By bakasi <email@example.com>
Submitted: November, 2006
Summary: Lois and Clark have just learned that they cannot have children and both are suffering. When they get to know a young German woman, they learn that someone might be pursuing Superman. After the woman's death they have more questions than answers. Can they be sure that her information is true? Why is a German scientist calling Clark? And why are Clark's parents so depressed?
Author's note: I want to thank my beta-reader Lara Moon who helped me a lot with writing this.
Parts of this story take place in Germany. But this has *absolutely nothing* to do with the episode "Super Mann". Some people Lois and Clark will meet speak German. I translated everything into English, so it doesn't matter if you happen to have another native language than I ;).
The story is set at the end of Season Four, but before the episode "Family Hour" or rather instead of it.
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters aren't mine, I only use them for fun.
February 1999 Europe, Germany, Cologne University Hospital
The semester hadn't started yet. A visitor unaccustomed to university habits might have assumed that the campus was abandoned for those two months in summer. But Carla Seefeld knew that it was nearly as busy as ever.
Carla had just left the streetcar and wasn't really surprised that some of her fellow students were on the streetcar as well. She had an appointment with a professor who was helping her obtain her doctorate degree. Cold wind cut in her face as she walked down the street that led her to the University Hospital. The tall and unsightly ward of the hospital was the first thing she saw.
The university hospital had two towers, a large one and a shorter one next to it. The tallest ward had seventeen floors. By Cologne standards, these were tall buildings, but for a city like Metropolis, they would have seemed pretty low in height. She approached the ward, crossed the street and passed the meadow where she spent most of her free time between lectures in the summer.
Soon she reached the path between the garden and three of the last remaining buildings from a time before the Second World War when bombs had destroyed most of the city. These were the most beautiful buildings belonging to the university hospital. However that didn't mean much, as they were in bad condition. The hospital lacked money and would certainly not put any effort into restoring them. Carla followed the path until she reached the smaller tower.
She entered the building, welcoming the warmth, after being out in the cold winter air. The place was not especially inviting, but it was the central meeting point for students. She hoped to see some of her friends, but they hadn't come here today. She turned to her right and sat down on one of the benches. They were ugly, green and very uncomfortable. There was still half an hour left before her meeting began. She waited.
"Das ist ein wichtiges Projekt, dessen Chancen wir nicht unterschätzen dürfen," said a man, whose voice Carla did not recognize. [This is an important project and we shouldn't underestimate its prospects.]
"Ich sage ja nicht, dass es nicht wichtig ist, aber ich glaube einfach nicht, dass wir es durchführen können!" another man replied. [I don't mean it isn't important, but I just don't believe that we can carry it out.]
"Es könnte ein Durchbruch für die Medizin sein! Ein wichtiger Schritt!" [It might be a breakthrough in medical science! An important step!]
"Ich weiß doch, wie wichtig es dir ist, dass in unserem Land wieder internationale Medizinforschung betrieben wird, aber er wird niemals zustimmen! Überlege nur mal, was sie mit diesem Haar gemacht haben. Er wird uns nicht vertrauen!" the other man argued. [I know how much you want our country to do international medical research, but he will never agree to it. Remember what they did with that hair he had donated. He will never trust us!]
"Dann müssen wir mit ihm reden. Er wird uns zuhören und wenn ich mich nicht irre, liegt es auch in seinem Interesse möglichst vielen Menschen zu helfen." [Then we must speak with him. He will listen to us and if I'm not mistaken, it's in his interest to help as many people as possible.]
"Ja, ich weiß, Superman ist ein Wohltäter. Trotzdem glaube ich, dass es nicht einfach wird ihn zu überzeugen." The last sentence was closer to a whisper than the rest, because the two men went away. [Yes, I know that Superman is benevolent. Nevertheless, I don't think it will be easy to convince him.]
Carla hadn't even seen them. A scientific project concerning Superman? Medical research? She was thrilled. What could that possibly be? And why would Superman decline? And how could a hair be the reason for him to say 'no'?
USA, New Troy, Metropolis
Lois and Clark were enjoying a weekend off. It was a sunny Saturday and they walked through the streets in the mild air of the fading summer. Clark held Lois in a light embrace, his arm wrapped around her waist. They were watching people around them and talked about the newspaper, the next story and other things. Lois hadn't seen Clark this relaxed for weeks, but today everything seemed fine with him. Lois knew that the last weeks had been quite busy for his alter-ego. This was the first time in days that the city was peaceful.
"Clark, weren't your parents coming this evening?" Lois asked her husband.
"Yes, honey, they said so. I volunteered to pick them up at the airport, but they didn't want me to leave you. Depending on the traffic, they will arrive in…oh my God…just an hour, including the time they spend stuck in traffic," Clark answered, a bit shocked at forgetting the time so completely.
Lois stopped at once and changed directions.
"Then we should go home, shouldn't we? I'm so glad to see them both this weekend. They're so nice, so totally unlike my own parents," Lois said with a broad smile and kissed his cheek softly.
"Well, I guess I'm a lucky man." Clark grinned, returning her kiss with a more passionate one. "Two wonderful parents and the most beautiful wife in the world!"
Lois didn't reply but felt a familiar flutter in her belly. She kissed him again softly to thank him for the compliment. They were discussing dinner while on their way home, when suddenly a young woman ran into Clark, practically knocking herself over in the process. He stopped at once.
"Entschuldigung," she mumbled absent-mindedly. "Er..I mean sorry," she repeated, in English.
"Ist mit Ihnen alles in Ordnung?" Clark asked her, concerned. [Is everything all right?]
He knew that an encounter with the Man of Steel could be painful.
"Ja," she answered with a surprised glance. "Sie sind auch aus Deutschland?" [Yes. Are you also from Germany?]
"Nein," Clark replied, smiling. "Ich bin nur fremdsprachenbegabt." [No. I'm just good at foreign languages.]
Lois tapped on Clark's shoulder.
"What language is that?" she asked him.
"German," Clark replied with a smile.
"Can you please translate, Clark? I don't understand a word." Lois hated not being able to follow a conversation.
"That's not necessary," the young woman told her. "I speak English as well, just not as well as German. I just wondered if your companion was German. I don't even hear an accent."
"He's a very talented man," Lois said with a big grin.
"I'm definitely not German." Clark couldn't help but chuckle. "My name is Clark Kent and this is my wife, Lois Lane."
"And I'm Carla Seefeld," the young woman said. They shook hands with each other.
"Are you visiting Metropolis?" asked Lois, always the reporter.
"Oh, yes, that's right." She nodded and then fell silent for a moment. "Wait, did you say you were Clark Kent and Lois Lane?"
"Yes, like we said."
"Yes, have you heard of us?" Lois was surprised.
"What a coincidence! I was planning on seeing you this Monday," Carla said, excitedly.
"You didn't come all the way across the ocean just to meet with us did you?" Something about the woman's behavior irritated Clark. Why would someone from a different country want to meet them? But he felt that it was important for her.
The young woman blushed. "That was a major reason," she admitted.
When Lois and Clark looked at her, not believing what they had just heard, she continued, "Well, this is exaggerated. Let's say, it was the major reason for choosing Metropolis as the place to spend my holidays. I wanted to travel to the USA, anyway. What I found out made me do it this year."
"Well, now that you've met us, how can we help you, Ms. Seefeld?" Lois inquired.
"I know that the two of you have a special relationship with Superman. He is in danger. Some people want him to do something for them. I don't really know what it is. All I've heard of it is that it will be for the world's sake, something only Superman will be able to do. But there are groups of people who want to prevent this for different reasons. Ethics and ideologies, for all I know. They are about to do anything to achieve their goal. There were strange things happening back in my city. I will tell you more about it on Monday. I don't want anyone to overhear our conversation by accident. I did find some material and I was afraid that it might get into the wrong hands if I didn't make sure that you got it first," Carla explained.
"I'll make sure that Superman finds out," Clark replied firmly.
"That would be great!" Carla smiled. "But also tell him not to trust the people wanting him to do whatever it is that they want from him, exactly. I'm not so sure whether it is such a good thing for the world as they claim."
"Don't worry, Superman is always careful." Lois assured Carla.
"I really hope that you are right, Superman is too important to the world." Carla sighed with relief. "That's all I intended for now; thank you very much. I won't disturb you any longer."
"You're not disturbing us." Clark gave her a smile. "Anyway, you might have done a lot for us if your concerns are justified. We will see each other on Monday, and maybe we can find out something more about this."
"Great. I'm sure you can do a lot more about it than I can. Have a nice weekend." Carla shook hands with the Kents again and said good-bye.
Then she turned around and walked in the other direction. After a few yards she stopped and waved at the Kents, then continued her walk. Clark and Lois went further along the street, heading for their house, each of them thinking about the information Carla had given them.
"A strange woman!" Lois started speaking as soon as the two of them were alone again. "What do you think?"
"Well, crossing the Atlantic ocean just to meet the two of us? Yes, I guess that's strange. But I could feel that she was serious about this. She wasn't showing off. But what kind of plan can be so important and so controversial?" Clark wondered.
He didn't really like the thought of something that would make a young German woman cross the ocean. She obviously wanted to speak with them personally, or she would have taken the easy way: the telephone.
"I don't know, Clark, but how about solving this mystery on Monday. We are already a bit late for our guests," Lois suggested, not completely convinced that the young woman did indeed know something important. Hadn't she heard Carla saying that talking to them was a major reason for her coming?
"I can't believe it. Lois, the great investigative reporter, postponing a possible Pulitzer story?" Clark teased her with a grin. Then he became serious. "Lois, I really think this is important. She came across the ocean!"
"Come on, Clark. Where is your proof? She could be saying anything. Her saying it doesn't mean it's true."
Clark nodded and shrugged as if to tell Lois that she was right, but he didn't agree with her. He was pretty sure that the young woman had good reasons for warning Superman. He knew that Lois needed something more concrete. She didn't easily believe what others told her. Clark could see in her expression that she had doubts.
Lois knew that Clark had a strong sense for truth, but the information Carla had given them so far was anything but concrete. Lois wanted to wait until Monday before judging Carla.
"Sometimes there are things more important than this. Dr. Klein, for example, have you visited him already?" Lois changed the subject.
"Yes, I have. He said that he was absolutely sure about the results. We are not going to have children," Clark replied hoarsely.
Once more, he felt the pain that had cut through his body like a knife when he had been at S.T.A.R. Labs. Dr. Klein had shaken his head when Clark had asked him for the results. They were not compatible. Not compatible! How on Earth could a couple having defeated so many enemies and problems be not compatible? They fitted just perfectly together. But not biologically.
"So he hasn't found anything new?" Lois asked with a hint of sadness in her voice.
Her tone hurt Clark even more. It made him wonder, and not for the first time in his life, if being with Lois was fair to her. Any normal man would have been able to give her children. He wasn't normal, though. Neither in the natural way nor through artificial insemination. When he was with Lois, Clark felt that he could have a life just like any other human. He had always longed for that sense of belonging. But this reminded him that he was, in fact, different. It wasn't her fault, of course. She was behaving like she always did.
Lois saw the hurt in Clark's eyes. They had discussed the problem before and now the awful shock had somewhat subsided. But it was still hard for them, especially since Lois knew that Clark wanted children so much. She put her arm around his waist and pulled him closer, trying to comfort him.
"It's okay, darling. No matter what the future holds for us, be sure about my love for you," Lois whispered. In return Clark kissed her hair and inhaled the scent of it. But a dark shadow of grief passed his face. Lois' presence could heal the worst pain. He loved her so much. But he still felt alien.
They hadn't been far away from Hyperion Avenue and soon they had reached their house. Martha and Jonathan hadn't arrived yet, so with a little help from Clark, the guest room was prepared right on time. It didn't take long before the older Kents arrived. Barely fifteen minutes after Lois and Clark had returned home, the doorbell rang. Lois went to open the door for her parents-in-law.
"Hi Lois, nice to see you!" Martha said and hugged her.
Martha wore a broad smile. Clark, who was right behind Lois, found it a bit forced. That was strange, because his mother lived on the bright side of life no matter what happened. Something seemed to upset her, but she didn't want to show it. Was it something concerning the farm? Or even worse, concerning his parents' health? They were vulnerable to the perils of life as they grew older. Clark worried about this every now and then.
Jonathan stood a bit behind Martha, carrying the bags. Clark hurried to help his father. He took three bags in one hand and embraced his parents with his other arm. He kissed Martha on the cheek and excused himself before leaving to bring the bags upstairs.
When Clark returned, his family was in the living room, sitting on the sofa and talking about the last few weeks.
"How are you, son?" Jonathan asked, changing the conversation.
"I'm fine," Clark said earning himself an disbelieving glance from both of his parents.
So, he thought, Lois has already told them the news. The feeling of not belonging increased.
Two more people knowing about his incapability didn't make it easier to fit in. His parents had faced the same problem but it had been 1966 then. The medical development hadn't been as far as it was now. Some of the modern methods were not available, then. His was a different problem, anyway.
"Okay, I'm sad about it," Clark admitted. "But we have been able to solve a lot of problems before; this won't stop us." Did he mean what he just said, Clark wondered?
"There are still other possibilities," Lois added. "Adoption, for example. It worked for you guys."
Yes, adoption had worked for his parents. And he should be thankful that they had been willing to raise someone else's child. But the thought made him feel so uneasy. He had no right to feel this ambivalent concerning adoption. He owed the possibility of adoption on earth so much. Otherwise his parents would never have been able to explain his sudden appearance. If Earth parents weren't willing to raise children who weren't their own flesh and blood, he would have died.
The weekend was peaceful. No major rescues, no arguments. The four Kents enjoyed their time together, talking about everything but children. Clark's parents seemed to have made a silent agreement between themselves. They noticed a shadow of grief darkening Clark's face when the subject was mentioned. They had also noticed the restrained tears in Lois' eyes. Children were not the right topic at the moment.
It was a problem Lois and Clark needed to deal with for themselves. The two older Kents had had their own experiences with that. There was no solution for it that could be written down in some book. So neither of them mentioned children. This would be a weekend without discussion of problems. But it was hard for Clark's parents that they couldn't help their beloved son. He was always someone determined to remain strong. It demanded an awful lot of him, but he had no choice. Martha and Jonathan would have loved to ease his pain, but they weren't capable of doing so. And seeing Lois so sad was hurting their hearts even more.
So Martha and Jonathan filled Clark in on the newest Smallville rumors. Lois and Clark, on the other hand, informed the older Kents of what was going on in Metropolis. On Sunday they watched a new play at the theater. It seemed to be a normal visit from the older Kents. All four of them were great pretenders, playing the role of the ever-happy family. Someone who didn't really know them would have thought that everything was just fine. But it wasn't.
On Monday, Lois and Clark went to work as usual, while Martha and Jonathan spent their time shopping in the big city.
The newsroom was as busy as ever. Perry wanted new stories and preferably all at once.
Lois and Clark took turns leaving their desks to get the news. They were waiting for Carla because both were very curious to find out what she knew. But hours passed and Carla didn't show up.
"Lois, Clark!" Perry yelled. "Have you been to the court, yet?"
"Working on it," Clark replied.
"Work a little faster, then. Great shades of Elvis! This newspaper is not going to produce itself," he muttered.
Clark assumed that he was having problems with Alice again. Since their son had reappeared, the two of them had spoken to each other once in a while. But their marriage was over and Perry had had problems with Alice for years before their breakup. It wasn't likely that everything would be fine soon. Perry had gained new hope, though. But whenever things were going badly with the two of them, Perry's mood changed quickly into something very unpleasant. Clark knew how much he missed his former wife. He wished him luck silently.
"Where is she?" Lois whispered, as she came over to Clark's desk.
Since Perry's mood wasn't too good today, she didn't want him to overhear their conversation. He was interested in stories. As long as Lois wasn't sure if Carla's information would turn out to be a story she wanted to be careful. Clark seemed to think the same.
"I have no idea," Clark mouthed back and leaned back in his chair.
"Do you think that it might have been a joke?" Lois asked and sat down on the edge of his desk.
"I can't imagine it being a joke, Lois. Why should someone from Germany fly to Metropolis to trick us? How did she know us in the first place? We're not that international."
"I don't think it's a joke, either. I just wonder," Lois answered.
"Hey, there, you two. If that's a married couple thing over there, you better get back to work," Perry remarked in a strained voice.
Clark gave Lois a glance, meaning *You have every right to wonder. How about investigating Ms. Seefeld?*
Lois smiled and nodded at Clark's unspoken suggestion.
"Jimmy?" they shouted both at the same time.
Jimmy, who was already watching his friends, came over with a big grin.
"Someday soon, the two of you will need to explain me how you do this." Jimmy grinned. "What shall I do?"
"Find out everything you can about a young German woman called Carla Seefeld."
"You have already heard about it?" Jimmy asked, surprised. "I haven't brought the news from the police upstairs yet. No wonder you two are the best reporters in Metropolis."
"Police?" Clark asked confused.
"Yes, she was found dead in Centennial Park early this morning. The police thinks it's murder," Jimmy explained and handed them the note.
"We didn't know that. Okay, Jimmy, thank you. I guess your research will be even more important now," Lois said, shocked by the news.
Jimmy mumbled something and went away, but neither Lois nor Clark really heard what he had said. They were lost in their own thoughts.
Carla was dead? She had been so full of life two days before. It was hard to deal with her sudden death, although Lois and Clark had only known her for a very short time.
They thought a lot about it. There were two major possibilities. Maybe it was just kismet, a strange coincidence. The murderer threw a dice and happened to choose Carla. But since everything that concerned Superman in the last years happened by anything but chance, they didn't believe in coincidences.
Someone had killed Carla because she knew too much. Both Lois and Clark felt guilty because they had postponed their investigation for family matters. If they hadn't, Carla might still be alive. Clark was not the only one blaming himself for the death of people. Lois was suffering as well. So they swore to find her murderer. Carla shouldn't have died without reason.
While Jimmy was trying to find out whatever he could, Lois called the police. They wanted to find out who was investigating the murder. It was Inspector Henderson. Both considered that as a good sign. Henderson was the best at his job and had often helped them.
Clark stood next to Lois when she dialed Henderson's mobile phone number. They waited for the inspector's answer.
"Henderson." The voice sounded impatient, not eager to answer another call.
"This is Lois Lane," Lois replied as politely as possible.
"Not again. I have no time for reporters today, Ms. Lane. I'm still busy with the crimes of the last weeks." Lois heard the inspector breathing out a heavy sigh.
"We met Carla Seefeld on Saturday afternoon," Lois said before Henderson could end the conversation.
"Okay, that's a reason for disturbing me. Meet me at the Metropolis Inn," Henderson offered. Then he hung up.
Lois and Clark looked at each other, nodded and headed for the elevator. They didn't say much on their way down, both wondering why Henderson wanted to meet them in a hotel. But it wasn't too hard to figure out why. It had to be the hotel where Carla had spent her nights in Metropolis.
The Metropolis Inn was very close to the Planet. Driving there by car would have taken a whole lot longer than just walking over. Within minutes they reached the entrance. Henderson was aware of the very short distance. He was already waiting for them in the lobby.
"Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane," he greeted them.
"Inspector. Nice to meet you." Clark shook Henderson's hand. Lois then did the same.
"So you knew the victim?" Henderson asked.
"We met her on Saturday for the first time. She wanted to come to the newsroom today," Lois replied.
"What did you want from her?" The inspector continued the questioning.
"Nothing," Clark said. "She wanted to meet us. She said it had been an important reason for her travel. She had information concerning some kind of threat for Superman."
"That's interesting. How much did she tell you?" Henderson was obviously surprised.
"Almost nothing. She didn't have anything concrete and I didn't really believe her until this morning." Lois felt uneasy because she hadn't mentioned this in front of Clark earlier. But he didn't seem to mind.
"Did she mention 'p 53'?" Henderson wanted to know.
He looked closely at the two reporters searching for any hint of recognition. He didn't believe that they would keep something from him, but his experience told him not to be sure.
"No, never heard of it," Clark answered. "What does that mean?"
Henderson saw that Clark was telling him the truth and decided to answer the question. Maybe they had found out something that could help him with his investigation.
"We don't know. We found this letter and the two numbers written on her hand. The question is, did she write it herself or did the murderer leave it there?" Henderson explained. "Her hotel room was thoroughly destroyed. The murder must have been searching for something," he added.
"What do you know about the woman so far?" Lois demanded.
"She was German and lived in a city called Cologne. Her plane arrived on Friday evening. She was a medical student. We are still trying to find her parents, but we haven't been successful yet. This is all I can tell you for now. I have a lot of work to do." Henderson turned around and disappeared into an elevator.
Lois and Clark left the hotel. The police wouldn't be keen on having them strolling around and disturbing the investigation. Of course Clark might find out something with his powers, but he trusted Henderson. He would see the important things for sure.
Since they didn't learn much at the hotel, the reporters hurried to return to the Planet. On their way back, Clark heard sirens and cries for help.
"Lois…," he began, but she had already noticed and nodded.
"Go. I'll try to appease Perry." She grinned.
Clark thanked her, brushed her cheek with a kiss and left, fumbling with his tie. He searched for a secure place and spun into his suit. A moment later he was flying above the city, following the cries. They came from S.T.A.R. Labs. Clark was worried. They had often been the target of attacks. One of the major reasons for this was that they stored Kryptonite there.
Smoke filled the air above S.T.A.R. Labs. The fire fighters were happy to see Superman arriving at the scene. No one really knew what was in the building. They feared an explosion killing people still stuck inside as well as those outside.
A red and blue flash entered the building and returned with people. Superman landed them safely and returned into the building again. He did this several times. When everyone was out of danger, Superman helped extinguish the fire.
Dr. Klein waited for Superman at a secure distance from S.T.A.R. Labs. He was nervous. This was his second nature outside the laboratories. The lab was the only place where he really felt at ease. He paced around, glancing back at the building repeatedly.
He didn't know if this fire was a threat to Superman. And he was sure that Superman would ask a lot of questions. But did he know the answers?
Clark had done his job. But he wasn't too content with the results. He had been too late. It was not the heart wrenching kind of late, however. The fire hadn't killed anyone, which was a great relief to him. But the damage was done. Dr. Klein's office and lab, among others, were completely destroyed. And so his hopes of being able to father a child, his hopes of discovering a vaccine against Kryptonite had been seriously diminished. He was quite sure that the work of Dr. Klein's colleagues was also destroyed. The smoke carried a scent of dead dreams with it. Seconds after Clark had left the building, he landed in front of Dr. Klein.
Bernard Klein stopped pacing. He turned pale, when he saw the hero's earnest face.
"S-Superman!" he stammered. "Are you okay?"
"I am. But I'm afraid your lab is not. Do you know what happened?"
"I don't know; there was some kind of explosion in my lab. We ran away as soon as we could."
"Could it have anything to do with Kryptonite?" Superman asked.
"Was it in the safe?"
"I didn't check," Clark said with a wry smile.
"Of course you didn't; how stupid of me."
"Can you find out if Kryptonite has been stolen, as soon as the smoke is gone? Call Clark Kent as soon as you've got any news for me." Superman requested and said good-bye to Dr. Klein. Then he took off, heading for the Daily Planet.
Had the fire in the S.T.A.R. Labs been arson? Clark would have to wait for the experts to investigate. That was something he needed to keep in mind: the description Dr. Klein had given had made him assume arson, but it was far from being proven. He needed to be careful with accusations. But as long as he didn't know anything concrete, it was best to believe in arson. It made him more careful. Arson could mean that Kryptonite had been stolen. If this was the case, his life was in danger. He didn't want to tell Lois, but her finding out about it by accident was always something very hard to deal with.
It didn't take him long to return to the Planet. Clark went into an empty, narrow street next to the building to change into his street clothes again. He hurried inside and took the elevator. Moments later he entered the newsroom and went over to his desk. Lois was in Perry's office. He could see the two of them arguing about something.
Determination was the key to everything. He was a winner, had always been a winner, and would always be a winner. Determination was the key to success. And success was everything that mattered…
His latest project was Mount Everest. Well, not literally; he wasn't interested in mountains. He wanted to do something important, more important than any stupid mountain could ever be. Something that every now-famous person would be envious of. He would gain a place in the history books. And not just a small annotation, written in small letters next to an asterisk. No, he was going to be on the front page of the history book of crime and genius.
The plan was easy and couldn't go wrong. The first step was taken and the second step had already followed. But it was only the overture to his opus. Success was guaranteed. This was the key to the complete renewal of his life. It would change the world forever.
The hotel room was dark, just slightly lit by the blinking light of a telephone. Someone was calling him. He waited, patiently, and counted the blinks. Eight…nine… ten.
The light went dark again. Seconds passed, then the red light started blinking again. He took the receiver.
"No one knows about it," the caller said confidently.
"Are you sure?" he asked harshly.
"I am," was the answer.
He hated those who thought of themselves as infallible. They weren't cautious enough and he was the one having to deal with the disasters they produced. He had to be careful with this man before things got out of control.
"Best not to be too sure…" He hung up.
"Don't tell Clark!" Martha said firmly.
"As if I would tell him," Jonathan replied, rolling his eyes.
He was so tired of this. The sorrows never ended. He had no strength to worry anymore. He had been worried for weeks; he had been anxious and angry. First of all, he was angry at himself. Why had this happened and why hadn't he prevented it? There was nothing left that could save them. Everything was lost. This was so frustrating. All their dreams! Martha had presented herself as strong during those last few weeks, but it was also hard for her. The fights were over, the battle was lost. There was nothing left to do.
Martha saw Jonathan suffer. She could hardly bear seeing him so hopeless. She had to fight with her own pain, but his pain ached in her heart so much more. Life was cruel; she had to face that fact. It was no reason to bother Clark. He had his own problems. He was the most powerful man in the world, but his powers couldn't help them. So what was the point in telling him? She knew Clark; he would shoulder the entire world's misery if someone asked him to. She couldn't let him do that. As much as she wished that he could solve their problems as easily as he prevented disasters, solving them in this case was simply not possible because it required much more than the ability to lift cars or trains.
The two elder Kents were on their way to back to Lois and Clark's house. Silently they walked along the street. The problem had been discussed completely. There was yet again an implicit agreement between them to remain silent.
As soon as Lois had reached the Planet, Perry had called her in his office. He wanted to know where she and Clark had been all morning. She told him about Carla and that she had been murdered. After she had mentioned Henderson, Perry had been silent for a few moments. But his silence served as proof of how angry he was. Perry wasn't in the mood for their gut feelings. He wanted his two best reporters to work on the existing pile of already "grown up" stories that needed to be written soon. At the moment he had no interest in those which were still "infants" with little hope to reach just the "teenager years".
After a pause he had explained that to her and Lois had started arguing with him. She told him that she was sure now that Carla had discovered something big. Perry wasn't convinced. The fact that Clark was not in the newsroom and that Lois had no good excuse for him didn't make it any better.
In the midst of the argument between Lois and Perry, Clark knocked on the office's door and came in.
Lois gave him a glance that told him more than he had wanted to know. His timing was bad. But on the other hand it was impossible to have good timing these days. It looked like he had chosen the worst moment imaginable to reappear this time.
"You better go now, Lois, and I'd like to have some real stories on my desk this afternoon," Perry yelled and shot an angry look at Clark. "And you follow her, Clark. You better work a whole day through or else you'll be in trouble. You cannot always leave when it suits you."
The two left without any further word. Lois looked at Clark and he understood at once.
*No more talking about Carla in the newsroom until the story is indeed a story.*
Clark thought the same, but for a different reason. If Carla was killed for what she knew, everyone close to her was in trouble as well. The killer couldn't be sure what Carla had told them. He needed to guard Lois; she was vulnerable.
They went back to their desks and sat down to do some of the work that Perry had required.
Perry hadn't been fair to Clark. He had written stories over the last days and had always submitted them to his editor-in-chief. But one or maybe two of them had been late despite all his efforts. The reason wasn't even one of his rescues. The system had been overloaded because everyone always submitted their stories right before deadline. But Perry had blamed it on his frequent disappearances. Clark couldn't be angry at him for this.
He would have to be careful next time. He didn't know when it would happen again. So he used his super speed to type whenever he could. Clark was just writing an interview with Superman, to please Perry, when his telephone rang.
"Clark Kent," he said as he took the receiver eagerly, hoping it was Dr. Klein.
"Mr. Kent, this is Dr. Thomas. I've heard that you are a friend of Superman," a man with a German accent replied.
"Maybe. Why?" Clark asked disappointedly and a bit annoyed that it was again Superman that someone wanted to talk to. That was just another reminder about his alieness. He should be less irritable concerning his secret identity, but he couldn't help it at the moment.
"We would like to meet him. He might be able to help us with a problem," the German answered.
A problem? Why was Superman the one solving problems when he himself needed help?
"Could you give me anything more concrete?" Clark wanted to know.
"I am afraid not. We need to keep this a secret."
Secret! Clark felt even more annoyed. His secret identity had secrets with others that he wasn't allowed to hear. This was so ridiculous. But he himself had built this trap. *Stop complaining!* Clark told himself.
"Okay, I'll tell Superman. Where should he meet you?" Clark sighed inwardly.
The German gave Clark an address in Cologne, Germany before he hung up. Now Clark was thrilled. Carla had been from Cologne and someone from there wanted to talk to him. That couldn't be just coincidence. He went over to Lois and told her about it. He also mentioned what had happened at S.T.A.R. Labs.
Lois agreed with Clark that the call from Germany wasn't just a fluke. She wasn't happy that Clark would be flying to Germany. Carla had told them not to trust anyone who wanted something from Superman? The German man's problem remaining a secret did not ease her mind. But Clark was eager to know more about it. He promised Lois to be careful and offered to take her with him.
Lois knew that Clark would be faster without her. Besides, Perry's mood was so bad, she didn't dare upset him even more, but Cark convinced her that a short trip to Germany would ease her mind. So she gave in. They would leave in the late evening and arrive when it was day in Germany. Clark was sure that they would be back before dawn.
Clark had really insisted in taking Lois with him, though he usually liked to know that she was at home safe. But for now, Lois was likely to be in danger if she was on her own. His parents weren't bulletproof.
His parents! It reminded him of the fact that something had disturbed him about their behavior. They were trying to hide something and he wanted to know what it was. But the newsroom didn't allow him to really stop and think about it.
His telephone rang again and Clark, once more, picked up the receiver. This time it was Dr. Klein who told him that a chunk of the kryptonite was gone. Because of the fire, they couldn't be sure whether it had become gas or had been stolen.
So they didn't know any more than before. Clark's list of worries increased.
Thanks to a silent city, Clark was able to stay in the newsroom for the rest of the day. He and Lois worked on their stories and submitted them to Perry in time. When they were done, they left the newsroom and returned home.
Clark had also told Lois that most of the material Dr. Klein had collected from him during former kryptonite exposure was destroyed. It was another thorn in their hearts since giving samples like blood wasn't easy for Clark. Even if Dr. Klein had been on the right track with his researches, there was no longer any way to know. Lois and Clark were both sad, but for slightly different reasons.
Clark felt once more that his not being human kept Lois from motherhood. Of course Lois would never accuse him of it. But it was true anyway. She hadn't wanted children for years, but with time her defensive attitude had started to change. She had begun to consider the possibility of having children and increasingly liked the idea. And now he, who had brought up the topic repeatedly and had been disappointed every time Lois declined, wasn't able to fulfil her wish for children.
Lois, on the other hand, couldn't help the thought that Clark had given up something truly important to him when he had left the New Kryptonians. He couldn't have known then that he and Lois wouldn't have children. But Lady Zara would have been able to carry his descendants. Whereas she, who considered herself his soul mate, couldn't grant him his deepest desire. It hurt her soul that Clark had to renounce his desires for her.
Each of them ached because of the misery their partner had to endure. At the same time they tried to avoid giving pitiful glances because they knew that the other wouldn't like to receive them.
Since Jonathan and Martha had similar feelings toward each other, it was a very strange atmosphere in the Kent house when the four of them met there that evening.
They were all playing along, pretending that everything was all right. Martha had cooked a meal and they sat around the table, discussing the day. But neither of them mentioned any problems, though each of them felt that he or she wasn't the only one with sorrows. Perhaps that was just the reason for everyone's silence concerning things that really mattered. No one wanted to bother anyone else with their own trouble.
"We won't be sleeping at home tonight," Clark said suddenly.
"Are the two of you going out?" Martha asked with a smile. Her "children" enjoying themselves pleased her and eased her mind.
"Not exactly. We are going on a short trip to Europe," Lois explained.
"Europe?" Jonathan was surprised. "Isn't that a bit far for a *short trip*?"
"We need to do some investigation there. Do you remember that young woman we told you about on Saturday?" Clark replied and watched his parents expectantly. They nodded and he continued. "She was found dead in her hotel room this morning. And then, someone living in the same city as she did called me today and wanted to talk to Superman. I don't see the connection yet, but I'm quite sure that there is one."
"We want to know why Carla was murdered," Lois added.
"When will you be back?" Martha inquired thoughtfully.
"Before dawn, hopefully. Perry is a bit mad at us at the moment," Clark said with a wry smile, "We'd better get going now. Lois, you need to change into something really warm."
It was about ten p.m. He kissed his parents on the cheek and wished them a good night as Lois went upstairs quickly. When she came back down, Clark had cleared the table and wore his Superman suit. Lois had layered on several pullovers and a few pairs of trousers.
They said good night to Martha and Jonathan and stepped into their backyard to take off into the sky of Metropolis.
"Lois, I will fly fast tonight," Clark said in a low voice, "You need to get as close to me as possible. I won't be carrying you in my arms this time."
"Okay Clark, what do you have in mind?"
"You will lie on my back and wrap your arms tightly around me. My cape can protect you from the wind and my aura will also help to keep you safe," Clark explained.
"I think that will look ridiculous," Lois chuckled, but nodded. She stepped behind Clark and wrapped her arms around his waist. He laid his hands on her hips to make sure that she wasn't going to fall down if her grip loosened during their flight.
"You can even get some sleep", he offered. "Do you feel safe with me?"
"Always," Lois replied and placed a kiss on his back.
He floated upwards.
"If you get cold I will warm you up. Just tell me."
"I know you will, Clark." Lois was pleased that Clark took her with him. They hadn't been flying together over a long distance for quite some time now. He wasn't too keen on taking her with him to major rescues. And he rarely flew long distances for other reasons.
Clark sped up. But with Lois, he couldn't fly as fast as he usually did. They would need a few hours to get to Germany.
Tuesday Germany, Cologne
The sky over Cologne was blue with a few white clouds in it. The great river separated the city into two. They were connected by several bridges. The most famous of them led directly to the Cologne Cathedral, a high and dark gothic monument, on the left bank of the Rhine. It was the center of the city and its most important sight. Two towers reached up into the sky, seemingly trying to touch it. Around the main church there were countless others.
The city around them seemed endless, but not because Cologne was so big. It had about a million inhabitants. Rather because the region was so densely settled. Other cities began right at the borders of Cologne. And next to them there were more cities.
Adjacent to the cathedral were the narrow houses of the old part of the city. Most of them weren't really old; they had been rebuilt after the city had been destroyed almost completely. Between the houses there were remnants of the former inhabitants of the city, the Romans, and the people of the Middle Ages as well. Cologne was a strange mixture of modern buildings and testaments to its history.
At about eight o'clock in the morning Clark flew over the city, searching for the place the man on the telephone had described. The skyline of Cologne was so unlike the skyline of Metropolis. It wasn't obstructed by skyscrapers. There were only a few of them and citizens of the town wouldn't have called them skyscrapers. The highest ones had about twenty floors. Most of the other buildings had about six. The streets were full of sunlight. Clark liked the city immediately.
Lois excitedly watched the city from above. She thought that the Cathedral of Cologne resembled St. Patrick's cathedral in New York. But this one was far more impressive. She wasn't sure if it was actually taller than St. Patrick's, but being the tallest building around definitely made it more impressive.
Clark had found the place. The University of Cologne looked just like Dr. Thomas had described it. He headed there and soon saw a taller building. A short x-raying showed him that it was indeed the ward of the university hospital. He didn't know why Dr. Thomas wanted to meet him there. He assumed that Dr. Thomas was a physician. Clark landed in a lonesome corner of the area.
As much as she enjoyed flying with Clark, Lois was relieved to set her feet on the ground again.
"You'd better hide somewhere, I don't believe he will be pleased to see that I brought someone with me," Clark whispered to Lois. "I will tell you everything later. If you get into trouble just call me."
"Do you really think that I cannot look after myself for a few minutes?" Lois muttered.
"I'm just prepared for all possibilities," Clark replied teasingly and grinned.
Lois smiled back at him and went away. Clark followed her with his eyes and waited for Dr. Thomas to come. It didn't take long. Almost as soon as Lois was out of sight, a physician approached. He wore a white coat and already had grey hair. Clark estimated that he was about fifty years old.
"Hello Superman. I'm Dr. Thomas," he greeted Clark.
"Dr. Thomas." Clark nodded firmly. "Why did you want to meet with me?"
"I see you get directly to the point. I'd like to do some research," Dr. Thomas answered.
"Research?" Clark said, alarmed by the mere word. "I'm not going to be a guinea pig. You'll need to find someone else to do research on.
"Please let me explain what I need from you. Maybe you will agree then," the doctor pleaded.
"Ok, shoot," Clark gave in.
"I want to find a way to cure people more easily. Your healing abilities are impressive. I've been wondering for quite some time now if we can find this ability in your genes. This way you could help prevent the death of thousands of people. If you would give us your permission to research your genome," Dr. Thomas explained and watched Superman's expression anxiously.
"Genetic therapy? Do you really think this will work? As far as I know hundreds of scientists have been researching this field for years. It's still in its infancy, isn't it?" Clark demurred.
"Yes, that's true," the physician admitted," but Genetic therapy is the future of medicine. It offers the best imaginable chances to cure lethal diseases if it works one day. There's no living being on Earth that possesses genes with the potential of your genome. The research will take years and I want to start as soon as possible. It could change medical science forever. It would be the greatest revolution since the development of antibiotics."
Clark could see that the physician was excited from head to toe. He found his enthusiasm to be contagious. Of course it would be great to save people's lives even after his own death. Especially considering the unlikelihood of him ever having any descendants that would be able to. If he couldn't father children, maybe he owed it to this world to help it otherwise.
*But also tell him not to trust the people wanting him to do whatever it is that they want from him, exactly. I'm not so sure whether it is as good a thing for the world as they claim.* he heard Carla's voice in the back of his mind. He should think about this first. *Don't be too fast with your decisions,* he reminded himself.
"I promise I will think about it," Clark said. "But this is all I can promise you right now."
The physician seemed disappointed. He had hoped for a positive answer. Clark couldn't help it; he didn't want to be responsible for the results if this physician wasn't such a philanthropist after all. Clark nodded firmly and took off to find Lois.
He found her in a smaller building next to the ward. A little bit of super hearing and x-ray vision had helped a lot to locate her. Clark decided to change into street clothes somewhere, because they would attract less attention. Minutes later he entered the building, going directly over to Lois.
She strolled around in the hall, watching the people around her.
Clark greeted her with a kiss.
"I'll tell you later. Ready to go, honey?" he whispered in her ear.
"Not yet," Lois returned. "I heard students saying something about a Carla. But I didn't understand what they said."
"No problem." Clark smiled. He walked over to the group of students, with Lois following closely behind.
"Entschuldigung. Kennt jemand von Ihnen eine Carla Seefeld?" he asked. [Excuse-me, does anyone know Carla Seefeld?]
The group of students turned to look at Clark. Obviously they were surprised that a stranger wanted to know something about Carla. The suddenly sad expressions on their faces told Clark two things: they definitely knew Carla and they were aware of her death.
"Sind sie von der Polizei?" One of the students confirmed his speculations. [Are you from the police?]
"Nein, ich bin Reporter und heiße Clark Kent. Ich arbeite für den Daily Planet. Das ist meine Kollegin, Lois Lane. Sie spricht leider kein Deutsch." Clark replied. "Sie wissen also schon, dass Frau Seefeld tot ist?" [No, I'm a reporter and my name is Clark Kent. I work for the Daily Planet. This is my colleague Lois Lane. She doesn't speak German. So you've already heard of Ms. Seefeld's death?]
"Ja. Einer von uns hat es heute Morgen in der Zeitung entdeckt. Carla wollte nach Metropolis reisen und gestern wurde eine tote Carla Seefeld dort gefunden. So viele Carla Seefelds kann es in Metropolis ja nicht geben," the student explained. "Sie sagten Sie arbeiten für den Daily Planet. Hat der auch eine Redaktion in Köln?" [Yes, one of us read it in the newspaper this morning. Carla wanted to travel to Metropolis and yesterday there was a dead Carla Seefeld found there. There aren't many people called Carla Seefeld in Metropolis, are there? You said you work for the Daily Planet. Is there a newsroom in Cologne as well?]
"Ich hatte gerade hier zu tun. Können Sie uns bitte sagen, warum Carla Seefeld in Metropolis war?" Clark continued. [I've got things to do here. Do you know why Carla Seefeld was in Metropolis?]
Most of the students were shaking their heads and mumbling something about holidays. But there was a shy young woman between them who seemed to know more than the others.
"Sie wollte dort jemanden treffen," the woman said. "Sie war sehr aufgeregt und meinte, dass es wichtig sei. Aber worum es ging, wollte sie nicht sagen." [She wanted to meet somebody there)She was very excited and told me that it was something important. But she didn't want to say what it was all about.]
"Sagt Ihnen p53 etwas?" Clark asked, as he suddenly remembered what Henderson had asked them in the hotel. [Do you know what p53 means?]
"Na ja, das ist der Name eines Proteins. Hilft Ihnen das weiter?" one of the students shrugged. [Well, it's the name of a protein. Does that help you?]
Clark shook his head thoughtfully. "Das macht keinen Sinn." [That doesn't make sense.]
He gave the group a short explanation for his question about p53. The students agreed with him; it couldn't have anything to do with a protein. Clark thanked the students and said goodbye. Then he turned around to Lois and the two of them walked away. On their way outside, Clark told her what the students had said.
Lois had no clue how a protein could be connected with the death of Carla, either. So both assumed that p53 meant something totally different. Maybe Jimmy could find out something about it? They had forgotten it completely after Perry had been so unhappy with their interest in Carla's death. For him it was just another murder in the city, not worth a long article from his best reporters.
Lois and Clark searched for some hidden place where they could prepare for their flight back to Metropolis. Clark told Lois about Dr. Thomas' plans and his reaction to them. Lois was content with his decision to just consider it. She knew that Clark was usually so eager to help that he sometimes forgot to think twice.
Within half an hour they were back in the air, returning home.
Superman had been there. That much was true. But what had happened in Cologne? Had Superman agreed? It was possible. The Boy Scout was an enthusiastic helper. So this was probably the right time for step three. Well, it surely was the right time. He couldn't afford to find out if Superman had actually agreed, first. If he had, there was no time left for rethinking. Something had to be done as soon as possible.
Thanks to his brilliant plan, he was prepared. All it took to start step three was a short phone call. Hopefully the man he was going to call was prepared just as well for his duty. He had put much effort in finding a reliable man. Everything would work just fine. As sure as his name was p53. He laughed out loud at the irony of this name. It had amused him ever since he had chosen it. He loved irony.
*I'm afraid we can't help you, Mr. and Mrs. Kent. The debts on your farm are very high. To sell it is the only decision.*
Jonathan woke up, sweat covering his face. The voice of the banker he had spoken to the day before still resounded in the back of his mind.
Their farm was lost. The ache was still so fresh and unbearable that Jonathan winced at the mere thought. How had this been possible? The summer had been great, neither too cold nor too dry. His corn had grown perfectly. He had hoped to solve some of their financial problems this year. With the harvest he could have paid back some of his debts.
But then, by some unpredictable fate, his bank gave notice on his loans. This was totally unusual for the bank of Smallville. They lent their money mainly to farmers since Smallville consisted pretty much of farms. Why shouldn't they wait until the harvest allowed their debtors to earn enough money? His debts hadn't even been any higher than they used to be. The previous summer had also been perfect. He couldn't see any reason for this.
Unless the real reason was not his debts but his land.
Wayne Irig, one of his oldest friends, had also lost his land. And they weren't the only ones in Smallville. Maybe there was someone eager to buy a lot of land in Smallville. But he had no proofs to back up these suspicions.
And even if he were right, how could it help him get back his belongings? His and Martha's future lay in Smallville, not in Metropolis. They were too old to learn a new trade. And they definitely wouldn't ask Clark for money. There wasn't much money left for them. Buying the tickets for the flight had been expensive enough. Jonathan didn't know what he could do.
Maybe he should tell Clark. But what was *he* supposed to do?
"Clark, I think it's time to talk," Lois said suddenly while they were flying back to Metropolis. "I mean the children problem," she added.
They had nearly reached the city and Clark had been right. It was shortly after dawn. Perry wouldn't be furious at them for coming in late to work.
"You're right; we need to talk about it. We've tried to ignore hurtful topics before, but we both know that it only makes things worse," he replied. "Oh Lois, I'm so sorry that I can't give you children. It hurts me that I am the one keeping you from the joys of motherhood."
"I know how you feel, Clark. I can't help thinking that Lady Zara would have been able to fulfil your desires." Lois swallowed hard.
"Oh, Lois. Don't think for a moment that I regret not being with Zara. I love you, with all my heart. My deepest desire is to have children with *you*. It's not just about descendants. I'd just love to share a part of me with you in this way. But if this isn't possible, I can live with it. I really can," Clark announced passionately. "You are the one person in the universe I will love all my life, even after it."
Lois hugged him tightly, placing a kiss on his back. "You are more important to me than motherhood can ever be. I don't absolutely want children at all costs. If we are not meant to have children, then it is okay with me. I love you so much."
Both felt eased by their declarations of love. They had worried so much the other's pain yet had been so wrong in their assumptions. This sentence doesn't make sense. Of course the children problem wasn't solved yet and both would have to deal with the fact that they couldn't grant the other's desire. But they had had other, bigger problems before. They would face this together.
The skyline of Metropolis came in sight. They approached it quickly though Clark had already slowed down. It was early morning and they had two hours left to reach the newsroom. Lois had slept for a while on Clark's back, while they were flying. She felt safe enough with him to have a nap.
Neither of them knew that someone sitting on the roof of a skyscraper in the city centre was examining the sky thoroughly, waiting for Superman to show up. For now, their only worry was that they might wake up Clark's parents accidentally when they returned home.
Suddenly Clark heard a sound he couldn't identify. All he could say was that something approached him very quickly. Then it got farther away and the sound of whatever it was faded away.
He noticed too late that something was very wrong. A searing pain in his left upper leg told him that the "whatever" — it — was a kryptonite bullet and that he now had a very big problem. The sound had faded because the evil green rock had started to rob him of his powers. The feeling was as agonizing as ever, the pain spreading through his whole body almost unbearable.
Lois' seemingly increasing weight reminded him of the fact that he wasn't the only one in danger. If this were the case, he could have tried to just fall down on Earth using his remaining strength to soften his fall. He would have mainly trusted in his invulnerability. This was not an alternative now. Oh yes, he had a very big problem indeed!
It didn't take Lois long to realize that something had happened to Clark. He was moaning and losing altitude quickly. She had known him long enough to identify the symptoms. It had to be kryptonite. And despite the loss of height, they were still pretty far away from the skyscrapers. There was no way for Lois to survive falling down, even if Clark probably would before his invulnerability was completely lost.
"Clark!" Lois screamed not able to totally suppress her panic.
His first answer was another moan of pain. He tried to find the strength for real words. It wasn't easy because he knew that he should save his power to land securely on the ground. But on the other hand, the kryptonite was draining his powers. Without speaking now they might last a little longer, even though it was to no avail with Hyperion Avenue still being at least two miles away. Saving his powers wouldn't lead him anywhere. And if he wanted someone to help him quickly, Hyperion Avenue was the right destination. He seriously doubted that there was another place in Metropolis where he would definitely find help. If he couldn't prevent Lois from getting hurt, then she would need help for sure.
"Lois, I need your help," he gasped.
"What can I do, Clark?" Lois asked.
"Call my parents," he replied.
"Do you… remember? Being… with… you… is… stronger… than… me… alone," he coughed, exhausted by the effort of speaking loud enough for Lois to hear his words.
"Of course I do," Lois shouted against the wind.
"Talk me through this. Keep me awake. Give me your strength," he said in a much lower voice.
"Alright, honey. Please stay with me."
"Lois, I love you."
"I love you, too, my darling."
Lois felt Clark speeding up again and suddenly knew what he was going to try. He didn't need to say anything more. She wrapped her arms firmly around him. His grip on her hips was loosening. The whole flight through it had been him who cared about her safety. He had prevented her from falling down from his back. Now Lois needed to stay there on her own.
She searched through her purse with one hand to get her mobile phone. She called Martha and Jonathan quickly to tell them what was going on. Then she put the phone back in its place and wrapped her arms around Clark. Under her left hand she felt the steady beat of his heart with a strongly increased rate.
"You can do it, darling. You're right on the way. Home is just a few minutes away." Lois encouraged Clark.
He felt so weak and was barely conscious. His body was set on fire, making him forget the injury completely. He couldn't put the finger on a single aching spot. Ache was everywhere. From somewhere, digging through the haze of his mind, came Lois soft voice, telling him to keep flying. He couldn't stop; he *had* to obey her words. As hard as it was. But Lois deserved every effort he could raise. Her soft voice sent energy to his sore muscles. He could hold her more easily. At least it seemed so.
His flying had become steadier which relieved Lois. But they weren't out of danger. The city was big and Hyperion Avenue was still a few blocks away from them. Lois whispered in Clark's ear the whole time, trying to make that mental connection with him. She had felt it before when there had been difficult times. His illness caused by the Kryptonian virus was just one of the examples.
Exhaustion was getting hold of him. Lois' voice in his ears repeated that it wasn't far anymore before they reached home. Pain was in every tendon and every bone. It cursed through his being. His body wanted to give up, screaming for his permission to let go. Unconsciousness seemed to be the easy way out. But it wasn't and his mind was well aware of this. Lois, who pressed him to go further, to use whatever resource he had, was his anchor in this nightmare. But his body had no intention of admitting it and disliked to agree with his mind.
He knew that he was going to lose her. They needed a miracle to prevent it. All he could do now was save her life. It would probably cost him his own, but that didn't matter. She meant the world to him. She deserved to live and he would grant her a life.
*Do it for her,* he encouraged himself. Calling his parents had only been a precaution if he wasn't able to land her without injuries.
Lois sighed with relief when she saw Hyperion Avenue. Clark had lost more and more altitude, but they were still flying too high and too fast to land safely. It cut Lois' heart like a knife to push Clark like this, but both their lives depended on her doing it.
She started to whisper in his ears again, pleading with him to slow down. She encouraged him, telling him again and again that he would do it just perfectly. Clark had let out moans during their flight but he hadn't spoken since his last declaration of love.
Lois felt Clark shivering violently under her and tried to soothe him with her touch. His heart was still beating fast, but not very steadily anymore. It seemed to flutter against her hand. Lois went on telling Clark what he should do and his body followed her instructions unwillingly. She had always admired his willpower, enabling him to go far beyond the burden of his powers. But she had never seen him this strong.
Though all bets were against them, they indeed slowed down. Clark was semi-conscious at best, but somehow he managed to control their descent. Lois had already feared that he would fall from the sky like a stone. But his flying almost inspired her with the hope that everything would be all right again. She wasn't aware that she was holding her breath, being astonished by the miracle she witnessed. At the same time she was praying silently that her hope wasn't going to be dashed violently.
He couldn't think anymore, feeling so helpless against the might of his pain. He still endured it, gritting his teeth, always on the verge of losing consciousness. Only Lois' encouraging whispers penetrated through the thick fog in his mind. He saw nothing around him and was only kept in the air by her words.
*Don't stop speaking* A lonesome brain cell formed unspoken words.
But Lois understood him. She was the source of his powers at this moment and she already knew it. Now they were coming in slowly and low enough to consider landing. Hyperion Avenue was so close that tears of relief streamed down Lois cheeks. Only a few whispers separated them from home. Lois wouldn't give up now.
"P53" would be shocked, surprised, furious and then embarrassed that he had failed. He couldn't care less about that guy. It was part of his plan, that "P53" was the loser at that point in time. That was inevitable to ensure his winning the battle over Kent. He had tried before, but Kent had been strong. That was the reason for a couple of other people being on his revenge list now. By winning the last battle, Kent had written them down, so to speak. Being responsible for the fate of his beloved must be hard, but Kent deserved this. His last attempt in killing Kent hadn't been successful, but had already thought of that. His next attempt would be deadly.
Having a few more people to take revenge on didn't bother him, rather it excited him. He had found his pleasure in life in taking revenge. It satisfied him more than anything he'd ever done before. Actually he owed Kent a lot for showing him that new, thrilling and enjoyable way of life. Too bad that Kent wouldn't feel those waves of ecstasy as well. An eerie laughter filled the room.
It was over. They lay together in their backyard. Lois had fallen from Clark's back because of the rough landing. But she wasn't hurt, which was the greatest of wonders, considering their former situation.
Clark! She crawled to him, knowing that he had to be in bad shape. He had lost consciousness and was lying on his stomach. She turned him around and he didn't even moan. The suit was soaked with blood on his left leg and he wasn't moving. She pressed a hand on his chest and felt a light heartbeat. He was breathing shallowly. She was so relieved to find him still alive. She had to get rid of the kryptonite!
Lois stood up almost automatically and stormed to the back door of their brownstone. It took her only seconds to get inside. Lois headed for the kitchen to fetch scissors and other tools to remove the deadly crystal. Her hands moved almost of their own volition to grab what she needed, as well as a few towels. As if they had a mind of their own, her legs brought her back to her husband who was still lying on the ground.
As soon as she kneeled down beside Clark, her hands started moving again.
She took the scissors and cut off the suit at the left leg. After that she grabbed a towel and dabbed away some blood so she could see the bullet more easily. To Lois' relief, it wasn't too deep in his leg. She picked up something that resembled tweezers.
Her hands trembled at the mere thought of having to pull out the bullet. Clark was still unconscious and his breathing was becoming even shallower. She had to do something about it immediately otherwise she would lose the love of her life. She reminded herself that he had been willing to risk everything to save her life. He could have died from the effort of using his powers while under the influence of kryptonite.
Lois took a deep breath and exhaled slowly to calm herself. Then she adjusted her grip on the tweezers, holding them more firmly in her hand. She had some trouble getting hold of the bullet. But as soon as she had managed to grab it, she pulled it out of his leg. Once she had succeeded, she quickly moved the kryptonite out of Clark's reach.
When she came back, he was still unconscious. Martha kneeled next to him, stroking his chest and checking for his pulse frequently. Though she had been there since they had landed in the garden, Lois hadn't really noticed her until that moment. Martha looked so desperate and anxious that Lois could feel her mother-in-law's pain tightening around her heart. Lois kneeled again next to Clark and pressed a towel firmly against his still bleeding leg.
He had been shot like this years before, but back then his wound had healed almost instantly. Except he hadn't been exposed so long then. And he hadn't worked so hard. Nevertheless, his breathing was already becoming a bit deeper and less labored. Lois hoped that he would soon come to. But they could only guess at how much blood he had lost. He wasn't out of danger yet.
They needed to drag him into the house and Lois wondered whether his parents would suffice to get him there. Jonathan had come outside and gave the two women an inquisitive look. They nodded at him, indicating that his son was still alive and getting better. The shock of the last minutes was slowly fading. But Lois needed to hold Clark tightly to reassure herself that he was doing better than before. She had almost lost him and she might still lose him.
Slowly he began sensing his surroundings again, but everything came through a thick haze of pain and dizziness. The pain was localized now, pulsating through his leg. The fire burning in every corner of his being was almost extinguished, reduced to a small flame. But he was weak and still nauseous. The world seemed to be spinning around him and he hadn't even opened his eyes. Someone was holding him and he came to the conclusion that it had to be Lois. He hoped it was Lois, because that would mean she was okay. But were those soothing arms really hers? Did he dare open his eyes to find out? Was his tongue able to form understandable words? He wasn't sure.
A moan indicated that Clark was waking up slowly. He moaned again, trying to say something. Lois brought her ear closer to his mouth. He was whispering her name. She softly squeezed his hand and a weak smile appeared on his lips.
"I'm right here, my love," she whispered back, then he faded away again.
Lois knew that he couldn't stay in the garden. It was too cold for her weak husband to lie in the damp grass. And what if someone saw them there? She decided that it was worth a try to drag him inside with Jonathan and Martha's help. Maybe she should call an ambulance instead, but Clark wouldn't be happy about that. Of course being dead wouldn't make anyone happy either. But Dr. Klein seemed to be the better person to contact first.
Lois ran into the house again, and called Dr. Klein. Martha and Jonathan were both working on a way to bring Clark inside without hurting him further. They were all anxious but they knew that it was the only way to save his life.
Everything was still blurry when Clark woke up again. His body felt sore and his leg was still hurting like hell. Especially since someone seemed to be digging inside it. A groan escaped his throat. He lay on something more comfortable than the grass in the garden. Someone had moved him and he noticed that it had left bruises on his body which weren't caused by the rough landing. Slowly his vision became clearer.
Dr. Klein was examining and treating him. The doctor mumbled something Clark could hardly understand. He was cleaning his wounds and trying to stop the bleeding as far as Clark knew. His healing ability hadn't kicked in yet, but that was not really surprising to Clark. He had totally gone for broke on this crazy flight back.
Lois had taken his hand in hers, squeezing it lightly and stroking the back of it with her thumb. He fully concentrated on this endearing sensation trying to blind out the pain of his leg. He felt her presence more than anything else, drinking it in and relying on it. He wanted to squeeze her hand as well, to reassure her and tell her that he was getting better. But his muscles refused to obey.
Again he was moaning and sighing which made Lois want to die. It was so hard to see him like this. He never ever showed his weakness voluntarily. If he was in such a state, he really was doing poorly. She noticed that he was slowly waking up. His fingers had moved subtly. Another moan escaped him and Lois saw him opening his eyes.
"Lois," he whispered in a very low voice, barely audible.
"You're safe," Lois replied in that warm comforting tone of hers, soothing Clark.
"I believe I've done everything I can do for him now. Fortunately there are no vital parts injured. The bullet hasn't destroyed much and I think he'll be healed completely within a matter of days. But I can't deny that I'm not so sure if it will be indeed days. I've never seen him so weak and I dare not make a prediction as to when his powers will be back again," Dr. Klein said when he was finished treating the wound.
He had thoroughly bandaged Clark's leg. He was still dressed as Superman. Lois had told Dr. Klein almost the entire truth about their flight, but she hadn't explained the reasons behind it. Like Clark, she didn't want people knowing too much about their secret. Maybe Dr. Klein deserved to know since he had proven himself to be a reliable friend for the last years. But Lois saw the disadvantages: Dr. Klein was often absent-minded and people who were let in on the secret seemed to be in danger frequently. And Clark wasn't ready to save anyone.
Dr. Klein left Hyperion Avenue and promised to return the next day. If he was needed before this, they could call him as required. The three Kents thanked him for his help and even Clark mumbled something resembling thankfulness.
Lois sat next to Clark still stroking his hand.
"How are you, Lois?" he asked.
"I'm fine, Clark. Thanks to you," she replied, smiling warmly.
"Where am I?" he murmured.
"In our bedroom. Everything's all right, honey. I'm so glad to have you back" Lois answered unable to hide the joy in her voice that Clark was doing better. "How do you feel?"
"As if I had been run over by an elephant, if that allusion can be used for Superman." He coughed in an attempt at laughter.
Lois smiled back wryly. "So you're better, if you're up to jokes, huh? Oh, darling, I was so worried." She brushed her lips against his forehead lightly. "You need to sleep to recover from this ordeal. We should get that suit off to make it more comfortable for you."
Lois already had scissors with her; she knew that the suit wasn't worth saving. She cut it off completely, wanting Clark to be able to relax and sleep. It didn't take him long to fade into unconsciousness again.
He slept for most of the day. The three Kents took turns in watching him. Lois took the first turn, while Martha and Jonathan went shopping for bandages and painkillers. They did not have much hope that it would help Clark, but it was worth a try.
Lois had called Perry to explain why neither Clark nor she would come to work that day. She didn't tell him too many lies. He had been a good reporter, one of the best, to be precise. He sensed every lie, like a shark smelled blood in the water. If she wasn't honest with him, Perry was going to find out. She mentioned that Clark was injured and in no shape to come to work. That was perfectly true. She left out the circumstances of his injury and said that she was tired from worrying about her husband and wanted to stay with him. This was the closest she could get to the truth without telling Perry too much.
Jonathan had already watched Clark and it was just Martha's turn, when he woke up again. He felt a bit stronger than before. He wasn't tired to death anymore, but his powers still refused to return and his leg kept hurting. He opened his eyes and saw his mother sitting next to the bed and looking at him carefully.
"Hi, Mom. How's Lois?" he said in a low voice.
Martha sighed with relief. "You're awake, Clark! Lois is all right. You did a great job in saving her, I'm so proud of you," Somehow the smile on Martha's face seemed contrived; it was more like forced to be precise.
"What's the matter, Mom? I haven't seen you so sad in years," he asked, concerned.
"I've been worrying about you, darling," she replied, but Clark knew that it wasn't true.
"Don't try to lie to me, Mom. There's something else bothering you," Clark stated.
"It's not important, honey. Just look after your health."
"Don't baby me, Martha Kent," Clark admonished her playfully.
"We've lost the farm," Martha admitted sorrowfully.
"How's that possible?" Clark asked, in shock. "I thought the harvest was going to be good this year?"
"The bank gave notice on our loans. We are being forced to sell the farm. There is a big company buying land in Smallville. Your father thinks that they're behind our problems, but he can't prove it."
"Why didn't you tell us earlier? We could have done some investigation, forced this company to give up their plans. If they have any, that is," Clark said thoughtfully.
"I don't think there's anything you could do about it, honey. So why should we bother you in the first place?"
"Well, this is what family's for, isn't it?" he asked.
"Well, yeah, I guess so. But we thought that you two were busy dealing with your own problems. I'll go and tell Lois that you're awake now. She was so distressed and devastated after the last few hours."
"It must be killing Dad to lose the farm. I know how much this land means to both of you," Clark said sympathetically. "Lois and I will do whatever we can to help you."
"Clark, you don't have to do that. We know that you are dealing with a whole lot of problems yourselves. I'll go and call Lois. She's been so worried." Martha stood up and left her place next to the bed. After giving Clark a loving glance, she left the bedroom.
Only moments later, Lois came in. She sat down on the bed and kissed her husband passionately.
"Oh, Clark, I thought I'd lost you," she said, her tone still indicating the misery she had had to endure.
"You would have lost me if it wasn't for the strength you were giving me on that horrible flight. And you removed the bullet, I assume? So you saved my life in every possible way today," Clark replied softly. "I really need to thank you, honey. I didn't think I was going to survive this to see you ever again." He kissed her deeply, caressing her back.
"You saved my life as well. Does your leg still hurt?"
"It's getting better," he answered, not completely honest.
"Liar," Lois remarked. "Don't even think you can fool me."
She embraced him, holding him tightly and pressed her face against his bare chest. She wasn't going to let go of him anymore. The sensation of his warm skin against her cheek made her place light kisses on his chest. Her hands began to caress his arms, his stomach and his face.
He let out a small moan at the sensation of her fingers and lips on his body. He laid his hand under her chin and lifted it in order to be able to kiss her. Her mouth was soft and warm, it felt so silky. It was the first step of getting close to her, the first step of lovemaking. He sighed as he felt her tender, gentle touch, the warmth of her skin against his. This was so pleasant, so unlike the torture of the last hours.
"I'm so sorry Clark, I shouldn't have. I didn't mean to hurt you." She wanted to leave him, looking so sad and very angry at herself for being so thoughtless.
He caught her wrist and held her back. "You could never hurt me and you certainly didn't a moment ago. I like your touch; I need to feel it now. Your tender caresses can never hurt me," he reassured her once more.
"Don't worry, my love. You need to find comfort with me as much as I do with you. We both endured horrible moments. We thought we'd lost each other; let's just prove to each other it's not true at all. This is just about the two of us; please enjoy this with me." He kissed her again lightly, dragging her against him and holding her tightly. "Wanna see me begging?" he teased her.
It had been afternoon when Clark completely woke up. After their passionate encounter, both Lois and Clark had fallen asleep. They had been exhausted after the events of the night and day. Lois hadn't gotten much sleep during their flight to Europe and back. And she hadn't been able to rest when she was worried to death that she might lose him. So neither of them woke up until the following day.
As Dr. Klein had assumed, Clark's powers refused to return. His leg was still throbbing and he used his memories from the previous afternoon to forget his pain. He was also thinking about the information they had gotten in Germany. They still didn't know what p53 meant and he was quite sure that Lois hadn't bothered to check if Jimmy had investigated anything.
But the more he thought about it, the more important it seemed to him. Carla had known something and had died for it. And someone had wanted to kill him as well just after his return from Germany. He didn't see a link yet, but he was sure that one existed. As long as he was alive, his life would certainly be in jeopardy. Without Lois he couldn't even have survived this latest encounter with kryptonite.
He picked up the receiver of the telephone on the nightstand and dialed his own number at the Planet. Jimmy had made a habit of taking his calls when he was absent.
"Clark Kent's desk. Jimmy Olsen speaking."
"Hi, Jimmy, this is Clark."
"Clark? How are you? Lois told me you were hurt. What happened?" Jimmy was curious as ever.
"I'm okay, mostly. It's a long story and I don't think I'm up to working for a couple of days. Jimmy, I need your help," Clark replied.
"What can I do for you?" Jimmy asked.
"Find out everything you can about something called p53. I have no idea what it is. And when you have time for it, please look into who's buying land back in Smallville," Clark implored and said good-bye to Jimmy who promised to do his very best.
Lois woke up from the noise Clark's call had caused. She watched him, pleased that he was actually doing better than the previous day.
"Hi, honey," she smiled and kissed him.
"Hi yourself," he replied grinning and returned her kiss. "Be careful, I'm still a broken man."
He told her about Jimmy trying to find out about p53. Clark also mentioned what his mother had said the day before about having lost the farm. Lois was shocked by the news and also eager to help her in-laws. Neither she, nor Clark could bear the thought of them living anywhere but on their land. She had never actually met people that seemed to belong more to the place they lived in than Martha and Jonathan.
Lois knew that it couldn't be long before Dr. Klein would arrive. So she decided it was better that he not catch Superman and her in bed together. Lois rose from bed and got dressed quickly while Clark stayed there. He would try to get up himself after the doctor had visited him. Clark wasn't so sure if he would actually allow him to walk. But he was pretty sure that the nasty wound hadn't healed yet. It was still sensitive and achy.
Another thing Clark wasn't sure about was Superman. The hero would certainly not appear before tomorrow and Clark seriously doubted that being back to normal the next day was very likely. So where did the world think he was? And what was the sniper thinking?
If Superman was considered dead, he was in no danger and neither was Lois. She always seemed to be the main target for villains attempting to kill Superman. He wasn't the man to save her from danger at the moment. But was she really out of danger now? Assuming that Carla's murderer thought that Lois and Clark knew something they shouldn't know; they might pose a threat to him and therefore would be on his hit list as well.
So maybe their life was at stake until they found out who was behind these strange happenings. He wasn't eager to consider themselves as being a possible target, but he couldn't deny that it was the safest thing to assume while he didn't know better. He would speak with Lois about it, pleading with her to be more careful than usual while he wasn't up to full strength. And he would definitely try to get his powers back as soon as possible.
To Lois great relief, Dr. Klein hadn't asked too many questions. He wasn't curious as to why Superman lay in their conjugal bed. Or maybe he was, but had decided not to dig too far. Anyway, he had said that Superman was better than the previous day. However, he had also mentioned that it was very unlikely that his powers would come back within such a short period of time. His theory was that Superman still had to deal with a heavy loss of blood.
His healing ability wasn't completely gone, but it was mostly being used to keep him alive. It wasn't strong enough to heal his wounds or restore his powers. Therefore Dr. Klein suggested being careful and not staying in the sun too long. He wasn't sure it wouldn't make things worse rather than better.
He had brought crutches with him and advised Superman to get up and walk around without putting weight on his injured leg. Dr. Klein didn't think that injections of Heparin would do Superman any good. And staying in bed too long might cause a pulmonary embolism even if the patient was the Man of Steel. Since Clark himself was very eager to leave his bed, he had no problems obeying the doctor's instructions.
Dr. Klein had once again promised to have a look at Superman's leg the next morning. He had been gone for quite a while and Clark was still in bed. He looked at the crutches with some embarrassment. The strongest man on Earth needed to rely on their support to walk around. It was hard to imagine.
Lois was downstairs and had a talk with his parents concerning their problems. Jimmy wasn't yet finished with his researches and hadn't called back. But then, Clark had spoken to him only two hours ago so this wasn't very surprising.
He forced his attention back to the crutches and managed to get his legs out of bed with a small groan. His left leg was still hurting with every move he made. He wasn't actually used to pain that stayed so long. The pain kryptonite usually caused him faded when the stuff was removed. This time was different.
The crutches were right next to the bed. Lois had offered to help. More precisely, she had threatened to become hell's most devilish fury if he didn't call her on his first attempt at standing up. But he wasn't too eager for her to watch him. So he grabbed the crutches and lifted himself up cautiously. He put his weight only on his good leg, knowing very well that the injured one couldn't take it.
Clark stood; not very steadily, but he stood. With this goal achieved, he tried his first step. It was more exhausting than he had imagined. As long as he had been in bed, he had felt strong. Well, at least he had felt a whole lot better than hours before. He had hoped that he was strong in the common sense of the word. But he now was forced to realize that even human strength was something he hadn't yet regained. His forehead was wet with sweat and his arms were trembling. He decided to sit down again and rest a moment before he tried again.
His second attempt was more successful and he managed a few steps. It was still tiring and he didn't know how he was ever going to climb down the stairs in his ridiculous condition. Dr. Klein had advised him to move around, but he had also said that Clark shouldn't ask too much of himself. So Clark went back to his bed again and sat down slowly with a sigh.
He shifted positions until he could stretch his legs and fetched the remote control from his nightstand. He was very curious to find out what the news said about Superman. Clark's actions over the next few days and weeks depended mainly on what he would hear from the media. He switched the TV on.
A familiar feeling of guilt coursed trough him when he saw several bad accidents in the news which he could have prevented. Maybe he wouldn't have been shot that night if he hadn't flown to Germany. He still suspected a connection between his visit there and the sharpshooter. He should stop being so kind to fly to every person calling for him. When they weren't in trouble, then maybe they shouldn't receive his attention. He should really learn to say "No" once in a while.
But then, the trip was an important part of Clark Kent's work. He always claimed that Clark Kent was his real identity, but he couldn't put the work of a journalist over his duties as Superman, could he? It was the same problem he always had to face with his two identities. And with losing his powers it didn't get easier, quite the opposite. Maybe his conscience harmed him enough to keep a whole bunch of psychiatrists busy for months.
The news didn't say much about Superman. Everyone had different ideas concerning his whereabouts. Rumors suited him in this case, because there were always people claiming to have seen him. Particularly when he was absent and the media was beginning to ask questions. There was always someone trying to gain a little bit of fame. As long as no one doubted that Superman continued fulfilling his duties, Clark was content. Of course people would start to wonder where he actually was when no film material appeared on television. Clark would worry about it when this became a problem, not before.
Clark turned off the TV not knowing what he was going to do next. He could sleep, hoping for his powers to come back earlier, but he seriously doubted that would have any effect since he wasn't very tired at the moment. Okay, he was trying to fool himself. He was damned tired, but at the same time he wasn't ready to sleep. He had too many things to think about and they didn't allow him to rest, yet.
In his current state, he understood Lois better than ever. No matter how ill she was, she would be on her way to the Planet as soon as possible. In this very moment, Clark wished he was in the newsroom, working on the investigation about Carla. Sitting on his bed, barely able to stand, left him desperate. It wasn't the first time that he had been ill. He had been in a very bad condition during his virus infection, but then he had been able to move. When the virus had robbed off all his strength, he hadn't been in the mood to do anything. It had been different from now. Now he was mentally capable of everything, his body just didn't let him do what he wanted to do.
Clark heard steps in the staircase and then Lois' voice talking to someone. He didn't understand her words, which reminded him again of his lost powers. Lois was speaking quickly, hastily and impatiently. Since no one replied, he assumed that Lois was calling someone. Of course she talked to herself once in a while, but it wasn't too common for her. He waited for Lois to approach him. He was quite sure that she was coming to him, since he heard her mentioning his name several times.
When Lois came into the bedroom, Clark understood that she was talking to Jimmy.
"Okay, come over Jimmy. But this sure isn't a married couple thing," she said annoyed at the mere accusation.
Jimmy replied something Clark would have heard had it not been for the Kryptonite.
"Yes, I know he's in a bad mood these days. Like I said, come over, Jimmy. Maybe your strong hands will be very useful. Bring Perry with you if he can't believe that Clark is absent for a good reason," she growled.
After she hung up she muttered, "I don't believe it!"
Two people in Metropolis were really wondering where Superman was.
The first one was Perry White. He had good instincts. And he knew his job. If something sounded like a duck, looked like a duck and walked like a duck, chances were good it actually was a duck. All these reports about Superman that were on television at the moment lacked one tiny but important thing: the truth. Whoever had seen Superman in the last 24 hours had not mentioned this in the newspapers or on TV.
All these fools claiming to have seen the Man of Steel were downright lying. They wanted the 15 minutes of fame that every man deserved in his life, that's all. So, where was Superman? He had extinguished a fire at the S.T.A.R. Labs. That was his last major rescue. Maybe there had been a few minor ones, Perry's sources were still trying to find out about this, but Superman's whereabouts were still unknown. Why were Lois and Clark both absent at this very moment? Great shades of Elvis! He knew that there was something going on with Superman. The guy wasn't famous for his frequent vacations!
Right now, no one seemed to be working on this new Superman story at the Daily Planet, no one seemed to have noticed that there was something going on. Perry had advised Jimmy to get a hold of his two best reporters. He should drag them to their desks, if necessary. Perry would have a word with Clark concerning his current work attitude. It started with leaving without telling where he was going. It continued with returning without a story. And it ended with being completely away from work.
If only things with Alice were better!
The second person wondering where Superman was called himself "P53". He was anything but happy that his sharpshooter had proven himself not so reliable after all. Of course Superman had been a fast moving target and therefore not easy to hit, but at least he would have expected some information as to whether Superman was hit at all. His sharpshooter didn't say anything concrete, he just wasn't sure. Since no dead body of a hero had been found anywhere in the city, maybe Superman was still alive and healthy. On the other hand he hadn't shown up for over twenty-four hours.
So where was the ever-present hero? It was unlikely for him to take a holiday. He wouldn't stay away from the city unless something big kept him from being around. But what was it? A rescue somewhere on the other side of the planet far away from any radio station that would tell the world about it? Or was he in fact dead? Had he sunk somewhere in the river and been dragged away by the current?
He really hoped it wasn't the last one. This meant that he had only been partly successful since killing Superman was not the prime intention. A weakened but living Superman was preferable, anyway. He needed the hero in a condition where he was easy to control. His dead body was only the second best thing. Of course the death of the hero would gain him a lot of fame in the criminal world as well, but certainly not the front page of its history books. And without the hero's dead body he couldn't prove his claim of being the ingenious killer.
If he didn't find the dead body within the next hours his plan was at stake. That was all this damn sharpshooter's fault. This guy would pay for his mistakes, that much was already decided. It was better to do the rest himself. He was the only one to be trusted with such an important task. He knew that now and to tell the truth, he should have known it from the very beginning.
Perry and "p53" agreed silently that everything concerning Superman had to be investigated thoroughly, assuming that two people who do not even know each other can actually agree about something.
"You have asked them to come?" Clark said, shocked.
"You don't want them to see you, I suppose." Lois sighed.
"Well, actually, I'm not too keen on letting them know what my injury really is. That would spare me from having to explain why it healed so quickly," Clark replied with a shrug and then added, "Assuming it does heal quickly."
"Why shouldn't it?" Lois stated and sat down on the bed. "I'm sorry. I should have asked you first, before inviting too many people."
"It's okay, honey. I'll deal with it. And if it means that I'm stuck on crutches for a few weeks, it'll be okay with me. At least, no one will ever suspect a 'cripple'," he made finger quotes, "of being the world's strongest man."
"That's for sure." Lois grinned and kissed him.
"Did Jimmy tell you anything new?" Clark asked, changing the subject.
"He said that he found out something about Smallville and this ominous 'p53'. He promised to tell us everything once he arrives."
"I only wish I could come downstairs more easily. I'm a bit embarrassed at the thought of Jimmy seeing me half-naked in our bed."
"Hey, he's a man, you're a man, where's the problem? He will assume you're too ill to wander around and dress yourself," Lois tried to soothe him.
"Well exactly, that is the embarrassing part." Clark blushed.
"Well, I guess that is a male thing I won't ever be able to understand. Do you really think he will comment on that?" She hesitated a moment. "Okay, maybe he will."
They both laughed. They knew that Jimmy was blunt and often lacked tactfulness. On the other hand, he was a really good friend. He was honest, kindhearted and loyal. He didn't run away when things got complicated and they loved him as a friend. For Clark, he was somewhat like the younger brother he had never had. Jimmy was important.
"I'd rather be dressed and downstairs," Clark said and lifted his legs out of the bed again.
This time standing up had become a bit easier since he had already done it before. In addition to that, Lois helped him. Once he stood in the middle of the room, she collected a few clothes for him. She chose comfortable clothing items. The pair of pants was especially easy to put on. Clark normally used them for sports or for just hanging around the house. The t-shirt she got was no problem either.
It didn't take Clark long to dress and he did it almost on his own. Lois let him maintain his dignity and avoided helping him as much as she could afford to. He did not cope well with having to depend on others. She understood that. Being the most powerful man on Earth gave him certain ideas about himself; he wanted to be the helper not the one being helped.
Once Clark was fully dressed, he leaned on his crutches and took a few steps. He managed to leave the bedroom and headed for the staircase. He had never feared it before. Why should Superman be afraid of a couple of stairs? But now, things were different. He knew that these stairs created a big barrier between him and the first floor. He hated being afraid. But it was as simple as that: the staircase was a threat. If he stumbled and fell down, it was going to hurt. He wasn't even up to human strength, yet. He barely had enough strength to hold himself up, let alone go down a flight of stairs.
But he would do this. This was the first step back to a normal life. Fear would not keep him from taking this step. So Clark moved on, feeling the soreness in his muscles. They protested against the effort but obeyed his will. He walked to the stairs and went down the first, then the second. His progress was agonizingly slow. He rested briefly on the third stair, but he kept on going. It reminded him of a scene from Disney's Cinderella: two mice were standing at the bottom of a very high staircase, one of them doubting that they would ever get upstairs. He felt like the poor mouse. The only difference was that he was trying to get downstairs.
After what seemed like an eternity, he reached the bottom floor and sighed heavily. His hands were shaking and his breathing rate had strongly increased. His forehead was damp with sweat and he prayed that his powers would return before he had to go upstairs again.
*Damn pride!* he thought but avoided saying it out loud. He knew what Lois would reply. And she would be right. But he wasn't in the mood to hear her saying it.
So Clark tried to look like he was doing perfectly fine, but who was he going to fool? Definitely not Lois; she knew him almost better than Martha. Lois didn't comment on Clark's wish to see Perry and Jimmy in the living room. She knew that he needed to feel free to go there, even if he wasn't in any condition to. Clark wasn't always rational. But her life had depended on his being unreasonable more than once. She forgave him his constant need to be the strong one, unable to let go.
If he hadn't been ignoring his own limits she surely hadn't survived their flight. So Lois didn't say anything, which was unusual and very hard for her. She tried to support him the best way she could, forcing him to rest between his steps a few times.
Lois was glad when they finally reached the living room. Clark sat down on the sofa with a heavy sigh, looking very pale but desperately trying not to show it. He was ready to fall asleep again any moment, but he forced himself to stay awake.
Martha and Jonathan both watched him anxiously, fearing that he was going to collapse. It seemed like only an hour ago that he had been lying in the garden, closer to death than he had ever been before. But Clark didn't rest unless he couldn't help it anymore. Right now he seemed eager to find out more about his pursuers. Who could blame him? If he wanted to save Lois and himself, he needed to know who wanted to harm them.
The doorbell rang and Martha stood up to open the door.
It was just Jimmy. Perry hadn't come. And he wouldn't, according to Jimmy. He hadn't found the editor-in-chief despite searching the Planet from the roof to the cellar and trying to call him several times. It was unusual for Perry to be anywhere but at the Planet. Jimmy had decided to meet with Lois and Clark alone. Maybe Perry would be back afterwards and maybe Lois and Clark had ideas concerning Perry's whereabouts. He had not been gone long enough to start worrying anyway.
Jimmy walked into the living room followed closely by Martha. Clark was still sitting on the sofa, his injured leg stretched out. Lois sat next to him, one hand resting on his healthy leg and stroking it softly.
"C.K.! You really don't look too good," Jimmy said without greeting anyone else.
"Thank you, Jimmy," Clark said wryly. "Nice to see you, too."
"Sorry, hello to all of you," Jimmy replied, blushing.
"I told you that Clark was injured." Lois was slightly annoyed.
"How did this happen?" Jimmy asked, curiously.
"Don't ask," Clark answered firmly, making it perfectly clear that he wasn't going to tell Jimmy anything about his injury.
"So what did you find, Jimmy?" Lois inquired.
Jimmy ignored Lois question. "You really need crutches, C.K.? It's your leg, isn't it? I…"
"Jimmy, what did you find?" Lois asked insistently, interrupting him.
"Find?" Jimmy replied, confused and both his friends gave him an angry glance. "Oh, yes, I remember. P 53! That was an awful lot of work. I…"
"Jimmy!" Lois and Clark reminded him together.
"Okay, I'll get to the point," he grumbled. "It's the name of a protein."
"We knew that much. Anything else? It can't be simply related to a protein," Clark stated impatiently.
"Nothing else about p53, but I did find something about Smallville. There is a foundation buying land there for a new company."
"Anything about the foundation or the company?"
"The company is a subsidiary of a big foundation, you may have heard of it: GENETHICS," Jimmy replied.
"And why should a foundation like GENETHICS buy land? I always thought they served the common welfare. You cannot really call that welfare if they steal the land away from innocent farmers," Lois said.
"I don't know. I've asked a woman from public relations at GENETHICS. She denied that people at GENETHICS hold knowledge of buying land in Smallville. But she said that their subsidiaries are autonomous to a certain degree. I couldn't make her tell me if buying land is a part of that autonomy," Jimmy continued.
"So what they are saying basically means: We haven't got a clue," Lois stated and shook her head. "Why am I not surprised?"
"Maybe because it's the main task of a public relations agent to say just that?" Jimmy said, smiling.
Everybody laughed despite the lack of information that should have left them depressed because they knew barely more than before. Everybody except Clark.
He was lost in thoughts. He couldn't it help it, there was far too much biology mentioned in the last couple of days. Carla was a medical student, Dr. Thomas researched genetic therapy, both the German students and Jimmy had said that 'p53' was a protein and now a subsidiary of *GENE*THICS was buying land in Smallville. He still had a hard time figuring out how a protein could be connected to Carla's death, but he felt more and more certain that somehow 'p53' meant the protein. As strange as that sounded.
Jimmy, Lois and his parents had noticed Clark's silence and watched him carefully. Particularly Lois and the two elder Kents were still worrying that he could pass out at any moment. But he didn't seem as pale anymore, so this was probably less likely than just hours before.
They waited, getting the impression that he was about to say something. It didn't take him long to arrange his ideas in a proper way to express them.
"Jimmy, do you know anything more about the protein 'p53'?" Clark asked thoughtfully.
"I didn't understand most of the things I read. It has the nickname "sentinel of the human genome"; that's all I remember about it," Jimmy replied.
"Sentinel?" Clark repeated in a low voice, again lost in thought.
*Something only Superman will be able to do. But there are groups of people who want to prevent this for different reasons. Ethics and ideologies, for all I know.* He remembered Carla's words.
*There's no living being on Earth who possesses genes with the potential of your genome.* That was Dr. Thomas' voice.
'P53' seemed to be the missing link between Carla and Dr. Thomas. Of course the city of their origin had connected them somehow, as well. Now Clark felt that Carla had really been speaking about Dr. Thomas' research. And "something only Superman could do" was to give samples of his genome.
Clark doubted that Dr. Thomas was the villain in this story. P53 offered the answer. *Ethics and ideologies* Someone couldn't stand the thought of his genome being used to improve the human genome. Maybe it was his alieness, but maybe it was just an aversion for genetic therapy. He knew that those discussions were very controversial.
There was the religious aspect: humans shouldn't play God. And there was the fear of not being able to control the outcome of this kind of therapy. Scientists didn't know enough to predict the results. Clark had read that there was barely one percent difference between the human genome and that of apes closely related to humans. A slight change in the genome could have huge effects.
*Sentinel of the human genome* — no, 'p53' hadn't meant the protein itself. It was just the code.
"I don't know how, but GENETHICS is the key to solving this mystery," Clark said. "The Foundation has always called for laws to control genetic research. They want this scientific area to be handled responsibly. Sounds to me as if 'sentinel of the human genome' fits just perfectly."
"Interesting idea, Clark. You could be right." Lois nodded. Yes, that was indeed a logical explanation.
"Sorry, but I didn't get that. Can you please explain?" Jimmy complained.
"Not right now, Jimmy. Maybe when we both know the truth about Carla's death," Clark stated before Lois could reply anything.
Jimmy seemed to be disappointed, but changed the subject immediately. "When are you coming back to the Planet, Clark?"
"I don't think he's returning anytime soon," Lois and Martha said firmly at the same time, keeping Clark from answering himself.
Lois was pretty sure that he wanted to get back to work as soon as possible. She knew that he wanted to return to his normal life, ignoring the fact that someone had tried to kill him. He complained about her propensity to throw herself into dangerous situations, but after being exposed to kryptonite he wasn't any wiser than she was. Clark was so good at ignoring the fact that it left him vulnerable. And he was rather brilliant at playing down his weakness and acting like everything was just fine.
"I hope that Perry will believe me and won't accuse me of covering your — whatever he believes that you're doing," Jimmy mumbled.
"Don't worry about that. All of us can explain to him that Clark just isn't able to come." Martha gave him a broad smile. "You helped us a lot, Jimmy. If it saves our farm, we owe you more than we can ever give you in return."
"We need to visit GENETHICS soon." Clark decided.
"We need you to become healthy, first," Lois said firmly, making it very clear that no discussion was allowed.
Jimmy noticed that his presence was no longer needed. Staying any longer would possibly make him the innocent victim of an argument between the couple. He decided to flee.
Of course, he didn't run away, but excused himself politely, mumbling something about work he had still had to do. It wasn't true. There was only an empty apartment waiting for him. He would have loved to spend an evening with his friends; he hadn't been with Clark for quite awhile since he had married Lois. But right now seemed it seemed best to stay away.
The atmosphere in the living room had indeed become tense. Lois had noticed how tired Clark was, though he had desperately tried not to show it. But she knew him and she was well aware that he wasn't able to admit being weak. If he had been able to stand without help, he would have done it no matter how much it hurt him. But he used the crutches and it told Lois more about Clark's condition than he wanted her to know.
He had to be strong, always. Nobody cared about Superman's feelings. He was either the infallible hero or the enemy who needed to be destroyed mercilessly. Weakness was unacceptable either way. It would cause the death of others or his own. Nobody asked if it was hard for him to do his rescues, nobody ever saw him weep, except Lois. He tried to hide it, like he tried to hide every pain, physical and emotional. But she saw it, she felt it and it had made her cry more than one time.
Lois wondered if he had always been like that. Or had becoming Superman forced this character trait on him? She could only guess or ask Martha. But according to what she remembered from their previous conversations, he had often stayed alone with his pain, not wanting to bother his parents. It made her so furious every time she saw him aching and remaining silent about it.
Martha and Jonathan were excited and anxious, all at the same time. On the one hand they had gained a little hope; now that Clark knew the enemy he could do something about it and what he started was usually successful. On the other hand, they feared living with false hope, just to be even more disappointed if they couldn't keep their farm.
Since Clark was still weak and far from being "super", relying on him gnawed at their conscience. They should leave him alone without their problems. But Clark wouldn't want to be left alone. He needed to help people like he needed air to breathe. In fact, helping people was even more vitally important for him, since he could hold his breath for about twenty minutes.
Clark himself was more than ready to sleep. He knew that there was an argument hanging in the air, threatening to become a thunderstorm if he were to say anything more. Lois had decided that he should go to bed. Obeying was the only thing left for him to do. If Lois had been in his place, he would also have wanted her to rest. He was pretty sure that she wouldn't listen, but he didn't care too much about that. They had come closer to the solution today. Sleeping a night over it would definitely make it clearer.
Clark woke up slowly. Something warm and tender lay on his stomach. It took him a few moments to realize that it was Lois' hand. He felt the warmth of her body close to him, her hair tickled his arm. She placed a soft kiss on his chest and Clark opened his eyes.
"Good morning, my love. What a nice way to wake me up," he said, smiling.
"It's going to be even better, darling," Lois replied with a promising grin. "Much better!"
"You make me curious!" Clark stated and embraced his wife.
About twenty minutes later, they were still lying in bed, held tightly in each other's arms. Lois noticed that Clark was starting to look a little better. His face showed no pain and he seemed to be more at ease. The scratches that the landing had left him with started to fade. Maybe it was easier for him to get up today.
"Are your powers returning?" she asked him.
He quickly checked his vision and hearing and shook his head. "No sign of them yet. But I'm feeling a bit stronger than yesterday. Though I guess I'll still need those damn crutches. My leg's still throbbing."
"I'm hungry," Lois said, changing the topic. "I'm going downstairs to prepare breakfast."
Clark looked on the clock next to their bed quickly. It was eight o'clock in the morning. He was surprised that he didn't hear his parents yet. He couldn't use his super-hearing, of course, but usually they got up early in the morning and were busy at that time of day.
Lois had already gotten up, wrapped a bathrobe around her and went downstairs. Clark watched her leaving and wondered whether he could follow her today. Breakfast in bed was great, but usually he preferred to be the one who served it. And if it wasn't an option, but a must, it was far less attractive. Clark decided to give it a try.
He set up in bed and moved his legs out of it, sighing at the pain that was still cursing through the left one. He had left the crutches next to the bed on the floor. When he went to grab them, his hands grasped only empty space. He examined the floor thoroughly and then the whole bedroom. They were nowhere to be seen! Had Lois hidden them from him to hinder him from going downstairs on his own? He couldn't really imagine that.
He considered calling Lois, but he heard her already coming upstairs. The door opened and a smiling Lois came in with breakfast. Boy, she was quick! And her smile faded as soon as she noticed that Clark was sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Stay in bed!" she said firmly.
"Lois, I'm not a baby and I'm not totally invalid. I need to get up, Dr. Klein advised me to walk around. Speaking of that, have you seen my crutches?"
"They are next to your bed, Clark," Lois replied.
"They aren't, else I would have seen them." He shrugged.
"I didn't take them," Lois stated. "Time for breakfast now. Your mother had already prepared most of it. So, don't worry about the taste!" She said wryly.
"As if I would, darling." Clark kissed her when she came close enough to him.
Everything was according to his plan, so far. He was quite content. Kent was suffering. And not only Kent; every single one of his targets reacted just the way he had planned. And none of them knew that he was behind it, yet. Kent and Lane soon would know it, but that wasn't going to help them. The only one to blame for their death would be "p53". This was going to be great. A perfect plan that wasn't relying on others. Soon their way would lead them to "p53", not to him. Then his revenge would be complete.
They didn't find the crutches, though they searched the whole house. Neither Martha nor Jonathan had any idea where they could be. Jonathan had promised to get new crutches as soon as possible. Clark had had breakfast in bed. After that, he tried once more to get up. His strength was gradually returning, enabling him to hobble on his hurt leg. He needed a wall to support him and couldn't walk far, but that was better than having to stay in bed. Clark knew that his healing ability was slowly kicking in. He decided to keep silent about the pain he was feeling. Lois would put him directly back into bed if he admitted the hurt.
Lois saw no point in staying at home. She would be able to find out more about Carla and the stranger who had attacked Clark if she went to the Planet. Actually, Clark had convinced her to go to work. Martha and Jonathan were there to support him and he seemed to obey his mother slightly better than he did Lois. Since she never listened to what he said, she couldn't actually blame him for that.
So Lois entered the newsroom of the Planet at about ten o'clock in the morning. She noticed that Perry was checking his wristwatch with a hint of anger on his face. Lois didn't really care since anger had seemingly become his second nature over the last couple of days. Clark being ill provided her with the excuse for not coming at all. Perry should honor her effort instead of shooting angry glances at her.
Perry remained silent concerning her coming late, but Lois would have said a lot if he had dared complain. But apart from his glances she didn't see any of him. Jimmy came instead and placed a mug of coffee on her desk. She looked up at him, smiled and leaned back in her chair.
"Thanks, Jimmy," she said.
"You're welcome. After all, it's just coffee," he replied with a grin.
"I don't mean just the coffee. You did a good job with your investigation. We owe you one." Lois smiled at him broadly.
Jimmy blushed at the praise and mumbled a thank you. He looked over to Clark's desk and for a moment a question seemed to be on the tip of his tongue. However he didn't ask it; instead he left Lois and strolled through the newsroom, searching for work.
Lois drove her attention back to her work and loaded her computer files. The stories she and Clark had been working on Monday were already published. They had vanished from her desktop and remained in the archive. Lois didn't look at them. Perry had given the new stories to other reporters, since he knew that Lois and Clark weren't coming to work. There were a couple of appointments, though, that she needed to attend this morning. Lois had still a bit time left to go through her notes on Carla.
She looked at her desktop, searching for the file name, but she didn't see it. For the thousandth time she promised herself to finally organize her computer. She looked a second time, but the file still wasn't there. Did she remember the wrong name? She shook her head. What other name might she have chosen? But none of the other possibilities were anywhere to be seen either.
That led her to the conclusion that someone had deleted that file. Perry? She knew very well that Perry wouldn't really stop his reporters from digging up the truth. Even if he didn't believe in a story, he gave each one a chance. They had found some of the best stories in events that had looked rather boring at first. And the death of a human was something worth investigating.
She didn't really consider Perry as a suspect. Who could it be? Carla's hotel room had been devastated; her murderer had been searching for something. Maybe he had thought that Lois' computer file could harm him in some way. So had it been him? It scared her that someone would walk into the Planet and go through her computer.
Of course he couldn't really delete her files. There were frequent back-ups during the night. It would take her a little time to get back the file, but she could work on it later. Lois sighed and stood up to go to her first interview for the day. Clark would be concerned now if he knew that someone, possibly a murderer, had been in their newsroom. And of course he wouldn't allow her to go anywhere alone. Well, she never paid attention to that.
Her appointments filled nearly the entire day. None of them were interesting and she silently wished that she had stayed at home with Clark. She would finish one interview and barely have enough time to get to the next one. It was one of those days that were filled with routine work. It didn't leave her much time to think about Carla and the lost files. When Lois returned to the Planet in the early afternoon, she had a whole lot of writing to do to finish the articles in time.
She already knew that she wouldn't find the missing files today. At least not by herself, so she waited for Jimmy to have a bit of spare time. But Jimmy seemed quite busy himself, running around and going into Perry's office repeatedly. Lois assumed that Perry was working on a story himself and had asked Jimmy to do some of the research.
It was already evening by the time Lois stopped feeling like she was buried under a pile of work. She finished her last article and submitted it to the editor. She leaned back, pleased that she had finally managed to write the last story and allowed herself to think about returning home. Lois wondered what Clark had done all day.
When Jimmy saw that Lois relaxed in her seat instead of typing frantically, he approached her with another mug. This time it was tea, since it was so late in the day. He placed it on her table and received a smile.
"Thank you again, Jimmy. You saved my day, do you know that?"
"With pleasure, Mrs. Kent, with pleasure," he replied teasingly. "Tell me, where's that husband of yours? Perry's already breathing fire and brimstone. A dragon is a lap dog compared to him. I offered to ask you because I didn't want to see you dying so soon in your life."
"Why's Perry so angry? The two of you should remember that Clark is injured. He can barely walk. He's not up to coming to work yet," Lois said, annoyed that Perry was still so testy. She remembered him being the most understanding boss she had ever had. Where was this guy now?
"Clark injured?" Jimmy asked, obviously surprised.
"Yes, injured," said a man's voice, through clenched teeth.
Clark was standing in the middle of the newsroom, leaning on his crutches and watching Lois and Jimmy. Then he approached them, leaning heavily on his crutches. His efforts looked a lot defter than the evening before. His arms were strong enough now to deal with his body's weight. His face was a sheer expression of confusion.
"Boy…what happened to you?" Jimmy said, barely believing what he saw. Clark seemed so healthy all the time that he almost considered him invulnerable. It was a shock to see that theory proven wrong.
"Jimmy?" Lois shot him a glance as if he had become crazy.
"What's the matter? Aren't I allowed to ask?" Jimmy complained.
"We already told you yesterday!" Lois stated impatiently. "But I've no time to discuss this with you. Jimmy, I need you to dig out some files that were on my computer on Monday. Someone has deleted them."
"Someone has deleted files from your computer?" Clark said, alarmed. "Those about Carla?"
Lois nodded. Jimmy looked very confused and opened his mouth to say something. He shook his head, rethinking his words, closed his mouth again, only to reopen it a moment later.
"You were here on Monday? Wow, you're darn good at hiding," he said hoarsely. "No one has seen you here since last Friday. And what does that mean, you told me yesterday? I didn't see you yesterday! Why do you think Perry is so furious? He's been scared to death all week because he couldn't reach you for days."
"Huh? I clearly remember calling you yesterday. You even came over to give us the results of your investigation. Are you suffering from some strange kind of amnesia? After all, it would be your turn," Lois replied, laughing though she saw nothing funny about it.
Clark had remained silent, stuck in his own thoughts. But his expression had changed from confusion to sadness. He cleared his throat to draw Lois' and Jimmy's attention to him.
"I don't think Jimmy's suffering from amnesia. Something weird is going on, Lois. I called Henderson today to ask him if he had any news about the murder. He said that he had never heard of a Carla Seefeld," he explained. "I barely dare to say it out loud, but we seem to be the ones getting crazy."
"You don't mean that we imagined what happened this week? What about your leg?" Lois asked, refusing to believe what was becoming more and more obvious.
"Hurts like hell," Clark admitted. "Must have happened."
"Okay, let's assume Carla didn't die on Monday. Was there a fire at S.T.A.R. Labs?" Lois decided to give the whole idea a try.
"What?" Jimmy shouted.
"I take this as a 'no'," Lois replied with a nod. "But we did take the weekend off, didn't we?"
"Yes. You told me that Clark's parents were going to visit you," Jimmy agreed.
"Okay, so somewhere between Friday and Monday something happened to us," Clark stated. "Let's do a little brainstorming here. Any ideas?"
"Alternate universe?" Lois offered. "Tempus gives it a new try?"
"Virtual reality? Xavier has been able to escape or someone else has started to follow in his footsteps?" Clark brought in another idea.
"Have you opened any cupboards in the last couple of days? And don't we need a virtual helmet or anything like that?" Lois mentioned.
"I don't remember being near anything related to computers in the last days. So maybe virtual reality isn't it." Clark decided. "Tempus is a possibility. But can he stay out of sight for days? He is so vain that I barely believe he wouldn't let us know it was him sooner."
"It might be someone else, anyway. We can't possibly know every villain, though I sometimes get the impression that we do," Lois said with a wry smile.
Both Lois and Clark found it very disturbing that someone seemed to have such an influence on their lives. It had been awful enough that Clark or rather Superman had been shot. But how was it possible that they had been in another universe or wherever they had really been? The worst of all was that they couldn't be sure what was real and what wasn't. Had Martha and Jonathan really lost their farm? Unlike Jimmy, they remembered what they had endured during the week. Assuming it was indeed an alternate universe they had stayed in since the weekend, when had they left it? This morning? An hour ago?
The disappearance of the crutches had gained a new meaning under these circumstances. It was the first sign that something had been different from the day before. Somehow, between the week-end and sometime on Wednesday, they'd been living in separate worlds. Jimmy hadn't been in their home.
"There is another possibility occurring to me," Lois whispered to Clark. "What if we hadn't been in another universe yesterday but are now?"
"You may be right. That would explain why Tempus hasn't shown up yet." Clark nodded.
But how were they supposed to find out? They couldn't do it on their own, that much was certain. Since Jimmy knew Lois, they couldn't be in that alternate universe Lois already had visited. Why were things always becoming so complicated around them?
Somehow they had escaped his influence. He wasn't really sure how, but it didn't matter, anyway. He was prepared for it. He would have loosened his grip on them within the next couple of days, anyway. He had relished every single moment, but he didn't regret that this part was over now. He had longed for the next step, though he had waited patiently, drinking in the sweet bitterness of the unfulfilled. His revenge would soon reach its climax now. He would await that moment with the same patience. Every single moment that brought him nearer to his goal increased his longing. And it intensified the tension that called for release, making his revenge more and more exciting.
All he needed now was to put the actors at the right positions. He would start with "p53". Kent and Lane didn't need his attention. They were smart enough to figure out on their own how they would solve this puzzle. If they didn't, he would guide them to their destination, though he would be disappointed by the couple. He closed his eyes, concentrating on "P53".
Lane and Kent were about to come to him! Another thing that wasn't working as he had planned. But he would have to adjust his actions only slightly. As soon as they would enter his office, they would have already signed their own death sentence. He couldn't afford to let them find out about his plans for Superman. There was still no sign of him and that was becoming a problem because he was losing hope that he would ever find him.
He didn't want to die knowing that he was Superman's murderer and not gain the fame he deserved for it. It just wasn't acceptable this way. Lane and Kent probably represented the solution to his problem. He knew that they were closer to the man in tights than any other human being. They would know where he was. And no one would keep him from asking the nosy reporters before he killed them.
"I'm wondering whether Carla Seefeld could help us to get a clue on what's going on," Clark said thoughtfully.
"She didn't die in this Metropolis. This Henderson has never heard of her," Lois remarked. They had decided to use the alternate universe as a working hypothesis.
"So did she come to this Metropolis at all, assuming she was born into this world?" Clark asked.
"I'm going to find out if a Carla Seefeld landed in Metropolis in the last couple of weeks," Jimmy offered and left with a sigh.
There was no way he would relax in front of the TV this evening, so much was certain. He couldn't help the thought that Lois and Clark had lost their mind at some point of time. Alternate universe? What exactly were they talking about?
Lois and Clark tried to think of a way they could find out in which universe they were. Of course they could search the history books, trying to find something that sounded strange to them. They both had a broad general knowledge, but that didn't mean that they knew everything. Unless the history was different in major events, like for example the World Wars, they couldn't really be sure. And since this Metropolis looked quite similar to their Metropolis, their history must have been pretty much the same. Of course they could also be in their own Metropolis, and that made it even more confusing.
After all, the Alternate Universe was still just a theory. According to their experience it was likely but not necessarily true. Tempus appeared frequently and usually he tried to get rid of Superman. Well, someone had tried to kill the hero, but he hadn't succeeded. Tempus, who knew that Clark and Superman were one and the same, could have killed Clark back in their yard. A weakened Clark was the perfect opportunity. He was easy to get rid of since he could barely defend himself.
Using a sharpshooter wasn't really typical for Tempus. Unless Tempus wasn't able to use the weapon? And he wouldn't have put Lois' life at stake. He wanted to own her, for whatever reason. He would have loved to separate the two of them for perpetuity. He wanted to change the future into a dark version, covering the Earth with an atmosphere of hate, angst and violence. He wanted a place where he was the almighty autocrat.
In fact, the events of the last days didn't really fit Tempus' personality. And why would he send both of them into an Alternate Universe? Of course it would change their universe, leaving it as a place where Tempus liked to stay. But he wouldn't be kind enough to grant Lois and Clark a life together; he wouldn't allow them to share their love. If they were still happy, Tempus' plan had gone wrong.
So was it really him? Was Tempus the enemy this time? They didn't feel exactly at ease assuming that. It wasn't his modus operandi. But they lacked a better explanation. So all Lois and Clark could do was to wait for Jimmy. Carla was the only clue they had, so far. She was the only person they knew who might have any information about what was going on.
They surely wouldn't succeed in finding the sharpshooter, if he existed anyway. So the couple kept waiting for about an hour before Jimmy returned with news.
"I've found a Carla Seefeld who arrived in Metropolis on Friday. She departed on Monday afternoon. She has declared Cologne as her place of birth to the authorities. Is that the woman you are searching for?" Jimmy asked.
"It must be her," Clark replied, excitedly. "So she didn't die, at least not here. Do you have her address in Germany?"
Jimmy shook his head. But with Clark's knowledge of the German language, they started their search. Jimmy wanted to call in Germany right away, but Clark convinced him that it wasn't a good idea. At this hour, most people there would be fast asleep and not too eager to answer the phone.
They searched via the Internet and soon Clark had found the telephone directory of Cologne. To his delight, there was just one Carla Seefeld in Cologne. It didn't seem to be a very common German name. They had her telephone number, if it was really her who was written down in that directory. Now, they needed to wait for a couple of hours until it wasn't too early there and a telephone call was acceptable.
Lois and Clark could tell that Jimmy wasn't to keen on waiting for hours to make a phone call. They said good-bye to him and decided to return home as well. Clark had taken a cab to get to the Planet earlier that day. Now they could drive home by car. It was late and the streets were not as crowded as usual. It didn't take them long to arrive at Hyperion Avenue.
Martha and Jonathan had already had supper. Neither Lois nor Clark felt hungry, though they hadn't eaten anything for hours. To be at the mercy of a mad villain again was hard to cope with. It was one thing to be attacked, the two of them were almost used to that, but somehow their lives seemed to be under the control of another person. And that was totally different. They had undergone that before, but it wasn't something you could get accustomed to.
So Lois and Clark sat in their living room, staring at each other nervously and glancing to the clock constantly. The time just didn't pass. Both were lost in thought, trying to find out anything about their enemy by sifting through the facts time and time again. Naturally it didn't lead them anywhere.
Since it was more than doubtful that Carla would be able to tell them what they wanted to know so desperately, Lois and Clark felt even more helpless. How could they rely on someone who might never have met them? And if she had, what should she know? Clark hated having to pray for a miracle, but what choice did he have?
Hours passed finally and the darker the night was in Metropolis, the closer was dawn in Germany. At about two o'clock in the morning, Lois and Clark decided that it was possible to call someone in Germany without breaking the rules of propriety. Clark dialed the number.
"Carla Seefeld," a sleepy young woman answered the phone.
"Hallo, hier spricht Clark Kent. Ich arbeite für den Daily Planet. Frau Seefeld, erinnern Sie sich an mich?" Clark said. [Hello, this is Clark Kent speaking. I work for the Daily Planet. Ms. Seefeld, do you remember me?]
"Clark Kent?" she replied. "Ja, ich erinnere mich, wir haben uns vergangenes Wochenende in Metropolis getroffen." [Yes, I remember, we met in Metropolis last weekend.]
"Warum waren Sie hier, Frau Seefeld?)" Clark inquired. "Und warum sind sie so schnell nach Deutschland zurückgekehrt?" [Why were you here, Ms. Seefeld? And why did you return to Germany so quickly?]
"Ich wollte eigentlich in Metropolis Urlaub machen. Ich hatte nie vor, sie dort aufzusuchen. Aber irgendetwas schien mich dazu zu zwingen. Sobald ich sie getroffen hatte, hatte den merkwürdigen Drang, nach Hause zurückzukehren. Ich kann mir nicht ganz erklären, warum. Es war, als würde ich ferngesteuert. " [I wanted to spent my holidays in Metropolis. I had never intended to meet you there. But something seemed to force me to. As soon as we had met, I had this strange urge to return home. I don't know why. It was like I was remote-controlled.]
Remote-controlled? This sounded familiar, though Clark couldn't tell why exactly. He asked Carla what she had told them in Metropolis, before he said good-bye and hung up. She had told him pretty much the same as she had the previous Saturday. Carla had also mentioned that she didn't really see a point in telling them what she had heard in Cologne months ago. So why did she do it, anyway?
Remote-controlled was the answer. She didn't do it of her own free will, but because someone made her come to Metropolis. Who would be able to do this? Clark already knew the answer. A guy who had been able to play with a lot of people. Clark remembered Tempus as John Doe. He had forced many people to do and think what he wanted them to think. So maybe it was Tempus, anyway? But how had he done that?
Somehow he had gotten a hold of them again. Clark remembered being within his reach. It had always been frightening. Clark told Lois what Carla had said, and he mentioned who he suspected was the villain. Though Tempus was still not very convincing, chances were good that it was really him. But he was a bit out of character this time. Why had he put Lois' life at stake? And why were Martha and Jonathan involved?
Since they still remembered Clark's injury when he had last seen them, they must be a part of this Alternate Universe-thing. But Tempus had never before included the two of them in his plans. As much as Clark hated to admit it, his parents were more part of the past than of the future. Therefore they posed no threat to Tempus. Neither Lois nor Clark understood everything about that crazy inhabitant of Utopia, but they knew that he was dangerous, desperately wanting to change the future.
But where were they going to find Tempus, if he didn't show up soon? That wasn't particularly hard to guess. GENETHICS had been mentioned one time too often to let it appear as coincidence. They would get to him by visiting the foundation.
Another couple of hours passed before it was an acceptable time of day to visit anyone in Metropolis. Both tried to sleep, but were too afraid of the day to come. Tempus had proved himself an evil enemy who was quick at killing people, even the innocent. He wouldn't be satisfied simply with frightening them; he wanted Clark to die. If Clark would resist him, he wouldn't be choosy about the way to get rid of him. If that cost the life of Martha, Jonathan and even Lois, Tempus might consider this as additional pleasure.
Early in the morning, Clark and Lois awoke from a light and uneasy sleep that hadn't been restful. But they weren't able to fall asleep again and decided to get dressed instead. Clark's leg had become far better than the previous morning and with a bit of effort he was perfectly able to walk without crutches. But despite the embarrassment he had felt before, he decided to rely on them for that day, making himself look more helpless than he actually was. He still hadn't regained his powers, which was worrying him. But since his powers had never been especially helpful against an enemy who knew his weaknesses as well as Tempus, maybe it didn't really matter.
They told Martha and Jonathan where they were going and asked them to call the police if they didn't hear from them within the next five hours. Then, Lois and Clark left Hyperion Avenue and headed for the GENETHICS building. They didn't really have a plan how to find Tempus there. But he liked to be seen and would show up earlier rather than later.
They were coming now! "P53" was already expecting them; every fiber of his being was prepared for them. He would do it himself. Hoping that others would be successful hadn't done him any good. Kent and Lane would soon die. Of course they would tell him where to find Superman first. He would force them to tell him, have them beg for their lives and then kill them mercilessly. He enjoyed the thought of it so much. What would it be like to really do it? Even better! A shiver ran down his spine, foreshadowing the feeling he was about to have.
Moments of pleasure lay in front of him, all he needed was a little bit of patience. Maybe Superman would show up to save his friends. He would end, tied up as his prisoner, his whole life through. Superman would never breathe the air of freedom again. And he was the source of unimaginable wealth. A place in the history books of crime was the least he would get!
Lois parked the car close to GENETHICS so that Clark didn't have to walk far. They approached the building curiously, watching out for anything weird. But nothing remarkable happened and neither of them was surprised about that. What should they expect, though? H.G. Wells appearing in another time machine, telling them another outlandish story and taking them to Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, for example, or wherever else to solve the problem?
When they entered the building, nothing happened either. There was no killer jumping in front of them and firing bullets around. The hall was quiet, which wasn't strange either. It was still early in the morning. Lois and Clark watched the few people around them, searching for a familiar face. They didn't recognize anyone. At the end of the hall, close to the elevator was a reception. A young woman watched them curiously, studying their faces and obviously expecting them to come to her.
Lois and Clark went to her, more slowly than necessary. She glanced at the two visitors.
"Hi. We are Clark Kent and Lois Lane from the Daily Planet," Clark introduced them. He was about to ask a question when the young woman smiled broadly.
"Ah, I didn't think you'd come this early. Mr. Simmons is already waiting for you in his office. Take the elevator to the thirtieth floor and turn to the right. His room is at the end of the corridor." She said and her hand indicated the direction of the elevators. Lois and Clark waited in front of the elevators and stepped in the first one that arrived. They were on their own inside, giving each other nervous glances that said more than words. A Mr. Simmons was waiting for them? Who was he? Tempus himself or a stranger to them who was somehow involved with this?
The elevator seemed to approach the thirtieth floor awfully quick. How could they have time to prepare for their encounter with an enemy? What waited for them there? They didn't have time to stop and think about it. The doors of the elevator opened on the right floor. The corridor was dark and empty. They turned to their right, following the corridor as the young woman had advised them to do.
On both sides of the corridor were closed glass doors, the rooms behind them were dark and no pictures were hanging on the walls. The atmosphere was cool and frightening. The only lights in the corridor came from a red emergency exit sign and from the door to Mr. Simmons's office.
Lois and Clark went on, coming to the door at the end of the corridor. Both sighed as Clark knocked; then they entered the office.
A gun was pointing at them. The arm holding it belonged to a short, bald man. Definitely not Tempus. His eyes conveyed his fear more than anything. The man was obviously nervous from head to toe. Clark didn't need his super-hearing to check the man's heartbeat. He nearly heard it from across the office. He didn't like the current state of this man. Together with the gun, he really was dangerous. And they didn't know him. What was his motive?
"Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane. S…sit down." Mr. Simmons stuttered and pointed at two chairs in front of his desk. "No quick moves."
Lois and Clark obeyed him, walking over to the chairs slowly.
"What do you want?" Clark asked after sitting down.
"Superman," Simmons replied, blinking nervously. "I, P53, want Superman."
P53? This man called himself P53? Clark and Lois wondered.
"Or did I kill him?" Simmons or p53 demanded.
Was the Tempus theory wrong? Or was this just another person under his influence? Clark assumed it was the latter. Tempus had found someone to do the dirty job for him. He had made this guy believe that he was the villain. But since when did Tempus not do the dirty jobs himself? Wasn't this the reason for his constant need to change the future?
"Hey, I expect an answer!" Simmons insisted.
"He's dead," Lois whispered before Clark could say anything. It wasn't even wrong since Superman didn't exist as long as Clark lacked powers. But he wasn't sure whether this answer was wise.
"Where's he now?" Simmons wanted to know.
"Nobody knows," Lois replied.
"Then you've outstayed your welcome. I think I'll kill you now," Simmons stated and his gun pointed from Lois to Clark and back to Lois. "Who wants to be first?"
This wasn't right. He needed Superman's body. He felt panic rising inside him.
"Since you'll kill us anyway, why don't you tell us what you want from Superman?" Clark tried to distract the madman.
"Easy," he answered. "His genome is the most valuable thing on Earth. If I own him, it's the key for unimaginable wealth. I will have the patent for everything anyone will ever invent with the knowledge we find in Superman's body."
The bosses of GENETHICS still believed that the foundation tried to protect the world by regulating the genetic research. He had heard from a German scientist who wanted to research Superman's genome. And he surely wasn't the only one. Why should they wait for the hero's permission? He would lead the science to new heights, allowing everyone who was rich enough to use Superman's genetic information. He really was the sentinel of the human genome! He started to laugh.
"You're crazy," Lois said, while Clark's heaving stomach left him speechless. This was one of his nightmares, being captured somewhere and dissected like a frog. The laughter of the madman made it difficult to remain calm.
"You've said enough, Ms. Lane; it's time for you to die."
Clark saw him pull the trigger and jumped from his chair, throwing himself between the bullet and Lois. He grabbed her and they both landed on the floor. The bullet had missed them. Clark stood up again, furious that yet another villain was trying to kill his love. Lois lay still on the ground when Simmons pulled the trigger once again, this time aiming at Clark.
He couldn't get out of the way quick enough. Lois screamed as she heard Clark groaning with pain, the air was pressed out of his lungs as the bullet hit his thorax. The bullet hurt, but not as badly as he had expected. He couldn't breathe for a moment and the bruise on his chest would be bad, but Clark wasn't bleeding and he still stood upright.
Clark felt that his powers were returning again and he aimed his heat vision at the gun, making it impossible for the villain to keep it in his hand. Together with the gun the villain fell to the ground, unconscious.
"How convenient that your powers are returning right now, Mr. Kent," a dark and barely human sounding voice said.
It wasn't the voice of Tempus. So was there yet another villain apart from him? How many were they? The voice had sounded familiar, though neither Clark nor Lois were able to place it immediately.
"I couldn't use this crazy guy anymore, anyway. So don't worry about him," the stranger continued. "He was so easy to influence. His need to be more than he was made it almost boring for me. But he fitted just so perfectly for the entire genetic topic. You on the other hand are so much more challenging, Mr. Kent."
Suddenly Clark recognized his enemy.
"Sunday!" he whispered, remembering the agonizing fear he had endured at their last encounter.
"Yes. And it's Baron Sunday. You've got enough time to say my full name!" he replied. "I hope you liked the demonstration of my powers. It's fascinating how real my hallucinations can appear, isn't it?"
So this was the answer. They hadn't been in another universe and weren't in one now. It had been imagination from the very beginning. Lois and Clark remembered the injury Jimmy had received on his head from hitting a non-existing table. Could it be that the kryptonite injuring his leg had never been real? Had he just imagined this? What about Lois and his parents?
"Yes, fascinating," Lois answered hoarsely, not daring to believe what Sunday had told them.
"Right after meeting Carla, I threw you into my little universe. She was the key. I found her during my last tour through Europe. Thanks to you I'm just a minor magician now. However, I should be grateful that I don't have to live as a snake anymore, like I did the months after I escaped you. But my powers are the same. And my revenge isn't yet fulfilled, Mr. Kent. Carla knew something concerning Superman. It wasn't important, but it was related to one of your greatest fears. I used her to activate this fear within you, reminding you of it. This way I could get to you so easily." Sunday remained silent for a moment, allowing his words to sink in.
"And I had to take revenge on your parents as well, for raising you. Their fear of losing the farm is so constantly present that I didn't need to put any effort in making them believe that they had lost it. Placing GENETHICS as the responsible one behind this was a hint for you to find me and my assistant, who liked to call himself P53. And finally, Lois was the reason that I had lost the battle against you last time. What do you think she fears the most?" Sunday grinned evilly. "The rest was easy. I combined the memories of a few persons to make this last week convincing for you. Poor Dr. Thomas, he never actually dared to ask you. But he had held his speech so often inwardly that I had to use it. It would have been a shame otherwise."
"Baron Sunday, this time you won't succeed either," Lois stated.
"Unfortunately Clark's powers won't help you against me." Sunday laughed. "By the way, how did you manage to escape the little universe I'd build up for you?"
"You didn't let us go?" Lois asked, surprised. "But you know our love was strong enough before."
"It wasn't just your love." He said the word with disgust." Your love has helped your husband survive the kryptonite attack I had created in your heads, granted. But it would never have sufficed to break the connection between us, like you did." Sunday watched them thoroughly, his eyes looking more and more like those of snakes.
"But I think our nice little chat will be over now!" His voice sounded even less human.
Baron Sunday vanished almost in a mist, creating a frightening aura around him. Clark kneeled down next to Lois, holding her firmly and pressing her against his chest. Lois felt safe and secure in his arms, feeling the warmth of his body.
Baron Sunday threw them into a world of fear. Fire was burning around them and kryptonite seemed to appear everywhere. Clark was still holding Lois, closing his eyes, trying to block the vision. He felt her heartbeat against his hands more than he felt the pain of the kryptonite. Incredible warmth came from her body, flooding through him and diminishing the effects of the green crystals. He knew that they were just imagination, but that didn't help Clark survive the exposure.
But Lois did help him. She felt that his presence was soothing her, making her comfortable despite the fear that was trying to get a hold of her, chasing her desperately. She needed him as much as he needed her. She felt warmth coming from him that made her relax. They were close to each other, more with their minds than with their bodies, but close nonetheless.
"Die!" They heard Baron Sunday shout in that frightening voice of his.
But his hallucinations faded. He couldn't break through their wall of strength. It was somehow coming from between them, covering and comforting Lois and Clark.
"Impossible!" he cried.
He began to sense something. He had no chance against them. Their love was stronger than him. It was something he didn't understand. He couldn't feel such love anymore; he had lost this ability. They must have something so precious to both of them, so deeply loved and desired that he couldn't fight it. There must be something between them, something so precious, born out of their deep love and desire, something so strong he couldn't fight it.
"I get it now. You've got a little secret Lois, don't you? I'll come back when you two are on your own again!" with these words he disappeared into nothingness.
Lois and Clark looked at each other stunned. Baron Sunday had really given up? And what did he mean by coming back when the two of them were on their own again?
"Lois, are you okay?" Clark asked.
Lois nodded, not able to say anything.
"D…did h…he say that you are…" Clark stammered.
"Pregnant?" Lois completed his sentence. "It sounded just like that, I think."
"But how? Wasn't all of this just a hallucination?" Clark whispered.
"Our love seems to have sufficed to break through his wall of illusion enough to let that moment happen in reality."