Lois when she was in the first stage of labor. Since then, he had battled a firestorm and finally managed to extinguish it, but he had no idea how much of his child's birth he had missed. Vacillating from relief that he was returning home to Lois at last, to hope that she had been able to sleep away the hours he was gone, and to fear that he had missed one of the most important events of his life, he hurtled through the night sky at a speed nothing on earth could match.
By the time he crossed the Mississippi River, the sky had lightened enough that he noticed his hands were smudged with soot. Dragging his thoughts from what awaited him in Metropolis, Clark finally realized that he reeked of smoke and a peculiarly unpleasant odor that he identified as the stench of the oxygen- damping bombs. And if he wasn't mistaken, his cape had completely burned away, vaporized by the inferno within the firestorm.
Great. If Lois had spent the night in labor, all she needed to top having an absentee husband was having an exhausted one who stank of smoke and chemicals.
Far below, he spotted heavy rain clouds, and without thinking, he altered his course to cut through them. At his speed, the rain was a continuous sheet of water, like plowing through a lake, and he scrubbed his hair and face and body as he plunged through the storm, casually holding his breath until he emerged into clear sky on the other side. Rising back into the stratosphere as he continued to rocket eastward, he inspected his hands and took a tentative sniff.
Better. Much better. And it hadn't cost him more than five seconds. Now, if only Lois had been able to get some rest, and her labor wasn't so far advanced that she'd already gone to the hospital, he would be a happy man. "Hold on, Lois," he murmured. "I'm coming."
348 HYPERION STREET, METROPOLIS. 5:00 a.m.
Clark didn't think he'd ever flown as fast as he did when he finally drew near to Metropolis. He began looking for the townhouse and Lois long before either was within his visual range. When he could finally see the house, he was surprised to see her parents dozing in the living room, but all his attention was centered on the woman who was pacing in the upstairs bedroom. He flew in through the bedroom window and spun into his normal clothes.
Lois looked at him, relief visible in her eyes. "I knew you'd get back in time," she said.
"How are you?" Somehow the words seemed inadequate to express the obsessive worry that had plagued him since he'd left her so many hours before.
Lois just shook her head and took a deep breath as she felt another contraction starting. She started pacing more quickly and finally leaned over the side of the dresser, breathing deeply through the contraction. Clark watched her, concerned, realizing that she was deep into labor. Finally, Lois took a deep breath and looked up at him.
"God, Clark," she said seriously. "I was doing fine until an hour or so ago. Now it takes everything I've got just to get through a contraction. I've been afraid to go downstairs; Mother would insist on leaving for the hospital right away, and I was waiting for you."
Clark smiled weakly, trying not to think about how close he had come to missing the birth of his first child. Resolutely, he tried to switch gears, moving his mind from everything he knew about chemicals and fires to all he had learned about childbirth in the last few months. "I always come back," he reminded her softly.
Lois smiled in agreement. "Is the fire out?" she asked.
Clark nodded, sitting down on the side of the bed, exhausted. He didn't want to talk about the fire. She sat down next to him and leaned against him. They sat in silence for a moment, drawing strength from the other. Clark, basking in his wife's serenity, found himself becoming still and at peace with himself; Lois, secure in her husband's arms, felt safe and cherished.
The moment didn't last long before Lois tensed and stood up. "Oh, God," she said, "here comes another one." Lois headed back to the dresser, but found Clark in front of her.
"Lean on me, honey," he said, and Lois obediently put her arms around his neck. Clark moved his arms to the small of her back, massaging gently as her eyes closed and her breathing quickened. He listened to Lois's slow, deep breathing and then focused on the baby's heartbeat, amazed how it slowed through the contraction and then regained its normal speed.
When Lois finally looked up, Clark asked, "OK?"
"It feels so good when you rub my back," she answered. She wanted to say "I needed you," but didn't want to add to the guilt she knew he must be feeling.
Clark spoke quickly. "It was over a minute long and only about four minutes since the last one. I'm going to change back into the suit and fly you to the hospital."
Lois nodded, but all of a sudden the door to the bedroom opened and Ellen Lane stood there. "Lois, who are you talking to?" she demanded, when suddenly she caught sight of Clark. "Thank goodness! When did you get back? And how did you get up here? We were sitting in the living room."
Clark wasn't in the mood to come up with excuses. "I've been here for a while, Ellen. You were all asleep downstairs; I just came right up here."
"Well, all I can say is, Thank God, you're back. Your wife is in labor, you need to be here to help her out. I'm not blaming you — Lois told me she sent you out to meet a source, although I do not understand why anyone would want to be interviewed in the middle of the night, but that's neither here nor there. The real problem is that Lois steadfastly *refused* to leave for the hospital until you came home. I don't blame her; she didn't want to be alone. I had to get used to being alone; God knows, Sam was often out all night. He was a doctor, not that he was always doctoring, by any means, but —" She stopped to take a breath. Clark was looking at her bemused, his eyebrows raised questioningly, wondering what her point was. Ellen took a deep breath and concluded, "but I am so *glad* you are finally back."
Lois had been pacing the room ever since her mother had come in, seemingly unable to relax. Suddenly she walked up to Clark and put her arms around his neck again. As her breathing changed, signaling another contraction, Clark began to rub her back again. Although Ellen continued speaking, he tuned her out, concentrating on Lois. Lois was more than halfway through the contraction before Ellen seemed to realize what was going on. She stopped talking for a second, but as soon as Lois straightened, began again.
"Lois, no nonsense, now. You are leaving for the hospital this minute. Clark is back, and I'll hear no excuses."
"We agree with you completely, Ellen," Clark answered. "We were just about to go."
"I should think so." Ellen was taking charge again. "Now, Lois, where is your suitcase? And your labor bag? Clark, are you sure you've got everything you need? I'll go wake Sam up; it's a good thing we're here with the Cadillac. Normally, I hate that car — it's like trying to drive the Titanic on land — but at this moment, I'm glad he has it. We can all go to the hospital together, and there will be enough room for Lois to lie down in the back."
The thought of being cooped up with her mother for the drive to the hospital appalled Lois. She shot a panicked look at Clark, who understood completely.
"*I'm* driving Lois in the jeep, Ellen," he said commandingly. "That's where the labor bag is, in case we needed to leave for the hospital from work. If the rest of you want to come, you can follow in Sam's car." Ellen took a breath to complain, but Clark went on, switching to his Superman voice, which brooked no arguments. "If you want to help, Ellen, Lois's suitcase is in the closet; you can carry it downstairs for me."
Clark took Lois's hand and led her into the hallway as Ellen headed for the closet. Martha was standing at the door to the guestroom, wide awake.
"Clark," she asked. "Is everything all right?"
Clark smiled reassuringly. "Everything is fine, Mom. I'm taking Lois to the hospital. Can you call Lois's doctor — the number is by the phone — and tell her we're on our way?"
"I'm going to the hospital, too," Ellen said from the stairway, where she was carrying the small overnight case down the stairs.
"We'll all go," Martha said. "This is our first grandchild."
"You can follow us," Clark said. "Let Sam drive." He took the suitcase from Ellen and held the door open for Lois as she walked outside into the pre-dawn darkness.
Lois climbed into the car and Clark was just about to close the door when she suddenly jumped back out. As the contraction hit, she paced around on the sidewalk for a few minutes, breathing deeply. As soon as the contraction was over, she stared in dismay at the car.
"That's just awful! Having contractions when sitting down. How long's it going to take to get to the hospital?"
"Honey, I can change and we can fly …"
Lois looked back to the house where Sam, Ellen, Martha, and Jonathan were coming down the front steps. "And have to explain it to my mother? No way." Resolutely she got in the car and reached for the seatbelt. "Don't just stand there, Clark. Drive!" she commanded. "I don't want to be in this car any longer than I have to."
Clark ran around the car as fast as he dared and got in. He pulled out into the quiet street. In the east, the sky was just starting to brighten as the sun came up. He was grateful there was little traffic at this time of day, but in Metropolis the streets were never empty. He glanced over at Lois as he stopped at a traffic light. She was staring resolutely ahead, willing the light to change.
"I hope the doctor's there when we get there," Clark said.
"Debra," Lois said briefly.
"Huh?" Clark was confused.
"It's Debra. She's on call tonight." Lois answered curtly. She was annoyed that Clark had failed to understand her cryptic remark; she had only a few minutes between contractions, and it was just too much trouble to explain herself. He still didn't understand, judging from the questioning glance he gave her as the light turned green and he stepped on the accelerator. She took a deep breath and tried again, not bothering to hide her irritation.
"When I called around eleven last night, I found out Debra was the one on call. Judith takes over at noon, if the baby hasn't been born by then." Exhausted by the effort, Lois leaned her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes.
Clark continued driving, silently. He wasn't overly pleased with the news; Debra was the one certified nurse-midwife in the practice. Women's OB/GYN of Metropolis consisted of four women, and he'd known that the baby would be delivered by whoever was on call at the time, but secretly he'd hoped for one of the three doctors. Ah, well. It was too late to change things now. He glanced over at Lois, whose breathing indicated she was in the middle of another contraction. He drove as quickly as he could, but soon had to slow down as he approached another red light at a deserted intersection. As the car came to a stop, Lois let out a low moan. Clark looked again at the empty roads, and then, without another thought, stepped on the accelerator and ran the light.
Behind them, Sam was following along in the Cadillac, with Martha and Jonathan huddled together in the backseat and Ellen up front, shouting out commands all the way. "Now slow down, Sam. There's a red light up there, and we don't want to run into Clark."
"I know that, Ellen," Sam said in an exasperated tone. "I am just as capable of seeing the light as you are."
"Well, I was just telling you because …" Her words died off as they watched Clark hit the gas and run the red light in front of them. In the backseat, Martha and Jonathan's eyes opened wide and Martha shared an amused smile with her husband. Her normally unflappable son had obviously lost his cool.
Ellen sighed and waved her hand, saying, "Well, don't just sit here, Sam. We're going to lose them."
Sam glared at her for a moment, muttered an almost inaudible "Yes, dear," and hit the gas.
ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL, METROPOLIS 5:45 A.M.
Four contractions later, Clark finally pulled up to the emergency room entrance. He jumped out and ran around to the other side of the Jeep to help Lois out.
Sam's large Cadillac pulled up behind the Jeep. Jonathan opened the back door and stepped out. "Is Lois OK, Clark?" he asked.
"Fine." As Lois began walking slowly toward the hospital entrance, Clark tossed the jeep's keys to his father. "Park the car for me, will you, Dad?" Without waiting for an answer he went back to the jeep, grabbed the labor bag and the suitcase from the back seat, and hurried to catch up with Lois, who was already halfway to the emergency room.
The nurse on duty looked up as the doors opened. When she saw the very pregnant woman enter with a nervous-looking man, she jumped up, reaching for a wheelchair. There was a standing policy in Emergency about women in labor — get them out of the ER and up to Maternity as quickly as possible.
Lois looked in dismay at the wheelchair that the nurse was instructing her to get into. 'I can't," she said, looking up at Clark. "After the car ride — I just can't sit down again."
"You have to," the nurse responded. "Regulations."
Lois felt another contraction coming on, and she shook her head weakly. Clark recognized the signs and put his arms around her, again rubbing the small of her back, something he'd been unable to do during the drive.
As they stood there together, a young woman approached them. She took the wheelchair from the nurse and nodded a dismissal. The nurse returned to her station in the ER. The young woman stood quietly, waiting for the contraction to end. Only when it had finished, and the couple were taking deep breaths and looking around again, did the woman speak.
"Lois," the midwife asked quietly, "how's it going?"
"Debra, hi." Lois was glad to see a familiar face. "I'm doing OK. But I can't sit in that wheelchair. I need to stay on my feet."
Debra reached down and picked up Lois's suitcase and labor bag. "Wheelchairs," Debra answered, "are great for carrying suitcases. Clark can help you walk." Debra dumped the suitcase and the labor bag in the wheelchair, and the three of them walked toward the elevator. As they entered the elevator, she spoke again. "It's quiet in delivery tonight. When we get there, we'll do an exam and see how far along you are. Then we'll put you on the monitor for a few minutes and make sure everything is going OK."
Standing in the back of the elevator, Clark let out a long, silent sigh of relief. For the first time that evening, he was no longer in charge. He didn't have to worry about crushed cars, fires, traffic, or mothers-in-law. He felt the tension drain out of him, and he closed his eyes for a second, suddenly feeling like crying. He quickly pulled himself back together. He couldn't afford to be tired, or shaky, or too emotional tonight. He had to be strong for Lois.
Ellen Lane was not in a good mood. She was tired, her back ached from sleeping in the chair, and she was worried about her daughter. As usual when she was worried, she became angry. She was angry at Sam for letting her sleep in the chair; she was angry at Lois for being pregnant and causing her this worry; she was angry at Clark, for not being home earlier; she was even angry at Martha, who was able to sit so serenely, waiting for news.
"How can she be so calm?" Ellen wondered, as she paced the length of the tiny waiting room for the umpteenth time, her hands waving furiously to punctuate the sentence she had been repeating at regular intervals since their arrival.
"I can not *believe* Lois waited this long before coming to the hospital!" Ellen stopped momentarily when she reached Martha again. "Lois has always been so stubborn, even as a child. Once that girl set her mind on something, there was no way you could change it. And no matter what you told her, you could be sure that she would do the exact opposite. Lois has always insisted on getting what she wanted — whatever the cost.
"Well, that's the quality that's made her a great reporter," Jonathan offered.
Ellen tightened her lips. Of course he would say that: he was a man, and that was what men *did* — they went ahead and took what they wanted, no matter what. The same behavior was scarcely suitable for a lady. However, she'd learned that it did no good to argue; no one listened.
"She's always been like that, you know," she said instead, hoping to make her point in a more roundabout way. "Even in high school. Look at what happened that year she lived with you." She turned to Sam for corroboration.
Sam sighed. He was tired, too. "Lots of things happened that year, Ellen. The one I remember best is that that was the year I had a breakthrough in cybernetic control systems, but I'm sure that's not what you're referring to."
Martha shared a wry smile with Ellen over the strange things that husbands remembered. "So, Ellen, what happened that year?" Martha asked.
"Well," Ellen stopped pacing, and settled down on the uncomfortable plastic chair next to Martha before continuing. "That year, Lois was on the school paper — of course she was part of that every year — but *that* year, there was a series of equipment losses from the audio-visual department. An old tape recorder, a new VCR, some spare parts — do you remember what else went missing, Sam?"
He shook his head. "All I remember is some God-almighty fuss on the school board, and you screeching at me over it." He yawned. Picking up a magazine from the stack someone had left in the waiting room, he began to leaf through it.
"Yes, well, that came later," Ellen replied tartly, resolving to ignore Sam. "At first, all Lois knew was that some of the equipment was missing. The principal told her to leave it alone, that the things were just misplaced. But Lois suspected they'd been stolen, and she was determined to prove it."
"And did she?" Jonathan asked
Ellen preened under the attention, drawing out the narrative. "She found out that the equipment had last been seen in a particular supply closet at the school. So she decided to keep watch over the closet, from a classroom across the hall, after school let out. She had a terrible cold that day; she was shivering with fever. She shouldn't even have gone to school in the first place," Ellen shot a reproving glare at Sam, who was too engrossed in his magazine to notice, "but, like I was saying, she was hell-bent on finding the thief."
"That certainly sounds familiar," Martha nodded, smiling faintly.
"She stayed in that classroom for an hour," Ellen continued, shaking her head in disbelief. "And finally someone came along. She took a few pictures first, catching him in the act, then actually went out in the hall and confronted the boy!"
"Was she hurt?" Martha asked, fascinated by this glimpse of a younger Lois.
"Well, no," Ellen admitted, aware that she may have made the anecdote overly dramatic. "He was unhappy to see her, though, and even more unhappy when his picture made the front page of the school paper."
Jonathan chuckled. "I can imagine. Well, good for Lois."
"Not really," Ellen contradicted him sourly. "The boy's mother was on the school board, and she and the school's principal hushed it up — they claimed that he was there on audio-video club business, all above board and legal. The paper had to retract the story."
"Oh dear," Martha winced. "I'll bet Lois was furious."
"Lois was livid," confirmed Lois's mother. "And she tried to fight it. I told her to let it go, that it wasn't that important, but did she listen? Of course not."
"But, Ellen," Jonathan protested, "if the boy was stealing —"
"It didn't matter, don't you see?" Frustrated, Ellen tried to explain. "He was protected; he had influence — they were never going to believe her. All she was doing was getting herself into trouble, just hurting herself and her family." She sniffled at the remembered injustice. Seeing the other couple's puzzled looks, she continued. "You see, the boy's mother was very powerful, socially, and when Lois wouldn't stop pushing, that woman got mean — she had me blackballed from the club. I lost all my friends. Sam hardly noticed," she added bitterly, "but my life was nearly destroyed."
Sam looked up from his magazine. That scandal hadn't been the only reason Ellen had been dropped socially, and it wasn't fair to Lois to let people think so. "Come on, Ellen, don't blame Lois for your faults. *You* were the one getting drunk at the bridge club every week."
Ellen sat stiffly, biting her lip, unshed tears glistening in her eyes. A tense silence enveloped the room. Martha frowned; was Sam defending Lois or attacking Ellen? With the birth of the baby so imminent, the last thing anyone needed was this kind of unpleasantness. Martha laid a hand on Ellen's arm, sympathetically.
"I'm sure Lois was quite a challenge," Martha said, trying to change the subject. "I remember Clark describing her to us after his first few days at the Daily Planet. I don't recall his exact phrasing, but the words 'pig-headed' and 'brilliant' were in there." Martha laughed as she recalled the look on Clark's face after that first week with Lois, and noticed with relief that Ellen was equally amused. "He was taken with your daughter from the first day he met her."
Ellen smiled gratefully at Martha. "Well, I was thrilled when Lois told me about Clark. She had shut herself off from the world, and I was afraid that she would never find anyone with enough patience and understanding to discover my little girl underneath that tough exterior. I guess it's a good thing that Clark isn't as stubborn as Lois, or they might never have gotten together."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Martha said with a laugh. "My son can be pretty pigheaded himself. He just tends to be a little more selective in his battles. For the most part, he was an easy-going child, but when he set his mind to something, Jonathan and I both knew that there was no changing it." Martha was silent for a moment, lost in thought, before she said quietly, "I think it was more than just patience and understanding that let Clark break through those walls Lois had built up. Maybe it was the fact that as she was fiercely trying to keep the walls from crumbling, he was fiercely trying to tear them down. And Clark had some formidable walls up as well. I think it was Lois's stubborn streak that allowed her to break through Clark's walls as well."
Ellen looked across the room for a moment, lost in thought. When she turned back to Martha, her eyes were brimming with tears. "Martha, I want to thank you for everything you and Jonathan have done for my Lois. But mostly, I want to thank you for raising such a wonderful son. I don't think I'll ever know what happened between the two of them, but somewhere along the way, Clark taught her how to trust people again. He taught her how to love. And for that, I will always love your son."
Martha smiled, her own eyes threatening to overflow. "I want to thank you for Lois. She has brought Clark so much happiness. He wandered around the world for years, trying to find someplace where he felt he belonged. Lois gave him that. She gave him her love, and that was the greatest gift she could ever give our son."
The two women smiled at each other and embraced, knowing that their children would always be happy and loved.
ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL, METROPOLIS 7:15 a.m.
Clark leaned against the wall in the delivery room and glanced at the large clock on the wall. It had been an hour and a half since he and Lois had come to the hospital. It seemed like forever, and as he looked at his wife, he knew it must have seemed much longer for her. She had changed into a hospital gown and was wearing slippers. A thin sheen of perspiration covered her face, and she looked withdrawn as she paced around the small room.
Childbirth, Clark reminded himself, was a natural part of living. All creatures gave birth. God had said, "Go forth and multiply." (Part of him wondered what on earth God had been thinking of, but he resolutely silenced that part of himself. He couldn't afford to panic.) A woman's body was designed to give birth, he reminded himself. This is all perfectly natural, the way it is supposed to happen. He'd been told to expect all this during the childbirth classes. OK, he'd expected it. But experiencing it was an another matter entirely.
As Superman, he'd flown laboring women to the hospital. Once or twice, he'd arrived too late and had watched as the baby was born and then flown *both* mother and child to the hospital. But never had he had to watch the entire process of childbirth before. And nothing, not his perusal of the stacks of books on childbirth Lois had purchased, not his attendance at twelve weeks of childbirth classes, not his common sense, nor his wildest imagination, had given him the slightest indication of how difficult it would be. Helplessly, he watched Lois in thrall to the overwhelming demands of her body as her muscles contracted with ever-increasing speed and force, getting ready to expel the child that had been growing inside her for the past nine months.
He was Superman, and he wasn't used to standing by and doing nothing when *anyone*, anyone, but especially the woman he loved, was in pain. But that was all he could do now. At first he'd continued to hold her during each contraction, supporting her, and rubbing her back. But three contractions ago, she had suddenly beaten him off, her arms flailing at him as she told him to "stop touching me!" Clark had retreated obediently and now stood, leaning exhaustedly against the wall, watching his wife. Lois was kneeling on the floor, almost on all fours with her arms folded on a chair and resting her head on her arms. A slight groan escaped her as another contraction flowed through her. Clark bit at the inside of his lip and took a few steps aimlessly around the small room, desperate to *do* something.
His gaze alighted on the midwife, who was sitting placidly, watching Lois intently. She glanced up as Clark moved and smiled at him.
"She's doing fine, Clark," Debra said. "Transition is the hardest part of labor, but it's also the shortest. As soon as it's over, she can start to push."
Clark nodded. "I know," he said softly. "I just want to do something."
"Sit down," Debra said. "Relax. You look exhausted too."
Clark sat down on edge of the bed, but he couldn't relax. Silently, he watched as Lois stood up and began her restless pacing around the room again. Suddenly he heard the change in Lois's breathing that signified the beginning of another contraction. It hadn't even been two minutes since the last one. With a sigh he stood up and walked toward her. She might send him away again, but he had to try. He stood close to her, careful not to touch her. Sensing his closeness, Lois instinctively reached for him, putting her arms around his neck and closing her eyes.
This contraction seemed to go on forever. Lois's breathing was coming in short bursts, and she was making short sounds — sounds that sounded a lot like the noises she made during sex, although he knew that was the farthest thing from her mind.
"Damn sex, anyway," he thought. "Never again, Lois, I promise."
The contraction was finally over. Lois looked up at him shakily, her breathing still ragged. "That's enough. I can't do this anymore. I want to go home, Clark. I want to go to sleep. Somebody else can have this baby."
Clark looked at her, not sure what to say. He knew from their childbirth classes that the despair and self-doubt were normal at this stage of labor. He remembered what he had to do; he had to praise and encourage her.
"You can do it, honey," he said. "You can do anything. You're tough and tenacious. You're the strongest woman I know."
Lois's eyes filled with tears. "I'm not strong," her mind screamed at him, although she couldn't find the energy to vocalize her thoughts. "I'm not strong at all, and I don't want to do this anymore. I can't." From deep within her, she recognized the stirrings of another contraction starting. "Oh God," she breathed. "not again." She closed her eyes tightly in despair, thinking, "I'm not ready yet. One more minute, please. Just one more minute."
Clark felt the tenseness in her shoulders, saw it in her eyes. "Relax, honey," he said quietly. "Open, sweetheart. Open, and let our baby down."
Somehow Lois focused in on his words. "Open," she thought. She imagined her baby coming down, coming out, through an open door. Somehow, she let her body relax, her head lolling forward, her shoulders dropping, as she leaned against her husband and felt his supporting arms go around her. "Open" she thought again, and felt her thighs and her pelvic muscles relax. The contraction did its relentless work, readying her body for the baby's descent.
ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL, METROPOLIS 7:45 a.m.
Lois grunted as she pushed her baby down, aided by the force of the contraction. They had cranked the top of the hospital bed up, almost to a vertical position. Lois was up on the hospital bed, squatting with her feet on the bed and leaning back against the top of the bed. Clark sat on the edge of the bed, one arm behind her shoulders, the other helping to support her. She smiled triumphantly after the contraction ended, looking up at Clark. "I like pushing," she said. "It's such a relief to actually be able to *do* something."
Clark smiled weakly. Lois had always been quick to bounce back, whether it was from being thrown out of an airplane, being frozen, or getting through transition. He wasn't so lucky; such experiences stayed with him much longer. Watching the woman he loved struggle to give birth was harder than he had ever thought it would be, both for her and for him. He found he was sweating, a most unusual occurrence for him. He reached up to remove his glasses and rub his eyes.
From her vantage point at the foot of the bed, the midwife looked up encouragingly. "You're doing just fine, Lois," she said. "Rest up in between the contractions. Let's see how far you've pushed the baby down."
As Debra prepared to do an exam, Clark glanced at Lois's abdomen. Quickly he saw where the baby's head was in relation to Lois's pelvis. "Plus-two," he murmured, as he slid his glasses back on, glad he'd paid attention in the childbirth classes.
"About plus-two," Debra announced. Her eyebrows rose, as she gave Clark a questioning look.
Clark just shrugged. "Lucky guess," he explained. Lois smiled to herself, knowing full well what had just happened. Her smile faded as she felt another contraction on the way.
"Here comes another one," she announced. Clark looked down at her with a smile. "Ready to push?" he asked. Lois nodded, took a deep breath and prepared to bear down.
"I just don't understand why you can't tell us anything about my daughter!" Ellen leaned over the desk, a replica of Lois at her most irritated. "We have been here for two hours with no news at all, and if someone doesn't tell me something soon —"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Lane, but I don't know how far along she is," the nurse interrupted in a monotone voice, obviously repeating a much-used phrase. "I just came on duty. We've been busy changing shifts. If you can just wait a few more minutes, I'll find out for you." Only then did the nurse look up from her paperwork to add, "Now, if you don't mind …" and to nod her head back toward the waiting room and the chairs Ellen had only recently vacated.
With an exasperated sigh, Ellen made her way over to everyone else, who looked as frustrated as she did. There had been no news of Lois's progress other than the standard, "She's fine," and "The doctor will let us know," and the now-familiar phrases were starting to wear on their nerves. They all wanted to know what was happening.
ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL, METROPOLIS 8:45 a.m.
The midsummer sunlight was bright in the room as Lois grunted under the stress of yet another contraction. She lay on her side, one leg held up by a nurse, who had come in to help now that the delivery was imminent. Debra sat at the foot of the bed, no longer waiting passively, but keeping a close eye on the progress of the baby. Clark was kneeling on the floor by Lois's head. He'd realized a while ago that Debra could deal with the baby; his job was to comfort and encourage his wife.
The euphoria of pushing had worn off long ago; after an hour Lois was beginning to feel that she just couldn't do it anymore. But with each new contraction, the urge to bear down was irresistible, and she found herself grunting and straining with the effort. As each contraction ebbed, she would collapse back on the bed, relaxing, trying to get her breath back before doing it all over again with the next contraction.
"I can see the head," Debra announced as the baby crowned. "Push really hard next time, Lois."
"What?" Lois asked, confused. She'd heard her name, but nothing more than that.
Debra looked at Clark. "Tell her, Clark. She always hears what you say, even if she's tuning me out."
Clark nodded. "They can see the head, honey," he repeated. "Push hard next time."
Lois closed her eyes and nodded weakly. If it weren't for the encouraging words she'd received from Clark and Debra during the last hour, she would have given up. It was like she was pushing a bowling ball out of her body, and at times she had felt that she was being split apart. Now at each contraction, there was this burning pressure as the baby's head pushed against the perineum. Constant reassurances that she was doing just fine, kept her trying, kept her pushing — not that there was anything else she could do. Her body was going to push the baby out, no matter what she did.
Another contraction and Lois closed her eyes tight and pushed with every muscle she had. And another. And another. "I see a nose." Lois heard the words faintly, as if from a great distance. As this contraction finally ebbed, she took a deep breath and opened her eyes. She looked at Clark's worried face, only a few inches away.
"Did you see a nose?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I've been watching you." He looked at Debra. "A nose?" he asked.
"It slipped back in," Debra answered. "We should get the whole head next time."
Clark smiled and looked at Lois. He lifted his hand and stroked her cheek. "The baby's right there at the edge," he said. "Ready to come meet his mother."
"And his father," Lois said with a smile, squeezing his hand. "It's so hot in here."
Clark looked at Lois, glistening with sweat. He glanced down at the nurse and the midwife, but they were both concentrating on Lois's bottom half. He took a deep breath and gently blew on Lois, cooling her off with his super-breath.
Lois took a deep breath, the sudden cool air giving her strength. "Here it comes," she said, as she prepared to push again. And again. And then Clark's resolve to pay attention only to his wife was broken, when Debra announced, "I've got the head! Hang on a minute, Lois."
Clark looked down, seeing Debra's hand supporting a glistening black ball. He watched as Debra quickly suctioned out the baby's nose and throat. She then looked up at Clark, and said, "Tell her, 'one more push,' Clark. That should do it."
He turned back to Lois, tears in his eyes. "Push hard, honey. Push hard."
Lois was still, hardly able to believe it was almost over. As she felt another contraction begin, she pushed. And took another breath and pushed again. Debra pulled gently on the baby, working first one shoulder out, then the other. Suddenly, Lois felt something leave her body, and she was left gasping, with nothing to push on.
Her first feeling was one of incredible relief. It was over. No more pushing. No more struggling. Her second feeling was one of triumph. She had done it. The way she had wanted to. It was over, and she had succeeded! Her third feeling was one of incredible joy, as the sound of a baby's cry filled the small hospital room. Lois struggled to raise herself up on her elbow to catch a first glimpse of her baby. With an in-drawn breath, she realized it wasn't over at all. It was just the beginning.
ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL, METROPOLIS 9:15 a.m.
Conversation between the Lanes and the Kents had dissipated long ago, and they now sat in relative silence, watching the clock. None of them had slept much the night before, and they were all rather tired and irritable. It was through heavy eyes and groggy minds that they saw Clark enter the waiting room. Immediately, they were wide-awake.
"Clark, how is she?" Ellen asked before he had even made it across the room.
Clark grinned at his small audience and said, "Lois and your new grandchild are both doing fine."
The tiny room was immediately engulfed in a wave of cheers and hugs and congratulations from the family members of another patient that had come in just a few minutes before.
"Well, what is it? Is it a boy or a girl?" Martha managed to ask over the noise.
Clark couldn't stop grinning. The long hours in the labor room had taken their toll on his outward appearance. His hair was disheveled, no doubt from running his hands through it repeatedly, his shirt was untucked, and his clothes were wrinkled. But there was a look of pure joy and wonder on his face that neither Martha nor Jonathan could ever remember seeing there, although they recognized it immediately. It was the same look they had seen on each other's face the night they had followed a mysterious flash in the Kansas sky and found their boy.
For a moment, Clark was lost in his own world, and it was only when Martha touched his arm that his eyes shifted their focus to his surroundings. He looked at each of the people before him with a new understanding he had never felt before, and his grin deepened at the unspoken question on each of theirs. "It's a boy," he said quietly. "We have a beautiful, perfect, baby boy." He immediately found himself being hugged by both Martha and Ellen, and wrapped his arms around both of them, infinitely grateful for the woman who had taken him in so many years ago, and for the one who had brought his wife into the world.
"Well, don't keep us in suspense, Clark," Ellen said, brushing tears of joy from her cheeks. "What's my grandson's name?"
"Christopher Joseph Kent." Clark stood proudly, waiting for their reaction.
"Christopher Joseph Kent," said Ellen, trying it out in a dubious way.
"I like it," Martha commented. Sam and Jonathan said nothing, taking it all in.
Clark hugged Martha again. "I've got to go call Perry," he said, "and then I've got to get back to Lois. She's holding Christopher now and says she won't let them take him to the nursery unless I go with him. They have to weigh him, give him a bath, and do some tests — all that stuff. Why don't I meet you all there in about an hour? You can see him then."
LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT 6:30 a.m. PST (9:30 a.m. EDT)
Jimmy yawned as he made his way through the crowded airport to where Sarah waited. His flight left California at 7:02 a.m., arriving in Metropolis around four in the afternoon. He'd barely had time to get back to Sarah's apartment, put some bandages on his cuts, grab his ticket, and get to the airport.
"Everything is backed up because of the earthquake. My plane is delayed; they're trying to get me on another flight." Jimmy stuck his ticket in his back jeans pocket. "Do you mind sticking around here for a bit?" Sarah shook her head as Jimmy sat down next to her. She had been unusually quiet on the ride to the airport, and he knew exactly why.
The two sat in an uneasy silence until Sarah opened her mouth to speak. "I've had a lot of fun while you were here," she said in a low voice, looking at Jimmy.
"Me, too," Jimmy said just as quietly.
"I'm going to miss you," Sarah said, looking him squarely in the eyes, then letting her gaze drop to her hands. She knitted her fingers together nervously. "We've gone through a lot these past couple of weeks."
"I'm going to miss you, too," Jimmy said. He looked at Sarah, her long, dark curls falling like a curtain, shielding her face. Jimmy reached over and took Sarah's hand. He squeezed it reassuringly.
"Come back to Metropolis with me," Jimmy said suddenly.
"What?" Sarah looked up. "Jimmy, I was just there."
"No, I mean, for good. I really want to be with you, Sarah," Jimmy said. "I used to fall in love once a week, but since I hooked up with you again, I feel like I belong with you. I've never felt that way about anyone."
Sarah smiled, but her eyes were shiny with unshed tears. "I've got one more year left in school," she said. "I can't drop out or transfer now."
"Why don't I move here then?" Jimmy said.
Sarah shook her head. "Jimmy, I couldn't ask you to do that. You just got promoted at the Planet, and all your friends are there. I don't want you to take a risk and then lose. Our lives are going in different directions right now."
There was another uneasy silence as Jimmy let go of Sarah's hand. She folded her hands in her lap and looked away from Jimmy so he couldn't see the tears streaking her cheeks. She wished there wasn't so much distance between Los Angeles and Metropolis, but there were three thousand miles. And neither of them could fly back and forth on their paychecks. Sarah only had a part- time job, and she knew Jimmy's paycheck barely covered the high cost of living in Metropolis. She sighed and sat back. She liked Jimmy — maybe even loved him — but at this point in their lives they couldn't make any commitments.
Jimmy watched the planes through the large plate-glass window in front of him. In spite of the earthquake and fire it was business as usual at the airport. His attention switched to the closest gate, where a flight had just arrived. A man in his thirties, dressed in a three-piece suit, hurried through the terminal, looking around frantically. He carried a bouquet of roses in one hand and a small suitcase in the other. His eyes lit up as he spotted a petite brunette wearing a bright orange sundress.
"Paula!" he said as he embraced the brown-haired woman.
"Tony!" she greeted him. He presented her with the roses and they walked hand in hand toward the baggage claim area.
"They seem pretty happy to see each other, don't you think?" Sarah asked, following Jimmy's gaze.
"Yeah," Jimmy said, clearing his throat. It was all he could do to keep from crying.
"Jimmy." Sarah knew they had to decide what was going to happen between them now, before he left, or everything would be unresolved. It would be harder to define their relationship over the phone, or, God forbid, in a private chat on the Internet.
"Yeah." Jimmy looked at Sarah.
"We've got a lot of time left," she said carefully. "We don't need to decide things right now. In a year, maybe I'll be headed for Metropolis, or I might stay in L.A. I might even leave the country. In any case, I don't know what I'm going to do. And I think it would be unfair to ask you to move all the way out here and abandon the life you have in Metropolis for a year."
"But Sarah, I don't want to lose you," Jimmy said. "I know that sounds really corny, but I think we belong together."
"If we really belong together, then we'll find a way to be together one year from now," Sarah said.
Her hazel eyes were sincere, and she knew that if it was really meant to be, they would be together. She seemed so sure of it that Jimmy believed her. She rested her head on Jimmy's shoulder and slipped her hand in his.
And they waited together in a peaceful silence for Jimmy's plane.
ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL, METROPOLIS 10:15 a.m.
The new grandparents felt like they had been waiting days to see their new grandson, although they had really tried to keep themselves occupied. In the hour following the news of Christopher Joseph's birth, they had paced the waiting room, roamed the hallways, taken an informal tour of St. John's Hospital, and made a nuisance of themselves in the cafeteria. So it was one hour, several miles of hallways and elevator trips, and a few hundred gallons of coffee later that Martha, Jonathan, Ellen, and Sam finally approached the window of the nursery.
Although the nursery was filled with rows of small clear bassinets, only a few actually had a sleeping baby in them. St. John's emphasized rooming-in, so the babies spent the majority of their time in the mother's room. Christopher had been brought here for routine medical procedures. Both Lois and Clark were reluctant to let him go for even a short period of time, but knew that the procedures were required. Their parents knew that they felt strongly about keeping the baby with them even in the hospital, and judging from the number of unoccupied bassinets, most of the other new parents felt the same way.
Through the glass window, they could see the bassinet bearing their grandson's name on the first row, but like many of the others in the room, it was empty.
Sam checked his watch. "They must not be here yet," he said. It was only as they turned to head down the hall that they noticed Clark inside the room.
He was sitting in the corner in a rocking chair, a hospital gown covering his clothes. In his arms was Chris, wrapped in a blue blanket. The tiny cap that had covered Chris's head was resting in Clark's lap, and he stroked his fine black hair with gossamer touches. Though they couldn't hear him, they could see Clark's lips move as he spoke softly to the sleeping baby. They watched for a moment until their anticipation finally got the better of them, and Ellen tapped on the glass.
Clark looked up and laughed softly at the sight of his parents and in-laws with their noses practically pressed against the glass window, trying to get a peek at their grandson. "Well, kiddo, ready to meet your grandparents?" he asked the tiny bundle nestled in his arms. Christopher opened his eyes slightly and yawned in response, before promptly falling asleep again.
Clark rose slowly from the rocking chair, careful not to wake his sleeping son, and weaved his way through rows of bassinets until he reached the window. Shifting the baby slightly in his arms, Clark held the baby up to the expectant eyes of his grandparents.
Tears began falling down Martha and Ellen's cheeks the instant they laid eyes on their grandchild, and even Sam and Jonathan looked a little misty-eyed. "Jonathan, look, he's got Clark's black hair," Martha exclaimed excitedly.
"And that is definitely Lois's nose," Ellen said.
Clark held Christopher up for a few more minutes, allowing the grandparents a good look at him, before he carefully laid the baby in his bassinet. Moving to the back of the room, he handed the nurse the gown he had been wearing over his clothes before joining his family in the hallway.
"He is so beautiful, Clark," Martha said, her eyes still fixed on the tiny figure in the adjoining room.
Clark's own eyes lingered on his son for a minute before answering. "Yeah, he is, isn't he?" Finally, he looked at his parents and in-laws. "They'll move him to Lois's room pretty soon, so you can all really see him then."
"How is Lois?" Ellen asked, concern for her daughter overriding her joy for the moment.
"She's fine, Ellen. I just left her a few minutes ago when they took the baby to the nursery. She's awake, if you want to go see her. It's room 256." Ellen and Martha took a final look at their grandson before turning down the hall toward Lois's room.
Sam looked uncomfortably down the hall in the direction that Ellen and Martha had walked. "Well, you know, I think I'll go get myself another cup of coffee and call Lucy again. Tell her about her new nephew." Before Jonathan or Clark could respond, he was heading for the elevator.
Jonathan and Clark stood in silence for a moment, just watching Chris, before Clark said almost in a whisper, "Dad, that was the most amazing thing I have ever seen anyone do." He looked at Jonathan before continuing. "I mean, I've seen Lois do some pretty amazing things, but watching her bring our son into the world … there isn't anything I can do that could even come close to that. And Chris. As soon as he was born, he looked at us with those big beautiful eyes, and Dad, it was like he knew exactly who we were and that we were going to take care of him. He just looked up at us with this intense gaze." Clark chuckled softly. "He was all blue and wrinkled, but he was perfect. We actually counted his fingers and toes. We were just so amazed that we were finally meeting this little person."
"It is amazing, isn't it?" Jonathan asked Clark. "Almost like a miracle." The two men looked through the window at the sleeping baby — the beginning of a new generation of Kents — but this child was no ordinary baby. This was Clark's child, the newest member of a species that had almost vanished forever.
"Yeah …" Clark sighed. "That the love of two people can bring new life into the world is like a miracle. It's an incredible feeling, isn't it? Especially when you consider that this young child can grow into someone great. It's such a big responsibility, Dad."
"Son …" Jonathan said, putting his hand on Clark's shoulder proudly. "Your mother and I are very proud of you. If your child is anything like you, whether or not he has 'super- powers' someday, this child will grow up to be a great person."
"Thanks, Dad," Clark said. "You've always been there for me. I can't thank you enough for your support all of these years." Clark hugged his father.
"Hard to believe it's been five years since you first started flying around as Superman, isn't it?" Jonathan asked. "It seems like just yesterday that you and I were standing there, that night, outside on the farm …"
~~~~~ SMALLVILLE, 1993 ~~~~~
It was a cool spring night in Kansas; Jonathan had put on his winter jacket out of habit, but hadn't bothered to fasten it. Clark, of course, was never cold. During the many years Clark had traveled around the world, he'd made a habit of coming home on Friday nights for dinner. And after dinner, if the weather was reasonable, he and his father took a walk around the farm.
Over the years, Clark had come home from Southeast Asia, Europe, New Zealand, the Andes, and many other remote locations. This week he had come home from Metropolis, a location that seemed much more foreign to Jonathan than the Australian Outback or any other sparsely populated area. He couldn't deny, though, that Clark was enthusiastic about his new job and new colleagues in the big city.
Clark had been rushing around all week, trying to prove himself at his new job, but now, standing in the fields, he stopped, letting himself relax, letting himself just *be*. He listened to the sounds of the cicada. Their nosy chirp seemed to be coming at him from all directions. He could hear the deeper sounds of the bullfrogs coming from the pond. The dry, warm wind felt good on his skin, and he took a deep, deliberate breath, smelling the sweet scent of the ripening wheat "I forget how beautiful it is here," Clark said, looking up at the immense Kansas sky. "The only stars you see in Metropolis are riding in limos."
"You're the one who wanted the rat race," Jonathan reminded him. "*I* couldn't live there. Not for a minute." The lonesome sound of a train whistle echoed through the night, emphasizing the openness of the land.
"There's something about the city. The pace … everyone going somewhere …" In spite of his enthusiasm, there was a frustration deep inside him. Clark kicked a rock and sent it flying into the atmosphere.
"Impatient. Like you," Jonathan said, watching the rock soar. "Guess you've finally found your niche. You can stop living out of that old suitcase."
"I hope so, Dad," Clark said hopefully. "Being in Metropolis, working at the Planet … it's a dream come true, but …"
"You still feel like you don't fit in," Jonathan finished.
"I *don't* fit in," Clark said. "I have to control myself all the time, never use my powers because I might jeopardize my chance to lead a normal life."
"Whatever 'normal' means," Jonathan pointed out.
Clark knew what it meant. "Being human. Like you and Mom. Living, working, meeting someone — having a family," he said, illustrating his dreams.
"Clark, we don't know if that's possible. And you can't risk anyone finding out about you. If they knew you came from another planet …" Jonathan warned.
"But I can't hide forever," Clark said, bringing the fact that had bothered him for some time out into the open. "There has to be a way I can be Clark Kent and still use what I've been given to do some good."
~~~~~ METROPOLIS, 1998 ~~~~~
In the hospital, Clark and Jonathan looked through the glass at the baby.
"It's all come true," Clark smiled. "Being normal. I've been able to live, to work, I met Lois, and we even have a son."
"That night — you also said 'being human,'" Jonathan reminded him. "You've come to terms with that, haven't you? The fact that you're not human."
Clark nodded. "Superman does so much good for so many people. He has friends too — people who would die for him. He's a part of me, and I don't think Clark Kent would be the same person without Superman."
"You know, I was always frightened for you when you were a child. Afraid people would come and take you away. And even now, although I know you can handle everything yourself, I still panic sometimes, thinking of the problems and dangers you face every day. You'll find that out soon enough — even when they grow up, they're still your children, and you still worry." Clark nodded slightly, staring at his sleeping son. "But there is the pride you can feel, when they do good," Jonathan said. "And the companionship from someone who may grow up to be your friend."
Clark looked at the small figure lying in the bassinet. "That seems so far in the future."
Jonathan shook his head. "It's not, son." He looked at his tall son standing next to him, and remembered a small child who snuggled up in his arms and fell asleep — nearly thirty years ago, yet it seemed like it was only yesterday. "Believe me, it's not." Stifling a yawn, Jonathan added. "Come on, let's go downstairs and grab a bite to eat."
Clark shook his head. "I'm going to stay here with the baby. They want to keep him under observation for another hour or so; then they'll move him to Lois's room. I'll get something to eat then."
They had settled Lois into her room a little while ago, when they took the baby to the nursery. She had insisted the Clark go with Christopher when he was taken to the nursery, not wanting her baby to be without one of his parents for a second. And for the first time since her baby's birth, Lois found herself alone with her thoughts. She could only imagine the look on the four new grandparents' faces when they saw Chris. She and Clark had decided in the delivery room that he must be the most beautiful baby in the world — not that they were at all biased.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts, and she looked up in time to see her mother and Martha peeking into the room. "Lois, honey, can we come in?" Martha asked.
"Absolutely," she said, shifting up slightly in the bed. "Did you see him?" she asked, her eyes sparkling, as the two women made their way into the room.
"We just got back," Ellen answered. "Lois, he is absolutely precious!"
"Isn't he? I think he looks just like Clark, and Clark is convinced that he looks just like me," she laughed. "I can't wait for them to bring him in here. They just took him to the nursery for a little while, but they should bring him back to me soon."
Ellen sat down on the edge of Lois's bed and wrapped her arms around her oldest daughter. "Honey, I am so proud of you and so happy for you." She squeezed her for a second, then kissed her on the forehead.
"I love you, Mom," Lois said, hugging her mother back. "Having a baby is incredible, isn't it? I can't believe I actually did it. For a while there, I was so overwhelmed, I didn't know which end was up, but — " her voice dropped. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but it was worth it."
Ellen's smiled tenderly, remembering. "There is nothing like holding your newborn child in your arms, is there? It's been over twenty-five years since I've had a baby, but I remember holding you and Lucy for the first time like it was yesterday."
Martha smiled tenderly. She'd never given birth, but the minute she'd picked Clark up out of the spaceship, she had known he was her child. She, too, remembered every detail of that moment.
"When I held him," Lois said, "he looked up at me, and he was so alert. It was like he already knew me. When I put him to my breast, he latched on and started to nurse right away." Her voice trailed off, and she looked at the door. "I think I miss him already. I know he's just down the hall, and Clark is with him, but — I want him back."
A nurse came into the room then. Lois was uncharacteristically quiet and submissive while the nurse checked on her, got her a glass of juice, and reminded her to call the nurses station when she had to use the bathroom, so they could measure her "output." It wasn't until the nurse left that Lois let it be known, in no uncertain terms, just what she thought of hospital policy in general and officious nurses in particular.
All three women laughed and then Martha came around to the side of the bed. She reached down and took Lois's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "We are all so proud of you and Clark. Thank you for giving us our wonderful grandson."
Lois brushed a stray tear from her check and squeezed Martha's hand, smiling at both her son's grandmothers.
It was well into the afternoon before Lois and Clark were able to convince their parents to go home and get some sleep. The euphoria of seeing their new grandson had worn off enough for their fatigue to finally catch up with them, and not even the large quantities of caffeine they had consumed over the course of the morning had been able to keep them fully awake. Taking a long, last look at Christopher and promising to return the next morning, they finally left, and Lois and Clark had been able to spend the afternoon and early evening with their new son.
It was a little after seven o'clock that evening when there was a soft knock on the door of Lois's room. Lois smiled at Clark, sitting next to her on the bed, then at the baby, whom she held in her arms. "Well, I guess your grandparents couldn't quite last until tomorrow. Come on in," she added, a bit louder so whoever was on the other side of the door could hear. The door opened slightly and Perry peeked into the room.
"You up for visitors, sweetheart?" he asked in an unusually quiet voice.
"Perry! Come on in! Of course, we're up to seeing you," Lois exclaimed, one hand waving him in slightly from beneath her hold on Christopher. The door opened wider, allowing Perry and Jimmy to enter the room.
"Jimmy! When did you get back from California?" Clark asked, jumping up from the bed to greet the two men.
"My flight just got in a few hours ago, C.K.," he answered, his focus on the baby rather than Clark. "I came back as soon as I could."
"We heard about the earthquake and the fire," Lois said, sharing a secret look with Clark, who shifted a bit uncomfortably. "We were worried about you."
"I'm OK, Lois. A little banged up, but nothing that won't heal. And I've got some great photos and an exclusive report for the morning edition." Jimmy beamed with pride. "But as soon as I could, I was on a flight back to Metropolis. I didn't want to miss the kid's grand entrance here."
Clark leaned over and took the baby from Lois, then crossed the room to where the two men were standing. "Well, you two got here just in time. Perry, Jimmy, we'd like you to meet Christopher Joseph Kent, also known as Chris."
Jimmy was at Clark's side in a heartbeat, peering at the newest member of the Kent family. "Man, he's so little," he said in wonder.
"You want to hold him?" Lois asked, laughter in her voice at Jimmy's observation.
"Can I?" he asked excitedly, looking first at Lois, then at Clark, who smiled at him, then carefully passed the baby into his waiting arms. "Wow, look at him. He looks just like both of you." Jimmy eyed the baby for a second. "Uh, no offense, guys, but is his head always going to be shaped like that?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other, then burst into laughter. "No Jimmy, it'll only be that way for a few days," Lois explained.
Jimmy held the baby a few minutes more before the three noticed that Perry had been awfully quiet. "Is something wrong?" Clark asked Perry, who was standing in the corner, observing the group.
"No, it's just … I haven't been around a baby in a really long time." Perry shifted uncomfortably, eyeing the baby with trepidation.
"Well, trust me, Perry," Lois said, "the best cure for that is to hold a baby. It's a good thing we have this cute one handy."
"No, no, I couldn't," Perry mumbled as Jimmy walked over to him, but accepted the baby in his arms nonetheless. The three watched as Perry's face shifted from fear to calmness to finally amusement when the baby opened his eyes and yawned.
"See, Perry, he loves you already," Lois said, smiling. She then glanced at the clock on the wall opposite her bed. "Wait a minute. It's only about seven. You can't possibly have put the paper to bed yet."
For a moment, Perry simply looked at the three people before him, then at the tiny one in his arms. "I let a couple of the others handle it tonight. Some things are more important than getting the paper to bed, especially when visiting hours are from six to nine." He paused a moment, regarding the sleeping baby in his arms, then looked up. "Now, you three know that I'm not the best one for expressing how I feel. But I just want you to know that the three of you have become my family. I love you like you were my kids, and I couldn't be more proud of you."
"And you know that we love you like you're our dad," Lois said, sniffling as tear began forming in her eyes. Clark sat back down on the bed and put an arm around Lois, nodding his agreement.
Jimmy cleared his throat slightly, and Perry looked over at him. "Chief, I just want you to know that you have been the closest thing to a real father that I've ever known. Thanks for taking care of me."
Perry smiled, and his voice betrayed his struggle to keep his emotions in check when he said, "All right now, enough of this mushy stuff. And as for you," he added, looking down at little Chris, still nestled peacefully in his arms, "welcome to our family. It's a little crazy, but with these two for parents, you'll probably fit right in." Perry cooed and turned around, speaking only to the baby. "And when you get a little older, I'm gonna tell you all about The King. I've got a million stories." Lois, Clark, and Jimmy looked at each other and started to laugh.
Clark's step had a spring in it as he walked through the city streets, making his way toward St. John's Hospital. It was a bit cloudy outside for the beginning of summer, but he didn't notice. In Clark's eyes, the world was perfect. He wife had borne his son yesterday — their son! And this morning Clark would be taking them both home.
Clark had gone to work earlier that morning. Both his and Lois's desks were covered with flowers, stuffed animals, and other gifts from various Planet employees. He had promised to take them home later, but laughingly told his colleagues that he couldn't carry all that *plus* the baby this morning. After he left the Planet building, he'd dodged into an alley and spun into his Superman suit. He'd made a quick flight to Paris, visiting a little Parisian pastry shop that made the best croissants in the world. He returned to Metropolis, and landed a few blocks from the hospital. It was early, the sun was shining, and he wanted to take some time and enjoy this wonderful morning.
But now, as he walked through the revolving door that led into the hospital's lobby, carrying a warm paper bag filled with croissants, all he wanted was to see his wife and little Christopher. He headed quickly for the elevator, and, when it didn't come soon enough, opened the door to the stairs. A quick glance, and a moment's listening assured him there was no one else in the stairwell, and he flew up the six flights.
When Clark opened the door to Lois's room, the lights were turned off, and slices of sunlight fell upon the floor and across Lois's bed through the slightly open vertical blinds. Lois was peacefully asleep, angelic in the dim light. The baby lay in a bassinet in the shadows. The scene exuded a sense of peace within Clark, and he took a deep breath.
Clark placed the paper bag on the nightstand between Christopher and Lois. The table was already crowded with cards, a vase of flowers, and a stuffed blue bear. He peered at his newborn son, whose eyes were wide open. Clark thought he looked so pure with the tuft of dark hair peeking out from underneath his little blue hat, and his tiny hands with specks for fingernails.
Clark gasped slightly at the miracle of life, his eyes filling with tears. He gently touched Christopher's cherubic face with his index finger and smiled. Clark moved his finger down, setting it on the baby's clenched fist. The tiny hand opened and grasped his father's finger, and Clark was filled with joy.
The baby made some cooing noises, so Clark picked him up. He brought Christopher to the window, opening the blinds so the baby could have his first look at Metropolis.
"Christopher Joseph Kent," Clark whispered, gently kissing the top of his son's head. "This is your city. This is your world."
Clark let the tears fall. He rarely cried, but the events of the past twenty-four hours overwhelmed him. This was the first blood kin he could ever remember meeting. And the fact that Christopher was also a part of Lois made it more special. At this point, Christopher was perfect. He had not been exposed to the beautiful, but sometimes evil, world, and Clark looked forward to that day, as well as feared it. He knew that being Superman had nothing to do with his being a father. This was a whole new role for him, and the role was his, whether he was ready for it or not.
"Son," Clark said. He felt good saying that word out loud. "Son, I'm going to make this world a better place for you to live in," he promised. "So you can play and go to school and live your life without worrying about a thing."
The salty liquid of his tears spotted his polo shirt as Christopher Joseph Kent gazed at his father in amazement and wonder.
Lois opened her eyes slowly, her husband and son flooding her line of vision.
"Clark?" Lois said as she sat up.
Clark turned around. "Good morning," he said, walking back to Lois's bed and sitting down.
"Spending some quality time with our son?" she asked with a gentle but tired smile.
Our son. It was really true. This was his son created with the woman he loved.
"Lucy called earlier," Lois said. She had been happy to hear her sister's voice. "She wishes she could be here, but she just started a new job and couldn't leave."
"I brought you some croissants," Clark said, nodding toward the bag on her nightstand.
The baby began to whimper, and Lois held her arms out. Clark reluctantly gave the baby to her. "I don't want to let him out of my arms," Clark explained with a sheepish smile.
Lois smiled as she took the baby. "It's OK, I know how you feel. But I don't think you can give him what he wants." She opened her hospital gown to let Christopher suckle at her breast.
Clark watched Lois in amazement. She was more serene than he had ever seen her. She grew more beautiful every day, and she never seemed to notice it. It was what made Clark love her all the more.
A soft knock sounded at the door. "Come in," Lois said, sitting up.
A man in a messenger's uniform opened the door slowly. He looked a little embarrassed at intruding on the private moment. "I'm sorry to bother you folks, but I have a telegram for Ms. Lois Lane. I went to the Daily Planet offices first, but they told me to bring it here."
Still nursing the baby, Lois awkwardly and quickly signed for the telegram, and the messenger placed it on the bed between Clark and Lois and left.
"A telegram?" Lois repeated. She wrapped both her arms around Christopher again, and looked up at Clark. "Can you open it and read it out loud?"
Clark opened the telegram and began to read. "Ms. Lane," he started. "We are pleased to inform you that your investigative article on John Doe and the presidential election has been chosen for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism …" Clark trailed off, but he didn't need to say more. His eyes were wide with happiness and pride. He looked at Lois, who was smiling and crying all at the same time.
"It's come true," she said, tears rolling down her cheeks as she looked down at Christopher. Then she laughed. "I'm a mother, *and* a Pulitzer award-winning journalist!"
"Two new titles within twenty-four hours," Clark teased as he leaned over and kissed Lois. "Congratulations, Mommy. And Pulitzer winner."
He leaned over again and kissed her deeply this time; this was a remarkable woman he had been blessed with, and they were lucky to have found each other.
Clark continued to watch his son breast-feed. He was so proud of Lois, now more than ever. When Christopher had finished nursing, Lois placed the now-sleeping baby in Clark's arms. He put Christopher in the bassinet and walked over to the nightstand.
"Croissants?" Clark offered, picking up the paper bag.
"Is this from Patisserie Marie?" Lois asked, accepting the bag eagerly.
Lois took a bite of the fluffy pastry. She'd been so hungry even the hospital food had tasted good, but this was heavenly. "You must have been busy."
Clark looked a bit confused. "Flying to France?" he asked.
Lois shook her head, gesturing to the table which was filled with flowers, boxes of chocolates, and stuffed animals. "Telling people about Chris."
Clark blushed slightly. "Oh, um …" Lois wasn't going to like this. "That wasn't me."
Lois looked confused. "How else could they have found out? It's barely been twenty-four hours since he was born."
Clark took a deep breath. He might as well get it over with. "Cat Grant sort of … mentioned it … on her show."
Lois stared at him for a moment. "You told Cat Grant," she stated.
"No, I didn't tell her. She just found out, somehow. That's what she does — find things out about people."
"And she mentioned it on her show." Lois still wasn't sure she believed what he was telling her.
"Linda King called the office this morning. She told me. Apparently Cat spent 25 minutes of her show on how Jerry Seinfeld was rescued from a fate worse than death in his own living room, and the other five minutes on the news that her friend Lois Lane just had a baby."
"So the whole world knows." Lois was resigned.
"Well, no — only the ones who watch 'Access Entertainment.' I haven't called that many people; I've been here with you, mostly. Perry told everybody at work yesterday; your desk is covered with stuff."
"So, who has sent things here?" Lois said curiously, choosing another fluffy croissant and biting into it. She looked around the room.
Clark started with the flower arrangement on her nightstand. "Mayor Susan Steel," he said. The stuffed bear next to it: "Rosie O'Donnell," he read on the tag. He picked up a stack of cards and went through them. "Uncle Mike, Aunt Opal and hey, this is from the Metropolis Police Department. And *this* one's from the President." Clark grinned. "He's always keeping tabs on us."
"Probably because we're the ones who saved his political career," Lois pointed out wryly. Then another thought struck her. "Hey, does that mean the *President* watches Cat's gossip show?"
The two of them shared a grin. "Maybe that should be the subject of our next expose," Clark suggested. "Win us another Pulitzer."
Lois thought about it for a moment then shook her head. "Nah, nobody'd care. He's over forty-nine; the demographics are all wrong."
"You, on the other hand," Clark announced, "are on your way to becoming a soccer mom. Prime demographics for the Nielsens. 'And what do you watch on television, Ms. Lane?'" Clark pantomined a TV interviewer.
"Who's got time to watch TV?" Lois answered. "I have a baby to take care of, a husband to keep satisfied, and, in my spare time, another Pulitzer to win."
"I bet you will, too," Clark said. "You'll manage all three just perfectly. I have no doubt at all."
Somewhere in Lois's sleep-muddled mind, it registered that the baby was crying. She had just managed to get her eyes open wide enough to see the incandescent 2:13 on her alarm clock when she felt the bed shift beside her. She started to push herself up on one arm when Clark leaned down and brushed a kiss across her forehead. "Shhh … honey, I'll get him."
She smiled softly and opened her eyes fully, allowing them to adjust to the dark room. As the shapes began to take focus, she saw Clark making his way to the door, the moonlight shining in through the window illuminating his bare back and shoulders half a second before the darkness enveloped him again. She stared out the window at the full moon, the golden circle huge in the night sky, while she listened to Clark's footsteps padding to the small nursery across the hall. The soft murmur of his voice drifted into the room, as he picked up the whimpering baby. He reappeared in the doorway a minute later, this time with his tiny son held securely in his arms.
"I think he's hungry again," Lois said, sitting up and adjusting the pillows behind her. Clark settled next to her on the bed, holding Chris. He brushed his fingers lightly over the sparse, black hair on the baby's head before running one finger down to the tiny hand, for Chris to grasp onto, his tiny digits wrapping around Clark's. "You ready for your midnight snack, little one?" he asked the baby softly.
Lois smiled as she watched "her boys" together. She gave the pillow behind her a soft pat, then leaned forward slightly to kiss Clark's shoulder, letting him know she was ready. He turned and smiled at her, then slowly handed her the baby.
Lois got Chris latched on and then she settled back against the pillows as he began nursing in earnest. Clark leaned against the headboard beside her, resting his head slightly against her shoulder. Together, they watched Chris, his suckling gradually becoming slower as his hunger dissipated and sleepiness overtook him.
When Clark was sure that the baby was asleep, he placed his hand behind Lois's back. With a soft smile, she shifted up enough to allow him to slip in behind her. He leaned against the headboard, and she settled back against his chest, shifting Chris slightly in her arms.
For a long while, the three of them simply lay there, letting the night cover them in a blanket of darkness and serenity. The air around them was perfumed with the subtle aroma of shampoo and clean clothes and the soft, sweet smell of their baby. These quiet nights in their home were Lois and Clark's sanctuary from their hectic lives, and they reveled in them. It was here they could let their guards down and simply be, wrapped in each other's arms and floating in that tranquil state between wakefulness and sleep.
Lois's voice drifted through the silence, so low it was almost a whisper. "I guess we should put him down again."
"Yeah, I guess," Clark said from behind her, his breath warm against her neck. But neither of them made a move to get up; they were too comfortable and too at peace to let go of the moment just yet. A few hours would bring the morning sunlight, and with it, the outside world, ready to bombard them with noise and activity and the people that didn't live in this house. But now, in the peace and quiet of the night, Clark ran a hand up Lois's arm to where Chris's head lay. "Do you remember my first week at the Planet?"
Lois's chuckled softly at the memory, her mind supplying a thousand snapshots of a younger version of herself and her husband. "If anyone had told me that in five years, I would be married to the farmboy from Kansas and have his baby, I would either have laughed in their face or tried out some of my tai- kwon-do moves on them." She looked down at little Christopher, his body curled against hers and the warmth of his slow, even breath on her skin. "I always thought that winning the Pulitzer was the best it could get, but you know what? This is the best there is."
She felt the brush of Clark's lips against her neck, and turned her head to meet them. The kiss was soft, undemanding — the kiss of two friends who meant the world to each other, of two lovers who could never live without each other, of two soulmates destined to be together. It was their promise that no matter what happened, they would always find themselves in each other.
Clark drew away slowly and said, "You want me to take him back?"
Lois looked down at her sleeping child, then at her husband. "Just a few more minutes. I just need to hold you both for a few more minutes."
Clark shifted slightly and reached up one hand to cup her cheek. He looked into the eyes of the woman who had captured his heart so many years ago. "Forever, Lois," he whispered. "You'll hold us both forever."
The faint sound of honking drew a few persons' eyes upwards. A large "V" of geese flew south, high in the sky, the sounds they made quickly becoming fainter and then fading altogether as they moved out of sight. Outside Metropolis the hills had begun to change, their summer greens turning into the yellows, oranges, and reds of autumn. Squirrels scurried around busily on the suburban lawns, looking desperately for nuts to store for the winter. Yellow buses drove along the streets, stopping every few blocks to pick up children carrying backpacks and lunch boxes and then driving them to the nearest school.
Inside the city, the few trees that grew in the small parks scattered around Metropolis were also showing signs of their yearly transformation. Only last week the office workers had strolled along the sidewalks, wearing sleeveless dresses or carrying sports coats casually thrown over one shoulder. They'd come out of the city's many delis and restaurants carrying brown paper bags, and they'd sat on the grass in Centennial Park, eating their lunches in the warm sunshine.
Today was different. The evidence that the summer was over and that fall had begun was incontrovertible. It had rained hard during the night, and a cool breeze was blowing from the docks. The gray skies had threatened more rain all day, and even now, a light drizzle fell. Those same office workers, who last week had been picnicking in the park, were now rushing from the delis back to their workplaces to eat at their desks. Umbrellas were up, held securely against the gusty wind; the light jackets and raincoats, scarcely seen since last spring, were in evidence everywhere, tightly zipped up.
Not everyone on the streets of Metropolis was rushing back to work. A homeless man, dirty, derelict, and dressed in rags, was making his slow, painstaking way down the street. All summer he'd had plenty to eat, foraging in the trashcans in the park, looking for the wealth of food casually discarded by the more fortunate in life. Now, however, with winter on the way, when the office workers discarded their leftovers in the office trashcans instead of outside, the pickings were scarce. By the time a half-eaten sandwich made its way from the office to the dumpsters on the street, it could scarcely be called fresh.
Nonetheless, the man made his way down the street, checking in each and every trashcan, pulling out each brown bag he saw and looking inside. Most of the hurrying office workers gave him a wide berth, leery of being asked for cash. The unsuspecting few who, lost in their own thoughts, walked near him stopped quickly when they came too close, their nostrils flaring and then wrinkling slightly as they swiftly moved away.
It didn't insult old Mick — he'd been on the streets almost ten years now. Once he'd been an office worker too — had a good job with LexCorp as a research scientist in one of LexCorp's labs. He'd had his suspicions about the research he'd been assigned to do, however, and had made the mistake of mentioning it to one of the top supervisors and suggesting that maybe he should take his suspicions to the papers. A few days later he'd been fired. Without references, he'd been unable to get a job in his field and had only been able to hold any kind of a job — be it a grocery store cashier, doorman, or janitor — for a few days or weeks before some sort of "disaster" had resulted in him being fired again. It didn't take him long to figure out that it was the goons who worked for LexCorp that were hounding him. There was no truth or justice in the world for a man who'd crossed the powers that be at LexCorp. Others in Metropolis might have been surprised when Lex Luthor had been revealed as a scoundrel and a master-criminal, but old Mick had figured that out long before.
Alone and unemployed, Mick had started drinking. After being evicted from his apartment, he moved onto the street, swearing he would never be beholden to anyone again — not to an employer, not to a government handout, no one. And he hadn't been. He was truly independent, wandering the streets each day, returning to his "house." It wasn't much, his house — just some plastic sheets and cardboard boxes that leaned up against the wall of an old office building, but Mick had called it home for almost a year now. There was plenty of food for the picking (usually) in the trashcans each day; copies of the Daily Planet and other newspapers could be found blowing around the city for his reading material, and no one could hurt him anymore by firing him, or by lying about him. Mick kept himself alone, wandering the streets of the city, minding his own business, and ignoring everybody else.
He was cold today, shivering as he searched the trashcans. He was used to being cold; it was just one of the realities of life on the street, though he had never grown to like it. He'd gotten soaked through last night in one of the downpours, and the sun hadn't shown its face today to help him dry out. Indeed, the constant drizzle just kept him damp and chilled. As the afternoon wore on, he left the trashcans on the street corners and the parks and moved into the alleys, where the restaurants would soon be dumping their trash into the big green dumpsters.
The sun was almost setting when he finally found his daily meal — an almost uneaten tuna-fish sub, with a few lettuce leaves still stuck to the tuna and mayonnaise. Lettuce usually fell out of the sandwiches when they were thrown into the trash. The sub went into one of the big pockets of his dirty and torn coat, joining a few half-eaten bags of chips. He headed for a deli, which he knew served soda in bottles instead of cups. A quick search of the dumpster there yielded some bottles with a bit of soda left in them. By combining all the smidgens of soda he found into one bottle, he soon had it almost full. He shoved the bottle into yet another pocket and headed for the alley he called home.
The deepening dusk felt oppressive as he headed down the street although the gray clouds were finally beginning to break up. Everything was still wet and damp though; it was going to be the first really cool night of the year. As he walked, Mick heard the sound of a burglar alarm, not unusual in a city the size of Metropolis. Mick minded his own business, not even looking up to see where the alarm was going off. The sound of police sirens grew louder and louder, but he was almost home and the affairs of mainstream Metropolis did not concern him.
Metropolis was no paradise, that was for sure. There were worse places to live, though. Gotham, for instance. That was no city to live in. There were crazies in Gotham, a dark city with no hope. Metropolis had a special hero, someone to believe in, someone to build a few hopes around. If you had to be homeless, Metropolis was the city to be homeless in. Mick walked quickly, heading for his alley. With some relief, he turned the corner into his alley, leaving the sirens and the burglar alarms behind him.
It wasn't until he heard the sound of running footsteps closing in behind him that he raised his head in alarm. They were coming his way, and he'd learned the hard way not to get involved. He quickly dodged into a stairway that led down to a basement door. In his hurry he slipped on the wet pavement and cracked his head rather hard on the ledge, giving himself a nasty cut, but he bit back his cry of pain. The lawless element of Metropolis had invaded his turf, and he knew the first rule of survival — hide!
He wiped the blood from his eyes and hid in the shadows. From his vantage point he watched furtively as the two men turned the corner and ran into the alley. Their faces were concealed by ski masks, but they carried guns and large black bags of loot. They ran quickly toward the other end of the alley, and Mick watched them go. This intrusion would delay his dinner, but the thieves would soon be gone and the police would come and go, leaving him his alley in peace.
Things didn't go according to the usual script, however. There was a loud "whoosh" sound, and Mick blinked twice, not sure he believed what he was seeing. It was *him*! Superman! Standing in the middle of *his* alley, right in front of the fleeing thieves. Mick had seen him once or twice before, flying overhead, but never like this. Never in a million years had he ever expected to get this close to the hero. He took a deep breath and lifted his head, proud to be breathing the same air as Superman.
He watched as the thieves came to a dead halt before the caped figure standing sternly in front of them. There had always been thieves in Metropolis, and there always would be. Superman couldn't be everywhere, and not every robbery was foiled by the Last Son of Krypton. Still, Metropolis was his city, and the Metropolis underworld had learned not to fight back when Superman showed up. Without a word, Superman held out his hand, and the two men silently handed over their guns. Taking each of them by an arm, Superman led the two men out of the alley, into the hands of the waiting policemen.
Alone again, Mick decided to come out of hiding, slowly climbing the stairs he'd crouched on. He was shivering after standing still so long, hiding in the cold darkness, and his head ached where he'd hit it. As he emerged from the shadows, he stopped dead, startled to see that Superman had returned to the alley. He was even more surprised when Superman spoke to him.
"Are you all right?" Superman asked, genuinely concerned. "That's a nasty cut on your head."
Mick's hand went to his head, feeling the stickiness of blood there. "Nah, I'm fine, Superman. Really." Mick frowned, worried. He prided himself on his ability to stay out of sight. "How'd you know I was there? Did I make some noise or something?"
Superman shook his head. "I could smell the blood from the cut." He walked closer to Mick and held out his hand to help him up the last few steps. "Are you sure you'll be OK? The wind's picking up; it's going to be cold tonight. I can take you to the hospital for some stitches."
Panicked, Mick shook his head, although he took the proffered hand gratefully. "Uh-uh. No way," he said. "I ain't goin' to no hospital. I ain't goin' to be in debt to nobody for nothin'. Not ever again." Dropping Superman's hand, he took a few steps back. "I got everything I need right here, Superman." He gestured to the alley. "And I've had worse than this before." He touched the cut on his head again.
Superman nodded and looked around the alley. It seemed to Mick that he stared too long at the dark corner where Mick's "house" was. It wasn't that he didn't trust Superman — he did. Everyone trusted Superman; all you had to do was look at him and you knew right away how much you could count on him. But Mick would still feel a lot better if *no* one knew where his house was.
Finally, to Mick's relief, Superman looked away. He nodded to Mick and rose quietly up into the sky. With a sigh of relief, Mick scurried toward his house. That Superman, he was a gentleman. Didn't argue, or try to convince him to go to a shelter like a cop or a social worker would have. He left a man his dignity and his secrets. Dropping to his knees, Mick crawled into his house.
And almost crawled right back out again, he was so surprised. It was warm! Really, really warm inside. His "house" would have protected him from the wind, and the worst of the downpours, but after a day like today it should have been damp and chilly. Instead the walls and floor were dry. As he reached his hand out toward the brick wall, he had to draw it back. The bricks were radiating heat — enough so that he could take off his damp coat and spread it out to dry.
Superman *was* a gentleman, sure enough. Mick had refused the hero's offer to take him to a shelter, wouldn't let him help with the cut, so Superman found something else to do. And it was enough. Whatever Superman could do, it was always enough. Mick stuck his head back out his door and looked up into the sky. He squinted, but thought he saw a blue figure hovering there. "Thank you, Superman," he said quietly. Was he imagining it, or did the figure turn and dip in the sky in response?
Mick crept back inside, feeling his shivering abate in the unaccustomed warmth. He remembered, years ago, when Superman had first appeared in Metropolis, there had been much speculation about where he had come from. The newspapers and tabloids had come up with some strange theories, but Mick had never believed any of them. Mick had always known where Superman had come from.
He looked outside again, but Superman was gone. A few stars shone through a gap in the clouds where he had hovered a moment before. "Gone back to heaven," Mick said to himself. "Yes sir, he comes from heaven, and he goes back to heaven when he's done helping out here." Mick looked up into the sky again, shaking his head in wonder. "He is some kind of angel," he said in awe. "Some kind of angel."
Full Circle: A New Day was a group effort. Twelve different writers all had input into it.
Jeff Brogdan (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote the Jonathan and Gwendolene story.
Craig Byrne (CraigByrne@aol.com) and Beth Freeman (BethF99@aol.com) wrote the Jimmy subplot.
Beth Freeman (BethF99@aol.com) also wrote most of the Lois and Clark scenes after the baby was born.
Genevieve Clemens (Nightsky@erols.com) was responsible for the labor scenes and the actual birth as well as the epilogue.
Matt Combes (TheNando@aol.com) wrote the two Perry While scenes.
Sheila Harper (email@example.com) researched firestorms and wrote all the Superman scenes.
Pam Jernigan (firstname.lastname@example.org) gave us Ellen's story of the theft of the AV equipment.
Julie Mack (Mackteach@aol.com) wrote the Waffy story of Lois and Clark's dinner at home before the Earthquake.
Pat Peabody (email@example.com) gave us Jonathan and Martha at the airport and at the brownstone.
Kat Picson wrote Sam's story, the scene in the hospital where Clark bonded with the baby and Lois won the Pulitzer, and the Jimmy and Sarah at the airport scene.
Matt Schiller (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Beth Freeman (BethF99@aol.com) wrote Clark's story about the SATs, and, finally
Beth Washington (Beth_Washington@avid.com) wrote Star into the story.
Thanks also need to go to our two non-TUFS proofreaders. Patty Macy and Lisa Ramirez. Lisa was also our resident Spanish expert. Both found numerous typos and grammar mistakes, and they offered some really good ideas, especially about earthquakes.
COMMENTS BY INDIVIDUAL AUTHORS
Sheila Harper (email@example.com) wrote:
As much as I love writing about Lois and Clark's relationship, I also love writing those moments when the alien who grew up as farmboy in Kansas uses his incredible powers to take on disasters and emergencies far beyond our ability to handle. I love getting into his skin and imagining how it feels to be able to do so much—and yet at the same time, feeling his limitations and imagining how he handles problems that are beyond even his powers. Given that, it isn't surprising that I volunteered to write the Superman scenes for Full Circle: A New Day.
When we were planning the A-plot, I only knew two things: we wanted a natural disaster instead of a villain, and Genevieve and I wanted to mirror what was happening with Lois and Clark. So, to match Lois's increasingly difficult labor, Superman needed some kind of disaster that kept escalating until he thought he couldn't handle it. Unfortunately, our earthquake idea wasn't something that kept getting worse, so we started looking for something else to happen as a result of the earthquake. We tossed around the idea of a tidal wave, but that was another disaster that would be over in a few minutes
I was two days past deadline, and all I had was a half- completed outline on my computer screen with no idea of where to go with it, when the idea for my story suddenly dropped into my lap, via a show about earthquakes on the Discovery Channel. It discussed the firestorms that often arise from quakes, and I knew that was what I'd been looking for. Several interesting articles on the 'net gave me the additional background I needed, especially for the TV reporter's description of the firestorm, and after that, it was just a matter of putting myself in Superman's red boots and writing about what he saw and did and the people he interacted with.
It's always a delight for me to try to figure out how Superman handles the various emergencies and disasters he faces, and I hope you enjoyed reading about his adventures with the earthquake and firestorm in LA as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Genevieve Clemens (NightSky@erols.com) wrote:
We decided from the beginning that Lois would have a normal delivery, with no medical complications. (I highly recommend J.C. Wimmers story by the same title "Full Circle" and Eric Klinger's Kerth award winning "When you needed me most" if you want to read about the possible dangers of bearing a Kryptonian child.)
Lois stuck me as the kind of woman who would read every book on pregnancy and childbirth she could find, determined to do it right — determined to do it her way. She also struck me as a prime candidate to desire — to insist on — natural childbirth. I had her learn the Bradley Method for childbirth, and had her attended by a midwife, to give her every chance to achieve a natural, unmedicated birth. (I had another reason, of course. All three of my children were born using the Bradley method, and I had a midwife too. I couldn't have written it any other way. <g>)
My main sources in writing the labor and delivery scenes were "Natural Childbirth: The Bradley Way," by Susan McCutcheon- Rosegg, and "The Birth Book" by William and Martha Sears. They also wrote "The Baby Book" which is alluded to in the story, and which we used as a reference for life with a newborn.
Once all the writers had turned in their parts, I had the job of trying to fit all the pieces together, figuring out the timeframe, and writing the transistions between parts. It wasn't easy, and it took a lot more time than I had expected. But I wanted to give you a story that didn't jump unevenly from part to part, but flowed smoothly. I hope you all enjoyed it.
Craig Byrne (CraigByrne@aol.com) wrote:
Wow. That's what I can say in one word, about what Genevieve did putting this together and — at the same time — making it make sense! (Not an easy thing to do when you have work, husband, AND Lydia, Ruth, and Grace to deal with — way to go Genevieve!) She made everything flow easily, and I am just amazed.
Beth Freeman (BethF99@aol.com) wrote:
Full Circle, more than any other episode of TUFS, was the collaboration of a lot of people who worked very hard to make it the best it could be. However, no one worked more tirelessly and devotedly than our editor, Genevieve Clemens. She deserves sainthood for working so hard on this story and putting up with all of us. I want to thank her for her help and encouragement on my parts of this story. I would also like to thank my family and friends, who let me off the hook the many times I locked myself in my room with the explanation that I had to "write a scene" or "edit for a while." You accept my craziness and love me anyways — thanks!