The Cybercerpent <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted February 1999
Summary: It's been a bizarre week in Metropolis, full of blackmail, intrigue and lots of plant life. As Jimmy battles with a deadly infection, Lois and Clark battle with their consciences.
Here it is: my first fanfic. Many thanks to all my editors- Amy, Belinda, Andy and my sister Kyra. This is dedicated to them, and also to the two warring factions my story has drawn out of the woodwork: There's the Jimmy fans, ('I can never forgive you for what you did to Jimmy!') and the non-Jimmy fans ('I can't believe you didn't kill him!'). Thanks for sticking me in the middle! Anyway, please let me know what you think, as I crave feedback, even if you think it's complete garbage! My email address is email@example.com
It was hot and steamy in the green house, like being in a giant shower, but much less enjoyable. Her clothes clung to her like a bad dream, and sweat ran down her face. Lois Lane hated things like this. She was supposed to be an investigative reporter, so why wasn't she outside, hunting criminals through the streets of Metropolis? She knew the reason for that: Perry considered she spent too much time risking her neck in the pursuit of a story, so every now and then threw an assignment like this her way. They were walking with a small group of other journalists through a long green house filled with exotic plants and tropical birds. It was a collection brought together by Dr Edward Jefferson, Metropolis' resident expert in the field of botany. Today he was displaying the latest additions to his collection: specimens from the depths of the Brazilian rain-forest. "I can't see why people get so excited over things like this," she commented.
"Tell me about it," Jimmy agreed. "The last time I got this close to nature was when I ran over a skunk on route 46!"
"And now we come to the most important exhibit," their guide was saying. "Platanthera Lactarius, a new species of orchid only discovered a month ago."
Jimmy raised his camera and took a picture of a small, unobtrusive plant with thin waxy green leaves and ugly lime coloured flowers. "That's it?"
"I don't think you two appreciate what's in front of you," Clark told them. "Probably less that fifty people in the world have seen this thing."
"I don't think the rest of the population have missed out on much," Lois replied. "Okay, so it's not much to look at, but it probably has applications in a whole range of things."
"Dr Jefferson?" Lois asked. "Does this plant have any practical usage, say as a drug?"
The little man laughed at her. "Oh no. In fact it secretes a deadly toxin." He turned away and began to point out a collection of ferns. Lois yawned. "Is it me or is this getting more boring all the time?" She took another step after the rest of the group and stumbled.
Clark caught her arm. "Are you okay?"
"I don't know. I feel very tired." She collapsed completely. Clark lowered her gently to the floor. "Somebody help," he started to say, then realised that the same thing had happened to the rest of the group. He checked them carefully. All the people had strong pulses and gentle, regular breathing, as if they were merely asleep. "Something weird is going on here," he muttered to himself.
The sound of voices wafted across the humid air. Clark quickly changed into his costume and hid himself in the dense foliage.
"Are you sure this is the best option?"
"Yes," came the firm reply. "This plant has only just been discovered. No one will have had the chance to develop an antidote yet. This has to go perfectly, Eddie, there must be no room for mistakes. There it is."
Two figures stepped into view. They were both dressed in black and wearing gas masks. The one on the right reached for Dr Jefferson's prize orchid. Superman stepped into view. "Not so fast. What's going on here?"
"We're taking this plant and you're not going to try and stop us," the woman told him.
"Oh? And what gives you that idea?" He asked, vaguely amused by her confidence.
"The anaesthetic gas is harmless in small quantities, but in large enough doses it is fatal. There are five canisters hidden in this building, which will release their contents at the touch of a button." She waved a remote at him. "I don't expect you want to be responsible for these peoples deaths, so just let us walk out of here and no one will get hurt." She turned round and started to walk back the way she had come. Helplessly, Superman had to let her.
He hurriedly changed back into his normal clothes and checked on Lois again: she was starting to come round. "Are you okay?"
"I think so, what just happened?"
"I'm not sure, but somebody just went to a lot of trouble to steal one apparently useless plant."
"Who'd want steal a plant?"
Lois demanded, as they walked into the newsroom. "I mean, that's not going to fetch anything on the black market, is it?"
"It was a rare specimen, from the Brazilian rain-forest. Maybe you can produce a drug from it?"
"Clark, the thing was deadly poisonous! It wasn't even very pretty."
"I don't know," he commented, "I think it would look great on your desk, it's such a mess, I'm sure it would feel perfectly at home. I'm willing to bet there are even a few undiscovered tribes running about in there as well!"
"Ha ha, very funny" she scowled. "Now go and get me some coffee, I can't work without caffeine."
"Sure," he replied with a grin. He turned and saw Jimmy carrying a large box of files. "Hey, Jimmy!"
"No," came the firm reply from behind the box.
"Sorry?" Clark asked in confusion.
Jimmy put down the files. "Whatever it is you want, I can't do it right now, I'm too busy. I'm not Superman," he said indignantly.
"Actually, I was going to ask if you wanted any coffee."
"Oh." He grinned sheepishly. "Sure, that would be good."
Clark returned five minutes later and handed Lois the drink. "Had any flashes of inspiration while I was gone?" He asked.
She shook her head. "Not a thing. I have no idea where to start, it's all so bizarre. We have two thefts, one of a Brazilian plant, the other of a culture of harmless bacteria. Same MO, but I have no idea how to connect them. Or why anyone would try and steal either item anyway."
"We have one lead, though."
"Oh?" She looked up, curious. "What's that?"
"Whoever it was, they obviously knew about drugs. A completely undetectable anaesthetic that worked that quickly, is probably specialist knowledge."
"So you think we're looking for a doctor?"
"That would be my guess. Probably someone who has a grudge. We seem to get a lot of them round here."
"Too true, "Lois agreed. "Jimmy!"
"Yes. Run a check on all the medical centres in Metropolis. Make a list of any doctors who have been fired or resigned in the last few months."
"Do you think we ask him to do too much?" Clark asked, as Jimmy hurried off.
"No. Besides, he wants to help, it makes him feel important."
Lois's stomach rumbled. She realised she had eaten nothing since last night. She had woken late, and in her hurry to get here before Perry sent out a search party, she had simply grabbed her mail and run. It was still sitting on her desk, waiting to be opened. She flicked through it. Bills, circulars, a free sample of shampoo, and a brown envelope with a hand-written address. She opened it curiously, and as her eyes scanned through it, her expression changed from curiosity to dismay. She looked round for her partner. "Clark? Can I speak to you?"
He did not appear to notice her. "Clark?"
He looked round, distracted. "Lois, I, er, I have to take this library book back. I'll talk to you later."
He hurried towards the elevator. Lois stared after him, her mouth open. "That guy has an awful lot of library books," Jimmy commented, coming up behind her. "Tell me about it," she murmured. "Is everything okay? You looked like you just got some bad news."
"Just my mother announcing a visit," she lied. "Did you find anything?"
"No. The last person to leave any of them was a Dr Richards who retired a week ago."
She looked at the half-eaten cheeseburger in his hand. "Have you any idea what they put in those things?"
"I know, but they're cheap and they come fast."
He looked at it. "Actually, I'm not very hungry. Do you want it?"
"Your cold, half-eaten lunch? Your generous spirit never fails to amaze me!" Jimmy dropped the remains of the burger in the bin. "Seriously though, it's not like you to have no appetite. Are you feeling okay?"
"Not really," he admitted. "I think I've got that 'flu thing."
She put her hand on his forehead. "Hmm, you do have a temperature. Why did you come in if you weren't feeling well?"
"I was okay this morning. Besides, this place would fall apart if it wasn't for me!" She grinned. "Well, if you think we can survive without you for a day, I'll give you a lift home."
She turned away to pick up her bag. "Lois?"
"Should the room be spinning like that?"
She turned round in alarm to see him collapse. "Jimmy!" She knelt beside him. "Somebody call an ambulance!" People began to crowd round them. "What happened?"
"Is he okay?"
"I don't think so," Lois told them. "He's burning up with fever and he's barely breathing."
"Okay, everybody back, give the kid some air," Perry ordered. He knelt beside Lois and handed her a grey blanket. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure. One minute we were talking, the next he had fainted."
Perry held a finger to his lips. "Shh, he's coming round."
Jimmy's eyes flickered open. "How are you feeling, son?"
Jimmy drew his arms around his stomach, his face contorted with pain. "It hurts, it hurts so much," he gasped. "It's okay," Lois soothed, brushing a lock of damp hair from his face. "Shh, everything's going to be okay, I promise."
Clark knocked once on the door and let himself in. As he entered, Lois looked up and held a finger to her lips. She was sitting beside the hospital bed, holding Jimmy's hand in her left hand. With the other she was absently stroking his hair, giving the impression of one who feels they should be doing something, but is not quite sure what. "Is he asleep?"
She nodded. "The painkillers seem to have knocked him out completely."
"That's probably a good thing."
"Yes. At least he's not in any pain right now."
She looked at him, and he could see anger now, smouldering in the depths of those beautiful dark eyes. "I could have really used your help back there," she told him.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know this would happen," he defended himself.
"I know, but one day, someone's going to really need you, and where will you be? Returning library books, or at the dentist, or something. One day you'll be too late."
Her eyes met his and Clark found he was forced to look away. She was right: one day he would be off saving the life of a complete stranger, and would come back to find someone he cared about was dead. A knock at the door cut off these thoughts. It was opened by a tall, slim, bespectacled woman, with fine coppery hair tied back in a pony-tail. A name badge announced her to be Dr Laura Winston.
"Can I come in?" she asked politely.
"Are you going to tell us what's going on," Lois asked. "No one will tell us anything."
"I'm sorry about that. I would have come sooner, but we really did not know anything. We still don't know much," she admitted.
"You don't know what's wrong with him?" Clark asked.
"I do, in a manner of speaking. Jimmy is suffering from a bacterial infection, but I've never seen a case like this before."
"You're saying this a completely new disease?"
"No, I'm saying he shouldn't be sick. This type of bacteria is normally harmless. It's similar to the type used to produce human insulin. For some reason it is now producing a very harmful toxin."
"But you can treat it, can't you?"
Lois demanded. "I don't want to alarm you, but the antibiotics we gave him seem to have had little effect. Finding the right drug, or combination of drugs could take forever, and he simply doesn't have that long."
"How long does he have, exactly?"
"I couldn't be certain, but definitely less than a week."
"I've phoned Perry," Clark said, coming back into the room. "He'll be here as soon as he can. He's called Jimmy's mother, but apparently she doesn't think she can get a plane out of LA for several days."
Lois nodded silently. He sat down next to her. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm okay."
She let go of Jimmy's hand. "I guess we should go. There's not much we can do here."
"I suppose so."
He sighed. "I feel terrible. I should have been there."
"Would you have been able to do anything for him if you had?" she asked, hugging him.
He hugged her back. It felt good to do that. She felt real, solid, reliable, all the things he did not feel about himself.
"I know how you're feeling, I feel helpless myself. I mean, together, we've put away some of the most dangerous criminals in the city, but we can do nothing to help Jimmy."
Do you Lois? he thought. Do you really know what I'm going through? I'm the strongest man in the world, but I can't stop something so small even I have trouble seeing it. He said none of this aloud, however. They walked silently down the corridor together and out of intensive care. "Where do we go from here?"
"How about working on the case of the missing plant? I feel we ought to be doing something useful. Jimmy said that although no one had been fired, a Dr Richards retired from here a week ago. I know it's a tenuous connection, but to we really have anything better to go on? Maybe some of his stuff is still here."
"It's worth a try at least," Clark agreed. "Do you know what department he worked in?"
"He was into hereditary disease. I wrote an article on him last year. He seemed very respectable. I'm not sure we're looking in completely the wrong place here," she sighed.
"It can't hurt," Clark assured her. "If nothing else, it's helping you to get your mind off Jimmy."
They reached Dr Richards' office. His name was still on the door, which was firmly locked. Lois produced a paper clip from her handbag and proceeded to pick the lock. After a moment, there was a click, and the door swung open. "Not a problem," Lois commented as she pocketed the mangled paper clip. Clark noticed she was much happier now she had something to get her mind into. Lois always seemed happier when she was doing something illegal. Inside, the office was almost bare. There was an empty desk, some dusty shelves, a couple of cardboard boxes, and a dead houseplant. "They didn't leave much."
"Obviously they didn't hear about your visit Lois."
She began to go through the boxes. Again, there was very little. A soft ball, a few Christmas cards and some packets of photographs. Lois flicked through them. They all appeared to be of jungles or rain forests. Each one was classified with a date, a location, and an expedition title.
"Isn't that the stolen orchid?" Clark asked, looking over her shoulder.
"It looks like it," Lois agreed. "But if it is, then the date's wrong. According to that, this photo was taken over a year ago."
He took the picture from her. "Well, it agrees with the date from the camera timer. Look: February third, 1994."
"But that doesn't make sense! Dr Jefferson said he discovered on his last expedition. Why would he lie?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's time to pay a visit to Dr Richards."
The door to the large house was opened by a young blonde woman, perhaps twenty-four or twenty-five. "Can I help you?" she asked, and Clark found her voice strangely familiar.
"My name is Lois Lane, this is Clark Kent, we're from the Daily Planet. We'd like to speak to Dr Richards please."
The woman called into the house. "There are some journalists who wish to talk to you here. Please come in." she told them. They were led down a long narrow hall, whose walls were covered in paintings of wild animals, and into a small study. The study was filled with plants. They grew from wall to ceiling, and crept over every available surface. Sitting at an ornate mahogany desk, half obscured by vegetation, was Dr Richards. He was exactly as Lois remembered him: a tall dominating man with snowy white hair and sparkly blue eyes. "Come in," he welcomed them. "What can I do for you?"
"What can you tell us about this?" Lois asked, handing him the photograph. "That? I'd forgotten all about that! Yes, I found that on my last trip to the Amazon basin. I had brought some samples back, but they were all destroyed in a fire."
"Did you know Dr Edward Jefferson is displaying a similar specimen in his collection, claiming it as his own find?"
"No, I didn't. I shall have to talk to him."
"Because he stole your specimen?" Lois asked, and Clark noticed a trace of hope in her voice.
"Of course not! What ever gave you that idea? No, purely as one scientist to another."
"So you don't bear Dr Jefferson any bad feeling?"
He looked at her, genuinely confused. "No. Why should I?"
"Thank you, you've been very helpful."
"That's quite all right. Joanna will show you out." He pressed a button on the desk. "She's a good child, quite smart, too. She's a nurse at the hospital, didn't quite make the grade as a doctor, unlike her brothers."
That's where I've seen her before, Clark realised. The blonde woman appeared in the doorway. Lois and Clark followed her to the door. Once outside, Clark asked Lois, "Did you believe him?"
"Clark, I don't believe that man is capable of lying. I think we're no further on than we were this morning."
Clark found Perry exactly where he had expected to find him: sitting at Jimmy's bedside. Indeed, he suspected he had been there all night. It was now late afternoon, lazy sunlight trickled through the window and pooled on the floor. He and Lois had spent a worthless morning doing little more than chasing their tails. She had been tired and preoccupied, and he knew she had not slept much last night. In the end, he had sent her home, with strict instructions to at least lie down, and she had agreed. That was a definite sign something was wrong, Lois would never agree to something like that under normal circumstances. "How is he, chief?"
"Not good," Perry replied softly. "Poor kid. I wish there was something I could do."
"Maybe there is."
Perry looked at him, confused. "When was the last time you slept. Or ate anything? You're not going to help Jimmy by making yourself sick."
"But I can't leave him. What if he wakes up? He's in so much pain, I can't let him go though that alone."
"I'll stay with him. At least go and get a meal."
Perry paused, thinking hard. "Okay," he said finally. "I guess you're right."
"I am. And everything's going to be okay. Jimmy's young and strong. He'll get through this."
Perry nodded, but it was obvious he did not believe him. Clark did not blame him, he did not believe those words himself. Clark looked at Jimmy's pale face, half obscured by the oxygen mask, and felt the sensation of uselessness welling up inside him again. Beside them, various monitors pulsed and flashed. Jimmy's condition had deteriorated rapidly over the last twenty-four hours, so much so, that the doctors had pretty much given up hope that they would find a cure. Not that they admitted this of course, but he could still see it in their eyes. He tried to get his thoughts straight, to work out what was going on. There was so much he had to deal with at the moment. Even if he ignored the bizarre series of events involving the ugly orchid, he was still left with the wash of emotions Jimmy's illness had provoked. Everything had happened so quickly. Two days ago, everything had been normal, or at least as normal as his life got. Now there so many puzzles and paradoxes floating about, nothing seemed quite real. Someone had gone to great lengths to steal two apparently worthless objects and then done apparently nothing with them. If this wasn't enough of a riddle, Jimmy was dying of a supposedly harmless infection. Something hit him at that point. Neither situation made sense, unless put them both together. The only possible use for the plant was as a poison, and Dr Winston had said the bacteria could be used to make insulin. What if you could make them make poison instead? But who would want to harm Jimmy, and why? That was the question. He picked up his phone and was about to call Lois, when one of the nurses entered. "Mr. Kent? There's a phone call for you in Dr Winston's office. It sounded urgent."
He thanked her and hurried towards the office. Who could be calling me here, he wandered, as he picked up the handset. "Mr. Kent? I have important information concerning James Olsen."
"Not for you. Send Superman to the old industrial estate. I'll be waiting for him there."
Superman hovered over the decaying waste that had once been the heart of the city's industrial area. It had fallen into disrepair and now was home to nothing more than rats and stray dogs. And criminals, he reminded himself. He scanned the area. There were no people, but one of the abandoned warehouses seemed curiously full of microphones and monitors. He entered it cautiously. As he did, one of the screens lit up. A computer generated face appeared, which turned towards him. "Superman, so nice for you to drop in!" It had the same electronic quality as the voice on the phone at the hospital. "You said you had some information for me."
"Yes. Did you know, ten per cent of Americans never see their twenty first birthday? Tragic, don't you think?"
"Stop playing games with me!"
"Very well. I know why your friend is sick, and I also know what the cure is. I'm willing to see he receives it, for a small fee."
"How am I supposed to get that kind of money?"
"Really," the voice said with contempt. "For some one who goes around calling himself Superman, you are actually quite stupid. Open a bank account; with your fist."
It laughed, a harsh, empty sound with no trace of humour. "You're asking me to steal for you. I don't know if I can do that."
"Very well, it's your choice. But unless I receive my money, James Olsen will die, probably within the next forty eight hours. As I said, it's your choice."
It was dark now. The streets were empty now, and except for the sound of distant traffic, almost completely silent. The feeling of helplessness had increased exponentially. It had been bad enough not being able to help Jimmy, but to know he was the cause of the problem was agonising. And now someone was making money out of it. He hated the knowledge that he was being controlled, but he was not prepared to put a value on his friend's life. If ten million dollars was what it cost, then that was what he would pay. Sometimes I think this secret identity is more trouble that it's worth, he thought miserably. He was standing behind the city's main bank. The vault was directly ahead of him, through six feet of reinforced concrete. This is really going to confuse everyone, he thought, as he began to drill through the wall. A few minutes later there was a large hole in the side of building. He stepped through it into the vault. Quickly, he counted out the correct amount, and shoved the bills into a sack he had brought with him. The alarms were wailing now, and he knew the police would be here any moment. He grabbed the sack and flew off. Superman landed out side the warehouse. As he entered, the screen flickered into life again, and the face greeted him. "I see you made the right decision."
"Here's your money. I've kept my side of the deal, now you keep yours."
"I'll see your friend gets the drug only once I know you've made no attempt to trick me."
"How do I know you'll keep you're word?"
"You don't. You just have to trust me."
Lois awoke early from a night of disjointed sleep interspersed by nightmares. She lay back and wandered what had woken her this time, until she realised the phone was ringing "Hello?"
"Sorry to disturb you this early in the morning. It's Dr Winston. Could get you get down here as soon as possible?"
Lois demanded in alarm. "I can't discuss anything over the phone, but it's good news, I promise."
Lois arrived at the hospital, still feeling apprehensive, despite Dr Winston's words. She hurried towards the intensive care unit, and as she approached Jimmy's room, she could hear voices, cheerful voices. She opened the door and the sight that greeted her made her heart rise. Jimmy still looked pale and tired, but he was sitting up and smiling, something she had not seen him do in too long. "Lois!" He cried in delight as she entered. "Hi. How are you feeling?"
"You look better," she told him as she hugged him. Clark, who was sitting on the other side of the bed squeezed her hand and gave her an 'I told you everything would be all right' look.
"What happened?" Lois asked, as Dr Winston entered.
"I'm not sure. I guess we must have hit on the right drug, but everything's happened much quicker than I would have expected. Don't get me wrong, I'm very pleased with his progress, it's just that if I could reproduce this kind of recovery in all my patients, I'd make a fortune!"
"So he's going to be okay?"
She smiled. "He's going to be fine."
"It looks like a small nuke made that hole," Lois proclaimed. "How come no one heard an explosion?"
They were standing beside the hole carved in the bank vault. Various police offices were scurrying about, all with the same expression of bewildered amazement on their faces. "What happened here?"
She demanded to one of them. "We have no idea," he admitted. "Nobody saw anything or heard anything, which is incredible considering the size of that hole. Whoever they were, they knew what they were doing."
"How much was stolen?"
"Ten million, exactly. I'm guessing they had a very strict time-scale to work to, that's why they were so efficient. Look, just be careful what you print, we don't want to cause a panic."
She turned back to Clark. "This is definitely turning into a very weird week."
He nodded silently. "You've been very quiet, is everything okay?"
"Just confused. Do you want to come out to dinner this evening?" He asked, changing the subject. "Are you asking me on a date?" She asked in amusement. "Don't call it that! Every time we try and have a date, something always goes wrong. Let's not tempt fate."
Lois smiled. "Okay, that sounds good."
Clark returned home, feeling happier than he had in along time. He knew that he would never feel quite the same about his abilities as he had before, but at least this was finally over, perhaps he could learn to live with what he had done. Right now, he just wanted to concentrate on the fact that Jimmy was going to be okay, and he had a whole evening to spend alone with Lois.
The phone rang, drawing him back from his thoughts. He picked it up, thinking it would probably be Lois, worrying over what to wear. "Mr Kent I have a message for you."
He recognised the metallic tones immediately. "You again! What do you want!"
"Tell Superman that it's time for his next payment."
"But Jimmy's okay now. Why should Superman keep paying you?"
"Because things can go wrong, even in a hospital. Just pass on the message Mr Kent, this is really none of your business."
"You could not be more wrong," Clark muttered as he replaced the phone. He sat down heavily. Of course it was not over, he had been stupid to believe that. She would keep using him until either he found her, or Jimmy died. He had to talk to someone, but whom? Who could he hope to get to understand what he was going through? There were only two people in the world that fitted that description he decided as he flew off into the closing evening. "Hello Mom," he said, as he landed outside the small Kansas farm.
"Clark! How nice to see you!"
"I need your help Mom. Something's happened, something I had hoped I would never have to deal with. Now it has, and I don't know if I can."
"Come in and tell me everything," she ordered, leading him into the house. She sat him down at the kitchen table and handed him a mug of hot coffee. "What's happened?"
"It all started a few days ago. Jimmy fell sick, really sick. Everybody thought, no knew, he wasn't going to pull through. Then yesterday I got a phone call saying that if I wanted to help him, I had to pay ten million dollars."
"Of course. I wasn't going to let Jimmy die. I can't put a value on human life. I thought if I did this, everything would work out. And for a while it seemed like it was."
"So Jimmy is okay now?" Martha asked.
"I think so. But then I got another call saying they wanted more money. I don't know if she was bluffing, or if she really means to hurt him again. What if that's the case? How am I supposed to choose between my friend and my values? And if Superman is seen as a criminal, what effect is that going to have on the world? What am I going to do?"
"I don't know honey," she replied, hugging her son. "I guess the only thing you can do is try and catch this person before things get any worse. Do they know it was you?"
"Not yet, but it's only a matter of time before someone works it out."
"There's one more thing you must do," she advised him. "What's that?"
"You have to tell someone. This is too big to handle on your own. Talk to Lois. Maybe thing will be easier if you work together."
It wasn't until he returned home that he remembered about Lois. She had left several messages on his answer phone, each more furious than the last. He had just finished playing the last one when there was a knock at the door. He did not need x-ray vision to know it was her.
"Where have you been?" she demanded. "This is the last time you ever stand me up, I promise."
"I'm sorry, I guess I forgot."
He cut her off before she could get further. "I've been with Superman. He's been explaining what's going on."
"What's been going on with what?" she demanded, but most of the anger had faded from her voice.
"With him, with that plant, with Jimmy."
She sat down and he explained how the orchid, the bank robbery and Jimmy's illness were all connected, and how the blackmailer was now demanding more money. "We have to go to the police," she told him.
"No, we can't do that. If anyone else finds out Superman can be blackmailed, none of us will be safe again. No, we have to find her ourselves."
"And when we do?"
"I haven't worked that out yet. The most important thing now is to get down to the hospital and make sure Jimmy is safe."
"Do you think we should tell Dr Winston?"
"I think we might have to."
They reached the hospital and split up: Lois to check on Jimmy, and while he went to explain the situation to Laura Winston. He found her in her office. "What is it, Mr Kent, I'm very busy at the moment."
"This is important. We have reason to believe Jimmy's life is in danger again."
Clark related the event of the past few days and she listened carefully."And now they've threatened him again if Superman doesn't pay up." "Have you told anyone else about this?" she asked and he shook his head. "Good, that seems wise. I'll run some to tests to make sure he's okay, and get security to post a man outside the room. Don't worry, he'll be quite safe here."
They walked down the corridor to Jimmy's room, where Lois was waiting. "He's asleep, and I didn't want to wake him," she told them, "but he seems okay."
Dr Winston cast her eyes over the monitors. "I agree with you, but I'll take a blood sample to be sure."
She produced a hypodermic. Jimmy woke up as she jabbed the needle into his vein. "Ow," he said reproachfully.
"Sorry. I just need to run some more blood tests."
"More? What are you people, vampires?"
"My guilty secret," she replied with a smile. "Now go back to sleep."
She turned back to Lois. "I'll sent this down to the labs, but I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. You should go home."
"I'd like to stay with him, if that's all right. Just to make sure."
She nodded. "That's fine. I'll see you in the morning."
Clark followed her out and returned five minutes later with a take-away Chinese. "This wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I said I'd take you out to dinner," he confessed.
Lois smiled. "You were right when you said we were jinxed. At least we're in the same room. That's a start." She looked up sharply at the sound of sniggering coming from the bed. "Jimmy! I thought you were asleep."
He opened his eyes. "Sorry, the food woke me up. Listen, you don't have to stay here with me. I don't want to spoil your evening."
"We don't mind, honest," she told him, but her eyes drifted towards the window and the waiting city. "Tell her, CK," Jimmy ordered. "Tell her to stop being so, so unselfish!"
"He's right. There's a security guard outside, there's really no need for us here."
Lois looked between Clark and Jimmy, indecisively. "I don't know."
"I've just got the tests back, they're all clear," Dr Winston announced as she entered. Lois paused for a moment, before handing the bag of take-away to the other woman. "Here, enjoy. We won't be needing this where we're going."
Clark was already at the hospital when Lois arrived. He stood up as she entered. "Lois," he started. "Oh, I didn't expect to see you here. Are you sure you don't have a dentist's appointment, or have to water your grandmother's geraniums or something?"
"Am I missing something?" Jimmy asked in confusion.
"I don't know. Maybe I'm missing something. Is that it, Clark? Is there something wrong with me? Is that why you keep walking out on me?"
"I'm sorry, Lois. I didn't plan it like that. Something important came up."
"Important? How important? Important enough to leave me alone and humiliated in a restaurant with everyone staring at me?" Lois shouted.
"Um, I don't want to interrupt anything, but would you mind keeping it down please?"
"Sorry," Clark muttered humbly. He hated fighting with Lois, but he could not abandon a person in need for the sake of an uninterrupted evening. And he could not tell her why he had to leave. He had seen the effects of Superman simply having friends, if Lois knew the truth, it could be disastrous for her. Maybe I should just give up the whole secret identity thing, he thought. It would be much safer for everyone. "Are you okay, Jimmy?"
"Yeah. It's just a headache."
"Are you sure? You don't look so good. I'll get the doctor," she said, reaching for the call button beside the bed. "No," he cried, grabbing her wrist. "No," he said again, more softly this time, "please don't do that."
"Why not? If there's something wrong then you must see a doctor."
"Because then I'd be admitting I was getting sick again, and I don't want to do that."
He looked up at her, his hazel eyes full of fear. "Please, I just want to get out of here. I just want everything back the way it was, with no more doctors, no more needles, no more pain."
The headache had spread and now it felt as if his whole body was on fire. The room swam dizzily in and out of focus, and everything sounded far way. Vaguely, he was aware of Dr Winston leaning over him. "You lied to me," he moaned weakly, before losing consciousness completely.
"I'm sorry, Jimmy," she murmured. "I'm so sorry."
Lois demanded. "What's wrong?"
"Could you wait outside, please," she asked, sounding angry and more than a little afraid. Clark nodded and led Lois away.
"We should have stayed last night," she told him furiously. "Lois, you said so yourself, what could we have done? The security guard said no one entered last night. What use would we be today having spent all night waiting for someone who never turned up?"
"I don't know, I just feel …" she sighed without finishing the sentence.
"What, Lois? What do you feel?"
"I feel like I've been taking too many people for granted. And now it's all catching up with me."
"What brought this on? You don't take anybody for granted."
"Yes I do."
She brushed a tear away from her eyes, composing herself. "A few days ago, I got a letter saying my father had had a heart attack. It was only a small one and he's okay now, but it made me think. I rarely speak to him, and I see him even less. I always presumed he would be there for me, but I was never there for him. And then there's Jimmy."
She sighed again. "And you. I'm always yelling at you for leaving me, but I never stop to think that you might have a good reason for running off. I never think about how you might be feeling."
He hugged her. "Jimmy knows you don't take him for granted. And so do I. I know we've had a few problems lately, but whatever happens between us as a couple, I'll always be there as your friend, I promise."
"You mean that?"
"Would I lie to you, Lois?"
He asked and kissed her tenderly before she had a chance to rely. He looked up as Dr Winston came out into the corridor. "How is he?"
"He's in a critical condition. His heartbeat is very weak, and I'm afraid he may stop breathing any moment."
She looked at them. "You're going to have to go to the police."
"No. It's vital no one finds out about this," Clark said adamantly. "What if I got Superman to freeze his body, until we can get hold of the cure."
She shook her head. "He's much too weak. He'd never survive."
"How did they manage to get through security?" Clark demanded.
"I don't think they did. When they delivered the drug the first time, they can't have given him a full dose, only enough to knock the infection back for twenty four hours."
"I've been thinking," Lois said suddenly. "Whoever it is, they'd have to work here, in order to give him the drug without being noticed."
"But there are hundreds of people working here! It needn't be a doctor you're looking for, either. Just someone who knew what they were doing."
"Like someone who had been around doctors all their life," Clark commented. "And someone who knew about the orchid the first time round," Lois added. They looked at each other.
"Joanna Richards," they said in unison. Lois turned to Dr Winston. "Is she here?"
"No, I haven't seen her for a couple of days. You don't seriously believe Joanna is behind all this?"
"She's the only one who could do this. If she knew about the orchid a year ago, she will be the only person who has had a chance to develop an antidote," Clark explained. He turned to Lois. "You find Dr Richards, see if he knows where she might be. I'll find Superman."
Superman entered the warehouse. "How much do you want this time Joanna?"
"So, you have finally worked out who I am. It took you long enough."
He demanded again. "The deal has changed. You know who I am, so I can not possibly return to the hospital to give your friend the drug. Besides I have all the money I need. Now I want power."
"What do you mean?"
"There is a shipment of nuclear weapons coming into the harbour at twelve. Bring them here."
"Why? What can you possibly offer me in return for that? You've already said you won't help Jimmy, so what's your side of the deal?"
"I'm not offering you anything. Either you bring me those weapons, or I put the orchid in the water supply."
Superman thought for a moment. He knew he had to keep her from releasing the poison, something he was sure she would do. "Okay. But first I want some answers."
He recognised the tone of her voice. It was the same arrogant confidence he had spoken to her with that day in the green house. "Why Jimmy? He's just a kid. Why pick on him?"
"I'll be honest with you, that was a mistake. When Kent brought coffee that morning, I presumed it was for him and Lane. So I doctored one of the cups, not caring which one of them fell sick. I know you're close to both of them. I had no idea the kid would drink the poisoned cup. Frankly, I was worried I had failed when I found out. But fortunately he turned out to be close to you too. Which was good, because I can't stand failing."
Lois arrived at the big white house and banged frantically on the door. It was opened by Dr Richards himself. "Miss Lane! What are you doing here?"
"Where is your daughter, Dr Richards?"
She demanded. "Joanna? I don't know? Why do you want to speak with her?"
"Your daughter is involved in a plot against Superman. I think she's crazy. But then, you know that, don't you?"
"Come in, Miss Lane. We need to talk."
He led her back into the plant-infested study. "Yes, Joanna has undergone psychiatric treatment. She's the youngest of four, and like her brothers, she trained to be a doctor. However, she failed her final exams. She couldn't deal with the fact she had failed, she never could. But this time she got violent."
"And you covered this up, so she could get a job at the hospital?"
"She seemed to be okay. I thought if I could keep an eye on her, it would be all right."
"Where is she now? It's very important we find her."
"I honestly don't know. Believe me, I would tell you if I knew."
Her phone rang. Lois answered it with a sigh. "Yes. What? Okay, I'll be right there."
She turned to Dr Richards. "I think we have a lead."
Lois hurried into Dr Winston's office. The doctor was sitting opposite a young man perhaps a couple of years older than Jimmy. His dark eyes shifted nervously beneath a mop of unruly black curls. "Lois, this is Eddie Palmer. He say's he knows where Joanna Richards is."
"I'm her partner in crime," he said guiltily. "You mean you're responsible for what Jimmy is going through?" She demanded, her fist raised in anger. She stopped herself just in time. "Why?"
"I wanted the money. If I'd known it would be like this, I would never have got involved. But I'm only human."
"So why are you coming to us now?"
"Joanna's gone too far. She say's she's going to poison the city's water supply. I can't go to the police, they won't listen to me in time to stop her. I don't want to kill any one."
"Where is she now?"
"She'll be at the reservoir by now. Hurry, there isn't much time."
"I can't see her!" Lois called, scouring the banks of the reservoir. "Maybe she's still at the hut," pointing over the brow of a hill. She strode off and he ran to keep up with her. "I'm really sorry about what I did to your friend."
"Not as sorry as I am. And trust me, if he dies, I'll see you get life for his murder, no matter what you do here."
They had reached the crest of the hill. Eddie pointed down towards a little stone hut. "She'll be in there."
They ran down the slope and he pushed open the door. "Joanna?"
"Eddie? I didn't hear the truck."
"That's because I didn't bring it," he replied firmly. She stared at him in astonishment. "Why not?"
"Because I won't be a part of this any more."
She started towards him, then noticed Lois. "What's she doing here?"
"It's over, Joanna, "Lois told her. "Give up. The police are on the way and I can call Superman any time I want."
"How?" She asked, momentarily confused. "On a telephone?"
"No, like this," Lois replied and screamed "Help! Superman!"
"That was really stupid," Joanna commented, producing a gun. "You can't beat me. I always win."
"Not this time, Joanna," Eddie said calmly. She turned towards him. "You've failed again."
"No," she moaned, her hand trembling slightly.
"Yes. Can't you hear the sirens? They're coming for you, Joanna. They're coming to take you away permanently, and there's nothing Daddy can do for you this time."
"No!" She cried again. Her attention was totally focused on Eddie, and Lois saw her movement. She kicked upwards, and the gun skidded across the room away from Joanna. Seeing she was caught off balance, Lois carried on and drove her fist into the woman's stomach. "That's for Jimmy," she commented, bringing her hand down in a karate chop across the woman's neck. "That's for Superman. And this," she continued, driving her heel into Joanna's ribs, "is for giving me such a lousy week."
"I see you have everything under control," commented a voice from the doorway.
"Superman!" Lois cried, turning round.
"And here come the police," Eddie commented as several cars drove up. Superman went to greet them, but their reaction was not what he had expected. All the officers, hiding beside their vehicles, had guns trained on him. The police chief took a step towards him. "Don't move, Superman. These weapons are loaded with fragments of kryptonite. You're under arrest for robbery."
"What? You can't arrest him!" Lois cried. "Sorry, Miss, but not even Superman is above the law."
"No, she's right. You can't arrest him, he didn't know what he was doing," Eddie told them. "Joanna was controlling him with a drug made from a plant. She made him steal the money."
"Have you any proof of this?" the police officer demanded.
"You'll find every cent of the stolen money in the safe."
He led the man inside and unlocked the safe. "There."
"Well, I guess this changes things somewhat. I'm going to have to ask all of you to come back to the station with me. I can see this is going to be a long day."
"Wait," Lois called. "Joanna, where is the antidote? Come on, you don't have to fail at everything. If you let me have the cure, you will have done something really good," she soothed. Joanna said nothing for a moment, then pointed to a pot where a wilted plant drooped. Lois dug out a tiny bottle, containing an amber liquid. "How much is in here?"
"Exactly one dose."
Lois nodded, then turned to the police officer. "There's a very sick kid who needs this desperately. Let Superman and me give this to him. I promise we won't leave the country."
The man nodded. "Just make sure you don't. I have enough to deal with at the moment without having to start a man hunt for an alien!"
Superman set Lois down outside the hospital. "I have to go now," he said.
She nodded and hurried into the building. On the way up to the Intensive care ward, she ran into Clark. "Where have you been?" she demanded. He was about to reply, but she cut him off. "It doesn't matter. I've got the antidote, I just hope we're in time to use it."
Dr Winston was already in Jimmy's room as they entered. Lois handed her the bottle. "We found this. I was told it's the cure. Do you think we should get it analysed?"
"I don't think there's time. He went into respiratory arrest shortly after you left. I managed to restart his breathing, but he's rapidly slipping away. If this the cure, it might save him, if it isn't, it will just speed up the inevitable. I won't do anything without your permission, but I don't think we've got anything to lose."
"Do it," Lois said firmly. Dr Winston nodded and injected the amber liquid into Jimmy's arm.
"Now what?" Lois asked hesitantly.
"Now we wait. This could take hours to have any effect, good or bad."
Clark looked at Lois, who had fallen asleep, her head resting Comfortably on his shoulder. It was time to make a decision, he realised. Stay, leading a double life, or go and leave them alone and safe. He had thought about leaving once before, and it had been Lois that had drawn him back. And she would keep doing that, he realised. He would never be able to break to bonds he had made with these people, especially not with Lois. It had been a frightening experience, being as helpless as that. He had not realised he was that vulnerable, and it had terrified him to find out. But I will always choose life over money, he realised, and most people probably know that. Someone's bound to try and use it against me again. But if I give up caring, then all my powers are worthless. He stood up and stretched, his body aching from having stayed in the same position so long and from the exposure to the kryptonite earlier. It was over six hours since the dramatic arrest of Joanna Richards. He was glad Lois was sleeping. She was not the world's most patient person, and he was sure all the waiting would drive her insane. He wandered over to the bed. "Come on Jimmy, wake up," he murmured. "I'll buy you dinner every day for a month. I'll give you my autographed baseball. I'll run errands for you. Just don't leave us, not after all this."
For a moment, there was only the soft bleep of then monitors, then a weak voice commented: "You have a deal, CK."
"So, you managed to keep all this a secret, and still get a story out of it," Laura Winston commented, holding the evening paper the next day. "I'm impressed."
"That was Eddie Palmer's idea, about controlling Superman with a drug. It ties all the pieces together, and in a way it was true."
He looked out of the office to the room where he could see Lois talking to Jimmy. "How is he?"
"Unhappy with everything. 'The foods revolting, the bed's too hard, there's no television.' I will be glad he can go home, quite frankly."
They wandered back into the room. Jimmy, looking up saw them and yawned loudly. "I'm really tired. Maybe you two should go now," he suggested.
"You could try being a little subtle, Jimmy," Lois said coldly.
"Sorry. But someone's got to get you two together. You'll never make it on your own."
"I suppose we had better take his advice," Clark said with a grin. "Do you fancy Italian?"
"Only if you promise not to leave me, even for a moment," Lois replied, slipping her arm in his. Jimmy and Dr Winston watched them leave.
"How long to you reckon this one will last?" she asked.
"I give them two hours before something goes wrong," he replied with a grin.
"No, I think they might be able to get through the whole of this one."
Jimmy looked at her. "Five bucks?" He asked.
She shook his hand. "You're on."