By Anna Botsakou <email@example.com>
Submitted July 2004
Summary: The baby that suddenly arrived at the Kents' doorstep is surrounded by a mystery Lois and Clark just can't leave unsolved. So they get trapped in the suspicious environments related to her, in order to find the truth.
This is the first fic I ever began writing. It took me more than a year to finish it, but, well, here it is now.
I would like to thank all the people that made it possible for me to start writing and encouraged me to continue:
My RL friends, Evgenia, Elina and Maria, who read some of this story and provided me with encouraging feedback. Oh! And Elli, too — although she's not a friend of mine, she praised me about it too :)
My English teacher, Mrs. Emily (let's not reveal her last name here), who accepted to take a look at it and tell me she was impressed. (Now *this* was a big shock.)
My brother Christos, who had the courage to listen to this complicated plot and help me find a title.
Raquel, who introduced me in the FoLCdom and encouraged me during the writing process.
Anni the Diva, who did some of the BRing work — which is never too easy when you have to deal with me!
Carole, who, despite her busy schedule, found the time to take a look and give me a couple of useful ideas.
Jeanne Pare, my GE — if this story is written in proper English, a big part of this achievement is thanks to her.
And, last but not least, Maria and Merry who provided me with their precious feedback while I was posting.
Disclaimer: Some of the characters/situations described are mine, some aren't. "Tanked Ending" is a term of mine. It describes a bad ending — but with nothing funny/weird/you-name-it in it, unlike Tank Ending.
I hope you enjoy this story. Anna.
WARNING: Rated PG-13 for violence and swearing.
It was Saturday evening. Clark was serving the dinner, when Lois came into the kitchen.
"Has she fallen asleep?" Clark asked.
"Yes…" she said.
They sat on the table and started eating. Lois seemed to be in a bad mood; she wasn't talking at all. Clark was worried about her. Although he didn't want to annoy her, he felt he should ask her.
"…We still have no idea where she came from," Lois replied, thoughtfully. "It's like an unsolved mystery, and you know I hate unsolved mysteries."
"There's nothing we can do to solve it…"
"That's what I hate about it!" she exclaimed and suddenly stood up. Her voice got loud, and she was no longer looking anxious and worried, but furious. "She's been here more than a week, and all we were able to find out about her is that she's a girl!"
"She's a baby, Lois," Clark said, knowing how badly the baby's arrival had affected her. "What did you expect? That she would tell you everything about her?"
"That lousy letter… Couldn't they have written something more than that she belongs to us?"
"We've talked about it, Lois. You know we'll never find out more about her."
"Why not?" she said, hitting her fist on the table. "This is not logical! We've solved so many mysteries that it would be ridiculous to let this one slip through our hands, when it's the one with the greatest importance about us! Why would you want to raise a baby you have no idea where she came from? She could even be Lex's daughter!"
Clark tried not to show he was worried as much as Lois. "Even if she is, she remains a baby who should not be abandoned. After all, it's a good opportunity for us. Remember that we can't have our own children."
"Aren't you worried at all?" Lois asked incredulously.
"Not really. Well… I admit I'm curious, but…"
"Well, I am curious too, so I'm going to solve this mystery, with or without your help," she said, matter-of-factly.
"You know I want to help you, Lois. I just think we won't find out anything useful."
"Give it a try," she said, gazing straight into his eyes. "You know I want it, and I know you want it too."
Clark was hesitating. "It's not that I don't want to, Lois…"
"Give it a try."
He closed his eyes, trying to decide. A few moments passed.
"Well, look," he finally spoke. "I promise that if you have any idea what we could do about it, I will help you with it. Whatever this is."
After she heard that, she sat on his knees, smiling.
"Is that okay?" he asked her.
"Yes," she said. She put her arms around his neck.
"Well… So why don't you go and finish your dinner?"
She stood up, with an evil grin on her lips. 'I'm not done with you, big guy,' she thought, sitting back on her chair.
Later that night, the couple was sitting on the living room couch, watching TV.
"I already have an idea," Lois said, all of a sudden.
Clark looked at her. Then she also turned to him.
"Did you expect I wouldn't?" she said, with a wry smile.
"Of course not." He smiled, too. "So, what is it?"
"I was thinking, that maybe she's sent by Ching and Zara."
He looked at her, distrustfully. "I don't think so," he said.
"Why not?" She once again became agitated and started talking intensely. "Think about it. They are probably watching us. They know we can't have children, and they decide to send us a Kryptonian baby. There must be orphans there, too. They picked one and sent it here."
"I really don't think so. I wouldn't think that Ching and Zara are watching us. I'm sure they have better things to do."
"Why was she wrapped with an 'S' blanket then?" she objected. "She is super, that's why!"
"Lois, I really don't think it is possible."
"Come on, just believe me once!" she yelled and stood up, turning her back to Clark.
"Lois, calm down, please!" He rose too, trying hardly to keep his voice down. "It's not a matter of believing you! What do you want me to do? If you want to, we can go upstairs right now and hit her with the iron. If she survives, she's a Kryptonian. Is that okay?"
She tried not to laugh. Although she recognized the point he had so expressively made, she was still glued to her opinion. She turned around and looked at him, trying to look serious.
"There are other ways, too."
"Like what?" His voice was ironic.
"You can go to New Krypton and ask," she said, in an absolutely natural tone.
"Of course," he said, sarcastically. "How come I didn't have this idea earlier, I wonder."
"It's not that difficult!" she objected.
"Then, why don't you go for yourself?"
"Because I can't fly!"
Clark realized he was getting upset and tried to calm down himself.
"It's not just about flying, Lois," he said calmly. "There are spaceships, after all. But no one has ever gone to Krypton. I don't *know* how to go there."
"If you knew, would you go?" She was also calm now.
He hesitated. "Maybe, I don't know. Now why don't you just forget it?" he said, going towards her.
"Okay," she said, falling into his arms. She seemed pleased for a few moments. Then she made an angry-grumpy face again and headed for the bedroom. "But don't think we're finished," she warned, heading for the stairs.
"Goodnight to you, too," Clark said loudly, while she was going up the stairs.
Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day, but Lois and Clark were not in a good mood. They hardly spoke to each other all day; Clark because he thought that Lois was mad at him, and Lois because she was busy searching for other ideas. Well… and because she was really a little mad at Clark.
On Monday morning, Clark woke up and started dressing up to go to the Daily Planet. Lois began doing the same thing, but Clark looked at her suspiciously.
"What are you doing?"
"Going to work, of course."
"You have a baby to take care of, in case you didn't notice."
She groaned. "It's your week to do it, in case you didn't notice. Last week I stayed home all five days."
"Mothers stay with children, while fathers work."
Lois opened her mouth, surprised. She looked like she had just realized something really important.
"You don't want her," she accused him. "You don't love her. You don't care about her."
Clark closed his eyes, trying not to lose his temper. He wanted to avoid one more quarrel, especially one that his thoughtlessness would have provoked.
"I'm sorry, Lois, that was cruel of me…"
"Don't!" She abruptly raised her hand, preventing him from approaching her.
"Lois, I do love her. If you want me to stay, I'll stay. I just thought you'd prefer staying with her, after…"
"No," she said, as if she was scared of him. "I'll stay with her. You, go to work."
"Okay." He tried not to show that her attitude was bothering him. He got dressed quickly and left. Then, she approached the baby's cradle and bent over it.
"Don't worry, darling," she said to the baby, taking her in her arms and caressing her little, brown-haired head. "We'll find out all we need to know, sooner or later. And your daddy will love you. Even if he doesn't right now."
Clark had just arrived at the Daily Planet, when Perry saw him.
"Hey, Clark! Come here! I want to talk to you," he barked from across the room. Clark went at his office at once.
"What's up, chief?"
"I just wanted to ask you about the little girl you found the other day." He sat down, and so did Clark. "How is she?"
"She's the only one home who's really well," he said, sadly.
"Well… After Lois' and my parents left, we are always fighting about the baby. I love her, but… it's difficult to keep a baby home when you know nothing about her. And… I don't want to be mean to Lois. I know it's difficult for her, too, but… her attitude doesn't help at all."
Perry came near Clark, in an attempt to cheer him up.
"Don't worry," he said. "You'd have these problems even if she really was your daughter. A child is always a pain in the neck. All you have to do is make sure that you handle it the right way, so that it doesn't cause really serious problems."
Meanwhile, Lois was talking on the phone with Martha Kent and getting exactly the same replies.
"So, what should we do, Martha?" she asked.
"Just forget everything and keep on living your life."
"It's impossible to me. Unless I know who this girl is, I won't ever be able to live my life as I used to."
"Then, do whatever you think will comfort you. But stop fighting with Clark, okay? You need to be together now, more than ever."
"So…" Lois couldn't resist this question, "you don't think that Clark doesn't love the girl?"
"Of course not!" Martha was almost insulted. "He loves her as much as you do. But he's confused, and this is his way to face this problem."
"So I shouldn't worry?"
"Thanks, Martha. Bye."
When the afternoon came, Clark left the Daily Planet to go home. As he was walking along a lonely lane, a strange man, who was wearing a brown coat and a yellow hat, stopped him.
"Excuse me, you are Clark Kent, aren't you?" he asked, looking around. He probably didn't want anyone to see him.
"Do you know Rachel Thorn?"
"You have a message from her."
He handed it to Clark.
"Carefully! Don't let anyone see it."
"Not even Lois?"
The strange man looked around once again.
"Well… Lois can see it. Go, now. Go."
Clark put the note in his pocket, while watching the strange man going to the other end of the lane and disappearing into the shadows of the tall buildings. He thought there was no need to look for him any more and headed home.
"Lois?" he called her, when he entered the house and closed the door behind him.
"What?" she called from the kitchen.
"Come here, please."
Lois hurried to the living room.
"Look, a strange man stopped me while I was walking and gave me this." He showed her the note. "He said that only you and I could see it."
"Let's see what it is, then."
They sat on the sofa. Clark unfolded the note and started reading it.
You have never heard about me. My name is Rachel Thorn and I work at S.T.A.R. Labs. I am a microbiologist's assistant, and I helped many times Dr. Klein with Superman's tests. I saw the results of his fertility and compatibility tests. I just had a baby girl, but her father left us before she was even born and I have no idea where he could be. So I wondered if you could give her to Superman… I think that he and his girlfriend would raise her better. If they don't want her, though, contact my brother, the man who gave you this note. He'll be at the place you met him today, next Monday at noon.
My best wishes to you and Mrs. Kent.
P.S.: If you are okay with that, I would like my daughter to be named Sharon Lynn. It's the name of my late mother.*
They remained silent, thinking. Clark was the first one to talk, several moments later.
"What do you think?" he asked Lois.
At first, she couldn't say a word; she was completely stunned.
"…Well…" she said after a while, "this is the answer to our questions, though a very strange one. It seems incredible, almost impossible."
"I thought your tests were top secret."
"Well… Dr. Klein could have an assistant."
"Wouldn't you know her?"
"Maybe… But I don't think it's weird."
"I think we should go ask Dr. Klein about it."
They left for S.T.A.R. Labs right away, with the baby.
Once they arrived, they asked for Dr. Klein. He was at his laboratory, experimenting on some rats.
"Dr. Klein…" Clark said.
"Oh, Mr. Kent," he said, leaving his syringe on the table. "Ms. Lane… How are you?"
"Fine, thank you," Lois said.
"I didn't know you had a baby," he said, staring at the little girl in puzzlement.
"It's a long story," she said, trying to smile.
"Dr. Klein," Clark said quickly, "we have a problem."
"Do you know a woman called Rachel Thorn?"
"Of course I knew her," he said, as if it was too strange to be asked about her. "She worked here."
"Where is she now?" Clark asked.
"She died three years ago."
Clark and Lois looked at each other, unable to believe what they had just heard.
Dr. Klein stared at them questioningly. He couldn't understand the reason why this news had affected them so badly.
After a couple of silent minutes, Clark decided they couldn't go on like this.
"You said she died three years ago?" he asked Dr. Klein.
"Well, the truth is that it's a weird story," the older man replied. "She was a young woman who enjoyed her work here. One day she didn't come to work. She had disappeared completely for two weeks and nobody knew anything about her. After that we heard that she died."
"How?" Clark asked.
"We have no idea," Dr. Klein answered. "No! Wait… I think she was hit by a car… Well… she didn't have any friends to be interested in knowing what had really happened, though we all liked her, because she was very good at her job and always in a good mood."
Clark was trying to figure out the situation in his mind. He couldn't understand how a woman could have just disappeared, without leaving anything behind. Then Lois got herself into the conversation, asking something she was wondering why Clark hadn't already asked.
"Did she have a brother?"
Dr. Klein tried to remember. "I think… yes… she did have a brother… he seemed a bit insane… a very strange guy. I had seen him several times… he used to come, talk for a while to Rachel, and then leave… His attitude was really weird…"
Lois and Clark were not speaking, letting him remember. But then he noticed their special interest in Rachel Thorn's brother.
"Why do you want to know?" he asked, without suspicion, but surprised.
Lois, thinking that this wasn't the right time to tell the truth, lied. "We heard about this strange disappearance, and we decided to write an article about it. So we came here to find more information. Maybe her brother would know something more…" she said, gently ushering him to give them more information.
"…Well, let me think what else I know…" He thought for a few moments. "I can't remember his name right now… I heard he was taken to a mental hospital a couple of months after his sister died… Oh, if it helps, Rachel and her brother had no parents and were living together in a small apartment downtown. I think they had a sister, though, somewhere in Mexico…"
"Anything else?" Lois asked, impatiently.
"I can't…" Dr. Klein began, but Clark interrupted him.
"It's okay, Dr. Klein. If you remember anything, just give us a call."
"All right, Mr. Kent."
"We have to go right now. Have a nice day."
During their way home, Lois and Clark didn't speak at all. Lois was breathing noisily, and Clark was thinking things over. When they arrived home, Lois laid the baby on the couch, and stayed there, standing, staring at her, with her back to Clark. He was standing as well, arms akimbo.
"Now what?" she asked, turning to him.
"…I don't know, Lois. This is too complicated."
"Why didn't you let him tell us more? You know Dr. Klein! He has probably left unsaid something he considered as useless information, but which is the key to what we're looking for! This is the way things always happen with people like him!" she exploded.
"I know. That's why I told him to call us," he said, touching her shoulders. "You're very upset, and he'd understand that it's something more than just an article. And you know we can't say a word before we find out what's going on." His heart was beating quickly, provoked by the intensity of recent events, but he was trying hard to look as calm as always. He knew from previous situations similar to this one that Lois needed someone to keep her calm or else she would lose control of herself.
Lois didn't talk for a while. Clark's words had worked; she was feeling less anxious already.
"Okay," she said, finally. "So what's next?"
He started pacing around the room, thinking. "Somebody here must be lying, either the one who let out the rumor that Rachel Thorn's dead, or the one who wrote this letter and signed as her. The only one who can't be lying is Dr. Klein. He's a bit foolish sometimes, but there's no way he'd lie."
"I think that Rachel Thorn must be alive," Lois said, watching him pace around the room. "If she had just died, there would be nothing mysterious."
"That's true," he said. "You're probably right." He kept on thinking, trying to find a way to confirm it, but Lois beat him to it.
"Let's find out where she lived and go check her apartment."
"Good idea," he agreed. "But where should we search?"
"Let's go and ask at S.T.A.R. Labs. They must have a file on her or something."
"…Maybe we should wait until tomorrow," Clark suggested. "Going there twice in two hours is going to attract attention."
"I can't wait until tomorrow," she complained with a mincing smile.
He smiled, too, but he was determined not to succumb. "Honey, we're not going," he said, sweetly. "You know it's not a good idea. You can wait one more day, can't you?"
"Ooooh…" she whined. She was unpleased, but she knew he was right. "All right," she finally said.
Right at that time, the phone rang, and she almost jumped, happily. "Do you think it's him?"
"Let's see," he said and answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Hello, Mr. Kent."
"Dr. Klein!" Clark's voice could easily confirm how happy he was to be talking with Dr. Klein.
But so was Lois. At the time Clark pronounced his name, she jumped up without saying a word, but what she wanted to say was obvious: 'Yes!!'
"Yes, Mr. Kent, that's me," Dr. Klein said. "I thought that you could find useful information reading Rachel Thorn's file. If you want to see it, come here whenever you want, and I'll sign a permission paper that will allow you to.
"Good idea, Dr. Klein." Clark let his voice sound calm and apathetic, hiding his true feelings. "We'll come tomorrow, if that's okay with you."
"Sure, no problem."
"Then, we'll see you tomorrow, Dr. Klein. Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Mr. Kent."
"What did he tell you?" Lois asked in excitement, when Clark hung up the phone.
"He said that he'll sign a permission for us to see Rachel Thorn's file, if we want to." He didn't show his enthusiasm, in an attempt to play with Lois's impatience.
"Yes!!" This time she let it out, and then she hugged her husband tightly. Clark hugged her back, but his delight was held back, shown only by his smile and the expression of his eyes.
"Honey," he said, when she finally let go of him, "you understand that we still have to wait until tomorrow."
"Come on! Now that he called, we can go!" she complained.
"Yes, I know, but we'd better not."
Her face became a little sad, but she knew he was right. "Okay," she said. "It's just… You know…" She couldn't express the way she was feeling.
"Yes, I know," he said condescendingly. Then, they heard a cry.
"Sharon Lynn must be hungry," Clark said, smiling.
"Oh, come on!" She gave him a playful push and she took the baby in her arms.
"Why? Don't you like this name?" He was still smiling.
"Well, it might be nice," she said in a false-serious way, "but I won't give my baby the name of a crazy woman, or a crazy woman's mother, or… whatever…" she said, staring at him wryly and heading for the kitchen.
Clark stayed in the living room with a proud smile in his face. 'She's a real mother…!'
Next day they both went to the Planet, taking the baby with them. Once they arrived, all the Daily Planet staff came near them to see the baby.
"She's so sweet!"
"How old is she?"
"What's her name?"
Lois and Clark looked really proud, as if the baby was really theirs… as a matter of fact, they were both thinking 'Yes… that's our baby.'
Perry, when he realized that Lois and Clark had arrived with the baby, almost ran to them.
"Lois, Clark! Is that your girl? I hadn't had a chance to see her 'til now."
"Yes, Chief, that's her," Lois replied, even more proudly.
"Well, she's great, but why did you bring her with you? You won't be able to write one single word, if…"
"Well, Chief, we're doing a research and we're planning to leave in one hour," Clark said, hoping that Perry wouldn't bother. "But we can't leave her home alone, so we took her with us, and…"
"Wait a second!" Perry interrupted him. "You're leaving?"
"We'll leave in a while; it won't take very long," Clark tried to make their excuses. "We're working on…"
"Well, I hope you're really working. I know you need to take care of your baby, but you could have worked more. Last week all I had was Clark's article about the bad weather we had these days. You're supposed to write some interesting things, not some crap to fill one more page. And you, Lois, did nothing the whole week."
"There was nothing to write about, Chief!" Lois defended herself. "Besides, we've had problems…" She paused, noting that all the people who had approached to see the baby were still there, watching the scene. "Now what?" she yelled, with the angry face she used to make on these occasions.
Of course, everyone walked away.
"I know you've had problems, Lois," Perry said in a serious tone. "But you shouldn't let them disappoint you. Now, why don't you go do this research? You can leave the baby here, of course, and I'll take care of her."
"Well, Chief, we're not in a hurry…" Clark said.
"…And we'll take the baby with us," Lois added.
Clark looked at her warningly.
"So, you'll leave now or later?" Perry asked.
Clark said "Later" the moment Lois said "Now". They looked at each other.
"So?" Perry hid his amusement at the scene.
"We're leaving now," Lois said hurryingly. She didn't want Clark to talk first and say that they'd wait.
"Okay, then. Go."
"But, Lois…" Clark tried to say.
"It's okay, Clark! Come on! Let's go, now."
They left, arguing.
Less than ten minutes later, they had arrived at S.T.A.R. Labs and were talking to Dr. Klein, in his laboratory, where he was now experimenting with some liquids.
"Good morning, Mr. Kent. Good morning, Mrs. Kent," he said, when he saw them. "Are you here for Rachel Thorn's case?"
"Yes," Lois replied.
"Well, let me write a permission note…" He took a pen and wrote a few words on a notepad. He then split the paper he'd written on and handed it to them.
"Thank you, Dr. Klein," Clark said, taking the paper.
"You're welcome. Now you can go to the record office and look for whatever you want," Dr. Klein said, turning to his experiments again.
"Aren't you coming with us?" Lois asked.
"No, Mrs. Kent. I'm sorry, but I have to finish this. It's really important," he said, turning to her. He looked excited. "It's a new formula…"
"Oh, I see," she said. The last thing she wanted now that they were so close to finding out more about Rachel Thorn was to stay there for about half an hour and listen to Dr. Klein's scientific delirium. "We're going there now, because we're in a hurry. We have to go back to the Daily Planet."
"Okay, then," he said. Surprisingly, he didn't seem insulted. Obviously, he was very busy working on this formula, whatever it was.
Lois and Clark went to the record office. Lois gave the baby to Clark and took Dr. Klein's note from his hand. Then, she showed it to the records' keeper, a young woman with dyed, blond hair. She took a close look at the note, disbelieving what she was reading.
"Rachel Thorn's file?" she said, finally. "Whatever…"
She searched through the shelves, shelves full of yellow files that contained the bios of all the people that had been S.T.A.R. Labs' employees. She found Rachel Thorn's one and handed it to Lois.
"Go there and read it," said the keeper, pointing at a chair at the corner of the room. "Then bring it back."
They went to the corner and Lois sat on the chair, thinking that the woman wasn't very nice to them. She opened the file. Clark bent over it, still holding the girl.
"This must be her photo," Lois commented, showing him a photo attached to the file. She had a sweet face, brown hair and a pleasant smile. "Pretty, isn't she?"
"Yes… and she looks very young."
Lois turned the page and started reading.
"First name: Rachel. Last name: Thorn. Father's name: Charles. Mother's name: Rachel Lynn. …What?"
"Isn't it Sharon Lynn?" asked Clark.
"No… It says Rachel Lynn."
"Well…" He was confused. "…Let it be, we'll talk about it later. What's next?"
"Date of birth: 10/20/1969… She's 28 years old, if she's still alive…"
"Next?" Now Clark was more anxious to see what was written on the file, while Lois wanted to study it carefully.
"Location of birth… nothing important… oh, look here: Marital status: Single."
"Well, she could be a single mother. We're living in the twentieth century." He was still waiting for something really important.
"Okay… let's see if there's anything else…" Lois kept searching. "…She has studied biology…"
Oh, yes… Here, I found it: 35 Hillstone Street. I know where it is."
"Yeah, I know this street too. We're going there now?"
"Yes… I don't think there's anything else interesting here…" she said, turning the pages. "It's her career, here in S.T.A.R. Labs…"
"Well, let's see what she's done."
Lois rose. "It says about the projects she's worked on… includes Kryptonite experiments and Superman tests dated until 1994."
"But I did the fertility tests very recently!" Clark said in a low voice.
"So, there's definitely something worth investigating here." She walked to the record office and gave the file to the young woman. "Thanks," she said, not too politely. The woman didn't answer. "Let's go," she said to Clark.
There was a lot of traffic downtown and Lois was boiling, thinking that a few stupid cars were preventing them from uncovering the truth about their baby. Clark was just tapping his fingers on the door glass.
"Can't they just move?" Lois yelled, hooting the horn once again, when the car stopped for the third time in four minutes. Clark didn't answer. "Maybe we should just walk," she then said to herself.
Finally, after spending almost twenty minutes in the traffic, they arrived at Hillstone Street. It was a lonely road, with old, tall buildings on both sides. Number 35 was a gray building, probably more than 30 years old. It seemed dirty and badly preserved.
The entrance door was open, so they entered without having to ring first.
"Let's check there," Clark suggested, showing Lois a door next to the elevator.
They approached the door. Clark gave the baby to Lois, thinking that it would make a better impression. Then, he knocked on the door, with a realistic, though unreal, cool look. Lois tried to copy his look, but it was more difficult for her to hide her anxiety.
An old woman opened the door. "Can I help you?" she asked politely.
Clark smiled pleasantly, the way he always did when he was asking something, a way that could prevent no one from telling him exactly what he wanted to know.
"Good morning, ma'am. We're here to ask you about Rachel Thorn," he said. "Do you know her?"
"Yes…" she said, thoughtfully. "You must be talking about the young girl who used to live here, about… two, or three years ago. I remember her."
"Do you know any of her friends?" he asked.
The lady frowned. "No. She didn't have any friends. It was a pity. She was a very beautiful girl. She used to go out quite often, but only with her brother."
"Which was her apartment?" Lois asked.
The old lady made an effort to remember. "…It was 6D, sixth floor."
"Is anybody staying there right now?" Clark asked.
"No," said the old lady. "Only 3B, 4B and 4C are occupied right now. And this one, of course." She smiled. "How beautiful your baby is!" she said.
"Thank you," Lois smiled back.
"What's her name?"
"Sharon Lynn…" the older lady repeated. "Nice name. So, that's all you need?"
"Yes," Clark said. "Thanks for helping us."
"You're welcome," said the old lady. "Have a nice day." She stepped inside her apartment and closed the door.
"Let's go," Lois whispered, excited. They took the elevator. It was an old one and very slow.
When they arrived at the sixth floor, they got out of the elevator and headed to 6D. Clark made sure that no one was watching them and pushed the door without too much of an effort. It opened without breaking.
They entered the apartment and took a look around. It was dirty, full of dust. The blinds behind the torn curtains were closed and the room was barely lighted. All the furniture was broken. It was a complete mess.
In the corner, a woman was sitting down, holding her knees, looking frightened.
The couple recognized her. She was Rachel Thorn.
The woman turned her head to the couple. It was definitely her, but… she didn't look like a pretty, happy girl anymore. She looked miserable and tortured and had bruises all over her body.
Lois and Clark stared at her, surprised. They hadn't believed they'd find her here.
"Are you Rachel Thorn?" Lois dared ask.
The woman sighed and hid her face inside her palms. "Yes," she said.
"What happened here?" Clark asked. He was already feeling sympathy for her, and so did Lois.
Rachel was holding back her tears and couldn't speak. Lois and Clark knelt beside her.
"Tell us what happened," Clark said softly. "You can trust us. We will help you."
Rachel burst into tears. "Three years now," she began, between sobs, "I barely live. Everybody is after me, and I can't stand it anymore. I can't even keep my own baby with me. Who knows what's going to happen to her, if she stays with me…" Then she noticed something. "Why do you still have her?"
Her question caught them off guard and it took them a while to find a proper answer. "Superman asked us to keep her temporarily because he and his girlfriend are not able to keep her right now," Lois finally said.
"Oh, okay." Rachel didn't insist. She was still sobbing.
"So, what happened here?" Clark asked again.
Rachel took a deep breath. "I'll tell you what's going on, but you won't tell anyone I'm here, or anything else about me."
"Yes, of course," they both promised.
"Well… As you already know, I used to work at S.T.A.R. Labs. I had a very good job there; I was Dr. Klein's assistant and I helped him with all his experiments. Three and a half years ago, we were working on a top secret project called "Treasure". It was an attempt to create a philosopher's stone from Kryptonite. Because of various reasons, it was abandoned very soon. But a gang found out about it and started sending me threatening letters, warning me about what they'd do to me, unless I gave them all the information I had about it. I didn't really care about it at first, but then they began telling me that they'd harm my brother. I couldn't let them do anything to John… he's got mental problems, and if I have any purpose in my life, it is to not let anything happen to him. So, I tried to protect John… I took him to work with me, left him at the secretary's office, and she watched him… He's not dangerous, he's just like a little child. We lived here together. Everything was going all right, and then…" She began crying again, much more woefully. She couldn't talk anymore.
Clark put his hand on her shoulder and Lois touched her hair, trying to comfort her.
"What happened then?" Clark asked softly. Rachel took another deep breath, but she wasn't completely calm yet.
"Well…" she started, "one night, John and I were here watching TV, and someone broke the door, came in, and beat us both up. Especially John, who was… what can I say…" she sniffed. "It was awful. He was really suffering… I'll never forget his face."
Lois's eyes widened. "And then?"
"…That's when I decided to disappear." Rachel was almost calm now. "It wasn't hard to convince John; I told him we'd just play a game. I stayed locked in here for a couple of weeks, and then I had him tell everyone I had died. It worked, but then we started having other kind of problems. We kept on living here — supposedly, of course, only John lived here. But he had no money, no work, and no way to pay the rent. So the landlady sent him to a mental clinic. Luckily the building is so old, that nobody wanted to stay here, so I kept living here, hiding from everyone. My food was everything I found at night, when I went out and searched inside the trash cans. Four months after my 'death' I received a letter from my sister in Mexico. I called her and told her what was going on. She came here, but she had no way to help me. So we planned something that would allow me to have a normal life once again."
"What did you do?"
"I pretended to be her. I pretended to be Sharlynn Thorn, when the real Sharlynn Thorn was back in Guadalajara, married to Pablo Aguerra. I rented this apartment again and stayed there with John, whom I took back from the clinic. But I still decided not to go out very often, in order to avoid being discovered. Sharlynn sent us money every month, and I thought we were all safe. Well, we really were, for two years. But then, I don't know how, someone found out, and one quiet night, the same man as the other time broke our door for the second time, beat John up, and…" She stopped for a few moments. "…And raped me." Her face was unhappy, and it was very obvious how hurt she was inside.
"Oh, my God!" Lois exclaimed. She gently handed the baby to Clark and embraced her. Rachel was crying again.
Rachel's crying was the only thing that interrupted the silence of the next few minutes. When she felt better, Lois let go of her, and she continued her story.
"So that's what happened," she said, wiping her tears with her hand. "That's when I got pregnant. Once again I started hiding. As I told him to do, John told our landlady that I, well… Sharlynn, had gone back to Mexico but that she'd sent him money to pay the rent so that he wouldn't have to go back to the clinic. I gave birth here, alone, helped only by John. Well… a few hours later, this man came here again. We saw him coming from the window and went to the terrace to hide. When he came and found nobody, he made this mess you see all around."
"But… how did he find you were alive?" asked Clark.
"I have no idea. Maybe they're watching John."
"But why didn't you tell the police, or even Superman?" Lois asked. "You shouldn't have let this happen!"
"I know… But I was afraid… I was afraid that these criminals would kill John… I could risk anything, but not his life."
Clark looked at her. He knew how she was feeling… he had had these thoughts himself millions of times.
"Okay, cheer up." Lois gave her an encouraging smile. "Now you won't be alone anymore; we'll help you as much as we can. Okay?"
Rachel smiled weakly. "Okay," she said.
"Where's John?" Lois asked.
"He'll be here in a few minutes. He's at the park, playing with the children. He enjoys this a lot."
"Is he safe?"
"Yes," Rachel answered. "You can see him from that window." She pointed to a window at the other side of the room.
"Okay then," Clark said. "Well, pick up your stuff and we're going to tell Superman to take you somewhere you'll be safe."
"Where?" Rachel asked.
"He'll find a place. Or, you can come to our home."
"No way!" she objected. "We're not going to stay with you; you have your own troubles."
"Okay." Clark didn't insist.
"Are you sure you don't want your baby back?" Lois asked, taking the baby from Clark's hands.
"Yes," Rachel replied, with a sad smile. "Sharlynn will be safer with Superman and his girlfriend. Or, if you prefer, with you. I think you could also keep her."
"We'll see," Clark said.
"By the way," Lois remembered, "why did you say that her name is Sharon Lynn after your mother, since your mother's name is Rachel Lynn?"
Rachel smiled in her usual, sad way. "My sister's name is Sharon Lynn, and she's the only mother I've ever had. In fact, she's the only family I've ever had. My father left us when I wasn't even born, and I've never even seen him. My mother died when I was 10 years old, but I really can't remember her taking care of me. Always Sharlynn was the one taking care of John and me, while our mother was working."
"Sharlynn has died, too?" Lois recalled what was written in the letter: 'If you are okay with that, I would like my daughter to be named Sharon Lynn. It's the name of my late mother.'
"No, no… That I wrote just because… don't know… it sounded good." Rachel gave them a guilty smile.
"You could just tell us," Lois said seriously. She was trying to make her feel better, but at the same time she was complaining. "I mean, I know your real story is very painful, but sending us a letter full of lies was not the best way to face it. You should've known we would've helped you, or we'd have asked someone else to. Superman, or the police, I don't know. And, after all, you should have thought we'd want to know more about the baby."
"I've already told you that I didn't want anyone to know about it." She stared at the ceiling unconsciously. "But I'd have told you the truth, if I knew you wanted so badly to know it."
Lois bent her head with a bitter smile, thinking how different these last days would have been if Rachel had told them the truth, and sighed.
"So, I'm going to call Superman, and he'll see where he's going to take you," Clark suggested. "Is that all right?"
"Mr. Kent," Rachel began. "I appreciate your help, but I'd rather you did nothing more than what you've already done."
"Why?" he asked, taken aback.
She hesitated. "…Well, I'm just making sure John will be safe."
"Why don't you want to…" Lois began, but Rachel cut her in mid-sentence.
"A few moments before you came in, I was reading this." She took a folded paper out of her pocket and handed it to Clark. He unfolded it and started reading. Lois was also reading it, over his shoulder.
'You have been doing very foolish things. Sending a letter to the Kents was not a very good idea. Enjoy the fresh air while you can because you probably won't be able to do it for much longer.'
"I found it under the door," she explained.
"This is terrible!" Lois exclaimed. "Someone has to find out who they are! They can't threaten you like this!"
"I'm going out," Clark said. "I'll call Superman right away, and he'll find a place where you and your brother will be safe."
"No! Just…! Wait…! Don't…!" She couldn't form a sentence.
But Clark was not hearing a thing. He was determined not to leave Rachel and her brother unprotected. He walked out of the apartment and headed for the park.
Lois and Rachel were now looking out of the window.
"He's right there," Rachel said. "Look between these two buildings. The space between them is small, but you can see a poplar tree, right? He's always next to that tree. I've told him this is the only place he is allowed to go. Can you see him?"
"Yes, I can."
"Hey! What's that?" Rachel screamed.
All they could see was a man in a black uniform, holding a gun. He grabbed John and left, and now the front building was preventing the women from seeing them.
"Hey! What are you doing? Let go of him!" Rachel called, but, of course, the man wasn't listening. "I'll show you what…" She was hollering and waving hysterically. "Superman! Help!"
When the man in the black uniform arrived, Clark was on the street. He knew that the women were going to watch from the window, so he had decided not to change clothes before leaving Hillstone Street. But after hearing Rachel's screams, he hurried behind the building in front of him, changed clothes and ran to the park.
But both John and the black-dressed man were gone.
"Hey, you!" he called to the people around him, who were watching the scene. "Did anyone of you see where these men went?"
Nobody dared say a thing, except for a little boy who ran to him.
"Look, Superman," he told him, pointing at a sewer grate under Clark's feet. "They went down there."
Clark stared for a few moments at the grate. "Thanks," he smiled. "Go to your mommy now." He then pulled over the grate and went into the sewer. However, in the brief moments it took him to reach the floor, they had already disappeared. He looked around and started pacing ahead, trying to guess where they had gone.
He walked silently and carefully, searching for some sign of their presence in the wet, moldy sewer. After several minutes had passed, though, he still hadn't found a thing. This disturbed him; he was sure they had not left the sewer. It was the safest place to hide in Metropolis — full of secret passages, halls and rooms. Many people had already used it as a hiding place.
As he walked slowly through it, he x-rayed all the walls, thinking that maybe a secret passage was behind them. Soon, he was proven right. He found a room, perfectly covered by a block door. Before entering it, he took a while to watch what was happening inside.
Several men, dressed in black uniforms, were sitting in comfy chairs around the room, staring at John Thorn, who didn't really seem to understand what was going on.
"Sit there," said the kidnapper, showing him a chair in the middle of the room.
John sat on the chair without a word. He didn't look scared, just surprised.
"Do you know me?" the same man asked calmly.
John's eyes widened, but he still didn't speak.
"Do you know me?" the man repeated, less calmly.
Silence was the only answer he took.
A man sitting behind opened his mouth to speak, but the other cut him off. "No," he said. "He's retarded, there's no need to be cruel to him. Do you know me?" he asked John once again.
John looked as if he wanted to say something, but didn't dare.
"Is there anything you want to tell me?" the man asked, as if he was talking to a little child.
John finally succumbed. "My sister told me not to talk to you."
The man bit his lip, thinking. "Very well," he made up his mind. "Let's take him in." He pointed at a door, on the other side of the room. "Maybe his sister will change her mind."
Clark decided it was time to interfere. He punched the door, which broke immediately, and stepped in, with his Superman look on his face.
"Oh, Superman!" the man mocked.
"Let the man go," he said, firmly.
"Good idea," said the man. "But there's another good idea. He goes in, and you go away."
"Let him go."
"You might not know it yet, but we'll be better company for him than Sharlynn Thorn," the man said wryly, approaching Superman.
"I don't think so," he said. 'So, they don't know that Rachel is still alive,' he was thinking at the same time. "And, as I do not agree with you," he continued, "I'm taking him."
"Oh, Superman. It seems like you don't know the whole story," the man said, faking indifference. "Don't you know what Sharlynn Thorn and Jane Jackson are planning to do to him?"
Meanwhile, at Rachel's apartment, Rachel was almost having a nervous breakdown. She was screaming, crying, threatening, waving and pacing around, all at the same time. Lois was rocking the, now anxious, baby in her arms, watching Rachel, trying to figure out a way to calm her down, but there wasn't much she could do.
"I can't believe this is happening…" Rachel grumbled, following a quick pace. "Now! Right now!" she yelled. "Now that… Can't believe it!" She hit her fist on the already half-broken table. "If…" She looked like a bomb ready to blow up, and she was trying hard not to throw the furniture remains out of the window or against the walls. "Now what?"
"Rachel…" Lois began.
"Shut up!" She was far too furious to want to even listen to a small piece of advice. "Go! I don't want you here anymore. Get out of here now!" she shouted.
Lois didn't want to upset her more than that. She opened the door to leave.
But she couldn't do it. Just in front of her was standing a woman.
Clark did not intend to accept as true anything the man told him, but his last words sounded really weird.
The man noticed the change on his expression and took advantage of it. "So, you don't know," he said, ironically. "Maybe you don't even know who Jane Jackson is… Do you?"
"Let John go," Clark said, instead of giving an answer.
"I'll take that as a no," the man said. "So, let me inform you about her. She's Rachel Thorn's best friend, and they want to use John to succeed in their evil plans."
"Which are…?" Clark said, disbelief in his voice.
"We don't know, yet."
Clark thought that they were trying to fool him. He took John in his arms and left, before anyone was able to react.
When they got out of the sewer, he placed John on his feet and began questioning him. Although he certainly couldn't trust the man, he was afraid Rachel hadn't told them the whole truth.
"Who were they?" he asked John
"…The bad guys," John replied. Being with Superman, though, seemed to frighten him more than being with them.
"Yes, but who were they?"
"…My sister told me they were the bad guys and that I should never talk to them."
"Let's go see your sister, then." He took his hand and headed to Rachel's apartment.
The woman standing at the door was about Lois's age, with dark blond hair and dark brown eyes. Except for the color of her hair, she looked a lot like Rachel, only Rachel was a little bit taller. Lois assumed she was Sharlynn Thorn.
"Who are you?" the woman asked.
"She's Lois Lane," Rachel said.
The woman glared at Rachel, as if she was saying 'You stupid girl, what did you do?" Rachel noticed that.
"Sharlynn, I didn't…" she began, not furiously, but intensely.
Lois's suspicion was confirmed. The woman was indeed Sharlynn Thorn.
"Shut up!" Sharlynn almost dragged Rachel near the window and they began quarrelling in low voices. Lois's curiosity was driving her crazy, but she preferred to stay away. She did try, of course, to make out what they were saying, but she couldn't.
After two or three minutes, Clark, dressed as Superman, brought John in the apartment. The Thorn sisters, hearing them, turned to them.
"John, come here!" Rachel called.
"What happened, John?" she asked him, like a mother to her child.
He started telling them. Lois and Clark were listening, but before he was finished, Clark interrupted him.
"Who are you?" he asked Sharlynn.
"I am Sharlynn Thorn," she answered, neutrally.
"I'm leaving, I have somewhere to go," Clark said. "Maybe I'll stop by again later."
"Bye, Superman," they all said.
"What kind of game are you playing?" Lois asked, when Clark was gone.
"There are no games here. Everything's for real," Sharlynn answered, toughly.
Clark stepped in, wearing his regular clothes. "What happened?" he asked, pretending he had no idea. "I just met Superman in the hallway, and he said that something really strange is going on here. What…"
"Clark," Lois cut him off, pointing at Sharlynn, "meet Sharlynn Thorn."
He looked amazed. "You are here?"
"For the past couple of weeks, yeah," she naturally replied. "Rachel needed help with the baby."
'And why hadn't Rachel mentioned anything?' Lois thought. She turned her gaze to Clark. Something didn't feel right here.
"Well, maybe we should leave," he said, staring at Lois. She had no trouble understanding what exactly he wanted to do.
"Yes, let's go," she agreed. "You have a lot to talk about. We'll see you another time."
"Bye," the Thorn sisters said.
The couple walked out the door and closed it.
"What's going on here?" Lois whispered.
"Let me see…" Clark said. He lowered his glasses on his nose to x-ray the door and activated his super-hearing.
"…Why did you come up, Sharlynn?" Rachel was asking.
"How was I supposed to know they were here? What did you tell them?" Sharlynn anxiously asked.
"Whatever I could think of. This is terrible. If they find out about our plan, everything will be ruined. And that's because of you! It's ridiculous!" She was very angry.
"Don't blame me!"
"They had just believed me…"
"Shut up! This is getting us nowhere!" Sharlynn tried to calm Rachel down, but Rachel was out of control.
"Who sent them the letter?" she furiously asked.
"You silly woman! They were anxious to know about the baby! What if they found out something about our plan?"
"They wouldn't. They had no way of knowing where the baby had come from."
"This is their job, to search and finally find what they're looking for!"
"So you thought you'd make it easier?" Rachel mocked.
"I tried to distract them…" Sharlynn began, but Rachel interrupted her.
"Okay, okay. Where's Rachel?"
"In the basement."
"Tell her to come," Rachel ordered.
"She has to come here! The Black Team may be here in less than five minutes!"
"They won't come!"
"Superman just took John from their hands! Do you think they won't? Tell her to come here, now."
"Run!" Clark whispered to Lois, showing her the stairs that lead to the terrace. They ran there, went up the stairs and sat down, quietly. Lois was holding the baby in her arms and rocking her gently.
Sharlynn took the elevator and went down.
"What did you hear?" Lois whispered.
Clark started telling her, first what had happened with John's kidnappers and then what he had heard. Just when he finished, the elevator door opened. They heard two women's steps. The women crossed the hallway and got in Rachel's apartment.
"So, Rachel said she had lied to us?" Lois whispered, making sure that only Clark could hear her.
"Yes… I mean, no. Jane said that. Well… in fact, the woman who was introduced to us as Rachel Thorn must be that Jane Jackson that man told me about. Sharlynn called her Jane."
"What's going on, Clark?" Lois was worried.
"I don't know," he said, thoughtfully. "All I can tell is that, whatever it is, it's very strange…"
"So, what are we going to do now?"
"I think I have to go check what they are discussing," he said, decisively.
"Okay. But be careful."
Clark floated to the Thorn's door so that they wouldn't hear any footsteps.
In the few seconds it took him to get to it, a million thoughts crossed his mind. Who were these women? He was almost sure they were not who they had said they were and that they had probably told him a pack of lies about their lives, and he knew they were hiding from everyone. Could this really mean that bad people were after them, or maybe they were bad people themselves?
They also had a 'plan', that's what Sharlynn had said. What was this plan about? Could it be something dangerous? And, last but not less important, where had they found the baby and, if it was really Rachel's, or Jane's, or whoever she was anyway, why didn't they want her?
He stood behind the door, lowered his glasses on his nose and x- rayed it.
Four people were inside the apartment. Three of them were known to him, the ones he had met before as John, Sharlynn and Rachel Thorn.
The fourth one was a woman… a woman that could be Rachel's (or Jane's?) double. She had the same sweet face, dark brown eyes and short, brown hair. The differences between them were that she didn't look miserable and tortured, nor had bruises all over her body, and she was a little bit taller.
"I know, Jane!" she said to her double, who, not doubting anymore, Clark was now able to tell was Jane Jackson. So the person speaking was Rachel Thorn. The real Rachel Thorn. "But I have to finish with that as soon as possible, and I need your help for that. After all, that's why you're here, remember?"
It was a nervous Rachel talking to a furious Jane, while an anxious Sharlynn and an amazed John were watching.
"Yes! That's good!" Jane answered, ironically and loudly. "Look how I am, away from my children, suffering all those beatings and getting raped while you're safe down in your basement, experimenting!"
"When I asked you to help us, you knew it would be like this." Rachel was talking toughly, but her words were expressing big complaint and disappointment.
"Yes, I did." Jane admitted, calmly. "But I had hoped that you would've helped me more. You've done nothing to help me so far."
"This is not fair, Jane. My research will help the world, and once it's finished, we'll all be safe from the Black Team. I'm close to the end, but I need your support right now. Just distract them until it's completely finished." Rachel was now close to Jane, who had bent her head, almost crying. "Will you?" she asked, taking her into her arms.
Jane burst into tears. "You know I'm strong, Rachel, but sometimes it's just not that easy." She sniffed. "I will."
Clark waved to Lois to come near him. She approached him with careful steps. He looked at her meaningfully, and she nodded in agreement.
Clark knocked hard on the door, opening it. Four frightened heads turned to him.
"Now, what's really going on here?" he asked, strictly.
Nobody dared answer. Lois and Clark staring at the Thorns, determined to hear nothing but the truth.
The real Rachel Thorn was the first to talk: "Well," she said, walking towards them, "my name is Jane Jackson, and…"
Both Lois and Clark were getting angry at the thought that she was trying to fool them once again, as if they were stupid. But they didn't have to say a word; Sharlynn interrupted her, obviously sick of her attitude.
"For God's sake, Milkie!" she said, loudly, firmly and even angrily. "That's enough! Tell the truth!"
'Milkie?' Lois and Clark wondered. Now what was *that*?
Rachel turned to Sharlynn. Her whole body was betraying her rage, and she seemed ready to kill Sharlynn. But before she said a word, Sharlynn started to talk to her, in a tone of warning.
"No! That's enough!" She was waving and pointing around while speaking. "You've lied enough already!"
"Let me remind you," Rachel mocked, "that this situation is *your* idea of protecting me."
"Let *me* remind you," she answered, "that I did the best I could, given the fact that you had already faked your death! But this time, if you're not going to tell the truth, I am."
"So, what are you waiting for?"
Sharlynn, ignoring Rachel, John and Jane, began explaining.
"I am Sharlynn Thorn. This woman," she pointed at Rachel, "is my sister, Rachel Thorn. This one," she pointed at Jane, who was staring nervously at the ceiling, "is Jane Jackson and this guy," now pointing at John, "is John Thorn, Rachel's and my brother.
"As you know, Rachel used to work at S.T.A.R. Labs. She participated in many projects, as Dr. Klein's assistant. One of these projects was the 'Treasure', an attempt to create a philosopher's stone out of Kryptonite. It was left, though, before it was finished, because the allowance was cut off. That's when Rachel started receiving threatening letters from the Black Team, a criminal gang. They were interested in any information about it. When Rachel saw that, she decided to continue the research on her own. During her free time, she worked in the storehouse down in the basement, which was rented along with the apartment, using some samples she had… well, 'borrowed' from the S.T.A.R. Labs. They probably found out… anyway… they kept on threatening, but she didn't seem to care, except that she was now watching John's and her back. One day, a Black One broke in and beat them up. During all this, I was living in Mexico with my husband and had no idea about what was going on. She didn't want to let me know because she was afraid I'd be in danger as well. So, she stayed here so that nobody would see her, and had John say she had died. John was supposed to keep the apartment for himself, but he could not pay the rent, and the landlady, knowing that he had mental problems, sent him to a mental hospital a couple of months later. Rachel lived hidden in the apartment, always praying nobody would come to rent it, since it was considered as empty. Luckily, nobody did. Well, about two months later, I sent them a letter to see how they were doing. Rachel found a way to call me and to ask me to come here immediately. So, I came here, found her, and she told me everything. I rented the apartment and took John back. I stayed here, protecting both him and her, while she was continuing the experiments of the 'Treasure', always hidden. Pablo, my husband, knew nothing, but I was spending my third month here with no excuse and I was troubled about how to go back without letting my siblings be exposed to the Black Team. One day, as I was walking, I saw Jane. If you notice, Rachel and I look much alike, and Jane's face is also very similar to ours. I explained the whole situation to her and asked her to pretend she was me. She only had to dye her hair blond and use the appropriate cosmetics, and nobody would notice the difference. I almost knew no one here anyway, and Jane had just lost her parents in a car accident and had nothing to lose. So she took on my place, and I went back. Rachel was progressing with the 'Treasure', and John was thinking he was participating in an interesting role game. This lasted almost a couple of years. Then, somehow, the Black Team found out that Rachel was alive. So, one day, when Jane and John were here, a few Black Ones got in, beat John up, and raped Jane. Then, she got pregnant. They called me again and told me what had happened. I had to wait, so that Pablo wouldn't suspect anything, and about a month ago, when Jane was close to birth, I came to help them. We decided to transform Jane into Rachel, because I had to stay here for a while and there couldn't be two Sharlynns."
While Sharlynn was speaking, Jane was almost trembling in memory of these facts and wondering about what was about to happen next. John, holding Jane's hand, was looking serious, but he couldn't really understand the seriousness of this situation. Rachel was listening, standing between Sharlynn and Jane in a way that she could see everyone in the room, tapping her foot nervously as she waited for Sharlynn to end. Lois and Clark were standing next to each other, looking straight at Sharlynn, paying attention to nothing but her.
Sharlynn went on, without a single second's pause. "After Jane gave birth, we all agreed that the girl couldn't stay with us, as she would be in a great danger. Jane suggested giving her to Superman, as he would be the best one to protect her from the Black Team. Meanwhile, I had read in a magazine that Superman had a girlfriend but he could not have children with her, so…"
"What?!" Lois and Clark asked, eyes wide open.
"Yes," Sharlynn said, puzzled. "Didn't you know?"
"We just didn't know it was already common knowledge," Clark muttered.
"Which was this magazine, by the way?" Lois asked.
"Hmm…" Sharlynn thought for a moment. "I don't remember. Does it matter?"
"No, I just asked."
"Anyway," Clark decided to return to their previous subject, "what did you do after the baby was born?"
"Oh, yes. Well, I left her outside your door, with that note, wrapped in that Superman blanket. I figured it would make you give her to Superman… I didn't want to be so direct. Anyway. Then, I thought that you would like to know more about the baby and that we would risk a lot if you decided to look for information about the baby. So," she lowered her eyes to the floor, as if she was regretting it, "I sent you that letter, but it seems like I shouldn't have, after all… Well, that's it."
She looked up at Lois and Clark again, who were staring at her expressionlessly. She was feeling nervous and wanted to say something to vindicate the actions of her siblings, Jane and herself, but she just couldn't find appropriate wording.
Jane was staring at her with a puzzled expression, wondering whether she was incredibly courageous or extremely dumb. Rachel was thinking that her sister had just committed the biggest stupidity of her whole life, and John still couldn't understand much and was looking at Jane, holding her hand.
"Why didn't you tell the police, or Superman?" Lois asked, finally.
"There was no way we'd tell the police. We might have told Superman, but Rachel insisted the less people knew she was alive, the better."
Silence filled the room. Then, a logical question jumped to Lois's mind.
"You've been living in this building for so long, between the sixth floor and the basement, and nobody has noticed you?" she asked Rachel. "This building is not completely empty."
"The others live on the first, the third and the fourth floor. Of course, the first floor lady, who happens to be our landlady too, is a little problem because the elevator doesn't go to the basement. But we've managed to avoid her so far."
After one more long pause, Lois spoke. "And what are you going to do now?"
Nobody replied, but the desperate look in their eyes showed clearly that they had no idea.
Clark was thinking silently these last few minutes. He was sure that there was something missing here. And he finally remembered what it was.
"What are you planning to do to John?"
"To John?" asked Sharlynn, wondering what this question really meant.
"This Black Team guy said that Sharlynn Thorn and Jane Jackson are planning to do 'something' to him."
Rachel slightly bent her head, closed her eyes and said, waving her hands as if she was trying to stop something: "No. No. No. It can't be." She opened her eyes, looked up and let out a cry of desperation. "How did they find out?"
"What?" Lois asked, coming close to her. Sharlynn also approached her sister, and Jane stared at her questioningly.
"Two weeks ago, or maybe a little more," Rachel began, "the essence I had created through all the experiments I had done… Anyway, I was in a dead-end, and there was no way to make a philosopher's stone out of it. Then I decided to check if it could be used as a medicine. I caught several mice with a mouse- trap, locked them in cages and now I'm experimenting on them. I think I'm close to something good, but I need more time, no pressure and no anxiety."
"Still, what does John have to do with it?" Lois insisted.
"I think that this medicine could help John with his… problem," Rachel replied, meaningfully pointing at her temple.
Everybody was looking at her, trying to make her feel better and nobody looked surprised, except for Jane. "And why didn't you tell us?" she demanded.
"What difference would it make? I'd still have to spend my days down in the basement, experimenting, you'd still have to keep staying here, hiding and maybe the Black Team's desire to steal my experiments would grow even bigger if they found out I'm working on a medicine."
"Excuse me," Sharlynn intervened. "How did they find out?"
"I don't know! This is the first time I even mention this damn thing!"
A few moments of silence filled the room. Then, Lois hustled Clark.
"I think that we should go out and leave them alone," she whispered with a meaningful look in her eyes.
"Yes," he nodded. "Well," he said to the others, "we have to go now, but we'll visit you again later, maybe in the afternoon."
Rachel looked at them distrustfully.
"We won't tell anyone," Clark assured her, catching her look.
Her eyes were still wondering, but he didn't want to say anything more.
"Well, good luck, and we'll see you later," Lois said, in a loss for more appropriate words.
"Bye," the others murmured.
"Oh!" Lois suddenly remembered. "One more thing."
Rachel grinned. "It's my nickname. Sharlynn and John call me this."
"Oh… I see. Well, bye."
Clark and Lois walked out of the apartment, closing the door behind them. They took the elevator and went down to the first floor.
"What are we doing now, Clark?" Lois asked him, when they were out of the building, walking slowly to the Jeep.
"They were honest this time, I'm sure. We have to protect them all from the Black Team," he answered, thoughtfully staring forward.
Lois nodded in agreement.
"Now," Clark continued, "take the baby and go home. I'm going to the Planet."
"But…" she tried to say.
He looked at her kindly while at the same time warning her that it wasn't up to her to choose.
Lois succumbed. "Okay, whatever. But *I'll* take the car."
"Sure," he said, cheerfully.
Clark was quickly heading to the Daily Planet, when he heard terrified people screaming. He realized that the Metropolis Commercial Center was burning. He spun in his Superman suit, hurried there and in just a couple of minutes, took out all the people who were trapped inside. Then he began blowing out the fire. Although it was all around the enormous building, he managed to extinguish it.
After that, he landed to see if everyone was all right. Many people from the surrounding buildings had gathered around the burning building to see what was going on. The police and the fire service had already arrived.
"What happened here?" he asked a policeman.
"An explosion. An elevator broke down, and a few mechanics went to fix it. They said that the wires were damaged, and before they could do anything, they exploded."
"No one's hurt?"
"No, they got away just in time. And thanks to you, no one got burned."
"The people inside the elevator?"
"There weren't any. It was a merchandise transport elevator."
"And the damaged wires? Were they sabotaged?"
"No, no…" The policeman frowned. "Just bad maintenance."
"All right. I'm leaving."
Clark flew away, quick as a ray of light.
It took him less than a minute to arrive at the Daily Planet, cool and calm. He grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to his desk. Just when he began writing, Perry got out of his office and called him.
"Clark! You're here, at last? Where are Lois and the baby?"
"They went home, Chief," Clark replied, turning to him. "Ehm… Sharlynn… the baby… wasn't feeling very good."
"And what on Earth took you so long to come?"
"The Metropolis Commercial Center was on fire. I… ehm… stayed there for a while, to see if there was anything useful."
"You bet there was. A fire at the Metropolis Commercial Center, for Elvis's sake! Start writing immediately."
"I already have, Chief."
"Even better," he commented and went back to his office.
Clark began to write. Although he loved writing, today he wasn't feeling like it. He was too troubled about the Thorns, the 'Treasure', the Black Team… How could he and Lois always get into such weird situations?
He looked around, made sure that no one was watching him, and began to type at superspeed. Less than a minute later, the article was ready. He waved his hand over the smoking keyboard and went to Perry's office. He knocked and opened the door.
"Chief, my article about the fire is ready," he said, standing by the door.
"So soon? Great." Perry was studying a few papers and didn't look up. "You're leaving now?"
"Ehm…" He didn't know what to say. The truth was, he really wanted to leave. "No," he said, finally, "I'm not leaving."
"Why not?" Perry asked, still studying his papers. "You're working on a story with Lois, aren't you?"
"Ehm… Chief…" He was feeling sort of guilty.
"I said go. Go, before I change my mind."
He exited the office, thinking that Perry had been acting strangely about Lois's and his work since the baby's arrival. He didn't know if he'd do the same thing a couple of weeks ago.
Not that Clark minded, of course.
He picked up the phone and dialed his home phone number.
Lois and the baby had arrived home. They were upstairs, in the baby's bedroom. Sharlynn was crying loudly, and Lois had wrapped her in a light pink blanket and rocking her.
"Oh, come on, Sharlynn!" Lois couldn't bear listening to her baby's cries. It wasn't only that she wanted Sharlynn to feel good, but her crying was also annoying her. As for the thought that she'd been asleep during the whole time they were with the Thorns, and she had begun crying only when they returned home, it was more than frustrating. "What do you want?" Lois grumbled. "You don't want to eat." She looking at the bottle she had left on the nightstand, still full of milk. "You don't want to sleep. You…" She smelled her. "…don't want clean diapers. What do you want?"
The phone rang.
"Oh, great!" Lois approached it, trying to keep Sharlynn quiet, and answered it.
"Honey, it's me."
"Oh, Clark." She sighed, but he didn't seem to notice.
"I've just finished my article, and Perry let me leave. I'm coming there, and we're going to the Thorns right away."
She sighed again. "Clark, Sharlynn's been crying since we got here. I don't know what's wrong with her, but we can't leave, and that's for sure."
"Don't worry and get ready," he said without the slightest hesitation. "I'll be there in five minutes."
"Clark!" she shouted.
But he had already hung up.
"Oh, great." She sighed again. "And you, why are you crying?" she complained to Sharlynn.
Lois was now in the living room, holding Sharlynn, who was still crying. Lois was almost crying, too.
The door opened and Clark entered the room.
"She's still crying," Lois whined. "I can't stand it anymore!"
"Give her to me," he said and took the baby in his arms. "Come on, Sharlynn, stop it," he said sweetly, rocking her. "Okay? Stop crying…"
It took him less than half a minute to quiet her. Lois watched at the beginning in desperation, then in surprise, and, in the end, in anger.
"She lets *you* calm her down, but she doesn't let *me*!" she whispered angrily.
"How can you calm her down, when you are not calm yourself?" Clark talked in a low voice. "A baby can sense that. She didn't want to sleep, but now she's relaxed."
"If this happens again, I swear, I'll…"
"Shh," Clark interrupted her. "Relax, Lois. Breathe."
Lois stared at him, furious. "Are you kidding me?"
"No. Look, we're not in a rush, and you know you work better when you're not nervous."
Lois exhaled noisily. "I'm better now."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure," she said, impatiently.
"Okay. Let's go, then."
They arrived at 35 Hillstone Street and got out of the car.
"We'd better go see Rachel," Lois suggested.
They entered the building and walked quietly down the stairs to the basement. Lois turned on the hallway light, and they saw several iron doors on both sides.
"Which one is it?" Lois whispered.
Clark x-rayed all the doors. Then, he pointed at the one at the end of the hallway. "There," he said.
They walked towards the door and Lois knocked, gently. Clark could see Rachel freaking out, when she heard the knock.
"It's okay, it's us," Lois spoke in a low voice. "The Kents."
Rachel, still unsure, approached the door, unlocked it, and opened it slowly, just enough to be able to see. Once she confirmed it was them, she opened it as much as it needed so that the couple would be able to fit through the space it left. When they both got in, Rachel shut the door and locked it again, twice. Then, she sighed in relief.
Lois and Clark looked around the room. This room was obviously the one used as a common storehouse for all the people living in the building, and it was really big. There were two tiny windows on the back wall, made by glass and iron, and its original furniture was probably just the lamp hanging from the ceiling and some broken stuff in a corner: a bicycle, a stove, mouse- traps and some old toys.
Rachel, though, had equipped it with everything necessary for her research. At the back wall, there was a chair in front of a long table full of tools like a microscope, several test tubes, pencils, pens and notebooks, rat cages and more stuff, like a perfect laboratory. Under the table there was something like a nightstand, with several drawers. On the left wall there was an old sink and a towel hanging next to it. On the right wall there were many books and dossiers, on a few piles on the floor. The rest of the room was empty, except for three plastic chairs in the middle.
"So, this is your lab," Lois commented, still looking around.
"Good…" Lois murmured.
Several silent moments passed.
"And why are you here?" Rachel asked, finally.
"We came to see you," Clark said, turning to her, "talk to you, see how you're doing… So, how are you?"
"Fine," she answered and stared back at Clark, puzzled.
"Hmm… this is what you're working on?" Lois, who had come close to the table, picked up one of the test tubes, which was filled with a red liquid, and showed it to Rachel.
"No!" Rachel ran to her, gently took the tube from her hands, and left it at its place. "Don't touch it. Don't touch anything."
"Why? What is it?"
"A Kryptonite mixture."
"All these are mixtures?" Lois pointed at a few other tubes, filled with other liquids.
"Yes, these are mixtures. These are metals," she said, pointing at a few pots filled with several powders, "and I have several other things, like…"
Rachel began explaining to Lois what everything in that room was. However, Clark's attention was attracted by something else.
He had leaned on the table, when his fingers touched something under it. Wondering what it was, he knelt to see. And then…
"Can we go outside?" he said, in a loud voice, interrupting Rachel and Lois's chat. "I'm not feeling very well in here."
"Why?" Lois asked. "What's wrong?" She came close to him.
"I don't know… Maybe it's just the smell of mold in here." he said, meaningfully. Lois immediately understood something was wrong.
"Yes, he's right; this place smells horrible. Maybe we should go outside, get some fresh air," she said to Rachel, giving her the same meaningful look. Rachel understood.
"Okay, whatever you say," she agreed.
They exited the room. Rachel locked the door and spoke. "So, what's going on?"
"There's a bug in the room," Clark said, in a low voice.
Lois opened her eyes and mouth wide in astonishment, and Rachel turned her back to them, covering her face with her hands and murmuring. "Oh, no… I can't believe it!"
"What…" Lois was about to ask Clark, but her attention was distracted by Rachel's reaction. She turned to her. "Rachel!" she said.
Rachel was still speechless. Her eyes were closed, and she was thinking things over, intensely and desperately.
"Rachel, what's going on?" Lois asked her kindly and sweetly.
"I can't believe it!" Rachel exclaimed.
"Rachel, don't worry… it's not that terrible," Lois said comfortingly, caressing her arms.
Rachel looked behind her back anxiously. "Don't call me Rachel here," she whispered. "It's not safe."
"Let's go in and deactivate the bug," Clark suggested.
"Deactivate?" Lois turned to him. "Why not destroy it?"
"It could be useful," he explained and turned to Rachel. "What do you think?"
Rachel bit her lip. "Let's go in," she said, taking deep breaths, "deactivate it, and plan what we're going to do next. How's that?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other and nodded. "All right," Clark said.
"Okay." Rachel unlocked the door and walked in carefully, looking around. She waved to them and they came in, walking on tiptoes.
Rachel locked the door, trying not to be noisy. "Where is the bug?" she asked voicelessly, by just moving her lips.
"It's there," he answered in the same way, pointing at the table. He tiptoed his way there, put his hand under the table, caught the bug and showed it to the women, moving his lips again: "This is it!"
The women tiptoed towards him. When they reached him, Lois asked in the same quiet way: "Why are we walking like this?"
Clark opened his mouth to say something, but Rachel replied before him, "Precaution."
Lois nodded. Then, Clark brought the bug right before his eyes and examined it thoroughly, while the women were watching him. After a few moments, he found a small, tiny, red button. He lowered the glasses on his nose and x-rayed it. There was no doubt: this was the "RECORD" button.
"Do you have a pin, a needle, something?" he moved his lips to Rachel.
She opened her mouth, bit her tongue and looked around, in an attempt to think. Then, she wore her I-have-a-beautiful-idea look. "Wait!" she waved. She tiptoed a few steps to the left and reached for a glass full of syringes, thermometers, pencils, pens and other stuff. She took one of the syringes in her hands.
"This one?" she asked him, silently.
"Yes," he nodded and took it from her hands. He pressed the little button carefully.
"That was it!" Clark said in a normal voice.
"Are you sure?" Rachel asked, with a look full of doubt and fear.
"Positive." He smiled and let both the bug and the syringe on the table. "It won't bug us anymore."
His joke worked: Lois stared at him, smiling, and Rachel leaned onto the table, obviously relaxed and with the beginning of a beautiful smile on her lips. But suddenly, a thought dawned on her.
"Ooh! I know!"
"What?" The couple turned to her.
"I know how they found out about the medicine! They must have recorded me while talking to myself!"
"Talking to yourself?" Lois repeated.
"Yes. Don't you ever talk to yourself while working?"
They were just gazing at her, speechless. At the end of the day, if this was her way to work, they should respect it.
"But… wait," Clark said. "What did you say? 'Oh, look, I invented a medicine'?"
"Of course not. But I did say, 'Oh, this is gonna be sooooo good for John!'" She shrugged. "This could be taken in both ways." She sighed. "The good thing is they probably have never heard the name 'Rachel'."
"How come not?" Lois asked, although she could already guess the reason.
"Because Jane is the only one who calls me 'Rachel' and not 'Milkie', and she never comes down here. Sharlynn doesn't allow her."
Clark remembered that, as Superman, he'd heard the Black Team talk about Sharlynn and Jane and realized they didn't know Rachel was alive. But he couldn't tell her that.
"But if she calls you Milkie all that often," Lois insisted, "how come she has no trouble talking about you as Rachel?"
"She just *calls* me Milkie. She talks about me as Rachel. Haven't you ever had a nickname?"
"I do," Lois shrugged, "only it works the other way around."
"What way?" Rachel sounded genuinely confused.
"They call me Lois and talk about me as Mad Dog Lane."
"That was a long time ago," Clark intervened.
Lois shook her head in disbelief.
Rachel sank in a chair, looking tired.
"You said that the Black Team might be working for someone," Lois said to Clark.
"Yes." He turned to Rachel. "What do you think?"
"Right, it could be," Rachel said, like waking up from a dream. She sat back in her chair and began to unwind her train of thought to the reporters, waving and gesturing to support her words. "You know, the Black Team is just a few guys who beat up people when they're ordered to and get paid for it. They wouldn't get into so much trouble just for themselves, since they wouldn't even be able to take advantage of a medicine that they'd steal. After all, this bug and any other stuff they might've used would need technological knowledge to be manufactured, something they certainly don't have. Plus, it would take a lot of money, something else they certainly don't have. So, they're working for someone, and we need to find who this someone is. Good idea," she concluded.
"Maybe," Clark began, "but maybe they're cleverer than you think they are. They might have stolen money and then bought or stole whatever was necessary, and it doesn't really take a lot of medicine knowledge to sell a medicine on a high price."
"They wouldn't be clever enough just to think of such a plan," she smiled mischievously.
Lois smiled. Until now, all she could tell about Rachel was that they shouldn't trust her, as they didn't know her well yet. But now, she was starting to like her. Even though they still didn't know her very well, she seemed to have the characteristics of a dynamic person — high intelligence, self-confidence, a bit of audacity… She almost reminded her of herself.
Then, Sharlynn began to cry, and the three heads turned to her.
"Oh," Lois grumbled, "was that now this necessary? I think she's hungry." She looked at Rachel apologetically.
Rachel grinned. "No problem. In fact…" She rose and opened one of the drawers underneath the table. She took out of it a small carton of milk and showed it to Lois, "…would you like to feed her with this?"
"You keep cartons of milk down here?" Clark grinned.
"Yes. In this drawer I always keep a carton of milk, with or without cocoa, chocolates, biscuits, and a few comics."
"Yeah, something to enjoy while having a break." She grinned too and handed the carton to Lois.
"It has to be boiled first," Lois reminded her, grinning as well, while rocking the baby.
"Oh, right!" Rachel rolled her eyes. "Seems like I know an awful lot about babies!" She put the milk in a small, iron saucepan and then put the saucepan onto the small gas-stove on the table. "Don't worry, I always sterilize my utensils after using them," she said, catching the investigative look in Lois's eyes.
"Oh! No, I was just looking…" she apologized.
"So, who chose the baby's name?" Clark asked.
"Does it even have a name?" Rachel looked up, surprised.
"Yeah…" Lois said, puzzled. "The last letter said her name was Sharon Lynn, after your late mother."
"Yeah, right," Rachel rolled her eyes. "First of all, my mother's name was Rachel Lynn. Second, Sharlynn wrote that last letter on her own. She told Jane and me about it only after it was in your hands. So I guess you're guessing who 'named' the baby?"
"But does Jane agree?" Lois asked.
"Who cares… It's just a name." Rachel frowned in a way that made the couple think that she, at least, cared.
The milk was ready after one or two minutes. "Give me that bottle," Rachel said, pointing at the baby's water bottle. Lois always made sure she kept it within reaching distance from Sharlynn, because she seemed to get thirsty too often.
Rachel poured the milk in the bottle and handed it to Lois. She waited until it cooled a bit, and then she began feeding the baby.
The atmosphere in the room wasn't pleasant after the conversation about the baby's name. Nobody was speaking, and the only sound was Sharlynn drinking the milk.
Then, they heard a banging on the door and Sharlynn Thorn's desperate screams.
"Milkie! Open the door!"
Rachel ran to the door, unlocked it and opened it carefully. The couple saw John being pushed inside.
"The Black Team's here," Sharlynn gasped, putting her head through the door. "Take him, and… What are they doing here?"
"They're okay, Sharlynn."
"It's dange…" She sighed. "Whatever, I have to go now."
"Come in!" Rachel urged her sister.
"Jane's upstairs!" She turned her head back for a second. "Oh God," she said. She got in, closed the door as silently as she could and locked it. She leaned on it.
"They're coming!" she said, voicelessly.
"Down here?" Rachel asked the same way.
Clark and Lois, wanting to know more, tiptoed to the door. Lois was thankful that the milk was ready and the baby girl had stopped crying.
"What happened? The Black Team is here?" Clark whispered.
"Sssh! They're…" A banging on the door interrupted Sharlynn.
"Are you sure they're here?" a voice from outside asked. Clark recognized the voice and x-rayed the door to be sure. There was no doubt: It was that man he had talked with in the sewer, probably the Black Team's leader.
"Positive," another voice replied. "They're all here: Jane Jackson, Sharlynn Thorn and John Thorn. I saw them getting in."
More banging on the door. "Nobody's answering. We'll have to break in," said the leader.
"This door is too strong, we won't…"
"Shut up! *I'm* the boss here, not you. Break the door!"
Several hands began hitting the door. Sharlynn moved away from it, dragging John with her, and the others followed her. They all stood near the corner on the door's wall, beside the broken stuff.
"Not like this, you idiots! Don't you have guns?"
"Clark, go hold the door up!" Lois whispered, scared.
He ran to the door and pushed it with both his hands, strongly enough to keep it in its position.
"What are you doing?" Sharlynn whispered to Lois, panicked. "He'll get killed!"
Lois tried to find an excuse. "He's strong enough to keep the door in place."
"They have guns!" Rachel said.
"He'll be okay."
Rachel sighed. Then they heard a few gunshots on the door, and the Black Team's leader saying angrily, "You stupid blockheads! The lock!"
When the Thorn sisters heard it, they put their hands to their mouths and silently prayed for the people in the room — especially Clark, who, they thought, was risking his life. Lois was holding her breath and staring at the lock, where Clark had put the palm of his hand.
A couple of bullets hit the lock. Horrified, Rachel embraced her brother tightly. Sharlynn stood with her back on the wall. Lois was still, staring at Clark.
Clark put his free hand on the door, preventing it from falling.
"It's open, boss!" one of the voices from behind the door exclaimed.
"Hmm…" the boss doubted. He pushed the door, then tried the knob. He pushed once or twice again, but nothing. Clark was holding it too steadily. "You're useless!" they heard him shout. "You can't even open a door!" He banged on it once again. "Let's go. Quick! And I'll see what I'm gonna do with you."
They heard footsteps. The Black Team was leaving. Clark leaned onto the door, relieved. Sharlynn and Lois let out a big sigh, and Rachel loosened her grip on her brother and laid her head onto his shoulders. John hadn't exactly understood what had just happened, but, seeing the calm faces around him, he felt calm himself, too.
After a few moments, they were all feeling fine and, mostly, safe.
"Lucky thing Clark could hold the door," Rachel commented.
"Yes," Lois agreed.
"Clark," Sharlynn walked towards him, "how come none of the bullets hit you?"
"It's strong," he replied neutrally. "The bullets couldn't go through it."
"Hmm…" she doubted that and carefully examined each one of the holes on the door. Inside every single one was stuck a bullet.
She bent to look at the lock. "Here, too," she commented. "Yep, very strong door."
"Still, you'll need a new one," Clark pointed out.
"Sure." She stood up.
"How did you know they were coming?" Lois asked Sharlynn.
She shrugged. "I saw them. I had taken John to the park, and we were coming back. I turned my head and saw them coming from the corner. I was afraid they wanted to kidnap John like last time and I brought him down here. I didn't know if they knew about this lab. But they saw us, so…" She shrugged again.
"Jane is lucky they don't know Rachel's still alive," Clark observed. "So, they saw Rachel and thought it was Jane. Otherwise, they'd go upstairs."
"Yes, and who knows what they'd do to her," added Rachel, who was now standing beside Lois, with her brother beside her.
"Unless they were looking for John," Sharlynn continued. "Because, if they were, they wouldn't care about Jane."
'Right,' Lois thought.
So whom was that team really after?
Clark leaned on the door and then glanced at it. "So, what are you going to do with this door?"
The two sisters looked at each other for a moment, thinking.
"This one isn't going to last much longer," Clark interrupted their thoughts, checking the door again. "The lock isn't broken yet, but it isn't strong enough."
"We definitely need a new door, Sharlynn," Rachel said, still looking at her sister.
Sharlynn gave her a 'Did I say we don't?' look. "Okay, and how do you call a locksmith when your door is full of bullet holes?"
"I'll carry the door out," Clark offered.
"Oh, no, it must be very heavy," Rachel said.
"Still," Sharlynn pointed out, "the door is still in place. We'll have to…"
"No," Clark cut her. "It's damaged. Look!" He stood in front of the door, one hand on each end of the door. "Rachel, unlock it."
Although the lock had been hit, Rachel managed to put the key in and unlock it. Clark, using his superstrength, dragged it away from its place.
"See?" he gasped, faking to be using all of his strength to hold it. "All that… banging… almost detached it."
"I'm… taking it… out."
"Do you need help?" Rachel asked.
"No, it's… fine… Come on, Lois."
"Bye," she bid farewell to the Thorns.
When they were out of sight, Clark quit feigning the tired look.He coolly walked out and left the iron door behind the nearby garbage can.
"Ready to g…" he began, but his superhearing caught an alarm.
"What is it?" Lois asked, anxiously.
"A robbery at the Metropolis Bank. You go home with the baby, and I'll be there as soon as possible."
He spun in his suit and left, quickly. Lois, with a shrug, entered the Jeep, leaving Sharlynn in the passenger seat, and headed home.
Clark x-rayed inside the bank. Three of the robbers were threatening the clients, who had lain down, with their guns. Another robber was pointing his gun at the cashier, who was putting the safe's money in a large bag.
His heart began beating intensely. All the robbers were dressed in black. Was it a coincidence, or were they a part of the Black Team?
He got in the bank, wearing his Superman look.
The robbers turned to him.
"Put your weapons down," he ordered.
The robbers turned the guns on the people. A few women screamed.
"All right, if you insist." He would fly to catch them, but when the robbers saw he was going to move, they shot in the direction of the people. Still, Clark was fast enough to change direction and catch the bullets before they hit someone.
Then, he heard another voice, away from the bank. "Superman, help!"
He froze. This was Lois's voice.
When he heard her, he felt rather worried. What could be happening to her?
Coming back to himself, he realized he had to finish what he was doing and he had to hurry. Maybe then he would be able to get to Lois in time.
In the few seconds that passed from the moment Lois screamed until Clark decided his next move, the robbers began running away. Clark, seeing them, ran to them, caught them all, and placed them in the hands of the policemen, who were already gathered outside the bank.
His eye also caught a man in a black suit, who was escaping in an old, white car. He flew over it, picked it up, and brought it back to where the policemen were waiting. Then, he opened the door, pulled the man out and gave him to the policemen.
"Thanks, Superman," a policeman said, gratefully.
"You're welcome," he said, politely. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go."
He flew away, in an attempt to find Lois as soon as possible.
He found her alone in an empty one-way street, standing outside the Jeep and staring unconsciously at the sidewalk under her feet. She was desperate, and tears were running down her cheeks.
He landed beside her.
"What happened?" he asked her, softly.
"Oh, Clark…" She turned to face him. Her face was red. She tried to speak, but a lump was sitting in her throat. She swallowed it and answered Clark's question. "The Black Team took Sharlynn."
Clark froze, hearing the news.
"When? How?" he asked, his soul full of anxiety and worry.
"Look," Lois began to narrate. She wasn't exactly crying, but the tears were running off her eyes like a river. "I was in the car, had left Sharlynn beside me, and her window was opened. When I arrived here, that car," she pointed at a car in front of hers, "had blocked the way and I couldn't move. They were outside the car, waiting. I stopped, as I couldn't go on, and then this man… just… put his hands in the car and took her, saying 'Thanks'! Then, they all got to another car, which was parked in front of the other one, and left, and I couldn't follow them, because this stupid car was still blocking my way! And…" She sobbed. "Oh, Clark…" She fell in his arms, crying.
Clark put his arms around her. He was feeling very distressed, and if Lois kept crying, she'd eventually make him cry too.
Caressing Lois's back gently, he thought, it all made sense now. The Black Team had sent a small group of their men to the bank to keep Superman busy, while the rest of them would be kidnapping Sharlynn. Simple yet effective.
Lois stood back. "It's all my fault!" she was saying, between her sobs. "I should have backed away when I saw them… Now it's… Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry!"
Clark hugged her again. He felt totally disheartened, and he didn't know what to say. However, he knew she needed him in these difficult moments, just like he needed her, and decided not to let her blame herself.
"No, it's not your fault," he said. "You don't have to worry. Don't lose your courage now. Let's go to the Thorns."
Lois stood back again, looking at him questioningly. "Why?" she asked.
"They deserve to know. And they might help."
"How can they help?" she asked, in a loud voice. She paused for a moment, and then, she fell on Clark's chest once again. "They can't help…" she murmured and began crying again.
Clark put his arms around her protectively, while she was crying. When she felt a little better and stopped crying, he said, sweetly: "Come on, honey, let's go."
"Okay," she agreed.
They got in the Jeep and headed to 35 Hillstone Street. After less than five minutes they were there.
As they were going in, Clark noticed that Lois still had tears in her eyes.
"Come on, honey," he said, wiping her tears with his thumb, "stop crying now. It's going to be difficult. Think about how they're gonna feel."
"Okay," she said. "I'll be strong." She forced a smile.
Clark put his arm around her shoulders and together they headed to the basement. They were all inside the doorless room, including Jane.
Rachel saw them coming. She pointed at them and all the heads turned towards them.
Jane noticed Lois's red face. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"We have bad news for you," he began.
Nobody said anything. They just stared at him questioningly. Jane had gripped John's hand tightly. 'The mother's sixth sense,' Clark thought and took a deep breath.
"It's about the baby," he went on. After a short pause, during which he tried to encourage himself, he explained: "She's been kidnapped."
The women opened their mouths in surprise.
"Who did it?" Jane asked, finally.
"It was the Black Team. I'm sorry," was Clark's answer.
Rachel put her arm around Jane's shoulders, looking at Clark.
Nobody was speaking. Jane had begun breathing noisily. Her face was turning red and tears were running down her face. Finally, she fell on Rachel's shoulder and began sobbing, not intensely and desperately, but in a painful way that was revealing a hurt mother's heart.
Lois, who was looking unconsciously in front of her, was finally distracted, and looked to the people inside the room. Her gaze fixed upon Jane. She saw her face and felt her pain. Her face became sad again and something was choking her.
The feeling of guilt was back. Her own carelessness had made this woman cry.
Tears appeared in her eyes once again, and she leaned onto Clark's shoulder, who rubbed her arm gently with his hand.
Sharlynn was glaring at all the faces. Nobody seemed to pay any attention to her, but in the end Rachel got irritated. "Will you stop it?" she asked.
"What?" she asked, faking innocence.
"This… staring at us like this."
"I don't hurt anyone."
"You're awful," Rachel commented, disgusted.
"Me?" Sharlynn pretended to be surprised, while she let one more wave of sarcasm go.
"Yes. Stop acting like a baby. Jane and Lois are now in pain. We all are. And, instead of just trying to be nice, you're staring at us like this! If you don't care about a two-week old baby who has just been kidnapped by a team of evil, sick people, who have caused a lot of trouble to you, too, in case you don't remember, just try to be nice to us! Soften your heart. It won't do you any harm."
"Don't talk to me like this," Sharlynn warned, firmly.
Rachel's angry look was the only answer she took.
"And don't stare at me like this."
Rachel gave her another angry look and squeezed Jane's arm. Jane was looking at them, blank-faced, but with the tears still running down her cheeks.
"Stop it now."
Rachel just gave Sharlynn one more I-am-not-afraid-of-you look.
"You're an ungrateful little girl." Sharlynn took a few steps towards Rachel, with a warning tone in her voice. "We've been making up all this stuff so that you're safe, and you react like this. I've been looking after you since the day you were born. I've sacrificed everything for you, and that's the way you thank me. Watch your moves, missy. Whether you like it or not, *I* am the boss here, and we'll do as I say!"
"So, this is what it's all about," Rachel said harshly. "But, you know what? You just made a big mistake. We hadn't decided ten minutes ago, but now I've made up my mind. I'll tell them everything.
Sharlynn gave her a frightened look. She had realized that her sister was way out of her control now.
"No, Sharlynn!" Rachel insisted. "You said *I* had lied enough, and yet you 'forgot' to mention everything you don't like! But enough is enough." She turned to Lois and Clark. "Please, don't interrupt me."
"Okay," the couple agreed.
"Well. First of all, Jane is our sister. She is the second daughter of my father and my mother. One and a half years after Sharlynn was born, Jane was born. And our parents didn't have enough money to raise her, so they gave her up for adoption, and she was adopted by Peter and Karen Jackson, who gave her her name. And one year and a half later I was born, and three and a half years later John was born. And that's when 'Daddy' left."
Rachel's words sounded strangely sensible, like the delirium of a drunken man who just wants to tell the truth, without thinking about the consequences. Her tone was somewhat ironic, and her eyes were sparkling.
"As you can imagine," she went on, "we had no idea about Jane's existence. But then, she accidentally overheard a phone call and found out that her husband, Thomas Welson, a family man, with three children, owner of a small coffee shop, was the head of the Black Team!" She began pacing around the room — or, more precisely, around the five people in the room, who were looking at her, puzzled, and didn't dare interrupt her, but were just following her with their eyes and listening to her carefully. "Then, she came here to find those 'Thorns' she heard about, and she found us. And when we thought it was strange that we looked so much alike, she did some digging and found the adoption papers at her foster-parents' house. So she left her kids at an orphanage and joined us, accepting my call for help. But now he's after her too, because she preferred to help her siblings rather than joining his team.
"So, these are the pieces you were missing," she told the Kents. "Nothing too heavy, really. But Sharlynn has a reason for not telling you, a reason only I know." Her eye caught Sharlynn waving her to stop, but she ignored her. "Sharlynn doesn't want anyone to know about Jane, so that it would be easier to frame her. Because, in her opinion, Jane is a spy of the Black Team!"
When Rachel said these words, she stopped talking, took a deep breath and looked around, calm at last.
Her words had caused various reactions. John was looking at her, with the same blank look in his eyes. Lois and Clark were staring at Sharlynn, without letting their feelings show. Sharlynn's face had a strange, false-indifferent expression. Was it anger? Nobody could tell for sure.
Jane, at the same time, was torn in a million pieces. Everything she thought she knew about her sister had turned out to be a big lie. She had believed Sharlynn had accepted and loved her, but… no. She had only played with her, taken advantage of her. Jane's heart was full of sorrow, and she was hardly keeping her tears inside.
"Really?" she asked Sharlynn.
Sharlynn looked around the room, unconsciously. Finally turned to Jane, and she said — or, more precisely, apologized: "Yes."
Jane, hurt, opened her mouth, tried to say something, but couldn't. The tears were already glowing in her eyes.
"Why?" she managed to ask.
Sharlynn hesitated, not knowing what to say. "…Look, Jane. …Look, you come here, and tell us… I mean, he's your husband, it's a bit weird. I…" But she stopped.
Jane's face was now full of tears, and she was biting her lips nervously. "You could have asked me," she said, bitterly.
"Look, Jane, I'm sorry, but…"
Jane leaned on Rachel's shoulder. Rachel was looking strictly to Sharlynn. Obviously, she didn't share her opinion.
"Rachel, I…" She couldn't go on. Silence fell in the room.
"Okay, now wait a minute," Sharlynn said, finding her old self. "How do we know that she's not pretending right now? She may really be a spy!"
That could be logical, Lois and Clark thought. However, Jane denied it at once. "I'm not a spy," she said, wiping her tears with the palm of her hand. "Unless you suggest that my husband would make me look like *this* because I work for him." She pointed at her abused face. "It's been days and I still haven't healed. Or maybe it's make-up?"
"Jane…" Sharlynn began.
"Okay, okay, okay," Clark got in the middle. "Enough. We have to collaborate. Is there anything else you want to tell us, Rachel?"
Rachel remained silent for a moment, thinking. "I think there's nothing more." she said. "But if we think of anything we haven't told you we'll let you know. It was about time we were honest with each other."
"Oh, wait!" Lois exclaimed. "Why did the Black Team kidnap John?"
"Blackmailing," Rachel said simply. "The Black Team actually wants two things from us: First of all, my research, accompanied by me so that I finish it, and secondly Jane. Well, Tommy's the one who wants her more."
"Thomas Welson?" Clark asked.
"Yep, he's the one."
"And who's behind all this?" Lois asked.
"We don't know, yet." Sharlynn said. "Okay," she continued after a few moments. "I guess we have to plan our moves to find the baby," Sharlynn suggested and turned to Lois. "Will you call Superman?"
"Oh, Clark," she turned to him, "before we do, can we go and have something to eat? I'm starving, it's long past lunchtime and I have hardly eaten anything since breakfast."
"Yeah, you're right, I'm hungry too. So, we'll have something to eat, and then we'll call Superman, okay?" he said to Sharlynn.
"Okay," she simply replied.
"Is the baby fed?" Jane asked, worried.
"Yes," Lois said. "I fed her here."
"Well, she's still a baby. She must have driven her kidnappers crazy by now," Sharlynn grinned. "A crying baby isn't that easy to be handled."
Everyone smiled. At least the atmosphere in the room wasn't as grave as before.
"So, we're leaving," Clark said. "See you later."
"Bye," they all said.
"You really need to put a new door here," Lois pointed out, as she was leaving.
"We've already called for a locksmith," Rachel assured her.
"Oh, nice. Bye then."
Lois and Clark were now at Uncle Mike's restaurant. They had finished eating, and they were planning their next moves.
"Do you know what I think?" Lois talked in a low voice, glancing around her to make sure that nobody was paying any attention to them. "Let them do whatever they want with each other. You, find the baby, take it back and then let's forget about them! We've had enough; it's got to be over."
"Lois, you know we can't do it!" Clark whispered. "It's not just about their relationships; they really need our help! Besides, the baby is theirs! We can't just keep her!"
"Well, they gave her to us, didn't they?" Lois insisted on her idea.
"Lois, come on!"
"Oh, okay!" she said, sitting back in her chair and crossing her hands over her chest. "Do whatever you want." This had proven to be the best way to convince Clark to do as she wanted.
"Lois, really…" He could resist no more, so he tried to find a solution they'd both like. "Look, I'm going out to search for Sharlynn. Once I find her, we'll go to the Thorns and all together we'll decide what we're gonna do with her," he suggested. "Is that okay?"
"Fine," she grumbled.
"Not 'fine', Lois. Yes or no?" Clark never liked doing things Lois didn't agree with, even if he had to.
"…Fine, Clark!" she exclaimed, deciding that she'd better give in — this was not time for disagreements. "Just do it!"
"Okay, I'm going." He leaned over the table and kissed her gently on the lips. "Don't worry, Lois. It's all gonna be all right."
"I hope so." She smiled, and kissed him back. "Go, now."
"Be careful," he just said and hurried out of the restaurant.
A few minutes later, he was flying above the big city, wondering where he should look.
It suddenly dawned on him. It was simple. The first place he should check was the secret room in the sewer, where he had found them a few hours ago. He silently wished they were silly enough not to think of finding a new hiding place. Luckily, he could remember the way there.
He reached the place easily. The door was still broken, of course. All the furniture had disappeared, but the iron door at the back wall was still there, and he could hear voices from inside.
He x-rayed the door. Behind it there was a small room. The chairs were all around the walls, leaving just a little space for the people inside it — six men in their black uniforms and their chief, Thomas Welson, holding Sharlynn in his arms. Sharlynn was crying loudly, and Welson didn't seem too pleased about it. In fact, he looked ready to strangle her.
"Doesn't anyone know how to make this stupid baby shut up?" he angrily yelled to his men.
"Chief, you already have three children…" someone dared say.
"I was not the one who raised them, you idiot! Shut up, you little brat!" he barked to the baby. He was rocking her intensely, but, naturally, she just kept crying.
Clark was ready to rush in and beat the guy up, but he held himself back. What if it was a trap?
Still, he reconsidered, how could they trap him? They could hardly move in that small room. He could easily open the door, take the baby, and then take them to the police.
On second thoughts, they were seven. He couldn't carry them all. Maybe he should call the police, and they would catch them all in the act.
However, then the Black Team could shoot and kill the policemen; they were all armed. No, he needed a better idea.
He could disarm the Black Team and then call the police. Or he could call the police first; they'd come close and hide themselves, then he'd go in, he'd disarm the Black Team and then the policemen would arrest them. This could work.
But… wouldn't it be better if he let them free, for the moment? Perhaps they'd lead him to their boss. If they had one.
The only way to find out was by waiting. Sooner or later, if they did have a boss, they'd contact him. And then he'd know.
Then, a brilliant idea crossed his mind. He had the perfect plan.
Lois had returned home. She was pacing around the living room nervously, worried about Clark. Had he found the Black Team already, or not? Had he taken the baby back, or not?
The baby… She sighed and sat on the couch, thinking.
Jane had given the baby to Superman — or, that's what she'd wanted to do. Later, she told them that it'd be okay if Clark and she kept it.
But that was when she thought Sharlynn wasn't safe. What if, once Welson and the Black Team were under arrest, Jane asked for her daughter back? Let's not forget, the Black Team had taken the baby right from Lois's arms, the woman reflected bitterly.
They wouldn't be able to keep her. They had no right to her. She wasn't their daughter, physically or legally. In addition, they hadn't kept her for a long time and they couldn't claim she had gotten used to them as her parents.
They would be back to their previous position, unable to have kids or adopt any. Doomed.
Lois rested her head on the cushions, full of sorrow.
Clark took a deep breath. His plan would succeed; he was sure.
He approached the door, opened it easily and, in just a blink, took the baby from Welson's arms and ran away.
He got out of the sewer and hovered above the Victory Avenue, with the baby in his arms, using his superhearing and x-ray vision abilities to watch the Black Team, who were just underneath him. Many people had gathered around him, wondering what he was doing, but he didn't care.
"What the heck just happened? What the heck just happened?" Welson was screaming furiously. "It was Superman, wasn't it?"
"Chief," someone hesitatingly said, "we were behind you, we didn't see…"
"Shut up! It was Superman! Who else could it be?"
The others nodded.
"Just what we needed," Welson grumbled. He stepped out of the small room, cursing. "And now, what do we tell Dr. Owen?"
Clark held his breath. He had another clue.
But… who was Dr. Owen?
He decided he'd better listen to what Welson was going to say — after he levitated a few more feet, that was, because the flow of traffic had stopped, as everyone had stopped driving and was staring at him.
He saw Welson picking a cell phone out of his pocket and dialing a number.
"Hi, Dr. Owen, Welson here. … Yes, but we have a problem. … Superman just took her back. … Well, he just opened the door, took her, and flew away. … No, doctor, it's just that I didn't expect… … Yes, doctor."
Then, he hung up the phone, frustrated.
Clark thought that this was enough for the moment. Now he had to find out about Dr. Owen.
He flew away, anxious to get home. He'd take Lois and they'd go to the Thorns.
When Lois saw him with the baby in his arms, she literally fell on him. "Clark, the baby is safe! You did it!"
Then she took the, now quiet, baby, and stared at her adoringly. "Oh, my baby, you're safe now! No one's gonna hurt you ever again. Right, Clark?"
"Yes," he said anxiously, "but we have to go to the Thorns now."
When they arrived at the Thorns — Clark dressed casually, of course — the locksmith had arrived and was placing the new door.
"My baby!" Jane exclaimed, seeing them walking in the hallway. She ran towards Clark and took the baby from his arms. "Where did you find her?"
"It wasn't us, it was Superman," Lois said.
Sharlynn, from inside the room, gestured to them to be discreet and get in the room.
"So, what happened?" she asked.
"Superman found the Black Team and took her back," Clark said in a low voice.
"And where are they now?"
"Right where they were."
"What?" Sharlynn wasn't expecting that. "Why?"
"Because," Clark lowered his voice more, "he wants to find more about them, especially who's behind all this." He looked around. "Do you know who Dr. Owen is?" he whispered.
"I know him!" Rachel whispered, too, but her tone was intense. "He was the director of the S.T.A.R. Labs when I was working there."
"Now he's not?" Clark asked.
"I'm not sure."
"So, he knows about the 'Treasure'?" Lois interjected.
"Yes. He was strongly supporting it, and he tried his best so that it would go on. But Dr. Klein didn't want it to go on, because, if we could finally make a philosopher's stone, it would be a threat to the peace on Earth. So he convinced the benefactors that the project was a failure, that we had tried everything but nothing worked, stuff like that, and they finally decided to give up."
"Who were the benefactors?" she asked.
"The Citizens of Metropolis Bank and the Economists of Metropolis Association."
"So, Rachel," Clark asked, "do you think that Dr. Owen asked the Black Team to blackmail you so that you'd give him your research?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"But, Milkie, how did they know you're still alive, researching?" Sharlynn asked.
"They probably don't," Clark answered, before Rachel talked. "They probably think that *you* are continuing your sister's research and that Jane is helping you."
"That's ridiculous! I didn't even go to college!"
"Neither did I," Jane said.
"They don't know Rachel is alive. We saw that many times," Clark insisted. "When they came here, they said 'They're all here: Jane Jackson, Sharlynn Thorn and John Thorn'. No one mentioned Rachel. And down at the sewer Welson said 'Don't you know what Sharlynn Thorn and Jane Jackson are planning to do to him?'."
"What sewer?" Sharlynn asked. "And who did he say that to?"
"That's where they hide. Welson told Superman, and he told us," Clark said in an attempt to provide cover for himself.
"Oh…" Sharlynn didn't insist.
"So, what are we going to do with Dr. Owen?" Rachel asked, impatiently.
"I'll arrest him as soon as possible," Clark said.
Sharlynn raised an eyebrow.
"Clark," Lois gritted between her teeth.
"I mean 'I'll have him arrested'," he corrected himself and faked a yawn. "I'm a bit sleepy."
"You're going to tell Superman?" Sharlynn asked.
"Absolutely," he replied. "Right now." He turned towards the door and began walking.
"Excuse me, where are you going like this?" Jane managed to ask, astonished.
He turned back. "Sorry," he apologized, "I'm just a bit… you know…"
"Yeah, we noticed," Sharlynn muttered.
"Well, goodbye, and we'll see you soon."
He grabbed Lois's arm, and they headed towards the door.
"Oh, wait, the baby!" Lois exclaimed.
"We can keep her for the moment," Sharlynn said, somewhat sternly.
"You don't have to, but… well…" Lois stared at Jane, who was obviously enjoying having Sharlynn in her arms.
"It's ready," a voice from behind them said. It was the locksmith.
"Wait, I'm coming," Sharlynn said and went to pay him.
Jane looked at Lois. "Do you want to take her?"
"Take her." She gave her to Lois.
Lois could no longer resist the temptation to keep the baby. "All right."
Once the locksmith was gone, Sharlynn leaned at the wall beside the door, waiting for the couple to leave. Clark saw her.
"So, goodbye," he said.
"Goodbye," everyone replied.
Lois and Clark walked outside the door. It was shut and locked immediately.
When in the car, Lois talked, frustrated. "Clark, what is the matter with you?"
"What do you mean?" he replied, not understanding what she was talking about.
"I mean that you were extremely careless before," she replied, angrily. "You implied that you're Superman twice and you almost left without even saying goodbye! Are you insane?"
Clark was speechless. Lois was right, truth to be told.
"You can't be so careless! It's dangerous!" she went on. "You saw Sharlynn's look; she may be suspecting something."
He tried to say something, anything, to defend himself, but he couldn't speak. "I don't know what happened to me," he finally said. "The words were coming out from my mouth before I thought about what to say. Lois…"
"I know you're sorry," she comforted him. "You didn't do it on purpose, after all."
"Of course not," he assured her.
"Clark…" She sounded thoughtful. "Do you think that Rachel keeps red Kryptonite in her lab?"
Clark doubted that. "No, I don't think so. Besides, red Kryptonite doesn't affect me exactly this way."
Clark rolled his eyes. "Lo-is…"
"Okay!" she exclaimed. "Maybe she doesn't. But what affected you? Because something affected you."
"I don't know," he murmured. "One of her solutions, maybe?"
Back home, about two hours later, Clark was sleeping on the couch, while the TV was playing a report about life in the Southeast Asia jungles.
Lois, after spending a great time playing with Sharlynn, left her sleeping in her room and walked down the stairs to check on Clark.
As she was tiptoeing down the stairs, Clark sighed.
She went towards him, knelt beside him and bent her head over him. He opened his eyes.
"Oh, Lois…" He yawned.
"Are you feeling all right?" she asked him, anxiously.
"Yes…" He stretched his arms and sat on the couch. "You know, I had no idea how tired I was."
Lois took the remote from the coffee table, turned the TV off and then sat beside Clark, putting her arm around his shoulders.
"Are you sure you're all right?" she asked. "You fell asleep less than five minutes after we arrived. You're sure you're not sick?"
"No, Lois, I'm not." He took her in his arms. "It was a strange feeling… As if something was pressing me on the chest — metaphorically speaking," he added, noticing the worried way she looked at him. "And then, I fell asleep. But I'm okay now."
"All right. You know, I was thinking about calling Dr. Klein to ask him about Dr. Owen."
"Oh, come on, Lois," he grumbled. "We've been through a lot today. We need to relax."
"And Dr. Owen?" she said indifferently, resting in his embrace.
"He can wait."
"No, he can't." Her voice was still indifferent. She slowly rose and headed to the telephone, although she was clearly not in the mood. "I'll call Dr. Klein."
"Oh, Lois!" he whined. "You don't feel like doing it."
She turned to him. "I don't, but the sooner, the better."
"I may be the Superman," he observed, "but *you* are the restless one."
She smiled, picked up the receiver and dialed Dr. Klein's number.
"Hello?" he heard him saying.
"Hello, Dr. Klein, it's Lois Lane."
"Oh, Ms. Lane! It's good to hear you. Did you find the information you wanted about Rachel Thorn?"
"Yes, we did." She paused for a second. "Dr. Klein, I'd like to ask you for information on another person too."
"Excuse me?" she asked, confused.
"Which one?" Dr. Klein repeated. "Charles or Catherine Owen?"
*(from here, you can skip to "Tanked Ending" if you prefer)*
Lois was speechless. Two Owens? Why should it be like this?
She turned to Clark, knowing he had heard the whole conversation. She wore a so-what-are-we-going-to-do-now face, but he just gave her a shrug as an answer.
"Wait a minute, please," she said to Dr. Klein. She covered the receiver with the palm of her hand. "Now what?" she whispered to Clark, frustrated.
"I don't know!" he replied.
"You said that Welson called Owen! Didn't you hear whether it was a masculine or a feminine voice speaking?"
She moaned. "Rachel talked about a man, didn't she?"
"Yes, but if the woman is a scientist too, it may be her!"
She moaned again, louder, and put the receiver back to her ear. "I'd like to know about both of them, Dr. Klein," she said, giving Clark an angry look.
"Well," Dr. Klein began. "Charles Owen had been working for S.T.A.R. Labs since he graduated from college. About thirteen years ago he became the director, and he stayed in this position until he retired three months ago."
"What does he do now?" Lois asked.
"Oh, nothing… He lives in a large apartment with his wife."
"Two, a daughter and a son… They have their own families now."
"Ehm… What did he do as a scientist and as the S.T.A.R. Labs director? Anything important?"
"He had worked on several projects as a scientist and organized others as a director. Many of them were successful."
"Okay…" Lois wanted to ask about his involvement in the 'Treasure' but decided not to risk it. "And what about Catherine Owen?"
"She's his younger sister. She runs the pharmaceutical company 'Happy Life'."
"She's married to William Larren, and they have two children."
"Any relations with the S.T.A.R. Labs?"
"No, not at all…"
"All right. Thank you, Dr. Klein."
"You're welcome," he said. "Goodnight."
She hung up the phone.
"Well, if there's one thing nobody can accuse our life of being, it's boring." She slowly walked towards the couch and fell into Clark's embrace. They stayed there, Clark caressing Lois's hair, and Lois thinking, while enjoying his touch.
"Who's William Larren?" she asked him a few minutes later.
"I don't know," he said indifferently.
"I'm sure I've heard his name before," she commented, looking around the room.
"Maybe…" he just said.
"What if it's something important?"
"Honey, can't you just relax? Let's not spend the rest of our evening worrying about the Thorns, or the Owens, or anyone else."
"I want to relax too… but…" She grinned. "I guess the reporter in me won't let me do it."
"Oh, I suggest that you tell the reporter in you to leave you alone for the rest of the day," he wryly said, bending over her face. "We have better things to do tonight, don't we?"
"Now that you mention…" she replied in the same tone.
He then started tickling her, and soon they were both lying on the couch, laughing, tickling and playfully kissing each other.
Many hours had passed. It was almost dawning outside.
Clark was on the bed, asleep. Luckily for him, it had been a quiet night.
Lois lay beside him, but she wasn't sleeping. Something was bothering her, and it had awakened her early enough to have time to think about it calmly.
The only problem was, she didn't exactly know what it was. She could only tell it was about something she'd learned the day before, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it.
She had been awake for almost two hours, when a thought flashed inside her mind.
"Clark? Clark?" she urged him.
He sighed and sleepily opened his eyes. "What is it, Lois?"
"I remembered who William Larren is!"
Clark remained silent for a few moments, allowing his mind to fully wake up.
"Oh, yeah, William Larren," he finally said. "Who is he?"
"He's the owner of the Metropolis Bank and the president of the Economists of Metropolis association!"
"The…" Clark processed the information in his mind for a while. "And this association was one of the benefactors for the 'Treasure'!" he exclaimed.
"Gee… Lois, do you know what this means?"
"That Catherine Owen is the Black Team's big boss."
"Yes! Wow! At least this issue is solved." He sighed in relief. "I can't believe it!" His eyes were shining.
"Great, huh?" Lois cuddled closer to him, their faces almost touching each other's. "Maybe we should celebrate it," she wryly said.
He kissed her lips and gave her a pleasant smile. She kissed him back, and soon they were in one another's arms, celebrating Lois's discovery.
Almost two hours later, neither of them wanted to leave the bed. They were still lying on the bed. Actually, Clark was lying on the bed and Lois was lying on him, her head resting on his bare chest. They were both absently staring at the ceiling.
"Who's going to the Planet today?" Lois lazily asked.
Clark leaned toward her forehead and kissed her. "Which do you prefer, the Planet or the Thorns?"
She grimaced. "I'm not going to the Thorns without you."
"Neither am I."
"So, together to the Thorns?"
"That's what I was thinking."
"Perry will kill us."
Clark reached for the telephone. He grabbed the receiver and dialed the Daily Planet's number. Lois stretched and moved her ear close to the receiver so that she could hear Perry's reaction.
"Good morning, Chief!"
"Hey, Clark, good morning!"
He paused for a second. "Chief, Lois and I won't make it to the Planet today."
"That story again?"
"Okay, then, go."
"Oh, and Clark?"
"Is this story going to be finished any time soon?"
He hesitated for a moment. "…I think so, Chief."
He hung up the phone.
"Hmm, that was easier than I thought," Lois said, drawing herself even closer to Clark.
"Yes," he smiled. "Perry's in a very good mood lately."
"Good for us." She laid her head on his chest.
Then, a cry was heard from the next room.
"Sharlynn's hungry," Clark grinned.
"Yeah, noticed." Lois sat on the bed and stretched. "This girl has some timing… I'll go keep her busy, while you prepare her milk."
She put on her slippers and slowly headed to the baby's bedroom. Clark, after taking a shower and brushing his teeth in superspeed, went to the kitchen.
About one and a half hour later, Lois and Clark — who had Sharlynn in his arms — were outside Rachel's lab.
Lois knocked the door.
"Who is it?" they heard Rachel's voice.
"It's us, the Kents," she replied.
"Wait a minute."
She unlocked the door and allowed them in. She was alone in the room. The couple guessed that the others were upstairs.
"So, how are you?" Rachel asked, pleasantly.
"Fine," Lois replied. "And we have news."
"Rachel, what do you know about William Larren and Catherine Owen?" Clark turned to her.
"William Larren is the Economists of Metropolis's president. He was convinced to finance the 'Treasure', but he put as a condition that all medically interesting results would be exclusive to 'Happy Life'. 'Happy Life' is the pharmaceutical company his wife is running. Catherine Owen is his wife."
Lois and Clark remained silent, with equal now-I-understand-what- is-going-on-here expressions on their faces.
"Are you saying…?" Rachel dared.
"Yeah," Clark answered.
"Now it's all clear…" she murmured. "Although I still can't understand how they found out I was experimenting here."
"We told you that they didn't know it was you," Clark reminded her.
"Maybe they suspected something was going on when Sharlynn came back from Guadalajara," Rachel said, more to herself. "Or maybe they just hadn't bought the story that I had died and were spying on me… or maybe they were keeping an eye on John."
"You know, I think it's all these explanations together," Lois said. "Rachel fakes her death. The Black Team doesn't buy it and keeps an eye on John, hoping that this way they'll trace Rachel. And when Sharlynn comes back from Guadalajara, they start spying on her too. They understand they're hiding something; they bug the lab and they find out what that something is. Even if they haven't yet realized that Rachel is alive, Sharlynn is her sister…"
"Yeah, that would make sense…" Clark commented.
"You know, it doesn't really matter," Rachel interrupted him impatiently. "Have you talked to Superman?"
It wasn't difficult for Lois to cover herself and Clark. "Yes, of course. He's watching the Black Team at the moment, and he said he'd go check upon Catherine Owen later."
"Great!" Rachel exclaimed.
"You will all be safe soon," Lois smiled. Rachel smiled back at her.
"Clark," Lois turned to her husband, "we have to go to the Planet now. We've got a lot of work to do."
"You're right," he nodded. "Bye."
"Bye," Rachel said. "Let me know if you hear from Superman."
"Oh, wait!" Clark said. "What's your phone number?"
"Wait a minute, I'll give you the apartment number…" She reached for a pen and a piece of paper from her desk, scribbled down a number and handed the paper to Clark.
"All right." He folded it and put in his pocket. "Bye now."
Lois and Clark walked out of the lab. Behind them, as always, Rachel shut and locked the door.
Lois and Clark walked to the Jeep.
"So, where are you going now?" she asked.
"Arrest the Black Team."
"Arrest them?" Lois asked in astonishment. "Without finding out more about Catherine Owen first?"
"I don't feel comfortable knowing they're free… or, some of them, anyway. They may not be so bright, but we've both seen what they can do. I don't think it's gonna be too difficult finding proof about Catherine Owen's involvement."
"I guess you're right," she said. Then, something crossed her mind. "Clark…" she began, worried.
"…You know, this whole thing is a story."
"We promised the Thorns we wouldn't say anything to anyone."
"But we should also write an article about it," Clark finished her thought.
"Well, I guess the Thorns won't mind if we write an article after the Black Team and Catherine Owen are arrested."
"But what if they do?" She was still worried.
"Honey, I'm sure they won't. Here, take Sharlynn, I have to go," he said, handing her the baby. "Why don't you go home and relax? This thing is getting on your nerves."
"I can't relax while things are like this!" she whined.
"I'll be home soon," he promised, giving her a gentle kiss on the cheek. Then, he ran at human-speed behind a building to change clothes.
"Okay, baby, now let's go home," Lois playfully said to Sharlynn.
She got in the car, carefully placed her in the seat beside her and headed home.
The first thing Clark did was to go check the usual room in the sewer to see if the Black Team was still there. Luckily, they were.
<Really intelligent guys,> he thought and chuckled. <I wonder how they've managed to stay out of jail for so many years.>
He had already decided he shouldn't try arresting the Black Team on his own — they were too many and someone could escape. So, he went to the police station first and had a talk with Inspector Henderson.
"There's a gang you must arrest immediately," he told him. "They've committed abuse, rape, kidnapping and blackmail. At least."
"Wait a second, Superman," Henderson said, baffled. "Can you become a little clearer here?"
"I'm afraid not," he said. "It's urgent. People are in danger."
"Okay, then just tell me the story in short, so that I know what I'm dealing with."
Clark tried to think of a way to explain the situation without revealing anything incriminating for the Thorns. This would cause a big waste of time, which wasn't needed at all at that moment. The Thorns would deal with the law later.
"Well," he started, "there's this family, the Thorns. This gang blackmailed them because they wanted the results of a research one of them was doing. They also beat some of them up and raped one of them to make them talk, and they also kidnapped the baby of the family, who I got back and… gave to the Kents."
"Why to the Kents?"
"The Thorns left them the baby for a while, to keep her safe."
"Oh… Well, I guess you can't keep the Kents off anything weird here in Metropolis! "Henderson exclaimed, shaking his head. "Do you know where the gang is now?"
"Yes. I want a police force to go there and arrest them. I can't do it on my own."
"How many are they?"
"Seven. Their leader and six more."
"Well, this is a very unorthodox way of arresting criminals, but…" Henderson shrugged. "All right. You'll have a twelve men force. They're enough, I think."
"Sure. Thank you, Inspector."
Not much later, Clark led the policemen to the sewer. He x-rayed under his feet to make sure the Black Team was still there. Indeed, they were in the big room, the one that didn't have a door, sitting around.
"Listen," Clark said. "We're going down. Don't make any noises. I'm going first, disarm them, and then you come and arrest them."
The policemen agreed.
They all got down to the sewer. When they arrived just outside the room, Clark rushed in and, in super-speed, took all the guns from the Black Ones before they even realized what was going on. Then, the policemen got in the room.
"You're under arrest."
Welson cursed but made no effort to escape. The policemen got in the room and handcuffed all the men in the room.
Then, they were all driven to the police station.
In the police station, the Black Ones were locked in cells, each one waiting for his turn to be interrogated. Welson was first.
"Inspector," Clark asked him, "can I be present in his interrogation?"
"No problem," Henderson replied.
"Okay. Do you mind if I make a phone call first? I… uh, I'm gonna call the Kents to tell them the news. It'll just take a minute."
"Sure, go," Henderson nodded.
Clark couldn't wait to tell Lois the news. However, he was surrounded by policemen and secretaries, so he had to be careful. He dialed his home number and soon he was talking to his wife.
"Hi, Lois, it's me, Superman," he said firmly.
"Clark!" Lois yelled. Clark hoped she wasn't yelling too loudly. "What happened? Did you arrest them?"
"Yes, Lois, I arrested them. I'm here in the police station now. They're going to interrogate them."
"Will you stay there?"
"Yes. I was wondering if you could call the Thorns and tell them they ought to come here to be interrogated as well." God, it felt so silly talking so officially to his own wife.
"Okay, but *you* have the number," she reminded him.
"Yes, Lois," he said as firmly as before, "I do have the number." He produced the paper Rachel had given him. "Are you writing this down?"
"Yeah, wait a second…" She took a paper and a pen. "Tell me."
"OK, I'll call them right now. I love you."
"All right." Clark was thinking he should have blushed like a rose. "Ehm… say hi to Clark. Bye."
Lois hung up the phone, chuckling.
Clark, relieved that this embarrassing phone call was over, went to the interrogation room.
"Oh, here you are, Superman," Henderson said. "We can start."
"Of course," he replied. He noticed that Welson was angrily staring at him.
"Well…" Henderson began, but he stopped. He turned to Clark. "You know, Superman, I don't know what to ask him. Will you interrogate him?"
Clark hesitated. "Well… I've never done interrogation before, but… well…" He cleared his throat. "So," he turned to Welson, "your name is Thomas Welson?"
"Yes," Welson replied, looking not pleased at all.
"Ahm… okay… And what is your relationship with the Black Team?"
"I am their leader."
"Since it was founded."
"And what is your activity?"
"We protect people," he naturally replied. He knew the Thorns weren't completely innocent and tried to use them to his advantage. It was easy to bend the truth the way that would make it look better for him.
'Yeah, right,' Clark thought. "What do you mean by 'protect'?" he asked.
"I mean protect."
"Who is the one you were trying to protect before you were arrested?"
"John Thorn and the baby."
"And how were you planning to protect them?"
"We had information that Sharlynn Thorn and Jane Jackson were experimenting on illegal mixtures and were planning to experiment on John Thorn and the baby. So, we attempted to keep them with us, until Sharlynn Thorn and Jane Jackson were arrested."
Hundreds of questions were overflowing Clark's mind. "Who had given you this information?"
Welson tried to appear cool, but Clark could tell he wasn't. "We found out ourselves."
Clark was getting irritated but preferred to hide it for the moment. "By using bugs?"
"Bugs?" Welson repeated, as if he didn't know what Superman was talking about.
Clark signaled to Henderson to come closer. "Clark Kent found a bug," he whispered to the Inspector. "I suppose you could take a look at it."
"Yes, as soon as we have it," Henderson promised. "Now go on with him."
"Okay. So," he turned to Welson, "if you wanted Sharlynn Thorn and Jane Jackson arrested, why didn't you call the police?"
"We had no evidence, just information."
'The nerve of this man!' Clark thought very angrily. "Then why did you kidnap John Thorn and the baby?" he exclaimed, trying to appear calm.
"Just making sure they wouldn't be hurt."
Clark stared at the ceiling, wishing for God to help him not to attack Welson. "The Thorns say you and your team beat them up badly several times. Jane Jackson is still hurt."
"This was just a way to protect John Thorn and the baby. If Sharlynn Thorn and Jane Jackson were hurt, they wouldn't be able to hurt them."
"But you beat John Thorn up too!"
Welson didn't look so calm now. However, he instantly tried to look normal again. "He was standing in the way, hiding Jane."
"The same Jane you raped?" Clark glared at him. "Is this a way to protect someone?"
"She is my wife!" Welson exploded.
"This doesn't mean you are allowed to rape her!"
"I didn't 'rape' her! We made love!"
"That's not what she says," Clark ironically commented.
"Maybe not," Welson replied at the same tone. "But she left our children at an orphanage and ran away from me! She's not trustworthy! Why would you believe her?"
"Because, Mr. Welson, if she left you, she must have had her reasons to do it!"
"No! We were doing very well, and one day, all of a sudden, she disappeared!"
Clark leaned on the table, taking deep breaths. Henderson, noticing that he was pretty angry, approached him.
"Let me do the rest, Superman," he said, in a low voice.
"Okay, Inspector. I don't seem to be helping a lot anyway."
"All right…" He turned to Welson, but Clark had an idea.
"I have reasons to believe he and his team were hired by William Larren and Catherine Owen to steal the research results," he whispered. "Do you think you could make him talk about it?"
"Let me see…" Henderson whispered and turned to Welson. "So, Mr. Welson, you claim you found the information about the Thorns' experiments by yourselves?"
"Nobody told you anything?"
"And nobody paid you in order to steal the research's results?"
"We were not going to steal them."
"Do you think I should believe you?
"I think you have no reason to doubt me."
"Maybe not, but I don't believe you anyway. You know," he added, stepping closer to him, "even if you were just trying to protect these people, you committed very serious crimes, and there are trustworthy citizens to confirm it. You and your team will go to jail for many years." He bent near Welson's ear. "But, if you had someone to put the blame on, if you say that someone hired you to do all these things, the judge and the jury will be much more merciful with you. You may end up with only a couple of years in jail, instead of twenty. So, what do you think?"
Welson held his breath, thinking. This wasn't a bad deal. He mentally calculated all the pros and cons, before reaching out to a decision. Then, he finally opened his mouth. "It was Catherine Owen."
"Great," Henderson said. "Now, what exactly was her involvement in this?"
"When the funding for the 'Treasure' stopped, Dr. Owen tried to make sure she wouldn't miss the benefit it was going to provide her. So she asked us to threaten Rachel Thorn in order to force her to give us what she had. She refused to do it, and I believe you know what happened then," Welson explained.
Henderson turned to Clark. He nodded, showing that they indeed knew what had happened. "Was Dr. Owen's husband involved in this in any way?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Were you told not to tell him about the orders you had?"
"He was never even mentioned."
"Good." Henderson turned to Clark again, who nodded negatively to show he had nothing else to ask at the moment. "All right. Howard," Henderson called the guard who was standing beside the door, "take Mr. Welson to his cell. I'll let you know when to bring the next one."
Howard dragged Welson, whose hands were in handcuffs, from the arm without being too gentle with him. Then, Clark and Henderson were left alone in the room.
"Superman, there are many things you haven't told me," Henderson reminded him.
"I know, but it was urgent that these men were caught."
"What about the Thorns?"
"They're not completely innocent, but they remain the victims of the story."
"I want them here, today."
"I've already taken care of that."
"Fine. And Dr. Owen, too."
"Thank you, Superman," Henderson said, grabbing Clark's hand in a handshake. "You're a great help."
"Just doing what I can do, Inspector. I have to leave now. I'll bring Dr. Owen here as soon as possible."
He left, heading for her office.
Clark was at the 'Happy Life' building a while later. The company occupied a large edifice not far from S.T.A.R. Labs. It wasn't difficult to spot Owen's office from outside.
He came in by the window. She was genuinely surprised to see him.
"Yes, it's me," he said in his Superman tone. "You must come with me."
"To the police station."
She paused for a minute. "Why?"
"Do you know some guy named Thomas Welson?"
"All right. You'll tell the police everything they need to know."
He took her in his arms and flew away.
When they arrived, Clark left her in the hands of the officers and he headed to the interrogation room to see how things were going. He stopped, though, to see the Thorns first. They were all sitting on a couch just beside the door, pretty bored.
"When are you going to be interrogated?" he asked.
"Who knows?" Sharlynn said, annoyed. "The line is long. First, they have to interrogate the entire Black Team, one by one!"
"Who's in now?"
She shrugged. "I don't know him."
"How many are there yet?"
"Four," Rachel provided. "Each interrogation doesn't really take a long time because they all confess, but I get the feeling that the Inspector isn't exactly aware of what happened."
"And how would you know that?" Sharlynn ironically asked.
"Come on, Sharlynn. If they told him everything they did to us, they would take several hours each. And get that irony off your face."
Sharlynn gave an angry look to her sister and then turned her head to the other side.
"They should have interrogated us first," Rachel commented. "This way they'd know what happened."
"It's my fault…" Clark skeptically said. "I didn't tell him what happened because I didn't want to waste time."
"What's going to happen?" Jane worriedly asked.
"I'm not sure…"
A man walked out of the interrogation room, and another entered.
"Three to go," Rachel commented.
"I'll see you later," Clark promised and headed to the interrogation room.
"Superman! Here you are!" Henderson exclaimed, seeing him.
"I brought Catherine Owen. How's it going?" Clark asked.
"We've been having no problem with them," Henderson said in a low voice, "but things are not so clear yet. They say Rachel Thorn is dead, but my men told me she's outside waiting to be interrogated!"
"She actually had faked her death. And these men believed she was really dead."
"I feel sorry for the judge who's going to judge them," Henderson stated.
"Inspector, if the Thorns were just trying to protect themselves, shouldn't they be considered innocent?"
"Yes, but it's not that simple. Listen, Superman, once the interrogation is finished, the Black Team stays here and the Thorns at their house, at least for the moment. And I want Clark Kent and Lois Lane here."
"All right, Inspector."
"Okay. And who has the baby now?"
"Great. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to interrogate this man."
"Sure, Inspector. I'll see you later."
(One month later)
"At last!" Lois exclaimed, exiting the Hall of Justice with Clark by her side. "Everything's over. The Black Team won't bother anyone anymore."
"Yes," Clark agreed, turning his head around. Lois followed his gaze and saw that a crowd of reporters and photographers had literally fallen on the Thorns' heads, who were trying to get out of the building.
"No comment," Sharlynn was saying in a loud voice. "No comment. Let us go."
The crowd kept on asking questions, not letting them walk but a few steps. Jane, with her baby in her arms, was having a hard time and could only whisper 'please'. Rachel was holding John's hand and was trying to walk through the crowd and be sure she was holding him at the same time.
Sharlynn tried to push, but it was useless. Then, angry, she yelled:
"I said no other comment! Let us go!"
Gradually, the crowd started backing away. The Thorns walked to where Lois and Clark were standing.
"At last," Sharlynn sighed. "They were beginning to get on my nerves.
Clark and Lois chuckled. If they judged by what they'd heard, they weren't just 'beginning'.
"I believe there's something that has to be arranged?" she went on.
Everyone turned to look at the baby girl in Jane's arms. Jane's face was red in embarrassment.
"Why would you say that?" Lois asked, after a long pause. "The court said Jane keeps her."
"Yeah," Jane admitted, "but… it's not fair to Superman. He did so much for us."
"I'm sure he wouldn't mind," Lois spoke, somewhat sadly.
"Maybe we could have a deal?" Rachel suggested.
Lois and Clark looked up. "What deal?"
"Could you get in touch with him and have him visit me?"
"Sure," Clark said.
"All right. Well, bye."
"Who is it?"
"It's me, Superman," Clark firmly said.
Rachel opened the lab door. "Welcome, Superman. I wanted to talk to you. It's about the baby."
"I can't promise you anything, but… seeing how Sharlynn stays with Jane, your problem remains. So, I thought… would you let me help you and your girlfriend conceive?
A smile formed on Clark's lips.
"Of course," she continued, hastily, "this is not my area of expertise and I'm really not sure I could help you. But… I'd like to try." She smiled timidly. "What do you think?"
"Sounds like a terrific idea," he assured her happily. "I'll talk with my girlfriend and I'll let you know as soon as possible."
"I'll be waiting," she said.
"Thank you very much, Rachel."
He headed out. Rachel didn't lock the door.
"Hey, honey." Clark greeted his wife with a kiss, once he joined her home. She was in the bedroom, sitting on the bed with the laptop on her lap and typing.
"Hey. What did Rachel say?"
"You'll never believe it."
Lois gazed at him questioningly.
"She wants to help us conceive!"
"Huh?" Lois was amazed. "How?"
"Well, she's a scientist, and she thought she owed us one for all we did for her family."
Lois blinked. "I can't believe it!"
"Isn't it fantastic?" Clark said, thrilled.
Lois looked down. "Yes, but… Do you think she'll be able to? Dr. Klein couldn't."
"I don't know, Lois," he admitted. "But it's still a great idea. Definitely better than nothing."
"Yes, sure," she said neutrally.
"I told her I'd discuss it with you and I'd let her know. So have we decided?"
Lois kissed his cheek. "All right, honey. Tell her we agree."
"I'm going there right now."
He was back at Rachel's not much later. He knocked and entered.
"Hey! Back already?"
"Yes." He closed the door. "We decided to accept your offer."
"Good! So when do we begin?"
"As so onaspossible.
"How about now?"
"That would be great."
"All right. I'll just need some samples from you and some from her."
"Samples?" he asked.
"Yes. Um… blood, sperm from you, an egg from her…"
Clark didn't know what to say. He only knew that he couldn't present Lois as his girlfriend. But, then, he couldn't present anyone else.
What could they do? Disguise Lois? No, they needed something safer.
He stayed there, thinking. Rachel was looking at him questioningly.
And then, he had the best idea.
"Look, Rachel," he started. "I can't bring my girlfriend here. If anyone finds out we're together, she'll be in danger. Not that I don't trust you, but…"
"It's okay," she reassured him. I understand."
"How about experimenting on samples from yourself or your sisters? There would be no difference; my girlfriend is a normal human being like you."
"Sounds like a good idea," Rachel agreed. "Now, will you give me your samples?"
He flushed. "What do I have to do?"
"Well, blood, first of all…"
"Normal needles won't work."
"I know. Let me think…" She thought for a moment, then walked to her desk. "Come here."
"How do you feel?"
"Are you sure?" she asked, concerned.
"I have some Kryptonite in these solutions," she said, pointing at a few test tubes. "Are you sure it isn't affecting you at all?"
"Well, maybe, but just a little bit."
"Well, let's see…"
She used a syringe to get some of a yellow liquid and wet Clark's hand. Clark, panicked, started blowing it.
"What did you do?" she asked, astonished. "You froze it!"
"Sorry," he apologized, staring at the yellow crust on his hand. "It itches."
"Oh. Does it still itch?"
"Good. Leave it as it is, don't scratch it."
She took a clean syringe from a glass and used it to suck out some of Clark's blood.
"Superman!" Rachel exclaimed, amazed.
"Sorry. I'm not used to pain."
She rolled her eyes, then reached for an empty glass. "This will be easier," she said, handing it to him.
Clark stared at the glass blankly. He'd rather have all of his blood sucked out of him.
He timidly reached for the glass. "Yeah. Sure," he said, trying to ease himself, rather than her. "Where could I…?"
"Out?" Rachel dared.
His expression clearly informed her that he wasn't going to fill that glass in a place where he could be seen by anyone who'd have the bright idea of coming down to the basement.
"Okay, I'll go out."
Clark nodded. Soon, he was left alone in the lab, staring at the glass in disgust.
"Yeah, come in."
The door opened and Rachel entered the lab. Clark was timidly standing in the middle of the room. He looked up at her.
"Where's the glass?" Rachel asked.
"There." He pointed at her desk, where he had left the, now full, glass.
"Good work," she commented and suppressed a chuckle at Clark's blushed face, as she headed to her desk.
"Um… will you…" he tried to ask.
"Yeah, what?" She turned to him.
"…Start working on it right now?"
"Well, I've got what I need, so… yeah. It's not like I have something else to do." She turned back to her instruments. "One of these days, I should really try to find a job," she mumbled to herself.
"All right. If you need me, get in contact with the Kents. They know where to find me."
"Sure," she assured him.
"Thank you very much. You don't know how much we appreciate it."
"You're welcome," she smiled.
He smiled back. "Bye."
Minutes later, he was home. Lois had been impatiently waiting for him.
"So, how did it go?" she asked, as soon as she saw him.
"Great. Rachel is already working on the… samples I gave her."
"Oh, Clark," Lois exclaimed, falling in his arms. "I'm so happy!"
Clark smiled. "I didn't know you wanted children that badly."
She turned to look at him. "Your children, yes. I do." She kissed him on the lips. "Wouldn't it make you happy?"
"Would it make you happy?"
She remained silent for a second. "I hadn't realized it for a long time, but… yes."
"Then it'd make me happy too."
They stood still, staring at each other's eyes. Eyes full of love, joy and anticipation. And fear.
"What if it doesn't work?" Lois asked in a low voice. Inside she was afraid of what the answer was.
"It doesn't matter," Clark simply replied.
She fell on his shoulder, dreaming of the future.
The days were passing quickly. Rachel was still working on that project, but with no result. Superman stopped by every so often to see how she was doing, but all she could tell him was that she hadn't found a way to overcome the problems.
She had explained him that Kryptonian spermatozoon was too strong for a normal human ovum and once it attacked the latter, it destroyed it. She had tried many Kryptonite solutions and mixtures to make them weaker, but they all affected their reproduction abilities. Every day she tried something new, but nothing brought the desired results.
That day, she was in the lab, frustrated, staring at all her equipment and wondering what there was that she could do and she hadn't.
Suddenly, her eyes shone. "I am so stupid!"
She hurried upstairs to the apartment. She needed to make a phone call.
Superman arrived soon after at 35 Hillstone Street. He headed directly to the lab and opened the door.
"Superman, you're here!" she exclaimed, once she saw him.
"Lois told me you wanted to see me," he said, shutting the door.
"Well, I have an idea. Have a seat."
He sat on a chair, curious. Rachel stood in front of him, in obvious excitement.
"It's actually very simple," she began. "Trying to weaken your spermatozoon didn't work. So we have to go the other way round and strengthen your girlfriend's ovum."
"Vitamins?" he asked, unsure.
He grimaced questioningly.
"As far as I know, there have been times when your powers were transferred to some people through electricity use. If we transfer your powers to her, all of her molecules will get stronger, including her ovum."
Clark's face lit up. "Have you figured out how to do it?"
"I don't think it would be difficult. But we shouldn't use too much electricity, it could be dangerous." She started pacing around the room. "Now, I'm not very much into such technical stuff, but I think that all we need is a simple device, with a small generator, a few wires, and if you simultaneously touch the wires while holding each other as well, the electricity could go through your bodies because of the created circuit. We only need to make sure the voltage isn't too high…"
"You need anything from me?" Clark asked, interrupting her train of thought.
She breathed heavily, thinking about what she needed. "Could you do some shopping for me?"
"Sure. What do you need?"
"I need several meters of wire and lots of batteries."
"Batteries?" he repeated, surprised.
"Working with batteries would be safer. I could check the voltage more easily. I don't trust myself with using an electricity generator and the socket electricity is not enough."
"Okay, I'll bring you what you asked for."
"If money's a problem…"
"…No, not at all," he cut her.
"Are you sure?" she asked sympathetically.
"Yeah, it's okay."
"Okay, then. Oh, and Superman?"
"When it's time for the transfer, you'll have to bring your girlfriend here."
Clark just gulped hard. He didn't particularly like the idea of revealing his biggest secret to Rachel. She read his hesitation and tried to ease things for him.
"What if she was wearing a mask?"
He thought for a second, then talked. "Well, I'll discuss it with her and I'll let you know. Is that all right?"
"Sure," she smiled.
"I'm going right there." He headed to the door, but she called him again.
"Yeah?" He turned to her.
"I don't want you to think I'm pressing you," she said in a serious tone.
"Of course not! I mean, after all, you're helping us. We have no right to complain."
Her severe face lightened up. "Fine, then."
"Well, I'll see you later."
Clark joined Lois at the Daily Planet a few minutes later. She was typing in boredom, editing some newbie's mistakes.
"Hey, honey, how's it going?" he said, kissing her cheek.
"These newbies are pathetic. I wonder why Perry hired them."
"Because you said you wouldn't write any more lousy dog-show stories."
"Of course I wouldn't!"
Clark smiled. He loved his wife's temperament.
"But this doesn't mean I have to put up with them," she muttered. "'Take a look, Lois. He has potential,'" she quoted what Perry had told her a while ago. "What potential?"
Clark glanced at the screen. "It doesn't look *that* bad."
"Oh, whatever. So what did Rachel want? She sounded really excited."
"She has an idea that may work."
"Really?" She stopped typing and turned to him. "What?"
"From you to me?"
He nodded in affirmation.
"You don't look particularly happy," she observed.
"Nor do you."
"Because I see your face. Is there something wrong?"
He sighed and sank in a chair near Lois. "At first, I was wondering if such a temporary transfer could affect your physiology. Now, I think it can, but it's the technical problem that's worrying me."
"Rachel is a biologist, she doesn't know how to make a machine that could actually work. Of course, finding an engineer that could do it is out of the question. Too risky."
This was logical. "So?"
"She'll work with batteries and wires."
Lois stared back at him in disbelief.
"That's what she said," he defended himself. "Well, practically, it's the same thing. It's too amateurish, but she says she'll be feeling more comfortable this way."
"Well, if she likes it this way…" She shrugged.
"And there's something else too."
"If the power transfer is to be done, she'll have to see you."
Lois's face became serious. "Can't we do it without her?"
"I guess we could, but, on the other hand… It's like cheating, using all her help without giving her anything in return."
"Wait! *She* is supposed to be paying us back for the help we offered her with her family problems!"
"Yes, but… now she *offered* to help us."
This had been bothering Clark for a long time. He knew the Thorns didn't need to know about his other identity, but sometimes he couldn't help feeling like they ought to.
"But still," Lois lowered the tone of her voice, "you think that revealing your, *our*, secret to her would help her in some way? Only if she sold the information!"
"That's not the point."
"I know," she murmured.
"It's like Dr. Klein. I feel terribly for not having told him the secret yet."
"Dr. Klein is dumb," Lois commented impolitely.
"Okay, but he could slip accidentally. His mind is traveling through the galaxies."
"And that's one of the reasons why I haven't told him yet. But Rachel…"
Lois didn't answer.
"What do you think we should do?"
"Tell her, I guess." Her tone was dull.
"Are you sure?"
"You know what?" She livened up. "Why hurry? Let's just have her make that machine first, and then we'll see. We'd better think more about it."
"Good idea." He smiled encouragingly. "Well," he said and rose, "I have to do some shopping."
"Batteries and wire."
"Oh, right…" She rolled her eyes.
"I have this feeling that the shop man will think I'm a lunatic," he joked and kissed his wife. "I'll see you later."
He smiled and left.
Later, he appeared at Rachel's lab, dressed again as Superman, carrying a few bags that contained dozens of batteries and a few meters of wire.
"Already!" she admired. "I guess you're in a hurry."
He grinned. "You could say so."
"What batteries did you bring?"
"20 V. The largest I could find. I bought fifty."
"1,000 V. Must be enough…" she mentally calculated and opened the bags. "Here, will you help me?"
"What should I do?"
"Arrange all these batteries. Put them on the floor, one next to the other."
After less than a minute, they were all in place.
"Darn," Rachel cursed. "That wasn't such a bright idea. I'll have to de-arrange them, if I want to connect them with the wire."
"Do you want me to do it?" Clark hovered. "I'll hover over them, instead of de-arranging them."
"It's a slow, nerve-breaking task."
"Then, look what you have to do."
She took her small pincers and showed him how to cut the edge of the wire cover and tie it on the battery.
"Don't do it on superspeed, or you may cause damage."
"You can never be too careful."
"All right," he succumbed and hovered over the batteries, face down. "What will you do in the meantime? It's gonna take a while."
"I'll have some chocolate and think of a way to test the human resistance in electricity."
She opened a drawer, took out a big chocolate bar, sat on a chair, crossed her legs and began eating, slowly and silently.
Clark couldn't stop a big smile from appearing on his face, when at a point he turned around to take a look at her. That was what Lois would look like, if she was a scientist. Brown hair and eyes, no make-up, casual clothes under a white robe and chocolate in hand.
Lost in her thoughts, Rachel didn't notice him. However, a few minutes later, when Clark was almost finished, she rose and put the remaining chocolate back in the drawer. "Got it," she said calmly.
Clark turned around. "What?"
"Finish with that and I'll tell you."
Once he did, he landed on the floor. "So, you had any ideas?"
"Yes," she pleasantly replied. "You're very electricity- resistant, aren't you?"
"I think so."
"So, you'll be holding your girlfriend and have both edges of the wire on you, instead of just one. She'll use you as a filter. I'm just wondering, if that means we need more energy. You can cope with 1,000 V, can't you?"
"I think I can," he said.
Rachel stared at him for a moment, unpleased. He wondered what her problem was.
"Normally," she finally spoke up, "we should test this out. But I'm afraid that the batteries will go low and we'll have to buy more, and we'll have to test them too… Not to mention that you may absorb the electricity and then we'll manage nothing." She sighed. "I don't want to fry you, but neither do I want you to have to spend all your money in batteries."
Silence filled the room for a moment.
"I think that 1,000 V are good," she concluded. Inside, though she was still unsure.
"All right," Clark agreed after a few seconds. "Should I go bring my…?"
"If you're in a hurry," Rachel shrugged.
"Well, then, I'm going, and if she agrees we'll come later today. If not, I'll let you know when."
"Sure," she smiled. "Take your time."
He was already heading to the door when he remembered something.
"How long will it take until the transferred powers fade?"
Rachel turned skeptical. "How long did they last the other times?"
"Several months," he replied, remembering.
"Well, we use significantly less power, but if it lasts too long with a lightning…" she monologued. Then, she turned back to him. "I'd say a few days. Which means that you'll have to find a convenient day for the transfer. Hmm… I hadn't thought of that." She said that last sentence more to herself than to Clark.
"I'll keep that in mind. Thank you."
"I have to leave now. See ya."
When Clark arrived home, he filled Lois in on all the details.
"The problem is," she said skeptically, when he was finished, "that this solution is just temporary. The machine, or whatever it is, is ready and we have to use it *now*, because we can't have Rachel keep her lab full of batteries until we decide we want a child. And, if we happen to want a second child, we'll have to go through this again. It's very annoying."
Clark listened to his wife's babble carefully and nodded. These were exactly his feelings.
She looked at him, waiting for his opinion.
"I agree with you," he said. "But it's our only choice."
Lois took a deep breath. She felt frustrated. Other people had to take measures in order not to conceive. Why should they take measures in order to conceive? But she didn't reveal these thoughts to Clark. She knew it'd make him feel guilty about it, and it wasn't his fault he was a Kryptonian.
"We should have thought more about it," Lois sighed.
"We were just trying to find a way," Clark comforted her. "It's just bad luck that the only way is this one."
Lois breathed heavily. "My convenient day is in a week."
"So, we're getting ready for then?"
She shrugged. "I guess…"
"Will you go as Lois?"
"If I go as Lois, you'll have to go as Clark."
"At least Sharlynn's back in Mexico. I would feel very less comfortable around her. I don't know why." Lois shrugged. "It's just the way I feel about her."
"And with Rachel?"
"With Rachel I'm more comfortable. And Jane, too. But let's not tell them. Not yet, at least."
"Okay," Clark agreed.
Clark called at the Thorn's apartment. When Jane picked up the phone, he spoke in his Superman voice.
"Hi, Jane, it's Superman."
"Oh! Hi, Superman. What's up?"
"Fine. Look, Jane, can you give a message to Rachel?"
"Tell her we'll do the experiment next Friday."
"Thanks a lot."
Friday finally came. Lois wore her Ultrawoman costume for the big day. She and Clark had agreed it was the best way of keeping her identity a secret, at least for the moment.
"How do I look?" she said, looking at herself in the mirror.
"Gorgeous," Clark replied.
"What else would you say?" Lois commented. "So, are we going?"
"If you're ready."
She took a deep breath, preparing herself for the big event. "Ready as ever."
"Then let's go."
He scooped her up and flew out of the window.
They arrived at the old building, walked down the stairs and knocked the basement door. Rachel opened and, seeing Ultrawoman, her jaw dropped.
"Oh, so you're not that 'ultra' after all!" she exclaimed, finding her voice.
Lois smiled. "Not really."
"Okay. Come in," Rachel said nervously. She was very anxious about this experiment. "Here," she instructed. "Let me wire you." She gave two wire tips to Clark. "Hold them from the plastic, don't touch the tips. You… ehm… Ultrawoman, touch Superman with both hands."
The couple did as they were told. Lois put her hands on Clark's chest.
"When I say 'now'," Rachel continued, "you, Superman, touch the tips of the wires. Both tips at the same time. If anyone of you feels dizzy or sick or anything, stop it immediately, okay?"
They inhaled deeply. "Yes."
Electricity ran through Lois and Clark's bodies. Both looked fine, although they were a little bit shaky.
At some point, the shaking stopped abruptly. "Batteries must have run out," Clark commented.
"How are you feeling?" Rachel anxiously asked.
"Fine," Clark said.
"Me too," Lois said.
"Superpowers? Test superpowers."
Clark levitated effortlessly. "Works fine for me."
Lois stared at the ceiling. "I can X-ray!" she exclaimed.
Rachel let a deep breath. "It worked."
"Thank you," Lois smiled.
"It was nothing," Rachel replied coyly. "I… needed to do something about you. Now, I think you should go home and see if the results are as expected…?"
The couple grinned. "Sure," Clark said. "See you soon?"
"Yeah. Let me know if it worked."
Clark picked up the phone and dialed a now familiar number.
"Hello?" Jane greeted.
"Hi, it's Superman."
"Oh! Hi, Superman!"
"We're all fine. You want to talk to Rachel?"
"She's here. Wait a sec."
Rachel picked it up after a few moments. "Hello?"
"I just wanted to tell you that we received the pregnancy test results."
"Your method worked."
Rachel smiled broadly. "Oh, I'm so happy for you two!"
"Thank you very much, Rachel."
"My pleasure. I hope everything works out for you."
"I'm sure it will. I have to go now. See ya."
"Oh, and Rachel?"
"Lois says hi." Clark winked at Lois, who nodded affirmatively.
"Oh! Is she there, too?"
"I told you, we just received the results. Bye now."
Rachel hung up the phone, puzzled for a moment. Suddenly, realization dawned. "Ooooooh…" She grinned. "Should've guessed."
"What's up?" Jane called from the couch. She had her baby in her arms and was watching her other kids and John making a puzzle on the carpet.
"It worked. Superman's girlfriend is pregnant."
"Oh, well done, sis!"
Jane noticed the grin on Rachel's lips. "I'm glad you're so happy."
"Yes, I am."
"And what should you've guessed?"
Rachel shrugged and stared out of the window, the grin never leaving her face. "That it'd work."
Lois was speechless. Two Owens? Why should it be like this?
She turned to Clark, knowing he had heard the whole conversation. She wore a so-what-are-we-going-to-do-now face, but he just gave her a shrug as an answer.
"Wait a minute, please," she said to Dr. Klein. She covered the receiver with the palm of her hand. "Now what?" she whispered to Clark, frustrated.
"I don't know!" he replied.
"You said that Welson called Owen! Didn't you hear whether it was a masculine or a feminine voice speaking?"
She moaned. "Rachel talked about a man, didn't she?"
"Yes, but if the woman is a scientist too, it may be her!"
She moaned again, louder, and put the receiver back to her ear. "I'd like to know about both of them, Dr. Klein," she said, giving Clark an angry look.
"Well," Dr. Klein began. "Charles Owen had been working for S.T.A.R. Labs since he graduated from college. About thirteen years ago he became the director, and he stayed in this position until he retired three months ago."
"What does he do now?" Lois asked.
"Oh, nothing… He lives in a large apartment with his wife."
"Two, a daughter and a son… They have their own families now."
"Ehm… What did he do as a scientist, and as the S.T.A.R. Labs director? Anything important?"
"He had worked on several projects as a scientist and organized others as a director. Many of them were successful."
"Okay…" Lois wanted to ask about his involvement in the 'Treasure', but decided not to risk it. "And what about Catherine Owen?"
"She's his younger sister. She runs the pharmaceutical company 'Happy Life'."
"Does she have anything to do with the S.T.A.R. Labs?"
"No, not at all…"
"All right. Thank you, Dr. Klein."
"You're welcome," he said. "Goodnight."
She hung up the phone.
"Okay, let's go now," she said to Clark.
"What?" he protested. "Lois, come on, we've been out all day! Let's get some rest!"
"Clark, we have to finish with this story as soon as possible!" she exclaimed. "Tomorrow it may be too late! We have to go back to Rachel and talk to her."
"Lois, please…" he pleaded.
"No, Clark," she said determinedly. "Look, I'm going upstairs to bring Sharlynn. You know we'd better go now."
As she was walking up the stairway, Clark stretched and lazily got on his feet. In less than one minute Lois was down, holding the baby. "Take her," she told him and put her in his arms. She then took her coat and her keys, opened the door and walked out.
Clark followed her, sighing.
A few minutes later they arrived at 35 Hillstone Street. They got out of the car and walked in the building and down the stairs to the familiar basement, where Rachel's lab was.
Clark knocked the lab's door.
"Who is it?" a voice asked from behind it.
"It's us, the Kents."
"Okay, wait a second."
A few moments passed. Then, they heard the door being unlocked and saw it opening. Then, they stepped inside the room.
Two rushing hands took Sharlynn from Clark's arms, and then a scream: "Now!!"
Lois, astonished, looked around her. Sharlynn was now threatening her with a gun, Jane was holding the baby in her arms and Rachel was holding an empty test tube.
She looked beside her and gasped. Clark was so shocked he couldn't talk, nor even scream. His jaw had dropped opened and he was questioningly staring at Rachel, who had just showered him in a glowing green liquid. His clothes had melted and his skin was filling with horrible, awful wounds, which were burning it and causing it to vanish. As the liquid was reaching the insides of Clark's body, it was burning it away: his flesh, his bones, his muscles, everything.
"Aaah!" Lois cried.
"Kryptonite acid," Sharlynn said with an evil grin, raising her eyebrow, still threatening Lois with the gun.
Lois turned again to Clark. He was still melting, and several moments later he was completely gone. Only a small amount of ashes on the floor indicated that he had once been there.
Lois, breathing intensely, not quite believing in her own eyes, turned back to Sharlynn. "Why did you do this?" she asked, frightened.
"He knew too much," Sharlynn sardonically said. "We didn't know when he was going to betray us, so we shut his mouth as early as possible."
Lois couldn't understand anything. "But, then… why didn't you do that earlier?"
"My sisters wouldn't agree," she mocked. "But now," her tone became cruel again, "now that they learned he was Superman, they didn't object anymore."
"He was…?" Lois tried to cover him.
"Oh, come on!" Sharlynn shouted. "We're not playing silly games here. He almost said he was Superman last time you were here. We could certainly deal with two normal people knowing our secret, but with Superman? No, Lois. We had to get rid of him."
"Sharlynn, we were just trying to help you…"
"Oh, give me a break!" she shot back. "We're criminals! Rachel has faked her death, stolen Kryptonite and has been doing illegal experiments down here! Jane left her husband and left her kids in an orphanage without their father's approval and I sneaked in S.T.A.R. Labs to steal the copies of every physical examination Superman had ever done! Even if our cause is good, who would ever believe we're innocent?"
"It was not a big deal," Lois sadly said. "We'd find a way to help you get out of this mess…"
"No, you wouldn't," Sharlynn dryly cut her. "You shouldn't have searched for Rachel in the first place. You had to confide in my letter, for crying out loud, and not go searching! Now you're going to learn what happens to the people who think that minding their own business is not enough."
Sharlynn pulled the trigger and the bullet got directly in Lois's heart, causing it to stop immediately. Lois fell down, beside Clark's ashes, wearing the same frightened look she had one second before Sharlynn shot her.
*THE (TANKED) END!!!*