By Nan Smith
Summary: Thinking that Lori will be an easier target than Lois, Tempus attempts to destroy Utopia by kidnapping Lori from her time. However, he made a slight miscalculation…
This story is part of Nan Smith's "Home" series. See a list of all the stories in this series and get links.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Home: Vendetta. Need the previous story? Read Home V: Obsession.
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. Any new characters, settings, and the story, itself, belong to me.
Introduction: This story is part of the Home series and will make more sense to anyone who has not read the previous stories if you read the short story, "Home". Quickly summarized, it is a Soulmates-type of story, wherein Lori Lyons is the next incarnation of Lois Lane at the end of the 21st Century.
"Haven't you had that baby yet?"
Lori gritted her teeth and managed to smile at Penelope Brown without cracking her face. The refrain of "Haven't you had that baby yet?" was beginning to grate on her nerves. Normally a relatively even-tempered woman, the last few weeks of her pregnancy had seriously frayed her temper as well as her self-control. Between impatience, hunger and sheer fatigue, her usual buoyant temperament was in abeyance. Even Clark had been tip-toeing carefully around her for the last week, as she had the disturbing habit of breaking into tears upon hearing that the sky was blue and the grass was green.
"It's not due for another three weeks," she informed Penelope.
"Oh. Are you sure it isn't twins? You look ready to have it any minute!"
"Quite sure," Lori said, reminding herself that grinding her teeth was bad for the enamel and made her jaw hurt.
From somewhere she heard a whoosh of air and an instant later Clark jogged around the corner of the hallway that led to the news service's morgue. Lori guessed that he had decided to intervene before his wife was arrested for murder.
"Hi, honey. Hi, Penny. Lori, John would like you to see him in his office."
"Why didn't he call me on my wrist talker?"
"He did, but you didn't answer. Are you sure you remembered to turn it on?"
"I guess I forgot," Lori said. "Sorry."
"That's okay," Clark said, quickly. "No rush."
"I'd better go," Lori said. "Bye, Penny."
A moment later, waiting for the elevator, Lori leaned against her husband's side and rested her head against his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Clark. I guess I'm pretty hard to live with, aren't I?"
His arms went around her at once. "I can take it," he said. "It won't be much longer now."
She fought back tears. "I'm surprised you put up with me. I'm such a grouch, and you're being so sweet about it."
He kissed the top of her head. "You can grouch at me as much as you want. You're just tired and uncomfortable. Besides, your body is getting ready to have our baby and your hormones are changing around again. That's what's making you cry so much. If you were able to get more rest, you'd probably feel better, too."
"Yeah, probably." She looked up at his face with its sympathetic expression and wiped away a tear. "How come you're so smart?"
He chuckled. "Been there before. If you think you're a grouch, you should have seen Lois the first time. The only reason I survived the last month was because of you-know-who."
"You'd better believe it. Next to that, you're Little Merry Sunshine."
"I'm glad of that," Lori said. "I guess I learned something along the way, then."
"I guess so." He kissed the tip of her nose. "Besides, you're the woman I love. That makes all of it worthwhile."
The chime announcing the arrival of the elevator sounded and the doors slid open. Clark let her enter first and followed. "Newsroom," he said.
The elevator glided into motion. Clark put an arm around the place where her waistline had been and Lori felt the baby give her a sudden sharp kick to one lung. "Ow," she said. "I guess there's no doubt about it being a superbaby."
"Nope," Clark said. "How's your back?"
"It hurts," Lori said. "But it's been hurting for a couple of months now, so that's no surprise."
"I think we're going to be sleeping on air tonight," he said quietly, "and probably every night until this part is over. You'll be able to sleep better; trust me."
"I guess you did that before, too," she said. "It's a good idea."
"Well, I don't see why not," Clark said reasonably. "Fun and games isn't the only thing it's good for. I should have suggested it before."
In spite of herself, she laughed. "You never change," she said. "Even when I look about as sexy as a beached whale."
"Trust me," Clark said, turning her to face him, "you're just as unbelievably sexy as you were when I met you. Maybe even more."
He bent to kiss her, and Lori was barely aware of the doors opening until she heard John say, "Will you two quit that? You're on company time!"
Clark slowly straightened up, unruffled as always, and let Lori exit ahead of him. Greg snorted and shook his head. "At this rate you're gonna have a dozen kids, Kent. Don't you two ever quit?"
"Nope," Clark said, cheerfully. "Why should we?"
Lori heard Andrea laugh. "Whatever it is that she's got, I wish I had it," she remarked.
Lori could feel herself blushing. Clark hadn't removed his arm from around her waist as they headed down into the newsroom and she saw that John was grinning faintly. "You wanted to see me, Boss?" she asked.
"Yeah. Come on into my office."
Lori and Clark followed him into the editor's office and Clark pushed a chair forward for her. "Want a doughnut?"
Her stomach rumbled on cue. She accepted the doughnut with a smile of thanks and bit into it. "What's up?" she asked, around the mouthful.
"I was wondering when I need to schedule you for maternity leave," John said. "I know you've been holding out until the last minute, but face it, Lori, you need to be able to get a little rest and you're not getting it at work. Your baby is due in barely three weeks."
She sighed. "I know, but I'm going to be bored stiff, stuck at home."
"Probably," John said, with a certain sympathy, "but this baby is going to be more and more of a strain on your system until it's born, you know. You eat almost constantly now, and you're cross and tired most of the time. Don't think I haven't noticed. I haven't seen any sign of your usual sunny disposition for nearly a month."
Clark didn't say anything. Lori scowled at John, knowing he was right but unwilling to admit it.
"Can I compromise?" she asked finally.
"It depends. What's your suggestion?"
"How about half-days for the next couple of weeks?"
John cocked an eyebrow at Clark. "You were right."
Lori glanced accusingly at her husband, who grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, honey. John was talking maternity leave, and I told him you'd never go for it."
"He did say you might suggest half-time, though, and practically twisted my arm until I said I'd agree if you did," John said, a little wryly. "All right, it sounds fair but if you have any more problems, you'll have to take full time off. Deal?"
"I guess so," Lori said. Clark had actually done her a favor, she realized, by preparing the path for her half-time suggestion. "Thanks."
"Don't knock yourself out with gratitude," John said. "You go home at one, starting today. All right?"
"Yeah, yeah." Lori got to her feet. "Can I go, now?"
John waved her away. "Sure. Go out and bring me in a story."
She had the distinct impression that her editor was trying not to laugh as she left his office.
It was just past two AM when Clark awoke with the suddenness that usually meant that his super-hearing had picked up an emergency of some kind. His nerves tingled with alarm, but around him, the noises of the city were just as they always were. Here and there were the sounds of various minor crises but nothing that would call him away from his home at this hour.
He and Lori floated in mid-air, a sheet wrapped loosely around the pair of them to give her a feeling of security while she slept, but for the first time in weeks she was sleeping soundly. This was the obvious solution to the problem, and he kicked himself for not suggesting this method of sleeping as soon as he had realized that the size of the growing baby was seriously hampering her ability to get a good night's rest. He lay stretched out in mid air, one arm around his wife, trying to figure out what it was that had awakened him.
He had been dreaming, he realized suddenly, vaguely uneasy dreams where he had searched for Lori, and where a formless evil hovered over them, threatening his wife and his world. The uneasiness had crystallized into the jolt of alarm that had brought him awake, and even now the feeling lingered.
But it had been just a dream, he reassured himself. Lori was right here beside him. He could hear her heartbeat, and the rapid heartbeat of their unborn baby, as she slept soundly in his arms. There was no reason for this suffocating sense of dread. No reason for his heart to be racing in his chest, but he couldn't seem to banish the feeling. It was as if the evil presence in his dream were here in their house, or somewhere nearby, watching and waiting to catch him off his guard.
Lori shifted in his arms and he saw a little frown between her brows, as if what she was dreaming about wasn't particularly pleasant. He'd better relax, he told himself, or he was going to awaken her and break into the first good night's sleep she had had in weeks. It wasn't like him to get so upset over a dream, anyhow.
The details of the dream were fading now, as was the way of dreams, but the sense of menace remained. He put his free arm protectively around her, enclosing her in a circle of security. It was only a dream, he told himself firmly. Nothing more.
Lori slowly awoke and stretched luxuriously. For the first time in a couple of months, her back didn't hurt upon awakening, and the fatigue that had been making her days at work miserable for the same length of time wasn't evident, either. Clark's warm body was curled up next to her and she smiled contentedly. Even asleep, with his hair mussed and a shadow of beard coating his chin and cheeks, she was certain that there wasn't a more attractive man on the planet. She glanced automatically at the wall chronometer and for a moment was puzzled that the face of the device was level with her eyes, then she realized that she and Clark were floating five feet from the surface of their bed. The alarm was due to go off in about four minutes, so there was no point in trying to go back to sleep. She contented herself with observing Clark sleeping, watching the flick of expressions across his face.
A faint frown creased his forehead, and suddenly his eyelids flew open and they dropped nearly two feet before he stopped their fall. Lori gave a faint scream.
"Oops. Sorry," he said. "Are you okay?"
Lori giggled. "Sure. If I hadn't already been awake, though, it would have been a heck of a way to wake up. Did you have a bad dream?"
"Kind of," he said, lowering them to the surface of the bed. He surveyed her anxiously. "How are you this morning?"
"Pretty good," she said. "Your sleep therapy worked fine. My back doesn't even hurt."
"Good. I guess there's nothing like a good night's sleep to make things look better," he said.
Lori's stomach growled and they both laughed.
"I'll make breakfast while you get a shower," Clark said. "How about waffles?"
"Add eggs and bacon to that and you've got a deal," Lori said. "Do we have the ingredients for a chocolate shake?"
"I never run out of chocolate ice cream," Clark said, "even though I can't quite imagine it the first thing in the morning. On the other hand, I'm not a pregnant woman, so I guess I'm not a judge. Go on. I'll have things ready when you get out of the shower."
"Okay." Lori leaned forward and kissed him squarely on the mouth. "I don't know why I was so lucky as to meet you, but I'm not questioning my good luck. Your air mattress really did the trick."
"I only wish I'd thought of it before," Clark said.
"I'll forgive you if I can do the same every night until the baby's born," Lori said with mock-seriousness. "The only thing I can complain about wasn't your fault. I had weird dreams all night long — or at least it felt like it."
"What do you mean, 'weird dreams'?" Clark asked, sharply.
"Oh, I don't know. I remember being lost, and hunting for you. I could hear you calling me, but I couldn't find you. That's really all," she said. "It didn't make much sense. You know how dreams are. It was probably because I was tired. I've noticed that when I pull an all-nighter and then go to sleep, I usually have very vivid dreams. I'm sure one of Arnie's friends could explain it — or maybe Ronnie could."
"Probably," Clark said. "Better go get your shower. You want to have the time to sit down and eat."
Even the fact that the day was going to be a scorcher didn't have the power to dampen her mood today, Lori thought, as they entered the newsroom an hour later. It was amazing how fatigue could so thoroughly affect your mood. She sank into her desk chair, kicked her shoulder bag under the desk and ordered her computer to get itself ready to work. There were several messages waiting for her and Lori began to read through them.
"You look like you feel better," Andrea said.
Lori nodded. "Clark got me an air mattress. My back doesn't even hurt this morning. I feel fine."
"You know there's always a burst of energy before you go into labor, don't you?" Andrea said.
"Oh yes, I know. I don't think that's what this is, though," Lori said. "If it is, I won't mind."
"Just don't have the baby in the middle of the newsroom," Andrea said with a grin. "I think it would probably upset Greg."
Lori giggled. "I wouldn't be too happy about it, either. I don't think anyone needs to worry."
Clark shifted uneasily in his chair, trying to shake off the mood that seemed to have claimed him since his uneasy dreams of the night before. Lori obviously wasn't aware of anything unusual. She was smiling as she worked at her computer, putting the finishing touches on the article that she was working on. As he watched, she made a single correction and leaned forward, reading what she had written. He saw her nod in a satisfied manner, and got to his feet to stroll over to her desk.
"How's it going?"
"Fine." She smiled brightly up at him. "Take a look at my article and see if you think it'll do, would you?"
He read over the piece: a sidebar about the history of Councilman Clement who had announced the week before that he was running for the Mayor's position in the approaching elections. "You seem to have covered all the bases. I'm wondering about his connections with the President of Burgess Construction, though. Didn't he vote to approve that redevelopment project for the South Side? We might want to look into it."
"I was thinking about that," Lori said. She glanced ruefully down at her middle. "You're going to have to do most of the legwork for a little while, I'm afraid."
"That's no problem," Clark said. "You do some of your best work on a computer, anyway."
"Carla's lessons didn't hurt," Lori said. She glanced at the intern, who was bent over her own computer, her tongue planted firmly between her teeth as she worked on some research project. "She tells me that Connor is talking about a six-month contract, just to see if they're compatible."
Clark grinned. "They're compatible. How does it feel, being the office matchmaker?"
"Don't be silly," Lori said. "Just because Marcella mistook her for me doesn't make me a matchmaker. I was just a convenient prop."
"Well, we've got an invitation to Barry and Deirdre's wedding two months from now, too," Clark said, showing her the card. "Life contract. I found it on my desk when I got back from meeting that source."
"I didn't have anything to do with that either," Lori said. "But I'm happy for them."
"Maybe not, but I think they decided to follow our example," Clark said. He glanced at the wall chronometer. "It's almost one. Better get that to John. I'm going to go along with you and then come back. All right?"
"Sure. Any special reason?"
He shrugged. "I just like to be with you?"
She batted her eyelashes at him. "How can I object to that? Not every woman gets to take such a handsome guy home with her at lunchtime."
"You make that sound scandalous," Clark said.
"Well, maybe we can follow up on that idea with our 'air mattress', tonight," she said, raising an eyebrow suggestively at him. "I plan on napping part of the afternoon, if I can."
"I'd have to be crazy to turn down an offer like that," he said, but underneath, he was submerging a surge of fear that rose in his chest. This didn't make any sense, he told himself, and Lori was bound to think he was hovering if he allowed her to see it. He didn't understand it, himself. It wasn't as if there was any basis for it. Just to reassure himself, however, he intended to be sure the apartment was secure before he left her there alone.
He waited while she sent the piece to their editor and then shut off her computer. "Ready?" he asked.
She nodded and slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow. "Do you suppose we could stop at the Cream Dream on the way?" she asked.
"Actually, I was going to suggest it, myself," he said. "What have you got in mind?"
"A double banana split," Lori said, "And maybe a chocolate shake."
"Your wish is my command, my lady," Clark said, as they headed for the bank of elevators. "How about a sandwich first?"
"Okay," Lori agreed. "I'll sleep much better if I'm not hungry, and maybe after I wake up, I can finish the thank you notes for everyone who came to the baby shower last week. I've been putting it off, but I really shouldn't wait much longer."
Clark glanced at the wall chronometer for the fourth time in an hour. Superman had checked three times on Lori since he had left her at the apartment. She was safe, he told himself, firmly. The door was locked and the inner bolts were in place. He had personally checked every nook and cranny of the apartment. There was no way a mouse could sneak into the place.
It didn't help. The sense of impending danger hovered, and wouldn't let him go. Finally, he stood up, intending to check a fourth time. He got off work in half an hour, and he intended to make a beeline for home as soon as he was free, but a ten-second jaunt to the apartment wouldn't hurt, and would make him feel much better.
The door to the editor's office opened as he started toward the elevators, and John's voice said, "Clark, could I see you for a minute?"
In mid-step, he managed to halt his forward progress without tripping, and turned reluctantly toward John's office. John had returned to his desk and was studying his computer screen and didn't glance up as Clark entered the office.
"Close the door," he said, glancing up at last.
Clark obeyed, but didn't sit down. John raised an eyebrow. "Emergency?" he asked. "Don't let me keep you if it is."
"Uh — not exactly," Clark said. "I was just going to check on Lori."
"Haven't you already checked on her three times since two o'clock?" his boss asked.
"May I ask why?"
"Come on, Clark, what's going on?"
"I just have this feeling that I should keep an eye on her."
Again Clark shrugged. "I can't explain it, exactly," he said. "Ever since last night, I've had this *feeling*. That's all I can call it: a feeling that something is going to happen to her, and I want to be nearby, just in case."
Oddly enough, John didn't immediately dismiss the very lame explanation out of hand. "What kind of 'feeling'?"
"I don't *know*! That's the problem. I started dreaming about it last night, and it hasn't gone away. It's like someone is watching, just waiting for me to let down my guard. I know it doesn't make any sense, but I can't help it."
"You know," John said, "there's been some speculation that those of us with the Kryptonian telepathic talent may have traces of other gifts — precognition, for instance. You, yourself, have said that when someone you care about is in danger you often know, even if you have no other reason to think there might be something wrong, so maybe it isn't as far-fetched as you think."
Clark glanced at his wrist talker, only half his attention on what John was saying. "I'd like to go check on her, if you don't mind. It will only take a minute."
John nodded. "All right, go ahead."
Clark started to turn toward the door, when the feeling crystallized suddenly in an intense burst of panic.
"Lori!" he screamed.
In an instant, he was out the window, leaving his civilian clothing in shredded rags on the floor of John's office, not even taking the time to dispose neatly of his outer wear. But even as Superman split the air of Metropolis, trailing a sonic boom that literally rocked the city in his wake, he knew that it was too late.
Superman arrived at the Kent apartment split seconds later, and almost immediately was joined by Superwoman, Tan-El, Typhoon, Cyclone and Blue Lightning, all demanding to know what was wrong. Clark wrenched open the skylight without answering and dropped into the apartment.
"Lori!" he shouted.
There was no answer. He hadn't expected to hear one. The indefinable trace that told him that Lori was somewhere around had vanished. All that he could feel was an aching void in his mind where her beloved presence had been split seconds before. Lori was gone. Slowly, he crumpled to his knees and began to sob.
Lori signed her name carefully to the last of the thank-you notes and sat back with a feeling of accomplishment. The protocols were done. She gathered up the little notes, wondering abstractedly why emails weren't considered acceptable for the purpose, and stood up, stretching.
The vidscreen muttered in the background. PNN was showing the ceremony, held earlier in the day in Washington DC, of Superman, Ultra Woman and Black Raptor receiving an award from the President to honor the hundredth anniversary of the Superman Foundation. A hundred years ago, today, the small enterprise begun by Murray Brown and Superman had been transformed into the worldwide organization that promoted the principles of Superman, and begun its campaign to improve the health and welfare of the people of Earth. She took a moment to admire Clark's muscular body, outlined in the tight red, blue and yellow uniform. Today he was serving as a representative of the "original" Superman, as he stepped forward to accept the certificate and the small statuette that would subsequently be put on display in the Museum of the Superman Foundation. Lori smiled, watching him stride across the podium to accept the award. He shook the President's hand and turned to the podium to make his acceptance speech before a crowd of journalists and dignitaries. How were the people present at the ceremony to know that the Superman who was accepting the award on behalf of his Foundation was the man who had been its founder? Very few persons knew the real story of how all this had come about. She was one of them.
Lori giggled softly. Clark had told her all about it: how Murray Brown, the "artist's representative" had been after him to sign a contract so that Murray could "market" Superman. Clark had finally accepted, under the proviso that all proceeds of the organization were to go to charity. That had been in 1993. Six years later, they had turned it into the Superman Foundation at the suggestion of Lois Lane and Perry White, who had been Clark's editor at the Daily Planet. Lois and White had put a lot of time and effort into helping Murray set it up, and establishing him as head of the Foundation. The former talent agent had discovered that running such a prestigious organization was much more to his taste than his previous job had been, and in the end had turned out to be best president that the Superman Foundation could have desired.
Perry White, Clark's editor, must have been a pretty smart guy, she thought, watching the scene on the vidscreen as the band struck up and Superman stepped back to allow Black Raptor — Ryan Kent, Lori's brother-in-law — to take his place for his own prepared speech. White had figured out Clark's secret from many small clues and had apparently known for several years that his top male reporter was actually Superman, but hadn't let on until it had been unavoidable. For a great many years after that, he had been one of Clark's allies and closest friends in his work as Superman.
Her stomach growled, distracting her from the scene on the vidscreen. She dropped the little envelopes into the transport tube that would take them to the Mail Delivery Center and turned toward the kitchen. There was at least one homemade chocolate éclair left in the refrigerator from the ones that Clark had made for her two days ago, and she was pretty sure that she hadn't eaten all the watermelon.
She had finished the watermelon and was working on the eclair a few moments later when she heard a sound behind her.
It wasn't an identifiable sound but it definitely shouldn't be there. Lori turned, and froze.
It was exactly as if someone had sliced the air, leaving an open cut taller than her head in the very fabric of the universe. As she watched, the shimmering cut spread wide, leaving her staring into a rectangular, shimmering surface, through which she could see distorted images of whatever was on the other side. Out of the surface stepped a man.
He wasn't all that alarming in appearance, about forty-five, she estimated automatically, a little taller than Clark, reasonably good-looking, with brown eyes, wavy, reddish-brown hair and a short beard. In one hand he held something, some kind of control mechanism, she thought, judging by the buttons and small blinking lights on its face, and in the other he held a stunner. He smiled cheerfully at her.
"Ms. Lyons, isn't it?" he said, almost courteously. "Mrs. Superman. I've wanted to meet you for some time. Stand up."
"Who are you?" Lori asked.
"They call me Tempus," the man said calmly. "You may have heard of me. Don't scream. I'll have to stun you if you do, and it might not be very good for your baby."
"If you kill me, it wouldn't be very good for the baby either," she countered, getting slowly to her feet.
"Oh, I'm not going to kill you," Tempus assured her mockingly. "But you see, I can't allow you to have that baby in this time period. It wouldn't be very good for … my future." He smiled briefly. "Besides, I love irony. You, Lori Lyons, intrepid investigative reporter of the 21st and 22nd Centuries, wife and partner of Superman, and the woman who is destined to help complete the legacy of Lois Lane and Clark Kent, snatched from your rightful place and put where you can never utilize the potential of your talents. It's almost poetic. I love it."
"Why are you telling me this?" Lori asked. Stall, she told herself. Stall. Maybe Clark will know, with that strange telepathic talent of his, that something is wrong. Every minute gained was an asset.
Tempus grinned widely. "Surely he's told you about me, Ms. Lyons. He wouldn't have kept it from you that he's not merely a superman, but Superman, the muscle-bound original, pathetically dependent on a weak human female to accomplish the greatest advances in history for human civilization. To bore persons like me out of our skulls. Utopia must not be allowed to come to be, and it's up to me to stop it. And the best way for me to accomplish that is to attack its weakest link. That," he added, as if he were speaking to a two-year-old, "would be you. You are the weakest link in his chain, as it were. Without you, he lacks the willpower to do more than exist every day — so it follows that you have to be removed. This way." He gestured with the nose of the stunner.
Lori moved as slowly as she dared. Could she get away with faking a fainting spell? Anything to slow him up and allow Clark time to get here. If only she had been wearing the earrings that Arnie Frazier had made for her, but they were lying on the glass tray on her dressing table. It hadn't seemed necessary to wear them in the apartment.
She allowed herself to stagger and start to fall. Tempus moved instinctively, grabbing for her, and as he did so, she struck for his stunner hand.
The stunner flew free and skidded across the floor, but Tempus ignored it, seizing her by the wrist and yanking her forward. Together they tumbled into the window. Into confusion.
The space around them was light. She could see Tempus beside her, as she regained her balance, but everything else was formless. She had lost sight of the weird, mirrorlike window through which she had been dragged, and twisted around, trying to locate it. There it was, a short distance away. She made a frantic lunge for it, and heard Tempus laugh mockingly, gripping her wrist almost negligently.
"Spunky little thing, aren't you," he remarked casually, the sarcasm coloring every word. "Superman seems to like spunky women. I don't. If you don't behave I might have to kill you after all." He yanked her against his chest, staring into her eyes, only inches from his. His were a light golden brown, she noted irrelevantly. "Last chance."
He was doing something with the thing in his hand, the object that must be the control for the strange time window, but her kidnaper evidently hadn't allowed for the desperation and ferocity of a woman fighting not only for herself, but for her husband and child as well. He definitely hadn't considered that she might be able to defend herself effectively. Maybe he was too used to the women of his future time, she thought, or maybe it was just sheer arrogance. Whatever the reason was, she didn't really care. Lori raised a foot and stomped as hard as she could on his instep. With her free hand she clawed for his face, aiming for his eyes with her fingernails. He jerked back, and she took full advantage of the automatic reaction to wrench her wrist free of his loosening grip. She seized the front of his shiny tunic and yanked him toward her, driving her knee into his crotch with every ounce of strength that she could bring to bear. He screamed, doubling forward, and she grabbed for the control device.
Feebly he hung on, stumbling forward a few steps and clutching at the injured area. Her own equilibrium was thrown off by the shift in her center of gravity, caused by the almost full-term baby, and Lori fought for balance as she yanked at the control. Tempus resisted as she tugged, and then lurched clumsily after her. Together they tumbled from the window onto a grassy hillside.
She staggered as her feet hit grass and stones, and her hand encountered the rough bark of a tree trunk. She caught it, managing to stay on her feet, and pivoted clumsily around to see Tempus only feet away, still clutching the control device and grasping weakly for her. Her knee had obviously done some good, for his movements were weak and uncoordinated, which, considering her own condition, was a good thing. Taking advantage of her enemy's apparent lack of any scientific fighting skills, she slapped him across the bridge of the nose with the flat of her free hand and followed it up with a kick to the spot where her knee had already connected once.
Already hurt and off balance, Tempus gave a groan and doubled forward. The control flew free and hit the rocky ground. She heard something break as the thing skittered across the rocks, but she would have to deal with that later. She gave him a second kick for good measure, but he almost certainly didn't feel it, for he was unconscious on the ground.
Her head was swimming. Breathing hard, she bent forward, leaning against the tree and resting her hands on her knees. Keeping one eye on Tempus's recumbent form, she lowered her head until the dizziness subsided. The control device lay on the ground a few feet away, and she went to pick it up.
The little glowing lights on its face had gone dark, and behind her what must be the time window had disappeared. She stared at Tempus with hatred, wishing for a moment that she had less conscience, then stuffed the control device in her pocket and began to take in the scene around her.
She and Tempus were on a gently sloping hillside, littered with stones and dotted with small trees and bushes. In the distance, she could see the grey ribbon of a road and beyond that were the towers and spires of a city. Well, that meant she was still in civilized times. Maybe Tempus hadn't managed to move them from her own time after all. In any case, the first thing to do was to get away from this character and find help. If she was still in her own time, she could tell Clark what had happened, and he and the others could start looking for Tempus. Without his control for the time window, he was stranded here until he could figure out how to make himself another time traveling device. And if she wasn't — well, she'd deal with that when and if she had to.
She glanced once more at the time traveler, but he showed no sign of regaining consciousness. Resisting with difficulty the base, but very understandable urge to kick him a third time, she started down the slope, picking her way with care, toward the road that she could see perhaps half a mile away. Once there, maybe she could flag down someone who would help her.
And if, as she feared, she was no longer in her own time, maybe she could still get some help. Perhaps she could find someone who could fix the control device and help her get back home.
"Someone's been here," Superwoman said. She held a small stunner in one hand, protected by a handkerchief. "It was in the kitchen, and there's half a chocolate éclair sitting on a plate on the table. I found the fork on the floor. Whatever happened, it happened without warning."
"The doors and windows are all locked," CJ said. He dropped onto the sofa beside Clark, who was staring blankly at nothing. The other superheroes had scattered to scour the city, looking for Lori, but CJ and Lara had remained with their father. "Dad, you've got to snap out of this. We'll find her, but you're going to need to help us."
Clark shook his head numbly. "You don't understand," he whispered. "The link is gone. The bond. She's not here anymore."
Lara and her brother looked at each other. "Dad, how can that be?" CJ asked. "You told us that even after Mom died you could feel her presence."
"It's not here," Clark repeated, trying to force his numbed brain into action, to try to understand what could have happened, but the void where Lori's presence had been made it hard to think. "She's not here."
"Then where is she? What could possibly have happened? What did you sense? Did you feel her … die?"
"No." Clark shook his head, beginning to feel a tiny shred of hope. "She just … blinked out. Like a door closing." He straightened up, realization beginning to dawn. This had happened once before when Lois had been kidnapped by Tempus and taken to the alternate universe. "Tempus!"
"What?" Lara said.
"Not what; who. Tempus, the time traveler I told you about years ago. It's the only explanation."
"The one determined to destroy the future?"
"That's right. He must have decided that if he couldn't destroy Lois and me, that he would attack Lori. She must be part of what makes the future what it's supposed to be."
"One of the critical parts of Wells's Utopia?" Lara asked.
"That's right," Clark said. "It would explain why there's no sign of any of the doors or windows being forced. If he had a time machine, he could have gotten in here without needing to go through one."
"If that's what happened, what do we do?" CJ asked.
Clark shook his head. "I'm not sure."
"You told us that Wells gave you the plans to build a time machine," Lara said. "Could you still do it?"
"Probably," Clark said. "I remember the blueprints clearly enough. The problem is, he could have taken her anywhere. The times — and places — to search are literally endless."
"If he took her somewhere in time, wouldn't she find a way to let us know where she is?" Lara asked, although Clark thought she was grasping at straws. "Lori's smart, Clark. As smart as Mom was. She'll figure something out."
"Maybe," he said. "Unless he took her to the future."
"Well, let's hope he didn't," Lara said. "If he did, she'll still think of something. I know Lori. Tempus won't know what hit him. In the meantime, let's get busy and build the machine. Maybe something will turn up that will give us some kind of clue where to look for her."
"If it doesn't," Clark said grimly, "it won't matter. I'll use it to search for her until I find her, one way or another."
"In that case," CJ said, "let's get over to STAR Labs. Arnie ought to be able to help us."
"There it is, Miss," the driver of the antique vehicle told her. "The Daily Planet. Remember, call the police as soon as you can get to a phone."
"I will," Lori assured him. She fumbled with the awkward, unpowered door of the car and slowly stepped out onto the sidewalk. "Thank you very much. I really appreciate your help."
"Think nothing of it," the driver told her. Lori shut the door and stood back as the car pulled away from the curb with a roar of the motor and a burst of foul-smelling exhaust.
Lori looked up at the Daily Planet. It was a lot smaller than the building where she worked, she thought, only underlining that she was not in her own time. She hadn't dared to ask the date of the man driving the car that had picked her up as she was trudging down the road toward the distant city that, it turned out, was Metropolis. He would have thought she was crazy. Instead, she had stuck with the partial truth; that she had been kidnapped and had managed to escape while her captor was sleeping. Unconscious was kind of like sleeping, she rationalized. With luck, Tempus would feel too bad when he woke up to try to track her down, at least right away, but she had no doubt at all that he would try. After all, she had the control for his time window. He was trapped here, just like she was.
A metal stand with a plastic face was placed not too far from where she stood, and in it were actual newspapers. That put her back somewhere before 2050, she thought. That was the year that the news services around the world had gone completely over to internet publishing. She made her slow way over to the box and stood reading the headline. "Superman Foundation Vows Fight Against World Hunger", and there, in the upper right hand corner was the date. She stared at it in shock. Tempus had deposited her exactly 100 years in the past — to the day. She shook her head, trying to think. That didn't make much sense. He had wanted to put her back somewhere that she could find no help, and would be unable to utilize her talents. That certainly didn't describe this place, she thought. Superman existed in this day and age. That meant Clark was here, and so was Lois Lane. They were two people who knew all too well what Tempus was capable of. If she went to them, she was bound to find allies against him.
Then it hit her. Somehow, the battle she had waged had sabotaged his plans. Perhaps he had only managed to partially set the control, or maybe it had triggered some sort of default setting. She didn't know, but now was not the time to start questioning her luck.
But what should she do now? It was getting late, and shortly she was going to find herself out at night with no place to stay. She looked again at the Daily Planet. At least it was at the same address as the one in her time, but how was she supposed to find Clark in this time period? She could, she supposed, yell for help. There were no other superheroes right now but Clark, so if she called for help it would be Clark that answered.
But it wouldn't be *her* Clark. The thought was daunting and unexpectedly lonely. The Clark of now was married to Lois Lane. She, Lori Lyons, was an interloper in this time, adrift in a world that was more foreign than she had at first imagined. There was just enough of the Metropolis that she knew to give her a feeling of nightmare familiarity, and yet be completely strange.
She shook herself mentally and brought her mind back to the matter at hand. She had a problem to solve and now wasn't the time to get cold feet.
She glanced at the Daily Planet building again. What did she know about this time, in specifics? What had Clark told her that she could use to help her get the time window control fixed and return to her own time?
The only person she knew in this time was Clark, and he didn't know her. But, in an odd way, she knew Lois Lane. If what she had come to believe was true, whatever it was that made her Clark's soulmate, had come from Lois. They must be somewhat alike, and maybe, with the things she knew about them, and about the future and Tempus, they would believe her wild story.
Which brought up again the question of how to find them.
What had Clark told her about his life in this time that she could use? He and Lois had lived at the townhouse on Hyperion Avenue where CJ and his wife, Rachel, lived in her own time. It was a good half an hour's walk from the Daily Planet, but she ought to be able to find it, even in this strangely familiar and yet unfamiliar city, if she just followed the street signs.
Without further debate, she set off.
She had reckoned without the fact that in this time, there were no slidewalks, as well as the fact that she was over eight months pregnant. She found it necessary to stop and rest frequently, and her progress became slower as she went. She passed several bus stops, but the things that they called busses in this time bore very little resemblance to the similarly named vehicles in her own, and besides, she had no idea which one to take, or any money with which to pay for the ride. The only alternative was to keep plodding along, which she did.
It was nearly two hours later that she arrived at 348 Hyperion Avenue and trudged wearily up the steps to the door. It was summertime, so it was still light, but sunset was rapidly approaching. The tall buildings cast long shadows on the street and the sunlight was definitely dimmer. She couldn't see the sun, for the tall buildings — not as tall as in her time, but still respectably tall — blocked her view, but the sky to the west had developed a faint pinkish hue.
Through the window, she could see that the house was dark, but she rang the bell anyhow. After several minutes, she rang it again.
No one was home. Lori sighed. Her feet hurt, and so did her back, and the prospect of sitting, perhaps for hours, on the doorstep of the Hyperion Avenue townhouse didn't appeal to her in the least. Besides, on the off chance that Tempus had managed to find transportation to the city, one of the first places he might look for her could easily be the Kent home. Making herself easy to find probably wasn't the smartest move she could make.
She tried the doorknob and blinked in surprise when she discovered that the outer door was unlocked. Cautiously, she pushed it open.
"Hi, Lois!" a cheerful voice said. Lori glanced around as a woman ascended the steps of the townhouse next to Kents' home and opened the outer door. "Home early?"
"Uh — yeah," Lori said. She smiled briefly. "How are you, today?"
"Oh, same as always," the other woman said, breezily. She pushed open her door and entered. "See you later."
"Yeah," Lori said. She pushed the door in front of her wider and entered the small foyer of the Kent townhouse.
She was not surprised to discover that the inner door to the home was locked tight. That, however, wasn't a problem. The two long, thin clips that she frequently used to pin her hair back from her face were sufficient to solve the minor difficulty. A few moments later, she walked into the living room of the townhouse and sank down in relief on the nearest chair, resting her feet on the comfortable ottoman.
The old-fashioned room was beautifully decorated, and she recognized with a shock of familiarity, Clark's fertility statue.
There was no one to see her, and she let the silent tears of strain and loneliness slide down her cheeks. She knew this house, and yet, she was farther away from her home than she had ever been. The man she loved was a century away in time, the man he had been was in love with her counterpart in this time, and she had no way of knowing if she would ever see him again.
After a time, sheer fatigue claimed her, and she fell asleep.
Arnold Frazier looked more like a fullback than a scientist, Clark thought, not for the first time. He was big and muscular, and sported a curly, though neatly trimmed mustache and beard of a golden blond hue, and his eyes were a bright sky blue in color. He had actually played football at Cal Tech, as well as being a member of the wrestling team, and, oddly enough, a member of the drama club, although he had been accepted into the school on an academic scholarship. He listened patiently to the story that Clark told him, his expression hard to read under the facial hair.
"Time travel?" he said when Clark had finished speaking. "If I wasn't hearing this from you, Clark, I'd think I was talking to a lunatic. You're sure —"
Clark interrupted him. "Arnie, I'd love to discuss this with you more completely, but right now I don't have the time. Take my word for it, I've not only met a couple of time travelers in my lifetime, I've actually traveled through time. I met myself as a baby and helped save my own life from the man who we believe kidnapped Lori, although Lois actually did most of the work," he added, as an afterthought.
"All right." The scientist scratched his chin with one finger. "Do you have the blueprints for this machine?"
"In here." Clark tapped his forehead. "Give me something to draw on and I'll show you."
Arnie shrugged. "Sure. Just a second." He rose from his desk chair and went to a storage closet to one side of his office. He rummaged for several seconds and emerged with a clipboard and drawing materials. "Will this do?"
"Thanks." Clark took the items and began to draw, dredging from his memory the details of the time machine's blueprint given to him by H.G. Wells over a century ago. He was aware of Lara and CJ looking over his shoulders as the time machine came into being again, at least on paper. At last, he finished the drawing and took one last, critical look at his creation before handing it across the desk to his great, great grandson.
Arnie took it and for several minutes there was complete silence in the room as he examined the drawing. Clark saw his eyebrows climbing higher and higher as he took in the details. Finally he spoke.
"It looks a little expensive to operate," he remarked. "Its fuel is 24 carat gold?"
Clark nodded. "Of course, this is the prototype model. I think Wells came up with something else to use, later, but I don't know what it was."
"Well," Arnie admitted with a slight grin, "I guess Superman wouldn't have much trouble getting hold of gold. I always thought you could be rich beyond your wildest dreams if you chose to take up mining as a profession. If I didn't know you better, I'd still think you were off your rocker, but this thing does make some sense. Wells must have been a genuine genius. I'd never have thought of this particular circuit configuration, but the field apparently interacts directly with the space-time continuum — it seems to literally have a grip on the curvature of space itself —"
"Oh, I know." The scientist chuckled. "It's too bad you chose journalism. If you'd applied yourself, you could have been one of the greatest scientists going, but it bores you. It's a genuine loss to the world, did you know that?"
"No it isn't," Clark said. "You more than make up the difference. Now, if you don't mind —"
"We'll get on this immediately," Arnie said. "I want to do some tests on it before you actually take any sort of trip in it, though. It's been over a hundred years since you saw the actual blueprint. I want to be sure you haven't forgotten anything important." He glanced up at Clark's face and Clark saw the sympathy in his eyes. "It won't help Lori if something happens to you while you're trying to find her in this thing. Besides, if it's actually a time machine, a little delay won't matter. I'll give you a call as soon as we've finished."
"If you'll let me build it, I can be finished in a few minutes," Clark said. "Then you can start testing it. Otherwise, it'll take days or weeks."
Arnie grinned faintly. "You have a point. All right, come on. I think we can bend the rules around here for Superman. You have no idea how it enhanced my reputation when my colleagues discovered that I was a consultant for not only Ultra Woman but you as well. I'll requisition the materials. I think we can streamline this thing a bit, though —"
"We'll help," Lara said. "Come on, CJ."
The sound of the door opening awoke Lori. She sat up slowly, looking around at her unfamiliar surroundings for several seconds before she remembered where she was.
The door swung open, and a woman entered the townhouse. Lori hastily smoothed her hair as much as she could, aware that she was about to meet Lois Lane.
The other woman was juggling two large bags of groceries, and was occupied with closing the door and shoving a latch into place all at the same time, and as a result didn't see Lori at once. She got the latch fastened and turned, starting across the living room toward the door that led to the townhouse's kitchen, and stopped suddenly. Their eyes met.
"Hi," Lori said in a small voice, aware of the awkward circumstances of the meeting.
Lois Lane stared at her, a growing expression of wrath on her face.
"Who the devil are you and what are you doing in my house?" she demanded.
Taking in the other woman, Lori saw at once why the neighbor had mistaken her for Lois. Belatedly, she recalled that CJ's birthday was the last day of June, which was only a week away.
"Well?" Lois asked. "I'm waiting for an answer!"
"Can I help you with those?" Lori asked timidly, nodding at the groceries. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come in without you here, but I'm in a lot of trouble and you're the only person who can help me. You and Cl — Mr. Kent," she added.
Lois eyed her skeptically. "You know Clark?"
Naturally, she had caught the small slip, Lori thought. This was Lois Lane, a woman who was acknowledged in Lori's time, by all who had known her, as a very brilliant investigative journalist.
"Sort of," Lori said. "Look, let me help you carry that stuff into the kitchen and then I'll explain. Please, I wouldn't have come, but I'm really desperate." She got to her feet and crossed the rug to her counterpart, striving to look as harmless as possible.
Lois eyed her suspiciously for a moment, undoubtedly taking in her disheveled appearance and, after a pause, she nodded. "All right, but this better be good."
"It is," Lori said. "I'm not sure anyone can help me, but it seemed to me that you were the best chance I have." She came forward and took one of the bags.
Lois was still looking at her a little suspiciously, but Lori could see a slightly puzzled expression in her eyes. "Do I know you?" she demanded suddenly. "You look familiar."
"Yes and no," Lori said. "Let's get your frozen stuff put away and I'll explain. I —" She could smell the aroma wafting from the bag Lois held. Roast chicken. Her mouth began to water and brought with it the knowledge that she hadn't eaten in several hours.
"All right, come on. This way." Lois led the way to the kitchen. "Just set the bag on the kitchen island," she added, suiting the action to the word with the bag she carried. Lori obeyed, and Lois began to remove items from the bags, storing them away in cupboards. The refrigeration unit looked like the pictures Lori had seen in old books. She couldn't help staring around in fascination. There was what must be one of the old microwave ovens sitting on a cart by one wall. It didn't look much different in most ways from the ones of her time, but there was some subtle difference to the design that she couldn't quite pin down.
Lois stored away the last frozen item and removed the roast chicken from its insulated foil bag. Lori could feel her mouth watering and her stomach growled.
"Excuse me," she said.
Lois eyed her sharply. "Are you all right?" she asked suddenly.
Lori nodded. "Yes. Mostly."
"Well, you look like you've been through the mill," Lois said, frankly. "You're white as a sheet and —"
"May I sit down?" Lori asked suddenly. Perhaps it was hunger, or perhaps it was just the reality of the situation hitting her, but her knees had unexpectedly begun to wobble.
A pair of competent hands pushed her onto a kitchen stool and shoved her head down as far as possible, allowing for the obstacle in the way. Lori closed her eyes, taking deep breaths.
"Here. Take a drink of this," Lois's voice said. Lori cautiously raised her head to see her counterpart presenting her with a glass of liquid that looked like iced tea. She sipped, surprised to discover that it was apple juice.
"Drink it all," Lois ordered, but the irritation had disappeared from her voice. Lori obeyed and lowered her face into her hands for several minutes while the dizziness slowly subsided.
After some time she raised her head to see that Lois was leaning against the counter, watching her speculatively. "Better now?" she asked.
"Yeah. Sorry." Lori glanced forlornly around the half-familiar kitchen. She had been here in the future, and the design was the same as in her time, but many of the furnishings were different. "Thanks."
"You're in a lot of trouble, aren't you?" Lois said suddenly,
"You have no idea," Lori said.
Lois eyed her thoughtfully. "Look," she said. "Let's go into the living room and you can tell me about it. My husband is working late tonight, so we have some time before he gets here."
Lori nodded. "All right."
"By the way, you know who I am, but you haven't introduced yourself. What's your name?"
"Lori," Lori said. "Lori Lyons."
"All right, Lori. After you."
In the living room, Lori sank down on the armchair again and put her feet on the ottoman. Now that she was facing Lois Lane, she wasn't sure of how to begin. She closed her eyes for a long moment and took a deep breath to steady her tightly stretched nerves. So much depended on this. Even with her eyes closed, she was aware of Lois's sharp eyes watching her curiously, and she could almost feel the bright, hard mind of the other woman. Every second she stayed in Lois Lane's presence, the sensation that somehow the other her was becoming more and more attuned to her became stronger. By all rights, Lois should have called the police the instant she had found Lori in her house, but somehow Lori had known exactly what to do to forestall that. If she lied, even a little, she had the uncomfortable feeling that Lois would know and she would lose any chance of gaining her as an ally.
She bit her lip and opened her eyes to look directly at her counterpart. The truth. It would have to be the truth, as far as she dared.
"So, Lori Lyons, who are you?" Lois said, taking a seat on the sofa.
"That's going to take some explanation," Lori said quietly. "Have you heard of a man named Tempus?"
Lois's eyes narrowed slightly. "Well, sure. He was the nutcase that called himself John Doe, two, nearly three years ago —"
"No, I mean Tempus, the time traveler," Lori said baldly. "The man who conned H.G. Wells into bringing him back in time so that he could take over Wells's time machine and try to kill Superman, and thereby destroy the civilization that you and he founded. *That* Tempus."
Lois seemed struck dumb for a full ten seconds, then she appeared to gather herself. "What are you talking about?"
Lori sighed. "Ms. Lane, I know you're trying to evade because you don't know what else to do. You don't need to. I'm not about to tell anyone else. For one thing, everyone would think I was either crazy, or trying to make fools of them. For the rest, I need your help. I'm not from this time; I'm from a hundred years in your future. Tempus kidnapped me."
For a long moment, Lois didn't answer. She sat regarding Lori thoughtfully. "Would you care to explain that a little further?" she said, finally.
"I'm an investigative journalist for the Daily Planet News Service in the year 2099," Lori said. "This afternoon — or what was this afternoon for me — I was home on —" She gestured vaguely down at herself, "— maternity leave. I'm on half time until my baby is born. Tempus stepped through this weird window in space directly into my apartment and dragged me into it." She closed her eyes again. "I'm not explaining this very well, but he told me that he was going to dump me somewhere that I wouldn't be able to get help or use my investigative talents."
"Then how did you get here?" Lois asked. "It doesn't seem to me that this time period exactly fits that description."
"He didn't intend to drop me here," Lori said. "I guess he expected me not to make any trouble. I kicked him where it hurt, and tried to grab the control mechanism away from him. We fell out of the time window and he dropped it. I kicked him again and knocked him out, but the control broke when it hit the ground. I need help. Unless I can find a way to repair it, I'm stranded in your time forever. Tempus is stranded here too, because I took his controller. He's going to be after me to try to get it back." She felt the sting of tears in her eyes and blinked them back. "Please help me, Ms. Lane. I have a husband back in my own time. He's going to be frantic, and —" She stopped the flow of words forcibly. She didn't need to go into babble mode right now. "I just want to go home to him."
Lois was silent, apparently having followed the involved explanation without difficulty. After a moment she said, "What makes you think I can help you?"
Lori took another breath, forcing the desperation she felt back under control. "Because you're married to Superman, and he knows people who might have the scientific knowledge to repair this thing," she said, her voice trembling as she removed the time window control from her pocket. "It's my only chance to get home."
"I'm married to —"
"Clark Kent," Lori said. "I know. I also know Clark is Superman. I know all about the tricks he used to convince the world that they're two different people. I even know about the Superman from the alternate universe who helped you stop John Doe. I'm not interested in exposing any of the things I've told you. That would change my future, and I don't want to see it changed. I have too much there that I don't want to lose. It would make your lives impossible, and the last thing in the world I want to do is hurt either one of you. I just want to go back to my own time, and I can't do it alone. Please, Ms. Lane, help me."
"You really do know all about it," Lois said, a note of amazement in her voice. "Is all of that common knowledge in the future?"
Lori went completely still, a tiny bud of hope beginning to blossom in her chest. "You believe me?" she whispered.
"Well, I don't know how you'd know all of this unless your story is true," Lois said in an acerbic tone. "We've never told anyone. Clark must have babbled his head off, though, for everyone to know all about those things in your time. I'm surprised they didn't lock him up as a dangerous lunatic!"
Lori gave a half-hysterical giggle. "Oh, no," she said. "He didn't. In my time, only the Kent family knows Clark is Superman, and only a few of them know the whole story."
"Then how did *you* find out about it?" Lois asked.
Now came the touchy part. "He told me," Lori said, cautiously.
"Then you're part of the family?" Lois said.
"Then why didn't you say so in the first place?" Lois demanded. "What are you, my great, great grand-daughter, or something?"
"No. Actually, I'm your sister Lucy's great, great grand-daughter," Lori said.
"And you say Clark *told* you all of this?"
"A favorite niece, or something? I take it Clark is still alive in your time," Lois said. "I guess he's probably a pretty old man." She tilted her head, and Lori could feel the other woman's mind working. It wasn't an illusion, she thought. It was as if she knew what Lois Lane was going to say next, and she could sense the conclusions she was going to draw, almost before she drew them.
Lois was looking closely at her. "Isn't he?" she asked.
"Uh — no, not exactly."
"What does 'not exactly' mean?"
Lori swallowed. "Timewise, I guess he is," she said, almost in a whisper, "but he looks just the same in my time as he does in yours. I've seen pictures of you at the Planet. You and he are one of the most famous reporting teams in its history."
"But nobody knows it except the family?"
"No one," Lori said.
"Then how do you fit into this, Lori Lyons?" Lois was regarding her steadily, and Lori squirmed. "Why would Clark tell you about the things that happened in his life before you were born? Who *are* you, exactly?"
Lois was hovering around the truth, Lori thought. There was no evading it. She was going to have to tell Lois everything. If she didn't, Lois was going to figure it out by herself. She almost had, already.
There was a big, decorative, plate glass mirror against one wall, reflecting the scene in the living room. Lori got slowly to her feet and went to stand in front of the mirror. "Look," she said.
Lois frowned. "Look at what?"
"Look in the mirror," Lori said.
Lois gave her an odd glance and came to stand beside her, fully facing the mirror. Their reflections looked back at them, one a little younger than the other, one a little taller, but in all other ways the same.
"Do you remember," Lori said cautiously, "what H.G. Wells told you and Clark on your honeymoon night, just before you went into the past to undo Baron Tempos's curse?"
"He told us several things," Lois said, with equal caution. "Which one are you talking about?"
"He told you that your souls were intertwined, always together, never one without the other. Soulmates."
Lois was staring at her, and there was comprehension in her eyes. "You're —"
Lori took a deep breath like a diver ready to plunge from the cliff into the churning water below. "I'm you."
There was a long silence as the two women looked at the telltale reflection in the mirror. Lori could feel Lois's mind working furiously as she took in the reality of what H.G. Wells had told her. She had been others in the past, and beside her stood her future self.
"Well," she said finally. "I guess this pretty much forces my hand, doesn't it?"
"I don't know about that," Lori said, "but it would sure help a lot."
Lois cast a look at her. "I guess your baby —"
"Is a superbaby," Lori said. She nodded at Lois. "If I remember correctly, Dr. Klein told you the sex of that one."
"I know him as an adult," Lori said. "You'll be proud of him. He and the others are excited about this one."
Lori hesitated. "I don't think I should tell you too many specifics," she said. "I don't know how much of what I say will affect the future, so let's just say his siblings are excited, too. Tempus said he couldn't let this baby —" She gestured to her middle, "— Be born in my time. He said I helped complete what you and Clark started."
"He should have known not to underestimate you," Lois said, with a grim little smile.
"Well, he doesn't know the part about soulmates — or, I don't think he does," Lori said. "If he had, he might have been more careful. You wouldn't believe the stories I've been told about you. The whole family is incredibly proud of you, you know. It scared me a lot in the beginning."
"Scared you?" Lois said. "Why should it scare you?"
"I was afraid they wouldn't accept me, after you," she said. "How could any woman live up to your example? They did, though."
Her stomach took that moment to growl and Lois's echoed it. Lori giggled, and Lois laughed. "Come on into the kitchen," she said. "If you feel anything like I do, you're probably starved. Let's eat."
"I don't want to eat your dinner," Lori objected.
"The chicken's not dinner," Lois said. "That's my snack. I don't cook very well — but I guess you know that."
Lori nodded. "Neither do I," she said. "Clark calls me a survival cook. I cook to survive. I'm really good at making frozen dinners, though. And ordering out. I can even scramble eggs."
Lois snorted and pushed open the kitchen door. "Grab the chicken," she said. "We can talk while we're eating."
"It sure smells good," Lori said. "I haven't eaten in hours."
"No wonder you nearly passed out," Lois said. "There's milk in the fridge. I'll get glasses."
They demolished the chicken in record time. At first Lori simply ate, but after the worst of her hunger had been alleviated, she slowed her eating somewhat, watching Lois.
"What?" Lois asked.
Lori shrugged. "I can't help thinking," she said, "that you're taking this awfully well. I mean, I show up out of the blue with this incredible story, and you don't turn a hair."
"Well," Lois said, "I guess so many strange things have happened since I met Clark that I kind of have a different perspective than most people." She studied Lori seriously for a long minute while she cleaned off the last of the meat on the drumstick in her hand. "I guess, in a way, seeing you is kind of comforting."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, one of the things that worried me — a lot — was knowing that Clark was probably going to outlive me, and that after I was gone, he would be alone. Martha and Jonathan will be gone, I'll be gone — He's not the kind of guy who does well by himself. It's nice to know that I'll be there, kind of, anyhow. That he's not going to be lonely." She studied Lori thoughtfully. "I know you can't tell me too much about the future — not the specifics, anyhow. But can you tell me what happened to him — after I — well, you know."
"I guess so," Lori said. "A little, anyway." She hesitated, wondering how much she should say. "You're right. He was lonely. But he told me that he could feel your presence. He said it gave him hope. He knew you were there somewhere, that all he had to do was find you. He searched for you — or me — all over the world."
"How did you meet?"
"He saved me from being mugged and raped, and probably killed," Lori said. "I was a student, a journalism major, and he showed up in the nick of time. He told me later that when he saw me, he knew."
"Just like the first time," Lois murmured. "Did you?"
Lori shook her head. "I liked him a lot," she said. "Superman saved my life, after all. Then I met him as Clark. He stepped in and saved my reputation, and I liked Clark, too. When I went to work at the Planet I got to know him even better and fell in love with him." She smiled a little. "Clark is very easy to love, as I'm sure you know. We were married two months later."
"I guess he decided not to waste time," Lois said. "He does learn if you hit him over the head often enough. Did he tell you about me right away — about having my soul?"
Lori shook her head. "No. I guessed. I kept remembering things that I shouldn't. Things that happened to you, not me. I recognized a picture of Martha and Jonathan Kent and I remembered key points in your life with Clark. I figured it out and when I asked him, he told me the truth."
Lois nodded, her eyes fixed on Lori's face. "That makes me feel better," she said. "That was the thing about this difference in our rates of aging that bothered me the most. I don't mind growing older. It happens to all of us, even Clark — but I didn't want him to be alone. Seeing you, I know that I'll be there for him."
"You will," Lori said. "He needs you — me — us." She laughed softly. "Or however you want to say it. He loved you until the end, you know. He still loves you. He told me while we were getting to know each other that to him you were always as beautiful as you were the first day he saw you. I thought that was incredible."
Lois dabbed at her eyes with her napkin. "That's Clark all over," she said. She shook herself slightly. "Well, enough of that. We need to concentrate on getting the time control fixed and you back to your own time and your own Clark. I think the person to help us is Bernie Klein."
"Bernard Klein?" Lori couldn't help the touch of awe in her voice. "*The* Bernard Klein, of STAR Labs?"
Lois's eyebrows went up. "Do you know about him?"
Lori nodded. "He's in all the history books: one of the greatest scientists of the Twenty-first Century. Clark said he was a character."
"That's an understatement," Lois said, "but if anyone can figure that thing out, it's Dr. Klein."
"I hope so," Lori said. "We've got to swear him to secrecy, though. The less that people find out about the future, the better off we are." She hesitated. "Probably you shouldn't tell Clark too many details of what I've told you, either. If he knows too much about what will happen, and about me, it might change things."
"I was thinking about that," Lois said. "You're right. Do you want to tell him who you are?"
"I'll do whatever you decide, but do you really think that's a good idea?"
Lois shook her head. "I don't. I want what you told me about to happen. I don't want to risk changing it. I think we should tell him part of the truth."
"Clark is good at that," Lori said. "I'm open to suggestions."
"You're a distant relative of mine," Lois said, "staying with us to hide from a stalker until he's caught. That is, if Clark makes it back today or tomorrow. He was at the ceremonies of the Superman Foundation today, and as of an hour ago, he took off to Okinawa — there's a huge typhoon threatening the whole area."
"Not that I wish any bad luck to Okinawa," Lori said, "but it's convenient."
"Yes, it is," Lois said. "Let me give Dr. Klein a call. We might have to tell him a little about what's happening, but just keep quiet and let me do the talking and if he asks questions, back me up, okay?"
"You got it," Lori said. She watched as Lois wiped grease from her fingers and reached for the antique telephone. Maybe, she thought hopefully, things were looking up.
As Lois reached for the phone, the doorbell rang. She paused and grimaced. "Nice timing," she said. "I wonder who that is."
"It could be Tempus," Lori said. "He might figure that I'd go to you for help in this time period."
"Tempus is more devious than that," Lois said, heaving herself to her feet. "He'll be after you, but he's more likely to be sneaky about it. I've got an idea about how to make it harder for him, though."
The doorbell rang again and Lois pushed the kitchen door open. "Just a minute!" she called, making her way slowly toward the door. Lori followed.
The bell rang a third time as Lois reached the door.
"Hold on, I'm here!" Lois called. She leaned forward to peek through the spy hole to identify her caller, and then hastened to open the door. "Perry! What are you doing here? I thought you were still in talks with the Board of the Superman Foundation!"
"Finished them an hour ago." Lori stood quietly in the background as a man entered the Kent townhouse. She had seen his picture at the Superman Museum. This was Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, who, together with Superman, Murray Brown and Lois Lane, had been instrumental in the founding of the organization. The editor was probably in his mid-fifties, with thinning grey hair and a wide smile. He looked Lois up and down and grinned.
"I guess it won't be much longer," he commented.
"Well, the due date is two days from now," Lois said, "but our childbirth instructor told us not to be surprised if things go on longer. She said first babies are often late."
"Yeah," Perry said. "Our first was a week and a half overdue. Alice's obstetrician was going to induce her if she'd gone another two days." He turned his head and Lori thought he looked surprised. "I didn't realize you had a visitor."
Lois closed the door. "This is … my second cousin, Lori," she said. "She just arrived a little while ago. Lori, this is my editor, Perry White."
"I know," Lori said. "I mean, I've seen your picture, sir."
"My picture?" Perry asked.
"Um — the one where someone was interviewing you about the Superman Foundation."
"Oh," Perry said. "I'm surprised you noticed, with Superman standing there."
"Well," Lori said, "I knew my cousin Lois worked for you, so I remembered. They should put something about you in their museum, or something. After all, if it hadn't been for you and Lois, it would still be just a little charity organization making Superman dolls and comics and stuff and donating the money to underprivileged kids. It has the potential to be so much more now, and to do a lot of good for the whole world."
Perry raised an eyebrow. "Your cousin seems pretty well-informed about the Foundation."
"I follow the news," Lori said.
"I can tell. It's nice to meet you," Perry said. He had moved forward and now took her hand. "I'd know you were a Lane, even if Lois hadn't told me. You sure look like her."
"Thank you," Lori said. "It's nice to meet you too, Mr. White."
"Call me Perry," he told her.
"All right Mr. … Perry."
"So, how long are you here for?" Perry asked. Lori had the feeling that Perry White hadn't missed a thing about her.
"We aren't sure," Lois said. "Do you remember Tempus, Perry?"
"That nutcase, John Doe?"
"That's the one. He escaped from prison a few months ago, remember?"
"Sure, I remember him. Don't tell me he's shown up again."
"He tried to kidnap Lori," Lois said. "We don't know why. He may have mistaken her for me. Anyway, since her husband's on a business trip, she's going to stay with Clark and me until he's under wraps again."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Perry asked. "Sure as Elvis wore blue suede shoes, the first place he's gonna look for your cousin is here — besides, if he was after you, he'll be sniffin' around here, anyway."
"We have our reasons," Lois said. "Besides, we'll be watching for him. Lori and I owe him a few things after all the trouble he's caused."
"All right," Perry said. "I hope you know what you're doin'. As for what I'm doing here, I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd drop by to see if there was anything you needed, since Clark had to take off for that assignment." He glanced from one woman to the other and grinned. "I feel like I'm seein' double."
Lois glanced at Lori. "Do you think we look that much alike?"
"Honey, if I didn't know better, I'd almost think she was you. She looks exactly like you did when I interviewed you for a job at the Planet ten years ago."
"There's a strong family resemblance in the Lane family," Lois said. "Perry, you could do something for me, at that. Could you dig out an old photo of Tempus and put it in the paper? Maybe if the readership is reminded of what he looks like, and there's a report that he's been seen in the area, someone will spot him. A few tips from the public would probably help the police find him."
"That's a thought," Perry said. "If you want to write up somethin' about it, I'll do just that." He glanced at his watch. "If there's nothin' else, I'll take off. Alice is expecting me on time for once. If you need anything, you give me a buzz, and if something happens, or that baby decides to make an early appearance, be sure you call me. If Clark hasn't got back yet, I'll get you to the hospital. You got it?"
"Got it, Boss," Lois said.
"Good." He turned back to Lori. "It was nice meeting you, Lori."
"It was nice to meet *you*, Mr. White," Lori said.
When he had gone, Lori looked through the window at the editor's jaunty figure striding down the stationary walk outside the townhouse. "I never thought I'd get to actually meet Perry White. It was really thrilling to hear him say that stuff about Elvis. Clark's told me about him."
"Don't tell me you're an Elvis fan," Lois said.
"We … ll," Lori said, "only a little. I have some of the copies of his songs. Unfortunately, a lot of Elvis's songs were lost during the …" She broke off.
"During what?" Lois asked. "War?"
"No," Lori said. "A period of social unrest, but not war. Not exactly, anyhow."
"I really can't tell you much about it," Lori said. "I wish I could, but if I did, it might change things, and they mustn't change. Anyway, lots of recordings from the Twentieth Century were lost — not just music. It was the same period of social chaos that let Clark hide his origins and kept people from realizing that the original Superman was still alive."
"Somehow, Tempus found out, though," Lois said.
"Tempus has resources that most people don't have," Lori pointed out. "Besides, he's a certified nut. Who's going to believe him?"
"There's that," Lois said. She studied Lori thoughtfully. "This is really weird, you know?" she said finally.
"I know," Lori said.
"No, I mean, *really* weird. By all rights, I should hate you. I mean, you're married to my husband in the future. I shouldn't actually *like* you, but I do."
"I was afraid you would," Lori said. "Hate me, I mean. I didn't know if I'd like you, either. You're married to Clark, and he hasn't even met me. But — I don't quite understand why, but I don't dislike you either. I mean, you're his first wife. By all rights, I should be jealous of you, because you were his first choice. But I'm not. I like you, too."
"I hadn't thought of it that way," Lois said. "You shouldn't be jealous, you know. You're his soulmate in your time, just like I am in mine." She shrugged. "Logic doesn't have a lot to do with relationships, but it's hard to hate yourself. I know you aren't exactly me, but in a funny way, you are. It's like I know what you're going to do and say next. It's not exactly mind-reading, the way Clark did with the New Kryptonians, but it's like our brains are on the same wavelength or something."
"Yeah," Lori said. "I noticed it when we were talking before."
"So did I."
"Clark can talk to the others," Lori said, "but we aren't 'talking', exactly. It's as if I'm feeling the way your mind is working. Like we have mirror image brains or something. I know *how* you're thinking and feeling — and I guess you know how I am."
"Exactly." Lois stopped. "The 'others'? The New Kryptonians didn't come back, did they?"
"No. Your descendents. There are lots of them, and I can't tell you any more. You'll see when you meet some of them in your future."
"That brings me to something I meant to ask. You've met CJ as a grown man." She rested a hand on her middle.
"Yes, I have."
"So he's like Clark."
"In more ways than one," Lori said.
"So he's a superman, too. Dr. Klein thought Clark's descendents would have super powers, but he wasn't sure."
"They will," Lori said. "I've flown with CJ. He's awfully nice."
"That's reassuring," Lois said. "I guess Clark and I must have done a good job with him."
"You will," Lori said.
"You're uncomfortable telling me this stuff, aren't you?" Lois asked. "I guess I shouldn't ask, but it's hard to have a source of information like you around and not quiz you about things. I can't help it. I'm a reporter."
"Yeah," Lori said. "I am, too. I guess whatever it is about you that makes you a good journalist carried through to me. I get in trouble a lot by sticking my nose in where people don't want it."
"So do I," Lois said.
"Clark told me you regularly gave him heart failure after you became partners," Lori said. "I guess I do, too."
The two women met each other's eyes, and suddenly both of them began to laugh.
"Poor Clark," Lois sputtered. "I guess he's doomed, isn't he?"
"I'm afraid so," Lori said, grinning. "It's all right, though. I'm reliably informed that he needs a woman who will keep him on his toes, so I guess we qualify."
"I guess so." Lois was still grinning. "Come on, I still need to call Dr. Klein."
STAR Labs was dark, except for the lobby, when Lois pulled the Jeep Cherokee into the parking lot and cut the engine. Lori looked at the building, comparing it to the one she knew in her time.
"I've seen pictures of this building in history books," she said.
"Is STAR Labs still around in your time?" Lois asked.
"Yes. They've replaced it with a larger building, though." Lori fumbled with the door and finally got it open. "How do I lock this?"
"I'll do it with my remote," Lois said. "I guess cars are different in the future, too."
"Yeah. Clark and I own a Jeep Predator," Lori said. "I wanted an aircar, but Clark didn't like the idea because aircars aren't as tough. He wanted something that was armored like a tank, in case I needed the protection. I guess he was probably right — but I'd still like an aircar. I love to fly."
"So do I," Lois said.
Again they looked at each other and laughed.
"Dr. Klein said just to ring the bell," Lois said, as they crossed the stretch of grass toward the front doors of STAR Labs. "He notified Security that we'd be coming."
Lori glanced around cautiously. The grounds were lighted, which was a good thing, but the shadows were still too thick for her liking.
Lois glanced at her. "You're nervous, aren't you? It's all right. We'll see anybody coming long before he can get to us."
"I'm sorry," Lori said. "I got mugged on the NTSU campus, the night I met Clark. I've been a little gun-shy about walking through places like that in the dark ever since."
"I don't blame you," Lois said. "To tell you the truth, I don't much like it, myself. I've got my tear gas, though."
"I wasn't able to bring anything," Lori said. "I wasn't expecting to be kidnapped right out of my kitchen."
"Better get used to weird stuff like that, now that you're married to Clark," Lois said. "How long have the two of you been married, anyway?"
"It'll be two years in August," Lori said. "We flew off to Las Vegas one night and got married."
"Wow," Lois said. "Clark really *didn't* waste any time, did he?"
"Actually, it was my idea," Lori said, a little sheepishly. "My mom was bugging me to come back and live at home, and I knew she'd be upset if she knew I wanted to marry Clark. She'd just called to check up on my whereabouts, and was really annoyed that I was at his apartment, working on a story with him. She said she wanted to talk to me in private — and she'd already been looking into employment openings with the Herald for me."
"You're kidding!" Lois said. "And I thought my mother was controlling!"
"Yeah," Lori said. "I didn't want to quit the Daily Planet, and didn't intend to, but I knew she wasn't going to give up or accept my engagement to Clark, unless there was a really good reason to. I suggested to Clark that we go get married right then, and he didn't argue very hard."
"What happened?" Lois asked curiously.
"Well, Mother was pretty upset with me for a while. She got over it, finally, though. She even likes Clark, now."
"That's some story," Lois said. "My mother didn't trust Clark at first, either, but she changed her mind after she got to know him."
"He said my mother reminded him of yours," Lori said.
"I guess that would figure," Lois said. They had reached the doors of STAR Labs, and she rang the bell. After a moment, a uniformed figure appeared and looked through the glass at them. Lois fished out her press pass and held it up for him to see.
The man unlocked the door and opened it. "Dr. Klein said you'd be here," he said. "Come in, but stay with me."
Lois entered, beckoning Lori after her, and they waited while the guard re-locked the door. The man looked them over in the illumination of the lobby's lights and raised his eyebrows. "What's going on?" he asked humorously. "Is the Mad Doctor doing secret cloning experiments or something?"
"Dr. Klein is eccentric, not mad," Lois said. "And this is my cousin."
The man chuckled. "Come on," he said. "Bernie and me, we get along okay. I kid him all the time about the weird stuff he does."
"Does he know you call him the Mad Doctor?" Lori asked.
"Sure. He said I should. He says he likes the image."
"That I believe," Lois said to Lori, as they followed the guard into the nearest hallway. "Bernie has a strange sense of humor. He says it comes from being a scientist. Come to think of it, my father's is pretty weird, too."
"Here we are." The guard knocked sharply on a door. After a moment it opened and a man looked out.
"Are they here?"
"Right here, Dr. Klein," Lois said.
"Oh, great. Come on in. Thanks, Herschel. I'll call you when they leave."
"Don't mention it, Doc." The guard grinned and ambled back down the hallway at a leisurely pace.
Lori followed Lois through the door into Bernard Klein's office and they waited while he shut the door and locked it, and turned to them.
Lori, of course, had seen pictures of Bernard Klein. As she had told Lois, he was in all the history books: the scientist who had developed the anti-gravity field and done the preliminary work on the prototype of the space drive that, in her time, was carrying the starship commanded by her brother across 4.3 light years to the star system of Alpha Centauri. Klein had dozens of other scientific developments to his credit, including the stasis field that was utilized in every kitchen in the world to prevent the spoilage of food far better than the old refrigerators ever had. In her era, refrigeration units were utilized for the chilling of wine and freezing things like ice cream, not the preservation of food.
The scientist was taller than she had envisioned. He was actually an inch or so taller than Clark, balding, and obviously battling a case of middle-aged spread, not too successfully. He didn't at all resemble Rhonda Klein, his granddaughter, but there was something in his eyes that reminded Lori strongly of her, all the same.
Lois nudged her sharply, and Lori realized that she had been staring at the scientist in open-mouthed awe. "Lori, I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Bernard Klein. Bernie, this is Lori. She — and I — need your help pretty badly."
Dr. Klein looked Lori over, and his eyebrows went up. "This isn't another clone, is it, Lois? I thought —"
Lois shook her head. "No. Lori's as human as I am, but we've got a pretty fantastic story to tell you — and we're going to have to swear you to secrecy. You can't even tell Clark. You'll understand when we explain."
If it were possible, Dr. Klein's eyebrows rose even higher. "Are you sure, Lois?"
"Absolutely. Can we sit down?" she added. "Standing for very long right now hurts my back."
"Uh — sure. Come on into the conference room," Klein said. "Now what's so secret that you can't even tell Clark?"
"This," Lori said. She removed the control for the time window from her pocket. "You're probably the only person on Earth that may be able to repair it."
Dr. Klein took the object, examining it as the two women took seats. "What is it?"
"That's what we're going to explain," Lois said. "And it requires a little background. Do you remember John Doe?"
As Lois talked, Lori watched Bernard Klein's face. The scientist's eyes got wider and wider, but he didn't say a word. Finally, his gaze fell on the time-window controller, and he began to examine it closely. When Lois finished, he was silent for nearly a full minute. Finally, he scratched his right eyebrow with a forefinger and looked up from the control mechanism. "Are you sure of this?" he asked. "I mean — time travel? It sounds loony."
"I know," Lois said. "If I hadn't done it, myself, I wouldn't believe it — but I have."
"When did *you* travel in time?" Klein asked, looking startled.
"It was before Clark and I were married. Before I knew. Tempus went back in time to May 17th, 1966 to Shuster's Field. That was where Clark's ship landed. He tried to kill Clark as a baby, when he wasn't invulnerable, and Clark and I went back to stop him."
Dr. Klein stared at her and then at Lori. "Where do you fit into this? Why would John Doe kidnap you from your time?"
Lori and Lois exchanged a glance, and then Lois spoke. "Dr. Klein, this mustn't go any farther. If Clark finds out anything about this, the future could completely change, and Tempus will win. Do you understand?"
Dr. Klein was silent for several seconds while he processed that. "All right."
"It's very important that he not find out who Lori really is," Lois said, fixing her eyes on his. "Lori is supposed to help complete what Clark and I started in the formation of Utopia. Somehow, her baby is important, too."
"All right, I get it."
Lois turned to Lori. "Go ahead."
Lori swallowed. "In 2099, I'm Clark's wife," she said.
Bernard Klein's jaw dropped. He pulled it shut with an effort, staring at Lori and then Lois, and back at Lori again. He opened his mouth once and closed it again. He looked at her expanded middle. "His *wife*?" he finally squeaked.
"Uh huh." Lori glanced at Lois. "Somehow, I'm important to Utopia, too. Something I will do — and I don't even know what it is — helps finish what Lois and Clark started. Tempus grabbed me to derail the future civilization. I guess I was an easier target than Lois is."
"Which is why we need to get that thing fixed," Lois said, bringing the subject back to the present. "We have to get Lori home before her baby is born."
In spite of the drama of the situation, Lori had to work to keep her face straight at the scientist's expression. Mixed now with her respect and awe of one of the most phenomenal men of this era, was both amusement and genuine liking. Bernie Klein was not only brilliant, she thought; he was, as Clark had said, a character, and it was obvious to her that he trusted Lois, and was completely loyal to both her and Clark.
He was also, she acknowledged, an unprejudiced thinker. Any other man would have dismissed what they had told him as nonsense. Bernie Klein took them seriously, because a person he trusted — Lois — had sworn to him that it was true. It was obvious to Lori now why he had achieved what he had. The man was astounding.
"What?" Dr. Klein said, and Lori realized he was looking straight at her.
"Sorry," Lori said. "I read about you in my history class and Clark told me about you. It was all true, I guess, but you're much more interesting in person."
"Me?" Klein said. "I'm just a lab geek."
Lori shook her head, trying hard not to grin. She knew it wasn't respectful, but it was difficult to remember that Bernard Klein was one of the great geniuses of his time when he opened his eyes wide that way, and stumbled over his words. "No, you're not," she said. "If anyone in the world can figure out how to fix the time window control, it'll be you." She hesitated, as a thought occurred to her, and the desire to giggle disappeared. "You'll be careful, won't you? If Tempus realizes we brought the time control to you, or who you are, he might come after you, too."
"At least," Lois said, "he doesn't have his usual technological toys. Right now, he's about as dangerous as your ordinary street thug — but be careful anyway. We don't want anything to happen to you."
Dr. Klein looked a little startled. "Naturally I'll be careful," he said. "We work with a lot of secret stuff here. That's why we have security guards."
"Just be sure you take precautions," Lois said. "Lori says you're important to the future, too, and Tempus isn't very picky about his methods, as long as they work."
"Important?" Dr. Klein said, apparently finding the idea hard to grasp. "Me?"
"You have no idea," Lori said.
"Oh," Dr. Klein said. He blinked thoughtfully. "All right, I'll do my best. I'll call your cell phone when I have some results, Lois." He looked at Lori. "Has anyone told you that you look a lot like Lois?"
"That's not surprising," Lori said. "I'm her sister's great, great granddaughter."
"I'm kinda surprised to have my theory of Superman's aging process validated this way," he said, with apparent irrelevance. "I knew he'd age more slowly than ordinary humans, but after the age drain, I wasn't sure what would happen."
"According to what he's told me, the family doctor says that it cost him maybe a couple of months," Lori said. "All that energy was only a tiny fraction of what he produces. She said it was even possible that with enough rest and exposure to sunlight, his body could have erased the loss completely. He was retired for something like fifty years or so, so maybe it did."
"That's possible," Dr. Klein said. "I hadn't considered it, but it just might work. But just for my own satisfaction, do you think you could tell me how old he appears in your time? I don't see that the information is likely to affect the future."
"He looks like he's in his late twenties," Lori said. "The same as he looks right now."
"Really!" Klein's eyebrows flew up. "Amazing!"
"How about CJ?" Lois asked. "He's going to be only half-Kryptonian."
"The same," Lori said.
"Then the Kryptonian genes are dominant," Dr. Klein said. "I suspected they might be, but it's nice to know, even if I can't tell anyone about it." He glanced at Lori's expanded waistline. "When's your baby due?"
"Two weeks," Lori said.
"So we have a little time," Dr. Klein murmured, "but not much. All right, I'll get to work on this right away."
"Then we'll leave you alone," Lois said. "Clark's going to be back from Okinawa as soon as the typhoon quiets down. He isn't likely to guess that Lori's his wife from the future, but the less he sees of her, the better."
"I understand." Dr. Klein paused for an instant, looking at them, and shook his head sharply. "I get the strangest feeling, looking at the two of you," he said. "Never mind. I'll call Herschel to escort you out."
"Is his name *really* Herschel?" Lois asked curiously. "He calls you the 'Mad Doctor', you know."
"Yeah, I know." Dr. Klein grinned. "He started calling me the Mad Doctor a while back. I thought the image was cool — but he didn't like Igor. He said it sounded too cliché, so I started calling him Herschel. His real name's Ed Brown. He likes Herschel better."
"Naturally," Lois said. "Why am I not surprised?"
Arnold Frazier watched as H.G. Wells's time machine seemed to grow magically before his eyes. Clark, Lara and CJ were moving so fast that their bodies were almost invisible to the naked eye, but before him an oddly clumsy and primitive machine, that Clark Kent claimed possessed such futuristic abilities, was coming into existence. Occasionally one of his super powered relatives appeared out of nothing to study the blueprint, and then vanished again into a blur of speed.
"I've never seen any of them this close up before," Gregory Carson said. His just-out-of-college lab assistant was new to the lab and had never had the opportunity to meet any of the supermen before, Arnie thought, with mild amusement. He glanced over his shoulder and noted that three other lab assistants and two of the top researchers of STAR Labs were peering through the glass windows at the spectacle in the electronics lab.
"They come here occasionally," he said with studied casualness. "We have a reciprocal agreement with them."
"Do you *know* any of them?" Gregory asked, wide-eyed.
"Oh, sure," Arnie said. "Hang around and I'll introduce you when they're finished." As if anybody would be able to pry Gregory out of the room with an iron bar, he reflected, but he didn't say so.
"What's that supposed to be?" Gregory asked, nodding at the half-finished machine.
"From what I understand, it's a time machine," Arnie said, keeping his face straight with an effort. "I've seen the blueprint. It may actually work."
"A *time* machine?" Gregory turned to stare once more at the now nearly finished vehicle. "But that's impossible!"
"According to Superman, it isn't," Arnie said. "He's apparently traveled in something like it before. We're going to run some tests on it before anyone tries it, though. It's been a long time since he actually saw the original blueprints."
"Where did it come from?" Gregory asked, clearly awed. "Did it come from the Kryptonian civilization?"
"I'm afraid Superman doesn't tell me everything," Arnie said, truthfully. "Looks like they're done," he added as the three blurs of color solidified into Superman, Tan-El and Superwoman. He hurried forward to examine the device. "Is this it?"
"It should be," his great-grandfather said. "It matches the blueprint Wells gave me."
"Well, we're still going to test it before you try it," Arnie said sternly. "We can't afford to lose you if something were to go wrong."
"I'm not indispensable," Clark said. "There are plenty of others."
Arnie didn't answer. Pointedly. Instead he beckoned to Gregory. "Superman, this is my newest lab assistant. He joined the staff last week. Greg, these are Superman, Superwoman and Tan-El. They come here for technical assistance now and then, and we do our best to help them."
Clark extended a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Greg. Any friend of Arnie's is a friend of mine."
Gregory's eyes grew wider, and he stammered an incoherent reply. Tan-El shook his hand as well, followed by Lara. The tiny superwoman smiled charmingly at the lab assistant. "Nice to meet you, Greg," she said and Arnie was careful not to smile at the stunned expression on his subordinate's face. Lara really needed to tone down the feminine charm, he thought. She had no idea what it did to hapless human males.
"Well," he said, briskly. "We'll get to work testing this thing right away. I'll call you when we're done, Superman. If it really is a time machine, the delay shouldn't matter."
"It's a time machine," Clark said. Arnie restrained himself from biting his lip. The agonized expression in Clark's eyes was enough to wipe away his amusement.
"Superman, we'll have it available as fast as humanly possible," he said quietly. "Trust me."
"I do, Arnie," Clark said. "But anything could have happened to her in the meantime."
"If something did, you can go back and fix it," Arnie said, with his great grandmother Lois's pragmatism. "Anything Tempus does isn't part of the normal time frame, so it'll be safe to change it. I just don't want to risk something happening to you when we don't have to."
Clark nodded. "You're right. All right, call me as soon as you're done."
"I will," Arnie said.
The three supermen said goodbye and in an instant had disappeared.
Gregory looked after them, wide-eyed, and then back at Arnie.
"They called you by your first name!" he said in an awed voice.
"Well, sure. I've known Superman for years," Arnie said calmly. "He's a pretty good friend. Now," he added, "I promised we'd have this ready for him as fast as we can, so let's get busy."
Safely inside the Cherokee, Lori watched the tall figure of the security guard as he sauntered across the lot back toward STAR Labs. Lois was belting herself into the seat, and after a moment Lori did as well. The safety belts of today's vehicles weren't nearly as comfortable or, she was sure, foolproof as the ones in her time, but the Cherokee seemed like a fairly tough vehicle.
"I think we're going to go by the Precinct and talk to Inspector Henderson," Lois said, as she started the engine. "I imagine Tempus is in Metropolis by now, and I think Henderson would be interested. It can't hurt to have the cops on the alert for him."
"I hadn't thought of that," Lori said. "They're not going to try to check on my background, are they?"
Lois shook her head. "We won't file a police report or anything. It's sort of more in the nature of a tip."
Lori nodded. "He's wanted in this time, isn't he?"
"That's for sure. He was in the facility for the criminally insane after he tried to get himself elected president, and then to start a nuclear war. There's been a manhunt on for him for months. Naturally, they didn't find any trace of him because he wasn't in our time, but now he is, and he can't leave. If the police are looking for him, it will make it that much harder for him to try his dirty tricks."
"You know," Lori said, "he isn't thinking very straight. He's either really crazy, or maybe just plain stupid."
"What makes you say that?" Lois asked.
"Well, he was born in the second half of the 22nd Century, right?"
"Well, Clark said that he tried to destroy the Earth by launching attacks on all the other countries. The idea was that he was going to go into the parallel Earth and live there, but that wouldn't have worked. If he killed all his ancestors, they wouldn't be around to produce him, so he'd have wiped himself out, too."
Lois pulled out of the parking lot onto the street. "I hadn't actually thought it through, but you're right. If he destroyed the world now, it wouldn't be around for him to be born into then. He'd have killed himself." She cast Lori a perplexed look. "But then he wouldn't have been around to start the war, so it wouldn't have destroyed the world, and he would have been around to start the war …" She broke off. "I think I'm getting a headache."
"Yeah," Lori said. "Who knows what would have happened. I guess there's probably some kind of fail-safe built into Time to handle things like paradoxes, since time travel is possible, and you can change things in the future, but I don't have any idea what it would be. Maybe your friend, Mr. Wells, would be able to tell us."
"Maybe," Lois said, somewhat doubtfully. "I'm not sure anyone could figure out what would happen with that kind of scenario, and I'm not going to try. It makes me dizzy. Let's just go talk to Henderson."
"Okay," Lori said.
"He's going to ask you questions. I want you to stick to the truth — appropriately edited, of course. Remember, he's known here as a dangerous lunatic, so anything he says is going to be taken that way."
"He should be known anywhere as a dangerous lunatic," Lori said. "All right."
William Henderson was a slender, dark-haired man in his early forties, with a cynical air and a bored expression, but even he blinked and sat up straight when Lois and Lori walked into his office.
"So, what's going on, Lois?" he asked. "Don't tell me someone else has been making clones again."
"That's what Dr. Klein said," Lois said. "Lori is my second cousin, but that's not why we came by. I wanted to give you a tip."
"And what would that be?" Henderson asked.
"You remember Tempus — John Doe?"
"He made an attempt to kidnap Lori this afternoon. He may have thought she was me."
"Oh? What happened?"
"He tried to grab her. She kicked him in a delicate place and got away, but unless he's had an unusual attack of common sense, he's probably in Metropolis right now. We thought you should know."
Henderson nodded. "Thanks for the tip," he said. "Where did this happen?"
"Just a few miles west of Metropolis," Lori said.
"And how did you recognize him? Have you ever seen him in person before?"
"Only in pictures," Lori said. "But that was enough. Besides, he mentioned his name and was blathering on about Clark Kent being Superman and a Superman from a parallel world. Not to mention something about changing the future by getting rid of me. It was crazy."
Henderson raised an eyebrow. "Sounds like that last press conference, all right. Do you want to file a complaint?"
Lori shrugged. "What would be the point? He's already wanted for a lot of worse things than kidnapping. Lois just thought you should know he's in the area."
"Good point," Henderson said. "You realize, Lois, that he may come after you again."
"I know," Lois said. "I'm being careful."
Henderson didn't answer for a moment, and when he did, Lori could have sworn she saw a faint twitch to the corners of his mouth. "Right. Careful. I know that Kent is out of town on assignment, so if you have no objection, I'm going to have the prowl car that covers your neighborhood make a few extra drive-bys of your house for a while."
"Actually, I'd appreciate that," Lois said. "I'm not quite up to my usual fighting form."
Henderson raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?"
"Very funny," Lois said.
The police inspector regarded her with a deadpan expression. "Personally, I think if Tempus goes after the two of you, he's going to be lucky to escape with his life. The thought of two Lois Lanes running around town is enough to strike fear to the hardiest crook. And me," he added, thoughtfully. "Still, I'd miss it if you weren't around to insult me now and then, so do me the favor of being careful; all right?"
"We will," Lois said. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it." Henderson reached for the phone. "I think an APB would be in order."
"If you catch him, I get the exclusive," Lois said.
Henderson's lips twitched again. "Why doesn't this surprise me? I'll let you know when and if we find him."
"I'm hungry," Lois announced. She inserted the key into the ignition and started the Cherokee's engine. "Clark promised to call me if he was going to make it home at any decent hour, and he hasn't, so I think we're on our own tonight. What would you like?"
"I don't know," Lori said. "Maybe we could get some take-out, but I'm afraid I don't have any money with me."
"I figured that," Lois said. "It'll be my treat. What do you like?"
"Well, Mexican is good," Lori said. "Or Italian. Actually, I'm dying for a triple hot fudge sundae."
"You too?" Lois said. They looked at each other and grinned. "I know just the place," she continued. "There's this great Italian restaurant that Clark and I go to a lot. The food is out of this world, and they make the most decadent chocolate desserts I've ever tasted."
"That sounds like my kind of place," Lori said. "Let's go."
Fifteen minutes later, Lois pulled the Cherokee into a well-lit parking lot beside a quaint little restaurant with a sign above the door that announced that this was "Sergio's Italian Ristorante". Lois locked the car and together the two of them followed a chattering party of two adults and three children to the entrance of Sergio's.
The minute they entered, Lori recognized the Twentieth Century décor that so many restaurants of her time tried to copy, and somehow never quite seemed to achieve. She could hear the voices of many patrons chattering as they enjoyed their meals. From hidden speakers, a male voice was crooning "Return to Sorrento", and the aromas of garlic and marinara sauce floated in the air. Lori's mouth started to water.
Lois stepped up to the desk and informed the smiling woman that they were two for dinner. The woman nodded. "Would that be for Clark Kent, party of two?" she inquired.
Lois shook her head. "No, Clark is out of town on assignment, tonight," she said. "My cousin is visiting Metropolis, and she loves Italian food, so tonight it's Lois, party of two."
The woman glanced at Lori, who stood a couple of feet behind Lois. "All right; it will be about ten minutes," she said.
Lois and Lori retreated to the bench that ran along one wall and settled down to wait.
"They seem to know you here," Lori said.
"You could say that," Lois agreed. "We're practically on a first name basis with the whole staff. Clark loves Italian food — but I guess you know that."
Lori nodded. "I do too, though," she said. "Clark's a really good cook."
"I guess he does most of the cooking, huh?" Lois asked.
"I'm afraid so. I can cook but not very well, and I hate it. The only things I'm really good at are scrambled eggs, brownies and fudge. And I can make a pretty good peanut butter sandwich."
Lois surprised her by laughing out loud. "Some things never change. If Clark and I had had to depend on my cooking, we'd have both starved to death."
"Well," Lori said, giving the subject due consideration, "if I were the one doing the cooking, we might not starve, but I can say positively that dinner wouldn't be the highlight of our day. My mother tried to teach me to cook, but there were so many other things that I was interested in that I never seemed to have the time."
"I know," Lois said. "My mother didn't do much cooking, especially after my dad left us. Lucy and I grew up mostly on things that didn't have to be cooked. Anybody can make a tuna sandwich, or dry cereal."
"I guess so," Lori said. "Clark said my mother reminded him of yours."
"Oh?" Lois asked. "Don't tell me she has a drinking problem."
"It's a long story," Lori said. "My mother is very controlling. She disliked Clark from the time she met him because she could tell I was interested in him. She didn't want Marcy or me to get married. We only recently got a lot of that straightened out. Now she's one of his biggest supporters."
"I'm glad of that," Lois said. "My mother finally got into rehab and it looks like she and my dad may get back together. I hope they do." She glanced at her watch. "I'm starving. I hope we don't have to wait too long."
"Me too," Lori said. She glanced at her wrist talker. "It's only been about five minutes, but it seems longer." She looked around at the bustling restaurant. There were women in evening dresses, and other women in blue jeans, men in suits, and men in jeans and T-shirts. One couple caught her attention as they were escorted into the main restaurant and she watched them disappear, somewhat bemused. The woman was wearing an outfit reminiscent of a warrior maid, and her escort was dressed as Robin Hood.
Lois followed her gaze. "They're probably with the theater group that's performing in Centennial Park," she remarked.
"Oh," Lori said. "I was wondering."
"You never know, though," Lois said. "Maybe they just dressed that way for the heck of it. Metropolis attracts all kinds."
"I guess it hasn't changed that much in my time, either," Lori said. She leaned back against the wall, still looking around in fascination at the living people of the century into which Clark had been born. "You know, Clark has told me a lot about this era," she said, keeping her voice low. The chatter and the background music made it highly unlikely that anyone would overhear. "It's a lot different than the history books portray it, but I think that's because the people who write the books have a kind of romantic idea about the 'good old days'."
Lois snorted. "People have the same ideas about the 'good old days' for us, too. Only, of course, our 'good old days' were in the Nineteenth Century. I don't know what was so good about them. No air conditioning on hot days, no computers, not even any decent electric lighting. People went to bed at sundown because otherwise they had to walk around by candlelight, or use kerosene lamps."
Lori giggled. "I know exactly what you mean," she said. "People don't think about the things that the people of the past didn't have and the inconveniences that they put up with. In my time, the whole city of Metropolis is interconnected with slidewalks."
"'Slidewalks?'" Lois repeated. "You mean moving sidewalks?"
"Uh huh. And we have aircars as well as groundcars."
"You mentioned them," Lois said, a little enviously. "I'd love to have a flying car."
Lori hid a smile. "You will," she said. "I just can't tell you when. I just wish I could talk Clark into getting one for us."
"Well," Lois said, "if you're determined enough, you can probably convince him. I have one question, though."
"Okay," Lori said cautiously, "I'll answer it if I can."
"How did you find the townhouse? You couldn't have called a taxi. You don't have any money."
"I got dropped off at the Planet," Lori said, "and I walked to your place. It's still there in my time. Clark and I live in a security apartment a few blocks from the Planet, but one of your descendents and his family lives at the townhouse."
"That was why you were looking around the kitchen like you'd seen a ghost, this afternoon," Lois said. "Is it that different?"
Lori shrugged. "Some. The kitchen appliances are different. The fertility statue from Borneo is in our apartment. It was a bit of a shock seeing it at the townhouse, even though logically I knew it would be there. It's kind of strange, though."
"Your house was half-way familiar, like I'd seen it before, the way it is now. I guess I did in a way — the same way I sort of remembered Martha and Jonathan Kent, when I saw their picture. I thought I was going crazy for a while, before I figured it out."
Lois regarded her steadily for a long moment. "Is this as weird for you as it is for me?" she asked finally.
"Probably," Lori said. "It's weird, all right. I always wondered if I could live up to the example you set, you know. You're kind of a legend in the family."
"Me?" Lois said. "I'm nothing unusual."
"Yes you are," Lori contradicted. "Clark told me that without you, he could never have succeeded as Superman. I don't know if that's exactly true, but I think it would have been a lot harder for him if he hadn't had you to support him. You set an example for all the others to follow, and you gave them a standard to live up to. You're as important to the legend of Superman as the man, himself."
"But you do that for him in your time," Lois said. "It seems to me that you have to be pretty remarkable, too."
"I don't know about that," Lori said. "Ronnie's told me that I'm carrying on the family tradition, but I wonder sometimes if she's just being nice."
"Uh — one of your descendents," Lori said. "Ultra Woman. You remind me a little of her."
"I guess that doesn't surprise me," Lois said. "You know — in a funny way, I think I do know you. I'll *be* you, someday, even if I won't remember much about being Lois Lane. Do you really think I'll be that different from who I am now?"
Lori hesitated. "I don't know. I hope not. I wonder sometimes if Clark would want you in my place if he could have you there. He says he loves me as I am — in *this* lifetime, but I know that he misses you sometimes. I know he'll never forget you — not that I'd want him to."
"Of course he won't," Lois said. "But Lori, I'm his soul mate in *this* time — 1999. In your time, 2099, it's you. I belong with him here and now. When your time comes around, it will be your place, and he'll love you then as much as *my* Clark loves me now. I know Clark as well as anyone can, and when he loves, he loves whole-heartedly. You don't forget someone you love, even when that person is gone, but the beauty of it is, he and I will still be together, even if it's as Lori Lyons. I don't think you have anything to worry about."
The loudspeaker paged "Lois, party of two", and Lois heaved herself to her feet. "At last!"
Lori also got up, and the two women followed the hostess to a small table in a corner booth. The woman indicated the spot and then surveyed both of them with a look of mild consternation.
"I didn't realize both of you were … is there enough room for you? If not, I can get you another table."
Lori squeezed into one seat. Her middle came to within an inch of the table edge. "Only if we don't have to wait any longer. If we do, I'll vote for staying here. I'm hungry enough to eat the Coliseum."
"This will do," Lois informed her. "And can we get some breadsticks or something? She's not the only one that's starving."
The hostess eyed them in a nervous way that made Lori want to grin. "Your server will be right here."
Lois squeezed into the other place as the woman retreated. The fit was snug, but adequate. Barely.
"I guess you have the same incredible appetite as me," she said.
"Yeah," Lori said. "I eat all the time. It's embarrassing."
"That's for sure," Lois said. "I can't say I'll be unhappy to have this over with. Only then, of course, CJ will be here and I'll be learning a completely new job."
"Yeah," Lori said. "Me too. I hope I don't put the diaper on backwards or something. I've diapered my sister's baby, but this is different."
Lois grinned suddenly. "I guess I'm not the only one that's worried," she said. "At least you had somebody else's baby to practice on. The only 'baby' I've ever practiced on was a doll."
Lori giggled. "But you'll have your mom, and Clark's mom to help you," she said.
"My mom lives in Jersey City," Lois said. "I can't just drop in whenever the baby needs to be changed. And Martha and Jonathan are in Smallville."
"I'm no better off," Lori said. "My mother is in Los Angeles and my sister is a high fashion model in New York. My editor's wife coached me a lot, but she's a senior engineer at Genie Electronics. I can't call her up for help any time I feel like it, either."
"I guess we're both going to have to learn on the job," Lois said. "Clark said he'd help me, but he's a guy. I mean, how much does a guy know about babies?"
"Well, he said he used to baby-sit when he was in his teens to earn extra money," Lori said. "He's taken care of babies before. He probably knows more than both of us put together."
"That figures," Lois said. "I think he mentioned the baby-sitting once, but I wasn't paying much attention. I was still in my panic phase about this whole thing."
Lori heaved a small sigh of relief. "You make me feel better," she said. "I went into a panic too. Clark thought it was funny."
"He would," Lois said. "I guess to him it's no big deal."
"Not anymore, anyway," Lori said.
"I suppose not," Lois said. "Are there a lot of super people around in your time?"
Lori hesitated. "Uh … yeah, kind of."
"So all Clark's descendents have his powers," Lois said.
Lori shook her head. "Not all of them. *Your* children do, but after that, not all of them got the powers. Some of them are ordinary people."
Lois frowned. "Why is that?"
"Well, Dr. Klein could probably explain it better. He's probably already figured it out," Lori said.
"I'll ask him, but why don't you just tell me?" Lois suggested. "It isn't as if it will make any difference."
Lori hesitated. Lois scowled. "Look, if Dr. Klein can figure it out, it isn't something that's going to change the future."
"I guess not," Lori said. "Did you take any biology in school?"
"Yeah, in high school. My school required 3 years of science classes."
"Then you've seen the charts about how brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child," Lori said. "It's pretty similar. Some of your grandkids didn't get the super gene from their super-powered parent. That's all."
"Yeah, I can see how that could happen," Lois said. "But I guess a lot of them did."
"Yeah," Lori admitted. "A lot of them did."
"Wow," Lois said.
They fell silent as a young woman approached the table and made quick work of setting out silverware, glasses of water, two menus and a plate of breadsticks. Lois and Lori both took one and began to munch.
"I'm Sara," she said. "I'll be your server this evening. Would you like a few minutes to look over the menu?"
Lois took another bite and nodded. Sara disappeared, and Lori stuffed the remainder of her breadstick into her mouth, took another and opened the menu.
"Everything looks good," Lois mumbled with a full mouth. She reached for a second breadstick.
"Yeah," Lori agreed, chewing valiantly on her own. "What do you recommend?"
Lois swallowed her mouthful. "The Chicken Parmesan is pretty good. In fact, everything I've eaten here is pretty good. Why don't we get the bruschetta for an appetizer? Or maybe some stuffed mushrooms. Or both."
"Sounds good to me," Lori said. "I could probably eat half the stuff on the menu without trying."
"So could I," Lois said. "The Italian herbed chicken with a side of pasta in marinara sauce sounds pretty good."
"So does the — I can't pronounce it, but the fettuccine with shellfish and clam sauce," Lori said. "That's the trouble with coming into a place like this when you're really hungry. You want everything." She selected another breadstick and bit off a healthy chunk.
"Well, let's go for that," Lois said. "They serve it family style here, so it'll come on a big platter and we'll help ourselves. We get some side dishes with the entrée. I'm going to order the herbed chicken, too, and then we can go for one of the big chocolate desserts." She snagged the final breadstick. "You don't know how nice it is to see someone else doing the same thing I am. Is it like this for all —" She dropped her voice, "Superbabies?"
"Pretty much," Lori said. "If the mother is non-super. Sometimes you get surprised, like happened to my sister, Marcy, but most of the time it's like this."
"Your sister is married to one of my descendents?"
"Yeah," Lori said. "They had a little boy, and the family doctor told her just the other day that he's going to have his dad's powers."
"Wow," Lois said, a second time.
Lois unlocked the outer door of the Kent townhouse and pulled it open. Lori held the Styrofoam boxes containing the leftovers of their meal. They weren't large, but it would make a good midnight snack, Lois had pointed out, since neither saw anything amiss with the idea of seafood pasta and Death by Chocolate cake in the middle of the night, at least while they were both so hungry all the time. Besides, as Lois had said reasonably, Clark wasn't here to make a midnight trip to some eatery for their benefit.
"I wonder if Dr. Klein has made any progress," Lori said, as Lois locked the door behind them.
"He probably would have called," Lois said, turning to open the inner door. "Still, with Bernie you never know. He's probably absorbed in studying the technology of the thing. You know, it occurred to me to wonder if letting him see future technology will do anything to the future."
"The principle comes from the eighteen hundreds, though," Lori said. "The people of the future didn't discover time travel — H.G. Wells did. All they did was refine it a little. Dr. Klein could have done that, himself, if he'd seen the plans for the time machine."
"I hadn't thought of that," Lois said. "You're probably right. What I'd like to know is how Tempus got hold of the thing. He was able to build a time machine like Wells's, but I doubt he has the technical knowledge to build something like the time window control."
"Maybe he stole it," Lori suggested.
"It wouldn't surprise me a bit," Lois said. "Andrus had a time window, so I suspect it's Time Cop technology. If he stole it from a time cop, they're going to be after him."
"If they have any way to track him," Lori said.
They entered the townhouse and Lois shut the inner door behind them. Lori glanced at the antique mantle clock — which wasn't as much of an antique in this time — noting that it was past eleven. "I wonder where Tempus is right now," she said.
"So do I," Lois said. "I'm just glad he hasn't got any of his futuristic gadgets to work with. He'd have an easy time getting in here if he did, but without them he's just as likely to trigger the alarm as any burglar." She glanced at the containers of food that Lori held. "Let's go warm that up," she said. "I think there's some chocolate ice cream left in the freezer, and a quart of milk in the fridge."
"Sounds good," Lori said.
Lois set the food in the microwave while Lori got out the dishes and the ice cream. Within a few minutes, they were sitting at the kitchen table, splitting up the pasta.
"You know," Lois said, a fork full of pasta halfway to her mouth, "Clark knows how to build a time machine."
Lori nearly dropped her glass of milk. "He *does*?"
"Well, sure. When Tempus stole Wells's time machine and kidnapped him, Wells dropped the plans for his machine and Clark used them to build another one so we could follow."
"And Clark's memory is photographic!" Lori finished. "I hadn't thought of that!"
"So," Lois finished triumphantly, "if we can find some way to tell Clark where you are, he could come back and get you!"
It was a ringing noise that woke Lori the next morning. She opened her eyes to find herself in a strange room with a décor that was oddly old-fashioned, and after a puzzled moment, she recalled where she was. She was a hundred years in her world's past, staying in the guestroom of the Kent house on Hyperion Avenue.
The ringing had stopped, and she glanced at her wrist talker, which she had reset to local time the evening before. It was nearly nine-thirty in the morning. Normally, on her days off, she woke around seven, but she and Lois Lane had stayed up past midnight, talking, trying to come up with some idea for sending Clark a message in 2099 to let him know where she was. It had to be done in a way that wouldn't disrupt the normal progression of the future timeline, and, of course, that made the job more difficult than it might otherwise have been. Neither of them had any idea what would happen if they inadvertently created a paradox, and neither wanted to find out. At last Lois had suggested that they get some sleep. They would, she had pointed out with a note of practicality that Lori found familiar, be able to think better, after they had both had some rest.
Slowly, she crawled out of bed, wincing at the low back pain that had been her constant companion for the last few weeks, and reached for the robe that Lois had loaned her. It was, Lois had said, a gift from Lucy for her last birthday. It would have fallen to Lois's ankles; Lori had to hitch it up slightly to avoid tripping over the hem. Clark had mentioned, when he had told her about his adventures in ancient England and the Old West, that he and Lois had closely resembled their previous incarnations, but there were obviously some slight differences, which wasn't surprising. She and Lois were very similar in their characters and personalities, but the likeness wasn't exact, for which she was glad.
She found the clothing she had been wearing the previous night, shook the wrinkles and dirt briskly out of it and headed for the upstairs bathroom. Lois had shown her how to adjust the shower water to a comfortable temperature the night before, and she figured that she could handle it, even if there was no computer to adjust it automatically. She would never have dreamed of insulting Lois with any comment on the primitive conditions that the people of the Twentieth Century had to put up with, but it only illustrated in fact what they had been talking about the day before.
Half an hour later, she was descending the staircase of the Kent home. There was noise downstairs, and when she reached the main floor, she could see Lois sitting on the sofa, watching the television, the device that had preceded the advent of the multi-purposed vidscreen. She was eating a bowl of cereal, and Lori could hear the voice of a weather forecaster.
"Hi," Lois said as she reached the bottom of the steps. "Breakfast is cold cereal this morning."
"Okay," Lori said.
"Clark called a little while ago," Lois added.
"How's he doing?" Lori asked.
"He's fine. He wanted to know how I was doing. I told him one of my cousins had come by and was staying with me until he gets back. He was relieved, because he says he's going to be there at least another day."
"I hope we've found a solution to this mess before then," she said. "I don't even have a birth certificate in this time. How on Earth am I going to support myself if I can't get home?"
"We're going to find a way to get you home," Lois said. "We have to."
"I sure hope so," Lori said. She rubbed her back. "My back is killing me," she added, irrelevantly.
"Mine, too," Lois said. "Clark came up with a great way to help me. I've been sleeping on air for the last week, until yesterday. I'd almost forgotten how sleeping in a normal bed felt until last night."
"Yeah," Lori said. "Clark did that for me night before last. It was wonderful."
Lois raised an eyebrow at her. "If I could, I'd have a few words to say to him about that. He should have remembered to suggest it earlier."
Lori shook her head. "It's been the better part of a century since he was a dad last," she said. "Even Superman sometimes has things slip his mind."
"Maybe," Lois said, "but if I were you, I'd kick his gorgeous butt."
Lori giggled. "I'd hurt my foot. Besides, if I get back all right, I'll be too glad to see him to kick him."
Lois grinned. "Yeah, I know the feeling. How do you feel about running down to the mall with me? We can get you a change of clothing so you won't stand out so much. I want to check in with Dr. Klein, too, to see how he's doing."
"That's fine with me," Lori said, " You know, there's something I'd like to do, if we have the time."
"What?" Lois asked.
"I've always wanted to meet Jim Olsen," Lori said. "Clark has told me about him, and —"
"Jimmy?" Lois said. "Sure, I guess so. Did Clark tell you he's a junior photographer at the Planet?"
"Oh yes," Lori said. "Clark said that when he met him, he was the office gofer, but that he was also the office computer expert. He also said that he was a lot smarter than anyone gave him credit for. Besides, I know his great grandson pretty well, and his great, great granddaughter is one of my best friends."
"You mean he finally settled down?" Lois said. "Jimmy's the guy with a new girlfriend every week, you know. Who did he marry?"
Lori shrugged. "Her name was Erica — I don't know her last name. They had two kids, but his grandson —"
"What about him?" Lois asked. "Nothing bad, I hope."
"Oh, no, not at all. One of his grandsons will marry one of your granddaughters."
"You're kidding! So, some of his descendents will have super powers?"
"Some of them," Lori said. "My editor is one of his descendents who doesn't have the powers. His name is John Olsen. He took a chance on me when I applied for a position at the Planet, and kind of treats me as his protegee."
"He does, huh?"
"Yeah," Lori said. "He's a pretty good friend — and he teases Clark sometimes by calling him Gramps. Clark doesn't like it. Anyway, Clark said Jim Olsen was a good friend of his, and a pretty remarkable person. I've heard a lot about him. I'd like to meet him, if we have the time."
"I guess that wouldn't be a problem," Lois said. "I never thought of Jimmy as being remarkable. He's a nice guy, and pretty good with a computer, but you just kind of don't notice him a lot of the time."
"I know," Lori said. "Clark said the same thing. He found out he could take advantage of that, and a few years from now, he'll —" She broke off. "No, I shouldn't tell you, or things might change. Anyway, he did something pretty terrific. He'll be a great journalist someday."
"Well, I think we can find the time for you to meet him," Lois said. "Why don't we go over there after we find you something different to wear, and then we can drop by STAR Labs and see if Bernie has made any progress." She finished a last bite of cereal and got to her feet. "Better go get some breakfast. If you're anything like me, you're starving in the morning."
"That's for sure," Lori said.
"Clark," the image of Arnie Frazier on the vidscreen said, "we're working on it. Right now, we're waiting for the time machine to reappear."
"What do you mean, reappear?" Clark asked. "I thought you'd be finished with the tests by now."
"One of the things we needed to ascertain," Arnie said, "is if the machine works the way it's supposed to. We programmed it to go 24 hours into the future. It should reappear in about fifteen minutes."
"Arnie," Clark said, keeping a tight rein on his temper, "I need to start looking for her."
"I know you do, but any time you waste here-and-now won't matter," Arnie said, patiently, "and it won't do Lori any good if the thing malfunctions and kills you — or worse, strands you in some distant century, or loses you in the time stream, somewhere. We're going to make sure it works right before we let you go. Then you'll have a better chance of finding her and bringing her back safely."
"How much longer?" Clark asked.
"We still have to test it with a living passenger," Arnie said. "We're going to try it with a rat next. We'll send it a few hours into the future. After that, if the rat is unhurt, we'll let you have it." The scientist glanced at his wrist talker. "In the meantime, have you found any indication of where this criminal may have taken her?"
Clark shook his head. "Not a thing. If she's in the past, she may not realize that I can come to get her."
"Even if she doesn't," Arnie said, "I think she'd want to let you know that she was alive and safe. She'll think of some way to send you a message. Besides, she knows that in the future there will be time travelers. If they have any interest in keeping the future as it should be, I should think they would go and get her, if they can figure out where she is."
"If Tempus fixed it so the future changes, they may not be able to," Clark said, rather bleakly.
"True, but I prefer to think that Lori is smart enough to figure out what to do," Arnie said. "Do you have any specific plan, except for hopping into different eras and waiting to see if you feel her presence?"
"Yes," Clark said. "I'm going to try to find H.G. Wells. He may have some way to tell where she wound up. He's a much more experienced time traveler than I am."
"This makes hunting for a needle in a haystack look easy," Arnie said. "My advice is to start looking through historical records for something that shouldn't be there. A computer search might turn something up."
"Aaron is already doing that," Clark said.
"Good. And when you take the machine, you're going to have to report in to us fairly frequently," Arnie said. "We may find something after you're gone. We'll want to be able to get the word to you."
"I've already thought of that," Clark said. "I've told CJ that I'll come back every twenty-four hours. We've arranged for me to meet him at his house every evening at six o'clock."
"Just make sure you do," Arnie said.
"I will. If someone finds some reference to Lori in the past, I don't want to miss it."
Parking structures, whether they were in 1999 or 2099, looked very much the same, Lori thought. The only difference that she could see was that this one was under the Daily Planet instead of in a parking tier beside it. They always seemed to be breezy and too dimly lighted, in spite of the fact that lights above on the ceiling were quite bright. Between the circles of light were patches of darkness, and the great pillars that supported the structure above them left thick bars of shadow on the concrete floor.
Lois pulled the Cherokee into a parking space and cut the engine. "We're here," she announced. "Let's go."
Lori opened the door and got out, glancing down at the smart maternity outfit that she now wore. It looked like the pictures of 20th Century clothing in the old books and vids that were sometimes shown on the vidscreen about people and events of this time, but she had to admit the clothing was nice, even if she worried slightly about getting it dirty. These clothes had to be actually washed, unlike the fabrics of her time. With hers, you simply shook them vigorously and dirt and wrinkles came right out. Only resistant stains like blood or oil required any kind of special care. She had seen Lois toss a bunch of clothing of like colors into her washing machine before they had left, and then they had dropped off two of Clark's jackets and a pair of slacks at the dry cleaner's before they had gone to the mall. Another of those inconveniences of the "good old days" that she and Lois had talked about at Sergio's.
"This way," Lois said. She led the way to one of the ancient contrivances that were the elevators of this time. They were safe, Lori assured herself. Even if they didn't have all the safety features of the ones of her time, millions of people used them every day, all over the Earth, and there were very few accidents. Lois rang for the car and a minute or two later the 'ding' of a bell announced that it had arrived. The doors slid open and Lois led the way in.
Lori looked around at the small, dingy box that was the Daily Planet's elevator. There was carpet on the floor that looked as if it had been trod on by many, many feet over the years, and the painted numbers beside the buttons that indicated the floors were worn and peeling. Lois pressed the indicator for the third floor, and Lori found herself holding her breath as the doors slid reluctantly shut. With a jolt that made her reach out rather quickly for the safety rail that ran around the inside of the car, the elevator began to rise.
It slid to a stop on the ground floor and several people crowded in, pressing buttons for various floors. One of them, a man somewhere in his thirties, she thought, with thinning hair and a receding hairline, glanced at Lois. "Haven't you had that kid yet, Lane?" he inquired in a brash, cheerful tone. Lori could almost feel Lois grinding her teeth.
"I'd think you could see that for yourself, Ralph," Lois replied, with a saccharine smile.
Ralph, whoever he was, didn't take the hint. He glanced at Lori. "Is this your sister? It looks like it's catching," he joked. "What is it: something in the air?"
"This is my cousin, Lori," Lois said shortly. "She's visiting me for a couple of days while Clark is out of town. I promised to show her where I work."
"Just don't decide to have those kids in the newsroom," Ralph said. Lois glanced at Lori and rolled her eyes.
Ralph didn't notice. The doors opened on the third floor and he stepped out ahead of them.
"This is it," Lois said to Lori. "Come on. I see Jimmy. He just came out of Perry's office."
Lori stepped out of the elevator, looking around at the busy newsroom.
Even a hundred years before her time, there was a familiarity in the place. This wasn't the newsroom where she worked, but it had about it a similarity, the air of people working at their tasks with restrained haste, the smell of newsroom java drifting through the air, and the almost subsonic hum of many computers all running at once. Mostly, it was the people hurrying in every direction, others at their desks, talking on the ancient telephones, or typing swiftly as they rushed to meet their deadlines. Unexpectedly, her vision blurred with tears, and she wiped them hastily away with the back of her hand.
"What's the matter?" Lois asked in an undertone.
"Nothing. Hormones." Lori dabbed quickly at her face with a tissue. "It's different from my newsroom, but it's the same, too," she clarified. "I miss it. I miss —"
"I know," Lois said. "We're going to figure out how to get you home. Hang in there, okay?"
Lori nodded, lifting her chin resolutely. Lois gave her a bracing smile. "That's more like it." She led the way toward a curving ramp that led to the Pit. "Jimmy!" she called.
A youthful figure turned his head at her call, and his teeth flashed in a grin. "Hey, Lois!" Jimmy Olsen changed direction and hurried across the Pit toward them. Lori found herself staring at James Olsen, future editor of the Daily Planet.
Jimmy Olsen was in his mid-twenties, she thought, and probably only a few years older than she was. He was a little taller than Lois, with brown hair and eyes, but somehow you didn't think of his height when he smiled in that cheerful, boyish way. Looking at him, she could see the resemblance to his great grandsons, John and Aaron, but he looked younger than both of them. He wended his way through the various obstacles in the newsroom to the bottom of the ramp.
"We were wondering how you were doing," he said to Lois. "There's a pool going on when exactly you're going to have that little guy," he confided. "I haven't put my bet in yet. How are you feeling?"
Lois grinned. "Fine," she said. "Sorry, I can't give you any hints. I'd like you to meet my cousin Lori. She's staying with me for a couple of days until Clark gets back. Lori, this is Jimmy Olsen."
"Hi, Lori," Jimmy said. "I guess you and Lois have a lot in common right now, huh?"
"Kind of," Lori said, extending a hand. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Olsen."
"Jimmy," he told her. "Nobody calls me Mr. Olsen."
"Lori wanted to see where I worked," Lois explained, "so I thought I'd bring her over." She broke off suddenly, and Lori could almost feel her brain working. The strange connection they seemed to possess told her that her Twentieth Century counterpart had an idea. "Jimmy, Lori will probably be leaving in a day or two. She and I don't get to see each other much, so I was thinking that we could get a couple of pictures while we were here, and since you're a pretty good photographer, maybe you could do it for us."
"Sure thing," Jimmy said.
The door to the editor's office opened and Perry stepped out. Lois waved. "I'm going to take Lori over to see Perry," she told Jimmy. "Why don't you get your camera, and you can take the picture over there by his office."
"Be right there," Jimmy said.
"Showin' your cousin around?" Perry asked, as the two women arrived beside him by the door to his office.
Lois nodded. "I was wondering," she said, "since Lori has to leave in a day or so, Jimmy's going to take a picture or two of us. Could we get one with you, Perry?"
"Well, I don't know," Perry said. "I don't look that great in pictures."
Lori wasn't sure what Lois was up to, but whatever it was, she was willing to assist. "Would you, Mr. White? It would be so great if I could get my picture taken with you! My husband would never believe it!"
She had gauged Perry White correctly. Ever the Southern gentleman, he couldn't disappoint a lady. "Well, all right," he said. "Where do you want to take this picture?"
"Right in front of your office would be great," Lois said. "Here comes Jimmy, now."
The young photographer arrived with his flash camera. "Okay," he said. "Are you ready?"
"We're ready," Lois said. "Let's get Lori with Perry, first, okay? Right in front of his office. Perry, you stand right here, and Lori, you stand right beside him."
Perry obediently stood where she indicated, and Lori moved up next to him. "Is this okay?"
"Perfect," Jimmy said. "Okay, smile!"
Lori smiled and the camera flashed. While she was still recovering from the dazzling burst of light from the camera, Lois moved up on her other side. "Can you get one of the three of us, Jimmy?" she asked.
"Sure. Move right up next to her," Jimmy directed. "Everybody say cheese!"
Lori smiled at him again, and once more the camera flashed.
"That was a good one," Jimmy said.
"I can't thank you enough, Mr. White," Lori said.
"Aw, that's okay," Perry White said. "Jimmy, you make sure you get these developed as soon as you can. We want Lori to be able to take these with her when she goes home."
"Sure, Chief," Jimmy said. "I've got a few others to develop anyway, so I'll get on it right after lunch."
"Um —" Lori interrupted. This was a chance that she wouldn't have again. "I know this sounds silly, but I'd like to have a picture of Lois, Mr. Olsen and me, too. Since you're a friend of Lois's," she added.
Lois stepped in at once to second the request. "That's a great idea. Maybe we could take it over by my desk."
Jimmy looked surprised. "I guess so," he agreed, "but we'll need someone else to take the picture."
Perry grinned. "I was a pretty decent photographer in my day," he said. "I'll do it. Come on."
A moment later they had relocated over by Lois's desk. Lori had begun to have an inkling of what Lois was up to. She glanced over her counterpart's desk, looking for anything that would identify it as belonging to Lois Lane, and at once noted that a small flower pot on the corner of the desk held the skeletal remains of some plant. Clark had mentioned, once, that the only living things that Lois seemed to be able to maintain were her tropical fish. She regularly killed any plant that had the misfortune to find its way to that corner of her desk. Lori moved to stand next to the desk in such a way that the plant was positioned by her right hip.
"That," Lois said following her gaze, "was a cactus. I didn't think anybody could kill a cactus." She picked up the brass nameplate from the desk, holding it in front of her. "Jimmy, you stand between us, here. Okay, we're ready, Chief."
Perry grinned. "All right, everybody, smile for the camera."
He took two pictures of them. When they had finished, Jimmy reclaimed his camera with a grin. "I'll get the film developed right after lunch," he said. "Would it be okay if I bring it by your place this evening?"
"That'd be great," Lois told him. "Could you do me a favor and make a couple of extra copies?" She turned to her editor. "I'll have Clark call you as soon as anything happens — at least as soon as we know it's the real thing."
Perry nodded. "You do that, darlin'. It'll be my first try at bein' a godfather."
Lori waited until Lois finished speaking to her boss and then extended her hand. "I probably won't see you again, Mr. White, but I'd like to say that I've heard a lot about you, and it was an honor to actually meet you."
Perry raised an eyebrow at Lois. "What have you been tellin' her about me, anyway?"
"It wasn't me," Lois said, with a slight grin.
The editor turned back to Lori. "It was nice to meet you, Lori. I keep thinkin' I've met you before, but it's probably just 'cause you look so much like Lois. Jimmy'll have those pictures over at Lois and Clark's place this evenin', or I'll know the reason why."
"Thank you," Lori said. "Uh — could I ask one more favor?"
"Would you autograph the picture of the three of us?"
"Sure," Perry said. "It's probably the only time anybody ever asked me to autograph anything."
Lori grinned. "Thank you," she said. "You don't know how much I appreciate it."
"We'd better go," Lois said. "They sometimes have work to do around here. I'll see you later, Perry."
"Goodbye, Mr. White," Lori said.
Jimmy accompanied them up the ramp to the elevator. "I have to go pick Perry up a sandwich," he said, in answer to Lois's raised eyebrow. He glanced at Lori. "You look a lot like Lois's sister," he remarked. "I guess you're a Lane, all right."
Lori nodded. "Sure am — at least a couple of generations back," she told him.
"Where do you come from?" he asked.
"I grew up in Los Angeles," she said. "I don't get to see Lois much."
"I guess not," Jimmy said.
"Wait a minute, while I get a drink of water," Lois said. She crossed to the water fountain to get herself a drink. Waiting by the elevator, Lori smiled up at the lanky form of Jimmy Olsen. Clark had shown her some of the family history in honor of CJ's upcoming centennial mark. There was some information in it that she could use to pay Jimmy back for what he had done for her.
"Do you believe in good luck hunches?" she asked.
"Sure. Every good newsman has to have a kind of sixth sense, to be in the right place at the right time," Jimmy said.
"Well, I have a tip for you, for your baby pool," Lori said. "My hunch says it'll be June 30th, at ten-twelve PM. You put that in for your bet. It's good luck."
"Okay," Jimmy said. "I could sure use the luck — and the money. I'm a little short on my rent this month."
"Well, I'm a little bit psychic," Lori said, striving to sound mysterious. "My mother's family is Irish, and the women of the family have always had a touch of Irish luck. Try it and see what happens."
"I will," Jimmy said. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," Lori said. "That's my good deed for the day."
"What is?" Lois asked. She reached out and pushed the call button.
"We were talking about the baby pool," Jimmy said. "Lori gave me a tip."
"Oh, really?" Lois raised an eyebrow at Lori, who felt herself turning pink. "Well, I'd listen to her if I were you. When she makes a prediction it usually turns out right."
The elevator gave a soft 'ding' and the doors slid open. They entered, and Jimmy punched the indicator for the first floor, while Lois pushed the "B". After a long moment, the doors slid shut and the creaky elevator slid jerkily into motion. Jimmy bade them a cheerful goodbye and exited on the first floor, while Lois and Lori continued on to the basement. But when they reached the Cherokee a few minutes later, and got in, they were to discover that the engine would not start, no matter how hard Lois cranked the key. At last, she sat back in the seat with a soft swear word. "I guess I'll have to call a tow truck," she said. "And it looks like we get to ride in a cab if we want to go over to STAR Labs. That was one experience I didn't really want to give you."
"Oh, I know all about Metro cab drivers," Lori said. "They didn't change much in a century. That was why Clark insisted we get a car when we did. He didn't want me to risk my life in a cab anymore."
Lois grinned, even through her irritation. "Some things don't change, I guess. I wish I could see your century, even just for a day. All right, I'm going to call for a tow truck, and then for a taxi. If Dr. Klein can't get that thing fixed, I have an idea for telling the family where you are, and yet, nobody who hasn't met you would ever catch on. That way we don't risk messing up the future."
"Does it involve the pictures?" Lori asked.
"Yeah, but I think you guessed that," Lois said. She opened her purse and extracted her cell phone. "Let me make the calls, and we'll head over to the lab."
Lori nodded and fell silent as Lois spoke with the towing company. After Lois hung up, she spoke. "I was just thinking."
"About what?" Lois asked.
"I was thinking that if Tempus were still trying to get hold of me — or even you — it would sure be a benefit for him if we didn't have your Jeep."
Lois didn't answer for a long thirty seconds. At last, she spoke. "That hadn't occurred to me," she said. "I think I'll have Joe Pemberton check out the Jeep for anything suspicious."
"I think that would be a very good idea," Lori said.
John Olsen paced his office.
The drama that was unfolding at STAR Labs and the house on Hyperion Avenue had been in the back of his mind all day, even as he ran his news office with his usual effortless skill. Lori had been kidnapped by the criminal time-traveler, Tempus, and taken god-knew-where in time. He might not be present to see what was happening, but he had a pretty good idea what his great grandfather was going through. Even the thought of something like that happening to Marilyn made John feel as if his insides had just gone into free-fall. The loss of Lori was bound to have pushed Clark close to the edge of sanity.
The news had spread through the family with the speed of light. Every member of the Kent clan had been drafted by CJ to look for any possible hint that Lori might send a message to them from some location in the past, or any indication of something that wasn't quite as it should be. Anything at all that might be Lori's way of letting them know when and where her abductor had taken her.
It was odd in a way, John reflected, that he didn't for a moment doubt that Lori would somehow escape from the man who had kidnapped her, or that she would somehow manage to tell them where she was. The only fault with that argument was the possibility that the time-traveling criminal could have taken her into his own time, a century in the future. If that had happened, there would be no way that Lori could get a message back to them.
Still, John had to put his faith in his great-grandfather's indomitable wife. Lori Lyons, Lois Lane, Lulu, Loisette, and doubtless many others he had never heard of; they were all manifestations of Clark's soulmate, and possessed the strong personality that had made Lois Lane the Daily Planet's top investigative journalist before he was born, and the unquestioned matriarch of the Kent clan during his youth. As a small, and then not-so-small, child, he had idolized his great grandmother Lois. She had taken a special interest in him while he was growing up, the only non-super child in his family. She had paid him extra attention, and told him stories of her life as an investigative journalist. In the end it had been Lois who had inspired him to become a reporter, himself. Lori wasn't likely to be any less formidable than her predecessor had been. In her short time at the Daily Planet, she had already shown him that.
It just figured that this all had to happen a week before CJ's 100th birthday, though. There had been a celebration planned for him as the first child of Lois Lane and Clark Kent: the first Kryptonian-human to reach the century mark. John had been deputized by his great grandmother Lois to deliver the gift that she would not live to give to him in person. She had made him promise faithfully that he would see to it that her gift was the first to be delivered personally into CJ's hands, and opened.
Well, he would carry through with his part. Maybe, by then, Lori would be back, and CJ Kent's hundredth birthday would be a day of celebration after all.
He glanced at his wrist talker. It was nearly quitting time. The evening editor would be arriving within minutes, and today he had no intention of hanging around the office. John had planned to meet Marilyn at her place of work, and then to head over to the house on Hyperion Avenue, where CJ and his family lived. Clark was there right now. Maybe he couldn't do much to help, but at least he would be there.
Joe Pemberton had been Lois Lane's mechanic since she had bought her Cherokee. Joe had seen every possible disaster that a vehicle could endure and yet survive to be driven another day, and most of them had been involved with Lois Lane's Jeep, so when she and Lori arrived with the tow truck, the phlegmatic mechanic didn't so much as blink. He waved to the truck driver and directed him to deposit the Jeep in the queue of vehicles waiting to be serviced.
Lois and Lori descended from the cab of the tow truck and Lois led the way into the lobby of the service department.
The woman behind the counter seemed to know Lois as well, Lori thought. With expressionless efficiency, she whipped out a form and began to fill it out. "How can we help you today, Ms. Lane?" she inquired, while her fingers typed in name, address, phone, license number and make of the vehicle without hesitation.
"My car won't start," Lois said. "The battery is good — my lights turn on and the radio works, and you can hear the starter when you turn the key — but the engine won't turn over. It may be nothing, but it could also be sabotage. Can you tell Joe to check it over for anything suspicious?"
"Absolutely," the woman said, as if such requests came her way every day of the week. "If we find any, will that be filed as a vandalism claim?"
"Well, if someone sabotaged it, it was vandalism," Lois said, reasonably.
"Just checking," the woman said. "I'll tell Joe personally, but he probably already knows."
"Probably," Lois said.
"Just sign here," the woman said, in a matter-of-fact manner.
Lois signed her name. "If somebody tampered with my car," she said in an aside to Lori, "I'm going to make him regret the day he was born."
"And I'll help," Lori said.
The woman behind the counter smiled professionally. "We'll give you a call with an estimate when we've checked it over."
Arnold Frazier looked up from his scrutiny of the hooded rat that had made the four-hour trip through time, just in time to see it. "It" was a three-inch by four-inch rectangular spot in the air that didn't fit with the rest of the scene on all sides of it. Then it was gone.
Arnie rubbed his eyes and blinked several times. The curious little rectangle had definitely disappeared. Slowly, he moved toward the spot as if it were some strange animal that might bite him and waved his hand through the air where the rectangle had been, wondering futilely if he were seeing things.
"Is something wrong, Doc?" Gregory had come into the lab behind him and was now checking the rat over. "Matilda looks all right, don't you think?"
"Uh … yes, certainly. I'm going to want to run a few tests on her, but on first inspection she looks unharmed." Arnie moved back to the small cage containing the lab rat, watching the spot where he had seen the rectangle out of the corner of his eye. Normally, he had absolute faith in his mental stability, but this was the third time he had seen the thing in the last ten minutes. It simply sat there, hovering in the air, a little piece of scenery that didn't fit, and each time it had disappeared after a few seconds.
Gregory left the lab, whistling tunelessly, but Arnold Frazier continued to frown, glancing every few seconds at the place where the rectangle had been.
There was no sign of anything unusual now. If it followed its previous pattern, it wouldn't appear again for some minutes, but he definitely wanted something to attest to the fact that he wasn't imagining things, and that it had actually been there. After a moment, he triggered the lab camera that he used when conducting experiments where certain effects were extremely transitory and set it to cover that section of the lab. If the rectangle appeared again, he would have a record of it. He turned to Matilda. "Okay, Mattie, this is where I stick you with a needle. It will only hurt a little," he assured the small, friendly animal. Matilda was his favorite rat, and that fact had more than once been responsible for saving the little creature's life. Quickly and expertly, he took a small sample of the rat's blood and released her into her cage again. Matilda sat down and began to vigorously wash the spot that he had stuck. Everybody knew that Matilda belonged to him, and the staff frequently brought her treats of one kind or another. Arnie had often toyed with the possibility of taking her home and making her a pet, since she was a de facto pet right now, but then there would be long periods of the day when there was no one around to keep her company. Actually, she probably wouldn't mind the solitude, but he couldn't bring himself to isolate her like that. So Matilda remained in her cage in the corner of his office, and continued to receive tidbits and attention from Arnie and his staff. After today, she would have the distinction of having been the first rat known to have traveled through time. Quite an achievement, when you thought about it.
He was spreading the tiny drop of blood on a slide when a flicker of motion at the corner of his eye made him look up. The rectangle had appeared again, only this time he could have sworn that it had acquired an eye.
The eye was brown, he noticed now, and was, to all appearances, human. It looked up, down and around, like Alice looking through the tiny door into Wonderland, and then the little rectangle vanished again, blinking out as if it had never been.
Arnie shook his head sharply. Something very strange was happening in his lab. Almost mechanically, he finished the task in which he was engaged, applied the fixing chemical, and then went to the controls for the lab's vid camera. Automatically, he transferred the image of the last few minutes to play on his computer screen and called up the file. He adjusted the picture digitally to get a close-up of the rectangle. There it was. Definitely a human eye, all right, which was, in its own way, very unnerving. It was almost as if someone had opened a tiny, rectangular portal in space and was peering at him through it. What in the name of the great god Murphy was going on?
He continued about his business, running several tests on Matilda, satisfying himself that the little rodent had incurred no injury in her trip through time, but all the time, half his attention was on the section of his lab where the rectangle had appeared. At last, he stroked her with one finger, offered her a piece of cracker, which she snatched with typical greed, and put her back in her cage. Matilda ignored her human friend's minor agitation and began to munch on the cracker.
It had been a good ten minutes and he hadn't seen the rectangle return. He had almost relaxed when it made another appearance. This time it was a foot higher than it had been, and closer. He stepped quickly toward it and, careful not to touch it, peeked into the strange phenomenon.
It was as if he were looking into another room, an office, he thought, with a littered desk, and on the wall behind it a diagram of some kind of primitive electronic device could be indistinctly seen.
He had barely taken in this scene when the eye appeared again, inches from his own on the other side of the rectangle, and for a split second, the two of them stared at each other.
Then the rectangle vanished again.
Slowly, Arnie lowered his muscular body onto a lab stool. The rectangle was a tiny opening in space, it seemed, a door into somewhere else.
Or somewhen. The idea occurred to him with almost a physical jolt.
Slowly, he looked over his shoulder at the time machine. That strange contraption journeyed through time to the past or future, opening the doors of time as it were, to transport living matter from one reality into another. Was it somehow connected to the miniature door in space in his lab? Was there any way to tell?
He didn't know, but there was at least some chance that this odd peephole in the air was related to the time machine. After several moments, he went to the vidphone. There was only one person living today who had traveled through time — at least if you discounted Lori Lyons, who wasn't in this time period, anyway. Maybe Clark would know what was going on.
"They said the cab will be here in fifteen minutes," Lois said, disgustedly. "I'm hungry. It's nearly three."
"So am I," Lori said. "We missed lunch."
Lois nodded. "I know. When the cab gets here, we're going to take care of that. Let's wait for him in the shade, at least," she added, pointing to the rickety bus stop bench located strategically in the shadow of the repair shop's canopy. "It's getting hot early this year. It usually doesn't get unbearable until August."
"The fact that both of us are nearly nine months along probably doesn't help," Lori observed with her trademark practicality.
"I don't feel like being logical," Lois said, scooting sideways to take full advantage of the shade. "I hope the guy hurries. I'm starving, and this bench isn't going to be in the shade for long."
Lori said nothing. She wiped sweat from her forehead. "I wonder how Dr. Klein is doing on the time window controller."
Lois shrugged. "He said he'd call if he got any results, but he might have got involved in his work and forgotten," she said. "I'm going to give him a call and ask him."
Lori didn't say anything. The waiting had been gnawing at her since the night before. Every minute that she was away from her own time seemed like an eternity. Tempus, or whatever his real name was, obviously didn't care in the least about the lives he disrupted or destroyed as long as he could prevent the creation of the future that he hated so much. The man was a misfit in a relatively peaceful society. He would have been much happier in the Wild West, or the gangster world of the Prohibition Era. She suspected however that if he were actually stranded there, he wouldn't find things nearly as much fun as he thought he might. In her experience, unhappy persons longing for high adventure usually found that a big letdown awaited them.
Lois was punching in the phone number for STAR Labs. She waited, and Lori heard the faint sound of a phone ringing.
"Dr. Klein's office, please," Lois said, finally. "It's Lois Lane."
Lori could hear the faint whisper of a voice at the other end. Lois scowled and visibly got a grip on her temper. "Yes, he's expecting my call. Look just put me through. If he decides not to talk to me he can always hang up."
"Dr. Klein?" Lois said at last. "Yeah. Your receptionist or whatever she is didn't want to let me talk to you."
A pause. "Yes. I was calling about the time window control," Lois said. She held her cell phone out, turning up the exterior speaker. "Have you had any progress?"
"Oh, that," Bernie Klein's voice said. "Some. I've managed to get it running, but I'm having trouble with the calibration."
"I'm having trouble aligning the settings. There doesn't seem to be any way to adjust them. If they're handled automatically, the mechanism may have been one of the things broken when the control was dropped."
"But you've got it running?"
"Yes, but not in a way that it'll do anyone any good," Bernie's voice said. "I'm working on it. I'll call you when I make any progress."
"All right," Lois said. "Keep us informed."
"I will. 'Bye."
"I wonder what he meant," Lori said. "Trouble aligning the settings?"
"You're making the mistake of trying to understand Bernie when he tries to translate his technical jargon into English," Lois said. She pushed the antenna of her phone down and stuffed it into her purse. "He's run into a snag and is working on it. The best thing we can do right now is to leave him alone."
"Yeah, that much I figured out," Lori said. "Here comes the cab, finally!"
Lois heaved herself to her feet and waved. The cab pulled slowly to the curb and the driver leaned toward the passenger window. "Lane?" he inquired.
"That's us," Lois said. She opened the rear door and scooted inside. Lori followed.
"Where to?" the driver asked.
"Sixth and Magnolia," Lois said. "Abby's Corner Café. I'm starving."
The taxi pulled sharply into the street, and Lori heard the squeal of tires as the car behind them slammed on its brakes. The driver ignored the sound and accelerated toward the red light at the cross street. Lori closed her eyes and gripped the handhold on the door with all her strength.
The taxi didn't pause. After a second, she opened her eyes again, looking back. The light was now behind them, and was green. Lois gave a faint laugh and Lori responded with a weak smile. "I'm not used to cabs anymore."
Lois shrugged. "Neither am I. If Tempus meddled with my car he's going to pay."
The cab took a corner on two wheels. Lori gripped the handhold tighter. They were barreling toward a line of stopped cars. She held her breath.
The cab screeched to a stop inches from the car's rear bumper. Lori let out her breath. Ten hair-raising minutes later they came to a fast stop by the curb at the corner of Sixth and Magnolia. Lois handed the man several bills and climbed out. Lori slid after her on shaking legs. The taxi roared away, diving into traffic with reckless disregard for the fact that there appeared to be no room between a tractor-trailer and a minivan. She resolutely looked the other way, hearing the now-familiar screech of tires, but no crash of rending metal. She figured that in the ten-minute ride she had used up her good luck for the next five years.
"I don't know how they do it," Lois remarked. "They must take their driver's training in a demolition derby. Come on; Abby's is right around the corner. Let's get some lunch. I'm ready to eat the awning. I'm beginning to understand how Bobby Bigmouth feels."
Lori's stomach growled on cue. "I'm pretty hungry," she said. "I just don't like to take advantage of you like this."
"Wouldn't you do the same for me if the situation were reversed?" Lois asked.
"Well, of course."
"Exactly. Come on."
"An eye?" Clark's image said.
"An eye," Arnie Frazier said.
"How big was this rectangle?"
"It was about three inches wide by four inches tall. Like a tiny door in the air."
"When you looked through it, what did you see?"
"Well, it was like looking through a slightly distorted lens," Arnie said. "There was an office on the other side."
"Yeah. There was a wooden desk with a lot of papers and things on it."
"Was there anything else?"
"Yeah. The eye! There was a brown eye looking through it at me."
Clark frowned. "That's odd."
"No kidding!" Arnie said. "I felt like the little green men from Antares were scouting out my lab!"
"Something's happening." CJ moved into the vidscreen's pickup. "And I'd bet my last credit that it's tied into this whole affair. Maybe you'd better hold off taking off in the time machine Dad — at least for a little while."
Clark glanced at him, and Arnie could see the indecision on his face.
John Olsen moved into the screen. "Clark, I've said before that if Lori is somewhere in the past, she'll find some way to let us know where she is. This could be part of that."
Clark bit his lip, his heavy brows drawn together in a deep scowl. At last, he nodded. "You're right. Something we don't understand is going on. I'll tell you what. I'll wait until morning, but no later, unless something else happens."
"I think that's a good decision," John said, resting a hand on his great grandfather's arm. "If you wait, it won't matter time-wise. The time machine lets you turn time into your ally. If we wait, whatever this 'door in space' is may turn out to be the clue that tells us where she is."
Clark nodded. "If it appears again, let us know, all right?"
"I will." Arnie caught a glimmer at the corner of his eye. "There it is now. It's back, and so's the eye."
"Is it Lori's?" John asked.
"No," Arnie said. "It's the wrong shape, and there are too many wrinkles around it."
"Are you recording it?" John asked.
"Yes," Arnie said. "I'll send you the file."
"Do that," CJ said. "I want to see this."
"So do I," John said.
"Now that's what I call a pretty decent lunch," Lois said. She leaned back in her chair and patted her stomach. "It should hold me until we get home, at least."
Lori grinned. "I hope so," she said. "I've noticed that I'm hungry just about all the time these days." She patted her middle as well. "This little character must be absorbing it almost as fast as I'm eating it."
"Mine, too," Lois said. She glanced at her watch. "Jimmy gets off work in an hour. We should probably be back at the house before he gets there, and I really don't want to ride in another cab. It's only about four blocks. Shall we start walking, or do you want to risk a taxi?"
"If we walk, we can take our time," Lori said. "That ride reminded me of why I drive my own car. The only thing different about the taxis in my Metropolis is that they have radar-controlled avoidance systems and gyro stabilizers, so it's harder for them roll over in an accident, and containment fields to help protect the passengers."
"Even that would be an improvement," Lois said.
Lori shook her head. "Nope. Doesn't work that way. They know they can get away with worse driving than the cabdrivers of today, so it evens out."
Lois thought that one over. "I guess it would figure," she admitted. "Are you ready to go?"
"I think so." Lori got slowly to her feet. "I feel a lot better," she added.
A short time later they were walking down the sidewalk in the general direction of Hyperion Avenue. Lois shifted her shoulder bag from one shoulder to the other. "I have to say," she said, "that I'm really looking forward to actually seeing my feet again."
"So am I," Lori said. "I can't believe I once wore a size five dress. I feel like a small elephant. I honestly don't understand why Clark likes the way I look."
"He just does," Lois said. "My Clark has told me the same thing. I didn't get it at first, but I finally figured it out. Clark loves a lot more about me than my physical appearance — and right now, the reason for my physical appearance is that I'm carrying his baby. That means a lot to him."
"Yeah." Lori thought about that. "You're right."
Lois glanced thoughtfully at her. "You and Clark — you both work at the Daily Planet in the future?"
Lori nodded. "It's not the same as now — we publish an online newspaper. We also have PNN — that's our vid channel."
"Yeah. The vidscreen replaced television some years from now," Lori said. "It combines a bunch of stuff that's all separate right now. It's the television, the phone, it's part of the computer network; you even use it for home security," she added. "It has all kinds of uses."
"Wow," Lois said. "So the Daily Planet has a news channel, too?"
"That's right," Lori said. "We're LNN's biggest competitor."
"*You* don't report the news, do you? On the TV — vid, I mean. You're not a news commentator."
"Oh no. Clark and I are an investigative reporting team. He got John to assign me as his assistant when I was the office intern. We were investigating a conspiracy to blow up the 'Mayflower'."
"What's the 'Mayflower'?" Lois asked.
"The first starship," Lori said. "In my time, it's about halfway to Alpha Centauri, to found a colony. There was this bunch of wackos who thought that if Humanity put a colony on another Earth-like planet, Armageddon would come and destroy the human race. My brother, Brad, is the ship's captain. He'd caught onto them, and was trying to find some way to prove what they were up to. The leader kidnapped him, his wife and two kids."
"I guess you rescued them, huh? — or Clark did."
"Well, we used me as bait to bring the bad guy out," Lori said, matter-of-factly. "Things went a little wrong and I got kidnapped, but Ronnie — Ultra Woman — had supplied me with an emergency signal, and as soon as I knew I was away from anything that could block the signal, I triggered it and Clark and Ronnie showed up and rescued all of us. It was after that that John partnered us up permanently."
"It's good to know that I didn't change that much," Lois said, after several seconds. "I'm still getting into trouble, even when I'm you."
Lori giggled. "Yeah. My father says I'm a trouble magnet," she said. "And it's a good thing no one is eavesdropping on this conversation. It would sound really weird."
"It certainly lends new meaning to the phrase 'talking to yourself'," Lois said. "I know you're not exactly me, and I'm not exactly you, but a lot of the same things are there."
"The most important parts are," Lori said. "You're in all the history books, you know. The reporter who first met Superman, and — well, other stuff. I figured out the past lives angle when I dreamed about how you met him on the Messenger replacement. It was like I was there. I quoted what you said to him, and it was something that has never made it into the history books. 'What the hell are you?'" she added. "That was when he told me the truth."
"Don't tell me he's gone back to that not-telling-you-things-for-your-own-good stuff!" Lois said.
Lori shook her head. "No, not really. He just didn't know what to think about my memories. He was as confused as I was. Plus, he was afraid I'd think he was crazy, or that he'd married me because he thought I was you, come back, if he told me about the past lives aspect. He was actually relieved when I figured it out for myself."
"Well, I guess it does sound a little weird if you don't know the whole story," Lois agreed.
"Okay, a lot." Lois glanced at her watch. "Good, we've still got plenty of time. Jimmy'll probably be late leaving, as usual, anyway. I think he's practicing to be an editor, someday. If it looks like we're not going to make it in time, I'll give him a call."
"Care to tell me what you have in mind?" Lori asked. "I figured you got those pictures for a reason."
"Sure." Lois glanced at her. "It's obvious we have to tell Clark where and when you are without the risk of writing anything down or letting anyone else know beforehand. If we reveal what's going to happen before you're kidnapped by Tempus, it will change the future, and we don't know what kind of damage that could cause."
"That's a given. So, what do you have in mind?"
"The pictures, as you may have noticed, pin the time down pretty closely. No one who doesn't know you will even begin to put together two and two, but to Clark it will be as clear as day. You had to be in our time when he wasn't here, because he doesn't remember your visit. If he did, he'd have been here already. And I'm obviously just about ready to have this baby. At the very worst, he'll only have a few time periods to check out."
"So, how are you going to get the pictures to him?"
"I'm going to give it as a gift," Lois said. "CJ is going to be born soon. That's pretty obvious. At the most, Clark will only have to wait a week or two if I give the gift to someone I trust, to give it to CJ for his hundredth birthday."
"John Olsen," Lori said.
"Give it to John Olsen," Lori said. "John is one of the most trustworthy, reliable people I know. If you give it to him, he'll be sure it gets to CJ on his birthday, no matter what it takes."
"He knows about Clark, then? Since you said he was one of Jimmy's descendents without the super powers, I wasn't sure if he knew."
"Yes," Lori said quietly. "John knows. He's the only child in his family without the super powers. He doesn't need them to change the world, believe me."
"And he's your editor?"
Lori nodded. "John used to be an investigative reporter before he was the editor. He told me once that he chose reporting because he wanted to be like you."
"Yes," Lori said. "And there's one other plus. He can't accidentally see what the gift is. He —"
"Doesn't have x-ray vision," Lois finished. "That's perfect!"
"Exactly," Lori said.
Lois checked her watch again. "We're still ahead of schedule," she added. "With luck, maybe you'll be going home by this evening. Clark will probably be home by tomorrow; he might even be home by tonight, so our timing has to be perfect. Besides, Martha and Jonathan are arriving tomorrow morning."
Lois nodded. "They make a couple of trips to Metropolis every year," she explained. "They decided to take this one a little late this year because of the baby. I think Martha hopes he'll be born while she and Jonathan are still here."
Lori smiled. "Clark said his mother loved babies."
"She does," Lois said. "She and Jonathan couldn't have any children of their own, so when they found Clark —"
Lori was nodding. "He said she was the best mother he could have wished for," she said. "In a way, the world owes both of them a lot. They raised Clark to be the kind of person he is. Without them, there wouldn't have been a Superman. I hope I can be half as good a mother for this one."
"Funny," Lois said, "I've said the same thing."
"You will be," Lori said.
Lois paused infinitesimally. "What did you say?"
"I said 'you will be'," Lori repeated. "Why?"
"Have you met H.G. Wells?"
"No," Lori said. "I'd never even met Tempus until he stepped through the time window into my apartment."
"It's just that when you said 'You will be', it was eerily reminiscent of Wells. I told him I wasn't very experienced with babies, and that's what he said."
"Oh," Lori said. "Well, he was right. And you'll be a good mom to your children. I know all of them, and they're wonderful people."
"How many?" Lois asked.
Lori glanced at her. "Do you really want to know? I'd think it would kind of ruin things if you know everything about your future. Not knowing is what keeps life interesting."
Lois looked glum. "Yeah, you're probably right. I just hate surprises."
Lori grinned. "You don't hate surprises. You just hate it when someone knows something you don't. Am I right?"
Lois gave a reluctant grin. "Yeah."
"Besides, it's one thing for me to tell you things about the future that you won't have any influence on, but I really don't think I should tell you about your own future. If you rely on things I tell you, you might assume that you could take risks that you wouldn't otherwise take — and you take plenty of them anyway. It might not be a good thing."
Lois sighed. "I know. But it's hard not to ask questions when somebody who knows the answers is walking right along beside me."
"I know," Lori said.
They were passing an alley between two buildings. A voice said, "Psst!"
Instinctively, both women stopped, which was a mistake. A hand, holding a snub-nosed semi-automatic, emerged from the alley. "Don't make a sound," Tempus's voice said. "Step into the alley, slowly."
Lois and Lori froze, both of them staring at the weapon. Tempus was standing back so that he was out of view of the other persons on the street. If they stepped in there, Lori knew they would lose any chance of escape that they might have. She could almost see Lois's thoughts running on a similar track. She took a step back.
"One more step and I'll shoot!" Tempus's voice said. It had lost its normal note of mockery. "It wouldn't take much to make me decide to, right now!"
Lori stopped. This was a very different Tempus from the man who had sneered and laughed at her in her apartment and joked about stranding her in a time where all her talents would be useless. This Tempus was angry and underneath the anger was fear. The mocking facade had been stripped away. Apparently, she thought, Tempus could dish it out, but he couldn't take it.
"Take it easy, Tempus," Lois said. "Nobody wants to get shot."
The time traveler took a step backward, waving the weapon. "This way. Don't try anything cute. Did I tell you, I really don't care for spunky women?"
Lori and Lois looked desperately at each other. Neither one was in any real condition to fight and Tempus's expression said he had no intention of giving them the chance to do so.
Out of the corner of her eye, Lori saw the black and white shape of a police car as it turned the corner and moved down the street toward them. Salvation was at hand, if she could just get the attention of the car's occupants without getting shot. She took a halting step toward Tempus, staggered a little, reaching out a hand to steady herself against the chipped brick wall of the nearest building, and let herself fall sideways. She caught herself unobtrusively with one hand to break her fall as she hit the ground, praying silently that Tempus wouldn't pull the trigger.
She heard a murmur of voices and the scuffling of feet as various persons on the sidewalk approached to see what had happened. Then an authoritative male voice said, "Give the lady some air, please. Everyone, please go on about your business, now."
"I'm with her," Lois's voice said, sounding irritated. "He's gone. You can get up now, Lori."
William Henderson shook his head. "Does it run in the family or something?" he inquired.
Lori remained silent, letting Lois handle the irascible police officer. Lois and Henderson seemed to have an unusual relationship, she thought. It was obvious that Lois both trusted and respected, even liked, Henderson, and she suspected that Henderson reciprocated the sentiments, but the way they spoke to each other would never have led an outside observer to conclude anything of the sort. If Lori hadn't heard Lois's private comments to her earlier, she might not have figured it out, either.
"Henderson, Tempus was trying to kidnap us," Lois said. "You know as well as I do that if he'd managed that, it would have been all over."
"I know, and your cousin did the right thing," he said, casting a glance at Lori that was an odd combination of reluctant respect and irritation. "At the same time, the two of you seem to attract trouble. Nobody else I know nearly gets kidnapped by a madman who tried to destroy the world two years ago, just by walking down the street in broad daylight."
Lois shrugged. "It's probably Karma," she said flippantly. She reached for the cookie box sitting on the coffee table and stuffed a coconut macaroon into her mouth. Lori also helped herself. Food seemed to help calm the jitters, she reflected, glancing at Jimmy Olsen, who had turned up at the townhouse a few minutes ago with the promised photographs.
"I'd almost believe it," Henderson said. He took a sip of the instant coffee that Lois had produced for him when he had arrived in response to the call by the police officers who had unintentionally rescued them from Tempus. "Maybe I should get some of this for the Precinct. It's better than that flavored stuff the new guy brings around on the roach wagon. We've got men all over the neighborhood, and a canine unit trying to follow his scent," he continued, reverting back to the previous subject. "Keep your doors and windows locked tonight. I hope Clark will be back soon." He raised a sardonic eyebrow at Lois. "You'll be safer with him nearby. I don't have the manpower to post a guard here 24/7."
Lois cleared her throat. "He should be back by tomorrow."
"I'll stay around if you like, Lois," Jimmy said. "I can call Erica and cancel —"
Lois cast a look at Lori. "Jimmy, we really appreciate the offer, but you don't have to break your date. We'll just lock all the doors and windows, like Inspector Henderson said. We'll be okay."
Jimmy hesitated. "Well, if you're sure —"
Henderson drained his coffee cup and got to his feet. "If you can't tell me any more, I've got work to do. It's been a pleasure, ladies. No, don't get up," he added to Lois, who had started to heave herself to her feet. "I'll see myself out."
When the door had closed behind him, Jimmy locked it and fastened the chain. "Wow," he said. "Now I know why you're so good at getting out of messes, Lois. Your whole family does it."
"Uh … not exactly," Lois said. "Lori and I have a lot in common. Can we see the pictures?"
"Huh? Oh, sure." Jimmy hurried back to his seat and picked up a large envelope. "They came out really well, and Mr. White signed all of the ones he was in for you."
"That was nice of him," Lori said. She bent over the photos that Jimmy shook out onto the coffee table. "These are good."
Lois picked one of them up, examining it critically. "She's right," she said. "They're almost portrait quality. Maybe you should ask Perry for a raise."
"You think so?" Jimmy asked.
"Yeah, but don't tell him I said so."
Lori picked up one of the photos taken by Perry White. "Mr. Olsen — Jimmy," she corrected hastily, "Could you sign these for me?"
"Sure," Jimmy said, looking a little flattered. "Do you have a pen?"
"Here." Lois handed him one from her purse, and both women watched closely as he signed both photographs.
"I appreciate this," Lori told him a minute later as she held up her prize. "I'm going to frame them. Then I can say, years from now, that I knew you when you were just a photojournalist."
Jimmy grinned at the joke. "Right. And people will say, 'Who the heck *is* this guy'."
"Don't bet on it," Lori said. "I know an up-and-coming newsman when I see him. Really, Jimmy, thanks. I've heard a lot about you, and I'm glad I finally got to meet you."
Jimmy grinned. "It's mutual." He glanced around as the mantle clock began to chime. "Gosh, I need to go. I'm supposed to meet Erica in half an hour." He hesitated. "You're sure you don't need me to stay? I can still call her and explain."
"No," Lois said. "Thanks for the offer, but we'll be fine. We wouldn't want to ruin your date."
When Jimmy had gone, Lois picked up the photographs and slipped them back into the envelope. "I'll be right back," she said. "I'm going to put these in plastic and stash them in my bottom dresser drawer. If Clark gets back tonight, I don't want him to see them."
"Good idea," Lori said.
While Lois slowly ascended the stairs, Lori went to the bookcase, looking at the rows of books on the shelves. Here and there she recognized an old friend — one of the books that still graced the bookshelf in their apartment.
Alone for the moment, she felt her eyes filling with tears. Oh, how she missed Clark, and her friends at the Planet! In spite of the fact that she had been able to meet the incredible people who had laid the foundation for the wonders of her own century, she missed her home with an intensity that grew with each minute. Lois's plan was a good one, but so many things could happen between now and 2099!
The blinking light on the telephone answering machine caught her eye. There was a message on the machine.
Lori reached out to take out a book that she recognized. On the flyleaf, Clark had written his name in his neat, clear handwriting. Clark J. Kent. With one finger, she traced the lines of ink. On impulse, she picked up the pen that Jimmy had set down and flipped to a page near the center of the book. In tiny letters, she wrote: "I love you, Clark." Under it she traced her initials and the date. Clark had told her that he hadn't read that book since high school, but had kept it because his mother had given it to him. The chances were good that he would never see the message, but if he did, and if Lois's plan failed, perhaps he would find it eventually, recognize her writing, and come to get her … someday.
Behind her, she heard Lois's footsteps as she descended the stairs. Quickly, she replaced the book and turned, hastily wiping the tears from her cheeks. "Someone's left a message on your answering machine."
"Oh?" Lois said. She crossed to the telephone and pushed a button.
"Hello, Lois," a woman's voice said. "We've seen the news about the typhoon on TV, so we know Clark isn't there. Jonathan and I managed to get an earlier flight. We'll be in about eight o'clock. Don't worry about coming to get us. We'll take a taxi from the airport. 'Bye. See you this evening."
Clark, CJ and John Olsen clustered around the vidscreen, examining the recording that Arnie had taken in his lab. The odd little rectangle floated tantalizingly in the air, and the eye appeared, peeking through it. On the split screen, Arnie looked out at them. "What do you think of it?" he asked. "Have you ever seen anything like it, Grand — uh, Clark?"
Clark stood still, observing the rectangle, and the eye, with close attention to detail. Something was tugging at the back of his mind, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
The rectangle disappeared.
"Wait," Arnie said. "Keep watching."
A minute went by, and another. By actual count, five minutes had elapsed when the rectangle quietly reappeared, followed by the eye.
Clark watched, silently counting the seconds as the strange phenomenon hovered. When he reached ten seconds, the rectangle popped into nothingness once more.
"Ten seconds," he said.
"What?" John said.
"It was there exactly ten seconds," Clark said. "So was the previous one."
"What does that have to do with anything?" CJ asked.
Clark shrugged. "Maybe nothing. But if it appears again, I'll be interested if it stays there exactly ten seconds."
"Why?" John asked.
Clark shrugged. "Arnie, how long did it last, the other times it appeared in your lab?"
Arnie Frazier frowned. "I'm not certain, but I'd say it was about the same time as these two examples."
"Watch it and see if it does it again."
"All right. If it comes back." Frazier scratched his beard. "Grandfather, I think you have an idea about this. Do you?"
Since the scientist was in his late thirties, Arnie appeared some ten years older than he did, but, Clark noted, not even CJ smiled at the incongruity of the title. All of them were looking hopefully at him.
"Maybe," he said. There was a wisp of an idea whizzing around in his brain, but it was hard to grasp it firmly enough to put it into words. He shut his mouth tightly, contemplating the now blank screen. There was something familiar about the little window, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. "I'm assuming that this … peephole in space has something to do with the time machine, and by extension, Lori. If it does —" He fell silent, frowning.
"If it does …" CJ prompted.
And suddenly, Clark had it. "If it wasn't for the size," he said, "I'd think it was a time window."
"Time window?" Arnold Frazier asked.
"The Time Cops — the Peacekeepers of the 22nd Century," Clark said, "had a better way of traveling through time than H.G. Wells's time machine. It was literally a window in time that they could step through. It had to be pre-set with a destination — or, at least the one I was sucked into did. Without a destination, you wound up in some kind of time dimension and were lost. If it hadn't been for H.G. Wells and Lois, I would have been. This looks exactly like a time window — only in miniature."
"Well, that makes sense," Arnie said. "Someone was looking at me out of it."
"So," John said, "someone was looking into our time through this miniature time window?"
"Maybe — if that's what it is. Any sign of it, Arnie?"
The scientist shook his head. "No. The last time it appeared was almost an hour ago."
"Maybe whoever was using it has found out what he wanted to know," John said.
"Maybe. And maybe it'll appear again, tomorrow." Clark glanced at his wrist talker. "It's nearly eight. Arnie, I don't know when you normally leave that place — or if you ever do — but when you close up for the night can you set the lab camera to record any more appearances of that thing, just in case?"
Frazier nodded. "I was just thinking the same thing."
Arnold Frazier signed off and CJ sighed, rubbing his nose abstractedly with one finger. "If this *is* some kind of clue, I hope it comes back," he said. "But if it's a time window, why is it so small, and why would someone be peeking into Arnie's lab with it?"
"I don't know," Clark said. "It just seems to me that its appearance is an awfully big coincidence, considering what happened yesterday."
"Oh, I agree," John said. "It's funny that the thing should have appeared at STAR Labs, though."
"Maybe. And maybe the fact that it appeared in the electronics lab where Arnie is working on the time machine isn't a coincidence. It just seems like there are too many coincidences involved for it to be a completely random event," Clark said.
"I agree," John said. "I'm betting that it's connected, somehow. Maybe this Tempus somehow got his hands on a time window control and used it to kidnap Lori. It seems to me that a time machine like the one you built would have caused an awful mess in your living room — or anywhere else in the apartment."
"I hadn't thought of that," Clark said, "but you're probably right. So maybe Tempus did use a time window. So if this is it, why is it so small?"
"There's no way to know that," CJ said. "Maybe there's some kind of control that determines how large it is. Or maybe it somehow got broken. Or, maybe we're on the wrong track completely here, but I doubt it. Have you ever heard of Occam's razor, John?"
"Sure," John said. "Basically, it states that the simplest explanation is probably the right one. Which means that this window is probably connected with Lori. Now all we need to do is to figure out what the connection is, and if there's any clue in it to where or when she is."
"It appeared at STAR Labs," Clark said. "As far as I was able to gather, somebody using a time window can appear anywhen and anywhere. There isn't any barrier to where the person using it can go."
"So whoever has it is scouting out STAR Labs. Would it be Tempus, by any chance?"
"I don't think so," Clark said. "The eye was the wrong shape. And it wasn't Lori; not only was the eye shaped wrong, it wasn't dark enough. Lori's eyes are like Lois's. So someone else has the thing."
"Maybe," John suggested, "she brought it to somebody who might be able to figure out how it works, and he was experimenting with it. That would put her somewhere in a time period where there's at least some technology."
"Or maybe someone else found it and doesn't know what it is," Clark said.
"If that's so, he's still in a period with some technology," John said, undaunted. "That narrows down the search — assuming our basic assumptions are right. That would cut down the possibilities considerably."
"What if it's in the future?" CJ said.
"It could be — but I'm betting not," John said. "If he took her to the future, our descendents are there, and would know about her kidnapping. And now that Arnie knows about the time machine, they'd know how to get her home, even if the general population hasn't found out about it. I'd guess Tempus wouldn't want to risk it. He probably intended to drop her off in some past era where she couldn't cause him any trouble. If we're right, she may have gotten the better of him somehow, and wound up somewhere after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Which," he added, "gives us a lot less of history to have to comb through."
Clark swallowed. John was right, he thought. It was starting to look as if his search for Lori might not be so hopeless after all.
Lori awoke from a light doze to the sound of the ringing telephone. She was lying on the living room sofa of the Hyperion Avenue townhouse, and the room was dim. The sunlight outside had faded, and the room's lights had not turned themselves on automatically as they did in her time.
Lois jerked awake from her position in the recliner where she had evidently been sleeping, and after a moment of fumbling, she picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
There was a pause, and then she spoke again. "Just a minute, Dr. Klein; let me put you on speakerphone so Lori can hear." She punched a button on the telephone base. "There."
"Can she hear me, now?" Bernie's voice said to the room at large.
"Yes." Lori answered for herself. "Have you been able to fix it, Dr. Klein?"
"Only partially, so far, I'm afraid," Bernie's voice said. "I can turn it on, and it actually works. After I figured out how to take the cover off — did you know that they make fasteners that you can't even see, but once you press the right place it opens up without any trouble at all? No stuck catches or anything! I tore three nails and broke a penknife trying to get it open. Nothing worked! Then I decided that it couldn't possibly be that hard and started pressing different places, and voila! It popped open without any effort! It was amazing!"
"Oh dear," Lori said, shading her eyes as Lois switched on the overhead light. "I didn't think about it or I'd have shown you. I think they invented the magic catch about the time I was born."
"Well, it's a wonderful invention," Bernie Klein said. "After that I was able to examine the device. The power cell was cracked. The only way I could get the control to run was to hook it up to the lab's generator, but it worked. It takes a tremendous amount of power. I hate to think what our bill is going to be at the end of the month." He laughed a little at his own joke.
"I didn't even think of that," Lori said. "Are you going to get in trouble, Dr. Klein?"
"No, of course not," Bernie assured her. "The lab always has a big bill. This will be larger than usual, but we'll make up for some of it. The last run burned out a mass of circuits and — well, you don't need the details. The repairmen are working on it right now. The lab is running on our independent backup generators until the power is back online."
"Anyway," Bernie continued, "It's sort of working, but you won't be able to use it to go back to your own time until I find a way to repair or replace the field modulator — that's the gizmo that determines the size of the field. That's the most important thing. Right now it only produces a window about four inches by three."
"Do you think you can?" Lori asked.
"I hope so. It may take a while, and I'll probably end up having to build one, myself. There's nothing like it in modern day electronics. The navigational setting doesn't seem to work, either, so that's another point of damage — fortunately not as critical as the modulator."
"What do you mean?"
Bernie's voice took on a note that led her to believe that he was having difficulty translating what was perfectly clear to him into everyday vernacular. "Uh — well, if you were standing here in my lab and we used the device, you'd step into your own time in the same location. Does that help? Actually, there seems to be some kind of default setting currently in effect."
"What does *that* mean?" Lois asked.
"There's a provision for setting different times and locations that doesn't seem to be functioning. This default seems to be some kind of safety feature. As I read it, the previous trip sets the parameters. You came back one hundred years, so you would go forward one hundred years — which would allow for the time you've spent here."
"So, if I went back now, I'd wind up a day and a half after the time I left?" Lori asked, sounding almost as confused as she felt.
"I'm pretty sure that's what would happen," Bernie said. "And if you stayed here a year, it would send you back a year after you left. Of course I haven't been able to test it."
"Well, it's an improvement over the one we ran into a couple of years ago," Lois said acidly. "That one didn't have a safety. If you got sucked into it without a destination already set in it, you wound up in some kind of inter-temporal dimension — at least, I think that's what Wells called it. If he and I hadn't been able to tell the exact second the accident happened, we would have lost Clark."
"Oh," Bernie said, sounding slightly appalled.
"I suppose they might have improved the model after that — maybe put in some kind of default setting or something, so there wouldn't be any more accidents," Lois said. "I'm glad they seem to learn from their mistakes, but they *do* seem to goof up a lot. That's what makes me think this whole time-travel thing is run by the government in the future."
"Oh?" Lori asked.
"Yeah. They do things the hard way," Lois said. "Sort of like the Department of Motor Vehicles."
Lori giggled half-hysterically. "I get it. You know, things haven't improved a bit? We still have a Department of Motor Vehicles. You do most of your business online, and they *still* manage to foul things up half the time. Every few years somebody decides to try to fix the problem and it always ends up ten times as bad as it was before. That was one way Clark managed to get his records changed, though. He showed up in person and pointed out that he looked awfully young to be over a hundred years old, and they believed him!"
Lois snorted in amusement.
Dr. Klein also laughed. "Anyway, that's about where we stand right now. I think I'll probably be able to repair it, but it might take longer than we'd like. It's possible that some of the functions don't work because I don't have enough power, however."
Lori nodded, forgetting that the doctor couldn't see her. "What kind of power cell does it use? Can you tell?"
"Just a second —" There was silence on the other end, broken by various unidentifiable rustles and clicks. "Uh — it says it's a 'genuine DuroRay power cell, size -23e' and guaranteed to outlast the life of the — oh, that's an advertisement. It's a DuroRay power cell."
"It sounds more like a shoe-size or something," Lois remarked.
Apparently Dr. Klein chose to ignore this witticism. "I'm afraid we don't manufacture batteries like this, yet," he said. "I don't think even one of those bunny rabbit batteries would power this thing."
"'Bunny rabbit' batteries?" Lois asked.
Lori popped open the back of her wrist talker. "Dr. Klein, my wrist talker uses the same kind of power cell! You're in luck, too — I just put in a new one last week, so it's practically new! If you like, I can bring it over, and give it to you for the controller."
"That's all right," Bernie said. "The townhouse is only a little out of my way. I'll drop by and pick it up."
Lori glanced at the antique clock on the mantle. "It's after eight," she said. "I must have been really tired."
Lois followed her gaze. "It's been a busy day," she said. "I'm hungry."
"So am I," Lori said. "If Dr. Klein is coming over, I'd like to brush my hair and fix my face a little."
"I have tons of spare makeup," Lois said. "Fortunately, you and I have the same coloring. Go into my bathroom — it's in the drawer on the right."
"Thanks," Lori said.
"And in the meantime," Lois said, "I'm going to order out for pizza. Martha and Jonathan will be arriving soon, too. We're going to have to hurry a little."
By the time Lori returned, with her hair brushed and her makeup repaired, it was nearly eight-thirty. Lois had turned on the lamps at each end of the sofa and was leaning back against the pillows with her feet up on the ottoman.
"I feel better," Lori said. "It's amazing how much just looking your best can improve your outlook on life."
"It certainly is," Lois said. "Dr. Klein should be here in a few minutes." She sat up. "Henderson called while you were upstairs," she added. "He wanted to remind me to be careful. They haven't found Tempus, yet."
"I hope they get him, soon," Lori said. "I don't want to leave him where he's a danger to you after I've gone home."
Lois heaved herself to her feet. "Clark and I can handle him," she said. "Without all his futuristic toys, he's not much more dangerous than any of the other thugs we've put in jail. I just want to get you home safely. Clark must be going out of his mind."
"I know." Lori bit her lip. "I've really enjoyed meeting you and so many of the other people Clark has told me about," she said, "but I want to go back to my own time." She held up the power cell to her wrist-talker. "If this helps Dr. Klein fix the time window control, it'll be worth it," she added. "I can't use it to communicate with anyone in this time, anyway, and if it works, we won't have to worry about sending the message to Clark."
Lois nodded. "Still, it's worth having a backup plan."
"Oh, I agree." Lori turned her head as the doorbell sounded. "Well, someone's here."
Lois got to her feet and made her way to the door. They had locked both the inner and outer doors, so she unlocked the inner door, just as the bell rang again. "Just a minute!" she called.
The bell rang again. Lois peeked out the peephole. "It's Dr. Klein." She unfastened the lock, slid the chain off and opened the door.
Bernard Klein's eyes were rolling wildly. "Lois, run!" he gasped. A hand shoved him roughly inside, and Tempus stepped through behind the scientist, closing the door after him.
At once, Lori realized what had happened. The time traveler must have intercepted Bernard Klein when he had approached the Kent townhouse, and stood out of sight while he rang the bell. Tempus pressed the semi-automatic to Klein's temple, pushing the doctor through the inner door. Lois retreated before them.
Tempus closed the inner door. "Well," he said. "Now that things are back under control, I'll take the time window controller, Doctor."
Dr. Klein hesitated, only to receive a blow across the face from Tempus. "*Now*, Doctor," he said, with false pleasantness. "I've really had enough heroics from you Neanderthals, and I have no more patience to spare."
"Give it to him, Doctor," Lori said. "It won't work, anyway."
"Shut up," Tempus said. "I'm very tired of you, Lori. Did you know that? You've been a lot more trouble than you're worth. Give me the controller, Doctor."
Reluctantly, Bernie took the control device from the pocket of his jacket and handed it to Tempus.
"Come here, Lori," Tempus said. He pressed the power button.
"The power cell is broken," Bernie said. "It won't work."
"That's easily remedied," Tempus said. He handed the control back to Bernie. "Lori, give the good doctor the power cell of your wrist talker. They use the same kind."
Lori bit her lip and handed the power cell to Doctor Klein. She backed away a few steps.
Tempus pointed the handgun at her. "Stop right there, Lori."
"Replace the cell, Doctor," Tempus said. "Don't do anything foolish. I really don't want to kill you. Without you, there wouldn't be any aircars in the future, and that's one convenience that I don't want to do without."
Bernard Klein hardly seemed to notice the disclosure as he opened the control device and replaced the power cell with the one from Lori's wrist talker. Tempus snatched it from his hands as he snapped the cover back on and shoved him out of the way. "All right, get back." He grinned mockingly. "Now, Lori, we're going to continue our interrupted trip. Come here."
Bernie backed cautiously away, stopping when the backs of his legs encountered the sofa.
Lori didn't move. Tempus raised his weapon. "Come here," he repeated. "I don't want to shoot you if I don't have to, you know. I'd much rather leave you stranded somewhere in time." He gave a smile that was more a grimace. "Did I tell you that I love irony? It's my trademark."
"So many times that it's getting boring," Lori said. She moved cautiously toward him. He apparently didn't know, she thought, that the modulator, or whatever Dr. Klein had called it, was broken, and that the time window it opened would be only a fraction of the size that was needed to transport two full-sized human beings through time. It might be the distraction that she needed. If she could manage to catch him off guard, they might have a chance.
"Take the controller," he said, thrusting the device into her hand. She took it, and he grasped her wrist, holding on tightly, and covering Lois and Bernie with the handgun. His grip was brutal. Tears started from her eyes as he crushed the bones of her wrist painfully together. Apparently, he recalled how she had broken his grip the first time, and didn't intend to let her escape that way again. She gritted her teeth against the pain, planning her next move. Evidently, the time traveler didn't realize that a grip could be broken in more ways than one. Tempus, she thought, was clever and ruthless, but he wasn't nearly as smart as he thought he was.
Still, he wasn't above killing her, or Lois, if nothing else would serve his purpose. The situation wasn't good. From the corner of her eye, she glanced at the weapon in Tempus's hand.
"Push the red button," Tempus said. "You two —" He spoke to Lois and Bernie, a tight smile on his lips, "You can watch Utopia die."
Lori pushed the button.
A tiny window, four inches by three, appeared in the air. Tempus blinked. He released Lori's wrist and snatched the controller.
"Where's the window?" he demanded.
"I *told* you it wouldn't work!" Bernie said, sounding almost triumphant, "but nobody ever listens to me — especially not megalomaniacs with Kryptocidal hangups."
"Well, fix it!"
"I can't," Dr. Klein said. "Not on the spur of the moment. It's going to take time."
The miniature time window hung suspended in space. It was then that Lois leaned forward to look directly into it. Her eyes widened. "Clark!" she shouted. "Open John's gift!"
The time window flicked into nothingness.
"*Shut up*!" Tempus shouted. His infuriated attention was split between Lois and Dr. Klein. Lori struck at the gun with the edge of her hand. The weapon flew free, and thudded to the floor. Lois instantly kicked it across the room.
Tempus lunged for the handgun, and Lori stuck out a foot. The time traveler tripped over it, tried to regain his footing and sprawled forward on the carpet almost at Dr. Klein's feet. The time window controller flew from his hand, sailed across the room and hit the bricks of the fireplace with an ominous clatter. Dr. Klein seized the cut glass lamp that stood on the sofa's end table, and struck hard and true. The lamp shattered, but Tempus collapsed face down on the carpet, unconscious.
"*Nice* one!" Lois said. "Good job, Dr. Klein!"
The doorbell rang.
Lois glanced at them and went to answer it.
"It's Martha and Jonathan," she said, starting to open the door. "And the pizza delivery guy. Dr. Klein, call Inspector Henderson! His number's by the phone!"
Lois finished paying the thoroughly confused pizza boy, and closed the door. Martha and Jonathan Kent stood in the entrance hallway, looking at the scene before them in a puzzled way while Lori finished tying Tempus's hands with the cord from the broken lamp. Dr. Klein put down the phone.
"Inspector Henderson said he'd have a car here in a few minutes," he informed them. "He said not to touch the gun."
"Not a problem," Lois said. "Martha, Jonathan, I'd like to introduce Bernard Klein. He's Clark's doctor. And this is Lori, my cousin."
"Glad to meet you," Jonathan said. He stepped forward to give Lori a hand up from the floor. He glanced sideways at Tempus, who appeared to be reviving. "Is that who I think it is?"
"John Doe," Lois said. "Tempus, the time traveler."
"What's *he* doing here?"
"It's a long story," Lois said. "Basically, he was trying to destroy the future — again. Dr. Klein hit him with my lamp." She paused, as something seemed to occur to her. "'Kryptocidal'?"
"Well, it seemed appropriate at the time." Bernie looked remorsefully at the shattered pieces of lamp. "I'll replace your lamp, Lois. I'm sorry. There wasn't anything else within reach."
Lois began to laugh. "Don't bother," she said. "I think Clark would say it was gone in a good cause."
"That's for sure," Lori said. "The only problem now is how to make sure he doesn't get away again."
"I'm not sure it's possible," Lois said. "If his people come and get him, he's bound to try to escape and try again."
"And again and again and again," Lori said. "It seems to me that the people of the future are kind of careless with this guy — especially since he's trying to destroy their civilization. You'd think they'd take more precautions with him, considering." She went to pick up the control device. "I hope this isn't broken. It seems pretty fragile."
"Let me see," Bernard Klein said. He took it and pressed the button.
"Oh great," Lori said.
"What is it?" Martha asked.
"Tempus's time travel device," Lois said. "It looks like we'll have to go with Plan B, after all."
Bernie pressed the catch and the device opened obligingly for him. He began to examine the innards. "The power cell is cracked again," he said. "It looks like there's some other damage, too."
"Do you think you can fix it?" Lori asked.
Bernie shrugged. "Maybe. Eventually."
"Eventually isn't soon enough," Lori said, on the verge of tears. "I need to get back home!" She glanced at Martha and Jonathan Kent and closed her lips firmly together.
Martha glanced sharply at her, but didn't say anything. Lois moved up beside her and put an arm around her shoulders. "It's all right. You're going to get home. I'll make sure the message gets to them. I promise. And maybe Bernie can study this thing more thoroughly — maybe come up with some way to protect both of us from Tempus in the future." She made a face at the inadvertent pun. "Maybe something that H.G. Wells didn't think of. What do you think, Dr. Klein? Could you come up with some way to keep time travelers away from the two of us?"
The scientist was still studying the innards of the time window control. "Maybe. Once I figure out how this thing works, I might be able to find a way to keep someone from operating a temporal field around you. Maybe something that would interfere with whatever it uses to get a grip on the curvature of space …"
"If you do," Lori said, "you can't tell anyone about it, Dr. Klein." She gestured at Tempus. "Look what happened when H.G. Wells started messing around with the future."
Dr. Klein also looked at Tempus. "I see your point," he said.
The doorbell rang. Lois went to look out and then opened the door. "Bill! I didn't expect to see you again, tonight."
"Let's say I wasn't taking any chances," William Henderson said.
"That's just as well," Lois said. "He's in here."
Henderson followed her, and paused at the sight of Tempus stretched face down on the floor, his hands bound behind him with an electrical cord, and pieces of broken glass scattered about. "Where's the gun?" he asked after a startled instant. The two silent uniformed officers with him looked at each other, but didn't speak.
"Over there," Lois said, pointing.
Henderson nodded to the men and bent to examine the half-conscious man. "Looks like somebody belted him a good one," he said approvingly. "Was that your work, Lois?"
"No, that was Dr. Klein," Lois said.
"Good work, Doc," the Inspector said. "Want to give me a quick rundown of what happened?"
"Sure." Lois glanced sideways as one of the police officers efficiently handcuffed Tempus and removed the electrical cord. Lori remained silent as Lois gave the Inspector a suitably edited summary of the events of a short time before. Henderson shook his head.
"I wonder why it is that every criminal, mad scientist and general lunatic constantly has it in for you," he remarked, while his men were escorting the groggy time traveler away. "You seem to tick them off without any trouble at all. Do you want to file charges against him?"
Lois shook her head. "I've got other things to waste my time on," she said. "Besides, he's got a life sentence from his attempt to destroy the world. Anything I could add wouldn't make a difference."
"True," Henderson said. "In that case, I'll get out of your way." His official expression dissolved into a slight smile. "Good job, all three of you. Thanks for saving me a king-sized headache."
"You're welcome," Lois said.
"Well," Martha said. "I don't think I've ever walked into anything quite like that before."
"No kidding," Lois said. "Come on in and sit down."
"I need to get going," Bernie Klein said. "It's been an interesting evening." He turned to Lori. "I'll keep working on the time window controller. Hopefully, you won't need it."
He was interrupted by a low humming sound that filled the room. A gust of displaced air blew Lori's hair out straight behind her, and an unfamiliar silhouette became translucently visible in the empty space of the hallway beside the stairs.
She watched, her heart pounding suffocatingly in her chest as a strangely bulky device, shaped somewhat like a long, antique car with no roof and no wheels, gradually solidified in the space where there had been nothing a moment before.
Three shapes could be seen riding in high-backed seats, and she held her breath, aware of nothing but the pounding of the blood in her ears. The sound rose to a roar and then abruptly cut off. The observers stood still, staring at the strange apparition that had appeared so suddenly in the townhouse.
Clark Kent climbed out of what could only be described as the driver's seat, followed by CJ Kent and John Olsen.
Lois nudged Lori. "They figured it out," she said. "It looks like you're going home."
Clark climbed out of the time machine, followed by CJ and John.
The townhouse was as he remembered it, many years ago. The cream-colored carpet that he'd had to replace, because of the presence of a small boy who managed to track dirt across it every time he entered the house, no matter how diligently he wiped his shoes on the door mat. The furniture, some of which he still possessed, stored in the attics of Jon and Lara's homes. The various knick-knacks that decorated the first home that he and Lois had shared …
And standing in the living room …
Lois and Lori. Together.
Martha and Jonathan Kent sat on the sofa, and Dr. Klein stood next to Lori.
Behind him, he was aware that CJ and John had climbed out of the time machine, but his attention was fixed on the people before him.
He didn't know what to say. The two women who were two incarnations of his soul mate, here in the same room.
Lois gave Lori a little push toward him and she was suddenly flinging herself into his arms. He wrapped them around her, burying his face in her hair.
"Lori," he whispered. "Oh god; I thought I'd lost you."
"I was so afraid I'd never see you again," she said. He could feel the little shivers shaking her body.
In the room beyond, he was aware of his mother and father getting abruptly to their feet. He hugged Lori again. "I guess Mom and Dad don't know the whole story?" he said.
She shook her head. "They just got here."
"Then I think we'd better tell them what's going on before they kill me," he said, looking up to see his mother's irate face. Lois, on the other hand, looked surprisingly calm. In fact, she was smiling.
"Martha, it's all right," Lois said. "It's not what it looks like."
Martha Kent stopped her advance on her son and glanced at Lois. "Then, what is it?" she asked. "Is this the other Clark again?"
"No," Clark said.
"Maybe you'd better explain," Lois said. "You'd probably better hurry, though. My Clark could be back any second."
He found himself looking gratefully at Lois. It was an incredible sensation. He could feel his soulmate more strongly than he ever had, which was reasonable, since it was coming from both women at once — and yet it was only one. Before him was the woman he had loved for a lifetime, and yet she was standing beside him as well, with her arm around his waist.
He glanced at the mantle clock. "If I'm battling the typhoon right now, I'll be back in about two hours," he said. "We have time." He found his gaze fixed on Lois — Lois, whom he had courted and finally won. Lois, who had been his first love. What was he supposed to say?
Lois took a step toward him and stopped, less than a foot away, looking him up and down carefully.
"Wow," she said, softly. "Lori was right."
"Right?" he asked.
Lois raised a hand to touch his face, as if to satisfy herself that what she was seeing was real. "You don't look a day older than my Clark."
Her Clark. His past self, who was her husband, who at this very moment was assisting with the cleanup operations around Japan. The Clark who was the father of her baby.
He had been that Clark, once, but not anymore. That Clark had belonged to Lois — still belonged to her. The Clark he was now belonged to Lori.
"I know," he said, keeping his voice low. "Bernie was more right than even he knew." His arm tightened around Lori. "I thought I'd never see you again," he said quietly to Lois. "When I lost you, I thought I was going to die, too."
"Oh, Clark …"
"But, I could still sense you," he said, holding her eyes with his. "I thought I was going crazy at first. And then I remembered what H.G. Wells told us on our wedding night."
"Soulmates," Lois said softly.
He smiled very faintly, the mere twitching of the corners of his mouth. "Soulmates," he repeated. "I knew then that you were there somewhere, waiting for me to find you. It took me years, but I succeeded."
Lois's eyes flicked to where he held Lori tightly against him with one arm. "You found Lori."
"Yes. I stopped some low-life rapist from hurting her. He had no idea," Clark said, "how close he came to cracking Superman's code of ethics."
"I think I do."
"Yeah, maybe." Clark extended his free hand to touch her cheek. "Thank you."
"For what?" she asked. She was watching him with a little smile, and he had the strange feeling that she knew what was going through his mind, even though he hadn't spoken it aloud.
"Thank you — for everything," he said. "Thank you for being who you are, for helping Lori, even when you found out who she is."
Lois put a hand on his. "Oh, Clark. I couldn't *not* help her," she said in a voice so low that no one else in the room could hear — except maybe for CJ, he amended. "We were connected. I'll *be* her someday. She needed to get home to you."
Lori looked up at him. "It was amazing," she said. "We — it's like we were thinking with the same mind. She — I — we're not exactly the same, and yet we are," she stammered. "It's hard to explain, really, but we —"
"— Worked together to solve the problem," Lois said. "I couldn't dislike Lori, Clark. I would have had to dislike myself, and though I may have, once, I haven't for a long time. That was your doing, you know."
Clark looked at Lori and then back at Lois. "Lois, I —" Perhaps it was his Kryptonian telepathic talent, but he found the sensation of Lois/Lori together almost overpowering.
She patted his hand gently. "I know," she said. "Maybe better than you think. Only I think we'd better explain all this to Martha and Jonathan before your mom kills you."
The remark broke the tension. He looked up to see his mother and father watching the three of them. Lois turned and beckoned him toward them. He removed his arm from around Lori and took her hand. Together, they followed Lois.
"Martha," Lois started. "Jonathan. This is a pretty weird story, but every bit of it is true. This is Clark. But he isn't the Clark of 1999. He's the Clark of 2099."
Martha's mouth opened in a silent "Ohh," of understanding. Jonathan frowned.
"If he's the Clark of 2099, where's our Clark?"
"He's finishing the cleanup operations around Okinawa about now," Clark said. "I'm him, too — only a hundred years older."
"Where are your glasses?" Jonathan asked, irrelevantly.
"No one wears them a hundred years from now," Clark said. "It turned out I didn't need them for a disguise. No one connects Clark Kent with Superman, anymore than they connect the other supermen and women with their secret identities. But," he added, "I'm still Clark. I'm still your son."
"'Other' supermen and women?" Martha said.
Clark nodded. "CJ was just the first. But let me explain about Lori." He pulled her forward. "Mom and Dad, this is Lori. In 2099, she's my wife. Tempus kidnapped her out of our time and brought her back here."
Martha stared at Lori, taking in, Clark was sure, every detail of her appearance. "Oh goodness," she said. Then she glanced at Lois. "Lois —"
"I don't mind, Martha," Lois said. "Lori's from a hundred years in the future. She's not a rival."
Lori smiled shyly at Martha and Jonathan. "I'm awfully happy to meet you," she said. "I've seen your pictures, and heard a lot about you from Clark and CJ and the others. I always thought it would take someone pretty special to raise Clark to be the person that he is."
"Oh, honey," Martha said. "We just wanted a child to raise. The rest just sort of happened."
"Well, however it happened," Lori said, "you certainly did something right."
"You're about to find out about raising a child," Martha said, nodding at her expanded middle. "I'd guess this is your first."
"Yes," Lori said. "I don't suppose you have any advice for me, do you?"
Martha shook her head. "Just common sense," she said. "Love your baby and give him — or her — as much attention as you can. That's what we did for Clark, and you can see the results."
"Yes, I can." Lori looked at Clark.
Clark felt the tightness in his shoulders, that he hadn't even noticed until now, relaxing. "Mom — Dad —" he began.
Martha turned back to him. Suddenly, his mother was hugging him, and his father was patting his back. Clark could feel tears trying to fill his eyes, and he blinked them back.
"I thought I'd never see you again," he whispered.
"Oh, Clark." Martha released him and looked him in the face. "You don't look any different," she said wonderingly.
He shook his head. "I'm a hundred years older than the Clark you know," he choked out. "I'm older than you are."
"And from what I see, you're likely to get a lot older than that," his father said. "It doesn't matter, Clark. You're still our son. You always will be, no matter how long you live."
"I know. But it's not the same as seeing you." He studied his father's face, memorizing every feature. "I wish I could give all those years to you and Mom."
"'If wishes were horses …'" his father said. "There are some things that even Superman can't do."
Jonathan was right, Clark thought. He was just a Kansas farmer, with a farmer's down-to-earth common sense. And more often than not, his advice was right on target.
"You can't change what you are, any more than we can," Jonathan said. "But I kind of have the feeling that your time here is limited. Let's not waste what we have, here and now, on things that we can't do anything about."
Clark found himself smiling at his father's solid, trademark advice. You could put Jonathan Kent in the middle of a war zone, and he would follow what he thought was right all the way to the end. Rather like someone else he knew in 2099. "You're right." He drew a deep breath. His parents were here with him, now. This wasn't the time to get all teary-eyed. His mom and dad knew how he felt.
"There are some other people I should introduce," he said. He beckoned to CJ and John. "This is CJ." He indicated his tall son.
Lois's eyes widened. "*CJ*? You mean —" She rested a hand on her middle.
"Hi, Mom," CJ said.
"Oh my goodness," Martha said. "You mean *you're* the baby that's going to be —"
"That's me," CJ said. "Hi Grandma and Grandpa. It's been a long time."
"And this," Clark said, "is my great grandson, John Olsen. I guess Lois can explain where he fits in. She sent the message about Lori being here through him. John, these are my parents. And I don't need to introduce you to Lois."
John smiled, extending a hand to the older couple. "I've heard a lot about you. It's a privilege to meet you," he said.
"You're Clark's great grandson?" Martha said.
John nodded. "I sure am." He turned to look at Lois. "Hi, Lois," he said. "I guess you wouldn't be too happy if I were to call you Grandma, would you?"
Lois's eyebrows shot up. "Grandma?" she said. "You'd better not!"
That brought a laugh from everyone.
"Lori told me," she said, "that you wanted to be a journalist because I was one. And now you're the editor of the Planet."
John nodded. "That's right. It was the right career for me, and I owe it mostly to you. I nearly got myself killed a few times, but I survived, and now I tell other reporters how to do their jobs."
Lois chuckled. "I'm glad you did," she said. "There's nothing like it in the world."
"That's for sure," John said. He glanced at Lori. "Did she tell you that she's one of my best investigative reporters?"
"She said she was an investigative reporter," Lois said. "I just assumed the rest."
Both John and CJ laughed, this time.
Lois turned to CJ. "So, you're CJ? This baby?" She rested a hand on her middle.
"Yes," CJ said.
Lois looked him up and down. "You look a lot like Clark," she said, finally.
"And like you," Clark responded.
CJ grinned. "I know," he said simply. "It's great to see you again, Mom. I warn you, I'm going to be a handful, growing up. There are times when you're going to want to 'tan my hide like cheap leather'. I think you got that expression from Grandma Martha."
"I don't doubt it a bit," Lois said.
Clark said nothing, listening while Lois, Lori, his parents and descendents began to chatter. Quietly, he turned to Bernard Klein, who had been standing and watching the whole scene with great interest. "Bernie, I wanted to thank you for helping Lori," he said in an undertone.
Klein shrugged. "Lois came to me and explained the time thing," he said. "I couldn't resist."
Clark studied his old friend. Bernie Klein had been intensely loyal to him for many years. Maybe it was time to thank him in a more substantial way than simple words. "It was you looking through the time window, wasn't it?"
Klein nodded. "Yeah, it was."
"Arnie didn't know what to think," he said. "I'll let him know when we get back. The big, blond guy you were looking at was Dr. Arnold Frazier, who is a scientist at STAR Labs in 2099. He's my great-great grandson."
Bernie's eyes grew very round. "Wow," he said.
Clark smiled at the familiar Bernie Klein expression. "If you hadn't gotten the time window working, at least as much as it did, I'd still be back in 2099 wondering if I was ever going to see Lori again," he said. "I owe you a lot. Thanks."
"You're welcome," Dr. Klein said. "You must have really built me up, though. Lori seemed to think I was some kind of demi-god."
"No, but the history books portray you that way," Clark said.
"I'm really in the history books?" Bernie asked.
"Yep," Clark said. "I always thought they left out the most important part, though."
"What was that?"
"Your sense of humor," Clark said. "It took me a while to catch onto it, but it's one of the best things about you."
"Hmm. You think so?" Klein said, apparently impressed by this new picture of himself.
"Definitely." Clark regarded him with a smile. "I always liked the mad scientist image, myself. You do it so well."
"Herschel thinks so, too," Bernie said.
Clark grinned. "Has he invited you over for dinner yet?"
Bernie's eyes widened. "How did you know that?"
"Then he has?"
"Yeah, last week. I don't know. I'm not really the social butterfly type."
"Take my advice and go. His sister's a pretty good cook. You won't regret it."
"You think so?" Bernie looked thoughtful. "I'll think about it. I get tired of my own cooking; that's for sure."
"Give yourself a break and go."
"All right, I will," Bernie said. "Maybe it's time I got out more."
"Everybody can use a little time off," Clark said, reflecting that now he understood why Bernie had accepted that dinner invitation, and met Mary Brown, who happened to be a lab technician over at Mercy Hospital. Their son, William, would become his son-in-law some twenty-nine years down the line.
"What happened to Tempus?" he asked suddenly. "I heard Lori yell through the time window —"
"Actually, that was Lois," Lori said.
"Inspector Henderson has him," Lois said. "We sort of cooperated to take him out, and Dr. Klein hit him with the lamp." She nodded to the broken glass and the remains of the lamp on the carpet.
"I remember," he said. "I came home after the typhoon and discovered that Tempus had been caught. You told me that Bernie had hit him with the lamp. And that —" He broke off. "That your *cousin* had left for home. Your 'cousin' was Lori. You kept it secret all those years."
"I have to," Lois said. "I want the future to happen the way Lori described it."
"I guess," Martha said, "that means we can't talk about Lori, either."
"That's right," Lois said. "If we want the future to work out right, Clark can't know about any of this."
"Is this time travel stuff as confusing for you as it is for me?" Jonathan asked. "Or does it get easier?"
"I don't know," Lori said. "This is the first time I've ever done it, and I hope it's the last."
"It doesn't improve," Clark said. He looked back at Lois, feeling a strange sort of contentment. He hadn't lost Lois when she had died. He would never lose her, because Lois was there, part of Lori, every day of her life. She was with him forever, just as Wells had said.
"I have a pizza here that's getting cold," Lois said, breaking into his thoughts. "It's not much for all of us, but maybe Clark could go get some more."
"Sure," Clark said. He squeezed Lori's hand. "We just have to be sure to leave before I get back."
Lori and Lois both laughed at that. Lois reached for her purse. "You know what I like," she said. "Get enough for all of us."
Before Lori knew it, it was time to leave. They had sat in the Hyperion Avenue townhouse, eating pizza, drinking soda and talking, and it seemed that the time had flown by. Clark finally glanced at the mantle clock and got to his feet. "I'll be home in fifteen minutes," he said. "We need to go." He went to his mother and father and hugged both of them. They hugged him back. CJ hugged his mother, and then his grandmother and grandfather while John kissed Lois on the cheek.
"Goodbye, Grandma," he said. "I'm going to miss you all over again."
Clark shook hands with Bernard Klein and clapped him lightly on the back, and then turned to Lois, obviously a little unsure of how to say goodbye. Lori solved it for him.
"For Pete's sake, kiss her, Clark," she said, surprising herself. "Don't be an idiot."
Everyone else laughed. Clark obeyed, and Lois kissed him back. "Goodbye, Clark," she said, stroking his cheek gently with her free hand. "Lori will have to take care of the hellos." She smiled and lowered her voice so that only Clark, and Lori standing next to him, could hear her. "I'll see you in about ninety-eight years or so." She turned to Lori. "I have a small gift for you," she said, "to remember the Twentieth Century by. I put it in the time machine with the clothes you were wearing when you got here."
"Thank you," Lori said. "I'll never forget any of you."
The others were saying goodbye for the last time, and Clark, Lori, CJ and John climbed into the time machine. Clark reached forward to turn on the power.
"Clark!" Lois said.
He paused. "Yes?"
"Get her an aircar!" she told him, in no uncertain terms. She winked at Lori. "See to it that he does," she said.
Lori nodded. "I will," she said. She smiled at her Twentieth Century counterpart. She had learned so much from Lois, but there was really no time to tell her that. Besides, it would probably embarrass her. "Thank you for everything."
"Goodbye," Clark said again, and switched on the power. The last that Lori saw of 1999 was Lois, Bernie, Martha and Jonathan waving as the time machine winked into nothingness.
Arnie Frazier was in his office when the time machine roared into existence in the electronics lab. He got up from his desk, and Clark saw him put a small, hooded rat into a cage in the corner of the office before he came out to greet them.
"I see you found her," he said.
"Yes," Clark said. He reached out to give Lori a hand out of the time machine. Lori was clutching a bag that Clark thought must be the gift that Lois had put into the time machine for her. "She was in 1999, with Lois."
"And the rogue time traveler?" Arnie asked.
"He's in jail," Clark said. "Lois, Lori and Bernie took care of him."
"Let's hope he doesn't show up again somewhere," Arnie said. "I don't think I want to deal with someone trying to change my past. It could be a bit awkward."
"Tempus never showed up again after 1999," Clark said. "He was put back in prison, and something like ten years later he disappeared, but —" He shrugged. "Lois and I never saw him again."
"That's a relief," John said.
"I second that," Arnie said. "Did you ever find out about the eye?"
"Yes," Clark said. "It was Bernie Klein."
"Bernie …" Arnie Frazier's eyes opened wide. "*Bernard* Klein? *The* Bernard Klein?"
"Yep," Clark said. "The one and only. He was experimenting with the time window."
Arnie gave a soft whistle. "Well, if he ever peeks in here again, I'll remember to offer him some tea." He turned to Lori. "Try not to get kidnapped after this," he said with a smile in his voice. "Clark was going out of his mind with worry."
"I'll do my best," Lori said. "I didn't exactly intend to be kidnapped this time." She touched his hand. "Thanks for helping," she said. She turned to look at CJ and John. "Thanks to all of you."
"Don't mention it," Arnie said. John winked at her.
"Don't mention it," he said. "I couldn't lose one of my best reporters."
"Speaking of Bernie," CJ said, "Lois included a couple of things besides the pictures in that package she gave John. One of them is for you from her and Bernie."
"Oh?" Lori said.
"I don't know what it is. She wrapped it up. She also sent one to John and one to Clark. She even —" he said with a grin, "included a box for me with a dire threat not to open it before June 30th. I guess I'll have to wait to see what it is." He regarded her with a smile in his eyes. "You and Lois pack quite a punch, did you know that?"
"Me?" Lori said.
"Definitely. It's a good thing I know the whole soulmates story. I don't think there *could* be anyone like my mom. Except my mom."
Lori's face turned bright red. Clark put an arm around her and pulled her tightly to his side. "Let's go home," he said.
"Good idea." CJ turned to Arnie. The scientist was picking up the small cage with the hooded rat inside. "Isn't that one of your lab rats?"
Arnie shook his head. "Matilda is a buddy of mine," he said. "She made the trip through time this morning when we tested the time machine. That was her last job. She's retiring from the business."
"Oh," CJ said. "Can I give you a lift home to drop her off? Rachel told me to invite you for dinner tonight, if things worked out. I warn you, she'll be terribly insulted if you don't accept."
Arnie chuckled. "Far be it from me to insult Rachel. Let me get my jacket."
It seemed to Lori as if several lifetimes had passed since the last time that she had been there, when Clark opened the door to their apartment. In a way, she thought, they had. Lori walked in and looked around.
It was just the same, she thought. Slowly, she crossed the room and sank down on the sofa. Clark locked the door and came to sit beside her. Without a word, she slid her arms around him and felt his close around her. It felt so incredibly good to sit here, thinking of nothing for as long as she wanted.
Finally Clark spoke. "It's over, for now."
"For now," Lori said. Suddenly she pushed herself upright. "Maybe for more than now."
"What do you mean?" Clark asked.
"Lois and Bernie sent something for me along with the pictures," Lori said. "What did you do with it?"
"It's here," Clark said. "It's in my pocket." He produced it. "Why?"
"We were talking about it, just before you and the others arrived. Bernie was going to try to find some way to keep a time traveler from operating a temporal field near Lois or me. Maybe he did. Maybe that was why you never had any more trouble with Tempus," Lori said.
"Maybe. And maybe the time cops took him back to his time and locked him up in solitary for the rest of his life," Clark said.
"Maybe," Lori said, doubtfully. "They don't strike me as the brightest bunch. If the people of Utopia don't get a little smarter, their whole civilization is in trouble."
"Maybe. Or maybe Andrus was just a total incompetent," Clark said. "Maybe he got hired because his uncle was running the department."
"Maybe." She took the little package from Clark and tore off the wrapping.
Inside was a small, white cardboard box. Lori opened it.
A note, folded many times in order for it to fit in the small space, lay on top. Lori unfolded it and spread it out for Clark to read as well.
"Dear Lori," she read,
"I figured the best way to be sure you got this was to send it along with the pictures. Bernie was as good as his word. Three months after you and Clark went back to your century, he brought me two of these. As long as you wear it, no one can operate a time travel device within twenty feet of you. I've worn mine for seventy years now, and Tempus has never dared to show his face near me. Good luck, and give my love to Clark. Also CJ, Lara, Jon and Annie.
PS: You could have warned me, you know!"
"Warned her about what?" Clark asked.
"How many kids you two would have," Lori said. She turned the box over. A gold pin in the shape of a four-leaf clover dropped into her hand.
Clark picked it up. "Lois had one of these," he said. "She said she wore it for luck."
"Well," Lori said. "It worked, didn't it?" She took the pin and fastened it to her collar. "There."
"I guess it did," Clark said. "Are you going to see what she sent along with us?"
"That comes next." Lori said. Suiting the action to the word, she opened the plastic bag that Lois put in the time machine. "Here's my outfit. And — Oh!"
"What?" Clark asked.
Lori held it up. "The Collected Music of Elvis Presley!" she said. She held the set of CDs out to him. "I told her I liked Elvis, but I never dreamed —"
"So that's where that set that Perry gave us vanished to," Clark said. "I always wondered." He took the set of CDs. "If you like, I'll get this transferred in the morning to something you can play."
Lori nodded enthusiastically. "And maybe these should go to that room of private memorabilia at the Superman Foundation along with the pictures of Perry, Lois and Jimmy," she said. "They have some historical significance, after all. When you and the others finally tell the world the truth, you'll want it there."
"I think you're right," Clark said. He set the box down on the end table and pulled her back into his arms.
Clark drew a deep breath and finally began to relax. Lori was safe. He repeated it silently to himself. Lori was safe.
Against his side, their unborn baby kicked him sharply. He slowly lowered his face to hers. Lori kissed him back almost frantically, and he concentrated on making the caress gentle and undemanding. If her disappearance had been upsetting for him, he could barely imagine how it must have been for her, marooned a hundred years before her time, when the man she loved was married to someone else. Yet she had kept her head and gone to the people who could help her. She had enlisted allies, and fought like a tigress to defeat Tempus. In the end, it had been her efforts that had told him where she was, and brought about her own rescue. If he could ever have doubted that she was a worthy successor to Lois, the whole incident would have shown him how very equal to the task she was.
Slowly he drew back from the kiss. "I love you," he said gently. "I was ready to search all of history for you if I had to. You know that, don't you?"
She nodded. "I know."
"Tempus didn't have any idea what a mistake he was making when he thought you would be the weakest link." Clark hadn't relaxed his hold on her in the slightest. "Of the two of us, you're the strongest link by far. Do you have any idea how proud of you I am? Not many women could have handled that situation. Not many *men* could have handled it! It took you a little over twenty-four hours." He pulled her closer, looking deeply into her dark brown eyes. Was it his imagination or was it Lois that he saw looking back at him? It didn't matter. Lois, Lori, Loisette, Lulu or any of the other women she had been, she was his.
It was enough.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Home: Vendetta. Need the previous story? Read Home V: Obsession.
Stories in Nan Smith's "Home" series, in order: Home, Home II: Beginnings, Home III: Memories, Home IV: Honeymoon, Home 4a: A Valentine Vignette, Home: A Christmas story, Home: On the Fourth Day of Christmas, Home: New Year's Wishes, Home V: Obsession, Home: Circle of Fate, Home: Vendetta, Home: Family Party, Home: An Evening to Remember, and Home: Murder by Earthlight