Four Days to Nightfall
By Nan Smith
Rated: PG
Submitted: July 2002


Disclaimer: The familiar characters and settings in this
story are not mine. They are the property of DC Comics,
Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions and whoever else can
legally claim them. The story is originally based on the
Lois and Clark episode "All Shook Up" and any recognizable
parts (of All Shook Up or any other episodes of the series)
are credited to the writers of the show. Any new
characters, scenes and the story itself are mine.



"The Nightfall Asteroid is on a direct course for Earth.
This piece of space rock is seventeen miles across,
traveling at close to thirty thousand miles per hour. If
nothing stops it, it will hit the Earth in a little more
than four days." Professor Daitch, Chief Scientist at the
EPRAD command and control center based in Metropolis,
paused at the end of his announcement and added, almost
under his breath, "The sky, literally, is falling."

"What kind of damage could this asteroid do?" The inquiry
came from Phil Morrison of the Star.

Daitch took a deep breath. "It could knock the Earth off
its axis, even throw us out of our current solar orbit.
It's far larger than the meteor that caused the extinction
of the dinosaurs. The crater alone will throw enough dust
into the air to start a new ice age."

Professor Daitch stepped back from the microphone and the
general who had introduced him took his place. Lois Lane,
like the other reporters at the press conference, had been
momentarily stunned by the announcement. It was hard to
absorb the meaning of the astronomer's words -- that the
entire world could die in four days. The whole concept was
unreal to her. Science had never been her strongest
subject and the idea that a piece of rock traveling from
the depths of space could cause the end of civilization, as
she had always known it, was almost unbelievable.

Frank Madison, from LNN, appeared to recover first. "Is
the government doing anything about it? What's being done
to protect the Earth from this thing?"

"Of course, the government isn't standing idly by," General
Zeitlin replied, sounding slightly outraged at the mere
idea. "There is no need for panic. We are confident we
can handle this challenge with existing resources. We have
several delivery systems, notably the Asgard booster, which
we are in the process of re-programming. At the same time,
we're currently attaching nuclear payloads, which, if we
can deliver them, will eradicate this threat from our
skies."

The press conference concluded a few moments later. Lois
charged out ahead of the other reporters and headed
straight for the phones, snatching up the receiver of the
nearest from under the reaching hand of Linda Watkins. The
reporter from the Register gave her a dirty look, which
Lois ignored. The biggest story of the century was
breaking, and it might be the last one she would ever
write. She was darned well going to be the one to write it
-- first.

**********

"Clark, come and see this!"

Clark Kent, the Acting Editor of the Smallville Press,
turned at the shout from Jennifer Douglas, one of the
little paper's two full-time reporters. The small
television was on in the main newsroom -- a cramped space
about fifteen by fifteen, crowded with several desks, a
copy machine, the coffeepot and various paraphernalia
associated with the publication of the little weekly
newspaper.

He set down the proof he was scanning and stuck his head in
the door. "What's going on?"

"Big press conference at EPRAD! There's an asteroid headed
for Earth that might hit us in four days! They're going to
try to destroy it with a nuclear missile."

"What?" Clark was suddenly all attention. The EPRAD
scientist was speaking again, and he listened to the
questions of Metropolis's press, a cold knot gripping his
gut. Jennifer glanced at him and back at the screen,
biting her lip.

The conference concluded and the scene shifted to the LNN
newsroom, which seemed more chaotic than usual. The
strained face of a news commentator appeared on the screen
looking flustered, rehashing the information Clark had just
heard at the press conference, but he was no longer
listening. This was the scenario that science fiction
writers had envisioned over and over in various disaster
novels and movies but it was a different story when it
might come true.

He turned at the sound of the outer door opening. Marian
Rogers, the other full-time reporter for the little paper,
entered. Clark brought himself forcibly back to the day's
business. "Marian, get on the phone to Kansas City. I
want all the information that EPRAD is releasing to the
papers. We still have time to get this stuff on the
asteroid into this week's edition."

"Asteroid?" she inquired, looking blank.

"Just call them. We have a paper to get out." Clark
glanced out the window at the overcast evening sky. He
didn't want to say it or even think it, but underneath he
was aware that this might be the last edition of the
Smallville Press that was ever printed.

Unless the Asgard rocket did the job the Air Force general
had promised it would.

The thought wasn't comforting. The Asgard rocket wasn't
designed for something like this. Last year he'd read an
article about the possibility of Earth being struck by an
asteroid large enough to do serious damage to the planet.
The author hadn't been particularly worried. His article
had pointed out that it was possible, that such strikes did
happen every now and then, but the chances of it happening
in this lifetime were infinitesimally small. Only, the
chances were one hundred percent if you happened to be
directly in the path of a piece of space debris, as it
appeared they now were.

Clark bit his lip. After college, he'd traveled the world
for several years before returning to Smallville for the
past year. He had been preparing to make his most
important career advance in the next few weeks -- a move to
Metropolis and applications to the big papers that based
themselves there -- most notably, the Daily Planet. He
hoped that between his resume and the experience he'd
gained while touring the world, it would be enough to land
him a foothold on the great newspaper. It would be the
realization of a dream.

That might all be changed, now. He frowned, thinking about
that. He'd learned a lot about different cultures and
different countries during his travels but the one thing
that stuck out was the fact that people were more alike
than they were different. How they reacted to an emergency
would be strikingly similar all around the world. Some
would face the approaching disaster with courage, some
would panic and some would strive to take advantage of the
situation. And some would take steps to save themselves,
even at the expense of others. Especially, those who knew
or guessed the true extent of the coming destruction and
had the resources to do so.

And that was something he needed to find out. What did the
people in power really know or think about what was about
to happen? Did they really have any faith in the Asgard
rocket being able to destroy the monster asteroid before it
hit the Earth -- and if the missile did destroy it, what
kind of destruction would the shattered pieces wreak on the
nearly defenseless planet?

First he had to finish getting the paper out and then he
had a trip to make. Washington DC was the place to
discover what the American government was doing to try to
save the day.

The frightening thing was the probability that they
couldn't -- that all they could do was to minimize the
damage and try to make sure that the government survived,
so that they could pick up the pieces later and keep the
country alive -- no matter how many individual lives were
lost in the meantime.

Well, the first thing he needed do was to find out what the
real situation was. He threw himself into his work,
determined to finish ahead of schedule. Clark Kent and his
incredible abilities might be the only thing standing
between the Earth and its destruction. If he were, there
was probably only one thing he could do. The thought
scared him.

**********

"...So, they're readying the Asgard booster," Clark said.
He was pacing back and forth in the kitchen of the
farmhouse where he had grown up. His mother and father sat
at the table watching him pace. "There's only one problem
with that. They have to wait until the thing gets close
and they're only going to have one shot."

"What do you mean?" Jonathan Kent leaned forward, setting
his empty coffee cup down with a thud on the table. "Why
can't they shoot it now?"

"The Nightfall Asteroid is traveling at nearly thirty
thousand miles per hour," Clark said, "and it's going to
hit the Earth in about four days. That means that right
now, it's nearly twelve times farther away than the Moon is
from the Earth. The rocket hasn't got the fuel to take it
that far. Even the moon shots couldn't boost the whole
way. They're going to have to wait until the thing is
almost on top of us before they fire. And it's armed with
a nuclear warhead."

"Nuclear fallout," Martha Kent said.

"Probably," Clark said. "That's bad enough, but that's not
even the worst eventuality. If we get fallout, it'll be
pretty widely scattered. It probably wouldn't be enough to
do much lasting damage. But when the rocket hits the
asteroid, it's going to be close to Earth. Some of the
debris is bound to hit us and this thing is seventeen miles
across. The pieces are going to be big. It's the damage
that they'll do that I'm worried about."

"And what if the rocket misses?" His mother's voice was
very low.

"Even if it doesn't, the Earth is facing a disaster," Clark
said.

"Clark, you're not thinking what I think you're thinking,"
his father said. "I'm sure the government has it under
control."

Clark shook his head. "They don't want panic," he said.
"They're planning for a disaster of major proportions. I
know. I heard them talking. They're already sending
important people to the shelters prepared for them in
Washington. They *know* it's going to be bad."

"You heard them talking?" Martha Kent's hands were clasped
together. "How?"

Clark glanced out the window at the nighttime landscape.
The sky was half-covered by clouds, and here and there were
clear patches where the stars shone through. The gibbous
moon shed white light on the fields, but tonight the
moonlight was cold and unfriendly. "I flew to Washington
and eavesdropped. I had to know what was really happening
rather than what they saw fit to tell us. I've been
thinking about it ever since. I can't just let it happen.
If there's any chance at all that I can stop it, I have to
try."

The little group of three people around the kitchen table
was silent for several moments. Jonathan Kent reached out
to take his wife's hand. Clark saw the gesture and
swallowed. They knew what he intended -- had intended
since he had discovered the true situation.

"I don't want to do it anymore than you want me to," he
said at last. "But I have these strange powers for a
reason. Maybe this is it."

"Clark -- " Martha began and then stopped.

"Mom, I have to."

"I know." Her face looked pinched and tight in the warm
kitchen light. "But I don't have to like it."

"Clark, how are *you* going to get that far and back?" his
father asked. "I know you can hold your breath a long
time, but that long?"

"I can hold my breath for twenty minutes, " Clark said.
"It won't be a problem getting there."

"But it might be a problem getting back." Martha Kent's
face had taken on a determined look. "I know you have to
do this, Clark, but there's no rule that says you can't do
everything possible to ensure that you'll survive."

Clark surreptitiously let out his breath. He'd been pretty
certain that they would support his decision, but it was a
relief to have his belief vindicated. "I guess you have
some ideas on the subject?"

"Air," Martha Kent said. "You're going to need extra air
and I know where to get it."

"Where?"

"My scuba gear has exactly what you need. All we need to
do is fill the tanks."

He should have thought of it, himself. His mom was always
open to new ideas and experiences. Two summers ago she'd
taken scuba lessons in town, and in spite of the skeptical
instructor, had graduated second in the class. She now
knew the bottom of the lake south of town almost as well as
he did. "That's a good idea."

"Of course it is. Let's get moving."

**********

"Around the world, panic-stricken crowds are rioting,"
Edgar Martin, the LNN newscaster was saying. "Churches,
mosques, temples and synagogues are filled with people
praying for a miracle. There is turmoil in all major
cities. In downtown Gotham City, a violent mob smashed
windows, overturned cars and looted stores...."

"I coulda told you that was going to happen," Perry White
said. Lois Lane turned from the scene on the newsroom
monitors to see her boss standing behind her, watching the
reports of worldwide panic. "Hell, people even do this
when their soccer team loses a game."

"I know." Lois glanced out the window of the Planet. "The
Governor called out the National Guard an hour ago."

It was the evening of the day after the press conference at
EPRAD and conditions around the world were rapidly
deteriorating. At this rate, they wouldn't have to wait
for the Nightfall Asteroid to destroy the Earth. The
panicky mobs were going to do it first. Why couldn't
people keep calm in a situation like this? she wondered,
irritably. Going into a blind panic was more likely to get
you killed than the actual strike by the asteroid.

Martin turned suddenly away from the camera and from
somewhere off screen, Lois could hear excited voices. The
man remained turned so all she could see was the back of
his head and the picture jiggled and seemed to tilt for a
minute. Perry regarded the scene with raised eyebrows.
"Must be something new," he commented.

The picture straightened and the commentator turned back to
face the camera. "This has just come in over the wire," he
announced, his voice shaking. "Observers at EPRAD report
that the Nightfall Asteroid has apparently exploded.
Repeat: the Nightfall Asteroid has been shattered. So
far, astronomers have no explanation for this event...."

For the space of several heartbeats, there was a dead
silence in the newsroom and then someone -- she thought it
was Jimmy -- raised a cheer.

Perry White moved forward to hear the remainder of the
newscaster's report over the sudden racket and Lois could
see his face. He was frowning, apparently not entirely
relieved at the news of their sudden and unexpected
deliverance from danger.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"Maybe nothing," he said.

"What?"

"What made it shatter?" he asked. "The Asgard Rocket
hasn't been launched yet. A big chunk of rock like that
doesn't just blow up for no reason."

"Maybe it ran into something -- another asteroid?" Lois
suggested, doubtfully.

"Maybe, but why didn't anybody spot it? And even if it
did, it's not necessarily such a good thing."

"What do you mean?"

"Lois, that was one huge chunk of mineral. What could make
it just blow up like that? Whatever it was, it's still out
there -- and so are the pieces of Nightfall."

Why did reality have to intrude itself so unpleasantly on
her relief? "You don't think any of them are going to hit
us, do you?"

Perry didn't answer. Finally, he said, "I don't like to
look a gift horse in the mouth, but I have the sneaky
feeling that it can't be this easy. Jimmy! Get on the
phone to EPRAD. I want to know if they have any idea what
happened." He turned back to Lois, who was gathering up
her things preparatory to leaving. "You be careful going
home, do you hear me, Lois? People are acting crazy out
there."

"I will," she reassured him. At his skeptical expression,
she felt obliged to protest. "Perry, I can be careful when
I want to!"

"Well, you be sure you want to this time!" her boss
grunted. "I don't want to lose my best investigative
reporter. There are riots going on everywhere. I've been
hearing sirens all evening."

**********

The city was eerily quiet when Lois pulled out onto the
street ten minutes later. The sun had set and the moon had
not yet risen. The sky was thickly overcast and the mist
off the bay drifted through the air, blurring the glare of
the city lights. The windshield of the Jeep Cherokee was
coated with a thin layer of moisture, too light for her to
run the windshield wipers constantly but thick enough to
distort her vision.

The news that the Nightfall Asteroid had been shattered
might have started to percolate through the population of
the city. She didn't see any rioters, although that might
not mean anything. It was as if the whole city were
holding its breath, not yet convinced that it was safe.

And, in truth, she wasn't at all sure that they were safe.
The spokesman for EPRAD had given no definitive answer to
the Planet's phone calls. He had merely stated that the
asteroid appeared to have shattered due to some unknown
cause, perhaps a collision with another body, although they
had not been able to locate any such object. Questions
regarding the safety of the Earth had been met with evasion
and the information that there would be a press conference
at ten, tomorrow morning, regarding the status of the
emergency, after the astronomers had had the time to
evaluate the new situation. Altogether, it was a very
unsatisfactory answer and left her almost as worried as
before.

The route back to her apartment took her past Centennial
Park. A light mist was beginning to sift downward from the
overcast sky. The streetlights seemed dimmer than usual,
and there was no sign of anyone merely walking along the
sidewalk or lovers strolling along hand in hand. In fact,
there was no sign of human activity at all and she jumped
and nearly screamed when a large, white something swooped
suddenly out of the dark and flapped its way across in
front of her, barely eight feet away.

It was an owl. She gulped in air and tried to quiet the
pounding of her heart.

At that instant, a flash of light at the edge of her vision
caught her eyes and she looked up, hardly believing what
she was seeing.

A blazing fireball ripped its way through the cloud cover,
practically over her head. Lois had had some experience
along those lines, however. If you ran, it seemed that any
object falling from above was going to land directly on
you, no matter in which direction you dodged. She brought
the Jeep to a dead stop by the side of the street and
watched.

The fireball seemed to be plunging directly at her, but she
knew that had to be an optical illusion and indeed it was.
As it neared her, she saw that it was coming in at a steep
angle, although she still seemed to be the target. A
billboard advertising the Metroliner was directly in its
path and she ducked involuntarily as the blazing object
tore through the sign with a crack like a gunshot, passed
close overhead in a roar of sound and plunged directly into
a stand of trees. There was a balloon of flame, an
explosion rocked the air and the trees shuddered and
splintered beneath the force of the strike.

Flame was licking at the sign, charring the edges of the
hole. In Centennial Park, the trees were on fire. Later,
Lois would wonder what could possibly have gotten into her,
but at the moment she didn't even hesitate. She scrambled
from the driver's seat and ran toward the blazing trees as
fast as her legs would carry her.

The only explanation for the fireball that she could think
of was that it was a piece of the asteroid that had somehow
arrived ahead of the others. She didn't stop to think how
unlikely the possibility was. She only knew that she had a
chance to get there before police, fire fighters or other
journalists arrived on the scene.

Pieces of flaming debris drifted toward her on the breeze.
Lois turned to the right to circle the stand of shattered,
burning trees so that she could approach from upwind. A
cinder alighted on her skirt and she slapped at it with her
bare hand. It stung and the burning ember left a hole in
the cloth. Well, that was the end of her favorite skirt
but it might be worth it if she got a good story out of
this.

A flaming branch dropped from one of the trees and she
dodged farther right. The branch hit the ground, spraying
sparks, and lay there, burning. The grass around it
shriveled and began to steam but the dampness of the air
was too much for it. The flames began to die within
seconds. Looking back at the blazing trees, Lois could
only imagine how hot that fireball must have been for the
fire to burn so fiercely in the damp conditions.

Circling the flames, she could feel the heat and she lifted
a hand to shield her face. Beyond the trees, she found
what she expected. The flaming object had struck at an
angle and ploughed a long trough in the soft ground of the
park. Small shrubs were still smoldering and a crater at
the end of the trough was wreathed in smoke.

Cautiously, she approached the crater, not sure what she
might encounter. The smoke was acrid and caught in her
throat. Absently, she fished in her handbag and found the
handkerchief that she had stuffed into the bottom.
Hastily, she shook out the crumpled wad and held the cloth
over her mouth and nose, still advancing cautiously toward
the crater.

A light gust of wind blew a spray of water into her face
and she realized the falling mist was growing heavier,
helping to put out the smoldering brush on either side of
the trough. The little licks of flame around the crater
began to go out with sullen hisses of steam.

There was something moving in the trench, she saw, almost
unwilling to believe her eyes. Whatever it was must be
badly burned -- an animal or --

He pushed himself up on his hands, coughing, his motions
hesitant and uncertain. His face and body were covered
with black soot -- and nothing else.

In any other circumstance, she would have been embarrassed,
but embarrassment took a second place to complete shock.
The man coughed again and managed to make it to a sitting
position.

"Are you all right?" Lois called.

He heard her. He turned his head, squinting up at her in
the darkness, and rubbed his temple. "Uh -- yeah. I think
so."

He didn't sound too certain of that, she thought. He was
sitting in the smoldering crater as if not sure what to do
next. Lois hesitated and removed her coat. "Here! Put
this on!"

She threw the garment to him. It landed in his lap and he
stared at it for an instant and then slowly began to pull
it over his arms.

It was too narrow in the shoulders, she saw, but he managed
to get into it and buttoned the lower part of the garment
around his middle, leaving a wide expanse of chest and
midriff bare.

"Are you hurt?" she called.

He hesitated and then made an effort to stand. "I don't
seem to be. I don't think I am." His shoulders came to a
level perhaps a foot below the rim of the crater. Lois
hesitated and then extended a hand.

He took it. His hand felt hot and the dirt and soot were
gritty on her palm. "Come on," she commanded, "you can't
stay in there."

With her help, he scrambled up the crumbling edge of the
crater. As soon as he made it to solid ground, Lois
dropped his hand and backed away to a safe distance, but he
made no hostile move, as she was half afraid he might. He
simply stood, looking around with a bewildered expression
on his face.

"What happened?" she demanded. The circumstances were
pretty unbelievable. The fireball had hit and she had
found a completely naked man sitting, apparently unhurt, in
the very center of the crater.

"I...I don't know." He rubbed his face, smearing the soot
more thoroughly across his features.

"Who are you?"

In the uncertain light of the fire, he looked more lost
than ever. "I don't remember," he mumbled. His voice had
begun to shake. "I...I don't know."

Something was very weird here. Still, she couldn't just
leave the guy stranded almost naked in Centennial Park, in
the middle of the night. He might be hurt more than it
looked like. Didn't people die from internal injuries when
they seemed perfectly fine? The least she could do would
be to drop him off at the emergency room.

"Come with me," she commanded. "And don't try anything. I
have a brown belt in karate."

He obeyed without an argument, the confused expression on
his face growing more pronounced. Maybe he was in shock.
Whatever was wrong, he didn't seem to be aggressive. But
where were the emergency services? she wondered, leading
the way back toward the Cherokee. It would be nice of them
to show up and relieve her of this particular
responsibility.

This wasn't such a bright move, she was telling herself a
minute later as they approached the Cherokee. Sure, the
guy looked harmless, but there was still the possibility
that it was all an act. Still, what was she supposed to
do?"

Behind them, the burning trees were beginning to put out
more smoke than flame. The drizzle was having an effect.
It didn't look as if the fire was in much danger of
spreading -- which was fortunate, because there was still
no sign of the emergency services showing up. What on
Earth was going on? she wondered, still keeping a wary eye
on her companion. Hadn't anyone except her seen the
fireball coming in?

As she and her dazed companion neared the Jeep, two shapes
rose out of its shadow and approached them. Lois stopped.
The figures came closer and she could see the streetlight
glint off metal in the hand of the one on the right.

"Hey, lady." The voice was mocking and amused. "This
ain't a good place to be walking around at night."

The other man guffawed and she saw that he, too, held a
knife. Lois began to back away.

A powerful hand seized her by the arm and swung her around.
Suddenly her new companion was standing between her and the
approaching men. "Leave the lady alone." His voice had
lost its confusion and sounded almost threatening.

"Yeah? Who are you? Little Bo Peep?" The man on the
right showed his teeth in a grin that was half a sneer.

Lois's protector didn't answer. In the light of the street
lamp, his soot-smeared face looked grim and determined.
Lois kicked off her shoes. If she was going to have to
defend herself, the last thing she needed was to twist her
ankle because of a pair of high-heels.

The first man lunged forward, the knife swinging in,
slashing at her companion's arm. What happened then was
almost too fast for Lois to follow. In a blur of movement,
he caught the knife hand, twisted the weapon free and flung
it away.

The second man rushed in at almost the same instant but it
didn't catch her defender off guard. He caught the second
attacker's weapon by the blade and the metal snapped like
balsa wood. The attacker howled in pain as his hand was
twisted backwards and Lois could swear she heard the crunch
of bone. Then, both men were running away, fleeing into
the darkness. Lois and the unknown man were left standing
alone in the puddle of light from the street lamp.

"Are you all right?" The man who had so ably defended her
turned toward her, his soot-smudged face concerned.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that? Are you cut?" She
reached forward to examine his palm but there was no sign
of an injury. "Where did you learn that?"

The confused look had returned to his face. "I don't
know."

Almost absently, she stooped to pick up her shoes and slide
them back onto her feet. "Well, thanks, anyway. I'm going
to take you to the hospital. I think a doctor should look
at you. You might have a concussion or something."

Obediently, he nodded. "All right."

Somewhere in the far distance, she could hear a siren, but
it didn't seem to be approaching. More sirens joined it,
equally distant. The man raised his head. "Look." He
pointed.

"What? -- Oh."

To the west, she could now see a ruddy glow. The sounds of
the sirens had become louder but were not growing any
closer. It must be a good-sized fire, she thought. It
looked like the emergency services had other things to do
than to rush to a fire that seemed to be going out on its
own.

The drizzle was growing slowly but steadily heavier. Lois
led the way to her Jeep and unlocked the door. This might
be dangerous, but judging by what she had seen, if this guy
had wanted to hurt her, he could have done it already.
"Get in," she said.

He obeyed and reached across to unlock the driver's door
for her. Lois slid behind the wheel, glancing at him in
the illumination of the dome light.

Even with his face smeared with soot and lined with
fatigue, he was remarkably good-looking, with black hair
and dark brown eyes. He certainly didn't look like an axe
murderer, and though looks could be deceiving, after the
events a few minutes ago, she was inclined to trust him.
He closed the passenger door and leaned back in the seat,
closing his eyes. Lois shut her door. Starting the motor,
she pulled away from the curb. Metropolis General wasn't
more than a couple of miles away. Once she got him there,
she could hand him over to the skilled hands of the
emergency room staff and be on her way. Still, she would
have liked to know how he'd gotten where she had found him.
Maybe....

He opened his eyes and sat up. "Do you hear that?"

All she could hear was the patter of raindrops hitting the
roof and the distant wail of the sirens. "Hear what?"

He hesitated. "I'm not sure. It's coming from up ahead."

Was he hearing things? Lois glanced sideways at him and
then turned her attention to the road. It was starting to
rain hard enough to make it necessary to turn on the
wipers. The asphalt gleamed slickly black in the
illumination of her headlights.

The street turned ahead of them, leading toward a more
residential section of town and as she rounded the corner,
she found herself stamping on the brakes.

Halfway down the block, a crowd of people was advancing,
blocking the entire width of the street. Faintly, she
could hear shouts, screams, and something that sounded like
gunshots. Some in the crowd clutched various implements:
baseball bats, shovels, rakes, and one man in the lead was
brandishing what looked like a cricket bat. Many held
flashlights and a couple actually waved crudely made
torches. One woman was carrying a lopsided sign that read
"Repent! The End is Near!" As Lois watched, several
persons at the forefront of the mob descended upon a truck
that was parked by the side of the street. A bat-wielder
swung at the windshield and there was a shout of approval,
faintly heard through the glass of the Cherokee. People
surged forward, rocking the truck and obviously attempting
to overturn it. Lois didn't wait to see more. She shoved
the Jeep in reverse and backed up, swiveling the wheel as
she did so. In an instant, she had reversed their
direction and gunned the motor to escape from the rioters.
No wonder the police hadn't shown up at the park, if this
was going on around the city!

"What are we going to do now?" Her companion had remained
quiet while she executed their escape, but now he spoke up.

She had already decided. Trying to get through the streets
to her apartment was taking too big a risk and it looked as
if a trip to the hospital was going to be equally risky.
But the Daily Planet was only a few blocks away, back the
way she had come. With luck, she and her new acquaintance
could take refuge there until morning.

**********

The security bars had been closed and locked at the
entrance to the Planet's basement parking lot. The guard
peered suspiciously out as Lois pulled up at the little
window and waved her press pass at him. "Ms. Lane? What
are you doing here?"

"It's too dangerous for me to try to make it home," she
explained, quickly. "I ran into a bunch of rioters. I'm
staying here, tonight."

"Don't blame you. Just a minute." The guard turned away
and a second later the barred gates rolled aside. She
pulled the Jeep through. The lot was much less crowded at
this time of night and she spotted a parking place almost
immediately.

Behind her, she heard the clang of the closing gates. With
luck, that would keep out anyone who was trying to take
advantage of the emergency. Carefully, with hands that
were starting to shake, she pulled into the parking space
and cut the engine.

In the sudden silence, she leaned her forehead on the
steering wheel for a moment, feeling lightheaded from the
sudden release of tension. Her companion touched her arm.
"Are you all right, Miss?"

Slowly, she sat up. "Yeah. I'm fine."

He smiled, almost shyly. "I haven't thanked you for
helping me."

She gave a short laugh. "That's all right. You helped me,
back there, too." She extended a hand. "By the way, I'm
Lois Lane."

He took the hand. "It's nice to meet you. I wish I could
tell you what my name is."

"It's all right." She hesitated. "I need a name for you,
though. Why don't I call you Charlie for the moment? You
kind of look like a Charlie."

"What does a Charlie look like?" he asked.

"I don't know. You, I guess. Maybe you'll remember your
real name after you've had some sleep. Do you have any
idea how you got to where I found you?"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry -- no."

She opened her door and slid out. "Let's go upstairs to
the newsroom. There ought to be some other people up
there."

"Okay. You're the boss."

"Besides," she added, "maybe we can find you some better
clothes."

He glanced down at himself and she was surprised to see a
red flush stain his cheekbones. "I could sure use some.
I'm surprised you didn't run screaming when you saw me."

She couldn't help a faint grin. "Oh, it wasn't that
terrible a sight."

He didn't answer, but his blush deepened. She locked the
door of the Jeep and slammed it shut. "Come on," she
directed. "The elevator is this way...."

**********

The newsroom was relatively quiet when Lois stepped out of
the elevator with "Charlie" following her. Three or four
people were moving around and the monitors were on with the
sound turned down. There was light in the editor's office,
which wasn't really a surprise. She could see Perry at his
desk. For a moment, she wondered if the man ever went
home, but then, tonight was an unusual one, anyway. After
all, she hadn't even managed to make it to her apartment
and Perry lived farther from the Planet than she did.

Jimmy Olsen emerged from the supply closet with a package
of printer paper in his hands. He saw her and stopped, his
gaze going past her to her oddly dressed companion. Lois
had to admit that it looked pretty strange, but Jimmy
hadn't gone through the last hour with her. She led the
way down the ramp with a businesslike step and waved at an
empty chair. "Wait there for a minute. I need to talk to
my boss."

Perry stepped out of his office as she approached. "Lois -
- what happened? Who's that guy? Why's he wearin' your
coat?"

Her reflection in his office window explained the first
question. Her face was smeared with streaks of soot and
her hair had definitely looked better. She made an
ineffectual gesture at it and gave up for the moment. "I
can't get home, Perry. I ran into rioters. I figured I
could sleep here tonight."

"Are you all right? And who's that guy?"

"He doesn't know. Did anyone report the fireball?"

"We saw it from the window. There's only been one report
on the news -- " Perry broke off, staring at her. "What
happened?"

"It came down in Centennial Park," Lois said. "I was there
when it landed -- "

He was silent while she gave him a quick summary of the
events of the past hour. When she finished, he whistled
softly. "Honey, if anyone else told me that story, I
wouldn't believe it. Okay, Charlie can stay for the night.
I guess we owe him that, at least. You write up what
happened. At least some people will want to know about
that crater in the park. Any idea how he got where he
was?"

Lois shook her head. "None. And he doesn't remember."

"Guy's probably in shock," Perry said. "Let's hope that's
all that's wrong. I guess I better say hello."

Lois nodded and led the way across the newsroom to where
Charlie sat.

He got to his feet as they approached, pulling Lois's coat
more closely about his chest, without much result. Perry
held out a hand.

"Hello, Charlie. I'm Perry White, the editor here. Thanks
for helpin' Lois in the park."

Charlie took his hand. "I couldn't let those men hurt her.
It's nice to meet you, sir."

Perry grinned slightly. "Wish more people felt that way.
Are you all right, son? Lois told me where she found you."

"I think so -- at least, I don't seem to be hurt -- except
that I can't remember anything." Charlie ran a hand
through his hair, making it stand more on end than ever.
"I don't even know my name. It's a little scary."

"Maybe you hit your head," Perry said, helpfully.
"Tomorrow, we'll try to get you to Metro General -- and a
little sleep might help, too. In the meantime, maybe we
can find you something better to wear. Jimmy!"

Jimmy had been hovering nearby, obviously curious about the
strangely dressed man. Perry beckoned him forward. "This
is Charlie. Take him down to the lockers and find him some
clothes."

"Right away, Chief." Jimmy grinned cheerfully at the
newcomer. "Hi. I'm Jimmy Olsen. Come on. I think I can
get you something better than Lois's coat. Mind if I let
him use the shower, Chief?"

"I think that might be a good idea," Perry agreed. He and
Lois watched the two of them leave and then Perry said,
"You were lucky he turned out to be a good guy, Lois. He
could have just as easily been another mugger. What was he
doin' in Centennial Park at that hour, anyway?"

Lois shrugged. "I'm more interested in how he turned up in
the crater without a mark on him. Not to mention, how he
disarmed two muggers and didn't pick up a scratch. And
what was that thing, anyway? Was it a piece of Nightfall?"

"I don't see how it could have gotten here so far ahead of
the predictions," Perry said. "There's a limit to how fast
it could travel."

"Did EPRAD have any idea?"

Perry shrugged. "We've been trying to phone them, but the
lines have been jammed. Evidently, a lot of other people
have been trying to call them, too."

"Yeah." Lois glanced down at the hole in her skirt and
grimaced. "I think I'll go wash the soot off my face.
Have you managed to get hold of Alice?"

Perry shook his head. "She's been visiting the boys for
the last couple of days. I tried to call, but the lines
are pretty much jammed all over the country. I'm going to
try again a little later. Maybe if EPRAD gives us an 'all
clear' tomorrow, I'll be able to get through."

"*If* they give us the 'all clear'," Lois said. "This is
crazy, Perry. Where on Earth are the police? A lot of
people ought to be arrested for what they've been doing
tonight."

"There aren't enough jails to hold every person who's been
doing stupid things for the last day or so," Perry said.
"No police force on Earth could control an entire city in a
panic."

"I guess not. It's scary how quickly things can fall
apart. I wish people would keep their heads in an
emergency."

"Most do," Perry said. "It's the ones who don't that cause
the trouble. Let's hope things quiet down by tomorrow.
I'm lettin' Jimmy stay here tonight, too -- his place is
over near the spot where they're fightin' that fire.
Arson," he added, grimly. "He probably couldn't even get
through."

"Perry, you're not going to try to go home at this time of
night, are you?" Lois tried to sound casual, but she was
aware that her boss wasn't fooled. He shook his head.

"No, not tonight. There's too much goin' on. I might need
to be here." His expression didn't change. "You can sleep
on the couch in my office. It'll give you some privacy."

**********

Lois had finished writing up her article about the fireball
when Jimmy reappeared with Charlie. She glanced at them
and then did a double take. Dressed in a pair of jeans and
a T-shirt and without soot covering him from head to toe,
the man whom she had rescued was definitely worth a second
and maybe a third look. Jimmy was talking animatedly to
him when they emerged from the elevator, and from what Lois
gathered, he was explaining what a photojournalist's job
entailed. Charlie was listening attentively and nodding in
the appropriate places, apparently absorbing all the
confusing details that the younger man was throwing at him
with machine gun speed.

The monitors switched to an aerial view of the street in
front of City Hall at that moment and someone turned up the
volume. A milling crowd filled the screen and a thin line
of police in riot gear appeared to be holding them back.
The mayor was speaking, calling for calm, his voice almost
drowned out by the voices of the crowd.

"What's going on?" Charlie had deserted Jimmy to stand
beside her. His heavy, dark brows were drawn together in a
frown. "All those rioters, and this -- what's happening?"

"You don't know?" Thomas Bailey, one of the reporters on
the night staff, asked.

"Charlie has amnesia," Lois said, absently. She turned her
attention from the monitors to the man standing beside her,
feeling almost reluctant to explain the current
circumstances. Could that be why his memory had
disappeared? she wondered suddenly. Didn't that happen
sometimes? She knew very little about amnesia, but she
seemed to recall reading an article at sometime or other
about someone who had been so upset about events in his
life that he had literally blocked it all out. She
supposed it was possible, but Charlie, or whatever his name
really was, didn't seem to be the kind of guy who would run
from danger. On the other hand, what did she really know
about him?

The answer, of course, was almost nothing. She knew he
seemed to be a decent guy, but there were plenty of things
about him that she couldn't explain. If she survived the
next three days, she might have time to figure out who he
was and how he had managed all the things she had questions
about. But, in the meantime....

He was looking directly at her, obviously waiting for her
to enlighten him. She put a hand on his arm. "Come on
into the conference room, Charlie. I'll tell you about it
-- "

**********

Lois woke for the fifth time, and looked up at the dim
ceiling of Perry White's office. The reason she was here
came back at once and she turned over, trying to get
comfortable on the office couch.

The blinds were drawn to give her privacy and she could see
light in the room beyond leaking around the edges. The
night staff was still awake, although the lack of noise out
there seemed to indicate that nothing much was happening.

The clock on the wall said it was three-thirty. Lois
squirmed around on the cushions again and closed her eyes,
trying to will herself back to sleep. She was tired, but
at the same time, her brain was active and wide-awake.
Every time she closed her eyes she could see the fireball
plunging toward her and in her sleep she had relived over
and over the moment when she had first seen Charlie in the
middle of the smoking crater.

The sheer impossibility of that circumstance contrasted
with the fact that she had seen it with her own eyes.
Common sense said that Charlie couldn't have been where he
was, stark naked, and yet have walked away without a single
scorch mark. And then there had been the muggers' knives.
He might have escaped damage by the first one -- maybe,
anyhow. It was just possible that some advanced fighting
technique that he didn't consciously remember was behind
it, but she had seen him seize the second one by the blade.
He should have been sliced at the very least and yet his
hand had been uninjured.

"Lois, you're going to start imagining miracles in a few
minutes," she muttered to herself. Either Charlie was some
kind of supernatural being or he'd been incredibly lucky.
Since the probability of angels being involved was pretty
low, she might have to accept the idea of sheer dumb luck
even if she couldn't imagine any possible way he could have
escaped injury.

There had been that story last year -- that kid in Texas
who had been picked up by a tornado, carried fifteen miles
away and deposited in the middle of a field without a
scratch and without a stitch of clothing. Seemingly
impossible things did happen, but this one....

All her instincts rebelled against that explanation where
Charlie was concerned, but no other solution presented
itself for the time being -- at least, none that she was
prepared to accept.

Finally, she sat up. She wasn't going to get any sleep
this way. Maybe a drink of water would help.

The Planet's newsroom was quiet when she opened the door of
Perry's office. Jimmy was dozing in his chair and Sara
Hardesty was frankly asleep with her head on her desk. The
monitors were still on, their sound turned down to a
whisper. Tom Bailey and the other two members of the night
staff were sitting around the coffee machine, conversing in
whispers.

Perry was sound asleep on the conference room table, she
realized a moment later, his jacket rolled up under his
head. Lois winced. His back was going to bother him in
the morning. Maybe she should wake him up and send him in
to sleep on his couch. After a moment's consideration, she
rejected the notion. He'd given up his office couch for
her, with his typical Southern chivalry, and taken the far
less comfortable bed, but at least he was asleep. If she
woke him up now, he'd probably be awake for the rest of the
night.

"Can't sleep?" Charlie's voice spoke quietly from behind
her, and she almost jumped.

She turned around. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"

"Sorry." He looked apologetic. "I thought you'd hear me."

"It's okay. I guess you were trying not to wake anyone. I
just got up to get a drink of water."

"I heard you moving around," he said. "I couldn't sleep,
either. It's pretty hard to think the world might end in
just a couple of days and my whole life is a blank. I
don't know if I have a family that's looking for me, or a
job or anything."

"You still can't remember how you got to where I found
you?" Lois asked.

He shook his head. "It's as if my life started when I woke
up in that crater and heard you ask if I was all right."

"Well, the fireball couldn't have hit you," Lois said.
"You'd have been dead in that case. You say you woke up in
the crater?"

"Yeah." He followed her as she walked to the water cooler.
"I was dreaming -- at least, I think I was. I couldn't
breathe and I was running from something, trying to get
somewhere that I'd be safe -- and then I was waking up and
you were there."

"And you didn't have a mark on you," Lois said. "I'd have
thought you'd have at least picked up a few burns. The
ground was hot."

"I know. I could feel it -- but I must not have touched
anything too hot because it didn't hurt. Just dumb luck, I
guess. Weird, huh?"

"That's one word for it," Lois agreed. "Or two, anyway.
I'd like to get another look at the crater. Maybe we could
figure out what happened if we saw it by daylight."

"I suppose." Charlie looked doubtful. "Look, Ms. Lane --
"

Lois grimaced. "Call me Lois. I think we've gone past the
'Ms. Lane' stage."

He looked embarrassed. "Considering how you found me, I
guess. Okay then, Lois. There's a lot of stuff going on
out there right now. It could get kind of dangerous."

"Charlie, I'm an investigative reporter. I know how to
take care of myself."

"I didn't mean you couldn't," Charlie said, quickly. "I
just meant, it's more dangerous than usual. You probably
could use some backup, just in case. And I want to find
out what happened, too. Would you mind very much if I went
with you?"

She considered the request for a moment. Although she
would never admit it, the idea of having a muscular
bodyguard along -- one who had already proved he knew how
to take care of himself, especially considering the
situation out there right now -- had its appeal. She
pretended to hesitate. "I really shouldn't let you get
into more trouble. You've already lost your memory. But,
it does involve you, after all."

He looked hopeful. Finally, she said, "Well, okay, I guess
it's only fair. There's a press conference at EPRAD at
ten, tomorrow morning, to update us on the status of the
Nightfall Asteroid. If you don't mind, I'd like to drop
you off at Metro General in the morning and pick you up
after the conference. We'll go back then and look around.
Besides, maybe you'll have remembered more by then."

He nodded. "Thank you for wanting to help," he said,
quietly. "Not to know anything about myself -- what I've
done, what I've missed -- "

Lois nodded, feeling a little ashamed of herself. True,
she liked Charlie, but her main reason for doing this
didn't really have much to do with helping him regain his
memory. Charlie had confronted her with a situation that
seemed impossible on the surface, and Lois Lane had never
been able to leave a mystery alone. Still, she
rationalized, if she found out more about how he'd arrived
where she had found him, she might be able to help him,
too. That made her feel a little better.

**********

The first part of her plan was scuttled the next morning
when a triage nurse informed her over the phone, that the
emergency room was swamped and the wait for all but urgent
cases was approximately ten hours. Since Charlie appeared
to be in good health except for his memory loss, he would
not be considered a priority case.

Lois passed on the news. "Do you want to go there and wait
for ten hours?"

He shook his head. "No. Who's to say they won't get other
urgent cases they have to take first? If I still haven't
remembered anything when this is all over -- if it ever is
-- then I'll go."

"That's probably sensible," Perry said. He glanced at
Lois. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes," she said. "I can't help thinking the fireball has
something to do with Nightfall. Call it a hunch if you
like. Charlie and I are going to go back to the park right
after the press conference and take a look at the crater by
daylight."

"Just watch out for muggers," Perry said, dryly.

"We will," Lois said. "What's the latest on the riots?"

"It looks like things have calmed down a bit, now that it's
daylight. Most people aren't as brave about breaking the
law when other people can see their faces." Perry fixed
her with a no-nonsense look. "You still be careful out
there, you hear me? Not everybody is behaving himself.
I've been hearing sirens all morning."

"I will be. Charlie will have to wait in the Jeep until
after the press conference is over and then we're going to
the park. He's determined to play bodyguard," Lois said.

Charlie didn't smile. "It's not safe out there for anybody
right now," he said. "I won't let anything happen to her,
Mr. White."

"I can take care of myself," Lois said.

"I don't doubt it," Perry said. "Just have mercy on your
old editor and make sure you come back alive, all right?"

"I will." Lois glanced at her watch. "Come on, Charlie.
We've got an hour to get to EPRAD and there are bound to be
traffic problems."

Jimmy appeared with a pair of wrapped sandwiches. "Here
you are, Lois. Two cheese sandwiches out of the vending
machine in the lobby. It was all they had left."

Lois made a face, but accepted the items and handed one to
Charlie. "Here. This will have to do until we can get
something else later."

He took the sandwich. "I'm not really that hungry -- "

"You haven't eaten since last night," Lois said. "I don't
want you passing out from hunger. Eat it."

He obeyed meekly and Lois took a bite from her own,
dismissing the subject.

**********

The press conference at EPRAD got off to a slow start.
Professor Daitch and General Zeitlin were several minutes
late and the members of the press were not taking it well,
Lois thought. When the two men finally appeared and
approached the microphone, several of the assembled
journalists began to shout questions before either man had
been given a chance to speak.

Daitch raised his hands before him, waiting for the noise
to die down. When it finally did, he was slow to begin.
Lois didn't like the expression on his face. The scientist
had a grim set to his mouth. He didn't look like a man who
had been issued a reprieve.

"We have just completed a briefing with the Federal
Emergency Management Team. This meeting was called to
discuss the new situation regarding the Nightfall
Asteroid." Professor Daitch cleared his throat
uncomfortably and glanced sideways at the general. It was
obvious to Lois that he wasn't happy about the information
that he was going to impart. Her heart sank. Daitch
paused for several seconds and the assembled members of the
media began to stir restlessly.

"The explosion of the Nightfall Asteroid has changed the
situation somewhat," the man continued, finally.

"What do you mean by 'somewhat'?" Lois asked. "Is the
Earth still in danger?"

The scientist hesitated a long moment. "Unfortunately,
yes. A large portion -- approximately three miles across -
- remains on an impact course with the Earth. It is
accompanied by other, much smaller pieces both preceding
and trailing it, some of which can be expected to miss or
to burn up in the atmosphere, and some which will reach the
surface of the planet. They may cause a certain amount of
damage, but it will be minor in comparison to the largest
object." He paused. "We expect the meteor swarm to arrive
approximately fifty-five hours from now."

"Is the government doing anything about it?" Frank Madison
inquired.

General Zeitlin stepped forward and Daitch seemed relieved
to surrender the spotlight to him. The General fixed
Madison with a stern eye. "The Asgard booster is still
available and is expected to be able to eliminate the
largest object," he said. "The smaller objects may cause a
certain level of damage but nothing outside the capability
of disaster relief organizations to cope with. The
situation has improved considerably. The greatest danger
the Earth faces at this moment is the panic and civil
disturbances we've seen over the last twenty-four hours.
If necessary, martial law will be declared to maintain
order." He glanced at his watch. "Now if you will excuse
me, ladies and gentlemen of the press, I'm due at a meeting
in five minutes."

**********

"I guess the news wasn't very good," Charlie said.

Lois shook her head. "There's still a big piece of
asteroid headed for us. Some littler ones, too, but the
one they're worried about is three miles across."

Charlie swallowed. "How long?"

"Fifty-five hours," Lois said. "I hate to admit it, but
I'm scared."

"So am I." Charlie said, soberly. "Anyone would be."

They were silent for several moments, waiting while the
crowd of cars around them maneuvered for the quickest way
out of the lot.

"What do you want to do, now?" Charlie asked, at last.

Lois took a deep breath and blew it out. "I guess we'll do
what we planned on doing. I don't even know why, you know?
The fireball still isn't explained and I just have the
feeling that it somehow has something to do with Nightfall,
but I can't begin to tell you why. Even if we do find out
something about it, it probably won't help." She looked at
his expression and felt suddenly ashamed of herself. "I
guess I'm not used to being so helpless. I need to be
doing something. If we can just figure out where you came
from, at least we can get you back to your family, if the
Asgard rocket doesn't manage to save us. When I wrote the
story about the fireball, I told all of it -- finding you,
everything. It's on the front page -- a sidebar to the
Nightfall update from last night. Maybe somebody will
realize who you are and come forward."

Charlie met her eyes and smiled. "Thank you."

She smiled back. "I'm not really being all that
altruistic, you know. If I didn't have something else to
think about right now, I'd go crazy."

His smile widened a little. "I know. I feel a little the
same way. But if I have to be in this situation, I'm glad
it's with someone like you."

**********

The streets were quiet as they drove away from EPRAD back
toward Centennial Park. Lois tried not to look at the
debris left by last night's riots: the smashed windows and
overturned or burned cars. Twice they were stopped by
police checkpoints and allowed to go ahead when Lois
presented her press pass. When they finally arrived at the
place where Lois had been when she had first seen the
fireball, neither said anything. She pulled up to the side
of the street and she and Charlie carefully locked the
doors before they started for the crater.

The morning was bright and sunny. It was hard to believe
that somewhere out in space, growing ever closer, a
mindless chunk of rock, three miles across, was plunging
toward them at nearly thirty thousand miles an hour; that
in slightly over two days it would smash into their world,
bringing an end to the life that everyone had known. Of
course, there was still the Asgard rocket, Lois reminded
herself. If they could hit the thing with a nuclear
payload, the fallout might be something they would have to
deal with afterwards, but at least civilization would
survive.

"It came from there," Lois said, pointing in the direction
of the sign, where a jagged hole, charred at the edges,
showed the path of the fireball the night before.

Charlie looked, and then followed her pointing finger to
the shattered stand of trees. "Wow," he remarked. "You'd
think something like that would have made a bigger crater.
Have you ever seen the one in Arizona?"

"No," Lois admitted. "I've seen pictures, of course -- "
She broke off. "You remember seeing it?"

"Yeah, kind of. I think I saw it from the air. It's this
huge crater --"

"Do you know when?"

The look of discovery on his face faded. "No."

"Well, at least you remembered something." She took his
elbow with one hand. "Come on. Let's go look at it by
daylight."

There was no one visible as they walked toward the broken,
charcoal skeletons that had been a stand of maple trees the
night before. As they rounded the trees, Charlie stared at
the trough the fireball had ploughed in the soft ground and
the crater at its end. "Good grief! And you found me in
the crater?"

"Right at the end," Lois said. She was watching his face
as he stared at the damage. He scowled, as if trying to
recall something that slipped from his grasp as he reached
for it. "Are you remembering anything?"

"Just that dream," he said, slowly. "I remember the
dream."

"Tell me about it," she said. "Maybe it wasn't all a
dream."

He shook his head. "I don't see how it could have been
anything else."

"That's okay. Tell me what you remember about it, anyway."

"All right." He let her lead him toward the crater as he
began to speak. "I was scared; I remember that much. I
was trying to get away from something but I don't think it
was anything alive. It's funny, you know -- most of time I
don't remember what I dream, or I just remember bits and
pieces and then I forget even that after a while."

"Maybe that means this was something more than just a
dream," Lois said. She was aware that she was clutching at
straws but, so far, there didn't seem to be anything more
concrete to work with. "Anything else?"

"I remember not being able to breathe," he said. "I was
falling and there was no air. I thought I was dying, and
then all of a sudden it was hot -- not hot enough to burn
me, but hot -- and there was air."

"Was the air hot, too?" Lois asked, before she thought.

"Yeah, it was. I was falling and it was hot, but I could
breathe. Then, there was a kind of a crash and nothing for
a while. And then I heard you asking if I was all right."
He paused, his brow still wrinkled with the effort at
recall. "Weird, huh?"

"Yeah," Lois said. "Definitely weird. Especially since I
found you in a crater so hot it was still smoking."

He shrugged. "Maybe I dreamed it because the crater was
hot."

"Yeah, maybe. I'd still like to know why you didn't get
burned, though."

"Believe me, if I knew, I'd tell you."

They were standing at the edge of the crater, now, looking
down at the scorched, torn earth. Was it her imagination,
or could she see the imprint of his body in the blackened
dirt? Something gleamed dully amid the ashes, reflecting
the late morning sunlight. She glanced at her companion.
"Charlie, could you give me a hand? I want to get down in
there and look around."

He seemed doubtful, but nodded. "Okay."

Lois kicked off her shoes and set down her shoulder bag.
She always kept a change of clothing at the Planet, and the
pantsuit was probably going to need dry cleaning after
this, but she wanted to look more closely at the crater
before any more evidence was destroyed by the weather.
"Okay, I'm ready."

Charlie held out his hands and she took them. An instant
later, she felt herself lifted as lightly as a feather and
lowered over the side of the crater. Slightly surprised at
his apparent strength, she almost didn't realize it when
her feet touched the scorched dirt at the bottom. She
almost stumbled as he let her go, and regained her balance
with an effort. Wow! Charlie had a nice build, but he was
even stronger than he looked.

"Are you all right?" He was kneeling at the edge of the
crater, looking at her in some concern.

"Um, yeah. Fine." She turned her attention to the marks
his body had left in the dirt. There was where he had sat
up, and that mark looked like a handprint -- which meant
his head would have been here.... Again, she saw that dull
gleam as light reflected off something nearly buried in the
dirt and ash.

Lois leaned down and picked it up.

It came free easily and she frowned at the object in
puzzlement. What on Earth was a pair of glasses with half-
melted frames doing here?

"What is it?" Charlie asked.

"Glasses," she said. "Melted glasses."

"Let me see," he requested.

She held them up to him and he reached out to take them.
He frowned at the glasses with a look of half-recognition.

"Are they yours?" Lois asked.

"I don't know."

"Well, hold onto them for me a minute." She looked around
again, careful not to disturb the marks that Charlie had
left the night before. The places where he had lain were
as scorched as the rest of the crater.

This didn't make sense, she thought. Every indication said
that Charlie should have been badly burned, but he
obviously wasn't. There was something she was missing here
-- something important.

"Is anything wrong?" he asked.

"I'm not sure." She turned and held up her arms. "Help me
out, please."

He gripped her hands and hoisted her out with no more
effort than he had used to lower her into the hole. Lois
dusted herself off and slipped her shoes back on. "Do you
still have the glasses?"

"Oh, yeah." He had stuck them into a back pocket, but now
he retrieved them. "Here."

She tucked them into her handbag. Maybe a lab could tell
her something about them, but the chances were that they
would remain one more unsolved mystery in this whole
investigation -- unless Charlie regained his memory before
it was too late.

**********

"Find anything, Lois?" Perry asked.

Lois looked up from her examination of the melted glasses.

"Yeah -- these. I don't know if they mean anything,
though. Charlie seems to see just fine without glasses, so
they may not be his. The spot where he was lying was just
as burned as the rest of the crater, though. It doesn't
make sense."

"Any sign of whatever the thing was that came in last
night?"

She shook her head. "Nothing. Just a big hole in the
ground. This is really weird, Chief."

"Yeah." Perry sighed. "One more mystery to add to all the
other ones right now. What shattered Nightfall? I mean,
I'm grateful. An asteroid that's three miles across is
better than one seventeen miles across. It may cause a lot
of damage, but at least the Earth and the human race will
still be here afterwards."

"Yeah, well another ice age doesn't bode well for
humanity," Lois said. "And if what we've seen in the last
couple of days is any indication, it won't be a picnic."

Her editor shrugged. "I'll take any pluses that we can get
right now. We're not dinosaurs. We can take steps to
survive when they couldn't, even if it won't be fun. The
human race won't become extinct."

"And there's always the chance that the Asgard rocket will
do the trick," Jimmy said. "I don't like having to depend
on a rocket. Things break down, people make mistakes --
but it's better than nothing."

"Has anyone called about Charlie?" Lois asked. "I made
sure to mention him in my piece about the fireball -- just
in case."

Perry shook his head. "The lines are still pretty much
jammed. I did get a call through to Alice, finally. She
hasn't been able to get a flight back to Metropolis." He
straightened up. "Hell, she's probably just as safe where
she is. Maybe safer."

"Maybe," Lois said.

"Did you get hold of your parents, Lois?" Jimmy asked.

"Yeah. Mother, Dad, Lucy and I managed to get together for
a conference call, a little while ago. Mother and Dad even
acted as if they liked each other. It was nice."

Perry glanced at Charlie where he stood looking out at the
city. "He's probably the luckiest of us all. If he can't
remember what it was like, he won't miss it so much when
it's gone. You tell him he can sleep here again tonight,
Lois. It wouldn't be right to throw him out with no place
to go."

**********

"That was nice of Mr. White," Charlie said a few moments
later. "I appreciate it."

Lois nodded. She looked out the window at the clear blue
of the sky. It didn't look as if doomsday was approaching.
Wasn't it supposed to be covered with clouds and foreboding
shadows or something?

The elevator doors opened at that moment and Cat Grant
stepped out. The Planet's gossip columnist glanced around
and, as might have been expected, her gaze settled
immediately on Charlie. Surprised, Lois found herself
bristling slightly as the woman came quickly down the steps
to the newsroom floor, and had to remind herself that she
had no reason to be jealous. Charlie was just a guy she'd
met last night, after all.

"Well, well -- who's this?" Cat looked Charlie over, and
Lois could have sworn she was licking her lips.

"This is Charlie," Lois said. "He has amnesia and he
stayed at the Planet last night. Charlie, this is Cat
Grant, our gossip columnist."

Charlie extended a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Miss
Grant."

Cat ran her eyes over Charlie in a way that Lois found
annoying. "Pleased to meet *you*, Charlie," she purred,
eyeing him like a tiger checking over a potential meal,
Lois thought. "Now I'm sorry I decided to leave early,
yesterday. If you need a place to stay tonight, I have
room."

"Um -- thanks, but Mr. White already offered," Charlie
said, looking uncomfortable.

"I can offer a few fringe benefits that Perry can't," Cat
said, trailing a finger along his arm.

Lois couldn't take it anymore. "I'm hungry," she
announced, suddenly. "Do you suppose it's safe to go out
for something to eat? And all you've had since yesterday
was a stale, cheese sandwich, Charlie. You must be
starving. Come on -- my treat."

He shrugged. "I'm not really hungry."

"Don't be so noble. If the Asgard rocket misses, money
won't mean anything, anyway. Besides, I'll feel safer with
you along. Let's go."

Appealing to his chivalry was apparently the key. He
smiled at Cat. "All right, Lois. It was nice meeting you,
Miss Grant."

**********

"The nerve of that woman," Lois was saying, a few moments
later as they left the Planet via the front door. "She
only just met you!"

Charlie wisely said nothing. Lois fumed silently for a few
more moments. How *dare* Cat move in on her territory like
that! She'd discovered Charlie! The woman had absolutely
*no* class!

The streets were fairly quiet near the Planet, but Lois
could hear sirens not far away. Things weren't nearly as
uneventful as they looked from here. Uncharacteristically,
she had no wish to rush to the scene. One more riot at
this point wouldn't make any difference or even make news.

"It looks like the coffee shop is open," she said,
pointing. "Want to eat there?"

"Sure," he agreed. "We probably won't find anything better
right now."

A few moments later, they were seated in a booth by the
window. Two other customers were there, one of them a
police officer who was waiting at the cash register. As
they watched, an employee emerged from the kitchen area
with several bags of food in a large carton that had
originally held ketchup. The officer picked it up and
departed.

"Can I help you?" A young woman had appeared by their
table. "Hi, Ms. Lane."

"Hi." She looked familiar, although Lois had never learned
her name. Her nametag introduced her as Lena. "Not much
business today, huh?"

"Not much. People are afraid to go out anywhere. We've
had some police and firefighters in." Lena sighed. "If
that Nightfall thing hits, I wonder if there'll be any
businesses left. Well --" She plastered a smile on her
face. "What can I get you?"

For once, Lois ordered a full meal with genuine sugar and
cream in her coffee and real butter on her toast. If
Nightfall hit the planet, she might not be alive long
enough to get fat, anyhow. Why should she deprive herself
in order to stay slim if it didn't matter anymore?

Charlie, in spite of his declaration that he wasn't hungry,
made a good meal as well. Lois couldn't quite imagine
herself eating a full order of steak and shrimp with all
the trimmings in the middle of the day, but if it made him
happy, she wasn't going to argue at this point.

Taking a cautious sip of her steaming coffee, Lois watched
her companion. He presented a puzzle that was a welcome
distraction to the larger problem that she couldn't solve.
Everything about him, so far, was contradictory. About the
only thing she was sure of was that he was a decent guy.

She blinked suddenly, realizing what she was seeing. He
had picked up his coffee that was certainly as hot as hers,
since it was steaming vigorously, and took a healthy
swallow. He didn't even wince.

"Isn't that hot?" she inquired. "Didn't you burn
yourself?"

"It's not that hot," he said, apparently unaware of her
sudden attention.

"It's steaming," she said. She put out a hand and felt the
cup. The surface was hot enough that she couldn't rest her
hand comfortably on it for more than a couple of seconds.
There was no way he should have been able to swallow the
coffee without scalding his mouth just as there was no way
he should have been able to lie in that crater without
being badly burned. And he obviously didn't realize there
was anything unusual about it.

Just what was Charlie, anyway?

**********

"Is something wrong?" Charlie asked. "You've been looking
at me like I've grown another head ever since we had
lunch."

They were strolling along the street, back toward the Daily
Planet. The street wasn't empty, but there were only a few
people visible and not all of them were individuals Lois
would care to meet alone in a dark alley. The faint smell
of smoke drifted past them in the light breeze and
somewhere not far away, sirens were screaming. She ignored
them.

"Lois?" Charlie repeated. "Is something wrong?"

She shook her head. "No. I'm still just trying to figure
you out."

"Well, let me know if you do."

She nodded agreement, suppressing the urge to tell him what
she'd noticed. She didn't want to look silly, but she
didn't think she was wrong. Charlie was resistant to heat.
The hot coffee hadn't affected him at all, even though it
would have burned anyone else. Somehow, Charlie was
different and she was determined to figure out how and why.

Unbidden, the thought from last night popped into her mind.
Either Charlie was a supernatural being or he'd had an
incredible bout of sheer, dumb luck. It was beginning to
look as if it was more the former than the latter. Did
angels look like Charlie? True, he was extremely good
looking, but supernatural? That was a harder bite to
swallow. Still, wasn't it an incredible coincidence that
he'd turned up just now, even without his memory?

For a moment, her more practical nature reasserted itself.
The whole idea made her think that the stress might be
making her lose her mind. She didn't really think Charlie
had been sent to save the Earth from Nightfall. But that
fireball...how could it have been part of the shattered
asteroid? Nightfall -- or what was left of it, anyway --
was still two days away. If it hadn't been a piece of
Nightfall, what had it been -- a fluke meteor that just
happened to crash into Centennial Park while she had been
there, just missing a man who had miraculously survived,
and who just happened to be fireproof?

It all seemed, somehow, too much of a coincidence.

Underneath, she was aware that she was clutching at straws
with a vengeance, but what the heck! If she was wrong, it
couldn't do any more harm, that was for sure. If there was
the faintest chance that there was some kind of weird
connection, didn't she owe it to herself to try to find
out? Charlie was apparently fireproof -- and possibly
more. He'd tackled two men with knives last night; he'd
actually grabbed one knife by the blade, snapped it and
come away unscathed. It was probably temporary insanity on
her part, but there was a lot about Charlie that still
needed to be explained. Maybe it was time to start
believing in miracles. Or just hoping for them.

Only, what did she do now with this incredibly crazy idea?
Obviously, the first thing was to help Charlie regain his
memory, only how was she supposed to do that? There was at
least a ten-hour wait at the hospital for him to be seen.
Besides, what could an emergency room doctor do? Refer him
to a psychiatrist in a month or so?

Well then, how about a private doctor?

"Charlie," she said, suddenly, "I know someone who might be
able to help you."

"Who?" he asked.

"Her name is Dr. Ruth Friskin. She's a psychotherapist.
My sister saw her a few times."

Both his eyebrows went up. "A *shrink*?"

"Well," Lois pointed out, "it's your memory that's the
problem."

"Yeah, I guess." He didn't look enthusiastic, but finally
nodded. "So, how do we find this Dr. Friskin?"

"Well, we could try to call her. Perry said the phone
lines were jammed, though. Or, I guess we could just go to
her office."

"She may not even be there."

"True, but we can only try. Let's find her address."

There was a public phone a short distance ahead with
phonebooks available. Lois took the white pages and began
to leaf through the businesses in the "F" section.
"Filbert...Franklin...Ah, Friskin!" She read the address.
"She's only a couple of blocks from here. Do you want to
walk or take the Jeep?"

"You don't think she'll take me right away, do you?"

"It can't hurt to try," Lois said. "Let's go."

He nodded reluctantly and they turned in the direction of
Ruth Friskin's office. Lois led the way with a confidence
she didn't completely feel. She couldn't help wondering
which of them needed to see the doctor more, Charlie or
her. This had to be the craziest idea she'd ever had.
Still, even if it did no more than help Charlie remember
who he was, it might be worth it.

**********

Dr. Friskin's office was open, but only one man paced
distractedly about the waiting room and the receptionist's
station was empty. When Lois led Charlie into the room, he
glanced at them but didn't speak.

"Is Dr. Friskin here?" Lois asked.

"Yeah. My wife's with her, now." The man fell silent.
Lois marched to the receptionist's station and began to
ruffle through a stack of papers. After a moment, she
found what she was looking for.

"Here, Charlie," she said, presenting him with a printed
form. "Fill this out."

Charlie accepted the paper and a pen from the
receptionist's pencil holder and settled down in an
armchair.

"It wants a last name," he said, after a minute.

"Just fill out what you can," Lois directed. "They can't
expect a man with amnesia to know much about himself."

"That's for sure," he mumbled. A few seconds later, he
handed her the paper. He had filled out the name she had
given him and his gender. The rest was blank.

It was about fifteen minutes later when a thin, determined-
looking woman entered the room, followed by the doctor,
herself. The woman glanced at her pacing husband and
turned to the doctor. "I still think Norman needs to talk
to you more than I do." She advanced and took his arm.
"Let's go, Norm, before you have a real nervous breakdown."

Dr. Friskin smiled. "I'll see you Friday." She turned to
Lois and Charlie. "Can I help you?"

Lois stepped forward. "This is Charlie. I found him last
night in Centennial Park. He's lost his memory and we were
wondering if there was anything you could do to help."

The doctor's eyebrows flew up in surprise but she took the
paper Lois handed her. "Hmm." She cast a measured glance
at Charlie. "You don't remember much, I see."

Charlie ducked his head. "I'm afraid not."

Dr. Friskin shrugged, lightly. "Well, since most of my
patients haven't bothered to show up today, I guess we have
the time. Why don't you come in here, Charlie?"

Lois almost followed them, but thought better of it. She
sank down in the armchair where Charlie had been seated and
considered picking up a magazine to kill time, but somehow,
with the possible end of civilization approaching at
several times the speed of sound, "Health Tips for the
Business Professional" didn't seem to be relevant. After a
moment, she was on her feet, pacing, and didn't even
remember standing up.

She had always made jumps of intuition which, more often
than not, turned out to be right or nearly right, but this
idea of hers had to be completely nuts. What did she
expect Charlie to do, even if he remembered everything when
he came out of Dr. Friskin's office? Fly into space and
stop the asteroid cold? Just because the man was fireproof
didn't mean he could produce miracles.

Still, there was so much about him that didn't add up --
and besides, she liked him. Lois Lane never did anything
out of sentiment, or almost never, but Charlie was such a
charming guy in an innocent sort of way and he obviously
trusted her to try to help him. In the face of that, she
found herself completely unable to turn him loose to cope
on his own. And there were still the questions that she
wanted answers for. What had really happened in Centennial
Park last night? Who was Charlie and where did he come
from?

**********

It was over an hour before Charlie returned. Dr. Friskin
accompanied him. "Remember what I said, Charlie. Once the
emergency is over, your memory will probably return. I'll
just fill Ms. Lane in, now. If you feel as if you need to,
call me. I'll make time to listen to you."

Charlie nodded. "Thank you."

"Any luck?" Lois asked.

"Not yet." Dr. Friskin beckoned Lois into her private
office and shut the door. "I wanted to speak to you, Ms.
Lane."

"Can you help him?" Lois asked.

"I don't know." Dr. Friskin took a seat behind her desk.
"He's given me permission to give you information about his
case, so I'm going to speak freely." She glanced at a note
pad in front of her. "Charlie's almost complete memory
loss is of a type we call 'hysterical amnesia' -- that is,
it's frequently caused by some event or situation that the
person desperately wants to forget. There's nothing
physically wrong with him that I can see, but he told me
how you found him, and, of course, I read your account in
the Daily Planet. That kind of trauma is more than enough
of an excuse for the mind to trigger the memory loss. My
guess would be that anxiety about the asteroid is a factor.
Once it's past, his memory will probably return."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Lois asked.

"Try to get him to talk to you. Be a willing listener.
Since we don't know anything about his past, it isn't
possible to immerse him in familiar settings or the like.
If you can find anyone who recognizes him, it will be a
help."

"Yeah, I figured that," Lois said. "I'll do my best.
Now," she added, "about payment -- "

Ruth Friskin shrugged. "Call it my act of charity for the
week. If Charlie's memory returns in the near future --
and assuming the world survives past the next couple of
days -- we can talk about payment, then."

**********

They left Dr. Friskin's office a few minutes later. Lois
glanced at her watch. It was just past two. In about
fifty-one hours, the Nightfall meteor swarm would be here.
What would it be like? she wondered. She could almost envy
Charlie his loss of memory, except that he knew about the
asteroid. How could it help him to forget everything about
himself if the cause was still there, *and* he knew about
it? Dr. Friskin was probably mostly right, but Lois had to
think that something else as well lay behind it. But what?

"Charlie," she began and paused. What could she ask him to
talk about if she knew nothing of his past? "Dr. Friskin
thought you might have blocked out your memory because of
Nightfall...."

"Yeah, that's what she told me," he said. "I don't see how
that could be it, though. I mean, I know about it. What
difference does it make?"

"That's what I'd like to know. It's not as if you could do
anything about it."

He stopped walking, abruptly and Lois turned in surprise to
see him standing still, an odd expression on his face.
"Charlie? Are you all right?"

He rubbed his eyes. "Yeah, I think so."

"What happened? You looked funny for a minute."

He shook his head. "I don't know. When you said that, it
was as if -- " He broke off.

"What?"

"I don't know. It was like I almost remembered and then I
had this flash, like -- almost like something hit me."

"What was it? Do you have any idea?"

He shook his head. "Whatever it was, it's gone."

Lois looked at him in silence for a long second. "Well,
let's head back for the Planet -- no, wait. My apartment
isn't that far away. I'd like to get a shower and a change
of clothes, as long as there aren't any more riots going on
by the park. Come on."

Agreeable as always, he followed her, not speaking. What
he might be thinking, Lois didn't try to guess. Her
thoughts, however, were racing.

What had happened at the instant Charlie stopped walking?
Like most casual conversation, she couldn't quite recall.
She glanced furtively at him as they walked along the
sidewalk toward her apartment. She had said something --
they had been talking about his memory loss in relation to
the asteroid and she had made a remark about his not being
able to do anything about it, anyway. He had almost
remembered something and now he couldn't recall what it was
-- as if his mind wouldn't let him remember. But that was
crazy! What could one man do about an asteroid of that
size -- even if he could get to it? I didn't make sense.

But something about that conversation might have made sense
-- for an instant -- to Charlie.

**********

The street in front of Lois's apartment house was quiet,
but the rioters had been here. On both sides of the
street, windows were smashed and the hulks of three burned-
out cars lay on their sides on the pavement. The smell of
smoke was heavy in the air.

Her apartment house showed signs of the violence as well.
The glass windows at the entrance had been broken but the
door remained otherwise intact. In fact, it was locked and
Lois had to fish out her key for only the second time in
the five years she had lived there. When the door swung
open, she led the way inside and jumped at the sight of a
man with a shotgun in his hands, watching her narrowly.

"Mr. Tracewski?"

"Ms. Lane! Don't scare me like that!" The apartment
manager lowered the weapon. "I think more hooligans are
trying to break in!"

"There's nobody out there, right now," Lois said.

"I cannot reach the police and the television shows riots
all over the city," Mr. Tracewski said. "I am taking no
chances. Who is this?" He looked past her to Charlie, who
was quietly relocking the door.

"This is Charlie, a friend of mine," Lois explained. "He
came along for protection. There *are* a few trouble spots
still, but most of the rioting seems to be over -- at least
for now."

The manager of Lois's apartment house seemed to relax
slightly. "Good. Then I go get some lunch. I worry about
it tonight, instead. Be careful, Ms. Lane." He nodded to
Charlie and disappeared down the hall, carrying his
shotgun.

Lois and Charlie looked at each other. "I guess this is
what we have to look forward to if that thing in the sky
hits," Charlie said, finally. "I don't think I like it."

"You and me, both," Lois agreed. "Come on. I need to get
that shower."

"Are you sure you want me up there?" Charlie asked. "I
mean, you don't really know me."

"Come on," Lois said, again. "I think I've learned a lot
about you since last night."

"That's more than I have," Charlie muttered, but he
followed her toward the elevator. "At least," he added as
Lois punched the call button, "you're not on the first
floor. You won't have rioters climbing in your windows."

"I guess." The doors opened immediately at her signal and
they stepped inside. "I never had to think much about it
before. The way things have changed in just a couple of
days is scary. And, it could get much worse."

Charlie risked putting a hand on her arm. "If the worst
happens, I won't let anything happen to you, if I can help
it."

She smiled at him. "Thanks, Charlie. You're a good
person."

In truth, she was a little surprised at her feeling for
Charlie. She had known him for less than twenty-four hours
and he was already becoming a friend in her estimation --
someone she trusted with her safety. If she hadn't, she
wouldn't be bringing him up to her apartment, that was
certain. He might not have his memory, but the kind of
person he was came through loud and clear. It was too bad,
really, that she had only gotten to know him when the end
of the world was looming over their heads. Charlie was
someone she wished she had met a long time ago.

**********

Amazingly enough, there was hot water and she took the time
to luxuriate in a long, hot shower. When she stepped out
of her bedroom sometime later, she found Charlie watching
the news on LNN.

"Anything new?" she asked.

"No. President Garner was just on, asking for people to
stay in their homes and not to panic. He's 'confident'
that the Asgard rocket will do its job."

"Even if he wasn't, he wouldn't say so," Lois said. "I
wish we had something else to back it up."

"So do I." Charlie stood up. "Are you ready to go back to
the Planet?"

"Not yet. I thought maybe you'd like a chance to shower,
too. You haven't since last night."

He gave a sudden grin. "Are you saying I need to?"

"Well -- "

"Thanks, I'd appreciate it," he said. He ran a hand over
the stubble that coated his chin. "I tried to shave this
morning, but there was something wrong with the razor Jimmy
gave me. I broke three blades."

"Maybe the pack was defective," Lois reasoned. "I'm afraid
the only one I have is an electric ladies' shaver. I don't
think that would be something you'd want to use on your
face. It's okay," she added daringly. "I think it makes
you look sexy."

Charlie turned slightly pink. "I'll go shower."

**********

Lois heard the shower come on a few minutes later. She
glanced at the television and saw that the picture was one
of wild confusion, while a voiceover informed her that the
transmission was coming in from Spain, via satellite. A
mob was surging through the streets of Madrid, smashing
storefront windows, setting fires and overturning cars.
Looters were running from stores, carrying away everything
from television sets to bicycles and leaving chaos in their
wake. There was no sign of the police. With a gesture of
annoyance, she grabbed the remote control and shut it off.
The last thing she needed to look at was more proof that
humanity was losing its tenuous grip on civilization.
Unable to stand the thoughts that generated, she turned and
hurried into the kitchen to put on the coffeepot. It
should be done by the time Charlie got out of the shower,
she thought, deliberately turning her attention away from
the destruction she had just witnessed.

As she shoveled coffee into the machine, her mind returned
to the instant that Charlie had swallowed the scalding
coffee without a wince. Charlie was immune to heat and
didn't know it. Was the immunity restricted to heat or did
it extend beyond that? What had he said? He hadn't shaved
because the razor had been defective. But what if the
problem lay not with the razor but with Charlie?

"Oh, come on, Lois," she murmured under her breath. "What
are you thinking? If he couldn't shave, he'd have a beard
down to his knees by now. He must be in his mid twenties,
at least!"

But the question wouldn't quite go away. How could a man
be immune to heat? He wasn't a robot or anything. In the
first place, she'd seen the prototypes of robots that were
in the process of development at various centers of science
and technology. They were marvels of mechanical and
electronic engineering, that was certain, but they didn't
look anywhere near human and, as far as she knew, science
was years if not decades away from creating a robot that
could pass for a human even from a distance. And besides,
machines didn't grow beards. Okay then, barring science
fiction scenarios, what was the explanation for Charlie?

There simply wasn't any. At least, there wasn't one that
she could think of. So, if Charlie defied explanations,
then she might as well think of him as a miracle. You
didn't have to explain miracles, and if that were true,
then maybe the rest of it wasn't so far-fetched at all.

She had been staring blankly at the coffeepot for some
time, and the coffee was beginning to pour into the pot.
At that instant, she heard the shower go off. Charlie
would be back within minutes, and she was standing here
staring at nothing like some kind of loon. Quickly, she
turned to her cupboard and found two coffee mugs. She had
noticed at lunch that he seemed to prefer real sugar in his
coffee. Utilizing her kitchen's small step stool, she
located her rarely used sugar bowl on the very top shelf of
the tiny pantry, and discovered that it still contained
some sugar.

Closing the cupboard with one hand and holding the sugar
container in the other, she stepped backward and her foot
missed the step. She made a desperate effort to save
herself. The container flew from her hand as she grabbed
for support and the step stool tilted sideways. With an
involuntary scream, she fell.

A pair of powerful arms, beaded with moisture, caught her.
Charlie's voice, sounding shaken, said, "Lois, are you all
right?"

She found that she was clasping him around the neck,
tightly enough to strangle him. He set her feet gently on
the floor and she realized suddenly that Charlie was
dressed only in a towel wrapped around his waist. His
powerful shoulders and chest were still damp and his hair
was dripping. Somehow, she forced her arms to release him
and managed to smile, albeit a little shakily.

"Yeah -- yeah, I'm fine. Thanks." By the end of the
sentence, she had her voice under control.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I missed a step." She glanced almost furtively at his
muscular torso and quickly forced her gaze up to his face.
Wow! Last night it had been dark and he'd been covered
with soot, but at this moment, she couldn't imagine how
she'd managed to miss just how good he looked.

He glanced down at himself. "I guess I better go get
dressed," he said quickly and was gone almost on the word.
It was only then, once the distraction of his appearance
had been removed and her brain began to function again,
that she started to wonder.

How had Charlie gotten there in time? There had been no
more than a second or two at the most between her scream
and the instant he caught her. It was obvious he'd barely
stepped out of the shower; he hadn't even had time to dry
his hair, and she couldn't imagine that he'd been on his
way into the kitchen, dripping wet like that. Even if he'd
had improper plans for her, he'd at least have dried off,
first. Just how fast could Charlie move?

By the time he returned to the kitchen, she had swept up
the spilled sugar and her heart rate had returned to
normal. His hair was still damp but had been combed
severely into place and he was, naturally, still wearing
the jeans and T-shirt with which Jimmy had supplied him
last night. She set the whisk broom and dustpan back in
the little closet. "I was going to offer you some coffee,
but I guess I spilled the last of the sugar. Sorry."

"That's all right. I'm just glad you're not hurt."

"Charlie --" She hesitated to ask him about it, but she
had to know. "Where were you when you heard me scream?"

He shrugged. "In the bathroom. Why?"

"I just wondered." Should she tell him? Would it help or
hurt him? Lois didn't know and had no way to ask. Maybe
Dr. Friskin could tell her if she posed the question in
such a way as to avoid specifics. Dr. Friskin would
undoubtedly think she needed psychotherapy if she were to
tell the good doctor what was going through her head at
this moment, but she really needed to know. Charlie wasn't
ordinary; that was obvious to her, now. He had survived
that fireball, wasn't burned by scalding coffee and now had
demonstrated, all unknowing, that he could move far faster
than a normal man should be able to move. It was
inconceivable to her that his arrival was merely a
coincidence. He had to be here for a reason and what
better reason than to save them all from Nightfall? But
something had gone wrong; something had happened to terrify
him into the loss of his memory. What could it be?

A suspicion was hovering in the back of her mind, one that
she had so far regarded as out of any realm of possibility.
There was still no explanation for the fact that Nightfall
had been shattered. She cast a measuring glance at him.
Was it possible? What had the fireball been? It couldn't
have been a piece of Nightfall; that had already been
established. But what if it had been a ship or something?
A craft with its own system of propulsion could have gotten
here ahead of the asteroid swarm.

Wait a minute! What was she *thinking*? First it was
supernatural agencies and angels and now it was little
green men! She *must* be losing her grip on reality!
Besides, there hadn't been any sign of a ship in the crater
and Charlie looked pretty human to her, even with his
unexplained abilities and admittedly impressive physique.
He sure didn't look anything like the drawings of putative
"aliens" from Roswell or somewhere. And yet....

She turned off the coffeepot with a resigned sigh. "I
guess I'll need to get some more sugar if you're going to
be around for a while," she remarked. "I'll try to pick
some up at a grocery store tonight, if any of them are
open." She glanced at her watch. "I guess we'd better get
back to the Planet. We've been gone nearly four hours."

**********

The street was still quiet when they left the apartment
house, walking quickly. Here and there, Lois spotted brave
souls hurrying along the sidewalk, looking around alertly.
Most people were in pairs or small groups and they moved at
a brisk pace, as if they were a little nervous about
staying in one place for long.

Somewhere, not far away, Lois could hear police sirens as
well as the distinctive sounds of fire trucks and paramedic
vehicles. For a moment, she debated the wisdom of making
her way to the scene but decided against it. LNN was
undoubtedly covering it from the air and, besides, what was
one more end of the world demonstration? It wasn't as if
it would do any good, and at present, they all seemed to be
turning into riots anyway. If you'd seen one riot, you'd
seen them all and she had better things to do with her
time.

"If we cut through the park here, it's ten minutes to the
Planet," she said a few minutes later, gesturing to the
little winding path that led through one of the most scenic
sections of Centennial Park. In December, of course, most
of the trees were bare of leaves but enough pines and
evergreen hedges had been included in the landscaping that
the park was still respectably green. "I was lucky to get
a place this close to work. If my car is in the shop, I'm
not stuck with public transportation."

Charlie nodded. "I usually walk to work," he remarked and
stopped, staring at Lois. "I remembered!"

"Where do you work?" Lois asked, quickly.

He was frowning. "I don't know. There was just that one
bit. Do you suppose it means anything?"

She shrugged. "It might be some kind of progress. You
remembered flying over the meteorite crater in Arizona,
too. At least, it means you're remembering a little. Does
anything come to mind? I mean, what kind of work you might
do or anything?"

He shook his head. "I don't think so. I do seem to
remember flying...maybe I'm a pilot."

"Well -- there's a private field around here. Maybe we
should go out there and look around. Besides, if you're a
pilot, maybe someone at the field would recognize you."

"That's a thought," he agreed. "Do you have the time to
try it?"

Lois made a face. "I don't see why not. The only news to
cover right now is the riots and one riot looks pretty much
like every other one. EPRAD isn't giving any more press
conferences until tomorrow afternoon, just before they fire
the Asgard rocket. I'll want to be there for that, of
course."

"Of course," Charlie agreed. "I wish I could be there,
too. I feel like I'm missing out on all the important
stuff. Think what a great story it will make if things go
the way they're supposed to."

Lois glanced at him, slightly puzzled. Why would Charlie
sound so excited over a potential story? The only people
who ever did that, in her estimation, were reporters and
editors. Charlie seemed a bit too young to be an editor,
unless it was one of those little one-horse rags in small
town America. Was it possible he could be a reporter?

Well, first things first. She could flounder around trying
this and that in the way of jobs or she could go at it
methodically. She'd follow the pilot thing first since it
would be sunset, pretty soon. Maybe she could even get
someone to take them up in a plane to let Charlie get a
taste of flying. Then, she'd take him on a tour of the
Daily Planet. Maybe he'd remember something. But, if he
were here from -- well, somewhere else -- then, this
wouldn't do any good.

Again, she shook off the thought. Who really believed in
flying saucers, after all? That was for those UFO flakes
who congregated in Roswell every year, or went out in the
desert and sent out signals, hoping to attract aliens. If
a flying saucer ever actually arrived, they'd probably run
screaming into the night.

Charlie caught her arm suddenly, stopping stock still on
the path. "Wait, Lois."

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"I hear something."

She listened. The only sound was the occasional birdcall
and the rustling of the breeze in the evergreens. "I don't
hear anything."

"There's somebody up there -- hiding in the bushes." His
face was curiously intent. "Two people. I can hear them
breathing. Let's go back."

She opened her mouth to scoff and shut it again, with a
snap. He had heard the riot last night before she had.
Was this another manifestation of Charlie's differences or
was he just hearing things?

She didn't have time to wonder. As she started to turn at
the urging of Charlie's insistent hand, two men in brand
new but mismatched clothing, stepped onto the path.

Judging by the types and condition of their clothing, she
and Charlie were facing a pair of looters. One held a tire
iron and the other hefted what looked like an ancient
battleaxe. The only thing Lois could think of was that it
must have come from someone's private collection of
antiques, or possibly a museum. In any case, the men were
advancing toward the two of them with a purposeful stride.
Charlie shoved her behind him.

"We don't want any trouble," he began.

The man with the battleaxe grinned, showing a gap where one
of his front teeth should have been. "That's too bad," he
said. "'Cause trouble wants you. Gimme your wallets!"

"I don't have a wallet," Charlie said.

Lois said nothing. She had no intention of letting this
pair have any clue that she might be more of a threat than
she looked. As she had last night, she kicked off her high
heels and let her handbag slide to the ground. She needed
to be able to move freely and that didn't include teetering
around unsteadily in a pair of shoes highly unsuited for
the purpose. She made a promise to herself, however, that
after this, until the current situation was past -- if it
ever was -- she was not going walking in the open again,
even with Charlie. As soon as they got back to the Planet,
she was going to drive the Cherokee to the nearest gas
station to fill the tank. And, she was going to change to
flat shoes -- the kind with leather soles. Bare feet
weren't nearly as effective if you had to kick someone.
Too many persons were taking advantage of the current lack
of adequate police presence for ordinary, law-abiding
people to be out alone.

The man with the tire iron was moving right, circling to
come at them from the side, while Battleaxe came straight
at Charlie, his weapon poised. Lois waited, her knees
slightly bent. The last thing she needed was for Tire Iron
to hit Charlie while he was trying to deal with Battleaxe.

Sure enough, the two of them charged, together. Battleaxe
leaped forward with a yell that would have done credit to
any Viking warrior of old, swinging his weapon with the
obvious intention of taking Charlie in the head, while Tire
Iron lunged at him from the side. Lois didn't even have
time to think. The training acquired in Tai Kwan Do class
took over. She ducked low, caught the arm of the man
swinging the tire iron and yanked it forward, at the same
instant driving her hip into his thighs. It was one of the
very elementary throws that had been taught in her martial
arts classes, but it worked like a charm. Tire Iron went
over her body with a yell of surprise and panic, to land
hard on the path, flat on his back, with enough force to
drive the air from his lungs. Behind her, she heard a
clang and a flurry of motion. She yanked the tire iron
from her attacker's suddenly nerveless fingers and spun
around, fully expecting to see Battleaxe coming at her.

But he wasn't. The ancient weapon was lying on the ground,
its metal blade shattered in half a dozen pieces, and the
man who had wielded it was fleeing from the scene as fast
as his legs would carry him.

"Are you all right?" Charlie asked.

"Am *I* all right!" Lois burst out. "Are *you* all right?
What happened?"

Charlie rubbed his forehead tentatively and glanced at the
ruined weapon. "I'm not sure, but I don't seem to be hurt.
The axe broke. He hit me on the forehead but he must have
got me with the flat of the blade instead of the edge.
That was a close call, though."

Tire Iron was coughing, hunched on the ground and trying to
regain his breath. Lois took a step toward him,
brandishing the tire iron. "Get out of here!" she said,
menacingly.

Unwilling to deal with superior force, the man hoisted
himself unsteadily to his feet and staggered away, still
coughing. Lois watched him go, not without a certain
amount of regret. It would have been nice to hand him over
to the police, but they didn't have any transportation to
take the guy in, and the police were far too occupied with
the current emergency to have time for lesser problems,
anyway. After a moment, she turned back to Charlie and the
broken battleaxe.

"Come on," she said, her voice beginning to shake. "Let's
get out of here."

"You better get your shoes," Charlie said. "You'll ruin
your nylons."

"I think they're already ruined," Lois muttered, stooping
to retrieve the articles. Charlie gave her a hand for
balance while she slipped the shoes back on, and as she
straightened up, he picked up her handbag.

"Here."

"Thanks." She regarded the tire iron thoughtfully. "You
know, I think I'll hang onto this until we're out of the
park. You never know when you might need it, now."

"That's for sure," Charlie said, with surprising vehemence.
"You were great, Lois."

"I told you last night that I studied karate," she reminded
him. "In my job, it's turned out to be a pretty handy
thing to know, every now and then."

"I can see that," he said, admiringly. "I'm impressed."

"Thanks." She glanced around. "Let's get out in the open
again. I won't feel safe until I can see everything around
me."

"I'll go along with that," Charlie said. "Come on."

They walked along in silence, each alert for trouble, but
the incident had given Lois considerable new fodder for
consideration.

Charlie thought Battleaxe had hit him with the flat of the
blade but before she had turned to deal with Tire Iron, she
had seen the thing coming straight for his head, edge-
first. The axe had hit him and shattered into fragments,
leaving him unscathed. Just as the knife last night hadn't
cut him and the razor had broken when he tried to shave,
the battleaxe had come away second best. Charlie couldn't
be hurt -- at least, not by any ordinary weapon.

There was no longer any possibility that this was all a
figment of her imagination. Whatever Charlie might be, he
wasn't an ordinary man.

So, if he wasn't an ordinary man, what was he?

**********

Lois wasn't sure what she expected when they reached the
end of the parkland and emerged onto the street again. The
Daily Planet was only a few minutes' brisk walk away but
the sidewalk, usually swarming with people late in the
afternoon, was almost deserted.

"It's like a ghost town," she murmured.

Charlie didn't answer but she saw that he was biting his
lip. Determinedly, she started toward the Planet with a
businesslike stride. "The first thing we're going to do is
gas up the Jeep," she said. "Then we're going to head for
the airfield. We need to find out who you are."

"Does it matter?" he asked. "I don't see why I should be
so important, with all the rest that's happening."

"Yes, it's important," Lois said. "If you have family,
they're probably worried sick about you. They'll probably
need you, too, if that thing hits us. It's going to kill
an awful lot of people and make it hard for everyone who
survives to get by afterwards." She nearly blurted out the
rest, but at the last minute decided not to. If he thought
she was crazy, it wouldn't help the situation. "If you
have a wife, or kids -- or even just parents -- they'll
want to know that you're alive."

"I know," he said. "But the Asgard rocket will get it --
I'm sure of that." He said it as if he was trying to
reassure himself as much as her.

"I hope you're right," she said. "The sheet they handed
out to us at the press conference yesterday said that
they're launching it tomorrow afternoon. It should
intercept Nightfall inside the moon's orbit. If it misses,
we'll only have a few hours to wait."

"It won't miss," Charlie said.

"I hope not." Lois waited for the WALK signal and stepped
off the curb.

"Well, they program trajectories for the Mars probes and so
forth," Charlie pointed out. "They've got to be pretty
accurate or the probes would never get where they're
supposed to."

"True, but do you remember the Mars probe that they lost
because one programmer used English measurements and the
other used metric?"

"They *did*?" Charlie looked appalled.

"They sure did. People make mistakes -- especially when
they're under a lot of stress. I just hope no one makes
any mistakes this time. They've only got one shot."

She watched him process that and for a moment, a qualm
assaulted her. If Charlie had come to save them and he'd
lost his ship, somehow, all she was doing was upsetting him
unnecessarily. But, she reminded herself, there had been
no sign of a ship in the crater. Maybe he'd bailed out, or
something. And even if this was somehow all her
imagination, the rest of what she said was true. If
Charlie had a family, they had to be going crazy wondering
where he was and what had happened to him. Besides, he
seemed to be awfully sure, all of a sudden, that the Asgard
rocket would save them. If his memory was gone because he
was afraid of Nightfall, he might be repressing who and
what he was so he wouldn't have to deal with the huge
asteroid. She didn't know much about psychology. She'd
only taken one semester of it in college to fill in credits
in some category or other, but it seemed to make sense.
Maybe if he weren't so sure about the success of the Asgard
rocket, he'd be more likely to remember something. At
least, she hoped so.

They continued on toward the Planet, walking briskly. Not
many cars were on the street. Lois had never seen downtown
Metropolis so empty. The security guard in the lobby gave
her a hard look as she and Charlie entered via the
revolving door and then relaxed. "Oh, hello, Ms. Lane.
Mr. White will be glad to know you're back. He's had me
watching for you."

"Perry was worried about me?" Lois asked.

"Well, sure. There was a riot over on fifth and -- "

"Yeah, we heard it," Lois said. "We also almost got mugged
in the park, but Charlie chased off the guy with the
battleaxe."

The guard did a double take. "Did you say a battleaxe?"

Lois nodded. "I've had enough close calls for one day.
Charlie and I are going to get my car and drive over to the
Metro Airfield. Could you tell Perry for me, Bill?"

"Sure, Ms. Lane." The man shook his head. "Things are
getting worse by the hour out there."

"Tell me about it. We should be back in a couple of hours.
Come on, Charlie."

**********

The gas station where she usually filled up the Jeep was
closed and so was its competitor directly across the
street. It took nearly half an hour to locate an open
station, a small, shabby independent one, several miles
from the airfield. Lois glanced at the rates and her jaw
almost dropped. "That's highway robbery!"

Charlie shrugged. "I guess the owner's charging what the
market will pay. He's kind of got us over a barrel."

"Yeah, well, if the Asgard rocket succeeds, I'm writing an
expose of this place," Lois muttered, darkly. She pulled
up to a pump. "Talk about price gouging!"

However, since the Cherokee was more than three-quarters
empty, she filled the tank and paid the staggering price
demanded by the owner. They turned out onto the street
again and Lois switched on the radio.

Radio LNN was on, reporting the latest on the Nightfall
Asteroid and the progress with the Asgard rocket. It was
all ready to go, according to EPRAD. All that was needed
was their launch window, which was scheduled for
approximately eighteen hours from now. Professor Daitch,
the head astronomer for the space agency, expressed
confidence in the prospects for a successful resolution to
the current difficulty.

"'Difficulty'!" Lois snorted. "They talk about it as if
some general misplaced his dress uniform! The whole world
is at stake here!"

"I hope he's right, though," Charlie said. He sounded less
sure of himself, now than he had a short time ago. "If the
asteroid hits, what's happened today will be nothing to
what it's like afterwards. It's just *got* to work!"

"That's for sure," Lois said. She glanced around as they
approached the entrance to the parkway. "I've never seen
the streets so empty. Everyone must be home, watching the
television for news bulletins or something."

"I guess most people figure that if the end of the world is
coming, they'd rather be with their families," Charlie
said.

"Most would," Lois said.

"But, how about you?" Charlie asked, clearly concerned.
"You're spending all your time trying to help me. What
about your family?"

"You don't want to know about my family," Lois said.

Charlie didn't answer. Lois guided the Jeep onto the
parkway entrance.

The parkway was as empty as the surface streets had been.
It required no skill at all to merge into traffic; there
was no traffic to speak of, at all. Charlie still hadn't
spoken.

"Sorry," Lois said, at last, feeling slightly guilty. "My
mom and dad are divorced and my sister dropped out of
college a few months ago and ran off to California to
'find' herself."

"Oh." Charlie looked a little uncomfortable. "Sorry I
asked."

"It's all right," Lois said. "We haven't been a real
family for a long time. I'd rather help you than sit
around just waiting."

"Well, I appreciate it." Charlie bit his lip. "I have
this funny feeling, you know -- as if there's something
else I should be doing, but I don't know what it is. It's
frustrating."

Lois nodded without saying anything. Underneath, she
suppressed a small surge of hope. If Charlie's conscience
was beginning to prod him, maybe he would overcome whatever
was keeping his memory from surfacing. Maybe he would
begin to remember. On the other hand, fear was a powerful
emotion. If her wild ideas were anywhere near right, it
might be that if he regained his memory, he would be driven
to act even at the cost of his own life. His subconscious
might be trying to prevent that. She wished that she knew
more about the subject. All the pop psychology she had
absorbed over the years might not be based in reality; on
the other hand, if she remembered anything from her
psychology class in college, a lot of those theories were
really out there too, so maybe not all official psychology
was based in reality, either.

The Metro Airfield was actually a private airfield for
small planes, set on the outskirts of Metropolis. They
left the parkway at Aero Drive and Lois turned onto the
narrow, graveled road that led to the north where the field
had been built at some distance from housing developments
or businesses. This was farmland, and around them were
open fields where nothing grew, at least so far. In three
or four months, with the coming of spring, they would be
carefully cultivated and turning green as tiny plants began
to show. Lois had no idea what might be grown here, but
Charlie gazed out the window with a certain amount of
interest.

"What kind of crops do they plant here?" he inquired.

"I don't know. Luthor Agricultural owns the land," she
said. "Lex Luthor is a multi-billionaire who lives in
Metropolis. He's supposed to be the second or third
richest man in the world and has his finger in all kinds of
business. I've been trying to get an interview with him
for ages but he dodges personal interviews like poison."

"I guess I can understand that," Charlie said. "Somebody
like him would have every journalist or publicity seeker --
or just plain con man -- after him constantly."

"Oh, I know," Lois said. "Still, it's frustrating. I'm
determined to get the first one-on-one interview with him -
- or I was. If Nightfall hits, it won't matter, anyway."

"Yeah," Charlie said. "I guess things like money won't
mean anything if that happens."

They fell silent for a time. Lois had been forced to slow
the Cherokee to traverse the gravel road. She glanced at
the sinking sun, realizing that they had taken more time
than she had expected to find a gas station. It was going
to be after dark before she and Charlie got back to
Metropolis.

"Where's the air field?" Charlie asked, after a while.

"About ten miles farther down the road, I think," Lois
said. "The owner bought land at a distance from any
housing so he wouldn't have to deal with irritated
neighbors. I interviewed him a few years ago when they put
in the airport," she added, by way of explanation.
"Eventually, of course, the developers will build houses
right up to the edge of his airfield and then the
homeowners will start complaining about airport noise, and
he'll have to move, but that's a few years away, yet."

"Why would anyone buy a house right next to an airfield?"
Charlie asked. "It doesn't seem fair that he'd have to
move because people moved in, knowing that the airfield was
there first."

"It guess it isn't, really," Lois agreed. "But, since when
does that have anything to do with it?"

"I guess not," Charlie said. "Still, it doesn't seem
right."

Lois had never previously considered the idea, but had to
agree in principle. She had discovered since meeting him
that Charlie had a way of looking at things that made her
think about them in a way she hadn't before. It was too
bad, she thought again, that she hadn't met him sooner. He
might have been good for her as a journalist, if nothing
else. Coming up with new ways of looking at things was
important. As she had been told many times, there were no
new stories, only new angles. Being able to look at things
from those new angles brought freshness to a journalist's
writing. Charlie seemed to have a knack for making her do
just that. He would have made a good reporter, she
thought, for the second time that day.

It was another fifteen minutes before they saw a sign
announcing the Metro Airfield a mile ahead. Lois glanced
at Charlie. "Does anything look familiar?"

He shook his head. "I'm afraid not."

"We're probably on the wrong track," Lois said. "Still,
since you remember flying, it's something we should check
out, anyway. I hope Mac is here."

"Mac?"

"Mac Fergusen. He's the owner. There's the turnoff."
Lois took the gravel road to the left. A few minutes
later, the fence that surrounded the airfield came into
view.

The sun was swimming on the horizon, and the sky above it
was red with the colors of sunset. Small, fluffy pink and
gold clouds speckled the western sky and the landscape
around them had a rosy cast. Lois drove through the gate
and turned toward the manager's office.

The shades were closed but light leaked around the edges,
so someone was probably there -- especially since the gate
had been open. They pulled to a stop in one of the parking
spaces and she cut the engine. "Shall we go?"

Charlie shrugged. "I guess. It doesn't look as if
business is very good today."

"Well, let's go see." She opened the door and got out.

The first reaction to Lois's knock on the door of the
manager's office was a dead silence. Then, she could hear
the sound of footsteps crossing the floor inside. There
was a pause. At last, the door opened a few inches and the
man she recognized as Mac Fergusen peeked out. "Yeah? Can
I help you?"

"I'm Lois Lane, Mr. Fergusen," Lois said, quickly. "I
interviewed you for the Daily Planet when you first opened
the airfield a couple of years ago."

Slowly, the door opened wider. "I remember," Fergusen
said. "How are you, Ms. Lane?" He glanced past her at
Charlie. "Who's your friend?"

"We're not sure," Lois said. "Could we come in and
explain?"

Fergusen hesitated. "I guess. I haven't had any real
customers all day -- just a couple of weirdoes wantin' to
skywrite stuff about the end of the world. None o' my
skywritin' pilots showed up for work today, though. This
business with the asteroid is making people crazy, I
think." He stood back and held the door open. "C'mon in."

Lois entered the cluttered little office with Charlie on
her heels. Fergusen waved to a couple of chairs with one
hand and the coffee machine with the other. "Help
yourselves if you want some coffee. What can I do for
you?"

"Well, you were kind of a long shot," Lois admitted. "This
is Charlie -- at least we're calling him that for lack of
anything better. Did you read the Daily Planet today?"

Fergusen nodded. "Yeah, I picked one up on the way here,
this morning. Why?"

"Well, Charlie is the man I found in the crater the
fireball made in Centennial Park. He can't remember who he
is, but he says he remembers flying. I thought he might be
a pilot or something. We came out here to see if somebody
might recognize him."

"Hmm." Mac Fergusen surveyed Charlie thoughtfully. "Can't
say as I do...say, you know who you look like?"

Charlie shook his head. "No."

"That was a dumb question, wasn't it?" Mac grinned and
smacked his forehead lightly with one hand. "About four
months ago, we had a plane nearly crash here -- one of
those private jets, you know? The whole thing was as close
to a miracle as I ever hope to see. Lightning hit the
plane and the pilot had to bring it in without any landing
gear. Somehow, he managed to land without a scratch, even
though the runway was too short for a jet. Nobody here saw
it until it was practically on the ground, 'cause it was
out on the farthest runway, and the guy's radio was knocked
out, too. He said it seemed like he lost control of the
thing the last few minutes, as if some kind of unknown
force had taken over from the outside. Everybody figured
the pilot must have landed the plane by pure instinct.
Anyway, there was this guy who showed up and hauled out the
passengers while the crew was putting out the engine fire.
Nobody could find him later but I got a good look at him
when he handed this little kid down to me -- daughter of
the plane's owner, it turned out. I remembered him later,
'cause of the weirdness of the whole thing and the way he
just appeared outta nowhere and then disappeared later
without a trace. It was in your paper, Ms. Lane."

Lois vaguely remembered the incident. She hadn't paid much
attention to it because by the time the story was told, the
excitement was over. The Hollywood producer who owned the
plane had issued a short statement and ducked the media, of
course, and the whole incident had been quickly
overshadowed by other news. "And Charlie looks like this
person?"

"Kind of," Mac said. "He wore glasses, though -- a pair of
horn-rimmed glasses -- and his hair was a little longer in
the back. I came face to face with him for just a minute.
Then later, when they were tryin' to find him to thank him,
he'd disappeared."

"But you don't have any idea who he was?" Lois asked.

Mac shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Your friend here
sort of looks like him, except for the hair and the
glasses. And the five o'clock shadow, of course." He
glanced at Charlie. "You don't wear glasses, do you?"

Charlie shrugged. "I don't think so. I seem to see all
right without glasses."

"Guess you're not the same guy, then." Mac gave an
eloquent shrug. "Sorry I can't help you, Ms. Lane."

Lois sighed. "Well, it was a shot. Would you mind showing
Charlie what the
inside of a cockpit looks like--just to see if he
recognizes anything?"

"Sure. No problem." Mac set down his coffee cup. "I've
got one in for repairs
in the maintenance shed. Follow me."

**********

The sun was down by the time they returned to the Jeep.
Mac Fergusen waved goodbye to them in a friendly fashion
and followed them out to lock the airfield's gate behind
them. Lois glanced at the fading colors of the sunset and
switched on her headlights. "It's going to be dark before
we get back to the parkway."

"We probably shouldn't have come," Charlie said. "We
didn't find anything out."

"It was worth the shot," Lois said, noncommittally. "Even
if you didn't
recognize anything, it doesn't mean you're not a pilot. It
could mean that
you don't remember." She didn't elaborate on her other
thoughts. The story Mac had told about the unidentified
man who looked like Charlie stuck in her mind. Was it
possible? But if the stranger had been Charlie, then he'd
been here four months ago. At the same time, a seeming
miracle had occurred. It was something to think about.
How could the pilot have landed a plane successfully on a
runway that was too short for a jet -- a jet with no
landing gear, she reminded herself -- with no more damage
than had already been done by the lightning strike? On the
face of it, it was impossible. But, then, so were a lot of
things that had happened in the past twenty-four hours,
ever since she'd met Charlie. Somehow, she was sure that
the mystery man had been her new friend and that he'd also
been responsible for saving that plane. How he might have
done it, she didn't know but if he had, it would be
consistent with the other things she'd seen today. Did
Charlie have some kind of invisible ship or something? Had
he grabbed the plane with tractor beams like on Star Trek?
Or was he really an angel, after all? Did an angel grow a
beard?

When she got back to the Planet, as soon as she could get
hold of Jimmy, she was going to have him run a computer
search of strange happenings like this one. If Charlie had
been around for very long, it might explain some otherwise
unexplainable things. She was going to need to gather a
lot of evidence if she was going to convince Charlie, but
if she could bring back his memory, it might be worth it.

"Um...Lois?" Charlie's voice interrupted the stream of
thoughts. "Aren't your headlights supposed to be brighter
than that?"

The question brought her attention to the gravel road in
front of them. Charlie was right. Her headlights were dim
and getting dimmer, and on her dashboard, one of the idiot
lights was blinking warningly. Experimentally, she turned
them off and back on again, but they were no brighter than
before. Flipping on the high beams didn't help. The high
lights were dim and caused her engine to sputter
alarmingly.

"Better stop a minute," Charlie said. "It looks like you
have a battery problem."

The advice was unnecessary. Like snapping a switch, her
engine went silent and the headlights faded out.

"Oh, great," Lois said. "Now, what do we do?"

She guided the rolling vehicle to a stop near the edge of
the road, but mindful of the ditches that ran along both
sides of the gravel-covered thoroughfare, she didn't dare
pull too far to the right. The brakes and power steering
were sluggish without the help of the engine, but she
wrestled the suddenly clumsy vehicle to a safe stop, set
the parking brake and automatically turned off the
ignition. For a moment, neither of them said anything but
Lois was thinking a number of things, none of them
pleasant.

They were stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The airfield
was ten or fifteen miles behind them and besides, it was
closed by now. Mac Ferguson had been closing up when they
left. The city was at least as far away, and she had no
way to call for help -- even if the condition of the jammed
telephone lines were, by some miracle, kind enough to let a
call through. And, it was distinctly dark. Only the
slightest trace of the colors of sunset remained in the
western sky. She had forgotten how very dark the night
was, away from the city lights.

Charlie's face was only dimly visible beside her. He had
turned toward her, and she could see his eyes glowing
faintly in the darkness.

"I don't suppose," he said, "that you carry a cellular
phone."

Lois shook her head and then realized he probably couldn't
see it. "No. Perry's been trying to get approval for the
Planet to supply cell phones for its reporters but so far,
he hasn't been able to talk them into it. All I have is a
pager. Besides, even if I did, we probably couldn't get
the call through. All the lines have been jammed ever
since people found out about the asteroid."

"You're probably right. Do you know of any gas stations
around here? I could probably hike over and get some
help."

"I think the nearest place is the airfield," Lois said,
unhappily. "There might be a gas station along the
parkway, somewhere, but I don't know where."

"And the parkway's a good distance, too," Charlie said.
She saw him turn to look back at the dark road that
stretched behind them. "We better get this thing off the
road. I'd hate to have somebody run into us in the dark."

"I couldn't pull any farther right," Lois said. "There's a
ditch over there."

"I know. But there's a place right there about thirty feet
ahead of us where the shoulder's pretty wide." She could
see his dim figure raise an arm to point at some spot in
the darkness, well beyond her range of vision. "See what I
mean? If I can push the car to that, at least we won't
risk somebody crashing into us."

"Are you sure? I can't see a thing."

"You can't?" Charlie was clearly surprised. "It's not
that dark. There's plenty of starlight. The moon should
be up pretty soon, too."

"Well, maybe, but I can't see anything," Lois said.

"Maybe you need to eat more carrots," Charlie said. "Look,
I'll push the car over there. Just make sure the brake is
off and the steering wheel isn't locked. I can steer if I
push from the left door side."

Lois nodded and watched as he opened the passenger door.
Against the faintly lighter background of the sky, she
could see him cross in front of the Jeep and turned the key
in the ignition to unlock the steering wheel. It was kind
of spooky, she thought as she rolled down the window and
watched him approach her side of the car. He seemed bigger
than he had by daylight, and she didn't know him very
well...but, somehow, she couldn't be afraid of Charlie.

He leaned in the window and grasped the steering wheel with
his right hand, bracing his left against the window frame.
"You better take off the brake and put it in neutral."

She'd forgotten the brake, she thought. Charlie must
indeed have good night sight to have been able to see that
in the darkness of the car's interior. At once she shifted
into neutral and released the emergency brake.

The Jeep started to roll backward. They were on a slight
incline, she realized, stepping on the foot brake. Charlie
was never going to be able to push her heavy SUV thirty
feet forward to the spot he'd described. She opened her
mouth to say so when Charlie threw his weight into the job
and to her surprise, she felt the Cherokee begin to move.

Belatedly, she removed her foot from the brake, watching
him alertly, now. The Jeep rolled forward easily and
Charlie didn't even seem to be working particularly hard as
he pushed it up the slight incline toward the spot he had
chosen.

Surreptitiously, Lois put her foot back on the brake.
Charlie didn't seem to notice. The Cherokee continued it's
steady progress without the slightest change in speed.

Feeling slightly ashamed of herself, she removed her foot
from the brake pedal. Finally, Charlie guided the vehicle
off the gravel road, onto the grass of the shoulder, and
stopped.

"You can put on the brake," he said.

Quickly, Lois put the Cherokee in "park" and pulled the
emergency brake. Charlie, she noted, wasn't even breathing
hard.

"That was amazing," she said.

"What was?"

"The way you did that. This isn't exactly a light car.
You must be a lot stronger than you look."

"Maybe I work out," he said, without much interest. "Why
don't you pop the hood? I'd like to take a look and see if
I can figure out what's wrong."

"Okay." She obeyed and reached across to open the glove
compartment. "Here's the flashlight."

"That's okay," he said. "It's light enough without it."
He walked around to the front of the Cherokee and raised
the hood. Lois opened the door and got out. She'd never
seen a man repair an engine in near pitch-blackness. This
was something she wanted to watch.

It was so dark under the hood of the Jeep that she could
barely see the outline of his profile as he bent over the
engine. Could his eyes possibly be *that* good? Could
anyone's? Even cats didn't have that kind of sight in the
dark -- did they?

"I think I see the problem," Charlie said, after a moment.

"What is it?"

"It looks to me like the belt to your alternator must have
broken. It's gone. After that happened, your battery
wasn't being charged anymore and when you used up its
charge, that was it. Once you get a new alternator belt
and charge the battery, your car should be all right."

"Gee, that's a lot of comfort," Lois said, unable to
suppress a touch of sarcasm. "Where am I going to find an
alternator belt in the middle of nowhere at this hour?"

"Well," Charlie said, uncertainly, "we could walk up the
road and hope there's a gas station somewhere around."

"There probably is -- somewhere," Lois said, relenting. "I
don't know about you, though, but I'm not about to set off
blindly in the dark, looking for a gas station that may be
miles away. Especially now."

"Yeah, I guess you have a point," Charlie said. "Well, if
we stay here, I guess we'll probably be okay until morning
-- and it's always possible there'll be a police patrol
around here sometime during the night."

"In this place?" Lois said. "While they're dealing with
riots and end-of-the-world nuts and everything? I think
this area is probably pretty low on their list of
priorities."

"You're probably right," Charlie agreed. "I'm sorry,
Lois."

Immediately, she felt that touch of guilt again. The guy
was only trying to help, after all. She didn't stop to
wonder why she felt guilty, when any other guy, except
possibly her boss, would have been fair game for a dose of
withering scorn. Mad Dog Lane, as she had heard some of
her co-workers call her when they thought she wasn't
listening, normally had little use for men in general and
none at all if one of them was foolish enough to make
useless suggestions of any kind in her presence.

"It's okay, Charlie. It's not your fault." She moved back
while he slammed the hood shut. "I guess we should get
back in the car. I'm cold."

It was hardly warmer in the Jeep. Without the engine to
operate the heater, it was bound to get even colder by
morning and her jacket wasn't big enough to act as much of
a blanket. All the same, she buttoned it up to her chin
and folded her arms over her chest.

"Are you still cold?" Charlie asked.

"A little," Lois said. Her feet, attired only in nylons
and high-heeled shoes were distinctly chilly.

Charlie turned to look into the back of the Cherokee. "You
don't keep a car blanket in here, by any chance, do you?"

She shook her head, figuring that he'd be able to see her
motion and wrapped her arms around her ribcage. "Aren't
you cold?"

"No."

It figured, she thought. "Charlie, don't you think that's
a little strange?"

"Why?"

"It's winter. You're running around without even a jacket
and you aren't cold."

"I hadn't thought about it. Why?"

"Because you should be cold. Anyone else would be."

Out of the dark, his voice sounded genuinely puzzled. "I
don't understand."

She laughed a little. "I don't either, really, but there's
something different about you. I've been noticing ever
since last night."

"What do you mean?"

"Well -- to start with, where I found you in the crater.
The ground was *hot* -- even where you were lying. I found
those glasses right where I saw you. The frames were
completely melted. You should have been burned at least a
little and you weren't even singed, even though your
clothes were completely burned off. Do you have any
explanation for that?"

"Um -- dumb luck?" He sounded slightly embarrassed.

"I don't think so, but even if it was, a few minutes later
when those two muggers came after us, you grabbed one man's
knife by the blade and broke it. You weren't even cut. Do
you have any idea why?"

"More luck?"

"The next day -- in the restaurant -- I noticed something
else. The coffee was steaming. I touched your cup and it
was really hot. But you didn't feel it."

He looked puzzled. "Yes, I did. It just wasn't that hot."

"You mean, it didn't feel that hot to *you*. There's a
difference."

He frowned at her. "You're saying I'm somehow immune to
the heat?"

"I'm not sure. But it might explain how you were lying in
that burning crater and didn't even pick up a slight scorch
-- even though your clothes evidently burned off." She
shrugged. "I know it sounds really strange -- impossible,
really. But it would sure make sense of all the
contradictions."

"But it's not possible," he said, patiently. "How could I
be immune to fire -- or heat?"

"I have no idea," she said, honestly. "But it wasn't just
that."

"There's more?" He sounded slightly amused.

"Yes," Lois said, determinedly. "There is. When I fell
off the footstool at my apartment -- you heard me scream
and were there to catch me. Charlie, it was barely a
second or so after I screamed that you got there. You
couldn't have moved that fast if you were an ordinary guy,
no matter how hard you tried."

He didn't answer. Lois plowed on. "Then, in the park -- I
saw that guy swinging the battleaxe at your head, edge-on.
You should have been killed but instead, the axe
shattered."

"But --"

"And just now, there were two other things. You can see
clearly enough in the dark that you could figure out what
was wrong with the Jeep -- but it's pitch black under the
hood. There's nothing wrong with my eyes and I couldn't
see a thing."

"And the last thing?" His voice sounded subdued.

"You pushed my Jeep uphill for at least thirty feet, all by
yourself. Nobody is that strong -- except you."

"It wasn't that heavy," he protested weakly.

"Take it from me, it is. This is not some small, foreign
car -- it's an SUV and it's pretty solid. You're a lot
stronger than an ordinary man, Charlie. And now, of
course, you're not a bit cold, and believe me, I am. It's
probably about thirty-five or forty degrees out there, and
not much more in here. My feet are freezing." She reached
out to touch his arm. "Charlie, there's something special
about you. I don't understand it but there is. I might be
mistaken about one or two things but not all of them."

For at least two or three minutes, he didn't answer but
finally, he spoke. "What do you think it is?"

"I don't know." She answered honestly. "When we get back
to civilization, I'd like to test it, though."

"Hey, I'm not going to stick my finger into boiling water
just to see if it hurts," he said, only half-humorously.

"I think we can run a test without going that far," she
said. "Charlie, I don't think it's just temperature,
either. I don't think that you can be hurt -- at least by
ordinary means. Something pretty horrific must have
happened to you to make you lose your memory like this."

He didn't answer at once and more seconds rolled by.

"What do you think it was?" he asked, at last.

"Honestly? I think it had something to do with the
fireball."

"What?"

"I don't know. I've got some pretty wild theories."

"They can't be any wilder than this thing about me." His
voice still sounded subdued. "If you're right, I'm some
kind of freak. Maybe I should join a circus, somewhere.
I'd be a sensation as 'the fireproof man'."

"Don't be silly!" she said, sharply. "You're no freak. If
anything, you're a miracle."

"I don't know about that. A man who can't be hurt, who's
faster than a bullet and strong as a bull sounds like a
freak to me."

"Charlie, you're no freak!" she said, again. "If nothing
else, you're my friend!"

"You're a reporter," he said. "Aren't you going to write
about me?"

Lois was appalled. "Charlie, no! I don't betray friends!"
She broke off, realizing what she was saying. She was a
journalist: she owed it to the public to tell them about
somebody like Charlie but betraying a friend went against
the grain, no matter how much her journalistic instincts
tempted her to tell the world about him. After all, how
many real friends did she have?

There was Perry, of course. He was her friend as well as
her boss, at least as much as he could be. She had the
distinct feeling that he regarded her as the daughter he'd
never had and almost treated her as such but could she name
any others? There had been Linda King, who had stabbed her
in the back over a man. There had been Molly Flynn in
college, but they had drifted apart after Molly had begun
dating Ryan Wiley, whom Lois couldn't stand. And, of
course, there had been Claude, whom she never spoke of to
anyone. Did she even have any other real friends except
Charlie, a man without his memory, who had somehow become a
friend in twenty-four hours without even trying?

"Charlie, I won't write about you if you don't want me to,"
she said, silently telling temptation to take a hike. "I
don't do things like that to my friends. Besides, if the
Nightfall Asteroid hits us, there probably won't even be a
Daily Planet to publish a story about you or anything
else." She reached out and found his hand. "I promise.
Whatever we find out about you is safe with me."

He squeezed her hand gently. "Thank you."

Silence descended on the Cherokee. It was getting colder,
and she felt herself starting to shiver. Lois pulled her
jacket more tightly around her shoulders and clenched her
teeth to stop them from chattering.

Quite suddenly, Charlie spoke. "Lois, you're shivering."

"I'm okay," she said, trying to keep the quiver out of her
voice.

"No, you're not. You're cold, even if I'm not. Look, I
promise I won't try anything. Climb over here. If you
huddle up against me, it'll help keep you warm."

She hesitated, but the shivering was getting more intense
every moment. Slowly, she obeyed. "You promise -- no
funny business?"

"You have my word," Charlie said, his voice sounding both
solemn and conversely amused at the same time. "No funny
business."

"Well...okay." Avoiding the gearshift, she slid over into
the passenger seat. It was definitely a cozy arrangement,
she thought. The Cherokee's seats were roomy but with both
of them, there wasn't much space left to spare. He turned
slightly in the seat so she could lean against his chest
and cautiously put his arms around her.

"Is this better?"

"Y-yes." Charlie's body felt deliciously warm. She could
feel the trembling begin to abate almost at once.

"Why don't you take off your jacket and put it over
yourself," he suggested. "If you lean against me, you
should be okay."

After a moment's consideration, she obeyed. Charlie put
his arms back around her, over the top of the jacket.
"How's that?"

"You're nice and warm," she said. "But if you ever tell
anybody about this --"

"My lips are sealed." His voice held that amused note
again.

Surprisingly, Lois felt herself relaxing, which was a
puzzle in itself. If anything, she should be alert,
expecting any moment to have to fight off some kind of
advance -- but she trusted Charlie, she realized with a
touch of amazement. It was a trust that had been growing
since she had met him. There wasn't anything logical about
it, but she knew with some instinct that went deeper than
reason that she was safe with him. His shoulder made a
perfect resting place for her head and she leaned back
against him, feeling the beating of his heart through the
thin cotton of the shirt. Was she wrong, or was his heart
rate faster than it should be?

She couldn't tell. His body heat enveloped her like a
warm, comfortable cocoon.

"So," Charlie said, "do you have any more theories about
me?"

"I don't know," she said. "Just some wild speculation,
really."

"What kind of speculation?"

"You'd think I was crazy," she said. "Even I'm wondering
if I'm a little crazy, to tell you the truth. It just
seems more than a little coincidental that someone like you
should show up just now in such a strange way."

"You think I'm here because of Nightfall or something?" he
asked.

"Well, why not?"

"Well -- you're right. It does seem pretty crazy," he
agreed. "On the other hand, if you're right about the
other stuff, and something horrific did happen to make me
forget.... She felt him shrug. "Maybe in the morning this
is going to seem really silly, but if you're not dreaming
about all this -- well, maybe we can find out. If I can
just remember, maybe it'll all make sense."

Lois glanced at her watch. In the darkness, the numbers
were invisible. "Can you see the time?" she asked, lifting
her wrist so he could read the numbers.

"Yeah. It's nine forty-two," he said. "We've been stalled
out here for nearly two hours."

"Funny, it doesn't seem that long." Lois yawned. "It
feels later though."

"Maybe because you're tired," Charlie said. "From the way
you were tossing and turning in Mr. White's office, I don't
think you slept that well, last night."

"How did you know that?" Lois asked.

"Um -- I heard you," he admitted.

Silence for a moment. "I think I rest my case," Lois said,
finally.

"Yeah, it does seem like it," he said, slowly. "If you're
right...." He broke off. "Okay, what else have you been
thinking?"

Lois hesitated. "Um...well, this is going to seem really
out there," she said after a moment. "Charlie, I think you
*were* the guy Mac was talking about. I think those were
your glasses I found in the fireball crater. And I think
you had something to do with saving that plane."

"How could I have done that?" he asked.

"I don't know, but my instinct says I'm right. And if you
were him, and if you did, maybe you're supposed to help
save us from Nightfall, too. But don't ask me how, at
least not right now. I haven't worked that out yet."

"I'll bet," Charlie said. "I don't think anybody could."

"I told you it sounded crazy. Let's shelve that part right
now. If we can get you to remember, maybe it'll all
straighten out on its own."

"I think you're investing too much hope in me," Charlie
said. "But --" He paused long enough that she thought he
wasn't going to complete the sentence. "Still, I have to
admit, you're probably right about the other stuff -- about
me, that is. And if you are, there's plenty here that
neither of us understands. Where did I come from? Mars or
something?"

"I don't know," she said.

"That was meant to be a joke," he said, reprovingly.

"Was it?"

"Well, partly." He blew out his breath. "I think we've
speculated enough tonight, don't you?"

"Probably." She surprised herself by yawning.

"Look, why don't you try to get some sleep," he said.
"I'll stay awake. If a highway patrolman comes by, or if
anyone shows up that can help us, I'll wake you. Okay?"

Reluctantly, she acknowledged that he was probably right.
Fatigue was beginning to catch up with her. "You don't
think I'm crazy?"

She heard the amusement in his voice, coupled with
uncertainty. "I think you're grasping at straws, but I
don't blame you a bit. In any case, there isn't much we
can do until it gets light."

Lois yawned again, nearly dislocating her jaw. Charlie
laughed softly. "Go to sleep if you can. I already
promised you there wouldn't be any funny stuff."

"It's not the funny stuff that worries me," she said,
breaking off to yawn a third time. "I trust you, Charlie."

He pulled the jacket around her a little more tightly.
"I'm glad. Good night, Lois."

**********

"Lois," Charlie's voice said, "wake up. Somebody's
coming."

Lois opened her eyes and blinked blearily at the inside of
her Cherokee. She was half-sitting in the passenger seat,
reclining against Charlie's broad chest with her feet
resting on the driver's seat. Her jacket was spread across
her upper body and Charlie's T-shirt covered her legs and
feet. The windshield of the Jeep was coated with frost and
through the driver's window, she could see the glitter of
snowflakes drifting past, colored pink by the sunrise.
Sometime during the night, it had begun to snow very
lightly.

"Better wake up," Charlie repeated. "Somebody's coming."

Slowly, she straightened up. There was a slight crick in
her neck, her mouth tasted funny and she felt thoroughly
rumpled. Charlie was reaching for his shirt. Lois dropped
her feet to the floor and scooted quickly over the
gearshift and into the driver's seat.

Casting a look at her companion as he shook out his T-
shirt, she felt even less presentable. It wasn't fair that
anyone could look that good first thing in the morning
after a night spent in the cramped quarters of a Jeep's
front seat. On the other hand, it was obvious that he had
been as well behaved as he had promised and sleeping close
to him had kept her comfortably warm all night. And, she
had to admit that if she was going to spend the night
sleeping on a guy's chest, Charlie's was definitely the one
she would pick.

"What's the matter?" Charlie asked, starting to pull the
shirt over his head. "Do I have a spot on my nose or
something?"

"Um...no." Quickly, Lois pulled her riveted gaze from
Charlie's bare torso and turned to reach into the back seat
for her purse. At least, she would feel a little less
rumpled once she'd brushed her hair. A glance at her watch
told her that it was a few minutes after six. "You said
someone was coming?"

"Yeah." As he spoke, a car came over the small hill ahead
of them and Lois recognized the vehicle belonging to her
boss.

Perry pulled to a stop on the shoulder of the gravel road,
barely six feet from the Jeep and the driver's door popped
open almost before the engine died. Lois pushed open her
own door and slid out. "Perry! Are we glad to see you!"

Her editor's face looked paler than she had ever seen it.
He hurried toward her, feet crunching in the thin layer of
snow that coated the dry grass. "Thank God! Lois, are you
all right?"

"Yeah." She waved at her stranded vehicle. "We were on
our way back when the engine quit and stranded us out here
in the middle of nowhere. Charlie says my alternator belt
broke."

Charlie opened his door and got out. "We figured we'd
better wait 'til the sun came up before we started looking
for a gas station."

Perry glanced at him and back at Lois. "You're okay,
aren't you?"

"Well," Lois said, "it got a little cold last night, but
other than that, we're fine, except that the car won't
start."

Perry wiped his face. "When I realized you hadn't come
back last night, I was scared, honey. People act like
they've gone crazy. There were more riots last night, and
someone torched City Hall. With all that, I didn't know
what might have happened. The only thing I could think of
was to try the airfield, since Bill said that was where
you'd gone."

"Oh," Lois said. "Well, it was only car trouble. Just the
same, I'm glad you came. It's a long way to town on foot."

Charlie added, "If we could get an alternator belt, I can
jump-start the car and it should be fine."

Perry nodded. "That sounds good. The closest open gas
station in town is Jilly's Self-Service Station over on
Maple. They might have one. I left Jimmy holding down the
fort at the office, so since I don't have much to do right
now, I'll give you a ride to town and back."

It figured, Lois thought. Jilly's was the gas station that
had grossly overcharged her for gas. "Perry, did you see
their prices? The only difference between Jilly's and a
hold up is the cash register!"

"Lois, gas is at a premium right now. Jilly's is one of
twelve stations open in the whole city and there isn't any
more being delivered, at least until EPRAD's rocket knocks
out Nightfall. It's the same in every other city in the
country. Naturally, they're going to raise their prices."

Put that way, it made sense but she didn't have to like it.
"Well, I hope they don't charge as much for an alternator
belt."

As it turned out, the station only charged 200 percent of
the original price. Charlie volunteered to replace the
belt and a short time later Lois and Charlie were following
Perry's car back toward Metropolis in the Jeep.

"That was easier than I expected," Lois said.

Charlie nodded his agreement. "It was nice of your boss to
come looking for you. I doubt most big-city bosses would
do the same for one of their employees."

Lois shrugged. "I'm Perry's protegee. I think he sort of
regards me as a daughter. Still, if it hadn't been for
practically no one showing up for work, he probably
wouldn't have. He might have sent Jimmy, though."

"How do you know practically no one came to work?" Charlie
asked, mystified.

"He put Jimmy in charge," Lois said, as if that explained
it all.

"Oh."

"Jimmy's the office gofer as well as a junior photographer.
Bottom man on the office food chain."

"Oh, I see." Charlie nodded. "I figured it might be
something like that. He's a nice kid, though."

Lois hadn't thought much about it. "Yeah, he is." She
pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "I told Perry I
was going to drop by my apartment to change before I came
in to the office. He didn't say so, but I got the
impression he thought it was a good idea."

"Well, maybe," Charlie said. "I don't think you look so
bad, though. Actually, you look pretty decent, first thing
in the morning."

Lois glanced at him. "So do you, except for the beard.
You're looking kind of bristly."

"Well, maybe I can get a razor."

"We'll stop and buy you one," Lois said. "Speak up if you
see an open drug store." She didn't continue the thought
aloud. Here was a chance to see if she was right about why
the razor blades had broken on Charlie's beard. She knew
she had only partly convinced him, last night. The more
solid the evidence she could present to him, the better.

It was incredible, she thought, how things could
disintegrate so thoroughly in just a few days. Many stores
along the streets of Metropolis were closed, with iron bars
in place over their windows and doors. Others were still
open as some merchants sought to continue on as they always
had but Lois noticed that many of those that were open also
had bars over their windows and most of them had security
guards present at their doors. Two nights of riots had
made their mark.

"There's a drug store," Charlie said.

Potrero's Drugs was a little independent store. Lois had
never gone there, preferring to go to the Trexall Drug
Store nearest her apartment for her supplies, but Trexall's
was closed and had been since yesterday. The little man
behind the counter watched the two of them nervously as
they entered, and Lois could feel the eyes of the big,
beefy security guard at the door following her as she and
Charlie walked up and down the aisles, looking for the
shaving supplies.

At last, they had acquired a razor, shaving lather and a
package of the best blades Lois could find. She added a
new pair of nylons to replace the pair she had thoroughly
shredded in the past fifteen hours and headed for the cash
register to pay for their purchases. Charlie ran a hand
over the two days' growth on his chin. "I'll be glad to
get this off. It itches."

Lois paid for the purchases and they hurried out to the
Cherokee. It was a little after eight and by this time in
the morning, Metropolis was usually bustling. Not so,
today. The streets were eerily quiet. A short way down
the block, a lone figure scurried from the shelter of one
doorway to the next: probably one of the homeless drifters
that frequented the alleys and back streets of Metropolis,
Lois thought. In a way, she felt almost envious. If
Nightfall should hit, they didn't have nearly as much to
lose.

She glanced at Charlie as he pulled the seat belt over his
lap. In the cold light of day, most of her deductions
about him seemed pretty wild. Still, there were so many
things about this strange man that didn't add up and,
anyway, what did she really have to lose by pursuing her
theory? It wasn't as if she could do anything to stop
Nightfall, after all -- unless Charlie was somehow what she
was beginning to believe he was.

And what was that -- an angel? No, she admitted,
reluctantly, probably not. He looked much too solid and,
well, very much part of the world. He wasn't something
supernatural. But was he of Earth? That was another
question. He *looked* like a man, that was certain, and
acted like one, too: a very good looking and superior
specimen, to be sure, but a man, all the same. But there
were the other things that said he wasn't an ordinary man.
What was he, then? Was he human at all?

"You're looking at me that way again," Charlie said.

"What way?"

"Like I've grown another head," Charlie said. "What's up?"

"Nothing, really. I was thinking over what we talked about
last night. I just wish I could figure you out."

Charlie snorted. "I wish *I* could figure me out. It's
funny, though. I fell asleep sometime after two, according
to your watch, and I had the weirdest dreams...I guess I
was thinking about what you said. I dreamed I was saving
that jet."

"Oh? What did you dream?"

"I was flying over the hills west of Metropolis and saw the
plane hit by lightning," he said. "It was a Lear jet,
painted a funny sky-blue color. It started to fall and I
swooped down and caught it. It was pretty strange."

"You caught it? How?"

"With my hands," Charlie said. "I said it was a weird
dream. I was flying all by myself. No plane, no
helicopter. Not even a flying carpet. And then, after
that, I was on a farm, helping with the livestock."

"Now, that's weird," Lois said. "Did anything happen?"

"Yeah. I was a kid, and I kept setting fires."

"Setting fires? You mean, like an arsonist?"

He shook his head. "No, I kept looking at things and
everything kept bursting into flame. It was kind of scary.
I set the barn on fire and was trying to put it out when I
guess I heard Mr. White's car and woke up. It was quite a
relief."

"Well, I guess nightmares aren't surprising, considering
what's happening," Lois said.

"I guess not," Charlie agreed. "That's probably why
everything felt so out of control." He glanced out the
window at the nearly empty streets. "You know, this is
almost scarier, though. I don't remember much, but I
*know* this isn't normal. It's not that I don't remember
anything -- just anything about myself."

"And there has to be a reason for that," Lois said. "In
your dream about being a kid on a farm, was there anything
else you remember about it besides the fires?"

He frowned at the dashboard. "I'm not sure. You know how
dreams are; everything is kind of jumbled up. I remember
thinking that I mustn't let anyone find out what I could do
and trying desperately to stop setting fires, but I
couldn't. I was in a panic."

"I guess that would make sense," Lois said. She pulled the
Cherokee to the side of the street in front of her
apartment. "Here we are. Let's go get cleaned up."

The apartment house was again locked when Lois tried the
door and she had to unlock it. Mr. Tracewski was nowhere
to be seen this time when they entered, but a younger man
whom Lois recognized as his oldest son was sitting on a
chair in the hall that adjoined the entranceway with a
shotgun lying across his knees. It was apparent that the
Tracewski family had no intention of allowing intruders
into the building without resistance. Mervin Tracewski
nodded at Lois and looked Charlie over with a trace of
suspicion. "Who is this, Ms. Lane?"

"This is Charlie," Lois explained. "He's...um...I guess
you can say he's been my bodyguard for the past day and a
half."

Surprisingly, Mervin nodded, apparently accepting the
explanation. "All right; you can go in," he told Charlie.
"It's a good thing you have a bodyguard, Ms. Lane. People
are crazy, you know that? Did you hear they tried to burn
City Hall? As if the mayor can do anything about this
Nightfall!"

"I heard. How bad was the damage?"

Mervin shrugged. "They didn't say. It was on LNN."

"Oh." Lois started for the elevator. "Well, they're
launching the Asgard rocket in a few hours. Keep your
fingers crossed."

**********

"It's your turn," Lois said, walking into the living room
of her apartment. Charlie had been watching the
television, but now he turned around and smiled at her.
She had chosen a fresh outfit, including a pair of flat
shoes, and felt considerably better after her shower. "How
are things going?"

"Well, from what I can see," Charlie said, "the situation
seems to be quieting down -- at least for now. I think
everyone is sort of in a holding pattern, waiting to see if
the rocket is going to do the job. LNN reports that even
the protests seem to be losing steam."

"I hope so," Lois said. She glanced at his clothing.
"We'll have to get you some clean clothes at the Planet.
You've been wearing those since night before last."

"I hate to steal anyone's clothes," Charlie objected. "Is
there a laundromat around here?"

"There's one in the basement," Lois said. "But you can't
wander around with no clothes on while they wash, in spite
of the way I found you."

Charlie's blushed. "Don't remind me."

Lois giggled, surprising herself. "It wasn't so bad," she
said, with a grin. "Actually, if it hadn't been for the
circumstances, I'd probably have enjoyed the view."

"Lo-is!" His face was beet-red and she burst out laughing
at his expression.

Her amusement was apparently contagious, for at last, he
gave a small, embarrassed grin. Lois waved at the door to
her bedroom. "Go on, get yourself a shower and a shave.
We have places to go and people to see."

He nodded and vanished quickly through the door. Lois went
into her tiny kitchen to retrieve a soda from the
refrigerator. A few minutes later, settling down in front
of the television, she heard the shower come on.

Charlie had been right, she was thinking a few minutes
later. An unnatural calm seemed to have fallen over the
entire city. The camera of the LNN newscopter panned over
empty streets, where the debris left by the riots of the
past two nights attested to the panic that had gripped
Metropolis. Smashed windows and overturned cars seemed to
be the least of the damage. The scene looked like
something out of one of those Armageddon movies that had
been so popular for a time.

There were no signs of the panicky men and women now. It
was as if they had burned out their fear and anger over the
past hours and now waited passively to see if the worst
would befall or if the government's nuclear-tipped missile
would save them. Scenes from other countries relayed by
satellite showed much the same situation. People filled
churches, temples and mosques, or congregated in the open,
silently waiting to learn the final verdict. Many had fled
the cities, although why, she wasn't sure. If the big
asteroid hit, a local astronomer informed the host of one
of the talk shows, its projected point of impact was
somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but it would cause massive
tidal waves and throw enough water vapor into the air to
cause major climate change. Lois grimaced and turned off
the television. If that happened, she would deal with the
situation then -- if she survived. There was no point in
borrowing trouble.

The shower had gone off while she had been absorbed in the
images on the screen. She drank her soda, waiting.
Charlie would soon be shaving, and then they would see what
happened....

The door to the bedroom opened. Charlie stood there, a
towel wrapped snugly around his waist. His face was
lathered up and in one hand, he held the razor. "Lois...."

"What's wrong?" she asked, already knowing what the problem
was.

"It happened again," he said, holding out the razor. "I
just broke two more blades."

Quickly, Lois got to her feet and crossed the room to him.
He was right. When she took the razor in her hand and
opened it, she could see where the blade had broken
unevenly along the edge. Slowly, she lifted a finger to
run it across the untouched stubble of his beard.

"Charlie," she said, "it's not the razor -- it's you. The
blade can't cut your beard."

"I figured that out," he said. "It looks like you were
right. I'm injury-proof."

"Almost, anyway," Lois said.

"If a razor can't cut my beard, how the heck do I shave?"
he demanded, sounding exasperated. "I was pretty clean-
shaven when you found me! If I can't cut this stuff off,
I'm going to look like Rip Van Winkle before long! And how
about my hair?"

"We'll figure it out," Lois said. "There has to be a way,
but we've got more important things to think about for now.
Go get dressed. I need to get to the Planet. Besides, I'm
just about out of food and I'm starving!"

**********

On the street, half an hour later, Lois looked thoughtfully
at her Jeep. "I guess we better take it," she said, at
last. "I'm going to need it later, but I hate to waste the
gas."

Charlie nodded and without comment, waited while Lois
unlocked the door for him. While she started the engine,
he flipped up the small panel on the sunshade, revealing
the makeup mirror. As he had done several times since he
had made the discovery about his beard, he leaned forward,
studying the growth.

"It looks just like ordinary hair," he muttered.

"I know," Lois agreed. "Somehow, you're different,
Charlie. If you hadn't been, you'd have been dead night
before last."

"I know, and I'm grateful," Charlie said, "but how the heck
am I going to cut this stuff? I don't like looking like a
fugitive from a homeless shelter."

"I don't know, but it's obviously possible. Wherever
you're from, you've been around longer than just a few
days."

"How do you figure that?"

"Well, I know you aren't sure, but I think you were the guy
Mac was talking about. When we get to the office, I'm
going to have Jimmy pull up the stuff on that jet and see
if there's anything more about it that we haven't heard.
If the thing was a Lear jet that happened to be sky
blue...."

"I could have read it, somewhere."

"I doubt it," Lois said. "I vaguely remember the incident.
I'm pretty sure the Planet was the only paper that got the
story; everybody else had to get it from us, and I think it
was on something like page ten of the paper. I'm sure I'd
have remembered if the article had mentioned the color of
the plane."

"Weren't there any pictures?"

Lois shook her head. "The guy's bodyguards wouldn't let
anyone near the jet. The owner was Paolo Bertolli."

"The reclusive Hollywood producer?"

"That's the one." She glanced sideways at him. "I'm kind
of surprised you even recognize his name. The guy avoids
publicity and the press like his life depends on it. All
we had were stock pictures to go with the article, which is
why mostly nobody remembers it. The only reason it ended
up in the paper at all was because it was such an unusual
incident."

"Then, how are you going to find out the color of the
plane?"

Lois smiled. "You obviously don't know Jimmy. That kid
knows computers like you wouldn't believe. He practically
makes them sit up and beg."

"That, I'd like to see," Charlie said.

"You will. I've got another idea, too."

"What?"

"I'll tell you if it pans out," Lois told him turning onto
the street where the Daily Planet was located. "Hey, it
looks like Winslow's Doughnuts is open! I'm starving!"

**********

The middle-aged woman behind the counter eyed them
suspiciously as they entered the shop, but relaxed when she
saw Lois. "Oh, hi, Ms. Lane. I was afraid you were some
of those hooligans again. What can I do for you?"

"Hi, Roberta," Lois said. "How about two dozen cake
doughnuts and two cups of hot coffee?"

"Sure. Coming right up."

"Have you had trouble, here?" Charlie asked.

The woman opened sliding glass doors to one of the display
cases and began to remove doughnuts with a pair of tongs.
"Some. Last night I thought for sure they were going to
break all my windows and trash the place but the police
showed up in time, thank goodness."

"I'm sorry," Charlie said. "It must have been
frightening."

"You could say that," she said. "I just hope EPRAD is able
to stop that thing before it hits us."

"So do I," Lois said.

"I read about the fireball you saw and the guy you found in
the crater," the woman said. "Do you think it could have
been a piece of the asteroid?"

"I doubt it," Lois said. "How would it have gotten here
ahead of the rest of the pieces?"

Roberta appeared to ponder that for a moment. "You're
right. I hadn't thought of that. But how about the guy
you found in the crater? I don't understand how come he
wasn't killed."

"Believe me, Roberta, we'd like to know how it happened,
too," Lois said. "This is Charlie, by the way. We're
calling him that because we still don't know his real name.
I don't suppose you've ever seen him before, have you?"

Roberta's eyes had widened a little, but now she gave
Charlie's face a close scrutiny. Finally, she shook her
head regretfully. "I'm afraid not. Wish I had, though."

Lois could understand that. "Well, I thought I'd ask."
She accepted the box of doughnuts, removed one and took a
huge bite. "These are great, Roberta."

The woman smiled. "Thanks."

Lois stuffed the rest of the doughnut into her mouth and
wiped her fingers on a paper napkin from the receptacle on
the counter. "How much?"

"That'll be seven dollars and fifteen cents."

Lois opened her purse and produced several bills. "Don't
forget the coffee."

"Just getting it now." Roberta filled two Styrofoam cups
with steaming coffee and capped them. "Be careful with
these. I just brewed a fresh pot of coffee and it's pretty
hot."

"Just the way I want it," Lois assured her, glancing at
Charlie. He responded by reaching for several small
containers of half-and-half and three packets of sugar.

Roberta accepted the bills Lois handed her. "I wonder if
this is worth it," she remarked as they turned to leave.
"If that thing hits us, money won't be worth the paper it's
printed on."

"Think positively," Lois said. "That's what I'm doing."

"I guess that's all anyone can do," Roberta said. "I'll
see you later...I hope."

Out on the sidewalk again, Lois uncapped her coffee and
took a tiny swallow. "Mmm -- good. It's pretty hot,
though. Try yours. You can put in that other stuff
later," she added. "I want to make sure it's as hot as we
can get it. Consider it a double check."

"Okay." Charlie had opened his own coffee, and now he took
a cautious sip. He frowned and took a healthy swallow.
Lois couldn't help wincing a little, knowing how hot the
coffee actually was.

"Well?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

He lowered the cup. "All right, you've proved your theory
-- not that I'm really surprised at this point. It doesn't
feel all that hot to me, and I'm not burned as far as I can
tell." He dipped a finger into the liquid, letting it
remain there for several seconds. "But, what does it
mean?"

"It means I wasn't imagining things," Lois said. "Now we
know why the fireball didn't burn you. You're fireproof.
Here, hold the doughnuts while I unlock the car."

He accepted the box without comment. Lois unlocked his
door and went around to open her own. Once in the Jeep,
she set her cup in the cup holder and took the doughnut box
while Charlie fastened his seatbelt. "Charlie, you grabbed
a knife by the blade last night and it didn't cut you."

"Hey, coffee is one thing, but I'm not about to stab myself
just to prove that knives can't cut me!" he said, only
half-joking.

Lois grinned. "Don't worry." Her smile disappeared.
"What's the matter, Charlie?"

"It's just that this is really strange, Lois."

"I know. I meant what I said last night, though. I'm not
going to tell anyone. But I'm still wondering why you
turned up just now, and why you were *in* that crater the
fireball made. I have a feeling that it's not a
coincidence."

He opened the sugar packets, poured them into his coffee
and followed it with the half-and-half. "Let's see what
your friend Jimmy can find," he said. "If he comes up with
anything to back up your idea -- well, then maybe you're
right."

"Fair enough," Lois said. She started the engine and
pulled away from the curb. Melting snow sprayed the empty
sidewalk behind them.

**********