Story title subject to change.
This story will make no sense if you haven't watched, or at least read about, the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Two's a Crowd", the 13th episode of the series, and one of my favorite episodes (so far...I haven't watched most of the series yet).
I guess this story takes place in the animated universe, 'cause, you know, it makes no sense otherwise...but I might not be consistent with every detail, and I couldn't tell you where in the timeline of the series this takes place. Also, characterizations will probably vary and take aspects from various depictions from Superman rather than just the one (and my own interpretations, as such is unavoidable when writing fanfic).
Disclaimer: Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and copyright DC Comics. This fan fiction is by StoryMaker. StoryMaker and all other things in the universe were created by God. I think that should clear everything up…
I. The Name of Science
"Thank you very much for your interest in our humble project," Professor Emil Hamilton said, escorting Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen through the tall double-doors that led to STAR Labs Metropolis room 301B.
"Just doing our jobs, Prof!" Jimmy said, immediately beginning to snap photos of his surroundings.
Lois wore an unimpressed expression, like she often did. "So, Professor Hamilton," she began, rapping her pencil against her chin and then pressing it against her notepad. "So, is this the so-called 'thought transfer system'?" She gestured to a huge apparatus before them. It consisted of three connected booths; expansive seats with seatbelts were in each, and there was bizarre-looking metal headgear dangling from each ceiling.
"Correct, Miss Lane," Emil replied. "Would you like a demonstration?" he said, his voice eager.
"That would be great," Clark piped up (though he was not actually sure it would be), "but we have a few more questions to ask first. Firstly –"
He paused for a moment, realizing he hadn't quite gathered his thoughts yet. Lois took this opportunity to intercept him. "Let's start with an easy one. What's the purpose of this project?"
"Well, we can see several uses for this research, but perhaps the foremost is enabling people with disabilities that prevent normal speech to communicate with loved ones," Prof. Hamilton said. "If this system works as we designed it to, it will enable a thought to be transferred directly from one brain to another."
"Mm-hmm." Lois wrote busily on her notepad. "Sounds noble…but you don't think such technology could be abused?"
"Ah – well, it's possible, of course," Emil said. "It's always possible for technology created for good to be used for evil, after all. But – I actually don't think this is particularly likely. You can't actually use this system to extract thoughts from another mind. It's really not possible to receive a thought from another person unless they are very intentionally focusing on that one thought and, um, trying to mentally send it off to the recipient brain, if that makes sense."
"So, actual 'mind-reading' is basically out of the question, you're saying," Lois said.
"Well, I would think so," Emil said.
"You don't think the system could be modified to allow such capabilities?" Lois said, rapping the pencil against her chin again.
"Basically, the answer is no," Emil said. "It would have to be...almost fundamentally changed, I would say."
"Can you use this machine to influence another's thoughts in such a way as to force them to take an action?" Lois said.
"We've been careful to make sure it targets only very specific areas of the brain so as to prevent that," the Professor said.
"Well, the project certainly sounds promising," Clark said. "But, um…if you don't think it's dangerous, is there…any particular reason it was kept from the public for so long?" He rapped his pencil against his notepad, feeling somewhat flustered. He honestly wasn't sure what to think of the project yet. Obviously, he wanted to trust the man who had done so much research to help him and provided him with such a technological bounty over the years. On the other hand, he knew the somewhat absent-minded Hamilton had created more than a few busts over the years, and that he didn't always exercise the proper caution or discernment.
"Well, at first, we weren't so sure that this project would work out, and we wouldn't want to get people's hopes up and not be able to deliver," Emil said.
"Of course," Clark interjected, instantly returning from his mental sojourn, in the same moment, writing on his notepad ever-so-slightly faster than was humanly possible.
"And also…" Emil took a breath. "You know with a project of this sort, there's going to be a lot of…speculation, since this is such a new and…somewhat startling technology."
"Yes, of course. Makes sense," Clark said, scribbling some more.
"When the first rumors about this project surfaced several months ago, they indicated that it was being developed for the military," Lois said. "Anything to say about that?"
"Um…only that the rumors are false," Emil replied.
Whether Lois felt doubts similar to his own or was just being her usual hard-nosed journalist self, Clark couldn't tell.
Lois wrote on her notepad. Clark took a breath, preparing himself to ask about the one thing that had actually been bothering him the most.
"Prof. Hamilton…?" he said.
The Professor blinked. "Yes?"
Clark started slightly. He realized that the words he had just spoke had been Superman speaking to his friend, not the reporter speaking to his interviewee. He sighed mentally. That conversation would have to wait for later.
He quickly recovered from surprising himself. "Is it true that the recently deceased Dr. Earl Garver, who turned to crime after leaving S.T.A.R. Labs…was originally in charge of this project?"
Emil flinched even more than Clark had expected him to. "Um, yes, it…it is true. But I assure you, like I said before, this project is entirely harmless as far as we can tell."
"Um…OK." Honestly, Clark didn't feel very satisfied by the answer. Hopefully, Emil would have more to say to Superman later.
"Well, thank you for your time, Professor," Lois said, turning to leave.
"Wait! Um, what about the demonstration?" Emil said.
"Yes. Of…course," Clark said, forcing himself to break into a smile. It may have been stupid, but he was still pretty worried.
Jimmy, on the other hand, seemed altogether eager. "Hey, can I participate?"
"Of course!" Emil said. "This early prototype actually works best with three people. If two people both try to send the same thought simultaneously to the target, it increases the chances of success. Tell you what." He turned to Lois Lane. "I'll secretly tell a single word to both you and Mr. Kent, and then you'll both try to send the thought to Mr. Olsen here."
"And you're sure this machine only sends the thoughts you're trying to send, right?" Lois said.
"Yes, certainly," Emil said.
"Afraid of letting Jimmy in on your deepest secrets, Lois?" Clark joked. Lois' only acknowledgement of his comment was an eyeroll, but Clark thought he sensed at least a twitch of bemusement in her lips.
The humor suddenly vanished from Clark's mind as a frightening thought moved in: What about his deepest secrets?
"Mr. Kent, Miss Lane, you two simply step into these two booths here, and Jimmy will go into that one," Emil explained.
"What about the word?" Clark said.
"Hm? Oh, right." He leaned in on Lois' shoulder – rather closer than she felt comfortable with, Clark thought – and whispered, "Science." Emil then leaned in to whisper it to Clark.
"You didn't hear that, did you, Mr. Olsen?" Emil said.
"You can call me Jimmy, and, uh, no."
"Good!" He proceeded to escort the young photojournalist into the last of the three booths.
"Erm – why are there seatbelts?" Jimmy asked before Emil closed the door.
"Ohh, well – it's possible for this machine to induce some minor convulsing," Emil explained.
"Er, it is?" Jimmy said nervously. But he wasn't as nervous as Clark, who actually knew Emil – and himself, for that matter. He knew that "a possibility for minor convulsions" could mean anything up to and including an induction of such a force into his body that he would accidentally destroy the lab with his super-strength.
Emil buckled Jimmy in and shut the door. As he approached the other two reporters, Clark felt queasy.
"Alright! You two ready?" he said, rubbing his hands together and wearing a rather strange and uncharacteristic smile.
"Yes," Lois said matter-of-factly.
"And you?" He turned to Clark, evidently sensing that he was not.
"Ah, well…" Clark scratched his hair with his pencil.
He broke the pencil.
"Oops," Clark said, watching half of the pencil roll on the floor behind him.
And it happened to be his lucky Peanuts pencil. Clark sighed.
"I – well, um, uh…" Clark said.
"Oh, come on, wimp," Lois said, practically shoving Clark into a booth.
"Okay, okay," Clark said weakly. His cheeks burned. Oftentimes, when Lois called him a wimp, he felt mildly amused, knowing that the misperception was a product of his clever acting. This time, though, he actually was being a wimp.
Lois got into the other booth and buckled up. Clark looked at her through the wall of his booth using his X-ray vision, then glanced at Jimmy the same way, feeling rather lame for the fact that they were perfectly willing while he, of all the people, the one person in the world least likely to be hurt by anything, was nervous.
"Alright, get ready!"
Clark took a deep breath and put on his seatbelt. He felt like he was forgetting something…
Oh, right. Science.
Suddenly, the metal cap descended from the ceiling and locked Clark's head in a death grip. Though it obviously didn't actually hurt him, he still flinched.
Science science science science science science science science
Science science science science science science science science
Science science science science science science science science
The sensation in Clark's head was overwhelming. It was like every segment of his brain was inundated with a million shards of icy pain. And he just…couldn't do anything about it. Not even cry out for help.
Finally, the dust settled, in a sense. And everything was just…gone.
Clark was no longer sitting in a booth in a laboratory. He…had no idea where he was.
The only thing he could tell about his surroundings was that the word science seemed to be surrounding him on every side. He almost…felt as though he was made up of the word "science".
That doesn't even make sense, he said, shaking his head at himself, except…he wasn't actually shaking anything. And couldn't actually feel his head.
What..?! Where am I?! he asked himself. He tried to blink, but…there…was nothing to blink. He tried flailing desperately, but there was nothing to flail around.
Help…! he pleaded. Lois! Emil! Is anyone there?
Is that…is that Clark?
Lois?! Yes! It's me! Grab my hand!
It was strange. He had no sensation of Lois' fingers being in his, or…of having fingers at all…yet somehow, he could tell that Lois was hanging onto him, and him onto Lois…somehow.
He also had a strange sensation that Lois was…also made up of the word "science".
Lois…! Thank goodness! It's so good to…see you!
Clark didn't actually…see anything. And yet…there seemed no more appropriate word.
Ha…I can honestly say the same thing to you, Clark.
There was a rather awkward silence.
Professor Hamilton! Turn off the stupid machine! Lois shouted at the top of her lungs. Or at least, she was trying to.
I…don't think he can hear you, Clark said.
Yeah, I know. Just…on the off-chance he could, Lois said. She sighed.
Oh, I knew this was a bad idea, Clark said sullenly.
I guess your wimp instincts were spot-on, Lois grumbled. What on earth is happening!?
I don't know, Clark answered weakly.
It feels like we're floating through space, Lois said. And yet…we're…not.
There was another awkward silence.
Y-you know, Lois, it almost feels as though we're being pushed through space, Clark said. And…and…oh no, it's getting faster…
Clark…! Keep holding on to me!
I will, Lois! I'll never let go!
He felt a thrill go through himself at the closeness he felt to Lois. He gripped her as tightly as he did when he was saving her from danger as Superman.
The current…the current of whatever it was…was rushing faster and faster. And there was something…something else…something which was there before, though only in the background, but for a moment it became more noticeable.
It was huge, and…it…he…was in pain.
Jimmy?! Jimmy Olsen?!
Clark?! Is that y-
Suddenly it was gone. Only it wasn't gone. It had just gone back to being omnipresent, in the background.
Jimmy… Clark shuddered and clutched Lois tighter. Jimmy…I don't know what's going on, but please be safe.
And for some reason he couldn't explain, he had another thought:
Jimmy…please keep us safe.
Science. Science, science, science, science. For that one second, it was like that word, "science", was the only thing that existed in Jimmy's head. And yet it wasn't…
Just a second later, it felt as though his brain was about to burst. There was such a huge mental pressure inside…and it was so painful, and then…
It was gone.
Only, it wasn't.
Jimmy?! Jimmy Olsen?!
"Clark, is that you?" Jimmy asked.
Wait, no it wasn't…it wasn't Clark…it was just a thought in his own head.
The helmet loosed its iron grip around his skull and was lifted up off of it.
The rather extreme disorientation slowly began fading. Once the young journalist finally got his bearings, he felt a moment of pleasure. Hey! It must've worked! That was the word – science!
He managed to fight the mental vexation enough to unbuckle himself and get out of the booth. He almost fell over.
"Are you OK?" Professor Hamilton asked, his voice betraying the tiniest bit of panic.
"D-doin' pretty good, Prof," Jimmy replied, sounding almost as if he was drunk. He shook his head and wiped off some sweat that had apparently decided to take up residence on his brow. "Whew...the word was 'science', right?"
The Professor smiled. "Exactly! Excellent."
"Wuh-hoo!" Jimmy said, though he felt drained by the experiment and was unable to muster as much energy in the words as he would've liked. "Hey Lois! Clark! It worked!" he shouted.
There was no response.
"Well, Mr. Kent? Miss Lane?" Prof. Hamilton said.
"Uh…hello, guys?" Jimmy said. He grabbed the handle to the door of Clark's booth.
"Uh-h…here, let me," Hamilton said, opening the door.
Clark was slumped over.
Jimmy started. "Um, Clark? Are you…OK?" He kneeled down and lifted up his friend's head.
Jimmy gasped involuntarily and jerked his hand back, accidentally knocking off the reporter's glasses.
Clark's eyes looked…dead.
"Lois?! Are you OK?!" Jimmy said, panicked. He ran over to the other booth and yanked on the handle. "Professor! Open it!" he almost yelled, turning to Emil.
"Uhh…y-yes, of course," the professor said, seeming too stunned to know how to react. He slowly walked to the door and opened it, seeming almost reluctant.
"Lois! Lois, are you…?"
Lois Lane was in the same slumped-over posture as Clark Kent.
"P-Professor! What happened?! I thought you said it was safe!" Jimmy said, stunned and panicked and unable to think or process anything.
"I…uh…well, um…I…" Emil said.
"Are they – are they OK? Aren't you going to-to get someone to check on them?" Jimmy said.
"Uh…well…of course!" the professor said, as if he had just had an epiphany. "I'll…I'll call the…the doctors and, uh, nurses right away!" He grabbed a phone out of his pocket, then walked far away.
Jimmy gulped. "Okay…that's good…I-I guess I'll just…call my editor…"
It was all sort of a blur, but soon Jimmy found himself talking to the chief.
"You've reached the Daily Planet. Editor-in-chief Perry White speaking. What is it, Jimmy?" He sounded tired and vaguely irritated, as usual.
"Um…Chief…" Jimmy said.
"Great Caesar's ghost, Olsen, how many times -"
"Yeah, I know, I'm sorry," Jimmy said.
"Well, what are you calling about?" Mr. White said.
Some men had just come in and were putting Lois and Clark on stretchers.
"Spit it out, Jimmy! I don't have all day!" Mr. White said, annoyed.
But Jimmy couldn't reply.
The entire thing was surreal.
He felt a weird, sick feeling.
But most overwhelming was the feeling in his head. The weird feeling that he got from the machine had never really gone away. It was still lingering, ebbing and flowing, gradually torturing him.
The worst part was a weird sensation of voices in his head. Bodiless, wordless, barely audible, taunting him…
It was…they were…
Jimmy fell to the ground.