Four Days to Nightfall: Part 2
By Nan Smith
The newsroom was almost deserted when Lois and Charlie
stepped out of the elevator. In his office, Perry was
sitting at his desk, apparently absorbed in shuffling
through what looked like a stack of cards. Jimmy was
perched on the edge of his desk, watching the monitors.
"Jimmy! I need you to find some information for me, as
fast as you can!" Lois spoke before the elevator door had
even closed behind them. Jimmy jumped and nearly fell off
the desk at her near-shout.
"Geez, Lois!" He straightened up. "You scared me!"
"Sorry, but this is important." She descended the stairs
with more haste than grace. "I need you to find out about
Paolo Bertolli's private jet. What kind is it and what
color is it painted?"
"Huh?" Jimmy looked at her oddly. "Are you kidding?"
"Jimmy, it's important. Just find it for me."
Jimmy shrugged. "Sure, if you want it." He took his seat
in front of the computer on his desk and rested his fingers
on the keyboard. "Why the rush, though? If Nightfall
hits, it's not going to matter, anyway."
"You might be surprised about that," she said.
"Never mind. Just find the stuff for me. I'm going to
take Charlie down to the lockers for a change of clothes,
if Perry asks."
Jimmy gave her a curious look, but nodded. "Sure."
Lois grasped Charlie by the elbow. "Come on. Let's go get
you some clean clothes." She started up the ramp with a
determined stride. Charlie trotted obediently along, but
once in the elevator he raised an eyebrow at her.
"You get kind of intense, you know?"
Lois shrugged. "I have to be. It's how I keep my image."
He surveyed her, thoughtfully. "I suppose. The other
night, I heard some of the night staff here call you 'Mad
Dog' Lane. You don't seem that way to me."
She laughed shortly and leaned back against the wall of the
elevator. "I'm a woman in a field that's predominately
male, Charlie. I can't let them see any vulnerabilities or
I lose credibility."
"I don't see why. I was reading some of your stuff the
night I was here. You're brilliant. I'd think any editor
would kill to have you on his staff."
Lois smiled, unexpectedly flattered. "Thanks, Charlie."
"I mean it." Charlie shoved his hands into the pockets of
the jeans. "Do you think anyone else would have put
together the things you have about me? Even I didn't."
"You didn't have any reason to think what you were doing
was unusual," Lois said. "I was in a position to notice
"Yeah, but most people wouldn't have," Charlie said.
"Well...maybe. I may still be way off base."
"Maybe. But you've figured out a lot."
She shrugged. "My dad always said I was an unconventional
thinker. He wanted me to be a doctor."
"Why didn't you?"
"What? Be a doctor? I didn't want to. I've wanted to be
a reporter since third grade. Dad tried to push me into
medical school; he said he wouldn't pay for college unless
I studied medicine."
"That's ridiculous!" Charlie seemed genuinely horrified.
"What kind of parent does that?"
"Mine, evidently. Anyway, I applied for scholarships and
went to journalism school. My father finally came around
and helped me after the first year when he realized I was
going to do things my own way, no matter what." She
shrugged. "Somehow, I've always managed to disappoint
"Considering what I've seen and heard about you, I'd think
he'd be proud of you," Charlie said. "You're a very
successful investigative journalist."
"Nothing I ever did was enough," Lois said, trying to keep
the bitterness out of her voice and at the same time
wondering why she felt she could confide in Charlie.
Something about him seemed to invite confidences. Maybe it
was because he didn't have any expectations. If a man
couldn't remember his own past, how could he judge anyone
else? "I started out by being the wrong sex, then I wanted
to be a reporter rather than a doctor. I still remember
coming home with a 98 on my math test in tenth grade.
'Look, Daddy, I got 98 percent!' 'Oh, good, Lois. That
leaves two percent for improvement.' I couldn't win. He
even made being an 'unconventional thinker' sound inferior.
I guess I've been trying to prove to him I was as good as
any boy would have been, ever since."
Charlie was frowning. "I don't see why you have to prove
anything to anyone. Any man who had a daughter like you
would be crazy not to be proud of her. I'd say the problem
is his, not yours."
Lois felt her jaw drop. Charlie's unexpected assessment
left her momentarily speechless, but she quickly closed her
mouth and managed a smile. "Thanks, Charlie."
"I mean it," Charlie said, quietly. "I think I've gotten
to know you pretty well in just a couple of days.
Considering everything that's happened, I think I was
incredibly lucky that it was you who found me." He ran a
hand over his chin. "Now, if you can just figure out how I
The non sequitur made her laugh. "I'll do my best. First,
let's get you some clean clothes, though."
He grinned. "You're the boss."
"Just remember that," she told him with mock-severity.
The elevator slowed to a stop at last and the doors popped
open. They stepped out into a section of the building that
was completely empty of humanity and almost dark. The
lights were off; only the light from the elevator
illuminated the hallway with the battered, metal lockers
lining the walls. Several doors opened off the hall, dark
and unexpectedly spooky. Their footsteps echoed loudly in
the nearly empty space and Lois had to suppress a totally
irrational sense of nervousness when the door of the
elevator closed behind them, leaving the room pitch black.
"Just a minute," Charlie's voice said. She heard his
footsteps moving away and then a click. Lights blazed on
suddenly, and she lifted a hand to shade her eyes.
"Sorry, I should have warned you," Charlie said.
"That's okay." Lois blinked away the water in her eyes.
"At least we can see -- although you probably could
"Not really," Charlie said. "There wasn't any light, but I
saw where the switch was before the elevator doors closed.
Anyway, what do you want me to wear?"
"I think Eduardo is about your size," she said. "Your
shoulders are a lot broader, but you can probably wear his
pants, at least. And Pete is fat, and wears a larger
shirt, so one of his would probably be big enough for you.
Let's see if I can find you some clean underwear. Most
people keep a couple of complete clothing changes in their
"Aren't they locked?" Charlie asked.
"The ones with the valuables are," Lois said, beginning to
open the metal doors. "These are just clothes."
Charlie looked slightly uncomfortable as she purposefully
proceeded to rifle the lockers. "I hope none of them mind
me borrowing their stuff," he said.
"They didn't tell us you couldn't," she said. "It's their
own fault if they didn't bother to show up to work. Oh,
brother! There's a copy of the Daily Planet -- November
twelfth, 1989 -- all crumpled up on the bottom of the
locker. From the grease spots, it looks like somebody used
it to wrap food. Yuck! Ah! Here's a package of boxers
that hasn't even been opened. They look like they'll fit
you, too." She glanced clinically at the jeans he had been
wearing since the night before last. "What do you wear --
"I guess. That was what Jimmy got me before."
"Well, they should fit, then." She ripped the package open
without hesitation and tossed him one of the pairs inside.
"Here. You'll look good in black."
Charlie caught the black boxers out of the air. "You're
not going to see them on me," he said, firmly. "I'm done
with exhibitionism for the rest of my life."
She laughed but didn't answer. "Eduardo's got a pair of
blue slacks -- and there's a belt." Tossing the items in
his direction, she continued with her hunt. "Good grief!
I've never seen Pete wear a watermelon-colored shirt
before! No wonder he hides it in the back of his locker."
His doubtful look deepened at the sight of the shirt. Lois
grinned. "At least you won't need to worry about what Pete
will say," she said. "He'd look like a clown in it."
"So will I," Charlie said. "I guess beggars can't be
Lois cocked her head to the side. "You don't have Pete's
belly," she said. "I think it'll look good on you. It's
Both his heavy eyebrows flew up and he gave her an
incredulous look. "I hope you're kidding."
"Nope. It suits your complexion," she said, tossing the
shirt at him. "Why don't you go in there and put it on?"
He regarded the clothing in his hands and finally gave a
sigh of resignation. "Pink shirt and blue slacks. At
least Jimmy and Mr. White will have something to laugh at.
I'll be right back."
He disappeared through the nearest doorway and Lois saw the
light come on before the door closed.
Left alone for the moment, she sank down on one of the
benches that sat between the lockers. Charlie had
surprised her again, there in the elevator. It was obvious
he thought a lot of her. His opinion of her father's
evaluation of her had made the ancient feeling of
inadequacy weaken for the first time in all her twenty-six
"Ho-ly heck!" Charlie's shocked exclamation brought her to
her feet and halfway to the door of the room where he had
gone before she even realized she had moved. Quickly, she
flung open the door, hoping she wouldn't catch him in the
"What's the matter? What happened?"
Charlie was standing next to a smoldering bench in front of
the wall mirror and the air was heavy with the scent of
wood smoke and scorched varnish. He slapped at the smoking
wood before he answered and the face he turned toward her
was chalk-white. He clapped a hand over his eyes. "Lois,
get away from me, quick! I don't want to hurt you!"
"What the devil are you talking about?" Lois demanded.
"You're not going to hurt me."
"I set the bench on fire -- just by looking at it! Just
like in my dream!" There was genuine panic in his voice.
"Go back in the other room before I set your clothes on
fire or something!"
"All right." She backed out of the room until he was just
out of sight. "Calm down, Charlie. What happened?"
She heard him breathe heavily. "Are you out of the room?"
"I'm in the hall. Take a deep breath and tell me what
"Lois, I've got to get away from you! It was just like I
dreamed, last night!" His voice was shaking.
"Charlie!" She made her voice sharp. "Get hold of
yourself! You just looked at me and you didn't do a bit of
damage to me. Whatever you did, it stopped. Take your
hand away from your eyes and look around you."
Silence for a count of ten, then she heard another deep,
rather shaky breath.
"Are your eyes uncovered?" she demanded.
"Yeah. Don't come in, Lois, please! If it does it
"I won't, for now. Are you setting anything else on fire?"
Another pause. "No."
"All right, now think. What happened?"
"I was looking in the mirror at the outfit," Charlie's
voice said. She could hear it shake and heard him working
to control the shaking. "I was thinking it didn't look so
bad and I looked down at the bench. I thought about the
dream last night -- you know, the one where I was starting
fires with my eyes? -- and about how silly it was, and --
you know, concentrated on the wood. You know how sometimes
you goof around with something you know is impossible?"
"Like the time my sister, Lucy, and I decided to try to
bend a spoon like a psychic we saw on TV," Lois said. "I
get it. So, what happened then?"
"It worked! The wood started to smoke, and then there was
a little flame, and I stopped! I slapped at it with my
hand and put it out!"
She heard his voice rising with near panic again. She
didn't stop to think how impossible the story was. It was
vitally necessary to calm Charlie down right away. Here
was absolute proof that he was something very different
than a human, and perhaps here for the reason she had
hoped. It was all for nothing, however, if she didn't get
control of the situation. "Charlie, you had to concentrate
on the bench to set it on fire, didn't you? When you
stopped, so did the, well, the fire-starting. Didn't it?"
Silence. Then: "Yeah. Yeah, it did."
"In other words, it doesn't happen unless you want it to."
"I guess not -- but, Lois, how can I take the chance? I
could hurt somebody! I could hurt *you*!"
"Charlie, you've been with me for most of the last thirty-
six hours and you haven't hurt me yet, even when you didn't
know anything about this ability. I don't think you're
going to." Lois drew a deep breath. She had to show him
that she believed what she was saying, that she trusted him
not to hurt her, and that he could trust himself. If she
didn't believe it, he would know. He hadn't hurt her, she
reminded herself, firmly. And he wouldn't.
"Charlie, I'm coming in there. You're not going to hurt
me. This isn't your dream. It's not out of control. You
won't set anything on fire unless you want to."
Lois mustered her nerve, telling herself that she was right
because she *had* to be, and stepped forward into the room.
Charlie had turned his back on her and had both hands over
his eyes again. Surprisingly, the sight bolstered her
slightly flagging courage. He wouldn't hurt her, she told
herself, with more conviction. He had control of this --
this heat-vision thing, even if he didn't know it. She put
a hand on his arm.
"Charlie, take your hands away from your eyes. You don't
have to look at me. Just look straight ahead. It'll be
"Charlie, you can control this thing. You *are*
controlling it. Just don't look at me if you're afraid."
Gently, she tugged at his arm. "Take your hands down."
Very slowly, he obeyed. His eyes were screwed tightly
"Charlie, open your eyes." With an effort, she kept her
voice calm. "It's okay. You had to concentrate on the
bench to make it burn. It's not going to happen if you
don't want it to. Come on, now." Privately, Lois was
amazed at the patience she found herself using with Charlie
when all her instincts were screaming at her to *make* him
open his eyes and demonstrate this incredible ability to
her. Charlie was afraid he would hurt her -- and there
might be something else here, too. Whatever had caused him
to forget all these things about himself, it was apparent
that it had been something nearly catastrophic. It had
scared him so badly that his subconscious mind was trying
to protect him by making him forget what he could do. It
was very possible that the cause was Nightfall. If it was,
then maybe there was something Charlie could do to save
them. There were plenty of 'ifs' in that, but she couldn't
ignore the slightest chance that it was true.
One thing might be in her favor, though. In spite of the
danger, he had tried this on his own, not really believing
it would work; but still.... Maybe his action meant that
something in him was trying to remember, to face whatever
it was that had terrified him and finish whatever he had
set out to do.
She could hope, anyway. Charlie wasn't a coward, she
thought. If there was anything she was sure of, it was
"Charlie," she urged again, "open your eyes."
Very slowly, he cracked an eyelid. Nothing happened.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he opened one eye and then the
other, keeping them focussed on a spot across the room,
completely off her.
"See -- nothing happened," Lois said. "As long as you
don't try to set something on fire, you don't."
"I'm not so sure of that," Charlie said. His voice sounded
uncertain. "I'm not going to dare look at anyone."
Lois didn't answer at once. Finally, she said, "Look,
let's try to test this out."
"I'm not going to set any fires!"
"Take it easy." Lois waved to the trashcan that stood in
one corner. "That's metal; it won't burn. Just hold on a
"What are you going to do?"
"You'll see. Stay right here." Quickly, she retreated to
the hallway and hurried to the lockers. A moment later,
she was back, the ancient, grease-stained newspaper in her
hands. Quickly, she stuffed it into the trashcan.
"Now," she said, "we're going to test your control. I want
you to look at the paper in the trashcan. *Don't* try to
burn it. Just look at it, okay? Then, when I tell you, I
want you to try to set it on fire."
He hesitated. "I don't like this."
"I know." She rested a hand on his arm. "Charlie, I'm
just trying to show you that you can control this, just
like you've been doing since I met you. Will you try?"
"Well...." He looked doubtfully at the metal receptacle
and then at her for just a split instant. "I guess so."
"Good." Lois tugged at his arm. "Come on over here. Now,
when I tell you, just look at the newspaper. If anything
will burn easily, it's a newspaper, wouldn't you agree?"
Inwardly, she was quaking slightly, but what she was saying
made sense. She had to convince Charlie that he wasn't a
danger to everyone around him.
Lois released his arm and stepped back. "Okay, just *look*
at the paper. Don't try to get it to burn."
Silence. Charlie stood perfectly still, staring into the
trashcan. After perhaps thirty seconds, she could see him
beginning to relax. "It's not burning, is it?"
"You're doing fine," Lois said, quietly. "Just keep
looking. You just want to look at it, not do anything to
"Still no fire," Lois said, after another minute had gone
by. "Would you agree that you don't seem to be setting it
on fire by accident?"
Slowly, he nodded and she could hear him release his
"All right," she said. "Now, we're going to see if you can
control it when you want to. Do what you did to the bench.
Try to get it to burn."
She saw his shoulders stiffen and instantly, flame burst
from the trashcan as the paper ignited. Charlie jumped
"I'd say so." Lois stepped forward to look at the blazing
newspaper. "I think I've proved my point. It only works
when you want it to, Charlie. It's under your control.
You don't have to be afraid of it."
Charlie looked slowly away from the blazing paper.
"Thanks," he said.
"Don't mention it." Lois reached out to take his hand. "I
knew you weren't a danger, Charlie."
Charlie gripped her slender fingers in his larger ones. "I
don't understand this at all. No one should be able to do
"No ordinary man could, that's for sure," Lois corrected
him. "I don't know how, Charlie, but you're definitely not
"Big news flash there," he said. "But if I'm not an
ordinary human, what am I?"
"Something else," Lois said. "Something special." She
glanced back at the heavily smoking trashcan as the last
remnants of the fire burned itself out.
"'Special'," Charlie repeated. "I don't feel special.
Here I am with no memories before I woke up in that
"That may not be quite true," Lois said. "Jimmy may be
able to tell us differently."
"Those crazy dreams of mine?" Charlie said. "But, Lois, I
couldn't possibly have saved the jet the way I dreamed I
Lois shrugged. "Maybe not, but you've got all kinds of
strange abilities. Charlie, if you're not an ordinary
human, it's possible that you're from somewhere else."
"You mean, like another planet?"
"Maybe. I've never heard of any aliens that were supposed
to look like you but I always thought the flying saucer
nuts were way off base anyway. How would *you* explain
"I don't know."
"And what was the fireball?"
"I don't know."
"Neither do I," Lois said. "But I think you and the
fireball are connected with Nightfall -- and maybe the
reason it shattered. I think that's why I found you in
Centennial Park night before last. I think something about
it scared you so badly that your mind is making itself
forget who you are and what you can do -- because if you
remembered you'd have to do something about it."
"How could I have anything to do with it?" he asked.
"I don't know. If you're from another planet, wouldn't you
have to have a ship?"
"I guess," Charlie said. "But if there is one, where is
it?" He laughed shortly. "I can't believe we're having
"Neither can I," Lois admitted. "Look, let's go back up to
the newsroom. Maybe Jimmy's got some information for us by
"Lois, I got the stuff you wanted," Jimmy said, as Lois and
Charlie walked into the newsroom. "Would you believe the
guy's jet is painted sky blue? Now, that's really weird!"
Lois cast a quick look at Charlie. "How about that," she
said, quietly. "What kind of jet, Jimmy?"
"Oh, it's a Lear jet, natch. Who would want a sky blue
plane?" He glanced up and broke off in surprise at the
sight of Charlie's clothing. "Wow! That shirt kind of
sticks out! Isn't that Pete's?"
"Yeah," Lois said. "How did you know?"
"His ex-wife gave it to him when they were still married,"
Jimmy explained. "He was going to burn it, but I guess he
"In that case, it won't matter if Charlie borrows it," Lois
said. "So, Bertolli has a sky blue Lear jet. What do you
think of that, Charlie?"
"Interesting," Charlie said. "I guess you were right."
"About Bertolli?" Jimmy said, clearly confused. "Why does
"I'm working on an idea," Lois said. "Right now, I need
you to do something else for me, Jimmy. I want you to
compile a list of every incident in the past -- oh, say ten
years -- where a seeming miracle happened. The kind where
people were saved from death or disaster, when there didn't
seem to be any possible way out. Highlight the ones
involving seemingly supernatural beings that were supposed
to have helped. I want as many details as are available."
She saw the incredulous expression on his face. "Really,
Jimmy, it's important. I've got a theory about what
shattered Nightfall, but I need some more information. And
no, I don't think it was anything supernatural. Hurry,
will you? There isn't much time."
"Sure." Jimmy shrugged and turned back to his computer.
"You want the picture of the jet?"
"Did you get one?" Charlie asked, looking surprised.
"Sure." Jimmy tilted his head toward the otherwise empty
"out" box on his desk. "Right there."
Charlie reached for it. "Do you mind?"
"Go ahead." Lois added, "Jimmy, did you want a doughnut?
I brought them in, but I guess you didn't notice."
"Sure!" The young man's face lit up. "I'm starving!"
That didn't surprise her. Jimmy had not yet gotten past
the ravenous appetite of youth. She held out the box.
"Here you go. Get the information as soon as you can,
would you? They're firing the rocket in just a few hours."
"I know." Jimmy looked momentarily subdued. "If it
misses, Nightfall will hit us at about sunset, tomorrow. I
hope EPRAD is on the ball."
"All of us do." Lois glanced at Charlie. He was leaning
against Cat Grant's desk, studying the computer printout of
Bertolli's Lear jet. From the riveted expression on his
face, she needed to talk to him. "Charlie?"
"Huh?" He looked up from the paper. "Lois, I've seen this
Jimmy glanced up. "Maybe you work for the guy."
"I don't think so," Lois said. "I'm pretty sure there's
"I think it would be cool to work for a Hollywood
producer," Jimmy said. "Even one as weird as Bertolli."
"Jimmy, he doesn't work for Bertolli. Get that stuff I
asked you for, will you? It's important." Lois turned to
Charlie. "Remember what I said before?"
"Yeah." Charlie was still frowning at the picture. "Maybe
you're right. If you aren't, it's a terrific coincidence."
She regarded him with a smile. "So you're starting to
believe me, huh?"
"Well, I still think some of it's a bit far out, but let's
say, I'm willing to suspend judgement for now."
"I guess that's a step in the right direction," Lois said.
She glanced around as Perry opened the door of his office.
"How are you doing, Chief?"
Perry shrugged. "Okay. In a holding pattern like everyone
else, I guess."
"Yeah." Lois picked up another doughnut and took a bite.
"I feel like I should be doing something, but I don't know
"I know the feeling," Perry said. "It doesn't seem right
to be in the office with nothing to do. Is the hamburger
stand on the corner still open?"
"I don't know," Lois said. "Do you want me to get you
"I'd rather you stayed here," Perry said. "Jimmy can go."
"Jimmy's doing some research for me, Chief. Charlie can
come with me. We'll be okay."
Perry glanced at Charlie and his eyes widened slightly at
the sight of the shirt but he didn't comment. "We --
ll...okay, I guess so. But you come right back -- and be
"I will." Lois smiled at him. "What do you want?"
Perry shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks.
"How about a double cheeseburger with all the trimmings,
fries, onion rings and one of those big apple tarts for
dessert. Oh, yeah. And an extra large chocolate malt."
"Do they let guys with high blood pressure eat that stuff?"
His boss glared at him. Jimmy ducked his head.
"Yeah, who cares now?" he said. "It's going to take a
miracle to get us out of this one."
Perry pulled his hands out of his pockets. "See this?"
"What is it?" Jimmy asked.
"Baseball card." He held it up. "Ted Williams. Batted a
four-oh-six season in 1941. Miracles do happen."
Lois glanced at Charlie. If she was right, he might be the
miracle they were looking for -- if he regained his memory
Perry took the wallet out of his back pocket and extracted
several bills. "Oh, hell, get some for all of us. I'm
"Okay," Lois said. "Come on, Charlie."
By some miracle, the hamburger stand was open. There were
even a couple of customers sitting at tables under the
umbrellas that shaded the small, open-air eating area. The
sun was shining brightly and the only traces of snow left
by the overnight storm were a few puddles of dirty water on
the sidewalk. While the woman behind the counter filled
her order, Lois sat down at one of the tables, looking
around at the empty streets.
It was eerie, she thought. By this time on an ordinary
day, the streets were teeming with people. Now, only a few
persons moved about, many of them simply standing in one
spot and looking up at the sky. She resisted the
temptation to follow their example. There was nothing to
see. Nightfall was still out there, plunging toward Earth
at nearly thirty thousand miles per hour but above them,
the sky was a clear, crisp blue. The snow of the previous
night had melted in the sunshine and the air temperature
was probably only a little below freezing. It was a
typical day in early December. There was no sign of
A police car drew up at the curb. Two men, only one in
uniform, climbed out and strode up to the counter. The one
in plain clothes glanced at her and raised a hand. "Hello,
"Hi, Henderson." Lois found herself surprisingly pleased
to see a familiar face. "What are you doing here?"
"Keeping an eye on things. Most of the regulars at the
Precinct have been on duty for over forty-eight hours. I'm
Lois nodded. "I'll bet. You look tired, too."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "This Nightfall thing must be
getting to you," he remarked. "You haven't insulted me,
yet. Yeah, I've been on since last night. Where have you
been? I didn't see you covering the riots."
"When you've seen one riot, you've seen them all," Lois
said. "Bill, this is Charlie -- only that's probably not
really his name. He's the guy with amnesia whom I found in
the fireball crater night before last. Charlie, this is
Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis PD. Charlie's
playing bodyguard for me today, Bill. You haven't seen him
anywhere before, have you?"
Henderson extended a hand, examining Charlie's face
closely. "Nice to meet you, Charlie. No, I'm pretty sure
I haven't, Lois. That's probably a good thing, though. At
least you know I haven't arrested him. When I get back to
the station, I'll check the missing persons reports, if you
"I'd appreciate that," Lois said. "If you can get through,
I'll either be at the Planet or you can leave a message
there for me. I'll be at the EPRAD press conference this
Henderson nodded. "I figured you would be. Tell 'em to
"I'll do that." The woman was back with her order. Lois
stepped up to the counter to claim it. "I'll see you
later, Bill." She hesitated and added, less casually, "Be
careful, today, all right?"
The detective smiled dryly. "I could say the same to you,
but it would be a waste of time. Good luck, Lois."
They walked slowly back toward the Planet. Charlie didn't
say anything, but his expression said he was thinking a
good deal. "He seems like a good guy."
"He is," Lois said. "Don't ever tell him I said that,
though. He'd think I was going soft."
"I've been a little worried that I might have been a
criminal," Charlie said. "I mean, how would I know, if I
can't remember my past?"
Lois shook her head. "You weren't a criminal, Charlie. I
know that for certain. If anything, you're a little too
nice for your own good. That's one of the things that
makes me think you're not from here."
"How is it possible to be too nice?" Charlie asked.
"Believe me, it is -- at least, in Metropolis. That's all
right, though. Stick with me and I'll keep you out of
trouble," Lois said, before she thought. If she was right,
she might end up sending him right back into whatever
danger he was trying to avoid. The realization was
unexpectedly troubling to her. Charlie was her friend, no
matter how short a time she had known him. She liked him -
- a lot. She didn't have many real friends and Charlie was
one she didn't want to lose.
He was taking his role as bodyguard seriously, she thought,
watching him. He was observing the whole area, obviously
ready to protect her from any and all threats that might
emerge in this new situation of the last three days. He
glanced down at her with a slight smile, but didn't relax
his watchfulness. "I know, I'm probably making too much of
this, but I don't want you to get hurt," he said. "Too
many people think that the lack of police gives them carte
blanche to do whatever they want."
"I'm not arguing," Lois said. "Usually, I can take care of
myself but it doesn't hurt to have some help -- especially
"After yesterday, I believe you," Charlie said. "That
mugger will never be the same. I guess self defense
training comes in useful on your job."
"Definitely," she said. "It's saved my neck more than
They reached the Daily Planet and Charlie let her go ahead
of him into the lobby. The concession stands inside were
empty today. Bill, the only security guard present, was
seated on a chair to one side of the room. He raised a
hand to them as they went by.
When the elevator disgorged them on the third floor, Lois
was surprised to see that one more person had arrived
during their absence. In addition to Perry and Jimmy, who
were watching the monitors as the LNN newscaster reported
on a demonstration just outside EPRAD's main gate, Cat
Grant was seated at her desk, eating a sandwich. As they
crossed the newsroom to deliver the food to its recipients,
she lowered the sandwich and deliberately surveyed Charlie
from head to toe. Lois saw a faint flush stain his
cheekbones but he didn't react, otherwise.
"These characters have got to be the ultimate idiots,"
Perry remarked, accepting the bag containing his lunch.
"Is that my malt?"
"No, this one's Charlie's," Lois said. "Here's yours."
"Thanks." Her boss turned back to the scene on the
monitors, beginning to unwrap his hamburger. "The only
chance Earth has got is the Asgard rocket, and this batch
is worried about polluting outer space with radiation.
They want to call off the launch."
"Nobody said the human race was logical, Chief," Lois said.
"I'm more worried about our survival at the moment. Outer
space will have to take care of itself." She extracted
Jimmy's burger and fries from the larger bag and handed him
his soda. "Here you go, Jimmy."
"I got some of the stuff you wanted," Jimmy said, taking
the food. "The computer is still searching but I thought
you'd like to look at what I've found, so far. It's on
"Thanks." Lois headed for her desk. "Come on, Charlie.
We can read while we eat. I have to be at EPRAD in about
Perry swallowed a large mouthful of burger. "I'm issuing
Charlie a press pass so he can go in with you, Lois. As
long as he's playing bodyguard, as far as I'm concerned
he's got a legitimate reason to be there. I don't want you
running around out there without some backup."
"Good idea," Lois said. "Actually, I was going to suggest
it. Charlie's turned out to be pretty useful a couple of
times since yesterday."
"Yeah," Perry said. "Bill told me about the battleaxe."
He gave Charlie a respectful look. "You keep her safe, you
hear me, Charlie?"
"I will, Mr. White." Charlie pulled out Lois's chair for
her and turned to appropriate another from a nearby desk.
Lois dug into the bag of food and presented him with his
burger, two extra-large orders of fries and the super-sized
"Here you go. Let's see what Jimmy's found for us."
The stack of printer paper was a good inch thick. Lois
absently unwrapped her burger while scanning the first
incident. It described a case of climbers in the Alps,
trapped by an avalanche and the angel who had appeared and
taken them to safety. Dated three years ago, she supposed
it could have been Charlie, although how he would have
gotten that high in the Alps she couldn't explain. Still,
it might be possible. Maybe he'd flown up there in his
ship. No one reported seeing such a thing, but maybe it
was invisible, like the one in that Star Trek movie.
But, if her assumptions about Charlie were true, why on
Earth -- or in space, she amended -- was he here? Just to
run around doing good deeds? That seemed pretty unlikely.
Was he some kind of guardian of Earth like a comic book
character, or something? A glance at Charlie told her how
silly such an idea was. He was here for something, but
being a two-dimensional comic book hero wasn't one of them.
Charlie was a real person, and there was a real answer
there somewhere. But if he'd been here for a while, there
had undoubtedly been a number of times that he'd found
himself in a position to help. She'd bet anything she
owned that he'd done just that when he could.
Taking a long slurp of her chocolate malt, she settled down
The list of "incidents" provided by Jimmy had been
formidable, Lois thought. There had been the team of
scientists studying a sunken temple off the coast of
Thailand, stranded when their submersible lost power under
the ocean, suddenly finding itself on the surface half a
mile from their support ship. There was the story of
Marie, a small girl in Paris, trapped in her room when her
home caught fire and the mysterious rescuer who apparently
walked through flames to take her to safety. An earthquake
victim, imprisoned in his car under a collapsing overpass
awoke to find himself lying in a field a mile from the
disaster with no memory of how he got there. There had
been the prison break when all the escapees turned up
caught in their escape tunnel -- because of the boxcar that
somehow wound up sitting on top of the exit hole and a
hundred more, all equally inexplicable. Could it have been
Charlie at work?
Most of the incidents had been within the past eight years,
too. The ones before that were less definite, more as if
they were the products of fertile imaginations. The
reports that caught her attention had witnesses -- credible
ones. If she were right, Charlie had been around for about
eight years, and he had traveled around the world. Events
of the type she looked for tended to be clustered in a
certain area of the world at one time and then, a few
months later, would move on to another part -- as if
Charlie, for some reason, had felt the need to change his
location. But the first ones of the type she was looking
for and the ones for the last year had tended to congregate
mostly in the American Midwest, with the occasional lapse,
such as Paolo Bertolli's blue Lear jet.
But there were a few that matched the pattern in all ways
but location. There had been the mysterious "angel" who
had appeared to the victims of the Chilean earthquake six
months ago, who had rescued hundreds of villagers from
their ruined homes, lifted huge boulders to free trapped
people, built a dam within minutes to stop the river from
flooding the besieged town, and who vanished as if he had
never been when the rescue teams arrived. But the results
of his presence remained. The village priest had called it
a miracle. Government officials discounted the whole thing
as a mass hallucination, but no explanation was ever given
for the fact that the village had been saved from the
flood. Could that have been Charlie, too? If so, she had
only discovered a tiny fraction of what he could do. If it
had been he, then he could surely save them from Nightfall
-- if he could only remember who and what he was.
Lois glanced at Charlie who was reading through the sheets
of paper at warp speed. She doubted he'd even noticed how
fast he was absorbing the material until Jimmy had remarked
on it. Then he'd looked embarrassed and muttered something
about being a speed reader. She hadn't commented, figuring
the less said, the better.
The clock said it was almost noon. She pushed back her
chair. "Charlie, we have to go. The press conference is
in about an hour."
He put down the paper. "I'm ready when you are."
"We're off, then." She reached under her desk to retrieve
her handbag and stood up. "How's that research coming,
"I've got a bunch of stuff here. How much do you want?"
"I guess what you have will do. Just put it on my desk.
I'll look at it when I get back."
"Will do." Jimmy bent backward in his chair, stretching.
"I know I said we'd need a miracle but I didn't really
expect one, you know."
"Neither do I, Jim," she said. "It's just something I'm
trying to figure out. If I do, I'll tell you all about it.
The crowd in front of EPRAD's main gate was blocking the
entrance completely and quite obviously had no intention of
letting the members of the press through. Requests from
loudspeakers at the security checkpoint for them to clear
the way were met with jeers and catcalls. Lois waited
impatiently in the long line of vehicles all bearing the
logos of various news organizations, as EPRAD's Security
forces removed the demonstrators, hauling them away like
sacks of meal. It took considerably longer than Lois liked
and once her Jeep was hit by an egg, thrown by one of the
demonstrators, but at last, the way was clear, barring some
debris and a few wooden signs left behind.
She and Charlie showed their press passes to the guards at
the gate and were waved through. Handmade signs directed
them to a parking lot set aside for them. Lois pulled the
Cherokee into a parking place and cut the engine. Beside
her in the passenger seat, Charlie looked nervously around.
"I hope nobody asks for any other I.D."
"Why should they?" Lois asked. "According to your pass,
you're Charles Kerry, from the Daily Planet. That's all
they care about. Let's go."
Charlie ran a hand over the stubble on his chin. "I don't
see any other guys with this on their faces."
She shrugged. "You're trying to grow a beard. Big deal.
Lots of guys are doing that these days."
He regarded her with a smile. "You've got an answer for
"Naturally." She found herself smiling back at the
expression on his face. "You're not dealing with an
amateur here, Mr. Kerry."
"You have a point." His smile faltered slightly. "In
fact, I think you're pretty amazing. I only wish...."
"What?" she asked, when he didn't complete the sentence.
"I just wish I knew if I was-um-well -- married or
anything," he said.
"Oh," was all she said, but the meaning behind Charlie's
remark was clear. "Well, once you get your memory back,
we'll find out."
"Yeah." He dropped his gaze and reached for the door
handle. "I guess we'd better get to the press conference."
"I guess so." She opened her door and got out, frowning at
the mess on the left fender of the Cherokee. She was going
to have to wash that off as soon as she could before it
dried on and nothing could get it off without damage to the
paint, she thought, irrelevantly. That was definitely on
the agenda as soon as they got back to the city.
She cussed softly to herself. Normally, when there was a
demonstration, she tried to see both sides of the issue in
question but this time her sympathies were definitely not
with a bunch of suicidal protestors. Besides, they had
egged her beloved Jeep and thereby put themselves beyond
She was aware that she was trying to avoid thinking about
Charlie's remark. As they walked side by side across the
lot, Lois stole a glance at her companion. His expression
was hard to read but the tightness of his jaw told her that
he wasn't as relaxed as his posture might lead someone else
to assume. He might be regretting having said what he had,
she thought. Charlie was an honorable guy. He wouldn't
try to make any advances toward her unless he knew that he
was free to do so. The fact that she was so certain of
that was almost a surprise in itself. She didn't trust
many people but he'd shown her in the short time she'd
known him that he was worthy of that trust.
In a way, she felt relieved at the thought. Her previous
relationships with members of the opposite sex had turned
into federal disasters, one way or another. She didn't
want that to happen again, especially with Charlie, or to
lose the easy friendship they had developed since she had
known him. Still, being treated like a sister by a man as
attractive as Charlie didn't hold the appeal she had
imagined it would. The question about his marital status
was one that she would like to resolve -- eventually,
Well, no one had any way of knowing if there would be a
future for any of them after tomorrow. She might as well
shelve the question for the time being, she decided. If
they managed to avert the current crisis, she could think
about it, then. That put the possible dilemma safely in
the future. Besides, if he wasn't from Earth, maybe it
wouldn't matter. With that somewhat reassuring
rationalization, she filed the problem away for future
reference. Concentrating on the job at hand was more
The location of the press conference was the same as
before. The members of the press jockeyed for the best
positions from which to hurl questions at the speakers and
then shifted about, waiting impatiently for those same
speakers to arrive. Lois found her neighbor to be Phil
Morrison from the Star on one side and Linda King of the
Herald on the other. She made a point of ignoring Linda as
if she didn't exist. Linda and she hadn't spoken since the
day in college when she had discovered the woman's theft of
her story. The theft had been an effort on Linda's part to
win the approval of their campus paper's editor, Paul. It
had succeeded, but at the cost of her friendship with Lois.
Linda, as usual, tossed her red-dyed hair and looked away
as well, but Lois could see her beady eyes widen as they
focussed on Charlie. She stepped forward and extended a
hand. "Linda King, Metropolis Herald. You are...?"
"Charles Kerry," Charlie said, mindful of his instructions.
"From the Daily Planet."
"I don't think I've seen you before," Linda said.
Lois gritted her teeth. It figured. Linda couldn't just
stick to her own business. She had to try to horn in on
Lois's territory as brazenly as she had seven years ago.
The problem was, men were usually completely taken in.
Male hormones, she thought. Somehow, they always seemed to
think the woman was attractive. She glared at Linda,
trying to project a silent warning.
Charlie glanced at Lois, a faint look of surprise on his
face. "I -- um, I'm new," he said, giving Linda's hand a
quick shake. "Mr. White wouldn't have sent me if there had
been anyone else."
Linda's expression of interest sharpened and she opened her
mouth to speak. Fortunately, General Zeitlin, accompanied
by Professor Daitch, had appeared and now climbed to the
podium. Lois nudged Charlie and directed his attention to
the two men. She would have to warn him about Linda after
the conference, she decided. The little sneak was utterly
without scruples. Without his memory, Charlie would have
no idea how to defend himself against her.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the press,"
General Zeitlin's voice boomed out, accompanied by a
terrific squeal of feedback. The general winced slightly
and pulled back from the microphone. "Good afternoon," he
The crowd of journalists fell silent, every eye fixed on
the general. The man cleared his throat.
"As you know, we called this press conference to keep the
American people updated on the current emergency." The
general hesitated. "Professor Daitch?"
Daitch stepped up to the microphone. "The fragments of the
Nightfall Asteroid are continuing on course, as might be
expected," he said. "Revised calculations place their
arrival at approximately six-oh-three tomorrow evening,
somewhere in the Pacific Ocean."
"Can't you place it more closely?" Linda King called.
"Will it be in the northern or southern hemisphere?"
Daitch seemed somewhat nonplused. "Um -- there is a
scattering of fragments," he explained. "Some will miss us
entirely. The largest fragment -- the one we're most
worried about -- is certainly going to hit us, probably in
the Southern Hemisphere, if we can't intercept it. There
will be scattered strikes both north and south, and
possibly a few will hit land. These will be relatively
minor in comparison to the largest one, which is the target
of the Asgard rocket."
"When is the rocket being launched?" someone wanted to
know. "It seems dangerous to wait until it's right on top
Daitch hesitated. "General Zeitlin will answer that
question," he said, and stepped back.
Zeitlin nodded. "Thank you, Professor. The Asgard rocket
was launched yesterday from the EPRAD base in Houston,
under the guise of a weather satellite." He dropped the
information in an almost casual tone and waited while the
inevitable swell of voices had died down. "I'm sure all of
you saw the demonstration at the gate when you arrived. We
needed to avoid such confusion and possible attempts at
sabotage since there isn't a margin for error, this time.
The launch window and the location of the launch itself
were deliberately misstated in order to avoid the problems
that would have inevitably arisen. It's on its way, ladies
and gentlemen of the press. It should intercept the
fragment in question in about twenty-four hours, inside the
"That's awfully close to Earth," Charlie was saying some
time later as they walked back toward the Cherokee. "I
wonder why they had to wait until it was so close."
Lois shrugged. "I don't know. I hope they know what
"So do I." Charlie hitched his shoulders uncomfortably.
"If they miss, Nightfall will hit about four hours later."
"I hate to admit it," Lois said, "but I'm scared."
"Yeah. So am I." Charlie looked involuntarily up at the
sky. "I don't know why I'm looking. There's nothing to
"Not yet." They approached the Jeep and Lois unlocked her
door. "I don't want it to get close enough to see."
"Yeah." Charlie went around to the passenger side and
waited until she pulled the locking button on his door.
"Lois, do you really think I had something to do with
breaking up the asteroid?"
"Yes, I do." She started the engine. "I think you're
responsible for a lot of so-called miracles that have
happened in the last eight years. You read that list Jimmy
"Yeah, I did." He was closely studying his hands, folded
tightly in his lap. "I have to admit, it looks kind of
like it. But how about that one where the guy swore a
flying man pulled him out of an explosion? You don't
really believe that stuff, do you?"
Lois shook her head. "I doubt it. You know, the
authorities decided he'd hit his head when the explosion
somehow threw him free and his imagination most likely
supplied an explanation for the miraculous escape.
Somehow, I can't quite make myself believe in a man who can
fly under his own power, unless he's got some kind of anti-
gravity device. I suppose that could be possible if you're
from another planet."
"I guess. But I don't have any of that stuff, Lois. If I
*do* have a space ship somewhere, I don't have any idea
where it is."
Both were silent while she maneuvered the Cherokee out of
the lot but Lois's mind continued to circle endlessly about
the puzzle of Charlie and his unearthly abilities. When
they pulled onto the highway again, she spoke. "Did you
notice that most of the early incidents on that list and a
lot of the ones in the last year happened in the Midwest?
It's like you were there for a while, traveled for a couple
of years and then went back there again. What would you
have been doing in the Midwest?"
He shrugged. "I have no idea."
"Well, I think you were living there. It's logical that
you'd establish yourself somewhere like that. Someplace
where there aren't so many people, maybe -- and where you
could move around without people watching everything you
"I don't know about that," Charlie said. "I'd think that
if anything, I'd have picked the city if I wanted to move
around without being noticed. In small towns, everybody
knows everything about everybody else."
"How do you know that?"
Charlie paused, frowning. "I don't know," he said. "It
just seems to make sense."
"I think it's because you know some small town, somewhere,"
she said. "I think I'm right. So, you probably live
somewhere in this country, possibly in a small town in the
Midwest. Somehow, you ended up in Metropolis, night before
last, without your memory."
Charlie was silent a few moments, absorbing that. "And
this is leading up to...?" he said.
"I don't know, really," Lois said. "I'm just trying to
figure out as much as I can. Maybe something will jog your
memory. When we get back to the office, I'm going to try
to chart all the events in the last year on a map. Maybe
we can figure out which part of the Midwest you've been
"And maybe we should check with your friend, Inspector
Henderson," Charlie suggested. "I might be on a missing
person report from somewhere, if anyone's reported that I'm
"Maybe," Lois agreed. "Only, if it's just been since night
before last, it might not have reached Metropolis yet. The
lines have been pretty much jammed. Still, the police
might have priority over the rest of us."
"There's probably been a lot of people who've disappeared
in the last couple of days," Charlie said, sounding
discouraged. "It seems like the whole world has lost its
"No, just its collective hope," Lois said. "People are
afraid. *I'm* afraid, Charlie. I don't want to die."
"Whatever happens, I won't let you die," he said. "I
promise you that, Lois."
"You won't, if you can prevent it," she said, "but my world
will be gone. Everything we've known will be gone. And a
lot of people are going to die, no matter what you do.
Even *you* can't be everywhere, Charlie, no matter how fast
and strong you may be."
"In other words, if my job really is to stop Nightfall, I'd
better figure out how to do it," Charlie said. "If I can
"Charlie...." Lois saw the light ahead of her turn yellow
and began to apply the brake. "The dream where you
remembered the jet...."
"You dreamed you were on a farm. Was there anyone else in
He frowned, obviously striving to remember. "I don't know.
You know how you forget dreams after you wake up. I don't
really remember anymore. It seems like there might have
been, but --"
"Yeah." Lois brought the car to a stop. From the corner
of her eye, she caught motion but ignored it. "So we don't
know if anyone would be reporting you missing.'
"I guess not...Lois!" His exclamation startled her. Then
she felt the knife blade pressed to her throat.
"You!" a deep voice said. "Get out or the lady gets it."
Lois froze. They were being carjacked. Why not? she
thought, irrelevantly. Everything else that could go wrong
had happened in the last two days. The blade of the knife
dug into the skin of her throat and she could feel the
muscular strength of the arm that held her tightly against
Charlie moved slowly to unfasten his seatbelt. If he let
the man into the car, she was well aware that the chances
of her surviving this were slight. The carjacker's breath
was hot on the back of her neck and she wrinkled her nose
involuntarily at the odor.
"Shut up!" The arm clutched her more tightly. "Do what
you're told and you'll live through this. Move it,
'Charlie'! Get outta the car!"
Charlie unfastened the seatbelt and reached for the door
handle, all in slow motion. Lois closed her eyes in
The knife was suddenly yanked from her throat and a yell of
fury from her assailant made her eyes fly open. Charlie
was gripping the hand that held the knife with his left
hand and had the man's other forearm held in an equally
iron grasp. He literally peeled the carjacker's arms away
from her with inexorable strength.
"Lois," he said, quietly, "can you climb over me, please?
I don't think we should let this one go, do you?"
Mutely, she shook her head, squirmed around and managed to
crawl across the gearshift and Charlie's lap, letting him
slide over into the driver's seat.
Charlie had an expression on his face that would have made
her giggle if she'd been in any mood to do so. It was
stern and serious, his jaw was set, and it reminded her of
all the imaginary heroes from the Lone Ranger to Zorro,
that she had ever read about. Charlie was deadly serious,
and if she was any judge, angry as well.
The carjacker turned captive tried to jerk free, but he
might as well have been struggling with a python. Charlie
didn't even react. With clinical precision, he released
the carjacker's arm and grasped the wrist of his knife
hand. The man struck at Charlie's face with his suddenly
free fist, without result. Or maybe, Lois thought a second
later, it was simply a different result than he had
expected. She heard the smack of knuckles on bone and the
carjacker howled in pain, shaking his injured hand.
Charlie ignored the blow as if it hadn't happened. He
simply contracted his own hand in a paralyzing squeeze on
the imprisoned wrist. The man's fingers opened
involuntarily and Charlie gently removed the knife from his
grasp, blade-first, dropping it to the floor of the Jeep.
"What do you want to do with him?" Lois asked.
"I think we should drive him to a police station," Charlie
said, mildly. If she hadn't seen the flash of anger in his
eyes before he'd brought it under control, she'd have been
completely fooled. "I'm sure they can stash him somewhere
safe until this Nightfall thing is over. Why don't I get
into the back seat with him and you can drive. You know
where things are better than I do. Don't worry; he's not
Lois had no difficulty believing that. She found herself
nodding agreement. The carjacker glared at Charlie. "I'll
get you for this!"
"Maybe," Charlie agreed. "But not today. I'm the lady's
bodyguard -- and I take my job very seriously."
The drive to the 13th Street police station was
accomplished in twenty minutes, mostly in silence --
"mostly", because their captive occupied the first few
minutes in the rear seat cursing steadily at Charlie.
Charlie finally gave him a gentle shake and told him to be
quiet or he'd gag him with his own shirt. Apparently, the
man believed him, because he'd fallen silent for the
remainder of the trip.
The police station was nearly empty when they arrived.
Lois opened the frosted glass door for Charlie to herd his
unwilling companion through and looked around the almost
empty room. The station was nearly silent. The only
officer in sight was Robert Gunderson, the desk sergeant,
but he recognized Lois at once, as might have been
expected, she reflected. Gunderson and she had had a few
reasonably amicable, professional run-ins in the past. He
glanced at Charlie and his captive and looked back to Lois
for an explanation.
"This guy tried to carjack me, with a knife," Lois said.
"If it weren't for Charlie, I'd probably be dead."
Gunderson eyed the culprit with a sardonic expression. His
eyebrows went up. "Well, well! Harry Broder, as I live
and breathe," he said, dryly. "Up to your old tricks
Broder glared back. "I got nothin' to say."
Gunderson stuck two fingers in his mouth and produced a
shrill whistle. "Young! Get in here!"
A youthful police officer with one arm in a cast, appeared.
"You called, Sarge?"
"Yeah, read this guy his rights and lock him up for the
time being, then take Ms. Lane's report. You can book him
later." He glanced back at Lois. "We're a bit short-
handed, what with the emergency."
"I gathered that when I ran into Henderson this morning,"
Lois said. "He was covering for one of the regular police
"We got everybody working double shifts," Gunderson said.
"I don't know what we're gonna do if that thing really hits
"With luck, it won't," Lois said. "The Asgard rocket is
already on its way."
"Good luck to it -- and all of us," Gunderson said. "You,
Charlie, is it? Would you mind helpin' Young take Harry
back to the lockup? He broke a wrist in one of the riots
"No problem," Charlie said. He nodded at Young. "Lead the
The three disappeared through a door in the rear of the
room. Gunderson pointed down an adjoining hall. "Go on in
there, Ms. Lane. Young's desk is by the door. He'll be in
to take your complaint in a few minutes."
Some twenty minutes later, Lois and Charlie were ready to
leave. Charlie had given his statement as a witness and
Young had retrieved Harry's knife from the floor of the
Cherokee. Charlie started to open the door of the police
station for Lois only to have it pulled open by someone
entering from the outside. Inspector William Henderson,
followed by a uniformed officer, stepped within. He raised
an eyebrow at Lois. "Here to check the missing person
"Actually, I'd forgotten about that," she admitted. "A man
tried to carjack my Jeep and Charlie stopped him. Do you
have the time to check them now?"
Henderson shrugged. "Sure, why not? Come with me."
They followed him toward his office. Charlie glanced at
Lois with one eyebrow up. "They seem to know you around
here," he said in a low voice.
"Yeah, sort of," Lois admitted, her voice equally soft.
"Henderson and I have sort of been sparring partners for a
few years. Then, a few months ago, I broke the case of a
scientist at EPRAD who was sabotaging the space program for
profit. Jimmy and I barely got out alive. Henderson
thinks I'm too reckless and told me so in so many words."
She grinned. "He nearly arrested me for trespassing after
I sneaked into EPRAD to investigate what was being done to
the Messenger rocket to find out why it exploded, but he
let me off because I *did* save the space program, after
"What did you do?" Charlie asked.
"I found a bomb on the shuttle that was taking the
colonists up to the space station and managed to alert
Mission Control before they fired the rockets. They were
able to launch with only a slight delay. The hitch, of
course, was that I was on the shuttle without
authorization. Fortunately, EPRAD declined to press
charges, since I'd alerted them to the emergency.
Everything worked out okay."
"I guess so," Charlie said, thoughtfully. "Your life
sounds kind of -- exciting, to say the least."
"My mother tells me I'm driving her to an early grave,"
Lois said. "I've come through alive so far, though."
Charlie didn't say anything but he cast a skeptical glance
at her. Lois briefly thought of challenging him but
decided against it, considering Henderson's presence ahead
of them. The detective opened the door of his office and
waved them through.
"Give me a couple of minutes and I'll pull the latest ones
up for you," he said. "Sit down." He dropped into his
seat and rotated his chair to face the slightly older
computer that occupied the spot. Lois glanced around and
found a place on the battered sofa sitting against one
wall. Charlie settled down beside her. He had been
sticking closer to her than ever since the carjacking
attempt, she thought. Still, that wasn't such a bad thing.
Having a super-powered man looking out for your welfare
definitely had its advantages. Especially one who looked
like Charlie. Even with the heavy stubble on his face, his
appearance was one to make any woman give him a second look
as well as a third and a fourth.
"We only have five reports of missing persons," Henderson
said, suddenly. "Three women, one guy about seventy years
old and an eighteen year old kid. I guess no one's
reported Charlie, yet -- at least, to us."
"Only five?" Lois asked. "How is that possible."
Henderson just looked at her. "I think that's obvious,
Of course, it was. The fear that had gripped the planet
since the discovery of Nightfall was disrupting a great
many things. Lower priorities, such as missing persons,
took second place to keeping the entire structure of
civilization from disintegrating around them. The police
in most places were concentrating on maintaining a
semblance of order among the frightened citizens. Hadn't
she thought, a few days earlier, that panicky human beings
were more likely to destroy the world before Nightfall ever
arrived? Most people were probably keeping their heads but
there were enough who weren't to keep the police fully
occupied for the time being. Not to mention, those like
Harry Broder who were taking advantage of the situation for
their own purposes.
She nodded, reluctantly. "I suppose so. Thanks for taking
the time to check, though. I appreciate it."
Henderson's right eyebrow went up. "No insults? Are you
feeling all right, Lois?"
She made a feeble attempt at a smile. "Not really, Bill.
If everything turns out all right after all, I'll go back
to insulting you then, if you don't mind. I'm just not up
to it right now."
The man's expression changed. His mouth twisted, wryly.
"I don't think I could take it if Mad Dog Lane gave up the
fight," he said, in a completely different tone. "Hang in
there, will you Lois? Even if that thing in the sky hits,
Metropolis will survive. It's people like you who will
*make* it survive, if worst comes to worst."
"He's right, you know," Charlie said. "You're the kind of
person who makes things happen. You've proven that to me
in the last couple of days."
Lois felt her eyes prickling with the threat of tears. The
strain, and her doubts and downright fears for the future
that had been weighing on her for the last three days were
suddenly almost too much for her self-control. All her
adult life she had avoided dealing with real emotions, her
own and others. It was so much easier to hide behind her
work, or a facade of anger or humor; even the light
sparring in which she and Henderson engaged whenever they
met. Honest feelings were uncomfortable things, best left
buried, but it was at times like this one, when people let
down their guard, that they often unexpectedly emerged.
Someone put a handkerchief into her hands. She looked up
to see Bill Henderson, his dark, saturnine face
unexpectedly concerned, and became aware that tears were
rolling silently down her cheeks. Charlie had reached out
to take her hand, and was glancing from her to Henderson
and back again, obviously unsure what to do. She gulped
and dabbed at her eyes.
"Sorry," she muttered. "I'm okay."
Henderson gave a crooked smile. "It's reassuring to know
that even Lois Lane is human," he said, dryly. "We're
going to make it, Lois. The human race is tougher than you
think. Whether that thing hits us or not, we'll survive
and come back stronger than ever. It's people like you who
make me sure of that."
"That's a funny thing for a cop to say," she managed.
He turned away to cross the floor to the water cooler in
the corner of his office. An instant later, he returned
with a paper cup. "Here, drink this. No, not really. A
good cop has to be an optimist in the long run, or he
wouldn't be in the job. If he didn't have hope for the
good, honest, hard-working people he protects, he'd burn
out. It's just sometimes hard to see the optimism in the
middle of all the negative things he has to deal with, but
it's still there, underneath. An investigative reporter
isn't so different. If you didn't have hope, you'd be
doing something else."
Henderson was right, she was thinking a few minutes later,
as she and Charlie walked out to the Jeep. Hope was a hard
thing to kill. It might sink and hide for a while, but it
never quite died. There was still hope that Charlie would
remember enough before it was too late. And the Asgard
rocket had pretty good odds, too. She shouldn't discount
it yet, even if shooting asteroids hadn't been its original
purpose. The Earth had more than a fighting chance. She
wasn't giving up yet.
The office was quiet when they arrived back at the Planet.
Perry, Jimmy and Cat were still there and, while Lois and
Charlie had been gone, they had been joined by Eduardo and
Madeline, the fashion editor. The five were grouped around
the monitors, watching the LNN newscast. The progress of
the Asgard rocket in relation to the asteroid was showing
on the screen as they entered, with a countdown
superimposed across the bottom of the picture. Lois
grimaced at the numbers: 26 hours, 37 minutes and 53
seconds, counting down as she watched.
With difficulty, she pulled her gaze away from the sight.
She had work to do. Watching the approach of Armageddon
Her companion was watching the screen, too, an expression
she couldn't quite read on his face. Charlie was afraid,
but the fear was almost hidden by one of pure, helpless
"Charlie?" she said, "is something wrong?"
He turned to look at her, trying to compose his features as
"I just have this feeling there's something I can do -- if
I can just remember!" The vehemence of the words was not
diminished in the least by the low tone in which he spoke.
"It's like everything is there on the other side of a wall
that I can't break down! Lois, I don't want this to
happen! I guess I don't have to tell you that. What's it
going to be like if you're right, if I remember when it's
too late, and realize I could have stopped all this?"
She reached out to touch his arm. "I know, Charlie. I
don't remember much about psychology, but I remember the
stuff they said about the subconscious. It doesn't reason;
it just knows what it wants. I think your subconscious is
just plain scared. It doesn't care if your conscious mind
wants to help. It's afraid and won't let you remember."
"Then, what am I going to do? I want to remember -- I want
to help. How am I going to get around a part of my mind
that won't cooperate?"
"We're just going to have to keep trying. Maybe if we can
find someone who knows about you; maybe if we can find
where you've been living, someone there can help."
Charlie nodded. "Maybe."
"And, there's always the chance that your need to help will
overcome the fear," Lois said, softly. "I think that's the
kind of person you are, Charlie. I think you go out of
your way to help other people. If you were responsible for
even a tenth of those so-called miracles Jimmy dug up,
there's no doubt of it. Let's go into the conference room.
I want to try placing those incidents on a map and see if
we can pinpoint where you come from -- maybe a town or a
city. The police department there might have a missing
persons report, even if Metropolis doesn't. Anything
familiar might jog your memory."
Charlie gathered up the stack of paper that Jimmy had left
on Lois's desk. "Do you have a map?"
"There's a computer in the conference room. We'll use
"I think," Lois said, "that we'll stick with a map of the
United States, and limit our incidents to the last two
"Why two years?" Charlie asked.
"We're trying to find the place where you've most likely
been living most recently," she said. "I'm going to mark
the incidents in color. The ones with eyewitnesses are
going to be red, the ones where it was a probable will be
blue and the maybes will be in yellow. We'll mark rumors
An hour later, Lois and Charlie were looking at a map of
the United States speckled with dots of different colors.
The incidents had occurred all over the country, but the
pattern was clear. They clustered most thickly around the
American Midwest, specifically Kansas. The red spots were
few and scattered, as might be expected. Charlie was
apparently fairly careful to avoid being seen by groups of
people, but the farther away from the central cluster the
event occurred, the more people had actually seen a man in
connection with the odd events, such as the one involving
the sky blue Lear jet at Metro Airfield. Even then, he'd
been careful not to be seen doing anything out of the
ordinary -- except for the very fact of the seeming
The blue, yellow and green dots appeared far more
frequently, of course, but Lois could see the pattern
clearly. She looked at Charlie. "I'd say you've been
living somewhere in Kansas, Charlie. Does that sound
He shrugged. "Maybe. But how did I get to Metropolis, in
"How did you get to any of these places, assuming that you
were responsible for some of these things? You must have
some kind of transportation that gets you places fast."
"I wish I could find it, if I do." Charlie rubbed his
face. "Can you expand the map? I'd like a closer look at
that part of the country."
"Sure." Lois clicked her cursor on the thickest collection
of multicolored dots and the features of the country drew
"Hmm...Wichita's the biggest city in the area," Lois said.
"And there are a bunch of small towns -- Hoxie, Oakley,
Smallville, Ellis, Goodland...who on Earth would name a
town Pepper? Does any of that sound familiar?"
Charlie was staring at the map, his face contorted in a
frown of concentration. "I...I'm not sure. Do you think
you could find aerial photographs? I'd like to see what it
really looks like, rather than just looking at a map."
"Sure." Lois stood up and stretched, aware suddenly of how
tense her neck and shoulders had become. Charlie was
trying as hard as he could but time was growing so short.
If the Asgard rocket, by some horrible twist of fate,
missed its target, he might be Earth's last hope and he
couldn't remember how to help. "I think Jimmy might have a
better chance of finding them, though." She opened the
door into the main newsroom. "Jimmy, could you come here
for a minute?"
The Planet's gofer hoisted himself from his chair. He'd
been flicking paperclips at the nearest trashcan and the
little silver clips lay scattered all around his target.
Lois held the door for him as he entered the conference
"What's up?" he asked.
"You're the computer whiz kid around here. We need some
aerial maps of this part of the country." She waved at the
computer screen. "Can you find some for us?"
He shrugged. "Sure, no problem. Why?"
"We're trying to stimulate Charlie's memory. He says he
remembers flying a lot. He may have been a pilot." She
was aware that the explanation was incomplete but Jimmy
seemed to accept it.
"The Planet's database has aerial photos of the whole
country," he said, sliding into the chair in front of the
computer as he spoke. His fingers flew over the keys and a
moment later a photo appeared on the screen. "There you
go. If you need to look at any others, just go to the
mapsite menu...see?" He demonstrated by minimizing the
picture to reveal the printing behind it. "I designed it,"
he added, with a touch of pride, restoring the photo as he
"I didn't know that," Lois said. "Thanks, Jimmy. This is
just what we needed."
"Can I help with anything else?" Jimmy looked wistful.
"It would be better than just sitting there watching the
monitors count down."
"If I think of something, I'll call you," Lois promised.
"Right now, there doesn't seem to be much either of us can
do except to try to jog Charlie's memory."
"Well, maybe another hit on the head will bring it back,"
Jimmy suggested. "It always works in the movies."
"I don't think so," Lois said, making a face. "It seems to
me something like that is more likely to cause damage than
to help. Head injuries are nothing to sneeze at. People
die of them all the time."
"I guess," Jimmy agreed. "It doesn't really make much
sense if you think about it." He turned to Charlie, who
had leaned forward to examine the picture on the computer
screen. "Recognize anything, Charlie?"
Charlie was staring at the picture as if frozen in place.
"I don't know," he said, but his voice lacked conviction.
"I'm not sure, but it looks kind of familiar."
"Maybe you're from the area," Jimmy suggested.
"Maybe. Or he could have flown over it," Lois said. Some
instinct she didn't even recognize led her to divert Jimmy
from the question of Charlie's origin. "Lots of pictures
taken from the air look alike. If Charlie's a pilot, he'd
be used to seeing that kind of thing."
"Yeah," Jimmy said. "Well, there are a lot of aerial
photos there. If you need anything, let me know, okay?"
"I will," Lois promised. She glanced out the window at the
city, noting that the sunlight was almost completely
blocked by the taller buildings. She glanced at the wall
clock in surprise, noting that it was nearly five. At this
time of the year, while the days were still getting
shorter, the sun set not long after five o'clock. Winter
solstice, and the first day of winter, was officially only
three weeks away, and Christmas only a few days after that.
Where would they be this Christmas, she wondered, dismally.
Since her parents had broken up, Christmas had always been
a burden for her more than anything else, but for most
people it was a joyous time of year. If Nightfall hit,
would people even celebrate Christmas?
"Lois, I do recognize this picture," Charlie said,
suddenly. "It's not just a similarity; I'm sure of it.
I've seen it before. Oh, some of the stuff is different.
That truck wasn't there, and that old farm building is gone
Lois had turned to the picture like a shot, barely noticing
that Jimmy had left the room. "How can you see details
like that? What truck?"
"Here." He indicated an indistinct blob on one of the
lines that Lois had figured was probably a dirt road.
"This is a load of some kind of produce. It looks like the
picture was taken in autumn."
Lois clicked on one of the icons at the bottom of the
picture. "October 1988," she confirmed. "How could you
tell that, Charlie? I sure couldn't."
He shrugged. "I can see it," he said. "When I focus
really hard on something, it's like a magnifying glass, or
something. I can't explain it."
"And you've seen this place before?" She squinted at the
caption. "Where is it?"
Charlie didn't even have to squint to read the tiny
lettering. "Smallville, Kansas," he said. "That's
actually the town up there at the top of the picture. The
rest of this is the surrounding countryside -- farms,
"Farms," Lois said. "And you dreamed you were helping out
on a farm. You don't think it was a memory, do you?"
"Maybe. How can I tell? But, I know I've seen this part
of the country before -- from the air."
"Let's look at some of the other towns and nearby
countryside," Lois suggested, after a few seconds. "Maybe
it'll bring back more."
"Sure." Charlie agreed. He turned to look at the picture
again, and she saw him frown in concentration. "This farm
here." He indicated it with an index finger. "There's
something about it. I don't know...."
Lois tried not to sound too eager. "What, Charlie?"
He was silent for almost thirty seconds, frowning at the
blurry picture. "Whatever it was, it's gone," he said,
finally, and his tone was filled with restrained
"It's all right, Charlie." Lois laid a hand on his
shoulder. "You almost remembered something. It's just a
matter of time, now. I'm sure of it."
He looked up at her. "Time is something we don't have much
of," he said, quietly. "I wonder; could we get hold of a
phone book for Smallville, Kansas? Maybe I'd recognize
names if I saw them."
"Maybe. I don't know if one would be available over the
Internet," Lois said. "Jimmy would know. I'll ask him."
"I wonder...." Charlie was still frowning. "Could we find
out what newspapers they have out there? Local ones, I
mean. If I know the town...."
"You might recognize things in the newspaper," she agreed,
trying not to sound too excited. "Aren't small town papers
pretty much devoted to local news?"
Charlie was nodding. "Lots of them are."
Lois turned to open the conference room door and at that
precise second the lights went out. All around the room,
the low hum of the equipment that functioned on electricity
For a second, the newsroom was completely silent and then a
babble of voices arose as everyone in the room beyond tried
to speak at once. Lois stopped in her tracks, waiting for
her eyes to adjust. The conference room was dim, and only
a pale glow of illumination shone through the window.
While she and Charlie had been looking at the aerial photo
of Smallville, the sun had dropped completely behind the
buildings. Slowly she stepped back into the conference
room and let the door swing shut.
There was the scrape of a chair as Charlie shoved it
backwards and stood up, his features dimly visible in the
sudden gloom. "Power failure," he said, stating the
Lois had an insane urge to scream. Just when it looked as
if they were making progress, the Fates had decided to
throw another obstacle in their path. Without power, the
computers were useless. It seemed as if the great god
Murphy was going overboard with his practical jokes today.
Slowly, careful not to collide with anything in the
dimness, Lois made her way to the window. The sight that
met her eyes was genuinely calculated to make the chills
crawl across the back of her neck.
Except for the pale, fading colors of sunset in the western
sky and the glow of headlights from the occasional lone
car, the city was dark. No light shone from the windows of
the towering buildings that graced Metropolis's skyline,
the streetlights were out and none of the flashing,
animated advertising signs that normally lit up the city's
night were in evidence. Even as she watched, the traces of
sunset were fading from the sky, plunging the streets into
the deepest gloom. Metropolis was a shadow city inhabited
by ghostly figures moving furtively through the increasing
dimness below and it looked suddenly, although not
Lois drew in a deep breath. "I've never seen Metropolis
like this," she murmured. "It's eerie."
"The moon will be up before long," Charlie said,
practically. "It'll help. Do you have a flashlight?"
"Yeah, in my purse. Why? Do you need it?"
She could see him shake his head in the darkness of the
room. "I know it's dark to you, but I can see fine. I was
thinking about you trying to go home like this. It's going
to be more dangerous than ever."
"Well, I'm not going home for a while. Maybe they'll have
the power back on before then."
"I hope so. If they don't, I'm going with you. I can walk
back here afterwards, or sleep in the bathtub or
"Charlie, I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."
"I know you can," he said, sounding completely sincere.
"The situation out there isn't normal right now, though.
I'll feel better if I go with you, just to be sure you get
home all right. Remember, I've been playing bodyguard for
a couple of days now."
And, he'd saved her life a couple of times, she reminded
herself. Little though she might want to admit it, having
Charlie with her definitely made her feel a lot safer than
she would have, alone. "Okay, I guess you can come," she
agreed, trying to sound reluctant. "I wouldn't want you to
Behind them, the door opened. Perry's voice said,
"Everything okay in here?"
"We're fine, Perry," Lois said. "Unfortunately, we lost
all our data from the search I was running."
"We're trying to find out what's happened," Perry said.
"The phones are still working but they're jammed, of
course. We can't get through to anyone who can tell us
what's going on."
"Of course," Lois said, her voice sounding flat. "Do you
ever have the feeling you're swimming upstream?"
"Huh?" Perry sounded slightly confused. "Yeah, sometimes.
Look, Lois, I know it's almost time to head home but I
don't want you goin' out on the streets alone right now.
Charlie can stay here again tonight, and I'll drive you to
your place in a bit."
"Charlie's taking me home in a little while, Perry. I'll
There was a slight pause. "Okay, I guess that'll be all
right. I'll leave word with Security that they're to let
you in when they get back, Charlie."
"Thanks, Mr. White," Charlie said.
"That's okay, Chief," Lois said. "I'm going to let him
sleep on my couch. That way he'll be there to bring me
back in the morning. I trust him. We spent last night
alone in the Jeep, after all."
"Yeah, I guess you did," Perry agreed. "You keep her safe,
you hear me, Charlie?"
"Yes, sir," Charlie said.
"We're not leaving yet," Lois said. "Has anybody got a
radio with batteries?"
"We're checking around," Perry said. "Nobody in the
newsroom does, but I sent Jimmy to look around the
"I'm going to try the phones. Maybe I'll be lucky and get
through," Lois said. "Miracles have happened before.
Charlie can try, too. He can use Norman's desk."
Her boss shrugged. "Okay by me. I haven't seen Norman for
"Maybe he's with his family," Charlie ventured.
"More likely at the nearest bar," Lois said, unkindly.
"Come on, pal, we have work to do."
"Do the phones still work with the power out?" Charlie
"Of course they do," Lois said. "This is a newspaper,
Perry held the door for them. "They installed a new PBX
system for our phones last year," he explained. "The
phones don't have a dial tone, and won't ring without
power, but you can call outside."
"Oh," Charlie said.
The phone lines were still jammed an hour later. The
congestion had been slowly clearing over the last day, but
the power outage had undoubtedly sent the residents of
Metropolis scurrying back to their phones, trying to find
out what was wrong and when the problem was going to clear
itself up. As a result, attempting to get through on a
phone line was virtually an exercise in futility. Lois put
down the receiver with more force than was strictly
necessary and muttered a cuss word under her breath.
Charlie glanced at her with a faint smile and she reminded
herself how acute his ears were.
She looked around the room. From somewhere, Perry had
dredged up a kerosene lantern, although its origin remained
a mystery. Eduardo had unearthed one of his precious
meditation candles and set it on the table by the coffee
machine and Jimmy had appeared half an hour before with an
old, battery-powered radio and another lantern, this one a
Coleman, which he had inexplicably come across in one of
the storerooms. He'd departed a few minutes afterwards on
a quest for batteries and had not yet returned.
"If Jimmy doesn't get back with some batteries in a few
minutes, I'm going home," she announced. "The power will
probably be back on in a few hours, anyway."
Jimmy stepped out of the stairway at that moment. "Found
some!" he announced, triumphantly, waving two D-cells.
"Barry Jones left his flashlight down at the soda machine.
I'll have to get him some more, later."
"Great," Lois said. "Let's see if we can find out what's
The radio reception wasn't the best but eventually they
found a reasonably clear frequency. Someone was reporting
on the progress of the Asgard rocket, and then about the
fact that the Metropolis International Airport was closed
down. Planes were being diverted to Chicago. Finally, an
update on the blackout informed them that power was
reported to be out on the entire eastern seaboard. It
appeared that a fire in a transformer in New Jersey had
thrown the power load on the rest of the system and caused
a cascading overload. Lois listened in silence. The
entire power system was down. It just figured, she
thought. As if they weren't having enough difficulties,
this had to happen on top of it. It was probably part and
parcel with everything else that was going on, caused by
the Nightfall situation, but she could have done without it
at just this moment. She picked up her purse and went to
take her coat from the rack.
"Perry, I'm going home. I'll see you in the morning. Come
Her apartment was both dark and cold when she unlocked the
door to it twenty minutes later. Unlike the Daily Planet,
she had nothing approaching a kerosene lantern but there
were several candles in one of the drawers in her tiny
kitchen and she made her way to it, guided by the light of
the flashlight that she kept in her purse for emergencies.
Charlie apparently didn't need any such help. He moved
about sure-footedly in a way that reminded her that he
could see almost as well in the dark as he could by day and
she envied him the ability, wondering at the same time what
and where his origins might be that granted him such varied
and extraordinary talents. Were there others like him who
had the same skills, wherever he came from? Were there
others like him here on Earth? If there were, maybe they
would step in to save the Earth in his place.
She thought about that while she was lighting the first
candle and decided that it wasn't something she could count
on. The question of why Charlie was here occurred to her
at least once an hour and so far she had come up with about
a million conflicting theories but nothing that made much
If he were some kind of alien invader, for instance, he
certainly wasn't doing much of a job of conquering Earth.
In fact, quite the opposite; he seemed to have gone out of
his way to help rather than harm. Surely, though, he
wouldn't have come here to play the part of some kind of
secret, super-powered Good Samaritan, would he? That
seemed like a pretty corny idea. The comics were full of
guys like that, and she'd never bought the premise; it
So, discarding that particular scenario, what the heck was
Charlie doing here?
"Charlie," she said, abruptly, "didn't you say that in your
dream you were a kid, helping on a farm?"
"Yeah," Charlie said. "Why?"
"Is it possible you did grow up on a farm -- maybe that
farm you were pointing to in the photo?"
"I guess it's possible," Charlie said, somewhat doubtfully.
"I guess I'm still trying to figure out why you're here.
We kind of thought you've been on Earth for several years
but that you arrived as an adult. But what if you got here
as a child?"
"What makes you think that?" Charlie asked.
"It makes more sense," Lois said. "You know, you're
definitely not an ordinary man, but you speak with a
Midwestern accent and I can't make sense of why you're
here, otherwise. Unless you're some kind of interplanetary
cop or something."
Charlie made a face. "I don't think so. But if I grew up
here, how do I get to so many places so fast? How did I
get to Metropolis? What was that fireball that made the
crater where you found me?"
Lois carefully fitted the candle into a candleholder and
set it in the middle of her kitchen table. "I don't know.
There's something I'm missing, obviously, but I'm not wrong
about the fact that you aren't ordinary and you turned up
just now in a completely weird way. I don't think that was
a coincidence, Charlie. I think that you can save us from
Nightfall, somehow. I just wish I could connect all the
Charlie looked uncomfortable but her words had obviously
made an impression on him, for he didn't dismiss them out
of hand as he had done before. "I wish I could tell you,
Lois," he said, slowly. "I want to help; believe me, I do.
I want to know where I came from, and what I'm doing here -
- if I have a family: parents, or brothers and sisters.
It's pretty scary not knowing. I want to know if I have a
wife or kids someplace. Most of all, I don't want to
remember too late to do any good." He reached out to take
the second candle from her hands and she saw him frown.
The wick sizzled slightly and a little flame sprang
magically to life. "We have less than twenty-four hours,"
he said. "I have to remember soon or it won't matter." He
turned to look out the window and Lois involuntarily
followed his gaze.
The darkness was eerie. Above the lightless city, the
stars blazed down in unfamiliar patterns. The moon was
rising, but its light was cold and unfriendly. Out in
space somewhere, a chunk of rock, three miles across, was
hurtling toward their nearly defenseless planet, and all
that stood between them and disaster was a single rocket
armed with a nuclear warhead on its way to a violent
rendezvous. There was too much emptiness out there, Lois
thought, and she gave an involuntary shiver. Yes, the
Asgard rocket had been programmed to intercept the
asteroid, but so many things could go wrong.
Charlie shook himself suddenly. "I think you're right,
Lois," he said, abruptly. "I think there *is* something I
can do. Every time you say that, I get this *feeling* that
I should be doing something and it scares the heck out of
me. Whatever it is, I'd do it, if I could remember."
"Which is why you can't," she said. "Your subconscious
mind is scared silly of what you'd have to do if you
remembered. At least, that's what I think."
"So do I." He reached out to take the second candle holder
from the table and fitted the candle into it, oblivious of
the hot wax that was dripping onto his fingers. "Maybe I
should go see Dr. Friskin again, tomorrow. Maybe it will
"Maybe," Lois said. She picked up the candle from the
kitchen table and turned toward the living room. "Let's
find you a place to sleep. My couch really isn't suited
for somebody of your size. If I put down blankets and a
pillow, would you be able to sleep on the rug?"
"Sure," he said, automatically. "Don't worry about me."
She glanced back at him as he followed her. His mouth was
tight, and she could see the strain in his face. She set
the candle down and turned to face him. "Look, we're not
beaten yet. Why don't we see if we can get some rest?
Tomorrow we can try to get hold of a phone book for
Smallville, and maybe a copy of their newspaper, whatever
it's called. If the power isn't on by tomorrow, we can get
in the Jeep and drive west. Sooner or later we'll get out
of the blacked out area. There's bound to be a library
where we can find a computer and go online."
His expression relaxed slightly. "You think of
"I wish I did," Lois said. "I'm doing the best I can, just
like you are."
Charlie grinned reluctantly. "If all reporters could think
like you, the quality of news reporting would be a lot
higher," he said, unexpectedly. "I wish I'd met you a long
"Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you." Lois
looked down. "Maybe things would have been different."
She inhaled deeply and forcibly shook off the unaccustomed
mood. "Enough of the 'what ifs'. What time is it? I
can't read my watch in this light."
He glanced at her watch. "A few minutes after seven.
Shall I go out and get us something to eat -- if anything's
open, that is?"
She shook her head, aware of a sense of uneasiness that she
would never admit to him. "My supplies are kind of low but
I'm sure we can find something here. I think I have some
peanut butter and jelly. With the power out, I can't cook
His face took on an odd expression. "I'll fix us
something, if you'd like some hot food. I seem to have a
source of power, even if it's not conventional."
The idea hadn't even occurred to her but, thinking about
it, it seemed obvious. "Your heat vision! I hadn't
thought of that! Do you think you can?"
"Well, I lit this candle a few minutes ago. I think I can
Suddenly the answer to a question that had been bothering
her for two days popped into her head. "I've got it!"
"That's how you shave!"
He stared at her, speechless, for several seconds. "Are
"Sure! Look at it my way for a minute. Nothing we can buy
from the drugstore will cut your beard but you were clean-
shaven when we first met, so you obviously shave. Do you
think you could control your heat vision gizmo well enough?
I wouldn't want you to burn yourself."
"I guess I can try," Charlie said, the doubt gradually
disappearing from his tone. "Look, why don't you go find
something we can eat and I'll be in there in a few minutes
to heat it up for us, all right?"
"You're going to try?" Lois asked.
"If you think I can, I'm willing to give it a shot." His
teeth flashed whitely in the gloom. "Cross your fingers!"
She laughed suddenly. "Good luck! The bathroom is through
there." She pointed. "But, you already know that, don't
you? Try not to set anything on fire."
"I'll do my best," Charlie assured her.
Somehow, she thought that would be enough.
A hunt through her kitchen cupboards was a depressing
exercise. A few minutes after her conversation with
Charlie, Lois was surveying her findings in disgust. She
had never been much of a cook but at the moment she was
realizing that it was worse than she had thought. There
were two cans of low fat chicken noodle soup, one of
vegetable beef soup, three cans of green peas and one of
pickled beets, although what had motivated her to buy it
was now an open question. She had also discovered a box of
stale crackers and a packet of powdered gravy. The pop
tart box was empty and so was the jar of peanut butter.
Her refrigerator was worse. There was a small dab of
butter left on the dish in the butter compartment, a box of
long defunct mushrooms that she had bought with the
intention of adding to a salad, a couple of withered
lettuce leaves and a box of Chinese food that had seen
better days. She tossed it into the trash en masse and
regarded the ice cubes and a jar of strawberry preserves
doubtfully. Maybe she could serve it on the crackers, she
The sound of a footstep behind her made her turn and for a
moment she simply stared.
In the time since she had spoken to him, Charlie's
appearance had made a dramatic change. He was clean-
shaven, as he had been when she had first met him, but this
time he was neither naked nor covered with soot. His hair
was combed neatly and he seemed like a completely different
man. She had forgotten how he had looked when Jimmy had
brought him back to the Bullpen after finding him some
clothing, that first night at the Daily Planet, and he took
her breath away.
"Wow," she said, after she recovered from her surprise.
"You sure look different. I like it."
"I hoped you'd approve," he said. "It worked, as you can
"Yeah." She looked back at the food she had unearthed and
grimaced. "I'm afraid I wasn't as successful. There isn't
much here to eat."
Charlie looked over the collection rather thoughtfully. "I
guess you weren't kidding when you said you needed to go
shopping, were you? We can have some soup, though. Have
you got a saucepan?"
Lois produced the required item. Charlie opened the can,
dumped it into the pan, added water and set it on the
stove. Lois saw him squint at the contents and a few
seconds later, the liquid began to steam, gently. She
turned back to her dish cupboard and found a pair of soup
Dinner wasn't exactly gourmet, but the soup was hot and
filling. Lois tried not to think what things might be like
if Nightfall hit. If it did, a can of soup might be as
hard to find and as valuable as a diamond. It wasn't going
to happen, she told herself, firmly. If the Asgard rocket
didn't do the trick, maybe Charlie's memory would be forced
to return. He wouldn't want to see the whole Earth
destroyed -- if he could just get past the fear that was
blocking his memories.
When the pan was empty, Charlie collected the dishes, over
her feeble protest. He simply grinned and proceeded to
fill the sink with soapy water. Lois laughed and sat back
down. "Are you always this determined?"
"My mother raised me to be a gentleman," he said. For a
moment, neither of them spoke.
"Your *mother*?" Lois said, getting to her feet. "Charlie,
you said your mother!"
"Yeah," Charlie said.
"Do you remember anything about her?"
Charlie's face was a study of concentration. "I don't
know. Maybe. I seem to remember a little woman -- blond,
maybe in her late fifties -- with glasses."
Lois put a hand on his arm. "Charlie, they're there --
your memories. You're starting to remember!"
He nodded, starting to smile. "It's a little, anyway."
"Do you remember anything else? Your father? Any other
His smile faded. "No."
She took his hand, ignoring the water and suds. "It's
okay. You remembered."
"Maybe," he said. "I still can't remember the most
important stuff, Lois."
"You will," she said, trying to sound confident. "You
When the dishes had been done, they took the candles into
the living room and Lois went into her room to find
blankets and one of the pillows from her bed for Charlie.
When she returned she looked around, unable for a moment to
find her companion in the shadowy living room.
"Over here." Charlie was standing by the window, looking
out over Metropolis. Beyond the window, the darkness and
the silence were almost shocking. On any ordinary night,
the streets were always lit up and there was an almost
unnoticed hum of noise. The stars would be invisible and
even the full moon was hard to see because of the light
pollution provided by the bustling city. Metropolis never
really slept. People were always on the streets no matter
what the hour. Except tonight.
Lois dropped the bedding on the couch and came to join him.
Neither said anything for long moments. Finally, Charlie
said, "It's frightening to think how it could all be gone
by this time tomorrow."
"I know. It hasn't happened yet, though."
"There's the rocket," Charlie said. "If it misses, I'm
afraid I won't be able to remember in time, Lois. My
memory seems to be coming back so slowly. I won't be able
to live with myself if I could have stopped it and was too
cowardly to take the risk."
"Charlie, it's not cowardice," Lois said. "You want to
help. The part of your mind doing this to you isn't
"I don't see the difference," Charlie said. "The whole
world is a lot more important than my safety."
"Your thinking mind knows that," she said. "The
subconscious doesn't care. It doesn't reason. It's just
"If that's not cowardice, I don't know what is," Charlie
said, bitterly. "Everything you've found out or deduced
about me in the last three days says I'm somebody who can
probably help. *I* think I can probably help -- and I'm
too damned scared to do the job! Some instinct in me would
rather I sacrificed the whole world rather than do whatever
it is I need to do! If it's possible to hate myself, then
"Don't, Charlie." Lois laid a hand on his arm. "It's not
your fault. I know you'll help, if you can. You're the
kind of person who goes out of his way to help people who
need it. If there's anything I've learned since we met,
it's that. I didn't think people like you existed."
She could see the black silhouette of his face turned
toward her in the darkness, and his eyes reflected the dim
light from the two candles burning on the coffee table.
"Why not?" he asked, and his voice was soft and puzzled.
"You *are* that kind of person, Lois. Don't you even
believe in yourself?"
Unexpectedly, she was aware of a deep sense of shame.
"Charlie, when I started out to help you, it wasn't really
for you. It was because I was curious and because it gave
me something to do rather than think about what was
probably going to happen in a few days. Don't give me any
more credit than I deserve."
"I know," he said, completely surprising her. "But it
didn't stay that way, did it?"
"Well...no." She hadn't thought about it that way. "I
guess I got personally involved. It's a bad habit I have -
- always getting involved with my stories. I end up caring
about the people I'm writing about, and I shouldn't. It's
not 'maintaining a proper journalistic distance' as one of
my old college professors would say."
"And that's a bad thing?" Charlie asked. "It just proves
what I said before. You're the kind of person who goes out
of her way to help. If there were more people who did
that, the world would be in better shape." He put his free
hand over hers. "I think you probably have more courage
than I do. If you were in my place, I can't see you hiding
behind a memory loss to avoid doing something that scared
you. I have the feeling you'd probably charge out, full
steam ahead, to take it on."
"I think you will, too," she said. "When it comes right
down to hiding or saving what's important to you, I think
that something in you will force you to remember because
you won't be able to face losing the important things. I
think you value Earth and the people on it too much to let
"You have more confidence than I do," Charlie said, but he
sounded more hopeful. "I only wish I knew...."
It was nearly a full minute before he replied and Lois had
begun to believe that she wasn't going to get an answer.
He had turned to look out the window again and she saw only
his profile, outlined against the stars. "I wish..." he
started again, and his voice had dropped until she had to
strain her ears to hear the words. "I just wish I knew if
I were married."
Lois's alarm clock didn't wake her up, since the power was
out. She had gone to bed late and spent a couple of hours
tossing and turning before accumulated fatigue finally
overwhelmed her rebellious brain. Even then, her dreams
were restless, full of pointless action and when she opened
her eyes, her mind felt dull and numb, the way it always
did when she hadn't managed to get enough rest.
Charlie had been sitting by the window when she had said
goodnight, still staring out at the ghostly city. Lois
crawled reluctantly out of bed and grabbed her robe from
the back of the chair. It was light outside but the normal
racket caused by the morning traffic was missing. The
morning had an unreal quality to it.
There was no sound in the other room. Suddenly
unreasonably apprehensive that Charlie might have
disappeared during the night, she hurried to the door of
her bedroom and looked out.
The blankets were still on the floor and the pillow had the
imprint of Charlie's head, but at first glance, he was
nowhere to be seen. Lois stepped out into the living room.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of
movement as something dropped from a spot near the ceiling.
An alarmed yell and a crash brought her completely around.
Charlie, dressed only in a pair of boxers, was sprawled
awkwardly on the carpet, looking startled. The tableau
remained frozen for several seconds, and then he pushed
himself into a sitting position, an expression of complete
bewilderment on his features.
Lois remained still for several seconds, unable to speak.
"What happened?" she asked, finally.
"I'm not sure." His voice sounded as confused as he
looked. "Did I sleepwalk?"
She glanced involuntarily upward and then around the floor.
"Fell?" Charlie also looked around. "I don't see
There didn't seem to be anything around except Charlie and
he certainly couldn't have been sticking to the ceiling,
she thought. Still, she was sure she had seen something
fall and she had definitely not imagined the loud thud. It
had been too large to be a bird or animal -- and what would
an animal be doing in her apartment, anyway? Still....
"Something fell from the ceiling -- I think," she said,
"and I don't see anything around but you. Do you have some
kind of ability to climb walls, too?"
Charlie looked at his hands, the bewildered expression
deepening. "I don't think so."
"Let me see your hands." The completely irrational
suspicion that it had been Charlie who had fallen from the
ceiling wouldn't quite go away. Charlie held his hands out
to her and she examined them closely. They seemed no
different than the hands of any ordinary man, although she
knew they were considerably stronger. She looked up at the
Charlie looked up, too. "What are you looking for?"
"I'm not sure. I thought I saw something fall from the
ceiling and then I heard that crash and you were there.
You weren't on the ceiling, were you?"
The look he gave her was slightly incredulous. "I don't
see how. I woke up on the floor. I must have fallen over
"Yeah...I guess so." She rubbed her eyes. "Maybe I
imagined it. I was still sleepy."
"I think you must have," he said. "I'd have had to fly.
Besides, I was asleep."
"Have you ever sleepwalked before?" she asked.
He shrugged. "How would I know? Uh...." He broke off,
looking down at his nearly unclad form. "I guess we should
Lois had been trying unsuccessfully not to stare at the
broad expanse of chest he was displaying. Now, she looked
away with an effort. "Yeah, I guess so." She glanced
quickly down at herself. She had worn an old pair of
flannel pajamas last night, for warmth. The apartment had
been cold without the services of the building's central
heating. Last year, the owners of the apartment house had
replaced the ancient furnace with an electric one and as a
result, the power outage had left the tenants without means
to warm their apartments. "I guess I'd better get my
The water was also ice cold, as Lois discovered when she
ran water into the tub, and it remained cold. She might
have expected it, she thought, but old habits died hard.
She turned the water off in disgust. "It just figures!"
she said, aloud.
"Is something wrong?" Charlie's voice called.
"The water's cold! This could be the last hot bath I ever
have, and the water's cold!"
"Oh." Silence for a minute. "Fill up the tub and I'll
heat it for you."
That hadn't occurred to her. She turned on the water
again. "You know, you could be pretty handy to have
After a deliciously hot bath, Lois picked out clothing
while Charlie showered. Apparently, the icy water didn't
bother him, for she heard the shower running and a few
minutes later, he emerged from the bathroom clean and
shaven. She looked him over quickly. "Are you ready?"
He nodded. "Have you had a chance to get breakfast?"
"Yeah. I had a few of the crackers. Maybe we can find
someplace open after we get out of Metropolis."
Charlie made a face. "That doesn't sound very nutritious."
"Well, it's better than nothing," she pointed out. "There
isn't much else to eat."
"I can heat up the vegetable beef soup," he suggested.
"I'll bring along a couple of mugs and a bottle of water
and you can heat it up for lunch," Lois suggested.
"There's no guarantee that we're going to find a place to
eat. We don't know how far to the west the blackout goes."
"I hadn't thought of that," he said. "Don't forget a can
opener. Are we going to stop by the Daily Planet first?"
Lois nodded. "Just for a minute. I want to tell Perry
where we're going."
The streets were completely quiet when they emerged from
the apartment house. Lois looked up and down the block,
but the only moving things were the bare branches of trees
and a few scraps of paper blown by the wind. The sky was a
brilliant blue, dotted by little scudding clouds.
"It's like a ghost town," she murmured.
Charlie didn't answer. Lois unlocked the door for him and
he tossed the small bag of provisions into the rear before
climbing into the passenger seat. The roar of the motor
was unnaturally loud in the silence as she started the
engine, put the Jeep in gear and pulled away from the curb.
Charlie glanced sideways at her. "Do you mind if I turn on
"No, of course not. Go ahead."
Her favorite music station was off the air. Charlie turned
the dial, searching for a frequency that had something
other than static to broadcast. LNN must have an emergency
power generator, Lois thought, a few minutes later when the
voice of an announcer burst suddenly from the speakers.
They were coming through loud and clear and were apparently
in contact with someone at EPRAD for the newscasters were
giving ten minute updates on the progress of the Asgard
rocket, although there was still over four hours until it
was expected to contact Nightfall. As for the power
situation, a maintenance crew was working on the
transformer and there was no estimate on when the repairs
would be finished. Lois made a face at the information.
It looked as if she and Charlie were going to have to put
her alternate plan into action after all.
"Charlie, get some of the maps of the area west of here out
of the glove compartment," she told him, pulling the Jeep
up to the curb in front of the Planet. "We want to find a
town outside the blackout area, large enough to have a
public library where we can get Internet access."
Charlie nodded and reached out to open the glove
compartment. A cascade of double fudge crunch bars greeted
him as he pulled the little door open.
"Huh," Lois said, reaching out to snag one. "I forgot
about those. Have one, if you're hungry. I'll be back in
By the time she returned to the Jeep, Charlie had located a
map of the country to the west of Metropolis. Several
towns dotted the route, and they finally decided to simply
drive west along one of the main highways until they
reached one where the power was on. Then they would locate
a public library and go from there. Lois glanced at her
watch before she shifted into drive. It was ten-thirty; in
approximately three and a half hours, they would know
whether or not the Asgard rocket was successful. She was
aware of a tightness in her gut, reminiscent of her days in
school just before an important exam. They were getting
down to the wire. If the rocket missed, the only thing
left to save human civilization was Charlie -- if, indeed,
their suppositions were right.
She wasn't wrong about this, she told herself. Somehow,
Charlie was connected to the fireball and to Nightfall.
The extraordinary man sitting next to her had come from
who-knew-where to try to help them. But now, it was a race
against time to try to retrieve his memory before time ran
out. After that -- well, they would see what happened, if
anything remained of the civilization that humanity had so
painfully built over thousands of years. After his remark
last night, she was more certain than ever that he was
interested in her more than just as a friend. If he were
free... well, was she interested in pursuing a relationship
with him? He wasn't Claude, or any of the other men in her
past. Unless his personality changed drastically when he
regained his memory -- and assuming he had no other prior
obligations such as a wife -- he could very well be the man
she'd been looking for all her life and never believed she
would meet. It wasn't the superhuman abilities, although
they were astonishing enough. If Claude had possessed
them, it wouldn't have impressed her in the least because
Claude had been a miserable excuse for a human being. It
was simply that Charlie was a man who had integrity, honor
and kindness. He cared about other people. He might or
might not be human, but it didn't matter. He was
everything the men in her past hadn't been.
Of course, once he recovered his memory, he might not be
interested in her that way, anymore. Even if he wasn't,
though, she was sure he would remain her friend. She
trusted him, and she couldn't say that about many people.
Getting onto the main route took much less time than it
might have on another day because of the lack of traffic.
Lois saw a total of three cars on the surface streets of
Metropolis and two of them were police cars. Once, she was
pulled over by a squad car but when the officer saw her
press credentials, he let her go with an admonition to be
careful. On the interstate highway at last, Lois put her
foot down on the accelerator. It was time to make some
"How far west does this dratted blackout go?" Lois
grumbled, a little under two and a half hours later. "Is
everything on the same power grid?"
"I guess so," Charlie said. "Sooner or later, we've got to
reach the end of it, though. I just hope it's not too late
by the time we do."
"Me, too. I've got just under half a tank of gas left.
I'm going to have to start back pretty soon."
Charlie didn't say anything more, but Lois noticed the hand
that lay on the armrest had clenched itself into a fist.
The radio had been counting down the time until impact of
the Asgard rocket and Lois debated, again, whether to shut
it off. The suspense was almost unbearable but it would
probably be just as bad not listening. So far, the rocket
was reported to be right on course for the mammoth
asteroid. Maybe, she kept telling herself, maybe
everything would be all right. Maybe the rocket would blow
Nightfall into space dust. Then, Charlie's memory would
very probably come back on its own and the mystery of his
origin would be solved. She couldn't help praying that
everything would end on an anticlimax. This was one time
she didn't want a big story. She only wanted it to be over
and everything to go back to being like it was before.
"There's another town coming up," Charlie said, suddenly.
"Willow Rock. The exit is in four miles."
"Cross your fingers," Lois said.
Charlie flashed her a nervous smile.
They took the exit a few moments later and Lois was aware
of an almost physical shock when the off ramp exited onto a
road where a red light directed them to stop. The town had
Charlie was sitting up in the seat, his expression a sharp
contrast to the worried scowl that he had worn for the past
hundred or so miles. The light turned green and Lois
pulled ahead. "Now, to find a library!"
The town of Willow Rock boasted a population of 25,054,
Lois noted, as they approached the city limits sign. It
wasn't exactly a booming center of commerce but it was
surely large enough to have a public library. A moment
later, they were cruising down the main street of the town.
The atmosphere here was different than it had been in
Metropolis, she thought. The streets were not deserted,
for one thing. Although the traffic was still a little
sparse, there were at least a score of vehicles within view
and a respectable number of people strolled along the
sidewalks. Christmas decorations arched across the street
and the old-fashioned lamp posts were wound with silver
garlands. Every store window glittered with some kind of
tribute to the holiday season and a Christmas tree lot was
open and, if not doing a brisk business, at least several
people were moving about among the rows of trees, obviously
concentrating on something besides the incipient end of the
"There's a gas station," Charlie said, pointing. "It's
probably got a phone booth."
Lois simply nodded, already signaling to turn. "Look at
the gas prices, though! Ten dollars a gallon is pretty
"No worse than Jilly's, though," Charlie pointed out.
"True." Lois scowled at the station's sign. "Highway
robbery. It's a good thing I've still got enough gas to
get back to Metropolis without a refill. We'd be stranded.
Maybe by tomorrow, prices will be back to normal."
"Let's hope so," Charlie agreed. "There's a telephone
booth." He was already unfastening his seat belt as Lois
pulled into a parking space. "I'll check the phone book."
"Okay." She turned off the motor and set the brake.
"While you're doing that, I think I'll stretch my legs."
"The restrooms are inside the convenience store," he said,
opening the door. He waved at the sign. "They sell
Lois smiled but didn't answer as she stepped out onto the
pavement. "Back in a minute."
A few minutes later, Lois returned to the Jeep clutching a
pair of wrapped sandwiches and two bottles of flavored iced
tea. Charlie was already waiting in the car, listening to
the radio. LNN was still following the progress of the
rocket, of course, and the reporter was interviewing an
amateur astronomer who had been tracking the asteroid
swarm. Charlie switched off the radio as she opened the
"The library is in the same building as the County
Sheriff's Office and City Hall," he said. "It's on Main
Street. That should make things simpler."
"I hope so," Lois said. "Zero hour for the rocket is in
just under forty minutes. And four hours after that -- "
"Yeah," Charlie said. "Zero hour for Earth."
In spite of the information, it took them another ten
minutes to find the building, park the Jeep and locate the
library, a small section of the not particularly large
building that housed the Sheriff's station and City Hall.
Acutely aware of every second as it slipped away, Lois
pushed the door open, not knowing quite what to expect in a
small town library, but the place looked much the same as
any other library she had visited -- simply smaller. A
single librarian looked up from her desk when they
approached her station.
"May I help you?"
"I hope so," Lois said. "Do you have Internet access
"Certainly," the little woman said, briskly. "We have two
computers in the computer room. That way." She indicated
the direction with one finger. "If I can be of help, let
They followed her pointing finger and Lois closed her eyes
in a sigh of relief when she saw the computers. They were
older models, but both were similar to the ones at the
Daily Planet. "Thank goodness. At least I know how to run
these things. I'll take this one, you take the other."
Charlie nodded silently. He glanced upward at the big,
round wall clock and, involuntarily, Lois followed the
direction of his gaze. The hands pointed to one thirty-
five. Maybe the clock was fast, she told herself. Time
seemed to be running faster and faster as the deadline
approached. She only hoped that if they found what they
needed to know, that Charlie had some way of calling his
ship or whatever he used, or getting to it in time to do
some good. Nightfall was within the orbit of the moon,
now. Armageddon was thundering toward them at 30,000 miles
per hour, and their options were running out as fast as
"Lois, I've found their web page," Charlie announced.
"There's a picture of their city hall and a listing of
their hotels and so forth."
"Anything useful?" she asked, wearily. A glance at the
wall clock almost made her heart climb into her throat.
She looked quickly away. Watching the countdown wasn't
going to help anything.
"Maybe," he said. "This is the Smallville Chamber of
Commerce's web page. It says they're a rural community,
with a population of 17,015 people, according to this, and
they were founded in 1809 by a Kermit Harris and several
other families." He was frowning at the page. "They have
a Corn Festival every fall...and a small wine industry,
believe it or not. They've got pictures of some of the
more scenic areas -- apparently they do get tourists who
like the quiet atmosphere of the town." He looked up from
the screen. "Lois, I've seen this town hall before. And
here's a picture of Napier Park. And the Smallville Golf
"Smallville has a golf club?" Lois asked, momentarily
"Yeah. And -- " He frowned, rubbing his eyes. "It has a
newspaper-'The Smallville Press'. There's a picture of it
here with the staff posing in front of it -- two women:
Jennifer Douglas and Marian Rogers, and the guy in the
middle -- Tom Bristol -- is the editor. Or, at least they
were the staff. This picture is dated two years ago."
Lois craned her neck to look at the computer screen. "Does
any of it look familiar?"
Charlie rubbed his eyes again. "Yeah. I've seen it
before. Tom Bristol isn't the editor anymore. He was
killed in an accident last year."
He was staring at her, wide-eyed. "I remembered!"
"Do you remember anything else?"
"Sort of. I think I might have worked there, maybe."
"You're a reporter?" Lois asked.
"I think I might be." He covered his eyes. "I'm not sure
Lois was on her feet. "We need to find a phone!"
There was a phone in the hall outside the little library.
Lois dialed Information and held her breath while the phone
rang. At least the lines weren't jammed, she thought.
Perhaps in these last minutes before the Asgard booster
intercepted Nightfall, people were glued to their
televisions instead of using the phones. At last the
operator responded and Lois asked for the number of The
Smallville Press in Smallville, Kansas. The computerized
voice came on, gave her the number, which she copied with a
shaking hand, and offered to connect her. Lois punched in
the number of her phone card and waited.
"It's ringing!" she whispered, exultantly, although why she
was whispering never occurred to her.
"Smallville Press, Jennifer speaking. How may I help you?"
a feminine voice said.
Lois took a deep breath. "Hello?" Her voice tried to
shake and she managed to steady it. "My name is Lois Lane,
from the Daily Planet in Metropolis. May I speak to your
"Is this a joke?" the woman's voice asked, a little
suspiciously. "Why would the Daily Planet be calling us?"
"It's not a joke," Lois said, quickly. "I'm trying to
track down someone. Is your editor available?"
"Mr. Kent is home with the flu," Jennifer's voice told her.
"Well, maybe you can help me," Lois pursued. "We have a
man here with amnesia, who may come from Smallville. We
found him under unusual circumstances, three nights ago,
and he remembers your newspaper. He might have worked
there at one time."
"Are you kidding?" Jennifer's voice said, sounding very
skeptical and angry. "Who is this really? Millie if this
is you, you're in real trouble, girl! I don't have time
for this nonsense right now. Good bye!"
It was too late. Jennifer had hung up.
Lois fished frantically in her purse for the phone card,
muttering under her breath. Charlie put a hand on her arm.
"Wait a minute, Lois. She's just going to hang up on you
again. Let's try another angle."
"She said her editor was Mr. Kent. Let's try Information
again. How many Kents are there likely to be in a town the
size of Smallville?"
"Who knows? If one of the founding families was a Kent,
they could be all over the place."
"Well, it can't hurt to try. Unless you can find an online
phone book of Smallville."
"Jimmy might be able to dig one up," Lois said, "but I must
not know where to look or something because I wasn't able
to. I guess we'll give your way a try."
It took four tries to get through to Information again but
at last, Lois was punching in the numbers of her phone card
once more. There were three numbers for Kents in town.
Aubrey Kent was a barber, George Kent, M.D. was a
podiatrist and the third was Jonathan Kent, no profession
given. Lois crossed her fingers as the phone began to
"Hello?" It was a woman's voice.
"Hello," Lois said. "My name is Lois Lane. May I speak to
Mr. Kent, please?"
"Just a moment," the voice said. "May I ask why?"
"Is this Mrs. Kent?" Lois asked.
"Yes, it is."
"Mrs. Kent, my name is Lois Lane. I'm a reporter for the
Daily Planet in Metropolis."
There was a long pause. "I see." The woman's voice had
become wary. "Why would the Daily Planet be interested in
my husband? He's just a farmer."
"I'm actually trying to find the Mr. Kent who's the editor
of The Smallville Press," Lois said. "I need his help.
Would you know how I could contact him?"
"Our son is the editor of the paper but he has the flu,"
Mrs. Kent's voice said. "I don't see how he could --"
"Let me explain," Lois said. "This is really a strange
story, but it's not a joke. Three nights ago, I found a
man with amnesia in Metropolis, under really strange
circumstances. He thinks he may live in Smallville and may
work or have worked for the newspaper at one time. We're
trying to contact someone who might be able to help us to
There was what sounded like a sharply indrawn breath on the
other end of the phone. "I might be able to help," Mrs.
Kent's voice said. The wariness had disappeared and the
woman's voice sounded as if she was throttling down some
emotion: excitement, perhaps? "Can you describe this man?"
"Yes, certainly," Lois said. She could see Charlie's face,
and tell that he was listening, tensely. "He's about six
feet tall, with an olive complexion, black hair and dark
brown eyes." She examined Charlie's face, trying to spot
some sort of identifying characteristic that was unique to
him. "He's-um -- very good-looking," she continued, "very
well built, like he works out, and he's got a little
freckle or birthmark over the right side of his upper lip.
Do you know anyone who fits that description?"
There was a faint gasp on the other end of the phone.
"Yes," Mrs. Kent's voice said, sounding a little
breathless. "I know him. He's been missing for three
days. May...Is he there? May I speak to him?"
Charlie was holding out his hand. Lois put the receiver
"Hello?" Charlie's voice sounded tentative. "Mrs. Kent?"
"Oh, honey, we thought you were dead!"
For Charlie, the sound of the voice on the other end of the
phone produced a wave of familiarity. "Do you...do you
know me?" he asked, aware that his voice had begun to
There was a short silence. "You don't remember?"
"Not much," he said, honestly. "Your voice sounds
familiar, but --"
"Honey, I'm your mother." The woman's voice was full of
concern, mixed with what was unmistakably relief. "You're
my son, Clark."
"I -- I don't understand. You said your son had the flu --
or do you have another son?" Charlie asked, feeling more
and more confused. "Can he do all these strange things,
"No, honey. You're the only son we have. We adopted you
when you were a baby. We had to have an explanation for
why you didn't come to work for the past three days so we
told everyone that you had the flu. Do you remember what
you were doing before you wound up in Metropolis?"
"I -- Lois found me," he found himself saying. "There was
a fireball and she followed it. She found me in the hole
"Are you all right? Are you hurt at all?"
"I don't seem to be," he said, "except that I can't
"Oh, heavens." Her voice paused for an instant and when it
returned it had become almost businesslike. "Now, listen
to me, Clark. This is important but you can't tell anyone.
You went to stop Nightfall. Do you remember anything about
Lois had been right, he thought. This woman who said she
was his mother, and whose voice sounded so familiar, was
confirming what he and Lois had figured out over the past
three days. "How was I supposed to stop Nightfall?" he
whispered. "We -- Lois and I -- thought that might be what
"She knows?" his mother's voice said, suddenly concerned.
"She's a reporter! Clark --"
"It's all right," he interrupted. He could almost
visualize the face that went with the voice and at once
understood her concern. "She hasn't told anyone; she
*isn't* going to tell anyone. She's just trying to help me
remember. If the rocket doesn't stop the asteroid...."
Lois's hand closed on his wrist. "Someone's coming," she
"Just a minute," he said into the phone.
A door opened farther down the hall and a uniformed woman
emerged. She hurried past them, barely glancing at the two
strangers. Charlie looked up, suddenly aware of something.
Outside a radio was blaring.
"The Asgard rocket has failed. Repeat, a collision with a
smaller piece of the asteroid swarm has deflected the
"Listen to me, Clark. This is your father." The suddenly
male voice on the other end of the phone startled him. "I
don't know how long this connection will last. The phones
have been going in and out all day. You have to remember.
I don't know if you heard what just happened. Another one
of those rocks out there hit the rocket and deflected it.
It missed its target. We need you -- everyone needs you to
remember. You shattered Nightfall three nights ago. That
was why it broke up."
"*How* did I do it, though?" he asked, aware that his voice
was perilously close to a wail. "I can do all these
strange things, but I can't *get* to Nightfall to stop it!
I don't know how!"
"Clark, you have to understand this and believe me. You
flew up to it. You used your mother's scuba gear to
breathe in space. You won't need that now. The asteroid
is much closer and you can hold your breath for twenty
minutes at a time. The lack of air pressure doesn't affect
you. You have to do it, son. You're the last chance Earth
"Clark!" His mother's voice overlapped his father's.
"We'll explain everything if we survive to do it. You have
four hours to figure out how. Honey, if we could get there
to help you, we would. If you've found out some of the
things about yourself, trust us, please. One of your
powers is flight. You can stop this thing."
"But how do I --"
The phone went dead.
"The lines are jammed," Lois said, "I can't even get an
"I guess it figures," Charlie said. "The rocket missed, so
everyone is trying to get hold of their relatives."
Lois hung up the receiver and glanced around at the police
officers hurrying by in the suddenly crowded hall. "Come
on. Let's get back to the Jeep where we can talk."
Charlie nodded and, without a word, followed her toward the
double doors that led to the street.
The sun was still bright when they stepped outside but
heavy dark clouds had begun to mass in the east. That was
more appropriate, Lois thought, considering what was
hanging imminently over their heads. Still, she was just
as glad not to be in Metropolis right now, if the power was
still out. A snowstorm wasn't likely to make the situation
any more bearable.
The residents of Willow Rock were gathered together in
small groups, she saw, talking quietly, now and then
glancing up at the sky. A man in the uniform of a
sheriff's deputy was standing on the sidewalk by a police
car, talking to another deputy behind the wheel. As they
watched, three more on motorcycles went by.
"Gearing up for a disaster," Lois said. "Charlie, what did
Mrs. Kent tell you?"
"She knows me," Charlie said. "And you were right."
"Right about what? Nightfall?"
He nodded. "Wait until we're in the Jeep."
The Cherokee was parked in the lot behind the building.
When she scrambled into the driver's seat and closed the
door behind her, she turned and grabbed Charlie by the
front of the watermelon-colored shirt. "What did she say?"
"She said I'd gone to stop Nightfall." Charlie gently
removed her hands from his shirt. "It was me who shattered
it three nights ago. I mean," he corrected, meticulously,
"it was I."
"Never mind the fine points of grammar," she said. "Did
she say *how*?"
"Her husband told me that I *flew* up to it. They said one
of my powers was flight."
Lois's first instinct was to deny it. It was simply too
But, was it? Charlie could set fires with his eyes, he was
unbelievably strong and fast, his hearing was as acute as
an animal's. Not to mention, when a man wielding a
battleaxe had attacked him, the blade had broken on his
head. Was the ability to fly so much more unbelievable?
Something clicked in her brain. "This morning in the
apartment. I *knew* I saw something fall. It was *you*!
You must have been flying in your sleep."
"I guess so," Charlie said. "But how do I fly, Lois? I
don't know how."
"And how did you shatter the asteroid?" Lois added. "Did
you blast it with a ray gun or something?"
"I don't think so." Charlie was staring at his hands as if
he had never seen them before. "Mr. Kent said I flew up
there to stop Nightfall. I used scuba gear to breathe in
space. That doesn't sound like I have a bunch of advanced
technology to work with, does it? I think I must have
rammed it to make it break up like that. That's probably
why I couldn't remember anything afterwards."
It was all falling into place, now that the final piece of
the puzzle was in their hands, Lois thought, even if they
didn't know exactly where to fit it in. Even the way that
they had met was suddenly clear. "Charlie, *you* were the
"The fireball that caused the crater. It was you." She
put her hand out to rest it on the back of one of his.
"Charlie, don't you see? You rammed the asteroid and
shattered it -- and you almost didn't make it back.
Something like that had to have strained even your powers.
You must have come in like a meteor, so fast that the heat
burned off your clothes. That was why I found you in the
crater: because you made the crater, yourself."
He was nodding. "It makes sense. I tried to destroy
Nightfall once and it almost killed me. I couldn't
remember because I was afraid to try it again."
He turned a stricken face toward her. "The problem is, I
*still* don't know how! I know I'm supposed to be able to
fly, but I haven't a clue how to do it! How am I supposed
to relearn how to fly in less than four hours?"
Lois let go of his hand and turned to start the engine.
"We're going to find someplace around here where you can
practice. Nightfall is a lot closer than it was three
nights ago. If you can remember how to get there, it
shouldn't be as hard, this time. Earth may not be much but
it's all the human race has. We've got to figure it out."
"Nosy busybodies," Lois was muttering somewhat less than an
hour later. "You'd think they'd have something better to
do than ask us what we're doing on top of an apartment
house. Aren't the police supposed to be concentrating on
preventing panic or something?"
"I think they're afraid people might try to kill
themselves," Charlie said. They were walking away from a
shabby building on the west side of Willow Rock. Behind
them, two sheriff's deputies stood watching them, a little
suspiciously. "I'm not sure they bought your story, but
they didn't have any real proof you were lying."
"That's where press credentials come in handy," Lois said.
"Come on. Let's go find some place that the police aren't
"I still don't know how I'm supposed to do this," Charlie
said. "Do I flap my arms or something?"
The image made her give a snort of laughter in spite of
herself. "I don't think so. I didn't notice any flapping
this morning. I came out into the living room and nothing
was moving. I didn't see you, and I said your name, and
out of the corner of my eye I saw something --you -- fall
from the ceiling. You must have been flying -- or floating
-- in your sleep, I guess, so however you do it, I don't
think it's anything physical. Maybe it's some kind of
mental control or something. Kind of like your heat
vision. It only comes on when you want it to."
He nodded soberly. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense, but I
sure hope my heat vision doesn't come on in my sleep."
"Well, you're eyes are closed then, so it probably wouldn't
matter. Maybe it's more like sleepwalking or something,"
Lois hazarded. "Sleep-flying? Whatever it is, it must be
pretty easy for you once you get the hang of it, or you
couldn't do it in your sleep."
"Probably not," he agreed. "So what am I supposed to do --
think 'fly'? I've been doing that, and nothing seems to
"I think that's because you don't really believe it," she
said, trying to sound positive. "Or, maybe you're even
blocking yourself unconsciously. How did you make your
heat vision come on the first time?"
"Well, it was kind of a game," he admitted, half-shrugging.
"I didn't really think I could do it, so...." His
expression slowly changed to realization. "So, I wasn't
holding myself back, was I?"
"I guess not," she said, pleased that he'd come to the
"So, where do you want to go?"
"Maybe we should go somewhere outside of town," Lois
suggested. "We don't have much time. You have to have a
margin of time to get to that monster before it hits us."
"Right. Besides, there are more asteroids in that swarm
than just Nightfall. Some are big enough to cause damage
if they hit, even if they're not world-destroying ones. If
I can figure this out, maybe I can stop some of them, as
well as Nightfall -- if I have the time."
"Whoa there," Lois said. "Let's concentrate on the flying
part, first. Then we'll talk about how you'll use it. Do
me a favor, though."
"Anything." He met her eyes and smiled that charmingly shy
smile that told her that it wasn't a flippant answer.
"If we do figure this out, don't ram any of the asteroids,
okay? There must be a safer way to do it than slamming
into them with your head, as hard as it is."
He made a face and his smile became a little embarrassed.
Lois said nothing further, satisfied that she'd made her
point. Inwardly, however, she was elated. Without
realizing it, Charlie was beginning to think of ways to
*use* his talent rather than about the danger it could put
him in. That had to be a step forward. But, they still
had to figure out how he flew.
"Looks like a storm coming," Charlie said, irrelevantly.
Lois glanced up. The clouds she had noticed earlier now
covered half the sky and all at once, there was a flicker
of lightning. A moment later, thunder growled in the
distance. The wind was starting to pick up, as well,
something she had not noticed earlier. A gust of icy air
hit her in the face as they approached the Cherokee and
Lois was glad to get inside. She hadn't really noticed
before, but the weather had gotten considerably colder in
the last hour.
"Where do you want to go, now?" Charlie asked.
"Let's head for a place a little farther out of town," she
said, starting the motor. "If you do manage to fly, I
don't think either of us wants anyone to see you."
Charlie only nodded. She could almost see the wheels
turning in his head as she glanced back and pulled out of
the parking space.
"Thanks," he said, suddenly.
"For keeping what I can do a secret. For helping me."
"Hey, I have something I want out of this, too," she said,
with a slight grin. "I want you to save me from
"I think that's pretty reasonable," Charlie said. He
looked out the window at the clouds that were creeping
across the blueness of the afternoon sky. "You've done an
awful lot for me, Lois."
"Yeah, well we're not done yet." She turned down a side
She waved generally at a vacant lot behind a three-story,
wooden building. "There's nobody around that I can see.
If we don't draw attention, I think we can use this place."
Charlie was glancing discreetly around. "I don't see
anyone -- and I don't hear anybody inside, either."
"Perfect," Lois said. "There's a fire escape on the side
of the building, too. Can you boost me up so I can get the
Charlie didn't reply. Lois maneuvered into the lot and
pulled to a stop in a spot where the building itself
concealed the Cherokee from the view of anyone passing by
on the street. She cut the engine and glanced at him.
"Shall we go?"
He opened his door. "You still haven't explained exactly
why we have to get up high to practice. I can think 'fly'
just as well from the ground."
"I want you to get used to the feeling of height," Lois
answered, aware that the explanation sounded lame, even to
her. One of Charlie's thick eyebrows slid upward in a
manner so familiar that she almost laughed despite the
gravity of the situation. "You look just like Spock on
Star Trek when you do that," she said. "And considering
that you're probably an alien, besides...."
"But, I don't have the ears," he protested.
She looked at the anatomy in question. "Well, they *are* a
little pointed, but I agree, you're definitely not a
"No question of that," he muttered, running a hand over one
"Last I heard, they couldn't fly," Lois said, clinching the
matter. "Come on. Let's go."
A short time later, they were standing on the roof of the
narrow, wooden building that housed a small market, a
hardware store and a bicycle shop.
"Don't get anywhere near the front," Lois said. "I don't
want the sheriff's guys to come up here after us."
"I won't," Charlie said. He glanced over the low wall that
ran around the edge of the roof. "Funny how much farther
away the ground looks than you expect it to."
Lois resolutely didn't look down. "Charlie, we have to
figure this out," she said, pulling him back to the reason
for their presence on the roof. "I want you to stand up on
the wall and think 'fly'. Got that?"
He threw a doubtful glance at her. "You're kidding,
"No, I'm not. You *can* fly. You were on the ceiling of
my apartment this morning. That means it's not hard once
you get the hang of it." She glanced at her watch. "It's
after three. The asteroid is going to hit somewhere in the
Pacific Ocean at about six. Time's running out."
He swallowed and seemed to gather his nerve. "You're
right." Without another word, he stepped up on the wall.
Lois could swear his complexion went a shade or two paler
as he looked down. "All right, now what?"
"Now, you're going to fly," Lois said, determinedly. "Are
Charlie looked down again. "I'm not sure this is such a
"Don't look down," Lois commanded. "Look up. Ready?"
"Do you want some help?"
He gulped again. "Give me a count, okay?"
"Okay," Lois said. "Here goes...on three. One...two...."
On two, she gathered her nerve, placed her hands on his
muscular buttocks and shoved.
Charlie gave a yell of panic as he plunged over the edge,
and then fell straight down. For a second, Lois felt her
stomach turn over as he dropped toward the pavement below,
even knowing that he couldn't be hurt. He struck the
ground awkwardly face down, lay still a moment and then
pushed himself up on his hands. Lois was already
descending the fire escape as fast as she could as he cast
a startled look up at her.
"Charlie, are you all right?" she called.
"Uh...yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." She could barely hear the
words as she nearly fell down the ladder toward him. She
reached the ground in record time, to find him dusting his
"Charlie, I'm sorry! I thought that if...."
He gave a slightly shaky half-chuckle. "I know what you
thought. It's okay. We both knew the fall couldn't have
hurt me. I was just -- well, surprised."
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but she still
cringed inwardly at what she had just done. "Didn't you
even get a hint of how to fly?"
He shrugged. "Not really. I think I was too freaked out
to think about anything but the ground. I guess we can try
it again, but if anyone sees us, they're going to think
we're crazy -- or that you're trying to murder me."
"Forget what anyone else thinks. Nobody knows who you are
around here, anyway. Are you willing to try it again?"
"Sure. It's sort of like that first step off a high diving
board. It's easier the second time." He reached for the
fire escape and put a foot on the second rung, beginning to
climb. "Let's go." He paused several feet up and glanced
down at her upturned face. "You're really incredible, did
you know that? But, you know, in the rush of the moment,
there was one thing I forgot to ask Mrs. Kent."
Lois gulped. Charlie was taking this pretty well,
considering the fact that she'd just pushed him off a
three-story building. "What was it?"
"If I was married."
Still feeling half-guilty about what she had done, Lois
gave him an exasperated grimace. "Will you stop worrying
about it? We'll find out later when the danger is over and
the phone lines clear up! For the record, I hope you're
not married, too, okay? But, first things first."
His expression changed. "Do you mean that?"
"Well, sure I do! It'd be just my luck to find the guy
I've been looking for all my life and then find out he
already had a wife! But if we don't figure out how to do
this, we're not going to have a chance to --"
Charlie dropped from the fire escape and landed lightly
beside her. "I'm glad -- because I don't see how I could
possibly feel like this about any woman who wasn't you."
"Charlie --" Appalled, she felt the tough exterior that
protected her against other people cracking open and the
scene before her blurred with tears. "I just pushed you
off a building!"
"I know." He rested a hand on her cheek. "So what? You
did what you thought needed to be done. I just wish I had
"My *courage*! Charlie, I'm reckless and headstrong, and I
do stupid things, and I can't make lasting friendships with
"You made one with me."
"I know. This time might have been different. Maybe it
wouldn't have turned into a disaster. But now --"
How it happened, she didn't know, but suddenly his arms
were around her and she was burying her face against his
shoulder. Somehow, here she could almost ignore the fate
that was bearing down on them, bringing destruction to
everything the human race had achieved during its
relatively short run on the planet. What they could have
had would never be, now. The world as they knew it was
about to change in a way that no one could imagine.
It wasn't something she consciously decided to do, but she
found herself lifting her head from his shoulder and almost
without her own volition, placed a palm on either side of
his face and kissed him.
The kiss lasted for what seemed like forever and yet,
oddly, it was over too quickly. His body tensed suddenly;
the arms that held her tightened for an instant and she
felt him lift his head. She opened her eyes to see him
looking intently at her with an expression in his dark eyes
that seemed composed of both astonishment and discovery.
"Charlie...." she began.
He shook his head and placed a finger across her lips.
"No," he said. "It's not over yet, Lois." Quickly he
leaned down and kissed her again. "Go home," he told her.
"Go back to the Planet. I'll be back; I promise. Just
remember what I said -- and what you said." He stepped
away from her and she watched, half-puzzled.
Charlie lifted from the ground and hovered. She felt her
jaw drop and saw him smile. "I'm not married," he said,
holding her eyes for another long instant. "And you were
absolutely right." Then he began to rise, at first slowly
and then faster and faster, arrowing upward until he had
dwindled to a tiny speck that disappeared against the
cloudy sky. Lois stared after him, paralyzed, for a slow
count of ten. Then she turned and raced for the Jeep.
The LNN countdown was continuing when she turned on the
radio and maneuvered the Jeep out onto Main Street, heading
back toward the Interstate. Overhead, the sky was almost a
uniform slate grey and she could see the branches of the
trees that lined the thoroughfare tossing in the growing
How long would it take Charlie to reach the Nightfall
swarm? Grimly, she concentrated on paying attention to the
traffic as she left Willow Rock and turned back toward
Metropolis, all the while listening to the countdown
issuing from the radio. It seemed like forever, but in
reality barely five minutes had gone by and she was just
passing the city limits sign when there was a change in the
monotonous countdown. The announcer's voice faltered. She
heard a flurry of unidentified sounds in the background and
a muffled: "What? Are you serious?"
More muffled words that she couldn't quite make out and
then the announcer's voice, shaking and flustered,
"Ladies and gentlemen, EPRAD Ground Control is reporting --
ah, hell!" the voice said, suddenly. "We have the tape.
Let's just play it! Nobody's gonna believe it, otherwise!"
Static filled the cabin for a moment, then another voice,
crackly with bursts of interference, came over the speaker.
"This is EPRAD Ground Control. We are now two hours and
thirty-six minutes from the impact of the Nightfall
Asteroid. Asteroid is on course. We're projecting an
impact zone approximately two hundred miles northwest of
Australia...." Static. "Wait a minute...Mission Trackers
are reporting an anomaly. Switching to backup computers
for confirmation. Roger...confirmation. This is
incredible! The asteroid velocity is decreasing...repeat,
decreasing! The asteroid appears to be changing course!"
It was apparent that the man at EPRAD Ground Control was
hovering on the edge of hysteria. "I don't believe it!"
the voice was babbling. "It's going to miss us by at least
50,000 miles! Several of the other, larger pieces appear
to be changing direction as well...."
The tape cut off and the LNN announcer was back, sounding
only marginally less hysterical than the voice from EPRAD
Control. "So far we've had no explanation for this
apparent miracle, ladies and gentlemen, but it's official!
Nightfall has changed direction at nearly the last minute!
It's gonna miss us by the skin of our teeth, astronomically
speaking, but it's going to miss!"
Lois pulled slowly to the side of the road and leaned
forward to rest her forehead on the steering wheel, paying
no attention to the cheers and whoops issuing most
unprofessionally from the radio.
"You did it," she whispered. "After all that, you did it.
Thank you, Charlie."
It was past sunset by the time Lois drove slowly back into
Metropolis. The last, faint traces of pink still lit the
western sky and the city was dark except for the lights in
the hands of hundreds of men and women now occupying the
streets and sidewalks.
It was amazing, she thought, looking around at a city that
had sprung magically to life with the news of Earth's
reprieve. They were going to have a monumental mess to
clean up tomorrow, that was for sure, but at the moment,
nobody cared. The power hadn't come back on yet but people
were literally dancing in the streets.
She made her way through celebrating mobs toward the Daily
Planet, aware of fatigue and a deep sense of satisfaction
that was born of a job well done. There would be a
tomorrow for Earth after all -- and all of it was due to
Charlie. She wasn't sure what she was going to tell the
others about him, except that they had managed to find his
family and that she had taken him home. She was certain
that he wouldn't want anyone to know what he had done, but
it seemed to be a shame that he couldn't be given the
credit he deserved. She would respect his wishes, however.
She, above all, could understand his desire not to be
different from the people around him.
He would be back; he had promised her that and she believed
him. Unless -- the tiny doubt hit her again -- unless
something had happened to him in space. She didn't think
it had. She had been listening to the radio on the way
back to Metropolis. The deadline had passed a few moments
ago and so far all that the astronomers had reported was an
increase in the number of shooting stars lighting up the
sky. One or two small strikes had been reported over the
South Pacific, but there had been no real damage. Various
scientists, contacted by LNN for an explanation of the
apparent miracle, had rambled on about gravitational
influences and so forth but the consensus seemed to be that
no one really knew what had caused it. So Charlie had
succeeded. The question was, had he come back?
Of course he had, she told herself again. If he had
managed to survive the first attempt, albeit, just barely,
he would certainly have survived this one as well but the
little nagging worry remained. Undoubtedly, there were
things he would have to do; he'd been missing from
Smallville for an extended period of time but surely, he
would let her know that he had survived.
She pulled the Cherokee into the basement lot of the Planet
and stepped out, stretching her stiff legs. It had been a
long trip, and the elevators still weren't working, she
recalled. Hopefully, now that the threat of destruction
from space had passed, the various crews working on the
problem would get the power back on soon before the entire
East Coast froze to death.
The Daily Planet newsroom was in a state of controlled
chaos when she stepped out of the stairwell. Several
members of the staff, whom Lois had not seen since the
first day of the Nightfall crisis, had shown up and Perry
was barking orders right and left. Her boss spotted her as
she came in and a smile lit his face.
"Lois! How did things go?"
"Pretty well," she said. "Charlie's memory is back --
mostly, anyway. Any more word on what happened?"
Perry shook his head. "Not yet. Some wacko out in
California is trying to say that the only thing that could
have made the asteroid change direction like that was an
unseen gravitational source that pulled it off course and
could destroy the Earth anyway. Somebody else pointed out
that the other asteroids changed course in different
directions, so that seems to scuttle that theory. EPRAD
can't figure it out and is promising further study.
Spokesmen for various world religions are suggesting it was
"In short, nobody has a clue," Lois said, thinking back to
her own wild theory of a few days ago. It hadn't been much
wilder than the real one, though, so she could hardly
"That's about it," Perry agreed. "How are you feeling,
"Tired," Lois said. "Relieved."
"Yeah, me too," Perry admitted. "You stayed when nearly
everybody else gave up, and helped a guy get his memory
back. I want a piece about that for the paper when we get
back up and running."
"Sure," she said, wondering privately what she was going to
say about it -- "The guy regained his memory and flew up to
save the world from Nightfall"? Well, she'd think of
something suitably innocuous without exactly lying. She
had her journalistic integrity to think about, after all.
"Any estimate on when the power will be back?"
Perry shrugged. "They keep sayin' any time, but so far, no
As he spoke, the lights flickered faintly and then came on.
In the background, the subtle hum of power resumed.
"We're back!" Jimmy's voice said.
Lois looked around at the familiar newsroom. They were
back, as Jimmy had said. The world had survived and
everything could go back to normal. Except for her. She
had a strong hunch that for her, life would never be quite
the same again.
It was nearly eight o'clock when she let herself back into
her little apartment. Everything looked as it had when she
and Charlie had left it this morning. His blankets were
folded neatly on the sofa and her fish were swimming around
in their tank as if nothing had happened. For them, life
was back to normal, as well.
Lois kicked her door shut, dropped her bag on the floor and
turned to fasten the numerous locks that adorned her door.
Tonight, she was going to have to have the sandwiches she
had picked up at the gas station for dinner and tomorrow,
she would have to go shopping. And maybe by then, she
would hear from Charlie....
The apartment, she noticed suddenly, wasn't chilly the way
it had been when they left. In fact, it had been heated to
a comfortable temperature. And from the kitchen, a
delicious aroma was wafting. Her mouth began to water. It
There was a box sitting on her kitchen table, filled with
little bamboo containers and one glance inside told her
that her guess had been correct. It was take-out Chinese,
superbly prepared and still quite warm. Beside the box was
a folded piece of paper with her name written neatly in the
upper corner. Lois snatched it up.
Dear Lois, (she read)
I wanted to let you know as soon as I could that everything
went fine and to thank you for all the things that you did
for me, even for shoving me off that building.
I didn't want to be seen around the Daily Planet again for
reasons that you will understand in a few days. I hoped
you would be here when I came by, but since you weren't,
this should tide you over until the stores open tomorrow.
I brought it from my favorite takeout place in Shanghai.
You were right all along, you know. I couldn't stand to
lose the important things in my life, and you were the most
important. I realized that when you kissed me, and I guess
in the end, that was what made me remember; I know that was
when it happened, and it makes sense, at least to me. I
remember everything, now, and I'll explain it all, or at
least as much as I know, when I see you again.
I'll be busy for the next couple of days, tying up some
loose ends, but I'll be seeing you very soon. I meant what
I said back in Willow Rock. I hope you did, too.
P.S. And I'm not married.
He had underlined the word "not" three times. Lois gave a
soft laugh and sat down to eat her dinner. She'd been
right. Life was unlikely to ever be quite the same for
her. She was looking forward to it.
It was amazing how quickly things had gone back to normal,
Lois thought, walking into work two days later. There were
still a few broken windows along the street and debris
scattered around but the repair and cleanup crews were busy
and people were once more going to work and living their
lives as if nothing had ever interrupted them.
She had had no further direct word from Charlie, but now
that she knew what to look for, she had seen traces of him
in reports that came in from all over the world. Damage
from the four days while the world waited for destruction
mysteriously repaired itself overnight; the lava flow from
Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippine Islands that had been
threatening a village inexplicably changed course without
warning. To her, those and a hundred other incidents as
well all said "Charlie". He hadn't been kidding when he
said he had a few loose ends to tie up, she thought.
But she was sure, as well, that he intended to keep his
promise to her. The only question was, when.
Perry was in his office, she saw when she stepped off the
elevator, and she could see someone sitting in one of the
other chairs, facing him. Perry was speaking, then, as she
watched, the other man rose to his feet. Perry thrust out
a hand and the other man took it, nodding.
A job interview, Lois thought. Perry had been looking for
someone to help cover the city beat for a couple of weeks
but so far he hadn't found the right person. She wondered
if this guy had been given a polite brush off the way he'd
given it to the five other persons who had previously
interviewed for the position.
She continued on to her desk, dropped her purse beside it
and reached out to boot her computer up for the day's work.
She looked up, mildly curious, when the door to the
editor's office opened and the two men emerged. The
stranger was tall and dark-haired, wearing a pair of horn-
rimmed glasses. Lois noted with approval the broad
shoulders that filled out the sports jacket and grimaced
mentally at the brilliant tie.
Perry glanced around. "Jimmy!"
The office gofer bounced across the room in answer to the
boss's summons and Lois pricked up her ears. It looked as
if this guy had been lucky and Perry's next words confirmed
"Jimmy, this is Clark Kent. He's the new guy on the city
beat. Take him down to Personnel so he can get started on
Kent? The name made her sit bolt upright. She looked
quickly at the new hire, really seeing him for the first
time and saw that Clark Kent was looking straight across
the office at her, smiling.
He really did look different, she thought, and the image of
the melted glasses she had found in the crater popped into
her mind. He hadn't been kidding when he said that he'd be
seeing her in a couple of days. No wonder he'd told her he
hadn't wanted to be seen at the Planet without the heavy
growth of beard. Someone might have recognized Charlie
when he applied for work there.
She found herself smiling back at him, and watched him as
he followed Jimmy across the newsroom toward the elevator.
Clark Kent, huh? No wonder the editor of the Smallville
Press hadn't been at the office when they called.
Well, he'd said he would explain as much as he knew. She
would hold him to that, she thought. She had a lot of
questions to ask him. It looked as if life at the Daily
Planet was about to become very, very interesting.
The phone rang as the elevator doors closed behind the two
men and she reached out to pick up the receiver.
"Hello, Ms. Lane." The voice at the other end of the line
was cheerful and masculine. "My name is Dr. Vincent