By Nan Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Submitted: October 2001
Summary: An old enemy turns up unexpectedly. But this time they're not only after Superman. Part of the author's "Dagger" series.
This story is part of Nan Smith's "Dagger" series. See a list of all the stories in this series and get links.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Christmas in Metropolis. Need the previous story? Read Heritage.
Disclaimer: The familiar characters and scenes in this story are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros. December 3rd Productions and whoever else may legally claim them, and no infringement on their copyright is intended but the new characters and the story itself are mine.
This story is part of the "Dagger" series, beginning with "Dagger of the Mind". It consists of: Dagger of the Mind, Dagger's Edge, Assassin's Dagger, Doppelganger, Blind Man's Bluff, Countdown, Priorities, Vanishing Act, Charade, Heritage and now, Unforeseen Consequences.
This story takes place approximately three weeks following Heritage. A scene I saw in one of episodes of the Lex Files trilogy, where Lois dreams that she's trying to interview Queen Elizabeth and the Pope while super-babies are increasing in number geometrically, was part of the inspiration for one of the subplots. I've had the idea that the A-plot is based on in mind since before LAFF 2000. It only seemed to me to be a logical extension from events in the series. Another author also picked up on the point for one of his stories, however, as you will see when you read it, this is considerably different from his idea. (I really didn't steal it, Shayne! Honest! <g>)
Comments and criticism are invited.
"You know," Lois said, "our Christmases are a lot different than the ones I had when I was a kid."
Clark lifted an eyebrow at her. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Just about anything would have been an improvement," Lois said, with a tiny grin, "but, that's not what I meant. Christmas with my parents isn't even an ordeal anymore, and I think it all began to happen when I met you. Are you sure you're not Santa Claus in disguise?"
Clark stroked an imaginary beard. "You've guessed my secret, oh mighty reporter. I should have known I could never keep my identity secret from you, forever. Of course," he added, "that makes you Mrs. Claus."
Lois giggled. "I think I'd rather stay Mrs. Superman," she said. "He's got a better figure than old Santa."
"And you've definitely got a better one than Mrs. Claus," Clark murmured, bending down to kiss her.
The elevator doors opened at that moment. Perry's voice said, dryly, "I see you two are still conscientiously giving the bullpen its daily show."
Clark straightened up with a faint smile, but he made no comment as he followed Lois out into the newsroom. He heard Jimmy's murmur of "Some things never change," and saw his boss grin in acknowledgement of this sally.
Lois hung up her coat and continued on to her workstation to drop her shoulder bag onto the floor and kick it under the desk. Clark stopped to speak to Perry. "Chief, we'll be leaving a little early this afternoon. Lois has an appointment at her doctor's office and I want to be there with her."
Perry frowned. "Is everything all right?"
"Sure," Clark assured him. "She's scheduled for a sonogram, and I don't want to miss it."
"Oh." Perry grinned. "Don't blame you. I wish they'd had 'em when Alice and I were having kids." He raised his voice. "Okay, everybody, Conference Room Two in five minutes!"
Lois glanced up from her computer screen as Clark entered the newsroom. It was just past two and the predictable so- called "morning sickness" that had been plaguing her for several weeks was beginning to make itself known. The print on the monitor had the unpleasant effect of blurring before her eyes whenever a wave of the nausea hit her, which it had been doing with more severity this time than it ever had with her three previous pregnancies. She closed them and rubbed her temples, striving to take deep breaths until it passed.
"Are you okay, honey?" Clark's voice asked, softly.
She opened her eyes and nodded, smiling with an effort. "It's just the same old stuff," she said.
Clark rested his hands on her shoulders and began to massage her tense neck and shoulder muscles. Lois closed her eyes in relief. "That feels better."
"I think you should mention this to Dr. Klein, " Clark said. "You've never had nausea this bad before."
"Every pregnancy is different," she reminded him. "And, as much as I'd like to pretend differently, I am forty. It's bound to be harder on me this time."
"Still, he ought to know," Clark insisted, gently. "If he knew, he might be able to help."
Lois sighed. Even after eleven years of marriage, Clark still did his best to play mother hen whenever he was worried about her. "All right, I'll mention it this afternoon. Happy, now?"
"I will be when you talk to him." His large hands never ceased their massage. "After all, this is my wife and baby that we're talking about here."
Lois closed her eyes again and leaned back into the massage, feeling the nausea recede. "That helps a lot," she said. "Thanks."
"Any time," he said.
"If you're giving those away free, I'll take one," the voice of Candy Valenzuela, the society columnist, purred throatily.
Lois opened her eyes. Candy was standing across from her desk, smiling her usual enigmatic smile and clad in an outfit that was probably technically legal, but left very little to the imagination.
"I only give these to special clients," Clark said in his unruffled way. "Did you need something, Candy?"
The woman was probably five years older than Clark, Lois thought, not for the first time, but she hid it well. She saw Candy's gaze slide from Clark's face, down his body to his shoes and back up. She gave a wistful little smile. "Well, yes, but I guess I'll have to settle for passing along the tickets to the Christmas Charity Ball." She set the items on Lois's desk and glanced lingeringly once more at Clark, then smiled and walked away, her shapely hips well outlined in the tight, short dress she wore. Lois found herself gritting her teeth.
Clark glanced at her. "Don't worry, honey," he said, quietly. "There's only one woman in this room that I'm interested in."
She found herself relaxing. "I know. I just wish women like Candy had enough sense to see it."
"She'll figure it out if she doesn't know already," Clark said. "I don't wear my wedding ring for a decoration."
Lois glanced down at the little pooch that she had already developed in her middle. "She probably thinks I'm letting myself go. I'm not even three months along and my clothes are already getting too tight."
"Honey, you've had three children," Clark said. "It would only make sense that you'd start to show a little sooner than the first time. You haven't let yourself go. If I didn't know better, I'd never guess you were anywhere near forty."
"Really?" Lois brightened. "You're awfully good for my ego."
He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "I'm only saying it because it's true."
"Lois, Clark, how about that piece on the redevelopment plan for the south side?" Perry's voice broke through their conversation. "We've got a deadline!"
"I'm waiting for a call back on that, Chief," Lois said. "I need the answers to some questions about the whole project."
"Well, I need it in half an hour," Perry said, already headed for his next victim.
"I'll do my best," Lois said.
Kelly passed her desk, carrying a donut box. She paused and pulled the lid open, displaying its contents. "Would you like one, Ms. Lane?"
Lois felt the nausea that had partially subsided with Clark's neck rub, rise in her throat. She clapped a hand over her mouth.
"Oops." The redheaded girl retreated quickly. "Sorry."
Lois stumbled to her feet and made a beeline for the ladies' room.
Clark barely restrained the temptation to use his x-ray vision to check on Lois as she vanished through the door of the ladies' room. He would never have admitted it to her, but the unusually difficult time she was having with this pregnancy was worrying him a good deal. None of the other three had been this hard for her. Jimmy had been born four years previously, when she had been thirty-six, and she had had very little in the way of difficulties. This time, everything seemed to be the opposite. Even the fact that Dr. Klein had assured him that he was watching her carefully because her age put her into the increased-risk category failed to comfort him. He had every confidence in Bernie Klein, but that wouldn't stop him from fretting until he knew everything was all right.
"Is she okay?" Jimmy paused beside him, glancing at the door through which Lois had disappeared.
"I don't know." Clark bit his lip. "I'm worried, Jimmy. She's never had it this bad before."
The phone on Lois's desk shrilled at that moment, and Clark answered it. It was Lois's contact with the information she'd been waiting for. Clark jotted down the relevant details, thanked the man and hung up. Lois still hadn't returned. He made up his mind. "Excuse me, Jim. Kelly!"
The young woman turned her head at his call. "Yes, Mr. Kent?"
"Could you—um—could you go in there and see if she's all right?" He gestured toward the ladies' room.
"Sure, Mr. Kent."
Lois washed her face in cold water and rinsed out her mouth a second time. As she was drying her face, the door opened and Kelly, the office gofer, entered. The redheaded girl looked subdued.
"Are you all right, Ms. Lane? Mr. Kent's worried about you."
Lois nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"I'm really sorry. I didn't think donuts—"
Lois held up a hand. "Please don't talk about food."
"Sorry." Kelly's face turned a bright red as she realized she'd nearly made the same mistake again. "Are you feeling better?"
"Well, let's say there's nothing more for me to bring back up, so in that sense, I suppose I am." Lois straightened up. "I better get back out there. Perry's waiting for that article."
A little over an hour later, Clark and Lois were in the Jeep, headed for the Metropolis Women's Hospital, where Dr. Klein had arranged for the sonogram to be done. It had apparently surprised the administrators of the establishment that the noted researcher, Bernard Klein, had decided to resume a limited medical practice in obstetrics some ten years ago, but since his presence on the staff gave a certain amount of prestige to their organization, no one had protested the arrangement.
"I wonder if Dr. Klein will be able to tell, yet, if it's a boy or girl," Lois said. "Can you tell at ten weeks?"
"I have no idea," Clark said. "I could take a peek and find out, if you want me to."
Lois shook her head. "I don't really want to know," she said. "If I have to go through labor again, I want a nice surprise at the end."
"I guess I can't argue with that," Clark said. "Have you been drinking water like you were supposed to?"
Lois nodded. "What I could hold down. Just don't take the Jeep over any bumps in the road, okay?"
Clark grinned. "I'll do my best," he assured her. "How's the stomach?"
"Let's just not talk about that," Lois said, a trifle grimly. "I'm trying to ignore it."
"Okay. Just be sure you mention it to Dr. Klein."
"Clark, you're nagging."
"Sorry." Clark pulled the Jeep into the parking lot and maneuvered into a parking space. "We're right on time. Are you ready?"
"I guess," Lois said. "I don't know why Dr. Klein was so determined to do this now."
"He wondered if our dates were a little off," Clark said, patiently. "And since our norm seems to be about two weeks longer than the normal pregnancy, he wants to be sure. He told you that."
"I know, I know," Lois grumbled. "He doesn't have to walk around feeling as if he's going to burst."
She saw her husband grin again. "It's not funny!"
"I know," Clark said. "I sympathize, honey, I really do. There's just something about the way you do that. I like to hear you grumble. It's cute."
Lois shook her head as she opened the door, but she was smiling. "It must be love," she remarked. "Only a guy in love would think his wife's complaining was cute."
"Can't help it," Clark said. He got out and shut his door. "Shall we go and get this over with?"
"Come on, Jimmy," Jim Olsen said. "We're going to pick up Marta and Jonny. Feel like an afternoon snack?"
"Sure!" Jimmy Kent agreed, happily. "Where's Mommy?"
"Your daddy took her to see Dr. Klein," Jim told him. "We're going to wait for them with your Aunt Sandi. She said she was picking up pizza for you guys."
"Okay," Jimmy agreed. He confidently took Jim Olsen's hand and, in the manner of four-year-old boys, half-walked, half-trotted out of the Planet's day care center. "Can I punch the elevator button?"
"Sure," Jim said, reflecting that his godson was quite a talker—a characteristic he undoubtedly got from Lois. Of all the children, except for CJ, Jimmy looked most like his father, but Jim could see Lois in him in many subtle ways. CJ, on the other hand, was a quiet, good-looking boy, friendly and intelligent as were all the Kent kids, but Jim had a pretty strong suspicion about his real origins. The fact was, he knew Clark had no other blood relatives on Earth other than his children, so the official explanation that CJ was the child of one of Clark's distant cousins was obviously untrue. However, there had been the story of the Superman clone, ten years before—the one no one could find. Jim had a pretty good idea where that clone was, but he wasn't going to try to prove it. If CJ was the Superman clone, Jim was ready to let the fact die an anonymous death. It wasn't important, and he wasn't about to try to bring it to light. The only way it might possibly matter was if the knowledge ever came to the ears of Luthor or *his* clone. As for the fact that Clark and Lois hadn't told him; they'd probably figured he'd work it out for himself, as he had Clark's secret identity. It didn't bother him in the least.
Jimmy had pressed the call button and a moment later, the elevator doors opened to reveal young Jimmy's other godfather. Perry White grinned at the sight of Jimmy Kent firmly gripping his namesake's hand. "Hi there, sport."
"Hi, Uncle Perry. Can I push the down button?"
The button had already been pushed, Jim noted, but that didn't deter Jimmy, who proceeded to give it a firm jab. The elevator doors slid quietly shut and they moved gently downward to the first floor.
Two people were waiting to board and Jim and Perry stepped back to let them on. One was a tall man and the other a girl of about ten. Jim might not have noticed her if it hadn't been for the look on her face. She was a thin child with big blue eyes and hair of an almost strawberry blond, but her expression said it all. The child was frightened.
Jim took a second look at her companion. He was well dressed, unlike the girl, and the coat, and the hat pulled down low over his face made it impossible to see much of what he really looked like. Jim hesitated. He had no real reason, but something felt wrong about this situation.
He gave the girl a smile. "Hi."
She didn't smile. Instead, she shrank backward against the wall. Jim frowned slightly. If she was afraid of him, wouldn't she be more likely to move closer to her—what? Father? Brother? If that was what he was.
The elevator was moving slowly downward toward the underground parking garage and finally came to a stop. The door slid open and the oddly matched couple started to exit. The girl began to cry. Jim took his nerve in both hands and stepped forward. "Excuse me, sir," he said. "What's wrong with the little girl?"
The man glanced at him. "Nothing," he said.
Perry frowned. He, too, took a step forward. "Who is she?" he asked.
"My niece," the other man replied. "What business is it of yours?"
Jim bent slightly, trying to look as non-threatening as possible. "Is this man your uncle, honey?"
Perry frowned. "If I'm wrong, I apologize in advance," he said, slowly, "but I think I better call Security."
The taller man took a step backwards. "This is none of your business. She has a dental appointment and she's afraid of the dentist."
"In that case," Perry said, "you won't mind showing me your identification. I don't think I've ever seen you around here before."
The girl moved unexpectedly, jerked her arm from the grip of her companion, ducked past the three men and ran.
"Can we get this over fast?" Lois asked as the nurse finished arranging her as comfortably as possible on the padded table.
Clark said nothing. Lying flat on her back, the slight bulge in Lois's abdomen almost disappeared. The baby had to be tiny, he thought. How Dr. Klein expected to determine the actual gestational age was a mystery to him.
Dr. Klein smiled slightly, as if he knew something they didn't, but that wasn't unusual. Clark cleared his throat. "Lois, you were going to mention something to Bernie?"
She shot him an irritated glance. "When we're done, Clark."
"Is there a problem, Lois?" Dr. Klein asked, mildly. "You know, I need all the information you can give me if I'm going to do a good job as your doctor." Clark had to work hard to keep his face straight. In the years since Bernie Klein had become their family doctor, he'd learned not to let Lois intimidate him, and had even acquired some skill in handling her outbursts. He had freely admitted to Clark, however, that dealing with her brought home to him how very super Superman had to be in order to be husband and partner to Lois Lane.
"Yeah," Lois muttered, grudgingly. "I'm having a lot more morning sickness this time, and I get tired a lot easier. I told Clark it's probably because of my age—" She broke off, making a face at that. "He insisted I tell you anyway. Now, can you tell him to stop worrying?"
Dr. Klein frowned a little. "No, I need to know these things. It probably doesn't mean much, but I'm going to want to do a few tests to be sure you aren't developing any unforeseen problems, Lois. Eclampsia is more common in pregnant women over thirty-five, for one thing, and this is your fourth child." He glanced reassuringly at her. "It's most likely nothing, as you said, but I need to make certain." He turned to the technician who had just entered the cubicle. "We're all ready Bonnie."
The next few minutes were taken up as Bonnie smeared the conductive jelly on Lois's abdomen and located the correct spot to place the hand unit. Numerous bleeps, thumps, gurgles and a familiar swishing sound filled the room. Clark couldn't interpret them, but he watched in silence as the doctor and the technician peered at the screen. Dr. Klein frowned. "Bonnie, take a look at this."
The woman leaned forward to examine what Dr. Klein had indicated. After a moment, she turned, smeared more jelly on Lois's abdomen and repositioned her sensor. Again, the two medical personnel examined the screen.
"What is it?" Clark asked, unable to bear the suspense. It was evident to him that Dr. Klein and Bonnie had seen something unusual.
"Shh." Klein glanced at Lois. "Bonnie, move it a little to the right…"
Clark reached over to take Lois's hand. She gripped his fingers hard enough to cut off the blood supply if he had been a normal man.
"I think…" Bernie Klein mumbled under his breath. "To the left, just about an inch…oh boy!" He drew back suddenly. "Ms. Green, can you find me Dr. Matthews? I'd like a second opinion here."
The nurse nodded and departed quickly. Clark felt Lois's hand clamp down even harder on his.
"Bernie," he said. "What is it?"
Bernie looked around at him. "I don't want to say just yet — I'd like Paul Matthews to check me on this." He appeared to become aware of their sudden apprehension. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. It's nothing to worry about—yet, anyway."
That could hardly be considered reassuring, Clark thought, but whatever Bernie had seen didn't appear to be immediately dangerous, anyway. He gave Lois's hand what he hoped was a comforting squeeze.
Ms. Green re-entered the room, and a moment later a slender, blond man entered. "You needed me, Bernie?"
Dr. Klein nodded. "I need a second opinion, Paul. These are Mr. and Mrs. Kent. Lois, Clark, this is Dr. Matthews. Could you take a look at this, Paul?"
"Sure." The blond doctor moved to the screen and Bonnie called up several images of their earlier examination. Matthews glanced at the technician. "Bonnie, let me see a live view from the left side, please…"
The three medical personnel lapsed into unintelligible jargon for a moment as the scene on the monitor shifted back and forth. Finally, Matthews nodded. "No question of it, Bernie."
Klein nodded, looking a little stunned. "Thanks. I owe you one, Paul." He turned back to his patient as Matthews left the room. "Um, we have a small problem…"
"What th—!" Perry's exclamation was broken off as the stranger pushed him aside and bolted out of the elevator. He didn't pause to look for the girl, but headed straight toward the exit. The echoes of the child's footsteps were retreating, but Jim could see no sign of her. Her companion disappeared out the car entrance and was gone.
"Jimmy, call Security," Perry said. "Have them seal off the garage. I knew something wasn't right."
"I'm way ahead of you, Chief." Jim picked up the emergency phone, glancing at Jimmy Kent, who was watching the scene, wide-eyed. "Stay there, pal. We're going to have a little delay."
Jimmy nodded. "Was that a bad man?" he asked.
"I'd say so," Perry said, grimly.
Jimmy was looking around the dimly lit area. "She's really scared," he said. "She's hiding in one of the cars."
There was a click as someone picked up the receiver at the other end. "Security."
Jim met Perry's gaze for a second, but he said, "This is James Olsen. We have an emergency down in the parking garage…"
It took Security only a few minutes to seal off the garage, but Perry and Jim were more interested in the statement made by young Jimmy Kent.
"What do you mean, she's hiding in one of the cars?" Perry asked.
"I can hear her," Jimmy explained. "In here." He touched his forehead. "She's awful scared."
Jim glanced at Perry. His boss was looking pensive. Finally, he said, "You know, Jim, sometimes keeping a secret is pretty hard."
"I know what you mean," Jim said. He felt his lips twitch. "Good thing we were the only ones that heard that. But how could Jimmy *hear* her?"
"Well…you-know-who is telepathic. His kids might be, too."
"Yeah." Jim knelt down in front of the little boy. "Jimmy, do you know where she is?"
Jimmy appeared uncertain. "Kinda," he said.
"Can you take us to her?"
"Maybe," Jimmy said. "She can't hear me. She might run."
"Jimmy, she's going to get hurt if no one finds her," Perry said. "Can you try?"
The little boy nodded. "Okay."
Jim stood up and took one of his hands, and Perry took the other. Together, they let Jimmy lead them slowly through the dimly lit parking area.
His steps were slow, but he hesitated only twice and gradually, he grew more certain of his direction. Finally, he stopped and pointed. "She's in that blue car."
"Are you sure?" Perry asked in a whisper.
The child nodded his head vigorously. "She's very scared the bad man will find her."
"We won't let him," Jim said. He glanced at his boss. "Let's split up. You take the right side and I'll take the left."
Perry lifted a thumb and started toward the small, blue car. Jim pulled Jimmy with him. "C'mon, kid. Let's go help her."
They approached the car as quietly as they could, but when Jim was less than three feet from the vehicle, the door was flung open and the child tumbled out, scrambled to her feet and tried to run. Jim snagged her by the arm. "Hey, wait! We're not going to hurt you!"
She struggled desperately, but he hung on tightly. "It's all right! You're safe! We won't let him get you!"
For a second she continued to struggle, and then the meaning of his words seemed to penetrate. The fight went out of her and she nearly collapsed against him.
"Easy there," Jim said. He was careful not to let her go. "Are you okay?"
Scared, blue eyes looked up at him from a thin, freckled face. Slowly, she nodded.
Perry was hurrying around the car toward them, and she twisted her head around with a gasp of fright. The older man stopped. "It's all right," he said. "I won't hurt you."
"This is my boss," Jim said. "You're safe now. We're going to take you to a friend of ours at the police station. They'll find your mom."
The girl shook her head vigorously, trying to jerk free. Perry frowned.
"Don't you want to find your mom?"
"You're scared of the police?"
Again, she nodded.
"Hmmm." Perry was silent for a few seconds. "Why?"
"Chief," Jim said, after a short silence, "this whole thing is kind of weird."
"Yeah, I'd noticed," Perry said, slowly.
"I have an idea."
"And that is?"
"I think maybe we should take her to Clark. He might be able to figure it out—and he's got the contacts, one way or another, to handle it better than we can."
Perry gave a short bark of laughter. "You're probably right. I'll talk to the Security guys and let them know we're going to take care of it. Let's use your car."
"What do you mean, a problem?" Clark asked, sharply.
Bernie rubbed his hand across the sparse hair that still adorned his head. "Um…there's more than one baby there."
"Is *that* all?" Lois burst out. "I thought something was wrong with the baby!"
"Oh!" Bernie looked appalled. "No, nothing of the sort."
The relief Clark felt was almost physical. The thought of twins wasn't nearly as intimidating as the thought of a problem with their child. "You scared us, Bernie."
"I'm sorry." Dr. Klein looked guilty. "I sort of forgot you were there."
That would have sounded ridiculous from anyone but Bernie Klein, Clark thought. "So, that was the big problem? We're having twins?"
"Huh? Oh, didn't I explain?"
"No, you didn't," Lois interrupted. Exasperation and uncertainty had given her voice a shrill note that would have put Clark on guard if he hadn't been so worried. "Why don't you tell us?"
Bernard Klein looked harassed. "I'm sorry. It's just kind of a shock—I never expected to have to handle a multiple birth. Especially considering—" He didn't complete the sentence, though Clark could probably finish it, himself: 'Considering that these are Superman's babies.'
Dr. Klein nodded at the technician. "I'll want to schedule another sonogram next month. This is one pregnancy that I want to track closely." He turned back to Lois and Clark, scratching his chin, nervously.
"Dr. Klein, is there a problem?" Lois asked. "Lots of women have twins."
The doctor started, as if someone had prodded him unexpectedly. "Oh, no—didn't I say?"
"Say what?" Clark demanded, trying to remain patient.
Bernard Klein fidgeted, uncomfortably. "Uh—"
"Dr. Klein, *what* is the matter?" Lois practically screeched.
Bernard Klein gulped. "It's not twins," he managed, at last. "It's triplets."
"I need to pick up Jonny and Marta," Jimmy explained. "They're supposed to stay with Sandi at the townhouse until Clark and Lois get back."
"How about CJ?" Perry asked.
"He's probably already at home. CJ has permission to stay by himself in the afternoon."
"All right. Let's take care of that. I'll call Alice to let her know I'll be a little late and leave a message for Clark on his voice mail."
"Okay." Jim glanced at the girl, sitting in the rear seat next to Jimmy's car seat. She still hadn't made a sound, but she looked less frightened, now. He hoped Clark could come up with some answers to their minor mystery. He didn't like the idea of scaring the kid more than she'd already been scared today. Dragging the police and Social Services into this was only likely to make the situation worse.
Perry glanced at his watch. "Hmm, five o'clock. What time was their appointment?"
"Four," Jim said. "You know doctors and hospitals, though. They'll be lucky to get out of there by six. That's why Clark asked me to pick up the kids."
Perry nodded. He glanced back at the mystery girl. "We're going to take you to see a friend of ours who might be able to help," he explained. "Would you like something to eat in the meantime?" A timid nod answered him "Okay, as soon as we pick up Jimmy's sister and brother, we'll get something."
"Sandi's getting takeout pizza," Jim said. "We might as well feed her along with the others." He looked at the girl. "Do you like pizza?"
Another nod. Satisfied, Jim started up the engine and backed out of the parking spot. As he did so, he caught movement from the corner of his eye and turned to look. For a second, he saw two, nondescript men standing near a dark- colored car, then as one, they turned away and all he could see of them was their backs.
"Perry, look over there to our left. Do you recognize those two guys?"
Perry twisted around. "Where?"
"They got into that sedan. They were watching us."
"Hmm." Perry glanced at their passenger. "Probably nothing, but we better keep an eye on them."
"Good idea." Jim shifted into forward and pulled away. Glancing in the mirror, he saw the taillights of the sedan come on. The car was backing out of its parking space.
"Chief, can you see the license plate?" he asked.
Perry lifted his head to look into the rear view mirror. "Yeah." He drew a pen from his shirt pocket and quickly jotted it down. "Let's see what we can find out about them."
"Good idea." Jim glanced at the mirror again. "If he follows us, do you want me to try to lose him?"
Perry hesitated. "Yeah, I think you better," he said, after a second. "I don't want to get held up or something. Especially with the kids in the car."
"Ditto," Jim said. They pulled out the garage exit and turned right. A moment later, the sedan—seen in the light of the late afternoon sun, it was a dark maroon color— turned right, as well.
This didn't look good. Jim saw that the light ahead of them was green and stepped on the gas. The afternoon traffic was heavy; typical rush hour congestion, he thought as he wove through the stopped or slowly moving cars, but the maroon sedan followed close on his bumper.
"Make sure your seat belt is fastened tight, Chief," he said. "And you kids, hold on."
"It's not twins—it's triplets."
The words fell into a silence. After several seconds, Lois said faintly, "'Triplets'?"
Dr. Klein nodded slowly, a nervous smile on his face.
"Three?" Clark asked, not sure he'd heard correctly. "You're joking, right?"
Bernie lifted an eyebrow at him. "Clark, would I joke about something like this?"
"I guess not." Clark hadn't released Lois's hand. "Could this be why she's feeling worse, this time?
"Maybe, maybe not. Multiple pregnancies are associated with a higher risk of complications, so it may have something to do with it." He turned to Bonnie. "Make me printouts of all this, would you? And—" he gave a small grin, "make a good one for Mr. and Mrs. Kent. They'll probably want it for their baby book."
"While you guys talk this over, do you mind if I go to the bathroom?" Lois demanded, acerbically. "Unless you need to look at my insides anymore, that is?"
"No, I think we have all the measurements we need for now," Bernie said. He was silent while Clark helped Lois solicitously up from the table and to her feet. When she had left the room, he turned to Clark. "I know you're going to have a hard time slowing her down, but she's going to need to cut back her work schedule a little. Even at this point in her pregnancy, triplets are harder on the system than a single baby, and it *is* likely that it's behind some of her symptoms. I'm going to want to schedule her for some tests next week, just to make sure there aren't any problems developing at this early stage."
Clark nodded, his mind racing over the implications of what he had just learned. "Will she be able to travel to Smallville for Christmas?" he asked. "She's going to be upset if she can't."
Bernie smiled. "I think it will be all right," he said. "Just make sure she gets plenty of rest. Fatigue may be part of the trouble at this point. And, as she pointed out herself, her age is a factor, even though physically she looks much younger than forty."
"I wouldn't bring that up in her hearing," Clark said, dryly.
Dr. Klein grinned. "I didn't. She should continue with her exercise as well, but carefully. Multiple births also have a higher risk of miscarriage, so this is a word to the wise. And, I want to know right away if she develops any other problems. Pamper her a bit; it'll do her good. She's got her vitamins, and her diet recommendations, right?"
"I'll depend on you to see that she eats right," Dr. Klein said, "especially since you do most of the cooking, anyway. Tell her she doesn't have to give up chocolate, though. I think that would be an unnecessary stress to her system at this point. And I want to see her here next month for another sonogram." He was writing furiously on Lois's chart. "Ms. Green will make the appointments for her. Drop by the lab on the way out. I need some blood drawn for some preliminary tests."
"I knew it," Lois said, re-entering the cubicle. "You're Dracula in disguise."
Dr. Klein grinned. "I keep the coffin in STAR Labs' underground vault. I'll see you in a few days, Lois."
"That's the second red light he's run," Perry said. "I'd say he's following us, all right."
"Yeah," Jim said. "I hope he doesn't know his way around here as well as I do."
"It's an out-of-state license plate." Perry kept an eye on the vehicle in the right-hand mirror. "I can't see much of the two guys, though. Their windshield is one of those kinds that get dark in the sun."
"That might help us." Jim took the next corner under the nose of the red light and almost immediately turned right again down a narrow alley. He winced as the left front tire bounced hard into a pothole. "Sandi's going to kill me if I screw up the suspension. Oh well, I guess she'll probably say it was in a good cause." They reached the end of the alley and turned right once more onto a narrow back street.
"He just turned into the alley," Perry reported.
"Hang on." Jim accelerated somewhat, turned sharply into a dim enclosure, slammed on the brakes and cut the engine. "Duck!"
Perry obeyed, holding his breath. Silence, for a long count of fifty. Finally, Jim raised his head. "They went past. Stay there." He eased the door open and slid out. Perry stayed down, keeping an eye on the two children. The girl was scrunching as low as she could get in the seat and even Jimmy had ducked down in his car seat so that the top of his head was below the level of the rear window. No one made a sound, and Perry could hear the beating of his own heart in his ears.
A soft, grating sound made him jump, but then he realized that a door was closing. The light around them dimmed. Jim opened the car door and slid into the front seat. "Just sit still. They'll probably be back, looking for us."
"Where are we?" Perry asked.
"In the apartment garage of one of my contacts," Jim said. "He's out of town for a couple of weeks. Something about things being a little too hot for him at present." He dug out his cellular phone. "I need to call Jonny's after- school teacher and tell her I'll be a little late picking him up."
Perry chuckled. "Reminds me of when I worked the city beat." He looked back at their passengers. "Are you two all right?"
Jimmy nodded. "That was fun! Can we do it again?"
"Later," Perry said. He turned to the girl. "How about you?"
"Okay." It was the first word she'd spoken.
"Good." Perry knew better than to push things. If she was feeling safe enough to speak, maybe they could get more out of her in a little while.
Jim concluded his call and punched in another number. "I'm going to call CK, too. Maybe he can help us out."
Clark was sitting beside his wife in the waiting room for the lab when his cellular phone beeped softly. He'd turned it on after leaving the sonogram room and now, checking the readout, he noted that he had a missed call. He flipped it open. "Kent."
"CK, it's Jim."
"Hi, Jim. Everything all right?" he asked.
"Um—not exactly," Jim Olsen's voice said. "I haven't been able to pick up the other two kids yet. Something happened. I called Jonny's teacher, so the school knows, but Perry and I wondered if you could help us."
"What's the matter?"
"Well, if you can get him, Superman would sure be useful," Jim said. "Perry and I are hiding out in a garage, with Jimmy and a little girl who won't tell us her name, and two guys in a maroon car are looking for us. Do you suppose you could get Superman to help us out?"
"What did you…never mind. I'll see what I can do. Where are you?"
"In a garage in the 700 block of Elm."
"Right. Hang on. I'll have Superman there as fast as I can."
"Thanks," Jim said. "Bye."
"What was that all about?" Lois asked.
Clark scratched his chin. "I'm not sure I want to know, but I guess I'll find out. Will you be okay here for a while?"
Lois glanced at her watch. "Sure. If you don't get back in time, I'll drive home."
"All right. I'll be back soon." He gave her a peck on the mouth, got to his feet and hurried out the door.
Soaring through the air, Superman reached the 700 block of Elm within a few seconds. Jim had said they were in a garage on this block, and they were hiding from two men. Floating high enough that observers were unlikely to notice him, he scanned the area for anything suspicious.
A dark maroon car, its front windows open, was cruising slowly down the street. The occupants, two men in their mid-thirties by appearance, seemed to be peering closely at the buildings on both sides of the thoroughfare, obviously looking for something. That might be a coincidence, but it wouldn't hurt to let them know that they were under observation. He drifted downwards and assumed a sitting position in mid-air next to the passenger window.
"You gentlemen look lost," he said casually. "Can I help?"
The head of the man in the passenger seat whipped around and for a second Clark could have sworn his mouth dropped open slightly. With an effort, Clark prevented himself from staring. He'd seen this man before—or someone who looked very much like him. But where? The association wasn't a pleasant one either, he thought. The man wasn't particularly striking in appearance; quite the opposite in fact, but something about him made Clark's gut clench up with remembered unpleasantness and fear.
But this wasn't the time to let them see what he was feeling. With the skill that he had developed over years of investigative reporting, he kept his face impassive. Both men were looking at him now, and Clark got a clear view of the other man's face. Again, he experienced the feeling of familiarity, if not to the same degree. There was definitely something here worth investigating, all right, and he would be willing to bet his best cape that these were the two men that Jim had told him about.
The car braked slowly to a stop. The passenger smiled easily at him. "Yes, Superman. We were looking for the Foxboro Apartments. Do you know where they are?"
"Certainly," Clark said. "They're on Palm, not Elm. You want to turn right at the next street and keep going until you hit Palm. They're right there." He lifted into the air above the street again and watched as the car pulled away, turned right at the corner and vanished after a few moments behind the buildings.
Slowly, he turned his head and x-rayed the buildings on one side of the street and then the other. Ah, there were Jim and Perry, waiting quietly in Jim's car for him to come rescue them. Clark smiled slightly. His youngest son was strapped safely in the rear in his car seat, and beside him sat a thin, freckle-faced little girl whom he had never seen before in his life.
Or had he? He squinted thoughtfully at her. Something about the child was vaguely familiar—not nearly as much as the two men were familiar; more like a general similarity to someone he knew or had known somewhere, but he couldn't place it. This was definitely a mystery that needed solving.
Carefully, he looked around, scanning the area with his x- ray vision one more time. His eyes narrowed. The maroon car was parked at the side of the street just around the corner, masked by the first of the low buildings. One of the men was speaking into a cellular phone.
Well, well, this was getting curiouser and curiouser, to quote Lewis Carroll. As he tuned in his super-hearing, he caught the tail end of the conversation. "…Alien is present, sir. The target has disappeared, but the creature may know something. Shall we keep him under surveillance?"
"Affirmative. It's essential that we retrieve the target. Out."
The conversation ended abruptly. Clark considered.
What he'd heard wasn't pleasant. They'd referred to him as "the alien", and "the creature" and, if he was any judge, they sounded military. Whichever group they belonged to, he didn't like the way they looked or acted and since they were after Perry and Jim, that put them in the adversary column. If that little girl was the "target", these guys were in for a big disappointment, he decided. If it turned out later that he was wrong, well, he'd just have to take the consequences. He wasn't about to let them keep track of him, and he had some friends to bail out. This looked like a subject that Clark Kent should investigate, as well. Xenophobic military or paramilitary organizations with an interest in him weren't exactly on his list of favorite people. If such groups were still around, he'd better find out all he could about them and now seemed to be a good time to start.
Slowly he drifted upward, thinking. What would be the best way to get Perry and Jimmy out of there without letting this pair know for certain that he had any idea what they were up to? A quick scan of the car revealed no high tech listening devices. Casually, he executed a slow and graceful turn in the air and proceeded down the street away from the 700 block of Elm at a pace equal to the speed of the traffic. Let them think he was simply on one of his regular patrols. Behind him, he heard the engine of the maroon car come on, and keeping his attention trained on them, he was soon satisfied that they were following him.
With one hand, he produced his cellular phone, confident that his body and billowing cape prevented his tail from seeing it, and punched the speed dial for Jim's phone. After a short delay, Jim answered.
"Jim, it's Superman. I'm leading your two tails in the maroon car on a wild goose chase. Wait a couple of minutes and then you can come out."
"Right. Thanks, Superman."
"You're welcome." He tucked the phone into his belt, never pausing on his way. A quick loop around an intersection gave him a look at the men in the car. They were half a block back, and both had their eyes fixed on him. Time for another delaying tactic. His favorite cappucino stand was right up the way…
A few moments later, he touched leisurely down on the sidewalk and strolled up to the stand, waited patiently for another customer to have his order filled and then stepped up to the counter. "Hi, Billie."
The young, black woman serving the drinks smiled. "Hi, Superman! Would you like your usual?"
He shook his head. "Not this time. I've got a couple of guys following me, and I'd like to keep them busy for a few more minutes. Can you fix me the biggest, most complicated, most time-consuming thing you've got?"
"Sure thing! How about our super-deluxe double-chocolate mocha, strawberry-creme, pineapple banana-whip cappucino with extra foam? That should take a few minutes."
"Sounds perfect," he agreed. He leaned casually on the counter, smiling at the passers-by who glanced curiously at him while Billie prepared the drink. Time for a little more eavesdropping. The maroon car had pulled into a space down the street and he trained his super-hearing on its two occupants.
"What's he doing, now?"
"Looks to me like he's getting a cappucino."
"I didn't think an alien like him would drink cappucino."
"Trying to blend in."
They fell silent again.
"Here you go, Superman," Billie said.
"Thanks." Clark took the concoction, paid her, added a substantial tip for her help and moved away from the stand, sipping the drink. Hmm, this was pretty good, he thought. Lois would like it, when she was feeling up to par, except for the fact that it was probably loaded with calories and Lois watched her weight very strictly.
"Mommy, I want what Superman's having," a youthful voice announced. The speaker, he found, was a boy of about eight who was eyeing the drink with interest. His mother's expression was more skeptical.
Clark grinned. "It's actually not bad," he said. "But I think this much caffeine wouldn't be a good idea."
The boy's mother smiled at Clark. "You heard Superman, Jerry. That isn't for kids."
"But, I *want* it."
"No," she said, firmly. "How about a hot chocolate?"
Clark lifted off, careful not to spill his drink. The two tails might or might not have any information with them that he could use, but if they did, he needed to know it. Jim and Perry had almost certainly had time to get away by now. He gulped down the drink in two swallows, dropped the cup into a trash receptacle and shot suddenly straight upward into the sky.
The tails were startled, to say the least. Clark trained his hearing on the car and grinned at the language issuing from the vehicle. Again, he took out his cellular phone and hit the speed dial.
"Hello?" Lois's voice said a few seconds later.
"Lois, this is Clark. I've gotten involved in something important. I'm going to be awhile."
"So am I," his wife's voice said. "I'm still waiting. Did you know there are at least thirty-seven magazines in this room, each with their own unique, foolproof method of losing weight?"
He laughed. "Isn't that interesting? If that's so, this should be the thinnest country in the world. If I get finished before you're through, I'll be back."
"I'll give you a call when I'm done."
"That would be good. See you in a while. Love you."
"Be careful," she said.
"I will. We've got a mystery here. I'll tell you about it later."
"You better, mister. Later."
Clark tucked the phone away. Time for a little super- eavesdropping and spying. If there was anything in that car that might tell him something about these people, he was going to find it. And it was going to be worth the time seeing where they went.
"You guys go into the townhouse," Jim said. "I'll go pick up Marta and Jonny. It looks like Sandi's here, so I'm going to take her car. On the off-chance that I run across those guys again, I don't want them to recognize this one."
"Good thinking," Perry said. "Come on, kids. Let's go get some pizza."
Sandi Olsen met them at the door. "Hi, Chief! I didn't expect you. Where are Jim and the others?"
"He's going to pick them up now," Perry explained, shepherding Jimmy and the girl through the door ahead of him. "Sorry to be late. We had a couple of strange things happen."
"Oh? And who's this?" Sandi turned to the unexpected guest.
"That's a good question," Perry said. "She hasn't told us her name, yet. We're going to try to find her mom for her when she does. She's had a kind of bad experience."
"I see—I think." Sandi closed the door behind them. "Well, why don't we break out one of the pizzas? Are you two hungry?"
"Yeah!" Jimmy shouted, enthusiastically and galloped through the entranceway toward the kitchen. The girl ducked behind Perry's leg and peeked up at Sandi, cautiously. She nodded, shyly.
"CJ and Wyatt are upstairs," Sandi said. "I promised I'd call them. Why don't you take her into the kitchen and sit them both down at the table? I'll be with you in a minute, and then you can tell me what happened."
Perry nodded. "It's been a very unusual day," he said, dryly.
"Of course it has." Sandi gave a little laugh. "Every day is unusual at the Planet. I work there too, remember?"
"How could I forget," Perry said. "I don't know how many times Jim came runnin' to me for advice on how to impress you. Where's my godson, by the way?"
"Asleep," Sandi said. "Finally. Go on, Perry, and I'll get the boys."
Perry looked down at the girl who was still clutching his pantleg. That wasn't such a bad thing, really. It meant she wasn't afraid of him, as she had been of the guy in the elevator. But what had at first looked like a simple child abduction had rapidly escalated into something far more. He hoped Clark would be able to find out something while he was leading those two guys on a merry chase, and maybe he could get the kid to talk when he got here. Clark seemed to be very good at communicating with children.
He extended a hand to her. "Come on, honey. Let's go in and sit down."
Jimmy was already parked in a kitchen chair when they entered the kitchen and only a couple of minutes later, CJ and Wyatt entered the room, followed by Sandi.
"Everybody grab a seat," she said, turning to one of the large boxes sitting on the central kitchen island. "Does everyone like pepperoni and sausage, or would you rather have a vegetarian pizza?"
"Pepperoni!" Jimmy announced.
Sandi laughed and set the box down in the center of the table. "Help yourselves." She turned to their silent guest. "This is Clark Kent Jr. —called CJ by everybody, and this is his friend Wyatt Dillon. I don't know, but did anyone introduce her to the rest of us? This is Jimmy Kent, and Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet newspaper, and I'm Sandi Olsen. My husband, Jim will be back in a little while with Marta and Jonny Kent. I'm saving more pizza for them, so don't worry. Eat as much as you want."
There was a scramble as the other children took their seats. CJ smiled at the girl and patted the empty chair beside him. "Hi. Want to sit here?"
She nodded again and slid into the seat next to him. Wyatt reached for the largest piece of pizza and CJ stopped him. "She's the guest, Wyatt. Let her have it."
The smaller boy looked surprised, but shrugged and took the one next to it. CJ picked up the largest piece, dripping with cheese, and deposited it on the girl's plate. "Here. You look kind of hungry. My name's CJ."
"Hi." Her voice was almost inaudible. "I'm Linda."
The men in the maroon car fell silent after the initial outburst. Clark floated patiently, listening. Finally, one said, "I guess we'd better report in. The Colonel isn't going to like this."
"We'll track down the two guys who took her. I got the license number."
"One of them was the paper's editor. I recognized him."
"Maybe we should have a 'talk' with him."
"That's up to the Colonel. I think we better report in person. This isn't the kind of thing that should go out over the air. You never know who or what is listening."
Clark frowned. The more he heard from these two, the less he liked it and the more certain he was that he'd done the right thing. Well, just in case the military, or someone else, was tracking him, he'd better give the impression that Superman was just engaging in his daily activities. He could keep an eye on the men from just about anywhere in the air above the city, now that he'd identified and was watching them. That was one of the reasons he'd never been specific about how far his abilities extended, even to the U.S. authorities. Most of them were probably good, well- intentioned men and women of integrity, but unfortunately there were always a few who weren't, and you couldn't be completely sure that the wrong information wouldn't end up in their hands. He could think of a few such individuals he'd known personally. Their false assumptions about him had, more than once, been all that had saved him and persons he cared about from death.
He executed a wide, graceful turn in the air and cruised across the sky toward the airport, but his attention never wavered from the men in the maroon car. Neither said anything more, but the vehicle was now wending its way across town. He had every intention of finding out everything he could about this group. And, in the meantime, he searched his memory, wracking his brain in the effort of recall. He had met both of these men; of that he was sure, and the circumstances had been extremely unpleasant. He'd had a closer association with the passenger than the driver; he was almost certain of that too, but he'd met them together. Where had it been? Superman and Clark Kent both had encountered hundreds of shady characters over the nearly fifteen years of his career in Metropolis and more before that. Picking two men out of the rogue's gallery in his head wasn't an easy task, even with a photographic memory. He was sure to come up with the answer sooner or later, but he'd rather it was sooner. Where had he seen them?
A military plane shot by on his right, headed south, probably for Washington, DC. A glance at its sleek, silver lines before it vanished to his rear, made something click suddenly in his mind and all at once, he knew when and where it had happened. It had been in association with the military that he had met much younger versions of these two. They had been among the Bureau 39 goons that had assisted Jason Trask during his insane hunt for Superman, nearly fifteen years ago. The car's passenger was the man who had fired a gun at Clark Kent during that first encounter, ironically enough on another plane, only a few weeks after he and Lois had met.
But why would Bureau 39, of all possible organizations, be interested in a little girl?
A chilling thought occurred to him. He hoped fervently that he was wrong, but nothing he had seen so far had in any way contradicted it. If it was true, then he had a big job on his hands—one that he should have thought about, years back. As a matter of fact, now that he'd thought of it, it was something he was going to have to check out anyway, Bureau 39 or not.
Be that as it might, however, he had neglected the agency for far too long. It was apparent to him from the conversation he'd overheard, that they hadn't changed their attitude or their methods of operation at all—toward him, or anybody else. Jimmy and Perry, as well as others at the Daily Planet, could quite possibly be in danger because of whatever had happened this afternoon. The rogue government agency had already threatened, hurt and quite possibly killed innocent people, and ignored the laws of the country it purported to serve, all under the guise of protecting humanity from a nonexistent alien invasion. No person and no organization had the right to do that, no matter how noble they believed their cause to be. He must have been crazy to assume that Bureau 39 had been dissolved after the death of Jason Trask. They'd gone underground, but they were very much intact, judging by the evidence and for some unknown reason, they had surfaced again.
Clark set his jaw, watching the maroon car as it made its slow way toward an unknown destination. It was long past time for Lane and Kent to expose the group for the jackbooted thugs that they were. One way or another, this time Bureau 39 was going down for good.
Linda. Well, at least they had a name.
Perry regarded CJ thoughtfully. It figured that he would be able to get Linda to speak when no one else had been successful. The boy was so like his father that it was almost scary, although it kind of figured, he thought, considering where CJ had almost certainly come from. The editor grinned to himself. It would have been quite a story, if he'd ever allowed it to be printed up in the Daily Planet; one of those illustrations of irony that was a lesson in itself. But the story would never be written, no matter how tempting. The harm it would do outweighed all other considerations in Perry's judgement. Lex Luthor hadn't known it, but he'd done the world an enormous favor when he'd tried to create the ultimate weapon against Superman. He'd given them CJ Kent, who would certainly be as much of a force for good when he was grown as the couple who had adopted him.
CJ, on the other hand, couldn't seem to take his eyes off Linda, and he was favoring her with his father's shy, charming smile. Linda met his gaze and then looked down, also smiling. Perry felt his eyebrows rising at the sight.
"Linda's a pretty name," CJ said. "I like it. What's your last name?"
"Lennox," she replied, without hesitation. Perry turned his face away to hide a grin. It looked to him as if CJ had suddenly discovered girls and that the girl in question seemed to like CJ, as well. He wondered what Lois would have to say.
"Would you like to have some soda?" CJ asked. "Aunt Sandi got some to go with the pizza."
Linda nodded again, as Sandi produced a two-liter bottle from the Kents' refrigerator.
The doorbell chimed at this point. Perry turned toward the living room. "I'll get it."
It was, as he had suspected, Jim Olsen and the other two Kent kids. Marta and Jonny headed immediately for the kitchen and the pizza, while Perry locked the door behind his subordinate.
"Call me paranoid," he remarked, as Jim removed his coat, "but I don't trust whoever those guys were."
"That makes two of us," Jim said. "I sure hope Lois and Clark can figure out who they were, and what's going on. And I'll be a lot happier when Clark gets here. I've got a creepy feeling about all this."
"Yeah," Perry agreed. "Me, too. At least CJ managed to get our mystery girl to talk to him. Her name's Linda Lennox."
Jim gave a snort of laughter. "Trust that old Kent charm with the women. Wish I had it."
Perry grinned. "You're not doin' too bad, son. You got Sandi, didn't you? Or, maybe it was Sandi that got you. Look; go on in with the others. I need to call Alice again and let her know I'm going to be a little later than I thought."
The maroon car moved quietly into a shed next to a familiar, dilapidated warehouse. Clark raised his eyebrows. Bessolo Boulevard? It appeared that Bureau 39 was moving back into old territory—or maybe they figured that since the place had been theirs once and abandoned, no one would think to look there, especially if no one knew Bureau 39 was on the move again. The place had been used to store furniture meant for public buildings over the last fourteen years, as far as Clark knew. It looked as if some changes had recently taken place, though. This was getting more interesting than ever; the rogue agency seemed to be coming back in spades, returning to its old area of operation. Of course, it was possible that the warehouse had some sort of strategic importance to the group. That remained to be seen. He decided to look it over carefully at the next opportunity. It was too bad he and Lois hadn't thought of that, way back when they had had a wide-open field. Quite probably, the leaders of Bureau 39 had never given up their paranoid belief that he was the point man for an alien invasion. Why had he assumed that Jason Trask was the only mental case in the group? Any organization like Bureau 39 attracted conspiracy nuts, and Lord Nor's crowd had more than likely simply reinforced the paranoia. Who knew what kind of delusions they had come up with in the years since?
He didn't like to think of the direction their imaginings might have led them, but it wasn't something he could avoid, much as he might want to. Whether Bureau 39 was actually a true government agency anymore, or not, wasn't really the issue. The real issue was the fact that there was a group of extremely dangerous fanatics out there who were willing to do anything and sacrifice anybody in order to save the world—whether it needed saving or not.
The two men exited the car and approached a side door of the warehouse. One of them produced a card and slipped it into a slot on the doorframe and after a few seconds, the door slid open.
Interestingly enough, the building didn't appear to be shielded with lead. He floated silently above the structure, examining the interior with his x-ray vision, and drawing a few unpalatable conclusions.
The furniture was still present, taking up the warehouse space, but that wasn't where the men were going. An elevator in one wall, looking exactly like a utility closet, took them down below the floor level to a basement that he hadn't even realized was there. It wasn't lead- lined, either. Bureau 39's bosses must have decided that lead shielding would be more likely to draw Superman's attention than a drab, furniture warehouse, and simply relied on anonymity to protect their hideout. It had worked well, and would have continued to work if chance hadn't drawn his attention to the deception.
Well, he could kick himself for his complacence later. Right now, he had some serious eavesdropping to do.
"Are you feeling better now, Linda?" Sandi asked.
Linda nodded. Her thin, freckled face had lost its scared expression, though she stayed close to CJ, as if for reassurance. Perry seated himself in the chair vacated by Jimmy Kent and cleared his throat.
"Linda," he said, "do you have any idea what was going on, this afternoon?"
Linda didn't answer, but the hunted look returned. CJ frowned and shifted a little closer to her. "You're scaring her, Uncle Perry."
Perry decided not to pursue that line of questioning for the moment, but maybe another approach would yield better results. "Can you tell us your mom's name and where you live? If we can get in touch with her, we can get the two of you back together as soon as possible."
Linda shook her head and looked more scared than ever. "They'll hurt my mommy," she said. "Ben will hurt my mommy."
"Who's Ben?" CJ asked.
"Ben's my stepfather," Linda said. "He's mean."
"Was that him that you were with, today?" Jim asked. He was leaning against the kitchen island, listening to the conversation.
Linda nodded. "He doesn't like me."
"Why not?" Jim asked.
"I don't know," Linda said in a soft voice. "He says I'm disgusting. Mommy and Ben fight about me all the time. They don't think I know, but I do." This was spoken in a quiet, resigned tone.
Perry turned to look at Jim. "I think we better let this go, for now. Somethin' real funny is going on here. I don't like it a bit."
"Neither do I," Jim said. "Linda, just one last thing. Was your stepfather really taking you to see the dentist, this afternoon?"
Linda shook her head. "He said he was taking me where I belonged," she said, very softly. "He said he was going to get rid of me for good."
"Did your mom know?" CJ burst out. The boy sounded angry. "Did she let him?"
"Mommy didn't know," Linda said. "He said the people he was taking me to would hurt her if I told her."
"Your stepfather is nasty," Wyatt said, in the direct way of a child. "You oughtta tell the cops."
Linda shook her head, and Perry could see tears standing in her eyes. "Ben said he was taking me to the police," she whispered. "He said no one else would want me when they knew what I was. He said I was dirty and disgusting, and an abmi—abomnishon, or something…" She began to sob. "He said I wasn't even a girl! He said mommy only kept me because no one else wanted me. He said I was a monster!"
Perry got to his feet so quickly he nearly upset the kitchen chair, surprised to find that he was clenching his fists in anger. He thought he'd heard everything, and that nothing could outrage him like this, but in a way, he was glad to discover that he was wrong. This kind of thing should infuriate any decent human being. "You listen to me, Linda," he said, fighting to control his voice, "you're not an abomination, or a monster, or anything else. If anyone's a monster, *he* is."
"That's for sure." Jim's voice was trembling with what Perry could see was pure, unadulterated fury. He had never seen Jim Olsen so angry. "Don't worry about Ben, Linda. He isn't going to hurt you or your mom. We won't let him. And no police officer in his right mind would believe that stuff. This guy is sick!"
Sandi glanced from Jim to Perry and back, then went to stand by Linda's chair. "Linda, did he ever…did he ever— *do* anything to you that he shouldn't? Did he ever touch you somewhere that—"
Linda shook her head. "No. He said I made him want to throw up." She sniffled, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.
Sandi's face had gone white with anger. "What's Ben's name, Linda? It isn't Lennox, is it?"
"No." Her voice was almost inaudible. "It's Ben Abernathy. He wouldn't let me use it when he married Mommy. He said—"
"It doesn't matter what he said," Perry broke in, gruffly. "I've heard enough about this guy. Linda, I'd like to call a friend of mine. He used to be a policeman, but he isn't anymore. I think he might be able to help us. And I promise he won't hurt you. He's got two little girls of his own. Will you let me call him?"
"Henderson?" Jim asked.
Perry nodded, never taking his eyes from Linda. "I won't call anyone, if you don't want me to, honey, but I really think my friend can help you and your mom."
CJ had moved to stand next to Linda, and now he took her hand in his. Perry blinked, but said nothing. "I know who he's talking about, Linda. Mr. Henderson is nice. He's a friend of my mom and dad, too."
That seemed to do the trick. Linda nodded slowly. "Okay."
Clark followed the progress of the men he had dubbed Goon A and Goon B. The two exited the elevator into the basement of the old warehouse-which didn't look nearly as old or run-down in here as it did, upstairs. The place had been arranged, through the use of thin, metal paneling, like an office. Various persons, men and women, moved about, apparently intent on their tasks. The office that seemed to be reserved for the mysterious Colonel was actually completely enclosed—evidently, rank had its privileges here, too, he thought.
Goon A paused for an instant, took a deep breath and knocked gently on the door. A voice, tinged with a slight southern accent, answered him. "Come."
Clark wrinkled his brow. He'd heard that voice somewhere before, but where? He trained his x-ray vision on the room and the walls dissolved before him. His eyebrows shot up. Well, well, that explained a number of things.
Goon A and Goon B entered the room. Seated behind a heavy, utilitarian desk, Colonel Ambrose Cash, formerly of the U.S. Army, looked up from the paper he had been reading and slowly removed the cigar from his mouth. "Well? What happened to Superman?"
"Yes, sir. Straight up."
The former officer surveyed his two subordinates with a bland expression. Casually, he placed the paper he had been reading down onto the surface of his desk and almost absentmindedly set a paperweight, carved into the shape of a coiled serpent, on top of it. "Did he know you were followin' him?"
"It isn't likely, sir." Goon B spoke up. "He spoke to us a short time before, and didn't seem suspicious. He even stopped at a sidewalk stand for a cappucino."
"Hmm." Cash laid his cigar down in the ashtray that sat on one corner of the desk. "No sign of the girl?"
"No, sir. But we did identify one of the men who abducted her. It was the editor."
"White," Cash said. He stuck out his lower lip for a moment, obviously thinking. "You said there were two men?"
"Yes sir. I didn't recognize the other. It might have been one of his reporters. I got the car's license number."
"Did you, now?" Cash said, genially. "Find out who it belongs to," he added. "I want that girl."
"Sir, what do we do if she talks?" Goon B was obviously worried. "If the alien finds out—"
""She can't tell what she doesn't know." Cash picked up the cigar and took a deep drag.
"The mother can."
"She can be—influenced not to talk." Cash didn't seem worried. "Find out about that car and who owns it. I don't want to deal with Superman, but White has family and friends we can work through. There's a good chance they'll just return her to her mother, though. If they don't, there are other avenues to explore."
Goon A spoke up. "You don't think it was deliberate?"
"Nah." Cash crushed out the stub of the cigar and leaned back in his chair. "I think they were bein' good citizens." He gave an amused snort. "They'll probably take the kid back to her ma and congratulate themselves for doin' a good deed."
"The mother could be a stumbling block. If the girl tells her it was Abernathy that—"
"I'll handle that. We'll take care of the problem she represents just as soon as we have the girl. I'd already scheduled it. We'll just have to push up the timetable a little."
Goon B looked relieved. "How about Abernathy?"
"Taken care of." Cash leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk. "He wasn't reliable. If the wrong people were to get wind of this, we'd be shut down overnight. That fool, Trask, jumped the gun and nearly destroyed the whole agency. I've worked too long and hard to bring it back after he screwed up so royally. Now, at last, we have the chance to present convincing evidence of the aliens' real plan and show those idiot bureaucrats that the danger is real." He leaned back in his chair. "Get movin'. We've got a limited window of time and I don't want to waste it."
"Yessir." Goon B turned and departed. Goon A hesitated for a long moment. Cash produced another cigar and took his time clipping the end, lighting it and taking his first long drag. At last, he looked up at Goon A.
"Yeah, Jones? Is there somethin' else?"
"Yeah." Jones seemed to be examining the corner of Cash's desk with undue interest. "Sir, what if we're wrong? She's just a little kid."
"She ain't a little kid. She's a monster—a thing. Don't go soft on me, Jones."
"No, sir. I just wondered."
"Well, stop wonderin'. I'm an expert in tactics. Nor and his buddies were just the sacrificial goats—the distraction to keep our minds off the real danger, the real invasion. I tried to stop 'em back then. Without Superman, the plan wouldn't have had the ghost of a chance of succeeding, but somehow he managed to survive. The girl may be the first of this new batch, but she can't be the only one. We've got to find out all we can about the critter before it's too late for the human race."
"And Superman, sir?"
"You let me worry about him. STAR Labs ain't the only place that had a piece of Kryptonite." He picked up the oddly shaped paperweight and held it to the light. Even from his point in the air, high above the city, Clark could see the little, carved stone glowing a sickly green and felt a chill crawl down his back. "That alien's been a spy for his people for all this time, but we're gonna break his cover when we show those pea-brained bureaucrats what we found."
Lois Lane walked slowly out of the lab, one hand pressing down on the gauze bandage that adorned the inner side of her left arm. Considering how much blood the technician had taken, it was doubtful that she had much to spare, she reflected, grimly. Every vampire that inhabited this place must be getting his very own cocktail. Preliminary tests, hah! If these were preliminary, by the time Bernie Klein was done, she wouldn't have any blood left.
A glance at her watch informed her that it was six-fifteen. There was no sign of Clark in the waiting room, so he must still be involved in whatever he'd called her about. Briefly, she considered calling him, and rejected the idea. He'd sounded as if whatever he was doing was pretty important, so she slipped into her coat and headed for the parking lot where they had left the Jeep.
A familiar whoosh greeted her ears when she was almost to the vehicle and an instant later, she wasn't surprised to see Clark standing beside it, holding the door for her.
"Your place or mine?" he inquired, with a lift of his eyebrows.
"I guess we'd better go to yours," she said. "I have a very jealous husband."
"What a coincidence," he replied. "I happen to have a very jealous wife. I guess we'll just have to run away together."
"Sounds good to me," she said, tilting her face up for a kiss.
He obliged her with a more thorough one than was strictly proper in an open parking lot, but no one saw them. After giving her a hand into the passenger seat, he closed and locked the door and went around to the driver's side while she was fastening the safety belt.
"So what happened?" she asked, as he was starting up the engine. "I gathered it was pretty important."
"Yeah, I guess you could say that." He seemed to be concentrating solely on getting them out of the parking space, but Lois recognized the pattern. Whatever had happened, it was bothering him a good deal and he was trying to organize his thoughts before he spoke. She waited, trying to be patient.
"I ran into some old friends of ours," he began at last. "The two guys who were chasing Perry and Jimmy. I'm sure you haven't forgotten Bureau 39?"
It was just as well, she thought, that she wasn't driving when he dropped that particular bombshell. They would probably have gone off the road. "Bureau 39—you mean *Trask*?"
"Well, no, not Trask. He's still dead, as far as I know, but it's interesting that you should mention him. I ran into somebody else who came pretty close to killing Superman. Do you remember Colonel Cash?"
"What is this? Old home week for bad guys?" Lois asked.
"That," Clark said, "is a good question. Let me tell you what happened…"
By the time he had finished, Clark was turning the Jeep Grand Cherokee onto Hyperion Avenue. Lois was silent as he pulled up before the townhouse and cut the engine. Sandi's little compact car was parked just ahead of them, tight against the curb. They really had to work out a better system, she thought absently. Their garage held two vehicles, but it was most inconveniently situated behind the townhouse, which meant that to park in it, you had to drive down half a block, turn into the alley and swing around to the rear of the place. The garage was where they usually parked the minivan that Jimmy's birth had forced them to buy. Her Jeep was still her favorite, but you simply couldn't fit four kids, two of them in safety seats, into it with any kind of legality. What they were going to do when the triplets arrived was anybody's guess. Buy a bus, maybe.
A sudden thought occurred to her. "Alice!"
"They were going to check up on Perry! Did you warn Alice?"
"Oh, yeah, I phoned her," Clark assured her. "She promised she wouldn't open the door without checking, and would set off the house alarm if anyone she didn't know tried to get in. I doubt there's much danger to her, anyway. They're trying to be subtle, difficult as it is to believe. Trying to break into the house of the Planet's editor might draw attention."
"To say the least of it." Lois undid her seatbelt and turned to unlock the door. Then, she noticed the expression on Clark's face. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing, I guess," he said, doubtfully, "but it looks like we've got quite a party going on in our house."
"Yeah. Sandi's there, and the kids, but so are Perry, Jimmy, Bill 'Deputy Mayor' Henderson, and a little girl with red hair and freckles, who I think is the one Cash is after. They seem to be eating pizza. I guess we better find out what it's all about."
Perry looked around at the sound of a key in the front door. When Lois and Clark entered, he set his slice of pizza onto the saucer he had appropriated for the purpose and got to his feet. "Hi, kids."
Clark glanced slowly around and raised his eyebrows. "Hi, Chief. Mind if we join the party?"
Perry chuckled. "Help yourself. Sandi bought pizza for the kids and we're finishing off the leftovers."
Clark glanced at Lois. "Do you mind, honey?"
Lois shook her head, a surprised expression on her face. "No. Any of that pepperoni left?"
"Right here." Sandi moved forward. "Would you like me to heat it up for you?" Sandi, Perry was aware, undoubtedly knew very well the problem Lois was having with her "afternoon morning sickness", in spite of the fact that Sandi was still on maternity leave. If she could handle pepperoni pizza, it was all to the good.
"No, I think I'd like it better cold." Lois accepted a slice and took a large bite. "Do you want to introduce us to your friend, Perry?" she asked through the mouthful, nodding at Linda.
"Sure." Perry turned to her. The little girl was sitting quietly on the loveseat between CJ and Wyatt. The two boys somehow managed to give the impression of a pair of bodyguards so strongly that he had to hide a smile. "Linda, these are Clark Kent and Lois Lane, CJ's mother and father. Clark, Lois, I'd like you to meet Linda Lennox. Linda was the person those two characters wanted. We haven't any idea why."
Clark nodded. Perry saw him looking closely at the child's face, a slight frown on his. He walked slowly across the carpet to her. "Hello, Linda. I'm glad to meet you. I see you already know CJ."
"Hi." Her voice was almost inaudible.
Clark extended a hand and solemnly shook hers. "Jim already told me a little about what happened to you when he phoned me. We're going to try to find out what's going on. Superman has been doing some checking on those guys who were after you. He told me we need to find your mom so we can help protect her from them, too. Can you tell us her name?"
Perry watched, marveling at Clark's ability to connect with Linda. She was smiling timidly at him. "Okay." She looked first at CJ, who smiled encouragingly and gave her a small nod. "Her name is Carolyn. Carolyn Abernathy."
"And, what's your address?"
Linda gave it. Perry looked at Jim and Henderson and shook his head.
Henderson chuckled. "I wish we'd had you working for us when I was on the force, Clark."
"Linda," Clark said, "why don't you and the guys here go to the kids' playroom, upstairs. Wyatt and CJ will show you where it is. We'll get hold of your mom and tell her where you are. We don't want those guys to find out you're here, so we're going to go about this very carefully. Okay?"
"Okay," she said. CJ and Wyatt got up and CJ pulled her hand. "Come on, Linda. It's gonna be all right. My mom and dad will fix things."
The three children headed for the stairs. Clark settled onto the loveseat they had occupied and tugged Lois down beside him. He murmured something to her, and Perry saw her nod.
"How did the appointment go?" Jim asked. "Everything all right?"
Lois swallowed a last mouthful of the pizza slice and began to unwind the bandage from her arm. "If you consider the fact that they practically drained me of blood, yeah, I guess so." She examined the bruised mark on her arm. "The technician missed the vein twice. When this is all over, I intend to have a few words with Bernie Klein."
Perry saw Clark make a face. "I'm sorry, honey."
"Why? It wasn't your fault." She sighed. "I guess we might as well come clean. There's more than one baby."
"Twins?" Perry was honestly delighted. "That's great!"
"No," Clark said. "Triplets."
There was a moment's silence. "Three?" Jim said at last. "Wow. Way to go, CK…and Lois," he added after a moment.
Henderson gave one of his sardonic grins. "It figures, Lois. I've never once known you and Clark to do anything the easy way. Congratulations."
"Yeah," Lois said. "Well, be that as it may, we'll worry about it later. Right now, we have another problem. Do you guys remember Bureau 39?"
The name sounded familiar. Perry wrinkled his brow, trying to recall. "Bureau 39—not that bunch of crazies that thought Superman was an invader?"
"That's the bunch," Clark said. "They're back, and they've got a piece of Kryptonite. According to Superman, the two guys chasing you were from that lot—he recognized them."
"Oh, man!" Jim said. "I thought they'd disappeared when their boss, Trask, was killed."
"They've got a new boss," Clark said. "None other than Colonel Cash, formerly of the U.S. Army. From what Superman overheard, he's been involved with Bureau 39 for quite a while—at least since the New Kryptonian invasion. He may even have tried to kill Superman along with Nor—at least that's what he seemed to be hinting at."
"Well, at least it's nice to know all the nuts are in one package," Henderson said, dryly. "Cash was court-martialed and given a dishonorable discharge. I made it a point to be present at his trial. I wonder if the Army knows where he is, now?"
"Might be worth making a few inquiries," Perry said. "It never hurts to let the bosses in Washington know what their field agents are doing—if he's even with the government anymore. Trask was a renegade and the boys upstairs didn't realize it until he killed Johnson, after Trask's bunch invaded the Planet that day. I wonder if they have any idea what Cash is up to, now?"
"I've still got plenty of friends in the MPD," Henderson said. "I can probably get them to make a few inquiries. What did they want little Linda for, Clark?"
"That's a good question," Clark said. "They were talking about aliens and Linda being part of an invasion force. Superman said he thinks they've gone completely around the bend, but they're after her mother, so we need to warn her. They apparently are waiting for us to return Linda to her so they can grab her again. Also, Chief, they recognized you as one of the two who helped Linda get away, and they got your license, Jim. They'll know who you are soon, if they don't already. I already called Alice to let her know what happened, but it might not be a bad idea if you two were to stay alert until we can figure this out. Superman said he was going to keep an eye on you, but he can't be everywhere."
Perry nodded. "You're right about that. I better get home as soon as I can."
Henderson got to his feet, limping slightly. The damage to his leg that had tied him to a desk at the department was never really a severe hindrance to him, but rules were rules. He'd retired voluntarily at thirty years, gone from there to a spot on the Metropolis City Council, and now, as the Deputy Mayor, was looking for the top billing in the next election campaign when the current mayor announced his retirement. Personally, Perry thought the citizens of Metropolis didn't know how fortunate they would be if William Henderson became the Mayor and fully intended for the Daily Planet to soundly endorse his campaign.
"I think I'd better take you, Perry," Henderson said. "If anyone tries to stop you, it might make them think twice if I'm there. Just let me make a call to some friends of mine."
While Henderson made his call, Perry turned to Jim and Sandi. "You two better be careful, too. Jim can tell you about these Bureau 39 nutcases, Sandi. They're obsessed with the idea that they're here to protect Earth from little green men from Mars. You better have a good story for them, if any of them come calling."
"What did you say? Repeat that, please…" Henderson's voice was suddenly sharp, interrupting their conversation. He listened for a few seconds and then spoke. "I'll be over there shortly, Carl. I know a few things about the situation that you don't. Right. See you." He put down the receiver carefully.
"What's the matter?" Lois asked after a startled moment.
"If the Bureau 39 guys come around asking questions, you can tell them you turned her over to the MPD, who are investigating her kidnapping by her stepfather," Henderson said, looking a little grim. "Her mother's at headquarters now, in hysterics. Apparently, the stepfather was found floating in the river half an hour ago. He'd been shot. They've arrested the mother on suspicion of murder."
CJ and Wyatt escorted Linda Lennox up the stairs to the Kent kids' playroom. CJ could still hear the adults talking downstairs, and was just as happy that Linda couldn't hear them. What they were talking about was scary. There was a group that might work for the government that thought Superman was an invader, and thought Linda was, too? What kind of nuts could they possibly be?
He looked at Linda, and something in his gut clenched up at the thought of anyone trying to hurt her. He still wasn't sure what had happened when he walked into the kitchen and saw her. She was thin and delicate, with red hair and freckles, and had looked scared to death. Then she'd looked up and met his eyes with her big, blue ones, and it was as if some invisible fist had hit him a sharp clip in the stomach. He'd realized suddenly that he was looking at the prettiest girl he'd ever seen. Normally, CJ regarded girls as one of those unavoidable annoyances that he had to put up with, but in that instant, he'd only wanted to stop her being scared, and to help protect her any way he could. He hadn't been able to do much, but she'd seemed to trust him, and that made him want to do more to help her. He'd been awfully glad when his mother and father walked in.
He had a lot of faith in his mom and dad—not just because Dad was Superman, but because they were Lane and Kent of the Daily Planet. In the last few weeks, because of his new knowledge of who Superman really was, he'd done a little research on the Internet about the things his parents had done over the years. It had been a revelation to him. He'd always thought of them as just Mom and Dad; he'd been stunned at all the things he'd found out about them. He'd heard in school about how Superman had fought Lord Nor hand-to-hand for the people of Earth. It was a new sensation to realize that it had been his dad who had done that and that he had risked his life to save all of Earth from the New Kryptonians. His mom and dad together had almost single-handedly brought down Intergang five years ago and the list went on. He'd just about decided he wanted to be an investigative reporter like them when he grew up— and maybe a superhero like Dad as well. In the meantime, though, he was going to help Linda as much as he could, even if that was just by staying with her until Mom and Dad sorted this mess out.
The children's playroom was actually the half of the attic near the back of the townhouse that his parents—actually, mostly Dad—had rigged up for them to use a couple of years ago. Mom had complained that she couldn't hear herself think when the three older kids were fighting over the computer in the den and Jimmy had a videotape going in the living room. They now had the small television that Dad had formerly kept in the kitchen stationed in the corner of the playroom, and the four different game systems were hooked to it. He and Uncle Jim had put it together one Saturday, CJ recalled. Uncle Jim sure knew a lot about that kind of thing. There were a couple of bookcases with all the kids' books, lots of board games, and Dad had promised that in a couple of months, when he and Mom replaced the family computer with a new one, they would let the kids have the old one for games and homework.
Marta was already there and so were Jonny and Jimmy, when Linda, Wyatt and CJ arrived. She was playing Tetris VI, which took speed, coordination and tight concentration. CJ had beaten it last year and hadn't understood what many of his friends thought was so hard about it, although now he wondered if the beginnings of his super powers might not explain the ease with which he had beaten it. Marta was on level 21 and still going strong.
"Not bad," he remarked casually, in passing. Marta didn't even turn her head. CJ knew better than to bother her right now, if he didn't want her to make his life miserable later. His sister was a major pain in the neck a lot of the time, but he had to give her credit for one thing; he'd back her against any guy in the world who tried to make trouble for her. Marta knew how to take care of herself. Dad said she reminded him of Lois when he'd first met her, and CJ had no trouble at all believing him. The only thing that puzzled him was why Wyatt thought she was so cool. Most of the time, he had no more use for girls than CJ did.
Linda stopped to watch Marta play, not making a sound. After several minutes, with only the cheerful music of the game to break the silence, Marta hit pause and turned her head. "Hi," she said. "Want to play after me?"
Linda hesitated. "I've never played it," she said, clearly longing to try.
"I'll show you how," Marta said, prosaically. "Just watch me some more. After I miss, you can start on a lower level."
"Okay." Linda turned to look at CJ, who found himself nodding encouragingly.
"Watch her," he said, surprising himself. "She's good."
Wyatt was already settling down on the floor to watch, as well. CJ stood for a moment, then drifted quietly over to the door again and leaned over the railing, listening to the adults, two floors below.
"I guess we better get over there and try to straighten things out," Uncle Perry was saying. "It wouldn't hurt to have Superman tell them what he knows, too."
"You can bet those goons know where she is," his mom was saying. "They might have even set it up. You better leave Linda here with Sandi and me while you three go. Clark, you find Superman and send him over, too."
Henderson's voice broke in. "Keep Linda out of sight, whatever you do, Lois. I'll work things out with the guys at the precinct. You know," he added, "I figured that once I was off the force, I wouldn't get mixed up in this kind of thing anymore. I guess I was wrong. It's good to get back on the job again, even if it's just for a little while."
"No problem, Bill." CJ thought his dad sounded amused. "We'll be glad to get you into trouble any time you like. We always seem to be able to find it pretty easily."
"I always said the two of you were trouble magnets…" The sentence was punctuated by the closing of the front door.
Lois sank down on the living room sofa and reached for the last, remaining slice of pizza. Sandi Olsen slowly gathered up the boxes for disposal in the trash while Lois chewed on the now-tough slice.
"Mom?" Lois looked around at the sound of her oldest son's voice. CJ was standing at the foot of the stairs, looking unusually solemn.
"What is it, honey?" she asked.
"Those guys that were after Linda. Who are they?"
"Oh." Lois took another bite and patted the place next to her. CJ obediently came to sit beside her and waited patiently while she chewed and swallowed.
Sandi re-entered the room and was about to take a seat, when the characteristic wail of a new baby broke the silence. She sighed. "I guess the nap is over. I better go get him." Turning, she hurried toward the den where five- week old Perry Olsen had been sleeping. Moments later she returned with a red-faced and cranky baby.
"He needs to be changed," she explained. "I'll be back in a minute."
"Okay. I'll wait until you get back, then. You need to know about these lunatics, too." Lois popped the last bite of pizza into her mouth. It was amazing how good cold pepperoni pizza tasted, after four weeks of sweet and sour pork, green salad and iced tea. Not that the other items were bad, but she was glad to find something else that didn't turn her stomach in the afternoon. Come to think of it, those pickled kumquats Clark had brought home from that trip to wherever he'd been a couple of days before were beginning to sound awfully good. Belatedly she wondered if there were any green onions left in the refrigerator.
CJ didn't say anything, but she could tell he was upset. Her oldest child never had been much of a worrier; in that way, he was different than his father had been as a boy, according to Martha Kent. Clark had worried about a lot of things, which made sense, as he'd had a lot of things to worry about. But CJ, in spite of his identical genetic makeup to that of his dad, was the exact opposite. Perhaps that was because she and Clark had been able to answer his questions in a way that Martha and Jonathan hadn't been able to answer Clark's, as much as they might have wanted to. Clark still tended to obsess over problems; CJ, at least so far, didn't.
Sandi returned to the room, carrying a newly changed and much happier baby. She sank down into the rocking chair and arranged him on her lap. "Okay, I'm ready."
Lois had been taking the time to organize her thoughts. Misleading CJ was the last thing she wanted to do, but it went against the grain to scare her ten-year-old son. On the other hand, since these nuts had resurfaced he needed to know the exact truth, and so did Sandi—suitably edited, of course.
"Clark and I ran into Bureau 39 a couple of weeks after Superman appeared in Metropolis," she began, abruptly. "They barged into the Daily Planet newsroom with a fake warrant and tried to get Clark and me to tell them how to get hold of Superman. I guess they thought that since we'd been the ones to write the first articles about him that we must know how to contact him."
"You're kidding," Sandi said.
"Nope. It turned out that they were this ultra-secret group that had been formed to protect the Earth from an alien invasion. Jason Trask had worked for Project Blue Book way back in the sixties. Somewhere along the line, I guess he just went completely over the edge because he was out to kill Superman. Anyway, they tried to lure Superman in by throwing Clark and me out of a plane. Superman showed up, all right, and they fired a missile at him, with predictable results." She smiled slightly. "After that, they vanished for a while, only to resurface again, out in Kansas a few months later. They were looking for Kryptonite, which no one knew about at the time. Apparently, Jonathan and Martha's neighbor, Wayne Irig, had found a piece in his field and sent it to a lab to find out what it was. The next thing he knew, Bureau 39 showed up. Clark and I went out to investigate what we thought was an EPA cleanup, and Trask decided that Clark was in mental communication with Superman. Believe me, the man was a complete psycho. He tried to force Clark to call Superman for help by threatening Jonathan, Martha and Wayne."
Sandi shook her head. "What happened?"
"Well, Clark managed to get out of the truck where they'd tied him up and tackled Trask. They had quite a fight—they even ended up in the pond there in the back yard of the house. Clark won, and then Trask tried to shoot him in the back. Rachel Brown—she was Rachel Harris back then—shot Trask and saved Clark's life. But, when we tried to track down the others in the group, they had vanished and the government officials swore that Bureau 39 had been closed down months before. We've never seen a trace of them since — until now."
"And now they're after Linda for some strange reason," Sandi said, thoughtfully. "Why would they decide a ten- year-old girl is an alien invader? Even if they're all crazy, they must have some kind of logic they're working under—no matter how twisted it is."
"I don't know," Lois said. "As you say, there must be a reason, but—"
Sandi continued to rock her baby, a scowl of concentration on her pretty face. "I have a kind of wild idea. I'm probably way off base, but see what you think. The New Kryptonians invaded back in the summer of 1996. What if they think Linda is a result of the invasion? She'd be just about the right age." She shrugged. "I told you it was really wild. Kryptonians look like us, but they aren't from Earth. They probably couldn't even have children with humans—but you know what has happened to the—um—female population of countries here on Earth whenever one group invaded another one. It wouldn't be surprising if the New Kryptonians—" She glanced at CJ and her voice trailed off.
Lois stared at her, appalled. The idea had never occurred to her—and *she* knew very well that humans and Kryptonians could have children. There were three solid pieces of evidence upstairs in the playroom and three more on the way.
"I guess you don't think—" Sandi began.
Lois held up a hand. "Actually, I think you're brilliant," she said. "It doesn't matter if it's possible or not. If Bureau 39's bosses think it's possible, then it is as far as they're concerned and they're going to act as if it is."
CJ hadn't said anything, but the look he gave Lois told her what he was thinking.
She glanced at the window. Outside, the sun had set and a check of her watch confirmed that it was later than she had realized. She hoped Clark and the other men wouldn't be too long. This whole situation scared her in a way she hadn't been scared in a long time. Criminals she could cope with, but a bunch of people who thought their mission was to save humanity from the evil invaders, no matter what the cost, was another matter. If they figured out that Linda was here, they wouldn't let a little thing like law or respect for life stop them. And this bunch of lunatics had a chunk of Kryptonite in their possession, which meant that they probably had lethal designs on Superman as well. No, not probably. They certainly had them. If Cash had tried to kill Superman during his fight with Lord Nor, and successfully covered the deed as an attempt to neutralize Nor and his minions, then he would try again when the opportunity offered.
"Mom?" CJ said. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing, honey," Lois said. "Are any of you guys still hungry? I could heat up some frozen finger snacks for you."
"No, we're all full," CJ said. "Are you afraid those crazy guys will come after Linda, here?"
Lois gave a small laugh. "Sometimes, I think you can read minds. Yes, I guess I am."
"If they do, will they hurt us?"
"They might," Lois said. "They don't know she's here, though, so I think we're pretty safe."
"I hope Dad gets back soon," CJ remarked, after an uneasy pause.
"You and me both," Lois said.
After speaking to Police Chief Dobbs, Superman headed toward home, leaving Perry, Jim and Henderson to sort out the details of the story with Dobbs and Assistant D.A. Peter Llwelling, who had been hastily summoned. He had taken longer than he liked to be away from his family, given what had happened this afternoon. He couldn't help a certain amount of uneasiness about their safety and he wanted to check on them before he went to the warehouse once more. Dobbs hadn't been particularly happy at the information given to him by Superman and the other three men, but he reluctantly agreed to release Carolyn Abernathy. The thought of a bunch of vigilantes with a cause running around the city hadn't exactly thrilled Assistant D.A. Llwelling, either, but both had agreed that it looked as if Ms. Abernathy was an innocent victim rather than a murderer.
He hovered in the air, high over the townhouse and scanned it with his x-ray vision, checking, out of habit, to see that things were all right before he entered. What he saw sent him through the back bedroom window faster than the traditional speeding bullet.
Lois lay sprawled across the couch and Sandi lay on the rug. Baby Perry, in his infant seat in the den, was wailing, unheard by his mother. Of the six older children, there was no sign whatsoever.
Lois's heart was beating strongly and so was Sandi's, and upon tuning his hearing to detect it, he could hear the rapid heartbeats of the three unborn babies as well. With that immediate concern alleviated, he trained his hearing once more, striving to detect any other sounds.
Above him, he could hear the scurrying of some small rodent, and faint squeaks in the region of the attic told him that there was a mouse's nest somewhere, but there was no sign of anything else. He sniffed, trying to discern any odor, and at once detected a scent. Faint traces of some sort of anesthetic gas hovered in the living room. The fact that the door between the living room and the den had been pulled to had probably prevented more than a tiny amount of the substance from reaching the baby, he reasoned with the part of his mind that wasn't gibbering in blind panic.
He knelt beside his wife, trying hard to control his fear. "Lois! Wake up!"
She moaned faintly, but didn't open her eyes. Without a pause, he threw open the living room windows, letting in the crisp, cold December air. In an instant, he had acquired a wet washrag and proceeded to slop water onto first Lois's face and then Sandi's.
The baby's wails were becoming frantic. He whisked into the den, picked up the screaming infant and returned to the living room.
"Lois! Sandi! Wake up!" he pleaded again.
Lois coughed slightly and opened her eyes. She stared at him blankly for a moment, then a look of horror crossed her face. "Clar—Superman! They—the kids! Are they all right?"
Sandi moaned and opened her eyes, blinking at them, then she pushed herself up slowly onto her elbows. "What—" Her eyes focussed on Superman, holding Perry in one arm. "What happened? Is he all right?"
He turned to give her a hand into the nearest chair. Lois struggled to a sitting position, a strained expression on her face. "The kids!" she repeated. "Are the kids okay?"
"They aren't here," Superman said, trying to keep his voice level. "They've disappeared."
CJ braced his body against the rocking of the car and found himself hoping desperately that he hadn't made a mistake.
The grey sedan was moving fast, and he could hear the sounds of Jonny and Jimmy sobbing in the rear seat, and the harsh voice of one of the men who had invaded the house when his mom and Aunt Sandi had collapsed.
He had been holding the baby and walking him back and forth in the den while his mom and Aunt Sandi talked softly in the living room, when he saw both of them crumple in their places. CJ wasn't exactly an expert, but he'd seen plenty of spy movies. He pulled the door to the den almost closed and rocked baby Perry gently, trying to keep him quiet, wrinkling his nose at the sharp, nasty stink of the gas. It didn't seem to be affecting him, although he'd gotten a good whiff of it before he pulled the door to. After a few seconds, three men had walked into the living room from the kitchen. They checked both women, and then disappeared quietly up the stairs. After a moment or two, CJ heard the screams of his younger brothers, and of Linda. Gritting his teeth, he stayed where he was. He couldn't help them, and if he went running up there right now, he'd only get grabbed, too. He heard Wyatt cry out in pain, and his sister, Marta's yell of fury, followed immediately by a pained bellow, apparently from one of the men.
Scared as he was, he had to grin. They hadn't known what they were getting into by making Marta angry. If one of them had hurt Wyatt, he'd bet anything that his sis had made the guy pay. Marta would never have admitted it to anyone, but CJ suspected she liked Wyatt. She was never as tough on him as she was on other boys.
Meanwhile, he was thinking fast. The invaders didn't know he was here, so that gave him time to do something to stop them, but if these were those Bureau 39 goons that Mom had told him about—which they probably were—they might just have the Kryptonite around somewhere, which meant he couldn't call his dad for help. On the other hand, he couldn't let them kidnap Linda, or the other kids, either. So, what should he do? If he called 911, the cops might get here in time, or they might not, and he'd almost certainly give himself away to these three creeps.
But, he could find out where they were going if he went with them, if he could do it without being caught…
A story his mom had once told him about how she'd followed some car thieves to the chop shop that dismantled them for parts, popped into his mind and he considered it for just a moment. If it had worked for Mom, then it could work for him. He was even smaller than she was, so he should fit better.
But he'd need a way to call for help when he got to wherever it was…
Gently, he put the drowsy baby down in his seat and snapped the safety belt over his middle. Satisfied that Perry was safe, at least for now, he ventured to open the door a crack and peek out.
There was no one in sight. He wrinkled his nose at the smell, but it didn't seem to be causing him any trouble. Trying to breathe shallowly, he slipped out into the living room and closed the door to the den behind him. An instant later he was across the room and pulling the cellular phone from his mom's purse. He could see that she and Aunt Sandi were breathing all right, and the three guys had only been holding handkerchiefs over their faces, so it must only be some kind of knockout gas. Mom would be okay after she woke up. He only hoped she didn't kill him later, after she found out what he'd done but he wasn't going to let these guys kidnap Linda again—or hurt his family and Wyatt.
The room was thick with the nasty-smelling gas, but it still wasn't bothering him at all. That must be one of the benefits of the fact that he wasn't human—or maybe his partial invulnerability was the reason. Still, he didn't dare waste time. He rummaged for another couple of items from the purse and hurried toward the kitchen on tiptoe.
There was a nondescript, grey sedan parked in the alley behind the house. Even in the dimness, he could see it pretty clearly. This must be what Dad meant when he'd said that he was going to notice his eyesight getting better and better until he could see in the dark as well as he could by day. It wasn't that good yet, but it was well on its way. Dad had said that it had happened to him that way, but he'd deliberately refused to notice the fact because he'd been afraid of what was happening to him. That was something CJ didn't have to worry about.
He let himself quietly out the gate. The trunk of the car was locked, naturally, but CJ wasn't going to let that stop him. He wasn't Lois Lane's son for nothing. His mom had showed him how to pick a lock one day a few months ago, just for the fun of it. In his hand, he clutched the lock pick that she kept in her purse. It couldn't be that hard to pick the lock of a car trunk, could it? Besides, now he could *see* what he was doing if he concentrated hard.
Unfortunately, when the trunk opened, it sprang open suddenly and he felt something inside the lock break. Sure enough, the trunk wouldn't fasten when he climbed in and pulled the thing down. He'd planned on closing it and getting out through the rear seat like Mom had when the car stopped, but this changed things a little. He was going to have to hold the trunk lid shut and hope no one noticed. Gripping it with one hand, he thanked his Kryptonian heritage that he was already considerably stronger than an ordinary ten-year-old boy. Gripping the metal, he waited, trying to quiet his nervous breathing and to settle the shakiness that was making his heart do back flips in his chest. He wasn't Superman, but he was going to show these guys that it wasn't just Superman who could cause them trouble. Nobody went after *his* family like this and got away with it.
The gate banged, and he trained his x-ray vision in the direction of the sound. The three men were dragging the five, struggling children out, and CJ noted with satisfaction that one of them was walking in a distinctly uncomfortable fashion. It looked like Marta had gotten him where it hurt at least once. Not only that, but now that he was looking for it, even with the blurry image supplied by his x-ray vision he could make out the fact that the same guy's wrist was bleeding heavily enough that blood had soaked his cuff and was dripping onto the ground. CJ could see a double row of cuts and bruises that looked remarkably like human tooth marks on the man's wrist. Involuntarily, he winced—if not in sympathy, at least in understanding, and found himself hoping conversely, that his sister had gotten a major blood vessel or something else useful. That would serve the jerk right.
Marta was being held in a hammerlock by one of the other men; apparently, they had concluded rightly that she deserved the full attention of at least one person. CJ grinned slightly at his little sister's language, in spite of the situation. Mom and Dad would be appalled at the phrase she threw at the guy hanging onto her—or at least Dad would, he thought. Mom would probably have just washed her mouth out with soap.
The back door of the car opened. CJ watched as the men shoved their captives inside, and shut the door. A second later, he heard the sound of some kind of locking system clicking into place. Someone cursed. "Gimmie something to wrap around my wrist. I'm bleeding to death here."
One of the others laughed shortly. "Serves you right for underestimating a kid. Cash said one of 'em's a superkid. My money's on her. Get in the car and stop whining."
A short time later, CJ found himself bracing his feet and free hand against the insides of the car trunk as the vehicle rounded a turn in the road. The trunk lid nearly jerked out of his grip and he grabbed at it with the other hand, sweat breaking out on his face. If the thing popped up, it would certainly give him away. Desperately, he straightened his legs somewhat and jammed his shoulders into the trunk side against the swaying of the vehicle.
They were going fast; that much he could tell. Every time they hit a bump in the road or went around a corner, he was jerked this way or that and the trunk lid bounced. CJ gritted his teeth, closed his eyes and hung on with everything he had. Time passed with agonizing slowness as they maneuvered through evening traffic. Eventually, he began to hear a difference in the sounds of the city around him. The honk of horns and other normal background noise was becoming more distant, and the nature of the road underneath the car's tires changed. The pavement was no longer smooth, but uneven and rough, as if the surface was in poor repair. Somewhere, he heard the whistle of a train.
Something jabbed irritatingly into his back. It didn't hurt exactly, but it wasn't comfortable. He tried to shift position and nearly lost his hold on the trunk lid again. He'd better just put up with the discomfort, he decided. If he did too much squirming around, he could very well make things worse.
They rounded another turn and one of the back wheels hit a pothole. The rear of the car bounced violently and he banged his head hard against something metallic and sharp. That one hurt. Probably the jack, he thought, grimly. Mom's story hadn't mentioned all the pieces of junk that accumulated in the trunk of a car over time. Still, if his mother could handle this, he could. He had the advantage of burgeoning super powers to help him, and she hadn't, yet she'd done it and successfully brought down the bad guys. He didn't intend for these particular bad guys to discover his presence but at the very least, he could find out where they were taking the other kids and call for help.
But who was he going to call? He hadn't had time to think about that before, in his hurry. Not his mom. She would come along with Dad, and if these characters whipped out that Kryptonite stuff, it could hurt the babies. He'd heard Dad say there were three of them. He might not be particularly thrilled about more brothers and sisters, but he darned well didn't want anything happening to them! He'd never be able to forgive himself if it did, and it would kill Mom and Dad. So Mom was out and so was Dad for almost the same reason. But he had a few other choices. Uncle Perry was too old, and besides, he'd probably tell Dad. The same objection applied to his Uncle Jim, but…
Then the perfect choice hit him. Mr. Henderson was an ex- cop, Dad trusted him, and best of all, Mom had the number to his cellular phone on speed dial. He'd know what to do, and maybe he could keep Superman away from the place.
The faint starlight leaking in through the partially open trunk gave him enough illumination to hit the correct button. He waited until the car encountered a fairly smooth stretch of road, let go of the trunk lid with one hand, punched the button for Henderson's phone, and grabbed the trunk lid again before it got away from him. With his ear against the phone, where it lay on the bottom of the compartment, CJ gritted his teeth and waited while it automatically dialed and then began to ring.
There was a faint click. A familiar voice said, "Henderson."
"Mr. Henderson," he whispered, fairly certain he wouldn't be heard by the others above the noises inside the car, "this is CJ Kent. I need some help…"
Henderson was speaking to a frantic Lois Lane when his cellular phone rang and he answered it crisply. "Henderson."
The whisper from the other end was almost drowned out by the sound of an automobile engine, but he was barely able to make it out and what he heard brought him instantly on the alert.
"Mr. Henderson, this is CJ Kent. I need some help."
He glanced at Lois, but asked, "Where are you?"
"In the trunk of a car. There's three guys who've kidnapped Linda and the other kids. They don't know I'm here." Henderson opened his mouth but the whisper went on. "I've got my mom's phone, but I can't talk long—they might hear me."
"Listen to me," Henderson said, "leave the phone on. Do you know where you are?"
"No. I'll tell you as soon as the car stops."
"I'm going to try to have the phone located," Henderson said. "Don't turn it off."
"Okay." The boy's whisper was hard to hear, but Henderson caught the next words. "Don't let Superman come. I think they have something that can hurt him."
"Don't worry," Henderson said. "I won't. Stay where you are if you can."
"Okay." CJ's voice fell silent but Henderson could still hear the sound of the motor.
He glanced at Lois. "Do you mind if I use the phone in your den? I have to make a private call and I want to keep this connection open."
"Who is that?" Lois asked suspiciously.
"Lois, I don't have time to discuss it. I need to make that call right now." He was already striding toward the den. "I'll be right back."
Superman cruised above the warehouse, scanning it with his x-ray vision. The building was dark and one look told him that no one was there. The cubicles were deserted and bereft of equipment. Even the drawers of the desks were empty of materials. He reversed course back toward the townhouse. He wouldn't have believed that Superman could actually find himself short of breath from sheer panic, but he felt as if he couldn't get enough air. His mind screamed at him to *do* something, and he'd rarely felt so impotent. His children had been kidnapped and there was literally *nothing* he could do.
He whisked through the window of the townhouse to find Perry, Alice, Jimmy, Sandi and Lois standing about in the living room and Henderson speaking forcefully into the phone in the den. He caught only the last few words and in other circumstances would have winced at the Deputy Mayor's last phrase to the hapless subordinate on the other end but at this moment, his sense of humor had deserted him.
"Superman, did you find anything?" Sandi asked. She was clutching her baby tightly.
He shook his head. "The warehouse is empty," he said. "Somehow, they got word."
"But how could they?" Alice whispered. "Unless there's someone in the police department…"
"That must be how they knew Linda was here," Sandi said.
"That's what I think," Bill Henderson said, entering the room and shutting the door to the den. "What they don't know is I've got an ace up my *own* sleeve as well. I've got someone using the global positioning system to locate a certain cellular phone. And my guy *isn't* in the police department."
"What cellular phone?" Lois asked.
"Yours. And as soon as I know where it winds up, we'll know where to go to find the kids. And *no*, Lois, you aren't going and that's final. And neither are you, Superman."
"Who was that call from?" Lois demanded.
"CJ. He's in the trunk of their car with your phone and they don't know it. You've taught that kid of yours better than you thought, Lois. Of course, if he were mine, I'd probably tan his hide after this stunt."
"Bill, I *have* to go." Clark felt his usually stoic Superman persona coming dangerously close to cracking.
"Yes, and so do I!" Lois asserted.
There were times, Henderson thought, that the image of cynicism and the poker face that he'd carefully cultivated over his thirty years on the police force still stood him in good stead. He glanced at Lois and then at Superman, wondering if the Man of Steel had any idea how much his face was giving away at that moment. He was about to refuse, but then a thought made him reconsider. If he had Superman along with him, at least he could maintain a certain amount of control over what he did. He made a face. "Dammit, Superman, I wish I didn't owe you so many favors. All right, you can come if you promise to obey every order I give you. If I tell you to stop, you stop. Do I have your word?"
Clark didn't hesitate. "You have it."
"How about me?" Lois demanded.
"Absolutely not," Henderson said, flatly. "Lois, you're pregnant with three babies. I won't risk them, too." Especially, he thought, knowing now whose kids those were. Oddly enough, his sudden realization wasn't really a surprise. He'd have to think about that after this was all over, but right now, he needed to focus on the job at hand. He had some fanatics to take care of and some kids to rescue.
Lois opened her mouth to protest and closed it again, seeming to deflate. "Why do you always have to be so logical? You're right. But I want to know as soon as they're safe."
"I promise you will—if only to keep you from doing something stupid," Henderson said, with a sour smile. "Lois, I don't want anything to happen to those kids, either. That oldest boy of yours has more guts than is good for him, but I've got to say he keeps his head. As soon as we have a definite location, we'll go. I've got some guys I trust assembling right now."
"Where's Linda's mom?" Sandi asked, in a subdued tone. "Does she know what's happened?"
"No." Henderson shook his head sharply. "She's safe with a friend of mine. I decided she'd be better off if no one knew where she was, as soon as you called me. If there's someone on the force who's in contact with these characters, after what Superman overheard I don't want him to be able to find her, and I'd as soon he didn't have any idea that we're onto him." He glanced at Lois's strained face and allowed himself to reveal a trace of human emotion. "Lois, I'm going to get all those kids back safely if it's humanly possible. You've got my word on it."
Inside the trunk of the grey sedan, CJ became aware that the car was slowing down. Instantly alert, he gripped the trunk lid more firmly, holding it as tightly closed as he could. The car swayed as it turned and the tires crunched suddenly on gravel. He could hear the rattle as small pieces of stone were thrown against the undercarriage. For some minutes, they moved slowly over the gravel road and then the surface changed again to smooth asphalt or concrete. CJ felt the vehicle brake, turn slowly, and then come to a stop. Through the tiny gap where he held the trunk lid closed, he saw a low light come on.
They were still in the open, he realized a moment later. The light was on the porch of a big, old house that looked as if it had seen better days. There was a clicking sound and he realized the car's door locks had been released. He watched with his x-ray vision as his brothers and sister were dragged out of the rear seat, followed by Wyatt and Linda. Marta squirmed determinedly as her captor hauled her across the driveway toward the house. The man, apparently frustrated by her lack of cooperation, spun her about and slapped her, hard. Marta's head snapped sideways, but she didn't cry. The look she gave him would have melted lead, and CJ gritted his teeth promising himself to make that guy sorry if he was ever able to figure out how to do it.
When they disappeared inside, he eased the trunk open and slid out onto the ground, crouching low to stay in the shadow provided by the body of the car. The trunk popped open when he released it, but there was nothing he could do about that. Reaching back inside, he retrieved the cellular phone.
"Mr. Henderson!" he whispered.
"I'm here, CJ," Henderson's voice replied instantly.
"We've stopped. We're in front of a house—it looks kind of old, but sort of fancy, too. They just took the other kids inside. What do you want me to do, now?"
"Can you see the address?"
"No, sir," CJ said, the courtesy to adults drilled in by his parents coming so instinctively that he didn't notice it. "There's no number. There aren't any other houses around, even. It looks like we're out in the country, somewhere. We came in on a gravel road, and I can see a lot of hills with pine trees all over them. I can hear a river somewhere, too, but I'm all turned around. I don't know which way I'm facing."
"Okay. Try to stay out of sight, CJ. We've got you pinpointed and we're on our way. You're northwest of Metropolis, in Hobbs Canyon. We'll be there in about twenty minutes."
CJ turned his head as a door slammed. Four men had emerged from the house and he heard one of them speaking, softly. "The signal's coming from this direction—"
"Sir, I've got to move," he whispered. "There's some men coming. I think they've picked up the phone's signal, somehow."
"Shut it off," Henderson said, immediately. "Get out of there, now."
CJ shut off the phone at once and scurried around the car, bending as low as he could. The men were approaching, and he could hear one of them swearing softly.
"The signal's gone."
"Well, where was it before it disappeared?"
There was a narrow band of shadow that bisected the puddle of light that illuminated the driveway where the car had parked. CJ looked back at the men who were walking slowly toward the car, and saw the weapons in their hands. An idea hit him then, something half-remembered from some spy movie he'd seen at some time or other. He clicked the phone back on, took aim and threw it underhand into the grass in the middle of the shadowed lawn some forty feet away.
It landed with a muffled thump in the withered grass and he noted the instant interest of the men. "Did you hear that?"
"Yeah. This way. The signal's back…"
They changed direction toward the phone. CJ bent low and scurried through the narrow band of shadow toward the hedge that bordered the house. Crouching beside it, he tried to think, breathing softly. He couldn't stay here. When they found the phone they would figure out what he'd done and start looking around in other places. Without further consideration, he began to make his way toward the rear of the house, moving as quietly as he could. At least they were probably expecting an adult, not a kid. He'd have a better chance of escaping their notice than a full grown man, at least for as long as it took for Henderson and his people to get here.
Halfway around the house, he encountered a covered porch. A network of crisscrossed wooden slats intertwined with dead vegetation that ran from the ground to the overhanging porch roof, dominated one side of the structure. Pausing for only a few seconds to consider the wisdom of the idea, CJ swarmed up the rickety, awkward ladder and scrambled onto the wooden shingles at the top.
The brittle shingles crackled and crumbled under his feet as his weight came down on them, and he tried to move carefully toward the actual wall of the house. Shreds of wood splinters showered from the roof toward the ground, and he found himself wondering if this had been such a good idea. If they saw him up here, he'd be trapped for sure. Attempts to tread more lightly only resulted in more showers of debris. He crouched against the wall of the house, trying not to move while he decided what was the best thing to do now.
There was a small window, barely larger in width than he was, in the wall next to him. He hadn't seen it from the ground, but it was certainly there. A torn screen covered it, and inside he could see a sliding, glass pane covered with dark curtains of some heavy, opaque cloth. But the lock that should have secured the glass panel against an invader was unlocked. Well, it was a chance. CJ ripped the screen wide, leaving the tattered pieces dangling and placed his hands flat against the glass of the window, pushing upward.
For a moment, the stubborn pane resisted his efforts then with a screech that should have awakened the inhabitants of every cemetery for miles around, it slid suddenly open.
CJ froze, waiting for the inevitable moment of discovery, but nothing happened. After a long, tense period of holding his breath, he allowed himself to relax. Incredible as it seemed, no one else had heard the noise.
He listened. There was no sound behind the curtains. From the front of the house, he heard the voices of the four searchers. They had discovered the cellular phone, and the open car trunk. They were spreading out to search for whoever had arrived in it.
CJ made up his mind, and began to worm his way through the window into the old house.
"I could get there faster if I flew," Superman said.
"Forget it." Henderson shoved his foot down on the accelerator as hard as he could. Behind him, five other cars filled with determined men were racing at reckless speed along the highway, sirens blasting. Cars in both lanes of the road ahead of them pulled sharply to the sides and stopped as the small fleet of civilian cars, armed with sirens and flashing lights on their hoods, tore by.
The men were veteran law officers who had worked with him during his years as an Inspector with the Metropolis Police Department, men whom he knew and had trusted—sometimes literally—with his life. More recently, they had worked with him more covertly. They'd been the only ones he'd dared call out on this action. He was going to have some explaining to do to Chief Dobbs later, but he figured that was a lot better than having Bureau 39's mole in the police department, whomever he might be, give them away in time for Cash and his followers to disappear, perhaps along with the children. That wasn't going to happen. He wasn't going to let them get away again.
They rounded a turn in the road, the back wheels of his car skidding slightly, but he never slowed his speed.
"We're going to get these guys, Superman," he said, quietly, his mild voice at odds with his intense driving. "You know, I promised CJ I wouldn't let you come. He was afraid they'd hurt you."
"I know how to stay away from Kryptonite!" Superman protested.
"Yes, I know. But four of those kids…" He stopped for a moment. "I have a vested interest in getting these guys, too," he said, with apparent irrelevance. "You know that my first daughter was born seven months after Sue and I married, don't you?"
"I suppose," Superman said, evenly. "It isn't important, Bill."
"Yes, it is. I've been hunting Bureau 39 ever since I found out what they were up to—two years ago," he said. "You probably don't know that Sue and I speeded up our wedding plans after we found out she was expecting. Terminating the pregnancy was never an option. Valerie wasn't mine—except that she is, in every other way. She—" He broke off as they skidded around another corner and accelerated again. The city of Metropolis had given way to countryside. "One of the New Kryptonians decided he wanted Sue," Henderson said, grimly. "A guy named Jen Mai. Valerie is half- Kryptonian."
Superman almost covered his shock, but Henderson could see it. "I found out someone was hunting up the records of children born at about the right time," he continued. "I have some friends who helped me—Lois would say I know guys who know guys." He smiled tightly and abruptly killed the siren. Ahead, a gravel road branched off to the right. He slowed the car and took the road carefully. "Eventually, I tracked the inquiries to a secret government agency that we both know and love: Bureau 39. They've been trying to root out the human-Kryptonian hybrids, Superman—kids who are the innocent consequences of the invasion—and kill them. I've been close to exposing them twice, and twice they've gotten away, leaving me without any evidence. They know someone's after them, but I've covered my tracks pretty well—I don't think they know I'm their shadow, or I probably wouldn't be alive, now. They're not going to get away this time. No one—especially not the agent of some faceless government agency—is going to take my daughter away from me, whoever her biological father may have been."
Superman was silent a moment. "I'm sorry, Bill," he said, finally. "I wish I'd known." He paused and added, "And I wish you'd asked me for help with Bureau 39. I'd have given it to you. I have a few investigative abilities of my own, you know."
"Yeah, I suppose I should have, but I had more than one secret to keep. This was a secret between Sue and me. Valerie doesn't know, anymore than Linda Lennox knows. I'm good at keeping secrets—and I had no idea you were keeping one just as explosive as I was."
Superman smiled very slightly. "I had a feeling you saw a lot more than you should have back there," he said. "You were always too observant for my comfort level. It's a good thing I trust you as much as I do."
"You need to work harder on your poker face," Henderson said. "Your secret's safe with me, Clark. I wanted you to know that. Now—" he slowed down until the car was moving at a crawl, "you're going to promise me you'll do exactly as I tell you. I am *not* going to go back and tell Lois I let her husband get killed. And we're not going to let these pseudo-Nazi goons get away again."
"You're the boss," Clark said, and Henderson could see that he meant it. "Just tell me what you want me to do."
CJ squeezed through the window with no room to spare and slid to the floor. He stayed on hands and knees for several seconds, listening intently.
Somewhere below him, he could hear the voices of several men speaking, calling to each other occasionally. Those must be the guys outside hunting for him. There seemed to be a lot more than four, now. At some distance from the voices, he could hear Jimmy sobbing. His brother's voice was coming from somewhere on the same level he was on. The kids must be imprisoned on this floor, somewhere not far away, probably under guard.
Forcing himself to ignore his brother's crying, he trained his hearing on the other voices below them. One of them was closer, probably in the house, itself. Whoever he was, his voice had a distinct southern accent and seemed, from the tone, to belong to someone in authority.
"I want whoever dropped that phone found," it was saying and CJ could hear the irritation in it. "I'm gettin' plenty tired of this guy, whoever he is. Every time it looks like we've hit pay dirt, he shows up and throws a monkey wrench in the works. We're gonna find out how these aliens' bodies work, and how to kill 'em after they get their powers. There's got to be some other weakness than one, lousy green rock."
CJ had his position pinpointed, now. He trained his x-ray vision on the floor, trying to locate the man.
The picture was blurry, but he wasn't hard to identify. The short, cigar-smoking man in camouflage gear was leaning back in a swivel chair, holding up something that glowed green with a light of its own. CJ couldn't quite see what it was, except that it appeared to be round, and about the size of his own palm. Kryptonite! his mind screamed at him. Dad had described the vicious stuff to him weeks ago when they'd been out in the field behind his grandparents' farm, testing his abilities.
"This is the only one I've been able to get hold of in all these years," the man said. "The idiots in charge have very foolishly ordered the destruction of any Kryptonite that's found, anywhere, because it's a hazard to their *hero*, Superman. *Hero*!" The speaker snorted. "They'll find out the truth when we find our world taken over by them. With all my resources, I was only able to get the one piece. When the aliens launch their takeover, we're going to need more than this thing to defend the human race." He set the object down on his desk. "Did you send out reinforcements to help with the search?"
"Yessir. I've got everyone but Davisson out looking for him. He's guarding the kids."
"Then get out there, yourself." The voice fell silent for a moment. "Is Dr. What'sisname on the way?"
"Yes, sir. And the operating room is ready. He should be here in half an hour or so."
"Good. Go on, get out there, Captain. Find that guy. The Bureau can't afford to be exposed too soon, or the human race won't have a chance."
CJ got to his feet, still listening intently. The last thing he needed was to get caught right now. Mr. Henderson would be here soon with help. The twenty minutes he'd promised were almost up. But an idea was forming in his mind. He needed to get rid of that stuff, the Kryptonite that the guy with the cigar had been playing with. Nobody else must be allowed to get hold of it, for all their sakes. He couldn't get anywhere near it, any more than Dad could, and neither could Marta, Jonny, Jimmy or Linda. But Wyatt could.
But, that meant he was going to have to tell Wyatt why.
CJ kept his ears tuned for further developments as he crept down the hallway toward the room where the other children had been imprisoned. He had to watch his step. The ancient carpet had its share of tatters and holes, and places where it had come loose from the tacking that had held it to the floor. His super-hearing had gotten much more effective after his dad had helped him learn how to focus it precisely, and that was a big help. He could hear the slow approach of several automobiles over the gravel road, and hoped sincerely that Henderson was almost there. He was going to have to do this fast, though. As much as he trusted Mr. Henderson, if Dad wanted him to know about Superman, it was up to Dad to tell him. And no one else was going to get his hands on the Kryptonite if CJ had anything to say about it.
As he moved, he was considering two things: how to distract the guard in front of the door long enough to get the kids out and how much to tell Wyatt. There was no way he was going to tell him about Dad and the others—not yet, anyway. He didn't think Dad and Mom would like it. There had to be a way to get his help without giving away Dad's secret. On the other hand, it was probably going to be pretty obvious that CJ couldn't get near the Kryptonite.
Suddenly he knew what he was going to say. Dad had gotten along for years by telling the truth—but not all of it. CJ trusted Wyatt, but that wasn't really enough. Wyatt wasn't quite ten years old; he was pretty reliable, but he was still a kid, and it was possible he might make a mistake and let the truth slip. CJ had the right to risk himself, but not his family. That was up to them, not him. But part of the truth might do, at least for now.
The upstairs of the house seemed to be laid out on three sides of a square. There was a corner ahead of him, and the hallway turned to the left. Some distance beyond that, it turned left again. Through several walls, he could see the kids, sitting forlornly in a small, dusty bedroom, and outside their door, a single guard, just as he had expected. Jonny had stopped crying although he was still sniffling a little, and Linda was comforting Jimmy. Marta, on the other hand, was prowling around the room like a caged tiger looking for a way out.
CJ rounded the first corner and passed a wide staircase curving gracefully downward, the broad steps uncarpeted and scuffed. He'd hate to slip on that, he thought. Nearly opposite it, was a closet containing several very dusty pieces of clothing and a clutter of ancient junk on the floor and hanging from hooks on the walls. CJ grimaced. He was starting to get a mild headache from all this unaccustomed use of his x-ray vision, but it certainly saved him from having to open every door and check to see what was inside.
Suddenly he stopped in his tracks. That was it. Now he knew exactly what to do. It might be a little risky, but it wouldn't really be that hard…
A few minutes later, he paused just around the corner from the room where the kids were imprisoned and took a deep, steadying breath. A man was sitting in a folding chair just outside the door and, unlike the two downstairs, this guy wasn't wearing a uniform. Instead, he was casually attired in jeans and a T-shirt. CJ's eyes widened and under his nervousness, he felt a tiny bit of anticipation. That was the guy who'd hit Marta. Talk about luck! If he could pull this off, he might even enjoy it—just a little.
Feeling slightly guilty but determined, he surveyed the area, making sure he knew exactly what he was going to do. Then, he stepped out from behind his cover.
"Hi," he said, calmly. "Catch!" He threw the ancient baseball he had retrieved from the closet as hard as he could at the guard's astonished face, turned and ran.
Behind him, his super-hearing picked up the sound of a loud smack as the ball impacted on some part of the guard's anatomy, and a very human yell of pain and anger. There was a metallic crash as the folding chair went over on the floor and feet pounded after him. CJ ducked into his hiding place behind the next corner and waited, watching with his x-ray vision. He suspected he was going to have a monster headache after this was all over, but if things worked out all right, it would be worth it.
The guard came thundering around the corner, and CJ congratulated himself briefly on his aim at the sight of a red, swollen mark encompassing the man's left eye and part of his cheek where the ball had apparently struck. Now, if the guy took the bait, he would be okay. If not, he might be in trouble.
The guard skidded to a halt, staring for an instant at the piece of cloth protruding from the crack between the closet door and the frame. He yanked the door open with an exclamation of satisfaction. "Gotcha, you little—"
CJ charged. His shoulder struck the guard at waist height in the middle of his back, shoving him forward into the closet and the tangling pieces of clothing hanging from the clothing rack. It took only an instant and he had slammed the door after the man. He thrust the key, which had been hanging by the door a few moments earlier, into the lock and turned it with a decisive click. That should hold him for a bit. The doors of the old house seemed to be heavy and solidly made, but CJ had very little faith in the lock's holding for more than a few minutes. He returned to his previous hiding place to retrieve the old, metal ironing board from the spot where he had stashed it earlier. With care, he braced it tightly against the door under the knob, with the other end rammed firmly against the railing of the staircase. That should hold him long enough for CJ to get the kids out, though he didn't want to count on it for much longer than that.
The guard was yelling and pounding on the door, but his cries were muffled by the thickness of the panel. CJ didn't envy him, stuck in the cramped, dusty closet, but he didn't stop to worry about it. He hurried back toward the room where the kidnapped children were imprisoned.
Marta whirled toward him, eyes wide when he yanked the door open. Her mouth fell open, but for once, he managed to jump in ahead of her questions. "Come on! Let's get out of here before we get caught!"
"CJ?" His sister stared at him in shock. "What are you—"
"Come on!" CJ gestured them out into the hall. "Don't make any noise, okay?"
After a stunned second, they obeyed him. CJ pointed down the hall in the opposite direction from which he had come. "That way!" he whispered. "Hurry!"
"How did *you* get here?" Marta whispered, accusingly.
"Tell you later. I don't have time to explain." CJ checked back the way they had come, but so far, no one appeared to have noticed the change in their status. "Mr. Henderson's on his way. You guys just have to stay out of sight until they get here." He pointed to the cord hanging from the ceiling. "If Wyatt and I give you a boost, can you grab that?"
"Sure." Marta cast him a puzzled look. "Why?"
"That's a door to the attic. If you pull it down, the stairs will come down and you can go up them and pull the door up behind you."
"How do *you* know that?"
CJ sighed deeply. "Because I saw one once, at somebody's house. Can we argue later? I don't want them to catch you guys again."
"Us—what about *you*?"
"I've got to do something really important." At the rebellious expression on her face, he added, "Somebody's got to stay with the little kids 'til Mr. Henderson gets here. Come on, Marta. That guy that hit you could get out of the closet any minute, and if he does, he's gonna be pretty mad."
"How did *you* know about that?" she demanded.
"Because I saw him, dopey! He's locked in a closet, but he might not stay there very long. Hurry up, will you?"
She glared at him for a minute, then gave in. "Okay, but you're gonna explain it to me later!"
CJ didn't give her a chance to change her mind. He glanced at Wyatt. "You take one side and I'll take the other. Ready…?"
Implementing CJ's plan didn't take long. The steps hadn't been used recently, judging by their reluctance to budge, but it only took a couple of minutes to get them down to floor level. Marta looked doubtfully at the dark opening above them. "You want us to go up in *there*?"
Wyatt looked questioningly at CJ, who nodded. He looked back at Marta. "I'm game if you are."
"I need you to help me," CJ said. "Come on, Marta. You're not scared, are you?"
Marta bristled. Wyatt saved the situation and forestalled another argument by saying, "Marta's not scared of anything, CJ."
CJ saw Marta's face change. He hastily retrieved his misstep. "Look, I know it's dark, but you'll be pretty safe up there. Put something heavy over the hole so if anybody tries to get in they'll have to push it off. Mr. Henderson ought to be here in a few minutes." He turned to Linda, who was standing next to him. "Can you help her, Linda?"
Linda nodded. She turned to Marta. "I'm going," she said, suddenly. "I'm not afraid of spiders or anything." Without another word, she began to ascend the ladder.
That seemed break the impasse. Jonny and Jimmy followed Linda up the steps. Marta put one foot on the bottom step and looked at the two boys. "You guys be careful," she said, unexpectedly.
"We will. Hurry!" CJ glanced down the hallway again. Still nobody, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was running out of time.
Marta went quickly up the stairs. As soon as she disappeared, the two boys pushed up the bottom section and the attic stairs folded up neatly. The ceiling trapdoor swung shut with a soft, sigh of air, leaving the cord swaying slightly. Wyatt looked at CJ. "Now what?" he asked.
"Come on," CJ said. "We need to get something. There's a guy down there—he's got a chunk of Kryptonite; you know: the stuff that can hurt Superman. He's crazy—he thinks Superman is some kind of evil invader and wants to kill him. We've got to get hold of it before Mr. Henderson gets here."
"How do you know all this?" Wyatt asked. "What's going on? How did you get here, and how come those weirdoes grabbed us, anyway?" He rubbed his arm, and CJ abruptly noticed the large bruise in the shape of a hand that discolored the skin. He swallowed.
"Look, I'll explain it all to you later, okay? I need you to help me now, though."
"Okay. What do we do?"
"Well—" CJ pointed. "There's some back stairs that way. The last I saw, the guy was in his office and the stuff was on his desk. I'm gonna try to distract him, and you run in and get the Kryptonite. It's a piece of green rock."
"I dunno," Wyatt said. "Why don't I distract him and you can go get it? You know what it looks like."
"Because I can't," CJ said. "Besides, he might catch you."
"He might catch you, too," Wyatt said, reasonably. "Why can't you?"
CJ swallowed. He'd hoped to avoid answering the question, but Wyatt, as he expected, was too curious. The little guy didn't make straight A's in fifth grade because he was stupid. Well, here went nothing.
"I can't touch the stuff," he said. "I can't even get near it, because it'll hurt me, too—just like Superman."
Wyatt cast a skeptical glance at him. CJ took a deep breath. "These guys—Bureau 39—they're crazy, Wyatt. Remember the stuff we studied in history about the New Kryptonian invasion, and how Superman fought the leader— Lord Nor?"
"And you remember how the Army hit them with poison gas that had Kryptonite in it? It killed Lord Nor and his top lieutenants, but it didn't quite kill Superman."
"Everybody knows about that," Wyatt said, impatiently.
"Well, these guys—they think Earth is being invaded again. They think that some kids here on Earth are half- Kryptonian, from when the New Kryptonians invaded, and these Bureau 39 creeps think they're gonna try to take over Earth. They think Linda's one because she was born about the right time."
Wyatt looked slightly doubtful. "That's dumb. But—"
"I heard the guy with the Kryptonite say that they're bringing in a doctor to find out how her body works," CJ said. "I think they're gonna dissect her, if we don't stop 'em." He swallowed. "Wyatt, they're right about the half- Kryptonian kids—but the kids aren't trying to take over the Earth. They don't even know what they are yet."
"Then, how come you know about it?" Wyatt asked.
"You know I'm adopted, right?"
Wyatt nodded. "Yeah. But—"
"I found out about it last month—right after Superman saved us from Biff and the other guys that day. I didn't know before that. Superman said he started getting his powers when he was about ten and that I was starting to get 'em, too. Remember how I beat Biff at arm-wrestling? He says that some day I'll be like him, but that won't be for a long time and he said I shouldn't tell anybody unless I really trusted them, because if bad guys found out about it, they'd try to kill me and my family. Anyway," CJ concluded, "that's why I can't get near the Kryptonite. It'll hurt me, too." He looked Wyatt straight in the eye. "Now, are you gonna help me, or not?"
Wyatt stared back at him for several seconds, and finally nodded. "Okay. You're gonna tell me more about it, later, aren't you?"
"Sure. But let's hurry. Mr. Henderson's people are almost here."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause I can hear 'em coming. Come on. The stairs are through here." He pushed aside a tattered curtain to reveal a wooden door, which, when opened, revealed a narrow, uncarpeted flight of stairs.
"How did you know that was there?" Wyatt asked.
"Sh," CJ said. "I'm trying to hear."
"Oh." Wyatt fell silent and CJ strained his ears.
"I don't hear anybody down there," he said, after a minute. "Come on."
The stairs emerged into the kitchen, of all places. CJ rubbed his forehead and squinted his eyes, peering around with his x-ray vision. The picture was blurrier than ever and his head started to throb but he could make out the man in camouflage gear standing by the window in what must be the living room, peering out into the dark. In his office, the chunk of Kryptonite was lying on his desk next to a cup of what was probably coffee.
"What're you doing?" Wyatt asked.
"Checking where people are. The guy's looking out the window in front of the house. Everybody else is wandering around outside."
"How do you know that?"
"X-ray vision. I told you I was starting to get some of Superman's powers."
"Cool. Do you have to switch it on, or something?"
"Huh? What are you talking about?"
Wyatt shrugged. "I saw you rub your head. Do you have to switch it on?"
"Oh." CJ grinned a little. "No. I've never used it this much before and it's making my head hurt. Come on. Mr. Henderson will be here in a minute."
"What's going on?" Henderson asked.
Superman, Henderson and nine other men were bunched in a small, determined group at the row of pine trees that marked the edge of the old Packard estate. The Man of Steel drifted slowly upward until his feet were some ten feet above Henderson's head. After a long moment, he floated down again.
"There are about twenty armed men wandering around the grounds," he reported. "They're wearing night vision goggles and they seem to be searching for something—or someone."
"CJ," Henderson said. He gave a soft laugh. "I guess they haven't caught him, yet. That kid's got talent."
"Definitely," Superman said, and Henderson heard the barest note of pride in his voice.
"Is Cash one of them?" he asked.
"No. Goons A and B are there, and I recognize a few of the others. I think Cash must be inside, still."
"All right, here's what I want you to do, Superman. Fly in overhead and start picking off the guys outside as quietly as you can. I don't want them to have any idea that anything's happened until it's too late—but don't set foot inside. If the Kryptonite's here, you can bet Cash has it and I don't want him to have any warning—or any chance to destroy the evidence—got it?"
"All right, go."
Superman rose silently upward again and vanished. Henderson turned to his men. "Everybody got your instructions memorized?"
Determined nods all around answered him.
"Okay, put on your night eyes and move out."
He wasn't going to be able to get this guy to chase him, CJ thought. The man—Colonel Cash, according to the conversations he'd overheard—didn't look as if he'd done any running in years. They were going to have to figure out how to get him out of the living room by some other means. The den, where Cash had set up his office, opened off the living room, and Wyatt wasn't going to be able to get in to swipe the Kryptonite with him standing right there…
CJ sighed. He'd heard the distinctive swoosh of air over the house twice now, which told him that his dad was in action out there somewhere, doing something. He should have known that even Mr. Henderson couldn't keep him away altogether, but at least he wasn't coming into the house. He was being pretty quiet, too. If CJ hadn't had super- hearing, he wouldn't have noticed the sound.
"What are we gonna do?" Wyatt asked.
CJ looked around, searching for an idea. The kitchen was large, compared to the kitchen in his home, but the appliances looked like something out of an old movie, he thought—a *very* old movie. There wasn't even a dishwasher, and the stove and refrigerator looked as if they had been built in the dark ages. In one corner a small, narrow door opened to reveal an antique water heater, and next to it on the wall was one of the boxes like the one that held the circuit-breakers for the townhouse where he lived.
A sudden idea hit him and he opened the box.
For a moment, he was puzzled. CJ had, more than once, had to go reset the circuit breaker. The townhouse was pretty old, although it looked modern compared to this crumbling building, and every now and then someone would overload a circuit. Marta was always running the microwave without making sure the dishwasher wasn't running—or vice versa— and blowing out the power in the kitchen. CJ was usually the one that Mom sent down to the basement to fix the problem, since he was the tallest. What he was looking at didn't look anything like the circuit breaker box that he was used to.
Wyatt came up beside him. "What's the matter?"
"I've never seen a circuit-breaker box that looked like this."
"Oh," Wyatt said, in a matter-of-fact manner. "Those are fuses. You screw them in. They work like the circuit- breakers in your house."
"How do you know?"
"Hank showed me how to fix 'em at our apartment—in case one of 'em blew when he wasn't there. It happens all the time."
"Well, do you know how to *un*-fix 'em? I want to put out the lights in here."
Wyatt caught on at once. "Sure. You just unscrew 'em from the sockets. Like this." He proceeded to demonstrate.
Nothing seemed to happen, but it was probably for some other part of the house. CJ set about unscrewing a second one. The kitchen light went out, leaving them in darkness— at least, CJ realized, it was darkness for Wyatt. He could see pretty clearly.
"Did Hank tell you how to shut off all the power at once?" he asked, without any real expectation of an answer.
"Sure," Wyatt said. "It's the big switch right above the box, I think."
CJ couldn't quite reach the switch, even standing on his toes. There was, however, a kitchen stool over by the counter and he hurriedly went to acquire it. Once the item was in place, he scrambled onto it and threw the switch.
The almost unnoticeable background hum of power died.
"Hey!" The bellow came from the living room. CJ grasped Wyatt's wrist and tugged him across the room toward the hallway. Avoiding the man who stumbled from the living room into the hall wasn't difficult for CJ. His night sight might not be as good as his father's, but it was a lot better than an ordinary man could claim. He and Wyatt stepped into the spacious dining room which opened off the hall while Colonel Cash went by, feeling his way with outstretched hands.
Once the man had passed by, CJ again headed for the living room. When they reached it, the door to the den, opening off the living room, was obvious; an eerie glow of a pale, ghostly green filled the opening. CJ let go of Wyatt's arm.
"That's it," he whispered. "I can feel it a little, even this far away. Get it. Hurry."
Guided by the green light, Wyatt crossed the room and vanished into the den. CJ moved backward a few steps. The feeling was a strange and unpleasant one. His joints had begun to twinge, his stomach felt mildly queasy and his muscles ached as if they had been overworked. He felt distinctly disinclined to get any closer to the poisonous chunk of rock.
The green glow vanished suddenly, although the effects of the Kryptonite radiation remained. CJ guessed Wyatt had concealed the stuff inside a bag or box. That was smart, he thought. It would make it that much harder for Cash to find.
He jumped when the lights came back on. Cash had found the power switch. He ducked to the side, out of sight of anyone in the hall, hoping that Wyatt would step on it. He could hear faint sounds as if his friend were rummaging around in the desk drawers or something. What was he doing in there?
Cash hurried back into the room and headed immediately for the den. CJ did the only thing he could think of: he stuck out his foot. Cash tripped and went down on his face with a yell of surprise. "Wyatt!" CJ shouted.
"Run!" Wyatt yelled back, and the door of the den slammed shut.
There wasn't anything else to do. CJ turned and ran.
He ducked into the kitchen, looking around for a place to hide, but as he had known, there wasn't any real place once the man knew he was here. He bolted for the stairs. Cash came lumbering into the room as he took the steps two at a time and CJ could hear him puffing and wheezing as he followed. He emerged into the upstairs hall and raced down it, scanning the rooms with his x-ray vision, looking desperately for a place to hide. What he saw waiting for him made him put on the brakes.
Striding purposefully down the hall, the guard whom he had locked in the closet was headed toward the sound of his footsteps and he didn't look happy. In one hand, he clutched his sidearm. CJ yanked open a bedroom door and ducked inside just as Cash arrived at the top of the stairs behind him. CJ slammed the door and rammed the locking bolt home.
He knew that wouldn't hold for long, especially against the guard's pistol. Cash was armed, too, and he didn't want to think what the two would do to him if they caught him. He pushed a chair under the knob and ran to the window. Peering down, he gulped. It was a good fifteen- or twenty- foot jump into bushes, but the crash of a heavy shoulder rammed against the door made him decide.
He yanked at the window. It was stuck, and he didn't have time to argue. He backed up, gathering what was left of his nerve. For a second, he hesitated, but the explosion of a gunshot in the hall jolted his faltering courage. He was partially invulnerable. With luck, he wouldn't break anything too important.
There was a second shot, and a third. The wood of the door splintered. CJ ran at the window, closed his eyes and jumped.
He went through the window headfirst with his head tucked to his chest and his arms across his eyes to protect his face from flying glass. He barely felt the shock as his head struck the windowpane and the shattering glass didn't cut him as far as he could tell. Then the ground was rushing at him and he braced himself for the crash.
It didn't come. Instead of falling, he was floating toward the ground, not lightly but slowly, like something out of a movie. His feet came down onto the lawn, several feet beyond the spiky plants and he stumbled and went to his knees on the dead grass. The crusting of frost crunched under his weight and here and there, isolated patches of old snow from the snowfall last week glinted dully at him in the faint moonlight.
Considerably shaken, CJ stopped to take several deep breaths.
A shot from above struck the ground to his right, and he rolled sideways. One of the men was firing at him from the broken window. He scrambled to his feet with the impetus of sheer terror and ran. Another shot went past his head, close enough for him to feel the wind against his cheek.
A pair of hands grabbed him as he rounded the corner of the house an instant later and dragged him against the wall of the building. CJ struck out in blind panic, but someone seized his flailing hands and a voice whispered in his ear, "CJ, it's all right! It's me!"
He wrenched his head back and discovered that he was looking into the face of William Henderson. The relief was so great that he felt dizzy for an instant. Henderson released him and let him sit down.
"Are you okay, kid?" he asked.
Numbly, he nodded. "Yeah, but Wyatt's still in there! And the other kids—"
"Take it easy. We've got it under control." Henderson's voice was low and calm as he pointed. CJ gulped at the sight of three men going in the front door of the big house. As he watched, Superman appeared from the direction of the road and stationed himself high above the building, apparently to watch for escapees. "We've got all the exits covered, son. It's all right. Cash and his buddies aren't going to get away this time."
CJ leaned back against the wall of the house feeling tears welling in his eyes. He wasn't going to cry in front of Henderson, he told himself fiercely, wiping them away with the back of his hand.
Henderson didn't seem to see them. He squatted down by CJ, resting a hand lightly on his shoulder. "You know, kid, if I was your dad, I'd be pretty proud of you—but I'd tan your britches, all the same." He grinned as CJ looked up at him, startled. "I doubt it would do much good, though, considering who your mom is. Do me a favor, though, would you?"
"What?" The word was a little wavery, but Henderson still didn't appear to notice.
"Wait until you get a little older before you do something like this again, will you?"
"I didn't exactly do it on purpose—at least not all of it. It just sort of happened."
Henderson looked at him, obviously skeptical. "Uh-huh. If I didn't know there was no Lane in you, I'd swear that was your mom talking, kid. I don't want to have to bail you out too many times before you're grown, okay? I've got enough grey hair as it is, and your mom and dad put a lot of it there." He gave CJ a pat on the shoulder. "You did a good job tonight, CJ. Thanks."
CJ took a deep breath and pushed away the urge to cry. "You're welcome," he said.
The prisoners weren't talking. Henderson had expected nothing less, but he didn't look worried, Clark saw. The evidence they had found in Cash's office in the old Packard house, was more than enough to convict the rogue agency twenty times over. Cash's demand for a warrant produced a grin from Henderson. "Don't need one," he told the red- faced man. "We have a witness."
Clark stood still, arms folded and watching Cash with an expressionless face. He had to work to keep it that way. He'd been securing his last captive next to the cars when he'd heard the gunshots and realized that the renegade colonel was attempting to kill CJ. His son must have moved pretty fast, however. By the time he'd realized the danger, CJ was around the corner of the house, with Henderson. He was going to have to reassess his son's developing powers in the next few days, he thought. CJ seemed to be developing them at a somewhat faster rate than anyone had expected—of course, the only example anyone had to judge them by was his own, and he hadn't realized anything was happening at first, and then tried to pretend it wasn't happening for much longer. And after he couldn't pretend any longer, he'd deliberately tried *not* to use them. If he'd known and accepted them earlier, he might have discovered their use sooner than he had.
Wyatt and CJ had their heads together, and he resisted the urge to eavesdrop on their conversation. If they had shown him anything tonight, it was that he could trust the two of them. In his hand, he held a bag that was designed to protect film from x-ray machines at security checkpoints. Wyatt had handed it to him quietly a few moments after he had emerged from Cash's office, where he'd barricaded himself.
"It's Kryptonite, Superman," he'd said. "You better do something with it."
Marta and Linda had Jonny and Jimmy by the hands. As he watched, the two older boys walked over to them, and he saw CJ reach out to take Linda's free hand. The expression on his face—and hers—said it all, and he had to smile. CJ had developed his first crush and Linda had found her hero. It would probably be over in a week, he thought, but CJ would never look at girls the same way again.
Then, a sobering thought hit him. CJ was a full Kryptonian, and Linda was probably half. The bond between Lois and himself had formed instantly and if it was the same with CJ and Linda, it was quite possible that he was looking at his future daughter-in-law. He might have to take a closer interest in Linda Lennox than he'd thought—especially if she started to develop super powers in the near future. And there was the matter of Valerie Henderson, and who knew how many other half-Kryptonian children out there. It looked as if he was going to be much busier in the near future than he'd at first anticipated.
Henderson approached him, finally done with seeing to the disposition of the prisoners. "We've got transportation coming," he said. "Dobbs isn't very happy, but there isn't much he can do. *I* didn't make any arrests, after all. My men did."
"Any information on the mole?" he asked.
"We're making progress," Henderson said. "We'll get him. I just called Lois, like I promised, by the way."
"Thanks," Superman said. "I better get the kids home."
Henderson nodded. "Borrow my car," he said, tossing him the keys. "Just drop it off here afterwards."
"Thanks," Superman said, again. "Bill, I can't thank you for what you've done for me. If you ever need anything, all you have to do is ask."
Henderson smiled, dryly. "I may take you up on that," he said. "Valerie's going to need some help, I think."
"You've got it."
"I'll give you a call. Now, take those kids home."
Superman nodded. He raised his voice slightly. "CJ, you and the other kids come with me. I'm going to take you back to the Kents' house. Any of you guys object to flying in a car…?"
"You know," Lois said, "in a way, it's kind of nice to know we're not the only ones in this situation."
"What situation?" Clark asked.
"You know—raising superkids."
"Yeah. I bet we're the only ones around with more than one, though."
"Well—yeah." Lois looked over to where CJ, Wyatt, Linda, Marta, Jimmy and Jonny were grouped around the television. "You don't really think CJ and Linda are—"
"It's possible," Clark said. "We're going to need to keep an eye on them, anyway."
"Yeah." Lois eyed the little redheaded girl thoughtfully, hoping he was wrong. Linda was thin and freckle-faced, and not at all the kind of girl she'd thought of as a potential mate for CJ, but then, as she'd often told Clark, CJ wasn't the same as his father, regardless of their genetics. And, in spite of all that that had happened to Linda this evening, she seemed to have come through it remarkably well. Maybe there was more to her than it looked like on first impressions. "I guess it might be okay—not that CJ would let anything either of us said make a difference about who he decides to marry, anyway."
They turned to descend the attic stairs. Clark was keeping an unobtrusive hand on her elbow, Lois noticed, but she didn't say anything. Her husband would always be protective of her, no matter how often she ordered him not to be, but at least nowadays he wasn't nearly so blatant about it.
"I don't think we need to worry about it for a few years," Clark said, resuming the conversation. "At least it's a lot better than a birth-marriage." Lois made a face. "Don't remind me. So, when is Inspector Henderson going to get back here with her mother, anyway?"
"When he gets finished with all the red tape, I guess," Clark said. "Did you ever call Wyatt's parents, by the way?"
"I couldn't get hold of them," Lois said. "They don't answer their phone. I did leave a message on their answering machine, though."
"Well," Clark observed, "I guess Laura and Pete are having a good time in Las Vegas. I can't say I really blame them. Those out-of-country construction jobs must be tough. Imagine if we only saw each other three or four times a year."
"Maybe that's why they have so many kids," Lois suggested.
Clark laid his hand across the almost unnoticeable roundness of her abdomen. "I guess we'll be in no position to talk in a few months."
"That's a little different," Lois said. "We didn't exactly plan on triplets."
"True. Oh, well, we can tell them when they get back. I hope Laura won't have a complete breakdown when she finds out what happened."
"I don't think much fazes Laura," Lois said. "I'll try to downplay it as much as I can, though."
"I think that's a conversation I don't want to hear," Clark observed. "We're going to have to talk to Sandi, you know. Jim says he thinks she suspects."
"Alice thought so, too. I guess the circle is going to be expanded a little wider, huh?"
"Well, at least they're all good friends," Clark said. "We probably couldn't have kept up the secret this long without their help."
"Probably not," Lois said. "Superman is kind of a team effort, after all. And now, Henderson knows, too?"
"Yeah. But he and Sue have Valerie to worry about, you know."
"Are you going to teach her how to use her powers—if she develops any? We don't really know if half-Kryptonians will have super powers, yet."
"I think I don't have a choice. I talked a little about it to Bill when I returned the car. He says she's already developing the super-hearing. At least he thinks so. She needs to know how to control her powers so she won't accidentally hurt someone."
"Oh." Lois looked sober. "I guess there's going to be more turning up, huh?"
"Probably. The New Kryptonians were here for eight days. Not every…assault would have resulted in a baby and some of those that did wouldn't have been carried to term. I doubt we'll be dealing with hundreds of half-Kryptonians here. I think we're going to find a few more in Metropolis and probably some in Smallville. Maybe a dozen or so. It'll keep us busy for a while, but it's nothing we can't handle."
"I guess we should have seen this coming," Lois said. "It's funny that I never even thought of it. I guess it's just as well that we have a few people who can help us."
"Yeah. Don't blame yourself. I never saw it, either, and I should have. I wish Bill had told us about Valerie, but I understand why he didn't." Clark turned his head. "Speaking of which, his car just pulled up."
A moment later, the doorbell rang. When Clark opened the door, Bill Henderson stood on the porch, accompanied by a tiny, dark-haired woman, dressed in a rumpled business suit. Except for her eyes, she bore no resemblance at all to her daughter, but Henderson stood back to let her enter the townhouse ahead of him. "Lois, Clark, this is Carolyn Abernathy, Linda's mother. Ms. Abernathy, these are Lois Lane and Clark Kent."
As young as Linda was, she was already almost her mother's height, Lois thought, as she acknowledged Henderson's introduction and led their guests into the living room. Linda must take after her father, whoever he'd been. The chances were she'd never seen him—or maybe she had. Nor's followers had not been that numerous, and she'd been around them for several days. Clark had said that the child somehow looked familiar, and Lois, too, had experienced the same feeling when she'd seen Linda Lennox for the first time, though she couldn't pin the feeling down.
When they had taken seats, Clark made a quick trip into the kitchen to return with the coffeepot and a tray of cups. Lois knew for a fact that there had been no coffee a few minutes before, so she had to assume he'd somehow managed to produce it at super-speed. "Coffee, anyone?" he inquired.
Henderson glanced at his watch. "Yeah, I'll have one," he said. "It's nearly eleven-thirty. Where are the kids? Asleep?"
"No." Lois glanced at her watch as well, surprised at the lateness of the hour. "None of them would be able to sleep a wink until they unwind a bit. I've got them watching a videotape guaranteed to calm them down before I put them to bed. Tomorrow's the first day of Christmas vacation, so I figured we could make an exception just this once."
Henderson nodded. "I can relate to that. I gave Ms. Abernathy a quick run-through on what happened. What she had to say clears up a few things."
Clark poured coffee for both of them, and handed Lois a cup of mint tea that he'd made for her, then sat down next to her on the sofa. "I see. Ms. Abernathy, I'm sorry about your husband."
Carolyn took a sip of coffee. "Don't be. Ben was—" She broke off and took another swallow. "Ben stopped being the man I loved a long time ago. He couldn't accept Linda; he hated her. We haven't been a family for a long time."
Out of the corner of her eye, Lois looked at Bill Henderson, who had married the woman he loved and accepted her daughter in spite of what had happened. For all the cynical image he tried to present to the world, this simply reaffirmed her already high opinion of him, although she would never admit it to him out loud.
"He tried to hand her over to Bureau 39," Clark said. "Didn't he know what they'd do to her? They would have killed her, just like they tried to kill Superman. Surely, he wouldn't have wanted that."
Carolyn nodded, and Lois realized her hands were shaking slightly.
"He must have known, but he didn't care. To him, she was a *thing*, because she wasn't all human. He must have seen the opportunity to get rid of her." She swallowed. "I should have known I couldn't trust him. Mr. Henderson says she wasn't hurt. She *is* all right, isn't she?"
"She's fine," Lois said. "All of them are, although from what Superman told me, Private Houston may never be the same again."
"He's lucky he's not singing soprano," Henderson said, dryly. "Their daughter kicked him in a pretty delicate area. I hope Marta never gets mad at me, Lois. That girl of yours is a small tiger."
Clark grinned, proudly. "Just like her mom."
"I didn't send her to karate so she could learn to make brownies," Lois said.
Carolyn gave a soft laugh. "Good for her," she said. She finished the coffee, and without asking, Clark poured her another cup.
"So, that explains why Bureau 39 was involved," Henderson said. "Superman volunteered to help teach Linda how to control her powers when they appear, so she won't accidentally hurt someone, Ms. Abernathy. I think that's a wise idea. But first, she needs to be told why."
"I know." Carolyn sighed. "I kept hoping it wouldn't happen, that she'd be like everyone else and I'd never have to, but she isn't going to be, is she?"
"No," Henderson said. "I'm sorry."
"I'll ask Superman to drop by your place sometime next week, if you like," Clark said.
"I'd appreciate that."
"Would you like me to call her?" Lois asked.
Before Carolyn Abernathy could reply, Linda appeared in the door and ran to her mother. Lois saw that Clark was smiling as Carolyn hugged her.
"Mom!" Linda said when Carolyn released her, "I'm so glad you're here! I want you to meet CJ! He rescued us!"
"Who's CJ?" Carolyn asked, looking slightly bewildered.
"Our son," Lois said. "She's right—he did help."
Carolyn nodded. "I'd like to meet your friend, honey," she said, "then I think we should go home. You can tell me all about what happened, then. Okay?"
"Okay," Linda said. "CJ's really cool, Mom, and his sister, Marta's teaching me to play Tetris VI, and even Wyatt's okay." Lois struggled to keep her expression bland at Linda's sudden burst of excited chatter. The child certainly wasn't shy, now. In fact, once she smiled, she was actually a pretty girl. Maybe CJ wasn't as blinded by his new crush as Clark had thought.
CJ entered the room slowly, and allowed Linda to introduce him to her mother. He was, Lois noticed, on his best behavior; he politely shook Carolyn's hand and gave her his father's charming smile, but the look he turned on Linda while they were saying good night told Lois everything she had wondered about. With a slight sinking feeling, she glanced at Clark. He raised an eyebrow, but she pretended not to understand the expression on his face. Okay, so he'd been right about their son and Linda Lennox. It was going to take her a little time to get used to the idea that in eight or ten years, this little girl would probably be her daughter-in-law. She wasn't quite ready to face that yet. They were still kids! Darn Kryptonian biology anyway!
Marta was waiting for CJ when he returned to the playroom. The videotape had finished while he had been saying goodbye to Linda, and Jonny and Jimmy were looking sleepy, although both resisted vigorously the suggestion by Wyatt that they should go to bed.
"All right," she said. "You promised to explain how you got to that house. And what were you and Wyatt doing after we went into the attic!"
"I hid in the trunk of their car," CJ said. "I had Mom's cell phone, and called Mr. Henderson for help. I didn't want you to stay locked up there; I was afraid they'd hurt you before Mr. Henderson got there, so I got you out. That was all there was to it."
"How did you find us?"
"Your door was the only one with a guard in front of it."
"How did you get rid of the guard?"
CJ sighed. "I got him to chase me and shut him in a closet. Anything else?"
Marta blinked at him, obviously surprised at the story. "What were you and Wyatt doing, anyway?"
CJ looked at Wyatt. "That creepy colonel had some Kryptonite. We were trying to get it away from him in case Superman showed up—which he did."
"Oh—but how did you know he had it?"
"I saw it. What is this—the third degree?"
"Okay, kids, bedtime," his mom's voice announced clearly. CJ looked over his shoulder in relief. He was starting to feel thoroughly cornered by his sister's inquisitiveness.
"But, Mom—" Jonny whined, "I don't want to go to bed. I'm not tired."
"Move it," Lois said, unimpressed by her offspring's protest. "You too, Jimmy; you're asleep on your feet. Marta, quit pestering CJ. He's had enough for one evening. Go on to bed, now. Your dad and I will be in to say good night in a few minutes."
"How about CJ?" Marta asked, a little resentfully, "I don't see why he gets to stay up just because he's a year older."
"He and Wyatt are headed for bed as soon as your dad and I talk to him," Lois said. "CJ, would you and Wyatt come downstairs for a few minutes, please?"
CJ gulped. Mom and Dad had never spanked him in his life, but in the back of his mind, he recalled what Bill Henderson had said. Still, maybe he better not jump to conclusions. He went out of the playroom and down the steps with Wyatt on his heels. Behind him, he heard his mother speaking to his younger siblings, sending them off to brush their teeth before bedtime.
His father was sitting on the sofa with his feet on the coffee table as CJ had seen him do many times, only to remove them guiltily when Mom pointed out that his shoes were going to ruin the varnish. So far, the varnish remained intact but CJ thought it was funny the way his mom could boss around Superman the way she did—not that Dad ever seemed to mind. He turned his head as CJ and Wyatt entered the room and smiled reassuringly at them.
"Don't look so worried," he said, mildly. "You're not in any trouble. Come on in and sit down."
CJ obeyed, and Wyatt settled on the ottoman of the nearest armchair. Clark smiled at them.
"You two had quite an evening," he said. "Superman told me what you did. I'm impressed."
"Thanks," CJ muttered. "We couldn't do much else, really."
"You could have, but you didn't," Lois said, entering the room behind them. "Although, how I'm going to explain it all to Wyatt's mom and dad when they get back from Las Vegas is something I'm not looking forward to."
"You didn't do anything," Wyatt protested. "That weirdo colonel did. Besides, nobody got hurt."
"That's true," Lois said. "Anyway, that's for the future. CJ explained that he told you where he came from, Wyatt."
Wyatt nodded. Clark leaned forward. "You understand that you mustn't tell anyone, don't you—not even your mom and dad, or your brothers and sisters?"
"Sure, I know," Wyatt said. "I don't want anybody to try to hurt any of you guys. If somebody bad found out, they might try to make CJ do bad stuff for them, once he's got powers like Superman."
"That's exactly it, Wyatt," Lois said. "The more people who know, the more likely it is that somebody will accidentally tell somebody else, so you have to keep this a secret. You can't even tell Marta or the others, yet. Okay?"
Wyatt nodded. "Sure, I know," he said. "I promise. I won't tell anybody."
"Thank you, Wyatt," Clark said. "Tomorrow Superman's coming by to take CJ off somewhere to see how his powers are coming along—he said you could come if you wanted. Would you like to?"
"Sure! That would be cool!"
"Okay, then." Clark got to his feet. "That's all we wanted to talk about. You guys did a good job, and we're proud of both of you. You better head for bed, now, though. It's past midnight."
"'Night, Dad," CJ said. "G'night, Mom."
"Good night, Mr. and Mrs. Kent," Wyatt said.
"Good night, boys," CJ's father said. "Don't forget to brush your teeth."
"We won't," the boys chorused.
CJ headed for the stairs. He didn't feel in the least tired, but he could see that Wyatt was yawning. It was funny; he ought to have nightmares tonight, but he didn't think he would. He felt pretty good about the whole thing, really.
"First dibs on the bathroom," Wyatt announced.
"No problem," CJ said. He went on into the bedroom to change into his pajamas while Wyatt headed for the main bathroom. A few minutes later, CJ could hear him vigorously brushing his teeth. He grinned, suddenly. He could see a lot of new things happening in the next few months, and a future filled with possibilities—telling Wyatt the whole secret in a few years, seeing Linda again and helping her learn to use her super powers. He pulled on his favorite pajamas—the ones with the Batman logo on the front—and was waiting a few minutes later when Wyatt emerged from the bathroom with a dab of toothpaste on his chin and his face washed to just in front of his ears. His friend looked up at him, a questioning expression on his face.
"What are you grinning about?"
"Nothing," CJ said. He went on into the bathroom to brush his teeth, unable to stop smiling. It was going to be a great Christmas, and a great new year. He could just feel it.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Christmas in Metropolis. Need the previous story? Read Heritage.
Stories in Nan Smith's "Dagger" series, in order: Dagger of the Mind, Dagger's Edge, Assassin's Dagger, Doppleganger, Blind Man's Bluff, Countdown, Priorities, Vanishing Act, Charade, Heritage, Unforeseen Consequences, Christmas in Metropolis, Daddy's Little Girl, Suspicions, Mother's Day, A Tasteful Lesson, Too Hot to Handle, The Sting, Consequences, Middle School, and Degrees of Separation