Thanks again to the beta team of htbthomas and Shado Librarian, a.k.a. dandello.
Chapter 45 – Respite
Thursday, October 5, 2006 4:45PM EDT
Richard found himself grateful that he'd invested in the GPS-based instrumentation upgrade package a few years earlier. Otherwise, their speed would have maxed out the analog dials and he'd have no clue to their true velocity as Kara pushed the plane far beyond anything the de Havilland engineers had ever dreamed of. At six hundred forty knots, it was more than four times the maximum speed the manufacturer had listed for the aircraft. Richard turned to the little girl on the floor and told her, "Remember, we're going to need to slow down before I can land, so let me know when we're getting close."
"Okay," Kara mumbled.
"Richard!" Lois shouted, pointing to plane ahead of them that they were quickly overtaking.
Richard calmly banked the plane to the right, leaving a wide five hundred yard margin as they passed the other aircraft at twice its speed. "We had plenty of room," Richard pointed out.
Lois glared at him briefly and then relaxed her expression, asking him, "What kind of plane was that?"
"Based on the size of the props, I'd say it was an Osprey – maybe the one Clark was talking about earlier," Richard offered. "It still seems kind of strange, though. I didn't think they were supposed to officially be in service yet."
"They probably called up anything in the area they could get their hands on when they found out about this," Lois speculated. "And Superman did say that there was a lot of air traffic out here."
"You mean Clark said that," Richard corrected.
"We always keep the two personas separate – it avoids problems if we don't notice that someone's eavesdropping," Lois explained. "Clark's even talking about himself in third person half the time these days… It takes a little getting used to."
"No doubt. When this is over, I'd like to hear the whole–"
"I see him!" Jason exclaimed excitedly from his mother's lap, pointing his finger ahead of them. "He's in the water!"
"Where?" Richard asked urgently, squinting his eyes to try to spot the hero. "I can't see him."
"There!" Jason replied, frantically pointing his finger at something ahead of the plane.
"Kara, you can stop pushing now," Richard said authoritatively. "I need full control of the plane back before we go down for a closer look."
Kara complied with the request and stood up, taking position next to Lois and leaning against her seat. Once the plane was free of Kara's propulsion, Richard guided it down towards the plateaus, leveling it out at five hundred feet above the sea. "Are we getting close?" Richard pressed.
Kara pointed her finger ahead and to the right, telling him, "He's over there."
Richard strained his eyesight, and finally spotted a red splotch in the water – Superman's cape. "I see him now," Richard declared. "Keep your eyes on him so we don't forget where he is. I have to loop around to drain off some of our speed before we can land on the water–" He abruptly stopped talking as he noticed the soldiers swarming the plateau below him, with Blackhawk helicopters hovering around the perimeter. He muttered, "Oh, wow. There's sure a lot of activity down there."
Lois followed his gaze and said, "They're probably looking for Luthor, but we have more important things to worry about right now. Just get us down to Clark so I can pull him in."
Richard nodded and said seriously, "Hang on. It's not going to be an easy landing with it so choppy down there."
Lois turned to the kids and sternly told them, "I want you two back in your seats and buckled up right now. And stay there until one of us tells you it's safe to get out."
After verifying that the kids were safely buckled in, Lois began stripping down to her underwear and the T-shirt she was wearing under the sweatshirt.
Richard caught what she was doing in his peripheral vision, and asked cautiously, "Um, Lois?"
"In case I have to dive in after him," she explained. "I won't get very far if I'm weighed down by waterlogged clothing."
Richard nodded and brought the plane around in a wide circle, dropping down to the sea beneath the plateaus as he leveled out and aiming the plane at the approximate area where thought he'd seen Superman's cape. Their speed was still too high for his comfort and at their first contact with the waves he pulled back on the yoke, bouncing back up above the sea rather than risk catching the tips of the pontoons under the waves and flipping over. He repeated the process, which made the plane seem more like a stone skipping across a lake than an aircraft making a water landing. However, it did succeed in bleeding off more speed to the point that Richard felt it safe to finally plant the pontoons in the sea and keep them there. As soon as he did, Lois was out of her seat and opening the side door.
"Hey!" Richard complained.
"Just get me to him!" Lois hollered back.
Richard rolled his eyes and then turned to the little girl in the back seat, asking her, "Kara, can you point him out to me again?"
The child unbuckled her seat belt, trotted back up front and pointed out the direction, and Richard piloted the plane through the choppy waves towards Superman. However, as he approached the red of Superman's cape, he realized that it was quickly disappearing, pulled under water as the hero sank. There were still going too fast for Richard to be able to stop the plane, but as they taxied by, Lois dove out the door after him.
Daniels heard the loud chatter from the cockpit and strode over to the cockpit door, somberly asking, "What's all the excitement?"
"Some strange bogey just blew past us at six forty knots, making a beeline for ground zero," Bones informed him. "Damn if it didn't look like a seaplane."
"Since when does a seaplane go six forty knots?" Razor asked skeptically. "It's got to be bandito incognito."
Not necessarily. I can think of a couple explanations for that and they're probably both worried about their daddy, Daniels thought. Aloud, he advised them, "Let's not jump to conclusions, but it's probably a good idea to keep track of it. If it is going after Superman, it could make it easier for us to find him if we follow. How far are we from the target?"
"Twelve miles. Just a couple more minutes," Bones informed him.
Daniels pulled his head out of the cockpit and pressed the button on his throat mike. "Wolf pack, Grizzly pack, Wolf Leader. Two minutes to ground zero." Most of the men had already been busy preparing, so there was only subtle acknowledgment to his announcement.
The separation of duty had had been quickly arranged after Marufo's squad had been pulled aboard. Grizzly Squad would be charged with security while Wolf Squad handled the rescue. Ramsey and Peterson had already changed into immersion suits, just in case they had to dive in after the wounded VIP, and Michaels was in position at the ramp controls, all of them strapped to safety lines.
Behind him he heard Razor call out, "Lieutenant Daniels, looks like our bogey found something. They're circling back and bleeding off speed."
"Let's get down there pronto and see what they've got," Daniels replied authoritatively. He turned and shouted back to his crew, "Drop the ramp!" While Michaels dropped the rear ramp, Daniels took position in the cockpit door, scanning the ocean through the windshield through a pair of field glasses. He found the familiar seaplane just as it landed in the rough seas. The drag of the ocean had barely slowed it down when he saw Lois Lane dive out of the plane and into the water.
Daniels lowered the field glasses and shouted, "They're friendlies! Get us down there!"
"I saw her. We'll be on top of them in thirty seconds," Bones assured him.
Razor abandoned the co-pilot's seat and ran to the back in anticipation of guiding the pilot backwards to the swimmers. Daniels followed him to the back of the aircraft, just as it settled about five feet above the sea and fifty yards behind the surfacing diver. Miraculously, Lois had managed to bring Superman to the surface with her, though she was now struggling to keep his head above water. A couple hundred yards behind her, the seaplane had turned around and was taxiing back to them. Daniels noticed that Razor was mesmerized by the scene of the 'Damsel in Distress' rescuing the hero and he shoved him in shoulder, shouting, "Hey! Get us over there!"
Razor snapped out of his stupor and hastily gave the navigation instructions to Bones, who backed the aircraft towards the struggling swimmers. Their motion stopped about five yards from the pair and Daniels shouted, "Ramsey! Peterson!"
The men immediately jumped into the sea and swam out for the rescue, with their safety lines spooling out behind them.
Luthor piloted his Bell JetRanger helicopter just over the top of the waves as he searched for the yacht. While he was counting on his low altitude and the numerous crystal peaks protruding from the sea to keep him concealed from military radar, it also made it difficult to find something that was clearly not where he had left it. "Damn it, where are they?" Luthor demanded. "Try them again."
Grant nodded from the co-pilot seat on the right and repeated the radio call, "Stanford, this is Grant. Pick up! The boss is getting royally pissed!"
"Maybe these new mountains are blocking the signal," Reilly suggested.
Mountains, Luthor fumed. Would've been nice if the Jor-El had mentioned this interim phase. In the end, the surface would be mostly flat, with the exception of the command center, which would become his new palace, but instead of expanding across the seabed as a continuous solid, it was shooting up peaks at odd angles in a regular distribution out from the impact site. Luthor assumed that they'd eventually fill in to produce the flat surface he'd designed and it was providing them with cover in the meantime.
"Hey, Boss! Look over there! That opening in the cliff," Grant hollered suddenly.
Luthor looked over in the direction Grant was pointing and about two hundred feet to their left, he saw someone standing between crossed columns that resembled Stanford. A moment later, his identity was confirmed when Kitty also appeared in the opening, still clutching the damned Pomeranian.
"What the hell happened?" Reilly wondered. "Did the bitch throw them overboard and take off with the boat?"
"If she did, she won't get far!" Luthor replied angrily. "Imbeciles! What does it take to get someone to follow directions around here? It wasn't a difficult assignment!"
Luthor maneuvered the helicopter over towards the cliff, carefully minding the distance to his main rotor, and finally stopped thirty feet away. "Get them in here!" he ordered.
Reilly opened the rear door and Stanford immediately dove in the water and awkwardly swam towards them. Kitty hesitated at the water's edge and Reilly motioned for her to come to them. She was clearly not happy to learn that she'd have to swim to the helicopter. She slowly slid into the chilly water, still clutching the dog. After a momentary delay, Kitty began swimming towards them in a sluggish side stroke, carefully keeping the Pomeranian grasped in her arms with its head above water.
Stanford reached the helicopter first and as soon as he climbed in, Luthor turned to him. His eyes widened slightly in surprise at the sight of Stanford's bruised and broken nose, but he quickly recovered and demanded, "What the hell happened? Did Lane kick your ass, too?"
"It wasn't her," Stanford lied defensively. "We caught them – or rather I did. Kitty was useless. Anyway, they were all locked up. But then we got boarded."
"Boarded?" Luthor echoed in astonishment.
"Navy SEALs. There had to be at least twenty of them," Stanford explained nervously. "We were lucky to get away and find that hiding spot. Those damn SEALs were circling around in some weird looking helicopter, hunting for us. It was only a little while ago that they finally gave up."
"So, what, you jumped overboard the moment you saw them?" Luthor asked derisively.
"No, it wasn't like that, Boss," Stanford stammered defensively. "I was getting ready to fight them."
"Then where's my yacht and where are my crystals?" Luthor demanded. "Where are the rest of your clothes, for that matter?"
"It, um, the yacht sank," Stanford informed him anxiously.
"Sank? Everything we had was on that ship and you let it sink?" Luthor shouted in a rage.
"No, I did everything just like you asked!" Stanford replied apprehensively. "But the mountain came up underneath it. It grew right through the ship and split it in two."
"Grew through it?" Luthor echoed incredulously.
"Yeah. Came up right through the middle of the galley."
"And what about my crystals?" Luthor pressed insistently.
"She wouldn't tell us where she hid them. They, um… they probably went down with the ship."
Luthor looked away from the fool in his fury, no longer able to tolerate the sight of him. His gaze wandered back towards the sea and he finally noticing Kitty about ten feet from the helicopter, struggling to swim the remaining distance.
Luthor turned to Reilly and ordered, "Get her in here!"
"Sure thing, boss," Reilly assured him and he then climbed over Stanford, opened the door, and climbed out on the skid where he shouted at Kitty to hurry up.
Luthor turned his gaze forward and frantically considered his options for getting the crystals back in light of yet another colossal failure delivered to him by his incompetent crew. Luthor recalled the continental design and reminded himself, All of this will eventually be above sea level when the dust settles. We just have to wait until my new continent fills in and lifts the ship up above the water, and then we can resume the search.
But we can't just hover out here while we wait for that to happen. Not when we're running low on fuel and with the land growing like this – growing through ships! It's unwise to linger. The only safe place is back at the plateau… I can wait it out there – hopefully, those military morons won't notice us… And when this is over, these inept buffoons will be a worm feast.
Luthor musings were interrupted when Kitty had finally reached the helicopter and Reilly roughly pulled her in. "Got her, boss," Reilly informed him. Luthor then turned the aircraft around and headed back to the plateau eighteen miles away, where they would wait for the continental growth to complete.
When Lois saw Superman's red cape being pulled underneath the sea, a wave of panic passed through her. No! You're not leaving me again! she thought. Her panic quickly morphed into action and as the plane sped past him, she took a deep breath and dove after him. The cold water sent a shock through her system, but she somehow kept her breath and her wits, kicking downward and desperately swimming after the vague shape that seemed to be just a little out of reach. She dove deeper as he sank and frantically grabbed for him, her fingers miraculously closing around the material of the cape. She pulled herself along it until she finally reached him. She was nearly out of breath when she looped an arm around him and kicked back up to the surface.
Her lungs felt like they were about to burst when they finally reached the surface and she greedily gulped the air while struggling to keep Superman's face above the water. They'd only been bobbing on the surface for a moment when she heard the engine noise. At first she hoped it was Richard circling back for them, but the engines didn't sound quite right. She turned and looked worriedly in the direction of the sound and was shocked to discover a plane similar to the one they had passed earlier hovering a short distance away, with its props now spinning horizontally. She looked around in a panic for the seaplane, finding it two hundred yards away as it finally turned around. Damn, this wasn't part of the plan, Lois thought. We need to keep this in the family.
She looked back at the Navy plane, which was quickly closing in on them and was only slightly relieved when she recognized Lieutenant Daniels on the rear ramp, along with a number of other men. Two of those men were dressed in some type of yellow protective suits. She heard Daniels' muffled shout and the two men jumped in and swam over to her. The more muscular of the two reached her first and Lois recognized him as one of the men that had been with Daniels when they freed her from the pantry. Lois vaguely recalled that his name was Ramsey. He grabbed one of Superman's arms and told Lois, "I can take him. Let's get him inside."
"No," Lois muttered weakly. You can't take him. He needs me.
"We're here to help, Ma'am – to help both of you," Ramsey gently assured her. "We also have a medic waiting inside. Let's get him some help."
Lois reluctantly consented, though refusing to surrender her burden completely to the SEALs. After a little maneuvering, Ramsey lifted his free hand out of the water in a thumbs up signal and the slack went out of the lines attached their harnesses as they were pulled back to the aircraft. Once they got there, Lois was finally forced to surrender Superman to the SEALs. They looped a padded belt under his arms and once Ramsey gave the signal, he was hoisted up into the aircraft. They repeated the process for Lois a moment later.
Once her feet hit the ramp, she quickly slipped out of the life belt and scrambled towards Superman, but was intercepted by Daniels, who offered her a dry blanket. Lois eagerly accepted it and wrapped it around herself for warmth and cover, while still trying to get to the Man of Steel. Several of the men had carried him further inside the airframe and were gently setting him down on the deck. However, when the floor made contact with the protruding kryptonite shiv and pushed against it, Superman's back suddenly arched and he weakly cried out in pain.
"Give us some room!" a man called out, and he immediately rushed over to Superman and rolled him onto his side while he inspected the bloody protrusion in his back. "Jesus! This looks like shrapnel," the man said.
"It's kryptonite! We need to get it out and get it away from him!" Lois said urgently.
The medic nodded and Lois watched as he struggled to grip the shiv with his hemostats. The instrument kept slipping off, causing Superman to cry out in pain each time. After the third failed attempt, Lois exclaimed, "You're hurting him! Why don't you try using a pair of regular pliers? You do have a tool kit around here, don't you?"
"Guenther!" Daniels ordered.
"On it, sir," a man responded before disappearing through the swarm of sailors. He reappeared a moment later, and handed the pliers to the man at Superman's side.
The medic carefully gripped the protruding object with the pliers and this time he was able to slowly pull it out. He held the remains of the bloody blade up in front of his face, entranced as he stared at it wide-eyed.
"Get that poison out of here!" Lois shouted. She dropped the blanket and lunged for the blade, grabbing it from the startled man and pushing her way through the crowd of sailors as she ran back to the ramp, where she hurled it out of the aircraft. As she watched it drop in the water, she noticed the seaplane bobbing in the waves about fifty feet behind the Osprey. Richard was clearly visible in the cockpit, watching and waiting, but the children weren't visible from her vantage point. Hopefully, they were still buckled in the back seats and would stay out of sight. Lois held up her index finger towards Richard in a wait gesture and retreated back inside the Osprey.
When she returned up front, Superman was sitting up and thanking the men around him for their help. Daniels seemed to be the only one to notice her return and he rushed over with the dropped blanket. She gratefully accepted it and again wrapped it around herself before turning to Superman and asking assertively, "Feeling better now?"
"Yes, thanks to you, Miss Lane," Superman replied sincerely. He stood up, wincing slightly as he did so, and his hand went immediately to the wound in his back. After a moment, he lowered his hand and walked over to Lois, telling her gratefully, "You saved me."
"Just returning the favor," Lois replied casually. "Now that we've got that out of the way… maybe you can explain just what the hell you were thinking, going in there like that?"
"Excuse me?" Superman said in surprise.
"What part of 'Luthor has kryptonite' did you not understand? Was this your idea of being careful?" Lois demanded to know.
"I thought it was just the spear," Superman explained modestly. "It never occurred to me that the entire land mass was made of kryptonite."
"What?" Lois said weakly. "All of that out there? It's all kryptonite? How the hell did Luthor manage that?"
"The crystals take on the characteristics of the material surrounding them and Luthor must have surrounded the seed crystal with kryptonite when he started the reaction."
"Sir?" Daniels interrupted worriedly. "How dangerous are the rest of the crystals that he took from you?"
"Considering that a trusted ally of mine already recovered the stolen crystals and returned them to me, I'd say they're not a serious threat," Superman told him pleasantly. "However, Luthor should not be underestimated. I learned that the hard way this afternoon."
"If you have the crystals, does that mean you can shut that thing down?" Daniels asked urgently. "Or if you can't go back to the control center on that plateau because of the kryptonite, can you at least step us through it?"
"Shut it down?" Superman asked in confusion.
"To stop this land mass from colliding with the Eastern Seaboard," Daniels explained.
"Lieutenant, there is no way to shut it down," Superman informed him grimly. "Once the reaction starts, it's unstoppable… The only way to remove the threat is to remove this monstrosity from the face of the Earth, which is precisely what I intend to do."
"How do you plan to do that?" Lois countered. "Didn't you just say it was made of kryptonite?"
"I'll keep a thick slab of bedrock between the kryptonite and me," he assured her. "It should offer enough protection for me to get it clear of Earth's gravitational influence."
"But you're hurt," Lois argued. "I saw that grimace when you stood up just now."
"I know and I'll need to fly up high up into the thermosphere and supercharge in the sun for several minutes before beginning the lift," Superman replied somberly. "But it has to be done and I'm the only one who can do it."
"But it could kill you," Lois objected.
"Miss Lane… it's the only way and I have to do this. You know what's at stake here, perhaps better than anyone."
The formal salutation reminded Lois of their audience and she held her tongue. She instead simply nodded her head in resignation. They'd have a little more privacy on the seaplane.
Superman turned to Daniels and said, "Lieutenant, you need to get everyone to clear the airspace above this thing. Once I start the lift, there will be no stopping, no slowing down. Not if I'm going to succeed. And I'd like to avoid having any of your people caught on top when I hurl it into space."
"How much time have we got?" Daniels asked.
"I can give you maybe ten minutes before I start the lift and there'll still be another ten minutes or so after that before your aircraft hit their operational ceilings. Unfortunately, I can't promise you any more time than that. Not with this thing growing so fast – it was already over a hundred twenty miles across when I landed in Luthor's trap. The longer we wait, the harder this is going to be, and it'll already be tough enough as it is."
"Understood. Good luck, sir," Daniels replied, and he rushed over to the comm station to pass on the report, with Lieutenant Marufo quickly falling into step behind him.
"Miss Lane, I'll take you back to the seaplane now," Superman said gently. "Gentlemen, if you'll excuse us…"
Richard leaned forward in the pilot's seat as he observed the Osprey, anxiously waiting for whatever was happening inside the other aircraft to run its course and for Lois to return to the plane. It wasn't proving to be much of a distraction to keep the kids out of trouble – to keep Superman's kids out of trouble. Oh, Jesus, is that going to take some time to get my head around, Richard thought. And just when he thought nothing else could surprise him, Lois dove out of the speeding plane to rescue the hero.
The plane's speed and roughening seas hadn't allowed him to turn around immediately and he'd honestly feared the both Clark and Lois might be lost. He'd been both relieved and worried when he turned around and discovered the Osprey hovering nearby as it pulled Lois and Clark out of the water. Richard taxied in and took up position fifty feet behind the other aircraft to wait it out.
He really wished that he could see what was going on inside the Osprey, as well as shielding the children from whatever it was that they were seeing. He glanced over at the two youngsters as they sat in their seats, staring through the window ahead – and right through the walls of the other aircraft. Jason hadn't known how to use his x-ray vision at first, but after a little instruction from Kara, he was also able to peek into the other aircraft and watch the Navy men try to help his Daddy Clark.
Richard knew that Lieutenant Daniels was there with Lois and Clark, thanks to a brief declaration from Kara. However, the kids' comments were few and far between – nothing close to a play-by-play of the action. In fact, both kids had seemed unusually quiet and subdued while they watched and listened. Considering what they were likely witnessing, he wasn't about to press them for details. He'd have to get the full story from Lois later on. She also owed him the full story on Clark.
His rival was an enigma that he still couldn't quite figure out. Clark Kent was obviously Superman, but the biographies for the two personas didn't quite mesh. Richard had been to Clark Kent's boyhood home, met his mother, and heard stories of his childhood – a childhood spent in Smallville, Kansas. Yet, Superman had supposedly shown up just nine years earlier, after a long voyage from Krypton, where a holocaust had destroyed his people. He was last of his kind – the last 'Last Son of Krypton', as the story went. The two back stories seemed to be utterly incompatible. Yet, they described the same man.
Richard noticed some commotion around the rear of the ramp and finally saw Lois throw something out the back. She held up her index finger to him and ran back inside. What's going on in there? Richard wondered. He returned to pondering the mystery of Clark Kent, but only had a few minutes for that indulgence before Superman walked out on the ramp with Lois, who now had a Navy blanket wrapped around her. The Man of Steel wrapped his arms around her and floated off the ramp just before the Osprey climbed back into the sky. A moment later, Lois and Clark stepped through the door of the seaplane and the kids were instantly upon them.
"Dad!" Kara squealed excitedly.
"Daddy!" Jason echoed. "Are you all better now?"
Superman knelt down and hugged them both tightly. "I feel much better," he told them. "But this isn't over yet and I still have something very important to do."
"What's going on?" Richard asked.
Lois turned to him and said irritably, "He's going to throw the whole freaking thing into outer space."
"Huh? He's what?" Richard replied numbly.
"The land mass. He's going to throw it into space," Lois explained. "And this despite the fact that the entire thing's made of kryptonite."
"How in the world did Luthor manage that?" Richard wondered.
"Long story. But we'll need to get the he-heck out of Dodge before he starts lifting it."
"Are you going to get hurt again?" Kara asked her father worriedly.
"I certainly hope not," Supermen answered seriously. "But even if it hurts me, I still have to do this because I'm the only one who can. It's part of the responsibility that comes with our gifts – we use them to help others, even if it's dangerous and we get hurt sometimes."
"I want to help," Kara pleaded.
"Me, too!" Jason echoed.
"Not this time," Superman said firmly. "If I'm going to be able to do this, I need to know that you two are safe, which means that you two need to stay here, with Richard and Lois. And no matter what happens, never forget how much I love you two." He kissed each of them on top of the head and stood up, turning to Richard and Lois.
"You can really throw this whole thing into space?" Richard asked incredulously.
"It's the only way and failure is not an option," Superman insisted. "Start up your plane. I'll get you started back to Metropolis."
Richard rushed to the pilot's seat and began his preflight check, but glanced back at Lois, who was lingering near the side door talking to Superman. He returned his gaze to the instruments in front of him, but strained his hearing to try to pick up the conversation behind him. He wasn't catching everything and had to fill in some of the gaps from context.
"You have to come back," Lois was whispering frantically. "The kids need you… I need you. I can't lose you again."
Richard wasn't able to make out Clark's reply until the end, when he heard him say, "Goodbye." The hero then stepped through the door and closed it behind him.
Richard felt his heart drop into his stomach at the implications of Lois' words: He'd already lost her, in heart if not in deed. It was simply a matter of time before she left, assuming Clark survived. His thoughts were interrupted when Lois came up front and sat down in the co-pilot's seat, and Richard struggled to push the disturbing epiphany from his mind and focus on the task at hand.
He started up the engine and a moment later and he felt the aircraft lifted above the waves and accelerated forward, pushing him back in his seat. A quick glance at the airspeed indicator showed them already at two hundred knots and climbing, which surprised Richard. The last time Clark had helped him take off, he'd released the plane as soon as they had sufficient lift to stay airborne. This time, he seemed determined to make sure they reached their destination.
Richard watched the instruments while their speed continued to climb and finally settled around six hundred knots. At that speed, it only took a few minutes to clear the dangerous landmass. Once they passed the final evidence of Luthor's horror protruding from the Atlantic, their airspeed abruptly dropped, indicating Superman's departure to face his formidable challenge.
With the ordeal mostly behind them and Metropolis in sight, Richard's thoughts returned to his personal difficulties, and he asked himself rhetorically, How does an ordinary man compete with Superman? Answer: He doesn't. Especially not when Jason is his, too. Richard was heartbroken as he looked over at Lois and noticed her anguished expression and shiny eyes. He understood her sorrow and he silently declared, This isn't how I wanted it, but I still love you, Lois. And I'll always be here for you and Jason – as a friend, if nothing else.