This is the sequel to Homecoming.
By Nan Smith
"There's your sister's house." Clark nodded to the roof of a modest suburban house below them as Superman dropped toward its front walk.
It was the afternoon of Christmas Day. Lois swallowed nervously as Clark set her down on the walk in front of her sister's home. A light dusting of snow covered the landscape, and the air was brisk and cold -- a distinct difference from the weather she had been enduring in the Republic of the Congo for the past several weeks. And even though the time since she had last seen her mother and sister had been a matter of those few weeks for her, it had been five years to them. What was she going to say? Oh, of course she and Clark had worked out the explanation for her absence, but still --
And now she was physically younger than Lucy, if only by a few months. Would they notice the fact that in five years she hadn't aged a day? And if they did, would they ask her why?
Clark stepped back and became a spinning blur of color, only to emerge in a pair of slacks and a pullover shirt. A leather jacket hung open, and he casually zipped it up, completing the transformation from superhero to ordinary man. He extended a hand. "Ready?"
She gave a nervous nod. He squeezed the hand warmly. "It'll be okay," he said.
"You're not leaving, are you?" Lois asked.
"Do you really want me to stay?"
Again she nodded. "I know I shouldn't ask you, but would you? -- unless there's something else you'd rather do."
"Well, barring emergencies," he said, "there's nowhere else I need to be."
"Then, if you wouldn't mind --"
He squeezed her hand again. "I'll stay."
"I know I don't have any right to ask you to --"
Again his hand tightened. "You can ask me anything you want."
She gulped, concealing a sense of surprise. Clark was looking uncertainly at her but with a smile that she was sure was meant to be reassuring, and in a way it was, although she couldn't explain it.
Together, they started up the walk toward the house.
A Christmas wreath hung on the door, and lights were strung around the eaves. A pair of reindeer silhouettes in blinking lights decorated the front yard. Lois gulped a third time as they mounted the steps and Clark rang the bell.
Footsteps, and then a pause as whoever had come to answer the door peeked through the spy hole at them. The door opened. "Can I help you?"
The speaker was a tall, blond man that Lois had never seen before in her life, but Clark extended a hand. "Hello, Matt."
"Clark!" The other man's lips split in a smile. "Merry Christmas! Come on in! Is this business or just a social call?"
"A little of both, actually," Clark said. He stood back to let Lois enter first and followed her. "I've brought someone that Lucy would like to see. Lois, this is Lucy's husband, Matt Barrett. Matt, this is Lois, Lucy's sister."
In the process of closing the door, Matt Barrett didn't react for a second, and then he turned to look closely at Lois. "Lois? Lucy's missing sister?"
"Lucy doesn't have any other sisters," Lois said. "That's me."
"Holy --" Matt turned and shouted down the hallway. "Lucy!"
"Just a minute," her sister's voice said. "What's the matter?"
"Come here, quick!"
Footsteps in the other room. "I hope this is important. I was basting the tur --" Her voice trailed off at the sight of her two visitors. "Clark? What do you --" She stopped. "Lois?" It was barely a whisper.
"Hi, Lucy," Lois said. "I'm back."
"And so you don't remember a thing?"
Lois shook her head. "The last thing I remember of the Congo was being in a warehouse on April 21st 1993, and the next, I was in the South Pacific, and Clark was there. Clark's still trying to backtrack how I got there, but there isn't any trail, at least so far. I'm not sure I really want to know, anyhow."
Lucy finished basting the turkey and closed the oven door. "Well, whatever happened, at least you're here now. Mom will be glad to see you. She's had a hard time since you disappeared. Did Clark tell you anything about it?"
"He said she started drinking again."
"She did for a while. Dad and I confronted her about the booze and after a while, when she'd finally made up her mind that you weren't coming back, she got herself into a rehab place and dried out. I was kind of proud of her, actually."
"I hope my reappearance won't start her drinking again."
"I don't think it's likely to," Lucy said. "Clark's been hunting for you since he debuted as Superman, and she knew it. We hoped, for a while, that he'd find you, but after a few months when he didn't, we sort of lost hope again." She took off her kitchen apron and laid it over the back of a chair. "Let's go into the living room. We can sit down and talk there. I guess the guys are watching football."
"Does Clark like football?" Lois asked.
"The couple of times we've had him here for dinner, he and Matt always watched sports, so I'd guess he does." Lucy smiled. "I guess men are still men, no matter what planet they hail from. I'm awfully glad he didn't give up on you, though." She looked at Lois in the half-astonished way she had been doing on and off since Lois had walked into the entrance hallway. "Actually, you look pretty good. I don't think you've changed much in five years -- except to pick up a terrific tan."
"I guess that's from the tropical sun," Lois said. "I'm glad I have something good to show for it. I still have to straighten things out with the Planet and get myself declared alive again."
"I don't think you were ever officially declared dead," Lucy said. "We had a memorial service for you after three years because none of us had any real hope, but I think you have to be gone seven years before they make it legal, so that shouldn't be a problem." She turned suddenly and Lois found herself being hugged. "I'm so glad we were wrong!"
Clark and Lucy's husband, Matt, were watching football, as Lucy had predicted. Matt was seated in an armchair with his feet on an ottoman, and Clark lay on his back in thin air exactly as if he were seated on a perfectly substantial sofa, and both were munching on the contents of a tin of Christmas cookies, most of which were gone. Lois and Lucy simply looked at each other and shook their heads. Her sister was right, Lois reflected. Clark might be from another planet but he was still in many ways a typical man. But what a typical man!
She didn't have a very good track record with men. They all seemed to be intimidated by her aggressive personality, but here was one man who not only didn't seem to mind, he seemed to actually like it. Maybe this guy who, together with her, was supposed to mold the future, would have more in common with his otherworld counterpart than he realized, she thought hopefully. The other Lois was married to her Superman. Whether marriage was in the cards for her she wasn't sure, but it would certainly be nice if the two of them were to become more than friends. He might be the man she had looked for, for ages, before concluding that most single men were either self-absorbed jerks only interested in what they could get from a woman, or wimps. With luck, Clark would turn out to be neither. After all, he was different in a lot of other ways, so why not this one, too?
Clark glanced in the direction of the door. "Your mom's coming up the walk."
"I'll get the door," Lucy said.
Lois gulped. Clark was looking at her, and as she watched he floated upward a couple of feet, altered his position to vertical and was suddenly standing. He reached out a hand and slipped it around hers. She looked at him gratefully without speaking.
Lucy opened the door. "Hi, Mom. Merry Christmas."
"How did you know I was here?" Ellen's voice asked. "I hadn't even rung the bell yet."
"Clark told us," Lucy said. "He brought us a surprise."
"Clark's here?" Ellen said. "I suppose it must be lonely, spending Christmas alone in Metropolis."
"I'd think so." Lucy stepped back, allowing her mother to enter. "He didn't come alone, though. He brought someone we've wanted to see for a long time."
"What do you mean?" Ellen looked past her daughter to the occupants of the living room, and even from her position next to Clark, Lois saw her face go pale.
"Lois?" she whispered.
Clark moved quickly, catching her before she could fall, and an instant later had her seated on the living room sofa. "Would you like a glass of water, Mrs. Lane?"
Ellen nodded shakily, her gaze never wavering. "Lois?" she repeated. "Is it really you?"
"It's me," Lois said. She sat down on the sofa next to her mother. Ellen Lane looked much more than five years older than she had been when Lois had last seen her. "Clark found me and brought me home."
For the first time since she had been an adult, she saw her mother break down in tears.
It was, Lois said later to Clark, the best Christmas she had had with her family for a long time. When Clark spun into Superman to take Lois back to Metropolis, Lucy walked directly up to him and hugged him as well.
"Thank you, Clark," she whispered. "You accomplished a miracle."
"Actually it was a friend of mine, who had been doing some searching for me, that found her," Clark said. "All I did was go and get her."
"It was still because of you," she said. "If you hadn't tried to find her, anything could have happened."
"Yes, it could have," Lois said. "I'll always be grateful to Clark and his friend. I owe them a lot."
"Who's the friend?" Lucy asked.
Clark smiled. "He prefers to remain anonymous."
"Oh," Lucy said. "Well, pass along our thanks anyway, will you?"
"I will if I see him again," Clark said. "A lot of the time, he's kind of hard to find."
"That's for sure," Lois said. "I'll call you both soon."
Clark scooped her up in his arms. "Thanks for letting me spend Christmas Day with you," he said.
"You're always welcome, Clark," Lucy said.
Ellen Lane was nodding. "You brought us all the best gift we could have wanted," she said. Lois thought she was making a tremendous effort not to cry again. "We can't ever thank you enough."
"You don't have to," Clark said. "It was something I wanted to do." He lifted into the air and turned to the north and east. Lois waved until the house was no more than a shrinking dot in the distance.
They flew for some time in silence, and then Lois said, "That went a lot better than I expected."
"I thought it might. Your mom and sister were genuinely glad to see you."
"I couldn't believe it when my mother started to cry. Mother never cried. She used to just go pour herself a drink."
"I think crying is a lot better for her," Clark said. He fell silent as the landscape sped past beneath.
"I'm glad you were there," she said finally. "Thank you."
He gave a small grin. "It was a lot better than spending the day covering for everyone else at the Daily Planet. I haven't really had a family Christmas in a long time."
"Neither have I. Lucy told me that she decided that when she got married she was going to celebrate Christmas the way she wished Mother and Dad had done it when we were kids."
"It was nice," Clark said, "and I'm glad I could help."
"So, what now?" she asked.
"I guess we go back to Metropolis."
"We could go back to that island and see what happened to the cave -- and if there's any signs of Tempus," Lois suggested. "There probably won't be after all this time, but you never know."
Clark's face broke into a grin. "Sure, why not?" He performed a swooping turn and headed east and south.
"You know," Lois said, "it must be really convenient to be able to go anywhere in the world anytime you want. I'm going to miss having you as my private pilot."
"Well," Clark said, "except when I'm working, or when I'm helping out at an emergency, all you have to do is ask."
"Oh, I couldn't -- could I?" Lois said. "It seems like such an imposition."
"Hey," Clark said. "We're partners, remember? It's our job to work together to save the world's future. If I can't help out my partner, what good is having super powers?"
"Well, I can think of a few other things besides just helping me out," Lois said, "but if that's your offer --"
"I'll take you up on it."
"That's settled, then," Clark said, sounding pleased. As he spoke, they left the land and were flying over the waters of the Gulf. "Island coming up in about fifteen minutes."
Behind them, the sun was beginning to set in a blaze of gold and pink. Lois looked down at the tossing water. "I can't believe we were here how many hundred years ago."
"I saw the date on the time machine before we headed back for our time," Clark said. "It was 826 AD. Over eleven hundred years ago. Europe was mired in the Middle Ages."
Lois shivered. "Do you think there will be any trace of him?"
She felt him shrug. "Probably not, but it can't hurt to look."
"I guess," she said, "that if he did manage to get off the island, he wouldn't have been able to build a time machine."
"Not at that level of technology," Clark said. "Herb managed to build one in the late 1800s, but they had steam power and other things. It takes machines to make more complicated machines, and he didn't have them. Unless someone came back to get him, he was pretty much stranded."
"Serves him right," Lois said. "You know, I realize from what you said that he was probably from the other Lois's universe, but he strikes me as kind of stupid, considering that he was a time traveler."
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Lois said, "didn't he realize that if he changed the history of his universe so that the society in which he was born didn't come to be, the chances of him being born were close to zero? He obviously knew that he could change history by getting rid of the people critical to the way history worked out. He should have realized what else could happen. He could have easily destroyed himself."
Clark didn't speak for a long moment, then he nodded slowly. "I hadn't thought of it either," he said, "but you're right. I guess that's the result of a science fiction education."
"Probably. You didn't read things like Asimov's 'The End of Eternity' and similar stuff. It covers all kinds of possibilities like that, but you'd think an actual time traveler would know -- unless he was in complete denial. "
"Or too arrogant to consider that he might be one of the casualties," Clark said.
"Well, he did seem pretty arrogant," Lois said. "Even I could tell that and I only saw him for a short while. I'd be pretty reluctant to tamper with history if I were him. As a matter of fact, I was thinking about that while we were on the island. I'd just about decided that we couldn't leave because we'd mess with the history of our own civilization. I'm glad it didn't come to that."
"So am I," Clark said. He nodded at a dark blot on the horizon. "The island is coming up."
The island was just as tiny as she remembered, but there were people on it now. Not many, she acknowledged, but definitely people.
Clark was staring downward with narrowed eyes. He must, she thought, be checking the lay of the land with that incredible sight of his. Almost at once, he raised his head. "Looks like a tour group."
"A tour group?"
He nodded. "Let's go see what they're touring." He angled downward.
They landed some distance from the crowd of Bermuda shorts- and sunglasses-clad sightseers and Clark did his quick spin into his civvies. Lois doubted that she would ever get tired of seeing that. When the miniature whirlwind stopped, Clark adjusted his glasses and held out a hand to her. "Shall we go?"
"Let me get rid of this." Quickly she shed her coat and pulled the fuzzy sweater over her head, leaving a blouse and a bright red skirt. Not exactly the ordinary tourist wear, but it made her less noticeable. Thank heavens she hadn't felt that a visit to her sister required that she wear heels. The joggers were far more appropriate to a tourist.
"Good idea." Clark picked up the items and tucked them into the branches of a tree some ten feet above her head. "They'll be safe enough there until we get back." Again, he reached for her hand and she took his with an odd thrill running through her. Surely, she thought, holding hands with a man, even one as attractive as Clark, hadn't produced such a sensation since she had been in college, if then. She must be losing her mind.
He led the way to a pebbled path and then, unerringly, to the group of tourists.
The guide was doing his pre-programmed entertainment patter as he proceeded at the head of the group toward the rock where Clark had dug them a cave, in the event that they might need to stay on the island longer than a day or two. "And here we see the famous Oval Cave. As you can see, this cave in the rock is almost exactly symmetrical. Everyone, take a look inside, and you can see the cave drawings made by the inhabitant. There have been speculations since their discovery what kind of symbolism was in the mind of the artist when they were made."
Lois waited, concealing her impatience, until she and Clark were able to see inside the cave. On the walls, crude figures had been carved. She squinted at it, trying to make sense of it.
If she hadn't had some idea of who the cave's inhabitant had been, she wouldn't have had any idea what the drawings meant. As it was, she could recognize the stick figure in a cape, and a rough, but almost unrecognizable outline of the time machine. The other carvings had been so badly damaged that she couldn't tell what they had once been.
Tempus had tried to leave a message for the future, she thought. Maybe it was his way of calling for help from his distant century, for the people of Utopia to come and rescue him. Irony, if she had ever seen it, but something had eroded the carvings, erasing their message.
Casually, she turned away, tugging Clark with her to follow the retreating tour group. The guide was still talking, relating the discovery of the single skeleton buried in the sand. He must have been a castaway, the man was continuing. The skeleton was that of a Caucasian, somehow displaced from Europe and stranded on this tiny island. A prehistoric Robinson Crusoe, who had lived his life here, forming the basis of one of the mysteries in the folklore of the islands in this area of the Caribbean.
Clark bent to retrieve a brochure that had fallen beside the pebbled path, and tucked it into his pocket. "I think we have enough information for now," he said quietly. "If it looks like we should, we can come back later when there aren't any witnesses and make sure that message never makes it to the future."
"It's probably in an archeological report somewhere," Lois said.
"Probably. We can research it later," Clark said softly. "As far as I'm concerned, Tempus is safer long-forgotten."
"I'm with you," Lois said. She glanced at the brilliant sunset and at the crowd of sightseers as they followed the guide along the path, out toward the sandy beach where she and Clark had lain in the sun eleven hundred years ago. "Let's go home."
"It says here," Lois was saying, as Clark bustled about in his tiny kitchen, preparing a late night cup of cocoa for her, "that the drawings were found in 1895. Archeologists found a single skeleton buried in the sand, some years later. Various dating techniques establish its origin at about the Ninth Century."
"It sounds like Tempus never made it off the island," Clark said.
"Well," Lois said, reasonably, "where would he go, after all? If he found primitive people, the chances were he'd have been killed. Life in those days was what my history professor used to describe as 'brutish and short'. Besides, he probably hung around hoping someone from the future would show up looking for him."
"Which," Lois said, " is something that I think you and I should make sure doesn't happen."
"What do you mean?"
"He left that message on the wall of the cave, hoping someone in the future would find it and figure out that he was a marooned time traveler -- and come back to rescue him," Lois said. "Do you still have the time machine?"
"Well, sure. I hid it. I hope you're not suggesting --"
"I think we should go back to a century or so after we marooned Tempus and make sure those drawings never see the light of day," Lois said. "Something erased most of them. There's no reason it shouldn't be us."
Clark was silent for several minutes after she finished speaking. At last, he sighed in resignation. "You're right. You're absolutely right. For the sake of the future of both universes, I don't think we can do anything else. Tempus is too dangerous to leave anything to chance. We'll go tomorrow morning."
Lois laid the brochure on the coffee table. "Let's go now."
"There's no time like the present. Besides, you can set the machine to return to now, can't you?"
"Okay, then let's go and get it over with. I don't want to worry about someone from the future showing up and undoing what we did. Let's go."
He opened his mouth to protest and shut it again. "Ms. Lane, I'm becoming more and more convinced that if either one of us was indispensable to the future, it's you. Let's go and make sure the job is done right." He set the pan of milk in the refrigerator. "This will do fine in here until we get back."
She got to her feet. "Where did you hide the machine?"
"At my parents' farmhouse in Kansas. No one ever goes there anymore except to check to be sure transients aren't living in the barn or something."
"You mean, it was where you grew up?"
"That's right. At least, until I was ten." His mouth tightened for an instant. "I thought it would be the best place to hide the time machine until we figured out what to do with it."
"'We'?" she asked.
"Well, sure. You're my partner. I didn't want to make a decision like that without your input. Besides," he added, much to her surprise, "you have as much right to have a say as I do."
Lois picked up the coat she had laid across the back of the couch. "Every time I think I've figured you out, you surprise me again. I sort of expected that you'd think you were the senior member of the team."
"Why should I?" he asked. "I'm just as new at this world-saving thing as you are. Besides, your reputation won't quit. Maybe I'll just let you be the boss."
"Not on your life, buddy! This is a joint venture. Besides, I'm darned if I want to take all the blame if we mess up."
Clark scooped her up in his arms. "Whatever you say, boss."
She whacked his arm and then rubbed her hand. "I mean it!"
He grinned. "Okay, equal partners, then. Deal?"
"It's a deal! And don't think I'll let you wiggle out of it!"
The tropical island looked just the same as it had when they left, or almost, anyway, Lois thought. There was a rickety structure of branches and palm leaves, now broken and falling apart, on the beach, and a fire pit surrounded by fire-blackened stones, half-buried in the sand. Here and there were the rapidly disintegrating signs of human occupation. Clark scanned the island for such signs and together, they carefully and thoroughly disposed of them. The cave held stone and wooden implements that Clark removed, and carvings, in remarkable detail, telling how Tempus had come to be here. Lois regarded them sourly. "I notice there's no note here of the fact that he was trying to kill us."
"Did you really expect any?" Clark asked. "Now for the carvings."
"Make sure you leave just enough that we'll realize what Tempus did, so we can come back here and get rid of them," Lois cautioned, "but not enough to tell the people of the future that Tempus was anything besides a stranded traveler from the Ninth Century."
Clark nodded. "I thought of that. I guess I'm beginning to catch on to this loop-in-time thing." He shrugged. "I feel kind of bad about this, but he had to be stopped. I guess this is way better than the alternative. And letting the future types get hold of him isn't an option. He's gotten away from them several times already."
"They're either complete incompetents, or --" Lois paused, thinking.
"Or nothing, I guess. You'd think a civilization as advanced as this Utopia is supposed to be would take more precautions to protect itself."
"Herb told me that they didn't know about time travel when he went to the future the first time. Tempus apparently fooled Herb and convinced him to take him back to his own time to convince his friends that time travel was real. My guess is that the cops of his time aren't very experienced at this, and are pretty reluctant to mess with time."
"That still doesn't explain why they let this lunatic escape -- or turned him loose without supervision," Lois said. "They're risking their world! They better get on the ball, or everything we've done will be useless."
"Well, they haven't got much crime, so a throwback like Tempus may have caught them flat-footed," Clark said. "I hope they're fast learners."
"So do I." Lois stood back and gestured to the cave. "It's all yours, Maestro. Make sure you do a good job."
By her watch, two hours had passed by the time Clark set her on his living room rug back in their own time, but the clock on a side table said no more than fifteen minutes had passed. Lois removed the coat that she had worn since the farmhouse and stretched.
"I feel better," she said.
"So do I." Clark gave her a lopsided smile. "Ready for that cocoa now?"
She nodded, flopping down on his sofa. "Remind me to trade in my designer sofas for something like this one when I get another apartment," she said. "I don't know what I was thinking when I bought them."
"Okay." Clark whisked into the kitchen, and returned a moment later with two mugs of steaming cocoa, topped with a frothy puff of whipped cream. Oh well, she thought, taking the mug, how often was it that you saved the future, and the hero of the adventure was a guy that any woman would give her eye-teeth to date? She licked at the whipped cream.
Clark settled down on the sofa beside her and took a long drink of the chocolate. "So," he said, "do you think we know each other well enough, now?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well --" He looked suddenly a little shy. "I was wondering if you'd like to go out for dinner tomorrow night. Somewhere besides Metropolis, that is, so we don't get bothered by the Press."
"Oh?" She eyed him thoughtfully. "Like where?"
"Well, I was thinking of Paris. There's this picturesque little café there that I think you'd like."
Yes! She concealed her reaction, however, and pretended to consider. "Well, I've always liked Paris. Will you give me an aerial tour of the city?"
"I certainly will. I was already planning to, actually. What do you think -- or am I rushing things?"
He looked so worried that she relented. "If you want the truth, I've been hoping you'd ask me for a date ever since about two hours after we met. Sure; it sounds like fun."
She could have sworn that the smile that he gave her raised the light level in the room. "That's great."
"I hope you speak French well enough to order me something that I'll recognize, though."
"Don't worry about that." He glanced at her mug. "Would you like more cocoa?"
"Yes, thanks." She handed it to him and he whisked out of sight, only to return five seconds later with another steaming cup.
She took the mug. "I could get used to this kind of service." On impulse, she raised the container. "To our partnership," she said. "And a good beginning."
He raised his own. "To Lane and Kent," he said. "And the future."
There was a promise in that, she thought as she sipped cautiously at the steaming chocolate. All of a sudden, the future looked brighter than she had ever thought it could.