By Chrys (ChaaBreh) Apruzese < firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: June, 2004
Summary: In this Alt-Universe tale, Alt Clark travels to the Congo to locate Alt Lois Lane, lost for nearly a decade as a refugee from the civil unrest in that war-ridden country. Now that there is a chance that they might finally be together, can they escape the dangers that conspire to keep Lois from ever returning to the United States alive?
The standard disclaimer applies. I do not own any rights to Lois & Clark, or any of the other characters which solely belong to D C Comics and Warner Bros. This is written purely for the enjoyment of the fans of the TV show Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. c "I Knew I Loved you" by Savage Garden}
Thanks to my GE, Lynn M., for all of her hard work on this!
Summary: It's been seven years since Alt-Clark last saw "our" Lois, when he filled in for her husband in "our" dimension. "Our" Clark was missing in a time vortex at the hands of (who else but..?) Tempus. Alt-Clark found himself hopelessly fixated on Lois, and they nearly kissed, but they both realized how wrong it would be. Of course, "our" Clark was eventually saved and reunited with "our" Lois. Back in Alt-Clark's world, the "alternate" dimension, he's been unable to find his Lois, who disappeared 10 years ago, after arriving in the Congo. He has resigned himself to a lonely life and does not date. Our old friend, H.G. Wells, did come through for him to lessen his burden somewhat; but a life without a Lois Lane in it is unfulfilling at best! One day, an e-mail sent to the Daily Planet from the Congo renews Clark's hopes of finding and falling in love with his one true soul mate.
The Alternate Universe — March 2003
Brazzaville, Republic of Congo — Also known as "Congo- Brazzaville"
Lois couldn't believe that the war was finally over. Agreements had been forged; the rule of law would be restored. Ten years of living in many different refugee camps, always on the run, with fighting and bloodshed all around her, had hardened her. Companions, friends of necessity, had been killed, raped, died of illness. Contacts to the outside world had disappeared in the middle of the night. Just her dumb luck that she somehow lived through it!
Now it was time to find her life's purpose again. It might actually be safe to try to go home. Home — Metropolis — where rumors of her death had been greatly exaggerated. She would have one helluva first-hand account of the horrors of the Republic of Congo. Not *exactly* the story she came here to write, though.
She had read that Luthor was dead. His goons had made sure that she never got back to the states. Her family had been threatened, had she published the story she traveled to Brazzaville to write. Luthor Corp was supplying weapons to the rebels. She had been lead on a wild goose chase, the primary purpose of which was to get her out of the United States.
She let herself be censured, simply because it was safer for everyone she loved. It broke her heart to let them think she was dead. Rather than murder her, she had been stripped of her identity — no passport, Visa, driver's license, no credit cards, nothing to verify to anyone that Lois Lane had ever existed. Left in an unfriendly, hostile, war-torn country, her return airplane ticket destroyed. Truly a punishment worse than death: living hell.
She was "Linda", to anyone that asked her. No last name, not that it mattered, or that she needed one. How the heck could she leave this God-awful place with no way to verify her identity? Even if she had the money to buy a ticket, she would have to produce a photo I.D. just to pick up her ticket and board the plane. What a disaster. Ten years of her life sucked up in a black hole!
The infrastructure in the Republic of Congo left quite a bit to be desired. Communication lines were poor. While there were some cellular phone services, no one but the extremely wealthy had the internet or a computer in their home. She had been able to read a few Brazzaville newspapers, particularly Le Choc. She liked the name of that paper because it reminded her of her love for chocolate. Funny how something so silly can remind you of home. Le chocolate. Oui oui!
It was also a blessing of sorts that she had been forced to take four years of French in high school, since English and other language translators were non-existent. She found it easier to read than to speak at first, but after ten years she was quite fluent.
Lois had read that Congo-Brazzaville had been named the world's worst city to live in. Well, a decade of civil unrest will do that to a place. Even after the Ninja rebels ceased their warring with the government, there were still many injustices occurring, such as famine, disease, AIDS, rape. This was not a woman- friendly place. The average Congo-lean woman lived to be 50. Of course the life expectancy for a man was 47, mostly because of the many wars.
How she missed the peace and quiet of Metropolis. Metropolis to Brazzaville was like comparing some back-water town in say, Kansas, to Metropolis. <Hmmm>, she wondered to herself, <why did Kansas come to mind? I've never been there. Oh yeah, that's where that Superman/Clark Kent that I read about is from. Guess that full-body picture of him in Le Choc made quite an impression on me.> She smiled at the thought — something she hadn't done in a long time. Her facial muscles silently thanked her. Less stress on them today than usual!
OK, now, how to get home? Write to Lucy or her parents (if they hadn't moved in ten years, a big IF) and tell them to wire her money to buy an airplane ticket to Metropolis? Even still, could they find her birth certificate too so she could get a Visa and a passport?
Or should she try to find an internet caf‚ and sign up for a web- based E-mail address and — then what- send the Daily Planet general mailbox an e-mail message? They will probably think she's a — what do they call it? spammer. That's it. The world had changed in ten years, and the internet and e-mail was the primary form of communication. Le Choc had said that "spamming was the 21st century's bad version of a door to door salesman". She couldn't wait to experience it firsthand. Right about now, any kind of mail — electronic or otherwise — would be a welcome friend.
Well, it was worth a try. Tomorrow, she'd try to get to an internet caf‚, stand in line for several hours, probably, and look up the Daily Planet's web site. She just hoped there was someone still working there who knew who she was. She would also try to search on-line for her parents' and Lucy's addresses, as a back-up plan. Omigod! What if her parents were no longer alive? Why hadn't that thought occurred to her before? A sickening feeling came over her. She needed to go home, ASAP.
Metropolis, New Troy
Clark looked at his watch. Oops. Due in Smallville 45 minutes ago. Oh well, no problem; there was a one hour time difference and he could get there in less than ten minutes. Lana's baby boy was due to be christened, and he was to be the Godfather. He pondered on the irony of his being the Godfather when he could have been, maybe *should have* been, the father, instead. Fate had something else in store for him, he guessed. He hoped that fate would hurry up a bit! But he was happy she had married Pete and pleased to be part of an extended family to their son, Christopher Peter Ross. Ma and Pa would be there too. He couldn't wait to bite into one of Ma's freshly baked apple pies. Family stuff kept him grounded.
He made the mistake of looking at her picture again before he flew off. The picture that had been taken of her in the crowd, back in 1996, that he had had enlarged. Blurry as it was, every time he looked at it his heart skipped a beat. In the seven years that had passed since he last saw her, he had tried to move on. He didn't date anyone, but he kept busy with freelance writing for the Planet and his Superman duties. He resigned himself to the fact that he was, in his heart and soul, a one-woman man. Even if that woman was not readily accessible to him. Who knew if she was even still alive?
Herb had stopped by right before the new Millennium, in the fall of 1999. He had promised Clark that he would look for his Lois, but the research he had done indicated that there was no way he could survive in the Congo. A Caucasian older man, wearing a bowler hat in the middle of Ninja rebel fighters, would stick out like a sore thumb! He suggested to Clark that if it was meant for him to be with his Lois, it would have to happen by the hand of fate, not by the hand of Wells. It seemed to Clark that the fate thing was beginning to be overrated. Something people said to placate you when they knew you were suffering emotionally, and they couldn't help. It's fate, they say. If it's meant to be, it *will* be, they say. "Que sera, sera" and all that baloney!
Somehow, he felt that Herb actually knew more than he had disclosed. After all, he could travel into the future and would know if Lois reappears or not!! Herb's ominous comment about "fate" indicated to him that he was afraid of changing history by spilling the beans. The Lois-beans!
Clark had done his own cursory search, but he was bound by his agreement with the United Nations not to get involved in a country's civil unrest. Like Herb, a flying man in bright blue spandex in a war zone was not an easy thing to hide. His Superman persona existed to save lives, and he was bound by oath not to get involved in politics. Besides, the unfriendly terrain of the area made it difficult to search for one lone woman.
In his mind, he had given up on his Lois being alive. He also knew that Clark's Lois could never be his. So he had conjured up a fantasy Lois, one that existed just for him. He didn't have to share her with anyone. She was already in love with him. They complemented and completed each other.
He shared his horror stories with her after a particularly challenging rescue mission. An entire conversation took place in his mind. She provided comfort to him when he felt he wasn't fast enough, or clever enough.
When a part of him wanted to curl up in the fetal position and cry for hours, she saved his sanity and his soul, and enabled Superman to be there for the next tragedy. He drew his strength from her. He felt a true spiritual connection to her.
He could feel her warm body cradled in his arms when he slept at night. His dreams of being with her were so vivid he actually felt he was communing with her on a higher level. He hated waking up in the morning, because that was when he had to say goodbye to her.
He lived his days one at a time, and his bed became his Fortress of Solitude, where he could be one with the woman he would always love. There was a part of him that realized that some would think he was crazy!
It was acceptable to be an eight year old child with pretend friends, carrying on conversations with them in your room at night by yourself. But when you're in your late thirties, and you had a pretend lover/best friend, it was quite pathetic. Nonetheless, it kept him going. Superman? No, he was Super-Fool- In-Love.
Nonetheless, he didn't focus on or plan on Lois showing up alive some day. He just knew that there was a connection, real or imagined, between his soul and hers.
He arrived at the farmhouse through the underground tunnel he had fashioned, and spun out of the suit. Jonathan and Martha were sitting on the loveseat out on the front porch, enjoying an unseasonably warm March day. Well, spring was only a week away. Not that the calendar controlled the weather. Freak snow storms in April and May have happened before in Kansas.
He could smell the pie baking in the kitchen. Home, sweet home. Always a great place for a busy Superman to visit. It sure wasn't always like that, he mused. When you lose something, boy do you appreciate it when you get it back. Herb had his good and bad points, but he owed him one big time for this. It almost made up for living in a sans-Lois world.
Clark walked out to the porch. Martha stood up and gave him a big hug and kiss.
"Honey, there are some chocolate-chip cookies in the jar. Help yourself!"
"Ma.the pie would have been enough!"
"Clark.I'm here to spoil you and I love doing it. You know that!" Martha insisted.
As soon as Clark went back inside, Martha remarked to Jonathan, "He's so much like *our* Clark, it *still* makes me want to cry!"
"I know, Martha, and he feels the same way towards us in some ways. But remember, we're a lot older than his folks were when they died. It's probably easier for him to adjust to us because we look a lot different to him. Now, at age 37, he's close to the same age that his folks were when they were killed. On the other hand, to us, he looks *just* like our boy. They could have been twins."
"Jonathan, do you ever think about *our* Earth anymore?" Martha asked. "After all, it's been more than three years since our arrival here."
"I think about it every day, and when I do, I want to kiss *this* Earth's ground. If Herb hadn't come for us when he did, we would have been made slaves of Lord Nor's and be working hard labor the rest of our lives. I miss our friends, but once Clark and Lois were killed, what was really there for us anyway?" Jonathan asked.
"True, I know, honey," said Martha. She remembered the day as clearly as if it were yesterday.
A *very* different Alternate Universe Fall of 1999
"Jonathan and Martha, please join me over here," whispered an Englishman, wearing a bowler hat, as loudly as he could without attracting attention.
Both Kents spun around in the direction of the voice. It appeared to be coming from the bushes over to the left of where they were working, or rather, slaving.
Lord Nor's watchdogs were distracted for a moment by the current execution taking place. This time it was the Mayor of Smallville, Pete Ross, and Sheriff Rachel Harris. Little by little, any semblance of the previous non-Kryptonian leadership was being eliminated.
It had tragically begun with the most prominent of all Smallville citizens, Superman/Clark Kent and his wife, Lois Lane. First, Clark had been exposed by the New Kryptonians to be Superman. Next he was jailed in a Kryptonite cage and Lois forced to watch while her husband's life essence slowly faded away.
Immediately after Clark's death, Lois was fatally shot by a gun loaded with Kryptonite bullets. Lord Nor felt it was the supreme irony to have Lord Kal-El's earthly wife assassinated using the remains of their dead planet. Jonathan and Martha were spared, because it was deemed that they would suffer more alive than dead. Lois had been three months pregnant at the time of her murder. They had lost their son, daughter-in-law and future grandchild, all in one day.
New Kryptonian scientists had discovered an antidote for Kryptonite. It involved receiving an injection every several weeks, and it had to be administered in a special laboratory environment illuminated with red sun radiation.
Immediately after receiving the treatment, the patient was rendered powerless for approximately 24 hours. Because of that unfortunate side-effect, all New Kryptonians that had relocated to earth were placed on a rotating schedule for these shots; this would ensure adequate police coverage at all times.
Of course, now that Kal-El was dead, they could make plans to eliminate all remaining Kryptonite on earth. It had served its purpose well. Soon, they would control the entire planet!
Jonathan and Martha slowly worked their way over to the bushes, pretending to be picking up debris from the grass. Martha held Jonathan's hand tightly, as she had remained in an almost comatose state of mind since Clark and Lois' deaths. A blank stare permeated her facial features.
"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Kent, my name is Herbert George Wells. I'm so pleased to meet you both."
The voice came from within the shadows of the bushes. Jonathan was briefly blinded by a reflection of sunlight in his eyes, so he assumed the voice owned a pair of glasses.
"Mr. — Wells is it? This is really not a good time," Jonathan whispered.
"I need you to come with me, with no questions asked. I promise that it will save your lives," pleaded Wells.
"My wife is in no shape to travel. We just lost our beloved son and daughter-in-law. Besides, it won't take much for the "S.O.B.s" to kill us, just for talking to you," said Jonathan. "Please, reach out for my hand and place your palm on the cold metal you will feel there. I promise, you won't regret this. I will explain everything straight away," asserted Wells, using his most authoritative tone. They simply must go with him!!
Feeling a flash of spontaneity, Jonathan decided he had nothing to lose and poked his hand, along with Martha's, through the bushes. When flesh connected with cold steel, the world suddenly became a kaleidoscope of colors and three-dimensional tunnels. Waves of nausea overcame both of them and they passed out.
When they opened their eyes, they were in a very different Smallville. No sign of the New Kryptonians. It was quiet and very peaceful. They were lying on the grass in front of what looked to be their farmhouse. It had an eerie, ghostly appearance to it, however. It needed paint, the grass was not freshly mowed, and there were no cars in the driveway.
Herb came out of the house. Jonathan and Martha had never seen his face clearly, but they assumed he was their traveling companion.
"Mr. Wells, I presume?" said Jonathan.
"Indeed, Mr. Kent. Welcome to a very different Smallville, and a better world for you to live in," declared Wells.
Wells then proceeded to explain in great detail about his great creation, his time machine, and how he had discovered a portal to alternate universes as well.
How this Earth's Clark Kent had lost his parents in a fatal car crash when he ten years old. How he had bounced around in foster care as a teenager. How Lana Lang's family had been the only stability he had.
How the Lois of this world, his one true soul mate, had yet to surface. How lonely Clark was. He even explained that another Lois had briefly showed up, convinced him to become Superman, broke his heart, and gone back to her world, to her Clark.
How jealous Clark was of that Clark, because he had his parents and Lois. How he had lost his secret identity almost immediately after introducing Superman to the world.
Jonathan and Martha shuddered to think that this Clark had to live his life in a fishbowl, with no family and no Lois to nurture him. Their hearts went out to him. The decided that they would be fine meeting with him; perhaps they could heal each others' emotional scars. That's what family was for, after all.
Wells explained to the Kents that Clark still owned the farmhouse, but seldom visited. There were too many sad memories. He was, however, unable to sell the farm. It was his one sole tie to family that he had. It had sentimental value to him.
Instead, he had recently been looking to rent it out. The price of rent would be restoring the farmhouse to its original glory and working the land again. Knowing that his family home would be filled with life again (and perhaps the magical smell of an apple pie baking in the oven), would be payment enough.
The realtor that Clark had hired to screen suitable prospective tenants and manage the property was none other than Clark's lifelong friend, Lana Lang! Wells divulged that Clark had been engaged to Lana, but their relationship fell apart when he met and fell in love with the other-world Lois, and subsequently became Superman. Lana, unable to accept Clark's true heritage and destiny, gave him an ultimatum: Superman or her. Superman, Metropolis, and the rest of the world, actually, came out the winners.
After several years had passed, they had become good friends again, and Lana was now engaged to Smallville's new Mayor, Pete Ross. She had taken real estate classes and now held her realtor's license. It gave her opportunities to network about town, and it helped further her future husband's political career at the same time.
The Kents couldn't believe the similarities between their two worlds. They had just watched their Pete Ross executed at the hands of the New Kryptonians. The agony of losing their Clark and Lois was still painfully close to the surface. Assuming that this world's Clark was OK with the idea, they would meet with Lana and live in the home, making it their own.
The biggest obstacle they would have to overcome was an identity crisis of sorts. Since they were considered legally dead in this Universe, who the HECK would they be? It was doubtful that the townspeople would recognize them as the Kents, since they had been dead for more than 25 years in this universe. In addition, since the underworld knew that Superman was Clark Kent, there might be a risk associated with keeping the Kent name. If a connection were made to Superman, their lives would be in danger. They'd be back to square one again. Herb mentioned that perhaps Lana, with all of her contacts, could help brainstorm the solution to this dilemma.
"Remain here. I will return shortly with your new son. I made some tea while you were resting," Wells advised. "Once Clark is apprised of the situation, I'm sure he will contact Lana, and together you can all figure out the proper details".
"OK, Herbert, we await your return," said Jonathan. "And, if I didn't say it before, thank you for saving us." Martha was sound asleep on the couch. She had hardly slept in the three days since they lost their Clark, Jonathan realized. It was good to see her resting. He was so glad for once that he had decided to be impulsive and grab Herb's hand! Right now he would be raking leaves under duress and watching yet another execution, had he remained in his universe.
Clark had just landed on the balcony of his apartment at 344 Clinton St. when he heard a knock on the door. Using his X-ray vision, he realized it was none other than the man that, at times, he had felt had ruined his life, H.G. Wells. What now? Was he coming to tell him that his Lois was definitely dead?
Spinning out of the suit into comfortable sweats, he reluctantly opened the door.
"Herb," he grunted, "come in, of course." <Respect your elders, Mrs. Lang would have said.>
"Clark, my boy, I have news. Please fly me and my machine to Smallville, and I will explain when we get there".
Clark sighed and spun back into his Superman persona. He knew better than to argue with Wells, after all these years. He knew that whatever the news was, it couldn't be about Lois, since she had no connection to Smallville.
They took off from the alley where Wells had hidden his time machine. Clark lifted the machine with Wells safely strapped inside. While they were flying, Herb pondered the events of the last several days.
He had made significant improvements to his time and dimensional travel technology in the last several years. A remote control device that could be hidden in one's palm could be activated by satellite link half a world away. Of course, this only worked in the late 20th century. But these days, he found the past (his present) dull and the future undeniably exciting!
The remote allowed him to bring the machine to wherever he was. He could also leave his machine in one dimensional universe and travel to another. The only problem was that the machine sent him to that exact spot in time and space in the other universe! He had landed in some embarrassing situations as a result, but..ah, all in the good name of scientific research!
Most recently, he had parked the machine adjacent to the vacant Kent farmhouse. He had been feeling badly that he couldn't locate the Lois of this universe. He just couldn't face Clark's sad face again without some good news for the upcoming Millennium. Somehow, he felt responsible for Clark's misery. If he couldn't find his Lois, maybe there was another alternate universe out there with a Lois without a Clark? Could it hurt to take a look around?
When he arrived in that other Smallville, the Clark and Lois of that world were already dead. The Kents, of course, were grieving badly. Suddenly, a light bulb went off in Herb's head. He had picked this universe quite by chance, but here was an opportunity to perhaps bring a family back together! He just hoped his meddling would have a positive ending to it, after all.
Clark gingerly dropped the machine and its occupant down in front of the farmhouse. His enhanced hearing, however, had picked up heartbeats inside the living room. His pulse racing with excitement, he sped into the house without waiting for Herb to free himself and accompany him.
Jonathan looked up and saw his dead son's face. It was unbelievable. Clark was alive again! "Martha, Martha, wake up!" he exclaimed. "Clark is here!"
Clark was transfixed, unable to breathe or move. They looked just like the other Clark's parents. He had met them when he had traveled to their universe to help out when Lois' Clark was missing. Had Wells brought them here just to tease him, only to bring them back to their Clark and Lois again? What was going on here?
"My boy, you didn't give me a chance to explain!" Wells sputtered as he entered the room, completely out of breath. "Clark Kent, meet Jonathan and Martha Kent!"
With Lana's help, they eventually came up with an explanation for their presence: "Joe" and "Mary" Lang would be Lana's aunt and uncle from the West Coast. They had always wanted to live on a farm, in their retirement years. They had relocated to the Midwest to be by their family, especially in light of their niece Lana's engagement to the newly elected Mayor of Smallville, Pete Ross.
Their landlord, Superman/Clark Kent, had taken an interest in them, since they were residing in his family home. Town folk remarked that since Clark had lost his parents at such an early age, he had adopted the Lang's, who had never had children of their own. He even called them "Ma" and "Pa" affectionately. It was only natural that Clark would bond with them, since Clark had been engaged to Lana, was always close to her parents, and now her aunt and uncle as well.
The town of Smallville had become an extremely close-knit community when it was made public that Clark Kent was indeed Superman. Outsiders coming in asking questions were shunned. No one gave interviews to the media. Clark's privacy was respected. It was a testimony to his character. Smallville was proud of their resident alien!
Clark had dug an underground tunnel from the basement of the farmhouse to the woods on the outskirts of town. This way, when he needed his Ma and Pa fix, no one would see him visiting them on a regular basis.
Their relationship had been a tad difficult at first, more so for the Kents than for Clark. The emotional pain of loss was very fresh for them, made worse by the fact that Clark's physical appearance was identical to that of their Clark. However, he warmed up to them right away. Herb had been right. He had brought a family back together. Clark's face was not quite as sad these days, and Martha was able to dispense Superman-type advice to Clark, based on stories her Clark had told her thru the years.
That Clark, often referred to as Martha's Clark, had been Superman since he was a teenager, when he was a freshman in college, at age 18. At Metropolis University, he felt the need to jump in and help out, so Martha fashioned a suit for him; he was called Superboy at first, then later, Superman. He had lots of super-experiences, and Martha would draw from her memories of the dilemmas and tragedies he had shared with her through the years. She did refrain from giving out too many details about their daughter-in-law, Lois. They realized how painful it was for their new son to hear. They prayed that his Lois would magically reappear one day and they would be a complete family once again.
Smallville, Kansas Present Day
"Clark, it's time to get to the church!" Martha said.
"Ma, those cookies are so good. I'm not going to have room for that apple pie," Clark smiled.
"Watching your figure again?" Martha teased. "Jonathan! Where did you go to now?"
"Right here, waiting for you, and the car's running, by the way," Jonathan said.
"Ok, you two, I'll meet you there." Clark spun back into the suit and flew back through the tunnel. It would not be advisable for all of them to arrive at the same time!
A reception at Lana and Pete's home followed the christening. Lana cornered Clark. "All right, please tell me that there is someone, other than Lois, that you at least find interesting, Clark!"
"Lana, I know you mean well, but pullllease.don't start up again. I'm doing fine. Look, I have a family now, not to mention you, Pete and the baby," Clark said. "That's all I really need."
"Clark, the Kents won't live forever, and as much as we love having you around, it's not the same! Please… I worry about you. I know in your heart you really believe that Lois will come back. What if she doesn't? You have already wasted more than seven years pining away for a ghost!" Lana scolded. "Will you at least go out on a date with a friend of mine? She's new in town and just relocated to Smallville. I sold her that little house that was up for sale forever next to the high school."
"Lana, you are really a broken record! You know I hate blind dates," Clark replied.
"So use your super-eyes and check her out ahead of time!" Lana joked. "Superman never needs to go out on a blind date!"
"Very funny. Well, if you want to invite her over for dinner some time, I could pop in and meet her. That's as far as I'll go," Clark negotiated.
"Deal!" exclaimed Lana. "You will be hearing from me shortly. Don't give me the 'bum's rush' again when I call you with the details, now, like you did the last time!"
"Lana, there was an earthquake in California. I wasn't avoiding you," Clark said, grinning broadly.
"Clark Jerome Kent! You most certainly were! There is a two hour time difference between Kansas and California. The TV said you left the scene at 3:00 p.m. Pacific time! You were due at my house at 6:00 p.m.! You do the math!" Lana became very animated. They had had this discussion soooo many times before. Clark always made up a Superman excuse to avoid dating. He was truly hopeless. But, as his friend, she couldn't give up on him.
Suddenly, Clark's beeper went off. "Lana, may I use your phone? The Daily Planet just paged me. It must be really important for them to call me on a Sunday!" Clark exclaimed.
"Sure, no problem," said Lana. "And we will continue this discussion again. And one of these days, in the not-so-far future, I will win out!" she laughed.
Clark was only a freelancer at the Planet these days. As the phone rang, he couldn't help but wonder what story could be so important to page him. This happened quite infrequently.
On the third ring, he heard, "Daily Planet, James Olson speaking".
"Mr. Olson, Kent here. I got your page. What's up?"
"Kent, thanks for calling back so quickly. Our webmaster received an interesting e-mail today. We're going to need Superman's help to determine if it's real or not," Olson said.
"Huh? Why, who was it from" Clark asked.
"Take a deep breath, Kent," Olson said. "I'll read it to you, verbatim:
*Hi Daily Planet. Remember me, Lois Lane? The war is over here, and I have no way to get back home. I'm in Congo — Brazzaville at an internet caf‚. Please reply to me at 'LLane@Yahoo.com'. I'm living in a refugee camp at the edge of the city. Everyone here knows me as 'Linda'. I have no ID, no money, just the clothes on my back. If you can, please contact Perry White. Have him e-mail me. He'll be able to verify that it's me.
P.S.I'm not a spammer, I promise!*
Clark dropped the receiver. In a flash, he spun into his Superman suit and headed back to Metropolis without saying goodbye to Lana, Pete, his folks, or his Godson. Could this be the hand of fate that Wells had mentioned? Or, better yet, was this proof that fate wasn't just a pacifying word, but a real destiny that one must be *very* patient for?
When Clark arrived at the Planet, Perry White was there as well. He was in his second term as Mayor of Metropolis. James Olson was in his office, staring at the computer screen. They both looked up simultaneously.
"Clark!" Perry shouted out. "It looks like our gal may still be still alive!"
"I'm going to fly right over there and find her," said Clark.
"Not a good idea" said Olson. "First of all, it's against your agreement with the U.N. They have their own people over there, and we need to try to work through them. Remember, war has just ended over there. We don't want the U.S. to be responsible for escalating things again. Superman represents the United States when he's overseas, and we don't even have a U.S. Embassy in Congo-Brazzaville anymore, it was closed in 1997."
"You can't expect me to just sit here and do nothing! I'll go over at night, no one will see me!" Clark exclaimed.
"Clark, I know your intentions are good, but even though the war is supposedly over, there are still Ninja rebels with weapons everywhere, and your presence may stir things up, as I said before. Innocent people may die, including Lois. If you go, you must go over there as Clark Kent, reporter, with the proper paperwork, and bring Lois home the politically-correct way," Olson stated.
"I have to agree with James on this, Clark," Perry said. "Superman bringing one lone female American refugee home when there are hundreds of thousands of displaced people over there just doesn't cut it!"
"But Clark Kent, foreign correspondent for the Daily Planet, bringing identification documents to a fellow co-worker; well, that is perfectly fine," interjected Olson.
"Foreign correspondent? Are you giving me a new position?" Clark inquired.
"Yes. While you're over there, you're the Daily Planet's foreign correspondent. It's dangerous over there, and even though you won't be dressed as Superman, you are the only one I feel safe sending over there to bring Lois home," said Olson.
Clark shrugged. "You've got a deal!" <Politics>, he muttered under his breath. <Lois could be dead by the time I find her, doing it the 'politically correct' way.> "When can I leave, then?" he asked. <Focus, Clark.the important thing is.I'll actually get a chance to meet and be with my Lois. However it has to happen, it doesn't matter. Just go with it>.
"Well, we have to arrange a ninety day Visa for you. For that, we will have to write a letter on Daily Planet letterhead explaining the purpose of your visit; you'll need to have a passport, a return airplane ticket, and a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate. Hmmm. Needles will break on your skin. How can we arrange for you to have that?" James asked.
"Well, I think it would have to be administered with a needle made with Kryptonite. I'll see Bernie Klein in the morning and see if STAR LABS can help me. Since I won't be using my powers much, a small amount of exposure to Kryptonite won't be that harmful," Clark said.
"All right, good. You work on that tomorrow, and I'll get the staff working on the other issues. Check back with me tomorrow afternoon. And Clark. bringing an American reporter missing for ten years home. that may be the stuff of Pulitzers, but at the very least, a Kerth."
Clark walked over to his desk and signed on to his computer. Even though he didn't report for work every day since he had been revealed to be Superman, the Planet kept a desk available for him to use when he wrote his exclusive Superman sagas. He opened his e-mail and clicked on "create mail". His heart was pounding out of his chest. He had to come off very professional and businesslike in this e-mail, because Lois probably didn't know who a Superman was, and she certainly wouldn't understand why he was utterly, pathetically, in love with her!
Subject: Your whereabouts
My name is Clark Kent, and I work for the Daily Planet. We received your e-mail and we are very grateful to know that you survived. I want you to know that I have been assigned to travel to Congo-Brazzaville and attempt to bring you home. I should be leaving in the next several days. I don't know how often you can get to an internet caf‚ to read your e-mail, but any information you can give me to describe your whereabouts would be very helpful.
As for myself, I am about 6' 2", dark brown hair and eyes, and I wear glasses. I have seen pictures of you dating back to 1993, before you disappeared <you were very beautiful>. If you could give me a description of how you currently look, I would appreciate it. If there is anything you would like me to bring to you from the states, let me know.
Best regards, Clark*
He clicked the "send" button with the mouse.
Clark shut down the computer. He hoped his message carried the correct tone. After all this time, things had to be perfect! She *had* to fall in love with him. In his heart, he knew it was meant to be. Clark got up and walked to James Olson's office. Perry was still chatting with him.
"Perry, have you tried to contact her sister Lucy, or her parents?" Clark asked.
"I lost track of Lucy's address, Clark. I think she moved to California to live with that well-heeled businessman she had met. I'm sure I can get our old friend Dan Scardino to locate her as well as her parents. I believe they were divorced," Perry said.
"Forget Scardino!" Olson interjected. "I didn't get rich in the computer software business for nothing! Give me their names and their last know addresses, and by tomorrow morning, you can bring a copy of this e-mail to them in person, if you like, Clark!" said James.
Clark laughed, remembering how James Olson made his millions. He was a hacker's hacker. There wasn't a computer system around that he couldn't break into. He might be the owner/publisher of the Daily Planet, but he still like to play around on the computer!
"Perry, great to see you," Clark said, shaking his hand. "Give my best to Alice. You'll both have to come to dinner at Ma and Pa's sometime. Courtesy of Superman Transportation."
"Just let me know, and we'll be there," Perry promised.
Several Days Later
Clark's powers were just starting to return to full force. The procedure required to administer the Yellow Fever vaccination took a lot out of him (as it required a needle coated with Kryptonite). As senseless as it all seemed (since there was no way he could catch Yellow Fever), all of the paperwork had been prepared flawlessly. The Planet had obtained a copy of Lois' birth certificate, as well as duplicate copies of her last Passport and driver's licenses. They had purchased two return plane tickets and prepared a written request to the Republic of Congo's government requesting that Ms. Lane be allowed to travel home to the United States. Just before he was ready to take off for the airport (as much as he hating flying any other airline than his own), Clark checked his e-mail. It was about 11:00 a.m., EST, and he had been warned to allow several hours at the airport for security and customs issues. Issues he typically never dealt with!
While he was waiting for new messages to load on the screen, he felt squeamish inside, like a teenager with his first crush! <1 new message! Could it be from — yes!>
Subject: Re: Your whereabouts
Clark, thank you so much for believing it's me. Let's see, how can I describe myself? I wear my hair up because it is quite long now but it's still dark brown/black. I'm quite thin, so I'm sure I look terrible. Funny, I never thought being skinny could be a bad thing! Good thing I can't look in a mirror on a regular basis.
There's an internet caf‚ in the foyer of the newspaper building LeChoc. That's where I'm writing this. My time is limited because there are others waiting to use the few terminals available. Currently I have to walk from the abandoned church where a lot of us are staying to get here. It's about a 3 mile walk on wet, swampy roads. There is no public transportation in Brazzaville.
Right now, Doctors Without Borders is treating hundreds of thousands of refugees. I'm trying to help out as best I can. WFP (World Food Program) is feeding us, but there's hardly enough food to go around. Children and the elderly suffer from severe malnutrition.
Still, life is better than before the war ended. We were hiding in the thick jungle forests at night and kept moving during the day. There is no U.S. presence here. The U.S. Embassy left Congo in 1997 and hasn't reopened. This is not a nice place, Clark. If I look at someone cross-eyed, they could put me in jail. Our U.S. laws mean nothing over here.
Your name sounds familiar! Aren't you the guy they call Superman? I saw your picture in Le Choc not long ago. I don't think you had glasses on in that picture though. Maybe I wasn't looking at your face! Don't wear that shiny spandex suit here; you'll stick out like a sore thumb. Light khaki-type clothing and boots is all you'll need. Oh, and it's the rainy season here in Brazzaville, so bring a light jacket too.
All I would like you to bring me is some clean clothes and a box of chocolates! Especially double fudge crunch bars! And, of course, some identification, so they'll let me on the plane back home.
I'm sure you'll be able to find me with those special powers of yours I read about. Unless it's all just a bunch of propaganda, of course. Anyway, there are others waiting to use the computer. I'm looking forward to meeting you; thanks again.
Clark gingerly clicked on the "reply" button:
Subject: Re: Your whereabouts
Lois, it's so good to hear back from you. This will be our last correspondence because I leave for Congo-Brazzaville this afternoon at 2:00 p.m., EST. The flight, with stops for refueling, is 18 hours, so I should arrive at approximately 2:00 p.m. your time, tomorrow, as you're six hours ahead of me.
Yes, I am also known as Superman, but on this trip, I will solely be Clark Kent, reporter, as I am not allowed by agreement with the United Nations to use my powers in a country that is in the midst of civil unrest or other political issues.
You will be happy to know that I will be bringing certified copies of your passport, birth certificate, and (expired) driver's license with me. I take it you are a chocolate lover, so I am bringing a variety with me, especially double fudge crunch bars! Perry and James have notified your family that you are alive, and they are all ecstatic to hear the news! You should have already received an e-mail from Perry, James, Lucy, and your parents. In fact, your mother went shopping on the Daily Planet's company credit card and selected some clothes for you, which I'm bringing with me as well.
Now it's up to me to bring you home safely and not disappoint everyone.
I will not be traveling with a laptop computer, but I believe I will be able to get on-line at the hotel I am staying at, which is Le Meridien-Brazzaville. Hopefully it will be fairly easy to locate you. If all goes well, a week from now, you will be home in Metropolis looking for a new apartment. James Olson told me that he is more than happy to offer you a position on staff at the Daily Planet again, if you would like it, of course! I believe he was to mention that in his e-mail, so I'm not speaking out of turn here.
I will e-mail you again upon my arrival in Brazzaville. If you can find a way to get to Le Meridien, perhaps the hotel will let you stay in the lobby until I get there. In any event, I am so looking forward to meeting you. Your reputation as a world-class investigative reporter is legendary.
P.S. It's not propaganda!*
Clark clicked "send" and took a deep breath.
Lois smiled when she read Clark's last e-mail. How great was this? The guy they called Superman was coming to bring her home personally. In some way, that made up for ten years of mostly pure hell. She just knew she was going to need therapy when she got back to the states! Watching women being ravaged by the rebels; the sound of war and destruction in her head every day; it was amazing that she didn't hate the entire male species. This Clark/Superman guy, he seemed nice. He *looked* nice, too. And, if Perry thought he was OK, well then, that was good enough for her. She decided she would let herself trust him, quite a feat for the woman formerly known as Mad Dog Lane.
She figured the only reason her life had been spared all these years was because of her martial arts training. That very first time one of those maniacs tried to grab her, she whirled around and made him sorry he was born! American women intimidated Congo- lean men because they were so much more assertive! Linda's reputation had kept her alive after Luthor's puppets had dropped her off in a refugee camp in the middle of the night, after strip-searching her! She had become a leader of sorts to the orphaned children and terrified women in the camps. Her experiences taking risks as an investigative reporter translated well to this environment. She had become more cunning and daring than ever. Congo-lean women who had spent their lives in subservient roles admired her. The rebel fighters kept their distance from her. Linda, l'ange d'Estats-Unis (Linda, the angel from the United States) was how she had been described by her companions.
Strange, how circumstances can change your outlook on life. Ten years ago, she had been a cocky, aggressive, somewhat unfriendly woman, trying to make good in a field considered to be dominated by men. Today, she was still aggressive but much more open and friendly. She now realized that human beings need each other. She had become much more philosophical about life. Living on the edge to finish a story was one thing, but in Congo-Brazzaville she had to live every day that way. While she had always been able to take risks in her job, she was less likely to put her emotions at risk. Now, le joie de vivre had taken over! Would she be around tomorrow? Who knows? She had lots of catching up to do when she returned to old l'Estats-Unis!
She positively glowed inside when she read Perry's e-mail. He seemed to be so happy she was alive. She couldn't believe he was Mayor of Metropolis! Never saw Perry as a politician. He was too honest and had way too much integrity.
And Lucy was married to some rich guy in California. Mom and Dad are divorced. <Now there's a surprise,> she thought to herself sarcastically. <Well, life is too short to be miserable. That's for sure.>
A new e-mail message popped up just before she logged off. <That's strange, it doesn't show who the sender is. Is this what they call spam?> The subject line was "WARNING".
<Well, I read that this is how spammers entice you to open their mail. Curiosity killed the cat. Well, they're not getting me. No one else knows my e-mail address. Must be junk,> she reasoned to herself, as she clicked on the "delete" button without opening it. <There! I'm going to be a 21st century woman yet!> she smiled to herself. There were people waiting to use the computer, and it was getting to be time to get back to the church, before it got dark.
Interlude — Metropolis
He clicked on "read mail". <Yes, an acknowledgment that Lois read my e-mail message. Oh, no! It says she deleted it without reading it. My God, she was *always* so stubborn. Ten years in the jungle and she hasn't changed one bit! Thinks she knows everything! Now what do I do? Kent's already on his way, and if the tip I got is correct, he may not get there in time. Can't betray my sources by revealing it was me who sent that e-mail it to her. Good thing it's Superman going to get her. Maybe there's still a chance.>
During the preparations for landing, Clark remembered why he hated flying commercially. First of all, they put you thru hell just to get on the plane!
<Thank God I checked the luggage that Lois' chocolates were packed in. And that female security agent didn't have to do *such* a thorough job examining my clothes, either.> Clark smiled to himself. <I guess knowing that Superman was one of the passengers must be been quite a "hoot" to all of them at the gate.>
Second of all, a trip that would have taken him 30 minutes, flying at a leisurely pace, had almost wasted an entire day! <Stupid protocol,> he complained to himself. It was important to the Daily Planet that Clark traveled to Congo like anyone else, complete with long lines and aggravation! There had been a few reporters at the airport, mostly scandal sheet types, trying to find out why Clark Kent/Superman was flying to Congo-Brazzaville. Thanks to Tempus, he would never have any real privacy. He had dodged their questions by simply stating that he was on official Daily Planet business. They seemed dissatisfied with that explanation, but that was his story, and he stuck with it. Thank goodness, most of the passengers weren't acutely aware what Superman looked like. Especially in a business suit and glasses! Yes, he still wore the glasses to try to keep *some* distance between Superman, the icon, and Clark, the real person. During the entire 18-hour flight, he had been left alone. Flight attendants treated him as they did anyone else on the flight.
<Good thing I can get by without eating, this airline food is terrible!>
After the tedious process of obtaining his luggage and getting thru customs, he was surprised to discover that Le Meridien- Brazzaville was only 10 minutes from the airport. Maybe Lois would be waiting for him at the hotel? Heart pounding, he took the hotel's shuttle, anticipation filling his every vein. Recognizing that this hotel was a good distance from the business district of Brazzaville, it seemed doubtful that Lois could travel this far, unless she was able to hitch a ride.
During his nomad period, before he came to work for the Daily Planet, Clark had briefly traveled through Africa. He had also flown through the Congo covertly at night looking for Lois, to no avail. He couldn't allow himself to be seen.
The residue of ten years of war was very apparent while he was traveling to the hotel. There were empty buildings, vacant, burned houses, and rubble everywhere. Looking at this destruction made him ill. If only he could have helped. But as the other Lois had told him, "whatever you can do to help is enough."
He had forgotten how tropical the topography was. They were right on the Equator, after all. The hotel had six floors and an outdoor swimming pool. He was disappointed upon entering the lobby that no beautiful, dark-haired, thin woman was waiting for him. Upon checking in, at about 3:30 p.m., he was impressed to find that The Daily Planet had sprung for a suite, figuring that he and Lois could share a room, once he located her. They wouldn't be able to return to the U.S. for a few days at least, anyway.
In order to leave the country and enter the United States, Lois would have to have her own Yellow Fever vaccination and blood tests for AIDS and malaria, in case she was a carrier. In addition, she needed a complete physical, one that would give her a clean bill of health. She had described herself as thin. Hopefully, in several weeks, with a diet consisting of chocolates and nutritious meals, she would have some curves back on her body!
Very few of the rooms had telephones. There were two internet kiosks in the lobby of the hotel. Only guests of the hotel were allowed access, by credit card, and a sign up sheet was used. Clark signed up for the next available slot, which was 5:00 p.m., and took the elevator up to his room, on the 6th floor. Ah, good to be on the top floor of the hotel, easy access for patrolling the area at night, with the black shirt and pants he had brought with him.
After an eternity in an airplane and several hours more bogged down in security checks and customs, even a Superman was tired. He set his wind-up alarm for 4:45 p.m., flopped on the bed, noted how uncomfortable it was, and floated above it. He nodded off, dreaming of Lois in his arms. At approximately 4:55 p.m., he walked downstairs to the lobby. An hour of sleep had recharged him. His turn to use the computer was coming up.
On a whim, he went to the front desk, and with his working knowledge of the French language, asked if there had been a dark- haired American woman in her mid-thirties waiting in the lobby at any time in the last 24 hours.
"Oui, monsieur. But she left with someone," the clerk replied.
"Can you describe her companion?" Clark asked, feeling the anxiety well up in his chest.
"Oui, he looked very similar to you, monsieur. Dark hair and glasses."
Clark was in a panic. He realized it was his time to use the kiosk. Maybe she had e-mailed him a message?
He sat down at the computer and pulled up Daily Planet's web site. Logging to their employee only site, he was able to pull up his e-mail from anywhere in the world! Yes! There was a message from Lois, and also one with no sender listed.
Subject: Your Arrival
Clark, by the time you read this, you should be in Brazzaville. I'm going to try to get a ride to the hotel somehow, but if I can't, please look for me on the outskirts of town. There is an abandoned church that has been turned into a haven for refugees. I'm sure you won't have any problems finding me. See you soon. Thanks for coming to get me. Lois*
The message had been sent yesterday, about 5:30 p.m., Congo time. The next message was strange. No sender. Subject: DANGER. Normally, he wouldn't open an unidentified e-mail, but at this point, it was worth a shot; perhaps there was some important information about Lois. He clicked on the message line to read it:
From: <Unknown Sender>
Can't reveal my sources but word on the street is that something big is going down. The Daily Planet's web server has been compromised and none of the e-mails are secure. The underworld may be aware that you're alive, Lois. Be very cautious until Kent gets there. An old friend*
Clark's mind was racing. <Message was sent yesterday around 11:15, EST time, right after I left the Planet and headed to the airport. The e-mail went directly to Lois, with a blind copy sent to me. Lois should have been wary of someone approaching her, then. There must be another American women with dark hair staying in the hotel here! Maybe I'm panicking for nothing. Maybe it wasn't Lois that he saw. They say everyone has a double, anyway. Lois would be too smart to go with some stranger in broad daylight>.
Clark was stunned, though, to discover that the Daily Planet's web server had been compromised, and he really didn't have the foggiest notion who the mystery e-mail might be from. Someone that knew Lois' brand new Yahoo e-mail address, and his e-mail address as well.
<Hmmm. I better get a Yahoo e-mail address myself so that Lois can reply to me without some goons reading it!>, he reasoned. He brought up the Yahoo.Com web site and proceeded to create a new account for himself.
Subject: New e-mail address
Lois, I'm here in Brazzaville and you're not in the hotel lobby. That warning message that we both got has me worried. Don't send any other e-mails to my Daily Planet address. I now have this Yahoo address. Be very careful. I'm out looking for you right now.
He clicked on the send button with the mouse.
Immediately after sending the message, Clark realized what he had done. Too many years of a fantasy relationship with Lois had caused him to let his guard down, acting too familiar towards her.
<Omigod! What did I do! I sent that message and signed it with love! What is she going to think? Too late now, message is sent, can't delete it. Well, I'll deal with that later. It's time for Superman to make his undercover appearance>. Clark logged off and took the elevator to the sixth floor. He changed into his black shirt and jeans and walked down the hallway.
There was a outdoor patio on the roof. Luckily, no one was using it. He scouted the area with his enhanced vision, decided it was deserted enough, and lifted off. It was 6:00 p.m. and the sun had just set. He found the church fairly easily. He could not believe how many people were crammed into that small building. He landed down the street from the church adjacent to some mango trees. He was horrified by the conditions. He was sick that his Lois had had to live in these conditions. He was also nauseated at the famine and disease over here, while Americans had so much. Obesity was getting to be the #1 health problem in the United States; in Congo, malnutrition was the norm.
<There is just so much a Superman can do. Whatever you can do is enough.>
He approached one of the women. "Is Linda here?" he asked her.
The woman looked fearful of him. Clark then realized that most of these Congo-lean women had been ravaged by the rebel forces for so long, they were intimidated by all men. She wouldn't meet his eyes as she answered, "No, monsieur, she went to town. She should have been back by now."
He put his fingertips under the woman's chin, gently forcing her gaze upwards, and blessed her with his thousand-watt smile. Slowly bringing her face up to look him directly in the eyes, he said, "Merci. Au revoir, Madame."
He followed the road from the church to the town. No sign of her. It was dark, and now that the war was over, none of the refugees felt they had to keep moving at night. The streets were deserted. He again felt anguished at the sight of abandoned villages everywhere. And it was starting to look like Lois had taken off with a stranger in the hotel who looked enough like him to throw her off guard. The Lois Lane he knew, however, was way too suspicious to do that. No. she *must* be around!
<Wait a minute! She had said there was an internet caf‚ in the foyer of Le Choc. That must be where she sent her last e-mail from. A major newspaper's office building — that shouldn't be too hard to find!>
When he had speed-walked sufficiently far from the church, he flew off, blending into the darkness, heading back toward the business district. Nearing the center, he gently dropped down to street level and super-sped on foot the rest of the way.
There it was. Le Choc, one of the most prominent newspapers in Congo-Brazzaville.
<Darn! The foyer is closed at night. She couldn't have been here recently,> he reasoned. <I wonder if there is anyone working that might have seen her.>
There was a guard on duty. He knocked on the glass. "Monsieur, s'il vous plais?"
"We are closed, monsieur. Open at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning."
"I'm looking for an American woman who may be in danger. May I speak with one of your reporters?" Clark said, in his best French dialect. "What is your name, monsieur?"
"Je m'appelle Clark Kent, de l'Estats Unis, foreign correspondent, Daily Planet newspaper."
"Please wait here." He saw the guard talking to someone on what looked like a cellular walkie-talkie. "Monsieur, one of our affiliated reporters does want to meet with you. He's coming downstairs."
To Clark's absolute shock, a Caucasian man with dark hair and glasses appeared at the door and let him into the foyer.
"Clark Kent, what an honor it is to meet you, the American Superman!" He offered his hand. "Mark Boyle. I'm a foreign correspondent for the BBC," he informed Clark. He spoke English with a crisp British accent.
Clark shook his hand, wondering if this was the man Lois took off with. From a distance, they would look alike. Approximately the same height, brown/black hair, glasses. He looked to be a bit older, maybe in his forties. Clark, of course, was more muscular than Mark, but otherwise, they were similar in appearance.
"Pleased to meet you as well," Clark said.
"I don't mean to be rude, but to invite you upstairs, I must certify that I have seen your identification. Would you mind?" Mark asked him. Mark's press card and photo I.D. was clipped to his shirt pocket.
Clark smiled. Back in the states, where everyone knew him to be Superman, he'd never be asked for I.D. Traveling overseas gave him a sense of anonymity. It was kind of nice!
"Sure. No problem." Clark said, pulling his wallet out of his pants pocket. He handed Mark his press pass, his Visa, and his New Troy driver's license.
"Thank you. Sorry if it put you off." Mark said. "You really can't be too careful over here."
"No problem. I'm looking for an American reporter that was lost over here. Her name is Lois Lane," disclosed Clark.
"I know you are," he said, smiling. "She told me you were coming to bring her home. Why don't you come upstairs with me to our newsroom, and you can meet her," he said.
"She's here? With you? Thank God," Clark exclaimed, relief flooding his body. "She was supposed to stay in the hotel lobby waiting for me to get there."
They headed into the elevator lobby, Mark pushed the up button, and they waited. Mark smiled. "My old friend, Perry White, e- mailed me. He told me that word was on the street that Lois might be a target, and that I should baby-sit her until you got here. Not that I minded, she's a beautiful woman, even though she's quite frail right now. If only I had known before that she was here."
Clark felt a wave of jealousy engulf him. <What did he mean, 'If only he had known she was here'? What would he have done? Ask her out?> Suddenly it hit him like a tidal wave that he was about to meet the woman he had fantasized about for the last seven years. He hoped he hadn't put the imaginary Lois on such a pedestal that the real Lois couldn't possibly measure up!
"She didn't want anyone to know she was alive until the war was over. Apparently her family had been threatened by Luthor Corp should she try to return to the states," Clark informed him.
"Yes, that's what she said," Mark agreed, as they both got into the elevator.
They got off at the third floor. Apparently Le Choc had a foreign correspondent room, courtesy of their arrangement with the AP and the BBC. There were computers and even a plasma TV/monitor set to BBN, the British version of LNN. A dark-haired woman with her hair up in a bun, dressed in tattered khaki clothing, stood up when the door opened. She was very thin, but her big brown soulful eyes shone brightly nonetheless.
"Are you Clark?" she asked, almost shyly.
Clark's body kept moving — maybe he was even floating — toward her but his mind was frozen in time. He couldn't feel his arms or legs. He had dreamed of this moment for so long, but never had he imagined meeting her under these circumstances.
"L-L-Lois? Is it really you?" he said, his voice more of a husky whisper.
"Yes, Clark, it's really me. Welcome to Congo-Brazzaville," she said, offering him her hand.
On a whim, Clark brought her fragile hand up to his lips and kissed it. He felt a chill and a wave of anxiety just from the contact. "Lois, you have no idea how happy I am that you're safe," he breathed.
"I'm sorry if I gave you a start when I wasn't at Le Meridien. Apparently, Perry contacted Mark here to tell him something was going down, and he wanted to make sure I was safe. I managed to hitch a ride to the hotel, and while I was waiting in the lobby Mark, here, walked in. I thought he was you, so I ran up to him. Turns out he was looking for me anyway. Mark and Perry worked together decades ago! He offered to show me his newsroom at Le Choc while I was waiting for you, and I just couldn't resist that, and it had computers there, so I figured I would just send you an e-mail that I was waiting for you here instead. I just got the e-mail you sent me with your new e-mail address," Lois babbled, finally stopping to catch her breath.
Clark smiled broadly. Ten years of horrific living hadn't changed the famous Lois-speak that he had become so familiar with when he had visited the other Universe.
Suddenly, the last part of what Lois had said hit him hard. She had read that last e-mail, which he had signed "love, Clark". That realization made him feel very self-conscious.
"Well, Lois, it was super to meet you," Mark said, "I'm sure you want to get back to the hotel and get settled in for the night. Remember, any time you want to give me an exclusive interview on your experiences here, call me," he offered, giving her his business card.
Lois replied, "Thanks Mark, but my heart belongs to Metropolis and the Daily Planet."
<And, hopefully, to Clark Kent some day too,> Clark thought.
"Do you need a ride back to the hotel?" Mark asked.
Lois smiled and looked at Clark. "Do we?" she asked.
"No, I believe we do have another means of transportation that will get us back rather quickly, but thanks for the offer," Clark replied, and turned and smiled at Lois. It was the first time Lois got to be the recipient of Clark's room-brightening smile that melted many a female heart, unbeknownst to him.
"I think I know what means of transportation that might be," he winked, looking at Lois. "Superman, right? Don't worry, I won't tell a soul," he joked.
"Thanks, I appreciate that," said Clark. "Thanks so much for keeping Lois safe until I could get here."
"It was entirely my pleasure," Mark said, shaking hands with Clark and gallantly kissing Lois on the cheek. As he walked them out to the elevator lobby, he said, more to Lois than to Clark, "I'll touch base with you again before you leave, if that's all right."
Lois smiled at Mark in response, but gave no indication to him that she might be interested in keeping in contact with him. Lois and Clark took the elevator down to the foyer.
"Clark, this is where I was e-mailing you from!" Lois pointed to the computer kiosks. She felt so happy. Life was finally taking a turn in the right direction.
As they said good-bye to the night guard and walked out to the street, Clark asked Lois, "Are you ready for this?"
"You're joking, right? Mad Dog Lane passing up the chance to experience first-hand that the rumors of your great powers haven't been greatly exaggerated?" she exclaimed. "No way! Bring it on!"
"I swear, no propaganda," he quipped, reminding them both of the sarcastic tone in the first e-mail Lois had sent to him.
It was starting to rain. The dry season started in June, so this was typical for March. "Do you want to go straight back to the hotel, or do you want to take a little world tour first? As long as it's dark and no one can see us, I mean," Clark said earnestly, looking into Lois' deep brown eyes.
"Clark, you can take me anywhere you want, as long as we're safe, and I get to leave this Godforsaken place, even temporarily," Lois replied with enthusiasm.
"I take it you don't have a fear of heights, then?" Clark inquired.
"I guess we're going to find out," she countered.
They walked a little way down the street and crossed over into a grove of trees. Clark picked Lois up in his arms. <She's so light, got to get some weight on her with a good meal!>
"Are you cold?" he asked her.
"A little," she said. Clark gently used his heat vision to make her more comfortable.
"Wow! What did you just do?" Lois asked. "That felt so wonderful."
"That was propaganda, Lois," he smiled. With that they lifted off into the night sky, rising above the rain clouds, up to where the moon and the stars shone brightly.
<If I'm dreaming, please don't let me wake up, ever,>, Clark thought.
Clark held Lois close to keep her warm, within his aura. They were over the western part of the United States now, but far above the clouds, and it was light again. Flying west as they were, the bright mid-day sun mirrored what Clark was feeling inside. This was the start of his real life with Lois, as opposed to the fantasy one he had conjured up, to keep him going, to make each day livable.
"Clark, it's so beautiful, up here. You can do this anytime you want?" she asked.
"Yes, but it's not as special when you don't have anyone to share this with," he said sincerely, staring into Lois' eyes, hoping to find a pathway to her heart, her soul.
"C'mon!" she exclaimed. "You mean to tell me there is no Mrs. Kent at home?" Lois' tone of voice was incredulous. She had just assumed he was married. All the good ones, were, after all, taken.
<This gorgeous man is alone? Was he gay or something? Maybe people from his planet — Krypton, was it? — don't need sex and closeness?> she wondered, almost aloud.
"Lois, did you say something? No, there is no Mrs. Kent at home. I have been waiting for the right woman to show up," he said, flashing that wonderful, goose-bump making, smile at her.
"Well, that answers that question, and a few more," Lois said. "But I still don't get it. You know you can have any woman you want, right? You *must* know that!" Lois asserted. "What with all this propaganda, those muscles, and your fantastic smile, most women are shallow enough to fall for you right on the spot!" she laughed.
"Lois, that's exactly why I haven't been involved with anyone recently. Most women look at the icon, not the person that I am inside. I am more than just propaganda, muscles, and a great smile," he said, ironically giving her another one of those heart-stopping grins again. "But thanks for the left-handed compliments, nonetheless.
"Let's stop for a minute, and talk, OK?" he asked.
They were now over the Fiji Islands. He spotted a small uninhabited isle. This way they could sit on the beach and watch the sunrise. Local time was eleven hours ahead of Congo time. A new day was dawning. He had waited seven years to be with this woman. A romantic location couldn't hurt, could it? He also realized that he was trying to put off reality back in Brazzaville as long as he could. He gingerly dropped down to the beach.
"Wait here, I'll be right back," he said.
Lois reluctantly took her arms off of Clark's shoulders and sat down on the clean, white sand. At super-speed, he gathered some brush and some larger rocks. Using his heat vision, he soon had a great romantic fireplace going. The sky was a spectacular mixture of colors.
"Are you hungry? You must be starving! What would you like to eat?" Clark asked.
Lois, not taking him seriously, replied, "Let's see, I haven't had Chinese in a while. I'd like to have a little taste of everything from the best Chinese restaurant in the world, and a nice bottle of wine to go with it!"
A swooshing sound alerted Lois to the fact that that Clark had disappeared faster than her eye could follow. She began to panic. Was he going to leave her here? Where did he go? She stood up and called out, "Clark, this isn't funny! Come back! Where are you?"
Next thing she knew, a similar sound caused her to look back to where they had been sitting, and there he was, with eight containers of Chinese food, plastic utensils, and a bottle of White Zinfandel complete with two wine glasses.
"Omigod! I thought you were kidding. Do you know how long it has been since I had a decent meal, let alone Chinese? And I'm sooo hungry!" she said. She was ravenous. She tore into the various containers.
Clark opened the wine and poured her a glass. "I'd like to make a toast," he said, after filling his glass as well. "To Lois Lane's reappearance into the world, and to our new friendship. I know I'll be a better reporter and probably a better person, too, just from knowing you," Clark said, trying to keep the toast platonic versus romantic. Not yet, at least.
"Thank you, Clark, that's so sweet," she said, clicking her glass with his. "Mmmmm.this wine is wonderful."
"Well, we're not *too* far from California wine country, after all," Clark replied. "I'm glad you like it."
"This is all so heavenly, Clark. Thank you sooooo much," said Lois sincerely.
They ate and drank in silence, watching the sunrise. After several refills of wine, Clark looked over and saw that Lois had a pleasant smile on her face. "This is the first time I've had Chinese for breakfast," she remarked.
"Remember, it's nighttime back in Brazzaville. This is really your dinner," Clark reminded her. Taking a deep breath, he decided to break the ice with some personal questions. "Lois, tell me about *you* now. In the ten years you were in Brazzaville, was there anyone special? Something must have kept you going there," Clark asked, really not wanting to hear the answer, but also realizing how much he needed to know.
"Clark, before I left to investigate this gun-running in Africa story, I had dated a fellow reporter named Claude. I let my guard down with him, and he stole a story from me and ended up winning a Kerth Award because of it. I was so devastated." Lois' eyes began to well up at the recollection.
Clark put his arm around her to comfort her. <This is appropriate,> he thought to himself. <I'm not being out of line here, right?> he reasoned. <She's upset, and even a friend would do his for her.>
"I'm so sorry, Lois. You didn't deserve that," Clark said, with empathy. "Go on."
"Well, one of the reasons I was so excited about going overseas was that I felt like I had been made a fool of. You know how people gossip. I felt embarrassed and really wanted to get the hell out of there for awhile. So when the opportunity came up to investigate the lead I had, I practically begged Perry to let me go. We had quite a fight about it, as I recall."
"Perry thinks of you as a daughter, Lois. That's so nice." Clark remarked.
"Well, he knew how dangerous it would be for me to go there. I guess at that point in my life, I didn't care. Almost like a death-wish. If I came home alive, I'd have a good chance to win a Pulitzer and smear it in everyone's face that had made fun of me. If I didn't, at least I wouldn't have to look at those people anymore!" Lois was now in tears. "I basically wrote off men at that point in my life!"
"Lois, come here," Clark said softly. "Please don't cry. You're going to make me cry too." Clark held her in his arms, gently rocking her. Without realizing it, soon they were floating above the sand.
Lois looked down and said, "That's a neat trick. Have I told you how much I love your propaganda, Superman?" she said, smiling through her tears. "You know, you're like my guardian angel. Not only are you saving me from life in a refugee camp, you're a great listener too. It's hard to find that in a guy. Especially an unmarried one," Lois gushed.
"I have an idea!" Clark exclaimed. The sun was above the horizon. "How would you like to take a nice sauna bath?"
"Yeah, right! And just where would I find one around here?" she asked sarcastically.
"Well, I just spotted a little lagoon not far from here. C'mon!" he urged.
"OK, but isn't the water going to be a tad cold? The sun is just coming out now!" Lois remarked. "Oh, wait. I forgot. Propaganda again, right?" she teased.
<If it helps me win your heart, I'll do whatever it takes,> he thought to himself. He picked Lois up, flying low, just above the trees. Gradually, he released her, only holding her hand for support so she appeared to be flying under her own power. He gave her another gentle treatment of heat vision and smiled at her.
"Having fun?" he asked. His reward was the most beautifully smiling face he had ever seen. Lois' hair, which had been swept up in a bun, came loose. Clark was startled to realize how very long her hair was.almost down to her waist. The other Lois' hair had been styled very short.
"Clark, I haven't felt this wonderful in more than ten years," she admitted. "Thank you."
They landed by a small pond fed by a waterfall. "Lois, the clothes you have on need to be thrown out. What would you like to wear?" he asked.
"Like there's a clothing store on the island here!" she said with sarcasm.
"Your wish is my command, Madame," he said. "If you could be wearing anything, right now, what would it be?"
"Well", she mused, "after a nice sauna bath, I would usually put on a beautiful black silk negligee."
Clark felt a part of him rise to the occasion, picturing her in it. <Stop, you'll *really* scare her off now. Good thing I don't have the suit on,> he noted to himself.
"But since we have to return to Brazzaville soon, I'll settle for some clean jeans and a nice sapphire blue cotton shirt. Blue is my favorite color, after all," she confessed.
"Deal. Now, I swear I won't look, so get in the water, and I'll heat it up for you to your specifications. When you're ready to get out, I'll be here with clean clothes for you," Clark promised.
Lois felt like she had died and gone to heaven. Maybe she had. This was so surreal. A deserted island. A god-like presence, catering to her every whim. What the heck was going on here? "Clark, why are you being so good to me? We've just met!" she asked, while she was removing her clothes.
Clark had turned the other direction to give her some privacy. "And, by the way, when you signed that last e-mail to me 'Love, Clark', I have to admit I was a little taken aback. Do I remind you of someone, someone that was special? Or do you have an aunt named Lois and you got us mixed up or something?"
Clark gulped. He knew this question was forthcoming. Lois wasn't a premiere investigative reporter for nothing. He had laid out the red carpet a little too much, he feared. Now, instead of getting closer to her, she was going to back off. Be wary of him. He had blown it!
"Lois, I"- he started.
"By the way, it's safe to turn around now," Lois interrupted him. She was in the water, only her shoulders were revealed. "Quick, warm me up, it's freezing in here!" she cried.
"Tell me when you're warm enough," he said, focusing his heat vision on the water around Lois. Thank God the subject had been temporarily changed. But knowing Mad Dog Lane 's reputation, she was going to ask him again. Soon. Well, he certainly couldn't start telling her about alternate universes.. at least, not yet. But he knew as soon as he got her back to Metropolis, she would hear about her visiting doppelganger from Perry. Why hadn't he thought this through enough? Eighteen hours on an airplane. he should have used that time to figure out an answer to her inevitable questions. Instead, he had spent it bitching to himself about the airline food and whining that he could have gotten there seventeen and a half hours faster! What a fool! "Ok, that's the perfect temperature now, Clark," Lois said, interrupting his thought process once again. "I'm going to enjoy the first decent bath I've had in ten years. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful. We'll talk later. Hey, you're from Kansas, right? You probably sign all your e-mails with 'love'," she joked.
"Lois, I'll be back soon. Enjoy!" he said.
<Good, I like that explanation for now. People from Kansas are just friendlier by nature. Well, that's not entirely false,> he thought.
Clark sped back to Brazzaville, where it was about 9:00 p.m. Landing on the roof as furtively as he could, he walked down the hallway, entered his hotel room, and opened the suitcase that Lois' mother had prepared for her. Perfume, cosmetics, lingerie, clothing that should be just her size. All selected by Ellen Lane, purchased courtesy of the Daily Planet's expense account. He found a pair of black jeans, which would match his own. Dark colors will be good for flying back here.
<The Daily Planet and the United Nations will have a fit if they know I used my powers over here,> he thought. <Hmmm. No sapphire blue cotton shirt. I guess Ellen doesn't know her own daughter all that well.>
There were no stores open after dark here. Well, that never stopped him before. Placing a pair of jeans, socks, walking shoes, underwear, and a bra in a small travel bag, along with a mirror, a comb, and some cosmetics, he again walked down the hall to the outdoor patio and sped off into the night sky. He then flew west to Smallville, Kansas, where it was about 2:00 p.m. The new mall that had been built recently had an American Eagle Outfitterr store. Since he wasn't dressed as Superman, he didn't create a stir. Putting his glasses on, he walked in, and found a nice sapphire blue simple cotton jersey top with a V-neck in size S.
<After all, if I get to pick the shirt, I may as well get something I will enjoy as well,> he smiled to himself.
The sales clerk did recognize him. This was his home town, after all. The beauty of Smallville was that the townsfolk respected his privacy. A visiting Superman/Clark Kent was always a welcome sight and never taken for granted or abused.
"Hi, Mr. Kent," said the sales clerk, a young gal of about 19. "How are you today?" she asked politely. Her employee badge indicated that her name was Shelley.
"I'm great, Shelley, really great. Thanks for asking," replied Clark. He actually meant it this time. Previously, pre-Lois, he'd say that, to be polite, but hadn't meant it.
"Boy, it's been a slow day so far. I just got in at 1:00 p.m., and you're one of my first customers! Wow, this is a really pretty top, Mr. Kent. I'm sure whoever you're buying this for will love it," she remarked, not wanting to pry. It was well known in Smallville that Mr. Kent/Superman didn't date anyone. It was going to be hard to keep it secret that he was buying a shirt for someone that was obviously around his age. A woman. She smiled. "Here you are, Mr. Kent. It was nice to see you. Have a great day," she said, putting the purchase in a dark green American Eagle Outfitters plastic bag.
"Thanks, Shelley. You're a very polite young woman. Take care," said Clark. His heart was starting to pound. He wanted to get back to Lois ASAP.
Upon his return, Lois was still swimming in the water, with a very relaxed look pasted on her face. <She reminds of a kitten, purring,> Clark thought to himself. He hung the two bags he had brought on a tree limb adjacent to the water.
"Hi, I'm back. Are you ready to get out, or do want another shot of heat?" he asked.
"I want another shot of heat, and I want some company too," she grinned at him.
"Y-y-you want me to swim with you?" he stammered. Wow. Of all things she could have said, that would have been LAST on the list! Skinny-dipping with Lois? Yikes.
"Yes, as long as you give me your best Smallville Boy-Scout's honor that you won't use your propaganda to cheat!" Lois teased.
"I won't look. Not that I don't want to, because you are a very attractive woman, Lois. I'm just not that kind of guy," he admitted.
"That Midwest upbringing again, huh?" She laughed. "Then come join me," she invited. "I won't peek if you won't!"
She turned to face the other way so Clark could undress. Clark was afraid that his burgeoning excitement at this unexpected development was going to be *very* apparent to Lois. Nonetheless, he joined her and used his powers to warm the water adjacent to where they were swimming. He looked up at the sky. The sun was higher up on the horizon, the color of the sky a myriad of blue, yellow and red. Life was perfect right now. If only he could freeze this moment forever.
"Lois, I just have to say that you are the most beautiful woman that spent ten years in a refugee camp that I've ever met," Clark gushed. "Your hair is very pretty, long like that." <Oh, no! There I go again. I'm going to have to tape my mouth shut!> he winced to himself.
"Thank you Clark, you are so sweet, but really, I feel like Lady- Godiva with my hair like this! I'm getting a haircut as soon as we get back to Metropolis!
"Let's not talk about anything else right now," she continued. "Let's just swim and relax. I could fall asleep here."
"OK, you got it, Lois," replied Clark. Since he felt like he kept putting his foot in his mouth. Silence would be his best bet right now.
An hour later, Clark and Lois were getting dressed in opposite parts of the lagoon.
"Clark, who picked out these clothes? This is so great!" she said.
"Your mom picked out everything but the shirt," Clark replied. "The blue top is from my home town, Smallville, Kansas," he revealed.
"*You* picked this out? Wow, good looks, good listener, great body, great smile, propaganda, and good taste in women's clothes! Are you sure you're not a figment of my imagination?" Lois joked.
"Absolutely not, and you're very welcome," he replied, feeling himself turn crimson at her praise of his talents.
Lois combed her wet hair. "Having my hair this long means it takes forever to dry," she complained. "Can I trouble you to shorten that for me?" she asked, with a wink.
"But of course, Madame," he said, using a combination of gentle super-breath and heat vision to replicate the action of a hair dryer.
"You are sooooo handy to have around. I still can't believe some woman hasn't swept you off your feet. You *are* one of a kind, you know," she said, openly flirting with him now.
"Lois, believe me when I tell you, so are you," Clark said, with a smile as big as the ocean on his face. He felt so smitten and love-struck inside. So not-in-control of himself. How he wished they could by-pass the whole ugly Brazzaville-let's bring Lois home the politically correct way to make the United Nations and the Daily Planet happy- affair! Oh well. Reality beckoned.
Lois used the mirror to apply make-up, for the first time in ten years. "These colors are all wrong for me," Lois complained. "My mother never did really know me. She's too focused on herself. But, she did try; I'll give her credit for that!"
"Lois, you're beautiful with or without make-up, trust me," complimented Clark.
Lois was the one to blush now. "You are too kind. I'm sure that I have aged more than ten years in appearance," Lois stated. "In that kind of stressful environment, I'm surprised that my hair didn't turn completely gray."
Lois got up and put the cosmetics, mirror, and comb in the little bag. She had taken a hairclip and fashioned her hair in a long ponytail. The black jeans were loose on her, but the sapphire blue top fit perfectly. There was just enough cleavage showing to make Clark smile. Hey, he was a guy after all. A guy completely, hopelessly in love with a woman he had just met! That darn Karma!
"I suppose it's time to go back there. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner I'll be home, looking for a new apartment," she sighed, with resignation in her tone of voice. "And, I'm sure I'll be going to a shrink once or twice a week, to get this whole ugly affair out of my system."
"Lois, I can't even begin to imagine what life has been like for you. Anything I can do to make your transition to normal Metropolis life easier, you just let me know", Clark offered.
"Does that include bringing me back here to Paradise Island every now and then?" she asked, smiling but dead serious.
"Anytime, day or night, I'll be here for you. I'll take you anywhere in the world you want to go," Clark promised.
"Wow, that's *quite* an offer. You are just too sweet to be real. I guess it's time to face the music back in Brazzaville, now, huh?" Lois said resignedly.
"Are you ready? Do you want me to hold you, or do you want to fly by yourself, like we just did?" Clark asked.
"I want you to hold me. I feel safer that way," Lois replied.
Clark smiled. That was the answer he had been hoping for.
"Good-bye, island," said Lois, as they flew off into the bright sunshine heralding a new day.
"Boyle, I've been waiting to hear from you! What the hell is going on there?"
"She left with the American Boy Scout, Kent, some time ago. Should be back to Le Meridien by now.
"They're not back yet. I just called the hotel. Kent hasn't been seen for hours.
"So what happened, anyway?"
"I had just gotten her to trust me when *he* showed up. Figures he would be able to track her down before I had time to follow through with the plan. Bloody hell, I'm not stupid enough to take on Superman! At least, not without some reinforcements."
"All right. They will be there for several more days. They have to take an airplane home. Find an excuse to visit them at the hotel, so we can find out what flight they're taking. We'll have to go with our back-up plan."
"You got it," said Boyle, hanging up the phone.
<Damn pushy Americans!> he thought, as he went back to sleep.
Clark landed on the roof of Le Meridien hotel and gently set Lois on her feet. She had fallen asleep on the way back. It was about 12:30 a.m., local time.
"Are we here? That was fast!" Lois sleepily said.
"Are you OK to walk? I can carry you, if you want," said Clark. <There I go again. I need to stop doing this. I've got to stop coddling her or she's going to get sick of me *real* fast.>
"Clark! Please, you're spoiling me. Really, I'm OK. But thanks," she said, smiling brightly.
They walked down the hall to the hotel room. "Are we staying in the same room?" Lois asked.
"Well, it's a suite. You have your own room. There is only one bathroom. Are you okay with that?" Clark asked tentatively.
"Clark, have you *seen* where I've been staying? A room like this is heaven compared to where I was. The way all those poor people have to live, each day," she said, with sadness in her voice, "is horrible. Some day, down the road, I'm going to come back here and really make a difference for these poor women and children!" Lois promised. "And you, with all your great propaganda, should come back here with me and help!" She had the famous Lois Lane fire and passion in her eyes.
<Wow, this is a very different Lois Lane than the one the guys back at the Planet described. She was regarded as a hard-nosed, shallow, aggressive female who stomped on anyone or anything that got in her way. If that's true, then this Lois has really grown as a person in the last ten years. She's a crusader of sorts. Makes me love her even more.>
"Lois, believe me, if I could, I would stop famine and disease all over the globe. But the U.N. has restricted my ability to give assistance. I am considered to be a representative of the United States, and my presence in certain types of conflicts is considered interference. It really does upset me that my hands are tied here. And if you want to come back here some day and volunteer for some type of relief organization, I'll be right there alongside you. But it will have to be as Clark Kent, ordinary man, not as Superman," Clark explained.
"But it's still you, no matter what you're wearing," Lois argued. "You *aren't* an ordinary man! That doesn't make sense to me at all."
"It's like the difference between a military man or a policeman being on duty, wearing his uniform, and one that is off duty, wearing regular clothes. When I wear the suit, I am perceived to be representing the United States. When I am dressed in civilian clothes, I represent my own interests, live my own life. It's a fine line, but it does allow me to have somewhat of a personal life," replied Clark. "And it's been really hard for me to have any privacy, so I'll take what I can get.
"Anyway, the point is, I want you to feel comfortable with the situation. As soon as you have your Yellow Fever vaccine, blood tests, and physical, which we will schedule tomorrow, we can prepare to leave." Clark stated. "So hopefully, we'll be on that wretched airplane, heading home, by the end of the week."
After sorting through the suitcase that Clark had brought for her (and discovering the chocolates he had packed), Lois washed up. She came out to the living area where Clark was reading the complimentary copy of Le Choc that Mark Boyle had offered him. Since it was all in French, it was both a challenge and an education to try to translate it.
"Well, good night, Clark. I'll see you in the morning," Lois said. "Remember, no eye-spying!"
She was wearing a long nightshirt with the Daily Planet logo on it. Thin as she was, she still had great legs, Clark thought to himself. It did take a lot of self-control not to use his X-ray vision to see the rest of her. A Superman without those Smallville heartland values could be a dangerous animal, indeed. His parents, then the Lang's, had instilled great strength of character in him, growing up.
"Good night, Lois," replied Clark.
In the back of his mind, something wasn't sitting right. Mark Boyle's timely appearance in the hotel and his stating that Perry had e-mailed him. well, it just didn't seem to fit. He was so elated at the time that his Lois was safe that he hadn't questioned it. That e-mail that was sent anonymously to him, and Lois said that the Daily Planet's web server had been compromised. If that was true, all the e-mails sent to Lois from the Daily Planet were readable by the perpetrator. The e-mail Lois had sent to him detailing where she would be, waiting for him in the hotel lobby, could have been read by them as well. Was Mark Boyle a friend or foe? He did say he knew Perry. Perry had been a foreign correspondent stationed in Europe back in the 80s. Perhaps that's where they had met. Interestingly, James Olson, the owner of the Daily Planet was the most computer literate man he had ever met. Surely he would have ensured that his web server had the best firewall in the world! It just didn't add up. With limited phones and no cellular service out of the country, he would have to rely on e-mail to figure this out. He took his room key and slipped out the door. It was now about 1:00 a.m. Perhaps no one was using the internet kiosks in the lobby at this time of night.
He took the elevator down to the first floor and checked the sign-up sheet. No one had signed up until 6:00 a.m. Clark quickly wrote his name in the current slot and proceeded to log on to the computer. Dare he check his e-mail from the Planet, knowing that someone maybe reading it right now? Surely if James Olson knew that it had been compromised, he would have taken swift action against the hackers.
Well, if it had been read, at least he would be on an even playing field with his unknown foe(s). He clicked on "read mail". Three e-mails popped up. One was from James Olson himself, one was from Ma and Pa, and one was from Perry White. He suddenly realized that the hackers might realize who "Ma and Pa" were, now. He and Lana had so carefully crafted their new identities as her aunt and uncle from California to protect them from his enemies. He hoped it wasn't a really personal e-mail message. He didn't want to have to worry about their lives being in danger, also.
God, he couldn't wait to get out of Brazzaville and get back to Metropolis, where he could use his powers openly. He realized the irony of that statement. He had for so many years, longed to be just plain Clark Kent. What's that old saying, "be careful what you wish for, you may get it"?
Re: Hacker Rumors
Clark, I realize that there is a rumor going around that the Daily Planet has been hacked into. I hope you know me better than that. I don't know how or why the rumor got started, but you can rest assured that your e-mails to us are secure.
I hope by now you have located Lois and you're in the midst of preparations to bring her home. We plan to have a big Welcome Home party for her when you guys return. Please e-mail me your flight number and the date of your arrival, as soon as you are aware, and we will have a limo at the airport waiting for you.
Good luck and thanks again, James*
Rather than replying, he clicked "next":
Re: Hi Honey!
Hi son, we know you can't really call us from where you are so we wanted to let you know that we were thinking about you and hope that you have finally found 'your' Lois. We can't wait to meet her either. I know you probably won't be able to bring her over to meet us right away (it wouldn't look right), so maybe we'll make a trip to Metropolis, and we can just pop into the Daily Planet and you can introduce us. I'm sure she is just as wonderful as the Lois we knew and loved so much!
Call us or stop by as soon as you're back. Can't wait to hear about your trip.
Love, Ma and Pa*
<So much for not too personal an e-mail,> he smiled to himself. It was so nice to have quasi-parents again. However, if someone was indeed reading the Planet's e-mails, he didn't want any more mail to go to this address. Hopefully, the hackers wouldn't know where the JMLangs were from. Luckily, Ma hadn't mentioned Smallville in her e-mail, just Metropolis. He clicked on "next" to read his final e-mail:
Re: Your Trip
Hey, Kent, how are you doing over there? Did you find my gal, yet? Please give her my love and tell her that I can't wait to give her a big bear hug when I see her! I just sent her an e- mail, too, but she hasn't replied. Hope everything is OK and that she is safe. If she's with you, then I'm not going to worry.
By the way, everything is great here in Metropolis. The Star did have an article about you taking a commercial flight out of Presley Airport, speculating why you were headed to the Congo, but there was no mention of Lois in it. The Planet printed a rebuttal article explaining that you were temporarily re-assigned as a foreign correspondent in Brazzaville to interview survivors in the refugee camps that remain, post-war.
Anyway, the sooner you guys get back the better. Let me know when you schedule your flight home, so I can meet you at the gate.
Good luck son,
Clark anxiously logged off the Daily Planet's server and signed on to Yahoo.com. His fears had been realized. Mark had been lying! Perry had not mentioned anything about e-mailing Mark Boyle to warn them of danger. Surely, he would have included that important fact in his message! Upon closer scrutiny, he also realized that the e-mail from James Olson was a fake! Olson's name was spelled wrong, and the "L" in Daily Planet had been capitalized. He had to warn his folks and Perry that something was terribly wrong!
He had no new Yahoo e-mail messages. Well, the only other person, besides his folks, that had this address was Lois, and he had found her before she had had time to reply to him. He clicked on "create new mail":
Re: Hi folks
Hi, Ma and Pa. Thanks for the nice e-mail. Please be very careful until I get back. Don't use my Daily Planet e-mail address until I tell you it's safe. I'll explain later. Please reply only to this Yahoo e-mail address.
Lois is beautiful, and even though she is thin and needs TLC, which I'm more than happy to give her, she is everything I dreamed she would be. I have to hold back telling her how much I love her. I just have to believe that we really are soul mates, and that she will eventually love me back. She will need a lot of time, and I'm more than willing to give it to her.
That sounds great about you coming to Metropolis to meet her. Maybe we can set that up in a month or so, when she has settled into somewhat of a routine again.
Love you both,
He clicked the "send" button, then immediately clicked on "create new mail".
Re: Please Read ASAP!
I did find Lois, and while she is very thin and fragile, she is as beautiful as ever.
I need to know if you met a Mark Boyle in your foreign correspondent days — I need to know this ASAP. Also, don't send any e-mails to my DP address; I think there may be a problem with the server. Please send e-mails only to this Yahoo address until further notice.
Don't tell James Olson about any of this until I tell you it's OK. Please. I really would appreciate your keeping this e-mail confidential, at least for now.
Again, he clicked on "send". Clark logged off the computer. It was now 1:30 am. He signed up for an available 8:00 am spot to check his e-mail again in the morning and said good night to the desk clerk on duty. He didn't notice that the desk clerk quickly made a phone call as soon as he was out of sight. He took the elevator back up to the sixth floor. Entering the room, using his X-Ray vision, he checked on Lois. He was relieved to see that she was sleeping peacefully. She looked so angelic lying there, with her long dark hair flowing around her. He realized that the time they had alone would soon come to an end, and she would probably be an entirely different person when she returned to her familiar environment, Metropolis and the Daily Planet. Now was the time to really get to know her and establish a bond with her. Hopefully, it would be a familiarity that would transcend to their world in Metropolis as well. He thought that their trip to Paradise Island, as she had called it, had been a great first step in that direction. There, with no stress and reality to deal with, they had spoken openly about their private lives and had left the island as friends.
He was certain that slowly, the Mad Dog Lane personality would take over, and he would be left in its wake. But he realized he could love that part of her as well. Her enthusiasm, straightforward talk, and spunky attitude were what made her a Lois Lane. Circumstances may have mellowed her out a bit, in the last ten years. However, Clark was certain that she hadn't lost that part of herself; nor should she.
Clark lay down on his bed and, within minutes, was floating in his sleep. In his dreams, Lois was resting in his arms, as always. The alarm went off at 7:00 a.m. Even though it meant that he had only slept for a little over five hours, Clark wanted to make sure he didn't miss his 8:00 a.m. spot on the computer. Lois was still fast asleep. He decided not to wake her. He went downstairs to the restaurant in the lobby, where there was a continental breakfast underway, and brought back some Danish, some bagels (with cream cheese on the side), and two coffees. No matter when she got up, he could re-heat the coffee for her to her precise requirements! <Spoiling Lois is going to be one of the greatest pleasures of my life.> He was reading the complimentary Le Choc that had been placed under the door, when Lois woke up. It was about 7:50 a.m., and he knew he had to get downstairs.
Lois stumbled out of her bedroom and sleepily said, "Good morning."
"Lois, I signed up to check e-mail at 8:00 a.m. I'd feel better if you would come downstairs with me; I don't feel right leaving you alone up here. And, I brought you a coffee," he smiled.
"Clark, I'll just meet you down there. I need to wake up! Please, you don't have to baby-sit me. I survived in this damn jungle for ten years. I think I can handle taking the elevator downstairs to the lobby!" exclaimed Lois.
<Uh-oh! Mad Dog Lane came back to life sooner than I thought!>
Lois softened her facial expressions immediately, after seeing the shocked look on Clark's face. After all, they had had a nice time on the island, and he did seem very, very caring. "I'm sorry Clark. I know you're worried about me, and it's sweet. I'm just not a morning person, and I only got about six hours sleep last night. Just let me have fifteen minutes to get myself together, and I swear I will be downstairs by 8:15," Lois bargained. "Please?"
<Boy it's going to be hard to say *no* to that woman. Well, I can always keep an eye on her with my X-Ray vision while I'm downstairs, to make sure she's safe>.
"All right Lois, you win. Fifteen minutes it is. It's just that I have my suspicions that Mark Boyle is not as friendly with Perry as we might think," Clark added, hoping she would understand why he was so concerned for her. "Someone may be targeting you, and I just found you, and it's my job to protect you. That's why James Olson sent me to get you, because he thought the trip here would be dangerous for most other people."
"Ok, back up the truck," Lois said. "You suspect Mark is a phony, and you think, after all this time, that someone is targeting me, and you're babying me because it's your *job* to protect me. And, of course, you're my savior. Does that about sum it up?" she asked in a renewed sarcastic tone of voice.
Clark felt like he was back in school and the teacher had just reprimanded him. "Lois… I thought… didn't you read that e- mail that was sent to both of us, that was titled 'WARNING'?" Clark asked.
"No, I thought it was that SPAM thing, and I deleted it. Omigod, you got it too? What did it say?" Lois' demeanor changed back to one of concern and caring. She was truly not a morning person. Mad Dog Lane and Congo Lois had both surfaced in a one-minute period!
"It said that something big was going down, and that the Daily Planet's web server had been compromised. That means that someone may have read the replies e-mailed back to you, originating from the DP's server. Someone who may mean to do you harm, Lois," Clark explained.
"So you're saying that someone related to Luthor Corp might know I'm alive!" Lois exclaimed. "And I really thought that it was safe to go home, after all this time!" Lois was almost in tears now. "That also means that my family could still be in jeopardy!"
"Lois, I am going to protect you until we're able to get on the plane and get home." Clark's eyes and tone of voice were one of reasoning. "Once we're home, and I can openly use my abilities, it will be much easier than here to make sure no harm comes to you."
"OK, Mr. Propaganda, you can be my protector for now. Once we're back in Metropolis, however, I don't want to have you looking over my shoulder every five seconds!" she retorted. "I can take care of myself. I have done a pretty good job of staying alive under adverse conditions for the last ten years."
"Yes, Lois, you have, that's very true. Ok, it's a deal. Let's just get you home safely, and then we can take it from there," Clark replied.
<Wow, I think I'm going to have Lois checked for multiple personality disorders when we get home,> Clark joked to himself, a slight smirk visible on his face. <Well, that just means that there are more Loises to love.>
He hung up the phone. <Boyle better come through for me,> he thought.
The phone rang. "Yes, it's me. Really? OK. Thanks for the information. Keep in touch. Oui, au revoir."
<Damn! Looks like the Boy Scout is going to stick to her like glue. Only one thing that will stop him. How can I get it to Brazzaville in time? Hmmm. I have some friends over at Presley Airport that owe us some favors.>
He picked up the phone and pressed the intercom button for his secretary, Tonya.
"Tonya, get me airport security at Presley Airport ASAP."
"Yes, sir, right away," was the reply.
Clark and Lois both checked their e-mail, but to no avail. Nothing enlightening had been sent to either of them. Due to the time difference, it was 2:00 a.m. back in Metropolis, so Clark reasoned he wouldn't hear back from Perry until later in the afternoon. They decided the best use of their time would be to get Lois to one of the three hospitals in Brazzaville for the necessary shots, blood tests, and medical check-up she would need to board the plane back to the United States. The closest hospital was Blanche Gomez. Clark obtained directions from the front desk clerk. Since it was a walk of several miles, and Lois felt up to it, they headed out on foot.
Lois seemed eager to talk about the horrors she had witnessed in the last ten years. During the years she had isolated herself there, she had become friendly with the many people working for the humanitarian relief organizations there, particularly WFP, WHO, Doctors without Borders, and UNICEF. The job was insurmountable, but the volunteers did what they could. They were the true heroes. She spoke with passion about the pregnant women and children who had died of malaria. How the rebel forces would break into their camps at night and rape and beat women. How it was almost impossible to stay in one location for more than several days. How she tried to remain anonymous and keep a low profile, for the sake of her families' safety.
Clark didn't want to pry. He wondered, as feisty as Lois was, if she had been a victim of any of the violence imposed on the women in the refugee camps. When she was ready to fully open up to him, he would simply be there to listen. He hoped she would some day feel comfortable sharing the more private horrors of the experience with him. He admired her for being a true survivor in an inhospitable environment.
They finally arrived at Blanche Gomez Hospital. Because service was provided on a first-come, first-serve basis, they resigned themselves to a wait of several hours.
Lois pulled a small box of chocolates from her pants pocket. "Clark, you don't know how long it has been and how good this tastes to me. I missed my coffee and chocolates the most. Does that sound silly?" she asked.
"Lois, after what you've been through, even if it *did* sound silly, you deserve it. I really admire you and your strength of character. You're quite a woman, you know." Clark remarked.
"I know," Lois said, with a smile. "Don't you ever forget it, Mr. Propaganda?"
"That's not possible, trust me, Lois," said Clark sincerely.
By the time they returned to Le Meridien, it was nearly 4:00 p.m. Clark went up to the internet kiosk sign-up sheet. There was a spot open at 6:00 p.m. It would be 12:00 noon at home. There should have been some response from Perry by then! He entered his name on the sheet. Looking up, he spotted Lois chatting with none other than Mark Boyle!
Clark quickly walked over to where they were talking. "Mark, I'm surprised to see you again. To what do we owe the pleasure?" Clark asked with a slight edge evident in his voice.
"Kent, great to see you too," he replied, with a bit of sarcasm. "I was just wondering when you were planning on leaving?"
"We're not quite sure yet. Lois has to go back to the hospital in a few days to pick up her medical certificates and blood test results. Then we will check the airline schedule and see if we can switch our tickets. They were purchased ahead of time and therefore are dated several months from now. It wasn't clear how long it would take for me to actually locate Lois," Clark explained. He hadn't had a chance to hear back from Perry, so he was being careful not to divulge anything of a specific nature to Mark.
Mark turned to look directly at Lois. "Perhaps we could have dinner tonight," he suggested. He made it clear that his invitation extended only to Lois.
"Mark, Clark and I have dinner plans this evening, but how about having a quick coffee with us in the restaurant here?" Lois suggested.
"That sounds quite good, actually," replied Mark.
The three of them headed over to one of the three restaurants located within the hotel, were seated, and ordered their coffees. Lois even put real sugar in hers instead of the artificial stuff she always used to use. She figured she could splurge for a little while, anyway.
"So, Mark, tell me some Perry stories. You said you guys go way back, huh?" Lois said. She and Clark made quick eye contact, so he knew she was on a fishing expedition. That made Clark feel like they really were on the same team.
"Yes, when I was a neophyte reporter with the London Times, Perry was a foreign correspondent for the Daily Planet stationed in Great Britain. He got stuck covering the Prince Charles — Lady Diana wedding back in 1981, as I did. We ended up hanging out in the same pub, complaining about having to cover it — I think he described it as a puff piece. I never heard that expression before. It was a bloody hoot!"
Clark and Lois both smiled upon hearing the familiar phrase. That sounded like something he'd say. Perhaps he did know Perry, after all.
"Anyway, we ended up closing the place that night. We've kept in touch through the years, more on a professional basis than a personal one. We've helped each other out with leads, etc, when we could. I'm assuming that after he found out that our Lois here was alive, he starting surfing the web for information about the post-war conditions here. He probably spotted one of my articles on the BBC.com website and managed to track me down here," Mark speculated.
Clark looked at Lois, and he just knew, somehow, that they had a singular thought: Was Mark aware that Perry was now Mayor of Metropolis and no longer the editor of the Daily Planet? How could they trip him up, since they hadn't gotten an e-mail back from Perry yet?
"So when Perry e-mailed you, did he give you any details about why he thought Lois might not be safe?" Clark inquired, on his own fishing trip now.
"His e-mail simply said that he had heard a rumor that something may be going down and to keep a close watch on Lois until you got here, Kent. Which, after meeting her," he said, "I didn't mind doing at all." Mark flashed his most charming smile at Lois, saying, "You look even more beautiful today, Lois, now that you've had a chance to freshen up."
"Thanks, Mark, you're very sweet to say that," replied Lois, feeling a bit flushed. Mark was a very attractive man, and the British accent didn't hurt either; in fact, he looked as if he could have been Clark's older brother. It had been a very long time since she was around two men as handsome as Clark and Mark. It made her feel like a woman again; she was suddenly very aware of her own sexuality.
"How did you know Lois would be in the hotel lobby?" Clark pressed on.
"Actually, Kent, I came to Le Meridien to see if you had checked in yet. Figured I could get an interview with the American Superman and the long-lost American investigative reporter — a double scoop, so to speak. But before I could get to the front desk to find out, Lois rushed up to me, thinking that I was you. I guess from a distance, we look a bit alike," said Mark.
"Yes, Clark, that's right", Lois interjected. "I had been waiting for a tall, white male, with dark hair and glasses. And Mark here fit the bill. So I went right up to him and said, "'Clark? It's Lois!' Imagine my embarrassment when he told me he wasn't you."
"From the description Perry gave me, and the fact that you said your name was Lois, I just assumed you were Lois Lane. And, correctly so, it seems," smiled Mark.
<OK, let's stop the mutual admiration society and get back on track, Lois.> "So, did Perry e-mail you from home or from work?" asked Clark.
"I assumed it was sent from the Daily Planet, of course," said Mark. "I didn't pay much attention to the e-mail address, now that you mention it. I saw 'PWhite' and just knew it was from him."
Clark and Lois shared a knowing glance and a singular thought: BINGO! He didn't know that Perry was now Mayor of Metropolis! They may have known each other, but they couldn't have been in touch for at least the last seven years. Perry was elected Mayor in 1996, and he was currently serving his second term in office, having been re-elected in the year 2000.
They finished their coffees and walked back out to the hotel lobby.
"Well, Mark, it was good to see you again. Stay in touch. I'll say hi to Perry for you," Clark said, trying to wrap things up so he and Lois could brainstorm this development back in the hotel room.
"Lois, I must ask again. Is there any chance you and I could have dinner before you leave us?" Mark asked, kissing Lois' hand. It was clear he was not the type to take "no" for an answer.
Clark felt his face start to betray his inner feelings, which were a mixture of anger and jealousy. He was sure that Mark's interest in Lois was not purely romantic; he just wanted to get her alone, without Clark's supervision. For what? To kill her? To drug her to get information?
"I'm not sure, Mark. I don't know how much longer we're going to be here," Lois replied. "And I made a promise to Clark that I wouldn't go anywhere without him, until I get back to the states. We have a deal of sorts."
<Whew, good answer, Lois.>
"Well, then, we could have dinner right here in the hotel. OK with you, Kent, as long as we don't leave the building?" Mark didn't wait for Clark's response. "Well, then, I'll check back with you in several days. Perhaps, if nothing else, I could give you a lift to the airport?" offered Mark. "And see you off properly."
"Perhaps," Lois said. "I can't commit to anything right now, Mark."
"Well, good day then. Good-bye, Kent." And with that, he turned on his heels and left the hotel lobby.
As soon as he was out of sight, Clark grabbed Lois' arm and said, "C'mon Lois, it's our time to check our e-mail, then we need to figure out our next move here."
Lois, half-listening to him, had a glazed look of sorts on her face. <I've always had a soft spot for dark, attractive men with British accents. Snap out of it, Lane!>
Clark, looking at her, felt as if he could almost read her mind. "What? Don't tell me you actually find his attention flattering? The man is probably out to kill you, and you've got a crush on him?" Clark said in an accusatory tone of voice.
"Clark, you're being silly! Don't be jealous, and don't you worry about it. You're still my Super-man, my Mr. Propaganda!" teased Lois, flashing Clark a sexy smile. She sensed that Clark cared about her, somehow, and she had to admit it felt good to know that she was still desirous to two gorgeous men.
Clark walked Lois over to one of the sofas in the lobby so they could speak privately. "Lois, are you bipolar or something? I can't figure you out. One minute you're yelling at me, the next you're flirting with me. Don't play with me that way. I'm you're best friend right now, and I don't want anything to happen to you. It took me long enough to finally find you," Clark said, his animation getting the better of him. All of a sudden it occurred to him what had slipped out of his mouth.
"Clark, I'm just teasing you. Don't be so serious! And what did you mean? You found me almost right away. You got here, you went to the church, then you went to Le Choc, and you found me. Why did you just say that?" Lois said, with persistence in her voice.
"Lois, it was an expression. That's all. I mean I traveled in an airplane for 18 hours, had to endure a Kryptonite-coated needle just so I could get my stupid Yellow Fever vaccine, which I don't need, by the way.and, I lost my powers for a day recovering from that..it just feels like I've been looking for you forever," Clark replied, trying to think on his feet. <God, being around Lois turns you into a babbler,> he thought with a slight smile.
"OK, I'll drop it for now, but I have a feeling there is more to this than you're saying. Call it women's intuition," she said. "Anyway, let's check our e-mail and see if Perry replied. Oh, and by the way, what's Kryptonite? Let me guess. A rock from the planet you came from?"
"Yes, but it's not the kind of souvenir I can put up on a shelf to display. Frankly, it's the only thing that can kill me," said Clark.
"And.it's public information that this stuff can hurt you?" Lois exclaimed.
"Yes. We can talk about that later, Lois. Do you want to go first, or shall I?" asked Clark, as they sat down at the available internet kiosk.
"You go. Let's see if Perry replied."
Clark logged on to Yahoo.com. Two messages!
First one was from Perry. While Lois looked over Clark's shoulder, they both took a collective deep breath waiting for the message to open.
Re: Re: Please Read ASAP!
Kent, I do know Mark Boyle, but we haven't been in touch in years. I had heard he was involved with Luthor Corp's overseas operations at one point in time. He was like a public relations guy for them. Put a spin on their bad publicity. They were linked to the gun-running operation, which is how Lois convinced me to send her there. You know, Luthor's former right hand man, Nigel St. John, is also British. St. John was in charge of their overseas operations. He probably had something to do with Lois being marooned over there. There might be a connection between Mark and him. St. John's whereabouts has been a mystery since Luthor died. Perhaps Mark knows where he is and wants to protect his interests.
Anyway, if you've seen Mark, please use caution in dealing with him. He and I had a falling out some years ago, because he burned me on a few stories. Gave me false leads and then turned around and scooped me. Don't let his charming fa‡ade fool you. I know you're the trusting type, Kent. You like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Hanging around with Lois should change that. She doesn't trust anyone!
(Sorry Lois, if you're reading this too, but you know it's true).
I haven't spoken with James (Olson) since you left. I don't know what's going on, but you're giving me a bad feeling here. Maybe I'll pop over to the Planet today and see what this old newshound can dig up. I get the impression that you think that something's afoul over there.
Hmmm. interestingly, his Dad, John Olson, of the NSA, made an appointment with my secretary to meet with me tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. I'm not sure what it's about yet. I just noticed it on the calendar while I was typing this to you. I'll let you know if it's related to any of this. James and his father don't talk to each other anymore. I hate to see a father and son alienated from each other. James may be a Fortune-500 billionaire, but he's only in his early thirties. Everyone needs family.
Well, just remember to get that gal of mine home safely. Give her my love. I sent her an e-mail also.
Write me back when you can.
"Just what I thought he was going to say," said Clark. "I'm not sure what Mark's game is, but he somehow knew that you were going to be waiting for me here. The rumor about the Planet's web server being compromised must be true. How else would he know you were alive and meeting me here at Le Meridien?" Clark asked Lois.
"OK, OK, I guess you're probably right," admitted Lois. "This is typical of my luck with men," she sighed. "They act like they're really interested in you, but they all have ulterior motives."
"We're not all untrustworthy, Lois. You just haven't been meeting the right men," Clark informed her.
"Well, like I told you before, Clark, I've sworn off all of you anyway, so it doesn't matter," replied Lois.
"Do you think you could at least keep an open mind in regards to me, Lois? I can swear to you, I'm not an ordinary male." <I can see I will have my work cut out for me. But, let's put first things first. Let's get you home safely.>
"I'll try, Mr. Propaganda. And yes, you are definitely not an ordinary male," Lois agreed.
Clark's next e-mail was from his folks. He didn't want to read it with Lois breathing over his shoulder. No doubt Ma had mentioned Lois in the e-mail, and that would open up a can of worms. Of course, even without opening the e-mail, Lois became nosy, looking at the sender's email address. "Clark, who is JMLang?" she asked. "An old girlfriend?"
"Long story. Old friends of mine from Smallville," he said, which wasn't really a lie.
"Well, it's awfully friendly for old friends to title an e-mail with the subject line 'Hi Honey", isn't it? C'mon, come clean. Who are they?" Lois's investigative skills were coming back, full force.
"They're like parents to me. They're my old friends, Lana and Pete Ross' aunt and uncle," he said, figuring that some day when he told Lois the entire alternate-universe story, he would divulge their real identities at that time as well. "They live in my parents' old farmhouse. I rent it out to them." "Yeah, right. And they like their landlord that much that they're sending e-mails to you titled 'Hi honey'? Furthermore, you told me you would only give out this Yahoo e-mail address to a few people. Obviously, you're really close, because they sent an e-mail to this address. Clark, I didn't get to be a world- class investigative reporter for nothing!" retorted Lois. "Don't you trust me?"
"Lois, please, I'll explain it all later. Let's just concentrate on the stuff that will get us — you — home faster, and safely," Clark stated. "I'm going to sign on to the Daily Planet's server now and see what's going on there. Then, you can check your mail. We can have dinner afterwards and figure out who's really out to get you and possibly why. You're going to have to tell me everything you knew about Luthor Corp's weapons exporting. That's the only way we're going to be able to put this together".
Lois grudgingly replied, "All right, Propaganda, but I'm only dropping this conversation temporarily."
Ten minutes later, with no interesting e-mails to further enlighten either one of them, they signed off the computer. Clark thought it strange that no one from the Planet was e-mailing him. Since he hadn't replied to the phony e-mail he had received from the bogus "JOlsen", he assumed that the perpetrator realized he was on to him. Maybe that wasn't such a good idea. Perhaps he should have played along. He'd had to think about that one some more.
Clark touched Lois on the shoulder. As she turned around to face him, his heart stopped beating for just a minute. "Lois? How would you like to go to Paris for dinner?" he asked.
Lois' eyes opened wide. Paris. The city of romance. Why not? "Clark, I think that would be wonderful."
"It's about nighttime, let's go upstairs and change into something black, for night flying", Clark suggested.
"Night flying. I feel like I'm in a spy movie," remarked Lois, as they waited for the elevator to take them back to their room.
Mark returned to his office at Le Choc and pulled up his mail. As expected, there was a new e-mail requesting a status report on Operation Lane and Kent. It was also mentioned that he should go to the Brazzaville airport tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. to obtain a package that would be waiting for him at the baggage claim office marked "confidential". Enclosed, there would be further instructions.
Paris was in the same time zone, so it was a quick trip to travel there under the cover of darkness. The funny thing about time zones, however, was that it got dark in Brazzaville by 6:00 p.m. in March, but in Paris, which was northwest of Africa, it stayed light until almost 8:30 p.m. The most romantic city in the world was beautiful in the early evening.
Lois had put on her black jeans and a long sleeve black blouse that she had found in the suitcase. Of course, knowing they were traveling to Paris, she felt she should have worn something more suitable. Clark landed on the top of la Tour-Eiffel.
"Have you been to Paris before?" he asked Lois.
"Yes, right after college I took a tour of Europe. I've never seen it from the air before," exclaimed Lois. "Not like this. Wow. It's really breathtaking."
Clark scrutinized the area to ensure no one would spot them and then gently floated them down to the second floor, where the stairs to the ground were. "I guess you *don't* suffer from a fear of heights, Lois. You've been doing great."
"Actually, Clark, I have to say I love flying with you. But I really think that we should be dressed less casually if we're going to get into one of these classy outdoor caf‚s," implored Lois.
"Okay, then how about we go shopping first?" Clark suggested.
"Are you serious? You know I don't have any money."
"I can cover you on this one. My treat," smile Clark. He couldn't wait to see Lois in a sexy evening dress.
He looked at his watch. Yes, it was about 7:00 p.m. They had more than enough time to get to Printemps, one of the most prestigious stores in Paris. They'd be open until 10:00 p.m. tonight, since it was a Thursday night. Not only did they have designer fashions, they had an open terrace restaurant on the ninth floor with a glorious view of the city. After an hour of trying on dresses, shoes, and jewelry, reminding her of the movie "Pretty Woman" — she was the Julia Roberts character — Lois was decked out in a strapless black evening dress with a slit that traveled to above her knee, with matching pumps and faux-diamond necklace and earrings.
She still hated her long hair, but Clark had told her that if she had it cut, it might be a red flag that he had used his powers to take her out of the country. There were no designer hair stylists in Brazzaville, after all. At least, not until the Republic of Congo had a chance to rebuild, post-war. Better she wait until she was safely home in Metropolis, he suggested. She had reluctantly agreed. So she had simply had a Parisian hairdresser curl it and, with the appropriate hair ornaments, her hair was swept up in a French braid, complimenting her long neck. Lois literally felt like a million bucks. She couldn't believe Clark would spend all that money on her, nearly a perfect stranger.
Clark was wearing a black suit, with a white pinstriped shirt and a fairly conspicuous tie. They gasped when they looked at each other. Lois was more beautiful than he ever thought possible; Lois felt that Clark was the most handsome man in all of Paris, maybe the world. And he really seemed to care for her. Maybe she really could keep an open mind about this not your ordinary Clark Kent/Superman guy.
"Clark, you look so handsome! -"
"Lois, you look so beautiful! —"
As they blurted out compliments to each other simultaneously, they smiled and laughed. It was comfortable, like two old friends sharing a private joke. Clark was hopeful that no one would recognize him at Superman. After all, he didn't socialize that much off-duty, more for lack of someone special than for dating options. Spending time with other women would be meaningless to him if they weren't Lois. When he wore the suit, he drew attention to other bodily places than his face, which was truly a double-edge sword. However, tonight, it would be to his advantage that no one looked at his face. Besides, the city of Paris attracted all types of celebrities. Superman was no big deal.
After dinner, more laughter, and a bottle of fine wine, it neared 10:00 p.m. Clark paid the bill and, looking at Lois, said, "Somehow we didn't talk about Luthor Corp once. It was actually kind of nice not to talk about business. I enjoy being with you, Lois," Clark admitted. <Hopefully she feels the same way?> "We haven't known each other that long, but you're already special to me."
"Thanks, Clark. Somehow, I feel I have known you before. I've been getting this feeling of dŠja-vu since we've met. It's very strange, since I don't usually believe in that stuff. And I *know* I've never met you before," she stated. Then, realizing that she had let her guard down, she felt compelled to add, "Now don't you let that go to your head, Propaganda! I don't have time to be falling in love with you, so don't you dare fall in love with me! I've got a life to get back on track and some serious catching up to do with my career as a reporter."
Clark smiled. Just the fact that she said it, probably meant it she was starting to feel something for him; perhaps, just perhaps, she was beginning to fall in love with him. Their soul mate connection was starting to surface. But stubborn Mad Dog Lane would take some wearing down. Lucky for her, he was a patient man.
"Lois Lane, you're a beautiful woman. You could have any man you want, you know. You could call the shots. And that fire in your eyes just makes you more attractive. I'm putty in your hands."
Lois looked in Clark's eyes, her demeanor softening, and said with sincerity, "You know, I really appreciate this gorgeous outfit, this beautiful city, and dinner. It was very special, and I have to admit, even though I have sworn off men, if I was going to make an exception, it might be you."
Just at that moment, Clark cocked his head. Lois, having never seen Clark do that before, asked, "What? What is it? Are you hearing something I can't hear?"
"There's a bank robbery in progress. I have to go. Wait here," said Clark, disappearing from Lois' view. Clark returned to Lois' side in a matter of minutes.
"That was quick," observed Lois.
"I don't have my suit with me. I melted their weapons shut and took off. If the Parisian press gets wind I was here and it gets back to Metropolis, the Daily Planet will have my head for leaving Brazzaville! It will turn into an international fiasco. But it really bothers me when I can't help openly," said Clark, resignedly.
"Wow, Clark, you have really made quite a sacrifice to come rescue me. You want to tell me why you agreed to do it? Besides the fact that you are the type of guy that can't say no when someone needs help?"
"Because I'm the only one that *can* do it, Lois. And, from what I heard about you, I was going to get the chance to meet the best investigative reporter in all of Metropolis; and. the most beautiful, the most stubborn, and the bravest. Why on earth would I pass up that chance?" Clark responded, smiling ear to ear.
"Ok, Propaganda, I still feel like there's a lot you're not telling me. But I guess it's time to change back into our night flying clothes and get back to Le Meridien and figure out our next move in this bizarre chess game we seem to be playing."
They changed in the adjacent rest rooms. Hanging their new clothes in a plastic garment bag, Clark and Lois rode the elevator to the top floor of Printemps. Clark quickly located the staircase to the roof, and they flew off, admiring the lights of the city, and la Tour-Eiffel.
Clark dropped down lightly on the roof of the hotel. It was about 10:15 p.m., which would make it 4:15 p.m. Metropolis time. Lois smiled at Clark as her feet touched the ground and he steadied her. On impulse, she kissed him on the cheek.
"Thanks, Clark, for a wonderfully romantic evening," she said softly to him. "A girl could really get used to these types of nights out."
"And I could get used to taking you on them," he said, taking the opportunity to kiss her lightly on the lips and give her a gentle hug as well. While Lois didn't kiss him back, she didn't pull away or flinch, either. Progress!
Daily Planet Newsroom
"Hi, Perry, to what do I owe the honor of another visit? Does it have something to do with Clark and Lois? Funny, I haven't received an e-mail from Clark since he left," said James.
"Is that right? Huh, he's been in touch with me, but for some reason, he's not using his usual DP e-mail address. Do you know why?" Perry asked, trying not to divulge too much information to Clark's boss.
"No. I've sent him several e-mails, with no response. It's very peculiar. How is he doing? He located Lois, I presume?"
"Yes, he did, and he was also asking me about a Mark Boyle. Are you familiar with him?"
"Boyle, of the BBC? Sure. Ah, that's right, he's over in Brazzaville right now, covering the post-war economy and such. A joint venture with Le Choc, the AP, and the BBC. But I also heard he may be moonlighting on the side," said James. "That rumor goes way back, from the Luthor Corp days."
"Yeah, same thing I heard. Hey, I know you're a computer whiz and all. What type of firewall do you have to protect the integrity of the DP's server? I would hate for the wrong parties to find out that Clark's assignment over there is specifically to bring Lois home. The poor gal's been hiding for ten years to protect her family. You never know who else may be out to get her," said Perry.
"I designed it myself. It's called Olgate. State of the art, impenetrable, completely safe," James assured him.
"Is there anyone else that is familiar with its inner workings?" inquired Perry.
"Well, my cousin Timmy, he's the new research assistant for the investigative reporters. He's as good as I am with computers. Must be a family gene, I guess," he replied, grinning. "But Perry, get to the point. You're after something, here, and you're not good at subtlety," asserted James.
Perry studied James Olson's eyes. He decided that if there was a bad guy here, it wasn't him. After years of trusting his intuition, he hoped it wouldn't fail him now, when Clark and Lois needed him so much.
"All right, Clark thinks there something wrong with the DP web server," Perry admitted. "He specifically told me not to e-mail him at the DP address. He didn't say why, but it doesn't take an old fool like me to figure out that he's afraid that someone's reading his mail.
"And, by the way, your father's in town and wants to meet with me tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Do you have any idea why the NSA wants to meet with the Mayor's office?" Perry asked.
"No, Dad and I haven't spoken in several years. You know that, Perry," he replied.
"That's a shame son. Family is family."
"We've had this discussion before, Mr. Mayor."
"Yes, we have, and we're going to keep having it," winked Perry. "So, not to change the subject, but you're absolutely sure your computer system can't be hacked into?"
"If it makes you feel better, I'll run some tests tonight. I developed an interloper system that simulates hacking behavior. If there are any soft spots, this system will find them," he assured Perry.
Back at Le Meridien for the night, Lois and Clark changed into comfortable getting ready for bed but not sexy clothes so they could hang out and discuss what Lois knew about Luthor Corp and their lucrative gun-running operation. Clark had gone downstairs to the restaurant and brought up two cups of tea. Lois had another box of chocolates open to snack on as well. Munching helped jog her memory, she joked. Truth was, Lois had long since lost her notes, but the information had been permanently etched in her brain.
Lois began the story where she had previously left off — right after Claude had betrayed her, stealing her story, ten years ago. Lex Luthor had asked Lois out on a few occasions back in 1993. Since she was still reeling from Claude's betrayal, she turned him down several times. When a lead from her favorite source, Johnny Jabbermouth, indicated that Luthor Corp had a covert operation in the Congo, assisting the rebel faction there, Lois decided to finally accept one date from Lex, hoping that it would help her dig up some additional leads for an expos‚.
She remembered the night of their only date as clearly as if it were yesterday. The limousine picked her up in front of the Daily Planet. Next thing she knew, they were on a private plane heading to San Francisco. It was a Friday night, and soon they had checked in to the Penthouse suite at the Fairmont Hotel, with a roaring fire warming the sunken living room and Lex's personal servants catering to their every need. They dined alone with romantic background music playing on the terrace overlooking the city and San Francisco Bay. Afterwards, sitting outside enjoying the beautiful view, they sipped on fine wine and enjoyed good conversation.
Lois, mindful of her mission in accepting this date, made a few comments about the unrest in Africa and how inhumane the conditions were there. How the war would be resolved more equitably if it weren't for the weapons being supplied illegally to the rebel Ninjas fighting with the government in power. She thought at one point that Lex appeared a tad uncomfortable, but he was careful not to divulge any useful information to her. Of course, after several glasses of wine, Lois' innocent remarks began to resemble veiled accusations — at least to someone that possessed Lex's sharp criminal mind.
Lois figured, hindsight being 20-20, that it was then that Luthor decided Lois was a threat to be dealt with. Nonetheless, he continued to be charming, and he was a perfect gentleman, ending the night with a simple light kiss on the lips. Lois had her own room, complete with a Jacuzzi. Her bedroom and Lex's shared a common wall. After they had kissed goodnight, she heard phone calls being made in the next room. Putting her ear up to the wall seemed futile. She picked up the phone in her room, covered the receiver end with a towel, and listened to the conversation.
Lex was talking to a man with a heavy British accent that he referred to as Nigel and also to someone, definitely an American, named Lenny. It appeared to be a conference call. They spoke about a weapons shipment which would be disguised as food and clothing for the relief organizations operating in Congo- Brazzaville. It would be leaving Presley Airport via a Lex-Air cargo plane within the next 48 hours. He also warned them that there was now another problem that needed to be taken care of.
Lois, starting to feel paranoid that Lex knew she was listening in, hung up the phone, and climbed into bed, contemplating her next move. Should she try to stow away on the plane? No, she better try to get Perry's authorization, since it was an unfriendly country to travel to as it was. When they returned to Metropolis, Lex told her he'd call her again. She made it appear that she was open to his invitation, but had no intention of ever dating him again. She went straight to Perry and begged him for an opportunity to travel overseas and track down any shipments arriving at the Brazzaville airport, Maya Maya, via Lex-Air. After a heated discussion with Lois, Perry reluctantly agreed that she could go.
She was never able to prove that he was indeed providing weapons to the dissonant faction there, because nearly as soon as she got off the plane at the airport she was mugged, beaten, almost raped, strip searched, and brought to the outskirts of the city and dumped in the middle of the jungle. Her captors, who were Congo-lean rebels, warned her never to attempt to return to the United States, or her family's lives would be in jeopardy. She realized that she had hit a nerve and that, possibly, Lex was aware she had been listening on the phone and had set her up.
And here she was, ten years later. Lois knew that Luthor was dead but asked Clark to give her some background information on his passing, as she had not been able to get in-depth American news during her time as a refugee.
Clark advised her that in mid-2002, Luthor Corp had fallen victim to a mysterious takeover bid. Even though Lex owned more than 51% of the common stock, the unknown suitor managed to drive the stock price up to an obscene level, then after amassing more than a one-third interest, sold it all the next day at a huge loss, throwing the entire company in financial chaos. Rumors of insider trading became rampant. When Lex's dead body was found on the sidewalk below the Luthor Corp building several days later, it appeared that he had committed suicide as a gut reaction to the fall of his empire. Bill Henderson and the Metropolis PD failed to issue any warrants in the case.
Rumors that disgruntled employees had initiated the takeover bid started to circulate. But to buy high and sell low, the suitor(s) must have been well heeled. Nigel St. John, Luthor's administrative assistant, disappeared soon afterwards. Luthor Corp's remaining executives, in order to survive, sought a merger, and soon the company was absorbed into the Fortune-500 Edge Enterprises. The businesses that were doing well under Luther Corp (LNN, Lex-Air, Lex-Com) remained largely intact. They simply bore the tag name a subsidiary of Edge Enterprises.
Morgan Edge, the CEO, was also rumored to have dealings with the underworld. Similarly to Luthor, he appeared to have a Teflon effect.. so far, not even Superman had been able to pin any wrongdoings on him.
Lois advised Clark that when she read that Luthor was dead of an apparent suicide, she began to feel comfortable that it was safe to come back to the states. After all, in the last ten years, she had been left largely alone. Her life was a miserable hell but she had only been threatened that one time. As long as she kept a low profile as Linda, no one bothered with her.
With that, Lois felt she had brought Clark up to speed on all she knew. Why someone would all of sudden take an interest in her after all these years was surprising. The war was over, and with the CEO dead and the company no longer in existence, did it really matter now if Luther Corp was previously involved in illegal activities?
"Well, Lois, if Mark Boyle has a tie-in with all of this, one would guess that he is now working directly or indirectly for Edge Enterprises. I wouldn't be surprised if Nigel St. John isn't too far away either. After all, if *you* can hide here in the jungle for ten years, if might be a great spot for him as well.
"I can't figure out who Lenny might be though. I'm going to have to our new research assistant, Timmy Carlson, look into a correlation between that first name and Luthor Corp," stated Clark. "Timmy is James' first cousin, and he is quite a computer geek as well."
"Great idea, Clark, but one problem: if you're afraid to use the DP's web server, then how will you get in touch with him, and how do you know that his research isn't being tracked by our unknown 'hacker'?" asked Lois. "Do you know this Timmy's home e-mail address?"
"You're right. I need to give that point some thought, and I think it's best that we sleep on it. It's about 1:00 a.m. Ready for bed?" smiled Clark.
"Yes, actually, it's been a really full day," replied Lois. She got up from the couch and leaned down to give Clark a friendly good night kiss on the lips. "Good night, Clark."
Clark stood up, cupping Lois' face in his hands, and kissed her back. He felt her stiffen slightly, so he stopped and looked into her eyes, hoping that he could find a connection there. "Lois, I want to tell you so much, but I can't yet," whispered Clark. "If you only knew.
"Clark, I feel something for you too, but I don't know if it's because I've been away from civilization for so long, or because it's real. I'm going to need to sort it all out," explained Lois.
"I understand, Lois. Take all the time you need. I'll be here," promised Clark.
"Thank you Clark. You are a really nice guy. You're just the kind of person that I needed to be with after my long ordeal. Thank you so much for everything; thank you just for being *you*. And if I get wound up sometimes, and it doesn't seem like I appreciate you, don't take it personally. It's just my Mad Dog personality taking over," smiled Lois.
"I'm all too familiar with that part already," grinned Clark. And with that they settled in their rooms for the night, setting their alarms for 7:30 a.m.
Clark, floating in his sleep as he often did, didn't call for his imaginary Lois. He could feel and smell the presence of the real one nearby.
It was 4:00 a.m. on Friday morning. Clark was awakened by the sounds of Lois having a nightmare in the other room. She was yelling, "No, leave me alone! Leave *them* alone!" and she was wriggling all over the bed, her legs thrashing and kicking the sheets.
He sped into her room and gently nudged Lois' shoulders. "Lois, wake up, you're having a bad dream!"
Lois looked at Clark, half-asleep, with terror in her eyes. "I told you, leave us alone! Oh, Clark, it's you. Thank God."
Clark cuddled Lois in his arms, kissing her on the forehead. "It's OK. It's over. You'll never have to go through that ever again, I promise you."
"Clark, don't leave. Please hold me. I haven't had one of those dreams in awhile. I don't know what brought that on tonight."
Clark didn't need a second invitation to get physically close to the woman he had loved for so long. He got in bed with her and held her close, rubbing her back and neck. "Lois, maybe it was because I had you describe the events leading to your forced exile here. I didn't mean to stir up bad memories. I apologize," said Clark, kissing the top of her head.
"It's not your fault, Clark. Just hold me until I can fall back to sleep, OK?"
Clark snuggled close to Lois, and their breathing soon became synchronized. Clark could barely sleep, having fantasized about this moment for so long it seemed impossible that he was actually lying in bed with her. All of his senses were on fire. For the very first time since the other Lois left his universe, he felt complete and whole. Even though he wanted desperately to make love to her, the closeness and the very smell of her would have to be enough for now.
Several hours later, as sunlight enveloped the room, they were floating several feet above the bed. Clark was laying face up and Lois was sound asleep wrapped up in his arms, her head on his shoulder, her legs resting on his. The alarm clock startled both of them and they came crashing down on the bed.
"Clark? What was that? Were we doing what I think we were doing?" a sleepy Lois asked.
"We were floating. Is that what you mean?" <Does she think we did *that*?>
"So you do that when you sleep? Float and crash? Talk about a wake-up call!" laughed Lois.
"Yes I started floating in my sleep long before I was able to fly. I would wake up every morning like that in junior high and high school. It seems the minute that my mind relaxes, I defy gravity. I'm not sure why that is," Clark admitted.
"Well, if your natural state of being is to defy gravity, then it makes sense. You apparently have to force yourself to stay on the ground, while the rest of us peons have no choice but to stay earth-bound!" Lois joked.
"Yeah, never thought of it like that, but that argument is logical," Clark said. "Except the peon part, Lois. You could *never* be that!
"Well, since I'm wide awake now, you know what I would really like to see?" Lois said, with a gleam in her eye.
"Uh-oh, why am I thinking I'm not going to like this?" Clark replied with a smirk.
"I want to see Superman, right here, right now, in the flesh," she said. "No one but us will know that Superman actually appeared in Brazzaville. I won't tell," she promised.
"Awww. you really want to see the suit? This is going to be embarrassing," said Clark.
"If it embarrasses you to wear the suit, then why do it? Who designed it anyway? It had to be a woman," she teased. "We all just *love* skin-tight spandex on our men."
"It's a long story, and one I'm not ready to tell you right now, because I'm pretty sure you're not ready to hear it yet either," replied Clark. <Yikes, please don't tell me I am going to have to tell her that her double designed this costume!> "Suffice it to say that it was designed by someone who was a friend, at the time. She said that the spandex would reduce the wind resistance when I flew," he explained.
"She? Who was it, one of those Lang people?"
<Now, she's not going to drop it is she? I'm in trouble now.>
"Lo—is. Okay. I'll wear the suit for you. The answers to the rest of your questions will make for a good story when we get you home to Metropolis, safe and sound."
"OK, OK. Now show me."
Clark sped into the other room and pulled his suit of the suitcase. He realized he hadn't worn it now for three whole days, since he'd left Metropolis. It had to be a near-record. Sometimes, back home, he became Superman just to run away from his lack of a social life as Clark Kent. He hoped that he wouldn't have to do that anymore. He spun into the suit, and walked back into Lois' room.
Her jaw dropped when she saw him in his full regalia.
"Wow, Superman, very impressive. No wonder you're not widely recognized when you're not in costume. Your face is not the first thing that grabs your attention," she admitted in a teasing tone of voice. "Nice bod, Mr. Propaganda! I'll say one thing, not too many men would look good in *that* outfit!"
"I'll choose to take that as a compliment, Lois," said Clark, feeling flushed. "Are you done gawking at me now? I would like to go downstairs and bring us up some coffees. While I'm there, I'll sign up for the next available slot for the internet."
"One more peek. OK, I'm done. I'll take a shower, you get the coffees. It's a deal," said Lois. Clark spun back out of the suit, placed it back in his suitcase and put on khaki shorts and a black T-shirt, and headed downstairs.
Mark Boyle was pacing around the newsroom. He had been instructed by e-mail to go to the airport tonight to pick up a package. Making a little money on the side was one thing, but he had a feeling that the boss expected him to go up against Superman. He wasn't prepared to ruin his career as a reporter AND spend the rest of his life in jail. He couldn't betray his employer, either. This was truly a dilemma.
A pop-up box on his computer indicated that he had a new e-mail message. He was surprised to see that it was from Perry White. He was also surprised to see that it wasn't from the Daily Planet's web server. He had a bad feeling about reading it, but nonetheless clicked on the message in order to read its contents.
Re: Leave them alone
Mark, whatever you're up to, you're in way over your head. You always did have a soft spot for the dark side of things. Clark and Lois know that we haven't been in touch in years. Do yourself a favor and back off. They are two of the finest human beings I know. Whatever you're up to, it's not worth it.
By the way, I'm the Mayor of Metropolis now, finishing up my second term. Next time, I suggest you do some research first before you start throwing my name around. Obviously I did mine because I got your e-mail address. I still have all my contacts at the DP.
<Bloody fantastic! If that Boy Scout, as the boss calls him, hadn't shown up, I could've carried out the plan with Lois. I let myself get intimidated when he showed up. Well, he is Superman, after all. If that package is what I think it is, I'll be able to turn the tables on him. But Lois is probably on to me now. I'm going to need backup if I'm going to do this. Otherwise, I'm going to have to disappear.>
He picked up the phone. "Nigel St. John, please," he said.
Clark and Lois finished their breakfast and went over to the internet kiosk to check their e-mail. Clark had been deliberating on whether he should have replied to the fake JOlsen e-mail message. He decided that he would continue to ignore it and, hopefully, they would be home in two days where they could investigate the entire hacking scenario properly. He did need to check in at the Planet, however. He decided that he would e-mail Perry and see if he had been able to find anything out when he went over there. He wanted to get in touch with Timmy Carlson as well and see if he could figure out who Lenny might be. In his e- mail, he asked Perry to call Timmy at the Planet and see if he could run some data relating the name Lenny to Luthor Corp to find out if there was a connection.
Since it was only about 2:00 a.m. in Metropolis, he would have to wait until dinnertime for Perry's reply. He also remembered that James' father, John Olson, of the NSA, was to meet with Perry at 10:00 a.m., EST, as well. That should be an interesting conversation. Was it coincidence that right around the time he received a mysterious message about the DP's web server, the NSA, which concerned itself largely with computer network security, wanted to meet with the former Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet? A connection to the two events definitely seemed plausible.
The hospital had said that Lois' tests and vaccination certificate might be ready within 24 hours. It was a miserable, wet day outside, and they didn't feel like walking in the rain. Lack of available public transportation and the other amenities that Americans take for granted meant that they would sit out the downpour in their room, drinking tea (with Lois picking on chocolates).
Lois wanted to know who the current staff in the newsroom was — who the real competition might be, these days.
"Let's see, there's Ralph, but he's pretty lazy, he's been there pretty much since you left. No competition for Lois Lane, believe me. Cat Grant left to take a job on the West Coast, closer to the entertainment industry. Claude won that Kerth award, then decided to get into broadcast news, big ego that he has. Thinks he's too good looking to be wasting himself with the print media," Clark said sarcastically. "So he's working for WEBC (Edge Broadcasting Company) now. I'm a free-lancer these days, except for my bogus temporary assignment as foreign correspondent here in Congo. James has his cousin, Timmy, working as a research assistant, as I told you. There's Linda King"..
"Linda King? Oh, no!" Lois blurted out.
"What's wrong with Linda? She's probably your only competition right now, Lois, but I'm sure once you get back in the swing of things, there will be *no* competition," Clark assured.
"She and I go back a long way. She's another Claude. She has burned me in the past," Lois explained. "It's really going to be pay-back time with both of us working there. Has she come-on to you yet?"
"Yes, when she first started, she kept asking me out. After I said 'no' enough times, she finally gave up," Clark said, smiling.
"Again, Clark, I just don't get it. Are you sure that you Kryptonian males like women? I just can't understand why, after all these years, with women pretty much dropping at your feet, you're not with anyone!" Lois exclaimed.
Clark looked Lois straight in the eyes, and blurted out, "I was waiting for you. I knew you weren't dead. I felt it. And yes, as far as I know, we Kryptonian males like women. I know I sure do. Maybe we're just a little more particular than male earthlings!" he joked.
"Why would you wait for me, a woman you'd never met? Explain that statement, please," urged Lois. "That sounds like a really bad pick-up line, if you ask me."
<Think on your feet, Clark. No Alternate-Universe stories yet. She'll think you're nuts.>
"Well, when I first came to work for the Daily Planet, all I heard about was Lois Lane! Everyone, Perry especially, was devastated that you hadn't returned. He felt so guilty that he'd let you travel here. After a while, there was a ceremony, and there were pictures of you everywhere. There was even a headstone."
"Well, I guess they're going to have to dig *that* up as soon as I get home," she remarked sarcastically. "Go on."
"Well, I guess I kind of fell in love with your picture," Clark said, swallowing hard. "I even came over here to try to find you, but since I had to come at night, when no one could see me using my powers, I wasn't successful. Too many people in those refugee camps, as you know. But in my heart, I never gave up on you. I felt your presence with me every night, when I went to sleep."
"Either that's the greatest line I've ever heard, or you are truly the sweetest man in the world," Lois said, her eyes welling up. "Almost makes up for losing ten years of my life in this hellhole. Maybe without knowing it, your thoughts kept me alive, made me push harder to survive."
Clark felt himself start to lose control. His eyes became misty as well. He didn't want to focus on the seven years he'd spent dreaming about her, night and day. She wasn't ready for the whole bizarre story yet. "I would really like to think that, Lois. Anyway, I'm so grateful that you're alive and eating chocolate at will," he said, trying to lighten things up.
Lois smiled through her tears. "Ah yes, my love of chocolates is well known. Especially these double fudge crunch bars," she said, unwrapping one as she spoke. "Definitely beats relief food any day!"
"Lois, when we get home, you and I will write up an article on the conditions here, with a joint by-line. That is necessary to explain my presence here. That will also get the Lane name back in circulation in no time. Recently, I've been writing articles on Superman rescues mostly, but if I had a premier investigative reporter to team up with," he said, winking at Lois, "I could be convinced to come to work more often. After all, James had left a desk available for me to use at any time."
"I've never worked with a partner before. It would take a little getting used to," Lois remarked. "But I can see how having Superman for a partner would help my investigations," she admitted. "It's too bad everyone knows that Clark Kent is Superman. I would have thought you would have worn a mask or something so no one would know."
Clark rolled his eyes. "Well, actually it was supposed to be the glasses, not a mask. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. I'll tell you the whole story when we get back," Clark promised.
"Glasses? Pretty lame, if you ask me! Well, by now, you owe me about a week's worth of stories, Clark!" Lois laughed. "And I'm going to cash in on every one of them, too! So. who else is at the Planet that I should know about?"
"Well, there are plenty of administrative people, but the only other investigative reporter, and he was hired within the last year, is Torimitsu Onishi. He was our foreign correspondent in Japan, but he recently moved to the United States. He's quite good, but he still needs to learn American culture. But he's going to do well. He's very bright, very detail-oriented."
"Well, Clark, I say it's time for a mid-morning nap. Why don't you set the alarm for about 1:30 p.m., and if it has stopped raining by then, we can head out on foot to the hospital. The soon I get this medical stuff taken care of, the sooner we can get out of here, Mark Boyle be damned."
There was a sofa in the living area. Lois stretched out and said, "There is room for two here, Clark. Come lay down with me. No funny stuff, just cuddle stuff."
Clark's heart was pounding. "Are you sure? I don't wait to make you uncomfortable in any way."
"Clark! *I* asked *you*! Don't be so nice all the time! If you have one fault, that's got to be it! I suppose that your Midwestern politeness just adds to your charm, though," Lois smiled.
Clark moved to the sofa, beaming. Being stuck in a hotel room in Brazzaville wasn't so bad, after all!
Soon, they were lying in spoon formation on the sofa, cuddling. Lois was napping; Clark was wide-awake, attempting to think about anything besides making love to this amazing woman. He was in a constant state of sexual excitement just being around Lois. But he had self-control and wasn't about to blow it, just when she was beginning to let her guard down a bit.
"It's Boyle. I need you to come with me to Maya Maya airport tonight. We have to be there at 6:00 p.m. sharp, at the Lex-Air International Wing."
"Why? You know I can't afford to be recognized right now, until after my surgery."
"So, wear a bloody mask for all I care. I can't-won't do this alone. It's up to you. Otherwise, I'm out of here."
"I'll pick you up in front of Le Choc at 5:00 p.m. Look for my jeep, I'm not going to get out."
"Fine. See you then."
Mark reflected on the mess he had gotten himself into. He even considered going to Le Meridien and coming clean with Kent and Lane about the operation going down. If Superman could promise to protect him, maybe it would be worth it. Well, he had a few hours to figure it out.
Clark and Lois took off on foot for the hospital around 2:00 p.m., since the rain had stopped. They figured they wouldn't be back until suppertime, at which time they would sign on to the computer and see if Perry had replied to the e-mail Clark had sent him that morning. In addition, since he was seeing John Olson around 10:00 a.m. (4:00 p.m. Brazzaville time), perhaps Perry would share some information garnered from that meeting as well. That is, if he was able to without breaking any necessary confidences.
Once they were a distance from the hotel and no one could see them, Clark picked Lois up and they floated a few inches off the ground, since it was extremely muddy from the rain.
"Clark, this is really great, but I'd gain weight fast walking this way! It's not exactly aerobic exercise," Lois joked.
Clark looked Lois over, admiring what he was seeing. "Lois, believe me when I tell you, you will *not* have to diet for a very, very long time! Now, not to change the subject, but please tell me about this Johnny Jabbermouth that you mentioned. Was he a source or something?" Clark asked.
Lois laughed. "Yes. One day I was walking down the street to pick up Chinese and this bum crept up on me from the alleyway and scared the bejeezus out of me! He said he had some leads for me, and all he wanted in payment was food! At first, I thought he was B-Sing me, but when I checked out his information, it was right on target. There began our relationship. he'd give me tips, I'd feed him. It worked out well."
"What do you know about him? Do you know his real name or anything?" Clark inquired. "I'm only asking because you said he's the one you gave you the lead on Luthor Corp's gun-running."
"No, he didn't want to give me his real name, just said to call him Johnny. He was about 40-something back in 1993, so I guess he'd be in his fifties now. His hair was strangely very neat, although his dress was that of a street person. I always thought that was bizarre, but since his information was always right on target, I didn't question him too much."
"How did you get in touch with him?"
"Sometimes he would call me. Other times, I would walk by the alley and ask if anyone hanging around there had seen him. Usually he would find me once I put word out I was looking for him. He knew where my favorite deli and Chinese restaurants were," Lois recollected, smiling.
"That's peculiar, as I don't recall anyone meeting that description hanging around by the Planet. You would have thought after you disappeared, he would have contacted another reporter, if just to get a free meal," Clark remarked.
"Yes, that is strange. He definitely looked like he lived on the street, with nowhere to go. I wonder what happened to him, after all this time," Lois mused.
"Or if his name was really Johnny, or John. Hmm," said Clark. "Interesting."
Perry had been looking forward to his meeting with John Olson, out of sheer curiosity, if for no other reason. Right on time, his secretary buzzed his intercom to advise him that his 10:00 a.m. appointment was waiting.
"John, come in. I must say this is quite a surprise."
"Mr. Mayor, thanks for seeing me on fairly short notice," John said, shaking Perry's hand. "Can we get right down to the point of this meeting?"
"There are problems at your former employer that you should know about."
"The Daily Planet?"
"Why involve me? Why not talk to the owner, your son?"
John sighed. "I can't get into it right now. Do you want the information or not?"
"You're every as bit as stubborn as your son. I see where he gets it," Perry observed. "OK, what do you have for me?"
"The Daily Planet is about to change ownership."
"My son is a bit too trusting, and he hired a family member that was working undercover for Edge Enterprises."
"Le Meridien, Congo-Brazzaville, front desk, Jean-Marc speaking. May I help you?"
"Yes, I'd like to speak to Clark Kent, if it's possible."
"I believe he's gone out for the afternoon, monsieur. Would you like to leave a message?"
"Please have him contact James Olson of the Daily Planet. He knows the number."
"Oui, monsieur, I'll give him the message."
"Tonya, can you check on the status of the package I sent to Brazzaville?" It's on a Lex-Air cargo plane that should be arriving at Maya Maya airport at 6 p.m., Congo time."
"Right away, sir, I'll check the airline's schedule and see if it's going to be on time."
"Good. Also, get me Mark Boyle ASAP."
Mark paced around in the newsroom. Even though he was having second thoughts, he knew that backing out of this would be like committing suicide. Since it was almost 5:00 p.m., he grabbed his coat and went downstairs to wait for Nigel.
He didn't hear his phone ringing as he went out to the elevator lobby.
The jeep was already waiting for him. The driver's side rear door opened; Mark got in, and the vehicle swiftly sped off.
"So where is this package going to be?" St John asked.
"Baggage claim. Supposed to be delivered there around 6:00 p.m."
"We should make it in plenty of time."
Clark and Lois were almost back to the hotel when Clark spotted a jeep crossing the road ahead of them.
"Omigod. This can't be good news," he blurted out.
"Clark, what? What is it?" Lois exclaimed.
"That was Mark Boyle and — I think — Nigel St. John — in that jeep that just drove by."
"What are you waiting for? Go after them!" Lois shouted.
The brush was thick along the side of the road they were walking on. Clark quickly scouted the area and pulled Lois into the treed area. Flying just above the vegetation, he followed the jeep at a safe distance until the brush cover disappeared as they were nearing the hotel.
He continued to follow them with his enhanced vision.
"Lois, I think they're heading toward the airport! They are traveling down that Boulevard that leads to Maya Maya."
"Clark, what can we do? You're not supposed to use your powers, and there are no rental cars."
"Let's see if there is an airport shuttle leaving soon from the hotel."
Entering the lobby, they walked up to the front desk. "Monsieur Kent, there is a message for you to contact Monsieur James Olson," the desk clerk informed him.
"Thank you. By the way, when does the next shuttle to the airport leave?" Clark asked.
"There are no flights out this time of day, only mail and baggage flights come in or go out after 4:00 pm. Therefore, no shuttle service is available until tomorrow morning, 6:00 a.m. Are you leaving us so soon?"
"Soon, yes. We have to arrange to switch our tickets to the next available flight," Clark said. "So we need to go there in person and talk to the airline."
"Do you have any kind of jeep we can borrow?" Lois piped up. "We'll pay you," she said with a gleam in her eye.
It was well known that corruption was a way of life in Congo- Brazzaville. For years, oil companies had been secretly financing crooked government regimes, hiding their profits by doing so. Lois figured that the desk clerk could be bought for a price as well.
"Put it on my hotel tab," Clark chimed in. "Whatever you want for it."
<This better be worth the scoop of the century, or James is going to fire his newly appointed foreign correspondent when we get back when he sees my expense statement.>
"Green jeep parked on the circle. Here are the keys. Please return it before my shift is finished, which is at 7:00 p.m.," the clerk stated.
"You got it! Let's go, Lois!"
"I'm driving, Clark. I know my way around here better than you," Lois shouted.
"Yeah, right! When's the last time you were behind a wheel?" Clark asked.
"Doesn't matter. I'll drive, you focus on their whereabouts. If you know what I mean," she smiled.
"OK, you win." <I just can't seem to get the upper hand with her. I'm more vulnerable to her than I am to Kryptonite.>
Lois sped off, only at the last minute realizing that she forgot to notice what side of the road they drive on in Brazzaville.
Clark had been following Mark and Nigel into the airport with his telescopic vision. Noticing they were heading toward the Lex-Air wing, they parked the jeep and kept a safe distance behind. Their suspects went to the baggage claim area and entered the office.
"Clark what's going on in there?" Lois asked.
"They're asking about a package that was to arrive at 6:00 p.m."
"Is it there?"
"Apparently not. It looks like Nigel is giving the guy a hard time in French; French spoken with a British accent. Funny…"
"Like a heart attack! Is that them coming out? Let's duck over here," Lois suggested, moving them over to the foyer fronting the rest rooms.
"They're sitting down. Looks like they're waiting for this package."
"So, what are they saying?" Lois was clearly frustrated that Clark could hear the conversation and she couldn't.
"Oh, no! We have to get out tickets switched and get out of here tomorrow if possible," Clark whispered. "Someone is sending them a package with Kryptonite in it."
"That stuff that can kill you? Omigod".
"Yes. Lois, you must know something more than what you've said. They're going to try to kill me, because they know I'm protecting you. They obviously want to get you alone. Let's go to the airline and get those tickets switched. You still have all of those medical certificates we just got at the hospital?"
"Yes, got 'em right here in my pants pocket."
Clark and Lois went over to the airline ticket window and they managed to get a flight leaving Brazzaville for the following day, 10:00 a.m. It was an 18 hour flight back to Metropolis, because of a stop for refueling, but due to the time zone changes, it would be 6 hours earlier, so they could conceivably be back home by 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night, jet lag and all (it would feel like 4:00 a.m. to them).
They crept back to the baggage claim area again, and Clark noted that Nigel and Mark were back in the baggage claim office, talking to the clerk. This time, Mark appeared to be signing for a box. Clark was frustrated that he was unable to see though the package to determine its contents.
"Lois, it must be in a lead lined box," Clark explained.
"Why? You can't see through lead? Now, that's interesting!"
"Lead is the only substance that shields the harmful rays of Kryptonite from me, also. That's probably a good thing for you to remember, in case things get crazy before we are able to get safely home."
"Clark? Why don't we just say the hell with all this politically correct stuff and fly home? We can deal with the U.N. and the Daily Planet later. Let's just leave *now*!" Lois pleaded.
"When James first received that e-mail from you, that's exactly what I suggested to him. But you're a high profile person, Lois. An award-winning reporter re-surfacing after ten years is big news. Imagine the U.N.'s reaction to the news that you were stranded in Brazzaville for ten years, and didn't return home through the proper channels! It would look like you, Superman and the Daily Planet were above the law. No, James is adamant that we must return home this way," Clark explained. "And he's paying for this rental car too, by the way."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's all political B.S. to me," Lois said. "And by going home the correct way, we may get killed. Makes a lot of sense to me."
"Lois, here they come. Jump into the ladies room till they walk by!" Clark instructed.
"Are you coming in with me?" she said with a devilish grin.
Clark x-rayed the bathroom. "Well, actually I could." he smiled, as he entered the men's room.
Several minutes later, Clark determined that they had left the airport and were walking to their car, package in hand.
"Let's go. We still have a few minutes before we have to bring the jeep back!" urged Lois. "We can follow them. We need to find out who's behind all of this."
"Ok, but Lois. I'm only going to ask you one more time: are you sure you've told me everything you know? This just isn't making sense to me."
"Yes, Clark. I *swear* I've told you everything I know," asserted Lois.
They found the jeep, paid the parking attendant, and drove down the Boulevard. Clark spotted Nigel's jeep fairly far ahead of them. Soon, they were past Le Meridien and headed down a muddy, mostly unpaved road, which took them away from the city.
"OK, well then, who is powerful enough to have access to Kryptonite? I thought I had Star Labs 'round up every rock on this planet," wondered Clark. "Star Labs and Bernie Klein have been my best friends in so many ways since I became Superman. I can't believe someone broke in and stole Kryptonite."
"May I ask why they didn't just destroy it, instead of storing it, if the stuff can kill you?" Lois inquired.
"Bernie is trying to find an antidote for Kryptonite poisoning. Every now and then he tests his latest experiment on me. So far, he's had no luck. But it did come in handy when I had to have a Yellow Fever vaccine just to come here," Clark explained.
Lois laughed. "*You* had to have a vaccine? Ridiculous! You couldn't get a waiver? Like you could catch Yellow Fever! You're invulnerable. well, almost."
"Yeah, I thought so too, but I was so happy to have the chance to come over here and bring you home, I didn't care. Bernie had to coat a needle with Kryptonite so it would pierce my skin.
"Let's see. with Luthor supposedly dead, the only other big corporate icon in Metropolis is Morgan Edge, and he's been linked to Intergang," Clark continued.
"Intergang? Is that as ominous as it sounds?" Lois asked.
"Well, there's no proof that it actually exists. But rumors had it that Luthor and the mysterious kingpin of Intergang were at war over control of Metropolis. That's why I don't know why they're after you. Luthor Corp is part of Edge Enterprises now, and whatever criminal activity Luthor Corp was up to is pretty insignificant now that the company's extinct."
"Lenny!" they both said at once. Great minds think alike. Like minds are great!
"He must be the mysterious kingpin of Intergang, and because I heard his name mentioned on the phone. " Lois speculated.
"Or he was Luthor's mole at Edge Enterprises. in any event, I have a feeling that no one is supposed to know a Lenny existed. or exists, as the case may be," Clark said, playing devil's advocate.
"Hey, I noticed that this is not the way to Le Choc. I never did ask Mark where he was staying," Lois commented.
The jeep ahead of them turned right onto a side road. There was a small sign on a tree on the corner.
"Elf Aquitaine-ELEL Oil Co, Congo-Brazzaville division", the sign stated.
Metropolis Perry scratched his head in disbelief. He had instructed Timmy Carlson first thing this morning to run a search for the name Lenny in combination with Luthor to see if there was any connection. Now, he was reeling with the news that he was a mole for Edge Enterprises. Timmy was every bit as good with computers as his older cousin James, but with none of his millions. He was jealous and resentful of him. But, to totally betray a family member? What was the world coming to? Perry wondered. Edge's lucrative offer for Timmy to find a way to break into the Daily Planet's network server to determine what stories they were working on that might link Edge to Intergang had taken a deadly new twist. Unexpectedly, they had discovered that Lois Lane was alive and that Clark had been sent to bring her home. What information Lois still had that might be of interest to Edge Enterprises, Perry couldn't fathom. But it was apparent from what Agent Olson said that Lois and Clark were in danger in Brazzaville, and that John had even sent an anonymous e-mail to Lois (with a blind cc: to Clark) in order to tip them off.
Perry had also been astounded to learn that ten years ago, John had gone undercover and portrayed himself to be a street person! He had been Johnny Jabbermouth and had come to know Lois very well. He had known the types of risks she took to get a story. He had been the one to give her the tip about Luthor's gun running in the Republic of Congo. He had suffered with guilt pains over that for a decade after she had disappeared. She had been like a daughter to him. Funny, she had never known that he cared. Lois had believed all he had wanted from her was a good meal. When his son had taken over the Daily Planet, John had had a falling out with him. He had told his son that he was fantastic with computers; what was with him thinking he could run a newspaper? Of course, James had gotten defensive and had told his father that he had always wanted to be in the newspaper business, and to mind his own affairs. After all, how many years had his father lied to him about his real profession?
To be fair, though, Perry thought, James had turned out to be a decent businessman who put the best reporters in the right places and let them do their thing. He had legal advisors who told him what should and shouldn't be printed, and circulation numbers were decent. With the advent of internet-based media, all print communication, and even the U.S. mail, had been in somewhat of a downslide. Why mail a letter when you could send an e-mail for free?
Perry decided that he had to go back over to the Planet and see if James had been able to figure out that his system had indeed been compromised. Without breaking Agent Olson's confidence, perhaps he could lead the horse to water. He didn't think he could look Timmy in the face right now, so he would have to practice his best poker face in a mirror before he left!
Clark looked at his watch. "Lois, we only have about ten minutes to get this jeep back to the hotel. Turn around, it's getting dark now. We'll come back using our own transportation!"
"OK, but what if they're not there when we come back?"
"We'll only be gone about fifteen minutes, Lois. We'll put our dark clothes on and be right back here."
"I think you need a lead-lined body suit also, Clark." Lois did a u-turn and started heading back to Le Meridien.
"Shucks, ma'am, I plumb forgot to pack that in my suitcase, I left the states in such a hurry," Clark joked, trying to lighten the moment.
"You really *are* from Kansas, aren't you?" Lois retorted. "I'm going to start calling you Smallville'!"
They arrived at the hotel right at 7:00 p.m. Lois handed the keys over to the clerk, who informed them that James Olson had called a second time. There were no pay phones, so Clark asked the clerk if could use one of their lines to make a collect call, and he agreed. Lois, meantime, started arguing with Clark that they were wasting precious minutes and that he should return James' phone call when they got back.
"Lo—is, he's our boss, remember? And, he may have some information that will help us. I haven't been in touch with him since I left the states," Clark replied. "It's time."
After about ten minutes of haggling with overseas operators, Clark was finally patched into the Daily Planet's phone system.
"Daily Planet, how may I help you?"
"Yes madam, a mister Clark Kent is calling collect. Will you accept the charges?"
"Yes, we will, operator."
"Sir, go ahead."
"Hello, this is Clark Kent. Who's this"?
"This is Mildred at the front desk. How are you, Mr. Kent, and how can I help you?
"I'm fine, Mildred, thanks for asking. Could you ring James Olson's extension, please," said Clark.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Kent, Mr. Olson has been out of the office for the last several hours. Would you like his voice mail?"
"Well, Mildred, I'm calling from overseas. Do you know how I may reach him? He's called the hotel here in Brazzaville several times today."
"Do you know his cell phone number?"
"Yes, but I can't call his cell phone collect!!" argued Clark. "Ok, put me through to his voice mail," Clark conceded.
After listening to James' standard voice mail greeting, Clark began his message.
"James — Kent here. I'm sorry I haven't been in touch. Lois and I have been working on a hot lead, and we will be returning to the states tomorrow by 10:00 p.m. I'll fill you in then. See you soon."
"Let's go, Clark!" Lois urged. Her Mad Dog personality had taken over. She could smell a story — a big one — as long as they were alive to write it, of course.
They took the elevator upstairs. Meanwhile, the desk clerk, finishing up his shift, called a certain oil company.
"I need Boyle or St. John," he said.
"Hello, St. John here."
"They switched their flights. They told their employer they would be back home by 10:00 p.m. tomorrow. I'm sure you can figure out what flight they're on. Oui, the usual payment is fine. Bon soir."
Lois and Clark, in their black spy clothes, took off from the roof of the hotel.
"Clark, I did research on this place before I came here. Most of the oil companies were in bed with both the government and the rebel forces here. They were walking both sides of the lines, anything to hide their real profits from taxation. Most of the oil rigging is down south of here, at Point Noire, by the coastline. Elf Aquitaine was one of the dirtiest French oil companies that recently came under serious scrutiny from the World Bank. Did you notice the extended name, El E? As in Lex Luthor?" Lois was in full babble mode.
"Wow, how do you breathe and get all that out? You're so cute," Clark said, smiling. "You know, El El could also be Lois Lane."
"Yeah, right. You're a riot. I wouldn't have been living in the rags you found me in if I had serious contacts to the oil industry, Clark."
They were at the turn in the road. Clark and Lois silently flew down the entryway to the oil company's office. It looked as if it was just a local branch, as there was no rigging equipment in sight. Clark spotted Nigel and Mark inside. Using a combination of enhanced vision and hearing, he was able to determine what their conversation was about. "Lois, the desk clerk is dirty. He informed them of our travel plans."
"Figures. Corruption is everywhere here."
"Oh, Boyle just took a phone call."
"Can you hear who it is on the other line?"
"No one's voice that I recognize. He's being very careful not to identify himself. Kind of talking in riddles. I don't really know Morgan Edge's voice all that well, if he is the one behind all this."
"Do you see the package?" asked Lois.
"Yes, the person on the phone is asking him about it, if it was received on time. He's opening the package right now," Clark informed her.
"Is it Kryptonite?"
"Yes, one of the biggest chunks I've ever seen."
Clark watched as the meteor rock was placed back in its lead box and closed. The phone call with the mysterious boss was concluded. Mark and Nigel stood up, and as it appeared they were going back out to the jeep, Clark landed in the woods surrounding the building and motioned to Lois to be as quiet as possible.
As they vehicle passed, Clark lamented, "This is great. I am not allowed to use my powers overseas unless it's to avert a natural disaster, and even if I could, they have the one thing that can kill me. I finally meet the woman of my dreams, and we're in dire straits."
Lois smiled at Clark. "You know I thrive on this stuff, Clark. We'll find a way out of it. I always do. Hey if I survived ten years in this jungle, I can do anything," Lois proclaimed.
"Yes, Lois, you do have a great track record, I'll admit. But everyone's luck runs out sooner or later. I was hoping it would be *later*!"
They began to fly, trying to follow the jeep from a distance again. "Clark, I'm not sure we should do this. The world needs its Superman," Lois said, unexpectedly.
"Don't tell me you want to back down from a story? This is truly not the Lois Lane I've been told about," Clark remarked.
"Look, you said that the clerk told them what time our flight is tomorrow. What if we switch it again to foil them? Once we get home, and you can use your powers openly, we have a better chance of finding out who it is that's out to get me," Lois reasoned.
"No, we're getting on that plane tomorrow morning. I can't wait to get out of this place." Clark was adamant.
"That's true; there *is* some reason they don't want me going back to Metropolis, Clark. We need to find out what that reason is, or our problems here will follow us home," Lois argued.
"So what are you saying? We're back on the story again? Did you just talk yourself into changing your mind" Clark said, shaking his head. You needed to have a lightning-fast thought process to keep up with Mad Dog.
"Hmmm. yes, I guess I did," Lois said, smiling. "It is a woman's prerogative, after all".
They continued to follow the jeep, which, unexpectedly, headed back toward their hotel, Le Meridien.
"Uh-oh! What are they up to?"
"I think Boyle's going to ask you out to dinner again, Lois, and this time, you should go," Clark advised.
"What do you want me to do, seduce him, to find out who's he's working for?"
"Well, let him think you're falling for his lines until you get the info, then I'll swoop in before it gets too far," Clark promised.
"Sure, and then he whips out the Kryptonite. what happens then?"
"I better go buy my lead-lined suit in a hurry, huh?" Clark grinned. "Boyle must know that *we* know he's a fraud. Does he think his charm and good looks alone can win you over? What an ego."
"Quick, let's get back to our room! We don't want them to think we were following them," Lois exclaimed.
They landed on the roof and, with no one in view, sped back to the suite. Several minutes later, there was a knock on their door. The concierge of the hotel was standing in the hallway.
"Madame Lane? There is a gentleman in the lobby to visit with you. He says his name is Monsieur Mark Boyle," he advised. "He asks if you would please come downstairs to have dinner with him, and he asks that it be without Monsieur Kent. He also says he has a parting gift for you."
"Please tell Monsieur Boyle I will be downstairs shortly," Lois told him.
"Excellent, madame. I'll convey your message to him," the concierge said, as he turned back down the hallway towards the elevator.
Lois closed the door, looking at Clark with an "OK, you were right, you want a medal?" expression on her face.
"No medal, but I have to say, see, I told you so. He wants to get you by yourself!" Clark gloated.
"I can't believe he thinks I'm going to fall for this. Talk about the stupidly direct approach!"
"Well, you go downstairs to meet him. I'll come downstairs a few minutes later. I'm going to check my e-mail and see what, if anything, Perry has to say. Perhaps Timmy has tracked down some info on this mysterious Lenny.
"Just don't leave the hotel with him. I will be listening the whole time from the internet kiosks."
"OK, but this is really weird," said Lois.
Lois put on the dress that Clark had bought her in Paris, did her hair and makeup, and the finished product elicited a wolf whistle from Clark.
"Whoa, I didn't mean for you to look that good!" he said. "You'll definitely have him distracted!"
"It's what I used to do best," Lois replied with a wink. "Keep your fingers crossed that this doesn't blow up in our faces!"
When Lois exited the elevator, she spotted Mark waiting by the front desk. Nigel was nowhere in sight. Perhaps he was waiting in the jeep outside?
"Lois, you are stunning. *very* beautiful. Thanks so much for agreeing to dine with me. I hope Kent didn't take offense," Mark said.
"Clark has some last-minutes things to catch up on. He's fine with it," Lois replied.
He really was a good-looking man himself, Lois thought. An older Clark Kent. <Maybe that's why I find him so attractive, because he reminds me so much of Clark>.
They went to one of the hotel's more expensive restaurants for dinner. At the same time, Clark was sitting down at the computer to check his e-mail. His ears were tuned to pick up Lois' voice.
After they were seated, and a bottle of fine wine ordered, Mark said, "Lois, I have a confession to make, and I hope you're going to be able to forgive me." He leaned in, and gave her one of his more electrifying smiles.
<His smiles are almost as magical as Clark's. The British accent is so sexy, too. Omigod! What am I thinking? Focus. Focus.>
"Perry didn't send me to find you, that first time I came here."
<Act surprised, Lane.> "Whatever do you mean?" she said in her best airhead voice.
"I lied to you. I really came to see Kent. When you rushed up to me, I couldn't resist your charms, so I made up that story to get you to spend some time with me."
"That's sweet, Mark, but how did you know that Clark was going to be here?"
"That's what I want to talk to you about. I'm afraid the Daily Planet's server is not as secure as your owner, Mr. Olson, would like it to be."
Lois was taken aback by Mark's forthrightness. This wasn't in the master game plan. <Well, Clark is listening out in the lobby. Just keep winging it, Lois.>
"You mean. you were able to read Clark's e-mails?"
"And yours, as well."
"Could you start at the beginning? You're scaring me, Mark," Lois said. <And I really mean it.>
Clark, out in the lobby, suddenly realized that not only was he hearing the two-way conversation, but also Lois' thoughts were popping into his head. Telepathy? Was that a hidden power that no one had told him about? He realized Lois was frightened. He could feel her fear. And he wasn't sure if Mark was on the level, but he was pretty sure he was scamming her. Meanwhile, there were several e-mails from his folks, and one from Perry. He opened Perry's first. He was aghast as he started to read Perry's e-mail about Timmy being a mole for Edge Enterprises. There had to be a connection between Boyle and Edge Enterprises, if Timmy was the one who had hacked into the system and Mark had read all of their e-mails, up until the time Clark had started using a web-based e- mail address (his Yahoo account). He replied to Perry, advising him that they would be home in Metropolis at 10:00 p.m. tomorrow and that they were aware that someone — probably Edge Enterprises — was out to get Lois.
He was distracted from the e-mails by the conversation that was taking place with Boyle.
"Twenty-three years ago, I did meet Perry. I didn't lie to you about that — that part of the story is true, Lois. That was also when I met Nigel St. John. Believe it or not, he was an investigative reporter for the London Times when I worked there. Do you know who he is, Lois?"
"Wasn't he recently associated with Luthor Corp?"
"Yes, Nigel was Luthor's administrative assistant and director of his overseas operations. One of his key executives, you might say. But he was his public relations officer prior to that."
"Really? I didn't know that," Lois said, genuinely surprised. <Nigel St John — a reporter? Is he yanking my chain here?>
Clark "heard" Lois' thoughts. Since he was on-line, he pulled up a search engine and punched in "Nigel St. John". Sure enough, there were a few hits related to the London Times and some press releases from Luthor Corp.
<"He's telling the truth, Lois,"> Clark thought.
Lois' head perked up. Was that Clark's voice she just heard in her head??
"Ok, so you met Nigel." Lois said, urging him to continue the story.
"Yes, Nigel quit newspaper reporting for private industry. He said that writing news releases might be boring, but it was quite lucrative. Especially if his particular spin on a crisis resulted in that company's continued profits. He used to tell me that a good PR man was worth his weight in gold to a big corporation."
"OK. and this was twenty years ago?"
"Yes. We lost touch for awhile."
"Well, who is he working for now, since Luthor Corp's down the tubes? The papers in the states pretty much said that Nigel had disappeared in the middle of night."
"Nigel has always had more than one employer, Lois, and so have I." Mark's expression turned deadly serious. "You, of all people, must know that a reporter's salary doesn't allow one the finer things in life," he continued.
<"Clark, if you can hear me somehow. I don't like the look on his face. Do you see Nigel in the lobby at all, or out in the parking lot? I can't believe he would betray him. What's he setting me up for?">
<"Lois, I don't know how. but yes, I can hear you. I see the jeep they drove in with, but there is no one in it. The box with the Kryptonite is missing, also. Nigel could be anywhere.">
Just then, a man wearing dark glasses, a hat and overcoat sat down at the kiosk next to him. He had a large attach‚ case with him. He turned to Clark. "Good evening, Monsieur Kent. Your lady companion is not with you this evening? What a shame," he said, as he opened his oversized briefcase containing a rectangular lead-lined box. He opened it quickly, therefore exposing a large glowing chunk of green meteorite. He spoke with a distinctive British accent.
Clark became dizzy, could barely stay upright in the chair. He clutched onto the armrests in order to prevent himself from falling.
"Now, you can make a scene, but there is really no law against carrying Kryptonite in a valise in Brazzaville. There is a U.N.- mandated law against you using your special powers here, however.
"If you allow us to depart with Ms. Lane, I won't kill you. You probably know that the desk clerk is on my payroll. He will not care if you turn green in his lobby. No one here knows or cares about Clark Kent-who-is-Superman. The majority of the people around here are so poor, they hate Americans, who are rich and lazy. What will it be?"
<"Lois, I need you!"> As Mark was rattling on about Nigel's unsavory career and how he talked him into writing PR spins for Luthor Corp, Lois heard Clark.
<"Omigod, I'll be right there!">
"Mark, I need to freshen up. I'll be right back," she informed Mark, as she nearly ran from the table.
<"Clark where are you? Still on the computer?">
<"Yes, the guy next to me is Nigel. He has the Kryptonite. I'm going to pass out soon">.
Lois crept up to the lobby, but nonetheless, Nigel spotted her.
"Ah, Ms. Lane, you've so graciously agreed to save your new boyfriend's life. How sweet." Nigel stood up, and with one arm grabbed Lois, and with the other he placed the Kryptonite box right on the keyboard in front of Clark.
Clark writhed in agony and fell off the chair. <"Lois, kick the box shut if you can. Arghghgh.">
Lois spun around and tried to kick-box both Nigel and the Kryptonite. She only succeeded in knocking the Kryptonite off the keyboard, out of its box. At that moment, Mark Boyle came up behind her.
"Lois, darling, we were having such a lovely dinner. I guess the atmosphere here is not as pleasant as we thought," Mark said sarcastically. "I guess we'll have to go somewhere where the ambiance is better."
"Ms. Lane, walk out the door with us amicably, and I will instruct the desk clerk to contain the Kryptonite as soon as we are safely out of sight," St. John promised. "Screaming won't do you any good here. War and destruction has been a way of life for too long here. You of all people should know that. So making a scene will just ensure that your Superman will die on a hotel floor in Brazzaville. Won't that make great headlines?"
<"Clark? Can you hear me?">
There was no reply. Apparently when Clark's powers were stripped of him, so was the telepathy.
"OK, I'll go with you. Just please don't kill him. Promise me you won't let him die there," Lois pleaded.
St. John nodded to Mark Boyle, who walked over to the desk clerk, giving him instructions. The three of them the left the lobby and fled in the jeep. Exactly ten minutes later, the clerk walked over to the Kryptonite and picked it up, putting it back in the lead-lined box. He brought it over to the lobby station, at a safe distance from Clark. Five minutes later, a courier came to the front desk and retrieved the Kryptonite box from the desk clerk.
Within fifteen minutes, Clark managed to drag himself off the floor and sit in the chair. He started to feel a bit better, but he was extremely weak. Furthermore, as was typical with Kryptonite poisoning, he was bereft of his powers. <"Lois, can you hear me?">
No response. No powers, no telepathy. <Maybe the desk clerk was really greedy, and would be willing to betray his employers.>
"Look, I need a jeep. I'll pay you anything you want. I have to save that woman. I love her," he pleaded to the clerk in his best French accent.
"Anything, monsieur? Are you certain?"
"Very well. This is what it will cost you," he said, writing a sum roughly equaling $500.00 American dollars on a pad.
"You got it. Now, where's the box holding the green rock? Do you have it?"
"No, monsieur, someone came and retrieved it."
"Who was it? Have you seen him before?"
"Can you describe him for me?"
"He was an errand boy, sir. African, like me. A runner. Nothing special. We all do whatever it takes these days."
"How much do I have to pay you not to report to someone that I'm out looking for her?"
"That will be another — " he said as he wrote another figure equaling $500.00 American dollars.
<God, I can't wait to get out of here. Good old American criminals are looking good to me now.>
"How do I know I can trust you? Dropping that kind of money ought to buy me your word," said Clark.
"I guess you'll have to take your chances that I won't get a better offer," the clerk said, smiling sadistically.
Lois, Nigel, and Mark arrived at the site of the Elf-Aquitaine El El Oil Company.
"What do you guys think I know, anyway? I came here to do a story on Luthor Corp supplying the rebels with weapons. Luthor Corp is no more. What use could I possibly be to you now?"
"Ms. Lane, you were smart to stay under the name of Linda all those years. We really thought you were dead until we read your e-mails to the Daily Planet," Nigel said. "You still haven't answered my question. What is it that makes me such a nuisance to you people?"
"I think our employer can answer that question better than we can," said Mark.
They dialed an overseas number and put the call on speakerphone.
"Sir, we have Lois Lane here. She wants to know why we have detained her. Would you like to answer her question?"
"Indeed I would. Lois, you have a very bad habit of listening in to other people's private phone conversations. I'm sure you shared the conversation with Kent. But only you will know why it was important to us, and if you don't work with us, you'll be dead, so it won't matter."
Lois stiffened, in shock. She recognized the voice on the phone. But it couldn't be! It sounded just like Lex Luthor!
"Who is this?" Lois asked.
"We've never formally met, Ms. Lane. But you did date my twin brother, Alexander," the voice said.
"Your brother? Lex was your brother? I never read anything about Lex having a twin brother."
"He didn't know I existed until 1992. You see, my mother knew she was carrying fraternal twins, but she never told our father. He was a mobster, and she knew the kind of life I'd be exposed to. She paid off the hospital workers so he never knew that there were two babies.
"In those days, fathers didn't participate in the birth of their children like they do today. He hung out in the club the entire time my mother was giving birth to us.
"She had her younger, unmarried sister, Lena, sneak me out of the hospital. My birth certificate names her, my aunt, as the mother and unknown as the father. She moved across the country to San Diego, CA., and raised me as Leonard Thorul. She altered the spelling of my last name so no one would know I was a Luthor. She petitioned Probate Court and successfully changed her own name to Thorul legally as well. My birth mother told my father, her husband, that she had had a falling out with her sister, so that we never met accidentally at family functions.
"I never knew my father, but my mother would come out to California and visit me from time to time, when her husband was away on business trips. Lex was always away at boarding school, so I never met him. I thought my birth mother was my aunt. It wasn't until I was 18 that I was told about my true background. To say that I was shocked is an understatement.
"Eventually my real parents were killed in an apartment building explosion, which was linked to organized crime. Lex was in college at the time. He graduated at the top of his class at Harvard Business School and began his illustrious business career right after graduation.
"When I realized that my twin brother was forging an empire, I stayed in the background, biding my time. He still didn't know I existed. My mother, who was really my aunt, passed away eleven years ago, in 1992. I didn't realize that my birth mother had started a trust fund for me (when I was an infant) that was managed by the woman I called Mom — my Aunt Lena. Imagine my surprise at the reading of her will that I was to inherit — let's say — a very large sum of money. It was then that I made my move towards my now-billionaire brother, who had no clue that I ever existed.
"Even though we were twins, we weren't identical. My hair color is red; his, as you know, was brown. When I showed up on his door one day, he called me a fraud. However, a DNA test proved to him that I truly was his brother. I told him that we could be partners — or enemies — his choice. Imagine his surprise in finding out that his newfound brother had some financial backing of his own.*and* an aptitude for business.
"It was my idea to get involved here in Brazzaville with the rebel forces. I would travel over here and run the business, while he stayed in Metropolis and controlled that end. We got involved in the French oil company scams too. We discovered that if we both shaved our heads, we were virtually identical. Lex told everyone that he had had a bout with prostate cancer, and that the chemotherapy made his hair fall out. Our voices, as you can tell, were very similar, and I could make myself look enough like Lex that only our close acquaintances could tell us apart. We covered more ground that way. It was a good partnership for quite a while. Extremely lucrative, it was. No one knew I was a separate person. It was almost like being able to split yourself in two, Ms. Lane. As a reporter, I'm sure you could see how very convenient that could be."
Lois, listening in complete awe, grunted, "Yes, mm-hmm."
"The day my brother took you on that nice romantic dinner to San Francisco.and yes, it was him, it definitely wasn't me.. you had to go and blow it by picking up the phone. We knew, too late, that you had overheard Nigel and Lex refer to me by name. and that the smartest thing we could do is to get you out of the country ASAP. Sooner or later, we knew that you would research the name Lenny. We couldn't have you blowing our cover.
"I give you credit.. we had you dropped you off in a pretty savage part of the Brazzaville jungle, and somehow, you lived. But you can see how now, with my brother dead, I still can't have you telling your readers that I exist. I'm so much more effective as Morgan Edge's new West Coast V.P. in charge of acquisitions, Leonard Thorul. I am a respected businessman in my own name, in my own right. You see, I've grown my hair back. I'm a curly redhead, and since my last name is different, no one even considers that I could be Lex's brother.
"Recently, we discovered that you already told your former boss, Mayor White, about the conversation, didn't you? Our insider at the Planet was told to investigate that name. Thankfully he's working for us. The questions have to stop. Now."
"Did you kill Lex? Was it really a suicide?" Lois asked, not expecting to get a serious answer.
"Anything is possible, Ms. Lane. I won't confirm or deny it. Did you think that I would?"
"I suppose not. Can't blame me for asking," Lois said, resignedly.
"So here's my deal to you, Ms. Lane. I am a softhearted fool. You, along with that Boy Scout boyfriend of yours, agree to bury this story for the rest of your days, or we will kill you both now. Your Superman will have no powers for the next 48 hours, so it would be easy enough to finish him off. That chunk of Kryptonite, as you know, is quite large."
"How do you know that I won't ask for government protection when I get back to the states?" asked Lois. "Why would you even take a chance with me? This smells like a setup!"
"You're going to find, Ms. Lane, our knowledge base spans wide and far, like a spider's web. If you do something stupid like that, we will know. You don't know who you can really trust out there, believe me.
"As to why I would offer you this: for fun, really. This is a classic case of Adam and Eve. You've got the apple. if you choose to eat it, for a scoop, as you call it, you will die. The Boy Scout will never be the same, even if we do let him live. He will be so heartbroken that the love of his life is gone that he will have a virtual nervous breakdown. You're his Achilles' Heel, Ms. Lane. This is checkmate.
"Are you the head of Intergang? Is that what this is all really about?" Lois interjected.
"Ms. Lane, as far as I know, Intergang is a rumor, not a reality," Lenny stated. Nigel and Mark both had smirks on their faces, however, which spoke volumes.
"Yeah, right. A rumor. Sure." Lois commented.
"You know, there are so many other good stories for you to write about. What about these horrible conditions in the Congo, for example. Why would you want to write an expos‚ on a criminal organization that may or may not really exist? You almost died here. Don't you want to just enjoy what's left of your life?
"So, your choice. we either end your life here, after spending ten years here in hell. and what a shame that would be. or, you agree to my terms, and go back home to the U.S., to enjoy a lovely lifestyle back in Metropolis. Now you even have a new boyfriend to protect you from those hair-brained schemes you're so famous for getting into."
"Even if I say yes, I can't speak for Clark. He's Superman. he has integrity. He can't be bought," argued Lois.
"But all he knows right now is that you overheard a phone conversation with Lex, Nigel, and someone named Lenny, correct?"
"Yes, that true," conceded Lois.
"And we know that he's been in love with you for at least seven years, Ms. Lane. I read the e-mail he sent to his close friends, the Langs. Believe me when I tell you that he doesn't want to have his time with you cut short, now that he's finally found you."
"If you say so. I don't know about that," Lois replied.
"It's true, trust me. So, it's up to you to keep that lovely mouth of yours shut. Believe me, no amount of research will lead you to find solid evidence that Lex had a twin brother. Only a DNA test can prove it, and with Lex dead, you wouldn't be able to compile enough evidence to get a D.A. to have the body exhumed. There is no paper trail. It's my word against yours. And I'm a respected businessman."
"I still don't get it! Why are you bargaining with me?"
"Well, Ms. Lane, it turns out that Mark, here, has really taken a fancy to you. He would be upset if we killed you. And life is more interesting this way, don't you think? You'll be harboring this secret, which you can't write about, and that will make you suffer longer than if we snuff out your life right now.
"So, do we have a deal? You can write about anything except the fact that Lenny Thorul is related to Lex Luthor. Do all the research you want. You won't find any hard proof of any criminal activity on our part, anyway. If you do, because we got sloppy, then we get what we deserve. How's that for fairness? I do consider myself such a fair person.
"Anyway, I have a meeting to get to. That's my offer. Take a few minutes to think about it. Let Mark and Nigel know your decision."
The speakerphone went dead. Mark and Nigel moved Lois to a windowless room. "Lois, we'll leave you alone a few minutes; I'm sure you'll make the correct decision," Mark said to her, with a cunning smile pasted on his face.
"You're just another scumbag male that can't be trusted," she snarled at him as he locked the door. Left alone, Lois felt herself welling up with anxiety. A thousand thoughts were running through her mind simultaneously.
<How can I keep this from Clark? How can I live with myself? And if Clark is able to read my thoughts, he's going to find out about this. "Clark, I need you!!! Where are you?">
Clark was heading full jeep-jungle-speed to the oil company's office. He figured that this was Nigel's hangout, since he had disappeared from the states so quickly after Lex's suicide. He was out of his element, a Superman without super-powers. What to do? More than likely, the courier had delivered the Kryptonite to them, and Lois' life most certainly was in danger. He just wanted to get on that plane with Lois tomorrow and go home!
Several minutes later, Mark and Nigel reappeared. "Ms. Lane, can you meet our requirements in order to save your life?" asked Nigel.
Lois swallowed hard. <Like I'm going to say, 'Sure, kill me now, because I know with my big mouth that I won't be able to keep this secret.' I'm going to end up dead later instead of now. What kind of a choice is this?>
The thought of never seeing Clark again; that sweet, wonderful man who had catered to her every whim since she had met him — well, that was the tiebreaker. "Yes, I agree to your terms, if you are willing to turn over the Kryptonite to me so you don't double-cross us." <What the heck, may as well throw that out there!>
"Ms. Lane, you really have no bargaining chip here. We could kill you right now, and no one is around for miles to hear the gun fire. And, quite frankly, no one in this country would care."
"Look, my life means nothing to me if Clark is still not safe. So either give me the Kryptonite, or kill me now." <Lane, that was stupid. What if they take you up on that offer? Just get out of there!!>
"How sweet, Lois, I really thought we were starting to care for each other, too," said Mark. "But I'm afraid the boss will not go for that. This Kryptonite cost us plenty. And the poor slob that stole it from Star Labs for us lost his life over it as well! What a shame, he was quite a young fellow too.
"However, you have our word that once we bring you back to your hotel tonight, we will leave the two of you alone. Upon your return to the states, the playing field is wide open again. If you betray us, we kill you and use the Kryptonite on the Boy Scout. Remember, the only territory that is off-limits is Thorul's connection to his brother. The rest will be a fine game of cat-and-mouse, I'm sure."
"Then get me back to the hotel. Clark must be frantic. I agree to your lousy terms," Lois said, completely disgusted that she caved in. What would her college ethics teacher have said about this type of situation?
Hands tied behind her back, Lois was lead back out to the jeep. Nigel carried the box of Kryptonite and a handgun as collateral in case Lois decided to pull one of her famous stunts.
Unbeknownst to her and the two British goons, Clark had parked the jeep over by the brush and was watching the building for movement. As soon as he saw Lois being lead to the jeep by Boyle and St. John, he crouched down, relieved to see that Lois was still alive. After they had driven down the driveway a bit, he started the jeep with the lights off and followed them from a distance. It was soon apparent that they were heading back to Le Meridien.
<What the *heck* is going on? Is this round two? That lousy desk clerk betrayed me again!> Clark fumed to himself.
As they arrived at the hotel, Clark was amazed to see that Lois was thrown out of the jeep with her hands still tied behind her back. The jeep sped off into the night. She managed to stand up, stumbling down the pathway entrance to the hotel lobby. Clark parked his jeep as quickly as non-super-humanly possible and jogged into the lobby, yelling, "Lois, Lois!!! What happened? I'm so glad you're safe!"
Lois turned and, as soon as Clark untied her, literally flew into his arms. Soon, they were kissing and hugging passionately!
"Oh, Lois, I thought you would be dead. I was so scared. I've never been so scared in my life," whispered Clark, as he kissed her forehead and cheeks.
"Clark, it's OK, they let me go. They picked me up to scare me off from digging too deeply into the gun-running story I came here for. I told them that it was yesterday's news anyway, and I wasn't planning on writing about it anyway. We made a deal, so they brought me back here. It's over. We can go home." <A little white lie, that's all. Part of this is true>.
"Lois, hold on one minute," Clark said, walking up to the desk clerk with a fierce look, and whipping the jeep keys (which ended up costing him a cool $1,000.00) down on the counter. "Our business together is concluded. We will be checking out in the morning," he said in his best stern Superman voice. The desk clerk nodded, with a sardonic smile on his face. Clark put his arm around Lois and walked them towards the elevator lobby.
"Lois, let's go upstairs and pack. We have a plane to catch tomorrow morning," Clark said. "By the way, you know I have no powers right now. No flying tonight! Hey, do you know what they did with the Kryptonite?"
"I tried to get them to give it to me to seal our deal, but they wouldn't. They promised me that we would be able to return home without their interference, as long as I keep up my end of the bargain."
They got in the elevator, pushed six, and rode in silence to the top floor.
They sat down on the sofa in the living area. Lois was bursting with questions for Clark.
"Clark? They told me that they read the e-mail you sent to your friends, the Langs. Did you tell them you'd been in love with me for seven years?" Lois asked as Clark put his arm around her.
"Yes, Lois, it's true. Remember, I told you? I fell in love with your picture?"
"Yes, but no one *really* falls in love with a picture. Why do I keep getting the feeling there is more to this story than meets the eye? I mean, I admit, we are pretty perfect for each other, we're both reporters, I *like* to get into trouble, you *like* to save people". she babbled.
"Well, I didn't save you this time. Whatever happened there, whatever you said or did, I'm very grateful that you're still alive," Clark said, interrupting her mini-rant, looking intently into her deep brown eyes.
<"You're his 'Achilles Heel', Ms. Lane"…> "Clark, I have to admit that I was so mortified when I saw you fall off that chair in agony. I felt so helpless that I couldn't do anything. I know it's too soon to say this, but I think I'm in love with you."
Clark's eyes opened wide, and he felt a stab of anxiety well over him, then lift. "Lois, you have no idea how long I've waited for you to say that. I have so much to tell you, but I don't want to do it here. I want us to get back to Metropolis and we can take off for a long weekend together, and I'll answer all of the questions you have. You may think I'm crazy, but you're going to have to trust me that what I'm going to tell you is true."
"I guess if I can believe in a flying man from another planet, I can pretty much believe anything now, Clark. I mean I was actually hearing your thoughts in my head. What's that all about?"
"I'm not sure. I'll have to ask the other Cla…err, I mean, it must be a Kryptonian power that I wasn't aware of. And I think we have a strong connection to each other, and that must help. But now that I don't have any powers, I don't have the ability. Who knows if it will come back when my powers resurface?" he wondered.
Clark realized he started saying he was going to ask the other Clark if he ever saw him again, but he cut himself short, realizing that he would be opening a Pandora's Box of questions. There would be time for that when they were safe and sound back in Metropolis.
"Well, it sure came in handy — beats talking on the telephone anytime!" Lois joked. "I'm certain that I can handle just about anything you have to tell me, now!"
"I hope so, Lois, because this story may stretch even your imagination," Clark warned.
"Bring it on!" Lois exclaimed.
"I love you, Lois Lane." Clark began to sing.
*"Maybe it's intuition,
But some things you just don't question,
Like in your eyes, I see my future in an instant,
and there it goes,
I think I've found my best friend,
I know that it might sound more than a little crazy,
but I believe, I knew I loved you before I met you,
I think I dreamed you into life,
I knew I loved you before I met you,
I have been waiting all my life.."*
"Clark, that's so beautiful. You have a really nice singing voice. very sexy," Lois purred.
"When I first heard that song on the radio, I couldn't believe how closely the lyrics mirrored what I'd been feeling for you. That song has been playing in my head since the very first time I heard it.
Clark continued to sing.
*"There's just no rhyme or reason,
only this sense of completion,
and in your eyes,
I see the missing pieces I'm searching for,
I think I found my way home,
I know it might sound more than a little crazy,
but I believe…"*
Lois joined in at the chorus, humming more than singing as she didn't quite know all of the words.
*"I knew I loved you before I met you,
I think I dreamed you into life,
I knew I loved you before I met you,
I have been waiting all my life…" *
Passion overwhelming the two of them. Clark's tongue found its way inside of Lois' mouth. This time, Lois had no problem kissing him back with an enthusiasm she hadn't felt in over ten years. While they were lip-locked, both of them started undressing each other with a hunger that would only be fulfilled by the physical expression of the love they felt for each other. There wasn't a moment's doubt that it wasn't right for either of them. It was magical, it was musical, and it was beautiful. It was the perfect union of two lost soul mates finding each other again for what seemed to be the very first time.
It was the perfect distraction from the deal that Lois had made with the devil.
Metropolis, New Troy, 4:00 p.m.
Perry entered the Planet's newsroom, muttering to himself, "If I knew I would be coming back here this often, I would have never entered politics!"
Olson's office was empty. "Hey Ralph, where's Olson?" Perry bellowed.
"He got a phone call, Mayor, and then left unexpectedly. He didn't leave word where he was going," he replied.
Perry spotted Timmy Carlson at his desk, apparently in the middle of research. He couldn't resist the urge to throw an innuendo his way.
"Hey Carlson, blood is thicker than water. Remember that, son." Timmy didn't look up at the voice, but he knew it was Mayor White. He buried himself in his assignment.
He went up the stairs to the elevator. As the door opened, a very-disturbed-looking James Olson got out, focusing on the paperwork that he was carrying. Looking up, he spotted Perry staring at him curiously.
"Hi, Mayor — Perry. I've seen a lot of you lately. What's up?" said Olson.
"Son, we need to talk, but not here. Let's go downstairs and grab a coffee," Perry asserted.
"I'm in the middle of a thousand problems, right now, Perry. Can it wait?"
"Look at me, son. Ask yourself: would I be here, the Mayor of this fine city, if it could wait?"
"I guess you have a point, Mr. Mayor," responded James.
They sat down with their coffees in the diner near the Planet. Perry began with, "James- oh hell, I'm going to call you Jim — if that's OK — did you run those tests on your computer system the other night like you said you were going to do?"
"Yes, I had my cousin Timmy run the interloper system, and the test printouts showed that our system was impenetrable," Jim said rather confidently. "As I knew it would."
"How the Sam Hill can I say this? Jim, what if there was someone inside the Planet that was leaking information? How would you determine that?"
Olson's eyes opened wide. "Like a mole? Perry, are you telling me that this is an inside job? There's only one person on the entire payroll that's as good with computers as I am, and it's Tim -" He stopped talking, staring at the expression on Perry's face.
"Timmy? Not my *own cousin*. I don't believe it! Now, coupled with the emergency stockholders' meeting that I just attended, this is all starting to make sense. Damn!" He shook his head and looked down at the table.
Perry looked at him, feeling for him as if he were his own son. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Apparently someone has been purchasing large blocks of Olson Technologies stock. I will always have a 51% controlling interest, but, just the way Luthor Corp was brought down, the stock price has dropped dramatically in the last several weeks. I'm being pressured to sell the Planet to Edge Enterprises to raise cash to purchase more shares to ward off a possible takeover. I don't want to do it, but I'm up against the wall here. Got any suggestions, Mr. Mayor?"
"Edge Enterprises? Not a surprise, they're getting to be the big gorilla that's swallowing everyone up."
"Some new V.P. in charge of acquisitions, Leonard Thorul, was representing Edge. The offer they made to purchase the Planet was above market-share price, and I'm going to have a mutiny on my hands with the board of directors if I don't agree to sell it," James said, with disgust in his tone of voice.
Perry's ears perked up. "Did you say Leonard? Could his nickname be Lenny?" he asked. <Aha! Should have known this mysterious Lenny had a connection to Edge Enterprises. And I asked Timmy to investigate that name. What a joke! All I accomplished there was to tip them off>.
"Sure, I guess so. He's just another suit to me," James said. "Maybe my father was right all along. He warned me not to get in over my head in the newspaper business. He always told me to stick to the stuff I was an expert at. Creating productivity and security software. that's what I'm all about.
"All these great people working at the Daily Planet — they're going to feel like I fed them to the dogs if Edge Enterprises, LNN division, ends up owning them. I'm sick about this. Mayor, do you have any suggestions?"
"First off, you're going to have to show some backbone and fire that cousin of yours. All the e-mails that have been sent and received on your web server have been read by Edge Enterprises. Any stories that your reporters are investigating. they know about them as well. You've got damage control to take care of first, Jim. let's get upstairs and kick some cousin tail!" Perry said, sounding like a football coach in the locker room at halftime during the Super bowl.
"Thanks, Perry. by the way, how do you know all this to be true?"
"Blood is thicker than water, Jim. you may not talk to your Dad, but he has your best interests at heart."
Lois woke up and sleepily squinted at the alarm clock. It was after midnight. She was wrapped up in Clark's arm, naked, with all the lights in the room blazing. She gingerly attempted to remove herself from Clark's embrace.
"Lois, honey — where are you going?" Clark asked, her movement immediately rousing him from his sleep.
Lois leaned over the kissed Clark on the lips. "I like it when you call me honey, *honey*," she whispered to him. "And I like what we were doing before, mmmmmmmmmmm."
"Not too bad for a guy with no previous experience, huh?" Clark asked.
"Clark, that can't be true! You were wonderful, so unselfish, so . super," she protested. "You're what — 37 years old — and I'm your *first*? I've heard of Midwest values, but that's taking it to a whole new level. And forget about my calling you Smallville", she winked. "Definitely doesn't apply!"
"Well, Lois, honey, you were *definitely* worth the wait. And if I *was* any good, it was because I was doing it with you. And we will be doing that again," Clark said with a sexy smile. "Practice makes perfect, I hear. So *why* are you getting up again?"
"Clark, we need to pack!! We have to leave early to get to the airport. Customs and security will take us about two hours to get through, and the hotel shuttle is going to leave at 6:30 a.m."
"You're right, Lois. I wish I had my speed back. I could clean up this room and pack in the blink of any eye," he said with regret. "Soon, I guess. At least I know that you would love me even if I'm an ordinary guy." "There is nothing *ordinary* about you, Clark. You are the sweetest, kindest, most selfless, most wonderful man I could ever dream of knowing. And the fact that you love me. is just unbelievable. I'm the luckiest woman on earth. In the solar system!
"And, I have to admit, I do love flying with you, and.. if you never got your powers back, I can't deny that I would miss that."
"Flying is the best ability I have," Clark agreed. "I would miss that the most, too. The feeling of freedom when you're up there, the perspective you get. it's awesome."
"But now that I've met you, I never want to live without you, Clark. I've never felt this way about anyone, and certainly never this quickly. I have always had my wall up. but with you, somehow, you tore that wall down in one morning."
"Which morning was that, Lois?" Clark asked, with a broad smile on his face.
"Paradise Island. When you went skinny dipping with me and didn't try to put the moves on me, I knew you were a different type of guy right then and there. No ulterior motives. You give of yourself just for the pleasure of it. You don't expect or want anything in return."
"Not true, Lois. I want your love — always. If we *ever* get married, which I hope we will someday — we're going to have the ceremony there. It would be perfect," Clark said. "I can see the invitations now: 'You are cordially invited to attend the wedding of Lois Lane and Clark Kent, ceremony to be held in the lagoon on an uncharted isle in the Fiji Islands," Clark laughed and flashed a beautiful smile Lois' way.
"Wow, Mr. 'Ex-Propaganda', that's as good as a marriage proposal," Lois said.
"I was ready to ask you to marry me the day I met you, Lois. That offer will always be on the table. Give me your answer — hopefully *yes* — whenever you're ready. I'm not going anywhere."
"I will, Clark, and it might be sooner rather than later. Life's too short. I just lost ten years of my life. I am planning on living the next ten to the fullest, and I'm not going to waste time analyzing if it's right or wrong anymore. If it feels right, it probably is, and I'm going to go with my gut feeling from now on. No more procrastination and indecision!" Lois declared.
"That almost sounds like a 'yes', but I won't get my hopes up," Clark grinned. "I'm just happy you didn't flat out say 'no'!"
"I might say 'yes' faster if you get up and help me pack. And don't worry about putting any clothes on. you're just going to have to take them off again, anyway. And I'm admiring the view," Lois said, complimenting Clark on his chiseled frame.
"The view from here's not so bad, either, Lois."
Suitcases packed, by the door, boarding passes, vaccination notices, driver's licenses, passports. all proper documentation was well-organized by the bureau. They set the alarm for 6:00 a.m. and climbed back into bed for round two of the Lane-Kent "Love Story".
The alarm seemed to go off just minutes after they finally fell asleep, exhausted from making love most of the night.
"Clark, look! We're floating, just a little bit!" Lois exclaimed. "You're starting to get back to normal already. Well, normal for *you*," she clarified.
Clark tried his vision powers. "Well, nothing else is working. I can only levitate a few inches off the ground. Too bad I have to spend 18 hours in an airplane. Maybe if I can get a window seat, I can catch some sun to speed the process along," Clark suggested.
"No sun today," Lois said, peeking out the window. "But the sun will be shining when Lois Lane gets back to Metropolis, for the first time in ten years!"
"Now that you're in my world, Lois, the sun will be shining for the rest of my days," he declared.
"You're so sweet, Clark Kent. Now remember, as soon as we touch down in New Troy, you're going to start spilling the beans about all the secrets you've been keeping from me."
"Deal," Clark replied with a pit in his stomach. How would Lois react to knowing that he had met her doppelganger.. and almost kissed her.. and the entire "Alternate Universe" story? It was a chance that he had no choice but to take.
Clark was never so happy to check out of a hotel room in his life. His credit card bill was much higher than anticipated, but he was certain that when Olson heard the details of the trip, he would be fine with it. Lois and Clark rode with several others from the hotel to the airport in their shuttle.
Lois started to feel a wave of anxiety engulf her. The thrill of her newfound romance with Clark had distracted her the night before, but now, in the daylight, the agreement she had made with the three of them last night was haunting her. Knowing there was a Pulitzer prize-winning story just waiting to be written — and having to bury it — was making her ill. And not to be able to share this information with her new best friend and lover. who might be able to read her thoughts when his powers returned. made her feel worse.
Clark sensed her change of mood. "Lois. honey? Are you all right? Don't tell me you're going to miss this Godforsaken place after all," he joked, trying to improve her mood.
"Absolutely not! Not one little bit. I am sorry I didn't get a chance to say 'good-bye' to some of the people in the refugee camp, though. But some day, you and I are going to come back here for a week and bring supplies and medicine and really try to make a difference."
"As long as I can get the blessing of the government and the U.N., I'll be right there with you, Lois. Perhaps in a year or two, when they've have a chance to rebuild the city, the U.S. embassy will be re-opened and diplomatic relations can be restored," Clark suggested.
"I hope so," Lois said wistfully. <Let him think you're sad for the people you're leaving behind. Don't think about it, some day he'll be able to read your thoughts again. Must train myself never to think about last night's conversation, ever again>.
After the anticipated two-plus hours of bag checking and customs, they were finally allowed into the gate area. They barely had time for a cup of coffee when their flight was called for boarding.
"I can't believe it, we're finally going home," Lois said as they got in line, smiling at the man she somehow knew she would love forever. "Amazingly, after ten years here, I found love in the jungle. They always say that the right person comes along when you stop looking. This time, that old wives' tale came true."
"And my seven-year itch was finally scratched," Clark joked. "And, surprisingly, I can't wait to be Superman again and to be able to use my powers — when they come back — openly, to help people."
"You really are a Boy Scout, aren't you?" remarked Lois.
"Huh, that's how Lex Luthor used to refer to me. What made you think of that expression, Lois?" asked Clark.
<Who would have known that? Lenny must have picked up that expression up from his brother! See, I'm no good at keeping secrets. This isn't going to work.>
"I'm not sure, Clark. but you *are* like a Boy Scout. always doing good deeds."
Finally, they found their row, put their small carry-ons in the overhead compartment, and Lois agreed to defer the window seat to Clark, to help recharge his solar batteries.
"Now that we're all settled in, I want you to tell me all about last night, what Mark and Nigel said, and how you want to write all of this up for the Planet," Clark said.
"Clark. in order to save my life and yours, I promised to kill the story. That whole Luthor Corp gun-running story is dead — FINI."
"But, Lois. Mark and Nigel. they tried to kill us. me. We found Nigel. that's big news back in the states. and we never found out who Lenny is, either!"
Lois could take no more prodding. Tears welled up in her eyes. "Clark, forget about it — all of it. Let's just go home and start our lives fresh."
"Lois Lane. passing up a story? What's the matter, honey? You can tell me."
"I've lost my edge," Lois lied. "I just want to live a peaceful life now. I don't want to wake up every day in fear of reprisal." Lois was thankful that the conversation was interrupted by the sound of the flight attendants reviewing the safety features of the airplane prior to takeoff.
After takeoff and homeward bound, Clark continued the conversation where they had left off. "Lois, I think I know you, and there is no way you have lost your edge. They threatened you, didn't they? And because they have that big chunk of Kryptonite, you're worried about *me*, too, huh?"
Lois nodded yes. "Clark, they'll be other stories. It doesn't matter. I haven't written a news article for ten years. I don't know if I'm any good anymore, anyway! Please, let's just focus on getting home. If your friend at Star Labs ever develops that antidote, we'll have this conversation again," Lois promised.
Clark looked at Lois long and hard. "I know there's more to this, but you're a stubborn woman, Lois Lane. one of the things I love about you, by the way. Ok, I'll drop it for now, but I'm not going to let them get away with this, Lois. I'll find a way to protect both of us. That's a promise!"
"I love you so much, Clark Kent," she said, leaning over to give him a quick kiss on the lips. "I believe that you will." She put her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Soon, the warmth of Clark's body and the roar of the airplane put her fast asleep.
Clark took the opportunity to size up the current situation while Lois was napping. All in all, the Congo trip had been successful. He had met, dated, and made love (losing his virginity in the process) to the woman of his dreams, all in a period of less than one week. He had also determined that the Daily Planet was having serious security issues and that Lois was really scared of something that had happened while she was held captive at the oil company's building. He knew that Kryptonite had something to do with it. Lois was afraid if she reneged on whatever deal she had made with them, they would kill her and then him as well, with the Kryptonite they possessed.
When he got back, he would be determined to see what he could do to help Bernie come up with that antidote! He also was cognizant that his current deal with the United Nations needed to be re- negotiated. He should have carte blanche around the world to act as Superman. The good he could do would certainly outweigh the politics involved. If he could only get those stubborn bureaucrats to see it that way too!
Well, first things first. Hopefully, by the time the plane set down in Presley Airport, his powers would have returned. He couldn't wait to put on the suit and patrol Metropolis again! Lois' light snoring put him a sleepy mood as well, and soon he was nodding off, their breathing in sync, Lois' hand held in his.
Only seventeen more hours to reach Metropolis.
Metropolis, 9:00 a.m. EST.
"Mr. Thorul, please. Yes, Timothy Carlson. Yes, I'll hold, thank you."
"Thorul here. Carlson, what's up?"
"James found out I was working for Edge Enterprises. He fired me yesterday. Mayor White knows, too. Who leaked the information?"
"We did," Lenny told him.
"Wh-why would you do that? You promised me no one would find out!"
"Kid, you have a lot to learn about big business. And I wasn't the one who decided to betray my own cousin. You made that choice on your own. Sorry it didn't work out. You'll be paid what we owe you. Take care of yourself."
With that, the line went dead. Timmy felt a sense of dread. His jealousy of his older cousin had lead him to make a really bad decision. and now it had come back to haunt him. No job, with a reputation as a mole. Who would hire him now? His family would hate him. The only one he could possibly turn to would be Mr. Kent — Superman. Maybe he could give him some inside information about Edge Enterprises that would make a great investigative piece? He was coming back from overseas soon. He'd have to be careful. It would be really hard to know who he could trust. And, he realized, it would be hard enough for other people to trust him as well!
Perry sat in James Olson's office for the second day in a row, trying to provide moral support and guidance. James — Jim — was really upset over having to fire his own cousin and, in addition, the possible sale of the Planet to LNN/Edge Enterprises. "Perry — Mayor — do you think I have a legal leg to stand on if I try to sue Edge Enterprises?"
"Son, you would have to include Timmy in the lawsuit. what he did jeopardized the integrity of the Daily Planet. I'm sure the information was leaked to bring the stock price down. Edge Enterprises is counting on you being soft and not wanting to put your own cousin in jail," Perry advised.
"If you really want my opinion, I think you should get in touch with your dad — and I have his card right here — and find some common ground with him. He's in the kind of business that can really offer you some assistance. More so than this old fool can," grunted Perry, handing James his father's business card with his home phone written on the back.
"OK, I'll think about it," James said, accepting the card. "And only because I don't want this paper to be sold. I would do it for the greater good of the Daily Planet."
"Well, whatever it takes to get you two back together is fine with me," Perry smiled. "Now I need to get to my office and get some work done. What time are Lane and Kent arriving at Presley Airport, anyway?" Perry asked. "Clark did e-mail me, but I can't remember what time he said." "I tried calling him twice yesterday. I never checked my voice mail when I came back yesterday afternoon. It looks like there are several messages. Let me quickly review them and see if any of them are from Clark."
James nodded his head to Perry when he came across Clark's message and put the call on speakerphone so they could both make notes of Clark and Lois' arrival in Metropolis.
"You want to put the Daily Planet back on the map? Here's a newsworthy story. have your best photographer out at the airport, and get tomorrow's headline ready," Perry enthused. "Something like this:
Clark Kent, on assignment in Congo-Brazzaville, brings home prize-winning reporter, Lois Lane, who spent ten years in a refugee camp.
"You're right, I'll send a team out there. You're coming with me to the airport, right, Mayor White?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world! You kids are like my family, son. Meet me at City Hall at 9:00 p.m. I'll have an airport limo ready to go," Perry said, standing up, shaking James' hand.
"Perry — I really appreciate your help with all of this. Your newspaper experience is being wasted in the political arena, you know," said James.
"Yeah, well, somehow, I don't think I'm going to run for a third term. This old newshound is itching to get back into it. as long as there is a Daily Planet to come back to, of course," Perry said.
"I'm going to do everything I can to ensure that it's here for you to come back to, Mr. Mayor," James promised.
With only about two more hours before the plane made the approach to Presley Airport, Clark was jolted into reality by the return of his super-hearing. A check of his vision powers revealed that he was back! He was hearing (and seeing) a conversation occurring in the cockpit, and the scenario unfolding was making his skin crawl.
"Lois, Lois, wake up," he whispered to his sleeping beauty. Neither one of them had really slept the night before, what with their newly discovered lust for each other. The long flight had allowed them to catch up on their sleep. What else can you really do when you must spend 18 hours in an airplane, anyway?
"Clark? Hi, Clark," she smiled. Her expression quickly changed to a more serious one. "Oh no, the tilted head thing!! Your powers are back, huh?" she whispered. "What's the matter?"
"The cockpit of this airplane has been compromised. There's a gunman in there ordering the pilot to move over and let him fly the plane!"
"With all the security these days, how did that happen? And where is he going to re-route the plane to?"
"He's on a walky-talky with someone else that's on the plane as a passenger. It looks like a cell phone, so no one is suspicious. He's talking about flying the plane directly into the former Luthor Corp towers. Lois. that will kill everyone on this plane and in the building! And it's nighttime, so everything will be pitch black when the electricity goes out. It'll throw Metropolis into a war zone."
"Clark, you've got your powers back. You can stop this. What are you worried about?"
"I think there are some other planes involved in this terrorism as well, Lois. They're calling it the 'Americans' April Fool's Day Massacre' — wow, today *is* April 1st. I lost track of time when we were in Brazzaville!"
(9/11 has not occurred in the Alternate Universe).
"Well, let's figure this out logically, Clark. You have got to get into that cockpit and disarm the gunman before his counterpart out here finds out. Then you're going to have to figure what other planes are being hijacked and save them as well. You're Superman, you can do it! Where's the suit?" Lois asked.
"In the baggage department, in the bowel of this plane," Clark replied. "I didn't think my powers would come back this quickly, frankly. Must be all the sleep we got on this flight."
"Clark, where's your spare suits?"
"Back in my apartment in Metropolis, Lois."
Lois looked for the emergency exit door. It was their lucky day. They were sitting right next to it!
"Clark, with your super-speed, couldn't you open this door and close it so fast no one would know the difference?"
"Probably," Clark agreed. "If my powers are truly back."
"We're going to have to take that chance. Now, first of all, where is the other terrorist? Can you locate him with your super- hearing?"
Clark focused. On a long flight like this, nearly everyone that was still awake was having conversations with their loved ones back home on their cell phones. After a minute or so, Clark was able to find him. He was about ten rows up from them, speaking in a Middle Eastern tongue so no one adjacent to him knew what the conversation was about. His ally in the cockpit was speaking French to the pilot, and then giving information back to him in their native tongue.
"First, disable the cell phone. Can you melt it or something?" Lois asked.
"I'm going to have to levitate a bit so I don't fry someone's head in the process," Clark said, unhooking his seat belt. He floated several feet in the air, focused his heat vision on the transmitter of the cell phone. "Ok, got it!" He smiled as he watched the man shake the phone to figure out why it went dead. Luckily, the passengers around him were fast asleep and didn't catch his anti-gravity show.
"I still need to do this as Superman, not as Clark Kent," he said, and a split second, he was gone. Lois felt a slight breeze as Clark, using the emergency exit door at super-speed to escape, flew under the plane to the baggage compartment, found his suitcase, and retrieved his suit. Mere seconds later, he was sitting next to Lois in his full regalia.
"Now, I need to take out this gunman before he starts shooting. There's no point in my trying to land this plane manually if everyone on it is dead."
"True, that's true. OK, take him out before he can warn anyone else he's working with that we're on to him." Lois' adrenalin was pumping. This kind of danger made her feel alive. This is what she did best, the only reason she survived ten years in the jungle!
"Ok, let's do this. You keep an eye for anyone else this guy may be working with while I take out the big guy in the cockpit," Clark said to Lois, giving her a quick kiss.
The passengers felt a breeze as Superman, in a blur of blue and red, broke into the cockpit, knocked the terrorist unconscious, and untied the pilot and co-pilot, restoring them to their proper positions.
"I'm going to take this man and his co-conspirator to the proper authorities, gentlemen," he informed them. "Please radio in and inform the authorities that there may be more planes in the process of being hijacked."
When Clark left the cockpit with the terrorist, he found Lois standing over his buddy, who was writhing in pain, holding his crotch. "Lois, what did you do?" he asked, incredulous.
"He started to stand up — he had a gun hidden on him. I crept up on him and kicked him where his sun will not shine for a very long time," she informed him proudly, showing him the weapon.
"Lois, you are an amazing woman. Please try to keep the passengers calm. I'll be back as soon as I can," he promised.
Clark took both of them out the emergency exit and hung them by their collars, 10,000 feet in the air.
"You guys planning on talking to me? Or do I just drop you slime right here? I doubt that anyone would miss you," he bluffed. He hoped his reputation of being too nice to kill anyone hadn't traveled to certain Middle Eastern countries!
By the time Clark landed in Metropolis with the two terrorists, he had learned of two other targets. One plane, coming from Gotham City, was heading toward the former Luthor Corp towers as well; the other one, from Chicago, was heading directly east toward the Pentagon Building in Washington, D.C.
He brought the two terrorists to see Bill Henderson. While this wasn't his jurisdiction, he would be sure to get the Feds out there ASAP.
He informed the authorities of the danger of the other two planes. Quickly, twin F-14's were accompanying both airplanes. Since Clark knew that the terrorists wouldn't be above flying right into another F-14, he personally landed both planes at the closest available airports. The authorities were waiting when the planes set down. The terrorists on each plane had been overcome by the passengers. It seemed that the news had spread about the hijacked flight coming from the Congo from relatives calling them on their cell phones, and Lois' heroism had motivated other passengers to rise up and take charge as well!
It was a great night for American patriotism. Flags would be flying everywhere tomorrow!
Clark spun out of his suit and re-entered the airplane. Lois was back in her seat. They were preparing for landing at Presley Airport.
"Lois, you're a hero. You have no super-powers, but you're a survivor. I'm so lucky to be with a woman as wonderful as you," he said, giving her a kiss that rocked her world.
"Thanks, Clark, but *you're* the hero. You saved three planes and all of those people in the buildings that would have died. I'm so proud of you," she said, kissing him back.
"It's amazing that my powers came back just in time, isn't it?" he asked.
"Yes, really amazing," agreed Lois. "Actually, since one of the targets was the former Luthor Corp towers, maybe it's a little too amazing."
"Uh-oh! I've seen that look before. What's spinning around in that beautiful head of yours now?" Clark wondered.
"Well, let's just say that Mark and Nigel really were going to kill us. What if they got tipped off that our plane was going to hit the tower, and they knew that only Superman could stop it? So they let us live, so you could save the day."
"Or, to play devil's advocate, Lois," Clark interrupted, "what if they wanted the towers to be destroyed, and they thought, how perfect it would be if the airplane that Superman and Lois Lane were traveling in would be the instrument of its destruction? After all, my powers don't usually come back for 48 hours. If I hadn't overhead that conversation in the cockpit, it might have been too late."
"Or maybe we both just have overactive imaginations, and Mark and Nigel have no tie at all with the terrorists, and it was just a bizarre coincidence," suggested Lois.
They both started laughing as the plane touched down on Presley International Airport.
"We're home!" Clark said. "Look, Lois, I bet you forgot how beautiful the city looks at night."
"Well, nothing compares to Paris at night, Clark, but. you're right! *I'm* home!" Lois exclaimed. "After a decade, I'm *finally* home. What a relief. Murphy's law was definitely in effect these last several days."
The paparazzi were gathered in full force at the airport. Everyone wanted an interview with Lois Lane, the woman who disappeared for ten years and came back a heroine. Clark wanted to just take Lois away from all of this, but he also knew that Lois needed to feel good about herself, after all this time. While she would rather be *writing* the story, not *being* the story, tonight she was relegated to celebrity status.
Everyone was used to Superman saving the day. Unfortunately, it was somewhat taken for granted. April 1, 2003 would go down in American history as the day that ordinary people had stood up to terrorism. It was truly a time of celebration.
Perry White, James Olson, and a third man, about Perry's age, who looked vaguely familiar to Lois, finally broke through the crowd.
"Lois, honey, you're too skinny! I'm so proud of you," Perry said, enveloping Lois in a huge bear hug.
"Perry, it's so good to be home. You have no idea. You look great, 'Mayor' White," she said.
"Lois Lane, meet your new boss, James Olson," Perry said, stepping aside so James could shake Lois' outreached hand.
"Ms. Lane, I can see that the stories I've heard about you haven't been exaggerated in the least," he said with a big smile. "Welcome back to the Daily Planet. And congratulations, you're a hero."
"Thanks, Mr. Olson."
"Call me 'Jim'," he told her, smiling at Perry.
"Ok, thanks, Jim. I'm so happy to finally be home. You have no idea how great this city looks to me right now."
"Kent, you're the man!" James said, finally turning and greeting Clark. "Great job, as usual. And you brought our gal here home safely," said Olson, shaking Clark's hand firmly.
"Thanks, James. I hear that there have been a lot of problems since I left," said Clark.
"Unfortunately, yes. I had to fire Timmy. I'll tell you the rest later. Hopefully, Perry and my Dad, here," he said, motioning over to where Lois was, "will be our saving grace."
"Your Dad? The one you don't talk to?" Clark asked. He looked over at Lois. She was hugging someone that Clark had never met.
"Yes, Clark, please meet my father, John Olson. He's the one who sent you both the anonymous tip about the Planet's web server," he informed him.
Clark shook his hand, and asked, "How do you know Lois?"
"Lois and I go way back," he said smiling. "To my early days in the NSA."
"Clark, I can't believe it! *He* was 'Johnny Jabbermouth'!" Lois exclaimed. "You clean up really well, John, by the way," she laughed.
"Ah, now it all starts to make sense. Thanks for the tip, by the way. You're a lifesaver," Clark told him.
They finally got out to the airport parking lot, luggage and all. Lois' mother, father, sister and brother-in-law were waiting for them at the Lexor Hotel, where a special all-night celebration was underway.
The five of them got into Perry's limousine. Perry noticed the subtle interactions between Clark and Lois, how they made eye contact quite often, holding hands, smiling at each other.
"Hey, it looks like you two got on pretty well out there in the jungle, huh?" he commented, with a broad Perry all-knowing smile.
Clark and Lois each gave him a mischievous grin back as a reply.
"Say no more. Not my damn business," Perry laughed, giving Clark a wink. "I see that Elvis finally met his Priscilla!" Perry wondered if Clark had told her about her twin that had mysteriously appeared seven years ago. He decided to ask him when they were alone, so as not to stir anything up in case he hadn't broached the subject yet.
They arrived at the Lexor Hotel (soon changing names to "City's EDGE Hotel"), and were greeted by more paparazzi. James commented that he hoped that his crew from the Planet was out there somewhere, getting this story. Lois joked that as long as she was back at the Planet he needn't worry; there would be no more missed headlines!
Clark finally managed to get Lois aside at the party, after spending some time with her family.
"Lois, you look tired. Why don't you stay at my apartment for several days, and I'll be happy to help you look for a place?"
"My mother wants me to stay with her, Clark. She wants to catch up. You know I would rather be with you. What excuse can I make?"
"That we got married?" he joked.
"OK," Lois said. "You can fly us to Vegas right now. Let's do it."
"Really? Are you serious? Because you know I'll do it in a heartbeat, Lois!" Clark was all set to pick Lois up and fly her away when a little voice in the back of his head warned him that he hadn't told her about the alternate universe and her doppelganger yet.
"We *need* to have that talk before we get married, Lois. You might be upset after you hear the entire story. " Clark warned.
"Clark, I realize that there's a lot you need to tell me. But after today, I realize even more that we are a team. Together, we saved three planes and two major buildings and its occupants from destruction. Whatever it is, I can handle it. If it upsets me, well, I'll get over it. I just know that you're the man I want to be with for the rest of my life. A few surprises will just make life more interesting. But nothing will change the way I feel about you. That I am certain of."
"What about having our wedding on Paradise Island? And your family, they'll be mad they weren't invited," Clark argued.
"We'll have another ceremony in a month or two and invite your folks and my family then."
"Are you sure you're not marrying me just to get out of staying with your mother for a few days?" Clark asked, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Clark Kent, you said it yourself: I'm a very stubborn woman, who doesn't do anything she really doesn't want to do. And what better day is there to get married on than April Fool's Day, since I'm a fool in love? So where's our luggage?" she asked, smiling mischievously.
"Huh? What a segue that was. How do you do that?" he laughed. "The luggage was left in the coat room."
"C'mon," she said, grabbing his hand. "We need clothes to change into when we get there."
Less than five minutes later, they were flying to Vegas, armed with the outfits they had purchased in Paris, and their recent blood tests from their trip. Clark was pretty sure that he wouldn't need them in Vegas, but since they were available, he grabbed them.
They had told the party that they would check back in an hour or so, to just keep on celebrating, and that they would have an important announcement to make when they returned, leaving everyone speculating as to just what that might be. Perry stood in the corner of the room with a big smile on his face. He was pretty sure he knew what it would be.
Twenty-four hour wedding chapels were plentiful in Vegas, as were paid witnesses. They changed into their Parisian outfits and waited for their turn. Clark could hardly believe that Lois was acting so impulsively. He knew he was going to pay for this as soon as they had their talk, but she seemed so sure. he wasn't going to argue with her any more. They loved each other. That *should* be enough to get them through any rough spots!
Once they were called into the small chapel, complete with red velour kneelers, the justice of the peace asked them if they wanted to use standard vows, or use their own personal ones.
They had nothing prepared, but both of them wanted to wing it. Lois began first.
"Clark, all my life I looked for a man that I could trust, that wouldn't betray me. Someone with integrity and honesty and strength of character, and someone who wasn't intimidated by being with a strong, assertive woman. A man that could look at me and see the real person that I am inside. As you know, I had given up thinking that I might ever find this person. Until five days ago, when you swept into my life and became everything I ever wanted in a friend, in a lover, in a partner, and, now, a husband. I love you Clark Kent, and I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband with all of the enthusiasm that I can muster, after being in an airplane for 18 hours and kickboxing a terrorist as well. Your turn," she grinned, placing the hastily purchased wedding ring on Clark's finger.
Clark gave Lois his most illuminating smile, one that sent chills down her spine and made her want to. consummate the marriage, right there and then.
Clark took a deep breath and began. He knew that Lois might change her mind after she heard his vow, but at least their marriage would start out on the right footing.
"Lois, seven years ago, I met a woman identical to you. She *was* you, except that she came from an "Alternate Universe", one that is similar to this one in many, many ways. I was immediately attracted to her and even felt that I loved her, but she belonged to the Clark of her universe. She told me that what I felt for her was really meant for *you*, and that someday, I would find you. There's a lot more to the story than this, but she helped me become Superman, because *her* husband is Superman in that world. I prayed every day for seven years that I would find you, my soul mate. What I feel for you is ten times stronger than what I ever thought I felt for her. You are *my* Lois, the woman I was meant to be with, through all of my lifetimes, however many there may be. I love you now, Lois Lane, and for the end of time, and I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife with so much enthusiasm that's it's unbelievable. That is, after hearing all that, if you still want me. Do you?" Clark asked tentatively.
"I do," said Lois. Clark slid the wedding ring on her finger. "And Clark, you're going to have to tell me that story again later. I didn't really get it," she smiled. "Something about some woman that looked like me and had my name? Huh??"
"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride," said the justice of the peace, laughing because they had started kissing long before he finished the sentence.
After having a picture taken of them for posterity (both of them in black!), they changed back into their traveling jeans, and lifted off.
"Lois, if we're going to make the announcement when we get back, there are two special people that need to know first," he said.
"Let me guess. are their names Lang?"
"It happens to be on the way, anyway," smiled Clark. "Did I tell you how much I love you, Lois Lane?"
"Clark.we didn't talk about this, but you don't expect me to change my name, right?" asked Lois.
"Honey, I don't want you to change a thing," he replied.
"Then I love you too, Clark Kent." They both laughed.
They touched down on the porch of the farmhouse. It was a clear April night, and it was about midnight in Smallville, Kansas. No need to use the tunnel to enter the house at nighttime, at least.
"They're probably sleeping. Farmers are very early risers," Clark pointed out. "But I know they would want to be awakened for this."
"Ma! Pa!" he shouted up the stairs. "Wake up!"
"They *are* close to you, aren't they, Clark? Like parents would be… " Lois concluded.
In a matter of minutes, Martha and Jonathan appeared, half- asleep, at the top of the stairs.
"Honey! You're home! We heard about the plane! We're so proud"- Martha stopped in mid-stream as she spotted Lois standing next to Clark. "You must be Lois! We're so proud of you, too," she said.
Soon the four of them were having tea in the kitchen. Martha and Jonathan's eyes had welled up seeing Clark and Lois together. It reminded them so much of their dead son and daughter-in-law. However, it also gave them a sense of completeness. Their new son was happy. They were a family. Life was good.
"Ma and Pa, we have a big surprise. Lois and I just got married in Vegas!" Clark announced.
Incredulous at the news, but knowing how their son and his Lois had been a perfect match, Martha and Jonathan both got up, congratulating them and giving them both huge hugs and kisses.
"We have to go back to Metropolis and make the announcement at the party we just left," Clark explained. "But I wanted to see you and have you both be the first to know."
"Honey, we're so happy for the both of you. Can you come over this weekend and spend some time? We want to get to know Lois, and I'll bake your favorite apple pie."
Clark looked at Lois for approval. Her eyes said "yes".
"Absolutely. We'll be here next Friday night and spend the weekend," Clark promised.
With that, they said their good-byes and were airborne again.
With the time change, it was about 1:30 a.m. when they arrived back at the party. A few people had left, a few people were drunk, but the people most important to the lives of Lois and Clark were still there.
Clark clicked on a glass as he stood near the podium in the room, turning the microphone on. Lois stood next to him, radiant, glowing.
"We want to thank everyone that's here tonight, that came out to see this wonderful woman, Lois Lane, who returns home to us after spending an arduous ten years in a very unfriendly, war-torn country. She is quite special. So special, in fact, that tonight, I am proud to say that Lois and I are married. I am so thrilled that she agreed to be my wife."
After a thick silence, the tone of the room changed suddenly. Glasses started clanging, Lois and Clark kissed for like five minutes straight, and the music got loud again. Ellen Lane, who had had too much to drink, staggered up to Lois.
"What? You can't tell your own mother you got married? I guess you don't want to stay with me tonight," she slurred. "'s OK, I'm always the last to know. I'm the one who went shopping for your clothes, you know. That's right, your mother!"
Lois gave Clark a stricken look, and said, "Mother, it's not like that. Clark and I literally just got married, spur of the moment. All of you are the first to know, really."
<Just a little white lie. So what if Martha and Jonathan were really the first to know. They're all the way in Kansas.>
"Mother, we need to get you to your room. Are you staying here at the Lexor tonight? I wish you would," said Lois.
"Your father is over there flirting with that woman," she said, pointing her finger across the room. "He'll never change." Ellen Lane was obviously having a hard time dealing with her divorce from a man that she apparently still loved.
Lucy and her husband, Will, came along and saved the day. "Mother, you're coming back with us. We have a suite with an extra bedroom. Let the newlyweds have their privacy," Lucy said, giving Lois the "thumbs up" sign as she ogled her now brother-in- law, Clark Kent/Superman.
"Thanks, Lucy, you're a doll. We'll see you tomorrow," Lois said.
"What do you say, wife o'mine? Ready to blow this place and see if you like my bachelor pad enough to stay there for awhile?" Clark asked.
"Let's do it, Mr. 'Lane'!" Lois said with a sly grin. Maybe she would ask Clark to change his name to Lane. HA HA. Clark Kent Lane. Had a nice ring to it.
Clark smiled to himself. The telepathy had returned. He said back to Lois, <"No thanks, I have my career established under the name Clark Kent. Wouldn't do to change it now.">
Lois heard Clark in her head and laughed. Then the realization of what that might mean hit her hard. She forced herself not to think about anything for the moment. She became very quiet.
The party was still going strong when they said their goodbyes to everyone and flew to 344 Clinton St. They landed on the balcony of Clark's apartment and soon, Lois was scrutinizing Clark's former bachelor pad.
"Not bad, definitely needs a woman's touch. Clark, do *you* cook, because I really don't," she admitted.
"Actually, I'm pretty good, if I do say so myself. Years of fending for myself," Clark explained.
Lois wandered over to the table where Clark had family-type pictures displayed. With horror, she stared at an 8x10 blowup of a woman in a crowd. it was the picture of her "doppelganger" that had kept Clark going for the last seven years.
"Omigod! This is me, with a short haircut, that is," Lois shrieked. "When was this taken? I know I've never worn my hair that short! This must be that *other* Lois."
"Oh God, I knew we should have had this conversation before we got married," Clark mumbled. "Why didn't I hide that picture before I left for Brazzaville?"
"Clark Kent. I know you told me there was a woman who looked like me. blah, blah, blah. but I guess I didn't really believe it until I saw the picture. Omigod., " Lois continued, calmer now.
"Lois, it's after 2:00 a.m. It will take me a long, long time to explain all the bizarre things that have happened to me in the last seven years. Can we make a deal? How about we take this coming weekend in Smallville to hash it all out there?"
"Your folks know about her too?" Lois asked.
"My folks are from a different alternate universe than this Lois was from. A world where you and I are. dead. My foster parents from *this* earth died when I was ten years old."
Lois' eyes widened. "Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry. And. you said we're dead in that world? Do I want to know why?"
"Yikes, it's so complicated. It's so. messy to explain," Clark said. "I know if someone told me the story I'm going to have to tell you, I would think they were crazy, too. But then again, how can you explain a man that can fly?"
"I guess anything is possible, Clark. You're right, I'm tired, and I hope your bed is more comfortable than that thing we tried to sleep on at Le Meridien. Maybe we'll be looking at new mattresses tomorrow," Lois joked.
"One more thing, Clark — about the telepathy thing. Can you turn it on and off like your other powers or is it on all the time?"
"It makes you uncomfortable, doesn't it? I think it kicks in like adrenalin does — as needed, for emergencies. I didn't hear your thoughts until your conversation with Boyle made you really nervous. I felt your fear before I actually knew what you were thinking. Maybe an emotional response opens some type of mental portal between us?"
"Well, there was no emergency back at the hotel just now, and you 'heard' me think how cool it would be for you to change your last name to Lane."
"That's true. Something must trigger it. I'm sure I can work on turning it on and off. But, it's certainly a great thing to have if either one of us is in trouble, though, Lois. you have to admit!"
"Yes, it sure did come in handy back there at the hotel when I was having dinner with Mark. I hope you don't think I'm trying to hide something from you, Clark. I just think there should be some mystery between a man and woman — that's all," Lois explained, all the while trying not to think about her deal with the mysterious Lenny Thorul.
"Well, Ms. Kent-Lane," Clark said, smiling and picking up his new bride, "May I float you over the threshold?"
"You may, Mr. Kent-Lane," she replied, kissing him as they levitated to the bedroom.
While Lois was undressing and washing up for bed, she kept up a running chatter with Clark who was anxiously waiting for her to join him in bed. It was so nice to have a real, rather than an imaginary, Lois in his life. Cuddling with her at night and smiling at her beautiful face in the morning was beginning to be a lovely habit. One he never, ever, wanted to live without.
"Oh, and Clark?" Lois gurgled as she tried to talk and brush her teeth at the same time.
"Yes, Lois, honey?" <She's just so cute, she can't stop talking for a minute!>
"I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow. Just like the style that Lois had. I think she looked hot with short hair. What do you think?"
"Lois — long, medium, short. you're hot to me with any length hair. But I know just the salon to bring you to," Clark said. "'Les Coiffeurs de Wilson', on 67th St. My ex-fianc‚e, Lana, went to them when she lived in Metropolis, and she had impeccable taste."
"Ex-fianc‚e? This is the Lana who is married to some friend of yours, Pete, now? And you guys are still friends?"
"That's another long story, Lois. Come to bed! I'm going to make it worth your while," he promised.
"OK, be right there, and it better be," she warned, "because I'm really tired."
Morgan Edge had called an emergency meeting of his management team. The management team of Intergang, not of Edge Enterprises. However, there certainly was some overlap between the members of both teams.
It was rare to have all members together, since several of them operated out of the San Diego area. Usually a conference call on speakerphone to the West Coast was employed for their meetings.
But this time, it wasn't necessary. Leonard Thorul had flown in to Metropolis several days ago to handle the acquisition of the Daily Planet. William Church, Jr., his Assistant, had traveled east as well, but for a more personal, family reason. His wife's sister had just come home from the Congo after ten long years.
"Ok," Edge began, "the first order of business is this April Fool's Day disaster. One of the biggest screw-ups I have ever seen.
"Thorul, I thought you said his powers would be gone for 48 hours? Not only didn't the plane hit the building with Lane and Superman in it, they're both huge heroes now and the building's still standing."
"You're right. it was a *big* screw-up. In the past, the Boy Scout's powers were gone for two full days. Maybe when you're in love, they come back faster or something," Thorul remarked sarcastically.
"There were documents in that building that needed to be destroyed. Items that could have linked you — us — to Luthor. We would have received federal tax dollars to rebuild. We could have made it taller and more majestic than the Metropolis trade tower! And, there wouldn't have been too many employees in the building at nighttime. It would have been perfect.
"You're going to have to come up with a Plan B, Thorul. I'll expect a full game plan from you at our next meeting! It needs to address all of these issues."
"Yeah, I'm working on it. I only told Lane the whole story because she was supposed to be dead within 24 hours. I think I have her running scared, but we're going to have to watch her like a hawk. See if we can bug her computer at work and their apartment."
"I can put a transmitter on her computer, but bug Superman's apartment? Sorry, been there, tried it; can't be done. He can hear the ultra-frequency of the transmitters," said David Chausse, Intergang's resident computer/technology guru.
"Then put a long — range camera on their living room with a satellite transmitter. I'll read lips, if I have to," instructed Edge.
"You got it, boss," said Chausse.
"What about the two terrorists?" asked Thorul.
"They're going to mysteriously escape from custody in the next several days, never to be seen again," Edge said.
"And Will. now that you're in with the super family, I expect a report from you every week. I want details! Lots of details! I love details!"
Will Church, Jr., looked at Edge square in the eye and said, "You got it. You know, Lucy and I may even move back east so she can be closer to her sister." He looked at Lenny. "Think you can transfer me back here?"
"Absolutely. I hear we're about to purchase a major-league newspaper," he winked.
"Now, who's going to take out the snitch? I heard he's already trying to cut a deal to try to bring us down. I think another suicide might be in order."
"Yeah, I'll take care of it," Will said. "It'll be one of my first official duties back here."
"Did he get the job done before his own cousin fired him? I just love the irony of it all," mused Edge.
"Yep, the virus in the Planet's computer will start tonight. It will wipe out their entire server. Even with their off-site tape backup storage, it will be days before they can publish again. In the meantime, Olson's investment in the Planet will be deemed worthless and he will be forced to sell to Edge Enterprises, by way of LNN," Thorul advised. "I've got the paperwork all ready for his signature. Welcome back Lois Lane, you have a new boss — again!"
"Your plan to make her life a living hell is almost better than killing her, I have to admit," Edge said to Thorul. "I guess evil thoughts are hereditary."
"Speaking of evil, when is Nigel coming back to the states?" asked Church Jr.
"After his plastic surgery. Probably won't be here for at least a month, after the bandages are taken off," Thorul said. "Maybe longer. Depends on the healing process, I guess."
"So who's he going to be now?"
"Mark Boyle's older brother, Phillip Boyle. It turns out that Mark did have a brother named Phillip who recently died of cancer. Mark gave the plastic surgeon his brother's picture, and he's going to do his best to make Nigel look like his twin."
"By the way, Morgan, word on the street is that John Olson's reconciled with his son. Mayor White got them together," Chausse informed Edge.
"Well, good, the sins of the father are going to be bestowed on the son. How utterly perfect," Edge remarked. "Maybe Plan B will be more fun than Plan A, after all."
James had told Lois and Clark not to bother reporting for work until the following Monday. He realized Lois needed to go shopping for a new wardrobe and get somewhat settled. It appeared that their honeymoon would be in — Kansas, of all places. Clark had promised Lois an afternoon back on Paradise Island later in the week. That would be their mini-honeymoon. Friday morning in the Fiji Islands; Friday night — Smallville, Kansas. What a contrast that would be!
"Clark? Let's go. I can't wait to get rid of this hair," Lois declared. "I'm going to lose weight just by getting all this cut off! I won't have to diet for at least a year."
"Right here, honey," he said, creeping up behind her and kissing her neck. "I guess I'm literally going to have to kiss your hair goodbye," as he grabbed her freshly-conditioned smelling mane, rolled it up into a bun, and kissed it, breathing in the scent of her as he did so. "Let's go get this over with."
Lois brought the picture of the other Lois with her to show the stylist how she wanted her hair to be cut. Since it was a Wednesday morning, "Les Coiffeurs de Wilson" was able to take her as a walk-in. Because it was a very high-class salon, there was a waiting room with fresh coffee and magazines for Clark to hang out in while he waited for his wife. He did slip out for five minutes or so to do a cursory patrol of Metropolis. It seemed strangely quiet out there this Wednesday morning.
The hairdresser, Henri, commented on how long her hair was. "Madame, when is the last time you've been to a salon? You hair has no body, long like this. It doesn't flatter your beautiful face at all. Why would you let it get this long?" he pressed.
"Monsieur, like the song goes, Nobody's Knows the Trouble I've Seen. Let's just leave it at that, OK?" she replied.
"Oui, Madame." He studied the photograph Lois had brought. "Since your hair was so short in this picture, it must have been a long, long time ago," he remarked.
"Oui, Henri, it was like 1996," Lois said. <Wow, we are like twins. I can't wait to hear the whole story now. Maybe I'll get to meet her some day, too.>
"Well, I will style it very much like this picture, but I have to update it a bit for the 21st century; that is, if you don't mind, Madame," he suggested.
"That's fine. I don't want to be last century's news," Lois joked.
An hour later, a very glamorous-looking Lois Lane emerged from 'Les Coiffeurs de Wilson'. Clark had an eerie feeling looking at her. She looked so much like the other Lois now, he could barely tell them apart. "Lois, if you wanted to look hot — well, you look *very* hot. I can't wait to get you alone later. I'm not going to be able to wear the suit for the rest of the day, if you know what I mean," he winked.
"Thanks, sweets. You were right about that place — they were great. I feel so much better, now. I feel like a real person. What a difference," she said, spying a reflection of herself in a storefront window.
They stopped at several women's stores so Lois could try on some business attire. She reasoned that she may gain weight, at some point, since everyone thought she was unreasonably thin now. Therefore, she didn't want to purchase too large of a wardrobe. Just four outfits, enough to get her through the week. Friday was dress-down day at the Planet, and she had plenty of casual outfits from her Mother's shopping spree.
"Clark? I know we're not due at the Planet until Monday, but can we please — please — just stop in? I need to see the newsroom in the worst way," she explained. "Please?"
"Honey, I can't say no to you about anything. Do you want to walk it or fly it?" he asked.
"Since I just got my hair done, I think walking would be better. I mean, I do love flying with you, but I/we just spent $100." she rambled.
"No problem, Lois. We can do the Congo-walk, if you want, since you have heels on," he joked. Putting his right hand on the small of her back he was able to lift her slightly off the ground and they phantom-walked, Congo style, to the Daily Planet.
When they arrived at the foot of the building, Lois looked skyward to spot the familiar globe. "Wow, I haven't seen that for ten years. There were days I never thought I would see it again. It's just so great to be home."
As they entered the building, the security officer looked at her strangely. "You're Lois Lane, huh? I'm Walter. You're the woman that helped save the plane, I saw you on the news. You go right in, Ms. Lane," he said, virtually ignoring Clark.
"Thanks, Walter. Nice to meet you too," replied Lois, enjoying her newfound celebrity status. She knew it wouldn't last long. Soon, she would be old news!
They rode the elevator up to the familiar floor and as the door opened, Lois got her first glimpse of the 21st -century newsroom. Plasma TVs in every corner with LNN on, sleek black computers with large flat-screen monitors, inkjet printers at every station. Wow! This was truly a reporter's dream.
Clark began to introduce Lois around to the newer staff members, but they all knew who she was already.
"Ms. Lane, I'm so pleased to finally meet you. And may I also say how beautiful you are", gushed Ralph. "Kent, I hear congratulations are in order. You waited a long time, but you sure know how to pick 'em," he commented.
"Thanks, Ralph — I think," said Clark. <Don't you be hitting on my wife!>
Unexpectedly, Lois heard Clark's jealousy in her head. <Ah. emotional responses bring out the telepathy, I see. Let's see if he can "hear" me: "Clark, Ralph is no one that I would ever be attracted to. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? No man holds a candle to you.">
Clark turned to look at Lois and smiled at her thoughts. <"Sorry, Lois, I guess I'm just being over-protective. I'll get over it, I promise.">
Linda King grudgingly came up to Lois and welcomed her home. "You've got a great guy there, Lois. Lots of us tried to get his attention, but we knew he was waiting for someone special to show up. I guess you were it," she said, with a hint of sarcasm in her tone of voice.
"Thanks Linda. You know, I really think it's time for us to bury the hatchet," Lois said, offering her an olive branch. "After all, we will be working together. Let's make this as pleasant as possible."
"You can't be Lois Lane. you must be the *other* Lois Lane. *She* was a lot nicer than the Lois Lane I remember," snipped Linda, not trusting in Lois' sincerity.
<"Clark, she was here? At the Planet? They all saw her?…">
<"Yes, Lois. They all thought you had miraculously reappeared from the Congo. Perry, especially, was so happy to see you. It was all the harder when you — she — left again. Hey, for someone who didn't want to use this 'meeting of the minds' thing, you're sure into it today!">
"Linda, that wasn't really me. But I have changed in the last ten years. Life's too short to carry grudges. Let's try to resume our friendship, OK?" Lois gave Linda the most sincere expression that she could muster.
"Ok, well, I believe people can change, so I'll try to keep an open mind, Lois," Linda promised.
After meeting the remainder of the staff, they headed toward Olson's office.
James had his head down on the desk. He was crying.
Clark gently knocked on the door and stepped into the office.
"James — Mr. Olson — what's the matter? How can I help?" asked Clark, putting his hand on James' back.
"Timmy was just found dead. An apparent suicide," he said, tears openly flowing down his cheeks.
<*They* didn't wait long, did they?> "James — Jim — I'm so sorry. What happened?" Lois asked, giving the younger man a hug.
"His mother — my aunt — found him hanging in the bathroom. He left a suicide note apologizing to me for what he had done, how he was so jealous of me.
"That's not all. The rumor that the Planet's computer was compromised has affected the stock price and the circulation numbers. I'm going to have meet the payroll out of my own pocket this week. Just to keep everyone employed, I may have to accept the offer I received from LNN to buy the Planet. What a rotten day," he lamented. "What else could possibly go wrong?"
"You got an offer from LNN? But they're owned by Edge Enterprises," protested Clark. "I can't prove it, but I know they're dirty as hell."
"I know. Their slick new VP in charge of acquisitions, a Lenny Thorul, gave a presentation to my board of directors on Monday. LNN is willing to pay double the stock price to acquire the Planet. Perry and my father were going to try to help me fight this. It looks like it might be too late, now."
Lois turned white when she heard the name Lenny Thorul. Clark felt her anxiety immediately and unwittingly picked up parts of her thoughts. It seemed as if Lois had deliberately closed her mind to him, but before she did, he definitely heard the name Luthor.
<"Lois, don't shut me out here. This is the Lenny from the phone call, isn't it?">
<"Yes. *Later*, Clark. James needs us now.">
"Jim, let's get you out of here. You need a change of scenery. Let's go over to Timmy's apartment and see what the police have come up with for clues," Lois suggested.
James looked up, hopeful, but somewhat uncomfortable at their offer to help. "You guys are supposed to be taking the week off. And, what, you don't think it was a suicide any more than I do, huh?"
"NO!" Clark and Lois replied in unison.
"Then let's hit the streets. I can learn a lot from my two best investigative reporters, even though you've both been pretty inactive lately. But I know from my relatively short time in this business, once it's in your blood, it's like riding a bike. You never forget, huh?"
"Never," said Lois.
"Never," agreed Clark.
Several Days Later
"Wow, what a bizarre couple of days it's been," Clark remarked to Lois as they began their descent to "Paradise", their own personal Isle in the Fiji Islands, to begin their "honeymoon". It was about 10:00 a.m. Friday morning there; it was Thursday evening, around 5:00 p.m. back home.
"You're not kidding. You just can't make this stuff up!" agreed Lois. "And I find it amazing that with the magic of time zones, we can arrive on Friday morning, leave on Saturday morning and actually be back in Kansas on Friday night, like we promised. Pretty cool," commented Lois as Clark gently placed her sandaled feet on the white, sandy beach.
"Let's not talk about what happened at the Planet until the weekend is over, okay? I promised you a honeymoon and, though it will be a short one day, we're going to make it a great one!"
"You're right, Clark. All the issues we just dealt with will be there on Monday morning. Now, I want to hear about my twin and how she got here. I know you said we'd talk about it in Smallville, but I would really like to focus on getting to know your folks, not re-hashing a story they already know about. So give."
Clark smiled. Lois was so unbelievably flexible, probably because for ten years, she lived day by day, moving to various campsites to escape the Ninjas, and never knowing even if there would a place for her to sleep, let alone eat. Now, she could be chasing bad guys one minute, and going on a honeymoon the next. She was the best!
"Let me make a fire, you get the bed ready, and then I'll tell you everything," Clark promised, as he scouted the area to find dry brush. Lois opened the tote bag she had brought; she spread the fleece comforter she had purchased (just for this occasion) out on the snow-colored sand, and smiled as Clark came back, starting a wonderful fire with his eyes. The morning sun was strong as they were facing east. It was a glorious early April morning. They snuggled up on the blanket. At least for this day, life was wonderful.
Clark took a deep breath, and began his tale. "Let's see, back in 1996, I was just living my life, planning my wedding to Lana Lang. We were high school sweethearts, and I thought I loved her."
"But you didn't. Not like you love me," Lois interjected with a gleam in her eye.
Clark smiled and agreed. "Exactly. Somewhere, deep inside of me, I knew that I should have felt more than I did for Lana. But we were comfortable with each other, and she and her parents were the only family I had, since my original foster parents were killed in a car crash when I was ten."
Lois' eyes conveyed a deep empathy for the ten-year-old boy that he was at that time, different from everyone and with no real family to turn to for answers. "Did Lana. know about your powers?"
"Well, they didn't fully develop until I was 18. The last power that surfaced was the ability to fly. She knew about my strength, vision and hearing powers, and speed, as I had been living with her family on and off since I was ten. I had felt a need to share these abilities with someone. But they really freaked her out. Her parents never knew."
"Really? She didn't see how very cool it was? Especially the flying. How did you learn to do that?"
"I discovered it purely by accident. A bunch of us decided to jump over the cyclone fence surrounding the Smallville Water Tower after graduation. Liquor never affected me, but most of the gang, including Lana, was pretty drunk. When someone suggested climbing to the top, I knew most of them couldn't handle it in their condition. Ten teenagers, climbing ten flights of stairs at nighttime? Not good."
"It was about 100 feet tall, then?" asked Lois.
"Yes, about that. It was a beautiful, clear, June night. I let them all go ahead of me so I could try to catch anyone that might fall or lose their footing. As it turned out, the guy in front of me, my friend Pete, was pretty depressed. I didn't know it at the time, but he was always madly in love with Lana, and he was really bummed out that Lana and I were together.
"He wasn't paying attention to what he was doing, and his foot slipped and he started to fall. I tried to catch him while holding onto the railing, but I would have hurt him more, catching him with just one arm. So, figuring that even if I fell 70-80 feet, I wouldn't die, I threw myself off the stairs and tried to propel myself downwards to get underneath him. Imagine my surprise when, after I caught Pete in my arms, instead of continuing to fall, I started to soar back up in the air! "It was a really good thing that everyone else was really plastered, because it was dark and they didn't see my aerial display."
"Wow, how exciting that must have been. to discover that you could fly like a bird," Lois said wistfully.
"It was wonderful. I have to say, before meeting you, it was one of the best days of my life, Lois."
"Did Pete remember what happened?"
"Well, after he sobered up the next day, he told me he kept having a recollection of flying with me, and that it seemed so real, he thought he was losing it. I told him that it was the liquor talking, not to be so ridiculous. How could he believe a man could fly?"
"What about Lana? She didn't see anything?"
"No, thank God. My other powers made her crazy enough."
"Wow. It seems like she was pretty close-minded. Did she know about Krypton?"
"No, I didn't even know about Krypton until. later. I had no idea why I had these abilities; I only knew that I had to hide them so people wouldn't look at me like I was a freak. And when your own fianc‚e feels that way, too.well, you know, everyone wants to be liked and accepted."
"Oh, Clark. She never accepted you. *all* of you, did she?"
"Not at that time. When we moved to Metropolis, I would try to help out covertly when I was needed and it would always bring on an argument. She made me promise I wouldn't use my powers. It was a promise I just could never keep. If there was a way I could help, I just had to."
"So, when does the other Lois Lane enter the scene?"
"Well, it was getting dangerously close to my wedding day, and I had just stopped a robbery, so I was late for work. Just as I got off the elevator, a woman — your twin — came rushing up to me. I was shocked; she had been talking to Perry and it looked like everyone but me knew who she was.
"I'll never forget her next words: 'Oh, Clark, I'm so glad to see you. You and Superman'. Then, she gave me a big hug and kiss. on the lips. just as Lana was getting off the elevator. She saw the whole scenario unfold. You should have seen the look on that woman's face," he said, smiling at the recollection.
"Yikes," said Lois. "She sounds really bitchy and jealous. Well, I guess I might be that way, too, if someone was kissing my fianc‚e on the lips," Lois admitted.
"Yes, she used to be *very* bitchy. Past tense, though. She's changed a lot since she married Pete. But I digress.
"Lana immediately introduced herself to Lois as Mr. Kent's fianc‚e, and demanded to know who she was, kissing me like that. And I was as confused about it as Lana was."
"So Lana all but peed on you to mark her territory, huh?" Lois said with a big smile on her face.
"Yes, I guess she did," he said with a big grin. "I should mention also that 'Lois' was accompanied by an Englishman with a bowler hat, dressed in Victorian clothing. Perry was fawning all over her, as everyone thought that she was you, returning from the Congo after three long years. I asked her who she was, and who Superman was. She became tongue-tied. I finally found out her name was Lois Lane from the gentleman with her, who I later found out was H.G. Wells."
"The writer? The one who wrote 'The Time Machine'?"
"Yes. Not only did he write it, he built one!"
"Yes, well anyway, Lana immediately pulled me away from Lois and started giving me hell in the elevator, because she had seen me rush off and use my powers to stop the robbers. If I heard that 'they're going to dissect you like a frog in a laboratory' story one more time. ugh!"
"Huh? Who's going to do that?" asked Lois.
"Lana was always *telling* me that. She was afraid they'd take me away and study me if everyone knew I was different. She said it hundreds of times, it seems like."
"So, this Lois and this other guy, Wells, came from another Earth, similar to ours?"
"Yes. Actually, it was hard to believe at first, but later on, I actually went there and it's amazing how similar things are, but with subtle differences. Perry is still an editor over there, and James is known as Jimmy and he's a photographer who's just really good with computers.
"Apparently, this bad guy from the future, Tempus, had found a way to copy Wells' time machine and it had been tweaked to allow for inter-dimensional travel as well. He thought it would be great to take the Lois in that world away from her Clark, one week before they were to get married."
Lois interrupted. "So, back in 1996, our counterparts were already in love and about to be married? Wow, what would have happened between you and me if I had never left to go to Brazzaville? We lost all those years that we could have spent loving and being a part of each other's lives. How sad," she commented.
"True, but remember, I was with Lana back then, and if Lois hadn't come into our world when she did, I may have married her. What broke us up was my decision to become Superman, Lois. She couldn't handle it. Gave me an ultimatum. the suit or her. I chose the suit."
"So how did Lois take Lana's possessiveness?"
"Well, she pretty much ignored it. After all, she was told by Wells that her Clark was her soul mate, and she figured that all she had to do was get to know me, and she could convince me to become this Superman persona. This way, I could help her and Wells return home to their world.
"So, in typical Lois-cunning fashion, she informed Perry that she wanted to be teamed up with someone, because after three years, her skills were rusty, and she specifically asked for that person to be me," Clark replied.
"That sounds like me, always finding an angle to accomplish what I want," Lois smiled. "But how did this Tempus guy figure into things?"
"Wells had journeyed into the future, and apparently, at least in that Earth, our descendants form Utopia, a world where there is peace and no violence. Wells had met Tempus in his travels there, and he was completely bored with the status quo of his era. He agreed to travel back to Wells' era with him to prove to his contemporaries that his machine worked. Wells decided to make a pit stop in 1995 because he needed Clark and Lois' help. His machine didn't work without gold. After he convinced them he was on the up-and-up, they walked back to the alley where he had parked the time machine. Tempus was supposed to have waited in the machine for him to return.
"However, Tempus had walked around, getting a taste of evil and violence, and had decided to turn on Wells. After robbing a jewelry store, he took the gold and used it for fuel and stole his machine to travel back to the 60's to try to kill Clark as a baby, when he was just arriving from Krypton and had no super- powers yet. Of course, the 'other' Clark and Lois *had* to help stop him. Using a blueprint that Wells had covertly left for him, Clark built a replica of the time machine for Lois and him to travel back in time with to 1966. Clark saved his other baby self so that the Kents could find him, and the timeline was restored again. Tempus was captured and Wells brought him back in time to Smallville, 1866, where he was put in jail for crimes he committed there. But he eventually escaped again. He was on a vendetta to stop Utopia from occurring, and the only way he could do that was by separating Clark and Lois so they would never get married and have children."
"So that explains why he tried to maroon Lois here, away from her Clark, in a world where there was no Superman," Lois concluded. "No marriage; no kids; no Utopia."
"Yes, exactly. He was maneuvering between both worlds. He was committing bank robbery in the other world, then coming back here with the money, and selling weapons and making a fortune. He actually ran for Mayor, against Perry.
"He captured Lois after she left the Daily Planet building, and put her, blindfolded, on a ledge on top of a tall building. He actually wanted me to become Superman, because he thought that the Lois, you, of our world was dead. Again, no Lois and Clark, no Utopia. He just wanted the competition, I guess. I was having dinner with Lana and her parents when I heard Lois' screams. I made my usual half-baked excuse to leave, incurring Lana's wrath, of course, and saved Lois just as she was plummeting to her death.
"She then told me the whole alternate universe story, just like I'm telling it to you. I found it just as hard to believe as you probably do, now. She showed me a picture of her Superman, and a picture of her with her Clark. She flashed her engagement ring at me, also. I was totally shocked, completely in awe."
"Was it pretty big?" Lois asked. "Sorry, never mind, go on."
"We went to a ski shop, and she fashioned this costume for me. Then we went flying, patrolling Metropolis, and I ended up performing my first official Superman duty, saving a rookie cop from a thug's bullet. It felt so good to finally be me."
"Wow. my other self saved you, didn't she? Saved you from a boring unfulfilling life hiding who you really were, being with a woman who didn't love the whole man. I owe her a lot, I guess," realized Lois.
"The biggest thing she did for me was to make me realize that Lana was not the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."
"Clark, did you fall in love with this Lois?" asked Lois earnestly.
"I felt a strong connection to her. I was drawn to her I admit it. I even asked her to stay, after Tempus exposed me to be Clark Kent. So much for the secret identity thing. Apparently, in their world, a pair of glasses keeps everyone from suspecting that Clark Kent is Superman. Can you believe that?"
"Really? That *does* sound stupid," Lois agreed.
"But she loved him, had to go home to him. I felt so empty after she and Wells departed. The only thing I had left to remember her by was that picture of her in the crowd, so I had it blown up. I began a quest to find you, but it was unsuccessful.
"Later on, Wells came to visit me again, because Tempus had escaped once again, and had stranded her Clark in a time void. I played Superman in her world until we were able to bring him back. Meeting my twin was a weird experience. And, I met his parents. I have to say, he had everything I didn't have — a wife, and two wonderful, loving parents — and I was so jealous of him, I hated myself for it. And, one night, while Lois was missing her Clark, and I was so fixated with her, we almost kissed. But we stopped it, knowing it was wrong. I looked just like her Clark so it was natural for her to transfer her feelings for him to me.
"We ended up locating Clark with the time machine, derailing Tempus once again, and when I left, Wells hinted to me that finding you might not be impossible. That shred of hope kept me going for the last seven years. My strange chemistry with the other Lois was not meant to be. The feelings I had were meant for you. Somehow, somewhere, my soul knew you were alive, and I called out to you every night. I dreamed of flying with you, sharing Superman stories with you..and it was you, not the other Lois, I dreamed of. A Lois that wasn't already in love with a Clark. Does that sound ridiculous?"
"It's the most beautiful love story I've ever heard. The weirdest, too, but very beautiful," Lois said, her eyes misting over. "It makes me believe in soul mates. Why did you think I would be mad when you finally told me all this? Do you think I'd be jealous of my other self or something?"
"Yes, I thought you might be. But I can tell you honestly, Lois, that what I felt for her, was the same as what she felt for me. It was like being with someone's twin. Even though they look alike, and their mannerisms are similar, there's something in their soul that's different, and you might feel a connection to them, but it's not real. I knew that in the back of my mind, that what I felt for her was just a fraction of what I would feel for you, once we finally met. And, it's true," he said, giving her a passionate kiss.
"And the Langs? Let me guess, Wells had something to do with that, too," said Lois.
"Yes, Wells came over here to tell me with the conditions in the Congo being so inhospitable, he wouldn't be able to go over there and look for you. He hadn't been able to nail down the exact time you arrived over there, and apparently, you became quite good at keeping a low profile. I couldn't find you either, with the restrictions I was under, not being able to use my powers overtly. Trying to locate you at night over there was like looking for a needle in a hay stack. If only I had known you were using the name Linda, perhaps I would have been more successful."
"I was in a survival mode, Clark. Trying to save myself, *and* my family. I had to be good at it," Lois commented.
"Well, Wells wandered into a different 'Alternate Universe' to see if there was a world out there with a Lois without a Clark. He figured he would play matchmaker and see if she would come back here with him. What he discovered was a grim world, overrun with evil Kryptonians that had survived my planet's destruction. When they traveled to Earth and discovered their super powers, they decided to take over and rule the planet. They killed that world's Clark with Kryptonite and then shot his pregnant wife, Lois, with Kryptonite bullets."
Lois looked at him with terror on her face. "Omigod. Oh, Clark. That's so horrible."
"Clark's foster parents had been forced to witness the entire thing. Wells managed to convince them to come back to this world. I had kept my parent's farmhouse in Smallville, but it was run down and needed work."
"So, I see what happened. Since the Kents of our world were already dead, you made up a fake name for them to explain their presence in this world. And, I take it, Lana was in on this, since they use her maiden name," concluded Lois.
"That's right. They are considered by the townspeople to be Lana's aunt and uncle from California, Joe and Mary Lang. I rent the house out to them, via Lana's real estate agency. Since my parents died over 25 years ago, no one really notices the resemblance they bear to the original Kents, *my* folks."
"Wow, so Wells gave you a family — of sorts — back."
"Yes, he really did. The Kents and I have forged strong emotional ties. We help each other sort out our pain at times. They lost their son and pregnant daughter-in-law. I had no family and was chronically missing you, who I had technically never met. They understood my pain because they had witnessed the love shared between their son and his wife and were very sad for me that *you* weren't here with me, in 'this' world."
"Wow. This is really unbelievable. I guess when they say that your life is all planned out ahead of time, it's true. Now I can't *wait* to go to Smallville and spend time with them. And maybe someday give them the grandchild they never got to spoil in their world," Lois hinted to Clark.
"Lois, I would love to have a family, whenever you are ready. I know you want to get your career back on track and get settled in," Clark said, with gentle understanding.
"Clark, I'm already in my mid-thirties. I don't want to be having kids when I'm in my forties. I love you, and, as much as reporting is in my blood, I lived without it for ten years and survived. I would consider having a child and going back to work part-time in a heartbeat," Lois informed him. "Being alone for ten years make you appreciate the value of family."
"Really? Then let's get started as soon as possible," he whispered to her, as he held her face in his hands, his tongue entering her mouth as they kissed with a sense of urgency.
He stroked her now short hair, kissing the back of her neck and gently breathing on her ear lobes. The electricity between them was amazing. All of their nerve endings were on fire. The thought of creating a child that was the perfect blend of the two of them had an unbelievably positive impact on their libidos. Their lovemaking was even more intense and passionate than it had been the first time they had been together. The sharing of secrets had strengthened the bond they shared. As they gave each other pleasure, Clark floated them off the blanket, to create a feeling of weightlessness.
Ecstasy having been given and received, they crashed back down onto their blanket, Clark protecting Lois from harm with a puff of super breath to break her fall. Smiling and contented, and at peace for the first time in many years, Clark and Lois lay in the 'spoon' position, the sounds of the ocean waves breaking on the shore and the strong tropical sun warming their bodies, as they drifted off into a heavenly sleep.
Saturday morning, 11:00 a.m., after Clark fetched a wonderful bagels and coffee breakfast from a well-known coffee shop in Seattle, Washington, they found themselves saying goodbye to their favorite haven once again, and heading east toward Smallville, Kansas. Sunlight started to disappear from view, and then reappear, as they were actually traveling back in time sixteen hours to re-live Friday night all over again. Since it was now daylight savings time, it was still light in Kansas at 5 p.m.
Clark decided it would be best to use the tunnel to visit his folks.
"I created this tunnel so no one would suspect that I am as close to my 'tenants' as I really am," Clark explained. "I don't need the underworld going after them as a way to get to me."
He dropped down from the sky and opened the entrance door, which was covered with leaves and debris. They were soon flying through the underground entranceway, which ended in the basement of the Kent farmhouse.
"Clark, are you worried, then, that they will try to hurt me in the same fashion? Since it's public information that we are married," Lois asked, as they began walking up the stairs to the kitchen.
"I am, but I plan to be around you almost every waking minute, if I have to," he responded. "Since they're in Kansas, it would be very hard to protect them around the clock."
"True. But how are you going to protect me from an exploding toilet in the women's rest room, for example?" Lois joked. "Or a Superman rescue mission when you have to leave me alone?"
"All I know is, Lois, without you in it, my life's not worth living, so I will figure it out, I promise," he said.
<I think I'm the one that's going to have to protect you>, Lois thought and then deliberately blocked her mind so Clark couldn't "hear" what she said.
Martha and Jonathan had coffee and tea brewing, and the smell of a baking apple pie permeated the country kitchen.
"Honey, you're here. I heard about all the problems at the Planet," said Martha. "I'm so glad you're both okay."
"Ma, Lois and I made a promise that we're not talking shop until we have to go back to work on Monday morning. We're here to spend time with you, and that's that," Clark said.
Jonathan gave Lois a big hug. "I'm so happy that Clark finally found you. Now we can all share each other's lives, the way it should be."
"Honey, I hope you don't mind, but I invited Lana and Pete over, and they're going to bring their son as well. I know they would want to meet, you, Lois," said Martha.
"Martha, that's fine. I want to meet all of Clark's friends. And I've heard a lot about Lana. I'm anxious to meet her as well," Lois replied. "How old is their son, by the way?"
"About six weeks, now. His name is Christopher Peter Ross. He's adorable. Did you know that Clark is the Godfather?" Martha asked Lois.
"No, but it makes sense. They're all friends from high school, right?"
"Yes, I guess so," Martha said. "Of course, we weren't here then for Clark, but our Clark was best friends with his Lana and Pete," she said, with sadness in her voice.
"Martha, I'm so sorry about your Clark and your daughter-in-law. That's so horrifying for you. Does it help or hurt to be around me and Clark, when we look so much like the family you lost so tragically?" Lois wanted to know.
"It's a double-edged sword, truthfully, Lois dear. Thanks for asking. But knowing how this Clark was so sad all of the time, with no parents and no you to share his life with, really gave us a purpose in life when we came here. Without that, we would have died of broken hearts," Martha said.
"I guess that H.G. Wells character did a good thing, then, by bringing you both to this earth. I'm happy that you're here, Martha and Jonathan."
"I can see you are just as sweet as the Lois we loved so much. Both of our sons have great taste in women," remarked Jonathan.
There was a knock at the door. "That must be Lana and Pete and the baby. I'll get it," Martha said.
What she saw made her jaw drop several inches.
Wells' time machine was parked outside on the driveway.
Martha thought she was in a house of mirrors at the amusement park. She was looking at Clark, Lois, two children that looked exactly like them, and — a carbon copy version of herself and Jonathan!
"Oh, my," was all she could say. "Oh my! Clark! Please come to the door."
"Mrs. Kent, I'm so sorry to stop by unannounced. But we understand that today is a special day and we came to share it with all of you," explained Wells. "Please, do come in."
Clark recognized his friends from the other Earth, Clark and Lois. Two small children, looking to be about two and four years old, accompanied them. They were both dark-haired, with big brown eyes, one boy, and one girl. Clark's parents were there as well, virtually identical to his folks.
"Hey, Clark. Hey Lois, good to see you again," he said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Looks like you guys have been busy raising a family, huh?" he said, smiling at their children.
The two Loises were scrutinizing each other. Ironically, the other Lois was now wearing her hair in a longer, freer flowing style, so it was easier to tell them apart.
"Hi Lois, I'm Lois too. I'm so happy to meet you, and I want to thank you for making Clark realize what a mistake he would have made marrying Lana," she said.
"Every world needs a Superman. It was his destiny. I'm so glad to finally meet you too. I can relax now, knowing that Clark won't be lonely and miserable any more, now that you're here with him."
"That's sweet, but he saved me too. I had resigned myself to being single the rest of my life, until he came along."
"I know, I felt the same way. Wow, we are like twins, except for the hair."
"I *just* had my hair cut short like yours was. Clark had a picture of you in the crowd from the time you were here, and I thought it looked great. But I see you've let yours grow out a bit," observed Lois.
"Yes, now that the kids are a bit older, I have a little more time to fuss with my hair in the morning," she joked.
"Clark, you know my parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent. You met them the last time you visited 'our' world," Clark said.
"Yes, of course. So good to see both of you again," Clark said. "And these are my folks, Martha and Jonathan Kent, but in this world their legal names are Joe and Mary Lang. Did Herb explain it all to you?" Clark asked as everyone shook hands in amazement. It was the strangest feeling, shaking hands with 'yourself'.
Clark smiled. "Yes, he did. Quite a story. I'm happy it all worked out for you, and I'd really like to go over to their Earth sometime and kick those rogue Kryptonians out of power. Let me know when you want to go!"
"You bet! Sounds good to me!"
"Now, I'd like to introduce you to Kara and Jared. Kara is two and Jared is going to be four next month, in May. Kids, say hello to everyone," Lois said, putting her arms around the children, bringing them to the forefront.
"Hi," they said in unison.
"How come you all look the same?" Jared asked.
The group laughed. "Honey, I'll explain it to you when you're a little older," Lois said. "This is Aunt Lois, Uncle Clark, and Grandma Mary and Grandpa Joe. Give everyone a handshake or a kiss, now," she instructed.
"Do I have to?" whined Jared. Lois glared at him. "All right," he said, making the rounds of the group. "How come Kara doesn't have to do this?"
"She will, when she's older. For now, Kara, give everyone a hug," Clark interjected.
Kara began walking around the group of adults, giving each person a gentle squeeze.
"Wow," Lois remarked. "They're beautiful kids. Clark and I were just talking about starting a family. Now I'm even more excited about it."
"We have some tips that will help you get pregnant," said Lois. "Before we leave, I'll share them with you."
"Great! Yes, I didn't think about that.. Clark *is* an alien. DNA could be different. hmm."
Suddenly, there was another knock on the door. "Now, this time, it must be the Rosses."
And so it was.
Kara and Jared were excited to have a newborn to play with. Little Christopher was kissed, teased, and prodded by the two of them. and he seemed to love it, smiling back at them with his freckled face, framed by strands of curly blond hair here and there.
After introductions were made again, Lana pulled Lois over to the living room and said, "I'm so happy you're here. I'm sure Clark told you the whole story about what a bitch I used to be."
"Well, I guess you were afraid that society couldn't accept Clark for who he was. You were younger then. It's understandable," Lois said sympathetically. <She's really pretty, though. I can see why Clark was with her for so long.>
<"No one — *no one* — holds a candle to you, Lois">, Clark affirmed to her, as he had "felt" Lois' insecurities even while he was carrying on a conversation with Pete in the other room. Lois beamed inappropriately as Clark's thoughts entered her head. Lana didn't seem to notice.
"I know. I let a great man walk away from me because of my own jealous fears. But truthfully, he never loved me the way he loves you Lois Lanes," Lana replied. "There's something about you Loises. you give him more than I ever could* So I'm so happy he finally found you."
"Are *you* happy, Lana? Clark tells me that Pete always had a thing for you."
"Yes, I am. Pete is the sweetest, most wonderful man, and he's right for me. Just the way Clark is right for you. Clark and I have become very close again. It took several years for the bitterness to fade away, but I'm so glad we were able to put that behind us, because he's like my best friend now. Do you know how many times I tried to fix him up with someone, and he always had an excuse? You were the only one he wanted, I'd have you know. He's a one-woman man, all the way. You're a lucky lady, Lois Lane. Congratulations on your marriage!" Lana said, giving Lois a kiss on the cheek and a hug.
"Thanks, Lana. And by the way, your son is gorgeous," she replied. "And it was very sweet of you to help Clark find a way for the Kents to re-establish themselves as your aunt and uncle."
"Thanks, Lois. I hope that we can all be close now. I guess, with all the people in the kitchen, we have ourselves a par-tee!"
"Yes, I guess we do," smiled Lois. "And one where half the guests have identical twins in the room. Better get out the cameras to save this one for posterity!"
And so, Alt-Clark had found his Lois. H.G. Wells could finally relax, feeling that things were finally right in this universe. Maybe now he could go home, to his era, and let things run their course without further interference. His job was done. Alt-Lois and Alt-Clark, however, still had issues to face on Monday morning.
Sequel: "Concrete Jungle Love" coming soon!