Just before noon, the brand new silver Jeep Predator pulled into a
parking space on the second level of the Daily Planet's tall parking
structure. Lori cut the engine and looked admiringly at their new
car.

"You like it, huh?" Clark said, smiling at her obvious enjoyment.

"I can't get over it," Lori said. "I always figured my first car
would be a little subcompact like Meri's. This one is really
something."

"There is no way on the face of the Earth that I'm ever going to try
fitting into something that size again," Clark said firmly. "I'm
slightly claustrophobic, anyway. I hate confined spaces and sitting
with my chin on my knees is not my idea of comfort." He opened the
door. "Let's go. At least we get to stay out of the rain."

The newsroom was its usual busy self when they stepped out of the
elevator. Lori went straight to her computer and accessed the
university computers. As insurance against the Clarion staff
changing the password on the paper's computer, she'd set up her own
method of access two days before. Now she began to dig into Lester
Norton's background as documented in NTSU's records. Maybe something
here would tell them what they needed to know.

**********

The third level of the hospital parking lot was dim and quiet, Meriel
thought as she pulled her car into one of the available spaces. It
was just past lunch hour and not yet time for the shift change, so
the traffic through the parking structure was at a minimum. She was
actually a little early, but Rena was due to be released from the
hospital this afternoon, and Meriel had volunteered to pick her up.
Her friend was in some trouble with the law because of her
indiscretion, and was due before a judge on the following day. The
family lawyer had reassured them that since this was her first
offence the penalty was likely to be slight, but Meriel know that
just that fact was enough to worry Rena, who had never had so much as
a parking ticket until now. Her parents were quite upset with her as
well, and the next few weeks of her life were probably going to be
fairly unpleasant. Meriel wanted to let her know that at least one
person wasn't blaming her for anything more than--well, a stupid
mistake. She rather thought that Rena had learned a very hard lesson
and wasn't about to rub it in any more than circumstances already
had. She was pretty sure Rena could use a friend right now. Meriel
and her mother had planned to take her out to lunch this afternoon,
just to assure her of their support.

Somewhere, she heard the echoes of another car engine and then the
sound cut off. She headed briskly toward the elevator, which would
deliver her safely into the hospital lobby without the necessity of
stepping out into the rain.

There were footsteps behind her, and a glance over her shoulder
showed her two dim figures approaching, half-concealed in the shadows
of the lot. The lighting was too dim in here, she thought. A light
prickle of nervousness ran over her scalp and she banished it
impatiently. Nothing was going to happen here.

She paused in front of the elevator, waiting for the doors to open.
The footsteps behind her came closer, and suddenly Meriel was dizzy.
Weakness swept over her in a wave, followed by an aching sensation in
all her joints and the fiery cramping of muscles all over her body.
She stumbled and put out a hand to brace herself against one of the
big synthastone pillars, but everything was blurring before her eyes
and her hand missed its target. Meriel stumbled, thrown off balance,
and fell. Her head struck the pillar with a burst of stars. The dim
lights went black.

**********

Lori looked up from her computer screen in time to see Clark rise
from his desk and head for John Olsen's office. Something about his
expression made her pause and then stand up and follow him.

John's face was grim as they entered his office. "Clark, Marilyn
just called me," he began without preliminary. "I think there may be
a problem."

Lori saw her husband's face go pale. "Meriel?" he asked.

John nodded. "She was supposed to meet Marilyn for a late lunch.
The two of them were going to take Rena Harcourt out and try to cheer
her up when she was discharged from the hospital, but Rena said she
never showed up. She doesn't answer her car phone or her wrist
talker. More importantly, she didn't answer when *I* called her."
He tapped his forehead.

Clark closed his eyes, his face rigid with concentration. After a
long moment, he shook his head. "She's not answering. Do you have
any idea where else she was going today?"

"Marilyn said Meriel was going to go over to the hospital to pick
Rena up, but she apparently never arrived," John said. "Other than
that, I don't know."

"Okay," Clark said. "I'll head over to the hospital and look around
for her car. Lori, you keep working. See if you can find the
slightest shred of information that might tell us something about
Lester Norton, who his friends are; anything to tell us where he
might be. And John, get hold of Aaron and Henry. I'll call Lara and
CJ. If all five of us are looking for her, we might have a better
chance of finding her."

Lori nodded. "Be careful, Clark."

"I will." He gave her a quick kiss and was gone out the window.

**********

Meriel Olsen came slowly awake. Every muscle in her body throbbed
and cramped like a sore tooth. Her joints ached, and her head swam
nauseatingly. A voice said, somewhere in the background, "She's
coming around."

Someone flipped water in her face. A woman's voice said, "Come on, wake up."

Meriel gagged and moaned faintly.

"Come on," the woman's voice said, sounding impatient. "I don't have
the time or patience for this. Wake up!"

Meriel moaned again. A hand grabbed her by the hair and pulled her
face up. "Wake up!"

The movement sent pain shooting through her head and the room spun
sickeningly. The muscle cramps increased to almost unbearable
levels. She began to sob dryly.

"Take it easy!" The voice was male and sounded strained. "You're
not going to get anything out of her like that!"

"I intend to get an answer! Who sold Harcourt the dust, girl?"

Meriel couldn't help it. She hiccupped, coughed and then lost the
remainder of her stomach's contents. The woman's voice gave an
exclamation of disgust and the hand released her hair. Meriel
dropped back to the floor, retching. "Grandpa Clark," she mumbled.
"Help me..." A hand striking her face sent her reeling back into the
darkness from which she had so painfully climbed.

**********

Clark, sailing through the air toward the hospital, found himself
shifting direction slightly. Something tugged at him almost below
the level of consciousness, pulling him in the direction of New Troy
State University. It was as if he could feel Meriel's fear and pain.
His great great-granddaughter was somewhere in this direction and in
dire need of help if his instincts were any judge.

Someone was pulling his hair--no, Meriel's hair. It was somewhere
around here...

And then he heard it. *Grandpa Clark...Help me." There was the
feeling of a hand striking his face, and then the tenuous mental
touch was gone.

Alarm sent him plunging in the direction of the call. He had it
pinpointed now. She was in an older, two-story house not far from
the university. Meriel lay on the floor of the kitchen, and two
people, one of them Lester Norton, argued back and forth over her.
The other, a slender, blond woman who might have been attractive
except for the angry scowl that distorted her face, reached out,
seized Meriel by the hair, and drew back her hand to strike. Clark
shot forward and burst through the kitchen door, slamming it back
against the wall. In a split instant, he seized her wrist,
restraining her.

Too late, he felt the telltale ache of Kryptonite radiation.
Dropping her hand, he staggered back. The woman's face reflected
shock, then a grim satisfaction. A malicious smile split her face.

"Surprised, Superman?" she asked. With one hand, she reached up,
tugged at a chain that hung around her throat, and from the neckline
of her blouse, withdrew a small, gold ring with a glittering, green
stone, half the size of his thumbnail. "No one else ever realized
what this was," she said. "But I did. I believe in insurance. Now,
Les!"

From the corner of his eye, Clark caught movement; then something
hard struck the back of his head with stunning force. That was the
last he remembered.

**********

Lori made a fourth trip to the coffee machine, loaded the brew with
cream and sugar and returned to her computer. Uneasiness rippled
along her nerves. An hour had passed since Clark had left and he had
not yet returned. If Lester Norton had gotten hold of Meriel, they
needed to find him and it was beginning to look as if they wouldn't
manage it in time to help her. She hoped fervently that Clark would
be careful, too. She wasn't as convinced as he was that the
connection of the geology department with both the new dream dust and
the Kryptonite ring was only a coincidence and the possibilities that
opened up scared her.

She had rarely felt as helpless. Her boss paced about the Pit,
coming to peer over her shoulder every few minutes, which didn't help
her concentration. She couldn't blame him, however. It was his
daughter who had disappeared. With five superheroes and the police
as well, scouring the city no one had turned up anything but Meriel's
car parked on the third level of the hospital-parking tier.

Lori stared at the screen. Lester Norton was a graduate student, a
teaching assistant to Don Wilcox, one of the geology professors. His
address was given, and the make, model, license and university
parking permit number of his car as well as the fact that he'd spent
his first two undergraduate years at Metropolis City College. His
grades were consistently good, although they had slipped recently.
What was it that she was missing?

She covered her eyes, trying to force her brain to think creatively.
She wasn't getting anywhere from this direction; maybe she needed to
look at it another way.

Okay, she'd suspected all along that the geology department
connection wasn't a coincidence. If it wasn't, then the Kryptonite
was somehow connected to the new dream dust and therefore probably to
Lester Norton. So what did she know about the Kryptonite ring?

Well, she knew Gerald Smitt had originally bought it, but Gerald
Smitt had left Metropolis City College because of a probable affair
with his TA. But the TAs who worked at Metro City College hadn't
gotten their degrees there, it was a two-year college. The TAs came
from NTSU, because of its affiliation with the city college. Gerald
Smitt hadn't been seen since, and his TA had returned to Cleveland...

Her mind screeched to a halt. That had been six months ago. Who was
to say that the TA had *stayed* in Cleveland? Maybe she had come
back the next semester. Maybe Smitt actually didn't have anything to
do with this. Suppose he'd given the ring to his girlfriend? What
had her name been? Deborah something--Deborah Tisdale, that was it.

Quickly, she directed her computer to find any and all information on
Deborah Tisdale and within a few minutes, a possible answer was
staring her in the face.

Deborah Tisdale was a TA in the geology department this semester at
NTSU. She had her bachelor's degree in geology, but had a minor in
chemistry, and was taking her master's in the subject. Lori caught
her breath. If John's investigators had even considered the
girlfriend, no one had checked on her yet. If she had the ring and
if she was the one manufacturing the dream dust, and if she was the
one who had Meriel...

But none of this was proof. All of it was based on "what-ifs", and
Lori knew just how wild anyone but Clark would think her idea. How
many times had Mariann told her that she let her imagination run away
with her? Lori got to her feet. She couldn't do much more good
here, and she might be able to check this idea out herself without
pulling the police or any of the supermen off their own search.
Besides, the last thing she wanted to do was to bring any of the
super-heroes into this if there actually was Kryptonite on the
premises.

She grabbed her raincoat off the coat rack on her way to the
elevator, and a moment later was in the conveyance and on her way to
the Daily Planet's parking tier. At least the Predator could get her
to Deborah Tisdale's address a lot faster than the slidewalk. Three
minutes later, she was in the Jeep and on her way.

**********

When she pulled the Jeep out onto the street, she thanked Clark's
foresight in insisting that they purchase a groundcar today. The
rain was coming down by the bucketful. Lori steered through flooded
streets that an hour ago had been merely wet. Ground traffic was
almost as heavy as before but even more unpredictable. What was it,
she wondered abstractedly, that made otherwise moderately sane
drivers lose their common sense when it began to rain? People did
things with their cars when it was raining that they wouldn't dream
of doing on a bright sunny day. Lori gritted her teeth and inched
her way through water that came almost to the axles of her new car,
trusting that her anti-collision system would keep her from any
serious, unanticipated meetings with other vehicles.

It almost didn't. At one stop, only the fact that she was cautious
about starting up prevented her being hit as a truck slid sideways
into the intersection and tilted slowly and majestically onto its
side. She maneuvered carefully around the accident, watching the
spreading ripples from the motion of her Jeep's wheels as they met
the ripples spreading outward from the capsized truck. The vehicle's
driver clambered awkwardly out a window, looking shaken.

That was only one of the sights she saw as she made her cautious way
toward the university. Accidents, usually of a minor nature,
abounded, an inevitable consequence of millions of people living in
close proximity to each other, all of them trying to get somewhere in
bad weather. The radio announced that a power station had been
struck by lightning, knocking out the power to a large section of the
city and that two of the superheroes had arrived to try to put out
the resulting fire and to help the emergency services cope with
injured employees. Lori made a face. It was just as well that she
hadn't called for the super-heroes to help. It looked as if there
were a few other things taking up their attention at the moment.

Once she got away from the business district, her progress was
faster. Traffic was sparser and less frantic, but the rain and
accompanying wind seemed to intensify, buffeting the Predator
mercilessly. Once, a branch torn from a tree smacked across the
windshield and she almost drove off the road but at last, she pulled
onto the street some six blocks from NTSU, where Deborah Tisdale
lived.

The house, according to the records, was actually the address of
Audrey Tisdale, age 72, listed as Deborah's aunt and nearest local
relative, so the woman was apparently living with her. It was an
older model she saw, as she drove slowly past, and in the driveway
sat Lester Norton's car, an ancient, green Ford Cruiser. Someone was
probably here, then.

Lori continued down the street well past the house and parked nearly
at the next corner. She cut the engine, looking around
unenthusiastically at the tossing branches of trees and bushes and
the waterfall euphemistically described as a thunderstorm, wrapped
herself tightly in her raincoat and got out, locking the door behind
her.

A sharp, very wet gust of wind nearly took her off her feet and rain
slashed almost horizontally into her face, but she turned her back to
the gale and let it bear her in the direction of Deborah Tisdale's
residence.

It almost took her on by, but she fought her way across the sopping
lawn to the house and paused at last in the shelter given her by the
corner of the building to take stock. Should she just march up to
the door and pretend to be a stranded motorist? Maybe, but even if
Meriel was here, what good would it do? If her presence were known,
she'd never be given a chance to find out.

There was a light dimly visible through the curtained window, some
distance back in the house. Lori moved along the outer wall toward
the rear of the building, not particularly worried about noise.
Nobody but one of the supermen could possibly have heard anything but
the loudest of sounds over the constant pounding of the rain and the
rumbles of thunder.

A six-foot fence barred her way, but barriers of that sort had never
stopped her before. She made it over the fence at the expense of a
skinned knee, a splinter in one hand and a small tear in her raincoat
and found herself in a weedy back yard. A dog house that had
apparently not had an occupant for some time judging by its condition
and a neglected and obviously uninhabited fishpond, were the only
features that she could immediately discern in the pounding rain. A
trellis, supporting a scraggly climbing rose, ran up one side of the
house, and the canes blew about wildly. One had partially broken and
lay sideways across the back steps, its leaves whipping about in the
wind. The sky above was black as pitch and lightning flickered
constantly. Light streamed from a back window; she could see two
persons moving about inside, but here the noise of the storm worked
against her. Their voices were inaudible to her.

Lori paused, irresolute. How was she going to find out if Meriel was
there without getting inside? She moved closer to the house,
sheltering under the overhang with water cascading from the roof an
inch from her nose while she thought over her options. A gust of
wind blew cold water into her face and the back screen door banged
open violently. Lori froze, flattening herself against the building,
praying that if anyone opened the door the falling rain and the
trellis would shield her from discovery.

The back door opened. A man, whom she recognized from the picture as
Lester Norton looked out, grimacing at the downpour. "Wind blew the
door open," he said over his shoulder as he groped for the handle.
"It's nothing."

"That lock's broken," a woman's voice said. "Just pull it shut and
hook it. We can lock the inside door. This antique place of my
aunt's is falling apart, but the price is right."

"We've got to get rid of them before she gets home," Lester said. He
grasped the handle and pulled the screen shut, but the wind jerked
the slippery metal out of his hand and the door flew wide again. He
swore luridly and reached for it a second time.

"Hurry up!" the woman's voice said. "Close the door! Do you want to
advertise it to all the neighbors?"

"Nobody could hear anything over this." He grabbed the door handle
and pulled it shut. An instant later the solid door slammed.

Lori closed her eyes for an instant. That had been close, but what
Lester had said chilled her to the bone. "Them"? Meriel could be
one, but if there was someone else here...

It wasn't logical, but she had a bad feeling who it might be. She
had to call for help.

She lifted her wrist and remembered, for the umpteenth time, that her
wrist talker was at the shop. She couldn't call the police. Yelling
for one of the superheroes might or might not produce results,
especially now, but it could as easily alert these two to her
presence, and fighting her way back to the car might well take more
time than Meriel--and Clark, if he was in there--had.

Lori considered the situation for about half a second and made her
decision. She had to get in there somehow. If she found them alive,
then she could decide what else to do.

The kitchen light went out as she stood mulling over her choices.
The two were leaving the room, which gave her a little more safety in
moving about. A glance at the rickety trellis and its thorny rose
canes decided her against that option unless she couldn't find any
other way in. She looked around, hoping for inspiration.

The garage was attached to the house, and there was a small door in
the rear of it, she noted for the first time, held shut with a rusty
padlock. That was a stroke of good luck. Most likely, that kind of
lock wouldn't be tied to any alarms. Lori examined it for a moment,
then looked around for something hard and heavy. Decorative stones
were scattered around the fishpond, but all of them were too small
for her purpose. In the bottom of the depression, however, sitting
in an overflowing mixture of rainwater and small, floating globs of
evil-looking green slime, was a large, decorative chunk of white
quartz. Lori picked it up without a second thought and returned to
the padlock. She grasped the padlock in one hand and struck it twice
with the chunk. The lock broke. She removed it expeditiously and
tossed it to the grass, then cautiously pushed the door open. The
hinges creaked loudly, but that was the least of her worries. She
slipped inside and closed it after her.

As she entered the garage, the overhead light flickered as the
sensors detected her presence, glinting off the slick, gleaming
surface of a big, black aircar. "Lights off!" she commanded as
loudly as she dared. The flickering died, and she drew a deep breath
to settle her nerves. Now, if she didn't have to open any regular
door locks without a key, the house's intruder alert system shouldn't
sound since there were already occupants inside.

There was a door to her right, which appeared to lead into the house
proper. She turned the knob, praying silently that it wouldn't be
locked. Luck was with her, for the knob turned under her hand and
she pushed the wooden panel open a crack.

Beyond was the dimness of an unlighted room. She edged it open a
fraction of an inch at a time, watching for the telltale flicker of
light and paused at the first hint of activity, with the door open
about five inches. There was no sound audible over the muted rumble
of thunder that penetrated from outside. Lori risked it again.
"Lights off!"

The flicker died. Tensely, she listened for any indication that she
had been detected, but there was nothing. Slowly and carefully, she
eased the door open until she could slide through.

Her raincoat caught on the knob and she stopped. That would have
been bright. All she needed to do was to drip water all over the
floor and let them know she had been here! Quickly, she shed the
rain gear and dropped it through the door into the garage. Her shoes
were wet, too, and they followed the coat. Gently, she closed the
door behind her with a soft click that sounded like a minor explosion
to her tightly drawn nerves, and turned back to survey her location.

She was in the kitchen. Through the door and down a short hall, she
could see the glow of light leaking under a door, and as she
listened, she could hear a muffled male voice speaking, cracking with
what she judged to be anger and fear.

"...Can't kill Superman! Every one of the other ones will be after
our scalps, and they'll never rest until they find us! I say we cut
our losses. Right now they don't have any real proof, but it's
getting too risky!"

"Don't wimp out on me, Les." The second voice was higher and carried
more clearly to Lori's straining ears. "If we dump them in the river
with no identification, no one will ever know. We've got to find out
who sold the Harcourt girl the dust. If we don't, he can tell them
where he got it, and there's been four deaths now, counting the two
yesterday. We'll be lucky if we get thirty years at hard labor in
the lunar mines!"

"That's your problem, not mine!"

"If I go down, you go with me," the woman--Deborah?--said, flatly.
"I'll make sure of that. Look, Les, I've got the addictive formula
worked out. There's a fortune waiting for us, but we can't let them
pin this on us. We have to find out who stole the dust and get rid
of him, and if I have to wring it out of the Olsen girl, I will. No
one's going to hear anything. The basement is as close to soundproof
as you can get, especially with this storm going on. Now, are you
going to help me or not?"

"I don't know. The way she cracked her head, I'm not sure she's
gonna be able to tell you anything, anyway."

"If she can't, we'll have to get hold of Harcourt, but she's being
watched pretty closely. I'd rather do it this way..."

Lori retreated backwards into the kitchen. She'd heard enough. Deborah was their drug dealer-probably "the Professor" that Meriel had heard about-and Clark and Meriel were in the basement. Now, all she had to do was
find the way down to it. She looked around hopefully. Weren't doors
leading to the basement frequently in the kitchen?

Not this time, apparently. Nothing resembling a door that might lead
to a basement presented itself. Then where would it be?

There was a small, closed-in porch giving onto the door into the back
yard. Without much hope she checked it and found herself looking at
a wooden door opening opposite the outer one. The door was held
closed with a simple mechanical lock, and the key was in the lock.
Thanking her lucky stars and the arrogance of the two kidnappers, she
cautiously turned the key. It squeaked slightly, setting her teeth
on edge, but the lock turned. Leaving the key in the lock, she
opened the door and entered.

A flight of wooden steps descended into blackness, but at once the
sensors detected her presence and the lights flickered on. Lori
closed the door quietly, debated a second and left them on as she
descended. Now wasn't the time to take a headfirst dive down the
stairs.

From her vantage point, as she descended, she could see that the
basement had apparently been used for storage for many years.
Shelves lined the walls, loaded with ancient and very dusty books and
magazines, and anything else small enough to stack on them.
Children's board games were piled helter-skelter next to them, and
with them, sports equipment of various kinds. A tennis racquet with
half its strings missing leaned against the wall together with a
baseball bat and a set of golf clubs that had seen better days. A
bowling ball sat next to a deflated football and two football
trophies, all equally covered with dust. Against the far wall,
sagging under a pile of debris, was a ping pong table, and lying next
to it on the floor, so still that she couldn't see them breathing...

Meriel and Clark.

**********

For all her rush to get to them, Lori was careful to avoid noise.
The wooden stairs creaked slightly as she descended, but her bare
feet made no other sound. Clark and Meriel were lying on their backs
as if they had been carelessly dumped there with no regard for their
comfort--which didn't surprise her. If Deborah Tisdale wasn't a
sociopath, Lori didn't know the meaning of the word. From everything
she had seen demonstrated so far, the woman was a conscienceless
monster.

They were breathing, much to her relief. Meriel had an ugly, swollen
bruised spot on her forehead that made Lori wince in sympathy. Clark
had no apparent injuries, and she knew that only one thing could have
brought down Superman. It had to be here somewhere, but how was she
supposed to find it in this jackdaw's nest?

An idea hit her then. "Lights off!" she commanded.

The lights went out and the room was plunged into absolute darkness.
Lori stood perfectly still, letting her vision adjust. Multicolored
sparks seemed to dance before her eyes, although she knew they had to
be her imagination, but one colored light didn't dance. It was right
in front of her, a steady, greenish spot in the blackness.

Lori closed her eyes. "Lights on!" She had the spot pinpointed in
her mind, and when she slowly opened her eyes, letting them readjust
to the light, she knew exactly where to look.

The ring was sitting on the ping pong table between an ancient bucket
of long-dried paint and a climbing boot. She snatched it up. She
had to get this thing away from Clark as fast as she could, but how
far was far enough? Lori retreated to the farthest side of the
basement, glancing about for inspiration. Surely, with all the junk
in this place there would be something suitable. If she could get it
inside a lead container, that would do the trick but nothing seemed
to fill the bill. Desperately, she looked around, searching for
anything she could use.

Pipes of some sort extended from the wall. Some ancient appliance,
she thought, might have been hooked up to them at some time or other.
One of the pipes protruded from the floor and was encrusted with
mineral stains, as if water had run into it at some time in the past;
perhaps it had been a drainage pipe for one of the old washing
machines that had become obsolete thirty-some years ago. Lori tried
to see down into it, but blackness met her gaze.

Wait a minute. She had the miniature hand light she'd taken to
carrying after her near mugging at the university months ago, when
she had first met Clark. Quickly, she dug around in the pocket of
her slacks for the little key ring that held the electronic key to
the Predator. The hand light needed a new power cell, she thought as
she directed the pale beam into the pipe, but it was sufficient to
tell her that the thing extended deep enough into the ground for her
purposes. She was about to drop the deadly piece of jewelry into the
pipe when another thought struck her. In its current condition, if
by some unlikely chance anyone ever found it, they would undoubtedly
pick it up. Lori didn't want this stuff to ever menace Clark or one
of his family--and maybe someday descendents of hers, too--again.
She had to destroy it, permanently.

Leaving the ring on the floor, she crossed the room to the spot where
the golf clubs leaned forlornly against the wall and selected one. A
lone aluminum plate that looked like part of a camping kit lay among
the other miscellaneous junk on the ping pong table. She
appropriated it as well and returned to the ring. With single-minded
determination, she placed the ring on the metal plate and used the
golf club to grind the green stone into tiny bits of broken, green
crystal, and the gold circlet of the ring into a shapeless mass of
twisted metal. It was easier than she had expected. The brittle
crystal shattered easily, and Lori took great satisfaction in turning
the poisonous, green stuff into powder. When she was sure that no
one would ever be able to recognize it again, she carefully poured
the green dust down the pipe.

The whole process had taken only a few minutes, but time was
precious. Footsteps overhead reminded her of the danger they still
faced. Clark and Meriel couldn't defend themselves from the people
who had already demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that they
were ruthless killers. It was up to her to protect her husband and
her new friend until she could call for help, or until Clark revived
enough to help her. But what could she use to defend herself against
a stunner, or other, more solid weapons that the two could bring to
bear?

Her eyes fell on the golf club that still lay on the floor by the
metal piping. That might work, but she needed another sort of
advantage. A golf club was certainly no match for a stunner. She
looked frantically around, and necessity produced an answer.
Children's board games littered the wall shelves, and one of them in
particular might have what she needed. Quickly, she hurried to the
shelf, opened the one she sought and breathed a sigh of relief. The
game was mostly complete. Lori gathered the necessary equipment and
set to work, aware that the door above the stairs could open at any
second. A minute later she stood back, surveying her set-up with the
eye of an artist. It would have to do.

Meriel moaned softly, beginning to stir, and the moan was followed by
one from Clark. Lori suppressed a surge of hope. They were still a
long way from being able to help her. She moved to a position beside
the steps, beyond the line of sight of anyone who might open the door
to the stairs, and gripped the golf club with both hands. "Lights
off!" she commanded in a whisper.

The lights went out. Lori stayed where she was, pressed against the
old, rough concrete that made up the wall of the basement. This
house had been built before the invention of synthastone. It was
pitch black as only an enclosed room can be. Even on the darkest
night, some small amount of light is available to the eye but inside
the basement there was none. Lori shivered in the darkness, knowing
that if Clark and Meriel didn't recover in time, she was going to
have to fight a pair of killers by herself. And to defend the man
she loved, she would fight; there was no doubt at all in her mind
about that. A year ago they hadn't met; now she knew she couldn't
live without him. She waited, trying to breathe quietly and hoping
against hope that Clark would recover before it came to that.

Footsteps crossed the kitchen floor above her and she stiffened, a
tingle of adrenaline beginning to pump through her blood. Her heart
began to beat harder as her body readied itself for action and she
took a tighter grip on the golf club.

Without warning, the door at the head of the stairs opened noisily
and light filtered through the opening. Lori squinted her eyes
against it, knowing full well what was coming next.

The basement lights came on, flooding the room with hard brilliance.
Lori shaded her eyes, letting them adjust as the sound of two sets of
footsteps came down the wooden steps.

Clark moaned, stirring feebly, and Meriel raised a hand to her
forehead, gingerly feeling the bruise. Lori prayed that the
attention of the two would be on their victims and not on where they
were putting their feet.

She could see them, now. Lester Norton came first, hurrying, with
Deborah Tisdale a step or two behind him and holding a stunner. Lori
crouched, unmoving, planning her actions as she watched them. Lester
reached the bottom of the stairs. He stepped onto the basement floor
and his foot went out from under him. With a yell, he fell backward
into Deborah's knees, knocking her off balance.

Lori was already moving. Deborah grabbed for the wooden railing with
her free hand, the other, gripping the stunner, flew outward for
balance. Lori struck for her stunner hand with the golf club, with
every ounce of her desperate strength behind it.

Deborah screamed. The stunner flew across the room and disappeared
somewhere among the countless piles of junk. Lori didn't pause to
savor her victory. Lester was scrambling upright and Lori struck
again. The golf club caught him a glancing blow on the side of the
head, sending him crashing face first to the floor, moaning.

The element of surprise was gone, now. Deborah came down the
remaining stairs in a rush. Tears were streaming from her eyes, and
her right wrist was twisted at an odd angle, but her face was
distorted with fury. Her foot hit the floor, but in her anger she
had forgotten, or had not realized, the significance of Lester's
stumble. Her foot went out from under her as well and she crashed to
a sitting position on the steps, the breath whooshing out of her in
an agonized grunt. Lori didn't pause. She struck a third and last
time at Deborah's good hand and heard the sickening crunch of bone.
Deborah screamed again, clutching her injured arms to her chest and
rolling into a ball on the floor.

Suddenly there was quiet. Lester started to push himself up and Lori
jabbed the golf club into his back. "If you move," she said, amazed
at how calm and menacing she sounded, "I'll hit you again. Lie down
and spread your arms and legs as wide as you can. *Now*!"

She must have sounded convincing, for the man froze and then slowly
obeyed. Lori bent over Deborah where she lay curled on the floor and
seized one of the broken wrists. "Don't move and this won't hurt,"
she said. Her voice started to shake as the adrenaline rush began to
subside, but she had evidently convinced the other woman that she
meant business, for Deborah didn't protest. Lori removed the little
wrist talker and stood back, keeping a close eye on her two
prisoners. Golf club in one hand, she used the thumb of the hand
holding the device to slowly punch in the number of the Editor's
Office of the Daily Planet.

"Olsen," a voice said, after a moment.

"John, this is Lori," she said, trying to sound cool and
businesslike. "I've found her, and I'm going to need some help..."

**********

"If I hadn't seen it myself, I wouldn't have believed it," John Olsen
said. He was sitting in the editor's chair behind the desk in his
office at the Daily Planet, leaning back so far that he appeared to
be in imminent danger of tipping over backwards. Also in the office
were Meriel, Lori and Clark. Meriel's forehead was still spectacular
from a brilliant and highly picturesque bruise, and she lay on the
big, comfortable couch that sat against one wall of the office.
"Lara and I got there, and there was that Norton guy spread-eagled on
the floor and Tisdale lying there with two broken wrists--and there's
Lori standing over them with a golf club in her hands, and both of
them scared to death of her." He gave an incredulous grin. "I
didn't know you were so ferocious, Lori."

"I'm not," Lori said, "but I couldn't let them hurt Clark or Meri,
either. I'm just glad it turned out the way it did." She still
looked a little shaken, Clark thought. Lori hadn't liked what she
had been forced to do, but she had done it without hesitation because
it was necessary. He reached out and took her hand lightly in his
own. The last few hours had been hectic, but it was finally over and
the bad guys were in custody. All he wanted to do at his moment was
to take his wife home.

"So, what happened to them?" Meriel asked. She had spent most of the
time in the emergency room being observed for a possible concussion.

"They're in jail," John said. "The police found enough evidence to
incriminate Deborah five times over, and both of them were spilling
their guts, trying to implicate the other when the police let me
leave. The only thing I want to know," he added, speaking to Lori,
"is where you got the marbles."

"Marbles?" Meriel said.

"The ones she used to trip up that precious pair and get the jump on
them when they came down the stairs," John said.

"There was a game of Chinese Checkers on one of the shelves," Lori
said. "It was all I could think of."

"Chinese Checkers!" Meriel looked at Lori in awe.

"Yeah," Lori said.

John gave a short laugh. "Well, we all owe you something. This is a
front-page story, and I don't care if the suits upstairs don't like
it, you're getting a raise. NTSU should thank you, too, although
they probably won't."

"At this point," Lori said, "I don't really care. I just want to go
home and get a hot shower."

"Well, you can go any time," John said. "Just let me say thank you
once, Lori. You saved my daughter's life, and it's not really
possible to thank someone for something like that. Our family is
lucky that you're part of it."

Lori turned pink and stared at her shoes.

"Oh, there is one last thing," John added, as Lori and Clark stood up to leave.

"Yeah?" Clark asked. "What is it?"

"About half an hour after I noticed you were gone, Lori, something
happened. I was wondering if you could explain."

"I will if I can," she said. Clark noticed how tightly she was
holding onto his hand, but said nothing. "What happened?"

"Well, I was pacing around in there, when your computer suddenly gave
out this unearthly screech, guaranteed to raise the dead and then
started screaming 'Rape!' at the top of its...speakers. Poor Fred
was standing in front of it, and he nearly jumped through the roof.
I don't suppose you'd care to explain, would you?"

"Oh. That was my Fred-trap," Lori said. She gave a tiny smile.

"Your 'Fred-trap'?"

"Yeah," Lori said. "When I was doing the search for a picture that
matched that drawing of Clark's--I got sick, if you remember. When I
got back the next day, someone had erased all my search data. I
decided to trap the saboteur. Just a minute." She let go of Clark's
hand and left the room. Clark looked at John, who raised his
eyebrows, but said nothing. A moment later Lori was back with a
microdisk. "This should document it."

"What's that?" Clark asked.

"The evidence," Lori said. She handed it to John. "If you play
that, it should explain everything."

John took the disk, giving her a quizzical look. "Okay, but this
better be good."

The screen lit up with a picture, obviously taken by a computer's vid
camera. It showed Fred working on a computer, and below the picture
a readout appeared, tracking the gofer's efforts meticulously. It
was painfully obvious that the man was attempting to erase the files
of Lori's latest search. When the computer screamed and began to
shout, John stopped the playback. He gave Lori a look that Clark
interpreted as a combination of annoyance with Fred and amusement at
Lori's unquestionably original trap.

"Go home, both of you," he said. "I'll take care of this. I'll see
you at the barbecue tomorrow, and not before. Comprende?"

Clark nodded and put an arm around Lori. "Si, senor. I guess we'll
see you tomorrow."

"Oh, yes," John said, mildly. "Send Fred in here on your way out, would you?"

**********

After Clark and Lori had left, John replayed the microdisk again.
Meriel was watching him curiously, and as he shut it off, asked,
"What are you going to do, Dad?"

John glanced at her. "What I've wanted to do for weeks--ever since Lori got mugged on the slidewalk and I found out he'd probably tipped off those thugs that she was leaving the newsroom."

There was a knock on the door. John called, "Come in!"

Fred opened the door and entered. "You wanted to see me, Mr. Olsen?"

"Yes, Fred." He picked up the microdisk and rose, gesturing to a
seldom-used side door in his office. "Come into the conference room,
please."

Fred looked surprised, but followed John through the door. John took
a seat at the conference table and slipped the incriminating disk
into the room's computer. "Fred, I want you to see something." He
was silent as the scene began to play, watching Fred's face. Fred
looked first merely curious, then uneasy and finally thunderstruck.
When the playback concluded, John looked at him for a moment without
speaking.

"Well?" he said, at last. "If you've got an explanation for why you
tampered with the information on a computer belonging to one of my
best investigative reporters, I'd like to hear it."

"I...You can't believe I'd do this," Fred said, at last. "It's
obviously a set-up. She's trying to get me fired."

John shook his head. "Try again, Fred. Ms. Lyons has done nothing
to you during all the weeks of her employment here, while there are
several witnesses who have testified to your continued attempts to
harass her. I gave you every chance to correct your behavior, and
you've continued with the same pattern in spite of all the warnings.
This is the last straw. If I keep you on after this, she has every
right to sue the Planet for failing to protect her from harassment.
You can clean out your desk and pick up your severance pay on the way
out."

"You can't do this!" Fred protested, weakly. "I'll sue!"

"That's your right," John said, quietly. "It's also why the paper
has a very large legal department. Let me put it this way. You can
go quietly, and still have a career in the journalism business--at
some other news organization, of course. Or you can make a big stink
about it, air all this dirty laundry in public, and make yourself
persona non grata with every other news organization in the world
except the International Dirt Digger. It's your choice, Fred. Good
bye, and good luck." John stood up, tucked the microdisk into his
pocket, and opened the door to his office. "I'll expect to see you
out of here in an hour."

He shut the door behind him.

**********

Lori and Clark stepped into the elevator together and Clark directed
it to the parking lot. As the elevator car accelerated into motion,
Lori moved suddenly to put her arms around him without saying a word.
Clark put his around her and rested his head on top of hers. "Honey,
I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" Lori said, and her voice was suddenly shaking. "Clark, I
almost lost you!"

"I know," he said. "And it was my fault. I should have paid
attention to your hunch that there was a connection between the dream
dust and the Kryptonite. You were right--as usual."

"I'm not trying to blame you," she said. "I'm just so glad you're
all right..."

He tightened his arms around her. "Well, even if you aren't blaming me, I'm
blaming myself. You had to put yourself in danger because of me. If
you want to be mad at me, I won't try to fight back."

"I don't want to fight with you," Lori said. "I'm not a fighter."

He gave a laugh that was half a groan. "You could have fooled me.
If it hadn't been for you, Meri and I would be dead by now. Honey,
I'm so sorry..."

"Clark, don't," Lori said. "It's all over. Just promise me you'll
be a little more cautious after this. Besides," she added, "nobody's
ever going to find the Kryptonite again. I got rid of it
permanently."

"I heard you tell John that, but you didn't say how. What did you do with it?"

"I ground it up and dumped it down a drainpipe. It's gone for good, Clark."

He slipped his hands up to her shoulders, holding her a little away
from him so he could look her in the eyes. "Have I ever said what an
incredible person you are? Brave, brilliant and beautiful. How
could any man ever be so lucky?"

She didn't answer, merely pulled him closer. Clark was silent, still
kicking himself. He knew he deserved to be scolded, and the fact
that she didn't want to threw him off balance a little, although he
thought he understood. Lori had grown up with a mother who
constantly nagged, complained and tried to make her feel guilty as a
control tactic. She disliked the behavior and couldn't bring herself
to do the same. Lori fought when her back was to the wall or to
defend those she loved and at no other time. He breathed a long sigh
and pressed a kiss on her forehead. "I'll do my best to be more
careful," he said. "That's a promise, honey. But thank you for
riding to the rescue. You were better than the cavalry."

"You're welcome," she whispered. "I couldn't face the thought of
losing you, Clark. Not ever."

"You never will," he said. "Not if I have a choice in the matter."
Horrified, he saw that she had tears on her cheeks. "Honey, I
promise I'll be careful. I'll listen to your hunches from now on.
Don't cry!"

"I'm not," she said, resolutely wiping her eyes with the palm of her
hand. "I'm just glad it's over."

Relieved, he released her and grasped her hand. "So am I. You're
going to have to tell me how you figured it out--maybe over dinner."
The doors of the elevator opened and they stepped out. "I'm going to
take my favorite girl to dinner and dancing to celebrate the fact
that we're both alive and that you took a very dangerous drug dealer
out of circulation. I'm more proud of you than I can say."

"Why don't we just order takeout?" she said. "I'd like to eat at
home with you--without anyone else around. And we can dance there if
you want to."

"Okay," he said. "That's even better." He held her hand tightly as
they walked through the parking tier toward the Jeep. The sound of
the rain could be heard drumming ceaselessly outside, and he thanked
his lucky stars that Lori hadn't let that or anything else stop her.
"Besides, I still have that raincheck to collect on, and what better
time than a rainy day..."

She laughed a little shakily. "Don't you eve
r think of anything else?"

"Where you're concerned, not if I can help it," he said. "Besides,
I'm still on my honeymoon." He squeezed her hand. "Seriously,
honey, spending the evening alone with you is nicer for me than going
to a party with a hundred other people."

"Oh, Clark..."

**********

Lori shifted in her sleep, aware once more that she dreamed, and that
again she was not Lori but Lois. It was beginning to be almost
expected in some deep part of her mind. She was one person in a line
of other people filing on board a big rocket destined for a space
station. She handed her forged boarding pass to the individual
collecting them and passed on into the craft, dodging into a small
cabin. There was a single seat with safety webbing to one side, and
she strapped herself into it. As the countdown continued she looked
around and on the bulkhead, she saw it, almost as if she knew it was
going to be there.

Somehow, she was out of the restraining straps and looking closely at
the little device that was clinging to the wall. " It's a bomb!" she
heard herself say. "You bet it is. It's a bomb!"

What she did next seemed to come automatically. Suddenly, in the way
of dreams, she was holding a pair of cutters and she was chopping
frantically at a mass of wires inside an open panel. Then everything
seemed to slow when a colorful figure in red and blue stepped through
the door, walked straight to the bomb and opened it.

"Hey! Get away from that!"

The man in blue removed an object about the size of a cracker from
inside the casing.

"What kind of lunatic..."

He popped it into his mouth and swallowed, while Lori/Lois stared at
him in shock. An instant later, he burped. He looked slightly
embarrassed. "Excuse me," he said.

Lori heard her voice even as she swam upward from the depths of
sleep. "What the hell are you?" Her eyes opened in the dim room of
the apartment that she and Clark shared and she turned her head to
look at the man sleeping next to her. This time her awakening hadn't
been violent, and the dream hadn't been in the least surprising. It
was as if she'd anticipated it. The whole thing had been
extraordinarily clear and vivid, and it wasn't like deja vu at all.

It was more like a fragment of a nearly lost memory from a time long
past that had somehow made it to the surface.

She studied Clark's face in the dimness, feeling oddly calm, as if
something had happened that she had been expecting. Nothing in her
belief system allowed for it, but there was something, a connection
that she shared with this man that had been there from the night she
met him and, if she was honest with herself, from before that as
well. She belonged with him; she had always belonged with him and he
with her. It was a tie that had existed since before the birth of
Lori Lyons and would exist long after she was gone. It wasn't
reasonable; it wasn't even rational, but the conviction was there and
she couldn't deny it.

Clark's eyes opened slowly, and he smiled.

"Hi, honey."

"Hi." Lori reached out to touch his face.

"What's the matter? Couldn't you sleep?"

"I had a dream," she said, softly. "I dreamed about the first time
Lois met Superman."

He pushed himself up on his elbow. "What?"

"It was in the Messenger rocket, and Superman swallowed an explosive
that was meant to destroy it." She continued to look him in the
face. "It really happened, didn't it?"

"Well...sure. It's in the history books."

"I know. Only this time, I was there. Lois was there. She called
you a lunatic. That wasn't in the books."

He was looking at her with a worried expression. "No, it wasn't."

"Clark, did it happen?"

She saw him swallow. "Yes."

"And she asked you 'What the hell are you?' didn't she?"

He nodded.

"Clark, I have to know if I'm losing my mind." She rested her hand
on his cheek, feeling the rasp of bristles on her palm. "Do you
believe in past lives? I know it sounds insane, but could it be
possible? This is the third dream like this, and it's like I've been
there each time. Do you?"

He closed his eyes for a moment. "Yes."

"Clark, I know this sounds crazy, but am I Lois Lane?"

He shook his head. "No. You're Lori Lyons."

"*Was* I Lois Lane?"

He slowly pulled himself up in bed and tapped on the table light.
Lori kept her eyes fixed on his face. If she looked farther down at
his broad shoulders and chest, she knew it would be harder to think,
but she had to know. All these weeks she had been experiencing that
strange sense of deja vu when she saw things relating to Clark's
earlier life. There had been the dreams that seemed more like little
glimpses into something that had once been, and now the uncanny sense
of calm that was almost knowledge that had come out of this last
dream, as if some barrier had been broken...

"*Was* I, Clark?" she asked. "I have to know. Am I going crazy, or
is it true?"

"And if you were," he asked, "would it make a difference?"

"Is that why you married me?" she asked, taking his reply for assent.

He shook his head. "No. I married you because I love you," he said.
"You're the other half of me, Lori. Without you, I'm incomplete."

"It's the same with me," she said, slowly. "But, Clark..."

He reached up to put his hand over the one she had rested on his
face. "Lori, I don't know all the answers. I *do* know that we're
connected, somehow, but why it's so, I can't tell you."

"But I was Lois..."

"In a way. Lori, do you believe in time travel?"

"I don't know." She scooted up in the bed until like him she was
leaning against the headboard, her shoulder touching his. "Do you?"

"I don't have to 'believe' in it because I know it's real. I met a
time traveler nearly a hundred years ago--more than one,
actually--and he showed me something. He had an invention from the
future, and he'd used it to track me through time. My 'soul' for
want of a better word--and while he was doing that he found something
incredible."

"What?"

"He discovered that I wasn't alone. Lois's soul was there with mine,
never one without the other. We were soulmates, meant to meet and
fall in love in every lifetime. When Lois died, I discovered that
the connection was still there, somewhere. It was the only thing
that kept me going for the next twenty years. When I met you that
night, I knew I'd found my soulmate again." He brushed her face with
his forefinger. "You aren't Lois, Lori, and I don't want you to be.
I want you to be the person you are now, that I've fallen in love
with in *this* lifetime. I didn't marry you because I thought you
were Lois come back to me. I married you because I'm in love with
*you*--Lori Lyons. Can you believe that?"

It was impossible to disbelieve the sincerity in his voice. "Yes."

He closed his eyes and blew out a breath. "Thank God."

"But, Clark--if you knew this before--if you knew that was why I was
having all this deja vu--why didn't you say something?"

He reached out an arm and pulled her closer, so her head rested on
his shoulder. "I didn't know what to think at first. It seemed
awfully unlikely that you would remember things like that. I wasn't
even sure when you had that last dream. And I was afraid you'd think
I was crazy, or worse be hurt. I promised myself I'd never hurt you,
Lori, if it was within my power to prevent it."

She was silent for a long moment, thinking that over. It was
completely believable, and just like Clark to behave that way. "I
think I understand," she said, "but would you promise me something,
Clark?"

"If you want me to."

"If I have any more of these memories, I want you to talk to me about
them. I want you to tell me about Lois and the things you and she
did and how my deja vu fits in. Can you do that? I don't want you
to pretend it didn't happen. I think it will be a lot less spooky
for me if I *know*."

He put his other arm around her, enclosing her in them. It was a
secure and loving embrace, and Lori knew at that moment how much he
had wanted to protect her against even the possibility of hurt, and
how much he had feared that the knowledge might drive her away. "I
promise."

"I'll hold you to that, Superman," she said. She brought her free
hand up to his face, turning in his arms so she could see his
still-worried expression, and stroked his cheek. The bristles of his
beard scratched her palm lightly and she slid the hand around the
back of his neck. "I love you, you know."

"I love you, too," he said. "Don't ever leave me, Lori."

She lifted her face. "Not a chance, pal. You're stuck with me
forever, and you better kiss me now, before you get yourself in big
trouble."

"I think I can manage that," he said, and obeyed.

**********

Lori woke to the feeling of someone tickling her forehead. She
brushed futilely at it, but encountered nothing. The tickle moved to
her nose and cheeks, then a voice said softly in her ear, "Hey,
sleepy-head are you going to sleep all day?"

Lori opened her eyes to find Clark sitting on the bed next to her,
tickling her forehead with a lock of her own hair. "Good morning,
beautiful," he said. "Did you know it's nearly noon?"

Lori yawned and stretched, and noticed as Clark's eyes flicked
downward when the sheet pulled away from her shoulders. He grinned
and reached down to reclaim her gown from the floor. "Lose
something?"

"Mmm, I seem to remember someone pulling it off sometime in the
middle of the night," she murmured sleepily.

"Shocking," Clark said. He bent down and kissed her lightly.
"Breakfast is ready whenever you are. The barbecue starts in about
three hours, so I thought I'd better wake you up in time to get
something to eat before we start out."

"Is it really that late?" she asked, rubbing her eyes. "Here, give
me that!" She took the garment and dropped it over her head. "I
better get a shower. I want to look my best when I meet your family."

Clark chuckled. "I don't think you have to worry. Meri was telling
me the other day that she thought you were beautiful. She said you
were what she always wanted to look like."

"You're kidding! Meri's a very pretty girl!"

"Of course she is; when did that ever make a difference?" Clark got
to his feet. "I'll let you get ready. Coffee's on the table and the
rest will be waiting when you're out of the shower."

**********

When Lori emerged from the bathroom half an hour later with her hair
done and all her makeup in place, she could hear Clark talking in the
living area. He glanced around as she entered the room. "Here she
is, now. Lori, this is Ann Kent, my daughter."

Ann Kent was a tall, statuesque beauty who resembled her father more
closely than Jon, Lara or even CJ, whom she had spoken with only once
by vidphone. Lori's eyes widened in recognition.

"Holy...*you're* Clark's daughter?"

Ann Kent smiled a very famous smile. "Yes, I am. Only you probably
know me by my stage name."

Lori nodded, numbly. "I'm...pleased to meet you."

"Likewise. I just called to make sure the two of you weren't going
to be late. Welcome to the Kent family, Lori. I'm happy to see
you're carrying on the family tradition. I'll see you in person in a
while. Bye, Dad."

Again, Lori nodded. Ann Kent smiled and signed off. Lori swallowed
and summoned a glare at her husband. "Why didn't you *tell* me who
she was?"

Clark shrugged. "I didn't really think about it. Ann's been an
actress on and off most of her life. As a matter of fact, she's been
three *different* actresses, for three different generations, one
after the other although that part's not public information."

"Yeah, but it would have been nice if you'd warned me. I wouldn't
have made such an idiot of myself."

"You didn't," Clark said. "Besides, actors are just people, too.
Just because she's the star of her own series doesn't mean she's any
different from the rest of us."

"How does she moonlight as a superhero when she's so famous?" Lori
asked. "Don't people recognize her?"

"No more than they recognize me," Clark said, "although a couple of
gossip columnists have mentioned her remarkable resemblance to
Shooting Star. Who thinks a vid star would be spending her spare
time propping up the Golden Gate Bridge and picking cats out of
trees? There's an upcoming holovision feature being made about her,
though, and the studio decided Ann's--um--too well developed to play
the part, so it's going to Rachelle Winters. Ann thought it was
pretty amusing."

Lori giggled. "Hollywood!"

"Well, there's a reason it's called Tinsel Town. Come on in and get
something to eat. And be sure you bring along a jacket when we go.
Seattle can be a bit cool, even at this time of year."

**********

Two hours later, flying through the summer air in Superman's arms,
Lori watched the countryside passing below her.

"There's the Black Hills," Clark said, nodding at the national
landmark below them, "and Mount Rushmore. We can come back by here
later and get a close up look at the presidents if you like, when the
crowds are gone."

Lori found herself laughing. Clark was like a kid, showing off for
her amusement. "I'd like it," she assured him. "I like all of this.
I especially like my private pilot." She snaked an arm around his
neck and stretched up to kiss him.

"Oops, not too much of that," Clark warned her with a laugh. "I
don't want to wind up in Japan or something." He accelerated as an
aircar came into view. "We better hurry or we're going to be late."

"Does...did that happen often?" Lori asked, broaching last night's
subject cautiously.

Clark smiled. "More than I care to admit," he said. "I can't count
the times I've wound up in some unintended spot because of that." He
bent his head down to kiss her lightly on the nose. "You're more
lethal than Kryptonite, honey." His smile faded. "I had more proof
of...of what we were talking about than just the time traveler's
word, you know, Lori. He was able to actually demonstrate the truth
of the whole wild 'past lives' story."

"How?"

"He took Lois and me back in time to a couple of previous lives and
actually showed us...in person, so to speak. There was one..." He
chuckled slightly, "in medieval England. I was some sort of Robin
Hood prototype, and you were the Lady Loisette. We had a pretty hot
romance going, Sherwood Forest style."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. And there was another in the old west. You were Lulu, the
heiress of a piece of valuable land. I was--well, think of some kind
of Lone Ranger, only in real life. Apparently, dual identities are
part of my persona."

"And mine?"

Clark hugged her. "Among other things, one of your traits seems to
be your ability to figure things out from a minimum of information.
Like yesterday. You're smart, strong, and always manage to keep me
in line, no matter how many dumb things I do. And I can be pretty
dumb, sometimes." He brought them to a stop in mid-air, holding her
tightly. "Without you I'd be lost, whether you're Loisette, Lulu,
Lois or Lori. Do you believe me, honey?"

Lori nodded slowly. "Yes, I do, no matter how unlikely it seems."

"I'm glad. Now, we still have a party to get to. There are a lot of
people waiting to meet the new first lady of the House of Kent."

Lori gave a realistic shiver. "That's a scary thought. I hope I
don't disappoint you."

"Not a chance in the world. Come on; let's get it over with."

Far too soon, they were approaching Seattle and the home of Jonathan
Kent II. Jon, Clark's second son, lived some distance from the city
near a wooded area, which made approaches from the air by his flying
relatives easier to accomplish unobserved. By the time they arrived
in the large back yard, a fair number of persons had arrived ahead of
them. A crowd of children was playing on a swing set and several
more were digging industriously in a children's sand box set under a
spreading tree. A boy, somewhere in his mid teens, was seated at one
of the picnic tables, playing some kind of hand-held game. Lara and
a balding man who appeared to be around sixty or so were arranging
food on more wooden picnic tables and waved cheerfully as Clark
touched down and set Lori on her feet, then spun back into casual
clothing. Clark took his young wife's hand and drew her over to the
pair. "Lori, this is Dr. William Klein, Lara's husband," he informed
her. "Bill, this is Lori."

Bill grinned and thrust out a hand. "Welcome to the club, Lori," he
said. Lori found herself shaking his hand and smiling.

"You're Ronnie's dad," she said.

"That's right," he said, with a grin. "My daughter has had a lot of
good things to say about you."

Lori glanced at Lara, who winked at her. "I like Ronnie. She's awfully nice."

"We think so," Bill said. "She's in the house, helping Jon and Donna
coordinate this thing. You better take Lori inside, Clark. They're
all waiting to meet her."

"Yikes," Lori said. "I don't suppose there's still time to back out."

Lara grinned, looking suddenly a lot like her father. "I'm afraid
not. It's time to face the music, sweetie. Don't worry. Nobody
bites. You might tell Ronnie to send out some reinforcements,
though, Clark."

"Okay." Clark squeezed Lori's hand. "Come on, honey."

As they headed toward the house, Lori asked, "Clark, if Oliver is
about forty-nine or fifty, and Ronnie's his mom, and Bill is her
dad...how old is he?"

"Bill is ninety-five, I think," Clark said. "About that, anyway."

"He looks about sixty--and a pretty healthy sixty at that," Lori said.

"That's because he's lived in such close association with Lara all
these years," Clark explained. "Her aura slows his aging process.
The same thing happens to all our husbands or wives."

"You didn't tell me that," she said.

He looked worried. "I didn't think of it. Should I have?"

"You're darned right!" Lori said. "You mean I'm going to stay young
and healthy a lot longer than I would have if I married an ordinary
guy?"

"Well...yes."

Lori blinked at him. "And you didn't think I'd be interested in
that? Clark, that's great!"

The worried look disappeared. "Whew! You're not mad, then?"

"Why would I be mad?" She laughed at his expression. "Clark, you
have to stop expecting me to jump all over you for silly things."
She drew a deep breath and stiffened her backbone. "Come on; let's
meet your family. I have the feeling there's a lot I need to learn
about you, still."

"I just hope the women don't tell you too many embarrassing things
about me," Clark said. He led the way to the house and up the back
steps.

A large blue, red and yellow banner had been hung across the length
of the house, announcing "Congratulations, Lori and Clark!" As they
approached, the door opened.

"Ah! Here they are, now," Rhonda Klein said. "Come on in, guys.
Lori..." She gestured around at several persons standing about the
kitchen. "This is my husband, Mason. You've met CJ, I think, and
Annie and Jon."

Clark's other children were all here, Lori realized, and a man who
appeared to be in his early forties smiled and lifted a soda can to
her. That must be Ronnie's husband, Mason, she thought. She found
herself being regarded in a friendly way by the occupants of the
room, and felt herself turning red. Rhonda smiled at her and
indicated a petite, smiling redheaded woman of about Bill Klein's
age. "This is Donna, Jon's wife, and, of course, you already know
John and Meri."

"Quit teasing her, Ronnie," John said, stepping into the room through
the opposite door with Meriel beside him. "Come on in, Lori,
everyone's wanted to meet you, especially after yesterday."

She felt Clark's arm slip around her waist. "Come on, honey." She
saw him grinning proudly at his descendents. "Guys, this is Lori, as
you already know. We were married Tuesday night in Las Vegas."

"All right, Dad!" Jon said. "I guess we shouldn't have expected you
to waste any time. Lori, you know CJ and Ann, I guess."

"Well, kind of," Lori said. "We've spoken on the vidphone."

CJ--Clark James Kent, *not Jerome* Clark had emphasized--reached out
to take her hand. "Hi, Lori. I'm glad to meet you in person at
last. You know Ann, I guess." He grinned at his younger sister.
"Only her name's really Annie Kent, not Annabelle Reyes. Don't ask
me why her agent picked that."

Evidently, this was a long running joke in the Kent family. Ann
elbowed her brother in the ribs and smiled widely at Lori. "It's
nice to finally meet you, honey. I haven't seen Dad so happy in a
long time."

"We're all glad you're here, Lori," Jon said. "Now, guys, if we're
going to get this party going, we're going to have to mush! I heard
Lara say they need some help out there. CJ, you get the burgers
started on the main grill, and Annie, you drag George away from the
baseball game and get him out there with the hot dogs on grill number
two. There's going to be a lot of people here in the next couple of
hours."

"Can I help?" Lori asked, timidly.

"You're the guest of honor," Jon said. "Dad, why don't you take her
into the living room and introduce her around. And then come back.
We've got another grill that needs to be started up for more burgers.
You've been officially drafted."

Rhonda and Meri followed as Clark escorted her into the large living room.

"Hey, look who's here!" a voice announced. Lori had a confused
impression of several men and women of varying ages. One of the
women was barely older than Lori and holding a baby in her lap;
another could have been her grandmother.

"Hi, Clark!" A slender blond woman approached Clark and kissed him on
the cheek, then stood back and surveyed Lori. "Is this Lori?"

"Of course," Clark said. "Hi, Carrie. Lori, this is Carrie Olsen,
John's little sister."

Lori's head was starting to spin with all the introductions of
different people. Meriel laughed. "Clark, go on and cook the
hamburgers. We'll take care of Lori. I think she's getting confused
with all the new faces."

Clark looked down at his wife. "Is that okay, honey?"

"Sure," Lori said. "I'll be fine." She would, she assured herself
firmly. Everyone was being very friendly. There was no reason to be
nervous.

Clark dropped a light kiss on her lips, to the obvious amusement of
everyone in the room, and departed.

"Now," Rhonda announced, "with Clark gone, we can get down to
business. Lori, the word is that you two are planning a big wedding
in October."

"We are," Lori said, "but I've never done anything like that. I'm
not sure where to start."

"That's okay. Clark said you needed help with it. Well, we're here
to help, if you want us."

**********

Clark, attired in a large, chef's apron, was expertly flipping
burgers when Lori, accompanied by the crowd in the living room,
exited the kitchen door a short time later, carrying plates and
bowls of food and all of them laughing and talking at once. Judging
by her heartbeat, she had relaxed a good deal since he'd left her to
the mercies of his female relatives. He had restrained his urge to
eavesdrop on the conversation, although he cringed at the thought of
some of the stories they had probably been telling her.

Jon, accompanied by either James or Perry (he could never keep the
Kent twins straight) followed the crowd, each of them carrying a
large jug of punch or some sort of beverage. The other twin
followed, balancing an enormous ice chest lightly on one hand and a
large bowl of potato salad in the other. There had been several more
arrivals in the last fifteen minutes. He hoped Jon had arranged for
enough hamburgers and hot dogs to feed this mob. Everyone had
brought something, a covered dish of some specialty from home, drinks
or desserts. The Kent clan's parties were always memorable, but
there hadn't been one like this in years.

He caught motion out of the corner of his eye and turned to look. A
superhero in a pitch-black outfit was approaching at treetop level,
carrying someone. Only Ryan wore a completely black costume, so that
had to be his grandson, and his passenger was almost certainly Marcy
Lyons.

He lifted an arm to wave, and a moment later, Ryan dropped to the
ground in front of him and set Lori's sister on her feet. "Hi,
Clark. Sorry to be late. I had to stop a mugging at the last
minute." His form shimmered for an instant and then he was standing
there in black slacks and a black pullover shirt. Clark grinned.
Trust Ryan to dress in a way that showed him off to best advantage
for his companion. Marcy looked as if she would like to drool, but
was being circumspect because of the company.

"That's all right. Nobody's started eating yet. Hello, Marcy."

Marcy was holding a sealed food container of some sort and looking at
him, a little wide-eyed. "Ryan, you didn't tell me Clark was one of
you, too. I mean, I knew he was your cousin or something, and I
wondered, but..."

"I know. I figured you might like to be surprised," Ryan said. "The
party's for Clark and Lori. Where's your bride, Clark? I'd like to
meet her in person."

"Over there, undoubtedly listening to every embarrassing story they
can think of to tell her about me," Clark said.

Ryan grinned. "I can probably look forward to the same," he said.
"Fortunately, Marcy knows about most of it already."

"Don't kid yourself," Clark said. "They'll remember every tiny,
humiliating, little detail that you thought everyone but you forgot a
long time ago."

"Hi, Marcy!" Lori had approached while Clark had been speaking with
his grandson. She was smiling broadly, and Clark was glad to note
that she had regained her self-confidence in the short time since
he'd seen her. "I was wondering if you were going to make it after
all. Hello, Ryan."

"Hi, Lori." Ryan looked her over critically and smiled. "I'm glad
to meet you in person. I guess you heard, huh? Marcy said yes."

"Clark told me," she said. "Congratulations." She turned to her
sister. "For life, huh?"

Marcy blushed. "Yeah," she said. She displayed her left hand with a
modest diamond glittering on the third finger. "It feels wonderful."
The look she turned on Ryan banished the doubts Clark had been
secretly harboring. He'd told himself he had to trust Ryan's
judgement, but both Marcy's record and Ryan's had left him a little
worried. Still, he'd seen that expression in the eyes of Kent men
and women and the mates they had chosen too many times to be
mistaken. This time it was real.

"Congratulations from me, too, Ryan," he said, sincerely, "but I
think you better fill Marcy in on the exact relationship here..."

"Right," Ryan said. "First, though, I want to drop off this salad,
and take her to meet Dad and Mom. Come on, honey."

Clark watched the two of them go for an instant and then turned to
his wife. "I guess all's well that ends well, to coin a phrase."

"I guess so." She came to stand beside him by the barbecue grill and
put an arm around his waist. "I hope they'll be as happy as we are."

"If they're even half as happy, they'll do all right," Clark said.
"I love you, Lori."

"I love you, too, Clark," she said.

**********

Epilogue:

Six weeks later:

October in Metropolis definitely had a nip in the air, Lori observed
as she stepped out of the silver Jeep Predator. The little church
they had chosen was picturesque with its steeple and the big trees on
all sides shedding their colorful leaves on the ground. Meriel Olsen
emerged from the church door and gestured to her vigorously. "Come
on, Lori, we're all ready. Let's get you into your dress and let
Donna fix your hair for you. Marcy's already here and people will be
arriving any second."

"Where's Clark?" Lori asked. "He's not allowed to see me until the
wedding starts. It's supposed to be bad luck."

Meriel laughed. "Considering the circumstances, I don't think you
need to worry. He and Ryan are talking to the minister. Come on."

The little room above the chapel was a madhouse, with the maids of
honor pulling and tugging at their dresses, and Donna Kent, who had
been a hairdresser to the stars in her youth, fussing with Lori's
hair. Lori tried to control the butterflies that fluttered in her
stomach. This was silly, she told herself. She'd been married to
Clark for almost seven weeks. This ceremony was merely for the
benefit of family and friends--and Marcy and Ryan, of course. Her
sister, already dressed in her wedding gown, twisted the diamond on
her finger, put on more lipstick and applied another dusting of
powder to her nose. Rhonda, who had played the part of wedding
coordinator for her, put the finishing touches on Meriel's outfit and
laughed.

"Marcy, sit down. You look fine," she said. "You're a top-rated
model, for heaven's sake. You already know you're beautiful!"

"I guess," Marcy said, "but this is different. This is *Ryan*!"

Donna smiled at her. "Marcy, Ryan would marry you if you were
wearing a gunny sack. My son waited sixty years for the right woman.
Relax. It will be okay."

Marcy sniffled softly. "I just wish I'd waited for him," she said.
"I've been married seven times."

Donna laughed. "Do you think he cares? Ryan is completely crazy
about you!" She placed a final pin in Lori's hair. "There you go,
Lori, you look perfect." She stood up and went to Marcy. "Honey,
don't cry. You'll make your mascara run." She put an arm around her
future daughter-in-law. "Marcy, no one cares how many times you were
married before. You're marrying Ryan, now, and I'm looking forward
to having you for my daughter."

Marcy sniffled again and dabbed at her eyes. "Sorry."

"That's okay. Better fix your face a little. It's almost time to
get down there," Donna glanced at Rhonda. "What's the situation?"

"There are some last minute arrivals," Rhonda said. "Jon and Mr.
Lyons are in place, and Blue Lightning just happened to show up and
grab a guy from the Dirt Digger who was trying to sneak up here and
get a picture of Marcy. I think we're all set as soon as our brides
are ready."

"I hope Mom doesn't make a fuss at the last minute," Marcy said, nervously.

"I don't think she'd dare," Lori said. "Not in front of five hundred
people." She smiled comfortingly at her sister, suddenly feeling
like the one in charge. "Come on, Marcy. Clark and Ryan are
waiting. Let's go get married."

**********

Waiting for the signal to make their entrance, Clark glanced at his
grandson, who was fiddling nervously with his cummerbund. "Ryan, you
look fine. Relax. This is the easy part."

Ryan swallowed. "I know. It's just that I've waited for this for so
long. I hope I'm the husband she expects me to be."

Clark chuckled. "You've been living with her for over a month and
you're going to be a father in about eight. That's when the
difficult stuff starts. Save your energy for the sleepless nights."

"Yeah." Ryan inhaled deeply. "I figure I'll be asking you for
advice a lot--at least as much as I ask Mom and Dad. You've been
through it four times and you've taken care of a lot of grandkids."

Clark laughed. "I must have changed your diapers several dozen times
at least. If you need help, just ask."

Ryan looked embarrassed for a second, then he laughed. "I guess you
must have. I wanted to thank you, Clark."

"What for?"

"For asking me to guard Marcy. If it hadn't been for you, I'd never
have met her. I knew the second I saw her that she was the one. I
didn't believe it would ever happen to me until then."

Clark regarded his besotted grandson tolerantly. "Well, now's the
time to make it legal. I think this is it."

As he spoke, CJ poked his head through the door. "Time, guys. Too
late to run."

Clark gestured to Ryan. "After you."

**********

Waiting in the little anteroom, Lori glanced over at her tall and
beautiful sister. Marcy had always been the one who appeared to be
in control, who never seemed to get flustered when it came to
men--but then, none of the other men had been Ryan. She met Lori's
eyes and smiled nervously.

Lori smiled back. "Relax, Sis," she said. "It's going to be fine.
You're marrying the man you love. Look at it this way, when the
minister says 'I now pronounce you', you become my granddaughter--and
I'm only twenty-one."

Marcy's laughter had a semi-hysterical edge, but it seemed to help.
"That is so ridiculous," she said. "When Ryan told me who Clark
really was, I almost fell over."

"I noticed you recovered pretty fast," Lori said. She would never
forget the look on Marcy's face when Ryan had imparted the news. It
was one of the few times she'd seen her sister literally speechless.

"Well," Marcy said, "I'd already found out that Ryan was almost
sixty, and that his dad was eighty-nine, when they both look thirty.
Clark was just one step farther down the line. He's really nice,
too. I always visualized the original Superman as this stern,
unyielding hero, but Clark's a sweetie." She took a deep breath,
seeming to relax. "The Kent family sure makes pretty men, doesn't
it?"

"That's for sure," Lori agreed. "And you're marrying one. If that
bambino of yours turns out to be a boy, you're going to be chasing
little girls away with a club."

Both women giggled at the thought. There was a knock at the door and
at Lori's invitation, Rhonda peeked inside. "All set?"

"All set," Lori said. Her father was waiting at the door behind
Rhonda and Lori took his arm lightly. "Thanks for coming, Dad."

Robert Lyons smiled. "I wasn't going to miss the wedding of both my
girls." He glanced at Jon Kent, who held out his arm for Marcy.
"Ready, Jon?"

"Ready," Jon said.

The first strains of the Wedding March began to play, and Robert
Lyons smiled at Lori as the bridesmaids filed out ahead of them.
"Okay, here we go." Her father guided her out into the chapel
proper, and Lori began her walk down the aisle.

**********

The wedding, Clark thought later, had been great. Lori's mother,
sitting in the first row, had actually smiled tentatively at him when
he and Ryan came out to take their places, and a few minutes later
the Wedding March began.

Lori came first on her father's arm, and behind them, Marcy, escorted
by Jon. The two young women were like night and day, Lori with her
striking dark hair and eyes and Marcy, blond and green-eyed, one
petite and the other tall and statuesque. He heard Ryan catch his
breath at the sight of Marcy, and had to admit that Lori had the same
effect on him. Both the brides reached the altar and their escorts
surrendered them to the men waiting for them.

The wedding reception was on a grand scale as well; the Kent clan had
done itself proud for their patriarch and his bride. He heard later
that the whole family had chipped in to make it a memorable occasion.
Rhonda, as always, had turned in an exemplary job. For a moment,
watching his granddaughter dancing with her husband, he wondered.
Whenever he wanted advice and help, ever since Rhonda had been an
adult he had instinctively gone to her and her husband. She and
Mason had been his confidants and advisors for years, just as Martha
and Jonathan had when he had been a child. Was it possible? If
Lois's soul had returned, why couldn't others? Most likely he would
never be sure, but it was an intriguing thought.

The music struck up for the final dance of the evening, and Clark led
Lori onto the dance floor. He held her tightly as other couples
joined them and when he looked down, he saw her watching him with a
little smile on her face.

"What are you thinking, Clark?" she asked.

"I'm thinking that we've come a long way in eight months," he said.

"We sure have," she said. "All of us have."

"Yeah." He looked over at Ryan and Marcy. His grandson had a silly
grin on his face and Marcy's head was on his shoulder as they swayed
together in one secluded corner. Clark grinned. "I think it's time
we made our exit," he said.

"Go ahead," Rhonda's voice said behind them. "We'll take care of the
gifts. Hawaii is beautiful this time of year."

"Hawaii is beautiful *all* times of year," Mason said. "You two
should get going."

On the steps of the reception hall Lori paused and tossed her bouquet
over her shoulder. Marcy's followed hers, and then Clark was helping
her into the Jeep. He ran around to the driver's side and they drove
away amid the cheers and good wishes of the guests.

"Did you see who got your bouquet?" Clark asked.

"No."

"Meri. John got Marcy's."

Lori broke into laughter. "That figures. Where are we going?"

"Just back to the apartment to park the Jeep and for you to change.
After that, Superman Express is headed to Hawaii for our honeymoon."

Lori slipped a hand into his and rested her head against his
shoulder. "You've already made it a honeymoon for me, Clark," she said,
"every single day that we've been married."

The End