By Betsy R.
Submitted: January, 2004
Summary: An Elseworld story in which Lois and Clark, and a super-hero known as the Guardian, battle to save their universe against an enemy they know only as Chronos. Will they be in time?
Notes / Spoilers : This is yet ANOTHER alternate universe of Lois and Clark. The timing is a little different, but not so much so as to be disturbing…
The characters are quite a bit different, but hopefully not so much so as to make them unlikable…
HOWEVER, this story contains some angst — bad stuff. You have been warned.
Disclaimers: I know next to nothing about any universe except Lois and Clark — so if I tread on any comic readers' hearts, sorry. I also own none of these toys — they're just real fun to play with.
<thoughts are in angle-brackets>
*asterisks are used for emphasis*
*"Have you ever thought about
time is food for a clock's mouth
eating every second of life…"*
July 9, 1958
Lituya Bay, Alaska
A man and his son sat fishing on the pristine water. It was warm that July evening, and the salmon were plentiful. There were other trawlers trying to eke their livings out of the icy water of Lituya Bay. The calm motion of the water lulled the small boy into a sleepy state, and his father stopped what he was doing for a moment, looking down on his son with love in his eyes and a warm ache in his heart. "They grow so fast," he thought. Sighing deeply, he went back to work.
Suddenly, the roar of what he thought was thunder enveloped them, startling the eight-year-old awake, and making his father look toward the head of the bay in trepidation.
At first, there was just calm. Then — just as he noticed that he could see parts of North Crillon Glacier, which was usually blocked by the mountains — all of the head of the bay disappeared behind a wall of water. It was a wave so large that he knew he was staring death in the face.
Crying to himself, he put a life preserver on his son. "Pray, son. Pray for your life."
The water hit them and raised them above the trees. If it hadn't been so frightening, it could have been exhilarating. The anchor chain started running off the boat. 40 fathoms later, it simply snapped. The boat continued to rise. The man held his son and prayed. "Not too much pain. Not for my son. Oh God, I don't care about me, but please, not for my son."
The fates were merciful to the pair. The man and his son were washed back into the relative safety of the bay.
Even as the man hugged his child and thanked heaven over and over, the crews of at least two other ships were lost in the ocean — swept there by a 1,720-foot wave — a mega tsunami. A rare wave of myth, legend, and horror. One that has only been witnessed once in recorded history.
A force that would reverberate throughout the universe and completely change the life of a man not yet born: Clark Kent.
Alternate Metropolis X
Daily Planet City Newsroom
Lois Lane finished typing up her latest article — a mood piece on the closing of a local theater. It had been so heart-wrenching to listen to the woman as she said good-bye to the theater, to the life she had had there. Lois felt teary just thinking about it. All things, good and bad, eventually come to an end.
She wrote the article with her patented style: clear and concise, yet emotive without being sappy. Once again, she had taken a topic that most reporters would shun and polished it until it shone. With a smile and a sigh, she forwarded her latest baby off to her editor, Perry White. Turning back to the car theft ring, she tried to get the motivation to write another piece about the case she'd blown wide open a week ago. She was usually good for a story or two after the headliner, but beyond that, she got bored. And she had a hard time making sure her audience didn't get bored, either.
As Perry finished the almost spotless story, he looked out his window onto the bullpen. There she sat, alone at work as in life. It never failed to amaze him that Lois Lane, the woman who could see into the hearts and minds of people so well and get them to share so much, was such a single- minded, independent woman. She could write the most heart- wrenching stories, yet when she dealt with people, she seemed almost austere. When necessary — in the blink of an eye — she could cut a person down to size, and her sometimes-cynical sense of humor had caused several misunderstandings in the bullpen. People didn't *get* Lois Lane, though all agreed, after working with her, that there wasn't a more intelligent or fair-minded person on staff.
Her reporting abilities were not even marginally relegated to "touchy-feely" pieces, as his best new roving correspondent, Clark Kent, tended to call them. She could write, and indeed had written (as two Kerth and several Merriweather awards could attest) some of the best investigative pieces in the business. But Kent had a Kerth of his own and a style of his own, also. Looking to Clark's desk, Perry watched as the young man concentrated on a few papers lying in front of him.
Clark generally wrote hard-hitting stories — facts written so coolly that they were many times more shocking in their offhandedness. He had been working as a freelance writer for many years, wiring stories in to the Associated Press from many obscure places around the globe. Lately, though, he had taken to Metropolis as his home base ("There's so much corruption here, I could never leave and still have a hard lead every week for a decade," Kent had remarked, when interviewing with Perry White for a permanent position at The Planet). He still did some traveling, but he wanted to try building a home, to see if he could make a home anywhere.
It didn't hurt his job credentials that Clark seemed to have met up with the Guardian — a god-like vigilante who seemed to be everywhere and nowhere, and who had very little personal contact with anyone — several times in his vast travels. Between Lois and Clark, no other paper in the world had more hands-on Guardian interviews.
Perry was glad to have another top-notch reporter in the crown of the Daily Planet. It was the best darned paper in the world, with internet and door to door subscriptions unrivaled in the industry. But the only place to go from the top was down. "Not in my tenure," Perry mumbled under his breath. Shaking his head, he straightened his back and turned back to his monitor. He started humming Heartbreak Hotel, one of his favorite Elvis tunes, before opening the piece from Ralph.
"Gotta learn to save the best stories for last. Compared to Lane's piece, this will smell even worse than it would have fresh. Hells bells, this boy needs to learn how to use the spell checker." Out came the red font as Perry began to edit. It was a story that had the makings of a good piece hidden under a load of bad grammar and unconfirmed sources. A knock on the door saved him from mucking any further.
Looking up, he saw Lois in the doorway.
"Yes, Lois?" he asked, putting aside Ralph's story and glad to have any excuse to do so.
Lois quickly walked in. She didn't sit down, but instead, leaned forward onto his desk, a twinkle of excitement in her eye.
"I just got what could be a great lead. Some guy called me, saying that the space shuttle Messenger is going to blow. I did some checking on him, and it *could* be legit. Can I go for it?"
"What about the story on the businesses in Metropolis receiving the stolen car parts? You promised that to me."
"But, Perry — " He knew he was in trouble when she used his first name. "- time is of the essence on this story. The shuttle is set to go up next week! Let someone else write up the other story, for goodness sakes." Her eyes were sparkling.
"Come on, Lois. You've got to finish the follow up piece." He was silent for a moment, shaking his head. "But this new lead should be looked into… You don't have time to do both." He thought for a minute, then got up and walked to his door.
"Kent, my office." He called across the bullpen. After typing some short commands into his laptop, Clark walked slowly toward the editor's office. He entered and shut the door quietly behind him. Reminding himself to keep calm, he rested against one of the chairs facing Perry's desk.
"I realize that both of you are used to working solo. But Lois here has a story that could be big, and another story that is big. Clark, you've got some room in your schedule right now. I want you to help Lois on the new story. Investigate it together. If there's a story, write it together."
"Perry, I don't need any help…"
At the same time, Clark said, "I don't think that's such a good idea, Mr. White."
Lois and Clark both fell over each other in protest. When Lois noted that Clark didn't want to work with her any more than she wanted to work with him, she eyed him suspiciously. <Probably another guy who doesn't want to work with a woman. And I thought he seemed nice…>
Clark, on the other hand, was studiously avoiding eye contact with Lois. As it was, he could hardly handle the jolt of seeing her daily. He didn't think he could deal with an in-depth exposure to the experience called Lois Lane.
Meanwhile, Perry raised his hands, ensuring silence. "Last time I checked, I was editor of this paper. I make decisions, and I've made this one. It so happens that I've been thinking of partnering the two of you up for a few weeks. This is the perfect opportunity. Now, get!" He turned back to his desk, indicating that the conversation was over. Lois and Clark looked at each other then both turned slowly toward the door. Clark waited to allow Lois to exit first, lost in thought as he walked back to his desk.
"Yo, CK, you want to check out the game tonight?" Jimmy Olsen, resident gopher and budding photographer called across the room as Clark walked back to his desk.
Smiling, Clark nodded. He had promised himself so long ago, no ties. But here he was, making friends. Jimmy Olsen had been persistent, not even acknowledging the polite distancing Clark had treated everyone with when he had first started at the Planet. Jimmy had seen that everyone got the same reception — cool, polite, restrained — and had seen that there was loneliness underneath. He kept plugging until Clark finally broke. As a result, Jimmy was the first close friend Clark had in years.
"Sure. You wanna come over around 7:30? I have some late work to do here."
"Cool, I'll pick up some beverages. Ok if I invite Jack?"
Clark laughed a little. Even as his conscience was telling him that he shouldn't let anyone else in his world, he heard himself answer, "Sure, why not? The more the merrier."
"Does that include me, too?" Lois asked with an arched brow.
Clark paled, then blushed. "Of course. If you want to, that is. I…" Stammering, Clark wasn't sure how to answer. He wanted her there — he wanted her nowhere near there. Nothing was in control. Life was torture, but it felt good. To feel. He smiled, and tried again.
"Ms. Lane, I would be honored if you would come to my apartment tonight to view the basketball game with me and the rest of the rabble that will be there."
Lois smiled, thinking she might have misjudged him in the office. He always seemed so uncomfortable around her. But maybe it wasn't sexism.
Maybe it was sexism without the ism.
She smiled and shook her head. Once again, it wouldn't be the first time. As long as Kent didn't make a move out of place — and, giving the devil his due, he didn't seem like the kind of person who would ever make an unwanted pass — everything would be fine.
"I was just kidding. I have a date tonight with some girlfriends. Anyway, you want to pull your chair up to my desk and we'll go over what I have on this story Perry wants us to work together on?"
Hesitating only a moment, Clark seemed to come to a decision. He smiled slightly, then nodded.
"Sure, let me grab a notebook, too."
- Two weeks later—
"And finally, a toast to our newest reporting team," Perry raised his glass of water in the staff meeting. "Exposing Dr. Baines, saving the Messenger, and getting a Guardian interview. I expect we'll see even better things from you two in the future!" The room of reporters clapped politely while looking upon the two reporters with a mixture of curiosity and envy. To be partnered with either of those reporters would be a feather in anyone's personal or professional cap. Clark could practically hear the 'some guys have all the luck' thoughts in the other male reporters as they looked askance at him. He couldn't blame them.
He was the new guy on the block, and the star reporter of The Planet was now working with him. Lois was a terrific reporter, a terrific person, and a beautiful woman. And she was his partner. It was also fairly obvious that she treated him as a close friend — she seemed closer than she was with almost anyone else on the staff.
The last few weeks had been a terrifying mixture of pleasure and confusion. Since his parents had died, there had been no one. He hadn't allowed anyone close to him.
But when Clark, in his alternate persona of The Guardian, had saved Lois Lane from a hostage situation six months ago, he had felt the world still. His heart stopped. His vision dimmed. He could see, smell, hear nothing but her. He tried to get her out of his mind, but found himself seeking her out subconsciously — reading her articles, making unnecessary tours of Metropolis. He decided that maybe his self-imposed isolation wasn't as healthy as he had thought. If one woman could so mesmerize him, maybe he needed to meet more people. Maybe he needed to expose himself to her face-to-face, and quench his curiosity.
So he had moved to Metropolis. He made friends, unwillingly, with Jimmy and Jack. He had late night research sessions in the office with Lois, picking up her small mannerisms and tucking them into his memory, like the flowers his mother used to press between the sheets of the family bible.
His curiosity was turning to love.
Had turned to love.
Had always been love?
In the end, it didn't matter. He was scared to death — and alive as he hadn't been in twelve long years.
Clark shook his head of his musings. Lois was trying to get his attention. He noticed that the rest of the room had emptied, and he was alone with her.
"Sorry, I was miles away."
"S'ok. I was just apologizing. And if you listen to office gossip, that's something I don't do nearly enough."
"Well, then. Let's have it." He sat back in his chair, forcing his heart and respiration rates to that of a normal human, and putting a 'friendly' smile on his face.
<God, he's beautiful,> Lois thought to herself. Through the last two weeks, she had found herself watching Clark when she was supposed to be reading her latest research. She couldn't seem to place his personality. She was convinced that he was a cold loner who wanted nothing to do with anyone else, and then he would destroy that image as he brought her a cup of coffee, just as she liked it, with not even a hint from her. When she was sure that he was too directed, seeing only his work and not noticing the things around him, she heard him pointing out Jimmy's work to Perry, ensuring that Jimmy would get credit where normally he would have gotten none.
He was an enigma.
And Lois loved nothing more than a mystery.
"I wanted to apologize to you for blowing you off yesterday. You know, at the Messenger's scheduled take-off. You were right when you said it was too dangerous to plant myself on there."
"Yes, but if you hadn't, *we* would never have gotten that Guardian interview. And I need to thank you for that — sharing the byline on that interview when I wasn't even there."
And he was so polite.
Most 'partners' would assume that if a bonus came with a story, they got half. If they did less than half the work, it didn't matter. They shared everything to do with the story — except blame if something went wrong. It had happened to her so often in the past — dealing with people that just didn't want to carry their weight in work or in life. But Clark did — he gave as much as she did. More when he could, and wasn't being called off by that beeper of his.
Lois feared that she was falling for him. Clark Kent — a name she said with disdain only a few months ago — was rapidly becoming a good friend with the distinct possibility of being more. For her, anyway.
"All right then, we'll call it even," she said with a smile.
They both got up from the conference room table, and Clark held the door for her. She was finding it entirely too easy to get used to his manners, where in others, she would have chafed at being so obviously treated like a 'woman'.
When Mitchell had gotten sick the evening of the White Orchid Ball, Clark hadn't hesitated to step in, though for some reason, he was still very uncomfortable around her. He hadn't gotten angry when she'd left him behind to pursue an interview opportunity with Lex Luthor. But he had, in his own way, let her know his feelings about Luthor.
The morning after the ball, while they were wading through Dr. Platt's report, Clark had mentioned that he had some preliminary research on Lex Luthor. He asked if she wanted to look at it. From the research Clark had, it looked as though not all was above board in the House of Luthor. It also had some comments that the Guardian had passed to him — how someone had tested the Guardian a few years ago, to measure his abilities. Though no one had died, the tests were dangerous and put people at unnecessary risk. Luthor all but admitted he was behind the tests. Both Clark and the Guardian suspected Mr. Luthor of illegal activities, but had no proof.
Lois felt that this had been Clark's way of warning her. He let her do with that information what she would, not mentioning it since he had given it to her. Unlike many people in her past, he didn't try to make her decision for her.
She didn't doubt that, if she had taken Mr. Luthor up on his offer for dinner — as a supposed interview milieu, though Lois would have seen through that kind of suggestion her first year out of school — Clark would have written her off. Oh, he still would have been polite and nice. But she never would have had the opportunity to be his friend. It seemed that he had a line that, once crossed, couldn't be broached again.
Lois remembered how Cat Grant had come on to Clark early in his time at the Planet. She had tried every way she could to get into Clark's… good graces. When Clark proved uninterested, Cat had stooped to underhanded tactics, spreading rumors about herself and Clark through the office. Lois didn't know what Clark had said to Cat, but the rumors were quickly squelched by Cat herself, and to this day, she didn't even attempt to exchange banter with Clark on the newsroom floor. Clark coldly ignored her, in personal matters, always. If she even tried anything more than a sedate hello, Clark would smile a little smile and walk away, giving Cat the brush off. It wasn't that he was spiteful or mean. He was simply, utterly, and unapproachably cold. He had certainly managed to freeze Cat, the most hot-blooded female Lois had ever seen, out of commission.
Lois didn't want to cross the line into Clark's list of 'not respected people.' She had a feeling, after reading the file Clark had on Luthor, that if she chose to associate with Lex on anything but a purely professional basis, Clark would lose his respect for her.
The fact that he would share his hoard of information, the file on Luthor, was amazing. Most reporters would not give that kind of information away. The breadth of information Clark had on the man was scary; she wondered just how he had managed to get some of it. It was obvious he had thought of doing an expose on Luthor, but when Lois mentioned her own desire for the story, Clark had handed over the file. Maybe he was trying to help her with her story. Maybe he was trying to protect her. She didn't know.
Clark Kent was a man of many mysteries.
And then there was that damn beeper and his regular disappearances…
"So, partner, do we have a new 'big story' to work on?" Lois said, as she sat down at her desk, which was across from Clark's on the newsroom floor.
"Well, I have a couple of follow-ups to do on the militia group that threatened the Gay Pride parade. And we have at least a few more articles to write on the Messenger."
Lois wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Old news. Worse than old coffee." Inspecting the contents of her coffee cup, she shook her head and quickly put it back down on her desk. "I have the Luthor stuff, but there isn't anything concrete there. I don't trust something that's been so obviously cleaned up, but I can't find proof of anything corrupt."
Clark smiled. He was finding more out about the 'Mad Dog' side of Lois Lane, and he knew he wanted to stay out of her way when she was on the trail of something. "You'll find something, Lois. Remember, Eliot Ness used bad taxes to bring Capone down. If Luthor's dirty, there'll be some evidence, somewhere. And if there's evidence, you'll find it."
"Thanks for the faith in my skills. Especially considering how much research you've already done on the subject!" Blushing, Lois laughed a little, then became serious. "But if I were so good, I'd be able to get more on the Guardian. The guy is a total mystery. One moment, he seems like he's a guardian angel, saving thousands of people from all sorts of disasters. I mean, he has saved my life, personally, twice now.
"But there's this other side — when he has to deal with criminals. Which he hardly ever does…" Thinking aloud now, she absently picked up a rubber band that was on her desk and stretched it back and forth between her hands. "He'll stop robberies and the like, but only if there is danger to other people. Regular old B and E's he leaves alone. And if something goes wrong for the perps of a crime, the Guardian doesn't help them. Like he's judging them guilty… or maybe he thinks he's letting fate do the judging? Remember that botched robbery last week?" She looked at Clark to see if he knew what she was talking about.
He nodded curtly, but didn't quite meet her eyes. "You're referring to the MNC Bank robbery?"
"Yeah," she agreed. "The getaway car crashed into Hobbs Creek, but the Guardian didn't show up to pull it out until it was pretty certain the guys inside must have drowned. And I've checked — he didn't have any rescues right before that. It was like he let them die. Don't get me wrong — they had just gunned down ten people to steal some money, and they had killed two other people in the car they hijacked as they were trying to get away. I think I would have a hard time justifying saving those guys, too. But the Guardian, he seems so… remote. So careful. And so… reverent of human life. I wouldn't think he would pass judgment like that."
Clark was strangely silent, offering no insight into the events.
Shaking her head, she sat back and sighed. "I just can't figure him out. Hey," she said, with growing animation, "maybe we should investigate him as our new story! You know, try to figure out where he is when he's not on a rescue! Maybe this whole 'Guardian' thing is a disguise. We could analyze his accent — try to figure out where he comes from. Maybe get some computer program to figure out what he looks like. That black mask hides so much, but with graphics these days…"
Clark listened to this line of reasoning with growing frustration. It was bad enough not being able to justify his actions, but to have Lois Lane investigating him, full time — he thought he'd rather swallow that green rock he'd come to call Kryptonite.
"Count me out," he answered quickly. "The man has saved my butt in some severe situations. All he has asked for in return is privacy. I'm more than willing to grant it."
Lois looked at Clark curiously. She knew that the Guardian had pulled Clark out of some bad fighting in Bosnia and rescued Clark from a mudslide in Northern China. But it seemed like Clark knew the guy better than anyone else. It couldn't be just from those interviews… Clark must be holding something back.
Just as Lois was about to ask Clark a question, he got a now-familiar look on his face, pulled up his beeper (which he always set to vibrate, thank god, or the ringing would be a practically permanent background noise whenever he was in the room), and sighed.
"Sorry, Lois, I've got to go."
Lois looked down at her watch to see the time.
"I know, I know… I'm going to do more Luthor research." But she was talking to air. Clark had already gone. And she'd missed watching his backside as he walked away. Damn, this day just wasn't giving her any breaks!
The following week, Lois was writing up a story late in the afternoon when Clark sat down on the edge of her desk. She finished typing the thought she had, then looked up at him.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Kent?"
"I have an idea I want to run by you. I got a tape from a source this morning. I haven't viewed any of it, but from Ahmad's description there may be a story."
Lois looked over at the conference room. It was in use for a late meeting of the sports staff. Clark followed her eyes, and then, before he could stop himself, said, "Why don't we grab some takeout and head to my apartment to watch it. If you don't mind working for a bit more today…"
Lois smiled. Maybe soon he would be able to invite her over without needing work as an excuse.
"Ok, let me close up and I'll drive us both over. I'm not getting very far on this invisible Robin Hood investigation, anyway."
During the drive to Clark's apartment on Clinton Street, they had an intense discussion on what they should have for supper. One thing they had found in common was a love of exotic food. Clark suggested an Indian restaurant down the street from his apartment, and Lois readily agreed.
"Let's order from my apartment, then I'll go pick it up after we look at this tape, ok?" Clark asked as they approached his building.
Lois agreed. She parked efficiently in the only spot on the street, got out, and grabbed her bags from the back of her Jeep.
"Lois, do you want me to carry one of them for you?"
Shaking her head quickly, she answered, "Nah, the backpack isn't too heavy, and the other is just some comfy clothes. I hope you don't mind if I change? I've been in nylons all day and am *dying* to get out of them." Lois was pleased to see the color this statement brought to Clark's face.
Clark unlocked his front door and stepped aside, gesturing for Lois to precede him. Stepping slowly through the door, she paused to take it all in.
There were shelves of books, pictures, knickknacks… Somehow, though, it all seemed male. Settled, but male. It seemed like a home.
In fact, it was more of a home than she had, and he'd only lived here for a few months, having traveled for years before that. She guessed that just proved that some people had a nesting instinct, while others did not.
"Nice place," she said aloud, turning and smiling at him. "Where's the bathroom?"
"What? I drink a lot of water for dietary reasons, and now, well… I have to go. Are you laughing at me?"
Pursing his lips to stop smiling, Clark led her down the steps to the main living area of his apartment. "Of course not. The bathroom is off of the bedroom, through there," He waved in the general direction she needed to go, and she was off. Watching her hurry off, he couldn't hold the laugh back anymore. He headed to the kitchen to get the restaurant menu.
As soon as she had relieved her needs, washed her face and hands, and changed her clothes, Lois took stock of her make-up in the bathroom mirror. Normally, she wouldn't put any cosmetics on in the evening, but she couldn't help wanting to look her best. As she finished putting on some light powder and lipstick, curiosity got the better of her. She opened the medicine cabinet.
It was empty.
Oh, he had a toothbrush, some floss, some mouthwash, some aftershave.
But that was all.
No razor, no band-aids, no cough syrup. Nothing. Her brow knotted in thought. She looked around the room. There were no other storage places — the sink was a pedestal sink, and there was no closet.
Shaking her head, she put all of her things into her bag and walked back out to the living room.
"How can you not even have aspirin?" she blurted out and then blushed, realizing she was confessing to rummaging through his medicine cabinet.
"I, uh, keep all my stuff in my travel case. Old habit, I'm afraid. Did you need some?" He should have realized that he would need to be more careful about keeping up normal appearances, especially with her around. Potholders — he would have to remember to get some potholders.
"No, I don't need anything. Just being nosy. Did you know that 75% of people admit to looking in their host's medicine cabinet at parties? I read that on an email once. Never figured most people were as nosy as I am. Hey, is that the menu? I'm starved."
Clark looked on in wonder as this tornado-disguised-as-a- woman babbled through several conversation topics in less than twenty seconds. As she pondered the menu, she chewed on her bottom lip, drawing his eyes there. The smile left his face as he watched, fascinated. The 'guy' part of him knew he was being sappy, but he couldn't seem to help himself. He was lost in the wonder of watching her.
"I think I'll have the lamb saag. You're getting the baingan bhartha? Do you want to get naan and raita? Ooh, and mango lassis and gulab jamun, too!"
"Wouldn't be a complete feast without them. I thought I'd get the appetizer mix, too. I'm starving." <Untangling that pileup on the DC beltway and flying directly to stop a fire in Pittsburgh seems to have used up a bit of my reserve.>
"Me, too. Forgot to eat lunch. Did you catch any while you were out?" Lois asked, with curiosity. She really wanted to know where he was being paged to all the time, but wasn't quite bold enough to ask him straight out.
"Umm, no. I didn't. Let me order this." He picked up the phone before she could start asking the questions he saw in her eyes.
When the food had been ordered, the price tallied, and Lois had given him enough money to cover half the bill (even though Clark insisted he'd eat more than half the food), Clark put the video into his player and turned the television on.
"A few years ago, on my first visit to Metropolis, I saw a taxi driver being beaten up by a few people. I guess that I let my sense of justice drown out my logic, because I waded into the fight and broke it up. For some reason, I was able to stop the fight, and the driver, Ahmad, felt that I saved his life."
"You probably did." Shaking her head, Lois could just imagine the scene. Clark, wading into a fight, saving a man he didn't know, just because. He was, after all, that kind of guy.
"Anyway," Clark continued, "whenever I'm in need of a taxi, I make sure to ask for him as a driver. He's always asking me over to his house for a meal — since I insist on paying for his taxi service. Ahmad has two older sons, and he's trying to bring them and their families to this country, so he can use every fare he gets. We've become friends, in a casual sort of way, and he trusts me."
Lois nodded. "You're a trustable kind of guy, Clark."
Brushing that aside, Clark sat on the couch next to Lois. "Ahmad came to this country with two of his brothers a few years ago. Since then, his elder brother has gone back home to Pakistan. His younger brother, Oman, stayed here. But Oman doesn't seem to be adapting to the American life as Ahmad is. Ahmad is afraid that his brother is involved in something that is evil — his word, not mine." Clark held his hands up, wanting to make it clear that he wasn't judging Oman.
"What kind of stuff is he into?" Lois asked
"According to Ahmad, Oman belongs to a fundamentalist Islamic group. They preach intolerance of just about everything. Oman only tolerates Ahmad because they're brothers. So Oman keeps contact with Ahmad, sharing meals once in a while, though he won't share living quarters with Ahmad anymore."
Clark pushed play on the remote, and watched the blank screen. "Ahmad hasn't heard from his brother for a few weeks, so he went to Oman's apartment. While he was trying to find a clue as to where Oman had gone, he found this tape. Ahmad called me yesterday, asking me to investigate this group. He said they look dangerous. For him to contact me, possibly getting his brother in trouble, he must be really worried."
Lois nodded, following Clark's explanation.
The tape was a blurry, amateur grade film. It looked like a meeting of some sort. It was all in a language that was not discernible to Lois, though she believed it would be Arabic of some sort. But the fire with which the men spoke and the looks of hatred and anger in their eyes made Lois think that Ahmad would be right to be worried if his brother were involved with men such as these.
"Do you understand this, Clark?" Looking up at Clark, Lois noticed that he was studying the screen with a look of disbelief on his face.
"Yes. They're saying that it is time for the infidels to pay. That the day of purification will come, and it will be a test of fire and water as the prophet has spoken. Though I don't think they're talking about Mohammad here. Perhaps they have their own prophet on staff."
Lois laughed humorlessly. "Yeah, that sounds like prime mind-bending cult material to me. Does it sound like they actually have a plan to mete out this payment? Or the typical 'You'll See, God's Gonna Get All You Sinners' rhetoric?"
Clark shook his head. "No, they're talking very loosely about how the purification will come. But… there — " He paused the tape, and pointed to one man who didn't seem to fit with the rest. He dressed as the others, but his clothes were crisp, where theirs were threadbare and dirty. He wore the requisite facial hair, but his was neatly trimmed. "He's a westerner. I'd bet the farm on that. Yet here he is, in this meeting."
Lois studied the man pointed out. He looked familiar, in a strange way. But she was almost certain she'd never seen him before. She nodded. "You're right. He doesn't fit. Can you translate for me fully?"
"Yeah, I can do that. It's mostly religious fervor and babble. Let me rewind and I'll go through it with you."
He translated the text, much of which was incoherent. But some of it seemed very well thought out. The leader referred once to the Western man as Lord Chronos. It seemed that Lord Chronos had offered his services and some of his weapons expertise, to help the group meet their ends. They were at that moment planning to put people in the proper places to use the weapons.
"I say we lift this Chronos guy's picture and match on it. I assume Chronos is a false name — Chronos is like, what, time or something?" Lois was making mental notes as she wondered aloud.
"Yeah, I think Father Time is also known as Chronos," Clark agreed. "That makes me think even more that he's probably not an Arab."
"Clark, do you know the date this was made?"
"It's marked for three months ago on the outside of the tape. But that doesn't mean anything."
"Well, we have to assume that they're proceeding with their plans… though they're so vague here…" She paused, chewing on her lip.
"Do you think that Ahmad could identify any of the rest of the people in this video? Is his brother there?" Lois asked.
"No, his brother isn't there. Ahmad told me that much. He just wants to find his brother, and keep him safe. I think he would have told me if he recognized anyone." Clark rewound the tape again, trying to catch one face more closely.
"This guy is very familiar," Clark said, thinking, as he pointed to the main speaker. Booting his computer, Clark opened a web search page. "I might be wrong, but look, the main speaker looks an awful lot like this man, Momar Abdulla. He's one of the leaders of Pan Arab Jihad."
Lois walked over to the monitor and peered at the picture on it. There was no way to tell for sure, but it could be.
"Clark, I think this tape should be turned over to the authorities. I'm not one to turn over stuff to them lightly, but this could be bigger than we can handle."
Clark looked down at Lois. For her to be passing on a potential scoop meant something in that tape scared her. It scared him, too.
He nodded. "Yeah. I don't want to take any chances that this is real. Let me make two copies — one for you and one for me. Better, I'll make a digital copy, so that we can scan stuff into the computer more easily." He set up the copy, and sat down on the couch. Looking up at the clock, he realized how much time had passed.
"I don't know how much more we can do tonight. I have some contacts who might take this tape seriously — we can call them tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, let me go get our supper."
"Supper? I always call it dinner. Do you usually call it supper?"
Smiling, Clark put his thumbs in his back pockets, and rocked back on his heels. He adopted his best hick-country voice to answer, "Yes, ma'am. We country folk call them breakfast, dinner, and supper. You city folk call them breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don't reckon it matters, as long as you get three squares."
Lois laughed and playfully swatted at Clark's arm. "Oh, get out there and get my food, you cretin. I'm still starving. I'll do some more searches on that Chronos guy while you're gone."
Clark grabbed his keys and coat, locking the door on his way out. Lois pulled up some search engines and logged in to the Daily Planet database. Frustrated that all she could seem to find were business references, software references, and a handful of references to some television show called The Highlander, she allowed her eyes to roam more directly around the room.
Turning her attention to the bookshelf that lined one wall, she scanned the titles. It was an eclectic mix — even more so than her own collection was! It was certainly more ordered. Here was the fiction — mixing classics like Austen and Tolstoy with science fiction, fantasy, mystery — just about any genre you could name was represented. She was pleased to see some well-worn copies of Sheri Tepper books on the shelf. Some books were in foreign languages and scripts; some looked as though they might be collectors' items. All looked read. The non-fiction section had a very well used Britannica, several reference books, a huge section on UFOs — must be a hobby for Clark.
Smiling, Lois shook her head and pulled out one of the UFO books. Why on Earth would Clark be interested in this stuff? Reminding herself that she had a much-scorned collection of historical romances and that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, she replaced the tome and turned her attention to the knickknacks scattered in front of the books. There were examples of several different cultures, spanning all of the populated continents.
A mask — beautiful and terrible all at the same time — rested on one shelf. Was it from Africa? South America? It probably had value as art, but also likely, it had personal value to Clark. A bonsai tree on one shelf, an African Violet on another shelf. A softball sized globe — etched in glass — sat incongruously on a crudely shaped wooden stand. She supposed that represented the whole of Clark Kent's adventures in some symbolic or metaphoric way…
And, her jealous eye noted, there was only a very fine layer of dust on everything. He was tidy *and* clean.
Finally, her eyes lighted on a shelf of framed pictures. These weren't like the framed landscapes she saw scattered on the walls of the apartment — Clark was a pretty decent amateur photographer. These were of people.
Here, a blonde bride smiled as she hugged the man who seemed to be a slightly shell-shocked groom. There were pictures of families in remote areas — friends Clark had made on his travels? One precious photo showed a younger Clark with two middle-aged people.
Lois picked up the picture to study it more closely, searching for a resemblance between Clark and the older couple. Were they his parents? Friends? Her vivid imagination was weighing the possibilities when Clark came back with bags of steaming-hot food.
She replaced the picture and looked up at him before he had the chance to hide the bleak look in his eye. Before she could decide whether to prod or not, he answered her unspoken question.
"They were my parents. My adopted parents. They were killed… a long time ago. Bank robbery — they were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"You still miss them," Lois stated, understanding the sadness and isolation just a little more. It also explained the cold anger in his eyes when they had talked about the MNC robbery earlier — that had hit a target close to home for him.
Blinking, he shook his head of the memories. "I miss them every day. They were the best. The best parents, the best people… I only wish I could say that they were my best friends, too. I know if they had been around longer, I would have seen them not just as my parents but as my friends." His voice was tinged with regret.
"Still," Lois murmured as she walked to him, "you should remember how lucky you are to have had them at all. Some people don't have parents that are nearly that great."
The bitterness underlying her voice shook something inside Clark. He had heard some rumors of Lois's family — her overbearing father, her demeaning mother — but he tended not to give much credence to gossip, having been the butt of too many rumors himself.
"That video must have put us both in a funk, Clark." Shaking her head, Lois broke the awkward silence. "Why don't we dig into this feast you've brought back and talk about something happy. We are, after all, off the clock now."
Nodding, Clark took the bags to the table. They steamed as he opened them, and the scents took him to a place far away in his memory. Lois noted the look in his eye, and her reporter's instincts took over.
"You've been to India, right?"
"Yeah, I was in that area for about a year and a half. I spent some time in Kashmir, some time in Bangalore, even a few weeks in Nepal, interviewing people who climbed Everest. Then I went to China for a while…"
Even as she shook her head, Lois smiled. She scooped some of the fragrant food up with bread as she shared her thoughts. "You're what, two years older than I am? Yet you've lived all over the world — Asia, Africa, Europe, Kansas…"
"I wouldn't exactly say I've *lived* all over, Lois," Clark stated with a bit of sadness in his voice. "I've *been* all over, but to truly live somewhere, you have to put down roots. I've been really, really good at avoiding ties over the years. You and Jimmy are the first friends I've had since college."
"Now *that* is pathetic. No friends? Who are the people in those pictures?" Lois gestured to the frames she had studied before. "Clark, you're the kind of person who would have to beat off potential friends with a club." Waving her bread at him, she continued her tirade. "You're unfailingly polite, unflinchingly loyal, almost obnoxiously nice, and damn good to look at. Now stop talking like Eeyore and tell me about some of your adventures." With that, Lois took a big bite of Tandoori chicken and raised a challenging eyebrow in Clark's direction.
"Eeyore?!" Even as he tried to sound insulted, Clark couldn't keep the humor out of his voice. This woman never failed to surprise him.
"Yeah, that donkey from Winnie the Pooh. You know, the one whose tail keeps falling off? 'Ho Hum, My Life Sucks'," Lois rolled her eyes as she mimicked the crestfallen cartoon character. Clark burst out in laughter, and Lois eyed him appreciatively. "You should do that more often."
His laughter ending abruptly, Clark thought about what Lois had said. She had said he was good to look at. *Damn* good to look at. And she seemed to be flirting with him. Maybe life wasn't so bad after all.
Clark was typing at his desk when his phone rang. He ignored it momentarily while finishing his thought, then answered it, distracted.
"This is Clark Kent. Hey, Sal." His voice became more focused, as he recognized the voice his friend, Sal Cantori. Sal worked for the CIA, though Clark had no idea what he did exactly. Clark simply knew that Sal would get the disturbing tape into the right hands, so he had sent a copy two days previously.
"Got some questions for you, buddy," Sal stated.
"Where'd you get that tape? Big brother wants to know."
"Come on, Sal, you know a reporter never reveals his sources."
"Dude, you can tell me, or you can tell the agents who are going to be calling you up in about two minutes. I passed the tape to my boss yesterday, and this morning he called me in to his office — there were high-ranking guys from at least two different areas asking for details. I had to give them your name, man. Sorry."
"It's not a problem. I just don't have a lot of information on the source of the tape."
Listening to one side of the conversation, Lois cocked her head in question. Clark shook his head in reassurance.
"Well," Sal said, "I just hope they don't try to link you with this crap. All those travels into communist countries and such tend to make some label you as an enemy of the state, whether you are or not."
Clark sighed. It had been a rough interview in Metropolis International Airport customs six months ago. He supposed he could have used the other means at his disposal to travel, but he liked to leave a legitimate trail whenever he could. It made for slow going sometimes, but his parents had ingrained in him at an early age the importance of *looking* normal. As a result, he had lots of passport stamps. That fact made the INS and the CIA and all the rest of those ominous lettered organizations interested in him. He imagined every article he had ever written was in a file somewhere…
It was nice to know someone was keeping a scrapbook.
"Thanks for the warning. The truth shall keep me free, I'm sure," Clark murmured with no small amount of irony in his voice.
"It's not a good time, man. There's lots of crap on the wind — terrorists under every rock. After they botched it up when they bombed the World Bank and Trade Headquarters in Metropolis two years ago, we've been trying to find the other shoe before it drops. Being the source of this tape, which has several of our top ten Public Enemies on it, just put a big ol' bullseye on your back, buddy."
Sighing again, Clark rubbed his hand on his forehead.
"OK, Sal. I hear you. Thanks for the heads up. I'll let you know how it turns out."
As he hung up the phone, Clark looked over to Lois. She was watching him with interest.
"Seems that even if we didn't recognize the faces on that tape, other people did. I still think we did the right thing turning it in, but now it looks as though I'm under suspicion for being the source of the tape."
"What?!" Lois's voice raised in outraged disbelief. Clark could see her Don Quixote complex coming to the surface, and government security agents were the windmills she had in mind. He held up his hands to try to calm her.
"That was my buddy, Sal — the agent that I gave the tape to. He just wanted to tell me that the tape shook some things up, and that I should be careful, because of my checkered traveling past. No one's accusing me of anything."
"Yet," Lois mumbled with a dour look in her eye.
At that moment, Clark's phone rang. When he answered it, he found his friend Sal's prediction had come true. He was politely asked to clear his calendar for an afternoon interview with several international security specialists. Clark returned the frosty politeness and agreed to present himself that afternoon.
When he put the phone back in the cradle, he looked up at Lois.
"I'm going to take care of some business this morning. I'll get in contact with Ahmad and ask him if I can mention his name. I hope he agrees to cooperate — but I have a feeling that he won't want to. He'll be afraid of deportation. Will you be ok finishing up the follow-up story on the background of Henry Barnes?"
Before Lois could answer, Clark rolled his eyes, sighed, and looked down at his beeper.
"What?" Lois asked.
"Gotta go. I'll talk to you in a bit." Clark turned and jogged to the stairwell.
Lois shook her head. He never gave explanations, never gave excuses; he simply left whenever his beeper called.
Narrowing her eyes, Lois turned back to her desk. Calling up an application she and Jimmy had put together, she tried to track down a beeper registered to Clark Kent. She couldn't find the number — even though she was supposedly linked to several different telecom databases (she never asked Jimmy how legal it was — it worked and had helped her track down people before). She searched in all the ways she could think, and still no results.
If it wasn't his beeper, whose was it? Where exactly was her partner being called off to? Leaning back in her chair, she drummed her fingers on her desktop. She knew that Clark had cleared his strange work hours with Perry — as long as he finished his assignments and clocked at least 37.5 a week, Perry didn't care where Clark went. At the Planet, one of the perks of being a talented, experienced reporter was that the boss gave you lots of leniency. Lois understood that, because she often had the same advantages.
But she didn't know of anyone who used them quite as much as Clark did.
Her curiosity about his disappearances was becoming unbearable, and the closer she and Clark became, the more he shied away from talking about it. If she had suspected even remotely that he was doing something wrong, or that he was in trouble of some sort, she would be investigating for all she was worth. But Clark was a friend, and Lois reined in her interest, telling her suspicious inner voice to can it. Trust was earned, and it was a two way street. She would get Clark to open up about the beeper on his own.
Still, closing the phone finder program was one of the hardest things she did that day.
When Clark returned to the Planet several hours later, he had a tired look on his face. Catching Lois's eye, he motioned to an empty conference room. She got up and followed him over, surprised when he stopped and asked Jimmy to join them and to bring his laptop. It was then she noticed the disks in Clark's hand.
After they were all in the room, Clark shut the door and turned to them.
"What we talk about here goes no further than this room. We can't discuss it out on the floor, we can't discuss it over the phone, and we're going to have to be very careful where we meet."
"Going cloak and dagger on us, CK?" Jimmy joked.
Gazing over his glasses at Jimmy, Clark nodded curtly.
"A few days ago, Lois and I viewed a videotape which showed several men plotting something nasty for our country. The plans seemed practically non-existent, but the intent was there."
Lois nodded. "The hatred was so thick, you could smell it."
"Since then, I have given the tape to a contact I have with the CIA. His superiors showed great interest in the tape. This morning, before I went to meet with them, I asked my source to show me where this tape came from. He let me search his brother Oman's apartment. I made copies of all the data on Oman's computer. Jimmy, we're going to need your help deciphering some of the files on there. I also found a notepad in the apartment — shading the top page let me see this," Clark held up a page with several scribbled numbers and letters.
Lois scrunched her nose as she looked over the paper. "Looks like it could be flight numbers and times — did you leave the notepad behind?" she asked, looking back up to Clark.
"Yeah. If the spooks are going to search the place eventually, I want them to be able to get everything they might need. I looked around pretty carefully and didn't notice anything else suspicious. Not that there was a whole lot to search. The place was Spartan."
Jimmy had finished booting his computer and was busy trying to decipher some of the files on the disk. Shaking his head, he muttered under his breath while typing in commands. Loading the second disk, he smiled.
"All right, CK. You finally learned something from me. This is a full system backup?"
"Yeah. I figured we wouldn't be able to get his actual machine, so that would be the second best thing. If we can format a machine and load this, it will be almost as if we have his machine."
"I'm all over it. Do you need anything else from me?"
"Not right now. Just let me know when you've got it operational."
Nodding, Jimmy got up, taking his laptop and the disks with him. "Will do. I'm off to it!"
Lois shook her head as she watched him go. "If we could harness whatever he runs on, we'd solve the energy crisis for the next ten years!"
Clark chuckled, then sobered as he looked at the paper in his hands.
"Does it look bad?" Lois asked.
"Lois, some of the men on that tape are leaders in different terrorist organizations. This is the first indication that anyone has had that these groups are working together towards an end. They're bad enough separately… together…"
Lost in the memories of covering the WBTH bombing, Lois shivered. She remembered the feeling of guilty-relief that so few people had been killed, and she remembered thinking that it was just the beginning — a portent of evil to come. The terrorists had very easily placed a large bomb in the basement of the world's second largest building — only Luthor's own tower stood higher. The bomb had gone off, but due to the solid engineering of the building, the explosion actually yielded little physical damage. It seemed to her that this failure had been nothing but a red flag waving in the face of an angry bull.
"Did they tell you who the Chronos guy was?"
Clark gave a brittle laugh. "Lois, they didn't tell me anything. I happened to sneak a peek at one of the documents they had — that's how I know they have id'd at least five of the guys on that tape. They were more concerned with my source."
"What did Ahmad say?"
"He told me to tell them everything. He thought it would be better in the end for his family if he cooperated fully. I'm not so sure about that, but I did my best to help his defense." Sighing, he seemed to melt into the chair, resting his head against the top of the back cushion and staring at the ceiling. "They were very interested in every detail I know about Ahmad and Oman. I hope they don't give Ahmad too many problems."
"Did they give you any grief over your travels?"
Sitting up, Clark thought for a moment. "Not really," he started, shaking his head slightly. "They asked a few token questions about how often I had traveled and what my destinations were. They seemed, strangely enough, more interested in my contact with the Guardian. One of the agents in particular — Trask was his name — asked me a number of questions about the Guardian, and what I thought his motivations are, where he's from, all kinds of stuff."
"Really? They've got a conglomerate of terrorists, and they're concerned about the Guardian? They ever hear of priorities?"
Shrugging, Clark answered, "Guess not. But I think they've decided I'm harmless. And I'm sure glad I went to Oman's apartment before they did, because I've a feeling they're going to empty the place. I've already been told that it would probably be wise to forget writing a story about this. Of course, I didn't say anything to that suggestion."
"I'd have throttled them," Lois stated, with an angry gleam in her eye.
"You'd have done worse than that, I'd bet. I've seen you in a temper, and I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end!" Clark teased. Lois's back straightened, then she noticed the gleam in Clark's eye, and she realized he was teasing her. That was definitely a good sign. He felt comfortable enough to tease her.
"Ok, so where do we go from here? Any ideas?"
"Well, when Jimmy gets that computer put back together, I'll start working there. I've a feeling some of the notes will be in Urdu, and I imagine I'm the only one of us who can read that. You want to track down these numbers, see if it's a flight or train or something? I'll do some deep background on the names I got from the spooks. Do we need to clear this with Perry?"
Lois nodded. "Yeah, we better, as it looks like it might take time from our other work at this point. I got the article on the Golden Boy Barnes and the gang finished — if you want to put any finishing touches on it, we can turn that in. Did you get the side bar on Alan Morris done? What am I saying — you could hardly have had time to write that…"
"Nope, I worked on that early this morning — I don't need much sleep, and I get some of my best work done at 4am — so I just need you to look it over, and they'll both be ready to go." Clark opened the door and waited for Lois to precede him.
They were both back at work when Lois realized that, once again, he had turned the conversation before she could ask him about his connection to the Guardian. She had the perfect situation, they were already discussing that very topic, and once again, he had steered them away from it… if she didn't know better, she'd think he had something to hide. Actually, she did know better. She was convinced Clark was hiding something. The beeper and the Guardian — they might even be one big secret. She was equally convinced, as she was a good judge of character and had decided Clark's character was a morally strong one, that his secret wasn't anything terrible. So she would wait for him to confess.
That didn't mean she had to be patient, or that she couldn't nudge him toward that confession…
Perry viewed the digitized video with a grim look in his eye. Clark had typed up a translation while Lois had compiled all the information she could find quickly on the identified men.
"You've given a copy of this to the CIA? And they're investigating?"
"Yes. They warned me off the story, but they didn't forbid it."
"Well, son, that's because they can't. Don't be surprised to find agents going through your things today, though, confiscating anything they think might be 'tangential to their investigation.' It's hard to write a story when your notes disappear."
"Already on that, chief. I've made two copies of everything so far, and I'm keeping the second copy stashed where they won't be likely to look." <unless they search Greenland a lot, that is,> Clark added mentally.
Perry nodded. "OK, this is gonna be a fine balance. National security versus the biggest story since the Guardian showed up ten years ago. I trust you and Lois to handle it — but make sure to finish up the other stuff. You have twenty-four hours to see what you can verify — then I want a preliminary story, before the competition gets it."
Leaving the office, Lois tried not to show her anxiety over the deadline. She had worked in tight situations before, but never with such pressure, and certainly not with adversaries as hard to track as these.
"OK, Clark, I've tracked down some potential matches for travel on that information you gave me. There's an Amtrak route to Seattle that has that number, a flight to Berlin, and another domestic flight to Orlando. There were other flights and such, but none that match the potential times — at least, I think these other numbers are times. Anyway. Any of those flights can be connecting flights. I'm going to see if I can't track further…"
"Why don't you see if you can link him on a passenger list?" Jimmy asked as he placed a laptop on the conference table between Lois and Clark. "Here you go, CK. I've rebuilt this system based on the recovery disks you gave me. It looks like everything's there. There are some pretty intense math applications there — but you're right. All of the notes are in Urdu, and I don't have a translator handy to load. It took me a long time because there was some basic password protection built in there, but I got through it."
"Thanks, Jimmy." Lois smiled at the young man. "Now, do you think you can get a hold of some passenger lists for us? I know it's not exactly legal…"
"Say the word. I just wish you'd give me a challenge once in a while." Jimmy smiled cockily.
Lois rolled her eyes. Chuckling, Clark sat down at the laptop and started paging through files and taking notes. Lois passed the notes on the flight plans to Jimmy, then booted her own machine to do more research on the identified terrorists and their groups. She wasn't as talented a hacker as Jimmy was, but she knew her way around.
Both of the reporters jumped slightly when Jimmy burst into the room minutes later.
"CK — they're taking your machine! And they're going through your stuff! Oh, and they're looking for you, too."
Glad he had taken the precaution of backing up his systems earlier, Clark walked quickly to the agents who were silently and methodically going through his desk.
"Can I help you?"
"Mr. Kent? We have a warrant for the search and seizure of all information pertaining to an open investigation in a matter of national security. We have already spoken with your employer, but we would appreciate your aid in this."
Clark nodded curtly. He wasn't going to win, so why bother fighting?
"I don't take notes on paper — anything I might have would be on that hard drive. I've already given you my copy of the tape; I made a digital copy that is on that computer. I met with agents from your office earlier today, and have already told them everything I know."
"And we appreciate your cooperation. Your machine will be returned as soon as we are finished with it. We also have served a warrant on your apartment, and if you will come with us now, we will complete our work as quickly as possible, with as little inconvenience to you as possible."
Not trusting himself to say anything polite, Clark simply nodded again.
"How can you just stand there and let them do this?" Lois demanded in an angry whisper.
Clark turned to her. "Not much I can do about it, is there? Besides, these guys are just the messengers. Yelling at them wouldn't help the situation, and would only make their day as bad as mine is turning out to be."
"Why are you two standing here watching these gentlemen work? Don't you have a corporate investigation to work on?" Perry reprimanded the two reporters with a knowing look in his eye. "I want that in by tomorrow evening. Got it?"
"I'm on it, Chief. But Clark here has to baby-sit the vultures when they go pick his apartment to pieces."
"Sorry about that, son. That's the business, sometimes." Perry shook his head, then looked around. "What, did someone declare this a holiday? All of you get back to work, or I'm going to be looking a little more closely when the board asks if I can make any staff cuts! Capiche?"
The rest of the newsroom quickly went back to work, leaving Clark to monitor the agents' progress.
"Mr. Kent? We're done here. I've got to say, you have one of the neatest desks I've ever had to clean out." Smiling, the agent tried to make a friendly statement in acknowledgement that Clark had been extremely cooperative, and the agent was thankful. "Now, can we go to your apartment?"
"I'd like to read that warrant first, if you don't mind. The desk is Planet property. The apartment is mine. I think I want a lawyer present, also. Just, you know, to make sure you guys are on the up and up. No offense intended."
"None taken, but getting your lawyer will take some time…"
"No, it won't." Clark interrupted, dialing his cell phone. "I alerted her earlier, when you so politely asked me in for questioning."
The agent raised her eyebrows but said nothing. It was arranged that Constance Hunter would meet them at 344 Clinton Street in half an hour.
Lois looked up from her screen when Clark entered the conference room. He had a grim set to his mouth, and she had to stop herself from standing and giving him a hug. He looked as though he really needed one, but she didn't think he was ready for that kind of closeness. Yet.
"Well, did they take everything but the kitchen sink?" she asked.
Sighing, Clark sat down and loosened his tie. He unlocked the laptop while answering. "No, they couldn't take much because Constance was there. She's my lawyer — mostly represents me for writing stuff — but she was more than happy to help me out here, too."
Clark had published his work in several journals while he was an independent reporter. He had needed someone to do the middleman stuff while he was off in the remote areas he had tended to stay in — before he met Lois.
It was strange to him that his life was segmented in his mind into distinct time periods. It had always been before his parents were killed versus after. Now, he had a new time-post: meeting Lois. She had changed his life so much and wasn't even aware she had done so.
"So, CK, what did they take?" Jimmy asked, looking up from the computer he was working on. He had moved his work into the conference room, also, so that he could be on hand if Lois or Clark needed something quickly.
"A few video tapes — blanks mostly, or tv shows I hadn't gotten around to watching. They took my electronic pocket notebook, but as I back that up to my laptop daily, and I backed *that* up this morning, I don't think I lost anything. They rifled through my cabinets and books, but couldn't prove any possible relationship to this investigation, so weren't able to take anything. Constance was a real help. One of them did compliment me on my decor, though."
"Well, wasn't that nice of him?" Lois asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Her." Clark corrected, then shrugged. "It was nice to see they have some personality. Anyway, glad they didn't look in here, eh? I called in on Ahmad, and he said they emptied Oman's apartment, as we suspected they'd do."
Lois nodded, then proceeded to show what she'd been working on. She had biographies of the suspected terrorists roughly outlined, and had been able to partially identify one of the other men by association. Jimmy was working on the passenger lists, but wasn't having a great deal of luck, despite his previous enthusiasm.
As he paged through the files on the system in front of him, trying to make some sense of them, Clark heard Lois's stomach growl. It was then he noticed how late it had gotten. He glanced up and watched her momentarily while she worked. Her fingers flew over the keyboard, taking her back and forth between research and writing. She paused only to take a swig from her ever-present bottle of spring water, and even then, her eyes continued to scan the screen in front of her.
"How about I order us some food?"
"Sounds aces to me," Jimmy piped in without looking up.
Working quietly, none of the three noticed how quickly the time went. When the food order came, Clark left the room to pay the delivery boy. He heard Jimmy's gleeful shout across the bullpen.
Jimmy was grinning from ear to ear when he exited the room. "Just going to get some print-outs. Save me some lo mein!"
As he moved some papers aside and opened containers, Clark asked Lois what Jimmy was so happy about.
"Don't know. Maybe he won the lottery. Man, that smells great. I hadn't realized how hungry I am!" Lois saved her work, then stood and stretched. Making her way around the table, she started loading a plate.
Jimmy came back into the room and grabbed the half-empty container of lo mein and a fork. Dropping the printout in front of Lois, he sat back in a chair and kicked his feet up on the table.
"Sierra Leone. Your boy went to Sierra Leone." Jimmy said around a mouthful of pasta.
"How on earth?" Clark began.
Waving his greasy fork toward the papers, Jimmy continued to eat and explain. "I got him on the plane to Berlin. He used his own identification for that. Then he continued on to Freetown, in Sierra Leone. He used his brother's name here, with his neighbor's last name. I happened to remember from traveling with my dad that there's a small airport outside Berlin that sometimes handles private flights. My dad said it was a great way to hide your tracks if you were trying to get out of Berlin. Sometimes, he knows stuff that scares me… anyway… It was a matter of hacking into their system and looking at the flight plans from that day… He's there — I'm like 90% positive."
"What about the other ten per cent?" Lois asked.
"Dude, I defy anyone to do better. I bet the spooks won't even get that far. Well, maybe they will. But you know… I learned my detective skills from the best — my dad and you!"
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Jimmy. Thanks!" Lois smiled, then sat back to enjoy her meal.
"So, we have a math geek who just happens to be a religious fundamentalist. He takes off for Western Africa. Vacation?" Clark pondered aloud.
"Religious retreat?" Lois postulated.
"No way to tell." Shaking his head, Clark swallowed more eggplant with garlic sauce.
"We could find out if any of these groups — " Lois waved a hand to her research. " — has any compounds in that area. There must be some way to get the record of sale of land in the area."
"If they bought it legally. Sometimes, purchase just means bribe of the local chiefs. In some countries, no one 'owns' the land except the government."
"It's still an angle," Lois muttered stubbornly.
"On another subject completely, did you guys hear about Bob Scrawes getting beat up in prison today?" Jimmy asked.
"Yeah," Lois nodded. "Seems like three guys got him out in the yard and tried to beat him to death. The guards took forever to do anything. The Guardian was seen in the vicinity, and he didn't do anything, either."
"Well, I can understand the guards not doing anything. They had called for backup — they couldn't leave their posts," Clark chimed in. "There could have been a riot if they hadn't acted as they did."
Swiveling quickly toward him, Lois countered, "But what about the Guardian? How come he didn't step in?"
"Why should he, Lois?" Jimmy asked. "The guy was a convicted felon — a murderer!"
"Who was paying his debt to society," Lois interrupted, turning back to Jimmy. "It just seems like the Guardian picks and chooses… and I don't know… how does he draw the line? Bob Scrawes killed someone, yes, but he did it because the guy raped his daughter! I'll bet the men who beat him up were in the same gang as his victim. Don't get me wrong — he isn't a good guy. He's a thief and a liar and he's probably ruined some lives. But he's also a loving father. And now, there's a girl who may never see her daddy again."
Clark paled as he listened to Lois. He heard Jimmy arguing with Lois, but the words didn't register in his mind. Placing his plate on the table, he looked down at his hands. It was true. He had heard the scream for help, and he had ignored it. He figured if the guy was in prison, then it wasn't the Guardian's problem. Suddenly, he wasn't so hungry anymore.
"CK? Earth to Clark Kent?" Jimmy waved his hands in the air, trying to get Clark's attention. "You look like someone stole your puppy. Hey, did those agents steal your puppy?"
"I don't have a puppy, Jimmy." Clark said solemnly.
"Yeah, I know. I've been to your place, remember?" Jimmy shook his head. "Just wanted to see if you were listening. I'm gonna go home for some shut eye. I'll see you guys tomorrow, ok? Thanks for the food."
"Thanks for the research, Jimmy. Great job." Lois answered.
"Yeah, thanks. See you tomorrow. Drive home safely," a distracted Clark stated. Part of his mind kept trying to justify his lack of action earlier in the day. He had cleaned up a car accident on the turnpike, and was heading back to talk to Ahmad when he heard the fight. He just blew it off. He didn't even give the guy a thought.
<With great power comes great responsibility. Use your gifts, but use them wisely. We love you.> That was the last thing his mother had said to him. And he had tried. He had tried so hard.
Lois studied him, noting the remorse in his face. "You wanna talk about it? I don't think we're going to get much work done until you do," she asked quietly.
Looking up at her, Clark shook his head. His thoughts were bleak, and that showed on his face. Lois had watched him carefully through the conversation, and an idea was beginning to form in her mind. It had been there quite a while, right on the edge of her thoughts. It was the only thing that made sense, but it didn't make sense at all.
"I can't talk about it. Not really." Shaking his head slowly, Clark broke eye contact with Lois, choosing instead to look at the ceiling. The ceiling didn't look at him with eyes that accused and interrogated.
"No? You don't want to try to justify why he wouldn't save that guy?" Lois's voice was both insistent and slightly confrontational. She knew there was something there — just under the surface. A boil that needed to be lanced.
"Well," wearily, Clark ran a hand through his hair and tried to form a reply, "I don't really know. Maybe it was like Jimmy said, and he just thought the guy wasn't worth saving. Maybe he thought Darwin should take over."
"But why?" Lois asked again. "Why would the Guardian act like that? He's so selfless most of the time. He's saved thousands of people and made a number of enemies in the process. He has to hide his face for fear of losing what private life he might have. He doesn't *have* to put himself on the line all the time, he chooses to. I've seen the set of his mouth when he's too late — when the crash is too fast, or the fire too hot, or the disaster too big. It hurts him — you can see it in his eyes. He's more human than most people. Why would he hesitate?" As Lois asked the questions, she noticed that Clark got more and more tense. The answer occurred to her, but she was going to give him one more chance to tell her himself. "Why would he consider some people not worth saving? What could make him do that?"
Clark shook his head, listening to Lois and asking himself the same question.
"Do you want to hear my theory, Clark?" Lois asked, leaning across the table toward Clark. "I think he lost someone. Someone important. Victim of crime, I'll bet. And maybe the criminals got away? So he's taking out his frustration and revenge every time he refuses to help a criminal. But that doesn't really make any sense. I mean, so someone died once. That doesn't mean that other people should pay."
"What would you know about it?" Clark fumed, the turmoil in him finally snapping. His face whipped down to hers, the anger and pain not at all concealed in his eyes. "Have you ever held someone you love as they died? Watch the light go out of her eyes forever? Knowing that you could have done something — should have done something. But you didn't. They took the only people who have ever loved me. The only people who have ever truly *known* me. They took them, and they walked away. They never paid the price. But I pay. *I* pay, Lois. Every day. Every time I want to share an accomplishment with someone, but don't have anyone to tell. Every time I see a beautiful sunset alone. Every time I get the rent check from the people who work *my father's* land. Every time I miss saving someone by seconds, and I don't have anyone to tell me that my best is good enough because it's all there is. They took my life. Why should I save theirs? Tell me why?!" Leaning his head into his hands to try to hide his pain and loss inside himself again, Clark didn't seem to even realize that he had revealed himself to Lois. The events of the day and the constant pressure he was under trying to maintain two identities all built up and took over. He just wanted to gather himself again and force those wounds to close.
Tears formed in her eyes as Lois heard the pain and torment in his voice. She walked around the table to him and gently rubbed his back. Her touch broke the walls he was trying so valiantly to rebuild.
"Oh, God, Lois. I miss them so much," he hissed, anguish in his voice. "Every day. Every second. I never know if what I'm doing is right, and I don't have anyone to ask. I'm so alone."
"No, you're not. You're not alone." Lois cocked her head and looked into his eyes, her hand resting on his shoulder. He sighed as he looked at her, and pulled away completely.
"How long have you known?"
Shaking her head, she sat back down in a chair next to him. "I didn't know. Not for sure. There were just too many things that didn't add up. Except one way. When you've proved all of the possibilities are wrong, the impossible must be true."
Clark nodded, silent. He felt washed out inside. She knew now. She knew he was the Guardian — the freak who flew. Wasn't that what the Metropolis Star called him on a regular basis? She would want nothing further to do with him. Who would want anything to do with him? His life was a mess; *he* was a mess. There was nothing to offer to anyone.
As she watched him distance himself, Lois's eyes narrowed. He was building the wall. The one that she had been working weeks on tearing down. <No way, buster. You're not getting away from me that easily…>
"So, where to now? I understand that you're going through a lot right now, but we also have this — " Lois gestured to the table and its strewn contents of information. "We have a lead and we have a computer with gibberish in Arabic on it, and we have a potentially huge terrorist organization, and I need my partner to get through this. OK?"
"You still want to work with me?" Clark asked, astounded. "When I've lied to you about who I am — *what* I am?"
"You lied by omission, and it's completely understandable. I don't agree with some of the choices you've made, but you've done the best with what you have — better than anyone would expect, actually." Lois nodded and sat back, studying Clark. "Deep down, you're still an honest, admirable man, and a damn good journalist. Almost as good as me, actually." Lois tried to add a light note to the conversation.
"But, Lois." Clark shook his head, frustrated with his circumstance once again. "I'm not *normal*. Why would you still want to work with me?"
Silent for a moment, Lois thought about what Clark said. "No, Clark. You're right. You're not normal."
He looked crestfallen. Lois pulled her chair close up to his and looked deeply into his eyes. "Not normal at all. Never will be. Thank God. You know, a 'normal' guy would have been outta here, long ago." He tried to turn away from her, and found her soft hand touching his in appeal. The contact sent a jolt through his system. He looked back to her. "Let's set aside the fact that you've trashed your entire personal life to save the lives of anonymous strangers. Let's just talk about you — Clark Kent — and how not normal you are. I've put you through the mill over the last few stories. I've prodded at you, poked at you, stuck my nose where it obviously didn't belong. Yet you stuck by me. You put up with me. You meet me halfway and more. No normal guy that I've ever been with has done that."
He sighed and shook his head. "You know that's not what I'm talking about, Lois." Pulling his hand away, he sat back in his chair, physically separating himself from her.
"No, actually, I don't know what you're talking about, Clark." Anger began to edge into her voice. "I don't know what you think you are, Clark. You don't share. But I'm willing to listen if you want to talk."
It had been so long since he had someone to talk to. Really talk to. Clark nodded.
"I might just take you up on that. I hope you don't regret the invitation, Lois."
"I'm sure I won't." Surprised that he had given in so easily, Lois pressed her advantage. In her best reporter's voice, she began to interview him. "So, give. Who are you? Who do you think you are? Tell me, help me understand."
Sighing, Clark decided to tell her everything. But the most important fact came out first. "I *am* Clark Kent. My parents found me in a field in Kansas. They saw what they thought was a shooting star. It was a ship. It was my spaceship. They pulled me — and a few other items they found — out of that ship and took us home. My dad went back that night and took everything else he could find and buried it all on the farm, trying to hide the evidence of my strange arrival. A whisper on the wind that my mother's cousin had an unwanted child, a few dollars to the right person here and there in records offices, and I became Clark Kent."
Clark stood and walked to the window of the conference room, opening the blinds and looking out onto the mostly- dark bullpen floor.
"My childhood was blessedly normal, except that I didn't get sick much, and I hardly ever got hurt. When I was ten, I started getting headaches. My parents thought my eyes were bad. When my dad asked me to read some writing on a calendar on the kitchen wall, I concentrated on it. I guess I concentrated too hard, and I saw through the wall. Heat vision came next. My parents told me to wear the glasses to remind me to be careful. You see, my father was always terrified that someone would find out. They would find out, and they would take me away. So we were quiet and we were careful."
Lost in memories and telling his story, Clark didn't see Lois's expression. A childhood alone, so different from her own, yet alike in the most basic of ways. She could hear the loneliness and sorrow that echoed in her teenager's soul. But she said nothing — she didn't even move — as she wanted him to continue his story.
"When I was fifteen, my parents gave me my heritage. They told me how they had found me — how they had always thought of me as a gift from God since they couldn't have children themselves. They gave me a blanket I had been wrapped in when they found me. They gave me a globe — I think you saw it on my shelf? Hiding in plain sight? — that globe, when I touched it, lit up and told me my history."
Clark had turned to Lois, to see if she was really listening to what he was saying. Then he made the clearest and most damning statement he could.
"I'm an alien, Lois. The only survivor of a dead planet. My birth parents sent me to Earth, to a place where they though I might be able to thrive. The yellow sun gives me the powers that let me play the part of the Guardian. It makes me almost invulnerable. Almost, but not quite."
Sitting back in his chair, he distanced himself from the pity he saw in her eyes. Pity because he was so 'different', he was sure. Time to finish it. Time to move on. He looked back out the conference room windows from his chair, unable to watch as she distanced herself from him.
"You look surprised. No one knows what hurts me. But there is one thing. The last thing my parents gave me was a rock they had found near my space ship. It glows a sickly green. My theory is that it's part of Krypton, my home planet — so I call it Kryptonite. When I first held that rock, it almost killed me. It ends up that rock is the one thing on this Earth I've found that can hurt me, physically. And as lead shields my x-ray vision, it also shields the presence and effects of Kryptonite."
"And that's it. That's me. I've given you every tool, every piece of information about me that is important. I've given you every secret I have, and do you know why?" Unable to look in her eyes, Clark waited for her rejection. Waited for the moment when he could say he was leaving, putting this behind him. She wouldn't want him around now, anyway.
Lois knew Clark was expecting her to shy away from him, to put a distance between them after he had opened himself to her. She figured it was yet another way he hoped to protect himself. But she was a lot more stubborn than he was, and she knew what she wanted. Him.
"Because you trust me? Because there's something here, between us?"
Clark was dumbfounded. He expected her to pull away, as the Lois Lane he had heard about would do. Looking back to her, he was surprised to see how close her face was to his. He couldn't help pulling back as she leaned even closer, her eyes narrow.
"Get this through your thick Kryptonian skull. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. Now — " having issued her ultimatum, Lois leaned back in her chair and forced her body to relax. "Shall we get to work on this story? Or are you going to fly away, like you've always done before?"
Watching as Lois gathered some piles of information in front of her, Clark was silent. It was his choice: move on, or stay. He didn't notice that Lois was actually undoing hours of work, mixing different piles.
Lois needed to do something, to let him make his decision for himself. If he stayed, he could re-organize in seconds. If he left, she didn't think she'd be able to work on this story anymore anyway. Realizing that he could do just that — leave — made her blood go cold. It was the first time she acknowledged just how much she cared about him.
When had attraction, caring, friendship turned to such a love? She wanted to take back her last question. She wanted to beg him to stay. But it had to be his decision.
As he watched her methodically (or so it seemed) turn her mind back to work, it struck him. He was a coward. He had been running for years, depending on his strength and speed, and risking nothing.
Maybe it was time for that to change. Hadn't he taken a step in that direction by moving to Metropolis? Maybe it was time to grow up a little, stop wallowing in self-pity. Stop being… what had Lois called him?… Eeyore. Nodding, he stood. He walked to the computer where Lois had been working, sat, and began paging through the files — this time at a speed natural for him. He was quickly engrossed, and didn't notice Lois as she looked up at him and smiled.
They worked through the next day, but were unable to get anything else from the computer that they could use in the story. Lois and Clark worked on putting the story of the terrorist conglomeration together, and Jimmy got the best stills he could from Clark's digital copy of the meeting.
Though Clark held up his half of the work, he still had his other job to do. Lois watched the monitors each time he left, and noted the Guardian showed up somewhere each and every time. It amazed her that she hadn't put it together before — that no one had. Then again, maybe the walls he built around himself had protected his identity, too.
So it was that the story was finished and headed for the front page of the midnight edition, and Lois was ready to go home at a decent hour that afternoon. Her jaw caught in a huge yawn — she was more than ready to get some badly needed sleep. Looking around for Clark, she remembered that he had gone out again, but she hadn't seen anything on the monitors this time. Shaking her head to clear some of the fatigue, she looked over the monitors again.
There he was, battling a huge fire, a cold look of calm on his face. She turned up the volume on that particular monitor to hear the reporter lamenting that the Guardian had been unable to find all of the residents that had been reported missing. He was still working with fire crews to terminate the blaze, but hope for the missing was completely gone.
Lois shook her head. How could he live with this burden, day in and day out, and have no one to share it with? She went back to the conference room where they had been working. She shut down the laptop and gathered his notes, adding them to her already heavy bag.
He wasn't going home to an empty apartment tonight.
Lois was waiting for him on his couch when he got back from the failed rescue attempt. His complete discouragement showed clearly on his face.
"I'm so sorry, Clark. I can't imagine what it does to you. But you have to know that you did everything you could. Everything. This is not your fault." She had walked to him, taken his face in her hands, and forced him to look in her eyes.
"But I was too late. God, Lois. There was a little boy. When I got to him, he was struggling to breathe. As I flew him to the medics, he stopped struggling. He shouldn't have died." Shaking his head, he closed his eyes as the anger rose in him.
"Why do things like this have to happen? I just can't understand! Innocent. He was innocent! And now, he's dead!" Clark turned from Lois, afraid that in his anger he might hurt her. He went again to the window and looked to the sky from which he had fallen. The sky he could fly to, but never escape in.
He felt her hands on his back. Rubbing, soothing. It had been so long since someone had comforted him. So long. No one had ever been there to share the burden of being the Guardian. Who in his right mind would volunteer to take up this load?
He turned to her, taking her in his arms. He held on to her as though he wouldn't let go, listening to the sounds of the night and feeling her hands, running up and down his back.
After a bit, he pulled away and went to sit on the couch. She sat next to him, and he held her hand as he began to tell her of the failed rescue attempt. And of another that had happened months ago. And of another.
"Clark, don't you see? You can count the number of times you fail, or the number of times you succeed. How many stories have you gotten to the second after they could have made a difference? You have to focus on what's important." She hooked her finger under his chin, gently forcing him to look at her. "Why do you think people call you a hero? It's not simply because you have these abilities. It's not even that you save millions of people every year. It's that you have the compassion to go out there every minute of every day and do your best — which, I might add, is better than most of the natural citizens of this planet, combined! Oh, Clark. You've given so many people second chances. Don't you think it's time you gave yourself one?"
He pulled away from her then, standing.
"I know your parents were killed, and you think you should have saved them. I know it forced you into isolation for years." She stood then, trying to figure out how to approach him. "That comment you made the other night — about Jimmy and I being the closest friends you've had in so long you can't remember. Clark, if anyone in the world is built for friendship, it's you! But you've been holding yourself from everyone. Depriving all of us and punishing yourself. It's time to let it go. Your parents wouldn't want this for you, not if they loved you as you say they did." He looked at her then, noticing how she stood next to him, her eyes pleading with his to listen to what she was saying.
"It's not as easy as that, you know," he denied, shaking his head.
"No," Lois slowly replied. "I don't suppose it is. But nothing worthwhile is quick, nothing worthwhile is easy." She paused, then smiled. "Except chocolate. I brought you some, you know. Double fudge crunch bars, my particular favorite, though there are those who say Hearsey's are better. Anyway, I figured you could use it tonight."
Clark smiled and laughed sadly. She knew just when to turn the course — just how to pull him from the edge. He pulled her into a hug, whispering into her hair, "Thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for listening."
"That's what friends are for, Clark," she whispered back, glad he was finally opening up to her.
He held on to her for a while, just absorbing the peace that she radiated. He had missed the basic camaraderie his parents had offered him. Besides being his parents, they had been his sounding board and the only people with whom he could share all of himself. He had made other friends in the past, but none of them had filled so many of the roles — until Lois. And, with every new feeling that he shared with her, he offered one more prayer of thanks that he had found her. That they had found each other.
The moments of silence passed between them. Clark began to pull away, a tentative smile on his face, when he heard a brisk knock on his door.
Distracted, Clark spun quickly out of his Guardian outfit and walked toward the door to his apartment. He wasn't expecting anyone, especially given the hour, but he was surprised to see a well-dressed (if somewhat antiquated) gentleman. Cautiously, he opened the door.
"I have some pressing information to share with you. May I come in?"
<I've had stranger sources…> Clark thought as he eyed the gentleman. He didn't look crazy, and a brief scan didn't reveal any lead, so Clark figured there wouldn't be any harm in letting the man in. Whatever he wanted, it must have been important to approach a reporter's door so late in the evening.
Closing the door, Clark noticed that Lois had made herself scarce. Probably she didn't want to scare off a source. Clark gestured to the couch.
"I'm sorry if my hospitality seems kind of shabby, but it is pretty late, Mr…?" Clark paused, waiting for the stranger to supply a name.
<I hate this part…> Herbert George Wells thought to himself. <It always takes forever for them to believe me.>
"My name is Wells, Herbert George Wells."
"H. G. Wells. Like the author." Clark's voice dripped with disbelief.
"Look. I know you don't believe me. How about this. You are the Guardian. At least, in this world, that's what you call yourself. Sometimes you go by the name Superman."
"Yes. I am a time traveler. Time runs in many directions, and dimensions. In other dimensions, you go by different names. In most dimensions, you're a hero of the people. Both as Superman, and as Clark Kent: half of the reporting team of Lane and Kent — the voices for truth and justice." As he said this, he looked toward the bedroom. Clark raised his eyebrows, then realized that this strange little man knew, somehow, that Lois was in the other room.
"Lois, you might as well come out."
"Yes, of course she should. We need her sharp wit to combat the enemy."
"Which enemy is this, Mr… what did you say your name was? Oh, yeah, that's right. Wells. H. G. Wells." Lois came back to the living room and eyed the time-traveler with obvious mistrust. He did, however, know things he shouldn't… so perhaps it was best to humor him.
"Once again, I need help tracking down a common foe of ours, Tempus."
"Tempus?" Clark looked to Lois, and she shook her head. "We don't know a Tempus. But… What does he look like?" Tempus, Chronos… it could be. Clark stopped himself. There was a small, crazy man in his living room. A small crazy man who believed he was a long-dead author, but somehow knew that Clark was the Guardian.
Clark noticed a small apparatus in the stranger's hand. It produced a… hologram, for lack of better words… of the man from the videotape. Lois's eyes widened in shock at the device itself and the picture it showed.
"Ahh, I see your looks of recognition. This is Tempus. A criminal from the future. He's here to change the past, wreaking as much destruction as he can in the mean time."
"What do you have to do with it?" Lois asked, suspicious. "Why is it up to you to catch this guy?"
"Ah, well, you see…" Mr. Wells stammered sheepishly, "he's using my time machine to get around."
Sighing, Clark folded his arms on his chest. In for a penny, in for a pound. There was no way — with current Earth technology — someone could make a hologram like the one Wells had just shown him. Clark decided to trust his instincts and listen to the little man. "What would you like from us?"
Wells sighed. They believed him.
"Tempus is doing something to alter the fabric of time. I told you that there are some naturally occurring dimensions — they aren't carbon copies of each other, but they are, in essence, extremely similar. My instruments show me that something is causing an extraordinary number of dimensions to occur, and I've reason to believe that something is Tempus. I've tracked Tempus to this particular dimension, but I can't pinpoint his whereabouts. I'm hoping he will challenge the two of you, as he always seems to do…" Noticing the look of utter confusion on Clark's face, and the look of impatience on Lois's, Wells paused. "Oh, dear… how to explain…" Wells turned and walked to a window. Sighing, he turned back and began to speak.
"Let's start at the beginning. Once upon a time, there was planet named Krypton. Krypton was a regular little planet populated with hominids, but it had the misfortune of having a very short lifespan — as planets go. It suffered an untimely, cataclysmic destruction.
"Two people on the doomed planet Krypton foretold this destruction and sent their son, Kal El, away to survive the destruction on a planet called Earth. A childless couple, Martha and Jonathan Kent, adopted Kal El and raised him as their son, Clark. They raised him to believe in truth, justice, and tolerance. Clark had special abilities that no other human had. And, though he could see through objects, hear the tiniest of sounds, fly — he could do any manner of marvelous things — his biggest strength was his compassion. His humanity. He — and his wife Lois Lane and their descendants — set a new standard for human behavior. Their very existence changed people — bringing about Utopia."
Lois smiled when he heard the phrase 'wife Lois Lane', and was surprised to feel Clark's hand, which had unconsciously grabbed hers at the beginning of Wells's speech, squeeze her hand lightly at the same phrase.
"Utopia is the ultimate future." Wells sat across from Lois and Clark, trying to emphasize his point. "There is minimal oppression, war, famine… People — whether native to Earth or not — are all treated equally. It's truly a magnificent place. To most people.
"But there are exceptions. People who are born discontented. Tempus is one of those. Tempus hated Utopia. I, quite foolishly, took Tempus on a tour of the past, showing him how barbaric it was. I thought it would convince him that Utopia was the best place to be. Unfortunately, he didn't agree. He looked upon it as time travel lessons, took my time machine, and went back to random points in history, trying to change the past, thereby changing the future.
"Since then, I've been chasing him, correcting his changes, foiling his nefarious schemes. When the existence of alternate dimensions was proved, he found a way to them, corrupting as many time lines as he could find. I've always been one step behind him, but, generally, with the serious help of many of your counterparts, I've been able to stop him.
"According to my instrument readings, something he has been doing is causing an immense number of splits in the timeline. I've consulted with some leading scientists, and no one's sure whether it's to do with Schrodinger's hypothesis or a strange manifestation of Krauthemmer's law. At any rate, Tempus has caused an inordinate number of parallel universes — such as this one — to come about. Due to his meddling, many of these universes do not have enough… matter, for a lack of a better term, to continue existence. Even the valid dimensions are feeling the effects of this disaster. His tampering is killing the future — everyone's future. I need your help to stop him."
"You want us to work with you to stop a crazy man — ignoring a plot that could potentially harm the entire world as we know it — and that very action may destroy the universe we currently live in?" Clark asked with disbelief.
"Well, when you put it that way… it does sound rather illogical. But I assure you, there's nothing more you can do here. This dimension is one of those that is dying even as we speak."
"Dying?" Clark turned his head to Lois, both of them wondering what this time traveler could mean.
"Yes, dying. If you follow this universe in the continuum, it abruptly vanishes in a few thousand years."
"And what is it you want us to do?" Clark asked with a sigh. He didn't know if he believed this guy, but if what he was asking was in line with what they were already investigating, it wouldn't hurt to agree.
"Help me find Tempus. You are the best investigative reporters around, and I know from previous experience that I can trust you. From the sound of things, you've dealt slightly with Tempus already. I need to find him and hand him over to the temporal authorities."
Clark nodded. "Well, we don't know him as Tempus. We know of him — and it's under the name of Chronos. It turns out that our current investigation is the one that Chronos is involved in. So, looks like we'll be helping you, Mr. Wells." Sighing, Clark looked warily at Lois. "Whether we think it's a good idea or not."
The headline of the Planet once again put the reporting world on its ear. The networks scrambled to get copies of the now infamous tape while the members of the Planet's board of directors grinned victoriously behind their shocked and concerned veneers. It was a national security concern, of course, and though some insinuated the publication of the pictures would hasten action on the part of the terrorists, most news outlets were simply jealous that the Planet had gotten there first.
And, though that headline was accompanied by a Lane/Kent story, the two reporters were not resting on their laurels.
"This makes no sense!" Clark mumbled, frustrated. "Files full of numbers. Are they code? I can't find a key, or even make any sort of sense out of them. Maybe Jimmy…"
"Jimmy's a hacker, Clark, not a math whiz. Besides, we have him helping me to look for every possible connection to Tempus, Chronos, and John Doe so we can get the guy Wells is looking for." Lois shook her head and sat back. "Doesn't it strike you as wrong that Wells shows up asking for our help, dumps an impossible task in our laps, places a dire cloud of doom over our lives, then disappears, vaguely mentioning 'instrument readings' or some other trash?"
Relaxing in his chair, Clark looked over to Lois.
"Yeah, seems kind of unfair to me. Maybe even fishy. It's not that I think he's lying, but I kind of think Wells left some things out."
Lois nodded, then sighed. "But he did give us a lead on this Chronos guy. Seems like a nutcase if I ever saw one. You know, though," Lois turned, thinking aloud, "Wells says Chronos is doing something to cause the universes — all of them — to end. And when we find him, we have to try to figure out what he's doing and stop him. But everything Wells told us about Chronos leads me to think the guy is a creature of comfort — his own. If he destroys all the timelines, he destroys his own life. And he doesn't seem like the suicidal type."
"Wells said this guy has been going between dimensions, wreaking havoc." Clark paused, trying to figure out how to say what he was thinking. Lois eyed him curiously, allowing him to finish his idea. "You know, when I've read about time travel stuff, it's always had these warnings. Say you travel back in time and make it so your grandparents never meet. That means you can never be born. But then you'll never travel back in time, so your grandparents will meet. Seems to me, if Chronos destroys everything, then he can never exist…"
"So everything will go back to 'normal'." Lois finished, nodding. "But time travel theory is all just that: theory. Not like anyone we know… or many people we know… have actually done it."
"And meanwhile, we know a criminal from the future — who has access to Lord knows what kind of technology — is working with a group of known terrorists. And I can't make heads or tails of the files from the only connection we have to the group…" Raking a hand through his hair, Clark vented his frustration.
"Let me take a look at the files, Clark. I'm getting nowhere with my work here." Clark sent a copy of one of the files to Lois, and she looked at it briefly before squinting her eyes in thought. "I wonder…" she murmured.
The look of possibility on Lois's face got Clark's attention. Rising slowly from his chair, he walked around the table to watch what Lois was doing.
"I always wondered if kissing up to my father would pay off. Back when I was a teenager, still trying to please the old man, I used to spend my summers working in his lab. I mean, it was either that, or listen to my mother criticize how I didn't date the right kind of boys or how I would never get a husband because I was too ambitious or whatever. So, I went in to the lab with him every day. He used to have me take the results of his experiments — files of numbers — and type them into graphing programs." She typed as she spoke, then shook her head. "Drat. I didn't keep any of those old graphics programs after all. I could call my father…"
Clark interrupted. "I have a contact at Star Labs — a friend who helps me out once in a while when it comes to Guardian stuff. I could put a call in to him… I'm sure that he'd help us figure out these files — maybe even have some input on time travel, as well."
Lois nodded. "Ok, give him a call, and let's go!"
"Lois Lane. It's such a pleasure to meet you! I've been following your writing since before I met Clark! I'm Bernard Klein, this is one of my fellow lab rats, Karen Travet. Karen's specialties are mathematics and computers, so I'm going to let her work with you on the files, if that's all right?"
Clark smiled at the assistant, who blushed and nervously pushed at her glasses. "Everything's here on this laptop, Dr. Travet. I'll be happy to guide you through what we've found."
"Oh, call me Karen, Mr. Kent."
"And I'm Clark."
"I just want to say I'm a big fan of your work! I remember the piece you wrote on the diamond cartels in Western Africa and how they caused so many problems… It must have been so strange, living there in the middle of a coup…"
As the two of them walked companionably toward a side desk, Lois watched through narrow eyes. That little geek was flirting with Clark, and he didn't even seem to realize it. <'Call me Karen, Mr. Kent. I'm a big fan…' Yeah, right.> Lois huffed internally, then noticed Clark's own body language. Polite but distant. Ahh, that was familiar. She smiled as she looked up, catching his eye and the warm smile he sent her way. No distance there.
Turning back to Dr. Klein, she sighed and wondered how to broach questions about time travel theory.
"First off, Dr. Klein, I just want to let you know that I'm not crazy. OK?"
"Ms. Lane? I've spent the last two years studying a man who defies all laws of physics as we know them. Not a whole lot you say can shock me," Dr. Klein stated and indicated two lab stools next to the bench.
Nodding, Lois sat on the closer stool, waited for Dr. Klein to sit before beginning.
"A few days ago, Clark and I were approached by a gentleman. He said his name was H. G. Wells, and that he was a time traveler."
"H. G. Wells — the author?" Dr. Klein asked, with humor.
"I'm afraid so. Before we could call the mental hospital and ask if any of their residents had gone missing, he produced an instrument. It generated holograms that were astounding. Suffice it to say, the technology is nothing we can do on earth… now. He also knew some stuff that he shouldn't know…" Not knowing how to convey the proof without giving away Clark's secret, Lois paused.
"So, you were convinced he told the truth?" Dr. Klein finished for her.
"Yes. Mostly. And it wasn't like he was asking us for any kind of out-of-the-question help. He wants us to find someone we're already looking for. You read the article this morning?"
"I don't know anyone who didn't. You'd have to be more out of touch than the most absent-minded professor to miss all of this morning's news coverage. Scary stuff. So, this Wells character has tangential information about one of the men in that video?"
Lois nodded. "Yes, the western guy. They call him Chronos on the tape. Wells called him Tempus."
"Both of which are synonyms for time, or a god or lord of time." Dr. Klein stated with a furrowed brow. "So, this man is a time traveler?"
"Apparently so. He's from the future, and he travels through the past, trying to wreak havoc. Sounds like he's pretty successful at it, too."
"So, you want me to tell you about time travel so you can see if this is possible? Outside confirmation of Wells's story?"
"Not exactly," Lois paused. "This is where it gets a little confusing. According to Wells, there are other universes — parallel dimensions."
Nodding, Klein interrupted. "Yes, all theory says that there should be. Have you ever heard of Schrodinger's cat? Say you have a cat in a box, and there's a poison dart aimed at the cat. The trigger for the dart is something — like a particle emission source — that has a fifty per cent chance of occurring every hour. At the end of the hour, is the cat alive or dead? You don't know unless you open the box. Schrodinger says the cat is *both* alive *and* dead — parallel existence — until someone observes the outcome of the event — opens the box and checks. This would lead to infinite parallel universes. Some of which would dissolve when the observations occurred, of course."
Lois shook her head and tried to follow the scientific gibberish. All she got was that what Wells said could be true. There probably were parallel universes.
"Anyway, Wells said that there are a finite number of parallel dimensions that naturally occurred, but that there was something out there causing these splits to occur way too often. Too many universes, and not enough matter to support them all."
"What do you mean by that?" Dr. Klein asked with curiosity.
Lois shrugged. "That's just what he said. He said that too many parallel dimensions were popping up, and that 'matter' was being spread too thin. He said that our own universe was dying because of this."
"You know," Dr. Klein said, turning to his computer, "I remember reading something a few weeks ago about a strange astrophysical phenomenon. The universe, according to telescope readings, seems to be shrinking. According to all the laws, though, it should be expanding. Some physicists are predicting the death of the universe, due to this." Shaking his head, he searched for the article, then turned to Lois. "But what did you want from me? Confirmation that this could be happening?"
"No. More of a why? Wells seemed to think that something Tempus was doing caused these universes to exist. Do you have any idea?"
"Well," Dr. Klein paused, thoughtfully, "It could be that his changing the past doesn't change the future — it simply causes at least one new future."
Clark joined them at this point, standing close to Lois. "Lois, Karen's going to work on those files today — she's downloaded what she needed into her server because she says it has more horsepower or something. I want to thank you, Dr. Klein, for offering her and your services."
"No problem, Clark. This time thing is intriguing. I'll tell you what. I'll do what research I can on it today. If we come up with anything here, we'll give you a call."
"Thanks, we'll do the same!" Lois smiled, reaching out to shake the scientist's hand. He was so much warmer than her father was, but Dr. Klein was at least as intelligent as Sam Lane, if not more so. Lois had a feeling that, if they could all avoid whatever apocalypse Chronos had planned for them, this could be the start of a good friendship.
Early the next morning, Lois and Clark sat across from each other in the conference room, both barely refreshed from short, restless sleep.
"So," Lois said as she stretched back in the conference room chair, "we've got the top minds in Metropolis working on those files. I'm at a dead end on Chronos. What about you?"
"I've looked into this time travel stuff as much as I can. I mean, wouldn't the folks in the future know a lot more about this stuff than we would? I think we're spinning our wheels here — we should go back to our original investigation. But that takes us back to the gibberish files…"
Lois sighed loudly, then shook her head.
"Maybe we need more background on Oman," she stated finally. "I mean, obviously, he was no slouch at computers, math even. But what did he study otherwise? Anything at all? That might give us an idea…"
Clark nodded. So much of their investigation had been taken up with the terrorist organizations and Chronos that they hadn't had time to deal with Oman himself. Pulling out his phone, Clark called Ahmad.
Lois listened, bemused, as Clark spoke in the melodic foreign tongue of his friend. Shaking her head, she smiled. He never even hesitated to use his talents — they were so natural to him that he didn't seem to understand just how super he really was.
As she watched Clark disconnect the call, Lois noticed the grim set to his lips.
"He's a trained geophysicist. What on earth could he be calculating with all of those numbers?"
Nodding, Lois thought aloud. "Maybe we don't need to figure out what, but where? Dr. Call-Me-Karen Travers will work on the numbers — let's see if we can figure out his… target, for lack of a better term. Is there anything else on this computer?"
"There are other directories I haven't touched. I went after the stuff he looked at most recently. Let's see…" Clark organized the directories by size, then started surfing through them, looking for text files.
"Here's one. It's in English…" Lois scanned over his shoulder. "It looks like statistics on Lituya Bay, Alaska. What's up with that?" Pulling up a search engine, Lois did a search on the bay.
"Clark, take a look at this."
Frowning, Clark turned to Lois's screen.
"What's a giant tsunami? Isn't that redundant?"
"I've a feeling it's not something we really want to know, first hand, anyway," Lois said, skimming some of the articles she found. "Look, Clark, it says here that an earthquake caused an excessively huge tidal wave in Lituya Bay. The wave was 1700 feet above sea level. That's what?"
"About a third of a mile," Clark stated grimly.
Lois's eyes widened as she read. "The wave was caused by a bunch of ice falling into the water…"
Clark felt his own breathing become more shallow. "And on that tape, they referred to purification by water… fire and water."
They looked at each other in scared silence until the shrill ring of Lois's cell phone interrupted them.
Answering it with an abrupt hello and few words, Lois quickly ended the call with a hurried, "OK, we'll be right there."
"That was Dr. Klein. He said…"
"That Karen has been able to decipher the numbers… yes, I know. I do have some advantages." Clark smiled humorlessly, pointing to his ears. "Let's go."
Dr. Klein greeted the two reporters with a smile. "Didn't think I'd see you both again so soon… but Karen figured out the files pretty quickly. I'll let her explain."
Blushing slightly at the attention, Karen handed Lois a number of printed pictures.
"You were right on target with the graphics program, Ms. Lane. I fed the files into a number of programs we had till one fit. The one that seemed to work the best with all of the files was a topology program. It makes landscapes."
"Like topographic maps?" Clark asked.
"Something like that — more detailed than you'd normally see. It looks like we have one original 'before' snapshot." Pointing to one of the pictures Clark was holding, Karen pulled it away from the others and set it on the lab table in front of them.
"Most of the rest of the files are very similar, except this large crack down the middle of the main structure in the picture deepens or widens. What's interesting is the very last calculation he did produced this."
Karen held up a picture similar to the others with one notable exception. In this picture, the crack no longer existed. Whatever had existed to the left of the crack had disappeared — the original structure had been completely broken in half.
"My guess," Karen continued, as the other three studied the pictures, "is that he's trying to take advantage of a structural weakness in something — he's going to use some sort of large force at the sight of the fault to break the structure. No idea what the structure could be, of course…"
"We might be able to help you there, Karen," Lois closed her eyes. "The man who ran these calculations was a geophysicist. My guess? He's trying to destroy an island."
"An entire island?" Dr. Klein interrupted. "Like Manhattan? Sorry, Ms. Lane, but the kind of force he'd need to have, even if the fault existed, doesn't exist in any weapon we have today."
"We have reason to believe he has access to very powerful weapons, Dr. Klein. Weapons you may not know about."
Remembering the conversation he'd had with Lois earlier, Dr. Klein paled. "But… even then… to plant such a weapon. It would be nearly impossible in a populated place. Someone would notice."
"We don't think that the island is the real target, Dr. Klein," Clark interrupted.
"Do you know anything about giant tsunamis?" Lois asked.
Dr. Klein turned to his computer and typed in a few commands.
"I remember reading something in a periodical a few months back. Postulates about giant waves. Like that one in Alaska…"
"Lituya Bay," Clark supplied, a tense feeling in his stomach.
"Yes, that's right. And it says here that the conditions for a mega-tsunami to be created exist on an island called La Palma. It's geologically incredibly interesting. The island consists of two volcanoes…" Dr. Klein's voice trailed off as he noticed that the island pictured bore a very striking resemblance to the pictures Karen had printed out.
"Where's this island, Dr. Klein?" Lois interrupted.
"Why, it's in the Canary Islands. Off the coast of West Africa. Here it is on the map."
"I have to go. Now," Clark stammered to Lois, a dire look in his eye. She nodded, but to an empty space. He was gone.
The two scientists didn't even notice his departure. They were both reading the stories of Lituya Bay and La Palma with growing horror.
Stopping only long enough to spin into the Guardian costume, Clark flew as fast as he could toward the islands. He kept the picture of the map in his head and tried desperately to find the island in question. But there were so many of them.
As he flew, he heard the rumbling. It was intense — the sound of the earth herself cracking.
Then he saw the island splitting, half of it falling into the ocean. He thought briefly about trying to save the islanders, but realized that the magnitude of the blast would commit him to hours of rescue effort. He knew that his strength would be needed elsewhere today — there was a giant wave building in the ocean beneath him. He needed help to figure out how to stop it.
Turning around, he flew back to Star Labs, landing in Dr. Klein's office. Lois hadn't left; she was taking notes on the tsunami and questioning the doctor on how it would work.
"It's started. How do I stop it?"
"Excuse me? Guardian? What's started?"
"The tidal wave." He noticed that the Doctor had a confused look on his face, then realized he was dressed, from habit, as the Guardian. He was so distracted that he had almost given himself away, despite his ingrained habits. "Clark got a hold of me, told me where to look for the terrorists. But by the time I got there, they just detonated a huge explosion. I saw the island fall apart. I saw the wave start. How do I stop it?"
Dr. Klein felt his heart pause. He and Lois had just read the postulated course of the semi-circular wave. The upper part of the wave would wipe out parts of Europe and Britain's coasts first, in about two hours. Then, about three hours later, the lower parts would reach the East Coast of the Americas. Metropolis was doomed.
Swallowing loudly, Bernard Klein tried to think. How to stop a tidal wave… Tunnel into it? Tunnel alongside it? He couldn't think. His wife. His kids. He had to get home.
Clark turned to Lois, a look of defeat in his eye.
"Is there anywhere safe I can take you? Please?" He pleaded with her. He didn't know much about the tsunami, but from Dr. Klein's response, he assumed Metropolis would be in the direct path. And Clark didn't have a great deal of confidence in his ability to stop a wave.
"We have to find a way to stop this. There has to be a way. Do you hear me? Don't you give up yet! We can't let this Chronos guy get away with this! Besides, I won't have to go far inland to be safe." Lois began to tell Clark the details of the predicted wave course.
As they spoke, Dr. Klein came out of his trance. He began typing furiously on his computer, while telling Karen to get out of the city — as far inland as she could get, and to tell others the same. As he waited for results to come in, he made a quick call home to his wife, and telling her to get the kids in the car and head out of the city.
"Guardian, could you please come here?" Dr. Klein requested.
Clark strode to the computer, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach.
"According to this, the wave can only be propagated in the deep sea. If you somehow force it to come to a head before it reaches shallow water, we can avoid a tidal wave."
"Dr. Klein, according to what Lois has told me, I have less than two hours to start damage control. How on earth do I force it to come to a head?"
"You have to disrupt it. I would think if you generated a wave in the opposite direction, it might be enough… but I'm trying to contact Dr. Simon Knight. He would know better than I. He's authored most of the papers on mega- tsunamis, and has a permanent research lab studying La Palma. Not surprisingly, his line's been busy." As he spoke, Dr. Klein dialed the number of his colleague one last time. His breath blew out in relief as he finally got through to the British phone number.
"Yes, what?" a harried voice asked from the other side.
"Dr. Knight? This is Bernard Klein of Star Labs in Metropolis. Please don't hang up. This is very important. I don't know if you're aware, but La Palma just collapsed. The Guardian saw it happen and is here, with me."
"Oh, thank providence. Hold on a moment, please." As Dr. Klein had put the call on speaker phone, Lois and Clark could also hear Dr. Knight talking to someone else in the room, saying the Guardian knew about the problem. "You know about the wave, then? He has to move the water so that it causes a centrifugal shutdown. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes, I think so. He should try to build up a wall of water with velocity perpendicular to the waves, yes?"
"English translation?" Lois asked, impatiently.
"Make big waves in the opposite direction of the wave front. Like we thought."
Clark nodded, and took a deep breath. "Wish me luck," he whispered to Lois before launching himself out the window.
Dr. Klein wished his colleague good luck and ended the call. He quickly dialed another number, and Lois realized that he was speaking to an official about possibly setting off an alert to evacuate Metropolis and other east coast cities. Surprisingly, the official had already been briefed, and there was an evacuation notice in the works. Apparently, word of the explosion was already getting around, less than twenty minutes after the fact.
Lois hadn't asked Dr. Klein how Dr. Knight had known the explosion happened. She had guessed, as he was the expert on La Palma, that he had some sort of monitors installed there. Being the daughter of a scientist, she knew how they worked. She assumed that the others in the room were his colleagues. A niggling thought in her brain, however, said it might be someone even more important. Dr. Knight was the person who knew the most about this La Palma thing. The goons who had taken Oman's computer had probably contacted Dr. Knight when they realized they needed information about mega-tsunamis. The fact that national emergency systems had been alerted about the possible wave confirmed this. It appeared that the government agents might have been able to put more together than Lois and Clark had — unfortunately, it was still too little, too late.
Shaking her head, Lois cleared her thoughts. "Listen, Dr. Klein. There's no reason for you to stay here. Call your wife again. Meet up with her. Get out, while the getting's good. At the very least, you'll get a weekend in the mountains and a little grief for being paranoid."
"What about you, Miss Lane?"
"I'm heading back to the Planet. I'm going to update Perry on what's happening, and at the least, write up what we have. Clark and I will decide what to do from there."
"Reporters to the end?" Dr. Klein asked, watching her with the question in his eye.
"Yeah." She nodded. "It's more than what I do, I suppose. It's what I am."
Clark wrestled with the water. <Make a wave, they say. Ha. Might as well try to catch the wind, as Donovan would say. Wait. Wind makes waves. Maybe my super-powered breath…>
Clark launched himself out of the water, ahead of the ever- growing wave. Quickly flying well in front of it, he turned and blew over top of the water. He watched as a wave grew out of his breath. It grew, and it roared toward the quietly powerful tsunami waves. They met.
The tsunami passed through Clark's wave, practically untouched.
Clark tried every method he could think of to move a wall of water, to no avail. The wave started coming ashore in Spain and lower Britain. The screams of hundreds of people silenced almost immediately as the wave made contact with heavily populated beaches.
He had failed. Once again, when it was most important, he had failed.
But he couldn't give up yet. There was still a wave headed to Metropolis. To Lois.
The sirens went off outside the newsroom. Radio and television stations broadcast emergency alerts. Lois could hear the newscasts urging people to stay calm, and all people in coastal areas were advised to calmly evacuate to high, inland ground. Pictures were just coming in of the huge freak wave that inundated the coasts of Western Europe and Southern Britain.
No one (except Lois) was sure what had caused the wave, but officials were stating that a wave of similar magnitude was headed toward the East Coast of the Americas.
Lois heard the news with a broken heart. She cried inside for Clark who, she knew, was out there somewhere, in the ocean, trying to stop the wave. She knew he would be blaming himself for not stopping the devastation that had already occurred.
Lois wrote up the rest of the story and shut down her computer. When it was all over, one way or another, he was going to need her. It was time to head to the high ground.
Clark tried tunneling into the wave. He tried tunneling in front of it. He noticed that when he tunneled behind it, it slowed fractionally. A slim ray of hope edged its way into his subconscious. He traversed the ocean time and time again, taking small bites out of the wave.
Eventually, he tired, and had to surface to find sunlight and power. Resting momentarily, he took note of his progress. It looked as though he had no more than an hour to go before the wave would reach shallow water. He had a lot of work to do.
Lois sat in her Jeep waiting to get onto the bridge. Traffic was going nowhere. <So much for calm behavior,> she thought as she heard yet another volley of car horns.
She pulled into a parking lot and turned off her car. Glad she had changed into her workout clothes before leaving the Planet, Lois locked the vehicle and stretched a bit. It was going to be a long jog, she figured, before she got to a 'no traffic' area where someone might give her a ride. Grabbing her backpack with its ration of food, water, and micro-recorder with tapes and batteries (she was, first and foremost, a reporter), Lois jogged to the base of the bridge and started the long climb.
She wasn't the only one who had the idea, however, and she was forced to walk over the bridge out of Metropolis with the thousands of others who had decided fleeing on foot was the way to go.
She began talking to the people around her, interviewing them, noting their observations. <This is going to be a hell of a piece. I wish Jimmy were here with his camera.> But Jimmy had gone hours ago, as she had asked him to. He had a motorcycle, and a good head start. She was certain he would be ok.
She was so lost in thought and conversation that Lois didn't notice she was being followed. The man was trim and, though he had a beard, he was clean looking. The light in his eye, however, wasn't exactly sane. That eye was trained menacingly on Lois.
When Clark was sure he couldn't swim any more, the wave started to crest. He felt it building on itself as it slammed into the coastal shelf.
It was huge.
But it was nowhere near as big as the one that had destroyed the coastal towns of Southern England.
It had worked. He'd done it. Relief ran through him as he watched the outlying buildings fall under the wave.
There would be casualties. There would be fatalities. But he had done it. He had done his best, and though he hadn't been able to save everyone, he *had* made a difference.
Soaking in the late-day sunlight, he felt a weight fall off him — a weight he had carried since he watched his mother died.
He needed to find Lois and celebrate.
Two hours later, he still hadn't found her. Booting her computer at the Planet, he had found the last story she had submitted. The story of the wave, where it had come from, and how the Guardian was going to try to stop it. Although she tried to sound passive, the fear still came through in her writing. There was no clue as to where she would go to seek shelter, though. If he had his powers to help in the search, he would keep going. But he was fresh out of 'normal' ideas to follow.
Clark wrote up an accompanying article, summarizing the after-effects of the wave. He had called all of the emergency services and had interviewed several sad but relieved public officials. He cautiously added a short interview of the Guardian, justifying it by the fact that he and the Guardian were known to be acquainted. If asked, he could state that the Guardian checked on him after the worst was over.
Stepping up to Perry's office, Clark knocked lightly and walked in.
"You look whipped, son."
"It's been a long day, Chief. I still can't believe you didn't leave town with the rest of the sane folks…"
"Well, Alice is out visiting our oldest, so I was on my own. I figured I'd baby-sit the paper, since most of the roads were so clogged with traffic." Perry sighed. "It's been a long day for all of us. And it looks like it's getting longer. Stories of looting and all sorts of mayhem are drifting in now. And the Guardian's out of commission. I guess stopping all that water tired the guy out."
"Between you and me, I think this just about did him in. That's not something the criminal element needs to know, though. Speaking of tired, I'm heading home. If you hear from Lois, Chief?"
"You'll be the first to know. Good work on this story."
Clark nodded his thanks and walked to the elevator. He wished he had his enhanced hearing so that he could hone in on her heartbeat. It seemed to be all he could do to put one foot in front of the other — but he had to find her… he had a bad feeling. Making up his mind, Clark went to his apartment, borrowed his neighbor's bicycle, and began searching.
Lois had just stopped for a minute. She wanted to get out her notebook to jot down some of the observations while they were fresh in her mind before she turned around and headed back toward the bridge and Metropolis.
She had heard on one of the car radios that the Guardian had stopped the tsunami. Metropolis still wasn't safe — the number of rescue personnel was low and the number of emergency situations high. The riff-raff were taking advantage of a custom-made situation. But that didn't scare Lois. She needed to be back in the city — her city — with Clark.
As she stood back up, straightening her pack, she felt a strong grip on her elbow. Looking over her shoulder, she was amazed to see Chronos/Tempus smiling at her.
"Well, as I live and breathe, if it isn't Lois Lane, intrepid reporter."
"And you're Tempus — loser from the future. Am I right? Do I win a prize?"
The look in his eye told Lois that Tempus hadn't expected her to know who he was, and he certainly hadn't expected her snappy attitude — not with her world under attack. Then awareness dawned in his eye.
"I guess Herb caught up with you, the meddling idiot. How is old Herb, anyway?"
"Don't know. Haven't seen him in a few days. When I do, I'll be sure to tell him you said hi. Now, if you don't mind, I've got an un-evacuation to go on with."
"Oh, I don't think this group will miss you." Chuckling, Tempus pulled Lois off the road and toward an alley. When Lois tried to resist, Tempus shook his head and revealed the small, nasty looking gun he had aimed at her. Reluctantly, she went with him. As Lois suspected, no one said anything, even though she was practically being kidnapped. People were all concerned with their own fates.
"Don't worry; I just need you for insurance. I don't have any designs on your virtue. I never could understand who would find himself attracted to such an obvious moron, anyway. Speaking of idiots — " Tempus paused, looking at Lois with a question. " — where's your partner?"
Lois weighed her options for a minute. If Tempus were from the future, he, like Wells, would know that Clark was the Guardian. Telling him would not reveal anything, but might throw him off his beat, anyway.
"He's off trying to clean up the mess you've made."
Tempus's eyes widened in surprise and mock-humor.
"Oh, ho ho! So you know his little secret?! Tell me, my dear, how long did he let you make a fool of yourself over the Guardian before he told you the truth? Hmmm? And how galactically stupid did you feel, being fooled by a pair of glasses and a mask?" The warmth in his voice was betrayed by the ice in his eyes. This was a man filled with hate, and toying with him could be dangerous.
"Oh, I know you'll be disappointed to hear this, but I figured it out myself. I take it my counterparts didn't?"
Tempus eyed her with more respect.
"No, they're all, almost without exception, twits."
Deciding to go on the offensive, Lois went on the hunch that Tempus didn't know the overwhelming problem H G Wells had alerted Clark and her of. "Well then, it's too bad that I, the least-twit-like Lois Lane, and my universe are disappearing. Right?"
Trying to hide the uncertain question in his eye, Tempus ushered Lois into a large, abandoned warehouse. She noticed the peeling paint and had a hunch it was lead-based, so that it would shield Clark's vision. Tempus moved toward a small vehicle that Lois suspected was his time machine. As he set the dials, he turned to her.
"Disappearing? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just what I said." Lois turned to him and looked coldly at him. "Your efforts to destroy this pre-Utopian society were wasted. My universe, and most all others, are dying."
Tempus's eyes narrowed as he observed Lois. "I do believe that you do believe what you're saying, Ms. Lane." Pushing her into a chair, Tempus quickly, efficiently, and tightly tied Lois down before continuing, "Of course, you could only have gotten that information from Herb. And he's a regular saint — never lies, unfortunately. You don't know how I wish that man could be corrupted. He's just not human! Anyway, it should be easy enough to verify…"
Playing with some of the instruments on his machine, Tempus smiled wickedly. "There it is! You're right! No Utopia here! Whoo-hoo!"
"Aren't you overlooking something, Tempus? No Utopia, no Tempus…"
At this thought, Tempus paused. Typing furiously into his instruments, he didn't notice the light that flashed outside the warehouse window.
Clark was pedaling toward the base of the Millard Fillmore Bridge. He had thought about checking Lois's other logical escape route first, but something drew him here. It had been rough traveling through Metropolis. Once the police started getting situations under control, people started trickling then flooding back into the city. Going against the flow, without his powers and feeling weaker than a human baby, Clark found his journey slow.
The walkway was still crowded with people, though it was no longer packed, as it had been hours before. Still, Clark hesitated to ride a bicycle through the crowd. As Clark chain-locked the borrowed bicycle at the base of the bridge, H G Wells walked up to him.
"Clark, so glad I've found you! I've located Tempus and would like your help when confronting him!"
Clark looked down at the smaller man. "Sorry, but I'm trying to find Lois. I have a feeling that she needs me right now."
"That's probably correct. Tempus has your Lois Lane with him. Not that she couldn't get away from him under her own impetus, mind you, but…"
"Well, let's go!" Clark interrupted impatiently.
"Right, right. Of course. They're just down the road a pace — not too far, but I believe we should take a taxi? I have one here…" Leading the larger man, Wells walked to a taxi stand that was empty. "Well, there was one here." He looked around, confused.
Sighing, Clark whistled to a passing empty cab. The first cab merely drove on, but the second stopped. After they got into the car, Wells gave the driver the address.
"Now, he has her in a warehouse. It's probably lead- lined…" A look in Clark's eye startled Wells into silence. Then he noticed that the driver was listening to their conversation quite closely. And he had almost revealed Clark's secret.
Sighing, Clark picked up the conversation, "So if there is any radiation, she should be fine. That's a relief."
Wells nodded. "Yes, exactly what I was going to say. So. Umm. That wave. Shame about that, eh?"
Clark rolled his eyes and shook his head at Wells's attempt at small talk. "Yeah, it was terrible. Not as bad as they expected, though. Thank God."
"Well, I think everyone has the Guardian to thank for that!" Wells nodded, tapping Clark's arm as if conveying a secret message. Clark simply smiled and nodded.
The cab pulled up outside the warehouse, and Wells got out quickly as Clark paid the driver. Clark got out behind him, and the cab drove away, leaving a musty exhaust cloud on the damp, cool air.
"They're in there?"
"You can't tell?"
"No, and I don't seem to have any powers right now. But that doesn't mean I can't help Lois…" Clark trailed off. Seeing a window on the side of the building, he decided to do a little Lois-style reconnaissance. The window was dirty and cracked, and the room inside dim. Clark could make out Lois, sitting in — tied to?- a chair, talking to a man — probably Tempus. She looked like she was arguing with him. In spite of the gravity of the situation, Clark smiled. So like Lois to argue in any circumstance.
Motioning to Wells to stay quiet and well behind, Clark went around the building, looking at possible entrances and exits. As he paused next to a partially-open door, Clark listened to the conversation.
"This cannot possibly be right. Chaos should beget chaos! Not…" Tempus's voice sounded frustrated and was accompanied by the sound of typing on a machine.
"Emptiness? Nothingness? You're honestly surprised that your actions might have consequences outside your own plans? And you say *Clark* is egocentric."
Clark edged closer, trying to determine if he could open the door silently. Wells came up behind him, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside. He didn't judge the distance between Clark and himself well, though, and pushed Clark into the door. The resounding squeak of un-oiled hinges echoed through the warehouse.
Clark turned a frosty glare upon the well-meaning time- traveler, who had the good sense to look embarrassed.
"Well, Ms. Lane, it looks — or rather sounds — as if we have company. I assume it's Herb and the muscle-bound moron? Hmmm? Come out, come out wherever you are!"
Pushing the door fully open, Clark motioned for Wells to stay behind him as he walked into the room. When he crossed the threshold into the main warehouse, he felt the presence of Kryptonite. Looking helplessly at Lois, who was, indeed, tied down in a chair, he tried to ignore the pain coursing through his muscles.
"Ahh, I see from the look in your eyes you recognize the present I have for you. Here, catch!" Tempus laughed as Clark tried to deflect the small green rock that careened at him.
Stepping from behind the rapidly-weakening hero, Wells picked up the kryptonite and wrapped it in some lead foil. "See here, Tempus. What is the point of this? You know the game's up! The time police will be here at any moment."
"Except, Herb, that according to these readings — " Tempus indicated a screen on his time machine. " — there will be no time police in this universe. And it's just really too bad that you're the only one who seems to be able to track me down time after time. No pun intended. I think I'll live the rest of my life happily enough here — after I dispose of these two, of course.
"Oh," Tempus continued, directing his attention to Clark, who was struggling to stay standing, "muscle-head, in case you get any ideas, the chunk Herb just covered ain't nothing compared to this one." Grinning, Tempus held up a large chunk of Kryptonite. "A scientist friend of mine figured out how to manufacture this stuff. Even figured out how to make it not glow, so I could mix it in paint. Don't you like the decor of this room? Lead on the outside, Kryptonite on the inside."
The other three people in the room looked around in horror. The paint on the walls in places looked fresher than others, and definitely had a green hue. The poison surrounded Clark. He sank to the floor, helpless against the pain.
Renewing her efforts to free herself, Lois watched as Clark fought the effects of the alien substance. Clark had said it could kill him, and she couldn't let that happen. The world needed him. She needed him. But the ropes simply wouldn't give. She couldn't help him, and he couldn't help himself. He was already weak from battling the wave — he had nothing left to battle the Kryptonite. Though her wrists and ankles felt chafed to the bone, she struggled harder as she watched him labor to breathe.
Wells looked on the scene, trying to decide what to do. The pacifist in him argued that violence was never the answer. He could fight Tempus here, and maybe, if there were some huge amount of luck on his side, he could win. He was fresh out of inspiration for any other idea, though. Straightening his spine and jutting his chin, Wells raised his fists in his best boxer's stance and approached Tempus.
"I'm afraid, you villain, that you leave me no choice in the matter. Defend yourself."
Tempus gazed, open mouthed, at the comical sight before him, and then roared with laughter. "Oh, Herb, Herb," he huffed between laughs, "you slay me. Defend myself."
Something in Wells broke at that point. All of his ideals flew out the window, leaving only a red haze of anger. His boxing training from his youth kicked in, and he threw a quick left jab into Tempus's solar plexus. As Tempus bent over in surprise and pain, Wells placed a powerful right hook across Tempus's jaw. Shaking his hand to try to get rid of the pain, Wells looked down in satisfaction at the semi-conscious Tempus.
Bending down, Wells grabbed the gun that Tempus had used to coerce Lois to the warehouse. After he checked to make sure Tempus was still incapacitated, Wells went quickly to Lois and began to untie her. The two of them worked quickly and freed Lois, who ran to Clark's silent form. Wells kept the gun trained on Tempus, who began to stand.
The superhero lay pale on the warehouse floor. He smiled weakly at Lois. "We did good, didn't we?"
"Yeah, yeah. Now get up off your butt and let's get out of here." Lois tried to help Clark to his feet, but his extra- dense structure made him impossible to lift. "Clark, you have to help me out here."
Clark took a shaky breath and shook his head. "Can't. No strength left." Closing his eyes, he leaned into Lois.
"Clark. Clark!" Lois shook him as before her eyes, his skin paled.
"Well, at least *something* in my plan worked." Tempus laughed.
"Oh, shut up, you fiend." Wells tightened his grip on the weapon. Though Wells's heart wept for the soul-mates in front of him, a more pragmatic question tickled his mind. If Clark died here, it would be one more change. Could the universe structure handle any more changes?
What would happen if it couldn't?
Clark's labored breathing was slowing. He took one last, gasping breath, then stopped.
Tears coursed down Lois's cheeks. She cradled the head of the fallen hero, lost in grief. She didn't even spare a glance at the other people in the room. There was no room in her heart for anger or accusations. There was simply a great hole. She felt as though she had lost half of herself. Bowing her head, she began to weep.
Tempus looked on with a smug grin. Turning to Wells, he smiled thinly. "Looks as though my work here is done, Herb. So sorry that your last-minute heroics couldn't save the day!" Attempting to step toward the time machine, Tempus stumbled. He shook his head as though to clear it, then stopped, his eyes closed.
As Wells looked on, the room began to change. It was as though a silent, cleansing wind rushed through. The room looked much the same, but somehow, it looked completely different.
Clark started changing before his eyes, too. His color became deeper once more, and he began breathing.
"Clark, Clark, you're going to be ok…" Lois was crying. But the tears weren't of hopelessness, they were of relief.
Tempus had undergone the most serious change. Or, rather, changes. One Tempus stood, looking as confused as Wells felt. Another Tempus knelt next to Clark and Lois, an empty hypodermic needle in his hand. He was dressed in disheveled jeans and a crumpled but clean button-down shirt. His hair looked as though he had been running his fingers through it for hours.
He looked like a scholar, and there was a mixture of concern and anger evident on his face. When his evil counterpart tried to rally himself, this new Tempus grabbed his arm in a martial arts grip and forced him to the chair.
Wells was completely confused.
Pulling out the instrument on his belt, Wells did some quick inquiries. Shaking his head, he tapped the instrument and tried the calculations again.
"Uncle Herb? I can explain what's going on here…" The 'new' Tempus turned to him after tying down his counterpart in the chair that had so recently held Lois. "I decided a few months ago to try to duplicate your time machine, even though the temporal laws forbid it. At first, my only motive was to study the past." Wells tried to interrupt, but Tempus held up his hand. "I've been very careful not to introduce any time-line changes. But, you have to admit, the opportunity for an historian to study Lois Lane and Clark Kent first-hand is more of an opportunity than I could be expected to turn down! Especially after you told me about the possible introduction of a time paradox here by my alternate universe counterpart! I knew this confrontation would happen here, tonight, and I've been lying in wait since my counterpart here arrived…"
Wells looked up, confused. He seemed to have two versions of his own memory now. One in which this universe had no future at all, and another in which he had influenced the life of a young, talented historian/scientist named Tempus to help him stop the murder of Clark Kent/ The Guardian.
Nodding slowly, Wells let the two versions of his own history meld.
"You did it. You protected Clark Kent."
New Tempus shrugged. "I did my best. From what I read, he would have used most of his energy battling that wave earlier today. It was a matter of getting my Kryptonite vaccine into him… not an easy task. How, exactly, do you inoculate an invulnerable man? I had to wait until he was weakened enough by the wave and the Kryptonite to give him the vaccine."
"You gave him a Kryptonite vaccine?" Wells asked in surprise. If the Guardian were immune to Kryptonite, history would once again be changed.
"Oh, don't worry. It's a short-term vaccine. It only works on a per-exposure basis, even in our own time. And not very well, even then. As you can see." Tempus nodded toward Clark, who, though rousing and looking healthier, was still looking rather ill. "Maybe someday the vaccine will be fixed, but not here, not now. That would change the future, and I promised I wouldn't do that. We'll still have our own problems with the green poison in the future. I'd say if it weren't for that, with all of the Guardian's descendants, the future would be paradise — almost Utopia. We're not far off as it is. At least, I hope we're not?" he asked Wells, who was consulting his own instruments again.
"Yes, yes. Your future is intact. And your universe is headed toward Utopia."
"Oh, puhleese." The alternate Tempus, who had been silently watching his counterpart, could no longer hold in his derision. "How could *you* be a traitor to your own future"
Tempus smiled. "I'm an amateur historian by hobby and a scientist by trade. The only way I could be a traitor to my own future would be to sabotage it. If you attempt to change the past, you risk changing the very circumstances that created you. The one thing you and I seem to have in common is a love of our own existence. You threatened my existence. I stopped you. Now I can enjoy my own life. I'd suggest you find a way to do the same, unless you're too stupid or too crazy to figure out how."
Alternate Tempus narrowed his eyes. "*You're* calling *me* crazy?"
Tempus considered for a second before replying, "Either that, or your mother dropped you on your head when you were a baby." Pulling out a device, Tempus activated a button. Within seconds, a team of time police had come into the room and taken custody of Alternate Tempus.
"Oh, go ahead. Take me to prison. Again. I'm so disgusted right now. My own flesh and blood…" He continued to mutter as he disappeared into the time window.
This new Tempus smiled then walked to the couple who were still on the floor. As he kneeled next to them, he noticed that Clark seemed to be coming around.
"How…" Clark began, but Lois interrupted him.
"Shhh. Everything's ok. Chronos is gone. The Kryptonite isn't going to kill you."
Clark smiled weakly. "That much I can tell."
Tempus interrupted them, "I'm sorry, but you've got to get him out of here. The vaccine I gave him only works for limited exposure. I promise I'll clean this place up and get rid of the stuff."
Lois looked at the stranger — so much like the Chronos/Tempus man who had tried so hard to ruin her world. Yet, somehow, he was different. Deciding to trust him, she nodded. "OK. Clark, can you move yet?"
Clark nodded and braced himself. With the help of Tempus and Lois, he hobbled out of the warehouse and into the evening air.
Wells followed at a discreet distance.
"Good luck to you two. You're gonna need it." Tempus smiled wryly.
"Never mind," Lois said, "We don't want to know!"
Wells put a hand on Tempus's shoulder. "Can you go back in there and start working on the cleanup? I'd like to talk to Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent." When Tempus had left, Wells looked at the tired couple. "You know, protocol says I'm supposed to remove this episode from your memories. Your knowledge might change the timeline."
"A timeline that wasn't supposed to exist until five minutes ago?" Clark asked. "Anyway, I don't think you have much to worry about from us. We won't tell a soul. After all, who'd believe us?!"
Wells nodded. "As I thought. I'm going to go help the young Tempus clean up that room, then we're going to be on our way. It was, once again, a true honor and pleasure working with you two."
Lois laughed lightly. "Thanks. Pardon me if I say I hope we don't do it again… any time!"
Wells turned and walked back into the warehouse.
Lois turned to Clark. "I'm kind of curious, though. If our troubled future creates a good Tempus, but Utopia produces that Chronos guy — do you really think Utopia will be paradise?"
Hearing a loud gun shot in the distance, Clark grimaced. "I don't know, and I don't think we're ever going to have the opportunity to find out." Looking down into her eyes, Clark suddenly smiled. "But, that's ok. I think we can find our own kind of perfect life together. Don't you?"
Lois smiled back. "I'm certainly willing to try. Shall I hail us a taxi?"
The couple walked back toward the main streets together, confident in their own future.
Begun 1 Aug 2001
Finished (or close to it) 15 May 2003
Please note first off that this story had been in my mind ever since I saw the special on Mega Tsunamis on TLC (yes, they're real. Yes, La Palma is falling apart. Yes, someday, our east coast and most of the coast of Western Europe are going to be wiped out by a giant tidal wave). I started writing the story pre-9/11. I stopped writing this story 9/11. But this is the first long story I've wanted to write. Sorry if it offended anyone.