Above Alt Else
Sometimes what you need is exactly what you get.

An alternate universe retelling of the fateful meeting between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. If you thought you knew the secret, think again...


This story idea is something that I started thinking about years ago… I'm talking before I even saw my first episode of Smallville. In fact, it was birthed in the Lois and Clark: TNAoS showverse but was completely alternate universe – the point is that it fits everywhere and yet stands on its own. Anyone familiar with my writing knows that I tend to put everything in a blender and come out with my own perspective on things. This is one of those times.

The other point of all this is to say that this was the original idea that kept getting pushed aside while I moved onto other projects. You may recognize some elements in this story that have appeared in my other works – just know that this is the actual story where those ideas were birthed.

Finally, this story, as mentioned above, is an alternate universe. It takes the characters and changes the way they met - and the circumstances of said meeting – and flips it on its ear. I would caution against anything except expecting… well, the unexpected.

Act I: Close Encounters

Chapter 1

Reality is above all else a variable. With a firm enough commitment, you can sometimes create a reality which did not exist before. – Margaret Halsey


Tapping a small notepad against her thigh, Lois Lane waited impatiently for the elevator to reach its destination. When the 'ding' sounded to announce the car's arrival, she stepped out before the doors had a chance to fully slide open. Deftly dodging passing colleagues, she briskly strode down the ramp toward her desk.

She dropped into the chair – which hadn't been pushed in since her earlier departure – and slid over to the left lower drawer, unlocking it and flipping through the files she kept there. She had been out all morning avoiding the assignment her editor had given her, but none of her sources had anything bite-worthy to report. That left her going into her emergency stash. She pulled a folder out, scanned the contents and grimaced before replacing it in the drawer. With renewed vigor she continued her search for something that would justify blatant rebellion to her boss.

Settling on another folder, she jumped to her feet and assumed a confident air. She knew that half the battle was won in the presentation. Flicking her hair over her shoulder, she walked to Perry White's door and reached for the handle.

"Uh, I wouldn't do that if I were you," a young man warned as he rounded the corner. "Chief's in a meeting. He said it was important and put his sign up."

Lois glanced at the sign on the door. Instead of the nameplate that usually read 'Editor-in-Chief,' a brass template declared that the occupant of the room was now 'In a meeting…'

She raised an eyebrow and considered if waiting for Perry to finish his meeting would be better on his mood. With a shrug, she decided that he couldn't kill her if there were witnesses.

"But you see, Jimmy," she said, smiling sweetly at him, "there's something you're forgetting. Those signs never apply to Lois Lane."

Jimmy shrugged as she started to turn the handle and went to carry out his errand. He wanted to be well out of hearing distance when the shouting started. When the Chief got going on one of his tirades, he'd find something to say to anyone within an ear's distance… and that usually included one Jimmy Olsen, Daily Planet copy boy.

Lois stepped into the office talking. She didn't want to give Perry an opportunity to yell before she had completed her pitch. "I think there's a story here, Chief. I just need a little time to check out the facts but you have to believe me that this has the potential to be huge," she stated, dropping the file onto her editor's desk.

Surprisingly, Perry looked amused rather than angry at her interruption as he leaned back into his chair. "What about that mood piece I assigned you?" he asked calmly, clasping his hands and pulling them into his lap. The look on his face said that he already knew what the answer would be.

Lois smiled playfully, taking full advantage of Perry's less than standard response. "Would you believe it if I told you that I wasn't in the mood?"

A low chuckle coming from behind her caused Lois to glance over her shoulder briefly. She wasn't interested in whomever Perry was meeting with, as she just wanted clearance to work on a story more her speed, but inexplicably, she found herself doing a double take. The man standing in front of the visitor's chair was wearing wire-framed glasses and a boxy suit. Not having recognized him, she couldn't understand the strange feeling of deja-vu that seeing him caused.

"I figured as much," Perry drawled, pulling her attention back to him. "That's why I sent Ralph."

"Ralph?! You sent Ralph to do my story?" Lois demanded, her eyes swinging back to Perry.

The editor's amusement only heightened with her sudden territorial attitude about a story she didn't want. He ignored her outbreak and continued speaking. "I'm glad that you are here, though. I was about to have you paged. Lois, this is Clark Kent. Kent, I want you to meet Metropolis' top investigative reporter, Lois Lane."

Turning to face the visitor, Lois realized that he was still standing, and delayed, it occurred to her that he had risen right after she'd entered the room. She reached out and shook his hand firmly, flinching slightly at the short burst of static shock she felt when they touched.

"Pleased to meet you Miss Lane," he said. A very slight hint of a drawl indicated that he was probably from somewhere in the mid-west.

"Likewise," she replied with a nod. She briefly studied him again before pulling her hand from his and spinning back on Perry. "My story, Chief," she redirected. "You have to agree that this is more appealing than a human-interest drabble about an old theatre being razed. I mean it's got everything: big business, white collar misdeed..."

Her spiel faltered off as she wondered if she should say anything more about her story in the company of strangers. Suddenly her mind clicked and she placed the name. She stepped back with narrowed eyes, gazing from one man to the other. "Kent… as in US Daily News columnist and advocacy journalist Kent." She arched an eyebrow in Perry's direction. "What's going on here?"

Perry smiled and moved the file she had brought to the side of his desk, uncovering the one that he'd been looking at before she came in. Rising from his seat, he waved at the two chairs across from his desk. "Please. Have a seat. Both of you."

Lois perched on the edge of the nearest chair after a slight hesitation, curiosity getting the better of her. She noticed with a little annoyance that Kent didn't copy her move until he was sure that she was seated. Perry walked around to the front of the desk and leaned against it, assuming the authoritative position as the one with the highest vantage point in the room.

The editor handed Lois the file in his hands. "I think you might want to take a look at this," he said as she began perusing the contents. "It seems that a recent investigation has brought Mr. Kent to our great city and he finds himself in need of some of our esteemed resources. I agreed to his having full access with the provision that the Planet gets the shared byline and equal publishing rights."

He turned to address the man seated to her left. "Lois will be working with you on the story."

The seated pair looked at him with matching expressions of surprise. "What?" "Excuse me?"

"Mr. White, I think you misunderstood the arrangement I requested…"

"Perry! You can't stick me with a partner – especially not some two-bit, over-publicized hack!" Lois entered vehemently.

"I can assure you that I am no hack," Clark countered with a frown. He turned back to Perry. "And I work alone."

"Now, Son, you have to realize that in order for me to give you free reign of my newsroom, I need to have some form of assurance."

"You have my word," Clark emphasized, leaning forward in his seat.

"And I appreciate that, I do, but if you're going to play in my sandbox, you're going to have to play nice with my kids, and that means working with Lois." Perry shrugged. "Now, if my conditions are a deal-breaker for you then you're certainly welcome to take your story to the Star…"

Clark looked from the man in front of him to the woman in the other chair. She was studiously going through his file again and he had no doubt that she was memorizing his notes as she went. With a heavy sigh, he nodded his agreement.

"Good, then, that's settled. Lois?"

Without looking up from the folder, Lois addressed the other reporter. "You might actually have something here – if it's accurate… Where'd you get the intel?"

Clark bristled at the suggestion that he might have falsified his notes. "I will not reveal my source but you can trust me when I say that what you see there is both reliable and true." He didn't like that she was interviewing him on his own story.

Ignoring his tone, Lois nodded curtly and quickly followed with another question. "And from the few facts that you have here among the mishmash, you really think that you can pull out a veritable story? I see that you suspect that this goes beyond the plant but you have no evidence and no backup theory, while there are a thousand other explanations that make more sense."

She finally pulled her attention from the folder and looked him squarely in the eye. "What makes you so sure?" she challenged.

Clark glanced at Perry. The editor was watching the exchange thoughtfully but offering no reprieve. Turning back to Lois, he returned her gaze evenly. "Instinct."

Lois set her jaw and narrowed her eyes. "You expect me to drop everything I'm doing and follow a story with implications this high up based solely on your instinct?"

Clark stiffened. "Might I remind you that your addition to this investigation was not planned and is certainly not necessary, but if it is your intention to work on this, then the answer is yes. My belief in the validity of this story is based solely on instinct. My instinct."

Lois flipped her hair and stood, snapping the folder shut with a grin. "Good. That's how I work. Let's get started."

She patted the folder against her editor's arm fondly and reached out to retrieve the file she had brought into the office from his desk. "Rainy day," she explained, shooting him a brilliant grin before striding out of the office.

Clark watched her leave with a perplexed expression. She obviously expected him to follow behind her.

"Fiesty one, isn't she?" Perry asked in an amused tone while watching her stalk toward her desk. "She's a breath of fresh air."

"More like a tornado," Clark muttered, watching as she put the folders on her desk and sat down.

The remark evoked a loud bark of laughter from the graying editor. He pushed himself from the desk and clapped Clark's shoulder. Still chuckling, he led the younger man out of the office and in Lois's direction. "Lois, about that piece on the theater being razed…If you're concerned about the way Ralph is going to handle it…"

"Nah, I think it'll be good sensitivity training for him," Lois replied without looking up. "Besides," she said with a smirk, "I'm onto something big right now."

The wink that she capped the statement with was not lost on Clark.

With a satisfied chuckle, Perry nodded and turned to cast a sharp eye around the newsroom as he went back to his office. He liked to run a tight ship.

Lois eyed the large frame of the man standing beside her desk and then turned to look at her less that adequate visitor's chair. "Hmmph. Let's go set up in a conference room," she decided, gathering the files contents and jumping to her feet.

Once again, Clark had no choice but to follow behind as she made her way across the newsroom. Lifting his hands in exasperation, he wondered aloud if she was always like this.

"Are you following any of this?" Clark asked. Reluctantly, he had just finished walking through all of his research with his partner-to-be.

Lois sucked on her teeth and leaned back into her chair; crossing her legs and nodding tersely. "You were contacted by a scientist from Cyphren Chemical about a new production technique that the company implemented not too long ago. He reported to the higher ups that the process was risky because he hadn't completed all of the tests but the company decided to go with it anyway."

"He contacted me when his warnings were ignored," Clark amended. "As soon as he reported his findings on the increased production rate possible with the new system, Cyphren Chem wanted to go live."

"Must have been time for the annual report to shareholders," Lois commented. She glanced back down at the papers on the table. "What's his name?" she asked casually.

When Clark responded with a glare, she smirked and picked up a piece of paper. "It was worth a shot. You'll tell me eventually," she promised. "So the story is based on this random guy's claim…"

"Acclaimed scientist – not random guy," Clark corrected.

"Okay…this random scientist guy's claim that Cyphren could be intentionally endangering the health of its employees and nearby residents. Cyphren Chemical is a major company headquartered right here in the Big Apricot – which explains your arrival to New Troy."

Lois leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table. "But it also brings you to the Daily Planet - a necessity because this isn't your city and you need the resources and pull that the Planet can offer if you want to get to the bottom of this." She arched an eyebrow. "Am I right?"

Clark didn't respond. He wasn't going to admit to needing anything, much less anyone, even though she was right. In his opinion, Lois was looking far too smug with his apparent dependence.

Pulling a Xeroxed copy of an article from the group of papers, he held it up. "The Daily Planet has a well known reputation for getting answers. The paper was on the forefront of both the Genron Energy and First Media scandals. I could have gone to one of the other papers but I knew that Mr. White would have access to the people I need to speak to."

Lois gave the paper he held a casual glance. "Um hmmm, 'Genron Energy Blows Steam. Board suspected of insider trading,'" she read offhandedly. "I wrote it."

Clark turned the paper over with a look of surprise. "You wrote it? You're 'L. Lane?'" His gaze returned to her face. "I thought it was a…"

"Man," Lois finished for him. "Figures."

Lois had never really paid much attention to the way her byline was written. Everyone in Metropolis knew who she was, and when she had first started out in the business, she'd requested that only her first initial be used so men wouldn't bypass her work out of chauvinistic prejudice. She dismissed the uncharacteristic pang of regret she felt upon Clark making the mistake she had initially encouraged.

"Do you eat?" she asked suddenly.

Her rapid change of topic caught him momentarily off guard. "Excuse me? Eat? I mean, yes, of course I eat, but shouldn't we finish…"

"Look, instead of going to lunch, I spent the afternoon hunting down sources with worthless tips. Right now, it's after 4:00 and I'm starving."

Clark looked uncertainly down at the papers. "Well…"

Seeing his hesitation, she jumped in. "Hey, I'm all for the work all day and night routine, but if I don't get something to eat, all the midnight oil in the world wouldn't be able to keep me going. You wouldn't want to be the cause of my sugar imbalance, now would you?"

Without waiting for an answer, she started gathering the papers together. "Tell you what, we can bring these with us."

Frowning, Clark finally agreed. "Okay."

Lois's eyes twinkled at the victory she had already counted as won. "Great. We can go the Bread Box – it's a deli up the street."

Lois shifted her messenger bag to the other shoulder as they waited on the corner with a small group of people. Just as the light changed, her cell phone rang, causing her to pause so she could dig inside of her bag to retrieve it. "They keep making these things smaller and smaller," she grunted as the phone's exact location continued to elude her.

"Lane here," she said after flipping the phone open. "Yeah Jimmy, sure… Do me a favor and tell Perry…" her words suddenly faltered as she stopped in her tracks.

Although the light directing them to walk was green, a city bus coming toward the intersection was not showing any signs of slowing down. In an instant, Lois took into account the elderly lady entering the oncoming vehicle's path, the furrowed brow of the bus driver as his attention was drawn to something out of sight, and Clark Kent, who suddenly appeared at the woman's side, inserted between the woman and the bus. In the next instant, the bus was motionless and Kent was aiding the woman to the opposite curb.

"Jimmy, I'll have to call you back," she quickly said before flipping the phone shut.

She ran to the side of the bus and banged a hand against the window. Startled, the driver hit the switch to open the door.

"What just happened?" she yelled over the noise of the engine.

The driver shook his head dazedly. "I don't know… The brakes… I didn't see her…" He seemed clearly shaken. "The brakes must have kicked in at the last second." He ran a trembling hand across his brow, obviously relieved that an accident had been avoided.

Lois frowned, unsure of what to make of it all. "Are you sure they're working now?"

"Yeah, if they weren't, I wouldn't be able to hold the bus at this position." The bus shifted slightly as he lifted his foot from the brake pad a little and pressed it down again. "See what I mean?"

"I see… Okay." Lois nodded and hurried around the front of the bus, mentally logging the bus number as she went.

When she reached the front, she noticed a large dent-like impression in the hood. Tentatively placing her hand in the indentation, she thought that it looked a lot like the shape of a large distorted mitten. A flashing orange light caught her eye and she noted that the crosswalk sign was about to change. With a final glance at the dent, she jogged the rest of the way across the street.

On the corner, the elderly lady was holding onto Clark's arm and rattling on about her pet poodle. He appeared to be patiently listening but Lois didn't miss his look of relief when she arrived on the curb next to them.

"Excuse me, Ma'am," Lois interjected politely. "I'm afraid that I'm going to have to take him off of your hands now."

"Oh!" the woman exclaimed. She smiled and gave Lois a knowing look. "You've got yourself a nice one here, young lady," she said quietly as she slowly walked by.

Lois chuckled and waved before turning to walk in the direction of the deli. "What happened back there?"

"Hmm? Oh, I, uh, saw the lady walking across the street and ran over to give her a hand," he replied evasively.

Making another mental note, Lois nodded and allowed the subject to drop. "Here we are," she announced as they reached the door to the sandwich shop.

Clark's arm brushed past her and pulled the door open just as she was about to do the same. Lois regarded him out of the corner of her eye as she stepped through the open door. It was clear that his manners were subconscious, a fact that also made it painfully clear that he was not from Metropolis.

After placing and paying for her order, Lois listened with amusement as Clark placed his. For someone so reluctant to take a lunch break, he must have been hungry because he ordered two full sized sandwiches for himself. After locating an empty corner table large enough to spread their files on, they sat down with their meals.

Lois immediately dug into her sandwich, determined to take the edge off of her hunger so she could concentrate better. She couldn't help the satisfied moan that sounded in her throat once she had taken the first bite. Opening her eyes after reaching a safe point between starvation and hunger, she found Clark giving her a strange look. She grinned at him and he immediately dropped his gaze.

She arched an eyebrow and picked up a chip. "An expose on a negligent company is a pretty good news piece but somehow I think that there's more to the story."

Clark lowered his sandwich and swallowed the bite he had been chewing. "Chemical companies are not guided by a watchdog association like most other industries," he explained. "The FDA pretty much leaves it up to them to make their own rules and abide by them. Most of the time, they find out that their byproducts are toxic only after people have died. If this story gains the attention that I think it will, it might put some pressure on the government to do something about it."

"I guess that makes you Erin Brokovich," Lois concluded, reaching for another chip. "Cyphren is the number one producer of plastics in North America. I think I remember hearing something about them looking to build a plant in Costa Rica. If that's true, then it sounds to me like they are planning on spreading that dominance into the southern hemisphere."

Clark nodded. "My research has shown that they have already broken ground down there. Metropolis is their current headquarters – the main plant is located in the Riverside Industrial Sector – but the Research and Development Center is housed in Ilium Heights."

"So, we'll get some more information from your source and then talk to some of my contacts down at Riverside." Lois sat back feeling satisfied that they had a plan of action. The planning stages of an investigation were necessary, but not quite as fun as the other parts.

"Miss Lane, perhaps we should…"

Lois gave him an odd look. "If we're going to be friends, you cannot call me that. It's Lois."

Clark frowned. 'Friends' was not something he was after. "Um, if you don't mind, I would rather not… I mean, I feel that it would be best if we maintained a professional…"

"Okay, okay," Lois sighed, fanning a hand in a dismissing motion. "Well, you're going to have to use both of my names because Mrs. Lane is my mother and I will not have you driving me crazy by making me think that she is behind my back every other minute." She laughed to herself. "That would be enough to drive anyone crazy, believe me."

Clark took a breath and rubbed his chin. "All right, Miss… Lois Lane. I think that maybe…"

Unable to take the ridiculousness of the sound of her full name and title used as an address, Lois tilted her head back and laughed aloud.

Clark halted at the sudden sound of her easy laughter and looked away to hide the smile that escaped his lips in spite of his best intentions. He had to admit that the way he'd said her name did sound ridiculous. Turning back, he noticed that Lois was watching him curiously, and he forced himself to sit up straighter. He had taken his suit jacket off when they sat down to eat, and now he felt bare without it.

Lois took in his rolled up sleeves and thought he almost looked relaxed. Almost being the key observation. "There it is," she said in mock wonder.

"There what is?"

"Your smile," she replied softly. "I thought for a minute there that maybe you didn't smile because you feared cracking your face." She met his gaze. "You have a nice smile – you should use it more often."

Clark's posture stiffened immediately and she watched as he focused his attention on finishing his second sandwich. Lois knew that he had allowed her to see something he was reluctant to show and was now trying to withdraw.

"So, where are you from?" she asked in an attempt to keep him from going totally stoic on her.

"I'm not sure that where I'm from is relevant to the sto…" Clark stopped himself. He realized that if he didn't give her some information she was going to get suspicious. After all, he was a reporter too. He knew the cues. "Sorry… I'm from Kansas."

To her credit, Lois kept her expression in check as she added another mental note to her tally. "That's interesting," she said. "I couldn't really tell from your accent. I mean, some of your words sounded Midwestern, but then there were others that were different. I've never heard quite a combination like that."

Clark felt a muscle in his jaw tense and forced himself to stop gritting his teeth. She was even sharper than he had previously guessed. He silently warned himself to tread lightly.

"I've done a lot of traveling." He made a small hand movement to indicate a flying airplane. "Quite a lot of it, actually. You tend to pick up different inflections as you go."

"I bet," Lois remarked. "How many languages do you speak?"

Clark frowned. "I never really counted. I wouldn't say that I'm fluent in all of them – I just know enough to converse really." He decided that it was time to change the subject, or at least the subject matter. "How about you? Do you travel much?"

"Believe it or not, no. I mean, not any more. I go all over New Troy, California a couple of times a year, D.C. on assignment more than a few times, but I rarely get out of the country." She raised a hand in mock salute. "I was actually born outside of the country – Germany, I'm an army brat twice over – but my parents went stateside after a few stints in France, and Argentina. Mom got tired of moving us so we've been here ever since."

She smirked. "Not that I've really had the time to travel or anything. With Metropolis being the largest metropolitan city in the nation, there's enough here to keep me in trouble. How were your sandwiches?" she asked incredulously, noticing that there were nothing but crumbs remaining on his tray.

Clark looked down distractedly. "Oh – they were very good, thanks. Are you finished?"

"Yes… Do you eat like that all the time?" When he shrugged and nodded, Lois looked astonished. "I don't see where it all goes."

Biting back a grin, Clark stood and gathered their garbage from the table. "I have a high metabolism," he offered, turning to walk to the trash bin on the other side of the deli.

"Very high," Lois muttered, tilting her head. The sound of her phone interrupted her reverie and she blushed upon realizing what part of his 'motabolism' she had been focusing her gaze on. With a mental slap, she pulled the phone to her ear. "Lane."

"Perry's looking for you."

"Oh, Jimmy, hey. I was about to ball you back. What's up?"

"Nothing for me. I was calling earlier because a call came in about that Pine Street thing, but then Chief told me you were no longer on it."

"What does Perry need?"

"He said he got a call from a US Daily correspondent or something like that. It was someone trying to get a hold of Mr. Kent."

"Tell Perry we're on our way back to the pit now. We should be there in five minutes."

"Got it."

"Thanks, Jim," she said, flipping the phone shut and tossing it back into her bag.

She pulled the untouched papers back into their folder and grabbed Kent's jacket from the back of his chair. Meeting him halfway as he made his way back across the shop, she used her free hand to pull him toward the door.

"Is something wrong?" he asked with a furrowed brow, stepping past her to open the door first.

Lois looked up at him with an excited glint in her eye. "We got a call on the case," she informed him, ignoring the fact that technically he was the one that had gotten the call.

Clark fell into step beside her as they walked back to the Daily Planet building. As they stepped onto the elevator, Lois handed him his jacket.

"Thanks." He unrolled his sleeves and slid the jacket back on.

When they disembarked from the elevator car, Perry stuck his head out of his office door. "You two, my office. Pronto," he yelled gruffly.

Reporters around the newsroom glanced up curiously upon hearing their colleagues being addressed. They were surprised to hear their editor speak that way to a visitor.

"Welcome to the Daily Planet Family," Lois said with a smirk.

She idly wondered how Perry had known they were the ones getting off of the elevator right then. She had an amusing mental image of her boss poking his head out of his office every time the elevator dinged. It was a comical version of a Jack-in-the-Box.

She was still smiling at the thought when she spotted Jimmy by Roger Friaz's desk. She waved a hand in the general direction of Perry's office. "Go ahead. I'll be right there," she told Clark, leaving him so that she could corner Jimmy.

Clark followed her retreat with his eyes for a brief moment before continuing on to Perry's office. He stopped just outside the open door.

"Come in, Son, come in," Perry beckoned. "I got a call from a Thomas Hale. He tells me that he's got some information for you but would only settle for a call back." He tapped a pink slip of paper on his desk.

"I tried to tell him we were all friends here, but he said you would know to call. You know, Kent, reporters are a suspicious bunch. They don't trust easy and they have good reasons for that. Heck, for all Mr. Hale knew, I could have been the copy boy answering the editor's phone."

Perry held out the paper but pulled it back slightly when Clark reached for it. "It reminds me of the time the King was getting ready to record 'Blue Suede Shoes…'"

Lois sidled up next to Jimmy, speaking in a hushed tone. "I need a full workup on Clark Kent," she told him. "I want to know where he's been, where he's going, who he knows, and who knows him – everything."

"A workup on Mr. Kent?" Jimmy repeated. "He doesn't look like he has anything to hide."

"Journalism 101, Jim. Everyone has something to hide, and it's the people who least look like it who usually have the biggest secrets."

Jimmy had been working with Lois long enough to know not to argue. "When do you need it?" he asked, mentally adding it to the list of things he had on his plate for the next day.

"Oh… take your time – just have it to me before I leave tonight."

"Tonight! Lois, it's almost 5:30… that could take hours!"

Lois smiled at him sweetly and reached over to pat his cheek. "Guess you'd better get started." As she began walking toward Perry's office, another thought came to her mind. "Also, call over to Metropolis Transit. I need the number for somebody in maintenance."

Jimmy muttered under his breath and took off in the direction of the mailroom. From experience, he knew that there he would have unmonitored access to computers, fax machines and phones.

Lois entered the office just as Perry was getting into his story.

"You said there was a call," she inserted when he paused to take a breath.

"Oh, the call, right. I was just about to give Kent, here, the phone."

Lois shot an amused glance at Clark. "No, we don't want to occupy your line, Chief. He can use my phone." She arched and eyebrow at Clark. "Do you have what you need?"

"Uh…" Clark turned to Perry and retrieved the pink slip. "I do now."

"Remind me to finish that story sometime," Perry called after them as they left the room.

When they reached her desk, Lois plopped down into the visitor's chair, letting Clark sit in the desk chair while he made his call. When he returned the handset to the cradle, she leaned forward with anticipation. "Well?"

Clark frowned down at the notes he had taken during his call. "This is crazy," he said, running a hand through his previously perfectly poised hair. "Tom intercepted a fax from my source's wife. She says he's gone."

"Your source is gone? Are you saying he left or that he disappeared?" The options sounded the same, but Lois knew that one had a more ominous implication than the other – especially when there was a potential whistleblower involved.

"I'm not sure. The message was cryptic enough – it just mentioned that her husband was 'not available' and would not be for an extended period of time. She wrote that she was asked to pass that message on to me."

Lois tapped a pen against the desk top. "It sounds pretty straight forward on the surface," she replied thoughtfully. "That is, unless the message that she needs to pass on has to do with his unavailability."

Clark rubbed his jaw. He knew that he needed to make a trip to Ilium Heights soon or any of the clues that he was going to be able to pick up would be gone. His best bet would be to fly out there and do some digging. If he went about it his way, he could be there and back in a couple of hours.

The only problem was that he now had a partner and there would be no way to explain how he'd obtained the information so fast. As much as he hated traveling in airplanes, he knew that he was going to have to play this one by the book. He had to keep things from looking suspicious.

"Well, we'd better go and take a look."

Lois's declaration pulled him from his thoughts. "What? No, that's okay. I can go out there myself," he responded. "It would go quicker if someone was here getting the scoop on this end at the same time." He picked up the phone again. "I'll just schedule a flight out tonight and…"

Lois stood and put a finger on the phone's base, effectively cutting off the open line. "Does this look like Little House on the Prairie to you?" she asked with narrowed eyes. "You know, some show where you go off and explore while I wait with a cup of tea and doilies?"

"Doilies?" Clark repeated with a confused expression.

Lois ignored him and kept talking. "Let me tell you something. No one..." She put the pointer finger of her opposite hand in the center of his chest. "No. One. Pushes me out of a story."

She pulled her hand away and smiled. "We've still got plenty of time to get hold of some local contacts today. We'll do what we can here and then go to Ilium Heights tomorrow." She released the phone. "And we can drive. It's barely a five hour trip."

Clark sighed and shook his head in defeat. This is why he worked alone… Well, it was one of the reasons why he worked alone. He began dialing the telephone number of his source's wife so he could schedule a meeting with her sometime the next afternoon.

Satisfied that he was seeing things her way, Lois glanced at her watch and stalked to a colleague's vacated desk nearby and commandeered the phone.

Fifteen minutes later, she returned to inform Clark that they were scheduled to take a tour of the R&D Center of Cyphren Chemical Corp the next day. Clark then reported that he had been able to get the wife to meet with them later in the afternoon.

"Looks like we're out of research assistants," Lois observed, scanning the thinning population in the newsroom. "They speed out of here at quitting time so fast you would think there is a factory whistle attached to the clock. Let's go into the conference room again. This desk wasn't built for two."

She moved to stand next to the desk chair Clark was sitting in. "I just need to shut down my computer…"

"Right, sorry." Clark lifted from her chair and picked the folder up off of her desk.

When he had gone inside the meeting room, Lois sent a quick text message to Jimmy instructing him to 'deliver the package' to her house that night. When she received confirmation that the message had been sent, she logged off and shut the machine down.