By Nancy Merckle and Kathy Brown
Air Date: July 25, 1999
Summary: It's been a year since the alternate Clark found his Lois. But when disaster strikes, he needs a little extra Super help to get to "happily ever after." Episode 11 of S6.
(Feedback welcome and appreciated.)
By Nancy Merckle <email@example.com> and Kathy Brown <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hyperion Avenue, July 1999
Lois Lane woke up slowly and squinted into the darkness of her bedroom. The lack of light told her it was still the middle of the night, and a quick glance at the alarm clock on her night stand confirmed it—four am. Lois rolled over to snuggle close to her husband; the warmth of his body always helped lull her back to sleep. Unfortunately, her arms grasped nothing but the coolness of his pillow.
Groaning slightly, Lois wondered vaguely where Clark was. She hadn't heard him get out of bed, so she could only assume a rescue had required his attention while she was in a deep sleep. Thus, it was with some surprise that she heard the faint rustle of footsteps and the clink of a what sounded like glass being set down on the coffee table coming from the living room below. Curious, Lois quietly got out of bed and reached for her bathrobe. She tiptoed to the top of the stairs to peer over the edge of the landing, then relaxed as she saw Clark sitting on the couch.
Clark looked up as she made her way down the stairs. "Hi," he said softly as she walked into the living room. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Lois smiled at him through tired eyes. "Everything OK?"
Clark nodded and motioned to the now-empty sandwich plate and half-full glass of milk resting on the coffee table in front of him. "Yeah, fine. I just got back from … " He made a vague flying symbol with his right hand. "And I thought I'd have a snack before coming to bed."
It was then Lois noticed that Clark was looking through one of the scrapbooks he liked to keep. Her brow furrowing, she sat down beside him. "What are you looking at?"
Clark turned the book so she could see. It was a more recent album, containing photos from about two years ago. He opened up to one page in particular and showed it to her—it was a Daily Planet photograph of the two of them standing with "Superman", right after Tempus tried to expose Clark Kent's secret identity. Fortunately, the Clark of the alternate universe had been there to play the part of Superman during the press conference, so Tempus's declaration were met only by laughter and jeers by the waiting crowd of reporters, police and on-lookers.
Lois laughed out loud. "I still remember the look on your face as we walked up to the press conference. You were positively gleeful, getting to prove Tempus wrong."
Clark grinned. "The look on Tempus's face was priceless, too. He was outraged that we had outsmarted him and made him look like a lunatic. Imagine telling all of Metropolis that Superman and Clark were normally the same person, but on that day one of us was from an alternative universe!"
"So what made you get this scrapbook out?"
Clark shrugged as he took a drink of his milk. "I don't know; I had a rescue tonight at Met Bell, the same building Tempus used to send his brainwashing messages through the phone lines. It got me thinking, I guess."
"Oh, I don't know … the alternative universe and … him."
Lois put her head on Clark's shoulder. "The other Clark?" she asked gently.
Clark hugged her close. "Yeah. Sometimes I think about his life … wonder how my life would be different, how I would cope with the losses he had to deal with."
Lois was quiet for a moment, then replied. "I think he's finally happy though … I don't know why, but I've had this feeling for awhile now. I just feel that he's OK, that things are going well for him."
"Mr. Wells did imply two years ago that he would try to help that Clark find his Lois." Clark nudged his wife teasingly. "Let's hope they didn't have nearly the trouble we had getting together." At Lois's chuckle, he added, "But I think you're right—I have that same feeling, that they're together and happy."
Lois raised an eyebrow to him. "Then why are we sitting down here reminiscing at four o'clock in the morning?"
Clark smiled. "Point taken. C'mon, let's get you back upstairs. It'll only be another three hours before our little Laura alarm clock wakes us up." He set the book on the table in front of him, downed the rest of his milk in one gulp and stood, pulling Lois up next to him. He took her by the hand and led her to the stairs. "I'm sorry I woke you up.
"That's all right," Lois replied, giving his hand an affectionate squeeze. "I kind of like these little interludes every so often. Our lives are so hectic these days, we have to steal a few moments alone whenever we can. Too bad we can't make the Earth slow down once in awhile."
Clark nibbled on her ear as they started up the stairs. "Mmm," he replied in a low rubble. "Maybe we can settle for making the Earth move."
Lois laughed quietly as he scooped her up in his arms and floated her up to their room. "You're incorrigible," she teased. "If the alternate Clark is anywhere near as persuasive as you are, his Lois doesn't stand a chance of resisting him!"
Alternate Universe, July 1999
Lois Lane and Clark Kent walked hand in hand down the quiet city street, stopping every so often to gaze in the lighted windows of the long-closed-for-the-night shops. It was nice to be able to take a stroll and be completely alone. Usually when they went out, they had to cope with the ever-present stares and murmurs of their fellow Metropolis residents. After all, Superman was a celebrity in this town, and although most people were polite enough to give him his privacy while he was dressed in his "street clothes", many were still enthralled enough to ask him for his autograph, or they simply wanted to thank him for all he had done to clean up the crime in the city. And it was just not in Clark's nature to be anything but friendly and polite when strangers wanted to chat.
Now, however, all was quiet. It was the one (and only!) benefit of window shopping at four o'clock in the morning, Lois conceded as she squeezed her boyfriend's hand affectionately. It wasn't that either of them preferred to be night owls, but Clark had been particularly busy the last few weeks, and Lois had to steal what precious moments with her boyfriend that she could—even if it sometimes meant being awakened by a phone call in the middle of the night, the sexy voice on the other end coaxing her into taking a walk because "it's too beautiful a night to sleep". Thankfully, their editor at the Daily Planet, Vince Nelson, was understanding — not just of Clark's erratic schedule (Superman set his own hours, no questions asked), but of Lois's need for flexibility as well.
It had been sixteen months since Lois Lane had 'returned from the dead', or more accurately, had somehow escaped from a cell that the inter-dimensional criminal Tempus had devised for her. She had no memories of the five years she was missing—what little information she had been able to piece together pointed to the fact that she had been held in some type of suspended animation during that time. But for what purpose, she had never quite determined. The only theory that had any support was that this Tempus had engineered her disappearance for the sole purpose of tormenting Clark Kent, a man she had never even met. It was only after she resurfaced—under circumstances nearly as mysterious as those under which she disappeared—that she met Clark, the man who was to become her best friend, her partner and her lover.
Another person might have resented the man that, albeit through no fault of his own, had prompted her capture. But Lois Lane could no more resent Clark Kent than she could resent her finger for obtaining a papercut. He was a part of her—an essential part that she had never even known was missing until they met on that glorious spring day over a year ago.
Clark later told her an amazing story, a story about another universe with another Metropolis where things were similar yet oddly different from their own world. In this world, there was another Lois Lane and Clark Kent, and her Clark had met them. This other Lois and Clark were also deeply in love—married for years, in fact.
Lois had been a bit intimidated by the story—it turned out that Clark had been searching for her, "his Lois", since he had met the other one. He acted as if he knew her already. Lois was wary of rushing into anything at first, needing to be sure that Clark recognized she was her own person, alternative universe or no. But she didn't have to worry for long. She was drawn to Clark immediately, drawn by an incredible connection she didn't necessarily understand, but had no desire to fight. They became partners at work right away, close friends almost immediately, and had fallen in love within weeks.
The sixteen months since then had been a whirlwind. Knowing she would never get the missing years of her life back, Lois forced herself to look forward instead of back. It wasn't always easy—she shed many tears of anger and frustration in that first year, many of them on Clark's shoulder. But the unending support of her friends and family, combined with her own inner strength and refusal to let this Tempus 'win' by destroying her, carried her through the rough times. And now, amazingly, she was happier than she had ever been in her life.
Lois paused as Clark stopped them in front of Mazik's Jewelry Store. He wrapped his strong arms around her from behind, catching her in an affectionate cuddle. At Lois's contented sigh, Clark smiled. "Happy?" he murmured in her ear.
"Very," Lois replied sincerely.
"Tired?" he teased.
"Very, very!" she laughed. "But considering I can count on one hand the number of hours we've spent together in the last few weeks, I can't turn down taking a walk together. Luckily I worked late last night finishing my story, so Vincent won't be expecting me in until later in the morning. I'll just have to take a nap when I get home."
Clark's expression grew a bit more serious though he kept his tone light. "You could always move in with me … " He nibbled on her ear playfully. "Then I wouldn't have to call you when I had some free time. And we wouldn't have to steal private moments in the middle of the night." He kissed down her neck.
Lois ducked her head, pretending to want to avoid the tickle of his lips. "Ha! Then we'd just have all our private moments in the bedroom," she teased. "At least this way, I make you take me out."
Clark groaned. "Oh, the cruelty … the lady doubts that my love is pure! She thinks me a knave in rusted armor."
Lois turned in his arms and gazed into his eyes. "The lady sees you for what you are," she murmured, running a hand gently through his hair. "Her knight in shining armor … always and forever."
Their lips met softly as they tasted each other under the gentle glow of the streetlights. Clark sighed happily as they broke the kiss. But after a moment, he tore his eyes away from hers and cleared his throat. "Look where we are," he said, nodding towards the store window.
Lois turned. "Back at Mazik's," she responded. "For the third time in as many months, too. I think we're in a rut; we need to find new stores to window shop."
"Not at all," Clark defended with a smile. "I think they have the nicest selection in town. In fact, I was thinking I just might be paying them a visit someday soon when they are actually open."
Lois looked at him, her eyes bright with renewed interest. "Well, my birthday isn't for three months, but if you really wanted to get me the necklace early, I wouldn't protest." Lois beamed at him. She had gushed over a particular diamond and sapphire pendant necklace the last two times they had visited the window and she wasn't above dropping another obvious hint.
Clark smiled back, his eyes soft. "Actually … I was thinking of something a little smaller," he said quietly.
"Oh, the bracelet is nice too … maybe next year we can get—"
"I wasn't talking about the bracelet either," Clark interrupted.
At her quizzical look, he took a deep breath, then began speaking softly. "Lois, I've spent my whole life not knowing who I am, not being able to open up. I was always hiding. But the moment I met you, everything changed. For the first time in my life, I can be myself and be proud of who I am—*all* of who I am. You encourage me, you support me, you love me … you *center* me. I know exactly who I am when I'm with you." Pausing briefly, Clark took Lois's hands in his and dropped to one knee in the middle of the sidewalk. "Lois, what I'm trying to say is that I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to love anyone. You are everything to me, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?"
Lois took a deep breath, incredibly moved by his speech and the obvious emotion in his voice. She and Clark had discussed marriage in general terms many times over the last several months, but she had always demurred when it came to specifics. Although she loved Clark with all her heart, she had been worried about committing to him so soon after her return.
She had had so many things to work out emotionally, and the last thing Clark deserved was to have any doubts that she may have turned to him only because her state of mind was fragile. There had also been the concern over how Clark's fame would affect their day-to-day lives. Lois had doubts about how being "Superman's girlfriend" would mesh with her career. And she knew Clark had wrestled with his fears that that same title would affect Lois's safety.
But after each struggle, they had emerged stronger and more committed than before. The doubts became less troublesome, and the fears much less intimidating. Together they were complete … they each could see it, and they each rejoiced in it. They were simply *right* together, and in that moment, Lois knew she could have but one answer. "Clark," she responded, freeing her hands from his and cupping his face. "I would love to marry you."
"Lois—" he began, as if he couldn't believe his good luck.
"Shh," she whispered with an impish grin, gently pulling him up. "Shut up and kiss me, Superman."
Their arms wrapped around each other in a tight embrace as their lips met. Soft murmurs of delight escaped as they explored each other, communicating their happiness and excitement over this next step in their relationship. As they continued to kiss, neither noticed the slight wobbling of the jewels in the display case, not even when one end of the necklace Lois admired so much dropped from its hook.
A long moment later, they broke apart, breathing quickly but still smiling. "Wow," Lois gasped. "That was some kiss. I think I felt the Earth move."
Clark scooped her up into his arms with a joyful smile. "Me too. Which only proves we need to continue our celebrating somewhere less public."
"Why Mr. Kent," Lois demurred playfully, nibbling on his ear. "What about my ring?"
"We'll come back this weekend and you can pick out anything you like."
Lois's eyes lit up. "Really? Anything?"
Clark laughed and slowly lifted off into the sky. "Uh oh. How about— oh, what the hell. Yes, anything, my beautiful future bride!" His voice dropped to a sexy rumble as he pulled Lois more tightly to him. "Now about the Earth moving … "
As they flew towards Clark's apartment, the ground below trembled slightly once more, causing the hanging sign advertising Mazik's Jewelry to sway gently in its hooks.
The bright sunshine of the new day gave Lois a moment of pause as she entered the Daily Planet building. She hoped that her new assignment today would allow her the opportunity to spend some time outside enjoying the beautiful summer day … she was simply too happy and too distracted by Clark's proposal last night to stay inside all day. She and Clark had agreed not to tell anyone at work until next week, after they had selected Lois's ring from Mazik's and decided on a date. Still, she knew she'd probably end up calling her mom and sister later this week. This was too good to keep secret from everyone!
She and Clark had spent the early morning hours together celebrating the change in their relationship. Only a serious accident on one of the highways outside of Metropolis stopped them from each taking the day off completely. Lois had napped at Clark's for awhile, but when an hour passed and he hadn't returned, she decided she might as well just go home and get ready for work.
And so here she was, tired but happy, hoping that whatever new story her editor assigned her wouldn't require so much attention that she couldn't daydream about wedding plans once in awhile.
Surprisingly, Clark was sitting at his desk when Lois stepped off the elevator. For the first two years after he became Superman, he had begun working more and more from home, e-mailing his stories to Vince in the middle of the night. All that changed once Lois started back at the Planet, though. Clark still spent several hours a day as Superman, earning his retainer from the city by performing frequent patrols. But now Clark had incentive to write his stories in the newsroom instead of at home—an incentive known as Lois Lane.
Lois smiled at her boyfriend—*fiance*, she reminded herself with glee—as she passed by his desk. "Get the highway cleared up?" she asked cheerfully.
Clark sat back in his chair and grinned. "Yup; just wrote it up for Vince. I had to transport a couple guys to the hospital, but the doctors think they're going to make it."
Lois shook her head. "What did the world do before Superman?" she asked with a smile.
Clark leaned forward. "What did Superman do before Lois Lane?" he replied warmly.
Lois felt her heart jump a bit as she looked into her partner's eyes. Yes, it was definitely too distracting being here. Hmm, maybe if they left now …
Just then, Vince Nelson's voice called out from his open office door. "Lois? Clark? Can you come in here, please?"
Lois sighed. Oh well, wedding plans would have to wait.
Vince Nelson smiled as his two top reporters sat on the couch in front of his desk. He had worked at newspapers all around the world before coming to the Daily Planet, but he had never experienced talent like that he found in Lois Lane and Clark Kent. After being out of commission for five years, Lois was soon back at the top of her game as an investigative reporter. Her instincts more than made up for whatever lack of anonymity she had as 'Superman's girlfriend'. And Clark … well, he'd always been a fine writer, but since being paired with Lois, he had become an outstanding investigator as well. It was as if he had finally discovered a 'love of the chase' that Vince always felt Clark was lacking. Together, they were an unstoppable team.
"I've got something I'd like the two of you to work on," Vince said, sitting back in his chair. "Several of my sources are telling me about rumors that a new crime family is planning on moving into Metropolis."
"Not a very smart crime family, apparently, considering Metropolis is the home of Superman, 'crime stopper extraordinaire'," Lois interjected.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Lois, but Superman is only a deterrent. Crime still exists in this city," Clark added.
"Unfortunate but true, Clark," Vince agreed. "But if my sources are right and we can get the drop on a new syndicate, the Planet can get the exclusive on their retreat from Metropolis."
"Sounds good to me; what do you have?" Before Vince could answer, however, Clark cocked his head intently, then stood up. "I'm sorry, duty calls. Burglar alarm." With an apologetic smile, he handed his notepad to Lois and quickly left, closing the door behind him.
Lois barely batted an eye, all too used to his disappearances. "Let's try this again … what do you have?"
Vince nodded and pulled out what looked like a computer print-out. "What I have is sketchy, to say the least … but Lex Luthor contacted me the other day and provided us with a lead."
Lois raised an eyebrow. "Lex Luthor?" she repeated. "You're sure he's not running the crime family?"
Vince frowned. "Now, Lois, we've been through this before. You have no proof that Mr. Luthor isn't on the up and up. He's done wonderful things for this city since taking over for Nigel St. John. And LexCorp has been made generous charitable contributions to many good causes."
Lois waved him off. "Yeah, yeah … but my instincts tell me something else, and Clark's do too." Before Vince could counter, however, she acquiesced. "All right, what did Luthor give you?"
"A URL to a website … said he came across it while conducting some other business, and thought we'd be interested in it. I can't make any sense of it, but Lex said there was more to it than meets the eye, whatever that means."
Lois took the piece of paper. "You don't have anything else concrete?"
The editor shook his head. "I've been hearing these rumors from several different sources, but this is the first real lead we've had. Seeing if it pans out is your job."
The two discussed other angles for the story, namely companion articles exploring crime fighting from both Superman's and the police department's point of view. Lois outlined her ideas for the stories, agreeing to discuss them with Clark when he returned. Several minutes later, she was back at her desk and switching on her computer. If a URL was all she had to go on, she'd better pull up the site as soon as possible and see what she could find.
Superman arrived at the site of the alarm to find a moving van with several workers unloading their truck. To his surprise, he found the workers ignoring the blaring alarm as they carried valuables *into* the house.
A man who appeared to be the foreman walked up to Superman as soon as he landed. "The Churches are moving in, Superman, and we accidentally set off the alarm," he explained. "Mrs. Church is inside trying to figure out how to turn the alarm off."
Entering the dwelling, Superman found a petite blonde dressed in faded jeans and an old T-shirt. Even with her hair pulled back into a loose pony-tail and no make-up on her face, she was still a pretty woman. Right now, however, she stood in the hallway struggling to punch codes into a control box. Her demeanor clearly gave away her frustration with the device.
"Here, let me help you," Superman told her as he found the reset button. "Now wait a moment and punch your code in again."
The alarm stopped and Mindy Church smiled her appreciation. "Thank you, Superman. I'm afraid my husband is the mechanical expert of the family. He showed me how to work the alarm twice and I still don't understand it." Her tone was straight-forward and sincere. "I can oversee heart monitors at the hospital where I work, but for some reason this thing keeps eluding me."
"No problem, Mrs. Church," Clark told her with a smile. "Welcome to Metropolis."
"He's fast and he's good," Gene Newtrich reported to his boss. "He arrived within two minutes of my setting off the alarm."
"We're going to have to learn to deal with him if we are to make any headway expanding Netgang into Metropolis," Bill Church, Senior, replied, running a hand over his thinning gray hair. "It will be slow going, just like it was in Gotham, but we will expand."
"Yes, sir. I hope you have a plan."
"Of course, I have a plan. I always have a plan."
Lois held the phone in one hand while absently scribbling doodles in her notepad with the other. She was tired of waiting on hold and looked up when Clark returned to the newsroom, thankful for the distraction. She had spent the last twenty minutes attempting to make an interview appointment with the Chief of Police.
Acknowledging the return of her partner, Lois started to ask him about the alarm, but her attention abruptly returned to the phone conversation before she could hear his reply. "Yes, I'm still here … I can be there anytime this morning … Uh huh … Yes." Lois glanced at her watch. "That'll be fine. Thank you."
Noting the appointment in her calendar as she hung up the phone, Lois filled in her partner. "Vince gave me what information he had from his sources, but it wasn't much. Just one site on the Internet and several rumors, and I don't even want to tell you where the website address came from. I tried to pull up the site from here, but unfortunately our outside link is down. I'm going to try it again later. I used the time to set up an appointment with the Police Chief at eleven o'clock this morning, though."
Clark nodded and updated her on his own activities. "The alarm was nothing; accidentally set off by movers. The new owners didn't know how to turn the thing off."
"Vince wants us to examine crime fighting from the perspective of both the police force and Superman in the meantime. Until the link comes back, I figured we'd work on Superman's point of view for the story." Lois grinned as she turned the page in her notebook to a fresh one and readied her pencil. "Ready to be interviewed?"
Lois's appointment with the Police Chief was moderately productive. He'd only been able to spare a half-hour for her this morning, but Lois squeezed every bit of information she could out of him in that short time. It wasn't everything she needed by far but it was a start. She had spent the next half-hour in an empty office at the station, mapping out the approach she wanted to take on the story while it was still fresh in her mind and listing several statistics she would need Jack to research for her.
She had grabbed a sandwich on the way back to work, eating it in her car as she drove. The all-news radio station she tuned to mentioned a few minor tie-ups on the roads, but nothing that seemed to require Superman's attention. That meant he'd probably be there when she got back.
Balling up the empty sandwich wrapper and putting it back in its bag, Lois smiled as she stopped at a red light. She held her left hand up in front of her and tried to imagine how it would look with an engagement ring on the third finger. The realization hit her and she almost laughed out loud. She and Clark were getting married!
Of course, there were still all the details to be sorted out … when, where, how many people. Big or small … family-only or press-included. Lois sighed. The press, that was something she hadn't thought of in awhile. The tabloids had mostly left her and Clark alone after their initial fascination with her background. But an engagement and marriage, that was surely going to be news. Superman's girlfriend had been one thing, but Superman's *wife* was another.
Lois thought of the security system Clark had installed in her apartment, similar to the one he had in his own. Is this what it was going to be like, she wondered, always needing to find somewhere safe to escape to, out of the public eye? In the beginning, they couldn't even go out to dinner without flashbulbs popping in their faces, but as the months went by, the public seemed to get used to her and the attention dropped off dramatically. Still … Lois much preferred to report the news rather than *be* it, and a large wedding would probably be news …
The sound of a horn blaring shook Lois out of her daydream. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," she muttered, stomping her foot down on the gas. "Keep your shirt on; it only changed two seconds ago." She sighed as she pulled into the underground parking garage of the Daily Planet building. There were definitely things she and Clark needed to talk about.
A full half an hour later, Lois sat down in her chair, sighing contentedly. She had pulled Clark into the stairwell as soon as she returned to the newsroom and confessed her fears about their wedding turning into a media circus. To her amazement, instead of being concerned, Clark simply beamed at her.
"What?" she had asked uneasily, not sure if he had understood. "You don't think it's going to be a problem?"
"Oh, I think it's a very good thing to consider," he had replied earnestly. "Definitely something we'll need to think about when planning the wedding."
"Then why are you grinning at me like that?"
"Because you're beautiful, intelligent, brilliant … and you've just agreed to be my wife! Lois, I haven't been able to do anything but grin since last night!"
Lois had just stared at him for a moment, amazed, then launched herself into his arms. They had spent several minutes with their lips locked together, stopping only because Clark heard someone enter the stairwell from one flight down. They reluctantly separated, disappointed by the interruption, but also invigorated by the encounter.
Now back at her desk, Lois smiled as things suddenly gained a new perspective. Yes, there were issues to address, but as long as they were in this together, they could handle anything.
A note from Jack told Lois that the outside link to the Internet had finally been restored, so Lois plunged back into her story with a new energy. She launched her browser and entered the URL Vince had given her.
What she found was a innocent looking site with vibrant yellow logos over a navy background. Unfortunately, the text detailing the writer's view of media bias was not only confusing to Lois, but also hard to read.
"Look at this website, Clark," she called to her partner. "The horribly mismatched colors and text make it difficult to read." Lois squinted at the screen trying to read the black text on a navy blue background.
"There's an easier way … sometimes. Find the 'view' icon and look at the source."
"I can't ever read that stuff. Squinting is better for me."
Clark stood behind her. "Let me see what I can do." He did a quick scan of the site, and much to Lois's surprise, did not use his super powers, but merely saved the page onto her disk. He made some quick edits to change the text color to white, and reloaded the file into her browser. "Better?"
"Much! Someday you're going to have to teach me that little trick," she said with a smile. "But I still can't follow this guy's writing. If I came across this site on my own, I'd just surf right on by." Lois continued reading the saved web page until she came to an area that was blank, followed by more of the mismatched colors. "Clark, what happened here? There is a big blank space in the middle of the page."
Again, Clark came over to Lois's computer and opened the source file. "Sometimes the pages are pieced together," Clark told her. "They each have their own text font color." Scanning down to where the blank space was, he found a second text code setting the color to match the background. "Hmm, that's interesting. Someone hid some text in the background by setting the colors the same. Only someone who was experienced with computers would ever suspect that there might be text hidden in the background."
Intrigued, Clark set the font for that section of code to red and did a file search for additional font codes. He found several more occurrences, setting the font color to navy blue and black. He reset these codes to red and white respectively before saving the file again.
In bright red was their first clue—a web address, followed in the next sections by a user ID and password. Lois and Clark looked at each other, eyebrows raised.
"Well, just look at that," Lois said. "There's something here after all."
She started to enter the new URL, but Clark stopped her with a hand over her fingers. "Don't try that from here; it might tip them off," he said, thinking hard. "Come over to my place tonight and we'll try it from my computer under an alias. I'll set up an account on my system that we can use that will keep them in the dark."
Lois knocked on the door of Clark's apartment a little after seven o'clock that evening. Although they had planned to spend the remainder of the afternoon looking for more clues, Superman had been called away to help with a large fire on the outskirts of town. According to the Planet reporter on the scene, the fire had been out for close to an hour, but Clark hadn't answered the phone when she'd called him several minutes ago. When there was no answer to her knock either, Lois fished out her key to his apartment and slipped it into the lock.
Once inside, she shut the door behind her and entered the series of codes necessary to appease Clark's elaborate security system. She had just finished relocking the door when she heard the swoosh of Clark's landing and saw him enter the apartment from the balcony.
"Oh, good, you're here," he exclaimed when he saw her. He held up one finger. "Give me a minute to get out of this suit. That fire was a nasty one and took a lot more time to get under control than I had expected." In a flash, Clark was cleaned up, and dressed in comfortable slacks and a T-shirt. He walked up to Lois, finally able to greet her appropriately. "Hi, honey," he said warmly, giving her a quick but loving kiss.
"Hi yourself," she replied with a smile. "Ready to get to work?"
"You bet." Clark moved over to his computer and powered it up. The super computer provided by STAR Labs hummed to life. Almost immediately, Clark's fingers were flying over the keyboard.
Lois watched his computer respond swiftly to his commands, amazing her with the speed. She gathered the needed information from her notes and pulled up a chair beside Clark at the computer. "That Dr. Klein sure scored a winner when he built you this computer," she remarked.
Clark nodded. "I know … it's so great to have a machine that can keep up with my typing. Klein's a genius."
"So, what do we do first?"
"OK, I've created an alias that we can use for the investigation. In case they try to trace us, I've set up the IP address to point to a system on the Island of Montserrat. With all of the recent volcanic activity on that island, we should be able to delay any face-to-face meetings. The airport is closed so the only access is by boat from Antigua."
"Or Superman Air," Lois interjected.
"Yes, or Superman Air. Although I don't really think Superman would want to fly 'cargo' in or out of that place if the volcano is erupting," Clark answered with a wink. "Still, we should be pretty anonymous now."
"Good thinking. Here's the URL."
The website loaded slowly, even on Clark's machine. It appeared to be an auction house. Clark opened another window, made sure it was also using the newly created alias, and performed a traceroute.
"Well, it looks like the site is in Miami," he mused. "That doesn't mean that the owners aren't here in Metropolis though."
They continued to explore the website until it prompted them for a user ID and password. Using the information gleaned from the website found at the Planet, they entered the information. Immediately the site transferred them to a secure site where they were asked to establish an account.
Diligently, Clark filled out the information requested according to the alias he had established. When it asked for a mailing address, however, Clark was stymied for a moment.
"A Post Office Box," Lois suggested.
"But not here in Metropolis," Clark added. "I'll be back in a minute."
Without even changing into the suit, Clark flew out the window and headed south. If he hurried, he could get a Post Office Box in the perfect place—Antigua.
Twenty minutes later, Clark was back home and finishing the on-line account application form by supplying the newly acquired address. As a precaution, he printed the information entered on the page before clicking the send icon. Finally, the page accepting their account flashed on the screen. They were surprised to find it also contained information on where to deposit funds for participating in the auctions.
"You mean we have to put money into their bank before we can go any further on the site?" Lois fumed.
"Looks like it, or at least before we bid. But if you think about it, it really does make sense. What they apparently want is a closed auction house. That could mean stolen merchandise, or some other kind of contraband. It prevents you from changing your mind after a bid because they can still get the money and send you the merchandise or take a percentage. Actually it's quite ingenious."
"How are we going to find out anything then?"
"Well, I was hoping that they would let us take our new ID and browse the site. Now we're going to have to find some cash to wire to the account."
Lois looked at the minimum prices of some of the sample items up for bid. "A lot of cash," she said glumly.
Morning came early for Lois Lane, especially since it was well after midnight when Clark brought her home. She wasn't even sure of the time when her head finally hit the pillow. It had taken them several hours to search the auction website and try to glean some information on what was being auctioned. Although they didn't have any proof yet, Lois's investigative instincts were nagging her. She knew they were on to a story; she felt it. Dragging herself out of bed, she showered, dressed and grabbed a quick bite of breakfast before heading off to the Planet.
Clark was already going over the printouts from the night before when she arrived in the newsroom. They had poked around enough to find several sample items that caught their attention. Yet they knew this was only the tip of the iceberg. Looking over the printouts in the light of day only confirmed what they had decided the night before. "We're going to have to go back into the site and do some bidding," Clark stated.
"Then we've just got to find the funds to wire to the site's account," Lois replied. "We can't continue our investigation with out it."
"Maybe we can convince Vince to give us the funds," Clark suggested. "The Planet has funds available for investigations."
Lois's expression clearly indicated her skepticism. "Yeah, a couple hundred to set up a stake-out in a hotel room, not thousands to bid on what we suspect to be illegally gotten goods."
"Well, you don't get unless you ask."
"Good idea, Clark," Lois said with a smirk. "*You* ask him."
Sticking his tongue out at her, he picked up some of the printouts from the previous evening's exploration of the site and headed toward his managing editor's office. He knocked lightly before entering and put on his most confident face. "Vince, that website you gave us definitely got our reporter's juices flowing … the only problem is, Lois and I need to wire some cash to a bank to continue our investigation."
"What kind of cash?" Vincent pressed. "Give me the details."
"Imbedded in the site you gave us was information on accessing an auction site. Lois and I set up an account with them under an alias and took a look around. Some of the stuff we found being auctioned off is rather unusual. However, in order to further our investigation, we need to do some bidding. Now, I'm not talking about intentionally buying anything without good reason, but unfortunately they require funds placed in a bank they control in order to place even small bids"
"How much cash do you need to deposit?"
Clark paused, knowing that the figure required would shock his editor. "They have a minimum deposit of ten thousand dollars, but I'd like to get twenty. If we deposit the minimum, they may get suspicious that we are interlopers. We need to make sure they don't realize that we are investigative reporters."
Vince Nelson's eyes popped. "Twenty *thousand*? Are you nuts? We're not talking petty cash here. What kind of safeguards are there that we will get the money back?"
Clark pressed on. "I won't deny there's a risk. Anytime you investigate possible criminal activity, you risk losing the seed money. But Lois and I are certainly going to be as careful as we can. We recognize we're asking a lot, but if this story is a big as your sources indicate, it's going to be worth it. And of course when you have Superman protecting something, it usually stays safe," Clark added with a smile.
Vince wasn't swayed. "Don't pull that on me, Clark. Even Superman can't promise this bank won't make off with our money." He shook his head. "I don't know. Let me talk with Mr. Olsen directly, see what he thinks. We'll let you know our decision this afternoon."
Clark left the editor's office with his shoulders slumped. He had given it is best shot, but he knew there was a strong possibility that their investigation would get cut short. James Olsen built his fortune in the computer industry, but all in all, he was still a fairly conservative owner.
Lois was waiting at Clark's desk. "Well, what did he say?"
"He has to check with James; we'll know this afternoon."
"How much did you ask for?"
Lois raised her eyebrows. "Wow, the full twenty, huh? Well, you are nothing if not daring." At Clark's unamused expression, she grinned at him to soften her words. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to give you a hard time. We both agreed we needed the money … now it's up to James to decide if he trusts our judgment enough to give it to us." She gave Clark a quick hug. "In the meantime, let's look through those sample items again. I was thinking we could check them against police lists of stolen property … maybe we'll get lucky."
*Our Metropolis, July 1999*
Lois and Clark sat at their kitchen table eating breakfast. Their 11-month old daughter, Laura, sat in her high-chair, content with her bowl of dry cereal despite her father's best attempt to cajole her into trying some of his scrambled egg.
"Give it up, Clark," Lois said with a smile. "She just doesn't like eggs."
"I know, I know. But I keep thinking maybe she'll change her mind. Anyway, she better hurry up and eat, or we'll be late."
Lois got up from the table and put her dish in the sink. "Your parents aren't expecting us until lunch time, so we can just relax a bit this morning. I still can't believe we were able to get two days off in a row."
Clark smiled as he popped the last bit of egg into his mouth. "After all we've been through these last several weeks, we need a break. And I, for one, plan to enjoy it."
"We both will," Lois agreed. They were interrupted by a knock at the front door. "I wonder who that can be?"
Clark stood up. "I'll get it," he said. He trotted quickly off into the living room, lowering his glasses as he walked to x-ray the door. He slowed visibly as he realized who was on the other side. "Mr. Wells?" he asked as he opened the door. "What a surprise."
Indeed, H. G. Wells was standing patiently in their vestibule. "Good morning, Mr. Kent," the elderly gentlemen said politely, hat in hand. "May I come in?"
Clark stepped aside quickly. "Of course, of course … Lois!"
Lois walked through the door from the kitchen, Laura in one arm. "Mr. Wells," she exclaimed. "What a surprise." Although she was happy to see Mr. Wells, a sudden and nagging fear of separation haunted her thoughts.
"Ms. Lane," the older man greeted warmly. "How nice to see you again." He then turned his attention to the small child who had crawled over to get a better look at him. "And this must be Laura," he said. "What a beautiful child."
Lois and Clark nodded their thanks, then briefly exchanged an uneasy look. Lois spoke first. "So, what brings you to Metropolis, Mr. Wells? The last time we saw you … at least at this stage of your life … you had brought the alternate universe's Clark here to help us defeat Tempus."
Wells smiled. "Yes, yes … and defeat Tempus we did! You'll be glad to know that he is still incarcerated in the 24th century. However, there is another matter in which I need your assistance," Wells said deferentially. "This time, the alternate universe needs your help."
Clark's brow furrowed in concern. "What's the problem?"
"As you may remember from my visit two years ago, I had hoped to return to the alternate Metropolis at a time where I could save the life of that universe's Lois Lane. Fortunately, I was successful in accomplishing this."
Lois and Clark exchanged an pleased smile. "That's wonderful news!" Clark interjected. "Lois and I were just talking about them the other night … we just had this feeling that they were together and happy. I'm glad to know we were right."
"Yes, quite … and happy they are. In fact, at this point in the timeline, they have just become engaged to be married."
"Then what's the problem, Mr. Wells?" Lois asked. "I'm sure they'll be very happy together."
"Unfortunately, my dear, they won't … not unless I can convince your husband to come with me to the other universe. You see, the alternate Metropolis is about to face something so awful that even Superman can't handle it alone. A major disaster puts hundreds of people, including that universe's Lois, in danger. Superman can't be everywhere at once, and thus, tragedy ensues."
"What can I do to help?" Clark asked.
Mr. Wells looked from Lois to Clark. "I was hoping you'd come with me to the other universe, to help that Superman in his time of need the way he was able to help your universe two years ago.
Clark exhaled, lost in thought. "I'll do whatever I can to help them, Mr. Wells, but that would mean leaving this Metropolis without any Superman," Clark pointed out. He looked at Lois. "What do you think?"
Lois looked at Laura playing on the floor, then met Clark's eyes. "Hurry back," she said quietly.
Clark hesitated at the fear evident in his wife's eyes. He wanted to help the other universe, but still … he now had a child to consider. "Are you sure?"
Lois picked up Laura and hugged her. "Could you deny them the chance to have their own beautiful little girl?"
Clark swallowed, then turned to their guest. "How much time do we have?"
Wells looked at his watch. "To do the most good, we'll need to leave within the hour."
Clark nodded, a new resolve clear on his face. "Lois, finish packing your suitcase. I'm taking you and Laura to Smallville as planned, then I'll come back to Metropolis and leave with Mr. Wells."
Martha and Jonathan were glad to have the company of their favorite daughter-in-law and grandchild. They were not as glad that their son would not be joining them. Of course, they wanted to help the alternate Lois and Clark, of that there was no doubt. But they couldn't help but fear for their own son and his family. They took Laura to the crib kept at the farm for her visits and let their son say his goodbyes to his wife in private.
Clark walked out on the porch to find Lois watching the leaves on the trees blow in the wind. He wrapped his arms around her from behind. "Hi," he said softly.
Lois leaned back in his arms. "Hi."
"Are you OK with this?"
"Do I wish you didn't have to go? Of course, I do. But how can we deny them their future? They have their whole world ahead of them, the way we did three years ago, the way we still do today. He deserves that life."
Clark held her closer. "I'll come back just as soon as I can. Remember how it was when you went to their universe the first time? How you spent three days there but it only seemed like ten seconds to me? Maybe it will be like that again." Clark smiled. "We're probably saying goodbye for nothing."
Lois turned and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I don't mind saying goodbye … as long as we get to say hello again. Just come home safely."
Their lips met softly, in a kiss full of love and promises of the future.
Clark watched from the car as Lois entered the bank, and he scanned the area for anything out of the ordinary. Using his x-ray vision, he watched as Lois filled out the paperwork to deposit the funds into the bank and arrange for the transfer. So far, everything was working just as they had planned. Lois, using an alias, was putting the funds in a local bank which would then transfer the money to a bank in the Cayman Islands. The money would then be transfered to the account specified by the website. They would be able to maintain anonymity by taking the extra step of the Caymans.
Lois emerged from the bank and headed for the car where Clark was waiting. "It's done," she announced, as she slid into the passenger seat. As Clark drove away, she removed the glasses she'd been wearing, and pulled a long red wig off of her hair. "I'm certainly glad that's over with. Carrying that much cash makes me nervous."
"They would have recognized me; we had no choice if we wanted to maintain our anonymity," Clark explained. "The disguise seemed to work?"
"As far as I could tell," Lois replied. "They asked me a lot of questions, but they didn't seem to doubt any of my answers."
"I'm sure you did fine. We'll head back to my place to make sure the funds arrived in the Caymans, then make the final transfer to the site."
"Are you sure it's wise to make the transfer so quickly?"
"It should be. They'd probably be more suspicious if we set up the account and didn't follow through with funds as soon as possible."
"Sounds logical. Why set up the account if you aren't going to bid, and you can't bid without the funds. I guess you're right they would expect the funds quickly."
Twenty minutes later they were in Clark's apartment, checking the bank balance on their account in the Caymans. Clark whistled. "Wow, that was even faster than I expected."
"Boy, this Internet stuff is amazing," Lois commented. "You can do anything it seems. Six years ago, when I disappeared, it was barely mentioned in the media. Now it's everywhere." She picked up a copy of the Daily Planet Clark had on his table. "I bet you could find a reference to the Internet in every section of the paper." She started to leaf through the pages.
Clark glanced over with a smile. "You're welcome to check."
"No, I was just making a point … hey, did you know there was an Earthquake two days ago?"
Clark looked away from the screen in surprise. "Where?"
Lois was reading through a small article on page three of the front section. "Here in Metropolis … just a little one, a 2.5 on the Ritchter. The article says most people just slept through it."
"When was it?"
Lois scanned the article. "Um … Monday; a little after four in the morning." She looked up. "Darn, I didn't feel it. Did you?"
A slow grin spread across Clark's face as he remembered what they'd been doing two nights ago. "We were a little busy at four in the morning two nights ago, remember?"
Lois looked at him blankly for a moment, then grinned herself. "Oh, that's right! How could I forget?"
"I certainly hope you don't forget … you said yes, and I'm going to hold you to it," he teased.
Lois wrapped her arms around him. "And you still owe me a shopping trip," she teased back. "I seem to remember the phrase 'anything I want'."
Clark gave an exaggerated cringe. "I knew I'd live to regret that. We'll start off married life bankrupt."
Lois laughed. "What do you mean? You have twenty thousand dollars!" She pointed to the screen with a grin. "Speaking of which, we have some shopping to do!"
The time machine materialized in an old abandoned garage several blocks from the Daily Planet building. Wells turned the machine off. "It should be safe here," he commented absentmindedly.
"Safe from what?" Clark asked.
"Safe from discovery and the events which are about to unfold."
Clark looked at him suspicously. He wasn't used to Mr. Wells withholding information. "Maybe you better fill me in on what exactly I'm supposed to do here."
Wells sighed. "I'm sorry, Clark. I don't mean to be so cagey. The simple fact is, I'm not sure exactly what is going to happen. You see, I was curious about the future of this universe; I wondered how their Utopia differed from your future Utopia. Unfortunately, when I used my time machine, I found that the timeline was in flux. I traced it back to this week in time, but all I could determine was that somehow Lois Lane disappears and her Superman is unable to save her in time."
"So you came to get me."
"It seemed the best option … my time machine doesn't work in this universe as well as it does in ours for some reason. And I didn't want to waste any more time in getting you here."
Clark softened, believing the sincerity evident in the older man's voice. "I'll do my best, Mr. Wells."
Before Wells could express his gratitude, however, a low rumbling noise reached their ears. The ground beneath their feet began to move, and Clark reached out to steady his friend so he didn't fall. The sound of breaking glass and the eerie groan of stressed metal reached Clark's sensitive hearing, along with yelps and screams of fear from many Metropolis residents.
"What in the world is this?" Clark exclaimed.
"Oh, my," Wells responded, taking a hankerchief from his pocket to wipe his brow. "Oh, my, we hit it closer than I thought."
Clark looked at him wide-eyed and prepared to fly Wells to safety, but as suddenly as the quake had began, all became still. "Is that it? Is this the major catastrophe?" Clark asked.
Wells replaced his hanky and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. "I don't think so. Look here." He opened the page and showed it to Clark. "You see, according to the U.S. Geological Survey history on this quake, it was a minor 3.8 magnitude earthquake centered about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia."
Clark studied the page. "But if you have this information, why don't you know what happens next?"
Wells shook his head. "Notice the blurred lines on this page and how the information ends almost right after this entry? The records for this time are from *after* the week when the fluctuations begin, so they are also fading in and out as the timeline changes. From what I've been able to piece together, I suspect that an earthquake is part of the problem, but there is no way to tell exactly when it will occur. The information on this minor quake only appeared after the fact. With the timeline in flux, I think— I think the answer of whether there *is* a future for this universe depends on what happens in the next 48 hours."
Lois felt the low eerie rumble begin as she and Clark were working on the computer. At first, she thought it was a large truck rumbling past his apartment but then the floor began to move ever so slightly … then things began to visibly shake.
"It's an earthquake," Clark announced.
Lois looked at him in shock. "You're kidding? Like the one in the paper?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah, but this one is a lot stronger than the one from two nights ago."
Working at superspeed, Clark shut down the connections on his computer and rushed Lois quickly into the safest place in his apartment, the doorway between his kitchen and living room. Clark held her close, shielding her with his body. They huddled together until the rumbling subsided.
When everything calmed down, Clark released her. "Are you OK?" he asked, looking her over carefully for signs of injury.
Lois straightened up shakily. "I think so," she said slowly. "Wow, I've never been in one of those before." She surveyed the damage in Clark's apartment. "Well, two pictures in the living room fell off the walls, and a bunch of the knickknacks from your travels fell off the mantle, but other than that, things seem OK. We should probably check the bedrooms to make sure nothing's broken in there."
"Can you handle that?" Clark asked. "I need to go out and check the city. Who knows how much damage that quake may have caused or how many people may be injured or trapped. Will you stay here until I get back?"
Lois sighed. "Yeah … can you do a fly-by my apartment, though, just to make sure nothing major happened to it?"
Clark spun into his Superman suit. "Sure." He hesitated before heading out the balcony door. "You sure you'll be OK?"
She nodded. "Go … I'll be fine."
Clark smiled at her. "I love you, Lois."
"I love you, too, Clark. Be careful."
"I will." After a quick kiss, he was gone.
After checking the bedrooms and finding everything in good order, Lois turned on the television in Clark's living room, anxious to get news reports on the quake. She dialed the phone with one hand as she surfed the local news channels with the other. "Vince! This is Lois … what's going on over there?"
"It's pretty crazy, Lois, but we're doing all right. Where are you?"
"I'm over at Clark's .. he's out checking the city, but according to WMET, it doesn't seem like it's too bad out there. You need me to come in?"
"No, you stay put. I've got almost every evening shift reporter out looking for stories. They'll probably be out all night so I'll need fresh people tomorrow on the follow-up. I'm going to count on you and Clark for that, assuming he's not needed elsewhere."
"OK, I'll stay here. Maybe I can help write up Superman stories for the first edition."
Lois hung up the phone and returned to watching the television coverage.
Bill Church sat uneasily in the big chair of his office. His plans for expanding Netgang into Metropolis had hit a snag. Sure, he could get the merchandise he needed, but he had to figure out a way to keep the big blue boy scout out of his affairs. The company he had established proved to be an excellent cover for getting a foothold, but he knew it wouldn't last forever. So far no one had found his movers worthy of suspicion, but eventually someone would figure it out. He had to make sure Netgang was firmly established before that happened. The Moving Company would have to select their targets carefully.
In the meantime, though, he had to be ready when opportunity knocked. And knocked it had … and shaked, rattled and rolled. Church reached for the phone. "Gene, get the boys out in the truck. See what you can find out there tonight. The confusion over that shaker should provide good cover."
Clark Kent stood with H. G. Wells in the middle of a darkened alley, distracted. "I think I should check out the city, Mr. Wells, just to make sure everything is OK."
Herbert smiled. "An honorable desire, Mr. Kent, but an unnecessary one, I'm sure. The quake was fairly minor and I'm positive this world's Superman has things well in hand."
"But you said he needed my help," Clark protested.
Wells began walking towards the street. "Yes, but don't you think it best if we announced ourselves to him first? I suggest we head towards Clinton Street as quickly and quietly as possible. After all, people in this world know that Clark and Superman are the same person, so I think it best that we stay out of sight."
Clark hesitated but had to admit that Mr. Wells was making sense. It wouldn't do for people to see two Supermen in the skies, and until he talked with the other Clark, there was always a chance they'd run into each other. Also, he had to admit that he would feel a bit defensive if the other Clark were to come to Metropolis and began acting as Superman without warning. No, Wells was right … unless a true emergency presented itself, it was best to keep a low profile.
Lois sat down on the couch in Clark's living room for the twentieth time in the last hour. She just didn't seem to be able to keep still. The idea of getting her news from the competition—local television no less!—didn't sit very well with her, and she felt as if she should be out pounding the beat herself.
Still … according to all the reports she'd seen, the quake had not been severe. Very few injuries had been reported, only widespread but relatively minor property damage. Lois wished Clark would get home, however, so she could see if there was any damage in her apartment.
A knock on the front door shook her from her thoughts. Turning off the television, she strode to the door and looked through the peephole. To her great surprise, Clark was on the other side of the door with an older gentleman.
Quickly disabling the security locks, Lois opened the door. "Clark? What's going on; why did you knock?" She focused her attention on the other man. "Please come in." It was only once the man crossed the doorway, Clark following slowly behind, did Lois realize that this elderly man looked familiar. Studying him for a moment, she gasped audibly as she realized where she had seen him before. "Oh, my gosh … it's you … Clark, this is the man I saw in Africa."
H. G. Wells smiled and looked at her with genuine affection. "Indeed, Miss Lane … so good to see you again. I'm glad to see that you've made a full recovery."
Lois grabbed Clark's arm. "You found him … I can't believe it. This is really H. G. Wells?!" When Clark didn't respond immediately, she looked up at him. "What's wrong? Was everything OK in the city?" As she met his eyes, however, she knew that something wasn't quite right. Clark was simply staring at her, stunned.
Lois stared back, and for the first time, noticed the differences. The hair was styled slightly differently and the glasses were wrong …
Lois released her grip on his arm and stepped back quickly. "You're him," she gulped. She looked back and forth between the two men. "You're the other Clark, from the other universe. Clark told me about you, but I never thought I'd—" She cut off as another possibility hit her. "What's wrong?" she demanded. "Where's my Clark?!"
Mr. Wells quickly reassured her. "Oh, my dear, he's fine, I assure you. We saw him helping to determine structural safety of a nursing home not ten minutes ago."
Heartened, Lois turned her attention to the man who so resembled her fiance. "Wow, you look so much like him … " she said in awe.
Clark, meanwhile, was still amazed. She looked so much like his wife, yet .. it clearly wasn't her. In that moment, he realized exactly what his wife had assured him, that while he and the other Clark looked alike physically and had the same basic personality, they *weren't* the same person.
In Lois's case, however, there were physical differences too, albeit small ones. The woman before him had long hair, allowed to dry naturally into soft waves, while his wife wore her hair short and straight. As Clark watched this Lois interact with Mr. Wells, he was also struck by the differences in the way the two women carried themselves. This Lois seemed younger, more effervescent than his wife. Suddenly he remembered what Mr. Wells had explained on their way to Clinton Street, that this Lois had been in some type of suspended animation for five years—physically, she was probably closer to 26 than his wife's 31 years.
Clark shook his head with a smile. "The resemblence is amazing."
The introductions out of the way, Lois suddenly remembered her manners. "Come in, please … can I get you anything?"
"No, we're fine," Clark responded as he stepped from the entry way into the living room of the apartment. As soon as he reached the floor, however, he stopped and stared, again amazed. "Oh my gosh!" he exclaimed as he looked around the apartment. "What did you do to the apartment; it's huge!"
Lois laughed. "I take it you didn't expand yours. About three years ago, when Clark became Superman, he added on. He bought the apartment next door and relocated the walls. He did a lot of the work himself," she added proudly. "He's very handy." She pointed out some of the features. "He kept the kitchen from next door since it was bigger, and expanded the master bedroom to include the original kitchen. The living room and eating areas doubled in size, plus he has two additional bedrooms." Lois continued to show them around, pointing out the security system and the STAR Labs super computer to an astounded Clark Kent. In response to some of her guest's questions, she also explained how Superman was on retainer with the city, as well as still working part-time as a reporter with the Daily Planet. She could tell that this Clark was impressed, seeing the pros and cons of going public in his world.
Soon, however, Lois realized that there was a big question still unanswered.
Lois turned to the two men. "Look, this has been fun and all, but I really have to know … what are you doing here?!?"
A male voice echoed seriously behind her. "I agree, what *are* you doing here?"
All three turned in unison to find they had been joined by a fourth. Clark Kent and Superman stared at each other.
Several minutes later, the foursome were seated in the living room.
"And so you see, my boy," said H. G. Wells, "since you were nice enough to travel with me to the other universe when this Clark was in trouble, I thought it only right that I should try to bring him here to help you."
Superman ran a hand through his hair. "I appreciate that, Mr. Wells, I really do … but I still don't understand why you think I need the help." He sat up a bit straighter, looking directly at his counter-part. "I mean, I may not have been Superman for as long as you have, but I've been doing it close to full-time for three years now. I'm not exactly a rookie."
Clark shook his head. "No one ever said you were … believe me, I'm not here because I thought you couldn't do the job. In fact … " He hesitated, looking between Superman and Lois. "In fact, I don't know if I could do it full-time. There were many times I seriously considered giving up Clark Kent and just living as Superman in my world, but the older I get, the more I realize how difficult that would be. I'd miss my family too much."
His words hit a chord with Lois, and she slipped her hand into Superman's as she sat closely next to him. She knew all too well the toll being Superman several hours a day had taken on her fiance. They themselves had agreed that, if they were to get married and consider a family, Superman would need to set stronger limits on the amount of time he spent patrolling each night.
The touch of his finance's hand seemed to calm Superman, and he visibly relaxed. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean it like that … this is all just such a shock. Of course I'm glad that you came to help." He turned to Mr. Wells, his eyes full of emotion. "Mr. Wells, for what you've done for me, I can't thank you enough. We know that you were responsible for getting Lois safely out of the Congo." Superman stopped, his voice cracking. He took a deep breath. "I don't know what else to say but thank you."
H.G. Wells smiled warmly at the young couple sitting closely together. Their body language and the way their looked at each other made it obvious to anyone that they were deeply in love. He was proud to have been able to help them find each other. "Just setting history right, my boy," he said with modesty. "You are meant to be together."
"Soul mates," Superman said with a smile, looking into the eyes of his finance.
Lois smiled and squeezed his hand. "Soul mates," she whispered back.
Clark cleared his throat. Looking at them together like this, he was struck by how much he missed his wife. He was glad things were going well in this universe, but right now, he really just wanted to help and get back home. "So, Mr. Wells," he said, changing the subject. "Do you have any idea what we are going to be up against here? What exactly will happen and when?"
Wells looked troubled. "I wish I could tell you more, Clark. But as I explained before, all I could learn during my travels was that a catastrophe hits Metropolis soon, and Superman *will* need the help. Believe me, if I could have pinpointed an exact time, I would have."
"What kind of catastrophe are we talking about here?" Superman pressed. "Another earthquake? An asteroid hitting the Earth?"
Clark almost smiled. "What, you haven't done that yet?" At Superman's confused expression, Clark waved him off. "I'll tell you later. Maybe you'll have an easier time of it than I did."
Superman wasn't ready to let things drop yet, however. "How big of a catastrophe are we talking? How many people?"
Wells coughed awkwardly. "Actually … though certainly all life is precious, there is one life in particular that, should it be ended prematurely, would affect the future of this world's Utopia."
Superman followed Wells gaze to the woman sitting next to him on the couch. "Lois?" he exclaimed. "Are you saying Lois is in danger?"
Wells just looked at the young couple and sighed. "I'm afraid that possibility exists."
Superman instantly became very concerned. "All right, then we'll make sure that doesn't happen," he stated emphatically. "Lois, I'm taking you out of Metropolis until all this is over. Call your parents and see if you can stay in California."
Lois sat up straigher. "Excuse me, what makes you think you get to decide this?"
"Lois, I don't want to argue. You're in danger."
"I'm in danger everytime I step off the curb, Clark. I'm in danger everytime some bad guy decides he can reach Superman through his girlfriend. I'm not going to run away from this. Whatever it is, we'll get through it."
"My place is here, Clark, reporting the news. Even if the world ended tomorrow, I'd have to be out there to see it." At her fiance's hesitation, she continued, more softly. "I was locked away for five years against my will … I'm not going to do it again."
Superman looked at his hands, contrite. "I'm sorry, honey, I didn't mean it to sound like that. It's just … if I ever lost you, after all that's happened … "
"Shhh," she soothed. "I'm not going anywhere. I've got two Supermen looking out for me." She nudged him, trying to get him to smile.
Finally, his expression softened. "OK, you win. I guess all we can do is try to stay alert."
It was a little after ten in the evening when Lois and Clark realized they hadn't finished their exploration of the auction website. Although Mr. Wells had gone to bed early, their other guest was still awake.
"Hey, Clark?" Lois called.
"Yes?" both men answered at once.
She sighed. "This is going to be difficult. Any ideas on how to keep you two straight?"
Her finance wrapped his arms around her waist. "Easy," he said. "If he tries to kiss you, I'll be the one taking him outside." He winked at his look-alike to show his good humor.
Lois laughed. "I meant with the *names*, lunkhead. I going to go nuts if you both answer everytime I say 'Clark'."
Their guest offered a suggestion. "Well, my friend Jimmy calls me CK sometimes. Maybe I should just go by that while I'm here."
"Sounds good, CK."
Lois sat down at the computer. "Now that we have that straight, maybe Cl— I mean, CK, would like to help us take a look at this website. Now that our funds are deposited, we can do some shopping." They quickly explained the background of their investigation, how they had gone to great lengths to set up a false identity in order to root out what they suspected was an illegal auction. The details intrigued CK, and he pulled up an extra chair to the computer.
The first item Lois came to was a large vase. "Hmm, says it's from the Ming Dynasty … bidding starts at $500."
CK leaned forward. "I've seen that vase somewhere before. Now if only I could place where I saw it."
Clark took over the mouse. "There are several other unique items on this site. Some of them, I find hard to believe are on the auction block. They look like family heirlooms."
"You're right, some do seem like they'd be heirlooms," Lois remarked. "They seem like the kind of things that families try to hang on to despite their value on the market."
"Unless there are extenuating circumstances," CK rationalized. "Like a family strapped for cash … or a relative gaining possession who just doesn't have the same sentimental feelings."
"Or they are stolen goods," added Clark.
"When does the bidding close on the vase, Clark?" Lois asked.
He scrolled down. "Tomorrow afternoon."
"Let's wait until the last minute to bid so we don't raise the price more than we have to. I still can't believe Vince convinced Mr. Olsen to give us the money, but we better be careful nonetheless."
Clark exited the site. "Good idea. It's getting late anyway, and I think we all better get to bed. Vince is going to expect us in early tomorrow."
The next morning passed fairly quickly. Lois and Clark headed to the Planet, while CK and Herb agreed to search the Internet for more information on the auction items that may have been unique.
The Planet was a flurry of activity. There were many stories of heroism in the wake of the earthquake, along with incidences of looting and minor damage around the city. Vince Nelson and his staff were busy.
Clark spent the time transcribing his notes into stories. Fortunately, with his super speed he could read and edit a multicolumn story as fast as the word processor allowed.
Lois was busy working on the overall coverage layout. Normally, it was the editor's job, but it was something Lois had tried her hand at recently, and found she really enjoyed it. She would always be a reporter first, but Vince seemed to think she had the potential to be a top editor herself someday. Today, however, there were so many similar stories that after a time it was difficult to tell one from another. It was becoming a laborious task to decide which stories would be delegated to the special supplement and which would be placed on page one.
Of course, the editor had the final say, but Vince was so overwhelmed, he was glad to have Lois work on the initial layout. She, in turn, trusted Clark to help her pick out the more outstanding stories. Whenever he completed one story, he forwarded it to her with a brief comment on how high he ranked its importance. She used her own judgement, but found his insight to be excellent more often than not.
By lunch time, everyone was exhausted. Lois felt like she had put a full day's work in only four hours. She was ready for a break. Wistfully thinking of a quiet lunch alone with Clark, she sighed as she remembered that CK and Mr. Wells were waiting for them at the apartment.
She checked her watch as her partner walked by. "Clark, we're supposed to meet CK and Mr. Wells for lunch … do you think we can get away?"
"I just talked to Vince about that. Most of the stories on the earthquake have been completed, and as far as I know, the only additional story they are still working on is a historical piece on previous earthquakes affecting Metropolis that can run almost anytime. Pack up your notes while I double check with him, but I bet there won't be any problem, especially since we need to get back to our crime family investigation." Clark headed off to the editor's office and returned a short time later with a broad smile. "As far as he's concerned, we are on our own until tomorrow." Clark held out his hand to escort his partner to the elevator.
At twelve noon, a moving van pulled up to the home of James Olsen. A knock at the door went unanswered. The moving men looked around for signs they were being watched. When they felt it was safe, Gene Newtrich expertly picked the lock to the front door. Entering the home quietly, he spotted several items of interest and signaled the accomplice carrying cardboard boxes to assemble one.
Taking some packing materials from a second mover, Gene carefully wrapped an ornate silver picture frame. It had to be safely wrapped for a move through the city to The Moving Company's warehouse. The final bundle was gingerly placed into the packing box. While one man handled the box, the second followed in the footsteps of his boss, wrapping the items selected by Newtrich and placing them in the packing box.
The movers followed this same routine for about fifteen minutes, roaming throughout the inside of the house seeking only those items easy to sell but difficult to trace. Once the box was packed with carefully wrapped valuables, Gene stepped back out on the front porch alone. Carefully he scanned the neighborhood once again. There was no one watching the front door of this elegant home in the posh section of Metropolis.
Signaling his men, they quietly carried the single box of stolen valuables to the truck while Gene secured the front door. Moving on to the next home on their list, Gene hoped that they would have several similar boxes of valuables on the truck before heading to the warehouse.
Clark and Lois stopped by their favorite Chinese restaurant and picked up lunch before heading to his apartment. CK took charge of the food while Clark logged into their alias account. Checking the auction website, they discovered that they only had a little more than an hour before the bidding closed on the vase.
"Should we put in a bid?" Clark asked. "It's up to $1500 now." He'd been confident when asking for the money, but now that it was time to spend it, he couldn't help but hope he wouldn't get burned.
"Let's wait and see if it goes up in the next thirty minutes," Lois suggested. "That will give us time to eat."
"I've been thinking hard about where I saw that vase," CK interjected between mouthfuls of sweet and sour chicken. "If my memory serves me, I believe it looks like a vase I saw in the office of Bob Fences several years ago. Do you have a Bob Fences here?"
"Yeah, he's the president of the phone company," Clark replied. "Quirky guy, but he seems basically honest. Do you think he's involved?"
"Might be interesting to see if he put the vase up for auction himself, assuming he even owns it," CK suggested. "I wonder if there are any more items for auction that we might be able to track to their owners."
"Checking the website will be our first task after lunch. Right now, I'll call Mr. Fences and see if he knows anything." Lois searched through the front of the phone book and found the phone company number. "Yes, this is Lois Lane from the Daily Planet. I'd like to speak to Mr. Fences, please, concerning a story I'm working on." She paused again, then mouthed to her companions, "They've put me on hold."
A few moments later, however, she was successful. "Yes, Mr. Fences? Thank you for taking my call. I'm doing a story on on-line auction sites, and I came across an item that my partner and I thought might belong to you. The item is a Ming vase, white and rose colored— really? Well, that's fascinating. Yes, absolutely … I can be there later this afternoon. All right, thank you."
"What did he say?"
"It seems Mr. Fences used to have a vase like the one on the website but it disappeared from his home three weeks ago."
"It disappeared? Is that a way of saying it was stolen?"
Lois shrugged. "I guess I'll find out soon. He said he was on his way home to pack for a business trip and asked me to meet me at his home with a picture of the vase to see if he can identify it."
Clark wasn't so blase. "I'm going with you," he said. "I don't want to take any chances."
"Clark, someone has to stay here and do the bidding on that vase. If it does turn out to belong to Mr. Fences, we don't want to lose it."
At that moment, however, Clark was listening to an alarm only he and his counter-part could hear. The two men looked at each other. "Explosion at Metropolis General Hospital," Clark said, standing up and spinning into his Superman suit. "I've got to go." A second later, however, he stopped. "Damn!"
"What is it now?" Lois asked.
CK answered by standing and spinning into his own blue and red costume. "A jetliner's in trouble over Gotham City." He faced his twin. "Go ahead to the hospital, and I'll take the plane. Since I'm here, I might as well help."
Clark hesitated. "Lois, I want you to stay here until one of us gets back. Don't go on that interview alone."
"I mean it, Lois, stay here."
"Fine," she said, annoyed. "Someone has to bid anyway."
A moment later, she and Mr. Wells were left alone in the apartment.
"My, my," he exclaimed. "They certainly do keep busy, don't they?"
Lois just smiled wanly, and reloaded the web page on the vase. The bidding was up to $1750. Twenty minutes later, it was up to $1900. Lois looked at her watch. "Well, only ten minutes left," she mused. "Guess I better throw my hat in the ring." With Mr. Wells looking over her shoulder, Lois bid $2000, then with less than one minute to go, had to counter again. A nerve-wracking moment later, she and Mr. Wells each let out a cheer—she had purchased the vase for $2200.
Lois printed out the information on the screen concerning the shipping of the item, and logged out, pleased with herself and wishing she could fill Clark in on the details. Now if only she could determine whether the vase belonged to Bob Fences …
Lois quickly made up her mind. Waiting until Mr. Wells left the room, she jotted off a note to Clark. She then checked to make sure that Mr. Wells was still making himself useful packaging up the leftovers from their meal and storing them in Clark's refrigerator. He looked to be quite taken with the assortment of plastic containers in Clark's cupboard, and Lois knew it was now or never.
Slipping on her shoes, she picked up her purse and left quietly out the front door. With any luck, she'd be back from his visit with Bob Fences before Clark and CK returned from their rescues.
Lois beamed as she left Bob Fences home in the trendy upper East side of Metropolis. Her visit had been even more successful than she had expected. Not only was Mr. Fences convinced the vase was his, but he provided her photographs of two sterling silver candlesticks and the high end audio receiver that mysteriously disappeared the same day. She could hardly wait to get back to Clark's apartment and see if any items matching those descriptions were also up for bid.
As she reached her car and started to unlock the door, she vaguely noticed that the house across the street had a moving van in the driveway. Curious about a For Sale sign—you never know what kind of house she and Clark might be able to afford once they got married—she took a closer look. Lois didn't find a sign on the lawn, but she did watch as a man loaded a single box into the truck and lock the door.
Mentally filing away the information, but still distracted by her desire to hurry to check out the website, Lois shrugged and turned the key in her lock. She gasped in surprise, however, as two strong arms surrounded her. Before she could scream for help, a chemical laden cloth was forced over her nose and mouth. Within seconds, Lois Lane had crumpled, unconscious.
Clark landed on his balcony, tired but pleased with the job he had done. The explosion at the hospital had thankfully been contained to just one lab. Two technicians had been in the lab at the time of the explosion, and they were expected to be hospitalized for several days as a result. Fortunately, everyone else in the area suffered only minor burns. Superman was credited with preventing the spread of the fire to the Emergency wing where several critical patients could not be moved without possibly inflicting additional injuries. But it was touch and go for quite a while.
As Superman entered into his apartment, he was greeted by an anxious looking H. G. Wells and a concerned CK. He was instantly aware that one person wasn't there. "What's wrong; where's Lois?"
CK handed him a piece of paper. On it was scrawled in Lois's handwriting, "Went to my appointment with Bob Fences. Be back soon. Love, Lois."
"When was this written?" Clark demanded.
Mr. Wells wrung his hands. "Oh my … I feel just terrible, Mr. Kent. One minute she was here and the next she was gone. She must have waited until I was in the kitchen to slip out. I noticed her missing about 1:30."
Clark looked at the clock on the wall. "It's after four." He looked at CK. "Did you fly by Fences' house to see if she's still there?"
CK shook his head. "I just got back a few minutes ago."
Clark picked up the phone and dialed. "Hello, this is Clark Kent with the Daily Planet … my partner Lois Lane met with Mr. Fences this afternoon. Is she still there by any chance?"
"Hello, Mr. Kent," said the voice on the other end of the line. "This is Mrs. Fences … yes, Ms. Lane was here a little after lunch, but she only stayed a hour or so. Let me look out the window to see if her car is still here … hmm, that's odd. The car is still in front of the house, but she left well over an hour ago."
Clark was pale as he hung up the phone. "She left the house at 2:30," he told his two friends, "but the car is still out front. Something's happened, I just know it!" With that, he was back out the balcony door leaving his guests to stare at each other in concern.
Superman landed in front of the Fences' home within seconds. He was dismayed by what he found—not only was Lois's car still on the street, but the keys were hanging from the lock. Whoever had taken her—if someone had taken her—robbery was not the motive.
Swallowing hard to keep his panic from becoming overwhelming, Superman rushed to the front door and knocked. Mrs. and Mrs. Fences was surprised to see Superman standing on her doorstep, but upon learning that Ms. Lane was missing, they became concerned.
"This is such a safe neighborhood; I never dreamed something might happen to her walking to her car in the middle of the day!"
"Please think … was there anything unusual going on when she left? Anyone who shouldn't have been in the neighborhood lurking around?"
The Fences thought hard. "No, I don't think so," said Mr. Fences. "Did you see anything unusual today, Susan?"
"No," Mrs. Fences said slowly. "Unless you count the moving van across the street."
"Moving van?" Superman asked.
"Yes, but it was only there for a short time. I noticed it when I went out to check the mail. I thought it was odd because I didn't realize the Johnsons were moving, but it didn't stay long, so I just assumed they had the wrong house or were making a delivery or something."
"What time was this?"
Susan Fences wrinkled her brow. "I can't say exactly, but it was right around the time Ms. Lane left, I believe. I'm sorry, I wasn't paying that close attention."
Clark realized this was all the information they had. He thanked them and asked them to call him if they remembered anything else, then walked back to the car. Clark pulled out his cell phone from a small pocket in his cape and dialed a number he knew by heart. Technically, he knew Lois couldn't be reported missing until tomorrow, but he also had a lot of friends on the police force who would bend the rules for him. His instincts were usually accurate, and right now, every one of them was screaming at him that Lois was in trouble.
Two hours later, a dejected Superman reentered his apartment. He filled in his two guests on what he had found and explained how the police had found no fingerprints other than Lois's on the car or keys.
"What do you want to do now?" CK asked him.
"I don't know … Mrs. Fences said that she noticed a moving van at the house across the street around the time Lois disappeared, but the police talked to the owners, and they said they hadn't booked an appointment with anyone. Mrs. Fences couldn't remember what the van looked like, so I've just been out scanning all the moving companies in Metropolis to see if I could turn anything up. I haven't found anything yet, but I'll search this city building by building if I have to."
CK spun into his own Superman suit. "Where do we start?"
Gradually, Lois began to feel her hands then her feet. Slowly she wiggled her fingers as sensation seeped into to her body. The motion stopped at her wrists, and she realized they were tied to the arms of a sturdy chair. Her shoulders and mid-section were bound to the back of the chair, her feet were duct taped together and a gag covered her mouth. She could not speak and could barely move.
Trying not to panic, Lois breathed as deeply as her bindings would allow. With her head a bit clearer, she searched her surroundings for a way out of her current predicament.
>From her vantage point, she could see small windows high up on the wall indicating she was probably in a basement. She had no idea how long she had been unconscious, but if those were windows to the outside, it had been long enough for darkness to fall.
She tried twisting her body to see more of the room. She could not see a door so she could only assume it was directly behind her. To her right was a bookcase filled with books; to her left, a battered glass cabinet filled with dishware and a small table with a portable transistor radio.
Squinting in the dim light cast from a single dangling light bulb, she strained to see what was beyond the table. She concluded it was either a small bathroom or a closet with a curtain covering the entrance. She strained her ears, but could hear nothing.
Forcing herself to relax, Lois sat and contemplated her next course of action, but came up blank. There was no way to call for help and her bonds were too strong to be broken.
CK had searched a third of the city when he passed by the Daily Planet building. There, sitting on a ledge, staring out over the city, was Clark.
"Hey," CK said softly, floating over and sitting down next to his look-alike.
Clark didn't answer.
"We *will* find her, Clark," CK assured him. "The police are searching, trying to get an identification on that moving van. Mr. Wells is at the apartment in case there is any type of ransom demand. She's out there somewhere, and we'll find her."
Clark just shook his head. "I can't believe this is happening," he said quietly. "We're supposed to be planning a future together. I just got her in my life and now—" His voice cracked. "Damn it, we were going to get married! It's just not fair."
"Look, I know how you feel. But it's gonna be OK; you'll see."
Clark made a sound of disgust. "You have no idea how I feel," he spat. "You have your perfect life … your wife and your parents. You have no idea what it's like to lose someone like this."
CK closed his eyes. His first reaction was to get defensive, but he knew that Clark was just lashing out in anger. And it was true that he didn't know what it was like to lose someone … unlike this Clark, CK had his parents and he'd met Lois as soon as he came to Metropolis. But Clark was dead wrong when he said CK didn't know how it felt to have his fiancee disappear without a trace …
"I have a pretty good life right now," CK said quietly. "And I'm very thankful for that. But I do know what you are going through. My Lois was kidnapped from the church on our wedding day, and it was days before I found her." He looked around with a sad smile. "And I sat on this very ledge, looking out over this very city, cursing my luck, the way you are doing right now."
Clark turned his head and stared at the man next to him. "I'm sorry," he said. "I had no idea."
CK met his eyes. "You *will* find her, Clark. Just like I found my Lois."
Clark looked down once more. "I only wish I could be sure she was still alive," he whispered.
"She is," CK said emphatically. "I can feel her."
"What are you talking about?"
"There's this … bond … that I have with my Lois. I can't really explain it, but it's like we have this connection." At Clark's doubtful look, CK continued. "When Lois—my Lois—first came to this universe, I literally *felt* her leave our world. It was like a part of me had just disappeared." CK struggled to find the right words. "I'll never forget that feeling, and I don't think you would either—if your Lois was dead, you'd know it."
Clark looked up, encouraged. "Really? And you can feel her now?"
"I don't have that same horrible feeling, no … I think it's because your Lois is here."
Clark closed his eyes and began to concentrate. He visualized reaching out with his mind and heart, reaching out for the woman he loved more than anything. He thought of his Lois, how she smelled, how she sounded … and he tried to touch her. Suddenly, his eyes popped open. "Oh my God, I do … I feel it. She's alive."
CK smiled broadly. "Then let's keep looking." He stood up and stepped off the ledge, standing in mid-air before his new friend.
Clark smiled back as he straightened up. "Thanks, Clark. For everything." And with that, he was gone.
Bill Church and his wife were on their way upstairs when the phone on his private line rang. "Mindy, honey, just go on up to bed. I'll be up in a few minutes."
His wife smiled. "OK, dear, don't stay up too late. We both have to be at work early in the morning."
Church waited until she was up the stairs to answer the incoming call. "Church," he barked, closing his office door. His face darkened as he listened to the voice on the other end of the line. His team of movers had been spotted and as a precaution had abducted the woman who had seen them. Going through her purse, they discovered she was a reporter for The Daily Planet—Lois Lane.
"You imbeciles!!" Church roared. "Do you have any idea what you've done?" This wasn't just any reporter …
"I'm sorry, boss," the man on the other end of the line stammered. "She was getting into her car across the street and glanced our way. The boys panicked … no one has ever noticed us before."
Bill Church closed his eyes, the vein on his forehead starting to throb. Amateurs … stupid idiotic amateurs. "What did you do with her?"
"They've got her tied up … but we don't know what to do with her. Plus, there's one other thing … "
Church exhaled, exasperated. "What now?"
"She had a computer printout in her purse. It was a page from our website, the auction website."
Bill Church sat back in his chair, thinking hard. Well, this was certainly an interesting development, one that would require careful planning to resolve. It was hard enough to get rid of a nosy reporter, but just how did one dispose of Superman's girlfriend?
"Keep her out of sight … I'll arrange things and call you back in the morning." With that, he hung up.
Lois was finally getting her emotions under control. Her current experience was playing with her mind as bits and pieces of her previous kidnapping mixed with the present. She closed her eyes hoping for calmness to invade her senses.
<< Come on, Clark … where are you? >>
Suddenly, her eyes popped open in a new panic. A low eerie rumble could be heard, similar to the reverberating sound accompanying the recent earthquake. This time the sound was deeper and built to a huge crescendo. The building shook. The floor moved. Glassware from the glass cabinet began to tumble into a broken mess. Even the transistor radio fell and shattered on the moving concrete floor.
Lois felt like a sitting duck—tied up like she was, she had no way of moving out of harm's way. She could only pray that the building she was in would hold up to the shaking. Looking up, she watched the light bulb sway in the movement, casting strange shadows on the rafters of the floor above. At any moment, she expected the floor above her to collapse into the basement.
Outside the basement, fear swept over the inhabitants of the entire city as the tall skyscrapers swayed to the tune of breaking glass.
Terrified citizens ran from their buildings into the quiet streets of a late evening. Others found themselves struck by falling glass and bricks from their own buildings. Suddenly, large portions of the city were plunged into darkness as the power failed.
Clark had just reached Hobbs Bay when the earthquake hit. Although it didn't affect his flying, he watched as the buildings below swayed in eerie motion, rocking rhythmically to the motion of the ground. As he watched, one small residential building began to collapse. He could hear the screams of those who were trapped inside, and swiftly dove in that direction.
As he got closer, he could hear the hiss of a broken gas line. As he x-rayed the building, he found a child huddling in the closet, his parents standing in the doorway attempting to block the falling plaster from striking their child. Oblivious to the hissing of the gas or Superman, the parents struggled to keep their former ceiling away from their child, shoving each piece away as it fell into the remains of their living room.
Grabbing the child and his mother, Superman exited the building seconds before the gas found a pilot light. Depositing his two passengers into the street, Superman immediately flew back into the building, attempting to extinguish the resulting blaze before the child's father was consumed. Spotting the source of the gas, he used his super-breath to cool the vapors into a liquid before freezing it. With the center section of the pipe frozen, he was able to seal the open end of the pipe with a combination of his super strength and heat vision. With a sigh of relief, Superman flew the man out of the building and reunited him with his terrifed family.
>From his vantage point above the city, CK could see various degrees of damage around the city. Some parts of Metropolis had fared well in the strong quake. Others, like sections of Hobbs Bay that had been built on compacted fill, were in shambles. CK was torn. He knew that he had to continue the search for Lois, but there were so many people that needed his help throughout the city. Hobbs Bay was just the worst hit area. Seeing that Clark was already in that area, CK began searching other sections of damaged Metropolis, always keeping one eye open for the possibility of locating Lois.
As he approached the downtown cinema, terrified screams filled the air. The marquee had fallen, trapping many movie-goers in the theater. With strange creaking noises emanating from the roof area, CK knew time was running out. Setting down in front of the theater, he took the marquee in his hands and propelled himself upward. "Get everybody out of the theater fast," he shouted down to the lone police officer on the corner. "The roof's about to collapse."
People rushed out of the theater for several minutes as CK held up the fallen marquee, until finally the rumble of a mild aftershock brought down the roof once and for all. Glancing over his shoulder, CK spotted the arrival of trained rescue personnel. His x-ray vision showed ten people trapped under the fallen roof. Sizing up the situation quickly, CK felt that with a little guidance on where to search, the rescuers could safely complete the job without his help. There were so many places in the city to search for the trapped and injured, he felt compelled to continue his search elsewhere when trained rescue personnel could handle the situation at hand.
Cries and shouts filled the air; there were so many people that needed help. This was the hardest part of being a superhero, knowing he couldn't be everywhere at once.
Lois groaned as she lay on her side on the basement floor. Darkness completely enveloped her, and dust filled the air.
Trying to get her bearings, Lois heard moaning from above her. Someone upstairs was injured. Unfortunately, she didn't know if it was someone come to rescue her, or her captor.
Suddenly, she heard a large crash next to her in the darkness and felt pellets of what she could only assume was plaster raining down over her. Lois squeezed her eyes shut and wished she could curl up into a ball to protect herself. The ceiling wasn't going to hold forever, and she had no way of escaping when it finally came down.
As Clark continued his search of Hobbs Bay for survivors of the quake, one thought continued to nag him. Where was the fire department? Several buildings were still on fire as a result of the broken gas line, yet there were no fire fighters battling the flames. He flew over the Hobbs Bay fire station and discovered the reason. Fire fighters were busy trying to dig out their equipment. The facade of the older building had collapsed into a pile of rubble from the shaking. It was now blocking any egress from the huge garage doors at the front of the station.
Taking a moment to evaluate the situation, Clark turned and headed quickly to the north. Excavation for a new police station had recently begun only a few blocks away, and he sped off to see what might be available there to help dig out the fire company. Spotting a partially buried bulldozer, he used his heat vision to detach the big blade and returned to the fire station. Becoming the power behind the blade, Superman quickly had the debris moved away from the station entrance. The fire fighters were now free to fight the spreading blaze only a few blocks away from the station.
Clark quickly explained that he had shut off the gas main to this part of town, so the firefighters didn't have to worry about additional explosions of that kind. Still, he knew there were other gas pipes that could cause additional explosions within the broken buildings of Hobbs Bay. Circling over the collapsed building he searched for additional broken gas lines, but found none. He realized things were in good shape for this corner of the Hobbs Bay district, and continued his search for trapped and injured people … praying that he would find Lois alive and unharmed in the process.
CK flew back toward the Daily Planet building. The building was still standing, although the Globe had crashed into the street and the power was off. He quickly scanned the newsroom to check on everyone there. Thankfully, he spotted only minor injuries. Reporters were struggling to write up their stories by candlelight, hoping that the power would return in time to get out the morning edition. CK retrieved the wayward globe and placed it near the front entrance.
Continuing his search, CK realized that a portion of the subway tunnel ceiling had collapsed into the line. He decided to check more of the subway line, and to his horror, found a train partially buried in the debris of a full tunnel collapse.
Working quickly and carefully, he made his way to the train. In the dim emergency lighting, the front two cars appeared intact. Riders in these cars had very few injuries. In the third car, the injuries were a bit more serious.
People from the front part of the train were helping those more seriously injured. Several strong men were working feverishly to remove debris from the entrance to the last car. CK moved in and finished the job. Prying open the door, he found the fourth car partially crushed. He and a few of the men entered the car, crouching to avoid the roof that was now several feet lower than normal.
As carefully as possible CK and the men pulled the seriously injured passengers from the last car. As they moved further back into the car, however, the roof sloped downward at a severe angle. A quick scan caused CK to lower his eyes. The few passengers in the back of the car could no longer be helped.
Knowing he didn't have the luxury of time, CK quickly picked up the most seriously injured passenger and headed towards the hospital, promising to return for the others. On his way back to the train, he spotted one of the rescue teams. Swooping down, he told them of the dead and injured in the subway car. The team reported the location to their command post and headed down the tracks to the train. Superman continued to airlift the seriously injured to the hospital, leaving the others to the rescue team.
Clark floated high above the city, trying desperately to control his growing emotions. He'd seen too much death and destruction in the last few hours to keep any confidence that Lois had escaped the earthquake unharmed. Where ever she was, time was surely running out. CK had given him a glimmer of hope that she was still alive … but there was no guarantee she'd stay that way much longer.
There were still many people that required assistance, but Clark found he could no longer concentrate enough to offer it. He didn't know what he'd do without CK's assistance. A few times he'd been flying from one part of the city to another and had seen "Superman" on the ground below. Fortunately, Metropolis was mired in too much confusion for anyone to notice that their resident superhero was in more than one place at a time.
Clark thought briefly about Mr. Wells. He had every confidence the man was safe—Clark's apartment building had been reinforced not long after he became Superman. It was just one of many changes Mayor Perry White had effected as a result of Superman going on the city payroll. Mr. Wells would likely be shaken up, but unharmed.
Superman was thankful that Mr. Wells had brought the other Clark here to help. Wells had been right—this was too much for one Superman, especially when that one was in a near panic over the disappearance of his fiancee. Suddenly, Clark realized what Wells had obviously understood—that CK's help as Superman would allow Clark the ability to look for Lois.
Clark took a deep breath and tried to clear his head. He had to find Lois … he just had to. If only this "bond", as CK called it, could help him.
<< Lois, where are you? >>
A loud thump and a scream caused Lois's body to jerk on the cold, dank floor. She had obviously dozed off, a feat which showcased her exhaustion given how uncomfortable she was.
Another scream reached her ears, along with some scuffling from above. The man above her was apparently injured and trying unsuccessfully to free himself from something.
She had no choice but to silently listen to him scream.
Unable to find Lois and reaching the end of his rope, Clark flew higher, trying to escape the noises of the city below. Not knowing what else to do, he had tried reaching out to Lois mentally, trying to see if this newly defined 'bond' of theirs would give him any insight into her location.
Like he had done earlier in the evening, Clark closed his eyes and concentrated on trying to feel Lois. He visualized reaching out to her, and willed her to reach back to him.
<< Please Lois, send me a sign. >>
But as he was about to give up, Clark stilled, unsure. Was that … ? He had felt *something*, but he couldn't be sure what it was. He tried to reach out once again with his mind, but this time, instead of feeling Lois, only the sound of a man yelling for help reached his ears.
Clark almost screamed in frustration. No, not when he was this close! He had to concentrate! Clark rose still higher in the sky, trying to ignore his super-hearing and simply concentrate on what he was feeling in his heart.
But once again, all he could hear was a male voice.
Clark shook his head and took a deep breath, about to try one last time. Then suddenly, it hit him. The voice he heard … it wasn't coming from the ground at all. In fact, he wasn't even *hearing* it—he was *feeling* it.
But how … ?
Suddenly, it all became clear. Lois *had* been reaching back and this was the message she was sending him.
Clark did a barrel roll in the sky, his exhaustion forgotten. It was a long shot, but it was the only shot he had. He began flying over the city, trying to hone in on the exact shouts he had heard from the sky.
He traveled south, then west … each time trying not to rely on his super-hearing as much as his gut instinct.
It wasn't long before he reached his target, a home in a run-down part of town known as Kingston. X-raying the house, Superman saw the source of the screaming. A middle-aged man was trapped beneath a fallen entertainment center. His legs were broken, but he was not fatally injured. Clark swooped into the house, breaking a window in the process, and lifted the large piece of furniture off the man.
"Is there anyone else here?" Superman asked quickly.
The man stared at him, almost fearfully. "Uh … "
Clark's eyes narrowed. This man would have nothing to fear from his rescuer, unless …
"Where is she?" he demanded.
The man paled. "I don't know what you're talking about," he squeaked.
It was all Clark could do to keep from lifting the man up by the throat and make him talk, when he thought he heard a noise coming through the floor below.
<< Lois?? >>
Hearing voices above her, Lois tried to scream for help through her gag, but the sound that came out was far too muffled to be heard upstairs. Still, she continued to fight her bonds, hoping that whoever it was would somehow hear her.
Suddenly, through her struggle, she thought she heard Clark call her name. Lois froze.
<< Clark? >>
In the living room, Clark tried to x-ray the floor into the basement, but found that the floor had been covered in lead paint. Still, he could swear he heard his name … and it sounded like …
<< Lois! >>
Looking around the tiny house, Clark quickly spied a set of stairs that led downward. Confident the man he had just rescued wouldn't be going anywhere, he traveled through the door at super-speed. If Lois was in the basement, he didn't want to risk bringing the roof down on her by tunneling.
In a fraction of a second, he was in the basement. Clark almost passed out from relief when he found Lois there, alive and moving.
"Lois," he gasped, racing to her side. "Oh, God, honey, are you OK?" He quickly broke her bonds and gag and x-rayed her for any internal injuries.
"Clark!" she cried, letting him pull her into his arms. A second later, a large section of ceiling came crashing down directly over the chair was she had been sitting.
"Oh, Clark, you came. I was so scared."
"I know … I know … I'm so sorry."
" … and then everything began to shake, and the light went out … "
He held her as tightly as he dared, his tears threatening to join hers as he whispered her name over and over. In that instant, had the rest of the world come tumbling down around them, Clark knew he still wouldn't have been able to let her go.
The afternoon edition of the Daily Planet was greeted by a grateful public. It was the first newspaper to get an edition out after the earthquake. Power had been restored sporadically, but many people were still without a reliable news source. The newspaper was like a godsend.
Getting the paper out had been a major accomplishment. Since the power was still unavailable in most of downtown Metropolis, it was impossible to compile and print the paper through conventional methods. Vince Nelson wasn't about to admit defeat, however.
Old typewriters were hauled out of storage, and those that still worked were put into service. Some of the younger reporters balked at using such machines but were quickly put in their place by their managing editor. Vince edited by hand, the way his own editors had done 30 years ago when he'd been a cub reporter just starting out. Slowly but surely, the Daily Planet came together. Feature articles were put on hold, but the hard news was all there.
Getting the paper to print had been a challenge. But once again, Vince called on his many years of experience and welcomed a very special Planet employee up to the newsroom. Smiling broadly, he had introduced the man to Jack. "Jack, I'd like you to meet Andy … the only man left in the print room who remembers how to run the old linotype machine."
Less than twenty-four hours after the quake, Metropolis was in surprisingly good shape. There had been multiple fatalities, but thanks to the efforts of two Supermen, the number of lives lost was far less than was normally seen by a quake of this size.
Mayor White had jumped into action, contacting state and federal government agencies in an effort to obtain relief funds. The National Guard had also been requested to help with the clean up. City engineers began the difficult task of checking damaged buildings for structural damage.
Reporters from area television stations and major news wires flocked into the city for stories. Some covered the damage, others the carnage, each searching for the human interest stories that would boost their ratings. The Daily Planet led the way, however, proving once again why it was one of the most repeated newspapers in the world.
The daylight brought additional exposure for Superman as well, and Clark and CK both realized they needed to be more careful. With all the extra press watching the city, it would be too easy for someone to notice an extra superhero and turn it into a headline.
At four o'clock that afternoon, Mayor Perry White held a press conference, updating those present on the current state of affairs, and praising the relief efforts of both the local police and fire departments, and Superman.
City government buildings, White explained, would be closed to all but essential employees until the city's civil engineers could ensure the stability of the buildings. City streets were being cleared even as they spoke, but the public needed to understand that it would take time—their patience and understanding would be appreciated. Major arteries would be cleared first, then secondary roads, then finally less traveled neighborhood streets. Crews would be working around the clock, and volunteers were especially welcome. Because the power company expected that it would be at least another day or two before power could be restored to most homes in the city, Mayor White declared a city-wide curfew from 7 pm to 6 am. Several of the area schools had been designated as shelters for those without power or a safe place to stay.
Mayor White also announced that National Guard troops had begun arriving in the city and were helping to assist the police in maintaining the peace during the curfew. They would also be available for continuing search and rescue efforts. State officials had rallied to help Metropolis as much as possible, however, it was not the only city in New Troy needing assistance. Governor Jim "Don't Mess Around With Me" Croce had declared several counties and the city of Metropolis a state disaster area, and the President had agreed that some federal aid would be available.
When he had completed his prepared comments, Mayor White turned the podium over to a representative of the U. S. Geological Survey, asking the man to explain in detail about the magnitude and location of the quake.
"Good afternoon. I have only preliminary information on this quake at this time. Currently, we believe that the epicenter of the quake was approximately 40 miles southeast of Metropolis. The magnitude has tentatively been set at 6.5 on the Richter scale. Please remember that the Richter scale is logarithmic. In comparison, the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake was originally thought to be a 6.9 and was reevaluated upward to a 7.1 on the Richter scale. Damage to Metropolis has been consistent with a quake of this size. There is also a strong probability of aftershocks. These aftershocks can be on the order of a 4.0 and even as strong as 5.0 on the Richter scale. Obviously these aftershocks can cause additional damage to already weakened structures. Please, if you have any concerns about the building you are in, the shelters are open to help you. They have been checked by the city engineers and are structurally sound."
As night fell, both Supermen were once again called into service. Clark and CK worked in distant parts of the city, helping workers who were trying to clear the roads and restore power. Superpowers were very handy for lifting heavy transformers into place and removing large chunks of debris. One request for assistance involved removing the large subway cars caught in the cave-in. City and state workers wouldn't be able to spare the manpower or equipment to restore the subway tunnel for another few days, but they felt the removal of the cars would allow them to better assess the damage and recover the dead. The superheros also searched the rubble in Hobbs Bay, the hardest hit area, for victims who might still be buried, and picked up a few bold thieves who decided to risk looting one of the stores damaged in the quake in the meantime.
In the wee hours of the morning, Clark and CK met briefly at the Daily Planet building to return the globe to its place of prominence. CK held the globe, positioning himself in the shadows so he wouldn't be seen, then Clark used his heat vision to replace the welds holding it to the building.
When they had completed the task, they hovered high above the building admiring their handiwork. It wasn't the most urgent demand on their time, but they each felt a need to do it. Seeing the globe restored gave them encouragement that the rest of the city wouldn't be too far behind.
Lois struggled to awaken the next morning, drifting in and out of a fitful sleep. In her dreams, she was back in the basement, fighting against her bonds. No matter how much she tried, the ropes around her middle could not be broken. Finally, with a slight jerk, she woke up, breathing hard. She had a moment of panic when she still felt the pressure around her middle, but relaxed instantly as soon as she realized that it was not a rope at all, but the strong comforting arm of her fiance.
Lois rolled over so she was face to face with the man that she loved. The fact that he hadn't woken up when she had was telling—he'd obviously been awake all night, working to help Metropolis after the earthquake. The clock told her it was seven o'clock in the morning. She figured it was a good bet that Clark had worked constantly until sunrise, then finally fallen into bed, exhausted. She wouldn't be surprised if CK was in much the same condition in the guest room.
She knew it had been hard for Clark to leave her last night. Lois had never seen him so shaken up after a rescue. He had saved her life many times before, and she'd even managed to get him out of a tough jam once in awhile, but she had never seen him react so strongly. When he'd held her in the basement, he was trembling. When she'd gently mentioned it to him, all he could whisper was, "It's different now."
Although Clark couldn't put it into words, Lois knew exactly what he meant. Now they were no longer 'just dating', but were engaged to be married, planning a future together. She understood because she'd had the same response. When the earthquake hit and Lois realized how much danger she was in, all she could think of was how unfair it all was. She had 'returned from the dead' to find the man of her dreams … and now, just as it was all right in front of them, a maniac threatened to ruin it all.
Lois ran her fingers gently through the hair at Clark's temple, and he subconsciously relaxed, his breathing deep and regular.
He had rescued her just before sunrise yesterday, and they had spent the next several hours together in his apartment. CK and Mr. Wells were both thrilled that she had been found safe, and they each recognized Lois and Clark's need to recover from the ordeal. CK had napped for an hour, then immediately flew off to offer more assistance to the city. He had all but ordered Clark to stay home with Lois, and Clark didn't give more than a half-hearted protest. They all knew that leaving Lois so soon after finding her would have been excruciating for him.
Mr. Wells had kept himself occupied in the guest room for much of the day, writing in his journal. He emerged periodically to check on the sleeping couple, he told them later, peeking in the ajar bedroom door to reassure himself that all was well. Although Mr. Wells didn't have super-powers, he did have the heart of one, and his affection for Lois and Clark—the Lois and Clark in both universes—was obvious. He had been forced to stay on the sidelines while the two Superman took care of the city, but it was clear that being physically remote did not mean he was emotionally so.
CK had acted as Superman until mid-afternoon, then returned to the apartment and collapsed into bed for some much needed sleep. Only then did Clark pick up the reigns, grateful that CK's presence allowed him to spend time with his fiance. Both men went out together in the middle of the night, when the cover of darkness gave them greater privacy. But now Clark, at least, was back.
Lois gave her fiance a soft kiss on the cheek, and gently slid out from his embrace. She'd showered off briefly after her return yesterday, but had been too exhausted to get as clean as she would have liked. Now she couldn't wait to get under the hot water and wash all the painful memories away.
Lois, CK and Mr. Wells were enjoying a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and bacon when Clark walked out of the bedroom. He joined them at the table looking considerably more rested and relaxed than he'd been the day before.
"Oh, honey, I'm glad you're up. I was just trying to figure out how to keep these men from eating your breakfast." Lois winked at her guests.
Clark smiled. "What do you think woke me up? I was dead to the world, but the smell of your cooking is enough to get anyone's mouth watering." He gave Lois a kiss before taking his seat and filling his plate. "So, what did I miss? Have you three solved the world's problems while I was out?"
Lois poured him a glass of juice. "No, but I was just telling them how anxious I am to figure out who grabbed me and why."
Clark swallowed some eggs. "Well, I just called Marty from the bedroom. He said that the guy we found in the house where you were kept is named Gene Newtrich. But we don't have to worry about him coming after you again; he should be in the hospital for quite awhile."
"Gene Newtrich?" CK asked, surprised.
"Yeah, you know him?"
CK sat up straighter. "Definitely. He was a geologist, but ended up working for Bill Church, Junior, when he was at Cost Mart doing some dirty deals. Newtrich found a hunk of red Kryptonite which has been a thorn in my side ever since."
Lois shot a look at her fiance, then back to CK. "*Red* Kryptonite? Do I want to know?"
CK smiled. "No, but I'll tell you later, just in case you ever run into it."
Clark, however, was still interested in Newtrich. "Cost Mart doesn't strike any bells, but Bill Church … that sounds familiar." Clark thought for a moment, but shook his head. "No, I can't remember where I heard the name. In any case, Newtrich has been arrested."
"Has this Newtrich guy said anything about why he was holding me?" Lois asked.
"They still need to officially question him, but so far, he's not talking. The earthquake is messing things up … one, things are moving slowly since the police don't have as many officers available to investigate, and two, they haven't been able to get into the apartment to search for evidence because the building might be unstable."
"Well, there is a guard on the door at least, isn't there?" Lois said sarcastically.
Clark put a reassuring hand on her arm. "Marty has taken care of that. He won't let him get away."
"Who's Marty?" CK asked.
"Oh, sorry, Martin Snell … he's a friend of mine in the police department. I can usually count on him to give me the straight dirt on what's going on."
CK blinked in surprised. "Martin Snell, an honest cop?? You must be kidding."
"Really?" Clark asked him. "He's a decent guy, though I admit he does dance the line sometimes if he feels justice is taking too long. That's why I called him when Lois disappeared; I knew he'd bend the rules and start looking for her right away."
CK shook his head. "He was an Intergang attorney in my world. Got killed before he could rat on who the big bosses were. We never did find out."
Clark looked interested. "I've never heard of Intergang, either; I'll have to keep my eye out. But Marty is OK … he had a rough childhood from what he's told me, and would have gone bad if his parents hadn't moved the family out of Paramus. He told me once that he was angry at his parents at the time for making him leave all his friends, but that looking back, it was the best thing for him. Now many of his old running buddies are in jail."
CK gave a laugh of disbelief. "This is amazing. Next thing you're going to tell me is that your Dr. Klein has hair!"
Lois just gave him a quizzical look. "You mean yours doesn't??"
The trio of reporters went to the living room, exiting the kitchen at Mr. Wells' insistence. Wells knew they had a lot of work to do discovering why Lois was taken, and he would do his best to make himself useful by staying out of the way.
Clark pulled up three chairs around his computer and booted the machine up. "I asked Marty to send me what they have on this Newtrich guy … it should be here by now." A few clicks later, a photo of Gene Newtrich appeared on the screen.
"Yep, that's him," CK confirmed. "Same guy we have in our universe."
Lois took a closer look, but shook her head. "Never seen him before," she said. "Whoever it was grabbed me from behind."
Clark looked closer, too, then sat back in surprise. "Wait a minute, I do know this guy. I didn't get a good look at him last night, but now that I see this picture, I remember. A group of movers set off a burglar alarm the other day, and this guy was the foreman."
"Movers?" Lois repeated. She looked away, deep in thought. "Wait a minute … I saw movers working across the street from the Fences', right before I got kidnapped."
Clark nodded. "That's right; Mrs. Fences said she saw a moving van across the street right before you left the house. I actually started my search for you by scanning any moving vans I found on the road."
CK pulled the keyboard over and began scrolling through the information Marty had sent. "Says here that Newtrich's employer is The Moving Company."
"That's it, that's the van I saw!" Lois exclaimed. "Now I remember; it had a big TMC in the logo. With all the excitement, I'd forgotten."
CK scrolled some more. "Current address … 311 Gore Street."
"That's where I found Lois," Clark verified. "There was no access to that basement except through the living room. He's going to have a hard time convincing a judge that someone else put Lois there."
CK started to respond, then stopped mid-word. Clark stilled as well, cocking his head to listen to something only he and his counterpart could hear.
"What is it?" Lois asked.
"Water main break at 5th and Madison," said Clark, standing. CK had already beaten him to it, however.
"Stay," CK said, putting his hand on Clark's shoulder. "Let me take care of this today; you guys keep investigating. If there's anything I can't handle by myself, I'll let you know."
As their guest flew away, Lois and Clark looked at each other and smiled. "I could get used to him being here," Clark said softly.
"Me too," replied Lois, looking deeply into his eyes. "I get to spend more time with you this way." Clark moved forward to kiss her.
Lois sighed as their lips met. There were times yesterday that she thought she might never get to kiss him again. "I love you, Clark," she whispered.
"And I love you."
Their kisses continued, soft at first, but soon increasing in intensity. Just as things started to heat up, however, they were interrupted by the sound of a man clearing his throat awkwardly. "Ah, excuse me … I didn't mean to interrupt." Lois and Clark pulled apart reluctantly and just looked at him. Mr. Wells continued. "Yes, yes … so sorry. I just wanted to let you know I was going into my room if you need me. I've been keeping a journal of my various time travel adventures, and while this one doesn't exactly fit the pattern of the rest, I still feel the need to write it down." With a small smile, he waved a copy of his leather-bond journal, went to his room, and shut the door.
Clark sighed. "I forgot we still had company."
"I guess that's the price we pay … a break for Superman, but no privacy at home."
A tender smile spread across Clark's face. "I like that," he said, "you calling this home."
Lois almost blushed. "Well, it is, kind of. I spend as much time here as I do at my place."
"Do you like it? I mean, I thought maybe you'd want to buy a house or something; you know, after we're married."
Lois looked around. "I don't know; I'm kind of attached to this place. Maybe once we're married, we'll change our minds, but for now, I'm happy here." She looked at him teasingly. "Besides, there's plenty of room for kids."
Clark raised an eyebrow and fixed her with a look of pretend shock. "Oh, yeah? Just how many kids are we talking?"
"Oh, I don't know," Lois said breezily. "Ten, twelve? After all, Superman does have a reputation to keep up." The last few words were nearly swallowed by her laughter as his eyebrows crawled up into his scalp.
"I'll show you a reputation!" he threatened, beginning to tickle her. As she shrieked, however, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him. He kissed her, hard. "I love you, Lois Lane," he said huskily. "And I'll give you all the babies you want."
The look in her eye told him that while she may have been teasing him about the number of kids, she would offer no argument about practicing how to get them.
Some time later, Clark sat back down at the computer, sighing contentedly. "Back to work, I guess," he said to Lois, who soon joined him.
Clark pulled up the information that Marty had sent once again. "OK, so Newtrich is a foreman for The Moving Company, and he apparently grabbed you while he was working because the moving van was there … why would he do something like that?"
"I have no idea, Clark. I wasn't confronting them or anything … I just kind of glanced their way. It was a nice neighborhood and I was curious what houses were for sale, and when I noticed the moving truck, I look for a sign. I didn't see one, so I just turned back to the car. That's when someone grabbed me."
"Was Newtrich alone with the truck?"
Lois furrowed her brow. "No … " she said slowly. "I think there were several men there, at least a few … I really didn't look at that closely. But I'm sure there was more than just one man."
Clark nodded. "OK, then that means Newtrich isn't the only one involved. His crew must have helped, or at least been aware of what was going on." Clark jotted a few notes. "I wonder if The Moving Company owner is aware of this activity. And I wonder what a moving truck was doing in that driveway if the people weren't moving. Hold on a second." Clark picked up the phone and quickly dialed. "Marty! I've got some information for you, and I was hoping you could send some back to me. Lois confirms what Susan Fences told me about there being a moving van in the driveway across the street that afternoon, and Gene Newtrich works for The Moving Company. Can you contact … " Clark flipped through his notepad. "The Johnson family? Yeah, on Montgomery Circle … find out why that truck was there. I want to know if they were bystanders, victims or somehow involved with this group. OK? Great, thanks, Marty! I owe you."
Lois, meanwhile, had done a search on-line to see if The Moving Company had a website. When Clark hung up, she pointed out what she had found. "The site looks pretty typical; it's mostly just testimonials and education materials on how to pack, but I did find one thing … look here in the bottom corner. It says "A Church Group Company."
"Church Group? Wait a minute, didn't CK say that in his world Newtrich was associated with a Bill Church, Junior? And come to think of it, I just remembered the name of the family that was moving in when the alarm went off — it was the Churches! I only met the woman, but she mentioned a husband."
Lois leaned forward. "You think it's the same Bill Church that CK knew?"
"Only one way to find out." Clark picked up the phone once again and dialed. "Jack! I need some research and I need it fast."
While they were waiting for Jack and Marty to get back to them, Lois and Clark suddenly realized that they hadn't visited the auction website in two days. They checked in briefly with Vince Nelson, who had already been informed of Lois's kidnapping and ordered her to stay home for a few days and recover. Then they set to work.
Logging in under their alias account, the two pulled up the website. Their purchase of the vase was confirmed, and the records showed that it had been shipped and was waiting for them in Antigua. Clark agreed that he would pick it up later; Mr. Fences would get it back, but only after the police were done using it for evidence.
"Let's see if there's anything new to bid on," Lois suggested, clicking her way over to that area. Sure enough, there were several new items, and they casually scrolled through each one.
When Lois clicked past a silver picture frame, however, Clark came to attention. "Hey, back up a second … that frame looks familiar." When the photo of the frame came back into view, Clark was certain. "This is amazing … that frame belongs to James Olsen."
Lois looked more closely. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely; it was a one of a kind item. Perry White gave it to James when James bought the Daily Planet. See those initials in the lower right hand corner of the scroll? WMW … Wanda Mae Waldecker."
"The famous artist?" Lois asked in surprise.
"Yeah, but five years ago she hadn't been discovered internationally yet. Perry commissioned her to make this frame for him to give to James. It was just a nice gift then, but now it's worth a small fortune."
"I think we have our connection," Lois mused. "Stolen goods … both items we recognized came from Metropolis homes, too."
Just then, the phone rang. Clark answered on the second ring. "Hello? Hey, Marty, what's up? Really? Let me write this down … wow … OK, thanks; this is really helpful. Uh, not right now, but I might have something for you a little later."
Lois just looked at him expectantly.
Clark filled her in. "Marty says that the Johnsons have no idea why the moving truck was in their driveway two days ago, but they think they were broken into because they are missing several things from their home. I've got a list here."
Lois checked the list against the website, and sure enough, all of the Johnsons' missing items were up for bid. She couldn't keep the smile off her face. "Oh, this is good," she exclaimed. "This is really good!"
Clark, too, was excited. "We've got them … now we just need to figure out who 'them' is."
"Gene Newtrich, for sure, and his crew … but the big question is whether The Moving Company and this Church Group is aware of what is going on. Is Newtrich a renegade employee out to supplement his income on company time?"
"Or," Clark finished, "is TMC just a front for illegal activities?"
"Any ideas on how to find out?"
Clark thought for a long moment, staring at the screen. Finally, he sat up. "Well, I have one idea." Opening another window, he did a traceroute to The Moving Company's site. "Hmm … Lois, dig out the traceroute printout we did on the auction site."
Lois found the paper and handed it to Clark.
"See this?" he asked, pointing. "Both websites have the same IP address. That means that both websites are on the same machine."
"How is that possible?" Lois didn't pretend to understand everything about this new computer technology; the Internet was just one of many changes she had to adjust to when she'd returned to Metropolis.
"Each machine linked to the Internet has one unique IP address," he explained. "This address can be assigned one or more domain names in the host table. These domain names are what most people use to get to a website. Some people have them customized—like mine, for example, 'superman.org'."
"And this host table is a big cross reference guide as to what domain name has what IP address?"
"Exactly!" Clark was always impressed at how quickly Lois had picked up on things.
"OK, so if both sites are on the same machine, whoever owns the machine is involved in the thefts. And if that owner is TMC … "
"Then TMC is probably aware of the auction site."
"Precisely. Now we just need to figure out where the machine is. So far, we don't have proof of who created or maintains the site. Let's see if a whois will give us some information." Clark typed the command into the window for The Moving Company site and printed out the response. It listed Gene Newtrich as the principal contact for the site. Switching over to the alias they created for the auction site, Clark repeated the command for it. Printing out the response, it was confirmed that Gene Newtrich was the principal contact for the site. "I don't know why I didn't think of the whois command earlier," Clark lamented. "It might have saved us a lot of time. I guess I expected it to be forged."
Lois cocked her head. "Who would be so stupid as to allow his name to be linked to an site like this?"
Clark exhaled a deep breath. "I guess we should consider it an early birthday present."
"So where is the computer located? Did you see one in Newtrich's house on Gore Street when you rescued me?"
"No … " he answered slowly. "But then, I really wasn't looking for one. Next time I talk to Marty, I'll be sure to have him check for one."
The phone rang at just that moment. Lois smiled. "Could be him now."
Clark answered quickly, then mouthed to Lois, "It's Jack. He says he's got something for us."
"Put him on speaker phone."
Soon Jack's voice could be heard in the apartment. "OK, guys, this is what I could find out. Bill Church, age 59, is the owner and founder of The Moving Company. It was incorporated six years ago, but it's a privately held company, so I don't have any info on earnings. Word is that he's done extremely well establishing market position, especially considering how young the company is. He and his wife, Mindy, age 33, just moved to Metropolis last week from Gotham City. They've been married for two years; no kids, but Church does have a grown son from his first marriage."
"Guess our Bill Church is the senior, not the junior," Lois observed.
"This is where it gets interesting," Jack continued. "That house on Gore Street? Owned by a Mindy Stoddard."
"Mrs. Church's maiden name?" Clark guessed.
"Exactly. I ran a check of other buildings in her name in Metropolis. There's also a big warehouse in Kingston, not too far from Gore Street. Both were purchased three years ago, so apparently they've been anticipating this move to Metropolis for some time."
"What do you know about Mindy Church?"
"Not a whole lot … she's a nurse, specializing in the care of heart attack patients. They met a little over three years ago in Florida when Bill Church was one of her patients."
As soon as Clark hung up with Jack, he called Marty. Explaining what they had found, he asked if the police could get a search warrant. If the computer wasn't in the house on Gore Street, maybe it would be in the warehouse.
Gene Newtrich was not a happy camper. His legs had been all but crushed when the large entertainment center had fallen on him. And to top it off, he was unable to escape when Superman discovered the female reporter in his basement. Now the police had stationed a guard outside his door and had read him his rights.
He decided not to brag that he had those rights memorized.
Instead, he demanded to see his attorney. They allowed him that phone call, and so now here he was, waiting.
It wasn't long before he heard a conversation at the door to his room. Gene smiled. The leggy blond was probably making those cops outside the door drool. Her innocent face and killer body disarmed many men; that's one reason she was so effective in court. But a person only needed to be on her bad side once to realize she was not someone you wanted to cross.
The door opened. "Hello, Mayson," Gene said, trying to look like he had all the confidence in the world. "Thanks for coming."
Mayson Drake smirked at him, obviously amused at his condition. "Doing a little heavy lifting, I understand."
"Ha ha. Can we get down to business? You need to get me out of this."
Mayson sighed and opened her briefcase. Glancing at the closed door of the hospital room, she lowered her voice. "You're not getting out of anything, Gene. I've already talked to Mr. Church; he's been following what's been happening. I'll be honest, things don't look good."
Newtrich's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean, things don't look good? You're my attorney; you need to make them go away."
Mayson barely contained a roll of her eyes. "Actually, I'm Mr. Church's attorney. In the past, he's paid good money to make things go away for you. Now it's pay-back time. Lane and Kent from the Daily Planet have found the website, and they've got the cops closing in on the warehouse as we speak, and we don't have much time. Correction—you don't have much time."
"They can't trace that website to me … it's a TMC machine. If I go down, the cops will be looking at TMC as well."
The attorney almost laughed. "Gene, how naive are you? Mr. Church has taken steps to make sure nothing on that machine links to anyone but you."
Newtrich looked like his head was going to explode. "Why those dirty little back-stabbers!"
Mayson was appropriately annoyed. "Look, you're the one that screwed up; you're the one who's taking the fall. Here's the deal. You are TMC's computer expert and TMC entrusted you with their website. Unbeknownst to them, however, you were also using company equipment to steal and you created a website to auction off those goods. Mr. Church and the Church Group have nothing to do with it, and they were completely in the dark about what was going on."
"And what do I get out of this?"
"Mr. Church has paid you well in the past and he will continue to do so in the future … assuming he's happy with your story." Mayson paused to make sure Gene was listening. "Each year of your incarceration, Mr. Church will forward $20,000 to a bank account opened in the name of your two sisters. I take it you are still supporting them?" she asked pointedly.
Gene's face darkened. "Yeah, no good bums. I go broke putting them through graduate school, and they can't hold a job to save their lives."
Mayson smiled. "Then it's settled."
"Now wait just a minute—"
The smile left her face. "I'm getting tired of this. The deal is only good for the next ten seconds. You refuse to take it, and you're on your own." She waited for him to respond. "Tick tock, tick tock … OK, fine." She begin to pack up her briefcase.
Gene lifted his arm to stop her. "You drive a hard bargain, Mayson," he said through gritted teeth. "But you've got a deal."
Bill Church sat back in his chair, smoking a fat cigar. Things had gone well, all things considered, in their first foray into Metropolis.
Of course, they had lost the computer system and all the stolen articles they'd accumulated in Metropolis so far to the police, but this was all just small potatoes compared to the larger picture. All in all, the thefts had been a nice distraction for the police while allowing NetGang to establish a small foothold in Metropolis. Newtrich had done his job especially well. When confronted with all the evidence against him, he'd confessed almost immediately and was transferred to a prison hospital.
The Church Group, for its part, was very cooperative with the police. They'd even turned in a list of the other crew members that had been working with Gene Newtrich so they could be brought to trial as well. Oh, sure, those nosy reporters from the Daily Planet had their suspicions, but when none of the men brought to trial would admit the scheme went any higher than Newtrich, the police were forced to drop the investigation due to lack of evidence.
Bill Church laughed. The best part, however, was knowing that he'd thwarted Lex Luthor.
"Mr. Luthor thought he was being clever, putting the Daily Planet on our trail. He thought he could get rid of NetGang, but he was wrong."
Mindy Church took a swig from her Diet Coke. She smiled at her husband and settled back in her own large leather chair. "Move over, boys," she smirked. "There's a new game in town."
By the time CK returned to Clinton Street that evening, Lois, Clark and Mr. Wells were already celebrating. "What's the occasion?" CK asked, noting the champagne glass the was thrust into his hand.
Clark grinned "We've not only figured out who kidnapped Lois, but we managed to break open a burglary ring while we were at it. Police got a search warrant on a warehouse in Kingston and found the computer system housing the website as well as most of the stolen articles."
"When we sent the story to Vince, I thought he was going to pass out from joy," Lois piped in gleefully. "Not only did we get most of our seed money back from the bank, but we managed to bag an exclusive before other papers in the city even knew there was a story."
"Of course, we still weren't able to tie in The Moving Company and Bill Church to any of this, nor did we find out anything concrete about this new crime family in town. But for now, I'm just happy all those people are going to be able to get their family heirlooms and other valuables back."
Lois smiled. "And there's an unsubstantiated rumor that James Olsen is so happy we got his picture frame back that he's talking about giving us each a raise."
CK laughed and raised his glass. "Unsubstantiated rumors—the best kind."
Over dinner, CK filled Clark in on all the work he'd done as Superman in case he needed to write anything up for the Daily Planet. The city was moving steadily towards recovery, though there were still pockets of the city which still needed work. Fortunately, Mayor White was doing a fantastic job keeping the various crews on track.
The trio brainstormed a bit on how Clark would explain how he'd bagged the theft ring story while acting as Superman all day—they ultimately took CK's advice that being vague on the details was usually the safest bet—then Mr. Wells announced that the crisis was over, and he thought he and CK could soon return to their own universe.
As Mr. Wells went into his room to pack, Lois found CK sitting on the couch, looking through the pictures in his wallet. She hesitated, then sat down next to him. "Hi," she said.
CK smiled. "Hi."
"May I?" When CK handed her the photos, Lois studied them intently. "So this is her, huh?"
CK smiled as he looked at his and Lois's wedding picture. "Yeah."
"You really miss her, don't you?" she asked.
CK's smile faded. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I really do."
"I've seen you looking through these several times this week, but I didn't want to intrude by asking to see them. Thank you for letting me. I know your Lois showed Clark some pictures when she was here three years ago."
"You don't have to thank me … I love showing them. Lois is curious about you, too, you know."
Lois looked at him doubtfully. "She is?"
CK laughed. "Absolutely. I know I'm going to get the third degree when I get home."
"And what are you going to tell her?"
His expression softened. "That you two are as perfect together as we are."
Just then Clark walked over and sat on the other side of Lois. "Thank you, Clark, for everything," he said sincerely. "I don't know what we would have done without you."
CK smiled. "It was my pleasure. I have to admit I was curious about what it was like here. I'm just glad it all came out fine."
Lois grinned. "Maybe someday we'll all get together, all four of us. I mean, it's so unfair! Everyone has been to their alternate universes but me!"
Just as Lois was about to hand the wallet photos back to CK, she flipped to the top one in the stack. "Oh, what a cute baby … who is she?"
CK grinned. "That's Laura. Of course she's a lot bigger now. She'll be one next month," he finished proudly. "Here, look behind. There she is at three months; this is six months. And the one you saw first was nine months."
Clark laughed. "You sound like a proud father."
"You better believe it!" CK agreed. "I don't know who I miss more, her or Lois." At Lois and Clark's arrested expression, he blinked. "Wait … you mean Mr. Wells didn't tell you?"
As the couple shook their heads in confusion, CK smiled tenderly. "Laura is our daughter. Lois and I are her parents."
Their eyes wide, both Lois and Clark once again studied the photos, this time with even more scrutiny. "Wow … " they both whispered at once.
When Lois looked up, she had tears in her eyes but a smile on her face. "This is what our daughter could look like, Clark."
Her fiance was equally moved. "I know," he whispered.
A few minutes later, Mr. Wells was packed, and they were ready to go. After hugging Lois good-bye and shaking hands with Clark, Mr. Wells stepped outside. CK, however, turned back one final time.
"Congratulations, you two, on your engagement. I can't tell you how happy both Lois and I are for you. I know you'll have a beautiful wedding." His eyes twinkled. "Even if Mr. Wells does need to take you back in time before you can consummate it."
Lois and Clark looked confused. "Consummate it?" They looked at each other, then back at CK. "Um, we haven't run into any problems in that area … "
CK raised an eyebrow and gave a little, "Huh." With a shrug and one final wave, he trotted to catch up with Mr. Wells.
Lois and Clark cuddled together on the couch. This last week had been exhausting, both physically and emotionally, for each of them. It was nice to finally have some time alone, especially since they knew that soon enough, Superman would be called back into service.
"I feel so guilty, Lois," Clark finally began quietly. "You needed me to keep you safe and I failed."
Lois sighed. "Clark, you didn't do anything wrong. I'm the one that went out without you, even though I knew Mr. Wells said I could be in danger. You can't take that on yourself."
"I know, but—"
"You can't run my life for me, Clark," Lois said earnestly. She wasn't angry but she needed to make him understand. "You have to let me make my own decisions and my own mistakes."
"Lois, you are the best thing that's ever happened to me; I don't know what I'd do if I ever lost you."
She hugged him close. "I'm not going anywhere."
He smiled. "I know … and neither am I. In fact, almost losing you like this made me realize that I need to reexamine my priorities. When emergencies happen, obviously I need to make every effort to be where I'm needed. But I want you to know that you are my highest priority, and I will do everything I can to keep you safe and happy. I can't promise that Superman won't get in our way sometimes, but I do promise that I will love you forever ."
"And I love you, fly boy," she said tenderly, lifting her head to give him a soft kiss.
As their lips parted, Clark sat up straighter, lifting Lois from his chest. "That reminds me … I have something for you." He reached into his front pants pocket and pulled out a ring box. With a warm smile, he handed it to her.
Lois took the box with wide eyes. She opened it slowly and gasped.
"I know I said you could pick out anything you like," Clark said. "But if this week taught me anything, it's that I don't want to wait anymore to be with you. Will you marry me, Lois?"
Lois looked up at him, her eyes shiny with unshed tears. The ring contained a single center diamond surrounded by five beautiful sapphires. It matched the necklace that she had admired in the store window. "Oh, Clark, it's wonderful."
"You like it?"
She laughed and threw her arms around him. "I love it. And I can't wait to marry you either."
As Clark slipped the ring on her finger and drew her in for a kiss, they each knew that this really was the first day of the rest of their lives.
Mr. Wells dropped Clark back in Metropolis, but as soon as the machine shimmered out of view, Clark launched himself into the sky and headed for Kansas. As he walked into the farmhouse, he was greeted warmly by his family. Although he had been in the other universe for three days, it had only been 24 hours in his own.
"Clark!" Lois called as he entered the kitchen, launching herself into his arms. "You're back."
He hugged her tightly, closing his eyes and winding a hand through her short dark hair. Yes, this was his Lois … and he had missed her so much.
Sitting down at the kitchen table, a slice of his mother's apple pie in front of him, he began to relate the events of the last three days.
All too soon, their time off ended. The next afternoon, Clark brought his family home to their house in Metropolis. After Laura was tucked in for her nap, Lois and Clark sat cuddling on the couch.
"I really wish you could see them, Lois," Clark said with a smile. "They are so much in love, and they are so happy. But I have to admit, seeing what Clark went through when Lois was missing, knowing he had to choose between looking for her and saving people from the earthquake … it really scared me. I don't know how I could function in that kind of situation, if I didn't know you and Laura were safe."
Lois hugged him closer. "You'd do your best; that's all anyone can ask."
"I know, Lois, but when something that big happens, it's so hard to prioritize. You can't do everything, so you have to choose."
"And you're concerned that you'll lose track of your priorities."
Clark sighed heavily, his eyes locking with hers. "With such a large number of strangers needing Superman, it's hard to ignore their cries for help and stay focused on the most important part of my life—you and Laura. I can't help but think that something like that earthquake could happen any time I'm out being Superman, and you—"
"Shhh, don't even say it."
"But, what if … " Clark tried to continue.
His protest was met by the stern yet loving gaze of his soulmate. "Clark, you're obsessing again. If it happens, we'll deal with it together."
Falling silent, Clark pulled his wife into a tender embrace and dropped his lips to hers.
As their lips touched, however, Clark froze as he felt something familiar. The kiss was broken by a low rumbling noise. The rumble crescendoed into a shudder, causing the floor beneath their feet to move ever so slightly. Finally, it faded away.
"What in the world was that?!" Lois exclaimed.
"An earthquake," Clark said seriously. "Good thing you haven't unpacked. I'm taking you and Laura right back to Kansas for the next 72 hours."
"Now wait just a minute! Perry's going to need everyone working on the story, just like their editor did. If things are repeating themselves, we still have plenty of time before the big one hits."
"Clark, you can't run my life for me." Her gentle tone softened her words. "I know you're worried, but let's not rush into anything. We don't even know if there will be another one."
Clark sighed. "OK," he said reluctantly. "I'm going to do a quick fly-by and see what I can find out. If everything is all right, I'll stop at the Planet." With that, he spun into his suit. He kissed Lois deeply before he left. "I love you," he whispered.
Jimmy was the first to spot Clark entering the newsroom. "Hey CK, wanna get in on the epicenter pool? The USGS is going to have a press conference on the quake in a few minutes."
"Thanks, Jimmy, but I think I'll pass." Clark went directly to Perry's office.
"Clark, good to have you back," Perry told him. "I know you're officially off until tomorrow morning, but I'm going to need either you or Lois to put in a long night covering the quake. Talk it over with her and let me know."
A concerned Clark headed to his desk to call Lois. Although there was very little damage from this quake, just like in the alternate Metropolis, he knew what the next 72 hours could bring.
Jimmy spotted CK leaving Perry's office. "I won the pool!"
"Let me guess, a 3.8 centered 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia."
"No CK, a 4.2 centered 30 miles southwest of Metropolis." Clark breathed a sigh of relief. It appeared history may not be repeating itself after all.
Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 6 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted 1999 to the authors.