Home III: Memories
Nan Smith deimos1@earthlink.net
Rated PG


This is the third of the Home series. In order to understand what is
happening, you need to read the two previous stories: Home, and Home
II: Beginnings. As always, the familiar settings and characters
don't belong to me, and I have no claim to them. The story, however,
and the new characters are mine.


Home III: Memories
By Nan Smith

"Well," Clark said, "the Mayflower's been on its way for nearly
fifteen hours now. It's going to be a long trip. I don't think I
could stand being cooped up in a ship--even one that big--for five

"I'm going to miss him," Lori said. The elevator doors in the lobby
of the Daily Planet opened, and she and Clark entered.

"I know," Clark said, "but this was what Brad wanted to do. It's the
realization of his dream. I'll miss him, too, you know. I like your
brother. I got to know him a lot better, this last three weeks. I
wish I'd met him a few years ago. I think we'd have been friends."
The doors slid shut and he added, "Newsroom."

Lori nodded. "Yes, and I'm happy for him too, but it will be years
before I see him again. Even Superman can't fly to Alpha Centauri."

"That's true. It won't be forever, though. And it's no worse than
what colonists from any country and the people they left behind faced
in the past." He laid a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. "At least
the ship is safe, and they can thank you mostly for that. Of course,
Gaia's Children will be expecting the end of the world any day."

"They already are," Lori said. She suppressed an unladylike snort.
"Did you see those guys with the signs that we passed in the park?
They were predicting Armageddon in five years when the ship gets

"I saw them," Clark admitted. "What's a little thing like having
almost the entire leadership of your organization in jail, charged
with terrorism, espionage, sabotage, attempted murder, kidnapping and
multiple federal crimes beside the incredible danger of a colony on
another planet?"

"Nothing, of course," Lori said. "What do you think they'll do when
it doesn't happen?"

"The same thing they did when we put a colony on the moon, and then
later on Mars," Clark said. "Nothing will change. There's the old
saying about a man convinced against his will."

"--'Is of the same opinion still'," Lori quoted ironically. "You're
right, of course. I said they were nuts."

"You were right," Clark said. The elevator doors opened on the
newsroom and they exited. "Wonder what we've got going today."

"I hope it's something interesting." Lori glanced, as she always
did, at the framed photograph of the first Clark Kent and his wife
Lois Lane in the row of photos on the wall beside the elevator.
Something about it inevitably drew her attention. It wasn't the
remarkable resemblance between the first Clark and the one beside
her; she'd gotten used to that. It was something else she couldn't
quite put her finger on, but it nibbled at her every time she saw the
picture, an annoying little feeling, as if she'd forgotten something

"Hi, Clark, hi Lori." Barry Marston, the business columnist greeted
them as they arrived in the Pit. "John said to tell you when you got
here that he wants to see you in his office right away."

"Thanks, Barry," Clark said. He raised his eyebrows at Lori. "I
wonder what's up?"

"Let's go see," Lori said. She caught the glare the copy boy turned
on her and gave him a sweet smile in return. "Fred isn't very happy
with us today."

"I'll bet he isn't," Clark said. "He's just lucky John didn't have
enough evidence to fire him."

"Well, at least the morgue is all nice and organized," Lori said
innocently. Clark turned a snort of laughter into a
not-very-convincing cough.


Their boss was leaning back in his chair, heels planted firmly on the
desk top, and arms folded behind his head when Clark and Lori entered
the editor's office.

"You wanted to see us, John?" Clark asked.

"I certainly did," John said. He sat up, casually dropping his feet
to the floor. "I wanted to give you an official pat on the back for
the Gaia/U&B expose, in the first place. We scooped every other news
service in the country with it. Circulation's increased a good ten
percent since the whole story appeared two days ago. I guess the
feds can work pretty fast when it's necessary, although after the
dirt you two dug up three weeks ago, they could hardly miss it." His
expression told them louder than words his real opinion of the
federal investigators. "Good work, both of you. How did everything
go yesterday?"

"Pretty well," Clark said. "Lori's whole family was at EPRAD in
Houston to see Commander Lyons and his family off in the last
shuttle. That's when we got that pre-launch interview. They let the
crew's families and guests into the viewing room a few hours later to
watch Mayflower break orbit, too. It was pretty impressive."

"I'll expect a sidebar on part of that from you, Lori," John said.
"Something on the perspective of the family of a colonist, if you
think you can manage it."

"I'm already working on it," Lori said. "I'll have it by this afternoon."

"Very good," John said. "I also wanted to let you know that you're
off probationary status. You've more than proven yourself as far as
I'm concerned. I must admit, I don't usually expect a scoop of this
magnitude from the office intern during her first month of full-time

"Well, Clark had a lot to do with it, too," Lori objected.

"But I couldn't have done it without your help, either," Clark pointed out.

"Exactly," John said. "It was a joint effort. You've proven that
the two of you perform well together, so I'm assigning you to work as
a team until further notice. Clark, I expect you to help Ms. Lyons
achieve her obvious potential as an investigative reporter. And
Lori, I expect *you* to try to learn how to avoid getting beaten up
in the performance of your duty, so to speak. Do you think you can
promise me that?"

Lori had to work to keep from giggling. "Yes, sir!"

"All right, that's all I had to say. Get on out of here, now.
Blake's Jewelers was robbed last night. We've got the bare bones of
the story, but I want all the facts for the afternoon edition."

"On our way, Boss," Clark said. "Let's go, Lori."


"Blake's?" Lori said as they exited the Daily Planet and boarded the
slidewalk that headed west. "Isn't Blake's one of the businesses
with a display at that charity thing next week?"

"The annual Metro Charity Art Show," Clark said. "And yeah, they're
going to display the Westhaven diamond collection, worth about twenty
or thirty million dollars."

"How do you know?" she asked.

"They brought it in a couple of days ago," Clark said. "The
insurance company requested that Superman stand by while it was
transferred to the store's vault."

"Oh," Lori said. "Well, maybe it wasn't the diamond collection that
was taken."

"I hope not," Clark said.

"How come you don't know?" she asked. "Weren't you out on patrol last night?"

"Yeah," he said, "but I don't cover the whole city, you know.
Besides, there was a cruise ship in trouble off Peru. I didn't get
back until after three."

"Oh," Lori said. "Was everyone okay? I mean--"

"Fortunately, yes," Clark said. "We change directions here."

They left the westbound slidewalk and boarded the southbound one.
Within ten minutes they had reached Blake's Jewelers.

The store was a small, elegant establishment in the business
district. Shatterproof glass and metal bars protected the display
windows, and within on a background of black velvet, was presented a
glittering and gleaming sample of the wares offered for sale inside.

Harrison Blake, the owner of Blake's Jewelers, was a tall,
distinguished man in his late fifties at a guess, with silver hair,
and an air of dignity and competence about him that was visible even
distressed as he was. When they introduced themselves, he signaled
to an elderly man who had been moving around behind one of the

"David, could you come here for a moment, please?" He turned back to
Clark and Lori. "David can tell you what happened far better than I
can," he explained. "He was the witness."

"Oh?" Clark glanced at Lori, then both turned their attention to the
small, thin, grey-haired man making his way toward them.

"Yes, Mr. Blake?" The little man paused respectfully beside his
boss, glancing at the two reporters with a tiny smile.

"This is David Merrick, my senior clerk," Blake said. "David, these
are Mr. Kent and Ms. Lyons from the Daily Planet. David can answer
all your questions about the robbery. I'm sure you understand that
we're all very upset about what happened."

"Of course," Lori said. "We'll try not to take up too much of your time."

He left them facing each other. David Merrick gave a small, tight smile.

"Mr. Kent, Ms. Lyons." He glanced around. "Perhaps you'd like to
come back to my office. We can all be more comfortable there."

Lori glanced at Clark. Her partner nodded infinitesimally, and
together they followed David Merrick into the back of the store. He
waved them toward a glassed-in cubicle that contained a small desk
and a pair of hard, wooden chairs.

"Please, sit down," he said. "I'll be glad to answer your questions.
Perhaps it will help capture these dreadful people and recover the

"Then it *was* the Westhaven diamonds that were taken?" Clark asked.

"I'm afraid so." The little man settled himself behind the desk and
clasped his hands on its surface. Clark and Lori took seats, and
Lori glanced alertly around the small, box-like room.

The senior clerk's office was neat and prim, much like the man,
himself. A computer, probably about a year old, occupied part of the
desk, and an in/out box held several printouts of some sort. There
was a container to one side, holding a pen and several pencils and
markers. An empty wastebasket sat neatly in one corner of the room,
and a briefcase was set precisely against the wall.

"What can you tell us about the robbery?" Clark asked. "Mr. Blake
said you were here?"

"Yes," Merrick said. His mouth tightened for an instant. "Do you
understand that this is very unpleasant for me? To have been
instrumental in this horrible business--"

"You can hardly be to blame," Lori said. "If you had been, you'd be in jail."

He fixed her with a reproving stare. His small eyes were a bright
blue, she noted irrelevantly. "Wait until you hear the story, young
woman." He leaned back in his chair and gripped his hands together.
"Last night we closed as usual at seven. We began summer hours at
the end of May, you know, so we're open an hour longer than our hours
for the rest of the year. I had several errands to run, so for the
next two hours I was occupied. About nine, I went to the Green
Gourmet, a favorite restaurant of mine, to eat, and an hour later,
when I emerged, two men held me up."

"Did you see their faces?" Clark asked.

"Oh yes, Mr. Kent, I saw their faces." The little man shuddered.
"Needless to say, I was frightened," he continued. "I offered them
all my valuables, but that wasn't what they wanted. They took me to
their groundcar and forced me into it. Once there, they explained
that they knew I was the senior clerk of Blake's Jewelers and that
they wanted me to open the store for them, disable the alarms and
open the safe." He looked indignant. "They were utterly brazen!"

"What did you do?" Lori asked.

"I refused, of course!" Merrick said. "I told them I didn't have the
alarm codes, but they said they had been watching me open the store
for the last three days, and knew better. The bigger man, whom the
other one called Sal, explained that if I didn't do as I was told, he
had many ways of persuading me." Merrick took a deep breath. "At
last, I acquiesced."

"It sounds like you did the right thing," Clark said, quietly.
"Jewelry is insured. Your life was more important."

"Perhaps, but I felt like a traitor, young man!" Slowly, Merrick
regained his composure, and continued.

"It was, by then, past ten-thirty. They waited until midnight, then
came here. They forced me to unlock the door and shut off the
security system, even the cameras, and open the safe. They knew that
a security patrol comes by here every ten minutes and appeared to
have it timed perfectly. Somehow they also knew I had the override
code for the time lock." Merrick seemed unaware of the fact that he
had begun to wring his hands. "They took the entire Westhaven
diamond collection--the necklace, the tiara, both bracelets, the
brooch and the ring, as well as the shipment of uncut diamonds we
received yesterday, worth another twenty million." The man closed
his eyes and lowered his face into his palms. "I could only think of
one thing to do. There is a trigger for an alarm in the back of the
store. I was terrified that they would kill me if I tried to reach
it, but I was equally afraid they would kill me once they had what
they wanted." He shuddered. "There really wasn't a choice. I
waited until they were occupied with scooping the jewels into their
bag and crept backward to the alarm." Merrick swallowed
convulsively. "I almost didn't make it. As I reached the alarm, the
second man, Jack, Sal had called him, noticed. He started to fire
his stunner. I knew--" His voice rose almost to a squeak. "I knew
if he succeeded that I'd never wake up. I lunged for the alarm and
hit it with my hand as he fired. The stunner beam grazed me, and I
fell, but I heard the alarm sound. They didn't take the time to
fulfill their threat. They ran, taking the jewelry with them, but I
was still alive. Within a few minutes, the security patrol had
arrived, but Sal and Jack were long gone." He shook his head. "I
feel so guilty that I wasn't able to prevent the robbery."

"You mustn't blame yourself, David." Harrison Blake was standing at
the entrance to the cubicle. "You did your very best, and you stayed
alive. That was the important thing. If you had died it would have
been a much greater loss than the diamonds."

Clark stood up. "I agree with Mr. Blake. Your life is far more
valuable than the jewels. You did the right thing."

Merrick nodded, but he still looked subdued.

"The diamonds were insured, of course," Harrison Blake said. "And
the police have the description of the two men. We have some hope of
recovering the collection." He sighed. "The Westhaven diamonds are
valued at thirty million, but the collection is worth so much more.
It will be a tragedy if it's lost."


As they stepped off the elevator in the newsroom of the Planet, Lori
glanced at the picture again, frowning. The nagging feeling of
having forgotten something important had returned full force, and it
was maddening because she had no idea what it could be.

"What's the matter?" Clark asked.


"You look irritated. What's the matter?"

Lori shrugged uneasily. "I don't know--nothing, really, I guess.
Have you ever had the feeling you've forgotten something really
important, but have absolutely no idea what?"

"Sure," Clark said. "I guess probably everybody has. Why?"

"It's been bugging me for a couple of weeks, now, and I haven't got
the slightest clue what it is."

"Oh." Clark grinned in sympathy. "Try not to think about it. It'll
probably come to you eventually."

"I hope so," Lori said. "So," she added, deliberately turning her
mind from the annoyance, "what do you want me to do?"

"Well, try to dig up some information on the Westhaven collection,
and a picture, if possible. We can use it for background, and to
illustrate the article. I'm going to try to get hold of my contact
at the 13th Precinct and see if she can send me a copy of the police


"So," Clark was saying to John Olsen a short time later, "the police
already have two suspects identified--Sal Vicente and John Thompkins.
I thought we could put their pictures with the article."

"That was fast," John said.

"Well, they fit the descriptions Merrick gave the police. The guy
must have a near-photographic memory, they were so accurate. And the
two of them have used this technique before."

John shook his head. "What a story. At least Merrick kept his head
and managed to survive it. It sounds like he was the real hero of
the night."

"It sure does," Clark said. "He was pretty upset about it, though.
He blames himself that they got away with the jewels."

"That sounds like someone else I know," John said. "Send me the
piece as soon as you're finished, and remind Lori that I need that
one of hers. We'll try to get it in the afternoon edition."

"Consider it done," Clark said. He glanced at his junior partner.
She was leaning forward to study something on her screen but, almost
at the same instant, she looked up to meet his eyes and smiled.

John was smiling slightly when he turned back. "I guess the old link
is working, huh?"

Clark felt himself turning red. "Yeah."

"When are you going to tell her the rest?"

"Later," Clark said. "Not too much later, but later."

"Okay. I guess you know what you're doing." John dropped the
subject. "Don't forget about the conference day after tomorrow.
Have you got your presentation ready?"

"Don't worry about it," Clark said.

"I have to," John said. "I'm the editor."


Finished with her research for the jewelry theft, Lori pulled up the
article she had begun the night before about the departure of the
Mayflower and the perspective of the relatives left behind. She was
nearly through with it. It was merely in need of some streamlining
and judicious editing before she sent it on to her boss. She glanced
at Clark, with the intention of requesting his input, and saw him
raise his head in the characteristic listening pose she had seen
before. Quickly, he rose and approached her desk to lean over her
shoulder, as if looking at her computer screen.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I just picked up a news bulletin. The bullet train from Paris to
New York is stalled under the Atlantic. I may be awhile."

"Okay. I'll cover for you if anyone asks," Lori said. "Go."

"Thanks." Clark smiled at her and strode quickly toward the exit.

Lori watched him disappear into the stairwell, and heard the
characteristic sonic boom a second later. She turned back to her
article and was soon engrossed in it. She was going to have to do
this without any help from Clark, so she wanted it to be as polished
as possible. She was working on the concluding paragraph, with which
she was not quite satisfied, when she became aware of a presence
behind her.

A glance over her shoulder revealed Fred, simply standing directly
behind her, rather obviously reading what she had written.

"Do you need something?" she asked pointedly, without much of an
effort to hide the irritation in her voice.

He shook his head, his eyes still focussed on the screen. With a
decisive motion, Lori minimized the article. "If there's nothing I
can do for you, do you mind going away?" she asked. "It's hard for
me to concentrate with you looking over my shoulder like that."

The copy boy's eyes narrowed slightly. "I guess you must feel pretty
good about that scoop you and Mr. Kent got," he said. "About the
Mayflower and all."

"As a matter of fact, I do," Lori said. "What's your point?"

"No point," Fred answered.

Lori studied him for several seconds. His body language was at
variance with the casual words; it was almost threatening. She
suppressed a crawling feeling on the back of her neck. She had been
aware, ever since the first part of the Gaia/U&B expose had appeared
three weeks ago, that her coworker was unhappy with the results of
the investigation she and Clark had conducted. As a member of the
Earth cult that had been deeply involved in the plot to destroy the
Mayflower, he probably believed that what she and Clark had done
would ultimately bring about the end of the world, she thought.
Well, it was unfortunate, but she wasn't at all sorry that things had
turned out the way they had.

"In that case," she said, "would you please go look over someone
else's shoulder? I've got an article to finish, and I don't have
Clark here to check it."

"Lori!" John's voice said from somewhere behind her, "I need that
piece in ten minutes!"

"I'll be done in five, sir," she said, quickly. She looked back at
Fred. "You heard the boss," she said. "Please go away, Fred."

Fred turned without a word and walked away. Lori firmly suppressed
the faint crawling feeling on her scalp and concentrated on the final
sentence. Done just under the wire, she transmitted it to John
Olsen's computer and leaned back in her chair to stretch her neck and
shoulders. Clark made it seem so easy, she reflected wistfully, but
it was a lot harder than it looked. Still, she thought she'd done
pretty well and with any luck, it would pass John's scrutiny, anyway.

A little over half an hour later, Clark returned as unobtrusively as
he had left. Lori had heard about Superman's rescue of the bullet
train during the previous minutes from the newscaster currently
speaking on the big monitor screen, so his return wasn't a surprise.
He gave her a thumbs-up gesture before sliding into his desk chair to
write up his exclusive Superman interview. Lori smiled and went to
get herself a cup of coffee, heavy on the chocolate.

It was just past four-thirty when the note from her boss popped up on
her screen, requesting her presence in his office. As she got to her
feet, she saw Clark also rising from his chair. Together, the two of
them headed into the editor's office for the second time that day.

John was frowning at the vidscreen when they entered.

"Is something wrong?" Clark asked.

"Nothing insurmountable," John grunted. "Clark, I'm afraid you're
going to have to deliver both addresses at the conference on
Saturday. There's been a minor change in plans."

"What plans?" Lori glanced at Clark, mystified.

"The International Conference of Investigative Journalists starts in
two days," John began without further preliminary. "Clark was one of
the representatives. Pat Harrelson was supposed to be the other.
Pat can't make it."

"Is Pat okay?" Lori asked, at once. Pat was a big, quiet man whom
she had met occasionally during her brief employment at the Planet.
She had talked with him a few times, and noticed the holocube of his
wife and three kids sitting on his desk. She certainly hoped nothing
serious had happened to him.

"More or less," John said. "At least, he will be. Pat called in
sick this morning--a touch of the flu, he thought. I just got a call
from his wife. He's at Metropolis General, in emergency surgery--an
acute appendicitis. He won't be going anywhere for a few days, so
we're short a representative. I've got his presentation here, Clark.
Do you think you can handle it?"

"Sure," Clark said.

"Good. And since Pat's not going to be going, unless you have an
objection, I'm going to send your partner with you. The ticket is
already paid for, and the experience will do her good."

"No problem," Clark said. "Unless you have something better to do
this weekend, Lori. I know this is kind of short notice."

Lori felt slightly breathless at the thought of attending the
prestigious conference, but she simply nodded. "I didn't have
anything important planned," she said. "This will be wonderful!"

John smiled at her enthusiasm. "Fine. You leave tomorrow afternoon.
That will put you in Alta Mesa by tomorrow evening. You'll have the
opportunity to socialize with the other delegates before the
conference actually starts."


"What an incredible opportunity," Lori was saying to Clark as they
exited John's office. "I'm sorry Pat got sick, but this is

Clark grinned. "I know what you mean," he said. "Pat's a nice guy,
and I hope he gets well quick, but I have to admit I prefer your
company to his." He turned his head as his vidphone chimed. "Oops.
I better get that. Excuse me."

Lori nodded, running over in her mind what little she knew about the
conference as she made her way back toward her desk.

She remembered Clark mentioning that it was being held in Alta Mesa
this year in honor of the tiny country's newly independent status,
and she had looked it up later out of curiosity. Alta Mesa was
*very* tiny, she had discovered, approximately the size of West
Virginia, and situated high in the Sierra Madre mountain range in
Central America. That was exciting in itself. Her only venture
outside the continental United States so far consisted of a single,
short trip to Baja California during the summer following her high
school graduation. True, she didn't speak much Spanish, but
fortunately Clark was fluent in a lot of languages, and Spanish was
one of them.

She was thinking so hard about the upcoming trip that she nearly
bumped into Fred who was standing squarely in the way. "Oops, sorry,
Fred." She moved sideways to avoid the copy boy, but he also moved
deliberately to block her passage. Lori stopped in her tracks,
staring at him.

"Excuse me," she said, after a startled moment.

Again, Fred moved to block her as she attempted to pass him. Lori
glanced quickly around, but no one appeared to have noticed the

"What do you want, Fred?" she asked, quietly.

The copy boy's expression was hostile. "You think you're pretty
smart, don't you, Ms. Hotshot?" he said in a low voice.

"What the devil are you talking about?" she asked, sharply. Andrea
Waltham, a few feet away, glanced curiously at them.

Fred's voice was barely audible, but the volume level couldn't
disguise the venom in his words. "You think you're better than the
rest of us, don't you?" he said. "Partnered with Kent, getting big
scoops, probably sleeping with him, too. Is that how you did it?"

Lori flushed bright red with anger and humiliation. Fred didn't like
her and resented her promotion, that much was obvious, but he wasn't
stupid enough to let someone else overhear what he had to say. He
might have guessed his assignment to reorganize the Planet's morgue
was somehow connected to her too, but that was no fault of hers,
quite the contrary, in fact. Outrage stiffened her knees and caused
her voice to ring more loudly through the newsroom than she'd

"Nothing I might or might not do is any of your business, Fred! Now,
let me past!"

There was a sudden silence in the newsroom as heads turned in their
direction. She caught a glimpse of Clark's surprised expression out
of the corner of her eye, but fixed her gaze squarely on Fred's
sullen face.

"Let me past," she repeated, "or I'll take this straight to Mr.
Olsen, Fred; don't think I won't."

Fred stared at her as if he couldn't believe what he'd heard, his
cheeks turning a dull red, and then he slowly stepped aside. Lori
swept past him without a sideways glance; not even pausing when her
heel descended squarely on his toe. She took her seat, conscious of
the silence and the watching eyes of everyone in the room, and
ordered her computer to bring up the history of the Westhaven
diamonds. The move was purely bravado, but no one else needed to
know that. She was trembling with anger and hurt pride from Fred's
unexpected verbal assault, but that, too, was something no one else
needed to know, though Clark, with his super senses, probably already

"Are you all right, Lori?" Clark's voice said softly in her ear. She
glanced up. He was leaning over her shoulder, looking concerned.

She drew a shaking breath. "I'm fine," she said. "The nerve of that
little twerp!"

The concerned look disappeared, and Clark chuckled, softly. "I think
Fred is jealous. That wasn't the smartest thing he could do." He
glanced around at all the interested faces. "Show's over for now,
everyone. As you were."

There was an immediate murmur as people quickly made a show of
attending to business. Clark turned back to Lori. "That was my
contact at the police department. The police upstate arrested Sal
Vicente and Jack Thompkins about half an hour ago. They've recovered
the diamonds, and the insurance company is sending a representative
to check them over. Come on."


"Upstate. If we hurry we can beat the insurance guy there." He
glanced at Fred, who now appeared to Lori to be a little worried.
"If you'd like I can have a word or two with Fred when we get back."

Lori shook her head. "If I need to I can handle him," she said.
"He's an idiot. Come on. We've got a job to do."


"What did your contact say?" Lori asked, as they ducked into the
stairwell. Clark's form shimmered briefly beside her, and an instant
later Superman scooped her into his arms. The walls of the stairwell
blurred momentarily around her as he shifted into high speed, and
then they were launching from the roof of the Planet.

Lori laid her head against his shoulder, enjoying the moment and
forgetting her question for the time being. She had finally admitted
the fact that she was attracted strongly to Clark, after he had let
her know beyond the possibility of a mistake that the feeling was
mutual. What he saw in her she wasn't sure, but it was obvious where
his interest lay.

During the short reunion of her family yesterday in Houston, Marcy
had made a determined effort to engage his attention, but though he
remained perfectly courteous, and as charming as he always was, Clark
had made it clear that he had no interest in Lori's sister. Later,
Marcy had said as much to Lori, in her own backhanded way. Sometimes
Lori thought that maybe Marcy might want what was best for her after

"I don't know how you did it," she'd remarked, when the two of them
had adjourned to the ladies' room for a few moments, "but hang onto
this one, sis. He's gorgeous, successful, and he's obviously crazy
about you. If you let Mom chase him away, you'll be the big loser."

Mariann Lyons had watched Clark suspiciously, Lori recalled with some
amusement, but he behaved like a professional, with enough propriety
when in her mother's presence that Mariann hadn't been able to find a
single, legitimate criticism to level at him, and not for lack of
trying. Even Marcy was impressed.

Lori rested her head against Clark's shoulder as they flew through
the afternoon sky toward the small town where Vicente and Thompkins
had been apprehended. Clark held her securely, and didn't seem to
object to the position. Once, he turned his head and she felt him
press the lightest of kisses into her hair. She had to admit it felt

They'd clarified their relationship somewhat while Lori had been
recovering from the minor concussion given her by Edwin Gossett,
three weeks ago. She'd awakened in the motel room from a nightmare
about being his captive to find Clark holding her, and when it became
obvious that she wasn't going to sleep again, at least for awhile,
they'd talked.

They had decided that before they leaped into anything closer, they
would get to know each other better as friends. Lori, always
cautious about close relationships with a man--even one as nice as
Clark--had been relieved by his willingness not to rush things. The
few dates she'd had up until now had always been marred by the guy
pushing for sex as a payment for taking her to dinner, a show or a
party. Lori just couldn't see how one merited the other, which was
why, at twenty-one, she was still--to Marcy's complete incredulity
when Lori had admitted it--a virgin. No one, her sister stated
flatly, was a virgin at twenty-one. No one!

Clark hadn't even brought the subject up, for which she was grateful.
Their first, tentative "official" date had been two weeks ago, and he
hadn't mentioned it, although she had half expected him to do so.
The complete lack of pressure almost made her feel giddy at times,
especially on those occasions when--like now--he made it clear that
he did indeed regard her as more than just a friend.

Below them, the open country was giving way to occasional small
houses that gradually grew denser, and became a small town.

"That's it," Clark said. He seemed to recollect that she'd asked him
a question some fifteen minutes earlier, for he added, as he brought
them down in the tree-shaded park, "Minnie just said that they'd
picked up the suspects and they had the diamonds on them."

"Let's hope this settles it then," Lori said, as he reluctantly put
her down. "It would be nice for once to have things turn out all
right without any complications."

"I hear you there." Clark spun back into his civvies. "Let's head
over to the police station and see if they'll give us a look at the

The police captain was willing to let them speak with the arresting
officers, but refused to allow them to see the recovered diamonds
without the consent of the insurance company's representative.
Fortunately, however, the man wasn't long in arriving. They occupied
the time by interviewing the arresting officers, an older police
veteran and her rookie partner. Young Officer Woods seemed perfectly
happy to relate the events to Lori while Clark spoke with his
partner, and they had barely completed the interviews when the
insurance company rep arrived.

The man, a tall, businesslike Asian, raised his eyebrows at the sight
of Clark. "I take it you're here about the Westhaven collection,
Clark?" he said, sounding resigned.

Clark grinned slightly. "I always said you were psychic, Ben. This
is my partner, Ms. Lyons. Lori, this is Benjamin Tang. He works for
Metropolis United Insurance, and has an office right down the street
from the Daily Planet."

"Pleased to meet you," Lori said.

Tang extended a hand. "I'm pleased to meet you, Ms. Lyons." He
glanced at Clark questioningly. "Didn't I read that you and Ms.
Lyons cracked the sabotage attempt on the colony ship?"

Clark nodded. "You did. I have to give Lori at least half the
credit for it, too."

"Nice work," Tang said. "Anyway, to business. I gather you'd like
to see the recovered property."

"If it's not too much to ask," Clark said.

"No problem." Tang went over to the desk sergeant to present his
credentials, and a few minutes later an armed officer escorted them
into a small room. A second police officer stood by as two more
brought in the missing diamonds.

From his pocket, Benjamin Tang produced a computer pad and keyed in
a code. Slowly and deliberately, he unlocked the case and set aside
the small bag of uncut diamonds. With great care, he removed the
pieces of the Westhaven collection, checking each against the pad: a
glittering tiara, a brilliant necklace, a brooch, one bracelet and
then another. Lori mentally reviewed each piece as it emerged and
compared it to the holos she had seen of the collection.

Then Tang stopped, frowning. Meticulously, he checked each zippered
inner pocket of the leather bag once more before looking up with a
grim expression. "Officer, was anything removed from this case
between the time of the arrest and the time it was brought into this

"No, sir," the young man said. "There's been at least two officers
present at all times whenever it was out of the safe."

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

"What's the matter?" Clark asked.

Lori spoke up. "The ring is missing, Clark. According to the
research I did, it's worth 2.7 million dollars."

Clark's dark eyebrows rose. "Two point seven million?" he said, incredulously.

"Yeah," Lori said. "It's beautiful. According to the history I read
it's made of gold and platinum and set with perfectly cut blue
diamonds all around the band. There's not another one like it in the

Clark whistled softly. Benjamin Tang was checking the leather bag of
uncut diamonds to ascertain that it didn't contain the missing ring.
He glanced up at the silent officers standing by the door.

"I need to speak to your captain," he said. "I want that car you
impounded gone over with a fine tooth comb, and I'll need to call my


Several hours later, the ring had not surfaced. Clark and Lori
finally left when it seemed as if no more could be done for the
present. They took off into the evening sky, lit faintly in the west
by the rapidly fading colors of sunset. Overhead, the stars had
begun to brighten, and to the east, a crescent moon was rising.
Beneath them, the small town was a patch of glittering lights
surrounded by the darkness of the open country. Here and there,
beyond the town, an isolated patch of light below marked a single
house in the surrounding countryside. Lori snuggled next to Clark's
warm body against the faint chill of the breeze in her face.

"Cold?" he asked.

"A little."

He drew her closer. "Is that better?"

"Mm." She nodded.

They flew in silence for several minutes. Finally, Lori said, "What
happens now, Clark?"

"Now we file our story, such as it is," Clark said. "And the
insurance company and the police start their investigation."

"That's all?" Lori asked.

There was a grin in his voice. "No, of course not. I called Blake's
awhile ago to try to talk to Mr. Merrick again, but they were
closing. Merrick agreed to meet with us tomorrow morning at eight,
at the Green Gourmet."

"Oh," Lori said. "That's a good idea." She slipped her arms around
his neck. "Clark, is it possible they did something with the ring
before they were caught? It's small and easily concealed."

"Anything's possible," Clark said. "When we get back from the
conference, if nothing's surfaced in the meantime, I'd like to look
into it."

"So would I," Lori said. She lifted a hand to run her fingers across
his jaw, feeling the faint rasp of bristles. His body tensed
slightly as she did so. "I'm glad I'm going with you to the
conference, Clark."

"So am I," he said. The grin had disappeared from his voice. "I
can't think of anyone I'd prefer to be with."

Again, they flew on in silence. Far ahead on the horizon, Lori could
see the glow of lights that marked the city of Metropolis.

"Are we going to the Planet?" she asked, finally.

"No. I'll file the story from my apartment. I thought you might
like dinner at my place tonight."

"That would be nice," she said. "Do you mind stopping at my flat so
I can change into something else? I don't have many business suits."

"No problem." She could see the flash of his teeth in the darkness.
"As soon as we get to my place it's jeans and a T-shirt for me, too."

That, of course, was also something to look forward to. She touched
his cheek again, a little timidly. "Clark?"

"Yes, Lori?" He seemed to sense her mood. "Is something bothering you?"

"Fred all but accused me of sleeping with you to get my promotion,"
she said. "I don't really care about that, but it's something you
never brought up, and I kind of expected you to. I mean--" She
fumbled a little with the sentence, unsure of how she should phrase
it. "I mean, don't guys expect--um--"

"Lori, it's okay," he said. "I'd never ask for anything from you
that you don't feel right about giving."

That almost took her breath away, in spite of his behavior on their
first date. He'd implied on the night he'd saved her from Edwin
Gossett that he might be in love with her, but he hadn't pursued it
since, letting her set the pace of their relationship. Clark was
something pretty special, all right. "I wondered," she said, slowly.
"Other guys I've dated always wanted--well, you know what they
wanted." She could feel herself blushing. "It isn't something I'm
ready for--yet, anyway. Thanks for being so understanding about it."

"Any time," he said, and there was a smile in his voice. "I care for
*you*, Lori. Pushing you into something you feel is wrong wouldn't
say much about me, would it?"

Wow! And this was the guy her mom wanted her to discourage? Not for
the first time, it occurred to her that Mariann Lyons' view of men
and marriage might be inaccurate, to say the least. "I care about
you, too, Clark. More than just as a friend."

He turned his head, and she had the feeling that he was looking at
her intently in the darkness, but he merely said, "I'm glad."


Clark unlocked the door to his apartment and let Lori precede him
into the room. He always did that, Lori thought. It was something
she had noted about him early in their acquaintance. He held doors
for her, helped her with her coat and pulled out chairs for her with
unusual courtesy, but he'd never once treated her as if she was
incapable of taking care of herself.

"There's soda in the fridge," Clark said, opening his bedroom door.
"Back in a minute."

She started toward the kitchen, pausing for a moment at the bookshelf
where the fertility statue sat. Something about the odd little
statue caught her attention as it always did, with a twinge of déjà vu.
She shook her head a little before going on into the kitchen.
That sort of thing was happening to her a lot lately. If she hadn't
had a great deal of faith in her sanity, she'd have begun to wonder
about it.

When she returned, Clark was already sitting at his computer and
working on their report about the capture of the jewel thieves, the
retrieval of most of the Westhaven collection, and the concern over
the missing ring. When he had finished, he glanced at her. "Want to
check this and see if I've left anything out?"

"Sure." She slid into the chair he vacated and read the article over
with close attention to detail. "It looks okay to me," she said when
she had finished. "Your writing is always so vivid, it's almost like
being there. How do you do it?"

"Practice," he said. "You're already picking it up."

"I've tried to imitate you," she explained. "You make it look so
easy, though."

"It will be for you too, before long," he assured her. "Your writing
wasn't bad to begin with--just in need of a little polish."

"Well, this is fine," she said. "Shall I send it?"

"Go ahead." He ambled over to the wine rack and stood studying the
labels for a moment, before selecting one. "I'll get dinner started.
Would you like stir fry or steak?"


It was just past eleven when he took Lori home.

The day had been a busy one, but Clark wasn't anxious for it to end.
The things Lori had told him during their flight back to Metropolis
were still fresh in his mind, and left more uncertainty in their wake.

They walked slowly through the darkened streets, her hand in his.
Lori's little flat was only a few blocks from his own apartment and
parts of the neighborhood weren't of the best, but Lori had suggested
they walk. Clark harbored the hope that it was because she didn't
want the evening to end, either. She'd said she thought of him as
more than a friend, and that she enjoyed being in his company. That
was a hopeful sign. The fact that she had practically admitted to
being a virgin was almost a little scary, although he wasn't entirely
surprised. It did, however, tell him that his instinct had been
right when he'd made the decision to follow her lead in the
advancement of their relationship, but it also told him that he was
going to have to tell her the rest of the truth about himself, and
soon. He couldn't let her invest too much in this until she knew

The dilapidated old apartment house where Lori lived loomed ahead.
She looked up at him in the darkness.

"What's wrong, Clark?"


"You're awfully quiet."

"Oh. I'm just thinking. We need to take time to talk sometime soon.
I want to tell you some things about me that you should know."

She squeezed his hand gently. "You're actually a criminal on the lam, right?"

He chuckled. "No, I'm afraid not."

"You're dying of an incurable disease?"

"No. There isn't much that can hurt me."

"You've got three wives in three different countries?"

He broke out laughing. "Lori, you're outrageous! No, I've only been
married once."

"Well, what else could be so earth-shattering, then?"

"You have no idea," he said.

She squeezed his hand again. "Well, I'm not too worried, since I
know you and the kind of guy you are. You'd have to be a serial
killer or something for me to change my mind."

"It's the 'or something' I'm worried about."

"Well, maybe we can talk tomorrow if we have the chance--or maybe at
the conference we'll have a little time for ourselves."

"Yeah," Clark said. "We can go somewhere in the mountains where you
can scream at me without witnesses."

She nodded. "Good idea. If I'm going to yell at you, I don't want

"You're not taking this very seriously."

"I just don't see what could be so awful," she said. "I guess I'm
finding it a little hard to take seriously."

"How much wine did you drink?" he asked.

"Two glasses, but it was with food."

"Okay, I guess that's not it," Clark said.

She whacked him with her free hand, then shook it. "Ouch!"

"Hitting Superman isn't a good idea," Clark said.

"Yeah, I noticed," she said, but she didn't sound upset.

He opened the door to her apartment building and since the place
seemed deserted, whisked her up the stairs rather than taking the
time to wait for the creaky elevator. Within a minute, they were at
her door.

"I'll see you in the morning," Clark said. "Superman has to tee off
at a charity golf event at seven-thirty, so I'll meet you at the
Green Gourmet as soon as I can get there, okay?"

"Okay," Lori said. "If Mr. Merrick arrives before you do, I'll tell
him you were unavoidably delayed."

"Thanks." He lifted her hand and kissed the knuckles lightly. "Good
night, then."



She didn't let go of his hand. "We had our first date two weeks ago.
Don't you think it's about time you kissed me good night? You can
carry this chivalry thing too far, you know."

"I didn't want to pressure you."

She made a little face. "Just shut up and kiss me, Mr. Kent."

He smiled a little. "As you wish, Ms. Lyons."


Lori looked up at Clark's handsome face, waiting. He was certainly
the best friend she'd ever had, and maybe more. Since the flight
back to Metropolis when he'd put into words the fact that what she
wanted was more important to him than what he wanted, she'd felt this
way. He'd taken away even the imaginary pressure that she'd imposed
on herself, and she was suddenly ready to be a little bolder. She
probably was falling in love with him, a sneaky little part of her
brain acknowledged. She just wasn't ready to say it out loud
yet--not until he told her whatever he was afraid she'd be mad about.
The seeds of doubt sown by Mariann Lyons couldn't be brushed away so
easily. But...

Clark's arms slid around her and she lifted her face. Very gently,
his lips came down onto hers.

Lori closed her eyes. She'd been kissed by guys before--a few high
school kisses, one or two in college. Her heavy academic schedule
hadn't left much time for a social life, and the kisses had always
been marred by the apprehension that inevitably went with them--was
he going to want more? And what should she do if that happened? But
this time--

Her mind ground to a halt and all she was aware of was the feeling of
his arms around her and his lips covering hers. And most of all, the
incredible feeling of rightness, that this was where she belonged.

Several eternities later, he released her. Lori came slowly out of her trance.

"Wow," she breathed.

He was looking a little shaken. "Yeah," he agreed. "Wow."


The Green Gourmet was a small, cubbyhole of a restaurant in a row of
older buildings in the business section of Metropolis, barely two
blocks from Blake's Jewelers. It was tucked between a dance studio
on one side and a high fashion boutique on the other.

Lori entered the little establishment glancing around for any sign of
Clark or David Merrick. She didn't really expect to see either of
them, yet. It was only quarter to eight; she had made a point of
getting there early to be sure she was available to sub for Clark on
the chance that he might be late.

A hostess appeared within moments, a young woman dressed in green,
wearing a pair of earrings that might be jade as well as a ring that
bore a large, pale green stone. "Table for one?" she inquired,
reaching for a menu.

"Um, no," Lori said. "I'm supposed to meet a Mr. Merrick and a Mr.
Kent here at eight."

"Oh, yes, of course," the hostess said. "Neither of them has arrived
yet. Would you like to wait here where you can see them when they
come in? Or, if you like, I can seat you at the table Mr. Kent

"I'd like that," Lori said.

"Fine. This way, please." The woman picked up the menu, and led the
way into another room. She indicated a corner table. "Will this be
all right?"


The room they had entered was about half full of customers, even this
early in the morning, and Lori could smell the delectable scents
emanating from the kitchen. She slid into a chair and dropped her
bag to the floor beside her.

"Would you like a cup of coffee while you wait?" the hostess asked.

"Yes, thank you," Lori said.

"It'll be just a minute." The woman walked briskly away.

Lori leaned back in her chair, looking around the room.

The place had an unusual décor, attractive in its own way; she had to
give it that. The walls were painted a light green and the floor was
covered with a carpet of the same color, four or five shades darker.
Here and there about the room sat pots containing growing plants,
and, hanging from the ceiling on ropes made to look like green vines,
were containers of bright green ivy. Even the chair cushions were
green, and so were the outfits worn by the employees.

She relaxed back in her chair, and for a moment let her mind drift
back to the night before. That kiss had been like no other she had
ever received. It had been sweet and gentle and passionate, and left
her with such a feeling of belonging that she had been literally
shaken. And the thing that hadn't struck her as strange until later
was the sensation of familiarity, as if sometime Clark had kissed her
before. He hadn't, of course. She would certainly have remembered.

They had said good night then, and after she entered her little flat
she'd watched him turn and walk back down the hall. And last night
she'd dreamed of that kiss over and over, reliving again and again
the sense that somehow she belonged with Clark, and he with her.

"Miss?" A waitress was standing beside her, holding a coffeepot, and
Lori blinked, rousing herself from the very pleasant daydream.

"Oh, hi."

"I guess you were somewhere else," the waitress said. She wore
green, too, Lori noted, and her white nametag, edged with green,
identified her, in dark, green letters, as Sandy.

"Yeah, I was," Lori admitted. "I guess I better get my act together, huh?"

"Oh, I don't know. You looked like whatever you were thinking about
was pretty nice."

"It was," Lori said.

Sandy grinned. "Marie said you're waiting for someone. Would you
like some coffee?"

"Sure," Lori said.

The woman set a cup and saucer in front of her and poured a stream of
coffee into it. The bracelet on her wrist caught the light, flashing
bright green. It was a continuous band of what appeared to be some
sort of green crystal, and in the illumination from the overhead
lights it almost seemed to glow.

"What a pretty bracelet," Lori remarked. "I've never seen anything like it."

"Oh, thanks." Sandy held out her arm for Lori to examine the piece
of jewelry. "My husband made it for me."

"Really?" Lori ran a finger over the ornament's surface. It was
cold and slick, and the green tinge turned her fingers pale green.
Something almost like a chill lifted the hairs on the back of her
neck, and she pulled back her hand. That was no reflection--the
crystal was actually glowing.

"Yeah," Sandy said, oblivious to Lori's reaction. "He makes natural
jewelry. He made this out of a piece of crystal--some kind of
phosphorescent quartz, he thinks. The management encourages us to
wear green accessories, so when Andy gave it to me for our first
anniversary I couldn't resist wearing it."

"Where did he get it?" Lori asked.

"Oh, a friend of a friend of Andy's found it in some farmer's field out west,
years ago. Isn't it amazing what weird places you can find real treasures like

"Yeah, it is." The longer she looked at the bracelet, the less
attracted she was to it. Now the pale, green glow seemed almost
sinister. She couldn't explain it to herself, but the thing made her
skin crawl. She clenched her hands in her lap and forced a smile.
"Well, it's certainly unique. Thank you for letting me look at it."

"No problem. Andy runs 'Andy's Creative Designs' down in Old Town.
They sell all kinds of natural jewelry there."

"Maybe I'll drop by," Lori said. A movement at the corner of her
vision attracted her attention, and she turned her head. "There's
Mr. Merrick. He's one of the people I'm supposed to meet. Maybe
he'd like some coffee, too."

"I'll bring a coffee cup," Sandy said.

The hostess escorted David Merrick to the table. Lori got to her
feet. "Hello, Mr. Merrick."

"Ms. Lyons? I understood your partner, Mr. Kent would be here."

"Mr. Kent called to tell me he'd been delayed, but he'd be here as
quickly as he could," Lori said. "Won't you sit down and have some
coffee while you wait?"

"Thank you." Merrick took the place across from her and waited while
Sandy poured coffee for him. "Thank you, Miss."

"Just signal me when you're ready to order," Sandy said.

"Thanks, Sandy," Lori said. She turned to Merrick, who was
meticulously measuring half a teaspoon of sugar into his coffee.
"I'm sure you know about the recovery of the Westhaven collection?"

Merrick nodded. "Metropolis United contacted us at once, several
hours before Mr. Kent's call. Mr. Tang has already spoken to me
about the missing ring. I must say, I'm relieved about the recovered
jewelry, but I'm very distressed about the ring."

"Mr. Merrick, did you actually see the thieves take it?" Lori asked.
"Is it possible it wasn't there when you opened the safe?"

Merrick sighed. "I know it was there when I opened the safe, because
I saw it, and it was gone after they fled, but part of the
time--while I was attempting to reach the alarm--their bodies were
between me and the safe. I have no idea what they did with it."

"No, I can understand that," Lori said. She shifted in her chair.
One foot struck her shoulder bag and upset it. She reached down to
set it upright once more. "Sorry."

Merrick took a cautious sip of his coffee. "Of course, Mr. Tang must
investigate all the possibilities," he said, calmly. "I completely
understand his mandate on the matter. Still, it's ironic that I
should fall under suspicion, after what occurred."

"I'm sure it's just a formality," Lori said, carefully. The scrutiny
of the man's small, blue eyes, fixed unwaveringly on her made her
slightly uncomfortable.

"Of course it is," Merrick said, a little testily, "but naturally I
worry about what may be happening to the ring while they're wasting
their time with me."

"It's such a beautiful ring," Lori said. "I saw a picture of it in a
history I read online."

"The photos don't do it justice, Ms. Lyons," Merrick said sincerely.
"If the wrong person finds it, it could be broken up into its
component parts and thereby lose half its value."

"That would be awful!" Lori said.

"Yes, it would." Merrick took another sip of coffee. "Ah, Mr. Kent
seems to have arrived."

Lori glanced around to see Clark crossing the room toward them.

"I see everything went all right," she said.

"Yeah. Sorry to be late, Mr. Merrick," he said. "Something
unavoidable came up."

Merrick nodded. "Perfectly all right, Mr. Kent."

"So," Clark said, "what's the insurance company have to say?"

"They're attempting to trace the path the thieves took after they
left the store," Merrick said. "And, of course, they're
investigating the remote chance that it could have been taken by
someone else at the store."

"Well, that's to be expected."

"Of course," Merrick said. "By someone else, of course, they mean
Mr. Blake or myself. We are the only two persons who have the
combination to the safe and the code to override the time lock. I
assure you, however, that I've been an employee of Mr. Blake's for
thirty years! I'm due to retire within a few months. I wouldn't
jeopardize my retirement with such a crime, even if I were of the
bent to do so. And I have complete faith in Mr. Blake's honesty."

"We understand," Clark said. "It's normal to be upset, but if you're
innocent, I don't think you need to worry. It's just company
policy." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and shook his head

"Are you all right, Mr. Kent?" Merrick said. "You look ill."

Lori looked at Clark in alarm. He had gone white, and sweat had
broken out on his forehead.

"I...need some fresh air," Clark said. He started to rise from his seat.

"Is everyone ready to order?" Sandy appeared at Lori's elbow, a
smile plastered on her face.

To Lori's horror, Clark staggered a couple of steps from the table,
gave a faint groan, and collapsed to the floor.

Lori leaped from her chair to rush to his side, only vaguely aware of
other people hurrying to crowd around him. This couldn't be
happening! she told herself. Nothing could hurt Superman! But there
was Clark, face down on the floor, slipping into unconsciousness even
as she and Sandy rolled him over.

"Someone call the paramedics!" Sandy said.

Paramedics? Lori didn't know what to do, but she had to do
something. She couldn't allow a doctor to examine Clark, or the fact
that he was one of the supermen would be discovered.

In the face of emergency, inspiration struck. Rhonda! Rhonda Klein,
Ultra Woman, whom she had met three weeks ago, was also the super
family's physician, Clark had told her.

Someone was trying to open Clark's collar. She couldn't allow that, either.

"Don't touch him!" she ordered, brushing the helping hands away.
"I'm calling his doctor! Please, everyone, stand back!" Lori
desperately punched the relay code for Rhonda's private number into
her wrist talker.

Barely ten seconds passed before the woman's voice answered. "Rhonda Klein."

"Rhonda, it's Lori! Clark's collapsed!"

"What? Where are you?"

"In a restaurant in Metropolis called 'The Green Gourmet'."

"Are there other people around you?"

"A whole crowd."

"What happened?"

Lori described the events leading up to the situation, and Rhonda's
voice dropped so she had to hold the little communication device up
to her ear in order to hear. "Try to get everyone to move back as
far as possible, whichever way you can. I'll be there as fast as I
can get there."

Lori looked up at the curious faces around her. "Could everyone move
back, please? Give him some air."

Reluctantly, people shifted about, but did not retreat. Lori felt a
flash of anger. Clark's welfare was more important than the wish of
onlookers to satisfy their curiosity. "Everyone, please! Just move
back! I appreciate that you want to help, but his doctor is on the
way! Please, go back to your tables!"

Slowly, the crowd began to break up. Sandy said, "Is there anything I can do?"

Lori shook her head. "I don't think so. Just get everybody away
from him, could you?"

"Sure." Sandy got to her feet and began to politely, but firmly
chivvy the restaurant's patrons back to their tables.

Clark groaned softly and opened his eyes. For a moment, he looked
blankly up at her. "What...?"

"Oh, Clark!" Lori heard the break in her voice and forced it under
control. "Lie still. Rhonda's on her way."

"Got to...get out of here," Clark murmured.

There was a whoosh outside and an instant later Rhonda Klein stood in
the doorway, impressive in the costume of Ultra Woman.

"Is there a problem?" she asked, in a clear, carrying voice.

"My partner's collapsed," Lori called. "I need some help."

Clark was feebly trying to push himself upright.

Rhonda glanced quickly around the room as if checking for something,
although Lori couldn't imagine what it might be, then strode quickly
to Clark.

"I'll meet you at Clark's" she whispered to Lori. Quickly, she
scooped Clark up in her arms and was gone.

Lori sat back on her heels and blew out her breath. Slowly, she got
to her feet, trying to ignore the stares of the other diners.

David Merrick was standing behind her when she turned, holding her
bag. He handed it to her.

"I certainly hope Mr. Kent will be all right," he said, "But I need
to get to work. Mr. Blake will be expecting me."

"I understand." Lori took a breath. She was in a hurry to leave,
too, but she still had a job to finish. "Would it be all right to
contact you in a few days to see how things are going?"

"Of course," Merrick said. "If you like I can call you, myself.
That's the Daily Planet, correct?"

"Yes," Lori said. "That would be fine." She was anxious to get to
Clark's apartment and find out how her partner was. Something
definitely out of the way had happened, and she wouldn't be easy
until she knew what it was.

David Merrick departed. Lori glanced around for Sandy. The waitress
was pouring coffee for another patron across the room, but when she
saw Lori looking around, she hurried over to her.

"Is your friend going to be all right?" she asked.

"I...I think so," Lori said. "He wasn't feeling well, yesterday. It
might be that virus that's going around." There was always a virus
going around, she reflected. "Could I have the bill? I'd like to
get to the hospital and see how he's doing."

"Oh, honey, it's on the house," Sandy assured her. "It was only a
couple of coffees. Go on and make sure he's okay."

"Thanks. Here." Lori tucked a credit token into the other woman's
hand. "Thanks a lot for your help."

Sandy slipped the token into the pocket of her skirt. As she did so,
the strange, green bracelet caught Lori's eye. Was it possible? No,
that didn't make sense. How could a bracelet hurt Superman?

"Don't mention it," Sandy said. "Come back some other time, okay?"


"Come on in, Lori." Rhonda opened the door to Clark's apartment.

Lori slipped quickly inside. "Is Clark all right?"

"He will be." The superwoman closed the door behind her. "He's
already feeling better."

Clark was sitting on his sofa, looking pale and drawn, but much
improved over the last time she had seen him, twenty minutes ago.

Lori hurried to him. "Clark, what happened? I was so scared!"

He reached out and took her hands. His own felt abnormally warm.
"I'm sorry, Lori. It wasn't intentional."

She put a hand on his forehead. "You're burning up! Clark...!"

"I know, but I'll be all right, thanks to you. Your quick thinking
may have saved my life. You certainly saved my secret."

"But, what happened?"

He looked past her at Rhonda Klein. "I think we need to explain
about Kryptonite."

"What's Kryptonite?" Lori asked.

Rhonda moved forward to seat herself on the sofa beside Clark.
"Lori, Kryptonite hasn't been seen in almost a century, but it's the
only substance we know of that can actually hurt one of us."

"What is it?" Lori asked.

"Well, we think it's part of Krypton. That's where the name comes
from," the tall superwoman explained. "We believe that when it
exploded, some pieces of the planet were caught in the field of the
ship that brought Superman to Earth and were dragged along. They

turned up after he grew to adulthood, but it was thought that all of
them had been found and destroyed. We may have been wrong. Clark's
reaction was typical of Kryptonite exposure."

"You didn't react, though," Lori said.

"I checked before I came into the room," Rhonda said,
matter-of-factly. "By the time I got there it wasn't nearby, and
Clark was beginning to recover. I think I felt it, very slightly,
which was why I got out of there as fast as I could. Tell me, did
you see a green crystal anywhere around about the time Clark

Lori stiffened at the description. "Does it glow?" she asked,
already knowing the answer.

Clark nodded. "It has a green glow," he affirmed. "You *did* see something?"

Lori nodded. "I think so. Sandy, the waitress, was wearing a
bracelet. She said her husband made it out of some kind of green,
phosphorescent quartz. She'd just come over to take our orders when
Clark collapsed."

Rhonda and Clark looked at each other. "You asked her about it?"
Clark asked, looking at her oddly.

"Yeah, I noticed it. It was pretty, but for some reason it gave me
the creeps." Lori sank down on Clark's other side. He put an arm
around her.

Rhonda was frowning. "It gave you 'the creeps'?" she repeated. "Why?"

Lori shrugged. "I have no idea. It just did."

Lori saw Clark and Rhonda exchange another glance. "What?" she asked.

"Nothing," Rhonda said. "Clark, I'd say we better let the others
know about it--and to stay away from the Green Gourmet in the near

"That's only a stopgap measure, though," Clark said. "We have to
figure out some way to get hold of that bracelet--without letting on
why we want it. Kryptonite has almost been forgotten. The last
thing we need is for people to find out about it again."

"Or connect it with you," Lori said. "We'll think of something.
Clark, what about the conference? Are you going to be well enough to

"I think so," he said. "Fortunately we're flying by shuttle, though.
I couldn't get us there, right now."

"Why not?"

"I don't have any super powers," Clark said.

"What are you talking about?" Lori stared at him in shock. "What's
the matter?"

"A heavy exposure to Kryptonite can knock out our super powers for a
while," Rhonda explained. "It isn't permanent, but for the next
couple of days or so, Clark will be the same as any other man. No
flying, no catching crashing aircars." She winked at Lori. "I'm
counting on you to keep him out of trouble."

The chime of the vidphone punctuated the sentence. Lori glanced at
the I.D. displayed on the screen. "The Planet's calling."

"I better go," Rhonda said. "I'll spread the word about the
bracelet. Call me if you start feeling worse, Clark."

"I will," Clark assured her. Rhonda rose to her feet and was suddenly gone.

Lori blinked. "I never get used to that."

The vidphone chimed again. Clark glanced at it. "Screen block on,"
he said. "Yes?"

"Mr. Kent?" It was Fred's voice.

"Yes, Fred?"

"Mr. Olsen wanted to know if you and Ms. Lyons were coming in today."

"We just finished meeting a source," Clark said. "Ms. Lyons and I
will be in soon. We have a few things to get done before we leave
for the conference."

"Okay, sir," Fred's voice said. "I'll tell him."

"And Fred," Clark said easily. "I'd like to have a short word with
you, later."

A note of apprehension crept into Fred's voice. "About what?"

"We'll talk about it when I get there," Clark said. "Goodbye."

Lori couldn't help smiling. "I thought I told you I could handle Fred."

"What makes you think I'm going to say anything to Fred about that?"
Clark said, looking innocent. "He cast aspersions on *my* character,
too, you know."


"When he accused me of taking advantage of you."

"Huh...oh, yeah, I guess he did." Lori noticed that he hadn't
removed his arm from around her shoulders. "Somehow, it never
occurred to me that a guy would care about that."

"Well, that depends on the guy," Clark said. "I don't like his
insinuation. Besides, it'll do Fred good to worry a bit. We may not
be able to pin any of the things we know he did on him, but that
doesn't mean we have to take any of the garbage he's handing out,
either. It's not your fault he got himself in trouble, and it's not
your fault that you're a much better journalist than he'll ever be."

"I guess not," Lori said. She felt his cheek again. "Are you sure
you're feeling well enough to go in, Clark? You're still too warm."

"Yeah, I'll be all right. My body temperature is a little higher
than a human's anyway, so it's not as bad as it seems."

"Maybe, but not this high." She hadn't removed her fingers from his
cheek. "Clark, I was really scared. I don't know what I'd do if
something happened to you. I think--" She paused and took a deep
breath. It was still just a little too frightening to say. "I don't
want to lose you," she substituted.

Clark removed her hand from his cheek and kissed the back of it. "I
never want to lose you, either, Lori." He sighed. "I was hoping to
have some time to talk to you before we went in, but I guess it'll
have to wait."

"You can't do it now?"

He smiled briefly. "I have the feeling I need to set aside a
good-sized chunk of time for it. Especially for the groveling part."

"I don't want you to grovel!"

"Well, maybe not now, but you never know." He brushed back the dark
hair from her face with gentle fingers "Maybe it won't matter. I
hope not, but I don't want to take the chance." His face was
completely sober. "If you decide you can't handle what I have to
tell you...then I'll have to live with it. But..."

Lori stared at him, finally understanding what he meant. Clark was
afraid! It was that profound and that simple. *Superman* was afraid
of losing her--her, Lori Lyons, a moderately attractive, perfectly
ordinary woman, without anything special to recommend her--when he
could probably have any woman he wanted just by lifting a finger!
Was it possible that she meant *that* much to him?

"In that case, maybe you shouldn't tell me," she said. "Is it really
that important that I have to know it, or could I live without

"You could," Clark said. "But you deserve to know the truth. It
wouldn't be fair not to tell you."

"Then we'll set aside some time after we get to Alta Mesa," Lori
said. "We'll go somewhere that we won't be interrupted and we'll
talk, and work the whole thing out. Deal?"

He smiled. "Deal. Now, let's head for the Planet and finish up our
business. We have a shuttle to catch in a few hours."


Fred was nowhere to be seen when they arrived at the Planet.

Clark headed for his desk, regretting sincerely his inability to use
his super powers to locate the copy boy. If he was any judge, Fred
wasn't going to drop his harassment of Lori just because her partner
didn't like it. Not that Lori couldn't handle the man on her own.
He was certain she could, to be truthful. His soulmate could be
tough when necessary, and Clark suspected that if Fred went too far,
he wouldn't know what hit him. It simply went against his instincts
to stand back and let a bully get away with that kind of obnoxious
behavior toward the woman Clark loved.

Because he did. That kiss last night had shaken him more than he
expected. The same sense of belonging he'd known with Lois was there
full force with Lori, and reinforced what he already knew--without
her he would be only existing, because it was she who made his life
truly worth living. The possibility that she might reject him after
she learned the truth was terrifying, but he would respect her
wishes, whatever she decided. He simply prayed to whatever, or
Whoever, might be watching over the universe--and him--that she

"What the devil did you say to Fred when he called you?" John asked.
His editor's voice behind him startled Clark, because he hadn't heard
him approach. "He took off out of here like a scared rabbit right
after he talked to you. Said something about taking one of his sick

Clark suppressed a smile. "I only told him I wanted to have a word
with him when I got in," he said, innocently.

"I see," John said. "So why did he have a guilty conscience?"

"You'll have to ask Lori about that," Clark said. "I only caught the
tail end of it."

"Uh huh," John said. "I think I can add up two and two." He looked
grim. "I think I'm going to have a word with Lori--and with Fred. I
won't tolerate harassment in this office."

"Good idea," Clark said.

"On another front," John said, "how are you feeling?"

"Oh," Clark said. "Rhonda got hold of you, huh?"

"Yeah. You're sure it really was...it?"

"I'm sure. Lori saw it, and even though she didn't know what had
happened, she got me out of the situation. I'll be fine."

"Thank God for that," John said. "I had my doubts about her in the
beginning, but not any more. She's one in a million, Clark. You're
lucky to have found her."

"I know." Clark bit his lip. "I only hope she'll have me."

John smiled. "I think she's going to surprise you. Have a little faith."

"I hope you're right."

"You're going to tell her?"

"Yeah. As soon as we get a breathing space. Maybe we'll have time
at the conference."

"Good idea. I'll work on the bracelet matter while you're gone.
I've already made a few inquiries. The waitress's name is Sandy
Timmons. Her husband runs 'Andy's Creative Designs' down in Old

"John, be careful. It's perfectly possible that the stuff could
affect you, too."

"I know. Give me some credit, will you?" His great grandson
grinned. "I've got several resources at my disposal. Trust me." He
glanced at Lori, who was busy reading something on her computer
screen. "Excuse me. I have a few questions to ask your partner."


Some time later, Lori finished straightening her desk and shut down
her computer. A glance at the chronometer on her wrist talker
informed her that they had two and a half hours before their shuttle
was due to leave. The Metropolis to Buenos Aires shuttle had a stop
in Santa Lupita, Guatemala, and from there, they would take the
smaller, local shuttle to Alta Mesa. Clark had told her that they
would arrive at the hotel in time to get settled before dinner,
although the actual conference didn't begin until tomorrow. It would
give them a chance to socialize, and he could introduce her to some
of the other journalists. The conference lasted through Saturday and
Sunday, but their flight didn't arrive back in Metropolis until late
in the afternoon on Monday, so they wouldn't return to work until
Tuesday. If things went all right, Clark would have recovered his
powers by then, and hopefully they would have had time to talk about
whatever was bothering him.

A thought occurred to her, and she opened the bottom drawer of her
desk. It might not be a bad idea to take along a recorder. Most of
the speeches would doubtless be blather; they usually were, but every
now and then, there was something useful to be heard. Her little
recorder and enough disks to last through the presentations wouldn't
take up much room in her bag, and would enable her to record
everything the speakers had to say. She would just have to be sure
she removed it before they scanned her bag at the shuttleport
checkpoint so as not to ruin the disks. The big, leather shoulder
bag was brand new and very roomy. It had been a goodbye gift from
Brad and Sharon just before they departed on the colony ship and Lori
already loved it.

She snapped on the recorder to test it and muttered under her breath
when the machine failed to work. Quickly, she opened the little door
on the bottom of the device and popped out the power cell. The tiny
blue dot on the bottom had turned red. Out of power. She sighed and
hunted around in her top drawer until she found a fresh cell and
snapped it into place, then slipped the recorder and tapes into an
inner pocket of the bag. After picking up several loose credit
tokens that had somehow wound up on the bottom, she dropped them into
the half-open change compartment and pulled the zipper completely
closed. There was a small rip in a side seam where a few stitches
had unraveled, but fortunately, a needle and thread could fix it
without any difficulty. Still it was annoying. She'd only had the
bag for two days.

She shook her head in mild exasperation. Maybe today wasn't such a
good day for flying after all. This series of minor mishaps was
getting downright ridiculous.

She glanced around to see Clark rise from his desk. The usual spring
in his step was missing as he came toward her, in spite of his claim
that he felt much better than he had an hour and a half before. A
couple of months ago she wouldn't even have noticed. Now it worried

"Ready to go?" he asked.

Lori got to her feet. "All set."

"Then let's stop by the lockers, get our stuff, and we're on our way."

"Clark, do you feel okay?" She rested a hand against his cheek.
"You're still a little warm."

He smiled slightly. "I'll sleep on the shuttle. I'm just not used
to feeling sick."

"I guess that would make sense," Lori said. "I'm sorry, Clark. I
don't mean to hover; I'm just worried about you."

"I don't mind," Clark said. "Come on, let's go."

As they waited for the elevator, Lori looked automatically at the
framed photo of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It was uncanny how much
that other Clark looked like the one beside her. He even had the
same little birthmark on his lip. Lois Lane was smiling brightly,
and he was looking at her with an expression Lori had seen on her
Clark when he looked at her. Something about that ancient picture
touched some note deep inside her every time she saw it.

"Lori?" Clark said. "Is something wrong?"

"No," she said. "I just get the strangest feeling when I see that
picture. I can't figure it out. It's like it should mean something
to me, and of course it doesn't."

Clark didn't reply, and the elevator arrived at that moment. Clark
let Lori enter first. "Lockers," he said.


The Metropolis Shuttleport was crowded and chaotic, as Lori expected.
They checked their bags, picked up their boarding passes, and
proceeded on to the security checkpoint. Lori removed her earrings
and wrist talker, fished the recorder and disks from her purse, and
turned on her portable computer for the security men in order to
prove that it was actually what it purported to be. She passed
through the scanner while her purse proceeded through the x-ray and
was checked for any signs of weapons. She reclaimed her property
while Clark went through the same ritual, and rejoined her on the
other side.

Clark glanced at his wrist talker. "We have a little under an hour
until boarding. I just thought of something."


"It's past one. I'm hungry. I missed breakfast this morning. Shall
we wait an hour and let them feed us on the shuttle, or shall we pay
the exorbitant prices here and get ourselves a snack to tide us over?"

"Let's get a snack," Lori said. "I didn't get anything to eat, either."


The Metropolis to Buenos Aires shuttle was late, which wasn't
surprising, Lori thought, as the failure of the shuttle companies to
keep their schedules had been the subject of editorials recently in a
number of news publications. Clark and Lori were not traveling first
class; they found their seats in the coach section, tucked their
computers and Lori's leather shoulder bag into the overhead
compartment, and settled down in the places assigned to them.

Clark pointedly did not take the window seat. As soon as the shuttle
was airborne and the "Fasten Safety Webbing" sign went off, he tilted
his seat back and closed his eyes. Lori could tell, however, by the
rigid set to his jaw that her companion was not asleep, or even
relaxed. After a moment, she slid her hand over his. "Clark?"

He didn't open his eyes. "Yeah?"

"Do you feel all right?"

Now he did open them. He smiled slightly. "Yeah. I just...don't
like flying...in shuttles."

"Huh?" She certainly hadn't expected that.

"It just seems...well, unnatural."

She didn't laugh, in spite of the circumstances. Trying to look at
it from his perspective, she could see how that might be so. For a
being who propelled himself through the air under his own power,
being powerless, and having to depend on one of the man-made devices
that he had several times had to save from a fiery end must be
frightening. She entwined her fingers around his. "Does this help?"

He smiled a little. "It doesn't hurt."

"In that case, just keep holding my hand until you feel better.
They're supposed to serve something to eat in a little while, I
think. And then you can try to sleep."

He chuckled softly. "I'm not coming across very well today, am I?"

Lori squeezed his hand gently. "You don't have to try to. I'm glad
to see that even a guy as perfect as you has a few flaws."

He laughed again, very softly. "Lori, I'm anything but perfect."

"I know; I was joking, Clark. You don't have to be perfect for me.
You just have to be you."

This time he squeezed her hand. "Thanks."

A flight attendant came by a few moments later, and Lori flagged him
down. "Can we have a blanket and pillow, please?"

"Sure." The man produced them in short order. "Is there anything
else I can get for you?"

"What time will we be eating?" Lori inquired. "Both of us missed
lunch, except for a snack at the shuttleport."

"We'll be serving an afternoon snack in about an hour," the man told her.

"Thanks." Lori shook open the blanket. "Here, Clark. Get
comfortable. We've got awhile to wait."

Clark accepted the pillow and blanket with a slightly embarrassed
smile. "You don't have to baby me, you know. I'll be fine."

"I promised Ronnie I'd keep you out of trouble, and I take my
responsibilities seriously. Settle back and go to sleep."

Clark made a wry face. "I should know I'm no match for two pushy
women. You win."

"I'm glad you know your limitations," Lori said. She glanced at the
attendant. "What's the show today?"

"'The Thing That Stalked the Moon Shuttle'," the man told her.

"I've seen it," Lori said. "I guess it's just as well I brought along a book."


The shuttle landed in Santa Lupita, three hours later.

The warm, tropical air of Guatemala had a soft, damp quality that had
not been present in Metropolis, Lori thought, when she and Clark
disembarked along with several other passengers. They waited in a
holding area for persons changing shuttles, and Lori listened to the
chatter of people around her. Most of the conversation was in
Spanish, however, and incomprehensible to her. While Clark went to
one of the snack bars to negotiate for food, she gravitated to the
window to look out at the scenery beyond, since this was probably all
she would get to see of Guatemala. The afternoon sky was a deeper
blue than it had been in Metropolis, but to the west, heavy, black
storm clouds were gathering. A brisk wind tossed about the leaves of
the coconut trees at the edges of the field.

Behind her, an announcer on a vidscreen spoke fluent Spanish. It
appeared to be a weather report, but it meant nothing to her. While
she was trying to interpret the symbols on the screen, Clark appeared
at her side with a small cardboard tray containing two very ordinary
hamburgers, a small bag of fries, another of onion rings, and two
sodas. They sat close to the windows, looking out and eating.

Lori licked grease off her fingers. "I never thought a second-rate
hamburger could taste that good."

"Well, there's no sauce like appetite," Clark said. "That snack on
the shuttle wasn't very substantial."

"You can say that again," Lori agreed. "How much longer until we board?"

"About thirty-five minutes--if it's on time."

Fortunately, their connecting flight was punctual. Since they hadn't
left the holding area, there was no need to pass Customs. Half an
hour later they boarded a much smaller craft, and a short time after
that were headed southwest toward the tiny country of Alta Mesa.

Sitting in the passenger section of the little shuttle with Clark and
three other passengers, Lori glanced out the window as they climbed
toward the clouds. Below them, the dancing fronds of the jungle
trees were a testament to the strength of the growing wind. In spite
of that, however, the trip was uneventful, until the last minutes of
the flight.

The first indication was a sudden, sharp jolt of the shuttle. Lori
grabbed her chair arms. "What was *that*?"

"Wind," Clark said. "Feel the vibration?"

Now that he had drawn her attention to it, she could feel it, all
right. The safety webbing sign lit up suddenly.

"This is your Captain speaking," the intercom announced, almost
simultaneously. "We are encountering some unstable weather
conditions. For your safety, please fasten your seat restraints."
The shuttle bucked suddenly, and Lori gasped.

"Downdraft," Clark said. "It's okay."

Clark would know, she reasoned. He had plenty of personal experience
flying, after all. All the same, she could see that his knuckles had
gone white from gripping the arms of his chair.

"I'll be glad when this is over," she said.

"Me too," Clark said. He pulled the webbing across his lap and
chest. "According to the weather report I saw back at the
shuttleport, there's a tropical storm moving in, but I don't think
it's really going to hit Alta Mesa before we get there. This is just
a little wind. We probably won't get the actual storm until late
this evening."

The shuttle shook again, and Lori grabbed Clark's hand. Her partner
didn't look any more comfortable than she did, but said, "It's going
to be all right. Better strap down, though."

They could feel the buffeting gusts of wind shaking the shuttle.
Lori pulled the safety webbing across her body and fastened it with
trembling fingers. For some reason the picture, almost four weeks
ago, of the London Shuttle coming in toward Metro Shuttleport out of
control, and its subsequent rescue by Superman popped up in her
thoughts. Only, Superman was sitting here beside her, powerless to
do anything. Resolutely, she pushed the unsettling memories out of
her mind. Scaring herself to death with what-ifs certainly was not

A flight attendant came down the aisle, gripping the backs of the
seats to keep her balance. She glanced at the two passengers, both
obviously nervous, and smiled cheerfully. "We'll be in ahead of the
real storm," she said, with a reassuring note in her voice. "We get
a lot of wind over these mountains when there's any kind of weather
disturbance out in the Pacific."

Clark nodded. "We'll take your word for it. How long before we land?"

"About ten minutes," the woman said. "They'll be announcing it in a
moment. If you look out the window, you can see the ocean from here."

"I think I'll pass," Clark said.

Lori glanced out the shuttle window and saw that they were turning.
Far below and to the west she could see the choppy, dark blue waters
of the Pacific Ocean, looking darker because of the layered mountains
of purple storm clouds massing in the sky and hiding the sun. One,
small break in the clouds allowed a single beam of gold light to
illuminate a streak of ocean, turning it to aquamarine, and far out,
almost on the curve of the horizon, the black silhouette of a ship
was just barely visible. It was a picturesque scene, but the shuttle
was continuing its turn and now the view consisted only of blue sky
with streamers of clouds beginning to creep over it. Try as she
might, Lori couldn't ignore the vibration of their craft, caused by
the gusts of wind.

True to the flight attendant's prediction, the intercom came to life,
warning passengers to prepare for landing, and Lori let out her
breath in relief at the proof that the trip was almost over.


Alta Mesa's single shuttleport was tiny in comparison to the others
she had seen. Lori followed Clark down the ramp and onto the field.
Here there was no direct connection to the terminal that she could
see a short distance away. They descended onto the tarmac and
approached a gate where two uniformed individuals and a large, German
shepherd dog awaited them. Lori watched as the men examined the
passports of the passengers ahead of her, and the big dog sniffed in
a disinterested fashion at a their carry-on luggage.

Apparently, they contained nothing of interest, for the passengers
were allowed to pass and the attention of the men shifted to her.
Lori presented her shoulder bag for examination, eliciting no
interest from the animal. One of the officers riffled through her
bag, assured himself that she was carrying no weapons or contraband,
and gestured her through.

The air here was slightly chilly and drier. It must be, Lori
thought, because they were so high in the mountains. The wind was
brisk, however, and she was just as happy to accompany Clark across
the blacktop to the low, stone building that was the terminal, to
reclaim their luggage.


The capital of Alta Mesa, Cuidad del Sol, wasn't large in comparison
to Metropolis or any of the other big cities of her own country, but
Lori found herself staring around in fascination at the thriving,
little city when they emerged from the terminal. In the far distance
on all sides, shadowy mountain peaks rose up, many of them capped
with snow. Wind whipped through the streets, foreshadowing the
coming storm, tossing the fronds of the big palm trees that seemed to
line every thoroughfare.

Beside her, Clark whistled shrilly, and a taxi about the size of a
breadbox screeched to a stop in front of them where they stood on the
sidewalk. The driver leaned out the window. "Adonde va?" he

Clark spoke rapidly in the same language and the man nodded
vigorously. He jumped from the cab and hurried around to open the
trunk for their bags, and a few moments later the little vehicle sped
forward over streets paved with grey mountain stone, headed for the
Mesa Grande Hotel.

The driver spoke volubly as he drove, gesturing right and left,
apparently indicating points of interest. Lori tried to look in all
directions at once, although she didn't understand a word the man
said and he spoke far too quickly for Clark to even attempt to

Within twenty minutes, the taxi was pulling up at the entrance of a
large white building. Three wide steps led up to an awning-covered
entranceway, where a doorman, wearing the livery of the hotel waited
to welcome guests. Beside the door on a brass plate, modest
lettering announced "La Mesa Grande". They had arrived at their


"La Mesa Grande", Clark told her, meant "The big table", a puzzling
name, unless one realized that the hotel had originally been a
restaurant. He had naturally read the hotel's brochure that had come
with the travel packet several weeks ago, when the reservations had
been made. That was just what she should have expected, Lori thought
with inner amusement. The new owners had taken the building and
expanded it, turning it into very comfortable hotel, where the
restaurant was only part of the services offered. It didn't compare
to the Lexor in Metropolis, but it was elegant and surprisingly
modern for an establishment in such a remote and tiny country. The
staff, Lori thought, seemed efficient and helpful. They directed
Clark and her to the front desk, where a tall man in a neat suit,
bearing the logo of the hotel on its jacket pocket, met them with a
friendly smile.

"May I help you?" he inquired pleasantly in lightly accented English.

"Yes," Clark said. "We're with the journalists' convention--from the
Daily Planet in Metropolis."

The man--his nametag informed them that he was Eduardo Sanchez, the
assistant manager--turned to the computer on his counter. "Mr. Kent
or Mr. Harrelson?"

"Mr. Harrelson was taken ill at the last moment," Clark explained.
"Ms. Lyons is his replacement."

Sanchez frowned. "That presents a slight difficulty, Mr. Kent.
Between our regular guests and the convention, every room is
completely booked. You and Mr. Harrelson were slated for one room
with twin beds. I'm afraid I don't have a room for Ms. Lyons."

Clark glanced at Lori and then back at the man. "Is it possible for
me to double up with someone?" he inquired.

"I'm afraid not. Every room intended for double occupancy is booked.
There are no spares. Or," he amended, "there won't be when everyone
arrives. If it should happen that someone fails to claim his
reservation by midnight--"

"In that case," Clark said, "Ms. Lyons can have the room. I'll find
another place in town. I'm sure that--"

"Clark." Lori touched his arm. "I don't want to throw you out of your room."

"Well, *you* can't wander around town looking for a place to stay,"
Clark said. "Your conversational Spanish is limited to about five

Lori couldn't help laughing. "True. Look, Clark, if anyone is a
gentleman, it's you." She glanced at Sanchez. "The room has twin
beds, right?"

"Yes, Senorita."

"Then Mr. Kent and I will share the room," she said firmly,
overriding Clark's instinctive protest. "We're professional
colleagues, Clark. I don't have a problem with it if you don't."

He looked worried, but finally nodded and glanced at Sanchez. "I
guess we'll take the room."

"Very well, Mr. Kent." The man turned and gestured to a bellboy, who
hurried over.

"Si, senor?"

"Take Ms. Lyons' and Mr. Kent's bags to room 238."

"Si, senor."

Clark completed the check-in procedure and looked at Lori. "Shall we
go get ready for dinner, Ms. Lyons? I don't know about you, but I'm

Lori nodded. The hamburger and onion rings nearly two hours ago were
long gone, as far as her stomach was concerned. "That sounds
wonderful, Mr. Kent."


The room was airy and spacious. A vidscreen on one wall was easily
four or five times as big as the tiny one in her flat, and the twin
beds were big enough for two people each, she thought. There were a
couple of big, comfortable armchairs, a large, mahogany dresser, and
on the wall was a big timepiece modeled after a stylized sun. A
window opened on a balcony overlooking the picturesque street
outside, and the rug underfoot was thick and soft. The bellhop had
set their suitcases down next to the closet.

Clark glanced hesitantly at her. "Would you like the bathroom first?"

"Why don't you go ahead?" she suggested. "I'll probably take longer.
We women always do."

Clark gave her an odd smile. "You know, I've never understood why
someone as attractive as you thinks she has to work to look that way."

Lori felt herself blushing. "You don't know what it takes to *keep*
looking that way."

"Yes, I do," Clark said. "You know, Lori, before my wife died...she
was very concerned with her appearance, but to me she was as
beautiful as the day I married her."

Lori fell silent. She had wondered about Clark's wife. No one at
the office seemed to know anything about her, at least those to whom
she had spoken. An online search for records had come up dry. She
had concluded that the marriage had taken place in some remote area
where records were not computer accessible. Such places *did* exist,
in spite of the reach of technology. A few countries didn't allow
it, and records from the Lunar Colony, and Mars were only available
by special request.

She found herself looking up into his face. It had been only seconds
by the wall chronometer. She surprised herself by saying, "You miss
her, don't you?"

He nodded. "A little. But since I met you..." He sat down on one
of the beds. "It's different."

She came to sit beside him. "How is it different?"

He folded his hands in his lap. "When she died, Lori--I felt like
the best part of me had been torn away. I felt lost. I don't feel
like that anymore. I feel...complete again."

She laid a hand over his. "Do you?"

He freed one hand and put it over hers.

"Yes. I love you, Lori. I've loved you from the second I saw you."

The breath caught in her throat. "Clark, I..."

"Before you say anything you might regret, though, I have to explain
something. You see...you know I'm Superman, but I'm not just--"

There was a knock at the door.

Clark broke off with a sigh. "We'll get back to this later." He got
to his feet and strode to the door. "Yes?"

The man on the other side had raised his fist to knock again when
Clark opened the door. A big smile split his face.

"Clark! Hey, long time, no see, man! I heard you'd just gotten here!"

"Hi, Vane. Come in." Clark smiled. "Lori, this is Vane Williams."

"From the Chicago Sentinel?" Lori stood up. "I've read your work."

Williams looked surprised. "I'm sorry. Did I interrupt something important?"

"Oh, no," Clark assured him, quickly. "Pat Harrelson wound up in the
hospital at the last minute, so my editor sent Ms. Lyons along with
me instead. Only, the hotel didn't have an extra room, so--" He
shrugged. "Vane Williams, Lori Lyons, my new partner. Vane and I
worked together for a few weeks a couple of years ago, Lori."

Williams stuck out a hand, looking her over critically. "Nice to
meet you, Ms. Lyons. Congratulations on the Mayflower scoop."

Lori took the hand, feeling herself turning pink. "You saw that?"

Williams laughed. "Every journalist in the country would have
willingly murdered both of you for that story. I'd say it's an easy
Kerth nomination for you."


"Yeah. If you'd like to dump this guy and come to work for the
Sentinel, you can partner with me, any day."

"Forget it, Vane," Clark said, a grin on his face. "She's *my*
partner. Look, Lori and I barely got here. We'll be down in a bit,
after we've had a little time to get ready."

"Oh, sure." Vane nodded. "I'll get out of here and let you change.
Happy hour's just started. See you in a few minutes."


When Williams had gone they looked at each other and simultaneously
began to laugh.

"We're cursed, I think," Clark said. "Go on, get fixed up. We'll
come back to this a little later."

Lori sighed. "You're right, of course. If we don't show up--"

Clark groaned. "I hate to think what Vane will be saying to
everybody else if we don't. The guy's got an overactive imagination,
not to mention he was always trying to fix me up with some woman.
But I swear we'll talk about this after dinner. I just don't want to
rush through it."

"All right, but Clark, it will have to be something pretty
earth-shattering to make me think less of you."

"I hope it isn't earth-shattering enough," he said.


Forty minutes later they entered the hotel's bar. Vane spotted them
as they came in and waved. "Hey, Clark, over here!"

Clark and Lori made their way over to the group of five persons of
which Clark's friend was one. Vane introduced Clark and Lori to the

"You don't have to introduce me to Kent." Margot Ryerson, the only
other woman in the group said. "How are you, Clark?"

"Doing pretty well," he said. "I'm working for the Daily Planet,
now." He surveyed Margot thoughtfully. She would be about forty by
now. She had always been a tough, no nonsense journalist, but she
looked older than she had the last time he had seen her. Her hair
was still dark and curly, but there were lines in her face that he
didn't remember even from two years ago.

"So I gathered from the byline," she said. "Is it permanent or just
another short term job?"

"It's permanent, this time," he said. "Ms. Lyons and I are partners."

Margot turned to look Lori over critically. "So you're Lyons," she
said, briskly. "Your reputation precedes you."

Lori looked surprised. "It does?"

"Your paper scooped the lot of us," she said. "I expected a
hard-bitten pro. New out of school?"

"Lori was the office intern," Clark explained, calmly. "If it hadn't
been for her we wouldn't have gotten to the bottom of the story,
though, at least not before it was too late." He added, "Lori, this
is Margot Ryerson from the Kansas City Constitution."

Margot shook Lori's hand briskly. "Nice to meet you. Clark, why
don't you get both of us a couple of bourbons? I want to get
acquainted with your partner."

"White wine for me, Clark," Lori interrupted quickly.

"All right," Clark said. He left the two women and crossed the room
to the bar. It wan an indication of the quality of the hotel that
the bar had an actual human bartender instead of the usual
computerized serving equipment. He had to wait for several minutes
for his turn to order the drinks, as there were several persons ahead
of him. While he waited, he surveyed the room, keeping an eye on his
partner. Margot Ryerson and he had known each other for several
years, on and off. The woman was a very sharp reporter who had been
his rival in more than one investigation, but he respected her for
her reporting skill and integrity. On the other hand, she had the
instincts of a predator when she thought there might be a hot story
in the offing.

Quite a few of the persons in the bar, of course, had nothing to do
with the convention. A short, balding man, waiting just ahead of him
in the line glanced at him, shifting impatiently from one foot to the
other. "You one of the guys here with the journalists' convention?"
he asked, in English, with a decidedly New York accent.

"Yes," Clark said. "Are you here for it?"

"Me? Naw. I just got in half an hour ago. The shuttle almost
didn't make it--at least it seemed that way. The wind was knockin'
us all over the sky. I was sure I was gonna meet my Maker." The man
shivered. "I'm just here on business. Tom Myers, from New York.
I'm an architect for Mechtel Corporation." He thrust out a hand.

"Clark Kent, from the Daily Planet," Clark said. "My partner and I
got here a little over an hour ago. The wind was pretty bad then,
too. I'm told the storm is temporarily stalled out over the ocean.
It's expected to move in early tomorrow morning."

"Well, at least my feet are on solid ground again," Myers said. "I
just hope it'll be finished blowin' us around before I have to leave."

Clark grinned. "I'm with you there. I don't like flying in
shuttles." He added, "It's your turn."

"Huh? Oh, thanks." Myers turned to give his order to the bartender.
"Bourbon, on the rocks."

The bartender didn't even hesitate, but whipped the glass onto the
bar, dropped in ice cubes and poured the liquid all in the space of
ten seconds. Myers paid him, picked up his drink and departed with a
friendly nod to Clark.

When Clark returned to Lori, Margot accepted her bourbon with a
grimace of thanks and downed half of it in one swallow. Clark
suppressed a wince, and handed the white wine to Lori. He, himself,
was drinking soda water. Normally, Superman could drink nearly any
amount of toxic substances, but without his powers the effect of
alcohol on his system was less predictable. He preferred not to take

Margot said, "I like your partner, Clark. Sharp young woman." She
nudged Lori with an elbow. "Keep an eye on this guy, sweetie. Every
time I've competed with him, he always got to the story before I did,
no matter what. Maybe you can figure out how he does it. If you do,
let me know his secret."

Clark smiled blandly. Lori sipped her wine and didn't comment.

Happy hour was beginning to break up. Clark touched her elbow.
"Shall we go get something to eat, Lori? That wine will sit a lot
better on a full stomach."

"Okay." She turned to the newswoman. "We'll probably see you later."

"Enjoy your dinner," Margot said. "I expected to see Pete Swanson
here. I heard he arrived this afternoon, just before I did, but I
haven't seen him yet. Oh, well, he never did handle shuttle travel
very well. He's probably in his room sleeping off the free drinks."
She swallowed the rest of the bourbon and eyed the empty glass
wistfully. "I suppose I'd better have something to eat, too." She
glanced around. "Vane! Are you sitting at my table?"


Lori tucked her hand lightly into Clark's elbow as they left the bar
and entered the waiting area of the restaurant. Half the room had
been roped off, and a sign read ""Reserved for Conventioneers". A
hostess approached them after only a moment.

"Table for two?" she asked cheerfully. Lori found the young woman's
light accent very attractive.

"Yes," Clark said. "We're with the convention."

"This way." She led the way into the roped off area and indicated a
small, two-person table near the rear of the room. "Will this be all

"This will be fine." Clark pulled out a chair for Lori, then took
his own place. The hostess set two menus on the table. "Someone
will be here in a moment," she said.

Lori looked over the menu and made her selection, then folded it and
laid it on the table in front of her. The muted lighting of the room
made it more difficult to see fine details, but she saw Vane Williams
and Margot Ryerson sitting with two other persons a short distance
away. Movement near the door caught her eye. She glanced up to see
a little man standing there, half obscured by the leaves of a tall,
tropical plant. There was something familiar about him, but before
she could pin the feeling down he had stepped backward into the
doorway and out of sight.

"What's the matter?" Clark asked.

"Huh? Oh, nothing, I guess. I just thought I saw someone I knew,
but I guess I was wrong." Lori dismissed the impression and smiled
at her companion. "This is nice. It's been a hectic day."

"That's an understatement," Clark said. "I hope the rest of the
evening is a lot quieter."

"Me, too." She looked up as a uniformed waiter approached. "A
little peace and quiet will be nice for a change."

"If a little unusual," Clark said. "I really want to make time for
us to talk."

The waiter stopped by their table. "Have you decided?"


While they waited for their appetizers, Lori sat back in her chair,
simply enjoying the relative quiet and admiring the man who sat
across from her. Clark had fortunately lost the tired look he'd had
immediately following his exposure to the Kryptonite bracelet,
although he told her quietly that his powers had as yet shown no sign
of returning. Presumably, Rhonda knew what the effects of this
mysterious mineral on Superman would be. He hadn't appeared to be
worried either, but Lori wasn't as confident as the others seemed to
be that his powers would return before long. A substance that could
rob Superman of his powers frightened her. How could they be sure of
its ultimate effects?

"Clark, buddy!"

Lori looked around. A short, stocky man with a florid complexion and
a big smile ambled up to the table. Lori could smell alcohol on his
breath as he slapped her partner on the back with unnecessary force,
causing Clark to cough.

"Hi, Barney." Clark turned in his chair to face his assailant. "How
are you doing?"

"Just great, ol' pal. Is this that pretty li'l partner o' yours I've
heard about? You lucky dog!"

Lori glanced at Clark in time to see him roll his eyes. "Sorry," he
mouthed at her. "Yes, Barney, this is Ms. Lyons. Ms. Lyons, this is
Barney Rundle, from the Miami Vanguard."

The obviously tipsy man smiled, continuing to ogle Lori in way that
reminded her uncomfortably of a dream in which she had come to work
far too lightly clad for the professional image she tried to
cultivate. She could feel the flush rising from her collarbone and
up her neck. Clark got to his feet.

"Lori, would you excuse us a moment? Come on, Barney, I think I saw
your wife around awhile ago. I haven't talked to her for a couple of
years. I'd like the chance to say hello again." He winked slightly
at Lori and led Barney away.

Lori breathed a quiet sigh of relief. She couldn't blame Barney, but
she was glad Clark had sprung to her rescue so quickly. Superman, it
seemed, was on the job, powers or no powers, she thought whimsically.

A waiter appeared at the table with glasses of water and the coffee
that Clark had ordered. Lori picked up the glass he set before her
and sipped, feeling a comfortable fatigue in her body. It *had* been
a busy day, and it had left her more tired than she realized. She
caught herself in a yawn and covered her mouth with one palm.

Motion at the corner of her vision caught her attention. She turned
her head, to see a short, balding man standing next to a leafy,
potted tropical plant of some sort a short distance away, apparently
watching the entrance to the restaurant. From the doorway, he would
be only partly visible, and completely inconspicuous Lori thought
idly as she watched over the brim of her glass. There was something
almost furtive about the balding man's attitude.

He glanced at her and saw her watching. With a slight smile, he
nodded to her and strolled away toward the restrooms, turned the
corner beneath the small, tasteful sign, and disappeared. Lori found
herself frowning after him curiously. He hadn't done anything all
that unusual, but something about his attitude wasn't quite right.
Her reporter's instinct stirred, and she continued to watch the spot
where she had last seen him, but he didn't reappear.

It was nearly ten minutes before Clark returned. He sat down and
wiped a hand dramatically across his brow. "Sorry about that," he
said. "Barney's a nice guy, but he does tend to party a bit hard. I
left him with his wife. She'll keep him under control."

She laughed. "It's okay, Clark. Thanks for the rescue."

"Don't mention it." He looked around. "Here come our appetizers."


In spite of the fact that Lori remained alert for the balding man
again, she saw no sign of him, although how he could have gotten out
of the hallway to the men's room without being visible to her she
couldn't understand. Something about the situation stimulated her
curiosity, what Brad had called her "reporter's instinct". Lori had
to admit she was far too nosy for her own good, but awareness of the
fact didn't change it. She decided to keep an eye out for him for
the remainder of their time at the hotel. It was perfectly possible
that there was nothing at all out of the ordinary, but that pesky
"instinct" said differently. Whether it was something important, or
just a personal indiscretion, it told her that something was up, and
Lori was curious.

Lori and Clark weren't allowed to return to their hotel room
immediately following dinner, to her disappointment. Although the
actual journalists' banquet wasn't until Sunday night, no one
apparently was willing to leave for the evening without an
unscheduled gathering in the lounge adjoining the bar. They were a
group of professional people who knew each other either by personal
acquaintance or at least by reputation, and the temptation to
postpone the end of the evening was too great. Friends of Clark's
both male and female, acquired over the past few years, appeared to
Lori to be selectively seeking him out. She could understand his
popularity, however. Her partner was a very likeable man, who
apparently made friends even among his rivals, but the fact made it
difficult for them to slip away.

Lori was standing quietly at Clark's side, listening to the chatter
when an ear-shattering clap of thunder shook the room and made
everyone jump. The lights flickered sharply.

"What was that?" someone, a woman, gasped.

"Sounds like lightening struck right over us," a man's voice replied.
"It must be that tropical storm they were talking about on the

Margot Ryerson, at Clark's elbow, said, " I hope this place has its
own power supply. I don't feel like being without power because of a

"Me, either," Vane Williams said.

Lori glanced at the big window in the reception room's far wall as
lightning flashed brightly. Thunder crashed again, and she winced.
Water was streaming almost horizontally across the glass, obscuring
the garden beyond and they could hear the wind, even through the
walls of the hotel. Somewhere above, something fell with a loud
clatter. The storm had arrived, full force.

"I guess it didn't stay stalled as long as the weather forecasters
thought," Clark said in her ear. He glanced at his wrist talker.
"It's only ten-thirty."

Lori yawned. "I'll be right back, Clark."


Lori headed toward the powder room. She was tired and it looked as
if they weren't going to get back to their room for another hour, at
least. Inside, she splashed water in her face and leaned forward to
repair the damage to her makeup. Two other women were just
departing, talking rapidly to each other in Spanish. Behind her, the
door opened and Margot Ryerson entered. She winked at Lori. "You
look tired, honey. Rough day?"

Lori nodded. "Rough two days. Clark and I have been following a
jewel robbery in Metropolis since yesterday. We were out late last
night, covering the capture of the thieves, and this morning we
interviewed the senior clerk of the store that got hit. They found
everything except one ring."

"Oh? Anything special about this ring?"

"Yeah. It's worth 2.7 million dollars."

Margot whistled. "That must be *some* ring."

"It is. I've seen a picture of it. It's gorgeous."

"Any clues?"

Lori shrugged. "The police and insurance company are investigating.
That's all I know, so far. If the bad guys hid it somewhere before
they got caught, there may be some chance of getting it back but as
of this morning, there wasn't any new information. If nothing turns
up before Tuesday, we're going to look into it. The whole thing may
be over by the time we head back, though."

"Bad timing," Margot said. "I have to congratulate you, though, on
your ingenuity."

"What ingenuity?"

"Getting put up in a room with Clark. The guy has a reputation for
being impossible to seduce. With that body, don't think a lot of
women haven't tried."

"Oh? I didn't know." Lori fiddled with the strap on her purse,
wishing that Margot would drop the whole subject. She was sure that
Clark would find it as embarrassing as she did.

"Well, you know what they say about the quiet ones. I expect a full
report and a rating on him when it's over."


The older woman laughed. "Take it easy, honey. It's only natural to
be curious. Whatever it is you did, I have to give you credit. I
just hope you're not too sleepy to enjoy it."

Lori could feel the infuriating blush suffusing her cheeks. Margot laughed.
"You don't have to be shy. You should know you're the object of considerable
envy among most of the woman and a couple of the men here." She glanced at
Lori's scarlet face and took pity on her. "It's okay; I won't say another
word. Have a nice evening, though." She winked.

Lori fled with as much dignity as she could manage.


As she ducked out into the hallway, Lori heard another rumble of
thunder and the building quivered slightly. She winced and headed
quickly back toward the lounge where she had left Clark. There had
been several more thunderclaps in the last few minutes, none of them
as loud as the first two, and the lights didn't flicker again. With
luck, they could make their excuses and get back to their room soon.
Not only was she tired, she wanted to hear what Clark had been going
to say when Vane interrupted them. She turned the corner into the
adjoining hallway...

And the lights went out. The hallway was plunged into pitch-blackness.

Lori stopped moving at once and held perfectly still, trying to
regain her bearings, then she felt to her left for the wall.

The darkness was complete, but it wasn't silent. From the room up
ahead where Clark and the other journalists congregated she could
hear the confused chatter and gabble of alarmed people. She oriented
herself by it. The wall was farther away than she had first thought,
at least a few inches beyond her arm's length. Slowly, feeling her
way by sliding her foot along the carpet, she moved sideways until
her reaching fingers contacted the smooth surface of the corridor
wall. She leaned against it for a moment and took several seconds to
catch her breath. Her heart was pounding uncomfortably hard, her
nerves jittering from the suddenness of the power failure.


Lori froze completely, hugging the wall as she realized that the
power wasn't out. From the room up ahead she could hear the sounds
from the vidscreen as an announcer matter-of-factly recited the
weather report. The words were in Spanish, but the cadence of the
voice was unmistakable. Very faintly, now that her eyes had begun to
adjust, she could see a pale flicker of light from the vidscreen
outlining the rectangle of the doorway. It wasn't enough to
illuminate her surroundings, but it was there. But if the power
wasn't out, why had they lost their lighting?

She held her breath, listening, tuning out the voices from the room
up ahead. She had no real reason to feel apprehensive, except the
instinctive alarm at being suddenly unable to see and at the
knowledge that the lights should still be on. What was happening?

It was that primitive sense possessed by small, helpless creatures
hunted by the bigger and more vicious predators in their environment
that was more alert than her conscious mind, for it was aware of
danger before she was. There was motion here in the blackness not
far away, stealthy movement of something nearby that roughened her
skin, and all the hair on her head tried to rise from the roots. The
muffled sound of a shoe scraping softly across the surface of the
hall carpet told her beyond doubt that it *wasn't* her imagination.
She squinted into the blackness of the hallway behind her, trying to
see. There was a slightly darker bulk back there, or could that
vaguely darker blotch be her imagination after all, working overtime?
But then she heard a soft indrawn breath. Someone was there.

Common sense told her to speak up, to demand to know who it was.
Most likely, she told herself, it was only another guest who had been
just as startled as she was by the sudden darkness, but a more basic
sense of self preservation kept her silent. She began to slide
quietly along the wall toward the noise and safety of the crowd only
yards away. Straining her ears, she was sure she heard very softly,
another muffled footfall behind her, and then the scratch of nails
along the wall.

Lori held her breath, willing herself not to panic, to move slowly
and carefully, and as noiselessly as possible.

She could hear breathing behind her, only a few feet away now. Then
a hand reached out of the darkness behind her and caught at her arm.
Lori jerked away and the hand gripped her blouse. Instinctively, she
screamed and struck at the hand as it yanked her backwards. The
fingers loosened; she felt fabric tear as she twisted about.
Suddenly she was free. She swung her bag as hard as she could with
both hands gripping the strap. It struck something heavily and there
was a muffled exclamation.

And suddenly the voices from the room were louder. Clark's voice
called, "Lori! Is that you?" A small hand light, dazzling to eyes
adjusted to the pitch darkness, flashed over the scene. Lori caught
a blurred glimpse of a dark shape that vanished quickly down the
hall. Clark's voice said, "Lori, are you all right?"

"Clark!" Lori took another step forward, and felt his arms go around
her. "He tried to grab me!"

"Who tried to grab you?" Clark demanded.

"I...I don't know. Someone was there. He tried to grab me in the dark."

Clark trained the light on the dark hallway, but now nothing moved
within the range of its beam.

"Whoever it was is gone, now," Clark said. "Are you hurt?"

"No...no. Just a little shaky." She didn't try to move away from
the comforting circle of his arm. "Clark..."

And at that instant the lights came back on, showing an empty
hallway, and a crowd of people in the lounge beyond, all trying to
shade their eyes from the sudden light.


It was after midnight when they finally made it back to their room.

Hotel Security invaded the area within minutes after Clark reported
the attempted assault, and the mystery of the lights was explained,
but not in a way that made Lori feel any better. The circuit breaker
for the lights in that section of the building had been tripped. A
hotel bellboy had found it and switched it back on.

Lori huddled next to Clark wearing his jacket to cover her torn
blouse while Hotel Security questioned her about the hallway
incident. Clark acted as interpreter for them, one arm around her,
unperturbed by the impression it created with observers. Lori could
only be grateful. The thought that continued to run over and over in
her mind was that someone had deliberately laid a trap for her. If
not for Clark she had a pretty good idea what would have happened.
When they finally allowed her to return to her room, Clark led her
away without a word.

"Do you think they believed me?" she asked.

"Shh." Clark didn't loosen his grip. "Yes, I think they did. They
just don't have enough facts yet."

"Clark," she whispered, "why me?"

"I don't know," he said. "Opportunity, maybe. But we can't rule out
a more direct reason."

"Someone cut off the lights," she said. "Why?"

He guided her into the elevator. "Come on. You need to go to bed.
You're worn out."

"We still have to talk," Lori said.

"We will. After you're in bed, I'll explain everything."


Lori crawled into bed, yawning widely, and pulled the blankets up.
Outside the window, she could see the rain beating heavily across the
glass, and lightning flickered every minute or two, followed by the
rumbles of thunder heard faintly through the walls. She could hear
the rush of running water through the bathroom door as Clark prepared
for bed, and she smiled at the sounds. Clark had been there for her
again when she needed him most, just as she had been there when he
needed it this morning. It wasn't all one way, she reflected. If
she hadn't seized control of the situation, Superman might have died.
His secret would certainly have been exposed. Whatever he was
worried about telling her, he was willing to abide by her decision.
He had willingly handed all the power over to her.

Lori relaxed back against the pillow to wait.


When Clark emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, he glanced
at his roommate and sighed. It looked like their talk was going to
be postponed again. Lori was sound asleep. The sheer fatigue of the
day's events had caught up with her--not surprising, considering
everything that had happened today, and the hour. It was almost one
o'clock in the morning.

Quietly, he slipped into his own bed and lay down. The lights went
off obediently, and the window automatically frosted over. He would
talk to her in the morning, he thought. He was pretty tired, himself.


(to be continued in part 2)