By Ann McBride <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November 2002
Summary: In this rewrite of the episode "Strange Visitor," Clark gets a little help investigating the Bureau 39 threat from someone who has discovered his secret: Lois Lane.
This rewrite of "Strange Visitor" was inspired by Anita's question on IRC one night. What would have happened differently if Clark had been with Lois instead of Cat the night that Bureau 39 invaded the Daily Planet newsroom? With apologies and thanks to Bryce Zabel, here is my guess on what might have happened. The beginning will follow fairly closely the episode as originally written. No copyright infringement necessary.
I'd like to thank Marilyn and Anita for betareading this.
Obviously, no copyright infringement is intended. All standard disclaimers apply.
The Daily Planet's elevator doors slid open with a muted ping, but the grim-visaged men who erupted into the newsroom were anything but quiet. "This is a warrant issued by Federal Court!" their leader barked. "Everyone, step away from your desks!"
As he waved a folded paper in the air, the government agents spread throughout the newsroom, motioning to the reporters to acquiesce with the order.
"Nobody comes busting into my newsroom like this!" Perry growled as he hurried out of his office.
"Take it up with Washington," the agent snarled as he handed the warrant to the editor.
"Order to produce evidence…compel testimony…" Perry murmured, shocked. Further reading produced a brusque exclamation, "Lois Lane and Clark Kent!"
As if on cue, one of the men with the group began to search Lois's desk. She hurriedly pried him away, snapping, "Wait a minute! You can't do that!"
One of his compatriots moved to pull her from his colleague, only to find himself accosted by the Planet's newest reporter, Clark Kent. The agent spun to face Kent, pulling his revolver as he did so.
As Lois gasped in alarm, Clark smiled wryly at the man. Facing a loaded pistol bothered him much less than facing the wrath of his occasional partner and "mentor" if he did nothing to keep the guy from rifling through her desk.
"Put it away. He's just a reporter," the group's leader ordered.
The agent grudgingly holstered his weapon, glaring at the two reporters who had interfered with him.
"Reporter. As in protected by the Constitution," Lois smugly informed the man.
Unfazed by her comment, the leader replied, "Impressive document. It gives the courts the authority to issue warrants like this one. Which says I get what I want." He looked sharply at the gathered newspeople.
Uncomfortably aware of the pointed look the man was giving him, Clark managed to ask, "What *do* you want?"
"Mr. Kent, I presume?"
Clark nodded in response to the question.
"I want *Superman.*" The leader glared at the young reporter. "And I'm not leaving until you tell me how to find him."
Clark turned a panic-stricken gaze on Lois. How on earth was he going to deal with this?
Lois paced angrily around Perry's office, grumbling about the exile she and her new *partner* were sharing. Their refusal to tell the leader of the group how to reach Superman had resulted in their being closeted there, away from their computers and colleagues. Stopping to peek through the blinds in Perry's office, Lois peered out into the newsroom, trying to track the movements of the government agents.
Clark, however, was trying to remain calm in the face of this threat. It had only been a few weeks since his mother had fashioned his Superman suit; it had never occurred to him that the government would come looking for him, armed with automatics and search warrants. Not for the first time he gave thanks that he had resisted all urges to confide in any of his friends about his mysterious powers. He hated to think what might happen if anyone were asked to deliver Superman and could put his name to the superhero's face. Shooting paper wads at the trash can was a distraction from his worry.
Lois wheeled around to ask, "Do they honestly think if we knew where Superman was, we'd hang around this place?" just in time to see a paper wad floating above the basket.
Whistling to cover up the fact that his pursed lips had been blowing at the paper to keep it afloat, Clark allowed the crumpled letterhead to drop into the trash can. He shrugged in answer to Lois's question.
With a glare that was half baffled, half irritated, Lois returned to her post by the window just as Perry entered the room.
"Okay, here's the deal. They want the two of you to take a polygraph…"
"What?!" Lois exclaimed.
"…limited to national security concerns about Superman…"
Clark gulped. "A lie detector?"
"…so I told them to stuff it. Not *my* reporters, no thank you."
Breathing what he hoped was an undetectable sigh of relief, Clark replied, "Right."
"Good for you," Lois added, a satisfied smile lighting up her face.
"I told them if they're bound and determined to take your computers and your notes, to just get it over with and get out of the office so we can start suing their butts into the next century."
Lois gasped. "Take my *computer?*"
"You talk; they walk. You don't, they're gonna confiscate the whole shebang."
"Perry, everything I've ever done or thought about doing is on that computer. All my contacts, all my research…my *novel!*"
At Clark's quizzical look, Lois glared at him.
"Don't you back up onto floppy disks?" he asked.
"Clark, this is no time to discuss your compulsive behavior."
"So, what are we going to do, folks? I'm with you either way," their employer prodded.
Clark swallowed the lump of fear in his throat that threatened to choke him. Lois shrugged, with an exasperated grimace.
"What about the First Amendment, Lois?" Clark's voice rose to a level not reached since he had been in seventh grade.
"Clark, they pulled a gun on you. To these guys the First Amendment is a pesky little detail.
"I can't do this. *We* can't!"
"Clark, if we knew *anything,* I'd agree. But this is like taking a polygraph about the ring-tailed lemur."
Perry nodded and turned his attention to Clark. "She's got a point. We don't know enough about Superman to lie."
Clark stood there, staring nervously at Perry, wondering if the prickly feeling between his shoulders was sweating.
"Kent, you know something you haven't told us?" the editor asked pointedly.
Put on the spot, Clark could only stare dumbly at his boss and his partner. He certainly couldn't say, "Yeah, Chief. I'm Superman, and I really don't want those goons to know it." So, caught by his desire to protect his secret, Clark remained silent as the editor went out to the newsroom to tell the agents that his two reporters would submit to the polygraph test.
Clark tuned his senses to the interrogation taking place in the conference room. He could see Lois hooked up to the polygraph machine, lounging more or less comfortably in one of the wooden chairs, while the still-unidentified man barked instructions to her.
"You will answer 'yes' to these first two questions. We use this to calibrate the machine." He paused a second and then posed the first one. "Is your name Lois Lane?"
"That's what my by-line says," she replied sarcastically. Rolling her eyes at his glare, she added, "Yes."
"Are you also President of the United States?"
In a tone dripping with sarcasm, she replied, "Yes."
The agent frowned at her again. "Do you have any reason to believe that Superman is an agent of a foreign power?"
Rolling her eyes once more, Lois replied snidely, "Yeah, and leprechauns are agents of the I.R.A."
"Is Superman from another planet?"
Lois took a deep breath before responding to her interrogator. "If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, the chances are pretty good it is a duck."
At an exasperated stare from the agent, she went on, "He looks like a man to me."
"During the time you two were alone, did Superman discuss his mission here on earth?"
Lois was rapidly losing what little patience she had, her replies becoming even more curt and sarcastic. "Mission? We flew. We didn't talk. We didn't need to."
The leader of the group turned to address the polygraph technician. "Non-verbal communication." Returning his attention to Lois, he continued, "Does Superman have any telepathic powers?"
Thinking of the lascivious thoughts she'd been having about the newly-arrived superhero, she blushed and said, "I hope not." A huge smile lit up her face.
"Have you a romantic attachment to this Superman?"
Lois's laughter rang out, as Clark strained to hear her reply.
"Yes or no?" the agent pressed.
The polygraph machine went wild, indicating a lie. The two agents regarded it solemnly, suspecting that Lois was holding out on them. But the young woman merely shrugged at their sharp, inquisitive stares.
Outside the conference room, Clark wondered what that result meant. *Did* Lois feel some sort of attraction to Superman? He sincerely hoped not; having her wishing for a relationship with his newly-created alter-ego could be a problem, let alone the fact that he had fallen for her, hard, the day he'd met her. The last thing he needed was for his partner to be dazzled by a man who didn't really exist.
Clark barely had time to process this thought when Lois left the conference room and quietly mouthed, "You're next," to him.
Trying to calm his rapidly escalating nervousness, Clark entered the room, wondering for the first time if his father was right about the government wanting to "dissect him like a frog." There had to be some reason that the Daily Planet newsroom was jammed with men dressed in black suits and conservative ties searching through the employees' desks and files.
The technician attached the various sensors of the polygraph machine to Clark and nodded to his superior.
"You will answer 'yes' to these first two questions. We use this to calibrate the machine. Is your name Clark Kent?"
"Yes." That was simple enough. Clark waited to be asked the second question, fairly confident that he could adequately answer the question about being the President of the United States. So he was stunned into silence by the question that was posed.
"Are you also Superman?"
Now how was he supposed to answer that? If he said yes, it would register as the truth. The last thing that Clark Kent wanted was for these goons to discover that he moonlighted as the superhero. Of course, there was always the chance that his nervousness would make the machine register a "yes" answer as a lie. If polygraph machines worked on blood-pressure and pulse rate, the way his heart was racing, every answer he gave was going to come out as an untruth.
Clark gulped and answered, "Yes."
The polygraph's needle barely budged.
Leaning over the technician, the head agent murmured, "Why isn't this reading as a lie?"
The technician shook his head, perplexed. "Either the machine's broken again, or this reporter's so mild-mannered he hasn't got a pulse. Ask him again."
Turning back to Clark, the agent said, "Remember to answer 'yes' now. Are you Superman?"
"Yes." Clark quickly blew on the polygraph needle, sending it skittering up and down, registering the answer as a lie.
Clark relaxed imperceptibly in his chair as the technician murmured, "Working."
"All right, Mr. Kent, let's proceed. "Have you ever met Superman?"
A dull red began to creep up Clark's neck and face. "Met him? Like been introduced?…I've seen him in action if that's what you mean, but we actually haven't had a conversation…" As the agent stared icily at him, the young man squirmed. "I guess you could say we've met."
The agent paused to check the polygraph. As he did so, Clark felt himself levitating in the chair. He quickly willed himself to descend, the chair thumping loudly as he returned to the floor. The government agent wheeled back to glare suspiciously at the reporter.
"Is he from this Earth?"
"I don't know." Clark was able to respond truthfully.
"Can you take us to Superman right now?"
"Take you…?" Clark was beginning to feel perspiration beading on his forehead. He tried to wipe it away unobtrusively.
"Can you contact Superman?" The agent's tone was increasingly irritated.
"Uh, you mean by phone or something?" Clark temporized.
"By any means possible. Telepathy, for example. Can you contact Superman?"
"No." Clark's lie triggered the polygraph machine just as another agent interrupted.
"Perimeter's been penetrated," was the terse comment.
The leader frowned, then nodded at the technician who began dismantling the polygraph machine. As the agent left the conference room, he turned to Clark. "Mr. Kent, I don't need a polygraph to tell me when I'm being lied to. I can see it in the eyes."
With a parting glare, the man strode out of the room onto the newsroom floor and clapped his hands sharply. As quickly as they had appeared, the government agents disappeared from the bullpen.
The elevator doors slid shut behind them. Cat Grant, the flamboyant society columnist exclaimed, "It was horrible the way they treated us. That agent frisked me twice!"
Perry White gave her a sardonic look, as if to say, "What did you expect, dressed in that outfit?" He then began to bark orders at his staffers. "Biederman, let's get legal on this right away. Lane, Kent, type up your notes and give them to Valdes. She's writing this. The rest of you, back to work."
The editor headed back to the sanctum of his office, but was intercepted by Lois and Clark.
"What do you mean 'type up your notes'? This is *my* story!" Lois snapped.
"*Our* story," Clark put in.
Sending him a scathing look, she added, "Seniority."
"Right now, you two *are* the story. In case those goons come back with subpoenas, I want you out of here ASAP."
"I guess I can work at home," Clark said with a touch of naivete.
Perry exploded. "Home?! *Anywhere* but home. Don't be where they can serve you. Wear your beepers. We'll call you." That admonition given, the editor stormed off to his office.
Lois and Clark gazed at their ransacked desks, frustration evident in their faces and posture, wondering where to go and what to do next.
Cat took advantage of their momentary inaction to approach Clark and murmur, as she ran a seductive hand up his tie, " Since you're a man in hiding, this is the perfect time for you to have dinner at my place.
Startled, Clark gasped, "You and me?" Nonplused, he looked around the room for help, help which came from an unexpected quarter.
"Sorry, Cat. Clark's coming with me. We have an investigation to pursue." Lois grinned triumphantly at her rival and tugged on Clark's arm. "C'mon, Rookie. Let's get out of here. We have work to do."
Dazed by the actions of both women, the greenhorn from Kansas followed blindly in the wake of his partner. "Whatever you say, Lois."
As they entered the stairwell selected by Lois, Clark breathed a heavy sigh of relief. He was safe, at least temporarily, from both the government agents and the predatory columnist. Turning to Lois, he said, "Thanks."
She chuckled. "You mean for rescuing you from Cat?" At his nod, she continued, "Given the great imitation you were doing of a deer caught in the headlights of an eighteen- wheeler, I figured you needed some help. Guess you're out of your league, there, Farmboy." Her smile took the sting out of the nickname. "Now," she continued, "we need to get going. I need to run down to the locker room and change shoes to something I can walk in."
Clark followed her obediently to the basement of the Planet building. "So, um, Lois," he stammered. "Where are we going?"
"I thought we could grab some burgers or something and head over to Centennial Park. Lots of forest areas we can get lost in," she replied as she tied her sneakers.
Recovering his equilibrium, Clark retorted, "You want to get lost with me? You still planning to be on top?"
"No, but I do plan to ask you some questions once we're in private. The way I see it, you've got some explaining to do." She turned and headed back up the stairs, leaving a stupefied Clark Kent to follow in her wake.
Lois chatted mindlessly the entire time the reporting duo were at the hot dog stand on the corner. "You want relish? Mustard? Ketchup? Darn. Where are the napkins?"
His mind still puzzling over her comment about him having "some explaining to do," Clark ignored her for the most part. "Sure, whatever you want," he managed to reply.
Shoving two hot dogs and a can of cola at him, Lois led the way across the street in the direction of Centennial Park. As they walked, she occasionally stopped and peered intently into store windows.
"Why do you keep doing that?" Clark asked, his interest piqued.
"Man, you really are green, aren't you?" she giggled. "I'm checking to make sure we aren't being tailed."
Clark stared at his partner. "How'd you learn to do that?" he asked, somewhat awed.
"Let's just say I know guys who know guys," was the amused response.
Once they entered the park, Lois quickly led Clark down an overgrown path shielded by a canopy of ancient elm trees. He was beginning to think that she really was going to get them lost when she exclaimed exultantly, "Here we are!" and pulled him through a patch of bushes to a deserted picnic table.
He grinned broadly. "Come here often, do you?"
"You have no idea, Clark."
Seating herself on one of the benches, she motioned for him to do the same. Silence reigned as they consumed the hot dogs and sodas they had brought with them.
At last Lois sighed contentedly. "Why is it that hot dogs always taste ten times better if you eat them outdoors?"
"No clue, Lois. I mean, they're still made out of pig lips and…"
"Stop right there. I don't *want* to know what's in a hot dog."
"Sorry, Lois. It's just that growing up on a farm…"
"Yeah, yeah, you learn things." Lois cocked her head to get a better look at her junior partner sitting at ease across the table. "Speaking of which, I had a thought."
"Oh?" he asked.
"When I said we couldn't answer questions about Superman any more than we could about the ring-tailed lemur…"
"Am I right in thinking that you could answer questions about lemurs? I mean, you did write that article about knob-tailed geckos." She flashed him a mischievous grin.
Clark shrugged his right shoulder. "Probably. I mean, they do have lemurs in Madagascar, you know."
"And you've been there?"
"Sure. Like I said before, I've done some traveling."
"All right. Point well taken. Which brings me to my second point." She fixed a piercing stare on him.
"Second point?" Clark began to feel uneasy. Perhaps going with Cat would have been a better idea. At least she just made him feel like a piece of meat. Lois, however, was making him feel like an amoeba under a microscope with the look she was giving him. "Yes, my second and, incidentally, my *important* point. I have some questions, and I want truthful answers. No evasions, no half-truths. Understand?"
He swallowed nervously. "Okay."
Lois went straight to the heart of the matter. "I want to know why you didn't want to take a polygraph exam about Superman. You may have fobbed Perry off, but I want to know what you know that you haven't told us."
"Lois, I have no idea what you're talking about." Clark tried hard not to squirm on the picnic table bench.
"Oh really? Well, I think you do. I think you know a *lot* more about Superman than you are saying. So spill it," she ordered in an imperious tone.
"Lois, you're wrong. I just didn't want to do the polygraph test because of our constitutional rights."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, and I'm Miss Piggy." Taking a deep breath, Lois tried again. "Look, Clark, I'm honestly not trying to make you mad or anything. I'm just trying to figure out what those government goons were after and why they came to the Daily Planet looking for you and me."
"Like I said, I have no clue." Clark shifted on the bench, unable to pull his gaze away from Lois's face.
Lois pursed her lips and looked thoughtfully at him. Several minutes passed before she said, "Got it!"
"Got what?" he asked nervously. The glint in her eyes made him feel decidedly nervous.
She smiled sweetly at him. "I'll tell you what, Clark. Since I'm such a nice person, I'll let you tell me."
He spread his hands in a gesture of confusion. "Lois, I meant it when I said I have no idea what you are talking about."
"All right, Farmboy. Don't say that I didn't give you the chance to tell me yourself."
"Tell you what?" he persisted.
Rolling her eyes again, she replied, "Tell me why those agents wanted to know what we know about Superman."
"So why *did* they single us out?" he asked, happy to be off the hot seat.
"Well, for starters, between us, we've had just about every Superman story that has appeared in print. We've constantly scooped the competition on Superman. So naturally, the goons would figure we have an inside track."
Clark considered her words. "Makes sense, I guess."
"What I didn't understand at first, though, was your reaction to their demands. I mean, Perry was mad that they invaded his newsroom. I was ticked that they wanted to stomp on the First Amendment."
"Don't forget you didn't want to lose your computer," he interjected.
"True, but only because, as you so rudely pointed out, I had stuff on it that wasn't backed up to disks." She paused and thought a long minute. "No, there is more to it than that. You said you were mad about the First Amendment, but you weren't. Mad that is."
"Oh really, Dr. Freud?" he asked sarcastically.
"Nope. You weren't angry. You were nervous, almost afraid. Afraid that you couldn't truthfully answer the questions on the polygraph. If you recall, you were more than willing to let them look at your computer. It was only when the polygraph was mentioned as a possibility that you started to sweat. And you actually did sweat—something I've never seen you do before." She grinned at him again. "In fact, you look like you're sweating now."
"It's pretty hot, Lois."
She laughed. "No, Clark. It's not hot, especially back here under the trees. You're nervous. Admit it."
The dark-haired reporter just stared numbly at her, wondering what was coming next.
"So, anyway, I think I've figured it out."
He couldn't help himself. "Figured what out?"
Lois smiled gently at his misery. "Figured out that the reason you didn't want to take a polygraph test was because you knew you'd fail when the guy asked you about Superman." She took a gamble. "You didn't want to be asked about Superman because you *are* Superman."
Startled, he stared at her, his jaw open. "Lois, that's ridiculous. Me? Superman?"
"Yes, you, Superman. It all adds up."
"It all adds up?" he croaked.
"Yes. I can't believe I didn't figure it out before." Lois shook her head, causing her pageboy to swing gracefully around her shoulders. "Want me to tell you how I know?" Without waiting for an answer, she went on, "First, you arrive in Metropolis about four weeks ago. Your second day on the job, we're walking down the street, there's an explosion in the sewer, you disappear, the workman in the sewer gets mysteriously shoved up through the manhole, and you reappear, covered in muck. I tell you to keep a change of clothes at work; and the next thing I know, Superman appears on the scene, saving the colonists' shuttle from blowing up." She paused for breath.
"How do you do that?" he interrupted.
"Don't think you can sidetrack me, Clark. Next, someone starts testing Superman, who is apparently never around unless he's needed anyway; and Superman disappears from Metropolis. I try talking to you about it, and your response is downright bitter, Clark. 'If Superman can't save everyone, then what good is he?' Isn't that what you said?" she gibed.
"That doesn't mean I'm him," Clark protested.
"Don't interrupt me. I'm on a roll here. And then there is the matter of Superman's physical appearance. The two of you, now that I think about it, are pretty much the same size. And you have awfully well-defined muscles for a guy who lives on Twinkies and Ding Dongs."
"Plus, there is the matter of that Chinese food you got when we were working on Samuel Platt's report."
"The food, Clark. It came in bamboo baskets, not in white cardboard cartons. You got it from China, didn't you? It sure didn't come from Metropolis, because I'm pretty sure I know every Chinese restaurant in the city."
Clark shook his head to clear it. He had to think of a way to convince her she was wrong, that her theory was flawed. The problem was, though, that she was right. He squirmed internally, wondering if the gnawing feeling in his stomach was like the feeling a bug got as it was pinned to a corkboard in a particularly sadistic kid's collection.
"Lois, that is all circumstantial evidence and speculation, and you know it."
"Is it? What about today?" she prodded. "I was right outside the conference room when they were questioning you. You didn't set off the machine when the guy asked if you were Superman. But you did set it off when he asked if you could contact Superman or take him to see Superman." She smiled triumphantly, ready to play her trump card. "And, last but not least, you and the chair floated up about six inches or so off the floor I'd say."
"Uh, um, Lois," he stammered.
"I *heard* the thump when you landed back on the floor." Her expression dared him to deny the truth of what she was saying.
"Lois, it's interesting speculation, but that's all it is. I honestly don't know why those guys came to the Planet."
Lois patted his clenched hand on the picnic table. "Relax, Clark. Your secret is safe with me."
"Lois, I don't have a secret."
She fixed her gaze on him. "Can you look me in the eye, and tell me truthfully that you are not Superman?"
The young reporter looked her in the eye, swallowed hard, and said, "Lois, I…I…" and looked away, unwilling to tell her an outright lie but unable to tell her the truth.
"I'm right, aren't I, Clark?" she asked bluntly. "Look, Clark, I meant what I said. I won't tell anyone. If you don't want people to know that you're Superman, I suppose you've got your reasons."
"Lois, it's not that. It's just…" he trailed off, unsure of what he *did* want to say.
She let the silence stretch out, hoping he'd realize that he had no choice but to admit his secret identity to her. If he didn't own up to it, she'd be hampered in her efforts to discover the truth about the government agents and their search for Superman.
Long minutes passed as the two reporters stared at each other across the secluded picnic table. The silence was beginning to get on Lois's nerves when her partner squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, licked his lips, and opened his mouth to speak.
"There's no way I can convince you that you're wrong, is there?" he tried.
"Nope. No way at all." Lois's face was set.
Losing the battle with years of conditioning to keep quiet about himself, Clark gave in to the implacable demand of his partner. "You do understand that *anything* I tell you can *not* go any farther?" Clark asked, his voice uncertain. "It's vital that no one know that I'm Superman. No one, not even Perry."
His partner patted his hand, as if to reassure him. "Of course, Clark. I won't tell anyone anything. Why would you think that I might?" Her tone was perplexed. "What kind of person do you think I am?"
He flashed a ghost of his usual grin. "Gee, Lois, I don't know. The nickname 'Mad Dog Lane' perhaps? Or 'Superman is mine!' Or maybe the comment, 'You stick with the touchy- feely stuff; I'll take Superman'?"
Lois had the grace to look embarrassed. "Well, all right. I guess you may have a small, infinitesimal point. I do occasionally get a bit intense."
At that comment, Clark's laugh rang out. "Is that what you call it? A bit intense?"
"Yes, that is what I call it," she replied with a dignified toss of her head. "But enough about me. We're supposed to be talking about you."
"We are?" he asked.
"Yeah, so first things first. Give me your pager." She held out her hand imperiously.
"Yes, Clark, your pager." She waggled her fingers to emphasize her point.
Baffled, he pulled it from his belt and handed it to her.
Taking it from him, she turned it off.
"Hey!" he exclaimed. "Perry said to keep our beepers on."
Lois smiled. "I didn't hear him say that." Placing the pager on the table a couple of inches out of Clark's reach, she went on, "Quit avoiding the topic. I'm all ears."
He shifted on his seat and peered intently into his soft drink can. "I don't know where to start. I've never told anyone about me."
"Not even your parents?" she interjected.
"Well, yeah, my folks. That's different."
"That's right. Your mother made your suit for you," she murmured softly. "She really did, didn't she?"
"Yeah. How else would I have gotten it?" He chuckled. "You don't just walk into Macy's and ask for the superhero costume department."
"I guess not." She took a sip of her diet cola and pressed him for more details. "So, is your mother…?"
"Super-powered? No. She's a farmer's wife in Kansas." He smiled as he thought of his parents. "And my dad is a farmer."
"So what's up with you? I mean, I know they grow 'em big down on the farm and all, but I've never seen a man who could fly before," she teased.
"Truthfully? I don't know." He held his hands up, as if to say, "Who knows?"
"What do you mean, you don't know?" Lois was incredulous.
"I mean, I *don't* know." He raised his eyes toward the heavens as if hoping to find the answer amid the clouds. "I don't have a clue as to why I am the way I am—why I have these weird powers."
"You mean you were just born like any other kid? Normal childhood and all that?" Lois prodded. "No encounters with radioactive elements in junior high?"
He shook his head slowly. "Nope. Of course, there's no telling what happened to me before Mom and Dad found me."
Lois latched onto his last comment. "Found you? Like in a basket on their doorstep?"
"More like a spaceship in a field," he replied.
Comprehension dawned on Lois. "I guess that explains what you said this morning."
Puzzled, Clark asked, "Explains what?"
Lois quoted, "'It's the not knowing that kills you.'" She squeezed his hand, suddenly stirred by a rare burst of sympathy. "I'm sorry, Clark. I didn't know."
He shrugged. "It's okay, Lois. Anyway, my parents found me when I was a baby. And since they couldn't have kids, they decided to keep me."
"Just like that? No questions? No explanations?" Lois was astounded.
"Yeah. They made up a story about a relative of my mother's in another city being my birth mother. No one ever seemed to question it."
"Hmm. So you really don't know if you're from another planet or not?"
"Lo…is. Think about it. I was in a space capsule. Where else could I have come from?"
"Good point. But still. And who puts a baby in a spaceship and launches it?"
Clark looked at her bleakly. "I don't know, Lois. I just don't know."
"Well," she said briskly, "they must have had a very good reason. So then what?"
"Huh?" He had lost track of where the conversation was going, his imagination wandering back to the question of why he had been sent into space as an infant.
"What happened after your parents found you in the spaceship?"
"Oh. Well, they raised me. I played on the farm, did chores, went to school—just like everybody else."
"And?" she urged.
"And then I turned thirteen and while everyone else was going through puberty at a normal rate, voices changing, getting pimples, I started getting really, really strong. And other weird things started happening to my body. It was like all my senses went into overdrive. And one day, I looked at the wall in my bedroom and realized that I could see right through it."
"I guess it depends on your point of view. It was pretty frightening at the time." Clark paused to take a swallow of his soda. "Anyway, when I finally told my parents about everything that was happening to me, they were really cool about it."
"Oh?" Lois couldn't imagine parents being "cool" about anything.
"My dad took me to a secluded area of the farm and helped me practice controlling all the—I guess you can call them 'powers'—that I have. So I wouldn't accidentally lose control of them and set the school on fire or something."
"Set the school on fire?" Lois practically shrieked.
Clark chuckled. "Yeah. I can light fires with my eyes."
Lois stared at him, eyes narrowed, thinking happily of how his powers could help them get the jump on their competitors. "What else can you do? I mean, I know you can fly and that you are incredibly strong." She thought back to the sight of him boosting the colonists' spacecraft into orbit.
"Like I said, I can see through things. And I can fly and lift really heavy things. I can hear things from really far away unless I consciously tune it out. And I can blow really cold air."
"How cold?" she wanted to know.
"Cold enough to put out fires."
Laughing, she responded, "I guess that comes in handy if you accidentally set a fire."
He nodded. "It does."
His partner stared at him a minute. "So in the hangar with the Messenger, when Toni Baines set off that explosion, it wasn't the blast that pushed us through the door, was it?"
Clark shook his head sheepishly.
"What else do I not know about?"
"That's probably about it." He gestured with both hands. "My life is now an open book."
"Just to me, Clark," she reassured him. "So what made you create Superman?"
"You did." A blinding smile split his face.
"*I* did?" she asked, incredulous.
"Sure. You already mentioned it. When you suggested that I keep a change of clothes at work, you gave me the idea of some sort of costume. I had decided that I really wanted to stay in Metropolis; I just needed some way to separate my life from my ability to do these things."
She interrupted his account. "You had decided to stay in Metropolis? What is that supposed to mean?"
He looked at her seriously. "Before, no matter where I was, sooner or later I'd rescue someone where I couldn't avoid being noticed. So I'd leave before anyone could make the connection between Clark Kent and the mysterious rescuer."
"So you've only been Superman for the last three weeks?" she asked, still trying to take it all in.
"Geez, not only are you a rookie reporter, you're a rookie superhero too?" Lois chuckled.
Clark bristled at that remark. "I am *not* a rookie reporter. I have experience!"
"Yeah, right. Editor of the Smallville Post and reporter for the Borneo Gazette," she snorted.
"Well, they may not be the New York Times or the Washington Post, but…"
She interrupted. "That's right. How could I forget? 'The mating habits of the knob-tailed gecko.'" A burst of laughter rang out. "A highly experienced journalist! Uh- huh."
"Lois." He looked hurt.
"I know, I know. You were undoubtedly also the editor of your high school paper. And, unless I miss my guess, sports editor in college."
He smiled triumphantly. "You're wrong on that one, Lois."
She scrunched her face up and considered her partner. "Probably so. Now that I think about it, you'd have been the feature editor, right?" She had not forgotten the article on the Sarah Bernhardt Theater he'd written to get the job at the Planet.
"There you go."
"Thanks, Clark," she said softly.
"For what?" he asked, perplexed.
"For telling me about yourself."
"Did I have a choice?" he asked pointedly.
"Not really, no. But I'm still glad you told me. It explains a lot."
Clark was confused. "A lot of what?"
"A lot about the raid on the Planet today. Now we know what those guys wanted."
"They already told us. They want Superman." He couldn't understand what she was implying.
"No, Clark. They want you." She looked him in the eye. "Somehow, the leader of that group suspects you have some connection to Superman. And he wants to prove it so that he can get Superman."
"And dissect him like a frog," Clark whispered.
"What did you just say?" Lois asked, horrified.
"It's what my dad always says. That if anyone finds out about me, the government will put me in a lab and dissect me like a frog."
"That's horrible," she replied.
"Yeah, but you've seen those goons. What do you think?"
She looked grim. "I think your dad is probably right. So we better make sure it doesn't happen." Lois picked up Clark's pager and pushed the power switch back to the "on" position. "I guess it's time we get to work." She gathered her lunch trash and rose from the table. Jerking her head toward the path, she gestured for him to follow. "We need to find those guys before they find us."
Following her, Clark assessed his feelings about Lois knowing that he was Superman. All in all, he thought he was glad. Her knowing would make it easier to leave to make rescues, and he wouldn't have to keep thinking of excuses for his lapses in concentration as his superhearing kicked in. What was that his mother always said? "A burden shared is a burden halved?" Clark decided that he might find that it was true.
The pair had just reached the open area of Centennial Park when Clark's pager went off, its shrill tone piercing the air. "It's the office," he noted. "Suppose there's a pay phone anywhere around here?
"Yes, right over there, on the corner." She pointed at the kiosk as her partner began to lope toward it.
Lois followed Clark to the telephone booth, arriving just in time to see him hang up the receiver. "So, what did Perry want?" she demanded.
"He wanted to tell us to get back to the office, ASAP." Clark paused for effect. "And he wanted to know why we hadn't answered his pages for over an hour."
"What did you tell him?"
Clark laughed. "Nothing. Before I could say a word, he said, 'Never mind. I'll ask Lois why she turned off both your beepers when you all get back here.' Then he hung up."
A quick swat on his arm was Lois's response. She turned and whistled for a taxi.
"How do you do that?" Clark wanted to know, wincing as the shrill sound pierced his eardrums.
"What? Whistle?" She gave him an evil grin. "Just pucker up and blow," she misquoted Lauren Bacall.
A harrowing ten-minute cab ride later, the duo strode into the bullpen at the Daily Planet.
The editor greeted them with the gruff command, "Lane! Kent! My office, now!" He disappeared into his sanctum, Lois and Clark on his heels.
"Sit down," he ordered. "Lois, what in tarnation were you doing not answering my pages? I was tryin' to get a hold of the two of you for over an hour."
Lois shrugged an elegant shoulder. "We didn't hear our beepers go off, Chief." Her tone was apologetic, but her face was straining to maintain an expression devoid of mirth. "Maybe we were out of range or something."
Clark bit his lip, trying not to laugh at Lois's attempt to deflect Perry's ire.
"And maybe you turned them off, Lois. My mama didn't raise any fools, you know." Seeing that she was unlikely to give him a straight answer, he moved on. "I guess you two are wonderin' why I called you back here."
"The thought had occurred," Clark replied. "You did say you wanted us to be where those agents couldn't serve us."
"Yeah, well, they aren't going to be serving you with anything. That warrant was a fake—as phony as a lock of Elvis's hair from a Graceland souvenir stand." He handed copies of the legal department's efforts to the two journalists.
Clark whistled softly. "So nobody, not the FBI, the CIA, the Department of State, not even the ATF wants to claim those boys."
"What about the military?" Lois asked.
Perry shook his head in denial. "Not them, not even Special Forces."
"So *who* are they?" Clark wanted to know, self- preservation being forefront in his mind.
"Does it really matter?" Lois looked at him intently. "We know what they want—they want to find Superman."
"Which means, boys and girls, that it's your job to find them first. Now get on it." With that remark, he shooed them out of the office.
Lois and Clark spent the remainder of the day searching every database in the Daily Planet's computerized library, looking for information on rogue governmental operations. They made numerous telephone calls to their usual sources. But their efforts to find anything on the "agents" who had invaded the newsroom earlier in the day were fruitless. Lois eventually conceded temporary defeat.
Rubbing her stiff neck with both hands, she looked across the aisle at her partner. It was still hard to believe what he had confirmed for her in the park. *Clark Kent* was *Superman.* The story of the century was sitting there, staring blindly at his computer screen. A reporter could win a Pulitzer Prize if she published the complete story on the "Man of Steel." Lois turned the idea over in her mind. Had she rashly promised to keep Clark's secret and thrown away her best shot at a Pulitzer? Or would a published expose of Superman's secret identity really garner her, or anyone for that matter, a prize? It was highly likely that such an article would call into question her willingness to protect her sources—something no reporter wanted to happen. And then her career would be finished. She'd be relegated to, heaven forbid, writing about geckos for the "Borneo Gazette" or some other "prestigious" rag. Lois shuddered at the thought. On the other hand, Clark now owed her—owed her big time. With that one confession, he had received her promise to keep his identity secret. She would keep her word; that went without saying. But when this current investigation was finished, Clark 'Superman' Kent could sit down as the Superhero and give her the in-depth interview she'd been angling for since the day he'd saved the colonists' space transport—the rest of the interview that he'd given himself the night he sent her to the sewage reclamation facility. Lois smiled in satisfaction. This situation might just turn out to be fun.
At the moment, however, her shoulders were cramping, her head was pounding, and her eyes felt permanently crossed. She glanced again at her partner. He looked as if he could use a break as well. Her decision made, she rose and walked over to his desk. "Earth to Clark," she said.
Startled, he blinked behind his horned-rimmed glasses. "Lois! Do you need something?"
"Yeah, I need some dinner and a hot bath." She smiled benignly at him. "C'mon. It's after eight. Let's go find some food and go home. We can pick the investigation back up in the morning."
Clark cast a surprised glance at her. "Find food as in *together*?" he asked dubiously.
"Of course. What better way to get to know each other better?" She headed back to her desk. "I'll just grab my purse, and I'll be ready to leave."
Perplexed as to her change in attitude toward him, Clark shut down his computer. Could it only have been a week ago that she had stolen his story? And told him that, "There is you. There is I. There is no we"? He hoped that her sudden change in heart wasn't solely because she had learned that he was also Superman. Grabbing his suit coat, he followed her to the elevators. As the elevator doors slid shut in front of them, Clark glanced down at his fiery partner. Something told him that his life was about to change forever. He just hoped it was for the better.
The next morning found the two reporters sitting side by side at Lois's desk. Her fingers flew furiously across the keyboard, pounding out their article.
"That should read 'a spokesperson for the FBI' there, Lois," Clark pointed out helpfully.
His partner turned to glare at him. "What?"
"Right there. In the second paragraph. You wrote, 'the FBI said.' The FBI isn't a person; it can't speak."
"That's why we have editors, Clark," she retorted.
"I was just…"
"Trying to help. I know. I keep forgetting your basic compulsive nature." She tilted her head to get a better view of the young man sitting beside her. "Or is it anal- retentive? I always get those two mixed up."
"Lo…is," he protested.
"What?! Please don't try to tell me that you aren't anal or compulsive, or whatever it is." She dared him to dispute her interpretation of his character.
"I prefer to think of myself as organized and practical," he defended himself.
"Hmmph," she sniffed. "There, I changed it. Happy? Because if you are, I think it's ready to send to Perry."
Clark read the article through once more. "Yeah. I think it's fine." He grinned at her. "And by the way," he continued as she hit "send" on the computer, "I brought you a present."
Delighted, she smiled at him. "You didn't have to do that."
"It was nothing, really." He stuck his hand in a pocket and pulled out a couple of blank floppy disks. "These are for your novel, Lois."
Superman might have been faster than a speeding bullet, but Clark Kent wasn't quick enough to avoid the fist that slammed into his shoulder.
"That was definitely *not* funny, Kent," she ground out. "You will notice I'm not laughing."
Clark put on a very hurt expression. "Lois, I didn't mean it to be funny. I was trying to be nice." A sideways glance at the mirth in her eyes relieved him. "And Lois, you may not be laughing, but you're about to pop from holding it in." That time he was quick enough to make his escape and return to the sanctuary of his own desk.
"That's twice, now, Clark," she reminded him.
"Twice?" he asked, puzzled.
"Don't think I have forgotten Superzilla."
"Yes, ma'am. I won't."
Lois's attention was distracted by the jangling of her telephone. "Lois Lane. Oh? Really? We'll be right there." She put the receiver back in its cradle and turned to Clark. "C'mon, Rookie. We've got a break in the case. I'll explain it to you on the way."
"You know, one of us really ought to get a car," Lois grumbled as they dodged traffic on their way to the Federal Building, several miles away from the Planet offices.
"Oh? Well, I guess it ought to be you, then. Not like I need one." Clark's grin was infectious.
She smiled wryly. "I guess not. Boy, think of all the money you save on airfare. Must be nice."
Clark shrugged. "True. With my parents living in Kansas, it does mean I can see them pretty much whenever I want to."
"I can't really imagine wanting to see my parents that much. Someday, I'd like to meet yours. They must be something special."
"They are, Lois. And I'd like for you to meet them. I think you'd like them."
The two reporters went over their questions as they mounted the steps of the government office building. Arriving at the reception desk, they identified themselves to the guard and were ushered into an outer office. "Mr. Thompson will be with you in a minute."
As they waited in the anteroom, Clark's superhearing tuned into a one-sided conversation from the next room.
"I'll tell you why I'm in Metropolis! The Director himself sent me here… To clean up the mess you started with that raid on "The Daily Planet!" … No! *I* call the shots on Bureau 39, not you. Standby. No. Stay where you are. I'm coming over as soon as I bury this story with these reporters. You hear me, Trask? Trask?!"
The receptionist buzzed the intercom, interrupting the telephone conversation. "Yes, sir, I'll send them right in." She opened the door and motioned for them to enter.
"Lois Lane, Clark Kent," Lois introduced them briskly to the harried-looking gray-haired man in the office.
"George Thompson, nice to meet you," he replied. "Please, have a seat." He motioned them to two hard chairs across the desk from his.
Removing her mini-cassette recorder from her purse, Lois switched it to "record" and placed it on the desk facing the government employee. "So who exactly do you work for?" she asked.
Thompson smiled genially at her. "I'm kind of a government ombudsman, you might say. I get sent to sort out problems. And right now, my job is to get to the bottom of the *incident* at the Daily Planet yesterday."
"That's our job, too. What can you tell us about the men who invaded the newsroom yesterday?" she demanded.
"I was hoping you could tell me something about them. Can you or your partner give me descriptions of all of the 'agents' involved?" Thompson persisted.
Lois looked to her partner for assistance. He was staring intently at the briefcase on Thompson's desk, his gaze fixed on something she assumed only *he* could see. Well, there was obviously not going to be any help from him for the time being. Lois hoped whatever he was trying to see through the leather case would be worth it. She returned her attention to Thompson.
"Let me get this straight. *You* want to interview *us*?" she snapped.
"Yes, and also warn you to leave this group alone. They are obviously very dangerous men. The government doesn't take it lightly when individuals try to pass themselves off as agents of the United States. But I cannot be responsible for what might happen to you if you come across them again."
Assured that Thompson was going to answer no questions for them, Lois shut off her recorder. "Come on, Clark. Let's go. It's obvious that Mr. Thompson here either doesn't know anything or isn't willing to share." She rose and angrily stormed from the room.
Once outside on the sidewalk, Lois turned to her partner who was staring at the Federal Building, a stunned expression on his face. "Clark, are you all right?" she asked, concerned about his reaction to the interview with Thompson.
Shaking his head as if to clear it, Clark replied, "I honestly don't know, Lois."
"You don't know if you're all right? How can that be?"
"Lois, Thompson knows something. He knows a lot. Let's go somewhere we can talk."
"There's a little sidewalk cafe across the street, Clark. We can go there. I don't want to get too far. We may want to tail him."
They crossed the street and sat at an outdoor table, keeping an eye on the front of the Federal Building. After ordering coffee, Lois turned and stared at Clark.
"Okay, out with it. What do you know that I don't know?"
"Lois, I don't *know* that I know anything. I just know what I heard him say on the telephone."
"On the telephone? He didn't have any calls while we were in there."
Clark tugged suggestively at his earlobe. "It was before— while we were in the outer office." He related to her the snippets of conversation he'd overheard.
She snorted in disgust. "So Thompson wants a description of this guy? What did you say he called him?"
"Right. If he knows the guy's name, why does he want us to tell him what he looks like?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe he knows this Trask guy, but not the others. Maybe he wants to make sure that the guy we saw actually is Trask."
Lois considered Clark's theory. "I guess that could be it. Or maybe he doesn't want us to know that he knows anything."
"Could be," Clark agreed.
"All right. Moving on to the next step. Where were you while we were in that office? You looked like you were a million miles away."
"Huh? Oh. I was trying to see what was in his briefcase."
"And?" Lois realized that it was definitely going to take some time to get used to this aspect of working with Clark.
"And it had file folders in it. They were marked, 'Incident Analysis—Eyes Only.'" Clark seemed to retreat again.
"Go on. And?" she prodded, gently this time.
"And there was a list of incidents: Roswell, New Mexico, 1947 — White Mountains, Arizona 1975 — Gulf Breeze, Florida, 1986 — Voronezh, USSR, 1989." Clark swallowed the lump in his throat as he stared at his cup of coffee.
As if from a long distance, he heard his name, "Clark? Aren't those places where supposedly people saw UFOs?"
He snapped out of his confusion. "Yeah. They're all UFO sightings."
Lois studied his face intently. "Were there any more?"
He had already told her he was Superman. There was no reason not to tell her this too. Clark nodded. "Yeah. One more. Smallville, Kansas, 1966."
Silence hung heavily between them as Lois processed the latest bit of information. "Your parents found you in 1966. This means that this Bureau 39, whatever it is, knows something about your arrival on earth. Clark, what else did it say?"
He took a breath to steady himself. "I don't know. I hadn't gotten that far when you dragged me out of the room."
"Oh, god, Clark, I'm sorry. Why didn't you say something?" She looked stricken.
"What was I supposed to say? 'Uh, Lois, could you hang on a second? I'm not finished looking through Mr. Thompson's briefcase with my X-ray vision?' Be reasonable." He had to smile at the image that thought presented.
"Reasonable? Me?" She laughed. "I get your point. We'll have to think of a code or something." She thought for a minute, then regained his attention. "All right. Here's the plan."
"The plan?" he queried. "Can I ask why *you* are making the plan?"
"Clark, I thought I had made that clear. You are the junior partner." Her quick smile took the sting away. "Actually, I made the plan because you still seem a bit dazed."
"Anyway, you need to get in touch with your folks. I'd recommend that you go see them. I wouldn't put it past this Trask person to have bugged your phone. Find out everything you can about the day they found you and anything that happened in Smallville that was odd over the next few months. I'll stay here and find out more about this Thompson guy and see where he goes. We can meet back up at my place later tonight. Say about nine?"
Even though going to talk to his parents was exactly what he wanted to do, Clark commented, "I hate to leave you in the lurch here, Lois."
She patted his arm. "Don't be silly. There are two things that need doing. It makes more sense for you to go to Kansas. I'll be fine. If worse comes to worst, I can always recruit Jimmy."
He acquiesced. "All right, Lois. We'll do it your way. But you be careful. I can't hear screams for help in Metropolis when I'm in Smallville."
"Got it. I'll try to stay out of trouble, if it makes you happy." Sticking out her tongue at him, she went on to say, "Go on. The sooner you get out of here, the sooner you'll be back. I'll be fine."
"Okay. See you tonight." And with that remark, Clark rose and headed down a nearby alley.
Seconds later, Lois heard a "whoosh" that informed her he was on his way to Kansas. She spotted a telephone booth and went to make a call. "Jimmy? It's Lois. I want everything you can find on a George Thompson. I think he's from Washington. Yeah. You have two hours. Bye." She hung up the phone in time to see Thompson leave the Federal Building and drive off in a government car. Lois jumped into a waiting taxi and ordered, "Follow that car, but don't be seen by the guy in it."
Twenty minutes later, she watched as Thompson exited the government sedan and entered a building marked, "Bessolo Discount Used Office Furniture." Paying off the cabby, she found herself a comfortable doorway to wait in. Two hours later, Lois decided that Thompson was obviously not coming out any time soon and she might as well return to the Planet. She and Clark could check out the warehouse later.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Lois looked up from the notebook in her lap at the sound of someone knocking on her window. Momentarily startled, she took a minute to realize that Superman was floating outside her window, his bright suit highlighted against the night sky.
"Can I come in?" he mouthed at her through the glass.
Laughing, she stood up and went to open the window. "The window was unlatched, Superman."
"I know. But my mom always taught me to knock." He grinned at her, and suddenly she saw the resemblance to her partner.
Closing the window behind her, she motioned to the sofa. "Sit down." She walked back toward the uncomfortable looking piece of wood and upholstery.
"Do you mind if I…?" Superman motioned to his costume.
"Oh! No, that's fine. You can change in my bedroom. It's right down that hallway," she responded a bit breathlessly. Lois rapidly visualized her room. Had she left anything too *personal* out? No, she didn't think so.
Superman shook his head. "I don't need to go anywhere, Lois." And with that cryptic remark, he began to spin counter-clockwise, becoming a blue/red blur that slowly evolved into Clark—a Clark wearing a pair of faded jeans and a black tee-shirt that showed the definition in his biceps better than the spandex could ever do.
"Wow!" Other than that monosyllable, Lois was momentarily speechless. "How did you do that?" She continued to stare at him.
"Lots of practice, Lois," he grinned. "I still haven't figured out how to explain the hole in the…never mind," he hastily stopped his train of thought.
She looked at him through narrowed eyes. "What hole?"
"It's not important, Lois," he answered.
"Sure it is," was the comeback. "Especially if you don't want to talk about it. So spill it, Kent."
The thought occurred to Clark that Lois was unlikely to let the subject drop. "The one my elbow poked in the men's room," he admitted sheepishly.
Her snort of laughter was accompanied by the comment, "Did you put it on your expense account? I'd love to have seen Perry's face when he saw it."
"Lo…is, can we get down to business?"
"Sure," she replied, but she was still chuckling.
"So, what have you got?" he asked as he sat down beside her.
She shrugged. "Not too much. Jimmy checked out George Thompson. He really does work for the government. I followed him to a warehouse on Bessolo Boulevard. Waited for two hours, but he never came out."
"Maybe he went out the back," Clark suggested.
"Perhaps." She flipped to a new page on her notepad. "What about you?"
"Not a lot more than you. I asked my folks to tell me everything they could remember about the day they found me." He looked off into the distance, remembering the dinner table conversation.
"And?" Lois prodded, bringing Clark back to the present.
"Mom said they were driving along this road a couple of miles from the farm when they saw what looked like a ball of flame shoot by. It seemed to land in Shuster's field, so they got out of the pickup and went to see if it was a meteorite or something. She said there was a trail dug in the dirt with scorch marks for a few yards and then they found a little spaceship." Clark stared unseeing at his hands clasped loosely on his knees. "There were strange markings on the capsule. They didn't recognize what language it was." He paused in his recital, wondering if he would have been able to read the words on it.
Lois waited for him to continue, conscious of the strained look on his face.
"Then they opened up the capsule, and there was a baby in it. Me. And they picked me up and took me home."
"Just like that? Did you have stuff with you? What did they do with the ship?" she demanded.
"They made up a story about a cousin of Mom's having a baby out of wedlock and giving me to them, since they couldn't have children. Dad said that a couple of days after they found me, some men came around asking questions about debris from a Russian satellite that had crashed. Mom said they were 'scary.' So then, Dad went to burn the capsule. At the last minute he didn't do it. He said he decided it was part of me. So he buried it, instead." Clark took a deep breath to calm the emotion he felt rising in his voice. "We went to dig it up."
"You found your spaceship? What was it like?" she interrupted his narration.
"I don't know, Lois. It wasn't there," he related.
Lois felt a twinge of something for her partner. He looked sad. That was it. Disappointed, tired, and sad. She could imagine what he was feeling, and her heart turned over in her chest.
"My mom said that they thought maybe I was part of some Russian experiment." Clark's tone was bewildered. "If I am, how could anyone do something like that to a baby?"
Lois tilted her head to get a better look at his face. "I don't know, Clark. But I don't think it was the Russians. They were too busy trying to beat us to the moon in 1966."
"And since someone else has the spaceship, I'll probably never know." His disappointment was palpable.
"I bet I know who has it," Lois announced with smug satisfaction.
"Who?" His turned to stare at her.
"Isn't it obvious?" she asked.
"Apparently not, since I have no idea who could have it," was the terse reply.
Lois smiled kindly on him. "Clark, I will chalk this instance of thick-headedness and lack of intuition on your part up to the fact that you are too close to this story," she said magnanimously. "But, truthfully, it is obviously this Trask guy and his Bureau 39. They are undoubtedly the 'scary' men that were poking around in Smallville right after your parents found you. Someone else they talked to must have mentioned seeing the same shooting star or whatever that your parents saw and gave them the general location. These guys must have gone to…"
"Shuster's field," he helped her.
"Yeah, to look for evidence or whatever, and found the place where your dad had buried your spaceship. I bet they dug it up and took it with them." Satisfied that she had solved that part of the mystery, Lois relaxed against the back of the sofa.
Although he thought she was probably right, Clark wasn't at all sure that he liked the idea of this mysterious Bureau 39 having the spaceship. There was no telling what might be in it or on it to link it to him. "What do you suppose they did with it?" he asked.
Lois shrugged, a wry twist to her mouth. "Who knows? Put it with the autopsy report on the aliens at Roswell. I don't know. The thing I don't get is why not make the connection between a foundling baby and the ship? Since someone must have told them where to look for evidence, why didn't anyone mention you?"
A trace of a smile crinkled Clark's eyes. "You really don't know anything about small towns, do you?"
"Of course not," she snorted. "Why should I?"
"Because if you did, then you would know that people in a small town do not talk to strangers about the other people. My parents had said that I was the baby of Mom's cousin, and they were adopting me. People wouldn't have said anything different to men poking around town." He grimaced. "Man, I really wish I'd gotten a look at the insides of that folder this afternoon."
"I know. And I'm sorry." She brightened. "We'll talk to Thompson again tomorrow, and you can check it out."
"Oh?" He quirked an eyebrow. "What are we going to ask him? As far as he knows, we have never heard of Bureau 39 or anyone named Trask," he pointed out.
She grimaced. "You're doing it again."
"Being anal." She paused a minute to let the thought sink in. "By the time we talk to him again, we *will* know about them."
Clark rubbed the bridge of his nose. "You're right. I'm not thinking too well tonight."
Lois patted his shoulder in a friendly gesture. "Of course you aren't. Like I said, you're too close to this story. Actually, now that I think about it, you *are* this story." She pursed her lips. "Maybe I better tell Perry to take you off it."
That remark got his attention. "No way, Lois!" he exclaimed. "You can't do that. You know you can't. I'll be fine tomorrow. It's just that today has had a lot of shocks in it."
She chuckled. "Gotcha!"
Her partner's only reply was a sardonic glare.
"All right. So, where do you want to look tomorrow?"
If he was surprised at her change in tack, Clark didn't let her know. "I think one of us needs to look up Project Blue Book, for one thing. The men who came to Smallville could easily have been part of that."
She nodded. "Okay. You want to take the Air Force, and I'll take Trask and Thompson?"
"Sure. Anything else?"
"Not tonight. You want some coffee or something?" she belatedly offered.
"No thanks, Lois. It's late. I'll just see you tomorrow at the office." He grinned as he stood up. "I'll just…" He spun around, and once again, Superman was standing in her living room.
She looked up at him, wide-eyed. "That is just so amazing," she commented.
"Good-night, Lois," he said gently.
"Superman," he corrected.
"But…" she began to protest.
"No, Lois. Don't you see? When I'm in the suit, you have to call me Superman. Otherwise…"
"People will figure out who you are. Right. Sorry about that, Superman." Lois rose to accompany him to the window. "You be careful out there, all right?"
"Lo…is," he began.
"Don't 'Lo…is' me. There's a lunatic out there who wants you. Be careful. I don't want to have to break in a new partner."
"Yes, ma'am." And in a flash, he was out of her window, streaking up into the night sky.
Lois stood for long minutes at the window, staring at his wake. It was incredible. Superman was her rookie partner, not the "god in a cape" that Cat Grant had dubbed him. Just an ordinary guy, with some extraordinary talents. She was beginning to think she could get to like this blend of "before" and "way, way, after." Smiling to herself, Lois closed her window and latched it.
Tomorrow couldn't come soon enough, she thought, as she got ready for bed. Turning out the light, she sighed wistfully. Her little sister Lucy had been right; there was a "super guy" right in front of her. Too bad she didn't know what she wanted to do about it. Lois burrowed into the covers. She didn't have time to think about it. They had an investigation to complete. Sleep was her priority, not her love life.
Lois's heels tapped out a definite rhythm as she made her way down the ramp into the bullpen. A quick look at his desk informed her that Clark was in the building, but not at his computer.
"Jimmy! Where's Clark?" she called to the young assistant.
"Library, I think," he replied as he walked past her, his arms full of copies.
"Thanks," she said, dumping her purse into a desk drawer. She sat down and opened the Planet's people-search database to look up Trask and Thompson.
Twenty minutes later, she closed the program in exasperation. Thompson had only a generic resume, and Trask seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Rising, she went in search of her partner. Perhaps he would have found something more. He certainly could not have found any less information.
Clark was staring at a microfilm reader when Lois finally tracked him down in the library.
"What have you found?" she asked, pulling up a chair beside him.
He shrugged. "I'm not sure." He gestured at the picture of a news article with the headline "UFO Sighting Really Swamp Gas." There were several Air Force officers seated at a table set up for a news conference.
Lois leaned forward to take a better look at the caption. "That's our man, isn't it?"
"Looks like it. Did you find out anything about him?"
"Not really. I couldn't find any military records on him at all. And he seems to have disappeared in 1969."
"The year that the Air Force shut down Project Blue Book," Clark mentioned.
Lois looked at him sharply. "What's the dateline on that article?"
"Wichita, Kansas," he answered grimly.
"You have swamps in Kansas?" she asked, incredulous.
"None that I ever saw. Mostly plains—field after field of wheat and corn. No swamps at all."
"Yet, a group of Air Force officers are in Wichita, Kansas, saying that a UFO sighting was swamp gas."
Clark sighed heavily. "Yep. Swamp gas in a state that has no swamps. A Project Blue Book investigation based in Wichita, the closest city to Smallville, on May 27, 1966."
"Which was…?" She looked at him in inquiry.
"Ten days after my parents found me in a spacecraft in a field."
Lois's eyes met Clark's. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
He nodded. "We need to find Thompson."
"And Trask. Don't forget him."
"Don't worry. I'm not."
She looked back at the microfilm. "Is there any mention of Bureau 39?"
"I haven't found any. I wonder if it's one of those secret government agencies that gets hidden in the budget for something else."
Lois turned the idea over in her mind. "Could be. I have this funny feeling that when the Air Force shut down Project Blue Book, this Bureau 39 took its place."
"And it went underground?" Clark was intrigued. "So, how are we gonna find 'em?"
The senior member of the reporting team said, "Easy. General Burton Newcomb, one of the officers in that picture, lives in Metropolis."
Clark looked at her, awed. "How did you know that?"
"Research, Rookie, research," she teased. "I ran across him when I was looking for information on Thompson. Apparently they were both involved with Project Blue Book back in the sixties," she explained. "So grab your coat, and let's go." She swept out of the library, Clark trailing along behind her.
As they entered the newsroom, Jimmy called to her from her desk. "Lois! Call on line two."
Watching her pick up the telephone, Clark resisted the urge to listen to her conversation. Instead, he obeyed her instructions and went to his cubicle to find his sport jacket.
Lois was putting down the receiver by the time he crossed the small space between their work areas. Peering up at him with unhappy eyes, she said, "I've found Thompson."
"You have?" Clark asked.
"Well, actually the police found him. His body was discovered by a fisherman in the harbor an hour ago. Looks like blunt trauma to the head, according to Henderson."
Clark's face fell as he processed the news. Their best lead was dead. There was no way to know what had happened to his briefcase.
Lois noticed his crestfallen expression. "Cheer up, Clark. There's still General Newcomb. We'll find these guys." With that comment, she turned and headed up the ramp.
Crack! Crunch! General Burton Newcomb, retired director of Project Blue Book, sat at his desk, methodically annihilating walnuts as Lois and Clark endeavored to interview about his connection to the shadowy agency, Bureau 39.
"Yesterday," Clark began, "we interviewed a man named George Thompson. This morning, the police fished his body out of the harbor."
Newcomb looked steadily at the reporter. "What's your point?"
"He was here investigating an unauthorized raid on the Daily Planet by Jason Trask. He tried to warn us off our own investigation," Lois added.
The general rose and went to stare out the window. "Have either of you ever had to keep a secret? A huge secret?"
Lois and Clark's eyes met.
Knowing that Newcomb would never know the irony of the question, Clark replied, "Sure."
"Keeping a secret can eat away at you, bit by bit. So slowly that you don't even realize that it's devoured your very soul. You wake up one day and realize that you're empty inside."
He turned back to his desk and picked up Lois's micro- recorder sitting there. Deliberately removing the tape, General Newcomb destroyed it in the nutcracker. "We were a small group the day we took the oath. August second, nineteen forty-seven. I was just about your age."
Lois and Clark looked at each other, perplexed, wracking their brains for the significance of that date.
"You didn't take an oath to protect people like Trask, did you?" Lois demanded sharply.
"You don't need me to find Trask," Newcomb said as he cracked another walnut. "You both look intelligent. He's undoubtedly still around."
"In a warehouse on Bessolo Boulevard?" Lois pushed.
The general raised an eyebrow at her question. "Finding him is easy. Getting in is another matter. A man like Trask would have an impenetrable security system."
"All systems have their flaws," Lois reminded him.
"Not this one. I designed it myself." Newcomb opened a drawer and fished around, ultimately removing a plastic card marked "3-9." He laid it on the desk and stood. Turning to a gun cabinet, he went on, "You would need to find someone on the inside, or who had been on the inside, a person who found Trask so repugnant, his methods so un- American, that he decided to help you. Tall order."
Newcomb removed a rifle from the cabinet.
Lois's eyes widened in apprehension as the general made a final statement. "I'm going to count to three. When I finish, I expect you to be gone. One…"
Clark and Lois looked at each other and then at the card on the desk.
Clark nodded at Lois. Their decision made, she grabbed the card from the desk; and they bolted for the door.
General Newcomb turned to see the door closing behind the two reporters. He sighed heavily. Perhaps he would now be able to sleep at night.
"All right, Lois, now we go to the warehouse?" Clark asked when they found themselves once more on the sidewalk.
"Yes, unless you have some objection." She dared him to do so.
Clark shook his head. "No, that's fine. What do you think we're going to find there, other than Trask?"
She shrugged. "Desks, filing cabinets, more goons."
"Ah. And what are we going to do with the goons and Trask?" he prodded. "Those guys at the Planet didn't look like they'd exactly roll out the red carpet for visitors."
Lois had the grace to look embarrassed for approximately one second. "Well, actually," she began, "I was sort of thinking that you could take a look inside first." She grinned mischievously. This was easier to get used to than she had thought it would be. "You know, with your vision gizmo," she suggested.
Clark laughed in spite of himself. "Vision gizmo?"
"Well what do you call it?" she retorted.
"Fine. I'll scan the warehouse before we try to get in. I'll even check for booby traps and alarms, if you'd like."
"Ooh, great idea." Lois looked thoughtful. "You know, Clark, together we can go far."
"Very true. I can fly us to Paris, if you like." He deliberately misunderstood her.
His partner slapped him on the chest. "You know, you really are something special."
"Yeah. Special." Clark's smile disappeared at her words.
Clark's sudden switch in mood shocked her. "What's the matter, Clark? All I said was you're something special." She wondered what had gotten into her partner. Now that she thought about it, she realized that he had not been his normal, cheerful self ever since the raid on the Planet.
Lois stared at him until he answered. "Nothing, really, Lois." How could he tell her what was wrong, when he wasn't sure himself? He only knew that with the appearance of Jason Trask, his sense of security had been shaken. Every ring of the phone, every knock on the door, every unexpected sound made him want to jump. What if Trask and this Bureau 39 had some weapon that could hurt him? What if they found out about his parents? What if Trask used Lois or Jimmy to get to Superman? What would he do? What *could* he do?
"Lois," he said before he could change his mind, "you said I'm something special. Something. Not someone. What if I am *a thing*?"
She gazed into his eyes and saw worry and confusion dimming his usual glint. "Clark, it's just an expression."
"I know. But in my case, it could be true." His lips twisted in a tight smile. "Think about it, Lois. My parents found me in a spaceship in a field. I was a baby. Do you know of any planets with intelligent life on them anywhere around here? How did I survive a trip through space from another galaxy or something? Wouldn't it have taken years? Light years, even? Wouldn't a baby have to have had milk or something? What if I'm not really a person? What if I'm a cyborg or something?"
"And what if your parents are right and you're the result of a Russian experiment?" She placed her hand on his arm. "Clark, does it really matter where you came from? You're here now."
He looked at her, trying to decide how to phrase what he wanted to say. "It does matter. I'm not sure why, exactly. I mean, I have the best parents in the world. But I still wonder. Who were my birth parents? Why did they let someone put me in that spaceship? Am I human? Can aliens *be* human? Do I even belong here?" He paused for a second, uncomfortable that he had let so much out to Lois. But his feelings were strong; and she was there, and for once, seemed sympathetic. "I have so many unanswered questions. And every once in a while, it gets to me. My parents must have had a reason for giving me up. But I doubt I'll ever know what it was."
Stirred by his words, Lois felt a sense of connection with Clark that she'd never felt before with anyone. She wasn't adopted, but her own family had been so distant and dysfunctional that she might as well have been—often wished that she had been. She could understand his desire to belong. She'd felt the same way herself. Her heart turned over in her chest. It hurt to see him looking so down. But Lois wasn't sure how to get the smile back on Clark's face. She settled for squeezing his arm and quietly remarking, "Clark, even if you never find out the truth, believe me, they must have had a good reason. And can you honestly say that your life hasn't been good so far?" She dimpled up at him.
Looking at that beautiful face, those enormous brown eyes, crinkling in a smile for him, Clark realized that Lois was right. He had a terrific family, a great job, a wonderful life, and a gorgeous partner. "No, Lois, I can't. I do have a great life. And a fantastic partner." His teeth gleamed in his smile. "But what if I'm not a man?"
"Well, you look like a man to me. And you certainly look like a man to Cat," she reminded him brusquely.
"And she ought to know?" he asked.
"Absolutely. If anyone knows who is and who isn't a man, it's Cat Grant." Lois smiled up at him. "You okay now?"
"Yeah. Don't mind me. It's just that every so often I remember that I'm not quite normal."
"Yeah? And who is? Wait till you meet my parents." She laughed bitterly.
He took her elbow. "C'mon. Let's find a cab and track down that warehouse."
Lois turned and whistled shrilly. Two seconds later, a Metro Cab pulled up beside them.
"Bessolo Boulevard," Lois instructed the driver. "And make it quick."
The taxi pulled away from the curb with a squeal of tires.
Clark lowered his glasses and peered over them, squinting at the large warehouse advertising "Discount Used Office Furniture." As he scanned the interior of the building, his expression grew more and more perplexed. "Lois, I don't see anyone in here. But it is definitely a weird setup."
"Great! You can show me from the inside."
Lois tugged him over to the door and scanned the card in the slot. The door opened automatically, and the duo stepped inside. A loud clang signaled the closing of the door behind them.
"Uh oh. We got a problem." Clark was staring at a combination lock on an interior door. A digital timer beside it was counting down the seconds…35…34…33… He moved his glasses so that he could peer into the lock. He slowly turned the knob to the right, the left, and then the right again. The timer stopped with seconds to spare.
"What? You're a safecracker too?" she teased.
"Would you believe me if I told you the combination was eight right, two left, forty-seven right?" he asked.
"Yeah, right," she snorted derisively. "Where did you get that idea?" And as an afterthought she added, "And what makes you think I'll buy it?"
Clark grinned devilishly at her. "General Newcomb. He said they took that oath on August 2, 1947. Eight, two, forty- seven."
Lois just shook her head, her hair swinging around her shoulders. "You're weird, you know that? But it works for you; I'll give you that. I could have sworn you peeked inside." She pushed past him and entered the warehouse.
The interior of the warehouse resembled nothing so much as a giant depository of used industrial equipment. Strange, tarpaulin-covered shapes were on tables, the floor, sawhorses. Faint light from windows at the top of the room illuminated the scene, but so dimly that the sense of eeriness was heightened. A bank of dusty file cabinets in the front part of the room drew Lois and Clark's attention. They each opened a drawer and pulled out a folder.
"I don't know, Clark. I think this may be the library of a bunch of nutcases. Look at this picture." She held up a photograph of a night sky and an illuminated orange blob. "No way this stuff is real."
Her partner was peering intently at the manila folder in his hands, an odd expression on his face. "I don't know about that, Lois. Look."
He turned the file so that she could read the label: Smallville, Kansas. 1966.
Stunned into silence, Lois looked from the folder to her partner's face. His expression was shuttered, as if he didn't know what to do with the folder now that it was in his hands. He looked indecisively at it.
Lois found her voice. "Well, don't just stand there, Clark. Open it," she hissed.
He blinked behind his glasses. "Oh, yeah. I think I'm almost afraid to find out what it says."
"I understand, Clark, but won't it be better to know what they know or think?" she asked. "If you don't want to read it, I will," she suggested.
Clark slowly opened the file. Lois pressed close to his side, to get a better view, she told herself; but the connection she had felt outside General Newcomb's house was drawing her to him. They both stared in horrified fascination at the contents of the folder.
To: Colonel Burton Newcomb, USAF, Director, Project Blue Book From: Lieutenant Jason Trask, USAF, Field Investigator Subject: UFO sighting, Smallville, Kansas Date: May 26, 1966
On the night of May 17, 1966, the Sheriff's office in Smallville, Kansas received several reports of a bright light streaking through the sky. Speculation was that there was a meteorite. According to Sheriff Roger Harris, deputies checked out the report of a meteorite hitting an area known as Shuster's field, but found nothing other than a scorched mark in the grass. No rocks or other debris were found by the Smallville Sheriff's Department.
May 19, 1966. The Sheriff's Department forwarded the reports of the "meteorite" to the Kansas State Police. Kansas State Police forwarded the information to the Air Force, per regulation 34-576.
May 20, 1966. Lt. Jason Trask, Sgt. William Barnes, and Cpl. Travis Jones arrived in Smallville to assess the report. The owners of all properties adjacent to Shuster's field were interviewed. None reported noticing anything unusual on the night in question. None reported finding any kind of debris subsequent to the sighting. One farmer, Wayne Irig, suggested that the reports were probably prank calls made by local high school students. We find no reason to believe that the calls were hoaxes.
May 21, 1966. A local farming couple who live near Shuster's field, Martha and Jonathan Kent, have adopted an infant in the last few days. The infant is reputed to be the child of a distant cousin of Mrs. Kent. The timing is certainly suspicious.
May 22, 1966. On a second visit to the area where the meteorite allegedly landed, Sgt. Barnes discovered a newly- dug patch of ground in a wooded area near the scorched dirt. Members of the task force unearthed a small space ship from this area. Its appearance bears no resemblance to any US-made space capsules nor to any known Soviet space capsule. The ship is approximately one meter long, made of a steel-blue colored material unlike any we have ever seen. There are removable side panels and a large red pentagon logo on the front with an "S" in it. A globe, bearing a map of the earth, is fixed into the bow of the ship. The size of the passenger compartment indicates that whatever traveled in it was quite small, no larger than a medium- sized dog or a rhesus monkey. There is no sign of any kind of passenger. Anything that was in the capsule was removed before it was buried.
Further questioning of the local population was fruitless. The residents of Smallville were at best, close-mouthed, and at worst, uncooperative.
Conclusions: this ship appears to be of alien origin. Either an alien creature traveled to Earth in it and successfully buried the ship and avoided detection by numerous law enforcement officers and the members of this task force or the alien has been hidden by a resident of Smallville, Kansas.
Recommendations: 1. Store the ship and globe in the Metropolis depository pending further information. 2. Monitor the situation in Smallville, Kansas for any unusual incidents. Pay particular attention to any new arrivals or unusual activity in the area.
Lois gasped. "Clark, that's what happened to your ship. It's in this building somewhere. Let's find it."
"I figured that. There's more in here, Lois. Let's finish this before we go looking for the ship, okay?"
"Sorry. I didn't notice them." She looked sideways up at his face. He looked strained. "Clark, it's okay," she tried to assure him. Lois unconsciously slid an arm around his waist. "We'll take care of these goons and get your ship back for you."
He gave her a ghost of a smile then turned to the next paper in the file.
To: George Thompson, Director, Bureau 39 From: Col. Jason Trask, Director, Field Operations Subject: Alien Appearance, Metropolis, New Troy Date: May 2, 1993
Yesterday, the Space Station Prometheus's colonist transport module was lifted into space by what appeared to be a man who flies. My conclusion is that this "Superman" is in fact an alien creature. The logo on his uniform is an exact replica of the one on the spacecraft found in Smallville, Kansas in 1966.
Conclusions: This alien is undoubtedly an advance party of a larger force.
Recommendations: A task force should be dispatched to Smallville to investigate the possibility that the alien has been in hiding there for the past twenty-seven years. The alien must be apprehended and eliminated before he can signal the rest of his invasion forces.
"Oh…my…God!" Lois exclaimed. "Trask is insane." Worried, she asked, "Can he kill you?"
"I don't think so," he replied calmly.
A glance at her partner's face worried her. He was staring numbly at the paper in his hand.
"Clark!" Lois said sharply. "Is that it?"
He shook his head. "No, there are two more memos."
To: George Thompson, Director, Bureau 39 From: Col. Jason Trask, Director, Field Operations Subject: Superman Date: May 14, 1993
There seems to be some connection between two reporters at the "Daily Planet" and the alien known as Superman. Both Lois Lane and Clark Kent are the only reporters to have actually talked to the creature. The Field Operations Office needs a search warrant and authority to question Lane and Kent. See to it, ASAP.
Kent may be the key to finding Superman. He is from Smallville, Kansas. He and the alien appear to be approximately the same age. It is highly probable that the alien arrived in the ship found in Smallville in 1966. Kent undoubtedly knows Superman and knows how to find him.
To: Colonel Jason Trask, Director, Field Operations From: George Thompson, Director, Bureau 39. Subject: Request for warrant Date: May 15, 1993
Trask, there will be no warrant to search the "Daily Planet." You are ordered to drop your investigation of Superman. The Bureau has determined that he poses no threat to national security. If, as seems likely, he is an alien, he has done nothing but good since his appearance.
Leave the two reporters alone as well. Ms. Lane is an award-winning investigative reporter. The Bureau does not want her looking into its operations. If she were to find the warehouse in Metropolis, there *would* be a threat to national security.
Clark whistled softly through his teeth as he closed the folder. He hesitated, unsure whether to keep it or replace it in the file cabinet.
"Put it back, Clark. If we keep it, they'll know what we know. First rule of investigative reporting: don't let the opposition know what you've got."
The young man had to smile. "First rule, Lois? That's about the tenth first rule you've given me since I got hired."
"Whatever, Clark. You get the point, don't you?"
"Yes, ma'am." He reluctantly returned the folder to the drawer and closed it.
Noticing the bleak expression in his eyes, Lois gave him a squeeze before withdrawing her arm from his waist. "Clark, it's all right. We know what this idiot thinks. Now we can deal with him."
"I guess. Do you really think my ship is in here?"
"Yeah. Look at all these weird things under tarps. It's bound to be here somewhere. Tell you what, I'll take this side, and you take that one." She waved in the general direction to her right.
"Okay, sounds like a good idea."
The two reporters moved farther into the warehouse, lifting the tarp of any shape that looked like it might fit the description in the memo.
Clark was beginning to wonder if the ship really was in the warehouse when he noticed a glow coming through a tarp ahead of him. The closer he came to it, the stronger the feeling he got that it was, in fact, his ship. Raising the covering from a small shape on a table, he gasped. It had to be his ship.
"Lois," he called. "I've found it."
Quickly crossing the floor of the warehouse, Lois watched in awe as Clark reverently dusted the "S" shield with his hand. His eyes wide in wonder at finally seeing the ship that had taken him to Smallville, he ran his long fingers over the craft.
It was Lois who noticed the globe. Hidden by the cloth bag in which it was placed, the globe glowed brighter the longer Clark remained by the ship.
Lois nudged him. "Clark, look. That bag must have the globe."
He carefully removed the globe from the bag and turned the globe over in his hands. As he held it, the map of the continents on Earth underwent a transformation. The green of the Americas turned red and the shape changed. A profound feeling of recognition filled Clark. "Krypton," he whispered.
"Krypton?" Lois asked.
Clark turned amazed eyes on her. "The globe…it spoke to me…in my head. I'm from a planet called Krypton."
"Wow!" was all Lois could say as Clark continued to stare at the globe.
A faint clang in the background alerted Lois. "Clark, someone's coming. Quick, put that in my bag," she ordered. "Maybe it won't glow if you're not touching it."
He did as he was told, his experience in the few short weeks that he'd known Lois Lane telling him now was not the time to argue with her.
They had barely hidden the globe when they heard the snide voice of Jason Trask. "Now, how did you two get in here?" he asked. He was flanked by the same men that had raided the Planet; but instead of suits and ties, the agents were all wearing paramilitary garb.
"That's your problem," Lois retorted.
"True," Trask acknowledged. "But getting out is your problem."
Clark stepped forward, taking a protective stance in front of Lois. "People know we're here," he lied.
"Yeah, like Superman," Lois added, causing Clark to groan mentally. "He's gonna come rescue us," she boasted.
Surely she knew he couldn't change into Superman and save them now. They would have to go along with Trask and wait for a more opportune moment to escape.
"I'm counting on it," was the smug reply.
Lois and Clark exchanged startled glances. What could he possibly be planning to do to Superman?
Before they had a chance to pursue that line of thought, Trask's men were marching them at gunpoint out the door and into a nondescript van. Lois wondered idly as the van started up if Clark had any good ideas. She certainly didn't.
The drone of the airplane's engines were beginning to grate on Lois's nerves. Sitting beside Clark in what appeared to be a quasi-military aircraft equipped for parachuting held very little appeal. Trask and his men had been silent since they had forced her and her partner onto the plane. Low- voiced comments by the pilot to Trask indicated that the plane was rapidly gaining altitude. In the close confines of the plane, it was hard to believe that she and Clark had a prayer of escaping. This time she had certainly jumped in way over her head without checking the water level. But she had thought that just being with Clark would protect her. He *was* Superman after all. She hadn't stopped to consider that he had to protect his secret identity if he was captured as Clark. Lois stared at the opposite side of the plane, desperately trying to think of a way to survive.
Her partner stared morosely at the opposite side of the plane as well. How on earth had they gotten caught? He should have heard Trask coming in time for them to escape undetected. But no, he had allowed himself to get distracted by the discovery of his ship and had tuned out his surroundings. What a time to have this happen. He needed to think of a way to save both Lois and himself. Clark realized that they needed to get out of the plane. If they could somehow get out, he could turn into Superman and catch his partner.
Clark shifted his eyes to look down at Lois's shining hair. His partner. His brilliant, infuriating, intoxicating partner. Now that he had the time to mull it over, he wondered about the way she'd been acting for the past two days. When she had first bullied him into admitting that he was Superman, he had expected her to either lash out at him caustically, letting him know that the friendship that had begun to germinate between them was at an end, or to direct the gushing crush he'd suspected she had on Superman to be directed toward him as well. Lois, as unpredictable as ever, had surprised him. She'd questioned him, teased him, and continued to treat him as her junior partner. When he had shared with her his feelings about not knowing *what* he was, she'd actually been sympathetic. He could feel a connection with her unlike any he had ever known. A sense of belonging, of rightness. As if she were the woman he was meant to love. Lois had told him, his first week on the job not to fall for her. Given the yearning he was feeling in his heart, he hoped she had changed her mind.
"It's a romance novel." Lois's strained voice interrupted his musings.
"What?" Clark asked, pulled back to reality.
"My novel. It's about a woman who dies without ever finding her true love." Her voice ended with a catch.
Clark gave her a tender look. "That is *not* going to happen to you, Lois."
"Oh yeah? Check it out, Clark. These guys look serious." Her voice quavered. Even knowing that Clark was Superman, her fear was almost overwhelming. She wouldn't want him to jeopardize his secret identity to save her. The world needed Superman. And Clark needed to be Clark. From twenty thousand feet, the prospects of survival looked daunting. Lois tried to suppress the thought that it was completely unfair for her to have to die, just when she'd realized that she wanted to pursue this connection she felt with Clark. She swallowed the lump in her throat and looked back up at her partner.
He reached a tentative hand to squeeze hers and spoke quietly. "Lois, even if we do die this afternoon, you won't die like that." He smiled tenderly at her, hoping to convey with his eyes what he was afraid to express in words. Then he gave her a slight grin and whispered, "But we're not going to die. We just need to get out of this plane."
With a shock of recognition, Lois realized that Clark might be right. He seemed to feel the same connection that she did. Even if she died, she had known her true love.
Trask's voice interrupted them before Lois could respond. As he spoke, two of the other men unlatched the door to the plane. The two reporters exchanged glances. This could be their chance to escape.
"I assume the two of you understand the scientific method," he sneered.
"Advance a theory; submit it to a test," Clark replied, unsure where Trask was heading.
"My theory is that at least one of you knows how to contact the alien creature Superman. Perhaps telepathically."
Clark winced. What was it with this guy and telepathy?
Curious, Lois asked, "And how do you plan to test it?"
Trask explained, "I figure that if one of you were to become airborne at twenty thousand feet without a parachute, you'd find a way to contact Superman."
"What if you're wrong?" Clark asked.
Trask was philosophical. "Pushing back the frontiers of science is not without risks."
The other two soldiers threw open the door to the plane.
"And what happens if Superman does show up?" Lois demanded.
The rogue agent laughed harshly. "Does the worm need to know if the fish is going to be fried or charbroiled?" He nodded at two of his men, who moved to Lois and Clark.
One of them roughly pulled Lois from her seat.
"Leave Lois alone. Take me," Clark volunteered as he stood. "No, I'll go," she countered. The gleam in her eye told Clark she had thought of a plan.
Two soldiers began to drag Lois to the door while two others restrained her partner.
"Wait," she cried out. "I think I deserve a last request."
"Within reason," Trask replied.
"I want to kiss Clark good-bye." She tried to tell him with her eyes that there was more to it than a simple kiss.
The soldiers holding her arms released them, and she crossed the plane and wrapped her hands around Clark's neck.
"Lois," he murmured as he pressed his lips to hers.
Both reporters felt the electric surge between them as she responded to his kiss. Trask and his goons receded to the background of their consciousness as Lois and Clark showed each other the emotions that they couldn't yet put into words.
A loud "harumph" from Trask brought Lois back to the immediate situation.
Moving her lips to his ear, she whispered, "You take the one on the right."
He nodded and released her. As she elbowed Trask and kicked him, Clark spun and drilled the soldier beside him. As the man slumped to the floor, Clark turned to help Lois who was struggling with Trask.
"Watch it!" a second soldier commanded, training his gun on Clark. In the split second that Clark's attention was distracted, Trask shoved Lois out the door of the plane. Ignoring the pistol, Clark moved to the door, only to feel the faint touch of the bullet hit his arm.
With a strangled cry of "Lois!" Clark dove out after his partner.
As she realized that Trask had actually pushed her out of an airplane at twenty thousand feet, Lois's first thought was that she had to hang onto her purse. She had to protect Clark's globe for him. Her second thought was that she was rapidly plunging toward the ground and would die if her partner didn't get out of that plane to catch her. She opened her mouth and screamed.
Clark's hearing picked up the frantic cries of his partner over the drone of the plane's engines. He increased his own speed to catch up with her. Flying alongside her, he reached out and grabbed her arm.
The relief in her voice was palpable. "Thanks, Clark. I was beginning to worry."
His eyes gleamed impishly. "Don't tell me that you thought I would let you fall. No way could I go back to the Planet and tell Perry I needed a new partner."
Lois made a strangled sound that might have been a laugh. "Clark, I don't want to tell you how to do your job…"
"Yes, you do," he interrupted.
"Fine. I do. Have you thought about how you're going to save us without giving away your secret? I'm just asking because we're still falling, and you're still dressed as Clark. And the last time I looked, only *Superman* could fly."
He sighed. Sometimes there was just no pleasing her. He realized with a start that he was actually enjoying flying with her as Clark. "Lois, as soon as we reach that cloud beneath us, I'm going to change into Superman. All right?"
She wrinkled her forehead. "Clark, don't take this the wrong way, but how are you going to do that?" She added as an afterthought, "Or don't I want to know?"
"I'm going to let go of you for a second and spin. Then I'll catch you like I always do when I save you, and fly you back to the Planet. No big deal," he casually replied.
"No…big…deal…he says," she muttered under her breath.
"Lo…is. I heard that." He grinned. "Lois, you'll be fine. We're a lot higher than you think."
"We are?" she asked a bit breathlessly.
"Yeah, I've slowed our rate of descent so that we'll have time for the change in the cloud."
She just shook her head. "You are a strange one, Clark Kent."
"I thought we had already established that," he teased. "And now, we need to get ready for me to change. Here's the cloud."
Suddenly Lois and Clark were surrounded by a swirling mist. She thought idly that her hair was going to frizz from the moisture and then wondered why she was worrying about her hair.
"Okay, Lois. I'm going to let go of your arm. Just for a second. And then I'll catch you," Clark tried to reassure his partner.
She swallowed her fear and nodded.
Clark released her arm and moved about a foot away. Suddenly there was a blue/red blur that morphed into Superman. A Superman who quickly caught his partner in his arms and murmured, "You okay?"
"I am now," she replied. "Remind me not to do this again, okay?"
He laughed. "Fair enough. And remind me not to tune out next time we've broken into the bad guys' lair."
"Yeah. That would be a good thing." She wrapped her arms a little more tightly around his neck. "I must admit, I've had better afternoons."
Clark looked at the top of her head and wondered if he had imagined her snuggling up closer to his chest. No, she wouldn't have done that. Not Lois. No way. But he could dream.
"Okay, Lois, here's what I think we should do. I'll set you down on the roof of the Planet building and go back to see if I can find that plane."
"And if you find it, then what? Catch it and carry it to the nearest police station?"
"No, follow it to see where it goes. And if I'm lucky, catch Trask and his buddies as they get off it. And take *them* to the nearest police station."
Lois chewed his plan over in her mind. "I guess that should work. Want me to call the police?"
"I would if I knew where we were going to be when I caught up with them. You should probably tell Perry about that warehouse so he can do whatever needs to be done to get into it legally. Maybe call the police about that," he replied.
She nodded, an action that caused her silky hair to rub against his chin. Clark unconsciously tightened his arms around her. Flying with Lois in his arms had taken on another dimension today. He decided he could get used to the feeling.
"All right," he said decisively. "Here we are." Clark began to descend to the rooftop.
Lois shifted her head in order to see his face. "Clark, be careful up there, all right? I don't want to have to tell Perry I lost you either."
"Don't worry, Lois, I'll be fine," he reassured her. "The worst thing Trask can do is try to shoot me, and that won't hurt me at all."
He gently set Lois down on the rooftop. Concerned at her look of shock, he asked, "Lois, are you all right?"
Unable to speak, her mouth and eyes wide, Lois pointed toward the sky behind him.
Superman turned to follow her pointing hand. A guided missile was hurtling through the afternoon sky, headed straight for the roof of the Daily Planet Building. Unable to resist, Clark dropped a quick, fierce kiss on Lois's forehead and shot into the sky. Lois watched in horror as Superman caught the weapon and launched it back in the opposite direction. Before it had gone very far, however, it exploded in a fiery ball. Hurled backwards by the force of the explosion, Superman disappeared from view into the spreading flames. Wiping her hand across her suddenly tear-filled eyes, Lois collected herself. Surely he would be all right. He *was* invulnerable. She had seen him survive explosions before. He *would* be fine. He had to be fine. She turned and made her way to the stairwell. She still needed to see Perry and convince him to get the authorization to go back into the Bureau 39 warehouse.
The newsroom was in an uproar as Lois entered. Perry called to her, "Lois, what happened?"
"Before or after they threw us out of the plane?" she asked wryly.
"Great shades of Elvis! Threw you out of what plane?" Perry demanded. "And where's Clark?"
"The goons who were here the other day. And I don't know where Clark is. Superman was going back to save him when the missile came." Lois reflected that she wasn't actually telling an untruth, just doing a little selective editing. "Is Superman all right?"
"We don't know. We're trying to track down witnesses," Perry explained. "Right now, I'm worried about…"
"Clark!" Lois had turned to watch the stairwell door just in time to see her partner emerge from it, straightening his tie. She rushed to meet him. "Oh, Clark! You're alive!" Her relief threatened to overwhelm her.
He swung her into a bearhug. "Seems so. I told you I'd be all right," he whispered in her ear.
"Yeah, well, it was kind of hard to remember that when I saw you go flying backwards when that thing exploded. I was so scared." She practically choked him in her relief.
"I'm sorry. But seriously, Lois, I don't know of anything that can hurt me." He reluctantly released her from his arms. "Did you get a chance to talk to Perry?"
"No, he was too busy worrying about you," she told him with a twinkle. "Glad I didn't have to tell him I'd lost you."
"Me too. But trust me, Lois, I'm hard to get rid of." With those words he accompanied her to Perry's office.
A brief, incredible explanation later, they were at Lois's computer writing the story of their abduction, Clark leaning over her, his hand on her shoulder.
"Now what?" Clark asked as they sent the article to Perry.
"Now we find out if he's gotten us whatever we need to go back to that warehouse." She smiled intimately at him. "And if he hasn't, we go see Inspector Henderson."
Clark's eyes crinkled in amusement. "You never give up, do you?"
"Nope, and don't you forget it. I told you we'd get these guys, and we will." She placed a hand on his. "You're not alone, Clark."
"Thanks, Lois." He paused, unsure if he should tell her what was on his mind, then decided that if nothing else, they had to have the truth between them. "I have to admit I wasn't sure you'd ever even tolerate me."
"What?" She had the grace to look embarrassed. "Oh, the 'hack from Nowheresville' comment?"
"Well, yeah," he replied sheepishly.
"Clark, you gotta toughen up, or this city will eat you alive," she advised with a grin.
"Toughen up, huh?" He shared the private joke with her.
Their conversation was interrupted by the editor's bellow, "Lane! Kent! My office!"
As they made their way across the newsroom, Clark murmured, "You know, I'm still trying to figure out why he says 'Lane! Kent!' sometimes, and sometimes he says, 'Lois! Clark!' Does one mean that he's happy with us and the other mean we're in trouble?"
She snorted. "You mean like when your mother calls you by your whole name, emphasizing your middle name, when you're in trouble?"
"Yeah." A flash of teeth split his face. "Just like that.
"You know, I've never really thought about it. But I don't think it means anything."
They entered the editor's office. "Yes, Chief?" they said in unison.
Perry White was back at his desk, straightening some papers. "Yes. I just got off the phone with the police department. They've got a warrant to enter the warehouse on Bessolo Boulevard. The Planet has permission to accompany them."
"That's great," Clark commented.
"More to the point, when?" Lois wanted to know.
Their employer grinned. "In thirty minutes. You all up to this much excitement in one day?"
The look Lois gave him was puzzled. "Excitement? What excitement?" She turned to her partner. "Clark, have we had any excitement today?"
He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "Not that I know of. Did I miss something?" And then spoiled the joke by dissolving into laughter.
"Glad you all can laugh about it," their editor remarked. "Now, it's time to get movin.'"
As the trio left his office, Perry called, "Jimmy! Get your camera. It's time to go."
The MPD SWAT team spread out through the Bessolo Boulevard Discount Used Furniture warehouse. The sound of their booted feet on concrete echoed hollowly in the empty room. Lois, Clark, Perry, and Jimmy followed in their wake.
Incredulous, Lois and Clark stared at the bare floor.
"It was all here, Perry," she insisted. "Clark, tell him."
He backed her up. "She's right."
Lois pressed her case tenaciously. "U.F.O.s, Perry. Unidentified flying objects. Only they were identified. Bagged, tagged, and processed."
The editor drawled skeptically, "U.F.O.s?"
Lois was undeterred. "Yes. Don't you see? It's a cover-up. Big time. That's what's going on."
Clark added, "This could be a bigger story than Superman."
"We've got cosmic Watergate here, Perry. We've got to get back to the Planet and start writing."
Perry's voice halted her in her tracks. "Now here's where I gotta get off this bus you're drivin.'"
"We know what we saw!" Lois endeavored to keep her voice from rising.
"You two are the best. You tell me you saw something; I believe you. Can't let you write it though." Perry's voice was firm.
"Perry, Clark and I can corroborate each other."
"Not when you're talking U.F.O.s, Lois. Your physical evidence is gone. Trask is missing. Thompson's dead. And General Newcomb says he's never heard of you. We run this thing, we look like the National Whisper. You two can kiss your careers good-bye and take the paper down with you. I can't let that happen. I'm sorry." He turned and motioned to Jimmy to go.
Bitterly disappointed, Lois walked farther into the empty warehouse. It was bad enough to lose the story of a lifetime. But they had lost Clark's spaceship as well. She didn't know what to say to him. What could she say?
"Lois." Her partner came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder.
She turned to face him. "Clark, do you have any idea what we've lost here?"
He looked around the empty room and nodded. "Yeah. I do."
"I don't know why I said that. Of course you know. You've lost more than anybody." She swallowed the lump in her throat. "I don't suppose you saw where the plane went, did you?"
He sighed heavily. "No, by the time I had dealt with the missile, it was gone."
"I'm sorry, Clark. I don't know what else to say."
"Don't say anything. Like you said before, we'll get these guys sooner or later." He gave her a brief smile. "Now come on. We still have a story to finish."
"Yes, we do." She grinned impishly at him again. "And then I have to find Superman. He still owes me an interview."
"I see." He returned her grin. "Wanna meet at the Sewage Reclamation Facility?"
Lois smacked him on the chest and said, "Don't get smart with me, Farmboy. Paybacks are…"
"Got it." He grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the exit.
Several hours later found Lois trying to catch "Whoppers" in her mouth as she sat at her desk in the nearly deserted newsroom. The skeleton night staff was meeting in the conference room with the night city editor. Perry and the rest of the day staff had long since left for home and dinner. And Clark—well, Clark had gotten a weird look in his eyes and clutched at his tie in what she was rapidly coming to realize was a prelude to leaving the newsroom to go do "a job for Superman."
A quick perusal of the news channels had told her that he was helping at a massive traffic accident on the freeway. That had been almost two hours ago; however, and she was beginning to think that he wasn't going to return to the newsroom. Lois glanced at her watch. Seven-thirty. She'd give him another thirty minutes, and then she'd go home herself. She tossed another "Whopper" in the air. But her aim was off, and it bounced across the newsroom floor.
Seven-forty. This time she caught the malted milk ball. A soft thud caught her ear.
"I hear you've been looking for me," came Clark's voice.
"All my life," she whispered. And then realizing that he could hear her, she blushed in embarrassment.
She turned to face him, only to see Superman standing behind her desk, looking amused.
"Sorry about the time. I got kind of tied up," he explained.
"Yeah, I saw the news. Was everyone all right?" she asked, concerned.
"No fatalities, but some people were pretty badly injured." He shrugged dejectedly. "It happens more often than I'd like. I guess I'll eventually get used to it, but sometimes I wonder," he said sadly.
"I guess." She sounded doubtful. "So why are you here?" She waved at his uniform. "You know. Like this?"
Clark chuckled. "Have you forgotten? I owe you an interview. I'm here for that."
She smiled. "Oh yeah. Let me get my notepad and a pencil." She picked them up from her desk. "Hmm, where to start." She chewed on the eraser. "Where are you from? I mean, you're not from Kansas, that's for sure." She couldn't resist the joke.
"I'm from another planet. A planet in another galaxy. It's called Krypton." He was beginning to enjoy himself. At least he was until her next question.
Lois looked him over, from the red boots on his feet, up the blue spandex-clad legs, past the red briefs, to the tight spandex stretched under the "S" shield across his muscular chest, back down to the briefs, and then up to the slicked-back hair. "You seem to have all the…the parts…of a man." Lois was having difficulty keeping a straight face.
Fighting down his embarrassment, Clark replied, "I am a man, Lois." He gave her a mock leer. "Just like you're a woman."
"Um, yeah." Lois decided that perhaps he wasn't as far out of his league as she had thought. She took a deep, calming breath and continued the interview. "So, Superman, why are you here?"
Superman paused to consider his answer. After the events of the past few days, he had wondered about that himself. There had to be a good reason why he had been sent from another galaxy to Earth. And contrary to Trask's paranoid beliefs, it was not to take over the world. After a thought-filled moment, he replied, "I honestly don't know why I was sent here. But since I am here, I've come to the conclusion that I must use these powers that I've been given to help—whenever and however I can. To fight for truth and justice. To help minimize the damage of natural and man-made disasters. As I told Amy Platt on the Space Station, I'm a friend."
"So, Superman, are you saying that you aren't here on some mission from this other planet?" she asked.
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. I know that I came from Krypton. But other than that, I have no idea why I was sent here. I don't even know exactly how I got here. And I have no specific memories of Krypton. That's really all I know to tell you." He sounded rueful. "I wish I did. I wish I *could* tell you more."
"I see. I guess that sounds good."
"Lo…is." His tone was aggrieved.
She grinned up at him. "Don't worry, Superman. I'll be sure to let my *partner* take a look at this before I pass it on to Perry."
He shook his head in disbelief. She really was irrepressible. "Lois, I need to go."
"Yes. Oh, by the way, Clark would appreciate it if you would wait for him here. I think he wants to talk to you."
"All right, but he better not take too long." She gave him a mock glare.
"I'm sure he'll be back in just a minute." And with that cryptic remark, Superman flew out the window of the Daily Planet into the darkening sky.
Mere seconds later, the elevator dinged as it disgorged its solitary passenger. His stride confident, Clark Kent crossed the newsroom floor and approached his teammate.
"Lois, you ready to leave? I thought we could grab some dinner."
She tried to suppress the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "You buying?"
"Is this like a date?" she asked, not sure what answer she wanted.
"You tell me, Lois. Do you want it to be a date? Or just two colleagues sharing a meal?" He looked at her tenderly. "It's entirely up to you."
Lois nibbled at her bottom lip. "What if I said I'm not sure?"
"Then it will be an *almost* date. We can worry about the details later." Clark held out his hand. "C'mon. It's getting late and I'm starved."
Lois placed her napkin beside her plate. "Clark, that has to be the best pasta I've ever had. Thank you." She sighed contentedly.
"You're welcome." He smiled, happy that she had liked his choice of restaurant. "Actually, I'd never eaten here before tonight, but some of my neighbors have talked about the place."
Lois eyed him speculatively. "So we're in your neighborhood?"
He nodded. "Yes. I thought if you weren't too tired, perhaps we could go back to my place for coffee and dessert. There are some things I'd like to talk to you about."
"What's wrong with talking at my apartment?"
"Truthfully, two things. One, isn't your sister living with you?"
"I'd prefer not to have an audience."
"Oh. I hadn't thought about that. What's the second thing?"
A hint of devilish humor lit his eyes. "Lois, have you ever really sat on your sofa? Trust me, mine is much more comfortable. And after everything that has happened today, I would like to be comfortable."
"Fine. We'll go to your place. But dessert had better be chocolate."
"Of course, Lois. Nothing but the best for you. You want Ho Ho's or Ding Dongs?" He slid out of the booth before she could connect her foot with his shin.
Lois tucked her feet beneath her as she curled up in the corner of Clark's couch. She had to admit that he was right about the comfort level. The plump cushions and the bank of throw pillows was much nicer than the stylish, but distinctly hard, furniture in her own apartment. She wrapped her hands around the mug of coffee he'd prepared and watched him scoop ice cream into large bowls. She wondered in passing when was the last time she'd actually used a bowl.
"Do you want chocolate sauce or marshmallow creme?" he called from the kitchen area.
"On chocolate ice cream? Marshmallow of course."
"Coming right up," he said as he handed her a bowl.
She had to chuckle when she saw that his bowl had both toppings. "You *really* don't need to watch what you eat, do you?" she teased.
"Not so far, no," was the ready reply. Clark dipped his spoon into the frozen concoction and then slowly savored the tastes. Lois was right. It was hard to improve upon chocolate. "Lois," he began, "in the plane this afternoon. You suddenly came out with a description of your novel." His expression was curious, his voice gentle. "Why did you tell me? And why then?"
Clark's question was the last thing she'd expected him to ask. Lois took a large spoonful of ice cream and pondered the question. Why *had* she told him about her novel? She'd never told anyone about it, not even Lucy. So why Clark? And as he said, why this afternoon on that plane? Swallowing the ice cream, she tried to explain, as much to herself as to him. "I guess because I wanted you to know that I trust you. Day before yesterday you had shared your secret with me. Granted, I didn't give you much choice, but you could have tried to lie about it. But you didn't. You trusted me, 'Mad Dog Lane,' with a secret that if I revealed it, would destroy your life as you know it. It seemed only fair to do the same for you."
He reached a hand out and laid it on her shoulder. "Lois, you didn't have to do that." He gently caressed her shoulder. "But I'm glad you did," he said softly.
She inclined her head and rested her cheek on his hand. "Me too."
Clark barely heard her, she spoke so softly. Putting down his ice cream, he took her bowl from her hands and placed it on the coffee table. He cupped her cheek with his other hand and threaded his long fingers through her hair. Gently rubbing his thumb on her cheek, he said, "Lois, do you feel it too? Please tell me that you do."
Her eyes had drifted shut; she was awash with that feeling of connection again. "You mean the connection between us? Like your hands are melting into me and I'm melting into you? Is that what you're talking about?"
His eyes widened in wonder that she had been able to verbalize his feelings so well. "Yeah, that feeling. That I'm part of you and you're part of me. That we belong together. Do you really feel it?" His voice was almost anxious.
She straightened up a little and put her hands on his. "Yes. I feel it. But I'm not sure what to do with it." She gave a tight little smile. "We've only known each other for a few weeks, Clark. This is kind of crazy, you know?"
He moved his hands gently against her cheeks. "Is it? Is it any crazier than the fact that I traveled across galaxies in a tiny spacecraft with no visible means of nourishment when I was just a baby?" He slowly removed his hands from her face and bent to retrieve his coffee. He swallowed a large gulp then went on. "Is it any crazier than the fact that I told you everything about me, when I've never told another living soul besides my parents?"
"You do have a point," she murmured, reaching for her own mug.
"I don't want to pressure you, Lois. If you don't want to be anything more than work partners, I'll respect that."
"Oh, Clark," she began.
"But if there is a chance, no matter how small, that you can feel anything more for me, I hope you won't shut me out." He grinned sheepishly at her. "And now I'll shut up."
Lois stared into her coffee. It was so hard to put her feelings into words. She felt so…she didn't know what she felt. Her partner, the "hack from Nowheresville," was sitting beside her, calmly eating ice cream that was smothered in both marshmallow and chocolate sauce. It was a visual reminder to her that Clark Kent was a little bit more than a rookie reporter from Kansas. "Clark, I won't lie to you. Up until you arrived in Metropolis, I had my life pretty well settled. I worked; I went to the gym; I spent some time with my sister. I was *not* looking for anyone. Not a partner, not a boyfriend." She gulped some more coffee. "After Claude, I told myself that there was no way I would *ever* get involved with someone from work again."
Before Clark could respond, she went on. "And then you showed up. Both of you." She smiled ruefully. "And Cat was right when she said that Superman had swept me off my feet. He was so gorgeous." A quick, sideways glance showed her that Clark was looking decidedly uncomfortable. "And I'll admit it. Cat was right. I did have sort of a crush on Superman. Not because of his powers, but because he seemed to be a wonderful person. And he was safe. There was no way that he could have a relationship with anyone."
"Do you still feel that way?" Clark interjected.
"Yes. Superman *can't* have a relationship. It would be worse than it is for a movie star." Noticing his crestfallen look, she went on, "But Clark Kent is different. He can have a relationship. He's just an ordinary guy."
"So I guess I need to figure out what I want." She put down her mug and scooted over beside him. "Clark, I won't even try to deny the physical attraction. You are definitely the best looking guy I've ever seen."
"Better than Superman?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Much better. Superman has terrible hair." Her eyes twinkled. "And I'll agree that there is some weird connection between us. Maybe it means we're meant for each other. How should I know? I've never had a successful romantic relationship in my life," she admitted. "They've all been federal disasters."
"So, maybe I'll be your first non-federal disaster," he suggested with a small grin.
"That's just it, Clark. If we get involved, I don't think I want you to be my 'first non- federal disaster.' I think I want you to be my *only* non-federal disaster. And that whole idea terrifies me." She looked at him, pleading with her eyes for him to understand.
"Lois, please, don't be scared. I told you I won't pressure you. I know how I feel, how I've felt since the day I met you, but I'll go as slowly as you like. Because I want you to be my *only* too." He gently took her delicate hands in his large ones. "Let's take it slowly. Okay?"
She smiled with relief. "That would be perfect, Clark. And this can count as our first date."
"Great!" He could feel the tension draining from his body. She hadn't turned him down. He had waited for her for twenty-seven years. He could wait some more. "In the meantime, Lois…" he began.
"Wanna neck?" he asked playfully.
"All right." And a smiling Lois turned her face up for his kiss as he pulled her into his arms.