"I'm not running it." said Perry.

"Why not?" asked Lois.

"It is almost the exact same thing you ran two weeks ago, and at that time it was already old news because you nearly copied yourself verbatim from your previous articles. Now I let that one slide because I thought you were bringing things to a close and you wanted to wrap it all up and recount your previous points. I can't run this one."

"Perry, I have to stay on it or …"

"Or what? You already got 14 people fired and Mr. Luther himself doing the tour to go around and explain things to people. What more do you want."

"He should be in jail."

"Lois, you're a reporter, not a cop. It isn't your decision if someone should be in jail or not. You did a great job and things are changing. Feel good about that. There is only so much each of us can do. And on that point I can't run this story unless you give me something I can run."

"Everyone's clammed up, they won't talk to me."

"I wonder why? Maybe it's time to move on then. We aren't in the business of running philippics."

"Perry, I have all this data, everything but the smoking gun. There is more to it."

"Great, when you find it, write it up. Till, then you can take this back."

Lois went back to her desk and stewed for a few moments. She wanted to get right back onto the story there but she had learned not to work on the Luther story in the office. Too many eyes, too many leaks. She packed up, grabbed her purse and headed out.

She didn't go back home. She could never be sure if someone was following her or not so he made a habit of stopping off at various places on her way home. She stopped by a bank to look at the contents of a safety deposit box that was mostly empty save for her passport, a copy of her birth certificate, and a bank note worth about $20. She stopped to get pizza and left out the back door instead of the front. When she got home she took the elevator up to her own floor but didn't get out. The elevator began to move up again to the top floor and there she got out. She went to the end of the hall and there was a tiny little office that she used to go over her data.

The office was technically not hers. It was rented by by her cousin Chloe who used it once a long time ago. Lois just continued to pay the rent on it.

In the office she had copies of everything she had on Lionel Luthor up to that point. She went through everything again and double checked it. She had already used it all and her sources had dried up. She had left no stone unturned. Except for maybe that one call. The memory of it came back into her mind. She had gotten a call about two years ago when she first started exposing the corruption and illegal activities at Luthorcorp. A man called to give an anonymous tip about some Luthorcorp employees who would be stealing company assets to sell to a black market arms dealer. The tipper didn't want to call the police but wanted the sale stopped. He gave Lois everything she needed from how many were in volved, the names of everyone on both sides, and what kinds of weapons they would be carrying. The tipper even mentioned the one innocent person in the group who was being coerced to participate and knew the color of her jacket and jeans. The man had asked Lois to get the police involved but to make sure to get that girl out of that situation.

She wasn't able to see who it was or even their telephone number. The call had always been a mystery but it provided her with one of her best leads to get info on the company. The criminals that night had been busted and the girl it turned out was an unwilling participant. In the end Lois was hoping that some of those activities would finally expose Luthor for what he was but in the end, the police determined that the goods were stolen from Luthorcorp, not being sold by Luthorcorp.

Lois needed to know who had made that phone call. She needed to know if this guy had anymore information. All of her other leads had dried up.

The phone rang in Gen. Lane's office.

"Pumpkin, what can I do for you?"

"Hi, daddy. Can I talk with Robert?"

"Oh, What do you want to talk with him for?"

"Ah, daddy, just put him on, ok."

"Ok but I don't want no funny business. Ya hear."

"Gotcha."

"This is Robert."

"Hi, Bob, this is Lois."

"No. Whatever it is, the answer is no. And besides that, did you really feel it was necessary to have your father give me the call instead of just calling me directly?"

"It's just a small favor."

"You have two hands and two arms the same as me. Do it yourself."

"But I don't have access to the military's meta data and you do."

"The army does not collect Meta Data."

"Cut the crap, you're up to your eyeballs in meta data on every American on the entire planet. I'm not asking for anything top secret, just the name of the person who goes with a particular phone."

"We're not supposed to do this."

"Can you just help me out?"

"You know there are laws against even you asking for this sort of thing."

"I'm not asking for anything illegal."

"Then just go to the phone company."

"They will take a long time and I don't want my request to be intercepted."

"The answer is still no."

"Fine, then give the phone back to my daddy so I can tell him how you broke my heart."

"More like heartless."

"You do still work under him."

"Fine but hurry up. What do you want?"

"I got a phone call on July 4th two years ago at 8:13 in the morning but the id and the number were blocked. I want to know who made the call and how I can get back in touch with them."

"Did they call the same number you're on now?"

"Yes. I know it might be a payphone but since you guys are nice enough to take pictures of everyone who uses a payphone I figured you could help me out."

"It wasn't a payphone. You can't do all this rerouting with a payphone. Whoever called you changed the header information on the call three or four times before it got to you. They did not want you to trace them. This is really complicated stuff. The id and the number block was executed on the last exchange before it got to you but then even if you got past the block you would be looking at the wrong name and wrong number anyway. The call bounced through Germany…"

"Germany?"

"Yeah, but it originated at cell tower 1933. Hold on, I'm going to look up where that is."

"Did you get a name yet?"

"Yeah, Jonathan Kent."

"And a number?"

"The number was actually turned off at the end of December that year."

"Can you get me an address?"

"Wait. I'm seeing something a bit weird. The phone that called you was off the grid for a couple of months and only came onto the grid to call you."

"Ok, fine but does Mr. Kent have an address."

"Not now. He died in March before the call was ever placed."

"So, a dead guy turns his phone on to give me a tip that gets some criminals busted."

"Look I don't know about all that. Maybe someone just stole the phone."

"Has it been used since?"

"Nope, not even with a new number."

"Does Kent have any family left, someone I can go talk to?"

"Yeah, Looks like he was survived by his wife Martha and a son, Clark."

"Great, do they have an address?"

"They do, and it isn't that far from the tower that got the call."

"Alright, let me have it."

"It's in Smallville."

"Where?"

"Smallville, Kansas."

"Kansas!"

Smallville used to be a small town in Kansas. Lois looked it up. There seemed to be a lot of interesting news coming out of Smallville. Nothing that someone in Metropolis would even bat an eyelash at but locally it was an interesting story. They had been doing very well economically recently. The local town hero, Peter Ross, was now the star sheriff deputy and some people were saying he might be the first black mayor of the town one day. The town was hit with hard times a few years back but it bounced back and tripled in population and per capita income. Even though every other town and city around it was still struggling in this decade long recession, Smallville was experiencing a boom. The town's economy had gone into different area's recently. Previously Luthorcorp was the town's largest employer but it closed down its facility there.

The Luthorcorp connection caught Lois' eye. Sure, they had facilities everywhere but it might not be a coincidence that she got a tip about illegal Luthorcorp activities from a place where Luthorcorp had to close down.

"Hi, Martin." Martin was one of Lois' contacts inside Luthorcorp.

"Ms. Lane I done told you. I don't got nothing more."

"Can I ask just a question anyway."

"Don't you think you've done enough. Look, I'm happy you started things changing. Good job, but we aren't all criminals. Give the good people in here a chance to start making things better."

"Actually, I didn't want to ask about Luthorcorp. I wanted to ask about Smallville. Ever been there?"

"Nope."

"Ever heard of it?"

"Well yeah. We give an instruction to all the drivers to stay out of that place."

"That's funny. Doesn't Luthorcorp have an old facility there?"

"I don't know. Like I said, I've never been there."

"Why do you tell the drivers to stay out of the town?"

"I don't know that either. The order came down from high up though. Drivers are absolutely forbidden to enter that town or even to go anywhere near it. They are to go completely around it even if it means adding a few hours or days to the trip. We had this one guy …."

"Wait, doesn't that seem a bit drastic?"

"It may seem odd but it ain't illegal to avoid a town. We have all sorts of little things like that though. We avoid certain bridges, certain interstates. When you know the industry it isn't all that unusual. Maybe the town has a local ordinance or something that makes it bad for trucks."

"I don't know. Do you think you can get me some info on the Luthorcorp facility there?"

"Nope. We done Ms. Lane. I appreciate all you did to get us back on the right track. But now, I want you to leave things alone for a bit. If it gets bad again I'll tell you. Deal?"

"Hi, Bob."

"Thanks for doing me the courtesy of actually calling me this time."

"Can I ask you a question."

"No I will not go on a date with you, I will not marry you, I will not share an apartment with you. No we can not get back together. Does that cover it?"

"Nope. Why would a company tell their drivers to stay out of a town that they used to own property in?"

"I don't know?"

"Well think about it."

"Ok, Maybe the town has bad traffic."

"Would that keep them away from their own facility."

"What facility are we talking about here?"

"Nevermind, just can you think of a reason why a company would completely avoid a town, not even going near it?"

"Well, if it were a military situation and a convoy had to go from one place to another and we suspected there might be a WMD in a town, we would probably avoid it."

"Weapon of mass destruction. Like a dirty bomb."

"Are you talking in the States?"

"I'm talking about Smallville."

"Ok, let me look it up."

"Look for a local ordinance or maybe the police harassing and searching trucks or protest by former employees."

"I don't see anything like that. In fact, there is a nice new highway that runs right outside of town. If you want to ship something through Kansas, there's a good chance it will find its way close to Smallville."

"What would someone have to do to completely avoid Smallville?"

"Go the long way, the really, really long way."

"Did you get me something this time?"

"A travel request."

Perry looked up at her from behind his glasses as she stood in front of his desk.

"Kansas. What's the story?"

"I thought I would take some of your advice."

"Well, this is a first."

"You know how you said that when you couldn't get anything new on a story you would go and do something else for a bit. Then after a week you would come back to your big story with fresh eyes and you would be able to see what you couldn't see before."

"I told you that on your first day here."

"Well, I remembered. There's a little town in Kansas called Smallville. They're experiencing a bit of an economic boom. I figured it would be nice to get out of the city for a few days, do this nice little human interest story about a town that's beating the odds."

Perry listened and let a smile come to his face. "Lois, that sounds like a great story. I love it. Sure, it's not page one, but you've been writing a lot about how bad people are. I'm actually excited to see you write about how good people are. I think this is a good step for you."

"So you'll approve the request."

Perry began to slowly nod his head. "I don't want you going alone. Believe it or not but I've been to Smallville, years ago. There were some shady characters in that town. Umm… how about you go with Frank."

"I don't like Frank."

"I think everyone else is busy and you're going to need a photographer to do the kind of story I think you want to do."

"What about Terry?"

"I've got her on the election. Don't worry. I'll put Frank is a different hotel if you want."

"It's not that."

"Great, then it's settled." Perry signed the form and handed it to her. "Oh, and just a small thing to keep in mind. I need you back in this office on the 18th."

"Why the 18th."

"You don't worry about that. You just make sure you are back here, and with some nice clothes."

"I'm going to be your plus one for the pulitzer ceremony?"

"You figured me out."

Frank was not happy about being assigned to go to Smallville. Words like personal vendetta and ice monster were used when Lois came to tell him about it. Lois tried again to get another photographer, one that wouldn't be trying to sabotage her story with deliberately bad pictures but it was no. Lois accepted it though because she wasn't really going to Smallville on a flimsy human interest story. She wanted to get inside that old Luthorcorp facility. She was leaning more and more towards the theory that there was something volatile there. Something that may go off any moment and kill lots of people. Luthor didn't care about police or protesters. He wasn't the kind of man to dictate from on high to stay out of a town over something like that. But if there was something that could damage his goods and is ill gotten gains then he would take notice. Luthor never admitted defeat and yet closing a base of operations and then not immediately getting rid of it would look like a defeat to some. No. Luthor wouldn't sell the property because then the EPA inspectors come, and they or the new owner might find Luthors dirty little secret time bomb or worse, set it off.

This was potentially the story that could get Lionel Luthor himself put under suspicion or even landed in jail. It would be risky. Lois knew she actually might be putting her life on the line here. But if she exposed this, how Luthor left a time bomb that could go off at any moment there threatening the lives of the townspeople, then she would have her page one and maybe she would finally see Mr. Luthor himself in shackles.

Smallville didn't have an airport. The nearest one was over three hours drive away. This wasn't exactly an easy place to get to when you take that into consideration. Frank did the driving but took a wrong turn and added another hour of backtracking to their journey.

Once they got to Smallville, Lois didn't want Frank to get any hint of what she was really after so they split up. Frank was to get their bags to the motel then just take some general pictures around the town. Lois got a taxi to the mayor's office to book the interview. After the mayor's office she specifically wanted to talk with Peter Ross. His name came up in the local news a lot. The sheriff was all to happy to set that up. Lois took the opportunity to get a map of the local area from a convenience store.

She couldn't do the real interviews she wanted to do until the next day so she found the heart of the town and found a popular coffee shop. While she was there she just asked random people what they liked about the town. She got very vague answers about the safety, good jobs, and something called "clean country living". Everyone seemed to be happy with the town and she couldn't find anyone who wanted to move away. The name Peter Ross got thrown around. Everyone seemed to have been personally rescued by him as some point or knew someone who had. They told stories of Peter Ross saving people from a tornado. Finding people after a tornado that would have been almost impossible to find. There was the story of Peter Ross pulling a family from their car after it went off a bridge into a river. The more Lois heard the more she wanted to get her questions at this man who seemed to have superhuman abilities.

That night at the motel Lois was typing up her notes and interview points to cover the next day when the sound of a helicopter filled the darkness outside. Lois opened the door to her room to see what the commotion was about. There on a bit of land adjacent to the highway was a Luthorcorp helicopter and getting out of it looked to be no other than Lionel Luthor himself.

Back in her room Lois set the computer to encrypt itself and delete all data if the wrong password were entered. She didn't really have much else besides her personal notebook which didn't have much in it. Her phone was already encrypted so that was not a worry but she did set the phone to call the police automatically if she didn't put in a code when it would beep for one every few minutes. She half thought about running but in the end she wanted to know what he was doing here and one way to find that out would be to ask him.

She didn't have to wait long. Luthor and he goons came right to her door and knocked politely.

"Ah, Ms. Lane. I don't suppose you would indulge me a few moments."

Lois came to the door. "Tell your guys to back off."

Luthor waved them away. "It's just me. Can I come in and talk to you?"

"About what?"

"I'd like to not have this conversation through a door. Please just hear what I'm offering and if you don't want to do business then I'll go away."

"You don't seem like the kind of person to just take no for an answer and then quietly go away."

"Well, you never know unless you try."

"Are you trying to bribe me."

"Well, no. I just thought I would do you a favor."

"How is that not bribing me."

"Ms. Lane, I know you came here to snoop around our old site. Instead of just letting you break in I'm here to give you permission."

"Why would you do that?"

"Ms. Lane, I'm really finding it a trouble to speak to you this way. Would you please just open the door?"

Lois opened the door to a crack.

"Ah, that's a bit better. Nice to meet you Ms. Lane."

"I'll call the police if you try anything."

"I don't doubt it. Now, I'm due back in Metropolis early tomorrow morning so if we could get this over and done with. I don't suppose I could come in."

"Give them an inch."

"I assure you I come with only the most peaceful of intentions. In fact, I should be thanking you."

"About the facility."

"Don't want me to get off track. Good for you. May I come in?"

She hesitantly opened the door all the way for the man and waved him to sit at the small table by the window.

"About the facility."

"Yes. I assumed you wanted to take a look. Your articles have brought to light a lot that Luthorcorp has to answer for. We will have to work hard to regain the public trust. As you know I want Luthorcorp to be the best company to invest in, to work for, and to do business with. We can't do that if people don't trust us. In the current environment I understand why you wouldn't come to me for permission but I want you to know that Luthorcorp is totally open to you and any other for scrutiny. There were some mistakes in the past and we will have to pay for them. In part I blame myself for creating a culture at the company that perhaps contributed to these things. That is why I want to thank you for bringing our wrongdoing to light so that we may have a chance to correct our ship before things got too out of hand."

"Is that all?"

"I don't understand."

"Are you finished?"

"Indeed. Did you have any questions for me Ms. Lane?"

"Regarding?"

"Our Smallville location."

"Where's the key?"

"I've sent four security guards to the gate. They'll let you in and let you look at whatever you want."

"Are they going to follow me around?"

"No. Their job is simply to open the gate to let you in and then let you out again. You can look at whatever you want, go where ever you want. I've even told them to get all the document out so you may examine them if you wish."

"This is a very generous offer I must admit. What are you asking in return?"

"Nothing save perhaps that you be fair. You saw something wrong in Luthorcorp and you went after it. I am in your debt for that. I will tell you something I've come to suspect. There is something wrong with this town. There is something wrong with Smallville. I don't know what it is but I just bet if anyone can find it, it's you."

With that Luthor got up to leave.

"Mr. Luthor. What if I have more questions?"

"I'm a bit pressed for time just now, but please call my secretary. My door is always open to you."

The interview with the mayor was a long boring affair. The mayor had very long, detailed ways of telling Lois that he basically didn't know the answer to her questions. What was causing the economic boom in Smallville was met with a history lesson. How had the town grown from 20,000 people to over 60 was met with the mayor recounting the groundbreaking ceremony on the new highway. It turns out that the mayor didn't know that much about the town. He was just a very lucky guy who happened to be in office when the boom hit.

The interview with Ross was much more productive. Ross seemed to know about everything that was going on in the town. He informed her about the fiber internet lines that were put in so that tech companies could relocate there and well as call centers. He talked about how the intersecting of the two highways meant that locating a distribution warehouse near Smallville would be advantageous for companies. He even talked about a silver mine that was discovered.

Lois was a pretty good reader of people and she could tell if someone was trying to lie or hide something. Ross was very open and honest when it came to talking about the town and the great people who lived there. He was less honest on other issues however. Like about all the miraculous things he'd done.

"I don't really remember it that well. I mean, I do remember it happened but you know it almost seems like a dream. The doctors told me that maybe it was from how adrenaline affects the brain."

"And which doctor told you that?"

"Ah, um. You know, one of the ones at the hospital."

"And they told you that when you brought the family in."

"I'm not sure which time it was. I just remember hearing that one time."

"With everything you've done, I'm surprised you haven't written a book."

"Well, I don't know. I'm not much of a writer. I think maybe you have to be a bit older to write about your life and expect people to read it."

"You found a little boy who was trapped under a house after a tornado. Do you remember much about that?"

His facial expressions showed that he did remember but he wanted to hide something.

"It was a lucky guess."

"You seem to have a lot of luck."

"Don't jinx me. I don't want it to run out."

"I'm sure people have asked you before but is there anything you can contribute it to?"

He was practically telecasting that he was going to lie to her. Peter Ross was not a very good liar. It was a shame too because he was so honest about everything else.

"I guess maybe part of it was that I had a car in high school so I was able to get a round a bit more than some of the other folks. I was curious so I was always trying to check out something new. Maybe that was part of it. I'm sorry. Maybe that isn't the answer you were looking for. To be totally honest" and yet he was still telecasting himself a liar "I can't really explain it. I don't know how all that stuff happened. I would find myself in a situation where someone needed help and I did the best I could. Each time something happened it was totally different than the time before."

"Well, you certainly are a very humble local town hero."

Ross seemed to relax and start to tell the truth again. "Those people out there, each one of them helping to make this town better and better everyday, they are the real heros. I'm just happy and lucky to be considered worthy to serve them."

"Thank you so much for your time Mr. Ross, or can I call you Peter."

"Actually, why don't you call me Pete, that's what everyone else calls me."

"Before I go, Pete, I was wondering if you had ever met Mr. Jonathan Kent who used to live in Smallville."

Ross got nervous again. "Mr. Kent. He was a good man."

"Did you ever meet him?"

"On occasion."

"What occasions were those?"

Ross looked like he was trying to choose his words wisely. "My father sold feed to the Kents from time to time. And of course I met him when we had our annual fair in October. I think when I was really young my family also had Thanksgiving with the Kents one year but I was so young I actually don't remember it very much." Yet he was unconsciously telling Lois that he in fact did remember quite a lot.

"What sort of work did your father do?"

"He turned corn into feed for livestock. Most people know me as the son of a judge but the judge was my mom. My father sold his business and my mom got nominated to a federal bench so they moved over to Missouri."

"And Mr. Kent raised livestock?"

"That and some other things. His farm was pretty big."

"Is it still there?"

"It's still a farm but I'm not sure of all the goings on after Mr. Kent died."

"How did he die."

"Heart attack. Very sudden. Nobody was expecting it."

This guy was hiding something. He was nervous talking about the Kents. Lois wondered if there was some bad blood between the families.

"Did you ever get to know Mr. Kent's son?"

"Yeah. We went to the same high school. Of course back then every kid in this town went to the same high school."

"Well, how did you meet him."

"Well like I said, I was out at their farm on rare occasions. I was already a junior when Mr. Kent's son was a freshman."

Lois thought about that phrase. 'Mr. Kent's son'. Why didn't Ross want to say his name?

"Is there anything you can tell me about him?"

"Um. He was a friend of mine in high school. We were on the football team together one year. The boy was small, and had these pretty thick glasses. He was always going around puffing on this inhaler he had. He was a sickly kid. But he was a darn fine kicker. He didn't have it easy you know. Other kids wanted to use him as a punching bag and I had to bloody more than one nose to get them to leave him alone."

"So you looked out for him?"

"I was captain of the team. It was my job. You can't let things like that go on and expect to win any games."

"And how many games did you win."

"We were state champions that year."

Lois was getting annoyed with the talking about someone but not using their name so she thought she would just drop it if Ross wouldn't be so kind as to volunteer it.

"So do you know if Clark still lives in town. With his mother maybe."

"I can't be sure. You can drive out to the old Kent place and see if he's there if you want."

"Do you have their phone number?"

"Not on me. No, sorry."

"Do you happen to have any pictures of Clark?"

Ross hesitated. "I might have one of him on the team back at home but not here."

"Ok, Well that about wraps it up. Thank you for your time."

"Ms. Lane. I don't suppose I could ask you why you had so many questions about the Kent family."

"Nothing really. Small town beats the odds, I was hoping to be able to put a face to that story."

Ross shook his head like he understood but Lois was really just making it up as she went along. "Well, there are plenty of people in town. The Kents are a fine a family as any though."

Frank was busy getting shots of town hall and the main street. Lois got into the car and called her all knowing informant.

"Robert, could you do a quick check."

"No, I'm done doing favors for you."

"It's just a quick one."

"No."

"Just tell me if Peter Ross is on the phone and if so with who."

"You are the most infuriating bag of chemicals to ever call itself a human, you know that."

"I'll let daddy know you think so."

"Who, and hurry this up."

"Peter Ross, in Smallville Kansas."

"Just a sec. … Yeah, he's on the phone. What, are you spying on the guy?"

"No, you are and I want you to tell me who he's talking to."

"It looks like cell belonging to Clark Kent. Pulling up the history, they talk to each other a lot."

"You said before that Clark was on a cell."

"That's the only phone registered to him."

"Do you know where the cell is?"

"Um, that's weird. I can't tell."

"Really. Nevermind. Look up every picture of Clark and Martha Kent you can and send them to me."

"Now look, this is the last thing I'm doing for you."

"Whatever. Just get me those pictures."

Lois set up shop in the coffee shop again under the pretense of asking random people about the town. Some of the people wanted to know where the camera was and sort of lost interest in talking to Lois when they found out she worked for a newspaper instead of a TV station. The daily planet may be the paper of record back on the East coast but here in middle America if it's not on TV then it doesn't count.

Lois would sneak in questions about Clark Kent and most people didn't even know who he was. Those who did would usually mention that he was a small weakling with glasses. No one seemed to remember that he was the kicker for the team that won state. Lois had to actually find another member of the football team for that to come up.

"Little Clark. Yeah, I remember him. He was so small, I think if we had actually flushed him he would have gone down."

"So you bullied him."

"Don't say it like that. I just thought it was funny. He was the odd man out. There were all us big guys and then him. Man he could kick a football though. I still can't imagine where that power came from. You put a ball in front that boy and he'd kick it to wherever you wanted. He ain't look like he had no muscles in them legs of his but he would go on about centri multiple force and torch and some other like physics stuff. I'd ask him how he could get the ball to go so far and he'd want to draw me a diagram with tangent lines and all."

"So he was a smart kid."

"There were some of us who thought maybe he was retarded. He had a funny way of talking. I remember back when we were learning US history. The boy had this funny way of saying New Orleans. We asked him to say it over and over again. We would just sit there and laugh."

"You took classes with him."

"Yeah, I had a few."

"When was the last time you saw him."

"Probably at his dad's funeral."

"You went to Mr. Kent's funeral."

"It was Pete's idea. We had all graduated by then but Pete got us all together. Told us we had to support a fellow team member. Course, I had stayed on the football team but Clark dropped out after that one year and of course Pete graduated. But Pete made us all promise to go and show some support so we did."

"So the entire football team was at the funeral."

"Yeah. There were some other people too. Some farmers and all. I can't think that I ever met Mr. Kent but I guess he was well liked in town."

"And you haven't seen Clark since."

"No, can't say I have."

"Do you have a picture of Clark?"

"Well, you can go to the sports bar on Ester st. There's a team photo from the championship game and I'm pretty sure he's in it. Or you could wait a couple of weeks. He might show up at the five year reunion. I heard something about Pete trying to get us all together to celebrate our old State Champ victory there."

Lois actually didn't need to follow up that tip. Her phone was downloading a package of pictures from Robert.

"Hope these will do. I can't find any that show him full on or full faced so facial rec won't work on him. He's listed in these pictures."

They were all group photos. Clark on the football team, face hidden behind glasses. Clark in a class picture, standing in the back row with half his face hidden behind the shoulder of a bigger kid. He certainly looked to by small and shy. Lois was beginning to feel like she was barking up the wrong tree. Maybe she should just leave this kid alone. But the fact that Ross would say he didn't know Clark's number and then immediately call him as soon as she left was suspicious. She felt she had to at least meet this Clark Kent once. She had to ask about his father's cell phone.

Lois was on her way to the Luthorcorp site and noticed something. The kent farm wasn't far from Luthorcorp. Those goons at the gate can wait a bit longer. Frank was in the car and was really eager to photo the Luthorcorp facility but Lois had a hunch.

The Kent farm was pretty big. There was actually a bit of a private road that went onto the property a good ways before you actually got to the house. On the way there she saw a man fixing a fence.

Lois stopped and rolled down the automatic window. He was a big guy wearing a white tshirt and jeans. He noticed Lois but continued to do his work.

"Excuse me."

The man stopped his work and stood up. The turned to the car but didn't offer a response. His impressive physique would put a bodybuilder to shame. Lois noticed that something in her skipped a beat softly. She may have even blushed, if ever so slightly.

"Ah hem. Is this the Kent farm?"

"Yes." It was a very short response.

"Do you know if Martha or Clark Kent are home?"

"Yes."

"So … could you tell me?"

"Yes." Lois was obviously having some communication trouble with this guy so she got out of the car.

"Are they home now?"

"Yes."

"Am I offending you or anything?"

"No."

"So, why won't you talk to me."

"I'm sorry, Miss …"

"Lane."

"Miss Lane. You asked a yes or no question and I answered. I'm not sure what more you want from me."

Lois was trying to read this guy but she couldn't. The best she could get was perhaps a bit of condescension.

"Ok, Well, now you know my name."

"Yes, I do."

Lois waited. The man didn't offer any new information.

"So, where can I find Martha Kent?"

"She's in the house. Go to the side door. That leads to the kitchen. She's probably making dinner."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome Ms. Lane."

Mrs. Kent was very hospitable. It was obvious that while she didn't want it to look like she was expecting them, she had been expecting them. Lois kept her questions very general about the town and Mr. Kent. When she finally did get around to asking about the phone Mrs. Kent said she wasn't sure where it was anymore.

"There were so many things to take care of after he passed. I guess we might have given it back to the phone company. I'm sorry. I just not sure."

"That's fine. So, your son Clark. He was on the football team when they won state."

"That's right. Jonathan was really proud of him."

"Why did he stop?"

"Well we were worried he would get hurt." That was a lie and Lois could see it.

"Was there any other reason?"

"Well, he had won state. That sort of put Smallville on the map for a while. Maybe the coach found a better kicker. My Clark was just the kicker you know. Clark wanted to put more time into his studies so I don't blame him for not staying on the team. We were already very proud of him. He didn't have anything more to prove."

"I see. Did Clark play football in college at all?"

"Oh, no."

"Did he ever get married? Does he live around here?"

"I'm a bit confused by your question. You didn't see him outside."

"I don't think so, unless…"

Just then the man who was fixing the fence came in through the front door.

"Hey, mom, I'm starving."

"Just a minute, we have company."

Lois stood up but Frank just continued to sit and look at his phone.

"Clark, this is …"

"Lois Lane." added Clark.

"and Frank Hornel. They're from Metropolis. They work at a newspaper and want to ask us about living in Smallville."

"Ok."

The Kents were very reserved. The rest of the interview consisted of Martha obviously hiding things and Clark looking like he was the most honest and open person in the world. Lois just couldn't read him. Clark told the story of how he went to college for a year but came back after his dad died to take over the farm. He did the rest of his college work through correspondence courses. He didn't have any plans to marry and had only ever dated one girl back in high school. They both said they liked Smallville and wanted to stay. It was a good town to live in and they were lucky to have such good neighbors. On the question of the phone, Clark said he hadn't seen it in so long he couldn't imagine where it might be.

Lois could tell the Kents were hiding something about that phone. Martha seemed genuinely confused as to why Lois would ask about it but Clark didn't bat an eyelash. Lois didn't really care if they had some sort of deep dark family secret they didn't want to get out. Maybe there was another reason why Clark didn't seem to be interested in dating girls and in a small town like Smallville that could be a tough thing to live with. Maybe being more than friends was the connection Clark had to Pete. Whatever it was, if it had nothing to do with her Luthorcorp story then Lois wasn't interested. But to be on the safe side, she left a bug under a vase with some flowers in it. Maybe she would get something and maybe she wouldn't.

Martha Kent saw them out to their car and thanked them for coming by. She told them they were welcome to come again any time they wanted but of course she didn't mean it. Lois and Frank drove out to the end of the road and stopped.

"Ok Frank, what do you think?"

"Of those two. I think we can find someone better to put in the paper."

"Agreed. But what about the guy."

"I'm not into guys."

"No, look as this picture of him in high school."

"He buffed up. Big deal."

"He looks almost completely different."

"I'm not surprised. He's been running that farm by himself for that last three or four years. That looks like hard work."

"Does that really explain it."

"You want to go back and ask him?"

"Something seems funny with those two."

"From what I can tell they seem like the two most boring people in this small Boring town you forced upon me. Now the Luthorcorp plant, that will get my lenses burning."

"Do you think we should follow up with his high school girlfriend."

"The Lana Lang girl. What is she going to say? I dated the guy, then I didn't like him so much anymore so I dumped him. Boring. Do we even have an address for her? What are you thinking of uncovering, that the town hero and this Clark guy are more than just guy friends. That's not going to print at the planet I'll tell you now. Let the local news fish up trash like that."

The two reporters continued on to the Luthorcorp site but it was dark by the time they got there so they made a deal with the guards to come back the next morning.

Back at her motel room Lois logged into her account on the server that was receiving the audio from the bug on the Kent farm.

"Are they gone?"

"They've stopped at the end of the road. Do you hear that?"

"No son. Are they leaving yet? What are they doing?"

"They're talking about my muscles."

"Well, they have grown."

"They're going to go into the Luthorcorp site."

"Isn't that a bit dangerous?"

"It could be. It's been a while since it was shut down but who knows what else was going on in there." Clark let out a chuckle.

"That's no laughing matter. They could get hurt."

"The photographer seems to think Pete and I are a couple. They're going to ask Lana about it."

"What kind of news paper do they work for?"

"Lana. I haven't thought about her in … a long time."

"You really liked her didn't you."

"Yeah, too bad she didn't really like me."

"Oh, I'm sure she did a bit."

"She certainly liked my football jersey. I think she still has it."

"Well if she could see you now, she might change her mind."

"I'm sure she's probably married by now."

"I never got an invitation. You never know. Now might be the perfect time to look her up. Or what about that other girl? The one you brought by the house that time."

"The one in the wheelchair?"

"Be nice. Now I know she liked you. You should invite her back."

"Can't. She was deported."

"That shouldn't stop you going to see her."

"Maybe, but first, what is that sound. You can't hear that?"

"No. It must be one of your things."

"Under there. I see it."

The transmission stopped there. There was no more audio.

Lois was in shock. He had heard their conversation. How? That little farm boy must have bugged the car. That's what he was doing outside while they were in there talking with his mother.

Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Lois beat on the front of the Kent family home as hard as she could. The door opened and Clark was there in his pajamas.

"It's a bit early in the morning Ms. Lane; even for a farm."

"Where did you put it?"

"What?"

"Don't play dumb with me." she said while pointing a finger into his chest. "I know you put a bug in my car somewhere."

"Oh, you mean like the one you put in my livingroom."

Lois wasn't about to let this guy put her on a guilt trip. "You found mine, and I apologize. Now get rid of yours."

"I didn't bug your car."

"Do I look stupid to you."

"My degree is in computer science. I didn't need to bug your car."

"Ok, explain."

"Your car has a mic connected to the bluetooth antenna with no security on it at all. There's an app you can just download to hack into it. All I needed to know was the pin code which your car just happened to be broadcasting to me."

"So you could listen to me anywhere I went?"

"No, it's short range only."

"You said something about the Luthorcorp facility being dangerous. What did you mean?"

"Well, it isn't an office building. They have heavy machinery in there. I can't be sure but I think their record on employee accidents was pretty bad. There were quite a number of times we heard ambulance sirens heading out there and once a worker even needed to be airlifted out. That sounds dangerous to me."

She looked at him right in his dark green eyes to see if she could get anything on him at all. Was he lying to her? She just couldn't tell.

"So you've never been in there?"

Clark was going to answer but was interrupted by Mrs. Kent coming down the stair and wanting to know what was going on. Clark filled her in and she went to make some coffee.

Lois was about to leave and get on with her day but thought this might be the last time she would have a chance to come out and talk with them and she just had to know.

"Clark, can I call you Clark."

"It is my name."

"About two years ago, someone used your dad's cell phone to call me. I'd really like to know if it was you."

Clark smiled. "I'm really surprised you were able to track the call back here."

"I'm really surprised how you could know the things you knew."

"It wasn't that hard. All these computers are connected nowadays aren't they."

"That still doesn't quite explain it."

"I'm sorry I couldn't be more help to you. I let you know what what I knew. That's all."

"I don't buy it. How did you know all that stuff?"

"You guard your sources and I guard mine."

"Is there anything else about Luthorcorp you'd like to share?"

"I don't have anything now but if I do, I'll consider calling you."

That was the best she could get from him. It was obvious he was better connected than he was letting on. Lois stayed for coffee and chatted with Mrs. Kent a bit more about Smallville. She seemed nervous. She knew her son was into things bigger than just working on a farm but Lois didn't get the impression she really knew very much more than that. It was a bit of a mismatch. Robert had said that it would take a computer genius to tamper with a call the way Clark had. A computer genius was living and working on a family farm in Kansas that barely got cell coverage. There certainly are all kinds in this world.

Frank was not happy about being left at the motel while Lois did her morning errand. Frank didn't know half of what Lois was up to or why she kept asking about old phones. He wanted this story to be done with. It wasn't like he didn't have a life back in Metropolis. When Lois got back he gave her an earful. She wasn't worried at all. The just got her bag and got behind the wheel of the car.

The guards at the Luthorcorp facility did as Lionel had promised. They let the reporters in and didn't follow. They told them that basic lights worked for any room they wanted to go into but no to turn any of the equipment on since neither one of them was certified to operate any of it. Frank went off on his own to get shot. Lois just took a long walk around the outside to get an idea of the layout of the place. She had seen aerial photos and maps before but she wanted to get the idea on foot.

A very strange sight greeted her at the southern end of one of the larger buildings. There was a piece of heavy equipment lodged halfway through the wall. Lois couldn't quite figure out what it was or what it did. She tried to call out to Frank to get a picture of it but he didn't respond. She snapped a photo with her phone and then moved on.

That scene wasn't the only unusual thing at the facility. There were signs of something that Lois could only describe as battle all over the place. There as a handprint pressed into a steel metal door. There was a concrete wall that looked like something had smashed through it. It got even stranger once she entered the building. The main elevator looked like someone had rippled half the door off and then just left the metal hanging there. There were potholes on the walls that look like they had been blasted with heavy weapons. There was evidence of fire, as well as an overall look of damage to almost everything.

Lois was sure that Frank was having a field day. Lois couldn't make any sense of any of it. Yet, she could already hear Mr. Luthor's excuse. It had been a closed down facility that they didn't have manned or guarded anymore so perhaps the local teens had broken in and made a mess. She couldn't imagine teens doing the sorts of things she saw but she didn't have a counter to it yet.

Lois made her way to the file cabinets. There wasn't much left there. There wasn't even any information left as to what exactly the work was at the plant. From the looks of things it looked like part of the business was making biofuels and another was developing manufacturing equipment, two very different types of enterprises.

One document seemed to jump out at Lois. It was for a cash payment to the Kent family farm. Why would Luthorcorp give the Kents money? Maybe it was for milk. That really didn't make a lot of sense though. She looked over the amount. $193,000. That was chuck of change for Luthor but for the Kents that would be a lot of money. The half page sized document didn't say why Luthor was giving the Kents money. Was it for land? Was it for work? As much as she didn't like the idea going back to see the Kents so soon after their last encounter, she now had a reason to go back.

Half an hour went by and Lois found a few more documents that could be something and warranted further investigation but didn't really point in any new directions on their own. She was leaving the office on her way to the lower levels to check those out when she heard Frank yell.

SMASH

The sound of something big hitting something big and basically demolishing it boomed through the grand lobby of the main building. The office Lois was in was on the second level that had a view of the lobby and Lois saw to her amazement Frank running and trying to hide under a staircase. A moment later a large, odd shaped robot came into view.

The robot didn't look very human. It was half of a sphere on the top with two legs and two arms coming out of the bottom. At the bottom of the legs were very wide feet that formed semicircles on each side. The arms lowered out of the body and then went to the side at a 90% angle. At the ends of the arms were … machine guns.

The robot turned its attention to Lois and she instinctively tried to get cover. The robot appeared to lock onto her and positioned itself, and its gun, to fire on her. Lois was frantically scanning the area to find a way out.

CLICK … CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK

Lois peered out from her hiding place. The robot was aiming at her and apparently trying to shoot her but all that was happening was the metal parts of the weapon sliding back and forth. The robot had no ammunition.

What a joke. Those Luthorcorp guys must be up to this. Lois turned to look out the front window at the guard house by the gate to see if she could spot one of them with a remote control or something.

"Ha, ha, ha." laughed Frank as he came out into the open and walked up to the robot. "What's the matter big guy. Did you run out of bullets." said Frank in a mocking tone.

Lois was on her way down the steps to the first level now that the robot didn't seem to be a danger but Frank had gotten too close to it. The robot turned its attention to him. It didn't act right away but when Frank was in just the right spot, just as he was about to reach out and touch the robot, it pivoted on its legs very fast as it was spring loaded and turned its body so the big machine gun toting arm hit Frank and threw him across the room.

Lois jumped with surprise. The thing might not have ammo but it was still dangerous and Frank had been too careless. Lois now had to think of what to do next. The obvious answer would be to hit the front door and if possible get on the other side of the main gate. Let the Luthorcorp guys deal with this thing. That was their job right. However, she couldn't just leave Frank.

The hulking machine was on a path to where Frank had landed. There was a binder of documents on the floor near Lois. She picked it up and threw it at the thing. "Hey, leave him alone." A plan was forming. Lois was near the front door by now. She would distract the thing so that Frank could get away and then she would be out the door herself.

The problem was that the thing didn't feel like being distracted. It felt like killing Frank. Lois was screaming at the thing and picking up every little thing she could see to throw at the monster but it was intent on getting to Frank. Why wouldn't it just act the way monsters do in the movies.

It wasn't pretty and when Lois later had to recount what exactly happened she had a hard time describing this moment. Frank was badly injured just from being knocked back. He was on the floor writhing in pain already when the robot stepped on him.

Lois heard the sound of bone being crushed. From her point of view she couldn't see exactly what happened but Franks scream of pain told her he was at least still alive. The robot raised up one of its arms clearly with the intent to bring it down on Frank to finish him off.

Lois was frozen in fear. Call an ambulance crossed her mind. Call the morgue crossed it a second later. The main thing was run for her life. But she couldn't move. She was frozen in fear for Frank's life. There was nothing she could do.

Just then as the arm of the robot was coming down another robot, a man sized one with a man's form that could move very fast moved, rushed into the lobby and put itself between the much larger robot and Frank. It took the brunt of the blow. It was clearly damaged by the strike but it stood its ground. Then amazingly the smaller robot seemed to twist and take off the arm of the larger one with one arm and push the body of the larger robot away with the other.

Lois took this chance to run over to Frank. The larger robot had stepped on his leg. He was bleeding badly and had already gone into shock. Lois had never seen a human being so damaged. She wasn't sure if she could move him or not. She didn't know what to do. Ok, she probably needed to stop the bleeding. She glanced to the side and saw the two robots fighting. The smaller robot was clearly trying to keep the larger one from them. Its outside features were getting pounded to a flat wash of itself but the insides must have been plenty sturdy enough as it just kept up the fight.

Lois took off Frank's tie and tried to wrap it around his leg to stop the bleeding. It didn't look good. Frank would be dead in a matter of minutes and it seemed like there was nothing Lois could do. She couldn't even talk to him because he was incoherent as he agonized in pain. Lois took out her phone to call for help but to her shock, there was no cell coverage here. She would have to run to the guard house and hope the phone there worked or that it would be close enough to the nearest cell tower to get a signal.

Lois stood up and turned around to run out and saw the big robot in pieces on the floor. The main dome of the thing only had one leg still attached and it was spinning itself into circles. The smaller robot pounded the finishing blow to it and finally it stopped. Lois waited for a second to see what the other robot would do now. It stood there and didn't move. Lois ran past it out the main doors to the guard house. The guard house was quite a ways off but Lois ran at her full speed. The guys in the guard house had a TV set up and one of them apparently had brought an old game console. They were playing a first person shooter game.

"Help! Get off your asses and help me." yelled Lois.

It didn't take much explaining to get the guards to run with Lois back to the main building. One of them immediately got on the landline, which did work, to get the police and an ambulance to come out. Amazingly he was informed that something had tripped the fire alarm and so a firetruck was already in route.

Back in the lobby Lois and the other three guards found Frank still in pain but someone had tended to his leg. A first aid kit was open near him. The smaller robot was gone. The guards went to hunt for it but it wasn't far. It was in a nearby room trying to take its head off. The robot it seems wasn't a robot at all. It was an armored suite. And inside was Pete Ross.

"Whatever batteries this thing had must be gone now because I can not move at all."

Lois was shocked to discover that her rescuer was the locally famous deputy. How had he known she was going in here? Why would he be ready with an armored suit?

"Ok, you three. Right now your names are Larry, Curly and Moe" Ross said, nodding his head in each one's direction. "Larry. You get on the radio in my car. It's right outside the front gate. You let them know we have a man seriously injured here."

"I already called…"

"I don't care. Smallville general isn't equipped to care for that man's injuries so we need an airlift. Go! What are you waiting for? That man could die!"

'Larry' rushed off to do as ordered.

"Now, Curly. You need to get on the phone with your boss and let them know what happened here. And when you've got them, tell them they have to stay on the line until I can get to it because I'm yelling at someone over this."

The second guard hesitated for a moment but then headed for the main door.

"Moe. You got a vehicle Moe?"

"Ah, yes sir."

"Well good. You need to take it down the road a ways till you see a farm. There's a man there named Clark. You go collect him and bring him here. You tell him we got an emergency and he's working for me today."

"I hate to ask but do you have any orders for me general."

"What are you doing standing here? You need to be seeing if your photographer needs any more first aid. But if you do have some time on your hands maybe you could look around and see if there a way to get me out of this thing."

Ross was stuck standing there like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz until the firetruck finally arrived and used the Jaws of Life to cut some of the metal off. The suit was very badly damaged and many of the parts that were supposed to separate from each other had been hit so hard that they were bent back onto each other. Getting Ross out of the suit was a long process. There was a medic there looking him over as each new piece came off to check for injuries. The inside of the suit had held up well and thankfully Ross wouldn't be needing a trip to the ER himself.

Lois was watching as the medical team from the helicopter get Frank ready to move when Clark arrived.

"Clark, long time." said Ross.

Clark looked at the ground and his glasses almost slid off his face. "Yeah, I guess so. What happened?"

"Long story man. Look I know I'm not the sheriff but I'm deputizing you right now. You gonna help us get this mess cleaned up. And when you finished stick around because I'm gonna convince you to go to that reunion."

Clark just nodded his head and went to start moving the pieces of the robot out of the way.

"Wait!" interrupted Lois. "You can't start moving things. Don't you have to investigate?"

Ross turned to her. "Is this a crime scene?"

"Well, Frank…"

"Is this a crime scene?"

"Ah, I thought…"

"This Ms. Lane is the scene of an accident. A very strange accident but not a crime. We don't put robots in jail. Sure, there are some questions I want answered but right now all those parts are in the way and they're creating a hazardous environment for us to move around in."

Lois couldn't argue with his logic but she wished she could get some pictures of the mess for her story before it got all cleaned up.

Lois went on the helicopter with Frank and they were taken over the state border. They weren't in Kansas anymore. When Lois finally got cell coverage she called Frank's wife to let her know what had happened. She started to panic on the phone. She called the office to let them know what happened but something big was going down with the election and Lois was forced to leave a message. The rest of that day and night were spent waiting in the hospital for word from the doctor. Smallville was certainly turning out to be a very strange little town indeed. A computer genius who bales hay on a dairy farm, giant robots on the loose in the Luthorcorp building, and a lawman who dons a robot suit to fight them. Lois knew she had to go back. She had to get something out of this. Kent was going to have to answer about the money he got from Luthor. Something told Lois this might actually be the tip of the iceberg.

It was about 4 in the morning when the doctors finally gave Lois an update on Frank's condition. His leg had been injured very badly but it didn't have to be amputated. Frank wouldn't be able to walk on it until the bones grew back. Frank also had injuries to his chest. He was lucky he didn't die just from from those. Frank was lucid but on heavy pain medication.

Decisions had to be made. Frank couldn't be moved according to the doctors for at least a week. Frank's family couldn't all come from Metropolis to be with him. Frank wife needed to look after their small children. Lois couldn't just abandon him there in hospital. It looked like she would have to stay there until Frank was able to be moved to Metropolis.

Her salvation came the next morning. Frank's brother Bill came to look after him. They were allowed into his room in the hospital during his breakfast. Frank couldn't speak much and only in a whisper. His brother was the one to go to him speak with him first but soon he waved Lois over.

Lois came and was going to tell him she was sorry for getting him in this fix but he grabbed her arm. "my camera" he said in a soft whisper as he looked at her with an intense stare. Lois looked over to the camera equipment sitting in a basket that the staff had put all his personal items in. Frank squeezed her arm and she looked back at him. "get the story".

Later that day Lois was trying to get another car so she could go back to Smallville because the one she already rented was there. The car rental company had a policy of only renting one car to a person at a time. It looked like she might have to pay for a taxi to take her all the way to Smallville, which would pretty much kill the rest of her travel budget. Perry was furious and was telling Lois to get on the next flight to Metropolis. Lois didn't want to give up yet. She had to face the reality that perhaps that robot was a trap and if there were the case then she was lucky to be alive at all. But if it were a trap, then only Luthor could have set it.

It was a bit after 10 and Lois still didn't have a firm idea of her next move. As she went over her options again her phone rang.

"Hello, is this Lois Lane?"

"Yes."

"It's Clark, Clark Kent."

"Hello Clark."

"Um, I was wondering if I could ask you where you are right now."

The little grammar nazi inside Lois was shouting 'were' but then again she already knew Clark was known to have a funny way of talking.

"I'm at the hospital."

"Which one?"

"Um, St. Stani… I'm not sure how to pronounce it."

"Stanislaus. Lucky me. I'm like a five minute jog away. I'll be right there."

Talk about service, she didn't need to go to Smallville, Smallville was coming to her. She looked at her watch and waited. It actually took him six minutes but she wasn't' complaining.

"Hi" he said.

"Hi"

"So, anyway. Um" he scratched his head. "The sheriff wanted to get a statement from you about what happened. All the deputies are really busy so they sent me out."

"You're working with law enforcement now?"

"It's not like that. It's more of a logistics things I guess. I had the free time."

Lois recounted her story of being attacked by the robot, how they thought they were safe when it didn't look like it had any bullets and how she had thrown things at it to distract it from Frank. Lois asked if Clark needed to talk to Frank but he shook his head.

"The real deputies can get a statement from him later when he's feeling better."

"Why didn't they just call a police officer in town here and have them talk to me?"

Clark just shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Maybe they will later."

"So is that all you need?"

"Yeah, I think I got it."

"Great because I have a question for you. A $200,000 question." Lois felt confident she was going to have this guy on the ropes and finally get him to spill everything.

"I think it was actually 193." responded Clark to her amazement. "Luthorcorp tore up some of our land and killed a several of our cows. We had less cows to produce from that year so we were going to sue Luthorcorp. Before we could file though, they came and settled with us and put a team of guys to work fixing the damage."

Lois was a bit furious at that answer not only because her inner grammar nazi was yelling "FEWER" in her ear but also because it led nowhere.

"What sort of damage was it?"

"One of their trucks lost control and tipped over smashing one of our fences. They were hauling some sort of batteries with corrosive chemicals that got into our well water. It was pretty nasty."

"Batteries for giant robots?"

"I can't say. I didn't really know what they are for."

Lois was beginning to understand why people made fun of the way this guy talked.

The conversation turned briefly to how the chemicals might have affected the dairy from the farm when Clark's phone rang.

"Hello"

"..."

"Oh, yeah. Hi."

"..."

"Nice to hear from you."

"..."

"Wait, where are you?"

"..."

"Ah, ok. Well yeah, you know. I'd be happy to show it to you of course. Just come by the house."

"..."

"Oh really" Clark responded just as another man whom Lois recognized walked into the lobby and looked right at Clark. "I'm actually…" Clark tapered off and looked up at the man.

"Clark?"

"Lex. Hi."

"Oh man. Look at you. I can barely recognize you. I guess milk really must do the body good."

Clark just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"Still blind as a bat though huh?"

"Pretty much."

"Hold on" interrupted Lois. "You're friends with Lex Luthor?"

"The one and only. And you are?"

"Lois Lane, Daily Planet."

"Nice to meet you. I love your work." he said with a smile. Lois couldn't be bothered to notice his charms as she finally had a chance to see his bald head up close and for some reason couldn't take her eyes off of it.

"Anyway, Lex, it's her photographer who got hurt."

"Are they letting visitors talk to him yet. I heard about what happened and I couldn't keep away. Especially not after seeing the code you emailed me."

"Yeah, about that. Um, did you figure anything out?"

"Well you said it was obfuscated and I'd have to agree with you. I can't even figure out what language it's supposed to be written in."

"Same trouble here."

"So, here I am, ready to take the dive in. It's really lucky I ran into you. I'd hate to have to rent a car."

"Ah, actually, right this moment I'm without a car myself."

"O...K… No biggy. We'll just rent one then."

"Wait. If you don't have a car, how did you get here?" Lois asked.

Clark lowered his head and shuffled his feet. "My … mom brought me and she's gone … shopping. Just let me call her and let her know she doesn't need to come get me."

"Why don't we just go on your mom's car?"

"It's actually a truck and it only seats two but if you want to ride in the back…"

"Don't worry about it Clark. Let's just rent a car. You can fill me in on the way there." Lex said as he waved away the suggestion of riding in the back of a truck all the way to Smallville. "And Ms. Lane, I assume you'd like to join us."

The ride back to Smallville was just as long as the one before. The two guys were going on and on about different aspects of some code they were talking about. Lois couldn't really follow the conversation but her interest got a jolt when they mentioned the robot that attacked her.

"Hold on, you guys are talking about the computer code that was operating the killer robot."

Clark was silent and let Lex handle it. "Well, yeah. I thought we were all on the same page here."

"How did you get it?"

"I dumped the code yesterday after cleaning up." added Clark.

"Why would you think to do that?"

Clark and Lex looked at each other and then Lex turned to Lois. "This man is a genius at writing code and I build robots for a living." said Lex in a tone that also hinted at the unspoken comment 'what else did you think we would do?"

"Well, I don't know about genius." commented Clark.

"There he goes. You hear him don't you Ms. Lane. He keeps saying he isn't really qualified to work as a programmer but I tell you, the man behind the wheel there could easily replace anyone on my team."

"You're not talking about that again are you?"

"Seriously Clark. I don't know what you're afraid of. I don't know that much about farming I admit but it seems to me you could probably afford to hire three or four guys to take care of the place for you while you went off and made a salary at least double what your farm produces in a year."

Clark was as stone faced as ever but Lois felt the need to come to his defense.

"Now just hold on. Do you even know anything about his farm?"

Lex didn't respond to her but address Clark again instead. "I'm sorry Clark. Sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my better judgement. I'm the last person who should criticize the choices you've made on how to live your life. I'm sure there are good reasons why you do what you do. I just wanted to say that you have options."

"I know you didn't mean anything by it Lex." Clark smiled. "You know, if you ever get tired of making robots, I could always use a hand out here."

They both shared a laugh.

Back in Smallville Lois got dropped off at the motel which was close to the highway. Lois got her own rented car and filled it with all of Frank's things. He didn't have much. She debated driving all the way back out to the hospital to give it to his brother but figured she should call him to ask what she should do. The brother told her she didn't need to worry about his clothes and things. She should just bring it all to Metropolis when she finished her story. He said that Frank was very insistent that she finish the story.

Lois needed a plan of attack. The small town beats the odds story was never her main goal anyway but her gamble that her caller would be a great source of new information also didn't pan out. Now all of that was overshadowed by this incident.

Ross wasn't at the sheriff office when Lois went to ask for an interview. Most of the deputies were out at the Luthorcorp facility. Lois headed out. After all she did still have official permission from the owner to investigate the site and Ross had even told her yesterday that it was not a crime scene.

At the Luthorcorp site there were a lot of vehicles and the deputies would not let Lois in. She asked to speak with Ross but they just said he was busy. She was stuck outside until Clark and Lex arrived.

"Hey guys. I don't suppose you could help me out."

"We'll see. Deputy! What's going on?"

"We have Mr. Luthor here answering some questions."

"Interesting. Well, go tell my dad that I'm here and then tell the sheriff that Mr. Kent brought Lois Lane to make a statement."

It took a bit of waiting but that got them inside. Lois was taken to Ross who had questions for her about what happened. She wanted to ask him some questions but he brushed them off and continued with his own questioning. He was certainly a seasoned interviewer who had a lot of experience dodging questions. For all his general honesty, Lois finally realized why Ross would eventually make an excellent politician.

"I have just one more question for you."

"Shoot, just the one though, you said."

"Well, I suppose it isn't really a question as a request."

"Ok."

"This is off the record, ok. I probably shouldn't say this. I don't feel like I did anything that wasn't already part of my duty you understand. But the fact is Ms. Lane I did save your life."

"Ok. And thank you."

"No, it's not like that. You don't have to thank me. It was my job. But I was wondering if you could do me a favor since you know you're still around and all."

"Ok. I'll see if I can fit it into my damsel in distress schedule."

"See, we understand each other. It's Clark. Now you don't have to if you don't want to but see his 5 year high school reunion is coming up and he says he don't want to go."

Grammar nazi screams 'doesn't'. Why do the two most intelligent people in this small little hick town not know how to conjugate their verbs correctly?

"Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

"Just encourage him. Or, I don't know, you could be his date."

"As if, I'm going to go on a date with a farm boy to a high school reunion in Smallville of all places."

"I'm just saying. It might be nice to get him out of his shell. It wouldn't hurt to think about it."

"Yeah. I definitely don't want to hurt myself thinking about that."

When Lois was finally released she looked around and used Frank's camera to take some pictures. She asked where Clark was and was directed to the lower levels. It was a long trek down the stairs several floor to one of the productions areas. Clark and Lex were at a big computer looking at something.

"So, guys, what's this?"

"It's the source code to the OS that was used to operate the robots that were built here."

"Great. So did you figure out why it attacked me?"

"We have a bigger mystery on our hands."

"Like what?"

"Show her Clark."

Clark did his thing at the controls and another set of data came up.

"What you were looking at before was the OS that my company built to operate these robots. What you're looking at now was not made by us."

"And this was the OS running in the monster robot."

"Exactly. See Clark, she gets it."

"So, who changed the OS?"

"That is one part of the mystery. I think I can tell you with confidence that it wasn't Luthorcorp."

"Fronting for your boss much?"

"Ms. Lane, I don't work for Luthorcorp. I know you want to expose my father's wrongdoing and I support that. However, I have to tell you truthfully that this code was not produced by Luthorcorp. This is hacker code."

"How can you tell?"

"We can't read it but we can observe its behavior. It infiltrates the host system and then copies the native OS. It then installs itself as the native OS and runs the original OS in a Virtual Machine. No matter what the original OS wants to do, the hacker OS can override it."

"And how did you figure that out?"

"Is your phone running a bit more slowly recently?"

"I haven't noticed."

"I certainly noticed mine running a bit more slowly after getting to Smallville. I dumped the Rom at Clark's place and sure enough, the original Kernel had been replaced."

This was starting to go a bit over Lois' head. "So, this code is infecting everything?"

"Not everything. The code by itself does nothing. It needs to be executed by something. This phone of mine is pretty high tech and can run a lot of different code, that's why it was able to be infected. I doubt it would be able to infiltrate something as simple as a DVD player."

"But it still sounds like a big problem."

"Indeed. This stuff got on my phone without me even noticing that it rebooted itself. My phone doesn't appear to be a danger to anything but it is trying to infect everything else around it. Just turning it off didn't work either. I actually had to open up the back and pull the battery out."

"Wait. If this hacker code it trying to infect everything, then shouldn't this computer be infected?"

"We just turned it on and unplugged all the network IO."

"But it could be?"

"It isn't. We checked."

"So do you know who made the code?"

"No. It isn't human readable, or at least it isn't meant to be."

"I'm not that up on my computer science at the moment. Could you explain?"

"Computers don't actually understand the code humans write. We have to change our code into a string of 1s and 0s called binary that computers do understand. This hijacker OS carries a copy of its own source code and appears to alter the source code as needed and compiles itself. We think it does this so that it can try out different versions of itself to see which one will infect the next system it gains access to. Unfortunately, even though it looks like we have the source code, we still can't read that either."

"But you're supposed to be able to read it?"

"It isn't impossible to write crazy source code and some graphics companies do that on purpose. The key here is that you have to do it on purpose. Whoever wrote this code didn't want anyone to be able to read it. Since we can't read it, we have no idea what it wants to do."

"And that's bad."

"Very bad. Remember the Olympics and how everyone there had their files locked under a mountain of encryption and had to pay a ransom to get any of it back."

Lois remembered. It was the famous ransomware attack.

"And so you're saying that Luthorcorp didn't do this."

"No. This is a hacker. We started checking the other robots here and none of them are infected so far. Anyway. This could potentially become a very big story for you. We need to get the word out and start working on security measures that will keep systems safe from this."

Lois knew it was a big story but she had no idea how big it would get. She stood there taking notes as Lex explained the situation and Clark worked on the patch for the robots so they wouldn't get infected again. Clark got his task completed and said he would work better from home so Lex offered to take him. On the way out, Lex and Lionel saw each other in the Lobby but they didn't speak to each other. They shared a stare that spoke volumes of bad blood between them and then Lex exited. Lois stayed behind to get a word in with Lionel.

"Mr. Luthor, have you been informed of the situation?"

"A bit Ms. Lane. I am shocked to discover that we have been the victim of such a dangerous prank. We will be conducting our own investigation to discover the culprit behind this attack and we will cooperate fully with law enforcement in the hopes of seeing an arrest in the near future."

"Do you have anything to say to the family of the man who was nearly killed?"

"I'm glad you asked that Ms. Lane. I want them to know that Luthorcorp will do all it can to help them with whatever they need. Just contact us."

"Do you have any message for the hacker?"

"I probably shouldn't say this, but … If you're listening, your days are numbered. Believe me. I'm offering a $500,000 reward for anyone who helps us catch whomever is responsible for this. These industrial robots aren't to be tampered with in this way. Someone was seriously injured and if not for the swift and heroic actions of local law enforcement someone may have even died. We can't stand for things like that and expect to be able to live in a civil society."

The interview went on but it frustrated Lois. She wanted to get him on record saying something incriminating but instead her journalistic ethics forced her to stay on topic and it was a topic that Luthor exploited to make himself look like the victim of a vile hacker. Luthor was able to take the high ground. If it were a publicity stunt, then it was a beautiful one.

Later that day Lois got her computer out and began to type up the story. Then she stopped. What if it were infected? What could she do? She had to get the story out. The local TV guys would eventually want to get out to Luthorcorp to shoot film. She had to get the story out. She packed up her laptop and headed out to see Clark Kent.

Clark's mom was back home and was very gracious. Clark had a machine room with at least five computers in it in the basement. Clark set her up with a computer to type on as he looked over her laptop. Sure enough it was infected.

"And how do I know that your computers aren't infected?"

"I checked when I got back. Two of them were. I couldn't find a way to get the hacker code off so I had to wide the drive and install from scratch."

"Sounds like you lost a lot of data."

"That's what backups are for."

Lois got the first part of her story typed up and sent out to the Planet. Then she got on the phone and called the office to make sure they made it front page news. She spent another hour or two typing until Clark had reinstalled her OS.

"The reason only two of my computers were infected and not all of them I think has to do with dual booting. These three computers that were not infected have more than one OS on them already. So I set you up with a similar configuration. That might protect you in the future, and it might not."

"Thank you for doing this."

"Hey, no problem."

By this time it was getting late and the sun had gone down. Mrs. Kent wanted to know if Lois would like to stay for dinner. She initially declined but Mrs. Kent insisted and eventually Lois gave in. Clark came out of his hole and was going to help cook but his mother wouldn't let him.

"No, you aren't going to burn your hand by trying to take the roast out of the oven with no mits on. We have company anyway. Go be a good host."

Clark relented and sat with Lois to wait.

"So, smalltown boy is a computer genius."

"I originally majored in acting but I changed to computer science. I guess I was just better at it. You and Lex keep saying genius but there are a lot of guys much more talented than me."

"Ok, fine. New topic. You dated a girl in a wheelchair?"

"How many bugs did you put around this house?"

"And why did I have to learn about that from a bug."

"No one in Smallville know about Lori. No one."

"Embarrassed to have people know you dated her?"

"No. I dated her the year I lived on campus. We didn't date for that long so there really shouldn't be anyone who knows about her."

"First Lana, then Lori. I wonder if you have a thing for girls with L at the start of their names."

"Be careful. Lois fits the pattern if you're trying to make one."

Lois laughed. It does doesn't it. She felt herself smile. Was there a blush there? 'Ok, Lois, don't get too attached to this guy. He does still live with his mom after all' she thought. "Well, ok, new topic."

"You said that already."

Was he trying to trip her up? "The high school reunion."

"You going?"

"Why would I go to your high school reunion?"

"You brought it up. I'm not going, so that must leave you."

"So why don't you want to go?"

"You make it sound like an obligation that requires I have a reason to back out. I see it differently. I see it as I have no obligation and thus only need go if it be appealing enough. At present it is not."

"So if the party were changed to have more to offer you then you might change your mind."

"I'm open to anything I suppose but if it is just a party so that everyone who graduated that one particular year can all just see each other again then sorry, no thanks. I could see them all by just going downtown anytime anyway."

"What about celebrating the State Champs team? Doesn't that interest you?"

"I was just the kicker. Those guys don't need me to have a nice party. Besides, they already celebrated it two years ago."

"Now, hold on. Maybe I shouldn't bring this up but didn't the entire football team go to your dad's funeral?"

She could finally see a chink in his armor. "You have a point there, but they already celebrated our team win."

"Well, I tried. But if you don't want to go then I guess don't go."

"You're trying reverse psychology on me."

"Am I that transparent?"

"A bit. You don't really care if I go though."

"Well, … I do. Wait, I mean obviously not that much. It doesn't have anything to do with me and I say live your life as you want but …"

"So you don't really care if I go or not. You're just trying to get me to go because Pete asked you to."

"He did ask but I don't know why you would avoid going to your reunion."

"Not that you care."

"I do care. Ok."

"No you don't."

"Yes I do."

"Prove it."

"I can not believe I'm arguing with you about this. Go if you want. Don't go if you don't want."

"See. You don't care."

"Right. I don't care."

There was silence for a moment as Lois tried to hold onto her resolve and Clark looked at her with eyes that said they could see right through her. What was going on here? She didn't really care if this guy went to his reunion or not. Why would she? And yet when she checked her feelings it seemed as though she did care. This was a nice guy. He had a hard life growing up but he finally bloomed. Just from a journalistic point of view she'd love to write that up. There was heart in the story. She bit her lip.

"Liar. You have a tell."

"Ok, fine. I care if you go to your reunion. I don't know why I care. It just seems like a wasted opportunity to show everyone who was ever mean to you how well you turned out. You know, now that some of them have matured they might even want to apologize to you. Have you ever thought of that?"

"They know where I live."

"Most of the people in the town don't even know if you're still alive."

"Well, it doesn't matter because I don't have a date."

"You could call up your old girlfriend and see if she wants to go. Besides, you don't have to have a date to go do you?"

"I'm not going without a date."

"Oh, I see what you're doing. You're making it seem like I'm talking you into going but really you're talking me into going. Well I'm not going. Miss your own reunion if you want to."

"Fine. Then I will."

There was another moment. Lois began to play out the rest of the conversation in her head. She would come back and say that she couldn't be his date. Then he would say she didn't have to be his date since he really didn't want to go. Then she would give in and say she would be his date. Then he would say he didn't know how to dance. Lois would offer to teach him to dance and he would put on some music. Then she would be there in the living room with this guy dancing.

Lois imagined herself dancing with Clark. She had to admit she found the idea very pleasant. They would take a turn and then he would do something awkward but she would forgive him. Then she would trip on something and fall more into his nice strong arms. Then she would look up at him and his lips would be ready to …

'Lois!' she screamed at herself in her head. 'Get a hold of yourself girl. He isn't that good looking.'

She looked at Clark who was a bit amused at how she was getting hot under the collar.

"I can't be your date. Maybe in the time I have I can help you find one but I can't be your date."

"Ok."

"Don't ok me. If I find you a date, will you go?"

"If you were my date I would consider going but someone else. Well, I'm not sure."

"I can't be your date. I have to be back in Metropolis by the 18th."

"The reunion isn't on the 18th."

"No. I am not flying all the way to Metropolis only to come back to Smallville the next day for your little dance thing."

"You're right. No one should ask that of you."

"Oh, but you want to ask don't you?"

"I'm not asking."

"You really want me to be your date. That's what this is about. You like me."

"I never said I liked you. And I never said I was going to ask you to be my date."

"But you do like me."

"If I liked you that way, then why wouldn't I ask you to be my date?"

"Then why don't do you?"

"Fine, will you be my date for the reunion?"

"Oh, you want to play hardball."

"I'm not playing anything."

"You need me here to hold your hand to get you out of the farm house and back into proper society. Well, if you go all the way to Metropolis to go to my thing, then MAYBE, I'll come back and go to your stupid little dance."

"That sounds really expensive."

"Ah, see. Quid pro quo Mr. Kent."

"Fine. I'll do it."

"What?"

"If you promise to come back here and be my date for the reunion, which is the only way I'd go, then yes, I'll go to Metropolis for… what exactly?"

"A luncheon."

"Right. A luncheon."

"I'm really getting the rotten end of this agreement."

"It's your wager."

"Wager?"

"You think I won't go. You're betting I will sit at home and not go to Metropolis or that after I get there I will be so tired from the flight that I won't want to come back so quickly."

"Kind of I guess."

"Fine. It's a bet. If you lose then you have to come back to Smallville and be my date."

"And if I win?"

"What do you want?"

"Let me see. You come to work for the Planet."

"The Earth?"

"No, my newspaper. We need a guy I think, to work on the website probably. So, we on."

Clark looked up at her. "We're on."