By Terry Leatherwood <email@example.com>
Submitted: September, 2006
Summary: The choice has been made. The die is cast. But the results are not in. Can two self-sacrificing, unsung heroes save Lois from the consequences of her choice? A direct sequel to "Choices and Consequences: Take One and Take Two."
Note to the readers: If you missed Choices and Consequences One and Two, please read them first (they're fairly short), because this won't make much sense if you don't. Incidentally, I've switched the titles on the first two and made some other small changes in each story for dramatic reasons.
The point of view in this story switches between the narrators of the first two vignettes, and I've labeled them so I can tell which one is telling what part of the story. And please, take the ending as non-personal (and hopefully with a little chuckle), because that's how it's intended!
~ Dan ~
"Hi, Doc. How are you today?"
"Dan Scardino! As I live and breathe!" He smiles broadly and shakes my hand. "It's good to see you again."
"Good to see you too, Bernie. You have a few minutes?"
He grows serious and strokes his beard. "Well, I do have a budget meeting with the President tomorrow that I have to finish getting ready for — " he grins and nudges my elbow. " — but I think I can spare a few minutes for my very favorite Federal law enforcement official."
"Good. I need a huge favor."
"A huge favor, eh? Does it have anything to do with that documentary you asked me about?"
"No. It has to do with a scientific endeavor. A fairly urgent one, in fact."
He loses his smile. "I hope you're not talking about what I'm afraid you're talking about."
I put my arm around his shoulders and guide him towards a couch in front of his office. "Well, let's compare notes and find out who's talking about what here."
He walks beside me, a wary look on his face. "Please, please tell me you're not still thinking about going back in time."
I try a grin that I know doesn't fool him for a second. "You know me, I'm always ready to try new things."
He stops and pulls away a step. "Look, Dan, what you're considering is deadly dangerous. You have no idea what might happen if you were to go."
"Neither do you."
"That doesn't mean I'm on board with the idea! Do you have any idea what kind of damage you might do by going back in time?"
"I'm more interested in undoing some damage, Bernie."
"What?" Despite his caution, I can tell he's intrigued by the concept. "What kind of damage are you talking about undoing?"
I sit on the couch and motion for him to do the same. I can watch for anyone approaching from either direction, and there's enough ambient noise to mask our conversation as long as we don't yell at each other.
"I think someone traveled back in time from the future and killed Lois's kids."
His eyebrows float up into his hair. While he thinks about what I've just said, I take the time to admire his new hairstyle. With the de-wrinkle treatment he invented, along with the cheap and reliable hair restorer, he's not only rich, he looks better than he did when he was twenty-seven. His wife thinks so too. Every time I see them in public together, he and Lana can't wait to get away and be alone together. It's sweet, and it makes me think of Lois and me and the way I wish we were.
I only wish I could afford the de-wrinkle treatment.
Bernie brings me back to the present with a cluck of his tongue. "I'm sorry, Dan, I think you're nuts."
It's my turn to lift my eyebrows. "Is that your professional, clinical opinion, Doctor?"
He holds my gaze for a moment, then turns away and laughs. "You know, I can never tell when you're kidding and when you're serious."
"Then I'll make it easy for you. I'm absolutely, totally, completely, deadly serious about this."
His laughter dies away. "What?"
"I am absolutely serious about this, Bernie."
His eyes get huge and his mouth drops open. "Dan, you — you just can't! Do you have any idea what might happen? To any of us? To all of us?"
"Yes!" I grab his shoulders and shake him a little. "I know what I'm getting into here. I know what might happen."
He shakes his head. "No, I don't think you do. We really don't even know if it's possible to change the past, much less —"
"It is possible."
He stops and stares at me. "What?"
I let him go. "It's possible."
"And you know this how?"
"Because Lois has told me all she knows about the way Tempus tried to change the past and almost succeeded more than once. And because I firmly believe we're living in a altered timestream right now."
He stops and thinks about it, then shakes his head. "There's no objective scientific test I can propose to prove or disprove that assertion."
"What about some good old-fashioned detective work?"
He frowns, but I can tell he's interested. "Tell me what you mean."
I pull my PDA out of my pocket and check off the points. "First of all, I haven't found any historical reference anywhere that reports that Clark and Lois were Superman and Ultra Woman before the bomb attack that killed their children, but starting immediately afterwards it just seems to be common knowledge. There aren't any headlines, there aren't any newspaper exposes or talk shows or movies or specials about them, nothing. It's as if the knowledge just appeared in everyone's heads one day and nobody thought anything odd about it, me included.
"Second, nobody ever found a motive for what happened. As far as I've been able to tell, no one ever made money or got out of jail or kept out of jail or received anything after the bomb attack. The two guys actually involved in the bomb plot disappeared and no one has ever found them or found out what happened to them."
He snorts. "Can you blame Clark for that?"
"Assuming he's responsible for their disappearance, no, not really, but I also wish he hadn't done whatever it was that he did, because it means we can't trace backwards from them. No evidence at all is worse than the thinnest of leads."
"I still think 'the thinnest of leads' is what you've got here."
"I'm not finished." I lift a finger. "Third, and maybe most important, there was too much Kryptonite."
Bernie holds up his hand to stop me. "Hold on. What do you mean, too much?"
"You know I've got the top law enforcement and security clearance in the nation, right?"
He nods slowly. "Right."
"Well, I did some digging and found out how much Kryptonite there was in the entire world the night before the bomb went off. Then I checked to see how much there was after the bomb went off."
He leans in like a golden retriever. I can almost hear him sniffing out the clue. "It sounds like you're telling me there was something of a discrepancy there."
"You could say that. Lois guessed that the bomb held about five pounds of shredded green K, and she gathered up all she could find and tossed it into the sun to get rid of it. But there was only a three ounce variation in the world's known supply before and after the explosion."
His eyes gleam and he smiles. "What if someone discovered a new cache of Kryptonite, one the world's science community didn't know about?"
"Five pounds of it?" I shake my head. "Unlikely in the extreme. What I didn't tell you was that the information about Kryptonite being deadly to Superman appeared publicly just like the info about their secret identities, so how would anyone know it was deadly to Superman unless he or she already knew that?"
He loses his smile. "You're still grasping for straws here."
I grin. "Maybe, maybe not. But what if the Kryptonite on that bomb came from the future? Or from an alternate dimension?"
"What!" I can tell I've shocked him this time. "An alternate dimension? We don't know they exist!"
"You remember that guy who almost got himself elected president? John something?"
Bernie nods slowly. "Yes, I remember John Doe. Everybody thought he was a heck of a nice guy. What about him?"
"You remember what he said as he was being taken away, after Superman brought him to justice?"
He frowns in thought for a long moment. "No. Sorry."
"I dug out the old video from a private collector's estate, and the fact that I had to find it there and not in a public archive is suspicious in and of itself. Anyway, John Doe insisted that Superman and Clark Kent were the same person. When he saw Superman standing next to him on the platform and Clark standing next to Lois in the crowd, he yelled out that the Superman on the platform was from an alternate dimension."
He waves his hand. "Oh, that's easy to explain."
"Then do it. Tell me how Clark Kent, who most certainly was and still is Superman, could be in two places at the same time without the alternate dimension theory."
Bernie opens his mouth to speak, can't think of anything to say, closes it, and squints at me. I force myself not to laugh. "Dan, are you telling me that John Doe wasn't crazy?"
"I'm saying that if you put all these things together, you've got an altered timeline."
He leans back and crosses his arms for a few moments, then suddenly stiffens. "Great Caesar's ghost! I think you might have something there!"
I grin. "Call me Daniel and hook me up to that machine. I've got a timeline to repair."
"Right." I can tell that something occurs to him just then. "Hey, does your wife know about this little junket?"
I work my eyebrows for all they're worth. "Of course. I left her a note."
"Face up on the kitchen table, I assume."
"Yep. Right under the lead centerpiece we got from the Chinese ambassador last year."
He shakes his head again. "You are a tricky so-and-so, aren't you?"
"Yes." I shudder. "Now let's get this road trip started before I lose my nerve."
Bernie turns towards his lab, then abruptly stops and faces me again. "You're doing this just to repair the timeline, aren't you?"
I'm busted. "No. I'm doing this because Lois needs both Clark and her kids to be whole."
"But, Dan, if she has Clark and the kids back, then you'll never -"
"Bernie!" I try not to snarl, but I think I do anyway. "Can we please get this show on the road?"
~ KJ ~
"Hi, Dr. Klein."
He smiles broadly and claps me on the shoulder. "Hello, KJ! How's my favorite successful experiment doing?"
I don't like to hear anyone call me an experiment, not even Doc Klein, who doesn't have a mean bone in his body, but today I need a huge favor from him so I smile and ignore the crack. "Pretty good. Listen, Doc, there's something I have to do and I need you to help me."
He rubs his bare chin. "This wouldn't have anything to do with that little thing we talked about last week, would it?"
I put on the most innocent expression I can muster. "What little thing was that, Doc?"
"The little thing about time travel, remember? Going back to Kansas, to the night Superman died?"
"Time travel?" I give him my best, most disarming smile, the one that always makes Lois smile indulgently. "What are you talking about? What have you been experimenting with in that lab, anyway?"
He grimaces and puts his hand on my shoulder. "Cut it out, KJ. You look like Marty McFly when you try to lie to me."
I know who that is, of course, but I play dumb. "Who?"
"Never mind." He pulls a chair closer to me and sits down in it. "Look, I know what you're trying to do and it can't be done. You can't change the past. Once it's happened, it's happened, and it can't be undone."
He shakes a finger in my face. "You know the temporal studies we've performed. Changing the past would require that either a future event has already happened, which means this is a determinist universe — which I don't accept — or it means deleting the future timeline, which would eliminate the future event which triggered the past change and thereby making changing the past impossible." He crosses his arms and leans back. "Either way, it won't work, I promise you. You can't prevent Superman from dying."
I try to get serious. "What if the timeline has already been changed?"
The question startles him. "What? How? What makes you think —"
"Examine the evidence, Doc. The guy who threw the bomb into the farmhouse and the guy who paid him are both still in jail, but neither of them admits to thinking up a scheme to try to kill Superman and his family. In fact, they both say they really don't know why they did something so stupid."
"They're criminals! Criminals are basically lazy and stupid, no matter what their IQ might be. That's why they're crooks, so they don't have to work for a living."
"I know. But the trail freezes at that point. There's no evidence of anyone actually masterminding the plan, and these two morons would have trouble shooting themselves in the foot without someone else aiming the gun for them. There's no way for them to have gotten hold of that much Kryptonite, nor could they have built that bomb by themselves. It was way too advanced for them." I leaned closer and put my hands on the chair arms. "I think someone else set this up for them."
"Yeah?" He gives me a 'so-what' look. "That's not that big a stretch."
"No, it's not. But who knew that Clark and Lois were Superman and Ultra Woman?"
"Well — everybody did. It was common knowledge."
"Really? When did you find out?"
"Uh, let me see. Um. They — I — " He shrugs. "Sorry, I don't remember."
"You don't remember when you learned one of the best-kept secrets in the last two centuries?"
He frowns a little. "No, I guess —"
"Do you remember a time when you didn't know it?"
"Sure. When Superman first started coming to me as his doctor, he didn't tell me he was also Clark Kent."
"But you just suddenly knew? How could that happen?"
You don't often see Bernie Klein at a loss for words, but he is now and if not for the seriousness of the situation it'd be really funny. "I haven't been able to find out when that information became public knowledge. It should have been front-page news for days, but it wasn't. And I bet you can't remember where you were or what you were doing when you found out." I pause for effect. "And you should be able to remember something that profound."
He opens his mouth but nothing comes out. After a long moment, he closes it, and I dive in for the kill. "Doc, I think someone from the future set this whole thing up."
I can tell he isn't buying it yet. "What?"
"Think about it! No one else knew their identities until the day after Clark died. The two bozos who actually did this have no idea why they did it. No one can explain how they did it. I know, I've checked."
"I'm a writer, Bernie. I know how to do deep research. And no one — not anyone — has been able to explain how those guys built the bomb and how they knew where to go to deliver it. This whole thing stinks, and only someone from the future who wanted to change the past could do all this."
He tosses his arms in the air. "Then why hasn't anyone ever stumbled across this concept before?"
"No one's ever looked before. Who besides me would even consider it?"
His mouth works a couple of times before anything comes out. "That's about the thinnest evidence I've ever heard for any scientific theory."
"That's because this isn't a theoretical exercise, it's going to be applied to reality."
He sighs. "Look, KJ, I know how much Lois means to you, and I understand that you're willing to do anything to make her happy, but you just can't —"
I hate professional wrestling, but I swell up as big as I can and try to look like The Intimidator. "I can and I will."
He looks startled again. "Wow."
"What? What wow?"
He shakes his head slightly. "Just then. You sounded like — him."
I relax but don't smile. "For all practical purposes, I am him, Doc. You should know. You cloned me from him."
"Ah. Yes, I did. But I didn't do that so you could throw your life away on something that's impossible."
I shrug. "If the past can't be changed, then I'll end up back here. If it can, then I plan to fix it."
"No arguments, Doc. I'm going."
He drops his chin to his chest, then he nods. "I suppose Lois has no idea what you're planning."
"Duh. Sure, I told her all about this extremely dangerous and unlikely to succeed plan and she smiled sweetly and told me to be home by dinnertime." I put my hands on my hips. "You must think I've already lost my mind."
He looks up at me, frowning. "You do realize that you're risking not only this time period, but your very existence. If you change the past so that Clark doesn't die, I don't get his body and I don't clone him and I don't bring you into the world."
I nod slowly. "I've thought it through. I know what's at stake. I'd rather die giving Lois her life back than live with her being always sad, always wishing her life had turned out differently." I feel a shudder coming on and I do my best to suppress it. "You know how much she misses Clark, and how much it hurts her that she doesn't have any kind of relationship with her kids."
He almost shouts at me. "If you go off and kill yourself, how will that help her?"
"Doc." I reach up and put my hands on his shoulders. "I know how dangerous this is. I know the odds aren't all that good. I know I probably won't come back from this trip, no matter what happens. But I still have to try!"
He's weakening. "KJ, I don't —"
"Doc! Please! I love her too much not to try!"
He lets out a long breath. "You know why I've never married, don't you? It's because I know children can be just like this, growing up and trying new things and the parents can't convince them they shouldn't do it no matter what we do."
Then he does something that almost scares me. He reaches out and wraps me up in a big bear hug. "Having you in my life is the closest thing I'll ever experience to being a father." He sniffs and wipes his nose. "I still don't want you to go."
I wait silently. He's almost there.
I can feel him sigh. "But you won't take 'no' for an answer, will you?"
I lean back from the embrace. "No. I won't."
He sighs again. "I didn't think so. You've got a lot of Superman in you, you know."
I shrug and use the smile I give my readers when they gush over me at book signings. "Just the DNA and the classic good looks. No powers."
"I know. But I still think there's a way to fix that. If you'll just wait a few days, a week or two at most —"
"No, Doc. The longer I wait, the more likely it is that whoever set this up will get wind of it and try to stop me."
"Perhaps, but it would give you a definite advantage —"
He grins slightly. "I know, I know. You're just as impatient and determined as he was."
I've won and we both know it. "Only in a good cause, Doc."
He stares into my eyes. "Are you really, really sure about this?"
"That it's a good cause? Yes."
He shakes his head without breaking eye contact. "No. That you're the one to do this."
I can tell my voice gets a little husky. "Yes, I'm sure. Because if I'm right, I'm not even supposed to exist. I was never supposed to be cloned from a dead Superman, because he wasn't supposed to die. I'm the result of somebody tinkering with things that should never have been tinkered with, not ever."
"That doesn't mean there aren't people who care deeply about you, KJ."
I nod and sigh. "I know that, Doc, but I'm still the logical one to go. I know Lois, I know about Clark and I know the land around the farm. And I'll know when I'm close to the Kryptonite. I can find this guy and stop him, no matter what the cost."
I take a deep breath and stare him straight in the eye. "We both know, when it comes right down to it, that I'm expendable."
To his credit, he doesn't flinch from the truth. He's already thought through the process and come to the conclusion that took me a couple of painful days to reach. The world needs Clark and Lois together, not Lois and a pale imitation of Clark. He has to be Superman, for her and for all the rest of us, and if that means I don't make it -
Doc puts his hand on my shoulder. "This is a noble thing you're doing, son."
"No. This isn't noble. Lois isn't whole without Clark and her children. She needs them to be complete. As much as I love her, I don't complete her." I hesitate, but he doesn't say anything. "I want her to be happy. No matter what it costs."
~ Dan ~
It was a nasty trip. I got sick to my stomach and had to stop in town to buy something to soothe my digestive tract. It wouldn't do for me to have to leave this stakeout to find a bathroom. Bernie has some fine-tuning to do on his machine.
Luckily, I found the farm without any trouble, and I've been watching the area from across an open field since late afternoon. Somebody finally showed up just before dark, and I'm hoping he'll lead me to the other conspirator. He looks like the guy I saw hanging around outside the diner in town.
I kneel down and watch the guy sneaking clumsily towards the farmhouse. I'm going to take him out. I'm not sure how yet, but he won't get a chance to throw that Kryptonite bomb. Maybe Lois won't be my wife anymore, maybe I won't have my old life to go back to, but if I can give her some happiness I'm going to do it. Whether she ever knows about it or not.
The guy I'm following isn't very good at staying hidden. He keeps circling the house and looking around. He hasn't spotted me, I know. I am very good at staying hidden. It's one of the skills I learned being an undercover cop so many years ago.
But the more I watch him, the more confused I am. This is the night of the bombing, I'm sure of it. I got the date from the FBI files. I checked the date in Maisie's cafe before I came out here. Same day. So what is this guy doing? He's passed up at least four opportunities to approach the house. And the more I watch him, the more convinced I am that he's not carrying anything large and bulky.
Maybe he's scouting for the bomber. But there was no mention of a third perp at the scene in the FBI report, just notes about the planner and the bomb thrower. Who is this clown? And why does he look so familiar?
I decide. Next time he clumps around close to me, I'm going to take him down, quietly if I can. I don't want to kill him, just stop the bombing, but if he gives me any grief he's going to be coyote food.
He circles close to me again. His path is getting erratic, like he isn't sure what he's doing, or -
No. I mentally slap my head as I realize what's going on. He's not casing the farmhouse or scouting for someone else. He's looking for someone or something.
I still don't know who he is or why he's here. But it's time for us to compare notes.
~ KJ ~
I wish I hadn't jumped in without checking the water level. Again.
And Bernie's machine definitely needs a tune-up. I almost bounced out of my shoes during my trip to the past.
I know I'm not the outdoorsy type. I don't like the country. I especially don't like the country when it's dark. Give me a good old-fashioned alley with a couple of teenage punk muggers and I can take care of myself, but stomping around in a plowed field is not my idea of a good time.
I haven't seen anything. I haven't seen anyone, either. I'm beginning to think the guy I saw in Maisie's was a figment of my imagination. Maybe I got the date wrong. Maybe I got the year wrong. Maybe I went forward in time instead of backwards. The farmhouse has been dark since about eight-thirty. Do people really go to bed that early in farm country?
I stop and try to think, but I'm not even sure where the road to the farm is now. I hate this. I'm going to have to wait for dawn to see how to get out of here. I'm going to give Bernie Klein a piece of my mind. And it won't hurt. He can grow me another one in no time.
I decide that I'm just going to have to wait. I'm going to try for a ditch or depression of some kind and hope it doesn't rain. I'd hate to get flooded out of -
What was that? Is someone — What the -
~ Dan ~
I grab his feet and trip him, then push his face into the dirt. He's pretty strong, but he doesn't have a lot of training. Good thing, too. I might not be able to handle him if he knew how to fight properly and if I hadn't taken him by surprise.
I snap the cuffs on his wrists and roll him over. The muzzle of my pistol is up against his left nostril. "Don't try anything, pal, or the crows will lick your brains off the dirt."
I pull a penlight flash out of my coat pocket and light up his face. He's scared, but he's also determined. I don't want to, but I think I'm going to have to shoot him after all.
Then he says something that rocks my world. "You'd better kill me, buster, because I won't let you kill Clark."
I'm here to save Lois's kids, not kill her husband! What's going on here?
Then I look closer, at the hair, the eyes, the chin -
I sit back and holster my weapon. "My name's Dan Scardino. Who are you?"
He presses his lips shut. "Come on, pal, answer the question. What's your name?"
He sags back a little. "K. J. Clarkson."
"Really? I would have bet money you were Clark Kent's baby brother. Except I know he never had one."
His eyebrows wiggle. "Haven't you heard of me? I've won two Meriweathers and a Pulitzer. My books will — are in bookstores all over the — country."
His voice fades out and he stares at me, like he's trying to remember where he's seen me before. "What's a Meriweather?"
"It's a — a literary award. Hey, who are you anyway?"
I turn the light to my face, being careful to keep it pointed away from the farmhouse. "Do you recognize me?"
He squints. "I think — you look like the President's Chief of Internal Security."
He says it like it's a title and not a description, but it's a title that doesn't exist, not in this time or in mine. "Close. I'm actually Deputy Director of the Secret Service."
His eyes get big. "No. You're not. You were on the podium when the President took the oath of office last January. He introduced you during his speech, along with the other five new cabinet members he was going to nominate. You're the Chief of Internal Security."
"Cabinet member? Last time I looked I worked for a biweekly paycheck, just like all the other people in the Service. And the President didn't introduce me at — wait a minute. Wait a minute!" I was getting a bad feeling about this. "The inauguration was over three years ago! How could you —"
"Because you aren't the Daniel Scardino I know. I met you once when I visited the President after my Pulitzer. We shook hands and you congratulated me on being married to Ultra Woman. Remember?"
"Shh! They'll hear us!"
I click off the light and turn my face away from the house. Clarkson does the same. Neither of us moves for a couple of minutes. There's no sign from the house that they've heard us.
Finally he turns and whispers, "I'm guessing you don't have a clue what I'm talking about, do you?"
"Actually, I do." I crawl closer to him. "Because I'm also married to Ultra Woman."
~ KJ ~
I manage not to yell at him, but only because he punches me in the solar plexus first. Then he whispers, "Shh! They'll hear us!"
I can't talk. I can hardly breathe. I'm going to clobber him, both for hitting me and for stealing my line. Just as soon as I can borrow some air from somebody.
I finally get my lungs to work again. "This is — why I don't — like violence."
"Because — it hurts."
He reaches into his pocket. "Turn over."
He frowns. "So I can take the cuffs off, dummy."
My hands are numb, but I try not to let it show. It doesn't fool him. He says, "Rub your wrists until you get the feeling back in your fingers. I think you're going to need them soon."
I do, and it does help. "You have a lot of experience with handcuffing people, don't you?"
He exhales. "Don't get smart-mouthed, okay?"
"No one else here, is there? You're here on a rescue mission, aren't you?"
"A rescue mission? Why do you think that?"
"Cut that out. We're going to have to work together on this."
I stop and stare. "Together?"
He's beginning to look exasperated with me. "You know, we'll get along much better if you just listen and don't repeat everything I say."
A brilliant riposte comes to mind, but I file it for later use. "Okay."
He hitches himself around to face me. "I think you're from the future and you came back here using Bernie Klein's time machine to stop some maniac from throwing a dirty Kryptonite bomb into the Kent's farmhouse. That about cover it?"
He uses a highly expressive and descriptive phrase which my publisher wouldn't let me put in my most recent novel. "I can't believe this! What possessed you to think you could stop a criminal in the act? Why didn't you just call the local police?"
It's my turn to glare at him. "If you'd read the newspaper accounts from tonight, you'd know that Sheriff Harris and her deputies are busy with a hazardous chemical spill on the highway and a shooting on the far east side of Smallville. The guy who planned this also set up enough diversions to keep the local cops out of his hair, but not busy enough to have Superman or Ultra Woman respond."
He nods. "At least you did your homework."
"Research. Every good writer has to know how to do it."
"Yeah." He turns and scans the area. "So, it's KJ, right?"
"The full name is Kenson Jermaine."
He almost smiles. "I'll stick with KJ, if you don't mind."
I shrug. "Everyone else does."
"So, KJ, what's your plan?"
I sigh. "Wander around until I run into the bad guys and either stop them myself or make enough noise to warn the house."
He hesitates, then shakes his head. "That's a lousy plan."
His smugness irritates me. "I suppose you think you could do better!"
He smiles. "Actually, yes, I think I can."
~ Dan ~
Being the sensitive, discerning soul that I am, I can tell that KJ doesn't like my plan.
He crosses his arms, glares at me, and mutters, "Your plan stinks."
I point to the pistol in my shoulder holster. "I have the firepower to stop him if this doesn't do the trick."
"I don't look like Superman."
"You do if you slick your hair back and stand tall."
He shakes his head. "It won't work."
"Why not? It's dark, the guy wasn't any better in the woods than you are, and he isn't expecting anyone to be out here. If he's lucky he won't wet his pants when you suddenly appear beside him."
"That brings up another question. How am I going to suddenly appear beside him?"
"Why, you just — wait. You — you don't have any powers, do you? None at all, right?"
He lifts his hands and drops them. "Now you ask the key question! What in the world made you think I had Superman's powers?"
"Well, you look like Clark, you're pretty strong, and — and you weren't acting when I cuffed you, were you?"
"No, I wasn't acting! I have a lot in common with Superman but super powers aren't part of the package!"
"Oh. Guess we'll have to think of another plan, then."
He crosses his arms and pouts. "Oh, yeah, now 'we' have to think of a plan."
The moon has come out. I'd almost forgotten how beautiful the night could be. I look at Clarkson and something he said strikes me. "What is it that you have in common with Superman?"
He looks startled. "What?"
"You said you have a lot in common with him. What is it?"
"Oh. Well — I'm married to his wife — widow, actually."
I can feel the chills. "You — you're what?"
He stares at me, puzzled. "I'm married to Superman's widow. He died — I mean, he's supposed to die tonight. I'm here to stop —"
"No!" I grab him by the arms and shake him. "No! Lois takes care of him and he lives but the kids die and they split up and he hates her!"
His eyes get huge and he scrambles back a couple of feet. "Are you crazy? He catches a Kryptonite splinter in the head and dies and Jon and Laura blame her for letting him die! They're only nine! They don't understand!"
Suddenly I get it. The realization stuns me and I whisper, "We're from different dimensions, aren't we? Different futures, anyway."
He takes a deep breath, then nods. He's lowered his voice, too. "Yeah. Yeah, that must be it. Different futures." He eyes me closely. "I'm Clark's clone."
I open my mouth, then close it. There's just no reasonable response to a statement like that.
"I don't know if I'll even exist after tonight."
Now I'm confused. I have to ask, "What do you mean?"
He scrunches closer. "Bernie Klein cloned me from Clark's dead body. If Clark doesn't die tonight, I will never have existed."
I rub my nose. Thinking about time travel always gives me a headache. "Look, let's not think about that right now. We've got a tragic event to stop."
He doesn't sound quite as sarcastic as he asks, "Do we have a plan?"
I frown. Lois has told me not to do that because it leaves wrinkles in my forehead. But that's not real important right now. "I think we have to find the bomber and stop him with any and all means at our disposal."
He nods. "Right. Any and all means." He looks at his wrist but there's no watch there. "What time is it?"
A woman's voice answers. "Time for you boys to stop playing in the dirt."
~ KJ ~
I look up and see Lois. She's wearing jeans and a KU sweatshirt and no shoes. Her hair is down and fluttering in the breeze. She's thin and young and vibrant and stunningly beautiful and I love her intensely.
But she's not my Lois. She looks at us and almost recognizes us, but not really, because neither of us belongs in this time. I don't even belong in this reality.
Dan and I slowly stand up. She looks from Dan to me and back at Dan again. "Dan? Is that you?"
He nods. "Yes, my name is Dan Scardino."
She frowns. "Wow, you've been living hard and fast. You look like you've aged more than twenty years since I last saw you." She looks at me. "And you, you look like Clark's college graduation picture. Who are you really?"
I open my mouth, but there's no way I can explain so I just say, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Kent, I can't tell you. You're going to have to trust us."
She cants her head to one side. "I know Daniel, even though I haven't seen him for a quite a while. You, on the other hand, I don't know at all. What's your name and what do you do?"
I shrug. "I'm a writer. My name's K. J. Clarkson."
Her expression flows from surprise to disbelief. "Come on! Nobody's named that! And what's a writer doing out here this time of night?" She frowns. "Hey, you don't work for the Metropolis Star, do you? Because if you do —"
Dan lifts his hand. "Look, Lois, we'll tell you all about it later, but right now you need to look out for someone who's not supposed to be here."
I start feeling queasy. Lois says, "I've already found them. I'm questioning them right now."
The queasiness is rapidly becoming nausea. Dan says, "Please! There's someone around here who wants to hurt you and your family. We're here to stop them."
The nausea is joined by pain in my chest and arms. "I think — maybe I'm having a heart attack."
Dan grabs my elbow as I slump to the ground. "Heart attack? KJ, do you — " He spins and pulls his gun. Lois steps forward but Dan skips away. "No, Lois, not me! Someone has Kryptonite! Someone close!"
I nod, even though neither one is looking my way. Lois turns and jerks, then disappears from view.
Dan takes off after her. I hear a brief struggle, someone cursing in fluent French, and a thud. The pain lessens and I can breathe a little easier.
Suddenly Dan is back beside me. "KJ? You okay now?"
Talking is still a chore. "Better. Not okay yet."
"You ever been exposed to Kryptonite before?"
I don't have the energy to shake my head. "No. Bernie — Bernie warned me once to stay away from it. I — I told him I'd be a good Kryptonite detector. Ow!" I try to take a deep breath and it hurts. "This really, really hurts."
He takes off his jacket and folds it to lay under my head. "Here, lean back."
"Thanks. Want to — tell me what happened?"
"Lois spotted the guy and snatched the Kryptonite bomb out of his hands and vanished into the sky. He started yelling, in French, I think, and —"
"He was swearing in French. He was — very creative."
"Oh. Anyway, he had a gun and another grenade, a plain one, and he turned to run towards the farmhouse, so I clocked him in the head. Then I took his gun and grenade and cuffed him. He'll be out for a while, I think."
I begin to feel better. "So? Did we do what we came to do?"
Another man's voice answers with a cultured English accent. "Yes, you did. You both did very well."
~ Dan ~
I spin around and yank out my weapon again. "Freeze! Don't move!"
The little old man in the old-school clothes and tiny round glasses and a funny-looking derby gasps and lifts his hands. "D-d-don't shoot! P-please! Don't shoot! I — I assure you that I'm here t-to help you!"
Just then I hear a whoosh and Lois lands softly beside him. "Dan! Put it down! Herb won't hurt you!"
"Herb?" I slowly lower the pistol. "You know this weirdo?"
"Yes, and I can promise you he's no danger to you! Now behave yourself and don't shoot anybody!" She turns to the little guy and snaps, "Herb! What are you doing here?"
He lowers his hands and pants like he's still scared. "I say! Between Mr. Scardino's rudeness and your brusque attitude, it's a wonder I'm here at all!" He pulls out a big handkerchief — with flowers on it, for crying out loud — and wipes his face. "I assure you all that I arrived as quickly as I was able!"
Lois takes a step closer to him and puts her hands on her hips. "Herb, either you tell me why you're here or I'll —"
He lifts his hands again, trying to placate her. "Please, Mrs. Kent, please! I'm merely here to help these gentlemen return to their respective places."
She hesitates, then drops her hands and steps back. "Okay. Who are they? Why aren't they surprised that I can fly? At least, tell me who this guy on the ground is, and why did he react to Kryptonite?" She looks at KJ. "Humans aren't affected by Kryptonite. So why did you collapse like that?"
KJ sits up and moves to a flat tree stump. "Where is the stuff now?"
Lois grins lopsidedly. "Probably passing the orbit of Venus, on a terminal path towards the sun."
I nod to her. "Good thinking, Ultra Woman."
She lifts her eyebrows and gets a very interested expression on her face. "Thanks, Dan. Now I'm thinking that you guys owe me one whopping big explanation. My other identity is supposed to be a closely guarded secret, and if you two learned it tonight you're in the wrong business. You should be on the silver screen, collecting a couple of Oscars apiece."
KJ looks at me. I look back at him. I have no idea what to say, and I can tell he doesn't either.
Herb tries to rescue us. "Please, Mrs. Kent, I must ask that you desist from your interrogation. Mr. Scardino reacted to me as he did because he did not know I was assigned to assist him. These men are from the future and cannot tell you anything of consequence, lest the timeline be negatively affected."
She frowns again. KJ and I exchange another glance, and I can tell he knows that look as well as I do. She's going to demand an explanation, and she won't stop until she gets one she believes, which means she wants the truth.
Which we can't tell her. And I don't know what to say that won't get us into big, big trouble.
~ KJ ~
Dan has no idea what to say. I have no idea what to say. I look at Herb, whoever he is, and I don't think he has any idea what to say either.
I'm supposed to be a brilliant fiction writer. So I wing it. "Mrs. Kent, we are from the future, and that's really more than we're supposed to tell you. You know the Temporal Directives forbid us from revealing anything about our personal situation or about the future."
Lois is even more unhappy now than she was a minute ago. "No, I don't know anything about any stupid Temporal Directives! I want an explanation as to what you three were doing out here! Herb, I know you're involved in this right up to your little funny ears! Now what's going on?"
I stand. Herb looks like he's going to crack, so I try to fake it once more. "Do you know anything about Utopia?"
She looks shocked. "Utopia? Herb, you brought them here from Utopia?"
I can tell that Dan still has no idea what to say, but at least he knows enough to look like he's in on the gag. I lift my hand. "I'm sorry, but Herb can't divulge that information. Surely you understand why."
She looks from me to Dan, then to Herb, who's twisting his hat in his hand. He might as well be yelling that he's guilty as charged and he deserves the worst punishment the judge can give him. He's about to crack, I just know it, and all Lois has to do is say his name.
Then she fools me. "Okay. I don't like it, but I know you can't tell me anything specific about the future." She points to the unconscious man lying handcuffed in the field. "But what about that clown? Was he from the future too? Is he involved with Tempus somehow?"
I don't know if Tempus is a person, a place, an organization, or a monthly magazine. "I can't tell you anything specific, Mrs. Kent, but I can tell you that we'll have to take him with us. He doesn't belong here any more than we do."
She purses her lips and nods. "Okay. If Clark asks me what's going on, I'll tell him — something, I don't know what right now." She shakes her head. "At least I can't tell him what I don't know."
Dan nods like he knows what's going on. "That's one of the purposes of the Temporal Directives. You can't reveal what you don't know."
I'll have to congratulate him later. I think that remark sealed the deal. Lois throws her hands in the air and says, "I give up. You guys get this clown out of here and don't any of you come back unless all eternity is in danger, okay?"
Herb nods. "I assure you, Mrs. Kent, they will not return if they have a choice." He motions to Dan. "Can you bring our other friend along to my machine?"
Dan nods. "I can handle him. Good night, Mrs. Kent."
She looks at him funny, like she heard something odd in the tone of his voice. Then she nods. "Okay. I'm going back to bed now, right after I get that glass of warm milk I got up to pour for my daughter. Good-bye."
She walks across the field and disappears into the house. I stand there, watching her, loving her, knowing that I'll never see her again.
Dan puts his hand on my shoulder. "Hey. You okay?"
I can't speak, so I just shake my head.
I feel a squeeze. "I know. I think I feel about the same."
~ Dan ~
I can feel his pain — literally — but KJ manages to nod at me. "You probably do." He sighs. "How do you mourn the loss of someone you haven't really lost?"
The first thing that pops into my mind is, "You think about it later."
He cuts his eyes towards me. "Very 'Gone With The Wind' of you."
"The movie with Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh? At the end, when Scarlett's crying and trying to figure out how to get Rhett Butler back and decides to think about it tomorrow."
"Oh. "Yeah, I remember now." I give him a gentle shake. "Well, let's think our goodbyes and get moving. We've got a lot of years to cover." I turn to drag our guest upright. KJ stands up — still a little shaky — and takes the guy's other arm. He's still too dazed to manage without both of us holding him upright. All he can do is mutter in very vulgar French.
Herb motions to us. "This way, gentlemen, if you please."
We walk through the thin woods in the dark for about ten minutes, which is just about all KJ can do. I never knew how badly Kryptonite affected Superman before. Just about the time he looks like he's ready to collapse, we come to Herb's machine.
I frown. It doesn't look a bit like the one Bernie Klein let me use. "Nice museum piece. Who built that old clunker?"
Herb turns and stiffens. "I say! I shall have you to know, sir, that this is the original time machine! I built it myself!"
KJ gets this I-just-got-the-joke expression on his face and blurts out, "Wells! Herb! Time machine! You — you're H. G. Wells!"
He looks at KJ and huffs. "It's high time you deduced my identity, young man. Now help me get our friend into the back seat. We're going to take a trip."
I shake his head. "No thanks, old-timer. We each have our own transportation."
"No, sir, you do not."
I open his mouth to protest, but KJ beats me to it. "I was afraid of that."
Wells nods. "Yes. As you can see, I am your only way out of this time period. Please make haste, gentlemen."
Whoa. This wasn't part of the deal. "Wait! Wait a minute! Where are our time machines?"
KJ purses his lips and says, "They never existed, Dan. Once we prevented the bombing, the events that let to their creation never happened, so they weren't ever built."
Lois told me once that when I think too hard, it looks like I'm thinking on the outside of my face. KJ looks like the same thought is crossing his mind. "But — but that means — that means — Lois —"
Wells puts his hand on my arm. "I'm sorry. That's part of the reason you must come with me." He turns to me. "There is no 'home' for either of you to return to."
KJ nods. "I understand about the time machines, Mr. Wells, but why am I still here?"
"You mean, because you were cloned from a dead body that is not dead in this time continuum, how do you still exist?"
"Something like that, yes."
He shrugs. "I only know that the rules you have outlined apply to inanimate objects and to situations, but not necessarily to people. You, sir, are indeed a person, therefore the paradoxes involved in the alteration of your subjective past do not apply to you as an individual. Have no fear, you will not suddenly vanish from existence."
I put the still groggy bomber in the back seat and buckle him in. "But I still don't understand. Tempus tried to kill Superman by killing Clark Kent as a baby before the Kents found him, and Clark as an adult almost disappeared from existence. How come was he affected by that but KJ isn't now?"
KJ looks like he doesn't like Tempus very much. I listen closely as Wells explains, "The affair with Tempus and Superman was a deliberate attempt to disrupt the timeline. Tempus was attempting to change the past in order to manipulate the future."
"Isn't that what we just did? And what about that guy from the Utopia police who tried to arrest Tempus and vanished when Tempus bent the timestream?"
By KJ's expression, he has no idea what I'm talking about, but Wells apparently does. "I believe that worthy gentleman was affected because of his location in time and close proximity to the time window that Tempus cast. There is no such deliberate disruption of the time stream occurring here, gentlemen, merely a 'straightening out,' if you will. And if you recall that incident, remember that Tempus did not vanish as Andrus did."
I sigh. "It was good while it lasted. Hey, is Tempus around here? Shouldn't we go get him too?"
Wells smiles. "No. He is waiting in the future, in the custody of the authorities, expecting a significant difference in reality to blossom around him. Gladly, he is doomed to disappointment yet again."
KJ lifts his hand. "Okay, my turn. What about the other guy who was working with our sleeping friend here?"
"Thanks to your timely intervention, his plans for escape were disrupted. An associate of mine has already apprehended him and has sent him back to the future."
Understanding waves its hand in the back of the kindergarten class that is my brain at the moment. "Back? You mean —"
"Yes. As the two of you implied to Mrs. Kent, both of those men were recruited from the future, but Tempus betrayed them and muddled their minds. He intended for them to either die in this time period or be imprisoned here for the rest of their natural lives. Rest assured, they will not be harmed, but they will be taken care of. Neither of them will quite remember what happened this night."
Something's still bugging KJ. "Hey, how come both of us are here if Tempus was the only one to try something this stupid?"
Wells sighed. "Because his first attempt to disrupt the timeline resulted in the death of Superman but not his children, which meant that Utopia, though slightly altered, still became a reality. He came back a second time, changed the design of the bomb slightly, and tried again, with the result that —"
I broke in. "That Superman lived but the kids died."
"Yes," Wells nodded. "That is why there were two alternate timelines in existence." He shook his head. "And that is why you cannot go back 'home,' as it were. Those two alternate timelines are now closed to me."
"Closed? You mean they're still going on?"
"I do not know for certain, Mr. Clarkson. But because I have assisted in restoring this timeline, the other timelines have either ceased to exist or are simply 'off limits' to my machine. I cannot take either of you back." He tried to smile. "Looking on the bright side, however, it means that your existences will continue from this point."
I know I look confused again, but another coin obviously drops for KJ. "You mean we fixed the timeline? We succeeded? That what almost happened here tonight didn't happen because of us? We stopped it from going bad?"
Wells nods. "Correct on all counts, young man. Now, if we are finished with our explanations, I have an appointment to keep. You gentlemen really should come along with me."
I get in the back and grab a seat belt. KJ frowns like a kid and demands, "Hey, how come you get the back seat?"
I point to my gun again. "Because I can handle this guy better than either of you can if he gets frisky."
He shrugs and climbs into the front passenger seat. I don't know why he's upset. He got shotgun and he didn't even have to call it. "Okay. Mr. Wells, where — or maybe 'when ' — are we going?"
He grins. "Actually, we must deposit this man in his proper time and place in the future first, but there is yet another time and another place that requires your particular talents, and also requires the special talents and skills each of you possess. I believe you will both like it there."
"Uh-huh." I'm not sure I quite believe what Wells is saying. "Is this about that Temporal Affairs dohicky you mentioned?"
Wells turns some dials and flips some switches. "Yes. No one will force you to participate, of course, and there would be more training and instruction offered to each of you should you decide to affiliate yourselves with us, but I believe that this is actually a serendipitous occasion for everyone."
KJ seems focused on the operation of the time machine, so I say, "You mean there's someone else's chestnuts you'd like us to pull out of the fire."
Wells frowns. "I do not believe there are any chestnuts where we are going, Mr. Scardino, but I can investigate the possibility." He turns to me. "Do buckle yourself in, Mr. Clarkson. I would hate to lose you at this juncture."
"Why, is there a deposit on me that you'd like to redeem?"
Wells laughs for the first time. "I'm glad you have retained your sense of humor, Mr. Clarkson." He flips more switches and turns more dials and the car starts to whine and shake. "I fear you shall need it."
The noise reaches a crescendo and Kansas disappears. KJ turns to me and grins slightly. "Hey, Dan, I think we're —"
Before he can finish that clichéd quote, I point at him with my index finger. "Not a word, KJ, not a word!"
"Hey! I was just going to say that this could be the start of a beautiful friendship!"
"Oh, no," I groan. "A million clones in the universe and I get stuck with an out-of-work comedian with a movie quote database grafted into his head."
He's not sure whether to laugh or growl. "Get used to me, pal. Neither of us has a pair of magic slippers we can click together three times to zap ourselves home."
"No, we're two men who don't exist but still go around doing good and then slip away into the sunset. Or whatever we're slipping into."
Wells pulls some levers and the noise dies down for a moment. "I suppose you gentlemen would like to hear something of our mission?"
KJ nods and raises his voice. The noise level is suddely rising again. "Yeah, tell us what kind of magic we're going to perform now."
"This has nothing to do with Tempus, but there is a man in another universe living in the state of Minnesota who must be dealt with. At once. He may be the most dangerous individual who has ever attempted to manipulate the time stream, even more dangerous than Tempus himself." He leans towards me. "I believe that you would describe this situation in the common vernacular as a 'hairy' one."
KJ rolls his eyes for effect. "Oh, good, yeah, let's just jump into dangererous and hairy situations feet-first. If we're going to play Paladin across multiple universes, Mr. Wells, I'd rather have an Abrams tank than your time machine. I think I hate this job already and I haven't even heard about the medical plan yet."
I think I'm starting to get the hang of this. I lean forward and touch his shoulder. "No problem, KJ. I still have our little French buddy's hand grenade. We'll just stick it down this dangerous guy's pants and blow him into little tiny pieces. That'll be a fine ending for him."