Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this story are not mine. They belong to DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else may have any legal right to claim them, nor am I profiting by their use. The story is based on the Lois and Clark script "Vatman" and all parts taken from that script, or any other Lois and Clark scripts, are hereby credited to the writers of the show. Any new characters, settings, and any changes in the story belong to me.
This is the sequel to Pheromone, More Likely, and happens about 4 months later.
Twins By Nan Smith
March had come in like the proverbial lion, Lois Lane thought as she made her way to the front door of the Daily Planet. She clutched at the collar of her coat against the powerful wind that gusted down the street, whipping the skirt of the garment stingingly against her calves. It was nearly the middle of the month and it wasn't showing any signs at all of going out like a lamb, at least yet.
She glanced at her watch as she hurried across the lobby toward the elevator, trying not to look at the various snack stands that populated the place. She was ten minutes early, but what with leaving time for the creaky elevator and the inevitable lengthy stop on Second before it reached the newsroom, her margin of time was probably just about right. Maintenance really needed to see what was wrong with the thing. It seemed to get slower and slower every day. Maybe, she thought, she should just climb the stairs. It might make it easier to keep her figure. Of course if she did that, she would have to wear jogging shoes. Heels just weren't made for serious stair climbing. On the other hand, maybe that was how Clark managed to maintain his level of physical fitness. She had noticed how often he seemed to take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.
Oh brother; there she went again. She really had to get this babbling thing under control. She even did it in her head. She had begun to become aware of her tendency to babble recently, when she had noticed her partner grinning slightly in the middle of one of her monologues and challenged him on it. He'd just grinned more widely and said he liked to listen to her when she went off on one of her weird tangents. She'd done some sputtering, while he'd chuckled openly at her, but the tangent had been a little weird, although she would never have admitted it to him. They had been talking about Perry's grumbling over his doctor's insistence that he lose thirty pounds and somehow the subject had shifted to a dissertation (from her) over the fact that the office Christmas party, now two and a half months past, had been a potluck and Patty Shumacher had been stupid enough to ask her to bring a mint pie. She had hunted through half the bakeries in the city, only none of the people who worked at the places had ever heard of it. They had inquired if she meant grasshopper pie, but she had been sure that Patty had said mint pie. She had ended up bringing pumpkin pie. How had she been supposed to know that the request had been for mince pie (which she had never heard of, either)? Her mother had never served it at home (Mom had never been much of a cook,) and she'd never bothered to ask about it at various social occasions where it had apparently been served. Anyway, she'd had that bad cold for a week before the office party, and her ears had been stuffed up the day Patty had asked her, and she hadn't thought about checking the list, and ...
And that had been when she'd noticed Clark grinning at her.
She hadn't really minded, although honor had demanded that she take him to task for it. He'd taken that with an equally disconcerting grin, too. Still, his attitude was a sharp contrast to that of Lex's. Lex always seemed to enjoy her company, but she couldn't go off onto strange tangents with him. The only time she had done that, he had given her the oddest look and she'd trailed off in embarrassment. She supposed that should have told her something about him before she had found out the rest.
Of course, now the only reason Lex Luthor's opinion mattered to her was the fact that she needed to continue to date him. Ever since the incident in November when Miranda had exposed the entire newsroom to her pheromone-laced perfume and Lois had discovered Luthor's connection to it, she had been dating him irregularly. She had made a number of unexpected discoveries during that highly embarrassing episode, one of them the fact that her partner was one of the few true gentlemen that she had ever encountered, and nowhere near the dunce that she had tried to think that he must be, with his country-boy background. She hadn't really believed it, at least underneath, but it had been much easier to tell herself that he wasn't worth her time than to become consciously aware that she actually was attracted to him. The pheromone incident had made that a lot harder to ignore as well. The fact was that Clark Kent was a very likeable, kind and charming man who was a lot smarter than she had ever been willing to admit. And he was a darned good journalist, too. The trouble was, it made her much more conscious of him as a man these days, and that she would have been happy to ignore. She couldn't pretend that it wasn't true anymore -- at least to herself -- but she could still pretend it was so to everyone else, including Clark. She treated him as a good friend and partner and tried not to let the attraction she felt make a difference. In the meantime, she and Clark investigated Lex Luthor.
And of course, there was Superman. She still had a terrific crush on him, of course, but her meetings with him were usually short and unsatisfactory, as if he were making some kind of effort to keep them that way. Sort of like Pete and Wally, who avoided her as much as was possible ever since the pheromone episode. Still, she had asked Clark point blank if she had made a fool of herself in front of Superman, and he had said that Superman had been much too busy trying to keep people from getting into trouble for that to have happened. Besides, he wouldn't have blamed her for something she couldn't help any more than Clark would have. That had been somewhat reassuring, but hadn't entirely laid her fears to rest. It would have to do, though, because she couldn't quite work up the nerve to ask him, herself.
"Are you going to get in this elevator or are you going to just stare at the wall all day, Lois?" a voice inquired, breaking into her ruminations. Eduardo Friaz was holding the elevator door and looking at her with raised eyebrows. She stepped into the car with a muttered word of thanks and he released the door, which closed at once. The elevator began to rise. To her amazement it didn't stop on Second this morning.
She definitely had to learn to control this babbling thing, she told herself, trying to look casual and unselfconscious. Eduardo was watching her, and at last he ventured to ask a question. "Is anything wrong, Lois? You look a little preoccupied."
She shook her head. "No, not really. I just have a lot to think about."
"Thanks for asking," she added. The door opened at that point and he let her precede him out of the car.
Clark wasn't here yet, she saw. Most of the staff had arrived, but Clark often seemed to arrive late or just under the wire. Perry never appeared to mind however, because he more than held up his end of the Lane and Kent team.
Jimmy Olsen was already there, as usual. She had noticed some time ago that he somehow always managed to be an early bird and usually stayed late, just like Perry. The kid was probably practicing to be an editor someday, she thought whimsically. He was dumping coffee into the machine as she watched. She had to give credit where credit was due. Jimmy knew how to brew reasonably good coffee, at least within the limits available. The people in the coffee pool always seemed to buy the cheapest coffee they could find in bulk, and as a result, if it hadn't been for Clark, Lois wouldn't have had a decent cup of coffee in months, if ever. Her own style was to buy instant for her use at home because it was difficult to ruin. On the other hand, it was never very good, either. Clark always made excellent coffee at his place and it had become her habit, on those occasions when she dropped by in the morning, to help herself to a cup just, as she had explained to her partner, to get started on the right foot. He never seemed to mind in any case.
She was babbling in her head again. Maybe getting out of the habit wasn't going to be as easy as she thought.
A few minutes later she had booted up her computer and readied her workstation for the day. The coffee should be almost ready, she thought, and suiting the action to the word, headed over toward the machine with her mug.
The television was on, as usual, tuned to LNN for the morning report. Lois was pouring herself a cup of the freshly brewed coffee when the voice of the woman who gave the morning weather report was cut off abruptly by the voice of an announcer.
"We interrupt this program for an LNN special news bulletin."
Lois turned, the mug in her hand, as another voice, this one male, cut across the newsroom. "We are now getting a report that a 797 is making its last approach before attempting a landing at the Paris International Airport."
"Chief!" Jimmy shouted.
"What's happening?" Perry hurried across the Pit.
"There's an airliner coming down in France. You gotta look at this!"
"It's on the TV!"
"Oh, okay. Get me Kaplan in the Paris Bureau ..."
"I'm reminded of the vigil for Charles Lindbergh not so far from this spot," the speaker on the screen said, "only now it's a giant airliner with both its wing flaps and landing gear inoperative and instead of a lone American pilot there are a hundred and twenty passengers and a crew of ten living this last hour in the cold fear of possible violent death. There are only ..." The voice hesitated, "there are only three minutes from touchdown. We have an LNN reporter on the scene. Let's see if we can go and pick up that satellite feed now."
The sound shifted to a third voice, obviously that of the LNN reporter.
"Oh his last circle, the pilot used up all but enough fuel to complete the landing ..."
"What's going on?" Clark's voice asked. Lois glanced distractedly over her shoulder to her partner, who had entered the newsroom unobserved.
"We got a serious situation at Orly," Perry's voice said. "Plane's trying to come in without any landing gear."
"I just remembered," Clark said, hastily, "I left my story notes in the car."
"Clark, you don't have a car!" Lois said, struck by the oddness of the remark, even as her gaze returned to the scene on the television screen.
"In the taxi," Clark corrected hastily. Lois was marginally aware of her partner making a hasty retreat toward the elevator. The screen showed the plane, buffeted by rain and wind and illuminated by occasional lightning flashes as it made its approach. Then motion at the bottom of the screen, silhouetted by the lightning flashes, caught her eye.
"Look!" Jimmy exclaimed.
"I don't believe it," Perry's voice said as the LNN reporter's voice cut across the voices of the audience.
"This just in. The famed Man of Steel from Metropolis ..."
"It's Superman!" Lois said. "He's there!"
"What's he doing in France?" Jimmy asked.
"In Paris!" Lois added.
"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry exclaimed.
Lois could agree with the sentiment. The relief was overwhelming at the realization that they weren't going to witness a fiery crash after all. The newsroom erupted in cheers as they watched Metropolis's most famous resident perform yet one more spectacular rescue for the whole world to see. But even through all the excitement, she was aware of her partner standing by the steps, his eyes fixed on the television and a look of stunned disbelief on his face.
That look stayed with her the rest of the day. Clark was unusually quiet when they went to attend a press conference by Lex Luthor concerning the project being undertaken in one of the older business sections of the city by Luthor Redevelopment Corporation, and she couldn't quite understand why. The plane had come in safely with no serious injuries. Superman had saved the day again, and although she was curious to know what had taken him to Paris, she couldn't see any problem with the event. Something, however, wasn't right. She knew Clark well enough for that. Why had he looked so surprised, even shocked, at the sight of Superman doing what he had done? It was, literally, as if he couldn't believe his eyes. There was some mystery here, she thought, one that he didn't want to talk to her about. Her first instinct was to try to hammer him into telling her but for reasons she couldn't explain even to herself she didn't. Clark could be stubborn at times and she had the feeling that this might be one of those times. Maybe if she kept quiet and watched him closely, she could figure it out for herself.
"Want a ride home?" she asked, as they walked out of the building later that evening. She wasn't surprised at his answer. Something was definitely up.
"Not today. I think I'll walk."
"Clark ..." She hesitated and then plunged ahead. "I don't know what's wrong, but I'd like to help."
He smiled just slightly. "Thanks, Lois. Believe me, when I know enough to ask you for help, I'll ask. See you tomorrow, partner." And with that cryptic comment, he turned and began to stroll down the sidewalk in the direction of his apartment, which was at least three miles away. Lois stared after him, more puzzled than ever.
After a moment she started toward her Jeep, parked across the street, but before she had gone three steps she stopped, turned and went back into the building. It was time to do a little detective work.
Jimmy was still at his desk when she arrived in the newsroom a couple of minutes later. He glanced up as she crossed the Pit to his desk. "Forget something?"
"No. Jimmy, I need to know how many appearances Superman has made in the last couple of days, and where they were. Can you find out for me?"
"Huh? Sure," Jimmy said. "Any particular reason?"
"I don't know. Yet, anyway. How long will it take for you to dig that up for me?"
"Not long." Jimmy turned back to his computer and began to type. "Do you have any idea what was up with CK today? He seemed kind of upset."
Lois shrugged. "I noticed, but he's not talking about it, whatever it is."
"Hope it's not anything serious," Jimmy said.
"So do I. Maybe he'll say something to me tomorrow."
In less than five minutes Jimmy handed her a sheet of paper with the information that she had requested. In the last twenty-four hours, Superman had been busy. He had saved the airliner in Paris, of course, righted a sinking ship in Rio, saved a busload of schoolchildren in Surinam and rescued a trio of trapped Alpine climbers in Switzerland. The only recent documented appearance he had made in the United States had been thirty-one hours ago in northwestern Kansas, where he had prevented the crash of a train into a passenger car that was stuck on the train tracks.
Lois read the list over twice before she folded the paper and stuck it into her purse. She wasn't really sure if it meant anything, but she had the feeling that it did. For some reason, that incident this morning had upset Clark. Maybe if she did a little snooping around, she could find out why.
The stiff March wind had softened somewhat from this morning, but it was still strong enough to blow the hats from people's heads as Clark Kent walked slowly toward his apartment. He saw various items cast about by the capricious gusts: a cowboy hat, a scarf, lots of scattered paper and trash and someone's sock, of all things. For a moment he wondered if someone was walking along with one sock and then decided that it had probably come from one of those clotheslines that some of the tenants of apartments used to dry their clothes.
The report from Paris had been in his mind all day. He had witnessed the impossible this morning, and he had absolutely no idea what to do about it. Someone or something that looked very much like him and possessing his unique super powers, from what he had been able to see, had rescued that airliner. The fact that he/it had saved all those lives was a good thing, but he had been staring at a mystery. Who or what was this person, and where did he come from? It had surprised him that Lois had noticed his preoccupation, but on second thought he realized it shouldn't have. Most people seemed to think that Mad Dog Lane didn't pay attention to anyone but herself, and, of course, her story, but he'd known for some time that "most people" were wrong. True, his partner was a very focused individual when it came to her job, but his coworkers had never gotten to know the real Lois, as he flattered himself that he was beginning to do. It was unfortunate that he'd had to turn down her help. Her investigative ability was just what he needed right now.
A short distance from the Planet he ducked into an alley and, seconds later, Superman was scanning the city from a thousand feet. There was no sign of the mystery man, of course, not that he really expected ... well, he couldn't say that. He did half-expect that he might see something. Still, whoever or whatever the phenomenon was, he could conceivably be anywhere in the world, and Clark's chances of finding him were pretty small unless he wanted to be found. After several fruitless circles, he headed for his apartment.
Neither the radio nor the television had any further reports on Superman. He listened to the world news and watched the rescue again, then picked up the phone and dialed his parents in Kansas.
The phone rang several times before his mother picked it up.
"Jonathan, it's Clark!" He could hear her shout clearly, and a few seconds later he heard his father pick up the extension.
"Just calling to say hi?" Jonathan Kent's voice was as warm as always when speaking to Clark. The sound of his father's voice had always had the power to reassure the younger Clark that somehow, with all the strange things happening to him, it was still going to be okay. Well, something strange had sure happened today.
"Not exactly, Dad. Did you see that thing on television this morning?"
"Clark, that was so thrilling!" his mother's voice interrupted.
"No Mom, wait; that's not ..."
"Yeah, all those people," his father chimed in, enthusiastically. "We are so proud!"
"I have to admit," his mother said, "it was kind of a surprise, seeing you in Paris."
"I wasn't in Paris," Clark said. He discovered that he had begun to pace without realizing it and was standing on the ceiling, head down.
A short silence. "You ... well ..." Jonathan fumbled. "What do you mean?"
"It wasn't me!" His tie had flopped into his face and he brushed it aside, pacing distractedly back and forth.
"What are you ... what are you saying?" his mother's voice said.
"Look, it was somebody ... something else." The tie flopped into his face again, and he tucked it impatiently into his belt. "I watched it too, Mom. From the newsroom. Believe me, when I saw him, it was like my whole world turned upside down." He crossed the ceiling above his kitchen table and reached down to snatch an apple from the bowl in its center. He took a large bite and chewed vigorously.
"But Clark," he mother faltered, "we saw you. You flew. You were wearing your outfit. Who else could do that?"
"I don't know," he said, "but someone did."
"Now Clark," his father said, "maybe you should make some kind of public statement, get this out in the open; let the world know there's an imposter out there."
"No, Dad." Not until I know what I'm dealing with." He felt the phone slip and caught it as it fell. "I'll talk to you guys soon, okay?" he said.
"All right," Jonathan Kent said. "You be careful, son. If this imposter has your powers and is pretending to be you, he could be dangerous."
"He might not be," Clark said. "What if he's not an enemy?"
"Either way," Martha said, "be a little careful, Clark."
"I will," he said.
After he had hung up he glanced at his watch. It was just past six. It would be after eleven in France, but Superman could make the trip in minutes and all he needed was a quick look ...
In another second, he was on his way.
Anyone who knew Lois Lane wouldn't have seen anything unusual in the way she spent her evening. After she locked the apartment door behind her, the first thing she did was to snap on the television set, tune it to a 24-hour news station and head into the bedroom to change into her sloppiest clothes. Tonight she was going to do some serious research but part of it involved watching that rescue again, if she could find it replaying somewhere.
When she came out of the bedroom in a pair of cut-off jeans and a T-shirt, she went into her kitchenette. There were several frozen dinners in her freezer and she selected one at random, her attention only half on what she was doing as she listened to the news report issuing from the living room.
Leaving the dinner cooking, she returned to the living room and booted up her laptop. Maybe there would be something on the Internet about Superman. She typed the word into the search engine and let the computer look, tapping her fingers on the desk.
There was, as usual, the stuff about fan clubs, his various charity appearances, and the newspaper articles about his rescues. Except for the rescues, everything was at least three days old. Superman hadn't been very active in the United States for the past couple of days, even in Metropolis. The incident in Kansas thirty-some hours ago caught her eye and she frowned at the information displayed in the article. The newspaper of origin had been the Smallville Press and Superman had been just outside Smallville when he apparently spotted a car stalled on the railroad tracks. The driver had been a teenage boy named Walter Harris, from Smallville High, the local high school, and was the nephew of the current sheriff, Rachel Harris. Lois's eyebrows rose at the familiar name. What had Superman been doing in the vicinity of Smallville thirty-two hours ago?
Well, he and Clark were friends. Maybe he'd dropped by to visit Clark's parents or something. She would ask Clark tomorrow.
The whiff of smoke from her kitchen reminded her that she had been cooking dinner. A glance in the direction of her kitchenette showed her a haze of smoke hanging in the air and she hurried to the stove to remove the tray of charcoal that had been her meal.
She dumped it summarily into the garbage and started to open the freezer, then stopped. What would Clark do if she dropped by with a pizza? Being Clark, he'd probably invite her in, and then maybe she could ask a few questions in a sort of casual way, and maybe learn something. She reached for the telephone.
Forty-five minutes later, pizza in one hand and a six-pack of soda balanced precariously atop the box, she knocked on her partner's door.
Silence behind the door, except for what sounded like the radio or television. After several minutes, she knocked again, then began to look in the various places where she knew Clark hid his spare key. She found it in the third spot she checked, under a flowerpot with a miniature cactus growing in it.
The apartment was uninhabited when she walked in. The lights were on and the television was going, tuned to the same news station that she had been watching. The kitchen was silent. She could see no sign of food preparation. An apple with two bites out of it sat next to the telephone but the white flesh of the apple was moist, with no sign of the browning that was normally produced by contact with the air, so Lois concluded that it hadn't been there long. Her partner must have just stepped out, she thought. She debated the question of going back to her own place for all of two seconds, then plopped the pizza box down on the coffee table and went to put the soda in his refrigerator. She settled herself on the sofa and after a second's debate, she helped herself to a slice of pizza. She knew that Clark wouldn't mind, and she was hungry.
Clark flew back toward Metropolis, still trying to make sense of what he had discovered in Paris. The 797 had been sitting on the field near a maintenance hangar, and it hadn't been difficult for Superman to avoid the airport guards. He had slipped under the plane and within seconds located what he was looking for. There were handprints in the underside of the big aircraft -- handprints that exactly matched his own.
Approaching his apartment, it was fortunate that checking ahead had become an ingrained habit, for Lois was seated on his sofa with her feet on his coffee table, munching a piece of pepperoni pizza and watching the news. He smiled slightly. His partner looked very much at home, and that felt unexpectedly good. Lois had become a lot more comfortable with him since the incident with Miranda's perfume back in November. Even now, worried as he was about the unexplained happening this morning, he was glad she was there.
Quietly, he landed in the alley behind the apartment house and, clutching the bag of croissants that he had been unable to resist purchasing while in France, he hurried around to his front door.
Lois turned her head as he stepped inside. "Where've you been?"
"Out," he said. "Make yourself at home."
"Thanks, I will. I brought pizza and breadsticks. The soda's in the fridge."
He pushed the door shut and turned the lock. "Any specific reason or did you just have a sudden overwhelming urge to have dinner with me?" he asked politely.
"I burned my frozen dinner," she said. "Besides, I wasn't really that hungry for meatloaf and green beans, anyway."
He grinned slightly and set the bag of croissants next to the pizza box. "Have one. I'll get the soda and glasses."
"Thanks." He heard the rustle of the paper bag as he made his way toward the kitchen. "I've been doing some research," Lois said. "Did you know that the only news of Superman in the United States in the last two days was in Smallville, thirty-three hours ago?"
"Actually, no," Clark said.
"Don't you think that's odd?"
"I don't know," Clark said. "I don't see why." He took two glasses from the cupboard, dropped ice cubes into them and filled them with soda. "Where has he been besides Paris?"
"He rescued three Alpine climbers in Switzerland, saved a school bus in Surinam and a cruise ship in Rio. And, of course, he saved Sheriff Harris's nephew from getting killed by a train in Smallville."
Clark paused in mid-step. He hadn't been to any of those places except for Smallville. The imposter, whoever he was, seemed to be getting around -- but, as Lois said, not in the States. Now that was very interesting. Maybe the guy was trying to avoid him. "Now that you mention it, it is a little funny," he said, continuing on into the living room. "On the other hand, maybe Superman's on vacation or something."
"Pretty active vacation," Lois said. She bit into the croissant and paused. "This is fantastic! Where did you get these?"
"Um ... a little French bakery I know. Mind if I have a slice of pizza?"
"Thanks. Here's your soda. Where did you find out this stuff about Superman?"
"Jimmy did a search for me. I guess you could be right. Metropolis doesn't own him, but I thought he said he considered Metropolis his home."
"That's what he said in the interview," Clark said, cautiously. "Still, the guy can fly anywhere in the world in seconds, so I guess it isn't surprising that he'd turn up in France to save that airliner."
"I suppose not." Lois finished the croissant and reached for another slice of pizza. She glanced sideways at him. "Is everything all right with your parents, Clark?"
"Sure. Why wouldn't it be?"
"I just wondered."
The news report shifted just then to pictures of the plane's rescue again and then to an airline official commenting on the event. "France Trans Atlantic Airlines wishes to extend their thanks to Superman for preventing what would have been a major tragedy," he said. "The Man of Steel didn't wait for our thanks; no doubt he had other lives to save elsewhere, but the airline wishes him to know that he has our eternal gratitude and the gratitude of every passenger ..."
"Probably off to Rio to save the cruise ship," Lois said. "I guess I can't really complain. Speaking unselfishly, Superman should belong to the world, but I thought Metropolis was special to him."
"I think it probably is," Clark said. "But you know if he hears about something like that airliner, he's going to go try to help."
"Yeah." She took a bite of pizza and chewed vigorously. "Still, haven't there been any emergencies in the city in the last couple of days?"
"Probably," Clark said. "We've got a pretty good police force, though. Superman can't do everything. You said that yourself."
"I did, didn't I," she said, somewhat thickly through the pizza. "I guess he has to let the police earn their salary."
"I'm sure that if some kind of big emergency turns up, he'll be there."
"I guess so." She cast a sideways glance at him. "You're sure you're okay?"
"I'm okay, Lois."
"It's just that you've looked kind of upset all day," she explained. "I was a little worried."
He was unexpectedly touched. Say what you might about Mad Dog Lane; she cared about her friends.
"Would you like to watch a movie?" he suggested. "I rented a tape of Lethal Weapon for this weekend, but we could watch it now."
"Okay," she said quickly, and he thought she seemed a little embarrassed at her unaccustomed display of concern.
"I'll get it," he said. "Have another croissant."
Two-and-a-half hours later, Superman followed her as she drove back to her apartment, flying six hundred feet above her so that neither she nor any chance passerby would notice that Superman seemed to be paying any unusual amount of attention to Lois Lane, but even as he guarded his partner's safety he was thinking hard. Lois was the best investigative reporter at the Daily Planet, even better than he was, and without the advantage of his super-human abilities. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea if Superman dropped by and asked for her help. If anyone could figure out what was going on, it would be Lois Lane.
Lois shut the door behind her and had fastened the first lock when she heard the soft tapping on the window. Unless there was a sparrow or something trying to get in, there was only one thing that could be. Her heart leaped and began to beat faster at the thought. Superman hadn't come around at all since the pheromone episode back in November, and her meetings with him since had been short and unsatisfactory. She had begun to wonder seriously if he was subtly trying to avoid her.
Sure enough though, when she turned quickly, she could dimly see the famous figure in red and blue outlined against the pale glow of Metropolis's night skyline. She crossed the room at once to open the window, and Superman stepped through.
"Superman! I didn't expect to see you!"
She thought he looked faintly worried. "Have I come at a bad time?"
"No, of course not," she hastened to assure him. "It's just that I haven't seen you much lately and I was starting to wonder if you were avoiding me."
He shook his head. "No, of course not. I've just been busy. I'm a little ashamed to say though, that the reason that I came by tonight was to ask for your help."
He nodded and slid the window closed behind him. "Can we sit down? I have a problem and the only person that I could think of who might be able to help me was you."
"Sure." She gestured to the sofa, wondering peripherally if Superman would think it was as uncomfortable as Clark always said. But Superman was invulnerable. Wouldn't that make a difference? "How can I help?"
"I'm not sure if you can," he said, "but since you're the best investigative reporter I know, I hoped you'd have some ideas."
She was the best investigative reporter he knew? She tried not to let her pleasure at the compliment show on her face. The early gushing that she had done over Superman wasn't something of which she was particularly proud, but it felt good to know that her hero thought that way about her. "Well, why don't you tell me what it is and we'll go from there?" she inquired.
He took a seat on the couch, frowning a little and she sat beside him. "I'll try to explain," he said. "It's kind of strange, but ..." He hesitated for a second. "I imagine you've seen the news story that was on LNN this morning," he said. "...The one about the 797 that nearly crashed."
She nodded. "I watched it from the newsroom. That was wonderful, how you saved all those lives."
His scowl deepened. "Yeah. The trouble was, Lois, that I didn't."
"I didn't save the plane. I was nowhere near Paris when that happened."
She was conscious of complete bewilderment. "But we saw you there. All of us in the newsroom did."
"I know. I saw me there, too. Only I wasn't there. I was in Metropolis. Someone or something else that looked a lot like me saved that plane. That wasn't the only thing, either. He saved a cruise ship in Rio, rescued some mountain climbers, and saved a school bus in Surinam. I don't know who or what he is, but he wears my clothes and has my powers, judging from what I saw this morning."
Lois stared at him while her brain slowly processed that information. Superman hadn't made those rescues. Someone or something else who was apparently masquerading as him had performed the feats.
"Oh wow," she said, faintly. "I can see why you're worried."
He nodded. "Exactly. I don't know who or what he is, where he came from, why he's wearing my suit or how he could possibly have my powers, but everybody else thinks he's me. I've been worrying about it all day and I finally decided that I needed help from someone whom I can trust. You're the one person I could think of who best qualifies."
"Is it possible that there's another person like you here on Earth?" The fact that he trusted her was flattering, of course, but now her curiosity was aroused. "I mean, you came here; I guess it's possible that someone else could have come from Krypton, too, couldn't they?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so. When I gave you that interview not long after I arrived, I didn't tell you all of it, mostly because I didn't know all of it, either."
"What do you mean?"
He hesitated again. "This can't go any farther," he said, finally. "It has to be completely off the record. Do you understand?"
She nodded. "Anything you tell me in confidence stays that way, Superman. You have to know that."
There was a faint smile on his lips. "I appreciate that. If this information got out, there are some people who might figure out things about me that mustn't be known. You see, Lois, I've been on Earth a long time. A lot longer than I've let anybody think. Do you remember the globe that Jack stole from Clark's apartment?"
Her heart jumped. "Sure."
"I didn't tell you what it was, and I probably should have, but I've been afraid to let anyone know anything about me that wasn't necessary. Someone else -- and I don't know who he is -- does know, however, and it's probably just as well that someone I trust does too. Besides, you need to know to help figure out what's going on now. That globe told me about my history. Why I was sent to Earth. Before that ..." He hesitated.
"You didn't know?"
"Why?" she blurted. "Was it some kind of amnesia or something? Do people from your planet even get amnesia? I mean, you can't be hurt, and I don't think you get sick, at least from Earth germs, do you? So how can ..."
Superman had the same expression on his face that Clark got when she launched into one of her monologues. With difficulty, she cut herself short. "Sorry."
The faint smile on his lips widened slightly. "That's all right. It's one of the unique things about you. No, it wasn't amnesia. You see ..." He hesitated and took a deep breath. She waited, holding her own breath. Superman was nervous.
"Go on," she said at last, when the silence had stretched to several seconds.
He took a deep breath and then a second one. "I came to Earth as a baby, nearly twenty-eight years ago. I don't remember my parents or anything about my home world. The globe was the navigation device for my ship, and my father left me a message in it."
"That's right. In it, he told me why he and my mother sent me off into space, alone. They sent me to Earth on purpose, because the people here look like me and I could survive here. You see, Krypton was going to explode -- did explode. As far as I know, I'm the only survivor."
She was silent while she absorbed that. The man sitting beside her and asking for her help, was the last of his kind. And someone -- probably whoever took the globe and had it in that room that Superman had found beneath the Metropolis Museum -- had found out these things. That wasn't good.
Superman was silent, waiting for her reply. What must it be like, she wondered irrelevantly -- to know that there was no one else like you anywhere? To be completely alone, even with millions of people around you. It was almost frightening to think of such a thing.
But maybe that wasn't true. Maybe this mystery person was another Kryptonian like him. "Is it possible that some other family from Krypton sent their baby here, too?" she ventured. "Could you tell if he looks exactly like you, or just sort of?"
"The television picture wasn't good enough for me to tell for sure," he said, "but from what I could see he looks a lot like me. I went over to France a while ago and checked the plane, too. His handprints were in the underbelly. They match mine."
Lois frowned, all her investigative instincts aroused now. "I'll be glad to help you figure this out, Superman, but do you mind if I have Jimmy help me, as long as I don't tell him any of this?"
"Of course not."
"And I don't know how I'm going to do this and not tell Clark some of it," she pursued. "How much do you want him to know, if anything? I'll keep it secret from him if you want, but you can trust him too, you know."
"Tell him whatever you want," Superman said. There was a slightly surprised expression on his face. "I trust him as much as I do you. In fact, it was Clark who recommended that I ask you for help, if I needed the best investigator around. I'd pretty much already decided that, though."
She was really finding out a lot of things tonight -- about Superman, and about her partner, too, she thought. It was good to know that he really respected her abilities as a journalist. That was as flattering to know as the fact that Superman apparently thought she was the best as well. Her ego was getting a major boost this evening.
"All right," she said. "I'll start on it first thing in the morning. If there's anything I can find that won't give anything away about you, I can have that, can't I?"
He grinned. She hadn't often seen Superman actually grin, but his smile almost made her knees weak. "Sure. It wouldn't be fair to make you keep everything secret. Just leave anything personal about me out of it. Deal?" He extended a hand.
"Deal!" she said, taking the hand almost automatically.
He gripped her hand firmly. "Thank you, Lois. I feel a lot better already."
"Don't be too confident until we see what I can do," she cautioned. "The first thing is to get as much information available about the rescue this morning, and the others, too, that we can. Any interviews, pictures, everything. I'll get Jimmy to work on that tomorrow morning. Maybe by then the imposterMSOffice1 will have shown up again somewhere. The more we can collect on him, the better chance we have of finding something useful. You're sure you didn't have a brother or anything that came here at the same time you did, aren't you?"
"Pretty sure, yeah," he said. "I think my father would have said something in the message if I'd had a brother. Besides, the pictures in the message only showed one baby."
"You saw pictures of your parents, and you too?"
"I even saw the planet explode," he said, a trifle grimly. "The globe showed me everything. It was kind of a mental projection. Krypton's science must have been way beyond ours, here on Earth. Well," he added, "it had to have been, or I'd never have gotten here. And whoever had the globe for a time saw all of that too."
"That's not good at all," Lois said. "I wish you'd told me last month when you found that art cache. I'd have worked harder to find out who put all that stuff under the museum, but it didn't seem all that important at the time. The globe is somewhere safe now, isn't it?"
"Yes. I keep it in my ... fortress."
In his fortress? So Superman lived somewhere in some kind of fortress when he wasn't patrolling the skies of Metropolis? "That's good. You don't want to risk someone else getting hold of it again. After we figure out what's going on with this imposterMSOffice2, I think I'm going to do some more investigation of that art thing. Maybe Clark and I can find out who was behind it."
"That would be useful," Superman said. "I'd like to know who had the globe for that time -- who it is I have to watch out for."
"You know," Lois said, "it would take a lot of money and power to have a room like that built and to keep it secret. Who in Metropolis has the kind of resources to manage it, and who would want to?"
She broke off and her eyes met Superman's. He was staring at her in astonishment. "I don't know why I didn't see it before," he said softly. "Who else could it be? Lois, you are absolutely brilliant."
"Lex," she whispered.
"Of course we can't be sure," he added after a second, "but it's a good place to start looking."
"It sure is," she said. "Thanks, Superman, you've probably given me a lead on my next big story. But first," she added, "we'll deal with the imposter. The other thing will wait."
He nodded. "I appreciate that."
"Don't thank me too much," she said. "I expect to get a good story out of it."
"I hope you do," he said honestly. "I'd better go now, though, and thanks again."
She stood at the window a long time after he had disappeared into the night, thinking about what he had told her. Who could have imagined what his real history had been? It seemed there was a lot more to Superman than she had guessed.
It wasn't until she was climbing into bed that it occurred to her that there were a number of things that he hadn't told her. How had the baby Superman survived after he had arrived on Earth? He had been a helpless infant.
"My mother made it for me." Superman had spoken those words to Amy Platt on the day that he had saved the colonist vehicle from a fiery end. Lois had almost forgotten that. His mother, whoever she was, had made his uniform, and he certainly hadn't meant his Kryptonian mother. Just who was Superman's mother, here on Earth? And where had he been for all the years since he had arrived until he decided to let people know that he existed? He certainly hadn't been hiding in some distant fortress.
The conclusion was obvious. Superman had been raised as an ordinary native of Earth. And if, as they had surmised, Lex Luthor had been the man in possession of the globe for those critical days, then he knew it too.
Clark entered his apartment, as he usually did when dressed in his Superman outfit, through the bedroom window, and flopped down on his bed without even bothering to change out of the colorful costume. Well, it was done. Lois was going to help him figure out what was going on, and who and what the imposter was. The trouble was, it had been necessary to tell her more than he wanted, and Lois, being who she was, wouldn't just let things lie. She was going to start thinking, and would certainly come to some conclusions that he didn't want her to come to. She was bound to realize that Superman was actually someone else who lived an everyday life as a normal man. He just hoped that she didn't add things up too close to home.
She probably wouldn't, he comforted himself. Nobody would even consider that a mild-mannered reporter could also be a superhero. He hoped that Lois wasn't the exception to the rule.
For an instant he wondered why he hoped that. Didn't he know her well enough by now to realize that she wouldn't give away his secrets for that Pulitzer? Well sure, but ...
Still there was the fear that if she knew ... well, who knew what could happen. He couldn't let the fact that he wanted her as a good deal more than just a friend make a difference in his caution. He couldn't risk his emotions distorting his judgement. Could he?
He wouldn't mention this to his mother and father, he decided. If he did, Mom would just go off onto one of her psychological analyses about him wanting Lois to know and not being able to admit it to himself or some sort of psychobabble like that, and Dad would get upset about his being careless. It was done, and now the less said about it the better.
Lois was leafing through a stack of papers when Clark walked onto the lobby of the Daily Planet the next morning. She glanced up from the European edition of the Daily Planet that she had been perusing and beckoned to him. "Clark, we need to talk."
"About what?" he asked.
"We've got something important to do, and if we're lucky it'll turn into a headline -- if we can just figure out what's going on."
He grinned. "That sounds promising."
She lowered her voice. "It's about Superman, Clark. He wants us to do something for him. Come on." She stuffed the paper untidily back into its holder and grabbed his elbow.
He raised his eyebrows. "Okay. You don't need to drag me along ..."
He broke off as Perry White sauntered through the revolving doors into the lobby. Clark found that now his eyebrows had climbed almost to his hairline and, with a supreme effort, managed to assume a noncommittal expression.
Lois glanced at their boss and did a double take. "Um ... Morning, Chief."
The Editor of the Daily Planet was wearing an obviously expensive coat and a pair of stylish sunglasses, and carrying a suit in it's plastic bag over one shoulder. He lifted a hand to the visor of his Daily Planet baseball cap in a jaunty gesture to them as he passed. Both Lois and Clark stared after him for a brief moment of startled silence before Lois seemed to shake herself. "Uh ... yeah. Let's go upstairs and talk where we can't be overheard."
"Sure." They followed Perry toward the elevator.
The ride to the newsroom was accomplished in near-silence. Clark glanced once at his boss and then fell to studying the control panel of the elevator. Lois gazed as if mesmerized at their editor's clothing.
"Um ... anything special going on today?" she asked.
"No." Perry began to whistle almost inaudibly. Clark cast a surreptitious glance at his choice of wardrobe and returned to studying the elevator buttons. It was that or stare, which would have been rude.
"Oh," Lois said. Silence, while the elevator creaked slowly upwards. At last it slid to a stop and the doors opened. Lois and Clark stood back to let him exit first. As he stepped out into the newsroom, Lois glanced at Clark. He shrugged slightly and gestured her out ahead of him.
Lois made a direct line for one of the conference rooms and Clark trailed after her. Jimmy Olsen, headed in the direction of the editor's office, nearly ran into them. In his scramble to avoid them, he dropped a number of what appeared to be brochures on the floor.
"Oops! Sorry." Clark bent to pick them up. "My fault, Jim." He glanced at the top brochure as he handed them to Jimmy, than took a second, closer look. "Whitewater rafting? Planning a vacation in Colorado?"
"Uh ... no. They're for Mr. White."
"Perry?" Lois snatched the item out of his hand and examined it. "He can barely tread water. What's he planning something like this for?"
Jimmy shrugged. "You got me. It's not exactly his style."
"Not exactly," Lois agreed. She glanced once more at the brochures. "Death Valley scenic hikes? Is he kidding?"
"I don't know," Jimmy said. "He said he was going to surprise the Mrs. with a different sort of vacation this year."
"Huh," Lois said. She shrugged. "Well, if a husband of mine took me on a Death Valley hike, I'd come back alone. Look Jim, when you get finished giving him this stuff, I need you to do some research for me."
"Sure, but I'd better get this to Mr. White before he starts yelling." He took the brochure back and continued on after his boss.
Lois looked after him for a few seconds and finally shook her head. "Well, whatever's going on, we'll probably find out about it after while. In the meantime, we need to talk."
"I'm at your service," Clark said. "Why all the mystery, though?"
Lois didn't answer until the door of the conference room closed behind them. She turned the lock. "I didn't want anybody to hear because Superman told me this in confidence. He said we could print anything that didn't give away anything about his background, though. He came to see me last night after I left your place. Remember the plane in France yesterday morning? Superman says he didn't save it. It was somebody else who looked like him. He wants us to try to find out what's going on."
Clark listened while she detailed the highlights of his visit to her the night before. When she had finished he said, "So what do you plan to do?"
"First," she said, "I'm going to have Jimmy find out as much about that rescue and the others as he can. I want pictures, if there are any, and statements from the people he rescued. Then, depending on what we find out, we can decide what to do next."
"Okay," Clark agreed. "Sounds like a good first step."
Lois nodded briskly. "If we get a story out of this, though, we can't mention anything about what Superman told me, Clark -- about his history. The last thing he needs is for people to figure out that he lives here as an ordinary guy. If they did, people will start hunting for him, and we don't want something like that to happen."
"Of course not," Clark said. "How do you figure that, though?" He waited, holding his breath.
"Well, it's obvious. If he came to Earth as a baby, he couldn't have survived by himself. Someone had to have taken care of him, raised him, taught him the things that everybody knows. It never occurred to me before how familiar with human customs he always seemed to be, but he really is. He had to have been raised as a human; he must have gone to school somewhere as a regular kid. He probably lives somewhere in the city, holds down an ordinary job, although that's kind of hard to imagine, pays taxes, takes out the garbage -- just like everybody else. When I first met him, he told Amy Platt that his mother made his costume, so he has adoptive parents somewhere. That's another thing. If the media ever found out about them, they'd have reporters camped out on their doorstep for the rest of their lives, and every crime lord in the world would know that to keep Superman off his back all he'd need to do would be to threaten Superman's parents -- so anyway, none of that stuff is going to get out. Got it, Kent?"
"Got it," he said. "You don't need to worry about me, Lois. Superman is my friend too, remember."
"I guess so, even though I never see you talking to him. Anyway, we don't talk about this to anybody else. Not even Perry or Jimmy. It's strictly off the record."
"Absolutely." Clark could feel the knot of tension in his gut unwinding as she spoke. His faith in Lois had been justified. Nobody was going to learn about Superman's secrets from her.
But then, Lois was loyal to her friends. He'd known it all the time underneath or he'd never have told her the things he had, but he still wasn't going to say anything about this to his parents. Much as he loved both of them, just this once he didn't feel like either being cautioned by his worried father or psychoanalyzed by his mother over the whole thing. His feelings for his partner were something private and personal and he didn't want to talk about them to anyone, especially when there was still this mystery man out there apparently pretending to be him. And for once, the fact that his reasoning didn't make a bit of sense didn't bother him at all. Maybe Lois was rubbing off on him more than he realized.
Nearly an hour later, Clark sat at his desk leafing through half a dozen photographs that Jimmy had produced in a minimum of time. With a quick glance around to be certain that no one was watching, he lifted his glasses and zoomed in on the pictures taken of the airplane rescue the previous morning. The image was slightly blurry, but it was unquestionably his own face he was looking at. Slowly he sat back, pushing his glasses back into place.
"Anything?" Lois's voice asked behind him.
He laid the photos down. "From what I can tell, it's Superman. At least, it sure looks like him. If he says it isn't, then there's a double out there somewhere."
"Then there's a double out there," Lois said flatly. "I've been reading the reports. From everything people said, he can do everything Superman can do -- except that he isn't Superman. Where could he have come from?"
Clark shook his head. "That's a good question. If he doesn't have a brother, and apparently he doesn't, then who is this guy? Someone who's had plastic surgery or something? I didn't know there were any plastic surgeons that were that good."
"I don't see how it could be," Lois said. "In the first place, he's got Superman's powers and he sure didn't get those with plastic surgery."
"Good point," Clark admitted. "So where do we go from here?"
"I've got Jimmy looking for more reports of appearances by Superman outside the United States," Lois said. "Whoever this guy is, I'd say he's trying to stay away from Superman. Why?"
"He had to know he'd be on the news so he can't expect Superman not to have heard about him, but he doesn't want to meet him," Lois pursued. "That has to mean something."
"Probably," Clark agreed. "Or maybe he doesn't want to meet him just yet for some reason."
"That's possible," Lois said. "Anyway, it sure looks like he's avoiding Superman. What's he got to hide?"
Jimmy stood up abruptly from his small desk and crossed the room to hand Lois several sheets of printer paper. "Your hunch was right," he said. "There have been a bunch more reports -- none of them as spectacular as the one yesterday. Superman's been all over the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, South and Central America, Africa, Australia and the South Seas. Lots of little rescues and a couple of big ones where there weren't any cameras around. Take a look."
"Jimmy, this isn't Superman," Lois said. "He told me so."
"Well, it's somebody who looks just like him then," Jimmy said, clearly skeptical. "Could it be somebody else from Krypton, like maybe a relative or something? Or maybe the people from his planet all look alike."
"Superman says it isn't," Lois said, firmly. "I believe him. There's got to be another explanation."
"Maybe," Jimmy said. "I've got another question though."
"Why is Mr. White wearing a hairpiece?"
The switch in subject was so abrupt that it took her brain several seconds to shift gears. "A ... hairpiece?"
"Yeah. I makes him look like Dan Rather, only younger."
Lois couldn't quite visualize that. "Who knows. Maybe his wife talked him into it."
"I dunno," Jimmy said. "I've got a weird feeling about this."
The information Jimmy had found for her wasn't particularly enlightening, Lois thought some time later. It was mostly a list of places and events with a very few quotes from witnesses. It appeared that the imposter had flown in, performed his deeds and flown out again without ever once talking to even the local press. One little blurb had a witness's description of Superman as he flew off. "He was doing barrel-rolls," the man was quoted as saying. "It seemed as if he was showing off for us or something. He must have been very happy that he'd saved our lives."
Barrel rolls? Lois stared at the quote. That certainly wasn't the Superman she knew, so there was one difference between the two. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Clark get to his feet and hurry toward the stairs, one hand on the knot of his tie. She was about to call after him when he ducked through the door to the stairs and she sighed. Clark did that a lot, and it was certainly irritating that just when she wanted to talk to him, he took off. Oh well, he'd probably be back soon enough, and with a story. That was the way it frequently happened.
True to form, Clark was back an hour later. As he slid into his chair and started to type, she crossed the space between their desks. "Where'd you go? I wanted to talk to you."
"I had to meet a source," he said. "Then I ran into a jewelry store heist on the way back. Superman was there."
"You're sure it was Superman?"
He nodded. "He wanted to know if you'd made any progress but I said we were still collecting information. I'm just going to write this up. It'll only take a couple of minutes."
"Okay." Lois went back to her desk, picked up her coffee mug and poured the cold coffee into the flowerpot on one corner of her desk. The withered plant that resided in it would have to be replaced, she noted absently. What was it about her plants, anyway? They somehow never seemed to last long. Maybe it was the lighting in here or something.
Dismissing the thought, she crossed to the coffeepot and refilled the mug. By the time she had returned, Clark was reading what he had written. As she watched, he made one small correction and saved his story.
"Done already?" she asked.
"Yeah. I'd already written it in my head on the way back. It was pretty straightforward." He transmitted the article to their boss and leaned back in the chair, stretching. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
"The reports that Jimmy dug up. Here's what a witness said about one of his rescues." She handed him the sheet of paper.
Clark read it and she saw his brows snap together. "Barrel-rolls?"
"Not exactly something Superman does after a rescue, is it?"
"Well," Clark said, "I suppose he might want to do something like that if he was just enjoying himself, but after a rescue? Still, maybe since things went right ..."
"I wonder if Superman ever flies just for fun," Lois remarked, keeping her voice low. She didn't want anyone to overhear of course, even though they probably wouldn't know what she was talking about, but it was an unnecessary risk. The idea of Superman enjoying what he did hadn't crossed her mind before. She'd only seen him in the line of duty, or when he'd given her lifts now and then. Did he even have a sense of humor? Well, she thought he did. If he had been raised as a human, by human parents, he most likely thought like a human, too. And if he thought like a human, then he had a sense of humor -- it was very probable, however, that on the job he didn't think it was a good idea to be joking around. In his ordinary-man identity, it might be different. He probably joked and laughed like any other man, although that was hard to visualize. Maybe she'd even walked past him on the street and hadn't recognized him. The thought of seeing Superman in the clothing of an ordinary man and not knowing him didn't seem likely, however. The man was just so ... so much more. Surely she would recognize him if she came face to face with him, even dressed in a suit and tie, wouldn't she?
She caught herself on the thought. She was babbling in her head again. 'Watch it, Lois,' she told herself, 'you're losing it.' On the other hand, Clark had told her that he liked it when she babbled and Superman had said last night that he didn't mind either, so maybe it wasn't so bad.
Clark raised an eyebrow. "I imagine he enjoys himself when he flies," he remarked, his voice as low as hers had been. "If what we think is true, it must have been a terrific thrill when he realized he could fly under his own power. It would be for anyone."
"You're right there," Lois agreed. "I wonder when he started flying, though. I've never seen any reports of anyone flying under their own power until Superman came along. If he'd been able to do it when he was a kid, you'd think he would have been caught on camera or something."
"You'd think so," Clark said.
"I'll ask him next time I see him," Lois said. "If he'll tell me. I got the feeling he didn't want anyone to know too much about him. I guess I understand why. If the media found out who he was, he'd never have a moment's peace." She turned her attention back to Jimmy's information. "Evidently our imposter doesn't worry about his image, though."
"Looks that way," Clark said. His thick brows were drawn together as he scanned the paper again and for an instant as Lois watched him, the strange impression that had been present after the pheromone incident, the feeling that she was missing something, was back. "This guy is getting around."
"I guess finding him is going to be a matter of luck," she said.
"I suppose if Superman hears about him appearing at some rescue he could fly over to him, but how many emergencies like the jetliner are going to happen in the space of a few days?" Clark said.
"Probably not many," Lois said. "Maybe he'll decide to show up in Metropolis before long."
"Maybe," Clark said. "I'm not sure that's a good thing, either."
"Maybe he's friendly," Lois said.
"Let's hope so," Clark said. "I'd hate for someone with Superman's powers to be his enemy."
"So would I," Lois said, quietly.
The rest of the day yielded few further results. They went out to attend the mayor's press conference, and Lois found herself wondering if the news elsewhere in the city could possibly be as dull as the mayor's blockbuster announcement of a redevelopment project in the rundown business district on Daisy Street. Somehow, the news that the deteriorating shops were to be torn down and replaced with a strip mall failed to wring any enthusiasm from her soul. At her request, near quitting time Jimmy ran another search for super activity around the world. ButMSOffice3 other than a one-line report that he had broken up a jewel heist at Kimball's Jewelry in Metropolis, there was no further mention of Superman anywhere. Frustrated, LoisMSOffice4 and Clark left the Daily Planet and headed for home.
The wind of that morning had subsided to a brisk breeze with a cold bite to it -- not a surprising circumstance since it was only the middle of March. Lois pulled her collar tight and glanced at her partner. His coat was buttoned up and he had thrust his hands into his pockets but he didn't appear particularly uncomfortable. Being a Kansas farm kid had probably hardened him to the cold, she thought a little enviously.
"Doing anything this evening?" she asked as they made their way toward Centennial Park, which cut several blocks off the walk to her apartment.
"Not much," he admitted. "I thought I'd watch the ball game that I had my VCR record this afternoon and then go to bed."
Lois nodded. "I don't know why, but I'm tired," she said. "Maybe it's from trying so hard to find something worth reporting on today."
He gave a faint chuckle. "I know what you mean," he agreed. "It was a slow news day. Oh well, maybe tomorrow we'll have better luck."
"And maybe there'll be more on the imposter tomorrow," she added. "He seems to have disappeared. Somehow, I doubt he's vanished for good, so maybe he's ready for his next move."
"You're probably right," Clark said. "What I'd like to know is what all that flurry of activity was about anyway. The guy must have rescued forty cats from trees everywhere from Scotland to Australia."
"Not to mention the Dachshund that managed to get on someone's roof," Lois said. "Explain that one to me."
"Sounds like whatever happened to put him there was more exciting than the rescue," Clark said.
She laughed. "That's for sure. You know, I wonder if maybe he was practicing."
"Well, sure. We've never seen this guy before and if there was someone else around with Superman's powers wouldn't he have shown up before this? You'd think Superman would have known if someone was going around impersonating him, don't you think?"
"Unless he kept a pretty low profile," Clark agreed. "Yeah, probably."
"Well, this is really wild, but what if he's new at this? What if he needed to practice to learn how to act like Superman? I mean," she pursued, "Superman was a little awkward with the media and so forth when he first appeared. I didn't realize it at first -- I guess," she admitted a little sheepishly, "that I was pretty dazzled by him. Who wouldn't be, the way he saved my life and all, when I first met him? But, thinking back, he was kind of shy and almost tongue-tied the first few times he actually talked to the media, and at that thing when they gave him the key to the city. Don't you remember?"
Clark nodded. "Kind of. Yeah."
"Well, this guy hasn't talked to the media at all, but he's been doing all kinds of stuff. I think he's practicing to act like Superman."
"You could be right," Clark said, "but we still don't know where he came from or how he got Superman's powers."
"Or why he looks like Superman," Lois agreed. "Judging by the pictures, he could be Superman's twin brother, but Superman doesn't have a twin brother as far as he knows. Is it possible there's someone else behind this?"
"Sure," Clark said, "I guess anything's possible, but who could be behind a second Superman? And how?"
Lois stuffed her hands in her coat pockets. "Let's forget the 'how' for the moment and concentrate on the 'who'. Who could be behind it? Who could have the kind of resources to work such an incredible thing as this?"
"Well ..." Clark was frowning at her admittedly tenuous logic. "Okay, since we don't have any idea how it could happen," he ventured, "if it's some kind of scheme or other, who would benefit from the appearance of a second Superman?"
"I'd say Lex would make a good candidate for the resources and the motivation," Lois said, "only that doesn't make sense. A second Superman would make things harder for him to conduct some of his 'business' than it is now. Of course, if it's a hoax, that might not be a problem."
"Well, he has the resources, I guess, if he wanted to pull off some kind of hoax," Clark agreed. "And if the guy's working for Luthor, he wouldn't get in the way of his 'business'. Still, how on Earth could he have managed that jumbo jet thing, if that's all it is?"
"You're back to wondering how again," Lois reminded him. "Shelve the 'how', Clark. We know this imposter's avoided Superman since his appearance. There has to be a reason. Maybe that's why. Maybe the guy is an actor or something, made up to look like Superman."
"I guess it's a possibility," Clark agreed, "and if it's a gigantic hoax, I can see Luthor being behind it, though we don't know why he'd do such a thing."
"That's not important," she said. "If he's in back of it, we know that it can't be for Superman's good. Of course there are plenty of other candidates, but he's the most obvious. He's Superman's enemy and wants to get rid of him. I think we should do a little checking into him and what he's been doing lately. If he's working some kind of scam, there have to be some traces, no matter how carefully he's covered them up. I'll get Jimmy researching some of his recent finances tomorrow while you and I start digging in other places."
Cruising above the city on the chilly evening breeze, Clark scanned and listened for anything below him that might require his intervention. Outside of a couple of random muggings and one purse snatching however, the city was relatively quiet. He had dealt with the crimes and the criminals and was on his last circuit before heading back to his apartment.
Usually his late evening patrol, when the last of the sunlight had faded from the sky and he was coasting through the air above the city lights, was a time when he could unwind somewhat from the events of the day. Flying had always been one of his most enjoyable pastimes and helped to wash away worry or stress, but tonight he wasn't able to relax completely. Something was prodding at him, so faintly that he almost attributed it to his imagination; but he found himself glancing frequently over his shoulder as he flew, scanning the air around him closely, looking for ... what? His neck prickled very faintly, as if something more instinctive than anything related to conscious thought was aware of what his thinking mind was not. It was almost as if he was being watched, but he couldn't identify the source.
Probably it was nothing more than nerves, he thought. This mystery man, who was pretending to be him, was getting to him more than he realized. Still, the theory that his partner had suggested on their walk home was a good starting point. The imposter hadn't come out of nowhere after all, and if Lex Luthor really was behind such an outlandish hoax, it wouldn't be the first time he had come up with a scheme to harm Superman. There had been the tests when he first came to Metropolis, and, although he couldn't prove it, he'd be willing to bet his last nickel that the heat wave last November, caused by Luthor's nuclear power plant, had been another one. Something like the marine environment of the bay wouldn't matter to Luthor, if it got in the way of his plans.
And of course, he reminded himself, Luthor wasn't the only candidate out there. He was simply the one who came to mind first.
His neck was prickling more strongly; he could almost feel someone watching him.
It was just his imagination, he told himself. It wasn't as if he was psychic or anything. Besides, he was a thousand feet above the city. Who could possibly be watching him? Of course it was imagination.
"Hey you!" The voice was oddly familiar and coming from not far away. He spun in mid-air.
The figure in blue was "standing" a hundred yards away, his feet resting on nothing. Clark stared at him, unaware that his mouth was hanging open.
It wasn't like looking in a mirror at all. In a reflection, all the features are reversed. This man was exactly as he had seen himself in photographs, down to the smallest detail. Even the tiny birthmark on his upper lip was on the correct side. The dark brown, faintly Asian eyes watched him with a sparkle of unholy glee and the man's mobile lips were twisted in a mocking smile. As Clark stared, he assumed the classic Superman stance with his legs apart and arms folded across his chest. The expression on his face became a caricature of the stern expression that Clark assumed when speaking to the public, then disintegrated as he broke into gleeful laughter.
Clark managed to gather his scattered wits enough to propel himself forward, toward his double. The other man waited, assuming a pose as if he were leaning against a nonexistent wall. When they were only a few feet apart Clark stopped and the imposter stood upright with a leisurely motion and held his arms out from his sides in pantomime, with a look of wide-eyed innocence that was ruined by his twitching lips. He danced right and left and pirouetted to show himself from all sides, unperturbed by the fact that they were both several hundred feet in the air, then he began to drop slowly toward the pavement. Clark followed.
They touched down together. Clark hadn't taken his eyes from the other man's face. The imposter's eyes were full of wicked laughter and he had the fleeting impression of a child delighting in a game of his own invention. The other Superman danced a few steps, turning once again so that Clark could see him from all angles.
With an effort, Clark at last regained control of his vocal cords. "Who are you?" he asked.
The other man's lips turned down in a childish pout and his heavy eyebrows drew together. "I don't want to talk," he announced. "You're my enemy."
"What makes you say that?" Clark asked.
The other Superman folded his arms. "I am the most powerful man in the universe. You have outlived your usefulness."
"Who told you all these things?" Clark asked.
"My father," the other man said.
"Who's your father?"
A secretive smile. "I promised never to tell."
"I'm not your enemy," Clark said. "I want to be your friend. I want to know more about you, where you come from."
"I was born in the womb," the imposter said "My father took me out."
That was certainly an odd way to phrase it. "Okay. How old are you?"
"As old as you." A mischievous grin. "Catch me if you can!" He was in the air as he spoke, flashing away in the blink of an eye. Clark gave chase but it became obvious at once that his double had all of his speed and agility. The man led him through the city, around buildings, through tunnels, always just ahead. He glanced back once, gave a mocking laugh and poured on the power. Clark could have followed, but it was obvious that this could go on as long as the imposter wanted to play. He looked after the dark form as his doppelganger vanished into the sky. For several minutes he remained staring at the last place he had seen his double. Finally he shook his head and turned to fly slowly back toward Clark Kent's apartment, but his mind was busy.
One thing he had learned from the short meeting. The other Superman was not a hoax or a figment of anyone's imagination. He was real and solid and possessed not only Clark's powers but his appearance as well, down to the last detail. His personality, however ...
Clark frowned, slowly replaying the meeting in his head. If he hadn't seen a man, he could have believed that he was speaking to a mischievous four-year-old boy. The double had seemed strangely childlike, for all his powers. Now that was very interesting.
Halfway home, he heard the bell in the Metropolis clock tower chime ten. He hesitated and then changed course. Maybe Lois would still be awake. He needed to talk to his partner.
Lois picked up the remote and turned off the television in disgust. Somehow, "The Ivory Tower" just wasn't able to keep her attention tonight. The trials and tribulations of Gwendolyn, Vincent and Justin, her would-be lover, seemed forced and superficial.
She was tired, she thought, and obsessing over this "double' business. They had made a little progress, she told herself, and had developed a few possibilities to investigate in the morning, but how was she going to be sure of anything if the false Superman didn't show himself in Metropolis?
What if it was a gigantic hoax? It was tempting to believe that, but after all, she knew that a man could fly, after flying with Superman. She'd told Clark to forget the 'how' for the moment and concentrate on the 'who', and she knew it was probably the right approach to take, but the sheer impossibility of it nagged at her. How could anyone be like Superman, especially after what he'd told her? Superman was the only surviving member of his species, at least as far as he knew; the last Kryptonian, and he had been sent here by his parents so that he could survive among people who looked like him. Had his parents known that he would have such incredible powers when they had picked Earth as his destination? If the people of Krypton had known what they could be on Earth, wouldn't they have shown up here before now? Superman hadn't said; he might not know.
What must it be like, she wondered again, to know that you were the last of your kind -- that once you were gone, everything that your world had produced would be erased as if it had never been?
She shivered. It had to be an incredibly lonely feeling, and yet Superman never seemed particularly unhappy. Of course, she didn't see him that often. Did he have friends? Well, sure -- she was his friend, of course, and he had his adoptive family, wherever they were. She wondered if he might have human sisters and brothers, if he had a girlfriend, or a best friend; someone who knew who he was and to whom he could talk about the things that he did. Did he have someone to listen when a rescue went wrong? There weren't many of them, but she had seen him once pulling people out of a burning building, and the grim expression on his face had stayed with her for days.
Maybe he did, but he had come to her for help and it was frustrating that she and Clark had made so little progress today. Okay, many investigations took weeks, but this one looked as if they didn't have weeks to spare. If Lex Luthor was really behind this, what kind of scheme could he have in mind? Could it be a plan to try to discredit Superman? It was possible. After Clark had told her about Lex, and after she had seen his attempt to kill Clark while he still had the pheromone to blame, she had thought back to some of the more puzzling things that had happened in the last few months, things that had seemed like unfortunate accidents at the time. The business of the super boxers when Allie had been killed -- Lex had been surprisingly prominent during that time. He'd been a sponsor of that event and was a major source of the funding for her father's work with artificial limbs, she remembered. He had seemed genuinely horrified at what she and Clark had uncovered, but now she wondered. There had been the heat wave last November, too ... could any of that have been attempts by Lex to attack Superman? Looking back with the twenty-twenty vision of hindsight, it seemed more than likely that they had. So this super-double that had suddenly appeared could very well be another try, which meant that she and Clark had to get to the bottom of it as fast as they could.
The tapping on the window in the other room alerted her at once. She scrambled out of bed, grabbed her robe and hurried out of the bedroom.
Superman was standing at the window again, tapping urgently at the pane. She opened it quickly and he dropped into the room.
"I hope I didn't wake you," he said.
"Of course not ... but couldn't you tell?" she asked in surprise. "I mean, couldn't you check?"
"Lois, I wouldn't peek into your apartment," he said, in a slightly shocked tone. "If you were changing or something, it would be a little embarrassing and it sure wouldn't show much respect for you."
"I didn't mean ..." She found herself blushing at the thought. "Anyway, is something wrong or did you just come by to hear about our progress?"
"I had to talk to you, right away," he said. "I just met him."
"'Him'?" There was no question in her mind which 'him' he was referring to. "You mean the imposter? He's here in Metropolis? He's real?"
"As real as I am," he said. "He was standing right in front of me. He looks exactly like me, and he has my powers. At least," he amended, "he can certainly fly, and he's as fast as I am, and after the plane rescue yesterday I think we can assume that he's as strong, so he probably has the rest of them too. I wanted to let you know what happened. It was a little strange."
She couldn't help smiling a little. "I'd say it would be a lot strange," she said. "Sit down and we can talk. Would you like some coffee or tea?"
"Tea will be fine," he said, "but you don't need to ..."
"That's okay. I have tea bags, and I'll zap up some hot water in the microwave," she said, surprised at her lack of nervousness in his presence. It was as if his coming to her for help had changed their relationship somewhat -- put him more on a level with her. If he needed help then he wasn't all-powerful, no matter how incredible the things were that he could do.
He smiled. "Just bring the cups in here and I'll take care of it," he suggested. "It's faster. I want you to hear this. It was ... interesting."
"Superman, you seem to have a gift for understatement," she said, surprising herself. "I'll get the cups."
Clark waited while his partner hurried into the kitchenette and returned a moment later with two mugs filled with water. "Could you set coasters on the coffee table?" she asked. "They're in the drawer ..."
"In the side table. I see them." He was already opening the drawer to retrieve the coasters she always used on the evenings when they were working on a story here.
"Thanks." She set them down and put the tea bags that had been clutched in one hand on the table. "Is Orange Pekoe all right? I know Clark likes Oolong, and more exotic ones like Lapsang Souchong or something like that, but they didn't have any at the supermarket."
"It's fine," he told her with a smile. "If you like good tea, remind me to bring you a sample from China some time."
"China?" Lois said. "Don't tell me you're a rabid tea drinker like Clark?"
He laughed. "Sometimes," he said. "I like a good cup of tea." He took the mugs and shot darts of heat vision into them until the water bubbled. "Here you go. Watch it; it's hot."
Lois took the mug and set it quickly onto one of the coasters. "Wow! That's incredible!"
Clark put the tea bags into the mugs. "Tea aside, I wanted to tell you what happened a little while ago."
"You actually located the imposter?"
"Actually he found me," Clark said. "It was strange, though. He looks like me, down to the last detail, but he doesn't act like me at all. In fact ..." He paused, trying to decide how to explain. "I was on the last leg of my patrol, and I had the oddest feeling that I was being watched ..."
With careful attention to detail, he described what had happened during the meeting. Lois sat still, her eyes fixed on his face while he spoke, obviously taking in every word.
"... So then, I decided the best thing I could do was to come here and tell you what had happened," he concluded. He swigged from the mug, finishing off the last of the tea.
Lois gave a slightly embarrassed smile. "I'm glad you have that kind of confidence in me," she said. "You're right; that was weird. The guy looks exactly like you and has your powers, but sounds and acts like a little kid. How can that be?"
"I don't have any idea," Clark said. He set the mug down on a coaster. "It's impossible on the face of it."
"So was that business about your super powers heating up Metropolis, and the pheromone thing, and the cyborg boxers -- until we figured out what was really going on," Lois said. "All of those incidents had one thing in common."
"Lex Luthor," Clark said.
She nodded. "Lex Luthor. I did some research after I finally listened to Clark, you know. Lex funded that scientist who blamed your powers for the heat wave. That makes two ways that he was tied to the thing. It wasn't just his nuclear plant that had a leak; it also involved someone who owed his research grant to Lex's approval. And of course, Lex was one of the sponsors, as well as one of the sources of funding, for 'The Ultimate Street Fight' -- besides financing my father's work. I think both of those were deliberate attacks on you, and that he wasn't just an innocent bystander."
"He funded the Mentamide 5 experiments, too," Clark said, before he thought. "I suspected ... and did a little checking of my own."
Lois's eyes widened, then narrowed thoughtfully. "I guess I'm not really surprised. I think it's pretty likely that he was the one who had your globe, too. That means he's figured out that you were raised as an ordinary human."
Clark nodded soberly. Since he and Lois had discussed this earlier at the Planet, he wasn't surprised. "Probably."
"There was a bus in Metropolis a few days before I met you for the first time," Lois said suddenly. "It nearly crashed into a bunch of people crossing the street in front of the Daily Planet, and there was a handprint in the front. A woman said some guy stopped it, but nobody paid any attention to her. They figured she was a wacko. That was you, wasn't it?"
There was no point in denying it. "Yes."
"A lot of people wondered about that after you appeared," Lois said, "But nobody was sure. I wondered too, you know, but I figured it couldn't be. But you were here, then. And Lex probably knows. That means he's trying to figure out who you are."
Clark kept his expression bland. Lois had worked almost everything out from the information he'd given her last night, he thought. No wonder she was the best investigative journalist in Metropolis.
She sipped her tea and set the mug down. "I wish you'd told me about him, Superman. Why didn't you?"
Clark shrugged uncomfortably. He had never spoken to her about Lex Luthor in his Superman identity, even after he had told her as Clark. Until this incident, he had kept their meetings deliberately short. If Lois was beginning to notice Clark Kent as more than just a friend, as the effects of the pheromone had suggested, he hadn't wanted to undermine himself in his other identity. "I didn't have any physical proof," he said, "just the things I saw and heard -- and a lot of coincidences. I didn't have any reason to think you'd believe me if you wouldn't believe Clark."
She looked down. "I ... tend to jump to conclusions sometimes," she said. "I thought he was ... well ... passing judgement on my taste in men. I should have known Clark would never do that any more than you would."
"I'm sure he wouldn't," Clark said, a little uncomfortably.
"Anyway," Lois said, reverting hastily to the previous subject, "when something that looks impossible happens now, my first suspect is Lex. If anybody could come up with some way to create a double of you, it would be him."
"How, though?" he asked. "Even Luthor has his limits. I've been trying to imagine actors, plastic surgery, robotic limbs ... none of it makes sense."
"I know. But somebody is behind this and he's at the head of my suspect list. I don't believe for a second that this is all some kind of coincidence. Clark and I will get on it first thing in the morning."
"Thanks, Lois. I knew I could count on you." Clark got to his feet, glancing at the clock. "I guess I'd better go."
"Would you like some more tea?"
He shook his head. "Thanks, no. Good night."
When Superman had gone, Lois mechanically closed the window and picked up the mugs to return them to the kitchen, but her mind was barely on what she was doing. Was it her imagination, or had Superman seemed uncomfortable when she brought up the question of why he hadn't told her about Lex? Surely he knew that if he'd tried to tell her the truth about Lex Luthor she wouldn't have jumped down his throat the way she had Clark.
And why was that? She asked herself the question as she climbed into bed and switched off the table lamp. Why wouldn't she have snapped at him if he'd tried to do what Clark had? Because he was a super hero and Clark was only a very human man who was a good friend -- a friend who cared a lot about her, she acknowledged privately. She'd known even back then that he was strongly attracted to her, which was what made it so easy to blame his attitude on jealousy.
And maybe there was some jealousy there, she thought. But Clark wouldn't say the things he'd said about someone who was really a decent guy. He might dislike a rival, but he wouldn't accuse him of being a criminal. That just wasn't in his nature.
She sighed, staring up into the darkness of her bedroom. Why did she always have to attack first, go for the throat no matter whose feelings she shredded? Clark didn't deserve that kind of treatment and she knew it but she'd done it anyway. He'd shut up and they hadn't spoken to each other for two days except for work-related business.
And maybe Superman thought she would have treated him the same way. She had to admit that he might have reason. Mad Dog Lane chewed men up and spit them out on a daily basis. Everybody knew that.
But she'd made up her mind after the pheromone thing that she would treat Clark better, and she had, hadn't she? At least she'd tried to some of the time, except when her instincts got in the way. When they did, he usually was the one that got yelled at, she acknowledged a little guiltily, but he didn't let her walk on him, either. Sometimes though, she wondered why he seemed to want to be her partner still. Most men would have lost patience with her behavior long since and walked away. But then, Clark was kind of an exceptional guy. In many ways he was a lot like Superman -- in a normal human way, of course.
She punched her pillow and tried to knead it into a comfortable shape. It sure seemed full of lumps tonight. Why was it that when Superman had come to her for help and she had a chance to do something for him, feelings of guilt about the way she treated Clark had to intrude?
Maybe it was because Superman was Clark's friend too, and he seemed to have heard about the argument. Would Clark have told Superman about it? Maybe. On the other hand, those two days of not speaking hadn't exactly been a secret. She had heard the whispers in the newsroom and some of the rumors floating around hadn't been all that complimentary to her -- which of course had made her angrier. She'd half-expected Clark to walk away then, but he hadn't. He'd simply out-waited her.
And he had turned out to be right after all. Sometimes she thought that for all her journalistic acumen, she wasn't a very good judge of men when it came to her personal life.
Well, if she was going to be any good on the job tomorrow she needed to shelve this subject and get some sleep. She would just make a point of being extra-nice to Clark tomorrow, she decided. She was going to have to work on the promise she'd made to herself. Clark didn't know about it, of course, but she did and if she was honest with herself, she hadn't really been all that good about keeping it. That was something she had to change.
Twenty minutes later she was still awake and her mattress had developed a whole herd of lumps. She was going to have to replace this thing, she thought. Maybe it just needed to be turned, though. You had to turn mattresses regularly or something, didn't you? Why didn't they give you a set of directions or a schedule or something when you bought a new mattress? Then you would know when it ought to be turned and it wouldn't get lumpy. Probably a lot of the citizens of Metropolis were sleep-deprived because they didn't know when to turn their mattresses. And how about pillows? If mattresses needed to be turned, should she turn her pillow? The darned thing was lumpier than the mattress.
Well, if she was going to get any sleep tonight, the mattress was going to have to be turned, that was all there was to it. Without further debate, Lois crawled out from under the blankets and pulled the bedclothes off the bed. This shouldn't be too hard.
Clark stripped off his Superman outfit slowly for once, tossed the famous uniform into his laundry hamper and stepped into the shower. It had been a frustrating day, culminating with meeting the imposter and then the conversation with Lois. That short conversation had left him feeling vaguely unsettled. His partner might be getting over some of her Superman-worship, which was a good thing, but the fact was that as Superman he could have told her about Lex Luthor and he hadn't. He'd wanted her to believe Clark because he was Clark, not Superman because he was a flashy, larger-than-life super hero.
But he should have told her, he acknowledged. Lois's safety was more important than his ego, and if he hadn't been so jealous of both Lex Luthor and of Lois's dazzled infatuation with Superman he'd have seen it before. He was going to have to drop this irrational jealousy of his alter ego and be more mindful of Lois's welfare. Besides, when the day came that he was ready to tell her his secret, he didn't want her to be so furious with him that she wouldn't listen to a thing he said.
He stopped abruptly in the act of drying his hair. Tell her his secret? Did he really want to do that?
After a moment he resumed the business of drying off at normal human speed. The question was one that he should have asked before. Yes, he did want to tell her his secret ... eventually. She was the only person in the world that he wanted to tell, and yet conversely the idea scared him silly. Still, if he ever managed to win her love, he would have to tell her the truth if their relationship was to have a hope of succeeding. It was time that he started being a little more mindful of his behavior where it concerned Lois. She had to come before ego, hurt feelings, jealousy, and a host of other concerns.
That decided, he pulled on his sleeping shorts and climbed into bed.
Perhaps an hour later the ringing of the phone awakened him. Half-asleep, he reached for the receiver, fumbled it, knocked it to the floor, picked it up and pushed the talk button. "H'lo?"
"Oh, Clark, did I wake you up?" Lois's voice was definitely shaking and he shot straight up in bed, instantly wide-awake.
"What's the matter?"
"Oh Clark! I'm sorry -- I didn't think you'd be asleep yet! I'm trying to turn my mattress over and it flopped over and knocked my lamp on the floor and broke it, and I stepped on a piece of it and cut my foot, and knocked over my water glass and spilled water all over the mattress -- and I still haven't got it fixed!"
Lois was definitely in a full-fledged babble and she sounded as if she were on the verge of tears. "Hold on, Lois. Calm down. Go take care of your foot. I'll be there in ten minutes to help you, okay?"
"Oh Clark, I shouldn't have called you. It's past midnight, but my foot is bleeding all over the rug and I think I've got a piece of glass in it, and I even broke my alarm clock! This is ..."
"Lois." He put a little of the tone in his voice that he used as Superman to elicit cooperation from upset people. "Take a deep breath. Go stop your foot from bleeding and I'll be right there. Go on, now."
"Okay." He could hear her take a breath. "Thanks, Clark."
"No problem." He hung up and crossed instantly to his dresser, grabbing for the first articles of clothing that came to hand, a pair of worn jeans and a tank top. A moment later he was zipping through the night air to his partner's apartment.
She might be in her night gear but he wasn't likely to catch her in the nude, he assured himself, and he was concerned about her. A quick peek with his x-ray vision showed her wearing a pair of striped pajamas, sitting on the edge of the tub, holding her foot under the stream of water from the faucet. Her bedroom looked as if it had been in the middle of a riot and the amount of blood soaking her rug nearly made him blanch. In an instant, he was at her apartment door and rapping urgently on the wood.
"Just a minute!" Lois's voice sounded somewhat calmer now. There was a thump and a shrill gasp from his partner, then he heard something strike the bathroom tiles and the sound of breakage. A quick peek with his x-ray vision showed him that the tall, fluted container that had held her scented bubble bath was now in several pieces in the middle of a puddle of thick liquid spattered across the bathroom floor. Lois was limping toward the door, leaving red blotches on the rug. He waited, trying to stay calm while she undid the locks and pulled the door open.
Her face was paler than usual and streaked with drying tears. He stepped quickly into the room, taking her arm. "Are you all right, Lois?"
The composed expression on her face disintegrated. "Oh Clark! I've made such a mess of it!"
He kicked the door shut, turned the door lock and scooped her up almost in one motion. "Let me look at that cut. I'll take care of the rest in a minute."
"It's not that bad," she protested.
He ignored the protest and set her on the sofa. "Maybe, but just let me look at it, okay?"
"Okay," she said with uncharacteristic meekness.
He knelt on the rug, lifting her foot to examine the half-inch cut. It was still bleeding, but when he lowered his glasses to check it with his special vision, he saw that she was right. It wasn't deep but it was still oozing somewhat, and there was a small piece of glass still imbedded in it.
"I think I see a sliver of glass," he said. "Do you have a first aid kit?"
She shook her head. "No. There are some Band-Aids and alcohol in the medicine cabinet."
"Hmm. Do you have a straight pin?"
Again she shook her head. "I think there's a safety pin in the drawer of my night stand."
"Okay. Why don't you stay here and I'll get what I need," he told her.
A few minutes later, with his improvised first aid equipment, he had cleaned the cut, removed the glass, poured alcohol over it and carefully covered it with a Band-Aid. The apparent gallons of blood on the rug next to her bed had turned out to be a mixture of blood and the spilled water, he had discovered much to his relief, when he had gone to retrieve the safety pin.
"There," he said, smoothing down the bandage. ""Does that feel better?"
She nodded. "I'm sorry, Clark. I shouldn't have gotten so upset, but everything was going wrong. I couldn't even sleep in my bed and ..."
"Tell you what," he interrupted, getting to his feet, "you sit still and take care of that foot and I'll fix the mattress for you, okay? I used to help Mom turn the mattresses every spring when I was a kid."
She nodded, and he went into the bedroom. Checking to be certain that she was where he'd left her, he quickly replaced the mattress on the bed, used his heat vision to dry the patch on the mattress where the water had spilled and bundled up the bloodied sheets, working at normal human speed. The linen closet yielded new bedclothes and he quickly and efficiently made the bed. A few minutes later he had located her vacuum and cleaned up the broken glass, checking with his special vision to be certain that he'd found all the pieces, and then, with cold water and a towel, he removed as much of the bloodstains from the rug as was practical.
As he returned the vacuum cleaner to its spot in the closet, he glanced at Lois, not surprised to see that now that the crisis was over she had laid her head down on the arm of her highly uncomfortable couch and was dozing. He shook his head smiling a little. He didn't know anyone else who would decide to turn her mattress at midnight, but that was Lois. At least this way she wouldn't ask questions about how quickly he had managed to repair the damage. Softly, he hurried back to the bathroom and proceeded to clean up the broken container and the spilled bubble bath. The last thing Lois needed was to walk in here in the morning and slip in the spilled soap.
When he was finished, he rinsed the towel and hung it up to dry. It looked like he'd done everything he could, and Lois was sound asleep on the sofa. Quietly, he approached his sleeping partner and gently shook her shoulder. "Lois?" he said softly.
She opened her eyes and pushed herself to a sitting position. "Done already?'
"Mostly," he said. "I think the rest of it can wait until tomorrow. Come on; I'll give you a hand to your room. No funny business; I promise."
"Oh Clark," she said, "you don't have to tell me that."
He gave her a boost to her feet and steadied her as she half-hopped across the room to her bedroom. When he lowered her to a seat on the foot of the bed, she gave a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Clark. You're a life-saver."
"Not a problem," he assured her. "But the next time you decide to turn your mattress in the middle of the night, give me some warning, okay?"
She nodded. "I shouldn't have called you," she said, "but ..."
"I hope that you'll call me the next time before it gets to something like this," he said. "Even if it's at two AM. Do you think you can sleep now?"
She gave a small nod, smothering a yawn. "I think so."
"Good. Then I'll see you in the morning."
She nodded again. "Good night, Clark."
Not surprisingly, Lois overslept. She awakened at the sound of a light rap at her door and sat up, confused for a moment that the apartment was filled with sunlight.
The knock came again and realization flooded over her. Her alarm clock was broken and she was late! She sprang out of bed just as someone knocked a third time, and winced as the reason for her call to Clark last night came back in a rush.
"Who is it?" she shouted.
"Clark," her partner's voice said.
"Just a minute!" Lois grabbed for her robe where it lay neatly over the back of a chair. In the light of day, and moderately awake, the extent of the repair that Clark had done to her bedroom was more obvious. Her partner had turned in an outstanding job last night, considering the hour and the equipment available.
Yanking the belt tight, she fumbled with the array of locks, not stopping to wonder how so many had been fastened, since the last thing she recalled was crawling under the covers, leaving Clark to let himself out.
Her partner was leaning against the doorframe, whistling softly and holding a large paper bag in one arm. She could smell a delicious aroma emanating from it.
He straightened up as she pulled the door wider. "Hi. Feeling better this morning?"
A glance at the wall clock told her that she was so hopelessly late to work that a few minutes more wouldn't matter. "Not bad. My foot's a little sore but it feels better than I expected."
"Good. Don't worry about being late. I called Perry and told him we had some things to do out of the office this morning."
"Do we? Or are we just playing hooky?"
He made a face. "I'm never going to hear that phrase again without thinking of Hamm. Can I come in?"
Lois stepped hastily back. "Sure. What's in the bag?"
"Breakfast." He set the bag down on her coffee table. "I visited my favorite French restaurant this morning. I figured that after last night you could use a little pick-me-up. French mushroom and cheese omelettes and breakfast crepes with fruit toppings and all the trimmings. I also brought a thermos of my home-brewed coffee."
"It smells wonderful," Lois said. "Give me ten minutes to change, okay?"
"Sure. If you like I'll set the table while I'm waiting."
"That would be nice," she said. "Be right back.
She limped back into the bedroom, snatched up clothing and made a beeline for the shower. This would have to be fast, but she didn't want to head for work without showering.
It was actually closer to fifteen minutes later when she emerged from the bedroom dressed for work. Clark was waiting patiently, as she had expected, watching the morning news report. He looked around, smiled and switched off the TV. "Ready for breakfast?"
She nodded. "I'm starved. I guess wrestling with mattresses at midnight helped me work up an appetite."
Clark grinned, making room for her on the sofa. "Just for my own curiosity, why did you decide to turn the mattress at that time of night ... or shouldn't I ask?"
She could feel her cheeks burning. "The mattress was lumpy and I couldn't sleep. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Did you get some sleep afterwards?" he asked, looking a little concerned. "You seemed sleepy enough when I left."
"Yeah. I don't think I moved all night. It was awfully nice of you to come over and help, though. I know I woke you up."
He shrugged. "That's all right. I'm glad you called me. Now, how about something to eat?"
Lois had been enjoying the scents wafting up from the Styrofoam boxes containing her breakfast. Clark unscrewed the lid of the thermos that held his excellent coffee and poured her a cup while she opened his offering. A light fluffy omelet garnished with a creamy sauce, and a breakfast crepe met her gaze. The aroma of the meal was making her mouth water. She picked up her fork hastily and took a quick bite and Clark grinned.
"Dig in," he said. "Sugar substitute and skim milk for the coffee, right?"
She nodded, her mouth too full to speak. He opened his own breakfast while she savored the first bite and poured himself a cup of coffee, adding four packets of sugar and two of the little cups of half and half.
The food seemed to almost vanish of its own accord. She took the last bite and scooped up the crumbs in the box before she said another word. "Clark, that was delicious! How come you always know all these terrific places to eat that I can never find?"
"I like to try little out of the way places," he said. "I find some really good ones sometimes." He grinned. "Some real stinkers, too."
"Well, you can bring me food from this one any time," Lois said.
"I might just do that," Clark said. "Are you ready to head for the office?"
She got to her feet. "You bet. After that kind of breakfast, I'm ready to take on the imposter. Have you seen Superman since last night?"
"As a matter of fact, I saw him this morning. He told me about meeting the imposter last night. I guess he's not a hoax after all."
"No, but that doesn't mean someone isn't behind his appearance. By someone else, I mean Lex, of course. At least probably." Lois reached to gather up the debris of their meal but Clark was ahead of her. He efficiently stacked the Styrofoam trays together and stuffed them into the paper bag.
"There," he said. "I'll just get rid of this in your trash and we can go. I guess you don't want to walk with a cut foot."
"No," she agreed, "but it only hurts a little. I'm sure it'll be fine by tomorrow."
"Probably." He disposed of the trash and was back to hold her coat for her and to open the door. "What have you got in mind next?"
"Well, if we can't talk to the imposter, we'll have to approach it differently. As a starting point, suppose this guy is an actor with some pretty extreme physical enhancements."
"I don't know if that works," Clark said. "How can we explain the flying?"
"I don't ... yet. Like I said, we'll worry about 'how' some of this was done later. I said to Superman last night that when something apparently impossible happens now, Lex is my prime suspect. Maybe Jimmy will have some ideas how to check and see if he's made any unscheduled payments to doctors or scientists lately. Maybe both. If Lex is involved, he might have to expend some of his private funds rather than funds from his company ... or companies. So we'll see if he's made any unusually large personal banking transactions lately, maybe any big cash withdrawals ..."
"Well," Clark said, "I suppose it's a starting point. On the other hand, with Luthor, a few million might rank in the category of petty cash."
"I'll figure out something. You'll see."
"I'm not arguing," Clark said. "I believe you."