By Nan Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2003
Summary: Marta Kent is the only girl in her family, and she's noticed her dad and older brother are always disappearing, without taking her along. Is it because she's just a girl? The answer to her question is a little more than she expected. This is part of the Dagger Series, following "Christmas in Metropolis."
This story is part of Nan Smith's "Dagger" series. See a list of all the stories in this series and get links.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Suspicions. Need the previous story? Read Christmas in Metropolis.
This story is part of the "Dagger" series and follows Christmas in Metropolis. The last three stories centered around CJ Kent, but, as someone said to me, we have to give the women equal time, so I hereby present the story of Marta Kent…
Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this story are not mine. They are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else can legally claim them, nor am I profiting by their use. Any new characters, settings and the story itself belong to me.
Marta Kent stomped up the stairs of the Kent home, marched into her room and slammed the door behind her. Dad had gone off with CJ *again* and refused to let her come along. Worse than that, they had been gone for almost two hours! The last time Wyatt had gone with them, and when she'd asked Wyatt where they had been, he'd just shrugged. "Out," he'd said.
"Well, what did you do?" she'd insisted.
Another shrug. "Nothin'."
Boys! They gave you about as much information as Mom's stupid tropical fish! CJ had just grunted and gone off to play the latest online game on the family computer and, when she'd looked, Dad wasn't anywhere around. They'd started disappearing at odd times a while back but she didn't exactly know when. She'd just sort of started to notice that sometimes she couldn't find either CJ or Dad, and Mom didn't seem to know where they had gone.
Of course, right now, Mom had all she could do just to get up the stairs. She'd gone on maternity leave from her job last week and spent most of the day sitting around with her feet up and working on the new computer that Dad had insisted that they get. Of course, that wasn't surprising since she was supposed to have triplets in about three months. Marta didn't see how she was going to last the whole nine months. She looked almost like she had just before Jimmy had been born, now. Marta had overheard Mom griping last night after she had gone to bed about losing her figure and Dad had been getting smoochy. Marta had plugged up her ears but she wondered if she ought to mention that the walls in this place were too thin. It seemed these days as if she could hear everything anyone said in the house.
Downstairs, she heard the phone ring, even through the closed door, and she heard her mother's slow footsteps across the living room to answer. She picked it up on the fourth ring.
"May I speak to Lois Lane Kent, please?" a cheerful, female voice inquired. Mom must have turned on the speakerphone, Marta surmised.
"This is Lois Kent," her mother's voice said.
"Congratulations, Ms. Kent! You have won an all-expenses paid vacation to Las Vegas! All you need to do to claim your prize is to attend a short presentation on Pleasanthill Resorts, held at the local —"
There was a click. Mom had hung up on the solicitor, Marta thought. Mom had the right idea. Dad was too nice; he'd listen to what the callers had to say and then politely turn them down. Mom didn't waste the time.
She glanced around her room at the new desk and chair she'd gotten, along with a lot of other things, for her birthday, last week. Her school books were piled on its surface and her karate gi lay on the foot of her bed. She'd just been promoted again, the day after her tenth birthday. Sensei Bob said that she had a real talent for it.
Marta walked to the window and stood staring out at the sunny, afternoon sky. She'd let herself get distracted from the cause of her annoyance. Dad and CJ had gone off without her, again! It just wasn't *fair*!
From somewhere above her, a piercing screech nearly lifted the hair on her head before she recognized Jonny's voice. "That's *my* ding dong!"
That figured, she thought. It seemed like Jimmy had developed this incredible appetite lately, and nobody's snacks were safe if they laid them down for a minute. He'd even gone after the brownies she and Dad had made for the school bake sale, yesterday. He hadn't liked it a bit when Marta took them away and yelled at him for eating five of the brownies. Listening to the riot that was currently going on in the playroom upstairs, she sighed and marched out of the bedroom. T he last thing Mom needed was to have to climb the stairs to break *that* up!
When she arrived in the attic she flung open the door to the playroom and stopped, appalled. Jimmy was screaming, face and hands smeared with crumbs, icing and tears. Jonny held a smashed mess that had been the ding dong and was cramming the remainder of the cake into his mouth.
"What's going on here?" she demanded. "I'm gonna tell Dad if you two can't behave!"
"Jimmy stole my ding dong," Jonny mumbled around the mouthful of his snack.
"Didn't! It was *my* ding dong!" Jimmy wailed. "I *found* it!"
"Yeah, he found it on *my* shelf!" Jonny yelled back. "I'm gonna tell Mommy!"
"Jonny, shut up!" Marta commanded. "Dad told you Mom wasn't supposed to climb the stairs until he's here! Do you want her to get sick? And Dad told you to ask before you ate snacks, Jimmy!"
"You're not the boss of us!" Jimmy announced, angrily. "*I'm* gonna tell Mommy!"
"You don't bother Mom!" Marta said. "She's supposed to rest or she'll have the babies too soon! You know what Dad said!"
Somewhere, not far away, she heard a "swoosh" similar to the one she had heard a few times when Superman had given them lifts to Grandma and Granddad Kent's farm.
"*What* is going on here?" their father's voice demanded. Marta turned around in surprise.
Her father folded his arms and looked sternly at the two boys. "Well?"
"Jonny took my ding dong!" Jimmy announced, glaring at his brother. "I found it!"
"It was *my* ding dong!" Jonny retorted. "He took it off my shelf!"
"Where did you find it, Jimmy?" Clark asked.
"Um … " The four-year-old looked suddenly uncomfortable.
"What did Mommy tell you about taking things off your brothers' and sister's shelves?"
Jimmy's lip quivered. Clark turned his gaze to Jonny. "What did I tell you about grabbing things out of your brother's hands?"
"But, it was mine!"
"You still don't grab. You should have told your mother. We can always get another ding dong."
Jonny's lip began to quiver as well. Their father looked stern. "There will be no dessert tonight for either one of you. And no video games for the rest of the day. Both of you, go down to your room and stay there until dinner time."
When Dad spoke like that, her brothers knew better than to argue, Marta thought. She watched in silence as they filed past her toward the stairs, hanging their heads.
Her father turned to her, and his expression had relaxed. "Thanks for trying to help, Marta."
She shrugged. "'S'okay." The reason for her previous annoyance returned and she scowled. "I figured I'd better stop the fight since nobody was here but Mom."
He frowned slightly. "What's the matter, honey?"
"Marta … " He paused. "You're still upset that CJ and I didn't take you along, aren't you?"
She looked at her shoes.
"Honey, come on downstairs. I think your Mom and I need to talk to you about something."
She scuffed her foot on the worn rug of the playroom. "I don't want to come if you don't want me." She felt the tears start to gather in her eyes and resolutely blinked them away. "I wish I was a boy!"
Her father looked appalled. "That isn't it at all, Marta. Your mom and I love you very much, and we don't want you to be a boy! It was just — well, it was something that we didn't think you were quite ready for. But —" He broke off. "I think it's about time you found out. You're going to within a few months, anyway."
"Found out what?" she asked.
"Why CJ and I have gone off alone so much. Come on."
Her curiosity aroused, Marta followed her father down the steps. On the second floor, she noticed that the door to the boys' room was closed and she could hear the beep of a hand-held video game.
"Somebody's playing on the Game Boy," she said. "It's sure turned up loud."
Her dad cast her an odd glance and knocked on the door. The beeping ceased.
He opened the door. Jonny was reading an adventure book and Jimmy was sitting on the bed, apparently staring at the wall. "I thought I told you two no video games today," their father said. Unerringly, he strode to the head of Jimmy's bed and reached beneath the pillow. "Since I can't rely on you to follow my orders, I guess I'll have to keep this for you until day after tomorrow."
Jimmy's mouth opened wide in protest . "You just said today!"
"That was before you disobeyed me." Clark switched off the game, tucked it into the back pocket of his jeans and glanced at Jonny. "A word to the wise, son."
"I told him not to," Jonny said, a little smugly. "*My* Game Boy is in my dresser."
Jonny was old enough to know that when he broke the rules, their dad would always know, Marta thought. Jimmy still thought he could get away with things. It had always been like that, though. Her best friend, Maria, often stretched the rules at her house and her mom and dad rarely seemed to catch on, but the only time Marta and her brothers ever got away with anything was when Dad and Mom weren't around — and not always then. They knew when you were fibbing, too, and Dad always seemed to know when you were doing something you shouldn't. She'd figured for years that it was because they were the best reporters in Metropolis and were used to "stripping away the walls of secrecy and revealing the naked truth," as her mom was fond of saying. Marta thought that would be pretty cool, and had just about decided that when she grew up she was going to be a reporter, too.
Her father closed the door and glanced at her. "How did you know Jimmy was playing a video game?"
She shrugged. "I heard it. The walls are pretty thin in this place."
"What do you mean?"
"I can always hear what's going on around here," she said. "I guess my ears are pretty good, though."
Clark's eyebrows rose slightly. "It sounds like I'm just in time," he said. "Come on; let's go talk to your mother."
What did he mean by that? she wondered. Dad was being weird today.
"Where's CJ?" she asked. "Didn't he come home with you?"
"I dropped him off at Wyatt's," he said. "They're doing some kind of project for the science fair next week."
"Oh." She followed him toward the stairs. Her mother was sitting on the couch with her feet up as usual and the computer parked in front of her on the coffee table. She glanced up as the two of them descended the stairs. "What was going on up there?"
"Jimmy 'found' one of Jonny's ding dongs and Jonny resented it," Clark said. "They're in their room until dinner."
"I'll be glad when Jimmy gets out of this stage," Lois said. "I can't say the 'Fearsome Fours' is one of my favorite stages in child development."
Clark laughed. "At least this time we knew what to expect. Right now, though, we need to talk to Marta."
"Oh?" Her mother's eyebrows rose.
"Yeah. I think we need to give her 'the talk'. We almost put it off too long. It seems she thinks the walls are too thin in our house."
"Well, I can sure hear everything," Marta felt obliged to point out.
"We knew it was coming," Clark said. "She's only eleven months younger than CJ."
"I see." Lois began to hoist herself clumsily from the sofa and Clark hurried forward to give her a hand. "I guess it had to happen. Maybe we'd better find some place where we can't be overheard."
By the time Clark had helped Lois up the stairs and into the master bedroom, Marta, trailing in their wake, was a seething ball of curiosity. Her mother and father were acting stranger than she'd ever seen them act.
Lois settled down on the bed, braced up by half a dozen pillows and Marta watched Clark close the door and lock it. "Have a seat, Marta," he said, waving at the chair for Lois's dressing table. "This is going to take some explaining. It's why CJ and I have been going off alone for the last few months. I guess, after this, you'll be going, too."
"I thought it was because you didn't want a girl along," she said, slowly.
Her mother shook her head. "Absolutely not, sweetie. I wish you'd told us how you felt. It's a completely different reason."
Clark was nodding. "It has absolutely nothing to do with you being a girl, Marta. It had everything to do with your age. Part of it was that we needed for you to be as old as possible before telling you. This has to be kept a secret. You can't even tell Maria about it. It's important."
Lois was nodding. "This is a dangerous secret, honey. Only a very few people know about it. Even your Grandmother and Grandfather Lane don't."
"But CJ does?" she asked.
"We had to tell him last November, just as we're telling you now. It wouldn't be safe for you not to know." Her father went to sit on the foot of the bed, removing his glasses as he did so. "Look at me, Marta. Who do I look like?"
Marta opened her mouth to answer and closed it again. She leaned forward, examining his face closely. A little tingle, half of excitement, half of fear, began to run up and down her backbone. "You kind of look like Superman."
Leaning back against the bed pillows, her mother gave a soft laugh. "Got it in one try," she said.
"You're absolutely right," her father said. "I not only look like Superman; I *am* Superman."
Marta shook her head, trying to take in what she was hearing. Her father was *Superman*? "You're Superman?"
He nodded soberly. "I'm Superman, Marta. And you're my daughter."
She said the first thing that came into her head. "*That's* why I can hear so well!"
Clark looked at Lois and Marta thought he was trying not to grin. "She's your daughter through and through, honey."
"But how about CJ?" Marta asked at once. "He's adopted!"
"CJ is adopted," he agreed, "but he's still a relative of mine. We told the truth about him — we just didn't tell *all* the truth. CJ's a Kryptonian with super powers, just like me. His started coming in last year. He's been learning to use them — and that's why he and I have been going off without anyone else. He needed to learn how to use his super powers so he wouldn't hurt anyone."
"Except Wyatt! He knows?" For a moment, she was outraged.
"He knows. Do you remember how CJ and Wyatt helped catch those crazy government agents just before Christmas? CJ had to tell Wyatt a little about himself, to explain why he couldn't go near the Kryptonite, Marta. We swore him to secrecy — and he doesn't know about me or the rest of you kids, so you mustn't tell him about yourself. The less that people outside the family know about us, the better. He'll have to be told eventually, of course, but not for some time. If he were to slip and tell someone about who Superman really is, all of you could become the targets of anyone who wanted to hurt me."
Put that way, it didn't seem so bad. "Wyatt wouldn't tell anyone about us!" she stated with certainty. "He's the smartest boy in the school — except maybe for CJ," she added reluctantly. It went against the grain to admit something like that about your own brother, but as long as he didn't hear her say it, it was probably okay.
"In any case, Marta, my powers and CJ's powers both started to come in around the age of ten and if your hearing is any indication, it's starting to happen to you, too." Her father stood up, laying his glasses on the bedside table, and took a couple of steps away from the bed. Without warning, he became a spinning blur. The black of his jeans and the white of his t-shirt were replaced by blue and red and when the spinning stopped, Superman stood there in his familiar costume.
Marta shut her mouth only by force of habit. "Oh, wow!" she breathed. "That is way cool!"
Superman stepped toward her, holding out a hand. "Would you like to go for a short flight?"
Eagerly, she nodded. She had flown with Superman a number of times before, not knowing that he was her dad, but the flights had never been long enough to suit her.
"Don't be gone long," Lois said.
"We won't," Superman said. "We'll be back in time for me to fix dinner."
"In that case," Lois said, "I'll just wait for you right here."
Marta watched as Superman opened the window and glanced quickly around. "I don't see anyone." He slipped an arm around her waist. "We're going to go out fast so no one gets a look at us, okay?"
Marta nodded. Unexpectedly, her mouth felt dry. It was one thing to fly with Superman when she thought he was this all-powerful alien, another to fly with him when she knew he was her father.
He glanced at her. "Why are you nervous, honey?"
"How do you *do* that?" she asked, suddenly. "You always know when one of us is scared or mad — you even know when one of us is fibbing!"
He smiled. "I can hear your heartbeat speed up, and different emotions produce different scents. Most people can't detect those things, but I can. You'll be able to do it, too — when your powers develop a little more."
"Oh." Suddenly, the nervousness she had been feeling disappeared. Superman might be just her father, but he was still Superman.
"Here we go," he said.
There was a rush of air and the scene around her blurred for an instant. When things steadied down again, Marta realized that she was face down and staring at the city, far below. Superman's arm clamped her tightly against his side. It was the first time she had flown like this. All the other times, he had carried her in his arms. The view was awesome.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
She opened her mouth, but only one word came to mind. "Wow!"
"This is the way I see the world when I fly. I thought I'd give you a taste of what you're going to be doing in a few years."
She took a deep breath. "Really?"
"Uh huh. I asked Dr. Klein about it. It seems that half- Kryptonians should get all the super powers."
"Dr. Klein knows?" she asked.
"Sure. He's been my doctor for years. He's the only expert on Kryptonians on the planet and it looks like we're going to need him more than ever."
"You mean for CJ and the rest of us kids?"
"Well, for you, too. But there's more. There are other half-Kryptonians around, Marta. Do you remember your history about the New Kryptonian invasion nearly twelve years ago?"
"Sure. Is CJ from New Krypton?"
"No. But after the New Kryptonians left, — well, some half- Kryptonian children were born. I know that's hard to understand, but —"
Marta processed that. The origin of babies was no mystery to her, having recently completed "Family Life" in her fourth grade class. "Oh, Daddy, I know all about that stuff," she assured him. "I guess some of the New Kryptonians had sex with Earth women, huh?"
Superman was silent for a long moment. "Um … yeah." At the tone of his voice, she turned her head to look up at him. Was it her imagination, or was her dad blushing?
"So, have you found any of them?"
He cleared his throat a couple of times. "Yes, I have. A few. And I'm looking for more, with the help of some friends. It's important for us to find them and teach them how to use their powers before they accidentally hurt someone."
"Are you teaching them?"
He nodded. "A couple of them. I'm watching the others."
Marta nodded. "I get it. When am I going to be able to fly by myself?"
"Well, I didn't fly until I was eighteen, but it might have been because I didn't know I could. CJ can't fly, yet, but when I throw him into the air, he can control his rate of descent, so it probably won't be long before he can keep himself in the air. Actually flying, though, is something we're going to have to find out about."
"But how come you don't know?" Marta asked. "The New Kryptonians had super powers. You fought that nasty Lord Nor!"
"Yes, but they only had the powers on Earth," her father said. "They didn't have them on New Krypton — or old Krypton, either. I was the first Kryptonian it ever happened to, so nobody knows exactly how it works."
"Oh." Marta digested that. "Where did CJ come from if he didn't come from New Krypton?"
"That's a long, complicated story," Superman said. "Would you like to go anyplace in particular?"
Marta allowed herself to be distracted for the moment, promising herself that she would come back to the subject later. "Anywhere?"
"Could we go see Grandma and Grandpa Kent?"
"No problem." They shifted direction, gaining altitude until the fluffy, white clouds that she had seen from the ground were floating below them. "I think they'd like to see you, too."
"So then, " Marta said, "Grandma Kent told me all about how they found Daddy."
Lois smiled at her animated daughter. Marta had been chattering about her trip to the Kents with Superman ever since she and Clark had returned. It was a complete turnaround from her mood earlier in the day. She and Clark should have realized, she thought, that Marta might have interpreted Clark's disappearances with CJ as an attempt to exclude her because of her gender. Seizing the opportunity when Marta paused to take a breath, she interjected a question. "What do you think of all this, Marta?"
"I think it's cool," Marta said. "Someday I'm going to be able to do the things that Superman does. I'll be able to *fly*! And this Saturday, Dad's going to take me with him and CJ to see if I've started to get any other powers." She broke off at the sound of Clark's voice announcing dinner, and a moment later, Jonny and Jimmy came clattering down the stairs, followed a couple of moments later by CJ, who had returned while Clark and Marta had been flying.
"Remember, Marta, that you have to be very careful not to let Jonny or Jimmy know about this," Lois cautioned.
"Sure, I know," Marta said. "If they found out, they'd tell all their friends."
"Exactly my point."
"Don't worry." Marta stood up from the footstool and reached out to give Lois a hand to her feet. The child had to brace herself slightly, but she didn't seem to be putting a lot of effort into the task. Maybe the super powers had been sneaking up on her without any of them noticing, Lois thought, exactly as they had on CJ.
"You know, Mom," Marta said suddenly, as they started toward the dinner table, "I wish I'd met Dad's other parents. They must have been special, too."
"I think they were," Lois said. "But, why do you think so?"
"Because they knew they were going to die, but they saved Dad. They sent him to Grandma and Grandpa Kent."
Now there was a profound thought from a ten-year-old. "I think they did it because they loved him," Lois said.
"I'm glad they did it," Marta said.
"So am I." Lois put a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "If they hadn't, I wouldn't have you or your brothers."
Marta squirmed, slightly. She was at an age when any kind of sentiment expressed by her parents made her uncomfortable. "I'm hungry!" she announced, quickly. "What's for dinner, Dad?"
"Macaroni and cheese with ham, steamed vegetables and corn bread," Clark told her. "And angel cake for dessert."
That drew groans from the two younger boys, who were destined to miss their dessert, but neither of them protested. Clark didn't impose penalties often, but when he did, they had learned that he meant business. Lois settled down into her chair and let him handle the dinner and the kids. It seemed these days as if she didn't have the energy to do more than walk slowly around the house and otherwise spend most of her days in a chair with her feet up. Dr. Klein told her that it was the effect of the three growing babies and that after they were born, her energy would gradually return, but that was still some time away. He'd also told her to stay off her feet as much as possible and to rest whenever she could, to try to prevent early labor. Premature labor was always a possibility with multiple births and it happened more often with triplets than twins — a statistic that made sense to Lois, considering that she felt as big as a house now, and there was, at least theoretically, still another three months to go.
Clark, of course, treated her like royalty. He waited on her hand and foot, worried whenever she even climbed the stairs more than once a day and had practically gone into a panic the afternoon she decided that she wanted to make corn fritters. Why she had suddenly decided she wanted corn fritters she now had no clue, but at the time it seemed like a good idea. Fortunately, Superman arrived in time to put out the fire while it was still confined to the deep fryer, and a little paint had taken care of the smoke stains on the ceiling. It had caused him to hover over her more than ever for at least a week and when he'd found out what she wanted, he'd ended up flying to New Orleans to acquire the genuine article. Honestly! It had only been a little fire, and deep fryers weren't all that expensive, anyway!
"Salad, honey?" Clark's voice caught her attention and she nodded. He presented her with a bowl of shredded lettuce and cut vegetables with the cruet of salad dressing on the side and while she was coping with that, poured her a glass of milk. She suspected that Dr. Klein had told him to watch her nutrition carefully, which was pretty easy since he generally cooked all the meals. Fortunately, since she had been known to burn water, her husband was an excellent cook.
"Is there anything else you'd like?" he asked.
"I'm fine, Clark. Sit down and eat your dinner," she commanded.
He obeyed, settling into the chair at the head of the table. Marta, sitting across from CJ, was busy stuffing in the macaroni and side dishes as fast as she could. When had their daughter developed such an enormous appetite? It was probably fortunate for Marta that she had a Kryptonian metabolism, or she might have had weight problems later, Lois thought, enviously. On the other hand, the appetite was probably because she needed the fuel for her developing super powers. Marta, like her father, was undoubtedly going to have a svelte figure all of her life, without the slightest need to work at keeping it. Lois glanced down at her rounded belly and sighed. Life was certainly unfair.
CJ was inhaling his dinner in a similar fashion. Clark met her eyes and smiled slightly. "Hey, kids, it's not going to run away. Slow down a bit."
Marta paused, her fork halfway to her mouth, and Lois could see her consciously shift gears. The fork resumed its journey but at a more modest pace.
They ate in silence for several minutes. Jonny and Jimmy seemed to be trying to be on their best behavior and not even a minor argument between the two disturbed the meal.
"Can I have more?" CJ requested and Lois saw that their (nearly) eleven-year-old son had cleaned his plate.
"'May I'," Lois corrected.
"May I," CJ obediently rephrased. "I'm starved, tonight."
"Probably all that exercise this afternoon," Clark said, passing him the macaroni. "More cornbread?"
"I'll have some more cornbread," Marta piped up. "I'm really hungry tonight, too."
"I guess it's hereditary," Clark said. "Mom tells me I had quite an appetite at their age."
"You still do," Lois pointed out.
"Well — it's probably all that working out," Clark said. "More salad?"
Lois shook her head. "I don't have the room. Maybe I can get a snack later, before we go to bed."
"I'll set something aside for you," Clark promised. "Did you save some room for the angel cake?"
"Some," Lois said, and jumped as one of the babies kicked her sharply in the ribs. "They're kind of active tonight."
"As far as I can tell, they're always active," Clark said, stating the obvious. "Last night, one of them had the hiccups all night long."
"How do you know, Daddy?" Jonny asked.
"Because your mommy's stomach was against my back," he told her. "I could feel your baby brother or sister hiccuping all night."
"Oh," Jonny said, helping himself to more macaroni. "Does he still have the hiccups?"
"No," Lois said. "He stopped somewhere around five this morning."
"I'm glad I don't get hiccups like that," Jimmy remarked. He slurped down his milk, drawing a warning look from his father.
"Not so fast, Jimmy. You'll choke."
"Sorry, Daddy." Jimmy set down the empty glass. "I'm full."
Clark glanced around at the empty plates. "Is everybody done?"
Nods all around answered the question. "All right, Jonny and Jimmy, you may take your plates into the kitchen, rinse them off and put them in the dishwasher. I think Galaxy One comes on in about ten minutes. You can watch that, if you want, and then bedtime. Got it?"
Jimmy looked longingly toward the angel cake that Lois could see sitting on the kitchen island, but the child knew better than to ask. After the two boys had gone into the living room, Clark served the cake.
Lois ate her dessert slowly, thinking. Until recently, she had been the main disciplinarian in the household. Anything but a daddy of steel, Clark had been more willing than she to let minor things slide, and much to her amusement, Marta could wrap him around her little finger with no effort at all.
Things had changed, however, when he'd had to assume most of the management of the household. Once he'd seen how difficult it was becoming for Lois, and Dr. Klein had pointed out the increased risks of both miscarriage and early labor, Clark had taken over with a no-nonsense attitude that left the children in no doubt about who was boss. Nothing was going to jeopardize Lois's health or that of the triplets, if he had anything to say about it. It amazed her at first how easily he did it. He never had to raise his voice, but when he spoke in a certain tone, no one argued. He'd explained it once by pointing out that every day, Superman had to deal with much harder cases than their children would ever be and that Lois had done a good job with them from the start.
"They're good kids," he'd said. "They just had to get used to daddy giving the orders instead of mommy." And he'd been surprised when she'd gone off in a gale of laughter.
Marta turned to CJ. "I flew with Dad while you were gone."
Her older brother took a swig of the milk that went with the cake. "Good," he said, with brotherly matter-of- factness. "I figured it was going to happen to you, pretty soon."
"Aren't you surprised?" Marta asked, seeming a little surprised, herself.
"Nope. Linda's only a little older than you are and she's had super-hearing and heat vision for months."
"Linda? You mean your girlfriend?"
If Marta had been expecting CJ to deny the allegation, she was disappointed, Lois thought. CJ didn't turn a hair. "Yep. It's okay, Dad," he added. "She already guessed Marta was like her, weeks ago. I didn't tell her. She thinks it's cool."
"How did she know?" Lois asked, slightly alarmed.
CJ shrugged. "I don't know. She just did. She already promised me she wouldn't tell anybody, though."
"Thank heaven for small favors," Lois said. "Maybe Superman should have a talk with her."
Clark nodded. "I think maybe he should." He pushed back his chair and stood up. "Okay, kids, get the table cleared and I'll be back in a minute as soon as I get your mom settled down in the living room … "
"Okay, Marta, concentrate on the stump." Superman sat cross-legged on thin air, his expression intent. "You're going to make it heat up."
Marta glanced uncertainly at CJ, who stood to her right with Linda Lennox. Linda was a half-Kryptonian like herself, and a few minutes ago, she had seen Linda set a dry branch on fire just by staring at it. Linda pushed a lock of curly, red hair out of her eyes and nodded encouragingly at her.
Marta swallowed nervously and stared at the stump. What was she supposed to do? Just think "burn"? Her eyes started to water as she stared and for an instant, doubt assailed her.
There was a pale, reddish, almost invisible shimmering in the air between her and the stump and a tendril of smoke began to rise lazily from the dead wood. Her eyes smarting, she broke off and stared at the results of her efforts. CJ strode over to it and rested a finger fearlessly on the wood.
"It's warm," he announced. "And there's a little burned spot here." He looked up at Marta and gave her a thumbs-up sign. "Nice work!"
Marta approached the stump to see. Indeed, a small, blackened spot about the size of a dime was still smoldering slightly.
"That's all?" she asked, slightly disappointed.
Linda had followed her. "For a beginning, it's pretty good," she remarked. "I couldn't do much more than that when Superman started teaching me. CJ was already doing better than I was by then."
"CJ is a little older than you," Superman pointed out, with a smile. "Don't worry, Marta, now that you know how, you'll progress pretty fast. Let's finish our inventory and see what else you're able to do."
Half an hour later, the tests were over and Marta rubbed a sore arm where her muscles were protesting slightly. Superman ticked them off on his fingers.
"Your super-hearing is the most developed, which I expected. You're stronger and faster than an ordinary ten- year-old girl, and you have traces of all the other super powers except flight — but that's not unusual since it seems to be the slowest to appear. It looks like you're right on schedule. I wouldn't rely on your invulnerability for a while, though."
"I won't," Marta said.
"Now," he said, glancing at Linda, "there's one other subject that I wanted to bring up. CJ says that you figured out that Marta was like you, Linda. You remember what we talked about not long after that — 'incident' just before Christmas?"
"Yeah." Linda nodded soberly. "Those Bureau 39 creeps were crazy but they're not the only bad people around. We have to be really careful not to let anybody find out about us. I'm not going to tell anybody, Superman. If I did, everybody would figure out who you really are."
Marta gulped. This was something that hadn't occurred to her.
There was a short silence. "And you have?" Superman asked.
"Sure, I have," Linda said, matter-of-factly. "I'll be eleven at the beginning of July but Marta's just turned ten. I mean, CJ could have been born a little early, but the only Kryptonian left on Earth after the New Kryptonians went away is you. That means you're Marta's dad and that means you have to be — well, it just does, that's all."
"Have you told anybody?" Marta asked. "Your mom, or —"
Linda shook her head, looking suddenly very mature. "I don't want my mom to know. It's not safe. If bad people found out she knew who Superman really was, somebody might hurt her to make her tell. And then if they found out, they might hurt your mom and CJ and you and your brothers. I'm not going to tell *anybody*!"
Superman nodded. "Thank you, Linda. That's very sensible."
CJ had moved over beside her. "Linda's smart, Dad," he said, unnecessarily. "She didn't even tell *me*."
Superman looked searchingly at Linda for several seconds and finally, his expression relaxed into a smile. "I guess you can keep a secret," he said. "Okay, everybody, let's head for home."
Linda's mother had arranged for her to stay at the Kents' for the day.
Carolyn Lennox had been Carolyn Abernathy until her husband had attempted to turn her daughter over to Bureau 39 and been murdered by the rogue agency for his pains. She had resumed her maiden name some months following the event. Her job as a real estate broker made her work somewhat irregular hours and, since her acquaintance with the Kent family coincided with the loss of her husband, it had been arranged for Linda to stay with the Kents when Carolyn was working.
The arrangement suited both CJ and Linda, Clark knew. The bond that formed between the two children when they met had only strengthened in the following months, and by now, both Clark and Lois had accustomed themselves to the fact that within a few years, Linda would almost certainly be their daughter-in-law. It was also one reason that Clark wasn't more concerned over the fact that Linda *knew*. The girl liked both Lois and him, and he knew beyond a doubt that she would never do anything to harm CJ.
The incident, however, brought up a subject that had occurred to him a few times since the existence of other half-Kryptonians had been brought to his attention. How likely was it that the other super-children were going to discover his secret? It wasn't as if Marta and the boys could change what they were. When he had more time, he needed to have a talk with Linda and try to learn exactly how she had figured out the truth about Marta and thereby what, if anything, they could do to prevent others from doing the same. The New Kryptonians had known who he was. That might have been because of their advanced spying devices or other information that he hadn't known about, but if it was something simpler, such as hearing his faster heartbeat, he could be in trouble.
As far as he could tell, Marta's heartbeat was still within human range, but that was going to change in the near future. CJ's and Linda's had already begun to do so, as had Valerie Henderson's and that of the other three, whom he had discovered in Smallville. He was going to have to think long and hard about this, and maybe have a talk with Dr. Klein as well.
Superman delivered the three children to the Kent home and a few seconds later, Clark Kent was showing his press pass to the security guard at the entrance to the Ocean Vista Country Club. This was the location where the Metropolis Celebrity Golf Tournament, which was held each year to benefit the Metropolis Children's Fund, was about to begin. Today, he was working a half-day, and had volunteered to cover the event for Barney, in Sports, who had called in sick Friday with the flu. It made sense, since Superman had once again agreed to participate.
The club was typical of most such establishments. Clark joined the crowd of spectators, dutifully noting for his article, the names of the various celebrities who would be engaging in the match. One was Landon Winters, the anchor for the LNN Morning Report; another was Boris Johnson, the star of the Boris Johnson Show. It took him an extra second to recognize Harold Freeman, the host of the hugely popular Metropolis Morning, which Clark had seen exactly once. He had quickly decided that he had no interest in a program dealing with cockroach cults, men with the compulsion to eat scorpions, and reincarnated construction workers who believed in running across expressway overpasses, clad only in green paint, as an exercise in spiritual freedom. Superman dealt with plenty of strange people in his daily life. He had no wish to watch them for entertainment, as well.
Quickly, he listed the remaining participants and hunted around among the crowd of wealthy spectators for someone with name recognition that he could quote. The son of one of the golfers was present to watch his father play, and Clark conducted a short interview to fill out the little article and establish in the minds of several persons that he was present. Superman had to make his appearance to tee off with the other celebrities in a few minutes, although he wasn't expected to play more than three holes.
His introductory notes completed, he made a quick exit and seconds later, Superman swooped down to land next to the other celebrities. A cheer went up from the spectators.
"Ah, there you are, Superman. Welcome." The speaker was Aaron Pink, the short, cheerful, balding man who was president of the Metropolis Benevolent Fund that always arranged this thing. "We have a surprise for you. Our organization has new, personalized clubs for you, this year. Our members thought Metropolis's most famous citizen should have his own." He covered the microphone with his palm. "They'll be kept on display in the club over the year, Superman, and they'll be available for your use at every tournament, if that arrangement suits you."
He beckoned, and the skinny teenager, who had won the yearly drawing to caddy for Superman, came forward with the golf bag containing his clubs. The bag was emblazoned with the Superman shield, and on the end of the grip of each club, he could see a tiny replica of the larger one on the bag. Somebody had a twisted sense of humor, he thought, but he nodded graciously at Aaron Pink and extended a hand to the caddy. "Pleased to meet you."
The boy shook his hand and his Adam's apple bobbed nervously. "Pleased to meet *you*," Superman."
Clark smiled. "Do you have a name?"
The boy turned red. "Jake Wilson."
"It's nice to meet you, Jake." He smiled more widely. "Come on, let's go play golf."
As he waited his turn to tee off, the random thought popped into his mind that it was a good thing that Lois had made an effort to teach Clark Kent something about golf, years ago, or Superman would have disgraced himself the first time he set foot on a golf course. As it was, he had surprised everyone with a fairly creditable performance on that day, now fourteen years back, when he had first taken part in this yearly event. The gossip columns had been full of speculation about whether the people of his planet played the game of golf. One imaginative tabloid reporter had gone so far as to publish his exclusive interview with the space alien who had secretly learned golf from an unnamed golf pro and taught it to the natives of Krypton. It had greatly amused Martha and Jonathan Kent, and the story subsequently joined many others in his collection of tabloid articles that resided in the townhouse attic.
The players had advanced to the second hole when his super- hearing picked up the high-pitched humming sound. Quickly he turned his head from side to side, pinpointing the source. It was coming from the golf ball perched neatly on Boris Johnson's tee. Zeroing in on the ball with his x-ray vision, he saw the cause at once. Inside the ball, the timer of an explosive device was counting down. Within seconds, the explosive within would detonate, killing or injuring a number of persons nearby, including, quite certainly, the golfer, himself.
Johnson began his swing and Superman moved in a blur. A split instant before the club intersected the ball, he snatched it from the tee and threw it straight up. The explosion of the ball, three hundred feet in the air, brought startled screams from the crowd of onlookers and participants, alike. Without pausing, Superman scanned the other golf balls in the possession of Johnson's caddy, followed by the ones belonging to the other golfers as well. Two more explosive balls, one timed for five minutes after the first and the other, five minutes after that, were disposed of in a like manner.
Superman dusted his hands and glanced around at the startled spectators, reporters and several club officials who were converging on the scene of the explosions. "I think someone should call the police," he said.
By the time the police arrived, however, the reason for the exploding golf balls had been discovered. During the confusion, the country club's safe, containing the members' dues in cash, which had been collected only yesterday, had been robbed — to the tune of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
"Needless to say, the golf tournament was postponed," Clark was telling his editor, several hours later. "It will be played next month at a time still to be determined."
"Yeah, I figured something like that," Perry said. "Any idea who might be behind this?"
Clark shrugged. "Good question. Somebody had to have replaced those golf balls with the explosive ones, and it had to have been done at the club, so the police are checking out the employees who might have had the opportunity. Superman talked to Inspector Zymack but the m.o. doesn't fit any known criminals — at least none that are on the loose right now. It's a good thing Superman was right there or it would have been bad."
"Yeah." Perry agreed. "Well, write it up and we'll get it into the late edition."
Clark nodded, but he was still frowning as he settled down to write his article. Something about the incident was familiar. Somewhere before, he had crossed paths with a criminal who endangered the lives of innocent bystanders in order to commit his crimes. Well, over the years he'd encountered several criminals who did that, but usually they didn't go to such lengths to create their distraction. Who did he know that went to that much effort to commit a simple robbery?
Fifteen minutes later, he transmitted his article to Perry White and stood up. He had a trip to make. There was one criminal, serving a life term, whose m.o. exactly matched the one that he had seen at the golf course. It was high time Superman paid a visit to Stryker's Island.
"Superman talked to the Warden," Clark was saying to Perry White, sometime later. "He also spoke with Inspector Zymack on his return. Of course, we don't know for sure, but the m.o. is his."
"How in the name o' Graceland did he get out?" Perry asked. "And, why didn't the police know about it?"
Clark hitched his shoulders, uncomfortably. "They didn't know until a few hours ago, and even then, it never occurred to them that he could have managed to get off the island. Nobody's ever done it, before. They were still conducting a search."
"What do you mean, 'they didn't know'?" Perry asked. "Presumably, they knew where their prisoners were supposed to be."
"Griffin was hospitalized in the prison infirmary last night with severe stomach pains," he explained. "Apparently, the doctor suspected an intestinal blockage and ordered him down to radiology for some kind of scan. An orderly showed up to pick him up and no one ever saw him again."
"Everybody assumed he was with somebody else, huh?" Perry said. "Clever. Do they know who the so-called 'orderly' was?"
"One of the other prisoners. Victor Howe. Ring a bell?"
"Vic — not that sidekick of his?"
"Uh huh. Sentenced to forty years as an accomplice for Griffin's attempt to kidnap the President. Superman also found the remains of an inflatable boat mostly submerged under one of the piers at the waterfront. He told Zymack, so the APB is probably out by now."
"It sounds as if they had outside help."
Clark nodded. "It sure does. It's a place to start, anyway." He glanced at his watch. "I need to get home, Chief. I'll send in my follow-up piece from there."
"You're kidding," Lois said. "*Griffin*?"
"I'm afraid so." Clark said. He had settled down beside her on the sofa and was about to engage in a forlorn hope. "Honey, I hate to suggest it, but would you even consider relocating to Smallville until Zymack's got him under wraps again?" He rested a hand on her rounded tummy. "You're not exactly in a condition to deal with him at this point, and somehow, I doubt that he's grown to like you any better since you helped send him to prison, thirteen years ago. I can't be with you every minute, even though I'd do my best to be."
Lois covered his hand with hers. "You're right."
"I know you don't like to run away," Clark continued, "but this time, I really think…" He broke off. "I'm right?"
"Yes, you are." She smiled. "If I were only risking myself, I'd argue with you, but it's not just me. It's CJ, Marta, Jonny and Jimmy — and these three." She patted the place where her waistline had been. "There's no way I'll risk them."
He grinned and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "Whew!"
Lois pretended to scowl at him. "Clark Kent, you know I don't take crazy risks anymore!"
"Well," he amended, "not usually."
She whacked his chest lightly. "You're supposed to agree with me!"
"Superman doesn't lie," he said, trying to look pious.
"No, but Clark Kent does — at least sometimes." She reached for the phone. "I guess we should call Dr. Klein. He might have some advice for me."
"I already talked to him. He doesn't like it too much, but he had to admit that Griffin trying to kill you might be more risky than your being in Smallville. He was going to call Dr. Blaisdell, if you agreed to go."
"Isn't that the new doctor?"
"The new *obstetrician*," Clark said. "Smallville General now has its very own, fully — equipped labor and delivery suite *and* its own obstetrician working at the hospital. No more women in labor having to drive all the way to Cloverfield to have their babies."
"It's about time," Lois said. "Now, if the hospital had more than twenty beds …"
"Hey, what do you expect for a town the size of Smallville?" Clark asked. "Anyway, Dr. Klein just said to fly low and carefully, and for me to come get him if you had so much as a hint of premature labor."
"But, how about your job, here?"
"I can work here and come back to Smallville when I'm off work. And if you even think you might be having a problem during the day, you're to call me via cell phone. Look at it this way. Mom won't have to leave the farm quite so soon, if you're in Smallville. You know she was planning to be out here next week to help us out. It'll be easier on her and Dad, too."
"That's true," Lois agreed. "I guess I'd better go pack."
"*I'll* pack," Clark said, firmly. "You're going to sit and direct the operation."
"Clark, I'm not helpless," Lois said.
"No, but you're six and a half months along with triplets. I've read everything I could find on the subject. Some women make it all the way through with no trouble, but an awful lot go into labor early. If you can hang onto them for at least another month…"
"… They'll be much less likely to have complications," Lois finished for him. "I know, I know. Okay, you can do the packing."
"And Sandi will be here right after work to watch the kids while I take you to Smallville. Then, I'll come back for them." He lowered his glasses and glanced around the house. "Where are CJ, Marta and Linda, by the way?"
"Wyatt came over to see CJ, and Maria showed up half an hour later. They decided to go to the park. They should be back soon."
Clark frowned. The children were together, he thought. It was unlikely that Griffin would be looking for a bunch of kids, and anyway, how would he identify them? He almost certainly had another agenda besides revenge on Lois, and he'd been out for less than twenty-four hours. Still, the knowledge that CJ and Marta were in the park, unprotected, made him a little uneasy.
It was the voice of the television announcer from the Barrows' home next door that intruded on his thoughts. Lois's voice cut through his sudden distraction. "What is it?"
"There's an explosion in the subway near the Lombardy station."
"Go. I'll be okay until you get back."
He hesitated. Lois made shooing motions with her hands. "Go! I'll lock the doors and check before I open them for anyone."
"Okay." He leaned forward to kiss her squarely on the mouth. "Be careful, honey."
"I will. Go!"
Marta, Linda and Marta's best friend, Maria Hernandez, had long since lost track of the two boys. CJ and Wyatt had vanished shortly after their arrival in the park, off to their "fort", where they engaged in their usual loud and, to the girls, senseless games. Maria, Linda and Marta had settled down in the afternoon sunshine and were engaged in a Barbie fashion show. Maria had brought along her new Barbie, and was busily parading her in front of the others in her most recent incarnation: "Superwoman Barbie" in a female version of Superman's outfit. In the light of her new knowledge about her own family, Marta wasn't sure what she thought of the idea. Her own doll was wearing a glittering, satin costume, trimmed with fake fur and sequins, and clutching a microphone: Vegas Barbie. Linda's doll was a somewhat older model, but Marta had given her several of her own Barbie's earlier ensembles, with which Linda had seemed delighted.
It had been an exciting day for Marta. After watching Linda and CJ demonstrate their super-powers, Superman had tested her own developing abilities, and although she couldn't do nearly as much as CJ, she knew that wouldn't last. She was going to have super powers like Superman — her dad.
The first shock of realizing that her own father was actually the hero who appeared on TV at least a couple of times a week had left her feeling a little stunned. He was in the encyclopedia, for Pete's sake! And in history books at school! They had learned everything that anyone knew about him in her Social Studies class when they had covered the New Kryptonian invasion of Earth. After the shock had worn off, she'd been left feeling slightly disillusioned. After all, Superman was supposed to be this perfect hero, but her dad wasn't perfect at all. Oh, he was smart, of course, and he could do a lot of things, but he sometimes got upset, and sometimes got mad, and sometimes he cracked stupid jokes that made her blush just to think about them, especially when he did it in front of her friends. Superman wasn't supposed to do any of those things.
She still didn't quite understand why her friends all thought her dad was so cool. They laughed at his jokes, even while Marta was cringing, and when they ate dinner at her house, they always cleaned their plates and said her dad cooked the best food they'd ever tasted. And then, of course, there was Maria's crush on Superman. It was slightly embarrassing now, to think that her friend, who was only a couple of months older than Marta, had a crush on Marta's father! Her parents were really *old*! Her mom was forty, and her dad was even older!
Of course, no one knew how old Superman was, because he looked almost the same as he had in the first pictures of him, way back before Marta had been born. When she hadn't known who he was she hadn't thought about it, but now that she did, it was something of a letdown. Sure, it was kind of cool that he could fly and was actually from another planet, but just the fact that he was her father took away a lot of the glamour. It was kind of like the day that she'd realized that Santa Claus didn't really exist, except as an idea. Parents weren't anything special, really. They were — well, *parents*!
She loved her father, all right; there wasn't any question about that — but, even if he was Superman, and a hero, he was still just her father. How could you get all excited about that?
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone approaching. She looked up to see a man standing some ten feet away, watching them. Out on the street, a white repair truck was parked next to the curb, and she could just barely see a second man sitting behind the wheel. The guy was wearing a white, one-piece outfit with a zipper up the front, like a lot of the uniforms the repair guys wore, so he'd probably come from the truck, but the way he was looking at her made her squirm.
Marta glanced around. There were several people nearby, including a policeman, so she wasn't particularly worried, but she didn't like being stared at. She glared at the man, meeting his eyes defiantly. He continued to look at her for several seconds and then smiled slightly and turned to walk toward the van. A few seconds later, he climbed into the passenger seat and it pulled away.
The alarm on Marta's watch beeped suddenly, and she glanced at the timepiece. It didn't seem possible that they had already been here over two hours. She reached for her Barbie case. "It's time to go home," she said. "I guess we'd better get Wyatt and CJ."
By the time they arrived back at the Kent house, four blocks from the park, it was definitely getting toward evening. April in Metropolis was usually warm during the day and chilly at night. Marta always slept with her window wide open, but she hadn't noticed the cold, recently, and if she'd thought anything about it at all, she might have figured that they were having a warm snap. Later, it would get downright hot, but that was still two or three months away. She always liked the spring weather. Even rainstorms were exciting and she particularly liked thunderstorms. It was fun to stand at the window, watching the rain and the flashes of lightning and feeling the ground shake when the thunder was close by.
"Aren't you cold?" Maria asked, pulling her sweater more tightly around her shoulders.
Marta shook her head. CJ glanced at Marta but said nothing. Wyatt had zipped up his jacket, but CJ's hung open, and her brother seemed as comfortable as she was. People passing on the streets were wearing their coats and jackets buttoned up tightly, and for a moment, she was puzzled. It seemed that everyone was chilly but CJ and her.
Then, it hit her. Superman flew around in freezing weather and never seemed in the least cold, even dressed in that tight, Spandex suit. This must be another effect of her beginning powers. She didn't get cold — at least, not much. Someday, she would be like her dad and the cold wouldn't bother her at all — and probably not the heat, either. Come to think of it, she'd never seen her father sweat, even on the hottest days when all the rest of them were fanning themselves and turning up the air conditioner.
A glance at Linda confirmed it. She had buttoned up her light sweater, but she didn't seem the slightest bit uncomfortable. After a few seconds' consideration, she untied her sweater from around her waist and slipped it over her arms. Her dad did everything everyone else did, even when he didn't need to. It must be because he didn't want other people to realize that he was different. Marta would have to remember that from now on.
As they were climbing the steps to the townhouse, she happened to glance over her shoulder at the setting sun. It was almost invisible behind the top of LexTower, and the big, lighted sign was hard to see with the sunlight blazing out from behind it that way. As she was turning back, a white van rounded the corner. She squinted at it, curiously. That looked a lot like the one that weird guy had gotten into, back at the park, only this one had a big decal on the side. She shrugged and dismissed the thought. She was probably letting her imagination run away with her again.
The door was locked, and CJ pushed the buzzer. After a few minutes, her mom opened the door and let them in. "You guys are a little late," she said. "I was starting to worry."
"Sorry," CJ said. "Where's Dad?"
"There was an explosion in the subway. He went to get the story for the paper," her mother answered. Across the room, Marta noted that the television was on and the picture showed Superman ripping open crushed subway cars with his bare hands to allow the rescue workers access to the people inside. The thought hit her again that it was her father doing those things. It seemed impossible, although she knew it to be true. Maybe Dad was a *little* more special than she'd thought. He sure looked pretty heroic right then.
Her mother was locking the door behind them. Marta saw her push the extra latch closed and fasten the chain and gave her a curious look. What was going on?
"It's getting late," she said. "Clark can give you a ride back to your house as soon as he gets home, Maria."
"Sure. Thanks, Mrs. Kent," Maria said. She headed for the stairs, trailed by Linda. Marta started after them and CJ and Wyatt headed for the kitchen. Boys! Marta thought. They never thought of anything but their stomachs! Even Wyatt was constantly stuffing himself. Still, she guessed he was anxious to catch up with CJ. He had just turned ten in February and was still shorter than Marta.
Her mother had settled down on the couch again, and now she winced slightly and put a hand to her stomach. "That was a funny one," she said.
"What was?" Marta asked.
"You know those painless contractions I told you about?"
Marta nodded. She knew all about those. Mom had grumbled about them most the time that she had been expecting Jimmy. "Sure."
"That one hurt a little." She frowned, rubbing a hand lightly across her rounded middle. "Oh well, one of the babies probably had an elbow in the wrong place."
Marta frowned, too. Dad had already told her to call him if Mom started having pains across her stomach. He'd said that Mom might not want to call him away from an emergency for what was probably a false alarm, but that he wanted her to let him know, anyhow. He'd made Marta swear she would call him right away at the first sign of anything that didn't seem right.
She started for the stairs once more. If she tried to call Dad from here, Mom would tell her not to make a fuss over it. There was a phone, however, in her parents' bedroom. She would use that one.
Clark's cell phone beeped softly as he forced open the doors of the last car to let frightened and shaken-up passengers out. He stepped back to allow the rescue personnel to enter and retrieved the little instrument.
"Superman," he said, mindful of the paramedic who looked quizzically at him as he squeezed past.
"Daddy?" It was Marta's voice. "You told me to call you if Mommy —"
"Is she having contractions?" he asked, quickly, belatedly noticing the firefighter who gave him a curious glance at the question. Oh well, it was too late to do anything about that, now.
"I don't know. She had one of those Brax — uh, those things that don't hurt —"
"Braxton-Hicks contractions," Clark said, this time keeping his voice low.
"Yeah, those. Only she said it felt funny and that it *did* hurt. She said one of the babies might have his elbow in the wrong place or something. I didn't know if I should call you, but you said to if *anything* seemed wrong."
"You did the right thing," he told her, at once. "I'll be there in a few minutes. I've about finished here." He thrust the cellular phone into its hiding place and turned to give the disaster scene a quick survey. The fires were out and rescue personnel seemed to have the situation well in hand. The man coordinating the effort was only a short distance away, in conference with three of his subordinates. Clark approached and waited for him to finish giving his instructions.
At last, Chief Rostoff turned to him. "Yes?"
"Chief, I have another emergency I need to get to. Is there anything else you want me to do before I go?"
Rostoff shook his head. "Thanks, Superman, but I think we can handle the rest. You beat the Jaws of Life, hands down. Go."
"You're welcome." Clark was gone on the word. Two minutes later he was walking up the stairs of the townhouse. When he unlocked the door and it still wouldn't open, he lowered his glasses and checked. Lois had kept her promise. Both the bolt and the chain lock were fastened. He rang the bell, and after a short wait, Marta opened the door.
"Is everything okay?" he asked.
"I guess," Marta said. "There was just that one, but —"
"That's okay," he said. "Remember, I told you to call." He looked past her to where Lois sat on the sofa, her feet propped up on a pillow. "You can go on upstairs, now. I'll take over."
"Okay." Marta followed him into the living room and headed for the stairs. Upstairs, Clark could hear a videogame going full blast, accompanied by the bleeps and chirps of a computer game, as well.
"How did it go?" Lois asked.
"Apparently someone set off a homemade bomb just past the Lombardy station," Clark said. "Part of the roof came down and the train plowed into it. Lots of people hurt, but no one was killed."
"Well, you'd better write it up for the paper," Lois said. "After that, you can pack for me. You need to take Maria home, too."
Clark nodded and went into the little den where they had set up the new computer. It took him no more than a minute to write up the story, including a short quote from Superman, and he transmitted it to the Planet, but all the time, most of his attention was centered on his wife and the babies' heartbeats.
It was some half an hour later, when he was carefully folding a pair of maternity jeans for Lois, that she grimaced.
"Ow," she remarked. "That's the second one of those."
Clark had been listening. The slight change in blood flow that marked a contraction was fully audible to his ears, when he made a point of listening, and now, he lowered his glasses and focussed in on his wife's abdomen. "Lois, that was a contraction," he said.
"I know." She looked impatient. "I've been having them all along. You know that."
"No, that was a *contraction*." He dropped the jeans and reached for the phone. "I'm calling Dr. Klein."
"Clark, don't be silly. One of the babies probably was poking me with a knee, or something."
"Even so, I don't think we should take the chance," he said. "You know the chances of premature labor are higher with triplets. We need to be sure. Dr. Klein said that if it happened, they might be able to stop the labor if it hasn't gone too far."
She opened her mouth instinctively to protest and shut it again. Clark dialed the number for Dr. Klein's cell phone.
"You're about three centimeters dilated, Lois," Bernie said. "I'm going to hook you up to a monitor. If it *is* early labor, we should be able to stop it, at least for now. The longer you can hang onto those babies, the better."
"I know that!" Anxiety was making Lois's voice sharper than Dr. Klein thought she intended. "Let's get on with it!"
Clark put a hand on her arm. "Bernie's doing his best, honey," he said. "Try to relax, okay? It can't be doing you or the babies any good to get upset."
Lois turned to glare at her husband, but to the scientist's surprise, she closed her mouth and nodded. Clark slipped his large hand around hers and squeezed it lightly. Dr. Klein turned to the technician. "Let's get her set up."
"You'd better call Sandi," Lois said. "Tell her that we're going to be awhile."
"I will. I'll call your mom and ask her to take over," Clark said. "Sandi's going to need to get home, eventually."
"There's a phone in the hall," Dr. Klein said, helpfully. He watched Clark kiss his wife gently on the cheek and stride to the door, and the thought flitted through his mind that most people had a completely wrong idea of Superman. People thought of him as awesomely powerful, able to bend steel with his bare hands, bounce bullets from his chest without a blink (although, Bernie had never seen him do so. He caught them, instead, so the projectiles didn't ricochet into an innocent bystander), and generally the stern, unflinching hero in the face of adversity. In reality, Superman was an incredibly gentle person, who loved his family and would do anything to help the people of his adopted world. If he hadn't been, he wouldn't have willingly taken on the impossible task of being Superman, subjecting himself and his family to the inevitable difficulties and sometimes the downright pain that went with the job.
The technician had disappeared into the next room and now returned with a rolling cart loaded with equipment. Dr. Klein stepped back to allow her to position the sensors on Lois's abdomen.
Lois was looking frightened, although he was sure she would deny it if asked. It was amazing to him that Lois Lane could face down pathological killers, mad bombers and deranged scientists without a second thought, but this situation genuinely scared her. Well, naturally, it scared her, he reminded himself. These were her babies, and Clark's, that were at stake.
"If this *is* early labor, it hasn't gone far," he found himself trying to reassure her. "I'm pretty sure we can stop it before it goes much farther. Even another two weeks will make a big difference, you know."
She nodded, and he saw that she was watching the door through which her husband had disappeared. At that moment, it opened and he stepped into the room. Watching his patient, Bernie saw her relax slightly. Superman to the rescue again, he thought, then firmly squelched the whimsical thought as Clark crossed the room to take up his place beside his wife.
"What's happening at home?" she asked.
He slipped his hand around hers again. "I got Sandi on the phone and brought her up to date," he explained. "Jim drove Maria home and brought pizza for the kids. Carolyn picked Linda up about twenty minutes ago and Wyatt's staying the night, like we arranged last week. I told Sandi I was going to get hold of Ellen and ask her to take over so that she and Jim could go home."
"What did Mom say?"
"Sam is going to drive her over. She said for me to tell you not to worry. So did Sandi, so all you have to do now is relax and let Bernie do his job."
"Just so long as I don't have her over here, driving me crazy," Lois muttered. "It's not that I don't appreciate her help, but I don't think I could take it, right now."
Bernie hid a smile. Ellen Lane might have been an excellent nurse, but her bedside manner around her daughter and son-in-law often left a good deal to be desired and he was quite sure that her presence in these circumstances would not benefit Lois. He'd met her at a number of social events involving the Kent family. She reminded him strongly of his late Aunt Gertrude who could take a pleasant family gathering and turn it into a massive migraine for every other person present. He was quite sure that Ellen meant well, but her method of demonstrating concern and affection for her daughters inevitably tended to express itself in criticism, and usually made everyone within hearing extremely uncomfortable.
"Don't worry, Lois," he found himself saying. "If anyone shows up here wanting to see you, I've left orders that no one is to be allowed in without my personal permission."
Marta Kent loaded the last dish into the dishwasher and poured detergent into the receptacle. She glanced over her shoulder to where her older brother was wiping the counter. "You missed a spot," she announced, with sisterly smugness.
"Didn't," CJ said. "That's a tomato sauce stain." He rinsed the sponge. "I'll have to use some bleach on it like Mom does. Do you know where Dad keeps it?"
Normally, Marta would have been surprised at his attention to such a small detail, but she and CJ had learned from experience that, though their father might let them get away with it, Aunt Sandi was worse than a drill sergeant when it came to a clean kitchen. She didn't let you get away with *anything*.
"The bleach is in the basement on the laundry shelf," she said. She closed the door of the dishwasher and turned it on.
"You're supposed to run the hot water first," CJ said. "Otherwise the dishes don't get clean."
Marta made a face. She hated it when her brother was right, but if the dishes didn't get clean, Dad would make her do them over. By hand. She shut off the dishwasher and turned on the hot water.
A sudden rustling sound under the stove caught her attention, and she saw CJ glance at it. "Another mouse," he said. "I hope Mom lets us get a cat, like she was talking about the other day. I don't like mousetraps and poisons and stuff."
Marta recalled the time at Grandma and Grandpa Kent's last Thanksgiving, when Patches, their calico cat, had caught the mouse. That hadn't been very nice. Still, having mice running around in the house wasn't so great, either. The options of catching them in traps or letting a cat do the job didn't appeal to her, but they couldn't leave things the way they were, or so Dad had said, especially after he'd found his best charcoal suit with the sleeve chewed by a mouse, last week. Why weren't there any better choices, anyway? Couldn't Dad catch them and take them into the country, or something? He was Superman, after all!
In the living room, the doorbell rang. CJ glanced in the direction of the front door and she saw him narrow his eyes. "It's Grandmother and Grandfather Lane."
He was using his x-ray vision, Marta thought, wistfully. Oh well, Dad had said hers would come in soon, just like CJ's had.
The doorbell rang again. CJ glanced upward. "Uncle Jimmy's rocking Perry in Mom and Dad's bedroom and Aunt Sandi is getting Jonny and Jimmy ready for bed. I'll get it."
Wyatt poked his head into the kitchen. "Somebody's at the door."
"I'll get it," CJ said again. "Get the bleach, would you, Marta? I'll fix the counter when I get back."
Marta wasn't sure about this. Didn't Dad use that cleanser from the spray bottle? Still, maybe that had bleach in it, too. She hunted around under the sink, but the spray bottle failed to materialize. Well, bleach was probably the next best choice. Marta opened the door to the basement. The stairs were dark and she switched on the light before descending the long flight of wooden steps.
The basement was definitely cooler than the rest of the house. She wasn't exactly cold, but she noticed the temperature difference. The sudden rustle of motion below made her pause for an instant, and then she remembered the mouse. Maybe getting a cat wasn't such a bad idea after all, she thought. There sure seemed to be a lot of the creatures.
She had reached the shelf where Dad kept the laundry items and was standing on her toes to reach the bleach, when she noticed that the window that opened in the opposite wall, just at ground level, was broken. That was the source of the cool draft she was feeling. She'd better tell Dad when he got home from the hospital with Mom.
She frowned a little. Mom would be okay, she told herself. Dr. Klein was a good doctor and he'd never let anything happen to Mom or the babies. Meanwhile, she and CJ needed to finish the kitchen. Besides, she wanted to get out of the basement. For some reason, tonight the place gave her the creeps.
The bottle of bleach was just barely within reach and she nudged it toward her with the tips of her fingers. It reached the edge of the shelf and fell, and Marta caught it. Turning toward the stairs, she found herself hoping that when she grew up she would be tall. Being short had so many disadvantages. Mom wasn't very tall, and she always wore high heels at work and complained that they made her feet hurt. Marta didn't want to wear shoes that hurt her feet. On the other hand, maybe when she got to be invulnerable, high heels wouldn't hurt and she wouldn't care if they pinched her toes or not.
Toiling back up the stairs with the bleach in one hand, she again heard the rustling below her and grimaced. That sure sounded like more than one mouse down there. Maybe that was where they had their nest or something. She hoped that she could persuade Dad to try to catch them and fly them out into the country, somewhere, instead of getting a bunch of traps, or even a cat, although kittens were cute.
Pushing open the door at the top of the stairs, she switched off the light and exited into the warmth of the kitchen, closing the panel behind her.
"So, kids, what do you usually do at this time of night?" Sam Lane asked.
Marta glanced at the clock. "It's eight o'clock," she announced. "Jonny and Jimmy have to go to bed and CJ and Wyatt and I get to watch Animal Comics. Mom and Dad let us stay up until eight-thirty on weekends."
CJ nodded vigorously. "That's the rule. When we turn ten, we get to stay up an extra half hour."
Sam considered the statement. "Sounds fair to me. Okay, boys, upstairs and brush your teeth. I'll be up in a few minutes to read you a story. What would you like?"
"Daddy's reading us 'The Wizard of Oz'," Jonny said.
"Okay, the Wizard it is," Sam agreed. He glanced at Marta. "Does your dad read you and CJ any stories, Princess?"
Marta nodded. "Dad is reading CJ and me 'A Martian Odyssey'," she said.
"'A Martian Odyssey'?" Sam said, raising his brows. "Don't you want to read something more for girls?"
"*Girl* stories?" Marta said, in utter disdain. "Those are boring."
"Oh." Sam was slightly taken aback. "Okay, I guess we'll read about the Martians, then."
Ellen Lane raised an eyebrow. "You have to remember, Sam. This is *Lois's* daughter you're talking to."
"Good point," Sam said, wisely refraining from making a remark that Ellen would, he was sure, find insulting. Marta might be female, but she took after Lois, and Lois had never followed the crowd. When she had been a child, he'd often found her more like a boy than a girl. She'd idolized him when she had been little, he thought, wistfully. He'd been foolish to ignore her just because of her gender. It was too bad that it had taken so long for him to figure that out, but here before him was another tough little girl, his granddaughter, so like Lois as a child that he sometimes imagined that she was her mother all over again. He wouldn't make the mistakes he had made with his own daughter a second time. "Why don't you and CJ and Wyatt go watch your show while I read to Jonny and Jimmy and then we'll read about the Martians."
"Just one Martian," Marta said. "His name is Tweel."
"Oh." Sam had no idea which story this was; he'd never been particularly into science fiction as a teen.
"Grandma Kent gave us the book," CJ said. "It's part of her collection."
That made more sense, Sam thought. Martha Kent had wide interests in just about everything. Sam had never met a more curious or intelligent person than his son-in-law's mother. Martha and Jonathan Kent were certainly the main reason that Clark was the kind of man and husband that he was. Sam didn't give an iota of credit to Ellen's often- voiced suspicions that Clark's tendency to vanish at odd moments meant that he was having an affair with another woman. Sam knew the signs of an unfaithful husband from personal experience and Clark didn't show a single one. There was undoubtedly an explanation for the strange behavior but that particular one wasn't it. His habit of disappearing didn't seem to bother Lois in the least, and that convinced Sam that she knew what was behind it. The fact that she hadn't told Ellen what it was in order to end the argument left him slightly curious, since Lois quite obviously detested the subject when Ellen brought it up, which she frequently did.
Marta, CJ and Wyatt headed up the stairs to the playroom and the two, younger boys raced for the bathroom. Ellen looked after them. "Clark's a good father. I only hope he doesn't break Lois's heart. I can't help but wonder…"
"Ellen, Clark loves Lois, and he's crazy about his kids," Sam found himself saying. "The last thing on Earth he'd do would be to hurt her or them."
"I can't help it," Ellen said, fretfully. "The way he disappears…"
Sometimes, Sam thought she could read minds. "He's a reporter, Ellen. Lois would know if it were anything more than that. Our daughter isn't stupid."
Ellen shook her head. "She makes excuses for him," she said. "I think she doesn't want to see it."
"He doesn't act like a cheating husband. I've never seen a man more in love with any woman than Clark is with Lois," Sam said, repeating his earlier thoughts. "I think there's another reason, and I think Lois knows exactly where he goes and what he does."
"Then, why doesn't she tell me?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe she doesn't think it's anyone's business. Maybe he's a secret agent or something." Sam broke off the sentence, quickly. "Ellen, they've been married for over eleven years. They have one of the most solid marriages I've ever seen. Don't borrow trouble."
"He's no secret agent, Sam. I'm certain there's a woman involved."
Sam barely suppressed an incredulous laugh. "Have you ever seen him so much as look at another woman, Ellen?"
"No, but —"
"Daddy isn't cheating on my mom," Marta's voice said from above, sounding cross. "Daddy loves my mom. You shouldn't say things like that, Grandma."
Sam glanced up, appalled. His granddaughter was standing on the upstairs landing, and if her expression was any guide, she was furious. She glared at Ellen. "I know why my Daddy goes away, sometimes, and so does Mommy, and my mommy says people shouldn't gossip, especially when they don't know what they're talking about!" The little girl turned and marched in the direction of her room. A second later, Sam heard her door slam — hard enough to shake the walls.
Ellen looked just as horrified as he felt. "Oh, my god, what have I done?" she whispered. She started toward the stairs.
Sam caught her wrist. "I don't think that's a good idea, Ellen."
"I have to talk to her —"
Sam let her go. "I don't think she's going to listen."
Ellen ignored him and hurried up the steps. Sam followed, more slowly. Jonny and Jimmy were standing in the hall, watching the scenario, wide-eyed, and from above he heard the door of the playroom open. A moment later, CJ and Wyatt were peering down, obviously drawn by the sound of the slammed door. Sam closed his eyes for an instant. This was rapidly spiraling out of control. He made one more feeble attempt to stop his wife. "Ellen, I don't think —"
Ellen knocked on Marta's door. "Marta —"
"Go away, Grandma," Marta said.
Ellen tried to turn the knob, but, not to Sam's surprise, the door was locked. "Open the door, Marta."
"No!" Surprisingly, she didn't sound as if she were crying, Sam thought. Instead, her voice sounded coldly angry. "I don't want to talk to you! You don't know anything about my daddy or you wouldn't say things like that about him!"
"Then, why don't you tell me?"
"Because it's none of your business!" the curt, childish voice informed her grandmother, through the door. "Go away!"
In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Sam had to hide a smile. Nobody would have had the nerve to tell off his wife but his granddaughter. Marta Kent had all the fire and courage of her mother and the bluntness of a child. The combination was impressive.
Ellen looked helplessly at him. "What should I do?"
"I think you'd better let her alone," Sam said. "You'll have to tell Clark or Lois about it, though. Maybe one of them can smooth it over."
"Sam, I can't!" A trace of panic crossed his wife's face.
"Marta certainly will if you don't," Sam pointed out the obvious. "You know that, don't you?"
"Sam, I can't tell Clark that I —"
"Don't you think that he already knows what you've said about him?" Sam said, copying Marta's bluntness. "Lois has probably told him, anyway."
"If you're wrong, and I think you are, she's told him," Sam said. "It won't be a surprise. I think it can wait, though. They don't need any more crises right now."
"Dad knows all about it," CJ's voice said from above. His voice was completely flat and his face was unreadable. "And he's not cheating on Mom. Marta's right, though."
"People shouldn't gossip about things they don't know anything about." CJ turned and went into the playroom, followed by Wyatt. Sam stared after him. CJ was normally a quiet, extremely polite child. He must be pretty angry to say something like that.
Ellen buried her face in her hands and Sam heaved a sigh of despair. Even he had underestimated the reaction of the older Kent children. This wasn't going to be pretty. He put a hand on his wife's arm. "Come on, Ellen. I think the best thing you can do right now is to leave it alone. Let's go back downstairs."
Uncharacteristically chastened, Ellen nodded.
"Are you going to read to us, Grandfather Sam?" Jonny asked.
"Sure, sport," Sam said. "Go get into your pjs and I'll be right there."
It was only after he'd gone downstairs again and into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee to quiet his jangled nerves that the question occurred to him.
How had CJ known the subject of the conversation that made his sister so angry? He'd been in the playroom until the slammed door had brought him out. The boy must have hearing as good as Superman's to have heard them speaking.
The thought startled him, and he hurriedly dismissed it. CJ was a smart kid, and had undoubtedly put two and two together from the situation and the conversation between Ellen and himself in the upper hall.
Only, how had he known what Marta had said, inside her room? Her voice had been audible to Sam, but just barely, and he'd been standing right outside her door. Was it possible?
After a moment, he shook his head. CJ was a relative of Clark's, adopted by Lois and Clark when his teenage mother couldn't keep him. He even looked like Clark. Besides, Superman was an extraterrestrial, no matter how human he appeared. It wasn't possible. Still … Sam decided that this was a theory that he had best not mention to Ellen, or anyone else.
"You're having contractions," Bernie said.
Lois gripped Clark's hand. "What can we do?"
"We're going to administer drugs to stop your labor," Bernie said. "It hasn't gone beyond the point of no return, yet. This is going to mean you have to change your lifestyle for the rest of your pregnancy, though."
Clark saw his wife clench her jaw. "What do I have to do?" she asked.
Bernie glanced at him and then looked back at his patient. "You're going to have to stay in bed. Flat. And if that doesn't work, we'll have to elevate your hips. We need to keep those babies where they are as long as possible."
There was a long silence. "Okay," Lois said. "Let's get on with it."
Only Clark knew how tightly her hand was grasping his. As the medical personnel moved around, rigging an intravenous setup, the sound of a radio in the other room reporting a pileup on the parkway made him tense slightly, but he gritted his teeth. This time, the emergency services were going to have to do without Superman. It was more important that he be here with the most important person in his life, while she was undergoing the most stressful situation that she had ever endured, than that he go out to rescue strangers.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Clark." She fixed him with a stare that told him that she wasn't going to accept that. "*What* is it?"
He bent until his lips were less than an inch from her ear. "Accident on the freeway."
She squeezed his hand and released it. "Go."
"Go!" she said. "The quicker you go, the quicker you'll get back."
Still, he hesitated. She glared at him. "Move it, Clark!"
Unwillingly, he smiled. "Aye aye, ma'am. I'll be back as fast as I can."
Bernard Klein put a hand on Lois's shoulder. "I'll be here with her, Clark. Go."
Still reluctant but obedient, he turned and hurried out the door.
The accident was between a van, carrying a group of teenagers, and a pickup truck with a middle-aged couple trapped in the cab. The paramedics were coming but still several minutes away; he saw their flashing lights below as he passed overhead on his way to the scene and an instant later, swooped in for a landing.
Swiftly, he ripped the door from the pickup and freed the passengers with the care that he had learned over the fifteen years that Superman had been handling situations like this. The gas tank was leaking, and it was of paramount importance that he get everyone away from the truck as fast as he could.
Leaving the couple under the care of a motorcycle cop, he hurried to the van. Even while working on the pickup truck, he had been aware of the scent of alcohol issuing from the vehicle. Two members of the Highway Patrol had managed to force a side door halfway open when he arrived and willingly backed away to let Superman complete the job. While they carefully pulled the shaken teens free of the wreck, he worked quickly to stem the bleeding of the girl who had been in the front passenger seat.
Amazingly enough, all the participants had been wearing seat belts and the girl was the most badly injured of the four. He applied pressure to the severed artery in her leg, while reassuring her that the paramedics would be there momentarily. Sure enough, the white truck with its flashing blue lights pulled up less than five minutes later and he was able to surrender his post to one of the medics.
He turned to one of the police. "Do you need me anymore? I was in the middle of another situation when I heard the radio report."
The man shook his head. "No, I think we can manage. Thanks for the help, Superman."
"You're welcome." He launched himself into the air and headed back toward the hospital.
Halfway there, he decided to make a short detour. The escape of Kyle Griffin from Stryker's Island had not escaped his memory, nor had the fact that the man had a special hatred for Lois, whom he blamed for his incarceration. He wouldn't put it past Griffin to track down her current home and start planning some method of revenge on her. Neither had he forgotten the fact that Griffin and Victor must have had some outside help in their escape. Whoever that person was, he or she could have all the information the Prankster needed in order to gain his revenge on the reporter he blamed for his misfortune. That he might not be planning any such revenge didn't rate more than an instant's consideration. Unless the man had changed drastically, he would be after Lois.
Hovering over the townhouse, he tuned his hearing to the sounds within the building.
"Have you ever seen him so much as look at another woman, Ellen?" Sam Lane's voice sounded skeptical.
"No, but —" That was Ellen.
"Daddy isn't cheating on my mom." He heard his daughter's voice and, if he was any judge, she sounded mad. "Daddy loves my mom. You shouldn't say things like that, Grandma."
Ellen's often-expressed suspicion of his disappearances was apparently the subject of the discussion, Clark thought. Only, this time, Marta's new super-hearing had picked up her grandmother's remarks. Clark hung in the air, listening to the subsequent uproar, wincing occasionally. When the argument had run its course, he rolled his eyes. Life in the Kent household was lively tonight, and Ellen would certainly have food for thought for a time. He didn't have much hope that Marta and CJ's defense of him would have much of an impact but he was proud of his children. He'd have to speak with them about the subject tomorrow, but right now, he needed to get back to Lois.
Quickly, he scanned the neighborhood. Everything seemed quiet, or at least normal. The Grandon children were fighting over the possession of the TV remote again and he could hear the mutual insults of a pair of tomcats squaring off in the alley that ran behind the townhouse. Halfway down the block, a white van with an enormous cartoon termite, its six legs in the air, painted on the side, was parked against the curb. Large, black letters identified it as belonging to "Killzem Termite Control". Nothing seemed out of the way. Reassured, he turned in the air and headed back toward the hospital.
Sam Lane descended the stairs, still holding the book that he had just finished reading to CJ, Marta and Wyatt. Ellen was moving around in the kitchen, probably making more coffee. He shook his head. In a way, the upset between Ellen and the children was partly his fault. He'd given his wife reason to suspect men of unfaithfulness by his own extramarital affairs in their own married life, years ago. He'd learned the hard way and so had Ellen. Unfortunately, she had carried that mistrust on to her daughters' marriages to the point where the slightest doubt translated into instant suspicion. Lucy's husband, Jay, openly avoided her. Clark didn't, but sometimes Sam could see Lois gritting her teeth when her mother brought up the subject of Clark's frequent absences.
There was a family portrait on the wall by the foot of the stairs and he studied it for several moments. It had been done a couple of years before. CJ was about nine, Marta eight, Jonny about four and Jimmy was a baby, sitting on Lois's lap. Clark stood behind his family, one hand on Lois's shoulder. CJ, seated beside his mother, grinned his father's grin at the camera.
Sam leaned forward. CJ looked remarkably like Clark and like his younger siblings. All of them had their father's slightly Asian eyes. Otherwise, Marta looked a good deal like Lois, but the stern expression she wore as she stared solemnly at the camera, reminded him of someone else.
Sam squinted at the picture of his granddaughter, trying to place the occasion, but couldn't quite pin it down.
He turned his attention to Jonny. The little boy's eyes were exactly the same as those of both Marta and CJ, and if Sam hadn't known how impossible it was, he'd have sworn that Jonny was CJ's biological brother as well as his adoptive one. The chubby, baby face had his father's determined chin and the same brilliant, white-toothed smile.
Sam blinked suddenly. He'd seen that smile on someone else recently on the front page of the Daily Planet. It couldn't possibly be what he was thinking. Lois's crush on Superman had faded years ago, although the Man of Steel remained a friend of the Kent family — but there had been that picture on the front page of the Dirt Digger, the first year Lois and Clark had been married — that shocking scandal about Superman and Lois…
But, that had been revealed as a smear campaign, he reassured himself. Lois and Superman had denied it and Jim Olsen had produced proof of the fraudulent photograph…
But, CJ and Jonny could have been miniature versions of the Man of Steel. And Marta, looking sternly into the camera, could have been his sister. Or his daughter.
But, he'd already gone over that. Superman was an extra- terrestrial. The possibility of his being able to produce children with an Earthwoman wasn't even worth considering.
But his gaze strayed back to CJ again. That white, dazzling grin was Superman's.
But, it was Clark's, too. Sam reached into the pocket of his jacket and removed his reading glasses. Slipping them on, he began to study his son-in-law's photograph with a growing sense of discovery. Perhaps, he thought, Lois's infatuation with Superman hadn't exactly faded, after all. If what he thought was true, then he had the explanation for Clark's sudden disappearances right in front of him.
"What are you doing, Sam?" Ellen's voice said, behind him.
He barely concealed his start. "Ellen, don't sneak up on me like that!" He turned around, removing the glasses. "I was just noticing how much CJ looks like Clark. There's a strong family resemblance."
"I wouldn't be surprised if he *is* Clark's," Ellen said, darkly. "I never really believed that story about a teenage cousin … "
"Ellen, don't start that again." Sam wasn't about to let this conversation go any further. "You're already in the kids' bad graces for even suggesting something like that about their dad, and I don't believe it for a second. Clark doesn't show any of the signs of a man having an affair. Believe me, I know from experience." He fixed his wife with a stern stare. "I learned my lesson, sweetheart. I made life hell for you and for the girls, and I'll never be able to forgive myself for it — but don't transfer it to Clark. All you do is annoy Lois and upset the kids. There's some other reason he takes off the way he does. Lois knows what it is, and if she wants us to know, she'll tell us. I'd be the last man alive to defend a man who was cheating on my daughter, but I'm as sure as I can be that it isn't another woman. In the first place, Lois would never put up with it if it was, and I think you know it."
Ellen stared at him, seeming shocked at his vehemence. He pressed his advantage. "If you want Lois and her family to be eager to see you instead of just putting up with you, drop it. As Marta so eloquently put it, it isn't any of our business."
"Ellen, do you want to keep Lois as your friend as well as your daughter? Do you want your grandchildren to like you?"
"Of course I do! But —"
"Then let her handle her own life and leave her husband alone. I've kept quiet about this long enough. Clark is Lois's choice, not yours. From what I've seen, in his eyes the sun rises and sets with her." Sam met her eyes steadily, trying to get across to her his utter seriousness. "Take it from me, she doesn't appreciate your attempts to meddle. From what the kids said, you're not operating with all the facts. You already made one mistake this evening. Don't make it worse."
Ellen seemed to be struck speechless for several seconds. She opened and closed her mouth several times but no words came out. Then she seemed to wilt. Her eyes filled with tears.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "Have I really been that horrible?"
Sam put an arm around her. "Ellen, I know you love Lois, and so does she. So does Clark, which is why I think he doesn't make a fuss about the subject. But there are limits to everything. You don't want Lois to start avoiding you because you can't let something go, do you? She and Clark are in the middle of a crisis. They don't need more stress, right now."
Uncharacteristically subdued, Ellen nodded. "You're right. They don't." She glanced up the stairs. "Do you think I should apologize to Marta and CJ?"
"I don't think it would hurt. I think it can wait until morning, though."
She glanced up the stairs and he followed her gaze, but no one stood there, listening. Sam allowed himself a small measure of satisfaction. Maybe he had gotten through to her, although habit would probably bring her back to the subject eventually. He didn't enjoy Lois's obvious unhappiness when Ellen brought up the question of Clark's disappearances. He'd done more damage to his family in his younger days than he could ever make up for, but at least he could try to help Lois and Clark out, now.
"Can you hear anything?" Lois asked, for the hundredth time. She shifted slightly in the bed, careful not to move the arm where an intravenous cutdown delivered medication in a steady metered dosage into her veins. "How is it going?"
Clark squeezed her hand. "Lois, you ought to be able to tell. Have you had any more contractions in the last couple of hours?"
"No. But I still want to know what they're saying. Come on, give!" The forceful sentence was delivered through a yawn. Even in a personal crisis, drowsy from the medication she was receiving, the famous Lane curiosity was in full gear, Clark thought. Or maybe *because* it was a personal crisis. He lowered his glasses and glanced through the wall at the monitoring station.
Bernie Klein was just walking in. The scientist bent slightly to study the monitor. "How is it going?"
The technician glanced sideways. "The contractions seem to be stopping, sir. The last one was nearly three hours ago, at twelve-twenty-six, and it wasn't much of one as contractions go."
"Let me see it."
The woman did something to the controls. Bernie leaned forward again. "Hmm. Good. If it goes on like this, in couple more hours, we can reduce the dosage and see what happens."
Clark pushed his glasses into place. "So far, so good. They're going to give you a little more time and then lower the amount of the medicine you're getting."
"Good," Lois said. There was a slight slur to her words that he had noticed ever since they had started giving her the drug. "This stuff may be a new wonder drug for stopping contractions, but it makes me feel weird. Did you know you look funny, all out of focus?"
"I imagine I would," he agreed, smiling. "Honey, why don't you try to sleep? I think the situation is under control for now."
She nodded, letting her eyelids flutter closed. Clark squeezed her hand slightly. The knot in his gut that had been sitting there like a lump of lead for the last several hours had begun to unwind. It might be a bit early to relax completely, but it was beginning to look as if Bernie Klein had pulled off another small miracle.
A soft knock on the door alerted him to the presence of Bernard Klein, himself, who opened the door quietly and slipped inside. "Hi, Clark."
"Is she asleep?" The scientist nodded toward Lois.
Lois opened one eye a crack. "Almost."
"I thought you'd like to know, the medication seems to be working. We're going to keep the dose at this level for a couple more hours and then start lowering it slightly. If we can take you completely off of it, we will. If not, we'll maintain it at the lowest dose we can for as long as possible."
"I don't suppose I'll be able to get out of bed, though," Lois said, sounding grumpy.
The scientist shook his head. "I'm afraid not. We might allow short trips to the bathroom, depending on how things go. It would be better if Clark could carry you there, though."
Lois harrumphed and fell silent.
Clark turned his head. The radio broadcast, turned on low at the monitoring station, had been interrupted with a newsbreak.
Bernie Klein had noticed. "Emergency, Clark?"
He nodded. "There's been an earthquake. A 6.2 quake in the Los Angeles area."
"Go," Lois said, at once. "I'll be okay, Clark. I'm going to go to sleep, anyway."
Bernard Klein gave a half-smile. "I'll keep an eye on her, Clark. Go."
Marta Kent awoke suddenly and completely.
A glance at her bedside alarm clock told her it was close to three in the morning and the house should be completely silent, but there was someone moving around out there. From somewhere downstairs, she heard the scuff of a shoe and a faint thump as something fell to the rug.
Marta frowned. Quietly, she slipped out of bed, not bothering with her bedroom slippers and tiptoed to the door. As she did so, muffled footsteps started up the stairs. Marta froze by the door, listening. If it was Grandmother Ellen, she didn't want to speak to her. The reason for her earlier anger with Ellen returned full force. How could her grandmother even think that Daddy would ever cheat on Mom? Marta was a little unclear on the details involved in one person "cheating" on another, but she knew that sex was part of it, and that it somehow involved one or the other parent and another person that wasn't married to either one of them. Even the idea that Dad would want to be with somebody besides her mother was upsetting. Her father wouldn't do such a thing, and it made Marta furious to think that Grandmother Ellen would say things like that about him.
The footsteps reached the landing and came toward her door. Marta tried to breathe quietly, straining her ears and the beginnings of her super hearing.
"The master bedroom is the one at the end," a male voice said, in barely more than a whisper. "From what I could see from the street, this one belongs to the girl."
Burglars? Marta ran a hand over the lock on her door. It was still locked. She'd fastened it after Grandfather Sam had finished reading to them last night. Somehow, though, she had to alert the others in the house.
The doorknob jiggled under her hand. Someone was trying to open her door.
Marta held her breath.
"Locked," the voice whispered. "Can you get it open?"
"What are you going to do?" another male voice asked. "Kidnapping is a federal offense!"
"Do you think that matters? I've been in prison for thirteen years. Lois Lane is going to pay for it."
Again the doorknob jiggled. Marta drew in her breath. If she screamed, that would probably wake up everyone in the house.
But the only grown-ups here were Grandfather Sam and Grandmother Ellen, and Grandfather Sam was nearly seventy years old. If there was a bad man out there, as there seemed to be, he might hurt them. Besides, what if he had a gun?
Quickly and quietly, Marta crossed the room to her window and pushed it upward. They had practiced fire drills often enough. She was supposed to open the window and yell for help.
The street below her room was empty, except for a white van with some kind of dead bug on the side parked right across the street.
There were sounds out in the hall, now, and for a moment, she wondered why nobody else in the house was hearing them. Then she remembered that what was loud and clear to her wasn't loud for ordinary people. CJ was the only other person in the house who might be able to hear the noises, and his room was farther down the hall. Besides, he was probably sound asleep.
Marta pushed out on the screen as hard as she could. It was a cloth screen, not one of the more solid metal ones. It ripped easily across and she tore it sideways. Below her, a ledge ran around the building. Marta glanced over her shoulder at the door. There was a scratching sound and another slight rattle of the knob. Without hesitation, she slithered backwards through the window, her bare feet searching for the ledge.
From her door, she heard a click, just as her toes touched the ledge. Quickly, she turned, grasping the windowsill and placed her back to the wall, then moved carefully sideways, pulling the window almost closed. Behind her, she heard the door open and footsteps entered her bedroom.
This wasn't a good idea, she thought. If anyone looked out, they'd see her on the ledge and she'd be stuck, but there was no going back, now. Hugging the wall, she slid sideways. The ledge was maybe a foot wide. If she made herself small and very flat against the wall, she'd be all right.
Footsteps crossed the rug. Silence for an instant, and then the first voice spoke again. "She's gone!"
Marta edged to the right, an inch at a time. She needed to get out of reach of anyone standing at the window. For an instant, she made the mistake of looking down and wrenched her eyes up. She was only maybe twenty feet above the sidewalk, but that was high enough. If she slipped, she was bound to break something at the very least.
"Wait a minute." The voice in her room spoke suddenly, and the footsteps approached the window. Marta scooted a little farther to the right, pressed back against the wall. The storm drain ran down the wall just a few feet beyond her grasp.
The window scraped up. Marta slid sideways again. Her bare foot came down on something sharp and she winced involuntarily. She definitely wasn't invulnerable, yet. It didn't hurt much, at least not exactly, but it wasn't comfortable.
A head was thrust through the window. Marta risked another step sideways, nearly overbalancing, and grasped the storm drain with her right hand.
"Well, hello there." The dark-haired man was looking directly at her, smiling. It might be dark out here, but the reflection of the streetlights gave him enough light to see her, even if the moon wasn't up anymore.
Marta gripped the storm drain and glared back at him, daring him to come after her. *CJ* she thought. *Come on, wake up! You're Super, too! Can't you hear all this stuff?*
The dark-haired man reached his arm out the window and Marta saw the handgun he held.
"Not a sound, sweetheart," he said. "Come on back."
Marta only half heard him. If she came back, he was going to kidnap her to hurt her mom. Dad and Mom had warned her about people like this and told her to do everything she could to keep such people from getting their hands on her. Mom had told her one time that if a kidnapper tried to make her get into his car by waving a gun at her, that the smartest thing she could do was to run and scream her head off. It was hard to hit a moving target with a handgun, Mom had said. Her chances were better that way than going along with a kidnapper, unless there was no other choice.
Well, this wasn't exactly a car, but Marta was smart enough to realize that the difference didn't matter. She had to get away and find help before this person, whoever he was, hurt her family.
Before she could stop to consider the distance to the sidewalk, she pushed away from the ledge. Grasping the drainpipe, she fell toward the ground, twenty feet below.
Wyatt Dillon came awake with a start, certain that he had heard Marta's voice. The room was quiet, except for CJ's breathing. He was still orienting himself, when his friend stirred and pushed himself up on an elbow. "Marta?" he mumbled.
Maybe he hadn't been dreaming after all, Wyatt thought. Maybe CJ's super hearing had picked up her voice. He got out of bed. Marta had sounded scared. She'd probably just had a bad dream, he rationalized, but underneath, he didn't believe it. Something wasn't right, he thought, although he couldn't have said what made him think so.
He made his way to the door, stepping over the pile of his clothing that he'd left on the floor last night. Just about to open the door, CJ's whisper stopped him.
"Don't go out there, Wyatt! Somebody's in the hall!"
Maybe he and CJ hadn't been the only ones to hear Marta yell, he thought, reaching for the knob, when CJ's hand caught his wrist. "Burglars!" he whispered.
"But Marta's in trouble," Wyatt said, before he even considered why he was so certain of the fact.
"I know," CJ said. "But getting ourselves hurt isn't gonna help her." He reached past Wyatt, locking the door. "Come on."
CJ didn't answer. Instead, he crossed to the window and slid it open. As he did so, the sound of an explosion nearly made Wyatt jump out of his skin. For an instant, he thought it was a car backfiring.
"Somebody's shooting!" CJ said. Belatedly, he reached back, grabbed the jeans that lay across the foot of his bed and yanked them on over his pajamas.
The doorknob rattled.
"This one's locked, too!" somebody whispered.
"Forget it! I want that girl!" The other voice was slightly louder than the first one. "Come on!"
Footsteps retreated down the hall. CJ waited several seconds and unlocked the door. "Wyatt, call my Grandfather! I'm going to find Marta!"
Grasping the drainpipe, Marta fell toward the ground, twenty feet below.
The drainpipe bent under her weight and slowed her plummet toward the street. Halfway down, the mistreated metal broke and she fell the last few feet to land with a bruising thump on the pavement. At the same instant from above, came the report of the pistol. She saw dirt spray up from the street a good six feet away. With the agility she had learned in her Tae Kwan Do class, she rolled to her feet and ran.
Except for the parked vehicles, the street was empty. Not far away, she heard the yapping of Mr. Parker's beagle and the howling of the Siberian Husky in the Rowling household but there was, naturally, no one to be seen. Where the heck was the cop car that went by the townhouse at night? Marta ran to the door of the Grandon house and hammered on the door. "Help! Help me!"
The light came on in the upper window and a sleepy voice called out, "Who's there?"
"Marta Kent! Help me!"
"Go home, Marta," Mrs. Grandon's voice called, sounding annoyed. "It's after four!"
"Help!" Marta screamed. "Somebody's trying to kidnap me!"
"Go *home*, Marta," Mrs. Grandon's voice said again. "I'm going to call your parents!"
No wonder the Grandon kids acted the way they did, Marta reflected, if Mrs. Grandon didn't pay any more attention to her own kids than she did to Marta. She glanced over her shoulder as the front door of her home opened and two men charged out. She jumped from the steps and ran as hard as she could down the block, looking for a place to hide. Behind her, she could hear the motor of the van start up and the squeal of tires as the vehicle peeled away from the curb.
But, maybe Mrs. Grandon had a point. Dad was Superman. Maybe if she yelled for help, he'd hear her. She sucked in her breath.
Sam Lane jolted awake at the pounding on the bedroom door.
"Dr. Lane!" Wyatt Dillon's frantic voice came faintly through the panel. "Dr. Lane, please wake up!"
The boy sounded thoroughly scared. Sam threw back the covers and dropped his feet to the floor. "Just a minute!"
Ellen stirred, pushing herself to a sitting position. "What's the matter?"
"I don't know." Sam grabbed his robe and hurried to the door, tying the sash. He flung it open, to see Wyatt, his eyes the size of saucers, waiting for him. "What's wrong, Wyatt?"
"Marta's in trouble!" Wyatt looked in the direction of the stairs, pointing. "There were burglars!" The door to Marta's room was open, Sam saw, and her room light was blazing. As he followed Wyatt's glance, CJ emerged from his sister's room.
"She's gone!" he announced. "Her window's open and the screen's ripped. The drainpipe is all bent, too."
"What's going on?" Ellen asked. She craned her head to see over Sam's shoulder.
"We heard Marta yell," CJ said. "Right after that, I heard somebody in the hall — men's voices — and then, somebody was shooting, outside!"
Sam glanced quickly at his wife. "Ellen, call the police," he directed. "I'm going to find Marta."
Ellen wasn't Lois Lane's mother for nothing. Instead of panicking, as some might have done, she nodded briskly and went to the phone. Sam pushed his feet into his shoes without bothering to tie the laces and hurried to the stairs. Wyatt and CJ had vanished and he heard the front door slam. "CJ!" he shouted.
Behind him, the door to Jonny and Jimmy's room opened and Jonny stuck his head out . "What's going on?"
Sam felt the urge to tear at his hair — if he'd had any left. "Kids, go back into your room and get in bed."
"But what's *happening*?" Jimmy asked, trying to see past his older brother.
"We had a burglar. Go back to bed, now. Everything's all right."
"A *burglar*! Did you call the cops?"
"Yes, Jonny, your grandmother called the police."
"Did he steal anything?" Jonny inquired.
"We don't know, yet. CJ and Wyatt scared him off."
Jimmy crowded past his brother. "Did he steal our TV?"
"I don't know, Jimmy. Go back to bed!"
Ellen stepped into the hall. She fixed the two youngsters with an intimidating glare. "If you two don't get back in your beds *right now*, I'm going to call your mother!" she said. "Your grandfather and I are going to check and be sure everything's all right!" She planted her fists on her hips and eyed the pair of them sternly. "Do I have to tell your mom you don't listen to your Grandfather Sam?"
Jonny shook his head vigorously and retreated into his room. Jimmy pouted. "I want to see if he took our TV!"
"If he took the TV, I'll let you know!" Ellen countered. "Now, march!"
Reluctantly, Jimmy followed his older brother. As soon as the door closed behind them, Ellen turned to Sam. "I got the police. They're sending a squad car. Where are the boys and Marta?"
"I don't know. CJ and Wyatt went downstairs and I heard the door slam. I think they may have gone after Marta."
"What's Marta doing out there?"
"I don't know, but CJ said she wasn't in her room and the window was open." Sam yanked on the tie of his robe to tighten it. "I'm going after them. Can you handle things here?"
"Sam, be careful. Something's very strange, here."
"When *aren't* things strange when it comes to Lois and Clark?" Sam asked. He bent to tie his shoes. "Let me get CJ's baseball bat," he said. "If I run into the burglar, at least I won't be unarmed."
As CJ and Wyatt opened the door, Wyatt heard the roar of an engine and a white van pulled away from the curb. Far up the street, he could see a small, dark-haired figure running down the sidewalk, as she passed under the pool of light cast by a street lamp.
He let the door slam shut. "There she is!"
"Where?" CJ demanded.
"There!" Wyatt bolted down the steps, nearly stumbling, and took off after her. He had no doubt at all in his mind that the running figure he had seen was Marta. Ahead of him, the van accelerated after her and, somewhat belatedly, Wyatt saw the connection. The van was the only moving vehicle on the whole block. What if the burglars had come in it? That guy in the hall, whoever he was, had said he wanted "that girl". These guys were trying to kidnap Marta!
CJ passed him as if he was standing still, but Wyatt kept running. His friend might be a super boy, but even CJ couldn't handle a couple of grown men all by himself! He'd heard Sam Lane tell Ellen to call the police, so all he and CJ had to do was stall things long enough for the cops to get here.
The big van swerved into the alley halfway down the block, and a second later Wyatt saw CJ turn down it as well. Marta must have gone that way, he thought. It was almost as if he could hear her running footsteps ahead of him. Ahead, a pair of red taillights showed him that the vehicle was moving slowly, probably because of the narrowness of the alley. On both sides, the walls of the old townhouses crowded in, leaving barely enough room on either side for the van to pass. Once, he distinctly heard the scrape of metal on stone when the driver must have misjudged his margin.
Suddenly, the motor cut off and a moment later, he heard a mumble of voices. There were two men ahead of him, he thought. He couldn't hear CJ's footsteps, or Marta's, now, but he knew she was up there. A voice spoke a cussword, and silhouetted against the dim, red light given out by the taillights, he could see CJ moving slowly forward as silent as a ghost. The body of the van blocked most of the illumination from the headlights, but he could see enough to realize that the men were having trouble opening the doors wide enough to squeeze out.
"Don't move, sweetie." He heard the voice that had been swearing a moment ago. "I'd hate to have to shoot you."
"Get away from me!" Marta sounded angry as much as scared.
"No, I don't think so." The voice seemed amused. "You look just like your mother, did you know that?"
Marta used a four-letter word and Wyatt found himself grinning slightly.
"Your mother put me in prison," the voice continued. "I've been there for thirteen years. Now it's my turn. This is going to be the best prank of my career — to make Lois Lane pay for what she put me through."
"If my mom put you in jail, then you deserved it," Marta's voice said. "And she'll put you back."
CJ was pressed up against the van as Wyatt arrived. He patted the white, metal door and then put a finger to his lips. Wyatt nodded. Slowly, CJ peeked around the side of the van, and Wyatt stood on tiptoe, trying to see through the rear window. His eyes barely came to the bottom of the glass and a pair of curtains was pulled almost closed, but perhaps half an inch of space remained between them. Peeking through the gap with one eye, Wyatt could see a slender, dark-haired man with a streak of silver over each ear standing perhaps five feet from Marta, and in his hand was a pistol. A wooden fence blocked the alley, and against it several trash cans and half a dozen garbage bags were stacked. To her right, a pudgy, balding man fidgeted uneasily.
The dark-haired man waved the weapon. "Come on, sweetie. Get in the van."
Marta shook her head. "Come and get me."
Wyatt bit his lip. He and CJ needed to do something! They couldn't let this guy grab Marta! But, he had a gun! Wyatt wasn't sure what he was going to do but he knew he wasn't going to let that guy take Marta without a fight.
He almost jumped when CJ touched his arm. His friend beckoned silently and Wyatt saw that he was holding a piece of broken concrete about half the size of a baseball in one hand. He put his lips barely an inch from Wyatt's ear. "Follow me. Get in the van and take the keys. They're still in the ignition. Then he won't be able to drive away."
The impulse to ask how CJ knew was never acted on. He must, Wyatt realized, have looked with his x-ray vision. He found himself nodding, and an instant later he slipped around the edge of the van after CJ.
Sam Lane shoved open the door of the Kent townhouse. Far down the street, he saw a single, small figure running barefooted through the puddle of light cast by a streetlight. Judging by the build, that might be Wyatt, and he was obviously in a big hurry. Sam took a tighter grip on the baseball bat and descended the steps to the street. Trying to hurry, he strode after the running figure.
CJ crept forward, Wyatt on his heels. Their smaller bodies allowed them to slide more easily between the van and the wall of the neighboring building than the adults. CJ stopped at the door of the van and Wyatt saw that it hadn't latched when it had swung closed. CJ eased it open and as soon as it was wide enough, Wyatt squeezed through the opening and scrambled into the cab.
The key was in the ignition. Wyatt pulled it out and stuffed it into his pocket. Glancing at the passenger door, he saw that it was unlocked and quickly shoved the button down. Quietly, he pushed down the locking button of the driver's door as well and slid out of the cab.
CJ had slipped past the door and was crouched down by the front wheel. Marta had backed up until the big garbage cans were just behind her, and for an instant, in spite of the headlights of the van, she looked directly at Wyatt, then her eyes moved away to focus on her pursuers. The two men who faced her seemed somehow baffled. The chubby man fidgeted, looking as if he wished he were anywhere but here. The man with the gun had his back directly to Wyatt and CJ, and it was a little harder to tell what he was thinking.
He moved a couple of steps closer to Marta. "Come on, kid." The humor in his voice seemed more forced. "You don't want me to have to shoot you."
"I'm not coming." Marta said. In the headlights, she looked scared but determined. "You're going to kill me, anyway."
"You're as irritating as your mother." The man took a step forward. "Come on."
Wyatt eased the door of the van very gently shut and pressed in the latch button until he felt it catch. Both doors of the big vehicle were now locked, and he held the key.
The chubby man had begun to back slowly toward the van. It was at that instant that CJ stood up and hurled his chunk of concrete straight at the back of the man in front of him.
There was a reason, Wyatt knew, that his friend was one of the best starting pitchers on the Metropolis Eagles, the local Little League team. Very few batters from opposing teams liked to go up against CJ Kent, even before his super powers had started to come in and Wyatt knew why, as he was often the catcher. On more than one occasion, he had walked away from a game with his glove-hand stinging from multiple fast balls thrown by CJ.
The missile struck squarely between the man's shoulder blades with a thunk that made Wyatt wince in involuntary sympathy. At the same instant, Marta dropped to the ground. Placing her hands on the dirty asphalt, she swept out with one foot in a fluid motion that took the would-be kidnapper's feet neatly out from under him. He hit the ground with a bruising thump and a solid "crack" as the back of his head struck the pavement. The handgun went flying. It landed almost at CJ's feet and, with the presence of mind that Wyatt most admired in his friend, CJ instantly kicked it under the van.
The chubby, balding man had squeezed to the passenger door of the van and was now tugging uselessly at the handle. After several fruitless seconds, he gave up and inched his way toward the rear of the van.
But CJ was moving forward to the spot where the dark-haired man was sprawled awkwardly on the pavement. Wyatt followed.
"Come on, Marta," CJ said, never taking his eyes from the unconscious figure. "Let's get out of here."
Marta nodded and circled the man. "Won't he get away when he wakes up?"
"I locked the doors of the van," Wyatt said. "He can't drive anywhere. Let's hurry. Maybe we can find a cop."
"We better watch out for the other guy," CJ said. "He took off."
"He didn't get far," a familiar voice said.
"Grandfather Sam?" Marta pushed through the gap between the van and the building and Wyatt followed.
Stretched on the asphalt, the second man lay perfectly still, and Sam Lane stood over him, holding CJ's baseball bat at the ready. CJ's grandfather glanced quickly over them and his gaze settled on Marta.
"Are you all right, honey?" he asked.
"I'm fine," Marta assured him.
"Marta took out that guy," Wyatt said. "She kicked his feet right out from under him."
"I saw most of it." Sam looked at his prisoner. "Get up, buddy. I want you to drag that guy out here. And don't try anything." He stood back as the man got slowly to his feet. "Marta, you stay here with me. CJ, you and Wyatt go call the police. There's a pay phone out on the street about two doors down. Stick together and don't take too long."
"Yes, sir." CJ's teeth flashed in the dimness, glowing red in the taillights of the van. "Come on, Wyatt."
Lois woke from an uncomfortable sleep to find a sleepy- looking nurse adjusting the setting on the tiny device that monitored the drip rate of her IV. The woman glanced at her when she stirred and gave her a smile that turned into a small yawn.
"Excuse me," she said.
"That's okay. What time is it?"
The nurse checked her watch. "Nearly five-thirty. Dr. Klein wants to reduce your dosage and monitor you for contractions for a while."
"Okay." Lois swallowed, trying to tell herself that Bernie knew what he was doing. Still, it would be nice if Clark could come back, soon. She knew that Superman was needed in California, but she needed him, too. Lois Lane was too tough to admit that something scared her, but this situation was one she'd never been in before, and she was afraid.
The nurse apparently realized it. She rested a hand gently on Lois's shoulder. "Don't worry, Mrs. Kent. At the first sign or any trouble, we'll increase the dosage, but this drug has a very good success rate. It's new, as Dr. Klein may have told you."
"Yes, he did."
"He may not have told you that he worked with two of the best obstetrical researchers at this hospital, to develop it. The man is amazing."
"I know," Lois said. "He's a friend of our family. It's reassuring to know he had a hand in it."
"I thought it might be." The nurse glanced around at a knock on the door. "Oh, hello, Mr. Kent."
"How are things going?" Clark asked, stepping into the room.
"So far so good," Lois said. "I'm glad you're back."
"So am I." Clark stood aside to let the nurse exit and then came to bend over the bed and drop a kiss on Lois's lips. "I'm sorry it took so long, honey."
"How was California?" Lois asked. It was amazing how much better she felt with him in the room.
Clark grimaced. "Not too good. I'm glad it wasn't any worse. The quake was north of Los Angeles, but the power was out in most of the city and a private hospital collapsed."
"Yeah." He pulled the chair he had been using earlier in the evening next to her bed and sank into it. "The second story telescoped right down into the first. Fortunately, a portion of it was under reconstruction, so that part of it was empty, but two nurse's aides and a janitor were killed, and a lot of people were hurt. At least, Superman was able to help with the evacuation."
On cue, his cellular phone beeped softly. Clark slipped his hand into the inside pocket and removed the device. "Who would be calling us, now?"
"I hope there's nothing wrong at home," Lois said.
Clark flipped the phone open. "Kent." A pause. "Bill?"
"Henderson?" Lois asked. "What's he doing, calling at this hour?"
Clark frowned. "Is something wrong, Bill?" Silence again. Lois saw her husband's eyebrows go up. "Is everyone all right?"
"What's the matter?" Lois whispered.
Clark shook his head, still listening as the city's deputy mayor spoke. "You're kidding! Do you need me, right now?"
Silence. Lois controlled her impatience until he spoke again. "Okay, thanks for calling to let me know, Bill. Yes, Lois is doing fine, for now. I'll talk to you later. Bye."
"So, what happened?" Lois demanded, as he slowly tucked the phone away.
"Well, he didn't give me all the details, but apparently CJ, Marta, Wyatt and Sam caught Kyle Griffin and his friend, Victor."
Lois nearly sat up straight. "*What*?"
Clark had a faint grin on his lips. "Do you ever get the feeling our kids are following in our footsteps?"
"Maybe you'd better call the house!"
"Bill was going to give them a ride home from the police station. He said Marta kicked Griffin's feet out from under him, and he's in the hospital with a hairline skull fracture. Evidently, he cracked his head pretty hard on the street. He's going to recover, but maybe from now on he should keep in mind that our little girl doesn't kid around."
"I'm sure that she had a good reason," Lois said. "Everybody's all right, though?"
"So he said."
"Well, I want to know what happened!"
"So do I. I'll give them time enough to get home and then give them a call."
In spite of her best efforts, Ellen couldn't get to sleep. Sam's call from the police station concerning the capture of Kyle Griffin had relieved her immediate worry but something that she couldn't put her finger on wouldn't let her relax completely.
Part of it was the attempted kidnap of Marta right out of her own house. That sort of thing had happened now and then and now it had nearly happened to her own granddaughter. It was only luck that had wakened Wyatt and CJ in time for them to realize what was going on. Marta had apparently managed to defend herself ably enough, and it sounded to Ellen as if the man had gotten exactly what he deserved. She hoped the headache he was bound to have after he woke up would teach him a lesson, but the whole thing had left her understandably shaken.
How had the man gotten into the house? The question had been revolving in her brain for the last hour.
Ellen would have bet her life that she and Sam had fastened every lock on the doors and windows and that the house had been completely secure when they had gone to bed. When Sam had gone after Marta, Ellen had called the police again and then made a circuit of the entire house, making sure that everything was locked up tight. She hadn't been able to find anything unlocked, anywhere.
The police hadn't arrived, of course. CJ's call to the police station had caused the squad car to be diverted to pick up Kyle Griffin and his companion, thus resolving the situation, but the question still nagged at her.
Had he actually come in through the front door? But the locks had been fastened, including the chain lock and the sliding bolt, as well as the deadbolt! And none of them were broken, so how could that have been the entrance?
Ellen couldn't figure it out, but she would be extremely glad when Sam got back. Unable to sleep, she slid out of bed a second time and reached for her robe. Checking the locks one more time was probably futile, but it couldn't hurt and maybe she would find something she had missed.
"Grandmother Ellen?" The small figure of Jimmy Kent appeared in the doorway, his older brother behind him.
"What's the matter, Jimmy?"
"Me, too," Jonny admitted. "I hear funny noises downstairs."
Ellen didn't hear anything, but the children's ears were admittedly better than hers. "What do you hear, Jonny?"
"Just funny noises, like somebody's moving around down there."
"Maybe the burglar came back," Jimmy said. "Can we come in there with you?"
Ellen hesitated. "All right, you can come in and we'll wait until your Grandfather Sam and the others get here. I don't think the burglars came back, though. Your Grandfather Sam said the police arrested them."
"Maybe there's another one," Jimmy said. He tugged on his brother's hand and entered the bedroom. Jonny closed the door and punched in the locking button.
Ellen glanced doubtfully at the button. That kind of lock could be easily unlocked from the outside. Maybe she was being silly, but the fear of the children was beginning to affect her as well.
"Maybe there's somebody hiding in the basement," Jimmy said.
The basement! Why hadn't she checked the basement? There were glass windows in the basement, which opened at ground level! If no other lock had been broken in the main house, how about the basement? She hadn't even thought to check them!
Come on, Ellen! she chided herself. You're letting your imagination run away with you! Just go downstairs and lock the basement door and then, if anyone tries to get in, he'll be stuck. Besides, who would be down there, now? The intruders are in police custody and everything's all right. But, somehow she couldn't make herself open the door. After a second's thought, she walked across the room, picked up the small, wooden chair that sat under the window, and placed it against the door with the back jammed under the doorknob.
"Grandfather Sam and the others will be here, soon," she said. "We'll just wait here until they arrive, okay?"
The boys nodded solemnly. Then, Jimmy sniffed. "Grandmother," he said. "Do you smell smoke?"
Startled, Ellen inhaled, trying to detect what the child already had. Indeed, there was a slight smell of smoke in the air. Jimmy must have an acute sense of smell to detect it, however. The smoke detector hadn't gone off and she knew for a fact that the battery was new. She'd been there when Jimmy had climbed up on a stepstool under the watchful eye of his father, to replace it and then test it. He'd seemed to get a perverse pleasure out of pushing the test button repeatedly until Clark had firmly lifted him down, to everyone's relief.
"I have to go find out what's smoking," she said. She removed the chair. They might be afraid of possible intruders, but a fire was more real and immediate. "Come with me, but stay on the stairs, okay?"
Solemnly, the two little boys nodded. Ellen opened the door and started down the hall.
The smell of smoke was slightly stronger in the hall and it was as certainly coming from below. At the top of the stairs, she flipped on the lights and began to descend, with the boys on her heels. Reaching the halfway landing, she turned to Jonny and Jimmy. "Stay here."
The boys nodded, and she was conscious of them leaning over the bannister to watch as she descended the remaining steps and flipped on the lights at the bottom.
The smell was coming from the kitchen. Ellen paused and after a moment's indecision, she crossed the living room to the fireplace and appropriated the poker. The fact that the boys had heard sounds down here was foremost in her mind. If there was an intruder, she didn't intend to go in there unarmed.
As she headed for the kitchen, the smoke detector went off.
At the door, Ellen hesitated and then carefully tested its surface. It was cool, so she pushed it cautiously open.
A haze of smoke greeted her, but at first, she couldn't see any source. Then, she saw that the smoke was thicker by the door to the basement. It was leaking from beneath the basement door and as she realized this, the door burst open, accompanied by a belch of smoke. The figure of a man staggered out, coughing, and lurched toward her. Ellen screamed.
Bill Henderson pulled his car up in front of the Kent residence. The living room windows were ablaze with lights, which, he supposed, wasn't surprising, considering the events of the night. He cut the engine. "Okay, kids, we're here."
Sam Lane opened the passenger door and thrust out his hand. "Thanks, Mr. Henderson. It was good of you to give us a ride home."
"Not a problem," Henderson said. "It was a pleasure to meet you. Your daughter has made my life interesting for years, to say the least." He grinned. "She and Clark are good friends. I owe them a lot — but don't tell Lois so. She'd think I was going soft." He glanced over his shoulder at the three children. "As for you three, I've said it to CJ before. Try not to do something like this again until you're older, okay? I'm getting too old for this kind of thing. You did a good job, though. Griffin's never going to live it down."
"He was trying to get even with Mom," CJ said. "I heard him say she put him in jail the first time."
"She did," Henderson said. "And the second and third times. Let's hope this is the last time."
CJ turned his head abruptly. "The smoke detector just went off in the house!"
Henderson didn't hear it, but it made sense that CJ would. Exactly why the adopted son of the Kent family appeared to be developing powers like those of his father was something he'd never asked Clark, but he thought he could make a fairly accurate guess. He thrust open his door and jumped out. "Come on!"
Sam Lane followed, accompanied by all three of the children. As they mounted the steps to the townhouse, Marta and CJ both jumped. "Grandmother Ellen is screaming!" Marta said.
The front door was locked and there wasn't a key among them. Henderson pounded on the door. "Can anybody hear me?"
No answer. He was about to thrust his shoulder against the door when Marta said, "I hear Jimmy! He's calling Grandmother Ellen!"
"Jimmy, open the door!" CJ's raised voice sounded like a treble version of Clark's, Henderson thought, irrelevantly. "Let us in!"
Several seconds passed and Henderson had almost decided that the little boy hadn't heard, when suddenly the lock turned and the door was pulled inward.
Jonny and Jimmy, still in their pajamas, stood there, and Henderson could smell smoke and see a greyish haze in the air. He turned to Sam. "Keep the kids out here. I'm going to see …"
CJ went past him, too fast for Henderson to grab him. "This way!" he called back . "Grandmother's in the kitchen!"
"CJ!" Sam shouted, but if the boy heard him, he paid no attention. Henderson cussed softly, but wasted no more time. He clapped his handkerchief over his mouth and followed.
As they approached, the door of the kitchen burst open and an older woman who must be Ellen Lane, emerged. Her eyes were wide with fright and in one hand, she clutched a poker.
"What's on fire?" Henderson demanded.
"I think I killed him!" Ellen gasped.
"Killed who?" CJ asked.
"A man!" She seemed to become aware of Henderson at the same moment and lifted the poker, threateningly.
"No, Grandmother!" CJ caught the object in one hand. "This is Mr. Henderson!"
Ellen Lane staggered and seemed almost to collapse. Henderson grabbed her. "Who did you kill?"
"There was a man! He came out of the basement. There's a fire down there!"
Henderson grasped CJ by the arm before he could charge into the kitchen. "CJ, get your grandmother out of here. I'll see what happened. And you'd better call the Fire Department."
CJ nodded and took his grandmother's arm. "Come on, Grandmother," he said, quickly. "Let's get outside."
Henderson cautiously pushed open the door to the kitchen.
The room was full of smoke, and more was pouring from the open basement door. On the floor, a man lay sprawled on his face, and Henderson knelt quickly by his side.
It was instantly evident that Ellen Lane hadn't killed him. Henderson could see him breathing, and when he rolled the intruder over, he could see a large, swollen lump above one eye. In the hazy conditions it was a little hard to tell, but Henderson guessed him to be somewhere in his mid to late seventies, and something about the wrinkled face seemed familiar. Still, these things could be sorted out later. With one hand, Henderson shoved the basement door shut and turned his attention to hauling the semiconscious man to his feet.
The fellow was coming to and he groaned and began to cough as Henderson pulled him upright.
"Come on, buddy," Henderson told him. "Unless you want to suffocate in here."
A sudden "whoosh" filled the room and Superman was standing there in all his colorful glory. "Can you manage all right, Bill?" he inquired, quickly.
"No problem," Henderson grunted. "You'd better put out the fire before it does any more damage." He turned toward the exit with his staggering burden, aware that behind him, Superman had disappeared into the basement of his home.
"So, Superman put out the fire," Clark told Lois. "There's some minor damage, but fortunately, we're covered by insurance. But the cap to the whole thing was when Henderson recognized the guy your mom beaned with the poker as Griffin's father!"
"What?" Lois said. "I thought he was serving a forty-year term, just like Victor!"
"Apparently, they let him out because of his advanced age and health problems," Clark said. "I don't know what they're going to do with him now, but I'd say he definitely violated his parole. They're holding him on charges of breaking and entering, as well as suspicion of arson. It solved the mystery of how Griffin and Victor got in, too. The basement window was broken." He shook his head, grinning slightly. "I'd say that by now, Griffin and company should have learned their lesson not to mess with Lois Lane — or her relatives!"
"He won't," Lois said. "If he didn't figure it out in thirteen years, he isn't going to."
"Probably not," Clark agreed. "However, CJ thinks Wyatt did figure out something, so I think we're going to have to talk to him. Marta heard Ellen scream when nobody else but CJ heard. Wyatt isn't stupid, and he's been acting a little 'funny', according to CJ, ever since."
Lois made a face. "Oh well, I figured we wouldn't be able to fool him for long. At least, he's showed he's trustworthy about CJ."
Clark nodded. "That's what I thought."
There was a knock on the door of the hospital room and Clark glanced around. Bernie Klein stood in the entrance.
"May I come in?"
"Sure." Clark said.
The doctor entered the room, glancing back and forth between Lois and Clark. "Am I interrupting?"
"No," Clark said. "We were just discussing last night's … events."
"I saw some of it," Klein said. "It's on the front page of the Planet. And the Prankster is in the prison ward up on the eighth floor. I thought you might like to know that after I read the story, I took advantage of my position to talk with his doctor. He's awake and furious, vowing revenge."
Lois nodded at Clark. "What did I tell you? He didn't learn a thing."
"I'm not worried," Clark said. "By the time he gets out again, if ever, Marta won't be vulnerable, anymore."
"That's what I figured," Bernie said. "If you ask me, the man seems to be seriously unbalanced."
"Unfortunately," William Henderson's voice said from the doorway, "not in a way the law recognizes. Being a sociopath isn't considered insanity. He's being transferred back to the prison ward at Stryker's Island today. He'll be charged with various crimes, which will add about a thousand years to his life sentence, not that it matters. Hopefully, they'll be a little more careful with him, the next time."
"Hopefully," Lois said. "Come in, Bill."
Henderson entered the room. Looking slightly embarrassed, he removed a hand from behind his back to reveal a small vase of flowers. "Um — this is from me and the guys at the office."
"Thanks, Bill." Lois took the vase and sniffed the flowers. "They're beautiful. If you don't watch out, you're going to blow your hard-bitten image."
Henderson chuckled. "I guess I can afford to. Call it practice, with the campaign for mayor getting in gear."
"Well, you've got my vote," Lois said. "Thanks for the help, last night."
"No problem. Your parents and kids did most of the work." He turned to Dr. Klein. "How's she doing, Doc?"
"Pretty well. I was going to tell you, Lois, that we're going to keep you here and monitor you until tomorrow morning and then, if everything seems okay, we're going to send you home on bed rest until the babies are born."
"Oh brother," Lois said. "This is going to be an exciting couple of months."
"I'll rig up a television in the bedroom," Clark said. "And I can bring you downstairs every morning to the couch. And there's always the computer."
Lois made a face. "Sounds like fun."
"We'll make some arrangements for someone to help you when I'm not there, too," Clark added. "It's only a couple of months. You should take the opportunity to rest. After those little characters are born, we're both going to be busier than ever."
"Tell me about it," Lois said. "Okay, Bernie, I promise I'll behave."
"Wyatt?" CJ's voice called from the bottom of the attic stairs. At the sound of his best friend's voice, Wyatt Dillon looked around from the television screen, where Marta was demolishing the castle walls of the evil overlord.
"Better go," Marta said, without looking around. "I think Dad wants to talk to you."
He got to his feet. The realization last night, that Marta was one of the super children, about whose existence he had learned only a few months ago, was still something he hadn't quite managed to work out. He'd thought that she was Mr. and Mrs. Kent's real daughter. She *had* to be their daughter. There was no way she could be one of the kids left behind by the New Kryptonians. There was only one way that could be so, and it was a little embarrassing to realize after all this time that Mr. Kent had to be a Kryptonian — the only Kryptonian left on Earth. He understood why they hadn't told him. If anyone found out that Mr. Kent was Superman, his whole family would be in danger, and the more people who knew, the more likely it was that somebody would slip. Still, it left him feeling a little confused.
Marta shut off the game abruptly and got to her feet. "Wyatt —"
He turned around. "Yeah?"
"I only found out last week."
"Oh." That made him feel a little better.
"Thanks for helping me, last night."
He felt his face turning warm. "Um … you're welcome," he mumbled.
Marta grinned. "Come on. We're keeping Dad waiting."
CJ was standing in the hall. "Dad would like to talk to you," he said.
"Yeah, Marta said he did."
"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you," CJ said. "I had a right to tell you about me, but I couldn't tell you about Dad."
Suddenly, Wyatt began to laugh. "How come everybody knows what I figured out?" he asked.
"It was pretty obvious, the way you were looking at Superman last night," Marta said, prosaically. "I already told him we could trust you."
"Oh," Wyatt said.
"Will you three get down here?" Clark's voice said from the foot of the stairs. "Sam and Ellen will be back with Jonny and Jimmy in half an hour. I'd like to finish this talk before then."
Wyatt followed Marta and CJ as they clattered down the stairs. Clark was standing in the middle of the living room, and as the trio arrived, he waved them to the sofa.
"Okay," he said. "Let's start with the essentials."
Before Wyatt's eyes, he began to spin.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Suspicions. Need the previous story? Read Christmas in Metropolis.
Stories in Nan Smith's "Dagger" series, in order: Dagger of the Mind, Dagger's Edge, Assassin's Dagger, Doppleganger, Blind Man's Bluff, Countdown, Priorities, Vanishing Act, Charade, Heritage, Unforeseen Consequences, Christmas in Metropolis, Daddy's Little Girl, Suspicions, Mother's Day, A Tasteful Lesson, Too Hot to Handle, The Sting, Consequences, Middle School, and Degrees of Separation