By: Nan Smith
Disclaimer: The recognizable characters and settings in this story are the property of D.C. Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions, and anyone else with a legal right to them. I have no claim on them whatsoever nor am I profiting by their use, but any of the new characters and situations are mine, and the story is copyrighted to me.
This is the latest in the "Home" series. Anyone who has not read them is advised that the story will make much more sense if you read at least the vignette, "Home". Basically, this is a soulmates-type of story, wherein Lori Lyons is the next incarnation of Lois Lane, at the end of the 21st Century.
By Nan Smith
"How's your back today?" Clark asked. "Any more false labor?"
Lori gave her husband a patient look. Honestly, she thought, for a man who had four children and numerous descendents past the grandchild stage, Clark "Superman" Kent was an absolute wreck!
Of course, the fact that their baby's due date had come and gone four days ago wasn't something that exactly excited her, either. The last month of pregnancy seemed to have been going on forever and, as each day passed with no signs of anything happening, the month seemed to crawl more and more slowly.
"It's okay," she said, taking pity on him. "Your air mattress is wonderful for getting rid of back pain." She leaned forward to put her arms around his neck. Her rounded belly made her lean forward in order to accomplish the feat, and the unborn baby kicked him sharply in the abdomen.
"Oops," Lori said.
Clark put his arms around her upper body and leaned his forehead against hers. "It's the least I can do for you. Do you know how much I love you, honey?"
She smiled and brought her head down to rest it on his shoulder. "I think so. Nearly as much as I love you."
"Well, as much, then."
"That's better." His arms tightened around her. "Are you sure you want to go to work today? You should be getting more rest."
She nodded. "I don't like being alone during the day -- not after Tempus. It's not likely that he'll try again now that I'm wearing the time-traveler shield, but I'd rather be around people." She touched the little piece of jewelry on her collar. "I never thought I could be such a coward. I don't like to take it off at all."
"Well, since Arnie says it's powered by your metabolism, that's pretty smart," Clark said. "Besides, you're not exactly in the best shape for fighting off megalomaniac time travelers."
"Yeah, but that means it isn't on when I put it down. What if Tempus shows up while I'm in the shower?"
"Well, he never did with Lois," Clark said, "and Arnie's working on something to protect the apartment. In the meantime, we'll just have to be careful. I noticed that you're wearing the earrings I gave you, too. Good." He dropped a kiss on top of her head. "John said that you could stay at the office as long as you want, just so long as you take it easy." She felt him smile against her hair. "I get the feeling that he's almost as nervous as I am."
She couldn't repress a giggle. "It's just a baby, you know. It's not exactly a national crisis."
"Well," he said in a more serious tone, "I'm not so sure. Tempus had some reason for not wanting our baby to be born in this time period. I think there's more riding on this than any of us know."
"Maybe," she agreed. "I have an appointment with Ronnie tomorrow morning. Maybe she'll be able to tell us more."
Clark chuckled softly. "Babies have their own agenda. If there's anything I've learned over the years, it's that. If you make it to tomorrow, with luck you'll hold out through the family barbecue in the afternoon. If not, the whole clan will probably be at the birthing center, giving the staff a small nervous breakdown."
The image that remark triggered made her giggle. She straightened up and smoothed her business suit with one hand. "Are you finished eating?"
He nodded. "Just a minute and I'll have the debris cleaned up." The last word was accompanied by a whirlwind and by the actual count of five seconds the signs of breakfast preparation had vanished and Clark was handing Lori her briefcase and palm computer. "Ready?"
She nodded. "Ready." She slipped a hand into his. "You don't have to be so worried, you know. I'll tell you the second I think something is really happening."
He squeezed her hand. "I know, but I can't help it. This is a really big deal to me -- to all of us, really."
The vidphone chimed as they made their way toward the door and Clark paused. "Yes?"
The screen lit up with a picture of Lori's mother, wrapped in a dressing gown. She took in her daughter's appearance. "Hello, Lori, Clark."
"Hello, Mariann," Clark said. He slipped an arm around Lori's shoulders. "Nothing yet."
Mariann smiled slightly. "So I see. I wanted to let you know that Robert and I will be able to make it to the barbecue tomorrow, after all. Assuming," she added, "that Lori isn't in labor."
"Of course," Clark said. "We'll be looking forward to seeing you and Rob there." He glanced at his wrist talker. "We have to go, or we'll be late."
"Of course," Mariann said. "I trust Lori's doctor said it would be acceptable for her to attend."
Lori nodded. "Ronnie will be there herself, Mom. If I go into labor, at least I'll be in good hands." She cocked her head at her mother. "It's five AM there, isn't it? What are you doing up so early?"
"I know your editor doesn't like you to take personal calls at work," her mother said. "I didn't want you to get in trouble with him, so I wanted to call while you were still at home."
"John only objects to personal calls when someone does it all the time," Lori explained. "He doesn't mind the occasional one, and Clark and I don't abuse the privilege. Anyway, I'm glad you and Dad can make it."
Mariann actually smiled. "It all still seems a little unreal, but I suppose I'll get used to that, too. I expect you to introduce me to Annabelle Reyes, if she's there."
"She will be," Clark said. "But her real name is Annie Kent." He glanced at his wrist talker again. "We'd better go. We'll see you tomorrow. Goodbye, Mariann."
"So, when are you going to agree to an aircar?" Lori asked as she activated the restraint system in the Predator.
Clark grinned faintly. "I'm not going to get out of that, am I?"
"Count on it," Lori said. "Lois was right. I want an aircar."
"Lois liked to fly," Clark said. "She had an aircar of her own."
"Yeah, well, I love to fly, too, and you can't always be there to provide the transportation," Lori said unarguably.
Clark shook his head. "I know. I was just hoping it would take you a while to figure out that I'm putty in your hands." He grinned. "How about after the baby's born?"
"How long after it's born?" Lori asked suspiciously.
"A month?" Clark suggested weakly. "That's not unreasonable, is it?"
"Well," she said darkly, "just as long as you don't postpone it any longer than that."
"I won't. I do want a chance to talk to Edward Olsen, though. He's one of Aaron's sons. Have you met him?"
"Yeah. He's the one with the reddish-brown hair who researches structural vibrations or something. His wife's a massage therapist and makes that great sushi for the family get-togethers."
"That's the one. Edward has six amateur titles in aircar racing. I'll talk to him about the kind of car we should look at."
"Just so long as it isn't some pokey little putt-putt," Lori specified. "I want one with some style. And Pegasus-power."
Clark grinned again. "I promise. I know when I'm licked."
"Fat chance of that," Lori said. She stretched slightly, digging her fists into her lower back.
"Are you okay?" Clark asked quickly. "No contractions or anything?"
Lori sighed. "No, just tight muscles."
Clark backed out of the parking space. "Well, it won't be long now."
"So they tell me. Are you sure that Kryptonian pregnancies are only a couple of weeks longer than ordinary human ones?"
Clark shrugged. "Kryptonian babies develop a little more slowly than human ones. You know that. That was why we fudged on your dates to everyone. Statistically Kryptonian pregnancies run two to three weeks longer but that's only statistics. A lot of it depends on the persons involved and the pregnancy itself."
Lori resisted the urge to sigh theatrically. "I know; I know. And it's a good thing they catch up later, or people would have noticed something odd about the Kent clan a long time ago. But I'm over even my Kryptonian due date now."
"Rhonda said there's no sign of placental deterioration," he said. "You're coming along just like you should."
"I know," she said again, sounding dejected even to herself. "And I could go another week or two. I'm sorry," she added. "I'm whining like a two year old."
Clark chuckled. "You can whine to me any time you like."
The traffic on the street, as expected, was heavy. Considering the number of people who telecommuted to work, it always amazed Lori that there were so many cars on the highways in the morning and afternoon. But then, she reasoned, there were plenty of jobs that required people to be there in person, including their own, although most of the time she and Clark weren't in the office and, considering the fact that there were so many people, it probably made sense. She hoped the Centauri colony worked out, though. A little emigration might be just the thing the planet needed. Of course, Gaia's Children would have another fit if anyone even suggested the idea officially. Sandra Callahan had sent her a nasty note after the "Mayflower" incident blaming her for the coming Armageddon that they predicted that would supposedly wipe out the human race. Lori had promptly deleted the note. In the course of her job she tended to get occasional rude correspondence from various people. It was one of a number of occupational hazards.
It didn't make any difference what the subject was or how sensible a solution to a problem might be, she thought. Somebody was bound to object to it, no matter what. She'd heard, however, that recruitment for the radical movement was way down after the plot to destroy the colony ship had been exposed. The leaders of the group -- at least the ones that weren't in Federal prisons serving twenty-to-life -- weren't particularly happy about that, either, which didn't bother either her or her husband in the slightest. The investigation of Gaia's Children was still continuing the last that she had heard, but that didn't stop the remnants of the organization from continuing to demonstrate and campaign for their point of view. After all, that was the way of democracy, Clark had pointed out, and she had been forced to agree -- but privately, she still thought the members of the organization were lunatics, to put it charitably. Trying to put the brakes on human exploration went against everything the human race had done for itself since their species was born. If the Kryptonians had done more exploration, maybe the destruction of their planet wouldn't have nearly wiped out Clark's species, and maybe the New Kryptonians wouldn't have had to settle for a barren, inhospitable world for their new colony. Of course, by now they might have found better places to live. They'd had a hundred years, after all. A lot could have changed in that length of time.
Clark braked to a stop behind a line of cars that extended forward as far as the eye could see. Lori craned her neck trying to discern what the hold-up was. "What's going on?"
"There's a demonstration blocking the street four blocks ahead," Clark told her. "Gaia's Children."
"Oh for the love of --"
"Oh well," Clark said peaceably, "I'll pull into the parking lot just ahead and fly us in to work."
Even so, it took a good twenty minutes for them to inch forward twenty-five feet, which made it barely possible for Clark to pull the Jeep into the parking lot. One of the wheels went over the curb as it was, but nothing was damaged. A few moments later, they got out, locked the doors and walked casually across the lot toward an alley where Clark could make his transformation into Superman.
Flying over the city some seconds later, Clark glanced down at the surging mob beneath them. The crowd had spilled over the boundaries set up for the demonstration and was blocking several streets leading into Metropolis's business district. The Metropolis Police were on the scene attempting to bring the near-riot under control.
"Wow," Lori remarked. "I heard that they were staging a demonstration today but that's really over the top."
"Looks like the police are out in force," Clark said. "And there's Aaron. If you don't mind, I'm going to leave you at the Planet and come back to help out. The riot squad looks like it can use the help."
"Sure," Lori said. "Please be careful, though."
"I will." Clark glanced to his right as Superwoman went past in a red and blue blur. "There goes Lara. I guess the word's out."
"Yeah." Lori bit her lip.
Clark entered the stairwell of the Daily Planet and zipped at super speed to the newsroom floor. He set Lori gently down on the landing. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Be careful," she said again.
He gave her a quick kiss. "I will. Just don't pick this moment to go into labor, okay?"
"I'll do my best," she assured him.
The monitors were on when Lori opened the stairwell door and entered the newsroom. John Olsen, her editor, was seated on the edge of Clark's desk watching the screens. He glanced around as she came down the steps to the newsroom floor. "Still here, I see."
"Unfortunately, yes," Lori said.
"I guess Clark is out covering the riots?"
"Yes," Lori said. "He dropped me off here and went back." She nodded at the screen. "There goes Superman."
"Hey, Lyons, why are you still here?" Greg said. "I thought you were supposed to be on maternity leave."
"I was," Lori said. "Half time. Then somebody tried to kidnap me. I'd rather be here with a lot of people I know than alone in the apartment."
"You're joking, right?" Greg said after a startled few seconds.
"Why would she joke about something like that?" Andrea Waltham asked. "It's happened before, and this probably won't be the last time. You've been here for months. Don't you know her by now?"
Barry Marston, the business editor, grinned at Greg. "You really need to pay more attention, Barker. Kent and Lyons don't get the big scoops by playing it safe, you know. Lori's had death threats from some of the biggest names in the business. She's setting a new standard. I hear you can't be considered a veteran investigative journalist these days without at least one death threat or kidnapping attempt to your name."
"I don't think it's a requirement," John said dryly. Barry snorted but winked at Lori.
Lori dropped her shoulder bag onto her desk chair and crossed to the snack table. After a few seconds debate between two doughnuts, she gave up trying to choose and took both. She returned to her desk, munching. "I thought I'd do a little research on Gaia's Children's more recent history," she told John, around the doughnut. "Clark's going to be writing the story on the riots out there, so I figure a sidebar with a summary of their origin and the highlights of the changes to their philosophy over time might be worthwhile for the readers."
"Good thinking," John said. He lowered his voice. "How are you feeling?"
"Hungry," Lori said. "Starving, if you want the truth. I think I'll order out for pizza once the rioters clear out downstairs."
"Fine with me," John said. "It might be a while, though. The demonstrations are all over the country. Apparently they're being coordinated by the central leadership."
"So what else is new?" Lori asked. "In my personal opinion, they ought to be on the government's watch list for terrorist activities. It isn't as if they haven't tried it before."
"Who knows?" John said. "They may be. The government doesn't tell us everything they do, remember." He glanced at the images of demonstrators on the screen where one man was dousing himself with some kind of liquid. "I hope he isn't doing what I think he's doing."
"He's got a lighter," Andrea said, her voice choked with horror. "I hope the cops spot him before --" She broke off, turning away as the demonstrator ignited his lighter. At the same instant what appeared to be a hurricane blast of air hit the man blowing out the lighter and leaving him with a coat of frost. An instant later, Superman had grabbed him, removed the lighter from his hand and flown him out of range of the video pickup.
Lori exhaled in a long, "Whew!"
"I hope they keep an eye out for more of those," John said grimly.
"So do I," Lori said. "I wonder if their leadership authorized that."
"Wouldn't surprise me. They were willing to kill several thousand people by blowing up the 'Mayflower'. Why should a little thing like burning a few followers alive worry them -- especially if they can make a political statement?"
Lori suppressed the shiver that ran down her spine. The fact that Gaia's Children were fanatic enough to do things like this underlined the lengths to which the radical movement was willing to go to prevent humanity from colonizing other planets. Not that it would prevent it in the long run, but the thought of the horrors that could take place in the meantime made her skin crawl. Deliberately she turned away from the monitor screens and told her computer to search for anything that it could find on Gaia's Children from its inception to current time. While it was doing that, she tied it in to her laptop, which was at their apartment, and accessed the folder of documentation that she was amassing on the radical group. Of course, the leadership would undoubtedly threaten lawsuits, but as long as she stuck to the provable stuff and made sure she drew no conclusions, leaving it to the readers to draw their own, the Planet was safe from legal action.
Twenty minutes later she finished the piece, copied it to her laptop at home for reference purposes and transmitted it to her editor's computer for his okay. That done, she got to her feet, intending to head for the snack table again.
A jolt nearly knocked her off her feet and a terrifying rumble vibrated through her body. The Daily Planet building shook and swayed and she saw the duraglass of the big main window that overlooked the city of Metropolis flexing and shimmering at the force of the explosion. Andrea screamed. Plaster rained from the ceiling onto Lori's desk.
John came out of his office like a shot. "Everybody to the stairs!" he shouted.
"What is it? What's happened?" Carla Rhoads burst out of the supplies storeroom.
"Hurry!" John grabbed the intern and thrust her toward the stairs. "The Planet's been bombed!"
Lori headed for the steps, stopping at the Events desk to haul Eva Potts to her feet. The girl crouched on the floor, her face white with terror. "Come on! We have to get out of here!"
Responding to the voice of authority and the grip on her wrists, Eva obeyed and stumbled toward the steps. Greg pulled open the door and waved people urgently through. "Hurry up! Come on, everybody! Move!"
"Don't panic!" John's voice echoed through the room over the crashes and unidentified sounds that told Lori that parts of the building were collapsing. "Hurry! Help each other!"
Lori pushed Eva through the door. "Down the steps! Get out of here, fast!" She looked back, scanning the room, thankful that the riots had prevented most of the staff from coming in this morning. "John!"
"Go on!" her editor yelled. "I'm right behind you!"
"Come on!" Lori shouted back. "The ceiling's coming down!"
Another voice, easily heard over the rumbles and crashes, gave her a rush of relief. Superman was suddenly there supporting the cracking roof. "Go on! I've got it!"
John hustled the last of his staffers through the door nearly pushing Lori ahead of him. "Move! Don't run! Just keep moving!"
Thanking whoever the designer of the Planet had been that the actual newsroom was only on the fifth floor, Lori descended the steps as fast as the crush of bodies would allow. From above them came the sounds of people from the upper floors coming down after them. The stairs shivered and Lori wondered if they would withstand the weight of all the people. Surely, Clark would make certain that the stairs held, she thought, knowing all along that the task might be too much even for Superman. But maybe the others would help him. Surely the bombing of the Daily Planet would draw every super-powered member of the family for hundreds of miles around if they weren't occupied with the other rioters and if no other buildings were bombed.
The closeness of the stairwell was stifling with all the people in here. The air felt as if there was no oxygen in it, and she had to remind herself that there was plenty of air. It was just her natural dislike of being squeezed from all sides and the terror from the mob of jostling people pushing from above in their desperation to get out of this collapsing structure. Clark would see to it that she got out of here, she reminded herself. He would do everything in his power to make sure that everyone got out alive -- those that hadn't been killed in the initial explosion. The thought of someone in the Gaia's Children organization callously setting a bomb that would kill dozens of anonymous people produced a surge of anger and she used it to stoke her energy reserves to keep on her feet long enough to get out of this cramped, stifling stairwell amid the mob of her terrified coworkers. She could smell smoke and prayed that the building wasn't burning.
There was light below. At last, they were coming to the ground floor emergency exit. Lori hung on to the handrail as she descended the last flight of steps and emerged from the stairwell into the open air. A pair of hands seized her and rushed her away from the building. Looking up, she saw John, grim-faced, manhandling her to safety.
"John," she managed, "I'm all right. See about the others."
"Our people are out," he said. "This way. Clark wants you as far away from this as possible. He and the others are doing everything they can. The fire department and police are there. They don't need us."
"I'll stay back," Lori said. "You don't think I'd risk my baby for anything, do you?"
A groundcar pulled up beside them and the window rolled down. A stunner pointed at them from the window. The stunner hummed and John flung himself backward. The stunner beam must have brushed him, though, for he staggered and fell to the sidewalk. "Get in," a voice said. "Move it, Lyons, or I shoot and drag you in."
Lori stared at the stunner and then at the face of the man holding it. "Fred!"
"Never mind the public service announcement." The stunner in Fred's hands didn't waver as he spoke. "And being pregnant won't help you a bit. Hurry up!"
Keeping her hands carefully in sight, Lori moved slowly toward the groundcar from which Fred Harkin was covering her with his stunner. The Daily Planet's former copy boy was grinning nastily at her. "Get in Lyons. No tricks."
"It's not as if I'm able to run," Lori said.
"Shut your mouth! Get in the back seat."
Lori obeyed. In her very pregnant condition, she couldn't run. She would have to depend on Clark at this point. John wasn't unconscious. She could see him stirring and prayed that Fred wouldn't fire again. Slowly, she climbed into the car's rear seat, trying to decide if she dared risk activating the earrings. Fred had turned to face her, and the malicious grin on his features told her that he would be happy to use any excuse to fire the stunner at her.
"Belt yourself in," Fred told her. He nodded to the man in the driver's seat. "Go."
Lori obeyed, and the car moved away from the curb. Fred pushed the stunner into her face. "Go on," he prodded. "Just give me an excuse."
"Sit down, Harkin." The driver didn't glance back. "This isn't about your personal vendetta. She's a war criminal and will be treated as such."
"War criminal?" Lori said. "Are you two out of your minds?"
"You're a war criminal, Ms. Lyons," the driver said, "in our war to save the human race. You and your husband prevented our people from stopping the 'Mayflower' and, as a result, the founding of a colony on the planet of Alpha Centauri will signal the doom of humanity. That's enough of a crime, don't you think, to merit the death penalty?"
Definitely around the bend, Lori thought. "Do you mind taking that thing out of my face?" she said acerbically. "I can hardly fight my way out in my condition."
"Shut up," Fred told her. "I'd love to pull this trigger, Lyons, believe me."
"Sit down, Harkin!" the driver repeated. "She isn't to be injured until the court finds her guilty and she's executed."
"You mean you're going to let her mouth off and do nothing?" Fred demanded. "And we haven't even gotten Kent yet."
"The other team will see to Kent." The driver glanced sideways at him. "We aren't to let our personal feelings into this or it becomes petty revenge."
Lori glanced at her wrist talker. It had been barely three minutes since her kidnapping but she was quite certain that John had notified Clark by now. She just hoped that he wasn't in the middle of a rescue or something. "You mean you're blaming Clark, too?" she said.
"Shut up," Fred answered viciously. "And give me that wrist talker!"
Lori began to fumble with the strap, stalling as well as she could. With any kind of luck, the emergency signal produced by the earrings was being heard by every super hero in the city.
Slowly, she handed the wrist talker to Fred, who shoved it into his pocket. He turned to face forward again but Lori could see him watching her in the mirror. She sat back in the seat, trying to will her pounding heart to slow down. Surely at least one of the supermen could spare a few minutes to answer her emergency signal.
All of this had to have been orchestrated, she thought. The rioting people, the bombing of the Daily Planet, and her kidnapping -- Gaia's Children must have planned to kidnap her, and probably Clark -- only, of course, Clark was in costume, helping out at the disaster they had caused.
"You bombed the Daily Planet just so you could get your hands on me?" she asked.
"Don't flatter yourself," Fred answered. The sneer in his voice was very pronounced. "Our dispute is with the Daily Planet as an institution. You and Kent were its tools. The Daily Planet will be destroyed in retribution. Mother Earth will avenge herself on --"
Oh brother, Lori thought. Fred was more of a lunatic than she'd realized. It was her experience that the leaders of the various cults believed in the actual dogma a good deal less than their flock, but Fred was obviously a believer in this nonsense. He believed that Gaia, Earth, was on his side, demanding her death and Clark's in payment for aiding and abetting in the destruction of the human race.
She hoped Clark would hurry.
Clark Kent, AKA Superman, lifted his head at the telepathic message that echoed in his brain. The sender was dizzy, and a pounding headache colored the words. Clark, it's John! Lori's been kidnapped!
He grimaced in frustration. He couldn't leave now. He was holding up a flight of stairs with several hundred people who were frantically trying to evacuate the Daily Planet building, but if Lori was being kidnapped, he couldn't ignore that, either.
John's "voice" again spoke in his mind. It was Fred Harkin. That means Gaia's Children is behind it!
CJ, in his guise as Tan-El, appeared suddenly and braced himself beside Clark, taking the weight of the stairs. "Go!" he said.
Clark whisked in the direction of the "voice" and an instant later he saw a figure on the sidewalk, waving. John's face was pale, but he spoke instantly as Clark's feet hit the ground beside him. "He had a stunner. He hit me with it, but I guess I've got enough of your heredity that it didn't knock me out. I saw him, and I got the license number."
"Give it to me," Clark said. "Can you describe the car?"
John nodded. He turned his head and coughed slightly. "Sorry. My stomach's a bit upset. It was a blue Meteor, license number JKR557NN. It's been about three minutes."
"Thanks. Call Velma Chow. Tell her what you told me. I'm going to try to see if I can spot it from the air."
John Olsen watched as Clark, resplendent in red, blue and yellow, launched himself into the air and rapidly shrank to a tiny, inconspicuous dot. He would find Lori's kidnappers, he told himself. Clark had a bond with Lori, which meant that even though he couldn't communicate mentally with her most of the time, he could sense when she was in trouble and generally could tell direction. Gaia's Children had no idea who they were dealing with. It wasn't just Superman, either, but every member of the Kent clan -- super powered, telepathic or just an ordinary citizen -- they would be after Lori's abductors.
He lifted the wrist talker to his lips. "Call Velma Chow," he said.
There was a long moment while the phone buzzed and then an annoyed voice answered. "Chow. This better be important."
"Lieutenant, this is John Olsen, the Managing Editor of the Daily Planet," John said.
"I'm a little busy," Velma's voice said, sounding vastly irritated. "I don't have time for quotes right now."
"Neither do I," John said. "I'm reporting the kidnapping of Lori Lyons by an operative of Gaia's Children."
Silence answered him for a count of nearly five seconds. "Did I hear you right?" Velma's voice said, sounding somewhat less irritated.
"They shot at me with a stunner and forced her into their car," John said. "I recognized the man with the stunner. It was my former copyboy, Fred Harkin, who happens to be a card-carrying member of the group. Superman's in the air looking for the car, but I thought it might be a good idea to let you know what was happening."
"I don't suppose you got the license number," Velma said.
John gave it, as well as the make, model and description of the vehicle in question.
"I'll notify the station," Velma said. "We should have an ID and a trace on the car within minutes."
"If you'll pass the information to me, I can relay it to Superman," John said.
The police lieutenant's voice sounded slightly annoyed. "Why is it that Superman gives his number to everyone but me?"
"Do you mind if I explain that later, Lieutenant?" John said. "My top female investigative reporter is in the hands of a group of lunatics who blame her for the coming end of the world. Time is of the essence."
"Keep your pants on," Velma said. "We're on it."
High in the air over Metropolis, Superman scanned the area below for any sign of the car that John had described. In the back of his mind he could sense his soulmate's fear so strongly that he could almost hear the actual thoughts that formed it. And then, her emergency signal went off. The sound was loud and clear in Clark's mind, and he zeroed in on it like an arrow going into the bull's eye. From the left he saw Blue Lightning and Superwoman approaching in streaks of color, and an instant later Typhoon and Cyclone appeared.
And the sound cut off abruptly. One second it was there and the next it was gone. All that remained was the silent trace of his wife's mind, echoing back her growing terror.
Lori unconsciously held her breath, aware that every superhero in the city was hearing her alarm, and prayed that at least one of them was free to come to her aid.
"There," Fred announced, pointing ahead. Lori followed his pointing finger with her eyes, seeing the big, nondescript truck with a ramp leading up into its vacant interior. The car in which she rode rolled up the ramp and pulled to a stop inside the cargo space, and the rear doors closed. Almost at once Lori felt motion again. The airtruck lifted off and banked to the right.
"If the cops are trying to track the car," Fred told her smugly, "they won't find a trace of its homing signal. And you can scream all you want. This place is shielded against police trackers, and soundproof." He grinned nastily at her. "You get to be our guest until we get our hands on Kent, and then you both go on trial. I don't expect the trial to last long. We all know what you did."
Lori turned her head away and squeezed her eyes shut. Clark had no way of tracing her now, except for that sense that he had told her about, his link with her mind that let him feel traces of her emotions. Please, she thought, please, Clark, be feeling my thoughts now! Come find me!
And for just a second she seemed to hear his voice inside her head. Hold on! I'll find you, no matter what it takes. Just hold on!
The ride in the airtruck seemed to go on for an interminable length of time but it probably was only a few minutes, she knew. Then she realized that they were dropping and felt it when the ground wheels hit the pavement again. The truck rumbled forward over a rough surface that tilted upward slightly and then came to a stop. The engine died.
"We're here," Fred announced. He pushed open his door and got out, still covering Lori with the stunner. "Give me that jewelry you're wearing. The earrings and the pin. And your wedding rings." He pocketed the items in question. "Now get out. And no tricks."
Lori forbore to answer him. It wouldn't take much to goad Fred into firing that thing in his hands, and she had no idea what effect it might have on her baby. Meekly, she got out of the rear seat and stood on the metal floor of the truck's cargo section.
A scraping sound drew her attention, and the rear doors of the truck swung open. Two men were opening the doors, and Lori allowed herself to be herded out of the truck, down the ramp and onto a synthastone floor. She appeared to be in a garage and for a moment toyed with the idea of screaming for Superman.
"Don't bother screaming," Fred's sneering voice broke in on her thoughts. "This place is soundproof, too. Walk ahead of me."
Lori did so, doing her best to appear cowed. Fred's low opinion of her might be to her advantage, especially if she reinforced it by her actions.
"Through that door."
Lori climbed two steps and opened the door at the top.
The door opened into a mudroom. A sharp push between her shoulder blades shoved her forward through another door on the opposite side of the small room.
She was in a kitchen, but Fred was gesturing her toward yet another door. "Open it. And go down the steps."
The door led to a basement. It figured, Lori thought as she descended the wooden stairs. She guessed that the intention was to hold her here until they could capture Clark, and then the two of them would be put on trial. At least until then she would probably be kept in good shape -- as long as whoever was running this show kept Fred under control.
"Scream yourself hoarse," Fred invited. "This place was one of the old bomb shelters they built fifty years ago when people were afraid of terrorist attacks in the city. Nobody's going to hear you. Not even us." He chuckled to himself and slammed the door. Lori heard the lock click.
"Spread out!" Clark ordered. "Look for a blue Meteor, license number JKR557NN."
Beneath the control that he kept firmly on his thoughts, he could feel Lori's mind. She was afraid, although she would never admit that to anyone but him. Her emotion came across to him even over the distance that separated them. A century ago, Lois had been able to hear him when the need had been greatest, and he had always been aware of her presence and general direction, even then. More familiar with using his Kryptonian telepathic ability these days, the feel of Lori's mind was more than just a vague sensation.
Please, her thought came to him, please, Clark, be feeling my thoughts now! Come find me!
The direction was to the north, although a few moments before, the emergency signal had been to the south of him. She had to be in an air vehicle and moving fast, he thought. Pinpointing her was going to be difficult. The mental bond they shared was present but lacked the pinpoint accuracy of the earring alarm.
Hold on! he told her, hoping against hope that she would hear him. I'll find you, no matter what it takes. Just hold on! He telepathed the northern direction to Lara and used his wrist talker to communicate the information to his super-powered but non-telepathic relatives.
Everyone's out of the building, CJ's voice announced in his mind several moments later. Coming. He arrived as he spoke. "Lori's inside something that's blocking the signal?"
Clark nodded. "Apparently."
"Can you still feel her mind?"
"Yes. She's to the north of us, somewhere. She was moving pretty fast there for a few minutes but now I think she's stationary."
"Can you communicate with her?"
"A little. The sense I get is that she doesn't know where she is. In a house, she thinks, inside a private bomb shelter."
"Like the ones people built fifty or sixty years ago," CJ said. "If she's north of us, that puts her in a fairly circumscribed area."
"I know. But we can't go bursting into people's houses without warrants. And if we go around asking to see their shelters, it'll alert Gaia's Children that we have some idea where she is. They could move her -- or kill her."
Are you getting all this, John? CJ telepathed.
Yes, the editor replied. I'm going to pass what I can to Velma. I don't know how I'm going to tell her what part of town to concentrate on, though.
Clark met CJ's eyes. "What should I do?"
CJ looked steadily back at him. "Tell her, of course. Lori could have that baby any minute. We don't have much time. If anybody can be trusted, it's Velma."
Velma Chow was not having a good day. The demonstration by Gaia's Children had struck her as a bad idea when she had first heard about it, but, of course, she didn't have any say in the matter. So the demonstration, as she had expected, had degenerated into a riot, a good deal of random destruction, the bombing of the Daily Planet building -- which she suspected wasn't random at all -- and now the Daily Planet's leading female journalist had apparently been kidnapped by the people that Velma privately characterized as lunatics. Which, of course, was something that she would never say on the record.
Lori Lyons could sometimes be a pain in the rear from some of her colleagues' point of view but Velma had never regarded the young woman as such. Lori was bright, intelligent and likeable. Velma had always found her so, at least. More to the point, Lori was trustworthy and always gave the police a fair shake which was something that couldn't be said about a lot of her contemporaries.
The vehicle, the license number of which John Olsen had given her, couldn't be found within the borders of the city, and Velma was in the process of sending two officers to check out the home of the owner when her wrist talker beeped.
"Yes?" she said sharply.
"Um -- Lieutenant Chow, a Mr. John Olsen is here to see you. He says he has some information for you."
"Send him in," Velma said. She straightened up in her chair. A moment later there was a knock on her office door.
"Come in," she said.
The door slid aside and John Olsen entered.
The editor of the damaged main branch of the Daily Planet was a man in his early to mid forties, at least so she judged by his appearance. The profile she had pulled up on her computer said he was fifty-two. She had met John Olsen in person twice before in the course of her duties and had spoken to him many times on the vidscreen, and each time had been struck by a feeling of familiarity. It was as if he reminded her of someone she knew.
She'd had that feeling more often than she was willing to admit these days and for more than one person. Maybe it was middle age catching up with her. John Olsen was fairly tall -- about six feet, she estimated, fit and trim, and he moved with the easy grace of a man fifteen years younger. He must work out, she thought, to keep that flat middle and those broad shoulders. His hair was dark and thick with only a faint sprinkling of grey at the temples to give him a distinguished appearance, and his heavy eyebrows were still black. He was a very good-looking man in a faintly exotic sort of way and had probably been a heartbreaker in his youth. Unfortunately, as with so many handsome, successful men of his age, he was in a committed, long-term marriage. At forty, Velma had pretty much shelved the idea of marriage but a girl could still appreciate the scenery, she reflected with dry humor.
As he stepped into her office, Velma saw that he was frowning, and his jaw was set. Obviously, the kidnapping of his top female reporter had upset him more than he might like to admit. His eyebrows were drawn together, and suddenly she was able to pin down the nagging feeling that he resembled someone else.
It was the eyes, she thought. They were brown with gold flecks in them and had a faintly Asian appearance. He looked almost like a combination of Superman and Blue Lightning. It had to be a coincidence, of course, but the notion that she had discovered something important wouldn't quite go away.
"Can I help you, Olsen?" she inquired.
The Editor of the Planet smiled perfunctorily. "Superman wanted me to relay some information," he said. "He told me to tell you that he'll be here a little later to explain more fully."
"And?" Velma asked.
"Lori Lyons is almost certainly in one of the old private bomb shelters on the North Side of Metropolis," he said.
"How do you know?" Velma asked. "Where's the proof?"
"I'm afraid there isn't anything tangible," Olsen said regretfully. "Superman knows that she's in the general area, but he can't give you any solid proof."
"So I'm supposed to act on Superman's intuition?"
"It isn't intuition," Olsen said firmly. "He'll be here to explain in a few minutes. In the meantime, I had one of my researchers do a web search at the local library. She came up with a list of the homes in that area with private bomb shelters." He produced a sheet of hardcopy.
Velma took it and glanced perfunctorily over it. "There's nearly a hundred homes on this list."
"Ninety-two," Olsen said. "Lori Lyons is probably in one of them, and worse, her baby is four days overdue. She's running out of time."
Velma laid the paper down. "Do you have any idea why Gaia's Children would want to kidnap Lori?" she asked.
Olsen sighed. "Some. You're aware, aren't you, that she and Kent broke the story of Gaia's attempt to destroy the 'Mayflower'?"
"I remember it. It had to do with their idea that establishing a colony on another planet would cause the destruction of the human race."
"From the research Lori has done on their movement, it's not just a crazy idea -- it's one of the bedrock tenets of their organization. Kent and Lyons exposed Gaia's plot and put a lot of their leaders in jail -- but the followers haven't given up. My opinion is that they're going to try to punish Lori, and possibly Clark Kent, for their so-called crime. That's what their spokesmen have been calling it in their various press releases. As I understand it, the Daily Planet is also on their hit list. They seem to have carried through on that one as well." He met Velma's eyes steadily with his own. "I think Lori's life, and the life of her baby, are in danger, and, if she loses that baby, it will be a tragedy."
Velma sighed. Journalists, even those in positions like John Olsen's, had a definite flair for overdoing the drama. "Of course, losing either of them would be a tragedy," she said. "I'm going to try to prevent it. But people die every day, and so, unfortunately, do children. Look, John --"
"This would be a worse tragedy," Olsen interrupted. "That baby, and that young woman, are more important to Metropolis -- and the world -- than you realize."
Velma cocked an eyebrow at him. "Would you care to explain that?"
"I'll explain it," a voice said, and Velma looked around to discover Superman standing by her desk. "Thanks, John."
Olsen nodded. "Shall I leave?"
"No," Superman said. He turned to Velma. "John told you where I said Lori is probably being hidden."
"Yes, and I'd like to know how you know," Velma said acerbically. "All this mystery is getting a little annoying. Would you care to explain?"
Olsen turned to close the office door and lock it. Superman glanced around the room and Velma thought that he was examining it minutely for something. Then he reached out to disconnect her intercom. "Just in case," he said. "This is for your ears only. I need your solemn word that what we tell you will never leave this office and that you'll never pass it along to anyone."
The look on his face was so serious that Velma Chow felt the short hairs on the back of her neck prickle slightly. "You have it," she said.
Superman stepped into the clear area in front of her desk, glanced once at John -- and his figure became a small tornado of red, blue and yellow that changed color quickly to grey. When he came to a stop another man stood in front of Velma's desk. She half rose to her feet. "Kent!"
He nodded. "That's right. This is who I really am. Lori, as you know, is my wife -- and her baby is mine: a baby that will be another super-powered human being when he or she grows up -- assuming my wife and child survive."
Velma Chow was literally struck dumb for several seconds. At last she took a deep breath. "I think I understand what you meant," she said to John Olsen. She looked back at Kent, examining his face closely and wondering now how she had ever missed it. "Now, explain to me, Kent, how you know your wife is in that section of the city."
"She told me," Clark said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Kryptonians are telepathic with each other," Clark said. "Some of the original Superman's descendents have that ability as well."
"And you do?"
"Yes." Clark nodded. "Those of us with the telepathic talent bond mentally and emotionally with our mates. Since Lori is a human, she and I can't talk the way two telepaths can, but I can pick up impressions from her mind, strong emotions, and sometimes some of her thoughts when she's very upset or afraid. And I can tell general location. I know she's north of us because I can feel her there but I can't pinpoint her. She's somewhere in that area, and she's very frightened."
Velma nodded. The whole conversation had a vaguely surreal feeling to it, as if she had stepped from real life into the setting of a science fiction novel. She ignored the faintly numb sensation that seemed to encase her brain and tried to focus on what he was telling her. It gave her at least the illusion of normalcy. "It must be hell, knowing how she feels and not being able to help her," she said. She looked back at John Olsen. "I take it this wasn't a surprise to you, Olsen."
"No," the editor said.
"I should have figured," she said. "I guess your resemblance to Superman isn't a coincidence."
"No," John said. "I'm the original Superman's great grandson but without the super powers."
She tilted her head. "You look more like Blue Lightning."
"He's a relative," Olsen said. "So is Clark, here, obviously."
"Well --" Velma pushed back her chair. "Let's get busy since we have a deadline. What did Lori's doctor say about the baby?"
"She could go another week or two -- or she could go into labor tonight," Clark said.
Velma scowled. "I want every bit of information that you and Lori have amassed on Gaia's Children," she said to Clark. "I trust the Planet has its information archived at some remote location and not in the building itself," she added, turning to John. "If we start searching the bomb shelters in North Metropolis we'll alert them that we have some idea where she might be. They might simply decide to move her, or they might just cut their losses and kill her. We need to find a different approach." She spun her chair back to face Clark. "And if the situation changes -- if you pick up any information from Lori, let me know at once -- and would you mind reconnecting the intercom?"
"Of course." Clark did so quickly and effortlessly.
Velma's wrist talker beeped at that instant. She lifted it to her lips. "Chow."
"I have the information you asked for, Lieutenant." Mona French was Velma's new assistant. Chow's initial impression of the woman had been that she was an over-cocky young officer with an inflated view of herself. After two weeks of acquaintance, she had discovered that Mona's attitude sprang from a sense of self-confidence that was completely warranted.
"Let's have it," she said.
"The vehicle is registered to a Maurice Harkin -- address of record is an apartment house on Bolero Drive." She proceeded to reel off the address.
"Harkin?" John Olsen said. "Fred's name is Harkin."
"Did you catch that, Mona?" Chow asked.
"Yes, ma'am. I already checked into that. Frederick Harkin, formerly employed by the Daily Planet, is his cousin."
"Put him under surveillance," Velma said. "If he's in on it, he might just contact his cousin -- or vice versa."
"Already done, ma'am. There's also an APB out on the suspect. We've questioned his neighbors, but he hasn't been seen since yesterday."
"Keep on it." Velma shut off the device and turned back to John Olsen and Kent. "We're interviewing the local leaders of Gaia's Children. All of them deny any knowledge of Lori's kidnapping."
"Naturally," Clark said.
"Let's say I'm not surprised," Velma said. "We'll keep an eye on them as well, but I suspect that this was arranged ahead of time to give the bosses plausible deniability." She drummed her fingers on the surface of her desk. "Superman --"
"Clark," he corrected.
"Sorry -- 'Clark'. I want you to make sure your family coordinates with the police in this."
"They will," Clark said. "Superwoman, Blue Lightning and Cyclone are watching the section of Metropolis where we're pretty sure Lori is being hidden. If they see anything unusual, they'll notify me at once. Tan-El is busy in his own circle of acquaintances that live in that section of the city. Typhoon is covering the fraternities and sororities at New Troy State. There's a Gaia's Children student organization on campus. They'll let me know if they learn anything. The same for the others."
"Lori's baby is a big event for the family," John said quietly. "And Lori is important to all of us. There are several dozen of our family members living in Metropolis. I've already communicated with them. Some of them know members of the Gaia's Children cult. If any of them see anything unusual or find out anything of significance, they'll call me at once."
"Just make sure they don't stick their heads into a noose," Velma said grimly. "If anyone slips, I don't want him to wind up dead. These fanatics are playing for keeps."
"They know that," John said. "How much super-help can you use?"
"As much as you can provide. Why?"
"We have members coming in from all around the world," John explained. "They're ready to do whatever needs to be done."
Velma's eyebrows went up involuntarily. She should have expected it but she hadn't. She had an army of supermen and women waiting for her to give them orders. It seemed that when one of their family was in trouble, the supermen banded together. This didn't bode well for Gaia's Children if they actually caused the death of Lori Lyons or her baby. "All right. How do I contact them?"
"Through me," John said. "They don't want to be seen, naturally. It might alert the wrong people. Just tell me what you want them to do. I'll relay it."
She cast him a sharp glance. Of course, the man wore a wrist talker but this was more than that. "You're a telepath, aren't you, Olsen. Like Kent."
"Yes." Olsen didn't elaborate.
"I thought you said you have no super powers."
"I don't," Olsen said.
"I think that may be a matter of opinion," Velma said. "All right, here's what I want them to do --"
Meriel Olsen wasn't unaware of the crisis that had overtaken the Kent clan. In fact, it occupied her mind to the exclusion of her summer studies and anything else. Classes had been suspended for the day, following the bombing of the Daily Planet, and Meriel found herself with nothing to take her mind off the emergency. Her friend, Lori, was in the hands of fanatical cultists who probably blamed her for the end of the world that their particular dogma predicted when the "Mayflower" reached the Alpha Centauri system and established a colony. Meriel found herself clenching her fists as she listened in with the telepathic talent that she had inherited from her father to the communications flying back and forth between her family members. If only she could do something!
A couple of years ago, she had helped Lori and Clark solve the case of a drug peddler on the NTSU campus. Watching Lori in action had inspired her more than she had been willing to admit. She and her Grandfather Clark had been taken prisoner by the ringleader and imprisoned in the basement of an old house. The woman had possessed a Kryptonite ring that she used to disable Superman and it turned out that Meriel's one sixteenth Kryptonian heredity made her vulnerable to the deadly crystal as well. Lori, however, had figured out who was behind it and where they were, had single-handedly captured the woman and her accomplice and had saved the lives of Meriel and of Clark. And now, when Lori was in trouble, Meriel couldn't do a thing to help her.
Well, maybe she couldn't help directly, but there was nothing to say that she couldn't try to figure out where Lori had been taken. She wasn't as good with a computer as Lori, but she knew someone that was. A few months ago, the new intern at her dad's office, Carla Rhoads, had helped Lori and Clark break the case of a serial killer. Lori had introduced Carla to Meriel one afternoon, and they had become friends almost at once. Carla wouldn't be at the Daily Planet, since the building had been damaged and wasn't safe, but Meriel had the number for Carla's wrist talker. Maybe Carla could help. Quickly, before she could change her mind, she spoke to the vidscreen.
"Call Carla Rhoads."
She had almost decided that Carla's wrist talker might have been broken in the emergency when Carla's voice answered. "This is Carla."
"This is Meriel Olsen," she said. "I heard about what happened. Are you all right, Carla?"
"Yes, mostly." The other girl's voice sounded shaken. "We all got out alive, thanks to Superman and the others."
"That's a relief," Meriel said. "Did you hear what else happened?"
"No. What happened?" Carla asked.
"Where are you?" Meriel asked. "Dad doesn't want anyone else to find out yet."
"I'm at the Hob's Fitness Center with Connor," Carla said. "He picked me up after the paramedics finished checking me over."
"Oh." She guessed that was okay. "Can anybody hear you?"
"Okay, then. This is important. I need you to help me. Gaia's Children kidnapped Lori."
There was dead silence for a minute and then Carla's voice said softly, "Oh no."
"Yeah. Dad says the police are afraid they're going to hurt her -- maybe kill her. She and Uncle Clark stopped them from blowing up the 'Mayflower', and they --"
"Yeah, I know," Carla said. "I remember reading the story. I was still at NTSU at the time. But what can we do that the cops can't?"
"Well, I have an idea," Meriel said, "but I need somebody who's good with computers, and you're the best person I know, except for my Uncle Aaron, and he's out of town."
"All right," Carla said. "What do you want me to do?"
"I'll come over there," Meriel said. "In the meantime, can you get hold of a list of the membership of Gaia's Children? I know Lori managed to break into it when she and Uncle Clark were working on the 'Mayflower' case a couple of years ago."
"Maybe," Carla said. "I'll see what I can do. I don't suppose you have any of Lori's records or anything?"
"No, but she had all that stuff on her laptop. I can probably get it."
"Well, why don't you come over here and we'll decide what to do once you get here," Carla said, sounding suddenly very determined. "I don't think we should be talking about this over the phone."
"You're probably right," Meriel said. "I'll be there as fast as I can make it."
When she walked into the Hob's Fitness Center an hour later, the first person Meriel saw was Deirdre Monitor, who worked as Connor's receptionist. She smiled at Meriel. "How are you today, Ms. Olsen?"
"All right," Meriel said. "Is Carla here? I talked to her a while ago and she said she'd come here after --"
"Wasn't that awful?" Deirdre said. "Barry called me as soon as he got out of the building. Who would bomb the Daily Planet?"
"I guess there are some people with grudges against the Planet," Meriel said. "It could be anybody. Is Carla --"
"She's in Connor's office," Deirdre said. "Is your father all right?"
"Dad's fine," Meriel said. "The newsroom is only on the fifth floor so everybody made it down all right, although Superman and Tan-El had to hold up the stairs until everybody else got out."
"Thank heavens for them," the receptionist said. "Connor said to send you into his office when you got here. I guess Carla's in there trying to get some rest. What a thing to happen! She and Connor have only been married a week!"
Meriel nodded. "How are you and Barry doing?" she asked.
"We're happy," Deirdre said. "You know we had a six month trial marriage, but Barry proposed to me for life after only three months."
"So I heard," Meriel said. "I think that's great."
"What's going to happen to everyone that worked at the Planet, though?" Deirdre asked. "They say the building was destroyed. Has everyone there still got a job?"
"The worst damage was pretty much limited to the basement and the lower floors," Meriel said. "Dad said it's going to be in for a lot of repair and stuff but everybody's still got their jobs. They're just going to have to handle business from a different place for a while." She started toward Connor Cooper's "office" -- a 6 foot by 6 foot cubbyhole set against one wall in the refurbished warehouse that Connor Cooper had turned into a successful business. "I'll see you later, Deirdre."
Carla was not, as Deirdre had assumed, trying to get some rest. She was seated at a card table with her laptop computer parked in front of her and she was leaning forward to read something on the screen. She looked around as Meriel entered the room. "Hi, Meri."
"Hi," Meriel said. "I stopped by Uncle Clark's apartment before I came over," she continued immediately. "Lori had a folder on her laptop about Gaia's Children from the 'Mayflower' investigation. I copied it for you. It looked like she set up a way to get into their computer network when she hacked in the first time. That might save you some trouble."
"If they haven't changed it, maybe," Carla said. She took the pin-drive that Meriel held out. "Let's see what I can find."
Mariann Lyons was in the process of paying bills when her doorbell rang. She glanced at the vidscreen. "Front door."
The image on the desktop vidscreen showed a tall, very beautiful woman, her dark hair pulled back from her face in a braid, and, behind her, Jon Kent. "Yes?" she said quickly.
"Jon and Ann Kent," Jon answered. Mariann told the household computer to open the door and hurried into the front hallway, smoothing her hair as the two visitors paused in the entrance.
"I could swear Lori said the barbecue was tomorrow --" she began.
"This isn't about that," Jon said quickly. "Mariann, this is my sister, Ann. We're here to take you and Rob to Metropolis as quickly as we can. We have an emergency."
Mariann felt as if someone had hit her in the stomach. "Lori and the baby?" she faltered. "We heard everyone got out of the Planet building safely. I've been trying to call but I haven't been able to get through."
"They all got out," Ann Kent said. "Lori has been kidnapped by members of Gaia's Children. The Metropolis Police are searching for her and so is every member of our family but Clark thought you should know right away. How quickly can you be ready?"
Mariann stared at her in shock for the actual count of three seconds. "Right now," she said. "I'll call Rob."
"I already did," Jon said. "He's coming now."
Mariann had never before really absorbed how quickly the supermen could move when they had to. In an instant, Jon Kent had gone from a sports coat and slacks to the bronze and gold of Puma, and his sister had changed into the monochrome silver of Shooting Star. Rob came down the stairs behind her as the super woman held out her arm. "Jon can carry Rob," she said. "We'll go straight to John Olsen's home. Marilyn is waiting for you there."
The trip across country was accomplished in minutes. Mariann had expected to feel at least a breeze, but, although they had to be moving faster than one of the passenger shuttles that could cross the continent in less than an hour, they might as well have been standing still. If she hadn't been able to see the ground far below her moving rapidly to the rear, Mariann might have believed that she and Ann Kent were suspended motionless in the air.
At any other time she would have been in awe of what was happening to her. She was flying through the air, faster than the speed of sound, and was being carried by a super powered woman who was also a well-known actress. Annabelle Reyes was one of the most versatile and gifted performers in the business. She could pull off drama, romance, comedy, tragedy and even slapstick -- just about any kind of acting that an adoring public could expect. The tabloids trumpeted her string of romances and her official history mentioned affairs with some of Hollywood's sexiest male stars. Lori had informed her mother that the whole official biography was one of her agent's most imaginative creations. Annie Kent was very happily married, but that kind of reputation didn't sell tabloids and would have disappointed her fans, so the agent, an aspiring novelist, had manufactured a completely fictional past for her.
Unfortunately, Mariann was in no mood to appreciate the circumstances. She was too worried about her daughter.
John Olsen's home in Metropolis was a spacious house in the suburbs with a large back yard that was bordered with tall trees for the benefit of any of his relatives that chose to arrive by air. Ann Kent set Mariann on her feet and led the way up a pebbled walk to the wide patio and the duraglass sliding doors that opened off the living room. Jon Kent and Rob followed.
Marilyn Olsen was in the living room speaking to someone on the vidphone when they entered. Mariann didn't recognize him, which wasn't surprising. He was a handsome man of about thirty with dark brown skin and eyes of so deep a brown that they looked almost black.
"Tell them when they get there that we've got the whole area covered like a blanket," the man was saying.
"Just find her," Marilyn said.
"We will." The screen went off. Marilyn turned to her visitors.
"Hello, Rob, Mariann."
Mariann dropped her handbag on the floor. "What happened? Have they found her yet?"
"Not yet," Marilyn said. "We know roughly what part of the city she's being held in, and we know she's still alive, but so far we haven't been able to narrow it down."
"How do you know?" Mariann found herself near tears and felt Rob's arm go around her waist.
"Clark can feel her mind." Marilyn bit her lip. "I'll explain. Sit down, please." She nodded toward the vidscreen. "That was Jonas Kent. You probably know him by the name of Titan. He flew in from Lower Tanzanika as soon as he heard the news about Lori. We have nearly a hundred super men and women here searching for her."
Suddenly aware of something, Mariann glanced around, but Jon Kent and his sister had vanished.
"They went to rejoin the others," Marilyn said. "The whole family is looking for her."
"What did you mean that Clark can feel her mind?" Rob asked.
Marilyn gestured at the sofa. "Sit down," she said again. "I'll tell you all about it. First, Kryptonians are telepathic, and some of Superman's descendents are telepathic, too. John is, and so is Clark..."
The light in the room where she had been imprisoned blazed suddenly on and Lori shielded her eyes, waiting for them to adjust. Minutes after she had been shoved into this place, the lights had gone off and she had found herself in pitch-blackness and complete silence except for the sound of the blood humming in her ears and her own breathing. Fortunately, she had seated herself on the room's single piece of furniture before that had taken place. The narrow cot had allowed her to lie down, and that was what she had done. Trying to fumble her way around in the dark, especially in her current condition, was asking for trouble.
Two men were descending the wooden steps. Lori looked around the basement, trying to take in its appearance as quickly as possible. It was small and solid. There were no windows -- not that she had expected any -- and storage cupboards lined the walls. A door opened to one side and through the opening she glimpsed bathroom facilities. Anything that she could possibly use for a weapon had been removed. The door that gave onto the only exit was ten feet above her head, heavy and solid. This had to be one of the old bomb shelters, as Fred had told her when he left.
Her visitors had reached the bottom of the steps and both were regarding her with an intensity that made her nervous. She didn't speak but watched them warily.
"Is there any reason that you know of, Ms. Lyons, that the supermen would be congregating over Metropolis?" The speaker was the man who had driven the car that had been the kidnap vehicle.
"What?" Lori said. That was the last question she had expected.
"The supermen," the driver said. "Several of our observers have reported seeing a number of the supermen, who don't usually appear in this part of the world, in the sky over the city. It seems an odd sort of coincidence that they should do so just now, doesn't it?"
"They're probably here because your goons blew up the Daily Planet," Lori said with her characteristic bluntness. "Everybody knows they help each other when there's an emergency."
"But the emergency is over," the other man said.
"They don't know that," Lori pointed out. "For all they know, there could be another attack any minute."
They looked at each other. The driver shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I suppose it's possible."
"Then why are the police looking for Harkin?" the other man asked.
Lori kept quiet. John must have recognized Fred, she thought. That meant they had a good idea who had snatched her. Trust the former Planet copy boy to be as clumsy at a kidnapping as he was at all the other dirty tricks he had pulled. Finesse wasn't exactly Fred's specialty.
"It's possible someone saw Ms. Lyons's kidnapping and noticed the license number," the driver said. "He borrowed the car from his cousin, so they could find out who had it without any trouble."
"I suppose so." The second man was still watching Lori. "Something doesn't feel right here, but so far the only person they can tie to Ms. Lyons's disappearance is Harkin. That will be convenient for damage control purposes."
That didn't sound very good for Fred, Lori thought. It looked as if Gaia's Children had no more regard for the life of one of their tools than they had for hers. Somehow, at the moment, she couldn't bring herself to care.
"What do you mean?" the driver asked.
"He'll have to be removed as a threat. I have no confidence that he'd keep his mouth shut if he were to be sufficiently pressured."
Lori wondered what the absent Fred would think of this idea. Somehow she doubted that he would consider his involvement in her snatching this morning as worth his life. On the other hand, she doubted he'd be given a choice.
The second man was watching her thoughtfully. "I can't see so many of the supermen showing up here simply because one female reporter was abducted," he said slowly. "Kidnappings happen every day." He continued to watch her. "In any case, they can't see or hear into this shelter. We'll have your husband soon, Ms. Lyons, and then the trial will commence. We will be taping the trial and broadcasting it for the world to see so that everyone will understand your guilt."
Lori kept her face as expressionless as she could. "In the meantime, do you think I could have something to eat? I'm starved."
The two men glanced at each other. The second man looked back at her. "I suppose it can't do any harm," he said. "All right."
"Thanks," Lori said. In truth she wasn't even slightly hungry but if they brought her food, maybe they would leave the light on. She didn't really expect to find any way out but she couldn't ignore any possible chance to escape. Besides, lying there in the pitch-blackness was frightening.
The men turned as one and ascended the stairs. She looked after them until the door at the top slid shut with a soft sound of air; then she went to sit down on the cot again. The tears that she wouldn't shed in front of the enemy filled her eyes. "Oh Clark," she whispered. "Please come and find me!"
"There it is," Carla said, sounding quietly triumphant. "They didn't find it. Their computer security is pretty good but Lori kept it straightforward. She set up an invisible user account with a password."
"What password?" Meriel asked.
"Clark," Carla said. "It was easy to guess. There's the current list of their membership. There's a lot of other stuff here, too. I'm going to look through it. Maybe there's something we can use."
"Make me a copy of the membership list," Meriel said. "I'm going to give it to somebody that can help."
"Sure." Carla produced a pin drive and inserted it into one of the receptacles on the front panel. "This won't take long." She waited a few seconds and removed the pin. "Here. There's something here that looks like financial statements, too, and a bunch of other stuff. You give this to your friend and I'll keep hunting."
"Okay." Meriel took the pin drive. "I need to make a phone call."
"Go ahead," Carla told her. "If I come up with anything else, I'll let you know right away."
Meriel turned the tiny vidscreen toward her and punched in a number. She didn't want to disturb any of the people involved in the search for Lori, but she needed someone who could get things done quickly. The local police weren't likely to take what she said seriously, but there was one cop that she knew who would. Seconds later, a face appeared on the screen. "Houston Police Department."
"Yes," Meriel said, trying to sound businesslike. "May I speak to Inspector Brent, please? It's urgent. This is his cousin, Meriel Olsen."
Velma Chow rubbed her temples and wished that the headache that had been steadily growing since the beginning of the demonstrations this morning would go away. The map that showed the City of Metropolis on the wall of her office blinked exasperatingly at her. Somewhere in the northern section a pregnant, very scared young woman was being held prisoner and it was Velma's responsibility to locate her.
"Lieutenant Chow?" A voice spoke from the desk intercom and its tiny vision screen lit at the same instant, showing the face of Sergeant Waring, the current duty sergeant.
"What is it?" Velma asked.
"There's a Police Inspector Brent from Houston here to see you."
Now what? she wondered. "Send him in," she said. She rubbed her neck, swearing silently at the knotted muscles. She really had to do something about her stress level before it started affecting her blood pressure.
There was a knock at her door. The man standing there had a familiar look to him that Velma was beginning to recognize. He was a tall, slender man with dark brown hair and Clark's eyes. Those eyes had carried down the generations from the first Superman, she thought irrelevantly. John Olsen had them and so did the other members of the super-family that she'd met in the course of her job. "Inspector Brent, I presume?" she asked. "Come in."
He obeyed, and extended a hand to her. "Oliver Brent from Houston," he said. "I realize that you have your hands full with this Gaia's Children situation, Lieutenant Chow, so I wanted to offer my assistance."
"Pleased to meet you," Velma said. She got to her feet. "I admit, I can probably use the help but I don't know exactly what you can do."
"I have something for you," Inspector Brent said. "My task force in Houston has been keeping tabs on Gaia's Children ever since the 'Mayflower' incident. We've been hearing about something big in the works for several months but couldn't find out what it was. My man on the inside believes now that they intend to stage a trial for Lori and possibly Clark as well. If they try to pick him up we'll have them. He'll be able to tell the telepaths in the family where he is. Then the super powered members of the family can rescue them -- without compromising his identity"
"That occurred to me," Velma admitted. "It's a shot. I don't want to depend on it, though. They may not want him and even if they do, Lori could have that baby at any time, so I'd like another angle of attack as well. If someone can think of one."
"Well --" Brent produced a pin drive for a computer. "How about a complete list of their membership -- one that's not available to the public?"
Velma almost snatched it out of his hand. "Why didn't you say so? I've been trying to get hold of this for hours!"
"I've had it for about twenty minutes," Brent said. "It took a while to get it and it came from a very enterprising young woman who doesn't want her name or the name of the person that helped her to get out. She apparently had access to Lori's laptop and thought to look for Lori's files on the 'Mayflower' investigation." He shook his head. "Lori set up a method of getting into their records two years ago. I wish it had occurred to me to ask her about it, but I didn't know as much about her then as I do now. Besides the two who found it, no one knows about it but us." He lowered his voice. "I'd like to keep it that way. Gaia may have informants in the police department as well since they've apparently been planning this for some time."
"I'm surprised you trusted me then," Velma said dryly.
"Clark trusts you," Brent said. "That's all I need to know. You do realize, don't you, that you're part of a very select group."
"Someone not in the family who knows the family secret. I believe that makes you one of four."
Velma wondered absently who the other three were but her attention was focused on the screen of her computer as the list of Gaia's Children's membership appeared.
Fred Harkin was bored. The vidscreen reports were full of the bombing of the Daily Planet and, now, the kidnapping of Lori Lyons. Pictures of her were flashed on the screen, along with the breathless commentary of the talking heads. The media were making a lot of Lyons's kidnapping, which was natural, he supposed, since she was one of their own. The thought made him a little uneasy and he pushed away that tiny prod of doubt. The backlash over the whole thing was already considerably more vociferous than he had anticipated, but no one was likely to connect it to him. He'd done what his brothers had asked him to do this morning, in the name of the Cause, and, in all truth, it had been satisfying. For two years he had wanted to get even with Lori Lyons.
At the time that she had come to work at the Daily Planet, he had been working there for three years and had received three pay raises, but he hadn't advanced beyond copy boy. His editor, John Olsen, hadn't been particularly impressed with his submissions and had told him that if he wanted to actually write for the news service he needed to take a few courses in the subject and learn to spell. Creative spelling simply wasn't the norm at a news service, and spelling and grammar checkers weren't perfect. He had better things to do with his time, in his position as managing editor, than correct ordinary spelling that should have been learned in grammar school. Besides, didn't Fred have a dictionary program available?
That had struck Fred as unfair. He'd passed his basic English course during his year at Metropolis City College and had managed to get onto the staff at the Daily Planet as a general gofer and copy boy. Sure, his dad had been a golfing buddy of Olsen's, until the unfortunate sleep walking incident where he had stepped off the ledge of a thirty-story building, and Olsen had been willing to give Fred a job on that basis since his means of support was now gone. He'd expected to advance quickly but Olsen wouldn't give him a promotion to a reporter's status. He'd once assigned Fred an obituary column to write, but Fred had objected. Writing obituaries was demeaning, he'd complained, but Olsen didn't think so. He'd said that if Fred wanted to advance, he'd start at the bottom like everybody else. Evidently, his friendship with Fred's father hadn't been as deep as Fred had believed.
But then that Lyons woman had come to work at the Planet!
She'd begun as the office intern, and it was obvious from the first that Olsen liked her. It was the only reason that Fred could think of that she hadn't started out as a gofer, instead, and taken his place on the bottom rung. It had seemed only reasonable. All right, she had a four-year degree, but she had no more actual experience than Fred had had in the beginning. And then, before he knew it, she was working with Kent and riding his coattails to glory. In the interval of a few weeks from the time of her employment, she'd advanced to the status of Clark Kent's assistant and then, suddenly, she was off probation and had her name on a front page headline story. Not only that, but it had been the story about his own organization, Gaia's Children, and their attempt to sabotage the "Mayflower".
He hadn't known why the leaders of his organization wanted him to watch her, but he'd done it anyway. Not only was it his duty as a loyal citizen of Earth, but he just plain didn't like her. When she'd arrived in the office after having been attacked on the slidewalk, he'd been secretly pleased. But she and Kent had broken the story of the attempted sabotage as well as the unauthorized possession by the leaders of Gaia's Children of top-secret government technology, and all at once she was the Planet's new rising star. Other stories had followed it, and then she'd shown up married to Kent which only confirmed his suspicions that Lyons wasn't above using personal favors as a means to ascend the ladder to success.
He hadn't been able to resist trying to give her a little of her own back, that day when she'd gone home sick, by erasing the information that she'd told her computer to locate online, but she recreated her research when she'd come back to the office. She was evidently involved in some kind of investigation for a story, and so he'd gone back to erase her work again, and it turned out the little sneak had programmed her computer to trap him. It resulted in the termination of his job at the Daily Planet, and he'd been simmering with justified resentment and the desire to pay her back ever since. Grabbing her so that his organization could try her for her part in the exposure of Gaia's plans had seemed just and fair, but he hadn't been allowed to visit his personal justice on her. Still, maybe after they were finished with her he would be allowed to do so before she was executed. That last part left him a little squeamish, and he hoped that he wouldn't be chosen for the task. It wasn't that the thought of her death bothered him. It was the fact that, if the law found out that he'd had anything to do with it, the best he could hope for would be a life sentence to the lunar mines. Such a fate was worse than a death sentence. He didn't want anything to do with executing her. Maybe when the time came he could be conveniently absent.
"Fred," the Section Leader said from the doorway. "Ms. Lyons has requested something to eat. I'd like you to take the tray down to her."
"Why bother?" Fred asked. "Let her starve."
"We don't have time for your personal vendetta with Ms. Lyons," his superior said reprovingly. "We don't mistreat prisoners. Ms. Lyons will be treated in a humane fashion until her trial and execution, and you would do well to remember that, Fred. We mustn't give the media or the justice system any legitimate reason to condemn our treatment of her. Take the tray down to her, but keep your hands off her. If there's a mark on her, the consequences won't be pretty. Is that clear?"
"Yeah," Fred replied, a little sullenly, but he came to take the tray and followed his boss into the kitchen where he waited while the other man opened the sliding doors to the wooden stairs that descended into the bomb shelter. As he went carefully down the steps, balancing the tray, the doors closed behind him.
Lori Lyons was sitting forlornly on the cot, her hands resting on her rounded middle. She glanced at him as he set the tray on the floor jostling the contents and nearly spilling the glass of water. "Here," he said. He laughed shortly. "Eat it. I guess everyone is entitled to a last meal."
"Then you better get yours," she said, not moving from her spot on the cot. "You're finished, Fred."
"I suppose that wimp you're married to is going to make me pay?" Fred taunted. "He couldn't fight his way out of a cream puff. Besides, we're going to get him next."
"You don't have any idea who you're talking about," she said, "But that wasn't what I meant. The police are looking for you, Fred. Somebody saw you kidnap me. They gave the police the license number of the car."
He turned to give her a hard stare. "You're lying, Lyons. I don't believe a word you say."
"It's the truth. Ask your friends upstairs," she said disdainfully. "Or maybe you'd better not. It might keep you from getting away if they realize you know."
"What are you talking about?" Fred asked.
"Your 'friend' -- the guy that drove the car -- and another guy came down here a little while ago," Lori said. "They said the police were asking about you. They know you're the only person that can tie them to my kidnapping. The other guy -- not the guy that drove, but the other one -- said that would make damage control easy."
"Huh?" Fred felt the faintest stirring of uneasiness. Then he shook it off. Lyons was lying, of course. She'd say anything that would help her to escape.
Lori shrugged. "Not that I care, particularly, but I'd hate to see you get out of what Clark is going to do to you when he gets his hands on you," she said. "The guy said that you were going to have to be eliminated because he didn't trust you to keep your mouth shut if someone put enough pressure on you. You know, Gaia's Children isn't above murder. They were going to kill my brother Brad, and they did kill the woman who tried to warn him about what they were going to do to the 'Mayflower'. Not to mention what they intended for the thousands of people aboard the ship itself. And they're going to kill me. Think about it."
"You're lying," he said.
She shrugged. "You think so? Just hang around up there a little longer and you'll find out the hard way. But you always were an idiot, letting them use you the way you have."
He had taken three steps toward her, one hand lifted to strike her when he recalled the warning of his superior and stopped. Lori looked contemptuously at him. "Go ahead," she invited. "Hit me. You can add batterer to kidnapper and all the other stupid things you've done since we met."
Fred gritted his teeth. "Bitch," he said.
"A bitch, maybe," Lori said, "but not a fool, like you. You'll find out. Your so-called friends don't have any loyalty to you. You're nothing but a tool for them to use for their convenience and there are plenty of others where you came from. I'm betting you don't live out the day."
Fred turned his back and started to climb the stairs. "I'm not listening to anything you say."
"Fine with me," Lori said, indifferently. "Be a sucker to the end. At least you're staying in character."
Fred didn't dignify her parting shot with an answer but ascended the stairs once more and knocked on the door. After a time it slid open and Fred exited into the kitchen. The doors closed behind him, sealing Lyons in once more.
His boss had turned away. "I trust you didn't lay hands on her, Fred," he said mildly.
"No," Fred answered.
"Good." The man had turned back to his computer, which sat on the kitchen table. "In a little while I have another job for you and Vic."
"I'll tell you when I send you to do it. Until then it needn't concern you."
Fred nodded. What Lyons had said to him downstairs popped into his mind. "Mr. Fitzgerald --"
"Uh --" Fred closed his mouth. Lyons had to have been lying. His companions would never do something like that to him. It was an insult to even think such a thing. Wasn't it? "Nothing."
He turned to leave the kitchen and returned to the sitting room. The newscasters were still speculating about the abduction of Lori Lyons and wondering aloud if the bombing of the Daily Planet was connected to it in any way. Fred turned it off and then drifted aimlessly about the room for several minutes trying not to think of what Lyons had told him downstairs. It had to be nonsense, of course. After a time, he went quietly up the stairs to the room that he currently shared with Victor Obey, his companion in the morning's activities. He was forbidden to go back to his apartment until this whole thing was over. His bosses weren't risking even the possibility that someone would think to question him about Ms. Lyons's kidnapping.
And what would he do if they came around afterwards? The thought reared its head, not for the first time. Mr. Fitzgerald had simply told him to deny any such accusation. Except for the fact that he and she had been acquainted a couple of years ago, they had nothing to tie her disappearance to him. The chances were that no one would ask.
But what if they already knew? What if someone had noticed the license plate, or worse, him? He'd stunned Olsen before his former boss could catch a glimpse of him, he was sure. But suppose someone else, who had worked with him during his time at the Planet, had recognized him? Did they have any way of proving what he had done? And if the cops were looking for him like Lyons had said, would his bosses come to his defense?
But Lyons had to have been lying, he told himself again. She was an unprincipled little tart, who had slept her way to the position of top investigative reporter at the Planet, hadn't she? Sure she had. It wouldn't bother her to lie to him.
Still, it wouldn't hurt to have a little insurance.
Quietly, he hunted around in Vic's suitcase. Vic's stunner wasn't there. Of course, he still might have it on his person, but their boss didn't like them carrying the weapons in his house. Fred had put his own stunner in the top of the closet, but he knew for sure that Vic's wasn't up there with it. After a moment's thought, he checked under the other man's pillow and congratulated himself as he discovered the cold, metal shape of the stunner. Quietly, he opened the chamber, removed the power cell and closed it again. Carefully and neatly, he replaced the weapon under its owner's pillow and smoothed the coverlet. Very casually, he left the room and descended the stairs to the sitting room once more, the power cell to Vic's stunner tucked safely in his pocket.
Velma Chow looked up from her study of the list that Inspector Brent had brought her. The list had been an eye-opener, all right. There were several fairly high-ranking officials of Gaia's Children right here in Metropolis, and a lot of lesser members. Oliver Brent was reading over her shoulder -- an activity that normally irritated her considerably, but for some reason it didn't bother her the way it usually did. Maybe, she reasoned, it was because she was focusing so intently on her work.
She leaned back and massaged her throbbing temples. "What I wouldn't give for a painkiller," she muttered.
"Headache?" Brent asked. "If you like, I can ask around for some aspirin."
"Aspirin doesn't touch 'em," Velma said grimly. "One of the hazards of the job, I guess. I'll worry about it when this is over. I need to give Kent a call."
"I'll do it," Brent said. "Let's not take the chance that some enterprising reporter will pick up the call. They're already speculating about the Gaia's Children connection. We don't need to confirm it."
"What can you do that I --" Velma broke off. "Oh. I forgot. I guess a talent like that would be a real advantage. I'd like to be able to talk to anybody I wanted without a wrist talker."
"Not all the members of the Kent clan are telepaths," Brent corrected her. "The talent skipped some of us, the same way the powers did. And we can't talk to just anyone. It has to be another telepath." His face took on a distant expression. "Clark will be here in a moment."
"Good." Velma rubbed the back of her neck absently. "It's too bad he can't just communicate with Lori. If she could even give us a name, it would help a lot."
"True, but they may not have told her who they are or where she is." Brent stood up, stretching. Velma glanced up at him. He was taller than John Olsen, and probably a little older than he looked, she thought, but like the editor of the Planet, his appearance was that of a man in his mid-forties and remarkably attractive, at that. But, also like John, he was undoubtedly already taken. Still, the scenery wasn't bad.
"Anyway," she said, "we've got to work with what we've got. I'm going to --"
"You wanted to see me, Lieutenant?" Clark was suddenly standing in the room, clad in the bright primary colors of the Suit.
Velma blinked. "How do you do that?" she asked. "I didn't even feel a breeze. No, never mind. I need you to do something for me."
"Okay," Clark said. "What?"
"I need you to dress up in your best work civvies, get your little recorder, and wander around in unlikely places, getting reaction from people about today's bombing, or whatever other subject strikes your fancy, that will get you out and about in improbable and sometimes open, semi-deserted places, and give our kidnappers the opportunity to grab you, too. Got it?"
For the first time since she had seen him today, Clark smiled. "Got it, Lieutenant," he said.
"Hey," Meriel said. "Look at this." She indicated a name on the list of Gaia's Children's membership.
"What?" Carla asked.
"This guy -- Aloysius Fitzgerald. He's called a Section Leader, whatever that is."
"What about him? Besides his name, that is."
"He lives in the Hob's Ocean View Estates."
"That's on the North Side, isn't it? Didn't you say the police say they think she might be being held in a bomb shelter or something to keep the supermen from finding her?"
"Yeah." Meriel nodded vigorously. "My dad and mom have a five bedroom house in Ocean View Estates. We've got a bomb shelter, too. The family that lived there before us put it in, I think, but Dad converted it into a wine cellar."
"Really?" Carla was diverted. "Mr. Olsen has a wine cellar?"
"Yeah -- a nice one," Meriel said. "But this Fitzgerald guy lives about a mile from our house. That's scary."
"That's for sure," Carla said. "I guess you can't tell anything about people just from appearances."
"I guess not," Meriel said. She glanced at her wrist talker. "Why don't we go over there and look around?"
"Us? What could we do?"
"Well, we could see if anything looks funny. Did Lori ever tell you what she and I did when we were trying to figure out who was dealing dream dust on the NTSU campus a couple of years ago?"
"I remember reading about it," Carla said. "It was Lori that figured out who it was, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. She didn't want to mention her part but since she was the one that figured it out, and saved my life, they couldn't leave it out -- especially since she had to give a deposition. Anyway, a guy at NTSU was selling dream dust -- his roommate had stolen some from the 'Professor' and got some of the super dream dust by accident. Lori and I went to try to see if we could find out if he had any in his room. She picked the lock on his door. We searched the place and Lori found a bag of it under his bed. She took a sample and touched it with two fingers. Clark said she was pretty sick. That was when he realized it was more than ordinary dream dust and had it analyzed."
"Wow," Carla said. "That's really cool. You know, my ambition is to be an investigative reporter like Lori, but you actually got to work with her. Did you ever learn how to pick a lock?"
"Sure," Meriel said. "I got her to show me how. It's easier than you might think. It's a lot harder to do an electronic lock, but one of her snitches showed her how to do those, and she showed me."
"Maybe you can show me how," Carla said. "Do you really think we should go check this guy's house out?"
"I don't see why not," Meriel said. "If we just look around, we can't get into any trouble. It isn't very likely that she's there but at least we can try to eliminate it as a possibility. Uncle Clark's nearly out of his mind with worry about her."
"I can imagine. Besides," Carla said, "she could have that baby any time. It would be really bad if it happened now."
"That's for sure," Meriel said. "We know they won't take her to the hospital, and, unless there just happens to be a certified midwife around, the baby could die, and Lori, too. If they even try to help her."
"Yeah." Carla bit her lip. "Okay, let's go over and just sort of stroll past for starters. Then, if it looks like anything might be wrong, we can look a little closer. Connor will probably let me have his car. I couldn't get mine out of the Planet parking garage after the bombing."
"I brought mine," Meriel told her. "You don't get claustrophobic like Uncle Clark, do you?"
Clark Kent had been interviewing persons on the street for nearly three hours and so far no one had shown the slightest interest in him. The experience of several normal lifetimes taught him that these things took time and that one couldn't expect results immediately, but time was something that wasn't on Lori's side or on the side of their baby. If Lori were to go into labor as a result of this -- or just because it was time -- he had no faith that the members of Gaia's Children would know enough to help, or that they would even try.
Now and then he seemed to catch traces of her thoughts, and more strongly, her emotions -- fear, and the desperate hope that he, Clark, would find her. Once a wash of anger from her mind caught him by surprise, but, although his tenuous connection with her told him that she was somewhere to the north, nothing was concrete enough to give him a better fix on her.
He stuffed the little recorder into his pocket and strode on down the stationary walk, covertly observing the persons around him. No one seemed to display the slightest interest in him but, of course, that could be illusory. He had to keep moving about, making himself vulnerable to a kidnap attempt. If that happened, his next moves would be determined by the circumstances.
"Mr. Kent?" The friendly voice of a woman made him turn his head. She was about twenty-five, he estimated, and smiled at him hopefully.
"Yes?" he asked. "Can I help you?"
She moved toward him and with a smoothness that would have astonished him a century ago, took his arm. Something cold and hard was pushed against his ribs. "This is a stunner," she said softly. "If I fire it at this range, you don't want to know what the results will be. Come with me."
He obeyed, allowing her to guide him toward the street where a dark-colored sedan awaited.
"Get in," she said, still in that friendly voice. "Don't make a fuss."
Clark got in.
Oliver Brent had been leaning forward to read the print on the computer's screen, once again over Velma's shoulder, when the sudden catch of his breath alerted her. She turned. Brent was sitting up straight, a distant look in his eyes.
"What is it?" she asked.
"They just picked up Clark," he said. "He's on Maple Street near the intersection of Harper and Maple."
"He's talking to you?"
He affirmed it with a quick nod. "They just forced him into a car."
"Yes!" she whispered. "Now we're getting somewhere!"
"They're blindfolding him," Brent said. "The car is moving. They're headed east and turning left on Harper headed north."
"How can he tell?" Really, Velma thought, this telepathy wasn't so odd. Brent could have been using a hidden radio and no one would have known the difference.
"X-ray vision; remember? He can see through the blindfold."
"Right." This dealing with the supermen on an equal footing was going to take some getting used to after all, she thought. The telepathic link wasn't nearly as odd as realizing that Clark Kent was using his extraordinary abilities while in the guise of an ordinary man and probably did on a regular basis. The thought of Lori Lyons married to Superman was still something she had trouble getting her mind around. It would take a very unusual woman to be married to one of the superheroes and to handle all the things that must involve. And the emotional link with her telepathic husband would have to be something special. No wonder the two of them had always seemed so close. She wondered what such a link would be like.
Inspector Brent glanced at her. "I guess this must seem pretty strange," he said. "Dealing with something like telepathy on a concrete basis."
"Well," Velma said, "there are a few humans that seem to have it, too. That psychic who's always in the news -- what's his name?"
"Romar," the Inspector said. "Yeah, I saw him on that vid show -- 'The Amazing Romar'. Spoon-bending and so forth."
"Is he real?" Velma asked. "I figured it was all a trick."
"Your guess is as good as mine," Brent said, still with that slightly distant look on his face. "I've never bent a spoon in my life -- except when I was a kid, and I used my mom's cooking spoons to dig up a 'buried treasure' in my back yard. Mom about killed me."
Velma gave a strained laugh. "Yeah. I used my mother's spoons for the same thing -- only I think we were digging a 'fort'. I lost her spoon set and we didn't find it for a couple of years, when she was digging up that section of the yard to plant her spring garden."
"They're headed down Harper," Brent told her. "Still going north. No, now they're turning and --" He paused.
"And?" Velma prompted.
"They're headed through a car wash," Brent said. "He says they're making sure no one is following them."
"That makes sense," Velma said. "Keep me informed. So," she continued, "none of the telepaths in your family bend spoons."
"Not to my knowledge," Brent said. "I don't think it ever occurred to any of us to try. I'm sure my sisters and I did enough damage without a talent like that. At least Mom never had problems with the four of us losing her cooking utensils in the yard."
"She always found them without any trouble," he said with a faint smile. "My mother is one of the supermen. So are all three of my sisters. I was the only one in my family besides my father who didn't have super powers."
"Yeah. It gave me quite an inferiority complex for a while. I guess that's why I wanted to be a cop."
Somehow, Velma couldn't imagine this quiet, self-assured man as having an inferiority complex. Her expression must have shown her disbelief because he shook his head. "I got over it after a while," he said. "I'm not the only one in the family without super powers by a long shot. It's interesting, though, that most of us who are ordinary humans tend to try to stand out in other ways. There's probably some deep psychological meaning there, if anyone bothered to look for it."
"Probably," Velma said. "What's happening now?"
"They're leaving the car wash," Brent said. "Turning onto Sycamore... He says they're driving up into a big truck. It's a rental. License number YMP4456U. It's an airtruck. Clark says it's sound proof and lined with lead. He can't see out of it. This may be how they managed to hide Lori so Clark couldn't tell where they were taking her."
Velma spoke into her wrist talker. "Vern! I want a trace on a license number." She repeated the number and signed off. "I'm trying to keep this part of the operation limited to a very few people that I know I can trust," she told Brent. "The last thing we need is for them to realize we know Gaia's Children have Lori."
He nodded. "The less we put them on their guard, the better. Let's hope all the extra caution isn't necessary, but it's just as well to be careful." He smiled at her. "Since you've been inducted into the secrets of our family, why don't you call me Oliver? All my friends do."
"All right. My name is Velma. I know," she added, "it's not a bit Chinese, but my mother was only half. Her family name was Murphy, believe it or not."
"You look more like a Chow than a Murphy," Oliver said. "Clark says they're in the air. He thinks they're headed north, but he's not sure."
Her wrist talker beeped. Vern's voice emerged from the unit. "We have the truck's signal, Lieutenant."
"Good. Track it, but don't do anything else. Let me know when it stops."
"Will do. It was rented by a Frederick Harkin a week ago from Speedy Truck Rental."
"Great. Now, if we can only find Fred Harkin," Velma said. "Thanks, Vern. Keep on it."
She turned back to Oliver. "What's happening?"
"Nothing. They took off the blindfold. He says he doesn't recognize either of the people in the car with him. Now he says the truck is dropping. They may be landing." He was silent for several minutes, a slight frown on his features. Velma waited, holding her breath, but she couldn't help notice the fact that frowning didn't seem to detract from Oliver's looks. His brows were heavy like Clark's, and when he frowned it was the kind of frown that gave him an intense appearance. Combined with the set of his square jaw, it would have made any teenage girl's heart do flip-flops. Of course, her heart wasn't doing flip-flops. She was simply tense because of the importance of what was happening. If things went right, they might have Lori Lyons safe and this case sewn up in the next few minutes.
"They're making him get out of the car and walk down the ramp. He's in a garage," Oliver reported.
Velma's wrist talker beeped softly. "Lieutenant," Vern's voice said, "the signal just disappeared."
"Where was it the last time you picked it up?" Velma asked.
"In the Hob's Ocean View Estates," Vern said. "Location was 4671 Seascape Drive."
"Thanks," Velma said.
Oliver was already scrolling the print on the computer screen. "There it is," he said. "That's the address of Daniel Carruthers. It says here he's a Science Consultant at Gaia."
Velma told the computer to cross-reference the name and address. "He's an employee in R and D at Preisman Pharmaceuticals here in Metropolis," she said a moment later.
"Well, I guess that could make him a 'science consultant', if you stretch it a little," Oliver said. "Clark says he's being escorted through a kitchen and down a flight of steps. It's a bomb shelter, all right..." He frowned more deeply. "Clark says there's no one else there."
"Lori's not there?"
"No. Wait. He's talking to them." A long silence ensued. Oliver said something under his breath.
"They're to be held separately until their trial. Apparently the people here don't even know where Lori is being held. If one of them is rescued, they don't want the police to be able to find the other."
Velma also swore under her breath. "Ask him what he wants to do next."
"He says to stay away. The last thing he wants to do is endanger Lori. At the very least, they'll be brought together at the so-called trial."
"But if she goes into labor first --"
"I know. Now what do we do?"
The lights blazed on in her prison. Lori shaded her eyes with one hand until they adjusted and squinted at the two men who came down the stairs. Why did they always come in pairs, she wondered. Fred had come alone, but the blond guy always had the fellow that had driven the kidnap car with him. Was he that nervous of being in the same room with her? What did he expect -- that she was going to take him out with martial arts and escape? Just before she and Clark had discovered her pregnancy, she had received her brown belt in Tai Kwon Do but she hardly thought that in her current condition she was much danger to anyone.
Her first impression seemed to be correct -- that the blond man was the one in charge. At least he seemed to do most of the talking. "Our other unit just picked up Clark Kent, Ms. Lyons," he informed her, a faint note of smugness in his voice. "Everything is now in place for your trial, which will begin tomorrow morning. Everything will be filmed, including the penalty phase and executions. Of course, the world won't see it until everything is finished."
"And I imagine all the members of your prosecution team will be masked, too," Lori said. "You know what would happen to you if the law discovered who you are."
"Sometimes justice must be meted out in spite of the law," the leader said. "Some day the world will understand why this was done. Humanity is blind in its eagerness to colonize other planets. Man was born on Earth and without Earth Humanity will die."
Lori rolled her eyes but said nothing. "When can I see my husband?" she asked.
"Tomorrow, when the trial begins," the leader told her. "You won't be allowed to speak, however. Each of you will be allowed to see the other's image on a vidscreen. Nothing more."
Lori turned her back. "Go away," she said. "There isn't anything you can say that I'm interested in."
After the sounds of their footsteps ascending the stairs had died away, Lori moved to the wall nearest the steps. As she touched it, the lights went out. Well, that was all right. She already had what she needed. During the period of time when she was supposed to be eating, she had used the luxury of the lights being on to supply herself with two elementary tools. It would probably be at least a little while before they came back, and that gave her time. With luck, they would leave her alone until morning. If they did, maybe she would be long gone.
The lock on the bomb shelter's door was an electronic one and necessarily had to be made in such a way that the people inside could open it without help from the outside. Lori didn't have the key, but she had learned how to short out electronic locks, given the time, a minimum of equipment and an indifference to how much damage she caused. Silently, she thanked Motormouth Marvin for having taken the time to teach her how to accomplish the feat. It was obvious that Clark had tried to reach her by letting himself be captured, but it was equally obvious that Gaia's Children had no intention of letting them meet again. These people weren't only insane -- they were completely, inhumanly cruel.
Silently, clutching the sharp little piece of metal attached to a chunk of broken wood by which to grasp it, which she had removed from the frame of the cot, and a long thin wire that she had extracted from the mattress, she felt her way up the steps. Closing her eyes and using touch alone, she explored the covering of the lock. There was a fastener. Slowly and cautiously, she began to work.
Fred shut off the small vidscreen and looked around at Fitzgerald as he and Vic came out of the bomb shelter. His apprehension of this morning had dulled considerably. No one had made any attempts to injure him, and he'd just about convinced himself that Lyons's warnings of dire consequences were only a fabrication of her imagination to make him nervous or turn him against his companions.
"Fred," Fitzgerald's voice broke into his thoughts. "I need you and Vic to take care of that other chore, now."
"Sure, Mr. Fitzgerald." Fred turned expectantly. "What do you want us to do?"
"Vic will explain it," his boss told him. "Get your stunner and I want the two of you to take off, now. This needs to be finished by sundown."
Vic had already headed for the stairs. Fred trailed him. "What's up now?"
"We've got another pickup to make," Vic told him. "He wants the editor of the Daily Planet."
"Mr. Olsen? I'm not so sure that's a good idea. Look at the fuss they're making over Lyons. The media'll have a two-headed cow if we go after him, too. Besides, if I'd known, we could have grabbed him this morning. That was him I had to stun to get her."
"Yeah, well they didn't tell us that this morning," Vic said, sounding, Fred thought, a little surly. "Don't start trying to think, Harkin. That's not our job. We just do what the bosses tell us."
Fred fell silent and went to the closet to retrieve his stunner. He glanced apprehensively at Vic, hoping that the man wouldn't check the clip of his weapon and discover the missing power cell, but Vic simply shoved it into his waistband and waited with every sign of impatience as Fred slipped a light jacket on to cover the presence of his own stunner. Together, they went down the steps and made their way to the garage.
They'd sure waited long enough, if they wanted to pick up Olsen, Fred thought disgustedly as the two of them got into the van. Fortunately, in the summer the sun set late, but it was almost past six now and Olsen could very well be heading home for dinner -- especially since the Planet building was in the shape it was. The last thing Fred wanted to do was commit a home invasion or something. A place like that probably had alarms and security fields and what-not all over the place. Besides, he didn't want there to be the slightest chance of his having to face down Mr. Olsen on any kind of equal footing. He would never admit it aloud, but his former editor intimidated him somewhat. Olsen wasn't a small man and he had a build that gave Fred the impression that he worked out at least on a semi-regular basis. He was probably pushing fifty, but he didn't look it and if Olsen managed to get his hands on Fred it might not all go Fred's way.
Fred glanced down at his middle with a slight grimace. He knew very well that he'd let himself get out of shape and that he needed to lose at least ten pounds, but it hadn't seemed important. Well, he decided, he just wasn't going to let Mr. Olsen get close enough to put up any resistance. He'd stun the guy from the car like he had before. Then he wouldn't have a problem. By the time the editor woke up, he'd be tied and unable to resist.
He still didn't like the idea of grabbing Olsen. The police were already on the alert because of Lyons's kidnapping. They'd really turn the heat up if they discovered that Kent and now Olsen had vanished, too. How long would it be before they connected the whole thing to him? Lyons had said they already had, but she was probably blowing smoke. How could she possibly know something like that, anyway?
"How do we find Olsen, anyway?" he asked.
"One of our observers is watching him," Vic told him. "He's headed home. Drive over there and park in the easement."
Olsen lived in a nice section of town, Fred thought a short time later as the van approached the Olsen home. It was even better here than over where Mr. Fitzgerald lived, barely a mile away. He drove along the well-maintained street, looking enviously at the large, quietly elegant homes surrounded by beautiful landscaping and wide, spreading lawns. It made his own cramped one-room apartment seem that much less bearable. His former editor didn't need to have fired him, after all. He could have given him another warning. Lyons would have recreated her research again with only minor inconvenience but, as was typical of persons like Olsen, he couldn't give an ordinary working stiff a break. It wasn't as if he'd caused any lasting harm, after all. The Daily Planet was one of the most prestigious news services on the face of the Earth. When he'd had to leave, the job he'd gotten at the International Dirt Digger afterwards hadn't carried nearly the prestige as it had when he told people he worked at the Daily Planet. If he looked at it that way, Lyons and Olsen were responsible for wrecking his life. Olsen probably deserved whatever the leadership of Gaia's Children had in mind for him.
"There it is," Vic said. "Pull around to the rear. There's an easement there for people to get to the beach. We can park there and go around to the front on foot. We don't want to give him any warning."
Great, Fred thought as he pulled the van onto the side of the easement. He was supposed to hold up Mr. Olsen in his driveway? This was stupid! People were bound to see and then his hide would be on the line!
On both sides the pines towered over the van, blocking off the light of the sinking sun. Somewhere ahead of them the pines ended where the road gave onto the white sands of the beach. He opened the door and got out. Vic got out as well, drawing his stunner.
"Put that thing away," Fred told him irritably. "If somebody comes along, the last thing we need is for them to see you waving a stunner. Come on."
Vic raised the stunner, aiming at him. He pulled the trigger.
There was a futile click as he did so. Fred stared unbelieving at him as Vic pulled the trigger again.
It hit him like an electric shock. Lyons had been right all along. He grabbed for his stunner and brought it up to level on Vic. Vic ignored him, pulling the trigger a third time.
Another click. Fred aimed his stunner at Vic and fired.
His stunner didn't respond with the reassuring hum that he expected. It clicked.
Vic -- or someone -- had taken the power cell out of his stunner, he realized belatedly. The only reason that he wasn't lying unconscious on the ground was the fact that Vic's stunner was also empty. He turned and ran unsteadily down the gravel road back toward the street, fumbling clumsily in his pocket for the power cell that he had taken from Vic's weapon as he did so. There were still cars passing as the local residents returned home from work. Vic wouldn't dare try to stun him in public. Or he hoped not.
From behind him he heard the pound of feet and knew that Vic was chasing him. He hadn't thought he could run any faster, but all of a sudden his legs seemed to have wings. Gravel slipped and slid under his feet but it didn't seem to matter as he fled toward the open area and relative safety.
Quietly, Lori eased the basement door open a crack. From somewhere she could hear the muted murmur of voices but nothing close by. The kitchen was dim and the heating unit was bare of any signs of food preparation. As quickly and quietly as she could, she slipped out the door and shut it behind her.
The kitchen was fairly large. There was a door to her left leading into the mud room, with a door opening from it opposite from the place she stood, she recalled, that led into the big garage. A wooden door at right angles to the garage entrance apparently opened onto the outside -- probably a back door, she thought. There was an exit on the opposite side of the kitchen with a pair of swinging doors and it was from that direction that the voices were coming. They were drawing slowly closer and Lori retreated to the mud room.
There was a fourth door that had been invisible from her vantage point in the kitchen, opening from the fourth side. Lori flattened herself against it and listened.
There was no movement beyond the door that she could hear, and the voices were distant murmurs from this position. The outer door, she saw at once, was dead bolted. Trying to escape that way would be a study in futility, but she might be able to get away somehow from another point in the house, assuming that she could avoid the inhabitants.
Cautiously, moving by fractions of an inch, Lori eased the door open.
The voices became louder with the door open, but not much louder. Evidently, they were coming from another room. Lori slipped through the doorway and closed it behind her. She moved forward by inches, her back pressed to the wall and straining her ears, but the voices were retreating as she listened. At a guess, they were headed for the kitchen through the door opposite to the one by which she had just exited. There appeared to be two voices, one male and the other, either a child's or a woman's. Lori slipped sideways along the wall, easing her way forward, careful where she put her feet.
A short hallway stretched ahead of her, opening, she realized onto another room on her left -- possibly the living room or a dining room, which meant that it might give way into the kitchen. But on the right, opposite the entrance into the larger room, was a flight of carpeted stairs with a mahogany banister curving gracefully upward.
Hanging around here was bound to get her caught fairly soon, she knew. Without further hesitation, Lori made for the stairs and hurried up them on tiptoe as quickly as she could move.
Silence met her on the upper floor. Judging by appearances, the occupants of this house were all downstairs. She paused in the upper hallway for just a moment and then peeked into one of the rooms.
It was a fairly good-sized bedroom. Two single beds occupied most of the space, and a pair of men's shoes lying on their sides by one of the beds seemed to indicate that the room had tenants, although they weren't present at the moment.
Lori listened a moment and then exited the bedroom. There was another door a little farther down the hallway and a quick check told her it was a large, luxurious bathroom with a big linen closet opening on one wall. She opened it up and saw shelves with stacks of folded towels, hand towels, washcloths and bed linens.
No place to hide here. Lori listened again before peeking her head out of the bathroom.
The lower floor wasn't visible from here, and she couldn't hear the voices at all. She edged out of the bathroom and continued her exploration. The hallway split a little farther on, one branch ending at a door that proved to be another bedroom, this one apparently the domain of a teenage girl. At least Lori couldn't think of any grown woman who would be likely to have posters of Lance Wyoming, the newest teen heartthrob, plastered all over the walls of her boudoir.
She retreated to the split in the hallway again and took the other branch.
This one led to what must be the master bedroom. A king-sized bed dominated the room, and two large cherry wood dressers stood against the walls. A dressing table with a ruffled skirt and a large, lighted mirror took up one corner, with a frivolous little chair sitting askew in front of it. The carpet beneath her feet was soft and thick and of a rich red color that made Lori blink in surprise. A bathroom opened off one side, and a pair of windows opened in the opposite wall with thick curtains drawn part way across them.
She crossed instantly to the windows and peered out.
The neighborhood was quite obviously well-to-do, and Lori recognized the style of houses at once. She had to be somewhere in the Hob's Ocean View Estates. Probably she wasn't that far from John Olsen's home. She might be able to find her way there, if she could just figure out some way to get out of this place before they caught her.
Back at the bedroom door, she listened again. From downstairs, she could barely hear the murmur of voices. She still had a little time, she thought, but not much. Sooner or later, someone was going to come up the steps and find her here.
At the other end of the hall, a window opened onto the roof, and Lori went to peer out. Her heart leaped. Beyond the window, the tiled roof of part of the lower level met in a V, and at the edge of the roof a brick chimney rose skyward.
Quickly, she glanced back at the stairs. No one was coming, yet. Maybe here was her way out.
With fingers that trembled in their eagerness, Lori unlatched the window and slid it upward. It moved without a sound, and she was able to reach the fine mesh screen that swung outward on invisible hinges. Cautiously, she turned sideways to make room for her rounded belly and scooted through, managing to catch her weight on her hands as she cleared the window. Meticulously, she reached back, slid the window closed and swung the screen back into place.
The sun was almost setting amid a blaze of red and pink. Lori moved away from the window and backed against a spot where two outer walls met. From this place, it would be difficult for anyone to see her, either from the ground or from a window as long as she didn't draw any attention to herself. Carefully, she hunched down into the corner, making herself as small as she possibly could. Now it was up to luck. She couldn't climb down from where she was, certainly not by daylight. After dark, she might be able to manage it, but it would be chancy. But maybe -- just maybe -- one of the city's supermen would spot her before the residents of the house did.
She sank back against the painted surface and rested her head on her knees after her recent activities. And it was then that she became aware of the pressure that grew to an ache, low in her back, as if the muscles there were purposefully clamping down. The ache radiated around her sides from the back to the front.
No, she told herself. Not now. It had to be false labor again; it just had to. The last thing she dared to do right now was to scream for help. One of the supermen might hear her, but the residents of the house might hear her just as easily.
Desperately she scanned the sky, looking for a flash of telltale color. "Clark," she whispered softly. "I need you!"
Carla Rhoads glanced around with appreciation as Meriel guided her little car through the streets of the Hob's Ocean View Estates. Large homes with manicured lawns and tastefully landscaped grounds bordered the wide street. It was the kind of place that she hoped that she and Connor could afford, someday, after she became the well-paid professional journalist that she planned to become and Connor's business was a little more firmly established. The gym was already doing much better than it had been a few months ago, due largely to Connor's good management as well as the publicity that had resulted from the capture of Marcella Evans and the series that Lori had written concerning the fitness issues of expectant couples. Connor had told her that his ambition was to expand into a chain of health clubs, first in the state of New Troy and then perhaps to other states. Carla heartily endorsed the program and had been researching the issues involved in such a plan. Maybe, she had told him, once she was off probation as the office intern, she would be able to do more to help him. In any case, she and Connor had taken out a six-month contract only a week before to see if they were as compatible as a married couple as they seemed to be.
"Your dad's house is on the beach?" she asked Meriel.
"No, we're actually about a mile from the beach," Meriel said. "Dad owns the land that borders the beach, and there's an easement that cuts through the property so people can get down to it. It was great for my brothers and me when we were younger. We had our own little private forest to play in, and we could go down to the beach for summer picnics whenever we wanted. We were going to have a barbecue there tomorrow, but with Lori being kidnapped like this, I think it's been put on hold until they find her."
"Yeah," Carla said.
"We'll be going right past it in a few minutes," Meriel said. "The address we're headed to is just a few blocks away. I'll point it out to you."
They turned onto White Sands Boulevard barely a moment later. The Olsen home was on the right side of the street, and Carla admired the landscaping as well as the graceful lines of the building. Behind it she could see the spires of respectably tall pines waving in the brisk breeze that was blowing in from the ocean. To the left of the house, the easement of which Meriel had spoken cut into the stand of trees, leading toward the beach a mile away.
"Nice," she said. "It's hard to believe that these kidnappers could live in a place like this."
"Yeah," Meriel agreed. "I guess you can't judge by appearance --" She broke off, stamping on the brake and jerking the wheel sideways as a man emerged at a run from the easement and charged into the street almost directly ahead of them. They skidded sideways and came to a rest against the curb, both considerably shaken by the event.
Carla twisted around at the male voice and stared in shock at the stunner the newcomer on the scene thrust into her face.
"Move over!" the man ordered again, and then, apparently realizing the impossibility of his demand considering the size of Meriel's car, he waved the stunner. "Get in the back! Now!"
Carla scrambled to obey and the carjacker jumped into the place that she had vacated. "Go!"
Meriel stepped on the accelerator as he slammed the door shut. Carla glanced back as they pulled away, in time to see a second man emerge from the easement. It was difficult to be sure, but it looked very much to her as if he were also clutching a stunner.
"What do you want?" Meriel demanded. Her voice was higher than normal, which didn't surprise Carla in the slightest. She was certain that if she tried to speak she wouldn't be able to produce a sound.
"Just go!" the man told her. Carla saw her glance sideways at him and then back at the street ahead of them.
Meriel obeyed. "Make sure your webbing is fastened," she said, and it seemed to Carla that her voice had lost its frightened edge. Carla pulled the safety webbing over her lap and torso.
The carjacker didn't deign to obey. "Get us out of here," he told Meriel. "Fast."
"Okay. Don't get careless with that thing," Meriel said. "If you stun me, we'll crash."
And all at once, there was a man in the street ahead of them. Carla bit back a scream as Meriel aimed directly for him. Carla gasped and then realized all at once what she was seeing.
The man was tall, with very dark brown skin, and he wore a body suit of pure white, with a long white cape that waved from his shoulders. It had to be one of the superheroes, she thought in the split instant before impact. Carla and Meriel were protected from the jolt that shook the car as it ploughed into the white clad man, but the carjacker was thrown forward and his forehead struck the dashboard with a dull thud. The stunner cracked against the windshield, leaving a slight dent in the duraglass surface, and then they were coming to a halt. The super hero walked around to the driver's side of the car and leaned in.
"Are you ladies all right?" he inquired.
"We're fine," Meriel said. She undid her safety webbing and pushed the driver's door open.
The superhero stepped back to allow her to do so and gave her a hand from the car. "What happened?" he inquired. Belatedly, Carla recognized him as Titan, the superhero that made Tanzanika his home base. What on Earth was he doing in Metropolis?
"This man carjacked us," she began. "Over by Mr. Olsen's house. There was another man that looked like he was chasing this one. I think he had a stunner, too."
Titan looked sharply at her. "I'll send someone to check the vicinity," he said.
"Thanks," Meriel said. "I think the police are looking for this guy. His name is Fred Harkin."
"I believe you're right." The dark-skinned hero grinned suddenly, and Carla thought the smile was almost predatory as he looked at the semiconscious man in the passenger seat. The fellow was beginning to groan and stir, and Titan reached through the door to appropriate the stunner. He examined it briefly, narrowing his eyes. "This stunner is empty. Interesting. Why don't you get back into your car and I'll give you a lift to the police station. There are going to be a lot of people very happy to see this gentleman."
"What's he talking about?" Carla whispered as the car was lifted suddenly into the air. She grasped the handhold beside her as the ground fell away beneath them.
"Fred Harkin was the copyboy and general gofer at the Daily Planet two years ago," Meriel said. "I saw him a few times and recognized him right away. The cops think he's the one that kidnapped Lori. They've been looking for him."
"You must have some memory for faces," Carla said.
"Well -- yeah," Meriel said, looking almost embarrassed. "I have a photographic memory. Don't tell anyone, okay? I don't want them to think I'm weird or anything."
"Sure," Carla said enviously. "I wish mine was that good, though."
They were dropping toward the ground again. Fred Harkin groaned once more and pushed himself painfully up from his crumpled position in the passenger seat. "What the --"
Titan set the car down on the street and pulled open the passenger door. "Come along, Mr. Harkin. There's somebody that wants to talk to you."
Oliver Brent got suddenly to his feet. "They have him!"
"Who?" Velma also stood up.
"Harkin! He tried to carjack Meriel Olsen and she called for help."
"How did --" Velma broke off, feeling silly. John Olsen was a telepath. It stood to reason that his daughter might be one also. "Oh."
"Titan's bringing them in now." Oliver stood back to let Velma exit the office first and then followed, crowding her heels.
A tiny subcompact Hummingbird that must be Meriel Olsen's car was sitting neatly in a parking space directly across the street from the station, Velma saw, but her attention was mostly on the four persons entering the station when she and Inspector Brent arrived. Two attractive young women, one of whom strongly resembled the Managing Editor of the Metropolis Daily Planet, preceded the imposing, white-clad figure of Titan, who gently but firmly shoved a man that she recognized instantly from his photo, through the doors of the Precinct. Fred Harkin looked somewhat the worse for wear. His nose and mouth were bleeding and he had what promised to be a spectacular bruise that began at his hairline, encompassed his right eye and cheek and ended at the bottom of the cheekbone.
"What happened?" she asked, raising her brows.
"He tried to carjack us." The girl that resembled John Olsen spoke up. "Titan landed on the street in front of us and my car hit him. This guy wasn't wearing his safety belt."
"So I see." Velma moved forward to face the man that Titan held by the arm. "Mr. Harkin, I have just one question for you. Where is Lori Lyons?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Harkin said.
"Really." Velma set her jaw. "If anything happens to Ms. Lyons, I warn you, Mr. Harkin, you'll regret it. We have a witness that saw you abduct her at stunner point. Speaking of which --" She glanced at Titan.
The superhero extended the stunner he held in one hand. "He had this. It's empty, and there's a power cell in his pocket. It's what's in the other pocket that might interest you more, however."
"Oh?" Velma asked.
"Yes. There's a wrist talker, engraved 'To Lori, Love Brad,' a pair of gold earrings, a wedding set and a gold pin shaped like a four-leafed clover. The wedding set is also engraved with the words, 'To Lori, I have loved you since the beginning and will love you to the end. Clark.' I think that pretty much clinches it."
"I'd say so," Velma said briefly, "since those are the things she was wearing when she was abducted." She fixed Fred Harkin with a cold expression. "Mr. Harkin, if that girl dies, do you really want to take all the blame for what Gaia's Children has done?"
She was interrupted by a commotion in the entrance and Velma glanced around. Several of the supermen were there and each had a prisoner. Accompanying them was Clark Kent, and the look on his face made Velma Chow extremely glad that it wasn't turned on her.
"We heard Mr. Kent calling for help," Superwoman said briefly. "He was imprisoned in one of the bomb shelters in the Hob's Ocean View Estates. These people were in the house where he was being held and he accuses them of abducting him at stunner point."
"I guess the bomb shelters aren't as soundproof as they're supposed to be," Velma said dryly.
"Not for us," Superwoman said. "Do you have a place to stash these people? They're all asking for their lawyers."
That, of course, was predictable. Still, it might be a little difficult for them to wiggle out of the fact that Kent had been a prisoner in their bomb shelter, Velma thought.
"These people burst into my house without a warrant!" one of the men protested. "They had no right!"
"If they heard Mr. Kent calling for help, they didn't need one," Velma said. She glanced at the crowd of police officers that was gathering to watch the spectacle. "Lock them up. They get one vid call apiece." She turned back to Fred Harkin. "Well, Mr. Harkin? Are you going to tell us what we need to know, or should I give you and Mr. Kent a little privacy so he can have a heart to heart talk with you?" That last was a bluff, of course, but Harkin didn't seem so sure.
Clark stepped forward, and it amazed Velma at how large and threatening he seemed to have become. "Where's my wife, Fred? Believe me, Gaia's Children can't possibly do more to you than I can if something happens to her and that baby."
Fred's face had assumed the color of chalk and Velma lifted an eyebrow when she noted the damp stain spreading down the legs of his jeans. He glanced frantically at Velma. "You can't leave me alone with him!"
"Pete," Velma said casually, "please escort Mr. Kent and Mr. Harkin to Conference Room Three. Be sure to lock the door behind you."
"Right away, Lieutenant." Pete's expression was a study in indifference as he reached out to take Harkin's arm. "This way."
"No! You can't!"
Velma raised her brows. "Oh? You have something you'd like to tell us?"
"She's at 4516 West White Sands Boulevard," Fred muttered. "In the bomb shelter."
"That's Fitzgerald's house!" Meriel exclaimed excitedly. She clapped a hand over her mouth.
"Do you know something about this?" Velma asked her.
"Not really," Meriel said quickly. "We saw the address on the list and since it's only about a mile from my house, we thought we'd check it out."
Velma didn't say anything but she thought she'd figured it out. Meriel Olsen and the other girl with her might very well be the ones that had supplied her with the all-important list. That, however, could be dealt with later. She glanced at Pete. "Lock him up. Clark, you're with me. The rest of you, get over there now and make sure no one leaves. Move!"
Lori pressed back against the rough wall, trying to make herself as inconspicuous as possible. She bit her lower lip and closed her eyes as the clenching of muscles in her back came again. The pain radiated around her sides toward the front. It hurt, nearly cutting off her breath.
"Please, Clark," she whispered, as she had been doing for the last thirty minutes. "If you can hear me, I need you. Please come and find me."
She thought for a moment that the whoosh of air was her imagination. Then a pair of competent hands scooped her up.
"Easy, Lori," Rhonda Klein's voice said. "I've got you."
From somewhere, she heard the wail of a siren. A large hand enfolded one of hers. Clark's voice said, "I'm here, honey. We got them. Hold on. Vortex is bringing the paramedic van."
Perry Kent, AKA Vortex, was suddenly beside them as well. "We're here. Is she hurt?"
"She's in labor," Rhonda's voice said. Lori gripped her husband's hand, trying to concentrate on her breathing.
It didn't seem to be working. She gave a small cry.
"Lori." Clark's voice was suddenly businesslike. "Relax. Everything's under control. We're going to do this together. Breathe out. Don't hold your breath. Come on, now --"
Somehow, she managed to concentrate on her husband's voice. She was safe. They had found her, and she had something more important to do than worry about Gaia's idiotic Children.
"Breathe in," Clark's voice said firmly. "Now breathe out. Breathe with me, honey."
Lori obeyed. Rhonda's voice in the background retreated to a mumble of sound and she didn't notice that they were transferring her to a litter to lower her safely to the ground. Slowly, the pain retreated and she opened her eyes to discover that she was being lifted into the paramedic van. Clark climbed in beside her, smiling down at her, and there were tear tracks down his cheeks.
"Hi, honey," he whispered.
"Hi," she said back. She reached up her free hand, almost not noticing that someone was attaching an intravenous line to her left arm, and touched his face. "You came."
He nodded. "Always."
Lori started to speak but caught her breath as the muscles in her back began to tighten again.
"They're five minutes apart," Rhonda's voice said. "Talk later, Clark. Your wife needs you now."
Clark gripped her hand. "Breathe," he commanded. "Come on, honey."
Velma Chow watched as Vortex lifted the paramedic van bearing Lori, Clark and her doctor over his head and floated it away toward the hospital. From somewhere beyond the perimeter that was being maintained by a ring of the supermen, a vid camera was whirring and dozens of representatives of various news services had gathered. She glanced at Oliver Brent and for the first time in hours felt her tightly stretched nerves begin to relax. "It's over."
"It's just beginning," Oliver said. "I think Gaia's Children has stepped over the line big time."
"Yeah," Velma said. "And there are plenty of witnesses." In truth she was still slightly breathless at what she had seen.
As soon as they left the Precinct, Clark had scooped up the car bearing Oliver Brent and her, without bothering to change into his blue, red and yellow suit. They had been airborne at once and, almost as quickly, the car had been surrounded by men and women in bright-colored outfits as the super family raced to rescue one of its own. The army of super-powered beings swept down on the house in a solid, irresistible wave, and within seconds three persons had been brought out, protesting their sudden change of circumstances.
Ultra Woman and Clark had spotted Lori on the roof almost at once, and Vortex had flown in the paramedic van complete with two white-faced paramedics in the front seat, and then he and Ultra Woman had brought Lori down on a litter. While the paramedics were loading Lori into the van, Clark had shown up, although Velma hadn't seen him leave the roof, and then a dark-haired woman appeared and climbed into the van as well. Velma heard her introduce herself as Dr. Klein, Lori's obstetrician. It had taken her several seconds to recognize Ultra Woman in this new guise.
She shook herself. "I wish I had this kind of help all the time," she said. "On the other hand, I'd rather not have the kind of circumstances that brought them here."
"I agree," Oliver said. "Superwoman reports that she, Puma and Titan just delivered our suspects to the station, and that Solar Flare brought in a fellow in a van that was parked behind John's house in the Estates. It's registered to an Aloysius Fitzgerald, the owner of this house. This has all the earmarks of a major criminal case."
Velma nodded. "Yes, I suspect we're going to be very busy for a while," she said.
"Probably," Oliver said. "But you have to take a little time off occasionally." He was smiling at her. "I know we've just met, but now that the emergency is past, would you like to go grab some dinner with me later this evening after the paperwork is finished? Even police lieutenants have to eat. I know a terrific restaurant in Houston that's open at all hours, and I think I could even get someone to fly you back, later."
He probably could, Velma thought. She looked up at him and felt her heart flutter nervously in a way that it hadn't done in years. Or ever, actually. Maybe she wasn't too old for a few girlish dreams after all. Especially with someone like Oliver Brent.
"I'd like that," she said.
"No one has given an explanation for this unusual event yet," the LNN newscaster said. The picture of the incredible swarm of super-powered men and women replayed on the vidscreen for the third time. Mariann Lyons held her breath, hoping against hope that it meant that her daughter had been found. "The police have established a perimeter about the house replacing the one initially set up by the supermen, and investigators are currently inside. It is believed that this incident has some sort of connection with the bombing of the Daily Planet this morning --" The voice broke off and the logo presaging an unscheduled announcement appeared on the screen. The face of a young woman replaced it. "Breaking news! Lieutenant Chow of the Metropolis Police Department has informed us that Lori Lyons, of the Daily Planet, who was abducted this morning after the bombing of the news service's headquarters in Metropolis, has been found. She was apparently being held here in this home's obsolete bomb shelter. No further details have been forthcoming except a statement by Superwoman that her family was very pleased that they were able to locate Ms. Lyons while searching for the perpetrators of this morning's terrorist attack..."
"They found her!" Rob said.
Roger Olsen, one of John and Marilyn's teenage sons, raised a cheer. The other son, who had just graduated from high school this summer and was looking forward to attending Metropolis City College in the fall, got to his feet. "I hope that whole bunch of whackos gets sent to the lunar mines. It can't help but raise the general IQ of the planet."
"They didn't show her," Mariann said. "Is she all right? Who do we call to find out?"
John Olsen stepped into the room. "Lori's all right," he said. "I just got word from Clark that she's in labor and that they're taking her to Metropolis General Hospital. Rhonda's with her, and she's in good condition." He was silent a moment. "She'd managed to get out of the bomb shelter on her own and was hiding on the roof." He smiled, shaking his head slowly. "Your daughter is going to give me grey hairs yet, but she doesn't lack for determination. You should be proud of her. I certainly am."
"Thank God," Marilyn said softly.
"Can we see her?" Mariann asked.
"If you'd like, I can drive you over to the hospital, but it's likely to be a few hours yet," John said." He sat down suddenly on the sofa and Mariann saw that he was trying to conceal the fact that his hands were shaking.
"Are you all right, honey?" Marilyn asked quickly.
John nodded. "Yeah. But if I get my hands on Fred, so help me I'm going to make mincemeat out of him."
"Why? What happened?"
"He apparently tried to carjack Meriel. She called Jonas for help and rammed her car into him. Knocked Fred out, apparently."
"Meriel did this?"
"Yeah. I think I'm pretty proud of our daughter. Jonas took him to Velma and they got the truth out of him with a little help from Clark."
"What did he do?"
"Apparently Clark scared him so badly that Fred literally wet his pants. But I'm still going to make Fred regret the day he was born. Even if he gets out on a plea bargain, he'll never work in the news business again."
Rob leaned forward and put his face in his hands. Mariann put an arm around him.
Mariann felt Rob slip his hand around hers. She tightened her hold on his while watching Lori's boss with sudden understanding. John Olsen cared a great deal about her daughter. He had been as afraid for Lori's safety as she and Rob had been. As a matter of fact, the way the entire super family had come together to find Lori had left her a little stunned. "Why did everyone come to help when Lori was kidnapped?" she asked suddenly. "What's so special about her? I mean -- when there's trouble, your family members help each other, but I've never seen this kind of thing -- ever."
"I know," Marilyn said. "You'll have to ask Clark and Lori about it. It's not our place to give out that kind of personal information."
Rob and Mariann looked at each other. "Does it have something to do with her baby?" Mariann asked.
"Partly," Marilyn said. "Ask them."
"All right." Rob let go of Mariann's hand and got to his feet. "I just realized. I haven't eaten since breakfast. Is anyone else hungry?"
John also stood up. "Starved. Now that the emergency's over, shall we eat? I can call for takeout."
"How about pizza?" Roger Olsen suggested.
Marilyn was smiling. "I have plenty of sandwiches in the kitchen. It was something to do while we were waiting for news."
"I hope there's plenty," John said. "Meriel's coming with a couple of guests. I guess we can get part of the story from her. Then maybe we can head over to the hospital and see how things are going."
Mariann got to her feet. The thought of the sandwiches in the kitchen was suddenly very attractive. There was still a mystery to solve, but she could wait. It was enough to know that Lori was safe and apparently relatively unhurt.
Through the wide front window, she saw the headlights of a small car pull up into the driveway. A moment or two later the door opened, revealing Meriel Olsen, a small, dark-haired girl and a tall blond man with a handlebar mustache. At the same instant, John Olsen and Marilyn emerged from the kitchen with two enormous trays of sandwiches. "Come on in," he invited them. "You're just in time for dinner."
"Okay, we're getting close," Rhonda said. "The baby's head is crowning. On the next contraction I want you to give it everything you've got."
"Okay!" Lori panted. She grasped Clark's hands tighter and felt him squeeze hers reassuringly.
"Just a little more," he said. "We're almost there."
The tightening of the muscles in her lower back warned her. "Here it comes!"
"Take a deep breath," Clark told her. "Now push!" She felt him brace her shoulders as the muscles clamped down. Lori closed her eyes, only wanting it to be over.
"Here comes the head," Rhonda's voice said. "Lots of thick, dark hair. All right, relax. Stop pushing!" she commanded. "Pant, Lori. I need a second here -- okay, great."
"What's wrong?" Lori gasped.
"The cord was around the baby's neck. Let's just get it untangled. Good ... Okay on the next one, push again. We're almost done."
The next contraction was already building. Her world had narrowed to Clark's head next to hers, the strength of his arms and hands holding her tightly and his voice encouraging her. "Okay, honey, now," Clark's voice whispered in her ear.
Blindly, she obeyed. If she could do this, all the pressure and pain would be gone.
And suddenly it was over, and Rhonda was holding something red and wrinkled, and the loud, healthy wail of a startled and outraged newborn baby filled the air.
"What is it?" Lori was surprised at how faint her voice sounded.
"You tell me." Rhonda held up the howling, red, squirming little creature so that its parents could see.
"It's a girl!" Clark said. "We've got a daughter!"
"Oh Clark!" Lori could scarcely believe it. She burst into tears.
"Hey, what's the matter, honey?" Clark asked.
"I'm just so glad she's here!" Lori sobbed. "I was so afraid I'd never see her!"
Clark's arms tightened around her, holding her safe and close. "Well you did," he said. "She's fine. And so are you."
"Yes, she is," Rhonda said, a smile in her voice. "Let's just get this young lady cleaned up a little and then her daddy can hold her. I think it's your turn, Clark, after all this time." She turned to hand the baby over to the nurses. "And in the meantime let's just take care of the last details here."
Lori's attention was all on her tiny daughter. Her tears dried up as she strained to watch what the nurses were doing.
"Seven pounds," someone said. "Apgar scores nine and ten. Everything looks good."
"Ouch," Lori said absently. "What color are her eyes?"
"Blue," Clark said. "They'll change color after a while. Don't worry." He held her hand between both of his. "She's beautiful, just like her mother."
It was nearly midnight when Clark came out into the waiting area to discover it full of people. It seemed that his prediction of the entire family at the birthing center, giving the staff a nervous breakdown, wasn't far off. Rob and Mariann were seated together on one of the couches and Lori's mother was sound asleep, her head on her husband's shoulder. Lori's sister, Marcy, was seated in an armchair, and apparently the staff of Metropolis General had moved in as many chairs as would fit. John Olsen sat up as Clark entered the room and got to his feet. "How is she?"
"She's all right," Clark said. "More shaken up than I like, but Lori's tougher than she looks. She's going to be all right."
"I know," John said. "She's had a rough day, though."
"And people tell me I have a talent for understatement," Clark said. "Anyway, she's sleeping right now. I want to get back to her in a minute but I thought I'd let you know what we've got." He grinned. "It's a girl. Heaven help us all."
"That's for sure," John said, but he grinned as well. "The world has no idea what you and Lori have unleashed on them, poor souls."
"They'll learn to live with it." Clark crossed the room to his in-laws and gently shook Rob's shoulder. "Rob?"
Rob's head jerked up. "What? Oh. Clark. Is she okay?"
"She's fine," Clark said. "Pretty tired, but that won't last. I thought I'd let you and Mariann know that you have a beautiful granddaughter. We've named her Mary Lucille."
"Can we see Lori?" Mariann asked.
"Well, she's asleep right now and I don't want to disturb her. Rhonda has Mary under observation in the newborn nursery just in case, because of everything Lori went through today. She doesn't expect any problems, though. If you'd like, you can go by the nursery and see her. We had our family pediatrician examine her a little while ago and he says she's fine."
Rob got to his feet and Mariann joined him. The entire crowd of family members followed. John was the last to leave and before he did, he turned to Clark. "Mariann's asking questions about the showing the family made today while we were hunting for Lori," he said. "I thought you should be ready with some answers."
Clark nodded. "I thought that might happen. Thanks for giving me a heads up."
"No problem," John said. "And now, I think I'll go see my new great aunt and goddaughter." He followed the crowd of relatives from the room.
Clark turned to retrace his steps to Lori's room and almost collided with a small man with a mustache and old-fashioned glasses, wearing a waistcoat and a bowler hat. The automatic apology died on his lips. "Wells!"
The little man nodded. "I came to offer my congratulations, Mr. Kent." He smiled delightedly. "I've just seen little Mary. She's a lovely baby -- simply lovely. The final cornerstone of Utopia has now been set in place, in spite of everything that Tempus could do. I hope you will give my felicitations to your beautiful wife as well."
"She was nearly killed today," Clark said.
"I know. But it could be said that close brushes with death are part of her 'karma', I believe the term is -- and although it isn't the way I would normally phrase it, it describes the soul of the woman who was Lois Lane." The little man looked earnestly at him. "It has never changed, all down the centuries. Nor has yours. You were destined to love and protect her from the beginning, just as she was destined to stand at your side to bolster your strength when you falter, and inspire you to be a hero."
"Yeah," Clark said, "I kind of figured that out." He couldn't help but smile at the little man. "It's nice seeing you again, Herb. I hope there aren't any more disasters in the offing."
"Not at the moment," the little man replied with an answering smile. "I trust you will continue to guard them both well, however. Not all the pitfalls have been navigated yet. Goodbye for the present, Mr. Kent, and again, my congratulations on the birth of your beautiful daughter."
Clark watched until the little man's figure had vanished around the corner. Then he turned and went back into Lori's room to sit beside her while she slept.
Lori awoke to the smell of food and the knowledge that the sun was shining across the foot of her bed. For a moment she blinked at her surroundings in puzzlement before her memory came back. She had escaped Gaia's Children, Clark and Rhonda had found her and she and Clark had watched their baby girl born last night in this very room.
"Good morning, Ms. Kent." She looked around as a woman clad in a blue outfit decorated with pink flowers came through the door carrying a tray. "I'm Karen. Are you hungry? I'm sure you'll want to know that your little girl is off the observation list. We'll be bringing her in shortly."
"Is she all right?" Lori asked.
Karen set the tray down on her over-the-bed table and pushed the button to lift Lori into a sitting position. "She's fine. The staff voted her the prettiest baby in the nursery. Dr. Klein wanted her kept under observation over night since you had such a terrible time yesterday, kidnapped by those horrible Gaia's Children persons. It was a miracle that they found you when they did."
"It sure was," Lori said, wondering if everyone on the floor knew of her adventure of the day before. She took a sip of the hot coffee on her tray, grimaced and added sugar and artificial creamer to it.
"Your husband was here most of the night," Karen told her as she bustled briskly around, straightening Lori's room. "He went home a little while ago to change his clothing. He asked me to tell you he'd be back soon and not to worry about the press. No one is being allowed in except your family -- but a Lieutenant Chow from the police wants to see you later this morning. Do you feel up to talking to her?"
"Sure," Lori said. "I'd like to have a shower first, though. I feel pretty sweaty and sticky."
"Dr. Klein will be here to examine you in a little while," Karen said. "After that, the shower is yours." She nodded at the tray of rapidly disappearing food. "You seem to have a good appetite."
"I didn't eat much, yesterday," Lori said. "I had my mind on other things."
"I imagine so." Karen shook her head. "I'd have been terrified."
"I was pretty scared," Lori admitted, "but I had to keep believing that someone would find me."
Karen nodded understandingly. "Well, fortunately, they did. The authorities are launching an investigation of the whole organization after the bombing of the Daily Planet yesterday. It was all over the news."
"Good," Lori said, around a mouthful of scrambled eggs. She followed the last bite of eggs with the remainder of her carton of milk. "I'm done."
"That was fast," Karen said. She picked up the tray. "I'll let Dr. Klein know you're finished with breakfast."
"No need," Rhonda's voice said from the doorway. "How are you feeling this morning, Lori?"
"A little sore but pretty good," Lori said.
"Good." Ronnie smiled at Karen and waited until she had departed before she closed the door. "Let's have a look at you, here."
"I'm a mess," Lori said. "I need a shower. Big time."
"Don't worry about that," Rhonda said with a grin. "I've smelled worse. When I'm done here you can shower and get yourself all fixed up for Clark and everybody else that wants to see you and little Mary. She looks just like pictures of Annie when she was born. Clark went crazy with a camera while it was happening."
"Thank heavens for small favors," Lori said. "He didn't have time to grab one this time."
"Don't kid yourself," Ronnie said dryly. "We've already seen pictures. Clark's pleased as punch. You don't need to worry, though. If he took any embarrassing ones, nobody's seen them as far as I know." She winked at Lori. "You've made my grandpa awfully happy, 'Grandma'."
The doctor chuckled. "All right, I won't tease you. We're all a little punchy from everything that happened yesterday, but you can bet everyone's happy to have you and little Mary Lucille back."
"I sort of remember seeing a lot of costumes when they were lifting me down," Lori said, "but I wasn't really paying attention."
"I'm not surprised," Ronnie said. "Well, let's get this over with and then you can take your shower. Clark and some of the others are already waiting outside but I told them that they were going to have to give you a few minutes, so let's not waste them. And after you've had your shower we'll bring in Mary."
Clark was waiting for her when she came out of the shower. "Hi, honey. Ronnie said I could come in and wait for you." He stood up. "You look like you feel a lot better."
Lori walked straight into his arms. "Oh Clark!"
He hugged her gently. "How do you feel?"
"Better, now that I've had a chance to clean up."
"No after effects from yesterday?"
"Well," Lori said, "I had weird dreams last night. I dreamed you and I were flying and you were carrying Fred. You dumped him on an iceberg in the Arctic."
"Sounds good to me," Clark said. "Unfortunately, Velma has him and he's been begging her not to put him in the same cell with his friends. Carla, Meriel and Jonas caught him and between the two of us, Velma and I wrung your location out of him."
"Gosh," Lori said. "Ronnie wasn't kidding when she said the whole family was looking for me."
"Pretty much," Clark said. "Carla and Meriel helped the most, though, I think. Meriel got your laptop and Carla used the information you had stored there on Gaia's Children to break into their membership list. I'll tell you the whole story later if you want to know anything else."
"I'll think about it," Lori said. "I guess the barbecue got called off, huh?"
"No. Just postponed until you're back home. Everybody feels like celebrating."
"Ronnie said you took pictures!"
"Well ... yeah," Clark admitted, sheepishly. "I promise no one will see anything embarrassing, but I wanted a record of this one's birth to go along with the other four."
"Well ... Okay," Lori said. "Just as long as I get to double check before you show any pictures of me to anyone."
"Okay," he said with a smile. "Don't worry. I've been careful about what I let people see." He glanced in the direction of the door. "They're bringing Mary in now. Are you ready to get better acquainted with our new little girl?"
Lori swallowed and nodded. "I can hardly believe it's over."
"It's not," Clark said. "It's just beginning."
There was a knock on the door and then it swung open. Karen entered, pushing a clear bassinet before her. Lori could see a tiny bundle wrapped in a pink blanket inside the bassinet.
"Here you are," Karen said. "Who gets to hold her first?"
"I held her last night," Clark said. "I think it's Lori's turn."
"That's good," Karen said. "She's been fussing a little. I think she's ready to meet her mommy and maybe have a little breakfast."
Lori had taken her place in the newly made bed and now she looked at her husband. "Could you give her to me, Clark? I've held little Robbie, but --"
"Sure." Clark lifted his daughter gently, cradling her small dark head with one hand. Karen watched professionally and nodded. "I guess you've handled babies before."
"A few," Clark admitted. He smiled down into his daughter's red, puffy little face and Lori felt a lump form unexpectedly in her throat. The baby's eyes opened and focused instantly on her father. Carefully, Clark transferred his tiny burden into Lori's arms.
Mary's eyes switched instantly to Lori. Lori looked down at the tiny, warm bundle in her arms and was surprised at the sudden fierce surge of protectiveness that washed over her.
The baby wiggled a little and began to whimper. Lori looked quickly up at the nurse. "What does she want?"
"She's probably a little hungry," Karen said with a smile. "Why don't you see if she'll try to nurse?"
"What do I do?" Lori asked.
Karen smiled. "Well, the first thing you have to remember is that she can't nurse through a nightgown..." With a smile she showed Lori how to help her baby latch on and after a false start or two, Mary Kent was engaging in her first meal.
"She won't nurse for long," Karen told her. "Your milk won't really come in for another day or so. Right now she's getting colostrum, which is important for a lot of reasons. By the time the milk comes in she'll be all ready for it and will know what to do." The nurse looked at Clark. "If you need any help, just call."
"We will," Clark said. He smiled at Lori and settled down in the chair by her bed. "I think we'll be all right."
Karen departed and for several moments silence reigned in the room, broken only by the faint sounds of effort from Mary. The silence was interrupted by a light knock on the door.
"Is it all right to come in?" Mariann's voice said.
Clark glanced at Lori for permission and then got to his feet. "Sure," he said. "Breakfast is being served."
Mariann entered the room, followed by Rob.
"Hello, Mother," Lori said. "I hope you don't mind that I'm feeding her."
"Of course not," Mariann said. She leaned over the bed to get a good look at the baby. "She's beautiful."
"She certainly is," Rob said. "She certainly has a lot of hair."
Lori looked down at the fine dark curls on her daughter's head. "That could have come from either of us -- but she has Clark's eyes -- and eyelashes."
"Are you all right, honey?" her father asked. "We were all pretty worried about you yesterday."
"I'm all right," Lori said.
"Clark said you were being held in the bomb shelter," Mariann said, "but they found you on the roof. What happened?"
"I shorted out the lock on the door and got out," Lori said, as matter-of-factly as she could. "The only way out of the house was through an upstairs window, so I crawled out onto the roof. I figured Clark would be looking for me, so it seemed like the best place to hide. I guess they never did figure out that I'd escaped."
"Not until it was too late," Clark said.
"Clark," Mariann said, "I need to know something. The media is reporting that your family showed up in force like that because of the bombing of the Planet, but it wasn't because of the bombing, was it?"
Clark shook his head. "No. It wasn't."
"It was about Lori and the baby." Mariann glanced again at the baby girl who was now sleeping soundly in Lori's arms. Lori adjusted her gown with one hand. "I know your family helps each other, but I've never seen anything like this."
"I know," Clark said. He glanced at the door. "I don't want to talk about it here. There's too much chance of being overheard. Lori's coming home tomorrow morning. Once we're safely in the apartment, together, I promise I'll tell you everything. All right?"
Mariann hesitated and nodded. "All right."
There was another knock on the door and Lori glanced around. Velma Chow stood there. "Hello, Clark, Lori. May I come in?"
"I hope Mother doesn't make a fuss," Lori said. She was sitting on the sofa in their apartment while baby Mary slept soundly in her bassinet, nearby. She told herself firmly to relax. Mariann and Rob were on their way up, and the moment of truth was at hand.
Clark sat down beside her and slipped an arm around her waist. "We'll just have to tell them the truth," he said. "Your mother and father want what's best for you. Neither one is likely to do anything to harm you or their granddaughter."
The door chime announced the arrival of Rob and Mariann, and Lori took a deep breath.
"Open," Clark said. He kept his arm firmly around Lori's waist.
The door opened, revealing Mariann and Rob.
"Come in," Clark said.
Mariann entered ahead of her husband and looked uncertainly at Lori. Lori tried to smile, but her face felt stiff and unnatural, so she gave up the attempt. She didn't like to feel on the defensive with her mother. She had spent many of her childhood years feeling that way, and the sensation wasn't pleasant, but now she found that she was back in the old mode. Her mother and father were bound to disapprove of the fact that Clark was so much older chronologically than she was, even though he appeared to be a man in his late twenties. Well, it didn't matter what her parents thought. She had chosen her husband and nothing anyone could say was going to make her change her mind.
Her father glanced once at her face and she saw him frown slightly. That figured. Rob had always been able to read her more accurately than Mariann could and he was undoubtedly already aware that she was in defense mode.
Clark's arm tightened around her waist for just an instant. "It's all right, honey," he said, and got to his feet. "Can I get you some coffee?"
"Yes, thanks," Mariann said. She looked nervously at Rob, evidently sensing the tension in the air.
Clark disappeared into the kitchen. Rob looked at Lori again. "Is something wrong?" he asked.
Lori shook her head. "I hope not," she said.
"Lori's a little worried that you're not going to like what I'm about to tell you," Clark said, stepping into the room with the coffee. "There was a reason that the family turned out in force the way they did. Finding Lori -- and little Mary -- was absolutely necessary."
"I know that," Rob said. "But I think there's more than that." He accepted a cup from Clark, and Lori saw that he was smiling slightly. "You know," he said, "since you told us about yourself, about being one of the supermen, I've been looking at every piece of information that I could find about all of you, from the first Superman on -- and I noticed something interesting that made me wonder."
Rob nodded. "There's a variety of appearances between them," he said, "but they all resemble you. And you --" He hesitated. "You look exactly like the first Superman. I noticed it while I was comparing pictures of the members of your family but I figured it really wasn't any of my business."
"I wondered if anyone would ever notice that," Clark said. He sat down next to Lori. "The answer, of course, is that you're right. As I told Lori, before I asked her to marry me -- there's only ever been one Superman. The original. I'm Kal-El. I came to Earth as a baby, but I was born on Krypton in the Earth year 1966."
The words dropped into silence. Finally Mariann spoke. "But that would make you well over a hundred, Clark. You can't possibly be that old."
"I'm a hundred and thirty-three," Clark said. "The explanation is in my molecular structure. It's dense. After I became an adult, it slowed my aging process to a crawl. Physically, I'm the age of a human of about twenty-eight or twenty-nine. It's the same with all of my super-powered relatives. It seems to have some influence on the aging of the non-super-powered relatives as well but not anywhere near as extreme. The thing that matters, though, is that Lori knew all of this before she agreed to marry me." He put an arm around her. "I love her more than anything else on the face of the Earth. She's my world."
Rob looked from Lori to Clark and back. "I think I understand," he said. "Marilyn told us that there's some kind of emotional bond between you and Lori that has to do with your telepathic ability."
"That's right," Clark said.
"You wanted to know why they all came to help," Lori said. "They came because Clark needed them. He's the head of the family."
"That wasn't all," Clark said. "In case you haven't noticed, honey, every one of them that has met you likes you, too. You're the center of my life and my family knows it. They care about you, sight unseen -- and they're all very proud of you."
Mariann looked from one to the other, and there was a troubled look in her eyes. "You'll outlive Lori," she said. "Have you thought of that? She's going to age at a faster rate than you. Will you still feel the same when she's an old woman?"
"Yes," Clark said. "You didn't ask about my first wife. Her name was Lois Lane. She lived to be a hundred and eight, and for a woman born in the mid-Twentieth Century, that was very unusual. I had the same kind of bond with her as I have with Lori. To me she was as young and beautiful on the last day of her life as she was on the day I met her, and it nearly killed me when I lost her." He reached out to take Lori's hand. "Lori will age at a slower rate than other people because of the energy field I produce, but even I can't completely stop it from happening. I only wish that I could. What I can and will do is love her and be faithful to her for as long as we both live."
For some time, no one said anything, and then Rob nodded slowly. "I think," he said, "that nobody can ask for more than that. If Lori is satisfied, then no one else has any right to object."
Lori raised her head to look at her mother. "Do you understand?" she asked. "I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to marry Clark. I'm happy with him and I don't want to do without him, ever."
Mariann bit her lip but she managed to smile. "Lori, I promised your father -- and myself," she added almost irrelevantly, "that I wouldn't interfere any more with your life or Marcy's. I may not completely agree, but your father is right. If you're satisfied, then it isn't my place to object."
A whimper from the bassinet interrupted the intense discussion and Lori went to pick up her baby. "She's wet. I need to change her."
"I'll get the wipes and a diaper," Clark said. He vanished for a split second and returned with the promised items. Lori took them and began to change her daughter.
Mariann came to bend over her tiny granddaughter. "She's starting to lose the squashed look," she said. "I can see you in her."
"Can you?" Lori said. "I think she looks more like Clark."
"She's a perfect blend of both of us," Clark said.
"With super powers when she grows up," Mariann said. "How will you manage her when she's a teenager?"
"The same way Clark and Lois handled their children," Lori said firmly. "The same way any good parents raise their children. With love and discipline. And I've got a few experts in the field that I can ask questions of, if I need to."
The door chime sounded at that moment, and Clark spoke. "Open," he said. Lori looked up, a little surprised, to see Superwoman, Tan-El, Puma and Shooting Star in the doorway.
"I thought," Clark said quietly to Rob and Mariann, "that you would like to meet Mary's brothers and sisters."
It was a bright, sunny day, two days later, when Mariann and Rob Lyons were set on their feet in the back yard of John and Marilyn Olsen's home. Mariann straightened her skirt and smiled at Annie Kent. This tall and very beautiful woman was her granddaughter's youngest sibling and a successful actress for three generations. It was hard to look at her as someone who was over ninety years old, who had been an adult before Mariann was born.
"Thank you, Annie," she said.
"You're welcome." Annie said. "Come on inside. We've got a lot of work to do to get ready for the mob that's going to descend on us in a little while."
Jon Kent grinned at Rob. "Feel like handling a grill? I'm doing the steaks today."
"I'm pretty good with a barbecue," Rob said.
"Be careful what you wish for," Jon told him. "Let's go in and let John know we're here."
Mariann trailed the men toward the house. She had been to Christmas parties with the Kent family before but this was the first barbecue. Looking around, she saw children playing some kind of kickball game near the trees and wondered for a moment if anyone was watching them. Then she reminded herself that with so many super-powered men and women around, someone was certainly keeping an eye on them from the house. Probably more than one person, actually.
A flash of motion overhead caught her eye and she looked up in time to see Ryan Kent, carrying Marcy and little Robbie, coming in for a landing. He deposited his wife and son on the ground and his form blurred momentarily as he changed out of his "working clothes", as Marcy referred to them. Ryan, known to the world as the Black Raptor, was Clark's grandson. The new information, acquired over the last couple of days, hadn't really had time to absorb completely yet, but it had already begun to make her look at Clark's family with new understanding.
Lara Kent -- Superwoman -- and her husband, Bill Klein, the parents of Lori's doctor, were already here and setting up the picnic tables in the shade of the big trees that lined the yard. As Mariann followed the men toward the house, she saw Clark, impressive in the red, blue and yellow of Superman, land in an open space and set Lori on her feet. He gave her a peck on the cheek and vanished in a blur of speed.
Mariann looked after him with the faint sense of wonder that she felt now whenever she thought of him. Her son-in-law was the legendary man from Krypton, who had stopped the Nightfall Asteroid, saved the world from the invasion of the New Kryptonians that everyone read about in school and had prevented the eruption of the Yellowstone super-volcano, the year after Mariann's birth, which would have wiped out most of the human race. She supposed that she would get used to the idea eventually and reconcile what she knew of his background with the handsome young man who had married her youngest daughter and who could change a dirty diaper with skill and efficiency.
Marcy put her blond toddler down and crossed the yard to take baby Mary out of her sister's arms.
"Where did Clark go?" Marcy asked, cradling the sleeping newborn.
"He went back to get all the baby stuff," Lori said. "I can't believe all the junk you have to cart around with you when you take a baby somewhere."
Marcy laughed. "Welcome to the club," she said. She glanced around and leaned forward to whisper something in her sister's ear. Whatever she said made a wide smile cross Lori's face.
"That's wonderful!" she said.
"Yeah," Marcy replied, "but my boss at Ritacco's is jumping on me for eating like there's no tomorrow. He's afraid I'm not going to be able to wear the fall fashions. I haven't told him, yet."
Lori giggled. "Poor guy. Well, you can still model. It'll just be for a different target group."
Ryan had scooped up their son. "Come on, sport. Let's go find something for you to chew on while we wait for everybody to arrive." He trotted toward the back door of the house with the giggling child slung over his shoulders in a fireman's carry.
"Hi, Mom," Marcy said casually. "What did you bring?"
"A casserole," Mariann said, nodding at the covered dish that she carried. "It's one of your Grandfather Lyons's recipes."
"Wasn't he a chef?" Jon Kent asked. At her nod, Clark's son licked his lips. "Mmmm. Sounds good. I always tell Dad that if he ever wants to give up journalism he could become a gourmet chef and make a fortune. I don't think it's likely to happen, though."
"Clark made Austrian cheesecake," Lori said. "Not good if you're on a diet, but it's delicious. He brought it over this morning." She yawned. "Mary woke me up twice last night, so I slept in, but Clark's been up since the crack of dawn. He had to make the cheesecake for the barbecue, write up the interview with Lieutenant Chow and then go downtown to talk to the investigators tracking down the chemicals for the bomb they used on the Planet. There's a bunch of IRS auditors going over their financial records with a fine-tooth comb, too. This thing is turning out to be bigger than anybody realized."
Who would have thought that Superman would turn out to be an expert cook? Mariann found herself smiling. Clark Kent was certainly full of surprises.
"Ryan did ours," Marcy said. "It's a good thing he can cook because I can still burn water without any effort at all. Did you hear," she added to her sister, "Oliver is bringing a date."
"You're kidding!" Lori said. "Oliver? I thought he was a confirmed bachelor."
"Apparently he met a lady cop while they were frantically searching for you," Marcy said. "Velma something. Ronnie says he's got it bad."
"Not Velma Chow, by any chance?" Lori asked.
"I think so. Meriel got hold of him to take her the members list for Gaia's Children. Why? Do you know her?"
"I sure do," Lori said. "I guess something good came out of that mess, after all."
"And Meriel invited some friends to come by about twelve, in time for lunch and the swimming party," Marcy added. "We've all got to be on our best behavior for them because they don't know about the family secret."
"I heard," Lori said. "Carla and Connor are friends of ours from the Daily Planet."
Mary Lucille started to fuss and Lori held out her arms. "Looks like it's snack time for somebody," she said. "This kid's got a terrific appetite. Now I know why I was so hungry all the time. I still am, trying to keep up with her."
Jon opened the back door and held it while the women entered. Carrie Olsen took the casserole dish that Mariann held out.
"Thanks. I'll put this in the warmer. Rob, we're going to need you for the hamburgers. Ryan says you claim you can handle a grill."
Clark, whom Mariann had seen depart in a flash to retrieve the baby supplies, was standing at the entrance to the living room talking to a tall, handsome dark-skinned man and guarding a chair for his wife. Lori sat down, beginning to unbutton her blouse. Mary Lucille's voice rose to a wail as the baby announced her urgent need for sustenance.
"Jonas," Clark said, "I'd like to introduce you to Lori's parents -- Mariann and Rob Lyons. Mariann and Rob, this is my great grandson, Jonas Kent. His wife's around here somewhere, too."
"Dora went to pick up a snack," Jonas said, shaking hands with Rob. "She's hungry all the time, for the usual reason. It's our first."
"Congratulations," Lori said, smiling up at him. "Boy or girl?"
"Boy," Jonas said. "We're thrilled, naturally. Dora wanted to name him Grant after her father, but I pointed out that Grant Kent sounded a little alliterative. We finally decided on Mitchell, with Grant as a middle name."
"That's great," Jon Kent said. "Excuse me. I've got a barbecue grill to get started." He headed for the kitchen. "John! Where do you keep your charcoal briquettes?"
"They're on the patio!" John Olsen's voice replied from somewhere out of sight.
"I'm hosting the baby shower this time," Michelle Olsen said from behind them. Aaron Olsen's wife squeezed into the living room between the doorframe and Clark. "Move, Clark. I want to see the new baby. Oh my goodness! What a little doll!"
Mary, naturally, paid no attention to the admiring group of women that she was attracting but continued to concentrate on the most important thing in life.
Mariann stood quietly, watching Clark's relatives swarming around Lori and her tiny daughter. The family of supermen was just a normal family, she thought, if you didn't consider the flying and the other amazing things that they could do. She had run away from home at sixteen to escape an abusive father, but she had always wanted a family as close as this one seemed to be. Well, it looked as if she was part of one now, even if it had taken a while to get here.
Rob moved over beside her and took her hand. "I guess Shakespeare was right," he said, nodding at Lori. "All's well that ends well."
"I guess so," she said.