Buried Secrets: Chapter 2

"Land of the free, home of the under surveillance," Perry said. "This kind of stuff makes me sick. I think you're smart not to go back to your place until we figure out who these lunatics are, Lois. Our lawyers called Justice, FBI, State, CIA ... They even called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The only answer we got was that there is no official government interest in 'the person calling himself Superman'. Nobody in Washington wants to claim these boys."

"Then who are they?" Clark asked. He was sitting on the corner of Lois's nearly empty desk, a somewhat worried frown on his face.

"That's what we're going to find out," Perry said, grimly. "There's apparently a bunch of loose cannons that no one will claim running around out there, who seem to think it's acceptable to go busting into newsrooms and hassling reporters. We're going to find 'em before they can do it again."

"Especially," Lois said, "since they seem to think that I'm the one to hassle."

"Well," Clark pointed out, "you interviewed Superman and they want to find him. Maybe it was Hobson's choice."

"Just because I interviewed him doesn't mean I know everything about the man," Lois said, somewhat crossly. She tapped a pencil eraser against her desktop. "I have an idea. If these guys really are government, the last thing they're going to want is publicity. We can write up a detailed story about the raid this morning and if anybody from Washington tries to bury the investigation, we can see where it goes from there."

"Be sure you give detailed physical descriptions," Clark said, thoughtfully. "If anybody knows these guys -- if they've done it before -- somebody might speak up."

Perry nodded. "I like it. Get on it right away."

"You can use my computer," Clark said. "I have to pick up my tux before they close, anyway. I'll help you with it when I get back."

"Maybe I should assign somebody else to that," Perry said, thoughtfully. "You're going to be busy with this new thing ..."

"Oh, no!" Lois said. "Perry, I've been trying to get an interview with Lex Luthor for months! This is the first time I've had a real shot at it. It's important."

Perry hesitated. "Well ..."

"Besides ..." Lois glanced around and lowered her voice. "Clark and I think LexCorp might be engaged in some questionable business practices. We've found a possible link between it and the Rainforest Consortium, and the attempt to mine the rainforest."

"*Lex Luthor*?" It was a testament to Perry's professional instincts that, even startled, he kept his voice down.

"Not necessarily. It might just be one of his high-ranking subordinates. In any case, we need to either prove it or disprove it for certain. After all, Perry," she continued, "how often has some supposedly squeaky clean politician or businessman turned out to --"

"More times than I can count," Perry said. "This could be huge! All right, you can stay on it for now. If things get too hectic I can assign you some extra help if you need it."

"Well, we could use Jimmy," Lois said. "He has the computer skills that neither Clark nor I have, and anyway, he found the first link."

"The *first* link? There's more than one?"

"Yeah," Lois said. "We think it's tied to the break-in at my apartment and at the Planet. And, I've been wondering if it really was the goon squad that bugged my place. What if it was the other batch, trying to find out how much we know? I'm pretty sure it wasn't there earlier -- Clark and I looked everything over pretty thoroughly -- but they could have come back later. Somebody obviously did."

Perry pursed his lips in a silent whistle.

"And, speaking of which," Lois asked, "is there any progress on getting me a new computer? I'm going to need one, even if it's just to write my articles."

"I'm working on it," Perry said. "The Planet's had some budget cutbacks recently and Accounting is making unhappy noises about the expense, but if we get more headlines like the ones we've had in the last week, circulation should start to pick up pretty soon."

"In the meantime, you can use mine," Clark said.

"One more thing," Lois said, "if we can get hold of a sketch artist, we might be able to get an artist's rendition of that leader of theirs."

"That's a good idea," Clark agreed. "It wouldn't hurt to put it with the article. These guys can't operate in a total vacuum."

"Exactly what I was thinking," Lois said. "I'll hold on that until you get back, though. I'll want you to help with the description." She ignored the incredulous look Perry gave her at the admission. "You go on and pick up your tux and I'll get to work on the article."

"Okay." Clark gave her a look she couldn't quite read and pushed himself to his feet. "I'll be back as fast as I can."

A moment later, as she was taking a seat at Clark's desk, she saw the door to the stairs close behind him and a few seconds later, she looked up as a sonic boom rattled the windows of the newsroom slightly. Well, if Superman was on his way to a rescue, she'd find out about it when Clark got back. In the meantime, she had an article to write, in as colorful and descriptive terms as she could think of. Whoever those goons this morning had been, they were about to become famous.

**********

"An armed robbery," Eduardo Friaz was saying, about an hour later. "They'd just got out of the bank when Superman dropped in on their heads. He caught the bullets and squashed them flat. The suspects were so stunned they just handed him their guns without a fight."

"Did anybody reliable see this?" Perry asked skeptically. "That's a pretty unbelievable story."

"Besides me, that is? Just everybody who was there -- thirty or forty people, I guess, including the cops," Eduardo said. "Plus, they got it on the bank's surveillance cameras. The Security people promised to make the Planet a copy. This Superman guy is incredible!"

"Are you sure he's human?" Perry asked.

"I don't see how he can be, " Ralph said. "Maybe he's a robot or something."

"He's not a robot," Lois said.

"Then, maybe he's a space alien." Ralph said. "Maybe that's why those guys this morning were after him. Maybe he eats human brains or something."

Lois didn't dignify his remark with an answer, but the suggestion set up a train of thought. When she and Charlie had first met, after she'd gotten past wondering about supernatural possibilities, the thought that Charlie might be an alien had occurred to her. They had never disproved the theory.

Could that possibly be why those guys this morning had wanted Superman? What had Martha said -- a few days after they had found the baby, some men claiming to be from the space agency had shown up, looking for what they said was debris from a Russian rocket or something. Hadn't that Air Force inquiry into possible alien contact been going on at about that time?

Turning to Clark's computer, she typed a phrase into the search engine: Project Blue Book. That looked like a pretty good place to start.

**********

An hour later, she had graduated to a microfilm machine. She was peering at a photo of several Air Force officers at a news conference from the mid 1960s and a headline that read "UFO Sightings Really Swamp Gas" when Clark materialized suddenly by her elbow and set a cup of caf' latte down on the surface of the desk. "Any progress?"

She nodded, indicating the photo. "Project Blue Book. Take a look at that airman in the background."

He lowered his glasses for an instant. "That's ..."

"The piece of work who raided the Planet this morning. His name is Jason Trask."

"*Nice* work!" Clark said.

"Thanks." She glanced at the sheaf of paper he was holding. "What's that?"

"You said you wanted these." He laid the papers on the desk surface. Lois picked them up.

The first page held two sketches: A very recognizable pencil drawing of Jason Trask, face on, and another in profile. The second page held a third, this one offset, and another one, this time of one of his subordinates. Lois riffled quickly through the stack, discovering that all of them were very accurately drawn renditions of the men who had invaded the newsroom earlier in the day. "Where did you get these?" she demanded.

"I drew them."

Naturally. "These are really good. We can include them as illustrations with my article. I don't think we'll include the name, though. If his bosses think we know too much, they might not see any point in trying to bury the thing. We want to see where they lead us."

He nodded. "I agree. We need to use just enough information to make them think a cover-up is urgent. Would you like me to look your story over and see if I can add anything?"

She didn't even wonder why it didn't bother her that a colleague thought he could actually improve on anything she did. She nodded and pulled up the document, waiting while Clark read it over.

"Very descriptive," he said at last, grinning slightly. "I like it. You might want to change this one line from 'The FBI says' to 'A spokesman for the FBI'. Other than that, I can't see any improvements."

"'A spokesman?"

"The FBI isn't a person. It can't speak."

She grinned. "That's why we have editors, Kent." Quickly, she made the alteration. "There. Happy, now?"

"Absolutely."

"Good. Then, let's get this stuff to Perry and I think we can get out of here. The party starts in two hours."

**********

The Christmas Charity Ball, sponsored by LexCorp, was being held at LexCorp's corporate headquarters, specifically in the ballroom of the owner's luxurious penthouse at the very top of the tower.

It had begun to snow again very lightly and the tiny, feathery flakes coated their hair and clothing when Lois and Clark presented their tickets to the exclusive event at the door and were allowed inside. In the marble-floored lobby, a wide bank of elevators, occupying nearly one entire wall, waited to whisk guests swiftly to the penthouse to join the several hundred others who had preceded them.

He glanced at Lois as she removed her coat to hand it to the servant waiting to receive it. Dressed in a black, strapless formal, her hair swept into a high, elegant French roll, with a delicate diamond pendant glittering at her throat, she took his breath away. The perfume she had chosen, mixed with her own unique scent, wafted lightly around her as she moved and literally made him slightly dizzy.

"You look fantastic," he said.

"Thanks," she said. "You look pretty good, yourself. I always admire a handsome man in a tux."

"Hmm. Maybe I can come up with an excuse to wear it at work," he said.

Lois giggled softly. "Forget it, Kent. I have enough competition for you with Cat, now."

"You don't have *any* competition," he said. "It wouldn't be possible."

She tucked a hand into his elbow. "I think that may be the nicest compliment that I've ever received from anybody." She nodded toward the door to the ballroom. "Shall we?"

The enormous, sunken ballroom was decorated traditionally for Christmas, with holly and ivy and the big, red poinsettias. A twenty-foot, heavily flocked Christmas tree dominated one corner, gleaming and glittering with ornaments and tinsel and its myriad tiny, twinkling lights. The heavy, velvet curtains that would cover the huge, glass window were open, treating guests to a panoramic view of Metropolis's skyline and the millions of city lights, slightly blurred by the softly falling snow. A live orchestra was playing a waltz, and several couples were dancing in the middle of the room. As Lois had observed, everybody who was anybody was here tonight, Clark thought.

As they entered, Perry homed in on them, followed by Jimmy. "Lois! Clark! I thought for a bit there that you weren't going to make it after all."

"No chance, Perry," Lois said. "Where's Alice?"

"Over by the buffet tables talking to Henry Barrinson's wife. Henry got dragged off to the poker table in the library almost as soon as he got here." Perry gestured across the room to where a wide staircase led upward. "Keep an eye on that doorway at the top. Luthor makes his entrance from there."

Clark glanced at the place Perry had indicated as Lois released his arm. "Okay," she said, "wish me luck."

Clark gave her a thumbs up signal. "Go get him."

"Incredible, huh?" Jimmy watched her stroll away toward the grand staircase. "She's really something."

"You don't know the half of it," Clark said. "Luthor won't know what hit him. Have you ever met him?"

Jimmy shook his head. "No, but I read all five of his unauthorized biographies. Like it said in the blurb on the cover -- 'The remarkable story of a modern genius -- A man who went from rags to riches, from the wrong side of the tracks to become a self-made billionaire'." He added, "He's been Man of the Year, every year since he first came to Metropolis, and owns half the city, besides. If Lois can get an interview, it'll be a first." He stopped. "Hey, there he is."

A figure had appeared at the top of the stairs. Clark lowered his glasses slightly, allowing his better-than- human vision to zoom in on the mystery man.

First impressions are often telling, and his first impression of Lex Luthor was one of sheer, barely restrained power. Not physical power, although the man appeared to be in excellent condition, but the intangible power of a man in full command of himself and of everything around him. He was suave, handsome and somehow ageless; this man would be a dangerous and ruthless opponent and if it were actually possible for a man to raise his hackles, Clark knew that his would be raised as he watched Lex Luthor descend the staircase, a faint smile on his lips. It was as if some previously unrecognized instinct in him stirred and woke for the first time at the sight of the billionaire. What it was, he couldn't say, but he didn't like the man. It was as simple as that and as powerful, and for an instant, the sheer intensity of the emotion surprised him.

The newcomer reached the ballroom floor and was instantly surrounded by his guests. Searching the room, Clark saw Lois. She had somehow made her way to a spot only a few feet from Luthor, unimpeded by other guests.

"Lex Luthor!" Her voice rang clearly over the voices of the people around her. "Why haven't you returned my calls?"

For a startled instant, the chatter dropped to a few murmurs and Luthor turned toward her. Clark saw his expression change very slightly.

Easily, he turned back to the man whom he had been addressing at the moment of Lois's interruption and spoke a few phrases. Belatedly, Clark recognized the mayor of Metropolis. The mayor smiled and the two men shook hands.

Just as smoothly, Luthor turned back. Clark held his breath.

Smiling, he closed the distance between himself and Lois and took her extended hand, raising the knuckles gracefully to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers.

Lois acknowledged the gesture with a little smile of her own. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet."

Luthor's smile widened. "I can assure you, I'll never make that mistake again. Would you care to dance?"

"Yes, thank you." Lois allowed him to lead her onto the ballroom floor while Clark stood on the edges of the crowd of guests, listening.

"I hope you'll forgive me for being so bold," Lois said, "but ..."

"Boldness is a trait I find very attractive in a woman, Ms. Lane," Luthor said.

"Thank you." Lois fluttered her eyelashes. "Anyway, I was wondering, Mr. Luthor ..."

"Lex."

"Lex, then. I know you're hesitant to give interviews ..."

"I hope you can understand, a man in my position," Luthor said. "I wouldn't want to be misinterpreted, and I have had one or two bad experiences with the media."

Lois looked up at him almost mischievously, through her lashes. "But, not with me."

Lex Luthor smiled again, in Clark's judgement both amused and charmed by Lois's direct tactics. "Why don't we make it dinner?"

Clark kept his face straight, but inside he was cheering. She had done it.

"You're right, Jim," he whispered. "She is *something*!"

**********

The library of the penthouse was relatively quiet. Several men were seated around a table, playing poker, as Perry had mentioned, and Clark didn't disturb them. He passed unobtrusively through the library, rounded the corner of a tall, ornate bookcase and paused in the doorway opposite the door by which he had entered, lowering his glasses for an instant.

There was no one to be seen in the next room, which was apparently an office -- a very large, luxurious office with a wide, mahogany desk and elegant furniture. Very likely, this was what he was looking for -- the office of Lex Luthor, himself.

He wasn't looking at the furniture in the sense of admiring it. Clark Kent was well aware that this was probably the only time he would legally be in this building without supervision. If he was going to prowl around and look into some of the business conducted by Lex Luthor, now was the time.

Sneaking around in the house of his host wasn't something he actually enjoyed, but as he had told Lois a few days ago, he wasn't totally inexperienced in the subject of breaking and entering. A few years before, it had been the only way to learn enough about the extra-curricular business activities of a certain high-ranking government official residing in Manila, to allow the local authorities to shut down a drug-smuggling operation. Now, while Lois was exerting her considerable talent in keeping Lex Luthor's attention, was the time to find out what he could.

He scanned the room beyond the door carefully, noting the location of a pressure sensitive alarm in the floor. That was interesting in itself. Why should a man in a building as secure as this one feel it necessary to set such safeguards in his own office?

The door was locked, but he could handle that. The catch wasn't rigged with any alarm; apparently, Luthor didn't feel that more than the pressure alarm was necessary and there didn't seem to be any spy cameras anywhere. Cautiously, he checked the room behind him with his x-ray vision, to assure himself that the men playing poker were unaware of his presence. With the bookcase concealing him, he was out of their range of vision, and the low-voiced conversation of the men made it evident that their attention was completely on their game. Cautiously, Clark exerted a small amount of super strength and felt a satisfying crunch.

He waited, just on the off chance that he had missed some subtle alarm, but no one in the building appeared to be aware of anything irregular. Softly, he opened the door and entered.

No one but Superman could have accomplished the feat in quite the way he did. To the normal human eye, the room was dark but to his eyes it was not. The wide windows let in the lights of the city and the glow of the moon through the clouds. That was more than enough illumination for Clark Kent to see clearly. He drifted silently across the floor, his feet less than an inch from the carpet. The big desk beckoned, and that was his first goal.

The desk drawers were locked, not a surprising circumstance, but upon examining the locks of each drawer, he discovered the surprising fact that one, the bottom left drawer, was equipped with an alarm. Now that, he thought, was very interesting. Presumably, a big corporation would lock up its important papers, but why would one, single drawer in the desk of the CEO, himself, be specially wired with an alarm? It seemed that Lex Luthor considered the contents pretty hot stuff -- which meant it was probably something he should know about, too. If it turned out to be harmless, well, he could keep a secret.

Clark floated silently in front of the desk and trained his x-ray vision on the contents of the locked drawer.

**********

"He asked me to dinner here in the penthouse, Sunday night," Lois said, as she and Clark left LexTower a few minutes after midnight.

Clark nodded, soberly. "Do you mind if I hang around nearby?" he asked, keeping his voice low. "I don't really like the thought of you being with him, alone, especially since he might be the one behind Barbara Trevino, and the attempts to kill you."

"Clark, he isn't likely to try to kill me when he's invited me to dinner."

"Maybe he would," Clark said. "Would you really be anxious to bet that he wouldn't have an alibi, if he needed one, and people willing to swear that you never showed up for your date? A man who would hire an assassin to murder someone simply because she *might* have seen something she shouldn't, and *might* have made a connection to him, isn't going to be stopped so easily. It seems to me that Mr. Luthor has a lot to lose."

Lois cast an odd glance at him. "You've sure changed your attitude. What aren't you telling me?"

"I had a look in his office while you were keeping him busy. I'll tell you about it when there's no one to overhear us. Come on. Let's pick up your bag and head for Smallville."

Lois opened her mouth and then closed it again. She didn't speak until they had reached the little subcompact supplied by the insurance company and were pulling out of the parking space in LexTower's big, parking structure. "Okay, Kent, let's have it."

Clark wiggled around in the seat, trying to get comfortable and yet not put a dent in the dashboard with his knee. "There was a drawer in his desk rigged with an alarm," he said. "He had a bunch of very interesting documents in it."

"Get to the point."

"Yeah. One of them was a flight manifest for Flight 642." He paused. "There was also a bunch of legal papers drawn up by the company lawyers for some kind of legal challenge -- no date on them. It seems that Josef Carlin owns 51 percent of the stock of Carlin Investments. The legal challenge was against the heirs of Josef Carlin, intended to enable LexCorp to acquire that 51 percent, or at least enough of it to give Lex Luthor a controlling interest in the company."

"His *heirs*?" Lois said, sharply.

Clark nodded. "That's right."

"So he was expecting Josef Carlin to die."

"I'd say that's pretty obvious."

Lois was silent as she maneuvered the small car out of the parking structure. As she pulled out on the street, she spoke again. "I thought Carlin Investments was a subsidiary of LexCorp."

"Not exactly. Apparently, 49 percent of the company stock belonged to Luthor's wife, Arianna Carlin Luthor. Luthor seems to have control of it, now."

"His *wife*?" Lois glanced quickly at him and then back at the street. Little snowflakes sprinkled softly against the windshield, breaking the glow of the streetlights into rainbow patterns, and were swished away by the wipers. Little crusts of ice had begun to collect at the edges of the windshield. "I didn't know he was married."

"From what I saw, she's not in the picture, anymore," Clark said. "Probably we should get Jimmy on it to find out what the situation really is. It sounds like this Josef Carlin might be some kind of in-law."

Lois nodded. "Probably. I'm still keeping the 'date' with him, Sunday night, though. I'm not supposed to know about the wife; besides, this is just business."

"Okay, but Superman's going to hang around outside, just in case."

"I think," Lois said, "that I'd feel much safer if he did. I wonder what happened to the wife that gave Luthor control of her share of the company."

"For that matter," Clark said, "I wonder why he suddenly wants this Carlin guy dead. Maybe that's something we should check on. Maybe there's some kind of power struggle going on between the stockholders. In any case, I don't think we're looking for a LexCorp subordinate behind all the things that happened this last week. I'd say our target is Lex Luthor, himself."

"Maybe it's just a case of Carlin refusing to sell," Lois said, slowly, "I wonder how many other acquisitions of LexCorp came about in a similar fashion.

"Maybe we should take a look at that," Clark said. "I also think we should try to find Josef Carlin. I'm betting this isn't going to stop with the plane accident."

Lois nodded, looking worried. "If Luthor was willing to murder everybody on that passenger plane to kill one man," she said, "it doesn't sound to me as if he'd draw the line at much to get what he wanted."

"Probably not." Clark said.

"In fact," Lois said, "this is eerily like the situation with the sabotage of the space program. I found a bomb in the Messenger replacement rocket -- *after* Antoinette Baines died in that helicopter explosion. Everyone assumed that Dr. Baines was responsible, but why wasn't it spotted after she died? It's not as if no one was in and out of that rocket for the next twenty-four hours. What if she took the fall the same way Barbara Trevino is taking the one for the Rainforest Consortium? If the space station project had been abandoned, Luthor would have a private space station in the process of being assembled out there right now. Am I being unnecessarily suspicious?"

Clark shook his head. "Not a bit. I remember you mentioning that this morning. I think we should look into the whole thing as thoroughly as we can. It's sounding more likely every minute."

"I think I'll tell Jimmy to put tracking down her phone records on a priority basis," Lois said. "This could turn out to be huge, just like Perry said, but we're really going to need to nail down our facts. Lex Luthor has a lot of power and influence."

Clark nodded, frowning out into the darkness. "This scares me, Lois. If he was really behind the attempt to down that plane, and behind Barbara Trevino and the Rainforest Consortium, as well as the attempt to destroy the space program, all for his own enrichment, the guy is as completely amoral as it's possible to get. He could do anything." He shifted in the seat and barely stopped himself from putting a hole in the dashboard with his knee. The resulting dent was small, however. Hopefully, the rental company employees wouldn't notice. "I wish I'd been able to make copies of what I saw, but even if I'd had a camera, I couldn't open the drawer without setting off the alarm."

"That's why I'm going to convince him that I have no suspicions of him, whatever," Lois said. "If no hint comes out that anyone thinks someone besides Trevino was responsible, he'll probably leave me alone. He doesn't want further investigation into it, remember. And, in the meantime, we're going to start digging into everything that's ever been documented about LexCorp, from the time he founded it -- and everything he's ever been involved in before that."

"Can Jimmy do that without leaving behind any traces?"

"Jimmy's pretty good with a computer," Lois said. "I'll be sure to let him know how important this is. He'll be careful." She turned the corner onto the street that ran in front of the Daily Planet. "I'm going to park this matchbox in the Planet's garage and we can head for Kansas."

Clark was silent as she brought the tiny subcompact into the subterranean garage and found a parking spot. There were only a few cars in the echoing space now, probably belonging to members of the night staff. Lois cut the engine and pulled the lever to release the trunk. "Let me just get my bag and we're off," she said. "I hope I can get back into my apartment sometime tomorrow. It seems like I've been living like a nomad ever since we met. We can't forget our friend Trask and his trained monkeys, either. I guess it just figures that there'd be some wacko group somewhere with little green men on their minds."

"I guess I should have expected something of the sort," Clark agreed. "It takes all kinds to make a world."

"Yeah, well that doesn't mean we have to put up with every group of nutballs with an agenda," Lois said. "Their rights end where they start infringing on ours."

Clark gave a soft laugh. "I like your style, Ms. Lane. And a lot of other things about you as well."

She grinned at him in the gloom. "Why Mr. Kent, are you by any chance trying to flatter me?"

"You bet. Let's go. I think we both need a break."

A few moments later, Lois was snuggled tightly in his arms as they launched from the roof of the Daily Planet and headed west, but in the near future, she would remember his remark with a sense of irony.

**********

It was late when they arrived in Smallville, close to midnight local time, and the lights of the Kent residence were out. Clark quietly opened the door of the farmhouse and let Lois enter ahead of him.

"I told Mom we'd be arriving late," he said, softly. "She said just to come on in and go to bed."

Standing in the entranceway, Lois waited for her eyes to adjust to the lowered level of light. Outside, the sky was dark and clear and the stars had blazed down with intimidating brightness, reflecting off open fields covered with snow. Inside, the darkness was thick. Clark's arm slipped around her and she was aware of movement. Suddenly, they were standing at the top of the stairs where a tiny nightlight in a wall receptacle gave enough illumination for her to make out the door to Clark's room. Stepping softly, he led her to the door and opened it for her.

"Is this okay?" he said, keeping his voice to a whisper so as not to disturb his parents, only a short way down the hall, and set her bag down just within the doorway.

She nodded. "This is fine."

"All right, then. I'll see you in the morning. Good night." He started to turn and Lois caught his arm, tugging him after her into the room.

He followed the pull of her hand. "Are you okay?"

She closed the door behind them and turned back, sliding both arms around him. "Stay here a minute, would you?"

His arms encircled her, pulling her close. "Sure. Are you all right, Lois?"

She nodded against his chest. "I just -- I just wanted to have a chance to be here with you without anything happening. It seems like everything in my life has shot into fast forward."

"Oh." He rested his cheek on top of her head. "I know what you mean. A little peace and quiet would be nice, wouldn't it -- even if it's only once in a while."

Again she nodded. "I wouldn't trade my job at the Planet for anything but every now and then, I'd like a break. Between killer asteroids, murderous businessmen and crazy government agents, I've kind of reached my limits for tonight."

Silence descended on the room as she stood wrapped in his arms and she felt herself beginning to relax for the first time since she had discovered her ransacked apartment yesterday morning. Clark seemed willing to simply stand there, holding her as long as necessary, she thought.

At last she stirred and his arms loosened slightly. "Better now?"

She nodded and pulled away reluctantly. "Where are you going to sleep?"

"On the couch downstairs. I'll be right here if you want me."

She hesitated, reluctant for him to leave. "I suppose it's the best we can do. I just wish you could stay here. Not," she added, hastily, "for any -- well, you know -- but just to be here. But I guess it wouldn't look good, would it? Your mom and dad would think --"

"We could leave the door open," he said. "I think that would be all right."

"Oh, but what am I thinking," Lois said, kicking herself, mentally. "The bed's a single. Where would you sleep?"

He laughed. "You forgot again. I don't need to sleep in a bed -- if you don't mind me floating around the room during the night."

"Would you?"

"Sure." She heard the smile in his voice. "I'll just go change in the bathroom while you get your things. I have a pair of sweats in the dresser. That should make everything on the up and up."

By the time she had acquired her flannel pajamas and robe and was stepping out in the hall, toothbrush in hand, to find the upstairs bathroom, he was waiting by the door, clad in a set of grey sweats with the logo of MidWest U on the front. She looked him over, a little nervously. He noticed.

"Are you sure about this, Lois? I can still go sleep downstairs if you'd like."

"I'm sure." She was surprised how certain her voice sounded. "If you're here, I won't have any nightmares. I'll be right back."

"Okay."

When she returned ten minutes later, she entered the room, half expecting to find him floating near the ceiling but he was simply sitting in the room's armchair, looking out the window at the snowy fields. The little table lamp still burned on the bedside table, filling the room with a warm, muted glow. He glanced around. "Everything okay?"

She nodded. "Um -- why don't you look out the window for another minute while I get into bed," she suggested.

"Okay." He turned to look out the window once more and she quickly shed her robe and climbed under the blankets.

"It's okay to look, now," she told him.

He matter-of-factly pulled the window shade closed and turned to face her. "If you're uncomfortable with this --" he began.

"No, really." She pulled the blankets up around her shoulders. "I want you here. I'm just not used to -- I mean, ever since Claude -- I mean --"

He smiled. "Claude was a heel," he said, firmly. "And a fool. I'm neither. Go to sleep, Lois. If you have a nightmare, I'll be right here."

"Okay." She found that she was smiling shyly at him.

He began to rise from the floor in the same unconsciously casual way that always amazed her, no matter how often she saw him do it, and leveled out horizontally in the air, his head resting on his arms. "Goodnight, Lois," he said, quietly.

She reached out to switch off the light and snuggled down under the warm, thick blankets. Clark's silhouette was a slightly darker shape against the pale starlight leaking in around the corner of the window shade and it was amazing how reassuring his presence in the room was. She closed her eyes. "G'night, Charlie," she whispered.

**********

Lois woke to the mixed aromas of bacon, eggs and coffee -- she could tell just be the way it tickled her nose that this coffee was of far better quality than the sludge she drank at the office -- and pushed back the covers. Clark was gone, but she could hear his voice speaking cheerfully to someone downstairs.

The floor was cold to her bare feet but she discovered that someone -- probably Clark -- had placed a pair of somewhat worn bedroom slippers (four sizes too large) next to the bed and she quickly slid her feet into them, reaching for her robe that lay across the foot of the bed. A short time later, her morning routine done, she was descending the stairs, dressed for the office.

Clark glanced around as she entered the kitchen, a slab of toast laden with butter and strawberry jam in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other. "Sleep well?"

"I don't think I moved all night," she said. "What time is it?"

"Almost eight. I called the office and told them we were going to be late this morning -- that we had some things to check out. We have an appointment this afternoon to meet a guy from Washington --a George Thompson -- who says he's here to investigate the crowd that invaded the newsroom yesterday morning."

"That was fast," Lois commented. "Do I smell fresh coffee?"

"You certainly do." Martha Kent had taken a mug from the cupboard and was in the process of filling it from the electric coffeepot that had been sitting on the drain board. "Do you take cream and sugar?"

Lois glanced around, noting the complete absence of sugar substitute or low fat creamer. "Um -- sure." She took the cup, thinking that if she stayed around the Kent farm much, which seemed likely, she was going to have to increase her workout sessions at the gym. A sip of the coffee made her raise her brows. It was the best coffee she had tasted in a long time. "What kind of coffee is this?"

"It's just a brand from a local chain," Martha said. "Uh, Martello's Market Blend. Why?"

"It's really good," Lois said.

Clark grinned, dumping four heaping teaspoons of sugar, one after the other, into his own coffee. The toast had vanished in record time. "Maybe it's the real sugar and cream," he said. "Not one of those newsroom substitutes."

"Probably," Martha said, comfortably. Lois had the feeling Clark's mother hadn't been fooled for a minute.

"Anyway," Clark said, "before we head for Metropolis, would you mind if we go into town first? I want to talk to Rachel Harris. Mom says Rachel called her yesterday afternoon. It seems that Bob Martin was driving by Shuster's Field and saw four men walking around inside the fence. He told them that they were trespassing and when they didn't listen, he used his cell phone to call Rachel. She drove out and ordered them off the property. They gave her some kind of story about being interested in buying land hereabouts and asked her about the ownership of Shuster's Field."

Lois nearly choked on a sip of coffee. "*What*?"

Clark nodded. "Exactly. Rachel told them to talk to Dad, but they never showed up. I think it's something we should check out."

"And your dad needs to do something about keeping strangers out of that field!"

"He already did that," Martha said. The corners of her eyes crinkled with mirth. "Right after Rachel called, he moved Espresso into the field along with a truckload of hay. Would you like some bacon and eggs?"

She nodded absently. "Sure. Who or what is Espresso?"

"Dad's prize stud bull," Clark said. He took a plate from the cupboard and began to shovel bacon and scrambled eggs onto it. He added a slice of toast and placed it on the table. "There you go."

"Oh. But won't he get cold out in the open like that?"

Martha shook her head. "He's spent every winter outside since he's been grown. Espresso is bigger than Ferdinand, our last bull. He's jet black, the size of a small barn, has a mean disposition and looks it. If those boys come back, none of them are going to be too eager to climb the fence."

As she took a seat at the table and picked up a fork, Lois couldn't help grinning at the thought of Trask -- or somebody -- and his men fleeing in terror from the Kent stud bull. "Still, it worries me that somebody should be snooping around the field where your ship landed, just when Trask and his goon squad are taking an unhealthy interest in Superman," she said. "Was there anything about the ship that they could tie to you?"

Clark shrugged. "Never having seen it that I can remember, I can't tell you," he said. "Mom?"

Martha nodded. "The 'S'," she said.

"The 'S'?"

"The one on the front of the shirt. It was on the ship."

"So if they were to find the ship, they'd know it was connected to Superman," Lois said.

"I'm afraid so," Martha said. "But the ship is buried miles away. They're not going to find it by snooping around in Shuster's Field."

"They could find whatever it was that hurt Clark, the other day, though," Lois said.

"Maybe," Clark said. "Whatever it is wasn't obvious, though, because I flew over the field, later and looked, and I didn't see anything unusual. With all the junk buried underground in that area, they're going to need a lot of luck to find anything. Espresso isn't going to give them much time to search. The thing is, if they're looking around here, it means they may still be suspicious about the 'space junk' that they were looking for when my ship landed. That's what bothers me."

"Clark," Lois said, "I think we need to stop assuming. We need to operate on facts."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, we're assuming that those men who came around never found the ship your dad buried in Porcupine Gulch. What if they did? We need to be sure. I know you don't want anyone to notice that you have an interest in anything there, but there must be some way of telling."

"Jonathan can give you landmarks," Martha said. "I think Lois is right, Clark. We need to be sure. You can fly overhead under cloud cover and x-ray the area. Your detection equipment is certainly better than anything they have."

Clark nodded, thoughtfully. "You're probably right."

"Right about what?" Jonathan Kent stepped through the kitchen door.

"Lois has an idea," Martha said. "We have to be sure what the situation is with Clark's ship."

"What do you mean?"

Martha explained. Jonathan listened, frowning slightly and when she finished, he nodded. "Let me dig out one of the topological maps of the area. I'll show you where I buried it and you can go check."

"Lois and I are going to go into town to talk to Rachel before we leave," Clark said. "I'll take a look when we get back, if that's okay."

"Good idea." Jonathan turned toward the stairs. "It might take a little while to find them, anyway. I think I put them in the attic. I should have them by the time you get back."

**********

The Sheriff's office in Smallville was quiet when they arrived. Rachel Harris was seated at her desk, apparently filling out paperwork, and looked up at the sound of the door opening. "Clark! What are you doing here?"

"We caught a ride back from Metropolis for more of my stuff," Clark said. "Mom told me about the trespassers, yesterday. What happened?"

"Oh, that," Rachel said. "They were four city types. I've never seen them around here before. Bob Martin was driving by and saw them just inside the fence. He stopped and asked what they were doing and if they knew they were on private property, but one of them told him to buzz off."

"I'll bet that went over well," Clark said. "So, what happened?"

Rachel grinned. "Bob never did like being told what to do," she said. "Especially by outsiders. Anyway, he called me. I happened to be over at Wayne Irig's, checking out a break-in at his barn. He figured it was probably a drifter taking shelter during the night, but whoever it was broke into his tool shed, as well. Didn't take anything as far as he could see, but you might warn your dad that there may be a sneak thief in the area. Anyway, I was only five minutes away, so I drove over. The four of them had metal detectors and were walking around like they were looking for something. They didn't look much like treasure hunters, to tell you the truth. They were all decked out in that camouflage gear that a lot of city guys like to wear when they go hunting. Anyhow, I told them they were trespassing and if they didn't get off the property I was going to have to run them in. The big guy that seemed to be giving the orders apologized and asked who owned the field. He said they were looking for land to purchase in the area, which seemed kind of strange. They didn't look like the farming type, to tell you the truth."

"Hmm." Clark looked at Lois, who raised her eyebrows. He removed a folded paper from his pocket and opened it. "Um, Rachel, I have an artist's rendition here. Could you tell me if any of the four men looked like this guy?" He laid it out flat on her desk. The drawing of Jason Trask as he had appeared the day before stared up at them.

Rachel examined the sketch closely and when she raised her head to look at him, she was frowning. "This is the big guy that was doing the talking. Who is he?"

"His name is Jason Trask," Clark said, trying to keep the dismay he felt out of his voice. "He and a group of about fifteen other men barged into the Daily Planet newsroom yesterday morning waving guns and a fake warrant, claiming to be Federal agents."

Rachel looked back at the drawing. "What did they want?"

"They wanted information from me about Superman, since I was the one that interviewed him," Lois said. "I guess they thought he confided his deepest secrets to me, or something."

"You mean that guy that landed the jumbo jet?" Rachel was clearly skeptical. "Why?"

"We aren't sure," Clark said. "The only thing we've been able to dig up on him is that he was involved in the Air Force's investigation of UFOs back in the sixties. Whatever he wants, though, he was armed and impersonating a Federal agent."

"Just what I need," Rachel said. "Some kind of UFO nut running around the county. What's he want with this Superman fella, anyway? Does he think the guy's an alien or something? He looked pretty human to me, except for his taste in clothes."

"It's possible," Lois said. "I just hope Trask isn't dangerous. Whoever he is, nobody in Washington seems to have heard of him. We checked with every agency we could contact and none of them knew a thing about the guy or his so-called warrant."

"Hmm." Rachel glanced at the drawing again. "Would you mind if I make a couple of Xerox copies of this picture? I'd like to post it here in the station and circulate some copies to my deputies. If we've got an armed nutcase in the area, they need to know who to look for -- especially if he's impersonating a Federal agent. But how did you guess he was one of the trespassers?"

"It was kind of a hunch," Clark said. "He seems to be a UFO nut and Mom told me there've been a couple of UFO hunters around the farm now and then. When you mentioned the metal detectors ... "

"Besides," Lois said, "we thought it might be possible that he was checking out Clark's background, since he's my partner -- if he thinks we're somehow mixed up with aliens. The guy's a wacko."

"Yeah, I get it. If any more of them show up, tell your mom to call me," Rachel said. "We get a few UFO types, now and then -- mostly, they're harmless. They always seem to congregate out in the country so they can signal aliens without city lights to hide their spotlights and stuff -- but they better not be trespassing and threatening people with guns or anything. I'll shut them down fast if they do."

"I don't want to tell you your job," Lois said, "but be careful if you run into Trask. He and his buddies were waving around a lot of guns, yesterday morning."

Rachel nodded. "I appreciate the warning, Ms. Lane. Armed lunatics make me nervous."

"You and me, both," Lois said.

Behind them, the door opened and Clark glanced over his shoulder. Roy Decker let it swing shut behind him. "Rachel, we need to talk," he announced.

"Not now, Roy," Rachel said, sounding slightly annoyed. "I'm working, or hadn't you noticed?"

Roy Decker pushed past Lois and she gave him a dirty look. "Hey!"

He ignored her. "Honey, this is what I'm talking about. This is a man's job. A woman shouldn't be doing this stuff. Her place is in the home, where she's safe. I don't want my wife to have to go out and risk her life chasing down poachers and housebreakers."

"Roy, we've argued about this for months." Rachel folded her hands on the desk in front of her. "I've been the sheriff for just over a year and I've managed so far without getting hurt or killed. If you can't handle that, then there's nothing more to say. Now, I'm busy, so why don't you go somewhere else? I'll talk to you later if you still think we have anything to discuss."

Roy opened his mouth to speak but Rachel cut him off. "Later, Roy. I have a job to do."

"But ... "

"Later," she repeated, firmly. Roy closed his mouth with a snap, turned and left the office without another word.

**********

A short time later, at the Kent farmhouse, Jonathan presented Clark with a map of Smallville and surrounding areas. "Here you go, son." He indicated a spot in one corner. "I buried the ship in Porcupine Gulch, back behind the sycamore grove, just about here. There should be a big, round boulder about ten feet north of the place. You might have to scan a little to find the exact spot, but you shouldn't have any trouble locating it."

Clark nodded, examining the map. "Okay. Look, considering what happened yesterday, I'm going to take off fast so no one can see me. I'll be back as soon as I can."

At the speeds of which Superman was capable, Porcupine Gulch was split seconds away. Hovering within the lowest layers of the snow clouds that covered the sky today, Clark again consulted the map and surveyed the territory below, comparing. The sycamore grove was easy to see and the big, round boulder was prominently in the open. Quickly and thoroughly, he began to scan the ground.

**********

"The ship is gone," Clark said. "There wasn't even any sign of anyone having dug it up. It must have happened years ago."

"So they've been waiting for all these years for the 'aliens' to show up," Lois said. "Do you suppose it was Trask's group?"

"Probably. Who else would know where to look after I appeared?" Clark said. He glanced at his watch. "Still, they can't know for sure who buried the ship. Dad didn't own the field in 1966 and he only bought it last year. We need to get back to Metropolis. We have to meet Thompson in a few hours. It sounds to me like the cover-up is underway."

"Well, at least now we have a better idea what we're dealing with," Lois said.

"Yeah." Clark said. Oddly, he was feeling better than he had been since Trask had made his appearance. Maybe, he thought, it was exactly for the reason Lois had stated. They now had a much better idea of what was going on than they had the day before.

"What are you going to do?" Martha asked.

"Try to find out what we can about Trask and who he really works for," Lois said.

"I'd say our best lead is Thompson," Clark said. "He showed up awfully fast -- none of the usual bureaucratic stalling and delay."

"I noticed that," Lois said. "Do we know anything about him?".

"Not much. Jimmy said some guy from Washington called and arranged for us to meet Thompson at two o'clock. He's supposed to be investigating 'the incident at the Daily Planet' yesterday morning. Jimmy said the guy described him as a government ombudsman -- which could mean anything -- and his name is so common that it's a little hard for him to do a background check."

"That's usually the term they use when they don't want to tell you what he really does," Lois said. "I wonder if his name is really George Thompson."

Clark shrugged. "Probably not."

"Both of you be careful," Jonathan Kent said. "If these government types get their hands on you, Clark, you could wind up in a lab -- "

"'--Being dissected like a frog," Clark said. "I haven't forgotten."

"Well, I don't see how they could get you into a lab if you don't want to go," Lois pointed out, "or dissect you, once they have you there. As far as we know, nothing on Earth can go through your skin."

"Unless they find whatever it was in Shuster's Field that made Clark feel sick," Jonathan said. "That might be what they were looking for with the metal detectors."

"I'm inclined to think that they don't know about it," Lois said. "How could they, anyway? If they did, they'd have found it a long time ago. I think they were just looking for anything they could find, now that 'Superman' has appeared. You just be sure to keep Espresso in the field to discourage them from trying to search it. It's up to Clark and me to track them down and de-fang them, whoever they are. If they're some kind of secret government agency hunting down 'aliens', I think the taxpayers should know how the powers that be are wasting their money."

"Lois is absolutely right," Martha said. "There's nothing like a little sunshine to discourage these sneaky types."

"And we're going to figure out how to do it," Lois said. "Thanks for letting me spend the night again, Martha. Don't worry. I won't let Clark get into any trouble."

Clark's mother laughed. "Why don't I believe that? Try to be careful, anyway. And, if you need a place to stay, you're welcome here any night, honey."

"Don't think I won't take you up on that, if it's necessary," Lois said. She fastened the top button of her coat and tugged on her gloves a little more firmly. "I'm ready, Clark. Time to head for Metropolis to meet Mr. George Thompson."

**********

Perry White was sitting at his desk when Lois knocked on his office door. As he glanced up, she opened it a crack. "Are you busy, Perry?"

"Just finishing lunch," he said. "Come on in. Did you find what you were looking for this morning?"

"Partly," Lois said. She entered the office, Clark on her heels. "Clark and I just wanted to check in to let you know we were here. We have that meeting with George Thompson in about an hour."

"Yeah. The 'government ombudsman'," Perry said, somewhat dryly. "He sure got here fast, didn't he?"

"You noticed that?" Lois said. "Can you say 'cover up'?"

Perry laced his fingers and rested his hands on the desk surface. "Could be. It sounds to me as if someone in Washington isn't happy about yesterday's incident. You two did a terrific job getting those sketches done. Who did you tap for the drawings? That's some of the best work I've ever seen."

"Um -- " Lois glanced at Clark. "Clark's an amateur sketch artist. It's one of his hobbies."

"Really?" Perry looked approvingly at his newest hire. "That's nice work, Kent. I've seen worse by professionals."

"I had Lois to help," Clark said. "She has a good memory for faces."

"That's true. Well, you two better get going. Let me know what Mr. 'Thompson' has to say."

"We will. I just need to pick up a new tape for my recorder," Lois said. She glanced at Clark. "This is the kind of investigative journalism that gets my juices flowing."

"Keep an eye on her, Kent," Perry said, instantly. "I know that look. It always means trouble."

"Don't worry, sir," Clark said.

"Believe me, I worry," Perry said, but he was smiling. "I also smell a headline story. Just be sure you don't get into water that's too deep for you."

"We won't," Lois said. "Trust us."

Perry simply raised an eyebrow.

**********

The government building where they were to meet George Thompson was neatly nondescript. Lois and Clark stepped out of the elevator and walked briskly down the hall, checking the numbers on the doors. "Room 26," Lois said. "This is it." She raised her fist to knock.

Clark caught her hand. "Wait."

She lowered her hand, watching him expectantly. Clark lowered his glasses, apparently staring over the frames at the blank surface of the door. Once, she opened her mouth to demand information, but he gestured quickly for silence. The silence stretched for what seemed hours, but a glance at her watch told her it had been barely a minute when he pushed his glasses into place.

"What was it?" Lois asked.

"It looks like we've hit pay dirt. He was talking to Trask on the phone." Clark's voice was barely above a whisper. "Keep his attention for me, would you? I want to do a little super-snooping." He opened the door and Lois saw a small desk with a female occupant. She glanced up questioningly.

"Lois Lane and Clark Kent," Lois said. "We're here to see Mr. Thompson."

"Just a minute." She pushed a button and Lois heard a faint buzz. "Mr. Thompson, Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent are here to see you." She paused, seemed to listen for a moment, then smiled perfunctorily and nodded in the direction of the door to her right. "Go on in."

Clark knocked lightly on the panel and a voice said, faintly, "Come in."

Her partner opened the door and let her precede him. Lois schooled her expression to one of polite interest as a slender, white-haired man rose to meet them.

"George Thompson?" she inquired. At his nod, she continued, "We're Lois Lane and Clark Kent from the Daily Planet."

"Of course, come in. Have a seat."

Lois took one of the hard-backed chairs, glancing around as she did so. It was a blandly uninformative government office, with blank walls and a desk with the usual generic accoutrements adorning its otherwise bare surface. Nothing here to give a clue to the man who occupied it, she thought. A briefcase sat next to the desk, closed and probably locked. She was going to have to rely on Clark's unique abilities if they were going to learn anything here. She'd be willing to bet her last dollar that "Thompson", or whoever he was, wasn't going to knowingly give them anything they could use.

Clark took a seat next to her, letting his glasses slip a fraction of an inch down the bridge of his nose. "So," he said, "you just flew in from Washington?"

Thompson seated himself behind the desk, assuming the position of authority, she thought. It was a subtle but effective ploy, designed to put his visitors at a disadvantage. He shook his head in answer to Clark's remark. "Bullet train. I'm not much for flying. You?"

Clark shook his head as well. Seizing the opportunity to grab the man's attention, Lois opened her purse and removed her cassette recorder. Thompson watched her without expression as she switched it on and set it on his desk.

"Who exactly do you work for, Mr. Thompson?" she asked.

Thompson smiled mechanically. "As I'm sure my secretary told your man at the Planet, I'm kind of a government ombudsman. I go where the problems are. Right now, my job is to get to the bottom of this 'incident' at the Planet."

"That's our job, too," Lois said, flashing him a smile. "What can you tell us? Do you have any idea who these guys were or why they wanted Superman?" Out of the corner of her eye, she was peripherally aware that Clark had glanced casually at the briefcase and smothered a small stab of excitement. Her partner was almost certainly reading the only documentation that would tell them anything about George Thompson and his real mission. "I mean," she continued, "I printed everything he told me. I don't know anything more about the man than anyone else, since my article came out."

Thompson shook his head. "I'm afraid not. The first step in our investigation process is to gather all eyewitness accounts. We don't take it lightly when someone passes himself off as an agent of the U.S. government. Can you give us a physical description of any of the people involved?"

"Actually, yes," Lois said. "Have you seen a copy of the Daily Planet, this morning? We managed to produce sketches of the people involved, including the leader. He was a big man, at least six feet tall, and very heavily built."

"I hadn't seen it, yet." Thompson, she thought, didn't seem particularly pleased at the revelation.

"Here." Lois reached into her bag and produced several pages of the Planet's morning edition. On the front page of the paper, prominently showcased, was the face-on sketch of Jason Trask that Clark had produced yesterday. She laid it on his desk and spread out the second and third pages, displaying the drawings of the men who had accompanied him in his raid for Thompson to see. "Fortunately, I have a very good memory for faces, and one of the people present, when the raid took place, was a sketch artist."

"Are they accurate?" Thompson asked. His face had gone blank, but she thought she could read a certain sourness in his tone.

"Very." Lois kept her voice level. "One of the so-called 'agents' frisked our gossip columnist, Catherine Grant, twice -- although where she could have been hiding anything in the outfit she was wearing, I have no idea. She remembered him particularly."

Thompson was examining the drawings, and if Lois was any judge of body language, he was most unhappy with this development. It was too bad, she reflected, that he hadn't learned to control that as well as his expression. At least, for him.

Clark moved casually to shove his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. To anyone else, it would mean nothing. To Lois, it meant that whatever snooping he had been doing was completed. "I hope," he said, "that the drawings will help your investigators to track down these people. I'm sure that real government officials would have more respect for the Constitution than these men had."

Thompson's expression flickered for just an instant. "I'm certain they would have, Mr. Kent. Is there anything more you can tell me?"

"I'm afraid not," Lois said. "You have no idea who these people could be?"

Thompson shook his head. "No." He stood up and thrust out a hand. "Thanks for coming."

The interview was clearly over. Lois got to her feet, retrieving her recorder. "Well, thank you. You'll get back to us on this?"

"When we find out something, we'll contact the Daily Planet," Thompson assured her. Lois didn't answer as Clark shook hands with the man and a moment later, they were standing in the hall outside.

"'When we find out something, we'll contact the Daily Planet'," she quoted, sarcastically. "What bull!"

"Come on, let's get out of here," Clark said, softly. "As soon as he thinks we're gone, he's going to see Trask."

"How do you know?"

Clark led the way toward the exit. "I heard him on the phone. I told you, he was talking to Trask. He was furious."

"Trask?"

"Both of them, actually. Trask is government, all right, but apparently his bosses didn't authorize the raid yesterday morning. The Director, whoever he is, sent Thompson here to clean up the mess Trask made --Thompson's words, by the way. They work for an agency called Bureau 39. Trask told Thompson that he'd deemed it necessary and it was none of Thompson's business, and Thompson told him that *he* called the shots for the Bureau and that he was coming to see Trask as soon as he buried the story with us. Trask hung up on him."

"This has possibilities," Lois said.

"I thought so. I x-rayed his briefcase. There's a folder in there with a bunch of files on UFO incidents, called Incident Analysis: Eyes Only. It's got stuff on Roswell, in 1947, White Mountains, Arizona, 1975, Gulf Breeze, Florida, 1986, Voronezh, USSR, 1989 --"

"Get to the point."

"And Smallville, Kansas, 1966."

"Bingo," Lois said. "The connection. Now we know who found your ship and who we're fighting. Keep your ears open. I want to know exactly when he leaves."

"I will."

They were just exiting the building when Clark lifted his head. "Oh, no; not now!"

"What?"

"There's a fire at Metro General. A big one. The Children's Ward. Lois -- "

"Go," she said, at once. "I'll get a cab and follow Thompson."

"He's leaving his office now," he said. "Be careful."

"I will. Get going. The sooner you save the day, the sooner you'll be back. There's a cab." She put two fingers in her mouth and produced an earsplitting whistle and, like magic, the passing vehicle pulled sharply to the side of the street. "Go," she said, again.

"Thanks," he said, and daringly leaned forward to give her a peck on the cheek. Then he was ducking down the nearest alley. As Lois opened the cab door, she heard the sonic boom that told her that Superman was on his way.

"Where to?" the cabbie asked.

She pointed to the cross street. "Pull over there and wait for a minute."

"Okay, lady, it's your money."

**********

It was barely four minutes before George Thompson walked out the double doors.

The man paused, Lois saw him glance casually around and then cross the sidewalk to a black, Ford sedan sitting by the curb. As he was getting in, she leaned forward. "See the white-haired guy getting into that car? I want you to follow him."

"Oh, sure," the cabbie said. "What do you think you are, lady -- some kinda government agent?"

"I'm an investigative reporter," Lois said, shortly. "Can you do it?"

The man shrugged. "Sure."

The other car pulled out onto the street and Lois gritted her teeth, but her driver was more on the ball than she had given him credit for. He turned the corner casually, allowing several others to fill the space between their vehicle and the one they followed.

"I guess you don't want him to see you," he said, maneuvering skillfully through slowly moving traffic.

"Yes -- I mean no, I don't."

"Thought not," the man said. "Okay, let's give it a shot."

His voice had developed a spark of animation, Lois noted, absently. She took a real look at him, noticing for the first time that he was a young black man, and his thin, narrow face had taken on an expression of interest.

Traffic was moderately heavy but somehow, they didn't lose their quarry. Her driver always managed to keep a minimum of three cars between his taxi and the sedan he and Lois followed, and Lois had to give him credit that he managed to do exactly as she had asked. When Thompson's vehicle pulled to a stop in front of a drab, nondescript warehouse in a row of similar ones on Bessolo Boulevard, which bore a battered sign, reading: "Bessolo Discount Used Office Furniture", he drove right past, pulled to the side of the street half a block down and stopped. "How's that?" he asked, sounding a little smug.

"Not bad," Lois said. Ordinarily, she would have withered such pretensions with a single sentence, but Clark must be having a softening effect on her, she reflected. Besides, she could hardly complain about the service.

The driver was watching the scene behind them in the mirror. Lois turned, also watching as Thompson got out, shut the door behind him and headed straight for the warehouse.

"Okay," she said, "what do I owe you?"

"Fifteen-ninety-two. Are you gonna stay here?"

Lois nodded, extracting the cash from her purse and as an afterthought, adding a little extra to the tip. "I want to see what happens next. Thanks. It's refreshing to meet a cab driver in this town who can really drive."

He accepted the payment, looking slightly worried. "Thanks, lady. You be careful, okay?"

She couldn't resist a slight grin. "You sound like my boss. I'll be fine."

**********

Upon returning from the hospital fire, forty-some minutes after he had left, Clark saw no sign of Lois around the government building, which he had expected. She was probably still following Thompson, he reasoned, but the man had not yet returned to his office. A quick scan of the Daily Planet and of her apartment showed no trace of Lois. He landed on the flat top of an office building, trying to listen for her heartbeat but after ten, frustrating minutes had passed, he was forced to the unpalatable conclusion that there were simply too many people in the vast city of Metropolis for him to pick out a single heartbeat, even Lois's, without having at least a general idea of where to look.

Well, given that he couldn't locate her using direct methods, what other options did he have? She had taken a taxi, he recalled. Perhaps the driver could tell him where he had dropped her off. He cast back in his memory, visualizing the name of the company and the number of the taxi she had boarded, and a moment later, Clark Kent was waiting by a pay phone for a previous occupant to finish his call.

The man, who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, seemed to be having an argument with his girlfriend. Clark tried not to listen, but it was almost impossible not to pay attention to the raised voice. He glanced at his watch, seriously considering finding another phone, when the man slammed down the receiver and burst out of the booth, muttering under his breath. Clark glanced after him, one eyebrow raised. The guy was awfully mad over a choice of videos, he thought and shrugged, forgetting the incident.

The phone number for the taxi service was posted on the wall of the booth, probably for the convenience of customers, and a moment later, a feminine voice answered his ring.

"Metropolis Cabs, can I help you?"

"I hope so," Clark said. "My name is Clark Kent. I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet. I'm trying to find a particular cab that picked up a passenger, my reporting partner, at 95th and De Soto at about two thirty, this afternoon. It was cab number 139."

"Is there a problem, sir?" the woman's voice asked, sounding slightly suspicious.

"No, ma'am. I'd just like to ask the driver where he dropped her off. She was supposed to meet me a short time ago, but she hasn't shown up."

"Well ... "

"I want him to drop me off in the same place. If you could send that cab here -- cab number 139 -- I'm at the corner of Granholm and Pitts."

"Well -- all right, sir. But, if you want a specific cab, we'll have to charge you extra."

"That's not a problem."

"All right, sir. It will be about twenty minutes."

"Thank you," Clark said.

The taxi arrived fourteen minutes later. Clark knew that because he had checked his watch every fifteen seconds or so since the dispatcher had hung up. Cab #139 pulled to a stop at the curb and Clark reached for the rear door. The cab driver, a young black man, looked him over measuringly. "Are you Clark Kent?"

"Yes," Clark said, sliding into the back seat. "You picked up my reporting partner, Lois Lane, at DeSoto and 95th at about two thirty. She's a young woman, dark hair, brown eyes, very attractive. She probably told you to follow --"

"Yeah. She wanted me to follow this white-haired guy."

"That's her. Can you take me to the spot where you dropped her off?"

"Sure." The driver looked worried. "I kind of had a bad feeling about that. What happened to her? Is she okay?"

"I hope so," Clark said. "I'm trying to find her. I'm hoping you can show me where she went."

"Okay, hang on." The man glanced over his left shoulder and pulled smartly out into traffic.

Belatedly, Clark pulled the seat belt around himself. The driver cut through early rush hour traffic to round the corner and turn into one of the side streets, neatly avoiding the crush of traffic that was beginning to build on the main drag. "She said she was an investigative reporter," he remarked.

"She is. She writes for the Daily Planet," Clark said.

"Wait a minute -- Lois Lane and Clark Kent? I thought your name sounded familiar. You broke that big scandal about the Rainforest Consortium. That was great work!" Clark saw the man glance at him in his rear view mirror.

"I didn't think anybody would remember our names," Clark said, feeling mildly surprised. Most people didn't usually notice the names of the reporters who wrote articles in the paper -- not even the big ones.

"Well, most people might not, but I'm a fourth-year journalism student over at New Troy State. I only drive a cab part time to help with expenses. I notice that kind of thing."

That explained it. Clark glanced at the license clipped to the sunshade on the right side of the windshield. "You're name is Tony Daus?"

"That's right." He whipped the cab around a tight corner. "Who was that guy she was trailing ... if you don't mind me asking?"

"We don't know his real name." Clark said. "Whoever he is, he's not up to any good. I just hope nothing's happened to Lois."

"Yeah, me too." Tony's mouth tightened. "I dropped her off by a big warehouse on Bessolo Boulevard. The white- haired guy went in and when I left, she was sort of looking around the place, maybe tryin' to find a way in."

"That's what I was afraid of," Clark said.

"Yeah." The man pressed down harder on the accelerator.

In spite of the growing rush hour traffic, it was barely fifteen minutes before the cab pulled to a stop beside the warehouse advertising "Bessolo Discount Used Office Furniture". Tony pointed. "That's the warehouse where the guy went."

Clark was thrusting a pair of twenties into Tony's hand almost before the cab stopped moving. "Keep the change, and thanks."

"Sure. Be careful -- and find her, okay?"

"I'm going to," Clark said, pushing the door open. Without a backward glance, he hurried toward the warehouse.

The big warehouse was situated in a row of similar ones, but this one was separated from the others by an electronic locking system that the others lacked. Clark lowered his glasses.

The space behind the door was not, as might have been expected, the main body of the warehouse but instead, a small, metal-walled anteroom, and on the opposite wall was another lock, this one a combination. Obviously, he thought, this wasn't your ordinary warehouse.

Past the second wall was the actual storage space. It was crowded with objects smothered in heavy canvas, and a couple of massive file cabinets against the far back wall that instantly caught his attention. There was no sign of Lois, but if she'd been here, he wanted to know what the place contained. Maybe it would give him some idea of where to look.

But he wasn't going to get in this way and standing out here in front of the place was only going to make him conspicuous. Glancing back, he saw that Tony's cab hadn't left, yet. The young driver was watching him, a worried frown on his face. Clark scanned the blank row of warehouses. They presented a nearly unbroken wall along the block, but in one place, a narrow gap opened between two of them some fifty feet down the walk to his right. He trotted toward the opening, glanced once more back at Tony, lifted his hand in a half-wave and ducked between the buildings. Once out of sight, he moved fast, zipping down the space into the rear of the warehouses.

The area behind the structures was actually a narrow alley, providing a space buffer between them and the blank, dingy wall that marked the rear of another set of warehouses. That was an advantage, Clark thought, because no windows opened on the alley.

Quickly, he lowered his glasses again, scanning the interior of the wall that faced him.

If there was any kind of alarm system, he thought, it was probably at the entrance; it certainly wasn't here. Probably, no one expected someone to come directly through the wall. Carefully, he scanned the entire area behind the wall. There was no living thing to be seen except a colony of mice living in a stack of discarded crating material. It was now, or never.

His heat vision made an excellent cutting torch, as he neatly sliced a hole in the wall big enough for him to enter the building. Gently and silently, he eased the section out and leaned it against the outer wall, then turned and slipped quietly through the entrance he had created, into the warehouse.

The building was big and echoing. The place he had chosen to make his entrance was apparently a de facto office. A metal desk with a shaded light hanging above it and a rolling, metal office chair faced the interior of the warehouse. To the right and rear, the two heavy file cabinets stood against the wall and he scanned them quickly.

In the cabinet were folders, each containing written reports similar to the ones he had seen in George Thompson's briefcase -- incidents that were allegedly the results of extra-terrestrial visitations. In fact, the ones he had seen in Thompson's briefcase were also there, bunched in the very front as if hastily crammed into the top drawer of the cabinet. Thompson had been here, all right, and now he wasn't -- and neither was Lois. That didn't sound good, but as yet he'd found only this trace of Thompson to indicate that he'd been here. The fact that he had apparently left the contents of his briefcase behind worried Clark slightly. Thompson had impressed him as someone in authority and the way he had talked to Trask had sounded as if he felt himself to be Trask's superior.

But, maybe Trask hadn't thought so. The way he had spoken to Thompson over the phone certainly suggested that. What that indicated, he wasn't sure, except that perhaps there might be some kind of power struggle going on in Bureau 39. Trask didn't impress him as the most stable of persons. He had apparently gone outside the authority of his own agency yesterday morning, and faking a Federal warrant didn't sound like the best of judgement in Clark's opinion. From what he'd heard of the phone conversation, the man seemed quite obsessed with the possibility of an alien invasion. Just how far was he likely to take it?

Without hesitation, Clark opened the drawer and appropriated the files. Scanning the remainder quickly, he assured himself that nothing remained of any references to Smallville. There might be copies elsewhere, of course, but at least taking the entire contents of Thompson's briefcase might confuse the strange agency as to what the real goal of the theft really was.

Gripping them in one hand, he turned to survey the rest of the place. The room was dark except for the light that streamed in through the hole he had made in the outer wall, but with his enhanced vision, he could see the big, shadowy, canvas-shrouded hulks cluttering the floor beyond the desk and he began to scan them through their coverings.

The objects under their canvas coverings puzzled him at first. They seemed to be pieces of miscellaneous junk welded together haphazardly -- until he saw the ship.

It was small and sleek and the padded interior was nowhere near a size that could possibly accommodate an adult human, but it could easily hold a baby. Along the sides, imprinted into the metal of the ship's skin, was a row of hieroglyphs of a type he had never seen before, and on the nose, was the symbol that Superman wore on his chest. He moved forward swiftly and above all, silently, his feet not quite touching the floor, and pulled back the canvas. The ship that had brought him to Earth lay there, solid evidence that Bureau 39, whatever that might be, had been behind its removal. Hanging prominently from a protrusion on the ship itself, was a bag, labeled "Smallville, Exhibit A" and Clark shook the contents into his hand.

It was a ball, about the size of an orange, made of some material he had never seen before and, as his fingers made contact with it, it began to glow with a soft, white light. Clark found himself staring at it as if hypnotized, unable to look away.

And unexpectedly, its surface changed.

It was a representation of Earth. The green and brown continents and blue oceans were unmistakable. For a long moment it stayed that way and then, before his eyes, the surface blurred and changed again. The entire globe acquired a reddish cast and on the side facing him, a single, large continent glowed a brilliant red.

Clark blinked, and a long-buried memory quietly surfaced.

"Krypton," he whispered.

**********

Getting the ship out of the warehouse without being seen wasn't easy, even for Superman, but he had advantages others lacked. It was ten minutes later when Clark deposited the ship and globe in the bedroom of his new apartment. Sitting amid the dirt, trash and general debris, the sleek, little ship looked distinctly out of place.

Carefully, he locked the apartment door with the new keys that he and Lois had picked up on their return to Metropolis that morning, fastened the two mechanical locks as well and sat down in mid air, trying to think.

George Thompson had apparently had some kind of disagreement with Trask and was quite possibly in trouble. Lois had been hanging around the warehouse and might very well be in the same kind of trouble, even if he hadn't found any evidence of it. He'd restored the holes he had cut in the wall in order to enter and then to remove the ship as well as he could in the limited time available, and hopefully, with all the junk in that place, they wouldn't notice the missing files or the missing ship before he could locate Lois and get his property to a safer location. Just now, however, Lois was his top priority. How on earth was he going to find her if Trask had managed to get his hands on her? He didn't have any means of contacting her or she him -- did he?

His pager beeped suddenly and he removed the device from his pocket, checking the number. The Planet was calling ...

The answer to his problem was staring him in the face. Silently kicking himself, Clark left the apartment in a rush via the window. The Daily Planet had his pager's number, and Lois's.

He had to find a pay phone.

**********

"Perry wanted me to check on you," Jimmy was saying. "He expected you and Lois to be back an hour ago."

Clark glanced out of the phone booth. Evening had descended on the city while he had been in the warehouse and engaged in removing his ship to safer quarters. "Jimmy, has Lois contacted you?"

"She hasn't called back," Jimmy said. "That's not unusual, though."

"Hmm. Do me a favor, would you? Page her again a couple of times. We got separated and I haven't been able to find her. I'm starting to get a little worried."

"You got it, CK," Jimmy said. "I've got that other stuff you wanted, by the way."

"Great," Clark said. "I'll look at it when I get back. Page Lois now, though, would you? If she calls back, page me again right away."

Stepping out of the booth a second later, he made a beeline for the nearest alley, but all his attention was focussed on listening for the distinctive beep of Lois's pager. There it was, and it was coming from above and slightly to the north. The only explanation for that must be that she was in a plane somewhere over the city. An instant later, Superman was in the air.

**********

The sound of the plane engine was loud in her ears. Lois shifted uncomfortably on the hard seat and glanced sideways at George Thompson, who slumped in the seat next to her. His face was bruised and dried blood streaked his upper lip and chin. The older man met her eyes fleetingly and dropped his gaze to stare at the floor.

Jason Trask and two soldiers sat across from them. Trask's expression was shuttered, but she thought she could see traces of a smug smile on his lips. She instinctively glanced at her watch and then dropped her hands into her lap again.

It had been nearly three hours since Clark had left her to deal with the fire at Metro General. Surely, her partner would be looking for her by now. She prayed that he was, but even so, how was he going to find her? Surely, even his incredible abilities had limits.

"Sir." One of the fatigue-clad men who manned the plane summoned his superior's attention. Trask rose and moved a short distance down the aisle to where several men bent over some kind of electronic equipment. Lois watched them for a moment and then turned to glance once more at her companion in misfortune.

"They're going to kill us, you know," Thompson said. "You shouldn't have followed me, Ms. Lane."

"Why is he doing this?" Lois asked.

"He believes this 'Superman' is the advance guard for an alien invasion. And he thinks he can trap him using you as bait. Me -- I'm an inconvenience."

"He's insane," Lois said, with conviction.

"Yes," Thompson said. "He is."

"Mr. Thompson -- if that *is* your name -- " Lois hesitated. "What *is* Bureau 39?"

Thompson didn't reply for a few seconds. "No one is supposed to know such an agency exists, Ms. Lane."

"You'd be surprised what I know," she said. "Personally, I think Bureau 39 should take a good look at some of its agents, if your Mr. Trask is a good example. I know he used to be with the Air Force's Project Blue Book, and it looks to me like Bureau 39 is a direct descendent of it -- or maybe its crazy uncle that should have been locked away for its own good. Since we're probably both going to die, would you mind telling me if I'm right -- and why Trask is so sure Superman is a threat? All he's done so far is help us. He even diverted the Nightfall asteroid. Why would he want to hurt us?"

"He's here to lull Earth into a sense of security," Trask's voice said. Lois turned her head to see the man standing next to her seat, the smile that she had decided three hours ago was incredibly irritating playing on his lips. "If the denizens of his world want to take over ours, they don't want it destroyed, do they, Ms. Lane? He may have fooled you, or you might be cooperating with him, hoping for favoritism when the others arrive -- but it doesn't really matter."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

While they had been talking, two of the soldiers had begun to unlatch the door in the plane's side. Trask smirked.

"I assume you two are familiar with the scientific method."

Lois frowned. "I didn't take much science in college. I think it was something like 'Advance a theory and submit it to a test'."

"Very good, Ms. Lane." The man's smile widened and became a mocking grin. "My theory is that you know how to contact this alien creature."

"And how do you plan to test it?" Lois demanded.

Trask shrugged. "If you suddenly become airborne at twenty thousand feet, without a parachute, I have to assume you will focus all your energies toward contacting this Superman."

"And, if you're wrong?"

The man shrugged. "Pushing back the frontiers of science is not without risk."

"And, what happens if Superman does show up?"

A blast of air whipped hair into Lois's face as the soldiers threw the door open. Trask braced himself against the sudden turbulence. "Does the worm need to know if the fish is going to be fried or charbroiled?" He nodded to his subordinates. "Do you want to be first, George?"

On cue, the soldiers seized George Thompson by the arms and hauled him to his feet. The man struggled unsuccessfully as they manhandled him toward the open doors. Lois half started to her feet, only to have Trask grasp her by the wrist. "Don't worry, Ms. Lane, you're next."

"You're crazy!" she gasped out. "You can't do this!"

Trask smiled mockingly. "But I can, Ms. Lane. I know where my duty lies."

In her purse, Lois's pager began to beep. Trask laughed, shortly. "I'm afraid whoever's paging you is going to have to wait a while."

George Thompson screamed as he was hurled out the doors. Trask thrust Lois after him toward the soldiers, who seized her and proceeded to shove her through the opening.

Lois screamed; she couldn't help herself. She squeezed her eyes shut against the panic she felt as her body hurtled through space.

"Char... -- Superman!" she screamed. "If you can hear me, drop everything and get over here! Superman -- help!"

She didn't expect a response as quickly as it came. A pair of familiar arms closed around her and Clark's shaken voice said, "Lois -- are you all right?"

"Charlie!" She wrapped her arms around his neck. "Oh, thank God!" She caught her breath. "Clark, Trask is using Thompson and me as bait for you!"

"I figured that," Clark's voice said in her ear. "Let's get Thompson and then I'll take care of Trask."

She nodded shakily, then found herself held close to his side, one of his muscular arms around her waist, diving headfirst after the tumbling body of George Thompson.

He was falling fast, gaining speed by the second, but Clark -- Superman -- accelerated after him so swiftly that Lois had to put both hands over her ears against the shriek of the wind. Somehow, she had retained a grip on her shoulder bag and it flapped behind them in the air. She let it slide up her arm until the strap reached the crook of her elbow. If she lost the entire contents, she thought, it didn't matter. She would never forget this flight as long as she lived.

They were overtaking Thompson, she saw. The man was struggling, his arms and legs flailing frantically and uselessly in the air. His mouth was wide open and she knew he was screaming, although she couldn't hear a sound. He hadn't seen them yet, she thought and then grinned as they neared him because she could see that his eyes were squeezed tightly shut. Clark drew even with the terrified man and closed his free arm around his waist. George Thompson gave a gasp that was half a yelp and wrapped both arms around his rescuer. It was a good thing Clark was invulnerable, Lois thought, or Thompson would have strangled him in his panic.

Then, they were leveling out in a long, straight glide above the city. Clark brought them down onto the sidewalk in front of the Daily Planet and set them on their feet.

George Thompson almost collapsed and Superman grabbed him. "Easy there." He lowered the man onto the bus stop bench a few feet away. "Are you all right?"

Thompson nodded, breathing hard. Superman turned to Lois. "Ms. Lane? Are you -- "

Something moved in the air at the edge of her vision. Lois looked up, past his shoulder and gasped. "Superman! Look out!"

He glanced around and instantly took in what she had already seen. "I'll take care of it." And he was launching himself toward the missile that was homing in on the three of them.

Lois watched him arrow upward toward the menacing object. He couldn't be hurt, she reminded herself. Clark had slammed headfirst into the Nightfall asteroid and had lived to tell the tale. This puny weapon couldn't possibly harm him.

It was one thing to know something in theory and another to see it in front of her. The tiny figure in red and blue zipped toward the oncoming projectile so fast that her eyes could hardly follow it. As he approached it, he hovered for a split second and then changed direction, flashing sideways and around it. It followed, more slowly. It must be registering his heat signature, but Clark was faster than the missile, she thought with a rush of sheer relief. He simply didn't want it to impact in the city and hurt, or kill, innocent people.

"My God," Thompson said.

What he was reacting to, she wasn't sure but she didn't comment as she saw Superman slow his speed, keeping barely ahead of the deadly thing, leading it upward, beyond the point where it could cause harm to the city and its inhabitants. As she watched, the tiny figure paused in mid-air and waited. The missile seemed to accelerate toward him, and then, for an instant, a new sun blazed in the sky in the place where Superman had been.

The brilliance dissipated, leaving only black smoke behind. Shading her eyes, Lois stared at the spot, stunned. There was no sign of Clark.

"He let it hit him!" Thompson's voice was hoarse. "He could have gotten away. Why did he -- "

"Look!" Lois said. She pointed at the little speck of blue and red that had appeared from nowhere, following the silver arrow of the plane that bore Jason Trask and his followers. "He's all right!"

Thompson stared at the vanishing speck and then closed his mouth with an effort.

"Well, that settles one thing," he said, at last.

"What?"

He gave a short bark of humorless laughter. "If Superman's the advance man for an invasion, he has a funny way of showing it," he said. "If there are others like him, they wouldn't *need* to soften us up first."

"No kidding," Lois said.

"Not that it will make a dent in Trask's paranoia," Thompson continued, a trifle grimly. "The man should have been shut down years ago. In any case, I know what my report will say. Trask isn't stable; he's a loose cannon. His unit will be disbanded as soon as I can find a phone and he'll be under arrest before the day is out, Ms. Lane. You have my word on it."

"And Superman?"

"As long as he poses no threat -- and it's pretty obvious that he doesn't -- my recommendation will be that he's to be left alone," Thompson said. "He could easily have let me fall to my death and he didn't. That seems to speak for itself. Besides," he added in a meditative tone, "after that demonstration, I'm not sure there's anything we could do to him, anyway."

"Besides, isn't there some sort of thing in the Constitution about being innocent until proven guilty?" Lois knew her tone of voice had an acidic edge to it. "He hasn't committed any crimes that I know of."

"Well, there's a question of residency," Thompson said, "but that's not my jurisdiction. If Immigration wants to take it up with him, that's their business. Personally, I doubt there will be any problem. Our government wouldn't want to have someone like him working for anyone but us."

"Besides," Lois said, "we don't even know for sure that he *is* an alien. Trask simply assumed that he is. Maybe he's the result of some kind of scientific experiment or something."

"That would be *some* experiment," Thompson said, with a slight grin. "In any case, as I said, it isn't my jurisdiction." He boosted himself to his feet. "Can I impose on you to direct me to a phone, Ms. Lane? I have a report to make."

**********

"Kids, this is incredible," Perry said. "This Trask nutcase must have really gone off the deep end to launch a missile like that right over the city. And to throw his superior out of a plane -- "

"He was completely out of control," Lois said. "I don't think he'd have listened to the President, himself. Anyway, Superman turned him and his men over to Henderson and left it to Thompson's people to deal with the situation. Fortunately, Clark was nearby when the whole thing broke and he got the story, and the statement from Superman. I got the statement from Thompson and my end of the story."

Clark nodded. "The Feds arrived a little while later to collect Trask. They were pretty close-mouthed but I got the feeling they weren't very happy about all the exposure. Trask was livid, of course. He was calling Thompson a traitor, and Henderson, and the entire Metro police force. A couple of bystanders had cameras and I borrowed one. Jimmy's developing the pictures as we speak."

"And the warehouse?" Perry asked.

"Henderson got a search warrant before Thompson's people managed to clear it out -- although they showed up with an Order to Impound half an hour later," Clark said. "Unfortunately for them, too many people had already seen the so-called 'UFOs' to pretend they didn't exist. I got pictures of them, too."

"Good," Perry said. "We'll print them and let the public make up its own mind. At the very least, it will raise some uncomfortable questions about how the government is spending our tax money."

"Good idea," Lois said. "Maybe they'll be a little more circumspect in the future. I mean, at the first sign that they *might* have a visitor from another planet, they try to kill him. It sounds just like those bad old science fiction movies on Midnite Theatre or something."

"It does, at that," Perry admitted. He leaned backwards in his seat, stretching his arms and shoulders. "Anyway, nice work, both of you. Now, on that other subject. You know - - LexCorp?"

"We're on it, Chief," Lois said. "Jimmy already gave me a lot of the information I was waiting for. And I'm having dinner with Lex on Sunday night."

Perry nodded. "Okay, then I'll leave you to that." He made shooing gestures. "Scram. I've got editing to do."

After the door closed behind them, Lois turned to Clark. "Okay, Kent, what aren't you telling me?"

"What?"

"You've been looking like the cat that just finished off the canary. What happened that you haven't told me about?"

"Oh, that." Clark allowed the slightest of smiles to hover on his mouth. "Now that you mention it, you know all those UFOs in Bureau 39's warehouse? There's one I'd like you to see..."

"A picture?" Lois asked, slightly puzzled.

"No. I've got it at my new apartment."

The light dawned. "You found it?"

He nodded. "That and some other information. Want to see?"

"You bet I do!"

"Well then, let's go."

**********

"Why do we have to come in through the window?" Lois asked.

"Because I locked the sliding latch and hooked the chain from the inside," Clark said. "I don't know if Bureau 39 knows about this place yet, but I wasn't taking any chances of them looking for their missing ship here -- if they've noticed yet that it's gone. Considering what's going on right now, it may be a while before they discover it's missing -- and by then, I intend to have it in safer quarters."

Lois nodded vigorously. "Good idea." She reached out to pull the window open and Clark floated them through. He set her lightly on the floor and closed the window behind them.

"Let me turn up the heater, before you take off your coat," he said. "It's freezing in here."

"I suppose you can tell by the icicles hanging from the faucet," Lois said. "Where did you put the ship?"

"In there." He led the way into the bedroom of the apartment and Lois found herself staring in awe at the tiny ship that had brought Clark to Earth as a baby. "You say you remembered about this 'Krypton' when you saw the globe?"

"When it changed to -- let me show you. Maybe it will do it again," Clark said. He opened the clear, plastic-like hatch and reached within to retrieve a milky-white globe. "This is it."

As he held it up, the object began to glow and the surface blurred in a swirl of colors that resolved themselves into a representation of the Earth.

"Wow," Lois said, softly.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," Clark said. "It changed to this other world and all of a sudden, I remembered about Krypton. A little, anyway. I guess a baby can't be expected to remember much."

"Probably n --" Lois broke off in mid word as the colors swirled again and the globe began to glow with a reddish hue. She watched, enthralled, as the surface became that of the world Clark had described. "That's your home world?"

"I guess so," Clark said.

"But, why did they send you here?" she wondered. "Why would anyone put a baby in a ship and send him off, alone, to another planet? There must have been a pretty compelling reason for something that drastic -- like a woman throwing her baby out the window of a burning house to someone outside -- because she couldn't escape, herself."

"Like an atomic war, or something," Clark said.

"Or something," Lois agreed. "It's as if someone was desperate to save you and that was the only way. It would have had to be a worldwide catastrophe of some kind. I wonder what happened to them."

"Who?"

"To whoever sent you here. They didn't come with you; that's obvious."

"We'll probably never know for sure," Clark said. "At least, now I know where I came from. No more of the 'failed Russian experiment' theory." He shrugged, suddenly looking a little worried. "Does it make a difference to you?"

Lois shook her head and reached out to take his hands. "I figured you'd worry about that, if you ever found out one way or another," she said, in a matter-of-fact tone. "Clark, I think I fell at least halfway in love with you back when you were still Charlie and I knew nothing about where you came from. All I knew was that you were a guy who couldn't remember a thing about yourself but who had all these weird powers. I guessed back then that you probably weren't from Earth -- but it didn't matter. I kept thinking that it was a shame that we hadn't met a lot sooner. Does that answer your question?"

He nodded, tugging lightly on her hands, pulling her toward him. "Yes," he said. "I kept wishing the same thing. Somehow, I knew even then that I'd met the woman I'd been looking for without knowing it, all my life."

Lois freed her hands from his and slid her arms around his neck, even as his hands made their way around her waist, drawing her against him. "You know," she said, "for a spaceman, you're the most romantic person I ever met. Earth guys don't stand a chance."

"I guess I have a reputation to maintain, now," he said. "Too bad I don't feel the slightest bit romantic about anyone but you."

"You better not," she said. "You're mine, now. Cat can keep her claws to herself."

"And you're mine," he said. "Does that mean I get to kiss you again?"

"It means you'd better," she said.

Clark didn't hesitate, and the apartment grew very quiet for the better part of a full minute, the silence broken only by the thump and wheeze of the ancient heater as it labored to bring the air temperature of the room up to a decent level. At last, just as Lois was beginning to feel distinctly short of air, Clark lifted his head, smiling slightly. "I guess I'd better let you breathe," he said, "even though I'd like to go right on doing this for the rest of the night."

Lois inhaled, deeply. "Wow," she said.

"Yeah," Clark agreed. "Wow."

They were silent for another minute and then Lois glanced at the window where darkness had descended on the city. "I guess our dinner plans are put on hold for tonight," she said. "I'm glad the story broke, but it kind of messed up our date."

Clark shook his head. "No, of course not. I'll fly you to your apartment and then come back to take the ship to a safer place. I'll be dressed and ready before you are. Isn't nine o'clock a fashionable dinner hour? Besides, it's only about four in Honolulu. I thought we could visit Waikiki Beach and have dinner at a place I know. I was going to take you to Paris, but it's past midnight there, so we'll save that for another night."

"Dinner in Hawaii?" Lois felt her eyebrows fly up at the thought. Being Superman's girlfriend definitely had its perks. "All right, flyboy, you're on!"

**********

Epilogue

In Smallville, Kansas, a blizzard was blowing in. The wind pounded against the sides of the houses in the little town, buffeting the branches of leafless trees and piling snow in massive drifts against every obstacle in its way.

Outside of town, the wind was even stronger. Martha Kent winced at the sound of the storm battering against the kitchen window and the rattling of tiny grains of snow against the glass.

The kitchen door banged open and Jonathan lurched into the room amid a cloud of flakes. With some effort, he pushed the storm door shut and closed the thick wooden door against the gale and then paused, breathing hard.

Martha hurried over to him to help him remove his thick overcoat and muffler. Clumsily, he stripped off his heavy gloves and laid them on the nearest table, followed by the knitted hat.

"Really blowing out there," he commented. "Looks like a bad one but all the livestock is safe. Even Espresso is under cover. He'll be fine, and nobody could possibly search that field in this weather."

Several miles away, Wayne Irig started up from his armchair. The fire crackled in the living room fireplace, and there was an occasional hiss as melted snow dripped from above into the flames. The faint crash in his back yard had been muffled by the sounds of the blizzard, but something had fallen, that was certain. He made his way to the back window to peer out into the darkness, but nothing was visible through the blur of blowing snow.

Heaving a resigned sigh, he reached for his overcoat. He'd better be certain that the animals were safe. Other than that, whatever had happened could wait until the storm blew itself out.

It was for this reason that for a considerable time, he wouldn't discover what had been exposed when the big sycamore tree in the rear of his house crashed to the ground. Nearly concealed in the disturbed dirt beneath the waving roots of the uprooted tree and rapidly being covered with a layer of snow, a chunk of crystal glowed brightly green.

The End