By Nan Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November, 2004
Summary: In this sequel to "Pheromone, More Likely," the author takes on Season One's "Vatman" episode. Why is Clark upset that Superman made a rescue in Paris? If Superman entrusts his problem to Lois, can she and Clark figure out who the impostor is? Will Lois reconcile her growing feelings for Clark and the way she's treated him in the past?
Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this story are not mine. They belong to DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else may have any legal right to claim them, nor am I profiting by their use. The story is based on the Lois and Clark script "Vatman" and all parts taken from that script, or any other Lois and Clark scripts, are hereby credited to the writers of the show. Any new characters, settings, and any changes in the story belong to me.
This is the sequel to Pheromone, More Likely, and happens about 4 months later.
March had come in like the proverbial lion, Lois Lane thought as she made her way to the front door of the Daily Planet. She clutched at the collar of her coat against the powerful wind that gusted down the street, whipping the skirt of the garment stingingly against her calves. It was nearly the middle of the month and it wasn't showing any signs at all of going out like a lamb, at least yet.
She glanced at her watch as she hurried across the lobby toward the elevator, trying not to look at the various snack stands that populated the place. She was ten minutes early, but what with leaving time for the creaky elevator and the inevitable lengthy stop on Second before it reached the newsroom, her margin of time was probably just about right. Maintenance really needed to see what was wrong with the thing. It seemed to get slower and slower every day. Maybe, she thought, she should just climb the stairs. It might make it easier to keep her figure. Of course if she did that, she would have to wear jogging shoes. Heels just weren't made for serious stair climbing. On the other hand, maybe that was how Clark managed to maintain his level of physical fitness. She had noticed how often he seemed to take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.
Oh brother; there she went again. She really had to get this babbling thing under control. She even did it in her head. She had begun to become aware of her tendency to babble recently, when she had noticed her partner grinning slightly in the middle of one of her monologues and challenged him on it. He'd just grinned more widely and said he liked to listen to her when she went off on one of her weird tangents. She'd done some sputtering, while he'd chuckled openly at her, but the tangent *had* been a little weird, although she would never have admitted it to him. They had been talking about Perry's grumbling over his doctor's insistence that he lose thirty pounds and somehow the subject had shifted to a dissertation (from her) over the fact that the office Christmas party, now two and a half months past, had been a potluck and Patty Shumacher had been stupid enough to ask her to bring a mint pie. She had hunted through half the bakeries in the city, only none of the people who worked at the places had ever heard of it. They had inquired if she meant grasshopper pie, but she had been sure that Patty had said mint pie. She had ended up bringing pumpkin pie. How had she been supposed to know that the request had been for *mince* pie (which she had never heard of, either)? Her mother had never served it at home (Mom had never been much of a cook,) and she'd never bothered to ask about it at various social occasions where it had apparently been served. Anyway, she'd had that bad cold for a week before the office party, and her ears had been stuffed up the day Patty had asked her, and she hadn't thought about checking the list, and …
And that had been when she'd noticed Clark grinning at her.
She hadn't really minded, although honor had demanded that she take him to task for it. He'd taken that with an equally disconcerting grin, too. Still, his attitude was a sharp contrast to that of Lex's. Lex always seemed to enjoy her company, but she couldn't go off onto strange tangents with him. The only time she had done that, he had given her the oddest look and she'd trailed off in embarrassment. She supposed that should have told her something about him before she had found out the rest.
Of course, now the only reason Lex Luthor's opinion mattered to her was the fact that she needed to continue to date him. Ever since the incident in November when Miranda had exposed the entire newsroom to her pheromone-laced perfume and Lois had discovered Luthor's connection to it, she had been dating him irregularly. She had made a number of unexpected discoveries during that highly embarrassing episode, one of them the fact that her partner was one of the few true gentlemen that she had ever encountered, and nowhere near the dunce that she had tried to think that he must be, with his country-boy background. She hadn't really believed it, at least underneath, but it had been much easier to tell herself that he wasn't worth her time than to become consciously aware that she actually was attracted to him. The pheromone incident had made that a lot harder to ignore as well. The fact was that Clark Kent was a very likeable, kind and charming man who was a lot smarter than she had ever been willing to admit. And he was a darned good journalist, too. The trouble was, it made her much more conscious of him as a man these days, and that she would have been happy to ignore. She couldn't pretend that it wasn't true anymore — at least to herself — but she could still pretend it was so to everyone else, including Clark. She treated him as a good friend and partner and tried not to let the attraction she felt make a difference. In the meantime, she and Clark investigated Lex Luthor.
And of course, there was Superman. She still had a terrific crush on him, of course, but her meetings with him were usually short and unsatisfactory, as if he were making some kind of effort to keep them that way. Sort of like Pete and Wally, who avoided her as much as was possible ever since the pheromone episode. Still, she had asked Clark point blank if she had made a fool of herself in front of Superman, and he had said that Superman had been much too busy trying to keep people from getting into trouble for that to have happened. Besides, he wouldn't have blamed her for something she couldn't help any more than Clark would have. That had been somewhat reassuring, but hadn't entirely laid her fears to rest. It would have to do, though, because she couldn't quite work up the nerve to ask him, herself.
"Are you going to get in this elevator or are you going to just stare at the wall all day, Lois?" a voice inquired, breaking into her ruminations. Eduardo Friaz was holding the elevator door and looking at her with raised eyebrows. She stepped into the car with a muttered word of thanks and he released the door, which closed at once. The elevator began to rise. To her amazement it didn't stop on Second this morning.
She definitely had to learn to control this babbling thing, she told herself, trying to look casual and unselfconscious. Eduardo was watching her, and at last he ventured to ask a question. "Is anything wrong, Lois? You look a little preoccupied."
She shook her head. "No, not really. I just have a lot to think about."
"Thanks for asking," she added. The door opened at that point and he let her precede him out of the car.
Clark wasn't here yet, she saw. Most of the staff had arrived, but Clark often seemed to arrive late or just under the wire. Perry never appeared to mind however, because he more than held up his end of the Lane and Kent team.
Jimmy Olsen was already there, as usual. She had noticed some time ago that he somehow always managed to be an early bird and usually stayed late, just like Perry. The kid was probably practicing to be an editor someday, she thought whimsically. He was dumping coffee into the machine as she watched. She had to give credit where credit was due. Jimmy knew how to brew reasonably good coffee, at least within the limits available. The people in the coffee pool always seemed to buy the cheapest coffee they could find in bulk, and as a result, if it hadn't been for Clark, Lois wouldn't have had a decent cup of coffee in months, if ever. Her own style was to buy instant for her use at home because it was difficult to ruin. On the other hand, it was never very good, either. Clark always made excellent coffee at his place and it had become her habit, on those occasions when she dropped by in the morning, to help herself to a cup just, as she had explained to her partner, to get started on the right foot. He never seemed to mind in any case.
She was babbling in her head again. Maybe getting out of the habit wasn't going to be as easy as she thought.
A few minutes later she had booted up her computer and readied her workstation for the day. The coffee should be almost ready, she thought, and suiting the action to the word, headed over toward the machine with her mug.
The television was on, as usual, tuned to LNN for the morning report. Lois was pouring herself a cup of the freshly brewed coffee when the voice of the woman who gave the morning weather report was cut off abruptly by the voice of an announcer.
"We interrupt this program for an LNN special news bulletin."
Lois turned, the mug in her hand, as another voice, this one male, cut across the newsroom. "We are now getting a report that a 797 is making its last approach before attempting a landing at the Paris International Airport."
"Chief!" Jimmy shouted.
"What's happening?" Perry hurried across the Pit.
"There's an airliner coming down in France. You gotta look at this!"
"It's on the TV!"
"Oh, okay. Get me Kaplan in the Paris Bureau …"
"I'm reminded of the vigil for Charles Lindbergh not so far from this spot," the speaker on the screen said, "only now it's a giant airliner with both its wing flaps and landing gear inoperative and instead of a lone American pilot there are a hundred and twenty passengers and a crew of ten living this last hour in the cold fear of possible violent death. There are only …" The voice hesitated, "there are only three minutes from touchdown. We have an LNN reporter on the scene. Let's see if we can go and pick up that satellite feed now."
The sound shifted to a third voice, obviously that of the LNN reporter.
"Oh his last circle, the pilot used up all but enough fuel to complete the landing …"
"What's going on?" Clark's voice asked. Lois glanced distractedly over her shoulder to her partner, who had entered the newsroom unobserved.
"We got a serious situation at Orly," Perry's voice said. "Plane's trying to come in without any landing gear."
"I just remembered," Clark said, hastily, "I left my story notes in the car."
"Clark, you don't have a car!" Lois said, struck by the oddness of the remark, even as her gaze returned to the scene on the television screen.
"In the taxi," Clark corrected hastily. Lois was marginally aware of her partner making a hasty retreat toward the elevator. The screen showed the plane, buffeted by rain and wind and illuminated by occasional lightning flashes as it made its approach. Then motion at the bottom of the screen, silhouetted by the lightning flashes, caught her eye.
"Look!" Jimmy exclaimed.
"I don't believe it," Perry's voice said as the LNN reporter's voice cut across the voices of the audience.
"This just in. The famed Man of Steel from Metropolis …"
"It's Superman!" Lois said. "He's there!"
"What's he doing in France?" Jimmy asked.
"In Paris!" Lois added.
"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry exclaimed.
Lois could agree with the sentiment. The relief was overwhelming at the realization that they weren't going to witness a fiery crash after all. The newsroom erupted in cheers as they watched Metropolis's most famous resident perform yet one more spectacular rescue for the whole world to see. But even through all the excitement, she was aware of her partner standing by the steps, his eyes fixed on the television and a look of stunned disbelief on his face.
That look stayed with her the rest of the day. Clark was unusually quiet when they went to attend a press conference by Lex Luthor concerning the project being undertaken in one of the older business sections of the city by Luthor Redevelopment Corporation, and she couldn't quite understand why. The plane had come in safely with no serious injuries. Superman had saved the day again, and although she was curious to know what had taken him to Paris, she couldn't see any problem with the event. Something, however, wasn't right. She knew Clark well enough for that. Why had he looked so surprised, even shocked, at the sight of Superman doing what he had done? It was, literally, as if he couldn't believe his eyes. There was some mystery here, she thought, one that he didn't want to talk to her about. Her first instinct was to try to hammer him into telling her but for reasons she couldn't explain even to herself she didn't. Clark could be stubborn at times and she had the feeling that this might be one of those times. Maybe if she kept quiet and watched him closely, she could figure it out for herself.
"Want a ride home?" she asked, as they walked out of the building later that evening. She wasn't surprised at his answer. Something was definitely up.
"Not today. I think I'll walk."
"Clark …" She hesitated and then plunged ahead. "I don't know what's wrong, but I'd like to help."
He smiled just slightly. "Thanks, Lois. Believe me, when I know enough to ask you for help, I'll ask. See you tomorrow, partner." And with that cryptic comment, he turned and began to stroll down the sidewalk in the direction of his apartment, which was at least three miles away. Lois stared after him, more puzzled than ever.
After a moment she started toward her Jeep, parked across the street, but before she had gone three steps she stopped, turned and went back into the building. It was time to do a little detective work.
Jimmy was still at his desk when she arrived in the newsroom a couple of minutes later. He glanced up as she crossed the Pit to his desk. "Forget something?"
"No. Jimmy, I need to know how many appearances Superman has made in the last couple of days, and where they were. Can you find out for me?"
"Huh? Sure," Jimmy said. "Any particular reason?"
"I don't know. Yet, anyway. How long will it take for you to dig that up for me?"
"Not long." Jimmy turned back to his computer and began to type. "Do you have any idea what was up with CK today? He seemed kind of upset."
Lois shrugged. "I noticed, but he's not talking about it, whatever it is."
"Hope it's not anything serious," Jimmy said.
"So do I. Maybe he'll say something to me tomorrow."
In less than five minutes Jimmy handed her a sheet of paper with the information that she had requested. In the last twenty-four hours, Superman had been busy. He had saved the airliner in Paris, of course, righted a sinking ship in Rio, saved a busload of schoolchildren in Surinam and rescued a trio of trapped Alpine climbers in Switzerland. The only recent documented appearance he had made in the United States had been thirty-one hours ago in northwestern Kansas, where he had prevented the crash of a train into a passenger car that was stuck on the train tracks.
Lois read the list over twice before she folded the paper and stuck it into her purse. She wasn't really sure if it meant anything, but she had the feeling that it did. For some reason, that incident this morning had upset Clark. Maybe if she did a little snooping around, she could find out why.
The stiff March wind had softened somewhat from this morning, but it was still strong enough to blow the hats from people's heads as Clark Kent walked slowly toward his apartment. He saw various items cast about by the capricious gusts: a cowboy hat, a scarf, lots of scattered paper and trash and someone's sock, of all things. For a moment he wondered if someone was walking along with one sock and then decided that it had probably come from one of those clotheslines that some of the tenants of apartments used to dry their clothes.
The report from Paris had been in his mind all day. He had witnessed the impossible this morning, and he had absolutely no idea what to do about it. Someone or something that looked very much like him and possessing his unique super powers, from what he had been able to see, had rescued that airliner. The fact that he/it had saved all those lives was a good thing, but he had been staring at a mystery. Who or what was this person, and where did he come from? It had surprised him that Lois had noticed his preoccupation, but on second thought he realized it shouldn't have. Most people seemed to think that Mad Dog Lane didn't pay attention to anyone but herself, and, of course, her story, but he'd known for some time that "most people" were wrong. True, his partner was a very focused individual when it came to her job, but his coworkers had never gotten to know the real Lois, as he flattered himself that he was beginning to do. It was unfortunate that he'd had to turn down her help. Her investigative ability was just what he needed right now.
A short distance from the Planet he ducked into an alley and, seconds later, Superman was scanning the city from a thousand feet. There was no sign of the mystery man, of course, not that he really expected … well, he couldn't say that. He did half- expect that he might see something. Still, whoever or whatever the phenomenon was, he could conceivably be anywhere in the world, and Clark's chances of finding him were pretty small unless he wanted to be found. After several fruitless circles, he headed for his apartment.
Neither the radio nor the television had any further reports on Superman. He listened to the world news and watched the rescue again, then picked up the phone and dialed his parents in Kansas.
The phone rang several times before his mother picked it up.
"Jonathan, it's Clark!" He could hear her shout clearly, and a few seconds later he heard his father pick up the extension.
"Just calling to say hi?" Jonathan Kent's voice was as warm as always when speaking to Clark. The sound of his father's voice had always had the power to reassure the younger Clark that somehow, with all the strange things happening to him, it was still going to be okay. Well, something strange had sure happened today.
"Not exactly, Dad. Did you see that thing on television this morning?"
"Clark, that was so thrilling!" his mother's voice interrupted.
"No Mom, wait; that's not …"
"Yeah, all those people," his father chimed in, enthusiastically. "We are so proud!"
"I have to admit," his mother said, "it was kind of a surprise, seeing you in Paris."
"I wasn't in Paris," Clark said. He discovered that he had begun to pace without realizing it and was standing on the ceiling, head down.
A short silence. "You … well …" Jonathan fumbled. "What do you mean?"
"It wasn't *me*!" His tie had flopped into his face and he brushed it aside, pacing distractedly back and forth.
"What are you … what are you saying?" his mother's voice said.
"Look, it was somebody … something else." The tie flopped into his face again, and he tucked it impatiently into his belt. "I watched it too, Mom. From the newsroom. Believe me, when I saw him, it was like my whole world turned upside down." He crossed the ceiling above his kitchen table and reached down to snatch an apple from the bowl in its center. He took a large bite and chewed vigorously.
"But Clark," he mother faltered, "we saw you. You flew. You were wearing your outfit. Who else could do that?"
"I don't know," he said, "but someone did."
"Now Clark," his father said, "maybe you should make some kind of public statement, get this out in the open; let the world know there's an imposter out there."
"No, Dad." Not until I know what I'm dealing with." He felt the phone slip and caught it as it fell. "I'll talk to you guys soon, okay?" he said.
"All right," Jonathan Kent said. "You be careful, son. If this imposter has your powers and is pretending to be you, he could be dangerous."
"He might not be," Clark said. "What if he's not an enemy?"
"Either way," Martha said, "be a little careful, Clark."
"I will," he said.
After he had hung up he glanced at his watch. It was just past six. It would be after eleven in France, but Superman could make the trip in minutes and all he needed was a quick look …
In another second, he was on his way.
Anyone who knew Lois Lane wouldn't have seen anything unusual in the way she spent her evening. After she locked the apartment door behind her, the first thing she did was to snap on the television set, tune it to a 24-hour news station and head into the bedroom to change into her sloppiest clothes. Tonight she was going to do some serious research but part of it involved watching that rescue again, if she could find it replaying somewhere.
When she came out of the bedroom in a pair of cut-off jeans and a T-shirt, she went into her kitchenette. There were several frozen dinners in her freezer and she selected one at random, her attention only half on what she was doing as she listened to the news report issuing from the living room.
Leaving the dinner cooking, she returned to the living room and booted up her laptop. Maybe there would be something on the Internet about Superman. She typed the word into the search engine and let the computer look, tapping her fingers on the desk.
There was, as usual, the stuff about fan clubs, his various charity appearances, and the newspaper articles about his rescues. Except for the rescues, everything was at least three days old. Superman hadn't been very active in the United States for the past couple of days, even in Metropolis. The incident in Kansas thirty-some hours ago caught her eye and she frowned at the information displayed in the article. The newspaper of origin had been the Smallville Press and Superman had been just outside Smallville when he apparently spotted a car stalled on the railroad tracks. The driver had been a teenage boy named Walter Harris, from Smallville High, the local high school, and was the nephew of the current sheriff, Rachel Harris. Lois's eyebrows rose at the familiar name. What had Superman been doing in the vicinity of Smallville thirty-two hours ago?
Well, he and Clark were friends. Maybe he'd dropped by to visit Clark's parents or something. She would ask Clark tomorrow.
The whiff of smoke from her kitchen reminded her that she had been cooking dinner. A glance in the direction of her kitchenette showed her a haze of smoke hanging in the air and she hurried to the stove to remove the tray of charcoal that had been her meal.
She dumped it summarily into the garbage and started to open the freezer, then stopped. What would Clark do if she dropped by with a pizza? Being Clark, he'd probably invite her in, and then maybe she could ask a few questions in a sort of casual way, and maybe learn something. She reached for the telephone.
Forty-five minutes later, pizza in one hand and a six-pack of soda balanced precariously atop the box, she knocked on her partner's door.
Silence behind the door, except for what sounded like the radio or television. After several minutes, she knocked again, then began to look in the various places where she knew Clark hid his spare key. She found it in the third spot she checked, under a flowerpot with a miniature cactus growing in it.
The apartment was uninhabited when she walked in. The lights were on and the television was going, tuned to the same news station that she had been watching. The kitchen was silent. She could see no sign of food preparation. An apple with two bites out of it sat next to the telephone but the white flesh of the apple was moist, with no sign of the browning that was normally produced by contact with the air, so Lois concluded that it hadn't been there long. Her partner must have just stepped out, she thought. She debated the question of going back to her own place for all of two seconds, then plopped the pizza box down on the coffee table and went to put the soda in his refrigerator. She settled herself on the sofa and after a second's debate, she helped herself to a slice of pizza. She knew that Clark wouldn't mind, and she was hungry.
Clark flew back toward Metropolis, still trying to make sense of what he had discovered in Paris. The 797 had been sitting on the field near a maintenance hangar, and it hadn't been difficult for Superman to avoid the airport guards. He had slipped under the plane and within seconds located what he was looking for. There were handprints in the underside of the big aircraft — handprints that exactly matched his own.
Approaching his apartment, it was fortunate that checking ahead had become an ingrained habit, for Lois was seated on his sofa with her feet on his coffee table, munching a piece of pepperoni pizza and watching the news. He smiled slightly. His partner looked very much at home, and that felt unexpectedly good. Lois had become a lot more comfortable with him since the incident with Miranda's perfume back in November. Even now, worried as he was about the unexplained happening this morning, he was glad she was there.
Quietly, he landed in the alley behind the apartment house and, clutching the bag of croissants that he had been unable to resist purchasing while in France, he hurried around to his front door.
Lois turned her head as he stepped inside. "Where've you been?"
"Out," he said. "Make yourself at home."
"Thanks, I will. I brought pizza and breadsticks. The soda's in the fridge."
He pushed the door shut and turned the lock. "Any specific reason or did you just have a sudden overwhelming urge to have dinner with me?" he asked politely.
"I burned my frozen dinner," she said. "Besides, I wasn't really that hungry for meatloaf and green beans, anyway."
He grinned slightly and set the bag of croissants next to the pizza box. "Have one. I'll get the soda and glasses."
"Thanks." He heard the rustle of the paper bag as he made his way toward the kitchen. "I've been doing some research," Lois said. "Did you know that the only news of Superman in the United States in the last two days was in Smallville, thirty-three hours ago?"
"Actually, no," Clark said.
"Don't you think that's odd?"
"I don't know," Clark said. "I don't see why." He took two glasses from the cupboard, dropped ice cubes into them and filled them with soda. "Where has he been besides Paris?"
"He rescued three Alpine climbers in Switzerland, saved a school bus in Surinam and a cruise ship in Rio. And, of course, he saved Sheriff Harris's nephew from getting killed by a train in Smallville."
Clark paused in mid-step. He hadn't been to any of those places except for Smallville. The imposter, whoever he was, seemed to be getting around — but, as Lois said, not in the States. Now that was very interesting. Maybe the guy was trying to avoid him. "Now that you mention it, it is a little funny," he said, continuing on into the living room. "On the other hand, maybe Superman's on vacation or something."
"Pretty active vacation," Lois said. She bit into the croissant and paused. "This is fantastic! Where did you get these?"
"Um … a little French bakery I know. Mind if I have a slice of pizza?"
"Thanks. Here's your soda. Where did you find out this stuff about Superman?"
"Jimmy did a search for me. I guess you could be right. Metropolis doesn't own him, but I thought he said he considered Metropolis his home."
"That's what he said in the interview," Clark said, cautiously. "Still, the guy can fly anywhere in the world in seconds, so I guess it isn't surprising that he'd turn up in France to save that airliner."
"I suppose not." Lois finished the croissant and reached for another slice of pizza. She glanced sideways at him. "Is everything all right with your parents, Clark?"
"Sure. Why wouldn't it be?"
"I just wondered."
The news report shifted just then to pictures of the plane's rescue again and then to an airline official commenting on the event. "France Trans Atlantic Airlines wishes to extend their thanks to Superman for preventing what would have been a major tragedy," he said. "The Man of Steel didn't wait for our thanks; no doubt he had other lives to save elsewhere, but the airline wishes him to know that he has our eternal gratitude and the gratitude of every passenger …"
"Probably off to Rio to save the cruise ship," Lois said. "I guess I can't really complain. Speaking unselfishly, Superman should belong to the world, but I thought Metropolis was special to him."
"I think it probably is," Clark said. "But you know if he hears about something like that airliner, he's going to go try to help."
"Yeah." She took a bite of pizza and chewed vigorously. "Still, haven't there been any emergencies in the city in the last couple of days?"
"Probably," Clark said. "We've got a pretty good police force, though. Superman can't do everything. You said that yourself."
"I did, didn't I," she said, somewhat thickly through the pizza. "I guess he has to let the police earn their salary."
"I'm sure that if some kind of big emergency turns up, he'll be there."
"I guess so." She cast a sideways glance at him. "You're sure *you're* okay?"
"I'm okay, Lois."
"It's just that you've looked kind of upset all day," she explained. "I was a little worried."
He was unexpectedly touched. Say what you might about Mad Dog Lane; she cared about her friends.
"Would you like to watch a movie?" he suggested. "I rented a tape of Lethal Weapon for this weekend, but we could watch it now."
"Okay," she said quickly, and he thought she seemed a little embarrassed at her unaccustomed display of concern.
"I'll get it," he said. "Have another croissant."
Two-and-a-half hours later, Superman followed her as she drove back to her apartment, flying six hundred feet above her so that neither she nor any chance passerby would notice that Superman seemed to be paying any unusual amount of attention to Lois Lane, but even as he guarded his partner's safety he was thinking hard. Lois was the best investigative reporter at the Daily Planet, even better than he was, and without the advantage of his super- human abilities. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea if Superman dropped by and asked for her help. If anyone could figure out what was going on, it would be Lois Lane.
Lois shut the door behind her and had fastened the first lock when she heard the soft tapping on the window. Unless there was a sparrow or something trying to get in, there was only one thing that could be. Her heart leaped and began to beat faster at the thought. Superman hadn't come around at all since the pheromone episode back in November, and her meetings with him since had been short and unsatisfactory. She had begun to wonder seriously if he was subtly trying to avoid her.
Sure enough though, when she turned quickly, she could dimly see the famous figure in red and blue outlined against the pale glow of Metropolis's night skyline. She crossed the room at once to open the window, and Superman stepped through.
"Superman! I didn't expect to see you!"
She thought he looked faintly worried. "Have I come at a bad time?"
"No, of course not," she hastened to assure him. "It's just that I haven't seen you much lately and I was starting to wonder if you were avoiding me."
He shook his head. "No, of course not. I've just been busy. I'm a little ashamed to say though, that the reason that I came by tonight was to ask for your help."
He nodded and slid the window closed behind him. "Can we sit down? I have a problem and the only person that I could think of who might be able to help me was you."
"Sure." She gestured to the sofa, wondering peripherally if Superman would think it was as uncomfortable as Clark always said. But Superman was invulnerable. Wouldn't that make a difference? "How can I help?"
"I'm not sure if you can," he said, "but since you're the best investigative reporter I know, I hoped you'd have some ideas."
She was the best investigative reporter he knew? She tried not to let her pleasure at the compliment show on her face. The early gushing that she had done over Superman wasn't something of which she was particularly proud, but it felt good to know that her hero thought that way about her. "Well, why don't you tell me what it is and we'll go from there?" she inquired.
He took a seat on the couch, frowning a little and she sat beside him. "I'll try to explain," he said. "It's kind of strange, but …" He hesitated for a second. "I imagine you've seen the news story that was on LNN this morning," he said. "…The one about the 797 that nearly crashed."
She nodded. "I watched it from the newsroom. That was wonderful, how you saved all those lives."
His scowl deepened. "Yeah. The trouble was, Lois, that I didn't."
"I didn't save the plane. I was nowhere near Paris when that happened."
She was conscious of complete bewilderment. "But we saw you there. All of us in the newsroom did."
"I know. *I* saw me there, too. Only I wasn't there. I was in Metropolis. Someone or something else that looked a lot like me saved that plane. That wasn't the only thing, either. He saved a cruise ship in Rio, rescued some mountain climbers, and saved a school bus in Surinam. I don't know who or what he is, but he wears my clothes and has my powers, judging from what I saw this morning."
Lois stared at him while her brain slowly processed that information. Superman hadn't made those rescues. Someone or something else who was apparently masquerading as him had performed the feats.
"Oh wow," she said, faintly. "I can see why you're worried."
He nodded. "Exactly. I don't know who or what he is, where he came from, why he's wearing my suit or how he could possibly have my powers, but everybody else thinks he's me. I've been worrying about it all day and I finally decided that I needed help from someone whom I can trust. You're the one person I could think of who best qualifies."
"Is it possible that there's another person like you here on Earth?" The fact that he trusted her was flattering, of course, but now her curiosity was aroused. "I mean, you came here; I guess it's possible that someone else could have come from Krypton, too, couldn't they?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so. When I gave you that interview not long after I arrived, I didn't tell you all of it, mostly because I didn't know all of it, either."
"What do you mean?"
He hesitated again. "This can't go any farther," he said, finally. "It has to be completely off the record. Do you understand?"
She nodded. "Anything you tell me in confidence stays that way, Superman. You have to know that."
There was a faint smile on his lips. "I appreciate that. If this information got out, there are some people who might figure out things about me that mustn't be known. You see, Lois, I've been on Earth a long time. A lot longer than I've let anybody think. Do you remember the globe that Jack stole from Clark's apartment?"
Her heart jumped. "Sure."
"I didn't tell you what it was, and I probably should have, but I've been afraid to let anyone know anything about me that wasn't necessary. Someone else — and I don't know who he is — does know, however, and it's probably just as well that someone I trust does too. Besides, you need to know to help figure out what's going on now. That globe told me about my history. Why I was sent to Earth. Before that …" He hesitated.
"You didn't know?"
"Why?" she blurted. "Was it some kind of amnesia or something? Do people from your planet even get amnesia? I mean, you can't be hurt, and I don't think you get sick, at least from Earth germs, do you? So how can …"
Superman had the same expression on his face that Clark got when she launched into one of her monologues. With difficulty, she cut herself short. "Sorry."
The faint smile on his lips widened slightly. "That's all right. It's one of the unique things about you. No, it wasn't amnesia. You see …" He hesitated and took a deep breath. She waited, holding her own breath. Superman was *nervous*.
"Go on," she said at last, when the silence had stretched to several seconds.
He took a deep breath and then a second one. "I came to Earth as a baby, nearly twenty-eight years ago. I don't remember my parents or anything about my home world. The globe was the navigation device for my ship, and my father left me a message in it."
"That's right. In it, he told me why he and my mother sent me off into space, alone. They sent me to Earth on purpose, because the people here look like me and I could survive here. You see, Krypton was going to explode — *did* explode. As far as I know, I'm the only survivor."
She was silent while she absorbed that. The man sitting beside her and asking for her help, was the last of his kind. And someone — probably whoever took the globe and had it in that room that Superman had found beneath the Metropolis Museum — had found out these things. That wasn't good.
Superman was silent, waiting for her reply. What must it be like, she wondered irrelevantly — to know that there was no one else like you anywhere? To be completely alone, even with millions of people around you. It was almost frightening to think of such a thing.
But maybe that wasn't true. Maybe this mystery person was another Kryptonian like him. "Is it possible that some other family from Krypton sent their baby here, too?" she ventured. "Could you tell if he looks exactly like you, or just sort of?"
"The television picture wasn't good enough for me to tell for sure," he said, "but from what I could see he looks a lot like me. I went over to France a while ago and checked the plane, too. His handprints were in the underbelly. They match mine."
Lois frowned, all her investigative instincts aroused now. "I'll be glad to help you figure this out, Superman, but do you mind if I have Jimmy help me, as long as I don't tell him any of this?"
"Of course not."
"And I don't know how I'm going to do this and not tell Clark some of it," she pursued. "How much do you want him to know, if anything? I'll keep it secret from him if you want, but you can trust him too, you know."
"Tell him whatever you want," Superman said. There was a slightly surprised expression on his face. "I trust him as much as I do you. In fact, it was Clark who recommended that I ask you for help, if I needed the best investigator around. I'd pretty much already decided that, though."
She was really finding out a lot of things tonight — about Superman, and about her partner, too, she thought. It was good to know that he really respected her abilities as a journalist. That was as flattering to know as the fact that Superman apparently thought she was the best as well. Her ego was getting a major boost this evening.
"All right," she said. "I'll start on it first thing in the morning. If there's anything I can find that won't give anything away about you, I can have that, can't I?"
He grinned. She hadn't often seen Superman actually grin, but his smile almost made her knees weak. "Sure. It wouldn't be fair to make you keep everything secret. Just leave anything personal about me out of it. Deal?" He extended a hand.
"Deal!" she said, taking the hand almost automatically.
He gripped her hand firmly. "Thank you, Lois. I feel a lot better already."
"Don't be too confident until we see what I can do," she cautioned. "The first thing is to get as much information available about the rescue this morning, and the others, too, that we can. Any interviews, pictures, everything. I'll get Jimmy to work on that tomorrow morning. Maybe by then the imposter will have shown up again somewhere. The more we can collect on him, the better chance we have of finding something useful. You're sure you didn't have a brother or anything that came here at the same time you did, aren't you?"
"Pretty sure, yeah," he said. "I think my father would have said something in the message if I'd had a brother. Besides, the pictures in the message only showed one baby."
"You *saw* pictures of your parents, and you too?"
"I even saw the planet explode," he said, a trifle grimly. "The globe showed me everything. It was kind of a mental projection. Krypton's science must have been way beyond ours, here on Earth. Well," he added, "it had to have been, or I'd never have gotten here. And whoever had the globe for a time saw all of that too."
"That's not good at all," Lois said. "I wish you'd told me last month when you found that art cache. I'd have worked harder to find out who put all that stuff under the museum, but it didn't seem all that important at the time. The globe is somewhere safe now, isn't it?"
"Yes. I keep it in my … fortress."
In his fortress? So Superman lived somewhere in some kind of fortress when he wasn't patrolling the skies of Metropolis? "That's good. You don't want to risk someone else getting hold of it again. After we figure out what's going on with this imposter, I think I'm going to do some more investigation of that art thing. Maybe Clark and I can find out who was behind it."
"That would be useful," Superman said. "I'd like to know who had the globe for that time — who it is I have to watch out for."
"You know," Lois said, "it would take a lot of money and power to have a room like that built and to keep it secret. Who in Metropolis has the kind of resources to manage it, and who would want to?"
She broke off and her eyes met Superman's. He was staring at her in astonishment. "I don't know why I didn't see it before," he said softly. "Who else could it be? Lois, you are absolutely brilliant."
"Lex," she whispered.
"Of course we can't be sure," he added after a second, "but it's a good place to start looking."
"It sure is," she said. "Thanks, Superman, you've probably given me a lead on my next big story. But first," she added, "we'll deal with the imposter. The other thing will wait."
He nodded. "I appreciate that."
"Don't thank me too much," she said. "I expect to get a good story out of it."
"I hope you do," he said honestly. "I'd better go now, though, and thanks again."
She stood at the window a long time after he had disappeared into the night, thinking about what he had told her. Who could have imagined what his real history had been? It seemed there was a lot more to Superman than she had guessed.
It wasn't until she was climbing into bed that it occurred to her that there were a number of things that he hadn't told her. How had the baby Superman survived after he had arrived on Earth? He had been a helpless infant.
"My mother made it for me." Superman had spoken those words to Amy Platt on the day that he had saved the colonist vehicle from a fiery end. Lois had almost forgotten that. His mother, whoever she was, had made his uniform, and he certainly hadn't meant his Kryptonian mother. Just who was Superman's mother, here on Earth? And where had he been for all the years since he had arrived until he decided to let people know that he existed? He certainly hadn't been hiding in some distant fortress.
The conclusion was obvious. Superman had been raised as an ordinary native of Earth. And if, as they had surmised, Lex Luthor had been the man in possession of the globe for those critical days, then he knew it too.
Clark entered his apartment, as he usually did when dressed in his Superman outfit, through the bedroom window, and flopped down on his bed without even bothering to change out of the colorful costume. Well, it was done. Lois was going to help him figure out what was going on, and who and what the imposter was. The trouble was, it had been necessary to tell her more than he wanted, and Lois, being who she was, wouldn't just let things lie. She was going to start thinking, and would certainly come to some conclusions that he didn't want her to come to. She was bound to realize that Superman was actually someone else who lived an everyday life as a normal man. He just hoped that she didn't add things up too close to home.
She probably wouldn't, he comforted himself. Nobody would even consider that a mild-mannered reporter could also be a superhero. He hoped that Lois wasn't the exception to the rule.
For an instant he wondered why he hoped that. Didn't he know her well enough by now to realize that she wouldn't give away his secrets for that Pulitzer? Well sure, but …
Still there was the fear that if she knew … well, who knew what could happen. He couldn't let the fact that he wanted her as a good deal more than just a friend make a difference in his caution. He couldn't risk his emotions distorting his judgement. Could he?
He wouldn't mention this to his mother and father, he decided. If he did, Mom would just go off onto one of her psychological analyses about him wanting Lois to know and not being able to admit it to himself or some sort of psychobabble like that, and Dad would get upset about his being careless. It was done, and now the less said about it the better.
Lois was leafing through a stack of papers when Clark walked onto the lobby of the Daily Planet the next morning. She glanced up from the European edition of the Daily Planet that she had been perusing and beckoned to him. "Clark, we need to talk."
"About what?" he asked.
"We've got something important to do, and if we're lucky it'll turn into a headline — if we can just figure out what's going on."
He grinned. "That sounds promising."
She lowered her voice. "It's about Superman, Clark. He wants us to do something for him. Come on." She stuffed the paper untidily back into its holder and grabbed his elbow.
He raised his eyebrows. "Okay. You don't need to drag me along …"
He broke off as Perry White sauntered through the revolving doors into the lobby. Clark found that now his eyebrows had climbed almost to his hairline and, with a supreme effort, managed to assume a noncommittal expression.
Lois glanced at their boss and did a double take. "Um … Morning, Chief."
The Editor of the Daily Planet was wearing an obviously expensive coat and a pair of stylish sunglasses, and carrying a suit in it's plastic bag over one shoulder. He lifted a hand to the visor of his Daily Planet baseball cap in a jaunty gesture to them as he passed. Both Lois and Clark stared after him for a brief moment of startled silence before Lois seemed to shake herself. "Uh … yeah. Let's go upstairs and talk where we can't be overheard."
"Sure." They followed Perry toward the elevator.
The ride to the newsroom was accomplished in near-silence. Clark glanced once at his boss and then fell to studying the control panel of the elevator. Lois gazed as if mesmerized at their editor's clothing.
"Um … anything special going on today?" she asked.
"No." Perry began to whistle almost inaudibly. Clark cast a surreptitious glance at his choice of wardrobe and returned to studying the elevator buttons. It was that or stare, which would have been rude.
"Oh," Lois said. Silence, while the elevator creaked slowly upwards. At last it slid to a stop and the doors opened. Lois and Clark stood back to let him exit first. As he stepped out into the newsroom, Lois glanced at Clark. He shrugged slightly and gestured her out ahead of him.
Lois made a direct line for one of the conference rooms and Clark trailed after her. Jimmy Olsen, headed in the direction of the editor's office, nearly ran into them. In his scramble to avoid them, he dropped a number of what appeared to be brochures on the floor.
"Oops! Sorry." Clark bent to pick them up. "My fault, Jim." He glanced at the top brochure as he handed them to Jimmy, than took a second, closer look. "Whitewater rafting? Planning a vacation in Colorado?"
"Uh … no. They're for Mr. White."
"Perry?" Lois snatched the item out of his hand and examined it. "He can barely tread water. What's he planning something like this for?"
Jimmy shrugged. "You got me. It's not exactly his style."
"Not exactly," Lois agreed. She glanced once more at the brochures. "Death Valley scenic hikes? Is he kidding?"
"I don't know," Jimmy said. "He said he was going to surprise the Mrs. with a different sort of vacation this year."
"Huh," Lois said. She shrugged. "Well, if a husband of mine took me on a Death Valley hike, I'd come back alone. Look Jim, when you get finished giving him this stuff, I need you to do some research for me."
"Sure, but I'd better get this to Mr. White before he starts yelling." He took the brochure back and continued on after his boss.
Lois looked after him for a few seconds and finally shook her head. "Well, whatever's going on, we'll probably find out about it after while. In the meantime, we need to talk."
"I'm at your service," Clark said. "Why all the mystery, though?"
Lois didn't answer until the door of the conference room closed behind them. She turned the lock. "I didn't want anybody to hear because Superman told me this in confidence. He said we could print anything that didn't give away anything about his background, though. He came to see me last night after I left your place. Remember the plane in France yesterday morning? Superman says he didn't save it. It was somebody else who looked like him. He wants us to try to find out what's going on."
Clark listened while she detailed the highlights of his visit to her the night before. When she had finished he said, "So what do you plan to do?"
"First," she said, "I'm going to have Jimmy find out as much about that rescue and the others as he can. I want pictures, if there are any, and statements from the people he rescued. Then, depending on what we find out, we can decide what to do next."
"Okay," Clark agreed. "Sounds like a good first step."
Lois nodded briskly. "If we get a story out of this, though, we can't mention anything about what Superman told me, Clark — about his history. The last thing he needs is for people to figure out that he lives here as an ordinary guy. If they did, people will start hunting for him, and we don't want something like that to happen."
"Of course not," Clark said. "How do you figure that, though?" He waited, holding his breath.
"Well, it's obvious. If he came to Earth as a baby, he couldn't have survived by himself. Someone had to have taken care of him, raised him, taught him the things that everybody knows. It never occurred to me before how familiar with human customs he always seemed to be, but he really is. He had to have been raised as a human; he must have gone to school somewhere as a regular kid. He probably lives somewhere in the city, holds down an ordinary job, although that's kind of hard to imagine, pays taxes, takes out the garbage — just like everybody else. When I first met him, he told Amy Platt that his mother made his costume, so he has adoptive parents somewhere. That's another thing. If the media ever found out about them, they'd have reporters camped out on their doorstep for the rest of their lives, and every crime lord in the world would know that to keep Superman off his back all he'd need to do would be to threaten Superman's parents — so anyway, none of that stuff is going to get out. Got it, Kent?"
"Got it," he said. "You don't need to worry about me, Lois. Superman is my friend too, remember."
"I guess so, even though I never see you talking to him. Anyway, we don't talk about this to anybody else. Not even Perry or Jimmy. It's strictly off the record."
"Absolutely." Clark could feel the knot of tension in his gut unwinding as she spoke. His faith in Lois had been justified. Nobody was going to learn about Superman's secrets from her.
But then, Lois was loyal to her friends. He'd known it all the time underneath or he'd never have told her the things he had, but he still wasn't going to say anything about this to his parents. Much as he loved both of them, just this once he didn't feel like either being cautioned by his worried father or psychoanalyzed by his mother over the whole thing. His feelings for his partner were something private and personal and he didn't want to talk about them to anyone, especially when there was still this mystery man out there apparently pretending to be him. And for once, the fact that his reasoning didn't make a bit of sense didn't bother him at all. Maybe Lois was rubbing off on him more than he realized.
Nearly an hour later, Clark sat at his desk leafing through half a dozen photographs that Jimmy had produced in a minimum of time. With a quick glance around to be certain that no one was watching, he lifted his glasses and zoomed in on the pictures taken of the airplane rescue the previous morning. The image was slightly blurry, but it was unquestionably his own face he was looking at. Slowly he sat back, pushing his glasses back into place.
"Anything?" Lois's voice asked behind him.
He laid the photos down. "From what I can tell, it's Superman. At least, it sure looks like him. If he says it isn't, then there's a double out there somewhere."
"Then there's a double out there," Lois said flatly. "I've been reading the reports. From everything people said, he can do everything Superman can do — except that he isn't Superman. Where could he have come from?"
Clark shook his head. "That's a good question. If he doesn't have a brother, and apparently he doesn't, then who is this guy? Someone who's had plastic surgery or something? I didn't know there were *any* plastic surgeons that were that good."
"I don't see how it could be," Lois said. "In the first place, he's got Superman's powers and he sure didn't get those with plastic surgery."
"Good point," Clark admitted. "So where do we go from here?"
"I've got Jimmy looking for more reports of appearances by Superman outside the United States," Lois said. "Whoever this guy is, I'd say he's trying to stay away from Superman. Why?"
"He had to know he'd be on the news so he can't expect Superman not to have heard about him, but he doesn't want to meet him," Lois pursued. "That has to mean something."
"Probably," Clark agreed. "Or maybe he doesn't want to meet him just yet for some reason."
"That's possible," Lois said. "Anyway, it sure *looks* like he's avoiding Superman. What's he got to hide?"
Jimmy stood up abruptly from his small desk and crossed the room to hand Lois several sheets of printer paper. "Your hunch was right," he said. "There have been a bunch more reports — none of them as spectacular as the one yesterday. Superman's been all over the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, South and Central America, Africa, Australia and the South Seas. Lots of little rescues and a couple of big ones where there weren't any cameras around. Take a look."
"Jimmy, this isn't Superman," Lois said. "He told me so."
"Well, it's somebody who looks just like him then," Jimmy said, clearly skeptical. "Could it be somebody else from Krypton, like maybe a relative or something? Or maybe the people from his planet all look alike."
"Superman says it isn't," Lois said, firmly. "I believe him. There's got to be another explanation."
"Maybe," Jimmy said. "I've got another question though."
"Why is Mr. White wearing a hairpiece?"
The switch in subject was so abrupt that it took her brain several seconds to shift gears. "A … hairpiece?"
"Yeah. I makes him look like Dan Rather, only younger."
Lois couldn't quite visualize that. "Who knows. Maybe his wife talked him into it."
"I dunno," Jimmy said. "I've got a weird feeling about this."
The information Jimmy had found for her wasn't particularly enlightening, Lois thought some time later. It was mostly a list of places and events with a very few quotes from witnesses. It appeared that the imposter had flown in, performed his deeds and flown out again without ever once talking to even the local press. One little blurb had a witness's description of Superman as he flew off. "He was doing barrel-rolls," the man was quoted as saying. "It seemed as if he was showing off for us or something. He must have been very happy that he'd saved our lives."
Barrel rolls? Lois stared at the quote. That certainly wasn't the Superman she knew, so there was one difference between the two. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Clark get to his feet and hurry toward the stairs, one hand on the knot of his tie. She was about to call after him when he ducked through the door to the stairs and she sighed. Clark did that a lot, and it was certainly irritating that just when she wanted to talk to him, he took off. Oh well, he'd probably be back soon enough, and with a story. That was the way it frequently happened.
True to form, Clark was back an hour later. As he slid into his chair and started to type, she crossed the space between their desks. "Where'd you go? I wanted to talk to you."
"I had to meet a source," he said. "Then I ran into a jewelry store heist on the way back. Superman was there."
"You're sure it was Superman?"
He nodded. "He wanted to know if you'd made any progress but I said we were still collecting information. I'm just going to write this up. It'll only take a couple of minutes."
"Okay." Lois went back to her desk, picked up her coffee mug and poured the cold coffee into the flowerpot on one corner of her desk. The withered plant that resided in it would have to be replaced, she noted absently. What was it about her plants, anyway? They somehow never seemed to last long. Maybe it was the lighting in here or something.
Dismissing the thought, she crossed to the coffeepot and refilled the mug. By the time she had returned, Clark was reading what he had written. As she watched, he made one small correction and saved his story.
"Done already?" she asked.
"Yeah. I'd already written it in my head on the way back. It was pretty straightforward." He transmitted the article to their boss and leaned back in the chair, stretching. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
"The reports that Jimmy dug up. Here's what a witness said about one of his rescues." She handed him the sheet of paper.
Clark read it and she saw his brows snap together. "Barrel- rolls?"
"Not exactly something Superman does after a rescue, is it?"
"Well," Clark said, "I suppose he might want to do something like that if he was just enjoying himself, but after a rescue? Still, maybe since things went right …"
"I wonder if Superman ever flies just for fun," Lois remarked, keeping her voice low. She didn't want anyone to overhear of course, even though they probably wouldn't know what she was talking about, but it was an unnecessary risk. The idea of Superman enjoying what he did hadn't crossed her mind before. She'd only seen him in the line of duty, or when he'd given her lifts now and then. Did he even have a sense of humor? Well, she thought he did. If he had been raised as a human, by human parents, he most likely thought like a human, too. And if he thought like a human, then he had a sense of humor — it was very probable, however, that on the job he didn't think it was a good idea to be joking around. In his ordinary-man identity, it might be different. He probably joked and laughed like any other man, although that was hard to visualize. Maybe she'd even walked past him on the street and hadn't recognized him. The thought of seeing Superman in the clothing of an ordinary man and not knowing him didn't seem likely, however. The man was just so … so much *more*. Surely she would recognize him if she came face to face with him, even dressed in a suit and tie, wouldn't she?
She caught herself on the thought. She was babbling in her head again. 'Watch it, Lois,' she told herself, 'you're losing it.' On the other hand, Clark had told her that he liked it when she babbled and Superman had said last night that he didn't mind either, so maybe it wasn't so bad.
Clark raised an eyebrow. "I imagine he enjoys himself when he flies," he remarked, his voice as low as hers had been. "If what we think is true, it must have been a terrific thrill when he realized he could fly under his own power. It would be for anyone."
"You're right there," Lois agreed. "I wonder when he started flying, though. I've never seen any reports of anyone flying under their own power until Superman came along. If he'd been able to do it when he was a kid, you'd think he would have been caught on camera or something."
"You'd think so," Clark said.
"I'll ask him next time I see him," Lois said. "If he'll tell me. I got the feeling he didn't want anyone to know too much about him. I guess I understand why. If the media found out who he was, he'd never have a moment's peace." She turned her attention back to Jimmy's information. "Evidently our imposter doesn't worry about his image, though."
"Looks that way," Clark said. His thick brows were drawn together as he scanned the paper again and for an instant as Lois watched him, the strange impression that had been present after the pheromone incident, the feeling that she was missing something, was back. "This guy is getting around."
"I guess finding him is going to be a matter of luck," she said.
"I suppose if Superman hears about him appearing at some rescue he could fly over to him, but how many emergencies like the jetliner are going to happen in the space of a few days?" Clark said.
"Probably not many," Lois said. "Maybe he'll decide to show up in Metropolis before long."
"Maybe," Clark said. "I'm not sure that's a good thing, either."
"Maybe he's friendly," Lois said.
"Let's hope so," Clark said. "I'd hate for someone with Superman's powers to be his enemy."
"So would I," Lois said, quietly.
The rest of the day yielded few further results. They went out to attend the mayor's press conference, and Lois found herself wondering if the news elsewhere in the city could possibly be as dull as the mayor's blockbuster announcement of a redevelopment project in the rundown business district on Daisy Street. Somehow, the news that the deteriorating shops were to be torn down and replaced with a strip mall failed to wring any enthusiasm from her soul. At her request, near quitting time Jimmy ran another search for super activity around the world. But other than a one-line report that he had broken up a jewel heist at Kimball's Jewelry in Metropolis, there was no further mention of Superman anywhere. Frustrated, Lois and Clark left the Daily Planet and headed for home.
The wind of that morning had subsided to a brisk breeze with a cold bite to it — not a surprising circumstance since it was only the middle of March. Lois pulled her collar tight and glanced at her partner. His coat was buttoned up and he had thrust his hands into his pockets but he didn't appear particularly uncomfortable. Being a Kansas farm kid had probably hardened him to the cold, she thought a little enviously.
"Doing anything this evening?" she asked as they made their way toward Centennial Park, which cut several blocks off the walk to her apartment.
"Not much," he admitted. "I thought I'd watch the ball game that I had my VCR record this afternoon and then go to bed."
Lois nodded. "I don't know why, but I'm tired," she said. "Maybe it's from trying so hard to find something worth reporting on today."
He gave a faint chuckle. "I know what you mean," he agreed. "It was a slow news day. Oh well, maybe tomorrow we'll have better luck."
"And maybe there'll be more on the imposter tomorrow," she added. "He seems to have disappeared. Somehow, I doubt he's vanished for good, so maybe he's ready for his next move."
"You're probably right," Clark said. "What I'd like to know is what all that flurry of activity was about anyway. The guy must have rescued forty cats from trees everywhere from Scotland to Australia."
"Not to mention the Dachshund that managed to get on someone's roof," Lois said. "Explain that one to me."
"Sounds like whatever happened to put him there was more exciting than the rescue," Clark said.
She laughed. "That's for sure. You know, I wonder if maybe he was practicing."
"Well, sure. We've never seen this guy before and if there was someone else around with Superman's powers wouldn't he have shown up before this? You'd think Superman would have known if someone was going around impersonating him, don't you think?"
"Unless he kept a pretty low profile," Clark agreed. "Yeah, probably."
"Well, this is really wild, but what if he's new at this? What if he needed to practice to learn how to act like Superman? I mean," she pursued, "Superman was a little awkward with the media and so forth when he first appeared. I didn't realize it at first — I guess," she admitted a little sheepishly, "that I was pretty dazzled by him. Who wouldn't be, the way he saved my life and all, when I first met him? But, thinking back, he was kind of shy and almost tongue-tied the first few times he actually talked to the media, and at that thing when they gave him the key to the city. Don't you remember?"
Clark nodded. "Kind of. Yeah."
"Well, this guy hasn't talked to the media at all, but he's been doing all kinds of stuff. I think he's practicing to act like Superman."
"You could be right," Clark said, "but we still don't know where he came from or how he got Superman's powers."
"Or why he looks like Superman," Lois agreed. "Judging by the pictures, he could be Superman's twin brother, but Superman doesn't have a twin brother as far as he knows. Is it possible there's someone else behind this?"
"Sure," Clark said, "I guess anything's possible, but who could be behind a second Superman? And how?"
Lois stuffed her hands in her coat pockets. "Let's forget the 'how' for the moment and concentrate on the 'who'. Who could be behind it? Who could have the kind of resources to work such an incredible thing as this?"
"Well …" Clark was frowning at her admittedly tenuous logic. "Okay, since we don't have any idea how it could happen," he ventured, "if it's some kind of scheme or other, who would benefit from the appearance of a second Superman?"
"I'd say Lex would make a good candidate for the resources and the motivation," Lois said, "only that doesn't make sense. A second Superman would make things harder for him to conduct some of his 'business' than it is now. Of course, if it's a hoax, that might not be a problem."
"Well, he has the resources, I guess, if he wanted to pull off some kind of hoax," Clark agreed. "And if the guy's working for Luthor, he wouldn't get in the way of his 'business'. Still, how on Earth could he have managed that jumbo jet thing, if that's all it is?"
"You're back to wondering how again," Lois reminded him. "Shelve the 'how', Clark. We know this imposter's avoided Superman since his appearance. There has to be a reason. Maybe that's why. Maybe the guy is an actor or something, made up to look like Superman."
"I guess it's a possibility," Clark agreed, "and if it's a gigantic hoax, I can see Luthor being behind it, though we don't know why he'd do such a thing."
"That's not important," she said. "*If* he's in back of it, we know that it can't be for Superman's good. Of course there are plenty of other candidates, but he's the most obvious. He's Superman's enemy and wants to get rid of him. I think we should do a little checking into him and what he's been doing lately. If he's working some kind of scam, there have to be some traces, no matter how carefully he's covered them up. I'll get Jimmy researching some of his recent finances tomorrow while you and I start digging in other places."
Cruising above the city on the chilly evening breeze, Clark scanned and listened for anything below him that might require his intervention. Outside of a couple of random muggings and one purse snatching however, the city was relatively quiet. He had dealt with the crimes and the criminals and was on his last circuit before heading back to his apartment.
Usually his late evening patrol, when the last of the sunlight had faded from the sky and he was coasting through the air above the city lights, was a time when he could unwind somewhat from the events of the day. Flying had always been one of his most enjoyable pastimes and helped to wash away worry or stress, but tonight he wasn't able to relax completely. Something was prodding at him, so faintly that he almost attributed it to his imagination; but he found himself glancing frequently over his shoulder as he flew, scanning the air around him closely, looking for … what? His neck prickled very faintly, as if something more instinctive than anything related to conscious thought was aware of what his thinking mind was not. It was almost as if he was being watched, but he couldn't identify the source.
Probably it was nothing more than nerves, he thought. This mystery man, who was pretending to be him, was getting to him more than he realized. Still, the theory that his partner had suggested on their walk home was a good starting point. The imposter hadn't come out of nowhere after all, and if Lex Luthor really was behind such an outlandish hoax, it wouldn't be the first time he had come up with a scheme to harm Superman. There had been the tests when he first came to Metropolis, and, although he couldn't prove it, he'd be willing to bet his last nickel that the heat wave last November, caused by Luthor's nuclear power plant, had been another one. Something like the marine environment of the bay wouldn't matter to Luthor, if it got in the way of his plans.
And of course, he reminded himself, Luthor wasn't the only candidate out there. He was simply the one who came to mind first.
His neck was prickling more strongly; he could almost feel someone watching him.
It was just his imagination, he told himself. It wasn't as if he was psychic or anything. Besides, he was a thousand feet above the city. Who could possibly be watching him? Of *course* it was imagination.
"Hey you!" The voice was oddly familiar and coming from not far away. He spun in mid-air.
The figure in blue was "standing" a hundred yards away, his feet resting on nothing. Clark stared at him, unaware that his mouth was hanging open.
It wasn't like looking in a mirror at all. In a reflection, all the features are reversed. This man was exactly as he had seen himself in photographs, down to the smallest detail. Even the tiny birthmark on his upper lip was on the correct side. The dark brown, faintly Asian eyes watched him with a sparkle of unholy glee and the man's mobile lips were twisted in a mocking smile. As Clark stared, he assumed the classic Superman stance with his legs apart and arms folded across his chest. The expression on his face became a caricature of the stern expression that Clark assumed when speaking to the public, then disintegrated as he broke into gleeful laughter.
Clark managed to gather his scattered wits enough to propel himself forward, toward his double. The other man waited, assuming a pose as if he were leaning against a nonexistent wall. When they were only a few feet apart Clark stopped and the imposter stood upright with a leisurely motion and held his arms out from his sides in pantomime, with a look of wide-eyed innocence that was ruined by his twitching lips. He danced right and left and pirouetted to show himself from all sides, unperturbed by the fact that they were both several hundred feet in the air, then he began to drop slowly toward the pavement. Clark followed.
They touched down together. Clark hadn't taken his eyes from the other man's face. The imposter's eyes were full of wicked laughter and he had the fleeting impression of a child delighting in a game of his own invention. The other Superman danced a few steps, turning once again so that Clark could see him from all angles.
With an effort, Clark at last regained control of his vocal cords. "Who *are* you?" he asked.
The other man's lips turned down in a childish pout and his heavy eyebrows drew together. "I don't want to talk," he announced. "You're my enemy."
"What makes you say that?" Clark asked.
The other Superman folded his arms. "I am the most powerful man in the universe. You have outlived your usefulness."
"Who told you all these things?" Clark asked.
"My father," the other man said.
"Who's your father?"
A secretive smile. "I promised never to tell."
"I'm not your enemy," Clark said. "I want to be your friend. I want to know more about you, where you come from."
"I was born in the womb," the imposter said "My father took me out."
That was certainly an odd way to phrase it. "Okay. How old are you?"
"As old as you." A mischievous grin. "Catch me if you can!" He was in the air as he spoke, flashing away in the blink of an eye. Clark gave chase but it became obvious at once that his double had all of his speed and agility. The man led him through the city, around buildings, through tunnels, always just ahead. He glanced back once, gave a mocking laugh and poured on the power. Clark could have followed, but it was obvious that this could go on as long as the imposter wanted to play. He looked after the dark form as his doppelganger vanished into the sky. For several minutes he remained staring at the last place he had seen his double. Finally he shook his head and turned to fly slowly back toward Clark Kent's apartment, but his mind was busy.
One thing he had learned from the short meeting. The other Superman was not a hoax or a figment of anyone's imagination. He was real and solid and possessed not only Clark's powers but his appearance as well, down to the last detail. His personality, however …
Clark frowned, slowly replaying the meeting in his head. If he hadn't seen a man, he could have believed that he was speaking to a mischievous four-year-old boy. The double had seemed strangely childlike, for all his powers. Now that was very interesting.
Halfway home, he heard the bell in the Metropolis clock tower chime ten. He hesitated and then changed course. Maybe Lois would still be awake. He needed to talk to his partner.
Lois picked up the remote and turned off the television in disgust. Somehow, "The Ivory Tower" just wasn't able to keep her attention tonight. The trials and tribulations of Gwendolyn, Vincent and Justin, her would-be lover, seemed forced and superficial.
She was tired, she thought, and obsessing over this "double' business. They had made a little progress, she told herself, and had developed a few possibilities to investigate in the morning, but how was she going to be sure of anything if the false Superman didn't show himself in Metropolis?
What if it was a gigantic hoax? It was tempting to believe that, but after all, she knew that a man could fly, after flying with Superman. She'd told Clark to forget the 'how' for the moment and concentrate on the 'who', and she knew it was probably the right approach to take, but the sheer impossibility of it nagged at her. How could anyone be like Superman, especially after what he'd told her? Superman was the only surviving member of his species, at least as far as he knew; the last Kryptonian, and he had been sent here by his parents so that he could survive among people who looked like him. Had his parents known that he would have such incredible powers when they had picked Earth as his destination? If the people of Krypton had known what they could be on Earth, wouldn't they have shown up here before now? Superman hadn't said; he might not know.
What must it be like, she wondered again, to know that you were the last of your kind — that once you were gone, everything that your world had produced would be erased as if it had never been?
She shivered. It had to be an incredibly lonely feeling, and yet Superman never seemed particularly unhappy. Of course, she didn't see him that often. Did he have friends? Well, sure — she was his friend, of course, and he had his adoptive family, wherever they were. She wondered if he might have human sisters and brothers, if he had a girlfriend, or a best friend; someone who knew who he was and to whom he could talk about the things that he did. Did he have someone to listen when a rescue went wrong? There weren't many of them, but she had seen him once pulling people out of a burning building, and the grim expression on his face had stayed with her for days.
Maybe he did, but he had come to her for help and it was frustrating that she and Clark had made so little progress today. Okay, many investigations took weeks, but this one looked as if they didn't have weeks to spare. If Lex Luthor was really behind this, what kind of scheme could he have in mind? Could it be a plan to try to discredit Superman? It was possible. After Clark had told her about Lex, and after she had seen his attempt to kill Clark while he still had the pheromone to blame, she had thought back to some of the more puzzling things that had happened in the last few months, things that had seemed like unfortunate accidents at the time. The business of the super boxers when Allie had been killed — Lex had been surprisingly prominent during that time. He'd been a sponsor of that event and was a major source of the funding for her father's work with artificial limbs, she remembered. He had seemed genuinely horrified at what she and Clark had uncovered, but now she wondered. There had been the heat wave last November, too … could any of that have been attempts by Lex to attack Superman? Looking back with the twenty-twenty vision of hindsight, it seemed more than likely that they had. So this super-double that had suddenly appeared could very well be another try, which meant that she and Clark had to get to the bottom of it as fast as they could.
The tapping on the window in the other room alerted her at once. She scrambled out of bed, grabbed her robe and hurried out of the bedroom.
Superman was standing at the window again, tapping urgently at the pane. She opened it quickly and he dropped into the room.
"I hope I didn't wake you," he said.
"Of course not … but couldn't you tell?" she asked in surprise. "I mean, couldn't you check?"
"Lois, I wouldn't peek into your apartment," he said, in a slightly shocked tone. "If you were changing or something, it would be a little embarrassing and it sure wouldn't show much respect for you."
"I didn't mean …" She found herself blushing at the thought. "Anyway, is something wrong or did you just come by to hear about our progress?"
"I had to talk to you, right away," he said. "I just met him."
"'Him'?" There was no question in her mind which 'him' he was referring to. "You mean the imposter? He's here in Metropolis? He's real?"
"As real as I am," he said. "He was standing right in front of me. He looks exactly like me, and he has my powers. At least," he amended, "he can certainly fly, and he's as fast as I am, and after the plane rescue yesterday I think we can assume that he's as strong, so he probably has the rest of them too. I wanted to let you know what happened. It was a little strange."
She couldn't help smiling a little. "I'd say it would be a lot strange," she said. "Sit down and we can talk. Would you like some coffee or tea?"
"Tea will be fine," he said, "but you don't need to …"
"That's okay. I have tea bags, and I'll zap up some hot water in the microwave," she said, surprised at her lack of nervousness in his presence. It was as if his coming to her for help had changed their relationship somewhat — put him more on a level with her. If he needed help then he wasn't all-powerful, no matter how incredible the things were that he could do.
He smiled. "Just bring the cups in here and I'll take care of it," he suggested. "It's faster. I want you to hear this. It was … interesting."
"Superman, you seem to have a gift for understatement," she said, surprising herself. "I'll get the cups."
Clark waited while his partner hurried into the kitchenette and returned a moment later with two mugs filled with water. "Could you set coasters on the coffee table?" she asked. "They're in the drawer …"
"In the side table. I see them." He was already opening the drawer to retrieve the coasters she always used on the evenings when they were working on a story here.
"Thanks." She set them down and put the tea bags that had been clutched in one hand on the table. "Is Orange Pekoe all right? I know Clark likes Oolong, and more exotic ones like Lapsang Souchong or something like that, but they didn't have any at the supermarket."
"It's fine," he told her with a smile. "If you like good tea, remind me to bring you a sample from China some time."
"China?" Lois said. "Don't tell me you're a rabid tea drinker like Clark?"
He laughed. "Sometimes," he said. "I like a good cup of tea." He took the mugs and shot darts of heat vision into them until the water bubbled. "Here you go. Watch it; it's hot."
Lois took the mug and set it quickly onto one of the coasters. "Wow! That's incredible!"
Clark put the tea bags into the mugs. "Tea aside, I wanted to tell you what happened a little while ago."
"You actually located the imposter?"
"Actually he found me," Clark said. "It was strange, though. He looks like me, down to the last detail, but he doesn't act like me at all. In fact …" He paused, trying to decide how to explain. "I was on the last leg of my patrol, and I had the oddest feeling that I was being watched …"
With careful attention to detail, he described what had happened during the meeting. Lois sat still, her eyes fixed on his face while he spoke, obviously taking in every word.
"… So then, I decided the best thing I could do was to come here and tell you what had happened," he concluded. He swigged from the mug, finishing off the last of the tea.
Lois gave a slightly embarrassed smile. "I'm glad you have that kind of confidence in me," she said. "You're right; that was weird. The guy looks exactly like you and has your powers, but sounds and acts like a little kid. How can that be?"
"I don't have any idea," Clark said. He set the mug down on a coaster. "It's impossible on the face of it."
"So was that business about your super powers heating up Metropolis, and the pheromone thing, and the cyborg boxers — until we figured out what was really going on," Lois said. "All of those incidents had one thing in common."
"Lex Luthor," Clark said.
She nodded. "Lex Luthor. I did some research after I finally listened to Clark, you know. Lex funded that scientist who blamed your powers for the heat wave. That makes two ways that he was tied to the thing. It wasn't just his nuclear plant that had a leak; it also involved someone who owed his research grant to Lex's approval. And of course, Lex was one of the sponsors, as well as one of the sources of funding, for 'The Ultimate Street Fight' — besides financing my father's work. I think both of those were deliberate attacks on you, and that he wasn't just an innocent bystander."
"He funded the Mentamide 5 experiments, too," Clark said, before he thought. "I suspected … and did a little checking of my own."
Lois's eyes widened, then narrowed thoughtfully. "I guess I'm not really surprised. I think it's pretty likely that he *was* the one who had your globe, too. That means he's figured out that you were raised as an ordinary human."
Clark nodded soberly. Since he and Lois had discussed this earlier at the Planet, he wasn't surprised. "Probably."
"There was a bus in Metropolis a few days before I met you for the first time," Lois said suddenly. "It nearly crashed into a bunch of people crossing the street in front of the Daily Planet, and there was a handprint in the front. A woman said some guy stopped it, but nobody paid any attention to her. They figured she was a wacko. That was you, wasn't it?"
There was no point in denying it. "Yes."
"A lot of people wondered about that after you appeared," Lois said, "But nobody was sure. I wondered too, you know, but I figured it couldn't be. But you were here, then. And Lex probably knows. That means he's trying to figure out who you are."
Clark kept his expression bland. Lois had worked almost everything out from the information he'd given her last night, he thought. No wonder she was the best investigative journalist in Metropolis.
She sipped her tea and set the mug down. "I wish you'd told me about him, Superman. Why didn't you?"
Clark shrugged uncomfortably. He had never spoken to her about Lex Luthor in his Superman identity, even after he had told her as Clark. Until this incident, he had kept their meetings deliberately short. If Lois was beginning to notice Clark Kent as more than just a friend, as the effects of the pheromone had suggested, he hadn't wanted to undermine himself in his other identity. "I didn't have any physical proof," he said, "just the things I saw and heard — and a lot of coincidences. I didn't have any reason to think you'd believe me if you wouldn't believe Clark."
She looked down. "I … tend to jump to conclusions sometimes," she said. "I thought he was … well … passing judgement on my taste in men. I should have known Clark would never do that any more than you would."
"I'm sure he wouldn't," Clark said, a little uncomfortably.
"Anyway," Lois said, reverting hastily to the previous subject, "when something that looks impossible happens now, my first suspect is Lex. If anybody could come up with some way to create a double of you, it would be him."
"How, though?" he asked. "Even Luthor has his limits. I've been trying to imagine actors, plastic surgery, robotic limbs … none of it makes sense."
"I know. But somebody is behind this and he's at the head of my suspect list. I don't believe for a second that this is all some kind of coincidence. Clark and I will get on it first thing in the morning."
"Thanks, Lois. I knew I could count on you." Clark got to his feet, glancing at the clock. "I guess I'd better go."
"Would you like some more tea?"
He shook his head. "Thanks, no. Good night."
When Superman had gone, Lois mechanically closed the window and picked up the mugs to return them to the kitchen, but her mind was barely on what she was doing. Was it her imagination, or had Superman seemed uncomfortable when she brought up the question of why he hadn't told her about Lex? Surely he knew that if he'd tried to tell her the truth about Lex Luthor she wouldn't have jumped down his throat the way she had Clark.
And why was that? She asked herself the question as she climbed into bed and switched off the table lamp. Why wouldn't she have snapped at him if he'd tried to do what Clark had? Because he was a super hero and Clark was only a very human man who was a good friend — a friend who cared a lot about her, she acknowledged privately. She'd known even back then that he was strongly attracted to her, which was what made it so easy to blame his attitude on jealousy.
And maybe there was some jealousy there, she thought. But Clark wouldn't say the things he'd said about someone who was really a decent guy. He might dislike a rival, but he wouldn't accuse him of being a criminal. That just wasn't in his nature.
She sighed, staring up into the darkness of her bedroom. Why did she always have to attack first, go for the throat no matter whose feelings she shredded? Clark didn't deserve that kind of treatment and she knew it but she'd done it anyway. He'd shut up and they hadn't spoken to each other for two days except for work-related business.
And maybe Superman thought she would have treated him the same way. She had to admit that he might have reason. Mad Dog Lane chewed men up and spit them out on a daily basis. Everybody knew that.
But she'd made up her mind after the pheromone thing that she would treat Clark better, and she had, hadn't she? At least she'd tried to some of the time, except when her instincts got in the way. When they did, he usually was the one that got yelled at, she acknowledged a little guiltily, but he didn't let her walk on him, either. Sometimes though, she wondered why he seemed to want to be her partner still. Most men would have lost patience with her behavior long since and walked away. But then, Clark was kind of an exceptional guy. In many ways he was a lot like Superman — in a normal human way, of course.
She punched her pillow and tried to knead it into a comfortable shape. It sure seemed full of lumps tonight. Why was it that when Superman had come to her for help and she had a chance to do something for him, feelings of guilt about the way she treated Clark had to intrude?
Maybe it was because Superman was Clark's friend too, and he seemed to have heard about the argument. Would Clark have told Superman about it? Maybe. On the other hand, those two days of not speaking hadn't exactly been a secret. She had heard the whispers in the newsroom and some of the rumors floating around hadn't been all that complimentary to her — which of course had made her angrier. She'd half-expected Clark to walk away then, but he hadn't. He'd simply out-waited her.
And he had turned out to be right after all. Sometimes she thought that for all her journalistic acumen, she wasn't a very good judge of men when it came to her personal life.
Well, if she was going to be any good on the job tomorrow she needed to shelve this subject and get some sleep. She would just make a point of being extra-nice to Clark tomorrow, she decided. She was going to have to work on the promise she'd made to herself. Clark didn't know about it, of course, but she did and if she was honest with herself, she hadn't really been all that good about keeping it. That was something she had to change.
Twenty minutes later she was still awake and her mattress had developed a whole herd of lumps. She was going to have to replace this thing, she thought. Maybe it just needed to be turned, though. You had to turn mattresses regularly or something, didn't you? Why didn't they give you a set of directions or a schedule or something when you bought a new mattress? Then you would know when it ought to be turned and it wouldn't get lumpy. Probably a lot of the citizens of Metropolis were sleep-deprived because they didn't know when to turn their mattresses. And how about pillows? If mattresses needed to be turned, should she turn her pillow? The darned thing was lumpier than the mattress.
Well, if she was going to get any sleep tonight, the mattress was going to have to be turned, that was all there was to it. Without further debate, Lois crawled out from under the blankets and pulled the bedclothes off the bed. This shouldn't be too hard.
Clark stripped off his Superman outfit slowly for once, tossed the famous uniform into his laundry hamper and stepped into the shower. It had been a frustrating day, culminating with meeting the imposter and then the conversation with Lois. That short conversation had left him feeling vaguely unsettled. His partner might be getting over some of her Superman-worship, which was a good thing, but the fact was that as Superman he could have told her about Lex Luthor and he hadn't. He'd wanted her to believe Clark because he was Clark, not Superman because he was a flashy, larger-than-life super hero.
But he should have told her, he acknowledged. Lois's safety was more important than his ego, and if he hadn't been so jealous of both Lex Luthor and of Lois's dazzled infatuation with Superman he'd have seen it before. He was going to have to drop this irrational jealousy of his alter ego and be more mindful of Lois's welfare. Besides, when the day came that he was ready to tell her his secret, he didn't want her to be so furious with him that she wouldn't listen to a thing he said.
He stopped abruptly in the act of drying his hair. Tell her his secret? Did he really want to do that?
After a moment he resumed the business of drying off at normal human speed. The question was one that he should have asked before. Yes, he did want to tell her his secret … eventually. She was the only person in the world that he wanted to tell, and yet conversely the idea scared him silly. Still, if he ever managed to win her love, he would have to tell her the truth if their relationship was to have a hope of succeeding. It was time that he started being a little more mindful of his behavior where it concerned Lois. She had to come before ego, hurt feelings, jealousy, and a host of other concerns.
That decided, he pulled on his sleeping shorts and climbed into bed.
Perhaps an hour later the ringing of the phone awakened him. Half-asleep, he reached for the receiver, fumbled it, knocked it to the floor, picked it up and pushed the talk button. "H'lo?"
"Oh, Clark, did I wake you up?" Lois's voice was definitely shaking and he shot straight up in bed, instantly wide-awake.
"What's the matter?"
"Oh Clark! I'm sorry — I didn't think you'd be asleep yet! I'm trying to turn my mattress over and it flopped over and knocked my lamp on the floor and broke it, and I stepped on a piece of it and cut my foot, and knocked over my water glass and spilled water all over the mattress — and I still haven't got it fixed!"
Lois was definitely in a full-fledged babble and she sounded as if she were on the verge of tears. "Hold on, Lois. Calm down. Go take care of your foot. I'll be there in ten minutes to help you, okay?"
"Oh Clark, I shouldn't have called you. It's past midnight, but my foot is bleeding all over the rug and I think I've got a piece of glass in it, and I even broke my alarm clock! This is …"
"Lois." He put a little of the tone in his voice that he used as Superman to elicit cooperation from upset people. "Take a deep breath. Go stop your foot from bleeding and I'll be right there. Go on, now."
"Okay." He could hear her take a breath. "Thanks, Clark."
"No problem." He hung up and crossed instantly to his dresser, grabbing for the first articles of clothing that came to hand, a pair of worn jeans and a tank top. A moment later he was zipping through the night air to his partner's apartment.
She might be in her night gear but he wasn't likely to catch her in the nude, he assured himself, and he was concerned about her. A quick peek with his x-ray vision showed her wearing a pair of striped pajamas, sitting on the edge of the tub, holding her foot under the stream of water from the faucet. Her bedroom looked as if it had been in the middle of a riot and the amount of blood soaking her rug nearly made him blanch. In an instant, he was at her apartment door and rapping urgently on the wood.
"Just a minute!" Lois's voice sounded somewhat calmer now. There was a thump and a shrill gasp from his partner, then he heard something strike the bathroom tiles and the sound of breakage. A quick peek with his x-ray vision showed him that the tall, fluted container that had held her scented bubble bath was now in several pieces in the middle of a puddle of thick liquid spattered across the bathroom floor. Lois was limping toward the door, leaving red blotches on the rug. He waited, trying to stay calm while she undid the locks and pulled the door open.
Her face was paler than usual and streaked with drying tears. He stepped quickly into the room, taking her arm. "Are you all right, Lois?"
The composed expression on her face disintegrated. "Oh Clark! I've made such a mess of it!"
He kicked the door shut, turned the door lock and scooped her up almost in one motion. "Let me look at that cut. I'll take care of the rest in a minute."
"It's not that bad," she protested.
He ignored the protest and set her on the sofa. "Maybe, but just let me look at it, okay?"
"Okay," she said with uncharacteristic meekness.
He knelt on the rug, lifting her foot to examine the half-inch cut. It was still bleeding, but when he lowered his glasses to check it with his special vision, he saw that she was right. It wasn't deep but it was still oozing somewhat, and there was a small piece of glass still imbedded in it.
"I think I see a sliver of glass," he said. "Do you have a first aid kit?"
She shook her head. "No. There are some Band-Aids and alcohol in the medicine cabinet."
"Hmm. Do you have a straight pin?"
Again she shook her head. "I think there's a safety pin in the drawer of my night stand."
"Okay. Why don't you stay here and I'll get what I need," he told her.
A few minutes later, with his improvised first aid equipment, he had cleaned the cut, removed the glass, poured alcohol over it and carefully covered it with a Band-Aid. The apparent gallons of blood on the rug next to her bed had turned out to be a mixture of blood and the spilled water, he had discovered much to his relief, when he had gone to retrieve the safety pin.
"There," he said, smoothing down the bandage. ""Does that feel better?"
She nodded. "I'm sorry, Clark. I shouldn't have gotten so upset, but everything was going wrong. I couldn't even sleep in my bed and …"
"Tell you what," he interrupted, getting to his feet, "you sit still and take care of that foot and I'll fix the mattress for you, okay? I used to help Mom turn the mattresses every spring when I was a kid."
She nodded, and he went into the bedroom. Checking to be certain that she was where he'd left her, he quickly replaced the mattress on the bed, used his heat vision to dry the patch on the mattress where the water had spilled and bundled up the bloodied sheets, working at normal human speed. The linen closet yielded new bedclothes and he quickly and efficiently made the bed. A few minutes later he had located her vacuum and cleaned up the broken glass, checking with his special vision to be certain that he'd found all the pieces, and then, with cold water and a towel, he removed as much of the bloodstains from the rug as was practical.
As he returned the vacuum cleaner to its spot in the closet, he glanced at Lois, not surprised to see that now that the crisis was over she had laid her head down on the arm of her highly uncomfortable couch and was dozing. He shook his head smiling a little. He didn't know anyone else who would decide to turn her mattress at midnight, but that was Lois. At least this way she wouldn't ask questions about how quickly he had managed to repair the damage. Softly, he hurried back to the bathroom and proceeded to clean up the broken container and the spilled bubble bath. The last thing Lois needed was to walk in here in the morning and slip in the spilled soap.
When he was finished, he rinsed the towel and hung it up to dry. It looked like he'd done everything he could, and Lois was sound asleep on the sofa. Quietly, he approached his sleeping partner and gently shook her shoulder. "Lois?" he said softly.
She opened her eyes and pushed herself to a sitting position. "Done already?'
"Mostly," he said. "I think the rest of it can wait until tomorrow. Come on; I'll give you a hand to your room. No funny business; I promise."
"Oh Clark," she said, "you don't have to tell me that."
He gave her a boost to her feet and steadied her as she half- hopped across the room to her bedroom. When he lowered her to a seat on the foot of the bed, she gave a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Clark. You're a life-saver."
"Not a problem," he assured her. "But the next time you decide to turn your mattress in the middle of the night, give me some warning, okay?"
She nodded. "I shouldn't have called you," she said, "but …"
"I hope that you'll call me the next time before it gets to something like this," he said. "Even if it's at two AM. Do you think you can sleep now?"
She gave a small nod, smothering a yawn. "I think so."
"Good. Then I'll see you in the morning."
She nodded again. "Good night, Clark."
Not surprisingly, Lois overslept. She awakened at the sound of a light rap at her door and sat up, confused for a moment that the apartment was filled with sunlight.
The knock came again and realization flooded over her. Her alarm clock was broken and she was late! She sprang out of bed just as someone knocked a third time, and winced as the reason for her call to Clark last night came back in a rush.
"Who is it?" she shouted.
"Clark," her partner's voice said.
"Just a minute!" Lois grabbed for her robe where it lay neatly over the back of a chair. In the light of day, and moderately awake, the extent of the repair that Clark had done to her bedroom was more obvious. Her partner had turned in an outstanding job last night, considering the hour and the equipment available.
Yanking the belt tight, she fumbled with the array of locks, not stopping to wonder how so many had been fastened, since the last thing she recalled was crawling under the covers, leaving Clark to let himself out.
Her partner was leaning against the doorframe, whistling softly and holding a large paper bag in one arm. She could smell a delicious aroma emanating from it.
He straightened up as she pulled the door wider. "Hi. Feeling better this morning?"
A glance at the wall clock told her that she was so hopelessly late to work that a few minutes more wouldn't matter. "Not bad. My foot's a little sore but it feels better than I expected."
"Good. Don't worry about being late. I called Perry and told him we had some things to do out of the office this morning."
"Do we? Or are we just playing hooky?"
He made a face. "I'm never going to hear that phrase again without thinking of Hamm. Can I come in?"
Lois stepped hastily back. "Sure. What's in the bag?"
"Breakfast." He set the bag down on her coffee table. "I visited my favorite French restaurant this morning. I figured that after last night you could use a little pick-me-up. French mushroom and cheese omelettes and breakfast crepes with fruit toppings and all the trimmings. I also brought a thermos of my home-brewed coffee."
"It smells wonderful," Lois said. "Give me ten minutes to change, okay?"
"Sure. If you like I'll set the table while I'm waiting."
"That would be nice," she said. "Be right back.
She limped back into the bedroom, snatched up clothing and made a beeline for the shower. This would have to be fast, but she didn't want to head for work without showering.
It was actually closer to fifteen minutes later when she emerged from the bedroom dressed for work. Clark was waiting patiently, as she had expected, watching the morning news report. He looked around, smiled and switched off the TV. "Ready for breakfast?"
She nodded. "I'm starved. I guess wrestling with mattresses at midnight helped me work up an appetite."
Clark grinned, making room for her on the sofa. "Just for my own curiosity, why did you decide to turn the mattress at that time of night … or shouldn't I ask?"
She could feel her cheeks burning. "The mattress was lumpy and I couldn't sleep. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Did you get some sleep afterwards?" he asked, looking a little concerned. "You seemed sleepy enough when I left."
"Yeah. I don't think I moved all night. It was awfully nice of you to come over and help, though. I know I woke you up."
He shrugged. "That's all right. I'm glad you called me. Now, how about something to eat?"
Lois had been enjoying the scents wafting up from the Styrofoam boxes containing her breakfast. Clark unscrewed the lid of the thermos that held his excellent coffee and poured her a cup while she opened his offering. A light fluffy omelet garnished with a creamy sauce, and a breakfast crepe met her gaze. The aroma of the meal was making her mouth water. She picked up her fork hastily and took a quick bite and Clark grinned.
"Dig in," he said. "Sugar substitute and skim milk for the coffee, right?"
She nodded, her mouth too full to speak. He opened his own breakfast while she savored the first bite and poured himself a cup of coffee, adding four packets of sugar and two of the little cups of half and half.
The food seemed to almost vanish of its own accord. She took the last bite and scooped up the crumbs in the box before she said another word. "Clark, that was delicious! How come you always know all these terrific places to eat that I can never find?"
"I like to try little out of the way places," he said. "I find some really good ones sometimes." He grinned. "Some real stinkers, too."
"Well, you can bring me food from this one any time," Lois said.
"I might just do that," Clark said. "Are you ready to head for the office?"
She got to her feet. "You bet. After that kind of breakfast, I'm ready to take on the imposter. Have you seen Superman since last night?"
"As a matter of fact, I saw him this morning. He told me about meeting the imposter last night. I guess he's not a hoax after all."
"No, but that doesn't mean someone isn't behind his appearance. By someone else, I mean Lex, of course. At least probably." Lois reached to gather up the debris of their meal but Clark was ahead of her. He efficiently stacked the Styrofoam trays together and stuffed them into the paper bag.
"There," he said. "I'll just get rid of this in your trash and we can go. I guess you don't want to walk with a cut foot."
"No," she agreed, "but it only hurts a little. I'm sure it'll be fine by tomorrow."
"Probably." He disposed of the trash and was back to hold her coat for her and to open the door. "What have you got in mind next?"
"Well, if we can't talk to the imposter, we'll have to approach it differently. As a starting point, suppose this guy is an actor with some pretty extreme physical enhancements."
"I don't know if that works," Clark said. "How can we explain the flying?"
"I don't … yet. Like I said, we'll worry about 'how' some of this was done later. I said to Superman last night that when something apparently impossible happens now, Lex is my prime suspect. Maybe Jimmy will have some ideas how to check and see if he's made any unscheduled payments to doctors or scientists lately. Maybe both. If Lex is involved, he might have to expend some of his private funds rather than funds from his company … or companies. So we'll see if he's made any unusually large personal banking transactions lately, maybe any big cash withdrawals …"
"Well," Clark said, "I suppose it's a starting point. On the other hand, with Luthor, a few million might rank in the category of petty cash."
"I'll figure out something. You'll see."
"I'm not arguing," Clark said. "I believe you."
When they arrived at the Planet, Perry was in full rant mode. Clark kept his face straight at his editor's inventive chewing out of the sports editor. He did, however, open his eyes slightly at the sight of the Armani suit and accompanying tie. He'd just about managed to get used to the hairpiece, but obviously something was up. He hurried to his desk, trying not to draw Perry's attention, and was simply glad that their boss seemed to have other things on his mind than the tardiness of his star investigative team.
Little did he know. He had barely taken his seat and begun to boot up his computer for the day's work when Perry, who had vanished into his inner sanctum instants before, burst into the newsroom once more, this time clutching a sheet of fax paper in one hand. "Lois! Clark! Robbery and hostage situation at the Metropolis Merchants' Bank! Shake a leg!"
Lois grabbed the fax. "Let's go, Clark …" She glanced at her boss's attire and did a classic double take. "New suit?"
Perry cleared his throat. "As a matter of fact, yes."
"Special occasion?" Lois asked.
"Not really, no."
"Huh." Lois cast another quick glance over the suit. "You okay?"
"Lois," Perry said.
"Oh. Right. Come on, Clark." She headed for the stairs, limping slightly.
As they descended the elevator, neither said anything, although Clark suspected that they were both thinking the same thing. Fortunately, Lois had found a parking place near the elevator in the Planet's garage, and minutes later they were pulling out of the parking structure, barely avoiding Ralph Stevenson's bright red sports car as it rounded the turn into the entrance to the lot, on two wheels.
"Idiot!" Lois said warmly. "That's the second time he's nearly hit somebody in the four days since he got that thing. If he's going to drive like he's in the Indy 500 it's not going to last long and neither is he."
"The problem is that he doesn't," Clark said.
"Drive like he's in the Indy 500," Clark clarified. "He's not that good."
"I'll say!" Lois fell silent and applied her attention to driving.
The Metropolis Merchants' Bank was only a few blocks away and Lois pulled the Cherokee to a stop at the curb half a block from the crowd that clustered around the establishment, cutting the engine as she pulled the parking brake. Clark opened his door and got out, and wasn't surprised that his partner was already hurrying toward the scene before he finished shutting his door. Lois wasn't likely to let a little detail like a cut foot get in the way of a story.
Several police were still keeping a group of spectators back, but it was apparent that the actual crisis was over. Lois hurried up to the nearest police officer, who was writing on a notepad. Clark trailed behind, discreetly lowering his glasses to assess the situation inside. People were milling around, and several police appeared to be speaking to various individuals, but no one seemed to be hurt.
"Lois Lane, Daily Planet," Lois said. "What happened?"
The cop glanced briefly at her. "Tense standoff until Superman got here. He flew in the top floor window, apprehended the perp and freed the hostages." He jerked a thumb in the direction of the paddy wagon.
Clark schooled his expression to neutrality as he followed the other man's gesture. If 'Superman' was here, he wanted to observe his double without the other man being aware of the fact that he was under observation.
Lois turned quickly and approached the colorful figure that was standing beside several police as they loaded their captive into the paddy wagon. "Superman!"
Her attempt to speak to the apparent Superman was interrupted as the captive jerked free of his captors and made a bolt for freedom. Faster than the eye could follow, the double moved to intercept the fleeing man, lifted him and tossed him casually through the rear doors of the vehicle, twenty feet away. There was a ripple of applause from the spectators but Lois stood as if stunned into immobility and Clark winced at the dull sound of a human body impacting the metal floor inside the official van. A young officer closed and locked the door and hurried around to the cab without a pause. The vehicle moved away.
Clark moved quietly to a spot where he could have an unimpeded view of the proceedings and stood silently observing his double. In the light of day, his resemblance to Clark's other identity was even more astounding. Unobtrusively, Clark lowered his glasses and x-rayed the imposter.
No metal, no artificial enhancements. To all appearances, the other Superman was an organic man, made of flesh and bone and muscle. He could see the double's heart beating, and hear it as well. This was undoubtedly a living being who, as Clark had seen seconds ago, possessed Clark's powers. A close examination of the imposter's face revealed no scars, no signs of any sort of plastic surgery, masks or makeup. Whoever he was, his appearance was natural.
Lois seemed to shake off her paralysis and hurried toward the double. Clark stood still, telling himself that she was in no danger. The imposter hadn't done any harm to anyone, at least so far, but he readied himself to move quickly in case the situation changed without warning.
"Superman?" Lois said.
The other Superman turned toward her, his thick brows raised as he saw her, but there was no sign of recognition in his face. "Yes?"
Lois stopped, glanced once at Clark and back to the double. Clark heard her heartbeat speed up. "It's me … Lois."
The imposter looked her up and down with obvious appreciation, and a knowing smirk twisted his lips. Then he was gone, leaving a clap of sound in his wake. Lois stared after him for a long minute and then turned to look at Clark again.
"Let's get back to the newsroom," she said.
Clark followed her in silence toward the Cherokee.
Lois led the way back to the Jeep, her mind spinning in circles. The Superman to whom she had spoken hadn't recognized her; that much had been obvious. She had met the imposter and she could see what Superman had been trying to tell her last night. The man was a perfect duplicate of Superman, at least superficially, and judging by the demonstration he had put on, he possessed Superman's powers as well.
But the other thing she had seen was almost as mind-boggling.
Clark had been standing a little to one side, silently observing, and she had had a clear view of him as he lowered his glasses, squinting at Superman's double. It was something he often did in the newsroom. Lois had assumed that he had astigmatism, but for obvious reasons she had never seen the gesture when he had been standing near a perfect copy of Superman before.
As the imposter rocketed away, she glanced back at her partner, trying to decide if she was imagining things. Ever since that night in Clark's apartment, when she had been recovering from the effects of Miranda's perfume, she had been struggling to remember something, some event that had escaped her.
It had been the glasses, she remembered suddenly. Wally had broken Clark's glasses and she had reached out to take them. For an instant Clark had frozen and she had been looking at Superman's face. Then he had gone quickly into his room and returned with an older pair of glasses.
She'd been focused on her pounding headache, she recalled, and besides, she had already noticed earlier that night that Clark looked a great deal like Superman. The event simply hadn't really registered except in her subconscious memory. She hadn't realized just how close Clark's resemblance to Superman really was. Until now. They could have been twins.
Only they weren't twins, of course. There was only one of them — one of him. She had realized when Superman had told her his history that he had been raised as an ordinary man, and probably lived and worked somewhere in Metropolis. She hadn't known how close to the truth she was.
Her first impulse to say something to him died almost before it was born. Something didn't make sense here, and for just this once she wasn't going to jump in without checking the water level. He couldn't know what she had suddenly realized. Until she figured out exactly what was going on here, it was probably better to say nothing. But once she did, Clark Kent had better have a good explanation, or he was going to be toast.
"That was the imposter," Lois said, glancing sideways at Clark. "He didn't recognize me. He *smirked* at me. Superman doesn't smirk. He may look like Superman but he sure doesn't *act* like Superman."
"I know," Clark said. "I mean," he added quickly, "it was obvious. The real Superman always treats women with respect; he doesn't leer at them. Besides, he'd never throw anybody like he did that guy. It could have really injured him."
"He'd taken all those bank employees hostage," Lois said. "He could have killed them." She kept her eyes on the road, but the remark wasn't as casual as it sounded.
"True, but no one was in danger anymore," Clark said firmly. "There was no excuse for using excessive force to recapture him. Superman doesn't need to hurt people to catch them. The guy is like a kid — someone that hasn't learned any adult restraint."
Lois bit her lip. That was Superman talking, all right. Why had she never before noticed how similar his ethics were to Clark's? Clark was the gentlest person she knew. Now she knew why. "You know, it's like some of the comic books," she said. "Didn't you ever read comics when you were a kid?"
"Well, then you know how the supposedly adult super-heroes were always jumping to conclusions, losing their tempers and getting into fights with each other for stupid things. Comics are designed to appeal to teenage males. Kids. That's what he acts like."
"Someone who hasn't developed mature judgement," Clark agreed, "but he's an adult, physically. Superman looks like he's in his late twenties and so does this guy."
She nodded, skillfully negotiating the always-crowded streets of Metropolis. All kinds of possibilities were circling in her head, but she had the feeling that the difference between the double's physical appearance and his apparent emotional maturity might hold the key. "What if he's not as old as he looks?"
"What do you mean?" Clark asked.
"I'm not sure. There was something I read recently — some scientist cloned frogs, I think."
"You think this guy is a *clone*?"
She turned the Jeep into the Planet's parking structure. "I'm not thinking anything, yet. It's just one possibility, but I want to check it out."
"I don't think science is quite that advanced," Clark said. "Besides, cloning an intelligent being is a far cry from cloning a frog. I don't think any reputable scientist would consent to something that unethical."
She pulled into the parking space closest to the elevator. "You feel that way and so do I, but if someone were working on it, Lex would be the one who would try it. For Pete's sake; he was going to use Miranda's pheromone on people to somehow influence their behavior to his benefit; we know that. He even tried to kill you and use the pheromone's effects as an excuse. Would you put any kind of unethical behavior past him if he thought he could get some kind of advantage out of it? I wouldn't."
Clark opened his mouth and then closed it again. "You're right. We shouldn't eliminate any possibility, no matter how unlikely."
"I'm glad you agree," Lois said, cutting the engine. "Let's get busy. Superman is counting on us, and besides, I think Metropolis might have more of a problem than we first thought."
Clark didn't say anything, but he was frowning as he followed her toward the elevator. Looking at him with her new knowledge, she could now pick out Superman's features behind the glasses and the different hairstyle. It was interesting, she thought, how he had come to her for help in spite of the fact that he was a very good investigative journalist in his own right. It meant that Clark really did respect her intelligence and her skills as a reporter. It was nice to know that, but the fact that he had managed to pull the wool over her eyes for all these months was a little humiliating all the same. How had she managed to miss the many similarities between her partner and Superman? Now that she knew what to look for, they were plain as day.
Looking back, all of it was so obvious to her now. He hadn't been affected by Miranda's pheromone in spite of being sprayed, and he'd practically told her the truth the other night — and yet somehow she'd completely missed all the clues. Some reporter she was! She'd been completely blind; that was all there was to it, and she couldn't quite understand why.
When the elevator arrived, he let her enter first. She glanced at him again, recalling what he had said a short time ago in the Cherokee. Superman always treated women with respect, and for that matter so did Clark. She had never once seen him show disrespect for any woman, even Cat Grant at her most irritating. Even at the beginning of their acquaintance when he had sent her in search of Superman's spaceship at the Metropolis Sewage Reclamation Facility, he'd let her get herself into the mess through her own obsession with Superman …
She could feel the blood draining from her face at the thought and her gut clenched up. Oh god. She had been wondering why he hadn't told her, his friend and partner, about himself. That was almost certainly the main reason. She had demonstrated for him graphically that she would go to any lengths for a story, even to the point of stealing it from a colleague. From him. He had every reason to be afraid that she would betray his secret for that Pulitzer that she had told him was her goal someday. If she had anyone to blame for his failure to tell her the truth, she could probably blame herself. She had given him a good example of why he shouldn't tell her too much, and now it was coming back to haunt her in spades.
But didn't he know that had been an aberration? That wasn't the real Lois Lane; she'd been temporarily insane or something. That was the only reason she could think of now to explain her completely out-of-bounds behavior at the time. Surely he must know that! He'd never mentioned the incident since that day. Could it be that he was still holding it against her?
"Lois, are you all right? You're white as a sheet." Clark's arm was suddenly around her and his voice in her ear sounded very concerned. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she muttered. "I'm all right."
But it wasn't a matter of holding it against her, she thought. Clark didn't hold grudges. He'd told her that he did trust her the night Superman had asked for her help, and maybe he did … but how far? She had shown him that given enough temptation she would violate her principles, and he had too much to lose — his privacy, his career, the safety of his parents — to take the risk of telling her the truth.
The elevator doors opened and Clark steered her out of the elevator to the nearest chair. "Sit down for a minute," he urged. "What happened? Did you hurt your foot?"
"I'm fine," she repeated. "Really; I'm fine."
"You're sure?" She could see the worry in his face. "For a minute it looked like you were going to pass out."
"No, I just jarred my foot," she said, seizing on the excuse he'd unintentionally given her. "It's okay now."
He still looked worried but seemed to accept her explanation. "Okay. Why don't you sit down at your desk and rest it. You don't want to make it worse."
"Clark, I just bumped it a little." His concern was gratifying and annoying at the same time, but then Superman couldn't be hurt. The prospect was completely foreign to him on a personal level, and probably a little scary. "It's already feeling better."
He still seemed doubtful, but released her shoulders. Still, she noticed that he stayed close to her as they made their way down the ramp onto the newsroom floor, and after she was seated at her desk he snatched up her coffee cup and made a direct line for the coffeepot. While his back was turned toward her she let herself take a deep, if somewhat shaky breath. It seemed that she had some bridges to rebuild. Somehow, she had to show Clark that he didn't have to be afraid that she would expose his secret to anyone for any reason. If she could do that, maybe he would tell her the truth of his own accord.
Clark set the mug on a corner of her desk. "Lois, what's wrong? You look upset. Are you sure you're all right?"
She grabbed the mug and took a sip, stalling until she was certain that she had control of her voice. Clark had fixed it just the way she liked it, of course. He always did. "I'm *fine*, Clark." He didn't look convinced and she groped for some other reason to explain her upset. "Really. It's … personal. I don't want to talk about it right now. I'll be all right, really."
He cast her a dubious look but didn't push the matter any farther. Lois drank her coffee, trying to regain her calm. Wallowing in guilt wasn't the answer. She had to think this through rationally and she didn't have the time right now. There was too much to do. She needed time to come up with some kind of plan but the first change she had to make was to do as she had decided last night before she had made this incredible discovery; she would stop taking him for granted and start treating him better. Besides, now was her chance to find out more about the man as he really was. It should be an interesting investigation she told herself determinedly, trying to put a new perspective on the thing.
But before she got too involved with that, they still had this situation with the imposter to resolve. She had to solve this thing for Clark. It was the least she could do to prove to him that he could rely on her.
"Jimmy!" she shouted.
"Thanks, Inspector. I appreciate it." Clark hung up the phone and glanced at his jotted notes. The perp from the morning's hostage situation had a long string of petty crimes behind him and a couple of felony arrests in the last couple of years, as well. It was a familiar pattern, but it looked as if he had graduated to the big time with today's attempted bank robbery and subsequent attempt to negotiate his way out of it by taking hostages. It would only take a couple of minutes to write this up as a sidebar to Lois's article on the hostage situation itself.
He glanced at Lois, who was studying a sheet of paper that Jimmy had given her minutes before. He was still worried about her, but the upset expression had disappeared from her face to be replaced with a look of intense concentration, and he gave a sigh of relief. It looked as if she was back to normal, but whatever personal problem was bothering her, she obviously wasn't ready to tell him about it.
He bit his lip. His partner was a fascinating person in every way. Of course, he'd been crazy about her since he'd met her, but she'd told him not to fall for her — a useless admonition, since it was already an accomplished fact, but of course she didn't know that. The pheromone episode a few months ago had shown him that she wasn't nearly as indifferent to him as she liked to pretend, so he hadn't given up hope — at least not yet. Of course, she hadn't given up her crush on his alter ego, either, and sometimes he had to fight down the temptation to tell her the truth. If he did, he wouldn't have to compete for her attention. On the other hand, old habits were strong. His father's repeated warnings never to let anyone know what Clark Kent could do were deeply ingrained in him.
Lois, though, was another story altogether. A few months ago he hadn't been as sure, but he and Lois had become much closer friends since Miranda had intruded on their lives, and now he didn't really have any fear that Lois would betray him, at least intentionally. Accidents were known to happen, of course, and the more people who knew, the more likely it was that someone would accidentally spill the beans, but that wasn't really a factor that worried him.
No, trusting Lois wasn't an issue. Far more importantly, when he did tell her the truth she was definitely going to be mad. He still had to figure out how to accomplish that and avoid annihilation by Mad Dog Lane, but before he even considered telling her, he had to know that she wanted him for *him*, not for his powers. As long as she was dazzled by Superman, it sometimes seemed hopeless that she would ever notice him that way, but every now and then he found cause for optimism — to believe that maybe she wasn't as indifferent to him as she acted. Every time he was tempted to give up, his memories of her behavior when she had been affected by the Revenge would give him reason to hope again.
He had come full circle again, he reflected wryly. That was the way it always happened when he was thinking about Lois. The woman occupied far too much of his thoughts for comfort. Not that he intended to stop thinking about her. It was a much too pleasant, if frustrating, exercise.
Still, if she didn't feel comfortable confiding in him when something was bothering her, then he still had a long way to go. As far back as he could remember, when one of his parents had been upset about something, the first person he or she would go to was the other. Maybe the day would come when that would also be true of Lois and him. At least, he hoped so.
The sound of an unfamiliar male voice speaking his partner's name brought his attention instantly back to the subject of his frustrated musings. A young man in the uniform of a messenger was standing beside her desk, holding out a sealed envelope.
"Yes," Lois said.
He handed her a clipboard. "I need you to sign for this."
"All right." Lois signed, and took the envelope he handed her. He stood in front of her desk, obviously waiting for something. Lois raised her eyebrows questioningly.
"Oh," he said, "I'm supposed to wait for a response."
Clark watched over the rims of his glasses as she tore it open and read it. Her eyebrows climbed and she looked up. "The answer is a definite yes."
The messenger turned and departed. Lois frowned and read the letter a second time, then looked up to meet Clark's eyes. "This is interesting."
"Something I should know about?"
"Probably. Take a look." She held out the paper.
Clark stretched his arm out and took it with the tips of his fingers.
The writing was unfamiliar and oddly awkward but the message was succinct.
Please forgive me for my behavior today. May I see you tonight at nine?
"Superman?" Clark frowned at the paper, not sure what to say. He hadn't sent this letter, but how was he supposed to tell Lois that? Maybe he could make a quick exit and return as Superman.
Lois solved the problem. "Clark, don't you see? Superman didn't send this. He hasn't done anything to apologize to me for. I haven't even seen him today. It has to be the imposter."
He let out his breath. "If you knew that, why did you say yes?"
She looked at him as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing. "This is my chance to talk to him, of course. Maybe I can find out something useful about him."
"It could be dangerous," he protested feebly.
"I doubt it. He hasn't hurt anyone so far. Much, anyway — and even if it is a *little* dangerous, we can't pass up the chance to learn about this guy."
"But …" He let the objection trail off. What could he say? Lois wouldn't appreciate his attempt to meddle, and would undoubtedly ignore any objections he could pose. It would be better, he decided, to keep an eye on things from a distance, and if it looked like Lois was losing control of the situation, he would intervene.
"You're right," he said.
Lois's eyes widened slightly, as if she had expected him to argue more forcefully, then she seemed to recover and nodded briskly. "I'm glad you agree. I guess I'd better phone in an order to Chen Yung's Chinese Restaurant."
Lois stood back, surveying the table setting with the eye of a stage manager. Everything looked just right for an intimate dinner for two. It was a quarter to nine. The double would be here any minute. She swallowed a little nervously, but a glance in the mirror told her that the nervousness didn't show.
It was obvious that the imposter had somehow discovered her identity a short time after their meeting. That was an interesting circumstance in itself, since she had only given him her first name. It didn't prove anything, but it was consistent with what she and Clark suspected.
Clark had been worried about her, she knew, and maybe he had reason, but he hadn't tried to stop her from doing this. At least, he hadn't tried very hard. She gave a little smile at the thought. Poor Clark. It was funny in a mind-boggling way to realize that she was able to wrap the world's strongest man around her finger as easily as she did Clark. Still, if there was anything that she had learned about her partner in the months since he had come to work for the Daily Planet, it was that he was something of a softy. He definitely had a soft spot for her.
Her smile faded as she thought about the implications of that. Clark was Superman. Even after having had several hours to absorb the information, it still seemed unreal. She had run the gamut of anger and hurt that he hadn't told her, to guilt at her treatment of him and embarrassment for several reasons. By now, she had come to the unpalatable conclusion that the reason for Clark's failure to tell her the truth probably lay with her. She was simply going to have to prove to him that she was worthy of his trust.
Clark was strongly attracted to her. That part had been obvious for months but she had chosen to ignore the fact. The trouble was that she liked Clark. She liked him a lot more than was safe for her peace of mind. Superman, on the other hand, was obviously well beyond the reach of a mere mortal woman. It had seemed safe to love him … only now that was manifestly not true. Her hero was a man like other men in all the important ways. Oh, he still had all the wonderful powers and the ethical code that she admired, but now she knew that he had the flaws as well — and worse, that he was strongly attracted to her. There were times when she suspected that there was a lot more to it even than that. In any case, he was no longer out of reach. Maybe, she thought, that was why she had refused to see the obvious until her nose was forcibly rubbed in it. If she had admitted to herself that the coworker who was her best friend was also the hero she dreamed of, she might have had to make choices that she would rather avoid. A mortal man made mistakes. A mortal man could hurt you terribly if you gave him your heart. She had seen how her father had hurt her mother every day for years. She had been foolish enough to give a man her heart once, and he had betrayed her. Risking that again was something she didn't want to do. And yet …
Behind her there was a gust of air and the sound of booted feet hitting the carpet. She turned.
Superman stood there. He had brought a bouquet of flowers, she saw, and his smile definitely looked nervous. He reminded her suddenly of a puppy that wasn't quite sure if it was going to receive a pat on the head or a kick.
"Hi," he said.
"Hi." Lois smiled warmly at him. "You're early."
"That's okay, isn't it?" He suddenly looked anxious.
"Of course it's okay," she said and found herself rewarded with a brilliant smile.
"I brought these for you." The boy — she found herself unable to think of him any other way — held out the bouquet, and she took it.
"They're beautiful," she said. "Why don't you sit down while I put them in a vase?"
Placing the flowers in water took only a minute and when she turned she found that he had seated himself on the sofa. For a crazy instant, she wondered if he would find it as uncomfortable as Clark always claimed he did. "Would you like something to drink?" she asked.
"Well … I don't need to, but —"
"Nobody needs champagne. That's what makes life interesting," Lois said, wondering briefly if she should actually be giving an alcoholic beverage to him, but she reassured herself that he was physically an adult, and besides, he had Superman's powers. She'd seen the Man of Steel swallow a bomb, for heaven's sake. A little champagne certainly wasn't going to affect him. She picked up the bottle that she had uncorked moments earlier and filled the two goblets sitting on the table.
He was behind her when she turned. She smiled, handing him the glass, and lifted her own. "Cheers."
He drank the beverage in three swallows, never removing his gaze from her. "You look really hot," he said.
"Thank you." Definitely not as old as he looked, she decided. That was not a phrase Superman would use — or any grown man of her acquaintance who was trying to impress a woman. She set down her glass. "I saw you on television two days ago, when you saved the passenger plane."
"I saved a ship, too."
"I know you did," she said. "I was impressed. Those people owe you their lives."
"It was fun," he said. His gaze strayed to her cleavage in the low-cut gown, and she wished momentarily that she had chosen a dress that showed a little less of her, then his eyes snapped back to her face. "Could we sit on the couch?"
He sat beside her, sneaking another glance at her cleavage, and then scooted closer until his leg touched hers. With apparent casualness, he slipped an arm along the back of the sofa, and an instant later it was around her shoulders. "Do you like me?" he asked.
"Well, sure," she said, reminding herself that she was playing a part. "I did wonder about what happened this afternoon, though. You could have hurt that man when you threw him."
"I haven't done anything wrong," he said quickly. "Might is right." His arm tightened ever so slightly. "How about a kiss?"
"Wha …" The word was barely out of her mouth when she found herself being enthusiastically, if inexpertly, kissed. Instinctively, she tried to push him away, but his arms were like steel. She doubted that he even noticed her resistance.
"Am I interrupting?" For an instant she thought she was imagining Clark's voice, but the arms that held her suddenly slackened, and she pulled free.
"Clark!" she gasped, jumping to her feet.
He crossed the distance between them in two steps and put an arm around her shoulders.
The Superman double also rose, and Lois saw that he was glaring at the intruder. The two were less than three feet apart and there was an expression on Clark's face that nearly caused her heart to turn over. It wasn't the look of a chivalrous man who was simply protecting a woman from an overly aggressive date. It was possessive, challenging — a man defending his own against an outsider.
"Go away," her guest commanded. "We don't want you here!"
"I think Lois wants me to stay," Clark said.
"Yes! I do!" Lois said.
The imposter's hand shot out toward Clark so fast that she saw only a blur, and as quickly, Clark caught his wrist. She saw the boy's eyes widen, and he wrenched his arm away. They stared at each other for a long second while Lois held her breath.
"I have to go now," the other Superman said, suddenly. Unexpectedly, his face broke into a smile. "It's almost ten." He looked directly at Clark and the smile became mocking. "I'll be seeing you again." He walked casually to the window, jumped out and was gone.
Lois discovered suddenly that she needed to breathe and inhaled deeply. "My god."
"Are you all right?" Clark asked. "Did he hurt you?"
She shook her head, sinking down on the sofa. "Not exactly. He kissed me."
She nodded. "He's a kid, Clark. He was like a fifteen-year-old on his first date. He even kisses like a kid." She glanced at him and rubbed her face. He looked merely concerned, now — just the usual Clark when he was a little worried about her. Had she really seen what she thought she had seen? "Are *you* okay?"
He nodded. "I think so."
"I think my theory was right," she said. She took another deep breath. "He said 'Might is right'. Does that sound like anyone we know?"
He didn't answer but his jaw clenched. "I'm beginning to think it isn't as impossible as I thought."
"With Lex Luthor, nothing is impossible," Lois said. "Or at least, not much. This is awful, Clark. He's teaching his own code to this Superman — to this *kid*! We've got to do something."
"I wish I knew what," Clark said.
"Well, first we have to find out who he hired to do the work," she said. "And how. He had to have a living cell from Superman to start with. We'll get busy on that first thing in the morning."
He gave a slight smile. "You seem to be taking all this pretty calmly."
She laughed shortly. "I am, aren't I? Don't ask me why. I think it hasn't really hit me yet."
"Maybe I should stay for a while," he said. "In case he comes back."
"I don't think he will," Lois said. "Did you hear what he said? I think he may have a curfew." Still, enough doubt remained that his presence would be reassuring. Not that she would ever admit that to anyone. Besides … that expression she had seen. Did he really think of her that way? It shouldn't have, but unexpectedly a small thrill coursed its way up her spine. She had never known a man who thought of her as *his* before—even if it wasn't something either one of them acknowledged.
She glanced at the Chinese food sitting on the table. "If you'd like, you can help me eat this."
Without a word, Clark walked to the window, closed and locked it. "All right. I haven't eaten yet, actually. What's on the menu?"
"Chinese," she said.
"Ah, the stuff from Chen Yung's." He sniffed. "Smells pretty good."
"Their food isn't bad," she agreed. "I have some champagne here, too, if you'd like some. Let me get you a clean glass." She hurried back into the kitchen with the glass that the double had used and returned a moment later with an unused one.
Clark was standing at the window, looking out into the darkness but he turned when she re-entered the room and smiled at her. Lois set the glass down on the table and filled it with champagne to give herself a few seconds to recover. Clark's smile was the exact duplicate of the double's.
A hundred confused thoughts were running through her mind and she hadn't had a chance to sort them out yet, but one realization had managed to make its way through. Clark wasn't just attracted to her. If what she had seen meant what she thought it did, then her partner regarded her as a lot more than a friend and an attractive woman. She wasn't sure how to react now. This was Superman in her living room. What was she supposed to say — or do? Superman was far more attainable than she had thought, which made the whole situation a lot more dangerous than she had imagined, and that was something she was going to have to think hard about. One thing, however, was clear. She had been associating with the man of her impossible dreams for months, making a lot of cruel, uncalled for comments to him, at least in the beginning … and yet, he hadn't let the things she said bother him. Or had he? At the very least, she owed him an apology.
"Clark —" she began.
He held her chair for her while she took her seat. "Yes?"
"You know … back when we first met … I said some things to you that I shouldn't have. I'm sorry."
He was taking his seat as she spoke and now he glanced at her with obvious surprise. "What brought that on?"
"Oh …" She busied herself with arranging her napkin just so, keeping her eyes focused on her plate. "I don't know. The way you stood up for me tonight … It just suddenly occurred to me that I was pretty nasty to you in the beginning and I never apologized. I was really out of line, and I'd like to set the record straight. I hope you can forgive me."
He reached across the table to lay a hand on top of hers as she started to pick up her chopsticks. "Don't worry about it, okay? It doesn't matter."
"Yes it does," she insisted. "I said some pretty awful things back then — and did some pretty bad things, too. I want you to know I wish I hadn't."
"Well, I pulled a pretty dirty trick on you, too," he said, and Lois could swear that he looked a little embarrassed. "My mother taught me to treat women better than that, so I think we're even."
"Clark, I deserved every bit of it!" she said. "What I did was totally wrong, and you had every right to do what you did. Actually, it made me respect you," she added in a lower voice. "I suddenly realized that I'd behaved just like Claude. I guess it kind of shocked me back to sanity. Anyhow, I've felt sort of bad about it for a while now. I wanted to apologize."
"Oh. Well, your apology is accepted," he said, giving her a smile. "Let's just forget it, okay? As far as I'm concerned, it never happened."
"I know," she said. "You never hold grudges. I think that makes you a much better person than I am. And by the way — thanks for showing up tonight. He — the double — was getting kind of aggressive."
"I noticed," he said somewhat dryly.
"I don't think he meant any harm," Lois added hastily. "He's a kid."
"Yeah, and his hormones were in overdrive," Clark said. He smiled, obviously trying to make a joke of the incident. "I can't fault his taste, though. You look really great."
Lois glanced down at her dress. "You like it?"
"Definitely." He reached for the egg rolls. "If I were a teenager, I'd probably be drooling too, even if I wouldn't go to his extreme."
She found herself laughing. "That's a relief. I'd never dare wear it in public."
Clark grinned. "That would be a shame."
Lois could feel her cheeks turning pink. Clark normally didn't say things like that, probably because they were work partners, but maybe tonight had kind of shocked him out of the role. Surprisingly the idea didn't disturb her as much as she had always assumed it would. She was really going to have to take some time to think this over. She was so confused at the moment, she didn't know *what* she thought.
Clark walked slowly up the steps to his apartment and fumbled with the lock for a second before opening the door and reaching inside to switch on the light. Slowly, he closed the door behind him and turned the lock.
His apparent preoccupation with small details wasn't as pointless as it might seem. His landlord was a snoopy sort, and he was aware that the man tended to come by the apartment house at odd hours to check up on "his" tenants. Old Floyd was parked halfway down the block at the moment with a pair of binoculars aimed directly at Clark's front porch.
It was a relatively minor annoyance, but it was one that he had to take seriously. The last thing he needed was to have his slightly paranoid landlord find anything at all that might increase the normal suspicion that he felt about his tenants in general to anything specific about Clark Kent. He liked his apartment and didn't want to have to move.
He moved slowly around inside the living room, tidying up in the full view of the man, aware that the binoculars were now trained on him through the glass of the door. At last, he yawned ostentatiously, stretched and ambled off toward his bedroom, switching off the light behind him. Once out of sight, he pulled off his glasses and checked.
Floyd had now turned his attention to the window of the apartment above Clark's. The tenants above him were an elderly spinster, her great-niece and a Russian wolfhound that probably out-massed both women put together. Since his super-hearing told him that all three occupants of the place were sound asleep, he didn't think that Floyd was likely to see much.
He snapped on his bedside lamp and moved around, getting ready for bed at normal speed for once. His actions were routine as he brushed his teeth and changed into his night gear. The mundane activity gave him time to think and to try to organize the thoughts that were whirling around in his head in complete confusion, which, he had to acknowledge, was often his state of mind when it came to figuring out his volatile partner.
Lois had been in an odd mood tonight. First there had been her relief at his not-exactly-unplanned arrival at her place in time to rescue her from the imposter. He had known it at once when she had lost control of the situation and acted immediately, before things could go farther. He didn't think his double had actually intended to harm Lois, but as he well knew, teenage males sometimes let their emotions get out of hand and a super- powered one might not realize that his companion was putting up objections.
Facing down a super-powered rival was a new experience, of course, and he'd tried to do it without an overt display of his super-powers. He hadn't quite succeeded, but Lois hadn't picked up on it, fortunately. He'd been surprised at himself, in a way. The primitive instincts that roiled under the surface when he had challenged his opponent had shaken him a little. He hadn't realized that he would feel quite so strongly that his double was intruding on his territory, and he had even been a little ashamed of himself. Lois certainly wouldn't have appreciated it if she had known.
He got into bed and turned out the light, carefully punched his pillow into a comfortable shape, and then lay staring up into the dark, still thinking about the events of the evening.
After the boy had left — to his surprise he found that now, like Lois, he had also begun to think of the other Superman that way — Lois had invited him to stay for dinner, and then there had been that out-of-the-blue apology. That had left his mind reeling.
In all the months that he had known her, he had never once known Mad Dog Lane to apologize to anybody, even when she, as well as everyone else, knew that she was in the wrong. It just wasn't in her nature, and he had felt for a moment as if someone had knocked the breath out of him.
True, she was undeniably his best friend, and he was hers. If she was going to make an exception for anyone, he guessed it would be him. Still, he'd been somewhat stunned. She had also brought him coffee this afternoon at work, he recalled now. It had been much too sweet, even for him, and there had been considerably more cream than coffee in it, but those had been minor considerations. He wouldn't have hurt her feelings for anything, and had swallowed the concoction without a wince.
And during dinner, she had been … different. She'd had three or four glasses of champagne, which he figured was probably to steady her nerves after the encounter with the double, and it must have lowered her inhibitions just a little. At least that was the only reason that he could come up with to explain her behavior. If it had been anyone but Lois Lane he'd have suspected that she was flirting lightly with him. He'd responded, although he'd kept a tight check on his behavior, and when he'd said good night, she'd given him another thank-you for rescuing her, and the lightest of pecks on the cheek. Something was definitely different, although he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Maybe their relationship was beginning to move onto a different level. He hoped so, but Lois's change in attitude had the effect of thoroughly confusing him. Of course, lots of her behavior confused him anyway, so he guessed in retrospect that it wasn't that unusual. Still …
Lois finished brushing her teeth and snapped off the bathroom light. Ignoring her bedroom slippers, she crossed the room slowly to look out the window. The night sky was nearly cloudless, but she couldn't see the stars. The haze of the city lights blotted out all but the moon and one or two of the brightest stars, but the street below her fifth floor apartment was relatively dark.
A short time ago she had stood at the living room window, following Clark's progress as he walked briskly along the sidewalk on his way home, and had watched as he looked carefully around and then stepped into the alley, partway down the street, and disappeared. A moment later, she had seen Superman's silhouette shoot upward and vanish in the direction of Clark's apartment. The whole incident had happened so quickly and quietly that if she hadn't been half-expecting something of the sort, she would have missed it.
Now she moved slowly to her bed and sank down on the foot of it, thinking of what she had seen.
She hadn't been in any doubt of it, really. Not after all the evidence that had been thrown in her face since this morning. Still, it reinforced emotionally what she already knew intellectually: Clark Kent was Superman. And, after this evening, it was no longer possible to doubt that he was interested in her. She had known for quite a while that Clark had a crush on her. Now it had begun to seriously dawn on her that it was considerably more than a crush.
It had taken a little Dutch courage to bring herself to flirt with him, and he'd responded, and with a certain enjoyment if she read the signs correctly. And when she had kissed his cheek, his arms had tightened around her for one long second.
She had stored that memory away with a few others, to relive now and then at special times. Clark might very well have done what she had warned him against in the beginning.
"Don't fall for me, farmboy. I don't have time for it." She'd told him that the night that they had been working on Dr. Platt's scattered report. The dazzled look in his eyes had warned her all too clearly that he was in danger of forming a crush on her, and Lois Lane, career woman, had had no time for a country boy like him.
Only that country boy had turned out to be like no one she had ever known. And it was beginning to look like he had completely disregarded her warning. It was a little scary. The most powerful man in the world was her reporting partner, and might even be in love with her — or at least well on his way to it. What was she supposed to do about that?
A glance at her alarm clock told her that it was only a minute or two to midnight. She crawled under the covers, pulled them up to her chin, and lay still, staring up into the darkness.
When she had first met Superman, she had been in a very tight spot. He had appeared seemingly out of nowhere and saved her life, as well as the space program, by swallowing the detonator of an explosive meant to destroy the rocket bearing the colonists to the orbiting space station. She had been dazzled. Not only was he a hero, he was also by far the most handsome man she had ever met, with a build that was literally out of this world; and he seemed the embodiment of every woman's fantasy. She had fallen hard for him, while at the same time ignoring the very human man who worked beside her at the Daily Planet. As time had gone by, she learned more about the incredible super man from Krypton, and everything she had learned simply reinforced her starry-eyed crush. And then he had come to her asking for her help, and she had learned more in one evening than she had in all the months since he had appeared.
She had learned that he was the last of his kind. Suddenly, she sat up straight. This wasn't just Superman that she was thinking about. This was her best friend, *Clark*! *Clark* was that same orphan from Krypton. *Clark* had been sent from a dying world across millions of miles of space to Earth where he could blend with the native population. Clark's ship had landed in Kansas and somehow he had been found by Martha and Jonathan Kent, who had raised him to be the man she knew. Martha and Jonathan had raised him to be the hero that flew around the skies of Metropolis and saved crashing planes and propped up the Golden Gate Bridge, and seemed to make a habit of rescuing Lois Lane from the jaws of disaster on a regular basis. What had she been *thinking*? She'd known since this morning that they were one and the same, but she hadn't *known* it on a gut level. Clark was her hero and her guardian angel and always had been. He had saved her life countless times. She just hadn't realized it.
Oh man, what was she going to do? Relationships with men — successful ones, anyway — just didn't seem to be exactly her specialty. Lex Luthor had been interested in her since they had met, but Clark-Superman-Kent had told her Lex was a criminal several months ago, and she had seen enough since to know that he was right, even if she hadn't believed him in the beginning. Clark had been extremely jealous of Lex, but he didn't lie about things like that. In fact, he'd only lied in one way that she could see — to protect himself and his family. And if she knew Mr. "Almost-pathologically-honest" Clark Kent, he probably didn't enjoy that, either.
But Clark had been *jealous*. That part had been painfully obvious. And tonight she had seen his possessive streak when he had faced down the imposter to protect her. There was no question that he wanted her. Her — Lois Lane — who was obviously a neurotic fool for having this conversation with herself. Any other woman would have grabbed him and held on tight, no questions asked.
So, what was she going to do until she made up her mind where to go with this whole thing? Given that he really did want some kind of relationship with her, did she want one with him? Did she dare to believe that he would be different from Claude, or, for that matter, from her father, who had cheated on her mother over and over, and in the end destroyed his family?
Wait a minute. The realization brought her up short. If she didn't know Clark Kent by now, then she didn't know anything about anybody. She'd learned everything important about him the day she had awakened in his bedroom two days after Miranda had sprayed her with the Revenge; she just hadn't connected it before.
Clark cared about her, and equally important, he respected her. That was something she couldn't say about any of her previous relationships. She couldn't even say that about her own father, who had wanted a son, and had been bitterly disappointed because he "only" had daughters to show for his marriage. Would any other man climb out of a warm bed at midnight to help his friend and partner turn a mattress, for god's sake?
Would taking the risk of a relationship with him be worth it? He could so easily break her heart.
But the woman who had Clark's heart could do the same to him, and she suspected that his could be broken as easily as hers. Maybe more easily. Clark was someone who cared deeply for others. No man who didn't care would do the things Superman did every day, or go to the lengths to which she had seen Clark go in order to help his fellows. If she couldn't trust her heart to Clark then she couldn't trust anyone, and she would go through life alone. She could so easily end up like her mother, whose constant companion until a year ago had been a bottle of vodka, or her father, whose relationships with a string of women young enough to be his daughters were legendary.
She hadn't wanted marriage or any of the complications that went with it. She'd run as fast and as far from her family as she could. But that had been before Clark Kent walked into the Daily Planet, and now, if he were to walk away, she would miss him for the rest of her life.
In a way, it looked as if the decision had already been made and she was only just noticing.
She lay back down again and wiped at the tears that were leaking slowly down her cheeks.
She wouldn't tell him that she had figured out his secret, she decided. At least not yet. She would wait until he told her. But in the meantime, she was going to do everything under the sun to show him that he could trust her. And maybe she should let him know, a little at a time, that she *did* care about him as well. Not Superman, but Clark Kent: the man behind Superman. Everything that the hero was, he was because of Clark: Clark's beliefs, Clark's morals, Clark's desire to help those in need. And if that didn't tell her everything worth knowing about the man, then she deserved to lose him and let one of the numerous women at the Planet, who had apparently noticed him before she had, take her place.
And that just wasn't going to happen.
Clark Kent walked into the lobby of the Daily Planet, only to have Lois charge through the doors after him and nearly knock him down from behind. He staggered, regained his balance and caught her arm in time to keep her from taking a tumble onto the newly mopped tile.
"Yeah." She sounded breathless, as if she had been running. "Clark, I found something. Look!" She waved a dog-eared magazine at him.
"Hold on," he said, grinning at her excitement. "Why don't you take a few seconds to catch your breath so you can talk."
Unexpectedly, she stopped and took several breaths. "There!" she said. "Happy?"
"Of course." He continued on toward the elevator. "What did you find?"
"The article I was talking about. I saved it, but I'd stuck it in my magazine rack at home. 'Metropolis Science Magazine'," she added, waving it at him again.
"And?" he said, signaling for the elevator.
"The scientist who wrote the article is a Dr. Fabian Leek," she said, as the doors opened and they stepped inside. She lowered her voice. "I wonder if Lex has any connections with this guy. I'm going to have Jimmy do a little hunting for any kind of financial transactions between them. And, of course, with any other scientist studying cloning. There can't be that many of them, can there?"
"I have no idea," Clark said. "Good work, though. And after that?"
She waited until the doors slid shut before she answered. "After that, if it pans out, we'll do whatever we have to do. You know, I feel kind of sorry for that kid if I'm right. Can you imagine growing up with Lex as your father? But it could turn out to be a serious situation for all of us. I mean, think about it for a minute — Lex Luthor with a Superman of his own under his control? I can't see him leaving anyone else to teach a super- powered clone what he wants him to know."
"Scary thought," Clark said.
"Very scary. But you know, if Lex teaches him his own morals, that situation might not last long, either. Superman is a good, ethical guy, who wants to help people, but a Superman that Lex raised would think the same way Lex does. He's already thinking that way, at least some. Last night he told me 'Might is right'. That sounds like Lex might have to watch out for his own skin before long. You know, I wonder if Lex has thought this through."
"Probably," Clark said. "He strikes me as the kind of guy that thinks ahead."
"Lex schemes," Lois said. "But if he wants to get rid of Superman so badly, I think he might take the risk that he can control his own Superman. He might have miscalculated." She shook her head. "I'm babbling again, aren't I? But I've been thinking about this since about five this morning."
She shrugged a little uncomfortably and cast him a sideways glance. "I didn't sleep very well. I kept waking up. When I woke up about four-thirty, I couldn't get back to sleep so I got up and started hunting for the article."
"Oh." Clark didn't belabor the subject. He was well aware that his fiercely independent partner didn't like it when he hovered over her. "Well, if Jimmy finds any connection between Luthor and Leek, I guess we could go interview him as a first step."
"If he finds a connection, the last thing I want to do is alert Lex that we've added up two and two," Lois said. "What I *want* to do is get together enough evidence that something shady is going on to implicate Lex. It will be one more thing to add to my file on him."
"Your 'file'?" he asked sharply.
"Uh … yeah. After the pheromone, I started looking for connections between Lex and — you know — things that weren't quite right, and documenting it as thoroughly as I could. I'm trying to collect enough evidence to bring him down, but it's a long process."
"Lois, why didn't you tell me? Investigating Luthor alone is a dangerous business!"
"I know. But after the Revenge, it was kind of personal. Besides, he tried to shoot you, Clark. No thanks to him that he didn't. I was worried about you. I didn't want to wake up one day and find out he'd managed to have you killed." She hesitated. "That's why I've done everything I can lately to convince him that I don't find you attractive. Other than physically, that is."
He stared at her, both appalled and shocked that Lois had embarked on such a crusade without telling him — because she wanted to protect him. And had she just said that she found him attractive, both physically and otherwise? "Do you mind if I get in on this — at least as backup? If he figures out what you're up to, I can see him trying to kill you, too. Luthor didn't get where he is by being soft."
"I know. I just … I was afraid for you, Clark. I don't want to lose you. I've …" She hesitated and added, "I've kind of gotten used to having you around."
"You're not going to lose me. In fact …" He bit off what he was going to say. Jumping ahead too fast would be guaranteed to scare her off.
She didn't seem to notice. "If we can connect this to him it will be useful, but I also want to try to … I don't know … try to help the other Superman, somehow. We can't let Lex turn him into some kind of super weapon. Superman would be the only thing we had to defend us against him, and both of them could get hurt or killed. I don't want that to happen, either."
He nodded. It figured, he thought. Once Lois got involved in something, she went at it with everything she had. He just hoped that she hadn't bitten off more than both of them could chew this time.
The elevator doors opened and they stepped out into the Daily Planet's newsroom.
"That was a great guess," Jimmy said. "Look at this. Over the last six months, there have been six monthly million-dollar donations to Fabian Leek's genetic research project. And look where it came from."
"The Luthor Foundation for the Advancement of Human Science," Lois read aloud. "That's it. There's our connection."
"Only now we have to prove it," Clark said. "Nobody's going to believe it without solid evidence. This part could get kind of sticky."
"Prove what?" Perry's voice asked. Clark turned to find their editor standing behind them.
"Something pretty wild," Lois said. "I don't want to talk about it in public. Can we get back to you on it?"
"In my office," Perry said. "If you're going to do something dangerous, I'd at least like to know why."
Lois and Clark looked at each other, then Lois turned to Jimmy. "Keep looking for that other stuff. If Leek did what we think he did, they had to have had some genetic material to start with. Come on, Clark."
When the office door had closed behind them, Perry gestured to seats. "Sit. I want to know what all this intensive research is about. And don't forget that warning last month from the guys upstairs, Lois."
"Chief, have I ever steered you wrong?" she demanded. "Yes, sometimes it looked like it," she added hastily, "but it always worked out in the end, didn't it?"
He raised an eyebrow. "I'm goin' prematurely grey just worryin' about you getting' yourself killed one of these days, honey," he said. "I'll back you up; you know that, but I'd like to know what I'm backin' you up *about*. Tell me it's not gonna get us into another lawsuit … or get one of my star reporters killed or somethin'."
Clark winced. When Perry's Southern accent became this pronounced it meant that he was genuinely worried. He'd known his boss had been dealing with a number of problems with the paper recently, ranging from advertisers bailing on him to one of the Planet's reporters winding up in the hospital two weeks before because of a gang beating down at the docks. Somehow, the Armani suit and the hairpiece weren't so funny this morning. "I think we'd better tell him, Lois," he said.
She shrugged. "Okay. Just remember what our source said."
"Source?" Perry asked.
"Superman," Clark said. "I don't think he'll mind, Lois. Chief, Superman came to Lois a couple of days ago and asked us to help him. We can't tell you everything he said because some of it was in confidence, but he said we could print anything we like if we left out that part."
Lois nodded. "Remember that plane rescue the other day?"
"Yeah. What about it? Was there some sort of sabotage to the plane or something?"
"Not that I know of," Lois said, "but the problem was that Superman *didn't* rescue the plane. Somebody else did. There's a Superman imposter out there, and Superman needs to find out who he is and what he's up to."
"An imposter?" Perry's eyes widened. "How can that be? He flew!"
"I know. He has Superman's powers, and even looks like him, but he isn't him, if you get my drift."
"You got any proof?"
"Not solid proof yet," Clark said. "Superman met him, and so did we, last night. He's definitely not Superman, even if he looks like him, but we don't have any evidence in hand. We have a working theory, but we'd rather not talk about it yet, if you don't mind."
Perry regarded them without expression for the good part of a minute. "Okay," he said at last. "Go to it, then. Maybe the story will help boost circulation. Just do me one favor."
"Sure," Lois said.
"Try not to get yourselves killed, and try not to get us sued. The Planet can't afford either one."
"We'll do our best," Clark said. He hesitated. "Chief, is everything all right? I know the paper is having problems. Is there anything we can do to help?"
"Not unless you can figure out why so many of our advertisers are dropping us," Perry said, heavily. "It started about two months ago and seems to be gettin' worse. The suits upstairs are breathin' down my neck over it."
"Oh," Lois said. She looked at Clark. "I didn't realize it was that bad."
"Well, now you know. Go ahead, kids. Help Superman, but bring me back a good story too."
"We'll do our best," Clark said.
Jimmy was waiting for them with barely suppressed excitement when they exited the Editor's office. "I found it!" he announced, waving a sheet of printer paper at them. "Take a look!"
Lois snatched it from his fingers. "'Superman donates a lock of hair for Charity Auction …' But hair isn't living."
"Look farther down. Superman individually pulled about thirty strands of hair because his hair won't cut," Jimmy said. "It had the roots attached."
"We've got it," Clark said. "Does it say who bought it?"
"A Mrs. Doyle Alexander," Jimmy said. "I already called her. She said there was a break-in at her house the day after the auction. The lock of hair was stolen. They never found out who took it and never got it back."
"Bingo," Lois said. "It all fits. It's even consistent. Good work, Jimmy."
"I guess you have an idea who took it," Jimmy said.
"Let's say we have our suspicions," Clark said. He hesitated. "Jim, I wonder if you could do me another favor."
"Sure, CK. What is it?"
"I'd like you to check into the advertisers who have dropped the Planet in the last two or three months and see where they went after they left us."
"Sure. Any particular reason?"
"Just sort of a feeling. Maybe it isn't anything. Could you do that for me?"
Jimmy nodded. "Sure. No problem."
"Thanks," Clark said. "I appreciate it."
As they headed for their desks, Lois glanced back at Jimmy, who had just seated himself in front of his computer. "Got a hunch, partner?"
"Care to share?"
He shrugged. "It just strikes me as funny that all of a sudden a bunch of advertisers decided to drop the Planet. We're the biggest newspaper in the city and one of the most respected in the world. Why go to something less prestigious when you can have the best? It's not as if the rates are unreasonable."
"Sometimes the suits make a business decision."
"One or two, maybe, but not a whole bunch like that, unless there's something going on. I'd like to see what it is."
"You wouldn't be thinking corporate takeover, would you?"
"Actually, yes. It's been done before."
"Yeah, it has." She looked worried. "The last thing we need is something like that."
"Definitely. Anyhow, I'd like to have some sort of heads-up if it's in the works. Now, until Jimmy comes back with the information, we need to decide what to do next."
"We're going to visit Dr. Leek."
"I thought you said you didn't want to alert him that —"
"I didn't say we were going to interview him. How good are you at impersonating a sanitation engineer?"
"A janitor? I can handle a mop with the best of them."
They grinned at each other momentarily.
"Good," Lois said. "I just happen to know where we can borrow some coveralls …"
Fabian Leek was probably in his forties, a man of medium height with thinning, blond hair, and probably carrying around at least fifty pounds that he didn't need, Lois thought. The scientist was leafing through a sheaf of papers when she and Clark trundled their cart with the pails of soapy water and mops into the corridor outside his office.
They began their task, industriously setting up warning cones about the hallway to allow passersby to proceed past their spot of endeavors, and began to mop while Lois scanned the area, taking in the layout. She glanced at Clark and hid a smile. He had applied the same ratty beard and mustache that he had used the first night she had gone to spy on Toni Taylor, and looked tired and bored, a man doing a dull, uninteresting job, but she saw him glance toward Fabian Leek's office and lower his glasses.
She had seen him do that hundreds of times in the past months, but now the gesture had more significance. Superman was checking out the lay of the land, peeking over Dr. Leek's shoulder, as it were, to see what he was doing. Even if she didn't let him know that she knew, having Superman as a partner was going to have significant advantages, she thought. Never again would she inadvertently sabotage him when he was sneaking a look at something of interest.
Instead, she concentrated on other points of interest. While she worked, she popped a chunk of chewing gum into her mouth, then a second and a third. This was one of her preferred methods for preparing the way for a return visit later tonight. The heavy door to Leek's office and the small side door that gave access to the building were almost certainly rigged to alarms, but if she could prevent the locks from engaging in the first place, she would have one less difficulty to deal with later. It was too bad that she couldn't just ask Clark to zap the alarms, as, she suspected, he had probably done on other black bag jobs of theirs, but she intended to remain in official ignorance of that aspect of her partner for some time to come.
She'd made the decision to let him know about her "Luthor file" after several hours of dithering the night before. She hadn't told him about it in the beginning because she had known that he would worry about her, but she had begun it shortly after the pheromone incident. It had been something she felt that she had to do for her own personal satisfaction and, to be honest, peace- of-mind. Lex Luthor had tried to kill Clark and, somewhere under the surface, that had left her both shaken and angry. Lex was going to pay, not only for the fact that he was a scum-sucking criminal, but for the fact that he had tried to harm her best friend. Her personal crusade wasn't something that she had been prepared to admit to Clark at first, although recently she had been contemplating letting him in on the deal, but that had certainly been the main driving force behind the project in the first place.
Now she knew that Lex couldn't hurt Clark, but the fact didn't make a significant difference. The intent had been there, and that was all that mattered. Nobody tried to hurt her friends with impunity. Lex Luthor was going down sooner or later, and she was going to be the one who brought him to it.
But now it had seemed like a good idea to let him know what she was up to. With Superman's resources behind her, it seemed likely that they would make faster progress. Like now. For instance, unless that file cabinet in the back of Leek's office was lead-lined, Clark would know whether there was anything in it worth bothering with. And if it was, then he would know that there was a good chance that Leek had something in there that he didn't want Superman to find out about by accident.
Clark pushed his glasses up his nose and applied himself to his task. Lois scrubbed vigorously at the floor of a hall alcove, keeping her face down as footsteps sounded in the adjoining hallway.
The footsteps rounded the corner. She glanced sideways at the expensive designer shoes and the slacks of the expensive understated suit and lowered her face again, turning her back to the visitor, all her nerve-ends tingling.
Lex. Lex Luthor had come to see Fabian Leek. If that wasn't suspicious, she didn't know what was.
Clark heard the approaching footsteps. There was something extremely familiar about the way the man — he could tell it was a man — walked. Then he caught the whiff of cigar smoke and recognized it as the expensive Cuban cigars that Lex Luthor smoked. They were, of course, illegally imported for the crime lord's pleasure, but he was quite certain that even if proof could be found, that such a case would never make it through the maze of attorneys and legal wrangles that Luthor could bring to bear. And even if, by some miracle, it did, at worst the result would be a fine. No, when he and Lois nailed Luthor, he wanted it to be for something significant.
Luthor rounded the corner with a confident stride as Clark made himself inconspicuous at his job of mopping the floor. Luthor wasn't actually smoking a cigar, of course, but the odor clung to his clothing. The scent of Cuban tobacco wouldn't be detectable by an ordinary human nose, but he could smell it clearly.
The billionaire strode past, never glancing at either of them. A quick glance at Lois showed that she had her back turned as she applied herself industriously to her supposed job.
Luthor strode into Leek's office and shut the door behind him. Clark winced. How was he going to overhear what they said? Lois was bound to come up with some kind of wild scheme to try to …
"Clark!" Lois whispered.
"Huh?" Here it came.
"Your hearing is better than mine, farmboy! Get over by the door and listen! I'll block off the hallway and give you cover!" He saw her moving as she spoke, collecting the orange warning cones. She hurried to place a line of the cones at the corner and immediately rushed to do the same at some distance in the opposite direction. Then, with a move calculated make his hair stand on end, she calmly picked up her bucket of water and sloshed it across the linoleum by the cones, flooding the area. "Move, Kent!" she commanded, still in a whisper. "I want to know what they say."
Boy, Lois was really hyper today, he thought. Or else she smelled a hot story in the offing and was willing to pull out all the stops for it.
Cautiously, he moved closer to the door, mopping industriously at the edge of the spreading puddle. Lois moved to his bucket and calmly treated the other end of the hall to the same measures, then methodically started to mop at the mess she had made.
"I need you to come by the penthouse this evening." That was Luthor's voice. "I want you to examine the specimen. He's exhibiting certain symptoms that disturb me."
"Remember, sir, I warned you that there could be difficulties." The oily voice somehow matched his impression of Fabian Leek, even though he didn't know why. "He's the prototype — first specimen to reach adulthood. We really need to study the process longer to determine exactly why the frogs died."
"That's what I pay you for," Luthor said, disdainfully. "In any case, that isn't the problem. You assured me that an alien would have no interest in human females. That the chemical sexual cues, whatever they are, would preclude any interest in mating with humans. The specimen is showing an interest in a human woman."
"That's impossible," Leek said. "He's not human." He paused for a long moment. "Of course, I haven't actually studied Kryptonian DNA in depth. On the surface it looks quite similar to human DNA, but then so does a chimpanzee's. I'll have to do that, but the analysis is long and difficult. The actual cloning process is much simpler — simply place the nucleus of the cell in the envelope of a human ovum — well, you don't want a blow by blow account. If you like, I can do an actual DNA analysis, but it will take some time."
"I don't care what you have to do," Luthor ground out. "I want his interest in the woman in question stopped now! When you come by, you can also give me a status report on his health. I'm nearing my goal, and need to know exactly how much time we have left before he goes the way of the frogs. Be there at ten."
"Of course," Leek murmured. "I'm not sure what I can do if he does indeed have an interest in human women, though. The urge to mate is instinctive."
"Then find a way to short-circuit it," Luthor snapped.
"I'll do my best," the scientist's voice said.
It seemed that Luthor was on the verge of leaving. Clark moved away from the door. "Lois!"
"He's coming out. Step into the restroom there. He's bound to notice you with all this water all over the place!"
"What about *you*?"
"I'll hide. Go!"
Surprisingly, she didn't argue further. As she disappeared through the door of the restroom, Clark lowered his glasses and trained his heat vision on the section of floor in a direct path toward the exit.
There was a savage hiss and the corridor filled with water vapor as the liquid burst instantly into steam. Clark cleared the air with a quick blast of breath and with a burst of speed rearranged the cones to give Luthor a clear path toward the building's exit. That done, he busied himself with slowly moving the mop back and forth, soaking up the puddles in the still-wet section. Behind him the door opened and he heard Luthor's footsteps diminishing as he made his way down the hall the way he had come.
"He's going to be at Luthor's penthouse tonight," Clark said. "Apparently there's been some problem with the clones. Luthor wants to know how much time he has left before his Superman clone 'goes the way of the frogs'."
"He expects him to *die*?"
Clark nodded tightly. "Looks like it."
"Clark, we have to do something." Lois slammed the door of the Jeep and stuck the key in the ignition with unnecessary force. "I can't believe I ever thought that sleazeball was attractive."
Clark bit his lip, thinking back to the conversation he had heard. "There may not be anything we can do."
"Maybe not, but we have to try," Lois said.
"Oh, I agree," Clark said. "I'm open to suggestions."
Lois frowned at the dashboard of the Cherokee. "He said the cloned frogs died?"
"That's what he said," Clark said.
"We have to find out why."
"Why the frogs died. There has to be a reason."
"How do you intend to do that?"
"Look, Leek hasn't even tried to find out, if what you said is right. We need some of the frogs. We can take them over to STAR Labs. Jimmy has a friend there — a Dr. Klein. He says the guy's kind of an absent-minded professor, but he's really brilliant. He's a physicist, but from what I understand, he also has a degree in medicine and a master's in biochemistry. He'll help us if we tell him what's going on."
"Well, I suppose," Clark said doubtfully. "But —"
"Clark, if the Superman clone is going to die without help, we need to find out if there's anything we can do to help him!" She pulled sharply out of the parking space, causing the driver of a car waiting for the space to give a faint scream and blow his horn. Clark said nothing.
Lois ignored the horn, slammed the Jeep into forward and nearly peeled out of the parking lot. She was really upset, Clark thought. He didn't blame her a bit. Up until now he had regarded the clone as a complication at best and a danger at the worst, but now it looked as if he was simply one more unfortunate pawn in Luthor's ongoing campaign to attack Superman.
"And we need to find out what's going on at that meeting tonight." Lois continued as if there had been no interruptions. "Do you think Superman would be willing to listen in?"
"Since this involves him, probably," Clark said.
"Good. I want to know what's going on, before we go after some of the frogs. I'd like you to get hold of Superman and ask him to hang around LexTower tonight at ten, and eavesdrop. I want to know what those sleazebags are up to. After that, you and I are going to come back here — about midnight, I think. By that time, the only people we'll have to look out for will be the security guards. We're going to collect some specimens." Lois passed a slow-moving truck, barely avoided an oncoming car, and cut back into her lane inches ahead of a city bus. Clark winced.
"Uhh … Lois? Do you think you could concentrate on your driving? If you get us both killed we won't be around to help the clone."
She opened her mouth and then closed it again. "Sorry. You're right. It just makes me so *angry* …!"
"It makes me angry, too," Clark said. "He's been alive just long enough to get a taste of life, and now he's going to die unless there's something we can do. Cloning a frog is one thing. Cloning a man is something else altogether."
"I'm going to put that … that *louse* away for a thousand years," Lois said, although now she at least appeared to be paying closer attention to her driving. "Philanthropist my a …" She broke off, glanced at Clark and then blew her horn savagely at a bicyclist who had had the poor judgment to try to cross the street in front of her, with nothing but a green light for permission. "He's going down, no matter what we have to do or how long it takes. And Leek, too. The guy doesn't deserve the title of 'human being'. He's created a little boy, turned him into a grown man, and now he's going to let him die without doing anything to try to stop it. Well, we're going to. And Leek's going to wish he'd never been born!"
Clark didn't doubt it for an instant.
Lois Lane glanced at her watch for the tenth time in as many minutes. It was after eleven. Surely the meeting in the penthouse of LexTower was over by this time. Where was Superman? A gentle tapping on her window brought her around so fast she nearly fell over her own feet. Superman stood beyond the pane and she hurried to open it for him.
For an instant, she wondered if this was really Superman, but he put her doubts at rest at once.
"I kind of exceeded your instructions," Superman said, stepping lightly down into her living room. He handed her a recording cassette.
"After I talked to Clark, I decided that we'll need all the hard evidence we could collect, so I borrowed some equipment and made a recording for you," Superman said. "I'm acquainted with Dr. Klein, so I went over to STAR Labs, explained the problem, and he loaned me a directional microphone and a recorder. It was a good thing I did, considering what I overheard tonight. And Dr. Klein is anxious to help if he can. He was pretty upset when he heard what was being done." He smiled mechanically. "I think his medical ethics are offended, as well as his human ones. He said to tell you that he'll be waiting tonight, and to bring the samples directly to him. He'll take it from there."
Lois felt her eyes widen. Evidently her influence was rubbing off on her partner, or possibly, she amended, he was simply so outraged by what they had discovered that he was willing to let Superman stretch some of his self-imposed rules for the sake of justice — and to try to save a life. If anything would push Superman to such extremes, that would be it, she knew.
"You don't need to listen to the whole thing now," he added. "Basically, the clone's vitals and brain activity are within acceptable limits for now, but they're beginning to fluctuate somewhat. Leek estimates that he has another week, maybe two, before he starts to lose his powers. Plenty of time, in Luthor's own words, for him to kill me. There's plenty on there to incriminate both of them." He hesitated. "There's something else, too."
"They're talking about making another clone from the sample of my hair. Apparently there were four before this one, but they only survived to childhood. Not long enough to develop super powers."
Lois nodded mutely. She shouldn't have been surprised, she knew. Lex had proven to her beyond any doubt by now that he was capable of any depravity while in pursuit of a goal, but the information was unexpectedly shocking anyway.
"Lois, are you all right?" Superman asked.
"Yeah." She cleared her throat. "Yes, I'm fine. Thanks, Superman. This should help a lot."
"You're welcome. Lois —"He hesitated for an instant. "If you need any more help, don't hesitate to ask. This has to be stopped. Not just for me. They're killing — well, children, actually. Children who are my brothers."
"I know," she said. "I'll make a copy of this, and when we've got everything we need, I'll take it to Henderson — along with my file on Lex. In the meantime, we need to get every bit of evidence we can."
"If you need my help," he said again, "just ask. You'll have it. And be careful tonight."
"We will," she said.
Clark brought a camera and plenty of film, and a single-minded determination that what Luthor and Leek were doing had to be stopped, whatever it took. Lois might wonder about Superman's whole-hearted cooperation, but the information that he had seen in Leek's file cabinet had been enough to make him realize that what Luthor and the scientist were doing was nothing more or less than murder. That was where he had seen the documentation, and the entire history, of the experiments with the previous four clones, and that was when he had decided to get a record of the meeting in Luthor's penthouse this evening.
There was one thing that he hadn't told Lois about the time that he had spent floating silently above the penthouse. He had listened to the conversation between Lex Luthor and Fabian Leek with growing fury as they discussed the health of their clone. The clone, himself, was to all appearances asleep in a kind of clear chamber to one side of the semi-laboratory in which they had installed monitoring equipment and an armchair, where earlier he had watched and listened to Luthor as he told his "son" a bedtime story.
The two men had discussed the clone's life expectancy, and the intention to make another clone, now that they had managed to create a successful prototype. Well, somewhat, anyway. A clone who had made it to adulthood. The cold-blooded, clinical detachment of the two men had made him angrier than ever. The Superman clone wasn't just some specimen, as Leek referred to him. He was an intelligent creature with the mind and experience of a child. He wasn't a frog or even a dog or cat. He deserved to be treated as such, and certainly not used as a vehicle to commit murder, and then discarded like so much garbage.
It was in the midst of his anger that he had become aware of another presence. There was no other word for it. Another set of thoughts that were not his own. It had left him momentarily disconcerted to feel a series of childlike thoughts and emotions that didn't belong to him, of a mind that was not yet aware of him, but definitely aware of Luthor and Leek and what they said.
There was confusion; a lack of understanding of much of what was said, but two things had been clear: anger and fear. The mind was afraid of dying, and afraid to ask what was in store for him, but he knew it wasn't good. Maybe if he pleased his father, his father would love him enough to help. The emotions had been very distinct, and it was then that Clark had realized that somehow he was picking up the thoughts and feelings of the clone, himself.
He had often wondered if he might possess some sort of ESP. He had always seemed to have a kind of awareness of others' feelings. Nothing clear; nothing more than a sense or hunch about their mental processes. He had wondered if it sprang from some sort of Kryptonian mental talent and if it would be stronger with others of his own kind, but this was the first time that he had actually had any real evidence of it. Even now, he wasn't sure whether it was because the clone was, like him, a Kryptonian, or whether it was because their brains were as close to identical as it was possible to get.
But he had known it the instant that the clone had become aware of him and waited, expecting his twin to betray him.
But he hadn't. He hadn't said a word.
The laboratory loomed like a blot of darkness against the pale illumination of the Metropolis skyline. Clark's senses were tuned to their highest peak of alertness. He knew to the inch where each security guard was, where the alarm systems were, and what to do about them if necessary. He had marked out in his mind the quickest escape route, and had already settled in his own mind that if it came down to it that he would fly away rather than be caught, taking Lois with him. It was that important that they not be discovered here if they were to have the slightest chance of saving the life of the other Superman, and if they were not to alert Leek and Luthor that their game had been discovered.
He had decided after his venture in surveillance that he wasn't going to call the other Superman a clone anymore. That was to relegate him to a status less than that of a person. His twin was a child in the body of a man, but no less a person, for all that, and he deserved the acknowledgement that it was so.
"See anything?" Lois whispered.
"Not yet. Let's go."
Silently, they moved across the lawn in front of the laboratory, and flitted around to the side.
A security guard was coming through the parking lot that was situated beside the left wing of the building, and Clark and Lois ducked into the shadow of the hedge until the man went on by and rounded the corner of the lab into the front and out of sight.
Lois took the lead then, tracing a circuitous route that kept them concealed as much as possible, through the flowerbeds, stepping only on the decorative stones and then across the patch of grass between them and their goal: the side door that opened into the hallway outside of Leek's office. Clark had seen her sabotage the lock with a wad of chewing gum during their earlier foray, and wasn't in the least surprised that the door came open without the slightest fuss.
Lois peeked through the door, counting, and then ducked through and hugged the wall under the lens of the slowly swiveling video camera. Clark was right on her heels. Backs tight against the wall to keep themselves out of its range, they waited until the camera turned to cover the opposite end of the hallway and then ran swiftly and silently in their rubber-soled shoes until they reached the corner and rounded it. A few feet further down was the door of Fabian Leek's office.
She had used gum to block the locking of the door here, too, and it had been equally successful, Clark saw. He had to admire his partner's expertise in the field of breaking and entering. It was just as well, he thought, as she carefully removed the evidence of her sabotage and tossed it into the trash receptacle that stood in the hall behind them, that she had chosen to become an investigative reporter instead of a jewel thief or something. The Metropolis PD would have been hopelessly outmatched. The barriers removed, they crept quietly into the scientist's office.
Lois watched her partner's reactions as they crept through the short hallway to Leek's office. Clark's glasses were resting on his nose, and it was obvious to her that he was scanning the immediate area closely. Superman, it seemed, was making a very determined effort not to get caught.
Inside the office, Clark made a beeline for the file cabinet. "I'll search this; why don't you take the desk."
She nodded, content to let him find whatever it was that he had pinpointed earlier. The office had no windows, situated as it was away from the outer wall of the building. Probably a security measure, she thought. Without a pause, she turned the door's lock, threw her coat on the floor to cover the crack beneath the door and switched on the light. Then, she turned her attention to the scientist's desk.
The drawers were locked, but undoing the locks was only the work of a moment. Quickly and efficiently, she sorted through the various notes and folders that were apparently Leek's ongoing projects, carefully replacing them in the exact order in which she had found them and locking the drawer when she had assured herself that the papers she was checking had nothing to do with the clone.
It was in the bottom left drawer: a complete record of the creation of the Superman clone. Quickly and efficiently, she photographed each page, replaced the notes in the folder and returned the folder to the drawer.
Clark was standing beside her when she turned, a satisfied look on his face.
"Find anything?" she asked.
"Yeah. Tell you about it later." He reached out to switch off the light and Lois retrieved her coat. He gestured to the door that opened off the side of Leek's office. "According to the floor plan, this is his private lab."
She nodded. "I couldn't sabotage this one; I'm going to have to pick it," she told him in a whisper. "Keep an ear out, would you? If the security guard comes by and decides to check the office, I want plenty of warning."
He grinned, his teeth gleaming in the dimness. "Got your bag for frog collecting?"
"Right here. Go on!"
"Right," he replied softly. "Hurry."
Somehow, it was a lot easier to do the job now that she knew that it was Superman protecting her back. He would have more than enough warning for them to hide if anyone decided to intrude. She dealt summarily with the lock and pushed the door carefully open. The hinges squeaked a little, and the sound was like a siren to her ears, but in reality it couldn't have been heard outside the room.
Clark crossed the room to her so quietly that she could have sworn his feet hadn't touched the floor. "Guard coming," he whispered.
Together they slipped through the door and closed it softly after them.
They stood in complete darkness, except for the tiny and wholly inadequate wall light, for several seconds, but at last she felt Clark relax and straighten up beside her. "He checked the office and went on," he whispered. "Let's not waste time, though."
Lois had removed the mini-mag from her pocket and now twisted it on.
The laboratory looked no different to her than any other lab she had seen in her career as a reporter. As a matter of fact, the single year of high school chemistry that she had taken had included a lab as well, and this looked like that one too. It was cluttered with equipment, the most of which meant nothing to her. A second door in the opposite wall stood slightly ajar, and from the room beyond, she could hear a faint beeping sound. She flashed her light around the room, looking for the frogs, but it was Clark who found what they were looking for in the very back of the room.
"Over here, Lois!" She wondered for a second how he had managed to find the frogs so quickly and then reprimanded herself sharply. Of course he would know where they were! If he didn't simply hear them, he had probably spotted them in the dark with his incredible eyesight. Could Superman see in the dark? Well, he hadn't been able to see the invisible men some months ago, but he had said that he needed visible light. He just hadn't said how much. Her flashlight had supplied a little, and that might be all he required. He had certainly reached the frogs quickly and unerringly enough.
She threaded her way quickly past the tables, lab equipment and a battered desk bearing a computer and a pile of folders and charts, and paused before Clark's discovery.
The table against the rear wall held several specimen boxes containing dead frogs, next to a terrarium where several frogs hopped listlessly about. A second one, labeled "1st Generation" beside it also contained several frogs, two of which were dead, several obviously in the last stages of life and six still moving about. One of the living frogs had five legs, and Lois grimaced.
It was the matter of a moment to transfer one of the dead frogs into a plastic bag brought for the purpose. She handed it to Clark.
"Take this. I'm going to take a couple of the live ones and —" she couldn't help a grimace — "a couple of the sick ones. Dr. Klein is going to need plenty of samples."
"What if he misses them?"
"Put a few of the ones from the live tank in with the others. He'll never know the difference."
Clark shrugged and obeyed as she transferred her choices to a paper sack. "Okay, let's get out of here."
"Someone's coming," Clark whispered. "Under the desk, quick!"
She obeyed at once. "Where are you going to hide?"
"Shh!" He shoved the chair in front of her, and disappeared.
Lois huddled back under the desk and held perfectly still. Footsteps crossed the floor, headed toward the back of the room, and she heard various rattles and clinks as some sort of equipment was disturbed. She tried to breathe softly, and hoped that the frantic thrumming of her heart couldn't be heard by whoever had entered the laboratory.
More footsteps, and the unidentified intruder approached the desk. A pair of feet clad in brown leather shoes paused in front of her. If he found her now, Clark wouldn't be able to help her. She held her breath, praying that whoever it was would find what he wanted and go away.
A hand came within her range of vision, and an arm in a brown sleeve. The hand pulled a drawer open and removed a folder. Lois closed her eyes.
The unknown man — it was a man, she was sure — was muttering to himself.
Carefully, she took a breath, trying to make no sound at all. Above her on the desk top she could hear papers rustling, and then the hand reached down to open the drawer again. It deposited the folder back into the drawer and closed it with a click.
The feet turned away and disappeared from her range of vision, but she could still hear him moving around. Something creaked softly, and a pale, bluish light became visible. The faint beeping of which she had been aware, coming from the other room, grew louder. The footsteps retreated, but she could still hear movement. She breathed softly, not daring to peek out of her hiding place to see what was going on.
More clinking. Whoever had entered the room seemed to be at some distance from her now, but he was still present. Her nose began to itch, and a spot on one shoulder blade. She didn't dare try to reach it for fear she would make a sound and alert the man to her presence. She gritted her teeth and tried to concentrate on counting backward from a thousand.
The footsteps were approaching again. Lois held perfectly still, holding her breath as they stopped in front of the desk once more. A spot on top of her head had begun to itch as well, and the sensation spread until she could have sworn her entire scalp was crawling with insects.
The footsteps retreated once more. The door to Leek's office opened and closed with a decisive click.
Lois let out her breath softly and reached up to scratch her scalp thoroughly, but she didn't move from her hiding place just yet. The last thing she needed was for him to decide that he had forgotten something and return just in time to catch her.
The chair in front of her hiding place was moved quietly away, and Clark's voice said, "He's gone."
She scooted out from under the desk and stood up, scratched her nose thoroughly and then reached futilely over her shoulder in an attempt to reach the spot on her shoulder blade. Clark observed her attempt and then extended a hand to scratch the offending itchy spot.
She gave a faint sigh of relief. "Thanks. Did you see who it was?"
He nodded. "Leek."
"What was he doing here?"
"Good question." He opened the drawer that Leek had opened minutes before and withdrew the folder. Lois adjusted her mini- mag to illuminate the page.
"Hmmm …" Clark rapidly scanned the pages. "Looks like an autopsy report. 'Subject Alpha'."
"On one of the other clones?"
"Looks like it." His mouth looked grim. "The others are here, too. And …" His eyebrows flew up. "This is interesting."
"Looks like a very detailed report on Luthor's involvement." He withdrew a Manila envelope and shook several mini-cassettes and several photographs into his hand. "Look at this. 'Conversation with Luthor 1, Conversation with Luthor 2, Conversation with Luthor; Disposal of Clone 1' …There's a bunch of them. 'Conversation with Luthor, Penthouse' … and today's date."
"Looks like Dr. Leek doesn't trust his partner in crime," Lois said. "He may be a sleazebag, but he's not a fool."
"I'd say," Clark said. "I'd guess he's trying to protect himself just in case. I'm going to make copies of these papers. Turn on the table light there, would you?"
Lois obeyed. "While you're doing that, I want to see what's in the other room."
Lois turned away, hearing the faint clicking of the camera behind her, and hurried to open the second door. It swung open at her push, and she found herself looking at a small room filled with unidentified equipment. In the center, however, was a large cylinder, perhaps seven feet long, made of some kind of plastic and filled with a clear, pale blue fluid.
"Clark," she called softly.
He tucked the Manila envelope under his jacket, giving her a sharp look at the same time. "What's the matter?"
"Come here. I think I've found something."
He crossed the room quickly and stopped still, staring at the scene. "What do you suppose that is?"
"Could it be the thing they grew the clones in? I've never seen anything like it before."
"Maybe." He was looking at the scene with narrowed eyes.
Lois glanced uneasily over her shoulder. "It looks like something out of Frankenstein. Let's get out of this place, Clark. I want to get the frogs to Dr. Klein as fast as we can."
"All right. Just a minute, though."
"I'm going to get some photographs."
When Clark Kent returned to his apartment, it was almost four A.M. After dropping the frogs off with Dr. Klein, he had seen Lois home and then made a trip by the Daily Planet to make use of their duplicating equipment. A short time later, Superman had made a second foray into Fabian Leek's laboratory to return the pilfered items. He had no intention of alerting the scientist that someone was aware of his game in time for him to escape before the long arm of the law swooped down.
He had struggled with his conscience for some time after their discoveries in Leek's cloning lab, but he and his partner had finally decided that if they were to notify the police immediately, they would undoubtedly descend on Leek, and give Luthor enough warning to cover his tracks. They wanted to have all their evidence in hand before they involved the minions of the law and that, among a few other things, involved Dr. Klein's results.
He dropped into bed, more tired than he had ever been. This had been an emotionally exhausting night. He definitely needed a couple of hours' sleep before he went in to work this morning.
"Here's the photos you wanted, Lois." Jimmy presented her with a thick envelope of photographs. "What is this stuff, anyway? Some sort of horror movie preview? This is pretty grisly."
"Tell me about it," she said. "Some of it is evidence. Some of it is information. Thanks." She took the photographs, glancing up at the monitors. They were showing a train derailment in New Jersey, and she could see the red and blue form of Superman whisking back and forth almost faster than the eye could follow as he assisted the emergency personnel. Quickly, she sorted through the photos, separating out the copies of Leek's notes. "I need you to fax these to Dr. Klein over at STAR Labs right away. Let him know that they're the notes that go with the samples we gave him last night. Got it?"
"Your wish is my command." Jimmy took the proffered notes. "What samples?"
"Never mind. Just get that stuff to Dr. Klein as fast as you can. He's waiting for the information."
"You got it," Jimmy said. He glanced at the monitors, where the cameras had zoomed in on Superman. "That kind of boggles my mind, y'know."
"Him." Jimmy pointed at the screen with a thumb. "A year ago nobody'd heard of him. Today everybody on Earth owes him his life. How many times has he just dropped out of nowhere and saved our lives? He pulled me out from in front of a truck last November." He was silent for a moment, studying the man on the screen. "We're lucky he's here, but why do you suppose he decided to live here in Metropolis? What's so special about it?"
"I don't know," she said. "But something must be. Maybe I should ask him that when I talk to him again." She turned away from the screens, which had shifted to downtown Metropolis, and now showed images of picketing employees at one of the new Cost Mart stores that were due to open soon in Metropolis. Lois had seen Cost Mart stores in places like New York but it hadn't been until recently that the international chain had moved into Metropolis. The grand opening was scheduled something like five or six months down the road but it looked as if they were already having labor troubles.
The door of the editor's office opened. Perry exited and headed across the office toward the exit.
"Hold down the fort," he said as he passed them. "I'm headed for lunch. Gonna try some of that blowfish sushi."
Jimmy's eyes widened. "The kind that can *kill* you?"
"Sayonara." Perry slung his jacket over one shoulder and breezed toward the elevator.
Jimmy stared after him. "I'm really worried about the Chief," he said, finally.
"Perry has a lot worrying him right now," Lois said.
"Yeah, but this …" Jimmy watched as his boss disappeared into the elevator. "I mean, white water rafting, Death Valley hikes, blowfish sushi — it's like he's trying to kill himself or something. Yesterday he said something about living on the edge."
"'Living on the edge'?"
"I heard him!"
Lois shook her head. "Perry's not going to kill himself," she said, "but he's getting a lot of pressure from upstairs over our advertisers dropping us. That's one of the reasons Clark wanted that information. He's trying to figure out what's going on."
Jimmy didn't look convinced. "I don't know. I think it might be something else."
"Well, if you find out what it is, let me know," Lois said, "but speaking of risk to life and limb, unless you want to risk yours, go fax that stuff to Dr. Klein. He needs it."
"Oh yeah. Sorry." Jimmy cast a last look at the elevators and departed.
The sonic boom that rattled the windows in Smallville, Kansas, at the hour of seven A.M., announced the arrival of Clark Kent at his parents' farm.
Martha Kent looked up when the front door opened as her son, clad neatly in slacks and a smart sports jacket, stepped inside. "Clark! This is a surprise. Is everything all right?"
"Hi, Mom." He glanced around the living room. "You got new slip covers for the living room set."
"The old ones were ready for the rag bag." Martha recognized the tactic. Clark had always had difficulty saying so when something was bothering him, but the very fact that he was here so unexpectedly told her that that was the case. "Come on in the kitchen and have some tea."
That was also the old pattern. She would make him tea and let him figure out how to explain the problem to her, and they would talk. He followed her willingly into the kitchen and Martha went to get him a mug. "How are things at work?"
"So-so." Clark took a seat at the kitchen table. "Perry's worried because a bunch of our advertisers have suddenly dropped us. I'm trying to figure out why."
"Did you ever find out anything about the imposter?" she asked, setting the mug of water in the microwave.
"Yeah. I guess that's what I wanted to talk to you about. Where's Dad?"
"He went to buy feed. What's happened?" Casually she set a plate of chocolate chip cookies in front of him and watched in satisfaction as he automatically took one and bit into it.
"These are great," he remarked. "Well, after I talked to you, I thought it over and decided to ask Lois to help me — as Superman." He finished the cookie and his hand went instantly back to the plate for a second one. "She's the best investigative reporter I've ever known, Mom. I figured that if anybody could help me, it would be her."
"And did she?"
He nodded. "Yeah. But it's turned into something else, now."
"What's happened?" The microwave beeped and she turned to take out the mug of hot water. "Here you go. Is Oolong all right?"
"It's fine," he said, taking the mug and the tea bag. Martha pushed the sugar container over next to him. "I had to tell her a little more about Superman's real history — where I came from and how I got here. I trust her, Mom," he added. "She's not going to publish it or anything. Anyway, the next morning …" The whole story came out. When he finished, Martha found herself staring at him with a sensation close to horror. "That poor boy!"
"I know. Dr. Klein is trying to find out if there's anything he can do to help him. Lois is determined to do everything she can, and so am I. I mean, he may look like an adult, and his super powers must have let him learn a lot of stuff pretty fast, but inside, he's just a little kid."
"This Lex Luthor is a monster," Martha said unequivocally. "And Leek isn't any better. They're murderers. They deserve to be sent to prison for the rest of their lives."
"Yeah, I know. We're doing our best. I wish I knew what to do." He swallowed scalding tea without a wince. "Do you know what Lois did, Mom? After that thing with the pheromone perfume last year, when she found out about Luthor, she's been investigating him. She was trying to *protect* me. She's been afraid he would try to kill me."
"It sounds to me like she cares a lot more for you than you realized," Martha said.
He ran a hand through his hair. "I'm starting to think maybe she does," he admitted, "but taking on Luthor single-handed! It scares the daylights out of me!"
"Then I guess you need to make sure that you help her," Martha said. "If you can get enough evidence to put him in prison, he won't be a danger to her anymore."
"That's what I'm trying to do," he said. "I have to admit, she's been more reasonable about that than I expected. When we broke into Leek's lab last night it worked really well, and we found a lot of information. We found photos, and a whole written record of what's been done so far. Equally important, Leek has been keeping a kind of journal of everything Luthor has had him do, how much he was paid, everything. There were even tape recordings of Leek's conversations with Luthor. Once we have Dr. Klein's report, it may be enough to take to Henderson."
"Are recordings admissible as evidence?" Martha asked. "I didn't think they allowed them."
"It depends on the state," Clark said. "They're admissible in New Troy as long as they're not the sole evidence against a defendant. There's the stuff that Lois has collected since November, and I think Leek will back us up against Luthor, when it comes to saving his own skin. Henderson could probably get an arrest warrant for Leek on the basis of Superman's recording, but we don't want to warn Luthor and give him the chance to make Leek's evidence disappear. He went to a lot of trouble to document everything. I think he's afraid Luthor's going to leave him holding the bag if anything goes wrong. He's right, too."
"It sounds that way," Martha agreed. "Of course, if this Luthor is as amoral as you think he is, Leek's life could be in danger once he's of no more use to him. This man didn't get to be as powerful as he is by leaving witnesses around. Or have I been reading too many spy thrillers?"
Clark smiled slightly. "No, I think you're absolutely right. I suspect Dr. Leek knows it, too. He's going to need to be protected."
"Clark, have you thought about what's going to happen to the clone if you do manage to save him?" Martha asked suddenly.
Clark shrugged. "Kind of. Of course, we're not sure yet if we *can*. If Dr. Klein can figure out what's going wrong, and if there's anything he can do about it, I guess we'll have to find some way to take care of — of him and teach him how to behave. I'm not sure how yet, but …"
"He needs to be around someone who will teach him right from wrong," Martha said quietly. "If he's only a few months old, I doubt what he's been taught has really had time to become permanent, no matter how fast he absorbs information — but you can't allow someone with your powers *not* to understand the difference."
"I know, and that's been worrying me, too. He's not bad, but he *is* a child. He wants to please his 'father'." Clark made a face. "…a 'father' that doesn't care about him at all, except for how he can use him."
"I know." Martha bit her lip. The mere thought of Clark's twin in the hands of Lex Luthor not only frightened her, it broke her heart. A child needed love while he was growing up and learning what the world was about. This child, for that was what he really was, had a man in the place of his parent who, she thought, wasn't really capable of love. "If we can help, you know we will," she said.
"I know." He finished the tea with a single swallow, and glanced at his watch. "I need to go. They'll be expecting me back in the office in a few minutes. I'll call you and let you know what happens. And don't be surprised if I ask for advice," he added with a little smile. "Somehow, things are always at least a little clearer after I've talked to you and Dad."
Lois glanced up as the elevator opened and Clark stepped out. It had been a good hour since she had seen him on television, and with his help the passengers had been long since freed and taken to various hospitals. Of course, if Clark were an ordinary person, she wouldn't wonder at all what had held him up from the meeting with his "source". Still, she thought, he had to allow for normal travel time.
He hurried down the ramp with his usual bouncy step. Lois had to work not to smile as she watched him. He was so good at being un-Supermanish that it was really amazing.
"What's so funny?" he asked, as he arrived at his desk.
"Nothing, really. Jimmy got our film developed and he sent the stuff on the clones to Dr. Klein."
"Good. How did the copies of Leek's evidence come out?"
"Nice and clear." She handed him the envelope containing the pictures and he examined them closely.
"This should give us the leverage we need," he said.
She nodded. "Now we have to be sure Leek stays alive long enough to hand the originals over to Henderson."
He slipped the photos back into the envelope. "Leek is safe as long as Luthor needs him," he said, "and not a minute longer. I imagine he figured that out pretty quickly, or he wouldn't have gone to so much trouble to document all these things."
"He may be pond scum," Lois said, "but he's not completely stupid. I just hope he was careful. Anyway, as soon as Dr. Klein has his answers, Lane and Kent are going to have to have to talk with the good Dr. Leek."
When Clark returned to his desk, he found a neat stack of printer paper with a post-it note from Jimmy. He scanned the first page quickly as he took his seat and leafed through the subsequent pages, frowning. It seemed as if one day the advertisers had simply decided to drop the Daily Planet and start advertising in the Star, the Gazette, the Herald, and even the National Whisper — anything but the Daily Planet.
"Anything?" Lois asked. She set his mug on the corner of his desk, nearly slopping hot coffee on its surface. "Oops, sorry."
"No problem." Clark unobtrusively steadied the cup. "The only common factor seems to be that they left the Planet without any complaint or warning." He sounded frustrated, even to himself. "What's the connection?"
"The lack of warning is the connection," Lois said. "They left … and others are leaving us … without warning. That means that there's something besides dissatisfaction with the Planet behind it. You were thinking corporate takeover, and you could be right. Remember what I said the other day? When something weird happens, my first suspect is …"
"Luthor," Clark said.
"Exactly. And," she continued, "from the research I've done on him since November, this fits the LexCorp pattern. A company starts having sudden financial trouble — nothing that can ever be traced to anyone, though. If it still manages to struggle along, acts of god intervene, and other things start happening to it. Employees strikes, vandalism … sometimes even some deaths. And then, when the company is on its last legs, LexCorp moves in with an offer ridiculously below what the company was worth a few months before. Right after that, all the bad luck stops and within a little while, it's thriving again. There's never any one thing that can be pinned on anyone, but the whole routine stinks."
"I need to read that folder of yours," Clark said.
"I makes interesting reading," Lois said. "Of course the Planet's troubles could be unrelated, but it fits."
"Yeah, it does, but why the Daily Planet?"
"It's a very prestigious newspaper," Lois said, unarguably. "Wouldn't he benefit to be able to control a news outlet like us? Besides, we're a thorn in his side. How many of his schemes do you think we've busted up in the last few months?"
Clark had to admit she was right. "Probably at least a dozen."
That, of course, was a telling argument. "Okay, how do you think we should check it out?"
"That's another question. I'd guess that there could have been some bribery involved. Who makes the decisions over where these companies advertise?"
"Hmm …" Clark glanced at the list again. "Let's see if we can dig up lists of the company officers. If we could take a look at their finances …"
"Jimmy!" Lois called.
Lois was closing down her computer and tidying her desk for the day when her phone rang. She paused in the act of wiping off her computer screen and picked up the receiver. "Lois Lane."
"Oh, Ms. Lane!" The agitated voice at the other end was familiar, and in a few seconds she identified it. "I was afraid I'd missed you!"
"Dr. Klein?" she asked.
"I'm sorry, yes. I need you and Mr. Kent to come by the lab as soon as possible."
"Have you found anything?"
"Yes, but I don't want to talk about it over the phone. When is the soonest you can come by?"
"We're just getting ready to leave," Lois said. "We'll stop by on the way home."
"Wonderful!" Bernard Klein's voice had an excited edge bordering on hysteria. "This is an incredible scientific discovery, Ms. Lane. I'll tell Security to expect you."
"Who was that?" Clark asked as she hung up.
"Dr. Klein. He wants us to stop by on the way home. He says he's found something."
"That was fast."
"Well, he didn't say he had the answer. He just said he'd found something and didn't want to talk about it over the phone. Let's go," she added.
Clark followed her willingly toward the exit. "Lois, if you do any more investigations of Luthor before we solve this thing, you're going to let me help you, right?"
She glanced over her shoulder. "Sure. You're my partner, aren't you? We work together. Why?"
"Well, yeah, we're partners. It just scared me that you'd gone after Luthor without me to help."
"I promise I'll let you be my backup," she said. "Geez, Clark! Didn't anyone ever tell you that you obsess over silly things?"
"Well, I was right." She punched the call button and waited, watching Clark fidget. "I know you think I was taking a risk, but it wasn't as bad as you think."
"Lois, we're talking *Luthor* here."
"I know. But he's putting on his best face for me and I've been careful to let him think I'm completely taken in." She put a hand on his arm. "Clark, he was threatening *you*. Do you know how much that scared me?" That was no lie. She hadn't wanted to admit to herself how much the threat to Clark had frightened her. Now she understood it; back then it had simply left her with a hard, cold knot of fear in her gut.
Had she really been that attached to him all those months ago? It seemed that despite all her resolutions, Mad Dog Lane hadn't been immune to a handsome face, a nice body and a charming personality after all.
But that wasn't quite true. She'd known a number of good- looking, charming men, many of whom had made plays for her at one time or another. Most of the time they didn't faze her in the slightest. It wasn't just any man who had worked his way through her defenses. It was whatever made him uniquely Clark. And that held true whether he was Clark or Superman. After all, she'd fallen for both of him, hadn't she?
"Lois?" Clark's voice snapped her out of her abstraction. "Are you okay?"
"Huh? Sure. Why?"
He was looking at her oddly. "You kind of zoned out on me."
"I was thinking," she said, somewhat inadequately. "Anyway, I promise to tell you if I plan on doing any more snooping on Lex. Besides, it will be easier with two of us to do the work. I have a date with him tomorrow night, by the way. He's taking me to the ballet." The elevator doors opened and they stepped in. "I won't do anything to make him suspicious, Clark. That's a promise."
He didn't speak immediately. The doors of the elevator closed.
"Did it really scare you that much?" he asked in a low voice. "Enough to take that kind of a risk?"
"Huh? You mean when Lex tried to kill you? Clark, if he'd succeeded, I'd have lost you. Do you have any idea what that would have done to me? Just because I sometimes don't treat you as well as I should doesn't mean you aren't important to me. Yes, it scared me. After I'd had time to think about it, it scared me a lot. I decided that I wasn't going to let him hurt you, whatever it took, and that meant I had to bring him down. It's only common sense."
"Right. Common sense." He rubbed the bridge of his nose and pushed his glasses more firmly into place. Lois glanced away to keep him from seeing that she was trying to hide a smile.
The STAR Labs parking lot was largely deserted at this hour, although there were a few vehicles left. Five middle-aged sedans, one flashy sports car, a battered pickup truck and a motorcycle, all chrome and glossy black paint, still occupied the lot. Lois pulled her Cherokee up beside the motorcycle and cut the engine. "Wonder who works here that would ride a motorcycle," she wondered aloud.
"I believe that belongs to Dr. Klein," Clark said.
"How do you know?"
"Jimmy mentioned it," Clark said. "He says Dr. Klein isn't your ordinary absent-minded professor."
"From what I saw of him last night, that's a good description," Lois said. "At least he's not a mad scientist out to take over the world."
Clark grinned but said nothing.
The security guard at the entrance to the main building checked their identification, supplied them with passes and let them through. Lois was completely lost almost at once, but Clark never hesitated and within a couple of minutes he was knocking on the door of an office with the name "Bernard Klein" on a small, eye-level, metal plate.
The scientist answered the door at once and beckoned them inside. Lois had only met Dr. Klein in person twice, although she had spoken to him on the phone several times. He was a middle-aged man, chubby, balding and surprisingly tall — and obviously chomping at the bit to explain his discovery. He closed and locked the door behind them and turned.
"This way," he said, "I want to show you something."
Lois and Clark looked at each other and followed Dr. Klein through his cluttered office and into the adjoining laboratory.
Lois saw Clark lift his head slightly as they entered the lab, but he said nothing as Dr. Klein threaded his way across the room to the terrarium located in the very back, where three frogs hopped about. He paused, looking very pleased with himself.
"These are the frogs you brought me, Ms. Lane," he said, gesturing at the amphibians. "One of the two sick ones died. I used it for my research. I used the other one as a test subject. It's one of these, and the other two are the reasonably healthy ones you included. Can you tell which one it is?"
Lois shook her head. They all looked the same to her.
"This one." Klein picked up one of the hoppers and exhibited it proudly before her. "What do you think?"
"It looks like an ordinary frog," Lois said.
"It does," Dr. Klein said, "but it's anything but an ordinary frog. When you brought it to me it was dying. Now it's healthy."
"You know what was killing it?" Clark asked and Lois could hear the suppressed excitement in his voice.
"I do." Bernard Klein grinned, waving the frog with triumphant exuberance. "The cloning process actually validates several theories on the subject." He held up the squirming amphibian. "This looks like your ordinary spring peeper, but it's anything but. An extra DNA chain was added to its DNA structure — also from a frog, but not a spring peeper. It supplies an enzyme that produces the accelerated growth …"
"But why did the frogs die?" Lois interrupted.
"I'm getting to that. The enzyme itself is the culprit. You see, the accelerated growth enzyme comes from an exotic South American frog — the doppel-buffo. They grow with amazing speed. When the enzyme-producing DNA is incorporated into the DNA of another creature, it induces the accelerated growth that is needed to create an adult clone — like the Superman clone. But in its original owner, when the frog reaches its adult size, there's another enzyme that the frog's body produces to shut down the growth enzyme. That chemical cue isn't present in other creatures, and when they reach adult size the enzyme doesn't shut off. It progressively produces metabolic imbalances that eventually kill the clone." He grinned triumphantly at them. "I suspected something of the sort as soon as I read the records you sent me, and I was able to identify the enzyme from the molecular receptors …" He broke off. "Well, that's pretty technical. Anyway, doppel-buffos are commonly found in pet stores in the United States, so it was easy to buy a couple of them to isolate the enzyme. I tried it on the dying frog, and …" Again he gestured with the frog. "Voila! It worked!"
Lois stared at the wiggling creature as the grinning scientist placed it back with its brothers. "Can you use the same method to save the Superman clone?"
Klein nodded. "I don't see why not. It will have to be done once he loses his invulnerability, however, because the enzyme has to be delivered directly into the bloodstream. In any case, it would be best if Superman can bring the clone here as soon as possible because I'd like to run some tests first."
"Dr. Klein, this is wonderful," Lois said. "Jimmy said you were smart, but I think he underestimated you."
Klein gave an embarrassed grin. "Well, if I can't be hip, I guess that's the next best thing. I'm ready to go home early for once. Care to walk out to my motorcycle with me?"
"That really is your motorcycle?" Lois asked.
He nodded, reaching up to retrieve a leather jacket and helmet from the coat rack. Lois read the logo on the back of the jacket and raised her eyebrows. "Lab Rats?"
"Do you think it's too much?" Dr. Klein asked, pausing in the act of pushing a hand into the sleeve.
"Actually," Lois said, "it's creative. I kind of like it."
"It was my idea," Dr. Klein said. He opened the door to the hall and stood back to let them precede him, then closed and locked it behind him.
Ten minutes later, they watched as the scientist roared out of the lot on the black and silver motorcycle, popped a wheelie, and sped away down the road.
"Jimmy was right," Lois said, after a pause. "Dr. Klein is definitely not ordinary."
The night breeze was brisk and chilly, although Superman was perfectly comfortable as he floated silently above the city, scanning the darkness with his super-senses. He had been there for over two hours, waiting for a sign of his double, and so far he had seen no trace of him. It might be that the other Superman wasn't abroad tonight, but sooner or later they were bound to meet again, and the sooner the better.
At last he heard the swish of air that announced the passage of his twin, and an instant later he sighted the blue and red of the Superman uniform. Instantly, he followed.
His twin was aware almost at once that he had company. Clark could feel that in the ghostly sensation that was the other Superman's mental processes. He was also aware of Clark's mind. That much was also clear. Within seconds, original confronted duplicate in mid air. Before the other man could speak, Clark broke the silence.
"I need to talk to you. You said before when we talked that you were as old as I was."
"Think for a minute," Clark said. "Do you have any memories of your life? Do you remember growing up? Do you have friends? Do you remember being a child?"
The mental touch changed. Clark sensed confusion and a touch of anger.
"You don't have any memories like that, do you?" Clark said.
"So what if I don't?" The reply was tinged with defiance.
"You can't remember those things because they didn't happen," Clark said. "Your 'father' made you from a part of me. You didn't exist until a short time ago."
The anger in the mental touch became more prominent. "That's a lie. You're a liar. You're not even really Superman. You're Clark Kent."
"Have you told anyone that?" Clark asked.
"Not yet," the other man said, "but I might."
"Please don't," Clark said.
"Why shouldn't I?"
"Because someone's been lying to you, but it isn't me," Clark said. "You heard what Dr. Leek and your father said last night. I could 'hear' you listening to them, and you knew I was there too. As a matter of fact, you can 'hear' my thoughts now, can't you."
The other Superman shifted uneasily. "What if I can?"
"Then you can tell if I'm lying to you. You were grown from a part of me, and you're not going to live much longer unless someone can help you."
"That isn't true!"
"Just think about this for a minute," Clark said. "You're my twin — my brother. I don't want you to die. Dr. Leek doesn't know what to do about it, but I know someone who does. I can help you, if you'll let me. Remember that, all right?"
The confusion in his twin's mind increased, and then, without a word, the other Superman rocketed away and Clark let him go. He had done all that he could for the moment. Now it was up to his "brother" to decide.
The morning was unseasonably warm and sunny as Lois Lane approached the Daily Planet the next morning; more like a day in July. She glanced automatically up into the sky, searching for a glimpse of her partner, but there was no sign of Superman anywhere. She saw Jimmy Olsen turn his battered fixer-upper into the Planet's underground lot; then the roar of an engine and the screech of tires announced Ralph, as the bright red sports car rounded the corner into the parking lot. Brakes squealed agonizingly as Ralph realized that his path was impeded by Jimmy's ancient vehicle. She winced in anticipation, then she heard the hair-raising crunch of metal against metal as the front of Ralph's car impacted the rear of Jimmy's.
She ran toward the scene of the collision. Other people were converging on the accident as well, and then the red and blue of Superman's uniform appeared out of nowhere as the Man of Steel came in to a fast landing beside the two cars.
Ralph had hit the older car hard. Lois pushed her way through gawking onlookers to reach the accident only seconds after Superman. The badly crumpled nose of the sports car was buried in the rear of Jimmy's vehicle, and appeared to have rammed the trunk up into the back seat. Ralph jumped from the driver's seat, a trickle of blood running down his forehead, and ran forward to his co-worker, who was leaning forward in the seat, his head resting on the steering wheel. Superman opened the door of Jimmy's car.
"Jimmy, are you all right?" he asked.
Jimmy put a hand on his neck. "Ow," he said faintly.
Ralph pushed forward, wiping at the blood dripping off his nose and grabbed Jimmy by the shoulder. "Look what you made me do!" he said. "My car's ruined!"
Superman removed Ralph's hand. "Later," he said. "Jimmy, don't move. I'm going to x-ray your neck."
Lois inserted her own body between Ralph and Jimmy. "Jimmy, are you hurt?"
Superman interrupted. "I'm pretty sure you have a whiplash, and you've chipped one of your vertebrae," he said. "I don't think it's serious, but I'm going to take you to the emergency room, just to be on the safe side."
"What are you going to do about my car?" Ralph demanded.
"Nothing," Superman said. "The police will be here in a minute." He leaned forward and lifted Jimmy carefully from the seat. With equal care, he rose into the air and an instant later, he and his passenger were out of sight.
Several of the Planet's security guards had appeared on the scene, and one of them spoke. "What happened?"
"He stopped his car without warning!" Ralph said loudly. "I couldn't stop in time!"
"I saw the accident," Lois said. "That's not quite how it happened."
As a result, Lois was nearly an hour late to work. Perry met her as she arrived at her desk, with an agitated question. "Eduardo just told me there was an accident downstairs. How bad is Jimmy hurt?"
"Superman took him to the emergency room," Lois said. "The paramedics arrived while I was still talking to the cops and took Ralph, too. He had a little cut over one eyebrow."
"Somebody said Jimmy broke his neck," Perry said. "I didn't figure it was that bad, but …"
"Superman said he had a whiplash and a chipped vertebra," Lois reassured him. "He didn't think it was serious, but he flew Jimmy to the hospital just in case."
Perry let out his breath. "Thank Memphis," he said. "It kind of scared me for a minute. What happened?"
"Ralph tail-ended him," Lois said.
"Him and that fancy car of his," Perry said, shaking his head. "The way he was drivin' it, I had a feelin' it wasn't gonna last long."
Perry's southern accent was so thick that you could cut it with a knife, she thought, which meant her boss was more upset than he was letting on. "Well, it's a mess," she said. "He bashed in the whole front of the car, and the rear of Jimmy's, but I don't think anyone was seriously hurt."
"I'll give the hospital a call," Perry said. "Maybe they'll let me talk to him."
Lois nodded. "Let me know what you find out, would you?"
Perry nodded and headed for his office. Lois dropped her purse on the floor and shoved it under her desk with one foot. Clark hadn't returned yet, and the thought worried her just a little, but surely, if Jimmy were hurt worse than he had thought, Clark would have let them know.
A gust of air blew a paper off her desk and a pair of red boots landed on the floor next to her.
"Superman!" she said. "Is anything wrong?"
He shook his head. "Everything's fine. Could I ask you to come with me for a few minutes? I want to talk to you in private."
Maybe Jimmy was hurt worse than they had believed, she thought. "All right. Is Jimmy okay?" she asked.
"Jimmy's fine. I just need to talk to you about something." He reached out his arms. "Come. Fly with me."
"Who's Jimmy?" Superman asked as they rose over the city. "A boyfriend?"
Lois's breath caught in her throat. She should have been on her guard, but her concern for Jimmy had distracted her. In shock, she stared into the familiar face that didn't belong to Clark at all. "You're not Superman!"
"I'm Superman," the clone replied. "Soon I'll be the only Superman." He looked soberly at her. "He likes you. If I threaten you, he'll have to fight me. I have to kill him."
Lois swallowed. 'Keep calm,' she told herself. She was talking to a child here, no matter that he looked like a man. If she did this right, she might be able to talk her way out of it. "Why do you have to kill him?" she asked.
"He's my father's enemy," the clone said, as if that explained everything. "Superman has outlived his usefulness. Might is right, and the old must be replaced by the new."
"Your father told you that," Lois said. "Why does your 'father' want to kill him? Superman is a good man. He's done nothing but good in the time he's been here."
"My father calls him his enemy," the clone said.
"Do you know why?" Lois asked quietly. "Why would someone want you to kill a man who helps so many people? Why would *you* want to kill him? He's your brother."
The familiar face was close to hers, and she could see him frowning. "I must do what my father tells me," he said.
"Why?" Lois said again. ""Your father wants you to hurt a good man. That's wrong."
"'Might is right'," he said.
"No," Lois said. "Might is *not* right. Just because you're stronger than someone, doesn't make it right to hurt him." She put a hand on his arm. "I know who your 'father' is," she said. "His name is Lex Luthor. He uses people like *things* and when he has no more use for them he throws them away. He's Superman's enemy because Superman has stopped him from hurting other people. You mustn't do this. It's wrong!"
"I *have* to." The clone looked suddenly like a child about to cry. "If I do what he wants, maybe he won't throw me away. Maybe he'll help me."
Lois shook her head. "He won't," she said quietly. "Lex doesn't care about anyone but himself. He had you created for the purpose of killing his greatest enemy: Superman. After you've done that, he won't need you anymore."
"No," the clone said, almost desperately. "My father loves me."
"If he loves you, why does he want you to do things that are wrong?" Lois said. "Please listen. Superman and I have been trying to find a way to help you. We know a scientist who discovered why the frogs died — why *you* will die if someone doesn't help you."
"Why would you help me?" the clone asked, almost in a whisper. "Why would *he* want to help me? I'm his enemy."
"Only if you want to be his enemy," Lois said. "He wants you to be his friend. You're his brother! Superman never had a brother, before. He wants you to live."
A streak of red and blue appeared suddenly in the sky, and a split instant later, Superman was hanging in the air, fifty feet away.
Lois cast a single, warning glance at him and turned back to the Superman who carried her. "*Talk* to him," she said. "You'll see. He isn't your enemy. He doesn't want to fight you."
The clone looked at his double, hanging motionless in the air, and then back at Lois. Slowly, he began to descend until his feet touched the pavement and he set Lois on her feet, but kept a grip on her upper arm. Superman kept pace with them, making no effort to come closer.
Lois took the clone's hand. "He's *not* your enemy," she said again. "I'm not your enemy, either. We care what happens to you. Please; don't do this."
Clark didn't say a word, and Lois could see the tenseness in his body. Her partner was afraid to try to rescue her, and with some reason. It was up to her to do it herself.
"Please," she said softly, resting her free hand against the clone's chest. "Talk to him. Let him talk to you. Give us a chance to help you."
The clone released her arm. "Why don't you want to fight me?" he asked, clearly speaking to Clark. "I'm your enemy and might is right."
"Might isn't right," Clark said. "My mother and father always taught me that it's the duty of the strong to protect people who can't protect themselves. Being stronger than someone doesn't make it right to harm him."
The clone cast a glance at Lois and then back at Clark, and Lois could see tears glimmering in his eyes. Clark took a short step toward them. "I don't want to fight you," he said quietly. "If I do, one of us, maybe both of us, would be hurt or killed, and I don't want that to happen. Do you remember what Luthor and Leek said two nights ago? In a few days you're going to start to lose your powers, and you'll die soon after that. It's already starting to happen." He took another step toward the clone. "We don't have much time to stop it," he said. "I told you the truth last night. You're my brother. I don't want you to die. I want to help you."
All at once, the fight seemed to drain out of the clone and Lois saw that tears were leaking from his eyes. Superman was suddenly beside them, and Lois found herself with his solid body between her and the clone. As she watched, her partner put his arm around the other Superman's shoulders.
"It's all right," he said. "You're not alone, and you don't have to be afraid anymore."
The clone wiped at his face with the back of his hand and sniffled, looking more like a little boy than ever, Lois thought. She reached past Superman and patted him on the arm. "Don't cry," she said, somewhat uncomfortably, at least to her own ears. "It's going to be all right."
The knot in Clark's stomach was slowly unwinding for the first time since he had discovered that his twin had taken Lois with him under false pretenses. When he had found them, he had heard her talking and realized what she was doing, so he had waited. Trying to rescue her as such would have put her in more danger than letting her try to talk her way out, and from what he could feel in his twin's mind, Luthor's Superman didn't really want to fight him. He was confused and scared, and didn't know what to do, but had felt that he didn't have a choice but to fight. He desperately wanted to live, and hoped that if he did his 'father's' bidding, the man might see fit to save him. And then, Lois had offered him real hope.
His brother was only a frightened little boy, in spite of his adult appearance, Clark thought. He desperately wanted someone to care about him and for him. Lex Luthor might have raised him, but he had only cared what his creation could do for him. Any child needed more than that.
"Come on," he said, keeping his arm around his twin's shoulders. "The sooner we get you to our friend, the sooner he can help you."
"We need to get him some other clothes first," Lois interrupted. "That costume is pretty noticeable. Lex is going to be expecting him back."
"He'll be angry," Clark's twin said. "I was supposed to kill you today — I guess he wanted me to do it before I lost my powers."
"Well, now you don't have to kill anyone," Clark said. "Lois is right, though. We need to get you something else to wear." He paused. "What should we call you? We can't call you Superman, and calling you just 'brother' doesn't seem right."
"My father called me Superman," his twin said.
"Superman's not a name," Lois said. "Superman is a description. Wouldn't you rather have a real name?"
Clark turned to look at her in surprise, but she was regarding his twin thoughtfully. "How would you like to choose a name of your own?"
The other Superman wiped away tears with the heel of his hand. "I don't know any names."
"How about Brian? You kind of look like a Brian," Lois said. "What do you think, Superman?"
"I think it's up to him," Clark said. He looked at his twin. "What do you think?"
"Do you like it?"
"Yes, I do," he said with a smile, "and I think it would be good to be able to call you by your own name."
His brother nodded. "All right. I think I like it, too."
"Then it's official," Lois said. "Your name is Brian. Now, we need to get you some other clothes. Superman, do you think Clark would be willing to loan him an outfit? He's about the same size."
Brian opened his mouth, and Clark spoke quickly. "That's a good idea. Why don't I drop you off at the Planet? I'll take care of getting Brian something to wear and take him to Dr. Klein. We need to get started as soon as we can."
It somehow seemed a lot longer than it had actually been when Lois walked into the newsroom later — probably, she thought, because of all that had happened in the relatively short time. Ralph gave her a dirty look as she passed him on the way to her desk. He had developed a spectacular black eye — apparently a souvenir of the earlier accident — and a piece of adhesive tape adorned the spot above his eyebrow where she had seen the half- inch cut some hours before.
Perry was in his office, and through the blinds she could see Jimmy sitting on the office couch. The young photographer/researcher/gofer was wearing a neck brace and speaking earnestly to the editor.
"Nice going, Lane," Ralph said, sourly. "After you gave the police that story about the accident, my insurance agent says the company's probably going to raise my rates. You could have kept your mouth shut."
Lois raised an eyebrow. "And let you blame Jimmy for the accident? I don't think so." She pulled out her desk chair and sat down, opening the drawer where she kept the pouch of documents that was her "Lex file". If she gave all this stuff to Henderson, he could probably get a warrant to search Fabian Leek's laboratory, and possibly Luthor's penthouse, but the last thing she and Clark needed was for the authorities to get hold of the hair that Leek had used to create his Superman clones. The cloning techniques were bound to get out eventually, but she had no wish for anyone to be able to produce yet another super- powered clone. She hoped Clark wouldn't take too long with Brian and Dr. Klein. She needed to talk to him about what to do next.
The phone on her desk chose that moment to ring and she picked it up. "Lois Lane."
"Lois, my dear!" It was Lex. "I just wanted to remind you of our dinner date tonight."
"I haven't forgotten," she said. "I'm looking forward to it."
"I'm looking forward to it as well. I'll send a car to pick you up at seven. We'll have dinner in the penthouse and then go on to the ballet. Will that be satisfactory?"
"That will be perfect," she assured him.
"Excellent. Until tonight, then."
After she had hung up, Lois's gaze went back to the thick document folder in her lap. Where was Lex likely to keep something as critical to his plans as the lock of Superman's hair? It would have to be in some place that he felt was safely under his control, and it would have to be preserved in such a way that the cells of the hair roots stayed alive, which probably meant some kind of cryogenic facility. The most likely location was almost certainly the penthouse itself. Lex was highly unlikely to trust such a precious possession to anyone else. And she was going to be there this evening.
In the distance, she heard a sonic boom that caused the newsroom's windows to shake slightly, and an instant later the door to the stairs opened and Clark stepped into the office. Lois closed the flap of the Lex file and got to her feet. This was going to take some planning.
Clark crossed the Pit to her desk with his usual businesslike stride with its understated bounce that left her trying not to smile. Her partner was really good at that — and it was good thing he was, considering how dreadful his excuses to get away and be Superman were. It was amazing to her that he could be such a convincing actor and at the same time such an incredibly bad liar. Maybe it had to do with the fact that he didn't like to lie, so he had never developed any skill at it, she reflected. Well, that wasn't such a bad thing, was it? Claude had obviously developed great skill at lying. With Clark she would very likely never have to worry. She would be willing to bet that he didn't like even the necessary misdirection that kept his secret intact.
"Conference room," she said, as Clark arrived at her desk.
He blinked. "Okay." He followed her obediently to the conference room and waited as she turned the lock. "What's going on?"
"Clark, I've been thinking," she said. "Before we do anything about bringing the authorities into this, we need to get hold of that lock of Superman's hair."
"I know. I've been thinking about it," Clark said. "One way or another, the cloning technology isn't going to disappear. Even if the authorities hush it up for now, it will be developed independently somewhere, eventually. We don't want Superman's DNA available for anyone to create another clone of him."
"Exactly. And Lex has the lock of hair. He's certainly keeping it under his control somewhere. My guess is the penthouse. He's probably got it in liquid nitrogen, or something, there. Well, I'm having dinner with him at the penthouse, tonight."
"Lois, you can't go snooping around in Luthor's penthouse."
"No, but I can make sure the French windows to his study are unlocked!"
"Are you saying that Superman should break in and take it?" Clark asked.
"It won't really be breaking in if the doors are unlocked," Lois said. "Well, maybe technically, but can you think of any other way to get our hands on it?"
He opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it again. "You're right. I just don't like the idea of you taking a risk like that."
"Clark, it's necessary. We can't let anyone else create another clone. If Dr. Klein manages to save Brian, we're going to have to figure out what to do with him. The last thing we need is for there to be more around. Can you see what would happen if some power-hungry would-be dictator somewhere gets hold of the technology and Superman's DNA?"
"Yeah. He'd have an army of supermen under his control." He looked unusually grim, and she could see the unmistakable "Superman" expression flash across his face. "There's one thing we can do now, though."
"Superman should fly over LexTower and see if he can spot any place that something like that could be hidden. That way he'll have a better idea where to look, tonight."
She nodded. "That's a very good idea. Can you pass that along to him for me? If he agrees, I'll find a way to unlock the French windows, and after we've left, Superman can come in and get the lock of hair. Just tell him to be sure he doesn't leave any traces."
"I think he can probably manage that," Clark said. He looked at her oddly. "Lois, are you feeling all right?"
"Sure," she said. "Why?"
"It's just that … I don't know; you've been so agreeable recently, I've sort of wondered if anything was wrong."
Oops! She would have to remember that in the future. "You mean, if I'm not biting your head off there must be something wrong with me?" she said, raising a challenging eyebrow.
"No," he said, backtracking hastily. "It's just that — well — um …"
Lois enjoyed watching him flounder for several seconds before she decided to let him off the hook. "Take it easy, partner. I know what you meant. It's just too much fun to watch you when you stick your foot in your mouth and can't figure out how to get it out. No, nothing's wrong — except this whole situation, I guess." She leaned back against the conference room table. "I didn't think even Lex could sink to something like this — not that this situation ever would have occurred to me in a million years. I should have listened to you the first time you tried to tell me about him. I should have known that no matter how much you disliked someone, you'd never lie about him. I'm just sorry I misjudged you so badly back then. You're the best friend I've ever had — the one person I can always count on."
She could see his neck turning red. Clark looked suddenly uncomfortable. She had been right, she thought. He wasn't happy deceiving her about his dual identity, which meant that he was extremely unlikely to lie to her about anything of lesser importance.
"What's the matter?" she asked. "You look like something's bothering you."
He looked at the toes of his shoes. "Nothing important. I think you and I need to go someplace private and talk; at least we should after things have quieted down some. In the meantime, I guess we'd better get moving. What time is Luthor picking you up tonight?"
"Seven," Lois said, checking her watch. "That gives us six hours."
"Okay. I need to go out for a bit. Can you cover for me?"
"Sure," Lois said. "If anyone asks, you've gone to meet a source. When you get a chance, you should take a look at this." She held out the folder containing the evidence that it had taken her months to acquire. "It's my information on Lex. You need to know what I've dug up on him."
He took the folder. "I'll read it the first chance I get. You might look at the top folder in my right bottom drawer while I'm gone. That's the stuff that Superman and I have managed to document on him. There isn't much, but it might be useful."
"I will," she promised. "And if Jimmy's feeling better, I'll ask him if he's managed to get that stuff on the Planet's advertisers for us. It could be very interesting reading."
Clark took the stairs to the roof of the Planet. Once there, he stopped and riffled quickly through Lois's information. Besides the copies of the documents that they had acquired the night before at Fabian Leek's lab, and the micro-cassette containing the recording that he had made of Luthor and Leek at their meeting in LexTower, there were lists of events, their times, dates and the names of various subordinates of Lex Luthor who were involved in each; there were even photographs of the sort that nearly made his hair stand up on his head. Photographs of drug deals and transfers of weapons shipments taking place, apparently taken with a telephoto lens. There were no pictures of Lex Luthor in any of the transactions, but Nigel St. John figured prominently in several, and in more than one there were photos of men and women high in the city government in very incriminating situations as well. One photograph showed Luthor's exotic female assistant, Mrs. Cox, with a man known to Superman in his line of work; an individual who, it was rumored, ran the largest prostitution ring in the city.
But, of course, the evidence was all circumstantial. Without more solid proof, Luthor couldn't be connected with any of the crimes so documented. The legal staff that worked for the billionaire would see to that. The authorities might suspect, but they would be able to prove nothing without the cooperation of Luthor's subordinates, and Clark was quite sure that none of them would be willing to incriminate their boss. He understood at once why Lois hadn't taken this information to the authorities. It might have resulted in the arrests of a number of persons, but Lex Luthor would not have been among them. He would have walked away untouched, and he would then have been aware of her true loyalties. Instead, she had chosen to play a waiting game until she could find a way to tie him solidly to something major.
Closing the folder, he fastened the flap tightly, and spun quickly into his Superman outfit. It was time to take a quick cruise over to LexTower to see what he could see.
"Superman said that he thinks he knows where it's kept," Clark told his partner some half an hour later. He was standing by Lois's desk in the Daily Planet newsroom, speaking to his partner in a low tone of voice so as not to be overheard. "There's a small vault in the room where Brian has been sleeping, that's been rigged for sub-zero refrigeration. It's lead-lined, too, so it looks like he wanted to be sure Superman wasn't going to get a look at its contents."
"And, of course, he knows Superman isn't going to break and enter," Lois said. "Only this time, I think he will."
"Well, maybe not break, but certainly enter," Clark said. "That lock of hair has to be destroyed, so it looks like Superman has no alternative this time."
"Besides," Lois said, as if it clinched the matter, "the hair isn't his, either. He stole it."
"Good point. Did you look at my Luthor collection?"
Lois nodded. "Yes. Besides Leek's tapes, the rest of it is about the same as mine. Lots of circumstantial evidence, but nothing that ties him directly to anything criminal. I wonder if Superman's testimony about the time Luthor threatened him would hold up in court?"
"Superman says not. He never actually came right out and said he was responsible. He just inferred it."
"Naturally," Lois said. "Besides, it would just be a case of he said — he said."
"Exactly. He's not going to commit himself in front of witnesses."
"I guess Leek is our only hope," Lois said. "I hope he has the good sense to stay in Lex's good graces until we can tie everything together."
"Yeah," Clark said. "So do I."
Jimmy was sitting at his desk studying his computer screen. Every now and then he shifted uncomfortably and rubbed some part or other of his anatomy. Judging from his cautious movements, Clark thought, he had acquired some bruises and sore muscles from the accident. As Clark watched, he straightened up in his chair with a slight wince. Ralph gave him a sour look.
"Sore, Olsen?" he asked.
"Yeah." Jimmy didn't look at his co-worker.
"Next time don't stop your car so suddenly," Ralph said with a trace of sarcasm.
"I didn't!" Jimmy said. "You slammed into me! If you hadn't been driving like a maniac you wouldn't have hit me!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ralph asked, bristling slightly.
Jimmy got painfully to his feet and faced his co-worker. "It means exactly what it sounds like. You hit *me* Ralph. If you hadn't been going so fast you'd have had time to stop."
"All right, break it up." Perry White was standing a few feet away, although Clark hadn't seen him approach, as his attention had been focused on the combatants. "Ralph, where's that piece you promised me on last night's city council meeting?"
"Uhh … I haven't had time today, Chief, what with the accident."
"Then why in Elvis's name are you over here pickin' fights with Olsen? I want that article on my desk in half an hour!"
Ralph turned without a word and headed for his desk. Perry turned to Jimmy. "You okay, son?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Jimmy said. "Sorry, Chief."
Perry didn't answer. "Better get back on that research for Lois that you said you had to do. Remember what I told you. No dashing around today. Stick to your computer."
"Yes sir," Jimmy said.
Perry nodded. He glanced around. "We've got a deadline, people! Get a move on! I have to have time to edit these things before they go to press. Eduardo! Where's that piece on the Cost Mart protest?"
Clark glanced at Lois with raised eyebrows.
"Tell you later," she said softly. "Jimmy! How's that research going?"
Jimmy had taken his seat again. Now he swiveled the chair around so he could look at her without turning his head. "I'm working on it," he reported. "I found the names of the different companies' advertising heads. I can give you a little info on the first couple of names. Their companies were the first to drop us. A friend of mine who deals with the Bank of Metropolis took a look at the records for me. He wouldn't show me anything — I guess that would be illegal — but he says both of them had a sudden influx of cash into their checking accounts, starting two months ago. Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars for the month, and the same amount last month and this one. Just under the amount the bank has to report to the Feds."
Lois cast a quick glance at Clark. "That's interesting."
"Isn't it?" Jimmy said. "There's also this. Both of them are driving brand new Porsches as of last month. Coincidence?"
"I doubt it," Lois said. "Keep at it, Jimmy. I think we're onto something here."
"Yeah, I think I'm seeing the pattern," Jimmy said, with unusual cynicism. "Maybe this will make the Chief feel better. I'm really worried about him."
"Why?" Clark asked.
"Haven't you seen the way he's been acting the last few days, CK? Something's wrong. I just know it."
"Well, we'll let him in on what you've found. Maybe that will help," Clark said. "Keep at it."
Jimmy nodded. "The Chief told me I could stay as long as I don't do any running around," he admitted. "I'm sort of grounded, but I can't afford to miss work, so I guess I've got the time. By the way," he added, "thanks for standing up for me this morning, Lois."
"I just told the police what I saw," Lois said.
"Yeah, but my insurance company would probably have cancelled my insurance if they'd believed Ralph," Jimmy said. "I owe you one."
"Lois, my dear, you look lovely as always." Lex Luthor was, of course, waiting for her as she stepped off the elevator that had brought her to his penthouse. Nigel St. John let her disembark first and then made his way down the thickly carpeted hallway to disappear through a door near the end. Lex, meanwhile, stepped forward and lifted her hand to his lips. Ever since the pheromone episode several months ago, he had conducted himself with a rather possessive air whenever she was in his presence, and Miranda's remark, which Clark had passed to her, always remained uneasily in the back of her mind. "The one hundred percent solution is permanent". She had never known which solution the woman had used on Lex. His possessive attitude gave her an entirely different sensation than when Clark had done it the night before. The feeling of being a highly desired object wasn't in the least flattering or even pleasant. She had a part to play, however, and she smiled warmly at him, reminding herself that the key to a convincing performance was to put oneself into the part wholeheartedly.
So she allowed him to draw her hand into the crook of his arm and lead her into his study where dinner would be served this evening.
Soft music was playing in the background, and a table sat there, covered in white linen and set with china and crystal that probably cost a small fortune.
She accepted the martini presented to her on a tray by the turbaned Hindu servant whose name, she had learned, was Asabi and walked to the French doors to look out at the lights of the city. It was something of a ritual that she had established over the past months of dating Lex. He, of course, accompanied her.
"Would you like to step out on the balcony for a few minutes?" he asked.
She nodded. "The sky is so clear tonight, I'd like to enjoy the view for a few minutes," she said.
Smiling at the implied compliment to his home, Lex opened the French windows and let her precede him out onto the balcony.
The sky tonight was still and utterly cloudless, and there was a distinct chill to the air. Lois had not removed her coat, and she leaned on the stone wall of the balcony in silence, sipping the martini and trying not to swallow the wad of gum that she concealed in one cheek. Lex also leaned on the wall at her side, smiling down at her indulgently.
At last, Lois glanced at him with a little smile. "It's so beautiful from up here," she said. "It's nice to take a little time to unwind from work, I suppose."
"I imagine that the life of an investigative reporter must be stressful," Lex said.
"I suppose it is," she said. "Still, it's the work that I love. I've wanted to be a reporter since I was in third grade. My father, of course, always wanted me to follow in his footsteps."
"He wanted you to be a doctor?" Lex said.
She nodded, turning to look out over the city again. "He told me he wouldn't pay for college unless I studied to be a doctor."
"I suppose he wanted the best for you," Lex said. "You can't blame a father for that."
"I suppose not," Lois said, "but what he didn't realize was that my idea of what was best didn't coincide with his. Instead, I applied for scholarships and worked odd jobs to finance my way through. Finally, I guess Daddy realized that I wasn't going to be a doctor no matter how hard he pushed, and he helped me through the last two years."
"I can see that not much stops you," Lex said. "But you wouldn't be the Lois Lane that I know if you weren't so independent." He glanced back at the study. "Asabi has brought the wine and the first course. Shall we go in?"
Lois smiled and turned toward the French windows that he had opened for her. This was it. She had to play this just right.
She re-entered the study ahead of him. He had just turned to close the doors when she gave an exclamation of annoyance. He glanced at her in surprise.
"Is anything wrong?"
"Oh, my antique bracelet! I think there must be something wrong with the catch. It must have fallen off on the balcony. Just a minute." She started to turn, but, as expected, he stopped her.
"Allow me," he said. He went quickly out onto the balcony and glanced around. "Ah! There it is." He bent to pick up the gold bracelet, and in the moment that he turned his back, Lois took the gum from her mouth and crammed it into the lock.
He picked up the bracelet and stepped through the doors once more. "Here you are, my dear."
"Thank you, Lex." She took the piece of jewelry and dropped it into her handbag. "I think it will be safer there for now."
"I suppose it sounds trite," Lex said, "but someone like you doesn't need jewelry to set off her beauty. And now, before I say anything more to embarrass both of us, shall we eat?"
Floating directly over LexTower, and out of sight of any possible observers, Clark watched with admiration as Lois neatly sabotaged the lock to the French windows. Keeping his super hearing trained on the conversation, he knew at once when they had finally finished the meal and Luthor pushed back his chair.
"We have just enough time to make the first act," he said. "Shall we go, my dear?"
He waited while Luthor helped Lois with her coat, and followed their progress to the elevator. The Hindu servant was moving about in the room, clearing up the dishes. Clark waited impatiently. The last thing he needed was for that butler of Luthor's, Nigel St. John, to check the windows and find Lois's sabotage. At last the sounds disappeared, and Clark approached the balcony.
No matter that Luthor saw nothing wrong with spying on others, Clark had found no evidence of spy cameras in the penthouse itself. He didn't need to worry about being observed while on his mission. The French windows opened easily, and he stepped into the darkened study. Meticulously, he removed the gum so as to leave no trace of it and threw it out into the sky toward the ocean. He had no intention of leaving any evidence of Lois's sabotage to be found by Luthor's zealous servants. Then, he glanced carefully around, x-raying the immediate area beyond the study.
The place was quiet. Wherever the butler had gone, he wasn't in evidence here. Quietly and quickly, Clark opened the study doors and made his way to the room where his brother had slept every night so far of his short life.
The room was, in many ways, like an ordinary bedroom, although the place where Brian had apparently slept was a big, glass tank, somewhat like the one in Leek's laboratory. There was an armchair positioned beside it. Clark could almost visualize Luthor sitting there, reading bedtime stories to his "son". He made a face and crossed the room toward the small closet that concealed the lead-lined vault.
Footsteps coming toward him. A glance through the door showed him Nigel St. John headed directly for Brian's "nursery". Short of hiding in the closet, which probably wasn't a good idea, since he would be trapping himself, the only other way out of the room was the window. If he left, and St. John locked the window again, it would be more difficult to get back in undetected. Then the answer hit him. He unlocked the "nursery" window, assumed a mocking expression and took his position facing the door, sitting cross-legged in the air.
The door opened. Nigel St. John stepped through. He saw Clark and stopped in his tracks.
"Master Superman," he said. "You're back early. Have you completed your task?"
Clark thrust out his lower lip. "No," he said petulantly. "I haven't even seen him today, and I got bored. I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some milk for dinner. Then, maybe I'll go back out and hunt some more — if I feel like it."
"Your father expects you to obey him," Nigel said, a faintly menacing tone underlying the words. "He will certainly be angry if you fail."
Clark stuck out his lip farther. "I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich first," he repeated. "And some chocolate milk. Then I'll go out again."
"And where, Master Superman, did you hear of peanut butter and jelly, not to mention chocolate milk?" Nigel asked.
"I saw children eating them at the playground," he said, a little sulkily. "It looked good."
Nigel's expression didn't change. "Very well, Master Superman. I will fetch you chocolate milk and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," he said, in his expressionless voice. "Be so good as to wait here."
Clark turned several aerial somersaults and stopped, head down in the air. He folded his arms and tapped his foot impatiently against the ceiling. Small flecks of plaster sifted down. Nigel glanced at him with a trace of annoyance before he turned and went out.
Clark waited until the butler had entered the elevator on his mission to procure peanut butter and jelly, then turned back toward his goal.
The lead inner lining of the safe kept him from seeing the contents, but the alarm embedded in the casing was clear to his x-ray vision. Efficiently, Clark cut the wire with his heat vision and then placed his ear to the safe's door as he twirled the dial.
It took only seconds. The door came open with a puff of icy air, and he looked within.
A plastic display box held a lock of hair. He seized it at once, removed the hair and substituted the dark curls that Lois had cut from a cheap wig that she had once used for a disguise. A small burst of heat vision, and the hair that had been the source of so much trouble turned to ash. Before he closed the safe door, he checked the inside of the safe one last time. At the back of the cavity was an innocuous metal box that a quick examination with x-ray vision showed to be lead. His suspicions instantly aroused, he appropriated it.
His super-hearing detected the arrival of the elevator, and an instant later the footsteps of Nigel St. John, returning with his requested food. Quickly, he closed the safe, spun the dial, left the closet and returned to the outer room. Hastily, he concealed the lead box down under the cushions of the room's single armchair, and when St. John opened the door, the butler-Jack-of- all-trades found him lying on his side in mid-air, his head braced on one hand.
"Your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sir," Nigel said, expressionlessly. "Also one glass of chocolate milk."
He levitated through the air, swooped low enough to take the plate and glass, levitated ceilingward and proceeded to munch on the sandwich with gusto, all the while sitting cross-legged on nothing. He drained the glass in four swallows, polished off the remainder of the sandwich and floated downward to return the glass to the stone-faced butler.
"Thank you very much," he said politely. "That was very good. I'll be going now."
"Be sure you do as your father told you, Master Superman," Nigel said, coldly. "And don't forget your curfew."
Clark thrust his lower lip out at the butler. "Not until you leave. I don't want you to watch me."
Nigel St. John opened his mouth as if to refuse, then his jaw snapped shut. He turned smartly and left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Instantly, Clark retrieved the lead box from the chair and zipped to the window. As he was pushing the pane upward, he heard the door open slightly and knew that the butler was checking on him. He levitated casually from the floor, and floated out the window. Slowly and lazily, he turned to his stomach, gradually assumed classic flying position, waved jauntily at the man and began to gather speed. He heard the butler's muttered, "Arrogant twit," and the decisive slam as St. John shut the "nursery" window.
The street outside his apartment was quiet when Clark returned home. A block away late rush hour traffic was still bumper to bumper but Clinton Street, where his apartment was located, was fortunately not normally a route for many of the residents of Metropolis. When he had rented the place, Floyd had told him that it was the quietest street in Metropolis. While that wasn't strictly true, it actually was far less frequented than many of the city's side streets, and didn't make a good short-cut for commuters trying to bypass the more heavily traveled routes.
He walked the last block and a half to his apartment, just in case his snoopy landlord was watching again, and climbed the steps of his home, whistling softly. For an instant, his whistling stopped as his super-hearing detected sounds coming from inside, at the same time that he noticed Floyd parked in his battered Chevy in the lot by the deli, with his binoculars aimed at Clark Kent's front door. With a sinking feeling, he lowered his glasses slightly and looked inside.
Brian was sitting on his couch, his feet propped on the coffee table. The television was on, showing a Wiley Coyote vs. the roadrunner cartoon, and Brian was drinking a soda, and eating a Twinkie. The debris of several snack-food wrappers lay on the floor beside the sofa, along with four empty cans that had contained cream soda. Well, Clark thought, at least that part was true to form. His brother apparently liked junk food as much as he did.
Deliberately, he ascended the steps and put his key in the lock.
Brian turned and Clark knew he was looking to see who was coming in. He removed the key and opened the door.
"Hi," Brian said.
"Hi, Brian," Clark said. "How come you're here?"
"I didn't want to stay at Bernie's lab tonight," Brian said. "I was lonesome, so I came here."
"Oh," Clark said. "Does he know you left?"
Brian shook his head. "No. I promise I'll go back in the morning," he said, earnestly. "Bernie's nice. I like him lots better than Uncle Fabian. He's funny, and he likes me. Uncle Fabian doesn't. He never even laughs."
"I like him too," Clark said. "Bernie is a good guy and he wants to help you. Tell you what. I'll give him a call and let him know where you are, okay? That way he won't worry when he gets to the lab in the morning."
"Okay," Brian said. "I didn't want to go home. Father will be angry if he finds out that I didn't kill you, but I don't *want* to kill you. I like you, too."
"I'm glad of that," Clark said. He picked up the phone. "Just a minute, okay?"
Brian nodded and went back to watching the television.
Clark dialed the number that Bernard Klein had given to Superman in case of an emergency and waited, lowering his glasses to check on Floyd. His landlord had left the car and was moving closer, obviously curious to see what was happening in his apartment.
Brian glanced in the same direction. "That guy was watching me when I came in," he remarked. "Why's he so snoopy?"
"Dunno." Clark heard the phone being picked up on the other end, and Bernard Klein's voice said, "Hello?"
"Dr. Klein, this is Superman," Clark said.
"Superman?" Klein sounded surprised. "What a coincidence! I wanted to talk to you about your … brother. Is something wrong?"
"No," Clark said. "I wanted to let you know that Brian is staying at Clark Kent's place tonight because he got lonely at the lab. I'll bring him back in the morning."
"Yes, he didn't seem too happy staying in his room at the lab," Klein said. "I'll let Security know to expect you. Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I've done some tests on the sample of Brian's tissue that you got for me earlier. It looks like I'll be able to treat him in the same way as the frogs. It should work, but there may be one small complication that I didn't expect."
"Yes. Nothing serious, but I'd like to talk to you in person, if you don't mind. It shouldn't interfere with the treatment."
"Then you think you can help him?" Clark asked.
"Oh, certainly," Dr. Klein said. "As soon as his powers fade so that his skin becomes permeable, I'll be able to administer the treatment. Brian should live a normal life span — whatever that is for a Kryptonian."
"That's a relief," Clark said. "I'll let Brian know. I guess I'll see you in the morning, then. Good night, Dr. Klein — and thanks."
"You're very welcome, Superman," Klein said.
Clark hung up. Brian was polishing off his sixth Twinkie and reaching for another. It was just as well that he'd gotten the economy pack, Clark decided.
"You look like you're running out," he said. "Would you like some Ding Dongs?"
Brian nodded, his mouth full. Clark went into the kitchen and returned with a two-liter soda, a bag of chips and a number of the sweet, gooey snacks that he tended to eat on a regular basis. It was just as well, he thought, that his super powers made it unnecessary for him to worry about his diet. He'd never grown out of his liking for junk food. "Here you go," he said. "If you want anything more, let me know."
Brian nodded and swallowed convulsively. "Why did you tell Bernie that you're Superman?" he asked. "Lois says it's a description, not a name."
"She's right," Clark said. "But … How much do you know about Superman, Brian? What did Luthor tell you?"
Brian shrugged. "He said you'd outlived your usefulness and that I was supposed to replace you. He was lying, wasn't he?" he added, sadly. "My father lied to me all along, didn't he?"
"I'm afraid so," Clark said. "Did he tell you anything about where I was from?"
Brian nodded. "He said you come from a place called Krypton. He said you were the old model and that I was better. Why did he say stupid stuff like that?"
"Because he's not really your father," Clark said. "He's not a good man, and he hates me because I try to stop him from doing bad things." He walked to the door and pulled the curtains. "That will keep Floyd from peeking in here," he said. "Bernie told me just now that he can help you, Brian. He says that once he fixes the problem you'll live as long as a Kryptonian should — however long that is. Even I don't know, because I've never met another Kryptonian, and I probably never will. Shall I tell you as much as I know about myself? The truth?"
"Okay," Clark said. He crossed the room to flop into the armchair. "You've flown around the Earth, haven't you? Do you know what it looks like from way high up?"
"It's round," Brian said. "Like a big ball."
"That's right," Clark said. "It's called a planet, and there are other planets out in space. Krypton was a planet, too, a very long ways off. It went around another sun, even — a red one instead of a yellow one like we have. That was where I came from in the beginning — as a baby. Only something went wrong. Krypton was going to explode, and my father — *our* father, really — and our mother built a tiny ship and sent me to Earth, because the people here look like Kryptonians. A farmer and his wife found me, and adopted me. They named me Clark and raised me as their own son. When I grew up, I discovered that I could do things that no one else could do, and eventually I came to Metropolis. I wanted to use my strange powers to help people, but I didn't want them to know it was me helping them, so I invented Superman so I could help and yet not be bothered by people who wanted something from me. Even more important, no one would be able to threaten my adopted mother and father to make me do things that I shouldn't. So, that's why you mustn't tell anyone that Clark and Superman are the same person. Do you understand now?"
Brian took a huge bite of Ding Dong and nodded vigorously. "I didn't tell anybody," he said. "Not even my fa — not even Luthor," he corrected himself.
"Lex Luthor is no more your father than I am," Clark said. "You came from a piece of me, and that means your real father and mother were Jor-El and Lara of Krypton."
"And that means I don't have to do what Luthor tells me to do," Brian said. He gave a satisfied smile. "I don't want to hurt people. I want to have friends like you and Lois and Bernie."
"That's right," Clark said. "You *shouldn't* hurt people, and anybody who tells you that you should is lying to you. It's wrong, *and* against the law. Even Superman has to obey the law. Just remember, might is *not* necessarily right. Okay?"
Brian nodded. "Okay." He munched on the Ding Dong for several seconds before swallowing the mouthful and popping the last piece into his mouth. "I wish *I* had an adopted mother and father."
"Well," Clark said, "We'll have to see what we can do about that, but in the meantime, you should probably do what Lois and Bernie and I tell you. We won't ask you to do anything wrong. That's a promise."
"How about that sneaky guy who's trying to see in the window?" Brian asked. "He was sitting in his car watching your place when I came in. I didn't let him see me flying," he added. "I just used the key you had under your flower pot."
Clark lowered his glasses and took a quick look to see. Sure enough, Floyd was outside the window, stepping onto a rickety box apparently in an attempt to see through the apartment's high windows.
Clark shook his head. "He's seen me come in here twice, so I guess he's curious. Let's go satisfy his curiosity, okay? Don't do anything super, and just let me do the talking. Come on."
Obediently, Brian got to his feet and followed Clark as he headed for the door. Together they went quietly out, and Clark led the way around to the window. Floyd had just boosted himself up on the box and was peering over the sill into the apartment.
"Looking for something?" Clark inquired.
Floyd jumped uncontrollably and fell backwards as the box cracked under him. Clark caught him before he hit the ground.
"Are you all right?" he asked, setting the man on his feet.
"Uh …" Floyd cleared his throat, coughed and stuttered as he gathered his dignity. "Uh, yeah. Who's this?"
"This is my brother, Brian," Clark said. "He's visiting from out west."
"I didn't know you had a brother," Floyd said.
"That's because I didn't tell you," Clark said, mildly. "If you want to know something about me, you don't need to look in the window, you know. Just ask me. It's safer, and a lot easier." He gave Floyd his patented look of wide-eyed innocence. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Positive." Floyd surveyed the brothers with a skeptical expression. "Okay, but I gotta protect my other tenants. If I think something weird is going on, I have to check. You two watch your step, got it?" With those final words, he turned and stalked away.
"What's he talking about?" Brian asked, a note of plaintiveness in his voice. "Are we supposed to watch our feet?"
"It's just an expression," Clark said. "Let's go back in, okay? I think we've discouraged him for now."
Brian followed him back into the apartment. Clark glanced at his wall clock. It was after nine. Lois would be at the ballet with Luthor right now, and fairly safe, but he still wanted to be sure she was all right. On the other hand, leaving Brian alone was a recipe for trouble.
He locked the door. No point in leaving it open for unexpected visitors, in case Floyd decided to return, although he figured that his landlord had probably been routed for the evening.
"I'm going to change my clothes," he told Brian. "Be right back."
"Okay." As he spoke, Brian resumed his position on the sofa and reached for the chips, his gaze already fixed once more on the Roadrunner.
The lead box in the pocket of his sports jacket weighed the garment down as Clark removed it. He took the box from his pocket and set it on the nightstand while he changed clothing at normal speed, for once, trying to decide what to do. If Lois came by here after the ballet, it was going to be difficult for them to talk with Brian here, and yet he didn't see what else he could do for now. Brian was understandably lonely. He was afraid to return to Luthor's penthouse, and anyway, Clark didn't want him to. At the same time, when he didn't return, Luthor was going to want to know what had happened to his "Superman". How long would it be before Luthor concluded that something had gone wrong with his creation and decided to have Leek produce another? When that happened, the substitution would be discovered and Luthor would take immediate steps to cover his involvement in the affair.
He needed to talk to Lois tonight, he thought, Brian's presence notwithstanding. If they took everything they had, including the copies of Leek's stuff, to Henderson, the Inspector might be able to get a warrant to search the lab for evidence. On the other hand, if he and Lois went to Leek with an ultimatum, the doctor might decide to hand over his evidence against Luthor. On the *other* other hand, he might run to Luthor and warn him — which would probably be the stupidest thing he could do, because Luthor would promptly dispose of every loose end that he could find, which would certainly include Leek.
He was babbling in his head, he realized suddenly, exactly the way Lois babbled out loud. His partner must be rubbing off on him more than he realized. Well, just who did he think he was kidding, anyway? Lois had more than rubbed off on him, a long time ago. He really needed to talk to her, though. Somehow he was always able to think more clearly when the two of them discussed a problem together.
Clark glanced at his watch. Nine-thirty. The ballet wouldn't be over for another hour at the very least.
He pulled on a T-shirt and picked up a pair of tennis shoes. He and Brian had some time to kill. As he started toward the living area again, his gaze fell on the lead box. What would Luthor be keeping in a lead box? Something, obviously, that he didn't want Superman to see; something small, but important. Well, the easiest way to find out was to open it. He'd intended to do so when he got home, but events of various sorts had interfered. He picked up the box and unfastened the catch.
Lois Lane leaned forward in her seat, her attention to all appearances riveted on the dancers flitting about the stage. Don Quixote, Lex had informed her, was one of his favorites.
Beside her, Lex Luthor, urbane businessman and criminal billionaire, relaxed in his seat, an amused little smile playing on his lips. The music swelled as the dance reached its finale and Don Quixote and his loyal sidekick retreated from the stage. Lois wasn't particularly interested in the performance, but it gave her an excuse to remain silent while her mind was elsewhere — to be specific, it was back at the penthouse with Clark. Had he managed to get the lock of hair? Had he been caught? True, he was Superman, but even he was a pawn of the great god Murphy. Anything could have happened to him. If one of Lex's servants at the penthouse walked in on him, their cover was blown. How was she going to survive until this interminable production was over?
If the circumstances had been different, she would have enjoyed the music and the performance of the talented dancers very much indeed, but right now she just couldn't concentrate. Still, keeping her eyes fixed on the stage gave her a good excuse to keep their conversation to a minimum. Lex undoubtedly thought that he had provided her with a high treat.
The curtains rolled closed, and the lights came up. It was the intermission, and Lois straightened up with a small sigh. "That was beautiful," she said.
Lex nodded, still smiling. "The entire performance is such a comment on man's inhumanity to man, I think," he said. "And yet, a statement of how nobility survives in spite of it."
Lois nodded, not trying to sort out the complexities of the story. She checked the time under the pretext of adjusting her watchband. She had been here for over an hour but it seemed like three.
"Is something wrong?" Lex asked. "You seem to be preoccupied with your watch. I trust I'm not boring you."
"Of course not," Lois said. The last thing she needed was for Lex to realize that she wanted out of this date as quickly as possible. "I think there must be something wrong with the band. It was pinching my wrist and I can't seem to get it adjusted right." She slid a finger under the links and then removed the watch from her wrist. "I think I'll just put it in my purse and see about replacing the band tomorrow. There's no point in letting it ruin my evening."
Lex nodded. "Very wise of you. One should never let one's enjoyment be spoiled by trivialities."
Lois smiled and nodded. "After all, how often do I get a treat like this?"
"Perhaps more often than you might imagine," Luthor said. He glanced around the velvet and satin theater, at the well-dressed patrons of the ballet whose chatter filled the big room to almost deafening levels, and got to his feet. "Shall we stretch our legs for a few moments?"
Lois rose obediently and followed him out of the private box.
By the time they got to the main floor of the place, a number of the other patrons of the ballet had apparently been seized by the same desire. The aisles were crowded with men and women in formal dress, many of them making for the restrooms, she thought, noticing the number of persons leaving the room.
Lex seemed to take great pride exhibiting her on his arm as he circulated around the room, occasionally greeting some acquaintance, or stopping to exchange a word with some high- ranking official in the city government. Lois smiled until she was sure her face was going to crack, aware that she was being observed by a number of envious women. The reporters for the social columns of several of Metropolis's newspapers were also there, and she saw Cat Grant raise an eyebrow at her and smile mockingly, but Lois pretended that she hadn't noticed.
Eventually, they made their way back to Luthor's box and Lois resumed her seat.
"The next act should begin momentarily," Lex said. He took his place next to her and smiled charmingly. "You put them all to shame, you know, Lois." He inclined his head at the crowd below them, where the various patrons of the ballet were slowly returning to their seats. "When I see you beside the altogether unremarkable and certainly overdressed women, like the ones who are here tonight, I'm always astonished at your beauty and poise. You are worthy of so much more than a position as a reporter at a newspaper, no matter how outstanding that paper may be." He brushed at a non-existent mote of dust on his tailored sleeve. "Later tonight, I have a question for you. You must know that I have rarely enjoyed the company of any woman more than I have yours. I've been thinking lately of possibly taking our relationship to a more …" He broke off as the lights dimmed and the curtains began to roll open. The gabble of voices slowly died. "Well," he said, "it can wait for a better moment."
Lois leaned forward, her scalp prickling with alarm, and fixed her eyes again on the stage, wondering how she could possibly escape the question that she strongly suspected he was going to ask. She'd better think of something, she thought, grimly. Suddenly the time left to the performance seemed all too short, and when it was over she would have to have an answer for him. What on Earth was she going to do now?
Clark paused with his hand on the lid of the lead box as Brian stepped into the bedroom. His twin was holding an empty bag that had contained potato chips. "Are there any more snacks?" he inquired, wistfully. "I can't find anything more to eat."
Clark set down the box. "I think you've finished mostly everything. Do you like pizza?"
"Yes. What is it?"
"Never mind. I'll phone for some. Do you like pepperoni?"
Brian nodded vigorously. Clark picked up the phone.
Fortunately, he had the number of the nearest pizza place on speed dial, due to the fact that he and Lois often worked late here, and sometimes they would watch a video in his apartment after work was over for the day. As a matter of fact, he had several take-out places on speed dial, since they didn't always feel like having pizza.
Clark punched the combination for Antonio's Pizza Grotto into the phone and waited while it rang. At last the harried voice of one of the employees answered.
"Antonio's Pizza. Can you hold?"
"Sure," Clark said, as the employee on the other end punched the "hold" button.
He waited. After at least three minutes had passed, the phone clicked. "Sorry to keep you waiting," the voice said. "May I have your address?"
Clark gave it. There was a pause and then the voice said, "Clark Kent, right?"
"That's right," Clark said.
"And what would you like to order this evening?"
Clark ordered three extra-large pepperoni and sausage pizzas with extra cheese, two orders of cheesy breadsticks and a couple of two-liter sodas, a meal that Lois would have characterized as "cholesterol on a crust".
"Will this be pickup or delivery?" the voice asked politely.
"Pickup," Clark said, reflecting that it would help keep Brian busy for a few more minutes.
The employee at the other end told him it would be ready in fifteen minutes and hung up.
Brian had gone back to watching the Cartoon Channel. Clark glanced at the lead box but decided to put off opening it until Brian was occupied with the food.
"Brian," he said, stepping into the living area.
His brother looked around. "What?"
"I'm going over to pick up the food in a few minutes. Would you like to come with me to help carry it?"
Brian nodded eagerly. "Are we flying?"
"Yes, but we're going to go out the back window and we're going to make sure no one sees us, all right?"
"All right," Brian agreed. "I guess you don't want my fa — Luthor, that is — to know that we're friends now. That's all right, because I don't want him to know it, either."
"That's right," Clark said. He glanced at his watch. "We'll go in about fifteen minutes."
"All right," Brian agreed happily.
A short time later when they arrived at the pizza parlor, they landed in the alley behind it, and Clark led the way in, Brian following behind him like an eager puppy. The young woman behind the counter looked at them curiously as Clark stepped up to the register. "Hi Patty. Is my dinner ready yet?"
Patty was a familiar face; a pretty college student from New Troy State, who worked here in the evenings to earn extra money while going to school. She smiled brightly at him. "Hi, Mr. Kent. Your order is coming out right now." She looked past him to Brian, and her eyes widened slightly. "I didn't know you had a twin!"
Clark nodded. "This is my brother, Brian. He's visiting for a few days."
Patty smiled at Brian. "Welcome to Metropolis — or have you been here before?"
"Uh … just for a little while," Brian said.
"Well, I hope you get to see all the night spots," Patty said. She set three pizza boxes, another with the breadsticks, and a pair of soda bottles on the counter. "That'll be twenty-nine- fifty, Mr. Kent."
Clark paid the bill and he and Brian divided the boxes between them. Patty bade them a cheerful goodbye, and together they left the establishment.
The flight to Clark's apartment was accomplished with no mishaps, and a few seconds later, they were opening their dinner in the living room.
Brian inhaled the aroma of the pizza ecstatically. "This smells *good*!" he told Clark. "Uncle Fabian told me I didn't need to eat, but I *like* eating!"
"So do I," Clark said. "Help yourself. You dip the breadsticks in the marinara sauce like this." He proceeded to demonstrate. "Go ahead. I'll get the glasses for the soda."
"Okay," Brian agreed, a breadstick dripping with cheese in one hand and a king-sized wedge of pizza in the other.
It took the two of them less than fifteen minutes to finish the pizza and breadsticks. Clark ate slowly, watching with amusement as Brian polished off two and a half extra-large pizzas and the lion's share of the breadsticks. He was drinking the last of his bottle of soda when Clark took the remote control and switched the channel over to a college baseball game.
"What's that?" Brian asked.
"It's called baseball," Clark said. "It's a game."
Brian leaned forward, watching the men on the screen, instantly fascinated by the actions of the players. "What are they doing?" he asked.
Clark explained the basics of baseball to his brother. Brian seemed to catch on quickly, which wasn't surprising, considering how fast he learned.
He was still riveted to the game while Clark cleaned up the debris from their meal. Brian's appetite appeared to have been satisfied for the moment, to Clark's relief, and while his guest sat on the sofa, his feet on the coffee table, and completely engrossed in the play, Clark did a quick clean-up of the living area and the kitchen, then retreated to his bedroom.
The lead box still sat on the nightstand where he had left it, and he picked it up. A quick glance at the clock told him that the ballet would probably be over soon. Hopefully Lois would call him once she got to her apartment, but that might be a while yet. He turned the box over and shook it gently. Something inside clunked dully against the metal. Well, there was no reason to put it off any longer. He opened the lid.
Lois was still frantically trying to think of some way to avoid the question that she was certain Lex was going to ask her when they left the elegant theater. Paparazzi lined the exit, and Lois put up a hand to shield her face from the light of a dozen flashbulbs as she emerged on Lex's arm.
Lex, of course, was smiling urbanely at the photographers as he continued to make his leisurely way toward the limousine that had just pulled up at the curb. The uniformed chauffeur leaped out of the driver's seat and ran around to open the rear door for them, and Lex stood back to let Lois enter first.
There was a swoosh of air, and an instant's disorientation, and Lois found herself clasped tightly in Superman's arms, shooting upward so fast that the blast of wind in her face took her breath away.
Wait, that wasn't right. When she flew in Superman's arms, she usually didn't feel more than a gentle breeze.
She twisted her head to look at the man who carried her and knew at once that this wasn't Clark. It was Brian.
"Brian, what are you doing?" she demanded, a little annoyed. "Take me back!"
"I can't." Brian's voice was taut and frightened. She had the feeling that it was taking every ounce of his self-control to prevent it from shaking. "Clark needs you to help him. He told me to get you. I think he's dying."
"What?" The wind whistling past her ears made it hard to understand, and for a moment it crossed her mind that Brian's flight seemed unsteady. Heaven help her if he lost his grip on her in mid-air! "What's the matter?"
Brian came in to a rough landing on the sidewalk in front of Clark's apartment and set her on her feet.
"I can't go in. It hurts to get too close," Brian said. "Clark said you could help him. Hurry! He's in the bedroom."
Lois stared at him for several seconds, then she made up her mind. This whole thing was completely confusing, but the important part seemed to be that Clark needed her, and had sent Brian to get her. "Okay, stay here."
"Hurry!" Brian said.
Lois turned and ran up the stairs.
The door to the apartment wasn't locked. Lois pushed it wide and stepped inside.
Brian's explanation hadn't been completely clear — to be honest, it had been pretty unclear. The only thing that she was sure of was that Clark needed her and that, whatever was wrong, Brian couldn't get too close because it hurt.
But what could hurt Superman?
Admittedly, Brian wasn't Superman, but he was Superman's twin, a Kryptonian in every way that mattered. But nothing could hurt Superman!
All speculation aside; Clark needed her. "In the bedroom," Brian had said. She headed for Clark's sleeping area quickly but cautiously. Surely Brian would have warned her if whatever had happened to Clark was harmful to her — if he knew.
"Clark?" she called.
"Lois?" The word was barely audible. "Help!"
The sound of his voice made her instantly forget her caution. She hurried into Clark's bedroom and stopped in shock at the sight that met her eyes.
Clark was sprawled awkwardly on the rug, to all appearances, barely conscious. Directly between them, a metal box lay on its side, its lid open, and beside it, as if it had rolled from the box when it fell, an irregular chunk of green crystal, a little smaller than her clenched fist, glowed malevolently.
Lois had never seen anything like it before, but logic said that since it was the only thing here that was at all unusual, it was somehow connected to the crisis before her. Her first instinct was to get that thing back in the box that it had apparently come from as fast as she could.
She glanced quickly around the room. If this stuff, whatever it was, could fell Superman, she sure as heck wasn't going to touch it! Brian had said that it hurt him to get too close. She didn't feel anything; it might not affect her, but through the bathroom door, she could see a towel hanging from its rack. Without further delay, she crossed the room, appropriated the towel and, using it to protect her hand, chivvied the hunk of crystal gingerly into its box and closed the lid.
A long sigh from Clark brought her around. Her partner's eyes were open and he was trying to push himself up on his forearms. She dropped to her knees beside him. "Clark, are you all right?"
"Yeah, I think so." His voice was thin, but gaining strength as he spoke.
"What *was* that stuff?" she demanded, but somewhere under the surface a part of her mind was working fast, stringing together odd facts. The green crystal had affected both Brian and Clark, but not her. There was only one thing that she had ever heard of that might be able to hurt or kill Superman: the meteorite that Wayne Irig had found in his field, that Jason Trask had sought so feverishly in Smallville, and that she — no, that *Clark* had named Kryptonite.
And quite suddenly another scene sprang unbidden into her mind — the two of them sitting at the table in Maisie's Diner, in Smallville, and Clark's shocked expression at a very ordinary paper cut on his index finger. She had paid almost no attention to his reaction at the time, except to think that he was making an unnecessary fuss about so ordinary an event.
But of course, it hadn't been ordinary to him. Superman had never had a paper cut before.
There had been Kryptonite in Smallville after all, and Clark had known it all along. Somewhere, he must have encountered it, and …
And it had robbed him of his super powers, as the paper cut had demonstrated. Superman had fought Trask to save his parents' lives as an ordinary man who could die as easily as any other — and he almost had. If she and Rachel Harris had arrived a few seconds later, Trask would have shot him in the back.
She found that she was staring at him, and that he was refusing to meet her eyes. There was a long, charged silence, then Clark got slowly and carefully to his feet. Lois helped him make his shaky way to the foot of his bed, and he sank down on it with a faint sigh and rested his face in his hands.
Still neither of them said anything. The sensation of which Lois was most aware was a combination of panic and conversely enough, pleased realization. Clark had sent Brian to her to get help, so he must trust her, at least to some degree. Only now the rational part of her mind was gibbering in complete panic. What was she supposed to say now? It was obvious that she couldn't pretend not to know the truth any longer. And if that last sentence had made any sense, then she was doing better than she thought she was. Well, on second thought, it actually had made sense, which was almost worse. In any case, Clark had to know after this that she knew he was Superman. Even if she hadn't known before, she would have to be an idiot not to have figured it out after this. What in heaven's name was she going to do? Tell him that she had known his secret for three days, ever since she had first seen him and Brian together — oh sure, that made a lot of sense! Real smooth, Lois! she told herself, derisively. Should she tell him the truth, and explain how she'd been trying to show him that he could trust her, and yet she hadn't told him that she knew … now she wished that she had let him know right away. Still, she hadn't told anyone else, had she? That had to count for something!
She was babbling in her head again. The heck with it, she thought. So what if she babbled? It helped her to think. Only right now, she couldn't seem to resolve anything. Besides that, her heart was still pounding with the aftermath of the near disaster. Clark could have quite literally died. Jason Trask had been right all along about Kryptonite, she thought. The man might have been crazy, but he hadn't been stupid.
They both jumped when the door of Clark's apartment slammed, and an instant later Brian stepped into the room, still in his Superman outfit. "Can I come in?"
"Sure," Lois said, after a tiny pause. As an afterthought, she appropriated the box and snapped the catch firmly closed. "I think this stuff will be a lot safer this way," she said. "Clark, what happened?"
"I … I opened the box," he said.
"And it never occurred to you to think that there might be something dangerous inside?" she asked, irritably. "Oh no, of course it didn't!" she added, warming to her subject. Now that the danger was past, reaction had begun to set in. "Naturally not! You're Superman! Nothing can hurt you — but you knew better, didn't you? You knew that Kryptonite was real, didn't you!" Without realizing it, she was waving an accusing finger directly beneath his nose, "You ran into it in Smallville, and it took away your powers! *That's* how come you got that paper cut!" She planted her fists on her hips and glared at him. "Where did you get that stuff, anyway? Did you find it in the penthouse? Of course you did, or you wouldn't have opened it like the lunkhead you are!"
The shocked expression on Clark's face changed and astonishment took its place. "Lunkhead?" he said.
"Well, what would you call it? That stuff hurt Brian. It *has* to be Kryptonite, and if *anybody* would have the real thing, it would be Lex! If you knew the stuff existed, you should know he'd have it."
"But there wasn't any way I *could* have known," he protested. "The piece in Smallville was destroyed, and I've never seen any since then!"
"But Wayne Irig said he sent a piece to a lab in Wichita, and it disappeared!" Lois said. "If either of us had been thinking straight after all that stuff with crazy secret agents and Corn Festivals, we'd have realized he stole it! When *anything* that looks impossible happens, I always think of Lex, remember!"
"Lois," Clark said, "that's really stretching a coincidence too far. How would Luthor even hear about the stuff?"
"You'd be surprised what Lex hears," Lois said. The flash of anger had vanished as quickly as it had surfaced and she felt herself beginning to shake. "Clark, you could have died!"
"Yes, I could have," he admitted. "That's why I sent Brian to get you. This isn't the first time you've saved my life." He put out a hand and pulled her to sit next to him. "Are you all right?"
"Of course I am," she muttered, a little embarrassed at her outburst. "I've seen it all, remember? Fire, famine, floods …"
"And your partner turning out to be Superman," Clark said. "I'm sorry, Lois. I meant to tell you a little more gently."
"You were going to tell me?" she faltered. "Really?"
"Yeah," Clark said. "Just not quite yet. I hadn't figured out how."
"Oh," she said in a small voice.
Lois was taking the fact that he was Superman a little differently than Clark had imagined. Recently, he had caught himself thinking about the subject, and constructing various scenarios where he revealed his dual identity to her. This didn't match any of them. She didn't seem angry at all about the deception; instead, she had jumped on him about his carelessness — an ironic circumstance, since it was usually he who was scolding Lois for the same failing, and in all honesty, there was no reason for him to have imagined that there would be Kryptonite in the box.
In fact, she seemed somewhat … well, he wasn't sure exactly *how* she was taking the revelation. She seemed a little uncertain, if anything, and more shaken at his close brush with death than the fact that he was the superhero that she had fallen head over heels for, several months ago.
"Why are you mad?" Brian asked. His lower lip showed a tendency to quiver in the face of Lois's wrath. "Aren't you glad Clark is okay?"
Lois turned quickly to him, and Clark hid a smile at the way she moved to immediately reassure the boy-man. "I'm not mad," she said. "I was just upset that Clark was hurt. I'm glad he's all right. And you did exactly the right thing, when you came to get me."
Brian's anxious expression relaxed into a tentative smile. "Really?"
"Yes, really," she said, in a tone that seemed to soothe all of Brian's doubts. "I'm glad you came when you did. I was afraid Lex was going to … " She broke off, jumping to her feet. "Omigod! Lex!"
"What about him?" Clark asked, at once. "What were you afraid he was going to do?"
"Brian snatched me up just as I was getting into Lex's limousine," Lois said. "Actually, that's not a bad thing, because I think Lex was going to ask me to marry him, and now I won't have to answer him, at least yet … but what am I going to tell him about tonight?"
Clark had a mental image of the scene she described, and couldn't help smiling, in spite of his instant revulsion at the idea of Lois married to the billionaire. "That must have been a shock to Luthor," he said.
"I think it must have been," Lois said. She glanced at Brian, who was listening to the conversation with a worried expression. "Don't feel bad, Brian, I'm not angry at you. Actually, you did me a favor, but I need to tell Lex some kind of story to explain what happened."
"Well," Clark said, "if Superman were to take you off to get a story on some breaking event …"
"*What* breaking event?" Lois said, skeptically. "As far as I know, there isn't any breaking story anywhere, and even if there was, you're in no shape to take me there!"
It was amazing to see how she seemed to have taken his revelation in her stride, Clark thought. But then Lois tended to be a realist except when she was rationalizing away some action of her own that she knew underneath was at least questionable. Besides, Brian was here, so she couldn't say what she was thinking. She was probably going to flay him verbally when she got him alone, but at least the biggest step was over. The rest could only be downhill. He smiled slightly. "I'm afraid you're right. Any ideas?"
"Well," she said slowly, "maybe it was an interview with a really hard-to-reach source, and I needed to do the interview *right now*, and there wasn't time to explain. Only why would Superman be involved?"
"It's mixed up with some project of his, and the people involved would only talk to Lois Lane," Clark said.
Lois raised an eyebrow at him, but nodded doubtfully. "Maybe. It could be some long-term project and the series probably won't appear in the paper for several months," she said. "I guess that might be reasonable."
"Maybe Superman was trying to help somebody who was afraid of him," Brian said suddenly. "So he had to come and get you."
Clark looked at his twin with a certain amount of respect. Brian might be child-like, but as he had already demonstrated, he learned fast.
"That's very good," he said. "What do you think, Lois? If you keep it vague enough, do you think it might get by?"
"I think so," she said, and Brian beamed. "I'll wait a couple of hours and call him. In the meantime, Clark, don't you think we should get this stuff out of your apartment? Anything could happen with it here."
"I think it's safe enough where it is," Clark said. "Just as long as no one opens the lid."
"Maybe you should give it to Bernie," Brian said. "He's trying to help me, you know."
"Yes, I know," Clark said. "I talked to him a little while ago," he added, for Lois's benefit. "He says his treatment will work on Brian, just as soon as his invulnerability fades."
"That's a relief," Lois said. She glanced at Brian with a half- smile. "I've gotten to like him."
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of Clark's front door opening. A voice said, "What's going on in here, Kent? I already told you I gotta protect my tenants …"
"Floyd!" Clark whispered.
Footsteps crossed the living room, and bare seconds later the apartment's landlord stepped into the sleeping area. His expression changed ludicrously from suspicion to speechless surprise, followed by a mixture of mistrust and doubt. "What's going on here?" he demanded. He looked from Clark, still sitting on the foot of his bed, to Lois, dressed for an evening at the ballet, to Brian, still in his Superman costume. Brian folded his arms and looked impassively back.
It was fortunate that Brian had practiced at "being Superman", Clark thought. He looked very convincing. He opened his mouth, not certain of what he was going to say, when Lois stepped into the breach.
"Look, Mr. Whoever-You-Are," she said, with a very good imitation of Perry when she burst unannounced into his office, as she frequently did, "Even if you're the landlord, you're still supposed to knock!"
"Who are you?" Floyd demanded.
"I'm Clark's partner at the Daily Planet," Lois said, glaring at him, "and I guess you know who this is, don't you?" She jerked her head at Brian. "Do you mind? We're working."
Floyd stared at her, opened his mouth, shut it, opened it again, looked at Brian and appeared to deflate. Clark mastered the urge to laugh. He could actually sympathize with Floyd — a little, anyway. The picture they presented would look odd to anyone. His landlord seemed completely at a loss.
Lois began to tap her foot, her expression an excellent imitation of their boss's impatience when some underling of his in the newsroom had failed to live up to his expectations. Floyd glanced uncertainly at Clark and began to edge backwards. The tapping of Lois's foot increased, as did the speed of Floyd's retreat. A moment later, the door closed behind him. Lois followed him and Clark heard the latch turn with a decisive click.
"Nosy busybody," Lois said, as she returned to the room. "How are you feeling now, Clark?"
"Better," Clark said. He got slowly to his feet, wincing slightly at the protesting twinges that shot through his muscles and joints as he put weight on his legs again. "No powers, but that won't last." He glanced at Brian and back to Lois. His twin's presence made any deeper discussion with Lois about his dual identity impossible, but asking him to leave wasn't a wise idea.
"Brian got lonely at the lab," he explained to Lois. "He's staying here tonight."
"Oh," Lois said, comprehending the difficulty at once. "Well, I guess I should probably go home — if Brian will give me a lift."
"Are you sure?" Clark asked. "The last thing you need is for Luthor to show up at your apartment."
"With a proposal of marriage," she added. "You've got a point."
Brian stepped forward eagerly. "I can fly you home and check before I set you down," he suggested. "Is that okay?"
Lois nodded, but she was frowning slightly. "Can you take me to New Jersey?" she inquired.
"New Jersey?" Clark asked. The workings of his partner's mind baffled him sometimes.
"Sure. I'll call him from New Jersey. He's bound to have caller ID, so if I call him from there, he'll think that's where Superman's emergency is," she said, simply. "I'll tell him it's going to take a while, and he shouldn't wait for me to get back."
"That's very good," Clark said.
She looked him over carefully. "Are you sure you're going to be all right?" she asked.
"I should be," he said. "I just don't have any powers. If any emergencies come up, it looks like Brian is going to have to handle them until I'm back up to speed."
"I will," Brian said, nodding eagerly. "I want to help if I can."
"I'll give you some tips," Clark said. He found himself looking at Lois again. "We'll talk about … things … tomorrow, all right?"
"All right," she said. "Call me if you start feeling worse."
"I will," he said. He wished he could tell what she was thinking, but her expression told him nothing.
After Lois and Brian had left, he picked up the lead box that contained the nugget of Kryptonite. Brian was probably right, he reflected. He would give this to Dr. Klein in the morning when he took Brian back to STAR Labs. In the meantime, he thrust the box into the bottom drawer of his dresser and covered it with pieces of clothing. It would be safe enough there until tomorrow.
Moving slowly, he began to get ready for bed. He doubted he'd be able to get to sleep until Brian returned, but suddenly his bed looked very comfortable.
The moon was nearly full, and it cast a silver light over the countryside as Lois and Brian soared through the night air toward New Jersey. Clark's twin brother seemed earnestly determined to do exactly as he was told, and Lois had to smile a little at his grim expression.
"Relax, Brian," she said at last. "You're doing fine."
The boy looked at her anxiously. "Do you like me, Lois?" he asked.
She was able to answer that without hesitation. "Yes, I do. You're a very nice person. That's why I'm glad Dr. Klein is going to be able to help you."
He smiled. "Good. I like you, too, and Clark and Bernie. Bernie told Clark that there was a complication he didn't expect, though."
"Did he say what it was?"
Brian shook his head. "He said he wanted to talk to Clark about it, but that the treatment would work."
"If Dr. Klein says it will work, it will," Lois said. "I don't know him very well, but my friend Jimmy Olsen tells me he's brilliant. If he says he can do something, he means it."
"Do I have to go back to my father when it's done?" Brian asked. "I don't want to go back."
"Definitely not!" Lois said. "We don't want him to know you're still alive, or he'll try to use you to do bad things. Clark and I will figure out something. I promise; okay? We'll make sure you have a place to live without Lex. You'll never have to do what he tells you again."
Brian nodded, looking surprisingly like Clark when something was bothering him. "He scared me," he told Lois, "…all the time — even when he was pretending to like me. I heard him and Uncle Fabian talking about me losing my powers and then dying, like the frogs died. He … I don't think he cared at all." He looked at her, and in the moonlight she could see his lower lip quiver, but he made a manful attempt to hide it. "I don't feel good like I did a few days ago. I think it's starting to happen to me — the things that Uncle Bernie said would happen. I'm scared. I don't want to die."
Brian was only a little boy, Lois thought, even if he looked like a grown man. She didn't know much about kids, anymore, but she remembered that when she'd been a child she'd trusted her mother and father. The fact that they had betrayed her trust had struck deeply into her and made it difficult to trust anyone — until she had met Clark. If nothing else, she owed it to him to try to reassure his little brother. Besides, she *did* like Brian. She didn't want him to be afraid.
"Brian," she said, "I want you to listen to me. Clark and I aren't going to let you die. Dr. Klein can and will help you. You're going to be fine."
"Promise?" Brian asked.
"I promise," Lois answered. "Did Dr. Klein tell you that Clark and I brought him some of the cloned frogs?"
"No. How could you do that?"
"Clark and I sneaked into Dr. Leek's lab in the middle of the night," she explained. "We took four of the frogs — two sick ones, and two that hadn't got sick yet — and gave them to Dr. Klein to try to figure out why they died."
"Why?" Brian asked.
"Superman overheard them talking about it. We didn't want you to die, so we needed to find out why it happened so we could help," she explained.
"I knew he was there," Brian said. "I 'felt' him. In my head. I didn't tell my fa — Luthor."
Wow! Telepathy between Clark and his twin? That was something Clark hadn't mentioned. She'd need to ask him about it. "Why not?"
She felt him shrug. "I don't know. I didn't want to tell him. Superman didn't *feel* like my enemy, even if Luthor said he was."
"What do you mean you 'felt' him in your head?"
"I can sometimes *feel* the things he's feeling. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't." Brian shrugged. "I could never feel what Luthor was feeling, or Uncle Fabian. I can't feel anything from you, either, but it's different with Clark."
"Maybe because you're both Kryptonians. Or maybe because you're twins. What's he feeling now?"
Brian was silent for a long minute. "I think he's asleep," he said.
That wasn't surprising, Lois decided. "That's probably a good thing," she said. "Anyhow, on the subject of the frogs, Dr. Klein figured out exactly what was killing the frogs. We saw them afterwards. We couldn't even tell which frog had been sick. He'll be able to do that for you, too."
Brian seemed to think about that for some seconds. "I don't like to feel sick," he said. "I can't fly as fast anymore, and I ache. My head hurts a little, too."
Maybe, Lois thought, that was why she was more aware of the cold and the breeze of their flight than she was when she flew with Superman. "How far are we from New Jersey, now?" she asked.
"That big patch of lights down there is Newark," Brian said. "Is this okay? Should I land here?"
"This is fine," Lois told him. "The Daily Planet has a branch in Newark. Let's find it. Do you know where Public Street is?"
"Well, I've been there once. Find Broadway, and I can take it from there."
Brian was silent for several seconds, floating motionless in the air, and then their forward motion resumed. A moment later, they were hovering above a street sign that announced itself as Broadway and Freedom Drive. Lois directed him south.
The local office of the Daily Planet was nothing like her place of work in Metropolis, but her press credentials got them entrance, and a moment later she and Brian were escorted to an office from which she could make her all-important telephone call. Nigel St. John answered, and after an inordinate amount of time, that was actually about thirty seconds, she was speaking with Lex. Her date for the evening sounded both irritated and resigned when she gave him her prepared story, but she had the feeling that his attention wasn't entirely on their conversation. After signing off, she glanced at her watch.
It was eleven-thirty. She pulled her coat more tightly around herself. "I wonder what Lex is up to at this time of night?"
Brian spoke up. "I could hear him talking to Mr. Nigel before he started talking to you. He's very angry that I'm not there, and he's mad that Superman took you away from him." He bit his lip. "He says he's going to make him regret it."
"Are you supposed to be there now?"
Brian looked uneasy. "I'm supposed to be home at ten."
"So he must be wondering where you are," Lois said. She laid a hand on his arm. "It will be all right, I promise. Clark and I will make sure he can't get hold of you again. Right now, we'll just let him wonder. He'll probably send his people out looking for you soon. We'll just have to make sure they don't find you."
Brian nodded, looking scared. "I don't want them to find me. He'll make me hurt Clark."
"Not if I have anything to say about it." Lois stopped speaking. Brian was looking more afraid than ever. "I have an idea. We're going to disguise you, okay? That way if any of them see you, they won't realize it's you. Do you still have the clothes Clark gave you?"
Brian nodded. "They're at Clark's place."
"Let's go get them," Lois said. "Clark has some spare glasses in his apartment. We're not even going to let Lex know you're alive. You're just going to disappear as far as he's concerned. The only people who will know the truth are Clark, Dr. Klein, you and I. Okay?"
Brian swallowed and nodded weakly. "Okay." He had wrapped his arms defensively around himself. "I wish I wasn't super," he said abruptly. "If I was like you and other people, my father wouldn't want me for anything. He'd leave me alone."
"Brian," Lois said firmly. "Trust us. Clark and I will keep you safe. Come on. Let's get back to Metropolis."
Clark was sound asleep when they let themselves back into his apartment. Lois tiptoed into his room and opened the drawer to his nightstand. Clark never twitched. He was sleeping on his stomach with his face buried in the pillow, and she paused to admire the torso that was imperfectly concealed by the sheet and the T-shirt that had hitched itself up around his armpits.
Drawing a deep breath and feeling distinctly warm, she returned her attention to the purpose that had brought her here. There were three pairs of glasses in the drawer, and she selected the pair with the old-fashioned frames that he had worn the first time she had seen him. They would make Brian look a little different than Clark, but at the same time it would take away any obvious resemblance to Superman. She could say that from experience.
Brian had changed into jeans and a T-shirt by the time she returned to the living area, and combed his hair into an approximation of Clark's hair when in his civilian clothes. She held out the glasses. "Try these. And I think you'd better let your hair grow a little … how *do* you cut it, anyway?"
"With my heat vision," Brian said. "Nothing else will cut it."
"Well, don't cut it for a while. Let it get to about the level of your collar," Lois advised. "That was how Clark's was when we first met. You won't look anything like Superman; take it from me."
Brian slipped the glasses on and examined his face in the small mirror that hung on the wall near the kitchen. "I *do* look different, don't I?" He seemed somewhat reassured.
"Definitely. The glasses will make you look even more like Clark, too. Let me try something." Lois took the comb and arranged his hair so that one lock fell across his forehead. "There; perfect."
Brian squinted critically at the image reflected in the mirror. "I look like a dork," was his verdict. He grinned suddenly. "Is this really how Clark used to look?"
"He did when I first met him. He changed his style later."
"If I look like this, Luthor won't know it's me," Brian said with satisfaction.
"You mustn't wear these around Dr. Klein, though," Lois cautioned. "We don't want him to guess about Clark."
"All right," Brian said. He turned back to the mirror. His grin grew wider. "I really like this," he said. "Nobody will ever guess."
"What's going on?" a sleepy voice behind them inquired. Lois turned.
Clark was standing at the entrance to his bedroom, blinking drowsily at them. He was still wearing jeans and a rumpled T- shirt, and his glasses were nowhere to be seen. Lois found herself staring at his face.
In spite of the fact that she had realized the truth about him three days ago, seeing the actual fact in front of her was still a shock: Clark's disheveled hair, combined with Superman's features. It simply drove home what she already knew; Clark Kent was Superman. Or, Superman was Clark Kent, and always had been.
"What?" Clark said.
"Nothing." Lois wrenched her eyes from his face. "Brian's afraid Lex will find him. I told him we'd fix it so he won't."
Clark examined Brian's disguise. "Are those my old glasses?"
Lois nodded. "I figured you wouldn't mind if he borrowed them for a little while."
"You were right. What happened? I thought you were going back to your apartment after you made the call from New Jersey."
"I was, but Brian overheard Lex talking to Nigel St. John. He was annoyed that Brian wasn't back yet."
"I get it," Clark said. He studied Brian for a moment. "Did I really look like that when I got to Metropolis?"
"Yeah." Lois nodded. "I don't think you really ought to blame me for sizing you up as a hack back then. Besides, I had to admit I was wrong after I got to know you."
"You did?" Clark asked.
"Sure I did — even if I didn't exactly say so." She shrugged. "You must have known that."
"Well, maybe," Clark conceded. He yawned. "You know, I was thinking before everything sort of fell apart this evening. Maybe in the morning we should take what we know to Henderson, give him our evidence, and tell him more or less how we got it. He might be in a better position to pressure Leek than we could. Personally, I'd back Bill Henderson against a dozen Leeks any day of the week, and if we wait too long, Luthor could decide to dispose of Leek to get rid of an inconvenient witness."
Lois considered the idea a little reluctantly. "I guess we could give it to him with the proviso that we'd get the exclusive if he can pin something on Lex. It would certainly take Lex's mind off of Brian, too. Besides," she added, "I don't want him to propose to me."
"Neither do I," Clark said.
"He isn't likely to propose to *you*," Lois said. "You may be pretty, but I don't think he'd appreciate you the same way."
"I certainly *hope* not!" Clark said, shocked. He paused. "'Pretty'?"
"That's from my point of view, not Lex's," Lois said. "On the other hand, I'm not so sure about St. John …" She grinned at the appalled expression on his face. "Anyway, I'm going to ask Brian to take me home now, and tomorrow you can take him back to Dr. Klein. Then we'll get our stuff together and make a visit to Inspector Henderson."
"You agree, then?" Clark asked.
She shrugged. "It's probably the best way to get the evidence out of Leek. Bill can be a lot more intimidating than you and I can. Once in a while you come up with a good idea," she added magnanimously. "Don't ever say I never give you credit for anything … What?" she added, at his snort. "I can sometimes be nice!"
"I think," Clark said obscurely, "that I was worrying unnecessarily." He glanced at Brian. "Be sure nobody sees you drop her off."
"I will," Brian promised. "Just a minute and I'll get changed." He picked up his Superman outfit and headed for the bathroom.
As he disappeared into the bedroom, Clark regarded Lois with a little smile. "Sometimes you surprise me," he said. "No, I take that back. You surprise me most of the time. We still need to talk tomorrow. I guess you can yell at me then."
"*Yell* at you?" Lois said. Then she recalled that Clark still didn't know exactly *when* she had discovered his other identity. "Oh yeah. We'll talk about it when we have more time. I kind of have the feeling that tomorrow is going to be pretty busy."
"So do I," Clark said. He glanced around as Brian emerged from the bedroom dressed again in his Superman regalia. "I'm going to try to get a little sleep for whatever is left of tonight," he said. "Good night, Lois."
"Good night," she said.
Bernard Klein was in his lab when Clark and Brian walked into the scientist's office the next morning. Clark could see him through the clear window, peering into the eyepiece of a microscope and apparently muttering under his breath.
He couldn't hear what the man was saying, however. Clark's super powers were still largely in abeyance, exactly the way it had been the day after his first acquaintance with the poisonous substance in Smallville, but this time he was less worried. He couldn't be sure, of course, but he had at least a reasonable expectation that the powers would return within a day or two. In the meantime, however, Superman was on vacation. The less that Metropolis saw of him the better, anyway. If Superman effectively vanished for a time, he'd told Brian, it would leave Lex Luthor in some doubt of exactly what had occurred the previous night, and in limbo concerning his own Superman. Then he'd had to explain to Brian what he meant by limbo. In any case, if Luthor thought that the two Supermen might have encountered each other sometime during the night, he could draw his own conclusions over the fate of his creation. If he were to think that Superman and his double had killed each other, so much the better.
To this, Brian enthusiastically agreed. If he had to make some kind of rescue, he promised, he would try to do so in a way that didn't reveal his presence to witnesses. As Clark had noted before, Brian learned fast.
"Sit down," he said, waving to one of the leather chairs that Dr. Klein had squeezed into the crowded little office. "As soon as he's finished with whatever he's doing, we'll find out what he wants to tell us."
The door from the lab opened and Bernard Klein entered. He looked slightly taken aback at the sight of Clark. "Mr. Kent!" he said. "I expected Superman."
"Superman had an emergency," Clark explained, getting to his feet. "He asked me to bring Brian over in his place, and find out about the complication you mentioned to him last night." He added, as Klein looked doubtful, "Lois and I are working on this whole business with him, as you probably know. If there's any problem, you can count on us not to print it."
"Oh, of course not!" Klein said. "I hadn't even considered that angle. Still, since Brian is the patient here, if you have his permission, I suppose it's all right."
Clark glanced at Brian, who had also risen to his feet. "Is it all right with you?" he asked.
His brother nodded. "I guess so." He swallowed. "Nobody ever asked me what *I* wanted before. At least until …"
Clark put an arm around the boy. "Brian, you have the same rights as anyone else. I should have explained that before, but things have been happening pretty fast."
Brian gulped and nodded. "*Am* I going to be okay?" he asked, turning to look at Bernard Klein. "I don't want to die!"
"You're not going to die!" Klein looked appalled. "There's one small problem, but it isn't that!"
"Maybe if you explained, it would help," Clark suggested.
"Uh … right." Klein picked up a folder and opened it. "These are all the results of the tests I ran yesterday," he said. "The complication I spoke of relates to the interaction of the frog DNA and the Kryptonian ability to absorb sunlight. The location of the extra strand of DNA interferes with the ability. As long as the accelerated growth enzyme is active, there isn't any problem, but once it's inactivated, the ability to absorb sunlight is largely inhibited."
"And this means …" Clark prompted.
"Once we inhibit the enzyme, Brian will be unable to absorb enough sunlight to energize his super powers," Dr. Klein explained. "I'm sorry, son, but there's nothing I can do about it. It's the super powers or your life."
Clark bit his lip. If he had to give up his super powers to save his own life, he knew what his choice would be, but Brian might not see things the same way. Would his brother be willing to sacrifice his super powers to live? Brian was a child. He wasn't really capable of reasoning like an adult — at least yet.
"Brian?" he said.
His twin was frowning as he worked out what the scientist had said. "You mean," he said finally, "that I'd be like everybody else?"
"I'm afraid so," Dr. Klein said. "It's that, or letting the enzyme remain active … which will kill you in a very short time. I'm sorry."
To Clark's astonishment, the boy's face broke into a wide grin. "If I'm like everybody else, my father won't want me anymore," he said. "I don't want the super powers." Impulsively, he threw his arms around Bernard Klein and hugged him, much to the scientist's surprise. "Thank you!"
Klein emerged from the embrace looking somewhat ruffled, but pleased. "Uh … you're welcome, Brian. I'm glad you're happy. I shouldn't say there won't be *anything* left of the powers. There may be a residual ability to absorb sunlight, but at the most it will be minimal. You may retain traces of the super powers — It's possible that you'll be slightly faster and stronger than most ordinary humans, perhaps your hearing and eyesight will be more acute — but only slightly. Eventually your body is going to reject the foreign DNA. Apparently the Kryptonian immune system won't tolerate it for more than a short time; I'm already seeing indications that that's beginning to occur, but unfortunately it wouldn't be in time to save your life, and in any case, the alteration is permanent. The powers would still disappear as the frog DNA was rejected and the growth factor diminished."
Brian obviously hadn't understood that last caveat at all, but it didn't really matter, Clark thought. His brother understood the most important point — that he would no longer be super-powered. He clapped Brian lightly on the shoulder. "I guess you feel better now, huh?"
The boy nodded vigorously, and it was impossible to misinterpret the joyful smile that hadn't disappeared from his face. "Yeah!"
Dr. Klein nodded. "I guess I shouldn't have worried," he said. "I'd like Brian to stay here for a few hours while I run a few more measurements and tests. Our window of time is going to be fairly limited, so I want to be ready the instant the invulnerability fades."
"Is that all right?" Clark asked his brother. "Lois and I have some things to do this morning, so if you'll be all right here …"
"Sure," Brian said. "I like Bernie. He was explaining all the things he was doing yesterday. This science stuff is really interesting!"
Bernard Klein nodded seriously. "He has a real aptitude for it," he said to Clark. "Maybe he should look at it as a possible career someday."
"Maybe," Clark agreed. "We can talk about it at least. Brian wants to stay at my place again tonight, so I'll pick him up this afternoon, if that's all right."
"That's fine," Dr. Klein said. "Come by at about five."
Waiting for the taxi outside STAR Labs, Clark found himself scowling at nothing. Brian didn't want super powers because they made him the target of Lex Luthor and Fabian Leek. The trouble was, once Luthor found out that the lock of hair had vanished, he was going to be desperate to find his clone, if he was alive, as the only remaining source of Kryptonian DNA. True, they could probably hide Brian, but Luthor's resources were vast. Brian wasn't practiced at concealing his identity and it was conceivable that Luthor's minions could find him. Clark didn't like the idea of the boy, defenseless without his super powers, in the hands of his ruthless "father". Brian was also going to need a place to stay, and people who had the resources to teach him how to be an adult.
Clark shoved his hands into his pockets. He needed the council of his mother and father, he decided. Martha and Jonathan Kent might not be able to solve the problem, but just talking a complicated situation over with them often helped him to see solutions that hadn't been obvious to him before. He couldn't fly out to see them at the moment, but there was no reason he couldn't make a phone call.
"Hello?" Martha Kent's voice brought a wave of relief. He hadn't realized until this minute how much he had been fretting over the problem represented by Brian.
"Hi, Mom," he said.
"Clark! We've been worrying about you and … everything. Is everything all right?"
"Well — mostly. I have a problem I wanted to discuss with you," Clark said. "Is Dad around?"
"Right here," his father's voice said.
"Um … is either of you on a cordless phone?" Clark asked. Normally the possibility of eavesdroppers wouldn't have bothered him, but in dealing with Lex Luthor, it was safer to be a little paranoid.
"I am," his mother said.
"Could you go into the other room and pick up the regular one?"
"That kind of problem, huh? Just a minute." There was the sound of the phone clicking off, and a few seconds later, a receiver being picked up. "All right," she said, "what's going on? I guess there's a good reason you're being so careful."
"Yes," Clark said. "That's why I'm calling from a pay phone."
"Why don't you just … come out and we can talk in person?" his father asked.
"I can't," Clark said. "Remember that stuff that Wayne found on his property? He sent a piece of it to a lab in Wichita, where it disappeared. I found it."
A faint gasp. "Are you all right?"
"More or less — but I can't make it out there right now."
"Where … did you find it?"
"I'm coming to that," Clark said. "Remember, the other day I said I might come to you for advice, Mom? Well, a lot has happened since then …"
His parents were silent while he described what had happened since his last visit to Smallville. When he had finished, he said, "So, that's the situation right now. Dr. Klein says he can save Brian, but he won't have any powers afterwards. If Luthor gets his hands on him, he's not going to be able to protect himself. Plus, I need to find somewhere for him to stay, and someone who can teach him how to take care of himself. I figured you'd probably be able to give me some suggestions. I'll be more than happy to help with that part, but I want to get him out of Metropolis as soon as I can, for his own safety."
"That's for sure!" his mother said. "I don't want that terrible man to get anywhere near the poor child again. Clark, this is your brother we're talking about. We're your parents; we're his parents too. It's only logical."
"Don't argue, Clark," his mother told him in the tone of voice that said she'd made up her mind. "Unless there's a better arrangement, he can stay with us. I raised you; I can certainly teach your brother how to behave."
"I just don't want you to have to take on a responsibility like that," Clark protested. "Brian isn't a little boy. Physically, he's a grown man."
"Maybe, but in every other way he's a child," Martha said in her "no argument" tone. "Your father and I have already talked about this, and decided if your scientist friend was able to save him, he could come stay with us. Brian is part of the family. We Kents have always taken care of our family."
"Now that that part is settled," his father said, "how about Lois? If she saved you from the Kryptonite …"
"She knows," Clark admitted. "I could hardly expect her not to figure it out. Lois isn't stupid."
"Clark, she's a reporter."
"I haven't really had a chance to talk to her about it yet," Clark said. "I'm going to try to make the time today, if nothing else comes up. She wasn't mad, though — at least, she didn't seem to be. I can't figure her out most days, anyway," he added. "She's not going to tell anyone, though. I'm sure of that." He gave a snort of amusement. "I guess I was lucky that Brian was there, or she'd probably have killed me."
His mother laughed. "Lois is a woman after my own heart, honey. I guess you're going to have to take your medicine like a man."
"I guess so," Clark said. He glanced at his watch. "I have to go. Perry is going to wonder where I am if I don't show up pretty soon."
"Call us and let us know what happens," his mother ordered. "And talk to Brian. Tell him that we want to meet him."
"I promise," Clark said. "I'll talk to you soon."
Perry was wearing the Armani suit again this morning, Lois noticed when she walked into the newsroom, and through the blinds she could see him fussing with his toupee. The minor mystery of her boss's behavior tickled at her curiosity, and if the last few days had been anywhere near normal, she'd undoubtedly have been snooping around trying to figure out the cause. As it was, anything short of a dead body found in the copy room was unlikely to get her undivided attention.
Jimmy was working at his computer, probably doing research for someone — possibly even for Clark and her. Lois dropped hastily into her desk chair, opened the bottom drawer of her desk and removed her "Lex file". Slowly and carefully she began to sort through the information it contained, organizing the evidence along with her notes, and adding the small amount that Clark had been able to gather as well. Some of his evidence, she noted, dovetailed nicely with her own. Henderson might very well be able to pin more than one crime on Lex by the time he got through, she thought, but the stuff they had copied from Fabian Leek's laboratory would undoubtedly be the best, at least for now, when — and if, she reminded herself — Henderson managed to lay his hands on the originals. Of course, Superman's recording was original. That, if nothing else, should spur him into action.
The elevator door opened, and Clark stepped out. Considering the fact that he usually made use of the stairs, at least when he was alone, this probably meant that his powers still hadn't returned, she thought, with a little pang of concern. She would have to ask him how long that particular state of affairs was likely to continue — but not until they were alone. She still had to show him that she was trustworthy.
Last night had shown her something else, she thought, watching him as he descended the ramp and crossed the floor toward her. Judging from a couple of his remarks, he had expected something different from her when his secret had been exposed so brutally. He'd seemed surprised that she continued to treat him as she always had instead of immediately going into her former, highly embarrassing behavior toward Superman, or flying off the handle. That wasn't very flattering, but she had to admit that he had some reason to expect one or the other.
Of course, he couldn't know that she had gotten past both those reactions within a few minutes of seeing him with Brian, days ago. Still, she thought she understood now. Clark didn't want to be treated like a celebrity. It made him uncomfortable. He didn't want the adulation of the masses, and most especially he didn't want it from her. Judging from what she knew of her partner, she thought she knew now what he did want, but she was going to have to be very careful. If he thought for a moment that she wanted Clark Kent because of Superman, it would hurt him terribly and make any future relationship between them much more difficult. Very well then, since he seemed to like her best when she treated him as she had been doing since they met, that was the way she would deal with him … at least, within the newer boundaries she had set herself. He was Clark Kent, a mild- mannered journalist with a really strange hobby. They needed to find time for a completely honest discussion eventually, she knew — but she still hadn't decided what to say. Well, maybe she could stall it off for a little while longer. After all, there was a lot to do today…
She replaced the contents of her "Lex file" in its folder and got to her feet as he arrived beside her. "I take it everything went well," she said.
"Brian is with Dr. Klein," Clark said. "I also gave my parents a call."
"Asking for advice," Clark elaborated. "They surprised me. I'll tell you later. Anyway, we still have to talk."
"You know, Clark," Lois said, "'talking' is highly overrated. It'll keep. Let's just deal with Henderson right now, and when we aren't as rushed we'll 'talk'. All right?"
He cast her a worried look. "All right."
She patted his arm. "Give me time, Clark; I'm working on it. Let's take this stuff over to Henderson."
"All right." Clark hesitated. "He's waiting for us."
"Oh?" Lois asked.
"Um … yeah. Superman made a phone call to him a little while ago and told him we'd be bringing him some information that would interest him. He said he'd try to make time for us."
Lois snorted. "That sounds like Henderson. Okay, partner, let's go."
The sergeant at the desk didn't glance up as Lois and Clark pushed open the heavy, glass doors and entered the small lobby of the 12th Precinct. Hard, wooden benches lined the walls, and a couple of ratty, plastic plants decorated the two corner tables along with their stacks of long out-of-date magazines. Lois didn't hesitate. She rested her arms on the counter and leaned forward until her face almost touched the glass. "Inspector Henderson is expecting us."
"Does he know that, Lane?" he inquired still studying the pages of a magazine that lay on the desk in front of him.
"You bet he does," Lois said.
"Sit down over there and wait," the man said, waving in the direction of a bench. "He's busy right now."
"Superman called to tell him," Lois protested. "We have something he'd want to see."
"Suppose you show it to me and I'll decide how urgent it is," he said, with an air of skepticism.
"Not on your life. This is for Henderson," Lois said.
"Sit down and wait," the sergeant repeated. "It won't be more than half an hour."
"Half an hour!" Lois exclaimed in outrage, "This is urgent!"
"Sergeant Anderson …," Clark leaned forward, drawing the officer's attention. "This really is urgent. We need to see the Inspector right away, and he *is* expecting us."
Anderson raised an eyebrow. "Sorry, Clark, I didn't see you. Just a second, and I'll give him a call."
Clark nodded and went to take a seat on one of the benches. After an indecisive moment, Lois followed him. "How come he listens to *you* and not me?" she whispered in annoyance.
Clark shrugged without looking at her. "Just lucky, I guess."
She opened her mouth to reply when the sergeant spoke up. "You can go in now."
They went past the sergeant's desk, through the door at the rear of the room and down the short hall beyond. Lois glanced at her partner, who was fixedly regarding the toes of his shoes as he walked. "What was *that* all about?" she demanded in a whisper.
"Uh …" Clark was clearly uncomfortable with the question. "Nothing."
She stopped, grabbing his sleeve. "Oh no you don't, Clark. He was giving *me* the runaround, but he didn't give you any trouble at all. And how come he knows your name?"
"Um … well …" Clark squirmed. "Look, it's not important. Let's finish with Henderson first, okay?"
"Well … The sergeant doesn't like you very much."
"I got that part!"
"There isn't much more," Clark said.
"He liked *you*!"
He shrugged. "Lots of people like me."
"Clark, you're evading."
"Sort of. Remember the piece you did last month about the police getting free doughnuts from the local doughnut shops? I don't think very many cops are too happy with you right now."
"Oh." She made a face. "Okay, so it was a bit petty. I was mad. I'd just got another parking ticket."
"They'll get over it," Clark said.
"But you didn't explain how he knows your name!"
"I know a lot of people," Clark said, mildly.
"How come he was so eager to help you?"
"My mom has an old saying," he said, and now she was sure she could see the corners of his lips quiver. "'You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar'. Come on," he added. "Henderson's waiting for us."
Police Inspector William Henderson was a slender, olive-skinned man of about forty, whom Clark had known since his early days at the Daily Planet. Henderson had made the "poker face" into an art form, and maintained an air of matter-of-fact cynicism in the performance of his job that tended to deceive most persons. He hadn't deceived Clark, and as he got to know the man better, Clark had come to both like and respect him. The officer looked up from the report he was studying when they walked in, and thrust the folder into a drawer.
"This better be as important as Superman said it is," he said.
"I think you'll agree when we explain," Clark said. He glanced at Lois. "Do you want to tell him, or shall I?"
"Lex Luthor," Lois said.
Henderson didn't react overtly but Clark heard his heart speed up, and his bodily reactions told him that they had the man's full attention.
"Luthor? What about him?" Henderson asked with deceptive mildness.
"Is that all you have to say?" Lois began, but Clark took her hand unobtrusively and squeezed. She glanced at him and stopped.
"Yes, Luthor," Clark said as mildly as Henderson had spoken. "We've been investigating him for some time. We have some information we think you should see."
Henderson glanced at Lois. "I thought you were seeing him, Lois," he remarked. "Your picture is on the society page this morning — and there's an interesting article about Superman scooping you up just as you were about to get into his limousine. Care to explain?"
"Since when do you read the society pages, Henderson?" she asked, and Clark could read irritation in her voice.
"You'd be surprised what I read," Henderson replied, imperturbably. "It's a good way to keep track of what some people are doing."
"Well, I was investigating him — or haven't you ever heard of going undercover?" she replied.
"The concept isn't entirely foreign to me," he replied, and Clark saw the faintest crinkling at the corners of his eyes. "So you weren't as blind as I thought you were. What did you want to show me?"
"This." Lois laid her folder on his desk. "Some of it is evidence we've been collecting for several months, but the most important part is the stuff we've discovered in the last week. Superman made a recording for us that you should listen to, and we've got copies of things that his partner in crime has been collecting — for his own protection, we think."
"That would be Dr. Fabian Leek," Henderson said. "If you've found out what they're up to, you're a step ahead of me. Of course, if history is any indicator, some of your methods are more creative than the police department is permitted."
"You know about Dr. Leek?" Lois asked, and even Clark was aware of a slight sense of surprise.
"Unofficially," Henderson said. "Let's say I've had an interest in LexCorp's activities, and those of its owner for some time. When he starts taking a personal interest in somebody like Dr. Leek, I want to know why."
"In that case," Clark said, "we can help you. You should probably listen to Superman's recording first. The other tapes and documents are copies, but the originals are in the desk in Leek's private lab."
Henderson took the folder that Lois handed him. "Care to give me a summary?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other. "How much time have you got?" Lois asked.
"As much as I need. Have a seat," Henderson said, and Clark could sense the suppressed eagerness in the man, although he would probably die before he would admit it. He let Lois choose the most comfortable seat and then took the other one.
"First," Lois said, "we need your word that if anything comes of this, the Planet gets the exclusive."
"Sounds fair to me," Henderson said. "You have my word."
"All right," Lois said. "Why don't you start, Clark?"
He nodded. "All right. It all started a few days ago …"
Henderson listened mostly in silence, only occasionally interjecting a question. Ten minutes into the explanation, he held up his hand and punched his intercom. "Frieda, make sure I'm not disturbed," he said.
"Yes sir," a woman's voice said, crisply.
Henderson turned back to them. "Go on," he said. "A clone of Superman. If I didn't have the pictures —" he gestured at the graphic images spread out on his desk, "and if it wasn't the two of you telling me this, I'd think it was science fiction."
"So would I," Clark said. "Until we met him …"
"You're sure it was a clone?"
"*He*, Bill. Not it. He was like a child in Superman's body," Lois said. "And yes, we're sure. I saw them both together, both with super powers …"
When they had finally finished, Henderson was silent for nearly a minute. Finally, he shook his head sharply. "I've seen cold- blooded schemes in this business," he said, "but this one takes the cake. I want to listen to Superman's recording. If it's as graphic as you say, I may be able to get a search warrant for Leek's laboratory on the basis of the tape alone. Where did you say the evidence is?"
"It was in the bottom right drawer of the desk, in the lab that connects to Leek's office," Clark said. "Hopefully, it's still there."
"Right. And with any luck, I won't have to tell a judge about your more unorthodox methods of investigation. In the meantime, if you see the clone again — if he's still alive — tell him to come see me." Henderson picked up the tape in question, obviously terminating the interview. "I know exactly the judge I'm going to bring in on this. I'll let you know what happens."
"Do you think we should have Brian drop by to see Henderson?" Lois asked as she was unlocking the door to the Cherokee. "It would probably help back up our story."
"Maybe," Clark said, doubtfully. He opened the door and got in. "As long as he doesn't say the wrong thing. And if he's not too scared to go."
"You could explain everything to him," Lois said, as she climbed into the driver's seat. "He trusts you — besides, Brian may be a kid, but he learns pretty fast."
"He certainly does," Clark agreed. "I guess we could ask him. If we went with him, he'd probably go along with it, but we'd have to be careful. We don't want Luthor to realize he's alive and cooperating with the enemy."
"Maybe we could set it up so Henderson comes to see *him*," Lois said. "It might be safer. I'm not sure we should tell him what's happening, though — Henderson, that is. Do we want anyone to know that Superman's brother is still alive and healthy?"
"I just don't like to lie to Henderson," Clark said.
"What are you talking about?"
"About Brian. We've more or less inferred that he was going to die, too."
"He is," Lois said. "At least as far as his current identity." She started to turn the key, then paused and to Clark's surprise, rested a hand on his knee. "Think about it, Clark. You lie to the world every day. You're — well, you know. Don't get me wrong; I know why you do it, and it makes sense, but you let people assume that something about you — isn't. That's what we're going to do for him. He's going to die and become someone else — and leave a chapter of his life behind him forever. It's the only way he can have a future, and you know it."
"I suppose so." He watched her as she started the engine and pulled out of their parking space. "You understand why I didn't tell you?"
She made a face. "I didn't say that, but actually, I think I do. I kind of went crazy over Superman — and I guess I gave you a pretty good reason not to trust me."
"When I kind of lost my mind and went all out to find Superman. I even stole your story. I can understand why you didn't trust me."
She shook her head. "I don't blame you. You were protecting your parents and friends as well as yourself. I showed you that, given the right temptation, I'd violate my principles. You had a good reason to think I'd blow your cover completely." She bit her lip. "I probably would have, back then, too — but not anymore. I mean, I do want a Pulitzer someday, but not at that price." She barely dodged a fuel truck and Clark winced. "I think I was temporarily insane, doing what I did. I felt bad about it even then, but I wasn't able to make myself apologize. Instead, I rationalized that I was teaching you something for your own good — but I really knew better. I couldn't admit out loud that I was wrong, even when I knew it. I can't believe how petty I was."
"That's all in the past, Lois," Clark said quietly. "I trust you completely. I thought you knew that."
She swiped at her eyes, and Clark grabbed the wheel. "Let's pull over for a minute, okay? There's a parking lot coming up right up there."
She nodded and sniffled loudly, but turned into the entrance that he had pointed out and pulled into the nearest parking space. One wheel of the Jeep resided well across the line in the adjoining space, but Clark didn't even blink at the sad attempt at parking. Instead, he unfastened his seat belt, reached across and took both her hands. "Lois, it's all right. Really."
She shook her head and sniffled again. Clark removed the handkerchief from his breast pocket and pressed it into her hands. Lois wiped her eyes and blew her nose soundly. He said nothing, waiting patiently while his partner regained her composure.
"Better?" he asked, finally.
"You have nothing to be sorry for," he said. "Lois, I understand."
"That's more than I do," she said. "Clark, I have one more confession to make."
"You don't …"
"Yes, I do. It's important." He could see her draw a deep, shaking breath. "The other day, when we first met Brian — where he caught that hostage-taker — that was the day I realized you were Superman — or that Superman was you. I saw the two of you side by side. You were looking over the tops of your glasses at him, and it suddenly hit me. I was pretty mad at you, at first. Then I started to think."
He frowned at her, taking in what she was saying. "You knew, and you didn't tell me?"
She nodded. "I was pretty mad," she repeated, "for about fifteen minutes. Then I started to think about why you hadn't told me. After that, I was ashamed of myself. I realized the person I had most to blame was me. I'd acted like a fool over Superman and treated you like a second-class citizen right from the start, even though you showed everybody what a darned good journalist you were. I guess I just couldn't admit I was wrong, and after I got to know you, I realized just how wrong that was."
"That was months ago," Clark said. "We got to be friends after that, Lois."
"Yeah, we did. I still didn't completely trust you, though. Until after I got dosed with the pheromone, and then Lex tried to kill you …" She broke off and blew her nose again. "It really scared me, and after that, I promised myself I'd treat you better, but I didn't," she continued. "…Or not much, anyway. The other night when you came over to help me with the mattress, I'd just promised myself that I really would do better — and then we met Brian, and I realized just what I'd done. Clark, I'm so sorry. I've really messed everything up, and now you probably won't want to have anything to do with me," she finished miserably.
Clark had listened to her confession at first with surprise, then with dismay, and finally with relief. Among all the jumbled sentences of his partner's confession, he heard none of the hero- worship that had characterized the early days of her relationship with Superman. Lois was trying heroically to explain, and doing better than she probably thought she was at the task.
"I wouldn't say that," he said.
"Lois, if I trusted you enough to send Brian to get you last night, you have to know I trust you pretty thoroughly," he said. "I've been trying to figure out how to tell you about Superman for some time, like I told you last night. I just hadn't worked up the nerve yet." He removed the crumpled handkerchief from her hands and dabbed at a stray tear on her cheek. "I believe you; I honestly do. Can't we just forget it and be friends?"
She took the handkerchief back and blew her nose again. "Are you sure?" she asked. "I messed everything up. I was trying to show you that you could trust me, and after last night, I didn't know what to do. I should have told you right away, but I thought if I did, I'd never be able to make you believe I was over my crush, and liked you for yourself. And I *do*!" she asserted with unnecessary emphasis.
"Well, if you go on treating me the same way, I'm sure I won't have any trouble believing it," he said. "Look at it this way. Now that you know, I won't have to make stupid excuses to run off and save the day anymore. You can make the stupid excuses for me."
"Kent," she said, "no excuse I make for you could possibly be as lame as some of the ones you've come up with!"
Definitely better. "We'll see," he said, unintentionally repeating the words he had spoken to her after her return from the sewage reclamation facility.
"Care to bet?" she asked.
"Okay. Let's see what you say the next time I take off out of the blue."
"It's a deal! But you get to cook me a steak dinner if I do better than your last one!"
"Which one was that?"
"'I left my story notes in the car'? Give me a break!"
"Okay, it's a deal," he said. "Just make sure it's believable."
"Oh, I will; you can count on it!"
They were nearly to the Daily Planet when Lois thought to ask him the question that had occurred to her some time before. "Your powers — have they come back yet?"
He shook his head. "My hearing is starting to improve a little. I could hear Bill's heartbeat when you mentioned Lex Luthor, but that's it so far."
"But they're going to come back?"
He nodded. "I'd say it looks like it. This only happened to me once before — in Smallville, as you already guessed, but since my hearing is coming back, I'd say it's just a matter of time."
"That's a relief. Really, Clark, you need to be more careful now that we know this stuff is out there — and more important, that Lex knows it too. Have you ever thought about taking a few steps for self-defense?"
"What do you mean, self-defense?"
She gave a small snort of exasperation. "Clark, sometimes you can be awfully dense! Am I right in thinking that your ship landed in Kansas somewhere near Smallville?"
"Well, yes. In Shuster's Field, actually."
"And Wayne Irig found that meteorite nearby, right?"
"Right. On his farm."
"Have you ever thought of going back to where he found it and finding any others that came in at the same time? I mean, you could hover in the air and spot them with your special vision, couldn't you? Then, since it doesn't hurt humans, maybe you could get your dad to help you. Heck, even *I'd* help you if you wanted me to! We could collect them for you and put them in lead, like the piece at your apartment. Then you could get rid of them — throw them into space or something."
"We don't know they all came in there," Clark said.
"No, they probably didn't," she agreed, aware that she was going into what he called 'babbling mode', but not really caring, "but it's a heck of a coincidence that Mr. Irig found that rock so close by the spot where your ship landed. Maybe it somehow pulled some of the chunks along. Well, it would have had to, really. How else would it have gotten all the way from wherever Krypton was to Earth in such a short time? I mean, normally they couldn't travel faster than light like your ship, could they? So a lot of it probably *is* in the general area. Even if it isn't *all* there, it would sure cut down on the chances of somebody finding more of it and using it against you. You really ought to do something about it before somebody else — like Lex — decides to hunt around Mr. Irig's farm and finds some more!"
Clark looked at her in astonishment. "You know, you're right! I never thought about it before. I really don't want this to happen again, and since Brian is probably going to be in the area, it would probably be a good idea, anyway."
"What about Brian?" Lois asked.
"I called my parents to talk to them. I told you that his morning," Clark reminded her. "My mom said that they want Brian to come and live with them, since he's my brother, and they could teach him how to be an adult. If he agrees, it would be the ideal solution. He couldn't have two better parents. I know that from experience."
"Clark, that would be perfect!"
"That's what I thought. We're going to have to figure out how to get him a Social Security number, but there are ways of proving someone's an American citizen without a birth certificate. There are still a few places in the country where kids are often born at home and never get one — especially back in 1966 when I was born. And he *is* a native of the United States, after all. We wouldn't be lying."
"Appalachia, maybe," Lois suggested. "He could be your cousin. If you show up to vouch for him, no county official could miss the resemblance."
"That's true," Clark said. "After I get my powers back, I'll fly out and do what you suggested. It could save us a lot of trouble in the future."
"That's for sure. What did you do with the piece from last night?"
"It's still in my apartment. I figured I'll wait until my powers come back and toss it into the sun or something. Or I could give it to Dr. Klein to test. It might be a good idea to know more about it."
"It can't hurt," Lois said. "You trust him, don't you?"
"Bernie Klein? Sure."
"Then take it to him when your powers come back," Lois advised. She pulled into the entrance to the Planet's garage and a moment later they got out of the Jeep and headed toward the elevator.
When they stepped out of the elevator, the first thing Lois saw was the massive bouquet of two dozen red roses sitting on her desk. Cat slithered past them as they made their way toward their workstations, glancing casually at Lois. "Send yourself roses again, Lois?"
Lois ignored her. "I guess you didn't send those," she remarked.
"I'm afraid not," Clark said. "I can guess who did, though."
"Lex," Lois said, sounding resigned, even to herself. "What am I going to say if he proposes, Clark? I don't want to agree to marry him, but if I turn him down completely, I'll lose my inside track with him."
"Well," Clark said, "I suppose you could tell him you have to think about it. It would gain you some time. Or maybe you should pull the line about needing to get to know him better."
"I don't know how he'd take that," Lois said. "Lex is used to getting what he wants."
"Well, it may not matter, if he winds up under arrest," Clark said.
"I hope not." Lois opened the card that was attached to the bouquet. "'Love, Lex. I'll call you soon'. Great."
"I've got that stuff for you," Jimmy said, as he passed them with a stack of folders that reached his chin. "…Back in a minute."
True to his word, he returned a moment later and laid several pieces of paper on her desk. "It took me most of the morning to hack into LexCorp's accounting records but I tracked down the cash transfers for you." He indicated the first page. "They went through a dummy company, but the originating source was Lexel Investments."
"LexCorp," Lois said. "It's not exactly a surprise, but they seem to be getting a bit careless."
"Overconfidence," Clark said. "So, LexCorp is trying to launch a hostile takeover of the Daily Planet."
"Looks like it," Lois said. "Lex wants to control one of the most reputable papers in the world. That's scary."
"We'd better show this to Perry," Clark said. "He needs to know."
"Definitely," Lois said. "Thanks, Jimmy. That was good work."
"Put in a good word for me with Perry, will you?" Jimmy said. "I could use the brownie points."
"Will do," Clark said. "You certainly deserve it. Let's go, Lois."
"LexCorp?" Perry White scanned the printouts that Jimmy had provided. "And you two are thinkin' corporate takeover, huh?"
"I think so, Perry," Lois said. "This whole thing fits the first step in LexCorp's pattern when it makes a corporate takeover. Financial trouble that no one can trace — only no one else had Jimmy to track down the source of the trouble. If we manage to keep going in spite of the financial troubles, after awhile there will be more substantial problems, then, when our stock drops, they'll move in with an offer to buy at pennies on the dollar. I've done some research on a bunch of its takeovers. Always the same pattern."
"You've researched this?"
"Yes I have. I've been investigating Luthor and LexCorp for months."
Perry scratched his hairline and then stopped when he nearly dislodged his toupee. Lois didn't comment. "I thought you were seein' him."
"I am," she said. "I guess I was pretty convincing. I've been dating him to investigate him."
Perry raised an eyebrow. "Playin' with fire," he remarked. "Lex Luthor didn't become a self-made man by bein' soft."
"I know, Chief, but he isn't just a tough businessman. Clark and I think he's a criminal. We've been trying to prove it."
Perry's eyebrows climbed higher. "And have you?"
"Let's say we've found some pretty good evidence," Lois said. "We'll keep working on it. I don't think the Planet would do very well with him as CEO. Lex is a micro-manager if I ever knew one — at least about certain things."
Perry blew out his breath. "Okay. Try and keep me informed. Make me some copies of this stuff — and send Jimmy in here when you leave."
"Will do." Clark opened the door for Lois and closed it carefully after them. "I'm going to give Dr. Klein a call," he said. "I want to talk to Brian, and arrange a meeting with Henderson."
"Where do you think it should be?" Lois asked.
"How about my place? Brian seems to feel pretty comfortable there."
"That sounds good." Lois beckoned to Jimmy. "Perry wants to see you."
Jimmy looked worried. "I'm not in trouble, am I?"
"I don't think so." Lois glanced at the collar he still wore. "How's your neck today?"
"Sore," Jimmy said. "I brought the aspirin bottle with me. It'll be all right."
"Well, just take it easy today. Nobody's going to blame you. Neck injuries can be serious stuff."
"I know. Superman said the same thing." Jimmy seemed to gather his courage and knocked on the door to the editor's office. Lois took the printouts.
"While you're doing that, I'll copy these for Perry. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. Maybe when I'm done, we could go get some lunch."
"Sounds good to me," Clark said. "I'm starving."
The thought occurred to her while she was making the copies that although she had always known that Clark liked to eat, she had never heard him complain of real hunger before. What was it that Superman had told her in the beginning? Something about not needing to eat, but liking to. Chalk up one more little piece of information about her partner. But if he didn't get his energy from food, where *did* he get it? What had Dr. Klein said about Brian? The addition of the frog DNA chain had somehow permanently impaired his ability to absorb sunlight, even after his body rejected the foreign DNA, so Superman's energy came from sunlight, like plants. Well, what did it matter, anyway? He sure didn't look like a dandelion or any other kind of plant she could think of. When he was wearing the Suit, he looked like a very well constructed specimen of Homo sapiens and that was good enough for her. And although their future relationship might not be completely clear sailing, at least she knew that he did trust her. It was a promising start.
Emerging from the copy room minutes later, she saw Clark standing by her desk, the phone to his ear. He saw her, spoke to whoever was on the other end, and set the receiver down.
"Who was that?" she asked, setting the small stack of papers next to her computer. "I made an extra copy of this stuff so we'd each have one, by the way."
Clark put his lips close to her ear and lowered his voice so that she could barely hear him. "Believe it or not, that was Henderson. They presented their search warrant at Leek's laboratory, searched the place and found the evidence we told him about, plus considerably more. He actually thanked us."
"He must be getting soft," Lois said, automatically. "That was fast. Did he say anything else?"
"They've taken Leek in for questioning."
"I hope Lex doesn't find out about it," Lois said.
"Henderson said the only person who knew what was going on was Leek," Clark said. "They were pretty quiet about it. Henderson doesn't want Luthor to hear about it too soon either, you know."
"Well, let's hope Leek doesn't call Lex for help," she said, dryly. "The only help he's likely to get is twenty-to-life. If he's lucky."
"I doubt he'd have collected all that evidence if he had any real confidence in Luthor," Clark pointed out. "Give Henderson some credit. He's pretty smart. If I had to bet, I'd lay odds that Leek spills his guts."
"So would I," Lois said. "Let me take these copies to Perry, then we can go get some lunch. How about Jose's?"
"Sounds good to me," Clark said.
"Are you sure you don't prefer another restaurant?" Lois asked, as the elevator bore them toward the basement.
"No, Jose's is fine, unless you've changed your mind," Clark said.
"Not really; it just occurred to me that you always let me pick the place, so I've never found out what you prefer. I thought maybe you'd like to make the choice this time."
Clark grinned. "I've tasted cuisine from every culture," he told her. "I have a very wide range of favorites."
"Really? That's right, you said you traveled the world after college. Do you speak any other languages besides English?"
"Oh, a few. I can order dinner in 347 languages."
"Wow. I'm lucky if I can remember muy bien, gracias."
"The accent is on the first syllable."
"See what I mean?"
Clark grinned at her. "Don't worry. If we ever end up in any foreign countries, I can handle the conversation."
"You'll have to," Lois said. "Just remember, you're going to have to answer some questions when we get the time, pal."
"Sure," Clark said. "Let's just get this mess squared away, and when we can get a few minutes of peace and quiet, I'll answer any questions you want."
Lois nodded. "Don't think I'll let you forget, either." The doors slid open and they exited in the direction of the Cherokee. "So Mexican is okay?"
"It's fine. I'm thinking the Nachos Grande and guacamole dip with cheese smothered chips."
"I can foresee a two-hour workout at the gym this evening," Lois said, without rancor. "Oh well, life is more than dieting, anyway." She took out her key ring as they circled a nondescript station wagon and approached the Jeep.
A figure stepped from behind one of the big concrete sections that supported the building above them, and Lois stared unbelieving at Nigel St. John. The prim, white-haired man looked the perfect gentleman's gentleman. He was impeccably attired in a suit and tie, and his face was the perfectly expressionless mask that Lois had grown to know over the months that she had dated Lex Luthor. But the .38 in his hand was completely out of character for the image that he had always projected, and it was pointed directly at her.
"Miss Lane," he greeted them, "Mr. Kent. My employer has directed me to bring you to him." He gestured toward the station wagon. "Get in, please."
The station wagon pulled unobtrusively through a back entrance leading into the private parking area beneath LexTower that was reserved for Lex Luthor's fleet of limousines. The driver, the turbaned man that Lois knew as Asabi, never glanced at the two of them or at Nigel St. John, who sat in the passenger seat, his handgun aimed unwaveringly at Lois. Asabi pulled the car smoothly into a corner parking space and cut the engine.
St. John backed out of the car, keeping his weapon centered on Lois. "Get out, Miss Lane," he said, expressionlessly.
Lois did so, careful to make no sudden moves. When she was standing beside the car, St. John raised his voice slightly. "Now you, Mr. Kent."
Clark got out beside her. Lois glanced at her partner's tense face and set jaw. The only thing that was holding him back, she thought, was the certainty that St. John would pull the trigger if Clark attacked him and might seriously injure or kill her. For all his age, Nigel St. John gripped the .38 with casual and competent familiarity. The man knew how to handle a gun.
Lois bit her lip. The problem was, of course, that Clark didn't have his super powers, and might well take chances that he shouldn't out of sheer habit — chances that could easily get him killed. She laid a hand lightly on his wrist and he glanced down at her.
"Don't do anything, Clark," she said quietly.
His eyes locked with hers for a second, and she felt some of the tension drain out of him. He nodded slightly.
"Very wise of you, Mr. Kent." St. John's icy voice broke into the moment. "I really have no wish to kill you. Mr. Luthor would be most annoyed if it became necessary. This way, please."
He beckoned with his free hand and they obeyed, walking slowly in the direction he indicated.
In the wall beside the spot where they had parked, Lois saw an unobtrusive door — a private elevator, she realized, probably for the benefit of the chauffeur and other members of the staff. Behind them, Nigel spoke.
"Call the elevator, Mr. Kent."
Obediently, Clark rang for the car. While they waited, Lois glanced unobtrusively around, assessing the situation.
They might run, but with St. John so close, it was probable that one of them would be shot before they got very far. And the man had positioned himself directly behind them, but not quite close enough that either she or Clark would have any chance of catching him by surprise. No, her first thought had been the right one — to cooperate, and stay alive, to fight only if it looked as if one of them was going to be killed. Clark had said that his super hearing was coming back. Perhaps his other super powers wouldn't be far behind. If the two of them could hold out until that happened, it would solve all their problems at once.
The elevator door slid open and St. John spoke again. "Go inside. Face the wall and lace your fingers behind your heads."
Meekly, Lois obeyed. Clark did also. She could almost feel the rebellion in every line of his body, but to her relief, he made no objection to the command. The elevator doors closed, and she felt the car begin to rise. It seemed slow, but that wasn't a problem. The longer things took, the better. It gave Clark's powers that much longer to return.
Still, slow as the elevator was, it was still too soon when they slid to a stop and the door popped open with a soft, pneumatic sigh.
There was movement behind them, and then St. John's voice said, "Turn around."
The elevator opened on the main hallway of the penthouse, and to the right was the door to Lex's study.
"This way, please. Into the study." The butler's relentless courtesy, even in the act of kidnapping them, made chills crawl across her scalp. No doubt he would be equally polite while committing murder. Lois obeyed the order, already expecting what met her eyes when she entered the familiar room. Lex was sitting at his desk, his back to the French windows, regarding her with a faint smile on his lips.
"My dear Lois," he said, rising to his feet, "do come in. Welcome, Mr. Kent. Nigel, see to our guests' refreshment, if you please."
"Immediately, sir," St. John replied in his most expressionless voice.
"Sit down, my dear." Lex gestured to the armchairs that faced his desk. "Be comfortable."
Lois slowly crossed the room and sank into one of the chairs. Lex remained standing until Clark had also taken a chair, then casually reseated himself.
It was difficult to read his expression, Lois thought. With his back to the bright sunlight streaming in the French windows, his face was shadowed, but she thought he was smiling.
Silently, Nigel St. John set a glass of wine on the table next to her, and then did the same for Clark. Neither of them showed the slightest interest in the refreshment. Lois remained silent, let the silence lengthen between them. Stall, she reminded herself.
"Are you comfortable?" Lex inquired politely.
"Very good. Don't you want to ask why you've been brought here?"
"I figured you were going to tell us," Lois said. "I thought the gun was a bit melodramatic, but when someone pulls one on me, I don't ask questions."
"As always, a woman of rare intelligence," Lex said. "My dear, I wish it hadn't been necessary, but once I realized that the Superman who scooped you up last night was the thing I created, I began to add a few things together."
Lois's heart leaped treacherously in her chest and began to pound more vigorously, but she gave no outward sign of her reaction to this most unwelcome news. "What the dickens are you talking about?" she said.
"The thing that scooped you up last night," Lex repeated, with false patience. "It was my creation. Don't pretend you don't know it, Lois. The differences become apparent fairly quickly."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," she said. "What do you mean, 'your creation'?"
Lex raised his brows. "My dear, you aren't stupid, so don't pretend you are. I repeat: the thing I created. My Superman. He's a child in all but body. The way he abducted you just as you were stepping into my limousine was not the behavior of Superman. Once I realized that, the rest was obvious."
She wished he would stop calling her his dear, but didn't comment. Instead, it might be time to admit a little knowledge. "The imposter? *You're* behind him?"
He frowned. "Of course I am. I realized, of course, that you knew when I discovered the theft."
"*What* theft? Lex, you're talking in riddles!"
"The theft of the lock of hair," he said, patiently. "And, of course, of the Kryptonite. There was only one way a thief could get in here without leaving a trace, open my vault and take those two items, and there was only one person who would want them: Superman. You paved the way for him very cleverly, didn't you — with that little performance last night. What I would like to know is how long have the two of you been working with him against me — and where is my clone?"
"'Clone'?" Lois said, incredulously. "What the *hell* are you talking about, Lex?"
"The Superman imposter, of course, as you know. I have to give you credit, my dear. No one but Lois Lane could have figured it out." He regarded her with what she could swear was open admiration. "A phone call to Mrs. Doyle Alexander confirmed it, of course — that the Daily Planet had inquired about the theft of the lock of hair. That was when I *knew* that you had put the pieces together." He smiled at her. "What were you going to do with the information, Lois? How did you intend to prove such a wild story?"
At least, she thought, he apparently hadn't realized that she and Clark had figured out that Leek was his accomplice. She shut her mouth tightly. Lex watched her with an amused smile. "You see," he said, "I'm not quite so stupid as you thought. I suppose that with anyone else, I would simply have you killed. That is, no doubt, what I *should* do, but I don't really want to."
She felt her eyes widen. His smile broadened slightly. "Where is my clone, Lois?"
She shrugged. "I have no idea. I haven't seen either him or Superman since last night."
"Apparently, neither has anyone else," Lex said. "One of the things Superman stole was the Kryptonite. I imagine it was quite a surprise to him when he opened the box, so perhaps I don't need to worry about him anymore. And, of course, the clone hasn't long to live, so I may be unnecessarily concerned. In any case, you and your partner here are my one remaining problem, now." He studied her with that faint smile. "I have a bargain to offer you."
"A bargain! What are you talking about?"
He stood and moved out to stand beside his desk. "Come here."
Lois didn't budge. He smiled and extended a hand. "I'm not going to hurt you unless you force me to. Mr. Kent, however, is another matter. His continued health and safety depend on you. Come here."
She cast an uncertain look at Clark and got to her feet. Lex took her hand and led her to the French windows.
"I want you to take a final look at Metropolis, because this is the last time either of you will see it."
"What does that mean?" she demanded.
"I've been in love with you for months," he said simply. "The incident with Miranda's pheromone brought it to my attention, of course. I admired your intelligence and courage, and naturally your beauty, but it wasn't until then that I realized how unique you were, and knew that I wanted you for my wife."
Lois stared at him in shock. He didn't seem to notice. "I can't, however, allow you to remain free to work against me," he continued. "You're far too dangerous. I know that you don't love me. If anything, your preference is for Mr. Kent." He glanced at Clark, and to her astonishment, she saw sheer hatred cross his features for just an instant. "However, that doesn't have to be a barrier."
"What on Earth are you talking about?"
He ignored the interruption. "If I can't have your love," he continued, "I can at least have *you*, so I propose a bargain."
His smile had returned. "You will become my wife, Lois. Tonight we'll fly via my private jet, to my fortress in the Alps, and you will live out the rest of your life there — as my wife."
"You're out of your mind!"
"And," he continued, as if she hadn't spoken, "if you do this, I will allow Mr. Kent to live. Not only live, but to live in luxury, and more importantly, to remain healthy."
"Mr. Kent goes with us," he said, and the smile disappeared. "You'll be allowed to see him once a day to assure yourself of his continued good health. But if you defy me, or attempt to escape —" He paused for emphasis. "Killing him won't be necessary," he finished. "A great many things can be done to a human being without killing him. Do you understand me, Lois?" He looked into her eyes, and now all signs of amusement had vanished. "*That* is my bargain."
Lois stared back at him, appalled. The pheromone, her thoughts babbled silently. It had to be the effects of the one hundred percent pheromone. There wasn't any other way to explain such an incredible scheme.
Lex smiled again. "Why don't you and Mr. Kent step out on the balcony and discuss this," he said, pleasantly. "Enjoy the sunlight, because you'll never see it again, and bear in mind that if either of you raises your voice to call for Superman, Mr. Kent will be dead before he arrives."
Clark listened in silence as Luthor laid out his plan. The man had to be insane, he thought as he made his way slowly to the French windows. Insane or obsessed. Lois followed him out and Luthor seated himself once more in the desk chair, and swiveled around so he could watch their every move without turning his head. Behind Luthor, Nigel St. John stood silent and expressionless, fingering the .38.
Neither tried to close the French windows. Lois threw an uncertain glance at Luthor, then leaned her forearms on the stone wall of the balcony.
"How are you feeling?" Her voice was pitched so low that it couldn't have been heard five feet away.
Clark leaned on the wall next to her. "Normal."
"I'm going to accept his bargain," she said. "Stall, until —"
It was the logical and reasonable thing to do, he realized. It would keep them both alive and healthy until his powers returned and he could turn the tables on Luthor, but the whole idea went against the grain. The streak of possessiveness that he had become aware of the night Brian had kissed Lois raised its hackles in helpless protest. "Lois —"
"Clark, it's the only way to get us out of this," she said. "It's Miranda's pheromone, don't you see? He's obsessed with me."
He glanced over his shoulder. Luthor had risen to his feet and was strolling casually toward them. He stepped out on the balcony.
"Have you decided?" he asked politely.
Lois opened her mouth to reply when another element was added to the equation.
There was a scuffling of feet and the sound of raised voices in the hall beyond the study doors. A second later, William Henderson, accompanied by four uniformed officers, stepped into the room, weapons drawn.
"Drop it, St. John!" Henderson barked.
Nigel's .38 fell to the carpet with a muffled thud.
Two officers moved forward to cuff the unresisting butler, but Henderson was striding past him toward the trio on the balcony, his own police special in his hand. "Lex Luthor, you're under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney …"
Luthor didn't pause. He must, Clark realized later, have known at that instant that the game was up, for he grabbed Lois by the waist and swung her in front of him. Clark saw his partner try to break free, but Luthor countered the martial arts move without effort. Somehow, he was holding a small pistol of his own, though in the confusion Clark hadn't seen him draw it, and he pressed it to Lois's temple. Henderson stopped in mid-step, and Clark froze in place.
"Keep back, Inspector." For all the drama of the situation, Luthor's voice was inhumanly calm.
"Let her go, Luthor," Henderson said. "You can't get away."
Luthor's lips stretched in a humorless smile. "On the contrary," he said, "There's still one way out." He swung one leg over the stone wall, still holding Lois tightly against him. She made a convulsive attempt to escape, but he clamped his arm around her. "Lex Luthor will not live in a cage," he said.
In an instant, he had swung his other leg over the wall. Lois cried out. Clark leaped forward, grasping for her, and Luthor pushed himself away from the wall, dragging Lois after him.
Clark was off-balance, all of his weight thrown into his desperate lunge for Lois, and he had barely grasped her arm when the sudden jerk yanked him forward. He somersaulted over the barrier; then he was falling, trying instinctively to fly, without results. He heard Lois scream, and insanely, Lex Luthor's triumphant laugh. The sounds were whipped away on the wind as they plunged helplessly toward the pavement two hundred stories below.
The wind roaring past his ears made it hard to think, but the incredibly smug expression on Luthor's face jolted Clark's brain into belated action. Luthor thought he had won by taking them over the edge with him, but he and Lois had an ace-in-the-hole.
*Brian!* He thought the words at his twin as loudly as he could. *Brian, help!*
A scream for help almost certainly wouldn't have worked. There were too many noises in the city, and his brother hadn't learned to "listen" the way he did for that certain kind of call, but the response to his mental SOS was immediate. Brian's startled reply resounded through his brain. *Where are you?*
*LexTower! We're falling! Help!*
They were gaining speed every second, the wind whistling past Clark's ears like a hurricane. Somehow, he managed to "swim" in the manner of a skydiver to where his partner flailed helplessly in free fall, and closed his arms around her. She clung to him tightly and he could see that her eyes were squeezed shut. The ground was rushing toward them at warp speed, and still there was no sign of Brian.
No! The red and blue of Superman's uniform was suddenly within his range of vision, but there was something wrong. Brian's flight was too slow and unsteady. His brother's powers were failing, he realized in dismay, but in spite of his obvious difficulty, Brian had come to help.
He saw them and seemed to exert all his strength. It was strange how, even in these desperate circumstances, Clark could feel the boy's thoughts. His whole body hurt, and the effort of flight was almost too much, but he *had* to reach them! He *had* to!
Then, he was there. Brian grabbed the two of them in one arm, and Clark could sense the boy struggling to hold them, fighting to keep his altitude. Slowly, they started to fall. He threw an arm around his brother's shoulders to take some of the strain and gripped Lois with the other.
"Take us down!" he shouted. "Get us on the ground! Quick!"
Brian nodded and obeyed. They swept toward the pavement, barely in control. Clark only hoped his twin could stop them before they all became pavement pizza together. Then he saw what Brian was trying to do.
"Hang on!" his brother gasped.
Clark nodded and gripped him tighter as Brian reached out with his free hand to grab Luthor by the arm.
The billionaire saw him, and to Clark's horror, began to struggle.
"Let me go, damn you!" he shouted.
The burden was too much. Brian's flight was rapidly becoming an out-of-control plunge. And then it happened. Luthor wrested his arm free and fell. Brian nearly fell too, as he fought to regain control.
"Father!" he screamed.
"Don't look!" Clark commanded. There was nothing any of them could do.
Brian brought them to a rough, half-controlled landing on the sidewalk, seconds later, his face a mask of distress.
"I couldn't hold on," he whispered.
Clark put an arm around his shoulders. "Don't look," he said again. "It wasn't your fault. You tried."
"I couldn't," Brian whispered. "I couldn't hold him."
Lois grasped his other arm. "Even Superman can't save everybody," she said firmly. "You did your best, Brian. That's all anyone can do. He didn't want you to save him."
Tears were running down Brian's cheeks, but he nodded, looking determinedly away from the thing that had been Lex Luthor. Clark turned to Lois.
"He's losing his powers," he said. "Get him back to Dr. Klein right away. Minutes count. I'll deal with Henderson."
"Do you think you can still fly?" Lois asked Brian.
The boy nodded, the tears still trickling down his face.
"Then let's go," Lois told him. "There's nothing more you can do here." She patted his shoulder. "It's all right," she said, more gently. "You saved our lives. Now it's time for you to let us save yours."
It was hours later, and the sun had already set, when Inspector Henderson delivered Clark to STAR Labs. As he started to open the door, the Police Inspector reached out to shake his hand.
"Thanks, Clark," he said. "I owe you and Lois one, as much as I hate to admit it. We've been after The Boss for a long time, but no one dared to say out loud that The Boss was probably Lex Luthor. Now that he's gone, I have the feeling that a lot of unsolved crimes are going to change their status." He leaned back in the driver's seat. "You and Lois nearly gave me a heart attack on the spot this afternoon. I know Lois makes a habit of falling off buildings on a semi-regular basis, but it doesn't seem exactly your style. Try not to do it too often, okay?"
"Believe me, if it never happens to me again, it'll still be about a thousand years too soon," Clark said. "We were just lucky that Brian was still able to fly."
Henderson nodded soberly. "I hope he's okay," he said. "He may be only a copy of Superman, but he's a genuine hero in my book. Tell him I said so, would you?"
"I will," Clark said. "Are you sure you don't want to tell him in person?"
Henderson shook his head. "Superman's clone died tonight, as far as I'm concerned. He deserves to start with a clean slate. On the other hand, if you find time to bring your visiting friend by the Precinct, say, in a day or two, I could probably grab a few minutes to be polite to him."
"I'll see if I can squeeze the time in," Clark said. "Thanks, Bill."
"Don't mention it. Tell Lois I expect to see her at the Precinct tomorrow morning to give her statement."
Clark shut the door and stood back, watching as the Inspector's car pulled away. He'd had to tell the man more about Brian when he explained the events surrounding Luthor's death, and Lois's sudden departure immediately afterwards. Henderson had said independently that certain aspects of the story didn't need to be known. He had all the information that his report required, and the last thing the kid needed would be curiosity seekers all interested in the fact that he was Superman's genetic twin — especially now that the cloning technology existed. It was things like that, Clark thought, that made Henderson a good deal more than just a public official.
Clark had spent hours with the police, and even more time and creativity in writing the article that would appear tomorrow morning in the Daily Planet, under the Lane and Kent byline: the article that told the (somewhat edited) story of the Superman clone, and how he had saved their lives even as his powers were failing. That part was necessary to help the public understand why the man in the Superman costume had been unable to save Lex Luthor. In it, he had implied that the clone was dying, which wasn't a lie. The rest of the story would remain untold, however. As far as the world was concerned, the clone no longer existed. In the future, Brian wouldn't have to worry about criminals after him for his Kryptonian DNA, and the one man who might guess the truth was gone. Although he wouldn't have wished for Luthor's death, all in all it hadn't been a bad day's work, he thought, as he made his way along the sidewalk toward the entrance to STAR Labs.
Lois was dozing in one of the armchairs in Bernard Klein's office when he opened the door. He entered quietly and took the other chair, watching his partner sleep. He had nearly lost her today — for good. They had very nearly lost each other, but thanks to the brother that he hadn't had until this week, they both had another chance.
He bit his lip, thinking of that, and made a promise to himself that he would take care of certain unfinished business as soon as he had the opportunity. It was time, he decided, to bring some things out into the open for better or worse.
Speaking of Brian, where *was* he? The hum in the back of his mind that indicated Brian's thoughts, and that he only noticed when he thought about it, was still there. He must be around here somewhere, or Lois wouldn't be here. After a moment, Clark rose and went to look through the blinds into the lab.
The lab was empty, but light was coming from a small, round window on the opposite wall, and when he listened, he could hear two sets of heartbeats in the room beyond. Instinctively, he tried to look through the wall, and after an instant's effort, the scene on the other side became visible. His powers were coming back. They weren't one hundred percent yet, but the worst was over. Superman was back.
Brian was sleeping soundly in a hospital bed. A clear tube ran from an IV bag positioned above him into his arm, and as Clark watched, Dr. Klein checked the readout on a machine that appeared to be regulating the speed of the drip, then turned and exited into the lab. Clark knocked lightly on the window. Dr. Klein saw him, and beckoned.
Clark made his way to where the scientist stood, threading his way between lab equipment and other obstacles, and peeked through the window at his brother. "How's he doing?"
"Very well," Dr. Klein said. "It was touch and go there for a bit, but the medication seems to be suppressing the production of the enzyme, and the latest blood tests show that his body's processes are stabilizing."
"He's going to be all right, then?" Clark said.
Klein nodded. "I think so. If everything goes according to plan, he should be able to leave in the morning."
Clark gave a sigh of relief. "I was worried," he said. "When he saved our lives, I could see that he was losing his powers. I was afraid he might not get back in time."
"It was close," Klein admitted, "but I was ready for him. Ms. Lane told me what happened, and we were listening to the news, of course." He pointed with his thumb at the thirteen-inch set that occupied one corner of the lab. "Superman should be proud of him."
"He is," Clark said. He reached into a pocket and extracted the lead box that he had picked up from his apartment on his way to the lab. "He wanted me to give you this."
Klein took it and started to open the catch. Clark stopped him. "Superman said not to open it anywhere around Brian," he explained. "It's Kryptonite. It's why he hasn't been around for the past day. He thought you might want to study it, but don't let anyone know it's here."
Klein's eyes opened wide. "Actual Kryptonite? I'll put this in the vault right away — with a radioactivity warning. That will keep unauthorized people away."
"Good idea." Clark glanced through the window again. "Can I see him?"
"Sure. Just don't disturb him."
Lois was awake when Clark and Dr. Klein returned to Dr. Klein's office. She blinked sleepily and glanced at her watch. "Wow. I slept for almost two hours. How's Brian?"
"He's doing okay," Clark said. "Dr. Klein says he can probably leave in the morning."
"That's good," Lois said. She glanced at her watch again. "You know what? I'm starved."
"We never did get our lunch," Clark said. He glanced back in the direction of Brian's room. "I just hate to leave him alone. He was lonely last night."
"I'll be here," Dr. Klein said. "Go ahead."
"You'll call us if anything happens, won't you?" Clark said. "I'll give you my pager number."
"Sure," Dr. Klein said. He grinned. "It's good to know Brian has people that care about him. It worried me to think of him out in the world by himself, after he's normal. He's a pretty nice guy."
"He won't be alone," Clark said. "Some friends of Superman have offered him a place to live, and to teach him what he needs to know."
"That makes me feel better," the scientist said. "Why don't you — or Superman, if he can — come by about seven. He should be ready to go by then."
"So, where do you want to go?" Clark asked, as they left STAR Labs.
"You pick. And did you call a taxi?"
Clark smiled. "We don't need one, now."
"You mean Superman's back?"
"More or less. How about we go back to my apartment. I'll make you that steak dinner."
"But I haven't had a chance to earn it yet," Lois protested.
"That's all right. I'd call the performance you put on for Luthor this afternoon worth an Oscar, at least. Or would you rather have Mexican?"
"No, I'll take the steak."
They had strolled some distance from the lighted parking lot when Clark paused in the shadows, and stepped away from her, glancing quickly around. "I've always wanted to do this in front of you," he said, removing his glasses. With one fluid motion, he pulled open his shirt, revealing the red S on a field of blue. Then he became a miniature tornado that stopped a second later to reveal Superman. He held out his arms. "Ready?"
She gaped at him for a second, then stepped toward him. "Ready!"
He scooped her up, and a moment later, they were soaring through the clear night sky. Clark was grinning in a very un-Superman- like way, and Lois found herself grinning back. "Do I get rides like this more often, now that I know?"
"Superman Express, at your service," Clark said. "I guess in a way I'm grateful to Luthor and Leek."
"I've been wondering for a while how I was going to explain this dual-identity thing to you. They solved the problem for me."
"Oh." She felt the smile fade. "You were really going to tell me?"
He nodded. "When I worked up the nerve," he said. "But, I knew I was going to have to tell you sooner or later."
"Why?" she asked.
He was silent for a moment, then drew a deep breath and it seemed to her as if he was gathering his nerve. "You know, sometimes you think you're immortal — and then you start to think the people around you are, too. It can take just a second to realize how wrong you are about everything — like today."
He gave the ghost of a smile. "I almost lost you, and that scared me. If you'd died, never knowing …"
"Never knowing what?"
He blew out his breath. "A lot of things," he said. "The most important one scares me to death, but you deserve to know. The pheromone didn't affect me, for obvious reasons, but if it had you'd have learned pretty quickly how I feel about you. At first I didn't say anything because you didn't seem interested in a hick from Smallville, and later, when I realized that maybe you actually did feel something for me, I was afraid I'd scare you away. I don't want to rush you into anything, but at least you'll know, and then we can decide if it can go anywhere. I've been in love with you from the day we met."
She stared at him in shock, then felt her eyes start to fill with tears, and impatiently brushed them away. Clark said something under his breath that might have been a swear word. "Lois, I'm sorry. Forget I said anything."
She shook her head. "I don't want to forget it." She wiped at her face with the back of her hand. "You can say you love me, even after the way I treated you?"
His arms tightened a little. "Didn't we decide a couple of days ago that that's over and done with?"
She sniffled. "I guess so."
"Anyway," he said, "I just wanted you to know. I don't expect you to feel the same way."
She wiped her face again. "Clark, I've been in relationships before. You know that, right?"
"Yes," he said cautiously.
"Every one of them was a federal disaster," she said. "Mostly, I think, because I have a habit of picking men who are jerks. I think this time is different, maybe because I didn't pick you. You picked me."
"Well, maybe," he agreed.
"The point is," she said, "I've been thinking for a while that there might be more to our relationship than just friendship. Do you mind if we go slowly and — and find out?"
In the dimness, she saw his teeth flash in a wide, delighted grin. "Do you mean it?"
She nodded. "Yes, I do."
"I don't mind a bit," he said, and she could hear the happiness in his voice. "It sounds great."
Brian was waiting when Lois and Clark arrived at STAR Labs the following morning. He was wearing the jeans and T-shirt that Clark had loaned him, and Clark presented him with a leather jacket that Lois had reminded Clark to bring. After all, his brother was sensitive to the temperature now, in the manner of normal humans.
Bernard Klein shook hands with him as he prepared to leave. "Take care of yourself, Brian. And give me a call sometime, would you?"
Brian nodded, and then surprised the scientist for the second time with a hug. "Thanks, Bernie," he said.
"You're welcome." Dr. Klein hugged him back.
"We'll bring him back to see you — after he's had a little time to learn about the way the rest of the world lives," Clark assured the scientist.
Dr. Klein extracted a handkerchief from the pocket of his lab coat and blew his nose. "I'll look forward to it. Good bye, Brian."
"You get to ride in Lois's Jeep today," Clark told his brother as the three of them left STAR Labs. He pointed at the silver Cherokee that was parked by the curb.
"Where are we going?" Brian wanted to know.
"Back to my place for now. There are two people there who want to meet you."
"My mom and dad," Clark said.
"Will they like me?" Brian asked.
Lois grinned and unlocked the passenger door. "You can sit in the front," she told him. "Clark and I told Martha and Jonathan all about you, and they wanted to meet you right away."
"Why?" Brian asked.
"Because you're Clark's brother. Clark never had a brother before," Lois said.
"Oh," Brian said, nodding wisely.
"Fasten your seatbelt," Clark told him. "Like this."
Brian did so, and tugged experimentally at the strap. "What's this for?"
"It's there to keep you from getting hurt if there's an accident," Lois said. "Everybody is supposed to wear them."
"Oh," Brian said. "All right."
Lois started the motor. Brian looked over his shoulder at Clark. "I feel a lot better today," he said. "I don't hurt anymore."
"That's because you're not sick anymore," Clark said. "You're like everybody else now."
The smile on Brian's face told him exactly how his brother felt about that. Clark forbore to mention that Dr. Klein had told him privately that Brian might actually be healthier than most humans, because it was highly unlikely that he would be susceptible to Earth's bacteria and viruses. There didn't seem to be any real reason to bring the fact to his attention at present, however.
Morning traffic was fairly light on a Saturday morning, and a short time later they were pulling up to Clark's apartment. As Lois cut the motor, the door flew open, and Martha and Jonathan Kent hurried down the steps. Brian managed to unfasten his seatbelt and opened the door, looking cautiously at the two older people. Clark hastily got out to make introductions.
"Brian," Clark said, "these are my mother and father, Martha and Jonathan Kent. Mom and Dad, this is Brian."
Martha stared at the two of them and Clark could see tears in her eyes, although she smiled and held out a hand. "We're *very* glad to meet you, Brian," she said, taking his hand. "Clark has told us all about you."
"That's right," Jonathan said. He stretched out a hand and shook Brian's. "Come on inside and have some breakfast. Martha thought you might be hungry."
Brian's eyes brightened at that. "I'm awfully hungry," he said.
"Then come on, honey. We can talk while you eat. Have you had breakfast, Lois?"
"I had coffee," Lois said.
"In that case," Martha said firmly, "all of you come in and sit down. I *know* Clark hasn't had anything, either. I made coffee and pancakes while we were waiting, and bacon and eggs. French toast, too. Clark said Luthor told you you didn't have to eat, Brian. Is that right?"
Brian nodded, still looking unsure of himself.
"Well, that isn't true any longer. You have to eat to stay healthy, so this morning you get to have a proper breakfast. Do you like bacon and eggs?"
"Sure," Brian said. "What are they?"
"You'll find out," Clark said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Mom's a terrific cook. Come on, let's go eat."
Breakfast broke the ice. Within a few minutes Brian's shyness vanished, and he began to ask questions and chatter happily. By the time breakfast was over and Clark began to clear the table, Brian was listening to Jonathan talking about the Kansas farm, and his upcoming fishing trip, and Clark could tell he was hooked.
"I thought I'd take Brian to meet my friend, Bill Henderson, today," he said. "After that, we have to go to work, so maybe you could take him to a movie or something while I'm gone."
"Or something," Jonathan agreed. "Would that be okay, Brian?"
Brian nodded enthusiastically. "Sure!"
Lois's eyes met Clark's over Brian's head. It looked like the beginning of a great relationship.
"Do you think Brian will be all right with your mom and dad?" Lois asked as she and Clark stepped into the Daily Planet newsroom. It was three o'clock, but they had informed Perry the evening before that they would be taking part of the day off after the events of the previous twenty-four hours.
The papers today were full of the death of Luthor, and the heroism and tragic death of the Superman clone. A preliminary inquiry into Luthor's records by the authorities was already showing signs of becoming a major investigation into the activities of LexCorp, and rumors were flying.
"Sure," Clark said. "If anybody knows how to handle kids, it's my mom."
"Hey, CK!" Jimmy waved a printout over his head. "Are you okay?"
"Sure," Clark said. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well, you got thrown off LexTower yesterday."
"So did I," Lois said. "Aren't you worried about me?"
"Uh, well, sure, but you've fallen off buildings lots of times and always been okay," Jimmy said, uncomfortably.
Lois rolled her eyes. "Forget it. What did Perry think of the whole thing?"
"He liked it, after Clark told him you were all right," Jimmy said. "Oops! S'cuse me." He headed across the room apparently in answer to a summons.
"I wonder if Perry's still wearing that toupee," Lois murmured as they made their way toward their desks. Clark glanced in the direction of the editor's office.
"Yep," he confirmed. "And a three-piece suit."
"How do you — oh, yeah." She grinned. "I forgot for a minute. Is this as weird for you as it is for me?"
"A little," Clark said. "We'll get used to it."
"Well, now that some of the major problems are solved, any ideas what Perry's up to?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," Clark said. "There's one little problem that we can solve for him, though. Do you still have that stuff on the money transfers from Lexel Investments into the accounts of those advertising execs?"
"What do you suppose they'd say if we called them and mentioned the fact that we noticed they switched their accounts to other papers after questionable transactions with one of the companies now under investigation, and wondered if there had been some kind of mistake?"
Lois's eyebrows both went up. "Why, Mr. Kent, I think that's a wonderful idea. But would Superman sink to something like that?"
"No," Clark admitted. "But Clark Kent would. Let's get busy."
It had taken some time to work their way through company red tape to the advertising executives in question, but four hours later Clark put down the phone with a gesture of accomplishment. "Last one," he announced. "Ms. Adamson of Femme Fatale Cosmetics has assured me that it was nothing but a clerical error by a new employee, and that the problem has already been corrected. Isn't that a coincidence?"
"Amazing," Lois said. "Jay Timmons of Miller's Dry Goods said almost exactly the same thing. I guess it's impossible to find good help these days."
They grinned conspiratorially at each other.
Jimmy hurried past them to Perry's office, poked his head inside, and turned quickly to them.
"He left about fifteen minutes ago," Lois said.
"Oh no!" Jimmy wailed.
"What's going on?" Clark asked.
"I've been trying to figure out the new image thing, so I looked through his correspondence while he was out to lunch. He had his physical last week, and I think he might have got bad news. There's an entry in his calendar for tonight that says he's going to the Metropolis Bridge. I think he's going to jump!"
"Jimmy that's absurd," Lois said.
"I swear, I saw it!"
"Well —" Lois stood up. "I think you're wrong, but let's grab a cab. Someone's borrowing my car today. Come on."
She completely missed the astounded look on Jimmy's face as they hurried out.
There was a crowd gathered on the bridge when they arrived, all focused on the man who stood at the very edge. Perry White turned to look at the assembled crowd, nodded and smiled, and dived into space.
"Chief!" Jimmy shouted. "No!"
They hurried to the edge to look over, Clark ready to spring into action if necessary, but the Bungee cord tied to the railing told the story. Lois began to laugh.
"Fifty, huh?" Clark said.
"Yeah. The big 5-0," Perry said. They were seated on a bench placed by the pedestrian walk for those intrepid souls who chose to cross the Metropolis Bridge on foot. The crowd had disappeared.
"Well, congratulations, Chief," Jimmy said.
"Thank you," Perry said.
"If I were you, I'd lose the hair piece, though," Lois said. "It's not you."
"Alice says it turns her on," Perry said. He brushed his hand over the top of his head. "Anyhow, I left that sucker down at the bottom of the canyon. So much for my mid-life crisis."
He got to his feet and started to walk toward the convenience phone some distance away. Jimmy followed him. Perry slung an arm companionably over his junior employee's shoulders.
"I hope you learned your lesson, son," Perry said.
"Yeah," Jimmy said. "Never trust an old guy."
Perry's laugh drifted back to them on the cool night air.
Lois giggled. "Midlife crisis. Well, that's one more minor mystery solved."
Clark shook his head. "Looks like life is almost back to normal. We never did get to go to Jose's, though. Would you care to go to dinner with me, Ms. Lane? I could phone the apartment and tell them not to expect us. It will give Brian more time with Mom and Dad."
"Why Mr. Kent," Lois said, slipping her arm through his, "I think that's a great idea."
Jonathan and Martha stayed in Metropolis three days, and Brian spent most of the time with them. They visited the Metropolis Zoo, the Bayside Amusement Park, the Spring Carnival and every other entertainment spot they could think of. Martha read him stories in the evening, and listened when he wanted to talk about the things that had happened to him in his short life. When the time approached that they prepared to return to Smallville, Brian tagged Martha around, looking dejected.
"What is it, Brian?" she asked. "Is something bothering you?"
"I don't want you to go!" he burst out.
"Jonathan and I have to go home," Martha explained gently. "We have the farm to take care of." She paused. "But I have an idea. Clark's apartment is pretty small for more than one person. I talked about it to Jonathan, and he thinks it would be nice if you could come with us."
Brian brightened immediately. "Could I?"
Martha nodded. "There's a lot of work on a farm," she said. "You'd have to help Jonathan with the animals and machinery and so forth, but you could have Clark's room for your own. We'd love to have you. After all …" She hesitated, then ventured ahead, "Clark's our son, and that makes you our son, too. If you want to be."
"Would I ever get to see Clark and Lois again?" Brian asked.
"Of course. Clark visits every week, and now that Lois knows about Superman, he can bring her with him," Martha said.
Brian seemed to think that over. "I'd like to," he said finally. "I don't really like Metropolis much. There's too many people. It's kind of scary."
"Then you'll like Smallville, honey," Martha said.
"Can I call you 'Mom', like Clark does?"
"Sure," she said. "I'd like that. And if you want, you can call Jonathan 'Dad'."
The smile on Brian's face said it all.
That evening, Lois and Clark accompanied Jonathan, Martha and Brian to the airport. It would be Brian's first time on a plane, and his excitement was contagious. Lois and Clark stayed until the flight was called, talking, and both promised to come for dinner the following week.
"That's us," Jonathan said, as a loudspeaker announced their flight.
All of them stood up. Clark shook hands with his father, hugged his mother and turned to Brian.
"Are you going to be okay?" he asked.
Brian nodded. "It's okay if I have your room, isn't it?" he asked anxiously. "Mom said you wouldn't mind."
"I don't mind at all," Clark said. "You're my brother. That's where you belong. Be sure to help them, though. The farm is a lot of work for just two people."
"I will," Brian said. He hesitated and then threw his arms around Clark. "Thanks," he said. "Thanks for everything."
Clark hugged him back. "You don't have to thank me. That's what brothers do for each other."
Lois moved forward to hug him as well. "We'll see you next week," she said. "Be good."
"I will," Brian assured her.
"Time to go," Jonathan said. "We'll see you all on Tuesday."
"Bye, Dad," Clark said.
They walked away down the ramp amid a crowd of other people, Brian between Martha and Jonathan Kent, and towering over both of them. Clark and Lois stood at the window, watching until the boarding ramp retreated, the doors were closed, and the 727 taxied away to take its place in the queue of waiting planes.
"Shall we go?" Lois asked finally.
Clark nodded, and together they headed back to reclaim the Cherokee. Behind him, he heard the distinctive roar of the 727's engines as the plane bearing his parents and brother raced down the runway for takeoff.
The clone was dead, he thought with an inner smile. Long live Brian Kent.