By Shayne Terry <email@example.com>
Submitted: December 2000
Summary: As the son of Lois and Clark faces a dark future, he struggles to become a new kind of hero. In the meantime, he finds a mysterious woman and discovers they have more in common than he ever could have dreamed.
Author's Note: I'd like to thank a number of people. First, I'd like to thank some of the best beta readers in the business. Wendy Richards, Dr. Klein's Labrat, Ann McBride and Jo March gave their unflagging support, and they were quick to provide feedback, although it wasn't always convenient.
I'd also like to thank Laurie for her work as an editor after the story was done.
Besides her work as a beta reader, Jo March was there from the beginning, through the brainstorming sessions which eventually evolved into this story.
I'd like to thank Sheila Harper for her help during a moment of bad writers block.
Finally I'd like to thank the readers at Zoom's Message Boards. Their feedback influenced the stories in ways both subtle and obvious. Their support kept me motivated, and their comments were both eloquent and enthusiastic. No one could ask for a better group of beta readers.
Rights to all recognizable characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers, and no infringement is intended by their use in this story. Other characters are mine.
The men sitting around the table weren't the sort of people Calvin Kent would ever consider spending time with. Drug dealers and leaders of organized crime, they were wealthy and ruthless men. They had no concept of the value of human life, and if Calvin hadn't been what he was, he might have been afraid.
It had taken him almost two weeks to create his current identity, one he was using specifically for this game. The stakes were high; the smallest chip on the table was worth ten thousand dollars American.
The men sitting around the table were paranoid; they'd kill a man they even suspected of cheating. They'd all taken steps to guard against any tricks.
They hadn't anticipated x-ray vision. It was almost absurdly easy to cheat, though Calvin was careful not to win too often. He'd seen meetings like these erupt into violence all too frequently, and he couldn't afford to be shot. Even in disguise, he had too strong a resemblance to his father, and it would be hard to fake an injury.
The pile of chips in front of Calvin was slowly growing. He'd accumulated quite a sum already; he wondered if he should go ahead and quit while he was ahead. It wasn't as though he actually needed the money; he just enjoyed the thrill of the game. The risk of discovery brought with it a curious feeling of excitement, one that was hard to duplicate anywhere else.
"It's your turn, Mr. Jones."
Calvin looked up. Silently he threw five of the small ten thousand-dollar chips onto the pile in the middle of the table. The others followed suit. No one spoke, and that was fine with Calvin. He could hear some of the men's hearts racing. They were about to be disappointed.
The fat man at the end of the table grinned. "I'll raise you." He slid five of the hundred thousand-dollar chips out into the center of the table. Luis Mendovar was a crime lord who wasn't used to losing.
He seemed very confident considering his hand. Calvin checked again and froze. The man had two aces more than he should have had. No one else had any extra cards, and four aces would be hard to beat.
His choices were simple. He could sit this one out, or he could meet the ante and try to cheat somehow.
Three of the other five players chose not to continue. Calvin pushed most of his pile into the center of the table. It had taken much of the night to work his way up to a half million dollars without raising suspicions. He had started with a smaller stake than most of the others, and so it had taken longer to accumulate.
He glanced up at the camera overhead, then down at his cards. He asked for two cards, and as the fat man handed them over, Calvin switched them with two others with a combination of sleight of hand and superhuman speed. He had made sure that the action was obscured from the camera above, and none of the players would have been quick enough to notice the exchange.
As he took the cards, he glanced up at the cocktail waitress who was serving drinks to several of the men. She was staring at his hands with a startled expression. If he hadn't known better, he'd have thought she caught the switch, which was impossible. The human eye was incapable of seeing things that moved at that speed.
The first player laid out his cards, then grimaced as the fat man came out with four aces. Calvin grinned.
"It's been fun, boys."
Slowly he laid out each card of the royal flush in his hand.
The table erupted into pandemonium. The fat man's face had contorted with rage, and the others were shouting in various languages. It took several minutes for security to review the tapes and to conclude that no cheating had taken place.
Calvin grinned and flipped a ten thousand dollar chip at the waitress. She caught it in mid-air and continued to stare at him when she thought he wasn't looking.
While the casino staff gathered his chips, he took a closer look at the waitress. She was more attractive than he had thought at first glance. Though she was as tall and slender as most of the women he dated, her face lacked the surgical perfection to which he was accustomed. Her lips were just a little too large and lush, and her nose was a little too pert and elfin. In spite of that, she was an attractive woman, and if he'd had more time, he might have started up a conversation with her.
As it was, he could hear the fat man speaking into his cell phone in rapid Portuguese. There would be people waiting for him outside the casino; it wasn't safe to be wandering the streets of Columbia with large sums of cash.
The casino staff didn't even try to convince him to transfer the balance onto his cash card. Most of the people he was playing with were regulars, and they all insisted on working with cash. While electronic currency was growing more popular every day, it made it far too easy for government agencies to track the movements of individuals and groups. As always, criminals preferred cash.
The casino was kind enough to give him a nice leather rucksack. Contrary to popular belief, almost three million dollars in cash would not fit into a briefcase.
They filled the case in a back room and he watched carefully through the wall. They were scrupulous in counting out the money; their clientele was far too violent to cheat. He was taken to a side door was asked to sign a reciept. After this point, the money was no longer the casino's responsibility.
Calvin checked the front and back doors and wasn't surprised to see a large group of armed men waiting by each.
He stepped onto an elevator, which he rode to the top floor. He used an electronic passkey that he had stolen earlier to slip through the door to the roof. Surveillance cameras were sparser here, and he had been careful to make sure that there was a blind spot in the system.
After checking to make sure they had not yet repaired the camera in question, he pulled a set of rappelling equipment from one of the large air vents. Checking the street below, he attached the gear quickly and rappelled down the side of the building.
As he reached the bottom, he could hear the sound of the door opening above. He detached the hooks and began running down the street even as they began firing their weapons. Two bullets hit him, but he ignored them. At this distance, and in the dark of night, none of them would know whether they hit him or not, at least not without equipment they did not have.
Calvin reached a side street and turned the corner quickly. He ran, conscious that he was on camera for anyone who wished to look. Finally, he turned a last corner that he had checked earlier, stumbling into an alleyway he knew wasn't under surveillance.
He pulled a manhole lid open and wrinkled his nose at the stench coming from below. Just as the group of goons rounded the corner, he shot straight up into the air at superhuman speed.
They'd have fits looking for him in the sewers, and they'd never look for another explanation.
He grinned and turned to head for home, and almost ran into the figure behind him.
"I hope you're proud of yourself." Superman was as imposing as always, and the expression on his face was stern. Calvin sighed. His father could be sanctimonious at the best of times; when he saw what he thought was a misuse of power, he was even worse.
"This isn't really the place to discuss this." Calvin glanced down at the men below. None of them had looked up yet, but it was only a matter of time.
He was careful to fly below the sound barrier; he didn't want any tell tale sonic boom to give him away.
Superman trailed him.
When they were at last over the open forest, Calvin finally stopped. "What do you want me to say?"
He refused to look his father in the eyes. While he could argue with Clark Kent, it was harder to do when he was wearing the suit.
"Your mother and I taught you better than this." Calvin's father's face was in shadows as he floated with his back to the moon. "How long can you keep this up before you get caught?"
"You haven't been caught in almost thirty years. What makes you think I'll do any worse?" He stared at his father defiantly. "I'm not the one dodging street cameras every day in the middle of Metropolis. There's less surveillance out here; it's easier to be who I want to be."
"You take a lot of risks." His father was silent for several moments. "If any of these people find out who you are…who I am…It's not either of us who will suffer. It's your mother. Not everyone is as hard to kill as we are."
Calvin almost snarled. His father could be trusted to bring that up every single argument. The same old pain and guilt rose within him. He should have made peace with it a long time ago, but he hadn't.
"I've kept innocents out of my business for years. I learned my lesson a long time ago; why do you and mother insist on bringing it up over and over again?" Calvin clenched a fist. "You never stop pushing me."
"We were trying to teach you responsibility." Calvin's father shook his head. "We'd have pushed you whether you had the sort of powers I have or not. Everybody has something to contribute."
"I won't deny that." Calvin bridled. "Several of my identities are considered great philanthropists. I donate great deals of money to worthy causes."
"You've got more to contribute than a few dollars."
"What do you want me to do? Slip into some blue spandex and play hero? That's not me; it never was. No matter how hard you try, you'll never fit me into that mold."
"Call me Calvin!" Calvin scowled.. "My name is just another example of what you and mother had planned for me even before I was born. Not only do I share your initials…you even named me after yourself! Anyone who asked you or mother would think you were naming me after your good friend Superman." Calvin shook his head in disgust. "Kal…People have been naming their children that for the last ten years. It's been one of the top ten baby names for the last five."
His father had the grace to look embarrassed. "I had no part in that. I've never been comfortable with the baggage that comes with what I do."
"Neither have I! I've lived my whole life in the shadow of Superman. Why can't you and mother accept that I need to live on my own terms?"
"The world needs you. I'm not going to be around forever."
Calvin snickered. "Have you looked in the mirror lately? You don't look a day over forty. Why do you think mother was so anxious to be included in the new anti-aging drug study?"
Calvin tried to ignore the flash of pain he saw in his father's eyes. Although an enemy had shortened Clark Kent's lifespan a quarter century earlier, it was becoming apparent that he would outlive Calvin's mother by decades. He didn't want to talk about it any more than Calvin did.
Even with the best aging drugs available, it was likely that Clark Kent would outlive his wife. Calvin's situation was even worse; without the damage his father had suffered, Calvin could easily live into his third century.
Calvin knew that he would never spend his lifetime with anyone. The best he'd manage would be to spend her lifetime together and then go on alone. It was easier just having casual relationships. Sometimes he thought the grief he saw hidden in his father's eyes was the most painful thing of all.
"The issue isn't how long I'll live. I could be killed tomorrow by someone with an undiscovered piece of Kryptonite. The New Kryptonians could return. Nobody lives forever, and the world doesn't even promise us today."
Calvin sighed and said, "We argue about this every time we meet. Let's agree to take it up again later. Was there something else you wanted?"
His father relaxed, leaving the image of Superman behind for a moment to become a more human Clark Kent. "Your mother wanted me to invite you to Thanksgiving dinner. You haven't returned any of her net mails."
Calvin said, "I come home every year. I've been busy, but I wouldn't miss that." He hesitated. "I don't think grandpa would have wanted me to miss it."
Calvin had always loved Thanksgiving. It hadn't been the same since his grandparents had passed away, but he refused to let his parents be alone on that one day of the year. There were too many happy memories there. In any case, it would be good to see Aunt Lucy and his cousins again. It felt like everyone had drifted apart since…
His father sighed. "I don't think he'd want you to either."
"I'll bring some of those tropical fruits that Aunt Lucy likes. They've gotten harder to find in recent years, but I know a spot where they grow wild."
His father chuckled. "At least they won't question your being able to afford it."
Calvin grinned. "It's one of the perks of being a best selling writer." Writing was the one area in which Calvin had exceeded his father. Clark Kent had spent the last twenty-five years splitting his time between journalism, being Superman, and having a family. Even with the advantages of needing less sleep, and having superspeed, he'd never been able to complete his "Great American Novel."
"I read your last book. It was great. If I didn't know better, I'd think you had spent time as a South American drug lord." The look on his father's face was ironic, but Calvin couldn't help but feel a rush of pleasure at his father's approval.
"I'd take it off my taxes as a business expense, but I was someone else at the time."
His father straightened up and became Superman. "We can discuss this later. Your mother and I will look forward to seeing you for Thanksgiving."
Calvin nodded, and his father sped off.
Careful to keep below the clouds so the spy satellites wouldn't spot him, Calvin headed home.
It should have been easier.
Anyone who knew them would have thought that Clark Kent and Lois Lane would be perfect parents. Clark's family life as a child had been idyllic. Lois hadn't come from a perfect household, but the years had polished away the rough edges she'd had when she was young.
They should have been the perfect parents, and Calvin should have been a perfect child. His birth had been a difficult one; whatever differences existed between him and a human baby had been hard on his mother's body. Lois and Clark had decided against having another child, and so they had lavished all their love and affection on Calvin.
It should have been a perfect childhood, but it hadn't been. Calvin had inherited his mother's rebellious streak, and his father's stubbornness. He'd refused to accept things on faith; he'd questioned everything and demanded to know more.
It had only gotten worse when he'd become a teenager. When it became apparent that Calvin was going to inherit his father's abilities, his parents had begun to push him even harder. Calvin could understand their reasoning; someone with the power of Superman and the ethics of Lord Nor would be a real danger to the planet. He'd understood their reasoning even then, but something within him wouldn't allow him to go along.
He'd acted out. He probably would have turned to alcohol and drugs just to spite them but his physiology wouldn't allow it. No matter how much he drank, he couldn't feel any effect. He'd turned to taking bigger and bigger risks; bungee jumping, risky driving, sneaking into adult gambling establishments with his friends.
Discovering girls had been a pleasant revelation. He'd inherited his father's good looks, and he'd quickly learned to take advantage of them. He'd never felt desire with the intensity that his friends did, but he had been more than able to perform. It had been fun.
Being caught by his mother with Mary Sue Patterson hadn't been fun; it still embarrassed him after ten years. He'd been more circumspect after that, and it had been a good thing.
Still, his life had been good until he'd turned sixteen. He'd lived a life free of guilt and regret; he hadn't had to look himself in the mirror every morning and see something he didn't want to see. Life had been easier until the accident.
Calvin silently landed in the forest behind his house. He sighed. His father insisted on bringing up the accident every time they got into an argument. It always left him in a grim and morose mood for hours afterward.
He walked quietly towards his house.
Like most new houses these days, it was built well out of sight of any prying eyes. Anyone who could telecommute to work did so; latest estimates were that almost forty percent of the workforce worked from their homes. People were growing dissatisfied with the cities; the ubiquitous street cameras made personal privacy something people were willing to pay for. Some people never left their homes at all.
Calvin knew he was being scanned as he approached his back door. His security system was top of the line; he'd paid cash to have the system put into place. He kept large sums of money on the premises, and he wouldn't have any place to turn if it was stolen. Worse, there was information there on several of his identities that couldn't be discovered online.
"Let me in."
The door clicked and he opened it. The lights were already on in anticipation of his presence. He dropped the knapsack with a sigh.
"Dim the windows."
The windows turned opaque. He crouched and grabbed at a crack in the floor. He grunted slightly as he lifted the slab out of place and set it to the side; while it weighed over a ton, that wasn't a real consideration. It was bulky, and he had to be careful not to leave tell tale scratches on the floor as he set it to one side.
It was low tech, but not something that thieves would think to look for. He kept a couple of safes for appearance's sake, but his real secrets were hidden.
He dropped the bag into the hole he'd left, then quickly replaced the slab. There would be plenty of time to drop some of the money onto the doorsteps of several churches in Mexico; his father probably would have been happy to know that Calvin was taking a more personal approach to charity.
He stepped inside. He knew without looking that the lights were fading in the room he had just left.
"Give me the news"
The eastern wall of his living room lit up into dozens of images; news stories from across the globe. The system knew what sort of stories he was looking for, and catered to his tastes. Financial information flashed by the screen, as did odd stories.
Nothing all that new or interesting. They'd finally gotten the first pair of new mammoths to breed in the Chicago zoo. They'd managed to restore several extinct species already, but this was the first pair to breed. It seemed ironic; bringing a hairy species of elephant into a world that was growing hotter by the day.
They'd brought the dodo back too, as well as other species that had been too stupid to live. People didn't show any sense sometimes. Simply because you had the ability to do something, didn't mean that you should.
Calvin pulled his leather jacket off, scowling at the bullet holes. It had been one of his favorite jackets; he'd bought it in college and it was only now getting that lived in look.
The weather was growing ever more violent. That hadn't been news for years. Even with hybrid cars and the newer fuel cell vehicles, the damage done during the twentieth century was still taking its toll. The world climate had grown several degrees hotter over Calvin's lifetime. There was always news of floods, hurricanes and other assorted disasters. The latest reports suggested that the climate would grow worse before it became better.
He hesitated for a moment, then held the jacket out in front of him. A single blast of heat vision reduced it to ashes. He couldn't afford to leave any sign of what he was lying around, even if it WAS one of his favorite items of clothing.
Calvin's head snapped up, and he scowled.
They were doing another retrospective on the victims of the invasion by New Krypton. It had been 26 years since the occupation of Smallville, and they were still airing the story. The newscasters were always bringing back that sort of retrospective on a slow news day. The occupation of Smallville, and later Metropolis, had been harsher than anyone had been willing to admit in the beginning.
Calvin wished they'd let the story die; no one had heard from the New Kryptonians in his lifetime. It always put Calvin's father in a terrible mood; being reminded of what his native people had done under Lord Nor always pained him greatly. Whatever damage had been done had healed as much as it was likely to by this point. There was no point in looking back on past failures other than to vow not to make the same mistakes again.
Even the manned Mars mission wasn't making much news. The crew was halfway along on a mission that was going to take months. Most of the work on Mars had already been done by automated systems; the astronauts would arrive to find a base already set up for them. The media had quickly gotten tired of the mind numbing dullness of the trip.
Calvin couldn't imagine how much worse it was for the pilots themselves. He found an entire planet confining enough; being trapped in a tiny capsule for months was incomprehensible.
He gestured curtly and the screens went blank. "That's enough. Do I have any messages?"
The computer ran through his messages so quickly that it would have sounded like a squeal to a normal human ear; it was one of the modifications he'd made on his systems to take advantage of his special abilities.
It wasn't like he used them often. The flight and speed were nice, but Calvin rarely had a chance to use most of his other abilities. He grew impatient at times with the limitations of his systems; no matter how much money he spent, and no matter how much tweaking he did, the fact remained that the systems had been designed for human use. Of course, he was more successful with some systems than with others.
He frowned. His agent was demanding that he make another personal appearance. He'd managed to keep his picture from being posted with every book he wrote, but his contract required that he meet with his publisher at least once a year. He could have published his books himself; over half his revenue was from e-books. His publishers had a battery of lawyers available to defend his copyrights, and they still published the occasional paperback.
He sighed. "Go through my black book. Find out who's free tomorrow evening. Not all of them keep everything on a public day planner…I'll make the calls myself."
It took three calls before he found a woman who was available. He'd neglected to keep in touch with many of them; it had been hard to maintain his interest in recent years.
Superficial relationships were beginning to pale for him. It had been pleasant once to lose himself in an endless array of perfect bodies; with his father's looks and his own reputation, he never had to be alone. He'd never had to be physically alone, anyway.
Emotionally, it was a different story. He'd spent his entire life as an outsider looking in. No matter how hard he'd tried,he'd known since he was a child that he was different. It had been easy to make friends, but he'd never felt free to be open with any of them. There was no one outside his family with whom he could share his secret; it wasn't entirely his secret to share.
Calvin sighed as he allowed himself to float down onto his couch. It wasn't just relationships that were starting to pall for him; everything was. The world was getting smaller every day, and he was beginning to feel claustrophobic. He'd spent a lot of his time out of the country; it was taking third world countries longer to fill their streets with cameras. It was coming, though.
It was already getting harder to maintain the computer documentation for his various identities; he'd had to insert a virus into the system to keep his fingerprints from flagging multiple identities. It wasn't as much of a problem in criminal havens like Columbia; they weren't linked into the world net as thoroughly.
Calvin closed his eyes for a moment. For some reason his mind kept coming back to the waitress, the one he'd thought had seen him cheat. He'd reacted to her in a visceral way, one he wasn't used to. He wondered what it had been about her; she certainly wasn't the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.
Perhaps it was the flash of pain he'd seen in her eyes, a pain that was oddly familiar to him. He'd always had an affinity for damaged souls.
He sighed. It wasn't worth worrying about. It would be months before that area would be safe for him to return. She probably would have left by that point.
He wouldn't ever see her again, so there wasn't any point in thinking about her.
He slipped quietly into a deep sleep, and his dreams were strangely erotic.
Calvin loved cars. It wasn't a question of speed or power; Calvin was thousands of times stronger and faster than the best automobile on the road. It certainly wasn't the idea of the car as a status symbol, though Calvin occasionally used that as part of various disguises.
Calvin simply loved the smooth lines of sleek sports cars. He enjoyed pushing the vehicles to their utmost limits and seeing what they could do. Playing with the artificial limits of the machine was more enjoyable than the realization that he couldn't really explore his own limitations. He couldn't ever move at full speed without fearing detection. The world was too full of cameras and satellites for him to ever feel free. It was also a form of catharsis. He'd made a mistake ten years before; one he'd pay for in regret for the rest of his life. Finding the limits of the machine was a way of ensuring that it never happened again.
Of course, he was always cautious when he had passengers. There wasn't any reason to tempt destiny more than once.
He pulled into the long circular driveway. His publisher was a wealthy man; he owned a mansion. Calvin was wealthy in his own right, but he preferred a smaller, cozier house. He lived alone and didn't really need very much room. Cars filled the driveway, and by this point, it would be a long walk to reach the entrance.
The map being projected on the windshield blinked out. Calvin glanced over at his date. Jilly Winters wasn't his ideal woman by a long shot. Her face and body had the surgical perfection demanded by her social class, but she didn't have much to offer in the way of personality.
She was already angry about being late, and Calvin was wearily certain that she'd keep complaining until they reached the safety of the crowd.
"You could have driven a little faster! They don't keep roadside radar units around here! Now we're going to have to walk through the grass."
"These roads curve a lot, and the trees and hills don't make for good visibility." Calvin spoke mildly. "Besides, it's better to be fashionably late than to be too early." If he'd had his choice, he wouldn't have come at all.
These black tie affairs were an anachronism. The format probably hadn't changed much since Jonathan Kent had been Calvin's age. The same people spouted the same inanities at each other whiletrying to look as though they knew what they were talking about.
Calvin would have enjoyed the event more had he been in one of his other identities. At least then there would be the excitement of possibly being found out as an impostor. As it was, the only thrill would be when they presented their invitations at the door. There was always the possibility that the virus he'd placed in the national identification system would fail.
He couldn't change his fingerprints or retinal patterns. The virus was the only thing keeping his identities separate. He wasn't sure what he'd do if the system identified him as being the notorious gun runner Johnny Ramirez, or as the Las Vegas gambler Kent Sharp.
His stomach clenched slightly as he placed his hand on the palm scanner along with the invitation. He was relieved when it cleared him and his date to enter.
They were quickly led to the rear door of the house. Like any good Texan, Calvin's publisher preferred to have his parties out in the open. The autumn air was perfect this time of year by night, and there weren't any worries about being out in the sun. The oddity of having formal wear at an outside event was ignored; if one was wealthy enough, almost anything could be forgiven.
The publisher's back yard was more than two acres in size. It was carefully landscaped to provide plentiful shade from the trees above. Colorful paper lanterns hung from the trees, and small waterfalls bubbled from stones, creating occasional small pools beside the blue veined marble paths.
It was an ostentatious sign of wealth, of course. As the global climate grew hotter, it was becoming increasingly expensive to set up large-scale water works. All the fountains and pools were artificial; the oak trees and other water dependent species of plants were another sign of the man's wealth.
Calvin's date pulled on his sleeve, and he allowed himself to follow. She knew as many of the people as he did; society parties in northern Texas tended to be somewhat incestuous. Everyone knew everyone else.
"Can you believe that the New Yorkers are trying to get the publishing industry back? They still haven't done anything about the unions, and that was half their problem." Calvin's publisher was an old war horse. He liked to play up his image as an old fashioned Texan: large mustache, cowboy dress and all. However, at heart he was a shrewdly modern businessman, able to keep up with the rapid advances in technology and copyright law.
He looked up and grinned. "Here's one of my best new authors now. Let me introduce you to Calvin Kent." He clapped Calvin on the shoulder. "Calvin, these men are from Hollywood. They may be interested in making your book into a movie."
Calvin wasn't impressed. These days, anyone with a reasonably good computer could make low budget features, and virtual reality simulations were stealing the high budget market. The day of the big budget movie in Hollywood was over.
"What about the actors' strike? It doesn't sound like anyone will be making any movies for a while."
One of the men smiled unpleasantly. "The whole flap is over the use of virtual actors. We've been able to generate entire human performances for five years now. It's finally getting cheap enough that we may not need ANY actors at all."
"Eventually you won't even need producers." Calvin frowned. "I thought the disagreement was over the unauthorized use of an actor's image in a movie. You've been filming movies using the images of dead actors without compensation. I'm sure they are wondering how long it'll be until you replace living actors altogether."
"I, for one look forward to the day. Actors aren't exactly the most stable people, and the salaries they've been asking for have been out of sync with the industry. We don't need them like we once did."
Calvin shook his head. "I don't know if you'll ever be able to eliminate the human portion of a performance entirely. It seems to me that all you've done is transfer the burden to the programmers. As an author, I'm particularly sensitive to copyright issues." He paused. "I'll look at your proposal, but I'm a bit skeptical."
"We'll send it for you to look over."
Calvin nodded. "I think my date is looking a little thirsty." He looked at the woman beside him. "Why don't you talk to these gentlemen while I get you a drink?" Jilly was easier to deal with drunk. He felt guilty at the thought, but there wasn't any question that it was true.
He began to slowly weave his way among the people in the crowd as he headed for the bar. In his mind he was already calculating how quickly he could leave without offending his host. He'd managed to arrive almost an hour late, but he'd probably be required to stay at least two more. He sighed. He really hated these events.
A bar had been set up in the middle of a stand of trees. It was a freestanding, permanent structure, one that obviously got a great deal of use in spite of the meticulous care that was taken to keep it looking new and unused.
Calvin froze as the bartender turned to face him. She was impossibly familiar.
"What'll you have?" Her voice was husky and deep, and he felt an unfamiliar tingling working its way up his spine.
She looked up at him and paled. He hadn't realized that she had such beautiful blue eyes.
He leaned forward and hissed, "Who sent you here?"
It was unlikely that a cocktail waitress in Columbia would be working as a bartender in North Texas the next day. The most likely explanation was that she was following him.
It was frightening. She could work for anyone — the CIA, Interpol, and even the criminals he'd cheated over the years. There wasn't any indication that they knew what he was, so the family secret might be safe. If he had to, he could always fake his own death.
It would hurt to give up everything he had worked for all these years, but it would hurt less than having his actions harm others. He'd promised a long time ago that he wouldn't allow it to happen ever again.
The sounds of the party were fading around them. At first, Calvin assumed that it was merely his own dismay, but he soon realized that it was something else. He could see flashes of light coming from the trees, and he grimaced, turning back to the girl.
Before he could say anything, three men entered the clearing and the world lit up around them both.
His unconsciousness lasted only a few seconds; there were advantages to having a Kryptonian physiology. The people around him would be frozen for minutes or even hours.
It was illegal for anyone but the police to carry Gryph-guns, but there was a thriving black market for them.
Kyle Griffin, the Prankster had been a fool. He'd developed a device that would freeze individuals in place, possibly even on a massive scale, and the only use he'd been able to see for it was petty extortion.
The United States government had taken his plans. He'd never bothered to patent his work, so he received nothing when the government began mass producing the devices and sending them to every police force in the country. By the time he'd gotten out of prison the first time, he'd been a bitter man. His share of the profits could have easily been over ten billion dollars.
It had been the perfect device for police forces. With the Gryph-gun, police didn't have to resort to brutality. They could simply freeze a suspect, restrain him, and take him to jail without his ever being aware of it.
Large, unruly crowds could be silenced in an instant, the troublemakers pulled from the crowd before anyone could even react. The Los Angeles Food Riots of 2011 were stopped quickly and cleanly using larger devices.
People called the Gryph-guns the first step towards Utopia. They ignored the way that the Chinese, the Libyans and the Iraqis used them. The technology made it harder to overthrow corrupt governments…and when the technology came onto the black market, it left ordinary citizens helpless.
He could see party goers all around him frozen into place as the black clad men wove between them, removing necklaces and pieces of personal jewelry. They left men's wallets alone, of course. Electronic money was almost impossible to steal. Anyone skilled enough to break into the World Bank computer systems wouldn't need the actual cards.
He could hear men inside the house removing valuable artwork. While he'd spent far too much of his time suppressing his sense of hearing to be sure, he thought that at least twenty men must be involved. It was possible that they'd have up to an hour before the people woke up; they'd want to be long gone by the time the guests awoke though.
There weren't any cameras on the roads outside the estates; the wealthy paid highly for the privilege of privacy. However, the police would respond almost immediately to any calls for help. The automated security systems would have normally reported any intrusions, but they had been deactivated for the party.
There wasn't anything he could do, at least not until the black clad men left. It was likely that they would have already deactivated the house cameras, but he wouldn't know how long he had to act before the partygoers reawakened.
The woman would notice him missing even if no one else did, and he was afraid that she would start asking too many questions. The sort of glasses or contact lenses that blocked Gryph-gun emissions were illegal for anyone other than law enforcement officers and a few bodyguards with special dispensation.
He looked at her for a long moment. She was prettier than he had remembered, even if she was an enemy. He hadn't paid much attention to her before; it had seemed pointless since he wouldn't be able to return to the area for quite some time.
Her head turned slightly, and Calvin stiffened. She should have been both motionless and unconscious like everyone else. The fact that she wasn't suggested that she was either part of the plot along with the black clad men…or that she wore special contact lenses as part of her work in law enforcement.
He remained motionless. It was worse than he would have expected. He was going to have to tell his parents and they wouldn't be pleased. His father had been claiming for years that Calvin was going to get caught; Calvin dreaded proving him right.
On the other hand, if there was real danger for his mother, Calvin couldn't see not telling them. His life was going to have to change dramatically, and Calvin felt a moment of panic.
He calmed himself. The woman was remaining almost as still as everyone else, though he could now see small signs of movement that weren't present in anyone else. Luckily, her head was slightly turned, or she'd have been looking at him. If she'd been part of the plot, she'd probably have started moving along with the criminals.
The footsteps retreated, and Calvin could hear the sounds of vehicles moving away.
He remained still for several moments, wondering if the woman would make the first move. If she had any suspicions about what he was, he was unwilling to confirm them. He cursed for a moment. If she hadn't been there, he'd have done something to set the alarm off early. He'd have found a way to make it look like an accident. As it was, the criminals were going to get away scot-free, unless they were caught fencing the goods.
He could hear the sounds of people beginning to revive in the distance.
The woman turned her head and looked directly at him. He gasped, and she took advantage of his moment of indecision to dash away from the bar.
She moved quickly, and he began following her at a faster than human pace just as the people around them began to revive.
It was instantly harder to follow. Calvin had to weave around dismayed partygoers who were only now realizing that they had been robbed, but she had the same problem. He managed to keep her in sight, but he had to struggle through small clumps of suddenly hysterical people.
Finally he reached the edge of the clearing and plunged into the trees. As soon as he was out of sight of anyone, he felt free to speed up, though not outside the human range just in case the criminals hadn't gotten all the cameras.
She dodged between large stretches of pine and sprinted away. Calvin knew she'd come up against the fence soon, and then he'd have her.
The fence loomed up ahead and the girl was nowhere to be seen.
He looked around quickly; she had to be around somewhere. His x-ray vision pierced the undergrowth., but no matter which way he looked, one thing was clear.
The woman had vanished, which was impossible. She'd only been fifty yards ahead of him; it wasn't possible that she could have vanished. Yet, with all his abilities, he couldn't sense her anywhere. He could easily make out her footprints; they stopped near the fence and didn't reappear anywhere that he could see.
He listened carefully for her heartbeat; perhaps she'd found a place to hide where he hadn't thought to look. He couldn't hear anything but the babble of confused voices back at the party and the sound of distant sirens.
He made his way back to the party slowly, opening his senses as widely as he could. There wasn't any sign of the girl, and he couldn't understand it. Still, once he was back at the party, he'd find a way to discover her identity. He wouldn't be able to rest until he knew what her agenda was.
The police were everywhere, having gathered the partygoers into small groups for questioning.
An officer saw Calvin walking out of the woods, and he approached Calvin cautiously, his hand on his Gryph-gun. "May I see your identification please?"
Calvin quietly pulled his smartcard. It served both as a unit of electronic currency, identification, and driver's registration. As always, his gut tightened slightly as the officer ran a small scanner over the card. He wasn't able to change his retinal patterns or fingerprints, and under normal circumstances, all of his personal information should appear, including his other identities. The program he had hacked into the system kept his identities from overlapping each other. Should it ever fail, he'd be in serious trouble.
The officers wore sunglasses even at night, mirror lenses that kept suspects from seeing their eyes. The lenses served multiple purposes. They were protective against Gryph-gun emissions, and they were data readouts as well, allowing instant access to a suspect's entire past history in an instant.
Net access was available to everyone through glasses as long as a larger unit was concealed within a mile.
Most people had larger units in their homes and in their cars. It was considered rude to wear glasses while indoors; personal interactions were rare enough without someone being distracted by what they were seeing on the Internet or elsewhere. The glasses were ubiquitous during the daytime; no one went outside without UV protecting sunshades any more. But by night, or indoors, the mirrored lenses sported by the police were unnerving.
Of course, only the glasses worn by the police and military protected against Gryph-gun emissions. The penalties for possession of contraband contact lenses or spectacles were very high.
"You were seen fleeing the scene by a number of witnesses. What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Kent?"
Thinking quickly, Calvin replied, "I thought I saw one of the thieves at the edge of the forest. I hoped I'd be able to catch up with her before she saw me."
"None of the others seems to have a good description of the individuals involved."
"I caught a glimpse of them before I was hit. I saw three men, all dressed in black jumpsuits, wearing ski masks. All of them were approximately six feet tall, and they carried large bags."
"That's a better description than most of the others were able to provide." The policeman seemed skeptical.
"I'm an author. I've trained myself to be observant."
The officer asked several more questions, and Calvin answered them absently. The flashing lights of the police vehicles were disturbing him. They reminded him far too strongly of an evening he'd rather forget. There had been a policeman there also, the mirrored lenses of his spectacles making his eyes impossible to read. The flashing of ambulance lights and police lights had mixed into a blur.
It was supposed to be harmless fun. Calvin had always loved cars; and while he hadn't bonded closely with anyone, he'd made many casual friends. Some of them shared his interests in living dangerously; they'd admired him for his willingness to defy authority and seemingly defy death.
It hadn't really occurred to him how much more vulnerable they were. Calvin knew on an academic level that the people around him might get hurt, but he always assumed it was something that happened to someone else's friends. At the age of sixteen, death wasn't a concept he was well acquainted with; no one in his family had died, and neither had anyone he knew personally. Summer days seemed to last forever, and it seemed as though everyone would always be immortal and young.
Calvin had done a number of risky things with his friends already. They'd bungee jumped and white-water river rafted. They'd skydived and parasailed. They'd traveled into dangerous parts of town, places where the ubiquitous monitors on every street corner were broken or poorly maintained.
Calvin later realized that the others were running from voids in their lives. Their parents were too busy for them, substituting money for affection. They'd all been seeking thrill after thrill so that they could feel something amid the numbness in their lives.
His situation had been a little different from the others. He'd never lacked for love from either his parents or from any of his grandparents. In spite of that, he too had a void waiting to be filled.
He'd been a disappointment to his parents all his life. They'd struggled to teach him the values of altruism. The more projects and events they attempted to involve him in, the harder he'd rebelled. Something deep inside wouldn't allow him to follow others blindly. He'd always been questioning, trying to understand.
His parents had been busy, but they'd always set time aside for him. If his father sometimes had to dash away from his little league games, at least he attended; more than half his friends' parents didn't attend at all. If his mother had been busy with her work, first as a reporter and later as an editor, she'd always found ways to spend special moments with him.
He'd looked at the loving relationship his parents had, and he'd despaired. He'd enjoyed being with girls since he was fifteen, but none of them had ever had any real effect on him emotionally.
He could feel loyalty and compassion. He could even enjoy spending time around other people. What he could not do was give free rein to his emotions. He'd known he was different from everyone else a long time before his parents had told him exactly why. It was as though someone had encased his heart in ice as hard as a diamond.
He'd known even then that if he could not love, he was doomed to be unhappy for all the days of his life. It was the one thing he had in common with his friends. They all struggled with feelings of loneliness. It was only when they risked their lives that they felt truly alive, and even then it was only a temporary high. In the end, it was the death of them.
It was supposed to be fun; Calvin and his best friend Skyler would race down the back roads of Delaware to see who had the better car and who was the better driver. Their friends would ride along. They'd raced down the back roads. Calvin had superhuman reflexes on his side, and his friend had raw driving talent.
They'd taken dangerous curves and passed each other several times. The two girls and one boy in the car with Calvin had laughed and joked. Occasionally they would gesture at the four boys in the other car as they passed near each other.
Calvin had seen it coming, and there hadn't been anything he could do.
It had been hard to hear anything outside the car; with his friends' laughter and loud music playing, as well as the roar of the engine, the rest of the world had faded away.
The only warning he'd had was a flash of reflected moonlight in the distance. It would have been invisible to the ordinary human eye. Calvin had quickly used his x-ray vision to look through the hill ahead of them. Slamming on the brakes at one hundred miles an hour should have flipped the car, but Calvin had the advantage of superhuman reflexes.
Skyler hadn't stood a chance.
The sound of impact would haunt Calvin's dreams for years to come. In a single moment, Calvin lost both his best friend and his innocence.
The truck that came over the hill had been running without any lights; it had been fitted with a night sighting system, which projected images from a low light camera onto the windshield. It was also too wide for the narrow county roads.
They later discovered that the trucker had been moving along the back roads to avoid the automated radar devices on the highway. He'd been speeding with his lights off to avoid alerting the residents of the houses nearby; they'd been known to call the police when they saw someone speeding down the roads near their houses.
Calvin had burst out of his vehicle, but it was far too late. Not much had remained of Skyler, and the three other boys in the car hadn't been much better. One of the girls in the car behind them had called an ambulance.
Calvin tore the door off the truck cab. He'd raised his fist to the ashen faced man inside, and in spite of everything his parents had raised him to believe, he'd nearly hit the man as hard as he could. In all his life he'd never been closer to murder. It was an ugly impulse, revealing a dark piece of his soul he'd never seen before.
Luckily the neighbors had already called the police when they saw Calvin and Skyler's headlights. The sounds of sirens had brought him back to his senses, and he'd let the man go.
What had followed had been a blur. He still had bits and pieces; the mirrored lenses of the officers, the flashing of lights, bodies being callously zipped into body bags. They'd been taken to the police station, where they'd been forced to give their statements repeatedly.
Calvin had been numb until his father had arrived. Then he'd wanted to die. He'd never expected to see such anger and such disappointment on his father's face.
The police had released him into his father's custody. Calvin had expected his father to begin lecturing him the moment they'd left the station, but he hadn't.
He'd been completely silent as they drove to the hospital.
He was silent, but his expression was more painful than anything Calvin could have ever imagined. It was even worse when they received the news that two of the others in Skyler's car had died. The last had lost his leg.
His father hadn't said a word to him that night, and Calvin felt as if something in his soul had died. The lecture had come the next day, but by that point Calvin had already made his own decision. He'd never hurt another innocent.
He hadn't been charged with anything worse than reckless driving, but he'd punished himself every day. Regret was a bitter emotion, as was rage and the knowledge of what he might have done to the truck driver. He'd hardened his heart even further. Over the following years he'd slowly withdrawn from his former friends and acquaintances. He'd graduated from Harvard in only three years, and he'd been careful to keep his relationships superficial.
Calvin shook himself. He preferred to think about that time in his life as little as possible, but the sight of policemen always brought that out in him.
"Excuse me, officer? What was the question?"
"One of the bartenders is missing. A woman named Sarah Knight. You wouldn't happen to know anything about her disappearance, would you?"
"I'm sure she just panicked and ran."
The officer paused for several long moments, probably sifting through information on the inside of his glasses.
"Our information says that she works for you, at least part time."
Calvin's head snapped up. "What are you talking about?"
"You provide the funding for the Jonathan Kent Memorial Center, don't you?"
"Of course I do. Since the middle class has been fleeing the city, the poor need a little more…"
"She's the executive director there. Are you telling me that you don't know this woman?"
Calvin looked away. "I just write the checks. I don't get personally involved with any of the causes I invest in. I leave that to other people."
It was clear that the officer didn't believe him, but the man let him go with a warning. "We're keeping an eye on you, Kent."
Calvin nodded. He could see that his date was acting distraught; it was one of her less appealing characteristics.
He quickly learned that she'd found a ride with one of the Hollywood men. Calvin was pleased because it meant that he could immediately begin to search for the woman who was following him.
He had a name, and it wouldn't be long before he had it all.
It was obvious that the party was over. Calvin made his excuses, and headed for his car as soon as he made sure his date was taken care of. She seemed infatuated with the Hollywood man, and Calvin suspected she'd always had dreams of being an actress. Hollywood was a fading dream as far as Calvin was concerned, but if she wanted to make a go at it, he couldn't see anything wrong with it.
Her family might have different ideas, but Calvin fully believed that families didn't have any right to impose their dreams and desires on the young. It was up to each young person to seek out his own destiny, to find his own path. All a family could really do was to make the options clear, and help create a set of values that might serve as a road map for the future.
The path his parents wanted him to take was one of great personal sacrifice. Although his father had discovered that most of his time as Superman was spent waiting around for the police, there were still times he'd had to sacrifice his family life in favor of public service. Even in these days of street cameras and police zeal, there were still times he had to leave Calvin's mother in favor of the greater good.
It was a lifetime commitment. Clark Kent no longer had a choice; he'd be Superman until he either died or was too weak to continue. Calvin on the other hand had been careful to avoid the trap. His life was free as long as he could avoid becoming entangled. It wasn't that he didn't want to help; a lifetime with his father had shown what a burden it could be. In any case, he suspected he'd look horrible in spandex.
The police were still questioning party goers, but Calvin had been temporarily released from questioning. The police were perfectly confident that they could find him if they needed to; it was one of the tenets of the electronic age.
Calvin slipped into his car and left as quickly as he could. He drove carefully until he was several minutes away from his publisher's mansion. Carefully checking to see that no police drones were following him, he put on a burst of speed.
It would have been suicidally foolish for anyone else to speed along these back roads; with trees on all sides and with the road being winding with hills and dips, most people would have been forced to use caution.
Calvin drove as quickly as he was able. With his x-ray vision on full, he was able to see any obstructions on the road long before he would reach them. When he headed for a dip, he was able to lift his car slightly using his ability to fly so that it wouldn't wreck the suspension.
Eventually he reached a point where he could pull over to the side of the road, which he did. He kept a set of datalink glasses in his car, as well as a set of special wristbands. They interfaced with a computer in his car, which was globally connected to the internet.
He slipped them on, as well as a set of wristbands. The bands interpreted the movements of the muscles in his wrists and forearms, removing the need for keyboards or other forms of data entry devices. Most people used voice recognition devices, but voice recognition had never been designed for high rates of speed.
Hardcore programmers wanted to be able to enter information faster than voice recognition would allow, yet they didn't want to be burdened with old fashioned keyboards.
He gestured, and a ghostly image of a virtual keyboard appeared in the view of the glasses. Calvin began to type, slowlyat first and then with ever-increasing speed. He'd been more successful at modifying the wristbands for his own use than he had most other devices.
His fingers became a blur in midair. Small screens seemed to appear, floating in midair. Calvin read and assimilated the information at superhuman speed. Finally, he leaned back with a sigh of satisfaction.
He hadn't managed to discover her real identity; there wasn't any sign of the sort of program he had been using to separate his multiple identities, but that reinforced the idea that she worked for the government. The government could have easily erased her entire past and replaced it with something else. It had a strong advantage over his own method of creating identities in that there was nothing more to find online; investigators would have to search for physical records that contradicted the official online story, and that would take time.
The cover story she had chosen was interesting. Sarah Knight, born September 1997 to James and Rebecca Knight in Dallas, Texas. Her mother apparently died in childbirth, and her father had died sometime before. James Knight's sister, Agnes, took custody and raised her in Dallas, Texas.
By the age of thirteen Sarah Knight was a runaway; she was lost to the system until three years later when she was adopted by a social worker and his wife. Sarah managed to catch up on her schoolwork and graduated in the top ten percent of her high school class.
She received an undergraduate degree in social work at Texas A&M by the age of 21. She returned to Dallas, where she had trouble finding work due to cuts in the government budget.
When the state of Texas legalized gambling, she took work as a casino dealer. She spent her spare time working in a number of charities. She supposedly began working at the Jonathan Kent Memorial Center two years before.
That was the easiest to check. Calvin restarted his car and raced through the back roads, carefully watching for anyone else coming along. He was home in under an hour.
"Get me JKM," he said as he entered the house.
The screen flickered for a moment, then a startled looking older man appeared, his image ten feet high.
"Mr. Kent…what an honor!" The older man fumbled for words. "It's been a couple of years, hasn't it?"
"We haven't spoken since I created the fund. You've received my donations on a regular basis, haven't you?"
"They come in at the first of every month." The man smiled. "We've managed to do a lot of good work. We're even starting to get donations from people in the community. If you have the time, I'd like to show you-"
"I'm a busy man," Calvin said curtly. "If you'd like, you can send me the information in a packet." He hesitated. "I understand you have a new executive director."
The man nodded. "Sarah Knight. She's been working with us for the last couple of years. She's been one of our best volunteers, so when the position opened up, I gave it to her. She's more than qualified, and I've been happy with her work to date."
Calvin frowned. If the woman had actually been in place for two years, it suggested that someone had been on his trail for at least that long.
"Is there a problem with my having hired her?"
Calvin shook his head. "Everything looks to be in order. I'll look forward to seeing your report."
The man was almost pathetically grateful. Calvin gestured, and the screen went blank.
Calvin gave a quick series of commands. He changed clothes quickly, then retrieved a color photograph as it emerged from his printer. He placed it in a pocket, then flew from the house at superhuman speeds. He rose over the forested areas of northern Texas and headed for Dallas.
He landed in a poor section of town; the street cameras were in poor repair, and it was easy to find a place to land unseen. He emerged from an alley and stepped onto the street before heading towards one of the bus stops.
Sarah Knight hadn't made many mistakes in creating her identity, but she had made a few. Most people weren't aware of the detail with which every single item they purchased using their Smartcard was electronically catalogued. The information was used by marketers and by the government in investigating cases. The knowledge that someone had purchased a copy of The Anarchist's cookbook in one state and household materials used for bomb making in another could be invaluable to investigators.
The information was accessible to anyone with a little knowledge and determination.
Calvin had accessed Sarah Knight's entire record. He knew every purchase she'd made since she'd turned twenty-one. He knew what feminine hygiene products she used. He knew what books and music she liked. He knew what she liked to eat and drink, and what movies she preferred to watch or rent. He knew who she contacted by telephone, and at what times. He had access to her public transportation records, making it easy to track her movements.
If he wanted, he could pinpoint a single moment in time, and know exactly what she purchased and where. With a skilled eye it was possible to learn patterns of behavior; which stores and restaurants were patronized and when.
Privacy was a long forgotten concept. These days, people chose to ignore the fact that their lives were open books. They tried not to think about who might be looking at their information, and to what uses it might be put. They remained mostly ignorant about the excruciating detail that could be learned about their lives.
There was no right to privacy. It had been lost in increments, some for purposes of safety, others simply for convenience. The acceptance of one loss made the acceptance of the next even easier, until very few rights remained.
Creating new identities was a challenge. The sheer volume of data involved was staggering. Calvin had become an expert at forging consumer purchasing histories; he even started work on a computer algorithm that would generate those histories for him based on various criteria.
Because of Calvin's expertise, he could spot a fraud a mile away, and Sarah Knight had made a few errors.
First, she had chosen to live well below her means. Casino workers were well paid in Dallas, yet Sarah Knight chose to live in a run down part of the city. Her food expenditures were frugal, and she chose not to own an automobile, using public transportation frequently.
Her clothes were purchased at retail outlets, though she occasionally chose to splurge. Her utilities were normal, and her phone calls were limited to a small circle of people and businesses.
She enjoyed the local theater, but always paid matinee prices.
It all seemed to add up into a neat little package.
Sarah Knight had made a few other mistakes though. She'd opted out of any life or health insurance plan, against the recommendations of her employer. These days it was both expected and almost mandatory; she must have gone to great lengths to avoid any examinations. There was no genetic data on her, so doctors would be unable to tailor drugs to her specific needs.
She hadn't purchased any medicines or drugs within the last five years, not even a single aspirin. While it was possible that she was using cash to purchase medicines, as a way of concealing a serious illness, she wasn't withdrawing enough to cover any serious medication costs.
She'd created a convincing history, with few errors to make anyone suspicious. Calvin hoped that by interviewing people he could discover a few more.
A weather worn bus pulled to a stop in front of him. Calvin pulled one of his Smartcards out of a concealed pocket and slid it into a slot.
The bus door opened. "Hello Mr. Thomas. Where can I take you?"
Dallas was like most cities that still had living bus drivers. A few cities had managed to build automated monorail systems before they had lost their tax base to the wealthy and middle class fleeing to country homes, but Dallas wasn't one of them. It's fleet of buses was aging rapidly; there would be a crisis in only a few years if something wasn't done to upgrade the system, but the city didn't have the money.
The bus driver was an older man, one of the few remaining in the city who had managed to retain his inner cheer. He wore a set of the data glasses; he could summon the police at a moments notice if he had to, and he had access to the records of every person who rode his bus.
"I'd like to go downtown, to the Golden Lariat."
"I don't have anyone else on my route at the moment. I guess the rain must be driving most of them away."
"I'm a private detective."
The older man nodded; it had been part of the information he had accessed.
"Have you seen this woman?" Calvin held out the picture for the older man to look at.
The driver glanced at it and grunted. "Who wants to know?" His formerly friendly manner changed in an instant. He closed the door and started the bus.
"We believe that this girl was kidnapped by her father before the national identification system came online. Her mother hasn't ever stopped searching."
"A custody case, eh?" The driver paused. "Why don't you just use the national registry? The prints will match up even if the name doesn't."
Calvin shook his head. "They never printed her. I can't even be sure this is the right girl; her picture just matches an age-enhanced photo from the time she was a child."
The bus driver nodded. "She's one of my regulars. I pick her up at the Kent building, and take her to work over at the Lariat. She's one of my last customers on the way home too. She's been riding my bus since I got the route four years ago, though she didn't start spending time at the Kent building till a couple of years ago."
"What's she like?"
"She's a nice girl. She keeps mostly to herself, but she always seems to have a nice word for people. I like her more than I like most people, and that's saying a great deal."
Calvin soberly nodded, even as his mind raced. He'd been listening to the driver's heart rate, and it didn't sound as if he'd been lying.
If she'd been in the area for at least four years, it conflicted with his timeline. He'd only been using multiple identities for the past five, and it seemed insane that anyone would have created a deep cover identity just for him, at least at that point.
That didn't mean that she hadn't created the identity for some other purpose and was only now being turned onto his case. It made it all the more imperative that he find out what she was really up to.
They arrived at the Golden Lariat, where business seemed to be booming. He managed to get in contact with the manager and discovered that Sarah Knight had been working as a dealer since the day the casino had opened. She was one of the most prized employees in the place, and she worked there five nights a week.
She took Tuesdays and Wednesdays off; they were the slowest evenings and as she had seniority, she could set her own hours. Calvin flagged down a cab. He had no doubt that her college transcripts would seem genuine, and the employees of the local grocery stores would recognize her.
His best bet was to confront her directly. It was late in the evening; it seemed likely that she would eventually return to her residence.
He exited the cab quietly, having tapped out a generous tip on his Smartcard.
On the outside, the building she lived in looked like nothing more than an abandoned warehouse. A quick scan of the upper floors revealed that the inside consisted of a couple of well-appointed loft apartments. None of the furnishings had been included on her Smartcard purchases. While it was possible that her foster parents had given her some of the furniture as gifts, Calvin doubted it.
Much of the furniture was foreign made-Mexican, Chinese and Brazilian work, probably bought cheap. The interior of her loft was eclectically furnished, but somehow the different elements all seemed to work together to create an aesthetically pleasing whole.
He dismissed the cab and approached the front door. He could hear the sounds of movement from the bottom floor. He looked through the wall and saw Sarah Knight sitting beside a small table, her face in her hands.
He quit looking immediately and knocked on the door. His father had taught him that it was wrong to eavesdrop or spy on people. While he ignored that quite often (his mother had taken a more pragmatic approach to his abilities), he was still embarrassed whenever he caught someone in a compromising or personal situation.
The door flew open before he could knock again.
Before he could open his mouth to speak, Sarah Knight punched him in the stomach.
He gasped as he went flying through the air to the other side of the street. That punch had hurt! It hadn't been enough to knock the wind out of him, but the surprise was almost as overwhelming. He hadn't felt pain since he was 12 years old.
"Don't pretend that hurt!" Sarah was approaching him, and Calvin struggled to get to his feet.
"I know who you are and what you are!" She hissed the words, her face red with anger. "You're a liar and a cheat!"
She punched at him again, but this time Calvin was prepared. He grabbed her arms and was surprised at how strong she was. It was all he could do to hold her still.
"Let's calm down and talk like decent human beings."
She pulled away from him, rubbing her wrists. "Neither one of us is a human being, and you know it."
Calvin stood, frozen, and it was a moment before he could speak.
"I don't know what you are talking about."
It was a lie, of course. No human could have punched Calvin hard enough to cause him pain; conversely, had Calvin been human, he'd be dead. Years of habit brought the lie to his lips, and Calvin regretted it the instant it came out. "I always wondered if there were any others." She stared at him contemptuously. "I expected better."
Calvin glanced up and down the street. "Is this really the place to discuss this?"
"I guess there isn't anything I can do to stop you. Come in." She waved him inside with ill humor.
A table and chair sat near the door; behind it was a set of stairs leading up to the apartment above. The bottom level was cavernous and empty.
"Go up the stairs; I have to lock up."
"You aren't going to run again?"
"Where could I run? We might as well have our conversation now, while we can."
"Are you going anywhere?"
"I'm sure the police will want to question me, since you forced me to leave the party early."
Calvin made his way up the stairs into the loft above.
It was an open-air design; the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room…everything was contained in one large space. The bathroom was separate, but the shower was visible from the rest of the area, concealed only by a piece of opaque glass.
The décor was eclectic, but it all seemed to fit into one aesthetic whole. The furnishings weren't expensive, but they were well chosen, and they seemed to come from a number of different countries.
The computer by the bed was ancient; it was at least ten years old. While that didn't mean as much as it might have in the heyday of computer design, when power doubled every eighteen months, it still put the system a full generation behind modern systems. It hadn't been top of the line when it was new either; it had a tiny twenty-seven inch flat screen, and an actual physical keyboard.
She had a number of bookshelves. Calvin was surprised to see at least twenty books about the New Krypton invasion, including the two his mother had written. He was even more surprised to see all six of his novels in hardback.
Otherwise, her reading tastes seemed to be as eclectic as her taste in furniture. Social psychology, philosophy, self help books…she had amassed an impressive reference library without leaving any trace in the official record. It was surprising that she could still find a bookstore that wasn't strictly online. Of course, she could probably travel as easily as he could to find the best deals.
"Our parents probably knew each other."
"What?" Calvin turned around, startled.
"Your parents came from Smallville, right?" She hesitated. "I guess they could have come from Metropolis."
"My father was from Smallville. My mother was from Metropolis." He nodded toward the bookshelf. "But I guess you'd know that."
"Who are you?" she asked. "Why are you pretending to be Calvin Kent?"
"I'm not pretending to be anybody…not right now." Calvin was surprised. He'd never had to prove that he was his father's son before. "My name really is Calvin Kent. My fingerprints and retinal scans are a matter of public record."
"You could say the same about Mr. Jones and Mr. Thomas," Sarah said, obviously not impressed.
Calvin hesitated for a moment. She obviously knew about his other identities; the bus driver had obviously called and warned her. She didn't seem to know that he was the son of Superman. For the moment, he'd keep it that way.
"Mr. Jones and Mr. Thomas aren't real people. I've done my best to make them seem that way, but if you dig down far enough, you won't find what you are looking for. Calvin Kent was the name I was born with. If you'd like, I can call my mother; she'd vouch for me."
For a moment, he thought she was going to accept his offer. Finally, she sighed.
"I guess your mother wouldn't want anyone knowing what happened any more than mine did." Sarah walked to the bookshelf and pulled out one of the books written by Calvin's mother.
"You'd think the New Kryptonians would have an enlightened society. They managed to create Superman…managed to bridge the gap between the stars. You'd think a race of telepaths would have learned a better way to live."
"Lord Nor was an aberration."
"He managed to convince half the New Kryptonians to follow him. You, more than anyone, should know what his men did to the people of Smallville."
"Yes, I know." Calvin was silent for several moments. His father had lost friends to the New Kryptonians.
There wasn't a day that passed when he didn't wonder if there wasn't something he could have done to save their lives.
"You can't blame an entire race for the actions of a few renegades. Most of the people who supported Nor had no idea what he had become."
"I live every day of my life with the consequences of what those people did." She paused. "So do you."
Calvin felt awkward and off balance. He wasn't quite sure what she was getting at, but he had a gut feeling he wasn't going to like it.
"My mother would be fifty years old today." Sarah clenched her fist. "My father would be fifty two. The New Kryptonians murdered them both."
It suddenly occurred to Calvin where he'd seen the Knight name before. James Knight had been one of the casualties of the occupation of Smallville.
"They couldn't have killed your mother. She died months after the invasion."
Sarah walked to one of the picture windows and stared into the darkness outside. "My mother never gave up hope. Even after they killed her husband and…did what they did with her, she refused to lose faith in the idea that I was the natural child of her husband."
Calvin grimaced. It would be hard to accept the idea that you had been conceived in ugliness. He had a brief flash of gratitude towards his parents; they'd loved each other and loved him. He might not have been so lucky.
She glanced at him, then continued. "Even when things went wrong with the pregnancy, she refused to terminate." Sarah hesitated. "I was the only thing she was going to have left of her husband."
"There were tests she could have run, even then." Calvin's voice was gentle.
"She didn't want to know." Sarah scowled. "She had this…this alien thing growing inside her, and she didn't want to know about it. She died believing that she had her husband's child…and that was the only blessing."
Calvin thought he could understand her pain. Calvin's mother had almost died bearing him. It had taken everything Dr. Klein had learned about Superman and his physiology to save her. Kryptonian and Human physiology were only barely compatible. He'd felt guilty when he'd learned about it as a teenager; he'd been sure his mother had wanted more children. He'd felt responsible.
Calvin hesitated. "She would have loved you no matter what you became. Not knowing just made it a little easier for her."
"I want to believe that. I always dreamed about what life would have been like if my mother hadn't died. I was sure she would have loved me with all my heart. I dreamed about having a mother…I knew a lot of kids didn't have fathers, but I dreamed of having a father as well."
"It must have been hard growing up."
Sarah nodded soberly, "My aunt didn't love me."
"Is that why you ran away?"
She didn't even question his knowledge. "I didn't run away. My aunt threw me out the moment she had proof that I wasn't the child of her brother."
"You were just thirteen!"
"I wasn't even human to her. She spent my entire childhood watching me…looking for any sign that I wasn't what I seemed to be. She never had the money to get the tests done…the money from the sale of my father's farm only went so far."
"Children should be loved."
She turned on him. "Don't pretend to be sympathetic and nice! I haven't forgotten that you are a liar and a cheat!"
Calvin lifted his hands. "I lie to liars and cheat cheaters. Don't make me out to be something I'm not." He grimaced. "I may not be a Superman, but I'm no Lord Nor either!"
"Power corrupts." Sarah scowled. "You take the easy way out…in small things at first. Maybe you use your special vision to cheat on a test…maybe it's something else. It gets easier; you start to lie in order to make easy money…you cheat at cards."
She stepped towards him. "It gets easier and easier…and every time it seems just a little less wrong. You find yourself lying about more and more…it gets easier to make concessions."
"Where do you think the money for things like the Jonathan Kent Foundation comes from?" Calvin's voice was defensive. What right did she have to criticize him? She didn't know him at all.
"Do you give it all away to charity?"
Calvin was silent.
"I thought not. It's easier to cheat at cards than it is to make an honest living!"
"So what am I supposed to do? Give it all up? Spend my whole life trapped in a small house out in the woods somewhere?"
"You could help people."
"What, by putting on blue spandex? I don't see you out there flying around, saving people." Calvin found himself raising his voice, although he hadn't intended to. He'd had this same argument too many times with his father. To have a total stranger repeating it was almost more than he could bear.
"I never wanted any of this." Sarah looked away. "I know I'll never be good enough to even touch Superman's cape, but I do what I can."
"People have an exaggerated opinion of Superman," Calvin's voice dropped to a normal level. He was sure by this point that she didn't know his father was Superman. She assumed he was like her, a child of the occupation. As yet, he had no real reason to trust her, so wouldn't correct her mistake.
She hit him on the arm, hard enough to hurt.
"Are you this physical with everyone, or is it just me?" Calvin rubbed his arm.
"You don't have any right to talk that way about Superman! He's made his life stand for something; what have you done with your life?" Sarah's face was earnest. "He gives people something to look up to…not just ordinary people, but even someone like me!"
Calvin sighed. He was tired of hearing people go on and on about Superman and all the good he had done. His parents' relationship was a matter of public record, and if she'd read his mother's books, she'd know about it. There wouldn't be any harm in telling her at least part of it.
"I've known Superman for most of my life." Calvin hesitated. "You could say he's a friend of my parents. I guess I don't see him the same way everyone else does."
"He knows what you are?" Sarah sounded surprised.
"He thinks you should do more, and you don't want to listen." The certainty in her voice was irritating in the extreme.
"The whole superhero thing just isn't me."
"You sound awfully defensive for someone who knows he is right."
Calvin shook his head. "There's nothing wrong with my life. I give to charities, I write books that entertain people…is it wrong for me to look for a little entertainment?"
"It is if it leaves you feeling empty inside."
The sound of distant sirens was audible to them both.
"What about you? You spend your evenings dealing cards. You help a few people in your social work, but couldn't you do a lot more?"
"I do what I can!" She tensed. "Card dealing may not exactly be what I want to do with my life, but at least it's honest work…when you don't cheat!"
"You talk about me having an empty life, but what about you? You go from work to the center and back again. Who have you made friends with? Who have you loved?"
Sarah was tense and angry, and Calvin immediately regretted his words. The sirens were even closer.
"My life is none of your business! You don't know anything about me!"
Calvin didn't have any real reason to trust this woman, but something about her called to him. It might have been the pain and loneliness he saw in her eyes. It might have been that he sensed within her a kindred soul. For whatever reason, he wasn't ready to allow her to run away again, at least not just yet.
Calvin stepped closer to her, until he was well within her personal space. "I know how terrifying it can be to be twelve years old and start hearing voices in your head. You don't realize that it's people three houses down the block…not at first. Soon, you are hearing everything…thousands of voices…people laughing, screaming, crying. You hear people doing things no twelve year old should have to know about, and you think you are going mad."
She stepped back from him, staring and seeming almost entranced. Calvin absently noted that the sirens seemed to be coming from nearby, but he couldn't force himself to look away from the woman in front of him.
"Even once you know what it is, you still can't control it. It takes weeks to learn to filter things out…weeks where you can't eat and can't sleep because of all the noise."
It had been easier for Calvin's father. He'd grown up amidst the silence of the Kent farm. His awakening had occurred one summer…it hadn't been nearly as difficult as Calvin's had been. They'd had to pull Calvin out of school, and he'd been forced to take his classes electronically.
"Then, just as you think you've got it under control, your vision kicks in. That's not quite as bad; you can always close your eyes. It's bad enough though; you get a quick education, and at that age you can't force yourself to look away."
Sarah stood, motionless. Calvin could see something in her eyes; she was responding to what she was saying. Encouraged, he pressed on. The sirens stopped, but Calvin could hear the sounds of several vehicles approaching from nearby.
"We may be the only two of our kind in the entire universe." Calvin hesitated. "I know you better than anyone, Sarah. We may not agree on everything, but I think it would be a mistake to run away from each other."
Calvin placed his hand on her arm, and she seemed to awaken from the trance.
"You want to put me into your little black book?" Sarah shook her head. "I always knew good looking men were arrogant. I just never realized how arrogant they could be."
Calvin gaped. Where had it all gone wrong? It was usually easier to get women to respond to him.
"I'm not the criminal you seem to think I am. I'd like a chance to prove it. It would be nice if we could at least be friends." He sighed. "It's not as though we have that many people to confide in."
She hesitated, then nodded her agreement.
The vehicles were pulling to a halt outside the building.
Calvin looked at Sarah quizzically. "Were you expecting company?"
She shook her head and he turned his head to stare through the wall. He could see four SWAT teams deploying from vans. They were loaded with firearms as well as Gryph-guns.
"Maybe we should continue our discussion elsewhere. You haven't left anything incriminating, have you?"
She moved through the loft at superhuman speed, boxing up her computer, several of her books, and a large number of papers.
She headed for a back window. Calvin checked quickly to ensure there weren't any observers or monitoring units.
Then he followed her into the moonlit sky.
Keeping up had never been a problem for Calvin; he'd spent his entire life holding back in order to match the pace of the rest of the world. It was disconcerting to be left behind, even for a moment.
He put on a burst of speed and caught up with Sarah.
"What was that all about?"
"I should be asking you that question." She looked away. "We may have had a few experiences in common when we were younger, but that doesn't mean you know anything about me."
Calvin flushed. The ground was passing by beneath them at a phenomenal rate.
"I don't know what came over me. I felt a connection to you…one I've never felt before."
She glanced at him, and said, "I'm sure you tell that to all the girls."
Calvin began to protest, but let it die when he saw the look she was giving him. Maybe it had just been the shock of discovering that he wasn't alone in the world. That seemed as likely a scenario as any.
It was a cloudy night, which allowed them to move without fear of detection from the satellites overhead. They flew below the scope of radar, and were careful to avoid the plane routes.
"Those policemen seemed heavily armed to be questioning a simple thief."
She stopped in midair. "Why would they think I'm a thief?" Her voice was dangerously low.
"You were seen fleeing the scene at the party. As the only person missing, you are a natural suspect."
She cursed under her breath. "You've caused me no end of trouble, do you know that?"
"Why have you been following me, anyway?"
"The meeting in Columbia was accidental. I took the job as a waitress hoping to meet Calvin Kent."
She began flying again. "I tried to contact you through conventional channels, but you seem to have set up your systems to turn away all callers."
"I get a lot of people asking for donations."
"I didn't get any further by calling your publisher. I couldn't even get a decent picture; how you've been a public figure and managed to keep your picture off the web is a mystery to me."
"I've been careful. Why have you been trying to get in touch with me?"
They were over the mountains of Peru by this point, and Sarah began to descend. They dropped through a second layer of clouds and silently flew through the mountains. Sarah did not speak.
They came to a mist-shrouded valley high in the mountains. Sarah led him to an ancient ruin situated on a cliff by a waterfall.
It seemed like a good place to hide. Calvin could see that some long forgotten earthquake had blocked off the entrance to the valley. Furthermore, the elevation would make travel by helicopter difficult or impossible.
Sarah led him past the ruin towards the cliff face beside the waterfall.
He could see where she had dug out a tunnel behind the waterfall; she'd probably allowed the water to drag most of the leftover stone downstream. Even over the roar of the waterfall, he could hear the sound of machinery humming.
Sarah shoved the box filled with papers and computer equipment into his hands, then flashed into the waterfall at superhuman speed. She returned with the hood of a car, which she held over her head in such a way as to temporarily block the stream of water from over her head.
The water continued to beat down on either side of the car hood, but it made an admirable umbrella.
"You aren't much for chivalry, are you?" Calvin muttered as he floated under the impromptu canopy she had provided.
"I open my own doors and pay for my own meals too. Where have you been for the last fifty years?"
"Some women like old fashioned good manners," Calvin said, stung.
"Maybe the inbred debutantes you seem to spend time with do, but we're living in the era of the modern woman. I don't need any man to hold a door open for me; if I need to, I'll walk through the wall."
"It's a matter of good manners and common courtesy," Calvin repeated stiffly. They were now inside the cavern, and Sarah leaned the hood against one wall. He noticed a large plastic bag on the floor beside the wall and he scowled. She hadn't needed a car hood at all; she'd done it just to needle him.
"I don't need it."
Calvin handed the box to her and gestured. "Ladies first," he said deliberately.
Sarah had hollowed out a large area behind the waterfall, creating a cave the length and width of a football field. Even with her abilities, it must have taken time to hollow it out with her bare hands; she'd have had to give the river time to wash the rock she'd displaced downstream.
The back of the cavern was filled with wooden boxes and crates. In one corner was a real antique; a silver bullet shaped travel trailer. Heavy electrical cords led from the trailer to a turbine spinning in the water. The satellite dish pointing through the wall of water behind them was early twenty first century.
"What is all this?"
"You'd be surprised at how cheaply you can get older things if you really try."
"That has to be at least eighty years old!"
"It was the top of the line in its time. The humidity in here isn't good for equipment, so I needed an area I could climate control."
Calvin shrugged, and followed her into the trailer.
The interior was dark, lit only by the lights of a dozen devices.
Calvin's eyes adjusted almost immediately.
He was surprised to see a more modern computer setup than the one that had been in her apartment. It wasn't a top of the line model, but it had been produced in the past five years.
"You managed to buy all this with cash?" He asked.
She nodded. "The gamblers sometimes like to leave big tips."
"Why hide everything here?"
"I don't actually spend much time at my loft. After the third time being burglarized, I decided to move most of my expensive computer equipment here."
She pulled on a bulky pair of goggles and an outdated pair of cybernetic gloves. She began typing in midair.
Calvin stood still for a moment, then asked, "Why have you been looking for me?"
Sarah pulled the goggles off and handed them to him.
"Take a look at this."
He pulled the goggles on. It took him a moment to realize that he was looking at the records for the Jonathan Kent Center.
"What am I looking for?"
"The Center deals with the poorest of the poor, people who have slipped through the cracks. Many of them haven't even been entered into the system; they haven't been fingerprinted, had retinal scans taken, or had their genes mapped. "
Sara hesitated. "The screen on the right is the official record of the people we've taken care of for the past five years. The screen on the left is my own copy."
"You've got twenty people who aren't on the official record."
"Their records have been erased." Sarah's voice was grim.
Calvin frowned. "Those who are missing are all listed as having socialization problems."
"They had no friends, no family. Indigents often have a nomadic lifestyle, so there wouldn't be anyone to question their disappearance."
Calvin slipped the goggles off, and looked at Sarah for a moment.
"You seem to have noticed."
"One of the men on the list was my friend." She looked away. "When my aunt kicked me out of her house, I was left to wander the streets of Dallas alone. I was just thirteen years old and frightened out of my mind."
She stepped back and sat on a small sofa. "It seemed like the whole world was rioting. They'd used the Gryph guns to shut down the Food Riots in Los Angeles before they even started, but there weren't enough to go around. Dallas especially hadn't received many of them. The National Guard came in using real guns…it was terrifying."
Calvin nodded. As reporters his parents had been out in the middle of it. The whole country seemed to go insane for three days; he could remember watching everything happen on television.
"Junior helped me to hide during that time. He showed me how to survive on the streets too." Sarah was silent for a moment. "I had it better than most; I didn't get hungry all that often, and I didn't get hot or cold either. I was a late bloomer, and it was easy to disguise myself as a boy."
It was hard for Calvin to imagine Sarah disguised as a boy.
Sarah spoke again, and her voice was dangerous. "I was strong even then…strong enough to hold off those who would take advantage of a child. Still…without Junior, I would have been an easy mark for the first person with an easy line. I owe him, and I'm not going to allow him to be erased."
She sighed. "I came looking for you, hoping you'd have the resources to help me find him."
Calvin nodded soberly. "So why were you in Columbia?"
"The men you were playing cards with have numerous contacts with the underworld in Dallas. I'd hoped I could learn something of their plans. I found a job there pretty easily; they weren't checking the girls' identification."
Calvin could imagine.
"Did you learn anything?
"I learned about twenty new ways to curse in Spanish after you left. It really wasn't very nice to make them think you'd headed into the sewer. I hear the son of the cartel leader slipped and fell in."
Calvin grinned at her.
"I didn't hear anything, and I don't have any idea where to go now."
Calvin was silent for several moments. "The police were too heavily armed just to be dealing with a possible accomplice to a robbery."
"They may have assumed that I had a black market set of contact lenses or glasses; the robbers had Gryph guns…presumably they had the glasses too."
"Still…three swat teams would be overkill, unless they expected to meet the entire gang inside."
"I haven't done anything else to warrant suspicion." Sarah frowned. "I've spent my whole life trying to avoid attention."
Calvin could believe that. He had a feeling that Sarah was opening up for the first time to him and him alone. It was a heady feeling, one he'd have to be wary of. It would be all too easy to reciprocate, to reveal things he'd never revealed to anyone…and he didn't really have any reason to trust her.
"I'm guessing that you started asking questions about your friend, and about the other people who have disappeared." When she nodded, he continued. "What if the two events are connected?"
Sarah shook her head. "The drug cartels have power, but as far as I know, they don't have anyone high in the police rolls. It's getting harder and harder to bribe a police officer. The system raises a red flag if a cop starts receiving income from unknown sources. People start commenting if a cop starts spending cash too."
"There's always blackmail," Calvin said mildly.
He paused, then said, "Actually, I was wondering if your problem wasn't with someone other than the drug cartels. Those Swat teams arrived awfully fast; I'm wondering if they weren't taking their orders from someone higher up."
"The government?" Sarah looked alarmed. "Do you think they know what I am?"
Calvin shook his head. "They would have come better prepared. I think that maybe you tripped a red flag while you were looking into your friend's disappearance. These people were chosen for the fact that no one would ask any questions if they disappeared."
"Why would the government want a group of homeless men and women?"
Calvin stared at her bleakly. "There were a few things in common in their files. They were all under forty five years old. They were all in more or less perfect health, and they were all free of mental disease. None of them had children or spouses, and all were listed as being more or less alone."
He sighed. "Why would anyone want them? They wouldn't make good soldiers; most of them don't have any marketable skills."
She caught the look he was giving her and stiffened.
"You think they're being used as test subjects? What makes you think the government would do that?"
"In the name of the greater good?" Calvin snorted. "It's been done before. Remember the Gulf War? There were other incidents before that too. My parents believe that certain rogue elements in the government have been abducting people. They've been trying to gather evidence for years."
"Yes, but they weren't actually kidnapping people. They were giving them treatments without their full knowledge, but they weren't taking them from their homes."
"It's harder to hide tampering now than it was back then. Military personnel are less likely to simply volunteer for dangerous procedures anyway."
"All this could apply just as easily to the drug cartels. Maybe they need subjects for some new kind of drug?"
Calvin shook his head. "They have an unlimited supply of volunteers. Things may be getting better here, but abroad, a junkie is always getting ready for a better high."
Sarah sighed. "I don't even know where to start looking."
Calvin smiled, and pulled a card from his pocket. "I'd like to offer my services. "
Calvin was rather proud of the cards; he'd spent a great deal of money on them.
She took the card, and gasped as a holographic eye appeared in midair above the card, along with the logo.
"Doubting Thomas Investigations?"
"It's one of the advantages to being a liar and a cheat. I get to wear lots of different hats. I've got a little bit of experience in the investigation business; my parents are two of the best, and I guess you could say I have it in my blood."
She didn't say anything for a long moment, and Calvin could see the conflict playing itself out in her face.
Finally she nodded. "Junior was my friend. If you really think you can help…"
Calvin leaned forward.
Sarah sighed. "You're hired."
"I'm joking of course," Calvin said.. "Under normal circumstances you probably couldn't afford to hire me. However, since you've caught my interest, I'll do this one pro bono."
"How generous." Sarah's tone was acidic, but Calvin didn't let it bother him.
"I actually own a private investigation firm." Calvin grinned. "The employees think I spend most of my time in semi-retirement on a yacht off Aruba."
"And do you?"
"Well, the yacht's real. I rent it for cash to a group of Senators who want to avoid any publicity on their days off."
Sarah stared at him. "You make underhanded deals with Senators. Why am I not surprised?"
"The company does a lot of work for Senators." Calvin grinned. "It maintains the illusion that Harold Thomas actually has a life, and it helps maintain good relations with clients."
"Are you honest in any aspect of your life?"
"Honesty is highly overrated." Calvin glanced down.
"I'm sure you'd think so." Her voice was dry.
"We aren't going to be able to do much more tonight." Calvin glanced at the glowing digital readout that was providing most of the light inside the small trailer. They wouldn't be able to do much at four in the morning. "We should get some sleep."
She nodded. "I'll sleep in here." She patted the low couch she was sitting on.
"What…I don't get at least a pillow, or a blanket or something?"
"You afraid you'll get a crick in your neck?" Sarah laughed sarcastically. "That's not a problem for either of us."
"I got a crick in my neck once!" Calvin shrugged. "I was seven years old, but still…"
Sarah walked to the back of the trailer and pulled a light sheet and a tiny pillow out of an overhead bin. "This is the best I can do. Don't try to tell me you'll get cold…I've heard that line before."
"You think I'd try a line on you?"
"I think you've spent a little too much time with people who don't really care about anyone except themselves."
"Hey, I try to limit my time in Washington to no more than one day a month."
Sarah shoved the bedding into his arms and said, "No peeking either."
"I could say the same about you."
Sarah snickered. "Women don't look at men like that."
"I've got super hearing…I know better." Calvin smirked as he noticed a small flush of embarrassment on her cheeks. They both knew that women were often much more graphic when they talked about sex than men were. Men tended to speak in generalities, women in specifics.
"So you're an eavesdropper as well as a peeping Tom."
"Not as a rule…but sometimes I can't help but hear things."
It was strange how much more attractive Sarah was when she was blushing.
"Go to bed."
He shrugged, and headed out the door of the small trailer.
It was darker outside now than it had been before. The moon must have set, leaving the light that spilled from the windows of the trailer as the only light source for the whole cavern. Even to his enhanced vision, it was dim.
It was warm and humid too, though the heat didn't really affect him.
Calvin found a flat spot, allowed himself to hover flat, and clutched the pillow and sheet around him. The sounds of the waterfall and the hum of the trailer soon lulled him to sleep.
He dreamed. It was the same dream that had plagued him over and over for the past ten years.
He was speeding down a back road, and Skyler was pulling up beside him. It was fun — the feeling of the open road beneath him, the laughter of his friends. Calvin looked over at the other car to give his friend a gesture of appreciation.
He reeled in horror as he realized that only bare bloody bones filled the driver's seat of the other car. A skull turned and grinned at him, bloody tears streaming from its eye sockets. The others in the car were still alive, but were screaming in terror at the sight of their driver.
They never even heard the crash.
Calvin had heard it again and again, both in his dreams and sometimes while awake, over the past few years. It never failed to hurt him.
Calvin found himself in the truck driver's cab, his fist raised to strike. This time there were no sirens to save him. Instead, in a moment of blind, unyielding rage, his fist rose and fell. There was a sound like that of a watermelon being crushed, and then there was blood everywhere.
Calvin woke, his body drenched with sweat.
He'd never told his father how close he had come to murder that night. It wasn't something he thought his father would understand. The world believed that Superman was perfect, and Calvin knew better than anyone that wasn't true. However, his father didn't seem to have the same sort of dark side that Calvin did. The anger that hovered at the base of Calvin's skull never seemed to touch his father, and it made Calvin afraid.
The New Kryptonians had shown the world what harm supermen could do if they were unrestrained. One superman who lost control could cause incalculable damage.
All it would take would be a single mistake, one instant where Calvin lost control, even a little. Human lives were fragile, and if Calvin chose to ignore some of his father's teachings, one remained with him. Killing was unacceptable, under any circumstances. The sort of anger Calvin knew himself capable of was incompatible with his father's ideals. It was incompatible with everything Calvin had been raised to believe, and it frightened him.
A moment of anger, and a life could be lost. It was almost inconceivable.
Calvin noted that the cavern was lighter; apparently the sun would soon rise. He could hear the sounds of Sarah moving around inside the trailer. He let his feet drop to the ground.
She opened the door, looking at him speculatively. "You had a rough night."
"I slept like a baby."
She shook her head. "My hearing is at least as good as yours, maybe a little better. The sound of your heart beating woke me up; our heart rates are already faster than those of normal humans. Yours was beating like a jackhammer."
"It wasn't anything."
"Maybe it's a guilty conscience."
"It's none of your business." Calvin refused to look at her. "I'm sure you have parts of your life that you aren't proud of either."
She was silent for a moment. "What do we do now?"
"We have a long day ahead of us. First, I'll need to know exactly what you've found out on your own. Then we'll see what we can find out about your friend, and about the people who set the police on you."
She nodded quietly.
Calvin handed the bedding back to Sarah. "There may be nothing there, but if your own investigation triggered some red flags, we may be able to trace the commands back to whoever is responsible. To do it, we'll need to return to my place. Your system here is fine…but mine is the best money can buy."
She scowled. Calvin braced himself for another diatribe about ill-gotten gains, but Sarah changed her mind. She returned to the trailer, switched off a number of systems, and then closed the door behind her.
"All right, let's go."
They had to be even more careful about keeping under cloud cover during the day, but although it required that they detour and take the long way around, it was only a few minutes until they reached the back door to Calvin's home.
Calvin froze as he reached for his doorknob. He could hear several human heartbeats towards the front of the house. Luckily, he usually entered from the back door. He turned slightly and gestured. Sarah nodded, and faded back into the trees.
He entered the house silently, uttering a quiet command to keep all the lights dim. A flash of x-ray vision revealed several uniformed officers at the front of his house, with a squad car perched out front. They seemed to be waiting for something.
Calvin spun out of his clothing and into his shower, being careful to remain long enough to wet his hair. He wrapped a towel around his waist and put another in his hand. After a glance around his home to make sure nothing incriminating was immediately obvious, he spoke.
"Invisibility." he said quietly. He'd carefully programmed his computer to be able to conceal the existence of many of his sensitive files, making them seem to be part of large executable programs. Any attempt to access them without using the password would activate a virus that would quickly destroy the entire system.
He heard the sound of his doorbell. A quick glance in the mirror reassured him that he looked as if he had stepped out of the shower.
He opened the door.
"Calvin Kent?" Two officers stood on the other side of the door, one male and one female.
"Yes, officers? How can I help you?" Calvin ran his hand through his wet hair.
Two sets of mirrored lenses stared impassively back at him. The female officer held out a small photograph of Sarah.
"You were seen fleeing the scene of a crime last night in the same direction as this woman."
"I explained all that to the officer last night. Didn't he fill out the report correctly?" Calvin was careful to project an aura of bored impatience. "The criminals didn't bother to take anything from me, so I don't see that I have anything to add."
"This woman took part in a firefight last night and killed two police officers. We'd very much like to know where she is."
Calvin froze. He knew very well that Sarah hadn't gotten into a firefight with the police, much less killed anyone. She wouldn't have had time.
"I haven't seen her since last night." Calvin shook his head. "I didn't even know she worked for one of my charities until the officer informed me about it."
Calvin gestured. "Come on in."
The two officers entered his house.
"I guess you never really know what anyone is going to be up to. After the officer told me about the woman's connection to one of my charities, I called my head man at the Jonathan Kent Center and he had nothing but praise for her." He paused for a moment. "I had no idea she even existed until last night."
"We notice you don't keep any cameras on your property."
"It's a status thing…none of my neighbors have them either. Of course after last night…" Calvin affected a shudder. "Well, I'm generally strong enough to handle myself in a fist fight, but what can anyone do against a pistol or a gryph-gun?"
He could smell the pheromones coming from the female officer, and he could hear her heart beating a little faster as he toweled himself off. She was attracted to him; hopefully he'd be able to use it to his own advantage.
"I can't believe I stood that close to such a dangerous criminal. Do the police have any idea what she wanted? There were many rich and famous people at that party last night."
"That's a matter under investigation. We've had trouble accessing your computer files. Can you explain that?"
"I'm a wealthy man. I invest in any number of private ventures that I don't care to have made public knowledge."
"I'll have to request that you allow me access to your systems."
Calvin had the right to refuse. Refusal, however, would place him under suspicion.
"I'll agree to that, within limits. Assuming that you don't find anything useful to your investigation, I'll have to ask that you erase any other information you find. I'm sure there are plenty of people who'd like to get access to my new book before it's published."
"We are the police; you can trust us." The man's voice was flat.
"Nevertheless, that's what my lawyer has advised me to demand in these cases."
"You expected to find yourself in this situation?"
"Not really. But after the Los Angeles Police accidentally released Mercedes Rule's new novel, it became public domain; and she lost the copyright. If you'll check subsection 62,345 of the civic code, you'll find the exact procedure required."
"You're very familiar with the rule of law."
"My publisher was instrumental in getting it passed. He's very interested in making sure that Texas remains a publishing center. If we aren't careful, we could go the way of New York and Los Angeles."
The male officer remained still for almost a minute. Calvin knew he was checking on the relevant regulations as they flashed by on the inside of his glasses. The female kept her eyes on him; even though he couldn't see her eyes, he knew she was looking.
The officer nodded. "We'll take care of it, Mr. Kent."
He turned and headed for the squad car to pick up some equipment.
The female officer leaned toward him, and said, "I've read your last three books, Mr. Kent. We'll keep this as painless as possible." The woman hesitated. "I gather you aren't dating anyone steadily."
Calvin smiled as broadly as he could and leaned forward a little. "I don't make any secret of the fact that I like spending time with women."
He could see his own naked torso reflected in the lenses of her glasses. She was beginning to perspire, and her heart rate accelerated again.
"Is this woman as dangerous as they say?"
"She's a cop-killer. That's all we really need to know," The woman's voice tightened and she stiffened as her partner returned with a piece of equipment the size of an old-fashioned laptop computer."
"Where do you keep your central unit?"
"I keep it under the breakfast bar." Calvin gestured. His kitchen was separated from the living room only by a breakfast bar.
The male officer squatted and inserted a probe from his device.
"You don't mind me getting dressed, do you?"
He smirked inwardly at the thought that the female officer wanted to protest.
"Go right ahead. This may take me a while."
The female officer followed him back into his bedroom, looking around carefully.
"I'll change in the bathroom."
Calvin walked into the bathroom, and changed clothes at superspeed. He switched on his hair dryer, even as he used heat vision to dry his hair. He slipped on his glasses and wristbands and activated them.
His intrusion into the system almost set off the police officer's device. Calvin was forced to be careful, but he managed to access the information that had been previously downloaded into the device. He placed the information into one of his hidden files, then did his best to make sure the policeman wouldn't find anything of importance.
He had finally satisfied himself when he heard a knock at the door. He slipped the glasses and goggles off and carefully hid them on the top shelf of his closet, under a set of towels.
"Are you all right in there, Mr. Kent?"
Calvin slapped on expensive French cologne, then opened the door.
The female officer peered into the bathroom, as though she expected to see someone else inside. This brought her close to him in the doorway, and she froze.
"I think we're done here. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter."
Calvin leaned forward. "If I can be of any assistance…any assistance at all…please feel free to call me."
She stared up at him, unmoving, then smiled. "I'll keep that in mind, Mr. Kent."
Calvin followed the woman back into the living room.
The male officer scowled. "You've been very helpful, Mr. Kent. We'll be in touch."
The two officers left.
Calvin smiled for a moment. They'd leave with the impression that he was a womanizer, but hopefully they'd think he was harmless.
He turned to find Sarah waiting for him.
"You don't have any shame, do you?"
She'd been watching the entire thing from back in the woods, he realized. For a moment, he wondered if she'd liked what she'd seen.
"We have more to worry about." He closed the door behind him. He raised his voice. "Release the files…password integrity."
He waited several seconds for the computer to reorganize the information.
"Give me the contents of file x-chiba-three."
Information flashed across the screen for several seconds before Calvin said, "Stop!" The images ceased moving, leaving one set frozen on the wall.
Sarah gasped as she looked at the pictures of two men projected onto his wall. "Those are the police officers I talked to about Jacob being missing."
"According to the police records, they are also the men the police are claiming you shot and killed last night when they stormed your loft."
She stared at him wordlessly.
"Culverson and Gutierrez can't be dead." Sarah was almost at a loss for words. "I talked to them just the other day…they were going to look into the disappearances."
"Someone didn't want either them or you looking around." Calvin's voice was grim. "Killing them and blaming you is the simplest solution."
Sarah stared at the faces on the wall for several long moments. "They both had families."
"At one time, so did every man who was missing." Calvin hesitated. "They've got every policeman in the state looking for you; you won't be able to use your Smartcard anywhere in the country without it raising a flag."
"They weren't supposed to get hurt."
"They risked their lives every day to prevent the sort of thing that's happening. They knew the risks."
"It was just supposed to be a missing persons case."
"Obviously it's more than that."
She sighed. "They were good men, local cops that everybody liked. That's not so common anymore."
Calvin hesitated, then said, "Bad things happen to good people sometimes. If we don't learn to accept it, we won't ever get anywhere."
Sarah simply stood staring at the faces on the screen for several long moments.
Calvin pulled a second set of wristbands from beside the couch.
"Give me a few minutes and I'll create a false identity for you. It won't stand up to much scrutiny; the better ones can take even me up to a week to create. We'll have to do something about your appearance as well."
She nodded soberly. "I suppose you have a great deal of experience avoiding the law."
"If you want to live free these days, that sort of experience is invaluable." Calvin's hands flashed over the virtual keyboard; he had enough practice using the wristbands that he didn't actually need the glasses to see the key positions, and the information was appearing on his wall in letters six inches tall.
The information flashed past on the screen, too fast for the human eye to see. Sarah, however, had no trouble keeping up.
"You are making me a junkie? Addicted to Grab and to Rip…and a dealer too?" Sarah's voice rose with outrage.
"We won't be dealing with angels," Calvin said dispassionately. "A criminal record is a key to acceptability to some people. I'll create another couple of identities as well. A teacher unemployed in the latest wave of layoffs and a wealthy Internet heiress."
Sarah nodded, slightly mollified. "I suppose it could have been worse. Still, do I look like a Grab addict?"
"Addicts haven't been using needles for the past five years; besides, you've supposedly been drug free for the past four months."
"What if they call the rehab center?" Sarah asked, watching the information roll across the screen.
"They won't. Most people have become utterly dependent on online sources of information." Calvin grinned. "Just in case though…I gave you the same name as one of the patients recently released from there. The staff will remember the name; the woman has a mild resemblance to you, and I've replaced the picture in their files."
"Won't there be some danger if that woman comes back?"
"She won't be coming back. She overdosed on Grab this morning. I've suppressed the records of her death."
"You really are a cold and heartless bastard, aren't you?"
Calvin let his hands drop and turned to her in surprise. "I'd have prevented her death if I could. Since she doesn't have any living relatives, her body has already been donated to a medical school. I'm simply taking advantage of what has happened to her to help prevent an injustice from happening to others."
"So the end justifies the means." Sarah's voice was flat.
Calvin nodded. "As long as the ends don't actually injure the innocent, yes, I think they do." Calvin gestured at the screen, and the images of the missing men appeared. "You don't think these are the only victims, do you? Most likely they are taking a few here and a few there from all across the country…if not the world. There's no way of telling how widespread this will end up being.
"It seems wrong to do it like this."
"You have to look to the greater good," Calvin sighed. "We don't always get to choose the path we'd like to travel in life; sometimes you have to travel the low road."
Sarah was silent as Calvin began to type furiously in mid-air.
The two other identities took only a few minutes to finish. Calvin stopped typing.
"I've got a computer program that generates your consumer goods purchases over the past ten years or so. It'll take a few minutes to create a history for all three identities. Why don't we have a drink?"
"Juice or soda?"
"I'd have thought you'd offer alcohol to your female guests."
Calvin shrugged. "It wouldn't really affect either of us. I don't need to get my dates intoxicated; and since I don't like the taste, there isn't much reason to keep it around. I drink at parties to maintain an image…but this is my home, the one place I can be myself."
"You don't bring your dates here?
"No. Other than my mother and that police officer earlier, you are the only female ever to enter my humble abode." Calvin looked around for a moment. "Not many males have been here either."
"I'll take juice…whatever you have."
Calvin poured two glasses of orange juice, emptying the carton. He flashed the carton's bar code by the scanner on the refrigerator, then tossed the carton into the garbage can. The system would inform his local grocer, who would ensure that his weekly deliveries replaced everything he had used up.
Calvin handed her the glass of orange juice and sipped from his own. He turned back to the screen, which was finished. He quickly went over the lists, individualizing them. He increased the over-the-counter medication purchases by the teacher identity, especially during the winter and over the cold season. The drug dealer developed exotic tastes in music and the debutante a predilection for offbeat magazines and books.
"You have to individualize the purchase patterns, give them a little life; if they are too perfect, people who are skilled at looking at this sort of information will notice. I've eavesdropped on NSA training courses a time or two, and I have a good idea of the sort of things they are looking for. I'm sure the underworld has people who are almost as skilled."
Sarah nodded. "What if I'm asked about the music or the books?"
"I'll give you the complete set; at full speed it shouldn't take ten minutes to assimilate everything."
"Computer, voice mode. Accept input from the following voice."
He turned to her again. "Try to pinpoint the time and place from which your friend was kidnapped."
"He went missing 10 days ago…November 11th, 2024, between one o'clock A.M. and eight o'clock A.M." She turned to him. "I've questioned a lot of the people in the neighborhood, and that was as close as I could get it.'
She turned back to the screen. "He was living in an abandoned apartment at 1300 Harry Hines Boulevard and was seen entering it before he disappeared."
Calvin nodded. "That'll be enough." He lifted his arms and began to type quickly. Maps began to flash across the screen with superhuman quickness. A final street map appeared in extreme closeup, with blinking lights and black dots."
"The cameras in the area are all non-functional."
"The city hasn't cared much about the poor sections of the city for a long while."
"I'm sure whoever took him was aware that the cameras weren't working." Calvin rapidly typed a series of commands into the computer. "However, every street that exits the area has a camera at some point. I'll simply have the computer look for vehicles that entered and exited the area during the time frame indicated."
"That's a pretty sophisticated program. Do you use it often?"
Calvin shook his head. "I'm using the Dallas Central Traffic Authority system. The police use it all the time when they are tracking suspects who may have entered an area not covered."
"Won't the police notice that you are using their system?"
"I'm logged in as a legitimate officer. The fact that the officer has no real existence doesn't matter to the system. If the men in black investigate too closely, they'll get a nasty surprise."
"You like to live on the edge."
Calvin glanced back at her. "Why not? Everybody has to have a hobby."
A list of vehicle registration numbers appeared. Three hundred forty seven vehicles had both entered and left the area.
"Let's eliminate all vehicles which have entered and left the area at least five times in the days following the kidnapping."
The list shrank to twenty three vehicles.
"Let's eliminate all vehicles not registered to Dallas residents."
That eliminated all of the vehicles.
"Let's go back a step. Let's see if any of the owners are listed as government employees."
"Did any head out of town that same night?" Sarah asked suddenly.
Calvin typed, and then shook his head.
"Did any spend much time in other blind spots in the system?"
Three had. From that point it was easy to discover that a government owned van had left one of the blind areas twenty minutes after one of the three vehicles had spent a suspiciously long time in the area.
The government van had headed straight for the airport.
Cameras had been placed throughout the airport to prevent baggage handler theft. One set went blank ten minutes before a small plane left the airport, headed for Columbia. It's function was inexplicably restored an hour later.
"We haven't proven anything," Calvin said, "But I'll bet that we have it right. The trail will be harder to pick up in Columbia; we'll have to go there in person. I have an identity that does some business down there from time to time."
"Not as a gambler, I hope."
"We'll be all the way on the other side of the country. It's just as well; I had an appointment to keep in the area tomorrow in any case."
Calvin gestured, and the screen went blank.
"Editor's office, Daily Planet, please."
It was only a moment before the familiar logo of the Daily Planet was replaced by a view of the office.
Lois Lane didn't look like she was fifty eight years old, in spite of the fact that she'd never bothered to have any cosmetic surgery. She looked like a woman in her mid-forties; her years with Clark Kent had been kind to her.
The anti-aging drugs she'd been taking for the past five years helped, of course, but Lois had always had a timeless sort of beauty. She'd made peace with herself many years earlier, and that inner serenity had allowed her to become an emotional rock.
His father said that Lois had once been a babbler. That wasn't the person Calvin had grown up knowing. His mother was a self-assured woman who was comfortable holding the reins of power.
She could have telecommuted to work each day, never leaving her home like the majority of her peers. The Daily Planet was now entirely electronic; it would have been easy to work entirely as a virtual presence. Lois Lane had always preferred to be in the middle of the action. Furthermore, she'd always managed to keep her home life separate from her work life.
The fact that her small office and a bullpen with four desks was all that was left of the physical presence of the Daily Planet did not phase her. Her influence was even broader than ever.
"It's good of you to call. I'm glad your father was able to track you down."
"I may have something on the Sanderson story, Mom. It's happened again, this time at the center I set up for Granpa."
Lois nodded grimly. "We've been trying to get evidence for years without much success. Do you think you'll be able to find anything?"
"I have a few leads…nothing I can prove, just yet, but hopefully I'll have more to offer in a day or two."
"You ARE still going to Thanksgiving dinner this year, aren't you? Gramps and Aunt Lucy have really been looking forward to seeing you."
Calvin nodded. "It's hard to believe Gramps is still working after all these years."
At eighty years of age, Sam Lane was showing no signs of slowing down, and Calvin was glad of that. He'd lost his other grandparents over the years, and he needed that connection with the past. Luckily, Sam seemed to be in better health than ever; while his latest wife was half his age, she seemed to be good for him.
"Who is the young lady standing beside you?"
Calvin could see the curiosity in his mother's eyes, and mentally, he sighed. Once Lois decided to know something, she found out about it regardless of the cost. It would be easier in the long run to give her what she wanted, at least in part.
"This is Sarah Knight. She brought what was happening to my attention; now she's on the run from the police for something I know she didn't do."
Lois looked at Sarah appraisingly. "You are sure there isn't any truth to the charges?"
Calvin flushed. She didn't need to be so blunt. "I had already left with Sarah when the crime was supposedly committed. They are trying to eliminate the evidence. I'll send you a packet of what we've got so far."
"I wouldn't send anything online," his mother said. "I know you have the best encryption software around, or we wouldn't be talking like this, but still…"
Calvin nodded. "I'll have a hard copy delivered air mail."
Lois was silent for several moments. "You should really call more often."
"I know. I just get so busy sometimes…and things get so tense with dad."
"Try to make peace with him. You'd both be much happier."
"If your friend has no place else to go, she'd be welcome to join us for Thanksgiving."
For a moment Calvin couldn't speak. His mother rarely chose to even admit that his dates existed, much less invite them into her home.
He was surprised to hear Sarah speak. "I'd be happy to accept, Mrs. Lane, assuming circumstances permit. I'm a big fan of your work, and I'd love to talk to you about it."
Calvin turned to stare at Sarah. He hadn't told Sarah that his father was Superman because he still wasn't sure he could trust her. His father's secret wasn't his to reveal; he'd need to talk to him before they met. It would be all too easy for Sarah to notice things about his father that weren't exactly human.
Lois was nodding. "We'll be expecting you then."
Calvin grimaced. "I'll get the information to you as quickly as I can." There was time to worry about Thanksgiving later. He wasn't sure how it had happened so quickly. His mother had seen Sarah for less than a minute before asking her to dinner.
She smiled at him, and he almost groaned at the twinkle in her eye. It meant trouble; it always had.
The screen went blank.
Calvin turned and stared at Sarah.
She shrugged. "I've always wanted to meet your mother."
Calvin cursed under his breath. "Make yourself comfortable. I'm going to drop the information off for my mother and pick something up to eat."
"I'm actually a fair hand at cooking.:"
"All right." Calvin stared at the woman who seemed to be taking control of his life. "I'll pick up some fresh vegetables on the way back. I don't cook very often; it seems like a lot of trouble when you live alone."
He began to gather the materials he intended to take to his mother. She grinned at his obvious discomfort.
"We'll be starting early tomorrow. We're heading back to Columbia.".
It was going to be a long week.
A great deal depended on how good an actress Sarah could be.
The transformation to Johnny Ramirez,, gun runner was simple for Calvin. A simple skin tint vigorously applied, a false moustache, and a different way of moving, speaking and holding himself, helped create a persona.
"Johnny, my friend!" Miguel Mendovar was a thin, gaunt man, a minor cog in the Mendovar empire. "It's good to see that you're as prompt as always."
"I'm your best customer, compadre." Calvin grinned. "If I don't show up on time, I know there are dozens of hombres who will."
"Who's the girl?" Miguel glanced in Sarah's direction.
"A Gringa I picked up in Miami. We've been spending a lot of time together. I'll send her outside when it's time to deal. Maybe we can get a drink afterward."
Miguel nodded. "Send her out, and we'll talk."
Calvin made a curt gesture to Sarah, and she slipped outside the warehouse door. Calvin and Miguel moved deeper into the shadows of the warehouse.
"I'm afraid you won't be happy to know that we are forced to raise prices again by another twenty percent."
"What is it this time?"
"We lost another factory." Miguel shook his head. "We don't know who has been sabotaging the factories, but when we find out…"
"You still have three factories. There won't be any problem with filling my orders over the next year, will there?" Calvin tried to look anxious as he looked around at the stacked boxes. "It's not like we can just purchase weapons from the legitimate manufacturers."
The authorities watched the legitimate gun makers very carefully. No weapon left the factory without a fingerprint authorized trigger lock; the locks couldn't be removed without destroying the gun. While there was still a thriving trade in older weapons, most of them were expensive and hard to afford. The cheap weapons used by most street gangs were illegally slapped together in South American factories, then smuggled across the border. While it was illegal to carry weapons without the trigger locks, many young criminals were willing to take the risk. Gryph guns were hideously expensive, well out of the range of most young criminals.
"As long as we don't lose another factory. We'll take care of your orders before those of the other customers; you always pay on time and in cash."
Calvin looked around. "Is this lot the same as the last time?"
Miguel nodded. "Assault rifles, cheap handguns, the works. None of it is top of the line, but we're selling to the cheap market."
"You have an invoice?"
Calvin pretended to look at the invoice as he stared through the wall at Sarah. She was standing just out of view of the guard, and he could tell from the tenseness of her body that she was angry. He probably should have explained things more clearly before they left.
"This looks fine. Get it all loaded onto the Gypsy Queen, and I'll bring the money to our usual meeting place."
Miguel grinned. "A little wine and women never hurt anybody, eh compadre?"
Calvin slapped the smaller man on the back and grinned. "I've got my own girl this time around, and the new hasn't worn off her yet. Still, I'll bring her with me, and we can have a few drinks together."
Calvin could see that Sarah was trembling outside, undoubtedly with outrage. He'd have to get her away from the scene quickly, or risk being discovered.
"In fact, let's have lunch."
The younger man nodded.
Calvin turned and left the area, gesturing for Sarah to follow him. They quickly got into the jeep Calvin had rented, and headed into the jungle.
"Sarah…" Calvin began to explain.
She burst out laughing, and Calvin stared at her dumbfounded.
"I guess the new really hasn't worn off our relationship!" She giggled, and Calvin noted again that her face tended to light up when she smiled.
"Hey, I was only…"
"I know. I worked as a cocktail waitress for these people for several days; I know what they are like."
"It doesn't offend you, what I'm doing here?" Calvin was incredulous.
"If you were really running guns for the Mendovar family, you never would have let me within a hundred miles while you made the deal. You're much too clever to make that kind of mistake, so I know you have something else in mind." Her expression turned serious. "Of course, if I discover that you are actually selling guns to kids on the street, you won't find it funny at all." Her tone was flat, and Calvin had no doubt that she was dead serious
Calvin shook his head. "I've been sabotaging the factories as quickly as they build them; I buy as many of the guns as I can, then destroy them." He glanced at her for a moment, then grinned. "I must be doing something right; the price of illegal weapons has almost doubled on the street."
"Why not destroy all the factories?"
"The Mendovars keep the European dealers and the Asian Triads from getting involved; they tend to be extremely territorial," Calvin grinned. "I'm paying for this shipment with money I won from boss Mendovar himself, on the night we met."
"There is a sort of irony to that, but aren't you just encouraging them to build more factories by keeping up demand?"
Calvin shook his head. "They have smaller buyers literally begging for more product; I buy enough to keep more than half the guns off the streets, and every time they have to re-build a factory, it costs them far more than I pay them. I try to pay them with their own money when I can; I've been bleeding them for the past five years."
"So instead of sending the leaders to jail, you send them to the poorhouse?"
"These organizations are set up so that when one leader falls, another is instantly ready to take his place. Given the corruption in law enforcement here in Columbia, there isn't any real way to attack them except through the checkbook."
Sarah was silent for a moment. "It just seems like there should be a better way. You aren't satisfied with this sort of life any more than I would be."
"What makes you think you know me?" Calvin glanced at her, mildly irritated by her presumptuousness.
"I've always had a sense about people." She smirked.
"Give me a break. Don't tell me you're psychic on top of everything else!"
"The New Kryptonians were telepathic. Why is it so unbelievable that we might have a touch of that ability, when we have so many of the others?"
"They were telepathic with each other, not with people from earth." Calvin couldn't tell her his real reason for doubting any telepathic abilities. He'd never felt any sort of telepathic bond with his father; he'd have been horrified if he had. Of course, he'd always thought his parents shared something more than an ordinary sense of closeness, but…well, his mother wasn't a Kryptonian, so it should be a moot point.
Calvin shook his head. "That would be the last thing the world would need. The only privacy we have left is in our own skulls; there wouldn't be anywhere left to run if people could actually read minds."
"I always thought that telepathy would be a great thing to have…a way to bridge the gap between people." Sarah stared into her lap. "I just can't believe that every person was meant to be an island, all alone in the universe of their own mind."
"Just because you have a little privacy doesn't mean you are alone." Calvin smiled at her. "I haven't felt very lonely lately. Have you?"
Sarah glanced at him, then looked back down at her lap. "No, and I don't know why. It's not as though you are the sort of man I always dreamed about."
Calvin grunted. "Neither one of us is perfect. Maybe it's just being around someone we can talk to about the things that make us special…someone who isn't a parent."
"They wouldn't understand anyway. I don't think anyone could who hadn't gone through it."
She still didn't realize that his father was Superman. Calvin needed more than ever to talk to his father. Not only was his father's identity his father's secret to keep, but his father was going to be very upset when he learned what had happened to Sarah and her mother. He already carried a huge burden of guilt related to the invasion; Calvin would have tried to hide the knowledge to protect him, but it was likely to emerge at some point. It would be better if Calvin broke the news to him gently.
The jeep bumped across the rutted dirt road. They rode in silence for several minutes until they finally found themselves outside the jungle.
They left the dirt road and turned onto the main highway, headed for Santa Marta.
"You've memorized all the information about your identity, right?"
Sarah nodded scornfully. "There's nothing wrong with my memory."
"Good. If you want to come along at all, you'd best be prepared to act the part. I may get a little touchy- feely. Don't hit me until later."
"I'm surprised you allowed me to come along." She glanced at him. "It would have been easier for you to do everything yourself while I hovered out of sight."
"I wouldn't be able to stop you from interfering." Calvin stared at the road. "Besides, Miguel is the sort of man who gets chatty when he's drunk and around a pretty woman. If you weren't available, I would have hired someone."
Sarah looked shocked. She was silent for a moment, then said, "It's pretty easy for you to use people, isn't it?"
Calvin looked at her for a moment before saying, "I know what my priorities are, if that's what you are asking. I wouldn't endanger an innocent person."
Neither said anything more on the twenty-minute ride into Santa Marta. Calvin made his way through the overcrowded streets with an expert hand, and soon they were at the restaurant.
Seats were waiting for them in a small courtyard open to the sun. A bubbling fountain and a breeze from the ocean made the courtyard comfortable for the patrons. The restaurant wasn't officially open yet, but they were ushered inside without any protest.
"I'll have my usual," he said to the waitress. "My lady friend will have the same."
"What makes you think you know what to order for me?" Sarah's voice was indignant.
"I'm a little bit psychic," Calvin said, then grinned. "I've seen your restaurant records for the past ten years. I think it has given me a pretty good idea of what your tastes are like."
"Not everything about me is a matter of public record. You should know that as well as anyone."
The first round of drinks arrived; frozen marguerritas.
"These are a specialty of the house. They make them extra strong, which isn't an issue for us, but for Miguel…"
They both stiffened as they heard the sound of Miguel's voice approaching them. "Keep loading the goods, but don't let them leave until I give the word."
He was speaking quietly, but their senses of hearing were sharp enough to catch it.
Miguel smiled broadly as he turned the corner into the courtyard. A large, muscular, dangerous looking woman accompanied him. Weapons were concealed in various places on her person; they wouldn't have been obvious to a normal observer, but to Calvin they were easily seen.
"Do you have it?"
Calvin nudged the bag at his feet toward them. Miguel smiled and gestured to the woman, who took the bag. She and a couple of others would count the money before giving word to Miguel that the transaction was complete.
"Let's have a little dinner while we wait." Miguel gestured for a waitress, and quickly ordered. His drinks were served even more quickly than theirs had been.
Miguel took a sip, then said, "We have to be a little more trusting, Senor Ramirez. You could have brought the cash with you and not feared for your safety. Our reputation is the keystone to our business. We didn't become the sole supplier for the United States by cheating our largest customers."
"It's not your organization I don't trust, Senor Mendovar. I just cannot imagine driving through the countryside with that much money. All it would take would be one roadblock and one set of thugs with guns."
"We've kept order fairly well here in Columbia. Our country was filled with rival warring gangs of thugs until we stepped in and unified the entire underworld."
"You haven't had any troubles with Intergang, have you?"
"There are those who suspect that you work for Intergang yourself, Senor Ramirez. You don't really fit the profile for most of the small dealers."
Calvin shook his head. "It's possible that some of the people I sell to may work for Intergang, but if they do, I'd prefer not to know. Knowledge can be deadly."
Miguel was on his second drink. "That's a very wise position to take."
"Still, there are some things that concern me. I've heard rumors that the federales are up to something big; perhaps another strike on the drug fields."
Miguel leaned forward. "I would not worry about that if I were you. You've made it clear that you aren't interested in drugs, and besides, I've heard rumors that drugs aren't the wave of the future."
"The drug war hasn't succeeded in fifty years. Why should things change?"
Miguel took his third glass, then waited for the waitress to leave. "I've heard that the boss is working with the Americans on something that will make drugs as we know them obsolete."
Calvin was silent. "Your boss is working WITH the feds? He'd better be careful, or he'll end up sharing a cell with half the drug dealers in Miami."
Miguel shook his head. "They are working without the permission of the American Congress. They needed land and money, so they made a deal with him."
Miguel stiffened for a moment, listening to voices from his sunglasses, then nodded. "Everything checks out. Your ship will set sail momentarily."
The waitress began bringing their meal.
Calvin allowed the waitress to set the steaming plates on the table. He was glad he was wearing his glasses. While he would be forced to use the datalink in his rental jeep, he'd still be able to check the information he needed. He slipped his hands under the table, then began moving his fingers quickly. Images flashed across the inside of his lenses until finally he gave a sigh of satisfaction.
One of the Mendovar shell companies had sold two thousand acres of land to another shell company, one Calvin knew was often used as a front for the CIA. He quickly accessed a topographical map of the area, as well as satellite images.
The satellite showed very little. Care had been taken to make the installation as inconspicuous as possible. Calvin noticed that the elevation on the installation site was much higher than it had been before; in all likelihood there was an extensive underground complex.
He returned his attention to Mendovar, noticing that Sarah had smoothly turned to conversation to inanities. She probably had a great deal of experience in dealing with the drunk and obnoxious in her career as a card dealer.
Calvin reached out and squeezed her hand. He was surprised to feel a shock of pleasure in the contact. She looked at him sharply as he spoke.
"I'm lucky to find this one."
Miguel grinned and nodded. Calvin pulled away, reluctantly, resuming his meal.
Calvin quickly discovered that Sarah could be a lively dinner companion when she needed to be. He remained strictly in character, though he found himself looking at her more than he should.
Calvin nodded. Sarah excused herself, presumably to head for the bathroom.
"You should be careful of that one," Miguel said, nodding in the direction of Sarah's retreating figure.
"Why?" Calvin asked. "She's no different than any of the others."
"You look at her differently, and that makes her different. Be careful that she doesn't betray you. Women can be treacherous."
Calvin nodded quietly, certain that Sarah was listening in. "I'll watch her like a hawk."
"Shipments are getting harder to acquire. If things continue in the way they have been, prices are going to have to keep rising."
"I've been passing the cost onto the customers of course. They haven't stopped buying yet, but when I start coming up with unsold guns…that'll be the limit."
Miguel nodded soberly. "We'll get whoever is responsible for all of this, and then life will get back to normal."
"Have another drink on me." Calvin said, sliding an American twenty-dollar bill across the table.
"Remember what I said about the woman."
Calvin nodded. Sarah was returning. "I'll contact you later about our next meeting."
Calvin escorted Sarah out as quickly as he could. They didn't speak as he returned the rental jeep to the dealership, then walked down a number of streets hand in hand with Sarah. Luckily, street cameras were in place only in places of importance.
They found a place to fly without being observed, and quickly left.
Calvin led Sarah to a small island about ten miles away from shore. A small house and a warehouse were the only buildings on the island, and workers were unloading the last of a small shipload of cartons and boxes.
Careful to avoid the attention of the workers, Calvin took Sarah to the other side of the island. He began walking along the beach. "It looks like it'll be another half hour before they finish unloading."
"What do you do with all the guns, after you destroy them?" Sarah asked. "They ought to leave a considerable amount of slag."
Calvin said quietly. "I'll show you in just a few minutes. You'll probably laugh."
"No, I won't!"
"We'll have to see." He glanced at her. "Why did you really accept my mother's invitation?"
She smiled. "I've read your mother's books…I've read some of Clark Kent's work as well. I think they must be remarkable people to have raised you, knowing what they knew."
Calvin felt uncomfortable.
"Especially your father. Raising a son who was not his own…it takes a special kind of man." "He was adopted." Calvin sighed. "He IS a special man, though."
She still thought he was like her, a child of New Kryptonian abuse. She would be hurt when she learned differently. He felt an urge to tell her the truth. It would be easier to tell her now than it would be to wait until she found out on her own. It was a lesson his father had been forced to learn the hard way. His parents had almost not gotten married over the issue. On the other hand, it wasn't really his secret to tell. Calvin decided that he would talk to his father beforehand, then prepare Sarah as best as he knew how. If they were to have a continuing friendship, he needed to be careful of her feelings.
He glanced over to the other side of the island, looking through trees, rocks and intervening walls to note that the men had already set sail.
"They think that another ship comes to pick up the weaponry."
He flew around to the other side of the island and quickly unlocked a door on the side of the metal warehouse building.
Three million dollars worth of weapons didn't make much of a dent in the cavernous warehouse. They sat stacked in boxes to one side. Half of the warehouse was built with concrete and metal on land; the rest was built out over the water.
"I've purchased twelve thousand assorted handguns and automatic rifles. Under ordinary circumstances, I could sell them on the street for twice the purchase price."
Calvin began ripping the crates open and tossing the weapons into the center of the room. He did this at superspeed, until he had a large pile of weapons.
"At first, I just threw them into the ocean, figuring the Mariannas trench would take care of any problems there might be. Later, I stumbled onto an idea."
Calvin began melting the guns, then began to move at superhuman speed. By shaping the metal as it melted, then applying small bursts of coldness with his breath, he was able to feel a form coming into existence under his hands.
Finally he stopped, and stepped back.
"What do you think?"
She stared for several long moments, then said, "What is it?"
"It's a horse."
"It doesn't look like a horse. It doesn't even look like a dog."
Calvin stared critically at the sculpture in front of him. "Well, it did run a little bit, but they always do."
"It ran more than a little bit. It looks more like Mount Vesuvius than a horse."
Calvin thought for a moment, then said, "All right, I'll call it Vesuvius in Repose."
"You don't actually get people to buy these things, do you?"
Calvin grinned. "If it's big enough, and gaudy enough, people will buy almost anything. It doesn't matter how little talent you have — if you are able to come up with an eloquent explanation about meaning and mood, people will eat it right up."
"Really…that looks like an eyesore to me."
"To me, it is symbolic of the brooding strength within every man, silent until provoked into frenzied action. It represents the id, man's wild side, that part of ourselves that we keep locked away until it finds its own opening and explodes outward."
She stood with her arms crossed. "It looks like a big blob to me."
"I've sold four of them. They don't pay nearly what the weapons cost, of course, but when I fake the sculptors' death, the prices should go through the roof."
She shook her head. "At least you aren't selling guns to kids."
"Glad to see that I'm not all bad?"
"Who said you weren't all bad?"
Calvin grinned, then turned toward the small house. "I've found the location of the complex. I'll download the information to you when we get to the house."
He smiled slyly. "I've got some etchings I'd like to show you anyway."
She scowled, but he could see a faint hint of amusement in her eyes.
"I'll be glad to get all this over with." She glanced back at the hulking sculpture behind her. "If that's an example of your artistic skills, I'll have to pass."
Calvin grinned again. "Nobody can be good at everything."
He whistled a merry tune as he followed her toward the house. Sometimes life was good.
The streets were dark, and the sky was the color of blood.
Calvin reeled along, frightened and confused, as the sounds of people laughing, crying, making love and screaming in pain almost overwhelmed him. He could hear gunshots in the distance, and the sounds of fear.
It was all that he could do to carry on. His vision wasn't quite right. At times, it focused on things that were far ahead. Other times, he could see the pores on his forearm.
He was startled as he looked down. His arm was stick thin, and small. He glanced at the window beside him, and gaped at his reflection.
Reflected in the mirror was a waif. The child was painfully thin; its eyes seemed huge in an undernourished face. Its sex was impossible to determine; it was dressed in second hand clothes, baggy and unisex. The child's face was dirty, and tear tracks ran down each cheek.
He lifted one hand to his cheek, and the reflection repeated the move. He glanced down at his thin arms and hands, and he was afraid.
He turned and began to walk aimlessly. Somehow, he knew that he didn't have a home, at least not any longer. There wasn't anyplace he could go, no one to turn to, and the world was a large and frightening place.
He heard the sounds of a mob, and he stared in horror as he looked around the corner. A crowd of people was running toward him, and he could hear the sounds of gunshots at the back of the crowd.
He turned to run; before he was able to, he was grabbed from behind.
His assailant was much larger than he, and without anything to push against, his strength wasn't of much use.
"Let's go someplace, little girl." The attacker's breath was fetid and foul. Calvin struggled as he found himself being dragged into an open doorway, and then into the darkness.
Calvin tried to scream; when the man put his hand over Calvin's mouth, he bit down. He tasted blood and the man screamed and dropped him.
Calvin turned as quickly as he could, but he could already see other figures coming out of the darkness.
"She bit me! Get her!" The injured man screamed as he clutched his hand.
Calvin tried to fight. Even as small as he was, he was as strong as a large man, but he was terribly outnumbered. They piled on top of him, and all he could do was to try to escape.
"We've got her!"
His vision went strange again, and he found that he could see through all the bodies that covered him.
A hulking form emerged from the darkness. It grabbed the men on top of Calvin and began to toss them to all parts of the room.
Finally, Calvin was free.
"Junior! We were just trying to have a little fun."
"Pick on someone your own size." The big man snarled as he held a hand out to Calvin.
"We could take you."
Junior smiled. It was a frightening expression for such an ugly man. He was seven feet tall, and proportionately broad. "You can try. You'd probably beat me too…but half of you wouldn't have any teeth."
He looked down at Calvin. "Anyone who messes with her, messes with me."
They could hear the sounds of gunshots and screams coming from outside.
"I think we have more to worry about than one small girl, anyway."
The others faded away, heading for the windows.
"What's your name, child?" His ugliness faded somewhat with the expression of compassion on his face.
Calvin found himself speaking in a high, childish voice. "My name is Sarah."
He woke up. He was on a hammock strung between two trees outside his island house. Sarah was sleeping inside.
It took him a moment to catch his breath. He could hear the sound of Sarah's heartbeat from inside the house; it was even faster than usual. She was breathing quickly as well.
He looked through the wall.
She lay sprawled in the bed. Her eyes were moving quickly beneath her eyelids, and she was making small noises in her sleep.
"Sarah!" he said quietly, confident that she would easily be able to hear him. "It's all right…you are all grown up. There's nothing that can hurt you…nothing at all."
She didn't wake, but her expression softened, and her breathing began to slow.
There might be more to the telepathy thing than Calvin had wanted to believe. He sat still for a moment and tried to read her mind. He emptied his mind of thoughts and floated cross-legged outside her window for minutes, with no effect. Next, he tried to call to her, also without any effect.
As he allowed his legs to drop to the ground, he caught an image of naked skin in his mind. He blushed a little and turned away. He was a little shocked; he hadn't blushed since he was fourteen years old.
Calvin shook his head. He didn't have time to worry about flights of fancy. >From the look of the stars he'd slept almost four hours, which was all he usually needed. He looked around for a moment until he found his datalink glasses and wristbands. He slipped them on, then began to work.
They'd need temporary identities if they were to get inside the facility. The government had systems that were outside the main web. It would take time to crack them, and even more time to place the identities.
He finished just as the sun was rising and Sarah was stirring.
"Did you sleep well?" Calvin noticed that Sarah was one of those women who looked good even when she had just awakened. That was more than could be said of most of the women he spent time with; their beauty was a combination of surgery and cosmetics. Sarah had her own natural charm.
"I slept like a baby." Her voice was crabby. In spite of her appearance, Calvin guessed she wasn't a morning person. "The sunrise is beautiful!" He purposefully made his voice extremely cheerful. "It looks like the beginning of a great day!"
"What's so great about it? I haven't seen the crack of dawn in four years…and coffee doesn't do a thing for me."
"Clean living makes all the difference." Calvin smirked.
"You know…night people really despise morning people. Normally I couldn't do anything without being afraid of killing someone. With you on the other hand…"
"If you'll fight off the urge to put your hands on my body, I'll get breakfast together while you take a shower."
She nodded grumpily. "If I catch you peeking, I'll put your lights out."
"Peeking is for boys."
"And that disqualifies you because…why?"
"Maybe I'll show you someday." Calvin grinned at her till she blushed and turned away.
As she headed for the shower, Calvin moved quickly through the kitchen. He had plentiful supplies of bacon and ham and eggs, but he noted that he'd have to donate some of the older food to a local soup kitchen before it went bad.
He was tempted for a moment to peek, but chose the virtuous route. She wouldn't be happy if she caught him looking, and in any case, the chase was half the fun of any seduction. Of course, he had no intention of seducing her; she was far too dangerous. She knew more of his secrets than anyone, other than perhaps his parents, and she could do a lot of damage.
It would be best to remain friends.
Sarah looked much more cheerful after her shower. She ate her meal in silence, but Calvin occasionally caught her glancing at him.
Uncomfortable, he cleaned up at superhuman speed, then retrieved another pair of Smartcards.
"I made these up last night."
Sarah stared at the cards for a moment. "Do you counterfeit the cards? That's supposed to be impossible."
Calvin shook his head. "It's possible with enough knowledge, but that's not what I've done. I stole a large number of blanks early on in my career."
She stared at him for a long time, and he said, "I'm not proud of it, but it was the only way I could think of to change my identity. I changed the computer records so that the blanks wouldn't be missed."
Before she could ask any questions, he said, "We need to get an early start. From what I've been able to make out, security is the least stringent in the early morning. Also, the sky is cloudy now, but it will probably burn off later in the day. I'd just as soon not be seen flying around by satellites."
Sarah nodded grimly.
Calvin closed the house up, and gave the lockdown commands. He then turned and headed south.
It was only a few minutes before they arrived, having been careful to keep among the clouds. They began their descent farther out in the jungle, careful to keep out of range of any radar devices the installation might be using.
They landed in the jungle and carefully worked their way toward the installation.
Calvin spoke in a low tone of voice to Sarah. "I started studying security systems back when I stole the blanks, and I've tried to keep up with new developments since then."
She nodded tersely. She was obviously more nervous than he was; it was the mark of a beginner.
"They will likely have the perimeter surrounded by mines, motion sensors, cameras and infrared detectors."
"How will we get in, then?"
"A group of generals is supposed to be reviewing the base today. They are supposed to be arriving in thirty minutes. All we have to do is hide under the vehicle before it enters the compound."
"They'll check underneath."
"We'll move too quickly for the human eye to see."
"What about the recordings?"
"If we can't find a blind spot in the system, we'll have to destroy the central computer. If we find what we expect to find, we may want to do that anyway." Calvin's voice was grim.
She nodded. They walked for several minutes until at last they came to the road.
They hid and waited. Calvin found himself glancing over at Sarah from time to time, wondering what she was thinking. The dream he'd had earlier wasn't proof that they were telepathic. It could have been just a dream, inspired by the story she'd told earlier. He'd even seen a picture of Junior as part of his file.
Their heads snapped to the right at the same moment. They heard the vehicles coming, and a burst of x-ray vision showed three trucks moving quickly in their direction.
The trucks were filled with soldiers in military fatigues. Calvin grinned. With that many unfamiliar faces on the base, the staff would be forced to rely on information from the main computer. They'd have to acquire a pair of uniforms, but he didn't imagine that would be difficult.
"Ready?" he asked.
She nodded curtly.
The trucks passed by them and as the third vehicle passed by, they moved at superhuman speed. Though the back of the truck was open, no one saw the two of them slip underneath. Flying only inches off the ground, they were careful to watch the road ahead. It wouldn't be good for them to shoot ahead when the trucks finally put on the brakes..
They began to turn down a rutted road. There weren't any fences surrounding the complex. Instead, a sophisticated array of sensors and cameras covered every inch of the perimeter, except for the main road, which was guarded by human guards.
The trucks stopped, and Calvin gestured to Sarah. The guards began by looking under the first of the three trucks. Calvin looked around as quickly as he could, identifying the locations of the cameras and other sensors in the area, and mentally looking for blind spots.
When he found one, he spoke so quietly that only someone with Sarah's sense of hearing would be able to hear.
When the soldiers began moving from the first truck to the second, two forms dressed in black flashed forward at superhuman speeds. No one saw them, and the first truck was allowed to continue onward into the complex.
As they turned a corner and were temporarily out of sight of the vehicles behind, Calvin flew out from between the wheels of the vehicle and up onto the roof of the building. He had to laugh; the Feds insisted on using flat roofed buildings, even when they weren't the best for the climate.
Three guards were on the roof watching the scene below. The world had slowed around Calvin, until the soldiers were motionless and there was no sound. Each soldier wore a heavy set of goggles. The goggles had many functions that weren't available to common datalink glasses, the most dangerous of which was that they served as cameras. The goggles provided central control with real time information at all times. They also provided infra-red, low light and telescopic capabilities.
Fortunately, they had a major flaw. They limited the wearers' peripheral vision to a small degree, and this was what Calvin was hoping to take advantage of.
He moved quickly up the side of the building, then rose over the side. He moved quickly toward the center of the roof, glad that the guards were all facing outward. Sarah was a nanosecond behind him, and while the rest of the world had stopped moving, suspended in liquid silence, she was still animated and alive.
They'd been sloppy and left the trapdoor downstairs unlocked. As he had the most experience with security systems, he did not wait for Sarah, but simply passed through the door, careful not to let it slam behind him. At these speeds, it would shatter.
They flew down the stairs as Calvin checked every surface for concealed sensors. He didn't expect to find many, other than cameras; with a lot of activity, there were too many chances for false alarms.
When Calvin found a camera he wouldn't be able to avoid, he slipped into an office to the side. Sarah was like a liquid shadow, imitating his every move with grace and speed.
The government was depressingly uniform in its building standards. Calvin was pleased to see that the ceiling tiles were made of the same sort of standardized foam as were most other government ceilings these days. The tiles were designed to melt but not burn when exposed to extreme heat, and so smother flames; that was the theory at least.
He slowed to normal speed, and Sarah did the same. He floated to the ceiling and allowed his heat vision to burn through the tile and melt a circuit closed on the other side. He then lifted the tile straight up and set it to the side, careful not to set off any alarms.
There wasn't much space above the ceiling tiles; only about a foot clearance separated the concrete roof from the tiles, and tubing and wiring filled some of that space at intervals. Calvin never would have been able to move through such a small space at super speed without the wind from his passage setting off all sorts of alarms, and perhaps tearing up tiles.
He moved slowly through the morass of small ventilation ducts, electrical wiring and settled dust, his x-ray vision scanning every surface. He could make out the first basement level three floors below, and had a hazy vision of levels even further down.
He gestured to Sarah, then deactivated the alarm across another roof tile and dropped down into the room inside. They were near the barracks, and the room below them contained a trash chute.
The chute was large enough for a human being to enter, so Calvin slid inside.
The fire at the end was hot enough to make Calvin sweat a little, designed to disintegrate trash and other perishables.
While the fire and heat wasn't of any real concern, the brightness was. Blinded, it took Calvin several moments to find an opening. He fumbled around, and broke the lock from the inside. He could hear Sarah sliding in behind him.
He opened the furnace door, and slipped out into the room beyond. Luckily, there was no one in the room. Calvin had been too distracted to really tell before.
He turned and held a hand out for Sarah. She exited, and Calvin closed the door to the furnace after making sure that no one would realize how the lock had been damaged. It took several moments for his eyes to adjust to the relative darkness. As he blinked, he heard the sound of footsteps approaching.
He allowed the world to blur again, as he scanned the surrounding area. The ceilings here were made of solid rock; they were two stories down. Calvin found what he was looking for and gestured to Sarah again.
They were out the door and around the corner before the large party of men could see them. Calvin slipped into the laundry room, which was filled with uniforms which were neatly folded and pressed. He found one his size and had begun to strip when Sarah slipped into the room.
She caught his eye for a moment, then grinned, and deliberately turned around.
He dressed as quickly as he could without actually setting the clothes on fire, then turned as Sarah changed her own clothes. Along with the Smartcards they had brought, they should be able to slip into the group without either party knowing. Calvin slipped his glasses on and made another intrusion into the system.
The soldiers' datalink glasses would make them appear to be part of the other group: the visitors would believe them to be part of the installation staff, the installation staff would assume they were one of the visitors.
When the group marched by, they slipped in behind the last soldiers.
They managed to make the transition without any problem. Two of the soldiers looked back at them and Calvin could see them murmuring as they checked their identities. After a moment of reading the profiles on the insides of their glasses, they relaxed and turned back to marching.
Everyone was entirely too dependent on computers these days.
They marched into a large barracks-like room where they stood at attention. Unlike the other soldiers, however, both Calvin and Sarah could hear what was going on in the next room, where they could see three generals and a female senator standing behind a large glass partition.
"There have been questions about the lack of success of this operation. I'm surprised to see that you've managed to accomplish so much on the limited funds we've allotted."
"We've found backers in the private sector. They've agreed to foot a large part of the bill in return for the rights to civilian applications for the program. In return, they've been given limited access."
"Under whose authority have you done this?"
"The head of the National Security Council has given us carte blanche in reference to the projects we have currently running here."
"I should have been informed of this earlier."
"You are being informed about it now. We have a tour planned that will make everything clear."
The generals all stood, as did the senator.
"I've taken the liberty of bringing our backers from the private sector. Let me introduce you to Luiz Saenz Mendovar, Bob Fences Junior, and James Tailor, head of McDonald Corp."
Calvin stiffened as a familiar fat man stepped into the room. The man he had cheated only days before was in the next room, separated only by a thick partition of glass.
If the fat man saw either him or Sarah, it was all over. For a moment, it looked as though the fat man had seen him. While it was likely that the soldiers wouldn't be able to actually harm Calvin, discovery of his abilities would begin a government investigation that would leave Calvin with no place to hide.
The fat man stared out at the group of soldiers, then turned to talk to the men around him. Calvin gave a sigh of relief, then glanced over at Sarah, who was standing several rows away. She'd seen him too, and was in as much danger of being recognized as he was.
Calvin remained standing at attention, however, when the men began filing out of the glass enclosed conference room. Calvin listened to the presentation that was being given.
"The science of nanotechnology is in its infancy in the outside world. We've had several breakthroughs here at our institution based on the reverse engineering of New Kryptonian technology left behind after the occupation."
"We can expect a windfall of developments based on this technology over the next few years. There are several projects currently underway that you might be interested in."
A sergeant screamed an order; and Calvin grimaced, his ears ringing.
He turned with the others, and began marching down a long hall. He checked the orders on his datalink glasses, and confirmed that his unit was being sent to relieve other individuals in the bunkers above. Sarah was walking away with a separate unit.
It wasn't like she would be in any danger. Calvin, however, couldn't help but be a little worried that she might not be able to maintain her role.
Calvin tried to locate the tour with his vision and hearing.
"Currently, soldiers are at the mercy of their equipment. Our new project will provide soldiers with a permanent datalink, one that no one will be able to remove without killing them."
"What are the commercial applications?"
"Eventually the technology will filter down to the civilians. Mr. Fences' company is here to provide the software for the transition to the Headnet. It will be a major advantage for them to be at the forefront of the new technology."
"How do you plan to convince ordinary people to have things implanted in their heads? The datalinks we have now are more than sufficient." The senator's voice was skeptical.
"Once the nanomachines are perfected, there won't be any surgery required. A simple injection and the machines will do all the work. In time, people won't think it any more painful than getting their ears pierced."
Calvin let himself lag a little behind the others, and once they turned a corner, he slipped into an open door to the side and emerged into the bathrooms. The cameras there had been purposefully damaged and not replaced. Apparently, even soldiers had some desire for privacy.
He scanned the area as quickly as he could, while attempting to listen in on the conversation again.
"…the New Kryptonians?"
"That project was completed five years ago. We are fully confident that the United States government has finally acquired all the Kryptonite that is left in the world. When and if the New Kryptonians return, we will be ready for them."
"That's why there haven't been any reports of Kryptonite being used against Superman in years. I'm surprised that Bureau 39 hasn't taken advantage of it to try to eliminate Superman."
"Bureau 39 changed its focus after the New Kryptonian Invasion. In any case, the location of the Kryptonite storage facility is knowledge that is severely restricted."
"You wouldn't have such a storage unit on this base, would you?"
"I cannot answer in either the affirmative or the negative. When we rejoin the others, I would appreciate it if you make no mention that the project even exists. You are bound by the confidentiality clauses you signed."
Calvin's stomach sank into his chest. The government was stockpiling Kryptonite? That would explain why his father had encountered it more and more rarely over the years. Calvin himself had been exposed to Kryptonite only once, when he was fourteen years old, and it was an experience that he never wanted to repeat.
He'd tell his father as quickly as he could. First, he had to find Sarah, get proof of what was being done here, and escape, all without being discovered.
Calvin scanned the area with his x-ray vision but didn't see anything. While lead blocked his x-ray vision entirely, enough rock would do the same. More than fifty feet of rock separated the levels, making it difficult to see what he needed.
He activated his datalink glasses, and began to type frantically. He quickly managed to get the schematics of the whole complex, but he discovered that the main computer for the complex, the one that was used for the actual research data, was completely off line and isolated from all other systems. The plans to the bottom level were incomplete, likely concealing the most sensitive areas, but they had the information he needed.
Calvin now knew where he had to go. Once he reached the main computer, he would be able to download all the information that he needed to stop the people who were running the installation.
The computer that ran security for all but the bottom level was online. Calvin spent several minutes at superspeed writing a program that would cause the cameras to malfunction, repeating the last ten seconds of film in an endless loop until he was out of the area.
As long as he kept to uninhabited areas, he would be fine.
He tried to find Sarah, but she was avoiding the cameras like he was, and he couldn't get a fix on her location.
He was really enjoying the time he spent with her. Calvin walked carefully through the corridors, and entered an elevator. He'd have to find some excuse to spend more time with her after everything was over. He didn't have many friends…any friends, and he sensed that she could be a great one. She was the one person in the world who knew what it was like to be a half-breed.
That was assuming, of course, that there weren't others like Sarah. Calvin would look for them when he got back home. It wouldn't take much effort on his part. Births during a certain time frame to females known to have been in Smallville during the occupation wouldn't be difficult to trace. Of course, the New Kryptonians had also occupied Metropolis for a short period of time, so there was a slim chance that something had been born of that. That would be harder to check. There were sixteen million people in Metropolis.
Still, Sarah would want to know. Calvin realized that it was suddenly important to know what Sarah would want, and he was surprised. It had been a long time since he'd had to be concerned with other peoples' needs; his parents were self sufficient, and he'd withdrawn from everyone else. It felt strange after all this time.
Calvin left the elevator, walked down a short corridor, then turned to a locked door.
The security system on the bottom level was not tied to the net. It was tied to the other computer and had its own power generation system.
The bottom level would be where they kept all their important data and test subjects. Calvin knew what he had to do.
He picked the lock to the door quickly. It was an old fashioned lock, instead of the more common electronic ones, presumably in an effort to confound the efforts of anyone who was completely dependent on computer skills to get them through.
With his x-ray vision, it was child's play to pick.
Calvin opened the door, and a burst of his heat vision managed to create a short in the system leading to the small bubble camera on the ceiling. He was careful to float up and cover the small hole he'd made in the rock, using his heat vision to melt the rock and his finger to smooth it over.
He launched himself into the hallway below after a quick scan, moving at his top speed. As always, the world became silent as he began moving faster than sound could propagate.
Before the computer could activate the alarm, he entered the generator room. A bank of fuel cells the size of refrigerators made the room hot. Calvin moved swiftly to shut the power off. He pulled the wires from the wall, careful not to leave much evidence about how it was done.
The lights went dark, and Calvin knew that emergency klaxons were beginning to blare although he was moving too quickly for the sound to reach him.
He destroyed the emergency lighting leading to the computer room using small bullets that he'd pulled from his gun. The fact that the bullets were propelled by this thumb from several inches away didn't keep the lights from going out.
Before the guards could switch on their goggles' night vision capabilities, Calvin grabbed them both from behind and pulled their goggles off.
They didn't have a chance in the near darkness as he pulled them both to the floor and bound them with their own belts. He moved quickly; both guards seemed stunned and there was little reason to hide his abilities.
The computer was protected by a vault door; it was the work of a moment for Calvin to pull a small interfacing device from one of his wristbands and connect it to the door. It took him only moments working at superhuman speed to crack the security system; the first lock opened.
The physical combination lock was even more easily defeated.
He opened the vault like door, and stepped inside. The main computer was huge, a Cray 20MM. He held his breath as a lethal gas began to emerge from the ventilation ducts; he moved the men outside to the other end of the hall, and closed the door behind him so they would not be affected.
Calvin slipped the interface into a convenient port, and began typing. He worked as quickly as he could with the unfamiliar system. He was impressed; he'd thought his wealth had purchased cutting edge technology, but the computers they had were a full generation ahead in memory, speed, and computing power.
The security programs were also masterful. Even at full speed, it was taking time Calvin did not have to access the information.
He could hear the party talking on the level above.
"The applications will be enormous. Once implanted, we'll be able to track any user on the net to their exact location."
"How will you get the average citizen to get these things implanted? Even if you assure people that it won't hurt any worse than getting your ear pierced, I don't understand why anyone in their right mind would get it done."
"That's where the Fences Company comes in. We'll be able to promise people virtual reality so realistic that you wouldn't be able to tell truth from fiction…and all downloaded at will."
"Don't they already have virtual reality centers in every mall in the country?" Calvin glanced upward. Bob Fences Junior was shaking his head while a uniformed gentleman was looking for his key.
Calvin sighed with relief as the last safety lock fell away. He stared in disbelief, reading the data as it uploaded into a small data storage device at his belt. There was more information than he had thought there would be, and he had to be selective about his choice of what to store.
"Those centers mimic human sensations through crude, full body suits. Those sensations are pale and dim in comparison to the sensations created by your own brain. With Headnet, you'd experience every moment as though it was happening to you. You would laugh, cry, feel pain and pleasure, and it would all be in the privacy of your own mind. You could do it on the bus, at home, in the middle of a crowd of people, and no one would have to ever know."
"That's the theory, but it doesn't seem to me that you've had much success with these nanomachines." The senator's voice was doubtful. "I still don't understand why you had to use Americans as test subjects."
"The locals have a strong sense of family and community bonds. They notice when their own people come up missing; and then they speak to people like Mr. Mendovar, people who have the ear of the local government."
"So pull criminals out of the prisons. List them as killed while escaping or as missing. No one would care about them, and you wouldn't be running the risk of bringing American citizens across state lines."
Calvin finished the download just as the alarms began to ring up above.
He turned to make his escape when he fell to one knee, struck by the echo of a familiar pain.
He'd been exposed to Kryptonite only once, but that was enough to recognize the sensation. What was puzzling was that this was only the ghost of pain, as though it wasn't happening to him, but was happening to someone else.
He heard a scream, a voice which was by now utterly familiar. It took him only an instant to realize.
Telepathy was real, and Sarah was in trouble.
He now had the full layout to the bottom level, and he knew exactly where she had to be.
In the space of an instant he was there, staring into an opened vault door with two unconscious guards standing nearby.
Sarah had taken a few steps inside before collapsing before the ugly green glow on the other side of a thick sheet of bulletproof plexiglass. She was writhing, and the echoes of her pain were almost unbearable. He could feel the beginnings of his own pain, even from a distance, and he knew it would take all he had just to save her.
She slipped into merciful unconsciousness, and without her reflected pain, Calvin found himself able to think again. He stared into the mouth of hell, at the pitiful form of Sarah huddled on the floor. He felt a long moment of fear, but there wasn't any real question in his mind about what he had to do.
Taking a deep breath, Calvin stepped forward into the green Kryptonite fire.
The pain of Kryptonite was like no other experience. Calvin had spilled hot grease on himself once when he was a child; the pain of those flames was the closest equivalent. It was as though he had been dropped into a vat of hot grease; every piece of his skin burned and there was little he could do to stop the pain other than move back.
His father had always been utterly incapacitated by the pain, unable to walk or do much at all.
Calvin found himself driven to one knee as he stepped into the fire. The pain was almost unbearable; but he could see Sarah inside the vault, only a few feet away.
She must have been moving fast; she hadn't been able to stop herself before she slid into the middle of the room. She'd been able to turn and had apparently tried to crawl back out of the room, but had fallen unconscious before reaching the door.
Calvin had been slow to develop superhuman abilities compared to his father. His powers had taken two years longer to appear than his father's had; and even then, he'd always been just a little bit slower and weaker than his father had. For the first time, he blessed his human heritage. While he was not as powerful as his father was, he was not as vulnerable to Kryptonite either. It burned him, but he did not have to give in to the pain.
He struggled to his feet and stepped forward, the pain growing geometrically the closer he came to the Kryptonite on the other side of the plexiglass wall.
He hadn't realized so much Kryptonite still existed in the world; apparently, the government had gone to great lengths to acquire it. A large chunk, weighing possibly twenty pounds, sat on a metal shelf.
Calvin closed his eyes against the light; they were blurring so much that he couldn't see where he was going anyway. For an instant, he considered retreating and trying to grab Sarah with a rope. However, he couldn't remember seeing any rope anywhere in the complex, and by this point had lost the speed that would allow him to weave rope from bedsheets or the like…assuming he knew how to weave.
Each step forward was agony. He found himself questioning his decision. Sarah didn't really like him; she tolerated him because she needed his help. It would be so easy to step outside the room and never look back. No one could expect him to walk into fire for someone he didn't really know.
The pain was almost unbearable, and Calvin found himself groaning as he walked forward. Rescuing Sarah wasn't really a conscious decision. No matter how much she disliked him, he couldn't let her die. He was his father's son in that.
He'd allowed his friends to die once before, and he wouldn't permit it to happen again. Sarah might not be his friend quite yet, but she was the closest he had to a friend in the entire world, and there was a chance that they could be more in the future.
Calvin tried to reassure himself that selfish interest was all it was. He liked Sarah and wanted her to like him as well. The truth was that it wouldn't have mattered if he'd just met her. He couldn't allow anyone to die. The fact that he really liked Sarah simply made the choice clearer.
His strength was almost gone now. There was little chance that they would both be able to escape if he didn't reach her soon. He felt his foot nudge something, and he opened his eyes slightly, looking down. He squatted down and was almost overcome by a wave of dizziness. He almost sat down, but feared that if he did it would be all over for them both. He grabbed her outstretched arm and began to pull.
It had been a long time since he'd had to strain to move anything. While he was weaker than his father was, it wasn't by much, and Calvin suspected that at full strength he too would be able to lift a space shuttle into orbit.
Sarah seemed to weigh as much as a truck. Calvin struggled uselessly to lift her for several moments before finally beginning to drag her by the arm.
The pain lessened a little with each inch he managed to pull away from the glowing green death. His strength was leaking away even faster, and for the first time Calvin began to believe that he would not make it.
He gathered his remaining strength and tried to throw Sarah free of the room. If he couldn't make it, it was important that she continue. She would seek out his parents to let them know what had happened to him; she was that sort of person. When she found out about his father, she would be shocked of course, but they would all adapt.
His parents would give her the family she needed so badly. He'd never realized how lucky he was to have them; he'd spent his entire life struggling against the path they had set out for him. He'd loved them both, but he hadn't told them that in a long time.
With a mighty heave, he threw Sarah into the hallway, then slumped to the ground. It hadn't been a bad life; he'd had fun. He regretted never finding the sort of relationship his parents had found, but happiness wasn't guaranteed in any life. As he began to slump into unconsciousness, he felt himself being grabbed and pulled to safety.
He was awakened by a kiss.
He was still weak; by the standards he was used to, it was as though he had no strength at all. Still, the kiss that started out tentatively was beginning to deepen. Calvin opened his eyes and was surprised to see Sarah looking back at him.
She broke off the kiss immediately.
"I thought that would wake you up." Her cheeks reddened. "We don't have much time, and that was all I could think of."
Calvin's lips twitched, and he said, "I've been amply rewarded for my labors."
Her blush grew deeper as she pulled herself to her feet. "I don't seem to have any strength left at all. Do you?"
Calvin tried to listen and peered into the darkness around them. "No. I'm as weak or weaker than a normal person."
"Can you walk?"
Calvin struggled to his feet.
"We need to get moving. I wish we'd had a chance to get what we needed."
"I did," Calvin said quietly. "I downloaded enough information from the central computer to prosecute everyone on this base three times over."
"Did you find out whether Junior was still alive?"
"It was one of the first things I looked for. According to the records he is."
Calvin grabbed Sarah's hand; she was barely visible in the darkness. "I can lead you there; there isn't anything wrong with my memory."
He began to lead her through the darkness, one hand stretched to count the doorways. He found a hallway turning to the left, and quickly led her through it.
He knew they were nearing their goal when he could smell the hospital odor from up ahead.
The lights came back on, and Calvin stood motionless for a moment, blinking. He could feel Sarah pulling away from him, and then she rushed past him.
There were hundreds of bodies lying in hospital beds. Each was contained in its own sanitation bubble; the same kind that had recently come into use in hospitals to prevent the transmission of antibiotic-resistant diseases from one patient to the other.
The room was the size of a warehouse, and Calvin could hear the hum of separate generators that were helping keep the patients inside alive.
Sarah walked slowly down the center aisle, peering into the bubbles on either side, searching for the one familiar face that she was desperate to find. Her footsteps slowed and stopped. Sarah sobbed as she ran towards one of the transparent bubbles.
The man inside wasn't anything like she had remembered in her dream. She had remembered a mountain of a man; this man was a cadaver. Calvin had seen more recent file pictures, and while he'd lost weight, it hadn't been anything to this extent. It had only been two weeks. The man's flesh should not have atrophied so quickly.
Calvin looked into the other bubbles. All the patients shared the same condition; whatever changes had been made in them had made them all extremely ill. Their bodies were literally eating themselves.
"He never would have wanted this," Sarah said quietly. "Junior always wanted to be free." She began tearing futilely at the plastic with her bare hands. "He never would have wanted this!" she insisted as Calvin pulled her away.
He hugged her tightly and could feel her sobs.
"He was the only person I had left." Her voice was broken.
"That's not him anymore. They put nanomachines into his brain, but they haven't been able to make them work. He's been cut off from the world since they did it to him."
His words only made her cry harder. Eventually she stopped crying. "They'll be here soon. We have to get him out of here."
"We can barely move ourselves, much less him."
"He was a Catholic; he wanted to be buried in holy ground. These people will just throw him into the incinerator."
Calvin sighed. Altruism was vastly overrated.
He looked around until he found the tool he needed to open the bubble.
He ran it along the length of the plastic, and it separated seamlessly. Air rushed into the bubble, which was deflating. Calvin could smell the stench of sickness strongly now, and he grimaced.
Sarah reached for the equipment and began to unhook her friend. Calvin did all he could to prevent alarms from sounding, but medical equipment wasn't really his area of expertise, and he could hear a shrill beeping.
"They'll know where to find us now. We have to move!" Calvin spoke quietly.
He grabbed one of Junior's arms and helped Sarah lift him from the bed. The man was still remarkably tall, but his weight had dropped to almost nothing.
Sarah stiffened and stopped moving.
"We have to keep moving, or they are going to find us." Calvin paused. "Is your hearing returning?"
"He's talking to me."
"What, telepathically?" It was hard enough for Calvin to accept that he and Sarah might share a telepathic bond. It was harder to believe that she could be speaking to this burned out shell of a man.
She shook her head. "He's talking to me through my glasses!"
In another moment, Calvin knew what she meant.
His datalink glasses were only fitted with the standard sound system; Calvin had been more interested in investing in other improvements. They caused the bones of the skull to vibrate slightly, creating a sound which was faint and tinny, but which was quite audible.
He couldn't understand what was being said for a moment; the words were garbled and mixed up. It took him a moment to realize that it was Junior speaking.
Junior was conscious, but lost in a void. His only contact to the world was through the datalink; he was locked away from all his senses, including touch.
The project had been at least a partial success, but the patients were concealing it as well as they could; they knew that the scientists would dissect them the moment they realized they had some measure of success.
Calvin stiffened in shock as the cadaverous shape of Junior rose to stand on its own feet.
"He's found a way to see his body through the security cameras," Sarah said. "He's operating his body almost as though it was by remote control."
"If he can see us, then the people we want to avoid can see us as well. We need to get out of here."
Sarah pulled a small palm camera from her belt and began snapping pictures of the area they were in. "We need proof of what these people are doing."
"I've downloaded enough information off the computer to prosecute every man on the base, assuming we can get it off the base. We need to get moving."
Sarah shook her head. "Junior says that one of the subjects here used to be a top programmer for the Fences Company. He tried to blow the whistle and he ended up here. He was the first one to figure out how to make the connection, and he helped the others. He's blocking the computer right now."
Calvin nodded and waited the few seconds it took her to snap the last of her pictures. She slipped the camera back behind her belt buckle, and grasped Junior's hand.
They began to move. Junior moved with a zombie-like shuffle, but at least he moved at a fast pace. They had to help him around the few corners that were blind to the cameras above, but he was performing well overall. With no senses, Junior had no real idea of how weak or fatigued he really was; he'd be able to drive his weakened body to its utter limits.
Calvin could hear the sounds of booted feet running in the distance. They didn't have much time. If they could reach the surface, it was vaguely possible that they might be able to escape without being shot. If they could make it into the jungle, they might have a chance.
There wasn't any way of knowing how long it would take their powers to return; once they did, however, Calvin and Sarah would be able to escape easily.
Following the directions of Junior and the others, they were able to avoid most of the groups of men who were moving through the classified areas. Once they'd had to hide in a locked laboratory; the door had opened for them but not for the soldiers who'd tried a couple of minutes later.
They struggled to make their way up the stairs, dragging Junior's suddenly limp body behind them.
Now it was the program that Calvin had put into place that was helping him. The computer that was running the upper levels was completely separate from the one on the lower levels. There was enough rock blocking the lowest levels that the prisoners weren't able to help any longer; their data access was blocked by dozens of feet of rock and stone.
Luckily, Calvin's program was still causing the cameras to repeat their footage in an endless loop while he was within sight. This was a heavy advantage that he hoped would pay off, especially as many of the troops on the base were searching the bottom level. It was playing havoc with Junior's control, however. He was seeing himself only in flashes as they passed from one camera to the other. He had developed a rhythm, but Calvin and Sarah had to help keep him from running into walls.
They turned the corner and stopped in shock. A group of people stared back at them. Calvin recognized the lady senator, Bob Fences Jr. and the fat sweating form of the crime lord.
The fat man gasped and pointed. "Stop that man! He cheated me out of three million dollars!"
Calvin could see the guards closing in.
Calvin froze for a moment before speaking. "I don't know what he's talking about, sir. We found this test subject wandering around the halls, and we thought it was important to escort him back to the bottom level."
The leader lifted his hand, and the approaching soldiers halted. "You found this man wandering around?" He leaned forward and peered at Junior. "This is subject 258! This may be exactly the sort of breakthrough we needed."
The soldier waited anxiously as the leader stood motionlessly. He stared at Calvin for a moment, reading information off his datalink glasses. He glanced back at the fat man and said, "This man is one of our soldiers. I doubt he could have been stealing money from you a few days ago since he was situated in Fort Truman at the time."
"I have a twin brother, sir. He's been known to cheat at cards once or twice." Calvin spoke with confidence; if he showed any sign of fear, his lie wouldn't be believed.
"I don't see any record of it on file." The leader's voice was cold; Calvin had no doubt that he'd have them shot if he didn't believe his story.
Calvin's mind raced. "He joined the Cobra teams."
The Cobra teams were United States soldiers, whose abilities had been augmented using Cyborg technology pioneered by Sam Lane. Their records were erased, and they had become the most feared of American strike teams. Few outside the military knew of them, but Calvin had overheard several conversations between his grandfather and military advisors. He'd even kept the secret from his parents; if his grandfather found that sort of work rewarding and invigorating, Calvin wasn't going to stop him.
"The Cobras are good men. We have a couple on base. Do you think they'd know him?"
Calvin shrugged, his mind racing. "It's possible, but I doubt it. My brother is a relatively recent recruit."
The fat man stared at him suspiciously, and for a moment, Calvin thought he was going to get away with it. Then the man's gaze shifted. "The girl! She was working at the casino as well!"
The soldiers stiffened to attention again, and the lights went out.
Junior had managed to connect to the computer on the upper level, and was doing his best to access the controls. He wasn't an expert programmer like some of his fellow patients, however, and all he could manage was to cut everything off.
That was all Calvin and Sarah needed.
Calvin grabbed Sarah's hand as well as Junior's. Even without their superhuman abilities, both Sarah and Calvin had excellent night vision. They managed to slip around the others and through an exit door to the side while everyone was milling around in confusion.
It wouldn't take the soldiers long to find some of the night vision goggles or to get the systems back on line, so they needed to move quickly.
Calvin headed up a set of stairs, using the maps he had memorized as a guide. He could hear the sounds of footsteps coming from below and knew they had to move faster.
Unable to see, feel or hear, Junior was stumbling; and they had to drag him along.
Calvin found the elevator just as the power came back on. They slipped inside and Calvin hit the button for the top level. With any luck his program would still be in place, and would keep the people below from using the computers to find his location.
He quickly typed out a question for Junior, asking if Junior could find out where the soldiers were on the levels above.
He tried to enter the system himself, only to find his access blocked. They had discovered the paths he had used to circumvent the security systems and had closed them. Without superhuman speed, there wouldn't be time to find other loopholes.
Calvin waited nervously for Junior to answer, hoping that he'd had more success in accessing the main computer.
The answer came not a moment too soon. There were soldiers waiting for them on the ground level.
Calvin pressed the exit button repeatedly until the elevator finally stopped, opening onto an unused warehousing sub-basement.
They moved as quickly as they could. Junior was randomly accessing the systems, causing lights to flicker on and off, elevators to randomly move and other problems for the men chasing them.
The warehouse was filled with boxes stacked to the ceiling, and the paths between them, while wide enough for a forklift, were a maze.
Junior managed to find them a map, and flashed the information onto their screens. Calvin could hear the sounds of doors opening in the distance and the sounds of booted feet running. These soldiers would be armed with the best the army had to offer, and it wouldn't be long before the trio was found.
Junior flashed a piece of disconcerting information. The soldiers were armed with Gryph Guns, tear gas grenades and gas masks. The grenades would drive them out so they could be captured. Junior grabbed the first soldier. Being unable to see, his brain was unaffected by Gryph gun emissions. He was clumsy; but before the soldier could push him away, Calvin had grabbed his Gryph gun; and Sarah had pulled his goggles off.
Calvin froze him and quietly slid the body into a small niche between two boxes. By the time he awoke, everything would be over.
The soldier's gun was useless of course; it had a fingerprint trigger lock. The Gryph-gun was general use, however, and could possibly be invaluable.
Calvin slipped the goggles onto his own head and activated the night vision. The soldier's goggles were set up for voice command, but without voice recognition technology. "Central Command," he said, forcing his voice into a deep rasp. "I've lost them in sector three."
According to the map display on the soldier's visor, sector three was the sector the soldier had just come from.
Calvin subvocalized, and the night scope on the device activated.
He could see everything clearly. He led the others quickly through the maze, careful not to look at them. Hopefully, any monitors would think he was still searching for them.
"You seem to be moving away from the others, Unit twelve." The voice coming from inside his visor was much clearer than it would have been through his own glasses.
"They almost strangled me before I got away." Calvin spoke quietly, keeping his voice as raspy as possible. "I'm convinced they are on the move."
"We've got the area surrounded. They won't get through the perimeter. Be careful with the tall one. Brass wants him brought in alive. We'd like the others for questioning, but don't put yourself out."
Calvin kept moving, resisting the urge to look back. He had Sarah's hand firmly in his grasp, and he knew she wouldn't let Junior go without a fight. One of the things he admired about her was the steadiness of her convictions.
They reached the outside wall, and Calvin switched off the soldier's goggles and pulled his own datalink glasses from his pocket. He typed a set of instructions as quickly as he could to Junior, then turned to look at Sarah in the semi- darkness.
If Junior was able to manage what he was hoping, they'd have a chance.
He heard a piercing squeal coming from the soldier's goggles in his hand, and he dropped them. He pulled Sarah and Junior along behind him as he ran up the stairwell.
Several soldiers were standing at the top of the stairs, but they were all busy pulling off their goggles. The combination of sound and a blinding flash from the inside of their goggles had temporarily stunned them.
Calvin flashed them with the Gryph gun the moment they looked up.
He moved outside and turning, he flashed the sniper on the roof that had also removed his goggles.
They ran as quickly as they could manage towards one of the trucks. Calvin flashed the driver and pushed him out of the driver's seat. Luckily, the army hadn't kept up with vehicular security systems over the past twenty years. The keys were in the ignition, and Calvin managed to put the vehicle in gear quickly.
They turned quickly. More soldiers had reached the roof, and the sounds of rifle fire could be heard echoing in contrast to the silence of the surrounding jungle.
One of the tires exploded, and the truck weaved as they reached the perimeter. For a moment, Calvin was afraid that they would fishtail into one of the minefields surrounding the perimeter, but he quickly brought the vehicle under control.
Calvin loved cars, and even without his abilities, he was an expert driver. The fact that they were driving a vehicle with a flat tire did not stop him from pushing it to its limits.
He glanced over at the other two. Junior was still and motionless, catatonic without cameras to help him guide his body. Sarah's face was flushed with the excitement of the escape. Calvin had to pull his eyes away from her; the sight of Sarah Knight with her face flushed and her chest heaving brought up a number of interesting images. Now that he knew that they shared some sort of telepathic bond, he couldn't afford to think that way.
She glanced over at him, and for a moment, he was afraid that she really had read his mind.
"We've only got a two minute lead on them, and we have a bad tire."
"How long do you think it will be before our abilities return?"
"Longer for you than for me. You were exposed for a longer period, and I was exposed once before, when I was a child. The first time always takes longer to recover from…or so I hear."
Sarah was silent for a moment. "Do you think we'll make it?"
Calvin grinned. "We're riding in the sunlight, we've got a two minute lead, and if necessary we can bail out into one of the largest rainforests left in the world. Why shouldn't we make it?"
The ride was rough because of the flat tire and the unevenness of the road, and it was growing even rougher. The tire was wearing away, and he wouldn't be able to keep up the pace for very long.
He quickly looked around the cab of the truck, then began pulling his belt off.
"What are you doing?"
"We won't be able to escape them in this, but we need to put them off the track. Luckily, the road is straight." Calvin brought the vehicle to a halt, then said, "Get out."
As Sarah began pulling Junior from the truck, Calvin jammed the rifle the driver had left behind into the accelerator. Knowing the flat tire would cause the vehicle to pull sharply to the left, he pulled the steering wheel sharply to the right and wrapped his belt around the interior strut of the steering wheel and around the door handle. He then pushed the vehicle into gear and leapt out the passenger's side as quickly as he could.
He landed on his shoulder and groaned for a moment before rising to his feet. "We have to get moving as quickly as we can. The truck won't move more than a mile or two, and then they'll start looking for us."
They barely had time to move into the underbrush before they heard the sounds of vehicles in the distance. It was difficult to move through the thick underbrush; but as the trees above thickened around them, shadowing the ground, the underbrush grew clearer.
Calvin was feeling stronger already, the sunlight bathing him with its life- giving rays. He could tell that Sarah was feeling better as well.
They kept moving, but they had to put more and more effort into pulling Junior behind them. He was growing weaker; he had used up all his body's limited energy reserves in the escape.
Calvin could hear men shouting in the distance, and for a moment, he thought that they were lost.
Then he realized the truth. His abilities had returned, at least in part; and he was hearing the men back on the road.
He tried to look back on them, but could only see partway through the trees.
"Grab onto my neck. I think I may be able to get us out of here."
She nodded and obeyed. Calvin picked Junior up in his arms, staggered by the man's sheer size more than by his weight. He then concentrated and began to rise into the air.
His flight was wobbly, much like the first time he'd learned to fly when he was eighteen; and the weight of his riders didn't help any. Nonetheless, he was able to float through the trees at the speed of a man running at full speed.
Calvin managed to fly for forty-five minutes before exhaustion finally set in. He'd managed to travel fifteen miles through the occasionally dense forest without leaving any tracks. They reached a riverbank, and Calvin managed to clumsily land.
He lay gasping on the ground, feeling utterly drained. He glanced over at Sarah; she was checking on her friend.
As soon as he could catch his breath, he said, "How's he doing?"
"Not well. We're going to need to get him to a hospital soon, or I don't think he'll make it." She looked back at him, and Calvin flinched at the pain on her face.
"He's a fighter. If anyone can survive, he can."
"He's the closest thing I ever had to a father."
"I've got enough information to keep this from ever happening again."
She nodded, and Calvin knew what she felt. It was a cold comfort in the light of losing a friend.
"I'll do what I can, but I have to rest first." It was all that Calvin could do to keep his eyes open.
She nodded and continued to sit on her knees beside her friend.
Calvin closed his eyes and willed his body to heal as quickly as it could. The pain in his shoulder was joined by the ghostly echo of emotional pain radiating from Sarah. For the first time, he tried to reach out to her. Her mind recoiled at first, then relaxed as he imagined wrapping his arms around her in a mental hug.
He must have slept, because the sun had changed its position when he next opened his eyes, even though Sarah hadn't moved. Junior's breathing had become erratic, and Calvin could hear the sounds of men moving around in the distance.
He was much stronger now, and he stood.
"We have to get out of here."
She looked up at him, and he could see the tear tracks running down her face. "I've never felt so helpless."
"I'm not helpless any more."
He grabbed her hand, and one of Junior's and exerted his will. They all began to rise gently into the air. In another moment, they were flying through the air at a high rate of speed. Calvin was glad that it was a cloudy day, although it wouldn't have mattered if it had been perfectly clear. Sarah's friend needed help, and he would provide it.
The minutes passed, as did the blue ocean beneath them. Calvin quickly crossed the Gulf of Mexico, but didn't dare to fly any faster for fear that he would damage either Junior or Sarah.
He arrived in Houston, where he quickly landed them all behind one of the main hospitals.
It was already late afternoon, and the Emergency room was all but empty. Most victims came in during the evening shift, so there was a fortunate lull.
Calvin quickly accessed the hospital's datalink, and downloaded the information about the procedures that had been used on Junior.
The doctors moved as quickly as they could to keep Junior alive.
"Are you going to be all right?"
She nodded numbly and slowly sat in the waiting chair.
"You should be safe here for a while. I need to get the information we found to my parents before the military can suppress the information."
Calvin looked back at her for a long moment before heading home. There was work still left to be done before they could all be safe.
Only then would he have time to think about his relationship with Sarah.
Calvin headed for Metropolis as quickly as he could. While he was fast, the communications network was faster, and if the military realized that he was loose, they'd take steps to suppress any information from being distributed. Once it was on the web, however, it would be like Pandora's box.
Of course, simply because it was out and distributed did not mean anyone would believe it. It would require a source with the esteem and respect his parents had to make people believe what they saw. Additionally, his parents had many contacts in the government; and they'd be able to force action.
He had to take the long way around because of the lack of cloud cover over the central United States, but he still arrived home in a matter of under a minute. He'd had to fly so low that he suspected he'd given a couple of cows in South Carolina cardiac problems, but that wasn't his main concern. He'd left Sarah behind in the waiting room of a Houston hospital, and she was powerless. It wasn't likely that the military would find her, but it was possible.
He slowed as he neared Metropolis. The city was blanketed with cameras, though there was a blind spot directly behind his parents' home. While Calvin could have worked up a program that made the computers ignore his presence, Metropolis's cameras were controlled by a number of different computers. Calvin preferred not to increase the risk of being caught by spreading a virus through many systems.
Calvin did type as quickly as he could shortly before entering Metropolis's airspace. He quickly got an overview of the camera systems in the city, noting glumly that they had placed several new cameras since he had last visited.
He quickly found a route to follow, however. The cameras were primarily designed to keep an eye on the streets, and so coverage from the air wasn't complete. Calvin covered his face with a strip he tore from the bottom of the soldier's uniform he was wearing. Trusting his dark glasses to cover his eyes, Calvin made his way quickly through a winding maze, until at last he slipped into his parents' house through a special skylight his father had installed.
His father had heard him enter, of course; but before he could react, Calvin had flashed downstairs into the living room.
"It's good to see you again, son." Calvin's father's voice was a little stiff. "I didn't expect to see you before Thanksgiving."
"I've been looking into the Sanderson disappearances for mother, and I had to break into a military base to do it, but I have all the information you'll need."
"How many times have I told you about taking risks like that?" His father scowled.
Calvin shook his head impatiently. "I think you'll agree that the risk was worth it once you see what's on these disks. You'll have to hurry, though, or the military will cover everything up again."
His father hesitated for a long moment, then held out his hand for the disks.
Calvin quickly handed the storage device to his father, and Clark slipped it into a desk console. His parents hadn't bothered to get a flat screen display that covered their entire wall; they were expensive. They'd also declined Calvin's offer to buy them one as a gift.
The screen they had was only six feet high and seven feet wide. Their computer system did have several of the same modifications Calvin had made on his own computer, however, and the images flashed on the screen too quickly for the human eye to follow.
"They've been trying to use nanotechnology to create datalink transmissions directly to the brain." Calvin spoke to his mother, knowing she'd want a quick synopsis. "They've been kidnapping people to use as test subjects."
Calvin's father turned to him, his expression grim. "I have a few phone calls to make." Clark Kent turned and left the room. Calvin knew that he was going to be making calls from the viewscreen in his study, but he chose not to listen in.
In the distance, Calvin could hear the hum of a printer as it quickly made hard copies of everything. While Clark Kent had adapted well to the new technologies, Lois still preferred to deal in paper. Calvin suspected that she missed the smell of newsprint, though she would never let on.
"What do they hope to accomplish? We already have plenty of portability, what with the glasses and everything else."
"Three parties are involved; the military, the Fences corporation, and the Mendovar drug cartel. All of them have a lot to gain." Calvin spoke quietly.
"That sounds like an unusual alliance." Lois's voice was skeptical.
"The Fences Corporation wants to create virtual reality so perfect that it is indistinguishable from reality. That can only be accomplished from inside the brain itself. If they can manage it, the market will be unlimited. People would be able to experience anything they could afford from anywhere on the planet, and no one would ever know."
His mother nodded. "Why are the drug cartels interested?"
"The system will be able to alter brain chemistry as well. They could create the same high as any drug without the users having to leave their homes. There would be no need for all the farmers, the manufacturing plants, the armed guards, the airplanes and submarines. There would be no distribution network. In essence, all they would need would be a computer somewhere, and bank accounts ready to accept an influx of money. The users would pay over and over again, and the transactions could be disguised as simple pay-per-view virtual reality programs. All that is in addition to the endless possibilities for virtual pornography."
"Why would the military go along with this?" Lois asked.
"It's less in the interest of the military than of the civil authorities. If the system can create pleasure like drugs, then it can create pain too. Once it became universal, the police would no longer have to track suspects down, as long as they have their names. A flip of a switch, and the person is inflicted with hideous pain, pain that nothing will cure except turning himself in to the local police. That is assuming that the system doesn't include some way that they can track the suspect in any case."
"I don't see how they expect to get people to accept these things though. Major surgery should be more than enough of a deterrent for most people." Lois shook her head.
"With nanomachines, all they have to do is give a simple injection, and the machines do all the work. It's quick, and in theory it should be easy, at least once the process is completed." Calvin's voice was grim.
"It's not ready then."
Calvin quickly outlined the progress they had made, using Junior as an example.
His father walked quickly back into the room. "I've made calls to the president and several of the generals that were listed as not being in the know. I've also written up a preliminary report to spread on the net."
He quickly handed a sheet of paper to Lois, who began reading.
"We'll work together on the main story, but I'm afraid that Calvin is right. If we don't get at least a preliminary report out, they'll move to suppress the information. Now that I've spoken to people in government circles, it's only a matter of time until they move in."
Lois spoke, her voice serious. "We have to be careful with this. It's so easy to fake data these days that they may try to claim it's all false. If we can't name our source, things may become tricky."
"You can name me…" Calvin began.
His father interrupted. "If we do, you will be up on federal charges of espionage, breaking and entering, assault, and whatever else they can find to throw at you. Perhaps it would be best if Superman went to confirm the findings."
Calvin spoke quickly. "They have Kryptonite there, lots of it. Apparently the government has been stockpiling it for years on a number of bases."
Clark's lips tightened, but he didn't look surprised. Neither did Calvin's mother. They simply nodded.
"I've had my suspicions for years," Clark said quietly. "When it all started to vanish, I knew it had to be going somewhere."
Calvin nodded grimly, then changed the subject. "We have the best of eyewitnesses, supposing that Junior survives. There won't be any denying the physical signs of what has been done to him, and he can testify to the kidnapping and everything else."
"We need to make sure that the information about your friend's innocence is distributed quickly. Life can be hard as a federal fugitive, especially when you've been accused of killing police officers." Lois looked up from the stack of papers and images she was flipping through.
Calvin tensed, and his mother continued. "After all, it would ruin Thanksgiving to have federal authorities breaking down the door."
Calvin nodded, not looking at his mother. She knew he had something to say about Sarah; she was looking at him with eyes that seemed to pierce straight through him.
"She may not be able to make it. It all depends on how her friend is doing in the hospital."
He'd been dreading the talk he needed to have with his father about Sarah, and he wasn't sure exactly how to bring it up. He was tempted to pull his mother aside and ask for her help. Her view of the New Kryptonian invasion had always been clearer than his father's. Unfortunately, there was no way of preventing his father from overhearing what was said, short of asking him not to listen.
It would be the coward's way out, even then. Calvin had always had trouble facing his father; it was difficult to argue with a man whose convictions were so strong that he had remained a virgin until he got married. It would be even harder telling his father something that Calvin knew would hurt him.
Calvin's parents went to work for a couple of hours while Calvin made himself at home. He called Sarah using his datalink glasses.
He could hear her voice echoing tinnily in his ear as he spoke. Of course, neither set of glasses was equipped to send pictures, but sound was all that was needed.
"How is Junior?"
"They've managed to stabilize his condition. His overall prognosis is impossible to determine."
"How are you holding up?"
"Physically, I'm no better. Mentally…I'll be all right."
"I'll come back as soon as I can. My parents have the connections to close that base down; they've already dispatched helicopters to the location."
Sarah's reply was slow. "I'll be here."
"Try to find a cot somewhere. I know the couches in the waiting room are probably not comfortable for someone in your condition." If she'd had her powers, she could have slept on lava and not been bothered.
"I'll talk to you as soon as I can," Calvin said, before disconnecting.
He waited another hour, until it was clear that his parents had cleared up Sarah's record, distributed all the information that they could to the national press, and talked to their military contacts.
Even after all these years, it was amazing to watch his parents work together. They worked like a well-oiled machine, their skills complementing each other. The years had worn the differences between them away to some extent, and they seemed able to act in unison with the ease of long familiarity.
Eventually his parents had done all that they could do until word came back from the first military teams to reach the base. Calvin knew that the time had come for a discussion that he didn't want to have.
"There are a few things I haven't told you about the woman I was traveling with."
"You really like this girl, don't you?" His mother's voice was certain. "More than you liked any of the others."
"I've got a lot more in common with her than I did with any of them." Calvin smirked at the irony. Then he grimaced. "That's not what I meant, though."
He looked up at his father. "I guess you've read her file?"
His father sighed. "She's an orphan of the occupation. There are a few of them out there. Your mother and I have always tried to do what we could for them." He glanced up at Calvin. "Sarah slipped through the net, though. I never would have let her roam the streets if I had known."
Calvin nodded. His mother had placed the proceeds for her two books into a special fund for those orphans, and his father had managed to funnel some of the money from the Superman Foundation for that very purpose.
He was silent for several long moments, and he could feel his parents' eyes on him. It was harder than he thought it would be, bringing news like this to his father.
Calvin stood, and walked quietly over to the windowsill. He looked out over the skyline of the city, and it took him a moment to recognize the splintering sounds beneath his hands. The windowsill was cracking, and Calvin forced himself to let go. Carefully, he forced himself to relax.
Without turning to face his parents, he said quietly, "Did you ever think that there might be other children like me in the world?"
"Your father and I spent years looking. We kept tabs of stories of strange, unexplained fires, of children being miraculously uninjured in accidents, and of other anomalies. Eventually we gave up, even though our program still checks the datastream for stories like that."
Calvin turned to face his parents, and took a deep breath. "Sarah is half Kryptonian."
Calvin's father closed his eyes briefly, clenching his jaw. Calvin's mother looked up at him and gently slipped her hand into his, stroking his arm.
At the look in his eyes, she tensed. "We've been over this a thousand times, Clark. There wasn't anything you could have done to stop it. I wrote two books just to prove it to you."
Clark Kent shook his head grimly. "There were things I could have done."
His head snapped up, and a familiar look came over his face. "I have to go."
It took Calvin a moment to listen for the sounds of an apartment fire down in the Suicide Slum area.
Calvin watched calmly as his father spun into his working uniform and dashed upstairs and into the sky.
His mother turned toward him. "It always makes him feel better…going out and helping people. Just give him a little time, and he'll be as happy that you've found your Sarah as I am."
"She's not exactly mine yet. I still don't think she wants much to do with me. I like her though, and if we can be friends…well, that's all I can ask." Calvin looked through the wall, watching his father work on the fire. "I need to go for a bit, too."
Before she could respond, he had left the room, made his way upstairs and into the night sky.
He found a route that was free of cameras, and he hovered over the inferno below, watching his father work. It had always impressed him that his father was able to do what he did with such professionalism and compassion. The awe the world had for Superman wasn't far off the mark; his father had never developed the professional detachment many rescue workers did. It hurt him to lose a single child, or even a single pet. Yet, he continued to help people day after day and year after year.
Luckily, people were getting better at solving their own problems. As much as Calvin abhorred the street cameras, they had forced crime underground. Technology was slowly reducing the pain of accidents and natural disaster. If the apartment complex had been equipped with the fire smothering ceiling panels that most government buildings came equipped with, then the fire never would have grown to such a size.
Calvin noticed a man falling out of a third story window; his father had his hands full with three elderly women, one of whom seemed to be having a heart attack. Absently, he used a burst of super-breath to cushion the man's fall. He looked around to see if anyone had noticed his actions; no one had, except his father.
Calvin's father cleared the last of the apartment dwellers out of their homes, and then quickly took care of the blaze with bursts of his cooling super breath.
Accepting the praise and thanks of the people he had saved took three times as long as the actual rescue had. Eventually, Superman headed into the darkness of the sky.
"I never understood why you didn't want to do this. You'd be great at helping people."
His father had relaxed a little after the rescue. He'd approved of Calvin's actions in saving the apartment dweller down below, and his mood was much better.
Hoping his father wasn't getting his hope up Calvin shook his head. "There is only one Superman. I'm a little old to play Superboy, or Wonderboy or whatever."
"You could create an identity all your own…"
Calvin shook his head. "I'm helping people now, in my own way. It may not be as flashy as the way you do it, but it gets things done."
His father stopped speaking for a minute, then nodded. "You're doing great work with the guns. I'm not sure I like your methods though."
Calvin grinned. "You don't have to like them. The truth is, there isn't any way of knowing how many people I've kept from buying illegal guns over the last couple of years, or of how many people who didn't get shot because of it. The uniform…that's your way."
His father flew higher, into the clouds.
"I used to come up here to think sometimes."
It was a beautiful night; the stars shone brilliantly through the top of the clouds. The silence was eerie at this height; Calvin could almost believe that the stars were able to sing.
"I still miss your Grandma and Grandpa," Clark said. "I never really knew how much I relied on them until they were gone. They always seemed to know the right thing to say."
Calvin nodded. "I remember. I spent enough summers at the farmhouse."
"I asked your Grandpa once why he bothered to keep the farm. The big agricultural concerns had bought everyone else out, and I had hoped they could move closer to us in Metropolis."
"Farming made Grandpa happy," Calvin said. "It let him feel that what he was doing was productive, even if it was more of a hobby in later years."
"They had a way of making everything seem so clear." Calvin's father looked away. "I wish I'd gained their wisdom; I could have made your childhood so much easier if I'd known what I was doing."
"You taught me right from wrong," Calvin said. "And you loved me. When it comes right down to it, that's where a parent's responsibility ends."
"If I could have kept you from being hurt, I would have."
"That wouldn't have been good for me. Mother taught me to be pragmatic and practical; you taught me not to hurt people. I've always told mother to blame you for my stubbornness."
His father looked up quickly, and protested. "I'm not the stubborn one! Your mother is!"
"I'll bet you are glad she doesn't have our sort of hearing."
His father's expression became sober. "This girl will. Do you know what you are getting into, son? She's had a hard life."
"She's a good person. That's all that really matters." Calvin hesitated. "I'm actually glad to have someone out there who is like me. There are things we'll be able to talk about that I haven't told anyone else."
"I wish there was something I could have done for her," his father said.
"She's managed quite well on her own. She's a lot like you; she'd make a better Superman than I would really."
"You'd be great at the job! I don't know why you think you wouldn't. I can understand why you wouldn't want the job; it steals away your private hours and your family time."
"I don't have the temperament to be Superman. Nobody does."
"You think fast on your feet…faster than I do, really. I guess you got that from your mother." His father continued, "You have all my abilities, and plenty of free time. What makes you think you don't have the temperament?"
"I get angry sometimes." Calvin refused to look at his father. "I don't think I could do your job day in and day out without getting angry, really angry."
"It makes me angry sometimes," Clark admitted. "You just have to keep a grip on your temper and go on."
"I don't think I can." Calvin sighed. "When I had the accident, I…"
"You nearly hit the trucker."
Calvin gaped at his father. "You knew? How?"
"The trucker mentioned it in his police statement. He tried to bring assault charges against you, but there wasn't any way to prove it, and since it would have been his word against yours, they never bothered with it."
"I could have killed him."
"If the police sirens hadn't come when they did, I would have killed him." Calvin looked up at his father. "The sort of powers we have aren't meant for ordinary men. A single burst of anger, and you've done something you can never take back."
"You've dealt with a lot of harsh characters over the past five years or so. Don't you get angry with them?"
"Sure, but I'm always in control." Calvin grimaced. "I know what you are trying to say, but it doesn't matter. I have a lot of anger welling up inside me. That's not the sort of person who should be Superman."
His father laughed mirthlessly. "You think I don't get angry? You think I don't do things I regret?"
"You managed to remain a virgin until you got married. How many sins could you have to your name?"
"How about murder?" Clark Kent floated until he was floating on his back, staring up at the sky.
"I haven't told anyone this…not even your mother. There was a point in my fight with Lord Nor that I thought everything was lost. He had me on the ground, and his thugs had gathered close to him. I was still weakened from having my molecules scattered over half the universe; he hadn't been on earth long enough to develop deep stores of energy. We were tied, but he was used to fighting with everything he had, and I was still used to pulling my punches so I wouldn't kill people."
Calvin nodded. He'd read the books and seen the videotapes of the battle. There wasn't anything new in what his father had just said.
"Everyone thought I was unconscious on the ground, but I was just stunned a little." Clark Kent was silent for more than a minute. Finally he continued. "I saw the missile coming."
"The one with all the Kryptonite gas?"
"Yes. I saw it coming, and I could have warned Nor and his men. I could have let them live; but instead, through my own inaction, I let them die."
Calvin was silent for a moment. "You had time to get away."
"If I had, Nor and his men would have moved as well."
"So you were willing to sacrifice yourself to see that the people of Earth had the right to live free."
His father rotated his body until he was floating on his side while facing Calvin. "In the end, all my beliefs went out the window. I did what was necessary to win."
"You didn't have a choice."
"There are always other choices. Sometimes we just aren't smart enough to find them in time."
"Is that why you've always felt so guilty about the invasion?"
"I was willing to kill. If I'd been willing to do so earlier, maybe I could have spared Smallville what it went through."
"Mother wrote two books to prove you wrong."
Clark nodded slowly and sighed. "I've just always had the feeling that I should have done more. That wasn't the only time I almost lost control either—both Tempus and Lex Luthor made me so angry I almost couldn't see."
Calvin allowed himself to float into his own back, and he stared out at the stars above. Both men were quiet for several long minutes.
Eventually, Calvin grinned. "Do you know what it's like growing up in the shadow of a living legend?"
"Well, your Granpa was known to have eaten six pies at the Corn Festival one year. It was one of those contests, and he won first place." Clark smiled, still staring at the stars before his expression turned serious. "I'm just a man," Clark said. "I try to help people as best I can, but I get angry just like anyone else does."
"I feel a little bit better," Calvin admitted.
"I do too, son," Clark said. He looked up into the sky and sighed. "The satellite is supposed to scan this portion of the sky a minute from now. Let's go home to your mother."
Calvin nodded, and they both left the silence of the stars for the warm comforts of home.
Lois Lane was pacing the room, arguing with a figure on the screen, when Calvin and his father finally returned.
"This is a matter of national security, Ms Lane. We're already interested in finding out where you received your original information; we aren't likely to give you any more than you already have."
"The people have a vital public interest in this matter."
"We will issue a statement about what we find at 0800 hours tomorrow morning. Until then, you will simply have to wait. The involvement of the press could get people killed at this juncture, and we will not allow it."
Before Lois could protest, the screen went blank.
She turned to her husband and son and said, "Apparently the military had a base closer than we thought to that spot in Columbia. They are reaching the perimeter now, but we are being denied access. If I didn't know better, I'd think someone had a grudge against us."
Clark stepped forward and kissed his wife on the forehead. "Surely not."
Calvin stood before the screen, his fingers flashing with superhuman speed.
"What are you doing?' his mother asked.
"I'm trying to see if I can hack into the datastream to gain access to what the soldiers are seeing at the moment." He glanced back at his parents. "I'm being careful to lay a false trail; if anyone manages to track me back here, this will look like just one of many false jumping off points."
"Are you sure you can pull it off?" His mother had a familiar gleam in her eyes, and for once, Calvin was glad to see it.
"We all have things we are good at; this is one of mine." Calvin didn't look away from the stream of data on the interior of his glasses. After another minute or so of work, he grinned. "Easy as pie!"
His parents' screen flickered to life, split among six images. Calvin would have preferred to use his own wall screen; by comparison, his parents' felt tiny and cramped. Nevertheless, the images were large enough to tell what was happening.
The doors to the compound were sealed shut, and the teams were being forced to blow them open with explosives. One soldier rolled a flash grenade into the hall beyond; when he didn't hear any cries of outrage or pain, he turned and rushed inside.
What he found was a scene of carnage. Two soldiers lay dead on the floor, as did three hospital-gowned figures that looked like long dead corpses.
The figures moved inside the compound carefully, switching their goggles to infra red and low light. Everywhere they turned there were bodies of soldiers and patients.
One crew found the warehouse. At least half the beds were still filled with patients who had been too weak or otherwise unable to rise and join in the slaughter. The power had been off for too long; most of those who were lying on the beds were dead. Calvin glanced back at his parents and noted the appalled looks on their faces; he was certain that their expression was mirrored in his own.
Someone managed to bring the system back online. It took a little time, but they got the lights and power working again.
It looked worse under fluorescent lighting.
Calvin worked quickly as the soldiers attempted to retrieve the records from the main computer. He managed to tap into the data that was being sent back to the Pentagon just in time.
The decision had been made to destroy the entire complex, leaving no trace of what had been done. Soldiers had been in the process of laying down explosives when the lights had gone out, and the complex had locked the men in.
The prisoners had known that they had one last chance for survival. They'd taken control of the main computer; they'd managed to use a virus to shut down all glasses and goggles in the complex, and then they'd used the infra red cameras to guide their bodies into an attack.
It was eerie watching scene after scene of prisoners shuffling along like zombies. They were individually weaker than the soldiers they were attacking, and their control over their own bodies was clumsy. However, they could see and the soldiers could not, and they outnumbered the soldiers three to one, and that made all the difference.
In spite of their determination, over half the prisoners had been either too weak, or had earlier versions of the nanomachines that did not allow them access to the datastream. Those who were able to fight did, and they were killed by the dozens.
Calvin and his parents watched scene after scene with a growing sense of horror. They continued to watch for over three hours, until it was clear that only three of the prisoners had survived. One was the programmer who had been the ringleader of the group.
If they made it, they would make excellent eyewitnesses.
His parents were grim as they wrote their story. Calvin spent the time at the window, looking up at the stars. If he'd known what was going to happen, he would have flown in to intervene, even though the enemy had access to Kryptonite. His father would have done the same.
He was numb; if he hadn't stumbled on the operation, all those people would have been alive. If he'd found some way to get inside undetected they could have made sure all the patients had a chance for survival. Instead, he'd barged in without sufficient preparation.
When Skyler died, Calvin had promised that he would never let another innocent come to harm as a result of his own actions. He'd broken that promise in a big way; the death toll estimate was approximately three hundred people; two hundred and fifty prisoners and fifty soldiers.
Neither the Senator, nor Bob Fences Jr. were among the dead, but the crime lord was, as were the other people in the tour group Calvin had seen.
His father might have anger and rage, but he had the wisdom to keep his actions from hurting others. That was something it was increasingly becoming apparent to Calvin that he would never have.
He'd concluded a long time ago that he was dangerous to the people around him. He'd begun pulling away from them as a way of protecting them.
Perhaps it was time to retire all his identities and retreat into the safety of his home. Luckily, there was at least one person who had enough in common with him that she would be hard to hurt, physically at least.
He checked the datastream to see if he could find out anything about Junior's condition. It had been six hours since he had left Sarah alone in the hospital waiting room, and still there was no word of Junior's condition.
"I have to go see how Sarah and her friend are doing."
His mother looked over at him, and for a moment her gaze sharpened. Calvin was afraid she was going to ask him a question that he wasn't yet ready to answer, but she simply said, "Make sure this girl of yours comes to dinner."
"If I can talk her into it, I will."
His father looked up and said, "If you trust her, that's good enough for me."
Calvin stared at his father for a moment, a feeling of warm gratitude filling him. He was glad that he'd finally had a heart to heart talk with his father; it had been far too long since they had talked. His father's demonstration of trust in Calvin's judgement was a strong gesture of reconciliation.
Calvin nodded, and left quickly without saying anything.
It didn't take long to reach Houston, though he had to be more careful about heading for the hospital.
He found Sarah sitting in the waiting room.
"How is he?"
"They are still working on him; I haven't heard." Sarah looked tired. Her eyes were swollen and puffy; she had been crying.
"How are you?"
"I'm holding up." She sighed. "I still don't have any of my strength; I keep wanting to look inside and see what they are doing to him."
Calvin turned his head and looked through the wall. He grimaced, then said, "It might be better not to look. His vital signs look good though; better than they were when he came in.".
He sat down and slipped his arm around her. "Medicine is a lot more advanced than it was in our parents' day. From what I've seen, Junior is a fighter. He'll be ok."
Sarah tensed for a moment, then relaxed. "Did you get the information back to your parents?"
Calvin nodded grimly, wishing he'd left his glasses on so that she couldn't see his eyes. "They've cleared you of any murder charges; they have a visual record of the killing being committed by someone else."
"There is something else, isn't there?"
Calvin laughed slightly. "You'll have me believing in telepathy soon."
She stared at him for a moment. He heard her voice in his mind although her lips weren't moving. "*What is it?*"
He stared at her in shock for a moment, then tried to speak in the same way. "*Things didn't go well back at the base."* His mind flashed back to the images he had seen on the screen, as well as his horror when he realized that he was responsible.
He shook his head. It was best not to think about such things; he'd learned a long time ago that it was easier not to think about the things that hurt him. It was easier to become someone else; as long as he was focused on the task at hand, he couldn't be bothered to worry about things he couldn't change. At the moment, the problem was Sarah and her pain.
He looked at her, only to realize that she was staring at him in shock.
"*It wasn't your fault.*"
She'd picked up more than he had meant her to. Calvin carefully returned to speaking aloud.
"We should have been able to save them all." Calvin sighed. "What good is it to be able to do what we can do if we can't keep something like that from happening?"
"We aren't gods." Sarah looked in the direction of the operating room. "Sometimes we can't even save the people we love."
Calvin sighed, and his mind flashed back to a night a long time ago. Sarah glanced up at him in understanding, and reached out to grab his hand.
He caught a glimpse of her pain and was startled to see that it mirrored his own.
"I don't know what I'll do if something happens to Junior." She sighed. "I'm tired."
Calvin looked at her for several moments, then said, "If you are tired, then rest. I'll wake you if there is any change in his condition."
She sighed again, and leaned into him. "This doesn't mean we are going steady, you know."
Calvin chuckled and squeezed her shoulder a little. "I haven't pinned you yet."
She yawned. "I think we both spent too much time watching vintage television when we were kids."
"When we were kids?" Calvin grinned. "I've seen your record. You still like old movies."
"It's not fair that you've seen mine without showing me yours." Her voice was sleepy.
"We have plenty of time to play doctor later." Calvin chuckled. "If you are talking about my record… which one would you want to see? You can't believe any of them."
"I'll find out eventually…" Her voice trailed off as she fell into the same exhausted sleep he'd fallen into hours earlier.
She'd had a rough day. Her first experience with Kryptonite and physical pain, the emotional stress of breaking into the complex, rescuing her friend, and not knowing what was going to happen to him…it would be tough on anyone.
Calvin noticed that the couch was unusually plush and comfortable. He hadn't been in hospitals very often; none of his roles required him to, but he'd always thought that waiting rooms were supposed to be sterile and uncomfortable. Instead, with the warmth of Sarah as she lay against his side, he felt remarkably relaxed.
In spite of the events of the day, he found his mind wandering. He closed his eyes, and allowed the hum of the medical equipment in the hospital to lull him to sleep.
The feeling of sunlight on his body woke him. He opened his eyes and noticed that Sarah was asleep by his side. A glimpse into the operating room revealed that it was empty, and Calvin felt a moment of panic.
He carefully pulled away from Sarah, being careful not to wake her. She mumbled a protest, one that would have been inaudible to normal ears. Calvin carefully laid her out flat on the couch, then turned and stepped through a doorway. He walked toward the nurses' station.
"Do you have any information on the patient who was in surgery in theater 1c earlier tonight?"
The nurse looked up. "Are you a member of the immediate family?"
"I'm one of the people who brought him in, along with Sarah Knight."
The nurse checked her notes on the inside of her datalink glasses. Along with the military, hospitals had been one of the first institutions to adopt hands free data entry. This was especially true since it had been discovered that computer keyboards and touch screens were one of the chief modes of disease transmission in hospitals.
She used an invisible keyboard setup much like Calvin's own. Unlike most of the public, medical authorities needed an exactness that voice recognition couldn't provide. Many drugs had names that sounded very much alike; a mistake could prove disastrous.
She frowned for a moment then said, "The patient is resting in room 1128c. His doctor is due to make his rounds soon. We're lucky to have doctors who actually make physical visits here; in many facilities the doctors only make virtual visits."
Calvin nodded. He turned quickly, and stepped back into the waiting room, where Sarah was slowly waking up.
"We overslept. Junior is resting in a room, and his doctor is going to be coming by soon."
She looked up at him for a moment, and he was struck again by how good she looked in spite of sleeping in a sitting position.
"How are you?"
"I feel almost back to normal," she said. "I heard you talking to the nurse at least. I guess that's a good sign.'
Calvin held out his hand. "Let's go."
Sarah shook her head. "I told you once where you can stuff all those 'Ladies first' ideas."
"You really are feeling like your old self." Calvin's voice was cheerful.
"I've told you about the whole morning person thing too."
"*Let's not get physical in front of the nurses.*" Calvin said mentally, and he was unable to prevent an imaginative flash of skin from going along with the message.
They both looked at each other for a moment; her look was challenging. Finally Calvin smirked and turned to walk towards the door.
It took less than a minute to reach Junior's room. Junior looked a little better than he had the day before. His vital signs were better as well. Calvin could hear that his heartbeat was steadier as was his breathing.
"It looks like they've done him some good at least." Calvin stared at the gaunt form in front of him. Junior's feet reached the foot of the bed.
"He just lies there. Were they able to help him at all?"
They both turned when they heard the door open quietly behind them.
"Are you this man's family?"
Calvin shook his head even as Sarah was nodding. Sarah spoke. "We're the closest thing he has to a family."
"This thing has already hit the news. We're being extremely careful to keep the media from finding out that we have one of the victims at this hospital."
"Were you able to help him, doctor ?"
"He's out of any immediate danger. We managed to reverse some of the damage that was done, but frankly, the technology that was used on him was not only cutting edge, it was experimental. I doubt that the men who did this to him could fully reverse the damage."
"What's the prognosis then, doctor?"
"We've stabilized his health. If he's properly cared for, he can live a very long time."
"What's the bad news?" Sarah spoke quietly, staring at Junior.
"We don't have the ability to reverse most of what was done to him. Even if we somehow managed to remove the nanomachines in the sensory areas of his brain, we wouldn't have any way to restore the synaptic patterns to the way they were before."
Sarah gasped, and Calvin laid a reassuring hand on her arm.
"We could remove the actual datalink from his brain much more easily, but that would leave him in a complete sensory void."
"So he's going to be like this for the rest of his life? He'll be lying in a bed somewhere, helpless?"
The doctor shook his head. "There are options available to him. He can wear datalink glasses fitted with cameras. They'd be bulky, but they'd serve."
Sarah shook her head, and Calvin could sympathize with her. While it was true that there would be ways he could compensate for some of his disabilities, it couldn't make up for the fact that he might not ever be able to feel again.
The view screen flickered on, and a picture of a healthy Junior appeared.
"I'm all right, sugar."
Sarah stared at the image, then looked back at the body on the bed.
"They tell me they can fit me up with a fancy voice box, and some other gadgets to get me back on my feet."
Calvin could tell that Sarah wanted to cry. He turned to the doctor and gestured to him. Sarah deserved a chance to speak with her friend alone.
The image turned in his direction. "You saved my life, Mr. Kent, and more importantly, you saved my Sarah. I won't forget that."
Calvin was curiously touched.
"I'll do what I can to help you. I'm a wealthy man, but I suspect that the government will be more than happy to pay all expenses."
"I always told you I'd end up on easy street, Sarah."
Sarah choked back a sob, and Calvin pulled the doctor outside.
Sarah maintained a vigil by Junior's bedside for the next two days. She refused to eat, and when she did sleep, it was only for an hour or two at a time. Luckily, her abilities seemed to have returned, and so she showed few signs of deprivation.
Calvin alternated between spending time with Sarah, working on the story with his parents and giving initial statements to investigators.
The official story was that Sarah had noticed the disappearances, come to Calvin, and Calvin had notified his parents. An anonymous source had sent the proof to them; the military was currently involved in a hunt for leaks in its own ranks.
Sarah was curt with investigators; she claimed to have received a message telling her where Junior was. Junior himself claimed total ignorance of what had happened; for some reason there wasn't any evidence on the computer of Calvin and Sarah's invasion of the complex.
None of the other three survivors claimed any knowledge of what had happened; privately, Junior admitted that they had all known. Junior had known about Sarah's special abilities from the very beginning; the others had seen evidence through the computer cameras.
Calvin knew that they would likely be called to testify before Congress at some point. For the moment, however, it was over.
Calvin found himself thinking about his relationship with Sarah. He was attracted to her, of course, but he was attracted to many women…or at least he had been. Even before he had met Sarah, other women had lost much of their charm. Now, he found himself barely noticing them.
He admired her loyalty and her determination to remain with her friend. There was a quality about her that he found irresistible; he couldn't tell whether it was her idealism, her sense of humor, or simply the fact that she was the one woman he couldn't have simply by asking. The fact that she was the only other half- Kryptonian on the planet was intriguing as well. The telepathic abilities they shared, on the other hand, were frightening.
It would be impossible to tell whether it was merely an infatuation or something more without exploring certain possibilities. He'd have to be careful about the way in which he asked her, however. He had a suspicion that she'd had bad experiences with men in the past. Even if she hadn't, her superhuman sense of sight and hearing couldn't help but make her somewhat cynical about the relationship between men and women. Calvin had become a cynic by the age of thirteen, and he'd grown up in a wealthier neighborhood.
Calvin decided to take it slow. First he'd try to convince her to leave Junior's side long enough to meet his parents. How she reacted to the revelation about who and what his father was might set the tone for the rest of the relationship.
Calvin came to Junior's room early on Thanksgiving morning. Sarah was asleep on a small reclining chair beside the bed. Calvin had to admit that even after three days of deprivation, she still looked good.
Junior was a different story. He was still gaunt and lean, and although his heart and lungs were working strongly, he still looked like a living corpse. His color was somewhat better however, and Calvin could detect minute signs that his frame was beginning to fill out. He looked as though he was asleep, but Calvin knew he wasn't; the viewscreen on the wall was switching channels rapidly. The screen went blank except for an image of Junior.
"You've come to take her to Thanksgiving at the folks', haven't you?"
Calvin nodded. "My mother invited her and she accepted. Now, I'm not sure she'll go."
Junior's image nodded. "I think she needs to go. It's really not very exciting, sitting here watching my old carcass getting healthier; I may not be able to taste turkey and dressing any more, but that's no reason to deny her."
Over the past two days, Calvin had discovered a genuine liking for the older man. He was consistent in his concern for Sarah, and he never complained about his own condition. Overall, his mood was consistently cheerful, and under the circumstances, Calvin had to admire that.
Sarah opened her eyes. Apparently, the conversation had awakened her.
"I'm not going anywhere. You need me!"
Junior's image shook its head. "I can appear on the Kents' viewscreen as easily as I can appear here, and you can be back in a matter of seconds. There isn't any reason for you not to go; frankly, I feel talked out after these last two days."
While Calvin doubted the truth of that statement, he silently thanked Junior for making it. He was sure Sarah knew that it was a sacrifice for Junior to say it. However, he could tell that she was wavering. Junior was a proud man, and it was important for her to allow him to make his own decisions.
He stepped out of the room to give them a chance to talk. He slipped his datalink glasses on and checked Junior's medical chart. His health was improving rapidly. Luckily, there was a movement to set money aside for all the equipment Junior and the other victims would need. He had written a guest editorial for the Daily Planet, and the members of Congress had been almost pathetically eager to accept the idea. The whole incident was turning into a major scandal, and the politicians were moving to disassociate themselves from it, as they always did.
After several minutes, Sarah stepped out of the room and sighed. "He insists that I have a good time. He says he's going to try to slip into one of the virtual arcades at a nearby mall, to see how good the programs are unfiltered."
Considering that some of those programs allowed for primitive touch sensations, it probably would be worth a try for him.
Calvin nodded. "I'll do my best to see that you have a good time."
"What time are we due?"
"Well, it's an hour later in Metropolis. Everyone else is arriving at noon there. We need to get there an hour earlier; there are some things my parents need to discuss with you."
He felt a mental tickle as she tried to get a glimpse of what it was all about.
"My family has some secrets that they'd like to let you in on."
Sarah managed to pry at least one image from his mind before he could close it. "You told them what I am?" Sarah's voice was shocked and dismayed.
"Yes. Otherwise they never would have agreed to reveal their own secret."
"I guess they've known what you are all this time and accepted it." Her voice was doubtful. She looked up at him and said, "You don't know how special that is."
"I didn't before I met you." Calvin's voice was rueful. "I guess I used to take a lot of things for granted."
"So we need to be there at eleven…ten o'clock here?" When Calvin nodded, Sarah said, "That means we have only an hour to go to my loft, get cleaned up and dressed, and to arrive there!"
Calvin shook his head. "The police impounded most of your clothes as evidence. They repaired the cameras around your loft as well."
Sarah's face was comically dismayed.
"I've bought several outfits in your size, and I'd be happy to lend you my shower."
Sarah glanced at him. "I'd almost rather use my waterfall."
Calvin shrugged. "I just thought I'd make things a little easier for you. It's been a hard week for all of us, and the less stress the better."
She sighed, then nodded. "I've always thought that you were supposed to date for a while before meeting the parents."
She clearly expected a joke or a snappy comeback, but Calvin decided to surprise her.
"Why not what?" she asked, clearly confused.
"Well, we don't have time for an actual date now, but what would you say if I was to ask you out — not on some secret mission, not to go meet a famous relative, but simply for dinner and a dance?"
"ARE you asking me out?" Sarah glanced at him out of the corner of her eye.
"Not yet," Calvin said. "I won't ask you out until we've had that talk with my parents."
She smirked. "I never took you for a mama's boy."
Calvin flushed slightly. "You'll understand after we have that talk."
"You are starting to worry me." Her expression turned serious.
Calvin said, "Let's get you cleaned up; we can worry about it later."
She looked at him for a long moment, then nodded.
They left the hospital, found a blind spot, and shot straight up into the air. They made their way through the cloud cover north, until they found Calvin's house.
As they landed in the woods behind Calvin's house, Sarah commented. "With the money you have, I'd have thought you would have a larger home."
Calvin shrugged. "I have all the space I need; I live by myself and rarely have visitors. Any more space would be wasted, really."
It didn't take long for Sarah to shower and get dressed. It took somewhat longer to do her hair and apply the makeup he had purchased for her.
She emerged finally and said, "Do you keep makeup and perfume for all your female guests?"
"I only buy makeup for you, Sarah."
"You got all the brands right."
"I've read your file."
"That really seems unfair, you know."
Calvin grinned. "Yes, I know."
She looked down at the dress he'd bought for her. "I don't usually wear this brand, though. It's really a bit…much."
Calvin grinned. "It's a little pricier than what you are used to, but it's an Italian designer I really like."
Sarah glanced down at the dress. "Do you really think I should wear red for the first time I meet your parents?"
"Afraid they'll think you are a fallen woman?" Calvin grinned. "It's the twenty first century…live a little!"
"Why do men always buy strapless dresses?"
"Men like to look at women's bare shoulders." Calvin leaned toward her, "Have I mentioned that you look great in that outfit?"
"I'm glad it suits your tastes." Sarah said dryly.
He glanced at the digital display on the wall. "It's time to go." She nodded.
Reaching Metropolis took longer than it should have; Sarah had to be careful that her hair wasn't completely undone by the wind. There was a reason that Superman had a slicked back, short haired look. With longer hair, supersonic speeds would have given him a classic Don King look.
Calvin didn't mind the extra time; he was dreading the meeting they were about to have. Over the past two days, he'd tried to think of a way to tell Sarah that his father was Superman. On several occasions, he'd almost begun to speak.
It would hurt her. She thought of Superman as being someone who was above such human concerns as love and lust. She idolized him in the same way that most of the world's population did, but in her case, there was something more.
Superman was the proof that she could live a better life. He was proof that she wasn't doomed to be the sort of person her biological father had been. He was an icon, an idea to strive for. He certainly wasn't a person with an ordinary life, with a wife, a mortgage payment, and a job.
She'd be angry with him for not telling her as well. He'd allowed her to think he was a child of the occupation just as she was. It was clear that she had ignored the fact that he was almost a year younger than she was. If she'd let herself do the math, she would have realized that it was impossible for him to be a child of the occupation. She hadn't wanted to think about any other possibility.
He sighed, and she glanced back at him. They were on the final approach to Metropolis, and for her sake he smiled. It felt more like a grimace than a smile, but she seemed to accept it.
He found an alley near his parents' house that wasn't covered by the camera grid, and they both landed. They walked two blocks until they reached it, and Calvin could already smell the delicious scents coming from inside.
He took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
His father had heard them walking up the driveway, of course, but they were keeping up appearances.
The door opened, and his father smiled.
Calvin said, "Dad, this is Sarah."
He turned to her, and saw that she was as white as a sheet. "You…you…"
"You had better come inside," his father said.
Calvin led her inside, and they found a place for her to sit on the couch. She sank into the plush cushion without allowing her eyes to leave his father.
"You aren't human!" Her voice was accusing.
"Neither are you…neither is my son." Clark's voice was mild, holding a small trace of amusement.
Sarah's face snapped around to stare at Calvin. "*You should have told me.*"
"*It wasn't my secret to tell.*"
"*How could you bring me to the house of someone like this?*"
It took Calvin a moment to realize that she thought Clark was a New Kryptonian deserter.
His father sighed. "*You still don't understand.*"
Both Calvin and Sarah stared at Calvin's father, and they both blushed when they realized that their conversation hadn't been private. Calvin had never realized that his father was so telepathically skilled.
Clark Kent stood and clapped his hands. Calvin sighed. He'd always been embarrassed that his parents actually owned an antique clapper.
The window curtains all began to close. When the room was completely closed off, Clark Kent began to spin in place.
At least he had chosen to wear the suit under his clothes this time. Calvin had been occasionally embarrassed by his ability to see what his father was doing at superspeed. For Sarah's sake, he was grateful. It was hard enough to see that Superman had a human life; she wasn't ready yet to see him in his underwear. That would have to wait until at least the third date.
She stared, unable to tear her eyes away from the familiar red and blue clad figure floating in the middle of the room. Superman stood in all his glory in front of Sarah, and she was speechless.
When she finally moved, it was to punch Calvin in the arm.
"What was that for?" Calvin protested.
Clark Kent spun back into his daily clothing. "She probably thinks you should have told her earlier. Your mother wasn't all that happy when she found out either."
Sarah shook her head, and Calvin could see that she was blushing. "I'm sorry, sir. I can understand the need for secrecy. After all, this is big…really, really big…"
Calvin stared at Sarah as he rubbed his arm. He'd never seen her babble before. If she weren't careful, she'd have his father thinking she was a younger Lois.
"But then I realized how much Calvin was taking for granted…and it just made me so angry!"
"You don't make a habit of hitting people, do you?" Clark asked in his Superman voice. It had the same effect on Sarah that it always had with him, and Calvin felt the need to defend her.
Calvin interjected. "I'm the only person she likes to hit. If we were seven, I'd think she liked me." He smirked.
Now she really did blush.
Calvin's father chuckled and said, "Well, in Calvin's defense, they say that no man is a prophet in his home town. Calvin knew me as Dad a long time before he found out about my second job."
Sarah spoke again. "It's a lot to take in…the idea that Superman has a wife…a family." She shook her head. "I always thought that Superman was above that sort of thing."
"No one is immune to love, Sarah," Clark said gently. He smiled. "Even Superman puts his boots on one foot at a time."
They all heard footsteps approaching, and Calvin rose to his feet.
Lois Lane stepped into the room, and Calvin stepped forward to hug her. "It's good to be home, mom. Dinner smells great!" He pulled away from her and gestured towards Sarah. "I'd like you to meet Sarah Knight."
Sarah stood as well, and she regained her composure enough to say, "I've read your books, and I always wanted to meet you. There were some things that didn't make sense to me until I met your husband."
Lois glanced at her husband. "I suppose he's already told you who and what he is?"
Clark shook his head. "She knew what I was from the moment she saw me." He turned to Sarah, a questioning look in his eyes. "How did you know, Sarah?"
"Your heartbeat is racing along at three hundred beats a minute; any normal person would be dead." Sarah shook her head. "That's even ignoring the fact that you and Calvin look like you were made with the same mold."
"I know it's all a lot to take in, Sarah," Lois said. "But once you have time to get used to the idea, I'm sure you'll have plenty to say to my son."
Both Lois and Sarah looked at Calvin and mentally, he groaned. Sarah caught the edge of it and grinned at his discomfort.
"You will have to tell us all about how you and Calvin met." Lois smiled. She reached out and took Sarah's hand. "I've just made a batch of chocolate chip cookies; you'll have to let me know what you think."
As Lois pulled Sarah into the kitchen, Calvin stared at his father for a moment. "That went well." He looked back at the door to the kitchen. "I think."
Clark shook his head. "If she's anything like your mother, she's still too shocked to really have her say. When she does, just listen to her."
"That's what a quarter century of marriage has taught you?"
"Sarah's got you pegged as unappreciative." His father smiled slightly.
Calvin grinned. "I appreciate her…that's all that should really matter."
"It's a start anyway."
Both father and son heard the sound of a car approaching. Clark clapped his hands, and the drapes opened. "You know, that's one of the most ridiculous things I've seen. I can get you a modern system, one that isn't an antique." Calvin shook his head. "Besides, wasn't that originally marketed for old people?"
"It works just fine. Your mother doesn't like the idea that some hotshot can break into our system and find out how many times we like to draw the drapes."
"I wouldn't even dare."
"You aren't the only hacker in the world…just the quickest." Clark turned his head. "I see that your Aunt Lucy is early."
"She brought Gramps Lane too…and his new girlfriend."
Calvin called out mentally to Sarah. "*Sarah…I should perhaps mention that neither my aunt, nor my grandfather have any idea about my father's secret.*"
"*Your mother told me already.*"
Calvin could sense a suppressed sense of anger in Sarah's mental voice.
He sighed and followed his father to the front door to greet his relatives. At least he'd remembered to get the special fruits Aunt Lucy liked so much.
This would certainly be a holiday to remember.
It was almost impossible for Calvin to take his eyes off Sarah as the evening wore on. He'd never actually seen her when she was happy before. Under the loving attentions of his family, she seemed to bloom. It was as though she was a flower that had been deprived of sunlight for its entire life, and was only now basking in warmth for the first time.
Sarah was beautiful when she smiled. It was hard for him to understand how he had once thought her as being merely pretty. Her face lit up the room, and her laughter gave him a warm, pleasant feeling.
It was clear that she genuinely liked his family. After an initial period of shyness, she began to open up. She found Sam Lane amusing and Lucy Lane sweet but Sarah still seemed a little in awe of his parents. She was even friendly with Sam's current girlfriend, a woman who was forty years younger than he was.
Somehow, Sarah had ended up sitting at the other end of the long dining room table. The table had been a gift from Lois's mother. While Lois had complained about the table being too long while her mother was alive, she refused to part with it now. Still, it left Calvin unable to talk with her without shouting. He was forced into the role of an observer.
Lois Lane had come to accept her father's girlfriends since her mother's death, but she was still a little stiff around the new one. Her behavior towards Sarah, in contrast, was open and accepting, and Sarah seemed to be quite aware of it.
It was all Calvin could do to follow the conversation; Sarah distracted him in a way he'd never experienced before. He wondered if she was somehow influencing him telepathically. He closed himself off from her, and yet the fascination remained.
He caught his parents sneaking looks at him from time to time, and their tiny, secret smiles irritated him. It had been years since he'd lived under their roof, and they didn't really know anything about him or his relationship with Sarah. He wasn't even sure he understood it.
He'd been with many women in his younger days, but none of them had affected him. It had been a game he played, and while he had never been malicious, he'd always known that there wasn't a chance for anything more.
Now he was being assaulted by feelings he hadn't had before, and he was anxious and confused. His eyes seemed to follow Sarah around the room of their own accord. When her eyes met his, he'd look away, but never quickly enough that she didn't know he'd been watching.
Calvin barely even tasted his meal, so distracted was he by Sarah's smile.
His Aunt Lucy had to call his name twice before she got his attention.
Calvin smiled at her. While she wasn't privy to the family secret, she'd always been a fun aunt, always ready to cultivate his sense of mischief.
"You seem to really like this girl."
"She's a nice person to be around. I met her while I was doing research for my new book."
"Oh?" Lucy's voice was noncommittal. Calvin glanced at her sharply and saw that she was grinning.
"We aren't even dating!" he protested.
"So you don't want to date such a plain girl." Lucy looked at Sarah critically. "She's not really your type."
"She's not plain!" Calvin hissed. "She's a beautiful woman! She may not be surgically perfect…but I've started to appreciate natural beauty more these days."
He saw the twinkle in his Aunt's eye and cursed to himself. If he hadn't been so distracted, he never would have made such an elementary mistake.
When he saw Sarah staring in his direction with a blush on her cheeks, he found himself flushing as well. Of course she could hear him; she was going to be as bad as his father with respect to overhearing everything that was going on everywhere.
He didn't wonder at his casual assumption that they would have a future of some sort together. By this point, it was unimaginable to him that they might not.
Dinner passed quickly, and the family scattered throughout the house. If Jonathan Kent had been alive, the television would have been ablaze with football and other sports. However, with Jonathan's passing, the tradition had changed. Clark was the only person in the house who remained interested, and he was generous enough to devote his time to other pursuits.
Calvin had lost all interest in sports the moment he had realized what he was to become. He'd known that there was no way anyone would ever be able to compete against him; there didn't seem to be much point in playing. In any case, his father had always loved sports, and as a rebellious teenager, anything his father enjoyed had seemed boring.
Instead, a new tradition had arisen. After the meal and a short period of rest to recover from its effects, the family played games.
Calvin retreated to the bathroom in an effort to regain his composure. He was off balance, and that made him uncomfortable. He was used to being detached and able to think on his feet. The emotional mess he was finding himself in was unpleasant and disconcerting. For the first time in a long while, Calvin didn't know what to do, and he hated that feeling.
He stiffened when he heard a pair of voices speaking in low tones downstairs. A quick peek through the walls turned into a long stare as he saw that his father had pulled Sarah aside.
"I'm sorry about what happened to your mother, Sarah. If I'd known about her…or about you, I would have done everything in my power to make sure you had a better life."
"There wasn't any way you could have known; my mother avoided the media in the early days; and after she died it was too late."
Clark shook his head. "I've always felt that I should have been able to do more, that I should have been able to save the people of Smallville." He hesitated. "I grew up there, which made it even worse. I knew those people, and the idea that there wasn't anything I could do to help them…it's hard to accept."
"We have all the powers and still we can't save everyone." Sarah was silent for a moment. "Did you know my mother?"
Clark nodded. "I went to high school with her. She was a beautiful woman, on the inside as well as the out. You would have liked her."
"I would have loved her." Sarah sighed. "If I hadn't been conceived the way I was…if I'd been fully human, my mother would be alive today."
"You can't know that. Mothers die giving birth to human children every day." Clark stared into the distance. "No one has any guarantees in life."
"Mother wanted to believe that I was her husband's child."
"She would have loved you no matter who your father was." Clark stared down at her for a moment. "I knew your mother, and I know what sort of person she was. She would have loved you from the first moment that she held you in her arms, and that's all that would have mattered to her."
"She never got that chance," Sarah said, a note of bitterness in her voice.
"I know. I'll always feel guilty for what she went through…for what everyone went through."
Sarah shook her head, unable for a moment to speak. Calvin could see the glint of tears in her eyes, and he wondered why he felt a small ache in his chest at the sight.
"I used to dream that my mother wasn't dead…that she was just lost. I liked to fantasize that she would come for me, along with my real father, and we would all be together as a family. She never came, and I don't think I ever forgave her for that."
"She never would have left you alone if she'd had a choice." A small sob came from Sarah, and on the other side of the house Calvin stiffened.
"I want you to know that, no matter what your relationship is with our son, we will always consider you to be family."
Sarah was looking at the floor. "I never thought I'd want anything related to my biological father, or the New Kryptonians."
"No one can be blamed for what their parents chose to do. You can only be held responsible for the path you choose in your own life. If you start feeling guilt for what other people have done, it never ends." Clark's voice was soothing. "In spite of the trials life has given you, you've turned into a good person."
"How can you know that? You barely know me!"
"I can hear it in every word my son speaks about you. I can see it in the way he looks at you." Clark looked at the floor. "Calvin and I haven't always agreed on everything. I've pushed him to follow in my footsteps, and he's consistently chosen his own path. Deep down though, Calvin is a good person, and he would never be able to give his heart to someone who wasn't."
Calvin felt his face flush.
"Maybe it's just a wild sort of attraction…an infatuation for a kind of girl he hasn't tried before." Sarah shook her head. "He's dated some of the most beautiful women in the world. What makes you think he would be interested in me?"
"Because you affect him in ways that no other woman ever has. It was the same way for me with Lois." Calvin's father smiled fondly at the memory. "It came over me suddenly, hitting me like a ton of bricks; and it was all over. It took her a couple of years longer; of course, but once I knew what I wanted, that was it."
Calvin stared through the wall unseeingly for a moment. Was that the reason he'd been feeling so strange lately? Was it some sort of Kryptonian thing…a simple matter of alien pheromones interacting with an alien sex drive?
It was almost comforting to think that might be it. The idea that he might be falling in love with Sarah for her good qualities was almost more than he could bear. His heart had always been cold to every other woman, as though it had been encased in a diamond-hard shell. He'd always been the one who was in control, and that was the role he was most comfortable in.
It was frightening to think that he love her for who she was. Calvin couldn't deny the fact that she was more beautiful now than when he had first met her; she'd always been pretty, but now she seemed beautiful. If it had been just pheromones, he'd have been caught from the start.
Calvin realized that he had missed part of the conversation, and he concentrated on listening yet again. Sarah was looking at his father, and Calvin felt a moment of jealousy. "You were my role model. If it hadn't been for the ideal that Superman represented for me, I don't think I'd have made it through the harder years…at least not without compromising my morals."
"You must be disappointed that Superman has feet of clay."
Sarah was silent for a long moment before replying. "I am, a little. Superman always seemed so far above it all. He didn't seem to need anyone; his whole life was devoted to helping others. I wanted to be like that, but it seemed presumptuous to dress up and create an identity for myself."
"I landed on earth as a baby. I grew up as a normal child in the same way that you and Calvin did, and I've always been clear that Clark Kent is who I am. Superman was just a way to do what I had to without losing all chances for an ordinary life."
Clark put his hand on Sarah's shoulder, and said, "I know what it's like to feel different from everybody else, but eventually I decided that I'd been brought here and given these abilities for a reason."
Calvin scowled. If his father talked long enough, he'd have Sarah running around in Lois's old Ultrawoman costume.
He left the bathroom and rushed downstairs as quickly as he could without revealing the family secret.
He reached them just as Clark finished saying, "Nobody can choose your path in life. That was my mistake with Calvin; I tried to stick him into a suit that wouldn't fit, and it chafed."
Calvin walked around the corner as quietly as he could, but Sarah and his father were waiting for him.
"I suppose your ears were burning," Clark said, and Calvin flushed.
"Mom's looking for the party games you put in the attic."
Clark stared at him for a long moment before nodding. He gave an apologetic look to Sarah, and left the room.
"It's rude to eavesdrop, you know."
"I'm not exactly known for following the rules."
Sarah turned away from him and stared out a window. "I'm having a hard time forgiving you."
"For eavesdropping? It was a little rude, but -"
"For taking all this for granted." Sarah was silent for a long moment. "You have so much…a family that loves you, parents who knew what you were going through and could help you when your differences started to develop…you have people who actually worry about you, and you just don't seem to care."
"I care." Calvin felt a lump in his throat. "It's just…it's so easy to argue about stupid things. You argue about the same thing over and over, and eventually you just don't want to hear it anymore."
Sarah was silent, her shoulders hunched.
"I love my father," Calvin said. "It may not seem like it sometimes, because we spend a lot of time arguing, but I really do. It was just always easier to express myself with mom. Our view of the world is a little more similar, and she never felt the need to make me into something that I wasn't."
"Your father does great things for the people of the world!"
"I know. For a long time I thought I wasn't worthy to even touch his cape. He was Superman…the man who could do no wrong. When I was a teenager, it felt as though I could do no right. It wasn't that he was critical…it's just that it was never easy for me to make the same choices he did. It didn't feel natural."
Sarah turned to face him. "So you chose to become the man of a thousand faces?"
"I've only got eight identities that I actually maintain." Calvin shook his head. "That's beside the point. I knew I could never live up to the standard that my father set, so why even try? I tried to excel in different areas than my father had, tried to find my own niche."
"And that led you into cheating crime lords at cards." Sarah's voice was doubtful.
Calvin shrugged. "I've always enjoyed risk taking. I think I got it from my mother. There was a time in their relationship where it seemed like my father had to snatch my mother from the jaws of death at least once a week. After I was born, she started taking better care of herself, which was a good thing."
"So is that what you plan to do with the rest of your life?" Sarah asked. Her voice was carefully neutral.
"I doubt it. I was starting to get tired of it even before I met you, just like I was starting to get tired of all the women I had been seeing." Calvin grinned ruefully. "With the exception of my publisher's party, I hadn't been out on a date in six months."
"Why? You are awfully young to be losing your sex drive."
Calvin sighed ruefully. "That's one issue right there. Has anyone told you about the ramifications our abilities have for aging?"
Sarah shook her head.
"After a certain point, our aging processes slow down to a crawl. You and I could easily live to be three hundred or three hundred and fifty years old."
Sarah looked shocked. "What about your father?"
"He suffered cellular damage from an enemy attack thirty years ago…and even so, the odds are that he will outlive my mother by decades."
"I never realized…"
"I did. I knew that no matter how much I cared about a woman, I would have to watch her grow old and die while I went on." Calvin shook his head. "I can't imagine that sort of pain, especially if you find someone who is going to be your one true love…your soulmate."
"So you limited yourself to one night stands?"
Calvin shook his head. "I was never that bad, but I never allowed myself to become interested in women of depth and character. I always knew that they were the most dangerous."
Sarah was silent for a moment. "So you are just interested in me because I'll still be around after everyone else is gone."
Calvin shook his head. "I'd like to be your friend. I like the idea of having someone I can talk to about things that no one else in the world would understand…someone who I can hope will still be around when I'm decrepit and old. My father had some of the same experiences we did, but he grew up in another century…life was different when he was a kid."
"So you just want to be friends."
Calvin could hear a note of disappointment in her voice, and he grinned deep inside.
"I want to be friends in part because of what we are." Calvin hesitated. "I'd like to be more than friends because of who you are."
He spoke telepathically, allowing his emotions to filter through along with his words. "*You are a beautiful woman, but that was never really the issue. You are intelligent, loyal, and kind. You have a great sense of humor, and you are fervent in your dedication to a cause, whether it's social work, or rescuing your friends. Unlike most of the women I have known, you are even more beautiful on the inside than you are on the outside.*"
She stared at him, seemingly unable to tear her eyes away from him.
Calvin spoke aloud, moving closer to Sarah. "I admire you. I admire the fact that in spite of the hard life you've had, you've chosen the high road. I admire your dedication and your sense of purpose."
He touched her arm, and she did not pull away. "I don't know what this thing is between us. I'm feeling things that I've never felt before, and I don't know what to do about it. You knock me off balance; you make my head spin, and I find myself thinking about you all the time."
He leaned in close to her, and said, "I don't know if what I'm feeling is love…but it's the closest I've come in my entire life. If you have any interest in me at all, I think it would be foolish to miss the chance to find out if it's real."
"What do you want me to say?" Sarah's voice was husky, and Calvin realized with a shock that he had backed her into a corner.
He started to pull back, but she put her hand on his arm and shook her head.
"Say yes. Go out with me."
Sarah stared at him for a long moment, then smirked. "It won't bother you, dating an older woman?"
"Well, that might be a problem, " Calvin grinned. "After all, when I'm three hundred, you'll be three hundred and one. We won't have a thing in common."
He leaned closer to her, his lips almost brushing her ear. "Of course, you know what they say about younger men."
"That they like to get things over with fast?" Sarah ducked under his arm and moved away.
"We can take things as slow as you'd like. It's not like we don't have time."
"That's true. I guess it would be foolish not to see if we would be compatible." Sarah smiled. "I guess my answer has to be yes."
Calvin could hear his mother calling the family together in the distance. Sarah turned and headed for the door. Without looking at him, she said, "We can talk about it later."
Calvin's disappointment was mixed with elation. She had agreed to go out with him! True, he'd been hoping for at least a kiss, but it still had to be counted as a success.
He began following Sarah out the door.
He stepped into the doorway just as Sarah said, "Look up!"
Calvin looked up and saw a flash of green before Sarah threw herself in his arms and kissed him deeply.
He was shocked and stunned as he felt her mind begin to caress his, even as her kiss was causing his spine to tingle.
The kiss was over all too quickly, and he was dazed. He looked up again, and saw a small sprig of mistletoe.
"Where did that come from?" His parents never started decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving.
"Your mother gave it to me."
Calvin gaped at her for a moment before speaking. "She thought I needed mistletoe to kiss you? I guess it would make for a fun Christmas season, but it doesn't say much for the rest of the year."
Sarah punched him in the side of the arm, but this time lightly enough that it didn't hurt. She grinned. "She said it was just for a joke…but I think she had other ideas."
Calvin grimaced. His mother was entirely too nosy sometimes. It was a great trait in a reporter, but… He caught the look in Sarah's eye, and sighed. It wasn't a bad a trait in a mother.
His mother called again, and Calvin followed Sarah in for an evening of fun and games. Calvin managed to ignore the knowing looks in his parents' eyes and simply enjoy the evening.
Eventually, his aunt, Sam Lane, and Sam's girlfriend had to head home.
Calvin waved goodbye along with the others, then leaned his forehead against Sarah's and spoke telepathically as quietly as he could. She nodded.
"I have something I need to take care of." Calvin said quietly to his mother, and he slipped out of the house.
He returned twenty minutes later to find his father waiting for him. Sarah was inside, helping his mother clean up. "What's going on, Calvin?"
"We haven't always seen everything eye to eye in the past…and I'm sure we'll find things to argue about in the future." Calvin looked his father directly in the eye. "I'm not sure what direction my life will take now, but I doubt that it'll involve spandex. There are ways I can help people that don't require that."
Clark nodded slowly. "I may have pushed you a little too hard in the past. I just…" His voice trailed off. "I have strong opinions about things."
"We're alike in a lot of ways. Mother would say we're both too stubborn, for one thing."
"Maybe we are."
"I just wanted you to know that no matter how much I may disagree with you, I still love you."
His father was silent for a moment, then said, "I love you too, son."
Calvin grinned. "I've got a surprise for you."
"Come fly with me."
Calvin lifted off, and Clark followed along behind. Sarah would follow a little later carrying Calvin's mother.
It was a short flight.
Calvin landed on the green field, and his father landed gently a moment later.
Calvin grinned, looking around at the half built baseball stadium. "They won't even turn the cameras on until next week, but the ceiling keeps the satellites from seeing inside."
"Why are we here?"
Calvin grinned at his father. "We never did play ball after I started developing my abilities."
Sarah and Lois landed quietly behind them.
Clark didn't say anything, then slowly started to grin.
Sarah stepped forward. "Are girls allowed to play?"
Clark nodded, silently.
It was the work of a moment to find a large bag of baseballs. Calvin didn't bother to look for baseball mitts; a baseball would disintegrate if it hit hard enough to even sting.
Lois sat in the partially completed stands as Calvin threw a ball to his father. The first one caught fire; it took six balls before they discovered the limits of their equipment.
As Calvin raced around the diamond at superhuman speeds, he reflected that life wasn't all that bad.
He didn't know what the future would bring, but he liked the beginning he was making. He and his father were making the first tentative steps towards mending their relationship, and with Sarah he was starting something new and exciting.
He didn't know what he'd do with the rest of his life, but he'd have people who cared about him along the way, and in the end that was all that really mattered. All in all, life was good.