A big thank you to my beta, Iolanthe!
In theory, rushing out to cover a story sounded great. Reality sunk in as soon as he stood on the cracking sidewalk outside the Apollo trying to hail a cab, and realizing he had no idea where to find the front-page headline that Ms. Lane had clearly rushed out to cover.
Viewing the breaking news on a local station, checking with sources, or starting from a tip in the newsroom was not a possibility. He was on his own, in more ways than one.
He raised a hand as an available taxi came into view about two blocks down the street, and stepped towards the curb. He watched as his target approached slowly, stopping at each intersection for the blinking red lights.
Adjusting his glasses in nervous anticipation, he waved his hand a bit as the taxi neared, only to completely still as a city-hardened twenty-something girl stepped right out into the street – in front of the taxi – about twenty feet in front of him. She waved her hand almost as an afterthought as the taxi screeched to an abrupt halt.
Clark sighed as the woman jumped in the cab, and she and his hope for a taxi drove past.
Big city life! If one needed to risk being run over to hail a cab, it gave him yet another reason to avoid big urban centers like Metropolis whenever possible.
He made his way toward the street corner, thinking he'd have a better visual on any approaching taxis. Around nine o'clock in a big city like this, he wouldn't have to wait too long.
It was a minute after positioning himself on the corner of Vine and 105th that he began to feel an unease settle around him like a dense ocean fog. There was absolutely no reason for it; at least none that he could tell. The surrounding streets were relatively empty, save for some passers-by here and there and the random homeless person tucked away in an alley or on an out-of-the-way slab of concrete.
To describe his sudden feeling of unease was impossible because he didn't understand it himself. What do you feel when you meet a person and look into their eyes for the first time? Shake their hand? Listen to them speak? What is that sensation?
The nearest he could come to describing it was to say it was a kind of intuition. He'd felt it before in various ways – as many people had – yet his held an immediacy to it that he couldn't explain. It was as if his intuition was certain, and trying to tell him to stop being such a lunk-head and listen; there was something he needed to do.
This was certainly not the first time he'd felt a strong intuition, but it always came down to one question; listen to what? That had always been the problem for him. This intuition was only a feeling with the vaguest of clues and no real details.
Intuition said "something's off", not "there's a woman being mugged on 10th and Simms Avenue who's about to be shot".
After watching cars go by for about five minutes, he spotted another available taxi. This time he stepped to the curb and let out a shrill whistle as he waved his right arm, hoping that his message was clear enough to be seen this time around.
With no intense competition, he managed to successfully hail the taxi and it stopped in front of him.
Jumping inside, he settled himself in as the driver asked, "Where to?"
Where to indeed?
A click of a button made Clark take note of the fare as it began to steadily tick away.
Sad thing was, he didn't know. He tried to shrug off his edginess as he attempted to decide on a worthwhile destination, but try as he might the unease seemed there to stay… at least for now.
The driver spoke some rapid fire Spanish into the radio, and received silence in response. Clark's sluggish brain interpreted slower than usual, and only after the driver put down the radio in irritation did he realize the cabbie had been asking if anyone could hear him. The driver shot him an impatient look through the rear-view mirror as Clark sat in indecision.
"Star Labs," he said, coming to a decision.
Might was well start from the beginning and see where the trail leads.
As they pulled away from the curb and made what Clark was pretty sure was an illegal U-turn, his intuitive unease began to decrease. He sunk a bit further into the seat as the excitement of the evening's events quickly drained away and left him with the exhaustion he'd felt earlier.
He shouldn't be doing this. He was too tired – mentally – from his trip, Lane's visit, and his editor's set-up. That didn't bode well for any reporter, least of all him, with so much to hide and so little experience in the city of Metropolis.
The situation spelled trouble with a capital T.
Yet here he sat, watching as the building passed outside the window, doing this anyway. It was against his better judgment, against his normal modus operandi, and against what any person who'd even gotten an hour's sleep in the last four days would declare sane.
He closed his eyes and rubbed them tiredly, then returned his gaze to the city as the cab slowed to yet another stop. Windows, street lamps, traffic lights; they were all still dark.
This was more than a little power outage affecting a couple blocks; this was a good chunk of the city being affected. For all he knew, the entire city of Metropolis could be without power… and if that were the case, this was no minor event.
It had taken a while to reach Star Labs. With all the lights out the entire length of the journey and the distance to travel – at least fifteen miles – it took a good hour. They'd hit some areas with heavy traffic in the heart of downtown which had slowed them down significantly, but in a way Clark was grateful. Not only did he get a better idea of the extent of Metropolis affected, but the time also allowed him a chance to unwind from the inexplicable edginess he'd felt early outside the Apollo Hotel.
Oddly enough, Star Labs was completely quiet. There were no scenes of mayhem or panic or chaos as the taxi pulled into the vacant parking lot.
He hated to admit that he was a little bit relieved.
Clark's shocked gaze quickly snapped from Star Labs to the driver. He'd lost track of the tally a half hour ago. Barely containing an exclamation at the high cost, Clark grabbed his wallet from his breast-pocket and handed the driver a company credit card, courtesy of the Eagle. No doubt, the fare must have been triple the cost of his room.
"Cash only," the man said, waving away the credit card.
Frowning, Clark pointed at the credit card swipe clearly visible in the front of the cab. "This is all I have. What's wrong with that?"
"Broken," the man grumbled again, not bothering to spare him a look back.
"I can write you a check," Clark said –even he had to admit his tone was a bit sarcastic. The driver grumbled again before finally accepting the credit card, scribbling down the necessary information to be run through later.
Now past ten, the air had gotten cooler. Temperature never seemed to bother him like it bothered most people but he could still feel the change as he stepped out into the Star Labs parking lot.
Star Labs was located towards the outskirts of the city, no doubt due to the amount of real estate it required. He heard the taxi pull away behind him as he surveyed the two-story building in front of him. From the outside it looked very much like a medical facility. Yet, the place looked more abandoned than he had expected, especially after what had transpired earlier with the kidnappings and break-in.
There were also no lights.
That surprised him. A high-tech lab like this surely had - and required – a back-up generator, much like a hospital. It made him wonder if their back-up had failed as well, or if it just didn't supply electricity to anything he could currently see.
Approaching the front entrance he leaned into the darkened glass door and peered inside. It was pitch-dark. He was sure that if his eyesight was normal he wouldn't be able to see a thing. Even now, what he could see was shadowed in dark hues.
Sighing, he stepped back, noticing the electronic door lock for the first time. After a moment he tried the door at human strength, not really expecting anything to happen, but to his surprise the door opened.
Now he was almost certain that any back-up generators Star Labs had were no longer functioning. The power failure seemed to have disabled the security system… but surely, such a high-tech, high-risk facility would have some sort of failsafe?
He let go of the door, and it eased shut once more. Now, he was getting nervous. Didn't they have security guards on staff, especially after the kidnapping and theft?
None of this made sense. The edginess returned.
Stepping away from the door, he wondered what he should do. The lab clearly held within it things that could be a national security risk… viruses and weapons technology that could kill thousands or millions of people. He had to call the police, but while he found the nearest pay phone someone could enter – or for that matter, exit – the building.
Could he…? No!
Squeezing his eyes shut, he bowed his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose. No, he couldn't even contemplate welding the door shut. It would not only be impossible to explain to the police, but it would probably do little good. There had to be more than one way in or out.
There was a phone at the front desk; perhaps his best bet was to see if it worked and call the authorities. Explaining how he came to be there and what he did for a living wouldn't be hard.
Once again, he reached for the handle and was shocked to see a reflection other than his own in the glass. He spun around only to find… nothing behind him.
His palms began to sweat as he looked around more thoroughly… still, he saw no one. Not only had he seen no one, he'd heard and smelled no one either.
He couldn't be that tired, could he?
Turning back to the door he felt a little less sure of himself and his plan than he had a few seconds earlier.
Wiping his hands against the side of his pants, he grasped the handle again and pulled the door open. He stepped inside and shut the door quietly, painfully aware of every sound he made in the still silence of the seemingly abandoned lab.
Picking up the phone, he was thankful to hear a dial tone on the other end. He didn't know the local police station's number, or even what precinct would cover this portion of Metropolis, so he dialed information and got what he needed.
After a few rings someone picked up and directed his call to a Detective Henderson.
Placed on hold, he sat down in the chair behind the reception desk and waited. Staring outside he thought of the reflection he'd seen behind him. He hadn't really seen a face or any details… it had almost been like a shadow.
Could it have been his imagination? He tapped the desk nervously with his free index finger. It was hard to trust that he'd seen it when he was so strung-out… if he had to swear to it, he didn't think he could.
Then again, when they'd played the Star Labs surveillance tapes on LNN it had been the same –
"Hello?" a voice said on the other end, and Clark recognized it as the man he'd spoken to before. "You still there?"
Clark found that he had to clear his throat before he answered. "Yeah, I am."
"It'll be a couple more minutes. He's wrapping up with someone right now."
"Fine," Clark said, shifting his gaze back to outside as he was put on hold again.
No, he'd never seen the aliens on LNN… they had just been blurry shadows on a grainy black and white tape.
Bushes rustled in the breeze beyond the glass door, and as Clark stared outside he noticed just how desolate the dark cityscape looked.
A crunch of shoe against gravel made him tighten his grip on the phone and subconsciously stiffen-up in the chair. He stopped tapping his fingers; the sound now seeming impossibly loud.
"This is Detective Henderson."
Clark winced, pulling the phone away. Closing his eyes he once again forced his hearing to normal level before putting the phone back to his ear.
"My name is Clark Kent. I'm at Star Labs right now. I think someone should come down here. The place is deserted, and unlocked."
"What?! That's impossible," Henderson said, disbelieving. "I have men down there now."
Clark's eyebrows rose and he once again looked outside, as if cops would spontaneously appear in the empty parking lot. "Have you talked to them recently?"
There was a pause, and Clark thought he might be checking the time. "Almost an hour ago."
"Well, I don't see anyone here. No security guards, no cops, and no cars in the parking lot. I'm sitting at the reception desk. I think the power outage messed up the door locks."
"They have back-up power."
"Not tonight," Clark contradicted.
There was another long pause, and Henderson's voice became muffled as he directed his order to someone in the precinct. "Call Peters, now."
Henderson's voice became clear again a second later. "This better not be a joke. If it is, I'll make sure you take some time to enjoy our accommodations. We have a lovely crossbar view out every window."
"While we check up on our unit why don't you tell me who you are?"
Clark understood what he was asking. "I'm a reporter for the Eagle."
Henderson swore under his breath. "Of course you're a reporter," he said gruffly. "Never heard of you."
It was obvious that Henderson didn't want to believe the abandoned lab story. Who could blame him? It would mean he had cops on duty missing and a potentially serious security situation.
"Neither has most of the population."
"You a hack?"
Clark frowned but tried not to let if affect his tone of voice as he answered. "Well, we all have to start somewhere."
"Yeah. Well, I'm going to start by sending a new unit down to Star Labs. Stay where you are until we arrive."
"Yeah," Clark said, before hanging up the phone. He had every intention of doing exactly what he'd been told; wait at the front desk until the police arrived.
However, things don't always go according to plan.
He heard movement inside the lab after three minutes of waiting in absolute silence. How far away it was coming from was hard to say, mainly because his hearing seemed to be taking on a life of its own. It had to be the lack of sleep, but it was becoming increasingly hard to distinguish between close-up and far-away sounds.
He stood up from the chair slowly, wanting to make as little noise as possible. The possibilities of whom or what could be making the noise were vast. Unfortunately, few of those possibilities made him feel better inside.
As it turned out, he didn't have to go too far. Clark walked down the length of one white, sterile hall, made a right and found the source of the sound emanating from the third room on the left.
Slowing his approach, he stopped beside the door, careful not to step in front of the small glass window that looked into the room. Listening carefully, he took a deep breath and willed himself to look through the little window.
As it turned out, just as he gathered the courage to see who was in the room whoever or whatever was inside decided to come out. The result was a face full of door, and a very startled… woman?!
Clark instinctively covered his face right after the door hit him, more out of reflex than any sort of pain, and quickly noticed that his glasses were broken.
Clark dropped his hand and squinted through his broken lenses, though why he bothered he couldn't say. He didn't need to see her to know that it was Lois Lane, the woman who had barreled through the door like a freight train and – had he not been seemingly invulnerable – would have certainly broken his nose with the impact.
"Ms. Lane?" he asked. His hand nervously fiddled with the frame of his glasses, pushing them firmly up his nose despite the fact that he couldn't see squat out of them now that they were broken.
The metal door closed behind her. Noticing the large dent he began to feel a bit panicked. She was already going to be suspicious enough without seeing that too.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, letting his surprise at finding her show through as he finally let his hand drop from his face.
Looking a bit shell-shocked, she blinked at him a moment, nonplussed, before answering, "I'm a reporter," as if that was a perfectly logical answer for any reason she might be anywhere at any time.
Then she straightened up a bit, finding her footing after being surprised, and threw the question back at him. "Maybe that's a question I should be asking you. First I hear you know where an alien is, and now I find you sneaking around Star Labs. If that isn't a reason to be suspicious I guess pigs really do fly and play the harp."
He was just about to answer when the confusion hit. "The harp?"
She frowned and waved the question away, turning on her heel and making her way further into the facility. "You know, like those creepy cherubs?"
Still thoroughly confused, he began to follow her. He didn't have to follow for long. She abruptly stopped and turned to face him again, and he stopped short.
"So, what are you doing here?"
"Investigating," he stated matter-of-factly, seeing no reason to hide the fact.
She studied him for a moment, before crossing her arm over her chest and cocking an eyebrow disbelievingly. "Oh?"
Clank. Clank. Thud.
He snapped his head around toward the sound, coming from what seemed like the next corridor. He turned towards Lois to find that she had also heard the sound. She turned towards him briefly, eyes large, before rushing down the corridor towards the sound. He caught himself before he called out to her. Biting his tongue, he found himself rushing after the crazy woman without a second thought.
It only took him a few seconds to catch up with her, and they rounded the corner together. Neither one was quite prepared for what they found down the length of that next corridor.