Chloe and Clark sat in luxury in Oliver's jet as he piloted it back to Metropolis. Lois had taken six Dramamine tablets and was sleeping a few seats behind them. Clark felt a little tired, too, and sat quietly, eyes closed. He roused at Chloe's gasp.
She was working on her computer, writing stories. Apparently she'd taken a break to check her e-mail.
"Clark..." she said wobbily.
"Come here and look at this."
He came over and stared at her screen; then, glancing at her for permission, took the laptop to his own seat. He viewed several screens, then flipped through the pages faster and faster, his face becoming more serious as he did so.
"Can you believe it?" Chloe asked.
"If this is true…." Clark said, his voice hushed.
"Lex is keeping people prisoner, doing human experimentation!" Chloe exclaimed.
"How could Lex do something like this?" Clark said, softly, inwardly mourning the death of the man he thought he once knew.
"He's always been curious…now he's just taking it to a whole new level, no pun intended", said Chloe.
"How reliable is your source on this?" Clark asked, hoping the data were false.
"Very reliable", Chloe said flatly. "Clark, I really think this information is true." They stared at each other for a moment.
"If you're right…" Clark trailed off. After a long silence, he said, "This Level 33.1 – we have to do something about it." Chloe nodded in agreement.
The plane landed at Metropolis International. A limo met Oliver and his guests.
"We'll go to my penthouse", said Oliver. "Chloe, if you'll help me get Lois situated…"
"Then the limo will take you where you want to go."
They rode in silence. Clark and Chloe had discussed her findings throughout the plane ride, and hadn't come to a decision. Clark wanted to confide in Oliver; Chloe couldn't see why, and was concerned about possible exposure of her source.
They debarked at Oliver's penthouse, and rode the elevator. Oliver seemed taller and happier as he walked in the door; he took a deep breath and looked around, obviously enjoying the (to Chloe) stark, postmodern décor.
"Would you like a glass of water, or something to drink?" Oliver said, playing host. "The washroom is down the hall."
Chloe looked at the family crest on the window. She stood stock-still as things came together. Oliver was the Green Arrow! That explained so many things. Clark's reticence. How the Green Arrow could afford the expensive titanium alloy arrows. How he had familiarity with the homes of some of Metropolis' most rich and famous. Why Clark had let him assist with the hostage rescue operation, when she knew that Clark would be using his abilities. Why Oliver had insisted that she take Clark along as a bodyguard. Why Clark wanted to confide in him now.
She remembered what she had told Clark that day when she had taken pictures of the crest on the Green Arrow's ring and he had deleted her files. She had deduced from his actions, and had said to Clark, "You know who he is! And he knows who you are!"
"Um, yes…I have to use the bathroom", Chloe said weakly, and walked down the hall, hiding evidence of her revelation.
"Are you OK, Chloe?" Lois said, coming out of the bathroom. "You look a little ill."
"I'm just a little tired, Lois", she said, pasting a smile on her face. She went into the bathroom and locked the door. She sat down, shaking, as she assimilated the new idea. It wasn't as shocking as it had been when she saw Clark use his powers overtly for the first time, but it was still a difficult moment. She came to a decision.
Chloe came out, walked back to the main room, and gave Clark a Significant Glance. "Oliver, thanks so much for the ride back. It was great." She swallowed. "You asked me if I had any information for you."
He nodded and looked eager.
"I do have a lot of stuff that to tell you, but I have to get it all organized first. Can I meet you back here in three days?"
Oliver looked disappointed momentarily, but then smoothed over his expression into a bland smile. "Of course."
"Clark and I have to be going now", Chloe said, turning to Clark and giving him another Significant Glance.
"What's your rush, Smallville?" Lois interjected.
"I've got stories to write, and Clark has to get home to the farm…" Chloe answered for him.
"The limo is waiting", Oliver said.
Chloe mentally debated taking the limo, then decided it would look odd if she didn't. "OK", she said. "Let's go, Clark."
With no protest, he followed her down to the street, where they got into the limo. Chloe told the driver to deliver them to the Daily Planet building; it didn't take long.
They exited the limo at the Daily Planet door.
"Clark! Walk with me!" Chloe said, her tone allowing no contradiction. He looked at her, nodded, and fell into step with her brisk stride.
"Oliver is the Green Arrow", she said flatly.
He remained silent for a moment. Then he said, "I knew you'd figure it out." He sighed. "We've kind of got the mutual silence pact. Can I ask you to keep it quiet?"
"Well, I won't deny it would be a Pulitzer-winning story…" she said, teasing him momentarily. "Clark, of course I'll keep it quiet. I told you I would never betray you. If I told about him, information about you might get out."
Silence a moment. "Chloe, when you found out about me, I said you were a good friend. You've proved it again."
The niggling itch of an unscratched story idea drowned under the sincerity of the compliment. She sighed, mentally resigning herself to one more secret amidst the many she kept.
"What does he know about you?" she asked Clark.
"He's seen me use pretty much all of my abilities", Clark replied.
"Does he know about the whole E.T. thing?"
"I don't think so."
"Can we trust him with this information about Lex and Level 33.1?" she said, stopping her walk, turning to face Clark, looking him directly in the eye.
He looked back at her, his expression as serious as hers. "I think so." He resumed walking. "And it might be good to have him on our side."
They walked to Metropolis General Hospital. Chloe checked in at the front desk. "Visitor for Saul Stein."
"Room 2157." The blue-uniformed volunteer at the desk seemed a little frazzled; maybe the screaming pair of toddlers busy running through the lobby, wore on her nerves.
They headed for his room. Chloe knocked, entered. She was shocked at the change in his appearance. Saul looked ten years older. Bags of fluids hung on poles, their lines going through pumps, terminating at catheters in his arms. A urine collection bag hung on the end of the bed; monitors traced vital signs, repeating their traces over and over.
"Saul?" she asked slowly.
His eyes opened; despite his morphine drip, he seemed coherent. "Chloe?"
"How are you?" she said, then mentally castigated herself for such a stupid opening.
"Coming along", he said, managing a weak smile. He reached out for her hand, only managing to lift his own hand a little bit. The smile left his face. "Did you get my e-mail?"
She grasped his hand, held it close. "Yes." The tone of her voice told him that she took it as seriously as he did.
"You have to do something about it!" he said, weakly. "I can't anymore." He seemed ashamed.
"We will do something. I promise", she said. He looked in her eyes, seemed satisfied at what he saw. His hand fell back to the bed.
"Saul…" she continued. "There's one more thing…"
"I hate to bring it up now but I have to. That device that you and
Don were working on…"
"Can you make more of those? Can Luthorcorp make more of them?"
Saul opened his eyes, stared at her for a moment. "I don't think so. I deleted all the information about it. Don was the one with all the ideas. Now he's gone…" Pain washed over his face.
She sat silent a moment, respecting his loss.
"They could reverse-engineer the one that Lex Luthor took…" Saul continued.
"I don't think that will happen", Chloe said. A tinge of satisfaction in her tone made him look at her curiously. "Trust me, Saul, it's better left buried."
A glimmer of the old curiosity that had made him successful. "Why?"
She sighed, looked around, then looked him in the eye. "Let's just say that it costs too much." Her steady gaze convinced him.
Lex Luthor sat in his office looking at a file. William sat across from his desk. "The men?" he asked.
William replied, "So far, they're asserting their constitutional right to remain silent." He gave a cynical smile. "We haven't found out anything yet about who sent them. We'll keep on looking."
"And the other?" asked Lex.
"Here's what I've found so far, sir", William said. "You asked me to look at the events, and also look at what Clark Kent was doing." He sat back, knowing that he'd done the research, but also knowing the research proved nothing.
"You said that you were taken hostage about 7:15 pm. I got the call at that time. It took me some time to find you. I came to your room and met Mr. Queen there about 7:30. When I entered the room about 7:32, the men were down."
Lex looked up at this odd phrasing, but said nothing.
"Miss Lang, Lars, and Miss Sullivan took the 7:00 ferry to St. Ignace. I have video of them getting on the ferry." William pointed to a photo in the file. "The time of their…problem…is not clearly defined. I do know that one of the policemen called for backup at 7:35 pm."
"Isn't there bridge video?" Lex asked. He knew for a fact that the bridge had video surveillance at all times.
"Yes, there usually is. But at the time of interest, it's…weird."
"Weird?" Again, a word that Lex Luthor didn't often hear from William, the cop who'd seen everything.
"The video is a blur; it just fogs out."
"Is it weather?"
"No, the weather was bright and sunny that day. There really is no reason for the video to be blurred. It just is."
"Lars was taken to the emergency room at the Cheboygan Hospital at 7:50 pm."
"Who brought him in?"
"Nobody seems to know. The ER personnel all assumed it was an ambulance, but none of the ambulance drivers took him."
"So who took him?"
"Video?" Lex queried.
William sounded frustrated. "It's missing. The emergency room video from 6 pm to midnight that day is missing."
Lex leaned back in his chair. "And Clark Kent?"
William turned to another page in the file. "We have video from the conference area. He was there at 7:15 pm. He went down the hall, presumably to the men's room. After that we don't see him on video."
"I know he met Lana on the mainland. Can we tell when he got on the ferry?"
"It must have been the 7:30, 8:00, or 8:30 ferry, because Miss Lang said he met her about 9:00, or thereabouts. She wasn't exactly sure as to the time."
"We don't see him on any of the video that we have."
"That you have?"
"There are three ferry companies servicing the island. One of them had a malfunction that morning, and they don't have any video for all of that day."
"So Clark may have taken that ferry."
"It's possible." The two men shared a look.
Lex sat forward. "There's no proof of anything here." He closed the file. "We all came out of it OK." Another look at William. "All the same, William, I want you to keep an eye on Clark Kent."
"Yes, Mr. Luthor."
"Sullivan!" Pauline Kahn called. "What do you have?" Her tone of voice indicated she thought that sending Chloe had been a waste, that there was no way Chloe would have a story.
"Right here, Ms Kahn", Chloe said, pulling out her hard copy.
"Hmm…interview with Oliver Queen; interview with chairman of General Technologies; interview with Lex Luthor – how'd you get that?" The editor sounded surprised.
"I…got the opportunity", Chloe said. She continued, "Here's the piece about the new technologies discussed at the conference, what their probable effect may be, financial ramifications…" she piled the hardcopy into Kahn's hands.
Pauline Kahn looked flabbergasted, as if the sky were raining soup. Then she rallied. "Where's the article on the new Luthorcorp technology that you were so hot about?"
Chloe looked down. "Luthorcorp didn't introduce it after all."
Kahn walked away, holding the stories. "I'll be reviewing these." Chloe watched her walk away without apprehension. She knew she'd done good work.
The interviews, with Chloe's byline, appeared in the Daily Planet over the next three days.
Clark and Chloe met on the street before Oliver's penthouse.
"Are you ready?" Clark asked her.
"It's hard." She looked him in the eye. "Clark, do you trust him?"
Clark seemed to be wrestling with himself. "I don't always agree with his methods", he said slowly, "but I do think he's on the side of the angels."
"Should I tell him that I know?"
Clark laughed. "Why don't you do what you did with me – drop pointed hints and keep him guessing over the next few months? Let him be the one to ask himself, 'What does she know?'"
She smiled, remembering their careful dance at that time, each concealing their secrets from the other. "I guess I can do that", she said.
"This is insane!" Oliver said. He'd reviewed Chloe's files on Level 33.1. "It's more than insane, it's evil." He paced around the room. Then he turned and faced Chloe.
"Can you print this?" he asked.
"No. I don't have any other proof. My source is the only basis for this information."
"Do you think this is some elaborate hoax?" Oliver asked.
"I trust my source."
He gave Chloe a look. "Your source is Saul Stein, isn't it?" he asked her outright.
She tried to maintain a poker face, knowing she was failing miserably, not having expected him to figure that out. "I can neither confirm nor deny that", she said. It sounded weak even to her.
"Never mind." Oliver seemed lost in thought. "I think it's better if Saul dies in the hospital—"
"What?" Chloe said.
"No, no, not what you think", Oliver reassured her. "Reviewing this, I think there's a pretty good chance that he's on Luthorcorp's bad list. I think it's time to use my influence to get him a new identity. Saul Stein will be listed as having had a relapse and dying."
Chloe was speechless. Clark stirred. "Sounds like a good idea to me", he said. "Very few people can survive being on that Luthorcorp list." He looked at Oliver and smiled. "We're not all billionaires."
Oliver smiled back. "Let's just say it'll take some special talents to survive." He turned back, looked at the computer files once more, his tone more serious now. "I'll help you in whatever way you need."
Clark sat in his loft, enjoying the sunset. Chloe called to him as she walked up the stairs.
"Chloe." Both relaxed, happy to be in company with the other. She sat on his couch, silent for a moment.
"Did you think all that was going to happen?" she asked him.
"What? Missing Seashell City and the Giant Man-Eating Clam?"
"Yeah, that was too bad that we missed it…" Chloe looked nostalgic for a moment.
Clark continued. "Let's see. Escorting you to an apparently innocuous conference where I ended up saving my mom from a hostage situation; saving you and Lana—"
"And Lars. Don't forget Lars."
"How's he doing?"
"I heard he was getting out of the hospital today. He'll be on recovery for another two months, then back on rehab and light duty for a year."
"That's a long time."
"He almost died." They shared a glance, remembering that frightening time on the bridge.
"Finding out about the new technology, but then finding out we can never use it---"
"And Luthorcorp can't use it either; they lost everyone that knew how to make it and everything that told them how." Chloe stretched her legs. "Just think of yourself as Frodo Baggins throwing the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom."
Clark smiled as he considered the analogy. Then the smile left his face. "And finding out that Lex Luthor has done some things that I never thought even he would do."
She turned serious too. "It's scary, isn't it? What he's doing on Level 33.1?"
"Chloe, we have to do something about that." He sat down next to her. "Oliver is in with us. Let me tell you. We've got a plan---"