By Nan Smith <email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2008
Summary: When a robbery on Earth threatens the reputation and career of Marilyn Olsen, Lori and Clark find themselves involved in an unexpectedly dangerous murder investigation -- on the Moon.
This story is part of Nan Smith's "Home" series. See a list of all the stories in this series and get links.
Need the previous story? Read Home: An Evening to Remember.
Author's Notes: The convention for the International Conference of Investigative Journalists is being held in Luna City, and Lori and Clark are the Planet's representatives. But when a robbery on Earth threatens the reputation and career of Marilyn Olsen, Lori and Clark find themselves involved in an unexpectedly dangerous murder investigation -- on the Moon.
Disclaimer: The recognizable characters and settings in this story are the property of D.C. Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions, and anyone else with a legal right to them. I have no claim on them whatsoever, nor am I profiting by their use, but any of the new characters and situations are mine, and the story belongs to me.
"She goes to bed at eight," Lori said. "We read her three bedtime stories out of her baby books and she has to have Harold with her."
"All right." Lara Kent accepted the large, fuzzy pink frog with a nod and held it up for the eleven month old girl perched in her other arm. Mary Lucille instantly grasped the toy and squeezed vigorously, simultaneously stuffing the creature's right hind foot into her mouth.
She was a beautiful baby, Lara thought, regarding her tiny half-sister approvingly. The dark curls that she had been born with had grown longer and darker and now floated in soft, ebony waves around her cherubic face. Her lovely almond-shaped eyes had turned very dark, like her mother's, darker than her father's golden brown eyes, and she had the smooth, olive complexion bequeathed to her by Clark. The child was going to be a beauty, and was certainly the apple of her daddy's eye. Of course, Clark had always been a sucker for little kids.
"I guess she'll be all right," Lori said. "You certainly have taken care of kids."
"Something like that," Lara said with a cheerful grin. She hesitated. "Besides, she'll get me back into practice."
Both Lori and Clark did a double take at that, and then Clark's face broke into a wide smile. "You mean, you're --"
Lara nodded, aware that she was blushing, which she normally didn't do. "As old as we are, Bill and I are going to be parents again. Ronnie just got the results back. It's a boy and he's carrying the telepathic trait. Ronnie's finally going to have a brother."
Clark reached out to hug his oldest daughter. "Congratulations, honey. I'm happy for both of you."
"Well, Bill's a little shell-shocked," Lara said, "but in a good way."
"I'll bet," Lori said. "This is wonderful! Have you picked a name?"
"We decided to name him after Bill's grandfather," Lara said. "Robert Bernard Klein."
"Thank heavens," Clark said. "I was afraid we were going to have to start calling the Clarks A, B, C and so forth. This is great!" He glanced at his wrist talker. "But we need to go or we're going to miss the shuttle."
"And that wouldn't be good," Lara agreed. "Superman might be able to make it to the Moon without a problem, but how would you explain Clark and Lori getting there before the shuttle did?"
"We're not going to have to find out," Clark said firmly. "We'll see you in a few days."
Luna Shuttle Flight 287 was right on time and Lori and Clark arrived just under the wire. They passed through the security scanners and followed the crowd to the boarding gate for economy class passengers.
Unlike the ships of the Twentieth Century that would roar into space on the exhaust of flaming rockets and then establish a pre-plotted trajectory that would allow them to coast over a period of several days to rendezvous with Earth's large satellite, the Luna Shuttle employed the principles of the space drive, the prototype of which had emerged from STAR Labs in 2015. The Luna Shuttle lifted off on the wings of the anti-gravity field that had been one of Bernard Klein's contributions to human science in the first decade of the 21st Century. Once out of the Earth's atmosphere, the space drive cut in and accelerated the ship toward the Moon. Depending on the position of the Moon in its orbit around the Earth, the trip could take anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes. Clark smiled to himself as he and Lori took their seats, thinking of his first flight into space when he had debuted as Superman. He had boosted the Messenger II into space, bearing the last section of Space Station Prometheus, constructed under the aegis of the Congress of Nations. It had been the final chance for the success of the space station program and had scuttled Lex Luthor's attempt to put his own station into orbit, and with it who-knew-what kinds of schemes the billionaire had cooking in his head. That it had been for the ultimate good of humanity, Clark strongly doubted. The thought had occurred to him more than once that if Luthor had managed to put some kind of weapons delivery system onto such a satellite, the Earth might have found itself under the control of a new emperor. The extent of Lex Luthor's megalomania had been terrifying. Even now, over a century later, the memory was enough to send chills up his spine.
But that was long past. Luna City was only one of four large lunar cities where human beings had established themselves. Luna Spaceport was the launching spot for the trading ships that made regular trips to and from Mars, as well as the scattered mining posts in the asteroid belt. It had been from Luna Spaceport that the Mayflower colonists began the last leg of their journey to the big colony ship orbiting the Moon before it embarked for the star system of Alpha Centauri to found the first colony outside the Solar System.
Luna Shuttle Flight 287 touched down at Luna Spaceport thirty-two minutes after it had left Metropolis and the passengers waited until they heard the metallic clang that told them that the flexible tube extending from the gate had clamped onto the shuttle's airlock. A moment later there was the hiss of compressed air as the inner door opened. Lori made a face. "My ears just popped," she said.
Clark nodded. "The air pressure in the cities is equivalent to about 8000 feet on Earth," he said. "Kind of like being up in the mountains. They'll be letting us off in a couple of minutes. Then we'll have the rest of the afternoon and evening to see the sights before dinnertime."
"Do you suppose any of the others are here yet?" Lori asked.
"Probably," Clark said. "We can go check in and see if we see anybody we know while we're at the hotel."
Lori giggled. "At least this time nobody will say anything when we check into a room together," she said.
"True," Clark agreed. "Even Vane won't be able to gossip -- not that he won't try. The last one of these we went to wasn't your usual International Convention of Investigative Journalists, though. Let's hope we don't have any murders this time around."
"You and me both. I have other plans for my leisure time at this convention," Lori said. "I hope this is a normal, slightly boring convention. At least," she added, "I don't have any expensive stolen jewelry in my bag this time."
"Hey, it won us a Kerth," Clark pointed out. "Don't complain when Lady Luck smiles on you. She usually seems to have it in for us."
"Better knock on wood when you say that," Lori said.
Clark grinned and lightly knocked a knuckle against one of the cherry wood rings that fastened the shoulder strap to her bag. "I can't help wondering if John didn't send us in the hope that we'd scare up another big story, though."
"If I have any say about it, he's going to be disappointed," Lori said.
Abruptly the gravity field that had encased the passenger compartment where they sat began to fade away, and in seconds he felt very light. Although Superman could effectively cancel gravity when he flew, he was aware of the force that pulled him down, and the gravity on the Moon was approximately one sixth of Earth's. The soft voice of the shuttle's computer announced that they could unfasten their safety belts and disembark.
Lori stood up and gasped slightly as the motion sent her several inches into the air. She grasped Clark's arm. "Mind if I hold onto you until I get my Moon legs?"
He put an arm around her. "Any excuse I can use to snuggle you is all right with me," he told her. Around them people were getting to their feet and it was obvious which were experienced Moon travelers and which were not. The newbies moved too quickly and paid for their Earth-reflexes with small hops and lurches into the air, and ended up grasping at handholds on the backs of the seats in order to keep their balance as they made their way down the aisle toward the exit. Clark watched his wife approvingly as she observed the motions of the more experienced travelers and made an obvious attempt to emulate their movements. "Good," he told her. "You'll get the hang of it pretty fast. Remember, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Just don't make any sudden movements and you'll do fine."
She nodded, obviously concentrating on keeping her actions smooth and careful. After a moment she sat down again. "Let's let the mob go past first," she suggested. "I don't feel like fighting my way through that."
Clark grinned. "Good idea."
They waited as the crowd passed. When it had thinned considerably, Clark rose, stepped into the aisle and held out a hand for Lori. Together, they made their way toward the exit. Lori gripped the backs of seats and Clark realized that she was concentrating on her motions as she tried to learn to adapt to the change in gravity. It brought a wave of memory. For their fiftieth anniversary he had taken Lois to the new lunar resort and he had watched her do exactly what Lori was doing now. At last they made it to the exit and stepped into the tube that allowed them to cross the airless landing field and enter the Luna City Shuttle Terminal.
An hour later, after having reclaimed their baggage and passed through the security and health scanners, Lori and Clark stepped out of the terminal and onto the slidewalk that carried shuttle passengers into Luna City. They walked along the moving surface that trundled steadily forward at four miles an hour, into the fabled domed city, Lori gripping Clark's arm somewhat more firmly than was her usual habit, and Clark looked around, recalling the last time he had been here.
Things had changed somewhat. Luna City had grown in thirty years but it was still the greenest city he had ever seen. Plants of all kinds grew everywhere. The surface dwellings were covered in vines and climbing plants and around each one flowers, decorative plants and bushes grew in riotous abundance. Trees and shrubbery lined the slidewalks and emerald lawns covered huge expanses. Gardens, growing every sort of fruit, vegetable and decorative plant imaginable, were situated on all sides.
The surface homes were built, he knew, as an outer structure each surrounding a central patio, each with its own garden, and that was the heart of each home, giving privacy to each family even in the crowded living space of the domed city.
No air vehicles were visible anywhere except those of the Luna City Police but there were ground cars here and there, usually designed for one and two persons. Bicycles with wide heavy tires appeared to be a favorite mode of transportation, but the most popular seemed to be foot traffic. People swarmed the slidewalks or strolled on the stationary walks and across the green, spreading lawns that carpeted most of the open areas. Above them, the enormous geodesic dome arched across the city, the polarized panels regulating the amount of sunlight that reached the surface. On the great supporting structures huge lights would come on when the city was turned away from the sun, depriving it of sunlight. Beneath them, far below the surface, he knew, were passages and living quarters as well, for the colonists had burrowed deep beneath the surface of Earth's barren satellite to establish their city. Clark could feel the faint vibration and rhythmic throb of the giant air pumps like an enormous heart, far underground, that circulated the air to every part of Luna City.
Lori was trying to look in every direction at once. "What happens if a meteorite hits the dome?" she asked suddenly.
It figured that his practical wife would think to ask that. "The dome has an outer force field to protect it from most space debris," he told her. "It repels mostly everything. If something bigger does manage to get through -- and that's only happened twice in the history of the city -- there's another field that comes on to protect the area of the hole and prevent air from escaping until the repair work can be done."
"Oh," Lori said. "Good."
"We leave the slidewalk here," he told her. "The Luna Hilton is right through that little park. Think you can walk on a regular path without bouncing?"
Lori grinned. "I'll just keep hanging onto you until I can."
"Good idea." He stepped off the main slidewalk onto the slower border, which made it possible for persons to board and exit the walk without abrupt changes in speed, and then helped Lori onto the firm surface of a narrow, pebble-lined path. "Right through here."
Of course the actual hotel wasn't visible. The tiny building with the sign that announced the Luna Hilton was simply the surface entrance. Lori and Clark entered through the double doors and stepped onto a platform that lowered them with smooth speed to the first floor -- that being the first floor *down*. The entire hotel was situated beneath the lunar surface. The platform slowed to a stop even with the floor, beside a discreet sign that informed them that this was the hotel lobby. Clark glanced around, taking in everything and everyone present, as they crossed to the desk opposite the elevator where a young man monitored a board of tiny pinpoint lights. He glanced around as they stopped by the desk and Lori rested her arms on its surface. "May I help you?"
"We're with the journalists' convention," Clark told him. "Kent and Lyons, from the Daily Planet."
"Ah yes, Mr. Kent." The desk clerk was probably about nineteen, tall and gawky with a flaming carrot top of hair. "Your bags are already here." He glanced at Lori and smiled. "I've seen your articles," he added. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Just thumbprint the screen there and you're all set," he added, holding out a pad for Clark to comply. "Here are your keys," he continued, handing over two thin pieces of plastic. "I hope you enjoy your stay here in Luna City."
"Thank you," Clark said. He looked down at Lori. "Shall we go freshen up before we take in the sights?"
She nodded. "I'd like a chance to see a little of the city before the convention really gets going."
The clerk handed them an envelope. "This will tell you what's available," he said. "We have something for everyone. There's a total eclipse coming up in a couple of days. It'll be pretty spectacular from outside the city."
"That should be worth watching," Clark said.
"You'll be able to sign up for the tour group here, if you want," the clerk said. "And maybe you should take her to Heinlein's Cave."
"Heinlein's Cave?" Lori asked, looking up at her husband. "Isn't that --"
"That's the cave where they fly," Clark said. "Named after a Twentieth Century science fiction author who came up with the idea."
Lori nodded excitedly. "Andrea was talking about it," she said. "I definitely want to go there before we have to head back. You know how I love to fly."
"That's for sure," Clark said. He grinned at the clerk. "You just created a monster," he told the man. "I may never get back to Earth again."
The man snorted. "Enjoy yourselves," he said. "It's the closest you'll ever come to flying like Eclipse."
"Eclipse is your superman, isn't he?" Lori asked.
"That's right," the clerk said. "He doesn't get the publicity like Superman and some of the others, since he's here on the Moon, but we appreciate him."
"I imagine so," Lori said. She smiled at Clark. "Let's go. I want to see the city."
"The boss has spoken," Clark told the other man. "Okay, honey, I just want to change my clothes --"
They were not, however, destined to leave the hotel as quickly as Lori would have liked. It was a strange system, she thought, counting floors down rather than up, however, given the living situation on the Moon, it made sense. They stepped off the elevator platform on the fifth floor a few minutes later and as they did so a voice hailed them.
"Clark Kent, as I live and breathe," a male voice with a strong Aussie accent said clearly. "I haven't seen you since Budapest."
Lori turned to find herself looking up at a tall, freckled strawberry blond man with a wide grin on his face. He looked vaguely familiar, although she was sure she'd never met him before.
Clark solved the puzzle, however. "Hey, Pete," he said. "I wondered if you'd be here this time. Lori, this is Pete Swanson, from the Queenstown Courier."
Instantly Lori recognized the name. This was the Pete Swanson that had nearly been killed during the convention in Alta Mesa the year that she and Clark had met. She had never met him face to face but she had seen his picture when she had downloaded it from the Queenstown Courier's archives. "Pleased to meet you," she said.
"I know who you are," Pete said. "Probably everybody at this convention will. You're Lyons."
"That's right," Clark said. "She's also my wife, so don't get any ideas."
"Wouldn't think of it," Pete said, looking appreciatively at Lori. "I heard from someone that you finally got married, you lucky dog. How long does your contract have to run?"
"Indefinitely," Clark said firmly. "It's lifetime. Watch out for this guy, honey. He's one of those ladies men you hear about. Dads lock up their daughters when he walks into town."
Lori laughed, thinking that she'd never seen a man match the description less, but, of course, appearances were often deceiving. Pete also laughed. "Anyway, it's nice to meet you, Ms. Lyons."
"Likewise," Lori said.
"So, got any plans this evening?" Pete inquired.
"Clark is going to show me around Luna City," Lori said. "He's been here before but I haven't. I want to make the most of the opportunity."
"Good idea," Pete said. "Maybe you guys could join me at dinner. I'd like to catch up -- and," he added, with a grin at Clark, "further my acquaintance with your charming wife."
Lori felt her face growing warm and Clark raised an eyebrow at him. "We'll be back around six," he said.
"Great," Pete told him. "See you then." He hopped onto the platform they had just vacated.
Lori and Clark headed toward their room: 504, according to their room key. It was at the very end of the corridor and, Lori discovered, had an actual window that provided a view of an enormous lighted cavern where, far below, plants grew lushly under the brilliant artificial light and the stalactites on the roof and the very walls themselves glittered with myriad colors, like a million gemstones lining every surface.
"This is beautiful!" she said.
Clark came to stand beside her. "It is, isn't it? This is one of the Rainbow Caverns. There's a whole series of them. It's just quartz, you know, but it reflects the floodlights and acts like a prism."
"I don't care," Lori said. "Whoever came up with using it for a scenic view was a genius!"
"Actually, that was CJ's idea," Clark said. "He met Rachel here, while Luna City was in its early stages. Rachel's a mining engineer, or was, before she retired. CJ, of course, was the xeno-environmental architect. When they designed the living quarters for the construction workers, they found the cavern. Later on, the Luna Company took over their old living quarters, renovated it and turned it into the hotel."
"You know," Lori said, "I've learned more about the way history really was from you than I ever learned in school. You make it come alive." She paused. "By the way, which one is Eclipse? I know he lives here on the Moon but have I ever met him?"
"Sure," Clark said. "Jonas's brother, Zebadiah. You met him at the picnic, back in July."
"I remember," Lori said. "Zeb. The good-looking guy with the weird sense of humor. I guess he doesn't have any difficulty getting back and forth from Earth to the Moon."
"Nope," Clark said. "Go ahead and change. I thought we'd drop in at the Crater Café for lunch and then we can take in all the sights."
"Is there any way to see the Rainbow Caverns up close?" she asked, starting to peel off her business suit. "Tour groups or something?"
"As a matter of fact there is," Clark said. "There won't be time before things start up this evening but I'm sure we can find some time to see them before we head home."
"Good!" Lori said. "I definitely want to make time for that in our schedule."
"You look like you're getting the hang of walking in low gravity," Clark said.
"I am. It's not too hard -- especially when I have your example in front of me," Lori said. "And if I start to lose my balance I can always grab onto you."
"You can grab onto me any time you like," Clark said.
She smiled, but looked speculatively at him. "Is this how it is for you all the time?" she asked suddenly, startling him. Most people didn't make that correlation.
"A little," he said. "It happened to me gradually, though, so I had plenty of time to adapt."
"I guess. It must be hard, though, controlling everything you do, every second."
"It isn't bad," Clark said. "I had my chance to live on a world where I was like everyone else and didn't have to watch every move I made. I gave it up without a second thought and never regretted it. My heart was here -- or on Earth, anyway -- and it still is."
"Lois," Lori said. "She was your heart."
"And now you are."
"If I hadn't met her, I might not understand," Lori said, "but I think I do. Sometimes I still dream I'm her, you know. Some of the things you did together, even some of your fights." She looked down at the ring on her left hand. "I dreamed a few nights ago that I was talking to Jimmy Olsen -- I asked him if he won the pool that was going on about CJ's birth. He told me he did."
Clark frowned, thinking back. "He did," he said. "He was right, exactly to the minute."
"I wondered if he followed my tip," Lori said. "I told him, you know. He took those pictures of Lois, Perry and me. It was my way of thanking him."
"And you made history come true." He put a hand on top of hers. "Do you still have déjà vu?"
Lori nodded. "Yeah, but now I know why. It isn't scary anymore. I know it's just Lois, or the part of me that's her, remembering."
"And that isn't scary?"
She shook her head. "I suppose it might be if I hadn't gotten to know her but I did. That's the thing. I saw part of me in her, and that made it real." She looked at him, a trace of speculation in her gaze. "You know, I wonder who they are in this time."
"The ones you knew in the Twentieth Century. I wonder which one is Perry White and which one is Jimmy Olsen. Or Bernard Klein."
Clark smiled, shaking his head. "The one who could tell you would be HG Wells. I saw him the night Mary was born, you know. He stopped to see her and to congratulate us."
"And he didn't come by to see me?" Lori looked slightly offended. "Well, if you ever see him again, tell him I want to meet him. That shouldn't be such a big deal."
"Yes ma'am," Clark told her, smiling. He went to the window to look out at the Rainbow Cavern. "Let's hurry a little, shall we? Dinner is in about four hours."
"...And that's the company that offers tours of the Moon's surface," Clark said, pointing to a small entranceway into another of the strange, upside-down dwellings. Above it, a floating hologram showed a red-headed woman in a tight pressure suit, winking at the world through the clear bubble of a fishbowl-like helmet -- a circumstance that made Lori raise an eyebrow. The way that this thing highlighted the model's considerable curves led her to suspect that the outfit would never have served the purpose it was purported to fulfill. Pressure suits in her experience were fairly bulky and definitely not anywhere near skin-tight. This one seemed more designed to attract the male eye. Below the picture, flashing letters broadcast the romance of a stroll on the surface of the Moon, a tour past the landing site where Neil Armstrong had planted the American flag, and other historic sites as well.
"Why do I suspect that I won't look anything like that in a pressure suit?" she asked.
"Because you know advertisers," Clark said. "Do you want to take the tour?"
"Well, sure -- unless you have a better idea."
"Actually, I do. Zeb has connections. He's offered to loan us suits and take us out. I'd do it, myself, but I'm not supposed to know anything about it this time around."
"That would be great!"
"We'll make time for it then," Clark said. "It's just as well that we decided to take a few days after the convention to see the sights, though."
"Well," she pointed out unarguably, "how often do I get to the Moon?"
"True," Clark said. "Tomorrow, after the presentations, I believe they're scheduling a city tour for the attendees, at special rates. Unless you want to go along, I'll give Zeb a call after dinner tonight and see what we can work out for an outside tour."
Lori grinned. "I can see the rest of the city later. I'm basking in the privileges of being Superman's wife."
Clark laughed. "I'll have to watch to see how you do that. Somehow I must have missed it over the last three years." He glanced at his watch. "We'd better be getting back. Dinner starts in forty-five minutes and the others will certainly be here by now."
"You're right." Lori glanced around at the fantastic domed city. "I guess we can see more after the presentations. But how do people know when to sleep here?"
"Well, obviously the city is lighted all the time, except one twenty-four hour period every lunar month," Clark said. "All the businesses run around the clock. People -- and businesses -- just have their own schedules, that's all. Humans are very adaptable creatures."
"I guess so," Lori admitted as they stepped onto the nearest slidewalk rolling along in the direction of the Luna Hilton. "I guess businesses that run twenty-four hours a day can probably be a lot more productive than the ones on Earth."
"They are," Clark agreed. "Luna is one of the up and coming business capitals of Earth -- even if it's not exactly *on* Earth. Remind me to show you the new fleet of asteroid miners that they're manufacturing. Luna-Martian-Vesta Mining Inc., in Tranquility, is constructing the next generation of asteroid mining ships at its facility on the dark side of the Moon."
Tranquility was one of the other three lunar cities, Lori knew. "I guess most of us don't think of the Moon as a center for commerce," she said very thoughtfully.
"No," Clark said. "It's going to get more obvious before long, though."
"Well, for one thing, the asteroid mining field is expanding," Clark told her. "From what I've been told -- in my other persona, of course -- there have been some fairly respectable mineral strikes in the Belt in the last couple of years. That's going to start circulating pretty soon and there'll be the 22nd Century equivalent of the California gold rush. That's why Luna-Martian-Vesta decided to get a jump on the thing, now."
"Gaia's Children is going to have a major conniption," Lori observed, placidly. "I can't say it upsets me particularly."
"Gee whiz," Clark said, giving her a look of wide-eyed innocence, "I can't understand that at all."
"Of course not," Lori said.
They stepped off the slidewalk and made their way toward the entrance to their hotel. A tall, thin man, who was obviously having some difficulty with the lunar gravity, entered ahead of them and stepped onto the elevator platform. Lori and Clark followed him and Clark glanced at their fellow passenger. "Lobby?" he inquired.
"Yes, thank you." The other man was tall and lean. He wore the clothing of a tourist and clutched a satchel of synthetic alligator skin in front of him with both hands.
"Lobby," Clark said. "And Fifth." The platform went into smooth motion and the other man lurched slightly and grabbed the safety rail, obviously working to keep his balance.
The platform slid to a gentle stop on the lobby floor and their fellow passenger disembarked. Two other persons boarded, each designating a floor, and again the platform dropped gently toward the lower levels of the hotel.
At last, they slid to a stop on Fifth and Lori and Clark disembarked. Two persons were waiting, and Lori recognized two female journalists that she had met at the convention in Alta Mesa, three years before. One of them gave Clark a long once over and then glanced at Lori, her shapely eyebrows raised in an obvious question.
"Hi, Clark," she said.
"Hello, Stephanie," Clark said. "And, Mona, isn't it?"
"Mona Grant," the second woman said. "Nice to see you again, Clark."
"You know my wife, I think," Clark said blandly. "Lori Lyons. Lori, these are two of our colleagues, Stephanie Brooke and Mona Grant."
"We met at the last convention," Stephanie said. She raked a hand through the long blond tresses that fell past the middle of her back. "I didn't realize you were married."
"We weren't; at least not then," Clark said with a smile. He glanced sideways as another platform, rising from below, slid to a stop. Mona and Stephanie moved forward to board it.
"Nice to see you again," Stephanie said to Lori, although it was quite obvious to Lori that Stephanie wasn't at all pleased to see her. "We're heading up to the bar. I guess we'll probably see you at dinner."
"We'll be there," Clark said. "Come on, honey. We'd better hurry."
"What was wrong with her?" Lori asked as they headed back to their room.
Clark shrugged. "I'm not sure. Unless --"
"Stephanie and I met a few years ago in Brazil," Clark said. "She was an international correspondent for the Times. We had dinner a couple of times --" He paused as their hotel room door slid aside and they entered. "I think she wanted things to go farther." He shrugged. "I told her that I liked being friends but I wasn't looking for anything closer. She got -- kind of aggressive, I guess you could say. I couldn't explain why I wasn't interested, of course. I think she hoped for a while that she'd be able to change my mind. I never gave her any reason to think so, but Stephanie is a woman who usually gets what she wants."
"So naturally she isn't real happy with me," Lori said.
"I'm afraid that's probably it," Clark said. "I'm sorry, honey."
Lori shrugged. "Well, I'm sorry for her but you're not the only attractive guy in the world. She's going to have to get used to the idea that this time she isn't going to get what she wants. I'm not the sharing type when it comes to my husband, no matter if some marriage customs permit extracurricular relationships -- or even more than one wife."
"*My* marriage customs don't permit it," Clark said firmly. "You're the only woman I want or need." He went to his suitcase, heaved it to the bed and opened it. "Pete will probably be waiting downstairs. We'd better hurry a bit."
Lori nodded. "Besides, I'm hungry."
Twenty minutes later, they entered the bar. Happy hour had been in session for half an hour and the room was fairly crowded. Clark and Lori paused in the entrance and Lori saw Clark glance unobtrusively around, scanning the room for Pete Swanson. "Pete's over there," he said quietly, nodding to the right. "He's with Vane Williams and Joanna Prescott."
"Not some other woman interested in you, I hope," Lori said, raising an eyebrow at him. Clark laughed.
"Hardly. Joanna was very much married the last time I saw her, and has a couple of kids. She's from South Africa and works for the Breeze in Capetown. This way." He led the way, threading a path through the crowd until they approached a small knot of persons at a table near the right rear corner.
As they approached, Vane Williams glanced up. "Hey, look who's here," he announced, getting to his feet. "Kent and Lyons!"
"Hi Vane," Clark said. He indicated the one remaining empty chair. "Has anyone got that chair or is it empty?"
"Talbot Grey had it," the woman, who must be Joanna Prescott, spoke up. "He went to get a drink."
"In that case --" Clark moved away to snatch a couple of the folding chairs that leaned against the wall. Apparently, the bar had correctly been expecting an overflow crowd tonight, what with the journalists' convention. "Here we are, honey." He opened the chairs without making an issue of it and held one for Lori.
Joanna smiled warmly at Clark and Lori thought that the woman, like a number of her female colleagues at the Planet, had at least a slight crush on him. It was neither unprecedented nor even surprising to Lori. "How are you, Clark? What's with this rumor I'm hearing that you're married?"
"I am," Clark said. "Lori and I were married three years ago. You've probably heard of Lori Lyons, haven't you?"
"Who hasn't?" Vane said. "Kent and Lyons. I guess congrats are in order, then."
"Thanks," Clark said.
Lori found Joanna regarding her critically. "So you're Lyons," she said. "I've seen your picture, of course. So you're the girl that snagged Kent here." She gave an approving smile. "Nice work."
"Thank you," Lori said, trying to sound composed.
Vane Williams raised his wineglass. "Here's to Clark for taking the plunge. How long's it for, buddy?"
"Lifetime," Clark said, sounding, Lori thought, a little surprised.
"I coulda told you that," Pete said. "Kent was always one to know a good deal when he saw it. So, Lori, I hear you and Clark were the ones who set the hunt going for me at the last convention. I had to testify about that business, did you know?"
"No, but I'm not surprised," Lori said. "Merrick tried to kill you."
"Yeah, I know. It seemed almost unfair that I ended up with the knock on the head and you guys got the credit for breaking the case." Pete grinned without rancor. "On the other hand, I heard he'd tried to kill you, too."
"Both of us," Lori said. "He'd intended to kill Margot once she wasn't any use to him anymore, to cover his theft of the ring. It was pretty nasty all around."
"Yeah," Pete said. "I'd wondered a little about her, especially when she offered to compare notes with me on what I'd found about the jewelry thefts, but it never occurred to me that she could be involved."
"It didn't occur to us either," Clark said, "until she took Lori at stunner point. Then it kind of dawned on us that she knew more than we realized."
Vane Williams gave a crack of laughter. "Yeah, I guess it might. Well, it sure broke up the monotony of that last convention. I hope you haven't got any other investigations that could spill over into this one, do you?"
"I don't think so," Lori said. "We wrapped up our last big one just before we left. The Tanzanikan drug cartel."
"Yeah, I remember seeing something about that," Joanna said. "At least it's in the hands of the police. We're not likely to see any murder attempts here at the hotel!"
"Amen to that," Clark said. He glanced at Lori. "Can I get you something, honey?"
"My usual," Lori said. "Thanks."
Clark departed in the direction of the bar. Joanna glanced after him and then turned back to Lori. "I don't think he's changed a bit since I saw him four years ago. You've been married three years?"
Lori nodded. "Yes. We have an eleven-month-old daughter. She's back on Earth with one of Clark's cousins for the duration of the convention."
"Oh oh," Vane said. "Here come the pictures."
Joanna cast him a dirty look. "Do you have a picture of her?"
"Sure." Lori opened her handbag and found the holo-chip that produced an image of Mary Lucille. "This is the most recent. Clark took it last week."
Joanna gazed at the image. "She's beautiful!"
"Well," Lori said, "we think so." She switched off the holo and restored the chip to her bag. "You can relax," she told Vane. "The obligatory picture show is over."
Pete Swanson laughed.
"What's so funny?" A thin, somewhat older man had approached during this exchange and took the empty chair, setting a drink on the table.
"Baby pictures," Pete said. "This is Lori Lyons, Tal. Lori, Talbot Grey, from Tanzor."
Grey nodded. "Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise," Lori said. She looked around as she sensed rather than saw her husband's approach.
"Hey, Tal," Clark said. He set Lori's drink before her and took his chair. "I haven't seen you for a while. I see you've already met Lori."
Grey nodded, lifting his glass to Clark. "Kent."
"So, what are you up to these days?" Clark asked.
"Working for the Tanzor Gazette," Grey said. "Naturally, I know you and Ms. Lyons are with the Daily Planet. How is John?"
"He's doing pretty well," Clark said. "His daughter is in medical school and he has a son in the local junior college."
"She's fine," Clark said. "She's a department head at Genie Electronics."
Grey nodded silently and sipped his drink. "Is she happy?"
"Yes," Clark said. Lori was a little surprised at the lack of expression in his voice.
"Good," Grey said. "It's what I wanted for her."
"How's your wife?" Clark asked. "You're still married to Helen, aren't you?"
"Doing all right. Our contract has another year to run. I'll tell her you're apparently doing well. I heard you're married."
"Yes. To Lori."
Definitely an odd conversation, Lori thought, but she kept silent.
Grey glanced over at Lori and smiled fractionally. "So I heard. Stephanie Brooke was...describing Ms. Lyons. I must say, the description doesn't match very closely."
"Hmm." Clark limited himself to a grunt.
"I hear you're Olsen's newest star reporter," Grey said, addressing Lori. "Do you know his wife?"
"Yes, I do," Lori said. "She's a friend of mine."
"She used to be a friend of mine," Grey said. "I haven't seen her in a long time."
"That's too bad," Lori said politely. She glanced at her husband, but Clark said nothing. She had the distinct impression that he wished someone would change the subject. She glanced at the clock. "I don't know about anyone else, but I'm starving," she announced. "Surely it's nearly time to head in for dinner?"
Clark glanced at her with a touch of relief. "Now that you mention it, I'm pretty hungry. Shall we go in, honey?" He looked at Pete Swanson. "Coming, Pete?"
Swanson got to his feet. "Sure thing. I need something in my stomach after two whiskies."
Vane lifted a hand to them and took a swig of his drink. "See you later, guys."
Clark nodded and swept Lori and Pete before him toward the dining room.
A hostess escorted them to a corner table. Settling into her seat, Lori glanced once at Clark, noting again her husband's complete lack of expression. Whatever had been going on back there between him and Talbot Grey, there had been plenty of undercurrents. Well, obviously she couldn't ask him about it while Pete was sitting at their table but maybe he'd feel like telling her later when they went to their room.
Pete surprised her. "If Tal had any judgement, he'd have let that alone," he said bluntly. "You didn't have anything to do with who Olsen married. Personally, it seems to me that she had a lot of sense."
Clark shrugged. "It's ancient history," he said.
"For everybody but Talbot," Pete said. "But then he's never made a secret of it. He's been through six marriages since then. Looks to me like 'Marilyn' made the right choice." He looked at Lori. "Thanks for getting us out of there."
Lori looked questioningly at Clark. "What's going on?" she inquired.
"Talbot was a rival of John's when he and Marilyn were going together, years ago," Clark said. "Obviously, he lost and he's never quite forgiven John for it."
"Oh," Lori said.
"He's never forgotten it," Pete said, "and it must be at least twenty years -- but he never lets it die. You'd think the guy would move on. Nobody else is interested, really." He shrugged. "It's too bad but sometimes that's the breaks. Although I must say, I'd like to meet 'Marilyn', to see what all the fuss is about." He turned to the table's menu screen. "Let's see what they've got here. I definitely need something in my stomach."
"Marilyn's a very outstanding woman," Clark said. "Intelligent, attractive and successful. Not to mention the mother of three kids. I doubt she'd be flattered to know that Tal is still obsessing over her. She and John are very happily married."
"So I gathered," Pete said. "I just wish he'd let it go. Gets embarrassing for everybody when he starts in on it. He shouldn't drink on an empty stomach."
Lori could agree with that. She leaned forward to read over the menu. "What's a Half Moon Special?" she inquired, changing the subject.
Pete glanced sideways at her and grinned slightly. "I like your wife, Clark. Her sense of timing is impeccable. A Half Moon Special is a mini-filet mignon and a lobster tail. They raise 'em right here on the Moon."
"*Lobsters*?" Lori said, considerably surprised.
"Sure," Clark said. "In the sea farming caverns. And there are agriculture and ranching domes as well. The lunar colonies are pretty self-sufficient."
"I guess so," she said after a startled second. "I definitely have to try the special."
"Hey, Clark!" a voice said. Lori looked up to see a vaguely familiar man of about thirty standing beside her.
Clark grinned. "Hi, Thompkins. How's Sydney these days?"
"Hot," the man he'd called Thompkins said. "I heard you and Lyons were here." He looked down at Lori and inexplicably chuckled. "Funny, you don't look a bit the way Steffy Brooke described you."
Lori knew a moment of irritation. Stephanie Brooke had apparently begun a crusade to smear Clark Kent's wife. "What's she saying about me?"
Thompkins shrugged. "You can guess. I figured it was jealousy, and so does everybody else that knows her."
"Hmm," Lori said, resolving to meet as many persons as possible to counteract Stephanie's unflattering gossip.
Pete shook his head. "Ignore it," he advised her.
"What's going on with this woman?" Lori asked. "She's barely met me!"
"She's jealous," Pete said. "You've got ten times the reputation she does -- and you're married to Kent -- and everybody knows it, especially after she starts talking."
Clark rolled his eyes but said nothing.
"Anyway," Thompkins said, "I see you're scheduled to make a presentation tomorrow morning, Clark."
"Yeah," Clark said. "John roped me into it."
"Figured that," Thompkins said. "You know, the Examiner is recruiting, don't you?"
"My boss was wondering if you'd be interested in looking at an offer."
Clark shook his head. "Lori and I are happy where we are," he said.
"That's what I figured," Thompkins said placidly. "Metropolis is your homeport, isn't it?"
"Yes," Clark said.
"Yeah. Well, now I can say I did my duty," Thompkins told him. "Enjoy your dinner. I'll see you later." He waved casually to them and departed.
"So," Pete said, deliberately shifting the subject, "I know what happened to me, three years ago, and I know the official story, but I've yet to hear how you got involved. What did you two have to do with the missing ring?"
Clark grinned. "Well, Merrick planted it on Lori to get it out of the country," he said. "The whole time every law enforcement agency in and around Metropolis, not to mention the insurance company, was searching for it, it was sitting in the bottom of Lori's purse..."
The steak and lobster dinner was excellent and Lori had to admit that the Moon-grown variety could compete with any produced on Earth. After dinner, the group of journalists moved back to the bar to socialize before breaking up for the evening and Lori had the chance to renew her acquaintance with a number of persons who had been at the convention in Alta Mesa, three years before. More people knew who she was now, she noticed. She had advanced from Clark Kent's rookie partner to a journalist with a fairly formidable reputation. Twice she caught Stephanie Brooke glaring at her from across the room but each time she met the baleful stare with a cool, bland smile.
Clark continued to avoid Talbot Grey, for which Lori didn't blame him. The man found a spot on one side of the room and nursed several drinks over the next two hours and apparently held only sporadic conversation with various persons. Lori felt a little sorry for him, but at the same time had to agree with Pete Swanson that twenty years was a long time to hang onto a grudge -- and it wasn't even with Clark. She saw no reason that her husband should suffer because Talbot Grey had an old quarrel with John Olsen.
She and Clark were chatting pleasantly with Joanna Prescott and a reporter from the Cleveland Press when Clark's wrist talker beeped softly. Clark looked surprised and excused himself to step away from the group.
"Wonder what's up?" Joanna remarked idly. "Does Clark know anyone on the Moon?"
"He has a cousin who lives in Luna City," Lori said. "He's offered to take us out for a private tour of the surface while we're here. I guess that might be him calling."
But it wasn't. A moment later, Clark returned to the group, a slight frown on his face.
"Who was that?" Lori asked.
"The hotel has a message from John for me to pick up," he said. "I'll get it when we head for our room."
"Oh," Lori said.
"Lori says you have a cousin in Luna City," Albert Cassidy, the representative from Cleveland, remarked. "Seems to me you've got relatives everywhere, Kent."
"Not everywhere," Clark said. "Zeb's been here for years. He's an associate professor of mineralogy at Armstrong University. He heard we were going to be here and offered to take Lori and me out on a private tour. He takes his classes out constantly, so I'm sure he's qualified to guide us around."
"Sounds like a better deal than the usual tourist fare," Joanna remarked. "I'm not going out this time around. Agoraphobia."
"That's too bad." Clark glanced at his wrist. "Well, I'm beat. I'm going to make that call to Zeb and then I'm headed for our room. How about you, honey?"
"So am I," Lori said. "It's been a busy day. Besides," she added, "it's a lot of work, learning a whole new way of navigating. I have to really think about what I'm doing if I don't want to give Stephanie an excuse to laugh at me."
Joanna snorted. "Steffy's a cat. I guess we'll see you tomorrow, then."
But once outside the room, Clark headed directly for the main desk. "John apparently sent the message priority."
"Priority?" Lori raised her eyebrows. "Must be urgent."
"That's what I figure." Clark led the way into the main lobby. A moment later, they were headed toward the elevator, a sealed message pouch in Clark's pocket.
The elevator slid to a stop as they approached and just as they stepped onto the platform a voice behind them called, "Hold the elevator!"
Lori glanced around as she boarded and saw a tall, thin individual attempting to hurry across the lobby floor toward them. Courteously, Clark waited until he managed to reach them and, belatedly, Lori recognized him as the tourist that she had seen entering the hotel when she and Clark had returned from their tour of the city. He smiled perfunctorily at her. "Thank you."
"No problem," Clark said. "Which floor?"
"Fifth," the man said. He glanced casually at Lori again and this time he seemed to study her face. "Forgive me," he said, "but you look familiar. Do I know you?"
"I don't think so," Lori said.
"I've seen your face, I'm sure."
"We met when you arrived," Lori explained. "We were on the elevator with you."
"I suppose so," he said slowly, "but you look very familiar. Wait --" He glanced at Clark and then returned his gaze to Lori. "I do recognize you. You're that writer for the Daily Planet -- Lori Lyons. I've seen your picture. You were the reporter that was kidnapped by that insane cult last year. The one that set off the bomb in Metropolis."
"Oh," Lori said as the elevator started downwards. "Yes, I was." She extended a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. --?"
"Johnson," he said, shaking her hand quickly. "Edgar Johnson. I'm an engineer at Genie Electronics in Metropolis."
"It's a small world," Lori said.
"It certainly is," Edgar Johnson agreed. "I suppose you must travel a good deal for your news service?"
"Sometimes," Lori said. "This is my partner, Mr. Kent. We're here for the journalists' convention."
"Ah, I see," he said. "Yes, I noticed the sign in the lobby. Is this convention always held in Luna City?"
"No," Clark said. "It's held in a different place each year. The last one we went to, three years ago, was held in Ciudad del Sol, in Alta Mesa."
The elevator slid gently to a stop on the fifth floor. "I see," Johnson said. "It must be interesting to see such exotic parts of the world. I, fortunately, am simply here for a vacation and a little relaxation."
"Well, Luna City is a good place to relax," Clark said. "They have everything from exotic sports to all kinds of tours and everything in between. Do you plan on visiting any of the night clubs or the casinos in Tycho?"
"I may," Edgar Johnson said. "I'm not much of a gambler, but I understand the low-gravity shows at the clubs are like no others anywhere." He yawned decorously behind one hand. "It was nice meeting you, Ms. Lyons, Mr. Kent." He nodded pleasantly at Lori. "Good night."
"Good night," Lori said. Johnson smiled and stepped off the platform, and a moment later was striding awkwardly away down the hallway to the left, grasping occasionally for the safety rail that ran along the wall.
Clark gave Lori a helping hand and stepped off the platform as well. Lori glanced after Johnson's retreating figure as he rounded a corner and disappeared. "That was interesting."
"Yeah," Clark said. He started toward their room. "Like you said, it's a small world."
"I wonder what John wants," Lori said, dismissing Edgar Johnson from her mind.
"We'll find out in a minute." He let her grab his arm as she took an incautious step and bounced somewhat higher than she had intended. "Careful there."
When they had entered their room and closed the door behind them, Clark withdrew the envelope from his pocket and broke the privacy seal. "Let's see what we have here."
Their editor's message was short and to the point. "Clark and Lori. As soon as you get this message, call my private line."
Lori read the message and looked curiously at her husband. "I wonder what's up. It doesn't seem like that private a message."
"Good question." He turned to the room's vidscreen. "I want to make a direct call to Earth."
The screen lit up with a soft chime. The pleasant female voice of the computer announced, "The line is open, sir."
Clark recited their editor's private number and waited while the computer put the call through. Within seconds, the screen shifted to the image of John Olsen's living room, and John sitting on his sofa.
"Hello, John," Clark said. "What's up?"
John leaned forward. "Thanks for getting back to me so fast. I need you to do something important for me."
"Sure," Clark said. "What is it?"
"I need you to find somebody, if you can," John said. "Computer, display file 14."
A picture appeared in one corner of the screen and Lori found herself looking at the image of the man with whom they had been speaking on the elevator platform only a few minutes before. "He was on Luna Shuttle Flight 361 that arrived at the Luna Shuttleport at 2135 Luna time," John continued. "His name is Edgar Johnson. He's an engineer employed by Genie Electronics, in Marilyn's department. If you can find him, call me as fast as you can, but be very careful not to alarm him. It's important."
Lori and Clark looked at each other. "He's staying at the Luna Hilton. We saw him just a few minutes ago," Clark said. "He was on the elevator we were on when we came back to our room. He recognized Lori from that Gaia's Children thing last year and mentioned that he was on vacation, here. What's up?"
"Well, at least he's there," John said. "Marilyn's department has an investigation going -- possible corporate espionage. They've had a breach in their R and D security."
"Oh oh," Clark said. "What happened?"
"There was a computer audit today -- Marilyn isn't sure why, since it wasn't a scheduled one -- and they detected an unauthorized access to the records of a new, really revolutionary technology that the company is developing. The files were copied and an effort was made to erase the tracks."
"Let me guess. Edgar Johnson."
"Exactly. Of course we don't *know* he was behind it but it was his electronic signature. Someone could have faked the ID but naturally Marilyn's pretty worried, and so are her superiors. Especially since Mr. Johnson informed his bosses very suddenly, three days ago, that he needed to take a short leave of absence to Luna City."
"Yeah, I can see why they're worried. What do you want us to do?"
"You've already done most of it. One of the company's investigators will be there in about six hours. Try to make sure of Johnson's location in the meantime if you can but, for Pete's sake, don't do anything to alarm him. The last thing we need is for him to panic."
"We won't," Clark said.
Some of the tension seemed to leave John's expression. "Thanks. I should have known I could count on you two. As long as he's on the Moon he can't go very far without leaving a trail. If he's really our boy, our people will find out pretty quickly. And, of course, I'll expect a story about whatever happens."
"Of course," Lori said, keeping her face straight with an effort. Emergency or not, John was first and foremost a newsman.
Their boss signed off and Lori and Clark looked at each other.
"What was I saying about a normal, slightly boring convention?" Lori said, sounding resigned even to herself.
"Well, hopefully it'll be straightened out in a few hours and we can go back to being slightly bored," Clark said. "Think you can tie into the hotel's computer network and find out what room Mr. Johnson is in?"
"I guess I could," Lori said. "But why don't you just take a stroll along the hallway he headed for and see if you can see him? It's faster."
"I guess I could, but I don't like to snoop on other people's privacy that way," Clark said.
"Okay." Lori hunted around in the closet where their possessions had been stored and located her laptop. "I'll try. I don't make any promises, though." She cast a sideways look at him. "I was hoping for a slightly different sort of action before we went to sleep, but I guess it'll wait."
"Well," Clark said, "if you can't break into their network in thirty minutes, I guess I could go take a quick scan around the fifth floor."
"That's what I like about you," Lori said innocently. "You always listen to logical arguments."
He gave a half-ashamed grin. "You present them so well," he said.
Lori looked up at him through her lashes. "Well, I was looking forward to this convention -- when I don't have to worry about being interrupted at a delicate moment," she said. She could feel her cheeks warming as she spoke. "You don't have to go snooping around if you don't want to, but it would be nice, just for this evening, if we could -- you know -- have it to ourselves."
He laughed. "And I thought I was the only one who worried about that."
"He's in room 573," Lori reported. "I think Superman should take a quick look to be sure Mr. Johnson is where he belongs -- and maybe what he brought with him."
Clark nodded. "I guess I should take a walk down that way," he agreed. "I doubt I'll be able to see anything -- if he's got copies of whatever the records were, they're probably on a micro-chip or something."
"Probably, but you can at least be sure he hasn't taken off, and see if you can spot where he might have whatever it is. And in the meantime, I can change into something more comfortable," Lori added. "I happened to pack the black lace teddy you brought me from France the last time you were there. I thought this might be a good time to try it out."
"Sounds good to me," Clark said, raising his eyebrows and leering at her in an exaggerated way. "I'll be back in a few minutes." He grinned and left the room, whistling softly to himself. As Lori had said, they had both looked forward to this convention combined with a few days of vacation. It wasn't that Clark didn't love his tiny daughter. Mary Lucille was the delight of his life, as he would have been the first to say. However, the prospect of a few nights alone with his wife, without the worry of a small girl, who had recently taken to climbing out of her crib at night and making her way into her parents' bedroom, appearing at a very awkward moment, would be a nice break. Mary Lucille was undoubtedly having a wonderful visit with Lara. Their daughter was a favorite with her four super-powered siblings, who spoiled her shamelessly, and he and Lori had been able to depart for Luna City with only the slightest of pangs on their part about the short separation.
He reached the hallway that crossed in front of the elevators, turned down the way that Edgar Johnson had gone forty minutes before and rounded the corner toward the man's hotel room.
As he approached, he tuned his super hearing and glanced into the room.
Edgar Johnson was in his pajamas, standing by the wash basin and brushing his teeth with a sonic toothbrush. As was normal on the Moon, the water gushed from the tap in a heavy mist of tiny droplets, drifted toward the basin and swirled slowly down the drain. Everything in the room, as in theirs, was designed for the tourist who was not accustomed to the sometimes-surprising effects of low gravity.
A glance around the room, noting Johnson's possessions, showed him that two business suits hung in the closet. A palm-computer sat on the table beside the double bed, along with a small case of microchips, labeled innocently enough music, videos and apparently financial data. A set of matched synthetic alligator luggage was neatly arranged on the floor below the clothes rack, consisting of a large suitcase, a smaller one and two of the briefcase-sized bags like the one that he had been clutching when they had first seen him entering the hotel. One of the bags was open, disclosing toiletry items. The drawers of the dresser held underclothes, four pairs of socks and two pairs of casual slacks and shirts. The clothing that he had been wearing when they had met him on the elevator lay across the back of a chair and a pair of shoes was set on the floor. Clark paused for a moment and then x-rayed the bags.
The large suitcase was empty, as was the medium-sized one. The small bags were not. Besides the one holding Johnson's toiletries, the second one contained what appeared to be an entire change of clothing, a sonic razor, a manual toothbrush and toothpaste.
As he watched, Johnson finished brushing his teeth, set his toothbrush onto its charger, left the bathroom and went to sit on his bed. Casually, he selected a microchip from the case, inserted it into the palm computer and lay back as soothing music filled the room. Well, that was hardly incriminating, Clark decided. It looked as if Edgar Johnson was settling in for the night. Clark turned and strolled slowly back toward his own room.
As he passed the elevators, one of the platforms slid to a stop. Stephanie Brooke, Mona Grant, Talbot Grey and Pete Swanson, as well as two persons he didn't know, stepped off, accompanied by the unmistakable smell of alcohol and exotic hors d'oeuvres, leaving a number of other persons on the platform to continue on to their own floors.
"Hello, Clark," Stephanie said. She glanced around. "Where's your wife?"
"In our room," Clark said. "I'm on my way back now."
Stephanie paused as her companions dispersed in different directions for their rooms and grasped Clark's arm lightly. "Would you like to stop by for a drink?" she purred. "I'm sure Lori won't mind."
Clark gently disengaged her hand. "I'm sure she would," he said mildly.
Stephanie looked annoyed. "Being married doesn't mean you have to be a saint," she protested. "Do you know, back in Brazil I began to think you were gay. It wasn't as if I was asking for a commitment then, any more than I am now. Or does your little wife run your life that strictly?" she added, taking his arm again and leaning forward to allow him a close look at her cleavage. "I thought you were more of a man than that."
Clark removed her hand again. "You're a very beautiful woman," he said quietly, "but Lori and I are in a monogamous, lifetime relationship, and I'm sure she would mind what you're suggesting very much." He stepped back. "And so would I. I'm sorry, Stephanie. Good night."
Luna City operated on a 24-hour clock, and the first presentation was due to begin the next "morning" for the conventioneers at what was 11:55 Luna time. Since businesses and life in general on the Moon went on at all hours, this wasn't surprising. Before they left the room for breakfast, which for them was at 10:30, Clark called Zebadiah Kent. Zeb grinned cheerfully at the two of them from the vid screen. He was a tall, good-looking, very dark-skinned man with a set of shoulders that rivaled Clark's. He was also at least five inches taller, Lori recalled from their first meeting at the last family barbecue in July. He resembled his brother, Jonas Kent, but towered over him as well. "I thought we could take a little stroll outside, if Lori's up for it," he said, after the greetings had been exchanged.
"You bet I am," Lori said.
"Good," Zeb told her. "There are always tour groups outside but I can give you and Clark the personal guided tour to places that the regular tourists never see. There's a lot out there besides just bare Moon rock."
"So I've heard," Lori said. "I can't wait."
"Well," Zeb told them, "I'm busy with classes for today -- that's this 24-hour period, Lori, since we don't have actual days and nights on the Moon -- but how about after 1700 next 'day'? Will that do?"
Lori nodded. "That would be great!"
"Good. Come over to my apartment when the presentations are over tomorrow and we'll take it from there," Zeb told them. He glanced at his wrist. "Gotta go. I have a class in ten minutes."
Lori and Clark bade goodbye and switched off. Lori looked into the mirror to check her lipstick and glanced at her husband. "What are you going to do if Stephanie makes another pass at you?"
"I don't think she will," Clark said. "I tried to make my position clear last night."
"I hope she listened," Lori said, "because I'm not going to put up with her horning in on my territory." She glanced sideways at her husband. "And you're definitely *my* territory."
"One hundred percent," Clark assured her. "I don't need to tell you that, I hope."
"Nope," Lori said. "But Stephanie doesn't seem to take a hint very well."
"Stephanie is a woman who usually gets what she wants," Clark said. "She isn't used to being told no."
"I figured that," Lori said. The blond journalist reminded her of a classmate at NTSU who regarded a man's refusal as a challenge. She hadn't received many refusals but the particular incident that Lori recalled had led to a redoubling of her attempts to land the fish in question. She hoped that wouldn't be the case this time, since, as had been noted a number of times by those who knew her, Clark was nowhere near as ruthless as Lori could be when it came to defending her husband. If Stephanie continued to pursue Clark, things could get a bit uncomfortable -- especially for Stephanie. However, she didn't need to mention that to Clark. "If she tries again, you can tell Stephanie that I don't share," she said. "I'd almost forgotten what an uninterrupted night with you could be like." She sidled up to him and rested a hand on his posterior. "You're going to give me an encore tonight, aren't you?"
He grinned. "Count on it," he told her. "Of course, we might not get a lot of sleep."
"Sleep," Lori informed him loftily, "is overrated, believe me."
"Well, I've always thought so," he told her.
"Maybe we could get to bed a bit early tonight," she suggested.
"Sounds good to me," he said. He put an arm around her. "Now, how about we go get some breakfast?"
"Sure," she said. "I'm going to need some coffee to keep me awake during some of the presentations." She turned to pick up her shoulder bag, which contained, among other things, her recorder. "What's the story about Mr. Grey and John?" she asked suddenly. "I meant to ask you last night but events kind of distracted me."
Clark blinked at her for a moment. "Wow," he said. "I may have super speed but you can change a subject faster than I'll ever be able to."
"Yeah, well, it's something I want to know about."
Clark gave her a sideways grin and bent to pick up his briefcase. "It's an interesting story. John was a new employee for the Planet when Marilyn was an engineering student at New Troy State," he began. "He was about twenty-seven, if I remember correctly. He'd been trying to get up the nerve to ask her for a date for months, when Tal was transferred to the Planet from the West Coast branch. He was a few years older than John and had an established reputation in the journalistic community but he was also known as a bit of a hot shot. He was good-looking, dashing, and definitely a romantic figure for any young woman. He made quite a play for Marilyn and it looked for a while like John might lose out. John finally came right out and told Marilyn he loved her and it turned out she'd been hoping he'd say something for a while. Tal took it pretty badly."
"Yeah. He followed her around, waylaid her a number of times, tried to convince her to change her mind. She told John she thought he was stalking her but wasn't able to prove it. She finally told Tal she didn't ever want to see him again. There were several rather unpleasant incidents -- and then he started stalking John."
"You're kidding me!"
"I wish I were. It was a fairly tense situation for a while. John's always suspected that Tal was behind an attempt to mug him and beat him up one night when he came back to his apartment. John never could prove it, but that's what happened."
"So what happened to John?"
Clark raised an eyebrow at her. "John was Lois's protégé," he pointed out. "She advised him, back when he was about ten -- when he told her he planned on trying to be an investigative journalist like she'd been -- that he should learn self defense, just in case. He followed her advice. The muggers ended up with the worst of the bargain."
"I never knew that about him," Lori said.
"He doesn't advertise it," Clark said. "He has a black belt in Tai Kwon Do and another in Aikido. That's one reason why he lived to become the Planet's editor, considering that he modeled his career after Lois's. Anyway, eventually Tal gave up, left Metropolis and became a foreign correspondent -- but he's never given up his obsession with Marilyn, as I think was obvious last night."
"Yeah," Lori said. "Why was he after you at dinner, though? He didn't know about you then, did he?"
"No," Clark said. "I was retired then. I became a freelance journalist about five years later and spent most of my time outside the country. I'm supposed to be that Clark Kent's son, now -- but Tal knows that John's a friend of mine. I didn't say he's rational about it."
"I guess not," Lori said. She shrugged abruptly. "I suppose it wouldn't be us if something weird didn't happen while we're at the convention. It seems a little coincidental that this corporate theft thing at Genie happened just now and Marilyn's old boyfriend just happened to be here. It's funny, but I don't really see how it could be connected."
"Connected," Clark said, looking at her oddly. "Why do you say that?"
"Oh, I don't know. It just seems like a strange coincidence, but I don't see how it could be anything else." She made a face. "Between Stephanie Brooke and Talbot Grey, I almost wish we hadn't come -- except that we're in a position to help Marilyn and John over this corporate espionage thing. I hope Marilyn isn't in any trouble over it."
"So do I," Clark said. "I guess after the presentations wrap up this afternoon Superman could fly back to Earth and talk to John. It wouldn't hurt if we heard the whole story -- or as much of it as John knows."
"How are you going to do that?" Lori asked. "Won't they check you in and out or something?"
"Sure. But I'll show up as Superman, not Clark. He doesn't have to wear a tracking badge to enter and exit. He doesn't even need breathing equipment, since it doesn't take him twenty minutes to get to Earth from here."
"I see the point," Lori said. "Okay, maybe that's what we should do, if their investigator hasn't wrapped things up by then."
"Let's hope he has," Clark said. "Ready for some breakfast?"
The hotel's little café was moderately full this morning, largely with members of the journalism convention, although it contained a scattering of people that weren't wearing the journalists' convention badge. As the café's hostess escorted them to a table near the back, Lori saw Edgar Johnson sitting alone at a booth on one side of the room indulging in a hearty breakfast. Pete Swanson, seated at another booth with three other journalists, lifted a hand to them as they passed, and she saw Stephanie Brooke, Mona Grant and two male members of the convention sitting at a table near the center of the room. Stephanie cast her an enigmatic glance and turned back to her companions with some remark that Lori couldn't hear. Clark glanced in her direction and his eyebrows slid up.
"What is it?" Lori asked.
"Nothing," Clark said.
A moment later, they were seated at a small table and left to consult the menu. Lori leaned close to her husband and nodded in Stephanie's direction. "Okay, talk. What was that all about?"
"Stephanie's just being nasty," Clark said. He shook his head. "She's telling them that you've got me 'whipped', I believe the term is."
"Oh really," Lori said, surprised at the sudden uncivilized urge to commit violence upon Stephanie Brooke's person.
"It's all right," Clark said.
"No it isn't," Lori said.
"It doesn't matter what she says," Clark said peaceably. "The people who know us know it isn't true."
That might be, Lori conceded, but it was small comfort. The chance probably wouldn't present itself, but if it did, Lori had every intention of making Stephanie pay for her ugly gossip. She turned back to the menu, clenching her fists in her lap.
"Honey," Clark said softly, "it *doesn't* matter. People already know Stephanie. Only the ones who don't are going to believe her -- and then not for long." He patted her arm and added with apparent irrelevance, "I'm ready to order. Do you know what you want?"
"I guess," Lori said. With difficulty, she subdued the urge to cross the room and throw the contents of her water glass in Stephanie's perfectly made-up face. "I'm going to have French toast with bacon and eggs, and coffee. And a glass of milk," she added.
Stephanie's party finished and left the café a short time later, which was just as well for Lori's blood pressure. A few minutes after that, she saw Pete Swanson's party depart as well.
Clark was watching her with a slightly worried expression on his face. "Honey," he said softly, "I hate it when you're upset, especially about someone like Stephanie."
"It's all right," Lori said, reminding herself not to grit her teeth. "It just burns me up that she's trying to seduce *my* husband and she's making *me* out to be the bad guy because you turned her down."
"Well, she'd not going to seduce me," Clark said. "I'd have to be crazy to fall for her line, even if I didn't have you. Even comparing the two of you is an insult to you."
Lori smiled at him, feeling somewhat better. Stephanie could try every trick in the book but she was going to be frustrated this time, she thought. Maybe that would be revenge enough. But if Stephanie gave her an opening, she intended to teach the other journalist a lesson anyway.
They placed their breakfast orders and sat back to wait for their breakfasts. Lori saw the man that Clark had identified as Thompkins, the previous night, enter the room with a female companion and take a seat at the table where Stephanie's party had been.
Clark noticed the direction of her gaze. "Thompkins works for the Southern Examiner. I contributed a few articles to his news service a few years ago while I was a freelancer. His editor wanted to hire me on then but I wasn't interested. I was still looking for you."
"I guess you could get a job with just about any paper," Lori said.
Clark shrugged. "I don't know about that." He looked up as someone approached the table and paused beside Lori. Lori turned her head.
He was a chubby man of medium height with a pleasant, bland face and light blue eyes. He was dressed unremarkably in a dark business suit and carried a tan briefcase in one hand. Nothing about him stood out except to what she called her reporter's instinct -- he looked almost too unremarkable to be believed. He smiled at her in a friendly way and looked at Clark. "Mr. Kent, I presume?"
"That's right. This is my partner --"
"Ms. Lyons. My name is Jason Decker -- I was told to tell you that John sent me." He nodded to the empty chair to Lori's right. "May I sit down?"
"Please do." Clark met Lori's eyes across the table.
Jason Decker took the chair and set his briefcase on the floor. "John said that you located Mr. Johnson?"
"Yes. He's here at the hotel," Lori said. "Room 573." She leaned her chin on both hands and flicked a forefinger almost infinitesimally at the man sitting alone at the table against the wall. "That's him, sitting right there."
Jason Decker glanced casually around the room and leaned back in his chair. "I think I'll get a cup of coffee," he said casually. "Yes, I recognize him from his picture. Thanks for the help. I can take over from here."
Lori glanced at Clark. "Can you tell us anything about what's going on?" she asked.
He smiled slightly and glanced up at the pretty waitress who approached the table with a coffeepot. "I'll have a cup, please."
The woman nodded, brought the spout close to the oversized cup and poured coffee. Lori stared in awe at the tiny stream of coffee that emerged from the pot, floated gently toward the coffee cup, splashed vigorously as it hit the bottom and then swirled lazily around almost in slow motion. The ripples rose dangerously close to the brim in spite of the fact that she had filled the container only halfway. The waitress glanced appreciatively at Clark. "Your breakfast is coming now," she said with a smile.
True to the prediction, a young man approached a moment later, guiding a tray of food that was releasing delicious smells of eggs, bacon and maple syrup. Lori was silent as the man set their meal before him, made sure that their water glasses were filled and departed. Then she turned and looked directly at Jason Decker.
He was adding cream and sugar to his coffee with the concentrated attention of an artist, and, judging by the splash that rose from the surface when a final drop of cream fell into the cup, it was probably warranted. Lori glanced at Clark, waiting impatiently.
"Well?" she asked finally. "It might be nice to know what exactly happened."
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to disclose that information," Decker told her, lifting the cup to his lips. He took a long swallow and lowered the cup. "The investigation is obviously still ongoing."
"We wouldn't report anything until you gave us the okay," Lori protested.
He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Ms. Lyons. I'm not allowed to talk about it, but the company does appreciate your help."
As he spoke, Edgar Johnson rose from his chair and made his way toward the exit. Jason Decker watched him for several seconds, finished the contents of the cup in three swallows and stood up. A moment later, he had vanished out the door after his quarry.
"Well," Clark said after a moment, "I guess Plan A is still on. Maybe John can give us something more."
The presentations by various speakers for the morning session were about the caliber that Lori expected. Only two were able to keep her attention without effort on her part, and by the time they broke for lunch she had reached and passed the yawning point.
"Shall we get some lunch and stretch our legs a little?" Clark asked. He looked as bored as she felt.
"Yeah," Lori said. She got to her feet with alacrity and had to grab at her husband's arm to keep her balance. "Oops."
Clark grinned. "Don't look too happy."
"Why not?" she asked, nodding at one of her colleagues who was struggling to get out of the row of chairs without bouncing into the air and smothering a cavernous yawn with his free hand. "I don't think we're the only ones who need the break."
Clark chuckled. "Let's get out of here."
The lunchroom was crowded and, after a glance through the door, Clark took Lori's arm. "I know another café a couple of blocks away. Let's go."
The café was billed as an "open air" café, as odd as that might seem. They were seated at a table in an area surrounded by a low hedge from which they had a view of a grassy park where spectacular gardens bloomed with a brilliant display of flowering plants. An irregular pond, dotted with a number of domestic ducks and geese, and at least two swans, floating serenely on the surface, reflected the sunlight filtering through the polarized panels of the dome that arched above them. Lori sipped her iced tea and leaned back in her chair, taking in the view, not the least of which was the sight of Clark, relaxing in the seat across from her.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing. Just admiring the scenery. You look awfully good in that shirt," she added. The black polo shirt, open at the throat, molded itself to his muscular torso and, as usual, sent her thoughts to more earthy levels concerning her husband.
He raised an eyebrow at her. "You're thinking low thoughts," he said.
She laughed. "I thought you said you can't tell what I'm thinking," she said.
"I said I can't always tell what you're thinking," he corrected. "I can always tell when you're thinking about that particular subject."
"I guess that's only fair," she said. "I can always tell when you're thinking about it, too. Of course you think about it most of the time."
He looked wounded. "How can you say a thing like that?"
"Because it's true?"
He snorted. "You know me too well."
Their lunch arrived at this point. Lori watched as he took a bite of his sandwich. "It's too bad we can't skip the rest of the presentations this afternoon, but I suppose it wouldn't be right."
She could see his expression change. "Maybe we could get Vane to take your recorder and record it for us."
"Maybe," she said.
"If we can catch him before the afternoon session starts, we'll ask him," he said. "I can think of other things I'd rather be doing."
They had finished their food more quickly than might have been expected, paid the tab and were headed back for the Luna Hilton when Clark's head came up sharply. With a sinking sensation, Lori saw his expression change. "What is it?"
"I'm hearing a radio broadcast," he said. "There's been an accident at the solar energy collector."
"One of the tour groups was at the Luna City Power Plant, out on the surface. A tourist stepped over the safety rail and walked right into the solar beam. He was burned to a crisp, almost instantly." He made a face.
A faint prickle of -- was it premonition? -- crept over Lori's scalp. "Suicide?"
"Looks that way."
"Do they know who it was?"
She watched as he cocked his head in the familiar way that told her that Superman was using his super hearing. His eyes met hers. "You won't believe this."
Lori swallowed at the sense of certainty that descended on her. "Edgar Johnson," she said.
"Yeah," Clark said.
"Let's get back to the hotel," Lori said.
Clark looked at her questioningly. "What for?"
"As soon as that Decker guy realizes what's happened," Lori said, "he's going to want to check out Johnson's room. And it won't be long after that that it will be swarming with cops. I want to see if there's anything there that we can see before that happens." She tugged his arm and he followed her toward the slidewalk.
Clark frowned. "If Johnson is dead, it won't matter," he pointed out. "Even if he stole what they think he stole, he can't do anything with it now."
"Maybe," Lori said. "I'm not so sure."
"What do you mean by that?"
Lori raised her eyebrow at him in such an exact imitation of his own mannerism that he grinned. "Doesn't it seem a little odd to you?"
"Odd?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yes, odd."
He waited, watching as his wife displayed one of the traits that had come directly down to her from Lois: the ability to make deductions from a minimum of information, and to arrive at answers that were more often than not correct or nearly so. "Look, if he's just an innocent party and didn't steal anything from Genie, this could just be an accident or a suicide. But if he did steal their what'sit, it's awfully convenient, don't you think? I mean," she pursued, "if he stole their stuff, they were bound to find out about it and he'd be arrested, either here on the Moon or when he got back. But suppose they thought he was dead? Suppose he's got another identity set up somewhere, so he 'dies' conveniently, goes back to Earth and sets up somewhere besides Metropolis with his new identity and --" She shrugged. "He's home free and clear with a lot of money. How does that sound for a theory?"
Clark considered that for a moment. "I guess it's possible," he agreed.
"So I want to get a look at his room before the cops get there," Lori continued. "Or at least maybe you can look at it, since you saw it last night. Maybe it'll tell us something."
They were approaching the Luna Hilton as she spoke, and stepped from the walk.
"And what," Clark asked, "are we looking for?" It fascinated him to watch her mind work and brought a simultaneous wave of memory. Lori's thought processes, when she was working with a hunch, were amazingly like Lois's. Or, perhaps not so amazingly after all, he acknowledged.
She shrugged. "I have no idea. We'll just go there and you can check to see if anything's different than what you saw last night. Maybe we'll know more once we've taken a look."
"Okay." Clark followed her toward the hotel entrance. "Shall we try to get somebody to record the rest of the presentations for us?"
"Yeah," Lori said. "We've got more important things to do. You know, I'm kind of worried."
"Yeah. Something's bothering me about this whole affair. I think we need to talk to John as soon as we can and find out if there are any other problems."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, this happened in Marilyn's department. This thing is looking more complicated all the time. I wonder if maybe John's worried that Marilyn might be blamed." She frowned. "Something about this situation smells wrong. Coincidences are all very well, but I don't like them when it comes to crimes. It makes me suspicious."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know exactly," Lori said. "Something just seems funny to me and I can't quite put my finger on it."
That observation was enough to make his hair stand on end. If Lori was suspicious then there was a good reason for him to be suspicious too.
Ten minutes later, they had left Lori's recorder with Joanna Prescott and were headed for the fifth level. Clark, alert for any sign of the Luna City Police, reported that so far the place was quiet. "I guess they haven't finished with the immediate details yet," he said. "Let's not take too long, though. They'll be here soon enough."
Lori nodded. "Just keep those super ears of yours peeled," she said. "We're going to want some warning."
"Don't worry about that," Clark told her. "Black bag jobs may not be my specialty, but I'm pretty good at them anyway."
The floor was quiet when they reached it. A large number of the convention attendees had been quartered on Fifth and most of them were currently in the Galaxy Room, listening to the droning presentation of the latest speaker. He could hear the occasional snore from different rooms, from persons who were on different timetables than they, but for the moment the hall was empty.
Johnson's room, naturally, was locked with an electronic key but the wall was no barrier to Clark's x-ray vision. Standing before the door, he looked straight through it into the room and his eyebrows went up.
Lori was watching him. "What is it?"
"Decker is already in there," Clark said, "searching the place."
"Has he found anything?"
Clark squinted at the scene, examining everything in the room and in Decker's pockets. "No. Not that I can see."
"Well, do you see anything different from last night?"
"I'm looking." Clark slowly scanned each part of the room and compared it with his mental snapshot of it the night before. "There's only one thing different that I can tell."
"What is it?"
"His bags. He had a set of imitation alligator-skin luggage. There was a large suitcase, a medium-sized one and two of those briefcase-sized ones. You remember: he was carrying one when we saw him the first time. One had his toiletries in it and the other had a change of clothes, a razor, a manual toothbrush and paste. One of them is gone." He scanned the small case of computer chips that had been set neatly on the dresser. "Hmm -- and maybe something else."
"I'm not sure but I think the box of computer chips isn't as full as it was..." He frowned, silently counting the chips and comparing the result with what he had seen. "Counting the one in his computer, there are two chips missing."
Lori nodded. "Well, did I have a point?"
"Maybe," Clark said. "We'll have to find out if he stuck them in the hotel's security safe for some reason. I can check it on our way through the lobby again but I don't see why he'd do that with a bag full of clothes."
"No," Lori agreed. "I'd say it looks as if Mr. Johnson might still need them."
"I think you're probably right," Clark said. "But if you are, how did he do it?"
"That's what we're going to find out," she said decisively.
"Oh, I agree. But before we do anything else, we need the whole story from John."
Lori nodded. "Why don't you get Superman to take a trip back to the Daily Planet and talk to him. I'll hang around here and see if I can find out anything more. I guess the first step is to get the police report."
"He's coming out," Clark said, nodding at the door to Johnson's room. As he spoke, the door opened and Jason Decker emerged. He moved away from the door so it could close and surveyed the two journalists without surprise. "Mr. Kent and Ms. Lyons," he said. "Fancy meeting the two of you here."
"We could say the same thing," Lori said calmly. "I guess you wanted to check out Mr. Johnson's room before the police got here."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, Mr. Johnson's apparent suicide," Lori said, widening her eyes innocently. "What else could I possibly mean?"
"How did you know about that?" Decker asked.
"I guess we could ask you the same thing," Clark said, giving the man a level stare.
The corners of Decker's mouth twitched. "Fair enough."
"Find anything?" Lori asked.
He shook his head. "No."
"Oh," Lori said. She looked at her husband. "Well, we'd better get busy, I guess."
Clark nodded agreement. "Why don't you give Zeb a call and explain what's happened," he said to Lori. "I'll handle my part."
Lori gave Jason Decker a smile. "Good luck," she said. Together, they turned and departed down the hallway. Clark was aware that the man stood in the hall, watching them until they turned the corner. As they did so, Clark glanced back, giving the other man a quick once-over with his x-ray vision. "Thought so."
"He's got the box of computer chips in his pocket."
Some ten minutes later, Superman approached one of the airlocks that led from Luna City out onto the surface of the Moon.
Unlike normal humans who had business outside, Superman wore no tracking bracelet. None of the supermen did, for they were capable of holding their breath for a minimum of twenty minutes and did not need pressure suits. If one of them had reason to think that he would be outside longer than that, a compact air tank was the only equipment that was required. Other than one of the tracking bracelets, no record was kept of persons entering and leaving, so, while the man monitoring the airlock might be surprised to see him, it was unlikely that anyone would question his presence in Luna City.
As a matter of fact, the Airlock Monitor looked somewhat dumbfounded when he approached. Clark smiled at him in a friendly way, noting the name on his ID tag. "Could you let me out, Mr. Broughty?"
The man seemed unsure of what to say. "Um -- may I see your identification, sir?"
Clark smiled, gesturing at his costume. "Superman." He levitated a few inches from the surface of the walkway. "Is that enough identification?"
"Uh -- yes, sir." The man triggered the switch that opened the inner door. "Uh --"
Clark paused in mid-step. "Yes?"
"Uh -- will you be coming back, sir?"
"Probably," Clark said. "I've been visiting my cousin, Eclipse. Good day, Mr. Broughty."
"Good day, sir."
Clark stepped into the airlock and waited until the inner lock sealed. Before the air pressure began to drop, he took a lungful of air and waited. Less than a full minute later he stepped out onto the surface of the Moon and launched himself toward blue and white crescent of Earth, floating serene and beautiful in the black sky above him. Beyond the planet, the bright disk that was the sun blazed at him, unshielded by any atmosphere. Clark poured on the speed. It was definitely time that he and Lori learned everything that John Olsen knew about Edgar Johnson and the events that had brought him to Luna City.
Zebadiah Kent looked up at the chime of his vidscreen. "Answer," he said.
The image of Lori Lyons flashed onto the screen. The appearance of his great grandfather's young wife always surprised him. He'd seen old pictures of his great grandmother Lois, who had died when he had been a toddler, and Lori looked so much like her that it was astounding. He'd met her at the family barbecue the previous summer and had discovered her to be an intelligent young woman, who obviously adored Clark. It was hard to reconcile the reputation that she had established as a successful, hard-nosed, award-winning journalist with the very attractive and apparently harmless girl who had married his grandparent but, as he knew from acquaintance with many of the other females in his family, appearances were often deceiving.
"Hello, Lori," he said. "Can I help you?"
"I think you probably can," Lori said. "I don't want to talk about this over the vidscreen. May I come over to your office?"
He felt his eyebrows fly up in surprise but answered at once. "Sure. Where's Clark?"
"That's part of what I wanted to talk to you about. Clark went to talk to John Olsen -- something's happened and I have the feeling that there's more to it than we've been told."
"All right." He gave her the address and directions. Lori thanked him and signed off.
Lori exited the hotel room and headed down the corridor toward the elevators. As she approached, one of the platforms descended and slid gently to a stop. Stephanie Brooke and two other persons stepped off. Stephanie stopped, regarding Lori expressionlessly.
Lori paused but Stephanie didn't move. At last, Lori spoke. "Do you plan on standing there all day? I'd like to get on the elevator."
The other passengers had vanished down their respective hallways. Stephanie tossed the blond hair back from her face and sniffed but didn't move. "Where's Clark?" she asked.
Lori smiled fractionally. "Why do you want to know?"
"I want to talk to him."
"Oh," Lori said. "He's busy right now. You'll have to 'talk' later, although I doubt he wants to talk to you."
Stephanie smirked. "What's wrong, Lori? Don't you trust your husband?"
"Implicitly," Lori said. "He even told me about his conversation with you last night. But you'll still have to talk to him later."
The smile vanished from Stephanie's face. "What did he say we talked about?"
Lori raised an eyebrow. "He said you propositioned him and he turned you down," she said bluntly.
"Oh he *did*! Well, for your information, *he* propositioned *me* but I --"
Lori snorted. "I can't help your delusions, honey, but I prefer to believe Clark. I've already heard about Brazil and about the things you've said about me since we've been here. Not to mention the 'whipped' comment at breakfast." She paused at the expression that crossed Stephanie's face. "Oh, you didn't know anyone would tell me? You obviously don't know your 'friends' as well as you thought you did." She gave Stephanie a saccharine smile. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment."
Stephanie didn't move. "What *is* your problem?"
Lori smiled again, this time genuinely. "No problem. I can't help it if you can't get your own man -- but keep your hands off mine. Now, do you plan on moving or are you putting down roots?"
Stephanie scowled and folded her arms. "You and I need to talk, Lori. You need to know a few things about Clark's past --"
"I already know about his past. You seem to forget that he had the reputation of being impossible to seduce -- I already heard that in Alta Mesa, three years ago. So I suggest you go back to the café upstairs and have a nice, cool glass of iced tea -- and then a long talk with a psychotherapist. Now are you going to get out of my way or do I have to call Security?"
Stephanie stared at her as if she couldn't believe her ears. "What are you talking about?"
"I said get out of my way. Is that clear enough?"
Stephanie hesitated and then stepped slowly aside. Lori went past her to the elevator.
"This isn't over," Stephanie said.
"Yes it is," Lori said. "Leave Clark alone." She met Stephanie's bright blue eyes levelly. "Lobby," she added.
It was late afternoon over Hawaii when Superman entered Earth's atmosphere. Below him rolled the Pacific Ocean and he streaked eastward, leaving a clap of sound in his wake. Within seconds, he was over North America and rocketing across the Midwest on his way toward Metropolis.
Night had fallen over the East Coast and Clark made his way to the home of John and Marilyn Olsen. Silently, he touched down in the back yard of their home and walked up to the patio door. Lights on beyond the drawn curtains told him that the inhabitants of the house had not yet retired, so he knocked gently on the sliding duraglass door.
There was a pause while, he was sure, someone inside checked the security system to identify their late night caller, and then the door slid open. John Olsen smiled. "Hi, Clark. I figured we might be seeing you before long. Come on in."
Clark obeyed. Marilyn Olsen was seated on the sofa and she looked up with a smile. "Hello, Clark."
"What's going on?" John asked.
"That's what I need to ask you," Clark said quietly. "Lori had a hunch that there was more to the story than just a possible corporate theft and, if there was, we didn't want to risk using the communications line from Luna City. Is there?"
John glanced at his wife. Marilyn looked back and there was a long pause.
"Yes," Marilyn said.
"Want to tell me about it?"
"I guess we'd better," John said. "How did Lori know?"
"How does she ever know?" Clark said. "Some things happened and she had a hunch -- but I'd been wondering, too."
"What happened?" John asked.
"Why don't you tell me what the problem is here and then I'll tell you what's going on there," Clark said. "Lori is checking some things out and I need to get back as soon as possible."
"Fair enough," John said. "There isn't really much to tell. The computer audit found that Johnson had accessed the files on a very new, radically different piece of technology that Genie's people are developing -- and that someone made copies of the relevant files."
"Nothing else?" Clark asked.
"Unfortunately, there is," Marilyn said in a subdued voice. "They found that my electronic signature was also in the security log -- except that I didn't access the files. I'm on suspension until the situation is cleared up."
Clark was silent for a moment, digesting that. "I wish you'd told Lori and me that," he said. "That explains why the investigator wouldn't tell us anything. Can you give me any idea what the technology was -- what it was related to, I mean. I don't need a technical explanation."
Marilyn hesitated and glanced at John. "I'm not supposed to talk about it."
"You know Lori and I won't pass it on to anyone," Clark pointed out. "What I need to know is who might be interested in it."
"I can tell you that," Marilyn said quietly. "It's a new, more efficient method for harvesting minerals in an airless, near zero-gravity environment."
"Like the asteroid belt," Clark said.
"Thanks. That gives us a clue where to look," Clark said.
"What's happened with Johnson?" John asked. "You said Lori figured out there was more to this than corporate theft. What was it?"
"Johnson was apparently killed a couple of hours ago," Clark said.
"Apparently," Clark corrected. "Lori thinks differently, and so do I."
"What do you mean?"
"We suspect he may still be alive," Clark said. "If he is, it raises a whole bunch of new questions, but what you've told me helps." He got to his feet. "I need to get back. I have a suspicion that we don't have a lot of time to figure this out." He smiled at Marilyn. "Lori and I will do our best, Mari. That's a promise."
"I know you will," she said. "If anyone can figure it out, you two can."
Clark turned to John. "We'll try to keep you informed," he said.
"Just solve it," John said. "Marilyn's reputation and career are at stake."
"I know," Clark said.
Zeb Kent's office at Armstrong University was two floors down in Grissom Hall. Lori took the public elevator to the floor and located the correct room number. She rapped on the door and it slid open at once with a faint grating noise.
"I definitely have to lubricate the door," Zeb Kent said. "That squeak is getting awfully irritating."
Lori looked over her shoulder as the door slid shut behind her with another faint squeal. "Most people wouldn't understand that," she said. "I never thought how super-hearing might make little sounds I can barely hear kind of annoying. It's nice to see you again, Zeb." She glanced at the nameplate on his desk. "Or should that be Dr. Kent?"
"Zeb will do," he said with a grin. "So what's up, Grandma?"
Lori grimaced. "I'll be twenty-four in February," she protested.
Zeb grinned. "Besides that, what do you need?"
"Did you hear about the accident at the solar collector a little while ago?"
"That's what this is about," she explained. "Edgar Johnson, the guy that was supposedly killed, is an engineer from Genie Electronics on Earth. I don't know if you're aware of it but John Olsen's wife, Marilyn, is the head of one of their departments -- R and D, actually."
"I wasn't," Zeb said. "I know John and Marilyn, of course." He waved at one of the straight-backed plastic chairs that sat against the wall. "Why don't you have a seat and tell me about it."
"Yeah." Lori grabbed the nearest chair, pushed it in front of his desk and sat down. "Well, Marilyn's bosses think Johnson stole some plans for some new technology that they're developing," she began. "John asked us to find him for them and their investigator got here a few hours ago. It was right after that that this accident happened."
"Okay," Zeb said. "So what do you need from me?"
"Well, I've got a theory," Lori said. "Clark thinks I might be right..."
Zeb listened quietly while she spoke and when she finished he was silent for several seconds. "Actually, it could be," he said thoughtfully. "Johnson's getting 'killed' that way actually kind of reinforces your theory. It's hard to just vanish in a controlled environment like one of the lunar cities, but this would leave no doubt in anyone's mind that he was dead. If he's really alive, though, he would have needed some help. There's no way he could have pulled something like this off alone."
"Could you explain that a little?" Lori asked. "I'm a little out of my element here."
"Sure," Zeb said. "Assuming your theory is right, if it wasn't Johnson that walked into the solar beam, it was either someone else, or possibly one of the more humanoid robots that we use for various routine jobs in a lunar environment. I doubt anyone else was willing to sacrifice his life for your friend Johnson, so, if you're right, it was probably an automaton of some kind. Inside the suit, no one would be able to tell the difference. If Johnson put his tracking bracelet on it, everyone would assume that it was him."
"I was kind of wondering if it could be something like that," Lori said.
"I figured you were -- and it definitely could. But he'd have to have a partner -- someone with some kind of surface transportation available, who could have planted the robot out there in a pressure suit, and who could later come back to get Johnson and bring him back inside without being seen -- before his air ran out."
"Could that be done?" Lori asked.
"Sure. Somebody with a Moon crawler could have done it. Lots of people who have business on the surface have them. Researchers, astronomers --" He tapped his chest and grinned. "Teachers. Search and Rescue; even law enforcement. It wouldn't even be that hard. All it would take would be for someone to have planted the robot nearby, in a pressure suit. Johnson could have stepped out of sight, slipped the bracelet onto the robot and sent it in to take his place. Then his confederate would either be waiting for him, or show up as soon as the tour group left and pick him up." He got to his feet. "I'll tell you what. Eclipse will head over to Police Headquarters and ask some questions. Maybe I can get hold of the police report, if they've finished it yet. If they haven't, I can get it for you later. It might tell us something."
"That would be great," Lori said. "I was going to ask you to do it, anyway."
"Figured you were," Zeb said. "And maybe tomorrow one of the things we could do when we go outside would be to visit the solar collector and see if we can see anything, ourselves."
"I appreciate the help," she assured him.
Zeb chuckled. "It's a pleasure, Grandma. Besides, how could I give up a chance to work with Kent and Lyons? You even have a reputation here on the Moon. From what I hear, the population of the lunar mines has gone up considerably since you've been in business."
"Well, some, anyway. At least they do useful work in the mines instead of the kind of things they were doing on Earth," Lori said. "Should I wait here, or do you want to call me at the hotel?"
"I'll drop by later with the report," he said. "It'll probably take a while to find out what we need at the station, and I have a class in an hour, so I'll be busy for a while. Tell Clark I'll be there in time for dinner. You guys can treat."
Lori grinned and stood up. "I see the famous Kent appetite is alive and well," she remarked.
"Yep," Zeb said cheerfully. "Mariah and the kids are having dinner with her parents in Tycho this evening, so I'm on my own for tonight, anyway. I'll see you and Clark around eighteen hundred."
Clark landed outside one of the locks on the opposite side of Luna City from the one by which he had exited and signaled the Airlock Monitor that he needed admittance. While the airlock was pressurizing, he continued to mull over the little bits of information that John and Marilyn Olsen had been able to impart to him. The corporate theft had involved asteroid mining, and the big company that mined the asteroids here on the Moon was Luna-Martian-Vesta. It had a competitor, Asteroid Mining Inc., based in Tycho, which was comparatively small, but those two were the only companies with any significant interest in the field. If Edgar Johnson was still alive and trying to sell his ill-gotten information, he would approach one of them. Of course, it was possible that he already had a contact in one of the companies and would deliver his prize to whoever it was, in exchange for a lot of money and passage back to Earth on one of the company ships.
The inner lock slid open with a soft sigh of compressed air and Clark strode through, smiling pleasantly at the Monitor.
"Uh -- Good day, Superman," the man said, obviously startled by his sudden appearance. This was probably the first time he'd actually seen Superman in person, Clark reflected, since he didn't visit Luna City as a usual thing. His last trip to Luna had been nearly thirty years ago, to officiate in the opening of the lunar branch of the Superman Foundation, along with Lara and CJ.
"Good day," he said.
"Is something important happening in Luna City that we don't know about?" the man asked curiously.
"No," Clark told him. "I'm just here to visit my cousin."
"Oh. Well, have a nice visit."
"Thank you," Clark said, and rose into the air.
He made a fast approach to the park, landed in a partially concealed section, and made a lightning change to Clark Kent. Glancing at his wrist, he guessed that Lori would be on her way back from Zeb's office by this time. With a casual stride, he made his way across the park toward the Luna Hilton.
Lori was approaching from the opposite direction as he crossed the lawn toward the entrance. She waved and stopped by the sign to wait for him.
"Hi," she greeted him. "Have a good trip?"
"Pretty much," he said. "How about you?"
"Zeb and I had a very interesting talk," she said. "He went over to try to get the police report on the accident, and he's coming by at eighteen hundred for dinner. He thinks we might be onto something. What did John and Marilyn have to say?"
The elevator arrived at that point and he and Lori stepped onto the platform. "Fifth," he said. "Marilyn says the Security record shows that she accessed the files, too," he told her. "She says she didn't. She's on suspension until they resolve the situation."
"You mean they suspect *Marilyn*?" Lori asked. "Marilyn wouldn't steal anything!"
"I think they don't know what to think," Clark said. "You and I know she wouldn't do anything like that but the evidence says she *could* have. It's up to us to prove it wasn't her."
"Which means we have to find Johnson," Lori said.
The platform slid to a stop on Fifth and they disembarked. A number of people occupied the hallway, so Clark merely nodded. As they made their way toward their room, he saw Stephanie Brooke coming toward them. The blond journalist looked him in the eyes and then her gaze shifted to Lori. For a moment it seemed as if she intended to speak, but, to his mild surprise, she brushed past them without a word.
Lori had also noticed Stephanie's presence but she said nothing. When they reached their room, Clark looked questioningly at his wife. "What was with Stephanie, just now in the hall?"
"Nothing much," Lori said. "She tried to claim you propositioned her last night."
Somehow he wasn't surprised. "Do I need to tell you that it isn't true?"
"No," Lori said calmly. She put her arms around his waist. "I told her so, too. I also pointed out that you're my husband, not her recreational equipment, and to keep her hands off."
"I can just imagine how she took that," Clark said dryly.
"Yes, she wasn't very happy," Lori said thoughtfully. "I'm starting to wonder about her. Are you sure she's completely stable?"
"I don't know her well enough to say," he said. "You'd think she'd leave a married man alone -- especially after I've already turned her down."
"She'd better," Lori said ominously.
Clark grinned and bent down to kiss her thoroughly. "Whether she does or not, the most she can be is a nuisance," he said. "She doesn't stand a chance, whether she knows it or not."
"If I didn't know that, I'd never have married you," Lori said. "Now," she continued, brushing the subject of Stephanie aside, "What are we going to do about Edgar Johnson?"
"I think we need some information before we can do much," Clark said. "Can you do a background check on him?"
"Sure," Lori said. "I can tie into the lunar net without any trouble, just like I did yesterday. It links to the Earth net, so I should be able to find the information I need. The DataNet is the first obvious step but it would help if I had a little more personal information on him. Edgar Johnson isn't exactly an uncommon name."
"Fortunately, before I left, Marilyn gave me a copy of his personnel file," Clark said.
"Fortunately, huh?" Lori said. "That should help. Let me have it and I'll see what I can find." She took the little disk he held out to her. "How did she get hold of this if she's on suspension?"
"I think John might have had a little to do with it," Clark said dryly. "Did I ever mention that he nearly got arrested for breaking and entering more than once? He isn't Lois's great grandson for nothing."
Lori switched on her computer. "The more I hear about John, the more I want to hear more about his history," she said. "It sounds like Lois would have been proud of him."
"Oh, she was," Clark said. "She definitely was..."
"Actually, I'm not really surprised," Lori said, "but I want to hear about it, later." She removed the disk from its protective envelope and inserted it into the appropriate slot. "Okay, let's take a look here and see what we can see."
Edgar Johnson had been born on Earth, in Los Angeles, according to the information that appeared on the screen. He had attended the California Institute of Technology and gone to work at a small electronics firm in Glendale, where he had worked for several years before leaving the firm in order to join the West Coast branch of Genie Electronics. He'd stayed there for ten years, rising slowly through the company until he'd been transferred to the Genie office in Fostonia. He had been there for five years until his transfer to Metropolis two years ago. Apparently, he had been a satisfactory employee during his years of employment, but he had been turned down for Department Head of R and D the previous year when Marilyn had been selected instead.
"Not a lot here," Lori said in some disappointment. "I suppose there could be a revenge motive, since Marilyn beat him out for the department head job."
"Maybe," Clark said. "See what else you can find. He's got a life history besides what's in his personnel file. Maybe that will tell us something."
A knock on the door nearly two hours later interrupted Lori's scrutiny of her computer screen. Clark glanced around and squinted at the door. "It's Zeb." He switched off Lori's little recorder to which he had been listening with the intention of distilling any new information from the presentations of this afternoon, recorded for them by Joanna Prescott. So far he had heard nothing that either he or Lori didn't already know. "Come in."
The door slid open and his tall great grandson entered. "Hey, Grampa."
Clark rolled his eyes. "Hi, kid," he replied. "How are things?"
"Not bad." Zeb grinned lazily. "I figured you wanted to see the police report, so I came right over as soon as class let out. I also talked to a friend of mine at the station and he let Eclipse see what they found."
"And?" Lori asked.
"There were a few shreds of the pressure suit that survived the solar beam," Zeb said. "They let me have a look at it."
"And what did you see?" Clark asked.
"There were traces of blood," Zeb said. He handed Clark the police report. "You can read all about it here."
"So there really was someone inside?" Lori asked, sounding, Clark thought, disappointed.
"Not necessarily. There were also minute traces of metal, insulation material and acrylics."
"Could it have been part of the pressure suit?" Clark asked.
"Maybe," Zeb said. "On the other hand, it could also have been traces of an automaton. There was one partially destroyed nano-circuit mixed in with the rest. Eclipse discovered that, by the way. The Forensics people missed it."
"How could that happen?" Lori asked. "And what's the significance of a nano-circuit?"
"It was largely destroyed," Zeb told her. "There was only a fragment left -- not something likely to be noticed, if I hadn't been looking for it. And, of course, my microscopic vision is a lot more sensitive than even the stuff Forensics has to work with. The important thing is, though, is that they don't use nano-circuits in suit electronics."
Clark's eyes met Zeb's. "But they do use them in humanoid robots."
"What about the blood?" Lori asked.
Zeb shrugged. "It might have been your Mr. Johnson -- but if you're right, if this was planned, don't you think he might have taken steps to be sure that, if anything was left of the suit, there would be no doubts in the minds of the police that he was in it?"
Lori glanced at Clark. "He's right," she said. "Why couldn't he have taken a syringe of his blood and made sure it coated the inside of the suit? If he's doing what we think he is, I don't think he'd leave anything to chance. Do you?"
Clark looked thoughtfully at Zebadiah. It was obvious that Lois's amazing talent for deduction from the skimpiest of evidence had manifested itself in their great grandson. "You're right. It could be. It won't hurt to work on that assumption until we know better, anyway."
"That's what I figured," Zeb replied. "So what do we do now?"
"If he's really still alive," Lori said, "he's got a partner, as you pointed out earlier. It might be someone who lives here in Luna City, but I can't see him discussing a plan like this over a vidphone call from Earth to the Moon. So --"
"So," Clark said, "it might be someone here from Earth."
"It's possible," Lori said. "It might even be someone who arrived here in the last couple of days."
"That's a thought," Zeb agreed. "While I was there, I did happen to ask my friend if any surface crawlers had been stolen in the last few hours. He gave me a real weird look, and I'm sure he thought Eclipse was losing it, but he checked for me."
"And?" Lori asked impatiently.
"Then he asked if I was psychic," Zeb said. "We don't have much in the way of vehicle theft in Luna City, for obvious reasons, but one was reported stolen approximately sixteen hours ago from a Professor Tim Wilson, who happens to be an astronomer at Goddard Observatory, and it was located not far from Airlock 4 about 3 hours ago."
"Aha," Lori said softly.
"Yeah," Zeb said. He shook his head. "Are you sure *you* aren't psychic, Grandma?"
"I don't think so," Lori said. "So did you tell your friend what we suspect?"
"No. He'd probably have thought I was nuts. I figured I could tell the cops later, when we've got a little more to go on. I did point out the nano-circuit to him. He said he'd report it."
"Maybe they'll pick up on it," Clark said. "Eclipse or Superman can go by later and tell them what we think, if we find anything more concrete." He handed the disk containing the police report to his wife. "We can look at it later, since Zeb has already seen it," he added. "What I want to do is get a look at the place where the 'accident' happened."
"Me too," Lori said.
"If you like," Zeb suggested, "we can go after dinner, if Grandma's up to it."
Lori tucked the disk into her computer disk case. "In spite of being your creaky and ancient grandmother," she said, "I'm definitely up to it, sonny boy."
Clark smothered a grin.
"Hello, Dr. Kent. How are you today?" The Airlock Monitor was a short, thin little man with a receding hairline. He grinned cheerfully at Zeb, who looked bulky and even larger than his usual self in the white pressure suit.
"I'm fine," Zeb told him, his voice sounding a little tinny through his suit's speaker. "How are you doing these days, Morrie?"
Morrie's grin widened. "I'm fine. I'm up for a promotion to Lock Supervisor."
"I'd say it's about time." Zeb gestured to his companions. "This is my cousin Clark and his wife, Lori. They're here for the journalists' convention at the Luna Hilton and I promised to take them out on the surface, since they don't get to Luna City very often."
"Nice to meet you," Morrie said. "You've got yourself a good guide with Dr. Kent. He goes out there all the time with his students. Never had an accident yet."
"That's good to know," Lori said. She shifted her weight in the bulky suit, feeling a little claustrophobic.
"I'm going to need to check out the crawler," Zeb told Morrie.
"Sure thing," Morrie said. "Right over there."
While Zeb dealt with the business of signing out the surface crawler, Lori checked out the internal readouts of her pressure suit, making sure she knew exactly what every gauge and measuring device inside her helmet meant. If she was going to trust her life with this thing, she was darned well going to be sure she knew what she was doing. The suit was heavy and, as she had remarked when she had seen the advertisement for tours of the Moon's surface, she didn't look anything like the model while wearing it. It was white in color and shapeless as well. Visions of the old pictures of the first men to walk on the Moon's surface came to mind. Even the helmet wasn't anything like the one the model had worn. It wasn't a fishbowl at all, but a white hood-like garment with a faceplate that turned silver in the sunlight. Clark wore one exactly like hers, only larger. He turned his faceplate in her direction, and she could see a distorted image of herself reflected in the curved silver surface. Only the little stick-on nametag identified him as her husband.
"How are you doing, honey?" he asked.
She was darned if she'd admit to the slight claustrophobia. Besides, Clark was a worse claustrophobe than she was. If he could handle it, she sure wasn't going to complain. "Okay."
"If you have any trouble, tell me right away, all right?"
When she and Clark had shown up in the hotel's bar with Zeb in tow, he had drawn the immediate attention of a number of their colleagues. Several of the female journalists present had approached within minutes and had pretty much demanded an introduction, Lori had noted with amusement, which was more or less expected. Zeb Kent towered even over Clark, and his powerful figure and dark, exotic good looks drew the female eye like a magnet. The disappointment had been palpable when each woman had noted his wedding ring. A number of them, however, apparently were not deterred by this indication of his marital status, but Lori figured that Zeb knew how to deal with the situation and didn't try to interfere -- which subsequently proved to be true.
Stephanie Brooke was not among the women in question. She was sitting at a corner table with two other women and Lori had seen the dagger look that the woman shot at her. She ignored it, but the fact stayed with her. Stephanie, Lori thought, hadn't given up. For some reason, she had targeted Clark -- perhaps because he had had the temerity to turn her down, or perhaps for some other reason. In any case, she seemed unhealthily fixated on Lori's husband, and that set Lori on her guard. Clark might dismiss her as nothing more than a nuisance but Lori resolved privately to keep an eye on Stephanie. She didn't trust her for a moment.
Vane Williams had talked to Zeb for some time before they actually went in to dinner -- it appeared that he, himself, was a mineral collector and when he discovered Zeb's specialty, he had engaged Clark's cousin in a conversation that drifted fairly quickly away from any English that Lori recognized. Pete Swanson, who had joined the group had grinned philosophically and shifted his attention to Lori and Clark.
"So, where were you for the afternoon session?" he inquired. "Touring the city?"
"Not exactly," Clark said. "We had something to check out for our editor."
"Oh? An investigation?"
"Kind of," Lori said. "A tourist was killed in an accident a few hours ago, and since he worked at Genie Electronics in Metropolis, in the same department with John Olsen's wife, we thought we should cover it."
"Oh." Pete nodded. "That's too bad. What happened?"
"He apparently stepped over the safety rail, walked into the Luna City solar collector's beam and was incinerated," Clark said.
"Wow," Pete said. "Just goes to show you that when they put up warnings, there's usually a good reason."
"Yeah," Lori agreed, striving to keep her expression neutral. The thought had occurred to her earlier that Edgar Johnson's probable co-conspirator was most likely from Earth and might have arrived in the last couple of days, just as Johnson had. Now, for the first time, she realized that all the journalists at the convention fitted that description. Edgar Johnson had chosen the Luna Hilton to stay for the period before he put his plan into operation. Was there a reason for that, or was it simply that it was one of the major hotels on Luna? Could it be possible that one of their colleagues here in this room was that individual? Such a person would have a perfectly legitimate reason to come to Luna City, so his -- or her -- presence didn't need an explanation. It probably wasn't so, she told herself. Tourists visited the Moon all the time...but the possibility was there, all the same. Was there any way to check to see who might not have been at the presentations of the day? If one of the journalists here had been involved in planting the suited-up robot, and in the retrieval of Edgar Johnson from the surface, he might have been forced to miss part of the presentations. Since Pete had noticed their absence, that probably ruled him out, but that left quite a few others in the suspect category.
There probably wasn't any way to find out, she acknowledged, but it would have been nice to eliminate their colleagues as suspects. Anyway, if it had to be anyone, she thought dryly, she would prefer it to be Stephanie. Unfortunately, such a coincidence wasn't very likely.
A short time later, they went in to dinner. Vane and Pete had accompanied them, so there hadn't been much chance to talk about their investigation. She had seen Joanna Prescott, sitting at the table with Talbot Grey and someone else whose name she didn't recall, but whom she recognized as another of their colleagues. At least Joanna probably wasn't their suspect, either, she thought. Joanna had been here when Clark and Lori had returned from lunch and had made their recording for them while she and Clark had been otherwise occupied. Well, that was one more that they could most likely eliminate. Two down, five or six hundred to go.
Joanna raised a hand to wave and Lori and Clark waved back.
After dinner they had departed quickly, before anyone could snare them into a conversation, and gone to the storage room at the university where Zeb kept the equipment that he and his students used when he took them out for mineral-foraging trips on the Moon's surface. A short time later they arrived at the nearest airlock, where Zeb claimed the surface crawler that he used on such expeditions.
Morrie opened the big airlock door and Zeb piloted the crawler through, into the lock. Then they waited. The inner door clanged shut behind them and Lori heard the faint hissing sound that meant that air was being evacuated from the chamber, but after a few seconds it faded away and disappeared. It was almost a surprise, less than a minute later, when the outer doors popped open and Zeb piloted the little Moon crawler out onto the surface.
"The solar collector is only about half a mile from here," Zeb remarked. He guided the crawler straight away from the lock until he was able to find a ridge of rock behind which he could conceal it. "We can fly over to it in a few seconds," he told them. "I figure right now is a good time to look at it. It's just about time for the shift change."
He killed the motor and pressed the control that evacuated the small amount of air that remained within the vehicle's cab. The top popped open silently. Lori climbed carefully out and Clark held out an arm. A moment later they lifted in eerie silence into the vacuum that engulfed the Moon's surface and sailed after Zeb toward the solar collector. Lori tried to look in all directions at once.
The surface of the Moon wasn't smooth, contrary to what she had unconsciously expected. From overhead, the unshielded glare of the sun illuminated the grey rock that flowed by beneath, covered with the powdery, greyish dust that seemed to be everywhere. Here and there, jagged formations thrust upward starkly from the barren surface, and the rocks seemed to be twisted and contorted into every shape imaginable. Sharp, too, she thought, which made sense, since there was no wind or water here to erode them into the smooth, rounded boulders and stones that one saw on Earth. Black patches in the greyish dust marked cracks and chasms in the rocky surface between relatively flat areas. The whole effect was incredibly alien, and far different from the image of the Moon, as seen from Earth, sailing white and pristine in the night sky.
From their height above the surface, the gigantic solar collector site was soon visible in the harsh sunlight--half a dozen concentric circles of huge rectangular mirrors made of polished metal, set on some kind of metal frames. Here and there, tiny human figures in the shapeless pressure suits moved around it. Fortunately, she realized, even if someone looked up, they were unlikely to be seen against the black of the sky. From nearly overhead, the sun blazed down fiercely, un-muted by layers of air, and, halfway between zenith and the horizon, the brilliant blue, brown, green and white globe of Earth floated like a fantastic balloon, glowing bright with reflected sunlight. As they drew closer to the solar collector, she could see that the metal arrangement that held the mirrors allowed their positions to be adjusted relative to the sun. In the center of the concentric circles, slightly elevated by the rock in which it was embedded, was a disk of dull black, set flush with the ground. Between the mirrors she could see the narrow paths that must be for the men and women who worked here, that they might safely negotiate the structure without mishap. A low guardrail surrounded the center disk, and she could see the red warning signs cautioning visitors of the danger that they would encounter venturing onto the collection surface. At some distance, she could see the low, dome-like structure that must be for the crew on duty to maintenance and monitor the collector, and nearer, she saw a level, metal-paved walk that the tourists must have traversed.
"That's it?" she asked. "What does it do with the energy it collects?"
"The central disk absorbs the solar energy and channels it to the storage cells underground," Zeb told her. "The dark phase doesn't last very long, and the cells power the entire city during that interval. The rest of the energy is free power for the city during the light period."
"Wow," Lori said. "Do you happen to know where the accident happened?"
"Over there," Zeb told her, pointing to a somewhat wider rectangular space clearly marked "Observation". "That's where the tour group stood. Johnson, or the robot, had to have stepped over the railing and walked directly into the solar beam. You can't see the beam from here, since there's no atmosphere to refract the light, but it's there. He'd have been incinerated instantly."
Lori shuddered. "Now what?"
"Now we backtrack," Clark said.
Together, he and Zeb began to circle the site of the accident, and Lori looked down, quite sure that if anything was to be seen, both the supermen would see it before she did.
"There's the tracks where the tour group walked," Zeb's voice said in her earphones. His suited figure swept an arm, indicating a section of the fine Moon dust. "Let's go down to get a closer look."
Peripherally, Lori wondered if the tiny suited figures far below and behind them could hear the conversation, but decided that they were probably on a different frequency -- possibly one designated for tourists or something. Whatever the reason, Zeb didn't seem concerned about being overheard.
She had to remind herself to breathe as they swept closer, until they were flying only a few yards above the Moon's surface. The powdery dust, that coated every flat area, was undisturbed by wind or water. Illuminated by the direct glare of the sun, a jumble of footprints leading away from the solar collector told the story of the tour group that had come through here some hours earlier. Zeb and Clark flew slowly above that telltale track, retracing the path of the tourists.
"There," Clark said suddenly.
"What?" Lori asked.
"Someone joined the tour." His finger indicated the solitary set of prints that blended with the others on the tourist trail, emerging from a jumble of boulders a little to the left of the tour path. Both supermen slowed, floating almost unmoving above the trail, tracing that line of prints.
Amid the rocks, barely ten feet distant from the path and just out of sight of anyone walking there, the footprints ended abruptly in a jumble of scuffed Moon dust. A wide tooth of rock thrust upward from the powdery soil and uneven rock at the spot and at its base one of the jagged caves, with which the Moon's surface was plentifully supplied, gaped, black and forbidding. From a spot at the foot of the crag, crawler tracks approached and retreated.
"I think we've got it," Zeb's voice said. Together the two men and Lori floated some ten feet above the unmistakable marks of human presence.
Clark squinted his eyes, obviously scanning the dust minutely.
"The robot must have been stored in the cave," he said finally.
"Can we get lower?" Lori asked. "I'd like to see inside."
"Sure." Obediently, Clark dropped lower, floating a bare meter above the ground in front of the cave.
The blackness inside the hole was absolute, since there was no atmosphere to refract the sunlight and lessen the darkness inside. Clark unsnapped the hand light from the belt of his pressure suit and shone it into the cave.
The shaft of light, sharp and clearly defined, illuminated the inner floor, showing it to be relatively flat and clear. Clark flashed the beam around, successively revealing rough, bare rock walls.
What was *that*? The light brushed something white that lay against the base of the rock wall to their right -- something that Lori was sure shouldn't be there. "Move the light to the right," she directed sharply, aware that the pulse had begun to beat light and fast in her throat and that she felt quite suddenly short of oxygen, in spite of the fact that the gauge inside her helmet showed that she had plenty of air left.
Clark did so, and all three of them floated silently, staring at what the light revealed.
A pressure suit lay there -- and it most certainly had an occupant. But the suit couldn't have protected him from the vacuum, for one arm of the suit had been slashed from elbow to wrist.
"Oh oh," Zeb's voice said softly.
Moving carefully, Clark floated forward, holding Lori against his side, until he could shine his hand light directly upon the face of the dead man.
"Do you recognize him?" Zeb asked. Clark's grandson was floating just above them, Lori realized abruptly, also looking down at the murdered man. In the illumination of the hand light, much dimmer than the naked sunlight outside, the faceplate was clear and the face inside was plainly visible.
"Yeah," Lori said. She turned her head and looked determinedly away. "It's Edgar Johnson. And this time he really is dead."
"There," Clark said, sounding, Lori thought, a little tired. "The crawler's tracks are all where they should be. Now all we have to do is put the footprints in place. Make sure you don't disturb anything important."
"I won't." Lori said. She clambered out of the little crawler and skirted the ruffled dust in front of the cave as she made her way toward its entrance, to a spot from which she could see the pressure suit sprawled on the rocky floor. Clark and Zeb were right on her heels. A few moments later, they made their way back to the crawler and climbed in. Zeb triggered a switch and air began to whoosh into the cabin.
"Now," Clark said, opening his faceplate and shoving back his hood, "I guess you should do the honors."
"Yeah, I guess so." Zeb followed suit. He looked wryly at Lori, who was also removing the bulky head covering. "You know, there hasn't been a murder in Luna City for nearly ten years. Why is it that when you two show up we have one within twenty-four hours?"
"Just lucky, I guess," Lori said. She fell silent, while Zeb used the crawler's radio to make contact with the outside world. The radios within the suits, Zeb had explained, were of limited range and on a closed circuit -- apparently to keep from interfering with other radio communications in the area -- a reasonable precaution, considering how many persons were out on the surface of the Moon at any one time. It did explain, Lori thought, why he hadn't been concerned about anyone overhearing their conversation. The radios could be set to contact someone outside their group, but their range made such contact iffy. Not so with the Moon crawler's radio. Zeb made contact within seconds and reported their find.
The information seemed to provoke an inordinate amount of confusion among whoever it was that he was speaking with and others within earshot. There were repeated demands for clarification and considerable agitation over an event that would probably have generated no more than passing interest among the members of the Metropolis Police Department. While the discussion continued, Lori remained quiet, thinking.
It was obvious that murder *was* a rare event among the closed communities on the Moon. Accidents weren't nearly as rare, and the person with whom Zeb was speaking seemed almost incapable of comprehending that big time crime had come to their city. But Edgar Johnson was probably involved in the theft of important research data from an Earth-based company. He had apparently devised a plan wherein he could profit from the transfer of a radically new technology from the company that had developed it -- Genie Electronics, on Earth. But his plan had required a confederate, who had evidently decided that he could profit a good deal more if his associate was no longer around to share in the spoils. And the confederate didn't even have to forfeit his true identity on Earth in order to profit from the theft. All that was necessary was for Edgar Johnson to vanish. If it hadn't been for the three of them, his body would likely never have been found.
She sat still, staring out of the crawler at the barren lunar landscape, absently looking at the cave that concealed the body of Edgar Johnson. If they couldn't prove that he had taken the records of the research, Marilyn could very well lose both her position and her reputation, not to mention her career. And how, the thought occurred to her to wonder suddenly, had the Security log acquired a record of Marilyn accessing the important files if she hadn't actually done so?
The thought was a new one, and she sat chewing it over in her mind. The only way that Security could have a record of Marilyn accessing the fatal files was if someone had used her computer and her security code. Lori was familiar with the kind of security system that Genie utilized. Even persons with clearance couldn't access secure files except from their own computers. If Marilyn hadn't done it, someone else had, and who would have a better opportunity to do such a thing but someone who worked in the department?
The obvious answer to the first question was Edgar Johnson. Even getting hold of Marilyn's security code had to have been difficult, and must have been done by someone who worked, if not closely with her, at least in the same office -- but why would he go to such trouble to incriminate Marilyn? And for that matter, why would he then access the file using his own computer when he could have stayed anonymous by using Marilyn's computer for his dirty work?
Using Marilyn's computer doubtless had been designed to throw the company's security people off the track, but that could have been accomplished more easily with the use of a colleague's computer, not the computer belonging to the head of the department. And, of course, he wouldn't have needed to use his own computer at all -- so why had he done it?
Unless he hadn't.
It was then that her mind made one of the jumps that had made her famous among her colleagues at the Daily Planet -- one of the qualities that could have defined Lois Lane, herself.
"Clark," she said suddenly, "I've got a wild idea."
Her husband had been listening to Zeb's conversation on the radio but now he looked quickly at her. "What?"
"We haven't been thinking," she said. "Someone used Marilyn's computer to access the files for the stolen technology. But if Edgar Johnson stole the stuff, why go to the trouble of accessing them from Marilyn's computer if he used his own to access them as well?"
He stared at her. "That's a good question. Are you saying that Johnson *didn't* steal the stuff?"
Lori shook her head. "No. I think he did. But I think that maybe *he* was the accomplice, not the other way around. I think whoever planned this didn't tell Johnson everything. I think whoever killed Johnson may have used Marilyn's computer to incriminate her. I think he planned to kill Johnson all along, have him 'disappear,' and have evidence turn up that implicated Marilyn as the mastermind. That's why *both* computers show up on the Security log. Whoever killed Johnson wanted them connected -- maybe have it look like they planned it together, and that then he vanished and left her holding the bag."
"You're saying that you think this was meant to incriminate Marilyn? That part was pretty plain."
"Yes, I know. But I don't think it was meant for profit, even though that's probably a nice addition. I think the main purpose was to get Marilyn."
Clark was silent, and she could almost see the wheels in his head turning. "Revenge?" he said finally.
"Yeah," Lori said. "That's what I think."
For a long moment, they stared at each other.
"I wonder," Clark said suddenly, "if Talbot Grey spent any time in Metropolis during the last few days."
Wilson Brown was a tall, slender man, whose bronze skin matched Zeb's in tone. His high-cheeked, hawk-nosed face made Lori think that, like Zeb, a number of races had been blended to produce the impressive police detective. He looked to her like the kind of man who started every day with fifty pushups and a needle shower and found herself wondering how he managed to keep those broad shoulders in the low-gravity environment of the Moon.
"Detective Brown," he introduced himself. "You're Clark Kent and Lori Lyons, from the journalists' convention at the Luna Hilton."
"That's right," Clark said.
Brown's gaze shifted to Zeb. "Doctor Zebadiah Kent, from Armstrong University. Any relation?"
"Clark is my distant cousin," Zeb told him.
Brown gestured to one of the contoured plastic chairs that sat around the table. "Please sit down."
They obeyed and Lori took an instant to appreciate, as she had been doing since she had been on the Moon, how soft the hard plastic felt. One of the effects of the low gravity that you really didn't think about until you experienced it, she thought.
"Do you want to tell me just how you managed to find Mr. Johnson's body?" the detective asked, with deceptive mildness. "It seems a little unlikely that you'd have found it if you hadn't been looking for it."
"We weren't looking for a body," Lori said. She slid her hand into Clark's and felt him squeeze it lightly.
"Then, what were you looking for?"
"We had reason to think," Clark said, "that the accident at the solar collector earlier might not have been an accident -- and that Mr. Johnson might still be alive. We were looking for evidence."
"I see. Care to tell me how you came to this conclusion?"
Clark and Lori glanced at each other and Clark shrugged. "Sure. It started with a call from our boss, not long after we got here..."
In a few sentences, he sketched the events that had led up to their discovery, suitably edited, and when he finished, Detective Brown was frowning thoughtfully. "So, you think Johnson was murdered by his partner in this deal?" he said.
"Yes," Lori said.
"And do you have any idea who this partner might be?"
"Someone who probably arrived from Earth in the last 48 to 72 hours is our guess," Clark told him.
"That leaves a lot of suspects," Brown said.
Clark gave an expressive shrug. "It could be anyone," he said. "We're going to have one of our people back on Earth try to track his movements for the last few days. That might tell us something."
"I see." Brown studied the three of them for several seconds. "Why do I have the feeling that you're not telling me the whole truth?"
"I have no idea," Clark said. "We really don't *know* anything else."
"But you suspect something, don't you?"
"Possibly," Clark said, "but it's based on a lot of guesses."
"Just like your guesses about Johnson after the 'accident,'" the detective said, somewhat dryly. He got to his feet. "All right, you can go. I won't tell you not to snoop around because I know you'll do that no matter what, but don't screw up any evidence. And if you think of anything that might be of help, call me." He extracted a small, white card and handed it to Clark.
"We will," Lori said.
The detective nodded. "I'll hold you to that," he said.
Considering the length of the actual interview, they had wasted a huge amount of time waiting around in the police station, Lori thought. She glanced at Clark, who hadn't spoken for some minutes. "Now what?"
Her husband was frowning slightly, an expression that, Lori thought, was amazingly attractive on him. His dark, heavy eyebrows, knotted into a frown like that always gave him a dangerous expression that was curiously exciting. Not that she liked it when Clark was upset enough to frown, but still --
"Yeah," Zeb added. "What's the next step? Normally I don't get involved in stuff like this -- I'm more the 'swoop in and save the day and swoop out' kind of guy. But I figure this is good experience." He dropped the light tone suddenly. "And I *really* want to catch this guy."
"I know," Clark said. "This was a particularly cold-blooded murder. I've run into plenty of sociopaths over the years, but this kind of thing --" He broke off. "If it really is Tal, Marilyn was smarter than even she knew to turn him down."
"I've been meaning to ask," Zeb remarked, "ever since you mentioned him -- who is Talbot Grey?"
Briefly, Lori filled Clark's great-grandson in on the short history that Clark had given her of the other journalist. Zeb listened in silence and when she was done he whistled softly. "I see why you think he might be a suspect," he said slowly. He looked at his great grandfather. "Do you have any evidence that the two of them might have known each other?"
Clark shook his head. "Not really, except that they stayed at the same hotel, and that doesn't mean anything. Still, Tal's the only person I can think of that really has a reason to hate Marilyn, and I know that he hates John. And he's here at the critical time."
"He's a correspondent for a news service in Tanzor," Lori said suddenly. "And Johnson worked for Genie in Fostonia for ten years. That's right next door. I don't suppose that proves anything, but it's a possible connection."
"True," Zeb said. "It might only be a coincidence, of course, but it's certainly worth checking out. I guess you've got some kind of plan of attack."
Clark nodded. "Lori said it back at the station. We're going to make a call to the Planet. We've got a researcher there who can do some checking for us and see if Tal was in Metropolis in the last few days. If he was, John can put some people on it and see if they can find out where he stayed, and who he talked to. That might take a little longer, but we're short on time. The convention only lasts one more day."
"I think I'll ask Carla to check on Tal's background in Tanzor, too," Lori said thoughtfully. "She might be able to find out if he knew Johnson when he was in the area. I admit it's a long shot, but you never know."
"In the meantime, if you'll show me what this guy looks like, I'll keep an eye on him if he wanders around the city," Zeb said. "I can't hang around inside the hotel for very long, but I can sure watch him if he leaves."
"What I'm wondering," Lori said, "is if he got hold of the files that Johnson had. Clark said one of Johnson's bags was missing, and so were a couple of his microdisks. He must have taken them along and hidden them somewhere. If Grey didn't get hold of them, he's going to be looking for them -- unless he plans on just forgetting about the files, that is."
"I doubt it," Clark said. "If another company never shows up with the technology, Marilyn could get off the hook. If your theory is right, he'd want to be sure that doesn't happen."
"And, in case he does have them," Lori said, "we'd better find him right away, before he manages to take them to wherever he intends to take them."
"Would he have killed Johnson before he got hold of the disks?" Zeb asked. "It seems to me that he'd have waited to be sure he had them."
"Maybe," Clark said. "But, as you pointed out, it's hard for someone to just disappear in a closed environment like the lunar cities. He may not have had a choice, except to kill Johnson when he did. And if I were in Johnson's place, participating in something like this, I wouldn't trust any partner without some insurance. I doubt he would have, either. After all, if we're right, Johnson couldn't have known there was another, more important agenda."
"True," Zeb agreed. "But let's hurry anyway, just in case."
They were approaching the Luna Hilton as he spoke, and a moment later they stepped on the platform that delivered them to the hotel lobby. Clark looked around the busy area. "Tal is in the bar, talking to Brad Thompkins." He fell silent for a moment. "Lori, do you think you could find out which room he's in?"
"Sure," Lori said.
"Good. Go ahead back to our room and get started. I'll be there in a few minutes. I'm going to take Zeb into the bar to introduce him to Tal. And then, I think I'll take an evening stroll past Tal's room."
Lori stepped off the elevator platform on the fifth floor and turned down the corridor toward the room she shared with Clark, thinking hard.
Since the instant when she had realized that the motive behind the theft at Genie was not profit, but revenge, her mind had been busy with speculation. Like Clark, she didn't believe for an instant that Johnson would have trusted his partner, which meant that the important files were hidden somewhere that Talbot Grey, if he were indeed the actual mastermind of this scheme, would probably not think to look. Besides, he must have stored the bag in some place where it wouldn't be found and removed by the police after his so-called "death" at the solar collector. Which meant that she, Clark and Zeb were going to have to think creatively if they were going to find it.
But where could such a place be? She didn't know much about the Lunar environment -- at least not enough to make an intelligent guess -- but maybe Zeb would have some ideas. She hoped so, anyway. If Clark didn't find anything in Grey's room, they were going to need plenty of luck to locate the missing bag. Trying to re-create the reasoning of a dead man was going to challenge even the ingenuity of Kent and Lyons.
And, naturally, after admitting that she didn't know enough to venture a guess, she continued to chew on the problem. Even acknowledging that she was probably wasting time and imagination, she couldn't help it. Her brother, Brad Lyons, had always said she had more reporter's instinct than anyone he knew, and he'd been on the school paper when he'd been in high school, although later he'd decided to study Naval Science at Annapolis, and ultimately became a pilot in the Space Program. He'd observed, rather pointedly on more than one occasion, that Lori should have been a detective, because she couldn't leave an unsolved puzzle alone. But she'd known since grade school that she wanted to be a journalist.
What they needed to do, she decided finally, was to try to find out where Johnson had been this morning, after he had left the restaurant and before he had gone on the tour of the Moon's surface. After she dug up the answer from the hotel's computer concerning which room Talbot Grey was in, maybe she could do a little hunting around and see if Johnson had been signed up for any tours of the Moon's surface, or other attractions available for tourists. If he had managed to get to some of the Moon's more exotic locales, such a place might be the perfect spot to hide something like a small bag. The Moon had to have plenty of good hiding places, after all. It was at least one possibility to check out, and it was something she could do until more definitive clues turned up -- if they ever did.
She didn't realize until the door of her hotel room opened that somebody was already there. A woman spun to face her as she stepped inside and she found herself face to face with Stephanie Brooke. Stephanie stared at her in shock.
"What the devil are you doing in my room?" Lori demanded.
Stephanie's expression altered to anger. "What are *you* doing here?" she retorted. "I'm here to see Clark, and it has nothing to do with you!"
"Since this is my room too, I have as much right to be here as he does -- and a lot more than you!" Lori said. "If you want to see Clark, talk to him somewhere besides our hotel room. Get out of here before I call hotel security!"
Stephanie smirked. "Jealous, Lori? He's wanted me ever since Brazil. That's why we arranged to meet here in Luna City."
"It's funny he brought his wife along, then," Lori said.
"You weren't supposed to be here," Stephanie said, sulkily. "Why did you bother to come when you know he wants out of this straitjacket you have him in? Is this some desperate attempt to keep him all for yourself? You need to give him his freedom gracefully, like any civilized woman would. Men need more than just one woman."
"I'll give you ten seconds to get your...self through that door," Lori said grimly, "and then I'm going to have you arrested. Get out!"
Stephanie flounced past her but paused in the doorway. "If you keep this up, you'll regret it," she said. "He wants to be with me, and you'll find that out the hard way."
"I'm not going to dignify that with an argument," Lori said. "Get out of our room -- and leave him alone."
Stephanie stepped out into the hall. "Just wait," she said, a note of confidence in her voice. "You're going to wish you'd listened."
Lori pressed the manual override and the door slid shut in Stephanie's face. She hit the locking button and leaned against the door, her heart beating a little fast. Stephanie was either trying to cause trouble between her and Clark or was completely delusional. It was obvious, however, that she was not going to leave Clark alone voluntarily. She found herself wishing that they could go back to Metropolis on the next flight.
But, of course, they couldn't. Marilyn Olsen's career and good name depended on them -- and besides, there was no way she was going to run from that...that cat in heat, she thought, furiously. Just who did Stephanie Brooke think she was? Was she so sure of her own irresistibility that she thought no man could refuse her? Well, she was about to get the set down of her life with Clark.
She lifted her wrist talker to her lips. "Clark?"
After a pause, his voice answered her. "Yes, honey?"
"Something funny happened just a couple of minutes ago. I walked into our room and Stephanie was in here. She said she was waiting to see you."
"*In* our room?"
"Yeah, and I'd like to know how she did that. But she started in on this stuff about you wanting her and how you'd arranged to meet her here, and how I should bow out. I'm not sure she's completely -- in touch with reality," Lori said delicately. "She almost threatened me."
"Sort of. She said I'd regret it if I didn't give you your freedom voluntarily."
"Where are you now?"
"In the room. I threw her out and locked the door."
"Keep it locked until I get there," Clark said.
"I'm going to," Lori said. "She's starting to be a real pain in the...neck. While I'm waiting, I'm going to check and see if she took anything."
"Anything she decided to take we can replace," Clark said. "Don't go after her."
"I won't, but I'm not afraid of her."
"I know, but do me the favor of waiting anyway," Clark said. "I'm on the elevator now."
"All right," Lori said. She straightened up and looked around the room. Clark's suitcase was open, she noticed at once, and had apparently been rifled through, and so had hers. Since all that she and Clark had brought had been standard traveling supplies, it didn't worry her on that score, but the knowledge that Stephanie had been going through their things was annoying. She knelt by her bag and checked the contents. As far as she could tell, nothing was missing. Quickly she checked Clark's and then went to the dresser to look over the items that they had stored there.
Her things appeared to be undisturbed but, again, Clark's had been gone through, and it seemed to her that a pair of his black silk boxers was missing. She searched through the drawers and then checked the bathroom, but the garment was certainly gone. What the dickens did Stephanie think she was doing, stealing a pair of Clark's underwear?
Clark stepped off the platform onto the fifth floor and headed for his hotel room.
Lori's call had alarmed him more than he'd been willing to admit to her. It was beginning to look to him as if Stephanie Brooke was seriously deluded -- perhaps even starting to conjure up fantasies about their non-existent relationship. What had she been doing in his and Lori's room? Was it possible that she was actually stalking him?
During his long life, he had actually been stalked by two women. One situation had been fairly minor, and he'd managed to discourage the obsessed teenage girl without serious problems. The second had required a restraining order, and a right hook from Lois, to make a female employee of the Planet keep her distance. That had been nastier, and had seriously shaken him, but it was beginning to look as if Stephanie might fit into the latter category. Visions of cases where a stalker had tried to kill the object of his or her obsession flitted through his mind. And, of course, there was nothing to say that she might not try to remove the perceived barrier to her goal, if she thought she could. The ability of an otherwise intelligent mind to rationalize any sort of behavior as justified was one of those things that continued to baffle him. He found himself wishing that he could persuade Lori to go back to Earth and let him cope with the rest of this mess by himself, and then gave the idea up as fantasy. Lori would no more turn tail and run than Lois would. He would just have to stay on his toes, and rely on Lori, herself, to cope with Stephanie should the need arise. That was one thing that he could count on, he thought with a little smile. He'd back Lori against anyone else he could think of, assuming the other person was unarmed. His petite wife was about as harmless as an angry tiger to someone intent on making trouble for her -- or for him. Especially for him.
He rounded the corner and came face to face with Stephanie. She was clutching her purse and looked both angry and upset.
"Clark!" she said. Her face broke into a smile. "I was waiting for you."
"Is there something I can do for you, Stephanie?" he asked cautiously, taking a step back.
Her smile turned sultry. "We could go back to my room to talk," she suggested.
"If it can't be said here, I don't think I should go to your room," he said, taking another step back. "Anyway, Lori's waiting for me."
Her expression changed at once. Her eyes narrowed. "The little woman again, huh? I never thought you'd tie yourself to one woman's apron strings. You used to avoid commitments completely. What has she got over you, Clark?"
"The fact that I love her, for one," Clark said.
"But that doesn't mean you can't have relationships elsewhere, does it?" She took a step toward him, swaying her hips. "Doesn't having just one woman get a little stale? It's not as if I'm asking for a lifetime commitment. Everyone has one or two relationships on the side. There's nothing wrong with it."
"There is for me," Clark said. "I said my relationship is monogamous, and I meant it. I'm not available, now or ever."
"Would you be available if you weren't married?" Stephanie asked.
"No," Clark said. "Besides, I *am* married and that isn't about to change."
"Is it me?" Stephanie asked, almost plaintively, and her smile had completely vanished. "If Lori weren't in the picture, wouldn't you be interested?" She looked down at her feet. "I've wanted you ever since Brazil, you know."
"No," Clark said gently. "Sex isn't a casual fling for me, Stephanie. It never was. I never slept around even before I married."
"Oh," Stephanie said, altogether too mildly. "Then I guess I'll go. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Clark said. He watched her as she turned and walked away, somewhat puzzled by her attitude, but relief was the primary emotion. Hopefully he'd managed to convince her to drop her pursuit.
He continued on toward their hotel room and triggered the door key. The door didn't budge and he told the key to unlock it. There was a buzz and a faint click and the door slid open.
Lori was rummaging through their dresser drawers, but she turned when he entered. "Hi. I'm glad you're here."
"What's going on?"
"I was double checking. How many pairs of boxers did you bring along?"
"I can only find four. Counting the pair you're wearing, that's five."
"Why the obsession with my boxers?" he asked curiously.
"Because Stephanie went through your stuff. I think she took a pair of your underwear." Lori shoved the drawer shut and scowled. "She is seriously beginning to scare me -- and she's definitely making me mad."
"Are you sure it didn't just get misplaced?"
"I'm sure," Lori said grimly. "I think she's got an unhealthy obsession with you, and while I can't fault her taste in men, I don't like her fixating on *my* man. Besides, she somehow got in here without a key and I don't like that at all."
Lori snatched up her laptop and set it down on the bed. "Before I get myself all worked up, I'm going to tie into the hotel's computer and find out what room Tal's in. I don't suppose you bothered to ask him, did you?"
"I don't want him to think anyone might be interested," Clark said. "If he's our boy, he's going to be suspicious of us just on principle."
"Yeah," Lori conceded. "'The wicked flee where no man pursues.'"
"Exactly," Clark said. "And since we *are* pursuing, so to speak, I want to be extra careful."
"Point taken," Lori said. She bent over the keyboard and a moment later made a small sound of satisfaction. "Got it. He's in room 586 -- on this floor and down the adjoining hallway."
"Excellent," Clark said. "I already scanned him while Zeb and I were talking to him in the bar. If he's got the disks, he doesn't have them on him. I'm going to go check out his room now." He turned to the door and then paused, looking back at her. "Lock the door until I get back. Like you said: Stephanie is seriously beginning to worry me."
"Yeah," Lori said. "But not nearly as much as she should worry about me."
Lori pressed the locking button after Clark had left and went back to sit on the bed. The invasion by Stephanie Brooke had left the skin between her shoulder blades crawling.
Determinedly, she returned to her computer. While Clark investigated Talbot Grey's room, she might as well check to see if Johnson had booked any of the standard tourist activities earlier in the day. The hotel employed a representative who handled reservations for tours and various activities provided for the convenience of tourists, and now was as good a time to check on Edgar Johnson's activities this morning as any. Having made her way into the relevant files, she began to search.
Within minutes, she found his name attached to a number of different tourist "adventures". Not long after Clark had checked on him, the evening before, he had apparently gone on a walking tour of the Rainbow Caverns, one of which was visible through the air tight window of their own hotel room. Following that, he had been to see one of the agricultural caves, where most of the Moon's produce was grown. He'd also been signed up for the Heinlein's Cave Tour, and for the Surface Tour, which had been the scene of the so-called "accident", and where he had been murdered. The man had been busy, all right, and Lori thought that he might very well have used the expeditions as a cover for hiding the missing bag.
Carefully, she erased the signs of her presence in the computer records and exited the system. It seemed that she and Clark were going to have to take some of the tours a little sooner than they had intended, she thought. Clark might be able to spot the thing, even in a place like the Rainbow Caverns. She looked out the window again at the incredible sight. The place had to be absolutely huge, but surely Johnson couldn't have gone too far off the tourist path, could he? After all, he had to plan on returning for it later, and he didn't want to risk losing the bag.
Then a thought crossed her mind. It wasn't completely ethical, but that was irrelevant. It might be interesting to find out about Stephanie Brook's history. The woman's behavior was beginning to spook her, and it might be a good idea to discover exactly what sort of events lay in her past. It might not show anything, but it was certainly worth a look.
It was only a short time later that Clark appeared in the door of their room again. She glanced up from her scrutiny of her computer screen. "Find anything?"
He shook his head. "No. Did you?"
"A little." She nodded at the computer screen. "Edgar Johnson signed up for several tours this morning, before he took the surface tour."
"So you think he might have stashed the bag while he was on one of the tours?"
Naturally he would figure that out, she thought. "Yeah."
"Not a bad idea. Of course, Tal will probably think of it, himself, before long."
"Probably. I also looked up Stephanie."
"Oh?" He looked quickly at her. "Find anything interesting?"
"Some," Lori said, keeping her voice carefully bland.
He wasn't fooled. "What?"
"Five years ago she was accused of stalking a colleague at her place of employment. He took a restraining order out on her, which she subsequently violated. She pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to six weeks of community service."
"No," Lori said, "but I can't say I'm reassured."
"At least it was pretty minor," Clark said.
"At least," Lori said. "But I think I'll keep an eye on her anyway."
"Me too. Now, which tours did Johnson sign up for?"
Lori told him. Clark nodded. "I guess we're going to see the Rainbow Caverns up close," he said. "And you wanted to try flying in Heinlein's Cave."
"I still do," Lori said. "What time is it in Metropolis?"
Clark glanced at the wall clock, which showed the time zones on Earth as well as local time. "About eleven in the evening."
"Then," Lori said, "I need to give Carla a call. I hope she's not out to dinner with Connor, or something, or in bed, because this can't wait. If anyone can track down where Talbot Grey was just before he came to Luna City, she can do it."
"While you're doing that," Clark said, "I just thought of something."
"It's past midnight here, and dinner was a long time ago. I'm going to order something from Room Service."
In spite of the short night, Lori and Clark were out of bed at 0600, and, half an hour later, were entering the hotel's café. As usual, the place was moderately crowded but Lori only recognized four attendees of their convention sitting at the small tables that dotted the room. She nudged her husband. "Tal is here," she remarked softly.
"I noticed," he said. They followed the hostess toward a corner table and Lori noted that Talbot Grey, after one swift glance at them, had lowered his gaze to his breakfast.
"I wonder why he's up so early," Lori said. "The next presentation doesn't even start for hours."
"I could venture a guess," Clark said, "but you already know what it is."
As they took their seats, Lori happened to glance back toward the entrance and her eyebrows snapped together. "Well, well, look what the cat dragged in," she remarked acidly.
Clark didn't look around. "Don't tell me. Stephanie?"
"Yeah. And dressed like she's headed for the local red light district -- as one of the employees," Lori said.
Clark grinned. "Do you know I kind of like it when you're in this mode? Not that I like it when you're annoyed, but it's nice to see you staking your claim publicly."
Lori snorted. "I decided that if Stephanie wanted to give me the name, I might as well live up to it," she said. "She's on my enemies list as of last night." Her eyes narrowed. "She's headed over this way."
"Great." Clark turned his head to study the screen in the middle of their table, presenting the fare available to diners. He pressed the button that transmitted his voice to the café's computer. "I think I'll have the Full Moon Madness breakfast."
"It's a darn good thing you don't gain weight," Lori remarked. She pressed the transmit button. "I'll have the low-cal special -- the Crescent Moon." She hadn't removed her eyes from Stephanie as the woman slithered her way across the floor toward them. The eye of every male in the room was on her, but she was looking at Clark. She came to a stop by the table and leaned forward in a manner that made Lori fear for a moment that the low-cut blouse would be unequal to the task of containing the weight within.
She had reckoned without the lower gravity of the Moon. The contents of the blouse stayed inside -- barely. Lori gritted her teeth. "Forget your bra?" she asked sweetly.
Stephanie turned so that Clark could look directly down her neckline. Clark, however, shifted slightly so that his gaze rested on Lori's face. "Was there something you needed, Ms. Brooke?"
"Ms. Brooke?" she said coyly. "Clarkie, what a way to talk? I just wanted to return these." She laid a mass of black silk down on the table. "You left them behind, you know."
Clark met Lori's gaze. "You were right."
"I guess so." She found that she was struggling to contain a sudden fit of giggles. She reached out and picked up the black shorts, held them up and spread them out in such a way that no one watching could fail to realize what they were. "Making a collection?"
"Just returning them to their owner," Stephanie said loftily.
"I guess I'll need to buy you a few more sets," Lori said, addressing Clark. "They do look awfully good on you. They complement your complexion so well. But you know," she added, "you look even better without them." She smiled at Stephanie. "What did you think of his tattoo?"
Stephanie gaped at her for a moment apparently nonplused by her attitude. "His tattoo?" she said.
"Sure. The heart-shaped one on his butt that says --"
"Lori!" Clark said, sounding almost shocked.
"Oh, but Clark, darling," Lori said sweetly, "if you and Stephanie did what she claims, surely she knows what you had them put on the tattoo. Don't you, Stephanie?"
"I'm afraid I wasn't looking there," Stephanie said, somewhat stiffly.
"Oh?" Lori said. "That's funny, because the view is worth it." Clark, she noted, was in the process of turning three different shades of red. "How about the one on his chest? Surely you saw that one?"
Stephanie opened her mouth and closed it again. Lori got to her feet. "You see, there's one thing you haven't taken into account. I trust Clark, and you can't change that. You stole those boxers when you broke into our room last night. I don't know what kind of idea you've got in your sick little brain, but I'm getting very bored with this whole charade. I don't care if you do a striptease right here in the café; he's one fish you aren't going to hook, no matter how long you dangle your bait in front of him." She leaned forward, until she was almost nose to nose with the blond journalist. "Sometimes a guy just isn't interested."
Stephanie seemed struck speechless. She straightened up slowly. "When he tells me that, I'll believe it, but until then --"
"I've already told you, several times," Clark said. "I'll say it again. I'm married to Lori and I'm not interested in anyone else but her. Sorry."
"You don't mean that, Clarkie," Stephanie said. "After last night --"
"There was no last night," Clark said. "Not with you. Not ever."
"We'll see," Stephanie said. She turned and stalked away.
Lori sat down. "What's wrong with her?" she demanded. "I told her, you told her, and she still won't listen!"
"'There are none so blind as those who will not see,'" Clark quoted softly.
"I think the term 'denial' just acquired a new level of meaning," Lori said. "Maybe the Moon really does drive some people around the bend." She picked up the black shorts and stuffed them into her shoulder bag. "So," she added, changing the subject firmly. "Which tour did you sign us up for first?"
Clark's cheeks were still noticeably pink, but he resolutely didn't look around at the various patrons of the café, some of which were still watching their table with interest -- those that weren't watching Stephanie stomp from the restaurant in an obvious rage. "Well," he said. "Heinlein's Cave doesn't seem a likely hiding place. There are people all over the place, and it's pretty thoroughly cleaned and maintenanced every day. If he tried to hide the things there, somebody would probably find it and drop it off in Lost and Found. Or maybe steal it, although theft is fairly rare here in Luna City. The Rainbow Caverns look like a better possibility, at least to me. They grow produce in the caves, but there's a lot of places that people stay away from. You can get lost if you don't stick to the marked trails, or the cultivated parts. I thought we'd try that one first, and then the Agricultural Tour. We can try Heinlein's Cave if the other two don't pan out. I'll ask Joanna to record the presentations for us again if we don't make it back before they start."
"Sounds reasonable to me," Lori said. She looked around as a young woman approached with a coffeepot. She poured the beverage into their over-large cups and smiled. "Your orders will be ready in a few moments," she said. "Is there anything else I can bring you in the meantime?"
"No, thank you," Clark told her. He was already loading his cup with cream and sugar. The woman glanced surreptitiously over his muscular frame and turned away.
Lori smiled. Even though it occasionally led to situations like the current one with Stephanie, it was nice to realize that other women envied her the superb physical specimen to whom she was married. She poured a single container of cream into her coffee and stirred in a teaspoon of sugar. After the birth of their baby girl, it hadn't taken her long to regain her figure, and even the few tiny stretch marks that she had acquired in the last couple of months of the pregnancy had vanished, but she wasn't anxious to risk gaining a lot of weight. Fortunately, the enormous appetite that she had possessed while Mary Lucille had been on the way had vanished after the child had weaned herself the previous month. Lori hadn't been eager to stop nursing her baby, but Mary, with the usual determination of the Kent females, apparently had decided that enough was enough, and hadn't given her mother a choice. It figured, she thought, with resignation. Mary was probably going to be a handful growing up. If Mariann was to be believed, Mary Lucille came by it honestly. Besides, if she was indeed a distant relative of Lois Lane, she was probably lucky. It could have been much worse.
"You look like you're thinking hard," Clark said. "Care to share?"
Lori smiled a little, shaking her head. "I was just thinking about Mary. I have the feeling that she's going to be one of those kids that will give me white hair early."
"Oh." Clark grinned. "Well, Lois's didn't start to gray until she was in her eighties. Ronnie said it was probably my influence on her, but I think it was just Lois. Lara and Annie would have driven most ordinary women out of their minds, though, so it wouldn't surprise me if Mary takes after them."
"Great," Lori said, but she smiled. "I'm glad. I don't want any son or daughter of mine to be a wimp."
"Somehow, I doubt that will be a problem," Clark said. "Her mom sure isn't." He eyed her suggestively. "Son or daughter? Do you mean you're thinking of more children?"
"In a few years," Lori said firmly. "Not just yet."
Clark grinned. Then he raised an eyebrow at her. "Tattoo?" he added. "'The view is worth it?'"
"Oh that," Lori said. "Well, I had to say something. I knew she wouldn't be able to answer that right, and she knew I knew it. And," she added, "the view *is* worth it."
"Well, I could say the same about you," he pointed out.
"Well, maybe for you, but I doubt Stephanie would be interested," she said, with her trademark practicality. "It's you she's drooling over. I can't say I can criticize her taste, either -- just her sense of personal boundaries."
"Whatever the problem is, it won't do her any good -- and if she doesn't leave me alone, I'm considering taking out a restraining order," Clark said. "I will, if she keeps this up after we get back to Earth -- which I hope she won't."
"You think it's just because of the convention?" Lori asked.
"I don't know," Clark said. "Maybe it's just the challenge. I hope so."
"So do I," Lori said. "But I doubt it. Why the heck do we attract so many psychos?"
"Ronnie says it's karma," Clark said philosophically. "Maybe she's right."
The crowd of tourists for the Rainbow Cavern Tour was mostly assembled when they arrived an hour later. The Rainbow Caverns tour was a combination of riding and walking, and Clark told Lori that it would definitely provide moments when Johnson could have concealed the bag where it wasn't likely to be found, at least immediately. Probably, he had intended to return within 24 to 48 hours to retrieve his property. There were plenty of places where something as small as the piece of luggage that Clark had seen could lie unnoticed for days. Lori looked around the waiting room, noting the illustrations on the walls of some of the engineers and excavation personnel that had found the huge cavern complex. Men and women in the old-fashioned clothing of the time, some seventy years before, all smiling stiffly out of the framed pictures at the crowd of chattering tourists. She moved closer to the pictures, looking for familiar faces. Sure enough, there was CJ, handsome and distinguished among his less spectacular colleagues -- "Dr. Clark J. Kent, Xeno-Environmental Architect", and, a few pictures further on, a much younger "Rachel Greer, Junior Structural Engineer of the Luna Company's Lunar Mining Team."
Somewhere in the background, a soft, feminine voice announced a five-minute warning for the start of the next tour and Lori returned to Clark, who was standing near the rear of the room. They had decided to place themselves at the back of the tour group in case he had to leave the group unobtrusively.
The door opened again and three latecomers entered the waiting room. Lori glanced idly in their direction and stiffened. She nudged her husband in the side.
"What?" Clark asked.
"We've got company," Lori said softly.
Clark glanced casually at the doorway and Lori could feel the muscles in the arm he had put around her waist tense slightly. "Curiouser and curiouser," he murmured in her ear.
Talbot Grey and Stephanie Brooke joined the crowd of waiting tourists. Lori looked away from Stephanie's venomous gaze, and the shiver that had run down her neck and shoulders the night before, when she had thrown the woman out of her hotel room, was back. Grey and Stephanie were supposed to be attending the presentations that began in about three hours. It was, of course, possible that they could take the tour and still get back in time, but Lori refused to deceive herself over the possibility that the two journalists were here by accident. Stephanie and Talbot Grey were following Clark and her. Were they working together? If not, it was certainly an interesting coincidence. But how would Talbot Grey have any idea that she and Clark knew about the bag?
In any case, as Clark said, things had definitely gotten curiouser. Talbot Grey lifted a hand to her and smiled primly, in sharp contrast to Stephanie's hostile stare. Lori smiled back, and saw Clark raise a hand in greeting.
The double doors at the front of the room opened and a pair of the attraction's tour guides stepped through.
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," one of them said, her voice amplified considerably by the pin-mike that Lori could just spot on the collar of her uniform. "Welcome to the Rainbow Caverns Tour. As you may know, the Rainbow Caverns were discovered not long after the first mining expedition arrived here, to establish the foundations of what eventually became Luna City, the first and oldest city on the Moon. The Caverns are enormous quartz caves, and, of course, the quartz refracts the lighting to produce the beautiful rainbow colors for which they are justly famous. If everyone will just step this way, our Cave-mobile is ready to take everyone to the cavern entrance, from which we will start our tour. Part of the way will be accomplished on foot, but you're cautioned to stay on the marked paths for your own safety. Large parts of the Caverns are unsafe, and off limits to the general public. There are a great many caves that haven't been fully explored, and we don't want to have to send in the rescue teams." She concluded the short announcement with a smile. "A word to the wise. We haven't lost anyone on these tours yet, and we don't want to start today. This way, everyone."
The crowd moved obediently forward. Clark and Lori hung back, allowing others to go ahead of them. Grey and Stephanie did as well. Obviously they also intended to be the last persons on the Cave-mobile. At last, they were the only persons left.
"After you," Clark said politely.
"No, please, you go ahead," Tal said in an equally courteous tone.
Neither pair budged. At last Clark yielded to the insistence of the usher, passed through the doorway, holding Lori by the arm, and walked briskly toward the vehicle. Without hesitation, he guided Lori to the last seat, ignoring the attempt by the guide to shepherd them into the second to last one. The man frowned at them, but said nothing. Stephanie scowled at Lori, but Talbot Grey didn't comment. He merely stood back to let Stephanie board ahead of him.
Lori kept her expression pleasant but noncommittal as they took their places. The guide driving the Cave-mobile revved the motor. "Please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times and remain seated," she said, but with a certain cadence to her voice that told Lori that she had spoken the same lines several hundred times before. "Be sure to strap yourself in and remain seated while the vehicle is in motion. The Cave-mobile passes through several narrow tunnels and we don't want anyone to leave any fingers behind."
Lori fastened her harness and put her hands in her lap. The Cave-mobile eased forward and slid smoothly along the magnetic rail. Lori sat back in her seat. Clark slipped his arm around her shoulders. In the seat ahead, Lori saw Stephanie remove her makeup compact from her purse and appear to touch up her lipstick -- except that the mirror was aimed in such a way that Stephanie's eye, reflected in the glass, appeared to be staring straight at Lori. Stephanie was taking a look at her in the mirror.
The Cave-mobile slid into a narrow passage, lit by a couple of floodlights that were fastened to the rock of the ceiling some ten feet above her head. The rock floor was slanting down, more and more steeply, and Lori had to exert all her willpower not to grasp Clark by the sleeve as the Cave-mobile tilted downward at what seemed a dangerous angle and slipped smoothly into the depths of the Moon's surface. The light grew dimmer as the floodlights became farther and farther apart.
"Easy, honey," Clark's voice whispered in her ear. "The Caverns are way below ground."
"Yeah, I know." She grasped the handhold beside her. "I'm okay."
Clark's arm tightened around her shoulders as the steep slant became steeper. Lori reminded herself that the lower gravity made it possible to do things here on the Moon that wouldn't be possible on Earth. These Cave-mobiles traversed this path a couple of dozen of times a day without mishap and besides, the guy sitting beside her was Superman. He wasn't going to let anything happen to anybody.
That reflection helped her relax and look around with more attention to her surroundings. There was no way that Edgar Johnson could have hidden his bag anywhere in this initial part of the trip. If he had hidden it anywhere in here, it was more likely that it had been while he was walking along the tour path, inside the actual caverns.
The cut stone walls opened away suddenly and the Cave-mobile slowed its downward rush, leveled out and slid to a gentle stop at the bottom of the tunnel. Before her, some twenty feet away, Lori could see a rock wall with sliding metal doors set into the living rock. To her left was a platform that looked for all the world like the platform of an old-fashioned train station of the Nineteenth Century, except that it was constructed out of stone. To her right was another platform where a crowd of perhaps thirty persons waited. The tour guide stood up and faced her passengers. "Please exit to the platform on your left," she directed. "As soon as everyone has disembarked, this train will be collecting the party you see to your right to return them to the surface. We'll be entering the first cavern in a moment. Please remember to stay on the trail."
Lori got to her feet and carefully exited the vehicle. The platform was solid under her feet, and she moved back from the edge while Clark jumped lightly out to join her.
The rock enclosure in which they stood was lit by a number of lights set into the wall around them, and Lori became quickly aware of the echoing quality of the place. Voices bounced around, raising the level of noise considerably. The high, shrill voice of a toddler, who was apparently accompanying his parents on the tour, made her wince and cover her ears.
The guide had also disembarked and now stood waiting for the crowd of tourists to sort themselves out.
"You've no doubt noticed," she said, raising her voice slightly to be heard over the voices of the chattering tourists, "that sound is amplified in here. This is also true in the Rainbow Caverns, themselves, so for the sake of everyone else's ears, try to speak in low voices or we'll all be deafened in no time." She cast an experienced eye over the crowd and continued, "If you'll all follow me, we'll begin our tour. This way." She started toward the double doors, which rolled aside as she approached.
As she stepped through the doors, Lori couldn't restrain a gasp at the sight that met her eyes.
The cavern was so huge that it almost felt as if she were standing in the open. Lights from the walls and from above made the place as bright as a spring day on Earth. They stood on a platform that was railed off from the main body of the cave, and across the floor of the cavern she could see row upon row of growing grain. Belatedly, she recalled that Clark had mentioned that the huge caves were used for the growing of food for the Lunar cities. And the walls -- she had seen one of the Rainbow Caverns from the window of their hotel room but from the ground the full meaning of the name was apparent. The walls reflected myriad colors, shifting, brilliant hues as the millions of quartz crystals broke the light from the sun lamps, placed there to grow crops for the inhabitants of the Moon, into every color of the rainbow.
"Wow!" she whispered.
"Spectacular, isn't it?" Clark said.
"Yeah! Wow!" she whispered again. "It's how I imagined the Nome King's palace in Ozma of Oz -- only better!"
Clark grinned down at her. "And no Nome King to transform us into ornaments, either."
"That's always a plus," Lori agreed, trying to look in all directions at once.
The guide waited, allowing time for the initial sight of the Caverns to wear off, and then she spoke. "This way. Please remember to stay on the path. Besides the obvious objection to your getting lost, our agricultural workers don't want to run over you with their equipment, and they don't want you to trample their crops. Souvenir samples of the quartz from the caves is available for purchase at the end of the tour. Please don't take any of the crystals from the caves. Not only is it illegal, it's also considered bad luck by the inhabitants of the Moon." She led the way down four shallow stone steps and along a wide path carved in the rock, bounded on both sides by stone handrails. Clark and Lori hung back to allow everyone else to go before them. Talbot Grey and Stephanie proceeded ahead of them and Grey gave Clark an enigmatic look as he did so.
They trailed their guide along the path, headed toward another set of doors some distance away. Lori stared at the sights, aware that Clark was looking in all directions, searching for any place the bag might have been secreted. It seemed a little unlikely that it could be in this particular cavern, though. The floor was flat and hard near the path, and farther away, on both sides, cultivated plants were neatly arranged in rows. Surely if Johnson had tried to tuck the bag into some hiding spot here, there was too good a chance that some agricultural worker would find it and turn it in to Lost and Found or something.
Lori and Clark trailed the crowd toward the doors at the other side of the cavern and stepped through. Lori looked around, wide-eyed. This was obviously a cavern devoted to the growing of vegetables and ground-growing fruit, such as melons. Their path led them around the edge of the cavern, so close that they could have reached out and touched the crystal-embedded wall. At the end of this cavern, they boarded another Cave-mobile for the next leg of their trip, which crossed the sea caverns that were designed, the guide told them, for the growth of oxygen-producing algae, fish, shellfish and other sea life. Upon reaching the other side, they disembarked and made their way through a narrow tunnel into yet another cavern, which was devoted to the growth of orchards.
They followed the guide along the path that wended between the trees of an apple orchard. Lori stared in astonishment at huge fruit, several times the size of Earth-apples, hanging from the boughs. Flowering trees were surrounded by buzzing swarms of honeybees. The guide pointed out what Lori had already noticed since her arrival in the Rainbow Caverns: the air pressure was considerably higher here than elsewhere on the Moon. That was, the guide informed them, for the convenience of the bees that were used to fertilize the crops. The bees could not fly in the thinner atmosphere that existed elsewhere in the Moon cities.
She was going to have a lot to write about, she thought, irrespective of the murder, itself. She'd had no idea of the kind of civilization that the Moon colonists had built for themselves. It just underlined what she had always believed -- give Humanity half a chance and they would adapt to their environment, and adapt it to them, to form a successful civilization. She was already mapping out the story in her head.
"Any luck?" she whispered to Clark. So far, she hadn't seen any place that would be particularly safe for Edgar Johnson to have dropped off his suitcase, but they hadn't reached the end of the tour, yet.
Clark shook his head. "No, but we haven't gone through the undeveloped caverns. There are plenty of places there."
They were approaching the doors into the next section. Another Cave-mobile awaited them, and their guide directed them to take their seats. Moments later, they trundled through the double doors into a tunnel that led to yet another cavern. The doors behind them had barely slid closed when a violent jolt shook the vehicle, followed by a second and a third. The rocks groaned alarmingly around them, and a chorus of screams echoed deafeningly through the tunnel. The lights flickered abruptly and went out. The Cave-mobile tilted sideways, and Lori could swear that it was going over, when it seemed to pause in mid-motion and then slowly righted itself.
It had been Clark, she was nearly sure, who had saved the Cave-mobile. His lips brushed her ear. "Stay here. Don't move." Abruptly, he was gone.
Lori sat still in the seat, listening to the babble of frightened people while unidentifiable sounds echoed around her, and several smaller jolts still vibrated through the cavern.
"What's happened?" someone cried -- a female voice that somehow rose above the chaos of terrified voices.
"Earthquake!" someone cried out. "We're going to be buried alive! We're going to die! Let me out of here!"
"Everyone sit still!" a firm voice said, penetrating the hubbub without difficulty and the cacophony of voices diminished at once. Lori recognized Clark's "Superman" voice, raised to superhuman levels. "The roof is safe. Stay where you are until the emergency lights come on!"
As he spoke, the lights glimmered and began to glow, though at a considerably lower level than before. People began to babble again, at a level that hurt Lori's ears. She covered them with her hands, looking around to locate her husband.
There he was, three hundred feet above her head, his shoulder braced against a section of the roof, and as she watched, a section of the rock began to glow a dull red, very visible in the low lighting. Clark must be using his heat vision to melt rock and essentially weld it together.
"Superman!" someone cried. Abruptly everyone was looking up at the superhero.
Clark blew on the newly repaired roof and Lori watched as the redness of the stone vanished almost instantly. Clark moved back and Lori watched him as he scanned the ceiling of the cave. Then he dropped down to land beside the Cave-mobile.
"Everyone relax," he said. "The roof won't fall in."
"But how do we get out of here?" a female voice wailed. "We're trapped! I don't want to die here!"
"We wait," Clark said. "We don't know what happened, and it wouldn't be too wise to go bursting out of here until we do."
"But we'll run out of air!" someone protested.
"Not for quite a while," Clark assured him. "There's plenty of air in here." He turned to the guide. "Do you have any way of communicating with someone outside?"
The guide shook her head. "I'm signaling but I'm not getting any answer so far. Whatever happened must have caused some confusion. Can you use your X-ray vision to see outside?"
"Not well," Clark said. "Even I have my limits. Just a minute. There's one way I may be able to tell what happened."
Clark didn't answer, and Lori saw him close his eyes. For a moment she was puzzled and then understanding dawned. Clark must be trying to communicate with Zeb, who was presumably somewhere in the city, well above their heads. For a moment there was utter silence. It was one of those moments, Lori thought, when you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.
Clark opened his eyes. "It was a meteor strike," he said.
"You mean a meteor hit the city?" Stephanie Brooke sounded on the edge of panic.
"No," Clark told her. "The city is protected by defensive fields. A fair-sized meteor hit the surface a short distance away from the city and triggered a small Moonquake. Crews are dealing with the damage right now."
"When are they going to get us out of here?" Stephanie demanded. "They can't leave us in here!"
"I'm afraid we're going to have to be patient," Clark said, and Lori was certain that she didn't imagine the faint edge of irritation in his carefully modulated voice. "No one is in any danger, and there are other, more urgent problems for them to take care of in the city, itself."
"How bad is the damage?" one of the male tourists asked. He was a dark-haired man with a woman and a child of about three or four seated beside him.
"Not too bad," Clark replied. "Some of the power systems have been disrupted. As I said, we'll have to be patient."
Stephanie got to her feet. "You're Superman! You can get us out of here!"
"Not without causing a lot of damage to the caverns," Clark said. "Believe me, Ms. --" He glanced at her small handbag. "Ms. Brooke, is it? -- I'd like very much to be out there. I'm quite sure they could use my services in the city."
"How do you know what happened?" Talbot Grey asked suddenly.
Clark shrugged. "Eclipse told me. Kryptonians are telepathic with each other."
"Did he give you any indication of when we may expect rescue?"
"Not specifically," Clark replied. "He's pretty busy at the moment. They'll get to us as quickly as they can."
Lori hadn't been married to Clark for more than three years without learning how to recognize her husband in evasion mode. Clark knew something he wasn't telling them. She sat with her hands in her lap, hoping that Stephanie and Tal wouldn't look around and notice that Clark had vanished, and trying to think of an excuse should they do so.
The guide spoke. "I'm getting a general emergency broadcast on the radio," she said suddenly. "They expect to have the Cave-mobile and the doors working soon. I realize no one planned for this, but everyone please sit down. We're not in any danger."
"How can you know that?" a woman demanded hysterically. "We could all die in here! I want out of here *now*! I demand that you *do* something! I demand that *Superman* do something!"
There was a chorus of agreement. Clark was silent until the voices died down. "I can't get us out right now," he said. "I'm going to check the rest of this cave to be certain that there's no possibility of collapse, but if I were to dig my way out, I could conceivably put us in real danger. Everyone please stay seated until I return."
He turned and in an instant had begun to whisk around the cave.
Lori remained silent. The other passengers were watching Superman. Some of them were crying, others talking among themselves. Several simply sat quietly.
The lights flickered again. There were muffled cries and gasps. Another flicker and they went completely out. Lori sat still in the pitch-blackness, wondering where Clark was, and what they would do if the lights failed to come back on. Even Clark needed some light by which to see. Multi-colored sparks danced before her eyes -- manifestations of her own imagination, she was sure. Here and there she heard muffled sobs from the passengers of the Cave-mobile, and firmly controlled the desire to call out for Clark. He wouldn't let anything happen to them, she reminded herself, and he was certainly doing the best he could for all of them right now.
Abruptly, the lights on the walls began to glow redly -- at a level much lower even than they had been at before, but they seemed almost dazzling to eyesight that was used to utter blackness. She squinted through a sheen of tears from her watering eyes, and shaded them with one hand while trying to peer around through the gloom. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the new light level. It wasn't much, she acknowledged, but it was better than the smothering darkness of a minute or two before. She couldn't see Clark, but she was sure he wasn't far away.
With a suddenness that made her start, his voice spoke again from somewhere near the head of the Cave-mobile and she squinted, barely able to make out his darker silhouette against the pale glow of the light. "The cavern roof is sound," he informed them. "We'll be fine here until the power is restored. It shouldn't be long. I have a few things to deal with elsewhere in the cave. If anything happens that shouldn't, I'll be back."
Instantly, Lori was aware of a presence to her right and turned her head to see Clark's familiar silhouette. His arm slipped around her shoulders. "Are you all right, honey?" he inquired softly.
"I'm fine," she said. "It's lucky Superman was here, though."
"Yeah," Clark agreed.
In the seat ahead, Stephanie turned to face them. Lori could just make out her features in the dimness. "How can you be so calm?" she demanded. "How do we know Superman just didn't leave us here?"
"Oh don't be ridiculous," Lori said rather testily.
"It's not ridiculous!" Stephanie's voice rose. "Why was he here, anyway? And he's gone, isn't he? Maybe he's saving himself!"
"Be quiet," Lori said sharply. "Do you want to start a panic? He said we're safe and I believe him."
"I wonder how he turned up so opportunely," Talbot Grey's voice remarked. "It's fortunate for us, of course, but it's certainly an odd coincidence."
"I heard that he arrived in Luna City yesterday," Clark remarked. "It was on LCN. One of the Airlock Monitors said he came to visit Eclipse. I guess we were lucky that he was in the caves just now."
"Oh," Grey said. "I must have missed the report." His silhouette shifted slightly, and Lori thought that he had turned to face them. "May I ask why you two are here instead of at the convention?"
"Lori's never seen the Caverns before," Clark said mildly. "We figured we could get back in plenty of time before the presentations started."
"'The best laid plans of mice and men --'" Grey quoted softly. "I thought the same."
"I didn't realize you and Ms. Brooke were together," Lori said, casually.
"We aren't," Stephanie said.
"I encountered Ms. Brooke in the hotel lobby," Grey explained. "When I mentioned that I intended to visit the Caverns she suggested that she accompany me."
"I didn't know you were so interested in the Moon's tourist sites, Stephanie," Lori remarked sweetly.
Stephanie didn't answer.
From somewhere there was a faint grating noise, followed by a louder one. Two of the women screamed.
"May I have your attention," the guide's voice said firmly. "They're opening the doors and we'll be turning the Cave-mobile around. Everyone please remain seated."
Lori found the subsequent maneuvering in the dark slightly unnerving, but maintained her silence. She wasn't particularly apprehensive. Clark said they were safe and she believed him, but there was definitely something he wasn't telling her -- not that he could at present. Talbot Grey and Stephanie would be bound to overhear him.
The Cave-mobile started its return journey. Lori sighed. "Now I'll never get to see the rest of the Caverns," she said wistfully.
"Thank heavens!" Stephanie's voice said. "I never want to see this horrible place again!"
"It wasn't the fault of the Caverns that a meteor decided to hit the Moon," Lori said. "I'd like to come back someday and see them."
"Don't worry," Clark said, and she thought she detected amusement in his voice. "If you want to, we'll come back on our next vacation. I'd like to see the rest of them, myself. I've only been down here once, and I'm sure they've opened up a few more caverns since I was last here."
Lori was certain of it, too. "I can't imagine why anyone would want to come in here," Stephanie's voice said, sounding waspish.
"Really? Then why are you here?" Lori asked.
Stephanie didn't answer. Clark's arm squeezed her shoulders. "Lori isn't easily scared," he remarked. "She has more guts than anyone else I know."
"I'm sure," Stephanie's sarcastic voice said. "I'm surprised she's survived this long."
"We didn't get to be Kent and Lyons of the Daily Planet by playing it safe," Lori said mildly. "Taking risks is how you get the important stories."
A sniff from Stephanie. "I suppose that's how you found that dead guy yesterday," she said.
"As a matter of fact, it is, although we didn't really take any risks," Clark said. "How did you know about it?"
"I saw it on LCN," Stephanie said. "I've never found a body in my life!"
"Why not?" Lori couldn't stop herself. "What *do* you do at your news service, anyway? I thought you were an investigative journalist."
"I report on politics," Stephanie said coldly.
"Then I'm really surprised you haven't found any bodies," Lori said. Needling Stephanie was hard to resist. "Remember the murder of that state senator down in Southern California last year? And there was a city councilman in Metropolis that Clark and I found dead in his office a couple of months ago. He'd been taking bribes and tried to doublecross somebody by taking them from a chief rival, too. Politics, these days, is played pretty ferociously. Skeletons in the closet aren't really the same thing at all."
A faint snort from Clark. Talbot Grey's voice spoke out of the darkness, sounding elaborately casual. "What *is* the story behind that discovery yesterday? It seems to me to be very unlikely that anyone could accidentally find a body hidden out on the Moon's surface unless he was searching. Even then, it seems unlikely that it would be found."
"The Luna City Police have asked us not to discuss any specifics until they've completed their investigation," Clark said, sounding completely calm. "They were already investigating the man's death because of the accident at the solar collector. That's why we were there, too. That's really all we can say."
"I see," Grey said. "Did you by any chance know the victim?"
"I think we saw him the first day we were here," Clark said. "We didn't know him."
"Why were you investigating the story, then?"
"It was a story," Lori said. "John told us to keep an eye out for anything interesting while we were here. It seemed like something that might be of interest to the Planet, even if it was only because it came from the Moon."
"Surely your editor expects the same of you while you're here," Clark said mildly. "If he didn't, he wouldn't be an editor."
"Quite true," Grey said, but the total lack of expression in his voice would have alerted Lori, even if she hadn't already been listening closely to everything he said. As little as Clark did she think that Talbot Grey's presence here was an accident. The only thing that she couldn't decide was if Stephanie was involved with the murder of Edgar Johnson or if she had discovered where Clark and she were going and had seized the opportunity to follow them.
The Cave-mobile tilted upward sharply and she realized that they were beginning the long climb toward the lunar surface once more. Within a few moments they would be out of the caves, but if the bag were back there, somewhere, how were they going to find it now?
The Cave-mobile glided into the same room from which they had embarked on the tour and their guide requested that they stay seated until the vehicle came to a complete stop. Lori and Clark obeyed. Lori looked around, taking in the appearance of the room.
Only the emergency lights were glowing, and the number of employees present seemed to have increased since their departure, forty-five minutes ago. Clearly, the situation had not yet been resolved.
The Cave-mobile slid to a stop by the platform and the guide spoke. "Please exit to your right. Refunds will be available through the agency where you booked your excursion. We hope you'll come back on another day for a full tour of the caves."
Lori got out and Clark took her arm. "I need to get out there," he said, keeping his voice low. The background babble of the other passengers as they disembarked was enough to cover his low voice. "There's a fair amount of damage and Zeb has his hands full."
"What's going on?" Lori asked. "You weren't telling us everything in there. I could tell."
"I didn't want to scare people. The quake caused some damage to the nuclear reactor that provides most of the power to the cities," Clark said softly. "There's no danger to the cities, but the reactor is offline, and Luna City, and the others, are operating on solar and backup power. I'm going to give you a lift back to the hotel and then Superman is going to offer his services to assist."
"All right," Lori said. "As soon as we get away from here, take off. I'll get back to the hotel on my own. I've thought of a few things I can check out by myself, while you're otherwise occupied."
Clark began to move toward the exit, slowly forcing his way through the crowd of milling people. "I doubt any of the attractions will be open. The city is going to be in power conservation mode."
"I'm not interested in any of the attractions," Lori explained. "There are a couple of things about Edgar Johnson's murder that I think I can check out on my own."
He looked instantly wary. "What?"
"Oh, don't worry," she assured him. "I'm not going to go snooping in Talbot Grey's room or anything. I'll stay where people can see me -- and I'm wearing my earrings, remember. It's just that I thought of something while we were in the caverns. I might as well rule it out while you're busy."
The automatic door was no longer powered, and Clark pushed it open for her. They stepped out into the open. "Well -- all right," he said dubiously. "Just -- don't do anything adventurous until I get back, okay, honey?"
She held up three fingers. "Scout's honor."
He didn't seem entirely reassured, but it was obvious from the general conditions around them that Superman was really needed. They hurried across a non-moving slidewalk and into one of the parks, with which Luna City was so generously supplied. Clark glanced around. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Go on," Lori told him. "Let's see some tights, Superman."
He grinned slightly. "Sometimes I still can't get over how much like Lois you are."
"Move it," Lori told him, unimpressed. "You've got a day to help save."
With his usual speed, Clark made the change to Superman, kissed her quickly and took off into the air. Lori turned back toward the entrance to the Rainbow Caverns tour. There was something, as she had told Clark, that she needed to check out.
"I'm sorry, Miss, the Cavern tour is closed," the doorman told her.
"I know," Lori said quickly. "I won't take much of your time. I just need to check for something with Lost and Found." She flashed her press identification from the Daily Planet in front of him, giving him only a brief glimpse of it. "I might have left my bag here."
The man eyed her for a moment and then nodded. "I guess it will be all right. I ought to check with my supervisor."
"Of course," Lori said. She smiled at him in a friendly way. "Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?"
The doorman shook his head. "I guess not."
"Did your people get everyone out of the caves all right?"
The man nodded. "They're evacuating the Ag workers now."
Lori held up her little recorder. "Was anyone hurt?"
"No. Everyone was evacuated without any trouble."
"That's good. How long have you worked here?" she inquired.
"A little over six months," the doorman told her.
"Would you mind telling me your name?"
"Robert Jones," he said quickly.
"That would be J-o-n-e-s?"
"I guess you're familiar with the emergency routines of the Tour," Lori said. "Have they ever had any serious accidents that you can remember?"
"No," Jones told her. "The staff here is very competent."
"That's reassuring. I'd heard that the safety record of the Tour was pretty good. I understand that there's a rumor that Superman was here at the time of the quake."
"The passengers of the last Cave-mobile said he was," the man said. "I haven't seen him. I don't see how he could have managed to make it down there without anyone noticing him."
"I guess he's pretty fast," Lori said. "If he were trying to get down there in a hurry, people might not have seen him."
"Yeah, probably," the man agreed.
"Well, I guess I'd better let you get on with your job," Lori said. "Would you mind asking your supervisor if I can step in there for just a minute? I don't want to get in anyone's way."
Robert Jones did something and the doors slid open. "Go ahead. Just don't go into the passenger area."
"I won't. Thanks," Lori said. "I appreciate it." She proceeded through the door and followed the sign to Lost and Found.
But no bag resembling the one that she described had been found. The only bag there was a plaid fabric bag that was obviously the property of an ordinary tourist. Lori thanked the man behind the desk and returned to the exit. Robert Jones opened the door for her. "Find what you were looking for?"
"Unfortunately, no. If you come across a bag made of imitation alligator skin, about this big --" She held up her hands. "Could you put in a call to this number?" She handed him one of the little pasteboard cards that she infrequently distributed to possible informants. "I'd appreciate it."
"Sure." He glanced at the name on the card and then took another, closer look. "Lori Lyons? That reporter for the Daily Planet?"
"That's right. I'm surprised you recognize my name," she said. "I'm here for a convention. This will make a wonderful story for my news service. I'll be sure to mention your name," she added. "You've been very helpful." She paused. "Has anything like this happened before in your experience? I'm really impressed with the way the city seems to have brought the situation under control so quickly."
"They run drills twice a year," Robert Jones told her. "Nothing like this has happened since I've been here, and it's going on ten years now, although we did have a small meteor strike the dome a couple of years ago. Meteors do hit the Moon every now and then, but it usually isn't a problem because most of them are small and most of the time they hit where it doesn't matter. That one time we were hit, the defensive fields kept the break under control until they could repair it." He shrugged. "This time we just got unlucky. We'll handle it. We always do."
"I guess living in an environment like Luna City would demand certain precautions and a quick response to an emergency," Lori said. "It's very reassuring." She extended a hand. "Thanks for your help, and for answering my questions."
The doorman smiled at her. "You're welcome, Ms. Lyons." He stood aside to let her through, and closed the unpowered door behind her. Lori fished in her small handbag for the brochure that advertised the Agricultural Tour.
According to the map on the front cover, the entrance to the Ag tour was only a short distance away. She started down the now-stationary slidewalk at a brisk walk. If she was lucky, she might be able to talk her way in to check out their Lost and Found as well. It was one possibility that hadn't seriously occurred to her until a short time ago, and it wasn't all that likely, but it was certainly worth eliminating the chance. After all, Edgar Johnson might not have had a really good opportunity to hide his bag, but, as Clark had said, theft was fairly rare here on the Moon and it was possible that Johnson had known that. He might have decided that, if it were found, his property would be safe in Lost and Found for the short time he needed it to be beyond Talbot Grey's -- or someone's -- reach. She'd noted, when she checked the Lost and Found desk at the Rainbow Cavern Tour, the sign that notified patrons that unclaimed items would be held for a period of thirty twenty-four hour cycles and then donated to charity. The policy was probably pretty standard.
After a brisk walk of perhaps ten minutes, Lori saw the sign for the Agricultural Tour. As might have been expected, the attraction was closed but that had never stopped her before. She walked up to the front door and knocked.
A uniformed man inside shook his head and pointed to the "Closed" sign, but Lori, undaunted, held up her press identification and knocked again. The man hesitated a moment and then approached the doors. He opened it a crack. "I'm sorry, Miss, but the tour is closed."
"I know," Lori said. "I'm from the Daily Planet, and I'm interviewing people about this situation for my news service in Metropolis. I wondered if someone here would have a few minutes?"
Half an hour later, she was on her way again. She'd conducted her interview with the day manager of the attraction and then mentioned, as if it were an afterthought, that she'd lost her bag a couple of days ago and wondered if by chance she'd left it here. The manager had checked, but there was no sign of the missing item. Lori had thanked him gracefully and departed.
Well, she'd really expected nothing less. The last place on her list was Heinlein's Cave. She checked the address and then a city map and set out along the unmoving slidewalk.
Observing her surroundings as she walked, Lori was struck by the remarkable air of calm and order in the domed city. In spite of the inconvenience that was inevitable because of the necessary shutdown of power, the citizens of Luna City went about their business calmly, with no atmosphere of panic, unlike the tourists that had shared the Cave-mobile with Lori and Clark. The residents seemed to take the entire incident in stride and, taking her cue from them, Lori did as well.
The walk to Heinlein's Cave occupied nearly an hour, and it was during the walk that she noticed something unusual for the Moon city.
The light was slowly dimming.
At first she thought it was her imagination, but, after perhaps twenty minutes, she realized that it was becoming somewhat more difficult to see and glancing up, she saw that only a portion of the sun was visible behind the Earth. The Earth was a huge, blood-red blotch in the sky, so deep a red that it was almost black, and across its surface she could see a scattering of tiny patches of twinkling lights that must be cities and towns. Around the Earth glowed a reddish halo that must be the light of the sun refracting through the atmosphere, and on one side of the dark blotch was a thin, bright crescent of brilliant blue -- that portion of the Earth lit by the sunlight that could still be seen from her position.
It had to be an eclipse, she realized, after a startled moment of incomprehension. She was seeing what must be the beginning of a total eclipse of the Moon as *seen* from the Moon. She stood still, looking upward at the incredible sight in the sky and then looked quickly away. Even the polarized panels of Luna City's geodesic dome couldn't completely protect her eyes if she were to stare at the sun for too long a time. She glanced up quickly again and then away, wondering how she was going to describe this for the readers of her news service. It was something that had to be seen in order to be completely appreciated.
Well, she had her digital camera. Perhaps she could take a picture to go with the article that she planned on writing upon her return to Earth. She extracted her camera, set the filter for bright sunlight and quickly snapped several pictures, careful not to look directly at the bright patch in the sky that was Sol. Examining the photos a few moments later, she frowned, not completely satisfied by the results. Well, at least it was better than no pictures at all, and perhaps the local news service would have a better picture that she could use.
She tucked the camera back into her bag and started on her way once more, wondering why there hadn't been any announcement of the upcoming eclipse. Then she recalled the casual conversation with the desk clerk, who had checked them in when she and Clark had first arrived at the Luna Hilton. Hadn't he mentioned something about an eclipse? With everything that had happened since she and Clark had arrived on the Moon, the remark had slipped her mind. She hadn't heard any subsequent announcements but there probably had been at least one or two that she had missed. It wasn't as if she and Clark had spent much time watching the vidscreen since they had arrived in Luna City.
The gradual progression from daylight to darkness was slow, she realized as she hurried on toward her destination. Around her, she saw people glancing up casually at the spectacular sight, but no one seemed particularly worried. Of course not, she reminded herself. This wasn't Metropolis. Luna City's crime rate wasn't exactly zero but it was pretty close. Violent crime wasn't something that they considered a problem. Lori, of course, was a denizen of Metropolis who was accustomed to the dangers of Metropolis's streets at night, especially in certain areas, and she couldn't help glancing over her shoulder as she hurried along in the slowly dimming light. She was aware of a faint sense of nervousness but, she reminded herself, she was in the open. She wasn't likely to be mugged in a place like this. Luna City was more like a small, Midwestern town and the crime rate was even lower. Here and there she saw lone women walking briskly along the darkened slidewalks. There were plenty of people around.
All the same, she picked up her pace a little. The sooner she finished her errand, the better.
The entrance to Heinlein's Cave was a small building, similar to the entrance to the Luna Hilton and the unpowered door appeared to be unlocked. Several people were standing nearby, watching the eclipse through some sort of shaded glasses, all of them clutching soft cloth bags much like the one she had at home that carried her karate gi and her gym clothing. She reached for the door, and it swung open easily.
"Nobody's flying right now," one of the bystanders said.
"Is anyone in there?" Lori inquired. "I need to check Lost and Found."
"Sure," one of the men said. The ruddy light from Earth, floating above them in the sky, reflected off his face, giving it an odd appearance. He sauntered over to her and pushed the door wider, releasing a pale shaft of light. "Come on. I'll show you where it is." He squinted at her face. "I don't think I've seen you before."
"I'm just a tourist from Earth," Lori said. "Lori Kent."
"Hi, Lori," he said. "I'm John Douglas." He motioned for her to go ahead of him and followed, letting the door swing shut. A flight of steps went downward, and below, Lori could see a stone floor, also illuminated by the same pale lighting. "They're shooing everybody out," John said, "so they had to leave a few lights on until everyone's gone. Gary must be around here somewhere."
"Gary?" Lori asked.
"The guy that runs the place. He won't mind if you check Lost and Found. Lose something here?"
"Maybe," Lori said. "I'm looking for a small satchel that disappeared yesterday. It might be here."
"Ah," John said. "This way, then." He led the way down the steps and then along a curving walk to a broad, railed-in area. Lori couldn't resist looking at the wide-open space beyond the rail. So far below that it couldn't be seen in the low lighting must be the floor, and the huge cave area beyond must be where the fliers...flew. A sign on the rock wall behind them announced that this was the observation gallery. She sighed faintly.
"I wanted to try flying before I head back to Earth," she said. "Do you suppose things will be fixed very soon?"
"Sure," John said casually. "Things will probably be back to normal in a few hours." He pointed. "There's Gary's office."
As they approached the office, a slender man with greying hair stepped out. When he saw them, he stopped. "We're closed, until the power is back," he said. "I'm shutting down our battery power in a few minutes. You kids'll have to come back later."
"This is Lori," John said quickly. "She needed to check Lost and Found for a missing bag. Mind if we take a quick look, Gary?"
Gary hesitated for a moment. "Sure, I guess it's all right," he said finally. "Just make it quick, though. And shut the door when you leave the room."
"Thanks," John said. "Come on, Lori. This way."
Lori followed her guide past the office to a counter a short distance beyond. John went around the counter and pushed open the door set in the wall behind it. A pale light immediately illuminated the room. "Here you go."
Lori entered and looked around.
The walls were lined with shelves, where a number of items rested. A one-piece jumpsuit was folded carefully on a lower shelf next to a single boot. Someone's bag sat neatly beside a wrist talker and what appeared to be a sock. But what caught her attention immediately was a small, briefcase-sized satchel made of imitation alligator skin. She caught her breath and snatched it up eagerly. A quick examination convinced her that it was indeed the item she sought. Against the odds, her wild hunch had paid off.
"Is that it?" John asked.
"It sure is," Lori said. "I can't thank you enough for helping me."
"Not a problem," John said. "I have to do my part to attract tourists to the city."
"Well, I sure appreciate it," Lori said. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," John said. "But I guess we'd better get out of here now and let Gary close the place up."
"I guess so," Lori agreed. She followed him from the room and the light went off as they exited.
Gary was waiting by his office door as they retraced their steps, and he glanced at the bag Lori now held. "Find it?"
"Sure did," Lori said. "I really appreciate the help. In Metropolis, no one would have bothered."
"Luna City is a friendly place," Gary said. "We try to help visitors whenever we can."
"I hope I'll be able to come back, before I have to go home," Lori said. "I've been looking forward to having a chance to try flying."
"Yeah." Gary joined the two of them, walking toward the steps. "We're pretty popular with the ground --" He broke off. "Tourists," he substituted.
"You mean us groundhogs," Lori said with a grin.
"Yeah." John grinned too. "We try not to insult people, but sometimes it slips out."
"Well," Lori said, "I am a groundhog, but I still like to fly. The closest you can come to it on Earth is an aircar."
"I was on Earth last year for two weeks," John said. "I'm a Loonie through and through, though, I guess. I weighed a ton, all that open space gave me agoraphobia, I was always too hot or too cold, and those biting bugs, whatever they were, really liked me."
"Mosquitoes," Lori said. "They like everybody, I'm afraid. Somebody should have given you some repellent."
"I guess. I was glad to get back here, though. Men weren't meant to live like that."
"I don't know," Lori said with a slight grin. "If you grow up with it, it's okay."
"I suppose so," John said doubtfully. "Like I said, I'm a Loonie and always will be."
They started up the flight of steps, and Gary paused in the upper chamber to extinguish the cave's emergency lighting. He pushed open the door and let Lori and John exit ahead of him.
Outside, it was much darker. The little sliver of light at the edge of the dark blotch of Earth overhead had completely vanished. Around the spherical blotch of dull brown, stained with orange, was a halo of orange-red, but it did little to illuminate the landscape. Lori shivered slightly. The shadowy city looked intimidating, even though she knew it had the reputation of being safe.
John glanced at his wrist. "Oops, I'm late. I've gotta take off or my girl's going to be mad at me again. Nice meeting you, Lori."
"Nice meeting you," she said. "Thanks a lot for the help."
"Think nothing of it," John said. "'Bye." He took off, running. Lori glanced at Gary.
"I'm kind of turned around. Which way is the Luna Hilton?"
He pointed. "That way." He smiled slightly. "I know it's dark, but don't worry, Miss. There's no crime around here worth the name. I'd take you back myself, but my wife's expecting me in twenty minutes. Just follow that street until you hit Neil Armstrong Boulevard and turn left. You can't miss it."
"Thank you," Lori said.
The eclipse was almost complete, Lori thought as she strode quickly along the slidewalk in the direction of the Luna Hilton. It was just about as dark as it was going to get before the light started to return.
An eclipse could take hours to complete, but it probably wouldn't be completely dark for too long, she hoped. The actual time an eclipse stayed "complete" wasn't much, but it would be a while before the sun started to peek out from behind the Earth enough to matter. The crew working on the reactor might get the thing back online and the power could come back on soon, too, but she wasn't counting on it.
In any case, it couldn't happen too soon for Lori. Carrying the alligator-skin satchel gave her the sensation that someone had painted a bright red target directly between her shoulder blades.
True, it was unlikely that Talbot Grey or Stephanie would find out. What were the odds that they would encounter her during her return to the hotel, after all? The chances were that they had returned to the Luna Hilton immediately after leaving the Rainbow Caverns.
But logic didn't help a lot. The feeling that someone was watching her had taken root in fertile soil and begun to grow.
She made a point of walking on the outer edge of the slidewalk, as far from any form of cover for an assailant that she could manage, although there really wasn't much cover, she acknowledged thankfully, and there were still plenty of people around. Many of them had matter-of-factly produced small hand lights and were illuminating their way with them. It was a strange sight, watching all the tiny lights flickering about like fireflies as people traversed the streets. What were all these people doing out here when nothing was open, Lori wondered, and then common sense supplied the answer. Many people went places by foot and by slidewalk during a normal day in Luna City. People had been caught at work and at play by the meteor-triggered Moonquake and were undoubtedly making their various ways home. If the power stayed off for much longer, the streets would probably be empty within an hour or so.
The power wasn't completely off, though, she realized a few moments later. She could still hear the throb of the air pumps, and the temperature regulators were certainly still functioning. The less-essential services had been turned off in favor of powering the most important ones for the duration of the emergency.
Lori glanced over her shoulder. There were plenty of people back there. Mostly she could see human silhouettes and now and then a face as a light flashed over someone.
A light flickered over her and then away as someone aimed a hand light in her direction, and she increased her speed slightly. It had probably been of no consequence -- no more than someone aiming a light incautiously at her as he walked, but it still made her neck crawl. She was definitely looking forward to getting back to the safety of the Luna Hilton. It was going to be a long walk, though, made longer by the fact that she was nervous.
With one hand, she fished in her small purse and located her own hand light. She didn't need it that urgently, as all that she had to do to get back to the hotel was to follow the street until it crossed Neil Armstrong Boulevard, and that was still some distance away. But, as her Karate instructor had taught her, even a little five-inch flashlight used correctly, could be a potent weapon. And the nice thing, of course, was that no one expected it to be used as such because it didn't look dangerous. In the right hands, it was a decent tool for self defense -- as long as an attacker didn't have a stunner.
She didn't really think that anyone would be so stupid as to try to stun her with so many people around. Even in the darkness it was bound to draw attention and whoever she and Clark were after had to be desperate to stay anonymous. As long as the suspicion focused solely on Marilyn, Mr. X had been safe but the minute people got the idea that someone else might be involved that safety became a lot more precarious. The fact that Lori and Clark had found Johnson's body, and it was fairly obvious that he had been murdered, must already have thrown a scare into their quarry but he still might believe that it was barely possible that Johnson's death might be chalked up to a random crime -- especially since he hadn't had the incriminating information in his possession when he died. Certainly, law enforcement couldn't be sure that it wasn't. But if Lori was assaulted and the bag she carried stolen, it would no longer be considered random.
And most likely no one even knew that she had the bag. Clark didn't know it, of course. Probably Johnson's killer didn't even know it. If he did, and something happened to her before she could inform someone of what she now had in her possession, he might still be able to cover his tracks. Which meant that she had to get back to the hotel without being caught.
But, she reminded herself, she hadn't seen any indication that anyone was following her. She was probably as safe here as anywhere else in Luna City. Still, it would be nice if things were to get back to normal soon. She missed the security of Clark's presence. True, Superman was doing what needed to be done for the residents of Luna City, but the urge to call him was strong. Lori had done dangerous things in the past, things that those who knew her claimed gave them prematurely gray hair, but that didn't mean she was oblivious to the possible results of her actions. She didn't want to pull Clark away from his job but, she decided, if she had even the slightest hint that someone might be targeting her, she was going to scream his name as loud as she could. He'd be there instantly, and maybe catch their killer red-handed to boot.
Satisfied on that point, Lori increased her pace to a jog, clutching the satchel close to her body so that no one could unexpectedly snatch it away.
It was interesting, she thought, how quickly her reflexes had adapted themselves to the lunar gravity. Each step took her several feet, but she didn't lose her balance and she found that jogging on the Moon was a whole new experience.
She aimed the beam of the little light ahead of her to be certain that there was nothing in her way. She wasn't the only runner -- a number of the shadowy figures on the street were jogging along in the low gravity. It wasn't a tiring exercise to someone who was used to running every day just to keep in shape. The distance seemed to fly by and before she knew it she was approaching Neil Armstrong Boulevard. Even in the darkness she recognized it by the dimly visible sign across the street, announcing Aldrin Park.
She slowed to a walk as she reached the corner and turned left. The Luna Hilton was only half a block away and so far no one had tried to stop her. Five minutes later, she stepped cautiously into the little building that was the entrance to the Luna Hilton.
Naturally the elevator platform wasn't running but there was a hitherto closed door to one side that now was braced open and Lori saw that there were steps inside.
Carefully, flashing her light before her, she entered the narrow stairwell and began her descent. At the bottom of the stairs was a door that opened on the Lobby.
The Lobby wasn't entirely dark. A number of battery-powered lights here and there illuminated the room, although the light level was somewhat lower than its usual state. Lori drew a deep breath and relaxed for the first time since she had found the bag.
The desk clerk was the same carrot-topped youth who had checked Clark and her into the hotel when they had arrived, and he was moving about the room, checking various monitors on the walls when she stepped through the door. He turned and smiled at her. "Hello, Ms. Lyons. I'm sorry about the inconvenience. I'm told the power should be restored in two or three hours."
"That's okay," Lori said, "but I'm happy to know the repair work will be finished soon. I heard it was a meteor strike that triggered the quake. How close to the city was it?"
"Not close at all," the young man told her. "Apparently it hit near a previously undetected fault line. There isn't any danger to the city, though. The emergency crews checked out the dome first thing, and it's completely intact."
"I'm glad of that. Somebody said the quake damaged the nuclear reactor that supplies power to all the Moon cities, but that it isn't serious."
"No," the man agreed. "Just inconvenient. I hope this hasn't given you a distaste of Luna City."
"Not at all," Lori told him. "I was on the Rainbow Caverns tour when it happened. I just hope I'll be able to go back and see the rest before I have to go home."
"And you weren't scared? I'm impressed."
"Well, I was a little nervous," Lori admitted with a slightly shamefaced grin, "but not enough to make me never want to go back."
"They'll probably have the tour up and running again inside of 36 hours," he said. "They'll just have to inspect it for any possible damage before they let tourists back down there. Impressive, aren't they?"
"What? Oh, the caverns," Lori said. "They sure are. I've never seen anything like them before. I want to take some pictures so I can give the readers a hint of what they're like when I write about this trip for the Planet. People on Earth don't have any idea of what it's like here, and they should."
"We'll appreciate that," the clerk said. "Luna City is trying to expand its economy, and tourism will add a lot to it."
"Well, I'm more than happy to help," she said. "It can only improve my standing at the Planet. By the way, what's your name?"
"You know my name," Lori said, "but I don't know yours."
The clerk grinned. "Oh. I'm Gerard Patterson. Call me Buzz."
"Okay, Buzz. I just figured I'd mention you in my article and it helps to know your name, rather than refer to you as 'the red-headed guy that checked us in'."
He snorted. "Good point. I'll watch for the article. Do you need anything right now?"
"Actually, I'm going down to my room, and I was wondering if you could have someone walk along with me," Lori said. "Call me paranoid, but I don't like to wander around in the dark by myself. Clark won't be back for a while, so --"
"Not a problem," Buzz told her. "The emergency lights are on but they're kind of dim. The bellboys are sitting around with nothing much to do right now, so Joey can go along with you." He turned, placed two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. "Joey! Escort Ms. Lyons to her suite, will you?"
Unlike the youthful image that his name conjured, Joey was probably about seventy years old. His hair was silver, but he moved like a much younger man. That might be one of the benefits of living under low gravity, Lori thought. The man sauntered toward them and looked at Buzz. "Is that it?" he inquired.
Buzz nodded. "Ms. Lyons is a little nervous of walking down there by herself. Just go along with her."
"Sure," Joey said. He smiled at Lori and she could swear that his gaze lingered on her legs for a second or two longer than necessary. "I never mind walking along with a pretty young lady. This way, Ms. Lyons."
Lori smiled and opened the door to the stairs. Joey kept pace with her as they descended. The older man held a hand light that he flashed ahead of them as the proceeded, for which Lori was thankful. The emergency lighting was adequate, but just barely.
"The last time we had a power outage like this," Joey remarked, after a minute, "I was about your age. I guess we're lucky to have Eclipse here to help us this time. I heard on the radio that Superman is here, too. If he was going to visit, the timing couldn't have been better."
"I guess not," Lori agreed. "Did the report say what he was doing?"
"Last I heard, he took a lady who decided to have a baby in the middle of the street over to Crescent General," he said.
"Good heavens," Lori said.
"Well, things like that happen, even on the Moon," Joey said, a twinkle in his eye. "You're that reporter for the Daily Planet, aren't you? I'd heard that you and your partner, Mr. Kent, were here for the journalists' convention."
"We are," Lori said.
Joey nodded. "I used to read his articles when he was an independent reporter -- always enjoyed his writing. I always wondered why he suddenly decided to go to work for the Daily Planet."
"He had his reasons," Lori said, wondering what else the chatty hotel employee was going to ask. "We partnered up not long after I was hired by the Planet."
"Seems to me I read something about the two of you getting married," Joey said.
"We did," Lori said.
"Sounds like Mr. Kent is a pretty smart guy," Joey said. He flashed the light around the landing beneath them, and they turned to descend the next flight down. "Watch your step. You aren't likely to get hurt much if you trip, but you can bruise yourself pretty badly."
Lori nodded. "Have you worked at the Luna Hilton long?" she inquired.
"Nah. I got this job 'cause I was going crazy being retired," Joey told her.
"Oh? What did you do before you retired?"
"I was on the police force," Joey said. "Pretty easy job, here in Luna City, but everywhere humans go there's going to be some crime."
"I guess so," Lori agreed. "I guess that's why Buzz chose you to walk me to my room."
"Maybe," Joey said. "Like I said, there isn't really much crime here, but I guess you already ran into some, didn't you? I saw that thing on the vidcast yesterday, about how you found that fellow who'd been killed out on the surface."
Lori nodded. "Yes."
Joey glanced speculatively at her. "Don't tell me that was an accident."
"No, it wasn't," Lori said. "Although we didn't really expect to find a body. We sort of expected to find out he'd faked that accident at the solar collector."
"Well," Joey pointed out, "he must have. But how did you know?"
"We didn't know," Lori said. "It was kind of an educated guess."
"I see," Joey said. "Well, considering your news articles, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you're following some kind of story." He shook his head. "Murder is pretty rare here on the Moon," he said. "Whatever it is, I'd be careful if I were you."
"I am," Lori said. "That's one of the reasons I didn't want to walk to my room alone."
"You think ahead," Joey said approvingly. "Sometimes it pays to be a little paranoid." They reached the landing for the fifth floor and he pushed open the door. "Here we are. You're in 504?"
"That's right," Lori said.
"Okay. This way, then." He flashed the light ahead of them down the corridor. Dim emergency lights on the walls made the hallway navigable -- barely. Lori was just as happy for Joey's hand light. It took only a very few minutes for them to reach room 504 and Joey waited while she took the room key out of her bag and triggered the lock.
"Thanks for the escort," she said, turning to him.
"No problem," Joey said. "By the way, I was wondering --"
"Yes?" Lori asked.
He reached into a pocket and withdrew a small note pad. "Could I have your autograph?"
"Sure," Lori said, slightly startled.
He extended the pad and a writing implement. Lori took it. "How do you want it addressed?"
"Just to Joey," he said. "You probably couldn't spell my last name."
"Okay," Lori said. She wrote a short note and signed her name. "How's that?"
"Fine," Joey said. "I should tell you, I have a hobby of collecting famous autographs. I have autographs from quite a few celebrities that have visited the Hilton over the last couple of years. Thanks."
"You're welcome," Lori said. "I don't think I'm that famous -- most people couldn't tell you a journalist's name, so I guess I should be flattered."
He chuckled. "I was still on the local police force when we got those two drug dealers you busted about three years ago," he said. "I was one of the guys that delivered them to the local mine. It was too good a story to forget." He tucked the notebook into his back pocket. "Good evening, Ms. Lyons. The power should be back on before long."
"It can't be too soon for me," Lori said, reaching out to open the door. The unpowered door came open with a faint squeal and she stepped inside, flashing her own light around.
The room had been straightened since she and Clark had left it, but other than that nothing had changed. Lori set her purse and the imitation alligator bag down on a chair and sat down on the bed. In spite of the fact that she was in her own room, she wasn't entirely comfortable -- and probably wouldn't be until the lights were restored. She glanced around the room again, listening intently, but only the faint hiss of air through the ventilator reached her ears.
Still, something wasn't quite right, and she couldn't put her finger on it. Something, perhaps instinct, was making the gooseflesh rise on her scalp and quite suddenly she got to her feet, reaching for the bag once more. Rather than stay in the room, she thought she would go stand in the hall. At least that way it would be harder for anyone to hide nearby or sneak up on her, unnoticed.
Only as she turned to push the door open, she heard the faintest scuff of a shoe on the carpet behind her and spun. The bathroom door was now open and, as she turned, bringing her hand light up, for a bare instant, the light flashed across a face as a man rushed at her, knocking her to the floor. There was a scrape as her door was wrenched open and a dark body hurtled through. Then he was gone.
Lori staggered to her feet and ran to the door, but whoever it had been had vanished. Instantly, she turned to look at the chair where she had dropped her purse and Edgar Johnson's satchel but both items were still in evidence. The intruder either hadn't seen the satchel or hadn't known its significance.
Whoever he had been had evidently been hiding in the bathroom, Lori thought -- but why? The only reason she could think of was that he must have been searching the room and had heard her opening the door, but why would anyone search her room? -- Unless, she thought, Talbot Grey -- or someone -- thought that she and Clark had the stolen information. Only that hadn't been Talbot Grey. She had caught only a glimpse of the face, not enough to identify it with any certainty, but it most definitely hadn't been Talbot Grey.
She looked again at the door. Probably she wasn't in any danger, but there was no way under the...Earth that she was going to stay in here without locking that door. She pushed it shut with one hand and fastened the chain lock, trying not to disturb any possible fingerprints and then turned to make her way across the room to the bathroom and stepped within.
There was something in the tub, a dark shadow in the shadowy room. Lori's breath caught and she flashed her hand light over it, already knowing what she would find.
Talbot Grey was huddled in the tub, but he wasn't moving. He was very dead, his throat cut from ear to ear.
The wrist talker on Clark's wrist beeped the tone that meant that Lori was calling him. He hadn't heard the peculiar ultrasonic tone from her earring alarm so it wasn't an emergency, but the fact that she was calling him at all while she knew he was operating as Superman meant that it was urgent. He lifted the device to his lips. "Superman."
"Superman, I need you right away." Lori's voice had a telltale quiver that he could tell that she was fighting to control. "I'm in Clark's and my hotel room."
"What's wrong?" he demanded sharply.
"Talbot Grey is dead in our bathtub," she said. "Please come quickly."
In a split instant, he was in the hallway outside the hotel room. He knocked sharply.
At once the lock clicked and the door slid open. Lori stood there, her face very pale in the illumination of her handlight. "Superman!" Her voice trembled. "Come in quick!"
He stepped inside and she slid the door shut, noticeably careful not to touch the manual handle. He looked her up and down with his enhanced vision and let out his breath when he saw that she was unhurt. He put his arms around her and realized that she was shaking. "Are you all right?"
She nodded against his chest. He consciously made his racing heart slow down, looked over her head into the bathroom and winced at the sight that met his eyes. Talbot Grey was certainly dead and blood was spattered everywhere. "What happened?"
"After you left, I decided the best thing I could do was check the Lost and Found departments at all the places Johnson had been -- and I found the bag," she explained. "It was at Heinlein's Cave. Then I came back here."
"Where's the bag?"
"Behind you on the chair," Lori said. "I haven't opened it. I figured I'd better wait until I had an unimpeachable witness for that. Anyway, a bellboy walked me down to the room, and I came in here. There was somebody here -- I didn't get a good look at him. He rushed at me and knocked me down and ran out. He'd been hiding in the bathroom, so I went to see if he'd left any clues about himself, and I saw Talbot."
"Did you touch anything?"
She shook her head. "No. Just the door to the hall, and I was careful not to touch it where he did."
"Good." He looked at her sharply and abruptly pushed her to a seat on the foot of their bed. "Sit down, honey. You look pretty shaken up."
"Well, I don't usually find acquaintances with their throats cut in my hotel bathroom," Lori said with an attempt at a smile. "What do we do now?"
"I'd say Superman had better call Hotel Security," he said, "and the police."
"Clark had better have an alibi, just in case," Lori said. "He doesn't, right now."
"Sure he does," Clark said. "He was across town a few minutes ago, when I pulled a Moon bike out from under somebody's car. I can testify to that, and Zeb will be perfectly willing to testify that Clark was present when he and I were cleaning up the mess in Shepherd Plaza an hour ago. That should pretty much cover it. Tal hasn't been dead for more than ten minutes at the most. He's still warm." He saw her shudder. "Sorry, honey. I didn't mean to --"
She drew a deep breath and he could see her trying to take control of herself. "It's all right. You'd better go ahead and call them."
Clark raised his wrist talker to his lips. "Hotel Security. This is Superman."
It didn't take Clark long to realize that Hotel Security wasn't going to be of much use. The officer in charge had a stunned look on his face and his assistant seemed incapable of doing more than wringing his hands and muttering under his breath. Clark had to forcibly restrain him from entering the bathroom and disturbing the crime scene before the police arrived. Through it all, Lori sat still on the foot of the bed, watching the confusion in silence.
The police arrived fifteen minutes later, a group headed by Detective Brown: the same police detective to whom they had spoken shortly after their discovery of Edgar Johnson's body, accompanied by a silent man with some sort of recording equipment. He surveyed the scene of the murder, in the illumination of several battery-powered floodlights, with an impassive expression and then turned to Clark, standing with his arms folded and his best heroically stern expression on his face. "What happened?" he inquired.
Clark inclined his head at Lori. "Ms. Lyons found him," he said. "She and I have worked together in the past and she knew I was in Luna City, so she called me."
Brown turned to Lori. "Ms. Lyons. This is the second murder you've discovered in two days. I don't believe in that kind of coincidence."
"Neither do I," Lori said.
"Why don't you tell me what happened?"
"All right," Lori said. She took a deep breath and began to speak, recounting what she had told Clark a short time before, all the time aware of the movement and muttered conversation of the men in the other room as they did whatever was necessary to gather evidence at the crime scene. When she finished, Brown didn't speak for several seconds.
"Why didn't you mention Johnson's bag before?" he inquired.
"We didn't know about it at the time," Lori said. "It was only later that we found out that it hadn't turned up."
"How did you discover that?"
"Clark and I saw Edgar Johnson when he checked in," Lori said. "Clark has an eidetic memory and saw the bags. Later, we discovered how many bags had been found, and that there was only one satchel. That meant that one was missing, and we started trying to figure out where it might be." She nodded at the satchel, lying on the chair. "I intended to bring it to you after the power was restored."
"And how did you find out how many pieces of luggage had been found?"
Lori glanced at Clark. "Someone in a position to know told me."
"I'm afraid that's confidential. I wouldn't have published it in any case."
Brown rolled his eyes. "Reporters. All right, let's hear the last part again. You say you got back to the hotel --"
"I came down to the lobby and talked to the desk clerk -- Gerard Patterson. I asked him if someone could walk me to my room. He asked a bellboy named Joey to walk me down."
"Joey?" Brown asked sharply. "You didn't mention who it was last time. What was his last name?"
"He said I couldn't pronounce it. He's an older man, and he told me he's a former policeman," Lori said.
Brown nodded. "All right," he said. "I know who he is. So then what happened?"
"I opened the door to the room, and stepped in here," Lori said. "Something struck me as wrong. I really can't say why, but I decided to wait in the hall until the lights came back on. But before I could leave, somebody rushed at me, knocked me down and ran out. I got up and went after him, but he was already gone. He'd come out of the bathroom, so I went to look and saw Mr. Grey." She shuddered slightly. "That was when I called Superman."
"Where is your husband?" Brown asked, casually, with apparent disinterest.
"He was across the city where I was working," Clark said. "That was just before Ms. Lyons called me."
"Could he have gotten from here to where you saw him in time to have had anything to do with this?" Brown asked.
Clark shook his head. "No normal human could have made it from here to the location where he was that fast," he said. "Besides, he'd been there for at least fifteen minutes. Grey hasn't been dead more than half an hour."
Brown nodded. "All right; I'll take your word for it," he said. "So do you have any idea, Ms. Lyons, why someone would murder this man in your room? I'll even take wild speculation, since you apparently are involved in this thing, somehow."
Lori bit her lip. "Not really," she said. "We told you, after we found Johnson's body, that Johnson and a partner may have been trying to frame a friend of ours for the theft of new technology from her place of employment, and that partner might have murdered Johnson to get rid of a witness." She paused. "We think Talbot Grey may have been that partner, but I have no idea who might have murdered him, unless --" She broke off, frowning. "Clark and I have someone tracing Tal's activities just before he came to Luna City," she said. "We'll let you know what we find out when we get the report, if you want."
"I certainly do," Brown said, "and I'll have a statement for you to sign later. But 'unless' what?"
"I was just thinking," Lori said. "Stephanie Brooke and Talbot were on the Rainbow Caverns tour, together, when the meteor hit. Clark and I were there at the same time -- but the person that ran at me here was a man, so I don't see how it could have been her."
"We'll have to speak with Ms. Brooke. Can you describe this intruder?"
Lori shook her head again. "Not really. I only caught a glimpse of him. He was taller than me. He charged at me out of the dark, and my light flashed across his face, but it was awfully quick."
"Would you recognize him if you saw him again?"
Lori shook her head. "I don't know. I don't think so. Maybe. It was over pretty fast."
Brown got to his feet. "All right. We'll get this written up and you can sign it later. I'll expect you to come by the Precinct this evening."
Lori gave him a strained smile. "Loonies have the strangest language. How can it be evening when it's day most of the time?"
Detective Brown raised an eyebrow and Clark was certain he was trying to hide a smile. "I just live here, Ms. Lyons. I didn't make up the rules -- but I can't imagine it getting dark every 24 hours. That seems pretty alien to me."
"I guess it would," Lori said. "No offence, Detective."
"None taken," Brown assured her. "I'm sure this all seems very strange to you, but you seem to have adapted to Luna City pretty well for a --"
"For a groundhog," Lori said with a faint smile.
"Well, yes. And I have to take into account that Superman trusts you."
"So does Eclipse," Clark said. "Ms. Lyons is an old friend of mine."
"Exactly," Brown said, with a respectful nod to Clark. "I trust you'll bring anything else you find to my attention."
Lori nodded. "We'll tell you anything we're fairly sure of -- that's a promise. And if I think of anything else, I'll call you."
"Do you still have my business card?"
"Clark probably does, but I already programmed your talker number into mine," she said.
Brown nodded. "All right. If you do call, make sure it's important."
"I will," Lori said.
Brown regarded her for several seconds. "If I were your husband, I suspect I'd worry a lot." He looked at Clark.
Clark kept his face straight with an effort. "He does," he said.
"Now," Brown said, "let's see what's in that bag. Since you found it, it only seems fair that you be present, but I'd appreciate it if you won't report on this without permission."
"Of course not," Lori said.
"Good. You and Superman can be the witnesses." Brown picked up the bag and Lori kept her eyes focused on him as a pair of men dressed in white decontamination suits guided an anti-grav litter bearing a large, sheet-covered object past them and out the door. As it closed behind them, the room's lights flickered and came on.
Brown produced an object from a pocket and pressed a button. The object gave out a series of soft tones, and without fuss the lock on the satchel came quietly undone.
The contents didn't seem all that remarkable at first. There was a full change of clothing, a manual toothbrush and paste, a set of identification and a small, plastic box of the type that was normally used to store microchips. Brown removed the clothing, methodically checked the pockets and laid it aside. The identification showed a holographic image of Johnson's face, but the name displayed was Robert Reid. Brown raised his eyebrows but laid the little card back in the satchel. Then he picked up the plastic case.
The case came open easily, to reveal two tiny chips inside. Lori extended her palm computer. "Here."
Brown glanced at her and then selected a chip and slipped it into the correct slot.
The tiny screen lit up almost at once, displaying a title page, and the logo of Genie Electronics. Brown flipped through the document quickly, displaying mathematical formulae and diagrams that meant nothing to any of the three. Finally, he closed the display and removed the chip. "I think this is the information you were telling me about," he said. "Let's see what's on the other one."
The second chip was more of the same, with emphasis on diagrams. At last, Brown shut off the display and returned the chip to its protective case. Methodically, he replaced the contents in the satchel, closed and locked it. He glanced at his silent assistant. "You recorded all that?"
The man nodded.
"Make sure Ms. Lyons and Superman both have statements to sign later."
Again the man nodded. Brown stood up. "You realize that you'll need to change rooms."
"Yes," Lori said. "May I bring along my clothes, and Clark's?"
"As soon as we check them over, certainly," Brown said. "We'll also be interviewing the persons you named and others who might have seen something. In the meantime, gather up what you and your husband need for tonight. I'll have the hotel move you to another room."
During the ensuing transfer, Clark and Detective Brown disappeared together and Lori found herself settled in another room with a change of clothing for herself and Clark, as well as their night gear. After the police had finally departed, she sank down on the foot of the king-sized bed and drew a deep breath.
The case had suddenly gotten a lot more complicated. Who would have wanted Talbot Grey dead? What could possibly be behind it?
The shock of what had happened was beginning to wear off and Lori found herself beginning to think analytically once more. Assuming that Grey was indeed the man who had planned the theft from Genie Electronics, what if there had been two accomplices instead of one? That hadn't occurred to her before but now she began to seriously consider the possibility.
What if there *were* a second confederate, and what if this other person was the real murderer? Or, alternately, suppose he hadn't killed Johnson, but he had realized why Johnson had been killed and figured that he could very well be next?
But who could this mystery person be? Who else could have had any connection with Talbot Grey and Edgar Johnson? And why? In an enterprise like this, the fewer persons involved, the better. Unless they needed someone with some kind of special skills or access. Maybe that had been Johnson's actual role -- recruiting someone that Tal needed to accomplish his goal. She had been wondering how someone could have gotten access to Marilyn's security information. Maybe that was how. What if the other person was involved in company security?
Abruptly, she began to wonder where Jason Decker had been in the last twenty-four hours or so. If she had thought much about it, she would have assumed that he was trying to locate the missing bag, just like she and Clark were -- but he might not have had the same clues that they had, unless his skills at computer hacking were considerably above the average citizen's. But what if he had figured that Tal had it?
There were plenty of gaps in the reasoning, she knew. But whoever the person in her room had been, he knew that she had seen him. Her light had flashed across his face for an instant before he had fled, and it was unlikely that he would be willing to risk the possibility that her glimpse had been too brief for her to identify him. If he had committed one murder, what was to stop him from committing two?
"I'll have to check Ms. Lyons' statements about the places she was before this," Brown said.
Clark nodded. "I think you'll find that they completely check out," he said. "I've known her for several years, and I can vouch for her character."
Brown nodded. "I'm sure you're right, but I have to do it for form's sake. Do you know anything about this case that she and Kent are investigating?"
Clark hesitated. "A little," he said. "The Managing Editor of the Metropolis branch of the Planet is an acquaintance of mine. I'd suggest you contact him, if you want to know more about it. At best, anything I could tell you would be second hand."
"I'll do that. His name is Olsen?"
"John Olsen," Clark said.
Brown noted it on his recorder. "You didn't say how you happened to be so conveniently here when the meteor decided to strike," he said.
"I believe it was on the news," Clark said. "I told the Lock Monitor that I'd come to visit my cousin, Eclipse. It was a lucky coincidence, as it turned out. He and I were able to accomplish a lot more together than he'd have been able to alone."
The detective nodded. "Well, if you find out any more about this business, I'll expect you to bring it to my attention."
"Naturally," Clark said. "I do have one question."
"Ms. Lyons' safety. She got a look at the killer's face -- assuming that the man in her hotel room was the man who murdered Grey -- and he undoubtedly knows it. She said her light flashed across his face. Do you think he's going to be willing to take the chance that she might not be able to identify him? A man capable of one murder is certainly capable of another."
Brown nodded, frowning. "I hadn't thought of that, but you're right, of course. Someone willing to commit a murder that brutal isn't going to take chances. We don't have much of a crime rate here in Luna City." He sighed faintly. "I should probably make a point of working at a police department on Earth, just to learn a little more about the nastier side of human nature. What would you recommend, Superman? I don't really have the manpower to assign her an around-the-clock guard. Shall I take her into protective custody?"
Clark couldn't restrain a faint grin. "I think Ms. Lyons would be very unhappy if you did," he said. "And when Ms. Lyons is unhappy, so is everyone around her. My advice would be to let Kent handle it. He's perfectly capable of protecting her."
Brown surveyed him thoughtfully. "You're willing to swear to his alibi?"
"Yes, I am. He was present at Shepherd Square when Eclipse and I were there, and he was present when Ms. Lyons called me. He'd been there for at least fifteen minutes before she called and, when I arrived at the Luna Hilton, Grey hadn't been dead over ten minutes. And Ms. Lyons didn't have any blood on her anywhere. I examined her minutely, in case she had been injured. No one could have committed that murder and not have a few traces on his person."
"I realize that," Brown said. "I don't suspect her of the murder, I assure you. I don't think she'd be physically capable of such a thing, anyway. All right, tell Kent he's responsible for her safety. I don't want another murder to have to explain to my superiors."
Clark didn't feel it necessary to inform the detective that his wife was a good deal more physically capable than he might think, but he said, "I'm sure he's on his way back by now. Ms. Lyons has probably called him, but I'll make certain he knows."
"Do that," Brown said. He extended a hand. "Thanks for your help. Since all this had to happen, I'm glad you were on hand to help out."
"No problem," Clark said, shaking the detective's hand. "I'm not leaving for a few days, so I'll be around if you need me."
The detective nodded and turned to approach the front desk. Clark headed for the stairwell, aware that the eyes of every person presently in the hotel lobby were on him. As he opened the door, he heard Brown asking the desk clerk for the number of Stephanie Brooke's room. He stepped through the door, whisked to the surface, making the change to Clark Kent as he did so, and stepped onto the elevator platform. "Fifth," he said.
The platform began to drop. It passed the lobby and Clark saw that Brown had finished his conversation with the desk clerk and was approaching the bank of elevator platforms. The man opened his mouth to speak but the platform was still dropping and whatever the detective might have said was lost. He lifted his wrist talker to his lips. "Lori?"
"I'm still in the new room," Lori said.
"I hope the door's locked," Clark said.
"Good. Keep it that way until I get there."
"I will," Lori said. "Not that locks seem to matter a whole lot around here."
"Well, if anyone tries to open the door, scream," Clark advised her. "I'll be there in a minute."
But that prophecy wasn't to be fulfilled as quickly as he might have wished, for as he stepped off the platform and turned down the hallway toward their new room, a familiar blond figure detached itself from a doorway, three doors down, and glided toward him.
"Clark," Stephanie said, "don't go down there. Your wife is insane. She killed Talbot Grey. He's dead. She murdered him in your hotel room. The police just called me. There's some detective coming to see me to ask me some questions. I think Lori must have told him I was with him."
"You *were* with him," Clark said, not bothering to hide his irritation. "You were both on the Rainbow Caverns tour at the same time we were."
"But that was nearly two hours before," Stephanie protested. "I couldn't kill anyone!"
"Neither could Lori," Clark said shortly.
"Clarkie, you don't have to defend her," Stephanie purred. "I know you're loyal, but now you have me. You don't need her anymore. As soon as I talk to this Detective Brown, you and I could make some plans for a way to spend time together after the convention."
"Leave me alone," Clark said. "You haven't any idea what's going on." He started down the hallway, but he paused after two steps and turned. "There's a killer in this hotel. You were with Grey, and he turned up dead a couple of hours later. Don't go off alone with anyone. We have no idea who he is, and he might think you do. Don't take chances."
"If you'd come back with me to my room, I wouldn't have to worry," Stephanie said, invitingly. "I could make it worth your while."
Clark didn't answer. He merely turned and strode determinedly down the hallway toward room 532.
Lori was sitting on the bed, her palm computer on and linked via a privacy cable to her laptop, which was also on. "What took so long?"
"Superman had to convince Detective Brown that it wasn't a good idea to put you in protective custody," Clark said.
Lori looked horrified. "He won't, will he?"
"No. I've been assigned as your bodyguard."
She let out her breath. "That's a relief. I guess it occurred to Detective Brown that the guy in the room might think I saw his face, huh?"
"You *did* see it, even if it was just for a split second," Clark said. "If he was the killer, then he's not going to feel safe as long as you're alive to identify him."
"I figured that out," Lori said. "The trouble is, I didn't see him long enough to be sure of anything."
"I know," Clark said. "He may be banking on the fact that the light across his face was quick and you might not have gotten a good look -- but he's going to be afraid that you'll be able to identify him if you see him."
"I know," she said again. "Is Jason Decker still in the hotel?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"I was wondering," Lori said. "What if Tal had two accomplices instead of one? Decker works for Genie Electronics. What if he was mixed up in it, too?"
"Let's say the idea doesn't seem as far-fetched as it might have a couple of hours ago," Clark said, a little grimly. "Do you want to elaborate on it a little?"
"I thought of it after you and Detective Brown left," Lori said. "What if Tal knew Edgar Johnson from the time he spent in Fostonia? Johnson wasn't really in a good position to get hold of Marilyn's security data, so maybe he and Tal recruited Decker? He might have had a way to access the security records and get hold of it."
"You think he killed Johnson?"
"I don't know," Lori said. "Maybe, but he might have just realized that if Tal would kill Johnson, then he -- Decker, I mean -- was in danger, too. What if they went into our room to search it and got into some kind of disagreement? Maybe each suspected the other of having the missing information."
"I guess that's possible. Especially since they didn't find it in our room."
"True," Lori said. "Suppose the fight turned violent -- maybe each accused the other of knowing more than he was admitting, and in the fight Decker killed Tal."
"That's possible. Besides, by now, he knows we're investigating Johnson's murder. It's easy to act normal as long as no one is suspicious. If he and Tal were in this together, maybe whoever killed Johnson decided that it would confuse things if his partner turned up in our room, dead. Only, you showed up before Mr. X managed to get away."
Lori frowned, obviously thinking over the scenario. "So, if Tal decided to kill Decker -- or Mr. X; I suppose we should call him Mr. X, since we're not sure -- Mr. X turned the tables. Or maybe Mr. X decided to kill Tal and succeeded. I guess it doesn't really matter which, right now. He's going to be desperate to cover it up before I remember who I saw. Maybe we can use that to trap him."
Clark barely stopped himself from objecting loudly. Lori might not be Lois, but sometimes the part of her that was Lois showed up strongly. "Let's leave that as a last resort, shall we? I'm really not anxious for you to put yourself in danger."
"Neither am I," she said mildly. "The fact is, though, that whoever Mr. X is, he's probably going to want to dispose of me -- no matter what we want. We might as well take advantage of it."
*Not if I have anything to say about it!* He didn't speak the words aloud, but he spoke them forcefully in his head. But saying them to Lori might make her think that he didn't trust her, although he actually did -- but no matter how competent she was at defending herself, if whoever had murdered Talbot Grey used a stunner on her first, she wouldn't have a chance. If Mr. X used one on him, their killer would discover very quickly that he had made a big mistake. Superman's identity might be forfeit, but to Clark that was of secondary concern. Some time in this century the real story of Superman's identity was going to come out, according to HG Wells. Presumably it would happen when Utopia arrived, but what that meant he wasn't sure. A world where everyone behaved like sheep wasn't a world he would like to live in and a world where the powers-that-were controlled everyone wasn't, either. A world of no crime, and no violence wasn't really possible in practice, since it would require everyone to behave and, given the general cussedness of humankind in general, somebody was bound to try to take advantage of others. He suspected that what HG Wells thought of as Utopia was either a time of very short duration, or the result of a misconception on the part of the nineteenth century time traveler. Humanity just wasn't wired for a perfect Utopia. But in any case, Tempus had known his identity and so had others, if what Wells had told him was accurate, so the secret had, or would, come out and, when it happened, he and his family would just have to learn to live with it.
He just hoped that the time hadn't arrived yet.
Lori was watching him and he could swear that she was practically reading his thoughts as they flashed through his mind. She knew him pretty well, after all, he admitted rather ruefully to himself, and could unerringly predict his behavior.
"I know exactly what you're thinking," she said. "And I'm not planning anything stupid, but you have to admit I'm right. Whoever Mr. X is, he's going to try to eliminate me as a threat before I can identify him -- and as quickly as he can."
"Maybe he'll run," Clark said feebly. "He can't know you didn't already identify him."
"If he's Jason Decker," Lori said, "he might make himself hard to find until he's sure I didn't. If he isn't Decker, he's going to try to catch me by surprise. Either way, he isn't going to leave me alone. If I'm eliminated as a witness, I *can't* identify him positively."
Clark didn't even want to think of the possibility. "Zeb is going to have to cope with the rest of the situation himself," he said. "You've acquired your own personal bodyguard until this is solved. I've already told him, and he agrees."
"You know," Lori said, sounding patient, "I'm not made out of glass."
"I know," Clark said. "But you're not invulnerable, either. If I had a way to give you my invulnerability, I'd give it to you, but I can't -- not safely, anyway."
Lori looked puzzled for an instant and then enlightenment dawned. "Oh -- the lightning power-transfer thing," she said. "I wouldn't mind having the powers but it's the getting-struck-by-lightning that sort of puts me off. I don't think even Superman can easily control that sort of thing."
"I know darned well I can't!" Clark said. "And I'm not about to risk your life like that. We're just going to have to go about this the old-fashioned way."
"So, what do we do now?" Lori asked.
"Well, I happened to overhear the convention organizers talking, while I was on my way down here," Clark said. "They've extended the convention by one day and rescheduled the presentations for tomorrow morning. I guess we'll attend them, and in the meantime, I'll take a look around to see if I can locate Decker. If," he added, "you'll keep the door locked while I'm gone."
"I have a better idea," Lori said. "Nobody's going to try to kill me while I'm in public. Let's go down and get something to eat. I'm starving. While we're there, you can take a quick trip to the restroom or something and scan the hotel, for starters. It won't hurt to check first to see if Decker is still here. One thing is sure -- he hasn't left the Moon."
"How do you know?"
She waved at her computer. "I've been checking the departing travelers since yesterday. He hasn't been on any of the flights. He's still here -- somewhere."
The hotel's formal dining room was filled with people when they arrived. Many of their colleagues from the convention were present, and several faces turned as Clark and Lori entered the room. Moments after they were seated, Pete Swanson pulled out a chair at the table and plopped into the seat. "Well, I see Lori hasn't been arrested for murder," he said.
Lori appeared startled. "Why would I be arrested for murder?"
"Stephanie Brooke has been telling everyone that you killed Talbot Grey in your hotel room, though why he was in your hotel room I can't figure out," he said.
"Stephanie and I are going to have to have a heart to heart talk," Lori said grimly. "I walked into our hotel room, and somebody rushed at me out of the dark -- knocked me down. By the time I got up, he was gone. I looked into the bathroom to see why he'd been there, and Tal was in the tub, with his throat cut. I didn't have anything to do with it. The police know it, too. If anything, she needs to worry a little. She was with Tal a couple of hours ago at the Rainbow Caverns tour."
"Funny thing," Pete said dryly. "She didn't mention that part."
"I'll bet," Lori said.
Pete looked sideways at Clark. "I heard about the thing this morning," he said.
"What thing?" Clark asked.
"Steph walked up to you and presented you with a pair of black shorts," Pete said. "Several people saw it. I have to admit, that kinda surprised me."
"It surprised us, too," Lori said. She opened her bag, removed the shorts and held them up. "Here they are. I never got around to putting them back in Clark's dresser. Why don't you hand them around for Exhibit A to whoever's gossiping? Stephanie broke into our hotel room last night and stole them to try to convince me that Clark is cheating on me. Only since I walked in on her while she was there, it didn't impress me a whole lot."
Pete didn't take the shorts. He examined them thoughtfully. "She's up to that again, huh?"
"You mean the stalking?" Lori said. "Yeah, she's stalking Clark. And the next time she tries anything, she's going to get a right hook from me. I'm getting pretty fed up with her games." She stuffed the shorts back into her bag. "How did you know about it?"
"I was the one she stalked the last time," Pete said. "I thought she'd gotten mandatory counseling."
"She did. It apparently didn't take."
"I guess not. How did you know about it? The records were sealed."
Clark snorted. "Lori has her ways," he said. "I suspect Stephanie's bitten off more than she can chew this time. She just hasn't realized it yet. If it keeps up after we're back in Metropolis, though, I'm going to take out a restraining order."
"It won't help," Pete said. "I had to bring charges. Anyhow, if anybody brings up anything about either subject, you can rely on me to quash any gossip."
"Thanks," Clark said. "I'm not particularly worried, though. What she's implying isn't true and what she's doing is going to backfire. I guarantee it." He glanced around the room, aware that a number of persons were watching their table and several had their heads tilted toward the conversation. He shook his head. "Care to eat with us?"
"Don't mind if I do," Pete said.
"Great. You won't mind entertaining Lori while I wash my hands."
"No problem," Pete said. "I've wanted to get better acquainted with her since we met." He winked at Lori. "I made a point of looking you up the other day. I knew you had a terrific reputation, but I hadn't realized how fast you'd racked it up."
"Why don't you tell him about it until I get back," Clark said. He got to his feet and strolled toward the restroom.
When Clark returned to the table ten minutes later, Lori looked questioningly at him, but he shook his head slightly. She turned back to Pete, wondering if the shake of the head meant that he hadn't found Decker yet, or that he didn't want to talk about it in front of Pete.
The New Zealander was grinning slightly. "So that's what really happened," he said.
"Which time?" Clark inquired.
"I was telling him about the arms conversion operation," Lori said. "The one just before we got married."
"Yeah," Pete said. "I paid attention to your stories after the Alta Mesa thing, but you never put in the juicy details. You should."
"Then the story would be about us rather than the important stuff," Clark said mildly. "It didn't really matter that we got our first lead because somebody tried to mug Lori and she cleaned his clock with a spray bottle of canned air. That's where we found the first converted stunner, and it went from there." He withdrew his own palm computer from a pocket, made a short note on the screen and passed it to Lori. "Here's that information I intended to give you earlier."
Lori took the little device and glanced at the note. "Can't find Decker. Possessions still in room," it said. "Thanks." She handed it back and he tucked it into the hip pocket.
"Anyway," Clark said, continuing the earlier conversation, "we spent the next couple of weeks on stakeouts until we got the name of a fairly prominent citizen that turned out not to be quite as clean as his reputation said, Lori hacked into the guy's computer, and we were able to alert the police to a major shipment that was waiting in a warehouse near the docks. You saw the rest in the Planet."
Pete broke out laughing. "I love it! Have the two of you ever considered writing a book about some of this stuff? You'd make a fortune."
"When do we have time to write books?" Clark inquired. "Between reporting and raising a daughter, we're lucky to have time to breathe."
Pete grinned. "You'd find the time," he said. "I think you owe it to the rest of your colleagues to do it. It might give a few of us some tips so we have a chance to win the Kerths occasionally. Didn't you win a second Kerth last year?"
"On the Tahitian drug cartel," Lori said. "What I'd like to know is why they always decide to set up shop in Metropolis. I mean, this batch was based in Tahiti of all places. We got a hint about it on our vacation, but it didn't go anywhere at first -- and the next thing you know they start up a branch in Metropolis. If they hadn't, they'd probably still be in business."
"Probably a death wish," Pete said. "Not only does the place have six super heroes operating there, it's also got Kent and Lyons. They could probably have made a better choice."
A liveried waiter had appeared at the table. Apparently the restaurant kept track of things, and the man had been waiting until Clark returned. "May I take your orders?" he inquired.
"Sure," Pete said. "I'm going to have the Chicken Fettuccine, with all the trimmings. Minestrone soup, and I'll have a house salad as well. And we'll have a bottle of your house red wine. I'm buying that," he added to Clark and Lori. "I figure you've had a rough day."
"That's for sure," Lori said. "Even we don't find bodies in our bathtub every day."
When they finished eating, Clark and Lori left the table, Pete in tow.
"There's going to be a little get-together in the bar," he said. "It would probably be a good idea for you guys to attend for a little bit -- just to let the others know that Steph is full of it, again. She practically had Lori arrested and frog-marched off to the local hoosegow when I talked to her."
Clark made a face and looked at his wife. "What do you think, honey?"
"I guess we should," Lori said with equal reluctance. "But if Stephanie gets within arm's reach, I won't be responsible for the consequences."
Pete grinned. "I think I'd bet on Lori, if it comes to that," he remarked, raising an eyebrow at Clark. "Don't worry. Steph hasn't managed to spend ten years in the business without racking up a bit of a reputation."
"He means," Clark said, "that people know her tendency to exaggerate. Before she joined the investigative journalism community, she was a gossip columnist."
"I prefer Andrea," Lori said. "She has better ethics -- and I think she'd be ashamed of Stephanie. All right, we'll mingle for a while. But you'd better keep her away from me, or they really will have to arrest me for murder."
Pete snorted again but didn't say anything. They made their way to the bar.
Several of their colleagues were already there, and a couple of heads turned toward them as they entered. Clark glanced casually around. "I don't see her anywhere," he remarked. "Maybe she won't show up."
"I wouldn't count on it," Lori said.
Clark glanced at her with a slight frown. "If you don't want to --"
"No," she said. "I'm darned if I'll let her scare me off of anything. But you might have to get me a lawyer if I tear her limb from limb, the way I want to." She pasted a smile on her lips. "Here comes Joanna."
Joanna Prescott appeared at Clark's elbow. She raised her eyebrows at Lori. "I see Stephanie is having illusions again," she said dryly.
Clark glanced at her in mild surprise. "Illusions?"
"She's telling anyone who will listen that Lori killed Tal," she said.
Lori made a faint growling noise in her throat. Clark smothered the distinct sensation of irritation, keeping his expression noncommittal. "Lori found Tal," he said. "He was already dead."
"I figured she was indulging in wishful thinking," Joanna said. "I'd watch out for her, though."
"She been dropping hints about you and her," Joanna said.
"I wouldn't call that thing with the shorts this morning a hint," Lori said.
Joanna laughed. "I saw it," she said. "Subtlety isn't exactly her specialty." She looked back at Lori. "I don't need to tell you not to trust her an inch, do I?"
"No," Lori said.
"Good. Then we'll leave it at that," Joanna said. "What exactly *did* happen?"
Lori summed up the incident in a few sentences but gave no other details. Joanna shivered. "So there really is a killer in the hotel," she said. "Do you have any idea *why* he was killed?"
"Let's say we have a strong suspicion," Clark said.
"I imagine so," Joanna said. "After you two found that man murdered out on the Moon's surface, I looked up some information. Murder is pretty rare on the Moon." She was watching both of them. Neither Lori nor Clark commented.
"Is there a connection?" Joanna asked.
"Maybe," Lori said finally. "The police asked us not to discuss it."
Joanna made a slight face. "I'd say there is," she said. "It's too much of a coincidence, otherwise."
Lori stiffened slightly. Clark looked at Joanna, who, like Lori, was facing the door. "Stephanie?"
"She just walked in." Joanna said. She smiled at Lori. "It looks like she's coming this way. Don't let her upset you, honey. She isn't worth it."
Lori moved closer to Clark, and he saw her raise her chin. He slipped an arm around her. Her shoulders were tense, but only he knew that. Maybe, he thought, they shouldn't have stayed. Lori was ready for battle, and it made him profoundly nervous.
"Hello, Clarkie," Stephanie said.
"Hello, Stephanie," Clark said. He squeezed Lori's arm.
"Are you ready?" Stephanie asked.
"Ready for what?"
Stephanie looked at his arm around Lori's shoulders and pouted prettily. "I thought a walk would be nice. You won't mind, will you, Lori? Clark and I have things to discuss."
"No, we don't," Clark said. "You and I have already said everything we need to say."
"But haven't you told her?" Stephanie said. She glanced significantly at the position of his arm and her eyes narrowed slightly, although she continued to smile.
"Told me what?" Lori asked.
"That he's leaving you. He's going back to Earth with me."
"I'm doing nothing of the sort," Clark said.
Stephanie's smile grew wider. "It's just like you to try to shield her," she said, "but she's going to be arrested anyway. You don't need that, Clarkie."
Lori shook off Clark's arm and took a step forward. "You're delusional. Get away from us, now."
Stephanie's smile wobbled. "You really haven't told her?" she said. She turned to Lori. "Tal was in your room, dead. That should be enough evidence for anyone. Why aren't you under arrest?"
"Because I didn't kill him," Lori snapped. "Just why are you so sure I did?"
Stephanie's smile turned sly. "But you could have," she said.
"Well, I didn't," Lori said. "And the police know it."
"Leave me alone," Clark said firmly. "Leave *us* alone. I'm not leaving my family for you. I'm not going to have a one-night stand with you, either. I told you the first night we were here: I'm in a monogamous relationship for life. Nothing you can do or say is going to change that. I don't play around on my wife, no matter what and that's final." He met her eyes directly. "You need help, Stephanie, and I hope you get it, soon, before your delusions get worse."
Stephanie's expression went instantaneously from smiling to anger. "After all I've done for you! You'll pay for this, Clark Kent. Your whole family is going to pay. Nobody takes advantage of me like you have and walks away." She whipped around and stalked toward the exit.
Clark watched her go, vaguely disturbed by what she had said.
"That sounded like a threat," Joanna said.
"It certainly did," Pete said. He had been a silent witness to the whole scene. Abruptly, Clark became aware of the silence around them. There were at least fifteen of their colleagues present, and all of them had witnessed the confrontation.
"Are you sure," Joanna said, after the silence had stretched for several seconds, "that Stephanie couldn't have killed Tal?"
"Why would she kill him?" Lori asked.
"Maybe she wanted to frame you," Pete suggested. "She sure seems fixated on Clark. When she was stalking me, it got so I was kinda worried about my safety. That was why I took out the restraining order."
The conversation in the room swelled suddenly, and Clark heard Stephanie's name repeated a number of times in different parts of the room. More of their colleagues were drifting in, and it was inevitable that the story was going to get around. Oh well; maybe that was just as well. If Stephanie hadn't established herself as at least a little unbalanced in the eyes of her colleagues, it wasn't for lack of trying.
Joanna said as much a second later. "I think she's completely lost it," she said frankly. She smiled at Lori. "Just in case you have any doubts, Clark here had the reputation as impossible for a woman to seduce, and from what I hear it wasn't because women weren't interested. I doubt he's changed any, either." Clark could feel his face growing warm and knew that he was flushing. Joanna had always been frank, but that was a lot less embarrassing than Stephanie's behavior.
"I'm not worried," Lori said, and the smile she gave Clark told him that even the tiny worry that he had been entertaining in the back of his mind was unnecessary. "Stephanie needs help. I hope she gets it."
Pete grinned and abruptly changed the subject. "Well," he said, "now that that's over, can I buy everyone a round of drinks?"
They left the bar an hour later. Neither Joanna nor Pete brought up the incident with Stephanie again, although Clark had heard several conversations involving other witnesses to the little showdown, and he was aware that the story was spreading rapidly.
"I'm beat," he told Lori, as they made their way toward the elevator platform. "This has been a busy day."
"Have I ever told you how good you are at understatements?" Lori said. "I hope you're not *too* tired. Our plans sort of got disrupted last night."
"I'm never too tired for that," Clark said. He took her hand and lifted it to his lips. "I was afraid maybe you were."
She shook her head. "Nope. That's one of the things I was looking forward to at this convention," she said. "Why the heck does trouble come looking for us so often? Don't we do enough to hunt it down on our own?"
"Apparently not," Clark said. "I think it's part of our karma. Lois used to jump in all the time without checking the water level, but I think trouble would have found her anyway, without her help. It was just something that happened to her."
"I remember, Inspector Henderson said something about being terrified of two Lois Lanes running around Metropolis," Lori said thoughtfully. "Maybe that's what he meant."
"Probably," Clark said. "Henderson and Lois had an interesting relationship. They respected each other a lot, but neither one of them ever admitted it. It was kind of a game with them."
Lori nodded. "Yeah, I could tell," she admitted. "You know, I'm glad I got to meet him. You've mentioned him once in a while. He sounds like he was a good cop."
"He was. They don't come any better than Henderson."
The platform came to a stop in front of them and they boarded. "Fifth," Clark said.
The platform slid into motion. Clark put an arm around her again. "As I said in the note I gave you, Decker isn't in the hotel as far as I could see, but his stuff is still in his room -- which means exactly nothing."
"I guess not," Lori said. "He may just be investigating things on his own. Maybe he's contacted Brown about Johnson's murder by now. Just because Brown didn't say anything to us doesn't mean he hasn't." She hesitated. "Do you suppose it's possible that *Stephanie* killed Tal, and that Decker just found him in our room? I mean, it seems sort of unlikely to me. Do you think she'd go that far to try to get rid of a rival?"
"I don't know," Clark said. "I don't know her well enough to say what she'd do. I don't think she's completely in touch with reality, but that's a far cry from murder. And somebody did kill Johnson. I don't think that was Stephanie."
"Neither do I," Lori said.
The platform slid to a stop on the fifth level and they stepped into the hallway. The carpet was soft beneath their feet, and Clark was aware for the first time that it deadened the sound of their footsteps so that it took his super-hearing to detect them. Here and there on the floor he could hear the heartbeats of hotel patrons, but otherwise the area was quiet.
He put his arm around Lori again. Whatever they might speculate about the earlier events in their hotel room, the fact remained that his wife was quite possibly in danger from whoever had been in their room, and he had no intention of allowing anyone the opportunity to silence her as a witness. Together, they started in the direction of their room.
Someone was waiting at the intersection of the hallway with the one that crossed it at the end. A quick glance with his x-ray vision told him that Stephanie was standing there, just around the corner. Her face was tear-streaked and her nose was red and running, and she clutched a dressing gown tightly around her body.
Lori apparently read his expression, for she stopped. "What is it?"
"Stephanie is waiting ahead."
Clark heard her grind her teeth. "What does it take to get through to her?"
"I don't think anything is going to at this point," Clark said. "I guess we'll just have to face her down again."
Behind them, there was the sound of an elevator platform arriving.
"Yeah; I guess so," Lori said. "Let's go."
Clark pulled her back. "Just in case, walk a little behind me," he said. "If she decides to go after you, I want to be in the way."
Lori frowned but did as he asked. They continued on toward the intersection. Behind them, low-voiced conversation told Clark that the passengers of the elevator platform were also headed in the same direction. He hoped that Stephanie wouldn't cause another scene. That was the last thing he needed right now.
As they rounded the corner, Stephanie stepped forward to confront them. She still clutched the dressing gown around herself. "You betrayed me," she began accusingly. "I offered you everything, and you turned me down. Nobody does that."
The voices behind him stopped abruptly, and Clark knew without looking that the people behind them had caught up. "Stephanie, calm down," he began.
She smiled at him oddly, especially considering the tears rolling down her face. "I offered you my love," she said dramatically, "You rejected me for another. If I can't have you, *no* one will!" Without warning, she pulled her hand from beneath her dressing gown and lunged at him, the steak knife she held swinging directly for his chest.
For the bare fraction of an instant, shock held him motionless. The knife had been concealed by the dressing gown, he realized belatedly. Behind him, Clark heard a chorus of screams as the blade came straight at his chest. For another split instant he hesitated, torn between the desire to catch her hand and the ingrained reluctance to reveal his superhuman speed to witnesses. The knife contacted his invulnerable chest and stopped dead. Stephanie's hand, still in forward motion and with nothing to stop it, slid forward onto the blade, and blood spurted. Stephanie screamed.
The knife fell to the carpet. Lori lunged forward and caught Stephanie's hand, clamping down on the other woman's wrist with all her strength. Clark whipped the handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped it around the wound. "Call Security!" he barked at the appalled spectators, while he lowered the shrieking woman to the floor.
The next few minutes were complete chaos, but Security arrived quickly. One man bent to slip a pair of handcuffs onto Stephanie's wrists, confining them in front of her. Another took over the task of applying pressure to her hand and the third man bent to lift the hysterical woman lightly from the carpet -- an easy job in the one-sixth gravity of Luna. He glanced quickly at Clark and the bloodied tear on his dinner jacket. "Are *you* all right, Mr. Kent?"
"Yeah," Clark said. He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and withdrew his palm computer. "The knife hit this." He saw Lori give him an odd glance, and then a little smile.
The Security man shook his head. "We'll need everyone to come down to the Security office," he said. He glanced respectfully at the slim little computer. "Some of us were born under a lucky star."
"That's for sure," Lori said.
"I didn't think I'd be seeing you again this soon," Detective Brown said. He eyed Lori sardonically and then turned to Clark. "You're Kent?" It wasn't really a question.
The detective looked him over thoughtfully and Clark suppressed the impulse to squirm uncomfortably.
"You know," Brown said finally, "I may get called out on a case once or twice in a week. Most of them involve things like somebody's Moon bike got borrowed without permission. Once in a while we actually have something like a break-in. Do you know, there are three detectives on the entire Luna City police force, and we double for an Earth police department's Homicide Division? I've been a detective for nearly ten years and there hasn't been a murder since one of the inmates from the Lunar mines beat another inmate to death with a rock -- and the who, what, where, when, why and how weren't in doubt for that one. But you two show up here and within a couple of days we have two murders and an attempted one. I'm guessing that you aren't popular with the police force in your city."
"Actually," Lori said, "we're on pretty good terms with our local police department."
Brown's sardonic expression deepened. "I wonder why. Well, want to tell me what happened this time?" He glanced at Clark's torn and bloodied dinner jacket. "Do you need any medical attention, Kent?"
"No." Clark removed the palm computer from his breast pocket once more. Brown examined the scratch that Clark had put on the front of the little machine with one fingernail, back in the hotel hallway, when he had transferred it surreptitiously from his hip pocket to his breast pocket in order to explain his lack of injuries to the hotel's Security men.
"You were pretty lucky," Brown said. "You could have been killed." He returned the computer. "Go ahead."
Clark gave a brief description of the events leading up to Stephanie's attack on him and the detective listened, frowning. "Any reason for her to have expected you to leave your wife for her?" he inquired, in a mildly curious tone of voice when Clark finished.
"None," Clark said firmly. "If you'll contact Peter Swanson of the Queenstown Courier, you'll discover that Ms. Brooke has a prior history of stalking men. At least she didn't try to kill him."
"I'll do that. It might not be a bad idea for you to get a court's restraining order against her."
"The last time I looked," Lori said ironically, "court orders don't do well deflecting knives. She tried to kill Clark!"
"It's all right, honey." Clark put a hand over hers. "I'm not hurt."
"No thanks to Stephanie," Lori said. "If somebody doesn't bring attempted murder charges or *something* against her, we're going to sue for assault with intent to commit grievous bodily harm, and every other possible charge our lawyer can find to tack on to that. It's not her fault that she didn't kill you! The next time she loses her mind and goes after some unlucky guy it might not turn out as well!"
Clark wasn't sure but he thought Brown was trying to hide a grin. The man's deadpan voice was just the slightest bit unsteady when he spoke again. "I'm sure the Luna City DA will take this case seriously, Ms. Lyons. I'll have to speak with the other witnesses, of course, but I doubt there will be any more trouble over this." He glanced at Clark. "In case you're worried, Ms. Brooke is being held in the psychiatric wing at the Sally Ride Memorial Hospital for the moment. I've got a statement for you to sign and then you and Ms. Lyons can go."
"Thank you," Clark said.
Clark triggered the door of the hotel room that he and Lori shared and stood back to let her enter first. Lori hesitated. "I guess you checked first, right?"
He nodded. "There's no one inside."
"Good." Lori preceded him into the room, turned and wrapped her arms around him almost before the door closed.
"Are you all right, honey?" Clark pulled her close, somewhat surprised at her reaction. True, Lori had her weak points, as everyone did, but somehow he hadn't expected her to be particularly upset at Stephanie's sudden breakdown.
Then he became aware that her hand was tugging at the seal of his slacks. "Of course I'm all right," she said. "But I figured that I'd better drag you into bed right now before the little green men from the outer moons of New Krypton land or something and we get interrupted again!"
"Oh." He discovered that he was grinning. Even after three years of marriage, his wife could still take him completely by surprise. "Well, in that case --" he pulled off his bloodstained dinner jacket. "I guess I'm going to have to replace this."
"The Planet can reimburse us," Lori said, kicking the jacket aside. "They got a story out of it, didn't they?" She tugged his shirt free of his slacks and unsealed the front while Clark was busily opening up the back of her dinner dress. As he was pulling off the shirt and stepping out of his shoes, the room's vidphone chimed.
"Great," Lori muttered. "Screen block on. Yes?"
"Clark? Lori?" John Olsen's voice said.
"We're here," Clark said. "Things have progressed since we talked last."
"Yeah. The company rep just called us. They've taken Marilyn off suspension. What happened?"
"They didn't tell you?" Clark asked. He almost jumped as Lori's fingers slipped into the waistband of his shorts.
"No. They said that the Luna City Police have the stolen information and that circumstances indicate that Marilyn couldn't have had anything to do with it."
"Not unless she took a shuttle to the Moon, murdered Johnson and got back, all without getting caught," Lori said.
"The Luna City Police didn't get hold of you?"
"No," John's voice said. "Are they supposed to?"
"Well, Superman gave them your name," Lori said, "but I guess they decided to contact Genie instead. Edgar Johnson was murdered yesterday. Clark, Zeb and I found his body."
"Who killed him?"
"We don't know for sure," Lori said. "We have some suspicions but no proof -- yet anyway -- and I found the stolen stuff. It was in Johnson's bag, which he'd ditched at Heinlein's Cave."
"And he was murdered?"
"Yeah. And there was another murder this afternoon, which is probably connected. Talbot Grey wound up dead in our bathtub. We'll give you all the details tomorrow," Lori added. "It's nearly midnight here, and we just spent the last two hours with the cops for the second time today."
"Because of this business?" John asked, sounding slightly stunned.
"We aren't sure," Clark said. "Stephanie Brooke -- from the Times -- tried to stab me."
"We sent the story to Kyle," Clark said. "It's complicated." Kyle Edmond was the Planet's night editor.
"I'm beginning to realize that," John's voice said after a brief pause. "You're all right, aren't you, Lori?"
"Yeah. I was walking behind Clark."
"Oh," John's voice said. "But why did she try to stab Clark?"
"We'll go into that when we figure things out," Lori said. "Like Clark said; it's complicated."
"One thing," Clark said suddenly. "Can you find out for us if Jason Decker has checked in with his bosses? That's the name of the investigator they sent."
"I'll see what I can do," John said. "They're closed right now, but I can call them in the morning. Why do you need to know?"
"Just a theory we're working on," Lori said. She stepped out of her evening gown and stood up in her nearly transparent undies. Clark's lips pursed in a silent whistle. "By the way; they've extended the convention for another day because of the meteor strike, so we'll be back a day later than we planned, too. Now, Clark and I have some long-delayed business before we go to sleep, so we'd better say good night."
"Oh," John said. There was the impression of a smile in his voice. "All right. Good night, then."
"Good night," Clark said. He spoke to the vidscreen. "Close. Now," he added to Lori, who struck a pose before him in her filmy lingerie, "about that unfinished business --"
The hotel café was about half full with Lori and Clark arrived for breakfast the next morning. Quite a few of the diners were members of their convention, and Clark heard a number of interesting conversations come to an abrupt stop when they made their appearance. Vane Williams was seated at a table near the door, along with Pete Swanson, two other male journalists that Lori didn't know and a woman that Lori recognized as "Mona", the woman who had been walking with Stephanie when they had encountered her on the first day of the convention. Vane got to his feet so quickly that his chair skidded backward several feet, courtesy of the light Lunar gravity. "Clark! Man, I just heard! Are you all right?"
"Fine," Clark said. "Why?"
"It's all over the hotel this morning that Stephanie was arrested for trying to kill you!"
"She was," Lori said.
"What the devil happened?"
"She's been having delusions about Clark and her," Lori said shortly. "She pulled the classic 'If I can't have you, no one will.' Only she hit Clark's palm computer instead of him."
"The rumor is that she tried to stab you," Vane said.
"She did," Lori said. "Vane, do you mind if we get some breakfast? I really don't want to talk about this anymore."
"Lori's kind of upset about what happened," Clark explained.
"Yeah; I don't blame her a bit," Vane said. "I guess Steph has been giving the two of you kind of a hard time the last few days."
"You could say that," Clark said. "Talk to you later, okay?"
"Sure," Vane said. He went to pick up his chair and resume his seat. Clark saw him lean forward to speak to his breakfast companions as he and Lori continued their interrupted progress.
"At least we don't have to worry about Stephanie showing up with a pair of my shorts this morning," Clark said. He pulled back her chair for her. "Is something wrong, honey?"
Lori shook her head, and then sighed, leaning toward the table screen that displayed the breakfast menu. "I'm not sure. I just have the feeling that something's going to happen. Did you ever feel like something's hanging over your head and is just waiting for you to drop your guard to lower the boom?"
"More times than you can count," he said. "Most of the time it was a false alarm, though. It's been a rough sort of few days, hasn't it?"
"Yeah. And it's not over yet. There's still Tal's murder, after all, and whoever the guy in our room was."
"Yeah," Clark said. "At least Stephanie's out of the way for now."
One of the servers approached the table. "Mr. Kent?"
Clark turned. "Yes?"
"I have a call for you, sir." The man presented a courtesy phone.
"Thank you," Clark said, accepting the instrument. "Clark Kent."
"This is Detective Wilson Brown," Detective Brown's voice said.
"Yes, Detective," Clark said, completely at a loss to account for the faint feeling of dismay that seemed to settle almost tangibly about his head and shoulders.
"I thought it was important to warn you," Brown's voice said, "that we have a slight problem. Ms. Brooke --"
"What about her?" Clark asked, the sense of dismay enveloping him more tangibly.
"What?" Lori asked.
"She's escaped from the hospital," Brown's voice said, sounding deeply chagrined. "Our entire force is looking for her."
"You know," Joanna Prescott said, "I think the next time I'm slated for a convention, I'm going to call the Planet and find out if you two will be there."
"Funny," Pete Swanson said, "I was thinking the same thing."
"Why?" Lori asked. She and the other two journalists were munching snacks set out for the convention attendees during the first break in the morning's presentations.
"So I'll know whether to expect an ordinary convention with plenty of partying, or one with meteor strikes and murders," Joanna said. "Then maybe I can bring along my handy dandy detective kit and get in on the action. Have they found out anything about who killed Tal yet?"
"Not to my knowledge," Lori said. "Last night they were still going over the room with a fine-toothed comb but I don't think they'd bother to let us know, even if they did find anything."
"No, I guess not," Joanna agreed. "The police have never been too keen on letting journalists in on the action. And no sign of Stephanie."
"They haven't said anything," Lori said. "They'd probably let us know about that, at least."
"Yeah, probably, since she went after Clark once, already," Joanna said. "Do you two have this sort of thing happen often? I mean, you probably surprised the guy that killed Tal. Aren't the police worried about that?"
"I don't know," Lori said. "My light flashed across his face when he charged me out of the dark and knocked me down, but it happened so fast I couldn't tell what he looked like. Besides," she added, "it might not even have been the killer. Suppose it was somebody else? I admit that it isn't likely, but it could have been."
"You didn't tell us that last night," Pete said slowly. "That changes the situation a bit. Didn't anything seem familiar about him at all? I'd think you might have run into him before if he killed Tal in your room. He must have had a reason for that."
"I know," Lori said. "All I could tell was that it was a man. I didn't get a clear enough look to identify him."
Joanna looked troubled. "But he knows you saw him. Do you think he's going to take the risk that you won't remember after a while?"
"I don't know," Lori said quietly. "I've tried to remember his face but I can't. I didn't see enough."
"But he doesn't know that," Joanna said. "I'd hate to see something happen to you. If I were you, I'd stay around other people for as long as we're here."
"I'm going to," Lori said.
"Where's Clark?" Joanna asked.
"He went to take a call from our boss," Lori said. "He should be back in a minute. Nobody's going to bother me in here with so many people around."
"That's true," Joanna said. "Just don't go off by yourself."
"Not on your life," Lori said. She examined the nearest table, where delicate little open-faced sandwiches had been artistically displayed by the hotel staff, and helped herself to several. "I really don't want anyone to try to kill me again."
"Again?" Pete inquired. "You mean someone has tried before?"
"A couple of times," Lori said uncomfortably.
Joanna raised her head and sniffed the air. "It smells like something's burning," she remarked. "Maybe the chef scorched the hors d'oeuvres."
Lori glanced at her curiously and also sniffed. Joanna was right -- there was the faint odor of something burning in the air. "I don't think it could be coming from the kitchen," she said. "The air filtration system for the hotel is pretty efficient."
Pete also raised his head and sniffed. "Doesn't smell like burning food," he said. "Don't they have a fireplace in the lounge? Maybe somebody started it up for atmosphere's sake."
"It's a gas fireplace," Joanna said. "It doesn't put out smoke. This smells more like --"
"It smells like somebody's burning plastic," Lori said. "Or maybe insulation."
At that moment the fire alarm went off.
"What's going on?" someone shouted, his voice almost swallowed in the chorus of screams and the shrilling of the alarm.
"Fire!" half a dozen voices shrieked. Someone made a rush for the exit that led toward the lobby. Several others apparently had the same idea, for they met in the doorway and a struggle to get out ensued.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" a loudspeaker boomed. "Please exit the hotel immediately! There are fire escape tunnels on every floor. Proceed at once to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion! Do not attempt to gather valuables!"
On one side of the room, a wide, previously concealed door slid aside and Lori saw a lighted tunnel beyond. From a ventilator on the wall above her head, she could see a faint haze of smoke drifting into the room.
"Please proceed immediately to the nearest exit," the voice boomed again.
There was an immediate rush to obey. Lori looked frantically around for her husband.
"Come on!" Pete ordered. He grabbed Joanna's arm with one hand and Lori's with the other and propelled them toward the exit in the wake of the crowd of pushing, shoving people.
"Clark!" Lori shouted. "Where's Clark?"
"Here!" Clark appeared out of the crush of bodies behind her. "We have to get out of here."
Pete let go of her arm and shoved futilely at the unmoving mass of bodies that strained toward the exit. Lori glanced at Clark, wondering how long it was going to take for the crowd to become a panicked mob. "What's going on?"
"Fire," Clark said grimly. "I want you out of here. Eclipse is on his way, and Superman will be needed to evacuate people. Once we're out, stay with Pete and Joanna, all right?"
Lori nodded. "What happened?" she asked.
"I don't know." Clark's voice was pitched too low for anyone who wasn't listening to catch his words. "It seems awfully coincidental, considering what happened yesterday." He glanced quickly around. "This isn't working. Don't move."
In an instant he had vanished and just as quickly Superman appeared in the exit. In the mass of frightened humanity, Lori doubted that anyone noticed or realized what had just happened. "Everyone form a line," he ordered in a voice, while not raised to a shout, could still be heard throughout the entire room. "Trying to force your way through is slowing everyone down." He cleared the jam of bodies at the exit by main force and pushed the first person in line, Brad Wexler from the London Intelligencer, into the tunnel. "One at a time. Quickly now!"
It was amazing, Lori thought, how fast Clark had gotten the situation under control. She followed the crowd that hurried into the tunnel, and encountered a look from her husband as she went by. "Remember."
"I will." Lori followed Pete and Joanna, hoping that no one in the stone tunnel would lose his head. A stampede in a space as confined as this one was bound to result in someone getting trampled.
The tunnel slanted upward. Lori kept pace with the crowd, wondering how a fire could have possibly started in a place like the Luna Hilton. True, the walls were of stone, but many of the other parts weren't. Somehow, it seemed, no buildings were ever built by man that didn't have something in them that was flammable, although what that might be this time she didn't know.
In any case, how likely was this to be a coincidence? Maybe, although she doubted it. No less than Clark did she think that this situation was unlikely to be accidental, although why someone would set the hotel on fire was anybody's guess. Destruction of evidence, or an attempt to kill her, perhaps. She had to take that possibility into account, and she was sure that Clark would as well. The best thing she could do, she knew, was to stay in the presence of a number of people. It wouldn't serve the murderer's purpose for forty people to see him try to kill her, after all. Nevertheless, she was aware of her heart beating uncomfortably hard in her chest at the thought that there might be someone nearby who would very much like to see her dead.
"Stay together," Pete said. He swept the two women ahead of him, following the crowd of humanity as they made their way up the tunnel toward the surface. "I hope nobody panics."
Lori hoped so, too. The haze of smoke in the escape tunnel was slowly growing thicker, and people had noticed. The crowd behind her began to push at those in front of her and Lori got a shove from someone that nearly knocked her down.
"Hey!" she exclaimed. "I can't go any faster! There are people in front of me too!"
The man who had pushed her evidently didn't hear her, for he crowded forward, trying to shove her aside. Pete kept a hand on her arm, preventing the pusher from knocking her down and glared at the other man. "Snap out of it, Ray! You're going to get us all killed!"
His deeper voice seemed to shock Ray, whoever he was, for he recoiled at the snarl in Pete's voice. "We're going to suffocate!"
"No we won't, but we'll all be trampled if you keep that up! Calm down; we'll be fine!"
Ray gulped and seemed to get a grip on himself. The crowd moved forward, and Lori hoped sincerely that no one else would lose his head in this mob.
A whiff of thicker smoke, heavy with the smell of burning plastic, puffed from one of the ventilation shafts placed strategically along the walls of the tunnel. Lori kept her inevitable reflections to herself and moved forward, up the gently sloping tunnel. The lobby was only one floor down from the surface of the Moon. They didn't have that far to go.
Behind her, Ray muttered something about "Trapped like rats" and she looked over her shoulder to note with dismay that the man's eyes were wide and blank with panic. He was sweating heavily, and Lori judged that he was holding onto sanity by a thread. Perhaps the guy was claustrophobic, she guessed. If so, she could sympathize, but if he panicked in this crowd the results could be deadly.
"Let me out of here!" a woman's voice cried hysterically from somewhere behind them. "I can't breathe! Let me *out*!"
The words seemed to trigger a wave of fear in the crowd. Ray pushed forward again, nearly knocking Lori from her feet. Only Pete's grip on her arm saved her.
"Calm down!" Lori snapped. "You're going to start a panic!"
"We're gonna die!" Ray gasped as more smoke puffed into the tunnel. "We're all gonna die!"
Pete released Lori's arm and spun in his tracks. Quite clinically, he drew back a hand and struck the man across the face with the flat of his hand. "Shut up! Get a grip on yourself! Keep moving!"
Ray gave a gasp, clutching the offended spot with one hand, but he fell silent.
"The exit's up ahead," Pete said in a more normal tone. "It's not far. We'll make it." He grasped Lori's wrist once more and herded both her and Joanna ahead of him toward the opening.
Lori could hear coughing and a few muted sobs in the mob surrounding her but no one else seemed inclined to panic. The woman who had screamed was silent, and Lori hoped that someone had managed to calm her down. The exit grew closer and the crowd surged toward it.
In the entrance, someone was shouting at the crowd to walk, not to run. An emergency worker reached out and grabbed her wrist as Pete relinquished it. Lori was pulled through the opening and hands shoved her away from the entrance. Emergency workers were swarming the area, and she found that she was being chivvied toward a man in a paramedic's coverall. Several other medics, medical personnel and a single police officer swarmed around the impromptu first aid station.
"Over here, miss," someone was saying. "Are you hurt?"
"No," Lori stammered, looking around frantically for Pete and Joanna. Somehow, in the milling mob of evacuees, they had vanished.
The man checked her vitals and listened to her breathing. "You sound all right. No smoke inhalation that I can tell."
"There was only a little smoke in the escape tunnel," Lori said. "I'm all right, really."
"You seem to be. If you have any breathing problems later, be sure to see your doctor."
"I will," Lori assured him. "Thanks."
She left the aid station, looking around and wondering where Pete and Joanna had vanished to. Most likely they were at one of the other first aid stations that had quickly sprung up in the area. The mob of guests from the Luna Hilton had grown in the few minutes that she had spent with the paramedic, and it didn't seem likely that she was going to find them again, except perhaps by accident.
Well, as long as she stayed around the crowd of people she should still be all right. Nobody was going to try to harm her in full view of dozens of people.
"Miss, you need to move back," a voice said, and she turned to see a man in the coverall of a firefighter standing behind her. "We're evacuating people and you're in the way. Please move over to the area for evacuees for the moment until we give the 'all clear.'"
Lori hesitated. "I'm with the press," she said.
"We'll be holding a briefing for the press after this situation is under control," the man said firmly. "I have to ask you to move, now."
Lori sighed and obeyed. There was a large group of people congregating in the park across the street, and a couple of men in the uniforms of the Luna City Police were waving people toward it. She headed in the direction the firefighter had indicated.
The crowd of evacuees from the hotel was milling around aimlessly. Many of them were watching the fire and the babble of voices was loud as people cried, swore, and discussed the emergency. One woman, some distance away, was having hysterics, and a man with her was trying to calm her down. Rubberneckers were also collecting, crowding the narrow thoroughfare between the hotel entrance and the park, and the police were having difficulty in persuading the crowd to move along. Lori looked around the mob of people, but there was no sign of Pete or Joanna. Of course that wasn't surprising, considering the size of the group. They were probably here somewhere.
Someone in the crowd bumped against her back, and she glanced backward, only to feel something sharp and pointed digging into her ribs.
"Not a sound," a male voice said. "One peep and you won't live long enough for anyone to save you."
Lori gasped. The knife dug deeper. "Walk straight ahead," the voice said softly. "Don't make a sound, and don't try to get away." A hand grasped her by the upper arm, but the point against her ribs underlined the threat in the voice. "Don't look around."
She didn't need to. The man's voice was familiar. Jason Decker, the investigator for Genie Electronics, had been in league with Tal all along, as she had suspected. And if she didn't figure out how to get away from him in the next few minutes, it wouldn't matter at all.
Clark and Zeb worked quickly as a team, moving around the Luna Hilton, removing people who had become confused or were too panicked to follow the directions of the loudspeaker. Clark discovered a woman and a child in their hotel room, overcome by the heavy smoke of the burning insulation, and he moved them quickly up the emergency stairwell into the clear air of the domed city. The fire services were already on the scene and the hotel's sprinklers were in action. The fire, from what he could tell, was being rapidly brought under control, but the problem lay in the heavy fumes that still filled the hotel.
At last, when he was certain that no one remained trapped inside, he turned his attention to the cause of the fire, itself. As little as Lori, did he believe this had been an accident. He scanned the walls, searching for the source, but the Luna Hilton was large, and it was taking too much time for his comfort. He punched the button on his wrist talker. "Call Lori," he directed.
The faint beeping of a call in progress answered him, but Lori's reassuring voice did not reply. A chill ran up his neck.
*Zeb!* he called.
*What do you need?* his great grandson inquired at once.
*I need to go check on Lori. She's not answering her talker.*
*Go,* Zeb replied at once. "*I'll hang around for a bit and make sure the fire's out.*
"*Try to find where it started,* Clark directed, already on his way out.
*Will do." Zeb's voice said, but Clark barely noticed. He burst through the upper door of the stairs that ran up to the main exit and swooped above the crowd of evacuees that had gathered across the street from the hotel. Again he spoke to his phone.
The beeping of her phone was coming from somewhere nearby. Quickly, he zeroed in on the location with his enhanced hearing, and located the wrist talker. It lay on the grassy lawn of the park, near a path that ran back into a grove of trees.
*Zeb!* His mental voice must have been louder and more alarmed than he intended, for Zeb was instantly present, floating in the air a few feet above him.
"What's the matter?" he demanded aloud.
"Lori's wrist talker. She's in trouble!"
"Oh man." Zeb glanced around. "I don't see her anywhere. Can you sense her?"
He forced down the panic that threatened to engulf him and closed his eyes, reaching out for his wife's thoughts and emotions.
The link that bound them together was present, which meant that she was alive. She was somewhere back in the direction that the path followed, but some distance away. "She's that way -- somewhere."
"You try to follow it as well as you can. I'll fly above the city and look for her." He swore softly under his breath. "All this noise is going to make it hard to hear her."
Clark had already noticed that. "Try," he said. "If the guy in our room found her --"
"I was thinking of that," Zeb said grimly. "Go!"
Lori walked slowly, trying to play for time. Decker had made her drop her wrist talker on the grass so that she couldn't even try to call for help. She was wearing her emergency earrings, of course, but if she even spoke Clark's name loud enough to trigger the alarm she could wind up dead. It was, however, possible that Clark would guess that something was wrong, or that Pete or Joanna would see her if she delayed long enough.
Decker was having none of that. "Move!" he hissed in a whisper that was no less fierce for all that. "Nobody knows me here. In all this confusion, I'll be gone before anybody realizes what happened!"
"Take it easy with that thing!" she protested.
He jabbed the point harder against her side. "Quiet! Move!"
Lori fell silent. He had no intention of letting her live, she knew, but he obviously wanted to do his dirty work away from witnesses. He knew very well that if he killed her in plain sight of people, someone was bound to remember him, even if he got away. She also knew that he was aware that she would behave, on the chance that something would happen and she could escape him. She didn't want to die, even if they caught him later.
They moved down the little pebbled path toward the concealment of the park's big shade trees, leaving the crowd of people behind. Decker's grip on her arm didn't loosen. She knew very well that if she made a break for it, if she didn't manage to get free on the first attempt, she would die. Well, perhaps she could delay a little, if she was careful.
"You're looking for the disk Johnson had, aren't you?" she whispered.
"Shut up! You're not going to get away, Ms. Hotshot Reporter, You're going to tell me where it is, but not here!" Decker pushed her a little harder. "You've hidden it somewhere, and you're going to give it to me."
"I found it," she said softly. "Johnson left it at Heinlein's Cave. I had it with me when I came into the room while you were there. You killed Tal, didn't you?"
Decker chuckled. "Yes, I did," he said. "He killed Johnson, and I knew that he was going to kill me, if he could. But I was too smart for him."
Lori almost stumbled. "But why kill him in our hotel room?" she asked. "Can you at least tell me that?"
They had entered the trees, now, although there were people still within earshot. Decker didn't release her arm. "Keep moving," he said again. "I'm in a hurry."
"Can't you tell me?" Lori whispered. "I found him in the tub. Why did you kill him in my room?"
Decker laughed softly. "Did that bother you? We searched your room, and he tried to take me by surprise with a stunner. But I was ready for him. I stunned him first and dumped him in your tub. Couldn't have blood all over my clothes. People would have asked questions. But then you came in." He dug the knife in a little harder, and Lori felt it cut her skin. "Don't think you're going to get away, Reporter Girl. You're going to tell me everything I need to know. I've got too much invested in this. Move."
Lori continued to walk, but her mind was busy. He didn't know that she and Clark had given the disk to Brown. He must not have contacted his office since it happened -- which was possible, since he was afraid she might have recognized and identified him to the police. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to keep calm in spite of her pounding heart. Anything might give her a chance to make a break for it. Decker couldn't know about her brown belt in Tai Kwan Do, and he certainly didn't know that her husband was Superman. She had to keep her head and wait for her opportunity.
"Maybe we could make a deal," she said. He hadn't killed her so far, as long as she kept her voice down. He wanted the disk. Maybe she could make use of that. "We can take the disk to your contact, whoever he is, split the money, and no one would be the wiser."
Decker simply laughed. "Why should I share with you, when I can have it all? It's not as if I have anything to lose by killing you. I have another question. Why didn't you identify me to the police?"
"Who says I didn't?" she asked.
"Because there's no search for me," he said, as if he were humoring a child. He pushed her again. "Keep moving. There's a Moon car right on the other side of the park." Another shove. "You saw me. The light flashed across my face. Why didn't you identify me?"
"Because I didn't see enough!" she snapped. "I wondered if it was you, though, and I told Clark! If something happens to me, you're going to come under suspicion."
"I'll take that chance," Decker said. Ahead, the lights of a Moon car blinked as they approached and the door slid open. "Get in, and don't try anything."
She couldn't get into the car with him, Lori knew. She was going to have to make her stand here.
"Well!" a very familiar voice behind her said. "Lori Lyons! I *knew* it! You're not worthy of him!"
Decker's hand jerked on her arm, and the knifepoint against her ribs scratched her side as the man started involuntarily. Lori twisted, breaking his grip on her arm, and ducked in the same motion, pivoting away. Her right foot came up in a hard kick to the side of Decker's knee.
She had never attempted her Tai Kwon Do moves under Moon gravity before, and her foot struck his calf instead of his knee. Decker howled in pain, but he didn't go down. He grabbed clumsily for her, the knife swinging up in preparation for a stab at her face. Somewhere in the background, she heard Stephanie Brooke voice a faint scream.
Lori jerked her face sideways as the knife slashed past, and pushed the hand gripping the knife across Decker's body with her left hand. With her right, she punched as hard as she could, taking him in the solar plexus. Decker doubled over with a grunt as the air was knocked from his lungs.
"Clark!" Lori screamed at the top of her lungs.
The double swoosh of two arriving super-beings almost deafened her. Decker was huddled on the ground, his arms clasped around his offended midsection, but Eclipse seized him by the back of his shirt, hauled him to his feet and removed the knife from his hand with inexorable strength. Stephanie ran.
"Get her!" Lori said quickly. "That's Stephanie!"
Superman looked her over quickly, assuring himself that she was unhurt, and whisked after Stephanie. The woman struggled futilely as he picked her from the ground, and brought her back to the three beside the Moon car.
Stephanie glared at Lori. "You're not worthy of him!" she repeated. "Clark belongs to me! I'll tell him what I saw!"
"Oh for the Lord's sake!" Lori said, her exasperation overcoming her self-control. "I was being kidnapped, you nitwit!"
Eclipse made an odd sound, somewhere between a cough and a laugh. "I think a flight to the police station would be in order, don't you think so, Superman?"
"Yes, I do." Clark's voice was choked, and Lori looked sharply at him. Her husband was trying not to burst into laughter. "Ms. Lyons, do you mind if I give you a lift?"
"Not at all, Superman," she said. Inside, she was still shaking, but she could deal with that later. She felt Clark's arm encircle her reassuringly, and then they were flying. Lori closed her eyes, letting the sense of security that she always felt when she flew with him smooth away the last traces of fear. It was over.
The nightclub was quiet and dim. Dance music was muted beyond the privacy screen and to Lori it made a pleasant background for the four persons at the table.
"The police are pretty sure that Decker set the fire," Clark was saying. "The arson investigators found remnants of his incendiary device and traced them back to the people that sold them. They're working on the details now, of course, but Brown says he believes they'll have an open and shut case on that aspect of the business pretty quickly."
Joanna Prescott shook her head. "So the investigator for the company was in on it," she said. "I guess it's impossible to find good help these days."
"They're still working to confirm that, too," Lori said, "but the Planet was able to give them some help. We had one of our people tracking Tal's movements in Metropolis the week before the conference, and she was able to confirm several calls and one meeting with Johnson and Decker. Of course they're tracing the connections, but Tal apparently knew Johnson while they were in Europe some years ago. And they have evidence now that Decker was in our room. They found a hair that matches his DNA in the bathtub. It wouldn't have been much use if they hadn't had Decker in custody for trying to kill me, but after Superman and Eclipse brought him in, a routine check came up with the match. I think they'll manage to put it all together before long."
"Probably," Pete Swanson said, "now that they have all the pieces, thanks to you two. Why don't I have the chance to get in good with my editor the way you do? You saved his wife's career and reputation, and came up with a terrific story in the process."
"Just lucky, I guess," Lori said. "We were the ones that came to Luna City at the right time, so John asked us to investigate."
"Right," Joanna said dryly. "Like I said before, if I find out you two are going to be at the next convention, I'll remember to bring along my Nancy Drew Detective Kit so I can get in on the action."
Clark smiled and shook his head. "The next convention will probably be nothing but presentations and partying," he said. "You can't expect something like this situation every day. I, for one, am glad that it's over. Lori and I are going to spend the next day seeing as many of the sights as we can cram in before we have to go home."
"That's right," Lori said. "I still want to fly at Heinlein's Cave."
"Maybe we should go as a foursome," Joanna said. "I planned on trying that, too, before I go home."
"Not a bad idea," Clark said. "What do you think, honey?"
"Okay by me," Lori said.
"By the way," Pete interjected, "whatever happened to Stephanie?"
"She's back in the psych ward," Lori said. "She escaped, after she was taken there the first time -- she *is* an investigative reporter, you know. She shorted out the ward's lock and got away, and then seems to have hung around the hotel, trying to figure out how to get in to talk to Clark without getting caught. We think Decker set the fire, hoping to be able to take advantage of the confusion to get hold of me -- which he did, obviously -- and Stephanie saw him grab me. Only she didn't see the knife, of course, and she thought she had some evidence that she could use to break Clark and me up. Only she wasn't sure it was me, so she followed us." Lori took a gulp of the champagne that Clark had poured for her. She probably shouldn't, she thought, but the memories of earlier in the day wouldn't quite lie down and go away. By tomorrow she would be able to put it all into perspective, of course, but for now the pleasant effect of the beverage helped her to relax and enjoy the evening more than she otherwise might have done. "I hate to admit it, but she may have saved my life. I wasn't going to let Decker get me in his car, and I was going to try to make a break for it. Stephanie gave me my chance."
"I never thought I'd be grateful to Stephanie for anything," Clark said. He reached out to rest a hand on top of hers where it lay in her lap. "I am, although I'm sure she doesn't appreciate it. Brown said they'll probably ship her back to Earth for arraignment, and she'll most likely be ordered into mandatory counseling again. I hope it takes better this time."
"Me too," Pete said. "She could have killed you. And my fiancee wouldn't be very happy if she came after me again."
"Your fiancee?" Clark said.
"Yeah," Pete said. "I'm getting too old for single life, I guess."
"I think that's great," Joanna said. "I'll expect an invitation to the wedding."
"So will we," Lori said.
"I'll be sure to send them," Pete said. He stretched slightly. "In the meantime, shall we take advantage of the band? Want to dance, Lori?"
She glanced at Clark and then nodded. "All right."
The band was playing a slow selection when Lori and Pete stepped out onto the floor. As they began to move in time to the music, Pete said, "I'm really sorry Jo and I lost you in the crowd. Things happened so fast that we got separated before I realized what was happening."
"I know," she said. "It wasn't your fault. If it hadn't happened, Decker would still be free. As it is, everything worked out."
"Yeah," Pete said, "but I'm sorry you had to go through that. It nearly cost you your life."
"I know." She winced slightly, but he noticed.
"Decker cut me slightly with his knife. It isn't serious, but it's a little sore. I won't be doing any fast dancing tonight."
"I don't blame you." Pete guided her slowly around the floor. "I'm glad I met you, you know. After that thing in Alta Mesa, I wondered. You figured prominently in it, and it made me curious. Clark's never had a permanent partner before. I've known him for a long time, and it always seemed to me that he was looking for something. I think he's finally found it."
Lori smiled. "I'm glad you think so. By the way, I forgot to thank you for keeping me from being knocked down in the tunnel. I appreciate it."
Pete laughed. "You change the subject as fast as Cathy does."
"Cathy Eagleton, my fiancee. Anyway, you're welcome. Ray is claustrophobic. He's an okay guy, otherwise."
"I just hope I don't get caught in any tunnels with him again," Lori said. She glanced sideways as Clark and Joanna circled past them, and then Clark tapped Pete on the shoulder. "Care to trade partners?"
"Charmed to," Pete replied. He turned quickly to Joanna as Clark took his place with Lori. The two of them moved smoothly away in time to the music.
Lori relaxed in her husband's arms. Pete was nice, of course, but, at the moment, no one was more welcome than Clark. He pulled her close and she put her cheek against his shoulder.
He kissed the top of her head. "How are you doing, honey? Are your ribs all right?"
"They're a little sore. They'll be fine," she said, but she didn't move away. The music came to an end, and she slowly released him, but to her surprise he didn't let her go. The announcer cleared his throat. "This next selection is a special request," he said. "'Fly Me to the Moon' for Lori from her husband, Clark."
As the strains of the music filled the room, Lori looked up into his face. "I love this song."
"I know," he said.
John Olsen bounced his goddaughter, Mary Kent, on his lap and grinned at the baby's laughter. The lovely little girl was technically his great aunt, as well as his goddaughter, but it was difficult to think of her that way. The child was a happy baby, adored by her four siblings and everyone in the family who saw her at all frequently.
"My turn," Marilyn announced, and scooped Mary from his lap without ceremony. "Come on, sweetheart. Let's get you all changed and dry. Your mommy and daddy will be here in a few minutes."
"So Kent and Lyons left an indelible impression on Luna City," Velma Chow said. "Why am I not surprised? I'm just glad the city is still in one piece." She was a relative newcomer to the big Kent family, now a Police Captain, and married to John's cousin, Oliver Brent. Oliver's grand parents, Lara and Bill Klein, were also present, since Lara had been officially caring for Mary while her parents had been on the Moon. Velma and Oliver were currently expecting their first child, a girl who carried her father's telepathic trait. Velma stretched and rubbed her back muscles with one fist. "I've worked with Clark for years without knowing it, of course, but in some ways I wish Lori had decided to be a cop instead of a journalist. We could use her on the force, even if her methods are a bit unique."
Lara laughed out loud. She and Bill were sitting across from John on the sofa. "Lori is a reporter through and through," Lara said. "She'd drive you crazy if she were one of your people."
"I suppose," Velma acknowledged. She grinned. "I talked to Detective Brown, the poor sap in Luna City who got stuck with the case. He's going to spend the next year with the Metro Police. He said he needs to learn more about big city crime. He's going to find out about Kent and Lyons first hand."
Lara chuckled. "Poor guy. I'm glad everything turned out all right for Marilyn," she added, "but I'm a little shocked, although I shouldn't be, I guess. I never liked Tal. I always suspected he was behind that attack on you, years ago, John."
"So did I," John said. "He was apparently scheming to get even with Marilyn and me all this time. He must have planned the theft, and a way to implicate Marilyn, and, according to Clark and Lori, he somehow he got Johnson and Decker to go along with him. But Decker figured out that he killed Johnson and was ready for him. It just shows you that revenge is a pretty stupid idea in the long run."
"I feel a little sorry for him," Marilyn said. She finished clipping the new diaper on Mary and readjusted the baby's clothing. "If it hadn't been for me, this wouldn't have happened."
Oliver shook his head. "Don't be silly," he said. "None of this had to happen. No man who cares about a woman tries to hurt her like he tried to hurt you. It sounds to me like what was really hurt was his own ego. It's too bad he was killed, but he brought it on himself. The last person who should feel guilty is you."
"I suppose you're right," Marilyn said. "I'm just glad it's over."
"So am I," John said. He turned his head at the sound of the door buzzer and got to his feet. "It looks like our heroes are here. Back in a minute."
John Olsen opened the door for Lori and Clark. Their editor's face broke into a smile when he saw them. "Come on in," he said, stepping aside. "Lara's here with Mary, and everyone wants to see you."
Clark let Lori enter ahead of him and followed. "I hope we aren't interrupting anything."
John shook his head. "Nope. Oliver and Velma dropped by, and we've been talking about what happened in Luna City. How are you two?"
"All right," Lori said. The sound of Mary's giggles in the living room made her hurry toward the sound. She had missed her baby daughter more than she could have imagined before Mary's birth. Marilyn appeared in the entrance to the living room with Mary in her arms. The little girl's face broke into a wide smile, showing a pair of budding lower teeth and one upper one. She held out her arms, and Lori came forward to take her from Marilyn. "Hi, sweetheart!"
"Ma-ma!" Mary babbled, and when Clark arrived beside Lori and bent to kiss her, Mary announced "Da-da!"
Clark took her from Lori's arms and hefted her above his head, sparking giggles and squeals of laughter. "How's Daddy's girl?"
"Come on in, Dad," Lara called.
Lori preceded Clark and Mary into the living room and John followed them.
"Grab a seat," he said. "Your story hit the headlines this morning. We want to hear about all the details you didn't publish."
"You know most of them," Clark said.
"Not really," Velma Chow broke in. "I've been talking to Detective Brown. He gave me some of it. What's this about Lori getting kidnapped? And who is this Stephanie Brooke, and why did she try to stab you, Clark?"
"It's a long story," Clark said.
"We know that," Lara said.
Marilyn appeared at the door leading from the kitchen, a tray in her hands. Clark got to his feet at once.
She gestured to him to sit down. "Would you like some coffee or tea, guys?"
"Tea," Lori said. Clark nodded.
Marilyn set the tray on the table in front of them and poured tea from her china teapot into the waiting cups. Then she set it down on the tray. "I know you don't want to hear it, but I want you to let me say thank you both, just once. You saved my career and my reputation. I don't know how you did it, but I want you to know that --"
Clark had blushed to his hairline. "You don't need to thank us, Mari. We wanted to help."
"I know you did," Marilyn said. "That's what makes you two so special." She looked at Lori. "I heard that you nearly got killed. You *know* I wouldn't have wanted you to risk yourself for me."
"It wasn't like that," Lori said. "After I surprised Decker in our hotel room, it was sort of inevitable."
"That does it," John said. "We didn't hear hardly any of this. I want the whole story. Now!"
Clark put an arm around Lori's shoulders, settling Mary between them on both their laps. "This is going to take a while," he warned. "Lori figured out most of it."
"Why am I not surprised?" Velma murmured. "Detective Brown said Luna City was never going to be the same after your visit."
"I felt kind of sorry for him," Lori said. "He said they hadn't had a murder in something like ten years, and then when we showed up they had two within a day of each other."
"That wasn't your fault," Marilyn protested.
"No," Clark agreed, "but I think they were glad when we went home, just the same."
"Don't worry," Velma said, dryly. "Detective Brown's going to have a chance to get to know you better. He's joining the department here in Metropolis for a year, just so he can learn more about big city investigation techniques. You'll probably run across him occasionally."
Lori and Clark looked at each other, and Lori gave a small giggle. "Poor Detective Brown," she said. "He's in for some serious culture shock."
"Probably," Velma said. "It's good to shake up old habits occasionally."
"Anyway, that's for later," John said. "Tell us how it happened."
Clark smiled at Lori. "Do you want to tell them, honey? You figured out the hard parts."
"You go ahead," Lori said. She batted her eyes at him. "I'll jump in and fill in any of the parts you leave out."
"Okay," Clark said. He began to talk.
Lori leaned against his shoulder, holding her daughter in her lap, listening to Clark recount the harrowing events of the past week. It certainly had been a very strange trip to the Moon. Hopefully, when they went back for vacation next summer things would be quieter, she thought. But in spite of everything, they had solved the problem, uncovered the real criminals and saved Marilyn's career. That was worth all that they had gone through.
Mary leaned back against her and started to suck on her fist. The little girl's eyelids began to droop as Clark's voice went on, and before long she was sound asleep in Lori's lap.
Everything was right with their world.
Need the previous story? Read Home: An Evening to Remember.
Stories in Nan Smith's "Home" series, in order: Home, Home II: Beginnings, Home III: Memories, Home IV: Honeymoon, Home 4a: A Valentine Vignette, Home: A Christmas story, Home: On the Fourth Day of Christmas, Home: New Year's Wishes, Home V: Obsession, Home: Circle of Fate, Home: Vendetta, Home: Family Party, Home: An Evening to Remember, and Home: Murder by Earthlight