This is the fourth story of the "Home" series. In order to
understand the premise, you need to read the three previous stories,
Home, Home II: Beginnings, and Home III: Memories. The familiar
characters are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd
Productions et al, and I have no claim on them at all, but the new
characters, settings, and the story itself are mine.

Nan Smith

___________________

Home IV: Honeymoon
By Nan Smith
Rated PG
___________________


"Clark, what am I going to tell my parents?" Lori said. She and
Clark Kent were seated on the big, comfortable sofa in his apartment,
only half-watching the drama unfolding on the vidscreen that took up
a large part of the opposite wall. It was new. Clark's previous
vidscreen had finally decided, three days before, to die a horrible
death. Clark, alerted by Lori, had fortunately been available to put
out the fire before it caused any damage to his apartment, and a
friend had gotten him a deal on one of the latest models to replace
his ancient, and now defunct one. Clark had regarded it as a good
investment; he would soon, barring alien invasions; women who shrank
big people into little people; and attacks of amnesia; be bringing a
beautiful new bride, who had the virtue of also being his soulmate,
into his home. Sitting on the couch together watching a show
presented all kinds of interesting possibilities to a
soon-to-be-married couple.

As it had this evening. They had been curled up together on the
couch, Clark's arm around Lori, her head resting on his shoulder, and
sharing an occasional kiss. Lori had long since lost track of the
plot line, finding her companion far more interesting than the
characters on the screen, but now her gaze fell on the sparkling
stone on the third finger of her left hand. She had been wearing it
for three weeks, and it still surprised her to see it there. So far,
she hadn't told any of her family of the engagement and she had been
worried about it. The reason for her apprehension wasn't her father
or sister. Her mother's reaction was sure to be explosive and it was
something to which she was not looking forward with any anticipation.

Clark stroked the back of her hand with a forefinger. "You're really
worried your mom's not going to like our engagement, aren't you?"

"That's putting it mildly," Lori said. "She'll have a fit. She
wants me to do what she never did--have a successful career and I can
tell you, to her that doesn't include a husband. She's never let Dad
forget that she gave up her career to marry him. I'm not going to be
able to convince her that mine is likely to be better because of you."

Clark planted a kiss under her ear. "Maybe not, but you've helped my
work, too. I've seen it improve over just the last six weeks.
Together we're better than either of us is alone."

"I know, but try to get Mom to believe it," Lori said, trying with
only partial success to remain focussed on the subject. "She'll be
after me to break it off; I know she will. Did I ever tell you why
Marcy left home at seventeen?"

"No. What happened?"

"Mom was the reason," Lori said. "Marcy got tired of Mom criticizing
every guy she spoke two words to, and trying to discourage her
boyfriends. She took a six-month marriage contract with a guy she
managed to talk into it, moved to New York and started modeling
swimwear at the local Shaw and Rickman's department store. We didn't
even know where she was for over eleven months. When we finally
heard from her, some talent scout had seen her work at Rickman's,
she'd signed with Sergio's Modeling Agency in New York, and the rest
is history. Now she's one of the top-rated models in the industry
and has gone through about fifteen boyfriends and six more short-term
marriages in the last five years. She says she gets bored easily."

"That's too bad," Clark said. "I don't want to criticize your mom,
but I don't think she's being fair to either of you."

"Oh, Mom gave up on Marcy a couple of years ago," Lori said.
"Everyone puts on a good show, but they barely tolerate each other.
Now she's focussed on me to fulfill her dreams. I do want to be a
successful investigative journalist; it's always been my ambition,
ever since seventh grade. But I don't see why I can't have that and
a husband--and children, eventually--too."

"There's no reason at all that you can't," Clark said. "It's not up
to you to fulfill your mother's ambitions. You need to fulfill your
own, whatever they may be."

"It won't matter in the long run," Lori said. "There's nothing she
can say that will change my mind about you, but she's going to make
our lives miserable in the meantime. Do we have to tell her--right
away, that is? I'd rather just elope and tell her later."

"Well--" Clark had begun to kiss her lightly along her neck. Lori
closed her eyes and leaned against him. "I'm not going to even try
to tell you what to do. Whatever you decide, I'll support you."

"Um...yeah," she murmured. "Oh, Clark..." She felt him smile
against her neck. "Um..."

He chuckled and kissed her one last time. "I'm not playing fair, am
I? Seriously, whatever you're happy with, I'll go along with you.
If you really want to get married quietly and then tell them, and
maybe have a more formal ceremony later so our families can attend,
we could do that."

Lori sighed deeply and reluctantly pushed herself somewhat upright.
"I'd kind of like to. That's what Marcy did--except she never had a
big, formal ceremony. She and--I think his name was Jerry--just came
in and announced they were married. Of course, Mom blew up and said
all kinds of awful things and Marcy stormed out. When she did get in
touch with us again, she called Dad. She and Mom didn't speak for
over a year after that, but eventually things quieted down. It's
going to be a mess no matter what we do. But I don't want to
disappoint *your* family."

"Believe me, they'll understand," Clark said. "Have Ronnie tell you
some time what happened when she and Mason Brent wanted to get
married. His parents were dead set against it. They didn't approve
of her, don't ask me why. He and Ronnie ended up flying off to Las
Vegas to get married secretly, and his parents didn't know about it
for six months." He chuckled. "The only reason Mason told them then
was that she was four months pregnant with Oliver."

"So what happened?" Lori asked, her attention thoroughly caught.

"They had a tremendous fight," Clark said. "His dad almost threw him
out of the family business. It got pretty intense and Mason walked
out. It took his parents a while to come around, but they reconciled
about six months later, after Oliver was born and they finally
realized that Mason valued his wife and child more than his position
in the business."

Lori found herself laughing, trying to imagine the circumstances that
might have led up to such a situation. "That sounds exciting, but it
turned out all right, I guess."

"Well, they'll have been married fifty years this September, so I'd
say it was pretty 'all right'. Mason's retired now, and their
daughter, Alice, is the CEO of the company. Oliver decided he wanted
to be a cop, as I'm sure you recall."

"I could hardly forget," Lori said. "Ronnie's awfully nice, but I'm
a little nervous about meeting the rest of your family. I mean, what
will they think of me?"

Clark pulled her back against him without much effort. "They're
already prepared to like you, sight unseen. Lara and Aaron helped
stand guard over your place one night while we were investigating
Gaia's Children, you know. That was the night before Ray and Frank
kidnapped us. They were hoping things would work out for us.
Everyone was, even John." He kissed her neck. "He knew I was afraid
to tell you about my past, and he told me to have faith in you. He
was right."

"I guess a lot of things were happening that I didn't know about
then," Lori said. "I wondered how Superwoman knew my name, but I
didn't figure it out at the time."

"You weren't supposed to." He grinned against her hair and resumed
his previous, highly distracting activity. "No one will be hiding
anything from you from now on, though. Anyway, however you want to
handle your mom is your choice. I'll go along with whatever you
decide to do."

"I don't want a long engagement," Lori said, dreamily.

"Neither do I," Clark said. He rested his cheek against hers. "I'm
anxious to take you off on a honeymoon to wherever you want to go."

"Hawaii?" Lori said. "I'd love to go to Hawaii."

"Hawaii it is," Clark said.

Lori turned her head to look up at him. "Thank you, Clark."

"What for?"

She snuggled into the curve of his body. "For being so understanding
about waiting. I know that most guys..."

"Hey," Clark said. "Remember what I said. I'd never ask you to do
something you felt was wrong. If you want to wait for our wedding
night, we'll wait, and that's the end of it. Besides," he added,
"you were more than understanding about *me*!"

"What did I ever do to deserve you?" she asked. "I'm the luckiest
woman in the world."

"You didn't have to do anything," Clark said. " I'm the lucky one,
to have found you. Other men have to settle for second best."

Lori didn't answer. She tangled her hands in his hair and pulled his
face down to hers, shelving the discussion for the moment, but it
stayed with her. It would be an awful fuss, of course, but Mariann
wouldn't give in easily to the idea that Lori wanted to get married.
The horrible memories of what had happened when Marcy had announced
her marriage were still clear after seven years, and being the only
child left at home after that had been a nightmare. She really
didn't want to face her mother's wrath without some kind of
insurance. The thoughts of the endless arguments to which she would
be subjected, and the pressure Mariann would attempt to bring to bear
to get her to change her mind made her cringe. Eloping had been in
her mind ever since she and Clark had picked out the ring in Paris,
three weeks ago. It wouldn't take much to persuade her that it was
the best course of action.

**********

The vidphone chimed. Clark reluctantly raised his head and glanced
at the identification on the screen. His eyebrows went up. "It's
your parents."

"Oh, great. I left a call forwarding to your number. I probably
shouldn't have."

"You better straighten your hair," Clark said.

"Tell them I'm in the bathroom," Lori said. "I've got to fix my
makeup. And you better wipe the lipstick off your face." She rose
from the couch and fled.

Clark removed the lipstick, ran a pocket comb hastily through his own
hair, grinned and picked up a random hard copy of a file they had
been studying earlier before the project had been abandoned in favor
of more pleasant pursuits. He glanced casually at the screen. "Yes?"

The screen came on. Mariann Lyons looked out of it at him, an
expression of disapproval plain on her face. "Mr. Kent, where is my
daughter?"

Clark raised an eyebrow. "She's in the bathroom. Is there a problem?"

"What's Lori doing in your apartment at this hour?"

Clark laid the paper down on his coffee table. "We're a reporting
team, Ms. Lyons. Journalists don't have set hours like other jobs."

Lori's mother looked unsatisfied with the explanation. "May I speak
with her, please?"

"I'm sure she'll be back in a minute," Clark said, peaceably.

Robert Lyons appeared in the screen. He smiled at Clark. "Hello,
Mr. Kent. How are you?"

"Fine."

"How's Lori doing? I saw your expose last week in the Planet."

"She's doing fine," Clark said. He turned his head. "Lori, your
parents are on the phone!"

"Tell them just a minute, Clark," Lori's voice said, faintly.

Clark turned back to the vidphone. "It'll be a few minutes." He
glanced at the indicator on his screen as the vidphone chimed again.
"Excuse me, I have another call coming in. Lori will be here in a
minute. Hold," he told the vidphone. "Take second call."

The screen shifted. Clark smiled in genuine welcome to the second
caller. "Hi, Jon, how's Seattle?"

His youngest son grinned. "Hi, Dad! I heard you're getting married!
She said yes, huh?"

"Yes, she did." Clark glanced over his shoulder as Lori emerged from
the bathroom, her hair and makeup perfect. "This is Lori, Jon.
Lori, this is Jon Kent, my son."

"Hi, Lori," Jon said.

"Hi." Lori smiled timidly at the image of Clark's son. Clark was
silent, looking at him. Of his four children, Jon looked the most
like Lois. He was a handsome man, with his father's eyes and his
mother's nose, smile and coloring.

"Welcome to the family," Jon said. "Dad, the four of us are throwing
a barbecue next Sunday, and we wanted you and Lori to attend. All of
us want to meet her. Do you think the two of you can make it?"

Clark glanced at Lori. "It's up to you, honey."

Lori hesitated, then nodded firmly. "Sure."

"Good. It starts at noon, so come any time from then on. We'll be
having several family members drop in--most of us, actually. We
thought we'd take turns doing patrols, just in case. Will that be
all right?"

"Sure," Clark said. "Look, Jon, Lori's parents are on my other line.
They don't know about this yet, so..."

"I get it," Jon said. "See you later. Good luck." He winked at
Lori. "It's nice to finally meet you, Lori. Ronnie described you,
and she was right. Dad's a very lucky man."

Lori looked gratified. "Thanks," she said. "I like your family
already, Clark."

"Good night, Jon," Clark said, with a slight grin. "We'll see you
Sunday. Close second call," he added. "Sorry about that, Ms. Lyons.
Here's Lori, now."

Mariann Lyons looked sternly at her daughter. "Lori, I expected you
to be in your apartment. It's too late for you to be visiting
friends, even if it's 'business'." Her tone said she thought it was
anything but business.

"Sorry," Lori said. "We had some things to finish."

Mariann scowled at Lori and then Clark and rather obviously bit her
lip to prevent herself from saying something that would contravene
good manners. Robert Lyons' expression was a little hard to read,
but Clark thought he could see a slight smile in his eyes.

"Hello, honey," he said. "We just wanted to know how you were
holding up. Your Mom's tried to call you several times in the last
couple of weeks, but all she got was your phone's recording."

"I'm sorry about that," Lori said. "It's been a pretty busy two
weeks. Clark and I were on stakeouts almost every night."

"So I gathered from your message." Mariann Lyons' tone said she
didn't believe a word of it. She surveyed Clark frostily. "Are you
certain you aren't getting in over your head, Lori? You were
involved in that stolen jewelry thing in--was it Alta Linda?--and
then all the trouble you went through on the pharmaceutical black
market expose you wrote about last week. I'm not certain I approve of
all this. They have an opening at our local paper; I inquired about
it today, and I'm sure you'll be happier closer to home. When I told
them that you might be interested in a job here, they seemed to
recognize your name and they were very favorable to the idea."

"It was Alta Mesa, Mother," Lori said. Clark could hear the
stiffness in her voice. "I'm fine, although it *was* a bit of a
surprise to find a 2.7 million dollar ring in my purse. And the
other thing was okay. None of the shooting got anywhere near me.
Clark made sure of that." Her voice rose slightly. "But Mother, I
already told you when we were in Houston that I'm very happy at the
Daily Planet and I don't have any plans to quit. I'm not interested
in a job in Los Angeles."

Mariann Lyons' eyes flicked significantly at Clark. "I trust you
remember what I said about certain career hazards, Lori," she said.
"We need to talk later in private. I don't want you to make the
mistake your sister made. The Herald is a respected publication, and
it was willing to offer you an excellent salary. I really don't see
your objection to taking a position there, and you could live at home
and save yourself the cost of renting an apartment. I hope you'll
reconsider." She glanced once more at Clark. "I have to check the roast.
The oven's timer is acting up again." She disappeared from the
screen abruptly.

Robert Lyons glanced over his shoulder. "Your mother is worried
about you, Lori," he explained. "She's afraid you're going to get
hurt being involved in all these things."

"It's my job, Dad," Lori said. "I'm doing fine. Clark and I work
together as a team. We look out for each other."

Robert Lyons glanced at Clark. "So I gathered. Don't feel pressured
to come back to Los Angeles unless that's what you want to do. Take
good care of her, Mr. Kent." He smiled slightly into his youngest
daughter's eyes. "Good night, Lori."

The screen went dark. Lori looked at Clark. "See what I mean?"

Clark smiled. "Did you hear what your dad said?"

Lori nodded. "Do you think he knows?"

"I'd say so," Clark said. "Your mom's sure suspicious of me, though."

"That's not unusual," Lori said, sounding resigned. She walked to
the vidphone and punched in a number.

"What are you doing?" Clark asked.

"Calling my phone and changing the filter settings," Lori said. "I'm
officially avoiding Mother for a while longer. She's trying to get
me to come home where she can keep an eye on me. She's wanted me to,
ever since I graduated. Clark what am I going to do?"

Clark smiled slightly. It wouldn't be normal, he supposed, if his
soulmate didn't have problems with her family, although Mariann Lyons
certainly seemed to dwarf Ellen Lane when it came to controlling
personalities.

"Clark," Lori said, suddenly, "Is it too late in the evening to make
a quick trip to Las Vegas?"

"Huh?"

"I want to get married before Mother does something I'll regret. We
can have another, bigger wedding for the family later. Is tonight
too soon?"

"No, of course not. Are you sure?"

"Yes, I am." Lori looked resolute. "I'm not going to do what Marcy
did, though. I don't want a six-month contract unless you do."

"I'd like a lifetime one," Clark said.

"So would I. Let's go right now."

Clark raised an eyebrow. Well, he couldn't blame her, he supposed,
judging from the story about Marcy. It wasn't going to make for good
relations with Lori's mother, but he had a strong hunch that the
relationship between himself and Mariann Lyons was never going to be
a particularly warm one. Oh, well, that was just something he'd have
to live with, he thought. At least Robert Lyons didn't seem upset
and, if he was any judge, Lori's father had a pretty good idea what
the relationship was between his daughter and her partner.
Unfortunately, so did her mother.

He gave a mental shrug. No matter how they did this, there were
bound to be problems, and he'd already promised to go along with
whatever she wanted. Maybe if he and Lois, years ago, had been a
little more determined about it, they'd have managed to get married a
lot sooner than they had. If there was one thing he'd learned in a
century, it was not to be indecisive. Vacillating back and forth
caused more trouble in the long run than making a wrong decision. At
least if you did that, you could deal with the consequences and get
it over with. Being wishy-washy about an important step usually
resulted in a lot more worry and trouble than it was worth.

"Why don't you grab my leather jacket out of the closet?" he
suggested. "It's bound to be a little cold at this time of night.
Let me just get the wedding rings, and we can be on our way."

**********

The Golden Nugget Chapel in the Old Wagon Wheel Casino and Restaurant
wasn't exactly what Lori had dreamed of, but white lace and satin
could come later. Right now, becoming Clark's wife was more
important. Her mom's phone call to check on her whereabouts and
renew the pressure to return home had been the final straw. After
months of Clark's friendship, she had realized what it could be like
being loved by someone who didn't have a stake in controlling her
every action. Once the marriage was finalized, they could deal with
the inevitable repercussions. Mariann wasn't going to like this no
matter how they did it, Lori knew, but she and Clark would have one
thing in their favor. Her parents lived on the West Coast. Three
thousand miles as a buffer was a distinct defense against her
mother's anger, as Marcy had discovered several years ago. At the
time, she hadn't understood her sister's actions but her reasons had
become abundantly clear since. And if worst came to worst, she could
always shut off her phone.

They completed the legal forms quickly. From somewhere, Clark
produced a bouquet for her. Lori fidgeted nervously while they
waited for the couple ahead of them to finish their nuptials, and
Clark asked her again, "Are you certain this is what you want to do,
Lori? I don't want you to be sorry later."

"I'm sure," Lori said. "Unless you don't want to?"

"No, of course not," Clark said, quickly. "I just don't want to
cheat you out of anything. I want it to be perfect for you."

"It is perfect, Clark," Lori said. "It can't be anything else,
because I'm marrying the man I love. Long engagements are overrated
anyway."

"Well, okay--if you're sure," Clark said. He took her hand. "I love
you, Lori, and I promise you I'll never willingly give you any reason
to regret your decision. And..." He lifted her hand to kiss the
knuckles lightly, "I'll never let your marriage to me affect your
career for the worse. You're going to be one of the best
investigative reporters at the Planet. I know that already." He
looked up as the young woman who stood in as one of the witnesses
beckoned to them from the chapel door. "Let's go. This is it."

**********

"Okay, kids, which ceremony do you want?" the Reverend Daryl asked.
Lori's first impression of him was of a used aircar salesman. He was
a tall, slender, man with a thick shock of dark, curly hair and
distinct five-o'clock shadow. His black, formal suit looked as if
he'd been sleeping in it. "We got one for every kind of marriage."

"Traditional," Clark said.

The Reverend Daryl's eyes widened and his eyebrows flew up.
"Traditional? We don't get many of those. Are you sure you don't
want a provisional six-month one first, just to be sure you're
compatible? Wouldn't want to make a mistake like that, you know."

Lori gripped Clark's hand. "Traditional," she said, firmly. "We
talked this out in advance."

"Okay, then. Millie! Angela, let's get this show on the road."

The two women who were apparently the professional witnesses scurried
in to take their places. From somewhere, traditional wedding music
started to play, no doubt a recording, and Reverend Daryl showed them
where to stand. "Okay, okay! Cut the music!"

The music died with a faint squeal, and the Reverend began. "Dearly
beloved, we are gathered here today..."

Lori listened with a fragment of her attention, but most of it was on
Clark. The fact that the ceremony was a good deal short of what she
had once dreamed about was unimportant. Later, she would remember it
as the most beautiful wedding she had ever attended. It wasn't the
tacky surroundings or the nasal voice of the man who later signed
their marriage certificate; it was the fact that she was marrying
Clark. She heard Clark's voice giving his responses clearly, and
when it was her turn, she gave them as firmly. Then it was over;
Lori was wearing a plain gold band on her finger and the Reverend
Daryl pronounced them husband and wife and told Clark he could kiss
his bride. While her ears were still ringing from the kiss, Clark
slipped the engagement ring back onto her ring finger, next to the
brand new one, then they signed their names on the register and the
Reverend Daryl smiled benignly at them. "That's it, kids, you're
married. Good luck. Next!"

**********

Outside in the warm air of Las Vegas, Clark looked down at his new
bride. "Well, it's done. What now? Shall we ask John for a week
off so we can go to Hawaii?"

"Not yet," Lori said. "We'll save that for after the big formal
wedding. Take me home, Clark."

Clark shook his head. "Not yet. At the very least, I want to give my new
bride a night in a Honeymoon Suite here in Las Vegas. I went back
and picked up a few essentials while you were reading the chapel
brochure. They're stashed in a rental locker over at King Tut's
Hilton and Casino."

Lori giggled and snuggled into the curve of his arm. "Has anyone
ever told you that you're the most romantic man on the planet?"

Clark grinned. "I work at it."

"You succeed very well," Lori said.

He led her down an alley, glanced carefully about and spun into
Superman. "Let's go. The Hilton is across town."

They lifted quickly out of the alley into the evening air, and flew
over the brilliantly lighted city. Las Vegas had been the gambling
capital of the country for well over a century. It had grown in size
and glitter year by year; structures that were the product of
fantastic imaginations and modern engineering sprawled across the
landscape below them, outlined in a bewildering rainbow of lights.

The dark bulk of an aircar cruised by a hundred yards away, its
headlights illuminating the open space ahead of it. Clark avoided
the beams and quickly gained altitude. Lori wondered if they had
been seen but even if they had, what did it matter? In the dimness,
illuminated only by the pale, sliver of the rising moon and the
reflected light from below, her face would be invisible to casual
observers, and they were too far away for the car's night sensors to
pick up fine detail. Of course, people did wonder now and then who
the mates of the supermen were. Every time a new superhero appeared
there was a fresh flurry of speculation in the tabloid publications
over the identity of the non-super mother or father. In spite of all
the attempts of numerous investigators from many different agencies
both private and governmental however, no one had ever found out and
now she knew why. A little thrill passed over her skin as she
realized she was now one of their family, and would one day perhaps,
be the mother of super children of her own--a few years from now, of
course, when her career had become a little more firmly established.

She slid her fingers along Clark's jaw line and saw him swallow. He
wasn't nearly as calm about this whole matter as he was trying to
appear, any more than she was. She took a deep breath and
deliberately turned her attention to the scenery passing below her.

Seen from above, Las Vegas was an enchanted city. Lori felt as if
she was living in a fairy tale just for tonight, flying in Clark's
arms through the warm, dry desert air. The skyline was a mass of
brilliance. To the west, the sunset was almost gone. The faintest
streaks of rose hues were visible against the dark blue of the late
evening sky, but the glow of the city lights blotted out the stars
overhead. The thin, barely visible streak of the waning crescent
moon could hardly be seen, floating like a ghost over the hills to
the east but below them, Las Vegas shone.

"It's beautiful," she said.

"Yes, it is," Clark said.

She turned to look at him, and saw that he was watching her. "I
meant the city," she said.

"Oh, yeah, the city's nice, too," he said. He brought them down in a
shadow and spun into his civvies. Lori looked up at him in the
darkness and shivered half in nervousness and half in anticipation.
Not only was he Superman, he was her husband now, and they were about
to spend their first night as man and wife. She ran a hand up his
forearm, feeling the hard muscle under the sleeve of his suit.

"Better not do too much of that until we get to our room," Clark
said, a laugh in his voice. "Our reservation is on their computer,
along with orders for a bridal dinner in the honeymoon suite and a
champagne breakfast in the morning."

"I guess," Lori said, a little nervously, "we'll have to provide the
rest of the entertainment for ourselves, won't we?"

"We'll think of something," Clark said. "Come on, let's go get our
bags and check in." He took her hand and smiled at her. "It'll be
okay, Lori. You don't have to be nervous."

"I'm not nervous," she said, untruthfully.

Clark slipped an arm around her. "Hey, this is me, remember? Your
best friend? We'll just take this whole thing slowly and see what
happens. If you like we'll just play Scrabble."

"Right, no pressure." Lori nodded. She sniffed her bouquet of
flowers and looked up at him. "I'm sorry, Clark. I don't mean to
be..."

"Don't worry," Clark said, reassuringly. "Let's just go check in,
okay? It's all right to be a little nervous about everything.
You've never been married before."

"That's true," Lori said. "Ms. Kent? Should I call myself Ms. Kent
now? My mother changed her name after she married Dad."

"Only if you want to," Clark said. "You can stay Lori Lyons if you like."

"But I want to let people know I'm your wife," Lori said. "It's
something I'm really proud of. But I don't want to, well, give up my
professional name, either. What did Lois do? Was she Ms. Kent?"

"Only when it came to her personal life," Clark said. "When she was
on the job she was Lois Lane. We established that before we even got
married. You could do something like that if you like," he added.
"You might use your professional name for work, and your married name
for everything else. That wouldn't be unusual. Or if you prefer,
you can be Lori Lyons all the time. That's okay, too. It might make
your mom a little happier. Whatever you decide, I don't mind. If
you want, we could even do what they do in the Martian colonies--I
could take your name. What matters to me is that you're my wife."

"Lori Kent at home, and Lori Lyons at work. I like that," Lori said,
brightening at once. "I don't think you should change your name,
though."

"Well, to tell you the truth, I'd rather not," Clark said, "but to be
fair, I don't see why you should either, unless you want to."

"Well, I kind of want to," Lori said, "but I've been Lori Lyons all
my life, and changing my name would be kind of strange, too. I think
I'll do it your way--I'll be Lori Lyons professionally. That way
I've got my own professional identity on the job." She took a deep
breath and looked up at him again. "I'm babbling, aren't I?"

"Only a little," Clark said. "Remember what I said before. I like
the way you talk when you're nervous. I'm only sorry you're
uncomfortable."

"I'm not, really," Lori said. She ran a hand across his chest.
"Just--well, it's new, and something I've never done before, and I
don't want to disappoint you, and I'm not really sure what to expect,
and--" She broke off. "I mean, Mom explained it theoretically to
me, of course and you know, girls talk, and I've read all about it,
especially after I met you, and..." She felt herself blushing. "I
guess I shouldn't have said that, huh? But--"

Clark gave a little chuckle. "Not at all. It's flattering. Come
on, let's go inside, have dinner, and we'll just see what happens,
all right? No pressure."

"All right." Lori swallowed, but a tremor of excitement was running
through her. Her mother's warnings that a man only wanted one thing
and that they were all alike, were being refuted by Clark every day
she spent with him. What had Mariann gone through to make her think
the way she did? It must have been pretty traumatic to give her the
attitude she had, Lori thought. She was beginning to see that her
mother was embittered and cynical about the love that could exist
between two people. Her dad was a good man. Why couldn't Mariann
see that? Why had she tried her level best to keep her daughters
from marrying and finding love and happiness with someone? For that
matter, why had her father stayed with her mother, given the way she
treated him? What kept him loyal and still in love with her? It was
a complete puzzle she wasn't at all sure she could decipher.

**********

The honeymoon suite in the hotel was spacious and luxurious. The
bellboy disappeared into the bedroom, their bags floating along
behind him on the anti-grav cart. Clark set Lori down inside the
door with a flourish.

She looked a little less nervous now, he thought, and reminded
himself that she was a virgin. She had every right to be nervous.
For that matter, so did he.

The bellboy emerged from the bedroom. "You're all set," he informed
them. "Your stuff is in the drawers on the left."

"Right, thanks." Clark tipped him a handful of credit tokens and
ushered him out the door. The man winked at him.

"Dinner'll be up in a few minutes, sir," he said.

"Thanks." Clark closed the door after him practically on his heels,
and heard the man chuckle. He turned back to Lori.

His bride was looking around the spacious suite. Clark removed his
jacket and hung it on the coat rack. "Care for a game of Scrabble?"
he asked innocently.

Lori broke out laughing. "You said that before. You didn't really
bring a Scrabble board, did you?"

"No, but I can get one in a few minutes."

"I can't argue with that." She walked over to him and slipped her
arms around him. "I'm sorry I got all nervous."

"No problem," Clark said, returning the embrace. He raised his head.
"Here comes--"

The door chime sounded. "Room service."

"--Dinner," Clark finished. He released her and added, "Come in."

The door opened and a hotel employee entered, a cart loaded with
delicacies floating before him. "Here we are," he announced. "One
wedding dinner, complete with champagne. Where do you want it?"

"Right by the sofa," Clark told him. He glanced at Lori. "Is that
all right with you, honey?"

"Sure." Lori met his eyes with a nervous smile. He winked at her
reassuringly and went to stand by her as the man set about arranging
their dinner. He completed the job efficiently, removed a bucket of
ice with a tall, foil-wrapped bottle of champagne in it from the
lower shelf of his serving cart, and set it on the floor. "There you
go, sir. Enjoy your dinner."

"Thanks," Clark said.

When they were alone once more, Clark locked the door, ordered the
room's computer to play soft, background music and activated the
"Privacy" setting. The last thing he wanted was to be interrupted in
the next few hours. Lori was nervous, and he was as well. On his
first wedding night, he had been the virgin, but Lois had not. This
time he was supposed to be the experienced one, but this situation
was new to him as well, despite his theoretical knowledge. He wanted
to be sure that Lori's first experience with the physical side of
love was a good one and to do that, he was willing to take all the
time necessary.

He settled himself on the sofa and reached for the champagne bottle.
"Shall we have a toast?" he asked.

"That sounds nice." Lori sat down next to him, and he smiled
reassuringly at her as he removed the foil and eased the cork free.

She accepted the glass he held out to her, half full of the pale
amber effervescent liquid. "What shall we drink to?"

"How about to us?" he said. "And to a long and happy marriage?"

"I like that," she said.

"And," Clark said, "to the most beautiful bride of the Twenty-first
Century. You are, you know."

"I think I'll drink to the most wonderful groom," Lori said. "I'd
feel funny drinking to myself."

He chuckled. "Cheers, then."

She sipped the champagne and hiccuped slightly. "Sorry. Carbonation
on an empty stomach always makes me hiccup."

"That's okay." He removed the plate covers. "We can remedy that.
Can I interest you in something to eat?"

**********
Clark was careful to keep the conversation light as they ate. The
meal consisted of foods that he had learned were among her favorites
and he watched as she gradually relaxed under the influence of the
banter and champagne. When they had finished, Clark cleared the
debris with super speed, left it on the cart outside their door,
turned on the vidscreen and found a channel that was showing a
romantic comedy. Within a few minutes, Lori was leaning against him
and he had slipped an arm around her shoulders as they watched the
program.

Once she looked up at him, appearing a little confused. "I thought
you would want...well..."

He pressed a kiss on the top of her head. "Only when you want to,
honey. There's no rush."

She snuggled into his side. "I want to, Clark, it's just..."

"When you're ready, we will. I can always go get that Scrabble board
in the meantime, you know."

She giggled. "I can just see us spending our wedding night playing
Scrabble! When you picked up my clothes you didn't by any chance
pick up a nightgown for me, did you?"

"Um...as a matter of fact, I brought along one I bought for you when
I was in France last week. I'd planned on giving it to you later,
but I figured now was as good a time as any."

He saw her swallow. "In that case, I think I'll go try it on."

"All right." He glanced at the mostly unwatched vidscreen. "Screen
off. While you're getting your things, do you mind if I take a ten
second shower?"

**********

By the time she found her night clothing, Clark had emerged from the
bathroom clad in a robe and slippers, his dark hair slightly damp
from the shower. She went past him into the Honeymoon Suite's
spacious bathroom, to discover her little traveling case sitting
neatly on the counter. Clark had seen to everything, she thought.
He was trying so hard to make her comfortable, knowing how nervous
she was.

Part of her nervousness stemmed from her wish not to disappoint him.
Clark had been married before. He must have some sort of
expectations, she knew, at the same time telling herself that he must
know she wasn't experienced and surely, being the kind of guy he was,
would make allowances for that. She'd heard conversations between
other girls in college concerning the merits and skills of guys they
had been with, and she knew the theory of what to expect, but this
was reality.

As she showered and prepared herself for her wedding night, she took
the occasional deep breath to calm the butterflies fluttering around
under her breastbone but at last, she could delay no longer. She
inhaled deeply and opened the door.

"Clark?"

He was already lying on top of the covers, waiting for her, wearing a
pair of black, silk pajamas. His eyes lit up when he saw her, and he
smiled. "You're beautiful, Lori."

She had to admit the pale nightgown of soft, cream-colored satin and
lace was lovely, and complemented her coloring perfectly, but he
wasn't looking at the gown. His dark eyes were resting on her face
with an expression in them that brought a flood of warmth to her
cheeks. "I hope I don't disappoint you," she said shyly. "I'm new
at this."

"You couldn't possibly disappoint me," he said. He got smoothly to
his feet, crossed the room to her and took both her hands. "Don't be
scared, honey. I wouldn't hurt you for the world. You know that,
don't you?"

She nodded. "I'm not scared; not really, Clark."

"Good." He leaned down to kiss her lightly on the lips, pulling her
gently into his arms. His embrace was warm and loving and Lori
pressed herself against the thin silk of his pajama shirt, feeling
the firm muscle under the light material. She felt him scoop her up
easily and they drifted over toward the bed.

**********

It was nearly three a.m. when Lori woke. The room was dim, and for a
few seconds she couldn't remember where she was. The sound of Clark
breathing beside her brought memory back suddenly and she smiled into
the darkness.

She should have known. There had been no need to be nervous.
Clark--her husband!--had been just as wonderful on their wedding
night as he had been about everything else. He had been gentle and
understanding with her nervousness, even to the point of admitting to
her that he was a little nervous as well. In a way, that had been
reassuring. And now...

She turned on her side. His slightly exotic features were barely
visible in the faint glow of the bedside chronometer. She studied
them, the dark brows and lashes, his full lips, the lock of hair that
fell across his brow, and raised a hand to brush her fingers across
his cheekbone.

"I love you, Clark," she whispered. "You have no idea how happy
you've made me."

His eyes opened and met hers. He smiled. "I love you, too, Ms.
Kent," he said, very quietly. "I never thought I could ever be this
happy again."

"I'm glad," she said. A little twinge of doubt crossed her mind, as
it had intermittently from the moment he'd told her the truth about
himself. She'd subdued it in the face of the fact that he was so
obviously in love with her, but it still nibbled at her now and then.
"I only hope I can be as good a wife as Lois was."

Clark pushed himself up on an elbow and leaned over to kiss her.
"I'm not worried, Lori. I'm not comparing you to Lois. You're
yourself, and you don't have to try to compete with anyone."

"I just want you to be proud of me," Lori said. "I don't want to
disappoint you. How long were you married to Lois, Clark?"

"A long time," Clark said. "And I loved her very much from the
moment I met her. But now there's you." He stroked her face lightly
with a forefinger. "You can't imagine how proud I am of you, Lori,
or how it makes me feel that you were willing to marry me. When I
saw you that first time, I felt like I'd been hit by lightning. I
knew it was happening all over again, and all the rest of the night I
kept seeing your face and trying to figure out how to arrange for
Clark Kent to meet you."

"Do you think your family will mind that I'm taking her place?" Lori asked.

"No." Clark pulled her into his arms. "I talked to all four of them
about this months ago, and they urged me to go for it. Lara said
that Lois spoke to them privately, years back, without telling me
about it and just about ordered them to make any new wife of mine
welcome."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I don't know why it should have surprised me, though. She
would have been furious with me if I'd stayed single to honor her
memory or something." He kissed the tip of her nose. "She made me
promise that if I found the right person, I wouldn't go all noble and
do something stupid out of a misplaced sense of duty. I used to be
famous for doing stuff like that. I had this idiotic idea that,
since I was Superman, I could make decisions for the good of other
people without consulting them. Lois nearly killed me a few times
for it, but fortunately she finally managed to break me of the
habit--mostly, anyway."

Lori found herself smiling. "I guess I owe her something for that,
then. I'm glad you decided to do what she told you."

He laughed. "Me, too. And now I've got you to tell me what to do."
He began to kiss her lightly along the jawline. "Is there anything I
can do for you right now, Ms. Kent?"

"Well," Lori said, sliding her arms around him, "now that you mention it..."

**********

Clark lay awake for some time after Lori had gone to sleep with her
head on his shoulder, feeling as if he had come home. Lori wasn't
Lois, of course even though like Loisette and Lulu she had the same
soul. She was a person in her own right, and a very attractive
person at that, but the part that made her his soul mate was very
much evident to him. Up until a few months before, he had almost
despaired of ever finding her. Now...

He pressed a kiss lightly into her tousled hair, vowing to himself to
love and protect her as long as she lived against anyone who would
try to hurt her. Lori murmured in her sleep, and Clark's arm
tightened slightly around her. It was a little frightening to
realize how much of his happiness was tied up in this one, young
woman. Fortunately for his peace of mind, Lori didn't appear to be
quite as reckless as Lois had been, although now and then he had seen
her display flashes of Lois's assertiveness. Lori was, in her own
way, as strong a person as her previous incarnation had been, just as
intelligent, and would doubtless keep him on his toes. It wasn't an
unattractive prospect at all.

The reason for the suddenness of their marriage crossed his mind, and
he frowned slightly. Her mother was going to be difficult to handle,
especially when she learned of this latest development. For a brief
moment, he found himself nostalgic for Ellen Lane. For all Ellen's
faults, she had sincerely cared for Lois's happiness. She might have
had a different set of priorities than Lois, but she had never tried
to relive her own life through her daughter. By all appearances,
Lori's mom was determined to see to it that Lori lived the life she
felt she should have lived, herself. He hoped he was wrong. It
wasn't pleasant to think that Mariann would willingly sacrifice
Lori's happiness to achieve her own ambitions. They would have to
wait and see, but Clark had no intention of letting her bully Lori.
He knew his bride had a pretty good idea of what they were in for,
and the fact that she had wanted to get married so quickly as a
defense against her mother's meddling spoke volumes. Lori had
impressed him right from the start as an ambitious but levelheaded
young woman--a surprising quality, considering how much her
upbringing seemed to have damaged her belief in herself. Clark's
lips thinned, thinking about that. Mariann seemed to have gone out
of her way to instill in her the conviction that no man would be
interested in her for any kind of long-term relationship. He was
glad that he seemed to have been able to convince her at least
partially that her mother had been, to put it politely, mistaken.

Whatever the real reasons for Mariann's behavior, he had the feeling
that it would make Lori unhappy to end up with the same relationship
with her that Marcy had. It was probably a good thing that he'd
already been through the Lane school for dysfunctional families. He
had the feeling that he was going to need everything he'd learned
there, and more, before they were done. Not for the first time, he
missed the presence of Jonathan and Martha Kent. They could have
helped him to figure out how to handle the problems that were bound
to crop up in the not-too-distant future. His mother had always
seemed to know what to do.

Fortunately, Robert Lyons appeared to be a stable and loving father.
If he was any judge of character, Lori's father was a lot like his
son, Brad. The fact that the man had stayed with Mariann through
what had to have been a turbulent marriage said a lot about him. He
must love her in spite of her controlling behavior, so there must be
good qualities there somewhere; at least he hoped so. Somehow, Clark
didn't believe that Robert Lyons was at all intimidated by his wife.
The whole thing was a puzzle, all right. Mariann's frequently voiced
belief that Lori's career would be destroyed by marriage didn't make
any sense to him. In this day and age, a woman's career was limited
only by her own ambition. Maybe someday, he'd figure out the reasons
behind it but in the meantime, he didn't intend to let someone else's
emotional hang-ups hurt his wife. Mariann was going to have to learn
to live with the situation, and that was all there was to it.
Eventually she would see that Lori's career wasn't suffering at all
because of marriage. Of course, that might spark more of the
feelings of jealousy toward her daughter that he had already detected
in her. Mariann seemed to him in some ways a rather pathetic person,
always wanting more than she had. What was it he wondered, that
could have caused her to become that way?

Clark gave himself a mental shake. Lori's mother couldn't be an
entirely terrible person or her daughter wouldn't have turned out
like she had. He didn't really know enough about her to be able to
figure out what her actual motivations were. All he could do was
look out for Lori when things hit the fan. Somehow, they would cope
and the problems would eventually work themselves out. They always
did.

Satisfied that he'd settled a few things, at least in his own mind,
he put his other arm around Lori as well and drifted off to sleep.

**********

The soft beeping of his wrist talker on the bedside table awoke
Clark. Beside him, Lori stirred, and he reached out quickly to shut
off the noise. Silently, he picked up the little device, rose from
the bed and hurried into the living room of the suite.

"Clark Kent," he said.

"Clark!" It was John Olsen's voice. "Is everything okay? I got
your message that you wouldn't be in this morning, but I thought
you'd want to know, we've managed to track down two of those three
pieces of jewelry and have a line on the third."

"That's great, John," Clark said. "Yeah, Lori and I are okay. We
had a little change of plan last night, and we're in Las Vegas right
now. We'll be in to work tomorrow at the usual time."

"Las Vegas?" John said. "Anything going on there that we should know about?"

"Nothing of international importance," Clark said. "Lori and I got
married at a Las Vegas chapel last night. It's a long story. The
big wedding is still on track, though."

"Sounds like there's more to it than you're saying," John said.

"Well, yes--sort of. What about the jewelry?"

"Oh, that. Well, two of the pieces were a set--a pair of earrings.
They were purchased by a college student at Metropolis City College.
One of our representatives located her and explained that they were
part of a collection of rare Native American jewelry that had been
lost. Don't worry, we paid her the price of the earrings, plus a
bonus for her inconvenience. The other piece is a ring. We're still
tracking the buyer, but we expect to have more information in a few
days."

"That's a relief. I'll feel a lot safer when it's under our control."

"So will the rest of us. Take tomorrow off, too, Clark. Your bride
deserves at least that much time to get used to being married before
she comes back to work."

"Thanks, John. The real honeymoon will take place after the formal
ceremony, though. Lori's thinking Hawaii."

"Good choice."

"Are you going to be at Jon's on Sunday?"

"Wouldn't miss it," John said. "Aaron's providing the transportation
for Marilyn and me. How often does the patriarch of the whole clan
get married, after all? This is a big deal."

"I guess," Clark said. "I just hope everyone will remember not to
overwhelm Lori. She's only 21, remember, and not used to this sort
of thing."

"Don't worry," John said. "I think I know her pretty well. I
already warned Jon about it and he says he'll take care of it."

"Thanks," Clark said. He raised his head at the sound of Lori's
sleepy voice. "Lori's awake. I'll talk to you later."

"Bye," John said. "And Clark..."

"Yeah?"

"Congratulations."

"Thanks." Clark shut off the wrist talker and opened the door to the
bedroom. Lori was sitting up, holding the thin silk of the bed sheet
up to her shoulders. The lovely nightgown that he had brought to her
from Paris lay carelessly on the floor where it had landed last
night, along with his black silk pajama top.

"I wondered where you were," she said.

He slipped back into the bed. "We had a phone call. I didn't want
to disturb you." He had not failed to notice the fact that under the
sheet, his bride was wearing nothing but her bare skin. "I told them
to bring breakfast up about nine. We've got an hour to kill. Can
you think of any way we might pass the time?"

Lori giggled. "What happened to my nice, gentlemanly, polite,
restrained fiance? I could swear he was with me when we got to Las
Vegas."

"He turned into your husband, who thinks you've got an irresistible,
beautiful, sexy body, of course."

"Oh," she said, unable to hide her pleasure at his description.
"Well, in that case..."

**********

"So," Clark said, "welcome to your new home." He set her down inside
the threshold of his apartment.

Lori looked around the place that had heretofore been only Clark's
and sighed in satisfaction. "This is wonderful, Clark. You have no
idea how glad I am to be out of that poky little flat."

"I think I do. Give me a few minutes and I'll have your things over
here, and you can decide what to do with them."

"Okay." Lori looked after her husband as he flashed out the
skylight, changing from his civvies into Superman in a blur, and was
gone. She walked into the bedroom to remove her sweater. It was
wonderful to even *have* a bedroom after weeks of living in the tiny,
one-room flat that she had called home after her graduation from New
Troy State. This one was larger than the bedroom she'd had at her
parents' home in Los Angeles, and Clark had a double bed, too. Her
cheeks grew warm at the thought of that.

There was a gust of wind in the other room and then the whoosh of
Clark's departure again. Lori hung her sweater on the hook behind
the door and looked around the room with a new viewpoint. This was
the room she and Clark would share in the future. Clark had a double
dresser against one wall, and a big closet. He would have to make
room for her things there, or get her another dresser. On the wall
was a small, framed photograph that she had noticed before in
passing, but now she moved across the room to examine it. The
picture was that of an older couple, smiling, and now, looking at
them, she experienced the oddest feeling of deja vu. Their faces
were familiar, although she knew she had never seen them before.
Curiously, she removed the small, framed picture and turned it over.
On the back was a line of faded handwriting that she recognized as
Clark's: "Jonathan and Martha Kent, 1999."

These had been Clark's parents, his human parents, who had found his
ship when it landed in Shuster's field in 1966. Lori turned the
photograph over once more and examined the two faces, wishing she had
known them. These two people had found the baby who would one day
become Superman, and raised him to be the remarkable person she had
married.

Slowly, she replaced the old photograph to its position of honor on
the wall. While she had been examining it, she had been aware of
several more arrivals and departures in the other room, and now she
turned at the sound of a step behind her. Clark, still in the famous
red and blue Suit, was standing there watching her, a smile on his
face.

"Hi," she said. "I was just looking at the picture of your parents."

"They were terrific people," he said, soberly. "I wish you'd known them."

"I knew they must have been," Lori said. "But, you know--it happened again."

"What did?"

"That really weird feeling, like I'd seen them before. Just like
when I saw your picture at the Planet, and when you proposed. It
happens all the time, and I sure wish I knew why!"

Clark said nothing, but began to slowly pull off his Suit, unlike his
usual lightning change, a puzzled expression on his face. "Do you
have any ideas?" he asked, after a moment.

She shook her head. "No, and it's really annoying."

"Well, maybe we can figure it out. Tell me the next time it happens, okay?"

"Okay. I just hope you don't think I'm crazy or something," Lori said.

"Not a chance." Clark's teeth flashed in that devastating smile that
had the usual effect of making her knees weak. "I think you've got a
pretty strong grip on reality."

"Thanks."

"I brought our bags from Las Vegas and all the stuff from your flat,"
he said, changing the subject. "I thought while you checked them
over I could clean out half the closet and dresser for you. We'll
take care of all the other details of moving and then we could go and
do something fun together. John's giving us tomorrow off, too,
before we go back to work, just to get used to being married."

"That was nice of him," Lori said. "I guess I should call my old
landlord, too, shouldn't I? I'm paid through the end of the month,
so that ought to cover the two weeks notice..." She took a deep
breath. "And then, we probably better call my parents."

"Yeah," Clark said. "I guess so. Do you want to do the talking, or shall I?"

Lori hesitated, the temptation to let Clark handle the hard part
tugging strongly at her, then sighed. "I guess I better, but will
you stay with me?"

"Do you even have to ask?" Clark said. "Of course I will. Whatever
happens, I'll back you up, you know that."

Lori nodded. "Yeah, I *do* know that. I feel a little guilty about
it, too--dragging you into the middle of it. Mother's not going to
like this."

Clark dropped the top of his uniform on the bed and crossed the room
to put his arms around her. "That's probably an understatement, but
I can take it. There's no way I'd leave you to face this alone."

"Thanks, Clark." She stood on tiptoe and kissed him. The kiss was
threatening to become something more when she pulled free. "I better
go check over my stuff while you change. If we get started, we might
forget to call them at all. We'll get back to this later."

"Okay, but I'm taking that as a promise," Clark said.

"Count on it." Lori made her way toward the doorway, but she was
unable to resist glancing back in time to see him remove the
leggings. Seeing Clark in nothing but his shorts was definitely a
treat she didn't want to miss. This being married thing certainly
had its perks.

Far too soon, they had finished the chores and Lori braced herself.
It was time to make the fatal phone call. She settled beside Clark
on the sofa and looked at him. "I guess this is it."

"Yeah." He took her hand. "You know what to expect, so try not to
let it get to you. Remember, this is your life, not your mom's. She
has no right to tell you that you can't get married."

"Tell my mother that," Lori said, glumly. "Are you ready?"

"Yeah. You don't have to use the touchpad. I authorized you as a
new user before we left."

"Right." Lori gulped and spoke to the vidphone. "Robert and Mariann
Lyons." Rapidly she recited the code to set it in the phone's memory
and they waited, Clark gripping her hand tightly.

The screen lit up with a soft chime. Mariann Lyons' face was looking
accusingly at them.

"Well," she said, acidly, "I'm glad you finally saw fit to call me,
Lori. Your phone refused my calls. I wanted to speak to you
*privately*, however."

Lori inhaled deeply. Facing her mother with the news she was about
to impart was just as difficult as she had expected. "I know,
Mother, but this is important. Clark and I were married last night."

"*What?!!*" Lori felt Clark's hand tighten around hers at the sound
of Mariann's raised voice. The following explosion was all she had
expected and more. Somewhere in the ensuing tirade, Robert Lyons
appeared in the background, frowning as he tried to decipher the
reason for his wife's wrath. When it became clear to him,
he glanced at Clark with an expression Lori couldn't read, but
remained silent.

Lori didn't try to defend herself, but kept her lips tightly closed
in the face of her mother's fury. Clark looked at her and then back
at Mariann several times and said nothing, but he never released her
hand. It gave her the courage to ride out the storm with reasonable
calm. When her mother finally ran out of things to say, she spoke
quietly.

"Are you finished, Mother?"

"I can't believe you would do this, Lori, after all I've told you..."

"Mother, I don't think you need to repeat that. I remember."

"Obviously you didn't absorb a thing I said. Your career comes
before marriage, young lady! Marriage ruined my career as a business
consultant." She glanced at Clark, and Lori was shocked at the
dislike that showed on her face. "At least everything isn't lost.
When your six month contract is up and you've gotten all this out of
your system, you can come home and work at the Herald. I *knew* it
was a mistake letting you go to school so far from home, and see
what's come of it! I was against this job of yours at the Daily
Planet right from the beginning! It isn't good for you to be so far
away, involved in all that investigation and traveling. You're too
young!"

"It's not a six-month contract," Lori said. Her voice sounded stiff,
even to her. "It's not even a year contract. It's lifetime."

Her mother seemed bereft of speech for several seconds. In the
background, she thought she could see a slight smile on her father's
face, but she didn't say so. "Mother, I'm not going to talk to you
when you're so upset. Clark and I are still a reporting team and
being married to him isn't going to affect that at all. You'll see
that after awhile. I love Clark, and I've never been happier than I
am right now."

"Lori, you're nothing but a child. You don't know anything about love and marriage." Mariann looked venomously at Clark. "This *man* has completely deceived you. A man only wants a handmaiden and a bed partner. Your career will suffer, and in the end you'll be nothing!"

"Mother, lots of women have marriage and a career," Lori said, with
some spirit. "You could have, too, if you'd wanted it."

Mariann looked as if she were going to explode. Lori glanced
desperately at Clark.

"Ms. Lyons," Clark said, quietly, "we wanted to tell you and your
husband about this as soon as possible, but I think everyone is upset
enough. We'll discuss this a little later, if you don't mind."

"Goodbye, Mother, Dad," Lori said, quickly. "Love to both of you."
She cut the connection before Mariann could object.

**********

"Well," Clark said after a moment, "I guess that might have gone better."

The phone began to beep. Clark glanced at the identification on the
screen. "Your mom's calling back."

"I don't want to talk to her right now," Lori said. Her voice was shaking.

Clark pulled her into his arms. "It's all right, honey. She'll get
used to it."

"I know." She took a trembling breath. Clark held her tightly.
After a few seconds, he realized she was crying softly.

"Hey," he said. "It's okay. You knew she'd be mad."

"I know," Lori said. "Hearing it is something else. I shouldn't
have said that."

"Said what?"

"That part about women having marriage and a career. Mother hated
her career, and after she married Dad, she quit and never went back.
All these years, though, she's pretended that it was because of being
married to Dad. It wasn't. But she was being so nasty about you..."

"I guessed that," Clark said. "She probably doesn't appreciate it
being brought up, though. But, honey, just because she had a problem
doesn't give her the right to run your life. You're of age. It's
not your fault the way her life turned out." He pulled a
handkerchief from his pocket and began to dab at the tears.

Lori sniffled a little and clung to him. "You're right. And I'm not
sorry I married you. I'm glad."

"Good." He bent his head to kiss her lightly. "So am I. Give her
some time to absorb it. It's up to her, now. If she wants to have
any kind of relationship with you, she's going to have to decide to
tolerate your decision even if she doesn't like it. Between us,
we'll show her that you're career is just taking off, not falling
apart."

"She won't like that either, now," Lori said. "I'll be doing
something she didn't--or couldn't."

"That's not your problem," Clark said. "In the meantime, I think we
should go and do something that has nothing to do with your mother.
What do you say?"

She nodded against his chest. "Okay. You're such a wonderful guy, Clark."

Clark wrapped both arms tightly around her. "Without you, I'm just
another character flying around out there in tights."

She gave a watery giggle. "Right. Just an ordinary guy. What do
you want to do? Shall we go somewhere, or stay here?"

Clark hugged her. "We can give the bedroom its initiation a little
later. Why don't I take you flying? There's this place in
Switzerland I know that makes the most decadent chocolate you ever
tasted. I think you need some of it right now."

**********

When they returned from Switzerland and an aerial tour of the Alps
three hours later, there were fifteen messages waiting on the
vidphone recorder. Clark scanned them at high speed while Lori was
changing into clothes more suited to Metropolis in the late summer.
Fourteen calls were from Mariann Lyons, and contained mostly short,
angry monologues and demands that Lori call her back. He
unceremoniously transferred them to the phone's archive. If she
really wanted to see them, she could retrieve them later when things
had calmed down a bit, although there was nothing new or of interest
in any of them.

The remaining call was from John Olsen. Clark ordered the vidphone
to play the call, just as Lori re-entered the room.

"What is it?" she asked.

"John called. I thought we better find out what was up."

The screen lit up and their editor's face appeared. "Hi Clark,
Lori," he began. "I'm sorry to interrupt you, but do you think you
could give me a call back when it's convenient? Something's come up.
It's private, so I don't want to leave any details on the phone.
Bye--and congratulations again."

"John sounds worried," Lori said. "Would he be at the office right now?"

Clark glanced at his wrist talker's time display. "Yeah, maybe.
I'll call there. If he's out, it'll relay."

The vidscreen lit up seconds later. Their editor was sitting at his
desk, and the worried look on his face relaxed somewhat when he saw
them. "Thanks for calling back," he said, without preliminary. "I'm
headed home in a few minutes. Do you think you could meet me there?"

"Sure," Clark said.

"I'll let Marilyn know you're coming," John said. "I don't want to
discuss this over the air."

"No problem," Clark said. "We'll see you in half an hour."

"Right." The screen went off.

"I wonder what's going on," Lori commented. "John sounded upset."

"Yeah, he did." Clark nodded at the vidphone. "I archived your
mom's calls, if you want to see them. Nothing unexpected, I'm
afraid."

"Delete them," Lori said. Her jaw tightened. "I don't even want to
listen to anything she says while she's in this stage. I heard all
of it about Marcy, seven years ago. It took her weeks to run down.
I'd rather concentrate on business--and us."

"Good idea." Clark was glad to see the investigative reporter
emerging once more. Lori appeared to be handling the situation with
Mariann well, but he didn't like to see her unhappy. Still, she
seemed to have regained her equilibrium since the painful phone
conversation with her mother, earlier.

She made a face. "Clark, if we don't set the rules now, we'll have
trouble for our whole married life. I don't want to be fighting with
her forever, or barely speaking to her the way it is with Marcy."

"I think that's sensible," Clark said. "I'd rather not fight with
your mom either, to tell the truth, but I'm not going to let her push
you around."

"Thanks, Clark. I appreciate the support." She walked over to him
and put her arms around him. "I think most of this is my fight, but
I couldn't do it without you."

"You've got as much of it as you want," Clark said. He returned her
embrace. "Tough love isn't very pleasant for either side, but it
looks like the only thing that's going to work. I think you're doing
the right thing. It isn't just your fight, though. It's *our*
fight--together. You can call the shots, but I'm right here with
you, all the way, no questions asked."

"You don't think we made a mistake getting married so quickly?"

He shook his head. "I think this would have happened no matter what
we did, and at least this way we're getting the worst over sooner
rather than later. I do think we ought to set a date for the big
ceremony in the near future, though--and invite your parents and your
sister. What do you think?"

"I think you're right," Lori said. "How about October? That isn't
too long, but we'll need to arrange it pretty quickly."

"I have some female relatives who love to help arrange weddings,"
Clark said. "Rhonda already volunteered. I told her I'd ask you."

"Do you think she really wants to?"

"I know she does," Clark said. "Ronnie likes you, you know; she says
I needed someone who was going to keep me hopping. I think that's
how she put it. She'll be at the barbecue. Why don't you talk to
her, then?"

Lori nodded. "Okay, I will. We better go. I take it you know where
John lives."

"Of course. It's only a couple of minutes by Superman Express and he
has a back yard with plenty of trees and shrubbery for family members
who choose to come by air. Let's go."

**********

A bare ten minutes later, Superman and Lori touched down in the
secluded back yard of John Olsen's house. Clark spun back into his
street clothing and led the way to the back door. It opened as they
approached, and a tiny, dark-haired woman of perhaps forty stepped
out. "Clark! John phoned. He said you'd be coming over." She
smiled at Lori. "You must be Lori. I'm so glad to meet you! I'm
Marilyn, John's wife."

Lori smiled, feeling unaccountably shy. "Hello."

"Marilyn knows all about us," Clark said. "Lori and I were married
last night, Mari."

"John told me. Congratulations, Clark, but I hear the big wedding is
still on?"

"Yes," Clark explained. "Sort of the official one for our families."

"I see. That sounds nice. Well, come on in and sit down. John
should be here soon."

Clark let Lori precede him into the neat kitchen of John's house and
followed. Marilyn led them into the living room and gestured them to
seats. "Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee, Lori? I know
Clark drinks tea."

"Whatever's convenient," Clark said. "Do you have any idea what this
is about, Mari?"

She shook her head. "No, John wouldn't talk about it over the phone,
though, so it must be pretty serious." She turned to Lori. "John's
told me about you, Lori. He tells me you're one of the Planet's
rising stars. Don't tell him I told you that, though."

"He said that?" Lori looked gratified.

Marilyn grinned. "He did indeed. I'll be right back." She whisked
out of the room.

"I like her," Lori whispered.

"So do I," Clark said. "Don't let her fool you with her homemaker
image, though. Marilyn's a senior engineer and department head over
at Genie Electronics. She and John have been married almost twenty
years. They've got three kids, one in college and two in high
school. She's a poster child to refute your mom's thing about
women's careers and families."

"Why are my ears burning?" Marilyn inquired, entering the room with a
tray of coffee cups. "You said anything, Clark, so you're getting
coffee."

"That will be fine," Clark assured her. "Can I help you with anything?"

"No, thanks. I'll be right back with the sugar and cream." She
disappeared from the room, to reappear again almost instantly. "Here
you go. So, Clark, why the sudden wedding, or shouldn't I ask?"

"Probably not," Clark said. "And, no, it's nothing like what you're
probably thinking."

Marilyn laughed. "Don't worry, Farmboy, I know what a Boy Scout you
are. The thought never crossed my mind." She winked at Lori.

"Oh," Clark said. "Well, it had to do with...um, an eccentric
relative. You don't even want to know the details."

Lori had never heard her mother described as an eccentric relative
before and surprised herself by laughing. Clark glanced at her with
a raised eyebrow and the expression on his face made her laugh again.
"Sorry," she apologized. "It's pretty complicated."

"Oh," Marilyn said. "One of those things, huh? Well, I hope it
works out all right." She raised her head. "I think John's home."

"He just pulled up," Clark said.

A moment later, the door opened and John Olsen entered. He smiled
when he saw his visitors. "Good, I'm glad you're here." He gave his
wife a peck on the cheek. "Hello, honey. Has Meriel called?"

"She left a message that she'd be here later," Marilyn said. "What's
going on?"

"She came to see me this afternoon," John explained. "Her best
friend is in the hospital fighting for her life. It's Rena Harcourt,
Mari."

"Oh, my God." Marilyn's face had drained of color. "What happened to her?"

John set his briefcase on the floor next to the couch. "I better
start from the beginning," he said. "Clark and Lori don't have any
idea who I'm talking about." He sank onto the sofa and ran a hand
through his hair. "Could I have one of those coffees? I've been
stewing about this all afternoon."

"Sure," Marilyn said. She handed him a cup of coffee. "Cream, and
no sugar in this one. Is that okay, honey?"

"Yeah." John took it and after testing it cautiously, downed half a
cup in one swallow. "That's a little better."

"Meriel is their oldest daughter," Clark told Lori. "I haven't seen
her for about four years, ever since I left Metropolis to become a
free lance journalist."

"That's right," John said. "She's nineteen, and just finished her
first year at New Troy State in June. She's picking up some credits
by attending their summer session. Finals are this week. Rena
Harcourt is her best friend. We've known her family for years. The
two of them started NTSU together and are roommates."

"What happened to her?"

"Meriel said that last night, Rena was cramming for her organic
chemistry final in the morning. She woke up about four a.m. to hear
Rena vomiting. At first she thought Rena had the flu or something,
but she couldn't wake her up in spite of what was happening, and then
she started convulsing, so Meriel called the paramedics. Rena was
taken to the emergency room, and a little later, the cops showed up
to interview Meriel. It seems that Rena had taken a dose of dream
dust, and reacted badly to it. She's got about a 50-50 chance of
survival. Whether she'll have brain damage is another question."

"Dream dust!" Clark said.

"Oh, my God," Marilyn whispered.

"Yeah." John finished the coffee. "Meriel's in pre-med, Clark.
She's heard some things around the campus, and she has some friends
in the ER at New Troy State Medical Center. That's the university's
affiliated teaching hospital, you know."

"Aren't the police investigating?" Lori asked.

"Oh, the hospital was required to report the case, of course," John
said. "That's why the cops talked to Meriel, but they've got higher
priorities than a college kid overdosing on dream dust. Meriel's
worried. She said there's some things she thinks we should know."

"What things?" Clark asked. He raised his head. "I hear a car."

"Meriel?" John asked.

Clark glanced toward the front walk. "Yeah. She'll be here in a minute."


*********

Clark almost did a double take when Meriel Olsen entered the room.
The gawky, slightly chubby teenager he had known had grown into a
slender, very attractive woman with a strong resemblance to her
father. Normally she wore a smile, but today she was frowning, and
her eyes were reddened as if she had been crying recently.

"How's Rena?" Marilyn asked at once.

Meriel closed the door carefully. "Still the same," she said. "Her
parents are there, and they wouldn't let me see her. Hello, Gra--uh,
Clark."

"Hi, Meriel." The fact that Clark's descendents usually called him
by his first name might have surprised some people, but Clark had
made a point of asking them, once they were grown, to address him
that way. In light of his appearance, someone uninformed of the
actual circumstances might have thought it extremely odd if a man or
woman who looked nearly his own age were to call him "Grandfather".

"Your dad asked us to come over," Clark explained. "He thought we
might be able to help. This is my wife, Lori, who's also my
reporting partner."

Meriel looked Lori over curiously. "Hi," she said at last. "Dad's
told me a little about you. Didn't you graduate from NTSU last June?"

"Yeah," Lori said. "I was the editor of the NTSU Clarion."

"I thought you were," Meriel said. "I remember the big flap over
campus security." She sat down suddenly in an armchair. "Maybe you
and Clark *can* help. I tried to tell the cops I talked to, but they
wouldn't pay any attention. I heard one of them tell another one
that he had better things to do than interview 'dreamers' trying to
fry their brains. It wasn't *his* best friend that was in the
hospital, maybe dying!" She clenched her fists and a stray tear
leaked from the corner of one eye. "She told me she'd stopped using
it. I believed her, but she was having a really hard time with the
course. She must have decided to use it just one more time."

"My roommate used it a couple of times when she had big exams coming
up," Lori said. "I could never convince her that it might kill
her--or worse." She pressed her lips together for a second. "She'd
always be hung over afterwards, but by that time she'd aced the test.
Your friend must have figured it was worth the chance."

"What did you try to tell the police?" Clark asked. "John said you'd
heard something you think might be related to what happened to your
friend?"

"Yeah," Meriel said. "There have been some rumors. According to
what I heard, the paramedics took another student out of our dorm in
the middle of last Monday night. He didn't go to the university's
medical center--I think his parents had him taken to their private
doctor, so I don't *know* it was dream dust, but that was the story.
While I was waiting at the hospital, I talked to a couple of friends
of mine who work there."

"What did they say?" Lori asked.

"There've been six other students through there this week, before
Rena," Meriel said, "All of them came from NTSU. One of them died,
and one is going to be brain damaged for the rest of his life.
That's a lot more than they usually get during a finals week. About
three times as many."

Clark whistled softly. "Anything else?"

"Just a couple of things I overheard. There's somebody called 'The
Professor' that you go to for help if you're having trouble passing
the tests. I don't know if that's important or not and I don't know
how to find out who he is, but someone's dealing this stuff around
the campus and I'm afraid there's going to be more of the same sort
of thing happening if something isn't done."

"I don't blame you," Clark said. "This 'Professor' could be a dream
dealer. If he's a free lancer who's manufacturing it on his own, the
stuff might be purer than the usual street dust, and the kids who buy
it wouldn't be used to it at that strength."

"That's possible," John said. "I called a friend of mind at the 13th
Precinct about it. They're not convinced that there's anything
unusual happening. My contact said they think it's just a fluke.
There's always an incident or two around exam time, and you know how
the cops regard it. Dream dust's not addictive and there are far
more deadly and common drugs available. It's not a high priority
with them."

"It's more insidious, though," Lori said. "Kids use it because it's
an easy way to pass tests. Read the material, snort the dust and in
the morning, they remember everything as clear as a bell. Most of
the time the only cost is a nasty hangover but once in a while,
something happens like what happened to Meriel's friend. I know a
lot about it because I researched it to write an article on it for my
high school paper. The guy who would have been our class
valedictorian put himself permanently in a care facility on exam week
by using it. It was pretty bad."

"Kids playing with their lives," Marilyn said. "No one ever thinks
it will happen to them. Do you think you and Lori can do anything,
Clark?"

"I'd like to try," Lori said. "I hate dream dealers."

Clark nodded. "I think we should. If nobody else will take it
seriously, maybe we can stir up some outrage over it."

"If you think I can help, just ask," Meriel said. "I'll do anything
I can. I want to bring whoever did this to Rena down."

**********

"It's almost the end of the summer session," Lori said. "It's too
late for me to go undercover as a student, even if the school
administration would let me get anywhere near the campus. They still
don't like either one of us very much after we embarrassed them over
the security problems."

"We can still look around," Clark said. "We have a couple of days
before the end of exam week, then the fall session starts in a little
over three weeks. How do you feel about starting tomorrow? I know
that cuts in on our time off, but..."

"But there's not much time," Lori concluded the sentence. "Maybe
John will give us another day off afterwards."

"Probably," Clark said. He opened his refrigeration unit and removed
a bottle of chilled wine. "Why don't you open this so it can breathe
for a few minutes before we eat."

"Sure." Lori took the bottle and set about searching for the
corkscrew. "Dinner smells delicious, Clark."

"Only the best for my bride," Clark said. "You've had to adjust to
an awful lot. I mean, I told you where John fits on the family
tree--he's my great grandson. His mom is my oldest son's daughter,
and he has a daughter only a couple of years younger than you. That
would shake up a lot of people."

Lori was working on removing the lead foil. "I've always liked sexy
older men," she said, teasingly.

"Yeah, but I think we took it to the extreme," Clark said. "You're a
remarkable woman, Lori."

"Nothing about our relationship is ordinary," Lori said. "What's one
more little difference? Ordinary is dull. How many descendents do
you have, Clark?"

"Well," Clark said, "there's my four children, and their twelve
children, and then *their* children. And *their* children, after
that. Aaron--he's Blue Lightning--is John's older brother, and *his*
son and daughter-in-law just had a little girl of their own, so we're
getting into the great-great-great grandchildren now. I could figure
it out--the family keeps a record of the family tree in an archive at
the Superman Foundation--but I couldn't really tell you right off the
top of my head. There might be a few that I don't know about by now.
At a guess I'd say something like a hundred, and about a third of
them have or will have super powers. You'll meet a lot of them at
the barbecue on Sunday. I hope it doesn't scare you off."

"Just so long as you're with me," Lori said. The prospect was a
little intimidating to be sure, but at least Clark's family had so
far welcomed her and approved of their marriage, which was a distinct
difference from the way her mother had greeted the news. "If my
mother didn't scare *you* off, I don't see why your family should
scare me."

He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "The only person who could
have chased me away would have been you. I did want to ask you,
though, if you have any idea where she got this notion that you
getting married would hurt your career. I mean, your dad doesn't
seem like the kind of guy to try to subjugate his wife or something,
and I'd think if he was, he wouldn't put up with her blaming him for
everything that's wrong with her life."

"He isn't," Lori said. "Dad has never mistreated Mother. She does
pretty much what she wants. I never thought much about her attitude
while I was growing up--kids don't, you know. To them, how they grow
up is normal no matter how weird it really is. It wasn't so...so
*intense* then, either, of course. It seems like she's gotten a lot
more fixated about my career, since Marcy left home. She never let
me date in high school, but I wasn't really very interested in
dating, and I didn't think much about it until I left home to go to
college. Mother's attitude *is* really peculiar, and I don't
understand it, but it isn't funny, because I think she actually
believes it. What really puzzles me is why Dad stays with her. I'm
glad he does--I'd hate to see my parents break up, but most guys
wouldn't put up with it."

"He must love her in spite of herself," Clark said. "I guess I can
understand that. You seem to love me in spite of all the strikes
against me."

Lori threw the cork at him. He let it bounce off his forehead and
reached for her, laughing, but the ensuing kiss was interrupted by
the whiff of food beginning to scorch. He released her and returned
to the stove to remove the stir-fry before it was irreparably damaged.

"Oops! I think we're okay, though. Grab a couple of plates, would you?"

"Right here." Lori removed two plates from the cupboard and set them
on the kitchen table. Clark transferred the contents of the pan onto
the plates, while Lori poured the wine. Dinner with Clark was always
fun; he was such a well-informed person--which was reasonable,
considering his vast experience--but he was never pedantic or boring.
He was able to tell funny stories based on things that had actually
happened to him, and bring to life things that, to her, had been
until then a dry history lesson out of a book.

After dinner, Lori discovered that even cleaning up the kitchen, a
chore she had always hated, was actually fun when they did it
together, in spite of the fact that Clark could have finished the job
in seconds. Watching the vids was forgotten this evening in favor of
other pursuits more attractive in the eyes of newlyweds, and which
Lori found far more interesting than any characters on the vidscreen.

Falling asleep in her new husband's arms some time later, she
murmured, drowsily, "It's a good thing I didn't know how wonderful
it was before. I wouldn't have waited so long. But maybe it
wouldn't be so nice if it wasn't with you."

Clark chuckled softly and pulled her closer. "If I'm lucky, you'll
never find out."

**********

"Here's the information you asked for," John told them the next
morning. "Meriel talked to her friends in the ER, got the names of
the six students who came through with dream dust poisoning, and told
me not to ask who her friends are."

"So much for confidentiality," Clark said. "Do you think you can
break into the school computers from here, Lori, or are we going to
have to get into the Administration building?"

"It depends on if they changed the passwords on the Clarion's
computers," Lori said. She took the little disk and turned toward
the door. "Let me get to work with this and see what I can dig up."

"I appreciate you coming in like this," John said to Clark as Lori
exited. "I feel a little guilty, eating into your time off,
considering you've been married less than 48 hours."

"There'll be time later," Clark said. He glanced after his wife and
raised an eyebrow. "I see Fred is back."

"He got back yesterday," John said. "Let's hope that sensitivity
training class did some good."

"It better have," Clark said, a little grimly. "I've had all I
intend to tolerate of his mouthing off to Lori."

"If he can't behave, he'll be job hunting before long," John said,
"that is, if Lori doesn't decide *she's* had enough. I get the
feeling Fred is on thin ice with her."

Clark couldn't suppress a grin. "So do I, and Heaven help him if she
loses her temper. He still blames her for the Gaia's Children
debacle."

"I don't care if he blames her for last week's earthquake in China,"
John said. "He better watch his step. I won't tolerate sexual
harassment in this office."

"Yeah," Clark said. "I..." He broke off, raising his head.

"What is it?"

"Emergency. I'll see you later." He was gone out the window on the word.

John slowly closed it behind him and shook his head. "I wonder what
they do with their clothes," he murmured, thoughtfully before
returning to the current task on his computer screen. "They never
seem to leave them any place."

**********

The essay question had not been all that difficult for a student who
knew her material, and Meriel Olsen finished the test ten minutes
before the allotted time was up. English was not her favorite
subject, but she had chosen to take as many general education classes
during the summer as she could fit in, in an attempt to get most of
them out of the way. Now she scanned what she had written, made a
minor correction and transmitted the test to her instructor. This
was her last exam until the next semester started in September and
she and Rena had planned to visit a beach resort together for part of
their vacation. Instead, Rena was in the hospital, in a coma, and
the question of whether she would recover completely was still
unanswered.

Meriel detached her pocket-sized computer from the desk terminal,
closed it up, picked up her small handbag and left the testing room.
Her little groundcar was a short distance away and she walked slowly
toward it, oblivious of the fact that it was a fine, sunny morning in
mid-August. A brisk breeze was blowing and tiny white clouds scudded
across the sky.

She had reached the car when a tall, well-built young man stepped up
beside her, trapping her between the car and the hedge. Meriel
glanced at him in mild irritation. "Do you mind? I can't open my
door."

He smiled. "Sorry about that, Ms. Olsen. Somebody wants to talk to you."

"Well, I don't want to talk to him," Meriel said, irritably. "I'm
going over to the bookstore to sell my books."

"I'm afraid not." The young man was suddenly pointing a small,
ladies'-sized stunner at her. "Get in your car and don't make any
noise or you'll be waking up with a headache. Do it now."

"What?" Meriel gaped at the weapon. "Are you out of your mind?"

"*Now*, Ms Olsen." He kept the weapon pointed directly at her
midriff. "I really don't want to stun you."

Meriel removed the electronic key from her handbag, mentally gauging
the distance between herself and her opponent. He had moved back a
step or two to allow her room to open the door. If she let him get
in the car with her she would never be seen again, she knew. This
couldn't be a coincidence. She had been asking questions of too many
people in too many places and someone must have gotten worried.

As she withdrew the electronic key from her purse, she fumbled it and
dropped the ring onto the synthastone pavement. The young man moved
forward a step, his attitude menacing. "Pick it up! Open the door!"

The key, of course, was sensitive to her fingerprints. Her would-be
kidnapper couldn't open the door or start the car unless she,
personally, inserted it correctly. Meriel leaned forward to retrieve
the small, flat item, shifted her weight as she straightened and
slammed her heavy, little computer against his nose with all her
strength.

Blood gushed, and he staggered back with a scream, clapping a hand to
the injured member. Meriel shoved the key into its slot, yanked it
out, jerked open the door of her car, jumped in and slammed it behind
her all in the space of two seconds.

The door locked automatically. She pushed the key into the ignition
slot harder than necessary.

"Engine on!" she gasped out.. "Emergency! Manual override!"

The engine roared to life. Meriel shoved her foot onto the
accelerator, gunned the motor and backed out of the parking space
with a squeal of tires. A faint tingle washed over her and her head
swam slightly; the man had fired his stunner, but the shielding of
the car had attenuated it to a nearly harmless level. The alarm to
warn her that a human being was in her path sounded, but she didn't
stop. Her front fender struck him a glancing blow, jarring her as
she swiveled the wheel, still backing, and she saw him flung sideways
into the hedge, stunner flying from his hand. She stomped her foot
on the brake, jammed the car into forward and peeled out of the lot,
the tires screeching in agony. "Grandpa Clark!" she cried. "Help
me!"

**********