By IRC Round Robin
Submitted September 1999
Summary: Another story in the RR group's "Unintentional Season." In the midst of adjusting to the fact that Lois is having twins, Lois and Clark have to investigate a strange cult that apparently worships Superman as a god.
An IRC Round Robin by Eraygun <Eraygun@aol.com>; CKGroupie <NKWolke@t-online.de>; chrispat <firstname.lastname@example.org>; zoomway <email@example.com>; Misha <firstname.lastname@example.org>; kell-y; Melisma <email@example.com>
It was well past midnight when Clark finally landed with a soft thud on the patio of the townhouse. Spinning into a tee shirt and jeans as he entered the house through the kitchen door, he began to float silently upstairs when he noticed the flickering light of the television in the living room. Entering the room he found Lois stretched out on the couch staring at the screen.
"Honey, what are you still doing up? It's after midnight."
"I know, but I couldn't sleep and I decided to watch a little TV," Lois replied as she sat up and motioned at the screen.
Clark stared at the television. "Star Trek?" he said with a grin.
Lois gently rubbed her protruding stomach. "Well, I want the kids to be exposed to the classics early."
Clark chuckled and then raised one eyebrow. "That's the original series. I thought you were a Next Gen fan."
"Not really. I had this thing for Captain Kirk …"
"You had a crush on him?"
"Actually I saw him as more of a role model."
"I can believe that." Clark joined Lois on the couch and she snuggled into his lap. "I remember this one," he said after a few minutes. "They run into that alien who thinks he's the Greek god Apollo."
Lois nodded. "I used to think the premise was pretty farfetched, but now I'm not so sure."
"What do you mean, honey?"
"Think of it, Clark. If you had landed on Earth a few thousand years ago, people would have thought *you* were some kind of god."
Clark shrugged. "Maybe. Or maybe they would have considered me some kind of monster."
"Nah," Lois said teasingly as she gently framed his face in her hands. "With your looks, *definitely* a god. This is a face that belongs on Mount Olympus."
Clark removed one of her hands from his cheek and kissed the palm. "Only if you're there too, sweetheart. The only place I belong is with you."
"He came to rescue us! Look at his strength, his power, his nobility!" The speaker's voice almost stuttered with excitement. "You think this is all for nothing? You think this is all without a purpose?"
The audience hung on every word from his lips and waited in breathless anticipation. He was a good speaker, passionate and convincing, and when his black, glittering eyes focused on the people in front of him, they felt drawn into the power of his words and sometimes it was as if they fell into a kind of trance.
They weren't so many yet, Clarissa thought when she looked around, but she noticed with a satisfied smile that the number of people who had come to listen had increased again.
Clarissa herself had heard of the meetings that took place here only four days ago. She had been so foolish! She had mistrusted the reports of her friends at first and even laughed about them. But only one meeting had opened her eyes and she now knew that there was nothing to laugh about.
She watched as the speaker turned to a sculpture that had been hidden under a gold and red cloth. He tugged at the cover and smiled as the audience sighed loudly in awe.
"I'm happy to be the first to show you our new altar," he announced proudly. "And I dare say that the artist, who is one of us, by the way," he nodded to a shyly blushing young man at the corner of the podium, "really did a wonderful job."
Delighted applause came from the audience and as Clarissa cheered with the others for the artist, her eyes couldn't leave the sculpture for a second. The picture of her hero. Her god. Superman.
Lois sat in the jeep taking notes as she watched her husband cope with yet another emergency. This time he was helping defuse a hostage situation at the bank around the corner from the Planet. She shook her head and sighed. Wouldn't these idiots ever learn that they couldn't get away with a bank robbery with Superman around? Shifting uncomfortably in her seat as she felt the babies start a soccer game under her ribs, she decided to get out of the car.
As she opened the car door, a van pulled up in front of the jeep and a group of strangely dressed people tumbled out. They quickly formed a circle and raising their white-robed arms began to chant what sounded like a football cheer.
"Go, Kal. Go, Kal."
The bank doors opened and Superman strode out with a perpetrator hanging from each hand. As he handed them over to the waiting police, the strange group rushed up to him and fell to their knees in front of him, crying in unison, "Hail, oh Great Kal-El."
Clark blinked and backed up a step. "Um…me?" One of the group rose to her feet and Clark recoiled as he recognized her. "Clarissa???"
"Great," Lois whispered as she moved closer. Every time a crazy zealot organization formed, Clarissa was leaping to be first in line.
"Excuse me," she said as she watched Clarissa kissing the hem of Superman's cape. "Who are you … people?" she asked, deciding to default on 'people' rather than 'howling loons.'
A mousy woman, eyes made large by thick lenses, turned to face Lois, then pointed to Superman. "He's AOK," she whispered.
Lois shrugged. "And he looks pretty hot in tights, too."
"Blasphemer!" the woman hissed. "He is *pure*. He has no desires of the flesh!"
Lois folded her arms over her large stomach. "Oh, really?"
"He's AOK… Angel of Krypton!"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Oh, so you're a cult."
"Cult?!" a young man said, also turning to face Lois. His robe opened slightly, revealing his faded 'Save Space Above and Beyond' tee shirt. "We're a *legitimate* group of the faithful!"
"You're a cult," Lois insisted as she watched her husband tug his cape out of Clarissa's hands.
"Please, everyone," Clark finally said, unable to take his horrified gaze from Clarissa who kept mumbling "I touched him…touched him…I'm blessed."
"I'm not an angel, or a god, and I…" He paused, tipping his head to the side. "I have to be going. There's a fire on Bleakman." He flew swiftly from the scene as the AOK wave of "Go, Kal!" started anew.
Lois shook her head and walked over to Clarissa. "Okay, you can stop trembling. His celestial aura is clear across town by now. Tell me what the hel —" Lois glanced at the throng of robed worshippers. "What the *heck* this is all about?"
Clarissa shook herself out of her trance and batted away the fawning of the cultists next to her when she heard Lois' demand. "It is the Namer!" Clarissa's hand shot up in the air and her finger slowly descended until Lois was staring at it as if it were a loaded gun.
Her eyes crossed and then refocused on Clarissa. Around her, the enrobed throng began several separate chants. "We're not worthy!" "Give me a name!" "Name me as you named the caped one!"
Lois backed up a step. Clarissa's finger never wavered, and Lois had a sinking suspicion that if she ever deigned to touch a gun, she'd be a crack shot as well as a crackpot.
"Honor the Namer, for she met him first, and she revealed his holy purpose to us all!"
Lois continued to back slowly towards the jeep, her hands going to her belly as the people around her began acting like Ewoks meeting their first droid.
"Hey, hey! Let's keep it orderly here!" A uniform stepped in front of her, and she scooted into the front seat of her car as the police started to herd the cultists away from the scene. Some of the group seemed to be objecting, but Lois' attention had already turned to what this might mean to her and Clark.
Lois braced her hands against the wheel as her mind turned. There was no way on this planet *or* Krypton that she'd manage more than two seconds undercover in the cult. And Clark would either squirm like a worm on a hook or start to resemble a neon sign from blushing… no, there was only one person she could get to do her dirty work for her on this story.
She picked up her cell phone and dialed. "Jimmy?"
The Bleakman fire was quickly extinguished, and there were no casualties, thank goodness. Clark accepted the firefighters' thanks, then shot off into the sky. As he soared over Metropolis, his mind returned to the encounter with that strange group outside the bank earlier. Who were they? And more importantly, who did they think *he* was?
His reporter's mind kicked into gear as he enumerated the few facts he had been able to glean. They didn't seem to be hostile, unlike some other groups that seemed to be fixated on Superman. What had that woman called him? The Angel of Krypton… Other words came back to him… 'pure', 'blasphemer', 'a group of the faithful'. Why on earth would they think he was someone to venerate? Why the religious imagery?
Clark decided to do a little investigating — he *was* an investigative reporter, after all. Turning around, since during his musings he had flown halfway out into the Atlantic Ocean, he returned to Metropolis.
Touching down in an alley outside the main police precinct, he spun into his journalist's clothing and entered the building. Ten minutes later, he walked into the holding area, but before he could say anything, the cult members fell prostrate on their knees.
"Welcome, oh great husband of the Namer, friend of the almighty Kal-el," they murmured.
"Huh, you want me to do what? Isn't that Clark's area?" Jimmy squirmed in his chair while listening to Lois on the phone.
"Come on, Jimmy, you know you've always wanted to go undercover," Lois said, pulling her jeep into the Planet's parking garage.
"Yeah, you're right. Where do you think they are now?" he asked, standing up and grabbing pen and notepad.
Lois stepped out of her jeep and headed inside, wondering the same thing and also where her husband was. "Don't know. Things got a little crazy after Superman left and there was a shoving match with the police. I think they took some into custody … maybe you can start there."
"Okay, I'm on it," Jimmy said, hanging up and heading out the door.
Clark shook his head slowly as he left the holding cell section of the jail. "Sheesh," he murmured under his breath.
"Have any luck, Kent?"
Clark turned to face Maggie Sawyer, head of Metropolis's Special Crimes Unit.
"Not really, Captain. All I got were blank stares and beatific smiles. It was *scary*."
"Hey, that's an improvement … at least they were willing to smile at you. My people got bupkiss when they tried to interview them."
"Any ideas what this is all about?" Clark asked.
"I just know this cult started up a couple of months ago. Right around the time Superman had that little… interlude as Lord Kal-El. Remember it?"
Clark grimaced a little and nodded.
"It's been growing since then, slowly at first, though they've been more visible lately. They haven't been mixed up in anything illegal but…"
"But you suspect that they might be engaged in something or planning it," Clark added.
"How did you guess?"
"They were only arrested for disturbing the peace, that's not the kind of thing the SCU is normally involved in."
Maggie grinned. "Not bad, Kent. I see hanging around Lane has had an impact."
"Well, I like to think we've changed each other."
Maggie looked at Clark thoughtfully for a moment. "Yeah, I can see that too."
"So, now that we've got that settled, exactly what do you think they're mixed up in, Captain?"
Maggie grimaced. "We're not sure, but the rumored leader has had some shady dealings in the past and this religious fervor doesn't ring true. We've been trying to keep an eye on him, but haven't been able to get anyone into the cult yet."
Clark raised an eyebrow. "What's his name?"
"He's gone by various aliases in the past. Right now he's calling himself Jeremi-El. Claims he's a relative of Superman"
Clark's other eyebrow rose. "A relative of Superman??" His thoughts raced, imagining all sorts of possibilities. "Um, thanks, Maggie. I'll see if Lois and I can find out anything from Superman. As far as we know, he doesn't have any relatives…at least not here on Earth."
Twenty minutes later, Clark exited the elevator at the Daily Planet and looked for Lois. She wasn't at her desk, but he could hear her heartbeat and those of the babies somewhere in the building. He looked over his glasses and did a quick scan of the newsroom, finally catching sight of her coming out of Perry's office.
Lois' face lit up as she caught sight of him, and she hurried to meet him as he came down the ramp to the newsroom proper.
She hugged him and grabbed his arm, pulling him toward the conference room.
"Perry just got the word on the Merriwethers for this year. Guess who was nominated for the third year in a row?"
Clark drew her into a hug and grinned at her triumphant expression. "It wouldn't by any chance be that hot news team Lane and Kent, would it?"
Lois leaned back in his embrace. "It most certainly would. The awards dinner is in three weeks, and he's almost positive our series on Morgan Edge's vendetta against 'you-know-who' is going to win."
Clark kissed her quickly. "That's great, honey. 'You-know-who' thinks you deserve most of the credit."
Lois smiled and patted his chest. "Well, thanks, but right now we have another problem. What did you find out about the cult?"
"Not much. We need to get someone into that group, but I know you and I can't do it."
Lois grinned happily. "Already taken care of. Jimmy's on his way."
"Jimmy? But Clarissa knows who he is."
"I know she does, Clark, but she's just vain enough to think he would want her back."
Clark looked a bit dubious, but he knew better than to argue with Lois when it came to how women thought…especially someone like Clarissa. What a kook!
Jimmy had paced outside the entrance of the AOK headquarters…church, or whatever the organization called it, for the better part of an hour. He'd sent word to Clarissa that he was waiting outside, but nothing. He sighed, thinking back to his relationship with her. She'd taught him a valuable lesson. No matter how desperate for a date, there's always time for a mental health background check.
Finally the heavy door swung open, and Clarissa stepped out. She looked at Jimmy with an expression that was difficult to describe. It was somewhat similar to how a princess might look at the royal gardener.
"Hello, James," she said with full 'noblesse oblige' offhandedness.
"Hey, Clarissa," Jimmy responded, and took little note of the robe attire. She had been chained to trees and bulldozers before, so this was actually …sedate. "I hear you got…religion."
Clarissa laughed…well, made the attempt. "No, James, I've reached enlightenment." She paused a moment in her rehearsed diatribe. "You could be one of us, you know," she said, and stepped closer. Jimmy hoped his flesh crawled quietly.
"Well, I…I don't know, Clarissa. I don't usually wear robes … maybe if your cul — group had leather jackets…"
"James," she said, and placed her hands on his chest. "You have always been close to the Angel."
"The angel? Oh, S..S..Superman?" He drew his head back until the brick wall stopped it.
"That's his secular name, James."
Jimmy, desperate to create breathable space between them, grabbed Clarissa's shoulders and held her out at arm's length.
"You're right, I guess there is something kind of special about Su — the angel. I wonder why I never noticed before."
"Exactly! Oh, I *knew* you would understand." Clarissa began backing with him towards the large door, which seemed to open of its own volition, or had an eye-trip beam like grocery stores. Either way, Jimmy passed through on his way to…enlightenment.
As his eyes adjusted to the dim light inside the temple, Jimmy looked around cautiously. The interior was perhaps the size of a large living room, he estimated. A large picture of Superman was hung at the far end, and smaller pictures were on the other walls. Banks of candles, some lit, others dark, stood in front of the smaller shrines. They and the larger spotlight shining on the large picture were the only illumination.
"That is Jeremi-El, the great Angel's relative and spokesman," Clarissa hissed into his ear. "Come listen to what he has to say, and I'll introduce you to him after service."
She pulled him over to an empty spot next to the others, then sat cross-legged on the floor. Suddenly unsure of himself, Jimmy followed her example.
Back at the Planet Lois and Clark were working on their respective assignments while they waited for Jimmy to return.
"Any luck, sweetheart?" Clark asked as he joined Lois at her desk.
"Not as much as I'd like." Lois looked up dejectedly from the computer screen. "I've confirmed Maggie's information that this cult seems to have started right after Superman made his appearance at the UN, though. In fact, some of Superman's so-called sacred teachings appear to come straight from that manifesto y — , I mean, he delivered."
"Sheesh, I thought I burned all the copies of that."
Lois sighed. "Well, their leader was able to get his hands on it somehow. It's pretty dry stuff," she smirked. "Good thing the Merriwether Committee didn't know it was yours, they might have withdrawn our nomination."
Clark chuckled in response. "So have you been able to find out anything?" Lois continued.
"Just some basic background information on Jeremi-El." Clark's mouth twisted with distaste as he said the name. "His real name is Jeremiah Phillips and he's **not** from Krypton … unless some of the New Kryptonians settled in St. Paul, Minnesota."
Lois laughed. "Anything else?"
"Well, nothing really illegal in his background," Clark replied as he returned to his desk and scanned his computer screen. "But he's apparently been involved in fringe groups like this for years."
"Really, like what?" Lois left her desk and perched on the corner of Clark's.
Clark nodded. "In 1965 he called himself Raj Jeremiah and started something called the 'Far Eastern Institute for Inner Peace', in St. Paul. That closed around 1973 or so and the next time he resurfaced is the late 70's as Jeremy Phillips, the founder and chief spokesperson for PITS — -"
"Positive Interrelation for Total Success. It was one of those self-help movements," Clark explained. "It was sort of big in the Midwest, but interest in it petered out in the mid-80's and after that Jeremiah left the Midwest and headed for…"
"Let me guess," Lois interrupted, "California."
"That's right, how did you know?"
"It's the perfect place for a flake like him. So what was he this time? Some sort of New Age guru?"
Clark grinned. "You're two for two honey. He was *Brother *Jeremiah, leader of the Temple of Enlightenment and Holistic Healing, specializing in meditation, healing crystals, and aromatherapy. Apparently he had lots of happy followers."
"So why did he leave the West Coast?"
"Well, about two years ago he was arrested for 'misappropriating' funds from his members. But for some reason none of his alleged victims were willing to testify against him so the charges were dropped."
"And after that he turned up here?"
Clark nodded. "And he's apparently been clean ever since."
"If you can call what he's doing now a legitimate activity," Lois added.
Clark pushed back from his computer, stood up and combed his fingers through his hair. "Unfortunately I haven't been able to come up with *why* he's decided to focus in on Superman. What he might have to gain out of all this."
Lois moved closer to Clark and wrapped a comforting arm around his waist. "And that's got you worried, doesn't it?"
"Does it ever. I don't know which is worse — someone like Edge who wants to destroy Superman or these people."
Jimmy was glad when the service was over. He hated long speeches. Clarissa grabbed his arm and pulled him to the front to meet their leader.
"Hello and welcome," the man said. "Have you come to join us in the enlightenment?"
"Ah… ah… yes," Jimmy stuttered, barely able to think.
"Listen. Another one of our brothers have come to join us," the speaker announced to the group.
"Welcome, brother," the congregation chimed in chorus.
"Now we shall start the initiation ceremony," the leader said.
Lois shifted in her chair for the tenth time in as many minutes. Clark glanced at her with concern and reached out a hand to caress her cheek. "Are you okay, honey?"
Lois leaned into his hand, then turned her head to gently kiss his palm. "I'm fine, sweetheart, but these kids of yours are turning somersaults."
Clark glanced down and saw the cloth of Lois' blouse rippling. He placed a hand on the cloth and grinned as he felt his children moving. "Lively, aren't they?"
Lois scowled. "That may be funny to you, buster, but you're not the one getting bruised ribs."
Clark was immediately contrite. "Honey, you know I would take your place if I could."
Lois' heart melted at the look in his eyes, and she covered his hand with hers. "I know you would, but it's okay. I'm just tired. I like feeling them move."
Clark looked a bit doubtful. "Are you sure? I mean, they don't kick harder than normal babies, do they?"
Lois laughed. "How would I know? As far as I'm concerned they *are* normal babies. You were a normal baby, weren't you?"
Clark frowned again. "Well, that's what my mom says, but would she really know?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Clark! I trust your mom and besides, you weren't the only baby she ever was around, right?"
Clark relaxed a bit. "You're right, but I can't wait for this to be over. You know I can't help worrying about you. I love you."
Lois smiled. "I know," she said softly and pulled him down for a kiss, just as the phone rang.
Clark reached for the phone, but Lois placed her hand over his and tipped her head toward her nameplate. He grinned and bowed, handing the receiver to Lois.
"City desk, Lois Lane. Can you speak up, I can barely… oh, Jimmy… where? Okay, we'll be waiting," she said and hung up the phone. "It was Jimmy."
Clark smiled. "I gathered that. He got something?"
Lois extended an arm to Clark. It was now their signal for help-me-get-out-of-this-chair. He helped his wife up and handed her purse to her. "And we're meeting him where?" he asked as they headed for the elevator.
"A cute place on Hyperion…you're driving."
Jimmy made his way to the large door, but found Jeremi-El blocking his path.
"Who were you phoning, brother James?"
"I… well… phoning?" Jimmy swallowed audibly. He'd thought no one was a worse liar than CK until that very moment.
"Yes, brother. I saw you with a cell phone."
"Oh, right, yeah. Well… (lie!) … I called… (geez!) … the Planet." He was now worse than Homer Simpson.
"Ah, yes, the Daily Planet. I believe Clarissa mentioned you before and that you worked there."
Jimmy nodded. "I had to call in and let them know I was on my way back," he said, and decided false bravado would do for him what lying obviously could not. He stepped past Jeremi-El. "They're expecting me. I'll be back for the next meeting. Wouldn't want to miss … robe-giving day…" he said, and then hurried out the door.
Jimmy ran up the alley. Seeing traffic and passersby was reassuring. Locked in the AOK hallowed hall of Superman purity had made him feel isolated from the real world. Well, as real as Metropolis tended to get.
He had just about reached the corner when everything went black. Painfully so.
As the jeep pulled into their parking spot outside the townhouse, Lois scanned the street for Jimmy.
"How long could it take him to get here," she groused as Clark came around to her side of the vehicle, opened her door and gently helped her out onto the sidewalk.
Clark used his super-vision to scan places she couldn't. "I don't see him either, honey. Maybe he got caught in a traffic jam. Let's give him a little longer before we panic, hmm?"
When they got inside, Clark made Lois sit down on the sofa, then went into the kitchen to find her a beverage. He had always loved doing little things for her, but it seemed that he was enjoying it more now that she was carrying his children, if that was possible. He thought back to the green reporter who had arrived in Metropolis five years ago with a dream of a normal life in his heart. And Lois had helped him achieve all of that — a career, a wife, and now a family.
A few minutes later the phone rang and Clark got up to answer it. "Hello."
"Ouww…" Jimmy moaned, slowly opening his eyes. "What happened?" he asked the dark empty room. "Or where am I?" he added, reaching down for his cell phone and realizing it wasn't there.
"With friends," a female voice replied.
"Clarissa?" Jimmy said in surprise.
"That's right, James," Clarissa's voice said soothingly. "We wanted to stop you from making a serious mistake."
"Oh, geez. Look, Clarissa, you don't understand. I've got to get back to the Planet … my job …"
"Is really unimportant, James. All that matters is the AOK. We all understand that, and soon you will too."
"Come on, Clarissa! You used to think Superman was a … a tool of the corporate power structure, and was causing the destruction of the ozone layer."
Clarissa shrugged. "I was misguided then. But then I found Jeremi-El and he showed me the way. He can do the same for you."
"I was skeptical at first, too, but it just takes a little time. Once you're among the faithful all your old concepts will fade away and be replaced by inner peace and joy in the righteousness of the AOK."
"Don't worry, James. Everything will be just fine."
"Look, Jeremiah, I'm not so sure bringing that kid back here was a good idea."
Jeremiah looked up from his desk and coolly regarded the tall willowy blonde wearing a tight formfitting jumpsuit instead of the loose robes of the cult members. "Gloria, you worry too much. We've got it made. We have hundreds of sucke — I mean followers in this city. Our numbers are growing bigger everyday. It's going just like I planned." He enthusiastically rubbed his hands together.
"Yeah, sure," Gloria replied sarcastically.
"Trust me kid, we are going places this time" Jeremiah said as he rubbed his hand lasciviously up and down Gloria's arm. "Tonight, after your little 'expedition' I'll have the resources to really bring in the faithful. To make this movement a force to be reckoned with in this city and soon the entire nation!"
Gloria rolled her eyes. "But what about the cops?"
"After that little fracas downtown, every cop on duty will be at Centennial Park watching our rally just to make sure there's no trouble. By the time they discover what's happened you'll be safe, and back here at the Temple."
Still worried, Gloria frowned and shook her head. "Okay, so maybe the cops won't be a hassle, but aren't you forgetting something else?"
"How about your so-called Angel of Krypton, Superman?"
"Don't worry babe, I've spent the last year studying that big blue boy scout's psychological makeup." Jeremiah said with a smirk. "Unless I miss my guess this whole thing probably has him so spooked he'll be at the rally too. Keeping an eye on us."
"And if all else fails we've now got an insurance policy in the form of our latest convert."
"You mean that flake Clarissa's ex-boyfriend?"
"Her ex-boyfriend is Jimmy Olsen, a close friend of Superman, my dear."
Jeremiah grinned wolfishly. "Superman would never let anything happen to him, so even if tonight's festivities aren't sufficiently distracting, I still think we have it made in the shade."
Clark frowned into the phone as he listened. "No, Perry. We haven't seen him either. You say you tried his cell phone and it didn't connect? Maybe he forgot to turn it on." He nodded unconsciously as Perry continued. "Okay. We'll give him a little longer, but if he doesn't turn up soon, I'll see if I can get Superman to look for him… Okay. We'll keep you informed."
Lois levered herself off the sofa as he hung up. "I don't like this, Clark. He's in trouble. I know it."
"We don't know that, honey. He's just a little late."
"If he's anywhere near that psycho Clarissa, he's in trouble."
Clark ran his fingers through his hair. "You're probably right," he sighed. "What do you suggest we do?"
"What you told Perry. You go look for him as Superman and I'll…"
"You'll what? Go rushing out and get yourself in trouble too?"
Lois sighed loudly. "Yes, Clark. In my current condition I can always disguise myself as a sidewalk Santa. I just need a bell and a donation kettle…oh, and if you can spin the Earth around to December, that would help a lot."
Clark laughed. "Okay, okay, I was a little…"
Clark nodded. "But I got that way through experience."
Lois softened and stroked his cheek. "I know. You go do that 'hover around the building and x-ray' thing, and I'm going to do some background checks on that handful of followers who were locked up."
"Good plan," Clark said, gave Lois a quick kiss and vanished through the double window.
Lois shook her head as she opened her case and took out her notes. "He's still got it," she said and began scanning the names on the list.
Jimmy rubbed the back of his neck. He was living a nightmare he had suffered shortly after breaking up with Clarissa. Being locked in Purgatory with her waiting to be judged and not caring if he was sent to Heaven or Hell, just so long as Clarissa was going in the opposite direction. But she was his only hope of getting out, so he had to try something.
Jimmy took a deep breath and bracing himself against all repulsion impulses, looked at Clarissa adoringly. "You know, I think this AOK thing has … matured you, Clarissa. You could easily get into the Ace o' Clubs without being carded now."
Clarissa snapped out of her beatific gaze. "You think so? It's not just my new lip gloss?"
"No, not at all. In fact," he said as he nuzzled her neck, "you're r…r… really getting to me."
Clarissa nuzzled back. "Well, I guess I never really got over you, Ja…Jimmy. You always had that handsome jaw line."
Jimmy worked his jaw back and forth and temporarily got lost in the moment. "Some say my jaw is a lot like Superman's."
Clarissa giggled and caressed his cheek. "I… wow… could you be related to him?"
Jimmy fought the urge to bolt. "Uh… not a chance…" How had they gotten on *this* conversational path? He tried to remember his primary mission as an investigative reporter. "Er, Clarissa, sweetheart…" He managed not to gag at the endearment. "Tell me more about Jeremi-El. He seems like such a *fascinating* person…"
Superman, in the sky over Metropolis, was carefully scanning the city for the cult headquarters. If Lois' instincts were right and Jimmy *was* in trouble, he was willing to bet these wackos were behind it. He was thinking of so many questions to ask this Jeremi-El that he almost missed hearing the voices below him. As soon as they registered, he doubled back and located the building. Hovering quietly above it, he listened more intently.
After looking over some over her notes, Lois decided to head over to the police station to see if they had any more information.
As she walked in the station she saw Inspector Henderson and Captain Maggie Sawyer discussing something about the cult members who were in the holding cell.
Lois waddled over to the two police officers.
"For once I'm actually glad to see you, Lane," Henderson said with a smirk.
Lois rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Well, will wonders never cease."
"We've been trying to reach you or Kent at the Planet for over an hour," Maggie interjected.
"Oh, really? Why?"
"One of our guests down in the holding cell has decided to sing, but only if you are there."
Lois raised one eyebrow. "Then we'd better take him up on the offer, before he loses his voice."
"So exactly what is it you want to tell us, Mr…?"
"John. They call me Brother John-El back at the Temple."
"All right, then. What is it you want to talk about, John-El?"
The huge man fidgeted in his chair and stared in silence at Lois for a few minutes.
"Hello, is anyone home?" Lois said with exasperation as she waved her hand in front of his face.
"Oh I'm sorry. I just never expected to be so close to someone so close to the great one, the AOK. It's such an honor," he said sincerely and bowed his head.
Lois eyed the man carefully. "Well, that's right. I am close to him. So close in fact that I know that he would *want* you to talk to me. So why don't you tell me what's on your mind."
John-El squirmed in his seat and eyed the interested onlookers. "Do they have to be here?"
Lois glanced at Henderson, who nodded. "I'm afraid so. You are in jail, you know."
John-El looked down at his hands and sighed heavily. "Yeah. I guess I am." After a moment he brightened. "Does that make me a martyr?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "If you want to be. Now what did you want to tell me?"
He leaned forward and whispered, "Tell the AOK that his day is at hand."
Lois blinked. "The AOK?"
"You know. Superman."
"Oh, right. His day?"
He leaned even closer. "Soon he will take his place as leader of the world. Only he has the wisdom and the power to overthrow the corruption that infests our planet. Tell him that his followers are gathering." He sat back apparently satisfied with this pronouncement while Lois gaped at him.
After a moment Lois gathered her scattered wits. "Um, and just where did you get this information…and where is this gathering going to take place?"
John-El straightened up. "That is all I am prepared to say. I am ready for my martyrdom." He turned his attention to Henderson. "You may start now."
"Okay," Henderson shrugged. "Martyrdom here means you get to scrub the toilets in the drunk tank," he said and helped the cuffed "martyr" to rise. "I'll see if I can find a toothbrush."
Lois stepped out of the holding cell into the room where Maggie had been listening. "Okay, spill," she said flatly. "I couldn't catch everything he said."
Lois shook her head. "I don't think catching it helps. He said they're preparing a big rally. Didn't say where or when."
Maggie tapped a pencil against her cheek. "Maybe it does," she said and walked to a map mounted on the rear wall. "You can't hold any kind of gathering in a public place in Metropolis…well, not of significant size, without a permit from the city."
"Let's face it," Lois sighed. "One reason some of them are in jail is because the law didn't mean much to them."
"True, Lane," Maggie acknowledged. "But kooks and cults learn from their mistakes. We got a request for a permit for a huge rally to be held in Centennial Park. They wanted the Metro Dome, but objected to the rental price."
"Tonight. Ten o'clock. Estimated run time on the permit …" Maggie said, as she glanced at her notes," … three hours."
Lois tapped Maggie's arm. "Thanks, I've got to run."
Maggie put a restraining arm on her shoulder. "You're not going to try anything… crazy, are you, Lane?"
"Geez," Lois moaned as she fished out her car keys. "First the whole world knows I love chocolate and now this."
Superman reclined on the roof of the AOK temple, chin resting on the palm of his hand as he x-rayed down into the basement. Watching Jimmy and Clarissa, he'd occasionally burst into laughter, disturbing the pigeons sharing the rooftop with him. He knew he should just bust in and rescue Jimmy, but he felt his young friend needed to fully experience the pitfalls of investigative reporting a bit longer.
Jimmy had moved, via strong gluteus muscles, to the far end of the basement, but Clarissa, on hands and knees, had pursued him and was back in his face.
"Clarissa, this is real exciting, but I'd rather know about Jeremi-El…not that the story you told about your Barbie and Ken fantasy thing wasn't …er…interesting."
Clarissa crumpled, dejected. "Okay, he's our leader, he knows the way, the truth, and…we're having a big rally tonight in Centennial Park."
"Oh, well, see, that's really interesting, and Jeremi-El will be there…doing what, exactly?"
"Preaching the gospel of AOK, inviting others from all over the country to join us, and starting the weenie roast."
"Cool," Jimmy smiled. "When's the rally? I'd hate to miss hot dogs…and the gospel."
"It's at ten tonight, so we still have an hour to ourselves," she said, rubbing her nose against Jimmy's.
That was all. "Help! Superman!"
Clark sighed. "Show time," he said, and flew down to the street level, ripped the heavy door from its hinges, and broke through the trapdoor to the basement. He resisted the urge to say, "Ta-da!" and simply stood there, Superman-ish, with his arms folded.
"Thank God," Jimmy whispered.
"Now you're catching on, Jimmy," Clarissa said, her starstruck eyes riveted on The Angel.
Superman offered his hand to Jimmy and helped him up. "Are you okay, Jimmy?"
"Give me a few days to answer that one, Superman."
Superman grabbed Clarissa and Jimmy and floated them up through the basement floor. Lois was standing there waiting.
"Love what you've done to the place, Superman," she said, noticing the broken doors.
"Thank you, Lois," he said, again having to tug his cape away from Clarissa.
"There's a big rally of the faithful starting in Centennial Park in about an hour," Lois said.
Jimmy's 'Supermanly' jaw dropped open. "You already know? I went though all of *that* for nothing?"
"What's *that* supposed to mean?" Clarissa asked angrily, and kicked Jimmy in the shin.
"Hey, hey," Superman said, pulling them apart. "Thanks, Lois…*and* Jimmy. I'll take a look, but…"
"You have a feeling it might be a cover for something else."
"Exactly," Superman nodded.
"Wow," Jimmy whispered and rubbed his shin. "You're as good at that with Lois as CK is, Superman."
"As good at what, Jimmy?" Lois asked, trying to sound casual.
"That 'finish each other's thoughts' thing."
Superman patted Jimmy's back. "I have an advantage over Clark. Didn't you know Kryptonians have psychic abilities?"
"Oh..oh, yeah," Jimmy nodded.
Superman winked at Lois. "Gotta fly."
"I think we better get you to a doctor, Jimmy."
"No, I'm okay," he said. "I just decided I'll stay a photographer. This investigative reporting stuff is too painful."
Lois put an arm around him to escort him out. Clarissa followed behind contritely.
"Okay," Clark said, having changed into his regular clothes and re-entered the Planet. The city room was dark and the night staff was on the other floor preparing the morning edition. "Let's see what's in Metropolis tonight that won't be here any other time." He booted his computer and waited.
Centennial Park was teeming with white-robed fanatics chanting their mantra. Lois and Jimmy stood to the back as Clarissa began to sway with the other.
Lois shook her head. "They look like a field of ragweed on a windy day."
Jimmy sighed. "I never got a robe. Probably won't get a hot dog either."
Lois smiled and was about to respond, when Jeremi-El, the great leader himself, took his place on the base of the commemorative statue. Flashlights were held aloft like candles, since the permit expressly forbid candles.
"Followers!" he said, his arms outstretched. "We are here, from all over Metropolis, and perhaps soon from all over the world, this planet, our home Mother Earth, to celebrate …" he paused for effect, "The Angel of Krypton!"
The mass of terry cloth-clad humanity let out a deafening cheer.
The van turned off the main freeway and onto the access road, then took the little used Lethe extension. It lumbered along until a large branch seemed to fall from nowhere directly in its path. The van swerved, and though the wheels were spinning, there was no forward momentum.
The woman behind the wheel shut off the engine and sighed. Taking a flashlight from the dashboard, she got out and swept the light towards the branch. It seemed she had clearly missed it. She then crouched down and swept the light beneath the van.
She straightened immediately and began to run when she caught sight of two red boots. Like the van, she found her forward monentum halted as a gust of wind passed her ear and solidified in front of her as Superman.
"Car trouble?" he asked flatly.
"Uh … yes," the woman replied. "I was running for help."
"Well, since I'm here," Superman said, and began escorting the woman back towards the van, "maybe I can find the trouble."
The woman resisted. "That's okay, Superman. I'm sure you've got more important things to do."
"Nope, not at the moment, though I do have an appointment at ten."
The woman swallowed. "Ten o'clock?"
"Mm hm." He nodded and opened the back of the van. "You know some people load down the backs of these things with too much weight."
The woman folded her arms as Superman extracted a tray of uncut diamonds. "This isn't my van."
"Really?" Superman asked and glanced at her attire. "Well, technically, since the words 'Hilton Hotel' are still visible, I'd say it isn't your robe either."
"Very funny," she sneered. "What tipped you off?"
"Apparently there's someone in Gotham City who keeps a close watch on crime, and since the Gotham Jewelers truck was found abandoned and its driver unconscious …"
"But how did you link it to me?"
Superman smiled. "Let's just say a little bat told me."
Lois plugged her ears as another deafening cheer erupted. Jimmy reached into the jeep behind them, fetched out his camera and began to take pictures. The flash did not go unnoticed by Jeremi-El. He saw Jimmy, a young man he could have sworn he'd left trapped in the basement.
"Followers," Jeremi-El continued, as he kept his eyes on Jimmy. "It seems we have some non-believers among us tonight."
Lois looked around. "Don't bother," Jimmy whispered. "I think he means us."
The crowd, as if of one mind, turned and faced Jimmy and Lois.
"I think you're right, Jimmy. No hot dogs for either of us."
Jimmy stepped protectively in front of Lois as the crowd moved forward. He swallowed. "Isn't this usually where Superman swoops in and saves you?" he whispered over his shoulder.
Lois looked skyward. A robed figure floated above the crowd. "Yeah," she whispered back. "But he can get kind of theatrical sometimes."
"He's here!" Clarissa squealed and pointed to the robed figure. "He's one of us!"
The crowd looked up and then fell to their knees in unison and began to chant again.
"Oh, brother," Lois said. "This is worse than a Braves game."
Superman alit atop the statue and removed the robe. "I borrowed this from a follower named Glori-El who is now in police custody," he said, and let the robe fall from his hand. "It seems she couldn't attend the rally this evening since she was robbing a shipment of uncut diamonds en route to Gotham City."
Lois smiled in admiration. "Not bad. We may get those hotdogs after all."
"Going somewhere, Cousin Jeremi-El?" Superman asked, as the cult leader began to book. Superman flew down just in time for Jeremiah to run into him. The fearless leader of the faithful fell into the picnic table, knocking the contents to the ground. He lay dazed momentarily among the weenies and buns.
Superman helped Jeremiah up by the scruff of his robe. "You'll be happy to know that the Metropolis prison has a nice chapel."
A confused member of the flock stepped forward. "Are you saying this was just a front for a … a heist!"
Superman nodded. "I'm afraid so."
"I know most of you are disappointed," he said as many of the followers turned their righteous wrath towards Jeremiah and began pitching their flashlights at him.
Superman stood in front of the former cult leader. "I'm not a god or an angel," he said, "I'm just someone who wants to help," and handed the fallen leader over to a couple of police officers sent to the park for crowd control. Jeremiah seemed grateful to be under guarded escort.
Superman drifted upward. "If you really want to follow Superman, then help others."
Lois smiled. It was speech time, but she didn't mind. She sort of loved that.
"Your robes would be appreciated at the homeless shelters in Metropolis, and that temple would make a nice recreation facility for kids who have no other place to go."
"You can put the robes next to my jeep," Lois offered. "My husband and I can deliver them to the shelters."
The crowd, though still downhearted, began to form a line, looking rather like moles who had finally come into the daylight. They passed by the jeep one by one placing their robes on the ground beside it.
Most of them kept moving on, leaving the park, the cult, and a little bit of humility behind. Others, though, took the time to shake Superman's hand and thank him for waking them from a trance they felt somewhat ashamed they'd let themselves fall into.
As the crowd thinned out, Superman approached Jimmy and Lois, his hands behind his back. "Thanks for volunteering your help, Lois."
She smiled. "Any time, Superman."
Superman brought his hands from behind his back. "Here's a couple of hot dogs I was able to keep from hitting the ground."
Jimmy grabbed one eagerly. "Man, you *are* psychic."
"Jimmy, would you mind driving my jeep back?" Lois asked, handing him the keys. "I'm going to get a …follow up story from Superman, and then have him fly me home."
"Sure thing, Lois," Jimmy said. "Oh, if CK is there when I return your jeep, you want me to tell him you'll be home soon?"
Lois smiled crookedly. "Sure, Jimmy. If Clark's home, by all means, tell him."
"No, problem," Jimmy replied as he closed the door. Lois and Clark watched as he drove away.
"You know," Clark said, "I could fly home real quick, and take your message from Jimmy."
"Cute," she smiled and then looked around. "Everyone gone?"
Clark nodded. "They've all drifted off. I overheard talk about going to a bar and…washing their sins away."
Lois laughed and hooked her arm into his. "That was a nice speech you gave."
"Thanks," he said as they strolled, but his voice sounded distracted.
Lois swallowed a bite of her hot dog. "I guess this was all kind of scary?"
"Huh? Oh, a little, but it made me think of what Wells said about our descendants."
"That they'd form Utopia."
"Yeah," Clark said, and then turned to face Lois. "You don't think it would be anything like this, do you? I mean worshippers, and statues, and…"
"No," Lois laughed. "Your mom raised you right, and we'll raise our kids right. If any of them comes home wanting to be a god or rule the world, they'll have such a spanking coming."
Clark grinned. "Right. You'll tan their hides like cheap leather."
"What?" Lois said, and finished off her hot dog.
Clark just laughed. "Never mind, honey. Still hungry?" he asked as Lois licked some mustard from her fingers.
She nodded. "How'd you guess?"
"I'm psychic," he smiled. "Plus I could really go for a large pepperoni pizza."
She smiled up at him, and drew her finger lightly across his mouth and down his chin. "'Desires of the flesh.' Could I tempt you with anything else?"
"Oh, yeah." He smiled back at her. "You know me, Lois. I'm no angel."
Lois and Clark laughed as they disappeared arm-in-arm into the darkness.