By Joy Moony <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: September 2002
Summary: H.G. Wells pays a visit to our favorite couple, and for once he just wants to talk.
Warning: This story has been rated PG13 for violent content
This story is dedicated to my friends who perished on 9/11/01, and also to my family members who were part of the rescue and recovery effort. This has been percolating in my brain for several months now, ever since I saw the opening picture on Zoomway's L&C site. Usual disclaimers apply — I don't own these characters, but I thank Siegel, Shuster, WB, TNT, DC Comics and anyone else who has a controlling interest -for letting me borrow them. As far as series continuity goes, I'm imagining that the baby at the end of Family Hour never happened. Antietam was a nasty battle during the American Civil War.
The late afternoon shadows were gathering on Hyperion Avenue as Lois Lane and Clark Kent arrived at their townhouse. At first, deep in conversation and burdened with their grocery bags, they didn't notice the small figure that was perched and waiting on the front stoop. They fell silent as he came into view — a dapper gentleman who was clutching his bowler hat and blinking owlishly behind his small, wire-rimmed spectacles.
"Oh, boy…" muttered Clark as he recognized their visitor.
His wife was more expressive. "Arghgh! What do you want this time? I'm warning you, I'm tired and cranky and I have no energy for adventure at the moment. That means no trips through history, no visiting past lifetimes, no alternate universe kidnappings…nothing!!"
Mr. H.G. Wells gave the couple a quiet smile. "No, my friends. This time I don't require any help, super or otherwise. I just need some friendly company and hoped that you would join me for dinner."
Lois and Clark exchanged puzzled glances. In all of their encounters with Wells, he had never seemed so subdued. Curiosity and compassion compelled Clark to invite the little writer into their home.
Somewhat less graciously, Lois handed her grocery bag to Wells, who staggered under its unexpected weight while she opened the front door. She motioned for him to precede her into the house. "Come on in Mr. Wells. You can eat with us and tell us what is eating you."
He grunted a little as he deposited his heavy bag in the kitchen, and then watched, awestruck, at the blur of activity around him. By the time Lois had changed into comfortable clothes and poured three glasses of wine, Clark had spun into his jeans and T-shirt, set the table and prepared and served out a hearty meal.
"You do get used to it after a while," said Lois, referring to the superspeed blur that was her husband. She watched as Wells sat down heavily and raised his glass gratefully to his lips. He really was preoccupied, she thought. She had seen the eloquent writer hem and haw, even stammer a bit, but he was never at such a loss for words. This pained silence was somehow ominous. Dinner was a rather awkward affair as their guest made some attempts at small talk but seemed mostly content to observe his hosts.
Clark was savoring his food and wine, appreciating the flavors at a leisurely pace, while also managing to pack away an enormous amount of food. Of course, thought Wells, he was a superhero. All that flying must burn it off. Lois was even more intriguing. Her delicate table manners did not prevent her from consuming a very substantial meal as well. Wells frowned absently. Where was she putting it? Lois was as slender and fit as ever, without any of the tell-tale signs of bulimia. He shook his head absently, aware that such thoughts were irrelevant in light of what he had learned on this day. He barely noticed when Clark cleaned up dinner and Lois poured him more wine, but when the two reporters sat themselves across from him, he knew he could delay speaking no longer.
"Ahem. As I said, I don't really have a reason to be here except wanting to see you. I've, er, grown rather fond of you after all of our dealings." Wells removed his glasses and cleaned them carefully on his handkerchief.
"Ah, well, as I was saying. You are aware, I'm sure, that I have traveled to several different countries and also to many different points in time. I consider myself a rather seasoned traveler."
Ever the reporter, Lois reminded him, "Don't forget about your travel to different dimensions. Don't you remember the alternate universe?"
"Yes, Miss Lane, you're right. I've been to two other universes, one of them with you…and today I found my way to yet another."
Clark lifted a brow and nodded at his wife. This was what had made their guest so thoughtful.
Wells took a deep breath and continued. "I must tell you, that as much as I like traveling, I positively loathe traveling between dimensions. I'm getting on in years and it is very difficult on the body, not to mention disturbing to the spirit. I've just returned from an alternate realm where neither of you exist. A world without Superman was unsettling, to say the least, but that wasn't what unsettled me the most.
"I was unmistakably in America, with a very similar history to the America that you live in, but with some major changes. There was not and had never been a city of Metropolis or a state of New Troy. Other American cities seem to have absorbed all the population and industry that is here. The premier among them, the pulse of that America and indeed that world, beat not in Metropolis but in New York City."
"Oh we love New York!" Lois chimed in. "It's so friendly and charming!"
"Ah. Quite so. Hmm. Well then. The New York of that universe is much larger than yours. It is a wondrous place — vibrant and busy and international. It is a magnet for companies and immigrants from all corners of the world. In fact, more than 30 years ago, a pair of office skyscrapers were built to symbolize that fact. Side by side, and 110 stories each, they perched right on the tip of Manhattan island. The name of these twin towers was the World Trade Center, and inside, the world truly traded. Oh, those towers were beautiful, and so much a metaphor for the city itself. Big and brash and modern and shining in the morning sun…"
Wells' voice trailed off and he stared at the table. Lois probed gently. "Were beautiful? You're speaking in the past tense."
"Yes. These Twin Towers, this World Trade Center, became a target for a group who I can only define as pathologically jealous extremists. This group attempted to bomb the buildings in years past, but those towers were built to withstand almost anything. Until the clear, blue morning of September 11, 2001."
The little writer clenched his hand on the wineglass, determined to continue. "It was then that members of this group carried out a complicated plan of amazing savagery. Four large airplanes, fully fueled for cross-country flight, were hijacked and used as enormous, high-speed flying bombs."
Lois felt, rather than heard, her husband's moan of distress. She clasped his hand and braced herself to hear the rest. "Go on, Mr. Wells."
"It is so difficult to actually say the words, Miss Lane. One plane smashed into the Pentagon, causing serious damage to one section and hundreds of casualties. That was bad enough but then two others smashed into each of the Twin Towers. Within 90 minutes or so, the towers of solid steel and glass had collapsed like plywood and were completely destroyed. First one and then the other. One hundred and ten stories each. It was the single bloodiest day in American history. Worse than Antietam, worse than Pearl Harbor, worse than D-Day. The final death toll of that day was over 3,000 souls, with untold billions of dollars worth of damage."
Lois and Clark stared at him in shocked disbelief as the narrative trailed off again. Tears were rolling down both of their cheeks as they struggled to wrap their brains around the enormity of it. Clark jumped to his feet in protest. "You've got to take me there, Mr. Wells! You've got to take me to right before this happens so I can stop it! Let's go!"
"No, Clark, I'm sorry. I'm not able to do that, and for many, many reasons. I can't possibly take you back in time to prevent every human disaster that has ever happened. But, the most important reason I can't take you is that you could not have prevented that day's carnage. The planes left from four different spots and they all attacked within an hour of each other. If you had caught one plane and brought it down, the other would have struck and caused even more damage with less warning. And you wouldn't have been able to save the Pentagon at all."
"But I could have put out the fire, perhaps carried people out of the wreckage, perhaps helped to evacuate the towers, perhaps shored up the steel so it wouldn't collapse…I could have helped!!! It's what I do. And why did the towers collapse anyway?"
Lois surprised the others by providing the answer. "Jet fuel burns at over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Even your Super-breath couldn't put that out. Steel melts and bends at 1500 degrees or less. What I want to know is why the casualties weren't higher. Shouldn't 220 stories worth of office buildings have housed tens of thousands of employees?"
"You are quite right as usual my dear. There were more than 30,000 workers in the Towers that morning. Ordinary firefighters, ordinary police officers and ordinary citizens combined in an extraordinary effort to evacuate those who could be evacuated. Clark, I'm sure you remember what you said at the press conference before you went to New Krypton. You said "Inside each of you is a hero, and a world full of heroes has nothing to fear." A world full of heroes rose to the occasion on that day to help each other. You never asked what happened to the fourth airplane, but I'll tell you. Because it was slightly behind schedule the hijacked passengers were able to contact their families by cell phone. They found out how their country was being attacked and that their plane was a part of it. They soon found that their plane was headed for the Capitol in Washington DC. Rather than have that happen, a group of flight attendants and passengers, armed with nothing more than their bare hands, overpowered their hijackers and forced the plane to crash into a deserted field in Pennsylvania. At the Pentagon, people crawled on their hands and knees through burning rubble and lifted each other over the piles to safety. At the World Trade Center, ordinary men and women dragged their injured co- workers to usable stairwells and carried them down dozens of flights, while firefighters and police officers carried others to safety. They did everything that any Superman could have done and more. It was a horrible day, but extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary."
The long stream of words stopped and H.G. Wells took a fortifying gulp from his glass. Lois stepped behind her husband and rubbed his shoulders, knowing more than anyone else how he hated to feel helpless. Clark kissed her hand absently, too stunned by this story to move.
After draining his glass, the older gentleman continued talking. "I did not intend to witness such horror. Actually, I first arrived in New York as the citizens were marking the one-year anniversary of the disaster. I was quite amazed at what I saw. Humans are remarkably adaptable creatures, you know. Though they grieve and are wounded, they refuse to give up. The rubble was cleared away, the heroes were honored and the country was united. I was given a time-window through which I witnessed the events to that terrible day, and that helped me to understand why I was there a year later."
"And why was that?" Clark asked.
"I was shown both of those days — September 11, 2001 and September 11, 2002 — so that I would understand why that dimension also evolved towards the Utopia that I live in now. All of the alternate realities wind up in the same place you know. And while the descendants of Superman will help this society evolve towards Utopia, there were none but ordinary superheroes to inspire that one. That was why I would not be able to take you to that point in time to prevent the attacks, even if you had been able to stop them. I'm only able to interfere in history where Utopia is threatened. The descendants of that world's heroes: the utility, construction and Red Cross workers, EMT's, nurses, police and fire officers and the thousands of volunteers who helped in the aftermath — they and their descendants will help their society evolve."
Too drained and too emotional to respond, both of the reporters gazed, stunned and unfocused at the little writer.
"Oh, my dears, I am sorry to have burdened you with such a story. To me, you two represent all that is heroic and hopeful, and I just wanted to see you in the flesh."
Lois continued to stare blankly, tears rolling unchecked down her cheeks. Part of this was certainly caused by compassion for her fellow humans, but by the gentle way Clark touched her, Wells knew there was something personal in her pain. It was Clark who explained, his own voice thickened by emotion.
"Mr. Wells, you keep speaking of our descendants, of how they will found this Utopia of yours. We need to tell you that Kryptonian and human biologies are incompatible. We're unable to have children." Wells stared back, confused. Then as a thought visibly clicked in his head, a slow smile spread across his face. For the first time that evening, he looked happy.
"Hmm. Well. I wonder if I might conduct a small experiment. Miss Lane, please close your eyes and extend your right arm."
Confused, Lois stopped crying and did as he asked. Clark watched in amazement as H.G. Wells climbed onto a chair and pushed down strongly on his wife's slender arm from above. Within moments, the tips of his shoes left the floor and Lois was supporting his entire body weight.
"Oh my God!" Clark jumped to his feet again, not sure whether to be worried or amazed.
When Lois opened her eyes, she promptly dropped their visitor in shock. "My dear friends, please don't be alarmed. I believe I can explain."
"Oh my God!" Lois echoed her husband. "I'm not going to start floating and bouncing bullets again, am I? Once was enough!"
"No, no, I shouldn't think so, although your earlier experience probably aided this one."
"What experience? What is happening to me?"
"Your body has changed, just the least little bit. My dear, I believe that we are seeing the consequence of long-term, unshielded exposure to Clark."
"Would someone like to explain this to me?" Worry, combined with the strong emotions evoked by the earlier story, was depriving Clark of his usual patience.
"My apologies, Mr. Kent. It is just as I said earlier. Humans are remarkably adaptable creatures. I suspect that your wife's, "biology" is starting to adapt to yours — because of prolonged exposure to your aura and your er, ah, other things. It would explain why her strength and her appetite have increased and also explains the incontrovertible fact that one day soon, you two will be parents."
Stunned silence greeted him from Clark. Lois recovered her voice soon enough.
"Oh, Mr. Wells, I hope you're right!"
"I know I am, my dear. Don't give up hope."
He removed a strange timepiece from the pocket of his waistcoat and consulted it. "It is past time that I was going, my friends. I thank you for dinner and for bearing my company on this day. Telling you of my experiences has helped to ease my burden."
"You're welcome, Mr. Wells," replied Lois "You've helped to ease ours as well."
He replaced his bowler hat on his head, adjusted his spectacles, kissed Lois's cheek, shook Clark's hand, and was suddenly gone, vanished into thin air.
Needing comfort after the emotional upheaval of his visit, Lois and Clark simply stood still and hugged each other.
"Lois, I wish I could have helped over there."
"I know, honey. I wish I could have helped too. I think everyone who heard about it or witnessed it wished the same thing."
"Do you think he was right about…the other thing?"
"I don't know, but after this evening, I need you to take me upstairs, hold me tight and expose me to some more of your aura.
"At your service, ma'am. I can certainly help with that!"